Alyssa Giacobbe

Alyssa Giacobbe

Breakfast—Not Just for Champions

Mom was right: It really is the most important meal of the day.

For 20 years, researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health followed 5,000 men and women, looking specifically at their breakfast habits: what they ate and when. The results, presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, found that people who ate breakfast every day were significantly less likely to become obese or develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate breakfast three times a week or less. These findings are significant, if not particularly surprising. Haven’t our mothers been telling us to eat our breakfast for years?

“This study affirms everything nutritionists have been talking about,” says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs. “When people eat breakfast, and in particular foods that give them less of what I like to call a ‘blood sugar tsunami,’ they make much better food choices throughout the day.” This includes avoiding foods containing sugar, not overdoing it on caffeine, and practicing portion control. “It’s all related to blood sugar,” says John. “If someone misses breakfast, their blood sugar levels come way down. They’re starving by 10:30 or 11:00, and because they haven’t eaten all morning, they crave foods that have a higher glycemic index,” like muffins, breads, candy, or pasta. Then they crash again by 1:00 pm—and look for yet another sugary pick-me-up. Sound familiar?

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Posted on August 25th, 2012 by in Nutrition, Studies, News, and Trends

Egg to Differ: In Defense of Eggs

A study recently published in the medical journal Atherosclerosis reported that a diet rich in whole eggs is as artery-clogging as smoking. Researchers surveyed about 1,200 middle-aged male and female patients—all of whom had suffered a stroke or “mini-stroke”—about their egg yolk consumption, smoking, exercise habits, and other lifestyle factors. They concluded that the top 20 percent of egg consumers had a narrowing of the carotid artery that also appeared in two-thirds of the smokers. Of course, the media jumped on the catchiness of being able to call out that “Eggs are Nearly as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes” and “Your Breakfast Eggs Are Going to Kill You,” as the Atlantic and others did.

But what most media reports didn’t point out—or buried after the alarmist headlines—is that the study was incomplete, says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “The way that eggs are cooked is a huge factor,” he says. Certain high-temperature cooking methods—including frying and scrambling—oxidize the cholesterol into a substance known asoxysterol, a molecule known to accelerate both heart disease and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. More, though, he worries about how the study’s information was gathered and presented. “Research like this is not good science,” he says. “I might be able to see the detrimental weight of eating fried or scrambled eggs as comparative to smoking, but even that seems a stretch.”

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Posted on August 20th, 2012 by in Words from the Wise, Yoga

Talking with Seane Corn: Activism Starts from Within

Right away, Seane Corn will have you know: She is not perfect. Although she is one of the yoga community’s best-known teachers—a gifted orator, physically beautiful, and, as the founder of the grassroots outreach effort, Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM), certifiably giving—the Los Angeles–based yoga star can be impatient, controlling, short-tempered, and reactive. She has a mouth like a truck driver. Corn makes it clear, however, that she hasn’t succeeded despite these shortcomings—rather, she has succeeded because of them. Learning to recognize, and claim, those imperfect parts of herself has, she says, made her a better teacher, friend, daughter, and partner, and directly benefited her efforts as an activist.

Corn began her relationship with activism at an early age. As a recent high school graduate living in Manhattan, she participated in emotionally charged rallies concerning women’s and gay rights. Before giant, angry crowds, she’d hop on stage, grab a megaphone, and release her point of view in bouts of rage, thinking that she needed to be loud in order to be heard. Eventually—and largely, she says, through her yoga practice—Corn began to understand that change happened only when both sides were willing to see, and hear, the other’s point of view, which first required her to learn to truly appreciate her own.

“For a long time, I had a need to change or fix certain circumstances but an unwillingness to look at my own issues,” says Corn. “I realized that if I was going to change the world, I needed to start with myself.” She came to understand that being a good activist meant taking responsibility for her feelings and respecting those of others even—especially—those with whom she might not necessarily agree, a philosophy that became a natural extension of her yoga practice.

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Posted on August 16th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Studies, News, and Trends

Get Happy

Can you learn to be an optimist? The answer is yes.

We’re always talking about the mind-body connection: how our emotional and mental state can affect our physical health. Now, a new study in the journal Aging confirms the notion, reporting that having a positive attitude about aging, but also generally, can add years to your life. That is, optimistic people live longer. Of course, optimism is a state of being often linked to genetics—you’re either born an optimist or you’re not—how you’re raised, and your life circumstances. For many who’ve faced certain hardship or personal struggle, it can be difficult to retain a sunny outlook when everything seems to be going wrong. What to do in that case?

“Centenarians often share genetically inherited positive personality traits: They’re easy going, out going, competent, and laugh easily,” says Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads several Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “They also tend to manage and express their feelings more freely than the general population.” These qualities have them—and their parasympathetic nervous system—living in a more relaxed state, which in turn optimizes organ function, slows down aging, and decreases the risk of developing disease. The question is: Can those of us who did not inherit a sunny, extroverted disposition develop this orientation toward life? Can we literally learn optimism?

Yes, says Susan. “Most of us are familiar with trying to change out of fear of getting sick or out of hating how we are now,” she says. “But this rarely works because it increases stress, which exacerbates the situation rather than turning it around.” When we focus on positive states, however, we actually change the brain, creating new neural pathways or habitual patterns of emotional stability, competence, positivity, contentment, and even joy—things that are consistent with longevity and good health outcomes. “Most of us spend entirely too much time wishing things were different, both in our past and our present,” she says. “We focus on negative emotions and memories so that is what we experience and create for ourselves. But neuroscience has shown that to change, we must put our attention on what we want instead of on what we don’t want.”

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Posted on August 7th, 2012 by in Nutrition

Me Eat. You?

The Paleo diet trend is catching on.

It used to be called dieting. Now our food restrictions, most of them self-imposed, are called a lifestyle choice. From the vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free to nut-free, low-fat, no fat, no carb, and raw, pretty much everyone’s not eating something.

The newest abstainers may be followers of the Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman diet” and populated by Loren Cordain, PhD, author of three books on the topic: The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, and The Dietary Cure for Acne. Cordain and other proponents of the Paleo diet argue for a return to prehistoric ways of eating, pointing out that the human body was designed to thrive on—and best digest—the foods available to us when we were hunter-gatherers: meat, vegetables, and fruits, but not dairy or grains. Before the invention of agriculture and processed foods, we were fitter and less disease-stricken, he argues; those who’ve had success on a Paleo diet, meanwhile, credit it for everything from losing weight to lowering blood pressure and eliminating acne. Like nearly any other restrictive way of eating, including veganism, the Paleo diet has dedicated followers and ardent detractors.

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