Why Bliss Balls changed my life!

This may seem like a bit of an over-exaggeration but making my own bliss balls changed my outlook on chocolate!

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve tried to improve my diet and although I was eating a mainly wholefood diet I still struggled with cutting out chocolate bars. I’m not too sure if it was psychological or physiological but I regularly craved shop bought chocolate bars. I also had the idea that chocolate is very unhealthy and I should be able to eliminate it from my diet. No wonder I thought that with the ingredients of one of my favourite chocolate bars containing so many highly processed ingredients and different forms of sugar!!

Table 1: Ingredients in a shop bought chocolate bar

Milk, sugar, vegetable fat (palm, shea), glucose syrup, dextrose, dried skimmed milk, cocoa butter, wheat flour, fat-reduced cocoa, cocoa mass, humectant (glycerol), dried whey (from milk), emulsifiers (E442, E471), flavourings, dried cellulose, salt, barley malt syrup, raising agent (sodium bicarbonate), tartaric acid, magnesium stearate.

I began to eat dark chocolate but usually the dark chocolate bars that were readily available only contained 50 to 60% cocoa, and there was still quite a lot of sugar present. About 3 years or so ago my lovely friend Claire shared some bliss balls she made. They were so tasty and chocolatey, and when she told me that she only used a mixture of nuts, seeds, dates and cacao I was very surprised!  How could this taste so good and not contain a lot of rubbish ingredients?! She told me about Deliciously Ella website and from there I started to make my own bliss balls. There is a simple bliss ball recipe from her website on the following link https://deliciouslyella.com/classic-almond-and-cacao-energy-balls/

From then I haven’t looked back. Every week I make a batch of bliss balls and I have one or two as a snack at around 3-4 pm to keep me going before the gym or whatever it is I’m doing before I have dinner later. It’s great to know that I’m eating ingredients that are really going to nourish my body. I also find that I’m satisfied after one or two and less likely to over do it as you easily can with regularly chocolate!

Now I just mix up whatever I have and see how it goes. Yesterday I mixed almonds, milled linseeds, sesame seeds, cacao, and as I didn’t have any dates I tried mashing up some fresh mango to make all the ingredients stick together and to give some sweetness. These all worked really well together!

If you don’t have a food processor you can buy ground up nuts and seeds. Cacao can be quite expensive so you can use cocoa instead. Cocoa undergoes more processing than cacao but it still contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. Also, you can use any dates really as medjool dates can be expensive.

So there it is, I still love chocolate but bliss balls have allowed me to have my guilt free chocolate fix!

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

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.

A diet that can treat Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Depression and Schizophrenia?

I am currently researching diet strategies used in the management of different gut issues. This has come about because I have been asked to present at the NZ Society of Naturopaths and Naturopaths of NZ combined annual conference in Auckland in September. My presentation title is “Demystifying diets for functional gut problems” so here I am reviewing diets relating to gut problems!

Recently I wrote a blog on low FODMAPs diet for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) Low FODMAP foods for IBS. In this blog I am going to focus on the Gut and Psychology Syndromes (GAPS) diet which claims to provide a natural treatment for Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Depression, and Schizophrenia.

What is GAPS?

Gut and Psychology Syndromes (GAPS) is a condition that is based on the connection between the function of the digestive system and the brain. It was coined by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride in 2004 after her own child was diagnosed with learning difficulties. She believes “all diseases begin in the gut” and that the state of the digestive system links all the above mentioned conditions. She also believes that conditions such as asthma, eczema, allergies, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder can be vastly improved by following the GAPS diet.1

Healthy gut bacteria provide a physical barrier along the length of our intestines. These bacteria protect us from dangerous bacteria (pathogenic bacteria), viruses and fungi. They neutralise toxins, modify the immune system, ferment carbohydrates, produce vitamin K and B vitamins and even provide energy to the cells that line the intestines.1

If beneficial bacteria are weakened then the gut wall is considered open to invasion by various bacteria, parasites and yeast (Candida albicans). This can lead to chronic gut inflammation and malnourished intestinal cells. Intestinal cells are no longer able to function effectively and this results in impaired digestion and absorption “leaky gut”.1

In her book “Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression, Schizophrenia” Dr Campbell-McBride claims that once the intestinal lining is damaged, wheat and milk proteins are unable to be broken down by enzymes lining the gut wall and instead are absorbed intact. She explains that these proteins; gluteomorphines (wheat proteins) and casomorphines (milk proteins) can interfere with brain and immune system function.1

She also claims that abnormal gut flora can produce neurotoxins and cause the body to produce antibodies against its own cells in the brain and spinal cord.1 She explains that Candida albicans use glucose to form ethanol and acetaldehyde and that Candida overgrowth during pregnancy can affect child development (as the foetus accumulates toxins), and the infant then produces alcohol in their own gut. Dr Campbell-McBride links aldehyde production in the gut with altered myelin structure, which manifests as multiple sclerosis. She thinks this aldehyde production may be a cause of the neurologic picture of autistic and dyspraxic children. Aldehyde production binds to vitamin B6, preventing its use as a co-factor for neurotransmitters and fatty acid metabolism. She claims that mothers of GAPS children always have gut dysbiosis (imbalance).1

Diet and GAPS

Dr Campbell-McBride claims that sugar and processed carbohydrates increase Candida, Staphylococci, Streptococci, Clostridia and Bacteroids, and predisposes an individual to worms and parasites. She also claims that a high amount of grain intake predisposes individuals to IBS and bowel cancer. She even states that there were no cases of schizophrenia or coeliac disease documented in Ireland until post potato famine when grains became an integral part of the Irish diet! She explains in her book that diet plus other factors such as antibiotic use, surgery, chemotherapy, stress, pollution and oral contraceptive pills have a collective negative effective on beneficial bacteria.1

What does the GAPS diet entail?

The GAPS diet eliminates all complex carbohydrates and only allows smaller sized carbohydrates called monosaccharides (glucose, fructose and galactose) in the diet as these are relatively easy to absorb.  This means avoidance of all grains (wheat, millet, spelt, quinoa, and cous-cous etc), starchy vegetables and beans (potatoes, yams, parsnip, soybeans, mungbeans, bean sprouts, chick peas, and fava beans). All fresh fruit, honey and non-starchy vegetables (Table 1) are allowed. Homemade fermented yoghurt is allowed as the fermentation process breaks the carbohydrates into small sugars and the proteins into amino acids that can then be easily absorbed.1

 Table 1: Non starchy fresh veg and beans/ lentils allowed in the GAPS diettable 1 gaps diet

The GAPS diet involves the avoidance of proteins in wheat and dairy but allows easy to digest unprocessed proteins such as eggs, fish, and meat. There is an emphasis on liver, meat, bone and fish stock. She recommends avoidance of lean meats because she believes that we can only use meat fibers when they come with fat, collagen and other substances. She recommends eating meat that has a good covering of fat and to eat the skin of poultry and fish.1

Shelled/freshly shelled nuts and seeds are allowed but they should not be roasted, salted, coated or processed in any way. Seeds can be soaked in salty water for 12 hours to improve their digestibility. Fats are tolerated as they are not dependent on brush border enzymes (enzymes on the gut wall that help digest food). She recommends ghee made from organic butter, cold pressed oils and no processed oils.1

The GAPS diet starts off with an introduction diet which can last from a few weeks to a year, depending on the individual. This stage allows for gut healing and recovering. There are six stages and Table 2 includes some aspects of each stage.

 Table 2: Six stages of the Introduction dietTable 2 gaps diet

After the introduction diet is completed the full GAPS diet then should be followed for 2 years. The full gaps diet includes 85% meat, eggs, fish eggs, fermented dairy and vegetables. There needs to be 6 months normal digestion before including non-GAPS foods.

Is there evidence to support this diet?

There are no studies or published papers on the GAPS diet. Dr Campbell-McBride makes a lot of sweeping statements (she has never met a healthy vegetarian!) and even advises against vaccination in infants born to mothers with fibromyalgia, digestive problems, asthma, eczema, severe allergies, and autoimmune disorders because she claims that viruses from vaccines may survive and persist in GAPS individuals.1  

However it is recognised that 70% of our immune system is localised in the intestines (gut associated lymphoid tissue) and that gut microbiota can alter brain function.2  We know that poor diets can negatively alter bacteria in the gut, which can then affect our brain and cognitive function. The exact mechanism is still unknown but it may be via regulating immunity or hormonal and neural messages.2

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Many gastrointestinal diseases are associated with neurological affects e.g. migraines/headaches, brain fog, fatique and fainting. Untreated coeliac disease is associated with autistic and psychotic behaviours and neurological conditions. There is also an association with IBS and depression and anxiety.3

The GAPS diet is a traditional diet in many ways with the use of bone broths as a major part of the diet. When I was growing up there was always meat and vegetables in a saucepan together left on the stove which cooked for hours at low heat. This low heat cooking helped liberate nutrients from the bones. This is something I no longer practice but I have started keeping the bones from my roast chicken and lamb dinners to make soups and stews!

I think personally, because I truly believe nutrition can have profound effects on health that I would give this diet a try if I had a GAPS condition. However, I think the diet itself may be challenging, particularly because you need to be able to ferment all your own dairy products and some vegetables. I fermented cabbage before (saukerkraut) but I have not fermented my own dairy products; although I hear it is relatively simple and many people make their own kefir (fermented yoghurt). Fermenting food was not a major tradition in Ireland; apart from breads but bacteria/yeast are killed by the heat. Mead, the oldest alcoholic drink was made from fermented honey, water, herbs and spices! You would also need to get used of making your own breads with nut flours as otherwise it becomes quite expensive buying these breads. It may be extremely challenging for a parent to introduce these foods to a child with learning disabilities and it would require a lot of patience and perseverance. Likewise someone with a mental health condition may not feel motivated to make these changes and they would require a lot of support, and even with support unless they understand the value and are on board with the diet then compliance may be low.

Conclusion

Dr Campbell-McBride often uses indirect evidence as ways to give plausible explanations to her yet to be proven theories. I say yet because a lot of what she is saying may be true and in the future her diet may be recognised as a dietary management option for those suffering from learning disabilities and psychological disturbances. I also wonder if there could be some benefit of including some aspects of the GAPS diet (so it not as extreme) over the long-term e.g. reducing fermentable carbohydrates, including more bone broths and adding small amounts of fermented vegetable into the diet?

I hope you found this useful, 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. Campbell-McBride, N. Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression, Schizophrenia. 2015, (2nd edition) United Kingdom: Medinform Publishing.
  2. Holzer, P., Farz, A. Neuropeptides and the Microbiota-gut-brain-axis. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014; 817:195-219
  3. De Magistris L, Siniscalco D, Bully C, Loguercio C. Gut-brain axis. A new revolution to understand the pathogenesis of autism and other severe neurological diseases. In Human Nutrition from the gastronenterologists perspective, 2016, pp49-65. E. Grossi, F. Pace (eds) Springer International Publishing Switzerland. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-30361-1

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

More fat less carbs..?

Hello There!

I am one year living in New Zealand and I’m delighted to be back into the flow of nutrition! I was previously working as a medical writer in Singapore and I am now working as a tutor in a nutrition college in Auckland.

I really love  to share and discuss what I’ve learnt from my masters in nutrition, training and work as a dietitian and of course my own personal experiences! I am always trying to find simple ways of improving my diet and obtaining better overall health and fitness.  A lot of my work involves developing lecture content and my goal is to share some of this information along with my own experiences with you! There is so much contradictory information available online and it frustrates me when the media zones in on snippets from research articles without actually showing the true context of what the findings actually really mean! Most of us don’t have time to read full research articles and instead rely on these random and often contradictory pieces of info.

It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog so I’m going to start with the most common question I get asked and it’s about fat..!

More fat less carbs..?

This week I am looking at fat and carbohydrate (carb) balance. For years it has been recommended to follow a low fat diet because fats have a greater calorie density than carbs or protein and because some fats eaten in large amounts are considered unhealthy. There is now a shift towards increasing fat and lowering carbs in the diet. Below I outline some of the reasons why.

Essential fatty acids

Fats provide essential fatty acids; that is omega 3 and omega 6. We cannot make these two families of polyunsaturated fatty acids in our body and we rely on food sources. These fatty acids are important for the structure and fluidity of cell membranes that surround every cell in your body. So if you want supple skin you need a good supply of these fats! They are also important for hormone and neurotransmitter function, and they even affect how genes are expressed! 1

Omega 3 and omega 6 are commonly found in the same types of foods but the ratios of each can vary. Good sources of omega 3 include oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, dark green veg and nuts and seeds such as linseeds, chia, and pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. There are more widespread sources of omega 6 and it is commonly found in meat and processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, and fried food. This is because the main oils used (vegetable oils such as sunflower and corn oil) in these processed foods are high in omega 6 but lack omega 3.

The other important function of these essential fatty acids is in relation to inflammation. Omega 3 helps to dampen down inflammation, whereas excess omega 6 can enhance inflammation. When your body is in a pro-inflammatory state you are more prone to free radical damage and disease risk. At the moment most of us eat a diet that has a 15:1 ratio in favour of omega 6; whereas it should be a ratio of around 4:1.2 A high carb diet is also considered to cause more inflammation in the body.3

Omega 3 foods also supply EPA and DHA, which are essential for brain and cognitive function. So basically we do need to eat fat and more specifically we should be eating more nuts, seeds, and if you are not vegetarian/vegan oily fish!

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Antioxidants

Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are found in foods that contain fat. Vitamin A and E are key antioxidants in the body. They help to protect our cells from free radicals. Free radicals are produced in our body all the time but if we have enough antioxidants they are neutralised and cause no harm. If you don’t have enough vitamin E in the diet then every cell in your body becomes vulnerable and can be badly damaged by these free radicals. Key sources of vitamin E are vegetable, nut and seed oils. If you buy highly processed oils then vitamin E and other nutrients are removed, and this makes these oils more susceptible to damage by oxygen in the air. That’s one of the reasons why you should buy oils that are minimally processed, that is, cold pressed or extra virgin. Names such as pure, light, and virgin are often used in the marketing of oils but these contain varying amounts of unrefined oils, which results in a lot less antioxidant protection and nutrient value.4

Vitamin E’s job is also enhanced by selenium which is found in nuts (particularly brazil nuts) and seeds. Sesame seeds are a great source of vitamin E. If you like tahini or eat hummus then you will be getting a good source of vitamin E.

Tastes good and keeps hunger at bay for longer!

Although fats have higher calorie content they provide a greater sense of satiety. Nuts and seeds were not a major part of my diet growing up and as I started in college I actively avoided them because they were considered calorific. “Why waste my calories on nuts and seeds when I can eat a big bowl of salad and then have a treat later” I thought. I did have those treats because I was left feeling hungry and unsatisfied. When I look back I can’t believe this was my thought process. I now incorporate nuts, seeds, good oils and lots of oily fish in my meals. Result: I’m less inclined to what to eat something else later!

Stabilising blood sugars for weight loss and reducing your risk of disease down the road.. 

High blood sugars over time cause weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas after eating carbs. It helps glucose (sugar) in your blood to be taken into the cells so it can be used for energy. Resistance occurs when the cells are unable to use insulin effectively. So insulin is produced but glucose is not taken up by the cells properly, and then sugar builds up in the blood. Insulin resistance is increasing and many people have it without even knowing! People who are overweight/obese or regularly eat refined and processed foods often have problems handling their blood sugar, and as this continues they become pre-diabetic. They may become ‘hangry’ regularly and experience irritability, reduced concentration and a drop in energy level.  Then one day they may visit their GP complaining of things like tiredness, dry mouth, increased thirst and urination, or even blurred vision. Their GP does some tests to check blood sugar levels and low and behold they are pre-diabetic or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes! Previously, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes were mainly seen in adults but these days both are occurring in children and adolescents. There is something seriously amiss as this is preventable through diet and lifestyle changes!

A higher fat, lower carb diet can help stabilise blood sugars. For some it may be a temporary, in an attempt to re-set the ability to manage sugar and for others it may be more of a long-term approach. It may also help with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) as women with PCOS have elevated insulin levels and often rely on metformin (a diabetes drug). Refined carbs such as biscuits, sugary cereals, and white breads cause a sharp rise in insulin, and likewise many low fat/low calorie sugary foods marketed to be healthy and supportive of weight loss have a similar effect. It is good to also be aware that large portions of healthy carbs such as potatoes, wholegrain breads, cereals, rice and pasta eaten at every meal can also lead to insulin resistance over time. So the moral of the story is to not fool yourself by snacking on pre-packed convenience foods and watch your portion size….carbs particularly processed/refined carbs or even large portions of unrefined carbs cause a lot of insulin to be released! If you feel tired and bloated after a meal you have likely eaten too many carbs!

What about Saturated fat?

Saturated fat is a type of fat found in animal products such as meat, milk, yoghurt, cream and chesses, butter and eggs and it is also found in some plant foods such as coconut oil and macadamia nuts.

Both Dr Robert Lustig (USA) and Dr John Yudkin (UK) for years researched and argued that sugar especially excess fructose (fructose corn syrup) was more to blame for obesity, diabetes and heart disease than fat. Whether their views and research were disregarded because of food industry influence or insufficient evidence is debatable. The view that saturated fat increases low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which then causes heart disease is too simplistic. Heart disease and cholesterol levels are influenced by many things. LDL cholesterol is used as a marker of heart disease risk but there are also other biomarkers such as homocysteine and an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein (CRP) that can give us insight into our risk of heart disease.

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I don’t doubt that an excess intake of saturated fat may have some negative effects in the long-term but there is no reason why saturated fat should not be included as part of a healthy balance diet. The other thing about saturated fats is that they are less susceptible to damage by oxygen and can maintain stability at higher temperatures than unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fat can be converted to trans fat at high temperatures and we all know that trans fats are just really bad for you! This is why you are better to use a tablespoon of coconut oil are butter when frying at high temperatures.

Final note….

The key message is don’t be afraid of fat. Low fat products are unnecessary but if you are having more fat in your diet make sure you also think about the overall amount of calories you are having each day. You will not do yourself any favours if you take half the message and eat more fat and continue to eat everything else! For most people a little bit more fat with less carbs keeps you satisfied without the need for extra snacks.

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The first step should be cutting out refined carbs like cereal bars, cakes, biscuits, sugary cereals, white breads and replace them with vegetables, nuts and seeds! According to the New Zealand Herald the All Blacks appreciate the benefits of eating more healthy fats such as nut butters and coconut oil, and limiting sugary foods! My next blog will look at the pros and cons of becoming fat adapted as a tool for weight loss and in sport.

 

References:

  1. Gropper, S., Stepnick, A., & Smith, J. L. (2013). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. (J. L. Smith, Ed.) (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Belmont, CA : Wadsworth/Cengage Learning c2013.
  2. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015). Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage:
  3. Schofield, G., Zinn, C., Rodger, C. What The Fat? Sports Performance: Leaner, Fitter, Faster on Low-Carb Healthy Fat. (Kindle Locations 677-680). The Real Food Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.
  4. Consumer. Now you Know. Available at: https://www.consumer.org.nz/articles/cooking-oil Accessed on 25th November 2015