Archive | December, 2012
31 Dec

Our wealth is the result of the historical and present suffering of others- from the theft of land and natural resources to the exploitation of third world labourers- and not necessarily a reflection of our work ethic.

The Link between Stress and Health

28 Dec

Why an evolutionary response that helped us survive is now compromising our health

Have you ever noticed that before a big exam or visit from the in-laws your nose starts to run, your head starts to ache, and you begin to fall ‘under the weather’?  This is not a coincidence or bad timing, but rather a manifestation of the intricate relationship between stress and health.

This relationship is based on an evolutionary response that is called the fight or flight response.  This adrenaline-based response occurs automatically when we perceive danger, and was actually very useful back when we were hunting and gathering our food.  We would see a threat or target-depending on how you interpret it-such as a lion, and our bodies would respond by elevating heart rate and breathing, dilating the pupils, narrowing our focus, and shunting blood away from our extremities (so we won’t bleed to death if our hands get cut). This response was preparation for what would happen next: we would either fight the lion, or run away from it (flight).

The problem is that these days we don’t face similar dangers on a daily basis, yet we still have this evolutionary response hard-wired in us.  During the fight or flight response, our body puts functions such as digestion and immunity on hold since they are not necessary for fighting off an external threat.

Furthermore, this response is activated by both the nervous system and the hormonal system so that hours after the perceived threat is gone, stress hormones linger in our bodies. So now when we perceive things such as public speaking, school, work or family as something scary, we have an exaggerated and lingering stress response and a greater susceptibility to infection and sickness.  This is why you get a dry mouth and cold hands when you have to make a major presentation, or find yourself getting sick during important (yet stressful) life events.

Interestingly, something as simple as going for a routine check-up with your doctor can set the fight or flight response in motion.  Many people experience “white-coat syndrome” where they will have a normal blood pressure on the way to and from the doctor’s office, but when they go in to meet the doctor face to face, their blood pressure skyrockets.  Fear of bad news, anxiety of getting a needle, or removing clothing for a check-up are all very real things that can trigger an intense bodily response!

Now imagine if you were always on edge and just couldn’t relax. Your blood pressure would be high all the time, your heart would be working overtime, your digestive system would not be able to properly absorb the nutrients your body needs, and you would be taking a lot of sick days!  This is a formula for disaster and can put a serious damper on your well-being.

So try to indulge in at least one thing each day that is going to make you happy, whether it’s reading your favorite novel, enjoying your favorite latte or taking a nap in your favorite pajamas. Feel free to take a chill pill once in a while for the betterment of your health!

Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats: a Look at Macronutrients

7 Dec

Our bodies require nutrients from food sources to thrive. Nutrients can be classified into macronutrients (macro=large) such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins; and micronutrients (micro=small) such as vitamins and minerals that are required in smaller quantities. This article will discuss macronutrients.

Carbohydrates and the Glycemic index

All carbohydrates from food sources such as breads, pastas, and vegetables are broken down to glucose (sugar) molecules in the digestive system and then released into the blood stream. Some carbohydrates such as white bread and rice are broken down very quickly in the digestive system and as a result blood glucose levels go up very fast. This is undesirable as it increases the risk for diabetes as it makes it more difficult to control glucose levels; increases appetite; and increases the risk for heart disease.

The glycemic index illustrates which carbohydrates tend to release glucose into the blood quickly (i.e. high glycemic index) and slowly (i.e. low glycemic index). It is preferable to chose low-glycemic index foods.

Protein

Protein from sources like animal meat, lentils and tofu are the building blocks for our muscles and help keep us strong. Protein should make up to 15-20% of your daily dietary intake and come from lean sources (e.g. avoid bacon and foie gras).

Fats- Not all are created equal

Fats can be categorized as unsaturated and saturated. Saturated fats usually come from animal sources such as meat, cheese, butter and ice cream, but can also come from non-animal sources like coconut and palm oil. These types of fats are considered ‘unhealthy’ because they are chemically ‘less fluid’ are ‘more stiff’ than unsaturated fats. To put this in perspective, imagine if the cells of your heart were made up of stiff cells versus more fluid and movable cells.

Fats should make up no more than 35% of your daily dietary intake, and the majority should come from unsaturated fat. Sources of unsaturated fat that you can include in your diet include olive oil, fish, nuts, and legumes.

Macronutrient % of Daily Dietary Intake Important considerations Examples
Carbohydrate 45-65% Choose low glycemic index and high fibre carbohydrates Whole grain and high fibre foods such as breads, pastas, oat, lentils, eggplant, okra, barley, spinach
Protein 10-30% Choose lean meats or vegetable sources Chicken, turkey, lentils, tofu
Fat <35% Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources and avoid saturated and trans fats. Olive oil, fish oil
2 Dec

Feminism has taught us that activities that appear to be self-destructive are invariably adaptations, attempts to cope with the world.
-Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue