Do this to be healthier and save money

Supplements, Diet, Everyday, Health

That’s what Echinacea looks like. Pretty. But you don’t need to eat any.

Have I got a good and easy deal for you today! Guaranteed results! Free of charge, too!

A simple action you can set in motion today, and easily maintain for the rest of your life. One that will pay handsome dividends both in terms of your health, and in your wallet.

What is it? Here it is:

Never buy dietary supplements ever again.

Simple enough, right?

I know, I know, you want to tell me that you already don’t use that stuff, so this advice does not apply to you.

Well, the statistics are pretty clear on the subject: About 20% of us regularly buy some sort of supplement, be it protein or herbal “stuff” with wildly exaggerated properties, none of which have been scientifically demonstrated. The industry of supplements is estimated to be raking in some $5 billions annually. Taken together, those numbers mean that if none of you admit to taking some, some of you are lying.

By the way, I’m not talking about pills of vitamins or minerals. To be fair, unless you have a medically diagnosed condition that requires you to supplement your nutrition with vitamins or minerals, they are also a waste of money. Were I to include them, the proportion of those who take some sort of supplement on a regular basis would go above 50%. And the value of the industry would go to some $30 billions, most of which wasted by consumers because they simply don’t need any supplements.

No, I’m talking about the large number of products, supposedly based on plants, which are touted as cures or insurance for a wide range of diseases or problems. And for which there is no credible scientific support.

Worse than that, however, is the fact, well demonstrated scientifically in this case, that the supplements often don’t even contain what they claim to contain.

So, to put a big nail in the coffin: Even if you insist on believing that Echinacea, for instance, has some near-miraculous effect on your health, taking a pill that does not even contain Echinacea will definitely not do anything for you. But it will still cost you a pretty penny.

How can I make such a bold claim as “it is good for your health” to not take any supplements, you ask? It follows logically:

If makers of those supplements can make outlandish claims about their properties without having to demonstrate them, and they still don’t get sued out of business, then it must be because the supplements don’t really do anything. Therefore, not using them must be as good for you as using them.

Except when the supplements actually do hurt people, because the stuff they contain is sometimes dangerous. In which case, not taking supplements is much more healthy than taking some. (Just have a look at this Consumer Report, or do a search on the Web for “dietary supplements pulled from shelves”…)

At best, supplements don’t do anything; at worst, they might have seriously bad consequences. Ergo, not taking supplements is healthier, on average, than taking some. And it does not cost a thing, so start thinking about what you could do instead with the money you will save. As my wife would put it: QED.

If you ever feel the urge to pop a pill made of lord knows what, do this instead: Have a tall glass of water, but without the pill.

Think of it as the ultimate dosage of homeopathic medicine against dietary supplements. (I hope most of you get that. It is quite funny, if I do say so myself.)

So, maximize your health, and that of your wallet, by not buying supplements. If you really must take minerals or vitamins because of a medical condition, of course, do so; otherwise, don’t bother.

And move, everyday.

You’re welcome.

Picture from Pixabay

By the way, this report from 2013 that started the ball rolling for the New York State Attorney General’s office to ban some supplements is worth watching as well.

The message is simple (but it is worth repeating)

Movement, Diet, NOT FOOD, Everyday

A new beginning, of sort, so time to get moving again.

To get the ball rolling, not because of the new year but because of the launch of the No-brainer Fitness Facebook page (yes, I finally did that; one thing off my list, hooray!), I thought I’d re-visit the message of No-brainer Fitness.

Although it is the time of year for lists of resolutions and things to do, don’t be mistaken: This is NOT a list of resolutions.

It is much simpler than that. It is what should always be on your mind, every year, every day, every moment. To the point that it becomes automatic or, as I put it, a “no-brainer.”

About that name

By the way, for those of you curious about it, that is the point of the name “No-brainer Fitness.”

It is what Zen is all about. Far from being a mystical philosophy or esoteric design principle, Zen is about practicing something consciously so much and so systematically that thereafter you simply do whatever it is you have practiced without having to think about it anymore.

