The Gluten-Free Frenzy

Chances are that you, one of your friends or a client has adopted a gluten-free diet. In fact, that is reality—according to a recent poll by The NPD Group, a leading global information company, that showed about 30% of adults want to cut down or be free of gluten in their diets. This is the highest percentage claiming this stance since NPD began asking the question in 2009. Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America, points out that as recently as 2011, it appeared that this “health” trend might have run its course, but then more Americans started to say they would like to cut back or avoid gluten.

Are Americans just bandwagoning on this trend, or are there legitimate reasons to follow it?

Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, is a pediatrician at Pediatric Medical Associates in Vista, California, a registered dietitian, and a senior health strategist for the American Council on Exercise. She thinks that while there are valid reasons to cut gluten, a lot of people have unnecessarily joined the gluten-free bandwagon.

“Of course, food manufacturers pick up on this and start taking the gluten out of everything, increasing the price, and promoting [products] as gluten-free,” she says. “For most people, there is nothing ‘bad’ about gluten. It doesn’t make you gain weight. It doesn’t clog your arteries. It doesn’t increase your blood pressure or cholesterol. And, for most people, it doesn’t cause stomach pains, cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.”

According to Muth, only about 1% of the population has celiac disease. Anyone in this category should avoid gluten altogether. There are other people who do have gluten sensitivity and respond negatively to gluten even though they don’t have celiac disease, according to new research. But before adopting a gluten-free diet, those who think they may have a gluten reaction should discuss this with their physician.

“Many foods that are naturally gluten-free are foods that people should definitely eat more of—namely, fruits and vegetables—[so doing this might help people eat] fewer processed foods,” Muth says. “But when food marketers go to lengths to remove gluten, you still end up with processed foods; they just no longer have gluten. And, for the vast majority of us, whole grains (and whole wheat) are good for us. We should be eating them.”

That said, if people who have adopted gluten-free diets are eating a generally healthy and balanced diet, the overall risk of developing any significant nutritional deficiency is low, Muth says. But all of the time, energy and expense of going gluten-free is unlikely to be worth it for most people.

Does cutting gluten wholesale from the diet remind anyone of the fat-free craze of the late 1980s and early 1990s? More important, do you remember where that got us? Share your views on this issue with editor in chief Sandy Todd Webster at swebster@ideafit.com.

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Less Sleep = More Health Problems by Ryan Halvorson

Despite knowing that sleep is important for optimal health, many will shave down their shut-eye to make time for other things. Sleep-deprived individuals, beware: Even modest reductions in sleep can have detrimental effects.

In a recent study, researchers wanted to learn what would happen when the body was subjected to repeated bouts of modest sleep reduction. To do this, they recruited 19 healthy young men who either cut sleep time by 1.5 hours or maintained regular sleep patterns for 3 weeks.

Throughout the intervention, all participants underwent tests to measure insulin sensitivity, vascular function, and levels of leptin (a hormone that regulates energy intake and expenditure) and adopinectin (a protein that plays a role in the development of insulin resistance and atherosclerosis).

How did the sleep-restricted group fare?

“Sleep restriction led to changes in insulin sensitivity, body weight and plasma concentrations of leptin, which varied during the three week period,” the study authors reported. “There was no effect on plasma adiponectin or vascular function.”

They added, “Even minor reductions in sleep duration led to changes in insulin sensitivity, body weight and other metabolic parameters . . . during the exposure period.” The study was published in Metabolism—Clinical and Experimental (2013; 62 [2], 204–11).

Want to improve your sleep quality? Implement these tips from Craig Weller, a coach for Scrawny To Brawny, an online workout and nutrition program for guys:

  • Ditch the cell phone. Radiation emitted from cell phones can lengthen the time it takes to reach deep sleep cycles and shorten the time spent in those cycles.

    If you’re using your cell phone as an alarm clock, stop. Replace it with a battery-powered clock. Either turn off your phone or plug it in somewhere other than your bedroom to charge overnight. You’ll get the added benefit of not being distracted by the buzz of an incoming text or email.

  • Read for 15 minutes before bed. Avoid intellectually stimulating fare and use this time for “candy” reading. It will reduce mental chatter and allow you to relax and let go of the day’s preoccupations.

