Healthy Sunday Brunch

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I love making healthier versions of typical treat food. At the moment, I am having a smoothie most mornings for breakfast but come the weekend I love a change and coconut flour pancakes with bacon and a berry compote are on my go to list!

Recipe:

From start to finish it should take less than 30 minutes to make this meal for two.

I first start off preparing the coconut flour mix (see part 1 below). Coconut flour can be tricky to cook with and my advice is less is more! When I put the first part of the mixture onto the pan then I start on the berry compote (see part 2 below) and I also put the rashers/bacon under the grill and roast my pumpkin seeds (see part 3 below).

Part 1: Coconut flour pancakes (serves 2 people)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1/6 tsp baking flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk or any alternative milk of your choice
  • 2 tbsp of coconut oil
  • 3 eggs
  • Butter for cooking

Instructions

  • Thoroughly mix the eggs and coconut oil together.
  • Add the milk
  • Mix (not too much) in the coconut flour, baking flour, and salt.
  • Melt a about 1 tsp-tbsp of butter in your pan and then slowly add the batter. I usually just spread a thin layer of the mixture throughout the pan.
  • Keep the heat quiet low and cook for about 4 minutes and then flip with a spatula.
  • Once cooked you can place the pancake on a plate and just before serving you can warm these in the oven.

Part 2: Berry Compote

The berry compote is very quick, easy, healthy and tasty! It can be used as a topping to yoghurts, oats and granola!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of frozen mixed berries or any berries you prefer!
  • 2 tbsp of ground linseeds, sunflowers and almonds (LSA) mix or if you prefer to make it more like a jam then you could use 2 tbsp of chia or linseeds.
  • 100-150mls of water

Instructions

  • Place the 2 cups of frozen mixed berries into a heated saucepan.
  • Once they start to melt/dissolve start to mash them with a fork.
  • Add water and LSA mix
  • Once all the berries are mixed well with the LSA you can allow to cool. The LSA will draw the water in and it will start to gel up within 10 minutes

Part 3: Rashers and Pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

  • 6 Streaky Bacon (serves 2). I recommend going to a good butcher or at least reading the ingredient label on the back of the package when buying your rashers. There is a broad range in pork quality available. Some bacon/rashers only contain 65% pork. Go for Bacon that contains at least 95% pork. The less ingredients the better. Some contain a lot of hidden sugars such as maltodextrin and dextrose.
  • 1 pack of pumpkin seeds 300g
  • 1 tbsp of coconut oil
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions

  • Once you have your pancakes on I recommend you put your rashers under the grill.
  • After 5 minutes under the grill switch to the oven if that’s possible.
  • Mix your pumpkin seeds with the coconut oil and salt. Sprinkle onto a oven tray and place in the bottom of the oven at low heat (~120 °C) while the rashers are cooking above .

 To serve:

  • I recommend placing the pancakes in the oven for 3 minutes before serving. Plate the pancakes and top with the berry compote (about 3 tbsp for each person).
  • Then place the bacon on top and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds. The rest of the pumpkin seeds can be allowed to cool and store in an airtight container (use as a topping to salads).
  • Although I enjoy this without any added sweetener, you are welcome to use a tsp of honey for a little sweetness!
  • Enjoy and please let me know how it tasted….!!

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please like my instagram page: ourfoodkarma

 

An Antioxidant: What is it?

img_5032Nowadays, the term antioxidant is regularly used in support of the latest face cream or nutritional supplement.

However, people often struggle to understand what an antioxidant actually is.

Below is an explanation of what an antioxidant is and its role in the body.

What is an Antioxidant?

An antioxidant is a substance that neutralises or quenches unstable substances called free radicals (1).

An antioxidant is capable of donating an electron to a free radical and as a result ensures the free radical itself becomes stable (2).

Antioxidants are produced within the body but they are also particularly abundant in fruit and vegetables.

Some of the key antioxidants found in food include vitamin A, C, and E, selenium, copper, zinc and phytochemicals.

As long as there are sufficient antioxidants present then free radicals cause no apparent harm. In fact, free radicals can help protect the body (3).

However, excess free radical production within the body or exposure to free radicals in the environment can overwhelm the body’s antioxidant capacity (3).

Excess free radicals which have not been neutralised may go on to adversely affect lipids, proteins and DNA in an attempt to gain an electron (4, 5).

It is even proposed that free radical damage is the underlying cause of ageing and chronic diseases (4, 6).

Therefore, it makes sense to maximize the amount of antioxidants that are consumed throughout the day.

Each person is different and depending on your lifestyle you may need more or less antioxidants than someone else.

The key is to include a variety of fruit and vegetables in your diet each week.

A simple tip is to include different coloured fruits and vegetables in your shopping basket as you are likely to be getting a greater array of nutrients with antioxidant benefits.

Summary: An antioxidant helps to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Fruit and vegetables are high in antioxidants and help to maintain or improve health.

 

 

Sports supplements: Are they worth all the hype?!

Sports nutrition continues to boom with interest in sports supplements extending beyond athletes and body builders. Your everyday gym goer wants to be lean and strong; strength has become a greater priority than the figures on the scales. There is a surge in fitness and health bloggers with their photos on Instagram and Facebook creating a desire and motivation to achieve a leaner body. Non-professional sports are becoming more and more competitive and individuals are increasingly more open to taking supplements in hope they will gain an added edge.

Although there is continued research and funding to show a given supplement can improve body composition or performance, very few supplements have been shown to be effective. Those that show effectiveness are often based on research conducted on a small number of male athletes (such as cyclists) and therefore, how can we be convinced that this will work for everyone?

Below are my top 5 supplements that have the most robust evidence and a good safety profile, but of course there is no substitute for disciplined training and a proper diet!

  1. Creatine:

Creatine phosphate is stored in your muscles and provides an excellent store of energy for very high intensity exercises (when oxygen supply to the muscles is insufficient). You will be using your creatine phosphate stores when you do an “all-out sprint” or lift maximum weights. Both of these examples cannot be maintained for very long and this is because the creatine phosphates are spilt to produce energy and they must be recycled. The recycling process requires oxygen so you will need to get your “breath back” in order to make more creatine phosphate.1

We consume creatine via meat and fish products and we can also make it in the liver; both of which amount to about 2g/day.  An average (70kg) athlete stores around 120g of creatine. Supplementation studies have shown that muscle creatine concentration can be increased by up to 20% using creatine supplements.2

This is achieved by creatine loading: 2

  • Consume 20-25 g/day of creatine over 5-6 days followed by 2g/day as maintenance or
  • Consume smaller amounts (around 3g/day) over 1 month.

Improvements in performance have been shown in weight lifters who loaded with creatine. Creatine supplementation can also cause weight gain (1-2 kg increase in total body mass has been documented after 20g/day loading with creatine for 4-28 days).2 Supplementation increases intracellular water in the muscle which may stimulate glycogen storage. However, there are responders and non-responders; it does not work for everybody! Lastly, anyone with kidney disease should avoid creatine supplementation as it may affect creatinine clearance.

Summary: Creatine supplements may allow maintenance of top speed/strength for longer but this does not always equate to improved performance.

