Monday, August 29, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

Why all the fuss about sports? Isn’t it enough that you’re cutting down on your calories? And we’re asking you to go through more physical pain?? Well, I’m sorry if I’m not giving you the answer you want to hear, but yes! Physical activity is indispensable to any weight loss program. In fact, if you choose the right type of exercise, it can assist in the fat burning process and help you gain muscle weight. I’m sure you’re thinking “Johnny Bravo is not the style I’m looking for”. Believe me, no one can become like Johnny while working out their muscles 2 or 3 times per week. It takes more intensive workout and a specific diet. When we say muscle weight, we’re talking about a higher metabolism and a faster weight loss. So, take out those gym clothes you never wore and join us so you can learn more about the right exercise for you!

In order to work out, your body needs energy. The latter can be provided by 3 substrates: glucose (from carbohydrates), fatty acids (from fat) and/or amino acids (from proteins). The substrate used depends on the exercise and specifically on the amount of oxygen that reaches the muscles.

During the first 8 seconds of a workout, the body uses the energy it had stored. These stores are very limited.

So, the next minute or two, it enters a phase called “anaerobic glycolysis”. Glucose from the blood or the muscles is broken down without the presence of oxygen. This happens when the intensity of a workout is high enough that the body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the supply available. Glucose provides energy 18 to 19 times faster than other substrates. And that’s why it is the only one capable of providing fuel for high intensity, short duration activities.
An example of anaerobic activity is a 200m swim, a sprint or a basketball, football or soccer sudden movement. The byproduct of this metabolism is called lactate. The latter accumulates and leads to two major events:
 Decrease in pH causing fatigue and muscle soreness
- Stimulation of muscle growth
This is why one cannot perform those high intensity activities for a prolonged period. In order to maintain the activity, one should decrease intensity.

When intensity is decreased, the body shifts to “aerobic metabolism” which allows it to use oxygen while breaking down substrates for energy. This is the case of low intensity, long duration exercise. Fat becomes the major fuel source with little contribution of glucose and amino acids. Workout can be sustained for 6 to 10 hours. The limiting factor to this type of activity is the availability of glucose in the body. In fact, when stores are depleted, fatigue comes and the activity is no longer possible.

          Any kind of workout involves all three pathways mentioned above. However, intensity and duration determine the percentage of glucose, fat or amino acids used.  


Fat burning can be done through long duration, low intensity aerobic activities: at least 30 minutes of walking, swimming, treadmill, elliptical trainer, jogging, cycling, lifting light weights with numerous repetitions (15-20) etc. During this type of exercise, the body does not need fast energy, so it turns mostly to fat.  


In order for a muscle to gain strength and volume, you should submit it to high resistance training: push-ups, abs, weight lifting (high weights with few repetitions, 3-6). The aim of this activity is not to provide bulk to the muscles but to shape them, increase your metabolism and maintain all the kilos lost after a diet. You should note that it is very important to rest your muscles to allow them to replenish their supplies and repair any possible damage. Therefore, you can either go to the gym 3 times a week or, if you insist on going on consecutive days, work out different muscles every day.


A final important part of your workout is to perform stretching activities that use the major muscle groups, enough to develop and maintain a full range of motion: 2 to 4 repetitions of 15 to 30 seconds per muscle group. Yoga is also a good idea.


- The best way to become physically fit is to combine all three kinds of workout mentioned above.
- The more you train, the better your body will be able to oxidize all fuels, especially fat.
- Good conditioning is important for the cardio-respiratory system to supply oxygen. So, do not wear jackets in the middle of summer thinking they will make you sweat and lose more weight; they will only stand in the way of your training.

          No weight loss can be achieved or maintained without proper physical activity. Set your goals and choose the adequate exercise to reach them. I’m sure you’ll start enjoying sports after a short while!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Enjoy your meal!

You’re so hungry you dig into your plate and you don’t realize how quickly you swallowed your food. No wonder you ate everything you have in that fridge and you still don’t feel any satiety! Your brain needs around 20 minutes to realize that your stomach is full. So take your time while eating, chew well, have a chat with someone near you, grab a book… Don’t rush your meal. You’ll be surprised to find out that a much smaller quantity can keep you satisfied! 


Monday, August 22, 2011

Know your food!

          You’re at the supermarket and you have a choice between a whole range of breakfast cereals. You pick the one you love or the one that attracts you the most. Did you ever think of looking at the back of the box and comparing items by their nutrition facts? Nutrition facts are not only for dietitians or health professionals! Oh yes! They are yours, dear consumers. I insisted on posting this article soon enough so you can simply… Know your food!

Why do you need to know?

Reading food labels and knowing what you’re eating is important for many reasons:
- Evaluate nutritional benefits of the product
- Compare the nutritional value of similar food products
- Detect presence of ingredients that may cause you allergies
- Integrate the food into your daily intake
Sometimes, reading labels can also prevent you from eating certain foods you had no idea were that rich in calories, fat or sugar.

Read the labels correctly!

1. Start by looking at the serving size and the number of servings in the package. The serving size will let you compare two similar products and the number of servings will allow you to calculate the total amount of calories in the product. The Macaroni and Cheese label we have above says 2 servings of 250 calories each. This means we have a total of 500 calories inside the package!

2. Check calories: It’s important to know how much calories you’re having from that food product so you can integrate them in your daily intake.

3. The nutrients indicated in this section are fat (saturated and trans, both bad types of fat), cholesterol and sodium. They are consumed enough and even in excess. Limiting them is recommended as they increase the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure etc.

4. These are the nutrients people don’t usually get enough of although they improve health and prevent certain diseases. For example, choose foods that are high in fibers as they reduce the risk for constipation and heart disease. Get enough calcium to prevent weak bones and eventually osteoporosis.

5. The footnote always contains the following sentence: “Percent daily values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. You daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” The rest is optional depending on the size of the package. It provides you with the amount of nutrients needed for a certain number of calories.

6. The % Daily Values: they tell you how much the food product is providing you with a nutrient compared to the daily recommendations (based on a 2000 calorie diet). Even if you consume a little less or a little more than 2000, you can always use them as a reference to know the nutrient density of the food. And as it says above, 5% or less is low and 20% or more is very high in the nutrient. For example, the label we have above provides with 18% of fat per serving. This is not very high yet. However, the entire package contains 2 servings, which means 36% of fat. Now if you’re eating that alone, it becomes very high!
As you’ve probably noticed, there are no percentages next to trans fats, sugars and proteins. It seems that experts could not determine the recommendations for the first two. As for proteins, their intake is not considered as a public health concern.

Health claims

There are many health claims you read on labels that encourage you to buy the product: low fat, low salt, no cholesterol… However, you should be aware that some of those claims are there to trick you. They are marketing tools and are not necessarily true. Let’s see a few examples:

Lower in fat or reduced fat: it’s a good thing for a product to be lower in fat. However, it doesn’t mean that we can have this food “a gogo”. It may be reduced in fat, but we don’t know how rich the original product was.

Low fat: sometimes, low fat products can be high in carbohydrates or sugars. So it’s not enough for a food to be low in fat, it should also be low in calories.

No cholesterol: I’m surprised that in some vegetarian products such as vegetable oils, manufacturers write this claim very proudly. News flash! Vegetarian products do not contain cholesterol! In contrast, the saturated fats and trans fats they may have can raise blood cholesterol. So don’t be fooled. Always look at the saturated and trans fats content.

No added sugar: diabetics are the most vulnerable to this type of claims. When they see “no added sugars” on a jar of jam, it means it’s perfectly safe for them to eat it. The thing is, the product may contain sugar in its original composition, just like it’s the case for jam. The fruits it is made of contain sugars. That’s why they should limit themselves to a reasonable quantity.

Sugar free: some chocolates, especially made for diabetics, are sugar free. But, they are not low in calories and are not intended for people trying to lose weight. Although the sugar is replaced with an artificial sweetener, the fat content is still very high. So no need to go for those products unless you really need them due to a certain condition. You can have regular sweets in smaller quantities.

          What you read on a label is often an attempt to sell the product instead of informing the consumer. That’s why you need to read carefully so you can pick the right food.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Rise and Shine: It's Breakfast Time!"

How many times have you heard the sentence “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? Many times I bet. All dietitians fight strongly for this matter. However, you don’t understand why they’re making you eat so early in the morning when you just don’t feel like it. They don’t do it for nothing, you know. It IS in fact, the most important meal of the day, even though the most skipped! So what’s the deal with breakfast and why is it so primordial?

A good meal for a good start!
Breakfast is important for many reasons:

Refuels blood glucose levels after around 12 hours of fasting. This glucose will be used to feed the brain which leads to a higher concentration, attention span and problem solving ability.
Kick start your metabolism: during the night, your body is resting. The only way to wake it from its sleep is to start eating.
Important in weight management: Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) show that eating cereals and breads in the morning was associated with a lower body mass index than breakfast skippers or meat/egg eaters. Besides, eating in the morning prevents extreme hunger at lunch time thus, associated with a reduced calorie intake.

No excuses accepted!
People usually skip breakfast for many reasons:

No time to prepare it: there are breakfast items that do not need time to be prepared. Ready to eat cereals just need to be poured into a bowl and voilà! Just try to avoid sugar coated ones. You don’t have to prepare very complicated dishes. Plus you can always make a sandwich the day before and just pick it up in the morning.
I’m not hungry or I’m nauseous in the morning: you should stop eating at around 7 the day before. No one has appetite for food if they wake up still digesting last night’s meal!
I prefer to save the calories for lunch or dinner: I think we’ve already established the fact that eating breakfast will help you manage your weight in a better way. So that’s no excuse.
You’re not used to eating breakfast: eating is a habit! If you change it, you’ll get used to it after a while. So try it and after a few weeks, you’ll see that you’ll adapt to your new way of life.

Integrate breakfast into your daily life

Introduce breakfast gradually: start by a small low fat biscuit, the next day have two of them… or you can start with half a sandwich, then in a few days you’ll be eating a whole one…
Have your regular morning coffee or milk then eat a small meal after an hour or two.
Split breakfast in two: if you’re not that hungry you can have 2 mini breakfasts.

Breakfast items you should avoid
It’s true we advise you to have breakfast, but it doesn’t mean you should have anything! Plan it wisely and go for healthy stuff. There are foods that have proven to be better for weight loss such as ready to eat breakfast cereals and breads. Proteins and fibers are also advisable as they delay hunger so you can make it till lunch.
In contrast, there are high fat, high sugar foods that will give you a lot of calories and will contradict the effect of breakfast on weight management. By these foods I mean:

Sweets: having cookies, doughnuts or chocolate in the morning is not advised. It seems that when you start your day with a sweet taste, you’ll be craving sugar for the rest of the day. Replace them with plain biscuits rich in fiber.
Knefeh and croissant: even though they’re part of the traditional Lebanese breakfast, they provide around 600 calories and leave you hungry within an hour or two.
Man’ouche: although it’s one of the tastiest breakfast items, it’s very high in calories. It provides 500 to 700 calories (for thyme and cheese respectively) and leaves you feeling tired and sleepy as it is very rich in fat.
Bayd b awarma: traditional fried eggs and high fat meat. Need I say more?

Just go for a cheese, labneh or turkey whole grain sandwich with some vegetables. You can also have milk and cereals. It can’t be any simpler!

                As I said before, eating is a habit. Try to change it gradually and you’ll get there in no time. 


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Let the sun shine on you!

Over the years, we have been taught that nothing good can come out of the sun. We have been told to put on sunscreen every time we step out of our houses. Well, it's true that constant exposure to UV can damage skin cells and increase the risk for skin cancer. However, a little sunlight is indispensable in order to get the required dose of a very important vitamin: Vitamin D.

What does Vitamin D have to do with the sun?
Yes! Your body can produce the amount of Vitamin D it needs from sunlight. In fact, UVB transforms a cholesterol compound into a precursor of the vitamin; then, in the next day and a half, the kidney and liver will release its active form.

What if I don’t get it?
Providing yourself with the right amount of Vitamin D is important for many reasons:

It regulates blood calcium and phosphorus levels through different mechanisms. In fact, vitamin D prevents breakdown of bones and loss of calcium in urine.
It’s a hormone that affects cells growth, multiplication and specialization.
It influences over 30 body tissues, from hair follicles to the immune system.

Vitamin D deficiency can cause the bones to become soft, flexible, brittle and deformed. If left untreated, it will lead to osteoporosis (disease of bones which leads to an increased risk of fracture). Plus, research shows that deficit can also cause several other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, skin disease, infections and even certain cancers.

How much vitamin D and sun exposure do I need?

Age group
Vitamin D recommendations
19-50 years
5 mcg
51-70 years
10 mcg
>70 years
15 mcg

Skin type
Duration of sun exposure*
Light skin with sunscreen
10-30 min
Light skin without sunscreen
5 min
Dark Skin
3 hours

*It is very important to expose a large area of the body in order to get the sufficient amount of vitamin needed. Wear short-sleeves, dresses, shorts, skirts… and for veiled women, try to find a secluded area where you can remove you “abaya” so you can benefit from the sun.

What if I can’t expose myself to sun?
You can always get your vitamin D from food sources: fortified milk, fortified cereals, cod liver oil, salmon, tuna and sardines.

Bottom line is: Don’t be afraid of the sun. It has its benefits. So go outdoors, enjoy yourself! Just don’t put oil and fry yourself for hours at the beach! 


Monday, August 8, 2011

Soul Food

"Good food, good mood". You’ve seen this slogan so many times and you’ve probably thought it was just too cheesy! But I have news for you: it’s true! Half the time, we eat to satisfy a need that has nothing to do with hunger. Half the time, we eat just so we can feel a little bit better. So how come foods have that effect on us and which ones truly have that power?
The relationship between food and mood
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep and food intake. Sufficient amounts can promote good mood whereas low serotonin levels can cause insomnia, depression, food cravings and aggressive behavior.
Serotonin levels are related to diet. This neurotransmitter is produced in the brain from an amino-acid, tryptophan, vitamins B6, B12 and B9 (folic acid) as well as other nutrients. Hence, any foods rich in those nutrients can create a feeling of well being.

Which specific foods can boost your mood?

Carbohydrate-rich foods: Although serotonin's precursor is an amino-acid, carbohydrates can allow it to penetrate the brain at a higher percentage. This explains why we feel relaxed and sleepy after a pasta meal.

Omega 3 rich foods: It seems that this essential fatty acid increases serotonin receptors allowing its proper function. So the next time you don’t really feel well, have some fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Herring and Sardines), soybeans, flaxseed or walnuts.

Spinach, asparagus and broccoli: They are rich in vitamin B9 or folate which is essential for serotonin production as mentioned earlier. In fact, low levels of folate have been associated with depression. Plus, spinach seems to be rich in “antioxidants which protect delicate membranes in brain cells from free radicals that dampen the mood and drain energy”. It is also a good source of Magnesium which helps relax muscles.

Tea: It contains caffeine which leads to a more positive mood. However, you should limit yourself to one cup of tea as excess caffeine may lead to anxiousness, nervousness and mood swings.

Oysters: They are rich in magnesium and zinc, both affecting behavior and mood.

Cherries: they contain a hormone called melatonin which has been associated with sleep and mood regulation.

Oranges: there are claims that vitamin C can also play a role in mood modulation. More scientific research is needed though.

Chocolate: It’s no big surprise here! Chocolate is by far the best mood lifter, especially for the ladies! It provides your body with endorphin which soothes pain and influences temper. However, you should be careful! All chocolates are rich in calories and having too much can increase your weight. And that won’t make you very happy on the long term!
What else can you do to lift your spirit?

Have your favorite foods: when you’re feeling down, try to consume foods that you like as they will release beta-endorphins which, as I said before, are known to enhance the mood.
Exercise: just like chocolate, it releases endorphins. Besides, it helps you stay in shape. And what could be more positive than weight loss?!
You can always keep a journal where you write down everything you ate during the day to help you detect which foods are creating foul moods.

So there you go… Some foods can really make you a happier person. Nevertheless, they can only do it for a limited period of time and solving the problem is always the best way to go!



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Light Home made Burgers!

1 burger bun (remove the crumb)
60g patty (choose lean meat)
Fresh lettuce, tomato and onion
1 tsp ketchup
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp bbq sauce 

You can add a grilled potato and coleslaw (made with 1 tsp of light mayo).

You get a total of 380 calories for the whole meal :D

PS: You can have a thicker meat of about 100g. It'll only cost you an extra 70 calories! 


Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to remove the killer garlic smell...

So your mom was right. Garlic is an amazing food! It is a potent antibiotic; it has disease preventing anti-oxidants; it manages high blood cholesterol and it’s great against mosquito bites! But let’s face it. 

Garlic is SOCIAL SUICIDE!!! 

The smell it gives your breath is an absolute turn-off to everyone around you and you always think twice before eating it in public.

Where does the smell come from?

When you cut or press a garlic bulb, an enzyme called alliinase is released. It transforms alliin (a compound found in garlic) into allicin and diallyl sulphides which are responsible for the ugly smell. Whether cooking or eating it, garlic will invade your body and breath. In fact, the sulfurous compounds are absorbed through the bloodstream and lungs. They also feed the bacteria in the mouth resulting in bad breath.

How do you remove garlic smell from your hands?

Very simple! Wash your hands with soap then rub them against a stainless steel utensil (spoon, knife, etc.). If the latter is unavailable, you can:
- either rub your hands with salt or baking soda,
- or dip your hands into a mixture of water and lemon for a few minutes

And there you go! It’s magic!

How do you remove the bad breath?

Unfortunately, nothing can completely remove the smell of garlic in your breath. However, many ingredients can reduce it.

1. Parsley: No wonder most dishes that contain garlic also have parsley in them! It seems that those green leaves can help attenuate the intensity of the odor. So, now you know that garnish isn’t just for decoration! Have some of it and thank me later!

2. Breath mints: It’s the most commonly used trick to alter the foul smell of garlic. Remember the commercial: No Smint No Kiss?

3. Wine: wine, especially red, has a powerful scent and flavor that can mask the odor of garlic. So from now on, that’s the drink you should start ordering!

4. Cardamon: there are claims that cardamon seeds may help reduce the unbearable garlic stink. However, cardamom itself has a strong flavor so it might not be well tolerated by some.

5. Eat anything cold: apparently, high temperatures amplify the smell of garlic. So have an ice cream or a full ice soda right after your meal.

6. Milk: Recent studies (1) have shown that milk can reduce garlic breath. Full fat milk has proven to be a more effective neutralizer because of the mixture between water and fat.

Finally, the wisest advice I can give you in that matter is to surround yourself with garlic lovers. That way, no one will be able to complain! ;) 


Monday, August 1, 2011

Ramadan: A Time Of Healthy Feasts!

          During the holy month of Ramadan, practicing Muslims fast all day. No drinking or eating is allowed from sunrise till sunset. Fasting is an act where Muslims learn patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. It is a form of sacrifice.

However, no one ever said that they needed to sacrifice their health for that matter! Each and every one of us can practice religion while staying in shape!

What are the eating habits during Ramadan?

The Iftar is the evening meal they have when it’s time to break the fast. It’s a multiple course feast. It starts with dates and sometimes other dried fruits. The drinks are then served. They could be a Jallab, Amareddine or Laban. They are followed by a soup, salad and hot appetizers just before the main course. Finally, come the desserts and fruits.
Right before sunrise, some practicing Muslims wake up and have a meal called Shour. It is sort of a breakfast: Manakeesh, cheese, labneh etc. are served. 

What are the health issues during this period?

The problems encountered by dieters during Ramadan month are numerous. Instead of having 3 meals/day, they are forced to have a maximum of 1 or 2 “not so light” meals, consisting of a large amount of high calorie foods. Besides, they ingest all calories late at night. It also becomes very hard to meet the needs for water, the most indispensable nutrient.
In addition to that, physical activity becomes very rare.  
And finally, they often suffer from constipation.

What is the solution then?

There is no doubt that fasting all day affects each and everyone’s ability to control themselves when they see food. It’s ok! It happens. However, when you’re planning for a whole month of fasting and feasting, some measures should be taken!

1. During Iftar

- Keep the traditional dates as they are highly nutritious. Just limit yourself to 1 or 2.
- Focus more on water or diet soda as a drink. Allow yourself a Jallab, Amareddine or Laban once a week only as they are rich in calories!
- Soups are a great idea. They keep you well hydrated, fill your stomach and speed up the feeling of satiety. However, make sure the soup is home-made and not one of those commercial mixes high in salt and saturated fats. Go for vegetable soups rather than carbohydrate-rich ones such as lentil soup.
Salads are even better. Have lots of them so you can be sure to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. But be careful while pouring oil into the sauce.
- Skip the appetizers. They’re usually high calorie pastries, fries, etc. So if you can jump directly to the main course, it would be perfect!
- Cut down on the carbs during the main course. The latter is usually rice with meat. You can put a small amount of rice in your plate and a larger amount of meat. Be careful! Sometimes these dishes are garnished with fried nuts. Try to avoid them!
- Have fruits for dessert. The desserts served during Ramadan are extremely delicious. However, they go straight to your heart and your thighs! Allow yourself one type of dessert once a week. As for the rest of the days, have a fruit rich in vitamins!

2. Between Iftar and Shour: 
After such a heavy meal (Iftar), you can’t help but feel sleepy. Nevertheless, you should make the effort to engage in some physical activity. Go for a walk around the neighborhood or perhaps help with the dishes!

3. Sleep for a few hours before Shour: 
Sleep is very important especially for weight loss. Studies have shown that people who sleep for less than 6 hours or more than 8 have more difficulties staying in shape. So get some rest before Shour time.

4. During Shour:
The 700 calorie Man’ouche is not exactly the best idea after the evening feast. So have a light snack. Go for sandwiches with brown bread (rich in fibers) so it gives u a longer satiety with light labneh or cheese.

5. Drink lots of water:
Even though you won’t feel that much thirst during such a short period of time, try to drink around 1.5 to 2 l of water.

If you follow all of the above, you won’t have to worry about constipation. Fruits, vegetables, and brown bread will provide you with enough fibers so you can have a normal digestion!

          It is very difficult to fast all day and then think of the calories at night, just when you got the chance to finally eat! No one’s asking you to do that! Just try to enjoy those gatherings in their social and spiritual aspect and you will find yourself eating just the right quantity of food!