Nutrition for Bone Health

Calcium
When you think bone health, what is the first nutrient you think of? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you said Calcium! Yep, calcium is crucial for bone health. It is the key component of hydroxyapatite, which makes of the mineral matrix that keeps you teeth and bones sturdy and strong. Our bones are also constantly breaking down and building up – and in order to properly build, they need adequate amounts of calcium. This “adequate amount” ranges from 1,000mg- 1,300mg per day depending on age and gender and mainly comes from dairy products, almonds, leafy greens, tofu, beans, lentils, and some fish fish.

Vitamin D
Now, while calcium is the key component in bone, it pretty much is no good without its partner in crime, vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption, so no matter how much calcium you eat (or drink), your body isn’t absorbing much of it if you lack vitamin D. Vitamin also helps in that bone remodeling (breakdown and building) process I mentioned.

Vitamin D has become a pretty hot nutrition topic recently. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is on the verge of becoming a global public health issue. Why? Well, if you are reading this post right now, you are likely sitting inside staring at a computer or phone screen as opposed to soaking up the sun’s UV rays. Our primary source of vitamin D comes from the sun so the decreased time spend outdoors and the increased use of sunscreen that have been seen around the globe are causing vitamin D deficiency rates shoot through the roof!

There are a few food sources of vitamin D, including fortified dairy products, some fatty fish, and mushrooms, but these can’t really provide enough to meet our need of 600-800 IU per day (and most people need up to 2,000 IU per day if they are deficient).

Exercise
The final key player in bone health isn’t a nutrient; it is exercise!- specifically weight-baring exercise. Simply carrying the weight of your skeleton in activities like walking, running, jumping, and stair climbing all help in that formation of strong bones. Not to mention, exercise improves strength and balance, which can help decrease risk of falls and broken bones.

Other Nutrients
In addition to these top three, researches have also found that low vitamin C and vitamin K levels also put people at risk of poor bone mineralization. On the other hand, people who had diets high in fruits and vegetables were found to have stronger bones… just one of the millions of reasons to eat more fruits and veggies!

Controversy
A few studies have found that high calcium intake, greater than the recommended daily intake doesn’t provide any additional benefit when it comes to bone mineral density. There have also been associations between high calcium intake (especially from supplements) and heart disease risk. Moral of the story- more calcium isn’t always better.

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Artificial Sweeteners: Not so sweet after all

The next time you are about to tear open that yellow, blue, or pink packet or reach for a diet beverage, you may want to think twice. Throughout the 1900’s, artificial sweeteners seemed to be the miracle food – all the delicious sweetness people enjoy, without any of the sugar or calories. But now this “miracle food” might not be such a miracle after all. Recent research has been showing that these artificial sweeteners may be doing more harm than good!

One study of over 400,000 people found that, even though artificial sweeteners don’t have any calories, they did not help people lose weight. In fact, they found consuming more artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

How could this be possible? Less calories should mean more weight loss, right? Well, just because the sweeteners aren’t providing any calories, doesn’t mean we aren’t getting more calories elsewhere. One Harvard doctor explained that artificial sweetener consumption could cause overstimulation and desensitization of our sugar receptors, which causes people to crave sweeter and sweeter foods. It can also end up making un-sweet foods (such as vegetables) unpalatable. These sugar cravings and vegetable aversions lead to people eating more sugary and high calorie foods, which cancel out any reduction in calories from using artificial sweeteners.

Also, remember the gut microbiome I talked about in my post about Probiotics? Well, researchers found artificial sweeteners can change your gut bacteria…and not in a good way! The sweeteners increase the number of Bacteroides, an “energy hoarding” bacteria species that make it nearly impossible to lose weight. Other changes in the microbiome, caused by artificial sweeteners, make it more difficult for your body to breakdown sugar – leading glucose intolerance and diabetes.

If you are looking for any bright sides, using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar can decrease likelihood of cavities and tooth decay, and while there is a lot of hoopla around artificial sweeteners causing cancer, there haven’t been any concrete studies to prove this. But! We only have short-term studies…we don’t really know what the effects of long-term use are.

