Category Archives: fats and oil


Coconut oil on wooden spoon

Why I’m Still Eating Coconut Oil

A recent article in USA Today on coconut oil has created a flurry of concern when it comes to what to eat. A supposedly new report from the American Heart Association (AHA) shows that coconut oil isn’t good for you, was never good for you, and you should stop eating it immediately. This has gotten picked up by several different media sources (because they love soundbytes — little news headlines that generate interest but don’t provide in depth information).  The AHA recommendation states, “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.

Given the increased number of people who are consuming coconut oil this has caused a lot of confusion. It also generated a lot of people reaching out to me wanting to know what to do. I spent a lot of time during the first two days after this article came out answering emails and responding to social media posts.  Here is my rebuttal of the article(s).  Let’s start with the short answer: Coconut oil is healthy for you, I will continue to eat it, and I continue to suggest it as a healthy fat. Now, as they say, for the rest of the story.

Switching fats

I find it somewhat odd that this “news” comes out in the same timeframe as another article reporting on an advisory from the American Heart Association, Why you should switch from butter to margarine: Simple change could be as good as statins for your heart. Margarine is a trans-fat, it’s hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to make it solid at room temperature. Trans-fats are harmful for cardiovascular health and were removed from the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe list back in 2013. With regard to consumption of trans-fats the AHA clearly states, “The American Heart Association recommends cutting back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.” So I find it very curious that they appear to be once again encouraging margarine consumption while dissing a source of healthy fat.

What is coconut oil? 

Before we pick apart the headlines let’s start by identifying what coconut oil is. It’s made from the white, fleshy part of the coconut, sometimes referred to as the meat. The best quality is made from fresh coconut (as opposed to dried) which is expeller pressed. Cold pressed (instead of heat pressed) is even better because it retains more of the nutrients. Coconut oil contains caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid. These medium chain fatty acids provide a number of benefits including:

  • antibiotic, antimicrobial and antifungal
  • highly effective against candida
  • highly digestible and supportive for ulcers and ulcerative colitis
  • not easily stored as fat
  • supportive for brain health
  • beneficial for skin issues such as dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis (taken internally and externally)
  • prevents bone loss 
  • helpful for weight loss
  • beneficial for cardiovascular health

Due to it’s saturated nature, coconut oil changes from liquid to solid depending on ambient temperature. There is a form of coconut oil on the market referred to as MCT, short for Medium Chain Triglycerides, which is liquid all the time. This does not have the same profile as ‘regular’ coconut oil. MCT oil is more concentrated and has different proportions for the different medium chain fatty acids.

The science

Here’s why these scare-tactic articles about coconut oil fall short for me. They are not based on new studies. In fact all the new data coming out shows the health benefits of coconut oil. If you read the recent negative articles carefully you can see that the advisory they quote is based on a review of previous data. They’ve decided, however, to rename it and call it an American Heart Association Presidential Advisory. It doesn’t matter what they call it, it’s still not new information. Not only is this old information, it’s information that has been debunked. Here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know:

