It is an interesting story. I write extensively about the history behind the “Low Fat Myth” in Chapter Two (“Fix Your Fats”) of my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan. I also I highly recommend this fascinating must-watch documentary featuring a number of doctors and experts that discusses these “dietary villains” – The Heart of the Matter – this is part 1 (approx. 30 mins long).
The long-standing recommendation to limit the amount of dietary cholesterol has just recently been officially lifted from the nutritional guidelines. This is huge, and has been a long time coming. Despite being told that there was good scientific evidence to back it up – the scientific studies actually did not show a causative link between dietary cholesterol and heart attack! One study looked at 130,000 people and found that nearly 3/4 of patients hospitalized for heart attack had what was considered to be normal cholesterol numbers. In fact, research shows that in the elderly population (over age 81) – lower cholesterol levels actually raised the risk of mortality, and equated to lower memory scores.
Dr. Mark Houston, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell you About Heart Disease says that “elevated cholesterol is not a sure sign of heart disease, any more than low levels are a sure sign of heart health.” Dr. Houston says in his book that heart disease begins with endothelial damage or dysfunction, which progresses through 7 different pathways (inflammation, oxidative stress, autoimmunity, dyslipidemia, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and obesity). The good news? Many of the above pathways can be affected by nutritional and lifestyle factors. I highly recommend Dr. Houston’s book if you want to understand how to get control of your heart health naturally.
Experts are also calling into the question the recommendations on saturated fats – because like cholesterol, there is a lack of scientific evidence linking saturated fats to heart disease. But the push to remove the saturated fat limit is still being met with a lot of resistance, so it will likely not be changed in the official nutritional recommendations until the next time they are changed – which is in 5 years. Don’t believe me about saturated fats not being bad for you? Read this Time Magazine piece titled “We Were Wrong About Saturated Fats.” (Notice that is Ancel Keys on the left hand cover).
Another exciting development that happened recently – is the FDA finally took a stronger stand against trans fats. Back in 2013, they removed the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) classification, because of the link between trans fats and coronary artery plaque formation. And just last month they took it a big step further – they banned the use of trans fats in foods entirely. This is great news, but since there is a 3 year grace period for compliance – we all need to be aware of all the places trans fats are hiding in the meantime. Basically – the majority of trans fats in our diets come from “convenience foods.”
Trans fats are liquid fats that have been altered by partially hydrogenation, making them solid/more stable at room temperature. Trans fats extend the shelf-life of a product, so that is why manufacturers love them. An interesting historical note is that Crisco – which is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – was brought to market in 1911. Check out this Illustrated History of heart disease for other interesting facts and historical notes (from 1825-2015).
Just because a label says “no trans fats” does not mean it doesn’t contain them. That is a label loophole, and just means that there is less than half a gram of trans fats per serving. Just know, if it says “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredient list – it has trans fats.
There is a lot of really exciting research that has been happening about the human microbiome (the bacterial cells in and on our bodies). With some new research linking the heart to the microbiome in the gut. Check out these articles to learn more about the connection:
There is emerging research to support a link between autoimmune diseases and heart disease. It is well-known that there is a link between chronic/systemic inflammation and heart disease. So it makes sense that having an autoimmune disease, which leads to chronic and systemic inflammation – could be one potential underlying cause/contributing factor for heart disease. Because of this, it is a good idea for anyone with heart disease to be tested for celiac disease/gluten sensitivity (especially if there are other potential symptoms of autoimmunity – such as psoriosis, eczema, or other skin conditions/rashes, sun sensitivity, thyroid disease, chronic aches & pains/arthritis, stress fractures, slow wound healing, low white blood cell count, etc).
There is a lot of overwhelming evidence pointing to poorly controlled blood SUGAR.
Although not likely the whole picture – excess sugar increases inflammation, and is linked to increased risk of heart attack and death. Chapter One of my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan goes into detail about how sugar impacts our metabolism and health – and all the sneaky ways it is getting into our diet.
AHA Recommends Added Sugar Limits
Because of the link between sugar and heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to less than 9 tsp for men, and 6 tsp for women. But with 75% of all packaged foods containing added sugars – this is not easy to do. Sugar is sneaking into our diets all day long – even in seemingly healthy choices like cereals, yogurts, salad dressings, sauces, snack bars, etc. You do not have to eat one cookie, one spoonful of ice cream, or one soda to get more added sugar than the recommended limit. It is no wonder that the average American gets about 3 times more than the recommended amount every day (and I personally think that number is underestimated).
Skip the Sodas & Sweet Drinks
One of the fastest way to get too much sugar is by drinking it. One 12 oz. soda has about 10 tsp of sugar, and a 9 oz. frappuccino has about 8 tsp. One medium FruiTea (organic green tea from Wendy’s) has 18 tsp!! That drink alone is 3 times the amount a woman should have all day long!! And before you run out to buy diet sodas – know that two or more diet sodas a day has been linked to a 30% increase for a heart attack (read this article to learn more).
