While calories can provide a rough estimate of how healthy a particular food might be, they don't really explain how a particular food will impact your health. Calories are a general indicator of the amount of fuel a food will provide, but not necessarily how fast that food will be metabolised and available as fuel, or how beneficial a particular food may be for digestion or providing sustained vitamins and minerals.
Not all calories are equal
Calories from sugar are metabolised much faster than calories from either protein or fat - meaning that they cause a much faster rise in blood sugar levels, and result in you feeling hungry a lot faster.
iConsider the following breakfast options, which although both contain roughly the same calorie count, their nutritional value and effect on the body is very different.
Breakfast A: Mushrooms and 1/2 avocado on whole wheat toast
Breakfast B: A glass of Orange Juice and a bowl of cornflakes with semi skimmed milk
Breakfast A contains a high amount of fibre, B-vitamins and unsaturated fat, as well as Vitamins C, E and K and potassium. The sugar from the whole wheat toast is considered a complex carbohydrate, meaning it will breakdown over a longer period of time, and therefore have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar levels. The small amount of fat from the avocado will also help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Breakfast Option B contains a large amount of simple sugars both from the orange juice and the processed cereal. Simple sugars are quickly converted to glucose, meaning a rapid spike in blood glucose levels, and a resulting surge in appetite not long after eating. Although there is some vitamin C in the orange juice it contains none of the fibre that a whole orange would.
So all in all, calories shouldn't be the deciding factor when you're next faced with a food choice. Looking out for foods which are as natural and unprocessed as possible and which don't contain the words either sugar, fructose or refined white flour are a good start.
Who hasn't been fooled by the packaging of a granola bar, thinking it's a healthy snack option, only to find the ingredient list telling a big FAT lie?
Fats. Which are good for you and which should you avoid like a bowl of peanuts at a student bar? Understanding fats and their effects will help you decode the marketing speak and decide for yourself what really is (or isn't) a healthy food option.
The Good (Essential) Fats:
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that we need to obtain from the diet because the body requires them for good health but cannot synthesize them. Only two fatty acids are known to be essential for humans: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).
The Marketing speak: Look out for the words Omega 3 and 6 which are all good fats. Try to eat them in their most natural form, because any processing does alter (and damage) their structure.
That means for example that fresh salmon is better than tinned, and unroasted nuts are better than roasted
The Bad (Trans) Fats:
Trans fats don't occur naturally in foods (Kummerov, 2013). They are processed and chemically altered fats created through a process known as hydrogenation. Hydrogenation converts a liquid fat (normally a vegetable oil) into a more solid fat, which remains solid at room temperature. Trans fats are found in products like margarine and vegetable shortening.
Trans fats are the main cause of both heart disease and raised cholesterol, because of the pro-oxidative impact and damage they cause to cellular walls. It does this by lowering HDL cholesterol (the “good cholesterol”) and increasing LDL (the bad cholesterol), by preventing the synthesis of prostacyclin, a compound that prevents blood from clotting.
The In-between Fats:
Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle of the good and bad scale.
They are generally solid at room temperature and are found in foods such as full fat dairy products, meat, butter and coconut oil.
Saturated fat has received a lot of bad press, based on outdated (and falsified) research. A recent meta-analysis of 21 studies shows that there is insufficient evidence to link saturated fat to an increase in risk of heart disease (Siri, et al). Another study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that in a sample group of 52 000 adults (aged between 20 and 74); women with “high cholesterol” (>270ml/dl) had a 28% lower risk of mortality and heart disease risk than women with “low cholesterol” <183mg/dl).
Marketing speak: Saturated fats are not the enemy! When eaten as part of a healthy diet, they help to keep you fuller for longer and help to lower the glycemic impact of foods. As with all fats, they do contain more calories per gram than either protein or carbohydrates, so if you're watching calories, remember a little goes a long way.
So is it ok to eat fat, and if I do, what should I know:
1. Fat has a higher energy density than the other macro nutrients (protein and
carbohydrates), so if you are trying to reduce calorie intake remember a little goes a long way.
2. Heat, light and oxygen change the structure of fat. Always keep unsaturated fats (eg olive
oil or rapeseed oil) in a dark (preferably glass) container, with a sealed lid.
3. If you’re cooking with fat: stick to saturate fats, which remain stable under heat. I
recommend butter or rapeseed oil as they remain stable at much higher temperatures than
unsaturated fats. Save the expensive extra virgin olive oil for salads and dips instead.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007); Effect of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and exercise on weight loss; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/5/1267
Golomb, B.A. (2015); A Fat to Forget: Trans Fat Consumption and Memory; available at: Trans Fat Consumption is Linked to Diminished Memory in Working-aged Adults
Harvard health; (2015); The truth about fats; bad and good; http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good
Kummerow, F; (2013); Cholesterol Is Not the Culprit,
Mercola, (2014); What happens to your body when you eat trans fat?; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/12/02/trans-fat-harms-memory.aspx
Siri, Tarino (Et Al) 2010; Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease, available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p
The simple answer is yes.
Cholesterol-lowering statin medication may significantly increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes new studies have shown. What’s more, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is almost 50% higher in those taking statins, even when compared to people who have more type 2 diabetes risk factors.
How do statins increase the risk of diabetes?
Researchers have found that statins can increase insulin resistance and impair the ability of the pancreas to secrete insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition whereby the body becomes resistant to insulin and results in too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. Over the long term, this can have detrimental effects on your health.
The study also explains that the higher the dose of a statin, the greater the diabetes risk. People who have never had heart disease and who have high cholesterol but no other risk factors are less likely to derive benefit from a statin drug, while still facing the risk of diabetes.
How can I lower cholesterol without taking a statin?
There are a number of ways to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. According to Dr. Alan Garber, professor at Baylor College of Medicine, statin users with elevated blood sugar levels can head off type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise.
So who should be taking statins:
Those who have a history of heart disease, heart attack or stroke should not stop using statins unless they have discussed the risks and benefits with their doctor.
BMJ; (2014) Higher potency statins and the risk of new diabetes: multicentre, observational study of administrative databases; Available at: http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g3244
Ganda, OP; (2016); Statin-induced diabetes: incidence, mechanisms, and implications, available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926726/
AMA; (2014) Statins and Physical Activity in Older Men, The Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study; available at: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1878470
Schaefer, A; (2014): Sugar and Cholesterol. Is there a connection? http://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/sugar-and-cholesterol
University of Maryland Medial Centre; Omega 3 and cholesterol; available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids
WebMD; Statins Linked to Raised Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, available at: http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20150304/statins-linked-to-raised-risk-of-type-2-diabetes#1
Did you know that a vitamin D deficiency could be a contributing factor to weight gain and our levels of happiness hormones? Low levels of this sunshine vitamin have also been linked to diabetes and our ability to heal wounds.
Sun exposure is the main source of vitamin D for most of us, but in the Northern Hemisphere it's been proven that for 6 months of the year it's impossible to synthesise adequate levels and this has widespread implications for our health. Vitamin D deficiency is now thought to be the most prevalent nutritional diseases of the 21st century!
Vitamin D has such an important role to play in our overall health that deficiency has been linked to a range of symptoms, including bone pain, muscle weakness, depression and a weakened immune system. Longer term it can also result in obesity, high blood pressure and osteoporosis as well as Alzheimer’s and type 2 Diabetes.
Studies have shown that:
People with low levels of vitamin D have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if they are within a normal weight range ( See symptoms for pre-diabetes below)
Vitamin D helps to regulate the production of insulin in the pancreas, which in turn helps to regulate blood glucose levels.
Type 1 Diabetes, often caused by an autoimmune response, may benefit from vitamin D as it improves immune response. Diabetics often suffer with slow wound healing and this vitamin can work with other immune stimulating nutrients (e.g. antioxidants and Omega 3 Fatty Acids to help fight inflammation.
Can Vitamin D be used to treat Type 1 diabetes?
Only a limited number of studies have looked at the treatment and management of T1D through Vitamin D supplementation. None of the studies have found vitamin D to be able to treat T1D, but they do suggest a possible role in helping manage aspects of the disease.
For type 1 diabetics, vitamin D plays a role in improving the function of the beta cells, improving insulin production, and managing blood glucose levels – all of which help to improve blood glucose management.
Read my previous blog on exactly how much vitamin D you need and why you should be looking your next sunshine holiday. Click here to access it.
Diabetes uk - http://www.diabetes.co.uk/food/vitamin-d.html
Dong, J. et al. Vitamin D Intake and Risk of Type 1 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients 2013;5;3551-3562.
Preidt, R; (2015): Vitamin D Levels Linked to Type 2 Diabetes Risk; Available at: http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20150223/low-levels-of-vitamin-d-linked-to-type-2-diabetes-risk
Type 1 Diabetes Facts. JDRF, 2013. Web. 12 December 2013; available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000305.html
Hands up if you had a coffee first thing this morning before you'd even decided what to wear. Add the other hand if you think starting the day without a coffee would both increase the murder and violence rate. You are now under arrest for the crime of messing with your body's natural biorhythms and influencing your energy levels.
It turns out a lot of us are drinking our coffee incorrectly - and it's all about the timing.
A recent study has proven that drinking coffee first thing in the morning is the worst time to give yourself a caffeine boost.
How the Circadian Rhythm works:
The circadian rhythm controls the sleep/wake cycle through the hormones cortisol and melatonin. The biggest influence in the cycle is the exposure to light.
Cortisol is involved in processes including the "fight or flight" response (preparing the body to handle stress); the sleep/wake cycle and the immune system. Peak production happens between 8 and 9am, where it raises adrenalin and glucose levels to help us feel alert and ready to go.
As the day progresses cortisol levels naturally drop, and melatonin production starts.
Melatonin, the "sleep hormone" tends to rise in the blood towards the end of the day and drops off in the early morning hours. Light affects how much Melatonin your body produces.
Is caffeine really bad first thing in the morning?
Drinking coffee when your cortisol levels are already high creates two problems:
1. It interferes with the body's natural production of cortisol. The body ends up producing less cortisol and relying more on the caffeine to compensate.
2. Regular early morning coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to caffeine and eventually a stronger and stronger brew is needed - making it harder to break the cycle.
Click here if you want to read more about the benefits of coffee
Hanson, F: (2012); How do cortisol levels change throughout the day; Available at: https://adrenalfatiguesolution.com/cortisol-levels-change-throughout-day/
Kokalicheva,K; (2015); Early morning is the worst time to drink coffee; Available at: http://time.com/3903826/coffee-early-morning-worst-time/
Nordovis, J; 2016: Coffee: health benefits and nutritional information; Medical News Today; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270202.php
Sleep Centre; 2015; How circadian rhythms work, Available at: http://sleep-centre.ca/how-circadian-rhythm-works/
Being diabetic doesn’t actually make you special and I mean that in the nicest way possible! You shouldn’t have to eat a “Special Diet” , because most of us should be eating this way anyway – just a good mix of healthy, wholesome food and less added sugar.
I’ve put together a list of superfoods that contain all of the above nutrients - which should make your diet pretty special after all!
Being a diabetic can be hard work - from constant monitoring of blood sugar levels, weight and cholesterol to doctors appointments and simply dealing with the stress of avoiding hypos.
It's great to know that diet doesn't have to be one of the added stresses, and that you really can eat what you want. Just focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet and including exercise into the mix.
Why not read some of the recipes on this site for inspiration!
Diabetes UK; Healthy eating guide; Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Managing-your-diabetes/Healthy-eating/
Diabetes Prevention; (2015); Ginger shown to lower blood sugar; Available at: http://www.prevention.com/health/diabetes/ginger-shown-lower-blood-sugar-diabetics
O Connell, S; (2014): Select Vitamins and Minerals in the Management of Diabetes; Available at: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/
Marcela.com: Low Magnesium may pay a key role in Insulin resistance and Diabetes, Available at: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/10/magnesium-type-2-diabetes.aspx
Somedays I just don't feel like it. I don't want to put on my "big girl pants" and face the world and I don't want to have to share my morning coffee with a smile on my face.
Some days are just like that. I feel grumpy!!
Thinking about it though, once I've had my breakfast (normally yoghurt with nuts and flaxseeds), I am a MUCH nicer person to be around, and even though I say it myself: I'm actually quite nice!
So what is it about food and mood and can what we eat really affect our mood?
Is your diet affecting your disposition?
1. Do you tend to get a little moody (maybe even grumpy) if you haven’t eaten breakfast?
2. Do you need a coffee to really “WAKE-UP” in the morning?
3. How often do you “crave something sweet” especially after a meal?
4. Have you experienced any symptoms of being “a little down or depressed” for no reason?
What we eat really does influence how we feel - not just our bodies, but also our minds. As a nutritionist, I’m very conscious of what I eat, although sometimes life gets in the way . On days when I do rely on coffee to get me through the door in the morning, my moods are a little less upbeat and I really don’t feel good about what I’m putting into my body just to get going.
So what foods will boost your mood?
Mood boosting foods: 3 brazil nuts and a banana...
Brazil Nuts - Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium. Studies show that low levels of selenium are linked to depression, irritability, anxiety and tiredness. Only 3 Brazil nuts provide the required daily amount!
Salmon or Sardines - both are rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Omega 3's can alter our brain chemicals (specifically dopamine and serotonin). Dopamine is our "Reward or pleasure" hormone while serotonin influences mood. Deficiencies of either have been linked to depression and anxiety.
Spinach - Spinach is high in magnesium, tryptophan, vitamin B and C. Low levels of Mg have been linked to reduced production of serotonin, while both vitamin B and C are needed to convert tryptophan into its absorbable form.
For inspiration, why not try my Puy Lentil with Walnut and Feta salad for lunch!
You might even walk back into the office with a smile on your face!
Cope, EC, Levensen, CW, (2010); The role of Zinc in the development and treatment of mood disorders, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689416
Rossowska, MJ; (2009); Effect of caffeine on zinc absorption and Zn concentration in rat tissue, British Nutr. Journal.
Wilson, L, (MD); (2009); How nutrition affects Emotions and Behaviour; The Centre for Development http://www.drlwilson.com/articles/emotions_and_behavior.htm
With all the media hype about the hazards of consuming too much, it can be confusing to know which sugars really are bad for our health and which can be included as part of a healthy diet.
Download this free guide to learn about the difference between various sugars and what some healthy alternatives could be.
We're already half way into February and quite a few of of us have fallen off the New Years Resolution "healthy eating" bandwagon. At this rate, it's going to take a miracle to get fit and fabulous by Easter.
