"You are what you eat" is so true and I can't emphasize enough how critical proper nutrition is in terms of fighting disease and the overall physical aging process, maintaining a high level of energy, preserving a youthful appearance and keeping a positive frame of mind, just to name a few of its many benefits.
Yet it often surprises me how little some people understand about even just the basics of nutrition, behaving as if they believe cake and potato chips contain the same nutritional value as steak and potatoes, and the same number of calories! As much as we may wish it were otherwise, that's simply not true and behaving as if it were will be disastrous to one's physical health, appearance and mental state.
Self empowerment includes understanding and accepting that you alone are responsible for your own health. So if you're not sure whether your diet is providing all the nutritional requirements your family needs in the correct proportions, please review the basic information below. This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on the subject, but it will supply the basics of what you need to know in order to properly evaluate nutritional labels on grocery products and plan nutritionally sound meals for your family.
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My partner and I recently watched Fed Up, a documentary that challenges the conventional wisdom on diet and exercise, and presents a rather convincing argument that sugar, not fat, is the reason why America is getting fatter and fatter. The producers claim the food industry has duped the American public into believing that fat is the problem, when in truth fat is only a symptom of the real problem: a high sugar diet.
Eat less and exercise more has been the common answer to losing weight for over half a century. The message we're told is that calories ingested must be less than calories burned in order to lose weight, and that fat people don't lose weight because they are too lazy to exercise and lack willpower to control calorie intake.
Yet up until 1953, exercise was considered taboo because doctors warned it could cause heart attacks and diminish one's sex drive. In 1953, Dr. Jean Mayer, a French physiologist, observed that heavy lab mice ate about the same amount as thin lab mice, but they weren't as active afterwards. Mayer's conclusion that lack of exercise was related to weight gain sparked the fitness revolution.
But ironically, even as people started to exercise, their waistlines began to grow. Between 1980 and 2000, fitness memberships across the US more than doubled, but so did the obesity rate and by 2010 two thirds of all Americans were either overweight or obese. The growing obesity rate is not limited to the US; it has become a worldwide epidemic. And with the growth of obesity has come an increase in metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, lipid problems, strokes and cancer.
The producers of Fed Up attribute the start of the obesity epidemic to the 1977 McGovern Report. Senator George McGovern believed that radical changes in the American diet were creating major health issues, and felt the government had a responsibility to point out the dangers associated with the typical American diet and also to provide some practical dietary guidelines to the American public.
Here are the opening paragraphs of his January 14, 1977 press release:
The purpose of this press conference is to release a Nutrition Committee study entitled Dietary Goals for the United States, and to explain why we need such a report.
I should note from the outset that this is the first comprehensive statement by any branch of the Federal Government on risk factors in the American diet.
The simple fact is that our diets have changed radically within the last 50 years, with great and often very harmful effects on our health. These dietary changes represent as great a threat to public health as smoking. Too much fat, too much sugar or salt, can be and are linked directly to heart disease, cancer, obesity and stroke, among other killer diseases. In all, six of the ten leading causes of death in the United States have been linked to our diet.
Those of us within government have an obligation to acknowledge this. The public wants some guidance, wants to know the truth, and hopefully today we can lay the cornerstone for the building of better health for all Americans, through better nutrition.
Last year every man, woman and child in the United States consumed 125 pounds of fat and 100 pounds of sugar. As you can see from our displays, that's a formidable quantity of fat and sugar.
The consumption of soft drinks has more than doubled since 1960 - displacing milk as the second most consumed beverage. In 1975, we drank on the average of 295 12 oz. cans of soda.
In the early 1900's almost 40 percent of our calorie intake came from fruit, vegetables and grain products. Today only a little more than 20 percent of calories comes from these sources.
My hope is that this report will perform a function similar to that of the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking. Since that report, we haven't eliminated the hazards of smoking, nor have people stopped smoking because of it. But the cigarette industry has modified its products to reduce risk factors, and many people who would otherwise be smoking have stopped because of it.
The report went on to provide a number of dietary goals, which included reducing overall fat consumption from approximately 40% to 30% of energy intake, reducing sugar consumption by about 40% to account for only 15% of energy intake and reducing salt consumption by about 50-85% to approximately 3 grams a day. Some of the recommended changes to accomplish this included substituting non-fat milk for whole milk, decreasing the consumption of buttermilk, eggs and other high cholesterol sources, decreasing the consumption of sugar and foods high in sugar content, and decreasing the consumption of salt and foods high in salt content.
Not all that surprisingly, the Egg, Sugar, Dairy and Beef Associations took exception to this report. They successfully lobbied to have the guidelines revised and the words "reduced intake" were removed from the report. The final report encouraged Americans to buy leaner products and more foods with less fat content.
And so sparked the growth of a brand new "low fat" market which targeted weight and health conscious consumers. Unsuspecting Americans, trusting the new government guidelines, adjusted their buying habits to favour low fat or no fat products. However, when you take the fat out of food it doesn't taste very palatable, so food manufacturers added sugar to improve the flavour. Lots of sugar. Today, of the 600,000 food items for sale in the US, 80% of them contain added sugar.
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco, sugar is a chronic, dose dependent hepatotoxin, which basically means that as long as you don't eat too much of it you'll be okay (that's the dose dependent part), but if you do overindulge, over time (that's the chronic part) it will damage your liver (hepato refers to the liver).
Without getting overly complicated and technical, here's how it works at a very basic level:
- As sugars (and other carbohydrates) are processed through the digestive system, they are released into the blood stream as glucose.
- The pancreas releases insulin, which allows the cells in your body to take in the energy they require to function properly and stimulates the liver to store any excess glucose as glycogen. (The liver will later convert glycogen back into glucose again when the body needs more energy, i.e. between meals or during sleep.)
- When the liver gets overloaded with glycogen and can't store anymore, the pancreas will release additional insulin, forcing the cells to absorb more glucose. If the cells don't need this glucose right away, they turn it into fat.
But wait, there's more:
- Over time, as your liver continues to be overloaded and your body cells are asked to take in more and more glucose, these cells can become less responsive to insulin and they don't take in as much sugar. This condition is often referred to as "insulin resistance".
- As a result, the sugar content in your bloodstream rises. High levels of sugar in the blood are extremely damaging to the body. High sugar levels interfere with circulation and can lead to nerve damage, organ damage and a number of other serious complications.
- To protect the body against this sugar related damage, your pancreas releases more insulin.
- Your cells initially respond to the higher insulin levels, but this is only temporary as insulin resistance increases.
- More insulin is released and the cycle continues until the pancreas can't keep up.
- Once that happens, you are officially diabetic. (If the pancreas is still producing insulin, just not enough of it, you are classified as having type II adult onset diabetes. This can occur as part of the aging process or at any time if you are overweight. If the pancreas stops producing insulin all together, then you are classified as having type I diabetes. This is generally a childhood disease, although it can happen to adults for a variety of reasons, including a bad reaction to medication, for example.)
And it gets worse:
- There appears to be some connection between obesity and leptin resistance (the appetite suppressant hormone which signals you to stop eating). This means the body will become less responsive to the "stop eating" signal and you will still feel the urge to eat even though your body doesn't require the calories, causing your body to store these unneeded calories as fat. (For a more in-depth review of how leptin works, check out my article Ghrelin & Leptin: The Hunger Hormones, which can be found further down on this page.)
- Research indicates that sugar is more addictive than cocaine - approximately 8 times more! Fed Up referenced a Princeton University study where 43 cocaine addicted rats were given a choice of sugar water or cocaine for a 15 day period and 40 of them opted for the sugar water. The documentary also stated that brain scans show that our brain lights up with sugar just as it does with cocaine or heroin.
- Sugars hide behind names on food labels that we don't always recognize as sugar, including sucrose, evaporated cane juice, Agave nectar, fruit juice concentrate, 100% fruit juice, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, galactose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, blackstrap molasses, organic brown rice syrup, grape sugar, honey, icing sugar, barley malt, golden syrup, diastatic malt, diastase, treacle, panocha, sorghum syrup, and others.
- All processed starches - white bread, white rice, potato products and packaged cereals - turn to sugar very quickly as they are digested, forcing your body into overdrive to compensate for the sudden onslaught. (By contrast, complex carbohydrates - whole grains, raw vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds - take longer to digest due to their higher starch and/or fibre content. This releases sugar more slowly into the bloodstream, allowing your body to more easily compensate for it.)
- Sugar substitutes cause the same reaction in the body as real sugar, because the body is fooled into thinking that fake sugar is the real thing and reacts with the same insulin response. So even though you're taking in less calories, it's quite possible that a significant portion of them are being stored as fat. To learn about additional concerns related to artificial sweeteners, see my article below titled Are Artificial Sweeteners Making You Fat?
- The next time you're checking out a food label in the grocery store (or in your cupboard), you will see that the % of daily requirement for sugar is blank. Why is that, do you suppose...?
In Fed Up, Dr Deborah Cohen, Senior Natural Scientist at Rand Corporation, observes that there has not been an obesity problem throughout the whole history of mankind until the past 30-40 years. In 1980, there were zero cases of type II diabetes in adolescents; in 2010 there were 57,638 reported cases.
A key reason for this obesity epidemic is the generally held assumption that all calories are alike, when they're not. A calorie will have different effects on the body, depending on where it comes from. Simple carbohydrate (sugar) calories create a different reaction in the body than complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They trigger excessive fat storage as the body struggles to protect itself from the hepatotoxic environment that excessive sugar creates.
Take fruit, for example. Calories from an orange are very different than calories from orange juice. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco, fibre in fruit slows the digestive process down, but drinking straight fruit juice with the fibre removed is no different than drinking a coke.
And how about grains? Whole corn is a complex carbohydrate that would normally take time for the body to process and would therefore be a desirable food as it relates to your metabolic health. But once it is processed into cereal that immediately changes. According to Dr. David Ludwig, Professor of Pediatics, Harvard Medical School, a bowl of corn flakes and a bowl of straight sugar may taste different, but below the neck they are metabolically the same thing.
I don't believe people deliberately sabotage their health and vitality by eating an overabundance of sugar in their diets. Rather, it's the lack of understanding of what sugar is doing to their metabolic health that has created the obesity epidemic and the related growth in metabolic diseases that accompanies obesity.
I think a key reason why this lack of understanding exists is that the effects of sugar are not immediately apparent. Because it is a dose dependent, chronic hepatotoxin, overindulgence in one meal won't cause problems. But over thousands of meals the effects accumulate until irreparable damage is done. This slow buildup over time is nearly impossible for the average person to detect, regardless of how health conscious they try to be.
Focusing awareness on the dangers of sugar consumption is the first step to overcoming these dangers and not becoming just another statistic. The objective of Fed Up, and also this article, is to bring awareness to people who are concerned about their health and want to improve it.
Knowledge is power, and what you do with what you know can make you powerful. As always, the choice is yours.
When I read that an article recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported regular consumption of nuts might possibly extend life, I decided to check it out.
In doing so, I learned that researchers from Harvard Medical School analyzed the eating habits, activity levels and medical history of 76,464 women over a 30 year period and 42,498 men over a 24 year period, and came to the conclusion that nut consumption was inversely associated with the risk of cancer, heart disease or respiratory disease among both the women and the men. In other words, the more nuts a person ate, the less likely their chances of dying prematurely from these diseases. However, the researchers were careful to point out their study demonstrated association and not causation, meaning that while people who ate more nuts tended to live longer, there was no proof the nuts themselves were the cause.
But it's an interesting theory, nonetheless, and one that is supported by a number of other studies. Of particular note is the well documented Loma Linda University's Seventh Day Adventists Health Study which found that regular nut and grain consumption was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Those individuals who ate nuts at least 5 times per week were 48% less likely to die from coronary heart disease than those who ate nuts less than once per week. They also cut their risk of a nonfatal heart attack by 51%.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which carefully monitors and regulates what claims food producers can make about their products, believes the existing evidence is compelling enough to allow the following health claim for almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts: Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
How Nuts Protect Your Heart
According to the Mayo Clinic, here's why nuts are good for your heart and how they protect against coronary heart disease:
- Unsaturated fats - these "good fats" help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol is a primary cause of heart disease.
- Fibre - fibre helps lower LDL cholesterol.
- Plant sterols - sterols help lower cholesterol.
- Omega-3 fatty acids - omega-3's help prevent dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3's.
- Vitamin E - helps stop the development of plaque in arteries. Plaque buildup in arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease and/or heart attack.
- Folate - lowers homocysteine levels in the blood. A high level of homocysteine is a strong predictor of heart disease.
- Calcium, magnesium & potassium - these heart healthy minerals help reduce blood pressure.
- L-arginine -arginine is an amino acid (protein) used to make nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels so that blood flows more easily. This reduces blood pressure and risk of angina, congestive heart failure and/or heart attack. In addition, arginine reduces cholesterol levels.
- Phytochemicals - the coatings of all nuts & seeds contain high levels of antioxidant polyphenols which are associated with reduced risk of heart disease. Walnuts are particularly high in alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that is protective to the heart and circulation. (Note that processed nuts and seeds possess fewer of these antioxidants, raw nuts in the shell are best.)
How Nuts Protect Against Cancer
In addition to their heart protective properties, nuts are powerful anti-cancer agents.
- Phytic acid found in nuts & seeds may protect against colon cancer and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Antioxidant polyphenols found in the coatings of nuts & seeds have been associated with reduced risk of cancer.
- Two of the phytosterols found in most nuts - beta-sistosterol and campesteorol - appear to suppress breast and prostate tumours.
- Arginine also inhibits tumour growth and boosts immunity. (Almonds are especially high in arginine.)
