Is cholesterol unhealthy? A second look.

Eggs frying in oilCholesterol – it’s a very dirty, scary word in our culture.  Why?  Because so many people die every year from heart disease, which is largely blamed on dietary fat and cholesterol.  But there are quite a few misunderstandings about cholesterol and its role in health and disease. In this article I’m going to explain why we need cholesterol for health, why dietary cholesterol isn’t harmful, and why, if these things are true, high cholesterol is often associated with heart disease.

First of all, cholesterol is essential for optimum health and has numerous functions in the body.  Over 35,000 mg of cholesterol can be found in the average human body at any give time.  Most of that amount is found in the cell membranes, where it serves as an important structural component.  Cells need cholesterol to maintain the permeability that allows nutrients to nourish the cells.  Cholesterol is also the structural precursor for steroid hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol, all of which are crucial for proper metabolism and reproductive health.  Additionally, cholesterol is needed in order to produce one of the body’s most important vitamins, vitamin D.  Then there’s bile production (bile is essential for the digestion of fats) — it too depends on cholesterol.  The immune system is also strengthened by cholesterol.  And, finally, cholesterol is an essential component of myelin, which forms the protective sheaths around neurons, allowing the central nervous system to function properly!  Moral of the story: we need cholesterol!

If cholesterol has so many health benefits, then why is it associated with cardiovascular disease?  Well, a growing body of evidence is starting to reveal the answer.  Initially researchers noticed a correlation between cholesterol levels, especially high LDL cholesterol, and incidence of heart disease.  Then, as is so often the case in the realm of medicine, dietary cholesterol was demonized without an understanding of all the other factors at play.  We now know that dietary cholesterol actually has a very minimal effect on blood cholesterol levels, if any, and that saturated fats, in and of themselves, don’t cause elevated cholesterol levels either.  In fact, the body is highly efficient at maintaining cholesterol levels and will actually decrease it’s own production of cholesterol when cholesterol is obtained from diet.

While LDL undoubtedly has a role in atherosclerosis, few people seem to known what LDL is or that there are actually different types of LDL.  Not all LDL is created equal.  In a nutshell, LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is basically a protein shuttle that carries cholesterol to the cells. The cells then use the cholesterol to repair the themselves or produce hormones.  LDL levels are known to rise as a result of mental stress (stress drains the body of stress hormones that are cholesterol-based), physical injury, smoking (which causes injury to the cells), and overeating.  LDL levels can also be elevated as a result of a genetic predisposition to having fewer LDL receptors.  If there aren’t enough receptors on the cells, then the LDL continues circulating in the blood stream where it can eventually lodge into the arteries and promote arterial plaque.

It’s important to reiterate that LDL, in and of itself, isn’t unhealthy.  In a way, a high ratio of LDL to HDL is merely a sign that the body is undergoing some form of stress that needs to be remedied.  Targeting LDL is kind of like removing the warning signal  instead of fixing the actual problem.  LDL is important because it provides nourishment to the cells, but there are two factors that can make LDL particularly problematic: particle size and oxidation.

A high carbohydrate diet, particularly one that’s  high in fructose and refined sugar, can caused the body to produce a certain type of LDL called Small Dense LDL.  These LDL particles are smaller and denser than they should be, which makes them more prone to lodging themselves in artery cell walls and initiating the first stages of atherosclerosis and heart disease.  A whole-food based diet, however, that’s higher in healthy fats, causes the body to produce larger, fluffier LDL particles that don’t damage the arteries as easily.

Perhaps even more dangerous than Small Dense LDL particles are oxidized LDL particles. Several recent studies have found a direct correlation between the amount of LDL oxidation in circulation and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.  Oxidized LDL is basically a damaged, unstable LDL molecule that is absorbed by the arteries’ immune cells in self-defense.  When oxidized LDL is absorbed by these cells (called macrophages) foam cells can form that bulge and lead to atherosclerosis.

So what causes oxidized LDL?  There are several potential culprits, for one, a diet high in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).  PUFAs (found in refined seed oils like corn, canola, and soybean oil) are unstable and prone to damage.  When these types of fats are digested, they’re used for building LDL particles; in turn, these LDL particles are prone to oxidation.  Saturated and monounsaturated fats, by contrast, (butter and olive oil) are much less prone to oxidation and, therefore, result in LDL that is resistant to oxidation.

