• 5 Dangers of Sugar No One Talks About

    There’s no doubt that sugar’s sweet and triggers great memories. That’s because sugar is the constant ingredient in many of our beautiful celebrations and functions. Yet, this sweetness disguises many dangers of this substance too. In this article, I am exploring some of the real risks of eating sugar.

    I can vividly recall the moments of my childhood where I would chew on sugar canes with my buddies. Unlike the sugar candies, the sugar canes are full of beneficial stuff. It contains a pretty rich amount of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre.

    And chewing the sugar canes is even good for your teeth.

    Now looking at the benefits of sugar cane, you may think that the sugar that comes from it must also be good for you too, right?

    Sugar Facts

    When sugar canes are highly processed and refined, you get white (or brown) sugar. Through this processing, all the beneficial stuff I mentioned are lost. So the end product of sugar is just plain sugar. There is almost no nutrient attached to it. Here is a quick view of sugar nutrition facts:

    sugar nutrition facts

    Before I delve deeper into this topic, here’s what you need to know about sugar:

    Sugar doesn’t nourish you, nor is it a health food

    • Sugar doesn’t add any nutritional value to your body
    • Sugar doesn’t add any value to your mind
    • Sugar doesn’t make your body stronger, healthier, better or more functional.

    So, what does sugar really do to your body?

    Danger #1: Sugar Can Be Addictive

    In a study on rats, the researchers at Princeton University demonstrated that sugar can be an addictive substance. The lead researcher Professor Bart Hoebel suggests, “rats eating large amounts of sugar when hungry, undergo neurochemical changes in the brain that appear to mimic those produced by substances of abuse, including cocaine, morphine and nicotine.

    In another research compiled by scientists at the University of Bordeaux in France concluded that sugar and sweet rewards cannot only be a substitute for addictive drugs like cocaine but can even be more rewarding and attractive than those drugs!

    I do need to stress the point that these studies have been done on rats in a laboratory setup. More human-based studies are needed to confirm these findings in humans.

    However, Robert Lustig, a world-renowned professor of paediatrics at the University of California argues that sugar is in fact the alcohol of the child”. Based on research he argues that “dietary sugar fries your kid’s liver and brain; just like alcohol.” 

    Furthermore, he elaborates “fructose is metabolised in the liver in exactly the same way as alcohol. And that’s why, when consumed chronically and at a high dose, fructose is similarly toxic and abused, unrelated to its calories or effects on weight. And that’s why our children now get the diseases of alcohol (type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease), without alcohol”.

    If you are a parent, I highly recommend you to read the above-quoted article.

    Danger #2: Sugar Makes You Look Older

    You always have the drive to look younger, regardless of your age, right? Here is bad news for you!

    Consuming sugar make you look older than you really are. The reason for this is a process called ‘glycation’, in which the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs).

    The more sugar you eat, the more harmful AGEs you develop. These AGEs damage surrounding proteins like collagen and elastin, which help to keep your skin firm and elastic. Once damaged, springy and resilient collagen and elastin become dry and brittle, which makes your skin wrinkle and sag.

    According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, these ageing effects (catalysed by AGEs molecules) start when you hit the age of 35 and increase rapidly after that.

    So reduce sugar from your life, if you want to stay and look young!

    Danger #3: Excessive Consumption of Sugar Can Be the Doorway For Diseases

    Sugar is a contributing factor in over 35 million deaths worldwide, every year. These deaths are a result of obesity and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. There is no denying the fact that sugar is one of the worst ingredients added to foods, in the modern history of humankind.

    Excessive consumption of sugar is linked to

    • changes in metabolism,
    • increased blood pressure,
    • liver damage,
    • interference with hormone signalling,
    • high blood sugar levels, caused by health conditions like diabetes, cancer of the pancreas, skin, uterus, urinary tract and breast.

    Scientists at the University of California argue that many of the health effects caused by drinking too much alcohol are, in fact, also caused by eating too much sugar.

    For instance, too much sugar is associated with an increase in the risk of heart disease. One study found that those who got 25 percent or more of their daily calories from sugar had double the risk of having low HDL (good) cholesterol compared to those who consumed less than 5 percent of their calories as sugar.

    Those who ate the most sugar also had the highest triglyceride levels. Now if you wonder, what it means to your health, here is what you need to know: Low HDL and high triglycerides are two of the primary risk factors for heart disease.

    Danger #4: Sugar and Your Hormones

    According to a study in Journal of Clinical Investigation, high intake of fructose and glucose (aka sugar) can even affect the levels of active sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen in your body.

    Now in common language, here is what happens when the levels of these hormones are affected:

    When the testosterone levels decline in men, these are the consequences:

    • infertility
    • reduced desire for sex
    • fewer erections

    When oestrogen levels decline in women, these are the consequences:

    • decreased sex drive
    • vaginal dryness (oestrogen helps the vagina by keeping its walls moist and elastic)

    That’s basically bad news for your reproductive health!

    Danger #5: Sugar Rewires Your Brain

    In an interesting study, researchers from Cardiff University in the UK found that higher rates of sugar consumption as children can lead to higher rates of violence as adults.

    The researchers suggest, “sweet-eating children don’t learn to defer gratification and carry impulsive behaviours into adulthood. They also speculate that big candy eaters are also more likely to eat additive-laden food–which some researchers claim has adverse behavioural effects throughout life.”

    So, the next time you want to add more sugar or have a sugar-laden food, think about how your choices will impact your brain and behaviour. Train yourself to make good choices rather than choices based on whims and fancies!

