How Mindfulness and Meditation Can Improve Your Health

Mindfulness and Meditation…Do They Really Work?

Well…yes, they do really work. The fact is, science shows definite health benefits for people who use mindfulness and meditation.

Before we dive in, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page when we use the words mindfulness and meditation.

Meditation is the ancient practice of connecting the body and mind to become more self-aware and present. It’s often used to calm the mind, ease stress, and relax the body.

Related post: Learn how to create a meaningful meditation practice

Practicing mindfulness is one of the most popular ways to meditate. It’s defined as ‘paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.’

Mindfulness meditation is well studied in terms of its health benefits. I’m going to talk about a few of them below, and refer to it as mindfulness for the rest of the post.

The link between mindfulness and health = stress reduction

Have you heard the staggering statistics on how many doctors’ visits are due to stress? Seventy-five to ninety percent!

So, if you ask me, it makes a lot of sense that anything that can reduce stress can reduce health issues, too.

Mindfulness reduces inflammation, it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and improves sleep. All of these can have massive effects on your physical and mental health.

I’ll briefly go over the research in three main areas: mood, weight, and gut health. But know that the research on the health benefits of mindfulness is branching into many other exciting new areas too.

Mindfulness for mood

The most immediate health benefit of mindfulness is improved mood.

In one study, people who took an 8-week mindfulness program had greater improvement in symptoms according to the “Hamilton Anxiety Scale.” They were compared with people who took a stress management program that did not include mindfulness. It seems that the mindfulness training was key to lowering symptoms.

Other studies show that mindfulness has similar effects as antidepressant medications for some people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.

 While mindfulness isn’t a full-fledged cure, it can certainly help to improve moods.

Mindfulness for weight management

Studies show that people who use mind-body practices, including mindfulness, have lower BMIs (Body Mass Indices).

How can this be?

One way mindfulness is linked with lower weight is due to stress-reduction. Mindfulness can reduce stress-related and emotional overeating. It can also help reduce cravings and binge eating.

Another way it can work for weight is due to “mindful eating.” Mindful eating is a “non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating.” It’s the practice of being more aware of food and the eating process. It’s listening more deeply to how hungry and full you actually are. It’s not allowing yourself to be distracted with other things while you’re eating, like what’s on TV or your smartphone. 

People with higher mindfulness scores also reported smaller serving sizes of energy-dense foods. So it seems that more mindful eating = less junk.

Mindfulness about food and eating can have some great benefits for your weight.

Mindfulness for gut health

Recent studies show a link between stress, stress hormones, and changes in gut microbes (your friendly bacteria and other critters that help your digestion).In theory, mindfulness-based stress reduction could be a way to help prevent negative changes in the gut’s microbes.

Also, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) seems to be linked with both stress and problems with gut microbes. In one study, people with IBS who received mindfulness training showed greater reductions in IBS symptoms than the group who received standard medical care.

The research here is just starting to show us the important link between stress, gut health, and how mindfulness can help.

TL;DR

Science is confirming some amazing health benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation. For moods, weight, gut health, and more. Do you regularly include it in your life? If so, have you seen benefits? If not, would you consider trying it?

BONUSES! Guided meditation videos, apps & podcasts

Want to learn to be more mindful?

Sign up for the free 5-Day Change Your Mindset Challenge!

 

 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site. 

Migraines

What to Avoid if You Get Migraines

 

Migraine headaches can be terrible. The pain, vision problems (including aura), nausea, etc. can be debilitating; especially if they stick around for hours or even days.

 

Migraines affect about 15% of adults, so they’re fairly common. And, while the exact cause is not known, there are lots of known triggers. Many foods and drinks are common triggers of migraines. You may have noticed certain foods, and drinks trigger your migraines. Sometimes the migraine comes on within an hour of the food/drink. Other times it may happen several hours, up to a day later. Avoiding these triggers can help.

 

One of the main ways these foods and drinks trigger migraines is by their action on the blood vessels in the brain. When the brain’s blood vessels constrict and then dilate (widen), this seems to cause migraines. Many of the foods I’m listing below affect the constriction and dilation of blood vessels during a migraine

 

If you or someone you care about suffers from migraines, this post lists common triggers. Avoiding these can be a great tool to reduce these uber-painful headaches. You may be sensitiveto one, or many of these foods/drinks. They act as migraine triggers in some people, but not all. You can find out by eliminating them and see if avoidance helps you.

 

Foods to avoid if you get migraines

 

The first food thatcommonly triggers migraines is hard cheese like cheddar and Swiss; this is because they contain “tyramine” which is from an amino acid in the protein found in cheese. Other foods high in tyramine include those that are aged, cured, dried, smoked or pickled. These include sauerkraut and tofu.

 

The second common migraine-triggering foods are curedor processed meats. Things like hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon are in this category; this is because of their nitrates and nitrites that can dilate those blood vessels in the brain. Even if these are not a trigger for you, it’s best to eliminate them from your diet because of other health issues they’re associated with like colon cancer.

 

I wish I had better news, but the third common migraine triggering food is chocolate. The evidence is conflicting, as some studies show a link and others don’t. You may or may not be sensitiveto chocolate’s effects on the brain; you have to eliminate it to find out.

 

Artificial flavours like monosodium glutamate (MSG) also trigger migraines. MSG is often foundin Chinese food and is a common migraine trigger. There is not a lot of research on this, but it’s something to consider eliminating from your diet to see if it makes a difference.

 

Drinks to avoid if you get migraines

 

Alcohol is a common trigger for headaches and migraines. Red wine and beer seem to be the most common culprits. We’re not sure why, but it may be red wine’s compounds such as histamine, sulfites, or flavonoids.

 

Ice and ice-cold water have also been shownto trigger headaches and migraines. So try not to eat or drink things that are too cold.

 

Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame are another common trigger. Aspartame is in diet sodas and other processed foods to make them taste sweet without adding sugar. As with MSG, there is not a lot of research on its effects with migraines. But again, it is something to consider eliminating from your diet and see if that makes a difference.

 

Conclusion

 

There are many common food/drink triggers for migraines. Maybe one, or more of these trigger migraines for you. The best way to know is by eliminating them from your diet for a few weeks and see how that works. 

 

The list includes hard cheeses, processed meats, chocolate, alcohol, ice water, and artificial flavours and sweeteners.

 

Do any of these trigger migraines for you (or someone you care about)? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Recipe (migraine-calming tea): Migraine-Calming Fresh Herbal Tea

 

Serves 1

 

5 washed mint leaves (or a tea bag)

2 cups of boiled water

 

Instructions

 

Steep mint leaves (or tea bag) for 5-10 minutes.

 

Serve & enjoy!

 

Tip: Let the tea cool down a bit before drinking it.

 

References:

 

https://authoritynutrition.com/9-common-migraine-triggers/

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27714637

 

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/elimination-diet-infographic

 

https://examine.com/nutrition/scientists-just-found-that-red-meat-causes-cancer–or-did-they/

 

https://examine.com/nutrition/does-aspartame-cause-headaches/

How much water do you actually need?

Water – How Much Do I Really Need to Drink?

Water is essential for life. You can only survive a few days without it. And being hydrated is essential for health. I could argue that water is the most essential nutrient of them all. Water is neededfor every cell and function in your body. 

 

Water is a huge part of your blood; it cushions your joints and aids digestion. It helps stabilize your blood pressure and heart beat. It helps to regulate your body temperature and helps maintain electrolyte (mineral) balance. And that’s just a few of its roles.

 

Dehydration can impair mood and concentration,and contribute to headaches and dizziness. It can reduce your physical endurance, and increase the risk for kidney stones and constipation. Extreme dehydration can cause heat stroke. 

 

So, water is criticalfor life and health. 

 

But, just as way too little water is life-threatening, so is way too much. As with most things in health and wellness, there is a healthy balancebe reached.

 

But, there are conflicting opinions as to how much water to drink. Is there a magic number for everyone? What counts toward water intake?

 

Let’s dive right in.

 

How much water do I need?

 

Once upon a time, there was a magic number called “8×8.” This was the recommendation to drink eight-8 ozglasses of water every day;  that’s about 2 liters of water.

 

Over time, we’ve realized that imposing this external “one size fits all” rule may not be the best approach. Now, many health professionals recommend drinking according to thirst. You don’t need togo overboard forcing down glasses of water when you’re not thirsty. Just pay attention to your thirst mechanism. We have complex hormonal and neurological processes that are constantly monitoring how hydrated we are. And for healthy adults, this system is very reliable.

 

Besides thirst, pay attention to how dark and concentrated your urine is. The darker your urine, the more effort your body is making to hold on to the water it has. Urine is still getting rid of the waste, but in a smaller volume of water, so it looks darker.

 

There are a few otherthings to consider when evaluatingyour hydration status. If you’re sweating a lot, or are in a hot/humid climate drink more. Breastfeeding moms, elderly people, and people at risk of kidney stones need to drink more water too. So do people who experience vomiting and/or diarrhea, as both can quickly dehydrate our bodies.

 

So, ditch the “one size fits all” external rule, and pay more attention to your body’s subtle cues for water.

 

What counts toward my water intake?

 

All fluids and foods containing water contribute to your daily needs. 

 

Water is usually the best choice. If you’re not drinking pure water, consider the effects that the other ingredients have on your body. Drinks containing sugar, alcohol, and caffeine will have effects besides hydration. Sugar can mess with your blood sugar balance. Alcohol can make you feel “buzzed.” And caffeine can keep you awake. Let’s talk a bit more about caffeine for a second.

 

Caffeine is the infamous “dehydrator,” right? Well, not so much. If you take high dose caffeine pills, then sure, they cause fluid loss. But the idea that coffee and tea don’t count toward your water intake is an old myth. While caffeine may make you have to go to the bathroom more,that effect isn’t strong enough to negate the hydrating effects of its water. Plus, if you’re tolerant to it (i.e., regularly drink it) then the effect is even smaller. So, you don’t need tocounteract your daily cup(s) of coffee and/or tea.

 

Also, many foods contain significant amounts of water. Especially fruits and vegetables like cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, celery, spinach, lettuce, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, carrots, and pineapple. These foods are over 80% water, so they are goodsources of hydration.

 

So, you don’t need tocount your plain water intake as your only source of hydration. All fluids and foods with water count.

 

Conclusion

 

There is no magic number of the amount of water you need. Everyone is different. Children, pregnant women, elderly people need more. Episodes of vomiting or diarrhea will also increase your short-term need for more water.  The most important thing is to pay attention to your thirst. Other signs you need more water are dark urine, sweating, constipation, and kidney stones.

 

Water is your best source of fluids. But other liquids, including caffeinated ones, help too. Just consider the effects the other ingredients have on your health as well. And many fruits and vegetables are over 80% water so don’t forget about them.

 

Let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to hydrate?

 

Recipe (Hydration): Tasty hydrating teas

 

You may not love the taste (or lack thereof) of plain water. One thing you can do is add some sliced or frozen fruit to your water. Since we learned that you could hydrate just as well with other water-containing beverages, here are some of my favorite herbal teas you can drink hot or cold.

 

●     Hibiscus

●     Lemon

●     Peppermint

●     Rooibos

●     Chamomile

●     Lavender

●     Ginger

●     Lemon Balm

●     Rose Hips

●     Lemon Verbena

 

Instructions

 

Hot tea – Place tea bags in a pot (1 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey and slice of lemon, if desired. Serve.

 

Iced tea – Place tea bags in a pot (2 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey, if desired. Chill. Add ice to a glass and fill with cold tea.

 

Tip: Freeze berries in your ice cubes to make your iced tea more beautiful and nutritious. 

 

Serve & enjoy!

Protein – How much do you really need?

Protein – How Much is Enough?

Protein is not just for great skin, hair, and nails; it’s critical for health. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to repair damage, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, and even think and have good moods. Higher protein diets can help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Not to mention protein’s great benefits for metabolism boosting, satiety (feeling full after a meal), and weight management.

Protein is important, and this is a given.

 There are a few factors to consider when calculating how much protein we need. I go through those calculations with you. Then I list the amount of protein in some common foods.

How much protein is enough?

There isn’t a real rule that applies equally to everyone. There are a few factors to consider when figuring out how much protein you need.

 

Start with the minimum recommendation of 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) per day.

 

So, for a 68 kg (150 lb) healthy non-athlete adult, this is about 55 g protein/day. 

Mind you, this is a minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It’s not optimal for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods. It’s not enough for athletes, seniors or those recovering from an injury, either. If you fall into one of these camps, you may need to increase the minimum protein intake. Aim closer to 1.3 g/kg (0.6 g/lb) per day.

Athletes need more protein for their energy and muscle mass. Seniors need more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that’s common in old age. And injured people need more for recovery and healing.

How much protein is too much?

As with fat and carbohydrates, eating too much protein can cause weight gain. Extra protein can be convertedinto sugar or fat in the body. The interesting thing about protein is that it isn’t as easilyor quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat; this is because of its “thermic effect.” The thermic effect is the amount of energy required to digest, absorb, transport and store a nutrient. To digest protein, your body needs to spend energy (i.e., burn calories). More calories than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates. 

 

If you’re concerned that high protein intake harms healthy kidneys, don’t be. If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues. 

 

FUN FACT: Plant proteins are especially safe for kidney health.

 

How much protein is in food?

 

●     A 3.5 oz chicken breast has 31 g protein.

●     A 3.5 oz can of salmon has 20 g protein.

●     ½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g protein.

●     A large egg contains 6 g protein.

●     ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g protein.

●     1 medium baked potato contains 3 gprotein.

 

Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of. “Enough” is about 0.8 – 1.3 g/kg (0.36 – 0.6 g/lb) per day. If you’re a healthy non-athlete adult, you can aim for the lower level. If you’re an athlete, senior, or injured person, aim for the higher level.

 

Too much protein can cause weight gain, so it’s best to have just enough. 

 

 

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-protein

http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/do-you-eat-enough-protein

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-protein-per-day/