Maine – The Way Life Should Be

As you drive north on I-95 heading up from Boston’s Logan airport (there are not a lot of non-stop flights into Portland), you start to notice the scenery changing. More trees, less cars, fewer buildings…and a subtle serenity begins to slowly take over. Regardless of the temperature outside, I always like to roll the windows down and take a big, deep breath of fresh air. And then the sign – Maine The Way Life Should Be. I’m instantly relaxed as my blood pressure drops and I get that feeling that’s difficult to describe. It’s not just home, it’s a way of life.

Growing up in Maine is something that made me who I am today. I often tell people about what it was like and they look at me like I must be fabricating a story. We left our doors and windows unlocked, I never saw theft or crime, there weren’t problems with drugs or the stereotypical urban life stories I hear from my other friends. Instead, we grew up cycling, camping, hiking, playing hockey, and generally enjoying the outdoors. We didn’t care what kind of clothes kids wore, what kind of car you drove, or how fancy your home was. It just didn’t matter.

Maine is also where I learned the value of hard work. Growing up in New England and enduring the cold winters was not something we ever thought about – it was just a fact of life. That meant chopping wood all summer to fuel the wood stove in the winter. It also meant gardening, learning how to can fruits and vegetables for the winter months, and running out the door on “snow days’ to earn money shoveling driveways and walkways. As a young age, the entrepreneurial spirit just came naturally as my buddy Patrick and I gradually took over other boy’s newspaper delivery routes. We found a way to attach baskets to the front, back and sides of our ten speed bikes, and carry twice as many papers as the other kids.

There is a noticeable friendliness many out-of-staters notice the first time they visit Maine. People still look you in the eye, say hello, and offer a firm handshake. There are a few other traditions such as honking the car horn when you pass friends and neighbors on the road. There’s also the “nod” when driving and passing a friend in an oncoming car. I can only describe it by saying this; the forefinger ONLY lifts from the right hand on the steering wheel WHILE AT THE SAME TIME the driver lifts his head slightly and opens his mouth as if taking in a breath. You have to see it to know what I mean.

Last but not least the food. Especially the seafood. I never realized how lucky we were growing up with such an abundance of fresh, cold water fish. Everyone knows about the lobster, but the mussels, scallops, haddock, cod and bluefish are just a few of the tasty plates you can find at any local spot.

I spent most of my youth looking forward to the day when I would be old enough to leave Maine and see the world. Nowadays, I spend most of my time thinking about when I can get back there to retire, or semi-retire, and enjoy life the way it truly should be.

Health and Wellness over Age 50 – Blood Lab Test Results – Part 2

On March 20, 2020 I published the first article about health and wellness and understanding lab test results. This post is a follow-up to that article. No post would be complete without a legal disclaimer; I am not a doctor nor am I giving medical advice – I am simply sharing thoughts from my journey to creating a stronger body and mind!

                In my last article I suggested some of the basic readings your doctor should ask for when sending you for routine blood panels. They included the following;

  • Lipid Panel – Total Cholesterol, Triglycerides, HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), Risk Ratio, HS-CRP (C Reactive Protein)
  • White Blood Cell Count, Red Blood Cell Count, Hemoglobin, Hematocrit
  • Glucose, Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, Calcium, CO2, BUN, Creatine
  • eGFR, Magnesium, Uric Acid, Protein, Albumin
  • HGBA1C, Insulin, eAG
  • Cortisol, IGF-1, FSH, LSH, Free Testosterone, Estradiol, Progesterone, DHEA
  • Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Folate, Ferritin
  • Estrone, PSA

Now let’s do a quick review of why these readings are important and how they can help guide you towards a healthier life!

Lipid Panel

Everyone knows about cholesterol so I won’t harp on this too much. Yes, your total cholesterol should ideally be below 200, but some cholesterol is actually good for you. Your total cholesterol is calculated by adding your HDL plus you LDL, and adding 20% of your triglycerides level. It can act much like a lubricant for your blood, as well as produce Vitamin D. It’s even an important building block for hormones. But yes, too much cholesterol is a bad thing because it leads to the buildup of plaque.

LDL, or low density lipoproteins, are also known as your Bad cholesterol. Ideally your LDL level should be less than 100 mg/dl as elevated levels of LDL will increase the likelihood of clogging in your arteries. Elevated LDL levels are caused by a diet high in saturated fats and trans fats.

HDL, or high density lipoproteins, are also known as your Good cholesterol. Ideally your HDL level should be above 50 mg/dl…and the higher the better! HDL attacks the LDL in your blood and actually helps scrub your artery walls. A plant-based diet has been proven to increase HDL levels, and lower LDL levels and should include foods like avocados, olive oil, fruits, and whole grains.

Triglycerides are another type of fat that is carried in the blood. Ideally your triglyceride level will be under 150mg/dl as increased triglyceride levels have been linked to diabetes and heart disease. If you regularly consume more calories than you burn, your body stores these as triglycerides or fat, to use later for energy. High triglyceride can also lead to heart disease, diabetes, and even a hardening of your artery walls known as arteriosclerosis.

        A Risk Ratio is calculated by dividing your total cholesterol by your HDL number. For example, my total cholesterol was 185 and my HDL was 53, producing a Risk Ratio of 3.49. According to the American Heart Association your risk ratio should be below 5, with an ideal level of 3.5. According to the Framingham study, a report often used by doctors to assess a patient’s risk level for heart disease, men have double the risk of heart disease if their risk level reaches 9.6, and women have double the risk of their level reaches 7.

What can I do to lower my total cholesterol? For sure, diet and exercise are the two most important factors which can have an immediate impact on your heart health. If you smoke, quit. It’s as simple as that. Did you know that one egg has 186 mg of cholesterol? Most people should limit their daily cholesterol intake to 300 mg, and under 200 mg for those at higher risk. In parting, here are a few tips to help lower your cholesterol (and LDL) and increase your HDL. Foods high in antioxidants help lower cholesterol and can be found in blueberries, strawberries, pecans, artichokes, beans, cabbage, kale, spinach and beets. These are just of few of the things you can add to your diet in moderation! Next time, we will continue going through some of the other suggested levels mentioned above. Please follow my blog on my website to learn more as I continue to document my journey to better Health and Wellness Over age 50!

My Secret Ingredient for a Healthier Isolation

For the past several weeks (or more) we’ve all been dealing with the stress of working from home, managing life, deciding what to watch on Netflix and hopefully taking time to reflect on the things that are important in our lives. If you’re like me, this slowdown from the hectic pace of life has given me a chance to get back to the basics and focus on wellness for my family and myself.

Bullet proof coffee was all the rage a few years back, and everyone discovered the benefits of ghee butter, MCT oil, and turbo boosting the morning cup of Joe. Like all fads when they fade away, most of us forget and simply move on to the next best new thing! (Not me by the way – I am still dressing like I live in the 80’s and sure enough, preppie fashion is now “hipster”!) One of the other things I held on to was my love of MCT oil and my belief in the benefits of adding this to my daily routine!

According to Medical News Today, MCT oil is a dietary supplement that is made up of MCT fats, which are fats that can be found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products. MCT oil is mainly used by people looking to lose weight, or boost their endurance during a workout. Some supporters of MCT oil also claim it can improve the ability to think, as well as help with various forms of dementia. I like using this supplement in the morning as I definitely feel the benefits from an immediate boost of healthy fats as fuel for my brain and body.

Fats are made up of chains of carbon atoms, and most of the fats in a person’s diet are made up of 13 to 21 of these atoms. These are called long-chain fatty acids. In contrast, short-chain fatty acids are made up of 6 or fewer carbon atoms. MCTs refers to medium-chain triglycerides that sit in the middle of the other two types. They are of medium length and made up of 6 to 12 carbon atoms. Too much scientific lingo?

MCTs are found in coconut oil and are processed by the body in a different way to long-chain fatty acids. Unlike other fats, they go straight from the gut to the liver. From here, they are used as a source of energy or turned into ketones.

We have all heard of ketones as the “Keto Craze” has been popular for over 5 years now. What are ketones? Ketones are substances produced when the liver breaks down a lot of fat, and they can be used by the brain for energy instead of glucose or sugar. Hence the Brain Octane brand of MCT oil (which I love) and other products which promote increased cognitive abilities, memory and more through their use.

For most people the idea of getting their body into Ketosis is the goal, as the state of ketosis is when your body burns fat (in the absence of glucose) to use for fuel. As the calories in MCTs are used straightaway, they are less likely to be stored as fat. This principle is the basis of the ketogenic diet, which many people believe is an effective way to lose weight. I will talk more about ketosis and the ketogenic diet later this month, but for now my secret ingredient to Surviving Isolation? Try a little MCT oil in your morning routine and see if you don’t notice a difference!

I Didn’t Have Time for Breakfast

I was running late because of the kids. I did an extra 15 minutes of cardio and didn’t have time. I overslept and didn’t hear the alarm go off. How many times have you said these things to yourself and justified the reason to skip breakfast, arguably the most important meal of the day? Even worse, have you convinced yourself that lowering your caloric intake will help you lose weight and stay healthy? Guess again!

            Intermittent fasting has become one of the latest fads in the dietary world of health and fitness. I am not a doctor so I am not giving you medical advice; I’m sharing my thoughts in exchange for what you paid to read them – nothing! That being said let’s walk through some common thoughts regarding to eat, or not to eat!

            People who skip a healthy breakfast will consume between 200 and 400 calories LESS in a day. TRUE. But does this lead to a hungry feeling which results in mid-morning snacks or eating a bigger lunch? PROBABLY!  Scientific studies and researchers agree that your brain functions BETTER when given the proper nutrients to function at its peak. Compared to fasting, the results are conclusive.

            Can you kick start your metabolism by consuming a healthy breakfast? YES! Again, studies have shown that your body will metabolize carbohydrates more efficiently DURING the day and LATER in the day if your metabolic process begins in the morning instead of mid-day. Think of your body like a power plant – once you turn those burners on and the plant is running, your entire body is ready to function at full capacity instead of running on fumes until you reach lunchtime.

            The key factor is recognizing the words I have used throughout this article – a HEALTHY breakfast! A sticky bun or bear claw, three donuts and a coffee, or biscuits smothered in gravy and bacon is probably 800-1000 calories of inefficient food your body doesn’t need. Instead, take the time to understand healthier options that give your brain, and your body, the fuel you need to start your day off right! Here are just a few of the healthy options I like to rotate through my morning routine. All of these are 300 calories or less!

  • 1 Cup of steel cut whole Oatmeal, 1 sliced pear or banana, 2 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp chopped almonds
  • 1 egg omelet with 2 egg whites, 2 tbsp organic salsa or Pico  de Gallo, ½ cup baby spinach
  • 1 large avocado, slice in half and fill opening with egg white, drizzle olive oil, shred cheese on top of both halves and bake at 350 for 15 minutes
  • Whole Grain Cereal (I prefer bran!), almond milk or soy milk, sliced fruit or blueberries
  • Waffle Sandwich – I like the low carb protein waffles – with 2 tbsp honey, one slice of cheese OR 2 tbsp skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 ½ Cup Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp honey, ½ cup granola, ½ cup blueberries or strawberries
  • Protein Smoothie – 1 cup almond milk, 1 cup blueberries, flax seed, chia seed, MCT oil, 2 cups ice cubes, 1 cup spinach, 1 tbsp ghee butter, 1 scoop of your favorite protein powder
  • PB Bagel Sandwich, 3 tbsp all natural peanut butter, 1 granny smith apple sliced on the bagel
  • Wrap Sandwich, 2 egg whites, ½ sliced avocado, 1 slice low-fat Swiss or mozzarella cheese, 3 slices of turkey bacon or fake bacon

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Keep a lookout for more article on health and nutrition as I share my journey to health and wellness over the age of 50!