Health Benefits and Risks of Alcohol

You may have heard that drinking alcohol has some health benefits to it. In fact, one of the most highly recommended diets for good health is the Mediterranean diet, which includes a daily glass of red wine. But, why aren’t other types of alcohol, such as beer or white wine included in this stipulation? And what exactly is it in the red wine that may benefit your health? Below, we will examine what the research tells us. You might be surprised.

Why Red Wine?

Yes, there are some health benefits to alcohol, red wine in particular. Most experts agree that red wine does have some heart healthy qualities. This type of alcohol contains antioxidants (i.e. flavonoids) and another substance called resveratrol. It is believed that these two properties of red wine are what provides the heart healthy benefits.

Research shows that resveratrol in red wine might be the ingredient that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol), and prevents blood clots. Additionally, some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease. It is important to note, however, that most of these studies have been done in animals, not humans. And, if you drink too much alcohol, any positive effects received from the resveratrol are easily trumped by the damage that can be done to your body, especially your liver.

Moderation is key

So how much is too much? More than one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men. Any more than that and you are increasing your risk for chronic diseases such as alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer of the upper gastrointestinal tract, and colon and cognitive impairment. It’s easy to see why most health professionals do not recommend drinking alcohol at all.

Confounding factors

In addition to the resveratrol and antioxidants found in red wine, research tells us that it’s also the general dietary habits of people who tend to drink red wine as compared to beer, that actually lend to some of the statistics which show that people who drink red wine generally have less of the diseases mentioned above. In general, people who drink red wine are also more likely to buy heart healthy foods containing healthy fats and antioxidants, such as olives, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and low fat cheese and milk. By comparison, the beer drinkers generally buy more processed, sugary, and heavier fat meats (i.e. sausage and pork).

The take home point here is that drinking a glass of red wine per day is not a magic health bullet. If you are interested in reaping the health benefits of red wine, it is best if you commit to eating a healthy, balanced Mediterranean style eating plan, in general.

Bottom Line

Deciding to include alcohol in your diet is a personal decision. Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems. It’s safe to say that you would be better off if you didn’t drink alcohol at all. But, if you really want those antioxidants in the form of wine, stick to no more than one (for women) or two glasses (for men).

Superfood Series: Part 4

Chia Seeds:  Small, but Mighty

What’s not to love about chia seeds? They are unprocessed, whole grain, and chock-full of nutrients.  Chia seeds are jam-packed with protein, fiber, and minerals. Before we dive into the specifics, let’s take a look at their overall nutritional content. 

 

 

 

Healthy Weight.  Chia seeds are not the magic solution for weight loss that some companies would like you to believe, but their high fiber and protein content make them a viable addition to any healthy weight loss or maintenance plan. Thanks to their high fiber content, chia seeds can absorb 10-12 times their weight.  Their gel like presence in your stomach will help you feel fuller, longer and reduce the chance of over-eating. Additionally, chia seeds contain high quality protein that consists of all 9 essential amino acids (amino acids that cannot be synthesized on their own and must be obtained through food) that will keep hunger at bay and energy levels consistent. 

Healthy Heart.  Chia seeds are a great source of heart healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).  They are a particularly good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in sustaining health, specifically in blood clotting and inflammation. PUFAs can also help reduce bad cholesterol levels which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke and possibly type II diabetes. 

Digestion.  Fiber aids in digestion and chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber.  At 10 grams per ounce (about 2 tablespoons), they are 40% fiber by weight.  Fiber is not fully digested by the body, so it cleans out the digestive tract as it passes through.  Fiber also helps increase satiety (the feeling of being satisfied), which can aid in weight loss and healthy weight maintenance plans. 

Strong bones.  Chia seeds are high in many critical bone nutrients and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These three minerals account for 98% of the body’s mineral content by weight.  Although, deficiencies in phosphorus and magnesium are rare in the typical American diet, calcium deficiency is more common.  As we age, calcium absorption and retention decreases in our bones.  Including chia seeds in your diet may help offset this natural loss in calcium. 

Antioxidants have been shown to help fight off everything from heart disease to cancer.  Some of the most abundant antioxidants in chia seeds (quercetin, kaempferol,  myricetin, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid) are associated with health benefits such as boosted energy, endurance, and fitness of the brain and muscles; protection against chronic disease such as lung cancer, asthma, and type II diabetes;  and inflammation prevention.      

