Monthly Archives: July 2014

Health Benefits of Bacon

I’ve recently seen a lot of “bacon bashing” by people claiming bacon is bad for health. That is untrue. This article explains whyHealth Benefits of Bacon bacon is a very healthy food and which types of bacon are best. Let me state up front that saying bacon is healthy does not mean it’s healthy to eat it in huge quantities, nor does it mean it’s healthy to eat large amounts seven days a week. “Moderation in all things” applies to bacon and every other healthy food or beverage. Recognizing the health benefits of bacon is not permission to go hog wild. (Pun intended.)

Even the healthiest bacon is still a processed meat and is not your best option. Please enjoy it in normal serving sizes (3-4 slices), preferably no more than once or twice a week. People who do not have a gall bladder or who have gall bladder disorders would be wise to avoid bacon or to use a strong digestive enzyme containing high amounts of lipase when eating it.

When I say, “bacon,” please note I am referring to ethically raised, grass fed, organic bacon made without nitrates and/or nitrites. Buying from a small, local farm is the best option for finding this type of bacon. Ask a lot of questions to ensure you are getting what you want.

Why nitrate/nitrite free? Because nitrates and nitrites may lower the amount of oxygen in the blood stream and may lead to coronary issues when eaten frequently. Bacon processors have changed how they make bacon. They now add Vitamin C to counteract the potential negative effect of nitrates, but my preference is still to avoid them. If that’s not possible, an occasional dose shouldn’t be harmful. Baking your bacon instead of pan frying it will help prevent the nitrates/nitrites from forming potentially harmful nitrosamines.

Here are the health benefits of bacon:

  • Bacon is loaded with healthy fat:  Yes, healthy!! The belief saturated fats cause heart disease was based on one small, poorly designed study in the 60’s which drew conclusions its design did not make valid. The commercial oil industry jumped on board and began quoting the study, trying to convince the public that heavily processed vegetable oils were healthier than animal oils. Nothing could be further from the truth.
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    Over the next 50 years, the American public was slowly but surely duped into thinking saturated fat caused heart disease. That is simply not true. Multiple studies proved saturated fat does NOT cause coronary problems. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently compiled and reviewed 21 different studies including over 350,000 people. They concluded saturated fat has no connection to heart disease. The truth is that saturated fat helps maintain the integrity of cell walls, boosts immunity, helps the body absorb calcium, and actually improves heart health.
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    Three slices of bacon contain a good combination of monounsaturated and saturated fats. (Please note that bacon in a limp, almost raw state increases the amount of fat it contains and may fail to kill parasites in the pork. Crispy bacon is a better option.) Three slices contain 2.1 grams of saturated fats, 3.5 grams of monounsaturated fats, 140 grams Omega 3 fatty acids, and approximately 1200 grams of Omega 6 fatty acids. Eating grass-fed bacon will increase the amount of Omega fatty acids and greatly decrease the amount of inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids. The numbers shown here are from grain and corn fed bacon, which I recommend avoiding if you can. Bacon also contains high levels of heart-healthy oleic acid, the same acid found in extra virgin olive oil.
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  • Bacon literally makes you happy:  It’s true! Bacon contains high amounts of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate affects brain chemistry in a way that boosts mood and increases happiness levels. There’s a chemical reason eating bacon makes us feel so good! (Monosodium glutamate is not a valid source of glutamate, so don’t try to boost your mood by eating that.)
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  • Bacon is nutritious:  Bacon is loaded with far more healthy nutrition than most people realize. Three slices of crispy bacon contain beneficial amounts of selenium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, Vitamin D and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12. Bacon also contains enough protein to count as a serving, along with less than a gram of carbohydrates. Three slices of bacon contain 7-9 grams of protein, a single serving. The belief bacon contains nothing but fat is false. Bacon does indeed contain high amounts of sodium, so look for a processor who uses mineral-rich sea salt instead of using overly processed table salt. I’m not a fan of turkey bacon, as it generally contains much higher amounts of artificial sodium than regular (pork) bacon does. For more information on the nutrients mentioned here, read Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Vitamin B12, Why You Need More Magnesium, and Facts About Iron-Deficiency Anemia.
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  • Bacon is a hefty source of energy:  Since bacon is 68% healthy fat and fat is the best source of energy there is, eating bacon is a delicious way to boost energy levels without raising blood sugars. Healthy fats boost energy levels 80% percent than carbohydrates. Smart long distance runners “fat load” before a race instead of carb loading because they know it’s more effective and does not lead to blood sugar imbalances.
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  • Bacon can boost brain function:  Bacon contains high amounts of the chemical choline, which is known to improve memory and learning capacity. There is some evidence choline may be beneficial for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, schizophrenia, etc. (Please note that choline should never be substituted for medications used to treat these diseases.) Evidence also exists that regular consumption of choline may reduce the incidence of dementia as we age.