Read these articles for more info:
One way to stay on top of our heart health is to get some tests run. But which ones? Contrary to popular belief – just knowing your cholesterol levels is not enough – as more than half of all heart attacks happen in people who have what are considered normal cholesterol levels.
The Spectra Cell Cardio Metabolic test is a comprehensive test to help you assess your risk of metabolic syndrome. Learn more about the test here – or ask your family doctor or cardiologist to run these tests for you.
There is an exciting opportunity to learn from over 30 of the top experts in the area of heart health next week! The Healthy Heart Summit (begins on July 13 and it is free!!). Register here today, and attend each day for free.
In addition to attending the Summit, I also highly recommend the following books:
This article is not to be construed as medical advice. I highly recommend that you discuss the information presented in this article and at the Healthy Heart Summit with your medical provider.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
I had a big bunch of mint and a fresh pineapple, and some coconut in the freezer – so this morning I whipped up this pineapple mint smoothie – it was absolutely delicious and refreshing, it made me feel like I was in the tropics!! Pineapple, mint, coconut and chia seeds all support healthy hydration and digestion. I think this will be a new staple for Summer/Spring for me, and I hope for you too. This recipe is dairy-free, vegan and gluten free.
Put the coconut water and chia seeds into the blender – allow to soak. Add in the rest of the ingredients and blend to combine. Add in a handful (or whatever amount desired) of ice cubes and blend. Serve immediately!
*Note: If you are prone to getting canker sores from pineapple, you might want to substitute mango for the pineapple in the smoothie recipe.
Save your pineapple core in the refrigerator or freezer – I am posting a recipe tomorrow that will make use of the core!
Are you one of the millions of people that is doing everything you have been told to do to lose weight, but nothing seems to work?
Or maybe you can manage to lose a few pounds, but just can’t seem to keep it off for the long term?
We wouldn’t put a broken arm in a sling without resetting it first, so why should we try to lose weight without resetting the metabolism?
And when the metabolism is out of whack – our willpower, hunger hormones, insulin, and cravings are all working against us. It is an uphill battle. Just like we need to reset a broken arm, the real secret to lasting weight loss is to get to the root of the problem –and reset the metabolism.
I wrote The Perfect Metabolism Plan because I knows so many people are working hard to get healthy, they are counting calories, cutting fat, eating less and exercising more. And they are blaming themselves when it doesn’t work. But the truth is – many of these approaches are exactly the opposite of what we need to do to reach/maintain a healthy weight, and are very likely making our metabolism AND OUR OVERALL HEALTH worse! I was there myself too –for years I felt like a failure because I just could not control my weight or cravings.
The Perfect Metabolism Plan provides the information you need to get to the root of the issue and get your metabolism working for you again. It is organized into 10 keys that are needed to reset and reboot the metabolism (plus an extra chapter with some “hacks”).
The Perfect Metabolism Plan also includes over 50 recipes and a plan for putting it into action. It bust the myths that have gotten so many of us into a state of low energy, poor health, and weight gain – and teaches people what really works to reach and maintain a healthy weight and improve their overall health.
Thank you to Coronado SAFE for inviting me to speak at your 3rd Annual Parenting Conference!
Recently someone whose child has been dealing with a bunch of health issues asked me “Why does kids’ health have to be so complicated nowadays?” He has a point:
The statistics are so grim that experts worry that in a few decades there may not be enough healthy individuals to take care of the sick individuals. In fact, this may be the first generation of kids which may not outlive their parents.
Take a walk down the aisle of your average grocery store, and you will see hundreds and thousands of brightly colored and flavor-blasted sodas, chips, cookies, cereals, bars, yogurts, candies, energy and sports drinks, mac n cheese cups, frozen pizzas and dinners, refrigerator doughs, ice creams, and a wide variety of foods specifically designed and marketed towards….our kids.
Seventy four percent of these foods contain added sugars. And far too many of these foods contain artificial colors, flavorings, flavor enhancers, preservatives, monosodium glutamate, trans fats, GMOs, and other ingredients that we don’t recognize or know what they are there for.
The question remains – is this even food? Or is it a science experiment? And do we want our kids to be lab rats in a giant experiment?
I know all too well how tempting all this junk food can be for a kid.
Can you guess who that girl is in this photo?
Yep – that was me. I think I was around 12 years old then. Some of my favorite foods were hot dogs and ice cream.
If you had told that girl that she would one day write a book, speak in front of large audiences, and go on TV regularly – all to share her knowledge about nutrition and health – she would have laughed herself silly. You see, when I was that age, I didn’t realize that what I ate affected everything – from my energy, to my moods, brain function, digestion, immune system, and my weight. All I cared about was how food tasted. And I frequently reached for things like hot dogs, candy, sodas, cookies, cakes, and chips.
Sure, they might taste good – but in the long term all that junk food can cause tremendous mental and physical pain.
But I am one of the lucky ones – because the majority of overweight children grow up to become overweight/obese adults.
The thing is – it doesn’t have to be this way.
NO ONE HAS TO BE A STATISTIC.
I am living proof.
So what can we do to stop this trajectory? The answer is surprisingly simple:
Eat Real Food.
Although it may be simple, it might not be so easy.
Because if you are eating packaged and processed foods, you are getting a lot more sugar, chemicals and GMOs in your diet than you realize.
Here are 5 Tips to Help you Improve Your Family’s Diet:
1. Cut way back on added sugar – read Are Our Kids Eating Toxic Amounts of Sugar? for more info.
2. Avoid anything with partially hydrogenated oils (this means there are trans fats).
3. Get the artificial colors out. If it has a color and a number after it, it is an artificial color. Artificial colors have been found to affect attention and behavior in some kids. In fact, in the United Kingdom – if a food has an artificial color, it has to have a label on it that says:
‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
So instead of putting on that label, most manufacturers will use natural colorings instead. For example, if you buy Kraft mac n cheese in the UK, it is made with natural colorings, while the blue box in the US contains artificial colors. There are many other examples of this kind of double standard.
4. Avoid chemicals in foods like mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), flavor enhancers, and preservatives. If you can’t pronounce it, or don’t know what it is – it probably is a chemical.
5. Eat more plant-based foods – especially vegetables. Studies show that eating more plant-based foods can lower your risk of disease and prolong your life. Shoot for between 7 and 9 servings of plant based foods every day. Or try to fill up half your plate at least twice daily.
Want to learn more about nutrition and health?
Below are some additional resources:
4 Reasons to Cut Back on Sugar & 4 Tips for How to Do It
As parents, we know sweets and treats are not healthy, but our kids love them, and we want to make them happy. After all, a little sugar can’t hurt? It’s ‘just a cupcake,’ soda, or a candy bar, right? Why not indulge our children once and a while?
Four Reasons to take a hard look at the amount of sugar our kids are really eating:
1. It is not really a ‘once in a while’ thing.
An occasional treat sweetened with natural sugars is not a big deal for a healthy individual that is exercising regularly and eating a healthy whole foods-based diet. But kids today are getting way more than an occasional treat – a bowl of ice cream for dessert every night, sodas every day, candy after school, and treats in the lunchbox.
But even kids who aren’t eating dessert and soda every day are getting too much, because it is hidden in “healthy options” like juice boxes, sports drinks, snack bars, and things like fruit flavored yogurts. Sugar is in virtually every packaged foods, according to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF, “There are 600,000 food items in American grocery stores, and 80% of them have added sugar.” So in addition to the obvious culprits (like candy, cookies), there are the hidden sources of sugar that we don’t even count that are adding up (granola bars, yogurts, cereals).
2. Sugar is (like) a drug.
Studies show that sugar affects the brain much in the same way that cocaine does: What Happens to Your Brain on Sugar, Explained by Science. Sugar delivers a double whammy, it is highly addictive and stimulates the appetite. So the more sweet foods a person consumes, the more they want – creating a self-fulfilling cycle.
The Sugar Roller coaster
When we eat sugar, it goes surging into our bloodstream, giving us a burst of energy. But that energy is short-lived, and followed by a crash. So naturally, when our energy and mood crashes – we tend to reach for more of what gave us that burst of energy and the happy feeling – and the cycle happens all over again. I call this the “sugar roller coaster,” and it is easy to get stuck on it!
3. Sugar’s Impact on Health
When we are on the sugar roller coaster for a long period of time, the body becomes less able to process sugars as efficiently as it used to. So blood sugar stays elevated longer, and the body needs to release more and more insulin to lower it. This is referred to as insulin resistance, which leads to obesity as well as increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, fatty liver disease, and a recent study out of UCLA found that diets high in sugar negatively impact our memory and brain function. New research is now implicating sugar in the dramatic rise of Alzheimer’s disease – now being referred to as Type 3 Diabetes, because the plagues in the brain are similar to those seen in diabetes. Many of these diseases were thought to affect adults, but new evidence is finding that kids are increasingly affected.
It Happens Fast
Sugar doesn’t take long to make a mark. A new documentary called That Sugar Film chronicles a man who ate a “healthy low fat diet” with a high sugar content for 60 days, and measured it’s impact on his health. He ate no candy, sodas, or cookies, just “healthy” items like low fat yogurts, granola bars, fruit juices, and cereals – the kind of things that fill our kids’ daily diet. The results were shocking – he gained 4 inches of fat around his waist, developed fatty liver disease, and suffered from serious mood imbalances. This was in just 60 days! He wasn’t eating a whole lot more than the average teenage boy.
Watch the Trailer for That Sugar Film:
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, excess sugar is damaging kids’ livers – and increasingly to the point of no return. The liver is a very resilient organ, if you cut a chunk off, it can literally regrow back if there are enough healthy cells to do so. But there is a tipping point with the liver – where you can cross over to permanent damage. Dr. Hyman says that we are seeing a rise in the demand for liver transplants for tweens, due to diets high in sugar – particularly soda consumption.
4. We also have no idea how much is too much.
Excess sugar is linked to an increased risk of almost every disease – including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Because of this, the American Heart Association has come out with some very stringent recommended limits of added sugar based on the child’s age and caloric intake:
Considering the fact that one soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons, you can see how easy it is to shatter the above recommendations every day. In fact, on average, Americans consume 4 times the recommended amount of added sugar each day. Teenage boys are getting the most – almost 30 teaspoons a day! Over half of all 8 years olds drink one soda each day, and one third of teenage boys are drinking 3 cans of sodas per day. In these amounts, sugar is not harmless calories – far from it.
25 years ago when this doctor was a resident, he rarely saw patients with Type 2 diabetes, now half of all the patients in his clinic are Type 2 Diabetics. Sugar is not just empty calories, and it is not just a special treat anymore. It is making up nearly 20% of our total caloric intake because it is in 75% of all packaged foods – including “healthy” options. Excess added sugar can make your liver look like that of an alcoholic – which is why 1 in 10 kids now has fatty liver disease (40% of obese children). It is time for a change.
Four Tips for Breaking Free from Sugar:
1. Follow my “Rule of Three”
Certain foods help to level out the blood sugar. So when we eat them, we are less likely to spike the blood sugar as high as simple carbs and sugar. So I recommend that each time you eat make sure to get at least one or more of the following:
By getting healthy fat, protein or fiber each time you eat, you will stay off the sugar roller coaster and feel more satisfied and energized between meals. When your blood sugar is more stable, you will crave less sugar.
So instead of grabbing one of those 100 calorie snack packs – reach for apple slices with almond butter, or hummus and veggie sticks.
* Fat is Your Friend – Fat is a special case, because for decades we have been told that fat is what is making us fat and causing diseases, and the truth is – sugar and simple carbs are much more to blame. In fact, getting more healthy fats (like avocado, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and grass fed butter) is one of the critical steps we need to take in order to get off that sugar roller coaster. One of the things that I have found with just about everyone that has an issue with sugar is that they are not getting enough healthy fat in their diets. Many people who are stuck on sugar got there because they have been trying to be healthy – and have been following a low fat diet. But here is the kicker – a low fat diet is not healthy. Our bodies need healthy fats to keep you blood sugar level, to suppress our hunger hormones, and to absorb fat soluble vitamins. Without sufficient fats – we are more likely to be hungry all the time.
2. Ditch the Artificial Sweeteners
“Diet” sodas are an oxymoron – because they do not help you to reach or maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that they raise the risk of diabetes, negatively impact our gut bacteria (linked to weight gain and much more), and are linked to weight gain (not loss). Plus – they stimulate your sweet tooth even more than sugar, so they make you crave and eat more sweets and carbs. And perhaps worst of all, artificial sweeteners are made from chemicals which can be cytotoxic to the brain – not good for anyone, and certainly not kids.
3. Shop Smarter.
As parents of young children, we buy the groceries – so if we just stop buying the sugar and junk, then at least it won’t be in the house for kids to eat. It is amazing how they might start to reach for healthier choices like whole fresh fruit when there isn’t an alternative. Plus, taking a short break can effectively “reset” your sweet tooth. Skip the sweets for a week, and your taste buds become more sensitive – so those candies are too sweet, and the apple is just right. Your kids might surprise you with what they choose for dessert after a few days!
4. Keep it in Balance & Set a Good Example
If mom or dad is eating lots of sugar, then they will be more likely to follow our lead.
So if mom and dad are making healthy choices and setting a good example for the kids, they will be more likely to follow suit. If you are struggling with getting the sugar out of your diet – consider taking Sara’s Break Up with Sugar eCourse – which will be available again in late January.
Just remember, it is next to impossible to eat ZERO sugar – so focusing on small amounts of natural sources and buying less packaged and processed foods will go a long way towards lowering your sugar intake. Plus when you make something from scratch – you can use less and better sources.
Want to learn more about how to help your family be healthier this year? Join Nutritionist and Author Sara Vance, at the Coronado SAFE Parenting Conference on January 24th to learn more about How We are Overwhelming Our Kids with Processed Foods. Sara’s talk will cover some key ingredients to look for/avoid, how these things could be impacting their health now and later, and some healthy swaps and tips for how to keep it all in balance.
I don’t think that Vitamin D gets enough credit for how important it is for our immune system to properly work, and in the fight against the flu and other viruses. Optimizing your vitamin D is perhaps is the #1 step to take to prevent the flu!!! Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D could increase your risk of getting influenza. An estimated 70% of the population is deficient in vitamin D, and because the sun is the best source – Winter and Spring tend to be when it dips the lowest (it should come as no surprise that is when colds and flu spike too!). Vitamin D is very important for cancer prevention, and also shows some promise for asthma symptoms and several skin conditions too.
Vitamin D is very important for the immune system – without sufficient Vit D, our T cells (important immune cells) can’t be activated properly. This is important for fighting the flu, and also for prevention of cancer – it is estimated that 75% of breast cancers could be prevented simply by optimizing vitamin D levels. Vitamin D also is found to be effective in preventing and treating skin conditions like eczema, psoriosis, and even recurring infections like Staph, and MRSA as well. Other signs of deficiency can be muscle aches and pains, fractures, depression, blood sugar issues, and more.
According to studies optimal Vitamin D could also benefit asthma sufferers. Asthma makes kids particularly susceptible to getting more serious complications of flu and Enterovirus.
How to get it? Sunshine is your best source – which is why it is called the sunshine vitamin. But you can also supplement – make sure your supplement has the D3 form (cholecalciferol), which is better absorbed than D2 (ergocalciferol, which is a cheaper form, and also the kind added to milk).
How much to supplement? It depends. The right amount will depend on your blood levels of vitamin D, so it is a good idea to have your vitamin D levels checked this time of year. Ideal blood levels are between 40-65 ng/dl. If your levels are really low, your doctor might prescribe a high dose to quickly boost your levels. But generally, adults can very safely take 2,000- 2,500 IU daily, and studies show that 1,200 IU for kids ages 6-15 benefits the immune system. The RDA is 600 IU for kids, and 800 IU for adults, but many physicians and experts feel that those amounts are not high enough to get levels to where they need to be. Talk to your doctor or practitioner about getting your vitamin D checked, or ask how many IU that they recommend that you/your family supplements. Also – magnesium is needed for absorption, so make sure you are getting plenty of leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, raw cacao, nuts, or taking magnesium supplements (avoid the oxide form which is poorly absorbed).
You know the feeling that you get when you are nervous? Like there are butterflies in your stomach? Have you ever had that “sinking feeling” in your gut after you made a big mistake? Sometimes we have those “gut reactions” to situations – where we can’t really explain it, but we just feel like something seems amiss. It is totally normal to experience some nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even panic occasionally. In fact – we should learn to listen to our gut, because sometimes, our gut feelings can guide us in ways that our brain can’t.
But what about when these feelings start to become chronic, overwhelming, and negatively affect someone’s life?
Whenever someone tells me that they have a lot of anxiety or a related mood disorder – my first question is “how is your digestion?” The typical response is, “terrible – but what do my digestive issues have to do with my anxiety?” It is all about the second brain.
Our Second Brain
Our gut and our brains are connected so closely that Dr. Michael Gershon coined our gut “the second brain”. Lined with a complex and extensive set of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, “gut reaction” helps to explain what our second brain does – it guides our feelings, moods, certain behaviors, and reactions.
Our enteric nervous system/gut is responsible for manufacturing important neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood and brain function. So when there has been a gut imbalance or a leaky gut, there often can be mood imbalances and neurological manifestations, because the gut is no longer able to effectively absorb nutrients or convert them into these important brain chemicals. For example, over 90% of our serotonin, often referred to as “the happiness hormone,” is found in our guts. Low serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood imbalances. Other neurotransmitters that can be involved in anxiety include GABA, dopamine, and epinephrine. So you can see how gut issues can affect our emotions.
Digestive Issues Very Common
The trouble is – gut imbalances are rampant – 1 in 5 Americans regularly suffers from digestive complaints. They are so common that we often just suffer through them, thinking that is just “normal” for us, and that there is nothing that we can do. But it is important to not ignore digestive issues because the gut is the foundation of our health. If allowed to continue, gut health issues can develop into other problems – affecting the brain, mood, joints, skin, thyroid, immune system, and more.
Digestive troubles over time can lead to poor absorption, which can develop into nutrient deficiencies, imbalances in neurotransmitters and amino acids – all of which can drive depression, anxiety, mood disorders; and other problems like ADHD and even addictions.
Although this may not work for everyone, there are a number of things to try if your second brain is causing you anxiety:
Heal the root cause, the gut:
Get some relief from the symptoms:
Until the gut is healed, it might not be effectively making neurotransmitters, which can cause someone to feel imbalanced, unfocused and anxious. Often, this is one reason that can drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol – they are trying to correct or self-medicate these imbalances. It is possible to test the neurotransmitters and take supplements that can help the body to produce more of the depleted neurotransmitters to feel more balanced.
