By Dr. Mercola

The United States is the number one per capita consumer of corn in the world. As expounded in books like The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, high-fructose corn syrup and other corn-derivatives work their way into nearly every kind of processed food on the market.

In the US, corn is one of the top four most heavily subsidized food crops, so farmers have every reason to plant plenty of it.

Unfortunately, since corn is a grain, it breaks down to sugar very rapidly and typically increases your insulin resistance if regularly consumed. Elevated insulin levels in turn are linked to most chronic degenerative diseases, including everything from obesity and diabetes to premature aging.

Making matters worse, the vast majority of American-grown corn is also genetically engineered (GE) to produce Bt toxin (a pesticide that kills bugs by making their stomachs explode), which is then consumed by you.

Studies now show that, contrary to industry assurances, this built-in Bt toxin survives the journey through your digestive system, and can make you allergic to a wide range of substances. This is in stark contrast to naturally produced Bt toxin which is rapidly broken down in the environment and never makes it to your stomach.

As Corn Became King, a Fast-Food Nation Was Born

The featured documentary, King Corn1, follows two college buddies, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, as they set out to learn more about corn—how it’s grown, and how it ends up in so many of our foods. As stated in the film’s synopsis:

“With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America's most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm.”

Far from providing us with critical nutrition, US agricultural policies contribute to the declining health of Americans and worsens the out-of-control obesity epidemic. Current farm subsidies bring you high-fructose corn syrup, fast food, junk food, corn-fed beef raised in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), monoculture, and a host of other contributors to our unhealthful contemporary diet.

And as stated in the film, were you to grow corn without these government assistance payments, you’d be virtually guaranteed to lose money. The farm subsidies are what’s keeping the wheel of this cheap food ingredient rolling. In short, as stated in a recent research paper2:

“Government-issued payments have skewed agricultural markets toward the overproduction of commodities that are the basic ingredients of processed, energy-dense foods.”

Do You Know How Much Corn You’re Eating Every Day?

A conservative estimate3 of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) consumption suggests Americans over the age of two consume an average of 132 calories a day from HFCS, with the top 20 percent of consumers ingesting an average of 316 calories from HFCS daily. This is bound to have significant health consequences.

For an excellent scientific analysis on fructose, I suggest reading the report titled: "Fructose, Weight Gain, and the Insulin Resistance Syndrome,4" published in one of my favorite nutritional journals, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It will open your eyes to some of the major problems associated with this sweetener. Other statistics included in the film include the following:

  • Over the past 15 years, taxpayers have paid corn farmers more than $77 billion in subsidies; yes that is billion with a “b”
  • More than 75 percent of farm subsidies are paid to a mere 10 percent of America’s farmers
  • Since the late 1970s, the real price of fruits and vegetables have risen by 30 percent, while the price for soda has decreased by 34 percent

According to a 2011 report5 by the non-profit U.S. PIRG called “Apples to Twinkies,” each year, your tax dollars (in the form of agricultural subsidies) would allow you to buy 19 Twinkies, but less than a quarter of one red delicious apple!

So far, public health officials have had little to say about any of this, yet it seems quite clear that they should. The US farm subsidy program is completely upside down, subsidizing junk food in one federal office, while across the hall another department is funding an anti-obesity campaign. This hypocrisy shows just how broken and wasteful our regulatory system really is.

Worst of all, the farm bill creates a negative feedback loop that perpetuates the highly profitable standard American diet, so the US government is, in essence, subsidizing obesity and chronic disease. With the 2013 Farm Bill set to be finalized by the end of September 2013, this could be a key time to implement important policy changes in the near future.

Redesigning the System Could Help Fight Obesity and Protect the Environment

The time is ripe for change, and redesigning the system could help move us toward economic, and nutritional, recovery. If we're going to subsidize farmers, let's subsidize in a way that helps restore the health of American citizens and our land—programs that might just pay for themselves by the reduction in healthcare costs they bring about. Two years ago, Mark Brittman of the New York Times6 argued that subsidy money could easily be redirected toward helping smaller farmers to compete in the marketplace in a number of ways. For example, funds could be redirected toward:

  • Funding research and innovation in sustainable agriculture
  • Providing incentives to attract new farmers
  • Saving farmland from development
  • Assisting farmers who grow currently unsubsidized fruits and vegetables, while providing incentives for monoculture commodity farmers (corn, soy, wheat, rice) to convert some of their operations to more desirable foods
  • Leveling the playing field so that medium-sized farms can more favorably compete with agribusiness as suppliers for local supermarkets

FoodCorps—Turning Corn Fields Into School Gardens

King Corn co-creator Curt Ellis is also Co-Founder and Executive Director of the national nonprofit organization FoodCorps, which came up with the ingenious idea of turning acres of corn into school gardens:

“FoodCorps recruits leaders for a year of full-time public service in high-obesity, limited-resource public schools. Service members deliver food and nutrition education that teaches kids what healthy food is, build and tend school gardens that engage children and parents in growing fresh food in the schoolyard, and team up with farmers and chefs to get healthy, high-quality ingredients into school lunch.”

Since mid-August 2012, FoodCorps has started 411 garden projects in 10 states with the help of close to 3,300 community volunteers, and have harvested nearly 29,600 pounds of fresh produce for local schools. To learn more about the program, please see the FoodCorps website.7

Help Support Small Farms with a Farm Bill That Works

If you don't like the idea of your tax dollars lining the pockets of wealthy corporations that flood the market with sugary beverages and processed foods laden with HFCS, join forces with organizations that are actively working for positive change. Here are three different actions you can take:

  • The Environmental Working Group has started a petition urging Congress to enact a Farm Bill that protects family farmers who help us protect the environment and public health. Take a moment to sign it now.
  • Sign up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to keep abreast of news and action alerts relating to the 2013 Farm Bill.
  • Join Food Democracy Now, an organization co-founded by King Corn director Aaron Woolf.

Of course, you can also voice your opinion every day by voting with your wallet and supporting small family farms in your area. Even if it means buying just one or two items at your local farmers market, instead of the big box store, those little purchases add up.

Say no to junk food producers by not buying it, and return to a diet of real, whole foods—fresh organic produce, meats from animals raised sustainably on pasture, without cruelty, and raw organic milk and eggs. Eating this way will earn you a long, healthy life—whereas the typical American diet may set you on the path toward obesity and chronic disease.

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 Comments (71)

By Dr. Mercola

Olive oil, a dietary staple in Mediterranean regions, is now a healthy favorite oil in the US, valued not only for its flavor but also its health benefits.

Rich in monounsaturated fats, olive oil may help lower your risk of heart disease and may even benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, helping to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

As with most foods, however, not all olive oil is created equal. There’s a wide variation between high-quality and low-quality oils, and even among the best varieties, rancidity is a major problem.

4 Signs of Defective Olive Oil

When you spend the money on a quality bottle of olive oil, you want to know that you’re getting what you pay for. However, there are many factors that influence quality, from how long the olives sat before processing to how long you’ve left the oil sit out on your counter.

As The Olive Oil Times reported, paying attention to these four potential defects can help you weed out the good oils from the bad:

  1. Rancidity
  2. Olive oil is highly perishable, but is generally said to be ‘good’ for two years from the date it was bottled (this will usually be the ‘Best By’ date). However, a better indicator of freshness is to go by its harvest date, which will tell you when the oil was actually made. Only select oils that have this information on the bottle.

    So the first step is finding an oil that was harvested as recently as possible. From there, many other factors, including storage temperature, exposure to air and light, the level of antioxidants and chlorophyll content in the oil, will also influence how resistant it is to going rancid.

    All olive oil will get rancid eventually, but if you're like most people, you're probably leaving your bottle of olive oil right on the counter, opening and closing it multiple times a week (or even a day). Every time the oil is exposed to air and/or light, it undergoes oxidiation and will get rancid quicker.

    Extra-virgin olive oil, in particular, also contains chlorophyll that accelerates decomposition and makes the oil go rancid even faster than semi-refined olive oils, according to oil expert Dr. Rudi Moerck. So how can you tell if your olive oil is rancid?

    • It smells like crayons or putty
    • It tastes like rancid nuts
    • It has a greasy mouthfeel

    Unfortunately, as The Olive Oil Times reported:

    “The sad truth is that most people in the US… are accustomed to the flavor of rancid olive oil.”

  3. Fusty Oil
  4. ‘Fusty’ oil occurs when olives sit too long (even just a few days) before they’re milled, leading to fermentation in the absence of oxygen. Fusty flavors are incredibly common in olive oil, so many simply think it’s normal. However, your olive oil should not have a fermented smell to it, reminiscent of sweaty socks or swampy vegetation.

    “A good way to taste an example of the fusty defect involves table olives,” The Olive Oil Times reported.   “Look through a batch of Kalamata-style olives and see if you can find any that are not purple or maroon-black and firm, but instead are brown and mushy. Eat one. THAT is the flavor of fusty.”

  5. Moldy Olives
  6. If your olive oil tastes dusty or musty, it’s probably because it was made from moldy olives, another occasional olive oil defect.

  7. Wine or Vinegar Flavor
  8. If your olive oil tastes like it has undertones of wine and vinegar (or even nail polish), it’s probably because the olives underwent fermentation with oxygen, leading to this sharp, undesirable flavor.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Is One of the Most Commonly Adulterated Foods

The four defects above are examples of what commonly occurs due to poor processing methods or handling. However, olive oil is also a common target of food fraud, in which it is deliberately adulterated at your expense, according to the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention's (USP) Food Fraud Database. Even “extra virgin” olive oil is often diluted with other less expensive oils, including hazelnut, soybean, corn, sunflower, palm, sesame, grape seed and walnut. But these other oils will not be listed on the label, nor will most people be able to discern that their olive oil is not pure.

If you live in an area where olive oil is made, buying from a local producer is the ideal solution as it allows you to know exactly what’s in your oil. If not, try an independent olive oil shop that can tell you about the growers, or at least seek out a brand name that you trust to produce quality oil from your local supermarket.

If at all possible, taste the oil before you buy it. While this won’t necessarily be a guarantee of quality (especially if you’re not skilled at picking out all the potentially subtle taste differences), it can help you to pick out the freshest-tasting oil possible (and if you open a bottle at home and find that it tastes rancid or ‘bad,’ return it to the store for a refund).

The Fridge Test: Not a Good Measure of Olive Oil Quality

Earlier this year, The Dr. Oz Show featured a segment on the olive oil ‘fridge test,’ which suggested that you can tell your extra virgin olive oil is pure if it solidifies in the fridge. The US Davis Olive Center decided to test the theory out and found that this is actually a very unreliable way to detect olive oil purity.

In fact, the Olive Center researchers refrigerated seven samples of oil and found that none of them congealed after 60 hours in the fridge. While some had areas that had hardened, due to the varying levels of saturated fats in the oil, none solidified completely. So you can save yourself the effort and avoid using this test.

All olive oils contain a small amount of saturated fatty acids that solidify at refrigerator temperatures,” said Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension advisor. “The amount of solidification is equal to the amount of saturated fatty acids in the oil, which depends mostly on the varieties of olives used to make the oil and to a lesser extent where the olives were grown. Solidification does not indicate freshness, purity, flavor, extra virgin grade, or any other quality parameter.”

Are You Cooking With Olive Oil? Stop!

Olive oil is an ideal oil when it’s used cold, such as drizzled over a salad or on top of homemade hummus. However, it's important to realize olive oil is NOT good for cooking. Due to its chemical structure and a large amount of monounsaturated fats such as oleic acid, cooking makes extra virgin olive oil very susceptible to oxidative damage.

Consuming oxidized, rancid oil is not going to benefit your health, so when you need an oil to cook with, coconut oil is the ideal choice, because it is one of the only commonly used vegetable fats stable enough to resist heat-induced damage. Remember, olive oil is excellent when used for cold dishes, but cooking with it is virtually guaranteed to damage this highly heat-sensitive oil.

Tips for Keeping Your Olive Oil Fresh

Once you’ve chosen a bottle of olive oil (being careful to choose a trusted brand and check dates on the bottle), what you do with it once you get it home can make a difference in its shelf life. To best protect the oil, Dr. Moerck recommends treating it with the same care as you would sensitive omega-3 oils:

  • Keep in a cool, dark place -- dark is key because light will most definitely oxidize the fats in olive oil
  • Purchase smaller bottles rather than larger to ensure freshness
  • Immediately replace the cap after each pour

To further help protect extra virgin olive oil from oxidation, Dr. Moerck suggests putting one drop of astaxanthin into the bottle. You can purchase astaxanthin, which is an extremely potent antioxidant, in soft gel capsules. Just prick it with a pin and squeeze the capsule into the oil. The beautiful thing about using astaxanthin instead of another antioxidant, such as vitamin E, is that it is naturally red, whereas vitamin E is colorless, so you can tell the oil still has astaxanthin in it by its color. As the olive oil starts to pale in color, you know it's time to throw it away.

Generally speaking, olive oil is best consumed within a year of harvest, although most will last for up to two years from harvest when unopened and kept in a cool dark place. Oils that have a more bitter, peppery flavor have a higher polyphenol content, and these oils will generally keep better than oils made from ripe olives, which have a softer flavor. The latter should be used within six months to a year at most.

This is yet another reason to purchase olive oil in small bottles, rather than large, as it is easier to use up in a shorter period. If you purchase a large amount of olive oil you may be tempted to keep it even though it has gone rancid.

 Comments (40)

By Dr. Mercola

Lowering your caloric intake has been scientifically proven to slow down aging, reduce age-related chronic diseases and extend lifespan. The effects have been observed in a variety of species from worms and yeast to rats and fish, with some research showing that restricting calories in certain animals can increase their lifespan by as much as 50 percent.

There’s evidence that calorie restriction has a similar effect on the human lifespan, as well, and one of the key reasons why is likely related to its ability to lower your insulin levels as well as improve insulin sensitivity.

However, researchers recently studied whether calorie restriction also prompts changes to your gut microbiota, which may also be responsible for some of its beneficial role in health.

Calorie Restriction Prompts Significant Changes to Your Gut Bacteria

Science is increasingly revealing that microorganisms living in your gut are there performing indispensable functions. Known as your microbiome, about 100 trillion of these cells populate your body, particularly your intestines and other parts of your digestive system.

There is also an emerging consensus that most disease originates in your digestive system, and this includes conditions that impact your brain, your heart, your weight and your immune system, among others. There’s also evidence that the microorganisms present in your gut can affect how well you age,1 and this, of course, ties in directly with the latest research on calorie restriction and longevity.

One important thing to remember about the microbes in your gut is that they are not static. They can change profoundly throughout your life, for better or for worse, and one of the biggest influences on this change is your diet.

Indeed, the latest study showed that life-long calorie restriction in mice “significantly changes the overall structure of the gut microbiota” in ways that promote longevity.2 So it now appears that one reason why calorie restriction may lengthen lifespan is because it promotes positive changes to the microorganisms in your gut.

The researchers noted:

“Calorie restriction enriches phylotypes positively correlated with lifespan, for example, the genus Lactobacillus on low-fat diet, and reduces phylotypes negatively correlated with lifespan.

These calorie restriction-induced changes in the gut microbiota are concomitant with significantly reduced serum levels of lipopolysaccharide-binding protein, suggesting that animals under calorie restriction can establish a structurally balanced architecture of gut microbiota that may exert a health benefit to the host via reduction of antigen load from the gut.”

Intermittent Fasting May Provide Comparable Health Benefits to Calorie Restriction

While the research supporting calorie restriction is compelling, it’s not a very popular dietary strategy for most people, for obvious reasons. Many are simply not willing to deprive themselves of calories to the extent needed to prompt the beneficial effects.

An alternative that is much more acceptable is intermittent fasting, which can be as simple as restricting your daily eating to a narrower window of time of say 6-8 hours (this equates to 16-18 hours worth of fasting each and every day).

Recent research suggests that sudden and intermittent calorie restriction appears to provide many of the same health benefits as constant calorie restriction, including extending lifespan and protecting against disease. For instance, intermittent fasting leads to:

  1. Increased insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial energy efficiency – Fasting increases your leptin and insulin sensitivity along with mitochondrial energy efficiency, and thereby retards aging and disease, which are typically associated with loss of insulin sensitivity and declined mitochondrial energy.
  2. Reduced oxidative stress – Fasting decreases the accumulation of oxidative radicals in the cell, and thereby prevents oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids associated with aging and disease.
  3. Increased capacity to resist stress, disease and aging – Fasting induces a cellular stress response (similar to that induced by exercise) in which cells up-regulate the expression of genes that increase the capacity to cope with stress and resist disease and aging.

Intermittent Fasting Switches Your Body to Fat-Burning Mode… With Radical Improvements to Your Gut

If you want to give intermittent fasting a try, consider starting gradually. You can delay breakfast as long as possible and extend the time every day before you eat breakfast until you are actually skipping breakfast. Make sure you stop eating and drinking anything but water three hours before you go to sleep, and restrict your eating to an 8-hour (or less) time frame every day. In the 6-8 hours that you do eat, have healthy protein, minimize your carbs like pasta, bread, and potatoes and exchange them for healthful fats like butter, eggs, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil and nuts — essentially the very fats the media and “experts” tell you to avoid.

This will help shift you from carb-burning to fat-burning mode. Once your body has made this shift, it is nothing short of magical as your cravings for sweets, and food in general, rapidly normalizes and your desire for sweets and junk food radically decreases -- if not disappears entirely.

Remember, it typically takes a few weeks for most to shift from burning carbs to fat-burning mode. Once you succeed and switch to fat-burning mode, you'll be easily able to fast for 18 hours and not feel hungry. The “hunger” most people feel is actually cravings for sugar, and these will disappear once you successfully shift over to burning fat instead.

Another phenomenal benefit that occurs is that you will radically improve the beneficial bacteria in your gut, as occurs with calorie restriction. Along with improving your immune system, you will sleep better, have more energy, have increased mental clarity and concentrate better. Essentially, every aspect of your health will improve as your gut flora becomes balanced.

Certain Gut Bacteria are ‘Major Contributors’ to Cancer

As if you needed even more reason to optimize the bacteria in your gut, recent research has revealed an association between different gut bacteria and the development of lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells. The study involved mice with ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a genetic disease linked to a high rate of B-cell lymphoma in both mice and humans. Those with certain microbial species in their gut lived significantly longer before developing lymphoma, and had less of the gene damage that causes the disease. The researchers also created a catalog detailing which types of bacteria had either promoting or protective effects on genotoxicity and lymphoma.

This is not the first time gut bacteria has been linked to cancer. Findings published in the journal Nature,3 for instance, reported the discovery of microbial-dependent mechanisms through which some cancers mount an inflammatory response that fuels their development and growth. Another study, published in the journal Science,4 suggested cancer may be due to a chain reaction that starts with inflammation that disrupts your gut ecosystem, allowing pathogens, such as E. coli, to invade your gut and cause cellular damage.

Healthy Gut 101: How to Optimize Your Microflora for Better Health

With it now becoming increasingly clear that your microflora influence the expression of your genes, your immune system, weight, mental health, memory, and your risk of numerous chronic and acute diseases, from diabetes to cancer, destroying your gut flora with antibiotics and poor diet is a primary factor in rising disease rates.

As discussed, your diet is crucial in this equation, and it appears likely that calorie restriction, or intermittent fasting, may have a beneficial effect on the makeup of your microflora. But there are other factors, too. Remember, an estimated 80 percent of your immune system is also located in your gut, so reseeding your gut with healthy bacteria is important for the prevention of virtually ALL disease, from colds to cancer. In light of this, here are my recommendations for optimizing your gut bacteria.

  • Fermented foods are the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Healthy choices include fermented grass-fed organic milk such as kefir, various fermentations of vegetables like cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots, and natto (fermented soy).
  • Fermented vegetables, which are one of my new passions, are an excellent way to supply beneficial bacteria back into your gut. And, unlike some other fermented foods, they tend to be palatable, if not downright delicious, to most people. Most high-quality probiotic supplements will only supply you with a fraction of the beneficial bacteria found in such homemade fermented vegetables, so it’s your most economical route to optimal gut health as well.

  • Probiotic supplement. Although I'm not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics are an exception if you don’t eat plenty of raw organic and fermented foods on a regular basis.

In addition to knowing what to add to your diet and lifestyle, it’s equally important to know what to avoid, for optimal microflora balance, and this includes:

Antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary (and when you do use them, make sure to reseed your gut with fermented foods and/or a probiotics supplement) Conventionally raised meats and other animal products, as CAFO animals are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics, plus genetically engineered grains, which have also been implicated in the destruction of gut flora Processed foods (as the excessive grains and sugars, along with otherwise “dead” nutrients, feed pathogenic bacteria)
Chlorinated and/or fluoridated water Antibacterial soap Agricultural chemicals


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By Dr. Mercola

If you're sleep deprived for a night or two (or more), you expect to feel groggy and irritable.

But losing sleep impacts your body on a far deeper level, too, increasing your risk of obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes.

New research has shed some light onto why sleep deprivation may be so damaging to your health, as it linked lack of sleep to serious impairments in the way your body responds to the hormone insulin.

Lack of Sleep Impairs Your Body's Insulin Sensitivity

Impaired insulin sensitivity, also known as insulin resistance, occurs when your body cannot use insulin properly, allowing your blood sugar levels to get too high. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes as well as a risk factor in many other chronic diseases.

In fact, controlling insulin levels is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your risk of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. The increase in insulin-related diseases we're now seeing is largely due to lack of exercise combined with the excessive consumption of fructose and carbohydrate consumption in the average American diet … but it also appears that lack of sleep is likely playing a part in the equation too.

According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine,1 after four nights of sleep deprivation (sleep time was only 4.5 hours per night), study participants' insulin sensitivity was 16 percent lower, while their fat cells' insulin sensitivity was 30 percent lower, and rivaled levels seen in those with diabetes or obesity. The study's senior author, Matthew Brady, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, told CNN:2

"This is the equivalent of metabolically aging someone 10 to 20 years just from four nights of partial sleep restriction. Fat cells need sleep, and when they don't get enough sleep, they become metabolically groggy."

Not Enough Sleep Has Serious Consequences To Your Metabolism

When you're sleep deprived, leptin (the hormone that signals satiety) falls, while ghrelin (which signals hunger) rises. In one 2010 study,3 researchers found that people who slept only four hours for two consecutive nights experienced:

  • 18 percent reduction in leptin
  • 28 percent increase in ghrelin

This combination leads to an increase in appetite. Additionally, sleep deprivation tends to lead to food cravings, particularly for sweet and starchy foods. Researchers have suggested that these sugar cravings stem from the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose (blood sugar); therefore, when lack of sleep occurs, and your brain is unable to properly respond to insulin (which drives glucose into brain cells) your brain becomes desperate for carbohydrates to keep going. If you're chronically sleep deprived, consistently giving in to these sugar cravings will virtually guarantee that you'll gain weight.

As mentioned, getting too little sleep also dramatically decreases the sensitivity of your insulin receptors, which will raise your insulin levels. This too is a surefire way to gain weight, as the insulin will seriously impair your body's ability to burn and digest fat. It also increases your risk of diabetes. In short, sleep deprivation puts your body in a pre-diabetic state, which can lead to increased weight and decreased health.

Can't Sleep? Here are 10 Reasons Why…

If you're staying up late to watch your favorite TV program or intentionally pulling an all-nighter to cram for a test, you know why your sleep is lacking. But far more often, Americans have trouble sleeping and they don't know why. According to the National Sleep Foundation, few Americans get sufficient amounts of sleep. Only four in 10 respondents said they got a good night's sleep every night, or almost every night, of the week,4 and a separate poll found 43 percent of Americans reported "rarely or never" getting a good night's sleep on weekdays.5

There are many factors that can influence your sleep. For my complete recommendations and guidelines that can help you improve your sleep, please see my article 33 Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep. Following are 10 often-overlooked factors that might be interfering with your sleep:

  1. Too Much Light in Your Room

    Even the tiniest bit of light in the room, including those emitted by electronic devices, can disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin, thereby disrupting your sleep cycle.

    So close your bedroom door, install black-out drapes, use a sleep mask, get rid of night-lights, and refrain from turning on any light during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. If you have to use a light you can use a red flashlight, as that wavelength of light has a minimal impact on melatonin production..

  2. Exercising Too Close to Bedtime

    Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don't exercise too close to bedtime (generally not within the three hours before) or it may keep you awake.

  3. Drinking Alcohol Before Bed

    Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.

  4. Your Bedroom is Too Warm

    Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees F. Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep. When you sleep, your body's internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep.

    Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body's natural temperature drop.

  5. Caffeine is Keeping You Awake

    Caffeine has a half-life of five hours, which means some will still be in your system even 10 hours later, and 12.5% 20 hours later (see the problem?). Plus, in some people caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects even longer after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine as well (for example, diet pills).

  6. You're Watching the Clock

    The more you watch the clock when you wake up in the middle of the night, the more stressed and anxious you will become, and the more you may actually "train" yourself to start awakening at the same time each night. The solution is simple: Remove the clock from your view so you actually have to sit up or change positions to see the clock.

  7. Watching TV to Help You Fall Asleep

    The artificial glow from your TV can serve as a stimulus for keeping you awake and, possibly, eating, when you should really be asleep. Further, computer and TV screens (and most light bulbs) emit blue light, to which your eyes are particularly sensitive simply because it's the type of light most common outdoors during daytime hours. As a result, it can disrupt your melatonin production and further interfere with your sleep.

  8. Worrying in the Middle of the Night

    If stress keeps you up at night, try keeping a "worry journal" next to your bedside so you can jot down your thoughts there and clear them from your head. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can also help balance your body's bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.

  9. Do Not Eat Three Hours Before Bed

    Although you might struggle with this initially, it is ideal to avoid eating any foods three hours before bed, as this will optimize your blood sugar, insulin and leptin levels and contribute to overall good health.

  10. Smoking

    The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant, which can keep you awake much as though you just drank a cup of coffee.

How Much Sleep is "Enough"?

Download Interview Transcript

There is no perfect answer to this question because the answer depends on a large number of highly individual factors. The general consensus seems to be that most people need somewhere between six and eight hours of sleep each night. You are seriously fooling yourself if you are sleeping less than six hours a night and saying you don't need much sleep to be healthy.

There's compelling research indicating that sleeping less than six hours may increase your insulin resistance and risk of diabetes. And less than five hours of sleep at night may double your risk of being diagnosed with angina, coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Interestingly enough, the same appears to be true when you sleep more than nine hours per night.

The question of the ideal amount of sleep is a topic Dr. Rubin Naiman -- a clinical psychologist, author, teacher, and the leader in integrative medicine approaches to sleep and dreams -- has addressed on numerous occasions throughout his career as a sleep expert (as well as in the video above), and he agrees: people want a number, but this 'number' must be as individual as the person asking for it.

"I think asking 'how many of hours of sleep should I get?' is like asking, 'Doctor, how many calories should I eat?'" he says. "Of course the answer to that depends on who that person is. It's so individual. It also depends on the quality of those calories. Again, a lot of people are knocking themselves out night after night after night with sleeping pills.  They may be getting seven to eight hours, but is it sleep? It looks like sleep. It might feel like sleep, but you know what, it's not really sleep. That's part of the question too—the quality of it."

Again, for a comprehensive sleep guide for quality sleep, please see my article 33 Secret's to a Good Night's Sleep.


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By Dr. Mercola

Even though the low-fat craze has ended and more people are embracing healthy fats in their diet, there's still a sizable group that has not heard the news yet ?

Eating fat will not make you fat as quickly as eating carbs will.

This, in a nutshell, is what you need to recognize if you're struggling with your weight, as limiting non-vegetable carbs is crucial to weight loss.

If you're having trouble getting your mind around this, a wonderful infographic created by Column Five for Massive Health, based on Why We Get Fat by science writer Gary Taubes, explains exactly why eating fat doesn't make you fat -- but eating carbs can kill you ?

Carbs are Killing You and Making You Fat!

Today, I believe it's safe to say that most people eat far too many carbs and not enough healthy fats with about 50% of the average American's diet consumed as carbs. 

Severely limiting grain carbs and sugars, while simultaneously increasing your fat consumption can be the U-turn you've been looking for if you are currently overweight and/or your health is suffering.

Carbs are killing you


But why?

The infographic above does a great job of simplifying an otherwise complex concept, specifically the role of dietary carbs in increasing insulin levels and weight gain/obesity. I highly recommend reviewing it now ?

As explained, overconsumption of carbs is the primary driving factor for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, the conventional medical wisdom has unwisely been extolling the virtues of carbohydrates for years, even placing them as the "foundation" of the highly flawed food pyramid.

If you are seeking to lose weight and optimize your health, foods like bread, rice and pasta should comprise very low percentages of your diet. Virtually anyone who bought into these high-carb, low-fat dietary recommendations has likely struggled with their weight and health, wondering what they're doing wrong.

The problem is that overeating carbohydrates can prevent a higher percentage of fats from being used for energy, and lead to an increase in fat production and storage. It also raises your insulin levels, which in short order can cause insulin resistance, followed by diabetes. Insulin resistance is also at the heart of virtually every chronic disease known to modern man.

Your Body Stores Excess Carbs as Fat

Your body has a limited capacity to store excess carbohydrates. This is one of the reasons why elevated blood sugar follows their overconsumption.  One of the ways your body avoids dangerously elevated blood sugar is through converting those excess carbohydrates into excess body fat primarily in your belly. The way it works is that any carbohydrates not immediately used by your body are stored in the form of glycogen (a long string of glucose molecules linked together). Your body has two storage sites for glycogen: your liver and your muscles. Once the glycogen levels are filled in both your liver and muscles, excess carbohydrates are converted into fat and stored in your adipose, that is, fatty, tissue.

So, although carbohydrates are "fat-free," this is misleading because excess carbohydrates end up as excess fat. Puffed rice, in fact, is capable of making your blood sweeter than white sugar, due to the fact that it is higher on the glycemic index ? all the more reason why refined grains are "hidden sugar," and sugar is in many ways "hidden fat."

But that's not the worst of it. Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates will also generate a rapid rise in blood glucose. To adjust for this rapid rise, your pancreas secretes insulin into your bloodstream, which then lowers your levels of blood glucose. The problem is that insulin is essentially a storage hormone, evolved to put aside excess carbohydrate calories in the form of fat in case of future famine. So the insulin that's stimulated by excess carbohydrates aggressively promotes the accumulation of body fat!

In other words, when you eat too much sugar, bread, pasta, and any other grain products, you're essentially sending a hormonal message, via insulin, to your body that says "store more fat."  This is actually a highly beneficial response in certain scenarios such as when calories are very scarce. This provides a major survival advantage -- but for nearly everyone reading this, having insufficient calories is not an issue, so this protective mechanism actually sabotages your health.

Additionally, increased insulin levels also:

  • Make it virtually impossible for you to use your own stored body fat for energy.
  • Suppress two important hormones: glucagon and growth hormone. Glucagon promotes the burning of fat and sugar. Growth hormone is used for muscle development and building new muscle mass.
  • Increases hunger: As blood sugar increases following a carbohydrate meal, insulin rises with the eventual result of lower blood sugar. This results in hunger, often only a couple of hours (or less) after the meal, in a vicious endocrine rollercoaster that takes us from meal to compulsive meal without ever feeling satisfied.

So, all in all, the excess carbohydrates in your diet can not only make you fat, they can make sure you stay fat. Cravings, usually for sweets, are frequently part of this cycle, leading you to resort to snacking, often on more carbohydrates. Not eating can make you feel ravenous shaky, moody and ready to "crash." If the problem is chronic, you never get rid of that extra stored fat, and your energy and overall health is adversely affected.

Realistically, How Many Carbs Can You Eat and Still be Healthy?

Dr. Ron Rosedale, the physician who first educated me about the importance of insulin, has used low-carb diets to treat his patients with obesity, diabetes and chronic diseases for over two decades. He argues that there is no such thing as a "safe" non-fiber starch (such as rice or potatoes).


He believes consuming starches, especially potatoes and rice, will disrupt both your blood sugar and insulin levels -- the question is only a matter of to what degree? My guess is that from a biochemical perspective he is probably right, and if you need to lose weight, there is no question that limiting your sugar and starch intake is crucial. However, if living longer is not your primary objective and you are seeking to optimize fertility or athletic performance, then this most likely is not your best choice.

That said, I realize that giving up virtually all non-veggie carbs can be a challenge ? so how many can you realistically eat and still be healthy?

According to Paul Jaminet, PhD. in his book Perfect Health Diet, a 20 percent carb diet is healthy for nearly everyone. He also believes that 50-70 percent of your diet should be healthy fat (healthy fats include not only monounsaturated fats like olive oil but also saturated fats, like those found in raw dairy products and grass-fed meat).

I keep very careful track of my diet with one of the best diet apps on the iPad (in my opinion) called Calorie Counter and Fitness Tracker. My guess is most people are not keeping such detailed records of what they eat. I typically have about 60% of my diet as healthy fat and about 25% of my total calories as carbohydrate. This amount is in line with Perfect Health Diet recommendations, but in my diet, most of the non-fiber carbohydrates are from veggies and about one cup of rice a day to help fill my glycogen stores that get depleted from my intense exercise regimen.

If you are already healthy, are seeking to maximize your longevity and take it to the next level, and are willing to experiment then give Dr. Rosedale's suggestions a try by eliminating nearly all non-fiber carbs. This will be very challenging to implement in the beginning, but as your body grows accustomed and satiated from these extremely nutrient-dense low-carb foods, it should get much easier and will provide you outstanding health results that will be a continual source of encouragement.

A Word about Fructose (a Common Sugar in Soda, Fruit Juice and More) ?

You will want to be very careful about the amount of fructose you consume as part of your carb intake, as it is by far the worst type of sugar there is in terms of both your health and your weight.

Fructose metabolism is quite different from glucose (dextrose) metabolism in that it places the entire burden on your liver, and this accounts for many of its devastating health effects. Furthermore, people consume fructose in enormous quantities these days, which has made the negative effects that much more profound. Without getting into the very complex biochemistry of carbohydrate metabolism, it is important to have a general understanding of how your body handles these sugars.

Below is a summary of the main differences between glucose and fructose metabolism, which explains why I keep repeating that fructose is by far the worst type of sugar there is:

  • After eating fructose, virtually all of the metabolic burden rests on your liver. But with glucose, your liver has to break down only 20 percent.
  • Every cell in your body, including your brain, utilizes glucose. Therefore, much of it is "burned up" immediately after you consume it. By contrast, fructose is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat.
  • The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
  • Fructose is the most lipophilic carbohydrate. In other words, fructose converts to activated glycerol (g-3-p), which is directly used to turn FFAs into triglycerides. The more g-3-p you have, the more fat you store. Glucose simply does not do this.
  • When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat. Consuming fructose is essentially consuming fat!
  • The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and can cause gout.
  • Glucose suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin and causes resistance to leptin, which suppresses your appetite. Fructose has no effect on ghrelin and by interfering with your brain's ability to use leptin, results in overeating.

If you want to shed excess pounds, maintain a healthy weight long-term, and RADICALLY reduce (and in many cases virtually eliminate) your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, then get serious about restricting your consumption of fructose to no more than 25 grams per day, with a maximum of 15 grams a day from fresh fruit. If you're already overweight, or have any of these diseases or are at high risk of any of them, then you're probably better off cutting that down to 10-15 grams per day -- fruit included. 

If you believe you are an exception to this rule then you can measure your uric acid level. If it is below 5 when you are eating loads of fruit then you are metabolically ok with it, as elevated uric acid levels are a strong indication of fructose toxicity.

It's Time to Let Go of Your Fear of Fat

When you cut carbs, you need to replace those calories with healthy fats. Both are sources of energy, but healthy fats are far more ideal than carbs. However, not just any kind of fat will do. The Atkins Diet is one popular example of a low-carb, high-fat diet that has helped many shed unwanted pounds. Unfortunately, Dr. Atkins didn't pay much attention to the QUALITY of the fats, so while his recommendations worked in the short-term, many who tried it ended up experiencing long-term problems.

Many do not realize this, but frequent hunger may be a major clue that you're not eating correctly. Not only is it an indication that you're consuming the wrong types of food, but it's also a sign that you're likely consuming them in lopsided ratios for your individual biochemistry.

Fat is far more satiating than carbs, so if you have cut down on carbs and feel ravenous, thinking you "can't do without the carbs," remember this is a sign that you haven't replaced them with sufficient amounts of fat. So go ahead and add a bit more healthy fats from the list below:

Olives and Olive oil Coconuts and coconut oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
Raw nuts, such as, almonds or pecans Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados
Grass-fed meats Palm oil Unheated organic nut oils

Another healthful fat you want to be mindful of is animal-based omega-3. Deficiency in this essential fat can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year. As mentioned, emerging evidence actually suggests your diet should be at least half healthy fat, and possibly as high as 70 percent.

My personal diet is about 60-70 percent healthy fat, and both Drs. Jaminet and Rosedale agree that the ideal diet includes somewhere between 50-70 percent fat. It's important to understand that your body requires saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources (such as meat, dairy, certain oils, and tropical plants like coconut) for optimal functioning, and if you neglect this important food group in favor of sugar, grains and other starchy carbs, your health and weight are almost guaranteed to suffer.


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