In the end, regardless of weight gain, cravings, and diabetes, artificial sweeteners are, well, artificial. I don’t know about you but I would rather avoid putting artificial chemicals in my body and stick with the real stuff (in moderation, of course) if I had the choice.

Coconut Oil

This week’s topic brought to you from the family dinner table last weekend.

It seems like coconut oil is everyone’s favorite oil right now. It is encouraged by the recently popular clean eating, paleo, and ketogenic diets. Why is it so popular? There may be some great health benefits of coconut oil, but there are still some fuzzy areas that need more research. When asked, most coconut oil users can’t tell you why they use it or why they think it is healthy, so I thought I would share some insight.

Cholesterol

There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is considered the bad kind of fat which increases our LDL (bad) cholesterol. Unsaturated fat is known as the good or healthy kind of fat, which can decrease LDL cholesterol. Both saturated and unsaturated fats can boost your HDL (good) cholesterol a tiny bit, too.

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat (which is more than the 65% saturated fat in butter!). Therefore, coconut oil, just like other saturated fats, increase that bad LDL cholesterol (not good!). However, coconut oil is unique in that it seems to give your HDL a little extra boost compared to all other fats.

This is where it gets confusing. Right now, when you go to the doctor, they test your blood for the amount of LDL particles and the amount of HDL particles in your blood, but they don’t look at the size of those particles. There has been some new research showing that the size of these cholesterol particles might be a more accurate measure of heart disease risk rather than the number of particles.

Here is where coconut oil comes in…while coconut oil increases the number of LDL particles (just like other saturated fats), it might increase the size of these particles, which could mean good news for your heart disease risk (the bigger the better!). But remember, this is still new research and we don’t consider this 100% fact yet.

MCTs

Then there are the infamous MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) that coconut oil is known for. MCTs don’t need to be digested the same way as other fats and are a readily available energy source for your cells. For this reason, they have historically been used as a therapeutic agent in people with fat malabsorption, cystic fibrosis, and epilepsy.

Most fat digestion requires the fats you eat to be transported to the liver via triglycerides in order to be used, but because MCTs don’t go through the normal digestion process, there are some studies showing they can decrease triglycerides and aid in weight loss. MCTs also have some anti-inflammatory properties, which is also good news from a health perspective.

Conclusions

While all of this sound great, I would still be a little skeptical. Much of this is just preliminary research, there are few research studies, and the results are inconclusive. So while coconut oil is fine every now and again, choosing oils high in unsaturated fats, like olive, sunflower, and avocado oils, are definitely the best choice as far as we know.

Organic vs. Natural – What do they mean?

Walking up and down the grocery aisles, boxes and packages are covered with health claims and catchy words to suck you in, but they can get very confusing. Most people have a vague idea of what an organic apple is, but organic cookies…not as straight forward.

Here is a break down some of these catchy health words to help you understand what they all mean.

Organic

  • When it comes to produce, organic products are grown in soil that has no prohibited substances (including synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) for at least 3 years prior to harvest.
  • Organic meat and poultry have to meet 3 criteria – (1) they are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, (2) they are fed 100% organic feed, and (3) they cannot have any antibiotics or hormones administered to them.
  • As for processed, multi-ingredient foods, they can only be labeled organic if every ingredient is organic, there must be no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and no GMO ingredients are used.

Organic products are very highly regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The government goes out to farms, tests soil, evaluates feed, and examines animal living conditions to ensure they meet all of these specific criteria.

 

Natural

  • Right now, the term “natural” seen on food labels means absolutely nothing.

Yes, you read that right. There are no rules that regulate what items can use this term in their labels, which means technically anything from apples and cucumbers, to ding-dongs, and ho-hos are all “natural”. Pretty scary, huh? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on some guidelines for what products can use the word natural, but right now, there is no regulation.

organic-vs-natural-chart_0

Did you find any of this shocking? I know the “natural” one continues to blow my mind – especially because people tend to value natural products more than regular ones, and they usually cost more!

 

Want more info? These links might help!

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm

Protein!

