Tag Archives: diabetes

Fruit juice: Good or bad?

Fruit juice has been in the news a lot recently. It is being reported that fruit juice is just as bad as soda because it contains as much sugar as soda, and therefore it may increase your risk for diabetes. But is this really true? I often drink a lot of juice, mostly as a sports drink to recover from long runs(and sometimes before long runs), but it doesn’t seem to cause any problems for me. Since I run at least 30 miles a week, and often do resistance work, I need those calories.

Maybe if I was overweight, or diabetes or heart disease ran in my family I might cut back on juice or eliminate it altogether. And while its sugar content is similar to soda’s, 100% juice tends to also contain vitamins, phyto-nutrients, and some minerals, unlike soda. Still, I believe if you have weight problems, you are better off eliminating juice.

Here is an in depth look at this controversial issue: Fruit may lower diabetes risk while juice may raise it

I think the biggest flaw in the recent studies on juice is they didn’t distinguish freshly made juice from store bought juice, or 100% juice from “juice” that is mostly sugar with only a tincture of real juice in it. The best way to get the benefits of fruit is to simply eat it whole, you don’t have to drink juice. In particular, it appears that blueberries may help prevent diabetes(the above link gives the specifics).

Another reason to get enough sleep

We are all aware of the fact that inadequate sleep makes it harder to function; we are only vaguely aware it could lead to some long-term health problems. For one thing, if we don’t get enough sleep, we are likely to end up looking like this:

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Its effects on the brain are also well known, but many are unware of the role it plays in obesity and diabetes. Sleep deprivation can become part of a vicious cycle in which it is difficult to exercise, which in turn makes it difficult to get enough sleep(exercising during the day improves sleep quality at night), which makes it difficult to exercise, etc. But there is more to it that that.

So let’s see what our friends at the Department of Health Studies, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, had to say about the Associations between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity and diabetes

Evidence is rapidly accumulating to indicate that chronic partial sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes. Laboratory studies in healthy volunteers have shown that experimental sleep restriction is associated with an adverse impact on glucose homeostasis. Insulin sensitivity decreases rapidly and markedly without adequate compensation in beta cell function, resulting in an elevated risk of diabetes. Prospective epidemiologic studies in both children and adults are consistent with a causative role of short sleep in the increased risk of diabetes. Sleep curtailment is also associated with a dysregulation of the neuroendocrine control of appetite, with a reduction of the satiety factor, leptin, and an increase in the hunger-promoting hormone, ghrelin.

That sounds really scary. So if you are having trouble sleeping, dim your lights at night as much as possible since light can be stimulating; do not watch TV before bedtime or use your computer(unless you dim it a lot, like I did with my screen). Avoid spicy food, caffeine and alcohol as well. Alchol may help you fall asleep, but the sleep will be of poor quality. Sugary food is also out of the question. Avoid pills at all costs, you do not want to become dependent on them. Remember that it is during your sleep when your muscles grow the most. It is not a good idea to exercise within a few hours before bedtime, unless it is very light exercise.

Rice consumption and diabetes

You probably heard recently that white rice consumption is linked to type 2 diabetes. This has likely made some people terrified of rice, giving men afraid of commitment yet another reason to not walk down the isle. Others are just apathetic due to conflicting health news headlines. People who eat high protein or “paleo” grain-free diets feel vindicated.

The news media very often misrepresents the findings from scientific studies, often to sensationalize or over-simplify things to boost ratings. So people can’t be blamed for being cynical of what they hear in the media. What really has to be examined is the scientific evidence behind the head-lines.

Now I am not an expert by any means, but I prefer going to the source to see what is really going on. As far as I can tell, researchers found a correlation between white rice intake and type 2 diabetes; this means they are linked, but the evidence does not suggest that white rice actually causes type 2 diabetes. So it looks like what was said in the media had a lot of truth to it.

According to: BMJ. 2012; 344: e1454.

Pooled data suggest that higher white rice consumption is associated with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in comparison with lower intake levels
This association is stronger for Asian (Chinese and Japanese) populations than for Western populations
Overall, there was a dose-response relation between higher intake of white rice and increasing risk of diabetes

It appears the association is much stronger for east Asians than for westerners(mostly caucasian, I will assume). And east Asians eat a lot more white rice than westerners. Why white rice consumption is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in east Asians, but not as much in westerners, we do not know. I don’t even think we can rule out genetic factors. There are so many confounding factors that need to be sorted out.

White rice wasn’t found to be the cause of type 2 diabetes, but it may play a role in it somehow. This isn’t surprising considering white rice’s high glycemic value(which means it rapidly converts to sugar), and due to the fact that it is almost nothing but empty calories, since it was stripped of its husk, bran, and germ. It has little fiber, protein or minerals as a result. Brown rice, which still has the nutritious germ layer on it is much more healthful, though it tends to spoil faster than white rice due to the oily germ. Keep this in mind when buying brown rice.

Better yet, you can try eating other, more nutritious grains instead of rice, like rye, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa or millet. Quinoa and amaranth are loaded with protein, fiber and important minerals. This is not surprising, considering that quinoa, and amaranth are in the same family as spinach. This, in turn means that quinoa and amaranth aren’t “real” grains – real grains are grasses, and spinach and its relatives are not a type of grass.

This doesn’t mean you can’t eat them like grain.

Product review: PowerBlock Sport 2.4 Dumbbell

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If you are looking to incorporate strength training into your fitness regimen, but don’t want to join a gym or break the bank on an expensive weight set, the PowerBlock Sport 2.4 Dumbbell is worth a look. I bought mine and have no ties to the PowerBlock company. Since it’s an adjustable dumbbell set, it’s a great space saver and money saver. Its strange design kind of makes it look like a dumbbell from an alien planet. It adjusts from 3 to 24 lbs(1.3 kg to 10.8 kg) in 3 lb increments, which should be sufficient for most people starting a strength-training regimen, including jogglers. There are much heavier PowerBlock adjustable sets for those who are into bodybuilding, or need heavier weights, however, I only have experience with the PowerBlock Sport 2.4, the lightest set(they all have the same basic design).

The concept of combining light weights to form a heavier weight isn’t exactly revolutionary, so it’s not unique to the PowerBlock. A similar product that I almost bought is the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells(50 lbs each at maximum weight), and you can read an excellent review of them at All Seasons Cyclist. I have a little experience with the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, but mostly at sporting good stores – they seem a little sturdier than the PowerBlock. The main reason I got the PowerBlock was because the lightest version of the BowFlex is much heavier and more expensive than the lightest PowerBlock, and the PowerBlock was on sale at the time. Back then when I was comparing products, I didn’t believe I needed to lift 50 lbs(22.6 kg), but I was wrong, since it would eventually feel like I was lifting feathers when lifting the PowerBlock Sport 2.4 at maximum weight. Several months after purchasing the Power Blocks, instead of getting the heavier PowerBlock Classic(50 lbs each) or BowFlex, I settled on much cheaper resistance bands.

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Quickly adjusting the PowerBlock’s weight is simple enough if you have an IQ higher than a rock. You just put the long selector pin into the desired color-coded weight slots so you end up grabbing all the weights you want to lift(the default position of the selector pin is at the bottom, which allows you to lift the entire unit). You may occasionally have trouble putting the selector pin into the right slots, but it shouldn’t be a big headache once you get used to it and use it on a hard, level surface. The color-coding is a good feature, though it seems the color-strips could easily come off. A more serious flaw is that the welding where the bars are attached to the side weight plates seems a bit unfinished(observe the space between the plate and bar in the picture).IMG_0621

Although it feels sturdy enough for now, it seems with enough usage the bars may become detached. I only occasionally use the Powerblocks these days, since they don’t provide as much resistance as my set of resistance bands. The main advantage of the resistance bands is their portability and that they can be used for leg-strengthening. A big disadvantage of resistance bands is the difficulty of knowing how much weight you are pulling, since it can change a lot with how you position them. Resistance bands also do not last more than a few years.

A common concern some people(myself included) have about the PowerBlock is that the weights may come lose while doing exercises with it, resulting in serious injury. So far, this has never been an issue for me, though it does seem like a possibility if they are not locked in properly. Always make sure you lock the weights in properly with the selector pin before lifting.

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If you are not a bodybuilder, the PowerBlock Sport 2.4 Dumbbell should be sufficient for building strength, along with good old calisthenics. You can find some good deals on Amazon, which is where I bought mine.

Since I am a joggler and not a bodybuilder, my upper body muscles only need to be so big, but this doesn’t mean that strength-training is unimportant to me. Strength-training 2 to 3 times a week makes it easier for me to juggle for long periods of time. Also, strength-training doesn’t just build strength, it may also be helpful for diabetics and prevent or treat other diseases related to aging. I believe a fitness routine is incomplete if it doesn’t include strength-training, besides coordination-training and brain-fitness which Wild Juggling also emphasizes.

Sugar – The Master of Disguise

When it comes to human nutrition, almost nothing compares to sugar. So much controversy and confusion surrounds this ubiquitous, largely maligned nutrient. Does it deserve its terrible reputation? And how many different names does sugar use these days?

Even a cursory review of sugar’s history makes it look like one of the most evil substances in human history. The institution of slavery in the Americas was founded largely to produce gargantuan amounts of sugar, to satisfy the insatiable sweet-tooths of Europeans, and nowadays food companies use sugar to get people addicted to their products. Sugar is also partially responsible for the obesity epidemic. No wonder some researchers want sugar to be classified as a drug. Also, is it a coincidence that the founder of the highly addictive Facebook, has a surname that literally means “Sugar-mountain” in German?

Obviously, it is a good idea to minimize or completely remove simple sugars from our diets, if only for our dental health. It is also highly immoral to enslave people, I do not recommend it. The links between sugar and poor dental health, and weight gain are impossible to deny.

At the same time, we all need sugar, since it is our body’s primary energy source. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and all carbohydrates are made of chains of the simplest sugar molecule, glucose, which is what all carbs are eventually broken down into during digestion.

Glucose molecule. Our primary source of fuel and the building block of all carbohydrates. Source: Wikipedia.

Glucose(C6H12O6) molecule. Our primary source of fuel and the building block of all carbohydrates. Source: Wikipedia.

The problem is that our bodies are very good at absorbing simple sugars, which I’ll come back to. In prehistoric times, back before sugar became so easily available and we were often on the brink of starvation, this was a good thing and had survival value. It didn’t just absorb quickly but we evolved to enjoy its taste so we could seek out this calorie-loaded life-saver.

Nowadays, when relatively few of us are at risk for starvation in the developed world, and we don’t have to outrun sabre-tooth tigers, this love for sugar and super-efficient sugar absorption can wreak havoc on our delicate metabolism. If consumed in excess on a consistent basis or if an individual has a genetic predisposition, it can lead to a strong insulin response that over time may cause our cells to become less sensitive to insulin(insulin resistance). Along with weight gain, this may eventually lead to type II diabetes. Insulin is needed to help cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream.

Since we still need sugar, the way around this conundrum is to consume sugar in its more complex, slow to absorb form. This is where complex carbohydrates or starches come in. These long, complex chains of glucose are difficult to breakdown, so they are slowly absorbed and don’t mess up your metabolism. Whole grains are mostly starch; candy and grape juice are mostly simple carbohydrate or sugar.

So many different types of sugar, but they are all sugar.

So many different types of sugar, but they are all sugar.

Since sugar knows it has a bad reputation, it often tries to sneak its way into our diet under a number of different disguises. Some are clever, while some are not, but it helps to be mindful of them and to realize that there really is no “healthy” form of simple sugar.

Cane juice or evaporated/dehydrated cane juice – This is just sugar. It is often used in some “health” foods to fool people into thinking it is either refined sugar-free or that it is a healthy alternative to sugar. Nutritionally, it is sugar and has all the same effects. Sure, maybe there are trace amounts of minerals in it since it is less refined than white, powdered sugar, but it is still sugar.

Brown sugar – It’s sugar, but darker!

Maple syrup – Sugar from maple trees. It’s really just liquid sugar from maple trees, the product of the sap from maple trees getting boiled down(having water removed). It is mostly sucrose, the same sugar that table sugar consists of. Often has trace amounts of minerals but it is still sugar.

Honey – Sugar made by bees. Yes it may keep better, and maybe some forms have modest benefits, but nutritionally this is just sugar again.

High fructose corn syrup – Right now, there is an epic battle going on between refined sugar(usually sucrose) and HFCS, with both of them pointing the finger at the other saying he is the more evil one. It’s rather amusing to see products at stores with the label “has no high fructose corn syrup”, yet lists “sugar” as its main ingredient.

Yet there is practically no evidence that HFCS is worse than sucrose or other simple sugars. The problem with HFCS isn’t that it is HFCS, the problem is it is sugar. So it can’t be held as uniquely responsible for the obesity epidemic, compared to other forms of sugar.

Let’s have a look at what the science says. According to Moeller SM, Fryhofer SA, Osbahr AJ 3rd, Robinowitz CB; Council on Science and Public Health, American Medical Association in The effects of high fructose syrup(J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Dec;28(6):619-26.):

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has become an increasingly common food ingredient in the last 40 years. However, there is concern that HFCS consumption increases the risk for obesity and other adverse health outcomes compared to other caloric sweeteners. The most commonly used types of HFCS (HFCS-42 and HFCS-55) are similar in composition to sucrose (table sugar), consisting of roughly equal amounts of fructose and glucose. The primary difference is that these monosaccharides exist free in solution in HFCS, but in disaccharide form in sucrose. The disaccharide sucrose is easily cleaved in the small intestine, so free fructose and glucose are absorbed from both sucrose and HFCS. The advantage to food manufacturers is that the free monosaccharides in HFCS provide better flavor enhancement, stability, freshness, texture, color, pourability, and consistency in foods in comparison to sucrose. Because the composition of HFCS and sucrose is so similar, particularly on absorption by the body, it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose does. Nevertheless, few studies have evaluated the potentially differential effect of various sweeteners, particularly as they relate to health conditions such as obesity, which develop over relatively long periods of time. Improved nutrient databases are needed to analyze food consumption in epidemiologic studies, as are more strongly designed experimental studies, including those on the mechanism of action and relationship between fructose dose and response. At the present time, there is insufficient evidence to ban or otherwise restrict use of HFCS or other fructose-containing sweeteners in the food supply or to require the use of warning labels on products containing HFCS. Nevertheless, dietary advice to limit consumption of all added caloric sweeteners, including HFCS, is warranted.

This is also a good read based on science: Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t.

So no, there is no evidence that high fructose corn syrup was invented by the Devil to make children obese. It is no worse nor better than other forms of simple sugar, although some suggest it may be a little more addictive.

Agave nectar – It’s very similar to HFCS. Might as well just call it “high fructose agave syrup”. Just another form of sugar. I often see this used in “health” foods, as if it’s a healthier alternative to sugar or high fructose corn syrup, but there really isn’t any significant difference.

Just about anything ending in -ose is a sugar. “Dextrose” is just another way to say “glucose”. Even concentrated fruit juice is practically sugar. Fruit is definitely good to eat, but the most sugary ones like grapes and pears are loaded with fruit sugars. Rice syrup, barley malt syrup, and molasses are also sugar syrups or come awfully close. Even many fruit juices that don’t have added sugar are just sugar water drinks.

Sugar isn’t always horrible for you. After a long heavy workout, simple sugars are a great way to refuel. And while fruit contains a lot of fructose, it also has fiber, water(assuming its not dried), vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, so its not just empty calories. Fruit is good, just go easy on the most sugary ones.

Sugar Alcohols

On the other hand, sugar alcohols don’t cause cavities or metabolic problems, and contain fewer calories than regular sugar. One type of sugar alcohol, xylitol, is almost as sweet as sucrose(table sugar), but unfortunately it is much more expensive and can cause gas and/or diarrhea if you are not used to it. Sorbitol is another sugar alcohol. Many sugar-free gums and candies have sugar-alcohols as sweeteners. I sometimes chew xylitol gum for dental health.

Do you think you could come up with some new names for sugar, to hide that it is sugar?

Related articles: 8 Surprising Reasons Agave Is Bad for You

The vitamin K family and bone health

The holidays are that time of year for family gatherings. Some of us have big families while some of us have small families. The much ignored(until recently) vitamin K is actually a big family and not just one lonely vitamin. In this respect, it is similar to the B vitamin complex, which is made up of several distinct vitamins under the vitamin B umbrella, all of which are needed for proper energy metabolism.

So what is so special about vitamin K? Vitamin K, which is fat-soluble, is essential for blood clotting(coagulation), as well as optimal calcium metabolism. A deficiency of vitamin K can lead to excessive bleeding. Unfortunately for vampires, vitamin K deficiency is rare.

Phylloquinone chemical structure

Phylloquinone chemical structure


Menaquinone chemical structure

Menaquinone chemical structure

There are two main forms of vitamin K – vitamin K1(phylloquinone), and vitamin K2(menaquinone). Vitamin K1 is found mostly in plants while vitamin K2 is found more in meat and produced in the body. This gets even more fun when you consider that there are also many sub-forms of menaquinone, which seem to have somewhat different effects. The overall effect of vitamin K is the synthesis of proteins needed for proper coagulation and the proper metabolism of calcium and bone tissue. This makes vitamin K important both for bone growth and maintenance, as well as the prevention of arterial calcification.

According to Schurgers LJ, Cranenburg EC, Vermeer C. at Maastricht University:

Among the proteins involved in vascular calcium metabolism, the vitamin K-dependent matrix Gla-protein (MGP) plays a dominant role. Although on a molecular level its mechanism of action is not completely understood, it is generally accepted that MGP is a potent inhibitor of arterial calcification. Its pivotal importance for vascular health is demonstrated by the fact that there seems to be no effective alternative mechanism for calcification inhibition in the vasculature. An optimal vitamin K intake is therefore important to maintain the risk and rate of calcification as low as possible.

So vitamin K looks very promising as a treatment for calcification of the arteries(a very common problem among the elderly). Basically, the vitamin K family ensures calcium goes where it belongs(the bones), so it doesn’t get stuck where it can cause problems(the arteries).

According to the same vitamin K researchers quoted above:

Prolonged sub-clinical vitamin K deficiency is a risk factor for osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Present recommendations for dietary intake are based on the daily dose required to prevent bleeding. Accumulating scientific data suggests that new, higher recommendations for vitamin K intake should be formulated.

It also appears that vitamin K may help prevent osteoporosis, and surprisingly, cancer. It also says the scientific data suggests new, higher recommendations for vitamin K intake. It doesn’t say exactly how much more, and I am not recommending we all take vitamin K pills. However, if you are at risk for osteoporosis or have atherosclerosis(of which calcification of the vessels plays an important part), it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor about vitamin K.

Vitamin K is also associated with a decreased risk of type 2 Diabetes, according to Diabetes Care:

This study shows that both phylloquinone and menaquinones intakes may be associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

So how can you be sure you are getting enough of both forms of vitamin K? Eating a varied diet that includes a lot of green leafy vegetables can help ensure you get enough. Vitamin K is also produced by gut bacteria. So eating fermented food may ensure optimal vitamin K levels. People with chronic gastrointestinal diseases are at a much higher risk for vitamin K deficiency, according to – Am J Clin Nutr. 1985 Mar;41(3):639-43.

Here is some interesting research from Italy on the different biological effects of the various forms of vitamin K:

Vitamin K (vitamin K1 or phylloquinone and vitamin K2, a series of menaquinones [MKs]) is involved in the production of bone and matrix amino acid γ-carboxy-glutamic acid (Gla) proteins, regulating bone and vascular calcification. Low vitamin K concentrations are associated with increased risks of fractures and vascular calcification, and frequent complications in hemodialysis patients. We carried out an observational study to establish the prevalence of vitamin K deficiency and to assess the relationship between vitamin K status, vertebral fractures, vascular calcification, and survival in 387 patients on hemodialysis for ≥1 year. We determined plasma levels of vitamin K compound, bone-Gla-protein, matrix-Gla-protein, and routine biochemistry. Vertebral fractures (reduction in vertebral body height by ≥20%) and aortic and iliac calcifications were also investigated in a spine (D(5) -L(4)) radiograph. Three-year patient survival was analyzed. Important proportions of patients had deficiency of MK7 (35.4%), vitamin K1 (23.5%), and MK4 (14.5%). A total of 55.3% of patients had vertebral fractures, 80.6% had abdominal aorta calcification, and 56.1% had iliac calcification. Vitamin K1 deficiency was the strongest predictor of vertebral fractures (odds ratio [OR], 2.94; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.38-6.26). MK4 deficiency was a predictor of aortic calcification (OR, 2.82; 95% CI, 1.14-7.01), whereas MK5 deficiency actually protected against it (OR, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.15-0.95). MK7 deficiency was a predictor of iliac calcification (OR, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.03-2.60). The presence of vertebral fractures was also a predictor of vascular calcifications (OR, 1.76; 95% CI, 1.00-3.08). Increased alkaline phosphatase and C reactive protein (CRP), age, and cerebrovascular events were predictors of mortality. Our study suggests that the vitamin K system may be important for preserving bone mass and avoiding vascular calcification in hemodialysis patients, pointing out a possible role of vitamin K in bone and vascular health. Based on our results, we suggest that the general population should also be studied for vitamin K deficiency as a possible cause of both vertebral fractures and vascular calcification.
Copyright © 2012 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.

So, have you figured out yet which is your favorite form of vitamin K? Don’t stress yourself out over whether or not you are getting enough of the MK7 form of vitamin K or enough phylloquinone. If you don’t have liver problems, or gastrointestinal problems, or if you are not on dialysis and you are young, eat right and get plenty of exercise, you have little to worry about. But if you are at risk for diabetes, osteoporosis or atherosclerosis, speak with your doctor about vitamin K.

Are you a Tofi?

Many people who look fit may be anything but. There is a growing phenomenon of “Tofis”, people who are “Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside”. It’s like a more insidious form of obesity, since even the sufferer may be under the illusion that they are healthy when they are actually very fat on the inside. This outwardly hidden excess fat is stored in and around many vital organs which can clog the arteries and lead to heart disease, besides causing many other serious health problems associated with obesity.

This underscores the reason everyone needs to exercise, which is by far the best way to ensure our metabolism doesn’t go awry(besides eating healthy). It still amazes me how often I encounter people who believe “skinny people shouldn’t exercise”, which is usually aimed at me due to how slim I am. 

Above all, and it deserves repetition, fitness should be a lifestyle, not an activity.