Sweets and Smiles: Moving Day!

Hello!

Today, I have big, big, giant, big news! Pretty Healthy has a new internet home!

I have spent the last week playing with coding to make this new site and I am so proud of it. I can’t wait for all of you lovely people to see it!

Starting today, I will no longer be posting at theprettyhealthyblog.wordpress.com, but at prettyhealthy.co! This is a huge step for me, because I have been dreaming of being able to self-host (and make the Pretty Healthy site, well, pretty via CSS) since last year around this time!

So, please, check out the new site–you won’t be disappointed! And, don’t forget to sign-up to the newsletter!

Chocolate: It Does a Lot For You

We’ve all heard about dark chocolate’s amazing benefits–I’ve even written about how it can improve your skin–but still, guilt may creep in. I’m here to brandish research papers and give you the information you need to shut up that inner critic or outer well-meaning family member who ponders about your waistline aloud when you indulge.

Chocolate Keeps You Trim

First things first: dark chocolate is not a sinful, fattening  food. No food is inherently good or bad (moderation, lovelies!), and chocolate doesn’t make you fat–don’t worry, I’ve got a study to back that up.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen tested chocolate and later calorie intake in 23 healthy young men in a cross over trial. Basically, they gave some guys 100g (about 3.5 ounces) of  30% cocoa milk chocolate and some guys 70% cocoa 100g dark chocolate and asked them to rate hunger (and a bunch of other things). About two hours later, they let the guys eat however much pizza they wanted (while keeping track of what each group ate) and asked them to rate hunger and craving for salty, sweet, or fatty foods. The next day, the groups switched–guy who had eaten milk chocolate were now eating dark chocolate and vis-versa–but everything else remained the same. They used paired t-tests in the analysis which just means that they compared each man to himself (i.e., his consumption after milk chocolate and after dark chocolate).

The results showed that when men ate dark chocolate, they consumed 17% fewer calories at dinner (or 8% fewer calories when accounting for the extra calories in the dark chocolate–about 140 calories less) and were equally satisfied with their meals. They also reported being more satisfied and craving less sweets after eating dark chocolate than after milk chocolate (p=0.02, or in plain English, it was a significant difference between groups).

The takeaway? Eating dark chocolate for a snack can help you crave fewer sweet things, curb your afternoon hunger enough to tide you over to dinner, and then eat a little less at dinner (as opposed to some snacks which turn you into a bottomless hole–I am looking at you, potato chips).

Dark Chocolate and Insulin Sensitivity

Dark chocolate also has compounds that improve insulin sensitivity, which is super important in Western cultures where insulin resistance can lead to Diabetes.

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fifteen individuals (men and women), ate diets with the same number of calories plus either 90g white chocolate (480 calories) or 100g dark chocolate (480 calories), blood glucose was tested after eating the chocolate for fifteen days. The groups had a one week washout period (in this case, no cocoa products for a week, plus using other foods to substitute for the calories and macronutrients in the chocolates) before switching to the other kind of chocolate for the next fifteen days. The participants’ insulin resistance and sensitivity were tested using different indexes.

Researchers found that those eating dark chocolate were less insulin resistant and more insulin sensitive on different indexes. The finding that chocolate is protective against insulin resistance is exciting for chocolate lovers–it gives us another fact to pointedly explain to chocolate detractors.

Chocolate and  Brain Power

Chocolate is not only a beauty food and a health food–it’s a brain food. Several reviews have been done on this topic. Basically, for the same reason that chocolate improves your skin (by dilating blood vessels), it can improve brain function by increasing blood flow (and thus oxygen and glucose) to the brain. This is due to the flavonol content of the cocoa (ergo, darker is better).

Basically, dark chocolate makes a great pre-test food, great afternoon pick-me-up/get-through-this-project helper. So, revel in your chocolate–eating it in moderation is actually healthy. So, take that, chocolate-guilters of the world!

Are you going to go forth and spread the good news about chocolate? What benefit was most surprising to you? Leave a comment!

Sweets and Smiles: Some News is Good News

Hello, everyone!

This has been a great week, despite tests and 12 pages of papers and school generally getting hectic. Let me count the ways!

  1. I officially got into UC Davis, that dreamiest of dream schools (at least for me)–and I got invited to the Honors program!
  2. My search for a roommate is looking quite fruitful–only one person responded to my posting, but we seem to be getting along well 🙂
  3. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel on moving Pretty Healthy to its new home! I am in the website design stages and I am so happy with how it is coming along!

All in all–a great week!

What’s your good news this week?

On My Night Stand

Good morning, ladies!

I am in the midst of building the newly improved Pretty Healthy. Let me tell you, this is taking up a  lot of my brain waves 🙂 The design has gone in a completely different direction, but it’s getting there and I am proud of it. Of course, I can’t code on my bus rides to school, so I have some books to keep me company.

Death By Food Pyramid by Densis Minger: The blogger behind  RawFoodSOS (I’ve mentioned her before–her research skills are top-notch and making-it-easy-to-understand skills make me jealous) has a book. It finally came and I was so excited to start reading. It’s subtitle is How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Ruined Your Health…and How to Reclaim It! and it does not disappoint. Minger’s book is a balanced account–she discusses the lipid and sugar hypotheses for heart disease, treating them equally–and very accessible. While Food Politics almost put me to sleep, Death By Food Pyramid was engaging and fun. I’m not quite done with it yet, but I am totally recommending it!

The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes: You may have heard about mitochondrial DNA and how everyone is able to trace their (direct) maternal line all the way back to one of several primordial women. This book is the account of the scientist who originally identified this phenomenon and tells the story of the seven women all Europeans can trace their mitochondria back to: Katrine, Xenia, Jasmine, Velda, Ursula, Tara, and Helena. I have only just started this book but I am so excited to read it. It follows the history of the descendants of each woman, their migrations over the centuries, all from simple genetics.

What are you reading now?

Sweets and Smiles: Wildflower Month

unsplash wildflowers

Hello!

It is April and in California, that means wildflower month! I’ve always been big on wildflowers. When I was little, before I discovered (or developed?) my black thumb, the first seed packet I remember was a wildflower mix. When I was in high school, I did a bit of research into the best places to find wildflowers in my area and read on some government website that April was California’s peak month for wildflowers.

Well, that’s stuck in my head since then. Of course, now I am looking for that source to link for you all, and I can’t find it–all I got is this.

Regardless of whether it is really and scientifically peak wildflower season in April, I am going with it. Currently, there are so many gorgeous flowers blooming around here. California poppies are everywhere. I heard once that California was called the Golden State even before the Gold Rush because of the golden poppies that would bloom throughout the state. Fact or fiction, there is at least a grain of truth in that!

There are dozens of other flowers growing right now–and I don’t yet know all their names. But I have seen irises and forget-me-nots, and They brighten my walks as I go from here to there–school, library, groceries. And, though they aren’t wildflowers by any means, the cottage roses are out in full force. It looks like the rose bushes are emulating a firework display in slow motion as new flowers bloom larger everyday. Not to mention the scent on the wind. There really is something to be said for stopping to smell the roses 🙂

I know I am lucky to have the wildflowers right now, what about you? What lovely things has nature given you this week? Snow, sun, April showers? Share in the comments!

Exercise and Telomeres

 

hiking

As if you didn’t have enough reasons to exercise, I’m going to bring a new one to the table. It seems that telomere length and exercise are correlated.

What are telomeres?

Need a refresher? Telomeres are like the aglets on the ends of shoe laces: they bind up the ends of your chromosomes so that your DNA doesn’t unravel. Like aglets, telomeres wear down over time and this can lead to fraying, which leads you to buy more shoelaces or your affected cells to die. Longer telomeres are associated with longer life and fewer diseases.

We already know that the Mediterranean diet and telomere length are positively correlated (but only correlated–we haven’t established causation yet) and that the whole diet had a greater effect than the sum of its parts (that’s what we call synergy, folks!). But what about the other half of a healthy lifestyle? What about exercise?

The Research

Telomeres and exercise definitely show some sort of correlation. In one study published in JAMA’s Internal Medicine, twins with different exercise habits were poled and the telomeres in their white blood cells measured. It showed that even people with identical DNA (in the case of identical twins) or very, very similar DNA (in the case of fraternal twins), had longer telomeres when they were more active.

Those in the highest activity bracket (exercising a mean average of 199 minutes per week, or just less than 30 minutes per day) had telomeres that were an average of 200 nucleotides longer than their sedentary counterparts (a mean average of 16 minutes per week, just over 2 minutes per day). More interesting: a secondary note was made that those who engaged in heavy activity in their twenties had telomeres more than 150 nucleotides longer than those who were not active in their twenties (while causation has not been proven, the time to get on this is now, ladies!) [1].

In a pilot study, ten athletes and ten moderately exercising men in across two ages groups (half were in their twenties and half in their late sixties or early seventies). In this study, muscle telomere length was measured and maximal oxygen intake (VO2max) was also gathered. The athletes in the older group had longer telomeres than the moderately exercising subjects and among the athletes, those with higher VO2max had longer telomeres than those with lower VO2max [2].

In another small study (only 22 men), showed that half an hour of “acute exercise” (they also tested VO2, this time having the participants exercise at 80% of the maximum) lead to telomere lengthening in immune cells [3]. This provides a possible reason for those longer telomere lengths in the twin study.

What Does This Mean?

Exercise is good for you–we all know this. But the correlations between exercise and telomere length are really exciting. If we find that exercise causes telomere lengthening, then exercise is literally rebuilding your body, stopping it from actual aging. And that is cool.

While longer telomeres are correlated with lower disease rates for things like diabetes, longer telomeres can also lead to cancer, and issue raised in an article at NPR. Telomeres are actually one reason cancer is so bad in the first place. Cancerous cells are able to divide endlessly because their telomeres are constantly rebuilt by telomerase, while normal body cells don’t get the same treatment. And this is how the tumors are created: the cancerous cells don’t know when to stop dividing and they don’t divide themselves to death because of their telomeres.

While this is a valid concern, before cancer can develop, many cellular components and genes must be damaged or mutated. Healthy cells know when to stop dividing and growing. As long as possible methods of lengthening telomeres don’t mess with cellular regulation for things like division and growth, healthy cells are just getting an anti-aging boost and not a Frankenstein-esqe, monstrous resurrection to cause destruction.

So, sorry if you were hoping for an excuse to sit and read quietly: it’s time to get up and get moving (and then get back here to keep up on nutrition **winkwink**).

Sweets and Smiles: A Pair of Pairs

Books

Last week, I wrote about The Selection. Well, the next two books in the trilogy were at the local library branch, waiting for me. So, I checked them both out and proceeded to read both of them in 16 hours (to be fair, it was an otherwise very boring 16 hours of bus riding and waiting around).

How were they? I laughed, I cried, I threw the book against the wall (or at least considered it). I lamented the lack of communication that everyone was suffering from and wandered why exactly our heroine kept doing the things she was doing. I appreciated the story–light for the most part, loose ends tie up, no flat and static characters. All good things!

Beauty

In this last week, I have found two awesome resources for skin care. For those of you unfamiliar with Reddit, yes: it looks like spam (it’s not), it’s not intuitive, and it’s kind of ugly. I know. But, it can be a great resource once you understand it. There are many communities on Reddit (called subreddits) that revolve around beauty (and pretty much any other topic you can think of). I have found two very helpful: /r/SkincareAddiction and /r/AsianBeauty.

Skincare Addiction is a great source for what you should be putting on your face to make it happy and for understanding what’s wrong with your routine. There are even recommended routines. I would recommend checking out the sidebar (on the right) for all of the linked pages. Asian Beauty is both about the products and the philosophy. There are tons of reviews and promises of better formulated-sunscreens on that forum, so I am researching 🙂

What’s on your bookshelf? In your beauty routine? Tell us in the comments!

Ingredient of the Month: Garlic

(Garlic cloves by Marco Bernardini/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Garlic cloves by Marco Bernardini/Flickr Creative Commons)

Garlic. Some will argue it’s smelly and others that it is tasty, but most will agree that it has plenty of health benefits.

Garlic is a spice that’s easy to get your hands on and adds tons of flavor to your meals–plus antioxidants [1]. Garlic is a good source of sulfur compounds (along with its family members, the onions. It’s why you cry when you cut them: the sulfur compounds become sulfuric acid in your eyes and you tear up to get that stuff the heck away from your delicate eye tissue).

While only two protein-building amino acids contain sulfur, they are essential to human life. The first is the essential methionine, which is the first amino acid in every single protein made by eukaryotic cells (that’s us!). The second is the only amino acid capable of forming disulfide bonds–an important part of protein folding–called cysteine. Our bodies can produce cysteine, but it we need sulfur to do so [4].

Garlic is  also protective against cancers of the digestive tract [2] and heart disease [1, 3]. In connection to its anti-cancer benefits, garlic has anti-inflammatory properties [6]. It’s even recommended to deal with heavy metal exposure, like lead-poisoning [5].

Of course, most people aren’t shunning garlic because it is good for them. More like they will be shunned for smelling like garlic. In a study published in April 2014, raw apple, parsley, lemon juice, and green tea all decreased the effects of bad garlic breath [4]. So, the moral seems to be cook garlic with parsley or reach for an anti-oxidant rich apple for dessert next time you indulge in garlic!

Sweets and Smiles: A Book!

Hello!

This week has been pretty intense for a lot of reasons–tests, papers, the whole nine. Of course, I managed to find time to do some reading.

I pretty much haven’t read fiction since last summer, so I was excited when a new book came to the library for me. But, first, let me back up.

It started with a lovely day of pinning. When I came upon this:

cinderella-never-asked-for-a-prince

True. Naturally, I looked up this Kiera Cass–she sounds like she has an interesting take on life. Well, not only that–it turns out she has a full series of books based loosely on this idea. The first book is called The Selection and I liked it. It’s not something we’d read in my literature analysis class (oh, look, already a point in its favor!), but I read it all in one sitting.

The short version? In a kingdom set in the far future, a prince must choose his bride–from 35 girls chosen to be part of the Selection. We follow America Singer as she has to leave her family, life, and forbidden love behind for a prince she has no interest in and to be part of a Selection she wants no part in. Does she change her mind?

It’s kind of a guilty pleasure to be reading young adult fiction at this point, but hey, reading for fun is good for you on some level, I’m sure of it! Actually, in many ways, according to this article and the associated links. So bookworms, rejoice! For we are awesome!

P.S. The Elite–the next book in the series? It’s on hold for me. I can’t wait to get my hot little hands on it, and read three hundred odd pages instead of study for my next midterm! Stay tuned!

What’s on your reading list?

Build a Better Breakfast: Reimagining Toast

For a while, breakfast was difficult for me: I was always hungry just three hours later, when lunch is still an hour or so off. Was I not eating enough? Or getting a varied enough meal? I was getting grains, dairy, veggies (or fruit), and protein–but maybe not enough protein. Remember that protein is a huge satiety booster [1]–it keeps you full, like fiber and water [2].

Eggs-on-toast-with-avocado

One half of my new favorite breakfast. The whole thing looks like one slice of sourdough, a whole avocado mashed, and a scrambled egg (plus milk!)

Recently, I stumbled upon a new favorite breakfast: eggs on toast with avocado. Paired with a glass of iced chai milk (okay, either works. The first time I made this I was short on time before getting coffee with a friend and I had my souped-up toast and a chai. I was not hungry for six hours. But, chai everyday is probably not a great thing, so I experimented with plain milk. More or less the same thing!), it keeps me full.

I especially like this because it is fast and full of protein (from the eggs and the avocado to some extent), monounsaturated fats, and fiber (from both the avocado and the whole grain bread). On my earliest mornings (oh, bus schedules and long commutes!), this only takes 5 minutes to pull together.

Put the bread toasting (I like it really crunchy to hold all the weight of the eggs and avocado). Slice up a whole avocado. Mash it on the toast with your fork. Scramble up an egg. Put it all together and serve with some protein-filled dairy.

If this isn’t enough to keep you full, try adding another egg or sub a cup of Greek yogurt for the milk (for more calcium and protein than the same volume of milk). Of course, not everyone likes or can even eat eggs or dairy. You might want to try a protein powder like this one, which is formulated to work with a variety of diets, from vegan to gluten- and soy-free!

If you want to add an additional serving of grains, add a serving of cereal or granola. If having too much starch in the morning doesn’t sound appetizing, you can add fruit to that yogurt for more filling fiber.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what keeps you fueled for the day ahead and keeps your body happy.

What’s your go-to power breakfast?