Damaging Free Radicals and Super Hero Antioxidants

In cells, oxygen is constantly involved in chemical reactions in which electrons are shifted around. This is called oxidation. In an oxidation reaction, one atom or compound will steal electrons from another atom or compound. This process creates highly reactive, unstable, harmful particles known as free radicals.  Free radicals cause damage and many experts believe damage from free radicals is a factor in the development of  blood vessel disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and many chronic diseases. Free radicals can cause LDL cholesterol to oxidize, increasing cardiovascular risk. They can also damage genes in ways that contribute to the aging process. The damage to cells caused by free radicals, especially the damage to DNA, may play a role in the development of cancer and other health conditions.

We are exposed to free radicals through normal cellular processes, the effects of ultraviolet light and sun exposure, air pollution, trauma, excess heat, and smoking or when the body breaks down certain medicines. Our bodies also produce free radicals during exercise because we inhale more oxygen and use more energy and through by-products of normal processes that take place in your body (such as the burning of sugars for energy and the release of digestive enzymes to break down food). To generate energy, our cells remove electrons from sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids and add them to other molecules, especially oxygen. All this creates free radicals.

Antioxidants to the rescue. Antioxidants are the superheroes of the complex world of biochemistry because they provide an electron that the free radical is missing and neutralize it, ending the chain of destruction. Antioxidants thus protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants play a role in the management or prevention of some medical conditions and aging. 

It takes a variety of antioxidants and lots of them to help successfully deactivate the different kinds of free radicals. The body’s natural antioxidant defense system is partly fueled by the antioxidants we consume. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, lignan, lycopene, and other carotenoids, and selenium. In general, the best dietary sources of antioxidants are vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, seeds and other plant-derived foods.


High Fat and Deforestation: Two Things Hiding in Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets


I’m ashamed of Trader Joe’s. I’m typically a TJ fan and as a dietitian, I frequently recommend food products that they sell. But not this product.

A client recently showed me her “healthy” broccoli snack from Trader Joe’s. The packaging boasts: “A delicious way to get more vegetables in your diet”. My client had assumed that she had wisely chosen a healthy snack. But not so.

Turn over the package, read the nutrition label and you will see that the tiny 1.4 ounce package of these florets contains a whopping 15 grams of fat and 30% of the DV for an adult for the whole day…And not just any fat…palm oil, a poor choice for heart health. broc

And what’s more, from a health standpoint, palm oil is particularly high in saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat can lead to elevated cholesterol level and a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Over time, this can lead to heart attack or stroke.

In addition to the nasty health implications, there are environmental concerns about how palm oil is produced. Palm oil production is responsible for significant forest destruction in the tropics and extensive carbon emissions. That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists is calling on companies that “use major deforestation drivers such as palm oil to adopt strong deforestation-free and peat-free sourcing policies.” According to the Rainforest Action Network, Trader Joe’s does NOT have a zero-deforestation commitment for their products.

Palm oil can be produced without deforestation—and many companies have begun to make public commitments to use deforestation-free palm oil in their products. Here is a list of some of the notable ones:

So please, Trader Joe’s, join the other forward-looking companies and make a commitment to not only source palm oil that does not contribute to deforestation but to use other, more healthy fats in your products. Stopping deceptive labeling couldn’t hurt, either.


Is High Intensity Interval Training Best for Weight Loss for Beginning Exercisers?

runnerNew or inexperienced exercisers may have some misperceptions in regards to cardio training. It is not uncommon for an individual to begin an exercise program with the intention of losing weight by performing a high volume of cardio training at a high intensity. (By high intensity I mean to the point that speaking is possible, but not really comfortable, i.e., you can’t recite the entire alphabet with ease at this point).

A common misperception is that the most effective way to burn calories is to do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or high intensity cardio for extended periods of time. While there is some truth to this, especially for the fit exerciser, it is important to have a solid understanding of how to apply cardio training and the science of energy metabolism to perform cardio to lose weight both safely and effectively.

Without question, higher-intensity exercise expends more calories per minute. However, cardio training at a difficult challenging pace for a prolonged period of time can actually be ineffective; rather than burning calories from fat it can lead to the loss of muscle protein as muscle protein is being used to supply energy for difficult exercise.

High Intensity Training for the beginner, however, will cause the body to utilize all available muscle glycogen as an energy source. (Glycogen is the way the body stores glucose to use as fuel). When glycogen is no longer available a process called gluconeogenesis is initiated, which stimulates the liver to convert muscle protein into glycogen to continue fueling exercise. When protein is used to create glycogen, it is then not available to make muscle and repair tissues. If this person is reducing calories in an effort to lose weight, he or she is creating a situation where the body will break down muscle protein. This means that much of the weight loss that does occur could instead be the result of losing precious lean muscle rather than losing body fat.

To avoid this situation and to lose weight from body fat, it is important to follow ideal progressions for cardio training and gradually increase the intensity of exercise. A Certified Master Personal trainer can progress you safely and effectively through the stages.

The above situation for the beginner, creates another issue: It bypasses the use of aerobic training to create a strong base for cardiovascular fitness and the beneficial changes to the body that come with it.

There are two basic energy systems the body uses when doing cardio training: anaerobic and aerobic. The anaerobic system is used significantly in high intensity cardio. Initially, the aerobic system should be trained specifically and solely. This training creates efficiency, since with prolonged aerobic training, adaptations occur that improve oxygen transport to the muscles, reduces the rate of lactate formation, and improves the rate of lactate removal and increases energy production and utilization. Other adaptations of aerobic training include increased stroke volume of the heart, capillary density and mitochondrial density. All these adaptations make the body efficient.

To most effectively train your body to be an efficient fat loser, follow ideal progressions for cardio training and gradually increase the intensity of exercise. A Certified Master Personal trainer can progress you safely and effectively through the stages.