Chia Seeds: Eat like an Aztec

I think any article that aims to talk about Chia seeds has to start with a reference to the iconic little Chia pets of the 90’s to have any sort of credibility. Yup. These are those same seeds that made the … Continue reading

Nutrition and Acne

“Don’t eat chocolate. It will give you acne and everybody knows girls don’t like acne.” I’ve heard numerous versions of this speech, but none ever deterred me from devouring all sorts of chocolate products in my youth. When puberty struck … Continue reading

Anti-Aging Medicine: Fact or Fiction?

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Anti-Aging has become sort of a hot topic in the last few years. Not since Ponce de Leon’s failed quest for the fountain of youth and immortality has this gotten so much attention. New offices take root day after day in … Continue reading

The Science of Yoga

“Breathe.” This is the word my Yoga instructor was uttering repeatedly on that Saturday morning 7 years ago when I first tried it. At this point, about 30 minutes into the class, I was completely exhausted and confused. As a … Continue reading

Exercise for Better Health: benefits, guidelines & prevention

We’ve all heard this one before. I’ve been hearing it all my life from my parents. “Exercise is good for you honey…” “You have to exercie every day big guy…” And for half of my life I just listened blindly as … Continue reading

The Different Sugars: Part 1

sugar-dumb“Sugar” is a term we are all familiar with. When we say it everyone knows what we are talking about. Most of us probably picture white crystals; perhaps others picture cubes of sugar. Some of you may even think about fruit. Yet there are numerous different kinds of sugars and they are not all created equal despite their shared molecular formulas of C6H12O6. Each sugar has a different structure; and this makes all of the difference in the world of molecular biology.  Glucose and Fructose are probably the most popular sugars. Despite the same molecular formula their metabolism inside the body is quite different. Glucose is the body’s main energy source and is derived from most of the carbohydrates we eat such as pastas or starches. A healthy amount of glucose in the diet is well tolerated and handled by the body; with insulin being the key player in regulating the blood sugar levels. People who overindulge in glucose will challenge their body’s insulin response and a constantly elevated blood sugar level can eventually lead to insulin resistance; which is the precursor to diabetes mellitus type 2. This simply means that the constant insulin overload eventually desensitizes insulin receptors and they no longer function properly. Ironically this clear-cut mechanism might not be the number one problem behind the obesity and diabetes epidemic going on in the western world. Fructose has a more insidious and complex way of damaging our bodies.

The problem with fructose is not the sugar itself. In fact some of you might know that fructose is the main sugar found in fruits. If you have heard that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” all your life, then this may seem counterintuitive at first. No; you’re right. Fruits are indeed great for us, but not because of the fructose; their ample fiber and antioxidant content claim that honor. Fructose is basically an innocent bystander here. There is not enough of it in fruits to deal any damage to our bodies. The narrative changes with soft drinks such as Coke or Pepsi which contain large amounts. This is where the trouble with fructose (a major component of high fructose corn syrup) begins.


High fructose corn syrup is a very popular sweetener used in many soft drinks. Its content is essentially 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Lets compare soft drinks with fruits here to illustrate the point we are trying to make. A typical 20 oz soda contains about 240 calories and 65 g of sugar. If we take this 65 and multiply it by the percent of fructose (.55) we get 35.75 g.# Hence we have 35.75 g of fructose in 240 calories of soda. In order to get some perspective check out what a 20 oz soda is. Most soft drink enthusiasts can probably down one or two of these a day. Others may drink one with each meal. Now lets compare this to the amount of fructose found in 240 calories of bananas (or about 2 ¼ bananas). Bananas contain 16.4 g of fructose per 240 calories. In other words, you need FIVE bananas to get the same amount of fructose as in a 20 oz drink of soda. Now I have seen plenty of people in my life drink 20 oz bottles of soda, but not once have I seen anybody eat 5 bananas in one sitting. Therein lies the problem with comparing fruits to artificially sweetened drinks. The fructose is not the problem… its the amount per “normal” or “reasonable” serving. A few of you may drink two sodas a day, but i’m sure NONE of you eat 10 bananas a day. # Considering the growing body of evidence showing that over 50 g of fructose a day may be detrimental we more than meet that standard with just two 20 oz soft drinks a day.

The high fructose diet associated to the consumption of so many artificial sweeteners, and even breads that have high-fructose corn syrup these days, has likely played a major role in the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Although on average we consume about 15% of our calories a year from “added sugars”, about 50 million americans consume 25% or more of their calories from sugary beverages and other foods with “added sugars.”# In most cases this added sugar is fructose (particularly in the main culprit: Soft drinks). The epidemiology of the problem is quite concerning since many studies cited in Tappy and Le# have supported the view that eating a high fructose diet for more than a week increases VLDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin resistance in both healthy and type 2 diabetic people. Although there are several mechanisms some of the best elucidated have had to do with the activation of transcription factors SREBP-1c and ChREBP.# Both of these transcription factors are lipogenic; meaning they increase fatty acid production. This then leads to dyslipidemia which in large part causes the insulin resistance associated to high-fructose diets. Interestingly high-fructose associated dyslipidemia has a tendency to increase visceral fat which is particularly important in determining diabetes type 2 risk (a low hip:waist ratio is one of the best indicators for this). Fructose seems to decrease this ratio in a way glucose does not.


A final point to here has to do with some more recent research involving the brain’s reaction to the two different sugars. Recent studies suggest that our brain may react differently to both sugars. Glucose was basically shown to “satisfy” the brain’s satiety centers in a more effective manner than fructose. The implication here is that fructose in some way fails to satiate the brain as effectively as glucose leading increased hunger and a desire to eat more in order to satisfy the brain’s glucose need. While more research is needed in this front it is still an interesting start in expanding our knowledge about the differences in sugar metabolism. We will examine other sweeteners in future posts.



Welsh JA, Sharma A, Abramson JL, Vaccarino V, Gillespie C, Vos MB. Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults. JAMA. 2010;303(15):1490-1497. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.449.

Tappy, L and Le, K-A. Metabolic Effects of Fructose and the Worldwide Increase in Obesity. Physiology Review. January 1, 2010 vol. 90 no. 1 23-46.

McDevitt RM, Bott SJ, Harding M, Coward WA, Bluck LJ, Prentice AM. De novo lipogenesis during controlled overfeeding with sucrose or glucose in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr 74: 737–746, 2001.

*All pictures obtained via




{Not all greens are created equal: why Spinach is the best}

There is probably a book out there somewhere written solely about spinach. When you’re a child and you first look at spinach you think: “well then… a leaf.” Then you see cartoons like Popeye the Sailor crush everyone after a quick fill of this same leaf. So here I am… a 12 year old kid… witnessing this cartoon character turn from a helpless weakling into a spectacular, brutal killing-machine-stud-like-robot after eating… some leaf? It comes as no surprise that the “got-milk” and Wheaties marketing campaigns were more successful at attracting a crowd (with their star-studded lineup of world class athletes). Its also no surprise that when in need of calcium we turn to milk. Interestingly enough 3.5 ounces of milk has 113 mg of calcium while spinach has 100 in the same 3.5 ounces. Spinach has 20 calories though as compared to milks 60 for this same amount. Milk also boasts 3.25 grams of fat to spinach’s… 0.4 grams… and inversely… spinach boasts 2.2 grams of fiber to milk’s… 0 (although I am sure there are some fortified ones now). So let us take a deeper look at this wonder leaf:

  • Spinach contains Vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B6, folate, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E (all useful in some way to your everyday health).
  • Spinach contains 18 of the 20 amino acids (except glutamine and asparagine)
  • The 0.4 grams of fat it does contain include vegetable oils such as Oleic acid which is packed with anti-inflammatory, disease fighting properties.
  • Least impressive sounding, but likely important : Fiber.

Now fiber is something that merits further exploration. Most of us in the western world receive much less fiber than we should due to the immense amount of processed food out there (breads, pastas, and rices in particular). There is plenty of evidence that fiber is great for both colon and cardiovascular health. In the colon it speeds up transit time of feces and increases its bulk (absorbing plenty of toxins on the way). The way it affects cardiovascular health is much more complex (and not fully understood). The best understood mechanism has to do with fiber rich food effects on blood sugar levels (as compared to their processed, low-fiber counterparts). Foods that are low in fiber and nutrition are easily and quickly digested by the body. This fast digestion leads to an abrupt blood sugar surge in our bloodstream. This in turn leads to a reflex insulin surge as the body attempts to control the rising blood sugar levels. Repeated cycles of this abrupt insulin release leads to increased insulin receptor resistance (they become desensitized). Continued desensitization ultimately leads to loss of proper function and we get the fertile ground for development of type II diabetes (which is primarily caused by this same insulin resistance mechanism). As some of you may know a diagnosis of diabetes quintuples your risk for acquiring cardiovascular disease. Another issue is that consumtion of these processed foods (namely white rices, pastas, and breads) in the long run lead to a chronic state of huger. Nutrition and not bulk is most important in satiety mechanisms in the body. If you constantly consume fiber-rich, nutritionally packed foods your body will not be deficient in nutrients (and hence will not be hungry all the time). When we constantly consume empty calories all we get is hungrier and hungrier…while our belly gets bigger and bigger. This same belly fat is one of the best indicators for progression to systemic cardiovascular and diabetic disease development. The larger your waist the higher the chance of developing illnes. The link between high fiber diet and lower cardiovascular risk becomes clear. There are other mechanisms currently being explored such as fiber causing an increased excretion of bile salts (and in this fashion increasing cholesterol excretion), but further research is being done on that front. So next time you feel like having a salad… dump the lettuce and turn to Popeye’s favorite treat.

Some Excercise is (much) Better than None

Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the other side of the health coin. According to Nature via Women’s Health Magazine scientists have recently discovered a hormone called “Irisin” which presents in your bloodstream when you excercise. Harvard University is currently examining this hormone as a potential treatment for diabetes and obesity because it improves glucose tolerance (which means that your body is better able to handle and metabolize glucose) and converts “white fat” to “brown fat.” Brown fat, as some of you might know, burns way more calories than white fat. Unfortunately for us most of this fat is gone from our body by the time we are adults and instead we are stuck with the abdominal flab known as… white fat… which just seems to grow if left unattended. Further ominous news includes the fact that research into possible pharmaceutical applications of “Irisin” are still in their infant stages. Luckily I can tell you how you can get your hands on an ENDLESS supply of the wonder hormone “Irisin” right now!!!! Call Toll Free 1-800…(I’m starting to sound like a drug salesman huh…) All you need to do is excercise… atleast 30 minutes 3 times a week is considered beneficial. Lets be serious here… there are… 10080 minutes in a week. You still have the other 9990 to do as you please! The hardest part about excercising is starting to do it. Have you noticed this as well? Some days I feel like I rather look at paint dry than excercise. Once you get past those first 10 “hell minutes” as one might call them… its smooth sailing from there… and hey… some people even start to like it! So toss the remote control aside and lets take advantage of the fact that excercise is even better for your health than we thought (it has its own hormone for Christ’s Sake)!