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  1. Caffeine

Caffeine is a socially acceptable stimulatory drug. Caffeine can improve performance in endurance exercises such as running and cycling and also in high intensity sports such as rugby and soccer (from 1 to 3%).3 Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and works by reducing an athlete’s perception of effort and/or pain threshold.2 It has been used as an adjunct to weight loss but caffeine alone has not been shown to have an substantial effect on weight loss.  Unless you are already dehydration, caffeine has not been shown to negatively impact hydration status. Caffeine tends to work when 1-3 mg per kg body weight is consumed before or during exercise.4 A typical cup of coffee contains 80-100 mg of caffeine. You can also take caffeine supplements but if you drink coffee then you can just get your caffeine hit with coffee!

Caffeine is considered safe but excess (greater than 500 mg or greater than your own tolerance level) causes side effects such as increased blood pressure at rest and during exercise, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal distress and insomnia. Caffeine addiction has been documented with doses as low as 100 mg/day and sudden withdrawal can result in severe headaches, drowsiness, and inability to concentrate.1

Personally, I find a cup of coffee (although not a supplement!) before a run or the gym great for a boost but I do not take it before a competitive match because coffee heightens any nervousness I already have coming up to a game!

Summary: Caffeine can improve performance as it is a nervous system stimulant but in excess/above personal tolerance it can cause gastrointestinal distress, increased heart rate and insomnia.

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  1. Protein

The benefit of protein supplementation is more down to convenience than anything else! Protein supplements can be helpful for those going from work to training, or when it may not be possible to have a descent meal soon after training or for those with very high protein requirements; but protein supplementation itself is not more or less effective for increasing muscle mass than protein from food.2  Whey protein is a “fast acting” protein that is absorbed easily and therefore, its amino acids such as the branched chain amino acids- leucine, isoleucine and valine are quickly taken up by muscles. Ricotta cheese contains the highest amount of whey of any wholefood because it is made from whey protein. Casein is a “slow acting” protein with slower absorption compared to whey protein but it provides a more sustained rise in amino acids which may help supress muscle breakdown. Milk contains around 20% whey and 80% casein but all dairy products will contain a mixture of whey and casein. Milk is also rich in leucine which can minimise protein breakdown and is the only amino acid that by itself can stimulate protein synthesis! Research on other individual amino acids is mixed.2 For more on protein please read my recent blog what and when to eat to optimise sports performance

Summary: Protein supplements can be beneficial in enhancing muscle growth and recovery but has not been shown to be more superior to protein from food sources.

  1. Beetroot

Beetroot, spinach, rocket, carrots and most root vegetable contain nitrates. Nitrates can be converted in the body to nitric oxide which improves blood flow via vasodilation. Nitrate intake has been associated with enhanced exercise performance.1 A study by Murphy et al. in 2012 showed that whole beetroot consumption improved running time in 11 recreational fit men and women who ran 5km compared to those who consumed cranberry relish (12.3±2.7km/hr versus 11.9±2.6 km/hr).5  Furthermore, during the last 1.8 km of the 5-km run, running velocity was 5% faster (12.7±3.0 vs 12.1±2.6 km/hour; P=0.02) in the beetroot group. Although beetroot is a food and not a supplement it is worth a mention as the results have been very positive. Perhaps you could have a beetroot, spinach and carrot based smoothie pre-training!

Summary: Consumption of beetroot or an equivalent nitrate dose from other vegetables improves running performance in healthy adults.5

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  1. Probiotics

Athletes with prolonged, intense training often experience diarrhoea and upper respiratory tract infections. This is because vigorous exercise increases gastrointestinal permeability causing ‘leaky gut’. In 2011 West et al. showed that supplementation with a probiotic called Lactobacillus fermentum reduced the severity of self-reported symptoms of lower respiratory illness, use of cold and flu medication, and severity of gastrointestinal symptoms at higher training loads in Australian male athletes.6 Although this research was specific to male Australian athletes it may be worth a trial of this strain if you experience re-occurring diarrhoea and/or respiratory tract infections.

Summary: Athletes experiencing diarrhoea may benefit from a trial of probiotic bacteria called Lactobacillus fermentum.

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

References:

  1. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015). Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage:
  2. Helms et al (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11:20
  3. Noakes, T.M. (2002). Love of running (4th Ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
  4. Burke, L.M. (2008). Caffeine and sports performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33, 1319-1334.
  5. Murphy, M. et al. 2012 Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112;4:548-552
  6. West N.P, et al. (2011) Lactobacillus fermentum (PCC®) supplementation and gastrointestinal and respiratory-tract illness symptoms: a randomised control trial in athletes. Nutrition Journal, 10:30

What and when to eat to optimise sports performance

“What should I eat before, during and after exercise?” is a question I am asked a lot. The other question is “What supplements do you think I should be taking?” I’ll cover supplements in an upcoming blog but getting your overall nutrition sorted first is the key priority!

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Sometimes in sports there is a focus on macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) but little emphasise on vitamins and minerals but these are essential! For example iron is an essential component of haemoglobin which transports oxygen to your body cells, magnesium acts in the enzymatic conversion of intermediate substances during ATP (energy) production, and B vitamins such as thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3) are essential in generating large amounts of energy in the cell! So without having these vitamins and minerals present in adequate amounts you will find it hard to reach optimum performance and will likely fatique early.

The best way to get all of these vitamins and minerals is through a good diet. Improving your diet a week or two before a competition is beneficial but the greater benefit is seen in those who have integrated a good healthy eating plan during the year!

What is a good healthy eating plan?

A healthy eating plan includes plenty of vegetables (a mixture of dark green leafy vegetable, purple, yellow and orange vegetables); adding a few lettuce leaves and a slice of tomato to a sandwich is just not enough! Ideally you should be having 4-5 portions of vegetables a day (2 cups of salad leaves or 1 cup of carrots/peppers/tomatoes is considered one normal portion size). Two to four portions of fruit per day is sufficient for most people (depending on energy requirements).  Remember vegetables and fruit contribute to your overall carbohydrate intake!

The next thing is to ensure any grains you eat are wholegrain. These provide a range of B vitamins and plenty of fiber to support good bowel movement! My favourites are quinoa (keen wah) which has a good range of amino acids, oats and wholegrain rice. For anyone who follows a fat-adapted diet plan please read my previous blog on fat adaptation: Getting fat adapted

Good sources of protein rich foods should be included in every meal. Great protein sources are beef steak, lamb chops, chicken breast, tuna steaks, milk and eggs. Salmon and other oily fish also contain great sources of omega 3 which helps to dampen down inflammation in the body. Omega 3 is particularly important in regard to immunity and recovery from injury. There are also good non-animal sources of protein such as chick peas (hummus dips), kidney beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. The beauty about nuts and seeds is that they are convenient and contain an excellent range of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, selenium and zinc. Including some brazil nuts, cashews nuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds is a great way of upping your protein intake and getting some healthy polyunsaturated fats into the diet. Protein requirement for the general population is 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight but depending on your sport and body composition you may need 1 to 2 g per kg of body weight.1,2 For a 75 kg individual this equates to 60 g (general population) and 75 g up to 150 g of protein for athletes. To give you an idea; a portion of meat will provide about 25-30g of protein and an egg around 8g of protein. From my experience most people easily meet their protein requirements through diet alone. Unless you are lifting heavy weights and there is continued hypertrophy then you are unlikely to require any extra protein. Excess protein which is not used by muscle cells or for other functions will instead be used for energy, ultimately sparing fat stores; which is not good for anyone trying to reduce their body fat percentage!

In regard to fat, don’t be afraid to include some olive oil (for low heat) or coconut oil/macadamia nut oil (for high heat) at your main meals. Fats are also important for the structure of our cell membranes and hormone production but a low fat meal is best close to exercise.

