Tag Archives: diet

Why Artificial Sweeteners Make You Fat: What Do We Do Now?

SodaWe’ve been hearing for years that artificial sweeteners are bad for you and can actually cause weight gain. This flies in the face of logic. After all, if you’re consuming fewer calories than you would if you were using sugar or honey, how could they encourage weight gain? And just how bad are they for you in other ways? We decided to stop asking ourselves these questions and get down to what appears to be the truth of the matter.

Artificial sweeteners have been around for more than 130 years; saccharin was developed in 1878 from coal tar derivatives (yum!). It didn’t enter widespread use until WWI, due to sugar shortages. But artificial sweeteners experienced a huge boost in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, as new sweeteners were introduced to satisfy the sweet tooth (teeth?) of dieters.[1] The rising tide of American obesity increased in step with the increase in consumption of artificially sweetened products, particularly diet sodas.

Artificial sweeteners have been controversial and subject to scrutiny almost from their inception. The USDA began investigating saccharin in 1907, and then proceeded to flipflop, proclaiming it an adulterant in 1911, then stating in 1912 that saccharin was not harmful to human health.

Cyclamates underwent similar scrutiny by the FDA in the 1960s, and is still banned in the U.S., spurring the development of alternatives such as aspartame and sucralose. Artificial sweeteners are in widespread use today in sodas, candies and other processed foods, as well as available on (almost) every restaurant table in America. Some, like stevia, claim to be derived from natural sources, the implication being that they are better for you than completely laboratory-derived products. (Most stevia products are actually highly processed.)

The basis for the story that artificial sweeteners promote weight gain comes from a study at Purdue University.[2] Rats were fed yogurt sweetened with glucose (table sugar) and compared to a group of rats fed yogurt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin. Three different experiments were conducted to see whether saccharin changed the rats’ ability to regulate intake of calories. The saccharin-fed rats later consumed more calories, gained more weight, put on more body fat and didn’t make up for it by cutting back on calories. This phenomenon occurred at statistically significant levels.

The researchers postulated that when the body detects sweetness, it gears up to consume a high-calorie food. When the false sweetness is not followed by the anticipated calories, it confuses the body’s connection between sweetness and calories. This leads to increased intake of calories and a blunted satiety response to overeating, leading to increased accumulation of fat.

Of course, these were rats, not people. Other studies have shown that at some level, the brain can distinguish between real and artificial sweeteners—but not, as it happens, if the person regularly consumes diet soft drinks. A diet soda drinker’s pleasure center in the brain will respond equally to either sucrose- or artificially sweetened sodas. Activity was diminished in an area of the brain called the caudate head in diet soda drinkers. Decreased activation of this area is associated with elevated risk of obesity.[3]

So far, we’ve learned that artificial sweeteners may blunt people’s satiety response, but that if they come in the form of diet soda, this effect may be worsened. Is there anything else out there to worry us about artificial sweeteners?

Although there have been many hoaxes perpetuated around artificial sweeteners and their alleged danger to human health, according to the FDA, all sweeteners currently on the market have been conclusively proven safe for human consumption.[4] There is no credible evidence that any of these sweeteners cause toxic reactions, cancer, seizures, or any of the other claims that have been lodged against them.

However, there is ample evidence they can make you fat. What more do we need to know? Artificial sweeteners are products that do the exact opposite of what they were intended to do.

So what alternatives do we have? We know that sugar isn’t good for us, and we know that high fructose corn syrup is worse. Sugar alcohols (which are not alcohols) can raise blood glucose levels, although not usually to the level of sugar. Sugar alcohols (including maltitol, sorbitol and xylitol) can also cause gastric symptoms, especially in children.[5] Honey is no better than sugar, healthwise, especially if processed (raw honey may confer some health benefits in the form of trace minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals).

Fortunately, there are a number of alternatives for sweetening the morning cup of tea or coffee. Which you choose depends on your personal taste, plus where it falls on the glycemic index. Diabetics in particular need to find a low-glycemic-index sweetener they can live with if they wish to avoid artificial sweeteners.

Brown rice syrup. This has a distinct malty or nutty flavor. It falls high on the glycemic index at 85, which makes it unsuitable for diabetics. It does contain minute traces of arsenic because brown rice contains minute traces of arsenic, but not enough to harm you unless you’re really chugging the stuff—in which case, you might have other worries.

