Monthly Archives: June 2013

Understanding Cholesterol

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a lipid. Lipids are fats in the body.

Most people have been programmed to think that all fats are bad, however, fats are a key nutrient and your body needs them to function properly.  In fact, your body even makes them!

There are 3 forms of lipids (fats):

  • Triglycerides – the fats associated with fried foods, oil, and salad dressings.  These are the major fats found in your diet and made in your body.
  • Phospholipids – similar in structure to triglycerides, but they are made in the body and not needed in your diet.
  • Sterols – Made in the body and found only in food of animal origin. The most famous sterol is cholesterol.

The Functions of Cholesterol

Cholesterol gets a bad rap because of its role in heart disease.  It’s true that it does become a problem when too much accumulates in the blood. Most people don’t realize, however, that cholesterol is a necessary and important substance in the body.

Your Body Manufactures Cholesterol

Your body makes all it needs and cholesterol is not needed in the diet. In fact, it produces approximately 1,000 milligrams each day!

Some cholesterol is manufactured in all cells, but mostly in the liver and also in the intestines. It’s a major component in all of your cells, especially in nerve and brain tissue. Most cholesterol lives in your body tissue and not in the blood.

Cholesterol is a Manufacturer too!

Cholesterol is especially important in your body as it aids in the synthesis (formation) of Vitamin D and important hormones including testosterone and estrogen. Also, the liver uses cholesterol to manufacture bile salts, which play a major role in fat digestion.

Even the lens of the eye contains a high concentration of cholesterol, and cholesterol formation here may be essential for preventing cataracts.

Cholesterol in Selected Foods

From Nutrition Text, Fourth Edition.

Cholesterol in the Diet

Cholesterol is found only in animal foods. It’s highest in organ meats (brain, liver), moderate in muscle tissue and also found in dairy.

Notice as the fat content of dairy foods drops, so do the cholesterol levels.

Also the skeletal muscle (meat) from all kinds of animals have similar cholesterol regardless of fat content. Chicken, lean beef and lean pork are very similar in cholesterol levels.

What is Good and Bad Cholesterol?

Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Picture these lipoproteins as fat filled submarines which shuttle a combination of lipids throughout the body in the bloodstream. Low-density lipoprotein, or the LDL submarine, is known as “bad” cholesterol. It contains more than 50% cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or the HDL submarine, is known as “good” cholesterol and contains only 20% cholesterol.

Elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood increases the risk of heart disease. It can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries. Together with other substances, it can form a thick, hard deposit (plaque) that can narrow the arteries.

According to the American Heart Association, ‘HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol, because high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup’.

Does Including Cholesterol in the Diet affect Cholesterol Production in the Body?

Increasing the cholesterol in your diet does reduce the cholesterol manufactured in the body, but not by an equivalent amount.  Eating small, frequent meals rather than a few large meals does inhibit cholesterol production somewhat.

How Do I reduce LDL Cholesterol?

This is a great question to ask your physician! Should you want more information before speaking with your doctor, an article by US News and World Report suggests that “to successfully reach your target levels it will probably take a combination of medication and lifestyle and dietary changes. Among the changes you’ll have to make: Stop smoking, work out, lose weight, and eat well”. The following link gives good information on changing your LDL and HDL levels.

http://health.usnews.com/health-conditions/heart-health/lowering-ldl-cholesterol#2

In Summary

Your body manufactures cholesterol and it plays an integral role in your body functioning properly.

Cholesterol only becomes an issue when too much accumulates in your blood.

Foods which contain cholesterol are of animal origin. (Vegetables, fruits and grains are naturally cholesterol free). If you wish to limit cholesterol in your diet, avoid eating animal organs (i.e. liver, brain). Also, choose low fat dairy products as the amount of cholesterol decreases along with the fat content.

Discuss your concerns of LDL and HDL cholesterol with your doctor.

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Sources:

Insel,P., Ross,D., McMahon,K., Bernstein,M., Nutrition Fourth Edition. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett, 2013

“Lowering LDL Cholesterol”, US News and World Report, http://health.usnews.com/health-conditions/heart-health/lowering-ldl-cholesterol#2

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Fitbit Flex – Update

The Fitbit Flex - pretty packaging

The Fitbit Flex

I got my Fitbit Flex on Mother’s Day, May 12th and I encountered my first functional problem with it on Father’s Day, June 16th. That’s only 5 weeks later. This is a record I didn’t want to set! I realize that gadgets go wrong, but I felt a little sad, nonetheless. The biggest question is, how did Customer Service respond?