The Gut & the Immune System
The gut is also the foundation of the immune system, so someone that frequently gets colds or infections, might want to look at improving their gut health to boost their immune system. One food that heals the gut and boosts the immune system is organic bone broth – so there is truth to the Old Wives Tale that chicken soup heals a cold (also helps to prevent one too).
This is a very in-depth topic. If you are interested in learning more about how the gut affects the brain, mood, and other areas of health, here are some additional articles:
Our gut is the foundation of our health. As Hippocrates so wisely said over 2,000 years ago:
“All disease begins in the gut.”
Please note: If you are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety or overwhelm – please seek out help from a mental health practitioner right away. The national Suicide Hotline can help you to find the necessary resources if you are in a mental health crisis: 1-800-273-8255.
A very common question that comes up a lot is – “Am I getting all the nutrients I need from my regular diet?”
The short answer is – probably not.
I am a big proponent of obtaining the majority of our nutrients from foods, because they contain a synergistic combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals – all of which enhance the absorption and utilization by the body. In some cases, eating certain foods together can even magnify the benefits of nutrients, read Eat Your Sunscreen to learn more. But there are a number of reasons that we might not be getting all of the nutrients that we need on a daily basis.
One reason for nutrient deficiencies is simply that we simply might not be eating enough nutritious foods. The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be too high in packaged, processed and fast foods which is probably lacking in some key nutrient. And to make things worse – processed foods also tend to deplete nutrients within the body, because the body uses them up trying to metabolize foods that are high in sugar, trans fats, and preservatives! So they are a double-whammy!
But even people who eat a high quality diet rich in plant-based foods could have deficiencies for any of the following reasons:
How Can You Tell if You Have Deficiencies?
There may or may not be symptoms at all, but nutrient deficiencies can show up in many different ways – ranging from fatigue, weight gain, migraine headaches, neurological symptoms, focus issues, and much more.
If you do decide to supplement, you might still have questions – which nutrients do I need, and how much should I take? If you want to know exactly what nutrients you are deficient in, in order to more effectively target your supplementation – consider getting the SpectraCell Micronutrient test – which tests white blood cells to measure the functional levels of 35 nutritional components including vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids.
When supplementing, I always caution people against buying the cheapest option, or whatever is on sale. Poor quality supplements tend to be poorly absorbed, and worse – they might even do harm. For example, cheap calcium supplements that do not contain the key co-factors for absorption into the bone, can cause the calcium to migrate to where it should not go, potentially causing calcifications of the arteries, and an increased risk of heart disease. Read: Dietary Supplements, Quality is Key.
But in general, there are 5 supplements that pretty much everyone can benefit from:
1. Vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin”
Referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a fat-soluble pre-hormone that in synthesized from exposing the skin to the sun. Not surprisingly after years of slathering on the sunscreen – many Americans are now low in vitamin D levels. A study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 70% – 97% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of Vitamin D.
2. Magnesium: “The calming mineral”
Magnesium is another nutrient that could save your life – literally! In emergency rooms they give magnesium to people who have suffered a heart attack, because studies have shown that IV magnesium after a heart attack offers protection to the heart muscle.
It is estimated that over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium which is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, nerve health, bone building, and heart health. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in serotonin production, protein building, and the metabolism of adenosine triphoshate (ATP). Magnesium helps rid the body of toxins and acid residues, and is also needed for the synthesis of vitamin D and absorption of calcium.
One of the most important minerals for our heart health, magnesium is also emerging as an important mineral for cancer prevention. A study from Sweden reported that women with the highest magnesium intake had a 40% lower risk of developing cancer than those with the lowest intake of the mineral.
Heavy alcohol consumption depletes magnesium, which could be one reason that drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day raises our risk of breast cancer. About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones.
Magnesium has been found in studies to stimulate the release of adiponectin, which is known as a “fat-burning hormone.” So low levels of magnesium could be causing us to hang on to fat longer! Magnesium has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, another important factor in a healthy metabolism. Low magnesium levels can lead to muscle cramping, migraine headaches, and could even be a factor in a sluggish metabolism.
Food sources of magnesium include leafy greens, seeds (like pumpkin), avocado, broccoli, and beans. But perhaps the best (and most delicious) way to get magnesium is from raw cacao – the main ingredient in dark chocolate, or try these yummy almond butter cups.
If supplementing, look for citrate, malate, orotate, glycinate (avoid oxide form, which is poorly aborbed and more of a laxative).
