‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sugar: The New Brainfood

Lately we've learned that cheese is a cheap cocaine, bacon will give us butt cancer (as will other cured meats), coffee will kill us, and sugar is surely a gateway drug to a lifetime of substance abuse. Not to mention the ongoing concern over wheat, gluten, artificial sweeteners, and goodness knows what else. What's a person to do?
 
First, separate fact from fiction. Your crazy friend who posted an article that bats spontaneously mutate after consuming genetically modified gluten, or dairy... Are they a scientist? Sure doesn't sound like it. Cut that crap out of your life!
 
Since sugar is the sure sensationalized sweetener of choice, let's focus on that. Processed foods are addictive. It's long been suggested, now there's a biological basis to show it.

Cookies, cakes, chips, ice cream, pizza... I should stop because I'm making myself hungry. BUT, all these foods have a few things in common. First, they're processed. Meaning they contain plenty of sugar; plenty of salt; a pleasant taste; a pleasing texture... They're addictive.

New research brings it back to sugar. Not only sugar, but sugar's side-kick: Insulin. Insulin is a hormone released after we eat carbohydrates (sugars). It's essential for our survival because if our blood sugar levels get too high it can cause a slew of health problems.

If you've heard of that pesky disease called type 2 diabetes? It's characterized by chronically high blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance (meaning insulin isn't working efficiently.) You've heard of  people needing toes or feet cut off due to diabetes complications? That's due to chronic high blood sugar levels because insulin isn't working properly.

Ok, ok, nobody's losing limbs yet. Back to insulin. In addition to its above job, insulin has a newly discovered role... In our brains. The release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls reward and pleasure centers in the brain, coincides with the rise of insulin in our bodies. Remember, insulin is released during the digestion/absorption of sugars. So when you eat a slice of white bread with Nutella, you're not just using insulin to regulate your blood sugar, your body is using insulin to get a "reward" of dopamine.
The new research found that rats fed a low calorie diet were more sensitive (10 fold more sensitive) to increased insulin levels. Meaning that when insulin was released, one tenth as much insulin triggered the release of dopamine compared to rats on a high calorie diet - meaning high calorie diet rats were "immune" in a sense to this response. MEANING that more sugar, and therefore insulin, is needed to get this "feel-good" dopamine response.

And THAT means sugar, insulin, and dopamine may play a strong role in food choices. People may seek out a higher carbohydrate meal to heighten this "feel-good" dopamine response.

Another sugar study, hot off the press found that after 3 months on a low sugar diet people rated vanilla puddings as tasting 40% sweeter (compared to the control group). But, even after 3 months of their low sugar diets, participants still preferred sweeter puddings. This was the opposite compared to a recent study researching salt - where, after 3 weeks on a lower salt diet, participants' taste buds adjusted to the lower levels of salt without preferring salty foods.
Ok, what are you going to do about it?
  • Make smarter food choices, cook at home
  • Choose meals with complex carbs rather than refined ones, unfortunately that means passing on Nutella - but you can, and should, still eat chocolate
  • Don't walk down the ice cream or chip aisle at the supermarket (you won't eat it if you don't bring it home!)
  • Oh, and before you reach for the artificial sweetener or diet Coke, read this science
But you're now wondering, is sugar really poison? The answer is NO! If all you ate was sugar, you would most likely develop nutrient deficiencies, and probably a few diseases. But you would too if all you ate were French fries, or even something healthy like kale.

Eat widely, eat enjoyably, eat in moderation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Super Supplements are Super Bad

A couple of ground breaking studies in recent weeks uncovered the more sinister side to supposedly safe supplements. Westerners commonly consume copious quantities of complementary medicines like herbal supplements, weight loss pills, "energy-boosting" products, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). But why is this a problem? Oh let us count the ways...

We love complicating things, especially nutrition. Many pill-popping, supplement-swiggers rationalise taking these touted tablets either as a way to "cover" for their poor diet, or as a way for healthy people to make themselves feel that little bit "more healthy". Either way, these are seriously misguided.

About 23,000 Americans end up in the emergency room each year due to heart problems (rapid or irregular beat), chest pain, choking, or worse...Caused by your friendly supermarket, super, cure-all (but really nothing) supplements.

So, to make matters worse, choking down your pills isn't the extent of the concern. They can also increase your risk of death... A little worse than the irregular heart beat.

Yep, new research (adding to the body of already existing evidence) states certain supplements increase your risk of cancer. And most people know cancer increases your risk of death... True story.

See, your body naturally produces "free radicals". These are unstable molecules in the body that cause damage to cell structures including DNA (this is called oxidative stress.) Enter antioxidants: Compounds, including many vitamins, that neutralise free radicals.

However..! Your body needs a certain amount of free radicals to function normally. New research found high antioxidant levels actually increase oxidative stress and help cancer cells thrive, and metastasise (spread.) Not really what you hoped for when GNC sold you that acai berry supplement.

Oh, and let's not forget that herbal supplements (and supplements in general) are very poorly regulated. Who cares? Well, you should... Because:
  • A study found you're paying a lot of money for a ginseng (or other herbal) supplement and actually getting an assortment of powdered rice, asparagus, houseplant, or some other foreign plant material instead
  • Another study found many diet pills/sport supplements were contaminated with a synthetic amphetamine-like substance
Are you herbal supplements fills with grass clippings? Quite possibly...
Due to their poor regulation many supplements are mislabelled, contaminated, contain foreign materials not stated on the label, or contain unknown amounts of the ingredients - despite what the label states.

What can you do to avoid ER visits, chest pain, heart attacks, liver damage, stroke, choking, or death induced by taking supplements?
  • Concentrate on getting your nutrition, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals from food
  • Take supplements only when prescribed by a doctor or other medical professional (no, not a naturopath who read your palm or stared deeply into your eyes)
  • Buy good, healthy, cheap food (here's how)
  • Enjoy eating!
Further reading on antioxidants.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Let's Get Digital, Digital...

In a world where the youth cherish online purchases, digital media, and simpler food... The landscape of food, nutrition, weight management, and much more are changing... Yes, you've got to say that with the dramatic deep movie-presenter voice. With the coming of age for Gen Z, nicknamed the "digital natives" come new food trends, attitudes, and food preferences. There are also a new set of weight challenges.
 
The Worrisome Weight Debate 
New research shows weight loss today is actually more difficult compared to weight loss in the 1970s. The bottom line is there are other factors underlying the "calories in calories out" equation.

Please explain... There are various other factors being studied that are highly likely to influence risk of obesity, including:
  • Hormonal changes - Men, you're on the hook too
    • Due to increased stress
    • Due to lack of sleep
      • Often caused by light exposure and extended screen time (more on that here)
      • New research presented at the annual dietetic conference (FNCE) describes how lack of sleep impairs decision making regarding food choices. Your lack of sleep equals lack of self control, so you're more likely to eat 5 cronuts and a bag of chips
  • Exposure to environmental pollutants
    • Environmental toxins, organic pollutants, chemicals and additives common in food
  • Gut bacteria (currently a very active area of research)
    • Obese vs non-obese persons have different bacterial colonies due to the types of food consumed (eg: The best bacteria thrive off a high fiber diet, rather than a diet of Oreos, Big Macs, donuts, and Easy Mac)
    • Bacterial colonies affect a variety of metabolic activities including: Glucose and fat metabolism, immune function, and energy expenditure (more on that here and here)
      • Bet ya never thought you'd be jealous of the bacteria in your friend's colon...
  • Rise in medication use
  • Higher maternal age
Ok, so that's the doom and gloom. Even so, it's not that doomy or gloomy because you can modify things like your stress levels, sleeping habits, and how much fruit and veg you eat.
It's the new generational trends that are exciting and perhaps even encouraging... Recent surveys completed by food service professionals at colleges report trends in Gen Z including:
  • Breakfast availability all day
  • Authentic and varied internationals/ethnic cuisine (incl: Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, Korean, Middle Eastern)
  • Fresh, local farm to table
  • Plant-based offerings
  • Healthier on-the-go options
  • Sustainable seafood
In general, food shoppers (all generations) are increasingly looking for:
  • Shorter ingredient lists
  • Recognisable ingredients
  • Minimally processed foods
  • Locally grown produce
These are all encouraging progressions. If we can get our stress and sleep under control, a large-scale move to simpler, less processed food should mean our western waist-lines will waste away (in a good way).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pumpkin Spiced Pizza

In America, the season of fall is greeted with a slew of fall flavoured favourites, most notably: Pumpkin and pumpkin spice. Pumpkin in and of itself is a vegetable, and a healthy one. So what did we do to it? In true American (ok, fine... Western) fashion, we took something healthy and found a bazillion ways to made it unhealthy.

Pumpkin is a type of squash, originally found in Mexico. Currently, 1.5 billion tons are produced in America, mostly in Illinois.