    Key Message: Reduce Your Sugar Intake

    When it comes to consuming table sugar, you may not consume a large amount of sugar off the spoon. Most of the sugar you consume comes from hidden sources, such as from highly processed food or soft drinks.  So, first focus on reducing your sugar intake from such sources.

    Here is a quick guideline to follow:

    Women: No more than six teaspoons of added sugar (An important note: A can of your favourite soda has more than that)

    Men: No more than nine teaspoons of sugar (An important note: Your favourite chocolate bar has more than that)

    Take control of your life by kicking sugar to the curb!

  • How to Improve Your Health while Eating Rice

    With the increase in popularity of low-carb diets, rice is getting a bad rep. It has been vilified and associated with causing type-2 diabetes. But is rice really bad for your health? In this article, I want to show how you can improve your health while eating rice.

    Rice is a global food. It’s the primary dietary staple for more than half the global population. A whopping 6 out of 10 people in the world eat rice every day!

    And with more than 40’000 (yep, 40k!) rice varieties and its prominence in almost all world cuisines, there’s hardly any other food that can match the variety and the taste of rice.

    Yet, it’s also one of the most vilified foods among low-carb dieters.

    Is this vilification justified? What’s the truth behind the accusation? And can we eat rice and also improve our health?

    Time to uncover the facts.

    Sifting Through Classical Texts: Rice as Medicine

    The Yellow Emperor’s Classic is the oldest medical text in the world. This 3’000 year old book is the fundamental Chinese medical guide.

    This classic text holds that food therapy is key to treating any disease and it prescribes a ten-day rice gruel fast as the first remedy for disease.

    Wait, before you run to the supermarket to buy bags of rice to use it as medicine, you first need to know what type of rice they used as medicine. It wasn’t the low quality, nutrient-poor, low fibre white rice you eat. Rather, the rice they used in medicine was indigenous, whole-grain, and unpolished brown (and red) rice.

    And that’s may be the best place to start our conversation.

    White Rice vs. Brown (or any other colour) Rice

    Now, is all rice created equal? Nope. That’s because the processing of rice plays a major role in defining its healthfulness.

    When the outermost layer, called hull, of a whole grain of rice is removed, you get beneficial brown (or red) rice.

    The white rice you get in the marker is a result of further processing this brown rice. Two of the most important parts of whole grains are removed through processing:

    1. The bran of the grain is removed, where most of the fibre, minerals and vitamin B are found
    2. The germ is removed, where healthy fats and other vitamins and minerals are found

    So the white rice you eat is high in starchy carb, but low in quality, nutrients and fibre.

    Source: Harvard.edu

    But the story doesn’t end with the lack of fibre and nutrients in white rice. When you eat this highly processed white rice, it’s digested and absorbed quickly, causing your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly and to spike your insulin level. And that in return leads to hunger spikes and could put you at risk of weight gain as well.

    So, it’s not surprising why higher intake of white rice is associated with increased type-2 diabetes. In this meta-analysis, researchers found that “higher white rice intake is associated with a significantly elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, especially among Asian populations”.

    And on the other hand, researchers found in an observational study that “replacing white rice and other refined grains with whole grains, including brown rice, would help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

    And this makes sense. In His Ultimate Wisdom, Allah subuhanawuta’la created whole grains with lots of fibre, because fibre does work as an antidote to simple starchy carbs. While starchy carbs increase your insulin level rapidly, it’s the fibre in the whole grain that lessons the insulin response. (As a general rule, too often, too long excess insulin secretion could lead to obesity)

    Apart from fibre, brown rice is rich in nutrients and minerals your body needs. Check this short comparison between these two rice varieties and see why brown rice (or any other whole grain rice) is superior:

    comparison chart, white rice, brown rice

    How to Make Eating Rice Healthy for You

    Now, does it mean, you should abandon white rice for the rest of your life? No, not at all.

    White Rice, with all its variety and taste, isn’t inherently bad for you. It all depends on your health goal (e.g. lose weight and gaining weight), the serving size and your lifestyle.

    • If you are in the process of getting bigger (and building more muscle), white rice can be helpful.
    • On the other hand, if you are trying to lose weight, eating too much of it will hamper your progress of getting lean.
    • So, if most of your calories come solely from white rice, then eating this type of rice is a health problem.
    • And, if you are pre-diabetic or diabetic patient, then white rice isn’t ideal food for you.

    So most foods aren’t good or bad; it all depends on what your goal and lifestyle is.

    Here are some steps, from easiest to most challenging, that you can take to modify your rice intake.

    Step 1: If you are eating white rice every day, choose whole-grain varieties of rice (such as brown, red, black or even wild rice) at least 3-4 times a week

    Step 2: Drink 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in 4 tablespoons of water, 5 minutes before your rice (or any other starchy carb-rich) meal. As mentioned in this article, vinegar helps to lower blood sugar level up to 34%.

    Step 3: Eat white rice in moderation. That’s around ½ to 1 cup (i.e. 250 ml cup) of cooked rice. Again, it all depends on the body size, gender, your health goal and your lifestyle.

    Step 4: Eat your rice (white or whole grain) with protein, some healthy fats and lots of vegetables. This will blunt the blood sugar response much better than if you sat down to a lonely, huge plate of rice.

    Step 5: Eat rice and any other starchy carbs only in the hour or two after intense exercise. Even this small shift in your diet will help you lose some fat and gain some muscle.

