Recent research shows that eating foods loaded with saturated fats and sugars causes changes in your brain that trigger withdrawal symptoms when you stop eating them and switch to a healthier diet. Your neurotransmitter dopamine links its reward system to those sugary and saturated-fat-laden foods, and it goes into a funk when they aren’t around. As a result, you feel depressed, your appetite-control hormones get wacky, and you rush back to get more, more, more of those oh-so-aging fats or sweets.
But we have a dopamine-protecting diet plan that will keep your brain happily rewarding you for what you eat – even though there’s no excess saturated fat or added sugar around.
Eat plenty of lean protein: salmon and trout, skinless chicken, turkey, legumes; they contain amino acids that stimulate dopamine production. So swap that fried chicken (with saturated and trans fats) for mustard- or walnut-crusted salmon and a side of kidney beans.
Go for amino-acid-rich blueberries and apples. You’ll get a sweet taste without the immune-system-damaging, brain-numbing effects of added sugar and sugar syrups.
Then go nuts (and seeds). Walnuts are loaded with nutrients that promote clear thinking; sesame seeds and sesame seed oil protect dopamine levels; so does a half a glass of red wine. Cheers!
How to lose weight and keep it off
Is your weight doing an off-again, on-again tango? Do you regain what you lost? Well, you’re not alone: Up to two-thirds of overweight folks who lose 5 percent to 10 percent of their body weight regain it (and more) within five years. That’s not only discouraging, but the bounce-back boosts lousy LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, raises glucose and insulin levels, and increases insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes).
Well, we know how you can take the bounce-back out of your weight-control plan and put the bounce back into your step. Nurture your appetite-control hormones (leptin, which says "I’m full," and ghrelin, which says "I’m hungry"); make physical activity part of every day; and KO negative stress.
1. Excess weight creates leptin resistance; you can’t hear its "stop eating now" message. So you want to eat healthy foods that keep you feeling full: 100 percent whole grains, fiber-rich vegetables and fruit, and lean proteins. Also: Eat five times a day – two snacks, three meals – to reduce cravings.
2. Next: Walk an extra 30 minutes a day (aiming for 10,000 steps daily). You’ll improve muscle tone, burn fat, increase your metabolism and ease stress.
3. And since stress boosts ghrelin, it can send the message "Eat bad-for-you comfort food now!" Show it the door with 10 minutes of meditation daily. Deep breathing and progressive tensing and relaxing of your muscles from toe to head should do it.
Vitamin D-3 gets an A
Superhero vitamins were dealt a super-setback in fall 2012, when the Federal Trade Commission said manufacturers of Spider-Man and other character-branded supplements made bogus claims about what the pills could do for your kids’ health.
We know there’s a lot of iffy info about vitamins out there, but we’re certain that vitamin D-3 supplements should be an essential part of your health plan. Unfortunately, almost no one gets enough sunshine-made vitamin D-3 for it to do its job, and it’s got a big one: reduce inflammation, regulate cell growth and protect your immune and neuromuscular systems. And its potential benefits don’t stop there.
• Women 65-plus who get enough D-3 have greater brainpower and less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
• Pregnant moms with healthy blood levels of D-3 may avoid having underweight babies, and the moms themselves are at lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis later in life.
• Getting enough D-3 seems to cut tooth decay in half and reduce the risk of bladder cancer and type 1 diabetes.
So what do you need to get all this D-3 power? The Endocrine Society says you should have a D blood level of 30 nmol/L; new Institute of Medicine recommendations say 20. But we say 50 to 80 is good. So get a blood test to see what your level is. And take daily supplements to help you maintain a healthy level. We recommend taking 1,000 IU of D-3 a day, 1,200 IU if you’re over 60. And ask your doc about kids’ supplements – everybody needs them.
Why oversleeping may mean too little
Getting too much sleep is associated with everything from Alzheimer’s disease and depression to diabetes and heart disease.
What triggers hypersomnia, or oversleeping? New research shows that for some it’s caused by a dysfunction of GABA, a sleep-inducing brain chemical that, when supercharged, acts like anesthesia. But for most people, oversleeping is the result of too little or erratic sleep – in other words, exhaustion.
Sleep apnea, excessive snoring, lack of daytime physical activity, stress and having a computer, cellphone or TV in your bedroom are common causes of poor sleeping habits that lead to oversleeping. You can change that.
Your body clock wants you to sleep soundly at night so hormones that control metabolism and chemicals that repair cellular damage can do their work. To keep the clock ticking:
• Eat at regular times; sleep in complete darkness; and get as much sunlight (without tanning or burning) as possible.
• Reset your bedtime. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night for four nights; stick with the hour-earlier bedtime for another week. Repeat as needed over a couple of months.
• Find solutions for snoring or sleep apnea, from changing position, losing weight, abstaining from alcohol or using a sleep aid called CPAP to correct breathing problems.
Good sleep will help you lose weight and cut down on those sugar cravings.
Staying hydrated: How much of what should you drink?
Knowing what and how much to drink isn’t always simple.
First you hear, "Drink eight 12-ounce glasses of water a day." Then reports say that’s nonsense. On TV, ads trumpet the virtues of sports drinks, while new research gives them the thumbs down. (Some Gatorade has brominated vegetable oil – not good for the thyroid.) You hear that coffee dehydrates you. Wait, now it doesn’t. It’s enough to drive you to drink.
Well, we have an oasis of good advice on hydration.
• Why hydration matters: Good hydration helps prevent constipation, exercise-related asthma and elevated blood glucose, and it protects against heart damage. Mild dehydration (a 11/2 percent loss of normal water volume) reduces energy, affects mood and hampers memory.
• How much you should drink: About 22 percent of the water you consume comes from food. The rest – about 50 ounces a day – should come from liquids.
• What you should drink: Unless you are exercising in hot weather, avoid sports drinks and liquids with added sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup) and drink only as much coffee as your nerves and stomach can handle (less than five cups won’t dehydrate). The rest? Good old pulp-filled fruit and vegetable juice, and lots of water.