What should I eat and drink before exercise/training/match/game?

This will all depend on whether you are elite, well-trained or a recreational sports person. Some people eat like they are an elite athlete but are not training or competing at a high level, and therefore may not need extra carbohydrate, protein shakes or supplements etc.

Before exercise you should eat to satisfy hunger and ensure glycogen is replenished. If you had a hard training session the evening before and are training again the next day you may need to have some extra carbohydrate on board to ensure your glycogen stores are topped up. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate in your muscle and liver. We have a limited capacity to store glycogen but the more we have stored then the greater ability there is to use it as a quick fuel sources during exercise. Remember any carbohydrate that is not converted to glycogen can then be stored as fat so it’s important to find your sweet spot (eating enough carbohydrates to replenish glycogen but not too much to increase fat storage).

Individuals with greater muscle mass have a greater ability to store glycogen. For a big match or competition you may wish to try carbohydrate loading. This is where you taper training for a few days before a game and eat a large amount of low fiber carbohydrates (to maximise the amount of carbohydrate consume). However, many people do not tolerate large amounts of carbohydrate and the gastrointestinal symptoms may offset the extra glycogen stored!

The focus before exercise is on carbohydrates but including some branched chain amino acids (BCAA), may help improve time to exhaustion, maximise power output and stimulate protein synthesis after exercise.2,3 BCAAs include three amino acids; isoleucine, leucine and valine. Good sources of these are meat, dairy, egg whites, nuts and seeds.

Another important aspect is to leave time for digestion. If you are eating 3 to 4 hours before exercise then you can have a normal balance meal e.g. sweet potato with some green beans, peppers and a tuna steak. Or if you are going straight from work to training (around 1 to 2 hours before exercise) then it is better to eat something that can be easily digested such as some fruit, nuts and yoghurt. The higher the intensity the exercise is then the greater time you need to allow for digestion. Timing is also quiet individual, some people feel better eating at least 3 hours before training and others can tolerate food up to 1 hour before exercise.

There should be plenty of water on board before exercise and ideally only water should be consumed within an hour before exercise. Having a sugary drink may cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a surge in insulin release that rapidly lowers blood sugars (in people who are sensitive to sugar). You do not want to risk having low blood sugar just before you start training or a match! But in the last 10 minutes before exercise it is ok to drink a sports drink for example as there is not enough time for the body to pump insulin into the blood and by the time exercise starts your body has downregulated its insulin release!

2-3% body water loss can reduce performance but be aware that excess can cause low sodium levels (hyponatremia). It is important to sip water throughout the day and not gulp a liter or two just before training!

Table 1: Pre-exercise nutrition

Time before exercise Example
1 hour or less 500 ml water (no food), a sports drink or homemade sports drink 10 minutes before starting exercise
2 hours Smoothie made from yoghurt and low fiber fruit such as banana, peaches, honeydew and watermelon. Fibrous fruits that are best avoided too close to exercise include apples, berries, dates, figs, grapes, pears, mango and pineapple (but this will depend on personal tolerance level)
3 to 4 hours Quinoa with broccoli, cauliflower, cod fillet with a tomato based sauce

 

What should I eat and drink during exercise/training/match/game?

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For exercise up to 90 minutes the priority should be hydration with water. For endurance exercise such as running, water is sufficient but if you are exercising at high intensity and especially in the heat you may wish to drink a sports drink. Sports drinks will contain carbohydrates and electrolytes which help to maintain water balance in and out of the cells. A number of recent studies have shown that rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate solution without actually consuming the drink has a positive effect on exercise performance. It may be that the carbohydrate drink stimulates rewards centers in the brain!2 If you decide to make your own sports drink make sure it does not contain fructose as the main sugar as it will not be absorbed very well and main create gut problems. A good idea is to use coconut water with a pinch of salt!

There will be significant glycogen depletion when exercising for greater than 90minutes. Sports drinks or gels with water will help to maintain carbohydrate. Glycogen depletion can cause muscle wasting as protein is then used as a fuel source.

What should I eat and drink after exercise/training/match/game?

Topping up low or empty glycogen stores after prolonged high intensity exercise is essential to guarantee stores for the next session. This can be achieved by consuming a high carbohydrate snack within 2 hours or within 30 minutes if you plan to exercise again within 8 hours. Liquid carbohydrate sources will be absorbed more quickly but this is only a priority if you are training again soon i.e. the next morning. Drinking juice or eating fruit is also sufficient to replace nearly all electrolytes.

In a 1 hour workout you can use up to 30g of protein (again this depends on the type pf exercise, intensity and your own body composition). If you are having a meal with some animal protein or good non-animal protein sources as mentioned earlier then that should meet your protein and BCAA needs. However, if you are not having a meal and are on the go then it is a good idea to have some nuts and yoghurt with you. Homemade or shop bought bought bliss balls can be great,  and a protein shake or a protein bar can also be useful.

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Conclusion

In the long term your nutrition goals should focus on adequate:

  • energy intake to meet the energy demands of training
  • replenishment of muscle and liver glycogen with dietary carbohydrates
  • protein intake for growth and repair of tissue, particularly skeletal muscle
  • hydration
  • overall diet to maintain good health

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If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

 

Reference:

  1. NHMRC Nutrient reference values for Australia & New Zealand. Including recommended dietary intakes. (2005). National Health and Medical Research Council: Australia, & Ministry of Health:NZ.
  2. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015) Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage.
  3. Cordain L, & Friel J. (2012). The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance. 2nd Ed, Rodale Inc, New York.

Do MY FOOD CHOICES affect anyone else?

The reason I named my facebook page Our Food Karma is because I wanted to highlight the idea that we are all in it together and our own food choices have a massive influence on the food choices of others and I’ll explain why…!

Family influences:

If you have one parent who is obese you have a 50% chance of becoming obese as an adult and if both your parents are obese then your obesity risk goes up to 80%! I argue that the risk is more down to nurture rather than nature! Our diets in adulthood are largely influenced on what food we were given as a child. Although easily mistaken, love is not providing sugary foods to settle children. If you are overweight as a child you are likely going to be overweight as an adult, unless you change your diet dramatically later on in life.

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Parents/caregivers who eat unhealthily will undoubtedly impart at least some of these unhealthy eating behaviours to their children. Also your diet prior to and during pregnancy along with your weight can have long lasting effects on your child’s health even in adulthood!! Women who enter into pregnancy overweight increase their own risk of developing gestational diabetes and increase the likelihood of their child developing type 2 diabetes later in life!

So in order to ensure your kids are healthy and less likely to become overweight, develop type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease as adults it is worth reassessing mealtimes and making nutrition a priority.

Friends:

Whether we realise it or not our food choices affect the food choices of our friends. For example, when you are meeting up with friends and someone suggests a dessert, do you say

  1. “yes, that’s a great idea, I was eyeing up the chocolate éclair” OR
  2. “I’m good, the dinner was enough for me!”

When  you visit friends do you bring cakes and biscuits or do you bring a healthy dip? When you go to the cinema do you convince your friend to get popcorn and chocolate too so you can feel better about treating yourself? Do you bring sweets for your friend’s children or instead buy them a colouring book, bracelet, or DVD? What I’m discussing here is what you do most of time; sometimes you might bring ice-cream to cheer yourself or a friend up, or maybe you have that dessert just because you feel like it, or maybe you do bring sweets over for a friend’s child but as long as your habit (what you do around 80% of the time) has a positive impact overall then you will be doing okay! Our friends are often the most influential people in our life! It pays to be around healthy friends..!!

Housemates:

Every house I’ve lived in (and I’ve lived in a lot), I’ve learnt or picked up some cooking tips from a housemate. You notice what your housemates buy in their grocery shopping and you see and smell the end results. This affects you whether you know it or not! However, when your housemate prefers to order a pizza then this can make you a bit more relaxed and perhaps not as stringent with your home cooking (…but at least there’s no one taking over the cooker!). If we look at things the other way round your housemate may start to become curious about your food and perhaps may start to buy some of those “strange” vegetables you get each week!

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Grocery shopping:

The food industry and supermarkets are to blame for all the cheap and easily available unhealthy food. There is enticement and temptation everywhere, as their sole objective is to make money! However, it is ultimately us who swipes our bank cards and pays for our own food shopping. If we did not continue to purchase all those sugary drinks, biscuits, cakes, pastries, and chocolate then there would no longer be a demand for them and suppliers would stock more healthy food (but only if there is a demand!).

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This is a photo taken by my friend Elize when she was in Amsterdam. Sometimes a photo can describe a thousand words!! Very ironic!

Eating out:

Similar to grocery shopping above, if we make the individual choice to stop buying takeaways and instead eat at healthy restaurants then the demand for these fast food chains will go down! Fast food restaurants located near schools or near residential areas is associated with an increase in obesity! We can also do our bit at restaurants. Portion sizes in restaurants are often a lot bigger than what you would normally eat at home. There is often the dilemma of not wanting to waste food and to get value for your money. Although you may feel awkward asking the following questions, my advice is to not care as most restaurants are a business and are there for profit but if people keep asking then they will gradually change their menus/options! The following questions can be helpful in making sure you follow a healthy diet while eating out:

  • Are there half portions available?
  • Can I have the dressing on the side?
  • What exactly is in the salad? I find salads can be hit and miss. You can get amazing, tasty and filling salads and on the other hand you can get miserable, tasteless and unfilling salads, and then you wish you ordered those chips that someone else has (and you may even treat yourself to a dessert to feel better after this mishap!).
  • Can I have a larger portion of vegetables instead of the baguette/bread/chips? Or a side salad with the soup instead of white bread (which is commonly provided)?
  • Ask to have what you’re not eating put into a takeaway container. This prevents you from continuing to graze and it means you have another meal/snack for later (sustainability!).

Conclusion

We live in a world that is becoming more and more aware of the link between nutrition and health but unfortunately our awareness is not having enough action. Although it may seem like we can only play a small part; if everyone made one small change to their diet every week we would have a healthy and happy population in no time!

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects around 10-20% of adolescents and adults globally. Up to half of patients seen in gastroenterology clinics have IBS.1 It is also more common in women than in men and in individuals below 50 years.1

People with IBS experience recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort that is often associated with pain relief by bowel movement, onset of pain relating to change in stool frequency and/or onset of pain being related to a change in stool appearance.1 IBS symptoms can come and go and it can lead to bloating, wind, constipation, diarrhoea along with general frustration, embarrassment and impaired quality of life.

Some people with IBS are more prone to diarrhoea (IBS-D), while others are more prone to constipation (IBS-C), and then some people do not quite fit into either of these and are considered mixed (IBS-M).1

People with IBS-D tend to have poor absorption of certain carbohydrates, which are then rapidly fermented by bacteria in the gut. The fermentation process in the colon creates gas and can create a laxative effect as they draw water into the colon, which can in turn cause diarrhoea.2  

The cause of IBS is multifactorial and in recent years there has been a greater focus on the gut-brain connection. People with IBS tend to have heightened visceral sensitivity (they feel a sharper pain in response to a stimulus) which can influence gut motility.2 There are also psychological factors such as stress at play.

Below are some general recommendations for IBS (Table 1). Probiotics (good bacteria) may be helpful and if tried should be taken for four weeks. Different strains of probiotics may have different effects so you may need to try different strains.3

Table 1: General recommendations for IBS3

GENERAL REC

FODMAP Diet

If general lifestyle and dietary advice does not resolve symptoms then a low FODMAP diet is sometimes recommended.3 FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharide, Disaccharide, Monosaccharide, And Polyols. These are a group of short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and can cause gas, pain and diarrhoea in susceptible individuals. The Low FODMAP diet was created by a team of researchers at Monash University in Australia in 2005. The diet is dietitian led and it can improve overall gastrointestinal symptoms by up to 86%.4

The FODMAP diet aims to reduce the total intake of fermentable sugars in your diet for 6 to 8 weeks. Foods can then be gradually re-introduced. It is important at this stage to monitor your tolerance to each of the foods re-introduced in order to assess if there are particular foods which are causing symptoms. A way of re-introducing a food might be to try a glass of milk or 2 slices of wheat bread.2

Below are examples of high FODMAP foods (Table 2) and low FODMAP alternatives (Table 3).

Table 2: High FODMAP foods2,4

HIGH fodmap

Table 3: Low FODMAP foods4

low fodmap

If you have IBS type symptoms then you should definitely go to see your doctor. If you are diagnosed with IBS and the general recommendations do not alleviate your symptoms then it might really be worth trying the low FODMAPs diet. The diet is recommended to be followed under the supervision of a dietitian trained in using this dietary approach. The diet will be tailored based on food records and direct questioning. You will be provided with alternatives and you can problem solve any issues such as eating out. There is also a low FODMAP diet app by Monash University which can be downloaded for a small fee but is really helpful. We still do not know the long-term effects of this diet but so far short-term studies have shown greater improvement in symptoms in those following low FODMAP diet compared to their normal diet.5-7

I hope you found this useful, if you would like to read more nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000

References

  1. Longstreth GF, Thompson WG, Chey WD, et al. Functional bowel disorders. Gastroenterol. 2006; 130(5):1480-1491.
  2. Gibson PR, Shepherd SJ. Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms:  The FODMAP approach.  J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010;25(2):252-258.
  3. National Institute of Clinical Excellence. Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: diagnosis and management. NICE guidelines [CG61]. Available from https://nice.org.uk/guidance/CG61/chapter/1-Recommendations Accessed 18th July 2016
  4. Nanayakkara WS, Skidmore PML, O’Brien L, et al. Efficacy of the low FODMAP diet for treating irritable bowel syndrome: the evidence to date. Clin Exp Gastroenterol 2016:9 131–142.
  5. Staudacher HM, Lomer MC, Anderson JL, et al. Fermentable carbohydrate restriction reduces luminal bifidobacteria and gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. J Nutr. 2012;142(8):1510–1518.
  6. Pedersen N, Andersen NN, Vegh Z, et al. Ehealth: low FODMAP diet vs Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG in irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(43):16215–16226 2010;25(8):1366–1373.
  7. Halmos EP, Power VA, Shepherd SJ, et al. A diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterol. 2014;146(1):67–75.e65.

 

Should I take supplements?

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This is a question I get asked all the time, and it’s a very tricky one to answer! Below are two proposed arguments for and against supplements and I’ll then give you some information which will help you make up your own mind!

“Vitamin and mineral supplements are a great insurance policy for my health?!”

Some people use supplements as an insurance policy, ‘in case of being low in a nutrient I’ll take a supplement to at least get what I need or maybe gain some extra benefits’. This is a reasonable argument. The recommended daily intakes are based on the estimated needs of most people to prevent deficiency but it does not take into account individual specific requirements. For example I may need more iron and less vitamin A than another woman of my age. It is argued that the requirements for optimal health may be substantially higher than the current recommendations. Intensive agriculture methods have resulted in depleted nutrients in our soil, which translates to reduced nutrients in our food.