    Step 6: Eliminate rice and starchy carbs entirely, especially if you are obese and have a dangerous level of belly fat. Instead, replace rice and starchy carbs with lots of vegetables, and make sure you have a good intake of lean protein and healthy fats.

    If you are already in step 1, work towards step 2 and if you are already practising step 2, work towards step 3. It’s about bringing small lifestyle changes one step at a time.

    Small Steps Lead to Major Changes

    Attempting to overhaul your life all at once will only lead you to throw in the towel and worsen your health. So, start strong by slowly incorporating these steps into your lifestyle.

  • Coffee: Good or Bad?

    Coffee. For some, just the word coffee makes them feel alive. Yet for some others, this drink is their biggest nemesis, as it makes them jittery and even a bit anxious. In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of coffee.

    Coffee is the second most popular beverage in the world after water. It’s also the world’s second most traded commodity trumped only by petroleum. And believe it or not, worldwide, a whopping 400 billion cups of coffee is consumed each year.

    A Short History of Coffee

    The term coffee has Arabic origins. It comes from the Arabic word “qahwa” (which is also what coffee is called in Arabic). Besides this origin, there is substantial evidence that suggests that Muslims in Yemen first drank coffee and introduced it to the rest of world.

    So, just as the countless of other inventions and discoveries made by early Muslims, coffee continues to shape our modern world and has an incredible presence as a drink and stimulant.

    Never-ending Coffee Controversy

    It’s estimated that almost half of the earth’s population drink coffee. While this drink is very popular, there are also loads of controversies surrounding it.

    100s of studies toot its benefits while 100 others raise a red flag! For example, while studies show that coffee is protective against heart diseases, other studies show that drinking coffee increases the risk of getting this disease.

    The Truth Revealed

    As a coffee lover and a moderate consumer of coffee, I felt like there was more to coffee than these studies claimed. So I decided to dig deeper into coffee and what I found next blew my mind.

    That’s because the latest research in nutrigenomics (the study of how genes and nutrients interact) shows that your genes play a vital role in whether coffee will be good or bad for your health.

    A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that certain individuals processed or metabolised caffeine much faster than others. Some of us are “fast metabolizers”, meaning that we process caffeine effectively and it doesn’t cause us health problems. Others are “slow metabolizers”, which means that in excess, caffeine can increase our risk of certain diseases.

    Fast metabolizers, who carry normal CYP1A2 genes, showed no increased risk of heart attacks from caffeinated coffee consumption. However, the opposite was true for slow metabolizers, who carry CYP1A2 gene variations. A study of this latter group found that drinking more coffee increased their risk. Drinking two to three cups daily increased the risk by 36%; drinking more than four cups daily cranked that risk to 65%.

    And this genetic variation doesn’t stop at heart disease. It also explains why some people can guzzle a pot of coffee just before bed and sleep well, while others find difficult to fall asleep at night with the last cup of coffee at lunch!

    Why Your Genes Matter: Fast and Slow Metabolizers

    It’s estimated that around 40 percent of people are fast metabolizers and around 15 percent are slow metabolizers. About 45 percent of the population have both a slow and a fast copy of this gene.

    According to Dr Ahmed El-Sohemy, one of the world’s foremost nutrigenomics researchers, DNA testing is the most reliable way to find out how quickly or slowly you metabolise this drink. There are many online services that provide this service, with 23andme.com being, perhaps, the most popular out there.

    But before you dismiss the likelihood of finding out your metabolism because you don’t want (or can’t afford) a DNA test, here is the next best thing to test how quickly you metabolise your caffeine: listen to your body.

    Yep, if you are a fast metabolizer, you may experience an immediate spike in alertness followed by a quick dip in energy after a cup of coffee. On the other hand, a slow metabolizer may find him or herself jittery after drinking coffee, and they may also crave some sugar an hour or two later.

    Another indicator of your caffeine metabolism is your sleeping pattern. If your evening cup of coffee disrupts your sleep, you most probably have a slow metabolising gene.

    Caffeine Content in Other Food Sources

    As you probably know, caffeine is found in other dietary sources too. The infographic below shows you these sources and their caffeine content:

    If you are slow metabolizer, make sure you don’t exceed more than 300 mg of caffeine a day. And avoid having this stimulant late in the evening.

    The Middle Path and Taking Our Prophet’s Advice

    After digging through countless journals, books and studies, it clearly shows that having a moderate amount of caffeine is the best advice to follow.

    As a Muslim, we know that our salvation in both worlds depends very much on moderation. The Prophet (PBUH) said:

    “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” – Sahih Al-Bukhari

    Though this hadith speaks volumes, the simple take away message is this: moderation in all our affairs is the key to success.

    Moderate Caffeine Intake and Your Health

    Ok, now begs the question, what is a moderate amount in consuming coffee?

    It seems, one (250 ml) to three cups of coffee is fine for most of us. Exceeding more than three cups a day doesn’t seem to be beneficial even for the fast metabolizers.

    On the other hand, drinking a cup per day is not associated with a harmful effect even for slow metabolizers. It all depends on when you drink it.

    In a double-blind placebo-controlled design, a cup of early morning coffee significantly enhanced alertness in subjects.

    In another study, doses of 20-200 mg of caffeine caused subjective reports of increased energy, improved powers of imagination, increased efficiency, and improved self-confidence.

    So, regardless of how quickly you metabolise your caffeine, a cup of coffee may help you to kick start your morning.

    And if you need a shot of energy and alertness before an important event, you may again put the coffee to use to your advantage. Remember, it’s all about moderation and timing!

  • 6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Counting Your Calories

    Counting your calories seems easy and effective, right? Wrong. In this article, I give you 6 reasons why counting calories is bad for your health and weight loss goals. Learn how you can take control of not only what you eat, but your life.

    If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, then chances are you’ve come across the idea of counting calories. Tons of weight loss programmes have an underlining strategy that’s based on counting calories (think of Weight Watchers).

    These diets promote calorie counting because of how weight loss works: when the calories you take in are lower than what you expend, you lose weight. Counting calories, in addition to other methods, is perhaps one of the most prevalent ways to achieve this “negative energy balance.”

    However, many weight loss newbies (or even some advanced weight loss “experts”) assume that counting calories is an exact science. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not.

    Knowing the pitfalls of counting calories and how calorie-counting is detrimental to your mind and body will help you to create a healthy relationship with your food. And yes, you’ll still lose weight while not counting your calories.

    Now, let’s look at some of these pitfalls. You’ll understand why counting calories isn’t a sustainable solution for your weight loss goals.

    #1. Not All the Calories That You’re Having Are Equal

    At Lean & Healthy, we coach Muslims around the world to become lean and healthy for life. We also teach our clients why the quality of a certain food is more important than the quantity. As part of this method, we teach our clients that not all calories are equal.

    When counting calories, people usually don’t take the quality of their food into consideration. They just want to make sure that they don’t exceed their pre-calculated “2000 calories a day.

    But that’s totally dangerous. Just think about it. If you had the choice of eating a 200 calories banana or 200 calories candy bar, which do you think is better for your health? You know the correct answer.

    Though both are equal in calories, the banana has all the beneficial nutrients that your body needs, whereas a candy bar has almost zero nutritional value.

    So, you need to be aware of the fact that not all calories are equal.

    #2. You Look at Life through a Restrictive Lens

    Research is clear about this: counting calories creates a mindset programmed to think only of restrictions.

    It puts your brain into counting mode and, therefore, restricts you to numbers. As soon as your brain perceives deprivation, it’ll start to rebel and want more of what it is being deprived of. So, that’s when you’ll start to notice issues such as binge eating!

    In this case, you achieve exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve. Yep, it’s totally counterproductive.

    #3. You Start to Obsess About Food

    Research shows that people who count calories think more often about food than those who aren’t counting.

    We surely have more things to do than always be thinking about food, agreed?

    Of course, obsessing about food also leads to a bad relationship with your food. You start to demarcate the food that you eat into “good” and “bad” foods. And all of these issues are destructive to your mind and body.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t foods that you should avoid (e.g. candy bars), but eliminating entire food groups or depriving yourself of certain foods is very risky to your health. Variety was created by Allah (SWT) for a reason.

    #4. The Way You’re Calorie Counting Is Largely Inaccurate

    The calorie counts on food labels can differ wildly from the calories you actually extract, which means that counting calories is very inaccurate. What do I mean by this?

    Well, researchers estimate that even meticulously counting your calories can lead your count being up to 25% off. This means, that while you’re trying to maintain a designed 2000 calories diet, you may be eating anywhere between 1500 and 2500 calories. That’s a whopping 500 calories that haven’t been accounted for!

    To give you few examples:

    • A calorie content of a medium-sized apple can be anywhere from 80 – 115 calories
    • A calorie content of a cup of carrot can be anywhere from 40 – 60 calories
    • A calorie content of a serving of steak (around 225g) can be anywhere from 350 – 500 calories

    This is due to the simple reason that foods in nature exhibit variations in composition, size and other factors. These differences show the wide gaps in caloric content.

    #5. How You Prepare Your Food Impacts its Caloric Load

    Let’s say for the argument sake, that you know exactly how many calories this piece of steak has. You used a scale and you know that it’s exactly 225g and has 400 calories.

    You certainly don’t eat the steak raw, right? I assume you most probably barbeque it. This simple way of cooking impacts the calorie load of your steak. Yep, your 400 calorie steak is now 500 calories (its calories has increased by 25%) just because you’ve cooked it. This is before you’ve even added anything else.

    So, here is what you need to know: cooking, blending or even chopping your food generally makes more of the calories available for absorption.

    Which leads to my next point…

    #6. How You Absorb Your Food Matters

    Ok, let’s say you’ve somehow created a super complex excel sheet and found out exactly how many calories your cooked steak has. You think the problem is solved, right? Nope!

    Here’s the problem, up to 10% of what you eat doesn’t get absorbed in your body. And just for the record, carbs are better absorbed than protein.

    So, if you want to figure out how many calories of this steak is absorbed to your body, then you need to know that your body and your digestive process are far too chaotic to accurately churn out neat calorific numbers. Even if two people eat the same steak, cooked the same way, they will not get the same number of calories out of it.

    Depending on what type of bacteria your gut has, you could absorb up to 150 more calories than your own sibling.

    Now, go and calculate that 🙂

    Habits-Based Coaching: The Solution to Your Problem

    I can see you scratching your head. You’re thinking, “but Rushdhi, how do I then lose weight and maintain it for a lifetime?”

    To maintain a life-long lean and healthy body, don’t search for shortcuts such as calorie counting. Focus on building healthy habits. Results don’t come from how much you know, they come from how much you do consistently!

    And if you are wondering how to change your habits, join Lean and Healthy’s Premium Coaching Programme. This Programme will help you:

    • Learn the tried and well-researched methods to losing weight
    • Create and sustain healthy habits, and the most important…
    • Lose weight and stay healthy for life without counting calories!