Anything you put your mind to long enough, practice hard enough, becomes second nature. Something in which your brain no longer needs to take an active part. Thus, a “no-brainer”.

The other meaning, that of something which makes perfect sense, and does not need to be thought through much, or at all, is also valid. Moving more is such a thing.

So let’s get back to it

One thing you need to know about No-brainer Fitness is that, although I get side-tracked at times, and try to infuse the posts with my own type of humour, I always get back on track.

Therefore, what you need to know about No-brainer Fitness, is that it stands for one single, very simple prescription, and two secondary recommendations:

1) Move more

Movement is the key to fitness and health. It has been shown time and time again, be it in terms of the effect of exercise on body functions, brain activity, and as was recently reported, our ability to age well and remain healthy and active for a long time.

Some the prescription is to move more, move all the time, move everyday. Not necessarily training for a specific sport, which is great and I encourage, but at least get into the habit of NOT being sedentary and using energy-saving devices like cars and elevators all the time.

2) Don’t diet

So you’ve gained some weight over the years (who hasn’t?). Your sedentary lifestyle and sitting job are causing your mid section to expand faster than the rest of the universe? What’s the solution?

Go on a diet, of course!

WRONG!!!

The problem is, in a large proportion (pun intended), that you do not move enough. So the solution cannot be to change what you eat. At least, that is true in the same proportion as the cause of the problem.

So the first recommendation is to NOT go on a special diet, NOT focus on what you eat, and NOT obsess over your weight. And I’m not alone in saying it. (That, by the way, is a link to an excellent and very refreshing blog post by a dietician.)

Rather, get moving more, and slowly learn to listen to your body. Because, guess what, if you listen, it will tell you what it needs, and over time you’ll get to eat better, without counting calories or obsessing about food. (Obsession of any kind, even obsession about training and exercise, it NOT healthy.)

For more specific food advice, I defer to those who know more than I do on the subject. I prefer to stick to a simple (no-brainer) approach: Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.

3) Cut back on NOT FOOD

Which of course does not preclude me from making further suggestions about what NOT to eat.

You see, the “Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants” statement above is not originally from me. It seems simplistic, but for full effect you have to consider what “food” actually is. And for that, you need to remember that we are, fundamentally, animals.

Animals eat plants and other animals. At least, that’s what omnivores like us do. They don’t eat inorganic matter, stuff that does not grow on plants or that don’t move of their own volition.

The way I like to put it, “food” is anything that comes directly from plants, or that has been transformed mechanically and/or chemically from plants by other living creatures. Another way of putting it: food is biological matter that has been minimally transformed by means other than other animals’ biological processes.

Yes, I know, it can get messy and scientific-y. So often I use a shorter definition: If you can’t find it in nature in the form you eat it, then it’s probably overly processed, and you should pass.

For instance, things like coffee, doughnuts, soft drinks, and booze, are what I consider NOT FOOD. (For more on that, feel free to read a couple of my past posts.) When’s the last time you came across a free-flowing river of coffee? Or a tree in which Coca-Cola bottles grow? Or dug up a plant and found perfectly shaped and wrapped Hershey Kisses in its roots?

You get the point.

Cut back on those NOT FOOD items is my second recommendation; you’ll not only remove unnecessary calories (and in some cases drugs) from your body, but you’ll make room for the real taste of food, and the refreshing feeling of water going down. And that’s why you should do it.

That’s it

The rest, as they say, is details. (That’s also, as they also say, where the Devil lives, but that’s another story.)

If you insist on seeing this as a list of resolutions for the new year, then consider that you don’t need a list. You need only one item:

Get moving more!

You body will do the rest; just pay attention to what it tells you in the process.

I’ve now taught you everything you need to know. But feel free to keep an eye on this blog, and like the brand spanking new Facebook page… (Please?)

Picture from Pixabay.

