Archive for August, 2012

The Truth About Belly Fat

Being overweight or obese surely puts you at a high risk for disease.

We wrote about this over a year ago on our blog and now a new study — yet another — out of the Mayo Clinic supports the claim that excess belly fat is even more dangerous than simply being obese.

Once again, even more important than simply reading the number on the scale, is where you carry your body weight.

Very simply, the size of your belly matters.

On the flipside, if you carry more of your weight in your hips and thighs, you’re at less of a risk.

Here’s the deal:

There are different types of fat in the body:

Visceral fat lies beneath the abdominal muscle, so is not visible.

On the other hand, subcutaneous fat is right underneath the skin, so can be seen.

And while it’s been established for a bit that those who have more belly fat, or visceral fat, are at a significantly higher heart disease and diabetes risk …

… this new study out of Mayo Clinic supports this notion.

In this particular study, researchers found even if you had a "normal" body mass index (BMI — which is a tool to define overweight/obesity) if you were apple shaped (a high waist-to-hip ratio), you were more likely to die from any cause, even compared to those who were obese!

The reason for this is that visceral fat surrounds the vital organs.  It also releases various hormones that have been linked to disease.  In a nutshell, belly fat is VERY dangerous!

In general, most women carry more of their weight in their lower body and men carry more of their weight around their middle…and that lower body fat may be actually somewhat protective.  We’re not suggesting gaining weight to protect you from heart disease, but when solely comparing the two types of fat, visceral fat is much more dangerous.

And, while it’s more common for men to carry their weight in their upper body, as women age, hormonal shifts tend to cause a shift in where body fat is stored.  It’s therefore not uncommon for women who go through menopause to gain more fat around their belly too.

So what can be done about this? 

First, measure your belly and see if you’re at risk.

Run a tape measure around your midsection at about the level of your belly button.  Breathe normally, don’t suck in, or pull the tape so tight you lose oxygen.

Goal: < 35” for women, and <40” for men.

How do you fare?

Fortunately visceral fat responds very well to exercise … in particular, high intensity exercise. 

A study published just a few years ago out of the University of Virginia — "Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition” — showed that those who exercised at the highest intensities (of course that is relative, depending on your current fitness level) had the greatest loss in belly fat!

Of course any movement is better than none, but this gives more reason to kick things up a notch!

And surely what you eat plays a big role too.

Check out our recent article for more specific ideas on interval training for fat loss?

And here are two more pieces for more ideas on weight loss strategies.

10 Permanent Fat Loss Strategies

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SUPERCHARGE Your Smoothies (9 powerful ingredients!)

Smoothies are one of the greatest quick, super convenient meals for those on the go.

But here’s the problem. 

Unless you’re making your own, you can get duped …

… duped with 100+ grams of sugar!

Fortunately when made at home, you can pack them full of serious nutrition.  It’s easy to fall into the same, basic pattern.  For us it’s often frozen banana, peanut butter, protein powder, almond milk.  While good, we do mix in some "Supershake Superfoods" that are power packed bundles of goodness.

9 powerful ingredients to boost immunity, give you energy and load you up with antioxidants 

  1.  Raw cocoa powder.  There is no sugar added, just a rich, dark chocolate taste that is loaded with antioxidants.  Try 1 – 2 TBS in your next smoothie.
  2. Spinach.  Yes, spinach — in its leafy green goodness form.  No, it won’t give your smoothie a gross flavor (but adding blueberries, too, will make the color more appealing).  We often add 2-3 large handfuls of raw spinach to our shake and blend to oblivion.  It’s loaded with fiber, iron, and other powerful vitamins and minerals and what a simple way to add more leafy greens to your diet.  Give it a whirl! 
  3. Walnuts.  We love nuts and have touted the benefits of these and other nuts.  But these guys in particular add a nice flavor (and nutrient boost) to the shakes.  Walnuts will help fill you up, with all their quality fat, protein and fiber.  Of course they’re also high in a vitamins and minerals, to boot, and give the shake just a different flavor than traditional nut butters.
  4. Pomegranate seeds.  While it’s a tedious job to extract each seed one by one, several stores now carry these seeds in a small container — no messy work at all — nothing but the beneficial seeds.
  5. Chia seeds.  While we’re on the ‘seed theme’ — let’s continue with these little sesame seed looking little guys that pack a powerful punch.  High in fiber.  High in protein.  Hight in omega-3 fats. Just be careful — blend and drink soon after, as these little guys make any liquid pretty gelatinous in just a short time.
  6. Kefir.  Ever hear of it? If you haven’t tried it, you should.  It’s a drinkable yogurt that’s high in calcium and healthy probiotics (food for your gut) that have been shown to boost immunity. 
  7. Green tea.  You can make a cup than use that as the liquid (blended with ice, it will cool it down immediately).  But the antioxidants in tea are well worth it and may have powerful effects like protecting your skin from sun damage, reducing your risk of heart disease and maybe even burning a little belly fat. 
  8. Black coffee.  It’s high in antioxidants.  You’ll get a little caffeine boost.  And if you like the flavor, it could be a nice shake that is loaded with nutrients.  I wouldn’t necessary mix it with green tea, but here’s another alternative as a liquid base.  Use a chocolate protein powder and, voila, you’ve got a mocha shake.  Awesome!
  9. Fresh ginger. You’ll find ginger root in the produce aisle of your grocery store.  Grate about 1 TBS (it has some heat, so don’t go overboard) for a nice kick to your dish.  But the antimicrobial and immune boosting properties make this one well worth it!

What do you think of those?  Of course we suggest you use a scoop of your favorite protein powder; we like and use BiProUSA’s whey protein isolate because it’s free of any artificial sweeteners, but whichever you like will work. 

Post your favorite recipe in the comments section — we can compile them and send out a smoothie ebook.

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5 “Health” Foods You Shouldn’t Eat

There are over 50,000 foods in any given grocery store.

And the food industry spends billions each year marketing to you (and your kids).

But unfortunately many of these so called "health" foods are nothing of the sort and can actually hurt you and your goals.

Let’s cover 5 of them so you never get duped again by the marketers trying to sell you their "story" while they sing the praises of these potentially dangerous foods.

  1. Microwave Popcorn.  This is when good food goes bad.  Regular, dangers of microwave popcornair popped popcorn with a drizzle of butter can actually be a decent snack.  Lots of volume.  Very few calories.  Quality whole grain and decent source of fiber.  BUT, there are dangerous chemicals lurking in the lining of the bag when you pick up a so called "healthy" box of the microwaved junk.  The EPA has found up to 4 dozen chemicals in the steam from a bag of microwave popcorn, some of which may be carcinogenic and have been linked to infertility in some studies.  
    Make it better – add kernels to a regular old brown paper lunch bag, fold the top over, seal it with a staple or two and pop away.  Even better — maybe you have one of those air poppers that simply pops the popcorn with plain old hot air.
  2. Rice Cakes.  These snack foods first came to light with the fat free "movement" in the 90′s.  But like the fat free movement itself, these should be forgotten about.  They have no substance.  Snacking on them won’t are rice cakes a good snack?fill you up.  And they don’t really taste good, to boot.
    Make it better — swap these for a handful of nuts.  Nuts are one of the healthiest snack foods you can find.  They fulfill the crunch you’re after.  They’ll actually fill you up because of the protein, healthy fat and fiber in them.  And they’re portable which is always a plus.
  3. Breakfast Cereal.  WHAT?  Yup, we said it — breakfast cereal.  Sure, there are some good ones but thesugar cereal will kill you majority of these sugar bombs are not much better than Twinkies!  In fact, a quick comparison of popular Honey Smacks shows 1 cup has more sugar than a Twinkie!  And don’t think it’s just the junky kids cereals that are loaded with sugar.  Kellog’s Smart Start Strong Heart packs a wholloping 17 grams of sugar per serving (just 3 grams less than the previously mentioned Honey Smacks).  Hmmmm, Smart Start or a Twinkie?  Not much different outside of some basic fortification with vitamins and minerals.
    Make it better — if you really want cereal, try basic rolled oats, add some fruit fruit and nuts and you’ll be much better off.  Few ingredients.  High fiber.  And not the sugar bomb you and your kids may be used to.
  4. Salad dressing. I’m not talking about the quality stuff you can make at home.  And not even the cream based dressings, like Ranch or Blue Cheese (though those are junk too).  We’re talking about the soy bean dangerous salad dressingoil based too many ingredient product you buy on store shelves.  Soybean oil is an evil oil you should avoid, even though it’s lurking in a ton of products, such as salad dressing among others.  And don’t fall for the "fat free" trick — then the first ingredient is water and you have a watered down, flavorless bottle of a gelatinous substance that will ruin any good salad. 
    Make it better.  Use a high quality olive oil, add some balsamic vinegar and add a squeeze of citrus, like orange or lemon, and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese (the kind you buy in a small block).  Add a little pinch of salt and pepper and you’ve just saved your salad.
  5. Salad.  Piggybacking on #4, let’s pick on the ultimate "diet" food — the salad.  There I was — my first time in Pittsburgh when I was working towards my PhD.  I went to a restaurant with some friends, ordered a salad with grilled chicken — so far so good — and the bowl of greens shows up full of iceberg lettuce with FRENCH FRIES ON THE BOTTOM!  Seriously?  I quickly learned "it’s a Pittsburgh" thing and unless you ask otherwise, you too will have French fries on your salad.  For real. salad for weight loss

