The Health Benefits of Omega-3’s

Health-benefits-omega-3

In the past 50 years or so, fat has gotten a pretty bad rap. People assume that fat causes heart disease, weight gain, and a host of other issues. However, this is simply not true. Fat is actually quite healthy, and among the healthiest of fats are Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are incredibly important, and an essential component of a healthy diet. This article will discuss what exactly these important acids are, and why these are so important throughout the human body.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found in a variety of different plant and animal-based foods that are essential for basic human health. There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

EPAs and DHAs are generally found in fish, and are oftentimes referred to as “marine” or “seafood’ omega-3’s. ALAs are found more broadly in a diet, including plant-based oils, nuts and seeds, in some leafy vegetables, and as well as in animals that have been grass fed.

Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Important and Why Are They Essential?

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential because they can’t be made by the body, and the body needs these fatty acids for optimal functioning. Instead, the only way to get these incredibly important nutrients is directly through the diet.

Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Heart Health

In the past few decades, heart health has been a main topic of conversation between many patients and doctors, and for good reason. Heart disease, and many related conditions including high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes have been on the rise for the past few decades, and what diets are including- and missing- play a major role in these ailments.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart health. Studies and anecdotal evidence have for a long time suggested that those who have diets that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are at a lower risk of mortality from heart-related conditions, have lower blood pressure and heart rate, and have healthier blood vessels, even though these diets may be higher in fat overall than average. (1)

Healthy Skin

Most people love to spend time out in the sun, and there are definite benefits from getting some Vitamin D from enjoying a couple of rays. However, excess UV radiation can cause problems for the skin- ranging from wrinkles and sunspots to the much more extreme basal cell carcinoma, and at the worst, melanoma. Omega-3 fatty acids can help to fight inflammation caused by sun damage and may help prevent skin cancers from developing. There is also suggestions that omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the localized inflammation caused by acne, leading to quicker healing time and decreased redness. (2)

Eye Health

Most people assume that Vitamin A and carrots are what’s necessary to keep eyes healthy. However, omega-3’s also play an important role. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent macular degeneration and dry eyes. They are what helps protect against a condition known as retinal angiogenesis, which occurs when new, excessive blood vessels form throughout the eye. (3)

Healthy Pregnancy

As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, and even when she is still trying to conceive, there are so many suggestions and guidelines about how to change her diet to best help her and her baby be as healthy as possible. There are many studies and research that suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for fetal development and the mother’s health. These fatty acids can help the mother conceive by increasing fertility, keep the baby growing healthy by increasing birth weight and decreasing premature births, and can lower the risk of delivery complications. Deficiency in omega-3 DHA’s during pregnancy have been shown to result in poorly developed neurons and synaptic connections. (4)

Healthy Menstrual Cycles

Pain, cramping, and bloating are among some of the symptoms that women experience during their monthly menstrual cycle. Studies have shown that increasing omega-3 fatty acids can help to decrease instances of menstrual pain. Additionally, one study has even suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can be better at reducing uterine inflammation and pain than ibuprofen. (5)

Brain Health and Mental Health

As we age, it becomes critical to take extra care to protect our brain health. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are quickly becoming prevalent in many of the elderly, and early onset cases are becoming more common. Those who are regularly consuming the recommended amount of Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a larger brain size than those who are deficient in this valuable fatty acid. A smaller brain size in adults is a determination of premature aging and memory loss. More importantly, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3’s can help prevent the onset of brain complications. (6)

While nothing can truly reverse memory loss, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can help to aid in the reversal of minor memory loss. Studies have also suggested that combining fish oil supplements or increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption in other ways may help to lower incidences of mild depression and anxiety. Of course, it is always important to avoid self-medication without consulting a doctor first, particularly if an individual is taking prescription medications for depression or anxiety, as it is important not to cause a negative reactions with supplements and prescription medications.

Inflammation

Inflammation is responsible for some of the most common ailments that affect the human body, including high blood pressure, heart disease, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis, diabetes, asthma and COPD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, as well as a host of other conditions. Recent studies also suggest that inflammation may play a role in the development of cancerous tumors by producing changes in the individual cell DNA.

Omega-3 Fatty acids play an important role in the reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Omega-3’s are metabolized in the body into potent anti-inflammatory molecules called resolvins and protectins. These molecules help reduce and eliminate inflammation by eliminating pro-inflammatory signaling molecules from chronic inflammation that result from 1) disease, 2) immune system dysregulation or dysfunction, 3) chronic stress, 4) allergens or microbes, and/or 5) injury. (7)

Sleep

Unless part of the 3% of people who are consistently able to function on less than 5 hours of sleep a night, most people need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep to be able to feel fully rested and at their best. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to poor sleep patterns and can increase stress hormones, which in turn makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Without enough sleep at night, you are more prone to disease, obesity, and chances are you won’t be very pleasant to be around. (8)

Good Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in some very specific foods. Fish, particularly fatty species such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, are perhaps some of the most common ways to consume omega-3 fatty acids and have the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. You can also consume fish oil supplements that provide your daily needed amount of this fatty acid.

Additionally, grass-fed beef is another source of omega-3 fatty acids, and you may find that you prefer the taste of beef that is grass fed. Finally, there are also fortified foods, such as milk, eggs, and other foods, that contain omega-3 fatty acids when they normally would not (although we don’t recommend these; it is much better to get your omega-3’s from natural sources like wild-caught fish and grass-fed beef).

What About Omega-6 Fatty Acids?

Now that you are familiar with omega-3 fatty acids, you may be curious about omega-6 fatty acids as well, as these two are often discussed together. While Omega-6s are important for certain cellular functions, they are much more common in the diets of Americans as they are present in a wider variety of foods compared to omega-3’s so the pressure to ensure that you are consuming enough in your diet is not as high. More importantly, omega-6’s are processed into pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. As a result, while necessary in small quantities for cellular health, these fatty acids are considered pro-inflammatory and excess consumption should be avoided.

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What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky-Gut-1

Recent discoveries in nutritional science show that dysfunction of the digestive system plays a significant role in the spread of disease. Research involving the GI tract, and particularly the gut biome, is now the most studied area of nutrition and biology.

Although there is a myriad of research on the subject, digestive disorders such as “leaky gut” are still not recognized officially by the medical community. This adverse digestive condition presents uncomfortable symptoms that are often brushed off by people living with the disorder.

Here is a brief guide to understanding leaky gut, its symptoms, and how to treat it. (1)

What Is Leaky Gut?

The GI tract covers over 40,000 square feet and is home to trillions of live bacteria known as the gut microbiome. When working as intended, the intestinal wall forms a tight barrier controlling the release of nutrients into the bloodstream.

While it is perfectly normal for the gut to leak a little, there are health risks involved when the intestinal wall is severely compromised. This occurs when intestinal inflammation is chronically elevated, hence the digestive disorder is known as “leaky gut”.

Leaky gut creates uncomfortable gastrointestinal, skeletal, and neurological symptoms in the human body. These symptoms may be confused with other digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or gluten and lactose intolerance.

Changes in gut biome health occur as a result of a leaky gut and research shows that this issue could play a significant role in the development of several other chronic diseases. (2)

What Does Leaky Gut Affect?

The advanced intestinal permeability that results from leaky gut is responsible for developing gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and IBS. Along with these diseases, there is convincing research that shows that disorders of the digestive tract may be responsible for the development of autoimmune conditions such as acne, fibromyalgia, allergies, asthma, and obesity.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

Aside from some people who may have a genetic predisposition to sensitive adjustments in the GI tract, the main culprits of a leaky gut are a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, and inflammatory and immunogenic foods.

You are what you eat. Diets that consist of poor food choices can cause high levels of inflammation to develop in the gut. Furthermore, certain foods are immunogenic and can act to destroy the gut barrier and cause the immune system to activate. The gut houses the largest concentration of immune cells in the body since it is the only place, aside from the lungs, where the outside world comes into contact with the “inside world”, and since the gut contains trillions of bacteria. Hence, immune cells need to be primed and ready to prevent bacteria and foreign invaders from entering into the bloodstream from the gut.

Foods that are inflammatory or immunogenic can increase intestinal barrier permeability. Here are three primary food sources associated with the development of leaky gut…

Wheat, Barley, Rye and Other Foods Containing Gluten

Gliadin is a gluten protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Studies show that some people may have an allergy to gluten known as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Eating gluten-based foods increases intestinal permeability which can lead to symptoms of a leaky gut. Research suggests that gluten will degrade in the GI tract to form substances known as exorphins. These compounds act as a natural painkiller and mask the damaging effect of the intestinal wall lining.

Even non-gluten containing grains can increase intestinal permeability. Grains, in general, can contain saponins or lectins. Saponins are molecules that effectively “punch holes” in the gut. Lectins are molecules that look exactly like our own bodies proteins (e.g. tissue proteins) and are transmitted intact and undigested into the bloodstream, setting up the stage for autoimmune issues.

Trans Fat

Trans fat is another culprit of leaky gut syndrome. Trans fat increases oxidative stress and permeability of the intestinal wall.

Food Additives

Food additives also play a significant role in the degradation of the gut membrane. Glucose, emulsifiers, and other preservatives have been linked to the increased permeability of the intestinal wall as well. Nanoparticles such as microbial transglutaminase and nanoparticles breach the junctional complex. (3)

How is Leaky Gut Diagnosed?

If you are showing signs of a leaky gut, visit your doctor’s office for an official diagnosis. Blood work and an antigenic permeability test may be necessary to determine if leaky gut has led to other chronic illnesses of the digestive system.

Zonulin Test

A zonulin test is the most effective means of identifying leaky gut syndrome. Zonulin is a specific protein which controls the opening and contraction of the tight junctions in the small intestine. We require these openings for the transport of nutrients and zonulin regulates their function.

Zonulin tests are a useful marker for understanding intestinal health and function. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test (ELISA) is used to determine zonulin function. If zonulin is present in the serum, this may indicate that the gut barrier has been compromised. (4)

Leaky Gut Symptoms

The early stages of gastrointestinal stress, due to a leaky gut, are mild and often disregarded.

As the degradation of the intestinal wall progresses, symptoms escalate in both variety and intensity. Reduction of intestinal surface area reduces nutrient absorption and creates micronutrient deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Nutrient deficiencies manifest in different GI tract and health disorders.

Some of the gastrointestinal symptoms you may experience as a result of a leaky gut are:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Constipation or diarrhea.
  • Gas, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Acid reflux, heartburn, and belching.

Leaky gut also affects the skin. If you have any of the following dermatological disorders, you may be living with a leaky gut.

  • Dry skin, psoriasis, or eczema.
  • Acne, rashes, or hives.

Neurological disorders may develop from a leaky gut. These include:

  • Brain fog.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Insomnia.
  • ADHD.

Can Leaky Gut Be Dangerous to Health?

Random particles that pass through the intestinal barrier into the blood set off an aggressive immune response. Unfortunately, this event causes systemic inflammation in all biological systems within the body. (5)

The primary danger of leaky gut syndrome is chronic inflammation. This stressful condition prevents the body from naturally healing itself. Systemic inflammation creates the perfect biological environment for the development of other chronic diseases.

Diseases Linked to Leaky Gut

A leaky gut presents uncomfortable symptoms. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the condition could result in the development of other chronic diseases. Here are a few of the adverse health conditions that might develop as a result of an untreated leaky gut.

Increased intestinal permeability has links to a vast variety of chronic diseases including the following:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic inflammation

The medical community is divided on the subject of chronic disease manifesting from a leaky gut. Medical professionals are unsure if leaky gut causes these diseases, or the diseases cause leaky gut.

How to Heal and Recover from Leaky Gut

It’s possible to repair and heal a leaky gut. It takes time, patience, and consistency to experience a full recovery back to normal digestive health.

Heal Your Gut

The first step to rehabilitating your GI tract is a visit to your local health professional. Try to visit a specialist; they will have a more complete understanding of GI disorders than your regular M.D.

Your doctor will draw blood and submit it for testing to diagnose your condition. The diagnosis will also show any mineral and vitamin deficiencies, and you can begin to plan your recovery diet with the results.

Experiment with Different Dietary Principles

Plan a new diet based on paleo or ketogenic principles. Both of these diets avoid refined carbohydrates. If the thought of abandoning carbs scares you, then opt for the paleo diet over the ketogenic diet. The paleo diet requires the majority of daily calories to come from protein and healthy fats, with limited carbs coming from vegetables and fresh fruits.

The ketogenic diet focuses on healthy fats for 90% of daily caloric consumption, with very little protein and hardly any carbs. Choose the diet that suits your lifestyle and plan your meals for the week. You might struggle to calculate the right macronutrient percentages and calorie goals correctly, in this case, visit a nutritionist.

Supplementation

A nutritionist will analyze your blood work results and plan a diet for you that consists of foods and supplements to heal your gut. Your new diet should include fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, which are excellent sources of prebiotic fiber for gut biomes.

Reduce Stress

Reduce stress in your life wherever you can and start a beginner exercise program. Hire a personal trainer to help you build an exercise program and stay consistent with your training. Revisit your doctor after 6 months on your new diet and exercise program. Repeat the testing process and have your doctor analyze the results.

The results of your second test should show significant improvement in the health of your digestive system. Take the results to your nutritionist and have them adjust your diet to keep your progress moving along. Keep a journal of your road to recovery and include all of your medical history, diet changes, and workouts.

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Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26760399
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4253991/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898551/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3458511/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4036413/

The Health Benefits of Kale

Have you ever tried kale? Kale is a superfood that offers a host of health benefits, and it deserves a place at anyone’s table. It is highly nutritious and is a great source of dietary fiber.

Here is everything you need to know about kale and why you should add it to your meal plan.

Health-Benefits-of-Kale

What is Kale?

Kale comes from the family of cruciferous vegetables, well known for their cancer-fighting properties. This crucifer is most closely related to the Acephala group of the species Brassica oleracea (oleracea var). Kale is already a popular health food, consumed in a variety of different ways. History shows that the ancient Romans and people of the Middle Ages included kale in their diet.

There are two main types of kale: one that has purple leaves and one that has green. The central leaves never form a head, which is why kale is thought to be more akin to wild cabbage than other domesticated types of vegetables such as spinach.

Kale is classified by leaf type:

  • Plain.
  • Curly, also known as Scots kale.
  • Leaf and spear, a hybrid of curly and plain varieties.
  • Cavolo nero, also known as dinosaur kale or black cabbage.

The most common variety of kale that you will find on the shelf of your local health food store is curly kale. This variety has curly, green leaves with a tough, fibrous stem. (1)

Kale Nutrition Facts

One cup of uncooked kale (2.4 ounces or about 65 grams) contains:

  • 33 calories, (2 of which are fiber), 3 grams of protein and 6 grams of carbs.
  • Vitamin C: 134% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin A: 206% of the RDA
  • Vitamin K: 684% of RDA.
  • Vitamin B6: 10% of RDA.
  • Manganese: 25% of RDA.
  • Copper: 10% of RDA.
  • Calcium: 9% of RDA.
  • Magnesium: 6% of RDA.
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDA.

Kale contains more than 3% of the RDA for Vitamin B1/Thiamin, Vitamin B2/Riboflavin, Vitamin B3/Niacin, phosphorus and iron. The fat found in kale comes from omega 3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Kale has a low-calorie count per serving and yet it is still considered one of the most nutritious foods around. (2)

Healthy Compounds in Kale

Regularly consuming kale in your diet will have a dramatic impact on your health. The broad range of antioxidants found in this dark leafed crucifer has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties.

Kale is rich in the antioxidant quercetin, used to treat the common cold. The carotenoids Zeaxanthin and Lutein concentrate in the eye, preventing optic disorders such as cataract and macular degeneration.

Kale also contains large amounts of the carotenoid, beta-carotene, as well as various polyphenols and flavonoids. The antioxidant compounds reduce the presence of free-radicals in the blood. Free radicals are responsible for oxidative cell degeneration and death. Kale keeps the wrinkles out of your face and smile.

The flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin, are found in substantial amounts in kale. Nutritional science has extensively studied these compounds. Research shows that these substances have protective properties for every biological system in the body. (3)

4 Health Benefits of Kale

#1: Kale has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

The most beneficial property of consuming kale in your diet is its anti-inflammatory ability. With an ideal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, kale is kind to your GI tract. The omega-6-rich processed foods found in the modern diet cause a chronic inflammatory response on a widespread scale across all biological systems in the body. Recent research in nutritional science shows that almost every disease known to man is linked to inflammation, from Crohn’s disease to rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Kale contains high amounts of anti-oxidant compounds that go to work in reducing inflammation and fight off free-radicals. (4)

#2: Kale promotes a healthy cardiovascular system.

Eating more kale will make your heart happy. The dark colors of the kale leaf suggest that it is nutrient dense and rich in vitamins and minerals. The combination of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties improve lipid balance. Bad LDL cholesterol lowers and the production of good, heart-friendly, HDL improves. The antioxidants also lower total lipid levels in the blood, reducing the risk of heart disease. (5)

#3: Kale has detoxification properties.

Kale is a natural detoxifier. This cruciferous vegetable is high in fiber and sweeps your GI tract clean. The soluble fiber found in kale removes any undigested food, toxins, and impurities from the digestive tract.

The isothiocyanate compounds (ITCs) found in kale, come from glucosinolates which help detox your liver at a cellular level. Toxins in our environment from, pesticides, pollutants, and pharmaceuticals, increase toxicity levels in the body, increasing the chances of contracting a disease. ITCs fight off toxins and assist in the removal of free-radicals. (6)

#4: Kale may help assist in the prevention of cancer.

The high-levels of antioxidants in kale can assist in the prevention of cancer. The cancer-fighting properties of cruciferous vegetables The immune-enhancing benefits of kale are a result of several compounds like indoles including indole-3-carbinol (I3C), di-indolemethane (DIM), and isothiocyanates, derived from glucosinolates. (7)

Kale for Paleo and Ketogenic Diets

Kale is a perfect fit for both the paleo and ketogenic diet. The cruciferous vegetable offers a nutrient-dense source of vitamins and minerals that keep the metabolism and immune system optimized at all times.

However, it is very important to understand the source of your kale. Deal only with sustainable farms that offer organic produce, guaranteed to be free from pesticides and other chemicals. When you purchase your kale, give it a thorough wash under running water to remove any organic residue.

Since kale is a crop grown in low-temperatures and it develops a delicious sweet taste in frosty climates. The freshest kale is found at farmers’ markets in the late fall and early winter time. Kale is also easy to grow and if you have space at home, why not plant a row of it?

What’s the Best Way to Eat Kale?

Cruciferous vegetables do not digest well when consumed raw. Kale is no different; it requires cooking to release the antioxidant compounds and break down the goitrogens. Goitrogens are linked to the excessive overgrowth of the thyroid gland. However, it should be noted that one would have to consume enormous amounts of raw kale to experience any adverse health effect from goitrogens.

It’s best to boil kale for three minutes before serving it. Cooking kale this way will not diminish the bioavailability of the valuable antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. However, the brief cooking time will break down over 90% of the goitrogens and make your kale safe to eat. (8)

Potential Drawbacks of Consuming Kale

A popular breakfast health trend is the power green smoothie, made of kale. As we have mentioned, it’s a bad idea to consume cruciferous vegetables in their raw form. Therefore, it might be best to back off of the morning power smoothie or replace kale with another ingredient.

The goitrogens found in kale can be hazardous to your health when ingested in large amounts. Goitrogens can inhibit the conversion of iodine into thyroid hormone, a process that can’t be reversed.

Raw kale contains oxalic acid, which binds with minerals such as magnesium and calcium, causing crystallization. The crystals can damage tissue and create inflammation, leading to adverse health disorders such as kidney stones.

Some animals can handle a high oxalate intake in their diets because they typically have a genetic adaptation to eating kale, as well as help from bacteria to diminish the oxalate. However, most people living a western lifestyle do not have these bacteria in their gut. This means that consuming significantly large portions of cruciferous vegetables that are rich in oxalate, could land you a series of visits to the hospital for dialysis. (9)

Toss the kale shake and cook your crucifers to ensure the optimal absorption of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

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References/Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27028789
  2. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2461/2
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22744944
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5084045/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18548846
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4499388/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12094621
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26593594
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153292/

Debunking Fat & Cholesterol Myths

Cholesterol-and-Fat-1

For decades, fat and cholesterol have been demonized as culprits for cardiovascular disease and obesity albeit for no good reason as there is no good scientific evidence to support these claims. Only recently has the mainstream science and nutrition community started to recognize that fat isn’t the issue. Instead, as researchers are finding, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity is more closely linked to the consumption of processed foods, higher intake of carbohydrates, as well as poor lifestyle choices. Let’s take a closer look!

Fat & Cholesterol – What Are They Exactly?

When talking about fat and cholesterol, we tend to lump the two together and think of them interchangeably. However, fat and cholesterol are very different. Fat is a macronutrient. Macronutrients are the nutrients we need in high amounts in our diets. They provide energy, often displayed in the form of “calories” on food labels. Fats are hydrocarbons, meaning they contain hydrogen and carbon components. The hydrocarbon chains that fats are comprised of determine their function and help differentiate between the supposed “good” and “bad” kinds of fats, unsaturated and saturated fat, respectively. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats has to do with the difference in saturation of hydrogen atoms. Unsaturated fats contain a double bond, meaning they have fewer hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms.1 Saturated fats contain no double bonds.

Cholesterol, on the other hand, is an organic sterol, which is a waxy, lipid substance. 25% comes from our diet, and the liver makes the other 75%.2 Cholesterol, unlike fat, does not provide energy to the body. There are two types of cholesterol, LDL, and HDL. LDL, or low-density lipoproteins, are often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, is considered to be the “good” cholesterol. HDL is considered “good” because it helps clear excess LDL from the bloodstream, sending it back to the liver to be broken down and excreted. As a side note, it is important to understand that LDL and HDL are not actually “cholesterol”. They are the proteins in the body that carry around cholesterol.

Despite the common belief that we should eliminate fat and cholesterol from our diets, we need to consume these in our diets for regular functioning and body processes. Fats protect your organs, provide energy, aid in hormone production, and help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and K. Cholesterol is responsible for the production of sex hormones, building certain tissues throughout the body, and helping in the production of bile in the liver.3 It is also necessary for vitamin synthesis, cellular integrity and hormone synthesis. In fact, certain diseases, such as Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome, where cholesterol cannot be synthesized properly leads to serious issues such as autism and reduced muscle.

Dietary Saturated Fat – Why the bad rap?

In the 20th century, heart disease became an epidemic amongst the American population. Statistics showed that it was the number 1 cause of death. Researchers made a correlation between the high consumption of saturated fat and heart disease because saturated fats were found, in the short-term, to be associated with increased total cholesterol. The problem(s)? There was no solid scientific evidence to back up these claims. The studies and evidence presented were based on animal trials and general assumptions. Experiments were never well controlled in these studies, and researchers never accounted for confounding factors. There was also no evidence from human studies to back up this saturated fat/heart disease hypothesis.

More specifically, researchers also failed to recognize that total “cholesterol” is a flawed marker of heart disease, because total cholesterol includes both “bad” LDL cholesterol, and “good” HDL cholesterol.

What researchers actually found is that, in the short term, saturated fat increases both HDL and LDL cholesterol, and HDL is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

In reality, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol. You need both HDL and LDL for proper physiological function (LDL is good, and actually helps bring cholesterol into the cells and helps to maintain cellular fluidity). The only time cholesterol is “bad” is when it ends up in the wrong places. Under the influence of inflammation and other factors, this can result in plaque buildup in arterial walls, causing blockages and wreaking havoc on the cardiovascular system. More importantly, it turns out that the type of cholesterol that increases the risk of developing arterial plaques is small sized, dense, LDL particles, in high numbers. The reason for this is that smaller sized LDL particles have a higher chance of being absorbed in the arterial wall becoming oxidized, which is a critical step in the development of atherosclerosis. Larger LDL particles are less susceptible to arterial wall penetration and oxidation. Furthermore, the larger the number of these smaller particles, the higher the chances of these processes occurring.

Interestingly, researchers have found that in the short-term, saturated fat consumption actually helps convert small LDL particles to larger particles.4,5,6 Researchers have actually found that low-carb diets, high in saturated fats, can reduce the risk of heart disease significantly due to the favourable cholesterol profiles obtained following these diets; fewer numbers of small LDL particles, and higher numbers of large LDL and HDL particles.7,8 Low-fat diets do NOT reduce the amount of small LDL particles, and actually, have been shown to result in an unfavorable lipid profile (high small LDL, low HDL, and increase triglycerides).9,10 

There are a few large studies (systemic reviews and meta-analyses) that take an in-depth look into all of the data obtained to date on observational studies and controlled trials about saturated fat and heart disease. Here are there conclusions:

  1. A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.11
  2. Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.12

Perhaps most importantly, a recent scientific study from 2017 explored macronutrients and their relationship to mortality and cardiovascular disease from 18 countries in 5 different continents. They concluded the following:

“High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality. Total fat and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, or cardiovascular disease mortality, whereas saturated fat had an inverse association with stroke. Global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings.”13

Dietary Cholesterol

We’ve already covered why cholesterol is good, and identified that the only time cholesterol is potentially “bad” is when you have an increased number of small-sized LDL particles. Even in these scenarios, this doesn’t mean you will get heart disease, but that you are increasing your risk of heart disease. In fact, cholesterol-lowering therapies do not lower risk of cardiovascular disease.14 Heart disease is a complex phenomenon, and researchers are finding out that it is driven by a variety of factors, including inflammatory and autoimmune factors, as well as genetic and epigenetic factors.

But what about the cholesterol in our diet? Does this impact our cholesterol levels?

It turns out that dietary cholesterol actually has no impact on our blood cholesterol levels. Only a small portion of the cholesterol from our diet actually gets absorbed into the body. Furthermore, when our bodies sense low levels of cholesterol, they ramp up cholesterol synthesis to make up for the lack of cholesterol. In fact, avoidance of dietary cholesterol can result in malnutrition, due to the reduced consumption of healthy foods that also happen to contain cholesterol, and even increased risk of heart attacks.15,16

The most important factors for achieving ffavourableblood cholesterol profiles appear to be of epigenetic origin, and include: 1) decreasing the amount of dietary carbohydrates, 2) elimintation of processed foods, 3) avoidance of inflammatory foods, 4) positive lifestyle choices (like increased exercise frequency).17,18,19,20

Genetics or hereditary factors also play a role in blood cholesterol profiles. The liver is a key player in cholesterol homeostasis and LDL and HDL production, and individuals with genetic conditions that affect the liver are more susceptible to cholesterol issues.21

The Bottom Line

Cholesterol and fat do a whole lot of good for our bodies. Without them, we would have many problems functioning properly. Don’t believe everything you read. Do your research and stay educated about what foods you are putting in your body!

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What Is Cholesterol? A Brief Background & A Few Fun Facts

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a sterol. A sterol is a naturally occurring unsaturated steroid alcohol. Sterols are typically waxy solids, and they are part of the steroid family.

The diagram for cholesterol is below.

Cholesterol-2

The reason cholesterol is called a steroid “alcohol” is because of the presence of the hydroxyl group (the “OH” group in the diagram, circled in red). This hydroxyl group is one of the main functional groups of cholesterol, and this is the site that determines whether the cholesterol is in its active form, or storage form (the storage form is called “cholesterol ester”).

Sterols are produced by all types of life, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. However, cholesterol, specifically, is unique only to animals. You may have heard of phytosterols, and these are the analogs of “cholesterol” that the plant kingdom makes.

Phytosterols in brief

Our bodies can’t properly absorb phytosterols. In fact, they compete with cholesterol absorption. Phytosterols have actually been used in attempt to “lower” the cholesterol absorbed from our diet because phytosterols displace cholesterol from micelles which are the in the gut (cholesterol micelles are formed when we break down hydrophobic foods in the stomach such as fats and cholesterol). The theory goes that reducing cholesterol from the diet will reduce blood cholesterol levels and reduce risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, these attempts don’t make much sense in light of the following two key facts:

  1. The amount of cholesterol we get from our diet is significantly less than the amount that is synthesized by our cells. Moreover, if our cells sense low levels of cholesterol, they will ramp up attempts to synthesize more cholesterol.
  2. Cholesterol and lipid-lowering therapies have NO impact on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Back to cholesterol…

Cholesterol is necessary for life. Without it, we wouldn’t have functioning cells and cellular systems. Cholesterol is one of the main building blocks of our cell membranes. It is vital for carefully controlling cell membrane fluidity, how cells interact with other cells, and how the cell transport nutrients and other compounds from inside and outside. Furthermore, cholesterol is necessary for vitamin synthesis and is the precursor to sex hormones (progesterone, testosterone and estradiol) and bile acids. In short, your body NEEDS cholesterol. It is necessary for life. And it is a good thing.

