Which Foods Will Give You Most Weight Gain – and Loss?

June 29, 2011 by  
Filed under featured, Food & Nutrition, Health

This is one of those studies from the US that will either cheer you enormously, or cause you to rethink your shopping trolley. It seems that the humble potato crisp may be the most dangerous food for your hips.

The man responsible for this – and other news – is Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Schools of Medicine and Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. He has laid out weight-associated foods by the pound and has calculated that roughly half of the average 3.35 pounds a healthy, non-obese American gains over four years could be chalked up to eating more potato crisps – though he doesn’t say exactly hw many so does one small bag of Smith’s non-salted really count?!

His results were reported in the June 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and the foods most strongly associated with weight gain are these:

• Potatoes
• Sugar-sweetened drinks
• Unprocessed red meats
• Processed meats
• Alcohol

What is interesting to me is that there is little difference in his analysis between processed and unprocessed meats, but if you are looking to lose some pounds then over a four-year period the most weight loss was associated with these foods:

• Yogurt
• Nuts
• Fruits
• Whole grains
• Vegetables

This pretty much follows the well-known data that a vegetarian/vegan diet will generally help you lose weight and be healthier all round. In fact as we age, and tend to put on weight, such a diet may have only a slight creeping gain of 0.8 lb on average per year.

Two non-food items that will put on the weight are giving up smoking and too much television watching. If either of these is a factor for you then not surprisingly, physical activity will help you lost some of that extra weight effectively and healthily.

A Healthy Alternative:
If you want a savoury snack, then instead of crisps what about a brand new concept? Savoury Veatable bars are eaten fresh from the fridge and are soft and chewy. They only have 99 calories per bar and although I have to say I was not keen on the idea, once I tried one my favourite was the Tomato Pizza version which contains tomatoes blended with onions, cheese olive oil and mixed herbs and really was very tasty.

You might prefer the other two varieties: Roasted vegetable or Thai Sweetcorn. They are made from diced and roasted vegetables, 100% natural, gluten and wheat free, high in fibre and count as one of your five a day.

You should find them in health stores, or direct from www.veatable.co.uk.

And if you are serious about weight loss, make sure you get a good night’s sleep as a lack of it can slow the rate at which you burn calories, increase blood sugar levels and make you feel hungrier. Researchers at the University of Chicago recently studied a group of dieting men and women, some of whom had 8.5 hours sleep a night, the others just 5.5 hours, they found that those that got adequate sleep lost over 50% more weight than their sleep-deprived counterparts.

Time for a snooze, then?

Keep It Dark To Sleep Better

January 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Health

Many things can affect our quality of sleep, and the links between poor sleep and health are well established. A new study shows that just turning out the light when you go sleep is not enough and can increase your risk of both high blood pressure and diabetes.

This comes from a recent study in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) which reveals that exposure to electrical light between dusk and bedtime strongly suppresses melatonin levels. Why is this important? Because your body relies on processes regulated by melatonin signaling, such as sleepiness, body temperature, blood pressure and glucose homeostasis.

Our bodies produce this hormone at night via the pineal gland in the brain and because today we are now routinely exposed to electrical lighting at night the study wanted to establish whether exposure to room light in the late evening may inhibit melatonin production.

The study was carried out by Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass and involved 116 healthy volunteers aged 18-30 years who were exposed to room light or dim light in the eight hours preceding bedtime for five consecutive days. What they found was that exposure to indoor light has a strong suppressive effect on melatonin production;
exposure to room light before bedtime shortened melatonin duration by about 90 minutes when compared to dim light exposure and exposure to room light during the usual hours of sleep suppressed melatonin by more than 50 percent.

Suppression of melatonin through light exposure has been hypothesized to increase relative risk for some types of cancer and melatonin receptor genes have been linked to type 2 diabetes. This is obviously an important factor for shift workers who are exposed to indoor light at night over the course of many years, but also for anyone who happily sits up in bed reading for an hour so before going to sleep.

Daylight and darkness are both good for our health, but the availability of constant artificial light may need to be monitored. If you can’t reduce the amount of artificial light you are exposed to you could at least in the few hours before bedtime make sure your lights are dimmer – not full and bright as that apparently really will make a difference – and certainly keep light in the bedroom as low as possible.

How Common Sleep Problems Like Snoring Can Lead to Metabolic Syndrome

December 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Health

Metabolic syndrome is a medical diagnosis that refers to the presence of at least three of the five primary risk factors that are associated with diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The five factors include high triglycerides, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, and low HDL cholesterol. And it is not just snoring that is the problem, if you have trouble falling asleep or have restless sleep then according to a new study you are more likely to develop the symptoms of metabolic syndrome as well.

This is the first study to explore the link between sleep quality and metabolic syndrome risk and was done on a total of 812 individuals who were between the ages of 45 and 74, and who developed metabolic syndrome during a three year period of analysis. This particular age bracket was chosen because many people who fall under this category record the highest complaints of sleep disorders. The results of the study revealed that 70 percent of people who do not sleep well and 80 percent of those who have trouble falling asleep are twice as likely to develop symptoms of metabolic syndrome than those who do not experience sleeping difficulties.

Loud snoring is disruptive on many levels, but it seems that it also is associated with low levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and high blood sugar levels, both of which are can lead to the development of diabetes. If you or a partner have put up with snoring, then this might be the piece of information that could get them to address the problem. Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time, but if you find you are unable to do so easily over a prolonged period then that also is a significant predictor of metabolic syndrome.

If I had a cure for snoring I would be a rich woman, but there are some simple changes that can often help. Being overweight is certainly a factor so looking at dietary and lifestyle changes can be a place to start. Stress is another factor so do what you can to eliminate or reduce it – and if you need help then can I suggest you look at my website for How To Cope Successfully With Stress and apply the many tips there.

I also recently came across an excellent herbal tea from the American company Celestial Seasons which has a combination of their great tasting Sleepytime tea to help you drop off, together with additional herbs for soothing sore throats.

It might just help if you have a cup of that before going to bed to both relax you and calm those inflamed airways that occur with snoring.

The fragrant way to a good night’s sleep

July 20, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Health

I am not a fan of sleeping pills, except in extreme need and for short term use as their side effects can outweigh the benefits.

There are many natural ways to help sleep from herbal concoctions to specially designed light systems, but now there is an entirely fragrant way that apparently can soothe, relieve anxiety and promote sleep with the same mechanism of action and strength as the commonly prescribed barbiturates.

Just what is this miracle worker? It is the aroma of jasmine from Gardenia jasminoides and has been researched by Düsseldorf  University where they have discovered that the two fragrances Vertacetal-coeur (VC) and the chemical variation (PI24513) have the same molecular structure as barbiturates.

Who said you can’t make money out of nature? Well it appears that these researchers will as they have been granted a patent for their discovery, as they reported in the current online issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Sedatives, sleeping pills and relaxants are the most frequently prescribed psychotropic drugs and strange as it may seem the difference between calming and hypnotic effect depends solely on the dosage, not on the drug itself. Benzodiazepines, which are now among the world’s most widely prescribed drugs, are given to help relax the body so that it can drift naturally of sleep. Unfortunately, they are not only potentially addictive, but can also cause serious side effects including depression, dizziness, hypotension, muscle weakness and impaired coordination.

The researchers carried out a large screening study in which they tested hundreds of fragrances but it was just the two mentioned that proved to be effective. Of course this is something that serious aromatherapy student have known for many years but it is good to see science catching up and acknowledging that fragrances have a definite, measurable effect on the body. We absorb fragrance throughout skin and through the air breathed in, and the scent molecules go from the lungs into the blood and then transmitted from there to the brain.

The researchers concluded that their results can also be seen as evidence of a scientific basis for aromatherapy, so all you fans of aromatherapy massage have been vindicated — as if you needed it. So rather than the traditional lavender or camomile that you may have been using to ease yourself into sleep you could now try adding the rather more exotic fragrance of jasmine.

How A Good Night’s Sleep Can Literally Save Your Life

June 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Health


We all know the value of a good night’s sleep, without it we don’t function at are best and are more prone to illness. But did you know that if you have chronic insomnia then you have a three times higher risk of death than those who get a full 8 hours and that only getting a full six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day?

Sadly, insomnia is extremely common as up to a -third of adults say they get less sleep than they need to function at their best. Insomnia is usually not an isolated incident but a persistent condition and 75 percent of people with insomnia say they have it for at least one year, with half suffering for three years.

Insomnia can include all these symptoms:

1. Difficulty falling asleep

2. Waking frequently during the night

3. Waking too early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep

4. Waking feeling unrefreshed

Insomnia will affect your hormone levels and accelerate aging, and may also play a role in diabetes, depression and cancer. Too little sleep impacts your levels of thyroid and stress hormones, which in turn can affect your memory and immune system, your heart and metabolism, and much more — including your risk of cancer. New research now also shows that sleep deprivation leads to changes in the levels of key proteins that can trigger migraines.

A disrupted circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle, may influence cancer progression through shifts in hormones like melatonin, which your brain makes during sleep. There’s also the issue of melatonin, an antioxidant that helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body and slows the production of estrogen, which can activate cancer. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your body may produce less melatonin and therefore may have less ability to fight cancer.

Exposure to light during the night can also reduce melatonin levels, which is why it is important to sleep in total darkness to decrease your risk of cancer. An important hormone that is affected by a disrupted circadian rhythm lies is cortisol, which normally reaches peak levels at dawn then declines throughout the day. It is one of many hormones that help regulate immune system activity, including insulin and researchers have repeatedly shown that insufficient sleep will result in an increased rate of diabetes due to increased insulin resistance.

The key to dealing with insomnia, without first resorting to sleeping pills, is to address the underlying cause and these are the most common culprits:

• Stress is the prime reason for sleeplessness as your brain continues to worry at your problems through the night.

• Overactive adrenals, due to stress, keep you on the alert, and that makes it difficult to sleep

• Poor environment in the bedroom doesn’t help either so ban electrical and electronic devices and no using your mobile, watching tv or doing emails on the laptop in bed. These activities stimulate your brain, making it difficult to then fall asleep. Make sure the bedroom is dark, and cool for optimum sleep.

• Give your stomach a rest and don’t eat for at least two hours before bed, and preferably longer. The later you eat, the harder your digestive system works to deal with the food when ideally it wants to be doing essential repair and maintenance. Eating late at night will keep you awake and if you must do so then eat something that is light and easily digested. aches and confusion, and may also cut your amount of deep sleep, interfering with your body’s ability to refresh itself.

Natural Help for Insomnia

There are a number of well-tried and tested remedies from foods to supplements. Nothing works for everyone, but try these favourite methods and see what works for you:

Herbs — the most popular are valerian nd hops, and if your insomnia is linked to stress and worry then you could try two excellent supplement: Quiet Life by Lanes or Total Calm from Gematria. Chamomile tea is also soothing but try not to drink just before bed so your bladder doesn’t wake you in the night.

Dietary help – help yourself by cutting out stimulants at night, particularly caffeine and sugar. Eat foods that help you sleep and contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Eat magnesium-rich foods as it is a natural sedative and deficiency can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. It has also been useful for people with restless leg syndrome. Magnesium rich foods include legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashewsbrewer’s yeast, and whole grains.

Create a calm atmosphere – get as relaxed as you can before you slip between the sheets so try some meditation before bedtime or a warm, not hot, bath with soothing aromatherapy oils like lavender. If you have a cd player/clock then put on some gentle, slow music on a low setting as it has been found to improve sleep quality and length and reduce frequent waking intervals.

Snoring, Sleep and Natural Solutions

May 19, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Health

While we are on the subject of sleep, did you know that a staggering 64% of us have a bad nights’ sleep every week, with one of the reasons being snoring.  Hands up all those who identify with that problem?
There are a number of natural solutions on offer and I offer some ideas below, but recently I have been testing something called the No Snore Pillow from House of Bath which claims to help prevent snoring throughout the night.   It is a specially shaped pillow which encourages airways to open up, and as this is one of the main causes of snoring, should help to alleviate it.
First I must say it is very comfortable to sleep on, and has a rolled cervical border that tilts your head to keep the airway open, whether you sleep on your back or side.  It’s a standard size pillow and my experience was that it reduced snoring, but didn’t stop it.  However the claim is that it can do so from testimonials from customers but I think that will take longer than the couple of weeks I gave it.  Certainly worth a try and you will find more details at www.houseofbath.co.uk
Natural Solutions
If snoring is making your life a misery it’s worth exploring all the options.   How are you breathing at night?  If you wake with a dry mouth it’s likely you are breathing through your mouth because your nasal passage is just too blocked to take enough air in.  There are various ways to correct this from nasal strips that keep the nostrils open to nasal or mouth sprays and plug in diffusers that release oils to help keep your breathing passages clear.  You can also force the mouth to stay closed with chinstraps or even simple tape to prevent it opening in the night might be enough to retrain your body to breathe more through your nose.

Too Tired To Socialise? An Eastern Natural Remedy

March 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Health


We all get tired from time to time, but apparently today’s women, and men too, could do with an extra day in the week to get everything done. You could of course argue that they would do best to cut down what they do, but realistically that isn’t always possible and a new report commissioned by Red Kooga indicates that almost two thirds (60%) of British women miss out on social engagements due to feeling too tired. More worryingly is that over four in ten (41%) admit that getting fit and healthy is the main thing to suffer as a result, while healthy eating goes out the window for just under a third (31%) and two in five (40%) admit that relaxation and ‘me-time’ is unheard of and fatigue leaves over a third (36%) not wanting to do anything in the evenings.

Well I can relate to that as that ‘to do’ list gets longer and juggling all the daily demands also builds up stress levels and depletes energy. Exercise is the best and easiest way to up your energy levels but even a ten minute walk can seem like too much to fit in sometimes and if you want to turn to a natural boost for your energy you might think about taking an ancient asian herb like ginseng. I first came across it in the 1960’s when it got a lot of publicity for its use by the Soviet armed forces for improving both strength and stamina and it has remained popular ever since, particularly for its ability to maintain mental alertness.

A relative newcomer on the energy scene in the west has been the herb guarana and combined with ginseng and B vitamins it can naturally give you a boost. Ginseng brand Red Kooga’s Natural Energy Release might be a place to start as it has all those in a handy supplement. If you had more energy what would you do? The respondents in the survey put self development top of their list with over half (55%) opting to do more exercise, two in three (42%) wanted to take more time to relax while a third (35%) would learn a new skill or hobby. If you want to know more about ginseng visit www.redkooga.co.uk

The Sound Asleep MP3/ipod Comfort Pillow- and how it can Help Tinnitus

March 2, 2010 by  
Filed under At Home, featured


I love technology that makes life better, and reminds me that most of the things I read about in 1930’s sci fi books have now mostly come true – how we laughed at the idea of a complete meal cooked in minutes from a box in the wall – hello microwaves and M&S ready meals! Now we have listening devices that are so small they are almost invisible and this means they can be used in places you might never have imagined – like your pillow.

Have you ever used music to help you drift off, or one of those subliminal tapes to learn a language or help you lose weight or stop smoking while you sleep? If you have you may have used headphones, or had to keep the volume low so your partner wasn’t disturbed by it, and you will know how annoying it is to start to drift off and hear the click as the music ends or you have to stretch to your bedside table and switch it off. Now there is a revolutionary new concept which marries a very comfortable memory foam pillow with a tiny built in speaker that you can plug your mp3, cassette player and most radios so you can drift off to sleep without uncomfortable headphones, or disturbing your partner. .

I asked a poor sleeper to test it out and they reported that the pillow was very comfortable as it moulded to their head shape and the tiny lead to their mp3 player could not be felt at all. They used a relaxing background track on their mp3 and found that a plus was that the pillow ‘switches off’ the sound at the end of your selected tracks. So no annoying click and, although you can hear your music or language cd clearly, it’s not audible to anyone else.

What particularly interested me about this whole concept is how it can use by those suffering from tinnitus. The continuous ringing or clicking sounds in the ear they experience seem more pronounced in quiet settings, such as in the bedroom before going to sleep. Sound therapy is often suggested and it works by reducing the difference, or contrast, between tinnitus sounds and a background sound which makes the tinnitus seem less intrusive. You can get ‘masking’ tracks to help muffle the tinnitus or just choose your favourite soft relaxing music to help you drift off.

The Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow will not emit any sound until it is connected to your device of choice such as a cd player or mp3/ipod and the cable is removable to keep the pillow tidy and safe when it’s not in use. Ideal if you like lying down and listening to music or audio books and don’t want to disturb anyone else.

How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under At Home, Health


Everyone occasionally has trouble sleeping, but if it becomes a habit then it a very damaging one for your health. You need a certain level of deep, uninterrupted sleep to help your body do its essential maintenance during the night and if you don’t get it then you definitely will suffer – ask any new mother!

New research has shown that an amazing 64% of us have a bad night’s sleep at least once a wee

k, with nearly one in five of us having sleep problems every night of the week and one in three of us is getting a minimal three to six hours a night. The main reason for sleep difficulties is usually down anxiety and stress and sadly most people put up with it, just lying there hoping to eventually fall asleep.

There are some six simple tips that can help, so let’s see if any of these work for you:

1 Pretend you are a child again and have a regular, enforced, bedtime.

2 Establish another routine in helping you unwind and relax before bed – not watching an adrenalin fuelled movie on tv, but maybe a relaxing bath or quietly meditating to or thinking of what you have to be grateful for that day. It will all help you let go of the stress of the day and be able to relax into sleep.

3 Keep the last hour of the day totally non tech and don’t watch TV, use the computer, mobile phone or iPod. However pleasurable, these will all over stimulate your brain and that’s the last thing you need when you are trying to get to sleep.

4 Make your bedroom a relaxing place that is just where you sleep and not where you keep books or TV or computers.

5 If your worries are keeping you awake, try writing them down before you go to sleep and tell yourself they are taken care of until the morning. Just doing this will help you put anxiety to one side during the night.

6 Spend some time and thought in making your bedroom a really calm, comforting sanctuary. It is your retreat from the world so make it a real pleasure to be in there.

Extra Help

If you still have trouble, before you resort to sleeping pills, do try these natural ways to encourage a good night’s sleep. I use them to combat the effects of the wind and rain which are making me anxious at the moment!

Lavender is very soothing so try having a lavender oil bath, or spray lavender in your bedroom to help you unwind.

Valerian and Hops are two herbs traditionally used to help sleep and there are two herbal remedies from Lane’s you might try. One is called Quiet Life which is particularly helpful if your sleeplessness is due to anxiety and worry and another called Kalms, especially for night time use.

Honey is used in India, just add two teaspoons to a cup of hot water and drink before bedtime.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that helps regulate the body’s biological clock. When your sleep pattern is disturbed then this rhythm is thrown off and supplementing with melatonin may help.

LightSleeper is a new product from a student who used to have terrible sleep problems. It uses the fact that the way the eyes track a book when reading can be soothing and she has mimicked that movement by using a light source instead. LightSleeper projects a light onto the ceiling and it moves in a controlled, circular motion, and it is claimed that following it encourages the mind to relax into a good night’s sleep. I am trying it myself so I will let you know how I get on, but if you want more information go to the website at www.lightsleeper.co.uk and you can also find it online at www.boots.com

Oh really – retirement and sleep

November 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Strange But True


You have got to admire those researchers, they keep coming up with ‘new’ ideas.  Apparently a new study in the journal Sleep shows that retirement is followed by a sharp decrease in the prevalence of sleep disturbances, particularly in men, management-level workers, employees who reported high psychological job demands, and people who occasionally or consistently worked night shifts.
No, really?  Guess why? Because the researchers have concluded that once you have no work-related stress it means you are likely to sleep better.  Who would have thought it?

Results showed that the odds of having disturbed sleep in the seven years after retirement were 26 percent lower than in the seven years before retiring and the greatest reduction in sleep disturbances was reported by those who had suffered depression or mental fatigue in their work life.
The study involved employees from the French national gas and electricity company, Electricité de France-Gaz de France, and research also indicated that the results were perhaps related to the fact that the participants had enjoyed employment benefits such as guaranteed job stability, a statutory retirement age between 55 and 60 years, and a company-paid pension that was 80 percent of their salary.
Not any more, I suspect and it doesn’t tally with my purely anecdotal research which indicates the opposite. Retirement with its sharp decline in income and adjustment to a different way of life can bring its own stresses.  Those working in a busy environment suddenly find life a little flat, with no one to exchange views with, discuss last night’s match or have their brains stretched solving a problem.
When I was working in my local library I found that the greatest number of books taken out by the elderly. Now although they are great readers, many also told me that they didn’t sleep as much as they used to so had given up trying and took out more books to see them through the night.

Has retirement affected your sleeping habits?

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