Archive for nutrition and health

Are grains good for your health?

When I encourage my patients to give up Captain Crunch and doughnuts, most seem to understand the logic behind this recommendation.  When I urge them to also eliminate or minimize their consumption of whole grain food, this advice is often met with significant resistance.   This is likely because the general consensus among medical professionals is that grains are not only healthy, but essential for our existence. They acknowledge that processed grains are bad, but still hold to the erroneous belief that we should eat 6-11 servings of “healthy whole grains” every day.  How could wheat, barley, oats, rice, rye, millet, and corn be unhealthy?  Let’s review the facts.

Grain is known to cause dramatic spikes in insulin levels.  Elevated insulin is associated with multiple serious diseases, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer.  Lectins are proteins found within grain and add to the insulin problem.  One of the wheat lectins is known to mimic insulin and binds to the insulin receptor of fat cells.  Unlike insulin, this lectin remains indefinitely attached to the insulin receptor giving the cell a constant signal to make fat.

In addition, lectins are known to have a negative impact on the intestinal lining. Grains also contain gluten or gluten-like proteins that are sticky in nature and are harmful to the intestinal lining. The combination of sticky proteins and lectins damages the bowel lining, eventually letting partially digested particles of food leech into the blood stream.  These particles excite the immune system and are a major cause of allergies to common foods. In fact, these particles are associated with a host of medical problems, some of which are mentioned below.

While most health authorities tout the benefits of whole grains, there is a growing body of research that tells another story.  Grain consumption has been linked to gall bladder disease, gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, autism, psychiatric disorders, allergies, and infertility.  Given this, I would recommend getting the bulk of your carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts.

Studies have shown (and we have seen in our own patients) that a minimal grain diet can correct lipid disorders, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, promote weight loss, eliminate skin conditions, alleviate digestive issues, increase fertility, and dramatically improve energy levels.  Are you struggling with any of the problems mentioned above?  If so, consider eliminating grains from your diet for a few months.  Discover new and delicious foods.  You may never want to go back.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Are sugar substitutes safe?

I think that it’s safe to say that refined sugar is poison.  I’ve stated this so many times that some of you may be actually rolling your eyes.  You know it’s true.  The consumption of sugar can lead to tooth decay, weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, cancer, and so on.   Without a doubt, the evils of refined sugar spawned the pursuit of “safe” and tasty sugar substitutes.   Although the artificial sugar industry has done pretty well with re-creating the sweetness of sugar, I’m not so sure about the safety factor.

Unfortunately, most of the studies on sugar substitutes have been performed on mice and rats.  The new research on gene mapping shows that the majority of mouse, rat, and human genes are identical.  Moreover, these animals suffer from many human diseases.  Given this, I do tend respect the findings gathered from rodent studies.

A 2008 Purdue University study released in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience reported that rats on diets containing the artificial sweetener saccharin gained more weight than rats given sugary food.  The rats whose diets contained artificial sweeteners were more likely overeat.  Studies in laboratory rats during the early 1970s linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer.  In humans, saccharine has been associated with eczema, nausea, diarrhea, nerve problems, and headache. In 2005, a laboratory study found more lymphomas and leukemias in rats fed doses of aspartame (nutrasweet) equivalent to drinking 8 or more cans of diet soda daily.

Sucralose (splenda) is one of the newest products on the market and has already raised some concern.  A recent animal study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health reported that sucralose reduced the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50 percent.  The fact that Splenda can destroy up to 50 percent of your healthy intestinal bacteria is a serious problem.  This disturbance in the balance of your gut bacteria is referred to as dysbiosis.  Dysbiosis has been linked to autoimmune diseases, eczema, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, and more.  Acesulfame is not as well known, but is another highly utilized sugar substitute.  Studies have shown that it is associated with leukemia, lung diseases, and breast tumors.

Avoiding sugar is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle.  This can be difficult for those who are tormented by a sweet tooth.  Given my understanding of the research, sugar substitutes are potentially dangerous and should be avoided.  For those times when you need to sweeten your foods and beverages, I highly recommend using stevia extract.  This sweetener is a safe and natural herb.  There is an overwhelming body of research that shows the many health benefit of eating naturally low-sugar whole foods. Moreover, these health promoting foods can be quite delicious.

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Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Do you know anyone who has acne?

As many of you know, my wife and I are the proud parents of 3 teenagers and one pre-teen.  Pimples and zits are a part of our every day conversation.  I can honestly say that I know a thing or two about acne.  For years, the common belief within the medical field was that diet had absolutely no effect on acne.  I know first hand that this belief is wrong.  My wife and I can tell how poorly our kids have been eating based on their complexion.

A recent study published in the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has finally given science a conclusive link between a high sugar, high grain diet, and acne. In this study, participants followed a diet low in sugar and grain.  This resulted in a significant improvement of their acne within 3 months.  I wonder why most people suffering from acne have never heard of this study?

It is well known that sugar and grain consumption results in a rapid rise in blood sugar.  Rapid spikes in blood sugar are associated with multiple health problems.  According to a review published in Experimental Dermatology in 2009, it is not sugar itself that contributes to acne, but the effect that blood sugar spikes have on acne producing hormones.   Unfortunately, acne is caused by more than just sweets and grains.

Acute inflammation is a normal response to injury or infection.  It starts the healing process and without inflammation you wouldn’t survive. Acute inflammation is short lived and quickly fades as the body heals.  Chronic inflammation is a whole different story.  Our exposure to pollution, environmental toxins, processed food, long hours of inactivity, poor sleep, and high stress leads to persistent internal injury.  This constant abuse results in chronic inflammation.  The term chronic refers to being stuck in a state of overdrive.  This taxes the immune system and leaves less energy and resources to fight infection, avert cancer, and kill acne-causing bacteria.

In summary, skin complexion can be a reflection of overall health.  I recommend addressing diet and lifestyle factors before resorting to acne medications.  This approach always results in an improvement in overall health, as well as a significant improvement in acne.  With all of the controversy surrounding the health risks of certain acne medications, it is refreshing to know that there is a safe, cheap, and effective treatment option.

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Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

 

 

 

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Is there an association between fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and vitamin D deficiency?

I’ve had a few recent patient encounters that have really made me question the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.  These patients carried the above diagnoses and had dramatic relief of their symptoms after treating their vitamin D deficiency.  Do you know anyone who suffers from one of the above mentioned problems?  How about someone who experiences diffuse body pain or chronic exhaustion?  If so, please forward this blog to them.

Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia are two disorders that some experts feel may be part of the same syndrome.  They share many features, including fatigue, reduced pain thresholds and depression. Most would agree that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are similar, and probably related, disorders.  A practical way to differentiate between the two is that pain is the predominant problem in people with fibromyalgia, whereas fatigue is the major complaint in people with CFS.

A recent study that was published in the journal, Rheumatology, showed that 83% of the participants with fibromyalgia were low in vitamin D.  The subjects who were low in vitamin D reported more pain, depression, and fatigue.  A recent study out of the University of  Minnesota found that 93% of participants who suffered from diffuse muscle and joint pain were deficient in vitamin D.  Symptoms improved with appropriate vitamin D supplementation.  Multiple studies link vitamin D deficiency to chronic aches and pains, fatigue, weakness, and other serious diseases (including cancer).

I’m not sure whether or not vitamin D deficiency is one of the causes chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.  But, if I were experiencing the symptoms described above, I would make sure to check my vitamin D level. 

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Dr.C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Eat an early breakfast and small frequent meals. Really?

 

Eat an early breakfast and small frequent meals.  Really?

Have you ever noticed that we assume that certain things are true if they are stated over and over by “the experts?”  These experts are commonly referred to as “they.”  They say that it’s healthier to eat breakfast within an hour of awakening.  Really?  Does breakfast really boost your metabolism?  Is it truly healthier to have small frequent meals?  I have done my homework and have not found any good scientific evidence to support answering yes to the latter two questions.

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter when you ingest your calories during the day. There are certain times when it is more strategic than others, but for the most part, it’s what and how much you eat that’s important.    There is a common held erroneous belief among professionals that skipping a meal will cause one’s body to go into starvation mode.  This is a state of lowered metabolism that is required for survival under extreme circumstances.  This line of thinking is popular among those who recommend eating 6 meals per day.  The truth is that your body won’t shift into starvation mode until it’s been deprived of calories for at least 24 hours.  Moreover, it takes several weeks on an extremely low calorie diet before the body lowers its metabolism.  Skipping meals won’t slow down your metabolism.

I suspect that the breakfast metabolism myth originates from the fact that our metabolism does slow down when we are inactive for long periods of time (such as when we are sleeping).  Therefore our metabolism may be a little slower in the morning as we’re waking up.  And yes, it is true that our metabolism does increase whenever we eat because the body creates heat in order to process the calories we have just eaten. However, while eating temporarily boosts our metabolism, it does nothing to permanently raise our metabolic rate.

I don’t want to imply that eating breakfast and small frequent meals is bad. This plan works well for many people.  It’s just important to know that eating more often does not magically accelerate metabolism.  Eating small frequent meals can work if you have the right portions of carb, fat, fiber, and protein.  And, eating more often can help curb cravings and binge eating.  However, people will do just as well, if not better, if they consume the same number of calories in fewer meals.  There is evidence that we burn more of our own fat when we wait at least five hours between meals. 

I typically eat two meals per day; breakfast around noon and dinner at approximately 6pm.  I do not snack between meals.  I’ve been doing this for about one year and have never felt better.  Some people need to eat breakfast earlier and some need to eat 3 to 4 times per day.  Different strokes for different folks.  We’re all wired a little differently.  What I’ve found is that lean muscle is what really matters when it comes to metabolism.  The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day.  In short, it’s most important to focus on what you’re eating rather than when you’re eating it.  And, if you want to raise your metabolism, engage in exercises that build lean muscle.

Thanks for tuning in!

 Dr.C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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How to Burn Off a Low Fat Hot Fudge Sundae

I was recently chatting with one of our patients who loves to eat sweets, bread, and pasta.  She also eats plenty of fruits, vegetables, and good sources of protein.  She admits to having a particular weakness for ice cream, but tries to make sure that it’s low fat because of her concerns about cholesterol.  She makes sure that she exercises to burn off the calories from the excess sugar.  Despite her efforts to stay healthy, which included burning more calories than she consumed, she was upset because she continued to gain weight around her middle.  How could she gain weight if she burned more calories than she consumed?

The answer is that there’s more to weight maintenance than calories.  You only lose weight if you burn more calories than you consume if your hormones are in balance. Although there are many hormones involved in weight maintenance, there are three that must be discussed; they are insulin, glucagon, and growth hormone.

Eating sugar and carbohydrates raises blood sugar and stimulates the release of insulin. Insulin lowers the blood sugar by telling the body to store this sugar for future use. The problem comes when excess sugar and carbohydrates are consumed. Once this happens, insulin tells your body to store new fat and also to hang on to any previously stored fat. Insulin is the storage hormone.  It’s virtually impossible to consistently lose weight if our insulin levels are high.

Glucagon is a hormone that has an effect opposite that of insulin.  Unlike insulin, glucagon tells the fat cells to burn fat.  Similarly, growth hormone promotes fat burning.  This hormone also promotes muscle building and some studies suggest that it slows the process of aging. Growth hormone and glucagon are the fat burning hormones and both increase with consumption of protein and several other factors.

Foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar turn insulin on and turn your fat burning hormones off.  The main offenders are alcohol, refined sugar, and processed carbohydrates.  The bigger the carb-sugar load, the more these hormones are thrown out of whack.  Conversely, eating complex carbs (fruits, non-starchy vegetables, beans, and raw nuts) along with good sources of protein and fat will blunt the rise in blood sugar and promote the appropriate hormone balance. What this means is that consuming a low fat, high carb, high sugar meal is absolutely devastating to your balance of insulin, growth hormone, and glucagon. This insult could result in the three hormones being out of balance for weeks.

In summary, your hormones need to be in balance before you can expect significant weight loss.  Ideally, you don’t want to eat foods that spike your insulin levels too high and you want your fat burning hormones to be activated for as long as possible.  The fat burners are turned on with exercise, sleep, protein, and fasting for at least 5 hours.  However, they are turned off with stress, alcohol, sugar, and refined carbs.  So, how do you burn off a low fat hot fudge Sundae?  You can’t!  Once you cause an insulin surge it will run its course.  However, you can still satisfy your taste for ice-cream by eating one small scoop of the real thing (authentic, full fat and dairy-based)!  This can be done on occasion after pre-loading with protein, fiber, and a good source of fat.  If you need more information or assistance, we can help you.

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Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Confused about fats?

Saturated fats are found in all animal products (meat, eggs and dairy) and in plant fats such as coconut oil and palm oil.  People have been consuming saturated fats for thousands of years. However, in 1953, these fats were suddenly vilified due to a single flawed study from a well known scientist by the name of Ancel Keys.  He published a paper titled “Atherosclerosis, a Problem in Newer Public Health.” Despite the faulty nature of his study, Dr. Keys convinced the media and the American Heart Association that saturated fat causes heart disease and obesity.

Many doctors (myself included) and dietitians have been misled by conclusions drawn in the 1950’s and unwittingly passed this “bad fat” misinformation on to their patients.  In addition, the food industry has contributed by branding all saturated fats as unhealthy.  Moreover, the industry promotes polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oil (canola, soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn) and other seed and nut oils as healthy.  These polyunsaturated fats quickly turn rancid when oxidized and produce large amounts of harmful free radicals.  Free radicals cause tissue damage, promote multiple serious diseases, increase the risk of cancer, and accelerate aging.

Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that monounsaturated fats (e.g. avocado and olive oil) and saturated fats derived from sources such as grass fed, organically-raised meats and butter, nuts, coconut oil, and palm oil are essential for optimal health.  Instead, it is the consumption of refined sugars, refined flour, excess grain (including whole grain), as well as heated polyunsaturated fats and other processed oils that sets us up for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and auto-immune disorders.

The bottom line is this – saturated fats are essential for optimal health.  Fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins D, E, A, and K are best absorbed by your body when consumed along with saturated fats.  Moreover, when eaten in appropriate amounts, these fats are almost immediately converted into energy and are not stored as fat.  Despite the public health message to eat more wholegrain and less fat, it would be in your best interest to do just the opposite.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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