#246 Happy St. Patrick's Day

Tell a friend

In a study, scientists report that drinking beer can be
good for the liver. I'm sorry, did I say 'scientists'?
I meant 'Irish people.'

Tina Fey

7 Tips to Slim Down the Irish Way

By Joe Wilkes

IrelandFor hundreds of years, the Irish have been stereotyped as beer-swilling, potato-eating louts, but in a 2005 survey, Ireland's obesity rate clocked in at 13 percent, less than half the rate of the reigning obesity champs, the U.S. of A. So maybe there's something to the Irish diet and lifestyle that we could learn from. In fact, there are a number of things the Irish are doing better than the Americans to keep off the pounds. Here are a few.

  1. Sauage BreakfastEat your breakfast. Like most northern European countries, the Irish, especially in rural areas, tend to top-load their daily menu. A traditional Irish breakfast can include eggs, sausage, Irish bacon (which is much leaner than American bacon; similar in texture to Canadian bacon), potatoes, beans, black pudding (a blood sausage), white pudding (a pork sausage without blood and usually mixed with oatmeal or bread), fried tomatoes, and other items. I grant you, just reading the list is enough to make me reach for the defibrillator, but the principle is sound. In fact, the tradition of this hearty breakfast probably stemmed from farmers, who came in after their chores, when their bodies were low on glycogen from work.

    Breakfast FoodAs we've all heard, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When we wake up in the morning, our metabolism is still in sleep mode. If we skip breakfast, we stay in that slow-burning metabolism mode. Also, if we have a decent breakfast, we won't be so hungry later that we'll binge at lunch or dinner. As opposed to Americans who eat their big meal in the evening and go to bed on an absurdly full stomach, the Irish tend to have their big meal at lunchtime, and in the evening just a light sandwich. A 2003 study at Harvard Medical School found that people who ate breakfast every day were 33 percent less likely to be obese than those who didn't. Growing evidence also supports that the benefits of not skipping breakfast can help prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    TomatoesWe're not recommending eating a full traditional Irish breakfast every day (the Irish don't either, at least not the thin ones—most have toast and tea on a daily basis). While delicious, all those sausages and puddings aren't going to get anyone on the road to weight loss, not to mention all the delicious butter (Irish butter has a higher butterfat content than American, which is why it's so amazing) often used in the preparation. But having a big breakfast with whole grains, fruits, vegetables (those tomatoes and baked beans sound pretty good), lean meats, and egg whites is a great way to get your metabolism going each day and avoid late-afternoon/evening bingeing. And making your evening meal more of a snack than a banquet will also help keep the pounds at bay.

  2. Boiled MeatBoil your meat. The Irish and English are often mocked for their tendency to boil their meats and veggies until all flavor is leached out, but while we're deep-frying our chicken wings and Thanksgiving turkey, they'll be having the last laugh at the doctor's office. Boiling or poaching food doesn't have to be a ticket to Blandsville. Try poaching a chicken breast or fish fillet in wine or a flavored broth with garlic and onions and your favorite vegetables. The seasoning of the boiling liquid is only limited to the chef's imagination, and can make for meltingly tender meat filled with flavor instead of fat calories from oil. There is a fear that boiling causes vegetables to lose their nutrients, but oftentimes the body has an easier time absorbing the nutrients from cooked vegetables. The best advice for vegetables is to eat a variety, prepared in a variety of ways, to maximize your nutrient absorption. For example, cooked tomatoes provide a much higher amount of lycopene than raw tomatoes. A perfect, healthy ingredient for your Irish stew. Click here to read some more ideas for one-pot meals.

  3. BroccoliGo for the green. It's no news flash that cabbage is a staple in Irish cuisine. But not just cabbage, other leafy greens like kale are also popular. Cabbage has high levels of iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, and D, and lots of fiber. A study by the University of Utah School of Medicine found that eaters of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables had a lower incidence of colon cancer. Cabbage and leafy greens are also very low in calories. If you're not crazy about cabbage on its own, you might try the Irish dish colcannon where cabbage or kale is mashed together with potatoes and other ingredients like white or green onions, garlic, or leeks. Traditional versions also include butter or cream, but chicken broth could easily be substituted to keep it on the light side.

  4. Potatoes CarrotsGet back to your roots. In addition to greens, Irish cuisine also features a lot of root vegetables—and not just potatoes. Other roots favored on the Emerald Isle include carrots, parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas. They contain tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, while still pretty low in calories. They're pretty tasty, whether boiled, roasted, or mashed, or in some cases, eaten raw. They're great on their own or can add complex flavor and color to stews and soups. And they last a lot longer in storage than other vegetables—more than two weeks if refrigerated. Try replacing some of the potatoes in your favorite mash, gratin, or stew recipe with some turnips or rutabagas. It will zest up the dish, add extra nutrients and bring down the calorie count.

  5. SalmonThink pink. As an island nation, Ireland has access to vast quantities of seafood, especially salmon, rich in omega-3 fatty acids which protect the heart. Salmon is also a great source of protein and other nutrients, while low in calories and fat. And the health benefits keep on coming. As recently as this week, a study was released where scientists have associated higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids with increased grey matter in the parts of the brain that affect behavior and mood. So feeling blue? Have some fish and you'll be in the pink!

  6. GuinessDrink Guinness. While this popular hearty stout has been referred to as a meal in a glass, it's actually not as high in calories as one might think. A pint has about 200 calories, not considerably more than regular beer. It also contains less alcohol than other beers. Guinness has 4.2 percent compared to Budweiser or Heineken which have 5 percent. It also contains a lot of B vitamins, which is helpful, as alcohol often depletes them—so you at least can get a little closer to breaking even. It also contains a lot of flavonoids, antioxidants that help give it its dark color, and help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Some researchers have even found that Guinness, when not consumed in excess, has reduced cataracts—quite the opposite of getting "blind drunk." None of these benefits make up for the problems caused by alcohol drunk in excess though, and if you drink more than one or two Guinnesses a day, you'll be seeing it in your belly (see "4 Cures for the Beer Belly Blues" below). Click here to read more about the health benefits of beer . . . and wine, too!

  7. Take a walk. This is where Ireland and most countries in the world really have it over America. They walk. Aside from our propensity for super-sizing our meals and processing our food with any number of bad-for-us ingredients, Americans are really losing the battle of the bulge because of our sedentary lifestyle. Walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day speeds up your metabolism, burns fat, and builds muscle. If you don't have time to walk for an hour, even adding short jaunts to the office or the grocery store to your daily routine can have massive health benefits and greatly contribute to weight loss.

Joe WilkesIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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4 Cures for the Beer Belly Blues

By Jordana Haspel

Green BeerWhen you hear the words "St. Patrick's Day," you probably think of one thing: beer. Preferably green beer, but anything will do, from an Irish stout, to a Mexican Corona. The important thing is that it has to have those bubbles, that bitter taste, and that famous buzz.

Beer BellyUnfortunately, too much beer can lead to something else: a beer gut. That's that thick layer of fat around the middle that makes some people (men included) look like they're in their third trimester. In fact, the so-called beer belly is more common in men than in women, because men are more likely to store fat in their abdominal area, while women tend to store fat in their hips and thighs. Whatever your gender, that spare tire is bad news. While excess fat anywhere on the body can cause trouble, belly fat is especially mischievous—research shows that people who carry their fat on their stomachs have a higher risk of obesity-related health problems than people whose fat sits on their seats.

WingsDespite the name, beer bellies do not necessarily come from beer. If you have a body type that stores fat in your belly, then most of the weight you gain will end up there. But there is a link between alcohol consumption and increased belly fat, though researchers are not sure why. If nothing else, a can of beer has 153 calories—not a huge amount if you drink just one, but if you have four (as many people do when they drink), that's over 600 calories! And that's not counting the nachos, wings, chips, and other snacks people often nibble on when they're drinking. No wonder heavy drinkers often weigh more!