There you have it. When enjoyed in moderation, oven-baked, organic, grass-fed, nitrate-free bacon is a healthy addition to most eating styles. Go for it!

 

References:

Is Bacon Bad for You, or Good?, Authority Nutrition

Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link, New York Times

Nutritional Data for Bacon, Nutrition Data

Choline, WebMD.com

Health Benefits of Laughter

A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.
                                                                           ~ Groucho Marx

Is laughter truly the best medicine? We all know we feel better after a good laugh, but is there any scientific proof to explain why? There is! Laughter has so Laughter Graphicmany health benefits – both physical and emotional – there are several healing and therapy programs based on laughter. These programs are each based on studies supporting the therapeutic use of humor and laughter:

  • Laughter Yoga:  Uses laughter, breathing techniques and more to help alleviate a wide array of different challenges. 
  • Rx Laughter:  A national organization that helps children’s hospitals incorporate humor and laughter into the lives of children with terminal illness. The program was created after a study proved healing rates were higher for children who laughed more.
  • Humor or Laughter Therapy:  A therapy program that uses humor and laughter to alleviate pain and stress. This therapy is endorsed by the American Cancer Society and is used in many cancer centers across the US. The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor is a not-for-profit organization that promotes humor therapy and provides training in its use. 

Laughter benefits physical and emotional health in a variety of ways. A few of the benefits of laughter include:

  • Reduces Stress Hormones:  Laughter has been shown to decrease the levels of cortisol, epinephrine and adrenaline in our blood. All of these hormones may negatively affect other hormone levels and are associated with increased muscle tension, elevated glucose levels, higher blood pressure and more.
  • Increases Feel Good Hormones:  Laughter increases the production of serotonin, endorphins and other neurotransmitters known to improve mood and make us feel more optimistic.
  • Boosts Immunity:  Laughter has been found to increase the production of a variety of cells the bodies uses to fight viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. In the mouth, laughter increases the production of Salivary Immunoglobulin A, a chemical that helps protect against respiratory infections. Laughter also increases the production of “killer” T Cells, Gamma Interferon, and various types of white blood cells called “lymphocytes.” The body uses all of those cells to kill or defend against pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Boosts Circulation and Increases Cellular Oxygenation:  A five-year study conducted by the University of Leeds School of Healthcare found patients with leg ulcers experienced more rapid healing from daily laughter sessions than from more expensive mainstream treatments. Although there is a wide variety of reasons why patients who laugh frequently heal more rapidly, the researchers concluded laughter increased the amount of oxygen in the blood stream and healing was faster as a result. Laughter is actually a mild form of exercise. It gets muscles moving in the abdomen, face and neck and temporarily increases heart rate. These effects all increase the amount of oxygen in the blood stream.
  • Strengthens the Diaphragm:  Laughing is especially good for the diaphragm, a muscle through which the esophagus, aorta, vena cava, vagus nerve and other major organs and vessels pass. The diaphragm also plays an important role in breathing. Stimulating the diaphragm and keeping it well exercised are key to maintaining overall health and wellness.
  • Relaxes Muscles:  Because laughter reduces stress hormones and increases feel good hormones, it relaxes muscles from head to toe. A good, hearty laugh may be the best remedy for tension.
  • Lowers Pain Levels:  Laughing stimulates the body to release endorphins and other chemicals which are natural pain relievers. Endorphins affect and diminish our perception of pain, providing pain relief that is as effective as morphine or codeine.
  • Improves Digestion:  Laughing while eating causes the releases of digestive enzymes that improve digestion and absorption. This is one reason eating with friends who make you laugh can directly improve your digestion.
  • Improves Cognitive Function:  Studies found that students who were able to laugh while learning remembered the material longer and had higher test scores than those who did not. Teachers could improve student performance by incorporating humor into their lesson plans.
  • Helps the Body Detoxify:  The act of laughing constricts a wide variety of muscles. The movement of those muscles stimulates the flow of lymphatic fluid in the body, which in turn helps the body eliminate toxins. For more information on the lymphatic system, please read Important Information About the Lymphatic System.
  • Releases Emotional Stress:  Laughter is the ultimate reset button. It releases negativity and provides a break in the midst of stressful situations. The fact laughter also stimulates the production of “feel good” hormones strengthens its effectiveness as a stress reliever.

The bottom line is that taking time to laugh every day can dramatically improve health and wellness. I encourage you to surround yourself with people who make you laugh, make an effort to make others laugh, maintain a list of funny videos and books that crack you up, and take advantage of every opportunity you have to laugh. In other words, go giggle!

The Alkalinity Myth

One of the current fads in natural health is an obsessive fixation on keeping the body’s fluids alkaline. Proponents of achieving Litmus paper - alkaline mythextreme alkalinity claim it improves health in dramatic ways. Some even claim an extremely alkaline pH will reverse disease. These extreme claims are not 100% accurate. The scientific truth about alkalinity needs to be shared.

Most people who live the “alkaline lifestyle” do indeed have health improvements. Their health progress is not, however, due to having an internal alkaline pH. I discuss that in more detail later in this post.

Let’s chat a little bit about the pH scale. The pH scale is a scale that rates whether a substance is acidic or basic. The scale ranges from 0 (highly basic) to 14 (highly acidic). Seven is considered neutral.

Here are important facts to consider related to alkalinity and acidity:

  • The pH of different body systems, fluids and tissues varies greatly and changes constantly. For example, the stomach’s pH is very acidic because our digestive enzymes require acidity to function correctly. Blood is almost neutral, while urine and saliva should be slightly acidic. To assume a body is out of balance by solely measuring the pH of one body fluid is inaccurate and deceptive. The foods we eat affect our urine’s pH but do not affect our blood’s pH. It is therefore inaccurate to assume a person’s body tissues or blood are acidic simply because his or her urine is.
  • The pH of blood is ideally 7.35-7.45, which is essentially neutral. The body considers the pH of blood to be so important it will do anything necessary to stabilize it. Blood acidity is usually caused by physiological imbalances such as renal failure, breathing challenges, diabetes, etc., not the food we eat. If the blood’s pH becomes overly acidic, the body’s most common method of alkalizing it is via the kidneys. The premise that acidic blood is alkalized by pulling minerals from the bones is absolutely false and was proven false by scientific studies. Although eating foods which are considered acidic does increase the excretion of calcium in the urine, that calcium comes from the kidneys not from the bones. The kidneys play the most important role in maintaining the blood’s pH. 
  • Cancer can indeed grow in an alkaline environment. One of the most common reasons used to support the alkaline lifestyle is that is prevents cancer. The truth is that cancer can grow in an alkaline environment. Most cancer studies are actually done in environments that are alkaline because the cancer cells respond favorably to it. Tumors grow better in an acidic environment, but that is because they create their own acids in which they thrive. The premise that cancer will not grow in an alkaline environment is patently false. Cancer prevention hinges on many different factors, not solely on maintaining an alkaline pH.
  • Drinking “alkaline” water is pointless because the stomach’s acidic environment immediately makes the water acidic. Please do not spend money on water touted as being “highly alkaline.” I know many people claim alkaline water has miraculous healing potential, but that simply is not true. Belief has a strong effect on health, so those who believe alkaline water is beneficial may experience a placebo effect.
  • Excessive alkalinity can actually be as damaging than excessive acidity. People with extremely alkaline body systems often experience digestive disturbances, frequent urinary tract infections and other health challenges. Once they stop their extreme eating style and the consumption of alkalizing supplements, these challenges disappear.

The foods we eat may positively impact our body’s health. The most healthful choice we can make is to eat in a way that is clean, void of chemicals and which ensures the highest level of nutrition. I know many people claim an alkaline eating style reverses disease. The truth is that changing to an alkaline eating style creates many physiological changes that improve the body’s environment and may enable the body to reverse damage. An alkaline eating style typically increases a person’s consumption of vegetables and fruit while decreasing the person’s consumption of processed foods, grains, dairy and chemical additives. These changes can all have a beneficial effect on health, regardless of what the person’s internal pH is.

I therefore believe the benefits claimed to be gained by following a strictly alkaline eating style have more to do with the nutritional and detoxifying results gained by eating a clean, whole food diet than from increasing alkalinity. Many people following an alkaline eating style continue having acidic readings of their saliva and urine but experience health benefits in spite of that. The truth is that moderation is always the best path. Extremes in any eating style have the potential to lead to problems.

I”d like to hear your opinion. What do you think about alkalinity?

Supplements in Tablet, Capsule or Liquid Form: Which is Best?

One of the most common questions I’m asked is whether it’s best to take a supplement in a tablet, capsule or liquid. The Supplementstruth is that the form the supplement was made probably will not affect its absorption in someone with a healthy digestive tract. The importance of taking the most easily absorbed and digested supplement is increased for those with a digestive disorder.

Before I discuss the different forms of supplements, let’s chat a little bit about supplements in general. My preference is to use supplements which are sourced from food. These are often referred to as “whole food” supplements. These supplements use food – usually a fruit or vegetable – as the source of the nutrient(s) they contain. Even though the supplement is sourced from food, it is important to note that whole food supplements are still fermented and processed.

The best source of nutrients is always organic foods. My belief is that supplements should only be used to correct deficiencies, provide large amounts of a specific nutrient to correct an imbalance, or to receive nutrients which are difficult to obtain from food. (Vitamin D is one example of a nutrient that is difficult to obtain in high amounts from food.) Supplements also sometimes provide nutrients in a more concentrated form than is available from food, which may be necessary to help the body reverse physical challenges. A simple example is that a medium orange contains approximately 70 mg of Vitamin C. This means someone who has been advised to take 5000 mg of Vitamin C daily would need to eat 71 oranges per day to achieve that amount of Vitamin C. That is obviously not practical. The bottom line is that taking handfuls of pills every day is never healthy. Supplements should only be used when needed and many should only be used on the advice of a trained professional.

The most important facets of selecting a supplement include how pure the ingredients are and how well the supplement will be absorbed. Please only use supplements which do not contain a lot of fillers, artificial ingredients, artificial sweeteners or high amounts of sugar. Always read the “Other Ingredients” section of the label to identify what additional non-therapeutic ingredients were used to make the supplement.

Absorption is important. If the supplement cannot or will not be absorbed, the person taking it will receive no benefit from taking it. Digestive disorders are the primary cause of malabsorption. but the form the supplement is in can sometimes affect absorption. The adage, “You are what you eat,” needs to be changed to, “You are what you absorb.”

When discussing absorption, let me also say that seeing a change in urine color does NOT always mean the supplement is not being absorbed. Some nutrients, such as Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), create brightly colored waste material when they are metabolized and absorbed. Having neon yellow urine after taking a B vitamin is actually a very good sign the vitamin was indeed absorbed and well metabolized. On the other side of the spectrum, seeing whole tablets in one’s stools means the supplement was not well digested or absorbed. For more information on healthy digestion, please read Top Six Ways to Maximize Digestion.

The table that follows provides an overview of the pros and cons of the various forms of supplements:

Supplement Form Advantages Disadvantages
Liquid/Powder mixed with water
  • Very easily absorbed. Some nutrients may be partially absorbed while in the mouth and stomach.
  • Are typically more expensive.
  • Powders may be a bit inconvenient.
  • Liquids may need to be refrigerated.
  • May contain sugars or artificial sweeteners. Read labels carefully.
Softgel
  •  Easily absorbed, but not as easily absorbed as a liquid. Most softgels take 10-20 minutes to dissolve.
  • Easy to take and transport.
  • The ingredients used to make the softgel case may include toxic chemicals.
  • Typically more expensive.
  • The oil used inside the softgel may be non-organic GMO soy.
  • Often become soft and sticky and may burst in hot conditions.
Capsule
  • More rapidly digested and absorbed than a tablet, but slower than a liquid. (Typically takes about 10-20 minutes for the capsule to dissolve and release the contents.)
  • Easy to take and transport.
  • Usually very inexpensive.
  • The ingredients used to make the capsule may include toxic chemicals.
  • Most capsules contain “fillers,” some of which may be undesirable. Many fillers are solely used so the supplement powder easily flowd through the manufacturing equipment. Try to find capsules that do not include fillers.
Chewable Tablets
  • Easy to take.
  • May be more easily absorbed than tablets.
  • Most taste great.
  • Easy to take and transport.
  • The ingredients used to make the chewable may include toxic chemicals.
  • Most chewables contain sugars or artificial sweeteners. Read labels carefully.
  • Higher risk of overdose if children or pets are in the home.
  • Usually higher priced than other forms.
Tablets or Pills
  • Usually the least expensive option. 
  • Easy to take and transport.
  •  Longest time to digest and absorb of any form.
  • “Time release” tablets may never completely dissolve, meaning most of the supplement will wind up in the toilet.
  • Higher choking risk.
  • Most tablets are made up of fillers which may include undesirable ingredients.
  • Tablets have to be heat-treated to be formed. Heat treatment may lessen the potency of some nutrients.

My preference when recommending a supplement is to choose the liquid form first, then a capsule, then a tablet. I try to avoid tablets completely, but that is not always possible. 

What’s your favorite form of supplement? Did any of this information surprise you?

 

References:

How Many Milligrams of Vitamin C are in Oranges?