Sunday 31 May 2015

Why Is Honey Superior to Sugar?

Sugar is increasingly being seen as a cause of Western lifestyle diseases, particularly obesity. As obesity develops the risk of other lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer also increase. Refined crystalline sugar, also called sucrose or table sugar, is damaging because it contains fructose. Fructose in itself is not damaging to the health because most fruit contains fructose. However, when consumed in high concentrations and in the absence of fibre, in its crystalline or processed state, fructose becomes a metabolic poison. Fructose can flood the liver with energy and stimulate flux through a chemical pathway called the de novo lipogenesis pathway. This pathway then converts carbohydrate to fatty acids, and these fatty acids accumulate in skeletal muscle and the liver where they induce insulin resistance. The fructose in fruit is not damaging because fruit has a high water content that minimises the fructose intake and also because the fibre in the fruit slows the absorption of the fructose and thus reduces the flood of energy reaching the liver.
Honey is composed mainly of fructose and glucose. As sucrose is also composed of fructose and glucose, chemically the two substances are similar. The sweet taste of honey is because of the presence of these sugars, particularly fructose which is much sweeter than glucose. However, honey does not appear to have as many adverse health effects as sucrose. The main reason for the discrepancy is the fact that honey just simply not eaten in as high amounts a sucrose. Sucrose is everywhere, and nearly all sweetened processed foods, soft drinks and confectionary contain large amounts of sucrose. Historically humans were prevented from eating large quantities of honey by angry bees. Another factor that makes honey a healthier alternative is that it is much harder to add to foods due to its consistency, which inhibits dissolution in liquids and can be messy. Another factor to consider is the fact that honey contains many healthy substances from the plants from which it originated, including antioxidant phytochemicals. These plant chemicals make honey a viable and healthy alternative to sucrose, if used in moderation.

Saturday 30 May 2015

Omega-3 Fats: Fish Versus Supplements

Good Chocolate, Bad Chocolate

Theobroma cocoa is the plant with produces the cocoa bean. From this bean cocoa butter and cocoa powder are produced through fermentation. Cocoa powder and cocoa butter are primary ingredient in chocolate, contributing to the distinctive taste and texture, respectively. Chocolate production is thought to have originated in the foothill of the Andes mountains, where a drink was produced from the cocoa beans harvested from wild plants. Now cocoa is produced on a commercial scale, with the product being used mainly in confectionary and drinking products. Chocolate is interesting because it is a double edged sword. The cocoa bean, like coffee and tea contains a very high concentration of polyphenolic substances which can confer health benefits to humans. In particular, the cocoa powder is rich in a group of polyphenols called proanthocyanidins. These polyphenols are oligomers of flavan-3-ols (also called catechins), the same flavonoids found in high concentrations in tea and in lower concentrations in apples.
Eating cocoa can therefore produce beneficial health effects that include protection from cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, care must be taken when choosing a chocolate product because some can be very high in sugar. Dark chocolate is produced by adding cocoa powder and cocoa butter (fat from the cocoa bean) to sugar. Milk chocolate also contain milk. Generally dark chocolate contains higher concentrations of cocoa powder than milk chocolate, and this makes it a superior product where health is a concern. But even dark chocolate can contain substantial amounts of sugar to counteract the bitter taste of the cocoa powder. Most milk chocolate contains only very small amounts of cocoa but much large quantities of sugar, and in this regard cannot be considered a healthy food. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, milk and sugar, but no cocoa powder. White chocolate therefore possess all the bad effects of milk chocolate with none of the benefits of the cocoa powder.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Fibre as a Source of Energy

Which Diet Is Right For You?

Many people enquire as to what is a healthy diet. This is an interesting question because if we look at the diets consumed by populations around the World, we can see that traditional diets differ greatly. For example, the Massai consume mainly milk and meat from ruminants, whereas the populations that live around the Mediterranean consume a very mixed diet based on plant foods and whole grains. In contrast, the Eskimo diet is composed almost exclusively marine animal product and devoid of plant foods, whereas the Norwegian diet is made up partly of fish, but also contains plant foods. However despite these differences the health of all populations that consume these traditional foods is excellent. If we look in more detail at the diets of health populations what we see is that as long as whole unrefined and unprocessed foods are consumed, generally health is assured. It is the shift to the Western diet that causes the development of ill health and the Western lifestyle diseases that are now growing at epidemic rates.
Choosing a diet that works for you is therefore an easy first step because any healthy diet should be made up of unprocessed whole foods. However, it is clear that some individuals do better on a higher protein diet, whereas others do better on a higher carbohydrate diet, whereas others still do better on a higher fat diet. In this regard it can take many decades of experimentation until a clear picture emerges as to which diet best suits the individual’s biochemical needs. It is more important to listen to your own body than the words of experts. Of course information from others can be useful, and should never be dismissed without consideration, but only the individual can assess correctly if a particular diet is right for them. Experimentation is an important part of the maintenance of health and clinging to dogma and the advice of others is a sure way to ill health and failure. As the Mediterranean diet is a mixed diet, it is a great place to start, and adjustments to this diet can then be made to suit the individual as needs arise.

Saturday 23 May 2015

How To Minimise The Effects of Low Quality Foods

High quality diets are good for the health. In particular high quality diets, based on traditional eating practices have been shown to reduce the risk of Wester lifestyle diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. High quality diets are composed of unrefined unprocessed foods that contain high amounts of fibre and micronutrients, as well as good quality bioavailable protein, plus the two essential fatty acids in the correct ratios. High quality nutrition can be incredibly tasty once the addiction of high sugar and high fat processed foods are overcome. Therefore maintaining a high quality diet is not difficult is a little effort is made to ensure the food is well prepared. However, there are occasions where it is not alway possible to eat as you would wish, and in certain circumstances some food is better than no food, even if it is of lower quality. Cheating on a high quality eating programme does therefore happen, and even the strictest diet plan may deviate from its correct course from time to time for various reasons.
Low quality foods cause metabolic dysfunction because they tend to overload the liver with energy. In addition, they are devoid of meaningful levels of micronutrients. Consuming a high quality multivitamin and mineral can ensure that the latter of these two characteristics does not lead to poor health, as long as the poor quality foods are only eaten infrequently. However the former of the two characteristics is more difficulties to counteract. Energy overload is detrimental to the liver because it causes the de novo lipogenesis pathway to upregulate and this produces high amounts of fatty acids that can cause insulin resistance. Exercise is effective at inhibiting the de novo lipogenesis pathways because it depletes the liver of glycogen and this causes the excess energy from the poor quality foods to be stored as liver glycogen. Exercise can therefore counteract the effects of a poor quality diet, although its effects on weight loss are more controversial. Of course the best way to maintain health is to eat high quality foods all the time.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Weight Loss Without 'Dieting'

Cognitive Performance and Nutrition Quality

The link between nutrition and physical health is well established. The role of essential nutrients in disease were first characterised through observational studies as well as through deficiency experiments using animals. For this work it was understood that that low intakes of the essential nutrients below specific dietary levels cause specific deficiency diseases in humans. Without corrective measures health declines through a set of known pathologies, each specific to a particular essential nutrient, ultimately causing death. However, while a deficiency of essential nutrients leads to a specific disease, chronic low intakes that are borderline between sufficient and deficient lead to new category of diseases called the insufficiencies. These insufficiencies do not result in characteristic deficiency diseases, but rather a general malaise and slow deterioration in the health that may be idiopathic in nature. Such insufficiencies are thought to be common in developed nations particularly in those that consume the Typical Western diet.
The typical Western diet is therefore a low quality diet and the link between such a diet and disease undoubtedly stems to some degree from the low amounts of essential nutrients contained within its foods. These foods tend to be overly processed and during this refinement they are stripped of vitamins and minerals. Studies show that many people living on the typical Western diet have essential nutrient insufficiencies that are not diagnosed, and many individuals are unaware that they are unhealthy. The physical performance of such individuals is likely impaired significantly by such a chronic poor nutritional intake, however, it is likely that mental health also suffers. While rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease continue to climb in developed nations, it is interesting that these figures are dwarfed by the rise in the use of prescription drugs and therapies to treat a raft of mental disorders including depression and anxiety. Are these mental disorders chronic essential nutrient insufficiencies?
If vitamin and mineral insufficiencies cause mental disorders, it is likely they also cause declines in cognitive ability. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that because the physical health is affected by low intakes of essential nutrients that mental ability is similarly affected. The typical Western diet provides refined carbohydrates in abundance and these are thought to produce detrimental glycaemic effects that lead to insulin resistance. As blood sugar control declines with poor diet, the glucose concentrations required by the brain for correct function may become inconsistent and this may lead to mood changes and poor cognitive performance. Many have never experienced good health, either physical or mental, because they have been raised on formula milk and the typical Western diet. Such individuals are therefore likely unaware that they have untapped mental capacity. High quality traditional diets rich in micronutrients quickly reverse these deteriorations and allow maximisation of mental and physical performance.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Why Are Plant Foods Good For The Health?

Observational studies show that those with the highest intake of plant foods are the least likely to suffer from Western lifestyle disease. In this respect plant foods are protective of cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and arthritis. Despite voluminous literature investigating the benefits of plant based diets, it is still not clear exactly why plant foods are protective of disease. The reason for the ambiguity is likely that there is not a single reason for the benefits of plant foods, but likely a number of factors come together to provide synergistic benefits to the health. Of course, the protective effects of plants may be due to the fact that those that eat fewer plant foods tend to eat the typical Western diet, the latter being associated with an increased risk of Western disease due to the metabolic poisons it contains. Therefore the benefits of plant foods could come from positive factors in the plants in combination with the lack of negative factors in the typical Western diet.
Plants are a good source of fibre and the typical Western diet is absent of this fibre. Fibre is beneficial to the health because it slows the absorption of glucose from the gut to the blood, and this is necessary for the correct metabolism and oxidation of fuels. The low fibre content of the typical Western diet leads to rapid elevations in blood sugar and this causes insulin resistance, weight gain, and a cluster of metabolic changes termed the metabolic syndrome, the later which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes considerably. Plants are also a rich source of chemicals that are bioavailable in humans and which may have antioxidant properties. These chemicals include polyphenols and carotenoids, and evidence suggests that their ability to reduce oxidative stress in humans is the reason for their protective effects against disease. Plants are also good sources of vitamins that protect from Western diseases and may contain high levels of minerals if the soils they are grown on are rich in those minerals.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Does Vitamin D Aid Weight Loss?

Three Easy Things You Can Do To Protect From Cancer

Cancer rates are increasing in developed nations. While some of this may be due to chemical exposure from pollution, toxins, drugs and water, increasingly it is being reported that diet is pivotal in the risk of developing cancer. In particular consumption of a typical Western diet may increase the risk of cancer because such diets are full of processed foods that are devoid of meaningful levels of micronutrients and antioxidants. High quality traditional diets protect from cancer because they supply adequate essential nutrients and antioxidants. If you are concerned by cancer and want to lower your risk significantly here are three easy to instigate strategies that have been shown to be effective against cancer.
1. Take a Selenium Supplement
Selenium is a trace metal that is found in a number of foods particularly fish and brazil nuts. Selenium is also found in meat if the animals are fed high selenium diets and in whole grains if the crops are grown on high selenium soils. Selenium is required as a cofactor in the glutathione peroxidase enzyme, which is the primary water soluble antioxidant in cells. In this way selenium is pivotal in maintaining the reducing capacity of cells, a factor that is pivotal in preventing damage to genetic material that can lead to cancer. Western diets can be low in selenium and so supplements can effective. Around 200 μg per day of selenium rich yeast has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer mortality by 50 %.
2. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
While traditionally it has been thought that the sun causes skin cancer, it is now being understood that sensible sun exposure is actually protective of skin cancer. The reason for this is that exposure to ultraviolet light causes the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin and this raises levels of a chemical in the blood called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Higher levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D are associated with a lower risk of developing a number of Western lifestyle diseases including cancer. Because people do not get enough vitamin D from the sun, and the diet is limited in its vitamin D content, it is recommended that supplements of 2000 IU of vitamin D are taken to reduce the risk of cancer.
3. Drink Green Tea
Green tea is commonly drunk in Asian countries, particularly Japan. Here it is suggested that the high consumption rate of green tea explains the lower risk of cancer in this country compared to Western developed countries. Green tea is rich in a group of antioxidants called flavonoids, and contains particularly high amounts of a subgroup of flavonoids called flavan-3-ols or catechins. These are not found in high concentrations in other foods and they are thought to be absorbed in humans and provide antioxidant effects. Drinking one to five cup of green tea each day may significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer by increasing antioxidant defences. Green tea is also available in capsules for those that do not like drinking tea.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Fruits and Vegetables Protect From Obesity

Obesity is a Worldwide phenomenon that is reaching epidemic proportions. However, analysis of obesity data however shows that its prevalence tends to be associated with living in developed nations, such as Western Europe, North America and Australasia, and with consumption of a typical Western diet. The typical Western diet is hard to define as it contains a wide range of heterogenous foods. However, analysis of the typical Western diet has shown that it is characterised by high levels of refined and processed foods. In particular, the carbohydrate sources in the diet are stripped of their bran and germ layer during processing, and this removes fibre and micronutrients, leaving just the starchy endosperm. In addition, the processing of fruits and vegetables for example, produces products that are high in sugar but low in fibre and other nutrients. Evidence suggest that consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of starch and sugars may be responsible for the development of a cluster of physiological changes that are termed the metabolic syndrome.
The metabolic syndrome is characterised by an insulin resistant state that is associated with detrimental changes to blood sugar and insulin homeostasis, as well as weight gain in the visceral adipose compartment. Epidemiology has shown that diets high in fruits and vegetables are protective of obesity, although the reason for this is unclear. However, it has been suggested that the protective effects of fruits and vegetables against obesity may relate to the soluble fibre and polyphenol content of plant foods, And beneficial effects on postprandial glycaemia and have been reported in those increasing fruit and vegetable intakes. In addition, the soluble fibre and polyphenols contained within fruits and vegetables may have insulin sensitising effects. Fruits tends to be right in the flavonoid group of polyphenols and contain the soluble fibre pectin. Vegetables are rich in fibre and some also contain substantial amounts of polyphenolic substances. As well as providing beneficial health effects, the consumption of greater concentrations of fruits and vegetables tends to lower intakes of refined and processed foods which may contain metabolic poisons.

Sunday 3 May 2015

Legume, Pulses and Grain Legumes: Nomenclature

Leguminous plants are those that belong to the the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family of plants. Leguminous plants produce a number of crops that are important in human and animals nutrition including beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans and alfalfa. Legumes have agricultural significance because they possess root nodules that contain symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia that can fix nitrogen. This makes them an important part of the nitrogen cycle and important in crop rotation. Legume terminology can be confusing because the Fabaceae family produces a heterogenous group of edible structures. The pods and fruits of leguminous plants are referred to as legumes if eaten whole, and this can include green beans and green peas. The seeds within the pods are legumes also, but are also referred to as grains or grain legumes if they are dried. As peanuts and soybeans are not dried but used for their oil, they are legumes, but not pulses. Alfalfa is a leguminous plant that is is grown to feed for cattle and when eaten is therefore referred to as a forage crop. The definitions of the edible leguminous plants are given in figure 1.
Figure 1. The leguminous plants produce a heterogeneous group of edible structures with differing terminology.


Saturday 2 May 2015

Cabbage, Glutamine and The Gut

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable belonging to the same Brassica genus as broccoli, kale, watercress, brussel sprouts, turnips and rape seed. Cabbage has historically been grown in cooler climates where it yields a higher weight per acre of land in comparison to other crops. The main varieties of cabbage are savoy cabbage, green cabbage and red cabbage. While red cabbage and green cabbage tend to have smooth leaves, savory cabbage has more ruffled leaves that give it a distinctive shape. Cabbage is highly nutrient dense and contains high amounts of vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin B6. As with most fruits and vegetables, cabbage is also high in potassium, and in addition contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium and manganese. Of course as with all minerals, the content in the plant material is dependent on the soil concentrations of minerals. In addition, cabbage is rich is the amino acid L-glutamine, and this gives it some unique properties.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that plays an important role in protein metabolism through its ability to take part in the transfer of nitrogen groups between amino acids. In this regard it works closely with another structurally similar amino acid called glutamate. Glutamine is particularly concentrated in muscle tissue, and can be used as a source of energy by neurones. Enterocytes also utilise large amounts of glutamine and for this reason much of the ingested glutamine never makes it into blood, instead being used up in the enterocytes of the gut and a fuel source. The ability of glutamine to fuel enterocytes increases their growth rates and glutamine is therefore effective as a healing agent for the gut. This explains the ability of cabbage to help with the treatment of gastrointestinal complaints including the treatment of peptic ulcers. Originally the component of cabbage that was beneficial to the gut was identified as vitamin U, but this was later subsequently identified and L-glutamine.