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I also have a Nike FuelBand and a Jawbone UP, and I love both for different reasons.  I had to contact Customer Service for both of these devices and was very impressed with their responses on both counts.

My first impression was that the Flex band would give the UP band a run for it’s money. They are very similar in function and the Flex is $30 cheaper.  But then, a product is only as good as the Company that stands behind it.  When things go wrong, I expect the company to step up, don’t you?

My Experience

Here’s what happened with the Fitbit Flex

I set my Flex for sleep mode before going to bed on Sat., June 15th by tapping the face rapidly for a few seconds.  A gently vibration signaled that the band changed settings.

Upon waking on the 16th I went to tap it rapidly again, but nothing happened.  I plugged it in to charge, but nothing lit up. The battery appeared dead and showed no signs of charging.

As I was scouring the Fitbit website for troubleshooting tips, I received an email that my Fitbit battery was low.  A nice feature if it arrives in a timely manner.  This was a little too late.

I found troubleshooting tips and followed them all. Nothing worked.

Contacting Customer Service

To contact the support team, you have to email them your problem.  Almost immediately they do send you back an automated response acknowledging you. Their response also contains this statement: “We do not currently offer live phone or chat support, but our support team is here to help seven days a week”. Yes, they said 7 days a week!

3 days later they responded to my email. I think this is a long time. It’s not just me, right?

In their response they restated all the troubleshooting tips I already tried.  In addition, they included one other tip: Clean the sensors of the tracker and charger with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol. This actually worked!

Fitbit Help Page

So I went back to the website to check if this tip was there, and yes, somehow I missed it.  (Hey, I’m not proud! I will admit when I’m in error!) But if I missed it, how many others might miss it too?

It’s on the very bottom of the Help page, but the way that page is set up, it can easily be overlooked. The Help page is a very general troubleshooting page for ALL of their devices.  I think they should have a separate page for each specific device, with contains every tip for each specific device.  This would be very helpful to me.

My thoughts at this point

Truth be told, I am happy that my problem is fixed, but extremely annoyed at the same time. If Customer Service claims to be available 7 days a week, it shouldn’t take them 3 days to respond to a simple email request.

All in all, I still like my Fitbit Flex and am happy to be wearing it again. My favorite part is the gentle vibration it makes when you hit your step goal for the day. It gives me a feeling of joy. It’s the little things!

Now if they just improve the bigger things…

The ‘How Many Carbs?’ Diet

High carb, low carb, no carb, good carb, bad carb?

Raise your hand if you’re confused about carbs. 

Let’s get straight to the point.  Does your body NEED carbs? YES!

When carbs are digested and absorbed, they form glucose.

Glucose is the primary fuel for the body.  It gives you energy you can feel and see the results of, like rocking your morning workout. And it does so much more on the inside of your body that you can’t see.

The cells in your body depend on glucose to function properly. It’s the preferred fuel for your brain, red blood cells and nervous system. And your body needs glucose to burn fat efficiently.

So can we agree that carbs are important?

Great! Now I can Load Up on White Bread and Chips! – Wrong!

Darn! There are good carbs AND bad carbs.

What are Good Carbs and Where do they Come From?

DSC_0572

The bulk of good carbs come from plants.  They grow naturally.

  • Grains – whole wheat flour, bulgar (cracked wheat), rolled oats, whole corn meal, brown rice
  • legumes – beans, peas, lentils
  • fruits
  • vegetables

We also get carbohydrates from milk.

A good carb also has a high fiber content. Although your body can’t digest fiber, it has many health benefits!

  • It helps reduce the risk of: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease
  • It helps your system run smoothly (Yes, I’m referring to those digestion issues).

What are bad carbs?

Processed or refined food.

What is a processed or refined food?

Think white. White bread, white rice, and many pastas. None of these are a good source of nutrition. But why?

There isn’t a ‘white’ grain.  White flour is milled from a natural grain, like wheat.  And as far as we know, all rice starts out brown, (Cambridge World History of Food, published by the Cambridge University Press). In both cases, this means it’s processed to remove the outer husk, bran and germ to leave the the largest middle portion of the grain kernel which is high in starch.  The portions that are removed contain much of the dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrient content.

What does ‘Enriched’ Mean? It Sounds Healthy!!

Enriched White Rice

Enriched White Rice

Manufacturers add back, or ‘enrich’, the product with some nutrients that were removed during processing (iron, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin). However, they usually don’t add back dietary fiber or the other nutrients lost (Vitamin B6, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and zinc).

Yes, ‘enriched’ sounds healthy, but the ‘white’ product, processed from the ‘white’ grain has far less nutritional value than the original whole grain source.

