Paleo diet effective for weight loss

The popular Paleo diet plan is more effective for weight loss than previously thought, research finds.

A Paleo diet encourages consumption of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts and eggs, and is based on foods presumed to be available to Paleolithic humans. Legumes, processed oils and dairy products are banned.

As part of research into the diet, experts from Australia’s Edith Cowan University (ECU) put 39 healthy women on either a standard diet or a Paleo regime for four weeks. Following the trial, lead researcher Angela Genoni said women on the Paleo diet lost an average of two kilograms (4.4 pounds) more over the period than the standard diet control group.

“While both groups lost weight over the period, the Paleo group lost an average of 4.3 per cent of their body weight over the testing period, compared to 1.6 per cent for the recommended dietary guidelines group,” she said, according to ABC News.

Those on the standard diet were asked to increase vegetable and fruit intake and whole grain products, reduce fat intake, and consume low fat dairy products.

“Advice was also given to reduce intake of discretionary food items, such as cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks and candy,” the report noted.

Researchers also compared the impact of the diets on cardiovascular health and found no significant difference between the two diets. But as the long-term health effects of eating a Paleo diet remain unclear, and despite the weight loss on a Paleo diet, they were careful not to advocate for any diet that cuts out whole food groups.

For instance, the researchers found that while the reduction in carbohydrate consumption did not impact on fiber intake in the Paleolithic group, significant reductions in thiamin, riboflavin and calcium levels were noted.

“Significantly, the Paleo diet markedly reduces the calcium intake relative to the (standard healthy guidelines) diet because it excludes all dairy products, which could have a negative impact on bone strength, particularly in older people,” Genoni said.

The researchers are planning further studies to investigate the impact of the Paleo diet on gut heath as well as to assess the impact of such diets over a longer term.

The study results were first published in the Nutrients journal.

Latest diet advice: Don’t fear fat

The key to dropping weight is to eat more good fats, claim experts.

For many, the first way to shed some pounds is to start eating a low fat diet, which means calorie counting and cutting out some of life’s most delicious foods.

However, in a new report by the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration, it is asserted that a diet high in healthy fats can actually curb the obesity crisis as well as type-2 diabetes, which is fueled by people’s soaring waistlines.

“Eating a diet rich in full-fat dairy – such as cheese, milk and yogurt – can actually lower the chance of obesity,” the report states.

“The most natural and nutritious foods available – meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados – all contain saturated fat. The continued demonization of omnipresent natural fat drives people away from highly nourishing, wholesome and health promoting foods.”

The work also suggests avoiding processed food labelled as low fat or similar claims should be avoided, as should sugar, and refined carbohydrates should be consumed in small amounts.

Authors have also called for a return to “whole foods” like meat, fish and dairy and claim full fat dairy can protect the heart.

Professor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, feels current dietary guidelines are deeply flawed.

“Current efforts have failed – the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of Government and scientists,” he sighed.

Co-author of the report, Aseem Malhotra added: “We must urgently change the message to the public to reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“Eat fat to get slim, don’t fear fat, fat is your friend. It’s now truly time to bring back the fat.”

The report hasn’t gone down well with everyone though, with many from the scientific community slamming the advice.

“The claim that eating fat doesn’t make you fat is absurd. If you eat a lot of fat, you will get fat,” fumed professor Tom Sanders, of King’s College London.

Being busy keeps mind sharp

Though most of us complain when our schedules become too busy, new research suggests that being overbooked may actually be beneficial for the brain.

In a study undertaken by researchers at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas in Dallas, 330 healthy men and women aged between 50 and 89 were surveyed about their daily schedule. They then took part in a long series of neuropsychological tests to measure their cognitive performance.

Accordingly, the results indicated that at any age, and regardless of education, a busier lifestyle is associated with superior processing speed of the brain, working memory, reasoning, and vocabulary. Especially strong is the association between busyness and better episodic memory, being the ability to remember specific events in the past.

“We show that people who report greater levels of daily busyness tend to have better cognition, especially with regard to memory for recently learned information,” said lead author Dr Sara Festini.

One mediating factor accounting for the relationship between busyness and brain activity may be the new learning process, propose the researchers. They say busy people are likely to have more opportunities to learn as they are exposed to more information and encounter a wider range of situations in daily life.

However, Dr Festini and her colleagues warn that the findings don’t prove that “busyness” can make people smarter.

“Living a busy lifestyle appears beneficial for mental function, although additional experimental work is needed to determine if manipulations of busyness have the same effect,” she said in a statement.

The research is part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, one of the most comprehensive studies of age-related changes in cognition and brain function in adults currently underway in the United States.

Director of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, Denise Park, said she was hopeful the findings would spur further investigation into the topic.