    Maybe that example is a bit extreme (unless you live in Pittsburgh), while salads can be great, they can also give people a false sense of dieting security and go horribly, horribly wrong.  The salads at many restaurants pack in more calories than 2 Big Macs.  By the time you add on the Lo Mein noodles, the cheese, bacon or bacon bits and cream dressing – you’d be better off with another option.  We love salads when done right, but all too often they give a false sense of security (e.g., the weight loss client who insists that "all I eat are salads").

    Make it better.  Swap out the flavorless Iceburg lettuce  for a dark, leafy green like spinach.  If you want some even better variety, many stores now offer "Superfood Mixes" that include kale, Swiss chard, and even shaved Brussels sprouts!  Add in as many veggies as you want (yes, French fries ARE a vegetable, but they don’t count).  And use the dressing suggestion I listed above.  You can even ask for this at a restaurant — they’ll all have olive oil and balsamic vinegar on hand.  Don’t let a good salad go bad. 

And there you have it — 5 "Health" Foods You Shouldn’t Eat and the solution to make each better.

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3 SIMPLE Tips to Build a Better Lunch

It’s back to school time.

But whether you’re packing for yourself or for your kids, it doesn’t matter.

The same basic principles apply.

Sure, maybe it would be a bit weird if you showed up with a Dora yogurt in your lunch — as a 40 year old woman – but, to be honest, those are kind of junky for the kids anyhow.  So let’s toss ‘em from everyone’s lunch box.

First and foremost, pack your own lunch.

For you.  For your kids.

You can’t beat brown bagging it.  When you do YOUR in control.

Rather than complain about the junk that’s served at your kids’ school, serve them what you want and you control it (that is, of course, unless they’re trading snacks and everything else).  But that’s a different issue.

Second, pack your lunch the night before … not the morning of, as everyone is rushing out the door

This is simple planning.  Fail to plan and plan to fail.  Pack your food the night before.  And involve your kids.  The more involved they are, the more likely they are to make smart food choices.

Third, make sure each lunch has some protein, some veggies and/or fruit.

Protein helps fill you up.  Protein keeps you more alert for those afternoon classes or long work meetings.  And veggies and fruit … well, we know those are fantastic and few people eat enough.

Here are 5 simple ideas to get you started.

  • Pick up a rotisserie chicken (one of the most simple, yet key tips EVER) at the grocery store & slice it thin like a cold cuts, use a little mustard, sliced tomato, baby and spinach, add it to a sprouted grain tortilla wrap or pita pocket (we like Food for Life brand) and voila — perfect meal for kids and adults
  • Slice apples thin, put peanut butter in the middle — "apple sandwiches" (our 3 year old, Ella, LOVES this)
  • Mix a packet of salmon with mustard and mashed avocado, add celery and you’ve got a great meal.  Enjoy it with a side of fruit.  Great for adults, kids might be a bit pickier on this one.  But try it!
  • Pack some cottage cheese, fruit and nuts.  Great source of protein, healthy fruit and healthy fat from the nuts. 
  • Try a baggie of baby carrots and hummus.  Kids love dipping, so hummus is a much better option than most others!

There you have it.  Try those 3 simple tips to build a better lunch and any of the 5 ideas when putting it together (THE NIGHT BEFORE!)

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Two Most Dangerous Words in Nutrition

I just got back from Long Beach California at the Perform Better conference.  I’ve been fortunate to be on their speaking circuit for the last 3 years; it’s truly one of the best conferences for those in the fitness industry, from the speakers, attendees and organizers.

gluten free dietI spoke this weekend about "Hot Trends in Nutrition" to a packed room of about 400 strength coaches and trainers from around the world.  We talked about fun stuff like gluten, the Paleo Diet, intermittent fasting and so much more.

While there, I also of course sat in on many other lectures and workouts to continue to get better myself.

One other speakers — Martin Rooney — said something that I really liked.

He talked about two dangerous words.  I’ll get even more specific and say the two most dangerous words in nutrition, though these could be applied to anything.

Any guesses?

Here’s a hint:

  • Not ‘trans fat’
  • Not ‘sugar & carbohydrates’
  • Not ‘soft drinks’
  • Not ‘egg yolks’

Here are the two words.  THEY SAY.

THEY SAY carbohydrates are bad for you (they’re wrong, when you choose the right type)

THEY SAY I should give up gluten (not unless you’re intolerant)

THEY SAY fat is unhealthy (not when you choose the right fats)

THEY SAY eating egg yolks is dangerous (nope, wrong again).

THEY SAY all calories are created equally (100 calories from soda = 100 calories from blueberries?  Get real)

First, who is "THEY?"  Second, "THEY" are often wrong so don’t believe ‘em.

When talking this weekend I touched on the topics I mentioned above and many more.  And the questions kept coming up. 

For example, I brought up the hot topic of intermittent fasting.  Someone raised his hand and said "BUT I read if you fast for 14 hours each day it will positively affect your hormones and boost fat loss."

In other words, "THEY SAY."

The problem is "THEY SAY" a lot and are usually trying to sell you something. 

You have to do you own research.  Experiment yourself.  Base your findings on what really works, what’s not based on "THEY SAY" and actually formulate your own thoughts and opinions.

If we only focused on what THEY SAY — we’d be running in circles. 

Let’s go back to the egg example.  THEY SAY egg yolks will cause heart disease.

It was once thought that cholesterol causes heart disease.  Therefore, because egg yolks are high in cholesterol, eating egg yolks causes heart disease.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Egg yolks are amazing for you and have much more nutrition than just the whites.  The yolks carry all the important vitamins, minerals and more protein.  So if you follow what "THEY SAY" you’ll be tossing away all that goodness and eating just the whites.

I remember a nutrition professor of mine — we’ll call her "Dr THEY SAY" who said that people should throw out the yolks but not give them to their dogs, as many were doing at the time, so they didn’t get wasted.  But then her vet reported all these cases of heart disease in dogs!

Again, THEY SAY.

We could go on.  Butter and margarine.  Fat in the diet.  Carbohydrates.

If you read too much you’re bound to find conflicting information.  Ask 10 different people how they feel about carbohydrates and fat and you’ll likely get 10 different answers leaving you even more confused.

Don’t listen to what "THEY SAY" — find a trusted source of information, do what works for you and you’ll get results.  Those who read too much, listen to too much won’t know what to believe and will be left confused.  When left confused, that means one thing.

Inaction.

And at the end of the day, if you don’t take action, you won’t get results.

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