    Don’t let your life be controlled by weight-loss methods that don’t work. Sign up for our Pre-Sale list and join the countless people who’ve lost weight and seen major transformations in their lives.

  • Turmeric: The Super Spice with Amazing Benefits

    Most of the foods that are beneficial to us are easily available and accessible. And that indeed is a great blessing from Allah subuhanawuta’la! In today’s article, I’m going to discuss one of the super spices— that is, turmeric. This spice is excellent for our health and well-being and I’ll tell you why!

    Enter: Turmeric!

    Turmeric is one of the most widely used spices in South-east Asian cuisine. If you’ve ever had an Indian dish, then you have certainly had at least some traces of turmeric!

    Turmeric has been used in many cultures for 1000s of years. This spice is not only used to cook but also for its healing properties. It’s still widely used in Ayurvedic medicine; on the other hand, traditional medicine is just opening its doors to explore this amazing spice. Scientists are interested in turmeric particularly due to its powerful primary active substance known as curcumin, which is also responsible for turmeric’s vibrant yellow colour.

    The benefits of turmeric and all its powerful compounds such as curcumin are simply too many to list. When I was writing this article, I was originally going to title it “10 Amazing Benefits of Turmeric”, but that would have been a disservice to turmeric because the last time I checked the research articles, I found 10’043 peer-reviewed published article that proves the benefits of turmeric and, specifically, curcumin.

    These studies suggest that turmeric is the most powerful spice on the planet in combating and potentially reversing, many modern diseases known to human.

    Here are a few crucial benefits of this amazing super spice:

    Turmeric Fights Inflammation

    While short-term inflammation in our body has very important benefits including fighting foreign invaders and repairing damages in our body, chronic (long-term) inflammation is very harmful to our body.

    The causes of many modern diseases such as cancer, heart diseases etc. are attributed to the chronic inflammation in our body. That’s why fighting this chronic inflammation is crucial not only in curing these diseases but also in preventing them.

    Turmeric, particularly its active substance curcumin, is extremely well known for its ability to control inflammation in our body. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas shows that curcumin is among the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds in the world. The study also cited that aspirin and ibuprofen are the least effective in fighting inflammation.

    So, turmeric certainly trumps these medications when it comes to anti-inflammation. Compared to these medications, this spice also has almost no side effects.

    Turmeric Is a Powerful Antioxidant

    Just like inflammation, free radicals are also necessary to our well-being. However, excessive amounts of free radicals are detrimental to our health. The oxidative damage caused by free radicals is thought to be one of the mechanisms behind cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart diseases and ageing.

    Antioxidants that are also found in vegetables and fruits protect us from the damages of free radicals. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function.

    Curcumin is known to neutralises those free radicals. Nevertheless, the biggest advantage of curcumin is that it boosts the activity of our body’s own antioxidant enzymes. This, in turn, helps our body to create its own antioxidants!

    Other Health Benefits of Turmeric

    Turmeric as an antioxidant and inflammation-fighting powerhouse provides loads of health benefits. Some research studies point towards the following health benefits:

    • Curcumin in turmeric plays a protective role in cardiovascular diseases. These studies suggest that it may help ward off heart attacks
    • Many studies on animals have shown that curcumin can reduce the growth of cancerous cells. So, based on these studies, curcumin may prevent and, perhaps, treat cancer. However, as for now, the studies are preliminary to make any definitive conclusion
    • Preliminary studies also show that curcumin could help rheumatoid arthritis patients. This substance was shown to be even more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug
    • Curcumin has the ability to boost our brain. Research shows that curcumin can increase the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in our brains. BDNF plays an important role in keeping our brain healthy. It is known to propel the growth of “good for you” new neurones. It also fertilises brain cells to keep them functioning and growing. So, an increased level of BDNF means that your brain is protected from many brain diseases. An increase also means a delay in the decrease in brain function associated with ageing. The more BDNF in your brain, the better it works! (By the way, regular exercise is an incredibly powerful way to increase these BDNF in your brain)

    The truth is, turmeric and, in particular, its active compound curcumin provides 100s of health benefits from delaying diabetes to digestive disorders! And it’s impossible to list them all here.

    What You Need to Know

    In order to benefit from the benefits of turmeric, you will need a certain amount of turmeric per day. But since scientific studies are quite messy at times, it’s not easy to find an amount that can help us to improve most of our health challenges.

    However, if you are looking for a way to optimise your health, along with the usual recommendations of proper nutrition and exercise, then adding a teaspoon or two a day of this super spice will certainly help you towards your goal.

    According to the University of Maryland, 1.5-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder is absolutely fine to consume on a daily basis. After extensive research, I would also say this is a good amount to stick to.

    In general, turmeric is very safe and rarely has side effects. Side effects can occur only when extremely high turmeric doses are taken for very long periods of time.

    How to Include Turmeric In Your Daily Routine

    In order to increase the absorption of curcumin, add a pinch of black pepper whenever you use turmeric. Funnily, grandmas all around the world used to do this without even knowing the scientific wisdom behind it 🙂

    Here are few ways how I use turmeric daily:

    • I add a teaspoon of turmeric to my morning omelette. Turmeric reduces the oxidation of oil while heating, thereby making the process of cooking with oil a bit healthier!
    • I use it in curries
    • At times, I add a little turmeric to cook rice or lentils.
    • I make turmeric tea, either with turmeric powder or turmeric root.
      • Here’s how to make turmeric tea using the root: Add ¼ teaspoon of pepper to 1 teaspoon of freshly grated turmeric root. Pour boiling water and let it steep with the lid on for 5 minutes. You can serve it with honey (important point: I don’t use honey)
      • Here’s how to make turmeric tea using powder: Add ¼ teaspoon of pepper to 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder to boiling water. Let it simmer it for 5-10 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

    Enjoy this super spice while improving your health, bi’idnillah!

  • 2 Surprising Health Benefits of Vinegar!

    Vinegar is perhaps the oldest health tonic known to mankind. It has been used for home remedies, household and cooking purposes all around the world for thousands of years! Though it has a wide range of uses, in today’s article I would like to share two distinctive uses of vinegar based on recent researches.

    Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to enjoy vinegar a lot. He used to dip his food in it and say, “what an excellent condiment is vinegar” – Reported in Muslim and Abu Dawood.

    And it really is an excellent condiment. In the last two decades, scientists have been making headway in understanding the excellent health properties of vinegar.

    Though most researches, to date, have been done on rats, more human-based researches are emerging from various parts of the globe too.

    Here are two important findings to help you become lean and healthy:

    Health Benefit # 1: Vinegar Lowers Your Blood Sugar Level

    Elevated blood sugar level is believed to be a major cause of ageing and various chronic diseases. Elevated blood sugar level, too often, over a long period of time leads to fat gain, obesity and insulin resistance, which is the preliminary stage of type 2 diabetes.

    So, a stable blood sugar level is essential for anyone who is looking to live a healthy life.

    In recent researches, vinegar has been shown to have numerous benefits for insulin function and blood sugar levels.

    In a 2004 study, researchers found that intake of 20ml (1.5 tablespoon) of apple cider vinegar (diluted in a 40ml water) before a carb-rich meal, helped to lower blood sugar level up to 34%!

    Another study from Arizona State University indicates that vinegar intake (at least 10 ml) before each meal significantly lowers blood sugar responses even in healthy adults.

    So based on these and many other studies, it’s safe to say that adding apple cider vinegar to your diet can improve your insulin sensitivity and reduce your blood sugar level

    Health Benefit # 2: Vinegar Helps You Lose Weight

    If you want to lose weight and achieve a beautiful body composition, you need to manage your blood sugar level.

    Insulin causes the body to store up your excess energy as body fat. So, lowering your blood sugar level means that you are helping your body to shed that stored body fat.

    Many studies on humans indicate that vinegar increases satiety level and therefore helps you to eat fewer calories.

    Research demonstrates that vinegar intake along with a carb-rich meal can increase feelings of fullness and make people eat roughly 250 fewer calories for the rest of the day.

    In another study conducted on obese Japanese participants over a 12-week period showed that vinegar can significantly lower your body weight, BMI, belly fat, blood triglycerides and waist circumference.

    And all these benefits are derived from just 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of vinegar a day for 12 weeks.

    However, it’s important to note that vinegar isn’t a magic elixir, nor can it provide an easy fix to your blood sugar level or your weight. Along with a healthy diet and well-planned exercise regimen, vinegar can be a helping hand in improving some aspects of your health.

    Dosage and How to Use It

    From the studies I’ve researched, it seems to be safe to have 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar a day and it’s better not to exceed more than 2 tablespoons on a regular basis.

    As the saying goes, “too much of anything is good for nothing”. So just don’t overdo it.

    Here are two easy ways to consume vinegar:

    1. Add vinegar to your salad dressings
    2. Mix 1-2 teaspoons of vinegar in a glass of water and drink before your meals (2-3 times a day)

    I hope this article will entice you to use vinegar more often in your life to reap the benefits of this simple and inexpensive condiment.

     

  • Confused About Nutrition? 3 Simple Strategies to Level Up

    Nutrition is made to look like it’s very complicated by food industries. That’s because this helps them sell their products to their consumers. But eating the right food isn’t rocket science! If you’re confused about nutrition, here are 3 simple tips!

    By now, you probably know my story. Throughout my life, I was struggling to lose weight. For years, I’d been following various diets. I was also eating different types of foods at different stages. My relationship with food was really bizarre. I just ate to lose weight; consequently, I categorised food into “good food” and “bad food.”

    Alhamdulillah, luckily things changed when I started studying nutrition. Instead of compartmentalising food, I started enjoying them as part of a healthy lifestyle. Instead of eating to lose weight, like I did in the past, I now eat to nourish my body. In short, I’ve completely changed my relationship with food.

    For many people, nutrition is synonymous with dieting. And that’s definitely a problem. Our perception of nutrition is also shaped by the content we read online and by the different opinions nutritionists, inevitably, have.

    So, here are 3 simple tips for you to hold on.

    #1. Eat Whole Foods

    What do I mean by whole foods? Whole foods are real and unprocessed. They don’t have any fancy packaging. They also don’t have health claims on the cover or any ingredient list. Do you see any ingredient list or health claims when you buy vegetables, fruits, grains or meat?

    Whole foods are foods that are closest to their natural state. They’ve only minimally refined to make them more consumable.

    The fewer steps a product has to take from farm to fork, the more of the “good stuff” it contains. Whole foods are full of all the “good-for-you” substances. And these substances are critical for you to function optimally.

    So, next time when you go shopping, buy foods that are free from fancy packaging and ones that don’t contain a long ingredient list. The simple rule is, if your grandma can identify the food you eat without checking the ingredient list, then you’re most likely eating whole foods.

    Want to know the “magical powers” of whole foods? Check this out!

