Benefits of Magnesium and its sources
Getting the right amount of nutrients into our body is important for healthy functioning. One of the most essential of these nutrients is magnesium because it goes towards many different functions within the body. Therefore without enough magnesium, we can quickly start to feel ill both physically and mentally. Around 80 percent of us have a magnesium deficiency without even realising it – and the problem is that the majority of magnesium is stored in the bones not in the blood, so a deficiency can’t be detected on a normal blood test. The Importance of Magnesium in Our Diet Magnesium isn’t something we think about in terms of our health but scientific research 1 has found that there are almost 3751 magnesium ‘binding sites’ within the body meaning our bodies rely on optimal magnesium levels more than previously thought. Because of this, magnesium is essential for many functions within the body including: blood sugar control, nerve function, the regulation of blood pressure, metabolism, protein synthesis and neurotransmitter release which helps keep strong signals between neurons and other cells in the body. Therefore maintaining an optimal level of magnesium, especially through our diet, is extremely important if we want to stay healthy. Magnesium deficiencies can be caused by a number of factors and lifestyle choices. These include consumption of antibiotics, excess alcohol, excess sugar in the diet, consuming less than the recommended amount of daily fruit and vegetable servings and any digestion problems where nutrients from foods aren’t absorbed properly. But if you feel none of these apply to you, then your diet could just be lacking in enough magnesium. There are many foods you can include that will help up your magnesium levels and make a noticeable difference to your health. 1. Avocados Avocados are easy to incorporate into your diet and packed full of magnesium. Although high in fat, they contain monounsaturated fats which help lower bad cholesterol. 1 average avocado: 58 mg of magnesium 2. Bananas As well as potassium, bananas are another great source of magnesium. Getting a banana in to your daily breakfast, snack or post-exercise fuel will add to your magnesium levels. 1 medium banana (118g): 32mg magnesium 3. Mackerel Mackerel is an oily fish containing essential omega-3 fatty acids along with protein and B vitamins. It’s also pretty high in magnesium so buying well-sourced, fresh fillets will help your health in a number of ways. 1 (85g) fillet: 82mg magnesium 4. Dark Leafy Greens Dark leafy greens such as swiss chard and kale give a good daily dose of magnesium. However, spinach is especially good because it contains a plethora of vitamins and minerals including vitamin K, folate, vitamin E, C, B6, iron, protein and calcium. 180g cooked spinach: 157mg magnesium 5. Nuts and Seeds Snacking on nuts and seeds is probably the best way to get your full magnesium intake but be aware that more than a handful a day is not recommended due to their high fat content. Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of magnesium but nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts, cashews and pine nuts all contain high levels of magnesium. Pumpkin seeds (28g): 150mg magnesium 6. Whole Grains Whole grains are best known for their fibre content but they also contain essential minerals including iron, selenium and, of course, magnesium. Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat are all good sources of whole grains and contain a good amount of magnesium. 195g cooked brown rice: 86mg magnesium 7. Dark Chocolate This will make any chocolate lover happy – dark chocolate is a pretty good source of magnesium but remember to eat it in moderation! 1 square of dark chocolate (29g): 95mg magnesium 8. Yoghurt Plain non-fat yoghurt (i.e. not the flavoured yoghurts that are high in sugar) can be an addition to your daily diet in order to get a bit more magnesium. Adding slices of banana and grated dark chocolate can make a great breakfast or dessert. 245g yoghurt: 47mg magnesium 9. Dried Fruit Dried fruit, especially figs, can contain good amounts of magnesium. Like nuts or seeds you can snack on these during the day. Dried prunes, apricots, dates and raisins are also good. 75g of dried figs: 51mg magnesium 10. Beans and Lentils Beans and lentils are a good all-round source of vitamins and minerals. On average they contain high amounts of dietary fibre, iron, protein, vitamin B1, zinc and potassium. Soy beans (or edamame beans) are particularly high in magnesium and a great addition to your daily veg intake or a snack. 172g (cooked) soy beans: 148mg magnesium
Why do Muscle Cramps happen?
Muscle cramps can cause a lot of issues for sufferers. They can be very debilitating and in some cases can even pose a hazard. For example, you may be driving when these cramps strike, and if they affect your leg muscles your driving will naturally be affected. They can strike at night, which can cause issues with sleeping. They could even strike at work, which could pose another hazard depending on the type of work you do. Muscle Cramps = Uncontrolled Contraction of Muscles We need to learn how to tackle issues such as muscle cramps ourselves. To do this, it is important to have a better understanding of why muscle cramps occur and what might be causing them. In a nutshell, muscle cramps are caused by the involuntary contraction of muscles. They usually affect the calf muscles but they can strike elsewhere too. You may have heard these cramps referred to as ‘charley horses’. You will know when you experience a muscle cramp, as the muscles in the affected area become very tight, hard, and painful. You will actually be able to feel the spasms and the speed with which these cramps can strike can come as quite a shock. If you are a keen exerciser, you should bear in mind that cramps can occur many hours after exercising. Muscle Cramps Are Caused by Multiple Reasons There are a number of possible causes of muscle cramps, and it is important to familiarize yourself with these if you want to know how to prevent cramps. So, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you may be experiencing cramps: Lack of circulation in the legs Exercising calf muscles too hard Failing to stretch and warm up before exercising Being too active when temperatures are high Being dehydrated Muscle fatigue A deficiency of magnesium, potassium, or both An underlying cause such as a spinal issue or nerve problem A side effect of taking certain medications Interestingly, muscle cramps are very common but they are most common at night when you are sleeping. According to reports, 75 percent of muscle cramps are experienced at night. By familiarizing yourself with the possible causes, you can take certain steps to prevent muscle cramps. This could include drinking more water, warming up before exercises, and putting less strain on the muscles. When Muscle Cramps Strike, These Easy Exercises Help One of the things you will be keen to learn if you suffer from muscle cramps is how to treat them. Of course, prevention is the best medicine, and this is something we will look at. However, if you are suffering from muscle cramps the first thing you need to know is what action you can take to treat them and alleviate the pain. Below are some of the key solutions for treating muscle cramps: Do some stretching When you get muscle cramps, your muscle goes into involuntary spasms. This causes a lot of tightening, discomfort, and strain. When these cramps strike, you can try stretching the area. Simply drop and stretch the affected area to try and alleviate the cramps. Better still, if there is someone there with you it is worth getting the area massaged. This can help to quickly alleviate the spasms and discomfort. Try to relax It is natural when muscle spasms strike to try and push through the pain. However, this can often make the problem worse. Instead, try to relax and let the pain ease away. Simply take a break and wait for the spasm to pass rather than to risk making it worse by battling with it. Speak to your pharmacy You may find that anti-inflammatory treatments can help to tackle muscle spasms 2 . It is therefore worth taking a quick trip to the pharmacy to see if they can recommend anything. Some of the treatments available over the counter at pharmacies can help to ease the soreness that stems from muscle cramps. These are some of the simple but effective ways in which you can quickly treat muscle cramps and alleviate some of the symptoms.
3 steps to better asthmatic control
Effective asthma treatment requires routinely tracking symptoms and measuring how well your lungs are working. Taking an active role in managing your asthma treatment will help you maintain better long-term asthma control, prevent asthma attacks and avoid long-term problems. Create a written asthma action plan with your doctor. This written plan will serve as an asthma treatment guide tailored to your specific needs. It will help you follow these three important steps and keep a good record of your asthma treatment: 1. Track your symptoms Write down your symptoms in an asthma diary each day. Recording symptoms can help you recognize when you need to make treatment adjustments according to your asthma action plan. Use your asthma diary to record: Shortness of breath or whistling sounds when you exhale (wheezing). Disturbed sleep caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing. Chest tightness or pain. Quick-relief (rescue) inhaler use — record when you need to use your quick-relief inhaler, such as albuterol (Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA), and write down how many puffs you take. Disruptions to work, school, exercise or other day-to-day activities caused by asthma symptoms. Asthma symptoms during exercise. Changes in color of phlegm you cough up. Hay fever symptoms such as sneezing and runny nose. Anything that seems to trigger asthma flare-ups. 2. Record how well your lungs are working Your doctor may have you periodically record results of breathing tests (lung function tests). If your lungs aren't working as well as they should be, your asthma may not be under control. There are two main lung function tests: Peak flow. This test is done at home with a simple hand-held device called a peak flow meter. A peak expiratory flow measurement indicates how fast you can force air out of your lungs. Peak flow readings are sometimes gauged as a percentage of how your lungs work at their best. This is called your personal best peak flow. Spirometry. Spirometry tests can be done at your doctor's office with a machine called a spirometer. Some people use a hand-held spirometer to take measurements at home. Spirometry tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and how much air you can exhale in one second after you've taken a deep breath. This measurement is called forced expiratory volume (FEV). Your FEV measurement is compared with the typical FEV for people who don't have asthma. As with your peak flow reading, this comparison is often expressed as a percentage. 3. Adjust treatment according to your asthma action plan When your lungs aren't working as well as they should be, you may need to adjust your medications according to the plan you made with your doctor ahead of time. Your written asthma action plan will let you know exactly when and how to make adjustments. The chart below can help you determine if you're doing a good job of keeping your asthma under control. A similar system should be included in your asthma action plan. Depending on where your asthma control falls on the chart, you may need to make adjustments to your medications. Levels of asthma control in children older than 12 and adults Well-controlled GREEN ZONEPoorly controlled YELLOW ZONEVery poorly controlled RED ZONE Symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breathTwo days a week or fewerMore than two days a weekDaily and throughout the night Nighttime awakeningsTwo times a month or fewerOne to three times a weekFour times a week or more Effect on daily activitiesNoneSome limitsExtremely limiting Quick-relief inhaler use to control symptomsTwo days a week or fewerMore than two days a weekSeveral times a day Lung test readingsMore than 80% of your predicted personal best60 to 80% of your predicted personal bestLess than 60% of your predicted personal best There are two main types of medications used to treat asthma: Long-term control medications such as inhaled corticosteroids are the most important medications used to keep asthma under control. These preventive medications treat the airway inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms. Used on a daily basis, these medications can reduce or eliminate asthma flare-ups. Quick-relief inhalers contain a fast-acting medication such as albuterol (Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA). These medications are sometimes called rescue inhalers. They're used as needed to quickly open your airways and make breathing easier. Knowing when to use these medications can help prevent an impending asthma attack. Long-term control medications are the key to keeping your asthma controlled and in the green zone. If you frequently use a quick-relief inhaler to treat symptoms, your asthma isn't under control. See your doctor about making treatment changes. Make sure you know how to use your asthma medications properly. They will only keep your asthma under control if you use them correctly. Work with your doctor Asthma symptoms and severity are always changing. Following your plan will help you avoid asthma attacks and minimize the disruptions caused by asthma symptoms. Meet with your doctor regularly to review your treatment. Take your asthma diary and action plan with you so that you can review them with your doctor and make any needed changes to your treatment plan. Here are some reasons why you might need to adjust your medications: If you're still having bothersome symptoms even though you're following your plan, talk to your doctor about possibly increasing or changing your medications. If your asthma is well-controlled, you may be able to reduce the amount of medication you take. If you have seasonal allergy triggers, your asthma medication may need to be increased at certain times of the year.
Healthy beverages guidelines
Introduction In the beginning there was water—abundant, refreshing, providing everything the body needs to replenish the fluids it loses. Humans relied on it as their only beverage for millions of years. Milk came next, with the advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Then beer and wine and coffee and tea, all drunk for taste and pleasure as much as for the fluids they provide. The newcomers—soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, and the like—offer hydration but with a hefty dose of unnecessary calories that the body may have a hard time regulating. With so many choices, all with different, sometimes unexpected effects on health, it’s easy to be confused about the “best” beverages for health. This prompted a group of nutrition experts from across the U.S. to form the independent Beverage Guidance Panel. These six researchers, including Dr. Walter C. Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, reviewed the evidence on beverages and health and ranked categories of beverages into six levels, based on calories delivered, contribution to intake of energy and essential nutrients, and evidence for positive and negative effects on health. (1) The winner? Water. But that doesn’t mean that water is the only beverage that’s good for your health, or that everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water a day. Beverage Guidelines from the Experts The Beverage Guidance Panel distilled its advice into a six-level pitcher, much as food experts have done with the food pyramid. The group published its recommendations in the March 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Here is a description of each level: Level 1: Water Water provides everything the body needs—pure H2O—to restore fluids lost through metabolism, breathing, sweating, and the removal of waste. It’s the perfect beverage for quenching thirst and rehydrating your system. When it comes from the tap, it costs a fraction of a penny per glass. Water should be the beverage you turn to most of the time. It’s impossible to set a single requirement for how much water the hypothetical average American needs each day. The amount you need depends on how much you eat, what the weather is, and how active you are. So instead of setting an estimated average requirement for water, as it has done for other nutrients, the Institute of Medicine has set an adequate intake of 125 ounces (about 15 cups) for men and 91 ounces for women (about 11 cups). (5) Note that this is not a daily target, but a general guide. In most people, about 80% of this comes from beverages; the rest comes from food. As for the oft-repeated nutrition advice to “drink eight glasses of water every day,” there’s little evidence to support it, but this would be one excellent way to fulfill most of a person’s fluid requirement. Level 2: Tea and Coffee After water, tea and coffee are the two most commonly consumed beverages on the planet. Drunk plain, they are calorie-free beverages brimming with antioxidants, flavonoids, and other biologically active substances that may be good for health. Up to three or four cups of coffee or tea a day appear to be fine. Green tea, especially the strong variety served in Japan, has received attention for its potential role in protecting against heart disease, while coffee may help protect against type 2 diabetes. (2, 3) More research on the health benefits of tea and coffee is needed, but one thing is for certain: The addition of cream, sugar, whipped cream, and flavorings can turn coffee or tea from a healthful beverage into a not-so-healthful one. For example, a 16-ounce Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino with Chocolate Whipped Cream contains 470 calories. Tucked in this beverage (which is actually closer to a dessert) are 12 grams of saturated fat—nearly a day’s worth—and 71 grams of sugar, the equivalent of 17 teaspoons of sugar. (4) Keep in mind that for pregnant women, the jury is still out on whether high coffee or caffeine intakes increase the risk of miscarriage, but it seems prudent to limit caffeinated beverages to one cup per day. (For more information about coffee and chronic disease, see Ask the Expert: Coffee and Health.) Level 3: Low-Fat and Skim Milk and Soy Beverages For children, milk is a key source of calcium and vitamin D. Fortified soy milk is a good alternative source of calcium and vitamin D for those who prefer not to drink’s cow’s milk. Both are also good sources of protein and other essential micronutrients. Low-fat milk, sold as 1% or 1.5% milk, or skim milk, which is virtually fat-free, are the best choices because they contain much less saturated fat than reduced-fat milk or whole milk, which contain 2% and 4% milk fat, respectively. Even low-fat milk is high in calories, and high levels of consumption may increase the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer (see The Nutrition Source article Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health? for more information). So it’s best for adults to limit milk (and all dairy products) to a glass or two a day; less is fine, as long as you get enough calcium from other sources. For growing children, the ideal amount of milk and calcium is less clear, but not pushing beyond two glasses of milk per day appears to provide sufficient nutrition without being excessive. Level 4: Noncalorically Sweetened Beverages So-called diet sodas and other diet drinks are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal®, NutraSweet®, others), saccharin (Sweet’N Low®, Necta Sweet®, others), or sucralose (Splenda®); a new addition to the market are drinks sweetened with stevia, a calorie-free sweetener made from the leaves of a South and Central American shrub. These diet drinks are a better choice than sugar-sweetened soft drinks because they are lower in calories. But the possibility that they may contribute to weight gain suggests that they aren’t an innocuous alternative to water, and should be drunk as the occasional treat rather than as a daily beverage. For those who find it difficult to give up full-calorie soda, these may be useful in making the transition to healthier beverages, like a nicotine patch can do for smokers. Level 5: Caloric Beverages with Some Nutrients This category includes fruit juice, vegetable juice, whole milk, sports drinks, vitamin-enhanced waters, and alcoholic beverages. Each has its pluses and minuses. One-hundred-percent fruit juice has most of the nutrients of the fruit itself, but it usually delivers more energy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than one serving (4 ounces) of 100% fruit juice as part of the daily fruit intake. Fruit smoothies are usually very high in calories, and so aren’t recommended as daily beverages. Vegetable juice is a lower calorie alternative to fruit juice, but may contain a lot of sodium. Whole milk is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but has nearly twice the calories as skim milk. Whole milk is also a significant source of saturated fat, with 4.5 grams per glass. Sports drinks have fewer calories than soft drinks, and offer small amounts of sodium, chloride, and potassium. They aren’t needed by casual athletes or daily walkers. The only people who really need them are endurance athletes who exercise for more than an hour at a stretch and who sweat a lot. Vitamin-enhanced waters, meanwhile, are not necessary for anyone who takes a daily multivitamin, and adding vitamins to a sugary drink does not make it a healthy choice. Alcohol may have benefits for some but may be hazardous for others, and entire books have been written on the subject (see The Nutrition Source article Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefitsfor more information). Level 6: Calorically Sweetened Beverages The Beverage Guidance Panel gave its “least recommended” designation to beverages that are sweetened with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or other high-calorie sweeteners and that have few other nutrients. These include carbonated and noncarbonated soft drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade, and other “ades.” They get the thumbs down as a daily beverage because they provide so many calories and virtually no other nutrients. Routinely drinking these beverages can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Fruit smoothies, many flavored coffee and tea drinks, and some so-called energy drinks also fall into this category. (For a handy guide to the calories and sugar in popular beverages, see How Sweet Is It? on The Nutrition Source.) Putting It All Together: A Sample Beverage Plan Your body would be perfectly content if you drank nothing but water. You would get all the fluid you need, and you would get all of your nutrients from food. But with so many choices available, most people drink a variety of beverages. To give some perspective to choosing beverages, the Beverage Guidance Panel poured its recommendations into a pitcher (see our version above). The exact number of ounces isn’t what’s important—these are given for a typical person taking in 2,200 calories a day. What matters are the proportions. Here’s one way the Panel suggests getting less than 10 percent of daily calories from beverages: At least half of your daily fluid should come from water. For a person who needs 12 cups of fluid a day, that would mean six cups of water. More is fine—up to 100% of your daily beverage needs. About one-third (or about three to four cups) can come from unsweetened coffee or tea. If you flavor your coffee or tea with a lot of sugar, cream, or whole milk, then drinking less would help manage weight. If you take a pass on coffee or tea, choose water instead. Low-fat milk can make up another 20 percent, or about two 8-ounce glasses. Less is fine, just make sure you get your calcium from another source. A small glass (4 ounces) of 100% fruit juice, and no more than 1 to 2 alcoholic drinks for men or no more than 1 for women. Ideally, zero “diet” drinks made with artificial sweeteners, but up to 1 to 2 glasses (8 to 16 ounces) a day (this is adapted from the Beverage Guidance Panel’s original recommendation of up to 32 ounces per day). Ideally, zero drinks sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, but up to a maximum of 8 ounces. *Suggested beverage consumption pattern for a person who requires 2,200 calories per day, providing 10 percent of calories from beverages. The values 50, 28, 16, and 4 fluid ounces are shown for illustrative purposes only; the total should sum to 98 fluid ounces, as shown at the top of the figure. The range listed at each level refers to the Beverage Guidance Panel’s suggested consumption range for each beverage. Caffeine is a limiting factor for coffee and tea consumption; up to 400 mg per day, or approximately 32 fluid ounces of coffee per day (can replace water). Noncalorically sweetened beverages can substitute for tea and coffee with the same limitations regarding caffeine, up to 16 fluid ounces per day (this is adapted from the Beverage Guidance Panel’s original recommendation of up to 32 fluid ounces per day). Adapted with permission from Am. J. Clin. Nutr. (2006; 83:529-542), © American Society for Nutrition.