Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sugar Addict

Do you ever feel like you just NEED to have that piece of cake or cookie dough ice cream? What if I were to tell you that you may actually be addicted to sugar, just like you can be addicted to drugs, alcohol or other harmful substances? 

Sugar has been claimed to be as addictive as cocaine or other narcotics. As with cocaine, sugar consumption causes a euphoric effect that triggers dopamine, the "pleasure-controlling" chemical. Dopamine is largely responsible for creating a "reward-like" environment where rises in dopamine levels occur with just knowing that you will be consuming something sweet. Like certain drugs, more and more sugar is required to create the desired effect in the brain. But unlike cocaine and other harmful substances, sugar is found in so many different foods, even those we least expect. It's almost impossible to get away from!

Over the past 200 years, one of the biggest changes to our diets has been the amount of sugar we consume. According to the USDA, an average American consumes approximately 150 lbs of sugar and sweeteners per year. But, it's not completely your fault when you crave sweet treats because sugar itself has addictive properties. The more sugar you consume, the more you want.  

So why is this harmful? 

Not only is sugar responsible for our ever-increasing waistlines, but high intake is also surprisingly linked with depression, may increase risk of dementia, and perhaps even Alzheimer's Disease. It has also been attributed to certain cancers like breast and colon cancer.

Large amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates also speed up aging through a process called glycation. In his popular book, The Perricone Prescription, Dr. Perricone points out how sugar causes inflammation, accelerated aging, wrinkles, under-eye circles, brown spots and blemishes. Non-western societies that don't consume as much sugar and refined carbohydrates typically don't have acne the way western populations do. You know your dermatologist who claims that food doesn't affect acne? Well, there is too much evidence to the contrary when it comes to sugar and refined carbs. This is because sugar triggers the male hormones (androgens) that promote the excess production of sebum, which in turn clogs pores and causes pimples. 

Watch out for refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, lactose, brown sugar, molasses, fruit juice concentrates and even sugar in the raw. I would recommend to especially avoid high fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener derived from corn. It is found in an abundance of processed foods from soft drinks to cereals. Although similar to table sugar, high fructose corn syrup actually has unnaturally high levels of fructose (hence the name, I suppose?). Several studies have shown that high fructose corn syrup causes more weight gain than regular sugar, although certain commercials have come out trying to claim that it is no different. They state, "Your body can't tell the difference. Sugar is sugar." Hmm, I don't know about that! Several lawsuits have been filed claiming that this is false advertising and untrue.  

So, what should you do if you have a sweet tooth? 

Health practitioners advise to start with your beverages. Incorporate more low-sugar beverages into your diet and dispose of the soft drinks, even the of the diet variety.  Gradually try adding less and less sugar to your tea and coffee. You will be amazed at how quickly your body adjusts to the taste. I used to put two heaping teaspoons of sugar into my tea and coffee and now put about half a teaspoon in, and find that two teaspoons would not be far too sweet for me.

Unsweetened almond or coconut milk are great alternatives to regular milk, which actually has a lot of sugar in it. If you can't part ways with your milk, the full fat kind might actually be better to consume because the fat content slows down the sugar absorption and is less likely to spike your blood sugar levels. So, the skim milk that you have been consuming all this time in an effort to be healthier might not be doing you any favors. But if you're like me and the thought of drinking whole milk makes you a bit queasy, stick with the nut milks! 

Switch your milk chocolate for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao content, as milk chocolates are loaded with sugar. Dark chocolate might take some getting used to, but after a while, I promise that you will find it actually tastes better than milk chocolate. And this is coming from someone who used to hate dark chocolate! 

What about agave? Popularly touted in health food stores as a low glycemic sweetener, it may not be quite as healthy as clever marketing suggests. Although agave nectar is in fact low glycemic, it has a very high fructose content which isn't good. Arg!!  

What can be used as sweeteners?  
  • Organic stevia. I find it has a bit of an after taste, but it does the job and you only need a little amount.
  • Raw honey 
  • Malitol - a sugar alcohol considered to be natural 
  • Xylitol - low glycemic and natural sugar-like sweetener 
If you want to be overly cautious, I would use the above sweeteners only when you absolutely feel the need to have something sweet. Natural, whole foods are always the best way to go, and try to avoid processed and refined carbohydrates as much as possible. Sugar is quite the seductive demon, but it is definitely possible to overcome your cravings as you slowly rid it out of your diet. As with anything you consume, moderation is the key and learning to spot hidden sugars in your favorite foods will help you make better choices.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Are Your Snacks Healthy?

