Do you know your smoothie powders?

If you have a cupboard packed with various powders for your morning smoothie, you may be feeling smug in the knowledge that you’re a powder pro. But do you know why you’re using them, and are you really getting the most out of the various concoctions you’re adding to your blended drink?

We’re here to break down a few of the powders, with help from Women’s Health.

Moringa

This North Indian leaf contains 17 times more calcium than milk and a whopping 25 times more iron than spinach – Popeye, eat your heart out! On top of this there are claims it helps control heart disease thanks to its cholesterol-absorbing plant sterols. The European Food Standards Authority found just 3g of the sterols is enough to lower cholesterol, so little is needed.

However, in the form of moringa, you’re getting around 450mh per teaspoon of plant compounds – that’s quite the difference. While there’s been no harm documented from taking too much, it may perhaps restrict your moringa intake to a couple of times a week rather than every day to allow your body to reap the benefits. It can also be added to a soup, and vegans will get the calcium they miss out from not eating diary with it.

Spirulina

A rich green powder that’s also a single-cell green algae doesn’t have the best taste, but it is super high in protein, making it perfect for your post-gym smoothies or shakes. It boasts around 60 per cent protein and is packed full of amino acids too, to help appetite control. So much so that a previous study documented by the Journal of Food Science Technology found those who took it lost a significant amount of weight.

Just 20g of protein is enough to help your muscles recover after a workout session, meaning a single scoop will provide only half of this. Get your protein from other sources too, like a handful of almonds alongside your drink.

Maca

No, we’re not talking about Paul McCartney here; maca is a powdered root that’s famous for boosting energy levels thanks to its vitamin B and minerals such as iodine and copper.

A further bonus is that it’s been found to boost libido, perfect from those suffering a sexual slump. A mere 3g, like with moringa, of maca is enough for women’s sex drive to be revved as found in previous research. It was also noted that these ‘aphrodisiac’ effects are triggered by a compound similar to testosterone, though more work needs to be done to determine this.

Having this in your smoothie is much better than reaching for a cup of black coffee or can of cola, as you’ll also be getting plenty of vitamin B. However, it doesn’t provide similar amounts to that found in, say oats, so be aware that you need more in your diet to feel the perks, like healthy metabolism and reduced risk of stroke.

Listening to music may help babies learn faster

Playing music to babies may help them learn language skills faster, a new study claims.

Researchers at the University of Washington suggest that listening to music with a waltz-like rhythm and tapping out the beats with their parents, improved babies’ processing of music patterns and speech sounds.

Researchers randomly assigned 39 nine-month-old babies to be exposed to music or serve as a control group. Nineteen babies in the control group played with toys during a dozen 15-minute sessions over a month. The other 20 babies listened to “recordings of children’s music played while an experimenter led the babies and their parents through tapping out the beats in time with the music,” lead study author T. Christina Zhao said, according to HealthDay. All the songs were in triple meter, such as waltzes, which were chosen because they’re relatively difficult for babies to learn.

The following week after the play sessions ended, all babies underwent brain scans.

“While sitting in the brain scanner, the babies listened to a series of music and speech sounds, each played out in a rhythm that was occasionally disrupted,” Zhao said. “The babies’ brains would show a particular response to indicate they could detect the disruption.”

The researchers found that the brains of the babies in the music exposure group were better able to respond to disruptions in speech and music rhythm.

Accordingly, the study results add another twist to the debate over whether music can make babies smarter. The researchers did admit that it is not clear how long the effect of listening to music may last or how much exposure to music is needed to make improvements in music and speech-pattern processing. But Zhao and her colleagues hope to learn whether or not the apparent effects from listening to music are lasting and how much exposure might be needed.

Previous research, known as the ‘Mozart effect’, looked into how music in early childhood might have a positive impact on young children’s brain development. But such theories are controversial and research into the relationship of sound and music for cognitive function and various physiological metrics has had no definitive results to date.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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.

The best duvet for a good night’s sleep

Using a wool duvet may be the secret to helping couples sleep easier, experts claim.

Many couples who share a bed will know what a struggle it can be when one person can drift off to sleep while the other starts tossing and turning because they are feeling too hot or cold.

Now, researchers say they have found a way to keep the peace at night and believe the secret to a deep sleep can be put down to the type of duvet used.

According to a report in Britain’s Daily Mail, University of Leeds researchers have found that wool-filled duvets can help regulate people’s bedtime temperature as they draw heat and moisture away from the body.

Even though people produce heat and perspire at different rates, it is claimed that wool can control the microclimate around each body allowing couples to remain comfortable under the same duvet.

This indicates that even when a couple shares a bed, heat will be drawn away from a person who tends to overheat at night but not from their partner who stays cool, leaving both to drift into a sound sleep.

The study compared wadding from different types of duvet on sale in the United Kingdom to examine the thermal insulation properties and moisture management.