Not until we also have artificial microbes to help us digest that

Artificial, NOT FOOD, Diet, Science, Fiber, Sweetener

We are not made of plastic, so why would we eat artificial stuff? Think about it.

You might have heard about this.

If you haven’t, then it is high time.

Although I have no tendency towards crying wolf, this is quite scary, and prompts me to want to warn everyone against certain aspect of our modern food supply.

For far too long we have been treating our bodies as if they were simple machines to which we only need to provide fuel (food) and some lubrication (water) to keep it going. What this picture of the human body, what I call the car analogy, fails to recognize is the intricacies, the inter-connectedness if you wish, of the processes that take place inside our bodies. That’s partially why I really hate car analogies; they are too simplistic by far.

Thanks to recent research into the microbiome in our digestive system, the microbes (bacteria and viruses) that live in our guts, this picture is being drastically revised.

So I’d like to draw your attention to two recent items of information that are hinting at greater care to be taken about what we allow into our bodies.

(Hint: Food is a good thing. NOT FOOD, not so much.)

Added Fibre

We’ve all heard that our diet could use more fiber (or fibre, if you are Canadian or British). It seems the entire (developed) world is constipated, by the sound of it. And we are not feeling full soon enough, so we keep eating, to the point of eating too much, which does not help with the constipation part.

Fibre, you see, no matter how you spell it, affects satiety, the feeling of having eaten enough, and facilitates the transit of food through our digestive tract. Eating more of it is a good thing because you feel full faster, and stuff goes through you more smoothly. Or at least comes out more easily. (Enough said. At least there is no car analogy for that.)

So what are we to do about it?

Eating food containing fibre is of course too difficult for most of us. (I’m being facetious. Bear with me.) So we must find easier ways. That’s where the folks who sell us food products come in. (Notice the presence of the word “products” in the previous sentence? That’s also a hint.)

And thus enter added fibres in our diets. Through a lot of products we are sold with added fibre.

What those companies don’t tell you, and what the recent research results seem to demonstrate, is that this added fibre is not of the kind that really makes a positive difference for our bodies. You would think that in order to add fibre in their products, companies would extract them from food sources in the first place. But that’s not the case. It is a lot cheaper to take fibre from non-food sources.

Unfortunately, those additives, I call them artificial fibre in the sense of not being fibre occurring naturally in food, are the wrong size and the wrong type to do the job. Simply put (from the Nutrition Action Newsletter):

“But all these added fibres are really different,” explains (Joanne) Slavin (professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota). “If people think, ‘I’ll get nine grams of fibre in this chocolate bar and I won’t have to worry about getting enough fibre,’ that’s a mistake.” (…)

“Most added fibres don’t affect satiety,” noted Slavin. “If you can sneak added fibre into a food or drink and it doesn’t affect the taste, it’s not likely to have any effect on satiety.”

Basically, added fibre is a marketing gimmick that does nothing good. But as it goes through you, it could do something bad to some of the good bacteria in there, so why risk it? At any rate, don’t waste your money products containing such NOT FOOD.

Artificial Sweeteners

It seems we also have a sweet tooth, for various reasons, the most important of them having to do with evolution and the scarcity of nutrient-rich food sources throughout most of that time.

But too much sugar means too many calories, and the logical consequences of weight gain and increased risks of negative health outcomes like heart disease and diabetes (to mention only those).

Once again, asking us to reduce our consumption of sugar is obviously not the way to go. Especially since it seems sweets are practically addictive.

So what is to be done?

The obvious answer is to find alternatives that are as sweet but that, somehow, do not provide calories.

And thus enter artificial sweeteners into our diet.

In theory, according to all the science artificial sweetening agents’ developers have accumulated, these sweet but otherwise inert additives go through our digestive system without contributing a single calorie.

What they seem to have forgotten, and what new evidence is pointing to, is that as they go through our bodies, artificial sweeteners affect the many living creatures in there. In a nutshell, they modify the equilibrium of our gut microbiome.

This can be bad, as a recent article published in Nature indicated. Why?

Those bacteria and viruses have evolved along with us, and work together with our digestive system. In fact, our digestive system includes the microbiome. But it is also always a bit of a battle between bacteria that help, and bacteria that can hinder our health. When our diet changes, the relative strength of each type of bacteria can be affected. Sometimes in a way that is very detrimental.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from a New Scientist article about the study:

“The most shocking result is that the use of sweeteners aimed at preventing diabetes might actually be contributing to and possibly driving the epidemic that it aims to prevent,” says Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, who co-supervised the work with his colleague Eran Segal.

Segal says most artificial sweeteners pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested. This means that when they get to our intestine, they directly encounter our gut bacteria. Because what we eat can shift this bacterial make-up, the researchers wondered whether the glucose intolerance might be caused by a change in the bacterial composition.

A second test, with saccharin, confirmed this. Wiping out the rodents’ gut bacteria using antibiotics abolished all the effects of glucose intolerance in the mice. In other words, no bacteria, no problem regulating glucose levels.

Further experiments supported this conclusion. For example, when the researchers transferred the gut bacteria of mice who had consumed saccharin into mice whose guts were bacteria-free, it caused these previously healthy mice to become glucose intolerant. Similar transplants from mice drinking glucose-enriched water had no negative effects on health.

So what was going on? When the team analysed the gut bacteria present before and after the experiments, they saw an increase in several different types of bacteria in the mice that consumed sweeteners. Segal says these bacteria have already been linked with obesity in humans in previous studies.

The take home message
In the case of added fibre, which I dubbed artificial fibre, we are being duped into eating indigestible stuff that has no real benefit for our health. That’s the very definition of NOT FOOD.

In the case of artificial sweeteners, some of us might in fact negatively affect their health even as they try to prevent weight gain. Far from helping control conditions like pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes, it may contribute to causing such diseases in some people.

There is only one sure way to not get duped, and to promote health through food: Eat real food, not too much, and mostly from plants. If it has been processed by something else than the bio-mechanical and bio-molecular apparatus of something alive, be very, very cautious.

Understand that we are animals, inhabited by other animals and microbes with which we have co-evolved, and that together we are supposed to eat natural food.

Until we have some artificial gut microbes designed specifically to deal with any artificial stuff we might put in our bodies, we should refrain from eating any.

No need to think particularly long or hard about it. It’s a no-brainer!

You can find a blog post from Scientific American that talks about the research on artificial sweeteners; it has a link to the original article in Nature, in case the one I provided earlier in this post does not work. It is the same research about which the New Scientist article was talking in issue 2987 published on September 17, 2014 (written by Helen Thomson).

For some information on added (artificial) fibre, look into the Nutrition Action Newsletter of October 2014; it is a publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Picture from Pixabay.

Sometimes, you just gotta take some time off

Rest, Sickness, Exercise

Sometimes you just gotta rest…

I have a confession to make:

Although I’ve completed an iron-distance triathlon, a couple of half iron distance races, and 3 or 4 marathons (beyond the one of the annual Ironman(TM) race I participate in) every year for the last 7 years, and you could say I’m in pretty good shape (for my age), sometimes I take time off.

In fact this year I’ve taken quite a bit of time off for various good reasons. There was minor (but cumbersomely placed) surgery in the spring and a lot of traveling throughout the year (not to mention a stress fracture in my left foot during a marathon). But one of those reasons is why I’m taking some time off right now: I’m sick.

Exercising regularly and being careful what I eat, my health has never been better. This I know objectively, as well as through the way I’m feeling. But I’m still exposed to a lot of bacteria and viruses just by remaining minimally social, using a lot of public transit, and living with a healthcare professional (who happens to be exposed to a lot of stuff at the hospital).

So once in a while I get sick.

Not often, mind you, and, because my immune system is in great shape, it never lasts very long. I take a couple of days of complete rest from training, even going as far as spending most of that time in bed, and in no time I’m up and about doing my regular activities again.