In fact, lack of cholesterol can cause malnutrition. Furthermore, individuals with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome have genetic mutations that prevent them from properly synthesizing cholesterol, and this can lead to mental disabilities and skeletal muscle issues

Overall, there is no such thing as good or bad cholesterol. Cholesterol wrongfully gets a bad rap for being a culprit of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease because it is present in atherosclerotic plaques. However, cholesterol itself is not to blame. To date, evidence does NOT support a link between dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

The only time cholesterol is “bad” is when it ends up in a place where it doesn’t belong, like an artery wall, during periods of inflammation. When this occurs, it can initiate the process of atherosclerosis. This is not the normal fate of cholesterol, however. Atherosclerosis only occurs in states of inflammation where cholesterol ends up in the wrong places.

How and why does cholesterol end up in the wrong places? In short, metabolism and epigenetics play a big role. However, this will be discussed in detail in a later post. In the meantime, stay tuned!

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The Health Benefits of Asparagus

health-benefits-of-asparagus-1

What is asparagus?

Asparagus, known by its scientific name Asparagus officinalis, is a long, green spring vegetable.1

Asparagus was reportedly cultivated as early as 3000 B.C. and contains a ton of micronutrients. This spring vegetable is a good source of manganese, folate, iron, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B1, and vitamin B6.2 It is made up of 93% water, with 2 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of fat. With a low macronutrient density, 5 asparagus spears equate to only 20 calories.3 It, further, has a glycemic index scale rating of 1, making it a viable food option for those looking to lose weight.4

What are the health benefits of asparagus?

Asparagus is known for its antioxidant effects, anti-inflammatory properties, promotion of good digestive health, and for promoting heart and bone health.5 Fiber provides anti-inflammatory benefits and aids in proper digestion.6 100 grams of asparagus contains 2-3 grams of inulin, a type of dietary fiber. Inulin is a great prebiotic and helps promote and activate the good gut bacteria that aids in proper nutrient absorption and digestion.

Asparagus provides high amounts of vitamin K and folate. High levels of vitamin K contribute to reduced bone fracture risk and increased bone density (particularly in those with osteoporosis). It also promotes heart health. Folate is a micronutrient that is important in DNA methylation and thus has preventative cancer and cardiovascular effects.7 Folate also reduces congenital disabilities and is important during pregnancy.

Asparagus also contains high levels of vitamin C and vitamin B. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and prevents cancer risks and cardiovascular disease, and is also present in high amounts in asparagus.8 B vitamins contribute to energy levels and normal cell function.9 Interestingly, asparagus also acts as a natural diuretic, increasing the production of urine and helping to excrete excess fluids and waste from the body.

The high levels of sulfur in asparagus support glutathione synthesis. Glutathione is a powerhouse antioxidant and combats oxidation, thus reducing cancer risk, and contributes to optimal immune function. Studies have also shown that the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative behavior of asparagus results from the ability to specifically neutralize hydroxyl and nitric oxide free radicals due to increases in antioxidant enzymes catalase and superoxide dismutase after asparagus consumption.10,11 Thus, asparagus appears to promote anti-oxidant enzyme synthesis. One reason for this could be due to the presence of manganese in asparagus, as manganese supports superoxide dismutase synthesis.

Recent studies have explored the impact of asparagus on insulin and blood glucose levels.12 Numerous studies concluded that the vegetable plays a significant role in improving insulin sensitivity and consequently, blood glucose levels.13 Reasons for this are unclear, but this could be due to the micronutrient and fiber content of asparagus. Other studies have shown that asparagus helps reduce blood pressure via the presence of the compound 2”-hydroxynicotianamine, which is an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor.14

The nutrients in this power vegetable, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, silica, and sulfur, also, surprisingly, help combat eczema.15 Eczema is a skin condition categorized by inflammation and rash-like symptoms. Diets high in vitamin C reduce water loss in the skin and play a significant role in proper wound healing. Silica helps form connective tissue contributing to healthy skin. Sulfur is further necessary for the production connective tissue, such as collagen. Sulfur and vitamin E protect the skin from damage via anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory pathways. Lastly, asparagus has been shown to aid in liver protection and regeneration.16

So, what is the best way to eat asparagus?

Asparagus has an array of benefits, but what is the best way to reap its nutritional value? It is known that the nutrient content of vegetables can vary depending on whether the vegetable is cooked or raw. Some nutrients are increased when the vegetable is cooked; others are decreased when cooked, and thus better eaten raw. Furthermore, eating raw vegetables can have a beneficial impact on the gut biome (the bacteria profile and number in the gut) due to the fiber content. However, if you have gut issues, it is recommended to avoid raw vegetables.17 People with gut issues tend to have a harder time digesting raw foods, and this often results in gas, bloating, and an upset stomach. Cooking vegetables helps to break down cellulose, allowing for better and smoother digestion.18 While a combination of cooked and raw is often best, when it comes to asparagus, cooking is highly recommended.

Cooking asparagus increases its antioxidant content, and various studies and sources point out that, in order to receive the cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory benefits of asparagus, cooking is better.19 Cook asparagus on spears for a maximum of 3-5 minutes to gain the most benefits. However, be careful not to cook too long, as long exposures to high temperatures can eventually reduce the anti-oxidant content of asparagus.20

Another reason to avoid raw asparagus is due to the presence of saponins (this is also why raw asparagus has a bitter taste). Saponins are compounds produced by plants and grains to ward off predators, bacteria, and fungi.21 Saponins have the potential to create holes in cell membranes, causing leaky gut, and they have been associated with inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.22 Grains and legumes have the highest saponin content, causing many healthcare professionals to recommend limiting these foods. Asparagus does have saponins, however, the amount is much lower than that present in grains. Furthermore, cooking reduces saponin content, so cooking would be the ideal way to consume this vegetable.23

Is there a downside to asparagus?

Not really. If there are any, the benefits drastically outweigh the downsides. The potential downsides that we can think of are as follows, and they are most likely not concerning:

  1. As stated above, the saponin content of asparagus is not ideal. However, cooking solves this problem.
  2. A more common deterrent for its consumption is the sulfur smell in urine associated with asparagus. However, this is a side effect of sulfur metabolism and is harmless; the only inconvenience is more potent smelling urine.24 For most, this is not a huge deal.
  3. Asparagus does contain high levels of glutamic acid and asparagine. Some studies have linked these amino acids to increased cancer risk, although these studies are done in the lab with mice as their subjects. Thus, they may not accurately portray what happens in the human body. Confounding factors may also complicate these studies, and thus their results should be interpreted with caution. Furthermore, glutamic acid is essential for neurotransmission and immune system regulation, and asparagine is necessary for protein synthesis and function. Many argue that these benefits outweigh the potential negative aspects.

The Bottom Line

Asparagus, specifically cooked asparagus, is an incredibly healthy vegetable and food choice. Include asparagus into your meals a few times a week!

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Why Eating or Avoiding Dietary Cholesterol Has No Effect on Blood Cholesterol Levels

Dietary-Cholesterol-1

Avoiding Cholesterol

Cholesterol synthesis and metabolism are tightly regulated within the human body. It turns out that when the cell senses low levels of cholesterol, our body initiates cholesterol synthesis (via the SREBP system) as well as processes to enhance the uptake of cholesterol. Thus, avoiding dietary cholesterol in an attempt to lower blood cholesterol levels doesn’t make much sense in light of this ability of our body to regulate cholesterol synthesis. Any attempt to lower cholesterol in the body would be counteracted by the body ramping up cholesterol production and uptake.

Eating Cholesterol

This is a quote from Metabolic Regulation: A Human Perspective by biochemist Keith N. Frayn (my emphasis added):

Perhaps surprisingly, the amount of cholesterol in the diet is not a major factor affecting the blood cholesterol concentration. The amount of cholesterol we eat is not large in comparison with the body pool: we eat less than 1g per day whereas the amount of cholesterol in the body is more like 140g, of which about 8g is present in the plasma. Contrast this with glucose, where we eat several “plasma’s-worth” in a single meal. And cholesterol is not rapidly absorbed like glucose: it enters the plasma slowly, even more so than triacylglycerol. Further, cholesterol intake leads to cholesterol entering cells, which effectively suppresses cholesterol synthesis. The blood cholesterol concentration is related far more closely to the dietary intake of particular fatty acids, especially the ratio of saturated to polyunsaturated fatty acids.” 

So, the cholesterol that we eat pales in comparison to that stored in our bodies. Again, cholesterol synthesis and transport in the body is a highly regulated process. As mentioned in this video by Dr. Peter Attia, cholesterol levels in the body are not that influenced by the cholesterol in our diet, since a majority of the cholesterol from our diet is in the form of cholesterol ester, which is the storage form of cholesterol which doesn’t get absorbed by our gut. The unesterified active version of cholesterol in our diet does get absorbed. And again, the amount of active absorbable cholesterol in the diet is very small in comparison to the amount stored and synthesized by our bodies; on a daily basis, we typically get ~300-500mg of cholesterol from our diet, whereas we synthesize ~800-1,200mg of cholesterol in our cells per day.

As Dr. Attia suggests in the video, the total store of cholesterol in the body is akin to a giant swimming pool, and there are two very small hoses that contribute to, and control, the swimming pool levels: an internal hose (cholesterol synthesis) and an external hose (cholesterol input from diet). Anything in biology that resembles this situation, with a large store of something with two very small contributing inputs, suggests that the system is highly regulated and that what is moving the “cholesterol needle” isn’t the small inputs (diet and internal synthesis) but something else…

Bottom Line

Avoiding cholesterol, or eating cholesterol, does not have a profound impact on blood cholesterol levels. Any cholesterol that is indeed present blood is carefully controlled by the cholesterol transport system. Furthermore, cholesterol isn’t “bad”, and avoidance of dietary cholesterol can be problematic. In fact, genetic deficiencies in cholesterol synthesis pathways can lead to conditions that can cause mental disabilities and skeletal muscle problems.

Cholesterol is vital, and cells need cholesterol to function (cholesterol is actually part of the structural makeup of cells). It’s not the presence of cholesterol in the blood that matters, it’s the type, amount, and size of that cholesterol that matters. “Cholesterol” in the blood only becomes “dangerous” if the LDL, which is a protein/cholesterol complex, increases in number, and decreases in particle size.

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NOTE: Nothing in this post is written or intended to be medical advice or to replace medical advice. We are not doctors. We are merely individuals with a passion for health, fitness, nutrition, and scientific research.

The Health Benefits of Broccoli

Health-Benefits-of-Broccoli-1

What is broccoli?

Broccoli, a cruciferous vegetable, goes by the scientific name, Brassica oleracea. In the same family as cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and brussel sprouts, broccoli is an edible green plant with a large flowering head.1

Like most other vegetables, broccoli is comprised mostly of water. It is 90% water, making it low in calories, 7% carbohydrates, 3% protein, almost 0% fat, and packed with tons of nutrients.

Originating in Italy over 2000 years ago, broccoli was a sought-after and valued crop in Roman times. This cruciferous vegetable falls into the super-food category when it comes to nutrient density. It is high in vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, fiber, manganese, potassium, iron, antioxidants, and healthy plant compounds, such as sulforaphane which is known for its anti-cancerous effects.1

1 cup of raw broccoli contains 2.3 grams of fiber. 2.3 grams of fiber is 5-10% of the recommended daily amount. Fiber is important for digestion, helps maintain blood glucose levels keeping the risk of diabetes down, and prevents a variety of other chronic diseases.2

Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant, promoting good immunity and healthy skin. Vitamin K1, on the other hand, plays a vital role in blood clotting and keeping the skeletal system in tip-top shape. Half a cup of broccoli contains more than 100% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin K and vitamin C.2

Folate, potassium, and iron are also found in relatively large quantities in broccoli. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, promotes cell and tissue growth making it a particularly important for pregnant women. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and iron plays a crucial role in oxygen transportation via red blood cells.2

Broccoli further contains plant compounds and antioxidants that have cholesterol-lowering and cancer preventative properties. Cancer is a disease where there is a growth of abnormal cells in the body. Many cruciferous vegetables contain plant compounds such as isothiocyanates, in the form of sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, that reduce oxidative stress. High levels of oxidative stress can result in tissue damage which may lead to cancerous cell growth. Due to the high concentration of sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables, eating these vegetables may lower your cancer risk.2

Similar compounds in broccoli help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and cholesterol quality. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol isn’t dangerous, it is healthy and necessary for healthy cell functioning and signaling.3,4 It is also necessary for the creation of bile acids. Bile acids aid in the digestion of fats. However, sometimes bile acids are reused and recycled instead of synthesized from scratch from cholesterol, which could lead to the elevation of blood cholesterol levels. As we mentioned, cholesterol IS healthy. However, it can be an issue if you are in a state of inflammation (e.g. if you have a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, have high C-reactive protein blood levels, or if you suffer from autoimmune conditions), and/or if your cholesterol profile consists of a high number of small particle size LDL particles, since it turns out that the only time LDL could be “bad”, or putting you at “high risk” for atherosclerosis, is when the particle size is small and there are a high number of these small particles (this can be determined with an NMR blood test).5 This is where broccoli comes in. Compounds in broccoli help to excrete bile acids. This allows cholesterol to be used for the creation of new bile acids, which in turn, lowers blood cholesterol levels.2

So, what is the best way to eat broccoli?

Raw broccoli provides substantially more of every nutrient than any cooking method. However, cooking is centuries old, and some scientists believe it has contributed to our resilience as a species.6

For cooking, steaming is best. The best way to retain the nutrient concentrations is to steam for 5 minutes. If steamed for longer than 5 minutes, there can be a loss in vitamin and mineral levels. Stir-frying in oil or fat can further help preserve fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin B, and antioxidants. However, try to avoid high temperatures as these tend to increase the loss of nutrient density. Another beneficial aspect of cooking is that, by heating up vegetables, we can extract nutrients found in the cell walls. Due to our digestive system, some of these beneficial extracted nutrients are not available to us in raw vegetable form. Cooked broccoli further contains high levels of antioxidants.7

So, what is the best way to eat broccoli? Try both ways occasionally. Raw and cooked offer different concentrations of different nutrients, all of which are important for a healthy and balanced diet.8

What about broccoli sprouts?

Broccoli sprouts fall into the same plant and vegetable family as broccoli. They are a cruciferous vegetable. However, broccoli sprouts contain high concentrations of the cancer-fighting compound, sulforaphane. Sulforaphane not only helps protect the body from cancer, but it also helps lower cholesterol, reduces the risk of heart disease, prevents and aids in improving diabetes, decreases inflammation throughout the body, and helps with immune system function. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between sulforaphane and these benefits.9

As always, there is an optimal way to eat broccoli sprouts to release the most sulforaphane. The goal is to heat the sprouts high enough so that the epithelial protein in the vegetable dissolves, but not too high that the heat destroys the enzyme that makes sulforaphane. The best method to cook broccoli sprouts is for 10 minutes at 70 degrees Celsius. This can be accomplished boiling water. Measure the temperature using a thermometer. Once the temperature reaches 70 degrees Celsius, add the sprouts and let it sit for 10 minutes. This method will release the most sulforaphane from the vegetable, allowing you to reap the most benefits.10

Make sure to include a variety of foods, including broccoli and broccoli sprouts, in your diet. A variety will ensure you are consuming the most of the recommended daily nutrient values. A good way to do this is to eat a diet like the Paleo Diet, which is high in quality protein, healthy fats, and a  variety of vegetables. To get you started on your journey, here are a few of our favorite broccoli recipes:

  1. BREAKFAST: “Broccoli Basil Scramble
  2. LUNCH: “Broccoli Salad
  3. DINNER: “Roasted Broccoli

Work toward a healthy and balanced lifestyle, starting today!

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References

  1. https://www.thepaleomom.com/wiki/broccoli/
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/broccoli
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GDx5sObceI
  4. https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/104/10/867/1591864
  5. https://peterattiamd.com/the-straight-dope-on-cholesterol-part-ix/
  6. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=9
  7. https://chriskresser.com/to-poach-saute-or-microwave-that-is-the-question/
  8. https://www.thepaleomom.com/vegetables-to-cook-or-not-to-cook/
  9. https://www.selfhacked.com/blog/panacea-benefits-broccoli-sprouts-sulforaphane/
  10. https://www.foundmyfitness.com/episodes/sfn-maximize

The Health Benefits of Fasting

Intermittent-Fasting-1

What is fasting?

Fasting is the process of not eating for set periods of time. Our genetics are actually well suited for this process. We are the only species of human to survive the Paleolithic Era, and during this era, we had to experience periods of time where food was abundant, and other times when it was scarce.

Flash forward to our modern society, and we typically eat 3-4 times a day, often snacking in between meals. Now, I’m sure if our Paleo ancestors had the ability to eat all of the time, they would (humans are also programmed to love food). But the fact that our species survived one of the harshest eras of existence (the Paleolithic Era and corresponding Ice Age) means something; our metabolism is programmed to run optimally when food and energy intake is random and varied, not constant (for the technical bent, these are called stochastic processes). As research is starting to show, a constant intake of energy may not be so beneficial for us in the long run, especially if we are living mostly sedentary lives.

The Health Benefits of Fasting

There are a plethora of health benefits associated with fasting, including improvements in metabolism, reduction in inflammation, aging prevention, and a decreased risk of developing disease. Let’s go one by one…

Fasting induces a healthy metabolic state called “ketosis”

During fasting, when our intake of macronutrients glucose, fat, and protein, are zero, our body begins to burn glycogen stores in the liver (our body’s way of storing glucose for periods of no food) to release glucose for the body and the brain. However, once our glycogen stores become depleted, our body switches its metabolism towards burning fat for fuel. When we burn fat for fuel instead of glycogen, we enter a state of ketosis, which is a state where, in the process of burning fat for fuel, ketones are released [Note: ketosis is different from ketoacidosis, and Dr. Peter Attia has a great article describing the difference]. There are two ways to enter ketosis: by fasting, or by eating a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. This is why it is often said that ketogenic diets mimic fasting.

Ketones are miracle molecules and have been shown to do all of the following: 1) suppress oncogenes, 2) decrease inflammation, 3) promote healthy cell metabolism & cell signaling, 4) promote healthy body weight and physiology, 5) improve good cholesterol and other cardiovascular markers, and 6) enhance cognitive ability.

Ketosis is also thought to be the reason behind why ketogenic diets work so well for treating epilepsy and for reversing cancer tumors.

Fasting improves our immune system profile and reduces inflammation

Excellent research by Dr. Valter Longo has shown that by fasting we can drastically improve our immune system by 1) clearing away damaged white blood cells (via a process called autophagy) and 2) regenerating the immune cell population towards one that is more representative of our youth (by normalizing the ratio of myeloid cells to lymphoid cells).

Fasting has also been shown to reduce inflammation via the reduction of the inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-1.

Fasting promotes longevity and prevents aging

Fasting is known for triggering the expression of longevity genes, which are genes that are associated with a longer lifespan. Fasting also promotes healthy mitochondrial function. Healthy mitochondria are critical for preventing the oxidative damage that is associated with aging.

Finally, fasting triggers the production of new stem cells as well as critical cellular repair processes.

Fasting can improve our metabolism and body composition

Fasting triggers weight loss via adipose thermogenesis (a.k.a. “calorie burning”) and promotes metabolic homeostasis. Our metabolism is boosted when we fast, as we alter our hormone profile to favor fat burning while preserving muscle mass.

Fasting has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. When insulin sensitivity improves, our ability to store glucose and fat, as well as properly utilize glucose and fat for energy, improves.

Fasting has potential for preventing and reversing disease

Research has shown that fasting can significantly reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, fasting may also help prevent and reduce cancer via activation of tumor suppressor pathways, lowering of blood glucose and activation of AMPK, as well as by turning our immune cells into tumor killers.

Research has also shown that, by promoting pancreatic beta-cell regeneration, fasting may help reverse diabetes.

Finally, fasting may help prevent neurodegenerative disease and cognitive decline via the increase in production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that is experienced during periods of calorie restriction.

So what is intermittent fasting exactly? And how do you do it?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is the safest form of fasting. It consists of voluntary fasting for short durations, typically 16-48 hours at most. We do not advocate long-term fasting (fasting for more than 48 hours), especially without a doctor’s consent. Long-term fasting is trickier to pull off, and arguably not as healthy as short-term fasting.

A typical IF regimen is as follows:

  1. Eat lunch at 12 pm.
  2. Eat dinner at 8 pm.
  3. Sleep around 10 pm.
  4. Eat the next day at 12 pm.

This is called the 16/8 regimen (16 hours fast, followed by an 8-hour eating window). The 16/8 is the most common IF protocol because it is the easiest to follow since you are sleeping for the majority of the 16 hour fast. However, there are a variety of other ways that you can structure your IF.

If the 16/8 protocol is too hard for you, or if you are just starting out, trying simply skipping a meal now and then. It may be hard to do at first, especially if you are currently on a high-carb diet since you will experience more “sugar/carb” withdrawal (people on a high-carb diet typically have altered hunger and metabolism hormone function that keeps them in a state of “hunger”). But, it will get easier as you begin to stabilize your hormones; as we ease into IF, we start to improve our leptin signaling, which controls our appetite. Remember, the hunger cravings, if you have any, are temporary and will subside.