Coconut palm sugar. This is a pale brown, granulated sugar made from the sap of coconut palms. It has a pleasant, light flavor and is relatively low on the glycemic index at 35.

Barley malt syrup. This is derived from malted (sprouted) barley that is cooked until the starch converts to sugar. It comes as a syrup or powder and is 42 on the glycemic index.

Agave nectar. Made from the juice of the blue agave plant (the same plant used to make tequila). It’s low on the glycemic index, between 15 and 30, depending on whether you are using raw or refined syrup. The raw syrup is darker and has more flavor, while the refined is a light color and has less flavor.

Stevia. Stevia is 0 on the glycemic index although it is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. It is touted as a natural product, but the white powder you put in your iced tea is in fact the product of an intensive refining process (and may also contain maltodextrin, which is highly processed and may elevate blood sugar[6]). There are liquid tinctures of stevia available that are not highly processed.

The sweeteners mentioned here are widely available, affordable, and palatable to most people (although some people react strongly to the taste of stevia). Find out more about sweeteners and where they fall on the glycemic scale at http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/healthy-sugar-alternatives/

Can We Fight Diabetic Neuropathy with Your Help?

Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most hideous symptoms of a devastating disease, and can result in loss of limbs and eyesight, debilitating pain—and even death. I’m about to ask a favor of anyone reading this who is diabetic, but first, a brief description of diabetic neuropathy for those who haven’t already learned about it.

There are various kinds of neuropathies, or damage to the nervous system, that can result from diabetes. In diabetes, neuropathies are believed to be caused by long-term exposure of the nerve cells to high blood glucose and possibly by low levels of insulin.[1] Symptoms of neuropathies depend on the type of nerve damage:

Peripheral neuropathies, the most common, cause pain or numbness in toes, feet, legs, hands, arms, or fingers.

Diabetic autonomic neuropathy  (DAN) affects the autonomic nervous system and may cause changes in digestion, bowel or bladder function, sexual response and perspiration.

Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN), one of the most serious versions, damages the nerve fibers that control the heart and blood vessels, resulting in cardiovascular disease.[2]

Proximal neuropathy causes pain in the thighs, hips or buttocks and leads to weakness in the legs.

Focal neuropathy results in the sudden weakness of one nerve or group of nerves, causing pain or weakness in that area. While painful, focal neuropathy usually does not lead to more severe, long-term problems.[3]

The most insidious aspect of diabetic neuropathy is that by the time you experience symptoms, the nerve damage is already done. Various therapies are available for treating the symptoms and slowing nerve damage, but the best of all approaches is PREVENTION. The best prevention is keeping blood sugar under control, but as the nerve damage often takes place long before you notice symptoms, wouldn’t it be great if there were some way to detect the onset of neuropathy before damage has been done?

While neuropathy testing has been added to the treatment recommendations of the American Diabetes Association, testing for diabetic neuropathy is usually not a part of your annual or biannual visit to the doctor. (If it is, we applaud your physician!) Neuropathy is usually diagnosed after you have developed symptoms—by which time, it is too late to reverse the damage; it can only be managed.

There is, however, a way to test for diabetic neuropathy that is non-invasive, not painful, and easy. Heart rate variability (HRV) can be used to identify nerve damage in very early stages, which would allow diabetic patients to seek help from their physicians before greater damage has occurred. (For an explanation of HRV, download our whitepaper on HRV or see the article on HRV in Wikipedia.)

SweetWater Health is working on an iPhone app that would allow diabetics to test themselves at home as often as desired (though twice a year is usually sufficient). The app would require the purchase of a compatible heart rate monitor such as athletes use, usually priced under $100. You would perform three simple physical exercises while wearing the monitor and the app will tell you if you are experiencing damage to your nervous system.

Now for the favor. If you are diabetic and are interested in the development of such an app, please go to http://www.sweetwaterhrv.com/dan.php and let us know. Your input will help us by letting us know there is a genuine need and desire for such a product. You can also sign up for more information about the product and volunteer to be a beta tester if you want.

Sincere thanks for taking the time to help us help you!

[1] National Diabetes Clearinghouse, http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/

[2] “Diabetic Cardiovascular Autonomic Neuropathy,” A. Vinik, MD, PhD, FCP, MACP; D. Ziegler, MD, PhD., FRCPE; Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine, Jan. 22, 2013.