  1. Saturated fat – Dr. Ancel Keys is the man at the center of the whole heart disease/saturated fat issue. He essentially cherry picked the data to fit his theory that consumption of saturated fats increased cardiovascular disease. (In case you didn’t know, cherry picking your data is a bad thing for a researcher.) However his legacy lives on with scary articles about how bad saturated fat is for us. This continues despite newer studies showing that saturated fat is not as harmful as we have been led to believe.
  2. Hydrogenation – Many of the studies that were done examining the effect of saturated fats on cholesterol levels used hydrogenated coconut oil. That is, they added hydrogen to make it always solid, in effect turning coconut oil into a trans-fat. The cold-pressed, extra virgin, organic coconut oil that you should be buying and consuming has no trans-fats. These studies do not apply and yet they are repeatedly trotted out and cited as a reason to avoid consuming coconut oil
  3. Cholesterol – The articles claim that coconut oil increases cholesterol, especially LDL. However we can’t focus just on one factor, LDL, as a risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact studies have found cholesterol ratios and HDL levels improved by consuming coconut oil. What’s more important is the size of your lipoprotein particles. Lots of small dense particles are more harmful than a number of fewer, larger particles. To get to the true value of heart health you need to look deeper than just LDL. You need to consider the ratio of HDL to LDL, your triglycerides, and your LPP (lipoprotein particle) values.
  4. Inflammatory – Coconut oil is not an inflammatory food. In fact it has been found to be the opposite. While some saturated fats are inflammatory, coconut oil does not fall into this category. Side note: According to the National Cancer Institute the largest source of saturated fat in the American diet is cheese and pizza
  5. Fats – Fats are healthy, and a wonderful source of energy. That’s so important I’m going to say it again. Fats are healthy! We need fat. Your brain is made up of 70% fat, your vital organs are surrounded by a protective layer of fat, your hormones are made from fat, and without fat you cannot absorb and utilize the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. It’s also important to note that fat slows down how fast your body breaks down and absorbs sugar. 
  6. Heart disease – Low fat was NEVER the answer to heart disease. In fact we now know that the opposite is true. The more we shifted to low fat the more heart disease increased. Leading to more people on statin drugs with diabetes and obesity. Replacing fat with chemicals and carbohydrates is exactly the wrong answer to being healthy. And the available studies continue to support this fact.

Yes you can

Continue to eat coconut oil as part of a healthy diet. Choose cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, organic, extra virgin for optimal benefit. Coconut oil can be used for cooking or baking, it’s great in smoothies (melt it first for proper blending), and it gives a wonderful boost when you add a little to a cup of tea or coffee.

Remember that eating well to be well includes a balanced, varied, whole food/real food nutritional plan. General guidelines suggest that 30% of your daily diet should come from healthy fats. These include avocados, butter and ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, and nuts and seeds (preferably raw and soaked). 

 

References:

Cardoso, D.A., et al. A coconut extra virgin oil-rich diet increases HDL cholesterol and decreases waist circumference and body mass in coronary artery disease patients. Nutr Hosp. 2015;32(5):2144-2152 ISSN 0212-1611 • CODEN NUHOEQ S.V.R. 318. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Glorimar_Rosa/publication/283576816_A_coconut_extra_virgin_oil_rich_diet_increases_HDL_cholesterol_and_decreases_waist_circumference_and_body_mass_in_coronary_artery_disease_patients/links/56434e3408aef646e6c69a5b.pdf

DiNicolantonio JJ. The cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or Ω-6 polyunsaturated fats: Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong? Open Heart 2014;1:e000032. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2013-000032. http://openheart.bmj.com/content/1/1/e000032.full

Eyres, L, et al. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutr Rev (2016) 74 (4): 267-280. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuw002. Published: 05 March 2016. https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/74/4/267/1807413/Coconut-oil-consumption-and-cardiovascular-risk

Gavin, James E. Optimizing Diagnosis and management in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. Neurodegener Dis Manag. 2012 Jun; 2(3): 291–304. doi:  10.2217/nmt.12.21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3437664/

Hayatullina Z. et al., Virgin coconut oil supplementation prevents bone loss in osteoporosis rat model. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:237236. Epub 2012 Sep 16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23024690

Lei, T., et al. Medium-Chain Fatty Acids Attenuate Agonist-Stimulated Lipolysis, Mimicking the Effects of Starvation. Obesity. Volume 12, Issue 4 April 2004. Pages 599–611. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2004.69/full

Selverajah, M., et al. Anti-ulcerogenic activity of virgin coconut oil contribute to the stomach health of humankind TANG Vol.6 No.2, 2016.5, 12-18 (7 pages) http://www.dbpia.co.kr/Journal/ArticleDetail/NODE06688140

Siri-Tarino, PW, et al. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. March 2010 vol. 91 no. 3 535-546. doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.2009.27725. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/535

 

Top 10 Ingredients To Avoid

I’m often asked which ingredients we should avoid in our food.  There really isn’t a simple answer for that.  I could say all of the fake ones, but that leaves you to decide which ones are fake.  And truthfully some of them aren’t “fake”, meaning they’re not entirely from chemicals.  They’re just highly modified.  Either because they’ve been through some sort of a chemical process to invert, alter, or manipulate their chemical structure to change them significantly from their original form. 

