Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Last week, I finally arrived back at home from my lengthy trip to Florida. During my time there, I visited with my grandfather and my in-laws. It was really nice to spend quality time with them, but it was more than lovely to be away from the cold New York winter. One reason I enjoy getting some sunshine is because I get to take a few less pills. I’m talking about vitamin D. When I don’t get any sun, I usually take about 6 thousand IU. I reduce that amount based on how much sunshine I get in a given day.

You might be wondering why I take so much. It’s because I found out that I was pretty severely deficient, and I don’t want that to happen again. I have some other medical issues that may have contributed to my deficiency, but it’s mostly from lack of sunlight. I know this because most of this country is deficient in vitamin D, whether they know it or not.

I was glad the topic of vitamins came up during one of my conversations with my grandfather because I wanted to know if he was supplementing with vitamin D. He wasn’t. You might think that’s okay because he’s in Florida, but it’s really not. You see, as we get older, our bodies become less efficient at producing vitamins from sunshine – and, he’s only in Florida for half of the year.

Well, it turns out that a few weeks earlier, his doctor told him he was deficient in D and needed to supplement. I don’t know whether he disregarded the advice or just forgot, but after our conversation, he went out and got some vitamin D – and he’s been taking it religiously ever since.

Vitamin D is involved in so many bodily processes, so having enough is really crucial to overall health. It’ll keep your immune system stronger in general, but another important function of vitamin D is to keep you bones healthy. It does this by helping your body absorb calcium. Without vitamin D, it doesn’t matter how much calcium you consume because your body can’t use it. It’s been confirmed; getting enough vitamin D everyday will very likely result in fewer trips to the doctor. Sure, you won’t get to see that medical assistant you’ve been crushing on, but your body will be in much better shape.

According to the Vitamin D Council, every adult should be getting at least 5 thousand IU of this vitamin (don’t worry; they’re teeny tiny pills).

Did you get your fill of vitamin D today?

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Coping with Stress

We know that it’s important to exercise and eat nutritious foods in order to stay fit, but did you also know that you should avoid stress in order to be healthy? Studies have shown that people who don’t deal well with stress are more susceptible to illness. I don’t want that to be me, and I’ll bet you don’t either. Let’s look at the ways we can keep stress at bay and stay fit and healthy.

Everyone has stress in their daily lives. The reality is that we live in a fast-paced world, and stress is inevitable. Whenever you feel stressed, your body is to reacting to danger. In the past (prehistoric days), this reaction helped keep us alive. But today, that’s not the case. We might feel stress when we get a bad grade in school, can’t find scholarships to help pay for our education, or miss a deadline at work.

Although stress is everywhere, it’s really important to find ways to deal with it. High stress levels are associated with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, digestive ailments and even obesity. So, having a battle plan for dealing with and relieving stress can help you live a longer, happier and healthier life.

One good way to deal with stress is to exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly have lower levels of stress hormones and are just all around happier. Not only will you like the way you look, but you’ll also be relieving stress hormones that can build up and lead to chronic disease. Pound out your stress by hitting the pavement for a run or lifting weights. Yoga is also great for beating stress because it combines the benefits of physical exercise with the practices of meditation, relaxation and proper breathing.

Even if you exercise, stress still can get to you. When you feel your body’s stress reaction coming on, here’s what to do: Breathe deeply and slowly. Take a few breaths in and out to help ward off that “fight or flight” reaction and calm yourself down.

Later on, after you’ve removed yourself from the stressor, you might still feel a little affected. If so, find a quiet place to sit and clear your mind. Stressing over problems, small or large, is not the way to solve them. It’s a way to find yourself sick and less capable of handling things – so, be sure to deal with stress the right way and you’ll keep yourself in tip-top shape, ready to handle anything!

How Food Affects Your Mood

Most of us know that it’s important to eat right so we don’t gain weight and get diabetes, but sadly that’s the extent of most peoples’ knowledge of nutrition. That’s why we end up counting calories and constantly dieting: because no one ever actually taught us how to eat. Ever since I started learning more about nutrition, this is something that has boggled my mind. Whenever I learn something new, I’m always surprised that I had never learned it before: especially since so much of nutrition seems like common sense.

One good example is how food affects your mood. Sure, I get pretty darn grouchy when I haven’t eaten all day, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Not entirely, anyway. I’m really talking about our long-term dietary needs. Yes, we do need vitamins and minerals every single day, but if you’re healthy, you should be able to go a day or two without food and not experience symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I’m not sure why I get grouchy; maybe I just really don’t like the feeling of an empty stomach! 🙂

Anyway, I would like to talk a little more about the vitamin deficiencies that do cause a negative impact on your mood. When you go to the doctor for symptoms of depression, more often than not, she’ll send you to a psychiatrist without ever checking your vitamin levels. That psychiatrist may put you on a prescription medication (if your symptoms are severe enough) with a long list of side effects. But in reality, you didn’t need to see the pharmacy tech at all. All you really needed was a steady supply of magnesium-rich foods.

Our healthcare system is broken. There isn’t much we can do about that, but we can educate ourselves about how nutrition and disease are related. If you’re having any symptoms at all, it certainly won’t hurt to do a quick Google search to find out if your symptoms mimic those of a specific deficiency. Then, all you have to do is ask your doctor for a simple test. Deficiencies aren’t always the cause of our problems, but I really think it should be the first place we look for answers.

Other deficiencies that can cause depression-related symptoms are folate and zinc. Also, if you’re not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, you might become more irritable.

5 Reasons to Make Time for Exercise

I’m very interested in health, especially as it relates to nutrition, but I often find myself struggling to fit exercise into my life. I find it much easier to choose a salad over a piece of chocolate than to get up off my butt and work out. I constantly need to convince myself that exercise is really worth it. Sounds crazy, right? Well, today I’m creating a list that will help me get over my next fitness slump and remember why I should be exercising every day.

  1. Research shows that our bodies are designed to exercise. It’s what our ancestors have done up until about 50-100 years ago when we stopped exercising and started getting chronic disease at alarming rates.
  2. Exercise strengthens your bones. Well, not all exercise, but most. Any “load bearing” exercise, such as walking, running, pilates, etc., actually puts pressure on your bones and causes them to build up and become more dense.
  3. Exercise can actually make you smarter. Here’s how it works: When your muscles contract, your body releases a protein called IGF-1, which travels to your brain and causes other chemicals to be released, including Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates your brain cells to branch out and make new connections (which is the basis of learning).
  4. Exercise makes you feel good. When you exercise, your brain and spinal cord release endorphins, which make you feel great. They diminish feelings of pain, relieve stress, and help improve sleep.
  5. Exercise makes you look good. This one is no secret. When you work out, your muscles get toned and your body takes on a more attractive shape. You’re also healthier overall, which results in increased outward beauty. You can exercise to gain muscle mass or to increase flexibility – the choice is yours. Either way, you’ll shape your body and start looking better.

The only reason I can think of not to exercise is laziness. But, that’s more of a problem than a valid reason. I know people also say they’re too busy, but about 99.9% of the time, that’s also just an excuse. We make time for the things that are important. I have a friend who uses this excuse all the time. He’s a software developer and works about 50 hours a week. Then, he volunteers another 5 hours. He’s a busy guy, but somehow he finds a whole lot of time to play video games. It’s important to take time for things we enjoy, but I think we all (myself included) should remind ourselves that exercise is as important to our wellbeing as eating or brushing our teeth. It’s time for us to put down the video game (or whatever your vice is) for a little while and make time for some exercise.

What Happens to Your Body When You Skip Meals?

I’ve always thought that skipping meals was a bad thing, but it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I guess I’m just not as hungry as most people, or maybe I just get too wrapped up in whatever I’m doing, but I would always find myself skipping about four meals a week. I wanted to find out how bad this really was, so I did some research.

At a glance, one study suggests that skipping a few meals a week might actually help you become healthier, if you reduce your calorie consumption. This one baffled me a little bit, but then it made more sense when I found out that the participants in this study were obese. I think it’s safe to say that the participants eating habits probably aren’t the healthiest and they may be consuming too many calories to begin with. In cutting back on their overall calorie consumption, they very likely could have been cutting out things that aren’t healthy (e.g. cheese and ice cream). The calorie cut resulted in an 8 percent weight loss and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Although this study makes it seem healthy to skip meals, I don’t see how it could be for anyone who isn’t already consuming too many calories per day. For me, I usually struggle to get anywhere above 1,200 calories. I know that sounds crazy, but I follow a vegan diet and I try to limit oil and bread – and I almost never eat sweets. You have to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to reach 1,200 calories. So, if and when I decide to skip a meal, I’m probably not getting enough nutrition for the day. This is something that I have to constantly remind myself.

I’ve always had this meal skipping problem, even before I was vegan. But during that period, I would skip a meal and then eat more at the next meal to make up for it. I was interning as a paralegal in a busy office and I just wouldn’t stop ever stop for lunch; but then, I’d eat the equivalent of two meals for dinner. Now, I’ve found out that might actually be worse than not eating enough. Well, for one, I knew it wasn’t good because I was about 15 pounds overweight. But, one study actually found that following these exact eating habits can lead to elevated fasting glucose and delayed insulin response – two precursors to diabetes. I’m certainly glad that I stopped that habit, but I do still have to work on eating more often during the day. All this research made me curious about whether I was alone in my struggle.

Do you ever skip meals? If so, do you just end up eating less calories – or do you just make up for the loss later on?