Posts Tagged "diet"

Eat Like a Woman: Does Science Support a Different Food Paradigm?

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in diet | 1 comment

When it comes to science and research, women have long gotten the short of end of the stick.  Not only have women been historically excluded from medical research trials, but despite National Institutes of Health regulations mandating the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical trials in order to obtain funding, research on women’s health has continued to lag behind their male counterparts’. Only recently has this issue reared its head again as findings from March, 2014  The Women’s Health Summit  demonstrate important disparities in the scientific process that highlight one of the most important issues facing women today:

“When we fail to routinely consider the impact of sex and gender in research, we are leaving women’s health to chance. The evidence on sex differences in major causes of disease and disability in women is mounting, as are the gaps in research.”

Not only are women routinely excluded from research on cardiovascular disease (despite its ranking as the number one killer of women, only 1/3 of clinical trials enroll women and only 1/3 report on sex-specific outcomes), but, women suffer twice as often from depression and yet, fewer than half of laboratory studies utilize female animals to evaluate metabolic differences. And these examples are the tip of the iceberg!

So, it’s no surprise that these gender differences also affect nutrition.

As my friend and menopause colleague Staness Jonekos points out in her new book, Eat Like A Woman (and never diet again)0414-9780373892693-bigw

  • It takes women’s stomachs’ an hour longer than men’s to empty after eating.
  • For the most part, women have lower energy expenditure than their male counterparts due mostly to differences in body composition; notably, estrogen plays a major role in energy expenditure, appetite and body weight. An imbalance in hormones that are secreted by one gland can affect hormone levels in other glands.
  • The thyroid, which Staness refers to as the ‘Metabolism Mama,’ is important for metabolism, energy, grown and development and the nervous system. When it’s out of whack, it can wreak havoc on weight, appetite and even mimic the symptoms of menopause. Moreover, research has demonstrated a direct interaction between estrogen and direct expression of thyroid sensitive genes; what this means is that if you are using hormones to manage your menopausal symptoms, you’ll want to have your thyroid checked.
  • Cortisol, which I’ve written about frequently on Flashfree, is another important player. Produced by the adrenal glands,its primary role in the body is to regulate energy (by producing blood sugar or metabolizing carbohydrates, protein and fats) and mobilize it to areas where is it most needed. Research has shown, however, that  women have higher cortisol levels than men, and that certain women –especially those with greater amounts of abdominal fat — may be reacting to a large disruption in the release of cortisol that causes a greater than normal difference between morning and evening levels of the hormone. This disruption is believed to be related, at least in part, to exposure to prolonged physical and mental stress. The psychological component is huge, because it tends to trigger the desire to consumption of food that is high in fat and/or sugar, which also tends to promote abdominal weight gain.
  • Staness also writes about the role of neurotransmitters, chemicals released by nerve cells that carry messages between the brain and organs. They can affect mood, appetite, sleep, heart rate, appetite and weight, among other functions. Poor dietary habits (low intake of dietary protein, poor carbohydrate choices or minimal omega-3s, for example) coupled with hormonal imbalances and excessive alcohol or caffeine can lead to neurtransmitter imbalances. The bottom line? Hormonal changes may affect the actions of neurotransmitters, which in turn, affect mood and lifestyle choices. Staness further explains that lifestyle habits can affect hormones, thereby affecting neurotransmitters. Think of an endless loop: chronic stress triggers cortisol, causes weight gain, cravings, affecting serotonin levels and thyroid functioning, which then influence metabolism, cholesterol, etc. WOW!
  • Women’s digestion is also distinct from a man’s, in that we taste food differently. Staness explains that women are ‘supertasters,’ with varying sensitivities to bitter flavors depending on hormone levels. Women also have a higher risk for irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, acid related ulcers and other conditions due to the size of the esophagus, small intestine, colon and rectum.

Staness writes that “there are many confusing messages about what to eat or not eat surrounding us,” and she poses a critical question: “how can one message or one plan apply to everyone? We are all different and yet our basic needs as women are the same.” Toward that end, she offers up a dietary plan that supports women’s health through each life stage and addresses various dietary controversies, ranging from soy to animal protein to salt to caffeine. And, she reintroduces the food pyramid that she says, is one of the biggest factors contributing to the success of her previous book, The Menopause Makeover.  Notably, for all you paleo people out there, the ratios that Staness recommends are similar to the average portions consumed by our Stone Age relatives. The key?