Inadequate supplies of antioxidants, especially Co-enzyme Q10 and vitamin E, can also lead to excess oxidized LDL.  Coenzyme q10 is specially manufactured by the body to protect LDL and HDL cholesterol from damage, but in order to produce it, the body needs plenty of b-vitamins.  Coenzyme q10 can also be obtained from grass-fed beef (especially the liver) and from dietary supplements.  Studies indicate that supplemental co-enzyme q-10 does have a cardioprotective role and can protect LDL from oxidation.  Vitamin E is another important fat-soluble antioxidant for protecting lipoproteins, but it works best in the presences of co-enzyme q-10.  There are also a number of polyphenols from plants that have the ability to protect against oxidation, as well as increase the number of LDL receptors (which means there are more “nets” to remove LDL from the blood stream).  Some of these polyphenols include EGCG from green tea, resveratrol from red wine, and quercetin, which is found in onions, apples, and berries.

The Take Away: Our bodies absolutely depend on cholesterol for health.  While, in certain cases, cholesterol can contribute to heart disease, dietary cholesterol isn’t the problem.  The quality of cholesterol the body produces is more relevant than the quantity.  Healthy cholesterol depends on eating the right kinds of oils (monounsaturated and saturated fats found in natural products like butter, olive oil, and coconut oil), grass-fed meats, and plenty of leafy greens that are high in fat-soluble anti-oxidants.  High LDL levels may require a dietary and/or lifestyle change, including stress reduction.  Some people are also genetically predisposed to having higher LDL levels, in which case it’s especially important to prevent LDL particles from becoming oxidized by eating a creation-based diet.

References: Dietary Cholesterol Reduces Endogenous Production, The Role of Oxidized LDL in Atherosclerosis, Is Dietary Cholesterol as Bad for You as History Leads us to Believe?, Regulation of LDL by Carbohydrates, Small Dense LDL and Atherosclerosis, Association of Circulating Oxidized LDL with Heart Disease, Effects of Co-enzyme q10 on Oxidized LDL in Vitro, Cardioprotective Effects of Dietary Polyphenols, Consumption of Fructose and HFCS Increase LDL, Green Tea Upregulates LDL Receptors

 

Originally posted 2013-06-04 17:33:00.

Benefits of Beta Glucan (found in oats, mushrooms, and yeast)

Portabella MushroomBeta glucan is a powerful little fiber molecule that has several potential health benefits.  A fiber is anything that the body can’t fully digest and, therefore, passes through the digestive system.  There a many different types of fiber, and some fibers, like beta glucan, stand above the rest.

Beta-glucan is a type of sugar (called a polysaccharide) that is molecularly arranged in such a way that it’s indigestible.   There are basically two different classes of beta glucan: the insoluble kind that activate the digestive tract’s immune cells, and the soluble kind that absorb water and help remove excess cholesterol.

Beta Glucan In Oats and Barley (Grains)

Oats and barley are particularly high in soluble beta glucans, and studies have found that regular consumption of oatmeal or supplementation with grain-derived beta-glucan may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.  Beta-gluacan’s effectiveness, however, is not consistent and is affected by a number of variables.   The amount of oatmeal that was found to help lower cholesterol was 84 grams per day.  Supplemental doses of beta-glucan ranged from 3-9 grams per day.  Other studies indicate that beta-glucan may also help improve blood-sugar levels and perhaps enhance endurance capabilities.

Beta Glucan in Yeast and Mushrooms (Funguses) 

Both mushrooms and yeast are high in insoluble beta glucan.  Some of the best mushroom sources of beta glucan are common white mushrooms, crimini, and shitake.  The primary yeast source of beta glucan is baker’s yeast.  The beta glucan in mushrooms and yeast demonstrates strong immunomodulating effects.  In other words, it activates the body’s immune system, which makes sense given mushrooms’ reputation for boosting the immune system.  Studies have found the beta glucan from funguses activate powerful immune system responses like an increase in white blood cell and killer-t cell activity.  A growing number of studies (though still small) indicate that this activity may help the body fight against cancer cells and viral/bacterial infections. 

While the beta glucan in funguses stimulates specific immune responses, it simultaneously suppresses the body’ non-specific immune responses, like the release of superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide.  There’s evidence that beta-glucan’s suppression of non-specific inflammatory responses can help reduce the symptoms of common respiratory allergies.

The take away: While the best way to lower LDL cholesterol is to reduce stress, exercise, and eat plenty of greens, eating a little bit of oatmeal everyday might not be a bad idea.  Also, even good old common mushrooms have powerful immune-boosting properties, so eat them up!  They’re affordable and add great flavor to a number of dishes.

Recommended Products:

References: Oats and Anti-fatigue, Beta-Glucan’s Effect on Glycemic Index, Biomedical Issues of Dietary Fiber Beta-Glucan, The Application of Beta-Glucan for the Treatment of Colon Cancer, Glucans Inhibit Allergic Airway Inflammation

Originally posted 2013-05-24 00:02:42.