- Walnuts contain ellagic acid - the same cancer-fighting polyphenol found in pomegranates and red raspberries.
- Selenium, which is a key antioxidant and cancer-preventive mineral, is especially abundant in Brazil nuts. Selenium has been associated with the prevention of breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancers.
How Nuts Protect Against Diabetes
Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes is associated with an excess of saturated (animal) fats and trans-fatty acids in the diet. Trans-fatty acids in particular are especially harmful to cell membrane function, which can lead to impaired insulin function. In contrast, the fatty acids in nuts enhance cell membrane structure and function, which improves the efficiency of insulin and helps protect against diabetes.
Be Sure To Eat Nuts in Moderation
Nuts make a great snack food, as they're relatively inexpensive, easy to store and easy to take with you to work or school. But while nuts are healthy, they are also extremely high in fat - in some cases as much as 80% fat. So be sure to eat them in moderation (i.e. 1 to 2 ounces per day), and where possible use them as a substitute for the saturated fats in meats, eggs and dairy products.
There is no one "best" nut, so to maximize your overall health benefit, why not mix them up for variety? Note that ounce-for-ounce, walnuts have the most alpha-linolenic (Omega-3) acid, whereas almonds have more vitamin E and magnesium. Brazil nuts are the highest in selenium, and peanuts (technically a legume) contain the most folate. Cashews contain a significant level of iron (essential for red blood cell function and enzyme activity) and are higher in magnesium than almonds, but contain much lower levels of vitamin E. Walnuts, pecans and pistachios appear to be equally effective at reducing cholesterol, with almonds a close second. Visit NaturalFoodBenefits.com for detailed health benefits of various types of nuts.
The best way to eat nuts is raw or dry roasted at lower temperatures. Read the package carefully, as some roasted nuts are heated in hydrogenated or Omega-6 unhealthy fats, and roasting nuts at too high a temperature can destroy their nutrients.
Avoid nuts covered in chocolate, sugar or salt, or you'll end up cancelling out their heart health benefits. Instead, try the following:
- For a nourishing breakfast, top hot or cold cereal with nuts
- Sprinkle almonds on top of yogurt
- Add peanuts to non-fat frozen yogurt
- Use fat-free salad dressing and add nuts to your salads
- Use nuts to replace croutons in salads or soups
- Bring pasta to life by sprinkling it with chopped nuts
- Slivered almonds do wonders with everything from chicken to desserts
- Add nuts to bread, pancakes, waffles, or muffins
- Mix nuts into lite cream cheese for a delicious spread
- Add nuts to popcorn for a tasty snack
- Add a handful of nuts to steamed veggies
While nut oils contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, they are composed of both saturated and unsaturated fats, so use them in moderation. Nut oil can become bitter if overheated.
Note that the fats in nuts and seeds are susceptible to oxidation after they are shelled and exposed to light and air. This will both destroy nutritional value and degrade taste. So be sure to buy them in small quantities and store them in their shells, in a cool, dry place. Shelled nuts and seeds can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator (one week) or freezer. For maximum freshness, be sure to crush or sliver nuts yourself rather than buy them that way.
It goes without saying that people who are allergic to nuts should avoid eating them. If you have a family history of nut allergies, the British Nutrition Foundation recommends that you avoid nuts while you are pregnant and refrain from giving them to your children in their early years.
Information for this article was taken in part from the following web sites. Please visit them for additional background reading.
New England Journal of Medicine Loma Linda University Mayo Clinic HealthCastle.com Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide Oprah
Recent studies have shown that in addition to being chock full of vitamins and minerals important for good health, broccoli contains several cancer fighting nutrients which collectively pack a powerful anti-cancer punch. There is an incredible amount of information available which outlines the various health benefits of broccoli. This article summarizes my key research findings, and I have provided some interesting links at the end of this article for those who are interested in a more detailed analysis.
Here are some of the key health benefits associated with broccoli consumption on a regular basis. One doesn't need to eat copious amounts of this vegetable to reap the health rewards. It has been suggested that a half cup per day or 2 cups twice a week should be enough, and since a 1/2 cup of broccoli contains only about 20 calories it will not materially impact your overall calorie intake. But it may not be necessary to ingest even that much to obtain significant health benefits. Researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute report that three or more servings a month of raw cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, may reduce bladder cancer risk by approximately 40 percent overall. The key, though, is to eat them raw, as cooking destroys the enzyme that converts the precursor glucosinolates into cancer-fighting Isothiocyanates (ITCs), and also destroys any ITCs already formed.
Over 300 research studies in the area of broccoli and cancer indicate that broccoli contains what may turn out to be a unique balance of nutrients which work collectively to create a strong anti-cancer presence. Without getting overly technical, research over past 5 years has shown cancer is very much related to three metabolic issues within the body:
- Chronic inflammation
While inflammation is a part of the body's natural defense system against injury and disease, prolonged or chronic inflammation causes simultaneous destruction and healing of tissue. This throws other metabolic processes out of balance, which, according to a report published in Oncology [ONCOLOGY 16:217-232, 2002] by Emily Shacter, creates proneoplastic mutations (abnormal cell proliferation), resistance to apopstosis (pre-programmed cell death) and environmental changes such as stimulation of angiogenesis. Chronic inflammation can lead to faulty oxygen metabolism, creating oxidative stress. Some authorities believe chronic inflammation is the main contributing factor to all chronic degenerative diseases, and possibly even the root cause.
- Oxidative stress
While free radicals are a natural by-product of the normal metabolism of oxygen, when too many free radicals are produced the body is no longer able to effectively neutralize all of them. The result is oxidative stress, where free radicals damage all components of the cell, including proteins, lipids (fats), and DNA. Over time, the constant and cumulative DNA damage inside our cells becomes a major risk for conversion of healthy cells into cancerous ones. Though chronic inflammation leads to oxidative stress, sometimes it works the other way around, where too much oxidative stress initiates an inflammatory response to try and reduce the threat posed by the oxidative stress.
- Inadequate detoxification
There are many toxic substances in our food and water, as well as in the air we breathe, both indoors and outdoors. This, along with dietary deficiencies caused by poor eating habits and exposure to allergy-triggering substances, prescription drugs and over the counter medications, can overwhelm our skin, liver, kidneys and other organs as they struggle to neutralize and eliminate poisons from the body. As these organs fall behind, the toxins will build up in one's system and chronic inflammation may result, which as noted above, knocks metabolism out of balance and increases a person's vulnerability to disease.
Broccoli contains anti-inflammatory nutrients, antioxidant nutrients and detox-support nutrients, a powerful anti-cancer combination.
Broccoli fights inflammation on three fronts. Isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are compounds made from glucosinolates found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, can significantly suppress the NF-kappaB signaling system that triggers inflammatory response. The omega-3 fats in broccoli are used to build several types of molecules that help offset inflammatory activity within the body. In addition, broccoli is a rich source of kaempferol, a substance that lessens the inflammation caused by overexposure to allergy-related substances.
Antioxidants are used by the body to fight oxidative stress. Of all the commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains the most concentrated source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. The flavonoids kaempferol and quercitin in broccoli help increase the antioxidant potency of vitamin C. In addition, broccoli contains concentrated amounts of lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, three carotenoids which are also key antioxidants. Other antioxidants provided by broccoli in beneficial amounts include vitamin E and the minerals manganese and zinc. These vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and carotenoids work collectively to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress.
Most toxins inside the body must be neutralized via a 2 step process, and the ITCs made from the glucosinolate compounds in broccoli support both steps. These compounds are not found in other foods in the same combination and concentration , making broccoli truly unique in its ability to both promote and regulate detox activity in our cells.
The relationship between cancer development and chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and inadequate detoxification is well-documented in cancer research. Broccoli, which provides protection against all three of these threats, has been shown to specifically decrease risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and ovarian cancer. It seems reasonable to expect that ongoing research will in time find that the regular consumption of broccoli will decrease risk for other types of cancer.
There is one particular ITC compound in broccoli which deserves specific mention as a cancer fighting substance. Unlike current cancer chemotherapy or radiation treatments, sulforaphane has been shown to selectively target cancerous cells without damaging surrounding tissue. Sulforaphane restores normal cellular function and halts abnormal growth of cancer cells by allowing certain genes which control these functions to be turned back on. (The reason why cancer starts in the first place is because somehow the genes which control how cells divide and when they are supposed to die are turned off. Chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and inadequate detoxification are thought to play a role in turning off these genes.)
IMMUNE SYSTEM SUPPORT
Broccoli contains several compounds which specifically support the immune system:
- Vitamin C - Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in immune cells, and is consumed quickly during infections.
- Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) - Vitamin A is required for normal immune system function. It is important for maintaining the skin and mucosal cells (cells that line the airways, digestive tract, and urinary tract) that serve as the body's first line of defense against infection. Vitamin A is required for proper functioning of white blood cells, such as lymphocytes, which play a critical role in immune system response.
- Vitamin E - Vitamin E is a key antioxidant which protects cell membranes from oxidative damage. It also plays a role in the healing of wounds.
- Zinc - Zinc supports the immune system and helps speed up the healing process after injury. A zinc deficiency can increase a person's susceptibility to infection. (However, excessive consumption of zinc can be toxic.)
- Selenium - Selenium helps build up white blood cells, boosting the body's ability to fight illness and infection. A few studies have suggested that selenium might also help prevent some infections. While toxic in large doses, it is an essential trace element.
Broccoli supports our digestive system in at least two ways.
First, Broccoli is a significant source of fibre. A 1/2 cup of raw broccoli is only 20 calories yet it provides 4 grams of fibre, while a 3/4 cup of fresh cooked broccoli (30 calories) contains 7 grams. (Recommended daily fibre consumption for women under 50 is 25 grams per day, and 21 grams for women over 50.)
Fibre slows digestion, which helps regulate blood sugar levels, key to avoiding (or controlling) diabetes as well as reducing risk of developing gall stones or kidney stones. In addition, fibre helps lower cholesterol. Particularly after it's been steamed, the fibre-related components in broccoli bind with cholesterol-containing bile acids in the digestive tract so that the cholesterol is excreted as opposed to being absorbed into the bloodstream. Fibre also helps guard against diverticular disease, a condition where small pouches develop in the wall of the colon which can become inflamed or infected, causing pain, diarrhea, constipation and other problems. Finally, fibre keeps food moving through our system, preventing constipation and the related possibility of hemorrhoids.
Second, especially inside of our digestive tract, kaempferol, an ITC present in broccoli, has an anti-inflammatory effect that can help protect against chronic inflammation when allergy-related substances are consumed. Sulforaphane, another ITC, helps protect the health of our stomach lining by working to prevent helicobacter pylori overgrowth and protect us from duodenum (small intestine) ulcers.
While research is still in the early stages, anti-inflammatory substances found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli are becoming a topic of increasing interest with respect to heart disease. Researchers are now examining how the anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane may be able to prevent (or even reverse) some of the damage to blood vessel linings that can be caused by chronic blood sugar problems in individuals suffering from diabetes.
The vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate found in broccoli may mean that broccoli consumption can lower risk of excessive homocysteine formation, a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), stroke, and heart attack. (Elevated homocysteine levels have also been associated with increased risk of bone fractures in the elderly (related to collagen damage) and increased risk of Alzheimer's Disease.)
Broccoli also contains small amounts of vitamin B3, or niacin, which can be used to increase blood levels of HDL (good) cholesterol by blocking the breakdown of fats in body tissues and thereby decreasing the secretion of cholesterol and VLDL (very-low-density lipoproteins, the precursors of LDL (bad) cholesterol) by the liver.
Following are some additional health benefits associated with broccoli. Not all nutrients listed below are found in broccoli in large quantities, as per the chart at the end of this section. However, collectively they all add up to create one healthy food, particularly when broccoli is consumed on a regular basis over a period of time.
- Eye health - Two carotenoids found in significant concentrations in broccoli-lutein and zeaxanthin-play an especially important role in the health of the eye.
- Skin support - Since skin cells can carry out the process of detoxification, it may be detox-related benefits of sulforaphane that are especially important in helping to counteract sun damage.
- Metabolism of vitamin D - Broccoli does not contain vitamin D, but it is an unusually good source of both vitamin K and also of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), which appear to help keep vitamin D metabolism in proper balance. This may be especially helpful when it comes to metabolizing vitamin D through supplementation, since many individuals have vitamin D deficiencies.
- Help with enzymatic activity - Broccoli contains manganese, which activates enzymes used in cholesterol and fat synthesis, building bones and the creation of DNA and RNA. α-Tocopherol, one type of Vitamin E (there are 8 types in total), also regulates various enzyme activities, including smooth muscle growth.
- Source of tryptophan - Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that must be obtained through diet. It is used in the synthesis of both serotonin (a neurotransmitter) and niacin (a vitamin which can be used to increase blood levels of HDL (good) cholesterol).
- Brain and nerve function - Potassium in broccoli is used to assist in neuron transmission and maintain the correct concentration of fluids within cells and their surrounding fluids, as well as prevent involuntary muscle contractions. Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is required by nerve cells and other supporting cells of the nervous system.
- Energy production - Vitamin B2, or riboflavin, plays a key role in energy metabolism and in the metabolism of fats, ketone bodies (by-products of fatty acid metabolism), carbohydrates and proteins. Phosphorus is used to transport ATP (energy) to cells. Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is required for the synthesis and metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Over 300 enzymes require the presence of magnesium to function, including all enzymes utilizing or synthesizing ATP.
- Anti-cavity protection - Molybdenum, in addition to being an enzyme activator, may help protect against tooth decay.