3. Omega 3s – “Brain and mood food”
Two kinds of polyunsaturated fats – the omegas – are called “essential” because the body can not make them, so they must be obtained from the diet. Having the right balance of essential fatty acids is important in preventing inflammation. Ideally we should be getting a 1:3 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats in our diets. But because most processed foods are made with cheap soy, cottonseed or vegetable oils; which are high in omega 6s we are getting closer to 1:20 ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s. This sets us up for chronic inflammation.
Omega 3 fats are important for healthy brain function, to support a balanced mood, for heart health, and have even been studied by the US Military to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Omega 3s are found in fatty fish, some nuts, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and also in grass fed meats, and pastured chicken eggs. You can supplement with a high quality fish oil. And I like to take chia seeds every day too. Omega 3s reduce inflammation in the body, which is very important for disease prevention. This article can help guide you on choosing a high quality fish oil. (note: high doses of fish oil can thin the blood, so they should be stopped a few weeks before any surgery, and consult a doctor if on medication).
4. Probiotics – feeds the digestion and immune system
Humans have trillions of bacteria in our bodies, in fact we are made up of 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells, so technically we are more bacterial than human! Bacteria live in our digestive system, our skin, and mucus membranes – our bodies are literally teeming with them. There are between 500 and 1000 different types of bacteria in our guts alone! Bacteria play an extremely important role in our metabolism, digestive and immune system health. Perhaps even more than we currently realize.
When it comes to bacteria, it is all about balance. Research shows that ideally we should have 20 times more beneficial bacteria than the unhealthy kind to maintain a healthy immune and digestive system. A balanced inner ecosystem is very important for digestion, immunity, mood, and even has an impact on your weight. There is even some very good research suggesting that it could be a player in the fight against heart disease and diabetes.
You can get good bacteria from fermented foods like sauerkraut, kim chee, kombucha tea, and yogurt. But most people do not get enough fermented foods, so I recommend that most everyone takes a high quality probiotic supplement to make sure to keep the good bacteria outnumbering the bad.
5. B Vitamins – the “Stress vitamins”
The B vitamins are critical for a healthy metabolism and are needed in order to convert our food into energy. Often referred to as the stress vitamins, the B vitamins are water soluble, so they are not stored in the body for long, and stress causes us to excrete them more. B vitamins are important for energy, mood, sleep, nerve function, detoxification, digestion, heart health, and more. Here are some of the key ones:
Getting your B vitamins from a high quality multivitamin can be a good way to go, because you are getting a little insurance on the other key nutrients that could be missing as well. Find one that contains the Methlycobalamin form of Vitamin B 12. I prefer capsules or liquid over tablets – because they are better absorbed.
Other important B vitamins:
Those are the top 5 supplements that I find that most people need. You can either get them from a high quality multi-vitamin But below are some other common nutrients that can cause problems if there are deficiencies:
Many people can benefit from some high quality supplements. But you also want to be careful to not overdo it – especially with vitamins that can accumulate in the body – like the fat soluble vitamins. And even if you do choose to supplement, realize that supplements alone can’t replace a healthy diet, and those taking prescription medications or who have an existing health condition should consult with their doctor first.
Back in the day, I used to think pretzels were the perfect snack food: low fat and low sugar – and back then, we all thought that meant healthy. I used to munch on them every afternoon, I “needed” my pretzels. I can even remember stopping to buy them when I traveled after I landed in a new town. I had to have my pretzels pretty much every afternoon….
But now, I call pretzels “appetite stimulants.” It’s no wonder I used to go through several bags of them every week…because foods like pretzels don’t satisfy your hunger, they only make you hungrier.
Now I know better. Looking back knowing what I know now, I realize that pretzels were one of “my sugars.”
But you might be wondering – “they only have one gram of sugar. They are a low sugar food….how could they be your sugar?”
To understand that, I need to explain the glycemic index.
The “glycemic index” is the measure for how a food affects blood-glucose levels. Foods are given a number between 1-100 (or higher in some cases) on the glycemic index based on how the food will affect your blood sugar. The lower a food is on the glycemic index, the more gradually it rises the blood sugar and/or to a lower level. A glycemic index of 70 and above is considered high – the blood-glucose rises quickly and to a higher level. Medium glycemic index is between 56 and 69. A low glycemic index is under 55. The glycemic index was originally designed to help people with diabetes better manage their blood sugars. But now weight loss experts are using it to help people lose weight, and manage cravings. Recent research out of Harvard has demonstrated that eating diets with low glycemic foods can lower the risks for obesity and related diseases like coronary heart disease and diabetes.
Harvard Health has put together this list of 100 foods and their glycemix index (and glycemic load).
You might be wondering why are pretzels (baked potatoes and corn flakes) are so high on the glycemic index, when they are a low sugar food? In addition to foods with added sugars, white potatoes, white flour and processed grains like white bread, crackers, pretzels, and the like are of concern. Look for “enriched” flour on the ingredient list – enriched means the grains have been highly processed and are lacking fiber and nutrients. These foods convert very quickly into sugar when they enter our bloodstream. They spike blood sugar levels, cause insulin to be released, and as a result, our appetite to spike.
Now you are probably thinking, wait just one minute Sara. Isn’t whole wheat better for us because it has fiber? Yes, fiber is important for leveling out bloodsugar. So common sense would tell us that whole wheat is better for us.
But let’s take a closer look…
First of all, a lot of breads labeled “whole wheat” are really made with highly processed enriched wheat flour (which barely resembles a whole grain anymore), and some even contain high fructose corn syrup. And as we know, processed grains spike our blood sugar. But that is not the whole story.
Second, the whole wheat of today is not the same as our grandparents.
Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly calls today’s wheat, “frankenwheat,” because it does not resemble the wheat of a couple decades ago. This new wheat has a protein that is as addictive as drugs, causes us to eat more, and can even lead to other health problems.
Neurologist and author of the book Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter says that gluten, wheat and simple carbs are all harming our brains – contributing to Alzheimers disease and other brain degeneration.
Let’s look a little closer….
Whole wheat* has three characteristics that are wreaking havoc on our metabolism:
One More thing to consider….Our Livers
As if that all weren’t enough, there is one other condition that is linked to diets high in sugar, flour, and carbs – and that is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is estimated that 90 million Americans have it, and the scary thing is that most don’t even know it! We are even seeing 12 year old kids with it!! Here is an article/video from Dr. Mark Hyman about it.
SO…are pretzels really worse than a candy bar?
I am not sure that one is worse than the other. The point of this article is to educate that even low sugar foods can spike your bloodsugar, causing an insulin response (which when done repeatedly leads to a dangerous condition called insulin resistance), and contributes to an unhealthy metabolism. I am not suggesting that you swap out your afternoon pretzel snack for a candy bar (well, unless it is a few squares of 70% or higher dark chocolate). What I am suggesting, is that you replace it with nutrient dense foods – consider reaching for carrots and hummus instead. Or apple slices with almonds. And see if that satisfies you longer.
Is there a better pretzel?
And if you just really don’t want to give up your pretzels entirely. Consider upgrading them. I like a product called Mary’s Gone Crackers. They make a yummy gluten free pretzel that is not full of starch (like many gluten free foods are) and contains superfoods like chia seeds. They will not spike your bloodsugar as high as regular pretzels and will satisfy your hunger longer. Pair them with some protein or healthy fats and you have a nice snack.
Want to Learn More?
The above article is an excerpt from Sara’s Perfect Metabolism Break Up with Sugar – 7 day eCourse. Interested in learning more information like this, and learning how to break free from sugar (and pretzels)?
The other day I drove into a Rancho Santa Fe gas station, and just as I was about to jump out to go pump my gas, the nice attendant came up and asked me “I’d be happy to pump your gas for you. Premium fuel today?” Yes, please, I respond and get back in the drivers seat. “Wow, they have good service at this gas station,” I say to my son. I glance back at the pump and notice that they also have 100 octane fuel, I had never seen that before, and boy is it expensive – over $6 a gallon! I think to myself, that must be the super premium fuel for all those Ferrari’s and other high performance cars that you see zipping around Rancho Santa Fe all the time. It stands to reason that the higher performance car you have, the higher quality of fuel it needs.
That stop at the Rancho Santa Fe gas station got me thinking about sports nutrition. Athletes are kind of like high performance cars. Just as we expect sports cars to perform better than an average car, athletes put higher demands on their body and seek superior performance. Putting the wrong gas into a Ferrari can mean lower performance, and overtime could land it in the shop for repairs or even create damage to the motor/inner workings. The same is true for young athletes – if they are choosing lots of junk food, they might not end up with optimal performance, or over time could end up with chronic inflammation and be plagued with injuries.
Endurance and elite athletes burn a significant amount of calories, so they can and need to regularly eat a lot of calories to replenish their energy reserves. But just because they can polish off a box of donuts or a large soda and a couple 20 piece nuggets and still not gain weight, does not mean that they should. Just like a Ferrari, athletes should consider putting in the best possible fuel if they want peak performance.
Because of the extra demands they put on their bodies, it is important for athletes to consume a diet rich in plant-based foods, high quality (ideally grass-fed) protein sources, plenty of healthy fats, and limit nutrient-deficient and inflammation-causing foods (foods that contain a lot of sugar, trans fats, or too many omega 6 fats – found in vegetable oils, soy oils, etc).
One of the best foods an athlete can add to their training regime are superfoods. Superfoods are highly nutrient dense foods that provide an abundance of nutrition and can potentially improve performance and overall health…kind of like “super premium” fuel.
At the top of my list of functional foods for athletes are these 15 superfoods.
15 Superfoods for Peak Performance:
© copyright 2016 Sara Vance