Gelatin as a Digestive Aid

Gelatin is a Traditional Food and Medicine

It may come as a surprise, but gelatin (made popular by the Jell-O brand) is one of oldest medicines and foods known to man. As a medicine, ancient healers and less modern doctors often recommended that their patients supplement with gelatin in order to help with digestion problems, including ulcers, stomach acid imbalance, and indigestion. As a food, gelatin is a natural ingredient in the most primitive and universal meal: soup (or stew).  

Gelatin is a Natural Food, Also Known as Collagen

The word “gelatin” comes from the gel-like consistency this protein-complex forms when it cools. Nearly everyone has seen the amazing property of gelatin to gel in dishes like the iconic Jell-O salad. You might not have realized it, but the same gelatin activity seen in gelatin molds is also responsible for the gel-like consistency that forms when soups, stews, or gravy’s cool down a bit. Gelatin is also one of the ingredients that helps thicken these popular comfort foods.

While it might seem a little strange, gelatin is simply a mixture of different proteins that are hydrophilic. In other words, gelatin attracts water to itself and holds it in a protein structure. The protein structure is actually the same stuff that much of the human body is made out of, collagen. Collagen contains 19 out of 20 amino acids and is especially high in alanine, arginine, glutamic acid, hydroxyproline, proline, and especially glycine.   

Gelatin was traditionally extracted from animals during the process of making broth or stocks for soup. All chefs know (along with traditional peoples) that a good stock is the foundation for delicious soups and sauces. The creation of broth developed out of long-held values and the necessity of using every part of the animals being eaten. In this effort, bones, skin, and cartilage were boiled to extract all the nutrients and flavors they contained, and this is still how a good broth is made. Unfortunately, making broth can be a time consuming and messy process, requiring hours of simmering, so few people in modern society (apart from gourmet chefs) spend the time extracting all those health promoting nutrients. Sadly, our modern eating and cooking habits are causing us to miss out on the wonderful benefits gelatin can offer for our digestion.

How Gelatin Helps with Digestion Problems 

Gelatin helps promote digestion in two ways: by stimulating stomach acid production and by moving stomach acid away from the stomach walls towards the food being digested. Contrary to popular belief, digestion problems are often connected to too little stomach acid production, not too much. In fact, ulcers aren’t caused by stomach acid; it’s just that acid causes pain in those areas because the proper stomach protection is lacking. Gelatin increases stomach acid production thanks to its high glycine content, and thus promotes better digestion (less gas and bloating). The amino acid glycine is particularly good at stimulating the release of stomach acid.

In addition to containing high amounts of glycine, gelatin is also a hydrophilic colloid.  As mentioned earlier, gelatin loves water and absorbs it like sponge. Thankfully, gelatin also absorbs stomach acid. The awesome thing about gelatin compared to stomach acid neutralizers like calcium carbonate is that it doesn’t neutralize the body’s ability to digest food. Instead, because it’s hydrophilic, gelatin sucks stomach acid towards the food that’s being digested, while simultaneously moving the acid away from the walls of the stomach where it can cause irritation in an unhealthy stomach.  

The Take Away: Traditional methods of cooking that emphasize whole foods and slow cooking methods tend to provide more of the nutrients the body needs for health. Today most of us are missing out on the benefits provided by a real, homemade stock made from the whole carcass of an animal. Our family is trying to get back to traditional cooking methods as often as possible. You too might want to experiment with making your own stock using a whole chicken or the marrow bones from a cow (which can be obtained from your local butcher). A more convenient (though less flavorful and nutritious method) way to obtain gelatin is through simple supplementation. Try adding pure gelatin powder to your simple soup or stew recipes. If you have digestion problems you can even take gelatin with a small glass of water during a meal, or try adding it to smoothies.

Recommended Product: Great Lakes Gelatin

Recommended Reading: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

References: Wald, A and Adibi, SA, “Stimulation of gastric acid secretion by glycine and related oligopeptides in humans,” American Journal of Physiology, 1982, 5, 242, G86-G88; Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Pg. 61; Hydrophilic Colloid Diet, by Dr. F.M. Pottenger Jr.

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Originally posted 2013-10-02 16:09:33.

When Red Meat Causes Cancer

red meat causes cancer, iron, protein, grass-fedRed meat isn’t as bad for our health as the popular media has made it out to be. In fact, when properly selected and prepared, red meat can be an extremely healthy food. To start, red meat is loaded with heme-iron, which is easily absorbed by the body and isn’t as likely to cause oxidation as non-heme iron from plant sources.  Since it’s easily absorbed, iron from red meat can be especially beneficial or women, considering about 19% of women in the United States get less than half of the amount of iron they need.  Not getting enough iron can lead to small red blood cells and a lack of energy (anemia). Since it’s used for energy transport, oxygen transport, and metabolism, adequate iron replenishment is also important for endurance athletes and weight lifters.

In addition to containing lots of heme-iron, grass-fed red meat boasts significant amounts of zinc, selenium, B12, choline, omega-3 fatty-acids, and an extremely high-quality protein; very few of such nutrients can be found in adequate supply in the plant world.  So, what makes red meat a questionable health food at best and a potential cause of cancer at worst?  First of all, lets clear the notion that it’s the saturated fat that’s unhealthy.  As part of a balanced diet, saturated fat from animals is an excellent source of energy (which is why animals store excess energy as saturated fat to begin with), and a close look at the available research indicates that there is very weak correlation between saturated fat intake and cholesterol levels (if any).  For more information on saturated fats, I recommend reading Dr. Stephen Guyenet’s excellent article on the subject.

The real problem with red meat, especially as it relates to its potential to cause cancer, is how it’s cooked (choosing grass-fed meat is important too, but that’s for another article).  When red meat is cooked at high temperatures carcinogenic compounds are formed, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  These compounds can mutate cells, leading to cancer.  The types of cancer most commonly associated with consuming red-meat cooked at high temperatures are prostate, colon, and kidney cancer.

The good news is that you don’t have to give up red meat altogether.  You can easily avoid turning your red meat into a cancer bomb by cooking it at a lower temperature.  Oh, and you might also want to consider avoiding hamburgers (especially from fast-food restaurants).  Research indicates that hamburgers are much more prone to overheating and the development of carcinogenic compounds (like heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) than steaks and other whole pieces of meet (like cubed stew meat).  If you really want to have a hamburger, be sure to use grass-fed meat and experiment with cooking at low-temperatures in the oven or simmering in hot water in a pan.

Severals studies found that meat cooked at the temperature of boiling water (212 °F) contained hardly any carcinogenic compounds.  Meat cooked at common frying-pan and grilling temperatures (around 400+ °F), however, contained significant amounts of cancer causing compounds!  Perhaps it’s coincidence that the Israelites cooked their meat in boiling water instead of the open fire, but I’d like to think that God was giving them a hint about how to preserve their health (see 1 Samuel 2:13).

It turns out that those who like their steaks rare have the right idea.  Red meat really only needs to be cooked to 158 °F — any heating beyond that  just results in the formation of extra carcinogens…yum!  The temperature of the meat is a far better indicator of its doneness than its internal or external color. 

The Take Away: Enjoy all the health benefits red meat has to offer by cooking it shorter and at lower temperatures.  Try to keep the cooking heat around 212 °F, and only cook red meat until it reaches 158 °F. Also, don’t forget to be extra careful not to overcook hamburgers, and, if at all possible, avoid fast-food hamburgers.  Otherwise, enjoy beef — it’s what’s for dinner!

References: Vitamin Deficiencies, UC Davis Medical Center; Urinary Mutagenesis and Fried Meat Intake, PubMed; Dietary Intake of Heterocyclic Amines, PubMed; Impact of Meat Consumption, Preparation, and Mutagens On Aggressive Prostate Cancer, PubMed

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Originally posted 2013-09-15 22:12:21.

Don't Let Genetics Determine Your Future

There is a growing belief among scientists and in popular health circles that our genes determine our future.  More than ever, people are interested in knowing the makeup of their genetic code.  We’re genetically testing our babies before they’re born or submitting DNA samples to one of the many new genetic testing companies to determine our genetic fate. Genetic testing is quickly become the new horoscope reading for the wealthy or “scientifically minded.”  

The actual science, however, reveals another story.  Our genes are not an unchangeable blueprint for the construction of our bodies — they’re more like a garden bed with a variety of different seeds.  What grows depends on the quality of the soil, what nutrients are added, and if the garden receives regular sunlight and water.  The garden can grow anything from weeds to healthy vegetables.  Our genetic code contains coding for multiple expressions of any given biological trait.  We can actually become stronger, smarter, and healthier by influencing our genetic expression. How do we do this? We do so by living the way we were created to live: eating real foods, exercising, and loving those around us.  Watch the short talk below by Dean Ornish to see the compelling evidence:

Originally posted 2013-09-05 11:07:11.