- Cellular support - Phosphorus forms part of the structure of DNA and RNA, a cell's basic building blocks. It also forms part of the main structural components of all cellular membranes and assists in the stiffening of bones.
- Bone health - Broccoli contains small amounts of calcium, which helps build stronger, denser bones early in life and keeps bones strong and healthy later in life. The magnesium in broccoli facilitates calcium absorption.
- Oxygen transport - Broccoli also contains small amounts of iron, necessary for the production of red blood cells which transport oxygen throughout the body.
NUTRIENTS FOUND IN BROCCOLI
Following is a nutritional breakdown of the many vitamins and minerals found in broccoli, "borrowed" from The World's Healthiest Foods website.
MAXIMIZING THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF BROCCOLI
For maximum health benefits, broccoli should be eaten raw, or at most lightly steamed. Like any other food, the more you cook broccoli the less health benefits you will obtain from it, particularly if you cook it in water. (As you boil any type of food, nutrients are drawn into the water.) Broccoli should be allowed to sit several minutes before eating; cutting broccoli initiates the conversion of glucosinolates to ITCs. (A 2008 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
reported that consumption of raw broccoli results in faster absorption, higher bioavailability, and higher peak plasma amounts of sulforaphane, compared to cooked broccoli.)
The one exception I noted regarding the eat broccoli raw rule was related to broccoli's cholesterol lowering abilities. Apparently the fibre in broccoli binds better with bile acids in your digestive track after it's been steamed. Raw broccoli will also lower cholesterol, but not as much as when the vegetable is steamed.
When purchasing broccoli, ensure florets are compact, uniformly coloured and dark green, sage or purple-green, depending on the variety. Yellow flowers indicate overmaturity. Stems should be firm and leaves should not be wilted. (Though not everyone eats them, the leaves do contain concentrated amounts of nutrients.)
Note that broccoli sprouts are also gaining in popularity, due to their enhanced concentration of the anti-cancer phytonutrient sulforaphane. However, be advised that supplements containing broccoli sprouts do not offer the same health benefits as the actual plant and therefore the experts do not recommend them.
Information for this article was taken in part from the following web sites. Please visit them for additional background reading. Terminology definitions were researched primarily through Wikipedia.
International Wellness Directory (Chronic Inflammation) World's Healthiest Foods Cosmos Magazine Health Food Guide Science Daily (Broccoli Sprouts) Science Daily (Broccoli's Cancer-Fighting Ability) Science Daily (Diet & Cancer Prevention) Science Daily (Broccoli & Heart Health) Health Diaries Oregon State University
Can we eat to starve cancer? According to Dr. William Li, co-founder and head of the Angiogenesis Foundation, the answer is a resounding yes, and here's why:
Angiogenesis is the process by which the body grows new blood vessels. Our body closely regulates the number of blood vessels within our body at any one time by releasing angiogenesis stimulating growth factors and angiogenesis inhibitors which start and stop (or prune back) the growth of blood vessels. Dr. Li and the Angiogenesis Foundation believe that if the system goes out of balance in either direction, certain diseases will be able to take hold within the body.
For example, too much angiogenesis stimulating growth factor (which increases blood flow) can lead to diseases like cancer, diabetic blindness, age-related macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Too many inhibitors (which reduce blood flow) can lead to wounds that don't heal, heart attacks, strokes and nerve damage. In total, over 70 major diseases have been identified as angiogenesis-dependent, meaning their ability to develop is dependent on adequate blood flow or alternatively, lack thereof.
In a February 2010 presentation at TED2010, Dr. Li explained the relationship between angiogenesis and cancer. All cancers begin as harmless microscopic tumours that are unable to grow because they do not have blood supply. However, cancer cells can mutate and gain the ability to release stimulating growth factors which then grow new blood vessels to supply blood to the cancerous cells and fuel their growth. It also allows the cancer cells entry into the body's circulatory system so that it can take hold in other locations, through a process known as metastasis.
The theory behind angiogenesis-based medicines is that cancer can be stopped and indeed reversed if the blood supply feeding the cancer cells is cut off. To date over $4 billion has been invested in the research and development of angiogenesis-based medicines, making it one of the most heavily funded areas of medical research in human history. In his February 2010 presentation, Dr. Li related some impressive examples of cancers being reversed in animals such as horses, dogs and dolphins. His next step is to obtain the same results in humans.
Now here's the really interesting stuff. Researchers have discovered that many foods naturally contain angiogenesis inhibitors in quantities large enough to directly inhibit angiogenesis stimulating growth factors. Dr. Li believes that by eating these foods regularly we can prevent any cancerous tumours present within the body from growing and spreading. He points out many cancers are not detected until they are at an advanced stage, and at that point a cure may not be possible. So cancer prevention is therefore the most effective "cure" for cancer, and that's why it's a key focus of his research.
Dr. Li has found that ellagic acid in strawberries is an extremely potent angiogenesis inhibitor. Genistein, an isoflavone found in soybeans, is also quite potent. Resveratrol found in red grapes and red wine is less potent, but still very effective.
Other foods Dr. Li is currently studying as potential angiogenesis inhibitors include the following:
grape seed oil
Dr. Li has also found that "food synergy" exists, meaning for example that when jasmine and sencha tea are combined, their total combined potency as an angiogenesis inhibitor is greater than the sum of the two individual teas on their own. So that could mean eating a fruit salad composed of grapefruit, oranges, red grapes and various seasonal berries on a daily basis is not only delicious, it's also a daily dose of cancer prevention.
But wait, there's more! At the end of his presentation, Dr. Li also talked about how angiogenesis inhibitors may also play a key role in weight control. Because adipose (fat) tissue needs a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients to survive, in theory we can shrink fat by cutting off its blood supply. Lab tests on obese mice showed that these mice lost weight when fed angiogenesis inhibitors and then gained it again when the inhibitors were removed.
Right now you may be thinking that fruit salad never sounded so good! But before you rush out to the grocery store to fill your fridge with fruit, keep in mind that test results in the laboratory have yet to be duplicated in live human subjects. While fruit is certainly a healthy food choice, it is very high in sugar and calories, so consuming fruit in large amounts could lead to weight gain, as well as blood sugar issues for diabetics. Fruit should most definitely be part of one's diet, but moderation is key, just as it is for all the other items on the above list of angiogenesis inhibitor foods.
I will be monitoring the progress of angiogenesis research and will update this article with any breaking news as it arises. In the meantime, should you wish to learn more about angiogenesis theory and research, I suggest you visit the Angiogenesis Foundation and/or view Dr. Li's February 2010 presentation on Ted.com. Information from both these sources was used to compile this article.
There's a lot of ongoing buzz about Omega-3 fatty acids, and for good reason. Omega-3s are crucial to maintaining good health, particularly when it comes to the brain and eyes. Research has also linked these fatty acids to additional health benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. This article will therefore define the Omega-3's, explain their importance and identify the best available food sources for obtaining them.
Omega-3 fatty acids defined
Fatty acids in general are derived from fat through a complex chemical process. They are a key source of fuel for many tissues within the body, including the heart and skeletal muscles. (The brain prefers to use glucose as its fuel source.) Fatty acids can be classified as saturated or unsaturated, and non-essential or essential.
There are technically only 2 different essential fatty acids - alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. Essential fatty acids are used by the body to build cell membranes and to produce eicosanoids such as prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes, which control tissue function.
There are a number of different Omega-3 fatty acids, but only 3 are of nutritional value to humans:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
EPA and DHA are often referred to as essential fatty acids, even though in theory the body can build them from ALA. That's because although the body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, it does not do so very efficiently and so it makes more sense to consume these fatty acids through diet to ensure we get enough of them to maintain good health. Research has shown that ALA converts to EPA more readily than it does to DHA. However, according to Evelyn Tribole, M.S., RD and author of The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet, the latest research indicates less than 1% of ALA is converted to EPA and that ALA is seldom, if ever, converted to DHA.
Of interesting note is that women are apparently more efficient at converting ALA to both EPA and DHA, possibly due to the female hormone estrogen. It could be the body's way of ensuring a developing fetus (particularly during the last trimester) and nursing newborn obtain enough DHA to supply the demands of its rapidly developing brain and vision system.
ALA has not been shown to have the same health benefits as EPA or DHA and it's been suggested that the main function of ALA is to serve as a precursor for the production of EPA and DHA. This is very important information to know, because some Omega-3 supplements on the market are made from botanical (plant sources) and so contain only ALA. Therefore, if you do make the decision to supplement, make sure you choose a high quality fish oil over a plant-based source such as flaxseed oil.
An important note on supplementation:
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. Because excess intake of Omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with increased risk of internal bleeding, Omega-3 fatty acids should be used cautiously by people who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take blood-thinning medications. Taking aspirin and Omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in some circumstances such as in heart disease , but not for congestive heart failure, chronic recurrent angina pectoris or other conditions where there is insufficient blood flow to the heart. In all cases, Omega-3 supplements should only be taken together with medication under the supervision of a health care provider.
Taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may increase fasting blood sugar levels in diabetics, so use with caution if taking medications to lower blood sugar as your doctor may need to increase your medication dose.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, known or suspected risks of EPA and DHA consumed in excess of 3 grams per day include increased incidence of bleeding, hemorrhagic stroke, oxidation of Omega-3 fatty acids (forming biologically active oxidation products), increased levels of LDL ("lousy" or bad cholesterol) or apoproteins associated with LDL cholesterol among diabetics and hyperlipidemics, and reduced glycemic control among diabetics.
Why Omega-3 fatty acids are so important
Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in metabolism. In her book The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet, Evelyn Tribole likens Omega-3 fatty acid to a vitamin, claiming "Omega-3 fats are involved in nearly every key function of the body and are an important structural part of every cell in your body". These fatty acids are used to build cell membranes and are key building blocks to the brain and eyes. Indeed, approximately 60% of the brain is composed of fat.
According to Ms. Tribole, Omega-3s are involved with cell to cell communication, which is especially important for brain function, affecting mood, learning, concentration and memory. Omega-3s also regulate genes (turn them off and on) in the brain, as well as in other parts of the body. They help create eicosanoids, which affect fertility, digestion, kidney function, breathing, blood flow, heart health and immunity. In addition, Omega-3s help fight inflammation and infection.
A key role of Omega-3 fatty acids is to counteract the inflammatory tendencies of Omega-6 fatty acids. Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can be used to make eicosanoids, but when the eicosanoids are manufactured using Omega-6 they tend to more inflammatory in nature. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing levels of both triglycerides and blood pressure. It also can affect the development and severity of arthritis, a common inflammatory disease.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 compete within the body to make eicosanoids. The more Omega-3 fatty acids ingested, the more Omega-3 derived eicosanoids the body is able to produce. Wikipedia reports the healthy ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 intake ranges from 1:1 to 4:1 (that's 4 Omega-6 to every 1 Omega 3).
Unfortunately, the average North American diet contains a much higher than recommended percentage of Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3s, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10:1 to 30:1.
Chronic (ongoing) excessive production of Omega-6 eicosanoids leads to chronic inflammation within the body. Chronic inflammation has been associated with increased risk of heart attack, thrombotic stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis, inflammation, mood disorders, obesity and cancer, particularly if one is genetically disposed to any of the above.
Because Omega-3 eicosanoids are non-inflammatory in nature, increasing their level of production in the body through consumption of higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with the following health benefits. Not all these claims have been generally accepted within the scientific community and in many cases additional studies are required before conclusive evidence one way or the other can be established. So while it is certainly recognized that Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to maintaining good health, a comprehensive listing of the precise health benefits they provide has yet to be determined. Therefore, please do not treat every one of these health claims below as gospel.
- Brain health
- Enhanced memory and performance - Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive function.
- Depression - Several studies found people who took omega-3 fatty acids in addition to prescription antidepressants had a greater improvement in symptoms than those who took antidepressants alone. However, other studies have found no benefit.
- Bipolar disorder - A 1998 study conducted by Andrew L. Stoll, MD and colleagues at Harvard University gave 15 people diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine grams of pharmaceutical-quality EPA and DHA for 4 months. (Most of these individuals were already taking standard psychopharmacological treatment such as lithium.) The study found these people were less likely to experience relapse of symptoms than the control group given olive oil capsules as a placebo and also experienced significantly more recovery. However, this study was too small to be clinically significant.
- Schizophrenia - A six month study in 2006 at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (London, UK) found giving schizophrenic patients synthetic EPA had a positive effect on symptoms.
- Parkinson's disease - A 2008 study which treated mice with a neurotoxin commonly associated with an experimental model for Parkinson's disease found that mice which had been previously exposed to a high Omega-3 diet from 2-12 months of age did not experience the neurotoxin-induced decrease of dopamine that occurred in the control mice. Parkinson's is a disease caused by the disruption of the dopamine system, and so this protective effect could be a significant factor for the prevention of the disease.
- Macular degeneration (a serious age-related loss of vision in the center of the visual field that can lead to blindness) - A questionnaire answered by over 3,000 people aged 50 and older indicated that those who ate more fish were less likely to have macular degeneration. A clinical study which compared 350 people with macular degeneration to 500 people without it found those individuals who ate more fish and had a healthier balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids were less likely to have this condition.
- Cardiovacular disease - A number of studies reported in several medical journals (The Lancet, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Atherosclerosis and American Journal of Health System Pharmacy), have indicated Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) provide a protective cardiovascular effect. The Inuit people, who consume high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, tend to have higher proportions of Omega-3, increased HDL (healthy) cholesterol, decreased triglycerides and less heart disease.
