Archive for the ‘Macronutrients’ Category

Earth Cuisine for Longevity

**Ancient researchers discovered that the oils in the deep water fish were rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  These early scientific observations spawned extensive studies that led to the current understanding of how important fish oil is to heart health.  

In the 1980’s, researchers began noticing the native Inuit (Eskimo) populations of Greenland and Alaska had a very low occurrence of heart disease despite a very high fat diet.  The researches discovered the oils in the deep water fish these natives consumed (and continue to do so this very day) are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

While we generally think of fats as harmful, there are fats that have expansive health benefits.  The central objective of this article, is to assist you in sorting through the confusion that has grown from “diets” such as, The Atkins Diet, Sugar Busters Diet and other fads that have bombarded us with profit driven information.  Last week I publish the article entitled, Lipids, which covered fats as a whole, and was rather general.  I believe, it’s paramount to have an understanding of “healthy fats” and more specifically “Essential Fatty Acids” (EFA’s) and their role in cardiovascular health.

All natural fats are mixtures of different types of fatty acids.  Fatty acids are made up of carbon atoms comprised of short or long chains.  Each carbon atom has four bonding sites (think of imaginary arms) where it can attach to other atoms.  When all binding sites are attached to hydrogen atoms, the fatty acid chain is saturated.

When some binding sites on a carbon atom are attached to a neighboring carbon atom, made by a double bond, the fatty acid is unsaturated.  If a fatty acid chain has two or more double bonds, it’s referred to as polyunsaturated.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids are further classified by where on the carbon chain the double bond is located.  Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid with the first double bond located at the sixth carbon atom from the omega end; thus, it is an omega-6 fatty acid.  Linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, has it’s first double bond at the third carbon atom from the omega end.  Both linoleic and linolenic fatty acids are essential fatty acids.  These polyunsaturated fatty acids are needed to sustain life.  It is possible for some fatty acids to be made within the body, however, these cannot.  Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids must be consumed in the diet and/or through supplementation.

Monounsaturated fats are fatty acids that have one double bond in the fatty acid chain and all of the remainder of the carbon atoms in the chain are single bonded.  Fatty acid viscosity and melting point increases with the decreasing number of double bonds.  Therefore, monounsaturated fats have a higher melting point than polyunsaturated fatty acids.  This makes monounsaturated fats the ideal choice for cooking.  Common monounsaturated fatty acids are palmitoleic acid, cis-vaccenic acid and oleic acid.

Although polyunsaturated fats protect against cardiovascular disease by providing more membrane fluidity than monounsaturated fats, they are more vulnerable to lipid peroxidation (becomes rancid).  On the other hand, foods containing monounsaturated fats reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, while increasing high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.  These are just a few examples of the cardiovascular and overall health benefits that EFA’s and monounsaturated fatty acids provide the body.  One other important thing I feel necessary to note; many more variants of polyunsaturated fatty acids exist, in this article I intended to highlight the specific fatty acids that were studied in the research of Native Inuit Eskimos.  Another objective in regards to the article content was to cover the cardiovascular benefits these fatty acids provide.

**The next logical question you are probably asking yourself is, “so what foods should I eat to incorporate these fatty acids into my diet?”  A full categorized list will be up this week….I got you guys!  No worries 😉

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Grain products are often baked, and are rich s...

CARBOHYDRATES:

Carbohydrates (Carbs) are the primary source of energy for all body functions and muscular exertion.  Carbohydrates are the chief source of fuel for anaerobic activity (weight training, activities which raise heart rate above 60-70%).  It’s widely believed that in the absence of carbohydrates that the body will use fat for its fuel source.  While that is true, remember, only if you’re performing activity at a fat burning heart rate (aerobic- up to 60-65% VO2 Max).  Since carbs are our chief source of fuel, this leads to depletion of available and stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and creates a continual craving for this macronutrient.  Carbohydrates also help regulate the digestion and utilization of proteins and fats.

**Note: I intentionally refrain from using the term “cardio” in reference to lower intensity activity that targets body fat as a fuel source (as it’s so often used out of context).  I opt to use the term “aerobic” because by definition the word means simply, “with oxygen” or to oxidize fat for energy!  Whereas, cardiovascular activity is intended to train just that, cardiac tissues (of the heart), while this type of exercise is an absolute necessity for health, it’s not the focus of this particular article.  

**The depletion of stored carbohydrates (glycogen) does NOT occur within one workout or activity for the majority of individuals.  Mainly because the amount of glycogen the body can store is a relatively large amount.  The above statement in the first paragraph relating to this is made with individuals whom are consuming a restricted carbohydrate nutrition program, and are beginning their training sessions in a state of “carb depletion.”  Also, a state of depletion is relative, or at least dependent upon the type of activity being performed (e.g., long distance hike vs 45 min. weight training session).  Based on feedback from what you, the readers following this blog want, this article is intended to target those trying to reduce body fat levels and positively improve body composition.  I felt it necessary to clarify before continuing :))! 

The principle carbohydrates present in foods occur in the form of simple sugars, starches and cellulose.  Simple sugars, such as those in honey and fruits, are easily digested.  Double sugars, such as table sugar, require some digestive action but they are not nearly as complex as starches, such as those found in whole grains, rice and potatoes.

Starches require prolonged enzymatic action in order to be broken down into simple sugars (i.e., glucose) for utilization.  Cellulose, commonly found in the skins of fruits and vegetables, is largely indigestible by humans, but does play more then one very important role within the body.  The indigestible “roughage” is essentially just fiber(s), soluble and insoluble, fiber provides bulk for proper intestinal function and aides elimination.  Fiber is necessary for a number of other essential functions in the body, which I’ve discussed in previous articles.

All sugars and starches are converted by the body into simple sugars such as glucose or fructose.  All sugars must become glucose before the body can use them for energy.  Some glucose or “blood sugar” is used as fuel by tissues of the brain, nervous system and muscles.  A small amount of the glucose is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles, any excess is converted to fat and stored throughout the body as a reserve energy source.  When total calorie intake exceeds output any extra carbohydrate, fat or protein is stored as body fat.

Carbohydrate “snacks” (Ugh, I can’t stand that term!) which contain large amounts of refined sugars and starches, typically promote a sudden rise in blood sugar levels, thereby providing the body with an immediate source of energy and few nutrients.  The “insulin spike” which shortly follows this reaction rapidly lowers the blood sugar levels resulting in uncontrollable cravings for more sugary foods and potentially causing fatigue, dizziness, nervousness and headaches (varying levels of hypoglycemia).

Diets (Lifestyles) that are high in refined carbs are usually low in vitamins, minerals and cellulose.  Foods such as white flour, white sugar, instant potatoes, etc. are lacking in B vitamins specifically, as well as other nutrients.  Overindulging in starchy and/or sweet foods gives you calories without the nutrients and robs you of the essential nutrients to metabolize these foods.  **I realize this really isn’t ground breaking new information for most of you, but so often the basics of the basics are overlooked or at best assumed to be understood.  For some it may be very well understood, however, it’s the others (the majority) that this article is targeting…this is not meant to be a criticism to anyone what so ever, I myself need regular reminders to stop overanalyzing and get back to the basics!  I hope this can be that reminder for some of you!!

Lipids (Fats).

English: A salmon rose, part of a sashimi dinn...

Lipids:

Lipids (i.e., fats) are the most concentrated source of energy in the diet.  One gram of fat yields approximately nine calories when oxidized, furnishing more than twice the calories per gram of carbohydrates or proteins.

In addition to providing energy, fats act as carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.  By aiding in the absorption of vitamin D, calcium is also available to body tissues, particularly to the bones and teeth.  Fats are also important for the conversation of carotene to vitamin A.

Lipids/Fats are involved in the following:
▪    Cellular membrane structure and function
▪    Precursors to hormones
▪    Cellular signals
▪    Regulation and excretion of nutrients in the cells

Fat deposits surround, protect and hold in place organs (visceral fat), such as the kidneys, heart and liver.  A layer of fat insulates the body from environmental temperature changes and preserves body heat.  Dietary fats prolong the digestion process by slowing the stomach’s secretions of hydrochloric acid, this creating a longer lasting sensation of fullness after a meal (satiation).

Fat in Foods:

The bulk of fat consumed in the diet is ingested in the form of triglycerides.  Triglycerides are made up of a glycerol backbone with three fatty acids attached.  The fatty acids attached to the glycerol may differ from one another in two ways: chain length and degree of saturation.  Saturation refers to the chemical structure.  A saturated fatty acid is one that carries the maximum number of hydrogen atoms, leaving no points of unsaturation.  Unsaturated fatty acids can be divided into two types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.  Food fats contain a mixture of the three kinds of fatty acids.

When a fat contains predominantly saturated fatty acids, it is said to be a saturated fat.  Similarly, when a fat or oil contains a large proportion of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat, respectively.  Generally, the more unsaturated the fat, the lower it’s melting point and the more likely it is to become liquid at room temperature.

Trans-fatty acids are not generally found in nature.  Trans-fatty acids are created when double bonds are transformed into single bonds through the addition of hydrogen.  This entire process creates trans-fatty acids.  An example of this process is when a poly-unsaturated vegetable oil is transformed into a semi-solid (i.e., margarine, shortening).

Essential fatty acids:

Essential fatty acids (EFA‘s) are just that, essential!  These fats are considered essential simply because they CAN NOT be manufactured by the body.  Furthermore, essential fats CAN NOT be manufactured from other sources within the body, as is the case with essential amino acids.  EFA’s must be provided to the body through one’s dietary intake or via supplementation.  The common essential fats are; Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9.

**Interesting fact: The FDA recently changed the recommended ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids from a 20:1 ratio, to a 3:1 ratio…I’m no math whiz but that’s a tremendous difference!  It’s now known, saturated fats only account for approximately 20% of arterial plaque accumulation.  What happens when Omega-6 fats grossly out number Omega-3’s (i.e., 20:1 ratio)?  We find where the other 80% of arteriolosclerosis comes from!

Essential fatty acids truly deserve the attention of an entire article.  However, you can’t have an article titled, Lipids, without including something about the shear necessity of EFA’s.  If you can afford only one supplement, make certain it be a quality Omega-3 fatty acid supplement!

Protein…The Essence of Existence!.

English: typical structure of an α-amino acid

English: typical structure of an α-amino acid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Protein:
Next to water protein is the most plentiful substance in the human body.  Protein is vitally important to the maintenance of good (optimal) health.  Additionally it’s critical to the growth and development of all body tissues.  It is the major source of building materials for muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and internal organs (i.e. heart, brain, lungs).  Protein is need for the formation of hormones, which control a variety of body functions such as growth, sexual development and metabolic rate.  It also acts to prevent blood and tissues from becoming either too acidic or too alkaline.  Protein also helps regulate the body’s water balance.  Enzymes and antibodies are formed from proteins as well, enzymes are substances necessary for basic life functions.  Antibodies help to fight foreign substances in the body.  Proteins plays an integral role in the formation of milk during lactation and in the clotting process of blood.

Protein as Energy:
Protein may also be used as a source of heat (via calories) and energy, as each contains four calories per gram.  However, this energy is spared when sufficient fats and carbohydrates are present in the diet.  Unlike carbohydrates and fat, the body does not have the ability to store protein.  Glucose is stored as glycogen and fats are reserved in adipose tissue, whereas protein is available only through the working molecular and structural components of endogenous body tissues.  When the need arises, the body dismantles it’s tissue proteins and utilizes them for energy.  The tissues of the liver are the first to be broken down, followed by the muscles tissues and then other organs.  Energy deficiency (i.e. chronic or severe dieting and starvation) is therefore always accompanied by the wasting of lean body tissue.
Excess protein that is not utilized as an energy source or for building tissue can be converted into fatty acids by the liver, then stored in adipose tissue.  Excess protein may also be partitioned and excreted through the kidneys in the form or urea.  When protein is used for immediate or stored energy, which occurs when protein intake exceeds recommended amounts (or needed amounts, in the case of trained individuals), the nitrogen portion of the molecule is removed.  As a result, calcium is released into the blood to buffer the acid residue left from the conversion of protein to energy.  Chronic high protein intake may lead to a calcium deficiency and may contribute to osteoporosis later in life.

Protein Digestion:
When protein (from chicken, beef, fish, eggs, etc.) is ingested, the body must alter it by breaking it down into smaller units known as amino acids.  This allows the body to prioritize where the amino acids are distributed to sustain life.  The human body must then rearrange the amino acids into the proper sequence in order to form the necessary protein.  For this reason, “designer” or engineered proteins have little value over other complete proteins.  In some cases, you could consume less of this type of protein to meet your requirements but the structure of the protein before it is eaten has little, if any, significance to well-fed, healthy individuals.

Complete vs Incomplete Proteins:
Foods containing protein may or may not provide all of the essential amino acids.  When a food contains all of the essential amino acids it is termed a “complete protein.”  Foods that are extremely low in, or lack any one of the essential amino acids are deemed “incomplete proteins.”  Foods that are derived from animal sources (i.e. chicken, beef, fish, eggs, etc.) naturally contain all of the essential amino acids and are therefore referred to as “Complete Proteins.”  Conversely, fruits and vegetables, grains, seeds, as well as legumes (nuts, beans) generally do not have all of the essential amino acids and are referred to as “Incomplete Proteins.”

What the heck is a snack anyways? How many calories is it outside today?.

Pancreas…Insulin…Body Fat! Ohh My!!.