The Paleo Diet’s Secret Ingredient

The paleo diet is relatively simple diet. But it has a secret ingredient that lowers your risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer. It may even help you quit smoking.

The secret ingredient: fruits and vegetables.

Of course, those constitute more than one ingredient. And they’re hardly secret. But if you look at what most people eat you’d be forgiven for thinking that the incredible benefits of these foods are still largely a secret.

Longevity

Consider the fact that even without acknowledging all the other benefits of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, research shows that consuming these foods is linked to living longer. A study at the University College London shows that if you eat seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day, you lower your risk of death at any point in time by a whopping 42 percent.

The research, involving more than 65,000 Brits shows that seven or more daily portions of fruits and vegetables drop the risk of death by cancer by 25 percent and the chances of being felled by heart disease by 31 percent.

The study shows that every carrot, bowl of broccoli, portion of cauliflower or any other vegetable serving that you put in your mouth reduces your overall risk of death today by 16 percent. Every fruit shrinks your risk by 4 percent.

“We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” says researcher Oyinlola Oyebode. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”

If you follow the paleo diet, you are eating plenty of these fruits and vegetables while forgoing processed foods, wheat products, corn products and sugary packaged foods.

That’s great for your well-being: The British researchers found that eating canned, sweetened fruit or drinking fruit juice increases your daily risk of death by 17 percent per serving.

“Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup rather than fruit juice,” says Oyebode. “The negative health impacts of the sugar may well outweigh any benefits. Another possibility is that there are confounding factors that we could not control for, such as poor access to fresh groceries among people who have pre-existing health conditions, hectic lifestyles or who live in deprived areas.”

More benefits

A wide variety of other studies demonstrate the health effects of fruits and vegetables:

  • A study in China involving more than 760,000 people shows that every 200 grams of fruit you eat a day reduces your stroke risk by 32 percent. Take in 200 grams daily of vegetables and the risk drops by 11 percent.
  • For women in their 20s, according to a study at Minneapolis Heart Institute, eating about eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day reduces the chance of middle-aged heart disease by 40 percent.
  • A study at the University of Buffalo shows that smokers can triple their chances of success at giving up smoking if they stuff themselves with fruits and vegetables every day.

The consequences of the typical American diet are pretty clear: Eating the processed foods advertised everywhere you look produces the health problems that are now rampant everywhere medical researchers look. But devote yourself to paleo eating and you have a fighting chance of staying healthy and living to an enjoyable old age as ripe as a juicy apple.

Keep Toxins Out Of Your Body With The Paleo Diet

When it comes to keeping health-destroying toxins out of your body, much depends on the walls of your digestive tract. After every meal, they are tasked with letting nutrients into the bloodstream that the body needs to rejuvenate itself while making sure unwanted chemicals and pathogens are eliminated.

Unfortunately, many folks suffer from what is called “leaky gut syndrome.” That can take place when spaces between the cells of the intestinal wall become leaky, allowing foreign substances to breach the barriers meant to keep them out.

That, in turn, can lead to infections from pathogenic attack, allergic reactions to proteins that enter the blood or autoimmune problems when your immune cells attack the body instead of focusing on foreign invaders.

Wide Range Of Problems

Research into leaky gut has uncovered a surprising collection of illnesses connected with leaky gut. For example, scientists at the California Institute Technology (Caltech) have discovered that many cases of autism are connected with a malfunctioning digestive tract.

In this lab study, the researchers found that the probiotic, beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract play a key role in preventing leaky gut and possibly easing autism problems.

“Traditional research has studied autism (ASD) as a genetic disorder and a disorder of the brain, but our work shows that gut bacteria may contribute to ASD-like symptoms in ways that were previously unappreciated,” says researcher Sarkis K. Mazmanian. “Gut physiology appears to have effects on what are currently presumed to be brain functions.”

The Caltech scientists found that, in lab animals, they could quiet many autism symptoms by improving the bacteria in the gut.

The researchers emphasize that there is still a lot of work to be done to develop effective probiotic therapies for autism. But they say that their work demonstrates one of the serious problems linked to leaky gut.

Cancer Connection

A study at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia shows that leaky gut may be connected to cancer.

These scientists found that a hormone receptor called guanylyl cyclase C (GC-C) plays a vital role in keeping the intestinal barrier intact and that when C (GC-C) is missing from the intestines, the resultant leaky gut can lead to inflammation and cancer-causing toxins to enter the bloodstream. The result: damaged DNA and potential cancer in the lung, liver and lymph nodes.

“If the intestinal barrier breaks down, it becomes a portal for stuff in the outside world to leak into the inside world,” says researcher Scott Waldman. “When these worlds collide, it can cause many diseases, like inflammation and cancer.”

Paleo Protection

A well-planned paleo diet together with probiotic supplements may be your best bet to keep free of leaky gut and the problems it causes.

When you emphasize plenty of organic fruits and vegetables on a paleo diet, you provide your probiotic bacteria with the dietary fiber it needs to stay healthy. And since the paleo diet also stresses the avoidance of grains (especially no wheat), as well as the banishment of processed food, you deprive undesirable pathogens of the simple carbohydrates they depend on.

A study at the University of Illinois shows that the dietary fiber supports a favorable increase in beneficial bacteria growing in the intestines. According to these researchers, eating plenty of fibrous fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of diabetes, colon cancer and autoimmune problems (like rheumatoid arthritis) when you support your probiotic bacteria.

“Unfortunately, people eat only about half of the 30 to 35 grams of daily fiber that is recommended. To achieve these health benefits, consumers should read nutrition labels and choose foods that have high fiber content,” says researcher Kelly Swanson.

But if you eat the paleo diet, consuming organic meats and fish along with fruits and vegetables you cook at home, you don’t have to read many food labels. Instead, you can be secure that you’re keeping your gut free from leaking.

Does The Paleo Diet Cause Cancer?

The popularity of the paleo diet attracts attacks from many experts who debunk its benefits. And now some of those same naysayers are trying to claim that eating paleo makes you more vulnerable to cancer.

Much of the controversy surrounding paleo eating centers on how much meat you should or can consume when you’re on this diet. A passel of researchers now aver that folks who eat a lot of meat on the paleo diet are increasing their chances of cancer.

The problem is this assertion — that paleo dieters eat lots of meat and that meat leads to cancer — is a significant distortion.

Part of the confusion starts with the idea that the paleo diet encourages gorging on meat.

Paleo diet perception problem

This perception probably starts with the fact that the paleo philosophy basically sees nothing wrong with downing healthy helpings of meat. But it doesn’t advocate super-sizing portions.

As a matter of fact, most paleo folks emphasize fruits and vegetables more than meat. Fruits and vegetables are where beneficial phytochemicals reside: These natural substances from vegetarian foods that help the body fight off cancer and decrease the risk of chronic illnesses like arthritis and heart disease.

Another confounding factor is that the term “meat” doesn’t refer to a homogenous group of foods. For instance, a hot dog you might buy from your local supermarket is nutritionally very different than the meat in an organic steak originating from a grass-fed cow. The hot dog is full of additives that are of questionable value to your body. The grass-fed beef contains healthier fatty acids and is much less likely to contain the pesticide and antibiotic residues that can be in hot dogs.

Questionable study

And that highlights a serious shortcoming in many of the studies that allegedly show a connection between meat consumption and cancer. The studies usually don’t differentiate among meats like hot dogs, cheap burgers from fast-food joints, organic meats, pork from pigs raised on crowded pig farms or sausage.

