Friday, May 8, 2009

why I haven't posted yet

Greetings everyone,

In case you were sitting at the edge of your seat, waiting for my last post, the reason it's not here yet and won't be is because finals came, a job application deadline came and went, I got the job I wanted, finals finally finished, I had a job orientation and tomorrow I'm flying to visit my grandparents. So I'll be in Europe for the next 3 weeks and will most likely not feel like posting a blog. I will however compose a post once I get back.

Till then, be good, be safe and have a great May. =)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Organic vs. Conventional Produce: The Face-Off

Greetings friends,

Last week I posted little sneak peek of the differences between organic food and conventionally grown food. As the video states, a food is considered organic if it is not genetically modified and is produced without the use of pesticides, fertilizer, sewage sludge and radiation. Consequently this implies that conventional farming employs one or more of these methods. Since we are in a very real sense what we eat—what we put into our bodies is what the body has available to keep us functioning—plants, too are in a real sense what they absorb.

So what impact do conventional farming methods have on the produce we eat? Well for starters all these methods are more or less unnatural, as in they do not offer the ideal environment for the organism to develop. And without getting what they naturally need, the organisms get sick.

  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been engineered to either produce more, last longer, or be more resistant to pesticides. The problem is that we haven't been engineered along with them to effortlessly adapt to their changes. In some cases, crops like soybeans have been modified for greater resistance to pests by concentrating their natural poisons. So we're eating food that contains more toxins than our bodies would normally have to deal with. (Most plants have natural toxins, but in most food crops they are in such small concentrations that we can easily metabolize them.) You can take a look at my soy blog to get more details about all the cancers and problems in which soy, especially genetically modified soy, is implicated.

  • Pesticides are used in conventional farming to ensure that the least amount of the crops is eaten by bugs. This yields a greater harvest and thus more products, but the problem is that it also yields chemical residue on our dinner plates. Most pesticides are known carcinogens and are likely to cause cancer especially over years of consumption. And children are more sensitive to getting sick from them than adults.

  • Fertilizers have to be used in conventional farming methods because, unlike in traditional farming, the same plot of land gets reused year after year without giving the soil any time to recover. Traditionally farmers would rotate different crops on the same plot of land and occasionally not grow anything on there for a while. Conventional farmers don't practice crop rotation and leech all nutrients from the soil and then they add synthetic fertilizers that make the crops look nice. The problem with these nice-looking crops is that they have a fraction of the nutritional value that they would have had they been grown on soil that was still alive. Here is an interview that explains farming methods, their impact on food and consequently on the consumers.

  • Sewage sludge pretty much speaks for itself. It's crap that's being absorbed by plants and then eaten by us.

  • Radiation is my most recent and most saddening discovery. Basically to give otherwise perishable fresh fruits and vegetables a longer shelf-life, some manufacturers irradiate the produce. This kills a lot of the microorganism that would normally cause rotting. The problem is that the radiation doesn't discriminate between microorganisms that we need and those we don't. Furthermore it damages the food and creates free radicals as well as URPs—Unique Radiolytic Products. UPRs are free radicals that after being caused by radiation have combined with other chemicals, such as pesticides, and are quite unique in the damage they can do to us. I don't particularly like the way this video is presented, but it's informational and calls attention to the fact that it's not required of manufacturers to label irradiated foods. They're still allowed to call them fresh.

For a while there has been a debate raging between people who claimed that organic farming was just better for the environment than conventional farming and that it made no difference which produce people ended up eating, and people who claimed that organic food itself was better for humans than conventionally grown food. As far as I understand there are still some people out there who claim that conventionally grown food is as good for you as organic food. Well, that's been shown to be a lie. Organic produce is better for your health than the alternative. If you go into a supermarket and hold up a can of conventional black beans next to an organic one, you'll notice that the vitamin and nutrient count is higher in the organic beans. Go ahead and compare any organic and non-organic nutrition labels and see what you'll find. It's very likely that the organic food will also be higher in calories, but these aren't the empty calories that deplete your body of vitamins, enzymes and minerals as you digest them. These are the calories that will give you energy, nutrients and probably help you to stay or become lean.

A Danish study conducted in 2005 shows that rats fed organic food actually had better immune systems and were less obese than their conventionally fed counterparts. To read about that and a lot more information on organic food you can click this link and scroll down to why organic foods are better for health.

While I would love to eat everything organic, I cannot afford it because conventional farming is subsidized by the government and therefore often, though not always, cheaper. However after doing this research, I am no longer wondering how much better organic foods are for me, but I'm beginning to wonder if conventionally grown foods aren't actually flat out harmful. I don't feel that I know enough to make that claim, but the question is in the back of my mind. Meanwhile if you're not convinced by the benefits of organic foods and farming, here are 10 more reasons in favor of organic. Among them one of the best is that unlike conventional farming methods, organic farming is sustainable and conserves the environment. It is the natural way of growing food and it yields living, healthy produce. Since we are what we eat, in my opinion we should aim for healthy and alive instead of chemically contaminated and nutritionally compromised.

But this is the gist of organic versus conventional. I hope that after reading this you'll reconsider some of your shopping practices or at least be more aware of the ways seemingly fresh and good produce can impact your health. Next week I'll be talking about organic animal products and what impact the manufacturing method has on the resulting products, so make sure to tune back in.

Till then,

Health is not valued till sickness comes.”--Thomas Fuller

Friday, April 17, 2009

Organic Preview

You will quickly notice that this is not quite a full-blown post. Due to finals, the full-blown post has been postponed until further notice, ... all right, until next week when I'm done with all the major crazy deadlines and only have a course outline and a final portfolio left to handle. But despite the disappearance of my semi-free time, I didn't want to let down those of you who tuned in to learn about organic food. So for starters, here is a great and detailed video explanation of the difference between organic and conventional foods by one of my favorite nutritionists. So check it out, make sure you watch the second part, too (both of them combined are only about 15 minutes) and bring the knowledge with you next week when we will brave the front lines of organic food versus conventional food.

Till then,
remember that stress reduction is an excellent way to help yourself stay healthy. =)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Some Sweet Alternatives

Greetings everyone!

Like promised I'm back and I hope you took a look at the mini-post I put up during my time out. This blog will be finishing off the sugar debate. So far I've explained that processed sugar is essentially a drug that really shouldn't be ingested and especially not ingested in the quantities in which most of us consume it. The last statistics I found say that today the average American eats about 150 pounds of sugar a year. Historically the American diet has been becoming increasingly more sweet to the point that if you check any processed item in your house now you'll likely find sugar or high fructose corn syrup amongst its ingredients. So with all of that established, what are the sugar alternatives?

