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Should I Cut Out Alcohol to Get Rid of Fat?

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First, I’ll toast you to a good question here. (I’m drinking green tea right now, but feel free to have a sip of whatever you wish.) When people ask “does alcohol make you fat,” or “should I stop drinking to lose weight,” the answer is complex, but can be summed up with:

  • No, you don’t have to ditch alcohol to lose fat…
  • BUT, if you do cut out drinking, it might help.

Alcohol And Weight Loss: It’s Complicated

Let’s start with the first point here. From a metabolic perspective, alcohol and your body have a weird relationship. There’s actually been a lot of research into it over the years because it’s so surprising.

Numerous studies, both observational and in controlled settings, have shown that people can consume light to moderate amounts of alcohol and not necessarily gain weight. (Moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men.)

An infographic showing what one standard alcoholic drink looks like

Part of this may be due to alcohol’s unique effect on the body. Your body can’t store alcohol and the 7 calories per gram it delivers. (Yup, it does have calories — more per gram than carbs and protein, but less than fat.) So instead the body fast-tracks that booze through your system.

Additionally, a high percentage of calories from alcohol get burned up by your metabolism through a process called the thermic effect of food (TEF). The thermic effect of alcohol is about 22.5%, which puts it on par with protein (which has a TEF of 25-30%) and well ahead of carbs (6-8%) and fat (2-3%).

All of which is to say: Alcohol on it’s own won’t necessarily make or break your weight loss goals.

“If you enjoy a few drinks during the week, it is still possible to have a highly successful fat loss journey,” says Born Fitness Head Nutrition Coach Natalie Sabin.

Now for the but…

Why Alcohol Might Make You Fat

Just because your body doesn’t store alcohol’s calories, it doesn’t mean you (and your fat cells) get off scot-free.

When your body is processing those calories from all those hoppy IPAs, or just one more glass of wine, they take the place of other calories you could be burning — like the bacon double cheeseburger you had on the way home from the bar. With beer calories taking its place in the metabolic line, the burger’s calories become part of you (and your belly).

In fact, some research would lead you to believe that the problem isn’t necessarily the alcohol itself. It’s what can come along with drinking. You know, like nachos. Or two dozen wings. Or a box of Totino’s Pizza Rolls if it’s 2 a.m. and you’re in college.

“Many folks who drink alcohol also have a tendency to eat more,” Sabin says.

A review published in Physiology & Behavior backs her up on this. It found that, sure enough, drinking before or during a meal tends to increase food intake.

Also, note that even though your body can’t store alcohol, it can (and does) store the calories mixed with it — like the 83g of sugar in a frozen margarita.

So What Should You Do?

1. Examine how much you’re drinking currently. For some this can be very eye-opening on it’s own. You might see that the “beer or two” you have “now and then” is actually “a couple drinks every night, plus about a dozen on the weekend.” Remember, the studies mentioned previously involved light to moderate drinking — i.e. one drink per day for women, two for men. Drinking more than that is conclusively not good. Heavier drinking is associated with weight gain and increased waist circumference, as well as poor health. Excessive alcohol consumption is the third-leading cause of premature death in the U.S. If your drinking exceeds that one to two drinks per day guideline, then yeah, cutting back (or going dry) likely will help you lose fat.

2. Pay attention to what else you do when you drink. If your occasional cocktail with friends is just that — a cocktail — then the caloric load probably isn’t all that significant. But if your drinks seem to come with a late night pizza chaser, you might have an issue on your hands. Here again, cutting out drinks might help your fat loss.

3. Let’s say your drinking (and appetite) is under control, but you still aren’t losing fat. And let’s say your drink-per-day is a must-have. If that’s the case, you could try and offset the calories by trimming elsewhere. For example, a glass of wine is around 120 calories. A typical beer is about 150 calories (although those heavier microbrews that are so popular nowadays can be double that). Cut out 30 to 40g of carbs from somewhere else, and pay attention to any changes. “Remember, to get rid of fat you need to create a calorie deficit,” Sabin says. “That means burn more calories than you are consuming — whether that’s eating OR drinking.”

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How to Use Turmeric (And What Everyone Gets Wrong)

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If you’re not a fan of Indian food, health researchers have been experiencing health breakthroughs that might make you rethink adding curry into your diet.

Turmeric, a mustard-yellow spice from Asia that is a spice often used in yellow curry, is being linked to everything from less inflammation to fighting cancer. And it’s worth your attention.

The spice gets its coloring from a compound called curcumin, which is the real secret behind all of the alleged health benefits of turmeric. The University of Maryland Medical Center found that curcumin can help to improve chronic pain by suppressing inflammatory chemicals in the body, an additional study found that it reduces pain in those with osteoarthritis.