An overview of Splenda (TM)

A perfect example of manipulation is Splenda.  It started out as sugar (which some could argue is highly processed, stripped of all minerals and therefore not a great choice to begin with).  In processing it becomes modified by the addition of sucralose which is made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen atoms and inserting three chlorine atoms in their place. Because it contains less than 5 calories per serving it’s labeled as having no calories.  (A single packet, weighing 1 gram, actually provides 3.36 calories — a miniscule amount, however this is still misleading labeling).

Unfortunately Splenda (TM) is far from the harmless non-nutritive sweetener that it’s advertised to be.  It has been shown to alter intestinal pH and reduces intestinal microflora.  We need a balanced pH for good health.  We also require beneficial levels of bacteria to help support good digestive health.

According to one report published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, there seems to be some evidence that Splenda (TM) may not be as biologically inert as advertised.  It also appears that exposure to high temperatures can cause it to break down into a toxic substance.

Ingredient Overview

While I frequently write about what ingredients are, where they appear, and other information you need to be aware of in the newsletter, I also recognize that it’s helpful to have a “cheat sheet” of sorts to give you an overview and help you break it down a little bit further.  So I’ve created the infographic below.  These are my top ten “baddies” and the ones that you really want to watch out for.  Print it out, write it down, whatever you need to do to be able to bring this information with you to the grocery store. 

top-10-ingredients-to-avoid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re looking for more in-depth information about ingredients your best resource is The Pantry Principle:  how to read the label and understand what’s really in your food. 

For regular, weekly updates on what’s going on in the world of food manufacturing and processing be sure to check out my newsletter, Food News You Can Use.

 

 

Are You Getting Real Olive Oil?

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A class action suit has been filed regarding the purity of olive oil; you can read about it here.  I wrote briefly about this issue in my book The Pantry Principle. It is a sad fact that more olive oil is sold than what is grown. There was also a study by the University of California, Davis about how many oils failed to pass mass spectrometry tests for being pure olive oil.  While the testing only looked at oils sold in California it is reasonable to assume that national and international brands were equally affected.  How does this happen? Sadly it’s because they dilute , or adulterate, it with other oils.  That’s food fraud.

Unfortunately there’s no other explanation than cost.  Olive oil is expensive.  Diluting it with cheap, highly refined oils generates more profit.  Similarly the use of poor quality olives (either over-ripe or damaged in some way) and mis-labeling it as a higher quality must also be in search of profit.  I cannot find any other reason for this.

What this does is highlight the fact that when it comes to olive oil it’s very important to know your source.  While the label appears to be your only indicator, as we see here, it is often misleading.  It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out in the courts.

In the meantime it’s important to know your fats.  In addition to the brands listed in the University of California report as being high quality olive oil it is possible to seek out smaller growers and importers.  I have a very limited number of fats that I use. I have a few more on my trusted list that I would use if I couldn’t source or, in the case of ghee, make my own.   The ones that I have listed on my Resources Page are oils that I have personally had the opportunity to taste and to speak to the producers.

My top three daily fats are:

Kirkland brand organic, extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil – yes, they were one of only 5 determined to be pure by the UC, Davis study. There are other specialty olive oils that I like as a treat, but for everyday use this is the one. 


Nutiva brand organic cold pressed coconut oil – I am a big fan of Nutiva organic and I purchase it by the gallon.   It’s also important to know that while coconut oil is a saturated fat it is a healthy saturated fat.  As a saturated fat it will be solid in cold temperatures and liquid in warm ones.  This is normal and perfectly fine.  There is no need to throw it out because, “it melted.”

Ghee – usually I make my own. But when I see them at a conference (which is at least 3 times a year) I’ll treat myself to a jar or two of Pure Indian Foods ghee which is fabulous. They also have a delicious coconut ghee mixture which is wonderful.

Sourcing is important! With your olive and coconut oils always buy extra virgin, cold pressed for best quality and organic to avoid pesticide residue.

For ghee make sure that the milk is from cows not treated with artificial hormones, antibiotics, fed pesticides or GMOs, and grass fed is best.

 

photo: joeb

Nordic Diet

There’s a new diet trend that appears set to take the world by storm, the Nordic Diet. It appears to be a Scandinavian take on the concepts of the Mediterranean Diet. According to a study published in The Journal of Internal Medicine it lowered cholesterol and inflammation among study participants who followed the plan for 18 weeks.  Without a doubt there will shortly be a book, a cookbook, several websites with recipes, and a new crowd of enthusiasts.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it may not be the right thing for everyone.

The diet does allow for whole grains, primarily rye, barley, and oats, as well as low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, game meats (like moose), fruits, berries, vegetables, and canola oil. While new diet plans always garner a lot of excitement it’s important to remember that there is no one size fits all diet. We are bio-individual creatures and what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. If someone is gluten intolerant they need to avoid the rye and barley (and source gluten free oats) allowed in this nutritional plan. Just because it’s part of the diet doesn’t mean it’s the right choice if your body can’t handle it.

I do have a couple of thoughts about this diet and about food trends in general:

  • The Nordic Diet calls for canola oil. In the United States this is not a good choice as the vast majority of it is contaminated by GMO. Some estimates of contamination and cross-contamination are so high that there are those who believe there is no unmodified canola to be found in the U.S.
  • The diet calls for low-fat dairy. This is not a healthy option. Starting with the fact that dairy is one of our few food sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning it needs to be consumed with fat in order for the body to properly utilize it). Vitamin D is also important to help the body properly make use of calcium. When it comes to the old notion that high fat diets cause obesity, recent studies have shown that the opposite is true. In measured studies, those who consumed whole-milk dairy products had reduced risk for obesity.
  • The diet does not, as far as I’ve been able to find, specifically talk about sourcing of food.  While game meat is unlikely to be adulterated with added hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, poultry and fish need to be sustainably sourced.   It’s interesting to note that game meat in general may be gaining some prominence as people seek to avoid meat from animals raised in confined operations.
  • Vegetables and fruits still need to be sourced without pesticide residue and GMO contamination.
  • I imagine that there will be more of a call for root vegetables.  This is a good thing as root vegetables are high vitamins, beta-carotene, and fiber.  [side thought: I’m always surprised when I buy parsnips at the grocery store and the checkout clerk wants to know  what the “white carrots” are.]

With food trends in general I expect we’ll face a year ahead with more, New, BETTER (read tongue in cheek) superfoods that convey all sorts of health benefits.  I’m not a huge fan of seeking those out and quite frankly we have superfoods that are local and easily accessible, there’s no need to keep chasing the latest super ones.

I imagine there will still be some sort of push to get bugs onto the menu and into the grocery stores.  They’re cheap and easy to raise, a quick, convenient source of protein.  I’m not a fan but that’s a personal preference.  I also don’t eat things like squid or eels that doesn’t mean I think they’re dangerous or bad for you.  With anything that we eat we have to look at how it’s raised.  Remember, you are what you eat includes whatever the animal you’re eating ate.

I still believe there’s not enough focus on fermented foods.  These are in a category referred to as functional foods, they have a specific health benefit.  In the case of fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, and lacto-fermented vegetables they add beneficial probiotics to our intestinal tract, helping us to break down our food, boost our immune system and stay healthy.  While I see more and more evidence of some fermented foods I believe we would all benefit from eating more of them.  Ideally we’d learn how to make them at home.

I’d like to believe we’ll continue to see a growing influence of tip-to-tail consumption that will encourage us to eat more fully from the whole animal.  Learning to eat organ meats again, consuming more bone broths, getting away from the white-meat-only-chicken-breast diet that so many of us have become accustomed to.

Whatever nutrition plan lies ahead let’s remember that we need to eat according to the needs of our bio-individual bodies.  Our dietary needs change over time.  We don’t eat the same in our 40’s as we did when we were a toddler or an adolescent.  But however we choose to eat, whatever we’re eating, let’s focus on clean, healthy, sustainably sourced foods rather than jumping from one popular diet plan to another.

photo: PL Przemek

Your Food – Fortified With Fish

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As the Food Ingredient Guru I advocate reading the food label.  It’s your best line of defense against all of the chemical cr@p that manufacturers insist in stuffing into your food.  If you or someone in your family has a food allergy it becomes imperative that you read the label because you need to pay attention to those ingredients that may cause a serious or life threatening reaction.