Canola Oil: Why Not Just Drink Gasoline?

Fat, fat, fat, fat. So much controversy swirls around various forms of fat. First we’re told coconut oil is deadly—then it’s a healthy miracle food. Then we’re told butter is poison—but now, it, too, has assumed the virtuous glow of health. Margarine is the healthy butter substitute—but now we hear it clogs your arteries. Olive oil, once eschewed by American cooks because it added flavors to food, is now lauded by American cooks because it adds flavors to food (and it’s good for you).

So what about the humble kitchen standby for cooking, canola oil? It’s tasteless and it contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, so it should be good for you, right?

Well, apparently not so much. Canola oil is not only bad for you, it’s horrendously bad for you.

Let’s start at the beginning. Have you ever seen a canola plant? No, you haven’t, because there is no such thing. The word “canola” was made up. Originally, it stood for “Canadian oil low-acid.” This is because growers in Canada believed, with good reason, that Americans would not want to eat something called “rapeseed oil.” It also sounded like “granola,” so the producers reasoned it would be perceived as a healthy food.

Rape is a member of the mustard/cabbage family. It has pretty, bright yellow flowers. It’s grown for its seeds—but unprocessed rapeseed has never been used for food, as has mustard seed. That’s because the seeds contain as much as 45% erucic acid, which is a poison. Insects won’t eat the seeds, and natural, unprocessed rapeseed is poisonous to humans and other animals. It causes deposits of fatty acids in the heart and thickening of the cardiac walls, which can lead to valve dysfunction and heart failure. Erucic acid can cause these effects even in quantities as small as 2%, which is the percentage of erucic acid allowed in canola oil in the United States. Rapeseed also contains glycosides, which interfere with thyroid functioning.

Growers have genetically modified the rape plant to produce lower concentrations of erucic acid and glycosides, but the oil must still be processed before it meets the standards set for food-grade oil. Using heat and hexane (and other solvents) strips more of the erucic acid from the oil, but turns the omega-3 fatty acids rancid. These are solidified and removed by partially hydrogenating the oil, which produce free radicals and some trans-fatty acids (known to create fatty deposits on arterial walls).

When Canadian researchers fed formula containing canola oil to piglets, the piglets developed vitamin E deficiency, even though the formula contained sufficient vitamin E for their nutritional needs. Vitamin E deficiency can lead to a boatload of health problems including anemia, muscular weakness, increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and more.

So what has been marketed to the North American public as heart-healthy oil, high in omega-3 fatty acids, is actually an unhealthy, genetically modified trans-fat that can damage vital organs, deplete vitamin E and promote disease. And it’s everywhere. Even if you don’t use it for cooking, canola oil is in many thousands of processed foods such as salad oils, baby foods, sauces, marinades, canned foods, baked goods, and so on.

So I don’t know about you, but when I learned this, I went through every bottle, can and jar in my kitchen and read the ingredients. Anything that contained canola oil went into the trash, never to be purchased by me again. If you want more details, there’s an excellent article in the November-December 2012 issue of Wellbeing Journal entitled “Canola Oil: Is It Healthy?” by Brian Fife, ND. It’s a pretty scary article—and I bet you, too, will clean out your kitchen after reading it!

Losing Weight Is #$@**!!?> Hard! Here’s Something To Help.

“Up to 60% of the population can be affected by hidden food sensitivities …that can cause symptoms like weight gain.”Dr. Mark Hyman, speaking to Dr. Mehmet Oz in “Are Food Allergies Making You Fat? Part 1”

Maybe you’ve tried dieting and exercise, but nothing works. Perhaps you’ve tried weight-loss groups and paid for the privilege. Maybe you tried Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, Pritikin, Jenny Craig–and nothing works.

Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you have undiscovered food sensitivities. We’re not talking about allergies, where you might get hives,  migraine, nausea, or worse. Food sensitivities can go undetected forever because the symptoms may not be obvious.

When you eat a food to which you are sensitive, the body reacts as it does to any stressor; it releases stress hormones. Stress hormones cause inflammation in the body that short-circuits the body’s insulin response, causing two problems:

  • Fat gets released into the bloodstream, an underlying cause of hypertension, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • Glucose in the blood gets stored as fat, and your stressed body is determined to hold on to every precious gram of fat as long as it can.