  • 25% of your calories should come from healthy fats
  • 35% of your calories should come from low-fat, lean protein
  • 40% of your calories should come from low- to medium-glycemic carbohydrates

Staness’ program is served up in three steps that includes approaches to meals, healthy emotions and exercise. However, she doesn’t stop there; she’s reached out to her favorite celebs and chef for recipes that should please any palate. And if you are seeking even more information, Staness offers additional tools and resources on her website .

What do you get when you combine sound science and nutrition? A plan that makes eating make sense…for women. Isn’t it time to change the paradigm? This seems like an awfully great place to start.


About Staness…

Staness Jonekos is an award-winning television writer, producer, and director, as well as an author and writer on women’s health issues. Her first book, The Menopause Makeover, was a pioneering work in the field of menopause, a highly visual and inspiring survival guide that challenged the conventional, old-style approach to managing menopause. She is a tireless advocate for women’s health, wellness and empowerment.  She has appeared on The Today Show, contributes to The Huffington Post, and has been featured in a variety of publications ranging from The Houston Chronicle to  Her co-author, Marjorie Jenkins, MD, FACP is  a Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gender-Specific Women’s Health Director and Chief Scientific Officer, Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health Associate Dean for Women in Health and Science. Her motto? “You have to know the difference to make a difference.”


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Pondering the weighty subject of… weight.

Posted by on Oct 18, 2013 in aging, appearance, diet, Guyside, Inspiration, men, weight, weight gain | 0 comments

With the exception of magazines like Men’s Health, which are as obsessed with the six-pack as Cosmopolitan is the “sex trick” (probably NSFW, unless you work for yourself or in a VERY liberal workplace), I’m not sure men spend a whole lot of time or energy thinking about their weight.

Guyside columnist Bob LeDrew will never be mistaken for this person.

I know I don’t. But I do see a certain uptick in that “time spent thinking about diet” graph in recent years.

As an adolescent, I was blessed with a metabolism that burned everything I could shovel into my mouth and then some. And even through most of my adult life, I really haven’t thought about diet beyond “when is the next meal?”

But as I edge toward 50, I have started to make some changes. Why? First, I have seen that little band of blubber around my waist grow from a finger-width to what is probably 15-20 pounds of weight I don’t really need. Second, my encounter with bladder cancer in 2006 led to some increased concern about health in general. Third, it was always so simple when you could go out for beer and wings at will and never show any effect (my personal best: 80 wings with an unwise quantity of beer to wash ‘em down in an evening), but when you start to feel the hangover from booze as well as post-gluttonous digestive effects, it makes you think.

At least when it comes to body image, I think men and women are working from two separate objectives. It’s my belief that generally, women are more affected by pop-culture images of women than men. I don’t look at Hugh Jackman and think “I’m grotesque.” I think men are more tied to the body image of their younger selves, and that it takes some sort of breakthrough for a man to realize that his body isn’t the same at 47 as it was at 17, or 27.

And of course, it’s clear that we men have some real issues around body image — and body reality. Even if you think you’re fine, men in the United States have a real-life obesity problem. Check this out.

These charts show the

These guys show the “average” man from each of the US, Japan, the Netherlands, and France

I certainly am aware of this reality. And I would like to make some changes. I don’t need or want to turn into the aforementioned Mr. Jackman. So here’s an entirely arbitrary list of what I think is going on with my diet — what I am doing right, and what I am doing wrong at this point?

Good points:

  • I don’t eat a lot of fried food
  • My vegetable intake is good
  • I eat fish at least once a week

Now the weak points:

  • Too many canned soups for lunch (bad for the sodium count)
  • My long-term love affair with all things chocolate needs to be pruned
  • Not enough snacking action using “healthier things” like fruit or things that aren’t chocolate
  • I like beer

I’m going to start doing two things. I’m going to track how many healthy snacks I eat and how much chocolate I consume. And every week, I’m going to update this table as a way of being accountable to you — and to me.

Healthy Snacks Chocolate
 Week of October 13  0  2 bars, 1 gelato
What do you think about your diet, other guys out there? Are you interested in changing anything along with me?
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Wednesday Bubble: Women, Heart Disease & Diet

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in heart disease | 2 comments


Yes, it’s Monday and I’ve already posted today’s piece. However, nothing like bursting the ol’ Wednesday Bubble early. So, ladies, listen up! When it comes to heart disease, namely a heart attack, your diet matters. In fact, researchers report that eating three or more servings of blueberries or strawberries a week can cut the risk of heart attack by as much as a third.

Nevermind the early Wednesday Bubble; have I got your attention yet?!!

