Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

Sculpt Your Bod

September 22, 2018

Andrew Siegel MD  9/22/2018

David by Michelangelo Florence Galleria dell'Accademia

David by Michelangelo Florence Galleria dell’Accademia

Image above by Jörg Bittner Unna [CC BY 3.0  (, from Wikimedia Commons”

Dad bod is a slang term in popular culture referring to a body shape particular to middle-aged men. The phrase has been adopted in U.S. culture as a celebration of this particular type of physique, with references generally skewing toward a positive and light-hearted tone. This masculine body type is a unique cross between muscular and overweight physiques.” ….Wikipedia

You can think of your body as a dynamic piece of sculpture, capable of being modified at will by you—the artist—who has some definite say regarding its appearance.  This human sculpture is not static and fixed in composition, but forever evolving, continually being remodeled, restructured and refashioned in accordance with the availability of building materials, how they are used, and in response to the cut of the chisel or lack thereof.

Every human being starts with a unique block of matter that has certain fixed structural features—based upon what was inherited from one’s parents—but other aspects that are capable of being modified, for better or worse. Since the sculpture is dynamic and constantly being restructured, one can think of the “sculpting materials” as one’s diet and energy intake and of the “actions of the chisel” as exercise and physical activity.

For the optimally-shaped sculpture, it is vital to use the finest sculpting materials in the proper quantities, i.e., a diet that is both wholesome and nutritious—”real” food that is not over-refined, over-processed, and nutritionally-empty—and provides the right balance of calories to satisfy metabolic demands, but not so much that the excess energy is stored as fat.  A calorie-rich, nutrient-poor, typical Western diet overloaded with processed foods will result in a bloated sculpture with over-ample proportions.

The actions of the chisel are equally—if not more—important to the sculpted product as are the proper quality and quantity of sculpting materials.  The chisel—when properly and deftly applied—will remove extraneous materials in a proportionate manner and nicely shape and fashion the sculpture. The chisel represents the cumulative total of exercise, physical activities and bio-mechanical forces, resistances, and stresses applied to the sculpture.

At any given moment in time the sculpture’s appearance is the living record of the lifetime integrated sum total of nutritional input, energy expenditure, exercise and physical activity. Obviously, this is a gross simplification; this entire schema ignores the other internal and external elements that contribute to our physique, including a lifetime of metabolic and hormonal factors, trauma, injury, disease, aging, environmental factors, etc.  Nonetheless, the artist has some genuine say in the shape of the sculpture and it is a matter of what and how much we eat or don’t and what kind of and how much we exercise and stay physically active or don’t that figures prominently in the ultimate form of the sculpture.

With some applied discipline, the artist is capable of changing the appearance of the sculpture for the better, or without discipline the artist is capable of changing the appearance of the sculpture for the worse. The proper quality and quantity of sculpting materials will give rise to a pleasing appearance of the sculpture when veiled with clothing, but it is the actions of the chisel that provide the attractive sculpted and chiseled appearance when the sculpture is unveiled.

Losing weight makes you look good in clothes,

Exercise makes you look good naked.

As I am giving thought to the human-as-sculpture metaphor, I am at the Jersey shore relaxing in a beach chair under an umbrella, gazing into the surf and observing a myriad of different bodies—of varying sizes, shapes and forms—walking by.  Some are rail thin, some sinewy and muscular, many overweight and far too many are obese.  I can’t help but think that each and every one of us has the power to sculpt their bodies—certainly to some extent—and that prior to making the decision to put a food item in our mouth– or not– or engage in physical activity– or not–a tiny bit of thought about what effect that may or may not have on our body as sculpture might be in order.



fat david

Image above attribution:; no changes made to image

With the creative touch of the chisel and other sculpting tools, Michelangelo transformed a solid block of marble into the magnificently sculpted David. You, too, can wield the power of the artist and optimize your body’s form (and function for that matter), understanding that the process will be a slow, steady and gradual evolution.  While the initial motivation may be vanity, the deeper reward will be improved health and fitness.

Upon returning from an awesome vacation in Iceland where I had certainly enjoyed the gorgeous terrain as well as the lamb, arctic char and beer, I felt an uncomfortable (and unattractive) roll in my mid-section.  I could certainly “pinch more than an inch”—more like 4 inches—and this, in combination with my tightening pants, both repulsed and motivated me.  Starting in June, I made a concerted effort with both “sculpture materials” and the “actions of the chisel” to modify the “dad bod” and whittle myself back into optimal shape. Clearly, this kind of effort that becomes more challenging as we get older. I tried to maintain the healthy diet that I genuinely enjoy— Mediterranean-style—and ate clean, lean and mostly green, actively avoiding (as much as feasible) cheese and other animal fats (replacing them with fats from seafood, olives/olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, etc.).  On the avoid list were cookies, cake, candy and other sweets. I never drink carbs (sodas, juices, sports drinks, sweetened tea, lemonade, etc.) with the exception of alcohol (in moderation). I stepped up the exercise, doing a balance of cardio, core and strength training. Without a great deal of difficulty, I managed to drop the pounds and carve the body for the better and my daughters now describe my physique as “partial dad bod,” which might be the best I will ever be able to do, although I will continue to challenge that in the future.