Some folks might try to convince you that by training hard, or eating particular foods, or consuming a specific supplement, you will never get sick. That’s utter nonsense! Such people are trying to sell you something. They are also either lying through their (cavity-free, no doubt) teeth, or at least suffer from some sort of selective memory syndrome.

The simple truth is that, unless you live completely isolated from all other human beings, everyone gets sick once in a while.

However, what is well demonstrated in the medical literature and backed by a lot of athletes at all levels is that exercising regularly, even training hard (but without over-training), strengthens your immune system. Combined with taking good rest when you are sick, and continuing to eat well, you will heal faster and recover from the little bout of whatever ails you if you exercise regularly.

The key is to move a lot, on a daily basis, and rest well when you get sick. No great secret, no magic bullet. Just working with your body.

This being said, I’m going back to bed. If my cats will give me a bit of space on it…

Picture from Pixabay, and not of one of my cats (but of the same species)

What’s NBF all about – a refresher

Fitness, Exercise, Sport, Triathlon

What’s NBF all about? More than this picture, that’s for sure…

To celebrate the 40th post of No-brainer Fitness, I thought it worthwhile to offer a brief recap.

Basically, in case you are still wondering, or if you are fairly new to No-brainer Fitness, here’s what it’s all about, in the form of an interview, but definitely in No-brainer Fitness style:

What does NBF stand for?

NBF is my acronym for No-brainer Fitness.

Ok, smart ass, but what is it all about, really?

No-brainer Fitness is about getting fit so as to be, and remain, as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Why the “No-brainer” part?

Because it is my contention that, in order to get and remain fit, you don’t need to do anything very complicated. Also, the benefits of being fit are so good and numerous, that you should not have to think twice about it.

Don’t you have some secret agenda?

You mean other than helping others reap the benefits of fitness?

Yes.

No.

C’mon, admit it! You are trying to create a cult to fitness, or at least get rich from this, aren’t you?

Well, it would be nice to make a living helping others, but I still do it for free.

So, no cult?

No cult. Quite the contrary, I promise.

Ok, prove it: How does one get fit?

You need to move more. A lot more. On a daily basis. Not just 30 minutes of intense exercise every other day, and then sitting on your chair or sofa the rest of the time. Instead of seeking ways to save your energy, you need to get into the habit of using more energy. Walking more, taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators, doing some light strength exercises, not sitting so much at work, picking up a fun sport again, etc.

That sounds like hard work: I’m getting tired just reading about it. How does one get there?

A big part of it is changing your mindset so that you no longer think about moving as hard, but as something that your body craves, much like you crave food. Our bodies really do crave movement, and as you get moving, you start to feel it more keenly.

Talking about craving, what about eating super foods and taking supplements that will make me fit and healthy and help me lose weight? Isn’t that a lot easier?

There is no such thing as “super foods”, and if you eat well, you don’t need supplements. Losing weight comes naturally from moving more and eating a good diet, not from dieting. But the key is moving more. First and foremost, that’s what you have to focus on. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something (like supplements).

Unlike you?

Unlike me.

But if we wanted to buy something from you, we could. Right?

Well, if you are interested in picking up running or triathlon as a sport, because those are great ways of getting and remaining fit, I could help with that, too. And for that, yes, I do get paid, because it demands much more attention to make sure it is done right, and you reach your personal objectives.

What else do you provide? Surely it can’t be that simple…

It is. Really. But I try to make it enjoyable to do the right thing, and I provide advice to help steer through the wild west of products and tips out there. Because being fit is both simple and fun.

Hmmm… What else?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from things that are clearly bad for you, what I call NOT FOOD. But the key, I insist, is in moving a lot more.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I almost believe you.

Feel free to ask me other questions. Or read some of my 39 previous posts; you are sure to find more about what NBF stands for, and how to be more fit.

Move on!

Health, Fitness, Exercise

Working on some visuals for No-brainer Fitness… Feedback welcome.