In my case it’s fish and seafood.  For me it’s not just a food intolerance (sometimes called a food sensitivity).  It’s an actual full-blown food allergy.  I have an epi-pen.  And as much as I advocate and believe in the power of fish oil for health, I can’t take it myself.

While fish itself is generally easy to avoid sometimes it gets added to food under the guise of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.  Now we’ve all heard that omega-3s are good for us (they are) and that we don’t get enough of them (most of us don’t).  Manufacturers want to capitalize on this and they add omega-3s to the food, fortifying it*, and displaying this information in big bold letters on the front of the package.  But that’s not the whole story.

There are three different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids.  ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  ALA comes from plant sources, such as flax, olive oil, walnuts, and soy.  EPA and DHA come from fish, with the best sources being cold water fatty fish like sardines and salmon.

Omega-3 fortified products can include milk, yogurt, eggs, juices, bread products, baby food, peanut butter, protein bars, protein shakes, and more.  While ALA, or vegetable-sourced omega 3s, are cheaper, that doesn’t always mean that that’s what the manufacturers are using in their food.

Recently I was doing in a client’s pantry and came across this jar of peanut butter.  Looking at the label we can see that the omega-3 was is from fish (because is says DHA and EPA on the front).  In the ingredient panel (sorry for the fuzzy photo) it lists anchovy and sardine oils as well as tilapia gelatin.  I’m not sure why the tilapia gelatin is there except for some sort of binder, but as a source of omega-3 it’s not a great one.  For someone with a food allergy the difference between vegetarian and animal sources of omega-3 could potentially be huge.

It is also important to note that farm raised fish, such as tilapia, have been shown to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids.  We already get too many of these in our modern diet and they’re known to be more detrimental to cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels.  This is because farm raised fish are eating corn and soy (both probably genetically modified by the way) instead of beneficial algae.  When fish eat algae they can convert it into the omega-3 fatty acids we need.  When they eat corn and soy they can’t and so wind up with the higher omega-6 levels.

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Another issue to be aware of is that when we add omega-3s to our food by fortifying it, studies appear to show that the fortified versions don’t have the same beneficial effect as the original, whole food source.  Additionally, the amount of omega-3s in fortified foods may not reach the levels needed to truly have a beneficial effect on your health.  Once again, manufacturers are capitalizing on buzz words and media focus to add something to their food products in an attempt to convince you to buy.  Unfortunately it may not provide the health benefits that you think it will.

The solution?  Stay informed, read the label, and eat real food.

*Quick reminder:  Fortified foods are those that have an added substance that was never in there to begin with (like omega 3s in peanut butter).  Enriched foods are those that have ingredients removed during processing added back (usually chemically synthesized versions).

Uses For Coconut

Coconuts are a great food  and resource.  It’s becoming more common in America for people to use coconut products; more than just eating the coconut meat.  Coconut milk has become a mainstream alternative to dairy for those who cannot have cows milk, the oil is used for cooking, the water as a healthy replacement for sports beverages.

In addition to the edible benefits of coconut are the other resources that it provides.  It is an extremely versatile plant with many of its parts providing a wide variety of uses.

It is important that if you are going to consume coconut products that your source is using coconuts grown without the use of pesticides so that you can avoid the exposure through consumption or cosmetic use to these chemicals.  Also important is to use cold-pressed, extra virgin coconut oil.  Coconut products not marked cold-pressed typically use a mechanical process which may additionally require the use of bleaching and deodorizing agents.

Two health questions that come up frequently are:

1.  Are coconuts a nut?  No.  Although they contain the word nut in their name coconuts are not a nut and it should be safe for those with nut allergies to consume coconut products.  They are the seed of a palm tree and are not botanically related to nuts or peanuts.  However, if there is an allergy it would still be prudent to test in order to verify the absence of a coconut specific allergy.

2. It’s saturated, I thought saturated fats were bad for you? Coconut oil is indeed naturally saturated, however it got it’s bad rap when scientists who were studying fats used hydrogenated coconut oil.  Coconut oil is a nourishing fat, high in lauric acid (also found in mother’s milk) which appears to have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties.  2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil per day is a healthy addition to your nutritional plan.

You can learn more about this amazing seed and all of it’s uses on the infographic below.

coconut uses infographic

Learn how the coconut tree provides all-around benefits — from its husks and roots to coconut oil — through our infographic “Plant of Life: An Infographic on Various Coconut Uses.” Use the embed code to share it on your website or visit our infographic page for the high-res version.

<img src="http://media.mercola.com/assets/images/infographic/coconut-uses.jpg" alt="coconut uses infographic" border="0" style="max-width:100%; min-width:300px; margin: 0 auto 20px auto; display:block;"><p style="max-width:800px; min-width:300px; margin:0 auto; text-align:center;">Learn how the coconut tree provides all-around benefits -- from its husks and roots to coconut oil -- through our infographic "<a href="http://www.mercola.com/infographics/coconut-uses.htm">Plant of Life: An Infographic on Various Coconut Uses</a>." Visit our infographic page for the high-res version.</p>

The Many Uses Of Coconut

Coconut oil was vilified for many years as an unhealthy substance.  Fortunately this is beginning to change and people are learning more and more about this versatile and healthful substance.  At a recent conference I was fortunate enough to hear a talk by Dr. Bruce Fife who is the coconut oil expert and the author of The Coconut Oil Miracle, Coconut Cures, and other books.  Contrary to popular misconception about coconut oil being bad for you due to the saturated fats, it is a medium chain fatty acid and although saturated actually has a beneficial effect on cardiac health, raising HDL levels.

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On My Mind Monday 01.21.13

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

Eating a fatty diet may reduce sperm count – the study mentioned in this article does not show a definitive correlation, but a probable one.  However, of more interest to me is the fact that saturated fats are, once again, being vilified.  Saturated fat in excess is indeed not a healthy choice.  However, it is required for, among other things, hormone production, so curbing saturated fat intake to excess is also not healthy.  Of only minor mention in the article but, I believe, more significance, is the impact that obesity has on sperm health.  Male obesity has risen dramatically over the past three decades and has been accompanied by an increase in male infertility.  This is an issue that needs to be more directly addressed for those who wish to have children.

Artificial colors in medications can trigger hyperactivity – When I work with clients I encourage them to remove artificial colors from their diets.  These petrochemical-based substances do not belong in our diet or our bodies.  There are many studies which support this.  One major challenge, however, is that while you can choose foods, toothpaste, and personal care products which do not have color in them, you cannot control medications as easily.  And any artificial color that goes into the body can have an effect.  As I wrote about over a year ago in this article on color-free supplements, it is healthier to have color-free choices.  My hope is that eventually manufacturers will either choose plant-based color options, offer color-free options, or find a different way to identify medications that does not rely on petrochemicals.

Vitamin K the supplement of 2013? – I get really upset when the news claims a particular food, superfood, or supplement is the “it” item of the year.  Unfortunately in this country we have a habit of thinking that if a little bit is good a lot must be better.  Witness what happened with soy…it was noted that Asians, who eat more soy, have less incidence of certain illnesses.  So Americans added soy to their diet in huge measure.  Soy milk, soy cheese, soy meat, soy ice cream, the list goes on.  The problem is that we eat more unfermented soy than the Asians do, we eat genetically modified soy, and we’re not responsible about how we add this highly phyto-estrogenic, goitrogenic substance to our diet. Adding vitamin K through food is not a bad thing, it can help to ensure that we have enough in our diet.  Found in dark leafy greens it’s a good thing to add to the diet.  But to start supplementing without knowing whether you need it or not is not a good choice  While it is not known to be toxic, consuming too much has been reported to cause tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.  So by all means add dark leafy greens to your diet.  However if you are considering supplementing because it’s the big thing of the year, consider testing your micronutrient status first to see if you really need it.

India’s Packaged Food To Have GM Label – I’m so happy to see labeling of GMOs.  I hope that it will grow beyond just packaged foods and eventually include fresh foods as well as meat, dairy, and eggs.  After all, if the animals are fed GMOs the products we get from them are also GMO.