- Inflammation - The Omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, appears to form potent anti-inflammatory molecules called resolvins and Omega-3-oxylipins. An August 2009 article published in the Journal of Lipid Research found that Omega-3-oxylipins provided anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Immune function - A study of 64 healthy Danish infants published in the April 2007 issue of Journal of Nutrition reported that those who received fish oil supplements along with either cow's milk or infant formula had improved immune function maturation with no apparent reduction in immune activation.
- Rheumatoid arthritis - A number of small studies have found fish oil helps reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including joint pain and morning stiffness, but does not appear to slow the progression of the disease.
- Cancer - Although several studies have reported a possible anti-cancer effect for Omega-3 fatty acids, (particularly for colon, breast and prostate cancers), a 2006 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that a review of the literature from many countries and a wide variety of demographics demonstrated no link between Omega-3 fatty acids and cancer prevention. A 2002 British Medical Journal article had previously reported similar findings. However, a 2007 systematic review by the British Journal of Nutrition found evidence that oral Omega-3 supplements benefited cancer patients by improving appetite, weight and quality of life. Similarly a 2009 trial found that EPA supplements helped cancer patients retain muscle mass.
- Asthma - One small study of 29 children with asthma who took fish oil supplements rich in EPA and DHA for 10 months reduced their symptoms compared to children who took placebo. However, most studies have shown no effect.
- Osteoporosis - Some studies found that omega-3 fatty acids may help increase levels of calcium in the body and improve bone strength. However, other studies did not duplicate these same findings.
- Diabetes - Diabetes patients quite often have high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL (the "healthy" type of cholesterol). The DHA and EPA Omega-3s found in fish oil can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL. However, please note that some diabetics experience increased levels of fasting blood sugar when taking fish oil.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) - Study results are mixed whether Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (the two types of IBD). However, note that fish oil supplements can cause side effects similar to IBD, such as flatulence, belching, bloating and diarrhea.
- Menstrual pain - One study of 42 women found they experienced less menstrual pain when taking fish oil supplements as opposed to when taking a placebo.
There is cautious acceptance at government levels regarding the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids.
In September 2004, the US government gave "qualified health claim" status to EPA and DHA, which means that food producers may make the following statement on food labels containing EPA and DHA: Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
The Canadian government allows the following statement to be made about DHA: DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, supports the normal physical development of the brain, eyes and nerves primarily in children under two year of age. (The "primarily in children under two years of age" was subsequently added to the original claim statement. The decision to modify the original statement was "based on available scientific evidence indicating that the development of the brain, eyes, and nerves in the human infant takes places very early starting in late pregnancy and up to 2 years of age".)
And speaking of children, Dr. Bruce Holub, a University Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph in Canada who has been involved with Omega-3 research for over 30 years, reports on his web site that published clinical trials provide evidence of a quantitative positive relationship between increased intakes of DHA during pregnancy and the child's IQ. In addition, higher intakes of DHA during pregnancy resulted in improved sleep patterns in infants. Supplementation of DHA and EPA during pregnancy may enhance infant immunity, reduce risk of allergic disease, increase infant birth rate and reduce the mother's risk of postpartum depression.
Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids
According to Evelyn Tribole (The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet), our foods are filled with much higher levels of Omega-6 fatty acids than they were 100 years ago. Back then, cows ate grass and other food containing high amounts of Omega-3s, which we in turn ingested when we ate the cows. However, today's grain-based diets for cows contain significantly more Omega-6 fatty acids than they do Omega-3s. Consequently, commercial beef contains approximately 14 times more Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3s. Commercially raised chickens, lambs, fish and pigs have been similarly affected.
In addition, the more "heart healthy" fats and oils we've been encouraged to eat, such as corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil (this oil is stripped of its naturally occurring Omega-3s during the hydrogenation process) and cottonseed oil, contain significantly higher levels of Omega-6 fatty acids versus Omega-3. (Because polyunsaturated fats do not increase blood cholesterol the same way saturated fats do, for years they have been heavily promoted as heart healthy. But unfortunately no health distinction has ever been made between Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, and so most consumers are not aware enough to be concerned that most of the polyunsaturated fats and oils being used in the manufacturing process are primarily Omega-6 based.)
The most widely available source of EPA and DHA is cold water oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines, which contain about 7 times as much Omega-3 as Omega-6. Other oily fish such as tuna also contain Omega-3, but in lesser amounts. (Beware of eating too much of these fish, since they may contain pollutants such as heavy metals (i.e. mercury and lead), PCBs and dioxins. It's been shown that heavy metals tend to accumulate in protein rather than fat, so fish oil supplements should be relatively free of them. However, the same cannot be said for PCBs and dioxins. But after an extensive review in 2006, researchers from Harvard's School of Public Health reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the benefits of fish intake generally far outweigh the potential risks.)
Seal oil is also a recognized source of EPA and DHA by Health Canada, which claims it supports the development of the brain, eyes and nerves in children up to 12 years of age.
Fish do not manufacture their own Omega-3 fatty acids, but rather ingest them from the microalgae or plankton in their diet. Vegetarians can therefore obtain dietary Omega-3s (DHA) from microalgae, which can be produced commercially in bioreactors. Oil from brown algae (kelp) is a source of EPA.
Krill oil is a relatively new source of Omega-3 fatty acids and proponents claim krill are not susceptible to contamination like fish and contain a special antioxidant called astaxanthin. However, numerous studies have found krill is indeed often contaminated by pollution and that astaxanthin's antioxidant capacity is not very potent.
New Zealand's green-lipped mussels are another good source of Omega-3s and research suggests they do have an anti-inflammatory benefit, particularly for arthritis.
Eggs from chickens fed green algae or seaweed have higher levels of DHA and EPA Omega-3s, but a common consumer complaint is that Omega-3 eggs can have a fishy taste if the hens are fed marine oils. A diet of greens and insects supplemented with flax and canola seeds produces eggs with higher Omega-3 content than corn or soybean diets, but the type of Omega-3 produced is ALA, rather than DHA or EPA.
Purslane contains more ALA than any other leafy vegetable plant. Purslane also has .01 mg/g of EPA, which is an extraordinary amount of EPA for a vegetable source.
Other botanical (plant) sources of ALA include oils from flaxseed (linseed), perilla, chia, lingonberry, camelina, black raspberry, and hemp.
Additional whole foods which contain high levels of ALA include flaxseed, butternuts, hempseed, walnuts, pecan nuts and hazel nuts.
Information for this article was taken from the following web sites. Please visit them for additional background reading:
University of Maryland Medical Center Wikipedia DHA/EPA Omega-3 Institute Omega Science Institute FASEB Journal Journal of Lipid Research Journal of Nutrition British Journal of Nutrition
Many dieters, as well as health conscious individuals who like to watch their weight, deliberately choose foods which contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal® or NutraSweet®) or sucralose (Splenda®) so that they can still eat foods they enjoy without ingesting too many extra calories and packing on excess pounds.
But there has long been controversy over whether artificial sweeteners do in fact help with weight control. A number of studies suggest that the use of artificial sweeteners could potentially lead to weight gain as opposed to weight loss. Wikipedia and many other educational web sites believe these studies are correct. Here are their supporting arguments.
The sweet taste of the artificial sweetener induces the pancreas to release insulin, just as it would do if natural sugars were ingested. The purpose of insulin is to remove glucose (sugar) from the blood and transfer it into body cells where it is either used immediately as energy or stored as fat for later use.
However, because artificial sweeteners do not convert to glucose, there isn't as much glucose in the blood as the body believes. But the insulin does its job anyway, and as a result too much glucose is removed from the blood, creating a hypoglycemic state. This is known as reactive hypoglycemia, which increases your hunger level (especially for carbohydrates) and causes you to eat more at your next meal.
Proponents of artificial sweeteners argue that because these sweeteners are chemicals opposed to food, they will not trigger an insulin response when consumed. However, an interesting article on DietAndBody.com explains that insulin release occurs within the first minute of starting to eat, even though no glucose actually hits our bloodstream until about three minutes into a meal. The insulin release is triggered by the sight and smell of food and subsequent stimulation of the taste buds. Even anticipation of a meal can apparently cause insulin levels to rise.
According to the research, our brain reacts differently to artificial sweeteners as compared to natural sugars. Tests have shown that after ingesting a glucose solution, researchers found a decrease in the area of the brain that is involved with appetite regulation. However, no such decrease was measured when test subjects consumed either an aspartame solution or plain water. So the thinking is that while the body's natural response to eating sugary foods is to consume less calories at the next meal, there is no similar calorie regulating mechanism activated when aspartame is consumed. One article on health-choices-for-life.com suggested that once the brain realizes the artificial sweetener isn't real sugar it doesn't release leptin hormone as a signal to us that we are full. In addition, grehlin hormone levels remain high so that we want to keep on eating. (See my article Ghelin & Leptin: The Hunger Hormones directly below for a detailed explanation about how leptin works in conjunction with ghrelin to control appetite and body weight.)
Finally, scientists have learned that consuming real sugar during a meal raises the body's core temperature, which signals that it's time to rev up the metabolism and start burning excess calories. Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, do not cause a similar core temperature increase. Thus metabolism remains sluggish and fewer calories are burned.
So the bottom line is that while initially we may ingest fewer calories by eating an artificially sweetened food, long term we could end up eating more total calories and burning fewer total calories than if we had chosen to eat foods sweetened with natural sugars. Two studies are often cited to support this claim.
First, a widely published 8 year study at the University of Texas Health and Science Center (San Antonio) found a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumed per day. However, the study did not prove that consuming diet soft drinks caused weight gain; it could be that the more people gain weight the more they turn to diet soft drinks to help control their calorie intake.
On the other hand, another study which utilized rats (rats are often used for initial testing because they have enough similarities to human biology to render the laboratory findings statistically significant for humans) showed that artificial sweeteners did in fact cause weight gain. Rats which ate yogurt sweetened with saccharin consumed more calories, gained more weight and increased their level of body fat. In comparison, rats which ate yogurt sweetened with table sugar did not gain weight or increase their body fat.
But while all this sounds like it might be cause for alarm, note that two recent studies have linked artificial sweeteners to reduced food intake. According to a study published in the Journal Appetite in early 2010, study participants who consumed stevia and aspartame pre-loads did not consume additional calories during their next meals. And another study published in the Journal of Obesity in April 2010 claimed participants who consumed sugar-free beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners displayed better food restraint.
So then who's right? It's hard to say for certain, particularly since I was unable to access any of these original studies to find out who funded them. (Abstracts for most published studies are available for public viewing, but complete study details usually must be purchased, which quite frankly I can't afford to do.) This may sound a little jaded, but the people footing the bill tend to want a return on their investment. Therefore, sometimes tests might be designed and/or test results reported in a way that best supports the desired outcome. (And yes, the older I get, the more cynical I become.)
This is where you need to critically evaluate the available information and decide for yourself whether artificially sweetened foods might be making you fat. Do you tend to eat more at subsequent meals after eating an artificially sweetened food? Experiment in order to find out - keep a food diary that also records how hungry you feel throughout the day and then analyze your data to see if you do appear to be hungrier more quickly after consuming an artificial sweetener.
More often than not, moderation is the key. Don't go overboard with artificially sweetened foods - after all artificial sweeteners are chemicals and who really knows how our body breaks them down? SweetPoison.com provides some interesting facts about aspartame, acesulfame K, saccharin, sucralose and stevia. For example, did you know that aspartame was originally developed as an anti-ulcer drug and that anecdotal reports link it with panic attacks, mood changes, visual hallucinations, manic episodes, headache, nervousness, dizziness, memory impairment, nausea, temper outbursts, depression and seizures? (But do take this article with a grain of salt; since we all haven't dropped dead yet from consuming aspartame, small amounts aren't likely to harm anyone unless they happen to be super-sensitive to them.)
Instead, stick with natural, wholesome foods as much as possible, and then for those times when you really need a sweet treat, choose natural or artificial sugar based on your personal comfort level.
However, should you choose the artificial sweetener, don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Ordering a diet coke doesn't mean you can eat a Big Mac and large fries along with it and not suffer the consequences. While it is true the diet coke is calorie free, the Big Mac and large fries contain approximately 1040 calories, including a whopping 54 grams of fat. As I reported in my article What are Calories and Why Should We Count Them? below, that's over 1/2 of the 1800-2000 daily caloric requirement of the average* woman, and consistently exceeding this daily limit will result in weight gain. (*Of course every body is different, and so total calorie requirements will vary for each individual based on factors such as the speed of one's normal metabolic rate, activity level, amount of muscle on the body that must be sustained, and so on.)
There is a lot of conflicting information on the internet which argues both for and against the use of artificial sweeteners, some of it quite emotionally charged. Should you choose to do some additional research on your own, be sure to evaluate whether the arguments presented are fact or emotion based, as well as whether the site is trying to sell you something (i.e. SweetPoison.com's Aspartame Detoxification Program). Try to keep your mind open to both sides of the argument until you feel comfortable that you have enough factual information to make an informed choice that is right for you.
In recent years scientists have discovered two hormones which play a key role in the hunger cycle: ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and leptin, which suppresses it. (Both hormones play other significant roles within the body, but for the purposes of this article I will only discuss their effects on appetite and weight gain.)
Ghrelin: The Appetite Stimulant
Ghrelin hormone is produced by the cells in the lining of your stomach (and to some extent inside your small intestine and pancreas). From there, ghrelin travels through your blood to your brain and activates neurons in your hypothalamus which trigger the desire to eat.
Researchers initially believed that ghrelin accumulated in the body during periods of fasting. As ghrelin levels rose, hunger would also increase as the brain intensified its signal to eat. Once the stomach had been fed, it would stop producing ghrelin hormone and the urge to eat would subside.
But now there is evidence to indicate that dietary fat, as opposed to fasting, triggers the release of ghrelin, which in turns generates more cravings for fat. In a study published in Nature Medicine (June 2009), Matthias Tschop, MD, UC Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Internal Medicine, suggests that ghrelin acts as a lipid (fat) sensor in the stomach that advises the brain when it's time to start feeding.
Whichever the case, once ghrelin is activated it has a profound effect on our desire to eat. In one study where both lean and obese individuals were injected with ghrelin hormone, both groups ate significantly more than normal. Another study demonstrated that viewing pictures of food after being injected with ghrelin generated greater neural response in some regions of the brain, including those which correspond to pleasure and reward. This suggests that the brain triggers the body to eat by making food seem more desirable. (Ever gone grocery shopping on an empty stomach and come home with way more food than you'd intended?)
In addition to appetite stimulation, ghrelin may also slow your metabolism and reduce your body's ability to burn fat for energy in an effort to promote weight regain. This is significant for dieters, who typically have higher levels of ghrelin in their systems after dieting, and may explain why most people regain any weight lost through dieting. A higher level of ghrelin after the diet period not only makes a person want to eat more, it also makes it easier for the body to replace its lost fat stores.
Leptin: The Appetite Suppressant:
Leptin hormone is produced primarily by white adipose tissue (stored fat) and plays a key role in controlling appetite, energy and metabolic rate. Leptin sends signals to the brain to stop eating, and to increase energy expenditure to burn off excess calories as required.
Although researchers still do not fully understand exactly how leptin works, it may be that leptin is a signal to the brain that there is fat on the body which needs to be burned off. This makes sense when you consider that the amount of leptin circulating in one's system is directly proportional to their level of body fat.
Studies have shown that the absence of leptin leads to uncontrolled eating and obesity. One would assume, therefore, that obese people have a leptin deficiency. However, the very opposite is true - obese people have higher levels of leptin than thin people. But unfortunately obese people have developed a resistance to leptin, similar to how diabetics are resistant to the effects of insulin. This means that although the body is producing the leptin signal to stop eating, the brain is incapable of receiving it. Instead, the brain thinks no leptin is being produced because there are no fat stores on the body to trigger leptin production, and so keeps telling the body to feed itself. (In rare cases, obesity can be caused by an inability to produce leptin, but this is definitely the exception rather than the rule.)
According to an article published on NaturalNews.com, leptin resistance may be caused by chronic inflammation from dietary stress, heavy metal toxicity, or environmental pollutants, which damage the hypothalamaic leptin receptors.
There is also growing evidence that high fructose intake can lead to leptin resistance. This is often used to explain the growing obesity epidemic - most processed foods are now sweetened with high fructose corn syrup because it's a cheaper alternative to sucrose (table sugar).
A low calorie diet will (predictably) lower leptin levels as the brain signals the body to replace its lost fat stores. A number of experts therefore recommend that anyone who severely restricts their calorie intake for an extended period should have a regular (weekly, for example) higher calorie "cheat" meal or two in order to normalize leptin production.
The Ghrelin/Leptin Relationship
The relationship between ghrelin and leptin is a complex and interdependent process that is also tied to other hormones such as insulin and melatonin.
In a perfect world where your body is always functioning in proper balance, ghrelin and leptin would offset one another so that you always ate just the right amount and remained at your ideal weight.
However, in the real world habitual overeating leads to widespread inflammation within the body that can create a host of health problems, including leptin resistance. A high fat diet causes the hypothalamus to release a compound called IKKbeta/NK-kappaB, which will eventually lead to leptin resistance. Once the brain stops recognizing the presence of leptin, it no longer sends "stop eating" signals, nor does it recognize that the body now has excess fat that needs to be burned off. (If you will recall, leptin performs two distinct functions - it tells the brain to stop eating and also to increase energy expenditure.) This sets the body up for continued weight gain that leads to obesity and all the related health problems that come with it.
The good news is that studies, including one by Michael Cowley at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, indicates leptin insensitivity may be reversible through diet. Cowley's team found that obese mice had an accumulation of SOCS-3 compound in their brain, which is believed to prevent leptin signals from reaching brain cells. However, when they put the obese mice on a low fat diet, they regained their sensivity to leptin and lost weight.
Based on the above, following a low fat diet makes sense regardless of your current weight and level of body fat. If you're lean you'll stay lean, since a low fat diet will prevent the over release of IKKbeta/NK-kappaB protein by the hypothalamus and reduce your risk of becoming leptin resistant. If you're obese and already leptin resistant it may still be possible to lose weight, since Michael Cowley's mouse study showed that leptin sensitivity appears to be reversible through diet.
However, the fact that high levels of fat can create leptin resitance doesn't mean it's a good idea to cut all fat completely from your diet. A certain amount of fat is required by the body to maintain healthy skin and hair, insulate body organs against shock, maintain body temperature, aid in nutrient absorption and promote healthy cell function. There are two essential fatty acids the body must ingest because it is not able to make them from other food components: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega 3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega 6 fatty acid). In addition, some authorities consider consider gamma-linolenic acid (omega-6), lauric acid (saturated fatty acid), and palmitoleic acid (monosaturated fatty acid) conditionally essential.
Unfortunately the average North American diet contains a much higher level of fat than that required to maintain good health and so most of us are at risk of becoming leptin resistant at some point. It's believed that saturated fat is the main culprit, and that consuming more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats and trans-fats will better guard against developing insulin resistance. Plus, these "good" fats also help lower blood cholesterol levels and therefore protect against heart disease.
Controlling blood insulin levels will also have a beneficial effect on leptin levels. Insulin causes fat cells to absorb fatty acids and glucose and store them as fat. Fat cells in turn trigger the release of leptin in an amount proportionate to level of body fat. Therefore, the more fat storage produced by insulin, the greater the level of leptin released by fat cells, and chronically high levels of leptin can lead to leptin resistance.
One way to control blood insulin levels is to consume smaller meals throughout the day as opposed to 2-3 larger meals. Smaller meals will result in less fatty acids and glucose entering the blood stream after a meal, so that less insulin will be released by the pancreas. Less insulin = less fat storage in fat cells = less leptin released.
In addition, one should avoid simple sugars as much as possible, or at least eat them with a fat or protein source to help slow the digestion and absorption process. Protein on its own has almost no effect on insulin production, so eating it with a carbohydrate significantly reduces the rise in blood glucose and corresponding insulin spike caused by the digested carbohydrate.
The more slowly food is digested, the more slowly glucose is released into the blood stream and the lower the corresponding insulin spike. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest than simple sugars and thus do not create as great an insulin spike. In addition, the fibre found in complex carbohydrates moves food more quickly through the digestive tract, allowing fewer nutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) in total to be absorbed.
A study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health found that a regular exercise program can help lower leptin levels in both thin and overweight men. However, an article published by the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine that reviewed a number of similar studies determined there were too many variables to draw any specific conclusions, but it did state the authors believed physical exercise and training could indeed modify leptin response. But regardless of whether exercise has a direct effect on leptin, it most certainly will affect it indirectly through increasing your muscle base, lowering your fat stores, and improving your overall health.
Getting a good night's sleep is also extremely beneficial for controlling leptin levels and body weight. The longer and more restful your sleep, the more melatonin your body produces. Melatonin, in turn, increases leptin production. Have you ever noticed you are hungrier on the mornings where you haven't slept well? Unless you went to bed without eating the night before, the reason for your increased hunger is most likely that you woke up with less leptin than usual in your system.
Studies have revealed that on average people who sleep less are more prone to obesity, and the reason for this is most likely the melatonin/leptin relationship. Part of the problem could be that obese people are more prone to sleep apnea, causing them to wake up many times during the night and resulting in reduced melatonin production.
Melatonin is affected by both length and quality of sleep. In particular, light negatively affects melatonin production, which is why the body produces more of it at night. Therefore, it is important to ensure you sleep in as dark a room as possible.
Melatonin production declines with age, so it is important to ensure your quality of sleep remains high as you grow older.
Melatonin supplements are available over the counter without a prescription. But because too much melatonin can have negative consequences (i.e. it can cause oxidative stress, worsen allergic responses and exacerbate auto-immune disease), supplementation is not recommended without first consulting a physician.
As you can see, the relationship between ghrelin, leptin and body weight is quite complex. However, now that you have a better understanding how the hunger hormones work, you can more critically evaluate your own eating habits. Cosmetic issues aside, the health benefits associated with maintaining a healthy body weight are substantial in terms of disease prevention, energy levels and overall quality of life.
Information for this article was taken from the following web sites. Please visit them for additional background reading:
Natural News Journal of Clinical Investigation Medical News Today Natural News Anne Collins Wikipedia Ann Collins Colorado State University University of Edinborough Science Daily Scientific Blogging Scientific Blogging Scientific Blogging MedicineNet Articlesbase
Our bodies are composed of anywhere from 55-75% water, based on the various resources I reviewed for this article. (These resources are cited below.) The wide ranges reported may exist because our body's concentration of water drops as we age.
The brain contains an even higher water content than the rest of the body - around 85%. The brain actually uses water as a form of "hydroelectric" energy from water through cell osmosis. Water energy is used in conjunction with glucose metabolism to ensure the brain has adequate energy around the clock to perform its many complex functions and processes. So water deficiency (i.e. dehydration) reduces the brain's overall energy supply and thus leads to lower levels of mental stamina and a host of emotional issues such as fear, anxiety, anger, stress and depression. A dehydrated person may feel drained and lethargic - chronic fatigue syndrome is a key symptom of progressive brain dehydration and subsequent build up of toxins.
But it's not only the brain that is so reliant on water to function properly - virtually every single process in our body depends on water. Water is absolutely critical to our survival, second only to oxygen in terms of relative importance for sustaining life. While we can generally last a number of weeks without food, we can only go a few days without water. That's because our cells all require water to support and maintain their structure, as well as deliver life sustaining oxygen. Water helps the body rid itself of toxins and regulate its temperature. It also helps keep mouth, lungs and other mucous membranes moist, joints lubricated and cushioned, digestive juices flowing and bowels moving. Water continually moisturizes the skin, works as a shock absorber for the eyes, spinal cord and amniotic sac during pregnancy, and keeps the bladder clear of bacteria and thus infection-free. Without water, oxygen and other chemical components within our blood would not be able to travel through the body and all our cells would therefore die.
No wonder adequate hydration is so key to good health and longevity!!! Unfortunately, many of us exist in a chronically dehydrated state without even knowing it. That's partly because our thirst mechanism grows weaker as we age and so we then don't get as clear a signal that we need to hydrate ourselves. Another key reason for chronic dehydration is that many of the staple beverages in our diet, such as tea, coffee, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, are actually diuretics. So by drinking them when we're feeling thirsty we're actually compounding our dehydration problem.
Have you ever walked over to the fridge, opened it and stood there knowing you want something but you're not sure what? That may be because you're getting some sort of signal from your brain that you don't quite recognize. Quite often people confuse their brain's thirst message as hunger so that they eat solid food as opposed to drink something fluid. This results in further dehydration because the digestive process requires water to do its job.
The Dangers of Chronic Dehydration
The longer we remain in a chronically dehydrated state, the greater the chances of the following problems may occur to varying degrees within our bodies. So as you can see, drinking plenty of water is one of the best things we can do to help protect our bodies from distress and/or disease.
- Water retention - When your body starts to get dehydrated, your brain orders your cells to absorb what remaining water you do have to protect the body from running out of water completely. Not only does this make you swell up, it prevents the water from being used in normal body processes, making them run suboptimally and opening them to disease. (So if you're trying to lose weight, make sure you drink lots of water.)
- Hypertention (high blood pressure) - When you're dehydrated, the quantity of water in your blood is less and so your brain tells your vascular system to tighten up, which effectively increases your blood pressure. This is necessary in order to maintain enough pressure to allow cells to continue absorbing water.
- Kidney damage - To further conserve water, the brain also instructs your kidneys to stop the urination process. The combination of the abnormally high pressure on the walls of the blood vessels in the kidneys (caused by hypertension) and forced urine retention damages the kidneys.
- Kidney stones - When urine becomes too concentrated, minerals which normally are dissolved in water start to crystallize and harden into a kidney stone. Kidney stones can range in size from a tiny crystal too small to be detected by x-ray to the larger crystals the size of an egg. If a large enough stone enters a ureter, urine flow will be obstructed, leading to potentially serious complications such as kidney infection or kidney failure.
- Urinary tract infections - There is some evidence to indicate reduced fluid flow makes the urinary tract more susceptible to bacterial infection.
- Build up of toxic substances - Once your kidneys have slowed the urination process, their ability to excrete the toxic byproducts of normal metabolism (such as urea and uric acid) is compromised. So some of what your kidneys would normally filter from the blood stays in the blood and ultimately gets deposited in blood vessels, joints (uric acid deposited in the joints causes Gout), tissues, and organs.
- Digestive complications - The stomach starts the digestive process by secreting acid that is highly acidic. Before food can enter the intestines, the acidity must be neutralized or the intestines will be severely damaged. Water is an important part of the neutralization process. If there is not enough water available to properly neutralize the digested food, it will not be permitted to move into the intestines. Not only is the digestive process significantly slowed, but the acidic food remaining in the stomach could cause acid reflux.
- Constipation - No matter how much fibre you eat, your body still requires water to move it through your system. If water is diverted from the digestive tract for use by more vital organs, your stool will dry and harden in the colon, and could potentially lead to diverticulitis.
- Increased body temperature - Your body uses perspiration to cool itself. However, when there is a shortage of water the body reduces or eliminates perspiration all together. This can cause the body to overheat (hyperthermia) and produce symptoms such as headache, confusion and/or fatigue. Skin may appear dry and red. Mild overheating is known as heat exhaustion, whereas heat stroke is a result of more severe hyperthermia.
- Respiratory issues - Your lungs must be moist to take in oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide. (It is possible to lose a pint of liquid each day just exhaling.) Breathing becomes more shallow and rapid when there is less moisture in the lungs to take up the oxygen.
- Diabetes - There is a theory that dehydration can lead to diabetes, particularly in pre-diabetic individuals. When the brain runs low on fuel, it calls on more water, sugar and salt to fuel itself. But because the water isn't available, more sugar is supplied to compensate, which increases blood sugar levels. The blood sugar control mechanisms within the body become over stressed over time, leading to diabetes.
- Poor joint lubrication - Water is required to transport nutrients required for maintenance and repair of the cartilage in your joints. Dehydration may both increase the abrasive damage and delay its repair.
- Poor fat metabolism - The body must have water to metabolize and excrete fat, and the water that is stored with fat is generally not sufficient to meet this need.
- Body pain - Your brain is able to move water from one area of the body to another to ensure the most basic metabolic activity required for survival can continue. The brain uses histamine to do so, but when histamine comes across pain-sensing nerves within the body it causes strong and continual pain. This pain is the body's way of telling you to attend to the dehydration problem. Note that taking analgesics (Acetaminophen, Aspirin, Ibuprofin and opiods such as morphine) or other pain medications such as antihistamines (allergy drugs) or antacids when you are dehydrated can create serious problems, because they confuse the body's hystamine and thus prevent it from directing water to where it is needed most.
Common Signs of Dehydration
Following are some symptoms of dehydration to watch out for. It's quite an extensive list, but since dehydration can cause so many different problems within the body I suppose the length of the list shouldn't really be all that surprising.
However, virtually all of the items listed below can be caused by other issues as well so there's no guarantee that dehydration is the problem. But odds are that it could be, particularly if you're otherwise healthy overall. So if you're plagued by one or more of the symptoms below, you might want to try drinking a bit more water to see if that helps clear up the problem.
- cracked lips
- dry, warm skin
- dry mouth and/or tongue with thick saliva
- dry nasal passages
- flushed face
- heart palpitations or rapid heart beat
- heartburn or stomach ache
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- joint and back pain, chronic pain in general
- kidney stones
- mental confusion, slower responses to stimuli
- mood changes
- muscle cramps
- not feeling well (from toxin buildup)
- reduced urination, urine dark yellow in colour
- sleep disturbances
- water retention and bloating
As dehydration becomes more severe, the following symptoms may surface:
- bloated stomach
- fast, weak pulse
- heart failure
- low blood pressure
- rapid and deep breathing - faster than normal
- severe muscle contractions
- skin inelasticity (a bit of skin lifted up stays folded and takes a long time to go back to its normal position)
- sunken dry eyes, with few or no tears
So How Much Water Do We Need?
Here are some interesting facts about water:
- The percentage of water to body composition is higher in men than in women.
- The percentage of water to body composition falls in both sexes as we age.
- On average, mature adults lose from 2.5-3 litres of water per day, and more in hot weather or if they are more active than the average individual.
- Elderly people lose about two litres of water per day.
- When traveling by plane, you can lose as much as 1.5 litres of water during a three-hour flight.
The numbers are conflicting, but some experts are of the opinion that the body can get about half the water it needs on a daily basis from food intake alone. (All food contains some water, even the dry stuff like crackers.) Another 10% can be obtained through the digestive process, which both uses water and produces it as a by-product. So that leaves about 40% of our daily water requirements that must be ingested as "liquid" water.
The generally accepted rule used to be that one should drink 6-8 glasses of water per day (or perhaps 8-10 glasses, depending on who you were talking to) to ensure your daily water requirements were met. However, that type of a recommendation does not consider how individual needs will vary based on body size and weight. Instead, it was a number that ensured the average person would be adequately hydrated.
A new formula for calculating daily water needs that considers individual differences is now gaining in popularity. This method takes looks at how much you weigh in pounds and then suggests you take a certain percentage of that weight and drink the equivalent amount of water in ounces. The percentage to use varies from publication to publication, but tends to be at least 50%. That means if you weigh 140 pounds, then take 50% of that weight, or 70, and drink 70 ounces (approx. 2 litres) of water per day.
When determining your own daily water requirements, experiment a bit and see what makes you feel best in terms of overall health and vitality. As long as your pee is clear or only a very light yellow, your lips aren't chapped and overall you feel pretty good, you're probably in the ball park.
Water consumption should be spread relatively evenly throughout the day, where practical. For those of you who might be worried about having to pee excessively if you all of a sudden begin to drink significantly more water, don't worry because your bladder will adjust in a relatively short period of time. You'll stop going as often, and instead pee longer on every restroom visit.
Pure water is preferable over other liquids, particularly those that contain caffeine, sugar or alcohol, for reasons already noted in the opening section of this article. Other liquids like juice, milk or soup are okay, but they do contain added calories. Also, juice contains a high degree of natural sugars which can cause blood sugar levels to skyrocket and stress out your insulin response mechanism (particularly bad for diabetics). You'd be much better off to eat an orange than drink a glass of orange juice, since there is added fibre and other nutrients that are filtered out of most commercial orange juices, especially the pulp-free ones.
If you're not a water drinker now and you're wondering how you can possibly drink so much extra fluid in one day, you'd be surprised at how much water you can down if you take a swig or two every 20 minutes to half hour. If you have a desk job, set the water bottle in plain view and force yourself to get into the habit of reaching for it at the top and bottom of every hour.
You may find it helpful to drink the water at room temperature, which is my preference. I read somewhere years ago that cold water was harder on your organs, but I really don't know whether there is any truth in that. I just prefer room temperature water over the refrigerated option.
Take note that commercially bottled water contains salt (sodium), which can lead to fluid retention and higher blood pressure in salt-sensitive people. So check the label on your brand and choose one with the lowest available salt content.
Alternatively, though it's not as convenient, you can always drink tap water. If you do choose to drink tap water and need to store it in a closed container, if you use plastic make sure you purchase a container that it meant for reuse. Storing your tap water in recycled mineral water bottles is a huge no-no - these bottles are made from the type of plastic that will break down over time so that DEHP may leach into your drinking water. Click here and here for more information on this subject.
As a general rule, people who need more water in their diet include those who are on a high protein diet (helps flush urea from your system) or a high fibre diet (helps prevent constipation), are more physically active and/or are exposed to warm or hot conditions. Breastfeeding women may require up to an extra litre of water per day. Also if you're ill and have been vomiting or have had diarrhea you will need to replenish your body's water supply. Some drugs have dehydrating properties, so check with your doctor whether any long term medication you are taking will affect your body's natural water balance.
So the next time you stare into the fridge wondering what you feel like munching on, why not reach for a bottle of water instead?
The information presented in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
Information for this article was taken in large part from the following web sites. Please visit them for additional background reading:
NaturoDoc.com wiseGEEK Ezine@rticles.com associatedcontent.com Ambafrance-do.org Better Health Channel HeartSpring Anne Collins
Since the 1930s, research scientists have been studying the relationship between number of calories consumed and the rate at which animals age. Over the years, studies involving fruit flies, worms, spiders, rats, mice and dogs have repeatedly shown that eating a calorie restricted (but healthy) diet significantly slows the aging process, by as much as 40%. These findings have prompted some individuals to advocate calorie restricted diets for people, but others have argued there is no definitive proof that restricting calories would produce the same benefit in human beings.
However, the scientific community came one major step closer to establishing such a relationship in July 2009, when an interim report from a detailed study of rhesus monkeys revealed that after 20 years of monitored study monkeys who had free rein at the dinner table were nearly three times more likely to die of age related diseases such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes than monkeys who ate a calorie restricted diet. In fact, diabetes was completely non-existent in the calorie restricted group. In addition, certain areas of the brain involving motor control, memory and problem solving were preserved longer in those monkeys eating fewer calories. (The study involved 38 monkeys in the full calorie group (monkeys were allowed to eat as much as they wanted at meal time and then food was later removed) and 38 monkeys in the calorie restricted group. Both groups ate the same type of food. After 20 years, 14 monkeys from the full calorie group had died from age related causes versus 5 from the calorie restricted group.)
The reason these findings are so significant is because monkeys are very closely related to humans in terms of genetic makeup. It would be very difficult to conduct similar tests in human beings, not only because we have a much longer life span, but also because it would be very difficult to control the studies for lifestyle and other variables since we can't keep people in cages. Note, however, that rhesus monkeys can live up to 40 years, and so we may have to wait another 20 years or so before the final results of the study are available.
While there is no guarantee that what happens in primates will also happen in humans, a recent German study found that healthy women aged 50-80 who reduced their caloric intake by 30% for 3 months scored 20% higher on verbal memory tests. (The women in the study ranged from normal weight to slightly overweight. Though it was not a large study, the results were statistically significant when compared to the control group who did not change their diets.) The women who cut calories became more sensitive to insulin and their levels of C-reactive protein dropped - factors which have already been linked to improved brain function. (Incidentally, physical exercise has a similar effect on insulin sensitivity and C-reactive protein levels.)
The level of calorie restriction in both the rhesus monkey and German women tests was 30% of normal calorie intake. This was calculated by measuring what the monkeys and women ate normally, reducing their calorie intake by 10% for 3 months and then holding steady. Therefore, each test subject ate based on what was normal for them as opposed to a predetermined level based on body weight or BMI.
While the preliminary results of the rhesus monkeys study may tempt some people to begin a calorie restricted diet regimen in the hopes of living healthier for a longer period of time, there's more to a calorie restricted diet than simply cutting your normal calorie intake by 30%. When a person is eating fewer calories, they risk malnutrition if their diet is not carefully balanced. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to all sorts of problems, including reduced bone density and osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, anemia, gallstones, memory loss, dizziness, weakness, lethargy, fatigue, nausea, irritability, depression and in severe cases, heart failure and death.
Another (and perhaps more practical) approach is to cut calories by a lesser amount and make up the difference through exercise. This would allow a person to eat a greater variety of foods and thus reduce the risk of becoming malnourished. A great place to start would be to cut out the sugars and fats and replace them with healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. In fact, the health benefits from this diet change alone would be substantial, regardless of whether the total number of consumed calories changed.
It is not known exactly why a reduced calorie intake extends life, but there are two main schools of thought. The first school argues that eating less slows the metabolism so that fewer free radicals (which damage body tissues and therefore contribute to aging) are produced. The second school believes eating fewer calories keeps our body cells under a more constant level of low stress so that the body is better able to handle higher stress levels when they come along.
But from a common sense perspective, it is well documented that obesity is a major risk factor for a number of life threatening diseases and thus it follows that being even moderately overweight will put additional stress on one's body functions. But how much weight is too much weight is a question that's not easily answered. Therefore, the prudent individual will want to maintain as lean a physique as possible to help ensure they remain as healthy as possible into their old age.
Over the years I've often heard people say they would rather live a shorter life where they've enjoyed themselves versus living a longer but more boring one. I certainly don't dispute anyone's right to make that choice, but what many fail to consider is that odds are they won't be having a great time one day and then "poof", they're gone the next. Our hospitals and nursing homes are filled with people suffering from age related degenerative diseases brought on by excess - excess food, excess drink, excess partying, etc. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that many of these diseases can be delayed and perhaps even avoided by practicing healthier diet and lifestyle habits.
While I am not advocating we all live like puritans and avoid eating, drinking or doing anything that might be bad for us, I do believe that moderation is the key to enjoying good times throughout our entire life, including our golden years. Just some food for thought...
I recently ran across this extremely interesting book which alerted me to a possible health risk that is potentially so dangerous I feel compelled to share it with you. Dr. Blaylock outlines his very serious concerns about the massive amounts of MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame being added to our food supply despite their potential to destroy the same areas of our brain affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS or Huntingdon's disease.
In his book, Dr. Blaylock is very careful to point out that while there is no absolute proof that MSG and aspartame ingested with our food is destroying brain cells, laboratory research suggests there is growing evidence that in certain situations this may well be happening. But because the damage is slow and cumulative it's difficult to prove an absolute connection. That's because the brain is very good at repairing and rerouting its circuitry so that it will appear to function normally until substantial, irreversible damage is done and the majority of neurons are dead.
I therefore invite you to review this article and evaluate for yourself what the potential risks are for you and your family.
Our brain is made up of cells which either stimulate or inhibit activity and the balance between the two is quite delicate and therefore very carefully regulated. There is a certain class of chemicals so potent in their ability to stimulate brain activity that if they are left to do so unchecked for any length of time our brain neurons will continue to fire uncontrollably until they stop due to utter exhaustion... and die several hours later. Scientists have named this class of chemicals "excitotoxins" because they literally excite the neurons to death. Glutamate and aspartate are two such excitotoxins.
The brain uses excitotoxins as neurotransmitters to stimulate activity, but the usage is very carefully regulated so that neuron death does not occur. However, should the protective mechanisms fail, the excitotoxins within the brain will run wild and cause severe damage. This damage is very selective in that only certain types of brain cells are affected, while others immediately next to them remain completely healthy. Because the targeted cells are the same ones destroyed by Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS or Huntingdon's diseases, scientists are now theorizing that excitotoxin damage plays a central role in the development and progression of these diseases.
Glutamate is one of the most common neurotransmitters within the brain, and indeed is manufactured by the brain for its own internal use. But because levels must be so carefully regulated, our blood-brain barrier prevents the excitotoxins (such as glutamate and aspartate) we ingest in our diet from entering the brain. However, as you will see later in this article, under certain conditions our blood-brain barrier is weakened to the point where foodborne excitotoxins can potentially enter the brain and overwhelm those neurons sensitive to them.
MSG and Aspartame
MSG and aspartame have no preservative qualities or nutritional value whatsoever and are added to our food for the sole purpose of enhancing taste. Just as these chemicals stimulate brain cells, they also stimulate our taste buds to give just about anything "more taste". Potato chips, frozen foods, diet foods, sauces, soups and gravies are generally loaded with them so that otherwise bland food will taste better - much better!
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is glutamic acid with an additional sodium molecule. Aspartame is derived from aspartic acid. Both glutamic acid (classified as a glutamate) and aspartic acid (classified as an aspartate) are amino acids naturally occurring in nature. However, sources of them are not naturally this concentrated and that's why excessive use of them is a potentially serious problem.
Because glutamate is a naturally occurring substance, food manufacturers can disguise its use as natural flavour and other similar descriptions. A list of foods that could contain large amounts of "hidden" MSG is presented at the end of this article for those individuals who wish to monitor MSG intake.
Aspartame is marketed under several names, including Equal®, NutraSweet®, and Canderel®, and according to Wikipedia, is used in approximately 6,000 foods and beverages sold world wide, including diet sodas and other soft drinks, instant breakfasts, breath mints, cereals, sugar-free chewing gum, cocoa mixes, frozen desserts, gelatin desserts, juices, laxatives, chewable vitamins supplements, milk drinks, pharmaceutical drugs and supplements, shake mixes, tabletop sweeteners, teas, instant coffees, topping mixes, wine coolers and yogurt. Aspartame in liquid form is in theory more toxic to the brain because it is absorbed faster and produces higher blood levels than when it is mixed with solid foods.
For whatever reason, humans are extremely sensitive to excitotoxin intake. When adults are fed 100-150 mg of MSG per kg of body weight, their blood levels rise 20 times higher than normal. By comparison, when mice are fed a similar dosage their blood levels go up only 4 times higher and the blood level for monkeys doesn't change at all. When you consider that laboratory testing is done mostly on mice, it's quite possible that the damaging effects of MSG as measured on mice are significantly greater for humans.
The blood-brain barrier is composed of high density cells restricting passage of substances from the bloodstream into the brain. While many substances essential to brain health and nourishment are permitted to pass through these high density cells via special "transporter" cells, everything else is denied access. So in theory we should all be protected from excitotoxins entering the brain from our bloodstream.
However, it turns out that some parts of the brain (the hypothalamus, the cirumventricular organs, the pineal gland and part of the brain stem) are not protected by the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, in theory, the excitotoxins we ingest in our diet could pass through these openings and move to those parts of the brain most sensitive to their damaging effects.
For a very small percentage of the population who have an inherited inability (olivopontocerebellar degeneration disease) to convert excess glutamate into glutamine (inactive "safe" form), it's been shown that glutamate is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Dr. Blaylock suggests that if someone has an inherited sensitivity to glutamate, ingesting too much of it could precipitate the full blown disease.
The blood-brain barrier is not fully developed at birth and in fact takes many years to reach it's full maturity and therefore full level of protection. This means that newborns and infants are at greater risk of excitotoxin damage than adults. No one knows at this point exactly when the blood-brain barrier reaches it's full maturity, but there is some evidence to indicate it is not until adolescence. Children tend to consume a lot of "junk food", which contains a high level of excitotoxins.
There is also evidence to indicate that excitotoxins can pass through the placenta of pregnant women and at certain toxic levels cause damage to the baby's developing brain. One study indicated that the amino acid phenylalanine passed through the placenta and became more concentrated on the fetal side of the circulation, meaning the baby was exposed to a higher concentration of the amino acid than the mother. While phenylalanine is not an excitotoxin, both glutamate and aspartate are amino acids. If one type of amino acid can pass through the placenta, it's quite possible that others can too.
The efficiency of the blood-brain barrier drops as we age, so that excitoxins may evenutally be able to pass through it. Hardening of the arteries, diabetes, hypertension, strokes, poor blood oxygenation, fever, various infections, head injuries, seizures and tumours can be contributing factors, along with certain drugs, nutritional deficiencies or exposure to radiation. Recently, neurosurgeons have developed a way to purposely disrupt the blood-brain barrier to allow the passage of chemotherapy drugs targeted at brain tumours. Unfortunately this disruption is not selective; other toxic chemicals are able to enter the brain as well.
Excitotoxin Regulation Within the Brain
The human brain is extremely complex and scientists do not yet fully understand exactly how it works. However, they do know that maintaining the delicate balance between stimulating and inhibiting activity requires a significant amount of energy. Despite being only 2% of body weight, the brain uses 20% of the oxygen in the blood. The brain also consumes 25% of our glucose supply and under normal conditions it absorbs twice as much glucose as it consumes, just to be on the safe side.
Glucose transporter cells carry glucose from the bloodstream through the blood-brain barrier and directly into the brain at a rate of 10 times their weight every minute. However, laboratory tests showed that when mice were fed high doses of glutamate, the rate of glucose transfer fell by 35%. At extremely high concentrations brain glucose levels dropped by as much as 64%. The logical conclusion is that high levels of glutamate in our blood stream interfere with glucose transporter cell ability to transfer glucose, the brain's primary fuel source, across the blood-brain barrier and into the brain.
Without getting too technical, here's what can happen when energy levels within the brain drop too low to keep its stimulating and inhibiting activities in balance. Glutamate starts to accumulate in the brain and attaches to cells specifically sensitive to glutamate/aspartate stimulation. This allows calcium to enter into the cells and cause them to fire. Normally the opening and closing of the calcium channel is carefully regulated, but with no energy available to inhibit the process, the cells continue to fire. This sets up a chain reaction involving destructive enzymes and free radicals, causing the cells to die.
Consequences of Excitotoxin Induced Cell Death
The cells affected by this glutamate over-stimulation are those which are also affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS or Huntingdon's disease. This has lead some scientists to theorize that excitotoxin related damage to the brain could be a key contributing factor to the development and progression of these diseases. Therefore, it is quite possible that if MSG and aspartame consumed in one's diet did pass through the blood-brain barrier, they could speed up the disease process.
To many the theory makes sense, because just as excitotoxin damage is slow and cumulative over the years, neurodegenerative diseases also develop slowly with symptoms worsening over time. In both cases, there are no obvious symptoms until substantial cell death has occurred and the brain can no longer reroute itself to compensate.
Our brain is constantly growing and changing as a result of external stimulation throughout our lives. However, most of the growth and restructuring occurs from the first week after conception to about the first 4 to 6 years of life. Some scientists believe that excitotoxin overstimulation of the brain in newborns and young children can lead to developmental problems such as dyslexia, learning disorders, ADD, frequent outbursts of uncontrollable anger (the injection of small amounts of glutamine into the hypothalamus of animals has been shown to produce sudden rage), autism, schizophrenia, seizures and cerebral palsy. While there is no proof that excitotoxin exposure early in life will cause any of the above to occur, there is experimental evidence that such exposure can result in behaviour changes in test animals.
In one carefully controlled study, 22 rats were given a daily low dose of MSG by injection beneath their skin for 11 days. When the rats were examined they were shorter and fatter than the control animals being fed a normal diet, and exhibited more hyperactive behaviour. When tested in mazes they had more difficulty than the control animals in escaping from even the simplest maze. And when tested for their ability to differentiate between different types of stimuli, the MSG rats had significantly more difficulty than the control ones. Remember, humans concentrate glutamate in their blood to a much greater degree than rats and we are equally as affected by toxic levels in our brain.
It has been demonstrated that glutamate injected directly into the brains of animals can cause seizures. Soon after NutraSweet® was introduced there were reports that it was being linked to seizures in humans, but the reports were anecdotal only and were never scientifically proven. However, aspartame is known to make the EEG discharges worse in children with certain types of epilepsy.
There also appears to be some connection between NutraSweet® and brain tumours, although this has been vehemently denied by the makers of this product (G.D. Searle), who insist that their own internal studies did not find any statistically significant relationship. However, it is interesting to note that the study submitted to the FDA by Searle was subsequently found to be seriously flawed due to clerical errors, mixed up animals, animals not getting the drugs they were supposed to get, pathological specimens lost because of improper handling and a variety of other errors.
The number one complaint by consumers using either NutraSweet® or MSG is headache, although the connection is hotly debated. However, it has been established that excitotoxins can damage the cells in the retina of the eye.
At least one study indicates MSG exposure to nursing mice produces a severe defect in cell-mediated immunity when they reach adulthood. Cell-mediated immunity is important in fighting viruses, bacteria and cancer. If this effect also occurs in humans exposed to MSG at an early age, it could mean they would suffer similar immune deficiencies as adults.
Protecting Yourself From Excitotoxin Damage
The most obvious way to protect yourself from excitotoxin damage is to avoid ingesting excess MSG and aspartame through diet. However, with these taste enhancers so pervasive within our food supply, it would be extremely difficult to eliminate them completely.
Therefore, in addition to minimizing their intake through food and drink, here are some things you can do to minimize the potential damage they could inflict on your brain cells.
- Avoid mixing MSG and aspartame in the same meal (i.e. chips and diet pop), as they tend to have a compounding effect. Also avoid excitotoxins in liquid form, since they will be absorbed into your bloodstream much faster.
- Be cautious of the products you buy in health food stores. Soybean milk, naturally high in glutamate, frequently has additional glutamate added in the form of hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Sports supplements and weight loss products frequently contain NutraSweet® and/or glutamate.
- Ensure your blood sugar levels remain within normal limits to avoid hypoglycemic episodes. This will help keep your brain glucose at levels where it can better prevent excess glutamine build up. Diabetics, those individuals on low carbohydrate diets and people who partake in intense, prolonged exercise are particularly at risk. However, regular exercise (not aerobics) is important in maintaining stable blood sugar and avoiding hypoglycemia. Athletes should avoid refueling with sports drinks, since these tend to be flavoured with aspartame.
- Eat fresh, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Avoid flavouring them with store-bought condiments and sauces.
- Eat a diet high in antioxidants (Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta carotene, Vitamin K, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, magnesium, chromium, zinc, selenium) to help guard against cell damage caused by free radicals. Our brain normally has higher levels of vitamin C than anywhere else in our body, most likely for this very reason. Antioxidants do easily pass through the blood-brain barrier.
- Eat a diet high in magnesium (broccoli, spinach), which helps block calcium channels. Phosphates (found in most colas) are known to deplete the body's level of magnesium. Low magnesium levels have been linked to both the precipitation and magnification of free radical damage. (Free radical formation in turn will in turn stimulate further glutamate release.) Most of us do not get enough magnesium in our diets and therefore supplementation may be warranted.
- Do not use amphetamines or "uppers". It is suspected that these drugs can produce brain damage by way of glutamate-type neural pathways. Amphetamines are known to destroy neurons associated with controlling fine and coordinated movements of the arms and legs, the same neurons destroyed by Parkinson's disease.
- Individuals who are at high risk for developing Alzheimers, ALS or Parkinson's disease may wish to avoid general stimulants of the nervous system, such as caffeine. While there is no proof stimulants will precipitate any of these diseases, stimulated brain cells increase their metabolism and thus their demand for energy. Several of the neurodegenerative diseases have demonstrated an impaired ability of the neurons to produce energy, and so by stressing the neurons you could possibly cause them to die sooner.
Let's Not Panic...
Before you freak out about what you've just read, keep in mind that Dr. Blaylock quite clearly states there is no conclusive proof that excitotoxins ingested in our diet do actually pass through the blood-brain barrier in large enough quantities to do serious damage. Although some evidence of this does exist, no one knows for certain whether it is in fact the case. This information has therefore been presented to you as an FYI, so that you are aware of the possibility and can decide for yourself whether it would be of value to reduce the levels of MSG and aspartame in your diet.
Keep in mind that everyone has different tolerance levels to excitotoxic overload, which is why not everyone will be affected to the same degree. However, if neurodegenerative disease runs in your family then perhaps you may be at higher risk than the average person. There is no proof that excessive intake of glutamate and/or aspartate will cause Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS or Huntingdon's disease, but there is growing evidence it could precipitate or exaggerate these diseases to progress more rapidly if you are genetically prone to them. Therefore, in my opinion why take chances with either your own health or that of your family?
According to Dr. Blaylock's research, there is some evidence to indicate if we live long enough we will all develop a neurodegenerative disease of some sort - after age 80, 40% of the population will develop Alzheimers. While there is no absolute proof that ingesting the excitotoxins in our food leads to higher concentrations in the brain, I personally am not taking any chances. I have cut diet coke completely from my diet and am minimizing the use of prepared foods as much as possible so that if I am destined to become afflicted with this disease I can perhaps put it off as long as possible.
In doing some additional research for this article, I came across an hour long video by Dr. Blaylock where he explains in great detail the consequences of excitotoxic damage, and in particular how the early exposure of glutamate in infants and toddlers can affect their overall physical, mental and immune system development. He also talks about how the food industry has tried very hard to keep a lid on the growing body of research showing what their multimillion dollar investment in excitotoxin taste enhancements is doing to people who eat foods containing them. This video can be found here.
Excitotoxins - The Taste that Kills by Russell M. Blaylock, MD is available through Chapters Online for $21.95 (currently on sale for $17.56 at the time of this writing - September 2009).
Hidden Sources of MSG
Click here for a list of food substances containing MSG, which has been taken from Appendix 1 of Excitotoxins - The Taste that Kills.
Certain vitamins and minerals which the body must obtain from food sources are essential for good health. You don't always need very much of them, but deficiencies can lead to significant health problems. Most people can obtain all the vitamins and minerals they require simply by eating a healthy, varied diet. However, not all of us eat well all of the time, and so a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement might be worth considering to cover yourself, so to speak.
Vitamins are organic compounds (made by plants and animals) that our bodies can't make on their own and so we need to ingest them through our diet. They function as hormones (vitamin D) and antioxidants (vitamin E), regulate metabolic processes (B vitamin group), control cellular functions (vitamin A), and prevent diseases, such as scurvy and rickets.
Vitamins are either fat soluble (meaning they are absorbed by your intestines and stored in your liver and fatty tissues until needed) or water soluble (they circulate in your blood stream after you eat them and what is not immediately used is excreted in your urine). Fat soluble vitamins can be stored anywhere from a few days to several months, giving you a bit of a safety buffer if you don't eat enough of them often enough. However, water soluble vitamins are not stored and so it is important to ingest them on a regular basis.
There are 13 vitamins required by human beings: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and 9 water-soluble (vitamin C + the 8 B vitamins - B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, B12 (cobalamin), biotin, and pantothenic acid). For a complete listing of all 13 vitamins, their functions and food sources from which they may be obtained, click here.
Minerals are inorganic compounds that come from soil and water and are absorbed by plants. We then absorb the minerals from the plants we eat. Minerals are used to both produce and regulate enzymes (enzymes trigger chemical reactions within the body involved with respiration, digestion, muscle movement and other functions), as well as play a role in cell structure and function.
For example, the mineral calcium plays a major factor in developing and maintaining strong bones and teeth as well as supporting heart function, blood coagulation and muscle contraction. Sulfur plays a key role in ensuring healthy skin, hair and nails. Manganese is key for the metabolism of carbs, fats and proteins, and helps to nourish the brain and nerves. Chromium is essential for the proper utilisation of sugar.
Because vitamins and minerals are essential for normal growth and development, it is especially important for pregnant or lactating women to ensure they are getting enough of each vitamin and mineral to support their developing fetus/infant. A serious deficiency in one or more of these nutrients can lead to a deficiency disease and even minor deficiencies can cause serious damage.
But before you run to the health food section of your local grocery or pharmacy to stock up on vitamin and mineral supplements, here are two things you should know:
- It is possible to overdose on some vitamins and minerals. The likelihood of consuming too much of any vitamin from food is remote, but it is possible to overdose from excessive supplementation. Side effects can include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, and in some cases, as with selenium, can be lethal. The most common nutrient to overdose on is iron - prior to menopause you lose iron each month when you menstruate but after you stop menstruating the iron can start to build up in your system in excessive quantities. Too much zinc can create a serious copper deficiency. The most common vitamins to overdose on are vitamin A and vitamin D (both fat soluble vitamins stored in your liver and fatty tissue). Because of their toxicity, most common vitamins and minerals have recommended upper daily limits, and so if you're going to supplement with anything more than a daily multivitamin please do your research to make sure you're not taking in too much of anything. In some cases, more is not always better! If in doubt, speak to your family doctor about how much is too much.
- Vitamin and mineral supplements are largely unregulated. According to Wikipedia, most countries regulate dietary supplements as food rather than drugs, which means it's up to the manufacturer (as opposed to the government) to ensure their product is safe for consumption. Manufacturers of food items are not required to report claims of injuries or illnesses related to consumption of their products in the same way that drug manufacturers are. So make sure you purchase your supplements through a reputable company. Consumer Reports online advises that based on their past testing you can generally trust major brand or store name multivitamins but that purchasing multivitamins from close out and dollar stores can be risky. Nearly half of the 18 brands they tested did not contain the labeled amount of at least one nutrient and several did not dissolve adequately. Unfortunately the full report is not available unless one has a subscription to their site, but a summary overview can be viewed by clicking here.
One last word on vitamins and minerals. According to The Cancer Cure Foundation, a non-profit organization providing information on alternative/integrative therapies, certain vitamins and minerals may play a role in preventing and fighting cancer. These vitamins include beta cartone (a precursor to Vitamin A), calcium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin D and folate (or folic acid). Further details may be obtained by clicking here.
The following sites are a great source of in-depth information about dietary vitamins and minerals. (Research for this article was obtained in large part from some of these sites.) If you're interested in learning more about vitamins and minerals, they are worth a visit: National Institute of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements, HealthVitaminsGuide.com, KidsHealth, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cancer Cure Foundation, Wikipedia.
The Nutrition Facts tables required on most packaged foods is based on Health Canada's regulations and provides you with information on total calories and 13 nutrients for the serving size indicated. Note that the serving size must be reasonable and is defined by the regulations, but quite often we eat much more than the serving size indicated, so take that into consideration when calorie counting. For example, who eats only one tablespoon of peanut butter at a time?
% of Daily Value is based on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamins and Minerals for persons aged two and older and on their Reference Standards for all other nutrients. The % Daily Value listed for each of the 13 nutrients therefore identifies what proportion of the total daily requirement for each nutrient is contained within the serving size.
So when reading a Nutrition Facts label, you know that a low percentage means the product contains only a small portion of the total daily requirement (great for fats and cholesterol, but not so great for Vitamin C or Calcium) and a high percentage contains a lot of the nutrient (great for Vitamin C or Calcium but not great for fats and cholesterol). This is a handy guide for doing a quick analysis before deciding whether or not to put something in your grocery cart.
For more complete details on how to read the labels, visit healthyeatingisinstore.ca and view their series of Fact Sheets.
The What are Calories and Why Should We Count Them article below established that quantity of calories is important, but so is quality. In order for your body to operate at peak performance, it not only needs the correct number of calories, it needs the correct type of calories in the correct proportions.
At a very simplistic level (and forgetting for now about exceptions such as sugar substitutes and alcohol) all food can be divided into three main types known as macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Protein is composed of amino acids and is essential for building muscle and collagen, as well as transporting nutrients, oxygen and waste throughout the body. All our antibodies and enzymes and many of our hormones are proteins. Our body is able to manufacture most of the amino acids it needs to do its job, but there are a few amino acids (known as "essential amino acids") it can't manufacture and so we need to ingest them.
Almost all living matter (both animal and plant) contains some form of protein, but whereas animal based proteins are "complete" (they contain all the amino acids our bodies can't manufacture on its own), plant proteins are "incomplete" (they contain only some of the amino acids, and which ones they contain varies by species). This is why vegetarians must be careful to eat certain foods in combination (i.e. beans with rice); by combining the amino acids in multiple foods they will get a more complete protein. Dietary sources of protein include meats, eggs, grains, legumes, and dairy products such as milk and cheese.
The amount of protein a person requires each day depends on age, sex, frame and activity level, amongst other factors. There are many "theories" for determining a person's daily protein requirement. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, states the Dietary Reference Intake (a joint effort of the Institute of Medicine and the US National Academy of Sciences, used in both the US and Canada) has recently been updated to advise woman aged 19-70 need to consume 46 grams of protein per day to avoid a deficiency. Wikipedia also indicates other recommendations suggest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day is the appropriate measure, with higher intakes of 1-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight for enhanced athletes or those with a large muscle mass. Requirements are also greater during childhood for growth and development, during pregnancy or when breast-feeding, or when the body needs to recover from malnutrition or trauma or after an operation.
It is far beyond the scope of this article to recommend a correct daily protein intake for anyone, but the above recommendations can certainly be used as a guideline. Note that a minimum level of protein is required on a daily basis to prevent your body from breaking down muscle tissue to get the needed protein. The body is not able to store protein, so excess protein consumption will be stored as fat. There is some concern that excess protein consumption can also lead to dehydration and calcium loss.
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy, in the form of blood glucose. They also play a major role in the working process of the immune system, fertilization and blood clotting. Carbohydrates are not considered essential nutrients because the body can obtain all its energy from protein and fats. (The brain can not burn fat for energy, but the body can convert protein to glucose for use by the brain.)
Carbohydrates are divided into two groups. Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, include fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar) as well as several others. Complex carbohydrates (fibres and starches) include vegetables, whole grains, peas and beans. Dietary fibre is found primarily in the complex carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates have received a lot of bad press in recent years, with low carb, high protein diets like Atkins and South Beach gaining in popularity. However, many carbohydrates are rich in vitamins and minerals whereas proteins and fats are not and so carbs should not be cut out of one's diet completely.
The Nutrition Infocentre at 1stHolistic.com holds an entirely different view from Atkins camp and recommends as much as 60% of your total daily calories come from carbohydrates. The site recommends choosing unrefined carbohydrate foods such as fruits, vegetables, peas, beans, and whole-grain products over processed foods such as soft drinks, desserts, candy, and sugar. This is because the refined foods offer few, if any, of the vitamins and minerals important to good health, and also because eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates over a long period can lead to a number of health problems such as diabetes and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The site correctly points out that foods high in refined simple sugars are also often high in fats, which is why foods such as cookies, cakes and many other snack foods are so loaded with calories.
Wikipedia reports that based on evidence for risk of heart disease and obesity, the Institute of Medicine recommends that American and Canadian adults get between 40-65% of dietary energy from carbohydrates. The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization jointly recommend that national dietary guidelines set a goal of 55-75% of total energy from carbohydrates, but only 10% should be from free sugars (their definition of simple carbohydrates).
Carbohydrates are also your body's source of fibre, which though not digested, delivers important health benefits such as reduced risk of colon cancer, lowered blood cholesterol levels (which reduces risk of heart disease) and softer and bulkier stools (which prevent constipation and hemorrhoids). 1stHoldistic.com recommends a daily minimum intake of 25 grams of fibre.
There are two types of fats. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and diets high in saturated fat have been shown to correlate with an increased incidence of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Common sources of saturated fats include butter, lard, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, and palm kernel oil, dairy products (especially cream and cheese), meat, chocolate, and many prepared foods.
Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature and are generally derived from plant sources. Where possible, unsaturated fats should replace saturated fats because unsaturated fats help lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.
Despite all the bad things we've heard about consuming fat, some fat is necessary in our diets to maintain good health. Some fatty acids are essential nutrients, meaning that they can't be produced in the body from other compounds and need to be consumed in small amounts. Canada's Food Guide recommends we consume 30 - 45 mL (2 to 3 Tbsp) of unsaturated fats on a daily basis.
Fat plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. Fats can also be broken down in the body and converted to glucose by the liver and used as a source of energy.
Wikipedia reports that fat can serve as useful buffer towards many diseases. When a particular substance, whether chemical or biotic, reaches unsafe levels in the bloodstream, the body can effectively dilute, or at least maintain equilibrium of the offending substances by storing it in new fat tissue. This helps to protect vital organs until the offending substances can be metabolized and/or removed from the body by means of excretion, urination, accidental or intentional bloodletting, sebum excretion, and hair growth.
For our purposes, think of a calorie as a unit of energy and the total number of calories in any food item as the amount of energy available within that food to power your body. (It's actually much more technical and complicated than this, but let's not muddy the waters.)
Again, to keep a technically complicated process relatively simple, think of the calories you eat as falling into 3 separate categories:
- Calories required to power your basic life processes - heartbeat, respiration, brain function, etc. (also known as basal metabolic rate)
- Calories required to power your daily activities - walking around, any physical labour on the job, chasing the kids, exercising at the gym, etc.
- Calories over and above what's required to power your basic life processes and daily activities requirements - these are the calories that go straight to your hips!
Depending on your body structure, as a woman your basal metabolic rate will run about 1200-1400 calories per day. If you're relatively sedentary (i.e. you work an office job), you won't require more than 600-800 calories on top of that to power your daily activities. So that means your daily caloric requirements might range anywhere from 1800-2000 calories. (According to nutrition experts, the average American adult requires no more than 2000 calories per day, and smaller framed women who are not active will require even less.)
To put this into perspective, say you're running late one morning and don't have time for breakfast so you stop by Tim Horton's on the way to work and pick up a black coffee and plain bagel with cream cheese. You're so busy at the office you don't notice the time and then suddenly realize how hungry you are. You didn't bring your lunch so you run out to McDonalds and pick up a Big Mac, large fries and large coke via drive-through. Your last meeting runs late so you barely have time to pick up the kids, who are screaming for their dinner all the way home. To appease them, you stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken and pick up dinner. You yourself eat one original recipe drumstick and thigh, an order of mashed potatoes with gravy and limit yourself to only one of their wonderful tasting biscuits. Later that evening once the kids are in bed, you sit down in front of the television to finally relax and treat yourself to a left over piece of Sara Lee double chocolate layer cake.
Take a good, hard look at what you just ate that day:
Tim Hortons black coffee
Tim Hortons bagel with cream cheese
McDonald's Big Mac
McDonald's large fries
McDonald's large coke
KFC drumstick and thigh (original recipe)
KFC mashed potatoes and gravy
Sara Lee double chocolate layer cake
Total calories consumed for the day
Less total calories required (let's be generous)
Total calories going to your hips
If you were to eat like this 5 days a week (and many people do), by the end of the week you would accumulate 4,620 excess calories (924 calories x 5 days), and that's before the weekend, when people tend to overeat anyway. It takes an average of 3500 calories to put one pound of fat on your hips, so after one month of eating like that you would gain a little over five pounds (4,620 calories x 4 weeks = 18,480 total calories / 3500 calories = 5.3 lbs). Multiply that by six months and you'll have gained approximately 30 pounds.
The above is a rather extreme example and fortunately actual weight gain isn't quite that simple, but I hope you get my point. Most people eat way more than they need to without realizing it and then wonder why they keep packing on the weight.
So is counting calories important? Yes, absolutely! And when you're counting calories, keep in mind that proteins and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, whereas alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and fat contains 9 calories per gram.
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