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When It Comes To Fighting Diabetes, We Are Indeed Stronger Together

Let’s all unite for National Diabetes Day Nov 14

Diabetes is a disease that can make you feel very lonely – it requires self-discipline, behavior modification, and a whole lot of courage. Diabetes never leaves you, there is no vacation from it even if you sometimes just want to forget about it!

I spent many years controlling my Type 1 diabetes (T1D) extremely well and then some years dismissing it. I wanted to have a life, not just be a person with diabetes. I never asked for help – my attitude was that I was going to solve the puzzle and get rid of this terrible condition once and for all. After studying the disease in med school and as a scientist, I realized it was not so simple. The people with diabetes who I encountered during my education and my early years with the disease, were mostly very sick, since the people I saw had ended up in the hospital where I was studying or working. I had absolutely no interest in connecting with them since I could not relate to them. I was, frankly, afraid of them, and surely not inspired or comforted by them. When I was working as an intern in the ER of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, or as a post-doc at Boston’s Joslin Diabetes Center, I saw individuals who were struggling with foot ulcers, blindness, kidney or heart disease on a daily basis, and my mind became more and more set on not disclosing that I was one of them.

After leaving medicine and working in the life sciences industry, I stopped paying as much attention to my disease since the long-term consequences of the disease seemed very far away, while the near-term issues, such as having to fear low blood sugars and having to tell colleagues to accommodate to my eating habits were less desirable to someone living in the fast lane! Yet again, I did not relate to anyone with diabetes although there were several people who were going through what I was living and doing it well!

I now realize that I was wrong. Relating to others, opening up about issues in addition to strengths and weaknesses makes you stronger and it helps others as well as yourself!

Today, on National Diabetes Day we embrace fellow individuals living with diabetes, we welcome anyone who wants to share their story, and we encourage families and friends of people with diabetes to open up about their struggles.

At www.Lyfebulb.com we realize that this fight against a disease that is becoming a pandemic is not one to fight alone. We lead by example, fostering partnerships with fellow organizations to increase our reach, to expand our capabilities, and grow our community. We have also embraced mutual and diverse partners ranging from the global diabetes leader, Novo Nordisk for our Innovation Awardfocused on patient entrepreneurs, to art galleries Contini Art UK in London and Unix Gallery in Chelsea to showcase a performance by type 1 diabetic Omar Hassan on November 17th, to specially curated diabetic-friendly menus at Brasserie Ruhlmann in Rockefeller Center and Le Colonial in Midtown. We have also partnered with Punch Fitness Center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to encourage exercise. In addition, we advise a number of smaller biotechnology and healthcare IT companies in their path toward improving the quality of life for people with diabetes, and we encourage entrepreneurs who are deriving their motivation for innovation and business-building from their own experiences with disease.

Today is a day to celebrate our unity, to celebrate our fight – but also to Live Lyfe with and without diabetes!

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This blog was also featured on The Huffington Post on November 14, 2016.

November: National Diabetes Awareness Month

Happy November!

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Today marks the beginning of National Diabetes Awareness Month.

At Lyfebulb, our mission is to improve the quality of life of those living with chronic disease. We have a special focus on Diabetes, as our founder, Karin Hehenberger, has Type 1 Diabetes herself.

Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce insulin, and requires daily shots of insulin to maintain a steady blood sugar level. Type 2 Diabetes is the result of the body’s inefficient use of insulin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 29 million people in the United States have Diabetes, and 86 million have prediabetes. Lack of awareness about Diabetes combined with insufficient access to health services can lead to blindness, amputations, and kidney failure. Persons afflicted by both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes benefit from healthy diet and regular exercise.

Two tenets of The Lyfebulb Philosophy, which we announced yesterday, are to ‘eat well’ and ‘do good.’ With this in mind, we are thrilled to partner with two incredible restaurants – Brasserie Ruhlmann and Le Colonial in NYC – to bring you a special prix fixe menu in honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month.

The menus are a result of a collaboration between Lyfebulb and the chefs at the two restaurants to bring you healthy, Diabetes friendly options that limit sugar and carbs. While the menus are great for diabetics, everyone can benefit from a healthier diet.

Check out the menu below. A percentage of all proceeds will go to the Lyfebulb Foundation, which focuses on creating awareness about diabetes, providing education to children about eating healthy, and building a community of patient-to-patient mentorship.

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The Lyfebulb Philosophy – An Introduction

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  • Work Hard
  • Eat Well
  • Exercise Regularly
  • Expand your Horizons
  • Relax Frivolously
  • Do Good

We believe that living well and being happy with yourself include all these components. It is not enough to work hard and play hard but we need to take care of our bodies and minds as well. Treating our bodies as finely tuned machines is a method top athletes are used to and that works for periods of our lives but to succeed to be overall happy the human being needs more than just fuel and toning, we also need intellectual stimulation, feeling needed and to use our hearts.

I have lived a life that has been divided into different phases, the first phase as being a child athlete in gymnastics, track and field and tennis which required me to keep my body very strong and flexible.

This changed when I was diagnosed with diabetes a few days before my 17th birthday after which I dedicated many years to forcing my brain to take in as much as possible about my own disease and show the world that I could compete well in academics and later on in the work place. I did not focus on my health for a few years and due partly to my lack of care for my own body, it broke down and forced me to switch focus again.

After having to solve for several complications to diabetes, such as kidney failure, vision loss and general dysfunction, I started the third phase of my life, which now took into account my body and mind, but I still had not included my heart. When you are fighting for your life, it is hard to think about what you can do for others, but survival instincts take over and the individual becomes selfish. I see this a lot in people who have chronic disease, they tend to feel sorry for themselves during periods of time and it will take some soul-searching until they realize that helping others, ie doing good makes you feel and even look better!

When I realized all this, more than 20 years after my diagnosis I felt a new kind of energy and motivation that reached beyond making money or getting ahead. I wanted to make a difference but to do that, I needed to take very good care of my mind and body.

For me, my motivation changed from being a competitive athlete, star student and young professional trying to make it, into an adult with some disabilities but with a clear compass for what I wanted to accomplish and how I wanted to be seen.

I think motivation is the driver for behavior and any program to affect health, esthetics or performance need to include strong motivational triggers, otherwise technology, diets, gyms do not work.

My simple advice to anyone who wants to keep a healthy diet is to eat a balanced diet, with proteins, fats and carbohydrates, but to reduce the portion sizes and the amounts of simple carbs, saturated fats and red meat as soon as you want to reduce weight. Another important trick is to have many smaller meals, rather than a few heavy ones, to never have a large meal late in the evening and to replace alcohol with water as much as possible. You want to keep your metabolism high and working, which you do not do if you starve yourself and skip meals. Coffee is a great metabolism booster, although there are side effects to consider if you are hypertensive or if you have GI issues.

Regarding exercise, my simple advice again is to be regular and to incorporate physical activity daily, almost as a part of your routine. It could be a walk in the morning, after lunch and dinner, taking the stairs and to walk the distance from the last bus stop before reaching your home. If I do not have time to get to the gym or go for a run in the Park, I pay extra attention to my body during the day and do small things such as lifting my legs while sitting, tightening my muscles in meetings or volunteering to do errands (will make you popular in the office). Getting your heart pumping is critical and using your muscles will build tone and make you look better.

At Lyfebulb we also believe in broadening your horizons beyond work and exercise. This means that we encourage individuals to participate in activities that are not directly related to your work, for example music, art, antiques, theater, movies. This is different than just enjoying some time off, which falls under the category of relaxing and we add the word “frivolously” to make sure there is no required learning in the relaxation.

Personally, broadening of my horizons is the most difficult pillar to incorporate in my life and that has to do with my competitive spirit. If I am not very good at something, I rarely participate actively, just passively, as a form of relaxation. For example, I love watching movies, but I do not push myself to watch so-called intellectual movies or classics unless they are enjoyable. I do not listen to music to learn about a composer/artist or genre, only to feel happy or work out. I love fashion, but only if the clothes appeal to me personally and if I would consider buying them. I am not interested in their history, the designer or how they were originated or made. I have a strong sense and clear views on esthetics – but only for my own pleasure.

Lastly, doing good – something we feel we should all be doing daily and always keep the concept in mind. It actually should not even be a thought, but it should be inherent to your character –  we believe that people who are good, normally do well!

So now let us get back to motivation. What drove me to become a top tennis player in my country as a teenager? Not doing good, not to be healthy and not to be rich, but I was driven by the motivation of winning, becoming a champion and the satisfying feeling that I was truly excellent at something. A similar feeling drove me to do well in school, but the direction my studies took me also included the motivation to learn more about my personal disease and to be part of the race toward a cure. I wanted to graduate with two degrees from a top university in record time, and so I did. But when I had reached that goal, my motivation to pursue medicine was lower than my motivation to become successful financially and to again prove to the world that I could do something very hard, ie move careers and become a successful young woman in finance despite my scientific background. Although it appealed to me to make money, financial success was never the driver, while “winning” still was. I set up goals for myself, in getting great jobs, performing well in meetings and being recognized for my intelligence. When I got very sick due to genetic predisposition to microvascular complications and mismanagement of diabetes, I was motivated by a different driver – health.

I needed to get back in shape metabolically to continue the life I was living, and although I made big changes, this fight required double transplants and lots of medical care to get to the point where I am now.

 

What motivates me now – health and doing good are at the forefront, success at work and personally are secondary. I want to be happy and I want to make others happy. I love seeing the work we do at Lyfebulb make a true difference for people and that I can use my experiences to help others – companies, individuals, foundations and hospitals. I guess I still like to be recognized and my inherent insecurities push me to work very hard and to continue my quest, but I never forget to keep space open for my health which clearly is backed by how I eat, exercise, relax and how I expand my horizons!

My advice to others is to recognize your personal motivation – it may differ from mine. If you focus on your looks, health, family, net worth really does not matter. All that matters is that you use your trigger at the moments when you need to make decisions and that you keep in mind the 6 Lyfebulb pillars of our Philosophy.

For example –

1: if your motivation is your family, keep them at the forefront of your mind when you are faced with stress. When you are close to eating the wrong meals, skipping your daily exercise or when you are close to making an unethical decision – think about your family and how they will suffer if you are no longer strong and happy.

2: if your trigger is your financial situation, think about the long term and how your health is critical to your pocketbook and that making short term profits while disregarding your waistline and your morals will not enable you to enjoy the money for a very long time

3: if your driver is your appearance, consider the food you are eating or avoiding to eat and the exercise you are dropping or overdoing. It is equally bad for your appearance long term to be too skinny as it is to be too fat. Health is reflected by your appearance, so if you drop your driver, your health will be suffering a great deal.

We will be featuring a number of ideas to stay on the plan – simple, enjoyable and motivational posts will be launched on our various social media outlets. Stay tuned and do not hesitate to reach out to tell your story and to ask us more about ours!

