29 June 2012
Our Food and Health in Transition
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”  - Ann Wigmore

OUR FOOD AND HEALTH IN TRANSITION (PART 1)

I stumbled across this quote the other day and found the message to be quite powerful.  As a dietitian, I suppose I have always believed that food was our best medicine, however, we are only now beginning to recognize how this powerful medicine can also lead to our demise. 
At present, our nation is a prime living example.  Culminated by the industrial revolution of the 19th century, our food supply suddenly became very rich in ultraprocessed food products while at the same time, becoming very poor in nutrient dense foods.  With the ultraprocessing of foods comes a dramatic change in the nutritional composition of our food.  Most notably, ultraprocessed foods tend to be higher in energy (calories); lower in fiber; virtually without phytochemicals (plant based chemicals that protect the body from disease); high glycemic; and low in nutrients (vitamins and minerals).  To clarify, “processed foods” can come in many forms.  Technically, even home canning is a form of processing, or taking a food from its original state to one that can be preserved longer than its natural form would allow.  As increasingly more people began working outside of the home, the demand for convenience in foods rose dramatically!  With the demand came the supply and the technology for an increasing complexity of processing.  The question is, with all of our intelligence and innovation, are we ignorantly killing ourselves?  
While there are no clear standards to define processing, there are three tiers that have been formed to generally define the levels of food processing. The three tiers, in order of complexity, begins with “minimally processed”, “processed” being the second, and “highly processed or ultraprocessed” foods being the third.  Examples of the three tiers of processing would include, frozen vegetables, or a gallon of milk (minimally processed); oils, sugar, or flour (processed culinary ingredients; foods that are rarely eaten alone); and a t.v. dinner, chips, or hotdogs (ultraprocessed).  The first tier of processing results in very minimal nutrient loss and the food, in general, maintains its original form.  Types of processing that occur in minimally processed foods include heat, removal of inedible parts, packaging, freezing, and canning.  
The second tier of processing can typically be thought of as foods that are rarely eaten alone.  They are foods that are purchased with the intent to combine with other foods in cooking.  Nutritionally, these foods tend to become higher in calories, and contain less nutrients.  Physically, processed foods have undergone a fairly radical transition from their original form.  This transition requires processing methods such as milling, crushing and exposure to chemicals.  
Finally, our ultraprocessed foods.  These foods are made from the combination of unprocessed (fruits, vegetables, and meat), processed food ingredients (margarine, oil, flour, etc.), and sometimes man made additives (preservatives, coloring, etc.).  As a result the food has been transformed dramatically from its original form (e.g. a grain of wheat looks much different than a slice of bread).  In this transformation, the original flavor of foods can be lost. To compensate for this, and to ensure that consumers continue to buy a product, our favorite flavoring agents are frequently pumped back into the final ultraprocessed product.  As you may have guessed, those popular flavoring agents are sugar, salt, and fat!  Because companies can only stay in business if you keep buying their product, the proportion of sugar, salt, and fat in the end product is often huge! To further confuse the concept, foods in this category have a wide range of nutritional value.  Consider our grains.  White flour has been mechanically processed to remove the germ and bran from the grain, leaving behind the endosperm.  The endosperm is the starch, or carbohydrate component of the plant.  While the carbohydrate is a good source of glucose for the body, it’s the germ and bran that contribute all of the vitamins and minerals.  So, yes, white bread is of nutritional value because of its contribution of glucose to the body.  However, whole grain bread, which includes the germ and bran in the final product, is of considerably greater nutritional value.  Per definition, white bread and whole grain bread are both highly processed foods yet one is considerably more nutritious than the other.  To take it a step further, compare a slice of sandwich bread to another “ultraprocessed” food such as the iconic twinkie and suddenly the white bread looks like a super food nutritionally!  Its no wonder that we, as consumers, are so confused by what is considered a processed food!  What we have been lead to believe is that processed foods are bad for our health.  Or are they?      
By nature, as soon as a fruit or vegetable has been picked it will begin to degrade.  Likewise, once an animal is killed for meat, the meat too begins break down.  So processing, despite the negative connotation commonly associated with it, has provided some essential benefits to our food supply.  Without the ability to process foods, our food supply would be drastically smaller as foods perished more quickly.  When food supplies diminish, people go hungry.  When people are hungry their inhibitions towards eating food of questionable safety are reduced.  So perhaps one of the greatest outcomes of food processing has been in food safety.  Heating, food preservatives (while that’s another health topic in itself!), freezing, and the addition of salt and sugar have all allowed our food to stay fresher, longer.  Not only does it stay fresher longer, but fewer people are dying from food born illnesses.  Now that’s not such a bad thing!
We have also benefitted from processing through the act of enriching foods, or adding extra nutrients to foods after they have been processed.  In 1998 the government required processed grains be enriched with folate.  Following this mandate, the prevalence of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in new born children dropped dramatically.
Lastly, there is something to be said about the benefit of convenience enjoyed from the processing of foods.  Unlike most households 75 years ago, the job of “homemaker” is less common.  Today both adults are working to support a family.  Furthermore, there are more split families, therefore, more homes with only one adult trying to play the role of homemaker AND income provider.  Where does that leave time for cooking?  Clearly, foods that are quick to prepare have enabled us to manage our work load with the necessity to eat.  As you can see, we are not without benefit from the invention of food processing.  Likewise, we are not without consequences from the development of processing.  



This is the first part in a discussion of processed foods, what they are, and how they have played a beneficial role on our health.  Stay posted for the second half of the discussion to learn about the other impact processed foods have had on our society.       

   

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11 June 2012
Should You Go Paleo?
The paleo diet, is it a new fad diet, or the long sought after solution to ideal health that you’ve been waiting for?  Maybe you’re new to the concept of eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors all together.  In a nut shell, the concept of the “Paleo diet” (or cave man, Stone Age, hunter-gatherer diet) is this simple.  It is a diet that is rich in wild meat from fish and mammals, vegetables, fruits, roots, eggs, and nuts.  What’s excluded?  Grains, legumes (beans), dairy, salt, sugar, and processed oils (if you can’t squeeze oil out of the plant with your hand, such as olives, it’s likely processed).  Keep in mind this is a modern interpretation of what our ancestors ate.  Researchers have found evidence of ground grains on prehistoric cooking utensils suggesting that grains may have contributed to the prehistoric diet after all.  Keep in mind that these grains were likely to be minimally processed, as in they were consumed as whole grains because it would have been too labor intensive to try to make “white flour”, for example, by hand.       
Nutritionally speaking, this is a diet that tends to be relatively lower in carbohydrates and calcium than the typical American diet.  It also tends to provide more saturated fat, fruits, and vegetables than the typical American diet.  So how does this translate?  Essentially, this diet is lower in refined carbohydrates, but not necessarily carbohydrates in general.  In other words, glucose was contributed to the cave man diet through root vegetables and some grains, not Snickers bars, Twinkies, and potato chips.  
With the exclusion of dairy products, a significant source of calcium in a typical diet today was missing.  Most of us associate dairy as a primary source of calcium in our diets.  However, dark green vegetables are also very rich in calcium.  Not only are they rich in calcium, but also a better source of calcium than dairy because they also have vitamin C in them which helps the body absorb calcium.  A few other factors to consider, our ancestors spent a significant amount of time outside, without wearing sunscreen, which increased the amount of vitamin D made in the body.  Vitamin D is connected to calcium retention from the diet.  Finally, our ancestors were very physically active.  They used their muscles, which makes our bones store more calcium.  So despite the lack of dairy in their diet, they were likely not deficient in calcium.  Be mind full of how your lifestyle may vary from the hunter-gatherer if you consider this diet.  Where will your source of calcium come from?
In this protein rich diet, the key term is meat from wild sources.  What’s the difference? The meat we eat today does not have the same nutritional composition that it did 10,000 years ago.  Animals that feed on grass as opposed to grains, and fish that feed off of other fish, as opposed to man made food, have muscles that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.  As a quick reminder, these are one of the essentially fatty acids that we must obtain from our diet.  Omega-3’s tend to have anti-inflammatory properties, which contributes to the fact that our ancestors did not suffer from the same chronic diseases that we do today.
While there was more saturated fat in the caveman’s diet, they were also considerably more active than most Americans today.  That high energy food was almost essential to survival because their demand was so high.  Think about this, if a saber tooth tiger was chasing two men and one ate some dandelion greens and a hand full of berries, and the other man ate the same two items, plus a wooly mammouth BBQ rib, who’s gonna make it home to enjoy another rib?  The point being, a modern version of the Paleo diet needs to incorporate lean meats, and ideally grass fed animals to contribute the same health benefits that it provided to our ancestors.
It goes without saying that the major benefit of the modern day Paleo diet is the increase in fruits and vegetables intake for most people.  As a friendly reminder from your blogging dietitian, fruits and vegetables are your friends!  They are the most nutritious foods that we can eat and since most of us don’t eat as many as we should.  This diet is good for your health in the sense that you are likely to eat more of them if you choose to follow it.  If you want to truly follow the Paleo diet, imagine the portions of meat, fruits, veggies, roots, eggs, and nuts that were eaten.  If the clan did well, there would be a lot of meat, for a short period of time.  Meals would be very protein rich, when a hunt was successful.  In between successful hunts, it was small protein portions, fruits, veggies, and quite a bit of root vegetables (their good source of carbs which also stayed fresh for a long time).
In the long run, this fad diet isn’t the fountain of youth.  It also isn’t without health benefits.  Scientific studies have found that there does tend to be a reduction in the average blood glucose levels (HA1c) of people living with diabetes who follow this diet.  It has not shown to provide any significant benefits for those living with cardiovascular disease, unless associated with diabetes.  Overall, we don’t live like we used to 10,000 years ago.  So, following the cave man diet to a tee, isn’t necessarily going to provide the same benefits that it did so many years ago.  If you are interested in this diet, adapt the aspects that will benefit your lifestyle today.  Eat more fruits and veggies, especially the dark green ones.  Eat lean meat and fish.  Eat carbohydrate rich roots.  Avoid the franken foods, such as Twinkies.  Exercise.  Let the sun kiss your skin free of sun block.  And take time to decompress after a period of stress!  Cheers!

Written by Nicole Clark, Registered Dietitian.
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04 June 2012
Improving Your Sleep Quality
Here are some reminders for good sleep habits:
Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday – even on your day off
Establish a bedtime ritual and use it every time you get ready for bed
Avoid smoking, use of electronics, TV, and heavy exercise 2 hours prior to bedtime.
Avoid the use of caffeinated products – find out what timing works the best for you
Make your room dark, quiet (white noise ok), and about 60-65 degrees for the best sleeping
If you work shifts, keep rituals for eating times the same, just adapt how much and what you eat
Sleep times may vary if you do shift work, but keep the same bedtime routines on your work days and days off
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