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

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

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