Beet Root Juice for Increased Endurance and Health

We Got the BeetMaybe, with his love for beets, Dwight was on to something after all.  While, I might not go out and start a beet farm, it turns out that beet juice can provide increased athletic endurance.  Apparently it’s the juice’s nitrate content that’s responsible for the benefit.  Although the exact mechanism isn’t known, it’s thought that the nitrates help improve energy efficiency in the muscles.  Another benefit of beet juice is that it can help lower systolic blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels.

The benefits of drinking beet juice are dose dependent, with the best results obtained by consuming 240 to 500 ml of beet root juice approximately 2 hours before exercising.  One study found that consuming beet juice extended time to failure by 14%!

Recommended Products:

References: Beet Root Juice and Exercise (PubMed) and A Toast to Health and Performance (Journal of Applied Physiology)

Originally posted 2013-05-22 22:26:41.

Yogurt: Enemy or Best Friend

The yogurt sitting in your refrigerator seems like a modest health choice but may not be as wise as you think.  True, yogurt is a great source of protein, probiotics, and potassium, but it can also be an unwanted source of sugar.  Have you looked at the nutrition facts on your favorite yogurt lately?

All yogurt, even plain, will contain sugar because of the lactose in milk.  However, a six-ounce serving of a typical flavored yogurt can easily contain 17 grams of added sugar!  Compare that to the 17 grams of sugar found in a Pop-Tart, and a supposedly healthy breakfast heads into a downward spiral real quickly. Wondering about the recent Greek yogurt trend? If you’ve been picking out Greek yogurt instead of regular, you should still be cautious of those tempting honey- or fruit-flavored Greek yogurt options.  Flavored Greek yogurt still has about 12 more grams of sugar than plain Greek yogurt.

The best choice is to stick with plain and add your own mix-ins at home.  Stir in some fresh or frozen berries, some homemade granola, or even add a teaspoon of honey (containing 4.5 grams of one of the healthiest forms of sugar) or organic jam–the few grams of sugar from honey or jam will be much better than the 17 grams found in the flavored yogurt!  It may take a little while to adjust to the tartness of plain yogurt, but it’s worth the effort and you may find you soon develop a taste for it.

To read our article on yogurt’s health benefits, click here.

Originally posted 2013-03-15 22:32:00.

Cooking Oils to Avoid

There might be something shady going on when refined oil manufacturers have to make up names to obscure their products’ actual ingredients. From a marketing standpoint, however, it makes sense. After all, “Rapeseed oil” doesn’t sound nearly as appetizing as “canola oil,” nor does “soybean oil” sound as healthy “vegetable oil,” and there are good reasons that “rapeseed oil” and “soybean oil” dont’ sound so appetizing. For one, what the heck is a rapeseed? It has a strange name, and I’ve never eaten one. Have you? And how is it possible to get so much oil from soybeans? I’ve eaten soybeans, and they don’t taste very oily. For that matter, how is it possible to get so much oil from corn? Rapeseeds, corn, soybeans — none of these are foods that people have traditionally obtained oil from. The only way it’s possible to get oil from these industrial crops is with lots of petroleum, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and high-tech refineries. If I haven’t given you enough reasons to avoid these all too common refined oils by now, here are a few more:

Canola Oil (rapeseed oil) — 21% Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA): Canola oil contains a high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids, which can throw off the body’s Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, leading to inflammation and metabolic syndrome. Canola oil also contains trace amounts of erucic acid, which can damage the heart, cardiovascular system, and liver when consumed in high enough quantities. Another concern is that a large percentage of the canola grown is genetically modified.

Corn Oil — 54% Omega-6 PUFA: Since corn is only 2.8% oil by weight, extraction of corn oil requires planting vast mono-crops and a high-input production process (made possible by government subsidies). Corn oil is primarily composed of omega-6 fatty acids. It’s also another largely genetically modified crop.
Vegetable Oil (soybean oil) — 50% Omega-6 PUFA: Soybeans are one of the largest and most genetically modified crops in the world. Huge swaths of rainforest are cut down every year to plant more soy. Soybean oil is also high in omega-6 fatty acids.

Safflower Oil — 31% Omega-6 PUFA: While safflower oil is somewhat healthier than other common cooking oils, as it contains a higher percentage of monounsaturated fats (like olive oil), it’s still high in omega-6 fatty acids.

Sunflower Seed Oil — 4% Omega-6 PUFA (high oleic variety) or 29% Omega-6 PUFA (standard variety) : High oleic sunflower oil is probably healthy to use in moderation, as it’s high in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. Most sunflower seed oil, however, is high in omega-6 fatty acids.

Cottonseed Oil — 51% Omega-6 PUFA: Cottonseed oil is one of the most commonly used oils in the food industry. It’s used for everything from frying potato chips to canning seafood; yet, it’s probably the worst oil for human health. In addition to being high in omega-6 fatty acids, cottonseed oil may contain trace amounts of the toxin gossypol (though most of it is removed during the refining process). As with all mass produced oils, it also contains trace amounts of pesticides, though the pesticide levels are supposedly monitored by the USDA.

Grape Seed Oil — 70% Omega-6 PUFA: While the name make’s it sound healthy, grape seed oil doesn’t contain the benefits that you would think it would. In fact, it comes in a close second for being the worst cooking oil for human health, as it’s composed primarily of omega-6 fatty acids. Grape seed oil doesn’t have any of the benefits of grapes, red wine, or grape seed extract, just the unhealthy PUFAs.

The take away: Since most refined seeds oils are composed primarily of Omega-6 PUFAs, they are not a healthy choice for human consumption. They are best left to be used to oil the machines that manufacture them. The above seeds and grains aren’t intuitive sources of oil — harvesting their oil requires intensive chemical use and mechanical processing. Some of the seed oils mentioned above, such as high oleic sunflower oil, may be OK for use as a salad dressing if expeller pressed, but in general it’s best to avoid their use. In addition to throwing off the body’s omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which can contribute to heart disease, inflammation, and diabetes, oils high in Omega-6 PUFAs easily go rancid when exposed to high temperatures and lack other health supporting nutrients. Stay tuned for a detailed article on the oils you can use for cooking, the world’s healthiest, creation-based oils!

References:
Nutrition DataDietary Linoleic Acid and Heart Disease

Originally posted 2013-02-23 20:52:00.

Choosing the Best Fish Oil Supplement

choose-the-best-fish_oilIf you’re reading this post, I’m assuming that you’re already familiar with all the health benefits that can be derived from taking fish oil (improved cardiovascular health, lower blood-triglyceride level, reduction of arthritis symptoms, reduced inflammation, reduced symptoms of some mental illnesses, reduced symptoms of Alzheimer’s, healthier skin, etc). The primary reason that fish oil has these effects is because it’s high in Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and doposapentaenoic acid (DPA). These essential fatty acids (meaning your body can’t produce them), cause a cascade of beneficial anti-inflammatory (or mildly inflammatory) actions in the body. In order to obtain their benefits, however, they must be consumed in a high amount, because they compete for use by the body with Omega-6 fatty acids. Most americans consume far too many omega-6 fatty acids, which cause negative inflammatory response in the body (vasoconstriction, allergies, Reactive Oxygen Species, etc) and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, while many supplements out there advertise having Omega-3s, Omega-6s, and Omega-9s, it’s really only Omega-3s that are needed as a supplement in our diets. It should also be noted that Omega-3s from fish are far more potent and effective in the body than the type of Omega-3 obtained from flax seeds or walnuts (called ALA), because it doesn’t have to be converted to the forms useable by the body. With that in mind, here are things to look for when choosing a fish oil supplement for your daily regimen:

1) High-potency: You need something that is mostly Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Most of the fish oil supplements on the market contain only 30% of Omega-3s per capsule, about 300 mg per 1,000 mg of fish oil. In order to obtain the amount of Omega-3s that provide any real benefit (thought by many to be about 2,500 mg per day), you would have to take 8-9 capsules of market-grade fish oil. The thing is, you would also be consuming over 5,000 mg of others types of fats from the fish that can cause gastrointestinal irritation. You also place yourself at a higher risk for consuming too many toxins. Find a fish oil supplement that is at least 60% EPA and DHA per serving, and take a minimum of 2,500 mg of omega-3s per day. The FDA recognizes 3,000 mg per day as generally safe for consumption (of course always consult your personal doctor before starting any new supplement). FIsh oil can be found in both capsule and liquid form. If you don’t like taking large capsules, liquid form might be better for you. There are products available that provide over 2,500 mg of Omega-3 in a one teaspoon serving.