It is hardly credible to think that all of those different types of “meat” have the same effect on the body.

Still, a study from Harvard that lumped many of these meats together supposedly showed that red meat consumption increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

According to this research, every daily serving of red meat a woman consumes increases her risk of breast cancer risk by 13 percent.

The foods that the Harvard scientists considered to be red meat included: unprocessed red meat (beef, pork or lamb, and hamburger) and processed red meat (such as hot dogs, bacon and sausage). There was no allowance for the possible different effects of these types of foods.

Gut protection

So anytime you see a study that warns of the dangers of red meat, consider the terms that are being used by the researchers. I don’t doubt that eating things like hot dogs, sausage and bacon every single day of your life will limit how many days go into your life. And I wouldn’t recommend eating a hamburger at every single meal, even if those burgers were made from grass-fed organic beef.

But an occasional steak from an organic, grass-fed cow is not the danger that the media likes to trumpet.  And I don’t think many paleo eaters would disagree.

Don’t let your vegetable oil fry your health

If you eat a paleo diet, you should be using the healthiest cooking oils. Fact is, the type of vegetable oil you use in your kitchen can make the difference between health and illness. Medical researchers believe that by merely switching cooking oils, you can lower your blood pressure, improve your heart health and protect your lungs.

Consider how your vegetable oil interacts with your blood pressure. A study led by scientists at King’s College in London shows that when you use olive oil on your salad, it produces natural substances that bring your pressure down.

The researchers believe that their findings show why the Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, helps keep hypertension away.

Vegetables like spinach, celery, lettuce and carrots are rich in natural nitrites and nitrates (nitrogen compounds). When you consume these vegetables along with olive oil which, like nuts and avocados, is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, nitro fatty acids are created in your digestive tract.

Within the body, the nitro fatty acids inhibit an enzyme called epoxide hydrolase that would otherwise raise your blood pressure. According  to researcher Philip Eaton: “The findings of our study help to explain why previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attacks.”

The Vitamin E In Olive Oil Is The Best E

The type of vitamin E found in olive oil also provides significant health benefits. Experiments at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine show that the particular kind of vitamin E in olive oil is more beneficial than the E vitamins found in canola, soybean and corn oil.

Olive oil contains a form of vitamin E known as alpha-tocopherol. In contrast, those other oils are richer in gamma-tocopherol. According to the Northwestern studies, the gamma-tocopherol in canola, soy and corn can inflame your lungs and make you more susceptible to lung inflammation and asthma. The alpha-tocopherol in olive oil, in contrast, protects your lungs.

“Considering the rate of affected people we found in this study, there could be 4.5 million individuals in the U.S. with reduced lung function as a result of their high gamma-tocopherol consumption,” says researcher Joan Cook-Mills, an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern.

During the past 40 years, asthma rates in the U.S. have been climbing at a frightening pace. This increase, say the scientists, goes along with people’s increasing consumption of soy, canola and corn oils and a switch away from lard and butter.

Cook-Mills notes that countries that consume more olive oil and sunflower oil (which also contains alpha-tocopherol) have much less asthma than we suffer.

Today, in the United StateS, about one in 12 people are struggle with asthma. And the typical American’s blood level of gamma-tocopherol is about quadruple that found in citizens of Europe and Scandinavia that consume larger amounts of sunflower and olive oil.

“People in countries that consume olive and sunflower oil have the lowest rate of asthma and those that consume soybean, corn and canola oil have the highest rate of asthma,” Cook-Mills says. “When people consume alpha-tocopherol, which is rich in olive oil and sunflower oil, their lung function is better.”

Don’t Fry Your Arteries

No matter what oil you use in your kitchen, you should avoid frying foods in vegetable oils at high temperatures and never reuse oil for frying after it’s been heated to high temperatures.

Tests at the University of Minnesota show that when unsaturated vegetable oils are heated to 365 degrees F and beyond for frying and are kept there for 30 minutes or longer, they form a toxin called HNE (4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal) and other related dangerous substances.

“HNE is a well-known, highly toxic compound that is easily absorbed from the diet,” warns researcher A. Saari Csallany. “The toxicity arises because the compound is highly reactive with proteins, nucleic acids — DNA and RNA — and other biomolecules. HNE is formed from the oxidation of linoleic acid, and reports have related it to several diseases, including atherosclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and liver diseases.”

When you reheat oil again and again, you create larger and larger amounts of HNE.

So don’t fry if you can help it. Baking food at lower temperatures is usually a better option.

The Paleo Sugar That Keeps You Slender And Diabetes-Free

Years ago, when I used to cut calories to keep my weight down, I spent long periods of my life as a miserable, cranky, deprived dieter. But nowadays, as a paleo eater and snacker, I’ve discovered a sweet treat that I can nosh on until I’m satiated and satisfied. And I never gain a pound.

My sweet indulgence is called fruit — with occasional nuts and honey.

You may read that and roll your eyes. With one hand in the cookie jar/bag of chips/candy container, you may cynically dismiss the allure of fruit.

But that’s because you’re on the dark side of the grain divide. If you come over here, where grains like wheat and corn have been banished, your taste buds will enjoy a new freedom to actually taste the hidden taste dimensions of natural food. They won’t be mired in a taste fog of cookies, cakes, bread, overly salted chips and high fructose corn syrup.

Even better: The benefits of staying off grains and eating the large amounts of fruits and vegetables that I eat are expressed in the body way beyond the taste buds.

And if you want sugar, you don’t need the problematic sweet stuff stuffed into a soft drink or a candy bar. The paleo diet can give you another kind of sugar, the kind that keeps you free of diabetes and slender.

I’m not even talking about the sugar in fruit. The kind I’m discussing is actually made by your own body. And it protects you from getting sick.

Research in France shows that sweet fruits and vegetables like cabbage contain what are called fermentable fiber. The presence of that fiber kick-starts a process in your intestines that produces sugar that gets shunted into your bloodstream, where it protects against diabetes, modulates liver function, keeps you from being hungry and helps trim your waistline.

Physiological Signals

Initially, the fermentable fiber is processed by the probiotic bacteria in the digestive tract to form the compounds propionate and butyrate. These substances lead the intestines to synthesize sugar in the form of glucose and release it into the blood between meals and at night while you are sleeping.

The glucose is sensed by nerves related to the liver and triggers signals sent to the brain. In response, your brain sets off physiological processes that prevent weight gain and protect you against diabetes.

Simultaneously, these nerve impulses put a stop to hunger, increase the calories your body burns while you are resting and tell the liver it doesn’t have to bother producing glucose.

Bonus Benefits

Along with those impressive effects, other scientists have shown fiber in your diet plays a key role in keeping the colon from becoming inflamed and cancer-ridden. (The same researchers have found that niacin, vitamin B3, also keeps colon inflammation under control.)

These studies at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University show that when the beneficial bacteria in the gut digest fiber and produce butyrate (a short chain fatty acid) a cell receptor called Gpr109a is also activated.

Activation of Gpr109a on the surface of cells in the colon signals immune cells populating the digestive tract to decrease inflammation. That decreases the chances of developing painful conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. It also limits the possible development of colorectal cancer.

“To protect your colon, you need this receptor, as well as the fiber and butyrate which activate it,” says researcher Vadivel Ganapathy.