They also analyzed how duvets cooled down from an extreme temperature of 70 degrees Celsius and what happened in the ideal sleep environment of 17 degrees Celsius and 45 per cent relative humidity.

Accordingly, analysts found wool allowed 67 per cent more moisture to escape over an eight-hour period than a feather/down wadding, and 43 per cent more than polyester.

Further, wool was able to cope with nearly double the amount of perspiration per hour than feather/down and around 50 per cent more than polyester.

In terms of heat management, wool was able to maintain the optimum body temperature for sleep of 35.1 degrees Celsius for the longest, with feather/down and polyester unable to maintain the level and instead exceeded 36.1 degrees Celsius.

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.

Energy zapping foods

Ever suffer from that mid-morning or mid-afternoon (or both!) slump? Well it might not have anything to do with your sleep the night before, and everything to do with the food you recently ate.

Nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin has given Daily Mail Australia the rundown on what foods zap the most energy from us. First up it’s your reliable cup of coffee. Yes, that caffeine hit you rely on daily may actually be doing you zero favors.

“Not only is coffee a diuretic, it actually stops your absorption of fluids and leaches out iron. All resulting in you ending up with less energy long term,” Zoe noted.

She adds that while caffeine will give you a short term boost in the energy stakes, this declines rapidly and will leave you even more tired after.

And as you step away from the coffee, make sure you ditch energy and diet soft drinks too.

“With anything that is synthetic your liver has to metabolize it,” the diet expert said. “It’s working harder than it should, leaving you tired.”

Zoe continues to explain that foods with a high salt or sugar content are also a no-no, as they cause your glycemic index to spike, meaning you’ll be on a high for a bit, before crashing down to no energy.

White bread is another culprit, which could explain why so many people feel sluggish after lunchtime.

During the day, if you’re hit with a snack attack then load up on a handful of nuts or an apple. If you’re after something sweet, try dipping apple chunks into a little peanut butter. For lunch opt for salads, full of grains and pulses. Avocado is also filling and makes a colorful edition to your plate. Protein like fish, chicken and boiled eggs will also give you afternoon energy. It’s fine to drink coffee, but maybe restrict to one or two cups a day. Fill the void with green tea, and begin the day with a hot lemon to kick start your metabolism.

Loneliness increases risk of heart attack and stroke

Lonely people are a third more likely to suffer an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke, according to new research.

British scientists from the universities of York, Liverpool and Newcastle examined data from over 181,000 people across 23 studies. Of all those individuals, 4,628 suffered from heart disease and 3,000 had a stroke, with experts finding a link between poor social relationships and incident cardiovascular disease.

They also noted the effect of loneliness is similar to that of work-stress or anxiety. People were 32 per cent more likely to have a stroke, and 29 per cent more prone to heart problems.

Scientists have long noted a correlation between being lonely and mental health and wellbeing, but this particular study is the largest to have shown the dramatic impact being alone has.

“Tackling loneliness and isolation may be a valuable addition to coronary heart disease and stroke prevention strategies,” authors noted of their findings, published in the journal Heart.

“Health practitioners have an important role to play in acknowledging the importance of social relations to their patients.”

Researcher Nicole Valtorta, of York University, stressed social isolation and loneliness shouldn’t be taken for granted like obesity and physical inactivity is, and hopes these findings will trigger more work to help the issue.

Dr Kellie Payne, from the Campaign to End Loneliness, further discussed the bigger picture of the problem.

“The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and cigarette smoking and this research helps to highlight yet further the need for loneliness to be treated as a serious public health issue,” she said.

“Loneliness is becoming a silent epidemic in our society. It’s the responsibility of our community as a whole to tackle it.”

Watercress extract helps detoxify carcinogens in smokers

An extract from watercress reduced the effects of carcinogens in smokers, lowering their risk for developing lung cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found supplements of an extract manufactured from the aquatic leaf vegetable, taken multiple times a day, reduced the activation of nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone and increased detoxification of benzene and acrolein, all of which lowers the risk of lung cancer.

The study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday (19Apr16), suggests it may be possible for the increased risk for lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes to be lowered or mitigated to an extent.

“Cigarette smokers are at far greater risk than the general public for developing lung cancer, and helping smokers quit should be our top cancer prevention priority in these people,” said Dr Jian-Min Yuan in a statement. “But nicotine is very addictive, and quitting can take time and multiple relapses. Having a tolerable, nontoxic treatment, like watercress extract, that can protect smokers against cancer would be an incredibly valuable tool in our cancer-fighting arsenal.”

For the study, Dr Yuan and his team enrolled 82 cigarette smokers in the randomized clinical trial. The participants either took 10 milligrams of watercress extract mixed in 1 milliliter of olive oil four times a day for a week or took a placebo. Each group of participants then had a one week “wash-out” period where they didn’t take anything and then switched so that those getting the placebo now received the extract. They all continued their regular smoking habits throughout the trial. In one week, the watercress extract reduced activation of the carcinogen known as nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone in the smokers by an average of 7.7 per cent. It increased detoxification of benzene by 24.6 per cent and acrolein by 15.1 per cent, but had no effect on crotonaldehyde. All the substances are found in cigarette smoke.