Eating grapefruit for breakfast is not my idea of starting the day off well and I've yet to find a sweetener alternative that I actually like. So when I heard about a fruit that may well help make sour or bitter foods taste sweet, I had to find out more.
Enter MIRACLE FRIUT... A Holy Grail that could replace sugar and artificial sweeteners. What's more it has no calories, nor any effect on our blood sugar levels. It really does sound like a miracle!
Grown in West Africa, this evergreen berry , also known as Synsepatum dulcetficum was discovered in the 1700's, where it was found to alter the flavour receptors on the tongue, affecting how we perceive both bitter and sour foods.
HOW IT WORKS...
The surface of the tongue is able to detect 5 distinct flavour groups (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami). Miracle Fruit contains a protein in the berry known as Miraculin, which blocks the sour and bitter taste receptors, changing sour taste to sweet.
Miraculin itself has no taste and it only produces the sweet taste when it comes into contact with an acidic solution. The effect can last for anything from 15 minutes to an hour.
IS IT A VIABLE SWEETENER ALTERNATIVE?
Unfortunately swapping sugar for Miracle Fruit is not yet a viable option. Not only is the berry both heat and cold unstable (both of these activate the protein - which means its taste altering properties are used up before the food is even consumed), but it's also not widely available.
The plants take between 3 to 5 years to grow to maturity and once fully grown, only produce 2 crops a year. That means that any large scale production of the plant is highly unlikely to overtake the massive sugar or artificial sweetener industries.
Despite all of that, I'm still quite excited at the prospect of finding a non artificial alternative to sugar and thinking about the various ways it could be used to curb our dependence on the sweet stuff. Its great knowing that mother nature still has a few miracles up her sleeve!
The Atlantic.com - The miracle berry that could replace sugar, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/can-miraculin-solve-the-global-obesity-epidemic/371657/
Natural Medicines Database - Miracle Fruit, https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1171
Schumach and Thonn,, 2008, African Flowering Plants Database. Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville Genève – South African Biodiversity Institute. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
Nothing says "comfort food" quite like a bowl of pasta - warm, silky soft pieces of dough, doused in a rich sauce. Unfortunately on the opposite end of the fork - pasta is also the source of many a dieter's downfall.
This week I read a really great piece of research about how starch (like pasta and potatoes) need not be the diet destructor as previously thought! And just knowing how to prepare it could actually make it a equal to eating a bowl of dietary fibre...
A rapid rise in blood glucose, followed by a rapid fall can often make you feel hungry again soon after. Insulin also helps to move the simple sugars to our muscles, where they are either used for energy, or if unused (through exercise) are stored as fat. That's why nutritionists emphasise the importance of eating foods that are rich in fibre, as these foods produce a much more gradual rise and fall in your blood sugars.
What if you could change pasta (or potatoes) into a food that acts like a fibre?
Studies by the University of Surrey have found that when pasta is cooled down and then reheated for the second time it turns the carbohydrate into a resistant starch. The body digests resistant starch differently, causing a smaller rise in blood glucose levels (up to 50% reduction) and fewer calories to be absorbed.
Resistant starch simply means that it is resistant to the normal enzymes in our gut that break down carbohydrates and release glucose. According to scientist Dr Denise Robertson, from the University of Surrey, if you cook and cool pasta down your body will treat it much more like fibre.
On each of the days the volunteers had to give blood samples every 15 minutes for two hours, to see what happened to their blood glucose as the pasta was slowly digested.
Just as expected, eating cold pasta led to a smaller spike in blood glucose and insulin than eating freshly boiled pasta had.
The biggest discovery however showed that cooking, cooling and then reheating the pasta had an even more dramatic effect - in fact, it reduced the rise in blood glucose by 50%!
Further research - funded by Diabetes UK - is looking into whether adding resistant starch, with no other dietary changes, can improve some of the blood results associated with diabetes.
Healthy Pasta recipes to try:
Visit BBC food to access some tasty and healthy pasta recipes http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/healthy-pasta
With all the media hype about the hazards of consuming too much sugar I'm often asked what healthy alternatives I'd recommend and in particular whether Agave syrup or Stevia really are any healthier than honey.
So I decided to outline the pros and cons of each...
Let's start with Agave Syrup...
Agave syrup is made from the Agave plant , the same plant used to make tequila. It has the consistency and colour of honey and can be used in baking without losing its sweetness.
Unfortunately Agave syrup (or nectar) is highly processed. Manufacturers use genetically modified enzymes to chemically transform the starchy root into a high fructose liquid. And when compared to High Fructose Corn Syrup, (HFCS) Agave takes the crown (containing almost 80& fructose compared to 55% found in HFCS).
So what's the problem with too much fructose?
An article published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains how high fructose intake can contribute to cardiovascular disease, weight gain and increased risk of metabolic syndrome. Other studies have also linked it to insulin resistance and hypertension.
For Diabetics and those following the GI diet, Agave syrup may have been on the recommended list due to its low GI score, but remember the glycemic index measures ONLY the glucose index. Agave syrup has less glucose but way more fructose than sugar.
The sweet truth - not a recommended source of sweetener.
The Story with Stevia:
Stevia seems to be the new No Calorie sweetener of choice, used with abandon in sugar-free baking because it retains its sweetness in heat and only a little is needed to go a long way.
But, and there is always a but.. Stevia isn't all its been sugar coated up to be:
1. The Taste... Stevia does have a slightly bitter after taste and is very sweet.
2. Messing with blood glucose levels...when we eat sweet foods the body assumes that it will be receiving sugar and so starts the secretion of insulin. When no sugar is delivered blood sugar levels drop and the body then has to rely on adrenalin and cortisol to mobilise sugar from other stored sources (such as the muscles or liver) to bring blood sugar back up to normal.
When the body continually secretes the stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) without using them in either "fight or flight" these hormones suppress the immune system and reduce thyroid function.
3. The things that lurk inside... most of the stevia we buy is mixed with other additives, including glycerine, dextrose (which can include corn) or xylitol. Even though stevia is marketed as 'all natural' it's processed state is far from its green leafy shrub origins.
The sweet truth - not a recommended for those with adrenal or thyroid problems.
Is Honey any holier?
Honey is the most natural of the sweeteners, requiring no processing or additives before you get to sample it's sweetness. It's been linked to cures for hay fever and flu, infections and sore throats and for me, nothing beats melting honey onto warm toast...
So should you eat honey?
If you're healthy, active and don't need to lose weight, honey can be a better option for you than either agave or sugar. Diabetics, those who are overweight or those who struggle with eating too much fructose should limit their intake.
Bray, G; (2007); How bad is Fructose?; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/895.full
Flavin, D; (2008); Metabolic Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup- http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2008/dec2008_Metabolic-Dangers-of-High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup_01.htm
Geertsen, L; (2013); Why I quit Stevia - Empowered Sustenance - http://empoweredsustenance.com/is-stevia-bad-for-you/
If an apple a day has always kept the doctor away, then why is fruit suddenly being labelled as the enemy?
We all know that we're supposed to be eating at least 5 portions of fresh fruit and veg a day, and according to a recent publication from University College London, 7 rather than 5 portions a day are needed to avoid all types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
But despite the benefits of eating more plant produce, fruit intake is particularly controversial when headlines keep reminding us that sugar is our new health enemy number one. Does this mean we should be avoiding fruit as well?
When one compares the nutrient content of fruits versus vegetables, the slightly less sweet truth is that vegetables win hands down!
And for those who rely on a glass of juice as one of their five a day, according to a statement from the Medical Research counsel in Cambridge. only the first 150ml of juice is considered as a fruit portion and anything more than that doesn't count.
Juice may have all the nutrients of the fruit, but it has none of the fibre, and it doesn't fill you up the same way as eating the fruit itself would and provides a rush of fructose.
So should we curb our passion for fruit?
Moderating intake of high sugar fruits is particularly important if you have conditions such as diabetes or high blood triglycerides, as excessive sugar can worsen these conditions.
However, overall fruit isn't the enemy if eaten as part of our daily sugar allowance - providing us with fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and water.
If you would like to keep the doctor at bay, consider lower sugar alternatives such as cherries, raspberries and cranberries.
USDA Sugar Guidelines: http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/usda-sugar-guidelines-ga.htm
Ever heard of the Low Carb High Fat diet (LCHF)?
If recent headlines are anything to go by, you'll most likely drop that spoonful of sugar if you want your intake of medicine to start going down...
Last week a global campaign called "Action against Sugar"warned that sugar is possibly as toxic to the human body as tobacco and that it's the "hidden sugars" in food that are causing us to battle lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
As discussed in my previous blog, the Fat fallacy seems to have fallen and we're finally seeing through the sticky lies of what really is to blame for many people struggling to lose weight despite following what they thought to be a healthy, low fat diet.
So what is the Low Carb High Fat Diet?
The LCHF diet is based on research published by Harvard University which states that only a small fraction of cholesterol causes heart disease, and that this small part is exacerbated by a diet high in carbohydrates.
They also explain how obesity and diabetes are the result of eating too many carbohydrates, linking obesity to insulin release. (Read my blog where I explain the effects of insulin and fat storage).
What are the benefits of the LCHF diet:
Insulin levels will drop. High levels of insulin are associated with insulin resistance. Hyperinsulinemia (high levels of insulin in the blood) appears to be an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease. Therefore, lowering insulin levels may be beneficial. Carbohydrate restriction has been shown to significantly decrease insulin levels.
Insulin resistance will be reduced. Insulin resistance is common in individuals with metabolic syndrome and is strongly related to an abnormal lipid profile. There appears to be an association between insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. Studies indicate that carbohydrate restriction significantly lowers insulin resistance compared to a low fat diet.
Blood pressure will improve. High blood pressure is one of the strongest known risk factors for stroke and heart disease. Lowering blood pressure is therefore considered a very important step to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies indicate that LCHF diets lower blood pressure in in individuals with overweight or obesity.
You will lose weight. Scientific studies and years of experience have shown that weight loss will occur on a LCHF diet. The amount of weight loss may vary between individuals and will also depend on how aggressive you are in getting rid of sugar and carbs.
Blood sugar will improve. Studies have shown that low carbohydrate diets reduce levels of fasting glucose and glycohemoglobin. This may be beneficial, in particular if you have diabetes or prediabetes, which is quite common among individuals with the metabolic syndrome.
Please note that this diet, like any diet, is not suitable for everyone. If you are currently being treated for conditions including Kidney disease, Diabetes or Hypoglycemia, please inform your medical team and nutritionist before starting this diet.
An important note for diabetics
Lowering (or avoiding) intake of carbohydrates will decrease your need for medication. If you continue to take the same amount of insulin pre "Low carb diet" it may result in hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). This means you will need to test your blood sugar more frequently at the start of this diet and adapt your medication. Please work with your doctor and nutritionist to ensure you adjust your medication levels safely.
Johnson, RJ, et al (2007); Potential role of sugar in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease; American Journ of Clin Nutrition.
Little, TJ; (2011); Effects of dietary fat on appetite and energy intake in health and obesity--oral and gastrointestinal sensory contributions.; Pubmed; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21596051
Samaha, FF (MD), et al; (2003); A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity; New Eng Jour of Med
It's a BIG FAT LIE.. and we've all be living it...
What you thought you knew about fat and its influence on cholesterol, increased risk of heart disease and weight gain is all a fat fallacy.
Blame it on the power of suggestion and the frenzy of marketing that developed an entire industry of low and fat free foods, but today, even with all the low fat food around, we're getting fatter than ever...
The truth is: it's not Fat that makes us fat and that skinny blueberry muffin from Startbucks is not your friend...
So what are the FA(C)TS....
All foods have an energy value which is expressed in terms of how much fuel it supplies to the body.
This fuel value is expressed in Calories or Kilocalories. Fat is the most energy dense food type (at 9 Cal/g), followed by Alcohol (7Cal/g); Protein & Carbs (both 4Cal/g).
Fats may be the most energy dense, but they are important for our cellular structure, metabolism, nutrient and waste storage and supply the body with fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Fat also helps to insulate our core organs and regulates body temperature and in the case of cholesterol, plays a vital part in producing hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone and cortisone.
If it's not fat that makes us fat, what's to blame?
Remember that Starbucks skinny muffin I mentioned? Well most low or no fat foods rely on other ingredients to give it flavour, and refined sugar is a big culprit. Eating refined sugar causes a rapid rise in blood glucose levels resulting in the body secreting a large dose of insulin. Insulin helps to lower our circulating blood glucose levels by transporting the glucose into the cells, where it is stored as glycogen.
Once our blood glucose levels are lowered, neurotransmitters signal to the brain that cells need more glucose, resulting in you feeling hungry and craving sugar yet again... and so the cycle continues. Sugar high followed by insulin induced low.
Insulin has a fat-storage effect causing cells to preferentially use carbohydrates instead of fatty acids for energy and indirectly stimulates fat accumulation in adipose tissue. So the more insulin we release, the more our bodies end up storing (rather than burning) fat for energy.
The BIG TRUTH is that eating excess fat can contribute to weight gain because fat is an energy dense source of nutrition. However, the primary culprit for excess body fat and many degenerative diseases (such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes) is about eating too much carbohydrate and sugar and not doing enough to burn off the excess energy before it needs to be stored as fat.
Bowen, R; Colorado University (2009); The physiologic effects of insulin; http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/endocrine/pancreas/insulin_phys.html
Garrow, J; James, W; Ralph, A; (2000); Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Churchill Livingstone
La Berge, AF, (2008); How the Ideology of Low Fat conquered America, Jour. History of Medicine,
Moir, H; (2014); Musculoskeletal regulation of glucose; Functional Sports Nutrition,
The mad rush has moved into February and I'm finding my New Year's resolution to eat healthily and cook at least 1 dish a day somehow a lot easier than I thought it would be.. and it seems that what some consider a daily chore, turns out to be my daily therapy...
So what is Culinary Therapy..?
Culinary therapy is about using the process of food preparation to feed both the mind and soul.. feeling the textures, seeing the colours and smelling the aromas of food helps to stimulate our appetite and act as an aid to digestion.
The digestive process consists of three phases (cephalic, gastric and intestinal) and it is in the cephalic phase that the thought or smell of food kickstarts the digestive process, releasing gastric juices in preparation for food entering the stomach. Being aware of the power of our senses can make the difference between digestion and indigestion...
Studies from the University of Alberta suggest that cooking has therapeutic benefits which include physical, cognitive, social and interpersonal. Physically it requires good dexterity and co-ordination, while socially the art of preparing and sharing food benefits the immune and digestive process (See previous blog on the benefits of Social Eating: Earning your Christmas halo). Cooking has also been proven to lower stress, improve sensory awareness and in Alzheimer's patients has helped to reduce aggression, depression and frustration associated with the disease. **
Making dishes from scratch means we benefit from knowing what's inside, can alter the flavours to suit our preferences, and for those of us who need to be aware of certain ingredients, its empowering to decide for yourself what goes onto your plate.
How to get therapy without going into overtime...
1. Be prepared! Set aside some time over the weekend to cook a dish you really enjoy. Shop for the fresh ingredients and take your time to rhythmically chop, grate or peel your food, smelling and tasting as you go. (eating can be educational...)
2. Keep your cool - Make extra portions which you can freeze.. which means you'll enjoy the benefits of healthy food when you're stressed and need something quick and healthy!
3. Develop your senses... Learn to use herbs or spices you've never cooked with before... Take inspiration from a cuisine which you already enjoy and make it your own. It's a form of exotic exploration.
4. Make stir fries your new best friend. Add Chilli, Ginger, Pak Choi and fresh lime juice to your stir fry mix. The smells and intense flavours will stimulate the senses and will take less time than warming a microwave meal.
(** add mushrooms, broccoli, red cabbage and onion for added colour and texture).
5. Use shortcuts. Tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, frozen veg or stock are ready to use, have loads of flavour and can add nutritional value without taking extra time.
Read more about the benefits of Therapeutic cooking:
** Woods, B et al, 2012; Cognitive stimulation to improve cognitive functionhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22336813
The Big Christmas lunch… surely there can't be anything more challenging to our waistlines and family sanity than that!
But breaking bread or sharing a meal is more than just about fighting over the last roast potato - in fact: it's good for your health!
Good for the mind, good for the soul...
Social Eating has both physical and psychological benefits with studies showing that loneliness increases our chances of following a poor diet and ups our likelihood of having a depleted immune system. Psychologically eating alone can also mean you miss out on the companionship of "breaking bread" - setting aside the stressors of the day to sit around a table with family or friends to talk.
Taking your palette on an adventure
Social eating also allows many of us to be more adventurous with our food choices.. not only because there is an element of shared discovery, but trying new foods can also lead to new favourites. Eating a variety of foods means you're exposed to more flavours, textures and nutrients, which means you now have an excuse to ditch the boring boiled broccoli and try something new!
And then there's the biggest benefit of sharing the eating… The extra hands to share with the washing up!!
This year as you're sitting down to your family meal try these 3 simple things to help you get the most benefit from the social gathering:
1. Try something you've never eaten before.. How about opting for a new vegetable alternative to sprouts or glazed carrots? Try BBCgoodfood.com for some creative ideas
2. Keep moving! Swap seats between each course… not only will this allow you to get another dimension of the conversation, you'll also burn a few calories every time!
3. Offer to help with the washing up.. this will ensure you get invited back and will mean you burn calories while you earn your halo!
And lastly: enjoy just being together with the people you love.. Happy Christmas everyone!
For more on the benefits of Social Eating, read:
Whatever happened to dinner?
This week I made my first winter curry and turned the heating on, which to me, normally signifies that summer has officially been switched off! Back to trousers, coats and scarves, bowls of hot soup and dreams of renting a villa in the warm Caribbean sun… (dream on!).
Winter to most of us means that we don't spend much time outdoors, and even on days when the sun does make an appearance, it's normally while we are at work.. meaning little or no exposure to vitamin D.
Sun exposure is the main source of the vitamin for most of us, but in the Northern Hemisphere it's been proven that for 6 months of the year it's impossible to synthesise adequate levels and this has widespread implications for our health. Vitamin D deficiency is now thought to be the most prevalent nutritional diseases of the 21st century!
Too little sun has been linked to increased risk of Osteoporosis, Type 1 Diabetes and Autoimmune disorders (including Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis and IBD) as well as certain types of cancers (breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic), asthma in children and cognitive impairment in older adults.
All of this sounds really scary and certain groups tend to be more at risk:
If your exposure to sunlight is limited: The body converts Vitamin D to its active form through sunlight. If you live in the northern hemisphere, work indoors or wear clothing that covers your skin from head to toe (possibly for religious reasons) you are more likely to become deficient.
You have dark skin: Melanin the pigment found in higher amounts in dark skin, reduces the ability to synthesise vitamin D in response to sunlight.
You follow a strict vegetarian diet: Most natural food sources of vitamin D are animal-based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, cheese, fortified milk and cereals. (read this article for specific vitamin D levels in food). If you're vegetarian, you could be missing out.
Your digestive tract cannot adequately absorb vitamin D. Certain medical problems, including Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease can affect your intestine's ability to absorb vitamin D from the food you eat (webmed.com)
You are obese. Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into the circulation. People with a body mass index of 30 or greater often have low blood levels of vitamin D.
So how much to we need
Life Stage Recommended Daily Amount
Birth to 12 months 400 IU
Children 1–13 years 600 IU
Teens 14–18 years 600 IU
Adults 19–70 years 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older 800 IU
Pregnant and breastfeeding women 600 IU
- If, like me you're already missing the sun, it may be worth considering a nutritional supplement.
- If you take a multivitamin, check to see that it supplies at least the recommended daily amount.
- Try taking a walk during lunch time - even a 10 minute dose will help to up your levels.
Harris, S; Vitamin D and African Americans; The Journal of Nutrition, 2006
Office of Nutritional Supplements, Dietary supplements fact sheet: Vitamin D;
This week the UK government announced their plans for adding a 20% tax to all carbonated sugary drinks, in a bid to help fund the NHS Obesity War.
This follows research from both Oxford and Reading Universities, which estimate that a tax would reduce sales by 15 percent and that people would buy (so called) healthier beverages like orange juice, milk and diet drinks instead. (See the BBC news article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24759517)
The point is: sugar free sodas and fruit juices are just as guilty of causing weight gain…
Carbonated drinks containing caffeine (& other chemicals) stimulate the adrenal glands to release cortisol, our "fight of flee" hormone. Cortisol provides the muscles with glucose, speeds up our heart rate while slowing digestion. When we're not burning this rush of glucose (through either running or fighting for survival) the excess is stored as fat.
Fruit juices (both fresh and from concentrate) are only marginally better… because although they contain vitamins and antioxidants, are also full of sugar (fructose & glucose) which again, needs to be burned through exercise and our metabolism.
The governments' so called "obesity tax" is not the answer! Weight gain isn't only about drinking sugary beverages, but encompasses a whole range of bad food and lifestyle choices.
Taxing food, such as the Danish tax on Saturated fats and the Hungarian taxes on on packaged foods high in salt, fat or sugar have shown to disproportionately affect the poor - because healthier food options are normally more expensive.
If the Government is serious about helping people to loose weight, then better (more honest) education, easier access to healthy foods and better labelling laws are needed.
So what are some of the alternatives to soft drinks and juices?
- Make your own iced tea (500ml cold rooibos tea, 250ml peach juice and fresh mint. Serve over
- Try drinking caffeine free alternatives (such as chicory coffee, herbal tea or rooibos)
- Limit your sugar intake by diluting your juice 1:1
- Slimline tonic with fresh lemon or orange slices
- Chilled Tomato juice with a hint of tobasco and lemon
Find out more about "Why food and drink taxes don't work" - www.fooddrinktax.eu
The days are getting a little cooler, and by the time I get home in the evenings it's dark outside and all I can think about is what I'll be having for dinner.
Seasonal change normally arrives hand in hand with a change in our eating patterns and our mood, and in winter that means a craving for comforting carbs.
It's good to know that it's not all in the mind!
Vitamin D (normally in short supply during the winter) plays a big part in the release of neurotransmitters such as Dopamine (which controls the brain's reward and pleasure centres) and Serotonin (the happy hormone which also acts as an appetite suppressant and aids sleep and relaxation).
So how are low levels of Serotonin linked to Carb cravings?
The Science-y bit:
Tryptophan (an Amino Acid found in all protein) is a building block of Serotonin. Unfortunately eating protein prevents tryptophan from passing through a barrier in the blood, into the brain - where it is converted to serotonin. This is because tryptophan competes with other Amino Acids to cross this barrier.
But carbohydrates help to make it happen! When carbohydrates are digested they break down to glucose which then enters the bloodstream. When glucose circulates in the blood, insulin is released and transports nutrients (such as Amino Acids and sugar) into muscle and other organs. Insulin also acts as a transporter for tryptophan to to reach the brain, where it is converted to serotonin. This is the reason you feel happy and satisfied after eating that comforting risotto.
Those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) would really benefit from eating the right kinds of carbs to help relieve their symptoms.
In a study by Wurtman (co-aurther of The Serotonin Power Diet) it was found that about 30gms or 120 cals of sugar per day was enough to produce all the serotonin you need.
But all carbs are not created equal!
Eating simple sugars (such as sweets, pastries, juice or white bread) all spike blood sugar levels - causing the body to release a glut of insulin. Insulin helps to quickly metabolise the blood sugar which results in a "sugar crash"... causing fatigue, headaches and irritability. Not great when you're already suffering from SAD!
So what can I eat to help boost Serotonin?
* Focus on whole grains and unprocessed carbs that won't spike blood sugar levels, but rather
release their energy (glucose) slowly.
* Limit caffeine intake, as it affects Serotonin production.
* Make sure you get enough exercise. Studies show that exercise increases both Serotonin
production and release.
* Speak to your Nutritionist about a 5-HTP supplement (which has proven effective in helping to
manage cravings for sweets and excess weight gain associated with depression).
Note: 5-HTP may not be suitable for those with heart conditions or who are Type 1 diabetic. **
**University of Maryland Medical Centre, 5-HTP; June 2013; Available at: