October 22, 2014

Yoga: Medicine for mind + body

I almost titled this post "There's no place like home," because I was very happy to get nine hours of sleep in my own bed last night (that said, the beds in the Glenn Hotel were quite comfy, and I wish I could have brought the shower in our room home with us). Another thing I missed while I was at FNCE (besides sleep) was yoga, so that was my top priority this morning (after coffee).

I try to do a 30-minute yoga session most mornings of the week, guided by one of my many DVDs (currently in heavy rotation: Rodney Yee's "A.M. Yoga for Your Week"). After a session I attended Monday on the evidence supporting the beneficial psychophysiological mechanisms of yoga and meditation, I found myself itching to resume my stalled meditation practice and step up my current yoga routine.

The speakers were registered dietitian nutritionist and yoga teacher Anu (Sandeep) Kaur, MS, RDN, RYT and Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, of Harvard Medical School. At their core, Kaur said, yoga and meditation help us cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness is quite trendy right now, which can obscure it's true substance.

"If we say that mindfulness is a self-care fad, then we're really undermining its potency," she said.

While there are many forms of yoga, and some only focus on the fitness aspects of the practice, the word "yoga" means "union of mind, body and spirt." More traditional forms of yoga include yogic breathing, which Kaur says can bring you closer to your body and your thoughts.

Dr. Khalsa, author of Your Brain on Yoga, spoke more about the physiological effects of the relaxation response that comes from yoga and meditation practice. He cited a study published last year which found that relaxation response practice enhanced the expression of genes linked to improved cellular function, metabolism, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance. It also reduced the expression of genes linked to chronic inflammation and stress. I don't know about you, but I would like less inflammation, less stress and healthy cells and telomeres!

In addition to reducing stress, Dr. Khalsa said that regular yoga and meditation practice can help reduce anxiety, improve mood and lessen pain. "Human being have a remarkable ability for internal self-regulation."

He also mentioned a 2010 study published in Science magazine ("A Wandering Mind Is An Unhappy Mind") that found that our minds wander frequently, regardless of what we are doing, and that we are less happy when our minds are wandering than when they are not. In a nutshell, our ability to think about things that are not happening at that moment is a cognitive "achievement" that comes at an emotional cost. Ergo, practices like yoga and meditation that help you be mindful and present in the moment may help you be happier.

I'll wrap up this post by sharing one of the presentation slides, which gives an overview of how yoga practices can have profound effects on our physical, mental and emotional health (and you don't have to be a naturally bendy person to practice yoga!):

I should also mention that this talk was moderated by the lovely Annie B. Kay, MS, RD, LDN, RYT, author of the book Every Bite Is Divine . She also has an e-newsletter that I enjoy. You can sign up on her website.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Affiliate program, which means that if you buy one of the items mentioned above after clicking on the embedded links, I may earn a commission. This fact does not influence what books or products I mention on my blog. My opinions and recommendations are always 100 percent my own.

October 21, 2014

FNCE celebrity sighting: Ellie Krieger

One of yesterday's FNCE highlights was getting to meet Ellie Krieger and get a free, signed copy of her new book, Weeknight Wonders, at the California Table Grape Commission booth.

She is as nice in person as she appears on TV. She spoke at FNCE in 2012 and 2013, and is a wonderful speaker. Totally worth standing in line for 45 minutes!

I have lots more to report on from FNCE, but I'll wait until I'm back home and have time to process. I've been going, going, going from pre-dawn until many hours past dusk!

October 20, 2014

On Nutrition: Is a calorie a calorie

Happy Monday! I'm still in the thick of things at the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Atlanta. While I've been away, I had my latest "On Nutrition" column appear in yesterday's Seattle Times, "Don't just count calories - eat the right ones." Check it out if you haven't already.

On a related note, I attended a wicked early (6:15 a.m., which felt like 3:15 a.m.) breakfast seminar, "Making Sense of the Latest News on Dietary Fats," sponsored by the Almond Board of California. One of the speakers was Frank Hu, MD, PhD, of Harvard School of Public Health, who's published, oh, a zillion or so research papers (many of which I've read).

Among other things, he discussed the recent controversy, played out in scientific journals as well as in mainstream media and the blogosphere, about whether saturated fats were now, in fact, "back." 

"We can not look at saturated at in isolation," Hu said. "It's not useful to say saturated fat is good or bad."

What matters most, he said, is what people are eating instead of saturated fat when they try to reduce it, or what they are eating less of if they decide to actually eat more saturated fat. "It's not useful to have people cut back on saturated fat if they are going to fill their plate with refined [high-glycemic index] carbohydrates."

Eating fewer high-saturated fat foods and replacing them with low-glycemic index carbohydrates has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, Hu said, citing specific research studies. Similarly, replacing red meat (rich in saturated fat) with fatty fish like salmon (rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats) or plant food rich in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil also reduces the risk of heart disease.

Hu wrapped up his talk by pointing out that it's important when making decisions about what to eat, it's important to think of the food sources of fat rather than the fat itself: "Fat is not a food, we are not eating isolated fats."

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