Aging is a risk factor for heart disease, a leading cause of death in women. Moreover, the reason that more and more women start to die from heart disease as they grow older appears to have everything to do with the ability of cells to repair and replenish circulation and not much at all to do with waning hormone levels. You can read about that here. Cholesterol levels and weight gain also play a role. As does diet, in particular, the incorporation of flavonoids — compounds that are ubiquitous in nature — and found in many plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, tea and wine. Yet, of the 4,000 some odd flavonoids that exist, which are the most beneficial in heart disease?

To tease out this answer, researchers followed over 93,000 women enrolled in the Nurses Health Study II over a period of 18 years. During this time, the women, all of whom were between the ages of 25 and 42 at enrollment, completed questionnaires about their diets every four years. Their findings? Women who reported eating higher levels of a subclass of flavonoids known as ‘anthocyanins,” which are responsible for the red, purple and blue colours of many fruits and vegetables, had as much as a 32% reduction in the risk for heart attack. Indeed, for every 15 mg increase in dietary intake of anthocyanins, the relative risk of having a heart attack declined by 17%. Importantly, these results remained unchanged even when researchers factored in other plant-based food constituents (such as potassium or folate), total fruit and vegetable intake, as well as alcohol drinking, and the presence of high blood pressure and/or diabetes.

The researchers point out that anthocyanins are believed to dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and inhibit other mechanisms that contribute to atherosclerosis. Understanding how they work to counter the risk of a heart attack is important because the mechanisms underlying heart attack in younger and middle aged women versus their older peers, are different.

Of note, blueberries and strawberries were part of the analysis because they are the most eaten berries in the U.S. That aside, it is possible that eating other foods that have high levels of anthocyanins could produce similar benefits.

Want to stave off your risk of a heart attack? Eat more berries every week. It’s an easy fix for what could be a huge problem and there’s no time like the present to start on the path to heart health.


(This study appears in the online version of Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association.)


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Battle of the midlife bulge: diet+gender=

Posted by on Sep 7, 2012 in aging, diet | 12 comments

I am on a roll! On a roll around my midsection, that is.

Ever wonder why women may be likelier than men to gain fat in their abdominal area, especially as they go through menopause? Yup, we’ve talked lots on Flashfree about estrogen, exercise and even stress and the release of cortisol and how they affect that growing tummy donut. However, researchers are now adding another factor into the mix that may occur especially in women: a high-fat diet. Mind you, this particular study, which is published online in Diabetes journal, was conducted in mice so it’s way too early to comment on how the findings affect actual humans. But what it does imply is that diet might not be the only factor at play and in women, genetics and gender play an equally important role.

Researchers say that when female mice were fed a high fat diet, it triggered the production of an enzyme (called aldehyde dehydrogenase 1) that produce a hormone — retinoic acid — that boosts the formation of fat around the abdomen. Let’s step back; high fat diet leads to enzyme, leads to retinoic acid leads to belly fat. Got it?

Interestingly, not only is this enzyme activated at nine times the level in female versus male mice, but when removed, this domino effect disappears. What’s more? Estrogen can suppress the enzyme so when it starts to decline, women become more prone to developing that midsection bulge.

The culprit here is vitamin A and how the female body processes it. One of the functions of vitamin A is to produce a molecule that supports how the body burns both fat for energy and retinoic acid. Evidently, high fat diets can directly shut down the fat burning molecule and the domino effect begins, resulting in the midlife bulge many of us have come to know so well.

The good news is that on a regular diet, female mice barely produced retinoic acid, meaning the simple solution for women may be to stay away from high fat meals as much as possible.

If you can’t burn it, and you can’t rely on estrogen to keep the fire going (or take it away -ironic, right?!), then take some steps and do it yourself.  D is for diet. F is for female. The endgoal? Do the math.

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Wednesday Bubble: Eating your way through the ‘pause

Posted by on Sep 5, 2012 in diet, Uncategorized | 0 comments

I’ve written a lot about diet and maintaining a healthy weight , as well as impact on overall health as you age. And I will continue to do so as long as Flashfree is published. However, I have not written much on diet and how it affects symptoms, mostly because the evidence is pretty scant in that regard. Still, it has come up in conversations repeatedly and I feel that it’s time to at least broach the topic, especially since I discovered Dr. Akiko Sugahara, a Tokyo-based nutrition, anti-aging and women’s health specialist and her  book, Menopause Recipes for Health and Beauty.