As mentioned, we recommend following the 16/8 fasting protocol, skipping breakfast, and only eating lunch and dinner. To help you out with your IF journey, here are a few tips:

  • During the fast, consume only water, black coffee, or tea.
  • To help you prevent hunger during each fast, try eating a low-carb Paleo diet or Ketogenic diet during your allowed eating time.
  • Stay busy during your fast
  • Remember that any hunger symptoms you may have will go away as you begin to correct and balance your hormone profile
  • Don’t binge eat after your fast
  • Avoid alcohol consumption before and after your fast
  • Get plenty of sleep (consider a good quality sleep mask and ear plug kit, as well as taking a small amount of melatonin)

Is it safe? Is it for me?

As we mentioned, short-term IF is safe for almost everyone (although you should always consult your doctor first), and there are a plethora of health benefits (as described above). The only side effects that may occur are headaches and constipation, which are usually temporary and are a by-product of your body going through high-carb withdrawal as well as hormone stabilization.

We don’t recommend long-term fasts. We also DO NOT recommend that you try to fast if you are a child, are underweight, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Furthermore, you should consult your doctor if you are taking medication, if you have diabetes, or if you have high uric acid.

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Other Links & Resources

  1. Intermittent Fasting for Beginners
  2. Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications
  3. 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

NOTE: Nothing in this post is written or intended to be medical advice or to replace medical advice. We are not doctors. We are merely individuals with a passion for health, fitness, nutrition, and scientific research.

Meditation and Health: Why You Should Meditate & How To Start

Meditation-and-Health

Meditation and Health in the Modern Era

These days, we live in a very high-paced, agitated, and fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) culture. We are constantly stressed, and surrounded by stress. Our jobs, the news, deadlines, traffic, emotional life events, and even our family and life partners can all be potential triggers of stressful states of both mind and body. Unfortunately, exposure to chronic stress can lead to a variety of health issues. Luckily, as you’ll discover after reading this, we can easily manage our stress, and thus improve our health, with meditation.

Why is chronic stress unhealthy? How can it lead to health problems?

Stress triggers activation of the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal axis) which is responsible for inducing our fight-or-flight response to dangerous situations. The HPA axis provides an evolutionary advantage that helped humans to survive when, for example, we encountered a pack of saber-tooth tigers or lions in the wilderness.

When our brain receives danger signals, the HPA axis is initiated and leads to a cascade of events that eventually leads to release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones help prioritize the energy use within the body, ensuring that energy is available for your muscles so that you can run away, and that energy is available for your brain so that you can make quick decisions.

These are all good things. However, our environment has drastically changed and the chance of a lion encounter is much lower than it used to be. But, in this modern world, everyday stressful situations like traffic or deadlines, while non-life threatening, also trigger the activation of the HPA axis. In a sense, we are responding to everyday stress in the same way as we respond to encountering a lion or crocodile.

Activation of the HPA axis and release of cortisol and adrenaline are meant to be one time deals. Once the threat is over, these hormones stop acting, and we can return back to a normal state. Unfortunately, the chronic stress we experience in the modern era leads to constant activation of the HPA axis and continuously high levels of cortisol and adrenaline throughout the day.

The impact of chronic cortisol release

Normally, our cortisol levels are highest in the morning and decrease throughout the day. However, when we are stressed, we experience elevated levels of cortisol throughout the day, which can impact our bodies in a very negative way. Chronic release of cortisol can lead to brain fog, adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, altered immune function (stress and high cortisol can lead to “leaky gut”), metabolic dysfunction (due to increased levels of insulin in response to cortisol), loss of sex appetite, and accelerated aging.

Managing stress through meditation

As you can imagine, it is vital for humans in the modern era to manage and reduce stress by any means necessary. There are many ways to do this, such as getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and staying fit. However, the best and easiest way to reduce stress (aside from removing ourselves altogether from the stressful situation) is to change and manage how we respond to stressful situations. As it turns out, one very simple and easy way to do this is to train through meditation, a time-tested and proven method to help manage and reduce stress. Lets talk a bit more about meditation, how you could benefit from meditating, and how you can start right away.

What is meditation?

Meditation has been around for a very, very long time. Originally practiced by monks and religious figures since antiquity, it has gained significant popularity worldwide over time. It is now practiced by a multitude of cultures, religions, and communities.

The goal of meditation is to train in order to calm the mind, to improve self-awareness, and to increase awareness of the current moment (a.k.a. mindfulness). While meditating, your body becomes relaxed as your mind goes into a state of mental silence. Your goal is to calm the chatter of your mind, and enter a state of thoughtless awareness (for the science fans out there, it is thought that meditation does this via its action on the posterior cingulate cortex).

Meditation and Health

Something interesting happens when you start to practice this on a regular basis. Not only do you become a happier individual overall, but you also inevitably become immune to stress, and more adept at handling stressful situations. Not only that, but there are a plethora of health benefits of meditation. Research is showing that meditation can help regulate the HPA axis and reduce cortisol levels, slow aging, improve brain health and cognitive function, boost and restore the immune system, and resolve anxiety, depression, and addiction. In fact, it is thought that the reason for reduced stress and improved stress management via meditation is due to the triple action of 1) increased serotonin and dopamine levels (the happy hormones) during meditation 2) lower cortisol release, and 3) heightened cognitive function. [Tip: if you want to learn more about the research on meditation and health, just type in mediation and health in PubMed.]

How do I start meditating? 

There are many forms of meditation, but the simplest, most popular, and most effective form to get started with is Transcendental Meditation (TM). One of the major benefits of TM is how relatively easy it is to be learned and mastered. A myriad of influential people including Ray Dalio, Tim Ferriss, Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, and Jerry Seinfeld, to name a few, regularly practice this form of meditation.

TM techniques quickly and effortlessly enable your body to go into a deep state of relaxation. In TM, you don’t concentrate on chanting or breathing, you just focus on quieting your mind, and you only need to practice for 20 minutes at least once a day (although twice a day is recommended).

TM is a great way to enter the realm of meditation, but if you don’t yet have 20 minutes to practice twice a day (you should, or you must be crazy busy!), or don’t have the time to learn TM, then here are a few tips and tricks that you can employ right away to start meditating, practicing mindfulness, and releasing stress:

  1. Find a song that puts you in a good mood. Once you’ve chosen your song, take about three minutes of your time and sit in a comfortable place with your legs crossed in front of you with a straight spine. Close your eyes, listen and reminisce about positive memories.
  2. Listen to a guided meditation. A few suggestions are guided meditations by Sam Harris, or the Tara Brach Smile meditation guide, both of which are free and highly recommended.
  3. Practice breathing. Start every morning with three to five minutes of sitting down with your eyes closed and just work on your breathing. Additionally, you can use an eye mask and earplugs to help filter out light and sound distractions (we offer a very affordable high-quality eye mask and ear plug kit on Amazon). Or, if you prefer, you can use an app like Calm to provide background ambiance (e.g. sounds of waves crashing, or a river stream flowing with birds chirping) while practicing your breathing.
  4. Practice the “three breath break” throughout the day. This is a technique consisting of taking three deep breaths every time you start to feel angry, sad, or driven by your emotions. This will help you clear your mind, and train you to take control of the situation.
  5. Use an app. Headspace is a great app to use to quickly and easily start practicing meditation any time of day.
  6. Practice gratitude. Think about at least three things that you are grateful for. These could be people, things, or situations. Just sit comfortably and take about five minutes to reflect on your gratitude. This will help you relax, and help you rid yourself of stress and angry emotions.

Still curious? Want to learn more about meditation and health?

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