2) Purity: Though not as much of a problem any more, when fish oil supplements first came out on the market many of them weren’t filtered well for mercury, arsenic, dioxins, or PCBs. Due to consumer awareness, today most fish oils are manufactured using a high level of filtration, but it’s still important to check. Make sure the label clearly lists the chemicals the fish oil was filtered for and to what level they were removed. Dr. Sears, author of The OmegaRx Zone, recommends the following levels:

Mercury: less the 10 parts per billion

PCBs: less than 30 parts per billion

Dioxins: less than 1 part per trillion

These amounts are written as follows:

1 ppm = 1 mg/L =

1/1 million = 0.000001

1 ppb = 1 µg/L =

1/1 billion = 0.000000001

Visit this article for a helpful explanation of PPB and PPM.

3) Fish type: If the fish oil is purified from contaminants, the type of fish it comes from really isn’t that important. Some companies use fish type (such as salmon) as a marketing strategy, but it might just increase your cost. Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to stick to oil that comes from fish that are lower on the food chain (sardines, mackerels, anchovies, salmon, herring), as they accumulate fewer amounts of toxins than larger fish (like shark and tuna). Nearly any fish oil produced for Omega-3 fatty acids is derived from cold-water, ocean fish. Cold-water fish store Omega-3s because they consume high amounts of the algae that make it. Farm-fished, by contrast, usually aren’t fed high quantities of expensive algae and, therefore, aren’t as high in Omega-3s.

The bottom line is that fish oil with at least 60% Omega-3s (EPA/DHA) and filtered for toxins is one of the most important supplements you could add to your daily routine. The Western diet is drastically short on cold water fish and the grass-fed meats that are high in these important nutrients. Our bodies thrive on the right balance of essential fats, but we’ve thrown that balance off by consuming refined oils (canola, corn, soy) that are too high in Omega-6s. Cut out the refined oils, eat more meats that thrive in God’s creation (especially cold-water fish), and add some fish oil to your diet to help your body function at it’s optimal state.

Originally posted 2012-11-09 22:40:00.

Are omega-3s fishy business?

If you follow your local supermarket advertisements or read up on recent health trends, you’ve probably heard about the touted benefits of fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids. But are omega-3s another one food wonder, a marketing scheme, or are they legitimately important for health? Well, all the current research (and common sense) indicates that omega-3 fatty acids have important health benefits and are in-fact essential for good health. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the “essential fatty acids,” along with omega-6, and omega-9, because our bodies can’t produce them but need them for many important functions.

To the detriment of our health, Omega-3 fatty acids are the least consumed essential fatty acids in the American diet. The best sources of naturally occurring Omega-3 are cold-water seafood, especially salmon, cod-liver oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. While many people enjoy salmon and other seafoods, most don’t eat them often enough to meet the body’s requirement for omega-3s. Also while walnuts and flaxseeds are plentiful in a form of omega-3s, called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), it must be converted by the body into the two useful forms of omega-3s, called Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), before it can produce important health benefits. Moreover, many people’s bodies aren’t able to effectively convert ALA into its useful forms. Therefore, omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA obtained from seafood or supplements are an important consideration for optimum health.

But how do omega-3s support health? Researchers are discovering a number of rolls omega-3s play in the body. For one, they are one of the main components of the brain, which is primarily a fatty-tissue. They are also used in the body to produce anti-inflammatory effects, which can result in a strengthened immune system, help prevent stroke and heart disease, reduce the effects of arthritis, and strengthen the cardiovascular system. Omega-3s also play an important role in hormone regulation and fetal development. Finally, there is reason to believe that adequate consumption of omega-3s may prevent or lessen the effects of depression.

The amount of Omega-3s our bodies need is based on an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. The ideal ratio is thought to be between 4:1 and 1:1. Most American’s consume far too many omega-6 fatty acids due to the high intake of polyunsaturated fats found in refined oils like corn and canola oil. As a result, many Americans have a ratio upwards of 16:1! Correcting this ratio requires consuming fewer refined corn and canola oils (switch to olive oil, butter, or coconut oil instead), and eating more salmon, other seafood, or taking fish oil supplements. The typically recommended amounts of omega-3s are from 1 to 5 grams per day. Personally, I take about 2.5 grams of omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA from fish oil daily. If you go the supplement route, be sure to purchase fish oil that is purified of mercury. Krill oil is another option, but tends to be far more expensive. For the brave, there is also cod-liver oil (which also contains high amounts of vitamin D). If you prefer to obtain your nutrients through whole foods alone, keep in mind that 200 grams of wild coho salmon contains a little over 2 grams of omega-3s (which means you would have to eat wild salmon daily to get a healthy amount of omega-3s). The best option for obtaining enough omega-3s through whole foods is eating a mix of salmon (and other cold-water ocean fish), grass fed meat, flax seed, and walnuts.

So yes, omega-3s are fishy business, but they are vital for good health!

Originally posted 2012-01-12 19:44:00.