“We were surprised at how little research there was on busyness, given that being too busy seems to be a fact of modern life for so many,” she said.

The study was first published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

How to stay healthy while traveling

While most of us love a relaxing holiday or travel abroad, one of the downsides to racking up those frequent flier miles is that it is harder to sustain healthy habits.

With routine abandoned, food in abundance and less access to the gym, the motivation to pound the pavement and burn off those extra calories typically goes out the window.

But with the summer travel season just around the corner, we’ve compiled some top tips to staying healthy while traveling.

Avoid mindless eating on the plane

When traveling on long-haul flights it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of mindlessly eating what is put in front of you, with food becoming a time occupier. In a blog post, nutritional biochemist and author Dr Libby Weaver encourages people to simply eat when they are hungry and not feel bad about turning down meals when offered by flight staff. She also advises people avoid coffee and alcohol, as these can dehydrate you further. Another good way to prioritize your diet is to pack your snacks ahead of time. While it may take a bit of extra planning, not only will you feel better when you land, you’ll avoid shelling out on bland airport meals.

Drink vegetable juices or smoothies

As soon as you land, grab a fresh vegetable juice to top your body up with added nutrition. If vegetable juice isn’t on offer, look for a fruit juice or smoothie which is high in vitamin C or citrus fruits, in order to support your immune system after draining air-conditioned flights. Food blogger Ella Woodward also recommends packing a travel blender when going on a trip so you can pick up local fruits and nuts, as well as some spinach and whizz up a quick smoothie each morning. It’s also a good idea to travel with a vitamin C supplement for a further boost.

Go for walks

When flying or on train journeys, it is import to move whenever possible, and simply walking up and down the aisles should do the trick. While sitting make sure you flex your ankles at regular intervals and moves your legs to keep the blood flowing. When you reach your destination, drop your bags and go for a quick tour around the town – this has the dual benefit of acclimatizing you to your surroundings and is a great way to incorporate movement.

Rest when you need it

While it is important to move and stay active when traveling long distances, rest is also vital. Dr Weaver suggests scheduling rest periods into your date, especially when on business trips, just as you would arrange any other appointment. Accordingly, when you get busy, you’ll always have that reminder when it is time for a break.

Ways to wake up without coffee

A ringing alarm clock spells dread in the morning whether you have to get ready for work or something more relaxed.

And while many of us rely on caffeine to help get us going, if you’re looking to cut back on your consumption or have never been a big fan of the beverage’s acquired taste, check out some other ways to help invigorate your sleepy mornings.

Find the light

In a new AsapScience video, researchers explain that it is important to “find the light” in order to properly wake up your body. This can be achieved by opening curtains, having a quick step outside or using an illuminating alarm clock to slowly fill your bedroom with light if you need to get up before sunrise. Exposure to light is an important part of waking up, as it helps your body produce less melatonin, a hormone secreted in the brain that plays a major role in regulating sleep.

Cold blast

A sure fire way to make you feel alive is by taking a warm shower and ending it with a blast of cold water. Experts have found that the shock of a cold shower can increase your metabolic rate and can cut down on feelings of fatigue. While this may seem a little harsh at first, perhaps try getting clean with warm water, then gradually turning the temperature down a notch for the final minute.

Rehydrate

If you’re not a morning person, have two glasses of water right after you wake up. It will boost your blood pressure to normal levels, and it’s better than having your first coffee on an empty stomach. Drinking water before eating anything is also a good way to purify your internal system, remembering that 70 per cent of the human body content is water.

Listen to music

Listening to music can increase blood pressure, release dopamine throughout the body to activate positive feelings and make your pupils dilate. Set up an a.m. playlist packed with your favourite energising tunes and play it while getting ready. Researchers suggest listening to upbeat music when you’re making breakfast and turning to Bach concertos or Handel’s Water Music when you can’t concentrate on your commute.

Drink orange juice

Sipping orange juice can also give you a boost in the morning as the citrus fruits are rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids have been linked to slowing cognitive decline from aging, with orange juice also said to increase alertness and brain function. Orange juice also has impressive vitamin C content, with each serving giving a significant portion of the daily recommended value. Vitamin C is responsible for forming collagen, the protein required to produce ligaments, blood vessels, scar tissue, skin and tendons.

Get active

Researchers suggest doing physical activity first thing in the morning can help make you more alert, as it increases blood flow and provides more oxygen to the brain. Heading outside for a morning run may be the last thing you want to do while lying comfortably under the covers, but lacing up your sneakers and doing a burst of exercise, for as little as seven minutes, will release endorphins that’ll boost your mood and energy levels.

Drinking water before meals and other diet hacks

It’s a known fact that often when you’re feeling hungry, your body is actually thirsty and crying out for water. Equally it’s common knowledge that glugging a glass of H2O before a meal can mean fewer mouthfuls consumed. And for any water before dinner doubters, a team of Dutch researchers has now proved the diet myth true.

The team published their results in journal Obesity, after studying a group of overweight and obese men and women. The participants were split into two sub groups and given separate eating plans. One group were put on a hypocaloric diet, which saw them eat less calories than they were burning, while the others were also put on a hypocaloric diet but also upped their water intake, consuming 500ml of water half an hour before their three daily meals. Calories were restricted to 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men, and both groups followed the diet for 12 weeks.

All participants dropped weight after finishing the strict plan, but the water drinkers lost an additional 2 kg (4.4lb) compared to the others. Further tests showed that the water group ate less calories at meal times (40 on average), which backs previous research into the theory.

Taking the time to sip water before eating a meal is an easy diet trick to incorporate into your daily routine. We’ve rounded up three more simple hacks and swaps that will see you shed any unwanted pounds.

Smaller plates

There has been loads of research into this area, with findings concluding that a smaller plate means less food piled on, equaling fewer calories consumed. One study led by Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum from the Georgia Institute of Technology estimated that on average you can lose 10 pounds in a year using the small plate trick.

Plate color

Wansink and van Ittersum further found that plate color can play a key role in how much food you serve yourself. Crockery that is the same color as the food you’re eating saw people add 30 per cent more to their plate. This is because when the colors are similar, it’s harder to see what a big portion you’re dishing out. While having cupboards full of plates isn’t a great space saver, investing in a light set and dark set could be the answer.

Focus on your food

It’s been shown that people who are distracted when they eat, with Facebook, checking emails or even watching TV, eat 10 per cent more than they would if they were focused on their meals. Phones and laptops are part of everyday life, but switch off before you sit down for a quick way to cut calories.

Why the sun is good for our bodies

Good news sun worshippers, research from around the world has concluded that a dose of sunny weather really is good for us.

While it’s well known that sun exposure without SPF can result in skin cancer and badly aged skin, researchers from various global institutes have found a whole host of good reasons to get in the summer spirit.

As well as skin creating vitamin D from sunlight, which is essential for healthy bones, scientists have also found sunshine allows the body to produce feel good chemical serotonin and also nitric oxide, which helps protect our cardiovascular system. Previous research published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal found that just five minutes of exercise outdoors can make you feel happier and less stressed.

It’s also been found that 20 to 30 minutes of early morning fitness in sunshine can help lower body fat. If you’ve been putting off joining a gym, then now is definitely the time to take your workouts outside.

As mentioned above, skin cancer and sunshine is a known link for those who lay in the sun, but were you aware that vitamin D can protect against colon, kidney and breast cancer? The US National Cancer Institute found people exposed to high levels of sunshine were less likely to die from breast and colon cancer, as well as bladder, womb, esophagus and stomach cancer. Make sure you’re wearing at least SPF 30 though when lounging around in the great outdoors, and take regular breaks in the shade.

Vitamin D also has positive effects on fertility, boosting levels of progesterone and estrogen and regulating menstrual cycles. As well as impacting the female sex hormones, sunshine also improves levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone.

Plus the wonder vitamin can improve memory, and protect against dementia. So what are you waiting for? The next time the sun breaks between the clouds, grab some SPF and get outside!

Middle-aged men without friends at risk of health problems

Men who lack a strong social network are more likely to suffer health issues like a stroke or depression, research has found.

Initiative beyondblue, which raises awareness for mental health problems like anxiety, found that males who are facing isolation and loneliness as they head into middle age are five times more at risk of dying from the problems mentioned above, as well as high blood pressure and heart disease.

They are also more prone to psychological distress, as they have no one to discuss their feelings and thoughts with. A report by beyondblue found 25 per cent of 30 men, aged 65, had no one aside from their immediate family to rely on. On top of this, 37 per cent reported not being happy with the strength and quality of their relationships, and often felt they weren’t supported or connected enough emotionally.

“Many men want greater openness with their friends and to be able to talk about personal problems, but admit they don’t always have the skills or tools to initiate these conversations, or understand how to respond when a friend opens up to them,” researchers shared.

Dr Stephen Carbone, head of the project, explained that social support is used as a protective mechanism against mental health issues like depression, and that it proves valuable in diffusing stressful situations.

While Dr Carbone notes it’s not every middle-aged man will suffer such grievances, he does believe they will do better in the long run with friends.

So why are friendships difficult as men get older? Issues such as expectations and cultural norms associated with masculinity were identified, though these do not provide a proper explanation.

“There are nuances below that, such as changes in family circumstances, or financial issues, or changes in work, or people moving away from where they grew up, or middle-aged men not keeping up with sport and losing contact with that group of friends,” Dr Carbone added on other aspects that may play a big part in this subject.

His words of advice: don’t stop making the effort. Social networks need to be kept alive by regular contact, even if the man in question is feeling sluggish and tired after a long day at work.

Another expert, Dr Elizabeth Celi, a psychologist and men’s mental health specialist, urges men to open up more too, and says that males should never compare their bonds to women’s.

Meditation apps to help find inner peace

With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked, which in turn can impact their health. While we are often so busy that there’s no time to stop and smell the roses, turning to you phone may actually prove beneficial in this case. Meditation apps are proving all the rage, and are a great way to get a little added Zen into your day.

You may be a little skeptical at first, but such apps can make getting that quiet time a little more accessible. A good way to try meditation is to check out the Calm app, which offers relaxing sounds and encourages meditation goals. Or for beginners and more experienced mediators alike, the Headspace app is a good option as it guides users through ten minute long daily meditations to help you get used to the ritual. Once you complete these, you receive an invitation to subscribe to more programmes.

To overcome stress and find some inner peace and balance during your day, get Stop, Breathe and Think. This app will try and help you find the root cause of your problems and involves asking questions about your mental, physical and emotional well being. Based on your answers, you will get guided meditations to solve your problems. Another great app to download is Whil. It provides yoga and “mindfulness training” in both video and audio forms.

With a view to mindfulness, another intriguing app is Checky, which tracks how many times you check your phone each day with a view to making you more watchful about how you use your time. Or if you are simply in need of some quiet time, an app simply titled Meditation helps you relax through its soothing series of chiming bells, flowing water on rocks and some sweet symphonies.

But if you are in need of some serious spiritual guidance, turn to the MindBody application in order to locate your nearest yoga classes or meditation centers.

With all of these great apps available, there’s no better time try meditation, particularly in light of a new study which found that regular meditation sessions can knock seven and a half years off a middle-aged brain.

Along with American and Australian scientists, researchers at Jena University Hospital in Germany fed scans into a computer programme that analysed the images and provided an age for each brain based on its physical condition.

In general, the results showed that a non-meditators’ brain age and actual age were the same.

However, the meditators’ brains were significantly younger than their years, with the average 50-year-old having a brain that belonged in a 42 or 43 year-old’s body.

The benefits were particularly great for the older meditators, for every extra year past 50, a youth spent mediating reduced an extra year off brain age.

Earth Day: Food habits to help save the world

Conservation and waste reduction have been associated with April 22 since the first Earth Day in 1970, with many marking the annual celebration by planting trees. But this year (16), the organisation is putting a spin on traditional themes, planting ideas with consumers who seek fewer illnesses, less food waste and lower bills. In that spirit, here are some reasons to think a little more about what’s on our plates and in our kitchens.

Go meat-free once a week

Numerous studies demonstrate that vegetarians have lower incidences of heart disease, lower BMI and lower blood pressure than their meat-eating counterparts. According to the World Cancer Research Fund eating too much meat can increase your risk of bowel cancer. They recommend that you should eat no more than 500 grams (cooked weight) per week of red meat to reduce this risk. And the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide.

Buy local

Buying out-of-season produce which has been flown around the world is way one to lower your eco-credentials. When you shop at local butchers, bakers and grocers it is more likely that a percentage of the produce has had a much shorter journey to your plate. Along with supporting local farmers, it means your food is more likely to contain more nutrients and have less packaging.

Buy seasonal

As we have the luxury of buying all sorts of fruits and vegetables from the supermarket, we can fall prey to the vicious cycle of mass production. One Japanese study found a huge difference between the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter. Accordingly, keep an eye out for when fruit and vegetables are in season and plan your diet in sync.

Carry reusable water bottles

Whenever possible, carry a reusable water bottle with you. It takes seven liters of water to make one plastic water bottle and it’s estimated that each person in the U.K. uses approximately 200 water bottles each year. Further, by recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60W light bulb for up to 6 hours.

Carry your own utensils

Buy a kit of bamboo utensils or just pop a spare knife, fork and spoon or stainless steel chopsticks into your bag. If you do have to eat on the go, this saves the use of plastic utensils and you’ll also be making a dent in the 40 billion plastic utensils used in the U.S. alone each year.

Stop buying one-time-use items

Eliminate one use items such as paper towels from your kitchen and use rags or cloths instead. Toss them in with your weekly wash and you’ll be making another step towards eco-stardom.

By doing so you’ll save money and a few trees too. According to Recycle Nation, if every household in the U.S. used just one fewer 70-sheet roll of virgin fiber paper towels, it would save 544,000 trees each year.