    “Candy” reading differs from your usual reading. If you normally read nonfiction, try reading fiction; if you prefer fiction, try some history.

  • Improve the cortisol awakening response. A good way to improve sleep quality is to strengthen the initial spike in wakefulness that occurs in the morning. The more awake you feel in the morning, the more tired you’ll feel in the evening.

    How do you do this? Expose your body to natural sunlight for as little as 10 minutes shortly after waking. Sunlight adds the bonus of boosting vitamin D production, which is important for overall health.

    If exposure to natural sunlight is unrealistic or you’re up before the sun, try using artificially simulated sunlight. There are lots of lights and alarm clocks that provide.

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Sweet Greens Smoothie

Food for Thought:

This juice recipe is terrific for mornings when you feel sluggish. Very smooth and slightly sweet, it also makes a great afternoon snack if you have a sugar craving.

Rinse the greens; chop the cucumber and pear in halves; and peel the lemon.

If you have a Vitamix® or similar high-power blender, toss in all the ingredients and purée them. You’ll get a lovely, frothy, delicious juice with a beautiful bright-green hue. Add a few ice cubes if you wish.

Otherwise, run ingredients through a juicer. Put the kale and dandelion greens in first, followed directly by the cucumber or pear, which yield a high liquid and will help press the leafy greens through. Finish by adding the lemon. Stir and enjoy!

3 celery stalks
1 cucumber
1 organic green Anjou pear
3 large kale leaves
big handful of dandelion greens (approximately 6-8 stalks chopped in half)
1/2 lemon

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Mindful Eating Helps People With Type 2 Diabetes

Mind-Body-Spirit News:

Mindful eating practices may help clients with a variety of health conditions to improve their nutrition habits. For people with type 2 diabetes, training in mindful eating was as effective in managing weight and blood sugar levels as conventional diabetes self-management education, reported a pilot study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2012; 112 [11], 1835–42; doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.07.036).

Ohio State University researchers conducted the study to determine whether an alternative approach to traditional nutrition and food choice information would be accepted and implemented by patients. Lead study author Carla Miller, PhD, associate professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University, said in a press release, “The fact that both interventions were equally effective suggests that we should let people choose. If mindful meditation is appealing and people think that approach is effective, then it very well could be the best choice for them.”

Participants in the mindful eating group did not receive specific nutrition goals. Instead, trainers encouraged a combination of “inner wisdom” (mindful awareness related to eating) and “outer wisdom” (personal knowledge of optimal nutrition choices for people with diabetes).

“We have so many environmental cues to eat in America that we’ve tuned out our normal physiological signals to eat. Being mindful means stopping long enough to become aware of these physiological cues,” added Miller. “In this study, we tried to generate awareness, staying in the moment, and living and eating in response to hunger instead of habits and unconscious eating.”

To learn more about the study, go to http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/mindfuleat.htm.

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Bananas: Giving You a Hand in Your Health

Food for Thought:

First noted by Alexander the Great on his conquest of India in 327 BC, the banana is America’s top-selling fruit.

Contrary to common perception, the banana actually comes from the world’s largest herbaceous flowering plant—not from a tree. Bananas grow in bunches called “hands”; a group of hands make up a “stem,” which can weigh over 100 pounds.

Nutritional profile. Bananas are known to be rich in potassium. A medium banana can contain 400–600 milligrams of it. A fruit this size also has 2 grams of protein and 4 g of fiber, is very low in calories and fat, and provides a multitude of vitamins and minerals.

For your health. Bananas are known to help treat anemia; lower blood pressure; resolve bowel issues and constipation; boost brain power and energy levels; fight depression; soothe heartburn; replenish the body during hangovers; prevent morning sickness; soothe mosquito bites; calm nerves; help with mood disorders such as premenstrual syndrome and seasonal affective disorder; and decrease stress.

Buying, eating, and unusual uses. Fresh bananas are available year-round. They ripen best off the plant. The more ripe they are, the sweeter they taste. After you’ve eaten a banana, you can use the skin in place of plastic wrap to keep food fresh and give it a unique taste. The peel can also be used to polish shoes!

Sacred status. The banana tree is sacred in many cultures. It is associated with fertility and prosperity for Hindus. Malay women bathe with banana concoctions after childbirth. In India, the banana flower is regarded as a sign of good luck and is often tied to the head for important ceremonies, such as weddings.

—By Jessica Cline

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Resistance Training or Aerobic Training: Which Is Best for Weight/Fat Loss?

Making News:

That’s precisely the question that researchers from North Carolina wanted to investigate.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (2012; 113 [12], 1831–37), included data from 119 sedentary individuals, aged 18–70. They were all overweight or moderately obese. Researchers organized the participants into three groups: resistance training, aerobic training and RT/AT combination. The RT group met three times per week and completed 1 set of 8–12 repetitions during weeks 1 and 2; 2 sets of 8–12 reps during weeks 3 and 4; and 3 sets of 8–12 reps during week 5. If a participant reached 12 repetitions, the supervising researcher increased the load by 5 pounds. The AT group completed the caloric equivalent of 12 miles at 65%–80% of peak VO2 per week. The combination group completed both protocols.

Which intervention proved most effective?

“Body mass significantly decreased in the AT and AT/RT [groups] but significantly increased in RT,” the authors explained. “Fat mass and waist circumference significantly decreased in AT and AT/RT groups but were not altered in RT. Measures of lean body mass significantly increased in RT and AT/RT but not in AT.”

Jade Teta, ND, CSCS, co-owner of Metabolic Effect in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is careful not to give this report too much weight. “Aerobic exercise does result in more weight loss than weight training does in the short run,” he says. “But weight loss does not equal fat loss, and as expected, the resistance training group gained some muscle, while the aerobic group lost some.”

Teta also cautions that the exercise protocols appeared to be mismatched. “The resistance training regime was a very basic program . . . while the aerobic program was much more strenuous and involved running about 5 kilometers five times per week. In addition, it was not until close to halfway through the study that the resistance training group actually got up to 3 sets per exercise.”

He adds that exercisers shouldn’t be quick to switch exercise protocols based on new reports.

“If something works for you, it does not stop working because a study says it doesn’t work,” he advises. “Do the exercise that you enjoy, that allows you to be most efficient with your time and that maximizes fat loss while minimizing lean tissue loss. For some, aerobics fits the bill; most will likely need to incorporate some weights into the mix as well.”

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Kettlebells improve strength, Power

Kettlebell training has experienced a resurgence of late. Going by the physical improvements the training can offer, is its popularity warranted? The answer is yes, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2012; 26 [8], 2228–33).

The scientists’ goal was to determine what effects the kettlebell swing had on maximal and explosive strength. They employed half-squat 1-repetition maximum and vertical jump height as assessment markers.

The study included 21 young men, aged 18–27, who were experienced at both the half-squat and the vertical jump. One group of men performed 12 minutes of exercises—12 rounds of 30-second exercise bouts alternating with 30-second rest periods—using a 12- or 16-kilogram kettlebell, depending on body weight. The other group performed at least 4 sets of 3 jump squats with varying loads (60% 1-RM to 0% 1-RM). Both groups trained twice per week.

At the end of the study, the two groups demonstrated similar improvements in maximal and explosive strength.

“The results of this study clearly demonstrate that 6 weeks of biweekly kettlebell training provides a stimulus that is sufficient to increase both maximum and explosive strength, offering a useful alternative to strength and conditioning professionals seeking variety for their athletes,” explained the study authors.

Want to help your clients stay safe during kettlebell swings? First, make sure you are educated in this type of training, says BJ Gaddour, CSCS, CEO of StreamFIT.com in Milwaukee. He suggests using the following exercises to prepare clients for swing training:

Hamstring stretch. Lack of hamstring flexibility will result in flexion of the lower back at the bottom of the swing pattern, putting the spine at great risk of injury. Gaddour’s favorite stretch for helping with swings is a progressive straight-leg hamstring stretch using a staircase. Start with the first step and keep working your way up the staircase until, ideally, you’re stretching your hamstring with more than 90 degrees of hip flexion, with no movement in the lumbar spine.

Hip hinge. With soft knees and heels loaded, hinge back at your hips as if trying to close a car door without squatting excessively. If you feel the movement in your thighs, you’re squatting too much.

Skier swing. In traditional kettlebell swings, you hold the bell(s) between the legs while adopting a wider foot stance. For skier swings, you hold the weights outside the thighs and stand with feet closer together. A closer stance makes it more difficult to squat, which forces you to hinge back more at the hips, cleaning up the form. You may want to start with lighter dumbbells before adding the pendulum effect created by the shape of the kettlebell. For more insights on kettlebell research, see “Kettlebell Research Update” on page 18 of this issue.

Read more at IDEA.

Challenged With Overeating? Improve Your Dining Ambiance

Set the mood before consuming food. That’s the apparent take-home message of a recent study reported in the August issue of Psychological Reports (111 [1], 228–32) showing that environmental cues such as lighting and music strongly bias eating behaviors.

The collaborative study between researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Cornell University examined whether changing the atmosphere of a fast-food restaurant would impact how much patrons ate. The study showed that customers in dining areas with soft lighting, white tablecloths, art on the wall and jazz music playing ate almost 20% less than those in typical restaurant conditions.

Georgia Tech’s Koert van Ittersum, PhD, and Cornell’s Brian Wansink, PhD, noted that customers were randomly seated, timed while eating and surveyed after the meal.

Though people in the two environments ordered similar foods with similar calorie values, “those in the fine dining area ate an average of 18% less of their meals, even though they spent more time at the table,” van Ittersum said in a press release. “Those sitting in the fancier area also rated the food as tasting better than those who sat in the traditional dining section.”

“These are clues for people who want to control their calories,” said van Ittersum. “The more relaxing the environment, the less a person tends to eat.”

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Exercise and Mindfulness Reduce Colds

In addition to getting a flu shot, you may want to exercise or meditate consistently to help protect yourself against winter colds and flus. New research shows that simple preventive measures like engaging in daily physical activity or mindfulness meditation may be almost as effective as a flu vaccine for lowering the odds of succumbing to an acute respiratory infection.

“The results are remarkable,” said lead study author Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We saw a 40 to 50 percent reduction in respiratory infections. When we give flu vaccines, which is one of the most well-proven and beneficial interventions that we have, it only protects at a level of 50 to 60 percent and only for a few strains of the [flu] virus,” said Barrett. Aside from research on hand washing, this is the first study to prove that a prevention strategy can be successful in reducing acute respiratory infections.

Researchers randomly divided 154 subjects among three groups—exercise, meditation and control—for 8 weeks during the winter cold and flu season; 149 completed the study. The exercise group met once a week for a 2½-hour indoor group session in which they received instruction on being physically active, worked out on equipment and were guided on how to do moderate-intensity exercise such as walking or jogging for 45 minutes a day. Meditation group members followed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. They met once weekly for a 2½-hour group meeting that included instruction and discussion on mindfulness with practical examples such as walking, yoga and breathing exercises; they were also guided on how to practice mindfulness meditation at home for 45 minutes a day. Investigators instructed control group subjects not to make any lifestyle changes. Data on respiratory infections (numbers, duration and severity), absences from work, and other health markers were collected from all subjects.

Data analysis showed that people in both the exercise and meditation groups had significantly fewer bouts of acute respiratory infection than those in the control group. Exercisers had fewer episodes of illness, but the infections experienced by meditation subjects were less severe and didn’t last as long. Researchers don’t yet fully know the reasons for the differences, but the findings are highly encouraging.

Barrett told IDEA Fitness Journal, “We already know that exercise is very important and that meditation may reduce stress. This study adds further evidence that taking care of oneself matters.”

The findings appeared in the Annals of Family Medicine (2012; 10 [4], 337–46). To read the report online, go to www.annfammed.org/content/10/4/337.long.

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Healthy Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul

2 teaspoons (tsp) olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried sage
31/2 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
11/2 cups water
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups yolk-free egg noodles

Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic; sauté until the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Stir in the thyme, pepper and sage; cook for an additional minute. Add the broth, water and cut-up chicken. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir the noodles into the soup, and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Makes six (1 cup) servings.

Per Serving: 160 calories; 3 grams (g) fat; 15 g protein; 17 g carbs; 2 g fiber; 25 milligrams (mg) cholesterol; 280 mg sodium.

Source: November 2006 Nutrition Action Healthletter. Read more at IDEA.