After butyrate activates the Gpr109a receptors on what are called dendritic cells and macrophages in the colon, these immune cells start making anti-inflammatory molecules. At the same time, they communicate with T cells, central players in the immune system, to send similar kind of anti-inflammation messages.

Also helpful: Butyrate prompts the epithelial cells lining the colon to produce cytokines, cells that promote wound-healing and help shut down the intestinal inflammation that complicates ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

The Way You Look Tonight

But even if you never ever want to hear the word butyrate again or be told about the ins and outs of the immune cells in your intestines, you have to be impressed by the obvious health benefits of the paleo diet with its wealth of fruits and vegetables.

And while you may have already forgotten what cytokines are, once you experience the slenderific effects of the paleo diet, you’ll understand how other eating plans pale beside this healthy way of dining.

The Paleo Drink That Does A Body Great

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

While the foods I eat on the paleo diet have provided me with enormous health benefits, it’s important not to forget that what you drink with your foods is also crucially important for your body’s well-being. I have discovered that one beverage that I imbibe every day has so many remarkable health effects, I have a hard time grasping them all.

During the past 30 years, research into the physiological power of tea means it can help prevent heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Added to that, it has been shown to help you lose weight and keep your weight at a proper level.

As for your brain, tea may also support your attention span, mood and problem-solving abilities.

Tea For Too Many Pounds

Tea contains natural chemicals called polyphenols that, along with caffeine, help your body produce extra energy and oxidize fat. When scientists analyzed a series of studies on tea, they found that tea can help you burn off an extra 100 calories a day. Another review showed that adding green tea to people’s diets and making no other dietary changes helped them lose an average of about three pounds in three months.

A test of tea’s effects on using up body fat showed that it increased fat oxidation by 16 percent.

Cancer Fighters

The polyphenols in tea can also hold off certain cancers. One study showed that supplementing with 600 mg a day with green tea polyphenols called catechins, significantly slowed the growth of prostate cancer.

A long list of studies has shown that the natural substances in various types of tea perform anti-cancer duties when you drink these beverages. They take action against lung cancer, cancers of the digestive tract, skin cancer and breast cancer.

Tea’s natural chemicals perform their anti-cancer magic by being antioxidants, improving the effects of chemotherapy and inhibiting growth factor signaling (actions that would otherwise promote cancer).

A Friend Of The Heart

There is no shortage of studies that also show tea reduces blood pressure, lowers the risk of heart disease, cuts your chances of a heart attack, reduces your risk of a stroke and keeps your cardiovascular system operating normally.

In one study, black tea was found to drop blood pressure, keep fatty meals from driving you toward hypertension and kept the blood in blood vessels flowing more effectively.

“Our studies build on previous work to clearly show that drinking as little as one cup of tea per day supports healthy arterial function and blood pressure. These results suggest that on a population scale, drinking tea could help reduce significantly the incidence of stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases,” says researcher Claudio Ferri, M.D., who is with the University L’Aquila, Italy.

Better Bones

Tea even improves your bone strength. One experiment discovered that if you drink tea and you are more than 50 years old, you can reduce your chances of a hip fracture by about 30 percent. Another study showed that postmenopausal women taking a green tea extraction of 500 mg a day (about what’s found in 5 cups a day), upped their bone formation, dropped their harmful inflammation and improved their muscle strength.

Tea Fits Your Brain To AT’

If you want a better brain, studies show that tea goes to your head. A study on attention span showed that tea boosts attention and helps you focus on mentally demanding tasks. Researchers have found that tea’s amino acid theanine and caffeine help tea provide intellectual help.

All of this research confirms tea as a dependable paleo drink that helps keep your body in shape.

As noted by Jeffrey Blumberg, a nutrition professor with Tufts, “Humans have been drinking tea for some 5,000 years, dating back to the Paleolithic period. Modern research is providing the proof that there are real health benefits to gain from enjoying this ancient beverage.”

 

The Power Of Music For Health

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

There was one aspect of my childhood that was especially lucky. My parents insisted that I learn how to play a musical instrument at a young age. I think that eventually I would have played an instrument in any case. Music, in my gene pool, seems to be a genetic disease (but a good one).

Still, without my parents early prodding, I might not have started playing music as early I did. And I might not have been as disciplined in my musical endeavors if I hadn’t been trained in elementary school.

My mother had been a professional pianist and music teacher, and she just took it for granted that every kid should learn music. But I’m sure she never considered the health benefits of music.

Variety Show

For just about anyone with a computer, the expansion of the Internet has bestowed unprecedented access to a mind-blowing variety of different types of music. Browsing among selections on websites like YouTube, I sometimes think a dedicated music lover could tune into most of the music written during the past 300 years.

My personal obsession with music extends to playing a number of instruments. Maybe I don’t play any particular instrument that well; but I find that emotionally and physically, playing for a while every day on the guitar or piano just plain makes me feel better.

And research into the effects of music — listening to it and performing it — shows that the activity produces measurable health benefits.

Brain Help

When scientists at the University of Liverpool measured changes in blood flow in people’s brains after taking music lessons, they found that a single lesson, even for just half an hour, shuttles more blood into the left hemisphere of the brain. That suggests that doing music activates the part of the brain that takes part in both music and language.

The probable conclusion: Singing and playing music may improve your language skills.

According to researcher Amy Spray: “The areas of our brain that process music and language are thought to be shared and previous research has suggested that musical training can lead to the increased use of the left hemisphere of the brain.”

Exercise To Music

Other researchers have found that listening to music while you exercise can improve your brain function significantly.

In a study at Ohio State University, scientists decided to see what kind of effect exercise and music would have on patients with heart disease. As researcher Charles Emery notes, “Evidence suggests that exercise improves the cognitive performance of people with coronary artery disease. And listening to music is thought to enhance brain power. We wanted to put the two results together.”

When they had heart patients walk or run on a treadmill, the researchers found that the 33 participants in the study reported improvements in their moods and mental outlook whether they listened to music or not. But their improvement on verbal fluency tests after listening to classical music while exercising was more than double what they could do without music.

“Exercise seems to cause positive changes in the nervous system, and these changes may have a direct effect on cognitive ability,” Emery says. “Listening to music may influence cognitive function through different pathways in the brain. The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize cognitive output.”

Musical Benefits

If you don’t have a lot of music in your life, now’s the time to put this activity to work to boost the health of your body and brain. Even if you just listen and you don’t play, you can benefit.

And it doesn’t hurt to sing along.

Other research indicates that:

  • Musical training keeps your brain younger as you age. A study at Northwestern showed that people who receive early musical training do better on brain tests as they grow older. This benefit persists even if you haven’t played much music since your early years.
  • Listening to your favorite music can lower your blood pressure. Research at New Westminster College in Canada shows that when heart patients listen to music they enjoy, their blood vessels relax and function more efficiently. The music produces measurable improvement in relaxation of vessel walls.
  • Listening to religious music you like can improve your mental health. When scientists from the University of Texas-San Antonio studied older adults who listen to religious music, they found that these seniors enjoy more life satisfaction and less anxiety.

Morning Music

Years ago, when I was still living with my parents, my father used to listen to a news radio station every morning. Talk about irritating. I can still hear the tinny voice on that radio speaker telling everyone within earshot to pay attention to the weather and traffic on the eights.

Nowadays, when I get ready for work in the morning, the news is about the last thing I want to hear. Instead I listen to music. And even if researchers hadn’t confirmed that music fine tunes your health, I’d still have a healthy appetite for a bounty of bouncy tunes.

Paleo Weight Loss Secret

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

Even if the paleo diet per se isn’t the best diet for weight loss, my experience shows that it can mold your approach to food so that weight is easier to take off and keep off. For one thing, if you keep only paleo foods in your house, you create a food environment that helps you avoid the kind of binge eating that endangers your waistline.

Eliminating The Junk

One of the best pieces of advice you can follow when trying to improve your diet and your health is to eliminate most of the non-paleo junk foods you have in the house. If they’re not available in your cupboard and not at hand on your counter, you face less temptation to indulge in them in weak moments.

If you’re sitting at home bored and cranky, you can face an irresistible urge to snack on the chips or other nutrition-poor food in your cupboards. The stronger the temptation, research on snacking shows, the more likely you are to eat badly.

It’s a pretty simple concept: If junk foods are not in the house, you are less likely to indulge.

Fighting Hunger

If you want to keep snacks in the house, you should keep healthy snacks (fruits, vegetables, nuts) around to keep yourself from getting too hungry.

Ironically, when you keep mostly healthy food in your house, according to researchers, it doesn’t make you long for the days of junk food. Instead, the presence of healthier items makes you feel better about your healthy choices.

Studies at the University of Leeds, in England, shows that seeing, smelling and eating healthy food can help you make better eating choices and, if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll eat less food as well. But if you have tempting treats in the house, like cookies, cake and chips, it becomes more difficult keeping them out of your mouth.

The Leeds researchers note that the healthy foods that people associate with healthier diets, like salads and fruit, can remind you of your long-term health goals and help buttress your self-control.

In one of their studies, these scientists asked women to smell fresh oranges or smell chocolate and then write about the memories awakened by these odors.

The scientists found that women who were dieting to lose weight ate 60 percent less chocolate after smelling fresh oranges compared to when the smell of chocolate was in the air. On the other hand, people who weren’t on special diets ate about the same amount no matter what they smelled before eating.

The researchers found that merely seeing pictures of healthy food helped folks make better eating choices.

And when they performed a study of what happened when people ate healthier foods, they found that dieters didn’t binge and better resisted the temptation to eat junk foods and sweets.

As the Leeds researchers note, “When tempted by food, dieters should take a few moments to focus on the sensory properties of healthy food, such as the sight and smell of fruit or salad vegetables. Such healthy food cues can provide an instant reminder to dieters to regulate their intake.”

According to researcher Nicola Buckland: “Increasing the presence of healthy foods in places where overeating is most likely to happen, such as the fridge, kitchen cupboards and on the desk at work, may help remind dieters to limit their food intake.”

Beware The Booze

Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages represent another serious threat to healthier eating habits. Although moderate drinking is good for your health (as long as you have no more than a drink or two a few times a week), research at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom shows that the biggest threats to a healthy diet includes late-night food cravings, the temptation of alcohol indulgence and friends who have unhealthy food habits.

In this study of 80 people who were dieting, the researchers found that temptations to go off their diets led to binges about 50 percent of the time.

The study found that dieters are most likely to go off their diet because of an alcohol habit. Their willpower is also weakened when others are present.

So do yourself a favor. Make your home a haven for eating healthy foods. The long-term benefits are visible just behind your belt.

Your Heart Wants The Right Fat

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

Decades ago, health experts began to recommend that if you wanted to be healthy, your best bet would be to eat a low-fat diet. That advice was so wrongheaded it boggles the mind.

In fact, a low-fat diet is often a disaster for your health. What you need to do instead is eat a diet filled with healthy fats.

The Importance Of Fats

Even a brief consideration of the importance of fat in your body demonstrates why cutting back on dietary fat is almost always a bad idea. Every cell membrane you own contains fat. Your brain is mostly made of fat. If you cut back on fat and substitute carbohydrates like starch and sugars, your body suffers.

Even though the experts originally claimed that their advice to cut back on fat was part of an effort to promote better heart health, research into the effects of eating a low-fat diet shows that it endangers your cardiovascular wellness, it doesn’t protect it.

Eat Whole Foods

A study at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and Northwestern clearly shows that taking a whole diet approach to healthy eating, consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish, is your best bet at improving the health of your heart.

The Arizona scientists point out that while eating a low-fat diet may lower your cholesterol, that doesn’t automatically translate into cardiac health. And when these researchers analyzed large diet and heart studies performed during the past 60 years, they found that focusing on whole foods and not reducing fat had the best results for cardiovascular wellness.

“Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats,” said researcher James E. Dalen. “These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths.”

The researchers found that their analysis of studies dating from 1957 to the present demonstrated that a whole-food diet perspective, particularly adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, effectively stymies heart disease, even when total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol don’t drop.

The Mediterranean-style diet is not very high in meat and saturated fat, but is higher in the monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil. This way of eating also includes large amounts of vegetables, fruit, fish, legumes and whole grains.

Better Than Statins

The scientists believe that eating a good, relatively high-fat, Mediterranean diet is better for your heart than taking statins and other drugs that are supposed to protect your cardiovascular system.

“The potency of combining individual cardioprotective foods is substantial — and perhaps even stronger than many of the medications and procedures that have been the focus of modern cardiology,” says researcher Stephen Devries, who is with the Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology (Deerfield, IL) and Division of Cardiology, Northwestern University in Chicago. “Results from trials emphasizing dietary fat reduction were a disappointment, prompting subsequent studies incorporating a whole diet approach with a more nuanced recommendation for fat intake.”

The researchers recommend eating olive oil instead of butter or cream while eating the other elements of the Mediterranean diet.

“The last fifty years of epidemiology and clinical trials have established a clear link between diet, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular events,” Dalen said. “Nutritional interventions have proven that a ‘whole diet’ approach with equal attention to what is consumed as well as what is excluded is more effective in preventing cardiovascular disease than low fat, low cholesterol diets.”

Problems In The ’90s

As for me, when I began to have blocked arteries in the 1990s, I tried to fight my problems with a low-fat diet, just as the experts back then recommended. Fortunately for my heart, I also decided to include fish in my meals as well as plenty of fruits, vegetables and nuts. And since I was never a big fan of processed food (for example, I can’t stand potato chips), my choice of foods probably helped my arteries somewhat.

But it wasn’t until I went on a paleo diet in 2009 that my heart health significantly improved. I stopped eating foods with gluten. I cut out soy, grains, legumes and dairy. The inflammation in my body went way down.

As long as I keep my stress under control and get enough sleep, my blood pressure now stays normal instead of being borderline high, as it had been since I was a teenager.

If only I had known how to structure my diet properly back in the 1990s…

When Food Is The Cure

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

I originally went on the paleo diet to improve my memory, which was starting to fail miserably. Within a week of changing my meals (no more grains, dairy, soy or legumes), my brain improved significantly.

And after I went on the diet, I realized that several other medical problems I had suffered for years had been linked to my old diet. That’s because the new diet made them either go away entirely or it shrunk them down to a manageable size.

My experience is not unique. Consider the story of Terry Wahls, a doctor who is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa. When Wahls began developing multiple sclerosis in 2000, her condition quickly deteriorated.

Within three years, she was starting to wonder if her disease would leave her unable to walk at all.