This video about food waste from the BBC

highlights just how much food is wasted in developed countries.  Some of it is due to confusion about labeling but some is due to carelessness.  Given the high number of people who don’t have enough to eat in these countries, let alone the rest of the world, this is a major issue.  If we continue to think there’s not enough food we continue to pave the way for GMO foods which, as is becoming increasingly clear, does not provide an appropriate answer.

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photo: mconnors

On My Mind Monday 2.6.12

newspaper | photo: mconnors

Here we are, a new week, more news.  This is what I’m reading and thinking about.

You’ll buy less junk food if you pay cash – Obviously I am not a fan of junk food.  Anything that helps folks learn to kick the habit is a good thing as far as I am concerned.  Learning to put away your credit card turns out to not only help you save money, but eat healthier.

Taco Bell Enters Breakfast Arena – Definitely not a good thing.  I’m not surprised at this move because I know they want to expand their market and make more profits.  But the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to stay home for breakfast.  Eat something healthy, nourishing, with solid protein and a good fat, not over-processed, chemically-laden fast food.  I’m guessing most of you reading this are here because you wouldn’t go there for breakfast in the first place.  Unfortunately, the ones who need to hear this message aren’t reading it.

Update:  One of my readers felt this meant that you should never eat out for breakfast and this is something that she enjoys.  I did not mean you could never eat out for breakfast so I’d like to add the following amendment…fast food for breakfast is not a good choice  Breakfast at a restaurant where the food is freshly prepared and there are healthy choices is not unreasonable.  However, most of the people who would be willing to consider fast food for breakfast on a regular basis would do better to eat at home because the choices available at fast food restaurants are not really healthy ones.

Frying with healthy oil not linked to heart disease – It’s important to note that this report only looked at two oils, olive and sunflower.  And these oils were not reused (which is an important distinction) and were certainly not hydrogenated or modified in any way.  Some questions were raised about the concept of which foods were consumed as all the participants in the study followed a Mediterranean Diet during the 11 year study, however it certainly indicates that the use of clean healthy oils can be part of a healthy diet.

I’m bummed because my Jerusalem artichokes did not appear to grow last year.  I’ve left the ground alone in the hopes that they are giggling amongst themselves and happily multiplying so that in a couple of months I will start to see their little heads poking above ground.  These are a delicious way to add prebiotics to your diet (prebiotics are essentially what the probiotics in your gut need to survive).  High in fiber, potassium, and iron, they also provide some niacin, thiamin, and copper (supports iron for the health of red blood cells and zinc for wound healing and immune system health).  My friend Merriweather has some great pictures and more information about Jerusalem artichokes on his blog.

Found in my latest edition of Winter 2011 Wise Traditions:  “Polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR) is a “yellowish, viscous liquid comprised of polyglyerol esters of polycondensed fatty acids from castor oil or soybean oil.  The anti-freeze-like slime has largely replaced cocoa butter inHershey’s candy bars.  Meanwhile Hershey’s is buying up small high-end chocolate producers, like Scharffenberger and Joseph Schmidt chocolates, and and changing these formulations by adding corn syrup.”  To which I say read the label.  This is just one more reason not to buy Hershey’s products.  These products include but may not be limited to:  Breath Savers, Ice Breakers, Bubble Yum, Jolly Ranchers, Koolerz, Pay Day, Zagnut, Zero, Care-free, Good & Plenty, Reeses, Take Five, York, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, Twizzlers, Dagoba, Cadbury, Mauna Loa, Milk Duds, Mr. Goodbar, Rolo, Skor, Whoppers, and Whatchamacallit. Very sad that the small, high-end producers cannot withstand companies like Hershey’s and their product suffers greatly for it.

Currently Reading:


I bought Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection at a conference a couple of years ago.  Every now and then I come back to it again, not just for the recipes, but for the wonderful information that the author provides about our food, our connection to our food, to the earth, and to the cycles of life.

Disclaimer:  cmp.ly/5

Trans-fat in fast food

Are Trans Fats Shrinking Your Brain?

I hear about this scenario a lot. Not just from families, from anyone who has a hectic, modern, over-scheduled life.  You’re out and about, after a soccer game, running errands, running late after a meeting, and you suddenly realize that you’re hungry. So you decide to stop for a quick bite to eat.  More often than not it’s probably fast food.  While we all know fast food isn’t really good for you, we sometimes for get how often we’re choosing to eat it. Or we think, “Well, I’m in a hurry so it’s okay this one time.”  Truthfully the fast food run is more frequent than most people realize. Especially if they’re not taking the time to journal what and when they eat.  

Trans-fats and brain health

Aside from the poor quality meat, high levels of fat and sodium, and high-calorie intake, it looks like there’s even more reason to avoid that drive-through window. A recent study run by Dr. Gene L. Bowman, an assistant professor of neurology at the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the Oregon Health & Science University, found that people with high levels of trans-fats in their blood had lower cognitive performance scores as well as lower brain volume.  While the study was admittedly small and homogenous (100, elderly Caucasians living in Oregon), Dr. Bowman notes that the results of the testing were so clear that this particular pattern should not be ignored.  Testing looked at nutrient levels in the body, cognitive function and included MRI studies.  What does this mean?  In plain English, there was a positive correlation between higher levels of trans-fats and lower brain function and smaller brain size.  That’s a scary thought.

Although trans fats have been removed from the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list they have not been banned for use in food products. Although at this point just about everyone knows that trans-fats are bad for our heart you’d think that would be enough to convince people to avoid them.  Sadly, that is not the case as evidenced by how many products still contain trans fats.  And with this new research it now it looks like trans fats are also bad for your brain.  This provides even more reason to avoid them.  

Avoiding trans fats 

It’s difficult to identify trans fats in fast food, and truthfully most people don’t take the time to look it up on those posted-near-the-bathroom menu charts.  The easiest suggestion is to assume that if it comes from a fast food restaurant and it’s fried there is a high probability that it contains trans fats. It is important to note that although many fast food restaurants are proudly touting no trans-fats in their food.  

french friesFor example, a large french fries from McDonald’s is technically one serving (so is a small french fries by the way).  That large fries contains 510 calories and 24 grams of fat. That’s 37% of the daily value of fat calories for someone who eats a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

According to the McDonald’s website, 220 of those calories are from fat, 3.5 grams are saturated fats, and there are 0 grams of trans fat.

This is a lie. We know this because of the ingredients list:

Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Salt. *Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients.

That hydrogenated oil is a trans fat. So how is McDonald’s allowed to claim 0 trans fats in this single serving of large french fries? This is due to a Federal ruling that allows them to claim no trans fats if there is less than .05 per serving. But remember the changing serving size.  A small is one, a medium is one, and a large is one.  That seems like pretty bad math to me. Because it’s considered one serving they can say 0 grams of trans fats, but it all adds up pretty quickly.

Trans fats at the grocery store 

Fast food is not, alas, the only place that one finds trans-fats.  There are plenty of items on the grocery store shelf that contains them as well.  Look for the words hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated, olestra, and mono- and di-glycerides. These indicate the presence of trans fats in that food item.  These trans fats are created; they are not from natural sources. There is a small amount of trans fats naturally occurring in beef, lamb, and dairy. But in the case of hydrogenated ingredients, it comes from forcing hydrogen into liquid fats to make them solid at room temperature.
 
So why are trans fats bad for you? For one they raise the level of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in your system.    Unfortunately, they also lower the level of HDL or “good” cholesterol.  Not a good combination.  And as we’ve learned above, avoiding them is important not only for your heart but for your brain as well.
 

Avoiding fast food snacking

So what should you do when you are out and about and need a snack?  There are several options available: 
  1. Have a protein bar available – I almost always have a healthy protein bar in my glove box or purse for an emergency snack.  Look for bars that don’t have a high sugar content and provide balanced proteins and fat.
  2. Stop at a grocery store and buy an apple and some raw nuts.  It’s a delicious and healthy snack.  Often it costs far less than that drive-through meal.  The trick is not to get side-tracked in the grocery store and start to shop for other things.  Treat it like a fast food run, you can always do your grocery shopping later.  
  3. Plan ahead.  If you know you are going to be out and about you can plan ahead and bring food with you.  Using a handy snack container, such as a Laptop Lunchbox, you can pack a healthy snack and skip the trans-fats.