Before you start making curry or bombing turmeric/curcumin shots at your local juice bar, there are a few things you need to know. (You always know a trend is hot when coffee shops are testing it in their fancy drinks and you’ll see “golden milk” products everywhere.)

how to use turmeric

When it comes to turmeric, there’s a bit of a bait-and-switch effect. Just because something is good does not mean that any amount will make you feel better. Curcumin can work, but like any supplement, how you take it — and how much you use — matters most.

The Benefits of Turmeric (And Curcumin)

Research on curcumin is making it harder and harder to deny its benefits. Most supplements are as reliable as my Magic 8-ball. (Everyone under 30 is currently Googling “What is a Magic 8-ball?). Lots of hype, but once tested under the rigors (and typically unbiased nature) of science, the outlook is not so good.

But, that’s where curcumin is breaking the mold.

There’s already substantial research showing curcumin can help with everything from inflammation, to fighting pain (as effective as 2000 mg of acetaminophen), and might be effective at helping prevent diseases like prostate cancer. 

A team of Chinese researchers performed a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials to assess curcumin’s effect on blood lipids of people at risk for cardiovascular disease and found that curcumin significantly lowered low-density lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides (another thing that most people want less of in their bloodstream). 

How to Use Turmeric (And Curcumin)

The catch with the benefits above? Sprinkling turmeric (as a means of getting curcumin) into your coffee, on your meals, or eating more Indian food is not going to make a big impact. That’s like sprinkling fairy dust on your shoulders and thinking you’ll grow wings and fly (sorry, but it’s true).

The potency of what is tested in the research is not anywhere near what you would add to your favorite dish or latte.

If you want any benefit from curcumin, you’ll need to take a concentrated dose of anywhere from 500 mg (for lowering triglycerides) to 2,000 mg (reducing pain, similar to taking Tylenol), depending on what aspect of your health you’re trying to improve.

And, unless you’re using an entire container of turmeric spice in your meal, you won’t get anywhere near that from food.

Just as important, the absorption of curcumin in turmeric is very poor. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, but it does mean you need to take with specific foods or add additional ingredients to help your body experience all of the benefits.

The “easy button?” Instead of eating or drinking turmeric, take an extract that has exactly what your body needs.

According to examine.com, here’s what you can do to maximize the effectiveness of curcumin:

  • To supplement curcumin with piperine, take 500 mg of the former with 20 mg of the latter, thrice a day (i.e., 1,500 mg of curcumin and 60 mg of piperine per day).
  • To supplement BCM-95®, a patented combination of curcumin and essential oils, take 500 mg twice a day (i.e., 1,000 mg/day).
  • To supplement Meriva®, a patented combination of curcumin and soy lecithin, take 200–500 mg twice a day (i.e., 400–1,000 mg/day).

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Chimichurri Street Tacos: The Perfect Party Food

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Game Day food is best eaten by hand, am I right? And it doesn’t get better (or easier) than these Chimichurri Street Tacos. They’re easy to prepare and will please meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. 

Picture this: beef strips (or tofu!) smothered in a zesty chimichurri sauce, with bright sauteed peppers and onions, all wrapped in a fresh tortilla. Pair these with our high-protein nachos, and you’ve got a big game spread that’s sure to be a touchdown (yes, pun intended). 

The best part? Just set the fillings out and let your guests build their own taco. Party planning is done. 

Chimichurri Street Tacos

Makes 8-12 tacos

You can prepare your beef on the grill then slice it or start with slices and bake it in the oven (shown in this recipe). 

  • 1 lb top sirloin (or cut of your choice), cut into thin slices
  • 4 oz extra firm Tofu, well-drained and diced
  • 4 oz shiitake or portabella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into slices
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into slices
  • 2 cups raw red cabbage, shredded 
  • 12 small corn or flour “street taco” shells
  • Plain non-fat Greek yogurt for topping (optional)

Makes 2-3 cups 

Traditional chimichurri sauces use more oil, however, I scaled back on the oil and replaced it with water. This recipe uses avocado oil in place of traditional olive oil, but olive oil is a fine option. The amount of sauce you get will depend on how much water you add. 

  • 1 packed cup flat parsley
  • 1 shallot, cut into large chunks
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1-2 cloves garlic 
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup avocado oil
  • Water 

How To Make Chimichurri Sauce:

In a food processor or blender, combine parsley, shallot, vinegar, garlic, oregano, cumin, and salt. Pulse until the ingredients are combined. Add avocado oil and pulse until coarsely pureed. While the food processor is running, slowly add a small amount of water.

Stop the blade and check the consistency. If you want it thinner, add more water and run the food processor for another 5-10 seconds. 

Note: Don’t over processes the sauce or it will be too liquidy. Add a little water at a time and run the blade in 5-10 second increments. The texture should be slightly coarse, not silky smooth. 

How To Make The Tacos:

Place beef strips in a bowl. Top with ¼ cup of chimichurri sauce and toss to coat the beef. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

In a separate bowl, add tofu and ¼ cup of chimichurri sauce. Gently toss and coat the tofu. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Reserve the remaining chimichurri for a topping. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Remove the sirloin and tofu from the marinade. Discard used chimichurri. Place the tofu on one side of the baking sheet and the beef on the other side (or use two separate baking sheets). 

Bake until the beef is cooked through. Approximately 10-15 minutes. (Longer if you like your beef well done).

While the tofu and beef are baking, saute the mushrooms, bell pepper, and onion in a pan on medium heat until slightly tender. Note: To reduce calories use water instead of oil to saute your vegetables. 

Once your beef, tofu, and vegetables are cooked it is time to assemble your tacos. On a taco shell, layer up your vegetables, protein of choice, fresh red cabbage, additional chimichurri sauce, and yogurt. 

Enjoy!

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Why Activated Charcoal Has More Health Risk Than Reward

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Remember when getting a lump of coal from Santa meant you were bad? These days, coal — or activated charcoal, to be exact — is offered in health stores, smoothies, and supplements as a “cure-all” cleanser for a variety of health ailments.

While most cleanses or detoxes have no science behind them (primarily because most prey on fear and don’t deliver any real health benefit) activated charcoal is a different nature. There is reason to believe that charcoal could help cleanse your body because of different uses in emergency rooms. 

But, believe it or not, research shows that slipping random amounts of activated charcoal into products might be worse than your run-of-the-mill miracle cleanse. 

Does Activated Charcoal Work?

The rise of activated charcoal as a health cure starts in the medical community. It’s used in emergency rooms — quite effectively, might I add — to help people fight drug overdoses (oftentimes from OTC meds like acetaminophen).

Charcoal helps prevent the spread of toxins from overdosing to try and limit the danger and risk to your body. That’s great for dangerous and scary situations, but supplement manufacturers took it one step further and suggested that charcoal could prevent the spread of all toxins in your body. 

Unfortunately, emergency situations do not directly apply to general use. And there are a few reasons why taking active charcoal won’t help detox your body or rid you of toxins.

When activated charcoal is given in the ER, the standard dose is about 25 to 50 grams. If you look at the most “popular” activated charcoal products on the market, the dose is 250 milligrams. That means you’re receiving — at most — about 100x less the amount you need to “detox.” And, typically, the dose needs to be given as soon as possible. 

The Risks of Activated Charcoal

An article on CNN showed that even if the activated charcoal is doing its job, it can be a very bad thing. 

You see, activated charcoal works by binding to ingredients (like when it binds to acetaminophen) and preventing it from spreading in your body. But, it’s not selective. The charcoal doesn’t know to bind only to the bad. It just knows to bind. That means the charcoal could be stripping your body of the good nutrients it needs.

So products that are loaded with vitamins and minerals and activated charcoal are essentially worthless. That’s because the activated charcoal will bind to those vitamins and minerals and prevent them from being absorbed in your body. 

 

Does Activated Charcoal Whiten Teeth or Reduce Odor?

In addition to being positioned as a detoxifier, activated charcoal has a variety of health and wellness claims. It’s always your choice if you want to experiment and see if something works for you, but here’s an eye-opening look at what research shows about activated charcoal.

According to Consumer Reports, activated charcoal does not whitten teeth or work to remove body odor.

“There are no published studies on charcoal used for whitening, for example; one unpublished experiment presented at a dentistry conference noted that “fine black charcoal powder” could actually become embedded in cracks or small holes in the teeth—doing the opposite of whitening. There are also no studies we found examining whether activated charcoal, particularly taken orally, might work to reduce general odors (either as a breath freshener or deodorant). There have been studies showing that activated charcoal dressings can tamp down foul stenches from skin wounds and ulcers. But if you have an infected wound or ulcer, you should seek treatment or advice from a doctor before trying any form of activated charcoal.”

More importantly, the health risks are fairly significant.

  • Activated charcoal can bind with some medications, including some antidepressants and anti-inflammatory medications, causing them to be less effective. This could have serious health consequences for some people, but it’s not explained on bottles or packaging where activated charcoal is being sold.
  • Activated charcoal will only bind with whatever particles are in your stomach or intestines at the time that you take it. It works by coming into physical contact with your intestinal contents. If you’re trying to use it to detox from the alcohol and kebab you had the night before, it won’t do anything at all because they have been absorbed into your bloodstream already.
  • Activated charcoal slows down your bowel and is known to cause nausea and constipation (and black stools).

Bottom line: while most activated charcoal products offer a dose that is probably too low to see results, if you decide to take it, you have more downside than upside, and it’s likely not worth your money (or the hype).

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