When it comes to maintaining health, obtaining minerals and vitamins through dietary sources is always preferable although not always possible. And while I cannot vouch for anything that Dr. Sugahara has shared in her book, her publicist did reach out with an offer to let me share a few pages here. Draw your own conclusions; we do know that not all soy products are created equal, and that isoflavone benefits may vary as well. Still, Dr. Sughara’s message is health comes first, which is why I chose this particular section to reprint in part. Please note that in her ebook, Dr. Sughara actually provides 10 ideas, which I have condensed for space purposes. If you want to read more, do download her book on her Facebook page.

Thank you Dr. Sughara, for providing your words to this post.

A deterioration in your physical condition during menopause renders you more vulnerable mentally. In this section, we present concrete ideas that will help you to manage menopause skillfully and improve your physical and mental health.

Taking a closer look at your everyday diet and identifying the problems.
Food preparation at home can sometimes fall below standard once the children have grown up. Before you know it, you might find yourself snacking instead of eating proper meals, eating lots of precooked meals and instant foods from your local supermarket or eating out more than you should. Where your diet is concerned, it is well worth making that extra effort for the sake of your own health and that of your family.

To identify potential problem areas, let’s first itemize your food balance.
Fermented soybean products more effective than supplements

The effectiveness of isoflavone in alleviating menopausal disorders is often discussed on television, and the link between soybeans and isoflavone is now common knowledge. Daily consumption of raw tofu, dried tofu, fermented soybeans, boiled beans or other soybean products is essential in treating and preventing menopausal disorders. Soybean milk, for example, is a convenient source of such also chill your body somewhat, so it is best consumed as an ingredient in stews and other hot dishes. Fermented foods, such as miso and vinegar, are more readily absorbed by the body and therefore provide isoflavone with a stronger effect.

Constipation relief as the basis for menopause relief
Many women with severe menopausal symptoms suffer from constipation. This condition also renders its sufferers more sensitive to the cold, often contaminating the blood and preventing it from flowing smoothly. This in turn reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the brain, making you absentminded and unable to organize your thoughts to get things done. Curing constipation therefore restores the blood flow to your extremities, bringing back the warmth to your hands and feet. The most effective cure for constipation is a diet of foods rich in isoflavone and polyphenols and especially dietary fibre, and sprouted brown rice is a prime example of these. Be wary of long-term use of medicinal laxatives, since they cause body chills that are felt deep inside your body.

Combating obesity with foods in 5 colours
Menopause is often accompanied by weight gain. Overeating to console loneliness is a primary cause, and a healthy digestive system will readily convert any excess intake into fat. This often results in a shortage of essential B- group vitamins, which promote complete combustion of nutrients and improve rain function, making it difficult to burn stored body fat. To combat weight gain, you should reduce your consumption of sweets and fruit and increase your consumption of stews made from as many as possible of the ingredients in the five basic colours. If you are susceptible to weight gain, then a staple of sprouted brown rice and wholegrain bread and an appropriate amount of exercise are recommended. This alone should eliminate obesity, helping menopausal symptoms to disappear naturally.

Dried foods effective for chills and abdominal ptosis
Many women who suffer from chills also have abdominal ptosis, or drooping of the viscera. This condition causes a deterioration in the secretion of gastric acid, preventing the essential absorption of iron and copper. It also causes the stomach to become bloated, so fatty foods lose their taste, and at the same time it restricts the consumption of plain foods. Consequently, some women skip breakfast or lunch or eat too little generally, resulting in a diet deficient in protein, iron and vitamins. To make things worse, the greater sensitivity to the cold that accompanies this condition can cause insomnia. The solution is to eat lots of shellfish, prunes and other dried fruits, cooked foods with iron and copper-rich whole-fish dishes and fried liver and vegetables. To compensate for the reduced amount of stomach acid, perhaps it would be a good idea to also eat foods containing vinegar and hot Chinese-style dishes with flavoured vinegar or to use pickled Japanese apricots in your cooking.

Idea 5: Combating osteoporosis with dried foods and fermented foods
Female hormones strengthen the bones to mitigate the effects of bone aging. As the secretion of female hormones declines, more bone cells are destroyed than are produced, and osteoporosis soon sets in, leaving the bones thinner and more porous and brittle. One way of dealing with osteoporosis is to include calcium-rich small fish, dried foods and fermented foods in your diet and to walk between 30 minutes and one hour every day. Another is to compensate for the decline in female hormones by eating plenty of isoflavone-rich foods such as miso soup and fermented soybeans to prevent body chills. Whenever possible, it is preferable to cure yourself using your own efforts rather than relying on yourdoctor.


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