Lyfebulb Partners with Le Colonial NYC: Coconut Chicken Soup

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The Team at Lyfebulb is proud to partner with a Lyfebulb Favorite in NYC:  Le Colonial NYC in honor of Diabetes Awareness Month!

During the month of November, Le Colonial will feature a very special diabetes friendly three course prix-fixe menu, proceeds from which will benefit the Lyfebulb Foundation and support our mission to improve the lives of those living with chronic disease!

Make sure you stop by the 57th street location during the month of November to try it out – much more information to come.

As a teaser, here is the recipe of one of the sumptuous, and healthy, dishes that will be featured on the menu:

Coconut Chicken Soup or súp gà dừa

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups (24 fluid ounces) sodium ­free chicken stock
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces across the grain
  • ½ lb (8 ounces) fresh or canned straw mushrooms (drained)
  • One stalk lemongrass
  • 6 fresh bird’s eye chilies (more or less depending on your heat preference)
  • 2­ inch piece of fresh galangal, sliced thinly crosswise
  • 5 fresh kaffir lime leaves
  • 5 limes
  • ¼ cup fish sauce (but have more ready)
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1½ cups (12 fluid ounces) full fat coconut milk

Instructions

  • First, concentrate the stock. Put the chicken stock in a wide and shallow saucepan (to ensure fast evaporation), bring it to a boil, and reduce it over medium­ to high heat until the liquid measures half its original volume.
  • Halve (or quarter) the straw mushrooms into bite size pieces; set aside. Any meaty, mild ­flavored mushrooms will do.
  • Cut the lemongrass stalk into 1 ­inch pieces and smash them set aside.
  • Do to the chilies what you just did to the lemongrass; set aside.
  • Remove the stems and the tough veins that run through the middle from the kaffir lime leaves, and tear them up into small pieces. You can also bruise them a little. Set aside.
  • Juice 2 limes; set aside.
  • Put the coconut milk into a 4­ quart pot, followed by concentrated chicken stock, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass pieces, and galangal slices.
  • Bring the mixture slowly to between 160° and 180°F (slightly below a simmer), allowing the herbs to infuse the liquid for about a minute.
  • Keeping the temperature steady, add the mushrooms and the chicken to the liquid; adjust the heat to maintain the temperature. The liquid should never at any point come to a rapid boil. Don’t worry; at 160°­180°F, your chicken will be thoroughly cooked.
  • Stir gently to ensure that the chicken is evenly cooked. (If you want more liquid, add more plain water or unconcentrated broth.)
  • Once the chicken is cooked through, throw in the smashed chilies and remove the pot from heat immediately.
  • Add the juice of 2 limes and the fish sauce to the pot, stir, and taste. Add more lime juice and fish sauce, if necessary. The soup should be predominantly sour, followed by salty. The sweetness comes from natural sugar in the coconut milk.
  • Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve your soup!

 

Behind the Pink

Two women diagnosed with breast cancer- different ages, different types, same mission- discuss what Breast Cancer Awareness Month has done to bring change.


What has changed this month in Breast Cancer Awareness month?

Lisa Frost, diagnosed in 2011 with Stage 3C lobular breast cancer, never had a lump.

Has it changed? I am not sure. I still see all kinds of crazy pink products out there that don’t make any sense and don’t seem to have any clear information connected to actual donations or charities. Just the other night my daughter’s cheer team had their “theme night”. They all dressed up in pink attire. I had a talk with her afterward about what it actually meant and sadly it meant nothing. There was no education, no fundraising, no talks of breast cancer at all. It was “just fun and pink.” Everyone knows that October is breast cancer awareness month and everyone knows that it is associated with the color pink, but unfortunately a lot of the time it doesn’t have any significant meaning.

On a positive note, the announcement by VP Joe Biden on the Cancer Moonshot, coincidentally or not, gave this month’s awareness a boost I believe. At least in the breast cancer community. They are working on speeding up the federal drug approval process and making it easier for patients to take part in clinical trials. Metavivor, the non-profit organization that gives 100% of their donations to metastatic breast cancer research ‘commits to funding $1 million in metastasis research grants in 2017 and double that in 2018.’ That is great news for the metastatic community considering only 7% of all research goes to metastatic cancer (all cancers). It was actually nice that this news came out this month. It also came out right after the metastatic community made their march on the nation’s Capitol for more funding as well. So all in all this was probably a better October than most of them. Hopefully, it is a trend and not just a one-time thing.

AnnMarie, diagnosed in 2012 with Stage 1 breast cancer after finding a lump herself.

Lisa, I agree with you about the pink. I loved pink before I realized what a marketing scheme it is. I see pink everywhere yet it is going to nothing. At the same time, I think it would be great to use this to discuss what some serious issues are. So many of us are suffering from post-mastectomy pain, lymphedema, post-traumatic stress syndrome and anxiety about our cancer coming back that it is time to discuss this part. Breast cancer is not tied in a pretty pink bow; it has some hard reality issues for so many. (Even divorce and bankruptcy but we never talk about that.) You mostly see “survivors” smiling and embracing this part of their life when the truth is far from that.

On the other hand, when Met Up organized the rally to capitol hill there seemed to be a shift. Not just Joe Biden and the Moonshot but more real talk about our Stage 4 friends. It took Mira Sorvino with Champagne Joy marching the steps of Congress for a newspaper to pick it up. While I was thrilled and excited that the Washington Post picked up the story and posted it, it drove me crazy that it took a celebrity to make a headline. What about all my friends who have died why didn’t they make the news? Why doesn’t my friend who is dying get a story without celebrity status? Nonetheless, progress is progress and now that we have their attention where do we go from here?