Let's look at artificial zero-calorie sweeteners. The key thing to keep in mind is that it's not really smart to replace a drug with a poison. Artificial sweeteners are called such because they don't occur in nature. They are chemicals manufactured in a laboratory and they happen to taste sweet. This isn't to say that everything that's artificially created is necessarily harmful for you, but it's a pretty good heuristic when it comes to food. The human body hasn't evolved to process large amounts of artificial chemicals. Here are a few facts on the two leading artificial sweeteners:

Aspartame (Nutrasweet & Equal)—it is a chemical that consists 90% of Phenylalanine and aspartic acid, two components that immediately enter the bloodstream and act as excitatory neuro-toxins in your brain. That is, they excite the nerve cells in your brain and get them to fire with heightened intensity. If too much of the chemical is present or if it happens too often, the nerve cells die from rapid overuse. The remaining 10% of aspartame is methanol, which is wood alcohol. While wood alcohol is a very potent poison and about 2 teaspoons of it can kill an adult, it's obviously not concentrated enough in aspartame to kill you. The interesting thing that does happen is that when your body is metabolizing methanol it turns into formaldehyde and formic acid, which are embalming fluid and ant poison respectively. In other words, to keep tissues from decomposing, doctors and/or (forensic) scientists put them into formaldehyde. On first thought it might even sound good, like hey my organs will stay fresh, but really that's not the case.

All in all aspartame has not a shred of a redeeming quality, but it's unfortunately in over 6000 products world-wide. To my greatest dismay it's in my flipping gum! Granted only a tiny percentage, but still. I'd like to chew aspartame-free gum, but none is available in any store I've ever looked into. So if any of you know a brand that I wouldn't have to order online, and is aspartame-free let me know. If you're wondering how come aspartame got into the human food-supply despite its toxicity, the story is a book-length scandal and involves lots of money and the over-riding of 6 separate scientific recommendations to not manufacture aspartame. To give the FDA some credit though, they did deny aspartame approval until the new commissioner overruled the final review panel, ... and then he quit to go to work for the aspartame manufacturer. I'm not kidding. On to the next one.

Sucralose (Splenda)—Like aspartame, sucralose is also an artificial chemical that tastes sweet. It was discovered on accident by two researchers trying to develop a new pesticide. Sucralose is a chlorocarbon which essentially means it's related to DDT and other poisons. It contains chlorine which is a known carcinogen. However, to keep the chlorine from breaking free in your body, the manufacturers use a load of other chemicals, including methanol and formaldehyde to produce sucralose. Whether or not that's actually working seems to still be unclear because sucralose hasn't been around long enough to determine any long-term risk of cancers. To be fair it is widely regarded as safer than aspartame. To be realistic, that's like saying insecticides are less harmful than rat poison. Although the jury is still out on the extent of the damages sucralose can cause, here is the sucralose toxicity information center. If you want to know more, here is a pretty good article.

I could go on and on and talk about other artificial sweeteners, like Sweet 'n Low, which is the chemical known as saccharine. The story is the same though. It's bad for you. It's been shown to cause cancer in test animals. You get the drift, ... eating artificial chemicals isn't good for your health.

Aside from being carcinogenic poisons, artificial sweeteners have another interesting side effect when it comes to diet soda. Namely studies show that drinking diet soda increases your chances for obesity. Ironically it seems that the artificial sugar makes your brain think that you're eating sugar so it decreases your blood sugar and makes you hungry. People who drink a diet soda before a meal have been shown to eat more calories during the meal than a non-diet soda drinking control group.

But enough about artificial sweeteners. Let's look at natural zero-calorie sweeteners. The by far best zero-calorie natural sugar substitute I've come across is derived from the stevia plant. It's a plant native to South America and it is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. A major advantage that it has over all artificial sweeteners, other than not being a compound that doesn't appear in nature, is that it's been in use for over 200 years. It doesn't mess with your blood sugar, and it's not cancerous. There is a ton of politics involved in this, but luckily it's been gaining a foothold on the American market to the point that in the upcoming years Coca Cola will launch a line of Sprite that's been sweetened with a stevia plant extract.

There are several different stevia plant products commercially available:

There's the brandname Stevia. I've never tried it nor have I ever seen it at a store, but it's available in liquid forms with tons of different flavors, so that's a plus. You can check it out here.

There is the brandname Purevia. I actually did try this and it's available at your average supermarket. It's in powder form and resembles finely granulated table sugar. I wasn't too fond of its taste though. It's hard to explain, but it tasted somewhat like the root of a plant. It was sweet, but weird. That's just my assessment though and if you'd like to, check it out here and try it for yourself.

Then there is brandname Truvia. I tried this one, too and got hooked on it. It's also available at average supermarkets. They say that they use the sweetest part of the stevia plant, called rebina, to make this sweetener and I think that's what made the difference for me. Truvia has the consistency of regular table sugar and you can check it out here. My testimonial is two thumbs up. I've been baking with it, putting it in my tea and oatmeal and it's never disappointed me. It's also the cheapest of the non-carcinogenic alternatives. Here in Boston it's about $3.49 for 40 packets that can last me 1-2 weeks depending on how much baking I do.

To be fair I am wondering whether natural zero-calorie sweeteners also have the brain-tricking effect that promotes hunger, but I haven't been able to find anything that indicates that so far. If you do find sources which deal with that aspect, please let me know. I'm curious.

All right, on to the caloric sugar substitutes.

The two major healthy ones that I stumbled upon are raw honey and agave nectar.

Raw honey, unlike processed honey, is a living and breathing food with great immune benefits. Because it hasn't been heated it still retains enzymes that help your body recover from stomach ulcers, sore throats or other infections. Furthermore unprocessed, raw honey retains its complex chemical structure which means that your body will actually have to digest it and that it won't go straight into your bloodstream and give you a sugar-high and then a crash. It's incredibly sweet which means you won't need much of it to sweeten your tea or whatever else you need sweetened, so the caloric intake won't be immense.

Agave nectar also has immune benefits similar to honey in that it can soothe inflammation and kill bacteria. Apparently the Aztecs used it on wounds to prevent and/or reverse bacterial infection. It's a viscous liquid that, has a low glycemic index, even slightly lower than raw honey, and won't spike your blood sugar.

There of course are other good and other bad sugar substitutes I didn't mention here, but I hope that the ones I did cover give you a good overview and a decent range of options for curbing or eliminating your refined sugar consumption.

Next week I'll be talking about organic food. Like what's the difference between organic versus conventionally grown food? Is it really better for you? Or is it better for the environment? Or both? And why is it more expensive? So tune in next Friday for that post, but meanwhile if you choose the raw honey or agave nectar go for the organic ones. =)

Till then,

"So many people spend their health gaining wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health."--A.J. Reb Materi

Sunday, April 5, 2009

To be or not to be addicted

I know I said I won't post until next week, and this isn't a post, but it was compelling enough to write about immediately.

So as I said, my little sister was visiting me and she expressed interest in becoming healthier because her physical activity has decreased dramatically now that she's no longer swimming regularly like she did when she was on the swim team. We determined her metabolic type (surprise, surprise we have the same type) and I put her through the motions of eating every 3-4 hours, keeping her metabolism up, eating the proper balance of macronutrients, etc. etc. And then, on Friday, I took her to town to see my school and friends and right about 6 pm, she became absolutely lethargic and tired while I was feeling like I could run a marathon. But looking at her, a 16-year-old on vacation with plenty of sleep, yet her eyelids were closing—it made me sad. I remembered that I too used to experience that late afternoon crash, which is right between lunch and dinner for us. The thing was that my sister didn't have any processed sugar while she was here, but like I used to be and like millions of people are, she is addicted to sugar. Sugar addiction is when you body learns to function with the incredibly sugar load you put into it through snacks, so that when you don't provide the sugar, your blood glucose drops and you become lethargic.

When it was happening to me, I'd just run across the street and buy my favorite chewy chocolate chip cookies. Heck, I didn't even have to wait to feel the fatigue. I was in tune with the first signs of sugar cravings. In my previous blog I said sugar is a drug. Today I watched a video that I had to share. It's about sugar withdrawal and what to do about it. But the quote that got me the most is that “if sugar were to be put on the market for the fist time today, the FDA would likely not approve it.” That made my day. Speaking of day, it's beautiful outside, so I'm off for a walk. Watch this video and pass it on. And have fun making educated, aware choices.

I'll be back next Friday.

Till then,

“One should eat to live, not live to eat.” --Moliere

"I don't want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I'm going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don't want to do so."--Paulo Coelho from The Alchemist

This is just to clear up misunderstandings (thanks for the heads up, Britt). I don't want people to stop using sugar. I want them to make educated decisions, even if that decision is to eat fast-food every day. Unless you're practically my family, I don't care what you're doing with your body, and even if I care, I won't expect change. I know probably better than most that you can't change people. They'll change when a myriad of semi-idiosyncratic factors lines up for them. But what I sure as heck can do is spread information, so that when eventually someone gets sick of being lethargic, addicted and on the verge of developing life-threatening illnesses, they'll remember the video and blog and have an idea about where to start with the change.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Some Very Sweet Problems

Greetings again,

In my last blog I mentioned that sugar is one of the factors involved in diabetes (which most people already know) and that it's also a factor that increases risk for heart disease (which fewer people know). I will mostly address the latter point because it is indeed so little known, but before I begin I'd like to explain that when I say “sugar” I'm referring to table sugar. No adverse effect mentioned in this blog applies to sugar in its natural, non-refined state i.e. in fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and veggies are low on the glycemic index* and our bodies can handle their sugar content with ease. As soon as you process it and thereby concentrate it, you get into trouble. I'm pretty sure no one claims that sugar is good for you, but I think you may be surprised just how bad for you it is. So this blog entry won't be so much about clarifying misconceptions, but rather about expanding awareness.

During my sugar research I came upon a very fitting “analogy” and I encourage you to remember it because it pretty much sums up the gist of this whole blog—sugar is a drug. It's addictive. It gives you a high. It produces withdrawal symptoms/cravings when you don't have any for a while. And it destroys your health. Here is a list of 76 negative effects of sugar including interference with mineral and protein absorption, causing of varicose veins, messing with your DNA structure, causing headaches and migraines, causing depression, aiding emotional instability, contributing to obesity and degenerative disorders etc.

I'd particularly like to address the fact that sugar suppresses your immune system for hours after you consume it. The effect starts less than 30 minutes after consumption and can last up to five hours afterwards. What happens on the molecular level is that sugar interferes with your white blood cells and decreases their ability to kill germs. Drinking two soda cans (which contain about 20 teaspoons of sugar) can reduce your white cell efficiency by 40% (if you're really interested in the nitty-gritty details this site and this site are pretty reader-friendly). So with this in mind consider “health foods” like Vitamin water. It has vitamins and minerals that are supposedly going to help you stay healthier, but it also contains 8 teaspoons of sugar (4 g = aprox. 1 tsp) that are going to suppress your immune system and block your mineral absorption. Keep this in mind and it will help you make genuinely healthy choices. And also keep in mind that this immune suppressing effect does not occur with starches and complex carbs, that is whole foods that naturally contain sugar.

So in addition to making you more susceptible to infectious disease, sugar also causes inflammation which is its key link to heart disease. Basically the more sugar you consume, the more your body makes C reactive protein (CRP). CRP is an excellent inflammation marker. The more inflammation markers you have, the greater your likelihood of heart disease and consequently heart attack. This research is fairly new (2005 and on) and prior to this pretty much everyone in the medical community thought of cholesterol as a predictor of heart disease. However, you can have high cholesterol and as long you have low inflammation markers, you are unlikely to develop heart disease. More and more medical professionals seem to be catching on to the idea that cholesterol really isn't the tell-tale sign of heart problems. But even before this new research came out, doctors had some inkling about sugar's role in coronary heart disease albeit they couldn't pinpoint the problem. Here is an American Health Association statement from 2002 if you're like me and like to smile at gradual changes.

All right, so refined sugar is pretty much horrible for your body, but there is actually something worse than sugar—high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I learned that there are actually TV commercials advertising that HFCS is made from corn and is just fine for you in moderation. I looked up a couple of the commercials and have to admit that they're ingeniously structured and executed, but they are also misleading just short of outright lying so that, I'm guessing, they can't get sued. HFCS is made from corn in the same sense that your car tires are made from rubber trees. And it's not made from sweet corn, but from inedible corn that is chemically processed with three different enzymes, broken down and concentrated into something that is even sweeter than sugar and is nowhere to be found in nature.

The first problem with HFCS is that it has a higher amount of fructose than glucose. Glucose is the sugar that gives you energy. Unlike glucose, fructose is digested differently and doesn't trigger insulin. Because insulin signals to your brain that you're full, you don't experience the feeling of satiety when you consume HFCS so you are not only consuming a concentrated drug, but you have to consume far more of it to feel like you've had enough. In short, it enables you to consume far more empty calories by circumventing your body's natural responses to too much food intake. The effect is absolutely worst when you're drinking HFCS (in pretty much every soft drink and most juices) because there is also no fiber to tell you you're full and should stop. So it's no wonder that HFCS is blamed for America's obesity epidemic amongst other factors (like the low-fat food craze).

The second problem with HFCS is that it has high levels of reactive carbonyls. Table sugar, because it has a solid molecular structure, while HFCS is liquid, doesn't have those reactive carbonyls. In gist reactive carbonyls are similar to free radicals and cause tissue damage that becomes a factor for diabetes. The levels of these molecules are worst in carbonated drinks though they are always present in HFCS regardless of its source. And speaking of source:

The biggest problem with HFCS is that it is everywhere. I challenge you to go to your pantry and pick up any box or can of something and check its ingredients list. I am willing to bet that unless you're a strict health fanatic (like I've become after a bit of this research) you'll find HFCS in your house. It's in breads and ketchup and foods that you'd never think would have sugar in them. I mean it's everywhere. So unless you don't eat processed foods, how are you supposed to eat HFCS in moderation like their ad recommends? Of course you shouldn't be eating HFCS at all though it won't kill you if it slips in now and then, (like small amounts of rat poison won't kill you either) but the problem is that it really is everywhere.

My main goal here is really just to make you aware that you're consuming far more sugar than you might think you are. The USDA says that we should not consume any more than 10 teaspoons of refined sugar a day. That's about 40 grams. If you're up for a challenge, I challenge you to see if you can manage to eat less than 40 grams of sugar a day. If despite reading all this you still aren't up for that challenge, I ask you to just wake up tomorrow and keep track of your sugar consumption. Don't even try to limit it, just observe it and see if you're surprised.

So now you realize how bad sugar is and that its uglier cousin has infiltrated all your food and you're wondering what your alternatives are. Well, I'll address sugar substitutes in my next blog, but as a little spoiler I'll tell you to stay away from aspretame and sucralose (Splenda). If you realized you're addicted to sugar and would like to get it under control here are a few tips by one of my favorite nutritionists. And I'd like to end this blog by saying that if you're frustrated about sugar being so bad, I completely understand. I know no one who has a bigger sweet tooth than I do. I mean I could eat half a pound of fudge and not get sick. Pretty bad. About 6 weeks ago, I stopped eating sugar/refined carbohydrates and have not craved it since I got over the withdrawal period. I feel that if I can stop eating sugar and be happy about it and not miss it, then I'm sure that the rest of the population can at the very least limit their sugar consumption.

My little sister is coming to visit me next week, so I'm taking that week off and won't be posting until Friday after next. But tune back in for some suggestions how to satisfy your sweet tooth and not risk diabetes or heart disease.

Till then,

Every patient carries his or her own doctor inside.”--Albert Schweitzer

*The glycemic index (GI) indicates how quickly foods raise your blood sugar/blood glucose levels. Foods are assigned numbers relative to table sugar and white flour, both of which are 100 and go practically directly into your blood stream because they are so highly processed that they don't need digestion. The result of eating foods high on the GI is a sugar high/energy rush followed by a crash. Foods lower on the GI are better for your overall health. There are few exceptions to this, like watermelons for example because although their GI is high, they are a nutritious and vitamin-rich food. But if you eat them by themselves, they'll cause the energy spike and crash nonetheless.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Picture Cholesterol as an Antioxidant*

Greetings friends,

I've had a wonderful break and am now ready to talk about cholesterol. In gist—please don't get a heart-attack over this—all you've heard about cholesterol through mainstream media is pretty much very wrong. Cholesterol does not cause heart attacks or indicate a greater risk for cardiovascular disease. That's almost the whole story, but to be fair, I'll offer some more explanation. Let's start with what cholesterol actually is and what it does in the body.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is technically something between a steroid and alcohol and is therefore designated as a sterol. It is manufactured primarily by our liver though the intestines, adrenal glands and reproductive organs synthesize some of it, too. As you can figure now, considering our body actually makes its own cholesterol, it is a highly important substance. Cholesterol performs a host of vital functions that amongst others include, building and maintaining cell membranes (the average human has 100 trillion cells), ensuring the semi-permeability of cell membranes so that the right substances can cross into the cell, manufacturing hormones, and it also functions as an inter-cellular mode of transport for other substances. If you remember from the last blog, 60% of our brains are made of fat. Well, cholesterol's role in that is to coat nerve fibers (myelin sheath) to ensure the speed of nerve impulse conduction that we enjoy. And all of these are just some of the functions. Finally, if your cholesterol is too low, you die.

Knowing this, you may wonder why cholesterol is vilified so much as the demon that will give you cardiovascular disease and clog your arteries. Or even better, you may not be convinced by my off-hand list, in which case I highly encourage you to look up all of these functions I've listed (and get back to me if you find me to be wrong). Because I don't like to deal in conspiracy theories, the explanation for cholesterol's bad reputation that I'll offer hinges on a severe and gross misunderstanding. Here is an analogy I like which original source you can find here: Imagine you're walking down the street and you see that a fire has burned a house down and that there is a fire-truck next to the site. A week later you come upon a different location, but it's the same sight, namely a smoldering ruin and firetrucks next to it. And a few days later, the same thing. So you conclude that firetrucks are causing fires!

You don't need to be a mathematician to see the flaw in logic here. It's a cause attributed to a correlation. It's the first thing you learn not to do when you begin studying any science, but because we don't live in an ideal world there actually is some bad science out there, and some of it concerns the role of cholesterol in disease. So what would you say if I told you that cholesterol is around when heart-attacks happen because it was trying to fix the inflamed cells? In other words, it was trying to do the things it does (repair and maintain cells etc.) and protect your body. Well, by now we've realized that this alternate explanation is a very likely scenario, but the reason it doesn't reach mainstream America is because pharmaceutical companies and certain food manufacturers spend billions on advertising for cholesterol lowering drugs and foods, while, on the other hand, scientists finding out that the medical establishment is perpetuating an error depend on grants that don't leave them much extra money to buy some prime-time commercial spots. But if you'd like to spread the news and possibly inform some loved ones that they might be potentially harming themselves because they're on cholesterol lowering medication, this is a very balanced, down-to-earth, comprehensive video explaining the implications of cholesterol.

Furthermore, the notion that LDL is “bad” cholesterol and HDL is “good” cholesterol is simply false. I'm even tempted to say that it's absolute nonsense. If you look at the acronyms more closely you will find that LDL stands for “Low Density Lipo-Protein” and HDL stands for “High Density Lipo-Protein.” As the names clearly tell you, these are proteins. LDL and HDL aren't even cholesterol. Cholesterol, as explained earlier, is a fatty substance called a sterol, while LDL and HDL are proteins—two completely different molecules. Cholesterol is just cholesterol and because it's not water-soluble it needs the help of LDL and HDL to be transported to all the cells where it performs its vital functions. LDL transports cholesterol from the liver to the cells, and HDL transports the cholesterol that has been “used up” by the cells back to the liver where it either gets recycled or discarded. (The fact that our body actually recycles cholesterol is another indicator of just how important of a substance it is).

If cholesterol is regarded as the villain, then it makes sense why LDL—the protein that brings cholesterol to the cells—got the bad rep. Although, the human body is immensely complex and placing the blame for major disease on a single protein is ridiculously over-simplified, there is one instance where LDL causes harm. In its normal state LDL is an essential transporter for cholesterol, but when it becomes damaged LDL actually is a risk factor contributing to inflammation and potential heart disease. If you recall from my last blog, damaged molecules are called "oxidized." So when there is a greater occurrence of oxidized LDL, there is a greater risk for heart disease. To keep LDL oxidation in check, your antioxidant intake should be high. (Amongst other sources, they can be obtained in fresh fruits and vegetables. For greatest protection and overall health, people should eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of all colors in order to obtain many types of antioxidants [and of course nutrients] available.)

Several studies have shown that high cholesterol levels are not indicative of heart disease, but rather that damaged LDL together with inflammation factors is a far more accurate predictor of disease. If you think about it, cholesterol is a substance your body makes itself and transports where it wants it. If you have elevated cholesterol, it's likely there “on purpose” so to speak. For a great in-depth explanation of the LDL vs. HDL misconception, here is a comprehensive article with about a hundred sources illustrating the role of oxidized LDL in heart disease as well as the issues involved with cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Finally, eating cholesterol-rich foods will NOT impact your cholesterol levels. I hope that understanding what I've explained to you so far will make this statement only sound logical. But to reiterate; it is your body that makes and uses cholesterol as it sees fit. If you eat more cholesterol, your body makes less, if you eat less, your body makes more. So eating eggs, unless you're allergic, is a great idea. Eggs, that is egg yolks, are a great source of nutrients**.

There, however, are studies that indicate a correlation of elevated cholesterol and trans-fat and saturated fat consumption. As explained in the previous blog, trans fats are oxidized fats and are loaded with free radicals (particles that wreak havoc on your cells and cause damage that eventually leads to heart disease). So cholesterol likely goes up to fix the damage. As for saturated fats causing elevated cholesterol levels, the only thing I have read about is that eating red meats is very hard on your body to digest, and cholesterol plays a function in bile creation which digests fats for absorption. Red meats are the meats highest in saturated fat content (poultry has up to 70% unsaturated fat) which doesn't mean you shouldn't eat them, it just means you shouldn't eat them all the time.

All in all I hope I've explained that cholesterol is not the demon that will hit you with a heart-attack. In general, I find that whenever a single factor is identified as the ultimate villain or the ultimate hero, the information is just plain incomplete or sometimes, as in this case, completely wrong. So now that cholesterol is off the hook, you may be wondering what actually does increase your risk for coronary heart disease and the answer is that one of the highest risk factors leading to heart disease as well as diabetes is sugar. But more about that next Friday.

Till then,

"As I see it, every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself."--Adelle Davis

*Antioxidants are molecules that keep other molecules from getting oxidized/damaged and can thereby treat and/or prevent disease.

**If you like eggs, I highly encourage you to buy free-range, organic eggs because they have far more nutrients, but I'll likely talk about the difference between organic vs. conventional foods in an upcoming blog.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Deal With Fats and Other Oily Business

Greetings and welcome back,

Before I even start talking about the different kinds of fats and what they do for and to your body, I'd like to state that one of the keys to a healthy diet is variety. An overdose of any one good thing, even water, is bad. Always aim to eat a variety of foods, balancing the macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) that are right for your body's metabolic type. So with that said ...

Fat is perhaps the most misunderstood macronutrient in America, but the bottom line is, we need fat to function properly. To give you just a very quick idea, vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble which means that your body needs fat in order to make use of them. You need fat in your system for healthy skin, hair and cell walls in all your tissues. And about 60% of your brain is made of fat. So in short, we need to eat fat in order to stay healthy.

Now, not all fats are the same. For the purposes of this blog, I will just explain the differences between saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats also knows as hydrogenated oils. I feel that its beneficial to know the basic chemical make-up of fat in order to understand what all these terms actually mean so that it's not just a name memorization game. Here is a very basic, simplified explanation of the chemical make-up of fat: All fats are a variation of fatty acids that are being held together by hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats have lots of hydrogen atoms holding its fatty acids together which is why saturated fats, such as butter, stay solid at room temperature. The hydrogen gives it structural integrity. Going along those lines, as you may guess monounsaturated fats lack one hydrogen atom, so their structure isn't as solid. It's actually liquid, and olive oil is a great example of monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats, then are fats that have many of its fatty acids not held together at all. Seeds and nuts contain many polyunsaturated fats, but if you extract them from their source (which is bad ju-ju to be addressed below), these fats are liquid at room temperature; namely your vegetable oils (that you should stay away from). Out of all of these mentioned, trans fats are the only ones that don't occur in nature and are a “Frankenstein fat” that is the result of trying to make extracted unsaturated fats solid by infusing them with hydrogen atoms. That's why trans fats and hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils are synonyms. The result are things like margarine, which is solid at room temperature and practically all trans fat.

You've probably heard that trans fats are bad for you. That is right. What happens when you take a naturally unsaturated fat and try to artificially solidify it is that the molecule you end up with is solid, but in a weird shape. I've heard that it has a kink in its structure and I've heard that it looks like plastic, but either way, when you get this molecule traveling through your bloodstream, you can imagine that it's easier for it to damage your artery walls or to get stuck than it is for the saturated fats that, while solid don't have an obstructive shape. And of course it's easier for trans fats to damage or clog arteries than it is for unsaturated fats that are more flexible anyway and adapt to the curving of the circulatory system. Because trans fats mess with your arteries, they have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease. Pretty straight forward. That's one tidbit of common knowledge, or I should say popular knowledge, that is true. However because I've set out to clear up misconceptions in regards to health and nutrition, I'll tackle those now rather than validate already established trends.

Here are some common misconceptions about fats:

Misconception: Animal fats are saturated fats. If that were true, meat would be a hard, waxy substance. Animal fats are a mixture of all the naturally occurring fats listed above. The harder the meat, the more saturated fat it has. To give you an idea, chicken fat is about 70% unsaturated fat. You can read more about that in the link I'll post in the next paragraph.

Misconception: Saturated fat is bad for you/causes heart disease. If that were true, your great-grandparents (unless they didn't live in America or Europe, and I haven't researched other countries sufficiently to know their historical diets) should have died early of heart attacks because they didn't have any extracted vegetable oils to cook with and ate milk, lard, butter, and meat on a fairly regular basis. Doing research for this I've read that there is no scientific evidence that shows saturated fat contributes to coronary disease any more than any other naturally occurring fat. I didn't find any. So if you find some, please send them my way. But meanwhile, here's a good article on why we need to consume saturated fat. In gist, saturated fat is necessary and pretty good for you as long as you consume adequate supporting nutrition (which is pretty much the case for any other macronutrient, remember, too much of one thing is bad). I found a very good testimony by a guy named David Brown who studies nutrition. He left a comment in response to a shoddy post on a health site and he got permission to post about a page and a half of a good book on saturated fat. Since I didn't go through the trouble to get permission to copy and paste that, whole thing, here is the link to the shoddy site, just scroll down to David Brown's response in the comment section. So if you eat a good range of nutrients, your chicken will do your arteries no harm. The same technically goes for red meat, too, but there are other reasons why red meat should be consumed sparingly. Unless your metabolic type is high protein, your body will take a very long time to break down red meat and extract nutrients from it, so it's not really an ideal food though that has little to do with its saturated fat content. If you really like steak, I wasn't able to find a definitive number of how often you can indulge in it and be on the healthy side, but 2-4 times a month seemed what I got from the research.

Misconception: Vegetable oils are good for you. I just learned this and quit using vegetable cooking oil two days ago, and the evidence is overwhelming and I was surprised it's not more publicized (but then again, lots of big companies would lose money if it were publicized). Basically, if you place the statistics of vegetable oil consumption to the statistics of heart-disease, you will notice that they are proportional to each other. The more vegetable oils are used in people's diets, the more people get sick. It seems mind-boggling at first, but bear with me.

Vegetable oils are polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are good for you, but here is the catch: if you extract the polyunsaturated fat from its source, be it sunflower seeds or whatever else you'd like, and you expose that extracted fat to heat, light or air, it goes rancid. If your oil is rancid, that means it's becoming oxidized and instead of maintaining the polyunsaturated structure that's good for your body, it's become a highly reactive free radical in your body. Free radicals are particles that cause damage to your cells and are responsible for a range of ailments, starting with premature aging to cancer. It's impossible to keep oils away from heat, light or air, (in fact the extraction itself is a heat process) so companies are further processing the rancid oil so that you can consume it without tasting that it's rancid and wreak havoc on all your tissues at the same time. In short, vegetable oils, with one exception, harm your health.

The one exception is (organic) cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. The cold-pressed part ensures that its not heated to get at it, which means that it maintains its molecular integrity (remember, it's monounsaturated, not polyunsaturated, so it's more stable when exposed to air and light and even heat to a degree). The extra virgin part means that it's the very first oil extracted from the olives and that it's practically unprocessed aside from the pressing. (Virgin is the slightly processed oil that's been somewhat heated and if the label just says olive oil, it's completely conventionally processed and you should stay away from it). Your best bet is to get it organic. This oil makes for good salad dressings and is a good cooking oil as long as it's not heated too much. As soon as you hit its smoke point, it has started decomposing and producing free radicals (you can google the smoke points of various oils). Again, you don't want free radicals in your body. (To combat the ones you do get from factors outside of your control, make sure you consume antioxidants.)

Another good oil to cook with, if you don't want to melt butter, is organic coconut oil. Unlike vegetable oils, it has a high saturated fat content and is therefore much more stable when exposed to high heat. Furthermore, it is a very good source of nutrients.

In summary, fat is a necessary macronutrient. Ever since America went on a low-fat craze, the rate of obesity has increased. I'm not trying to say that the lack of the good and healthy fat is solely responsible for obesity, but it certainly is a factor. Remember how in the metabolism blog I mentioned that obesity is a form of malnutrition? Well, if you don't get a certain nutrient, your body slows down your metabolism, so you need fat in order to burn calories and ultimately lose fat. So, here are a few tips: when it comes to whole foods, go for the non-reduced, non fat-free foods. Instead of skim milk, that's insanely processed and devoid of the nutritious fat, go for organic whole milk. Make sure it's organic and that the cows are grass-fed, for all the reasons stated in the previous blog. Yes, that milk is processed, pasteurized and homogenized, but unless you drink lots of it every day it's likely to not only not harm you, but to give you some benefit. Eat whole eggs, not just the whites. If you're eating organic meat, don't be afraid of its fat (if you're eating commercially raised meat, cut the fat off because many of the antibiotics and toxins are stored therein). Good sources of unsaturated fats include nuts and legumes. Omega fatty-3 acids are especially good fats that are often lacking in our diet and can be found in milled or ground flax seed (the seeds themselves are indigestible for us) and fishoils. However, make sure you know where your fish is coming from so that you know it's not loaded with mercury or was farmed (farmed fish, like commercially raised animals are nutritionally inferior due to the poor diet and living conditions they receive, not to mention that such ventures are disastrous to the environment and the animals). Above all, whatever you do, make sure you're eating a nutritionally balanced diet. At the very end, I'll post a link to a pretty good and short video on fats. Look at it and pass it on to people who may be equally confused about fat. However, don't listen to what the doctor in the video says about canola oil. Canola oil is little more than poison. And don't listen to what he says about cholesterol. He's off on that one, too, but I'll cover that in my next blog. So here is the summary video.

I'm on Spring Break right now, which is partly why this blog is a day late. I'll still be on Spring Break next Friday, so I doubt I'll be posting by Friday, but I won't be posting any later than the Friday after next, and the topic will be all about cholesterol! And why it doesn't cause heart-attacks.

If you too are on break, enjoy it. =)

Till then,

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” -- World Health Organization

Friday, February 27, 2009

why cow's milk isn't really good for you, and why soy milk isn't either

Greetings again dear friends,

I have a feeling lots of my vegetarian friends and also milk-drinking friends might not really like what I'm about to say, so before I begin, let me proclaim: don't kill the messenger. For clarification purposes I'm not trying to tell anyone to drink or not drink soymilk or cow's milk. I've consumed both these products myself at one time.* My only issue is that some things are being celebrated as health foods when they're not and that, as its title indicates, is what this blog is about.

So let's start with cow's milk. It's ubiquitous and people have been consuming it for ages. Where would a cereal breakfast be without it? And let's not even mention the humongous “Got milk?” campaign to get you to consume it even more. It's touted as a great source of calcium and is therefore good for your bones. Now that would be true if they also were to mention that the increased bone mineral density is a temporary phenomenon and that long-term overconsumption of calcium through cow's milk causes osteoporosisand does not prevent it. No, I'm not kidding and I know that that statement runs counterintuitive to all we've been “taught” about bone health and prevention, but it does explain why countries with the highest dairy consumption have the highest incidents of osteoporosis and hip fractures. If you have some time click on the link and read the whole article. Strictly speaking the data presented in regards to the countries is not causal, but rather correlational, but the correlation is very distinct. Additionally the article goes into the physiology of how the body treats excess calcium and why in the long run it becomes detrimental to bone health.

But that's really not the only beef with cow's milk (no pun intended). The large-scale production of cow's milk produces, what one controversial author in 1998 called poison. I didn't like his governmental conspiracy tone and wanted to draw on some more recent data so I'm not really using him as a source, but If you want to, check him out. His name is Robert Cohen and he wrote the book, Milk, the Deadly Poison. I cross-referenced my data and concluded that it's safe to say that in large-scale commercial milk production, due to the way the cows are confined in close proximity to each other they are given antibiotics to prevent an epidemic outbreak. We get these antibiotics in the milk. We also get the dead bacteria and viruses. Because cows naturally only give milk for the duration that the calf needs it, they are injected with often genetically engineered growth hormones to increase the milk production. We get these growth hormones in the milk. And pus from the udders because the excessive milking, now that they're producing excessive milk, rubs their flesh raw. But it gets better, ... that is, worse.