Wahls notes: “I underwent chemotherapy in an attempt to slow the disease and began using a tilt-recline wheelchair because of weakness in my back muscles. It was clear: eventually I would become bedridden by my disease.”

But after taking the powerful drugs that conventional medicine uses to treat multiple sclerosis, Wahls decided there had to be a better way to deal with her disease.

And she was right.

Her research showed her how to create “a list of nutrients important to brain health and (I) began taking them as supplements.”

Dietary Treatment

But Wahls’ breakthrough moment came when she asked herself, “What if I redesigned my diet so that I was getting those important brain nutrients not from supplements but from the foods I ate? “

That was when she designed what she calls the Wahls Protocol, which is her version of the paleo diet: “I used what I had learned from the medical literature, Functional Medicine, and my knowledge of the Hunter-Gatherer diet — the most nutritious of any diet — to create my new food plan.”

Her new paleo diet improved her condition enough, without drugs, to allow her to return to a normal life. She says: “The results stunned my physician, my family, and me: within a year, I was able to walk through the hospital without a cane and even complete an 18-mile bicycle tour.”

10 Steps To Healing

According to Wahls, there are 10 basic steps you can start with to help heal your body and achieve optimal health:

  1. Give up gluten. Don’t eat foods made with wheat, barley or rye.
  2. Eat organic foods. These contain less of the toxins that are often found in supermarket food.
  3. Eat plenty of greens. Green vegetables are filled with nutrients that help the body stay healthy.
  4. Eat vegetables that contain sulfur compounds. These include onions, mushrooms and cabbages.
  5. Eat fruits and vegetables of many different colors. Each pigment represents a different type of antioxidant.
  6. Eat grass fed meat and fish. These contain healthier fats than conventional meats.
  7. Eat seaweed a few times a month. Seaweed contains iodine for your thyroid and other crucial nutrients.
  8. Eat organ meats a few times a month. These are unique sources of important vitamins.
  9. Meditate to control stress.
  10. Get plenty of exercise. Exercise conveys a wealth of health benefits.

Here’s Wahls’ description of her experience with her change of diet:

The Beautiful Skin Effects Of Exercise

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

Years ago, I realized that if I looked into a mirror right after I went for a run, I would see a younger me. I attributed this impression to the fact that I was in a better mood after running, my circulation was pumping and my face reflected the joy I felt from my own version of the runner’s high.

But now I know it’s not just me. I haven’t been imagining I looked younger just because I feel better after running. Researchers have found that exercise does in fact turn back the clock on the age of your skin and muscles (along with other rejuvenating benefits).

Skin Changes

After finding that exercise improves the skin and fur of aging lab animals, Canadian researchers at McMaster University ran a test to see what an exercise program might do for the skin of aging humans.

As part of a series of experiments, the scientists took biopsies of skin samples from a group of people in their late 60s who had rarely exercised. After having these folks perform aerobic exercise a couple of times a week for three months, they biopsied their skin again.

The initial biopsy had revealed skin that appeared typically middle-aged and older. The outer skin level, before the exercise program, had thickened. This part of the skin, called the stratum corneum, typically dries out and is more prone to flaking off by the time you reach your 50s.

But after the exercise program, microscopic examination of new biopsy samples showed a reversal of the aging process. As researcher Mark Tarnopolsky told The New York Times, “I don’t want to over-hype the results, but, really, it was pretty remarkable to see. (Each skin sample) looked like that of a much younger person, and all that they had done differently was exercise.”

Traveling Health Boosters

Tarnopolsky and his colleagues suspect that these skin benefits may be partly due to myokines, substances produced by exercising muscles. When muscles release myokines, these compounds enter the blood and travel throughout the body.

The skin analyses showed that a myokine designated as IL-15 had collected significantly in skin cells, climbing by more than 50 percent. But exactly how IL-15 rejuvenates skin is not yet understood.

Muscle Improvement

Other research shows that at the same time as I’ve been admiring my improved looks in the mirror, my muscles are also turning back the clock for themselves in ways that I can’t see — although I can see that they’re pretty well-toned.

Another study at McMaster shows that lifting weights and doing other types of resistance exercise encourages the genes in your muscles to act like the genes of a younger person.

The researchers describe this as a change in the muscles’ “genetic fingerprint” a shift that improves their mitochondrial functions. Mitochondria are the structures in the cells that produce the power that moves muscles and drives your metabolism.

To test how these changes work, the McMaster scientists took about two dozen non-exercising men and women and had them lift weights twice a week for sixth months.

“We were very surprised by the results of the study,” says researcher Simon Melov. “We expected to see gene expressions that stayed fairly steady in the older adults. The fact that their ‘genetic fingerprints’ so dramatically reversed course gives credence to the value of exercise, not only as a means of improving health, but of reversing the aging process itself, which is an additional incentive to exercise as you get older.”

Even after the study was over, many of the people who had been lifting weights kept on exercising. Four months later, the researchers examined the exercisers again.

They were still going strong.

“They were still as strong, they still had the same muscle mass,” says Tarnopolsky, who was also involved in this study. “This shows that it’s never too late to start exercising and that you don’t have to spend your life pumping iron in a gym to reap benefits.”

As for me, my primary motivation for eating a paleo diet, lifting weights and jogging is to stay healthy.

But those narcissistic, ego-boosting rewards I get when I look in the mirror don’t hurt.

Losing Weight On The Paleo Diet

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

When I went on the paleo diet, I lost so much weight over the period of a year that I was a little worried that my health was in question. But a visit to the doctor showed that nothing was wrong. And since then, my weight has held steady right where I want it. And as long as I eat paleo, I can eat as much as I want.

Other people aren’t always so lucky. Paleo websites seem to be full of comments from people who have trouble losing weight on the paleo diet or on other eating plans.

I recognize that part of what helps me maintain my weight is my apparently fast metabolism and my addiction to exercise. Unlike other folks who have trouble finding the motivation to work out, I have to hold myself back from exercising too much. On top of that, I have three unruly dogs that collectively outweigh me by about 50 pounds who I walk every day.  Every squirrel that crosses our path gets me another upper body isometric workout.

My only weight concern, since going paleo, is keeping my weight up. I sometimes have to eat as much as I can to feel like I’ve eaten enough.

Optimal Thinness

Occasionally my friends wonder if I am too slender. When that happens, I refer them to movies made in the 1940s. I tell them to examine the waistlines of those actors.

It’s revealing to take a look at the physique of folks 70 years ago, before snack food, oversized portions, processed food and gluten-infused wheat conquered the American foodscape. To today’s eye, most of the actors you see in old movies probably look overly thin. And my current build would fit right in with those.

Weight-Loss Tips

For folks who follow paleo and can’t seem to shed pounds as easily as I did, here are some tips about how to trim excess body fat:

  1. Get some exercise every day. While exercise alone may not promote significant weight loss, I don’t think you can lose weight and keep it off without physical activity every day. The activity you choose can simply be walking. But do something consistently.
  2. Get out of your chair more often. Even when you are not exercising, don’t spend too much time as a sedentary lump. Stand up, stretch, fidget, walk around the office or the house at least once an hour or more. There’s plenty of research now that shows too much sitting without getting up can destroy your health.
  3. Eat plain, simple food that you prepare yourself. I find that if I eat processed food that is supposed to be paleo-acceptable, it sometimes warps my appetite. It can convey the “bet you can’t eat just one” sensation, which I blame on the food chemists that formulate these items to make them harder to resist. But when I cook all my own food, preparing plain meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts etc., or I eat raw food, my appetite stays more closely moored to what my body wants and needs.
  4. Don’t be too restrictive in the amount you eat. If you’re eating paleo, you should be already getting fewer calories per mouthful because of the extra fiber and lack of refined sugars. If you try to will yourself to eat too much less than you want, you run the risk of binge eating when your appetite overwhelms your willpower. Keep yourself satisfied. Use your strength of will at the supermarket to keep yourself from buying foods that don’t fit the paleo lifestyle.
  5. Don’t skimp on the carbohydrates. If you’re exercising consistently, you’re going to need a few carbohydrates to fuel your activity. Otherwise, you may feel the kind of fatigue that can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Now, that doesn’t mean start eating sugary foods. But I allow myself some honey with my fruit on occasion. (I use raw, organic honey.) You certainly should be able to eat a few things like apples, berries and other fruits during the day to satisfy your sweet tooth without risking weight gain.
  6. Don’t drink the juices from the supermarket. Those drinks are too sugary. The only juice I usually consume is diluted tart cherry juice. Other than that, it’s strictly water with occasional tea and coffee.

Individualized Program

Whatever eating plan you decide to follow, make sure it’s a reasonable diet you can follow for the rest of your life. Listen to your body and what it really seems to need. Remember that the precise diet that works for me or someone else you know may not work for you in the same way.

Before I went on the paleo diet, I wasn’t exactly overweight, but my belly was slowly starting to expand with middle aged-spread. Today, my weight consistently stays within a 4-pound range. And the only time I worry about it is when it drops a little bit and I try to eat more to keep my weight up.

References:

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/9-more-reasons-youre-not-losing-weight/#axzz2yP8dWvxg

http://chriskresser.com/6-tips-for-successful-weight-loss-on-a-paleo-diet

 

Saltwater Flush For Detox

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

Some folks may debate the benefits of detoxing by cleaning out the digestive tract, but almost no one denies the necessity of defending yourself against the toxins running rampant in our contaminated environment. For my own health, I have two reliable methods for detoxing.

The first is my basic, paleo diet. By eliminating processed food, I cleanse my meals and my digestive system of the troublesome chemicals food companies love to inject into addictive junk food. I also avoid grains, soy, legumes (peanuts and beans) and dairy products.

Clean Feeling Of A Saltwater Flush

The second detox I use is my occasional saltwater flush. It’s easy, relatively quick and very effective. Makes me feel cleaner: If there are toxins clinging to my intestinal walls, they’re gone by the time the flush is over.

The basic procedure is simple.

First, you add two teaspoons of sea salt (non-iodized) to a quart of room temperature or lukewarm filtered, pure water.

Then you drink the water rapidly.

Do this on an empty stomach. First thing in the morning, before you’ve eaten breakfast is good.

Make sure a bathroom is nearby. You should need it fairly quickly.

Some people recommend lying down on your right side for 15 minutes or so after drinking the water to make sure the salty solution gets through the stomach into the intestines more efficiently.

Another tip: Chew up a lemon before drinking the flush. That may help you get it down.

An alternative method is to mix the 2 teaspoons of salt into about 2 ounces of the filtered water and drink that as quickly as possible with some lemon in your mouth. When you have that down, drink the rest of the water quick as you can. That may be more palatable.

Elimination

Your bathroom trips should occur within an hour or two and you will need to use the facilities more than once. You may also experience diarrhea. That is a natural consequence of performing the saltwater flush. Some discomfort may also occur because the flush has such rapid effects.

You may also feel nauseated and throw up. That is not uncommon. So be ready.

Feelings About Detox

Some people pooh-pooh a salt flush, but many others find it helpful and relaxing (when it’s over).

No matter how you feel about a flush or a detox, you should make your daily meals conducive to keeping your physiology and digestion as effective and unproblematic as possible. I follow a paleo diet, excluding processed food, wheat, dairy, soy, corn and virtually all grains. I try to eat whole foods and organic foods as much as possible. And I cook almost all of my own food.

As Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the 10-Day Detox Diet, advises for those trying to clean up their diets: “What’s ‘out’ is sugar (in any form), gluten, and dairy (inflammatory foods), grains, beans, processed factory-made foods, refined vegetable oils, alcohol, and caffeine.”

My paleo diet and the occasional saltwater flush, aside from cleaning out my digestion, have cleared my mind as well. This type of regimen seems to have my mind working better than it ever did before.

And that’s more than a gut feeling.

Related Articles:
Avoid The Three Most Common Detox Mistakes
Detox With An Easy Salt Water Flush

Do-It-Yourself Brain Protection

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

Your brain represents one of your most important assets. And as you get older, if you’re not careful, you may notice your brainpower starting to slow. I know that my own intellectual abilities seem to rise and fall more noticeably as I’ve grown older. But I have a daily, proven method I use to protect my brain cells.

I exercise.

Even if research hadn’t shown that exercise is good for brain cells, I would still do it. I just enjoy it too much to stop. My day isn’t complete with at least a nice, relaxing three-mile jog.

The Exercise Experience

Many advocates of the paleo lifestyle believe that more intensive exercise, like sprinting or indulging in CrossFit are more suitable for building fitness. And while slow running may not be everybody’s ideal exercise, it seems to help me keep my weight down and my cognitive powers up.

That’s not just my own, subjective experience.

When researchers reviewed studies of the effects of exercise on older people with dementia, they found good evidence that it improves their cognitive functioning and boosts their abilities at fulfilling normal, daily activities that have been severely impaired.

“Following this new review, we are now able to conclude that there is promising evidence for exercise programs improving cognition and the ability to carry out daily activities. However, we do still need to be cautious about how we interpret these findings,” says researcher Dorothy Forbes, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Brain Chemicals

Researchers who study brain chemicals have found that exercise stimulates the production of a natural chemical that protects the well-being of the neurons in the brain.

This neuro-protective substance, called irisin, is produced in the brain when you perform an endurance exercise like running or biking.

Scientists have found that when irisin levels in the blood increase, it activates genes involved in learning and memory.

Lab experiments at the Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute shows that exercises increases a molecule called FNDC5 and its by-product, irisin. They, in turn, boost the expression of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) a growth factor that helps maintain the brain’s neural network.

The researchers are trying to find a way to make a pharmaceutical form of irisin that can be marketed by a drug company.

But I’m not waiting for that long drug-development process to take place. Every time I lace up my running shoes and head for the jogging trail, I’m making my own irisin.

And you can, too.

Eye Health

Aside from the brain problems that afflict so many older people, difficulties with vision offer another impediment to an enjoyable life.

Turns out that exercise also protects that part of the body.

A study at Emory University shows that moderate aerobic exercise helps to preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina, even after these cells have been damaged. The researchers believe that their findings show that exercise may be slow the progression of retinal degenerative diseases, a leading cause of blindness that occurs in older people.

Age-related macular degeneration is one of the foremost causes of blindness in the elderly. It occurs when the light-sensing nerve cells in the retina called photoreceptors die off. Exercise may help keep them alive.

Just like the benefits that occur in the brain, here, too, exercise helps the eye by stimulating the production of BDNF.

“These findings further our current understanding of the neuroprotective effects of aerobic exercise and the role of BDNF,” says researcher Michelle Ploughman, Ph.D., who studies the effects of exercise on the healthy and diseased brain at Memorial University of Newfoundland. (She did not take part in this latest study.) “People who are at risk of macular degeneration or have early signs of the disease may be able to slow down the progression of visual impairment.”

Maybe I’m lucky — I’m addicted to exercise, so I don’t need research studies to motivate me to run every day and lift weights a few times a week. But I find it comforting to know that science is catching up to the benefits my body already seems to know about.

Grains Are Stomach Enemy No. 1

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

If you have chronic health problems that doctors can’t solve — things like digestive issues, various mysterious aches and pains, or skin problems that never quite vanish — giving up grains can sometimes offer a solution.

For me, giving up wheat and other grains improved my health immensely while helping me lose weight. It was my first step toward adopting the paleo diet.

Giving up grains represents one of the central features of the paleo regimen. The reason: The negative consequences of grains are just too serious to ignore for anyone looking to eat healthier.

Now, if you’re like me, your immune system goes a little haywire soon after you’ve swallowed something made of wheat. And other grains can have similar effects.

Meanwhile, there’s good evidence that the grains most of us eat at every meal are making us overweight and sick.

Problems With Wheat

Consider what Dr. William Davis, an avid anti-wheat crusader, outlines as some of the health problems linked to wheat.

In discussing why people with diabetes should avoid wheat, Davis points out reasons that, in actuality, are reasons all of us should avoid these types of grains:

  1. Wheat and other grains increase your blood sugar levels at a quick pace. They are classified as “high glycemic foods.” Digesting those kinds of foods causes significant blood sugar swings. Aside from wreaking havoc with your mood, those swings eventually may make you more vulnerable to diabetes.
  2. It’s a mistake to think that “wholegrain” foods are healthy. They may not increase your blood sugar as much as refined grains, but they still produce undesirable effects.
  3. Wheat and other grains can contain substances that increase your appetite and make you want to overeat. As Davis explains, they can convey “gliadin derived peptides,” chemicals that affect the brain in an addictive manner. Gliadin can also make your digestive tract more permeable, allowing allergenic substances to infiltrate the body. Plus, phytates in wheat may block your absorption of important minerals like magnesium, zinc and iron.
  4. Eating grains hurts the health of your mouth and teeth. Research on the introduction of grains into the human diet shows that eating grains leads to the crooked growth of teeth, gum disease, cavities and tooth loss.
  5. Grains impact the makeup of the friendly bacteria that grow in your digestive tract. Researchers suspect that this change in probiotic bacteria can make you more susceptible to illness. In normal circumstances, those bacteria help your immune system protect the body against infectious disease.

Beyond Gluten

By now, you’ve probably read about some of the problems gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye) can cause. I’ll be discussing more about gluten’s health effects in future articles.

But aside from gluten, wheat contains other individual substances that are suspected of doing serious harm to your health. In particular, a chemical called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) is an indigestible part of wheat that can give your intestinal health a serious challenge.

According to Davis, WGA is “the complex , 4-part protein present in wheat, rye, barley, and rice… (that) penetrates intestinal barriers, causing direct intestinal toxicity and entering the bloodstream to activate antibodies, mimic insulin, and block leptin (the hormone of satiety).”

Robb Wolff, a paleo advocate, believes that WGA can keep the body from absorbing vitamin D, while hindering your ability to lose weight and damaging the gut lining.

Wolff cites a study that shows: “Once the WGA enters the bloodstream, it is deposited in various cells and the blood vessel wall. WGA also causes an increase in size of the pancreas and a decrease in size of the thymus.”

I agree with Wolff when he advises people trying to improve their health to give up wheat for a month and see what happens. That’s how I started.

And I’ve never stopped.

Would You Lose Weight Effortlessly On This Diet?

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

When I went on the paleo diet, I lost 20 pounds effortlessly. And while the diet didn’t cure all of my physical ills, it made me feel so much better that I can’t even consider going off of it.

I’ve got plenty of health issues. Stress makes my blood pressure climb. My arthritis acts up now and then. Psoriasis comes and goes. And while my paleo diet is no panacea, it’s the only diet that seems to help keep these problems under control.

Many paleo advocates seem to push the diet as an instant cure for just about anything. My experience, while satisfying, is not so sanguine.

Part of my difficulty, I believe, is that I suffer from celiac (an autoimmune reaction to proteins in wheat, rye and barley); but didn’t know about it until I was 50 years old. As my brain and nerves deteriorated in middle age, I finally realized the root of my problem: Things like bread, cookies, crackers and even oatmeal that was cross contaminated with wheat were setting off a self-destructive storm in my immune system.

And although going off gluten and eating paleo improved my memory, brought down my blood pressure, eased my arthritic pain and took off the pounds, it hasn’t made me completely healthy.

As far as diets go, my feeling about paleo compared to other ways of eating is similar to what Winston Churchill is supposed to have said about democracy as a form of government: It may not be the best, but it’s better than anything else.

Stronger Aging

Research has confirmed some of the benefits of eating paleo.

For instance, the diet lets you eat meat — preferably meat from organic, free-range animals. Eating meat, researchers believe, can help support your mental and physical health as you age.

Japanese scientists who looked at older people who ate diets high in animal protein found that they were better off socially, psychologically and physically than their counterparts who did not partake of meat.

These researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Health and Nutrition, Tohoku University and Teikyo University argue that because an aging digestive tract has more trouble absorbing and processing protein, your protein requirements climb as you grow older.

And when they analyzed the health of more than 1,000 people with an average age of about 67, they found that the meat eaters had about a 40 percent improved chance of continuing to live independently. (The effect, though, was found primarily in men.)

“Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living,” says researcher Dr. Tsubota-Utsugi. “Along with other modifiable health behaviors, keeping higher protein intake could contribute to maintain elderly functional capacity.”

Keep Moving

Along with eating meat, keeping active is also important for longevity and strength as the years go by.

A study at Tokyo University shows that people in middle age who keep exercising keep more of their muscle strength and physical capabilities.

This research examined the incidence of sarcopenia (muscle loss) in 1,000 people over the age of 65. The scientists discovered that you lose less muscle if you engage in plenty of activity.

The exercisers in the study had stronger hand grips, walked faster and had more stability when they were standing than sedentary folks.

Paleo Exercise

I consider consistent exercise to be part of the paleo diet. Doing some kind of strenuous activity is on my menu every day.

I have three big, impetuous dogs who need a daily walk; and unless it’s pouring rain or intense lightning (or both!), the canines make sure I get a workout every afternoon.

I won’t argue that my paleo regimen reflects what anyone was actually doing back in the Paleolithic era. But it’s the diet that helps me, and I believe it could help a good many others if they gave it a chance.

The Most Dangerous Food

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

What’s the most harmful food you can eat aside from sugar? A growing consensus points to grains. They endanger your waistline while threatening your heart and pancreas more than almost any other item you can eat.

Think about this: I didn’t give up grains and go on the paleo diet for my heart health. I did it in an effort to improve my memory and deal with digestive issues. But it resulted in heart benefits I didn’t expect.

As I was losing weight, enjoying clearer skin, experiencing less arthritis in my hands and losing about 20 pounds over the course of two years, my high blood pressure went away.

That’s right. It just went away — even though I had had high blood pressure ever since it was first measured back in high school.