It's not rocket science that snacking on Snickers bars all day probably isn't the best idea, but there are certain snack foods that we assume are healthy or that are advertised as being nutritious which are actually not that great for you. Sometimes you are just better off eating that Snickers bar. 

Some of these sneaky snack culprits might surprise you. For instance, rice cakes are basically known as a "diet" food but they are basically just full of refined carbohydrates which spike your blood sugar and leave you with no actual nutrients. Not to mention that they taste like flavored cardboard. Granola bars (which I love by the way), are basically just a mix of carbs and sugar with not much fiber. Consider them more like a dessert than a snack food. And while you might think that fat free yogurt with fruit on the bottom sounds like a nutritious combo, some brands pack in as much as 35 grams of sugar per serving. Dried fruit packs in tons of sugar as well, without giving you the satiety that you would get from eating the actual fruit. Seriously, just eat the darn Snickers bar because it has the same amount of sugar in it. 

Find out which additional snacks are best to avoid here

Monday, August 13, 2012

Product Review: Acure Organics Shampoo and Conditioner

Let me start out by saying that I have thick, coarse, naturally curly hair that I constantly harass with hot straightening tools and an array of styling products. Being moody and annoyingly high maintenance, my locks basically turn into a huge rat's nest whenever I use a shampoo or conditioner that they don't agree with. So, of course I have a shower full of expensive shampoos and conditioners designed to keep them happy.

Variety is the spice of life, so yes, I need several different kinds of shampoos based on whatever mood I'm in that day. I told you it's my hair that's high maintenance...

Years ago I had tried out some natural hair products in hopes of being more "clean" and unfortunately was left quite disappointed by their performance, which has kept me from wanting to experiment with any others. However, after reading several glowing reviews about Acure Organics' products and hoping to find a cruelty-free brand that I liked, I decided to try out their hair care line. Specifically I chose the Moroccan Argan Stem Cell + Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner combination for normal to dry/damaged/curly hair. As you know, I have a deep love for Argan Oil, so naturally I was instantly drawn to this. 

The description on the bottle states that it "provides lasting moisture to even the most dry and damaged hair leaving it soft, manageable and ready to rock." Not only does it contain Argan Oil, but its ingredients also include shine and moisture boosting goodies such as CoQ10, Sea Buckthorn Oil (high in Omega 7) and Organic Pumpkin Seed Oil (high in Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids).

The Results? 

I love this shampoo and conditioner! After only one use, it left my hair feeling very soft, shiny and moisturized, without weighing it down or leaving any greasy residue. I could feel the difference immediately in the shower even when it was still wet. The nice thing was that it lathered quite well (many natural shampoos tend not to) and it rinsed off easily. The scent sort of reminded me of an almond cookie, which isn't too strong or perfumy. If you like anything almond, you will probably fall in love. After about a week's use, I'm hooked!  
  • Gluten Free 
  • Color Safe 
  • Vegan
  • Sulfate Free 
  • Paraben Free
  • Phthatate Free
  • Cruelty free 

At an affordable price of $10.99 for 12 oz. at Acure Organics, these products are well worth trying. Depending on your hair type, you may want to experiment with their other shampoo/conditioner combinations as well, including their Lemongrass + Argan Stem Cell Shampoo/Conditioner and Pure Mint & Echinacea Stem Cell Shampoo/Conditioner. They also have an eco-friendly Argan Stem Cell + CoQ10 Dry Shampoo that I hope to try in the future.

From their website:  
"Acure Organics is a family owned and operated company founded on sustainable principles to provide the highest quality fair trade, natural and certified organic personal care products. Our products are created with great care and are a reflection of our values. Each of our products is free from animal testing, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, harmful preservatives and artificial colors. We travel the globe to find the most potent certified organic ingredients that meet our high standards of efficacy and purity. We thank you for sharing in our mission to have a positive impact on the world we live in."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Epiphany: Featuring Tata Harper

I know I've been raving about Tata Harper (beauty guru extraordinaire) a lot recently, and you are probably completely sick of my crazy obsession, but let me assure that it's only because I really admire the work that she's put into her products, and the fact that my skin has never looked better. I promise you that I am in no way affiliated with her or somehow getting paid for any of these posts. I'm just a huge Tata groupie I guess!  

Anyway, Tata Harper was recently featured on an informative and new show called EPIPHANY, where she shares her natural beauty secrets and her personal epiphany which led to her creation of her 100% natural skincare line. She also discusses her attitudes on beauty, the process of greenwashing and all sorts of other interesting educational tidbits. I recommend checking the series out to find out more about outsourcing in the cosmetic industry, government regulations and exciting new discoveries in the world of natural skincare!  

"Be as good as you can be." Tata Harper

EPIPHANY is a series that invites impassioned thought leaders across all disciplines to reveal the innovative, the improbable, and the unexpected of their worlds. For each thought leader profiled, THNKR releases 5 short videos that cumulatively give viewers an intimate, compelling, and thought-provoking glimpse into the host's life story, ideas, and interests, culminating in a Q&A with online followers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Why You Should Eat Kale

We've all heard that certain key foods can help delay the formation of wrinkles, especially green leafy vegetables which are chock full of abundant antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins. Antioxidants work to neutralize unwanted free radicals that damage our skin's structure and collagen production, and help fight against oxidative stress. In essence, they are the wrinkle-fighting, health-boosting machines that we want to arm ourselves with.  

I know what you are thinking. Vegetables are boring. But that might just be because you are stuck in a vegetable rut. Trust me, if I read that cookie dough ice cream was good for your health and skin resilience, I would be fully endorsing it, but unfortunately that is not the case. The good news is that there are so many great vegetables to choose from and a variety of ways to prepare them so that you actually can enjoy their taste. 

One of those vegetable "powerhouses" that you may have heard of before but perhaps never tried, is kale. Kale is a fantastic source of Vitamin A, which we know helps form collagen and keep your skin wrinkle free and firm. Sure you can supplement your diet with prescription topical Vitamin A derivatives, but this won't help keep your skin young in the long run, and once you discontinue their use, your skin will no longer reap the benefits. 

Kale not only contains high levels of Vitamin A, but it is also abundant in Vitamin K, Vitamin C and iron, which help cell growth, liver function, the immune system, bone health and prevention of blood clotting. And if you aren't big into dairy products, kale, boasting more calcium than milk, is the perfect substitute. Low in calories, no fat, high in fiber, and superior in anti-inflammatory benefits, kale is a veggie that you should definitely try and incorporate often into your diet. 

My favorite kale treat are kale chips. You can easily make them yourself or you can find them at health food stores in a variety of flavors. What is your favorite way to eat kale? 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Current Obsession: Tata Harper Skincare

Back in June, you may recall that I wrote a post detailing my love for Tata Harper's Resurfacing Mask and all of its wonderful glowing effects.  Because of my amazing results, I decided to finally splurge and try out some of the other products in her line. And I am so grateful that I did!

Let me just start out saying that I have tried just about every product out under the sun to try and clear my not-so-wonderful skin. You name it, I've used it. And it's not always been pretty. I always start out with high hopes that my skin will somehow miraculously transform itself with each new product, but every time I'm left fairly disappointed. Not to mention frustrated that I just spent lots of money on yet something else that didn't work.

Enter Tata Harper. 

At first I was a little nervous trying out this line for three reasons: (1) It's expensive; (2) it's not specifically formulated for acne; and (3) I was already using a skincare regime prescribed by my dermatologist. But seeing as my skin always responds so well to the facials I get using her products, and the fact that I really like the idea of using skincare with all natural, non-toxic ingredients, I figured I would give it a shot. 

It's been a little over a month now and my skin has never looked so good. Seriously, I have never had such a positive reaction to a skincare line so quickly, but this seemed to genuinely calm and soothe my cranky, irritated skin almost overnight. 
"TATA HARPER Skincare was founded by Tata Harper on the essential idea that women no longer have to sacrifice their health to look and feel beautiful." 
A little background...

Tata Harper does all the scientific research and development on her own and consults with biologists and chemists as to the kind of ingredients to include. Her skincare line contains a large number of plant extracts and essential oils, with no added synthetic chemicals, dyes, preservatives or fragrances. All of her products are 100% natural and manufactured in small batches on her 1,200 acre farm in Vermont.

What I use: 

In the morning, I use the Regenerating Cleanser, Hydrating Floral Essence, Rejuvenating Serum, Rebuilding Moisturizer and Replenishing Nutrient Complex. 

Before bed in the evening, I follow all the same steps but sometimes use the Repairative Moisturizer instead. 

(I am currently using another eye cream so when it runs out, I will purchase the Tata Harper eye cream and test that out as well). 

Regenerating Cleanser: This cleanser is non-foaming and exfoliating, reducing pore size without drying out the skin. The texture is a bit like a lotion with fine granules in it and the smell is wonderfully floral but not overpowering. It contains 11 active natural ingredients and feels very luxurious on the skin.  

To use: I use this cleanser both morning and night, and apply a pea-sized amount to damp skin. I gently rub it in for about 30 seconds and then rinse with warm water. If you are in need of a little extra cleansing, you can combine this with a Clarisonic Brush to get the ultimate glow, but this does a pretty good job of exfoliating on its own. All the other cleansers that I had used in the past would make my face feel tight and dry afterward, but with this one, my skin feels so smooth. Absolutely in love...

Hydrating Floral Essence: This is a light moisturizing toner spray with a heavenly floral scent that I am unequivocally addicted to. It contains natural Hyaluronic Acid to preserve the skin's natural hydration factor as well as high levels of Vitamin C to fight free radicals. The Hydrating Floral Essence improves you skin tone, stimulates circulation, reduces pore size and redness, and improves overall skin radiance. It's addicting, and my only complaint is that I go through it far too fast.

To use: This can be used right after washing your face before applying your other skincare products, throughout the day to refresh your complexion, or even as a makeup setting spray to seal in moisture.  

Rejuvenating Serum: Containing 29 natural active ingredients, this award-winning anti-aging treatment visibly minimizes the signs of aging by reducing the appearance of fine lines wrinkles, while increasing firmness, elasticity and cell durability. This serum boasts several wrinkle-fighting antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins that stimulate collagen production and protect cells from oxidative stress. Although a little on the expensive side (most good serums are...), this really feels amazing on your skin and all you need is a little bit for your entire face so a bottle should last you a long time. It has a pleasant scent which isn't as floral as the cleanser and toner. 

To use: Apply one pump of the serum onto your entire face and neck in the a.m. and p.m. preferably on damp skin. I use this after spraying my face a few times with the Hydrating Floral Essence.   

Rebuilding Moisturizer:  A matte-finish moisturizer that hydrates while restoring balance and minimizing pore size. This is a good moisturizer to use if you have oily/combination skin as it will not leave an oily residue.  This is also great for the hot and humid summer months.  

To use: Apply one pump over face and neck in the morning and evening before bed.   

Repairative Moisturizer: This is an ultra-hydrating moisturizer ideal for dehydrated or drier skin types. This is a little more oily than the Rebuilding Moisturizer so I would prefer to use it in the colder winter months when my skin is in need of extra hydration. I have used this on my acne-prone skin however, and found that it has not broken me out or clogged my pores.  

To use: Apply one pump over face and neck in the morning and evening before bed.   

Replenishing Nutrient Complex: An easily and quickly absorbed roll-on concentrate that acts as a multivitamin for your skin, providing antioxidants, nutrients, fatty acids, vitamins, lipids, amino acids and omegas to aid in slowing down the aging process and brightening and softening the skin. This provides a final layer of environmental protection for your skin and helps you maintain a youthful appearance. 

To use: As your last layer, roll on a thin layer all over face and neck in the a.m. and p.m.  Spread it lightly with you fingers by using light circular motions. 

Visit Tata Harper Skincare for more information, and also receive 15% off your products when clicking here.  This is one skincare line that I think you will truly love and that is good for virtually any skin type. But with anything, especially all-natural products, it's always good to start out slow and test out on your skin to make sure you don't have any allergic reactions to any ingredients.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dr. Perricone Discusses Why A Good Night's Sleep Is Important

In a previous post, I discussed why "beauty sleep" isn't just an expression, and how not getting enough sleep will not only impact your health, but your level of attractiveness as well.

I'm certainly feeling the effect of no sleep this week... 


On his website today, Dr. Perricone goes into some depth about why a good night's sleep is important, describing how your hormones come into play when you snooze. Getting adequate amounts of sleep help you to counter the negative effects of stress-induced hormones like cortisol, and in conjunction, induce positive effects from the release of melatonin, which is good for your immune system and health. Read Dr. Perricone's full article here to find out how more sleep will not only keep you looking radiant and youthful, but will help manage your weight as well. 
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