Now there is a way to test yourself for food sensitivities easily and non-obtrusively with the new version of SweetBeat™, the iPhone app from SweetWater Health, LLC.  The test is a pulse test originally developed by immunologist Dr. Arthur F. Coca, who found that when a person eats a food to which he or she is sensitive, the pulse accelerates at least 16 beats per minute over the average resting rate.

With the new camera sensor included in the new version of SweetBeat, you take your pulse first thing in the morning, then right before eating and another three times after eating. (And a final one at night when you go to bed.) If you wear a chest strap monitor instead of using the camera sensor, the testing occurs automatically after you have recorded a meal.

If you have eaten something to which you are sensitive, your meal is given a red “X.” If you ate no offending foods, your meal receives a green check mark. In the event that you discover a red “X,” you will need to test different components of the meal to see what caused the problem—and then you can get rid of the stuff that’s making you fat.

It turns out that stress also causes inflammation, with the same distressing effect on your waistline. The original function of SweetBeat was to monitor and manage stress—and all those features are still included in the new SweetBeat (along with some nifty new features such as heart rate recovery and some cool graphs). The two features—stress management and testing for food sensitivities—are designed to help you lower major causes of inflammation—and assist you in losing those extra pounds.

The new SweetBeat is available in the Apple App Store now for $4.99. Users who have already purchased SweetBeat can upgrade for free.

Here’s our press release that went out today:

October 4, 2012—Los Gatos, CA—A new weight-loss feature has been included in the new, upgraded version of SweetBeat, originally released last February as a stress detection and management app. The dual-purpose app can help people manage food sensitivities, willpower, stamina, resilience, stress and heart rate variability with in-app graphs. The new and improved SweetBeat, from SweetWater Health LLC, is available now from the Apple iTunes Store for $4.99. People who have already purchased SweetBeat can upgrade to the new version for free. The new version of SweetBeat is compatible with the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5. Future versions will be compatible with Android phones.

“Stress management is an important component of a weight-loss program,” said Ronda Collier, the CEO of SweetWater Health and SweetBeat’s developer. “Stress releases hormones such as cortisol that can signal the body to retain fat or even cause fat cells to grow. Combining stress management and weight loss in a single app makes perfect sense.”

SweetBeat offers clinical-grade heart rate variability biofeedback for stress monitoring and management, and now offers a food sensitivity test using a methodology developed by immunologist Dr. Arthur F. Coca. According to Dr. Coca, foods to which the body is sensitive will elevate the heart rate by sixteen beats per minute or more.[1] SweetBeat allows users to measure their hearts’ reactions to different foods and eliminate inflammation by dropping incompatible foods from their diets.

How the Food Sensitivity Test Works

Food sensitivities are a reaction from the immune system or a result of the body’s lack of proper enzymes to digest foods. When the body reacts to a food, it sends out inflammatory messenger proteins, cortisol and adrenaline, to tag the food particles for removal. This sets up a cascade of events, creating low-level inflammation that can affect the body in a number of ways. For example, low-level inflammation may affect the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in impaired digestion, it may cause sore joints or headaches, and it can prevent weight loss. A person with low-level inflammation may never notice the symptoms, or may not connect them with the foods he or she has eaten. By eliminating inflammation caused by food sensitivities, users should find losing weight less difficult. To use the food sensitivity test, a user must first take a morning reading of the pulse to establish a baseline for the day. Before eating a meal, the user records the foods comprising the next meal and performs a pulse test. After the user is finished eating, the app will prompt users to record their heart rates every 30 minutes until 90 minutes have passed. Once testing is complete, the meal will either pass or fail for food sensitivity, indicated by a red “X” or a green checkmark.

The new feature comes with a camera sensor for taking quick and easy heart rate measurements. While customers can also use one of the affordable heart rate monitors compatible with SweetBeat, the camera sensor is a convenient way for consumers to adopt the food sensitivity test into their everyday life. Using the camera sensor merely requires holding the tip of one’s index finger over the iPhone camera lens and flash.

New SweetBeat Features

SweetBeat has been updated with several new measurements based on heart rate variability. Using a compatible heart rate monitor, the user can now measure willpower and resilience. At the end of an exercise session, the user can also measure stamina through heart rate recovery. This is helpful to those who want to see how quickly the heart recovers its normal resting rate. The faster the heart recovers, the greater the stamina.