    #2. Eat Seasonal Produce

    Seasonal vegetables, in particular, are a super gift from Allah subuhanawuta’la.  These type of produce help protect us against many diseases that tend to spread during particular seasons. They also are helpful to our body in getting a heavenly mix of nutrients and plant chemicals that we need during the different seasons. Like in the winter, you need much more nutrients so that your immune system will be strong and ready to fight if needs be.

    In the winter, we’re also more likely to come down with the flu, so vitamins like A and C helps to strengthen our immune systems. And most vegetables that blossom in winter are full of such vital vitamins. For example, Brussel sprouts don’t have a good rep, but it being a winter vegetable means that it has twice as much vitamin C as an orange. Or a serving of kale gives you double the recommended amount of vitamins A and C.

    Whenever you can, snap up more seasonal vegetables than not. And remember, that Allah subuhanawuta’la knows exactly what is best for us and that is why He has given us many things that we need, in the right place and definitely at the right time. There’s no doubt about it!

    So, no matter where you live, buy seasonal produce. HINT: Farmer’s markets are a great place for this!

    #3. Eat Local Produce

    Deep down many of us know that many of the ‘fresh’ vegetables we get from the supermarket are really not that ‘fresh’. Most of the fruits and vegetables are picked and transported before they are even ripe. Unfortunately, this does a grave injustice to those beautiful fruits and vegetables as this ‘hasty-harvest’ means that they have had less time to cultivate—they haven’t reached the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. They, therefore, have fewer nutrients than they’re supposed to.  And of course, their growth has essentially been inhibited.

    On top of this, they lose more nutrients during their transportation from their farm to your plate, as they are exposed to light, heat, and prolonged transportation time. So, that exotic fruit that comes from 3,000 miles away isn’t really the right food for you.

    Again, there is a reason why Allah subuhanawuta’la has made available certain produce in certain areas. Because He subuhanawuta’la knows best what’s best for us. Hence, something that is super healthy in a cold climate isn’t necessarily healthy in a tropical country.

    Strive to get the best local produce. They are cheaper, better and have more nutrients. HINT: Farmer’s markets are again a great place for this!

    What You Can Do

    • Strive to get whole foods whenever possible. Choose foods that have few and recognisable ingredients.
    • Visit farmer’s market to get the seasonal and locally produced food.
  • Why You Should Stop Dieting and Start Living

    With a global market share of close to $600 billion, the weight loss industry is perhaps one of the fastest growing industries in the world.  Unsurprisingly, this industry is crowded; everyone’s trying to get the biggest share by investing in businesses that promise quick solutions. This post discusses how crash diets not only fail to keep their promise but also how they may ruin lives in the long term.

    My weight loss journey

    Years ago, I was overweight and attempting to lose weight. I’d tried almost all sorts of crash diet plans. Did I have success with them? Sure, as long as I was “dieting”, I was able to lose weight. But I always felt cranky, sluggish and had low levels of energy. And on top of that, as soon as I stopped dieting, I gained all the weight back (plus a few extra pounds).

    Now, as a nutrition and exercise coach, I understand the physiological and psychological damages these fad diets could have had on me if I had continued following them. Instead of helping me, these diets were almost ruining my life. Luckily, I’ve chosen a holistic weight loss lifestyle, and that choice has significantly transformed my whole life, Alhamdulillah! Read more about my journey here.

    3 reasons to avoid crash diets

    People often think that they can lose weight by eating less and doing more exercise. It’s not totally wrong, but this line of though is terribly incomplete! And most fad diets capitalise on this half-baked truth and offer cookie-cutter solutions. And who doesn’t love shortcuts? And, let’s be honest, who really thinks of the long-term negative consequences, especially if these consequences seem to be unknown?

    My goal with this blog post is to show you what some of these long-term negative consequences are. I’ll also tell you why these effects are concerning.

    #1. Crash diets often limit the consumption of one or more important macronutrients

    One of the problems with most crash diets is that they usually limit the consumption of a certain macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat). You need these essential macronutrients in large quantities for your body to work efficiently. But cutting down too low, for too long of any of these macronutrients, you seriously damage your body.

    There’s a place and time for all these low-carb, high-carb, low-fat and high-fat diets. The effectiveness of these diets depends on the body type, physical activity and goals of each and every individual. It should also be done in a highly controlled manner for only a short time. As you can see, I’m not trying to demonise all of these diets. I’m just suggesting you that taking a crash diet that worked for one individual, would not necessarily be safe and effective for another person. A diet plan that works wonders for an athlete wouldn’t really serve the purpose of an inactive and out of shape person.

    Without taking these things into consideration, you’ll most probably hinder rather than help your weight loss goals.

    So, for an optimal lifestyle, you need healthy fats, just like you need protein and carbs. And limiting the consumption of any of these important macronutrients for too long can impact your mood, immune system, productivity and even your sleep!

    If you want to live a lean and healthy life forever, you need to strike a balance in all three macronutrients. Not high or low of anything for too long.

    #2. Crash diets disregard the importance of micronutrients

    Another drawback of these diets is that they disregard the importance of micronutrients. Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals) are essential nutrients that you need in smaller amounts (as the term “micro” suggests). Like macronutrients, they are as crucial for your health.

    Deficiency of these micronutrients shakes the foundation of your most important physical, psychological and even emotional activities! For instance, vitamin A deficiency can affect your sight, immune functions and even delay your wound healing. Or iron deficiency, which is the most common nutritional disorder in the world, sucks the energy and productivity out of you and causes anaemia. Anaemia is a common blood disorder and roughly every fourth person in the world is affected.