After the commercial farmer obtains this pathogen-loaded secretion, it needs to be processed to make it safe for consumption. One of the main steps therein is pasteurization and that ends up killing all bacteria in the milk (the bad and the good) so that the bacterias' cell membranes are broken open and all its “guts” are now in the milk. And those guts happen to be cyto-toxins which, as the name implies are toxic. Those bits and pieces of dead bacteria together with the cyto-toxins, once they enter your body, elicit a histamine response from your immune system (itching, asthma, inflammation, mucous production etc.). Another step of the processing is homogenization which destroys the butterfat clusters and is the reason why processed milk stays at an evenly distributed consistency instead of the fat separating from the milk. The problem with that is that the now destroyed fat-cells may cause some problems with your intestines. At the same time it yields a nutritionally poor product.

For a thorough explanation on milk processing here is a good video. This video also offers the only healthy alternative I could find anywhere if you want to be healthy, but staunchly don't want to give up cow's milk and insist on consuming the secretion of another animal. And that alternative is raw cow's milk. Because raw milk is absolutely unprocessed it can only come from grass-fed, healthy animals which are raised in free-range farms and it is subject to far stricter inspections. It contains all the nutrients that commercial processing kills and at the same time contains none of the pathogens. From personal experience, because this is the milk I grew up on, it tastes far better. The downside is that it's illegal in most states and the reasons for that are a subject unto itself that I won't cover here. And if you're lucky enough to live in a state where you can enjoy the benefits of raw milk, remember to still have it in moderation due to the excessive calcium-osteoporosis link.

Now let's go to soymilk that is often being touted as a great replacement for animal milk for people who are lactose intolerant (the majority of the world population) and for those who prefer to not consume animal products. There is one truth to this praise and that truth is that soy is a complete protein. This means that it contains all the amino acids that the human body needs for normal function and optimum health. I wasn't able to find whether it is the only plant that is a complete protein, but even if it isn't, it certainly is the most popular animal protein substitute around and a staple food of most vegetarian and vegan diets.

Before I go into why soymilk is pretty bad for you and why soy in general is not a health food, let me establish that the data on this subject is so varied and so diverse that it was absolutely insane to find two articles that agreed on all the main points. If you have some data to add to what I'm about to say, please do. Because the soy industry is a multi-billion dollar giant, it seems hard to find straight-forward information on the effects of soy. Although I've looked at a good 20 sources, here is a very reader-friendly article on all things soy and it largely contains a conglomeration of main points that most nutritionists and scientists agree about.

Because the data was so contradictory, I've gone and looked at the actual original studies conducted about soy and here are the highlights: soy has anti-nutrients, in particular it has enzymes which inhibit protein digestion, iron, calcium and zinc absorption. It also has phyto-estrogens which are chemicals resembling the human hormone estrogen. Excessive consumption of this has been linked to everything from male infertility, to thyroid gland problems, to female risk of breast cancer. Pretty much 85% of the sources say to keep soy away from children and to not give them soy-infant formula (if you have babies and this is of interest to you, check it out and let me know what you find). 60-70% of all soy available to us is genetically modified and has a higher concentration of the infertility-inducing components. There is soy in 60% of all products around us (seriously, pick up any ingredient list at hand and I'll bet you'll find some soy part in it. It's even in chewing gum.) Because this list can really go on and on and on, I suggest just google “antinutrients in soy.”

In regards to the original studies on soy, there is

Now that's you've read all of these studies and their depictions of soy as a practical poison, there is one thing you should be wondering and that is namely, how did people in Asia manage to eat this stuff for thousands of years? No, it's got nothing to do with genetics, though that's also a theory that's out there. Here are some good news if you want to be healthy and don't want to give up soy (and because you already read the long first article I presented you already know what I'm about to say, right?). If soy is processed correctly, namely fermented for 18 months (not a typo, months it is) the way it is in Asia, you can enjoy the benefits of its fiber and protein without taking in its anti-nutrients. Traditional products that are safe and healthy due to this processing include tempeh, natto, miso and shogu, which is a type of soysauce. Edamame are also safe to eat because they're not yet mature and their isoflavones/phytoestrogens are not bioactive and seem to not impair your biochemistry. If you do eat them though, make sure you get the organic ones and not the genetically modified ones. Note: soymilk and tofu are typically not fermented soy products and contain all the harmful substances found naturally in soy. For a very simple down-to-earth look at what soy to eat and not to eat, here is a brief article.

All right, that pretty much sums up my dabbling with this topic. In the next blog I will tackle the equally contradictory subject of the fats. Trans fats, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated? What's their deal. So tune in next Friday!

Till then ...

"The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend." -- Benjamin Disraeli

* If you'd like to know why I quit drinking both of these, it's actually not because of their nutritional value, or lack thereof. I reduced my cow's milk consumption when I moved here from Europe. The milk here tasted just awful (and now I finally know why) and we had to find the whole organic milk for me to drink it because that at least came close to the milk I had grown up on. When I started college and my mom didn't do my grocery shopping for me anymore, I just quit cow's milk because the organic kind was expensive and hard to find at the supermarket. I switched over to soymilk because I thought it was good for me and it was easier to find in stores and had a far longer expiration date. I quit soymilk because I quit eating cereals and that was the only time I even had any of it because it didn't taste good in any other way. And finally, I quit eating cereals because I had become a bit more nutritionally literate and realized there were better breakfast alternatives, but that'll be the blog on sugar.

Friday, February 20, 2009

of metabolisms, calories, nutrients and balancing acts

Greetings again and welcome back,

Because this specific entry tackles one of the biggest keys to proper nutrition and health it's pretty long, but if you're curious why some diets work for some people and not for others, why Eskimos didn't get heart disease, why you might like the name Pottenger though it sounds funny and such things, you won't be disappointed.

I'd like to start this series of blogs with an installment about metabolism. In my opinion the beginning of understanding nutrition and health is in understanding metabolism. And the beginning of understanding metabolism, well, that's actually in evolution, but for all intents and purposes we can start with Eskimos* about a 1000 years ago.

For the vast majority of human history people couldn't readily buy plane tickets so they stayed relatively isolated from each other in their respective regions of the world in their respective climates, which included some of the most hostile weather conditions. For example, the climate surrounding the North Pole, which is where Eskimos lived and in part still live, is essentially a snow and ice desert that makes Boston winters seem warm by comparison. Beside the cold, another downside of feet of ice covering the earth is that it's pretty hard for plants to grow, so as a consequence a traditional Eskimo diet consisted mostly out of fish, blubber and meat from seals and the occasional whale. In other words, they ate loads of protein and fat, ate nearly nothing but protein and fat to the point where our GPs today would proclaim death sentences on them and bury them in a mountain of cholesterol reducing drug prescriptions. But the fascinating thing is that Eskimos on a traditional Eskimo diet were free of degenerative diseases like diabetes or heart disease. How come? The answer is simply that they were adapted to their environment in every way including their biochemistry, that is, their metabolism. Just like every single population on this planet was adapted to their environment and the foods present in their environment.

So what does this have to do with your metabolism? Well, let's think, still 1000 years ago, of tribes near the equator where the climate allows plantlife to flourish all year round. Their diet consisted mostly out of fruits and vegetables and only of a little bit of fat and meat that they would catch on occasion. Yet, they too didn't have any degenerative heart diseases and flourished in their environment. But if you started feeding them nothing but fat and protein, they would have gotten sick. Just like an Eskimo would have gotten sick on a diet that predominantly consisted out of fruits and veggies. Their biochemistry was unsuited for efficiently converting such food into fuel.

Today, especially here in America, we may no longer be physiologically adapted to our environment, but we still carry the genes that made our ancestors flourish on one type of food and perish on another. So in that regard, we all have unique biochemistry, and roughly in the last 100 years, the term metabolic type was developed to refer to that biochemical uniqueness. Basically, just like none of us are identical on the outside (save maybe for identical twins), none of us are identical on the inside. It's one of the most common sense things, but for some reason current marketing trends are still selling a universally applicable diet—something that simply doesn't exist.

What is a metabolic type? Just like every other human characteristic, metabolism is on a continuum, but that continuum can be divided into 3 major categories—a protein type (like Eskimos), a carbohydrate type (like the populations near the equator) and a mixed type
(likely descendants from regions where people had to rely on plants and meat approximately equally).

How do the different metabolic types work? This is a simplification, but essentially your metabolism is your personal fuel furnace** that keeps your body in balance. You have people who are fast oxidizers, meaning their biochemistry processes food quickly, and slow oxidizers whose biochemistry breaks food down more slowly.

If you're a fast oxidizer and you eat, let's say an apple (lots of carbohydrates that are broken down easier than fat or protein) your body will process it very quickly, you'll have a sugar high and a crash and you'll feel tired and hungry again very soon afterward because that particular food puts that particular body out of balance. However, if you're that same fast oxidizer and you eat a chicken breast (lots of protein and some fat both of which take a longer time to be broken down), your body will break it down at a balanced rate that will keep you energized and satiated for longer. On the other hand, if you're a slow oxidizer and you eat a chicken breast or a steak, your body will take so long to process it that you will feel heavy and lethargic. So the key to converting food into fuel efficiently is to give your body the foods that will keep it balanced so that you can sustain a stable level of energy and clarity.

As you might have already guessed, fast oxidizers tend to have protein metabolic types, slow oxidizers tend to have carbohydrate metabolic types, while people who are energized by both nutrient groups are the mixed metabolic types (like myself).

How do you find out what metabolic type you are? There are several routes to finding this out and most of them lead to you putting your money into someone else's pocket. I really am not a big fan of buying concepts, especially diet concepts so I honestly don't recommend spending money on getting a metabolic type test. However everything I read about people who have struggled with weight and then finally gotten their metabolic type assessed, have lost weight and changed their life for the better has been highly encouraging. So whatever you choose is really up to you, just keep in mind I'm not promoting any of these products, ... I'm more saying these methods exist.
  • One method is a book. It's called the Metabolic Typing Diet by Wolcott and Fahey and why it's called a “diet” I don't know. The book explains the research and science behind metabolic typing. It also has a questionnaire you can follow that will help you determine your metabolic type. I got this book as a gift which means I have it, which also means (at least for my Boston friends) that if you'd like to borrow it, feel free to ask. And that reminds me, check your local library. Maybe they have it, too.
  • Another method would be to go to a specialist certified in metabolic typing and get tested with a more sophisticated questionnaire. If you're keen on this, check out Sean Croxton. He is a very down to earth personal trainer with a wealth of information. I started most of my research with his YouTube posts and his website. Even if you don't want your metabolic type assessed, he's a great source, and here is one of his short videos if you'd like more information about metabolic typing.
  • The simplest method of figuring out your metabolic type would be just to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Do you feel tired after you eat a particular food? Do you feel energized? full? Or does it make you hyper and then you crash? Just be aware that while some foods are bad for everyone (i.e. highly processed, sugar-loaded, empty calorie stuff) some good foods are good for some while not that great for others. We all have unique internal chemistry.

Does eating according to my metabolic type make me lose weight? The simple answer is yes. To explain this without exceeding the scope of this blog, you will have noticed that I referred much to macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) but not to calories. Calories are merely units of energy (namely one calorie being the amount of energy needed to raise one gram of water to one degree Celsius) and they measure the energy that our bodies need to perform metabolic functions. However where you get your calories matters too. In order to be healthy you need a balance of nutrients, you need carbs, protein and yes, fat. If you're a carbohydrate metabolic type you need half or more than half*** of all your calories to come from carbohydrates in order to maintain optimum energy and health. If you have too little or too much of the wrong nutrient, you get sick, namely you get malnutrition. And the most prevalent type of malnutrition in America is obesity. Go figure. The phrase “junk food” is applicable to junk food because the food is poor in its nutritional value and has loads of empty calories. If you give your body the right nutrition it will keep you healthier and leaner.

But speaking of leaner, here is one last thing about metabolism being a furnace. Your metabolism helps you burn calories, so if you're interested in losing weight it's in your best interest to keep your metabolism going at full blast, and here are a few tips as to how to do that:
  • Eat breakfast. Your body is starved after 8 (did I say eight, ha! after the few) hours of sleep you manage to get at night and to give it energy to get it going, you should eat breakfast.
  • Eat small meals every 3-4 hours. Whenever you put anything into your body, your metabolism kicks in and starts breaking it down. Furthermore, eating small meals throughout the day keeps you from getting famished and starving and thus keeps you from overeating later on.
  • Eat your biggest meals earlier in the day and have a smaller dinner so that you have energy for the most strenuous parts of your day.
  • Some research shows, and I didn't really look too deeply into this, but it makes chemical sense, that eating lean protein together with complex carbohydrates gives your metabolism the greatest boost in terms of the amount of work it has to do. (If you want to double-check this info, it's sometimes referred to as the thermal value of food and I read it in Tosca Reno's book. You can google her.)
  • If you stop eating or drastically cut your calories, your metabolism slows and you are more likely to gain weight that way because you've got nothing burning your calories. So for your own sake, don't cut calories like crazy.

That's all folks. Thanks for sticking through the long blog. Consider it a big breakfast and now that we're on the way, we can make the portion sizes smaller. Next week, I'll be writing about milk and soy and the mountain of misconceptions surrounding this topic.

Till then ...

It is not what disease the patient has, but which patient has the disease.”--attributed to William Osler

*I am aware that some Eskimos prefer to be called Inuits, but for the sake of simplicity I chose to use the word Eskimo as the umbrella term encompassing a few different native populations in the circumpolar region.

**I'd like to thank Lindsey H. (D.O. in the making) for answering several of my metabolism questions and giving me the furnace analogy. Good luck in med school. =)

***for more information on the foods pertinent to the metabolic types check out the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation