Friday, October 5, 2012

Happiness and productivity

In his blog post 6 things I do to be constantly happy, Joel Gascoigne, the founder of Buffer, shares six habits he maintains to sustain his happiness and productivity. I want to share some books, articles, and apps related to each point.
  1. Wake up early. While Joel's first point sounds like a focus on when he wakes up, he actually emphasizes getting enough sleep. T.S. Wiley's book Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival discusses the effects on our health of inadequate amounts of sleep and of extending our day with artificial light.

  2. Exercise daily. Set realistic goals to develop a maintainable exercise routine. Joel wisely points out that achieving your exercise goals helps you gain confidence in tackling challenges in other aspects of your life. Routines vary from person to person depending on physical ability and motivation. Figure out what works for you. In The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet, Robb Wolf advocates regular moderate activity for optimal health. Not only are extreme routines difficult to keep up with for a long period of time, but Wolf explains that they often can have adverse effects on your health by throwing off your body's cortisol balance.

  3. Have a habit of disengagement. The New York Times article You’re Bored, but Your Brain Is Tuned In discusses research showing that occasional boredom is an important part of how we learn, solve problems, and develop new ideas. The author describes boredom as the state your brain is in once it has decided there is nothing further to absorb from its current setting. Neuroscientists have used brain-imaging technology to show that the brain is still very active in this bored, or disengaged, state.

  4. Regularly help others. In their journal article Volunteer Work and Well-Being, Peggy Thoits and Lyndi Hewitt discuss the results from their study, which show that volunteer work improves six elements of well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, self- esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression. (Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2001, Vol 42, (June): 115-131.)

  5. Learn new skills. Recent research shows that the human brain is able to reshape itself to process information more quickly and more efficiently and does so when confronted with new challenges. Lumosity, an online brain training program I subscribe to, bases their program on this research. Their games are designed to improve core cognitive skills, such as attention, memory, fluid intelligence, and math to "help people do better in school, perform more effectively at work, and live a more productive life." (The Science Behind Lumosity)

  6. Have multiple ways to "win" each day. It is easy to get excited over significant accomplishments (e.g., doing well on a big exam, getting a job, etc.), but learn to consciously give yourself credit for seemingly unimpressive tasks. For instance, break up a long project into short daily tasks. I told my sister that I would fold 1,000 cranes for her wedding. I set a goal of folding at least ten cranes a day, which means I will be finished a few months before the wedding. In addition, I feel really great about checking if off my to do list each day. Joe's Goals is a really simple online habit tracking tool, and Wunderlist is my favorite task management app.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An Interesting Approach to Climate Change

In his TED Talk "One seed at a time", Cary Fowler talks about the importance of preserving crop diversity as a means of addressing climate change.

In a short period of time, the world's crop diversity has immensely shrunk. For example, in the United States in the 1800s, there were about 7,100 varieties of apples. Today, about 6,800 of those varieties are extinct.

Fowler argues that varieties that are now, or are in danger of becoming, extinct may have traits that are adaptable to future climates. Fowler works with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, whose mission is to collect, in the form of seeds, a "back-up" of all varieties of crops that exist in the world. As of the date of this talk, July 2009, the seed bank in Norway contained about 425,000 samples of unique crop varieties.

Every single country has contributed to this project, which Fowler emphasizes is important, as it may be the only global project that is long-term, sustainable, and positive. In closing, he asserts that without crop diversity, we will not have an effective, efficient, and sustainable solution to climate change.

While Fowler does not spend time speaking against companies that significantly contribute to the decrease in crop diversity, his talk provides a great argument against genetically modified crops.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Power of Small Actions

In this TED Talk, Pam Warhurst, cofounder of Incredible Edible Todmorden, discusses the power of small actions. Pam and her team were searching for a unifying language that disregards age, income, and culture and that helps people think and interact differently to start a revolution to create social change. They determined that food was the unifying language, and Incredible Edible was born.

Incredible Edible began as an edible landscape project. Volunteers simply started planting fruits, vegetables, and herbs around the town of Todmorden. From this simple act, not only did the project take on a educational element, but awareness of local business and a sense of belonging significantly grew. Now there are communities all over the world taking on this project in their own way to create stronger and more supportive communities.

The Incredible Edible project is an excellent example of how small actions combined with passion can create significant positive change.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Meat Without Drugs Campaign

Please support the Meat Without Drugs campaign by signing this petition to encourage Trader Joe's to only source meat raised without the use of antibiotics. Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner produced this short video about the cause.

Here are highlights from the video about antibiotics:
  • Were introduced in 1944 to treat diseases, such as tuberculosis, salmonella, and pneumonia.
  • Are intended to be used sparingly to maintain their effectiveness.
  • Currently 80% of all antibiotics are fed to factory farm animals.
  • Make animals grow faster and enable them to survive unhealthy living conditions.
  • Overuse is creating antibiotic super bugs, which contaminate soil, water, and the food we eat.
  • Support meat without drugs by signing the petition at
Vote with your dollars by purchasing meat raised without the use of antibiotics.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

My coworker shared with me Sugar: The Bitter Truth, a UCSF talk given by Robert H. Lustig, M.D. His presentation covers and gave me a better scientific understanding of the many nutritional issues I am interested in. My top five favorite topics covered are as follows:

  1. A calorie is not a calorie.
  2. The real problem with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
  3. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) measurements are not as significant as we are led to believe.
  4. Ancel Keys’s Seven Countries Study.
  5. The importance of exercise.

1. A calorie is not a calorie.

While I instinctively believed that a calorie is not a calorie (i.e., 100 calories of chocolate is not the same as 100 calories of broccoli), I had no solid scientific information to support my belief. In his presentation, Dr. Lustig compares what your body does with 120 calories of glucose, ethanol, and fructose.

When consuming glucose, almost none of it ends up stored as fat, as opposed to fructose where 30% is stored as fat. The main takeaway is that the human body responds differently to different types of food, which is especially important when addressing fat storage.

2. The real problem with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

High fructose corn syrup is a one glucose molecule bonded to one fructose molecule, and it is sweeter than regular sucrose (standard sugar). The hunger and satiety profiles are the same for both HFCS and sucrose. The problem is that HFCS is significantly cheaper than sugar and is now used as a preserving agent and sweetener in almost all processed foods. The result is that the American public is unknowingly consuming significantly more sugar than before HFCS was introduced.

3. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) measurements are not as significant as we are led to believe.

There are actually two types of LDLs: Pattern A and Pattern B. Pattern A LDLs cannot start plaque formation, while Pattern B LDLs can. LDL measurements are misleading because they measure both types of LDLs at the same time. What you really want to look for is a low triglyceride and a high High-density lipoprotein (HDL) measurement, which is good. Conversely, a high triglyceride and low HDL is bad.

4. Ancel Keys’s Seven Countries Study.

Ancel Keys is famous for his Seven Countries Study, which concluded that fat consumption causes cardiovascular disease. This conclusion is what 30 years of nutrition education and policy is based on. According to Dr. Lustig, Keys’s data analyses were flawed. When taking a closer look at the study, sugar increased with fat, which means that fat was not the only correlating factor. This flaw explains why American’s war against fat has not decreased the incidence of cardiovascular disease or other health issues.

5. The importance of exercise.

Exercise is not important because it burns calories. It is important because it improves skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity, thereby decreasing insulin levels. In addition, exercise reduces stress, which reduces appetite. Lastly, it makes the TCA cycle run faster, so citrate does not leave mitochondria and is not converted into fat.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Paleo Solution

I just finished Rob Wolf's The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. The first time I heard of the Paleo Diet was a few years ago, and I was given a very superficial explanation of what it is. From the little I heard, I was skeptical of the idea because it seemed like a pretty weird and crazy fad. However, after my personal trainer told me that he tries to stick to an 85% Paleo Diet and suggested that I read about it, I went on Amazon and perused the results for "paleo diet". I ended up purchasing The Paleo Solution, which currently has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.

I was pleasantly surprised that The Paleo Solution takes a holistic approach to health. While a large portion of the book is tedious due to some pretty detailed explanations of the metabolic processes that occur after eating certain foods (which gave me not very pleasant flashbacks to my college physiology class), he also focuses on managing sleep and stress.

While this may be a very crude summary, the book basically recommends the following:

  • Stop eating all grains, including bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, beans, etc.
  • Eat meat, vegetables, and fruits
  • Minimize your alcohol intake
  • Exercise
  • Sleep in a completely dark room (Wolf cites one of my favorite books, Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival)
One criticism I have is that Wolf is so adamant about the detrimental effects that grains have on your body, but never goes into an explanation about the traditional French, Asian, or Mediterranean diets, which definitely contain grains, but do not produce the same kind of diseases that we see in people who consume Western diets. While I have my own theories about why this is so, it would have been interesting to see what he has to say about that.