Optimum Carbohydrate Loading For Ultra-Endurance Athletes

While I’m generally a proponent of eating a low carbohydrate (for weight-loss) or moderate carbohydrate diet (for sustainable health), a number of studies indicate that ultra endurance athletes, athletes who compete in events longer than 90 minutes in duration, perform better when they have an adequate supply of glycogen.  Glycogen is the body’s stored form of glucose, and is one of the primary sources of energy for endurance activities where the average percentage of vo2 max is greater than 65%. Glycogen stores, which are found in the muscles and connected to the liver, are best replenished by consuming an ample amount of carbohydrates.

While studies have found that ultra-endurance athletes on a low-carbohydrate diet can adapt to better utilizing fat for energy, it turns out that these athletes are not able to perform as well as a athletes with adequate stores of glycogen.  Numerous studies indicate that endurance athletes on high-fat diets experience greater levels of perceived exhaustion and usually aren’t able to perform as well as athletes on high carbohydrate diets.

While in rats and some people, it’s been found that extremely high fat diets (greater than 75%of the diet), do promote high levels of endurance in combination with training, the greater body of evidence supports high-carbohydrate intake for increased ultra-endurance performance.  Should growing evidence change this indication, we’ll let you know! Otherwise, follow the carbohydrate-loading recommendations below to optimize your ultra-endurance performance.  

Amount of Carbohydrates for Optimal Training and Competition
The optimal amount of carbohydrate consumption for ultra-endurance exercise it thought to be between 2.5 and 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight.  Of course, this is a big range.  This means if you weigh 150 lbs and regularly run more than 90 minutes per day, you’ll need 375 – 675 grams of carbohydrates per day.  You can start to narrow down this range by topping out your carbohydrate intake at 600 grams per day.  At least one study indicates that carbohydrate levels above 600 grams may not provide additional benefit.  Further narrow down this range by calculating your basic macronutrient and energy needs to determine how many additional calories you need from carbohydrates.  For example if your basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn just living) is 2500 calories and you burn an additional 3,500 calories running a 50k, then you should eat the full 600 grams of carbohydrates, which equals 2,400 calories.  However, if you only burn 1,475 calories running a half marathon, then you’ll only need to consume the minimum of 375 grams of carbohydrates (375 X 4 cal = 1,500 calories).

Ratio of Macronutrients
The best ratio of macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) for ultra-endurance athletes is a topic of debate, but I think the current evidence suggests that a balanced ratio, high in proteins, is optimal for muscle regeneration and energy production.  

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Start with the amount of protein your body will need to repair itself from the tremendous catabolic effects of endurance exercise — approximately 1 to 1.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you’ll need a minimum of 150 grams of protein per day (600 calories from protein).
  • Aim to meet approximately 40% of your body’s basal metabolic need for calories by an intake of healthy fats (butter, avocados, coconut oil, meat, eggs).  For example if your basal metabolic rate is 2,000 calories, aim to get 800 calories from fat (89 grams of fat).  Fat is vital for a healthy nervous system and for repairing cells.
  • From there, fill the rest of your caloric need in with carbohydrates based on your amount of training/competition.  For example, once you’ve obtained 1,400 of your calories from protein and fat, you’ll still need 600 calories from carbohydrates (150 grams of carbohydrates) just to meet your minimum calorie need, assuming it’s 2,000 calories.  So, if you burn an additional 3,000 calories per week running, then you’ll need to include an additional 750 grams of carbohydrate in your diet, which can be spread out evenly throughout the week.  To optimize glycogen storage, you can also concentrate the consumption of these 750 grams of carbohydrates in a few days, which will help you achieve the recommended 2.5-4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.

Macronutrient Overview

  • Protein – 1-1.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight
  • Fat – 30-40% of total basal metabolic calorie need (daily calorie need without exercise)
  • Carbohydrates – 2.5-4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight, depending on energy expended in ultra-endurance training.
  • A side-note: For the most part, high quality fats and carbohydrates are interchangeable for energy needs, feel free to vary the ratios of carbs and fat based on your individual calorie needs and how you are feeling during exercise.  Keep in mind that eating the most balanced ratio of protein:fat:carbs possible will promote improved digestion, nutrient absorption, and stable blood-sugar levels.

Quality of Carbohydrates
While carbohydrates are frowned-upon in paleo and low-carb fitness circles, the evidence indicates that its not the amount of carbohydrates that negatively impacts health, as mush as the quality of carbohydrates.  Get as many of your carbohydrates as possible from whole-food, nutrient-rich sources, such as greens, sweet-potatoes, beets, carrots, quinoa, and raw, unfiltered honey.

Avoid processed sugar, such as that found in candy, sugar, ice cream, and other refined foods.  These types of sugars negatively affect the body’s health in numerous ways. Read our previous article on Why Sugar is Toxic for more information.

Carbohydrate Loading
The original method of “carbohydrate-loading” involved a seven day process of limiting carbohydrates for 3-4 days during intense training, followed by 3 days of rest and carbohydrate gorging. While effective at increasing glycogen stores, this method proved taxing and disrupted athletes’ ability to engage in optimum training levels before an event. 

The most recommended form of carbohydrate loading is merely an extension of normal carbohydrate fueling.  Instead of drastic depletion and repletion, ultra-endurance athletes should increase the amount of their carbohydrate intake towards the upper level of 600 grams per day,  starting 3-7 days before a competitive event, while simultaneous tapering down their amount of training.  

Best Times for Carbohydrate Consumption
For optimal energy supply and glycogen repletion, healthy carbohydrates should be consumed immediately before and immediately after training or competition.  

  • From 2 hours to 30 minutes before an event, endurance athletes may experiment with consuming .5 to 1 gram of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.  The more carbohydrates one plans to eat, the earlier the carbohydrates should be consumed.
  • Endurance athletes should also aim to consume about .5 grams of healthy carbohydrates within 30 minutes after an event. 

Amount of Carbohydrates During the Event
Endurance athletes can digest and utilize approximately 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute of activity. Thus, during ultra-endurance events, athletes should be consuming about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.  Just remember, everyone is little different in terms of what they are able to digest, so the actual amount will take a little bit of personal experimentation.  You may be able to utilize anywhere between 45 and 75 grams of carbohydrates per hour.  

A Note on Weight-Loss Versus Athletic Performance
Keep in mind that these recommendation are for ultra-endurance activities of 90 minutes in duration or longer.  Also, such high-levels of carbohydrate intake are primarily for improving athletic performance, not for weight-loss.  If weight-loss is your goal, it may be better to stick with a low-carbohydate/high-protein diet and mix your endurance training with high-intensity exercises, such as sprinting and weight-lifting.  

Sources: “High Carbohydrate Versus High Fat Diets in Endurance Sports,” by Asker E. Jeukendrup; “Endurance and Ultra-Endurance Athletes,” Jones and Bartlett Publishers

Originally posted 2013-09-03 17:35:05.

Portion Distortion

It’s common knowledge that portion sizes in the United States have increased drastically over the past 20 years, especially in restaurants.  Many health professionals blame these growing portion sizes for America’s obesity epidemic, and there’s even talk about outlawing certain sizes of drinks.  Such limitations are frowned upon by many.  After all, no one want’s to be told how much they can or can’t eat and getting one’s money’s worth when dinning out is also a concern.  Being presented with a skimpy plate of food can leave customers with the feeling of being cheated.  

The problem with larger portion sizes is that the typical American does not know when to stop eating or drinking.  We live in a fast paced world where we tend to ignore our body’s signals.  Working long hours, we skip lunch but then mindlessly eat in front of the television to unwind from the busy day.  Ignoring what our body tells us over time leads to the inability to recognize when we are hungry or full, making it ever easier to overeat at a meal.

Many of us have also been raised with the value that it’s essential to “clean your plate.” Only then will you get dessert!  As a consequence, we tend to eat whatever is on our plate.  All of it.

So how can we return to healthy portion sizes?  Until we learn how to better listen to our bodies, we can start making improvements in portion control by getting a better understanding of what an actual portion size is.

Use this handy chart as a “rule of hand.”


Other tips on controlling portion sizes:

Use smaller plates.  Studies have shown that we tend to want to fill up our plate with food—no matter what size the plate is.  Coupled with the possible habit of “cleaning our plate” and we have a problem on our hands.  Choosing a smaller one and telling yourself you can always go back for seconds will prevent you from going overboard.

Don’t set serving dishes at the dinner table.  I’ve noticed when having dinner at friends’ homes that many people tend to set all of the food right on the table.  When we are having fun and enjoying conversations with loved ones, we actually tend to eat more since we aren’t paying  attention to how full we are.  Setting the serving dishes on the counter, makes it less likely that we’ll get up and serve ourselves again unless we truly are still hungry.

Eat slowly.  It takes about fifteen minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full.  This is one of the reasons why we can become uncomfortably stuffed.  If we eat slower and enjoy our food, our brains will have a chance to realize when it’s time to stop eating.

God gave us food to sustain us, to power us through our day.  We should rejoice in this by savoring each meal, not mindlessly stuffing ourselves.

Do you have trouble controlling portions or mindless eating?

What is one thing you could do today for a better relationship with food?

Sources: Healthy Portion, Keep An Eye on Portion Size

Originally posted 2013-08-17 09:00:09.

How Phytic Acid Affects Your Health

Phytic acid or phytate (when in salt form) is one of the many phytochemicals found in nature that are considered  non-essential nutrients, meaning they’re not needed to sustain life. However, most non-essential plant chemicals, including phytic acid, can still have a significant impact on human health.

Phytate 101
For plants, phytic acid is the predominant storage form of phosphorus and is considered a common plant antioxidant. Phytic acid is found in various quantities in soy, peanuts, whole grain cereals, rice, wheat and corn and products containing these foods. For humans, however, there’s mounting evidence that phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that binds with minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, making them useless for the human body. At the same time, there’s a small body of research that phytic acid may have a few positive benefits, including acting as an antioxidant, an energy store, and an anti-inflammatory agent. Phytic acid is also thought to reduce the early onset of colon cancer. Yet, phytic acid’s action as an anti-nutrient appears to outweigh any of its potential benefits. Moreover, it’s high concentration in many important staple crops makes phytic acid an important health concern.

How Phytic Acid Binds to Minerals
Although vital in plants, in humans phytic acid’s phosphorus is not biologically available. Phytic acid is polyanionic (a molecule possessing multiple negative sites) due to the many phosphate groups. These negatively charged “arms” of the phytic acid molecule bind with important positively charged minerals in the body, especially calcium and zinc. When this happens, phytic acid is transformed into its salt form known as phytate. Once the surrounding minerals are bound to phytate they are rendered insoluble and cannot be absorbed by the digestive tract.

Ways to Minimize Phytic Acid Consumption 
Does phytic acid’s effect on mineral absorption mean that were not meant to enjoy any foods containing phytic acid? Of course not! Apart from conveniences such as refrigerators and electric ovens were invented, people traditionally preserve and process their foods with methods that inadvertently reduce phytic acid content. The processing techniques commonly used include soaking and fermentation. These methods help render grains and seeds easier to cook and increase their storage life.

Through the soaking process, seeds and grains are soaked long enough (12 to 36 hours) to germinate and soften, which allows for faster cooking times (important if you don’t have access to a gas burner) and better digestion.  What wasn’t known until recently, however was that soaking also activates a grain’s phytase content.  Phytase is an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid!

Some grain and seeds, however,  contain very little natural phytase (oat meal and rice for example), so simple soaking does very little to reduce phytic acid content.  This is where lacto-fermentation comes in.  During lacto-fermentation, seeds and grains are soaked long enough to allow beneficial bacteria to form (such as lactic acid bacteria), which keep harmful pathogens at bay and make foods safe to store at room temperature for long periods of time. The fermentation process can also encourage the growth of phytase producing bacteria that supply enough phytase to break down most of the phytic acid content in seeds and grains!  In fact, lacto-fermentation is one of the traditional Chinese ways of preparing brown rice but has has recently gone out of practice (due to the invention of the rice cooker).

The take away: Phytic acid prevents the absorption of many of the minerals that make seeds and grains potentially healthy foods. Traditional, pre-industrial, ways of preparing these foods inadvertently made them more nutritious.  Take the time to get the most out of your food an optimize your health by soaking all seeds (quinoa and beans) and grains for at least 12 hours.  For rice and oatmeal, consider using lacto-fermentation.

Related Articles:
Is Brown-Rice Toxic?  It All Depends.

References: Top cultures. Phytochemicals. Gaetke, Gaetke LM, McClain CJ, Toleman CJ, Stuart MA. “Yogurt protects against growth retardation in weanling rats fed diets high in phytic acid.” J. Nutr. Biochem. 2010;21:147-152., Peng WU, Tao Z, Ji-chun T. “Phytic acid contents of wheat flours from different mill streams.” Agricultural Sciences in China. 2010;9:1684-1688., Nagel R. “Living With Phytic Acid.” Weston A. Price Foundation Website., Raghavendra P, Halami PM. “Screening, selection and characterization of phytic acid degrading lactic acid bacteria from chicken intestine.” International Journal of Food Microbiology. 2009;133:129-134., Lönnerdal B. “Soybean ferritin: implications for iron status of vegetarians.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1680S–1685S.

Originally posted 2013-08-15 09:00:15.

How 'bout coconut oil?

coconut-oil-1There’s been a lot of hype lately about coconut oil, as its many health benefits have become more evident. After being stuck with a negative reputation a few decades ago, coconut oil has finally taken back its rightful place in our cabinets. But what makes it so good for us and how should we incorporate it into our diets?

History: Coconut oil has nourished healthy nations for thousands of years. This tropical oil was highly regarded for its flavor, and its antibacterial and immunity properties. During the last few decades, however, coconut oil has been vilified mainly due its high saturated fat content. Over the last 60 years, health officials have been telling us that consuming saturated fat would result in negative health consequences including elevated cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc. Interestingly enough, over those same last 60 years, instances of heart disease, obesity, and cancer have only increased in the American population. Meanwhile, modern-day primitive societies who have continued to use saturated fat as a staple in their diets have seen few instances of heart disease, obesity, or cancer.

Considerations: One thing health officials have failed to mention about saturated fats is that they’re not all created equal. Naturally occurring saturated fats (including those found in coconut oil) are beneficial to health. Those that have been manipulated, such as hydrogenated vegetable and seed oils, are what pose serious health risks.

A 1981 study of two different Polynesian populations found that the majority of the members in both populations had good cardiovascular health and very few health problems, despite consuming coconut as a dietary staple.  There is actually no scientific evidence that indicates coconut oil is bad for health.  To the contrary, everything indicates that coconut and coconut oil are health-promoting foods.

Nutritional breakdown: Coconut oil (and its saturated fat) has many health benefits, including:

  • Promoting heart health
  • Promoting weight loss
  • Supporting the immune system
  • Supporting a healthy metabolism
  • Promoting healthy and youthful looking skin
  • Supporting  thyroid gland function

Coconut oil is composed of a particular type of fatty acid, called lauric acid, which contributes to the oil’s list of health properties. Lauric acid is a powerful antivirus and antibacterial , and there is not a single food source on earth that contains more lauric acid than coconut oil.

Additionally, coconut oil is recognized for its high content of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), also known as medium-chain fatty acids or MCFAs. MCTs are so magical because they can easily be digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. MCTs are sent directly to the liver and converted into energy. This makes coconut oil a good source for immediate energy with little chance of it being stored as fat on your body. By contrast, most common vegetables and seeds are comprised of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which put more strain on the pancreas, liver, and entire digestive system. 

Because coconut oil has such a high level of saturated fat, it can withstand very high heat, making it one of the healthiest cooking oils. Frying destroys the antioxidants in most vegetable oils and causes oxidation. Oxidation results in cross-linking, cyclization, double-bond shifts, fragmentation, and polymerization of oils that can cause far more damage than trans-fats. Vegetable oils (canola, soy, vegetable, corn) should be avoided at all costs and should be substituted with coconut oil or ghee, especially for frying. Even olive oil cannot withstand the high temperatures of cooking like coconut oil without being incurring oxidative damage.

The takeaway: Although coconut oil has been regarded as unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, new findings prove the exact opposite: it’s actually the saturated fat in coconut oil that contributes to heart health, immunity, metabolism, beautiful skin, and healthy thyroid function.  If the scientific evidence isn’t enough, anecdotal evidence for thousands of years, coconut oil was a staple in nourishing many healthy populations.

Shopping for coconut oil has become rather complicated due to the tropical oil’s growing reputation in the health market. Be aware of marketing schemes. When shopping for coconut oil look for organic, cold-pressed, unrefined virgin coconut oil (VCO). 

Uses & Recipes: Coconut oil has various uses from skin moisturizer to roasting sweet potatoes (recipe below) to baking. You can even add it to smoothies, hot tea, or coffee for an extra boost of energy.  Coconut oil’s uses are just as numerous as the health benefits.

Coconut Roasted Sweet Potatoes

 Serves 4 to 6 

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons organic, cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil; 2 pounds organic sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks; ½ teaspoon fine sea salt; ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper; 1 teaspoon grated lime zest (optional)

Directions: Preheat oven to 400°F. In a small saucepan, melt coconut oil over medium heat. Toss potatoes with oil, salt and pepper together in a large bowl until evenly coated. Spread potatoes in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and toss with lime zest.

References: The Truth About Saturated Fats and the Coconut Oil Benefits, Traditional Fats and Sacred Foods, Coconut Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Originally posted 2013-07-14 06:56:10.

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.

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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%!

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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.