How to Enjoy Grains and Seeds

Whole grains and seeds have played an important role in people’s diets for thousands of years.  Today, however, there’s some legitimate concern about eating grains/seeds.  Based on the information coming to light within the growing field of nutrition, grains and seeds should probably only compose a small part of a varied diet, and some people might need to abstain completely.

On the positive side, whole grains and seeds contain many important and healthy nutrients such as fiber, glucose (the body’s preferred type of sugar-based energy), B-vitamins, protein, Co-Q10, fiber, and hundreds of other phytonutrients (depending on the type of grain or seed), healthy fats, and antioxidants.  Research has shown that diets that include whole grains and seeds are associated with lower rates of heart disease, lower incidence of various cancers, healthy body weight, decreased likelihood of metabolic syndrome, and good gastrointestinal health.

One of the main reasons grains to minimize or abstain from grains is their gluten content.  In a small percentage of the population, gluten consumption can cause major health problems.  Some people have severe reactions (about 1%), while others have smaller reactions that can still interfere with optimum health (as many as 20-30% of the population might have some type of negative reaction to gluten).  This doesn’t mean, however, that grains are off limits for everyone.  The best way to see if your body reacts negatively to gluten is to stop eating it for a month and see how you feel.  Those who are gluten-intolerant may be interested in an ancient wheat called Einkorn — it’s often tolerated by those who are allergic.  As a side note, it’s interesting that that this ancient grain, unaffected by thousands of years of domestication, contains a potentially healthier form of gluten. To read more about Einkorn visit Einkorn.com.  There are also many grains and seeds that don’t contain any gluten at all (such as quinoa and rice).

Another potential problem with grains and seeds is their phytic acid content, often termed an “anti-nutrient.”  Phytic acid is thought to protect grains and seeds from being consumed by pests.  In the human digestive tract, however, phytic acid can bind to important minerals and prevent some of them from being absorbed by the body.  The impact on absorption depends on what type and how much of particular grain or seed is eaten.  While this is something to be concerned about, there are many other important nutrients in grains/seeds besides minerals, and some of the minerals are still absorbed.  (Read further to find out how to neutralize phytic acid content)

The third concern with seeds and grains is the amount of carbohydrates they contain.  It’s true, most grains contain a lot of carbohydrates, and too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, but the story is a bit different when it come to whole grains and seeds.  Diets that consist of only whole grains and seeds, rather than refined grains, white flour, or processed seeds, tend towards weight loss and healthy metabolism.  Thanks to their fiber content and higher nutrient density, whole foods are more satisfying than processed foods – resulting in the consumption of fewer calories.  When it comes to food, quality and variety tend to be more important than quantity.  When you eat high-quality, whole-foods, your body’s natural ability to regulate consumption and metabolism functions properly.

Keys to Enjoying Grains and Seeds:

  • If you choose to eat grains and seeds, be sure to only eat whole-grains/seeds that are minimally processed.
  • Grains and seeds grown using mass agricultural practices are sprayed with pesticides and grown with fertilizers.  Many grains are also genetically modified (GMO).  Genetic modification can negatively affect small farmers, the environment, and human health.  Therefore, purchase organic and non-GMO grains and seeds whenever possible.
  • Make grains and seeds one (small) part of a balanced diet that’s high in vegetables/fruit, proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Avoid baked goods that are loaded with added sweeteners (they’re often hidden, so look out).
  • There are several ways to minimize the phytic acid content in grains and seeds, thereby improving their digestibility and effective nutrient density.  These methods have been used for thousands of years and have only recently fell out of use (thanks to modern baking, cooking, and processing practices):
  • The easiest way to lower the phytic acid content of seeds (like quinoa and millet), beans, and whole grains (except for oatmeal), is by soaking them in water for approximately 8 hours.  Soaking can remove to up to 70% of the phytic acid content by activating the enzyme contained in many seeds called phytase.  Phytase can only be activated in uncooked seeds.  Once activated, phytase breaks down the phytic acid trough hydrolysis.  After soaking your grains, drain, rinse, then prepare as usual.
  • Another way to further reduce the phytic acid content is by sprouting the grains/seeds.  This usually takes several days, and the water must be changed each day to keep it fresh.  This method typically only decreases the phytic acid content by a small amount over soaking (so it might not be worth the extra effort).  Various seeds have differing sprouting times and it’s not necessary to actually see the sprout to know that it’s germinated.  The germination times for various grains and seeds can be easily found using an online search.  There are also several baked-good companies that offer ready-to-eat sprouted grains breads.  Trader Joe’s offers several sprouted grain breads at decent prices.  Other good brands include Ezekiel Bread and Alvarado Street Bakery.  If you have a favorite brand, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.
  • The final way to lower phytic acid content is through fermentation (aka sourdough).  Before industrially produced yeast was introduced during the late 19th century, fermentation was the only way to make bread rise.  Thus, for centuries most people who ate bread ate grains that were low in phytic acid content.  The fermentation required of the sourdough process can lower the phytic acid content in grains/seeds by up to 98%!  If you can find or make your own whole-grain/seed sour dough bread, you’ve got a delicious, healthy, and guilt-free loaf to go with your next meal!

As with so many other things in life, balance and moderation are key.  Unfortunately, through the processes of domestication and genetic isolation over time, some people can’t eat grains, but most can eat gluten-free seeds like quinoa or millet.  Health and nutrition information isn’t supposed to be burdening or over-restrictive, rather it should empower you to make informed decisions that become part of a healthy lifestyle.

Originally posted 2011-10-12 18:17:00.

Why sugar is toxic:

We all know it’s unhealthy to eat too much sugar, but now we’re starting to understand how unhealthy some sugars really are. Researchers are discovering that not all sugars are created equal. Too much glucose and other sugars can be bad, but too much sucrose or fructose can be plain TOXIC. Below you’ll discover the reasons many researchers are convinced that excess sugar consumption promotes disease and obesity. Keep in mind that these are simplified explanations, and the exact workings of these concepts are under constant scientific debate.

Empty calories
It’s easy to consume hundreds of excess calories in the form of fruit juice, soda, candy and other junk foods without feeling full. In the U.S., calorie consumption per capita has increased over the last 50 years and is directly correlated with an increased consumption of sugar. Fast-food and other refined foods are loaded with calories but lack essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are easy and tasty to consume, but they don’t provide the feeling of being satisfied associated with eating whole foods. As a result, people in the United States and other Westernized countries are eating more than enough calories but are still deficient in many important vitamins and minerals. Eating a whole-food (creation-based) diet promotes feelings of satiety, as well as an adequate supply of vital nutrients.

Glycation
Glycation is the bonding of glucose or other sugars to proteins in the body (keep in mind that protein is the primary building block of life). Glycated bonds are generally destructive to the body, causing oxidation and damage to cells. The amount of glycated hemoglobin and other important proteins in the body increases with the level of sugar consumed. While too much glucose (the sugar found in whole foods like bread, pasta, and potatoes) can promote glycation, fructose and sucrose (the primary sugars used for sweetening), can cause 10 times the amount of glycation. Glycation is indicated in the hardening of the arteries, Alzheimer’s disease, cellular damage, and cancer.

Insulin resistance
Too much glucose in the blood stream eventually causes insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that signals cells to uptake sugar for energy use or storage. When the blood stream is constantly flooded with insulin, the body’s cells grow resistant to insulin and normal uptake of sugar is interrupted. Fat cells, however, continue to remain sensitive to insulin (even when skeletal and muscle cells grow resistant), storing glucose for later energy use – resulting in weight gain around the mid section. A constant rise in the body’s at-rest blood sugar level is known as hyperglycemia/diabetes. Hyperglycemia requires close management. If not properly controlled, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, and neurological system.

Leptin resistance
Leptin is a hormone released by the body’s fat cells and is responsible for maintaining body-weight and metabolic equilibrium. When the body has enough stored-energy, leptin signals the brain to feel full and satisfied after meals. A person with leptin resistance, however, continues to feel hungry even after eating. Leptin resistance is associated with over consumption of fructose and sucrose. These sugars are processed by the liver and transformed into triglycerides (fats) and released into the blood stream. It is thought that high triglyceride levels are responsible for blocking the brain from properly receiving leptin signals. Obese people have high levels of circulating leptin, but the leptin can’t perform its function.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
The liver processes fructose and sucrose similarly to the way it processes alcohol. As a result, these sugars can have the same effect on the liver as alcohol, causing fat-build up and damage of the liver.

Uric acid production
When the liver processes fructose/sucrose (but not glucose and other sugars), one byproduct is excessive production of Uric Acid. Excessive Uric Acid interferes with Nitrogen Oxide production. Nitrogen Oxide is responsible for regulating the body’ blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels. Thus, fructose/sucrose consumption from sweets, juice and soda can lead to hypertension, usually evidenced by a rise in systolic blood pressure.

Increased triglyceride level
A high blood triglyceride level is a well-confirmed precursor to or indication of cardiovascular disease. High triglyceride levels used to be attributed to fat consumption. Today many scientists are starting to believe that high triglyceride levels are linked to refined sugar consumption and insulin resistance. Fructose doesn’t signal insulin production, thus when corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners are consumed, they are transferred to the blood stream as triglycerides but without the insulin signals to absorb them. Healthy fats, consumed as part of a healthy diet, don’t remain in the blood but are used by the body for energy.

Effects on LDL cholesterol
Low-density-lipoproteins play an important role in the body. They are responsible for transporting lipids (fats) within the water-based blood stream. Too much LDL, however, is thought to cause atherosclerosis. Since increased fat consumption causes higher cholesterol levels (including LDL), people are warned not to consume fats. The misnomer, however, is the idea that all LDLs are the same. This simply isn’t true. There are two primary types of LDL: one is light, large, and fluffy; the other is small and dense. It is the small and dense LDLs that are responsible for penetrating beneath the endothelial cells of the blood vessels, leading to arterial plaque build-up. By contrast, light and fluffly LDLs float along in the blood stream, serving their function, without damaging the blood vessels. While the mechanisms aren’t exactly understood, high production of dense LDL is associated with high consumption of refined sugars. Low-sugar diets, high in healthy fats (not trans fats or over consumption of Omega 6s) cause the body to produce a light and fluffy, harmless form of LDL.

The above information points to the importance of reducing or eliminating consumption of refined sugar, excess fructose in the form of fruit juice or other sugary drinks, or added sugar. It should be noted that the fructose in whole fruits and vegetables is buffered by the whole-food content of fiber. Fiber inhibits fructose absorption. Glucose and healthy fats from whole foods are the body’s best energy sources. An emphasis on whole food consumption promotes healthy nutrition, good energy levels, healthy metabolism, and cardiovascular health.

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Originally posted 2011-09-19 01:07:00.

Food frying revisited

food-frying-in-butterFrench fries, donuts, onion rings, and deep-fried twinkies – in the minds of the health conscious these words set off a mental alert system, signaling for self-control against the enemies of health. Ok, maybe most people aren’t tempted by deep-fried twinkies, but what is it that makes these foods so tasty, yet so atrociously unhealthy? Sugars, processed ingredients, and being fried in oil?

If you follow CREUS, you already know that eating too many sugars and other carbohydrates is disastrous for health, but you may be surprised to learn that fried foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy. I think the stigma against fried foods picked up after researchers discovered that a number of industrially produced potato chips and fast food items contained free fatty acids and toxic chemicals that occur as a result of over frying. But did you notice, I said over frying.

Vegetables oils are stable at fairly high heating temperatures; however, every oil has its own max temperature. When an oil reaches its max temp it starts to smoke and break down. That temperature is called the smoke point, and it’s different for every oil. After an oil reaches its smoke point, it breaks down into free fatty acids and a number of carinogenic compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are harmful when ingested or inhaled.[1] Yet, if used within a stable range, cooking oil remains a source of healthy nutrients (depending on the type of oil).Thus the problems with frying food aren’t inherent in the frying itself. There are number of other factors that can cause frying to be an unhealthy practice. Problems start to occur when food is fried in oil at a temperature beyond the smoke point. Some people and restaurants are also in the habit of reusing oil; however, when reused, oil’s smoking point is lowered and carcinogenic compounds start to form. Another problem, of course, is what’s being fried. If you’re frying carbohydrates, you already started down an unhealthy path (unless you did a particularly hard workout and need those extra carbs).

The final trouble with frying revolves around the type of oils used.Not all oils are created equal. When choosing an oil, the ones most readily available in God’s creation, the ones that require minimal processing, turn out to be the healthiest. The top three are butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. The reason being is that most other vegetables oils contain a ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids that is disproportionately high in omega-6 fatty acids. Recent studies have found that cardiovascular disease and other health problems are attributed to having far too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s.[2] By contrast, the three cooking oils I mention above primarily consist of saturated fat (butter and coconut oil) or monounsaturated fat (olive oil) and therefore don’t negatively affect the the Omega-3 to Omega 6 ratio. The approximate smoke point for the recommended cooking oils are:

Whole Butter: 300 F
Extra Virgin olive oil: 300 F
Virgin coconut oil: 350 F

Smoke points are always estimates because they depend on the particular oil’s characteristics (which vary between batches) and the methods of oil refinement. Generally, the more whole the oil is, the lower its smoke point will be. In conclusion, if you want to fry something in oil – meats, vegetables, or eggs – it’s OK to do so. The important thing is to chose a healthy oil, keep the oil below its smoke point, and only use your oil once. Here’s to all my friends in the South!

[1] PubMed
[2] PubMed