Blood Pressure Issues

I’m sure the weight loss helped my blood pressure. But years ago, when I was at about the same weight I am at now, my blood pressure had remained stubbornly elevated.

I now blame my long-standing blood pressure problem on grains. I don’t know how else to explain why it is now gone.

About 20 years ago, when I was in my 30s, I was an addicted runner. I ran about 50 miles a week. I took part in marathons, triathlons, 10Ks and other road races. My weight seemed to be about as low as it could get and still be at a healthy level. (I weigh about 3 pounds less now.)

But my blood pressure was stuck at hypertension — no matter how much I exercised or tried to eat what I considered a healthy diet.

My doctor’s non-explanation explanation for my hypertension was that it was due to genetics. In his view, there was nothing that could be done for it except to take medication, which I did: ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, beta blockers.

Vanishing Problem

Well, the last time I went to a doctor for a checkup, she took my blood pressure and then matter-of-factly told me: “I guess your high blood pressure is gone.”

And I was taking exactly zero medication.

I periodically measure my blood pressure at home. She’s right. It’s vanished.

I still jog. But I do half as much running as I used to — maybe 2 or 3 miles a day at the most. I lift some weights three times a week, but keep it light to reduce my chances of injury. And I stretch.

And eat a paleo diet devoid of grains.

No wheat. No barley. No rye. No corn. No oats. No quinoa. A tiny bit of rice once in a while.

Eat As Much As You Want

I’ve always had a big appetite and a fast metabolism. But the paleo diet has allowed me to eat as much food as I want, whenever I want.

And I never gain a pound. I consume what some might consider frightening amounts of meat, fish, fruits and vegetables (emphasis on the fruits and vegetables). Snacks are generally nuts, fruits and dark chocolate with a little organic honey thrown in.

And grains are forbidden.

The Anti-Grain Movement

I’m not alone in my desertion of grains. An aversion to grains has gained traction among a wide variety of experts and proponents of the paleo diet.

Mark Sisson, who writes the blog marksdailyapple.com, said: “Apart from maintaining social conventions in certain situations and obtaining cheap sugar calories, there is absolutely no reason to eat grains.”

As David Perlmutter, M.D., noted: “It may seem draconian, but the best recommendation I can make is to completely avoid grains.”

Perlmutter, whose book Grain Brain warns about the negative effects grains produce on your memory and learning abilities, said: “Most grain foods, whether we’re talking about quinoa, amaranth, the very popular grains of the day, the reality is they still are associated with a carbohydrate surge. They have a fairly high glycemic index, meaning that after 90 to 120 minutes, your blood sugar is going to go up, and that is detrimental to the brain.”

Your Belly Or Your Life

Cardiologist William Davis has focused most of his anti-grain writings on pointing out the problems with the wheat in our diets.

He has observed: “Over 80% of the people I meet today are pre-diabetic or diabetic. In an effort to reduce blood sugar, I asked patients to remove all wheat products from their diet based on the simple fact that, with few exceptions, foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods.”

He also pointed out that whole grains cause just as many health problems as refined grains: “Yes… even whole grains (increase your blood sugar). More than table sugar, more than a Snickers bar. Organic, multigrain, sprouted — it makes no difference.”

There are a lot of reasons to give up grains. For me, the drop in my blood pressure offers constant reassurance that after a lifetime of searching for the right diet, I’m finally on the right track.

What’s Good For The Gorillas Is Good For Humans, Too

This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.

For me, the best part of the paleo diet is that I can eat all I want, lose weight and enjoy better health. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the pair of gorillas at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

After being put on the gorilla version of the paleo diet, the animals at the zoo ate twice as many calories and lost 65 pounds each.

Basically, the gorillas went from eating a processed food diet that was high in starch and sugar (kind of like what most Americans eat) to an unprocessed diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables. Their original, processed diet was stocked with the vitamins and nutrients gorillas are supposed to need. But their health and hearts were suffering.

On the gorilla-paleo diet, along with losing weight, the heart health of these animals greatly improved.

“We’re beginning to understand we may have a lot of overweight gorillas (in zoos),” says researcher Kristen Lukas of Case Western Reserve University. “And, we’re just recognizing that surviving on a diet and being healthy on a diet are different. We’ve raised our standards and are asking, are they in the best condition to not only survive but to thrive?”

I don’t think I eat twice as much food as I used to before I went on the paleo diet. But I eat a lot more. And after losing 20 pounds during the first year of the diet, my weight has stabilized.

My paleo regimen basically consists of eating meals and snacks without any grains (no foods made of corn, wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc.), plenty of fruits and vegetables, and no fried foods. It includes fish, organic grass fed meat, nuts and organic eggs. It also ditches legumes (beans and peanuts), dairy foods, potatoes and refined sugar. The only oils I use are extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.

And I eat virtually no processed food. I cook all my own meals.

One difference between me and the gorillas: They’re vegans, but I eat meat.

The paleo diet keeps me satisfied, the same way it satisfies the gorillas.

–Margaret Cantwell

The Paleo Diet Saves Lives

Lately, probably because the paleo diet is becoming increasingly popular, so-called “experts” have begun to attack it. But most of the criticism is misplaced because for many people, the diet is a lifesaver.

Digestive ills, fatigue, headaches, arthritis pain… over and over again, people discover that eating paleo — avoiding grains, dairy foods, soy and corn — can help solve many of their physical ills.

As Chris Kessler, author of the book Your Personal Paleo Code points out, “…[C]ommon critiques (of the paleo diet) don’t invalidate the fundamental premise of the Paleo approach.”

Mimicry Or Gimmickry? 

I find it laughable that people attack the paleo diet because it doesn’t precisely mimic the foods that Paleolithic people ate before the introduction of grains into the human diet.

Really? That’s a reason for lambasting a diet that can produce extraordinary health benefits?

Of course, the paleo diet can’t reproduce what humans ate during the Paleolithic era. Look around. We don’t live in caves, or lean-tos, or tents. Most of us live in a modern urban or suburban environment. No way are we going to hunt and gather the way our ancestors did.

Instead of worrying about historical accuracy, critics of the diet should focus on its health effects. Kessler argues that “… the Paleo diet should be used as a starting point because it removes the foods people are most likely to react to.”

And he’s absolutely right.

Probably the most important paleo dietary change is the elimination of grains. Foods like bread, pasta, beer, rolls, cakes, cookies and breakfast cereal not only contain problematic gluten, they also include large amounts of sugars and starches that can lead to weight gain.

Meaty Concepts

Another objection to the paleo diet is rooted in the fact that it allows you to eat red meat. Some think that red meat seriously increases your risk of cancer. However, many researchers believe, rightly in my view, that processed red meat is the carnivore’s cancer danger. If you eat organic meat, without the kind of additives that go into hot dogs, luncheon meats and fast food concoctions, your cancer risk doesn’t go up.

Strange Science

Paleo critics also claim that the studies supporting the health benefits of eating paleo involve too few subjects.

Well, while it is true that research into the effects of a paleo diet is in the beginning stages, studies in this area are starting to show significant benefits. These include reducing the body’s inflammation, helping weight loss, increasing insulin sensitivity and improving cholesterol balance.

The paleo diet generally entails eating organic meats, organic poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts. It includes most of the foods that experts believe are the best for your health. And my own experience on this diet (my weight dropping, my arthritis easing off) has given me all the proof I need to know that it works.