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

A new blog is posted weekly. To receive a free subscription with delivery to your email inbox visit the following link and click on “email subscription”:

Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community.

Dr. Siegel has authored the following books that are available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Kobo:

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health 

PROMISCUOUS EATING: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food


These books are written for educated and discerning men and women who care about health, well-being, fitness and nutrition and enjoy feeling confident and strong.

Dr. Siegel is co-creator of the male pelvic floor exercise instructional DVD (female version is in the works): PelvicRx

New video on female pelvic floor exercises:  Learn about your pelvic floor










10 Tips to Keep Your Manhood Manly

August 8, 2015

Andrew Siegel, MD  August 8, 2015

shutterstock_orange gu tract

10 Tips to Keep Your Penis Healthy and Functional

The penis is truly a unique and remarkable organ—one of the only body parts capable of dramatically altering its shape, size, and constitution in nanoseconds. Imagine if our brains or biceps were that responsive, morphing into uber versions of themselves at the appropriate times—like Popeye’s biceps in response to spinach—we would be superheroes!

Trivia: The penis is not the only body part capable of such magic…there is one other organ that when stimulated will change its size fourfold, an even more impressive feat than what the penis is capable of!  Do you have any idea what this organ is?   (Answer at end of blog)

Penis Magic

Under the right circumstances, your penis becomes a proud warrior, a soldier standing tall at attention, saluting, noble, confident and majestic. With enough stimulation, it ferociously spits out DNA, capable of turning eggs into humans. Penis magic!

Your penis should command a great deal of respect–like any unpaired body organ that has no mate to kick in when there is engine failure–including the brain, heart, liver and pancreas. Yet the penis is not an organ that is treated with much respect.  It doesn’t see much light of day or fresh air. It is periodically liberated briefly from its incarceration to allow the bladder to drain or to be cleansed when showering. On occasion it is wrapped up in a suffocating rubber suit and inserted into dark and mysterious places. At other times it is “assaulted” by its owner–wacked, smacked and choked into submission.

Many naively assume that their penis will continue to perform its duties and responsibilities, day after day, year after year. Despite all your penis does for you, most are remiss in providing it sufficient nurture and care.  Without proper attention to its health and well being, it is destined to become less functional with each passing decade. Many chronic conditions are associated with its declining function, including obesity, the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tobacco use, etc.  What these conditions have in common is a “pro-inflammatory” state that results in dysfunction of the important cells that line blood vessels (endothelial cells), decreased levels of the vital chemical mediator of erections (nitric oxide) and oxidative stress with decreased levels of anti-oxidants and increased levels of free radicals.

The good news is that with some effort, you can maintain healthy functioning until your golden years. Like your car, your penis requires care and preventive maintenance to keep it running trouble-free.  Getting beyond maintenance, you can actually enhance your sexual health and performance, optimizing its function. The following are the top ten means of keeping your penis healthy:

1. Don’t carry extra pounds  

Just as your car suffers a decline in performance if it is dragging around too much of a load, so you penis will function sub-optimally if you are carrying excessive weight. Obesity steals your manhood and reduces male hormone levels. Abdominal fat converts the male hormone testosterone to the female hormone estrogen. Obese men are more likely to have fatty plaque deposits that clog blood vessels, including the arteries to the penis, making it more difficult to obtain and maintain good-quality erections. Additionally, as your belly gets bigger, your penis gets smaller.

2. Use high octane, performance fuel

Put a tiger in your tank with wholesome, natural and real foods that help prevent weight gain and the build-up of harmful plaque deposits within blood vessels. Healthy fuel includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fish.  Animal products including lean meats and dairy should be eaten in moderation, avoiding processed foods and refined grains. The Mediterranean-style diet is an excellent one for minimizing both sexual dysfunction and heart disease. Poor fuel choices include calorie-laden and nutritionally empty processed and fast foods, which often lead to clogged arteries and poor erections.

3. Minimize stress

Stress and anxiety cause the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Being nervous causes adrenaline-fueled performance anxiety on the basis of adrenaline constricting blood vessels, which negatively impacts erections. Excessive cortisol secretion drives one’s appetite, causing the accumulation of belly fat.

4. Eliminate toxins, particularly tobacco

You don’t want to put toxins in your tank. In addition to causing cancer, chemicals in tobacco narrow blood vessels, impair blood flow, decrease the supply of oxygen and promote inflammation, compromising every organ in your body, the penis being no exception.

5. Minimize toxins such as alcohol

In small amounts, alcohol can alleviate anxiety and act as a vasodilator (increasing blood flow) and can actually improve sexual function, but in large amounts it can be a major risk factor for erectile dysfunction.

6. Give it a rest

Too much time on the road without sufficient rest is not good for your body or your car. Both you and your vehicle require garage time. Ample sleep serves a vitally important restorative function. Sleep deprivation causes a disruption in endocrine, metabolic, and immune function, resulting in decreased levels of leptin (appetite suppressant), increased ghrelin levels (appetite stimulant), increased cortisol, and increased glucose levels (higher amounts of sugar in the bloodstream). If you are exhausted, your penis is going to be weary as well.

7. Hit the road regularly

Take that vehicle out for a nice ride on a regular basis. Use your body as it was meant to. Exercise has a remarkably positive effect on sexual function, in addition to reducing stress, improving mood, preventing fatigue, and increasing energy. It reduces risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some cancers, osteoporosis, chronic medical problems, and physical disability. Exercise makes the heart a better and stronger pump, the blood vessels more elastic, and the muscles more efficient at extracting oxygen. Exercises that work out the muscles involved in sex—the core muscles, the external rotators of the hip, and the all-important pelvic floor muscles—will improve bedroom performance.

The pelvic floor muscles play a vital role with erections and ejaculation. When you are sexually stimulated, the pelvic floor muscles activate to maintain penile rigidity and a skyward angling erection. These muscles are not only responsible for getting the stimulated penis from a tumescent state (plump with blood) to a bone-like rigid state, but also for maintaining that rigid state and for being the “motor” of ejaculation.

8. Stay active

Use it or lose it. You can help keep your penis in good shape by using it regularly as nature intended it to be used. Studies have clearly demonstrated that men who are more active sexually tend to have fewer problems with erections as they age.

9. Maintain healthy relationships

It takes two to tango, so relationship harmony factors strongly into good sexual functioning just as discord and interpersonal issues can profoundly contribute to sexual issues. The mind-body connection is of immense importance to sexual function.

10.  Preventive maintenance

 You bring your vehicle in regularly for oil and filter changes, tire rotations, and other means of preventing trouble, so do the same for your body with regular visits to your doctor to perform whatever tests are necessary to preempt issues before they become problematic. If you are having problems with your favorite organ, it is time to consult your friendly urologist.

Bottom Line: The Golden Rule of the Penis: “Do unto your penis as you would have your penis do unto you.”…In other words, treat your penis kindly and it will return the favor; treat your penis poorly and it will rebel.  First-line therapy for erectile dysfunction is lifestyle changes and a proactive approach will keep you functioning smoothly for many years.  

Q. What organ in the body when stimulated will change its size fourfold?

 A. The pupil of the eye will dilate from 2 millimeters in diameter in bright light to 8 millimeters in dark, as governed by the iris.

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in the in box of your email go to the following link and click on “email subscription”:

Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: Available in e-book (Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Kobo) and paperback:  In the works is The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Sexual, Urinary and Pelvic Health.

Co-founder of Private Gym, a comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered follow-along male pelvic floor muscle training program.  Built upon the foundational work of Dr. Arnold Kegel, Private Gym empowers men to increase pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance: or available on Amazon

What’s All This Wail About Kale?

September 28, 2013

Andrew Siegel, MD   Blog #121

Kale, kale, kale…it’s all we hear about lately.  Is this large, crisp, coarse-leaved, crinkly, intensely green cousin of cabbage the “super-food” that it is cranked up to be, or is this mere hype?  Is it the nutritional powerhouse that it supposed is or is it really just a pretty bed for shrimp cocktail?

In response to Burger King’s new line of low fat French fries announced on September 24, Eric Hirschhorn, chief marketing officer of the company stated: “You live in Manhattan and might be having a kale smoothie on your way to work this morning, but a lot of people don’t even know what kale is, and if they do, they don’t want to eat it. You have to give people what they want.”

Kale is certainly the hottest ticket on the veggie scene—the vegetable de jour—but apparently not so yet in the world capital of cuisine. On the front page of the Sunday, September 23rd New York Times was an article entitled, “Trendy Green Mystifies France. It’s a Job for the Kale Crusader!”  The article detailed the quest of an American woman, Kristen Beddard, to help kale gain traction as a potential staple of French cooking.   Although considered a menu staple and an eagerly pursued super-food in the United States, apparently the French do not understand or seem all that interested in this leafy green vegetable.  However, Ms. Beddard seems to be making headway in her mission. Alain Passard, owner of a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Paris, describes kale “not as a cabbage but a seaweed with the feel of an algae, personality, character, a power that unlocks creativity and touches on all the senses.”   Wow…sounds too good to be true!

Kale-like cabbages with prominent stalks were first cultivated in ancient Greece and Rome. Kale ultimately became a staple in northern Europe because it grew so nicely in the cold climates of that region. It was one of Europe’s most commonly grown and consumed vegetables during the Middle Ages. In England during World War II, kale was promoted as an easy-to-grow source of nutrients at a time when rationing was rampant.

Kale is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw, or cooked by a number of techniques including sautéing, steaming, boiling, frying, or baking. It can be served in pasta, soups, and stews. It makes for a very hearty side dish. The most readily available kale is the curly variety, which is ubiquitous in farmers markets and supermarkets—its pungent flavor and texture are ideal for making kale chips.  The next most popular variety is dinosaur kale, which has narrow, tall, dark leaves and a wrinkled texture–it’s slightly sweeter and more delicate than the curly variety.

In terms of nutrition, 2 cups of kale (70 calories) packs a great deal of nutrition and provides more than 2.5 times the daily requirement of vitamins A and C, 20% of vitamin B6, and plenty of vitamin K, carotenoids, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, iron, sulphur, and phosphorus.  It contains almost 50 antioxidants.  Kale contains the highest concentration of the anti-oxidant lutein of any source, and if you ask any ophthalmologist, this carotenoid is the most important defense against macular degeneration, the number one cause of blindness.

Kale is not solely used for dietary and nutritional purposes, as there are many types of flowering kale plants that are used for ornamental reasons.  They have leaves in a variety of colors including pink, red, blue, and lavender and it is the cold that is responsible for intensifying these rich hues. Although edible, these decorative kales are not as appealing to the taste buds as are the kales that are use for culinary purposes.

The following is a fabulous recipe for roasted kale chips with parmigiano-reggiano, courtesy of Whole Foods market.


1 bunch kale

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preparation:  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Trim tough stems from kale and discard.  Cut leaves into 2 inch pieces, place in a large bowl, drizzle with oil and toss.  Add chili powder and salt and toss again. Arrange kale on sheets in single layer; bake until crispy and edges begin to brown, about 12 minutes or so.  Remove from oven and let cool for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the cheese.  Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Bottom Line: Hail to kale: it is today’s new “super-food” that can be prepared in a variety of interesting and delicious ways. Mother’s advice was sound: “Eat your greens.”

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food:

Available on Amazon in Kindle edition

Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health, in press and will be available in e-book and paperback formats in the Autumn 2013.

Blog subscription: A new blog is posted every week.   On the lower right margin you can enter your email address to subscribe to the blog and receive notifications of new posts in your inbox.  Please avail yourself of these educational materials and share them with your friends and family.

“Hurt” Your Hunger

July 13, 2013

       Andrew Siegel, MD Blog #112

Hunger is one of our most basic and primal urges and a fundamental part of our hard-wired engineering in order to ensure adequate intake of calories, energy, and nutrition for the purpose of survival of the individual.  It is one of nature’s clever “bait and switch” mechanisms: we think we are satisfying an urge, but we are really fueling up to stoke our metabolic processes and provide fodder for cellular growth and maintenance.

Hunger is functionally based upon chemicals including hormones and neurotransmitters—for example, ghrehlin (appetite stimulating), and leptin (appetite inhibiting).  Additionally, our circadian biorhythm plays an important role as our brain’s body clock drives the cycle of hunger which is typically at its lowest at 8 AM in the morning and peaks at 8 PM at night.  This cycle can lead to a tendency to gain weight by not eating when you need it (breakfast) and eating when you don’t need to (evening after dinner).  Furthermore, emotional factors—particularly stress—can impact our “hunger” in a major way.  Our environment—which can expose us to the sight, sound, and smell of food, television commercials and other triggers—also has a significant influence on our hunger, causing us to suddenly desire food when moments before we had no appetite whatsoever.

It is important to make the distinction between physiological hunger and emotional hunger.  Physiological hunger is the instinctual drive to seek food versus emotional hunger, which is psychological and largely influenced by environmental exposure to food triggers as well as to our emotional state of mind.  If you haven’t eaten for hours and are famished and have a stomach that is producing a symphony of growling sounds, it is a pretty clear-cut case of physiological hunger. However, if you have just eaten dinner and are sitting on the couch relaxing in front of the television and become “hungry,” typically for a very specific food item, it usually bespeaks emotional hunger.

Interestingly, our physiological hunger drives us to consume a fixed weight of food every day, regardless of calories/nutrient content; therefore, low-caloric density foods—those that contain abundant water content—rule. For this reason, it is good to “preload” before a meal by eating low density foods such as salad, soup, a piece of fruit, cut-up raw veggies or drinking a glass of water to help curb caloric intake.

Fatigue eating is a very common phenomenon, which has a physiological basis.  This is why a good night’s sleep goes a very long way in helping to maintain a healthy weight. It is important to not succumb to the temptation to eat yourself awake—see my blog on FATigue eating:

The nutritional content of our meals is of fundamental importance in quelling our hunger. Specifically, eating protein as well as some healthy fats can go a long way in diminishing our hunger. A diet that is balanced in terms of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats can keep one satisfied until the next meal.  So, try to have some protein for breakfast as well as for an afternoon snack— it does wonders in terms of maintaining high levels of our satiety hormones to keep hunger at bay.  Carbohydrates without protein or fat provide only a short-lived suppression of hunger.