Users can now view their sessions over time to see specific trends in heart rate variability, stress or heart rate. The monitor screen with heart rate variability and stress management, the breath pacer, and the sensitivity and personality settings are still available in the upgraded version.

The calendar is available to registered users through the secure and private MySweetBeat page on SweetWater Health’s website. For more detail on using SweetBeat’s weight-loss feature, please download our whitepaper: “Five Easy Steps to Weight Loss.”




[1] Dr. Coca’s Pulse Test document is available free at http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0201hyglibcat/020108.coca.pdf


Is Yoga Just New-Age Nonsense? Science Says No.

Yoga has a somewhat mixed reputation. I recently saw a flier from a group warning against “satanic traps” that listed yoga as one of the traps. (They listed vegetarianism and meditation, too, which just goes to show.) Some people view yoga as a physical exercise. Others see it as a spiritual exercise, or something mystical (pro-mystical believers like this; others see it as more new-age nonsense). Regardless of which view you take, science has found that yoga bestows some significant health benefits on the practitioner.

Science Daily reported a couple of years ago that yoga reduces inflammation in the body.[i] If you know something about inflammation, you know that it causes a host of health issues. Inflammation is the body’s response to infection or injury, and it serves a useful purpose when there is an infection to fight or a wound to heal. However, inflammation is the body’s knee-jerk response to anything it doesn’t like, such as stress, and chronic inflammation can cause serious, and sometimes deadly diseases such as periodontitis, atherosclerosis, hay fever, rheumatoid arthritis, and even cancer (such as gallbladder carcinoma).[ii] Chronic low-level inflammation can also prevent weight loss—even when you are doing everything else right.

In the study reported by Science Daily, Ohio State University researchers found that women who regularly practiced yoga had lower levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in their blood than women of the same age and weight who did not practice yoga. IL-6 is key to the body’s inflammation response, so practicing yoga on a habitual basis should help protect against chronic inflammation.

The researchers also saw that when experiencing stress, the yoga practitioners’ inflammatory response was lower than non-practitioners, which means they were able to handle life’s stressors better, experiencing less bodily damage as a result.

The study at Ohio State University is just one of a wealth of clinical studies that reveal yoga’s many benefits. Studies have shown that yoga raises heart rate variability (HRV), a critical vital sign used as an indicator of a person’s state of health. HRV is the variation in the time interval between one heartbeat and the next. Your heart rate changes from beat to beat. When you inhale your heart rate speeds up, and when you exhale it slows down. So rather than referring to a fixed pulse of, say, 60, the heart rate will actually vary between, say, 55 and 65. HRV is a measure of this naturally occurring irregularity in the heart rate. About 30 years of clinical research has shown that when HRV levels are high, a person experiences lower levels of stress and greater resiliency. When HRV levels are low, this is an indication of greater stress and lower resiliency.

So anything that raises HRV is good for your health, and yoga is an effective means of doing that. A study of healthy people who practices Iyengar yoga showed that during yoga practice, the subjects’ HRV was significantly higher compared to placebo and control groups.[iii] Because yoga strengthened the vagal tone necessary for high HRV and had no negative side effects, the researchers recommended that yoga be considered as an intervention in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

Another study looked at the effect of what the researchers called “rhythmic formulas such as the rosary and yoga mantras” on HRV and “baroreflex sensitivity”—scientists’ cute little way of saying “maintaining a healthy blood pressure.” As you may have guessed, yoga mantras and rosary recitals had pretty much the same effect: HRV went up, blood pressure maintenance improved.[iv] Of course, not all yoga practitioners chant mantras, but maybe they should start. Either that, or take up saying the rosary.

There have been a number of studies of the effect of yoga on people suffering from type 2 diabetes. All have shown beneficial changes in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lipid profiles, blood pressure, oxidative stress, etc.[v] If that’s what yoga can do for people who are truly ill, think what it can do for a reasonably healthy person.

Yoga has even come to work with us as studies show that worksite-based yoga programs improve HRV and relieve stress on the job. Work-related stress is on the rise, accompanied by an increase in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases created by a sedentary work environment. A recent study looked at the effects of yoga and mindfulness sessions in the workplace. Participants in either session experienced higher HRV and lowered stress in comparison with the control group.[vi] The degree of improvement in HRV and stress was equivalent for both the yoga and the mindfulness groups; one wonders what might have happened if they had combined them?

This is just a tiny fraction of all the studies that show that yoga strengthens the body, relieves stress, raises HRV, combats inflammation, and is just generally very, very good for your health. If yoga is a satanic trap, it’s going to be hard to figure out just what old Beelzebub is up to this time.

[i] “Yoga Reduces Cytokine Levels Known To Promote Inflammation, Study Shows,” Science Daily, January 14, 2010.

[iii] “Iyengar Yoga Increases Cardiac Parasympathetic Nervous Modulation Among Healthy Yoga Practitioners,” K. Khattab, A.A. Khattab, J. Ortak, G Richardt, H.Bonnemeier; eCAM2007;4(4)511–517.

[iv] “Effect of Rosary Prayer and Yoga Mantras on Autonomic Cardiovascular Rhythms: Comparative Study,” L. Bernardi, P. Seight, G. Bandinelli, S. Cencetti, L. Fattorino, J. Wdowczyc-Szulc, A. Lagi; BMJ, v.323, December 2001.

[v] “The Influence of Yoga-Based Programs on Risk Profiles in Adults with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review,” K.E. Innes and H. K. Vincent; eCAM2007;4(4)469–486.

[vi] Effective and Viable Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” R.Q Wolever, K.J. Bobinet, K. McCabe, E.R. Mackenzie, E. Fekete, C.A. Kusnick, M. Baime; Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 17(2), Apr 2012, 246-258.


More News about the Food/Health Connection

There have been a number of interesting articles in the news lately about food and health. Here’s a compilation of some of the ones we have seen.

Scientists have discovered a way to “turn on” brown fat to burn energy more quickly, potentially resulting in another approach to combatting obesity. Wait a minute—isn’t fat supposed to be whitish? Most of the fat in an adult human is whitish, but there are also small deposits in the upper chest and neck. Brown fat, which is associated with skeletal muscle, is brown because it is rich in iron-containing mitochondria, which provide its brown color. It is particularly important to newborns (who have about 5% brown fat) and hibernating mammals. The mitochondira, which are the cells’ powerhouses, burn energy at a higher rate than white fat, and are essential to protect animals from hypothermia. A research team found that brown fat could be activated by a hormone called irisin that is normally produced by muscles during exercise. Other hormones have also been identified as brown-fat stimulators. Eventually, these studies may lead to a practical way to stoke our internal fires to burn away unwanted pounds. For more information, see Science News.

Dr. Mark Hyman, best-selling author and advocate of functional medicine, has written extensively about how food sensitivities can make you gain weight. His three-week anti-allergy plan involves removing all dairy the first week, take probiotics the second week to repair the digestive tract, then add dairy products back in one at a time the third week. If bloating, fatigue, or fluid retention occur you may have found the culprit. For more detail, see dr.hyman.com

Forbes.com reports that scientists have discovered a way to turn on the enzyme that burns fat, lipase. It turns out that enzymes only work a set number of hours during the day. Researchers were able to make lipase work three times harder, upping fat digestion activity from 15% to 45% of the time. This has the potential to be lifesaving for people whose metabolism makes it difficult to lose weight with diet and exercise. Also, it turns out that all enzymes can be manipulated in this manner, with enormous implications for enzyme-based diseases. To read the Forbes story, see forbes.com

Cocoa powder may sharpen the aging brain, according to a study published in Hypertension. (Full disclosure: the study was sponsored by Mars, Inc., one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world.) The study included 90 elderly people who had mild cognitive impairment. They drank a cocoa drink for eight weeks that had high, medium, or low levels of flavenols, a type of antioxidant. Those who drank high or medium levels of flavenols performed better on tests of cognition than did those who received low levels. However, the improvements were measurable but mild, and many scientists think that exercise yields much greater benefits than flavenols. For the whole story, see webmd.com

HuffPost asked its experts in medicine and nutrition to come up with a list of the 50 healthiest foods. The top 10 are:

  • Strawberries
  • Water
  • Blackberries and raspberries
  • Almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Pistachios

To find out the rest of the foods deemed healthiest and why these foods are so good for you, see huffingtonpost.com

Wheat Can Make You Crazy? That’s Crazy. Isn’t It?

Our last post, “Wheat: The New Strychnine?” enjoyed enormous popularity, pointing up how concerned people have become with the potential health risks of wheat.

In addition to obesity (in particular the disproportionate distribution of fat to the belly, which is a marker for potential cardiac disease), joint pain, digestive issues, headaches, etc. mentioned by Dr. William Davis in his book, “Wheat Belly,” he claims that wheat can exacerbate serious mental illness such as schizophrenia in some people.

We didn’t mention this in our last blog because we wanted to look further into this alarming claim. It seemed just a tad too far-fetched that mental illness could be worsened just by eating toast and pasta and cured by giving up wheat. It sounded too much like the proverbial snake-oil salesman: “Cures gout, eczema, female troubles of all kind! Does away with thinning hair, cures arthritis and will make your children grow strong and tall!” So we did a bit of looking around the Internet to see if anyone’s come up with substantive proof that wheat can affect mental health.

Dr. Davis claims that, unique among foods (although there is evidence that milk has the same property), wheat can cross the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier refers to a mechanism of the central nervous system that prevents microscopic particles from passing into the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain. This is a very good thing; otherwise, our brain would come under attack by bacteria, which would multiply like wildfire in the ideal growth medium supplied by this fluid. When the blood-brain barrier is breached, as in the case of spirochetes which physically bore through the blood vessel walls to reach the central nervous system, the result can be life-threatening, like syphilis or Lyme Disease.

Wheat is able to cross this tough barrier because when wheat gluten is exposed to pepsin, a stomach acid that helps break down food, the gluten is degraded into a variety of polypeptides, which are basically short-chain proteins. In a study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these polypeptides were found to cross the blood-brain barrier in rats. Because the polypeptides look to the brain’s receptors like endorphins (the naturally-produced proteins that produce “runner’s high” and act like opioids), the wheat polypeptides bond readily to the brain.

And what do they do when they reach the brain? Researchers in the mid-1960s at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Philadelphia decided to remove all wheat products from the diets of schizophrenic patients. Four weeks later, there was a marked reduction in schizophrenic symptoms such as hallucinations. When wheat was returned to the diet, the symptoms likewise re-emerged. Other instances of improvement or even cures of schizophrenia exist in the scientific literature, such as a study published in 2003 that explored the possible connection between celiac disease and schizophrenia. (Huebner et al)

Obviously, not everyone who eats wheat succumbs to schizophrenia. However, it does mean that wheat can tweak your brain as well as your body. A Danish study of 55 autistic children showed marked improvement in autistic behaviors with the elimination of wheat gluten and casein from milk products. Wheat is not suspected as the cause, but it apparently worsens conditions in people with schizophrenia, autism and celiac disease.

So what does wheat do to the psyche of a normal, healthy individual? There don’t appear to be any studies of this (at least none that we could find, which is not the same thing). Dr. Davis says that the endorphin-like polypeptides set up a reward response; eat wheat, and your brain feels good. Your subconscious likes that, so it tells you to eat more wheat. In a study done at the Psychiatric Institute of North Carolina, wheat-eating subjects were given an opiate blocker, naloxone. These subjects consumed approximately 400 fewer calories over the course of lunch and dinner than the control group. Can you envision what 400 fewer calories a day might do for your waistline? Further, when wheat is withdrawn, many people feel strong cravings for bread, crackers, and other wheat-containing foods, so there is such a thing as “wheat withdrawal” for some.

So in effect, wheat acts like a little devil on one shoulder, urging you to eat more, while the little angel of your better self gets knocked off his perch.

This entire topic again illustrates how our physical and mental selves are inextricably interconnected; you can’t tinker with one without affecting the other just as strongly. As we have mentioned before in this blog (see “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Losing Weight”), purely mental stress can cause you to gain and retain weight through the action of cortisol and other stress hormones. Reducing stress should be an essential component of a weight-loss effort—and apparently, so is losing the wheat.

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Addendum: The Wall Street Journaljust published an article on the dangers of gluten in schools. Act fast, because this URL expires in a few days: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10000872396390444840104577549350524941964-lMyQjAxMTAyMDAwNjAwODY3Wj.html?mod=wsj_valetleft_email

Feeling stressed? Download SweetBeat™, the iPhone stress management app: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sweetbeat/id492588712?mt=8