What the drinks do to your diet

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Yes, they lurk from all sides: Whether you attend this Friday’s after work gathering, the regular Saturday birthday party, or simply a night out with your besties quite likely leads from one drink to another. Well-known story, and it’s happening right now, many times at many places around this globe. Some may see a glass of red a vital accessory to have with their dinner, for others the drink itself is pure pleasure. For whatever reason you might choose the booze and whether consumed with responsibility or ending up in binge drinking – alcohol affects our body. See, I really don’t want to put my foot into discussing the health issues related to alcohol abuse coming from accepting the drug as a part of social life (it’s probably an endless list) You certainly don’t need to look back on a history with moments dancing on a table half-naked between strangers to understand alcohol is a drug and consumption should be kept to the exceptional occasion. However, I do neither intend to bring up potential preventive effects of alcohol such as the so called French paradox, communicating that moderate consumption of red wine is associated with decreased risk for coronary heart disease.

Finally, after outlining what I do not want to talk about I move on to the things and drinks I actually wanted to share with you this time: You haven’t cut out alcohol completely from your diet but want to enjoy the occasional drink or two and still balance this pleasure with a healthy lifestyle. We are back on track to finding moderation, a term I’m sure you noticed before on this blog. And here’s the deal: Moderate drinking can stand in line with a sustainable healthy diet if you simply make yourself aware of what we do to our bodies when we indulge a drink. I almost want to call it mindful drinking – creating a healthier relationship to alcohol with minimum regret.

Calories may be the least to worry about.

It’s easy to underestimate the number of calories taken in by just one drink. Alcohol is among fat, carbohydrates and protein a carrier of energy (staying formal here, not wanting to scare you off at this stage with the terrible “c-word”… You know, calories). Mixed drinks and cocktails even contain extra sugar making one unit as calorie dense as an entire snack or meal. Well, it basically runs directly through into your bloodstream, sugar and alcohol are absorbed pretty damn efficiently. Without feeding your body fibre, vitamins, minerals and co. we talk about empty calories – energy with zero nutritional value (assuming you don’t regularly go for the Strawberry Daiquiri). It won’t make you feel full nor will it contribute to meeting your daily nutritional requirements except for adding up on your “calorie account”.

And this is not the whole story. Ever noticed yourself stopping by the kebab after a crazy night out? Well, this is no coincidence. Alcohol and the sugar contained in alcoholic drinks make your blood sugar levels a roller coaster. Increasing the levels immediately at the time of intake over the entire night blood levels are prone to drop rapidly since the simple sugar is broken down quickly. This explains a craving for calorie dense food after a few hours, you feel hungry. Depending on the amount of alcohol still left in your blood you may even notice this effect the day after.

And I have one more for you. Alcohol slows down your fat metabolism. Our bodies are fascinatingly effective; they tend to use whatever we feed it. In our liver alcohol is rapidly converted into acetate which is also an intermediate product coming from the breakdown of carbohydrates and fat. However, since acetate from alcohol involves relatively little metabolic work compared to the other pathways it is used preferentially. It has been shown that burning of fat for energy can be significantly decreased for several hours after drinking.

  • Choose wisely. As mentioned in one of my earlier articles you may prefer drinks that are low in both alcohol and sugar. This for example could be beer and red wine instead for long drinks or sweet ciders which contain extra sugar.
  • Combine with food. Having a drink with your dinner is probably the best option. The more complex carbs and protein will keep your blood sugar levels constant over more time and will help you both decrease the craving for a midnight snack and decrease risk for headache.
  • Plan ahead. In the end of the day, a positive energy balance means excess of calories will lead to weight gain. So if you know you will be going out, try to target the highest proportion of your daily energy intake towards the end of the day. Choose a lot of fibre and protein rich food, low in fat and sugar.
  • Last but not least… Enjoy your drink but think of it as exceptional indulgence. Actually, I’m not at all a fan of “bottoms up”. I even do indulge my Jägermeister on ice! (latest here you might wonder ‘Is she really German??’) However, you have to think of alcohol like high caloric sweets.

Take it easy on lifting.

You want to spend your weekends in both the pub and the gym? Probably not the best idea. The breakdown of alcohol causes oxidative stress to your body. Even if you don’t find yourself with a crushing headache or worse you can be sure that your body is still working on the 2+ drinks you had the night before. Oxidative stress means an increase of free radicals that damages your cells and lowers immunity which makes you more prone to injuries and infections. How long alcohol can affect your workout and its efficiency is still unclear and depends on many other factors such as gender, age, general fitness and obviously the amount of alcohol your body has to cope with. However, some studies propose that a night out drinking might kick you really hard and hurt your gains for up to 3 days. Research suggests there are several mechanisms involved which affect the protein synthesis and anabolic hormones.

  • Drink plenty of water before / during / after. Alcohol dehydrates your body as it interferes with the hormone that regulates urination. We cannot stop this mechanism but compensate it by drinking water and adding electrolytes (salt and minerals) to our body… such as from fruits and veggies or rehydration fluid available in the pharmacy.
  • Antioxidants refill. Some people call it detox. Antioxidants (such as vitamin A, C and E) inhibit the oxidation of molecules by terminating the reactivity of free radicals… they literally catch them and make them impotent. Eating large amounts of fruits after your night out won’t enhance this effect but the antioxidants stored in your liver will be depleted. You may want to make sure to keep your daily recommendation of “5 a day” to keep antioxidant levels up.
  • Rather make it a rest day. Considering the effects mentioned above you would rather wait with heavy lifting and go for some lighter exercise which won’t put more pressure on your body. Maybe have a long walk instead!

So keep an eye on your drinking habits if you want it to interfere as little as possible with your diet and workout goals. A glass of wine or beer with your food is ok but try to make drinking the exception and stay sober for most of the days. And apart from body weight and muscle gains – your liver will thank you big times.

Why you should get ready for autumn NOW

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Even though this article is “inspired” by the first sneezes in the office – No need to panic! We’ve just reached mid of September and the past week here in Stockholm has been more than promising that we can look forward a lovely Indian summer. Still having the pictures of this year’s vacation literally burnt into our minds the least we want to think about is to take out our (beloved) winter coat and snugly warm boots. Yes, Swedish winter can be loooong and dark (hearing the sighs from my climate buddies) but for not sinking into self-pity here let’s embrace autumn for the beautiful season it is!

I have to say I really love this time of the year. Everyone is coming back from vacation and share their summer stories at the office. The leaves of the trees will soon show themselves in shades of yellow and red giving the city a new look. From constantly being outdoors social life is going to return to under the roof again. Change is in the air. However, with this change there are challenges that we want to prepare ourselves to. I’m not only talking unpredictable weather and increasing darkness (brrrr)… It’s this time of the year we need to take special care of our immune system and mood. Here are some things you may want to consider as you get into the autumn vibes:

Make the most of your sunshine hours.

You want to be really greedy. This thursday has already got 40 mins less daylight to offer than just one week ago – speaking in Stockholm terms. And what am I going to talk about now? Correct: Vitamin D. Strongly linked to our bone health it has also shown to affect the function of the immune and nervous system – and by this our affinity to the common cold and depressive mood. To begin with, our body is its own producer of this substance. However, in the process of making vitamin D there is one essential: UVB radiation from sunlight needs to strike our skin – and here things come full circle. Especially in the Northern latitudes between autumn and late spring UVB exposure approaches zero, which means that our own vitamin D production will come to a stop. The good news is: Vitamin D is storable and we can even take it in with our diet. Main sources are fatty fish, egg yolk, and fortified products (such as milk or often also soy milk), and certain types of mushrooms. So to give your immune system a last boost and keep your vitamin D factory busy – go outside! 15 mins lunch break walk can make a difference as long as there is UVB to catch. Personally, I don’t supplement vitamin D for prevention of deficiency, however, it is certainly not harmful to keep track of your vitamin D levels when you are lucky to live in one of the darker corners in Europe.

Get back to the gym.

What happened actually after everyone got prepared for “Beach 2016”? Well, beach happened (I know that’s not particularly smart to figure out) but what I want to say: After a rather disciplined period most of us probably got back to normal. La Playa. Tapas. Cerveza(s)… [can be further extended]. And you know what: Fair enough. Summer is here to enjoy. And to the ones of you who managed to stay away from all temptations: Hats off! Anyways, while we want to get back into shape it might help to emphasize other benefits of catching up with our workout, may I introduce: Serotonin, endorphine and dopamine. They are all neurotransmitters, messenger substances in our brain that stimulate the “feel good” and help us regulate appetite and sleep. Low levels or imbalance of these transmitters can even be associated with depression. Among factors such as genetics, chronical diseases, sunlight and diet, exercise affects the release and synthesis of these super chemicals – the extent of the beneficial effects obviously depend on the intensity and frequency of exercise. General recommendations on how often to work out vary with regard to the outcome being addressed. However, most evidence on a general healthy and sustainable frequency of exercise could be obtained at 3 x 30 mins per week (here I mean you need to work up a sweat) and additionally a minimum of 30 mins physical activity every day (moderate intensity, like walking to the bus stop). Sounds like a lot? Well, it might be a challenge to come from a frequency of 0 to 3 times at once but believe me, as soon as you get to feel the dopamine, you’ll make your gym session a priority.

Welcome sleep. Avoid stress.

Eventually, to sum up the purpose of this article, I would like to encourage you to set routines and priorities when arriving in autumn. Back at the office work loads are crushing after a long summer, which combined with changing weather conditions is putting your body under immense stress. Some might have a higher tolerance level than others, but in the end stress causes chemical reactions which may not be visible immediately but under constant exposure are likely to show effects in the long run. Sleep is another essential pillar supporting your health, its importance gets particularly clear when you experience frequent sleep loss. Sleep does regulate the circadian rhythm, our inner “master clock” which influences the release and production of our entire hormone balance, impacting the entire range of functions in our body. Vice versa, sleep quality is affected by the day-night-rhythm and stress. Critical factors particularly at this time of the year. And by saying this, take good care of yourself and bare in mind that the things that often get the least attention might be key to keep your autumn cold-free and develop your individual routines – a strategy – to make this winter a blast.

How to get your healthy curves!

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Ok, one could start off with the question: What do you mean by curves? You are totally right. What I made kind of a theme for this blog might be a bit more complex and tricky to develop from just one side. Others might ask themselves now: Am I a curvy person? Or: Do I even want to be curvy? Some may think about both.

I’m afraid I need to disappoint you from the beginning: I couldn’t find a scientifically based definition for who is considered to be curvy or what makes you not fulfil the requirements to be categorized as curvy, or similar. Ughh… What’s science good for if it cannot even answer this question! Well, I’m sure there is no need for it, we all have our own definition. In the end, curvy or less curvy (Is there any opposite?) I think we all agree that the most essential about curves is we want them healthy.

When talking about healthy weight one of the first things you are still most likely to hear is BMI. Am I right? Probably most of us know the so called “body mass index”. Everything you need for the calculation is your height and weight which then puts you in one of the categories ranging between underweight and extremely obese – Congratulations! Or let me put it this way: For certain clinical practices BMI is still a decent measure for a first classification and certainly justified, however in many cases it has turned out to be a rather inaccurate method – because it is no indicator for body fat. And it gets even better: In several studies a BMI higher than normal was found to be protective against certain chronic diseases, in particular in older adults (a reason why categorizations got adjusted within the recent years). And there we are back to the individual case: Healthy weight cannot be represented by a single number. It depends on many factors, genetics and gender is only two of them.

Although we have come to the conclusion that we cannot find a proper way to define healthy curves in general, we can define it for ourselves. And by saying this, on my blog Your healthy curves I will present you with my own approach about healthy nutrition and life style backed up by facts and experience. From my background as nutritionist and testing a variety of different diets (or better: ways to think about food) over the past years myself I learnt that only when I find the right dose of both discipline and moderation I could achieve a sustainable healthy life style. Whatever dose of something is said to keep the doctor away… learn listening to your own body (and no, not the calls of chocolate) – you are unique.

You can literally write books about how to adopt a healthy life style and maintain your curves so I may disappoint you again: I don’t have the universal answer at a glance – but I am willing to provide you with 3 (life-changing) insights:

  • Ban the scale. (Insider know I haven’t owned a scale for years! Why? I stopped listening to it anyways.) Instead, keep talking to your favorite jeans and it will fit. Frequent work out will shape your body and remember, muscle mass is heavier than fat mass… it is possible to get visibly slimmer without a significant drop in weight! And you skip that stressful moment in the mornings…
  • Party weekend ahead? Sounds fun! Enjoy but keep in mind: Alcohol (ethanol) as food component has the second highest energy density directly after fat and as if this wasn’t bad enough it also slows down your fat metabolism. If you still want to have a glas or two you may prefer the options without added sugar (such as wine and beer instead of a cocktail) The basic rule applies: Calories in vs calories out is key. You may take it easy on your alcohol consumption for the rest of the week.
  • Make sure you reward yourself regularly. Why not buy yourself some new sport clothes? It does no harm to look good during your workout! Besides, as you might have already noticed, not every exercise feels the same. Some may feel heavy in the beginning but practice will give you the confidence and make you look professional during your workout – once this level of feel-good is reached you will stick to it!

I wish you very welcome to follow this blog for a while and learn more about how to find your own balance between a healthy body and soul.