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

Do MY FOOD CHOICES affect anyone else?

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

Family influences:

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

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

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

Friends:

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

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

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

Housemates:

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

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Grocery shopping:

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

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

Eating out:

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

When does ‘normal eating’ become disordered?

There is a lot of focus on the two extremes of the eating continuum; overeating leading to obesity and undereating to the point of anorexia nervosa, but where dose everyone else fit in? Are we all ‘normal’?

Normal eating is considered to be flexible and balanced. You eat when hungry and stop when full. You can eat healthy (nutrient rich) and unhealthy (nutrient poor) foods. There are some constraints so that you do not over indulge all the time but you are not too overly strict either. If this sounds like you then you have it sorted…..

However, what I’ve noticed is, that when it comes down to it many people suffer from disordered eating or at least crossed into disordered eating at some point in their life. Maybe you were a ‘normal eater’ but you noticed that you gained weight over a year or more. You may have felt uncomfortable in your clothes and your confidence was affected. You then decide to make a conscious effort to lose the weight that has crept on. You start to monitor what you eat and lose some weight. But then you start to feel guilty for eating that burger or ice-cream at the weekend. But it’s ok you will barely eat anything on Monday to make up for it… and so it goes, with a constant focus on weight with regular and severe restrictions.

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Disordered eating is difficult to define but it involves a deviation away from normal eating behaviours but not to the point of an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Signs of disordered eating1

  • Constantly focusing on weight
  • Food intake strictly monitored and/or restricted
  • Not eating when hungry or waiting until a time you set
  • Unable to stop eating when full
  • Eating because you are bored, anxious or lonely

On the other hand you could have an obsession with healthy food to the point that it is no longer healthy “orthorexia nervosa”. You may be so fixated on healthy and pure food that it consumes your life. Your self-esteem becomes linked to whether or not you had a “good food day”. You may create severe food restrictions in order to show discipline and sometimes even superiority over others. It gets to the point that it affects relationships and your own mental and physical health. The prevalence rate of orthorexia nervosa is estimated to be about 7% in the general population and can range from 35-58% for high risk groups such as healthcare professional including dietitians/nutritionists.2

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I would be lying if I said that I’ve just always had a healthy and positive attitude towards food! I was obsessed with my weight from a very young age. I only realised how bad it was when a few years ago I read a diary that I had when I was nine, in which I wrote “I wish I wasn’t so fat”. I was not fat but I had already started to link weight and body size to self-worth and confidence.

This theme continued in my teens but I also had the realisation that food could affect my mood in both a positive and negative way. I started to notice that when I had meals with lots of fresh fruit and veg I felt better in myself, more positive and more energetic but when I ate processed, especially sugary foods I often felt more negative about things and I had lower energy levels overall. I also linked exercise to feeling good and confident, and I later learned that was because of all the endorphins being released!

In my first year of university I moved in with girls who were members of a commercial slimming programme. They followed a strict point system and used the points left over for alcohol. I never joined but I did start to make dinners like theirs, which were often plates of low point vegetables. I certainly upped my intake of vegetables but I was left feeling unsatisfied and often hungry within an hour or two.  I even actively avoided eating avocados because of the calorie density! I often craved snacks and when I didn’t give in to these cravings and went to bed with the start of hunger pains I felt good and knew it wouldn’t be long until weight started to come off. Then there were the days when I ‘wasn’t strong’ and ate and sometimes over ate. I felt guilty and needless to say my self-talk was very negative!

I became less social and had the mentality that I’d be happy when I was a certain weight. I avoided having a 21st as I didn’t want to see my friends until I had reached my weight loss goal and felt better in myself. The university I went to was over 4 hours from home so I usually only went home every 6 to 8 weeks. When I did go home my family and friends would either say to me “you look great and you’ve lost weight” or if I didn’t look that great then nothing would be said. These comments where all said with good intentions but it affected my self-esteem when I hadn’t lost weight and I didn’t look as good as I could have. Each time I headed back to college I made a goal that I’d be “X” weight before I went home again and if I hadn’t reached that goal I’d make up excuses like I had to work or I didn’t have money to do whatever was planned. I was also determined to get a first class honours degree and I was often stressed as I did not know if I was doing enough to achieve my goal. There were also a lot of family issues and food took the edge off this, albeit momentarily.

It was only after I finished my degree and went travelling that things started to change. I went travelling with two friends and we first went to China for a month. We joined a tour group of nine backpackers. We often had our meals organised for us and we ate together all the time. My whole attachment/controlling behaviour with food dwindled.  After that month we went to Australia. I had an amazing time and didn’t give too much thought to food until I arrived in Melbourne after a month travelling down the east coast. I realised at that point that I’d gained weight and by the time I was leaving Australia I was determined to lose this extra weight. I spent three months travelling solo in South East Asia. I started reading books about detoxes and fasts. I started to do a few day fasts and after reading a book on why a seven day fast would be good for me, I decided to do it! The only thing I allowed myself was a slice of lemon and water for seven days…! I don’t know whether I was delirious or not but I felt amazing after it. I’ve never tried it since and would not recommend it because of the potential serious adverse effects but it is just what happened at that stage in my life.

When I came home I became more and more interested in nutrition. I decided to apply for a Masters in Human Nutrition. I loved the course and I also wanted to learn more about holistic nutrition so I did another nutrition course at weekends. I also worked part-time in a health food store and overall I just loved what I was doing. At this stage I was much more of a ‘normal eater’.

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Although I loved the masters in nutrition I realised I was heading towards a research career but I wanted to help people change their diets. I decided to move to England to do a two year post-graduate diploma in dietetics. I lived with other student dietitians and I became more relaxed and viewed food more in terms of nutrient/health value rather than on kilocalorie content. I got back to basics and realised the simple things work. There were no more drastic diets but I still knew that I had to have discipline and strategies in place to prevent myself from gaining weight. I am not someone who can eat what I want and remain the same weight. I love food, and although I eat healthy the majority of time I do have some processed foods occasionally. Some people may disagree but even too much healthy food can lead to weight gain. I’m now quite relaxed with what I eat and the portions sizes because I know my body and I’ve so many good habits ingrained that I don’t need to think about my diet on a daily basis. But if I start to gain weight and I begin to feel uncomfortable then I’ll start monitoring my food intake more closely. When I speak about weight it’s not about the number on the scales; for me it’s about feeling good and comfortable with my body shape and size.

I am not someone who will ever just see food as an energy source, nor would I want to. Our food choices affect our physical and mental health, with these affects being more pronounced in some people more than others. Likewise our mood and emotions can also affect what we chose to eat. The type of food we eat even has positive or negative effects on the strains of bacteria which colonise our gut. These bacteria may then affect our overall health and even our brain and cognitive function (gut-brain axis)! The exact mechanism is still unknown but it may be via regulating immunity or hormonal and neural messages.3

I feel my own experience has helped me to be become an intuitive practitioner. I love weight management and I really empathise with clients. I understand that it is not as simple as just being in energy balance or to only eat a square of chocolate and save the rest for another time. What we eat on a daily basis is intrinsically linked to our emotions and our environment. What works for one person may not work for another.

As a nutrition tutor I try to be real with my students and let them know that it is not always about how much knowledge you can share but it’s about your ability to listen and build rapport with clients that will determine if they and their client are successful!

If you would like to read more of my blogs and nutrition updates please like my facebook page Our Food Karma and you can add me on snapchat: sharuuu0000

References:

  1. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015) Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage.
  2. Varga, M., Dukay-Szabo, S., Tury, F., van Furth, E.F. (2013) Evidence and gaps in the literature on orthorexia nervosa. Eating and weight Disorders. Jun;18(2):103-11. doi: 10.1007/s40519-013-0026-y.
  3. Holzer, P., Farz, A. Neuropeptides and the Microbiota-gut-brain-axis. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014; 817:195-219

 

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