Other processed foods include pretzels, chips, crackers, cookies and numerous other yummy treats.  They provide lots of calories, but no nutrition.

So What’s the ‘Right’ Amount of Carbs?

The RDA for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day, but most Americans eat far more than this.  An acceptable range is 45-65% of total calories from carbs.

What if I Eat Too Many Carbs?

Eating ‘too many’ and the wrong kind of carbs can contribute to weight gain, poor nutrient intake and tooth decay.

What if I Don’t Eat Enough Carbs?

In the absence of carbs, the body will break down stored fat and convert it into energy. This actually sounds good, doesn’t it? Some popular low carb diets are based on this! However, when the body is depleted of carbs for a prolonged period, there is the concern of developing a condition called Ketosis. (A ketone is a compound produced by the liver to help metabolize fat. If ketone levels become too high, the blood becomes acidic). Promoters of low carb diets say this condition isn’t dangerous, however, not everyone agrees. Some argue your liver and kidneys may be at risk.

At any rate, providing the body with a minimum of 50 – 100 grams of carbs per day can prevent ketosis.

Don’t be Afraid of Carbs, Just Choose Wisely!

I believe that carbs are an essential part of a healthy diet. The trick is to make educated choices.

Choose a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The ChooseMyPlate.gov website suggests you fill half your plate with these!

When choosing breads, cereal, rice, etc. look for terms such as whole wheat, whole grain, rolled oats and brown rice.  This indicates less or no processing, more nutrients and a healthier you!

Sources:

Insel,P., Ross,D., McMahon,K., Bernstein,M., Nutrition Fourth Edition. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett, 2013

Magee, Elaine, MPH, RD.  “Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Why Carbohydrates Matter to You.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/carbohydrates

“What Foods are in the Grains Group.” ChooseMyPlate.gov. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains.html

Copley, Ann. “How to Cook Rice: Is White Rice Healthy?.” http://voices.yahoo.com/how-cook-rice-white-rice-healthy-3015110.html

Tickle your Senses…A Little Experiment with Chocolate!

Hershey's Dark Chocolate

Hershey’s Dark Chocolate

Does looking at this perfect piece of dark chocolate make your mouth water? Can you imagine the sweet smell and intense flavor as it melts over your tongue? The flavor then peaks as it glides down your throat….mmm…heaven!

Yes, this IS a fitness and nutrition blog, but I want to share a little food experiment, and what better subject to use than chocolate? (In moderation, of course!).

Food is fuel, but it’s also something we should enjoy. No matter what your goals are, you’re not likely to consume something if it doesn’t appeal to you in some way. Our senses play a huge role in deciding if we like something or not.

We all have a chemical sensing system. Sensory cells are located in the nose, mouth and throat and send messages through nerves to the brain. It’s the brain that identifies smell and taste. Smell and taste together is what produces flavor.

Enough Jibber Jabber? I agree!

So, Try this Experiment! (And it works extremely well with chocolate!):

Hold your nose and pop a piece of chocolate in your mouth. Chew. You most likely will have trouble tasting it. You may sense sweet or bitter, but that’s about it. You may not sense or taste anything at all. Now, let go of your nose and what happens? You immediately taste and smell the chocolate.

For the sake of argument, when the flavor is in full force in your mouth, hold your nose again. What happens? Can you still taste it? Most likely, No. Pretty Cool!

The flavor of chocolate is sensed largely by the smell.

This is also true with other food or substances with strong odors, including coffee.

I find it extremely fascinating that the human mouth has about 10,000 taste buds, but if you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it!

What can you take away from this?

This is just a fun experiment! I am continually amazed at the workings of the human body and wanted to share what I learned.

However, if you want to apply these findings to your life, I propose that when you have a bad cold and stuffy nose, you fill up on all those veggies that don’t appeal to you…like brussel sprouts, maybe? Just a little food for thought! Haha!

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Source:

Insel,P., Ross,D., McMahon,K., Bernstein,M., Nutrition Fourth Edition. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett, 2013

I Need Some ZZZ’s! – A Look at the Sleep Tracking Abilities of the UP and Fitbit Flex

I would love to sleep 8 hours a night. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Sleep is so precious! And it’s very important for a healthy lifestyle and weight loss. One of the reasons I love activity tracking devices is they give me an overall picture of my total well being, including my sleep pattern.

Before I wore both the UP and the Fitbit Flex I thought my sleep was horrible. Well, I still kind of feel that way, but they tell me a slightly different story. The fact that the two devices agree with each other, for the most part, makes me feel a little better about my sleep. Hey, I might feel tired and sluggish, but the graph shows I slept well! The power of positive thinking goes a long way, or at least until nap time!

What Exactly do they Tell You about your Restful Night?

(I have an iPhone 4s and all information here is based on the iPhone apps).

The graphs show the same particular night’s sleep.  The UP is on the left, the Flex on the right.

UP Sleep Graph.  The dark blue estimates deep sleep, the light blue estimates light sleep, and the orange shows getting up and moving around.

UP Sleep Graph.
The dark blue estimates deep sleep, the light blue estimates light sleep, and the orange shows getting up and moving around.

The Flex Sleep Graph. The dark blue shows sleep. The light blue shows being awake and the red shows being restless.

The Flex Sleep Graph.
The dark blue shows sleep. The light blue shows being awake and the red shows being restless.

The Breakdown

The UP App

  • The graph is easier to read and gives a lot of detailed information.
  • I really can’t argue with any of it, except it says I woke up 2x. I really got up 2x, but woke up many more times without actually getting up. The app tends to show your awake time as light sleep.

The Flex App

  • The graph leaves a lot to be desired compared to the UP. It’s very general.
  • The only specifics it gives is how long you slept and how many times you woke up.  On this particular night it says I woke up 9x. This is very sad, but probably true!
  • The Fitbit website is more impressive than the app. The website will also tell you your sleep efficiency. (The % of time you spend in bed that you’re asleep). On this particular night my sleep efficiency was 93%. Not bad IF it’s true! Still, I wish all the info. available on the website was available in the app as well!

Despite the Differences, Both were very Similar in Estimating Total Hours Slept

  • 50% of the time they reported total time slept within 6 minutes of each other. This is pretty impressive to me as I generally lie awake for at least an hour every night.
  • For the most part, the Flex told me I slept longer than the UP.

3rd Party Apps

There are 3rd party sleep apps that you can sync your devices with to supposedly improve your experience. Once linked, your device automatically sends your sleep data to the app.  Here’s the scoop on what I found.

Sleepio for the UP

Sleepio is a 6 week program ‘clinically proven’ to help you overcome poor sleep. You don’t have to have an activity tracking device to use this program, but it does import your sleep data if you do.

They give you a one week free trial. After filling out a questionnaire about your lifestyle habits, you are directed to your first interactive session with The Prof (who is animated and has a dog named Pavlov). This session lasts around 20 minutes, clarifies your goals and explains how the program works. Near the end of the session, The Prof creates a case file for you like the one below.

This is my Case File after my free Sleepio session

This is my Case File after my free Sleepio session

You can only have one session with The Prof per week, so to continue the program you must upgrade. Prices range from $10 per week, to $80 for the entire course with a 12 week access, to $120 for a 24 week access.

You set your own goals, but their goal for you is to get your sleep efficiency to at least 90%. Since mine is shown here at 92%, I really can’t justify continuing.

The program also includes an extensive library of links to articles on sleep and an online sleep deprived community who support one another.

I’m not panning this app at all. It might be helpful to some people, but not to me at this time.

SleepDebt for Fitbit Flex

This description of SleepDebt is taken directly from the website.

“SleepDebt connects with your Fitbit to analyze your sleep data and debt. Set what time you want to wake up and how many hours of sleep you are aiming for per night, and the site will let you know what time you should go to sleep. Each night, it helps you catch up on your sleep, until you clear your sleep debt. We encourage you not to try to catch up all at once, so the site will only recommend 30% of your sleep debt at a time. Catch up on your sleep finally!”

So I input my information, and this is what came back:

After telling SleepDebt I want to aim for 8 hours sleep as well as catch up on my 'debt' a little, they suggested I go to bed before 7 pm.

After telling SleepDebt I want to aim for 8 hours sleep as well as catch up on my ‘debt’ a little, they suggested I go to bed before 7 pm.

They suggest I go to bed before 7 pm?  This is not helpful. I’m not impressed at all.

Usually I give sit-UPS on a scale of 1 to 5 to rate things.  This app doesn’t even make the sit-UP scale.  I’m giving it a DOWNward Dog. Sorry SleepDebt!

The ReCap

I like having a visual of my sleep in the form of a graph.

Do I believe I sleep as well as they say? Not usually.

Does it make me feel better to see that I actually did sleep when I think I didn’t? Absolutely!

The sleep tracking abilities are far from perfect but I find them helpful.  I love that the 2 devices, made from different companies, give me a very similar picture of my sleep.  Although I do prefer the UP app over the Flex, they both do a pretty good job.

The 3rd party apps don’t seem helpful to me, but perhaps to someone!

Until next time, wishing you sweet dreams and uninterrupted sleep!