What would an incredible “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” be?

AM- You know I am a little devil right? So my thought is to use the pink crap to talk! Just like you did with your daughter we all should be educating people on what the money is and is NOT doing. We can use that pink to talk about PTSD and get those living through it really help with resources that care. How about highlighting local non for profits that may not be researching but really helping their community with co-pays, gas to appointments, mortgage payments and more. And most importantly how about stopping the deaths. That is the research we need, stop those with stage 4 from dying. When we do that we could research how their cancer spread, what is working and maybe find a cure by making metastatic cancer a chronic illness?

I do not stage 4, I was an early stager. But the reality is that 30% of those diagnosed with breast cancer become metastatic. I cannot ignore that 30% because that could be me but more importantly, it is my friends.

Lisa- I actually think that is a great idea. There are many needs where breast cancer is concerned. Without a doubt, metastatic patients need more. The only breast cancer that kills, it goes without saying that they need more research, but there are other needs with breast cancer as well. There are all stages that have financial strains, survivors living with horrible side effects from chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. There are women/men with young children and families that need child care, meal preparation, housekeeping, etc. Not everyone has a great support system. The list of needs can be long starting from diagnosis to treatment and afterward. We may not always be able to get funding for research, but we might get local organizations and non-profits to donate or offer services to patients.

Together Lisa and AnnMarie give their thoughts on the future

I think that the one thing we can do right away, something that will plant seeds for the future of breast cancer awareness, is to talk to our children. I have 4 girls and you have 4 boys. We have started in our own homes talking about the realities of breast cancer and all that we have learned from our own experiences. Even though we do not carry the “known genes” for breast cancer that doesn’t mean our children are not at risk. We don’t know what genes will eventually be identified in the years to come. With my boys, I want them aware and educated on their chances of getting breast cancer. I want them to feel comfortable talking to their doctors. Regardless of the genetic factor, there is always important awareness. I talk to my daughters about checking for lumps and early mammograms, but also that cancer is not always a lump and cancer is not always detected on mammograms. This information is so important to know. In the last several years I know that both of us have been teaching our children what the “Pink” really means. They need to know how important it is to take their health into their owns hands and be their own advocates for themselves and their future families. Not all doctors ask the right questions. Our children will have to ask them.

Knowledge is power when it comes to our health.

Winter Health Tips

Tis the season folks, and while this time of year is filled with holiday celebrations, festive decor, and the exchanging of gifts, I am actually referring to a quite different type of season! One that can make this joyous, merry time of year seem quite the opposite; the sick season! You know how it goes. It hits you when you least expect it, usually at the worst possible time, knocking you right off your feet and into your bed where you remain until your body decides it is time for you to re-enter the world as the fully functioning being you were prior to the overtaking of the illness.

Sometimes getting sick is inevitable, but there are actions we can take to put ourselves in the best possible position to avoid getting sick! Preventing the spread of germs to others, and ourselves really is so basic, yet can be so difficult to remember as the hustle and bustle of everyday life can be consuming. So what can we do to prevent these disease causing bacteria and viruses from becoming the gifts that keeps on giving? We can start by taking care of ourselves as best as we possibly can!

Proper nutrition and exercise are engrained in our heads for a reason. With balance in each area, they do wonders for our entire existence. Getting the proper micro and macronutrients our body needs, provides us with the essentials needed to fight off these germs. At a cellular level, they enable our bodies to create and utilize immunity to disease causing pathogens. A body without adequate nutrients is like a car trying to thrive on an insufficient amount of fuel, antifreeze or oil…inevitably it will no longer be able to function properly to say the least. Staying hydrated is just as important! Water not only helps eliminate toxins, but also is vital to building a healthy, well functioning immune system. Exercise does wonders in preventing disease by increasing fluid output, thus also helping to eliminate toxins, enables the lungs to get rid of germs more efficiently, speeds up the rate of which your white blood cells (immunity cells) flow throughout the body, and also gives us those lovely endorphins and helps us breathe more deeply both of which promote stress relief. Which brings me to my next major way in which we can armor ourselves from illness!

Take care of that stress level! I am well aware that this can be much easier said then done. I know that for me taking those few precious minutes necessary to help eliminate stress can actually in itself seem stressful, yet inevitably when I commit to taking care of myself in this way I always reap the benefits, and so does my immune system. Stress causes the body to release a hormone called corticosteroid, which decreases the amount of white blood cells in the body. Stress relief can be as unique to the individual as our personality traits. For me yoga and meditation work wonders for coping with stress, whereas some of my close friends use weight lifting or writing as a main tool to deal with theirs. It’s all about finding what works for you! Also, it is okay to allow yourself those extra gifts of kindness whether it’s a massage, aromatherapy, a pedicure—whatever it may be, you deserve it! Taking care of yourself not only makes you well but also prevents the spread of disease to others.

In the spirit of protecting others while taking care of ourselves, hand washing is one of the best ways to shield others and ourselves from getting sick! This is such a minuscule action that can actually be life saving. In nursing school they had us use a black light to test how well we washed our hands. It was incredible seeing how much bacteria was left over even after singing row-row-row your boat twice and scrubbing viscously as we made sure we cleansed every nook, crevice and cranny of our hands. Think about how many things we touch even in a 30 second period of time, and how often we subconsciously touch our nose or mouth (two patent orifices serving as a direct route for infectious pathogens). Hand sanitizer is a fantastically convenient alternative if you are not coming in contact with body fluids.

Lastly, this is my own personal belief but I am a huge proponent of vaccination. Research continuously shows strong evidence that benefits of vaccination far outweighs the risks and helps greatly reduce disease transmission. All of this is especially true for those that are immunocompromised including the elderly, babies, those with chronic disease related issues, and people taking medication that decreases their immunity.

Taking care of ourselves puts us in the best position to ward off those nasty disease-causing germs. We have the opportunity to give ourselves the best chance of having a sick-free sick season! Staying well can allow us to fully enjoy this winter and holiday season and all of the associated festivities and feelings of warmth and joy. So as you deck those halls, trim those trees, or celebrate in whatever way suits you, don’t forget to give yourself the ultimate gift of being the healthiest you possible!

Food Is Life

Food is life.  The quality of the food we eat directly correlates with our quality of life.  Food provides the energy, building material, and essential nutrients our bodies need to carry out millions of physiological functions everyday.

In a general sense calories are used to measure food energy.   Macronutrients-carbohydrates, proteins, and fats- compose a majority of the calories of the food that we consume.

Over the past few centuries, there has been much debate as to what ratio and quality of macronutrients is needed by the body to prevent many of the diet-related diseases predominant in America, which will prolong and provide for the highest quality of life.  To put simply, there is no exact answer to this dilemma; each individual is unique and based on his or her genetics, family history, ethnicity, physical fitness goals and an array of other factors, will require different amounts and qualities of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

That being said, having a basic understanding of the functions of each of these macronutrients, as well as dietary recommendations composed by the United States Department of Agriculture, and the current debates surrounding these macronutrients, will allow you to make healthier and beneficial choices for your diet.

 

Protein: The Jack-of-All-Trades

What makes up a protein?

Second to water, protein is the highest component of the human body.  It makes up approximately a fifth of our entire body weight and is essential to the function of every single cell in the human body.  Proteins are composed of individual organic compounds called Amino Acids that bond together to form something called a polypeptide chain.  The sequential makeup and three-dimensional shapes of these polypeptide chains determine what role the specific protein will have in the body.   There are 20 amino acids that are combined in the body to make proteins, and of these 20 amino acids, 9 of them are considered essential and 11 are considered nonessential.  An essential amino acid must be consumed in the diet as the body does not produce it in sufficient quantity, whereas, nonessential amino acids, though essential to the body, are produced in sufficient amounts by the body, and therefore does not need to be consumed in large quantities through the diet.

 

What are the different categories of protein?

Proteins are classified as being either complete or incomplete.  A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids and promotes growth and health. Complete proteins can be found in eggs, fish, and milk.  Incomplete proteins lack one or more essential amino acids or do not contain all essential amino acids in sufficient quantity.  A protein can contain all 9 essential amino acids and still be incomplete if they are not present in equal proportion.  Though individually incomplete proteins do not contain a sufficient amount of amino acids, combining various food sources of incomplete proteins can combine to form and have the same benefits of complete proteins.  Some sources of incomplete proteins include grain, nuts, beans, and corn.

 

What are the Functions of Protein?

The function of protein goes beyond the commercially dairy advertised growth of muscle.  Protein is responsible for building lean body mass.  Proteins also function as enzymes, which carry out essential chemical reactions that take place in the cell.  Some proteins, such as a large quantity and variety of hormones, act as messenger proteins transmitting responses throughout the body to coordinate biological processes between cells, tissues, and organs.  Structural proteins provide structure and support for cells and on a larger scale allow the body to move.  Finally, storage proteins bind and carry molecules throughout cells and the body.

 

Debate Time: Protein

There are many debates surrounding protein.  Some more popular examples include, how much protein should one consume to gain muscle mass? Should I obtain my protein from animal or plant based foods? Will a high protein, low carb diet help me lose weight? There is no simple answer to anyone of these questions, because each individual is unique.  However, there are a few rules of thumb when eating protein to help you sift through all these debates and come to a conclusion that best suits you.

First, the Dietary Guidelines for America, a reputable statement written jointly by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), recommends Americans consumes 10-35% of their daily caloric intake through protein.  Protein contains 4 calories/gram.  If one were to base this off a 2,000 calorie diet approximately 200-700 calories or about 50-175 grams of protein would be consumed daily.  The percentage of calories can differ depending on the physical activity of the individual, someone who is highly active, or competes in a competitive sport would want to consume a higher amount of protein in their diet than someone who lives a more sedentary lifestyle.

Second, the Dietary Guidelines emphasizes three things variety, balance and moderation.  Therefore in regards to whether to consume protein from plant based sources or animals, it is best to follow the principles of variety balance and moderation.  Obtain protein from a variety of lean and white animal sources such as lean beef, chicken, fish, and eggs.  However, also balance the amount of animal protein you eat with a variety of plant based proteins such as beans, lentils, tofu, and other soy products.  Dairy is also an excellent source of protein.  It is however important to note that the quality of protein consumed in lean meats tends to be higher and each meat has a higher ratio of complete proteins than do individual vegetables.  In addition, over the last century there have been numerous studies providing evidence that consuming abundant amounts of animal based products correlates with increase risk for obesity, and heart disease. Whereas, vegetable based protein, though individually lacking in complete proteins, have the additional benefits of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), as well as phytochemicals- chemicals found in plants that go beyond the plants basic nutrient components and have essential protective and disease preventative properties.  There has been no significant evidence linking an abundance of vegetable based foods to a detrimental disease, consuming a large variety of vegetables is always a good thing.  However, consuming a diet solely consisting of plant based products may cause certain nutrients such as protein to be insufficient and lead to complication such as fatigue, and detrimental complications especially in the elderly.   Eat both a variety of plant and lean animal foods for protein, and do so without consuming an abundant amount, Eat a higher ratio of plant foods that animal foods, but do not neglect the importance of consuming sufficient quality and quantity of protein.

Finally, unless recommended by a Registered Dietitian, or Accredited Nutritional counselor always say no to any High-low diet.  In the short term a high protein diet can help one lose weight.  However, in the long term the diet can either lead to consuming insufficient quantities of other nutrients, and even a lack of weight loss. Other more severe consequences include High Blood pressure-which results from a large intake of meats and dairy, and is directly linked to heard disease, Kidney problems-as eating too much protein puts added stress on the kidneys for filtration, and Ketosis-which results from a lack of energy in the body due to inadequate carbohydrate intake and results in bad breath, fatigue, headaches sleeping problems and more.

 

Carbohydrates: The Power House Nutrient

What make up a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates are the most abundant group of biological compounds on earth. Carbohydrates result as a byproduct of a process called photosynthesis that occurs in green plants. Carbohydrates are made up of the simplest form of a sugar known as a monosaccharide, and the product of two monosaccharide’s combined called disaccharides.

 

How are carbohydrates classified?

There are three main categories of carbohydrates significant to nutrition- Sugar, Starch, and Fiber.

Sugars, or simple carbohydrates are composed of one or two sugar molecules.  A simple sugar is just as the name suggest, an example being the bag of white cane sugar in your sugar bowl.  Other examples of simple sugars include soda, candy, and processed goods.  Healthier examples include fruit, honey, and milk; they are healthier than the aforementioned because they contain vitamins and fiber.  This makes them more nutrient-dense-containing a higher ratio of nutrients to calories, than Energy dense-having a higher ratio of calories to nutrients.  Simple sugars are ingested quicker than complex carbohydrates.

Starches, or complex carbohydrates have three or more sugar molecules strung together like a necklace or branched like a coil.  Complex carbohydrates are high sources of fiber, and therefore are associated with satiating hunger quicker than simple carbohydrates.  Complex carbohydrates are generally found in whole plant foods such as green vegetables, whole grains-and foods made from them (oatmeal, whole-grain breads), Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes etc.), lentils, beans, and peas. The foods that fit under starches tend to be wholesome plant based foods, which mean they also have phytochemicals, as well as additional minerals and nutrients such as fiber.

Dietary Fiber (also known as roughage and bulk) contains pectin, cellulose and hemicellulose, which are found in whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables.  Dietary fiber includes all the parts of a plant that the body cannot digest or absorb, it instead stays intact and passes through the stomach, small intestine, colon and the proceeds out the body. Fibers bulk, and indigestibility aids in easing the process for the digestion of other food components preventing constipation.   Fibers bulkiness also makes one feel full faster, and is directly linked to maintaining a healthy weight, and lowering one’s risk for obesity.

 

What are the functions of Carbohydrate?

Carbohydrate is the bodies preferred immediate energy source for all bodily functions, excluding protein in the use of building and repairing tissues. Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. Carbohydrate performs the role of forming different lubricants in the body, and regulating fat metabolism. When consumed carbohydrates are broken down to produce glucose, a simple sugar.  Glucose is broken down to produce heat and something called ATP (Adenine Triphosphate), ATP is then used as a source of Energy for the body.  Excess carbohydrates not immediately broken down into glucose, are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Muscle Glycogen can then be readily used as a source of energy for muscles during extraneous activity, whereas, glycogen in the liver can be released as glucose (blood sugar) and transported by the bloodstream. If muscle and liver glycogen storages are full, excess carbohydrate goes through a metabolic process called lipogenesis and is converted and stored as body fat.

 

Debate: Are Carbohydrates responsible for the increase of obesity and chronic disease in America?

At the turn of the century the nutritional recommendations to reduce fat intake changed completely to reducing carbohydrate intake.  The new belief being that America is consuming an abundance of carbohydrates that is contributing to the momentous increase in obesity, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes in America.

However, this statement is misleading.  While America has increased its intake of carbohydrates, it is not the macronutrient itself that should be held responsible for this increase in chronic disease in America. The rise in consumption of carbohydrates resulted as a result of food industries as well as food regulatory agencies targeting fat as the nutrient responsible for the rise of chronic disease in America.  This lead to ill informed Americans to decrease their intake of fat only to increase their intake of carbohydrates.  Not only did carbohydrate intake increase, but Americans also began to consume a higher ratio of simple carbohydrates.  Fast food industries, processed foods, and other simple sugars became easily accessible and cheap to American workers always on the go looking for a quick meal.

Unlike complex carbohydrates and fiber, processed simple sugars are highly energy dense with relatively small vitamin and mineral profiles.  These simple sugars simply packed on the calories, and neglected substantial vitamins and minerals.  To worsen matter, simply sugars do not have the same immediate satiating affect as complex carbohydrates and fiber.  Instead, it is very easy for someone to consume large amounts of simple sugar prior to feeling full, especially since portion sizes has increased drastically throughout fast food chains, and processed food industries.  Finally, the fast food and processed food industry has responded to Americas demand to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiency by fortifying (adding a nutrient that did not exist in sufficient amounts) processed foods with nutrients, and decreasing the amount of fat content deeming the foods “healthier”.  This prompted Americans to consume larger quantities of processed foods believing that they were now “healthy” and beneficial, when in reality many of these processed foods now contained higher sugar and carbohydrate content to compensate for the decrease in other nutrients such as fat.

This being said, it is not the consumption of carbohydrates that has lead to the increase of chronic disease in America. In truth, it is not even solely the consumption of simple sugars that has lead to rise of chronic disease.  The United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that a majority of calories-45-60% be obtained through carbohydrates; this “macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) was based on decreasing risk of chronic disease and providing adequate intake of other nutrients” (USDA, Dietary reference intake for energy).  However, the dilemma comes in when considering the source of the carbohydrates, and the physical activity of the individual.  According to the USDA less than 25% of calories should come from simple/processed sugars.  A majority of carbohydrates should be consumed through complex carbohydrates and fiber rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, grains, legumes, and whole grain breads. In addition someone living a sedentary lifestyle would need to consume less carbohydrates than someone who is more active.

 

Fat: The Underdog Nutrient

What makes up Fat?

What most of us understand as dietary fat is actually a subcategory of a much larger group known as Lipids.  Lipids consist of Triglycerides (dietary/neutral fat), steroids, and cholesterol. Dietary Fat has been fighting an ongoing battle for decades.  Although there are correlations between certain fats and an increased risk for developing heart disease and cancer; there are certain fats, under the category of unsaturated fats that are not only essential to the proper functioning of every human being; but are also linked to decreasing the risk of certain caners and diseases.  Dietary fats and oils are composed of a series of fatty acids molecules bound to a glycerol backbone forming a compound called a Triglyceride.

Function of Dietary Fat

All fats, including saturated fats, play essential roles in the body. These roles include-providing a concentrated stored form of energy, transporting vitamins A, D, E, and K into the body, cushioning and protection essential organs in the body, serving as an insulator and preserving body heat, and acting as a precursor to other essential body compounds such as cholesterol.

 

What are the Main Forms of Dietary Fat?

There are three types of fats that differ from one another depending on how many double-carbon bonds are contained in its structure.

A saturated fat is a triglyceride fat molecule lacking any double bonds between carbon molecules, because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. The abundance of tightly linked hydrogen bonds in saturated fats makes most of them solid at room temperatures.  A majority of saturated fat is found in animal products including meat and dairy; examples of saturated fat include-Poultry with skin, fatty beef, lamb, pork, lard and cream, butter, milk, and hard cheeses.  Other high sources of saturated fat include baked goods, fried foods, and certain plant based oils-palm oil, palm-kernel oil, and coconut oil.

Unsaturated fats actually consist of two sub-categories of essential fatty acids (remember-anything referred to as an essential nutrient means it must be consumed in the diet, since the body does not produce it in sufficient amounts.) All Unsaturated fats contain double-carbon bonds, and are generally liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are found in small amounts in lean meats and are abundantly found in fish, certain plant oils, seeds, and nuts.

Monounsaturated fats (MUFA’s) are unsaturated fat molecules containing only one double-carbon bond in its structure.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s) are unsaturated fat molecules containing two or more double-carbon bonds in its structure. A specific type of Polyunsaturated fat called Omega-3’s appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, protect against irregular heart beat, and may help in lowering blood pressure levels. Omega 3’s are found in plant foods, however, plant based Omega-3’s are not as efficiently utilized by the body as Omega-3’s found in fish.  Other essential, and beneficial polyunsaturated fats include Omega-6 and Omega-9 fatty acids.

The final form of dietary fats include Trans fat- a monounsaturated fat that is a contaminant byproduct of a process known as hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is a process used by food manufactures to add hydrogen atoms to vegetable oils, ultimately resulting in trans fats that mimic the properties of saturated, ultimately with the goal of increasing shelf life and longevity.

Debate Time: Is Fat Bad for You?

Starting in the 1980’s there began a massive launch by major food corporations and regulatory agencies to blame fat as the primary nutrient responsible for the rapid increase in obesity, and other nutrition related illnesses.  The intended goal was to target saturated fat, which when consumed in access, has been linked to chronic illness, specifically coronary artery disease.  However, due to the belief that it would be too complicated to explain the differences between the different types of fats, as well as pressures placed on government diet regulatory agencies by food industries, it was decided that if Americans were to simply reduce total fat consumption in their diet they would ultimately improve it, and reduce risk of coronary heart disease.  We now know that eliminating fat from the diet cannot only increase the risk of obesity, but can also lead to vitamin deficiencies, Extreme mental fatigue, Amenorrhea in women, and other detrimental affects.

To understand how consuming fat can lead to chronic illness, you must first have a brief understanding of what cholesterol is and its role in the body.

Cholesterol is a lipid found in the livers of humans and other animals.  Cholesterol is essential as it is needed to make vitamin D, all five steroid hormones, build cell walls, and create bile salts that aid in the digestion of fat.

If you were to hold cholesterol in your hand it would resemble a waxy thick white-yellow substance similar to candle shavings. Cholesterol flows in the body through the blood stream but its oily consistency does not mix well with the water like consistency of blood.  In order for cholesterol to properly function and move smoothly throughout the bloodstream the body packages it into tiny protein covered particles called lipoproteins.  Lipoproteins mix easily with blood and allow for the transportation of cholesterol and other lipids.  The main lipoproteins are Low Density Lipid Proteins, and High Density Lipoproteins.

Low density Lipoproteins transfer cholesterol from liver throughout the body, where cells extract cholesterol and fat from them.  Though essential, the higher fat to protein ratio of LDL lipoproteins makes them dangerous in abundance.  When LDL is abundant in the bloodstream it forms fatty deposits in the walls of the coronary artery and other arteries.  These deposits, known as plaque, narrows arteries and restrict blood flow.  Build up, and release of plaque throughout arteries leads to strokes and heart attacks, and that is why LDL cholesterol is referred to as harmful cholesterol.

High Density Lipoproteins have a higher ratio of protein to fat content.  They rummage the bloodstream for cholesterol deposited by LDL lipoproteins, and transport the cholesterol back to the liver for disposal, thus decreasing the risk of plaque build up and subsequently strokes, heart attacks and heart disease.

Fat is not bad for you, it is a very essential macronutrient in the body.  However, consuming high levels of saturated and trans fat increases the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, ultimately increasing the risk to developing coronary artery disease, heart disease, diabetes, and other related chronic illnesses. On the other hand, consuming a higher ratio of mono and poly unsaturated fats decreases the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, reducing the risk for developing diseases associated with high blood lipids.  A higher ratio HDL cholesterol is also associated with decreasing the effects of inflammation, stabilizing heart rhythms, improved quality of skin and hair and other health benefits.

A rule of thumb when it comes to consuming fat is to have most of your dietary fat come from white fish, plant-oils, nuts, and legumes; and to moderate the amount of beef, pork and other meat groups that promote high LDL cholesterol in the blood.  In addition, trans fats should be avoided as much as possible as they increase inflammation, decrease HDL and increase LDL cholesterol levels, and are a risk factor for stroke, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

The USDA’s dietary recommendation for fat intake is 20-35% of total daily calories. Fat contains 9 calories per gram. Eliminating fat for weight loss is not only debilitating for many biological processes but has also been linked to an increase risk for developing obesity.  This is because people who tend to decrease fat content from the body tend to overcompensate by consuming processed sugars and high amount of simple carbohydrates, which when consumed in abundance increase fat deposits and blood pressure.

Proteins, Dietary Fats, and Carbohydrates are all essential to proper function and health of the human body.  Just as every other nutrient in your body, they each play specific roles such as regulating chemical processes, supporting and protecting vital organs and, providing a source of energy.  Excluding trans fats, none of these nutrients are solely responsible for contributing to the increase of chronic disease in America.  The increase of chronic disease in America, specifically obesity, has resulted from an imbalance between physical activity and diet.  Although other factor play a role such as genetics and environment, it is simply the over consumption of processed, energy dense foods combined with a lack of meaningful physical activity that has contributed to the drastic rise of chronic disease in America, not the individual macronutrients themselves.

The Power of Education

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From childhood I have always had a strong interest in a healthy lifestyle, particularly what we put into and how we treat our bodies as a society. Perhaps some of this interest is merely innate, but much of it I am certain is a product of both how and what I was taught.  I am a firm believer that what we have learned, no matter how or where we have learned it, (i.e. from life experience, school, or through example) shapes our existence and plays a huge role in the decisions we make and the lifestyles we chose. The ability to create change through education fascinates me. I believe education is one of, if not the key element in prevention of chronic disease. I am constantly amazed by the number of people that come into the ER with complications that could have been so easily avoided had they simply had a better understanding of how to properly manage their disease or where to obtain resources in order to do so.

People frequently ask me why I chose a career path in the very specific field of diabetes management and education.  While there are countless reasons, many pertaining specifically to the epidemic of diabetes within our country, the pressing need for better education surrounding disease management in general remains at the top of my list.  Chronic disease management requires much more teaching than can be adequately provided in a short ER stay, doctors visit or even a hospital admission. I have experienced on a regular basis the dire need for more extensive, individualized education and have come to understand the need for continuous follow up and education is equally as necessary. In addition to my own experiences in the field of nursing, I was also blessed with tremendous examples in the people in my life who showed me through their career choices and way of living the essence of proper education and just how powerful knowledge really can be, especially when it comes to quality of life.

I had the privilege of watching my mother (also a nurse) and my grandmother (a teacher by trade) caring for my great grandmother living with quite a number of chronic diseases.  I watched their meticulous attempts to manage my very traditional, very italian great grandmother’s type two diabetes, congestive heart failure, and atrial fibrillation. This was really the first time I was able to value the extent to which education and individualized care is crucial for prevention of life altering and fatal complications. To this day they will tell you that at times it was not easy, especially when it came to explaining the urgency of placing health over traditional italian customs, but because of their persistent teaching and care, I truly believe my great grandmother was able to have the happiest most abundant life in her last years with us.

I had another powerful role model in my father, a behavior analyst serving children with autism and their families. Through his work I have seen the impeccable ability of the human brain to transform and learn.  I have seen that even behaviors associated with autism (a disorder of unknown origin and pathophysiology) can be greatly improved and even eliminated through perseverance and teaching.  It has been heart-warming to say the least, to witness the drastic improvement in quality of life these children and their families experience from being taught new skills.

I have been able to see the long-term impact of effective teaching as I watched the special caregivers in my life help others achieve healthier happier lives through education. I personally see on a regular basis the dangerous outcomes of patients poorly educated on how to manage chronic disease.  It has been my experience that most patients truly want to do what is best for themselves and for their families. Proper teaching, if nothing else gives us a chance. It gives us the gift of choice to maintain our health to the best of our ability. When it comes to chronic disease management and prevention, the saying “knowledge is power” is true on such a profound level as it enables the ability to achieve the highest quality of life, happiness and health possible for us all. 

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