Pumpkin is highly nutritious... Well duh, it is a vegetable. One cup of boiled, mashed pumpkin (245g) contains about:
  • 50 calories
  • 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, almost nil sodium
  • 3g fiber
  • 2g sugar (remember this when reading the Starbucks section below)
  • 2g protein
  • 6% of your folate (a B vitamin necessary for cell growth and metabolism)
  • 8% of your iron (a mineral needed to transport oxygen around the body)
  • 16% of your potassium (a mineral used for nerve signaling and muscle contractions)
  • 19% of your vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin involved in skin and tissue formation, wound healing, repair, and maintenance of bones, cartilage and teeth)
  • 245% of your vitamin A (a fat soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant needed for vision, bone growth, immune function, and reproduction)
Btw, here's a new article adding to the body of evidence, just how awesome vegetables are at keeping your body weight manageable.

Even Google loves pumpkins
Now, to some of the things we're calling "pumpkin" or "pumpkin spice". Here's how some Starbucks favourites measure up nutritionally...

* Note: the following numbers represent Grande size, with 2% milk, and no whipped cream! If you add cream, add about 100cal):
Or, you can be "healthy" and get the "lite" version:
Pumpkin Spice Light Frappuccino = 180cal, still 40g sugar (Grande, no whip)

Or if you'd like to get some of your calories from something solid (still at Starbucks), you can try:
  • Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin  = 350cal, 34g sugar, 14g fat, and 430mg sodium (that's 18% of your recommendation for the day)
  • Pumpkin bread = 410cal, 39g sugar, 15g fat, 500mg sodium... And a piddly 2g of fiber (adults need 25-35g of fiber daily)
What about some other pumpkin-pushing products? Do they actually contain any pumpkin? The results were surprising:
  • Pumpkin spiced Oreos - No pumpkin detected. But plenty of sugar, palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, and colors
  • Pumpkin pie spice M&Ms - Ingredients list is vague, only noting artificial colors and flavors (including on the front of package), needless to say... No pumpkin there
  • Ben and Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream - Contains pumpkin purée! (6th ingredient)
  • Cedar's pumpkin hummus - Contains pumpkin (2nd ingredient)
  • Keebler fudge stripes pumpkin spice - No pumpkin, but does have an impressive list of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, several hydrogenated oils (AKA trans fat), colors, and flavors
  • Chobani Greek yogurt pumpkin spice - Does contain pumpkin purée, but low-ish on the ingredients list... Not enough to provide any fiber in the serve, and evaporated cane juice (AKA sugar) features 2 ingredients ahead of the pumpkin
  • Pillsbury pumpkin spice rolls - No pumpkin. Kind of a surprise actually. But again, plenty of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, colors and trans fat
  • Noosa Australian yogurt pumpkin flavor - The 2nd ingredient is "fruit purée" which does include pumpkin purée... But also water, sugar, and cream cheese. Followed by flavors and other forms of sugar. PS: Australians don't have a pumpkin fetish, so from an Australian's point of view, it's a little wrong to sell "Australian" pumpkin yoghurt... just sayin'
  • Alaskan Beer Pumpkin Ale - Does actually have pumpkin purée (well knock me over with a feather!) 5.5lbs are added to each barrel for mouth feel (I have no idea how much that comes out to per bottle, but so far, beer is beating Oreos and Pillsbury)
  • Jif whipped peanut butter and pumpkin pie spice flavored spread - That's a mouthful... And it's a mouthful of peanuts, trans fat, sugar, flavors, but no actual pumpkin. PS: peanut butter should contain: peanuts... Not sugar and oil as well
  • Pop-Tarts pumpkin pie - About 1/3 down the long list of ingredients you do see "pumpkin"... right after "salt". I'd say, if there's more salt than pumpkin in a "pumpkin pie pop-tart"... Keep walking
Walk away from non-pumpkin pumpkin "foods"
I don't mean to spoil anyone's fun... Well, maybe I do. But being aware of food crazes is probably useful. Some take home points:
  • Doesn't matter how popular it is... Pick up the product, flip it over and read the ingredients, if it's full of crap, put it down and walk away
  • A pumpkin Oreo (even if it actually contained pumpkin) doesn't count as a vegetable, and you know it
  • Find a recipe to make your own pumpkin thing (bread, muffins, etc) that actually contains pumpkin puree or shredded pumpkin

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Soda & Skittles Protest Taxation without Representation

Eat less junk, buy more healthy food (hey, we just had an article about that)... The question is, should we tax "junk" foods? Maybe we should subsidise "healthy" foods? It just so happens there's some research about this. Before the food prudes ban pizza and Robin Hood's health nuts give away grapes, garlic, and... Nuts, let's see about that science.

The thought with taxes: People are deterred from buying crummy food if it's more expensive, and, in theory, the collected money goes toward paying medical bills associated with chronic fatness... Sorry if that's a little politically incorrect... But seriously, being fat brings with it a bunch of expensive diseases.

Non-communicable diseases account for 60% of deaths annually, and 40% of those are caused by dietary factors like scoffing salt-plastered, fatty, and sweat foods, and not eating your fruit and veggies. This costs billions and takes its toll on the environment, economies, and healthcare systems alike.

On the flip side, if healthy food fodder is cheaper, people are incentivised to buy and eat those, which helps people maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.

Here's what the researchers found from 78 studies:
  • Consistent evidence that taxes and subsidies did, in fact, influence dietary behaviours
  • Evidence suggested a minimum of 10-15% tax/subsidy was the most effective
  • Using subsidies and taxes in tandem (together, rather than singly) was more effective
  • Ongoing evaluation is important to track both intentional and unintentional effects
Such policies are best used as part of a greater framework to promote health and nutrition education and also focus on reducing poverty. Lower-income folks and those in rural areas are special populations. Further research will determine if such legislation yields benefits. 

As for the rest of us, taxation and subsidisation with representation may be necessary to save us from our greedy selves.

A "PS" of sorts: An even newer study found that some items were more sensitive than others, and a minimum 20% tax on soft drinks, sugar, and snacks is needed to influence consumption.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

10+ Ways to Eat Healthy for Cheap

This debate of healthy food costing more than junk food has reached a point in my mind where I may explode if I see another headline feeding the frenzy of foolish folks who falsely have faith in this fallacy.

First, I must confess it took all my self control to not throw an F-bomb into the alliteration mix. Fierce passion flows through my veins for this issue.

The Sorry Stats
Only a pathetic 13% of Americans eat the recommended servings of fruit per day (1.5-2 cups). And an even more measly (less than) 9% of Americans meet the veg recommendations (2-3 cups).

So here are 10+ things you can do to eat healthy for cheap:
  1. Look for sales!
    • Pay attention to your mail ads and coupons (or use the internet)
  2. Be supermarket-ly promiscuous
    • Try different supermarkets according to their sales
    • Ethnic markets tend to have cheaper fresh produce - remember, beautiful is bland and ugly is tasty (don't buy based on appearance)
  3. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables
    • Buying strawberries in winter? You're wasting money
    • Squash and pumpkins are cheap most of the year, especially in winter, they last for months, and are delicious roasted
  4. Buy frozen fruit and vegetables
    • Sometimes cheaper
    • Just as good as fresh, sometimes better (1, 2)
    • Less waste
    • Always in your freezer
    • Add to soups
    • Add to stir fries
    • Add frozen fruit to smoothies
  5.  Think canned and jarred! Oh yes, you can can
    • Sometimes cheaper
    • Just as good as fresh, sometimes better (1, 2)
    • Rinse canned veg to remove the salt
    • Add to soups
    • Add to stir fries
    • Add to salad
    • Make your own spaghetti sauce with canned tomatoes (cheaper, healthier, delicious)
  6. Try new fruit and vegetables corresponding to sales
    • Google a recipe for a new type of food and see how you like it
  7. Buy beans (dried and true...)
    • A cheap alternative to meat
    • Good source of lean protein and complex carbs
    • Counts as vegetables
    • Buy dry or canned (rinse canned to expel salt) - they last a long time and can be used in many ways (refried beans, hummus, bean dip, add to soups, add to curries, add to salads... The possibilities are endless - especially with the internet)
  8. Give organic the boot
    • No question, organic is better for the environment (or is it?), but while the organic market is taking advantage of the consumer and charging twice the price... Buy conventional (they both need to be washed anyway)
  9. Rethink your cereal
    • Boxed cereal is robbing you blind
    • "Healthy" boxed cereal is also robbing you blind
    • Buy a bulk bag of rolled oats and add your own cinnamon, or fruit, or vanilla rather than spending 50% more buying it with that stuff already added 
  10. Buy whole food
    • No, I'm not talking about going to Wholefoods or buying "clean" foods (whatever that means anyway)
    • An example: buy a whole chicken, or two (when they're on sale, of course)
      • Go on youtube and spend 10 minutes learning how to carve it up (here, did it for you!)
      • Freeze the cuts to cook later (with lots of veggies)
      • Boil the bones, giblets, and wing tips... Make a stock, freeze it, use it later
      • Use the stock to make a vegetable soup
      • ... Voila, you've just spent ~$6 on an on-sale chicken and got upwards of 10 meals
  11. There is no healthy ice cream
    • Marketers are happy to sell you a watered down, chemical concoction for big bucks
    • Better off buying the real thing for less and spending your extra cash on some fresh stuff
What else can you do?
  • Make your food at home
    • Seriously, spend 10 minutes prepping your lunch at home, it will save you $$ and calories
  • Forgo your daily $5 latte
    • That's $25+ per week that can go to your groceries rather than your urine (think frugally)
  • Trade recipes with coworkers or friends
    • If you want to try something new, ask a friend or work buddy for their favourite recipe

What the heck is a serve anyway?
Any idiot can consult Dr. Google with a phrase such as "what does a serve of vegetables look like". Guess what pops up on the first page?
  • This website includes pictures of what a serve looks like and ways to cook veggies
  • This website shows mock-ups and gives examples of what a serve is for all the food groups
  • This website gives quantities of what a serve is and several healthy tips
  • This website gives you examples, tips and recipes
Wake up people all over the world! Eating and buying healthy is easy.

It takes some planning, don't let that scare you. No one got anywhere without working for it. Consider it a challenge. Add up your grocery bills for the last month and add in all the times your ate/drank away from home. That number is your challenge, and you can beat it!

Let's call it #EatHealthyForCheap

These were the offending articles stating healthier food is more expensive. I'd like to point out, if you're not a savvy, smart shopper... Everything is more expensive.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/08/us-health-diet-costs-idUSKCN0PI1YR20150708
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150708072101.htm 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Label Warfare

When I started this blog over two years ago, I wanted to write an article discussing (well... scrutinising) the American food label compared with the Australian one. With all the coverage the new proposed FDA label regulations are getting, I'd say it's the perfect opportunity!

Let's not beat around the bush. The take home message:
  1. The US needs a standardized column (eg: per 100g) in addition to the "per serve" column
    • See label comparison below
The end. That's it. We're done. Go home.
 
Ok, we can talk about the proposed changes too. They include:
  1. Make the number of calories per serve larger and bold
  2. Make a serve more realistic
  3. Put the %DV (daily value) on the left, rather than the bottom. Eg: so the %DV for fat is next to the grams of fat
  4. Add an "added sugars" section under sugars
  5. Remove "calories from fat"
** View the changes here, scroll about half way down.
You're dying to hear my thoughts, I know...
  1. Making the total calories larger and bold
    • Won't help someone who doesn't know what a calorie is
    • Won't help if they don't know how many calories should be in something like a granola bar
  2. Make the serves more realistic
    • An inspired idea! Who ever sat down and only ate 11 potato chips?
  3. The %DV
    • It may be useful to have this right next to the corresponding nutrient
    • BUT the %DV in and of itself is actually pretty useless
    • BECAUSE most people don't need 2,000kcal/day (this is an average, meaning 50% of people need more and 50% need less)
    • Most ladies need less, most people over 70 need less, children need less, most men need more, teens need more, very active people need more
    • Bottom line - %DV is not applicable to the majority of the population, why is it there?!
  4. Added sugars
    • I'm on the fence about this... Something like a granola bar tends to have a lot of added sugar, but people think they're healthy... So if people look at the added sugars and realise it isn't a good choice, maybe they won't buy it...?
  5. Remove calories from fat
    • I think this is a good thing, it's the type of fat that is important
    • In case you forgot: Minimise saturated/trans fat, increase poly/monounsaturated fat
Health professionals want you not to feel like this in the supermarket!
What's still missing? The standardised per 100g column. Why?
  • It gives consumers a quick and easy way to compare brands of similar products
  • It's much easier to say "when buying yoghurt, look for a product that has <10g of sugar per 100g"
  • It means manufactures can't hide things like trans fat
    • Currently, trans fat only need appear on the label if there's more than 0.5g per serve
    • If you have a tiny serve, you would see trans fat as 0... when in reality, there is trans fat
    • If you have spray oil, the "serve" is something ridiculous like 0.5 seconds of a spray = 0 calories... Sure, but it's oil! You bet your bottom dollar there are calories there. This is deliberately misleading consumers

Now, compare that to two Australian labels side by side:


Giving consumers the tools to choose healthier products and provide faster, easier, simpler label reading education... If that's not enough to convince you, maybe a slap in the face with a bag of beans would help?

Public comment is open on these proposed changes now through till October 13 2015. Click here and scroll to "comment now on the supplemental proposed rule". Do it!!

Below are some links that give some more info on the Aussie food label and some examples.
 
And finally, Pie Hole is taking a short sabbatical for the month of August. We'll be back with fantastic new articles about all things food, good health, and nutrition. Stay happy and healthy! 
 
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Food_labels_explained

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Get Hooked on Fish Food pt II

In pt I we filleted the fishy facts about fish being down right fantastic for your health. Along with that were the benefits of omega-3s during pregnancy, oh and that feeding your face fresh fish during pregnancy was a great thing too.

No more should we flounder over the benefits of fish, they're freakin' fantastic and that's a school of thought to high five your flippers over.

Only over and over do we hear of the outright obvious and overt benefits of omega-3s. So what about the pill-popping, supplement-happy crowd? Let's discuss...

The fishy facts of fish oil supplements
Yes, you can get your omega-3s in pill form, and for people who are allergic to seafood, this is a good option. But for the rest of us, a "fish first" philosophy is far more fitting.

Why? Here's the science:
  • One meta analysis reviewed 13 studies and found no benefit of supplemental omega-3s with relation to human brain development
  • Another meta analysis reviewed 18 studies and found the same results
What we're saying is, there's more to fish than omega-3s. If you want to know what's tipping the scales (so to speak) it's that friendly fishy fish-flesh is more complex than just omega-3s.

Allow me to introduce a great term: "Synergistic effect of food":
  • Food has so much more to offer than a pill
  • Fish, the food contains iodine, vitamin D, a range of amino acids and other health-promoting antioxidant compounds
  • Fish is an excellent source of lean protein
These points are a perfect example of "food synergy".

Ok, ok, ok... Let's get back to mercury, the mean side of marine meat. I'm just going to give you the take home points pertaining to mercury...
  • Large fatty fish are high in mercury
  • Small fatty fish and small lean fish are the best choices (see below)
  • Even during pregnancy, low mercury fish is encouraged and are a better choice than omega-3 supplements
Lowest mercury fish (top left), low mercury fish (bottom left), and fish to avoid (right). Adapted from: http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/.a/6a00e551f37027883301b8d061be78970c-popup
Lastly, farmed fish... It's fairly controversial. So here are a five facts to consider:
  1. They are low in methyl-mercury
  2. Feeds are strictly monitored
  3. Farmed salmon isn't injected with pink dye
    • Wild salmon eat shellfish that contain carotenoids (a natural pigment, antioxidant, and vitamin A precursor)
    • These carotenoids give salmon their colouring, farmed fish feed contain these carotenoids, hence farmed fish get their colouring
  4. As with any meat product, there are environmental concerns, you can read more about that here and here
  5. Farmed salmon is safe and actually great during pregnancy
    • Research shows farmed salmon increases antioxidant defenses during pregnancy
Hopefully this fish tail has shed some light on the benefits of fish and inspired you to try a few new varieties. Maybe a fish dish like fish head stew is on the cards soon?

Here are a bunch more great resources:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Get Hooked on Fish Food pt I

Gather 'round as we talk o' a fish tail... Here's diving into why fish are both friends and food.

Fish flesh is not just a great source of lean protein, omega 3 fatty acids and a slew of other food-for-you stuff... It also appears to possess antioxidant qualities.

Research showed people who ate more than 175g of fatty fish each week had significantly higher levels of healthy fats (DHA and EPA) and significantly lower levels of oxidative stress/free radicals (explanation here.) This might explain why mermen are so buff.

Translation? 
Eating at least the recommended amount of fatty fish is not a scientific fish tale... Current American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 2-3 serves/wk, which equals 200g/wk (~7 oz) minimum.

Ok, you say, but what about all the things you've heard about mercury, and tuna, and eating fish during pregnancy? What about farmed vs wild fish? What about omega-3 supplements?

In order to adequately address these important issues, we're gonna have to split this filet-o-fish. Pt I will discuss the benefits/recommendations for fish during pregnancy. Pt II will discuss supplements, farmed vs wild, mercury and a few other fishy features.

Catch of the day is A-Ok during Pregnancy 
Recommendations are still 2-3 serves of fish for pregnancy women. However, the type of fish is important!

Madaam Mercury... or is that Methylmercury?
Mercury is found both naturally and as a contaminant in the environment. When this mercury finds its way into water, it ends up in fish tissues and is called methylmercury. Larger fish tend to have higher amounts of methylmercury because they eat many smaller fish, this is the principle of 'bioaccumulation'.
So, not all fish are created equal... Keep that hook in mind for pt II.

Benefits of fish during pregnancy
There are many, let me aggregate them for you:

  • Omega-3s are linked with preventing low birth weight babies
  • Omega-3s are linked with preventing pre-term labor
  • Omega-3s are linked with preventing pre-eclampsia (layman's: high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  • Omega-3s improve placental blood flow, dilation of tissues and promote growth factors important for fetal growth and development
  • Omega-3s are linked to higher levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in breastmilk
  • More than 1 serve of seafood/wk improves fetal brain development 
  • Omega-3s during pregnancy are hypothesised to decrease allergic disease in children (more research needed)
  • Omega-3s during pregnancy are linked to healthier BMI scores in older children
So, eating fish during pregnancy improves baby health... But does low or no fish have a negative effect?
There's still more so much more to net. Next article, we'll take stock in supplemental fish oil, sink our teeth into different kinds of fish, trawl farmed vs wild fish, and further find fantastic reasons for fish fanaticism.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Does this Protein Bar Make Me Look Fat pt II

Previously, we pulled out some protein-packed stats about, well, protein. Today, strap yourselves in for a perilous pilgrimage to protein town...

Once upon a time, carbohydrate loading was the thing. Now we've determined protein is preferable. We humans always feel like we've got to load up on something. So listen up you protein-pounding gym-junkies and body-builders, it might be time to ditch your expensive protein powders and chalky protein power bars. 

Why? A few reasons actually:
  • When you consume excess amino acids (AAs), 2 things happen:
    1. Your body breaks them down and uses them for energy (if you're working out)
    2. Your body stores them as fat (like what happens when you eat too many carbohydrates)
AA background: AAs contain a nitrogen group which your body needs to remove in order to use them for energy or store them as fat. Once removed, the nitrogen forms ammonia (which, btw is toxic.) The body then converts the ammonia to urea, which eventually exits the body in urine.

Fun fact: Your body excretes 5-7g of nitrogen per day, which equates to roughly 30-40g of protein... This is why you need to eat protein every day!

Ok, so back to breaking down AAs: The final by-product is urea. Now, it's important to note there is a maximum rate of urea synthesis - meaning your body can only convert so much ammonia into urea per unit of time... Even if you consume a large amount of protein.

Given this piece of information, 2.5g/kg/day of protein is the maximum amount of protein a person should consume, lest dangerous amounts of ammonia (toxic - remember?) accumulate in your blood.

Refresher: The average person needs ~0.8g/kg/day*.
Special populations: 
  • Research shows older adults need more to maintain muscle mass (don't get excited, it's ~1.0g/kg/day), and resistance exercise is also highly recommended to maintain muscles
  • High level athletes also need extra protein
    • Needs vary depending on the sport, hours spent training, age and gender
    • Usually needs are 1-1.8g/kg/day
    • Reality check: Athlete is a broad term, but the guy who goes to the gym for an hour 2-3 times a week, doesn't need copious amount of extra protein... Truly
Another noteworthy fact is your body's ability to absorb protein is limited to ~5-8g/hour (whey protein isolate is a little higher at 8-10g/hour). A meal with ~25-30g of protein is optimal. So your post workout protein power bar with 30g of protein, followed by 30g more from your post workout meal means half of that protein is toilet-bound.

For the gym-junkies and bro-science body-builders, here's another fun fact: Consuming protein post-workout is fairly useless unless you've got adequate carbs as well.

Tip: Medium to high glycemic index (GI) carbs are recommended after a workout. This not only promotes glycogen re-synthesis, it causes the release of insulin which helps your body take up carbs and amino acids, and simultaneously inhibits muscle breakdown.

Lastly, a note for my vegetarian and vegan friends. You guys are recommended to eat an additional 10% of your calories from protein to compensate for the lower digestibility associated with plant proteins. This is not difficult if you're getting adequate calories.

And very lastly, if you did need even more reasons to chill out on your protein... Here you go:
  • New research shows a link between muscle building supplements (including protein powders and power bars) and up to a 65% increased risk of testicular cancer. Goodness, gracious, great balls of cancer!
  • More and more research and testing shows supplements often don't contain the ingredients they advertise, or are contaminated with potentially dangerous substances. At least when you bite into a chicken breast, you don't find grass clippings and it won't cause testicular shrinkage
And perhaps most importantly... Why spend money on highly processed protein powders and a plethora of pointless protein products when you can easily get what you need from actual food?
* You can workout your own protein needs by multiplying your weight in kgs by 0.8g. EG: if you weigh 135lbs, that's 61kgs. 61kgs x 0.8g = 49g of protein needed per day.
NOTE:
Uncited sports related info came from the sports nutrition textbook: Nutrition for Sport and Exercise, 3rd Edition. Marie Dunford and J. Andrew Doyle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Does this Protein Bar Make Me Look Fat? Pt I

Protein, protein, protein. If you're a gym goer of any kind, you've probably heard some bro-science (translation: not real science) about protein. More than likely, you've overheard conversations about people's protein bar meal replacements, protein snack bars, protein recovery shakes or a protein product promising a pink panther driving a Porsche... Or something. Let's powwow about protein.

A few fun facts to get us started:
  • The building blocks of protein are called amino acids (AAs)
    • There are 20 AAs
    • 9 essential, 11 non-essential
    • Essential means we must get them from food
  • Protein is not stored in the body
    • Body proteins are in a constant state of 'flux' (constantly being broken down and rebuilt)
    • That's why we've got to eat protein daily
  • Protein is important for many things in our bodies 
    • Muscles, cells, enzymes, hormones.. Just to name a few
  • Plant and animal products both contain protein (more on this in pt II)
  • Studies show protein helps us to feel satiated/satisfied
So, if protein is good... More protein must be better, right? Umm, well... No. Happy to burst your bubble here. A little more info? Let's start off with how much protein our bodies actually need:
  • Current guidelines recommend 10-35% of our daily calories come from protein
  • For the average adult, the recommendation is 0.8g/kg (this number may increase for those who are physically active, pregnant, growing or for older adults - much more on this in pt II)
    • Eg: If you weigh 70kg (154lbs) you need roughly 56g of protein daily
  • The average 19-30 year old eats 91grams of protein per day
People lucky enough to live in developed countries are rarely deficient in protein (as you just saw.) 
So, protein supplements... Let me pose you this question: What happens when you eat too many carbohydrates?
Answer: Whatever your body doesn't use immediately to run away from a lion, is stored as glycogen... Until your muscles and liver are filled up and can't store any more glycogen (yes, there's a maximum, kind of like your piggy bank.) The rest gets stored as fat.
Ever wondered what happens when you eat too much protein? Yep, the extra stored as fat, just like extra carbs. Pigging out on protein is pretty pointless.

Digest that and in the next installment of this mind-blowing madness, we'll discuss how your body breaks down protein, the consequences of excess protein, protein needs for active people, vegetarian people and older people.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Crafty Craft Crap

I hope you're reading this with your craft beer in one hand and your craft soda in the other... No, that's a lie. And that's "craft" not "Kraft", even though Kraft had some recent bad publicity re our national US dietitian academy. But yeah, we're covering "craft" food.

Strolled through your supermarket lately and seen craft beer? Maybe craft bread or craft cheese? Or most recently, craft soda? The more 'whole-foods' your supermarket is, the more likely you've seen them.

What the heck is 'craft' anyway?
Good question! I searched, but alas I could not find how the FDA defines 'craft' with relation to food. This leads me to believe there is no legally binding definition. Kind of like other claims commonly used to persuade you to buy food... Like 'natural', or 'wholesome'.

The layman's definition of 'craft food' is something like this: "Food prepared carefully using superior quality ingredients, contrast to fast food". So by that definition, I made craft oatmeal this morning and a craft peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch, oh and let's not forget that craft omelet with craft sauteed veggies I crafted for dinner.

The other catch word is 'artisan'. Definition: "Traditionally handmade, rural or pastoral goods but are also now commonly made on a larger scale". Thank you wikipedia for that definition.

Marketing
Clever. Makes you think you're special. Makes you think your beer or bread was made just for you. Makes you think your brew was crafted by the artistic, organic hands of Samuel Adams himself, rather than the finance-focused marketing department.

Craft soda or crafty soda? A reality check.
The ingredients in a carbonated beverage: Carbonated water, a sweetener, an acid, spices/flavours.
How do these differ between craft and conventional?
  • Craft tends to use 'purified' carbonated water, not just regular carbonated water
    • Note: Whoopty-damn-do
  • Craft uses real sugar, compared with some large companies who use high fructose corn syrup
    • Note #1: Based on the research, my opinion is that sugar is preferable to HFCS
    • Note #2: Sugar does not make soda healthy
    • Note #3: A multitude of studies implicate soda consumption in obesity, type II diabetes, insulin resistance, and ultimately... Death
  • Craft uses an acid like citric acid compared to phosphoric acid (PA)
    • Note #1: People blame PA for low bone density
    • Note #2: Research shows the phosphorus:calcium ratio in a meal (and overall diet) is important. Saying PA causes low bone density is not correct. A diet high in phosphorus and simultaneously low in calcium, causes low bone density

The soundbite? 
Soda is not healthy, period. Your body doesn't care two hoots if you spent $7 on a craft soda vs $1 on a regular one. If you really want to treat yourself to a soda, buy the one you like... Just don't delude yourself into thinking 'craft' is healthier.