December Healthy Living: Debating Benefits of Greek Yogurt & Cold Brew, Genes & our Lifespan, and the Perils of Not Exercising

Plus3's monthly health tips are brought to you by Amy Bertram, a Wellness Specialist in North Carolina. Learn more about Amy on LinkedIn and on her blog. 


Is Greek Yogurt Really Better Than Other Yogurt? 

The sales of Greek yogurt in the US have soared from 1% of the yogurt market in 2008 to over 50% in 2014. (1) But why are we eating so much Greek yogurt? Is it worthy of its health halo? Let's break down the pros and cons of this mysterious dairy product from Greece. (2)


  • Greek yogurt is strained more than regular yogurt. Both yogurts begin their lives as milk and bacterial cultures, but Greek yogurt is strained three times, while regular yogurt is only strained twice. This removes more of the liquid whey.

  • Greek yogurt has a higher protein content, which can potentially keep us fuller. Typically, Greek yogurt contains about 17 grams of protein per serving, compared with about 9 grams in regular yogurt.

  • Greek yogurt has half the carbs and sugar. The extra liquid that gets removed from Greek yogurt actually contains a lot of sugar, so its removal makes the final product lower in sugar. Regular yogurt contains 12 or more grams of sugar per serving, compared to Greek which has around 5 to 8 grams.

Keep in mind this is not fructose or sucrose (table and fruit sugars), but lactose, which is simply dairy "sugar". For example, a cup of plain milk has about 12 grams of lactose.

  • Greek yogurt usually contains more fat than regular. A serving size of regular yogurt can contain 8 grams of fat (5 grams of saturated fat). By comparison, a Greek full-fat yogurt has 10 grams total (7 saturated).

However, fat-free Greek and regular yogurt will both have no fat, of course.

  • Regular yogurt has more calcium and probiotics. There is substantial calcium in the liquid that is strained out of the Greek yogurt, leaving it with 2-3 times less calcium than regular yogurt.

  • Greek yogurt costs more. More of it is required than regular yogurt since it is thicker due to straining process.

So, it depends what our goals are as to which type of yogurt we choose. But choose plain instead of flavored to avoid the extra sugar and calories.





How Much Do Our Genes Impact Lifespan?

We can't blame our genes for our diseased life or short life-span anymore. A new study (1) of over 400 million historical people (they are no longer alive) indicates that our heredity only contributes to about 7% of our life-span, much less than the 15-30% of previous estimates.


"Mortality is an umbrella metric for the health of human populations," according to the study. And we know that there is certainly a genetic component to many diseases. But this study was able to examine sibling and even in-law correlation, the latter which seems counter-intuitive since in-laws are not genetically related.


Here is where it becomes interesting. There was a strong life-span correlation between siblings-in-law and cousins-in-law. What could account for that correlation since these groups don't share genes or households? The researchers were able to analyze "assortive mating", which is basically how spouses tend to select mates with traits like their own. In this case, how long they live.


The authors propose that this selection of a mate (as well as your cousin's mate selection) with a similar life-span may be attributed to sociocultural and socioeconomic status. Both of these are known to transfer in and across families, and are not related to genes. (2) Educational and income status can also be transferred between generations.


The takeaway in my view is that we cannot bank on nor blame our family history for the health in our own lives. This one is on me.


The more we live a life that encourages movement, healthy food, a strong social connection, laughter, sleep, and giving, the longer and healthier our lives will be.







Not Exercising Is More Deadly Than Smoking, Heart Disease, and Diabetes

.....And high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and other diseases associated with early death. New findings from the Cleveland Clinic show that little to no exercise is associated with death rates equal to or higher than smoking. (1) 


The research also found that more exercise yielded greater benefits. In fact, the highest levels of aerobic fitness were linked to the greatest survival benefits, especially in older patients over 70 years old.


"Its size, its outcomes, and its future impact on preventable heart disease is enormous. We are made and meant to walk, run, exercise, get moving. By doing so we regenerate new fresh new cells, cleanse out toxins, and rebuild broken parts." - Dr. Satjit Bhusri, MD


So how much is enough and how much is better? According to our national guidelines: "To attain the most health benefits from physical activity, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking or fast dancing, each week. Adults also need muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting weights or doing push-ups, at least 2 days each week." (2) 150 minutes a week is only three 50-minute sessions, or five 30-minute sessions. And trust me, the hardest part is putting your shoes on. Once you get moving you want to keep going. According to Newton's first law of motion:


"An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion."


So get in motion! 





Hot Brew Coffee: More Antioxidants Than Cold Brew?

Though cold brew coffee-makers have been touting the health benefits of cold brew over hot brew (details on what that means below), new data shows just the opposite. Not that I am coffee-connoisseur enough to even order cold brew, but I am always interested in health effects of our food and beverages.


Many cold brew businesses claim that their coffee is lower in acidity than regular coffee, thus less likely to cause heartburn and other gastrointestinal distress. Though recent research from Jefferson University (1) shows the pH levels of the two are basically the same, so one would not gain gastrointestinal benefits by drinking cold brew coffee.


The researchers also looked into other chemical differences between the two types of coffee, finding that hot brew is higher in antioxidants, though how much higher it does not state. Despite the popularity of cold brew coffee, there is very little research to support that it is healthier in any way than regular coffee, though both have been found to contain many antioxidants, which assist in fighting illness.


If you are in the dark about cold brew coffee, it is simply a coffee made with a long steeping, no heat method. If you want cold coffee, you could just order iced coffee, which is regular coffee over ice. Apparently, that is old school now.




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