Abs MeasureSo what can you do to shed those unsightly (or too-sightly) pounds? There's no simple answer. Contrary to popular belief, sit-ups and crunches won't do it. While they'll help build the muscles you need for a well-defined six-pack, your pack will stay hidden under the layers of fat if that's all you do. That's because targeted workouts—focusing on parts of the body where you want to lose fat—don't work. Fat loss happens throughout your body, not just in specific places.

All is not lost, however. There are some things you can do to trim your tummy—and the rest of your body as well. After St. Patrick's Day is over, you may want to give these tips a try:

  • LabelsAvoid trans fats. You've probably heard this before. Trans fats are the new really bad thing to eat. Considered the worst kind of fat, manufacturers in the United States now have to list the amount on their nutrition labels, and some cities have banned their use in restaurants. But it turns out they may also blimp out your belly. According to a 2006 Wake Forest University study, trans fats not only make you gain more weight than other foods with the same number of calories, but they specifically increase belly fat. In fact, not only do trans fats add more weight, but they actually move fat from other parts of your body to your belly. Bleh!

  • Relax. Stress leads to higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which leads to an increase in abdominal fat. So let go of your worries through meditation or yoga, or go for a soothing massage. Not only will this help keep your belly in check, but you'll feel a lot happier, too.

  • SleepsGet some sleep. People who don't get enough sleep are more likely to be obese, according to a 2004 Columbia University study. Researchers found that people who slept four hours or less a night were 73 percent more likely to be obese than those who slept between seven and nine hours each night. Why? It may be because some of the hormones that regulate your appetite and metabolism increase when you're sleep deprived. So snuggle under your covers for a few extra minutes each night and you won't be as hungry during the day.

  • HHAGet some exercise. You had to know this was coming. Working out—especially cardio—is the best way to get rid of excess body fat. Combine this with healthy eating, and you're on the road to significant weight loss. Any time you use more calories than you eat, that fat starts to fade. So bust out Turbo Jam®, Hip Hop Abs, or any of our other fitness programs, and start Pushing Play!

Jordana HaspelIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your St. Patrick's Day IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. Corned Beef SandwichFALSE: Corned beef and cabbage is a traditional Irish meal. Actually, it's more of a traditional Irish-American meal. In olden Ireland, with grazing land scarce, cows were kept largely for dairy, and were not eaten at nearly the rate as they were in America, where land was plentiful. Irish immigrants would prepare a traditional stew that in the old country was made with cabbage and some type of smoked pork, usually the bacon joint. In America, with beef being more readily available, the recipe was altered. Beef was preserved by corning, or brining it, and added to the stew in lieu of a cut of bacon. Corned beef is actually a very lean choice of meats, but you might want to boil it a little longer than some recipes say if you want to cut your sodium. Also, go for the flat cut or brisket instead of the cheaper point cut, which is much higher in fat.

  2. StewFALSE: Beef is the traditional meat ingredient for Irish stew. Traditionally, lamb or mutton chops were used in a classic stew.

  3. FALSE: The Irish brought the potato to America. In fact, the potato was introduced to Ireland in the late 1700s, brought over from the Americas. By the mid-1800s the potato had become such an important part of Irish life, that the 1845 crop failure caused the infamous potato famine, which was responsible for the deaths of millions.

  4. Lucky CharmsTRUE: Lucky Charms were the first cereal to include marshmallows. The original marshmallow lineup was pink hearts, orange stars, yellow moons, and green clovers, though some have been replaced with new marshmallow shapes over the years. They are in fact not Irish, and are not sold in Ireland, where the marketing campaign would be considered on a par with Aunt Jemima for cultural sensitivity. For those that don't get enough artificial colors and flavors from the original, they now also come in Chocolate and Berry flavors. It is highly debatable whether or not they are "magically delicious."
  5. CloverAnd a riddle...

  6. What's Irish and stays out all night?
    Patty O'Furniture (1/2 credit for Colin Farrell).

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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