Stress is a particularly toxic emotion in terms of driving “hunger.”   It is best to try to avoid “eating” stress away and instead trying to “exercise” it away.   Exercise has numerous positive effects, including the enhancement of the brain’s executive function to help inhibit temptations and impulses—see my blog on Exercise To Exorcise: Like fatigue, there is a clear-cut physiological basis for stress- induced eating.  Stress causes the release of a number of hormones and chemicals including cortisol, which can profoundly influence us to eat, often fatty, salty, and sugary foods—see my blog on The Mind-Body Connection and How It Relates To Our Eating Behaviors:

Bottom Line: Exercising “mindfulness” is a vitally important asset in the struggle to maintain a healthy weight. It is a good idea before putting any food item into one’s mouth to consider what you are eating, why you are eating, when you are eating and where you are eating.  If what is a bad what, why is for non-physiological reasons, when is late at night and where is in front of the TV or in the car while driving, it is worth considering an alternative activity to occupy and amuse yourself in lieu of eating. Am I saying it is bad to sit in front of the television and have a snack?  Not at all…but if you are really not hungry and just desire entertainment and diversion, it is best not to down a large bag of chips mindlessly. Consumption should be accompanied by conscientious choices.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food:

Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle edition

Blog subscription: A new blog is posted every week.   On the lower right margin you can enter your email address to subscribe to the blog and receive notifications of new posts in your inbox.  Please avail yourself of these educational materials and share them with your friends and family.

Spring Cleaning: Your Fridge and Pantry

April 28, 2012

Blog # 56    Andrew Siegel, M.D.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful

form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”

Ann Wigmore (nutritionist/health educator)

“Food is a drug—use it wisely.”

Ray Kybartas (author/personal trainer)

After an unseasonably mild winter in the northeastern United States, lovely spring has arrived.  Trees and shrubs are sporting supple green buds and the aura is one of renewal, rebirth, new horizons and infinite possibilities.

Following winter stagnation, it is time for spring-cleaning, the annual ritual of purging our homes of clutter, the superfluous, and the old-and-broken.  Applying this re-organization and re-engineering to the hodgepodge of junk in the kitchen, refrigerator and pantry is a noble idea in our quest for health and wellness.

In terms of our health, the most important rooms of our homes are our kitchens and workout areas (if we are so fortunate to have an area that we can dedicate to our fitness pursuits).  Unfortunately for many of us, Big Food has commandeered our kitchens, and they are stocked with an abundance of processed foods that are nutrient-poor, calorie-dense, obesity engendering, disease promoting and often addictive because of the sugar, salt and fat concoctions developed by food scientists in the laboratory.  These boxes, cartons, packages, bags, and cans overwhelm our kitchens and it is high time to wrestle control back from the food industry.

The most compelling tools we have to maintain our health are our forks.  Food is essential medicine capable of healing many chronic diseases and as such it is important to have the same respect for what we eat as we do for any medication prescribed by our doctors.  Think of the supermarket as a large pharmacy, an abundant source of medicinal foods made by nature, many of which are capable of nourishing our health and healing our diseases.  Unfortunately, these healthy medicinal foods are hidden in a vast entanglement of hazardous, disease spawning, addictive drugs representing themselves as food.  With a little savvy, it is not difficult to learn how to navigate the supermarket-pharmacy and distinguish the genuine from the fraudulent.  Think of our pantry as a medicine cabinet and our refrigerator as a place to store perishable drugs. It it is important to learn to read food labels as if we were reading the label on a medication we might choose to give our child.  Before we place a food item in our mouths, we need to ask ourselves the question: will this nourish my health or promote illness?  We also must be very careful not to overdose on any foods as an O.D. of any food—healthy or otherwise—is not a smart strategy.

Two of three Americans are now overweight or obese, an epidemic that has surfaced over the last century, exponentially so over the last few decades. For much of humankind’s time on this planet, calories were scarce and physical activity in the acquisition of those calories was unavoidable. In contemporary times, physical activity is scarce and calories unavoidable.  We are genetically hard-wired to eat when food is available to store calories for the lean times of famine, a not uncommon circumstance for much of our existence. We are not programmed to deny ourselves calories when they become accessible and our biological systems have not yet adapted to this relatively recent problem of too many calories, as the problem has only existed over the past century.  When we factor in our genetic drives; the agri-business mass cultivation of corn, soybeans, wheat, feedlot livestock production; the industrial food complex engineering of abundant, cheap, seductive, readily-available calorie-dense, convenience and junk foods that override willpower by stimulating reward centers in the brain; and aggressive food marketing, we have the perfect storm for the obesity epidemic.  Paradoxically, obesity co-exists with malnutrition because of a diet predominantly consisting of nutrient-lacking, high-caloric processed foods.

When desire coexists with opportunity (our eating environment), most humans will take the path of least resistance and consume.  So, when that sweet Babka bread was sitting on the center island of the kitchen this morning, the most primitive elements of my brain recognized its availability and convenience (so much easier than the minor hassle of toasting a piece of whole wheat bread and smearing some organic peanut butter on it), and that became my breakfast, along with a mug of black coffee.  If the Babka wasn’t there, it would not have been my breakfast.

Now is the time to replace the unwholesome food-like junk that litters our homes with real food and start on the journey to a healthier existence.  Dr. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, believes that if we want to change our eating habits and behaviors, it is simply easier to change our environment than our minds.  (For more details, see my July 9, 2011 blog, which summarizes his book:  Although our ultimate goal is to be able to eat smartly and sensibly no matter what food environment we are exposed to, by creating the right food “domain” at home, it will make this goal all the more easier to achieve.

The following are general principles for cleaning out and re-stocking your refrigerator and pantry in a way to ensure healthy and safe eating:

  • In general, the healthiest foods are the freshest and most perishable; they have the shortest shelf lives and they promote humans not perishing prematurely.   Conversely, the unhealthiest foods are the most imperishable; these dubious food-like substances have prolonged shelf lives—think processed foods like Twinkies—and certainly do not prolong human shelf life.  The French do it right by shopping daily for healthy, fresh, perishable vegetables, fruits, breads, cheese, meat and fish.  To access the freshest and most perishable foods, keep your grocery cart on the perimeter of the supermarket while avoiding the interior aisles.
  • Stock up on whole foods, foods with one ingredient, as opposed to foods that consist of a mélange of ingredients mixed together and prepared. These real foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lean animal protein including fish, chicken and eggs.  Real foods are nutritionally dense and provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.  If we could see the precise ingredients and means that go into making many processed concoctions—particularly packaged foods—we would be much more reluctant to eat them. The final product simply hides all the component ingredients. Real food does not need a label to identify it since its identity is readily apparent.  Of course some whole foods will come in cans, including beans, artichokes, tomatoes and sardines. Likewise, some healthy foods will contain more than a single ingredient and be packaged.  A general rule of thumb to ensure the healthiness of any given product is to look for foods that contain no more than 5 identifiable, known, wholesome ingredients.
  • When it comes to the all-popular nut butters including peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, etc., try to stock up on brands that contain just the nut, with no other unhealthy additives.  Many peanut butters, for example, will contain sugar, salt, and partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Focus on food quality as opposed to food quantity.  Ideally, animal products are pasture-raised and free of antibiotics and hormones; plant products are organic, local and seasonal.  With respect to pesticide load, the following fruits and vegetables—the “dirty dozen”—are the worst, so going organic if possible is advisable for these: peaches, apples, sweet peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, grapes, spinach, potatoes and pears.  Animal fat is a haven for pesticides and toxins. The quality of fat of animals that are raised on grass pastures is quite different than that of animals raised on confined feedlots, both with respect to the fatty acid content and the toxicity. Predatory fish and river fish including swordfish, tuna, Chilean sea bass, and halibut often contain mercury and other contaminants and should be consumed in moderation. Salmon, sardines, herring, shrimp, and scallops are considered to have low mercury and other toxins.
  • Stock up on healthy vegetable fat sources (predominantly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) include avocados, olives, olive oil, and other nut and seed oils including walnut, sesame, sunflower oils.
  • Stock up on a variety of healthy protein sources including beans, legumes, whole soy products, nuts, seeds, eggs, seafood, and lean meats.
  • Stock up on low-glycemic index carbohydrates—those that have a low propensity to rapidly raise blood sugar (vegetables, fruits, whole grains)—as opposed to high-glycemic index carbs (sweets, soda, juices, candy, white bread, white rice).
  • At times, processing is a necessity to make foods accessible to us, so it becomes very important to be able to intelligently read and understand the food label, with the same attention and scrutiny that you would give to a drug label because after all, food is medicine—medicine that can heal or medicine that can promote disease.  Remember: labeled food should have only a few ingredients.  Any more than a few, don’t stock in your pantry.  If you can’t recognize or pronounce the ingredients, don’t stock in your pantry.
  • Don’t stock foods that make health claims.  Real food does not need claims since the food speaks for itself. Big Food uses many misleading descriptors including: “fortified”, “lite”, “multigrain”, “all natural” and “organic”—they sound great for our health, but really are just words without substance.  The term “all-natural” resonates nicely but is meaningless—many things are all natural including syphilis and melanoma.   “Multigrain” conjures up images of a medley of farm-fresh healthy grains, but in reality translates to being made from more than one grain, all of which may be highly processed.  “Organic” is a powerful term that evokes thoughts of food grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides.  However, there are many definitions for the word “organic,” and understand that when I walk my English spaniel to do his “business,” he leaves a large, steaming pile of organic material on the ground!
  • Beware of other hanky-panky and deceptive labeling practices: The predominant ingredient is listed first and others in descending order, and it is desirable that the predominant ingredient be a healthy one.  Many processed foods are predominantly sugar.  Big Food’s deception is to use different forms of sugar (molasses, cane juice, honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.) to “unbundle” and thus remove the sugar as the predominant ingredient.  For example, instead of sugar being listed first, they might list brown sugar second and organic cane juice third, removing sugar from the top of the order. Many breakfast cereals are predominantly sugar, but if sugar were listed as the primary ingredient, many consumers would choose to leave the product on the supermarket shelf.  Additionally, there is often a sleight of hand applied to the number or the size of servings delineated on the package, with a realistic-sized serving being much larger and higher in calories than stated.
  • Do not be hoodwinked by items that promote fruit on their labels.  Fruit-flavored yogurt, for example, often contains large amounts of corn-syrup solids; a much better choice is to use plain, vanilla or lemon yogurt and supplement with fresh fruit.  Likewise, the popular “fruit” roll-up kids snack in no way resembles real fruit—it is just a concoction of sugars, dyes, additives, and unpronounceable, unknown ingredients.
  • Don’t stock high-glycemic beverages that are naked liquid calories including sodas, sweetened iced tea and lemonade, fruit juices, and sports beverages.  Do stock water, seltzer, non-fat or low-fat dairy or non-dairy alternatives including soy and almond milk.
  • Don’t stock foods containing metabolic poisons including high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and enriched wheat flour.
  • Don’t stock foods laced with preservatives, additives, coloring, dyes or those that contain artificial sweeteners.
  • Beware of the sodium content of the food that you stock up on; even the seemingly healthiest of foods can be loaded with salt, with one serving far exceeding the recommended daily allowance.

