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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!

The Anatomy of Desire

In “The Willpower Instinct,” by Stanford University psychology instructor Kelly McGonigal, she defines willpower as composed of three parts: “I Will, I Won’t and I Want.” These three functions reside in the prefrontal cortex of the brain—something we humans have more of than most other animals.

“I Will” is the function that allows you to get things done, even if they are hard. “I Won’t” is the function that prevents you from eating something unhealthy or spending more money than you should. “I Want” is the function that tells you what you desire—what you really desire. So when your sweet tooth is screaming at you to drink a chocolate frappucino, “I Want” can remind you that what you really desire is losing 15 pounds. These three elements combine to create what we call willpower—the ability to control impulses that tempt us to do things that may not be in our best interests.

Our willpower is often at odds with our impulsive self, rooted in a deeper, more primitive part of the brain. We still need that older, less sophisticated system because it also provides us with valuable instincts such as fear and disgust that work to keep us safe and healthy. But our baser selves are always urging us to act on impulse, so it’s a pretty constant struggle.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to increase willpower, according to McGonigal: meditation. Dr. McGonigal is a scientist, not a Buddhist nun or new-age guru, and she backs up her assertions with scientific evidence.

The enemy of impulse is mindfulness: being present and aware of what you are doing and which decisions you are making at all times. A lot of poor decisions can be made while you are thinking about something else. For example, how many times have you suddenly come to the realization during a meal that you have eaten more than you intended, or eaten something that you shouldn’t have? Maybe you were reading a book or talking to a friend, and “didn’t notice”. That was your impulsive self, slipping one over on the prefrontal cortex while you were distracted. When you are fully aware of your decisions, you are more likely to make the right ones.

Meditation improves mindfulness. Neuroscientist have discovered that meditation trains the brain to become better at self-control, including “attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness,” according to McGonigal’s book. Just three hours of meditation practice led to an increase in these benefits, and after 11 hours, novice meditators increased the neural connections needed for focus and impulse control. Eight weeks of daily meditation increased the gray matter of the prefrontal cortex and led to increased self-awareness, or mindfulness in the individuals studied.

Meditation is easy, and does not necessarily involve spiritual seeking or levitation, or any of those other weird things you sometimes hear about. It is a matter of setting aside a period of time to sit and be quiet (including the inner voice we always hear). Be quiet, don’t fidget, and focus on something neutral, like breathing. It isn’t necessary to turn off that inner voice entirely; just notice that you have become distracted, and return to your focus on breathing. Start with five minutes and work up to a longer period. Even distracted meditation is better than none and will have positive benefits, so don’t get discouraged.

For excellent and simple instruction on how to meditate, see page 26 of McGonigal’s book, “The Willpower Instinct”. There are also several meditation resources online—try Googling “how to meditate” and you’ll find something that works for you.

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.


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




Wheat: The New Strychnine?

Everyone seems to be giving up gluten these days (and bragging about it). But we’ve been eating it for thousands of years, right? Good, whole-grain wheat is supposed to be healthy, and the government wants us to eat more of it.

Wheat sensitivities run the gamut from low-level inflammation that we don’t even notice to celiac disease, which is fatal if the sufferer does not give up eating gluten. I have friends and acquaintances who have given up wheat and lost weight effortlessly without changing anything else they are doing. They also report the disappearance of joint pain, skin rashes, muscular pain, diarrhea, and more.

Dr. William Davis, MD, author of “Wheat Belly,” makes the case that the wheat we eat today bears little resemblance to the wheat our ancestors consumed. He says that modern wheat contains the complete genomes of three different but related plants, and contains complex proteins (gluten is a protein) that ancestral varieties did not. Our gut has not evolved as quickly as wheat has due to modern genetic engineering. Also, modern wheat—uniquely among foods—has the ability to pass the blood-brain barrier, and thus can tinker with bodily mechanism and brain function in a way no other food can.

Dr. Davis cites many different studies to provide evidence that his assertions are valid. He also notes that the rise of obesity in America tracks precisely the advent of genetic modification of the wheat genome. (He doesn’t mention this, but it also precisely tracks the widespread introduction of high-fructose corn syrup that has become so ubiquitous in processed food since the 1970s.) Modern wheat, developed by Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace prize for his work on wheat, was crafted with the best of intentions in mind: alleviation of world hunger. It is a high-yield, short-growing-season dwarf wheat, and it has in fact done much toward alleviating world hunger. Apparently, it’s also making us sick.

The good doctor performed an experiment on himself to test his assertion about the pernicious effect of modern wheat versus ancestral wheat. He is highly wheat-sensitive himself. Somewhere, he managed to obtain two pounds of einkorn, probably the first form of cultivated wheat. He also obtained two pounds of modern wheat. He ground these two grains himself and made bread, using only flour, water, salt and yeast. He tried the einkorn bread. It was denser than modern bread, and had a rich, nutty flavor. He had no reaction at all. He tried the modern wheat bread—and was ill for 36 hours, nauseated and unable to focus.

Being a scientist, he also did blood tests before and after eating the breads. His blood sugar before eating either bread was 84 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). After eating the einkorn bread, his blood sugar was 110 mg/dl. After eating the modern wheat bread, it was 167 mg/dl. He points out that one slice of whole wheat bread will raise blood sugar significantly higher than a Snickers bar.

High blood sugar, as we all know, leads to insulin resistance, which leads to gaining weight and may eventually cause diabetes. According to Dr. Davis, we’ve been virtuously munching away on something that is making us very ill.

“Wheat Belly” is an interesting book, well written, credible, and even entertaining. It is probably an exaggeration to claim that wheat is solely responsible for everything from joint pain to schizophrenia, however. There are certainly other trends in modern life (can we blame computers?) that contribute to the surge in obesity. But if even part of what Dr. Davis claims is true (and he does have the facts and figures), giving up wheat may be part of a sensible weight-loss and weight-loss-maintenance plan—along with exercise, portion control and common sense. There are other grains that don’t present the same problems, including quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, millet, and oats (especially oats harvested in the British Isles, where it is less likely to be contaminated by coming into contact with machinery that is also used to process wheat).

Don’t forget that other food sensitivities can play a role in weight by causing low-level inflammation that spurs fat storage and the growth of fat cells. Stress can have the same effect, so stress management is another critical aspect of successful weight loss.

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



Eustress, or YOU Stress?

You may have heard that stress is good for you. Or you may have heard that stress is bad for you. Confusing? That’s because not all stress is equal. Hans Selye, who was one of the first researchers to focus on stress, coined the term “eustress” to refer to stress that gives you a feeling of fulfillment, success, or other positive feelings. An example of eustress is the stress you feel when competing in a contest for which you are well prepared, or when you are engaged in a challenging job that you enjoy.

Eustress enhances your functioning and is good for you because it makes you feel more alive, interested, and engaged with life.

Distress is the bad kind of stress. It can either be acute (you encounter a hostile dog that chases you) or chronic. Acute stress is the normal and helpful reaction of the body to a threat, when the body releases adrenalin and cortisol into the system, helping you to react more rapidly, run faster, and think faster. While it may leave you feeling shaken, you needed that extra oompf to escape the threat.

Chronic stress is the kind of stress imposed by modern life. The body actually doesn’t know the difference between a rabid dog and a difficult boss; any threat will cause the body to release stress hormones, and the body will react accordingly with elevated blood pressure, accelerated heart rate, and other symptoms of stress. The problem is that when a person is chronically stressed, it can cause a lot of health problems.

Selye mentions that chronic stress leads to anxiety, withdrawal and depression, but there is as much or more physical damage caused by chronic stress as psychological damage. Many respected medical institutions, including Stanford University Medical Schools, the National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic, estimate that as much as 90% of preventable disease is caused by stress.

This is because those stress hormones—so helpful when we are confronted by real danger—can cause damage to our tissues when they are always present in our systems. They can cause:

  • High blood pressure
  • Head and muscle aches
  • Immune system impairment
  • Asthma
  • Heart attacks
  • Breathing dysfunction
  • Constricted arteries, high cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Weight gain
  • Digestive issues such as ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome
  • Accelerated aging

And these are just some of the physical issues created by chronic stress. Clearly, the less chronic stress we feel and the more time we spend in eustress, the better off we are.

If you are aware you are chronically stressed, then you can take steps to do something about it. But many people accept a state of chronic stress as normal. That’s the way they always feel, so they cannot recognize or accept they are in a state of continual stress. Most people are not going to proactively address a problem they think they don’t have.

So how do you determine whether or not you’re stressed? Consider whether you experience any of the physical issues mentioned above. Do you have a lot of indigestion? Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you find it impossible to lose weight, even though you eat carefully and exercise? Do you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure? These conditions may indicate chronic stress, especially if you find you have a lot of these issues.

You can also detect stress through heart rate variability, or HRV. HRV is the variation in the time interval between one heartbeat and the next.

When we think of our heart rate, we generally think of a number between 60 and 90 beats per minute. This number represents the range for the average heart rate. In fact, 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. Nearly a quarter-century of clinical research has shown that when HRV levels are high, a person experiences low levels of stress and greater resiliency. When HRV levels are low, this is an indication of greater stress and lower resiliency.

General practitioners and internists are generally not set up to measure HRV, even though it’s been studied for about 30 years and is an accepted vital sign. You can measure your own HRV using a commercially-available heart monitor such as Wahoo or 60-Beat and an app like SweetBeat™ for the iPhone, which was designed specifically to monitor stress levels using HRV.

Regardless of how you choose to detect stress, it is critical to lower stress levels in pursuit of better health. The good news is that there are many simple and inexpensive ways to reduce stress, including deep breathing, meditation, nutrition, exercise, yoga, and much more. Do the things that help you to experience eustress, and avoid the things that cause you distress. A simple concept, but one that may bolster your health and prolong your life.

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Do you wonder whether you are experiencing chronic stress? Download SweetBeat™, the iPhone stress management app: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sweetbeat/id492588712?mt=8