Athletic performance.  Folklore says that Aztecs and Mayans carb-loaded with chia seeds before an athletic event, much in the same way we do with sport drinks before a sporting event. We’re thinking they were on to something.  In one study, researchers compared athletic performance of athletes who drank Gatorade to athletes who drank a mixture of half-Gatorade and half-chia seeds.  The results indicated no difference in performance between the two groups, suggesting that chia seeds may serve as a possible healthy alternative to highly processed, sugar-laden sport drinks. Furthermore, the high calcium and magnesium content in chia seeds makes them a good source of electrolytes which helps prevent hydration and restore electrolyte balance lost during heavy exercise.

Diabetes.  The unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber (10 out of 12 carbohydrates are from fiber) in chia seeds causes a slow and steady rise in blood sugar which is favorable for people with diabetes.  A few clinical studies have demonstrated this favorable effect.  The results of one study indicated that including 37 grams (about 2.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks reduced blood sugar levels.  Hint* Substituting chia seeds for bread crumbs and other high glycemic load foods can be a helpful place to start.    

Versatility.  There are many ways to eat chia seeds. In addition to their long shelf life (thanks to antioxidants), chia seeds are so versatile that you can add them to almost anything.  Eat them alone if you’re in a hurry or add them to water or milk to create a thick, gelatinous pudding.  Other people like to add them to salads, sandwiches, and soups.  Check out these other ideas if you’re curious

Resources: 

http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442472548

http://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds/

http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3643

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518271/

http://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Minerals-Calcium-Phosphorus-and-Magnesium.aspx

http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/omega-3-fatty-acids-fish-oil-alpha-linolenic-acid/evidence/hrb-20059372

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21183832

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Polyunsaturated-Fats_UCM_301461_Article.jsp

http://www.chialive.com.au/Chia-Antioxidants.html

Omega Fatty Acids

You’ve probably heard about Omega fatty acids, and that they are good for your health. What many people may not know, however, is that there are two types of Omega fatty acids and both play a role in the necessary processes of inflammation and blood clotting, but in a very different way.

What are Omega fatty acids?

Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). Both of these types of unsaturated fats are healthy and essential in the diet. Both are biologically active in the body, unlike most fats which are used for energy or stored. This means that they play important roles in sustaining health, specifically in blood clotting and inflammation. Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, and Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect. The inflammatory process is a normal and healthy function of the body, specifically when an injury occurs. The early stages of inflammation enlist the immune system to help control infection, and wound healing and tissue re-growth occur in the later stages of inflammation. It is also necessary for blood to have the ability to clot in order to prevent excessive bleeding. The problem occurs when there is excessive inflammation and clotting in the body, which can lead to heart disease, arthritis, and other serious diseases. The key is to balance the consumption of Omega-6 and Omega-3.

How much do I need?

Health experts do not endorse a daily recommended intake for Omega-6 or Omega-3, rather, the emphasis is on the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. Most people consume a diet that is too high in Omega-6 fatty acids, and lacks in Omega-3s. This unbalanced ratio has a damaging effect on the body, and is one of the most negative aspects of the typical American diet. Anthropological studies show that humans evolved eating a ratio of Omega-6: Omega-3 somewhere around 1:1. The typical diet today has a ratio of 16:1!

To better balance the ratio of Omega fatty acids in your diet, follow these tips:

  • Processed oils are loaded with Omega-6s, so limit or avoid them. The oils highest in Omega-6s include sunflower, corn, sesame, and peanut oil. These are typically found in highly processed or fried foods because they are inexpensive and readily available. Limiting these foods in your diet will reduce the overall amount of Omega-6 consumed.
  • Omega-3s are found in seafood such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, anchovies, and halibut. Other sources are beans, nuts, and spinach. Some foods are fortified or enriched with Omega-3s, such as bread, cereal, oatmeal, and yogurt. Choose canola, flaxseed, soybean and olive oils when cooking.
  • The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (like salmon) at least twice a week. Eating a variety of non-processed foods in place of processed or fried foods will also help to improve the ratio of fatty acid consumption in your diet.
  • If you feel that your diet lacks in Omega-3s, consider taking a Fish Oil Supplement to get these beneficial fatty acids. Supplements will vary in the amount of fatty acids they contain, so look for one with at least 600mg of DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid, the primary form of fatty acid found in fish that offers health benefits). Let your doctor know if you are taking a Fish Oil Supplement.
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