Monday, March 16, 2009

Say hello to our little gastrointestinal friends!

Probiotics...You've probably heard about them but maybe not by this name. What are these? They are live, non-disease causing microorganisms, such as bacteria (aka, "friendly bacteria"), found in food or supplements that are potentially beneficial to health, if consumed in adequate amounts. Did you know that your body houses some 10 trillion bacteria, which are primarily located in our gastrotinestinal tract? While the amounts remain fairly constant over time, there are factors that may cause levels of these bacteria to fluctuate, such as illness, antibiotic use, and diet, thus, leaving our immune systems a little more vulnerable.

Some of the most common probiotic bacteria found in food include various species of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, acidophilus milk, fermented milk products, such as kefir, miso, tempeh, some soy drinks and some juices. Some manufacturers of products containing probiotics make claims such as "clinically proven to help regulate the digestive system" or "clinically proven to help strengthen the body's defense systems"; however, the science behind these claims has recently come under attack. While more research on the potential benefits of probiotics is warranted, I will share with you what some favorable evidence does suggest when it comes to certain probiotics. Certain types of these friendly bacteria may be useful for:
  • Reducing diarrhea associated with taking antiobiotics and traveler's diarrhea
  • Controlling certain types of infectious diarrhea, especially the type in children caused by rotavirus
  • Preventing and reducing length of vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
  • Lowering cholesterol
A few studies suggest that probiotics may be useful for other conditions as well, including: reducing lactose intolerance, reducing the length of intestinal infections, managing irritable bowel syndrome, lowering recurrence of bladder cancer, and preventing and managing atopic disease (i.e., allergies, eczema).

In order to experience the potential health benefits of probiotics, one must consume large quantities -- approximately 100 million to 100 billion live bacteria daily; however, more research is needed to determine an optimal dosage. For example, some yogurt products contain the "Live & Active Cultures" seal to inform consumers that the product contains at least 100 million cultures per gram at time of manufacture (or 10 million per gram for frozen products, such as frozen yogurt). Typically, 1 cup of yogurt or 3 1/2 servings of acidophilus milk will provide the recommended amount. You may also take probiotics in supplement form; however, keep in mind that not all probiotic strains are the same, which means they do not all have the same potential health benefits either. So, you may want to consult a registered dietitian to discuss your options.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Failing to plan...

This old quote was brought to mind this morning as I headed off to work. "Failing to plan is planning to fail." ~Source Unknown~ I thought of this as I drove past at least a dozen restaurants and coffee shops along my 10 mile path to work. I was thankful that I'd planned today. I packed my lunch and snacks for the day. I'm pretty predictable when it comes to this. You can search my purse, bag, desk, or vehicle at almost any given time and find some sort of snack in there. Whether it's a piece of fruit or a granola bar, I've almost always got something on hand for that moment. You know "that" moment! It's the one where you find yourself starving and suddenly everything looks good! That's when our environment makes decisions for us. So, had I not eaten breakfast, I imagine that a quick trip to Starbucks for a coffee...and maybe one of their scrumptious-looking pastries starts to sound pretty good right about then (a la 500+ kcals, -a lot of nutrients). Or during the workday after lunch when those sweets in the lounge start calling your name. Or it might be when you've left work, exhausted, starving, and ready to chow down at one of the many fast food restaurants along the way home.

Planning is one of the foundations of any effort to improve nutrition, fitness, and/or health, and I must say that it also tends to be one of the hardest skills for many of my clients to grasp. And maybe it's not just to grasp but to want to grasp. Let's face it. We're all busy. We don't really like to plan, but let me tell you, it'll be the best thing you've ever done for your nutrition, fitness, and/or health in the end. As I said before, if I don't plan, my environment makes my decisions for me and the consequences aren't always pretty. (Now, I will also say that there are almost always nutritious options when in a bind, but that's for another blog post.) Yes, if you're not used to it, it will take some additional time and effort up front. But what thing that isn't worth it doesn't take some effort? Have you ever played a sport or had a hobby? I'm sure you realize how much time and effort it took to develop knowledge and skills in the sport or hobby to start, but with practice, practice, practice you got better over time, right? When developing any new habit or skill, it will definitely take additional effort up front, but as long as you give it some time (like 21 days as Steven Covey would suggest), it will seem like old hat. Believe me, it really doesn't take me much time to plan out what I'm going to take for lunch and snacks each day, and I am truly thankful that I've developed this valuable skill. I have been caught in a bind when I did forget my snack or lunch, and in the end, I'd rather not force myself to make the kinds of decisions that must be made in those moments. When people make an average of 250 daily food decisions, I think doing a little planning ahead can certainly enhance your chances of achieving and/or maintaining your health and fitness goals.
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