From protein bars, protein pancakes, protein shakes, protein peanut butter, and giant chickens breasts, I was originally planning on writing this posts about the potential risks of a high protein diet. In school we learned that high protein consumption could damage the kidneys and lead to bone disease, health disease, and possibly cancer. But, when I started digging through the research to write this blog post, I was kind of shocked to find out that none of these side effects of high protein intake were really proven.

The research shows that high protein diets can be harmful to the kidneys, but only in people who already have kidney problems (which are usually caused by high blood pressure and diabetes). High protein diets might also increase the amount of calcium we lose in urine, but it hasn’t been found to have an effect on our bones. In fact, more protein can actually prevent bone fractures.

As for heart disease and cancer risk, we should really be focusing more on where our protein comes from. Many protein rich foods, like beef and red meats, are also high in saturated fats. This saturated fat is actually what has been found to increase risk for heart disease and cancer, not the protein. That means, we should focus on eating proteins lower in saturated fat, like lean meats, low fat dairy, and fish.

So now that we have busted some of the myths, here are some benefits of protein for healthy sources:

1. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks for cells, muscles, and tissues in the body. Therefore, more protein can help build/preserve muscle mass and repair damaged tissues.
2. Protein tends to be very satiating, which can lead to fewer calories consumed from other foods and weight loss.
3. The jury is still out there on this one, but some research shows that high protein intake can increase your metabolism (that means more calories burned while you sit on the couch!).

How much protein should you eat?

In order to prevent deficiency, you should have 0.35 grams of protein per pound of your body weight, but in reality, most of us can benefit from more than that. I suggest 0.5g-0.75g per pound (I wouldn’t go much higher than 0.90g/lb – there isn’t enough research to know the long term effects anything higher than that). Most of us typically land in this healthy range every day just by eating everyday foods, but like I said before, it is important to focus on those lean, low fat protein sources to meet your daily goals.

And remember, just because protein has the spotlight doesn’t mean you can eliminate carbs and fats – they provide lots of important nutrients we can’t live without!

 

“Should I be eating dairy?”

 

When people find out I am studying nutrition the questions immediately start pouring out, and the topic of dairy is one of the most popular. There is tons of research on both sides, so I’ll try to sum it up for you.

Evolution and Intolerance

The number 1 argument against dairy is that it isn’t “evolutionary” for humans to consume the milk made from other animals. While it is true that humans are the only species to do this, people have been consuming animal dairy products for hundreds of years, and some research shows that our genes have changed and adapted to accommodate the dairy products we consume.

While some genes may have changed, over 75% of the world’s population is still intolerant to the natural sugars in dairy (also known as lactose intolerance). This is likely due to reduction of lactase production (the enzyme used to digests those sugars) that naturally occurs as we age. Why does it decrease with age? Probably because in distant human history, people didn’t have much dairy in their diet after they stopped breast-feeding.

Calcium and Bones

Because dairy is the optimal food for growing animals, it is packed with beneficial nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, and some B vitamins. Dairy products often get the spotlight for calcium content and bone health – which they should since it can be extremely difficult to meet our daily calcium needs from food without dairy. Several studies have shown that people who consume dairy have improved bone mineral density, and have lower risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. But, other studies have shown that people who are lactose intolerant often have higher bone mineral density and lower risk of osteoporosis. Confusing, right?

More and more research is showing that we should really be focusing on vitamin D when it comes to bone health, but I’ll save that post for another day.

Healthy Fat

While the research on bone health is still “up in the air”, it is pretty well proven that dairy can provide a lot of healthy fats that can decrease heart disease and stroke risk. But there is a disclaimer that comes with this one. The nutrient composition of dairy can differ depending on what the dairy producing animals eat. We only see these healthy fats when dairy comes from animals that were grass fed or pasture raised. And don’t forget, you only get these healthy fats if you buy dairy products with fat in them – low fat and skim won’t have them.

Hormones and IGF-1

Finally, the infamous hormones that people are concerned about. Dairy has been shown to increase a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 is responsible for cell growth – which can be a good thing and a bad thing. It is great for healing damaged tissues and building muscle, but it also means it might help the growth of cancerous cells (that’s why so many people say that dairy causes cancer). While there are few and inconclusive studies showing dairy may increase prostate cancer risk, there are several studies showing dairy can decrease colorectal cancer risk.

In addition to cancer, IGF-1 is also the suspected hormonal link between dairy and acne, headaches, low energy, inhibited weight loss, and many more.

Conclusions

So back to the original question “Should I be eating dairy?”

Do you have digestive symptoms (like abdominal pain, flatulence, and diarrhea) after eating dairy? If you do, avoid it. You can try lactose-free dairy products be those can also cause trouble sometimes.

Do you have any symptoms of hormone imbalances (like acne, headaches, low energy, inhibited weight loss, or mood swings)? If you do, try eliminating dairy and see how you respond. Maybe it will help, maybe not, but it is worth a try.

Other than that, it is really personal preference. While there are some potential health risks, the evidence isn’t conclusive and none of the studies were gold-standard clinical trials. If you aren’t sure, maybe you try to eliminate it for a week or two to see if you feel any different and then make your decision. Remember, everyone is different so just because your neighbor won’t touch a piece of cheese doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any either.

However, nutritionally, if you choose not to eat dairy, I would suggest a daily calcium + vitamin D supplement, especially if you are under the age of 30.

The Scoop on Salt

Sitting at the Father’s Day dinner table last night, somehow the topic of salt came up. Everyone was discussing the difference between table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, etc. Low and behold, the most common myth about sea salt came up.

Does sea salt have less sodium and is it better for you than regular table or kosher salt?

The simple answer is no. All types of salt are about 40% sodium (by weight) meaning that sea salt has about the same amount of sodium as an equal amount of any other type of salt. So, don’t think that swapping sea salt for your regular table salt will work wonders on your blood pressure.

But here is the catch- when measuring salt with measuring spoons, 1 teaspoon of sea salt may have less sodium than 1 teaspoon of table salt. This is because sea salt is typically larger crystals so fewer will fit in the measuring spoon (compared to the finely ground table salt). This is the basis behind the common myth that sea salt is “better for you” and contains less sodium.

With that being said, there are some differences between the various types of the most commonly used salts.

  • Sea salt is usually less processed and will contain small amounts of minerals (like potassium, magnesium, and calcium) from the ocean.
  • Table salt is processed to a fine texture (good for mixing into recipes) with impurities and minerals removed.
  • Table salt is usually iodized (it has added iodine) to prevent iodine deficiency which can lead to hypothyroidism and goiter.
  • Kosher salt is coarser and flakier making it good for sprinkling on top of foods for lots of flavor
  • Pink Himalyan salt has lots of minerals giving it more flavor and makes it popular for skin and spa treatments.
  • Check out this link for info about 12 different types of salt http://www.wideopeneats.com/12-different-types-salt-use/

Which type of salt should you choose? You should leave that up to your taste buds. Some may say the minerals in sea salt make it superior, but the amounts are so small that it is almost insignificant. You can get all those same minerals from nutrient dense fruits and vegetables.

Just keep in mind, regardless of the type of salt, they all have almost the same amount of sodium, which one of the largest contributors to high blood pressure and heart disease in America.

The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of 1,500mg of sodium per day (max of 2,300mg per day), but the average American has over 3,400mg per day! Watch out though because more than 75% of the sodium most people consume comes from packaged foods like chips, muffins, crackers, cereal, microwave dinners, and canned goods (not from the salt shaker).

Here are some tips to cut back on sodium and prevent high blood pressure:

  • Choose the low sodium or sodium-free version of popular snacks (especially broths and condiments) at the grocery store
  • Buy the “no salt added” canned goods, or rinse your canned veggies and beans off with water before eating them
  • Use spices to add flavor when cooking as opposed to salt
  • Avoid foods with the words pickled, brined, cured, and smoked – this usually means high salt
  • Potassium has the opposite effect on blood pressure than sodium (it can help reduce blood pressure) so incorporate foods like sweet potatoes, bananas, yogurt, and other high potassium foods into your diet