Category Archives: Uncategorized

NUSI Re-Writing “Eat This, Not That” With a New Study

A study, to definitively show that it’s the kind and quality of calories and not necessarily the quantity that’s making America obese, is now underway! This will hopefully redefine what foods we should and shouldn’t be eating and why. All of our “common knowledge” about what’s healthy may be based on misinformed assumptions and jumping to conclusions.

“One key study could be the hammer that dislodges the loose brick in the prevailing paradigm.” Hopefully this is that study.


Another article my professor and I wrote together. Take a look to see how to make your own sports hydration drink, similar to the popular Gatorade ® or Powerade ®. Now that’s it’s hot and humid again, you need to hydrate properly and appropriately.


To drink or not to drink, that is the question ….


By Paula Inserra and Wesley Smith


You might be thinking the answer to this question is easy, but we’re not talking about a Richmond microbrew at happy hour on Friday night; we mean a tall bottle of water during a long run. We’re sure you’ve heard it said time and time again, “Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!” But did you know that this is a relatively recent recommendation? Up until around the 1950s runners wore cotton, short-shorts, tube socks and were actually told not to drink during a run.

Drinking water during a race was considered a sign of weakness. So, what changed? Research and the subsequent explosion of the sports drink industry.

Research showed that performance significantly decreased when individuals lost more than 2% of body weight during a run. This morphed into a recommendation to drink to prevent dehydration and 0% weight loss; that is, drink in the absence of thirst. You may have heard the newer adage, “If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.”

So, if you’ll excuse the pun, athletes took this message and ran with it. Water bottles, sports drinks, hydration belts, Camelbacks® and water stops every two miles of a race. The sports drink industry loved the fact that sports scientists were promoting their product! The result? We’ve overdone it.

Today the major running-related health problem known to have potentially deadly consequences is overhydrating. Drinking too much results in Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia (EAH) or low blood levels of sodium.

When we sweat during a run, we lose both water and electrolytes (mainly sodium) but we replace only the water. This is true even if we exclusively drink full-strength sports drinks (which few of us do) because sports drinks are low in sodium.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that long-distance runners (marathoners and ultra-marathoners) should consume sodium at a concentration of 0.5-0.7g/liter. Most commercially available sports drinks contain 0.2-0.4g/liter.

Certain factors increase the risk of EAH. They include duration of exercise (4 hours or more of running at a slow pace); being female; having low body weight; excessive drinking (more than 1.5 liters of fluid per hour); pre-exercise overhydration; use of NSAIDS and extreme environmental temperatures.

It has been estimated that 2-10% of marathoners experience EAH. EAH has some physiological basis, mainly a result of the kidneys not excreting excess water during exercise, but most cases are thought to be a result of drinking excessively.

Low sodium in the blood can occur by drinking water or other low sodium beverages at a volume that exceeds sweat rate or by drinking the optimal amount, but not replacing the lost sodium. Both situations result in a dilution of sodium in the blood. Staying optimally hydrated is a balancing act. The goal is to prevent dehydration and excessive sodium loss while avoiding overhydration.

The good news is this is easier to do than it seems. While it is useful to know your sweat rate so you can replace the exact amount of water lost, drinking to thirst comes pretty close (less than 1.0 liter per hour).

Adding a little extra sodium to your favorite sports drink can also help. One-quarter to one-eighth teaspoon of table salt added to a liter of sports drink will bump up the sodium content to meet the ACSM recommendations. Of note is that one of those little packets of salt you might find in restaurants contains about 300mg, which is enough to supplement a liter or a 32-ounce bottle of sports drink.

Sports drinks contain interesting colorings and other additives that won’t help performance. Yellow 5, red 40, blue 1, acesulfame-K, modified food starch, acacia gum, glycerol esters of wood rosins, sucralose and brominated vegetable oil (BVO; an industrial flame retardant!).

Since we generally don’t expect to burst into flames on a run, we’d just as soon avoid ingesting flame retardants. Plus, it’s so easy to mix up a batch of your own sports drink. Try this tasty home-made version to optimize your hydration.


Basic Recipe

1 liter of water

3⁄4 tsp sea salt

1⁄4 cup organic sugar or honey

Pinch of salt substitute


Sample Add-In’s

Minced ginger

Crushed mint leaves

Orange, lemon or lime slices

Sliced cucumber


Paula Inserra, PhD, RD, is an associate professor at Virginia State University, where she heads the Didactic Program in Dietetics. She holds a doctorate in nutrition science from the University of Arizona.


Wesley Smith, BS, is completing a post-baccalaureate certificate program in nutrition and dietetics at VSU.

Here’s a link to the Gdrive it’s hosted on, in case you want to pass it on, and I’ve attached a PDF copy. You can pick up a hard copy at local Richmond, VA running stores like Carytown Running , 3 Sports, or Finish Line for free.


Overhydration can be fatal- Miles and Minutes.

Whitewashed Report

coverMichele Simon’s wrote a report about the whitewashing of America, or brain washing with milk and other dairy products. Dairy has been promoted as one of “natures” best foods. I think the take away here is yet again to always read the ingredients. Yogurt has been touted as a great probiotic, and it can be, but most of the yogurts should actually be called dessert with the amount of added sugar often included. Knowing where your milk comes from can bring peace of mind and benefit the cows as well.

A few interesting points she focuses on are that half of the milk from dairy cows is consumed as flavored milk (think chocolate milk), with cereal or in a drink (like coffee). That’s a lot of milk just used to sweeten or wet dry foods. And 11 percent of all sugar goes into dairy products. America has a sweet tooth, and in order to promote “adequate calcium intake” we’ve been taught to eat desserts for breakfast and for snacks any time of the day. And you know something’s not quite right when chocolate milk is touted as “the perfect balance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and protein- a combination that can’t be found in any other beverage.” There’s marketing, and then there’s lying. We’ve lost sight of the line between the two. Know your facts and get past the idea that milk is the only thing that will make bones strong.

Dairy itself doesn’t have to be demonized as you can find quality, unsweetened healthful dairy, but the extraneous sugar and additives aren’t helping solve any of the obesity, diabetes, or osteoporosis problems. Making your own cheese and yogurt from quality milk is easier than you might think.

Read her full blog post here: Whitewashed

Gluten Sensitivity- Is it all in your mind?

wheat10aA friend of mine sent me an article link about how gluten sensitivity may not exist. (Link to article) I like that my friends (and anyone else) can send me links that push my boundaries and point out things that are contradictory to what I or other like minded bloggers post about.

I thought I’d share my opinion after reading the article and associated links. This is the email I sent in reply:

“This does seem like pretty good science from what I could read about it, but there will always be limiting factors. Mainly time and money. Time is the constraint here because some different “experts” have shown* that gluten can stay in the system, and have lingering effects for as much as 6 months. So while the 2 week cleanse period is a good idea, having gluten first, second or third in the line up of diets might have made a difference.

I agree the brain plays a huge role, being that if someone eats gluten and does so knowingly, they could feel worse than if they didn’t know of an accidental exposure. As far as everyone doing that, or submitting to a “nocebo” effect of feeling bad because they thought they were going to feel bad is definitely subjective and hard to quantify. Since every person has different “pain tolerance” and idea of “GI disturbance.” I would think the stool samples would’ve helped verify a difference between gluten and non-gluten diets. But when they say there was no measureable difference, they don’t tell us what was measured, or define what a “normal stool” is. If they were comparing stool samples of these subjects to “normal people” (as in the general public) I’d argue most of those people don’t have “normal” stool.  In the end they say “consider this: no underlying cause for gluten intolerance has yet been discovered,” which brings me to the classic argument of “absence of proof isn’t proof of absence.” We may not have the right tests, or our tests may not be sensitive or accurate enough yet.

To play it safe, I’ll keep avoiding gluten because it makes me feel better. If that’s physical from a chemical disruption or damage, or from a brain to body creation, I still feel better, right? It’s a very interesting topic and a lot more research is needed. The easiest way to feel good, is to eat real food, know where your food came from, and to cook it yourself. Thanks for the link.”

A few thoughts came to me after I sent this email too. The study talks about what they limited, ie. gluten, FODMAPS, whey, but they didn’t talk about what they included. Was it organic microwave meals? Was it fresh veggies from the garden? Was it low quality ground beef cooked in hydrogenated oils? And they didn’t really say if the GI issues were alleviated during the 2 week “baseline” diet. So at the start, this looks like a good study, but there are still a lot of questions left unanswered, and the conclusion the media makes from it isn’t very strong. They try and make it seem like the general population that is buying gluten free products is wasteful. And lastly, I wonder where the funding came from to do this study. Is it “big-ag” trying to convince people that wheat/gluten intolerance is “all in their mind?” Probably not. Keep an open mind and eat what makes you feel good.


* – I use the word “shown” because, as evidence by the linked-to article, proof can be subsequently be proved differently.

The Skinny on Fat Loading

Here’s my second article for the Richmond, VA “Miles and Minutes” magazine. My professor and I co-wrote it. You get it here before it’s on the shelves! I’m not completely convinced that fat loading isn’t the way to go for endurance athletes, but this is what the science says at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get some more complete, longer term studies done in the future which will give us more insight. And without further ado…


The Skinny on Fat Loading

Have you noticed a growing number of articles and blog posts about “fat adapted” athletes? There’s one about Tim Olsen, an ultra-marathoner, who won the Western State 100 in 2012. Then there’s Ben Greenfield who finished the 2013 Ironman Triathlon World Championships in just under 10 hrs. More recently the LA Lakers were reported to be on a “Paleo” diet. All these athletes have one thing in common; they abandoned the time-tested method of “carb-loading” and replaced it with “fat-loading.” But before you start dreaming about reaching your ever-elusive PR by replacing your oatmeal and banana breakfast with one of bacon deep fried in butter, you might want to check out what the research actually shows.

Some studies report interesting findings regarding the exercise performance of subjects instructed to eat more fat in their diets. Participants improved their time in a walking test, and some cyclists’ endurance improved slightly in a timed event but these studies are riddled with serious limitations. Lower intensity exercise, like walking, depends less on glycogen stores and more on fat use. Furthermore, as a person adapts to training, fat usage improves, no matter what the diet consists of. In the study with the cyclists, some did do mildly better, while others did worse, but most had no change at all. The timed cycling event also bears little resemblance to real world situations, let alone racing.

Some sources will tell you it takes 2 weeks to become “fat adapted” while others state it could take as long as 3 months. Most of these “sources” seem to be simply repeating anecdotal information they read on a forum or blog. Unfortunately, there are simply no scientific studies that tell us how long it takes to become “fat adapted.” While it’s reasonable to think this diet might work after reading to some of the arguments, upon further evaluation it really isn’t all it’s hyped up to be.

The most pervasive argument compares glycogen vs. fat “fuel tanks.” Consider a 110 lbs. woman with 15% body fat. Roughly speaking, she has about 16.5 pounds of fat. Those 16.5 lbs. translate into almost 30,000 calories, or enough fuel for her to run almost 300 miles! On the other hand this same woman only has about 2,000 calories of stored carbohydrate i.e. glycogen, barely enough to make it through a 20 mile run. Armed with these facts, if you’re a long distance runner, it seems logical to tap into the larger fat fuel tank. Studies do show higher fat burning after eating a high-fat (65-70% of energy) diet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate into performance improvements. While the body begins to metabolize fat more efficiently, it loses the ability to use glycogen at a time when carbohydrate requirements are essential.

Generally speaking, endurance or ultra-endurance sports are regarded as a “slow burn” exercise; a sub-maximal aerobic exertion that doesn’t need to use glucose, justifying the researchers observations in the lab tests. However, the strategic activities that occur during races: the breakaway, the push through an uphill section, or the sprint to the finish, are high intensity exertions that require glucose. The evidence shows that this sprint ability in real world situations is actually hindered by “fat adaptation.”

So what if we combine fat and carb loading to get the best bang for our buck; a full tank of fat for the long open road, and glucose for the turbo when you need it? Studies have tested getting athletes to become “fat adapted” and subsequently carb load in hopes to achieve this hybrid performance boost.  But despite 5-6 days of increased fat consumption and then a day of carb loading, no clear performance benefits were observed.

The idea of fat adaptation is still being pursued; some say the studies were too short in duration and the subjects didn’t have enough time to fully “fat-adapt.” Until long-term studies are done, we won’t know for know for sure if athletes like Ben Greenfield and Tim Olsen are anomalies or if there’s any actual benefit. While we know there is some additional fat burning when someone eats more fat and low-carb, this is just because our bodies are smart enough to use available fuels, but it doesn’t mean it’s a better fuel for performance. Glucose is still the “hotter burning” fuel, so for a quick burst, like sprinting, running up a running up a hill, or passing in a race, carbs are the body’s preferred fuel. Furthermore when you’re coasting through miles 12-18 at marathon pace, fat is burned more efficiently when carbohydrate is also available. Consequently when we burn more fat, we don’t necessarily run faster and we actually lose the ability to shift into overdrive. If you’re gunning for that PR, train harder, enjoy your food and stick with what we know works for sure; a mixed fuel diet that’s high in carbohydrate.

Paleo “Twinkies” Cause Cavities

Did you hear the NPR story about Paleo cavities yesterday? The take away is at the end: “There’s not one kind of paleo diet,” Humphrey says. “I think wherever people lived, they had to make best of the wild food resources available to them….”

To say that the “paleo diet” isn’t as healthy as people are making it out to be, because one small group in a particular area ate acorns, is shortsighted and unfortunate. There are many good things about the “paleo diet”. Mainly, eating less sugar and more unprocessed, straight from the ground kinds of food. They liken the acorn to the “Paleo twinkie.” It’s well known twinkies aren’t good for you, but twinkies are better than starving. That’s probably what these cave dwellers had to eat, so they ate it.
Scientists have found other ancient skulls with healthy teeth, so it’s obvious that diet effects dental health. That was true in the past, and still is. Eat less sugar, get less cavities. Paleo or otherwise.

Eat the Yolks

eggyolkExactly. Nature made it with a yolk. Eat the yolk. Why would you take out the part with the most nutrition? To save on some calories, yes, I know. And to take out the ‘evil’ cholesterol. Yes, I know. That’s what we’ve all been taught. Avoid calories and cholesterol. But it’s an egg. It’s meant to be eaten whole. Scrambled, fried or boiled. You need cholesterol and fat to keep your hormones in balance. So don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater by trying to cut calories.

Short and Sweet. 3 in 1.

baconThis is a short and sweet summary of the last 3 posts I’ve put on my Facebook page in case you missed them. They are are about how our current stance on saturated fat and carbs is wrong and we need to change(1).

The oils that have been lauded as “heart healthy” are not what they claim to be(2), and the “healthy whole wheat(3)” is anything but. Eating low fat and high carb is actually causing more obesity and co-morbidities. Bottom line, eat more real, unprocessed food, and avoid the “heart healthy” boxed snacks and packaged foods.

Cholesterol is vital. Eating cholesterol free and avoiding saturated fats and replacing those lost calories with low-calorie packaged carbs only reduces the “good” cholesterol and increases your risk of heart disease.(4)

The War on Saturated Fat

The BMJ knows what’s up! “Saturated fat is not the widow-maker it’s been made out to be, …The more likely culprits are empty carbs and added sugar.” Yes, it’s an opinion piece, by a British cardiologist. “Three-quarters of patients admitt…ed to the hospital with acute myocardial infarction do not have high total cholesterol.”,0,2193813.story#axzz2kXEKu45I


‘Healthy’ vegetable oils

This is a short review of a Canadian study that goes against the “heart healthy” oil mantra. It may also show the lack of connection between cholesterol and overall heart disease mortality.


Sweden Rejects Low-Fat Dogma

Sweden has become the first Western nation to develop national dietary guidelines that reject the popular low-fat diet dogma in favor of  low-carb high-fat nutrition advice.

I was assigned to do a “media project” for school, so I wrote a blog post. I figured I’d use it for the project and figured I’d use it here too, to help people understand some of the nitty gritty of hangry. I’ll post soon about what do do about it. How to prevent it, or at least lessen the symptoms.



Do you get “hangry”? Some describe this as the feeling of “low blood sugar”, “grumpy hungry” or just plain irritable. You know that time of day when it’s just been too long since you last ate.  Huffington Post has an article describing the symptoms and the emotional component added when you get hungry. You’re brain and gut are intricately related and when one needs something, it talks to the other and vice versa. And they usually need the same things, so it works out perfectly.

The avoidance of “hangry” is the biggest argument to eating 5 small meals a day. This comes with the benefits of keeping your insulin levels stable, improving insulin sensitivity and helping prevent diabetes. You avoid the cravings and are less likely to lose your will power.  You may remember my previous post called 2 meals and your pancreas where I talked a little about why a few studies showed eating 2 meals might be better for your pancreas as well as weight loss, but if you are trying to avoid the “hangry.” 5-6 small meals is the way to go.

Your liver is supposed to release stored energy when you haven’t eaten in a while to prevent your cells from going hungry. So why do we get this “hangry” feeling? Food provides much more than just calories made from carbs, protein and fat. There are so many other things we get from food. Vitamins and minerals for sure, but eating (or not eating) also triggers the release of hormones and chemicals in the gut and brain.  You may have heard of ghrelin, which gives you the feeling of hunger, along with leptin, which is released from adipose tissue when the cells don’t need any more energy.

We have a very complex system of back and forth, push and pull, positive and negative feedback loops going on in our body that are constantly in flux, working to keep things in balance. Ghrelin tells your stomach it wants food, and your hypothalamus has a lot of ghrelin receptors, which causes us to become irritable. This irritability increases focus and determination to get food and used to keep us on track and in pursuit of food. It keeps distractions from getting the best of our body’s primary goal.

We’ve only recently (the last ~12,000 years) had a more constant supply of carbohydrates and food in general. Our relatively new position of having food readily available, and having all our other needs like shelter, warmth, medical care and social status essentially satisfied, allows us to more easily listen to our body’s feelings of hunger. We are no longer running from a predator or having to build shelter before a storm. Our modern day distractions, like paying bills, doing homework, and going to work, aren’t exactly life threatening. We have the time and resources to go to the store and buy food, and listen to our wants.

Most people know it’s a bad idea to go to the grocery store hungry. With all the super palatable foods, those oh-so-delicious dopamine and serotonin releasing foods, it’s no wonder why we get annoyed when we don’t have something to eat. We think it’s deprivation, we claim we’re starving, and we get into arguments about nothing. All because our “blood sugar is low.” That ghrelin can get your brain all fired up and focused, on that one ultimate goal of a satisfying meal. Don’t ignore it if you’re about to get into a heated argument with your spouse or boss. Have a snack, and then have a rational conversation, without the ghrelin induced “hangry”.