Bottom line:  Resonate with nature and literally think “outside the box,” can, package, bottle, etc., by stocking your pantry and fridge with whole, natural foods and not their refined by-products. Whole and real foods do not require a label because what you see is what you get. Leave the chemistry experiments to the food science lab and not for our consumption. Processing is a necessity to make some foods accessible to us, so read food and nutritional labels as carefully as you would read the ingredients in a medication, because when it comes down to it, food is medicine. The best diet is the “anti-processed-atarian” diet.  Re-engineer your food environment by discarding the unnatural-chemical-junk-slop and stocking up on the wholesome, natural and healthy foods that are capable of nurturing and healing. Your body will thank you.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

Now available on Amazon Kindle

Wealth Is Health: Your Exercise Savings Account

September 10, 2011

Your Exercise Account: Building Sweat Equity

Sadly, many people seek and ultimately obtain financial wealth at the expense of their health, not realizing the fact stated so clearly by poet/author Ralph Waldo Emerson:“the first wealth is health.”  Without health, having financial wealth is absolutely meaningless!

We do our best to save for retirement, although with our current economic crisis—high unemployment, slow gain in wages for those fortunate to be employed, falling house prices, our national debt burden and the strong possibility of a double-dip recession—it has become much more of a struggle to do so.  We earmark money for Individual Retirement Accounts and 401K plans, annuities, and other similar retirement vehicles that allow us to sock away resources in investments for the future.  Some day, we will no longer be working and will need to tap our savings to live.  And hopefully, we will be living for many years after retirement.

Sweat equity is a business term used to describe the non-financial contribution of time and effort that is fundamental to the success of a business endeavor. I borrow this term and extend its use to the fitness and health arena.  As many of us hopefully have retirement savings accounts, I propose that we all have a Sweat Equity Account as wellbasically, a Fitness Account.   It consists of time and effort put into exercising and maintaining fitness.  The tenets of obtaining and maintaining a fitness account run parallel to the principles of obtaining and maintaining a retirement account and are as follows:

  • Have a plan.   Understand the need for and the importance of your fitness account.  If you invest wisely in this account, it will pay you back in spades. 
  • Pay yourself first.   Carve out the time for fitness and commit to it automatically—this guarantees that it is a priority to be tampered with only under the most unusual circumstances.  This will ensure regular deposits to build your personal fitness nest egg.
  • Slow and steady approach.   A moderate amount of exercise, deposited to the account on a diligent and regular basis, will ultimately allow for complete funding of your fitness account.
  • Start early.   The earlier you begin the fitness account, the more time available to work the magic of compounding, when the investment returns themselves earn further returns. You will earn returns in the form of “interest and dividends” (improved quality of life), and “capital gains” (augmented quantity of life).   If you missed the boat on starting early, don’t waste another minute…start today.  It is never too late.
  • Long-term perspective.  The greater the investment in terms of time invested, the larger the fitness nest egg builds.  The commitment to this plan needs to be a lifetime endeavor.  No gimmicky investments!    No shortcuts!  No tricks or instant rewards!  No nonsense!
  • Seek investment counseling.   Not everyone is capable of managing his or her own fitness account—if not, seek the services of a professional personal trainer or fitness instructor.  Their services will be well worth their cost.
  • Diversify.   Deposit into your account all different forms of fitness investments, including aerobic and endurance activities, weight training, core, flexibility exercises, etc…. include lots of variety in your portfolio.  Shake it up a bit.  I personally like cycling, tennis, golf (always walking the course, if possible), yoga, Pilates, P90x, etc.—by doing something different every day you don’t give yourself an opportunity to get bored and you get the benefit of working different areas of your body and different aspects of fitness.
  • Eliminate debt.   Pay down and eliminate debt, of which one component can be thought of as the fitness deficit that you owe yourself from past exercise omissions.  The other component should be thought of as your current debt in terms of excessive body weight and the burden of bad lifestyle choices.  You will reap the benefits of becoming debt free through exercise and healthy lifestyle and eating habits.

Your contributions to your Fitness Account will ultimately make you wealthy; that is, “healthy wealthy”…it just takes time and tenacity.  And some day, when sickness or disease will inevitably surface, you will be equipped to strike a noble fight because of your years of investment in yourself. 

“Living is a pain in the butt.  Dying is easy.  It’s like an athletic event.  You’ve got to train for it.  You’ve got to eat right.  You’ve got to exercise.  Your health account, your bank account, they’re the same thing.  The more you put in, the more you can take out.”

Exercise is king and nutrition is queen: together, you have a kingdom.”

Jack LaLanne (2006)

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

To view my brief video on the merits of exercise, visit:

To Vitamin Supplement Or Not…That Is The Question

August 27, 2011

When I turned 50, I started taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement, not previously having taken a vitamin since I took Zestabs or Chewable Chocks as a kid.  I figured I was on the back nine of life and needed all the help I could get.  Being the value-oriented consumer that I am, I headed over to Costco and picked up One-A-Day Men’s Health Formula that claimed to support prostate health, heart health and healthy blood pressure…sounded really good to me!  Each tablet contained Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B6, folic Acid, B12, biotin, calcium, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium, potassium and lycopene.  It seemed like a lot of bang for the buck.

I continued taking the vitamins for a year or so, but did not notice any tangible kind of benefit—I did not feel better, was not more energized, stronger, more potent in any way imaginable, did not get less colds, and my annual blood chemistries were unchanged.  I came to the realization that I derived a lot more benefit from my morning caffeine infusion than from the daily vitamin!  Frankly, I had felt pretty good before starting the vitamin and mineral supplement and since I felt absolutely no different after using them, I stopped taking them and have never looked back.  That stated, I eat a very healthy diet with an abundance of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and lean sources of protein and have little doubt that my diet leaves me in good shape in terms of sufficient vitamin and mineral intake.

Approximately one in three Americans use multivitamins and mineral supplements on a regular basis.  There is no question that we need these micronutrients in sufficient quantity to sustain our health.  A nutritious and well-rounded diet should most certainly provide these essential micronutrients.  The exceptions to this are the following: If your diet is poor; if you are pregnant; if you are a child; or if you are ill or immuno-compromised due to certain medical conditions.  Under such circumstances, supplementation is important.  According to Tufts University Professor of Nutrition Susan Roberts, “multivitamins can fill in the gaps if you get too little of some vitamins and minerals from your food.”  Specifically, there are five micronutrients that many Americans do not get enough of: vitamin D, folic Acid, B12, iron and calcium.

Vitamins and minerals that exist within vegetables, fruits or other nutrients are advantageous because these foods contain important enzymes, peptides, and phyto-nutrients that are necessary to the utilization of the vitamins and minerals.  Many scientific studies have concluded that vitamins and minerals derived from dietary sources are superior to synthetic or formulated vitamin pills.  Bioavailability, as defined in Mosby’s Medical dictionary, is the degree of activity or amount of an administered drug or other substance that becomes available for activity in the target organ/tissue.  In short, the bioavailability of the vitamins and minerals within a multivitamin is often very much less than that of the vitamins and minerals in their natural form.

The other issues aside from bioavailability are that multivitamins vary greatly in quality, some have only trivial amounts of some micronutrients, and many have claims that are not clinically proven.  Nobody even knows if the recommended quantities (the RDA or Recommended Dietary Allowances) are accurate or relevant.  Another point is that the fat-soluble vitamins D, E, A, and K are stored in the body, and excessive quantities can be problematic.  On the other hand, excessive intake of the water-soluble vitamins B and C end up being urinated out into the toilet bowl.

The Bottom Line:  In my humble opinion: If you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, don’t waste your dollars on a multivitamin or mineral supplement.  You are better off spending your money at Starbucks!  However, this does not refer to children, pregnant women, those suffering certain illnesses and those with a poor diet.  If you are deficient in D, B12, folic acid, iron or calcium, it is of paramount importance to supplement your diet appropriately.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.