    Following crash diets means that you are most probably deficient in many of these essential micronutrients. If these deficiencies are prolonged, you are basically digging your own grave!

    Along with a moderate amount of macronutrients, eat lots of vegetables and fruits. They are full of good-for-you micronutrients.

    #3. Crash diets lead to long-term physical, psychological and emotional disorders

    Some of my premium clients are long-term crash dieters. They join my program because they see that behind the veneer of false and hazardous slogans, the weight-loss experienced with crash diets fades away within months after they stop dieting.

    When they join my program, I also notice the different types of disorders my clients are battling with. These are some notable ones:

    • Constant lethargy
    • Irritability
    • Anxiety
    • Binge eating disorders
    • Extreme negative attitude towards their own bodies

    Though most of them recover within 2-3 months after joining my program, there have been instances when I’ve had to refer them to clinical psychologists.

    The reason I’m telling you this is because crash diets can be mentally, emotionally, and physically destructive!

    Looking beyond the gimmicks

    The real solution to long-term weight loss is to quit dieting and to incorporate healthy lifestyle changes, one step at a time. Any other attempts will only harm you more than they assist you in your weight loss goals.

    As long as you are dieting, your diet controls your life. And when you quit dieting, you control your life. So, stop dieting and start living!

    Question: If you’ve tried crash diets, what have you experienced? We would love to hear from you. Send us an email or leave a comment here.

  • Why Carbs Aren’t as Bad as You Think

    In the world of low-carb dieters, carbs are demons! But are carbs as bad as they’re portrayed? This blog will differentiate fact from fiction.

    As a nutrition coach, I’ve heard this statement at least a hundred times: “If you want to lose weight, cut back on carbs.”

    We all want short-cuts to achieving the body we’ve always wanted, even if the suggestions we get are, in reality, simplistic sound bites. Though these statements sound cool, they are totally out of touch with the biological complexity of our incredibly complicated bodies!

    So, are and can carbohydrates really be good for us? Or should we completely avoid them, if we want to lose weight? Let’s dig deeper!

    Why you need carbs

    You’ve probably heard of macronutrients. We call them “macro” because we need them in larger quantities. Carbs, just like fat and protein, belong to the three of the macronutrients we need to consume daily.

    The fact is, without an adequate amount of macronutrients, we cease to exist. So we need carbs, protein, and fat to survive.

    Most of us need some amount of carbohydrates to function at our best over the long term. Though temporary carb restriction can help us to lose weight, the long-term carb restriction has catastrophic consequences on our bodies and minds.

    So, if you’re active and if you exercise regularly, your low-carb diet can:

    • Weaken your immune system. This leads you to become sick often.
    • Decreases your thyroid output. The reduction of your thyroid hormones causes havoc on your blood glucose level and affects your metabolism negatively. This entire process makes it difficult to regulate your weight!
    • Causes mood swings
    • Impairs your cognitive function. This means you’ll have difficulty to learn, remember, pay attention or even to solve a simple problem.

    Overall, long-term carb deprivation can make you sick, lousy, sluggish and totally stressed out! Not so ideal, right?

    And apart from these things, there are many more body functions that are affected due to a low-carb diet.

    Carb requirements

    “Wow, I didn’t know that carbs are so important; does that mean that I should gorge on carbs now?”

    Nope, carb requirements depend on the gender, age, physical activity, your goal (whether or not you want to lose or gain weight) and even, to a certain extent, your genetics! Yep, some can tolerate carbs better than others.

    When it comes to carbs, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It all boils down to the criteria mentioned earlier. However, if you have a desk job or work in an office, then you probably don’t need as many carbs at every meal.

    Are all carbs equal?

    Wait, before you run to grab a bagel or some chips, know that not all carbs are equal. The wrong type of carb can harm you more than it helps you. Be extra careful when you select carbs because there are two kinds: simple and complex carbs.

    Simple carbs

    Simple carbs are simple in their molecular structure and can be digested and absorbed pretty quickly. You can find them in most processed foods like sugary drinks, white flour, white rice and sugar. This type is great when you need an instant energy boost like during iftar or after a long run!

    But they’re not so great when you eat them regularly. Regular intake of simple carbs causes big spikes in your blood sugar level. When your blood sugar level is high, more insulin is secreted to absorb the blood sugars to save it as fat storage.

    When this happens too often, it isn’t ideal to become lean and healthy!

    Complex carbs

    Complex carbs, on the other hand, are complex in their molecular structure and take much more time to digest and absorb. Therefore, they can provide you with energy for a longer time without increasing your insulin spike.

    They are found in most whole foods, vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Since they are also full of great nutrients, your body needs, make sure you include them at every meal.

    Low-carb diets and weight loss

    “But Rushdhi, I know many people who lost weight by following really low-carb diets”.

    Yes, it’s true, you can lose weight quickly through low-carb diets; however, not eating enough carbs based on your body’s requirements and persisting in following this diet for a long time has many consequences as discussed above.

    The truth is eating an appropriate amount of complex carbs can not only help you become lean and healthy, but it can also help you feel and perform your best!

    What you can do

    As a first step towards a healthy life, replace your simple carbs with good-for-you complex carbs. This single step alone will perhaps protect you from many modern diseases, bi’idnillah!

    As a rule of thumb, stick to a ½ cup of carbs a meal. But again, it all depends on many factors, and this cannot be generalised for everyone.

    Questions: If you have carbs, are you consuming the right type and for the right reasons? Are you aware of your carb requirements?