Researchers also reported that for participants missing genes that remove the carcinogens and toxicants from the body, the effect was even greater.

Furthermore, Dr. Yuan warned that while eating cruciferous vegetables, such as watercress and broccoli, is good for people, they are unlikely to have the same pronounced effect as the extract.

Another clinical trial of hundreds of people will need to be held before the treatment can be recommended for smokers.

Reasons behind your bloat

Feeling bloated and not sure why? There are some reasons why you feel stretched and uncomfortable that you may not even know about, which Robynne Chutkan M.D has divulged to Mind Body Green as part of her new book, The Bloat Cure: 101 Natural Solutions for Real and Lasting Relief.

Caffeine is a culprit, as its diuretic effect (increasing passing of urine) may cause you to feel hydrated, triggering a slower movement of food through your intestines that leads to backups and bloating.

On top of this, caffeine is known to overstimulate the digestive system, which may result in bloat-causing spasms and side effects like stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

So while coffee or cola may help you flush out liquids, you may want to cut down or cut it out completely if you suffer from regular bloating! Go for caffeine-free options and cut down slowly to allow your body to adjust.

Cruciferous vegetables, like cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower, along with beans, are all packed full of healthy elements such as fiber. However, there’s also raffinose – a starch that your body struggles to break down and digest properly. Combine this with the bacteria in your colon; the raffinose is fermented to form methane, a chemical compound that transpires as bloating.

You don’t need to stop eating these veggies completely, and there are ways to make eating them less painful. Lemon juice drizzled over the top will help stimulate the digestive enzymes, and you should always soak dried beans overnight before cooking them. Don’t pile them up too high either as although they’re good for you, too many will leave you feeling tight.

Keeping on the topic of food, a drunken meal at 11pm is no good for bloating as your stomach’s muscular contractions are not as active at night as they are during the day. So after filling up on calories and carbohydrates and lying down, your body won’t be able to use gravity to help transport things down south. Cue the bloat, and extra acid reflux.

The key to this is simple; eat your largest meal earlier in the day when your tummy is still active, then reduce to a smaller, lighter portion by dinnertime. A curfew will also help with snacking and stick to water after a certain time to help hydrate your body before bed.

Dairy dilemma

Dairy used to be a hero food product, and certainly as children we’re encouraged to get as much calcium as we can so our little bones can grow big and strong. However as adults dairy is increasingly off the menu, with a recent study by Mintel finding that one in five Britons claim to have bought or eaten dairy-free alternatives in the past six months.

Add to that the fact Public Health England now recommends cutting the amount of dairy from 15 per cent to just 8 per cent of daily food consumption and it’s easy to see why we’re opting for an almond milk latte over our normal white coffee.

However dairy isn’t all bad and countries including France, Australia, the U.S. and Ireland are actually encouraging its residents to consume more of the food product to try and combat calcium deficiency.

We take a closer look at why dairy should be back in our diets.

Cheese

Eating a hunk of cheese is obviously not great for our calorie intake, but sometimes only a humble cheese sandwich will satisfy a craving. While consuming blocks of the stuff isn’t recommended, it has been found cheese may protect against diabetes.

“People who eat a lot of dairy, show no difference in their risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or mortality compared with people who eat small amounts. If anything, there is a small risk reduction – so it is actually beneficial,” Professor Arne Astrup, head of the department of nutrition, exercise and sport at the University of Copenhagen and a global leader in nutrition and obesity research, told MailOnline.

He adds that cheese has been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, despite its high salt and saturated fat content.

Butter

Earlier this month (Apr16), British Medical Journal published a study that found those who ditch butter in favor of vegetable spreads saw their cholesterol levels drop, but it didn’t see a lower level of heart disease or death during the study period. Instead, it was found that those whose cholesterol dropped the most had a higher risk of death.

Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, explains that because of recent papers the health body is once again reviewing the saturated fats advice it gives.

“We base our advice on the recommendations arising from the Scientific Advice Committee on Nutrition,” he added. “When they last looked at fats, they recommended that saturated fat was having this effect of causing an increase in blood cholesterol, which is linked to an increase in cardiovascular or heart disease.

“Until they conclude that piece of work we are retaining our current advice.”

Milk

Various studies have linked milk consumption with cancer, leading many people to avoid the white stuff for plant-based alternatives. However Professor Ian Givens, who studies nutrition and human health at the University of Reading, says people shouldn’t discount the drink so quickly.

“Current evidence suggests milk might increase the risk of prostate cancer somewhat, but that it is strongly protective against colorectal cancer,” he noted.