“We are able to get enough vitamins and minerals from a good healthy diet..!”

“Eating a healthy balance diet is the best bet to ensure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. There is nothing better than obtaining your vitamins and minerals through food. Not only do vitamins and minerals depend on each other for absorption and metabolism but there are also other substances in food called phytonutrients that have health benefits. These all work together (synergistically) in the body”. This is also a valid argument.

Water soluble and fat soluble vitamins

Let’s first look at water soluble and fat soluble vitamins. B vitamins and vitamin C are water soluble. The main thing that you need to know about water soluble vitamins is that they are not stored in your body. This means if you take a water soluble vitamin supplement there is a very low risk of side effects and toxicity if you take more than you need because these vitamins do not accumulate in your body. But it also means that any excess is excreted. So if you take more than required you may be urinating your money away! Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins. These vitamins can be stored in your body, but because of this, supplementing with these vitamins over a long period of time may cause side effects and toxicity.

Vitamin A is important for skin, vision, immunity, reproduction and acts as an antioxidant. It is well know that you should not take vitamin A supplements during pregnancy as it can cause developmental defects. High dose vitamin A supplements may also cause liver damage over time. If you decide to supplement with vitamin A chose beta-carotene, as this can be converted to vitamin A but it does not cause harmful effects (only that you may turn into an umpa-lumpa!).

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. People living further from the equator need more vitamin D (e.g. Northern Europe countries like Ireland and the UK) than those living closer to the equator (e.g. Singapore). There is also the fine balance between minimising UVB exposure (wearing sunscreen) while also trying to ensure your skin can manufacture enough vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from animal food sources and mushrooms but these are not enough. Osteoporosis is becoming increasingly prevalent and it is what we do in our 20s-50s that will determine whether we develop weak and porous bones in the future. Vitamin D receptors are found all over your body and vitamin D may also be important for your heart and mental health. If you work or exercise outdoors a lot you should be able to produce enough vitamin D but if you are dark skinned and are indoors most of the time then a vitamin D supplement may be for you. However, be mindful that vitamin D is stored in the body and may become toxic if excess is consumed over time.

Be careful with taking a high dose of any single vitamin or mineral

Vitamins and minerals work best when they are available to your body in appropriate amounts. Vitamins and minerals do not work in isolation; they work together. Vitamins and minerals often depend on one another to work properly, for example vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium. However, too much of one vitamin or mineral can have a negative effect on another vitamin and mineral, for example a high dose supplement of vitamin A can interfere with the activation of vitamin D and thus decrease calcium absorption.1  Excess minerals such as copper, zinc, iron and magnesium can bind with some vitamins (e.g. vitamin B2) and prevent their absorption. Iron deficiency is common but taking a high dose supplement just because you think it might improve your health is not necessarily the right things to do. Excess iron can cause liver damage among other things in the long-term.2 Most pharmacies can test your iron level so it is worth getting it checked. The last time I tried to give blood my haemoglobin level was not high enough. I was within the normal range but too low to give blood. Because of this I take an iron supplement. I take it about 3 times a week to top up my iron levels. I also make sure I avoid coffee and tea with my meals to maximise absorption of iron from plant foods. Unless there is a deficiency or obvious suboptimal levels of a given vitamin or mineral then it is best to avoid single supplements.

Look at your current health status:

  • If you are eating a highly processed diet then you may be low in some nutrients.
  • Alcohol impairs the absorption of B vitamins2 so if you are drinking most weekends and/or during the week you may need to assess the need for supplementation (and your lifestyle choices!).
  • Are you taking medications? Certain medications interfere with the absorption or metabolism of certain vitamins and minerals. For example some blood pressure medications (diuretics) promote excretion of B vitamins and vitamin C. Drugs that reduce cholesterol absorption will also reduce fat soluble vitamin absorption. Medications that reduce acid secretion in the stomach may reduce vitamin B12 absorption because vitamin B12 absorption depends on sufficient acid production in the stomach. There is also an association between women taking an oral contraceptive pill and suboptimal levels of folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin 6.
  • If you are chronically stressed (perhaps you have a very stressful job or home life) you may require more vitamin C, B vitamins and antioxidants than a ‘normal’ individual.
  • If you do a lot of sports you may have higher requirements for particular vitamins and minerals (this is a blog in itself!). However, the recommendations for vitamin and mineral requirements for athletes are the same as the general population.

 

Food first

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Tuna steak with lots of veg and homemade yoghurt dressing (natural live yoghurt, ginger, garlic, dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, avocado oil, paprika and chili)

Before supplementing I always look at ways of increasing nutrient intake through food.

  • Each week buy a variety of different coloured fruits and veg. As part of your fruit and veg shopping you could buy leek, kale and red peppers one week and the next week spinach, pumpkin and broccoli. This way you are getting an array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Try to be adventurous and try something new, this also prevents you from becoming bored with the same types of meals.
  • The soil in New Zealand is low in iodine and selenium. I’m conscious of this and I have started to use seaweed flakes more in salads, stir-fries and soups. Seaweed is a great source of iodine. Iodine is essential in the formation of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones help to regulate metabolism and promote fat breakdown and growth and development. Selenium is important for thyroid function (inadequate selenium impairs thyroid hormone metabolism) and it is also a great antioxidant! Brazil nuts contain unusually high levels of selenium, so I keep a pack of these at my desk in work and I eat 2-3 of these most days to ensure I am getting enough selenium.
  • The absorption of fat soluble vitamins is enhanced with fat. Adding a tablespoon of olive oil to a salad for example is a simple way of maximising the amount of vitamin A, E and K that is absorbed in your small intestines.
  • Perhaps you are not eating enough omega 3 foods? You may not be regularly eating fish or good fats such as linseeds, chia seeds and walnuts (please see my blog on fat and carb balance for info on the benefits of omega 3). The best approach here is to start to increase your oily fish intake and you can make simple changes like adding flax seed oil into your salad dressing or adding walnuts into a yoghurt. If you decide to take a fish oil supplement please go for a good quality brand to reduce the risk of mercury build up.
  • Overcooking food will dramatically reduce the amount of B vitamins and vitamin C present. Try to steam instead of boil or if you boil your veg use the water for a soup or casserole dish.
  • Think about adding more fresh or dried herbs and spices to your meals. This is another way of increasing your nutrient intake and also making your meals a lot tastier!
  • If you do wish to buy a supplement then go for a good multivitamin and mineral supplement (you usually get what you pay for).

 

 Exciting new research…!

In April I attended the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association conference in Auckland. Professor Julia Rucklidge (University of Canterbury) showed impressive evidence that supported micronutrients as a treatment for psychiatric disorders. She discussed several studies which showed that high dose micronutrient supplementation alleviated symptoms in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHDs), depression, and autism. The symptom relief experienced by participants allowed for reductions in medications. What was also interesting to see was that once supplementation stopped the symptoms often re-occurred.3

Interestingly about 20-30% of individuals in the studies did not respond to micronutrient supplementation. The results of her research found that nutritional status at baseline did not generally influence how an individual responded.3 So this may mean that it wasn’t just because a person was deficient in a given micronutrient that they experienced benefits from supplementation.

She went on to discuss how diet affects mood and the more of a Western type of diet that you follow then the more likely you are to develop depression.3 We all are unique and although our genes influence what diseases or conditions we may be more likely to develop, our diet can affect our health and it is not all down to our genes. What we don’t know is what affects our individual response to supplementation. What nutrients I need may be very different from what you need.

Nutrigenomics is the word used to describe how nutrients affect gene expression. It is a new area of nutritional research that aims to figure out which groups of individuals are most likely to benefit from a particular nutritional intervention and which groups may be at risk of harm. So some day we may all have our own unique dietary plan based on how nutrients affect our own individual genes..!

What to do if you really want a tailored supplementation plan…

  • If you really want to figure out if you should be taking a particular supplement then the best way forward is to book an appointment with a nutritionist or dietitian. Your dietitian/nutritionist will likely ask you to do a 3 day food diary (with one day being a weekend) before the consultation. This will give them a good idea of your usual eating habits. Most nutritionist/dietitians will use a dietary analysis software programme that analyses your intake of macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). In New Zealand we use a programme called FoodWorks which includes common Kiwi foods! You are given a percentage estimate for each vitamin and mineral, for example vitamin C 78% means you consumed 78% of the recommend amount of vitamin C. I previously used CompEat software but there are many others available!
  • The next stage is assessment of these results. If the result for a particular vitamin or mineral is low then you may be referred to your GP in order to get tested for deficiency. Some nutritionists/dietitians may be able to take a sample and send it to a laboratory for testing. For example in New Zealand a company called Labtests allows health care professionals to send in client samples for testing. Some tests are free through your GP but some tests can be pricey. It is important to note that a 3 day food diary may not give a true reflection of your nutritional status but with further discussion (looking at symptoms, family history, medical history and lifestyle factors) your nutritionist/dietitian should be able to gain a true insight into your current nutritional status.
  • Depending on the assessment results your nutritionist/dietitian may recommend incorporating particular foods into your diet based on your food preferences, with the goal of increasing intake of particular nutrients.

And/Or

  • He/she may recommend a particular supplement (even without testing), especially if you are experiencing symptoms associated with a lack of that vitamin(s) or mineral(s).
  • The next stage is monitoring. There should be a follow-up consultation to see if things have improved or in order to address any issues. It takes time to correct sub-optimal/deficient nutrient levels. The most common challenge I notice is compliance issues. You may have went to see someone with great intentions and at a stage where you were really motivated to make a change to your diet and health, but after a few days normal habits creep in and you stop making those changes that you told your nutritionists would be easy and/or you forget to take those supplements! A reminder comes for your appointment and you either cancel or decide to keep your appointment and be honest about your progress. Honesty is the best choice and from there you can work together with your nutritionist to reassess and problem-solve these challenges. You then leave with new tweaked goals and a plan in place!
  • Finally, more monitoring until you get to a stage where you have made progress and are confident to continue on your own.

I hope you found this useful, please like my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Ourfoodkarma for more updates and interaction!

 

References

  1. Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements, vol 1 (4th ed.). Australia, Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
  2. NHMRC (2005) Nutrient reference values for Australia & New Zealand. Including recommended dietary intakes.  National Health and Medical Research Council: Australia, & Ministry of Health:NZ.
  3. Rucklidge, J. Micronutrients as a treatment for psychiatric disorders: Rethinking the scientific paradigm. Presented at Australasian Integrative Medicine Association conference, Auckland, 9th April 2016.

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Behavioural Weight Loss Tips

If I were to ask you “what do you need to do to lose weight?’ I think you would be able to tell me several things that you need to do in order to achieve this. But why is it that most people do not actually carry out the things required to make a long-lasting change? I am going to give you my top 5 behavioural tips that will help you achieve your weight loss goal. They require effort but with persistence they will become habit with much less effort needed.

Only recently I was at the gym and I weighed myself. I was 55kg and I had a moment of reflection and just thought “I’ve come along way”. In University I used to weigh from 60kg up to 63kg at my heaviest. I still had a healthy BMI but I was very unhappy with my figure. I was always dieting and I would lose weight for a while but I could never sustain it and I’d regain the weight I’d lost. No, I didn’t find the perfect diet that we are all striving for but as I started to learn more and more about nutrition my mind set changed. I started to view food in a more positive light and I started to make small changes that over time has got me to the point where I don’t obsess about my weight and when I do gain weight, for example at Christmas or on holidays I know that once I get back into my normal routine I will easily lose this weight again. This is mainly because I’ve made behavioural changes. I know I’m not perfect and I still want to get leaner; your goal may be quiet different to mine but this is what continues to help me achieve mine and it can also work for you.  

  1. Realistic Goal:

 Do you want to drop 5kg in two weeks or would you like to drop 10kg over 3 months? Losing 5kg in 2 weeks means severe diet restriction with the likelihood of regaining all the weight lost.  This situation is something I see time and time again and of course I have done this myself in the past! A client or someone I just meet tells me how they were doing so great and lost weight but after the holiday or wedding they regained the weight and even gained more weight. They share their so close but so far moments and often have feelings of shame or guilt for not keeping up with it. The problem with this strategy is that at the start of the diet you are motivated and even enjoy the food you are eating. But after a little while motivation may dwindle, you become bored with the limited food choice and your battle with hunger wins. You are really setting yourself up for failure and there will be hunger pangs, tiredness and maybe even dizziness. This is something that diet magazines or new wonder diets that promise 5kg weight loss in 14 days do not tell you! The other important thing here is that all those dramatic changes you made just cannot be sustained because they are just not habits yet. We only continue with things in the long-term that become a habit. Whereas a goal of losing 10kg over 3 months is more achievable as you can do it without severe restrictions. There will be changes but these can be made more gradually and once they become habit it will mean you are more likely to keep the weight off in the long-term. 

  1. SMART Changes:

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SMART changes follows on from realistic goals. SMART changes mean you decide on some actions that will help you achieve your main goal. These are like mini goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (and relevant) and Timely. I’ll give you an example, I could say “I’m going to eat healthier”. But there is no plan in place here; I need to know how I am going to do it. I must specify what I am going to do, how often and for how long I am going to do it for, and I need to make sure it’s attainable and realistic so it can become a habit. So instead, one of my SMART goals could be “I am going to make sure I cover half my lunch and dinner plate with vegetables Monday to Saturday”. This way you become accountable and can monitor how you are doing on a weekly basis. If you want to lose weight and keep it off then this is the way to go. Once you have the first three SMART changes made and you are comfortable with them you can add on more. This way you are starting to accumulate good habits and over time these pay off. Also if you have an indulgent day once in a while you can try to include at least one of your changes in that day as a way of still feeling confident in knowing that tomorrow you will get back to normal!  It’s a bit like training for a marathon you do not just become a runner overnight, you need to have small goals that over time makes you fitter and capable of running longer distances.

  1. Portion Size:

This may sound so basic but even if you start to include more healthy foods into your diet you will not reduce your body weight if you are eating large portions. We all need slightly different portion sizes based on our own metabolism (taking into account lean body mass, height and weight etc). It sometimes frustrates me that my boyfriend can eat and needs a much larger portion than me, but that’s just the way it is and I need to work with this. Things that help me include using a smaller plate, smaller lunch containers and sometimes when I use a spoon I opt for a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. This is so simple but it works. It is all about perception..!

The other aspect of portion size is food shopping. Unless you are someone who can eat one chocolate biscuit and leave it at that, then you should only buy snacks/treats in a small portion as and when you really want them. Do not be tempted to bulk buy because you are saving money or you think you’ve got it right this time and will not want any more than one at a time. More often than not you will eat them all in a short space of time and you may even start to think to yourself “I just want them gone so I can start eating healthy again”. This is something I’ve heard and done myself all too often. Why create temptation for yourself?

  1. Use your Higher Brain Center:

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Sometimes I get a craving for a chocolate bar or something along that line; instead of just going along with my craving I try to assess why am I craving this now? Is it because I just seen an advertisement on TV or am I stressed with something? Sometimes we just do things without truly thinking and go on autopilot. This is helpful when driving a car but not when you have created unhelpful habits over the years. Have you ever eaten three too many biscuits and then immediately afterwards have feelings of regret and say to yourself “why did I do that?” Our emotions sometimes overrule our logic. When we try to assess these emotions or instincts we are bringing in our pre-frontal cortex which is important for rational thought, free will and assessing the consequences of our actions. Depending on how strong the craving is I’ll say to myself “Ok I can have this tomorrow if I really want it” or if it’s a really strong craving I’ll say “Ok, if I’m still feeling like this in 10 minutes I’ll have it”. This usually work but sometimes I still want that chocolate bar after the 10 minute period and I have it but over time it has become less and less frequent.

  1. Non Food Rewards:

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Stop using food as a reward. Instead swop your food rewards to ones that are helping to create a better you or at least not contradict your weight loss goal! My favourite is booking a massage or a facial but simple things like allowing yourself time to read a book, watch your favourite series, a new film or a match, hang out with some good friends or just go for a leisurely stroll. This also applies to your children. Telling your child that he or she can have sweets if they are good is creating associations that being good means they deserve to eat sugary sweets. Later, in adulthood when you feel like treating yourself you turn to these sugary treats. This is really setting up unhelpful habits. I know it is easy for me to say and sometimes when you’ve exhausted all other options you may end up using this but just try to limit it to when you really have no other options or at least use a healthier alternative like a piece of fruit as the reward.

My last bit of behavioural advice is to believe in yourself and in the words of Mahatama Gandi

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

I hope you enjoyed the read, please like my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Ourfoodkarma for more updates and interaction!

Getting Fat Adapted

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I hope you enjoyed my last blog! This week I am looking at fat adaptation for weight loss and sport performance. Weight loss is one of the most challenging topics because we live in an obesogenic environment with unhealthy and as much as I regret to say this, often tasty foods around us! No wonder everyone wants a quick fix because to lose weight takes long-term discipline and quite frankly it can be extremely hard. What works for one person may not work for someone else. This is why I want to discuss fat adaptation; it may be a good option for one person and not for another, and I’ll explain why. I’ll also share my own experience in becoming fat adapted.

Likewise, I’ll discuss why fat adaptation may be a useful tool in sport and I’ll also explain the challenges that come with it.

Disclaimer: I do not recommend ketogenic diets for the general population but aim to discuss why it is being considered as a weight loss option and a sports performance tool. If you have a medical condition, e.g. diabetes I do not recommend starting this diet without consult from your GP and dietitian/experienced nutritionist.

What is fat adaptation?

Fat-adaptation involves eating a high fat, low carbohydrate (carb) diet in order for your body to use a greater amount of fat as fuel. Once your carb stores (glycogen in liver and muscle) are low your body then starts to produce ketones in a process called ketosis. Ketones, mainly beta hydroxybutyrate are produced from fatty acids and can supply our brain, organs and muscle with fuel so we don’t need to rely exclusively on glucose anymore as the main fuel source. So basically you re-train your body to use fat as the key fuel source. Fat adaptation can occur within a few days if you go with a very low amount of carbs (25-30 g per day [a small scoop of mash potato is around 10g] or you may opt for a longer time frame in which you allow yourself more carbs (less than 50 g per day).1 Once you are fat-adapted you can then experiment with adding in some extra carbs in order to develop your own tolerance level. There will be some trial and error and the longer you follow a higher fat lower carb diet the greater your ability to dip in and out of ketosis without it affecting your fat burning rate.

So what does this mean to me?

Weight loss:

Burn fat and manage blood sugars

Becoming fat-adapted means you can burn fat at a greater rate, which can be great for weight loss! You do not necessarily need to reduce calorie intake and it also helps to stabilise blood sugars with no dramatic increase in insulin and blood glucose. (I discussed insulin resistance in my last blog).

 Feel satisfied

There is generally a greater feeling of satiety with high fat foods.

Healthy

If followed appropriately, a higher fat lower carb diet can supply your body with large amounts of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (substances in plant foods that have an extensive list of health benefits!). This way of eating also produces less free radicals than a high carb diet.1-3 People who are always trying to lose weight with low calories diets followed by intermittent weight gain when they indulge on unhealthy treats are often lacking important vitamins and minerals. However, you can also follow this diet in an unhealthy way with large amounts of processed meats and fats, which is not good for you in the long-term. This is a really important point to note-not all high fat low carb diets are the same!

Sports:

Metabolic flexibility

Sports athletes can benefit as they become metabolically flexible i.e. they can burn fat at a greater rate during exercise.1 This avoids ‘hitting the wall’ which often happens in endurance events such as marathons, triathlons and iron man. This is because we only have a limited amount of glycogen and without adequately timed re-fuelling during the event you end up crashing! If you are fat adapted there can be an added advantage of having some carbs just before or during an event/competition. You can then use this sugar at times when it is really needed (high intense spurts).1

Prevents muscle wasting

Being able to burn fat at a greater rate means that when your carb stores are used up there is less of a tendency to breakdown muscle (protein) as a way of supplying glucose.1

Performance Tool

I was sceptical about this aspect as it takes a longer amount of time  to burn fat than it does to burn glucose (fat has to be mobilised from fat stores and then travel in the bloodstream to muscles) so my first reaction to this was well would this not slow you down if you are relying on fat as the predominant fuel?! What has been observed is that once you are fat adapted your body works as a carb sparing tool when needed; at low intensity training you burn a greater amount of fat than if you were non-fat adapted, but once a sprint is on you use your carb stores for instant energy. So for example, at a comfortable running pace you can burn a greater amount of fat to carb but let’s say you run up a hill, sprint to the end of a race, or go on a run in soccer/rugby you can then rely on your carb stores!1-3 So overall this means you avoid running low on carb. There is still a place for adding in extra carbs before a race or during a race to top up your blood glucose, but this needs to be tailored to what suits your body. Also you need to be well fat adapted before you consider this as a performance tool.1 There still needs to be more research into this and again it’s a matter of trying it out and if you feel good after a few weeks and are beating your PB then keep going with it and if you are going the other way then maybe this way of eating is just not for you!

Replenish glycogen stores with less carbs

A recent 2015 studied found that fat-adapted endurance athletes were just as good at replenishing their carb stores than athletes who were not fat adapted and ate a lot of carbs.2

Less Inflammation

Exercise creates inflammation. This is normal and it is important for muscle growth. But if your body is constantly in an inflammatory state it can cause fatique and ultimately affect performance.1 A higher fat diet, especially one high in omega 3 can help to minimise inflammation (see my last blog on fat).

Health

The other potential advantage of fat adaptation to an athlete is that you avoid consuming large amounts of low nutrient refined carbs that is required to carb load. Up to 2 days prior to an event it is often recommended to carb load by eating low fiber foods such as white bread with jams, processed cereals and sugary drinks in order to achieve 8-10g of carbs per kg of body weight ( e.g. 560-700g per day for a 70kg individual). This is fine once in a while but when carried out on a regular basis it can lead to sub-optimal vitamin and mineral intake along with a lot of gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas and bloating.

Other possible benefits include a greater pain threshold, faster recovery and greater immunity.1

Are there any side effects?

There can be side effects during the initial period known as the “keto-flu” or CHO withdrawal symptoms.1 These can range from light headedness to cramps, diarrhea or in extreme cases increased heartbeat. There is good research out there on fat adaptation in sports athletes but there needs to be more studies that show more conclusive and reproducible evidence on the long-term effects of fat-adaptation. If we start to follow a really high fat diet there may be negative consequences to our health in 20 plus years that we hadn’t even considered; just like what we are seeing now with over-consumption of carbs. Fat adaptation is a relatively new approach and it needs to be individualised, what works for one person may be quiet different to what works for someone else.

My experience

A few months ago I underwent a 20 day fat-adapted (ketogenic) diet as part of research undergoing at Auckland University of Technology. I volunteered for this study as I wanted to see if I would find it difficult to follow and if I would experience any beneficial or negative effects.

Over the last few years I’ve realised that my body feels better when I eat only small amounts of complex carbs (like bread, cereals, rice, and potatoes). I try to have a portion of these either at lunch or dinner. When I eat these at every meal I tend to gain weight even though I’m still only eating the recommended servings (6+ servings; 1 serving being a slice of bread or 1 cup of cooked rice/pasta).

So for the next 20 days I followed a high fat low carb diet. At each meal I aimed to eat around 20 grams of fat and less than 10 grams of carbs. Below is an example of what I ate in one day (Table 1). I also had 2 tablespoons of oil with each meal as part of the study.

Table 1: One day food intake:

Breakfast A large handful of mixed nuts with strawberries and blueberries or 2 eggs & sautéed spinach

 

Lunch Salmon, mixture of spinach and mesclun salad, avocado, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, and a homemade olive oil based dressing

 

Dinner Chicken with stir fried broccoli, roasted peppers, topped with toasted almonds.

 

I have to admit, it did feel strange freely pouring oil onto the pan or a salad. My dietetic instinct came in “what about the calories!!” Each morning I measured my blood glucose and ketone levels. We normally produce ketones after an overnight fast but to get into full ketosis you need to have a ketone level of greater than 0.5 mmol/l, but usually a reading between 1-3 mmol/l works best.1 As you can see from table 2 it took nearly 6 days to get into full ketosis! The first few days were fine but on day three I had a football match and I felt really tired and slower than normal. It’s interesting as at this point my glycogen stores were nearly all used up but I wasn’t fully in ketosis, so no wonder I felt tired! From then on things were good up until day 9 when I had a craving for a chocolate brownie (it was really good too!!). The reason for this craving may be because my blood sugar was only 3.7 mmol/l the day before, and I think this could be down to a lower total calorie intake than normal. The next day I went on a wine tasting tour and as expected I came out of ketosis (ketone level was 0.3 mmol/l). What I found really interesting was that my blood sugar went up a lot after I had some extra CHO post drinking (5.4 and 5.8 mmol/l). I often feel tired for a few days after drinking alcohol and I can now relate this to a physiological response in my body; increased blood sugars!

Table 2: Daily glucose and ketone levels

Day Glucose

mmol/l

Ketones

mmol/l

Symptoms over last 24hrs
1 4.5 0.1 All good
2 4.5 0.1 Ok, did 16km hike
3 4.1 0.4 I played a Gaelic match. I felt tired and slow.
4 4.3 0.3 Good
5 4.7 0.8 Good
6 4.1 1.3 Good
7 4.1 1.7 Good
8 3.7 1.7 Good
9 4.1 0.8 I had a chocolate brownie which I was craving!
10 4.8 0.3 I went on a wine tasting tour…!
11 5.4 0.1 I had a match & decided to eat extra carbs as I wasn’t in ketosis and needed energy
12 5.8 0.5 Good just a bit tired
13 5.2 0.3 Good
14 5.1 0.9 Good
15 4.4 2.1 Good
16 4.8 0.6 Good
17 5.1 0.1 Good
18 5.3 0.8 Good
19 4.5 1.6 Good
20 4.5 1.4 Good

 

My overall view of fat-adaptation

  • I found getting into ketosis relatively easy. I also enjoyed following the diet plan but I think most people may find calculating the right amount of carbs and fat challenging; as a nutritionist and dietitian it is easier for me to gauge the amount of carbs and fat in foods.
  • I was rarely hungry and weight started to come off my stomach which is normally the last place to go if I try to lose weight! I also had excellent concentration levels. You could argue that this is what would happen when you follow an unprocessed healthy diet for a few weeks, and that it is not down to the diet being high in fat and low in carbs. This could be true but the best thing about it is that I didn’t feel hungry!
  • Having the ketometer was great but if someone didn’t have this it may be hard to figure out if you are in ketosis or not, particularly at the start.
  • When I did the study there were lots of low carb fruits in season such as blueberries, strawberries & avocadoes. It can be harder to find fresh low carb fruits in winter.
  • Near the end I had cravings for kumura chips (New Zealand sweet potato) and starchy foods. It was manageable in the short-term but I think it would be extremely difficult to sustain. However, once you are well fat-adapted (around 6 weeks) you can then experiment with adding in more carbs.
  • Overall, I think it was a good experience. I didn’t continue with fat adaptation as I don’t like creating severe restrictions around food. Instead I continue to follow a modified version of the plan with lots of good fats and occasional grains, potatoes and bread. I love experimenting with lower carbs choices i.e. making cauliflower mash, zucchini spaghetti and healthy bliss balls!

                      Tomato based Shepherd’s pie (cauliflower mash) ready for the oven!

Tips for fat –adapting

  • Think about it: If you think this dietary approach is for you then do some more reading and visit a nutritionist/dietitian and then decide on the best approach.
  • Plan ahead: Try to start it at a time when you are not overly busy and have time to food shop and prepare meals. Mentally be prepared for keto flu symptoms.
  • Carbs: Become familiar with the amount of carbs in grams in different foods. Once you get an idea of a few foods it becomes a lot easier to gauge your carb intake.
  • Monitor: I recommend buying a ketometer which takes readings for both glucose and ketones in your blood. The ketometer itself is inexpensive but the strips become costly. If you are serious about following this approach it is really useful at the start as you learn how your blood levels can reflect how you feel.
  • Total calories: In regard to weight loss you also need to bear in mind your overall calorie intake and make sure you keep your protein intake as normal. Likewise for an athlete; if you consume more protein than your body needs excess will be converted to glucose which prevents ketosis.
  • Disordered eating: I wouldn’t recommend this for someone prone to disordered eating or who has an existing eating disorder. This way of eating is restrictive particularly in the initial phase. It can be hard to follow and may create feelings of guilt when you eat carbs or it could even spiral into carb binge eating. I will cover disordered eating in one of my next blogs.

References:

  1. Schofield, G; Zinn, C., Rodger, C. What The Fat? Sports Performance: Leaner, Fitter, Faster on Low-Carb Healthy Fat. (Kindle Locations 3107-3109). The Real Food Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.
  2. Volek, J.S., Freidenreich, D.J., Saenz, C. et al. (2015). Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism Clinical and Experimental, 65:100-110
  3. Volek, J.S, Noakes T, and Phinney S.D. (2015). Rethinking fat as a fuel for endurance exercise. European Journal of Sport Science 15:1, 13-20.