Five Health Reasons I Love Kombucha

Kom-buch-what?

I think the first time I had ever even seen the word kombucha was when I was watching Flaked on Netflix.  I won’t go into what the show was about or why this guy was always drinking wine out of a container labeled “kombucha”, but I had no idea what that word even was.  So I googled it.

kombuchaKombucha is a fermented beverage typically consisting of tea and sugar.  While it’s usually made with black tea, kombucha can also be made with green tea.  After the fermentation process, kombucha becomes carbonated and contains vinegar, B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and a high concentration of acid.  While buying Kombucha from a store can get fairly pricey, making it at home can become a bit thorny.  So typically I’ll wait for a good sale and then stock up.  I’ve come to realize that the time and effort it takes to maintain Kombucha production is just not worth the thorn in my side.  But the experiment was fun while it lasted.

Since sugar is used in making kombucha many people are concerned about the sugar content in the finished tea.  However, because of the fermentation process the majority of the sugar is used as food for the bacteria and is not present in the final product.  Because the sugar is the food for the bacteria, it is not possible to make without any sugar at all and the reason that sugar substitutes will not work.

While the studies performed have not provided solid evidence of the many benefits that have been touted all over the internet, the anecdotal reports are overwhelming.  Here are are just some of the benefits that I have actually experienced:

1) Improved Digestion – Kombucha contains probiotics, enzymes and beneficial acids and these have been researched for their health benefits. Drinks like Kombucha, Water Kefir, Milk Kefir, and fermented foods like sauerkraut contain billions of these beneficial bacteria, enzymes and acids that help keep the gut in balance.  The digestive enzymes present in it enhance the effects of glucuronic acid and aids in the breakdown of proteins and sacchrides thereby, making the digestive system more efficient.

2) Reduced Pain and Inflammation –    Kombucha contains glucosamine , which means that it’s a great tonic for arthritis.  But even if you don’t have arthritis, you may still have inflammation in your body that isn’t even causing you pain.  Inflammation also happens when your digestive system is not working properly.  Because Kombucha aids in digestion, this could also lead to reduced levels of pain and inflammation.  This might be a big reason I’m not experiencing pain in the joint of my big toe anymore, which I SWEAR is arthritis, or “jumpers toe”, from all those years playing volleyball.

3) Helps to reduce Heart Disease – I’m always looking for natural ways to help lower and maintain cholesterol.  In animal models, kombucha helps to lower triglyceride levels, as well as regulate cholesterol naturally. Research studies have provided qualitative evidence regarding the anti-lipidemic properties of kombucha which helps in reducing the absorption of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides and elevate the levels of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) in the body.  Given the claims of benefits tea is reported to have on cholesterol and heart disease, it’s not a far stretch that a product made with tea as the primary ingredient would also sustain these benefits.

4) Boosts Immunity – Kombucha is rich in antioxidants which strengthen immune defenses and boost the energy levels of the body. The anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties of kombucha help in fighting various bacterial and viral infections.

5) Healthier Substitute for Soda – One of the reasons I love it so much because I  find it a MUCH healthier substitute for soda that satisfies the occasional craving for a fizzy drink.  The high quality products typically have only a few ingredients which are mostly organic in nature.  When was the last time you read the ingredients on a can of soda?

5 Reasons I Drink Green Tea on the Regular

friday_workoutI got an early start this morning so, after battling all of the excuses I kept coming up with to NOT, I went to the gym instead of going straight to work.  Of course, even though I’m telecommuting, I’ll have to work a little later than I normally do.  But I think it was TOTALLY worth the trade-off.  It felt great to get up and GET IT DONE!  I’m going to try to go to the gym before work a couple of days next week and see how it impacts my commute and the length of my day.  I do believe, however, that the normal afternoon fatigue that hits after lunch might reach a crescendo earlier than usual those days.  In which case I might just have to double up on my afternoon pick-me up of green tea.  I started drinking green tea instead of coffee in the afternoons for all the health benefits it was touted to have.

Green tea originated in China as a type of tea that is made from Camellia sinensis leaves that have not undergone the same withering and oxidation process used to make oolong and black tea.  Green tea extracts have been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for a variety of uses.  Extracts may be sold in liquid, powder, capsule, or tablet form.  Green tea extract supplements are accessible over the counter in various forms and extracts that are standardizedare typically 90 percent total polyphenols.  One Capsule equals approximately 5 cups of tea.

While I don’t take a green tea extract supplement, I do drink a cup or two of green tea about 5 days a week.  In addition, some of the Advocare supplements I take have green tea extract in them, my favorite is the Advocare Advogreens Powder.  I’ve taken all of these, which also have the extract, before – MNS-C, MNS-3, CorePlex.

Here are 5 reasons I drink green tea almost daily:

1)  Green tea may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease – Cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, are the biggest causes of death in the world.  Studies show that green tea can improve some of the main risk factors for these diseases.  I mentioned it as one of the ways to reduce cholesterol naturally in a previous post.  Because of the beneficial effects on the following risk factors, green tea drinkers could experienced up to a 31% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

–  Green tea contains flavonoids that promote heart health and may lower your risk of having high blood pressure by 50 percent.
–  Green tea has been shown to improve blood flow, reduce inflammation in the heart and lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.  It dramatically increases the antioxidant capability of the blood, which protects the LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation, which can lead to a greater risk of heart disease.

2)  Green tea increases fat burning and improves physical performance – If you look at the ingredients list for any fat burning supplement, chances are that green tea will be on there. Since green tea can boost the metabolic rate in the short-term, it makes sense that it could help you lose weight.  In one study of 10 healthy men, green tea increased energy expenditure by 4%.  More energy expenditure results in more calories burned.  Another study showed that fat oxidation was increased by 17% which indicates that green tea may selectively increase the burning of fat.

3) Antioxidants in green tea may helpt to lower your risk for various types of cancer  –   Green tea contains an organic compound called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG.  Not only does EGCG inhibit the growth of, but it also kills cancer cells.  It is well-known that oxidative damage contributes to the development of cancer and that antioxidants can have a protective effect.  Green tea is an excellent source of powerful antioxidants, so it makes perfect sense that it could reduce your risk for some types of cancer  -including breast cancer, colorectal, prostate and various other cancers.

4)  Skincare – Green tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities can apparently also help with wrinkles and the signs of aging.   Studies have shown that some of the benefits green tea has on skin are:

–  Helps to fight and treat acne
–  Helps to protect against UV exposure and reduce sun damage
–  Helps to tone skin and improve overall complexion
–  Helps to fights aging signs such as fine lines and wrinkles
–  Helps to reduces puffy eyes and dark circles

5)  Green tea and oral health – Periodontal disease (gum disease) affects many people and side effects include inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria.  Green tea’s anti-inflammatory properties can help prevent or control gum disease.  Many studies indicate that those who regularly consume green tea have healthier gums than those who do not.  Green tea benefits in oral health include:

–  Better breath
–  Fewer Cavities
–  Less tooth loss
–  Increased Gum Health
–  Lower risk of oral cancer

Of course, drinking it sweetened and/or with milk will offset some of the benefits, so I’ve trained myself to drink it unsweetened.  It took a while because, honestly, it tasted like dirt to me at first.  Now it just tastes like…well…green tea…

My Top 5 Guilty Pleasures

Weight_LossI get that you have to be disciplined if you want to see results and make long term changes.  I get that you have to make smart choices and try to avoid temptation.  I get that the more often you make good choices the better your results will be.  But honestly, I see some people take things to such an extreme in depriving themselves.  These are the people that I envision are one “no thank you, I’m watching what I’m eating” away from sitting in the corner in the dark binging on a sleeve of girls scout thin mints and a 5 pound jar of cheese balls with powder cheese all over their fingers.

So, because I allow myself to cheat so I don’t end up like THAT person, here are my top 5 indulgences:

 

  1.  Iced Chai Latte – this is a recent phenomenon, not sure where it came from.  but I could drink 10 of these a day.  YUMMMO!
  2. Shrimp/Crawfish Etouffee – What a warm and delicious southern/cajun comfort meal.  The butter.  OH THE BUTTER!!  I’m not sure many people realize how much butter is in this dish.  Throw it on a bed of white rice and scoop it up with some garlic bread…TO. DIE. FOR.
  3. Sausage Biscuits and Gravy – This is another southern thing.  I never knew what white gravy was before I moved to Texas from California.  But, LET ME TELL YOU.  Soft fluffy biscuits topped with gravy made from the sausage drippings…throw in a side of hash browns and I could just cry.
  4. Guacamole – I’m not sure if there’s much difference between west coast (California) and “tex-mex” guacamole, but I can eat a TON of this stuff.  And while they say avocados are heart healthy because of the healthy fat in them, I don’t think the serving size recommended would EVER satisfy a craving for this deliciousness.  Not to mention the fact that you have to eat it on something, tortilla chips most likely, making it even more sinful.  Although, I’ve been known to grill a portabella  mushroom cap and smear it with guac and hotsauce…pretty tasty and healthy…but by and large, the most enjoyable ways to eat this will derail any diet.
  5. Fruity Liquor Drinks –  Pina Coladas, Mai tais, rum punch, margaritas, mimosas, etc., etc., etc.  I couldn’t pick just one.  They’re so delicious.  And so sugary.  Diabetes in a glass.

Top 5 Ways Refined Sugar Can Harm Your Health

sugar-2510536_1280It’s becoming more and more difficult to find foods that have not been processed and packaged without adding additional sugars of some sort.  There is a rule of thumb that everything a person needs to live off of from a nutritional standpoint is on the outside aisles of the grocery store.  That is, one should never need to go down the middle aisles.  And, for the most part, I’ve found this to be true…when I’m being diligent about how I’m fueling my body.

But one must keep in mind that refined sugar is not the only form of sugar in the foods we eat.  Many fruits, and even vegetables, contain high levels of sugar and produce reactions in the blood that are not the most desirable.   We can delve into this topic more at a later date.  So for now, without further ado, the top 5 ways refined sugar can be harmful to your health:

1.  Sugar causes glucose in the blood to spike and plummet – When this happens it often leads cravings for more sugar. Cravings set the stage for a cycle of addiction in which every new hit of sugar makes you feel better temporarily but, a few hours later, results in more cravings and hunger.  On the opposite spectrum, those who avoid sugar often report having little or no cravings for sugary things and feel emotionally balanced and energized a greater percentage of the time.

2.  Sugar increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease – Numerous large studies have shown that the more high-glycemic foods a person consumes, the higher his risk for becoming obese, developing diabetes, and heart disease.   High-glycemic foods are those that quickly affect blood sugar.  Sugar that is not used as energy by the body is stored by the body as fat raising your risk for the above mentioned illnesses.  This is why I included reducing the intake of refined sugar as one of the top 5 ways to reduce cholesterol naturally.

3.  Sugar accelerates aging – By attaching itself to proteins in the blood, sugar contributes to the loss of elasticity found in aging body tissues such as skin, organs and arteries. The more sugar circulating in your blood, the faster this damage takes hold.  There are several articles on how reducing sugar intake has a quick and drastic impact on the look and feel of your skin.

4.  Sugar increases stress – For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  After a blood-sugar spike (which may or may not be caused by indulging in multiple desserts on a cruise), there’s a dive that comes after which causes the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol. One of the main things these hormones do is raise blood sugar in order to provide the body with a quick energy boost.  When this happens it can make us feel anxious, irritable and shaky.

5.  Sugar leads to depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, irritability and mood swings – Consuming sugar leads to a spike in both blood sugar and feel-good serotonin levels in the brain. When the sugar withdraws from our system, we experience a “crash” creating a cycle of craving and need to binge in both our bodies and our minds.  This is a huge problem for “stress eaters” because, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who stress eat and binge on vegetables.  It results in a vicious circle of   depression, anxiety, fatigue and mood swings.

So now you know just a small handful of the horrible things refined sugar can do to your body.  Now what?  The key is eliminating as much of this from your diet as you possibly can so that your body will start to feel better.  But we can tackle at a later date, this is marathon, not a sprint.

Top 5 Ways to Reduce High Cholesterol Naturally

I’m getting old and my age is catching up to me.  The older you get the greater your chances of developing heart disease.  In my case, high cholesterol runs in my family.  Which makes my chances even greater.

Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) in your blood.  If you have too much cholesterol, it starts to build up in your arteries. This is called hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis.  The buildup can narrow the arteries and make it harder for blood to flow through them. The buildup can also lead to dangerous blood clots and inflammation that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

There are different types of cholesterol.  LDL is what is considered “bad” cholesterol. It’s the kind that can raise your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.  If LDL is the bad cholesterol, then HDL is the “good” cholesterol that is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

A lipid profile blood test reports the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood stream.  The chart below is what the medical community believes the ranges should be, but the most important thing to consider is the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol which should be around 2:1.  To help avoid a heart attack, research has found that a key strategy is getting LDL way down. Striving for LDL levels of 100 and below is good, but dropping to 80 and lower may be even better.

Here are my top 5 ways I’ve reduced my cholesterol WITHOUT going on medication prescription:

  1. Exercise and Weight Loss – Studies have shown that a loss as little as 10% of your total body weight can improve cholesterol and high blood pressure as well as lower the risk of a heart attack.   If you drop just 10 pounds you can cut your LDL by up to 8%.  The American Heart Association recommends including at least 40 minutes’ worth of moderate to vigorous exercise at least three to four times a week.
    • Studies have shown that moderate exercise can increase the size of your LDL particles, which can help to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In one study, a 12-week endurance exercise program reduced small, dense LDL by up to 17 percent.
    • Studies in mice have suggested that exercise can enhance the transport of cholesterol from the bloodstream to the liver, where it will eventually be filtered out of the body.
    • Exercising regularly can increase your HDL cholesterol by between 3 and 6 percent.
  2. Avoiding Refined Sugar – Numerous large studies have shown that the more high-glycemic foods a person consumes, the higher his risk for becoming obese and for developing diabetes and heart disease.   High-glycemic foods are those that quickly affect blood sugar, which includes, but is not limited to, foods that are made with refined sugar.
  3. Taking Supplements – Below are some supplements and their ideal dosages:
    • Fish Oil (1,000mg – 2,000 mg daily) – EPA and DHA (omega-3 fats) found in fish oil have been found to help reduce overall cholesterol levels.  If you don’t care for fish Advocare offers a good Omega 3 supplement, discussed here, which I take routinely.
    • CoQ10 (200-300 mg daily) – CoQ10 given to 53 healthy young males at 150 mg per day for two weeks led to a significant 12.7 percent decrease in LDL.
    • Niacin (1,500 mg daily) – Niacin (vitamin B3) can reduce LDL by 25% and increase HDL by 35%
    • Red Yeast Rice (1200 mg 2x daily) – Reduces cholesterol by up to 32%. Take with CoQ10 to prevent deficiency.
    • Garlic (500 mg daily) – Increases HDL and lowers total cholesterol.
  4. Eating more soluble fiber – Foods naturally rich in soluble fiber are excellent at lowering cholesterol.  Making this diet change can reduce LDL levels by 3 to 5% in only six weeks.  Sources of soluble fiber include:
    • Grains and Potatoes – oats, oat bran, barley, yams, sweet potatoes and other potatoes.
    • Legumes – pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, and peas.
    • Vegetables – carrots, brussel sprouts, beets, okra, and eggplant.
    • Fruits – berries, passion fruit, oranges, pears, apricots, nectarines, and apples.
  5. Drinking Green Tea – Research shows that drinking green tea can have an impact on your blood cholesterol levels. Green tea lowers your bad cholesterol while leaving your good cholesterol untouched.

While all of the above has worked for me in the past, they’re habits that must be diligently adhered to.  These habits should be a lifestyle change and not simply a temporary fix until your blood tests read favorable.  Still, there are those individuals that no matter what they do to improve their lifestyle and lose weight, it’s not enough and doesn’t have enough impact on the cholesterol levels.  It’s at that time when medication should be discussed with your physician.

I Love to Cook

I’m still unsure of what defines a “foody” exactly…because don’t we all enjoy good food?! There are times though, when I think I might have an unhealthy obsession with it…and while I’ve never been terribly large, it keeps me from being my ideal healthy weight. But I don’t think this is unique to to me. I have to believe others struggle with the same problem.

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Cooking is something I do, and do well. It’s something I love to receive praises for. It’s something that draws me away from all of the insanity around me, even if for only an hour. Sometimes will go to a restaurant, find something I love, and then proceed to go home and attempt to recreate it. So let me tell you, NOTHING I cook resembles anything CLOSE to healthy. Because we all know the better it tastes, the worse it is for you. I use full fat EVERYthing. There are no “diet” ingredients in my kitchen. And the results do NOT disappoint!!!

BUT…and this is a BIG ‘but’…constantly worrying about my health because of the delicious food I make…and eat… is just one more thing that adds to the chaos in my life. All the yo-yoing my weight and cholesterol does takes a tremendous toll . High cholesterol runs in my family. My mom is tiny, but her cholesterol is through the roof.

So I guess it’s time I make a more permanent change…