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The Ketogenic Diet

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(Originally written for Pure Plates)

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Overview

The ketogenic diet, also commonly referred to as the “keto” diet, is a relatively recent nutrition trend sweeping the Internet. However, it’s been around for quite some time. And it has been proven to be beneficial for some people, especially those with metabolic-related diseases or neurological disorders.

The keto diet involves drastically restricting your intake of carbohydrates and consuming mostly high-fat foods instead. The concept is similar to the Atkins diet.

By significantly lowering your carb consumption, your body shifts from primarily burning carbs as fuel to efficiently burning fat. This metabolic process is known as ketosis (not to be confused with ketoacidosis).

As a result, blood sugar and insulin levels drop. And the liver begins producing ketones, which have been shown to supply energy to the brain. These are the key changes that make the keto diet beneficial for some.

Keto and Weight Loss

There is plenty of research suggesting calorie restriction is a successful weight loss strategy. There is also a strong body of evidence supporting the use of a keto diet for weight loss as well.

However, eating a high-fat diet is very satiating. This means most people on a keto diet naturally consume fewer calories. And they do so without having to count calories or keep track of points.

Turning the body into a fat burning machine as well as producing ketones and decreasing blood sugar and insulin levels may also be contributing factors.

Keto and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder resulting from chronic high blood sugar and insulin resistance.

By lowering glucose and insulin levels, the keto diet has been shown to drastically improve insulin sensitivity. In some cases, individuals following a keto diet have been able to reduce or eliminate their diabetes medications.

Keto and Heart Disease

In many cases, eating a high-fat diet raises your “good” cholesterol (a.k.a. HDL cholesterol). It can also lower your triglycerides levels. And these two positive consequences are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Keto and Neurological Disorders

Studies have shown the keto diet is effective at reducing symptoms experienced with neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s. Evidence suggests ketones are highly effective at protecting brain cells from damage.

What to Eat and What Not to Eat

The keto diet is based on eating high-fat whole foods, which includes:

  • Cold water fatty fish (i.e., salmon, halibut, sardines)
  • Eggs (with yolks)
  • Grass-fed and pasture-raised red meat and poultry
  • Grass-fed dairy
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils (i.e., coconut, olive, avocado)
  • Avocados and olives
  • Herbs and spices
  • Low-carb and non-starchy veggies (i.e., leafy greens, onions, tomatoes, celery)

On the other hand, the foods that must be eliminated on a keto diet include:

  • Fruit
  • Sugar-laden foods (mostly all processed foods)
  • Grains
  • Starchy vegetables (i.e., roots and tubers)
  • Beans and lentils
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners

Caveats of the Keto Diet

While the keto diet can be beneficial to your health in many ways, it’s not for everyone.

  1. The diet is very restrictive, which can prove to be challenging and stressful for some. And any change that adds stress to your life is counterproductive.
  2. It’s extremely important to understand your current health status to ensure you don’t make matters worse. Therefore, if you’re serious about trying the keto diet, we strongly suggest you work with your healthcare provider or a qualified nutrition professional.
  3. Not everybody will react the same way. While your friend may drop 20 pounds and gain lots of energy, your experience may be completely opposite. We are all unique in many ways, including our genetics, microbiome, and environment. Therefore, it’s important to understand there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to losing weight and improving your health.
  4. The keto diet may not be best suited for athletes and individuals wishing to gain muscle mass.

To Sum It Up…

The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It creates a metabolic state known as ketosis, which utilizes fat for fuel instead of carbs.

The keto diet has been shown to be an effective weight loss strategy as well as help those suffering from diabetes and neurological disorders. It may also reduce risk factors associated with other conditions, such as heart disease.

However, the keto diet is not for everyone. Therefore, before implementing this diet, please consult with your healthcare provider or a qualified nutrition professional.

References

Bessesen, D. (2006). Effect of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Appetite, Blood Glucose Levels, and Insulin Resistance in Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. Yearbook of Endocrinology,2006, 149-151. doi:10.1016/s0084-3741(08)70336-6

Gasior, M., et al. (2006). Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behavioural Pharmacology17(5-6), 431–439.

Hemingway, C., et al. (2001). The Ketogenic Diet: A 3- to 6-Year Follow-Up of 150 Children Enrolled Prospectively. Pediatrics,108(4), 898-905. doi:10.1542/peds.108.4.898

Hession, M., et al. (2009). Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obesity Reviews,10(1), 36-50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789x.2008.00518.x

Manninen, A. H. (2006). Very-low-carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass. Nutrition & Metabolism3, 9. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-9

Mcpherson, P. A., et al. (2011). The biochemistry of ketogenesis and its role in weight management, neurological disease and oxidative stress. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry,68(1), 141-151. doi:10.1007/s13105-011-0112-4

Veech, R. L. (2004). The therapeutic implications of ketone bodies: the effects of ketone bodies in pathological conditions: ketosis, ketogenic diet, redox states, insulin resistance, and mitochondrial metabolism. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids,70(3), 309-319. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2003.09.007

Yancy, W. S., Foy, M., Chalecki, A. M., Vernon, M. C., & Westman, E. C. (2005). A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutrition & Metabolism2, 34. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-2-34

Yang, M. U., et al. (1976). Composition of weight lost during short-term weight reduction. Metabolic responses of obese subjects to starvation and low-calorie ketogenic and nonketogenic diets. Journal of Clinical Investigation58(3), 722–730.

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Glaucoma in Dogs

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Glaucoma defines a group of eye conditions that are characterized by an elevated intraocular pressure, which typically leads to optic nerve damage. It’s a painful condition and the most common cause of blindness in dogs.

What is Intraocular Pressure?

The shape and size of the eyeball is regulated by fluid known as aqueous humor. Essentially, the eye is a fluid-filled ball, and the pressure of this fluid is known as intraocular pressure (IOP).

Eye fluid is constantly produced and contains nutrients and oxygen necessary for the eye to function optimally. Excess fluid is released through the “drainage angle” to maintain optimal IOP.

If fluid does not drain effectively, the IOP rises. Subsequently, the eye often gets larger and may take on an irregular shape. If not addressed immediately before this happens, the increased pressure can damage the optic nerve, which typically leads to vision loss.

An increase in pressure is what causes the pain, which most likely resembles a headache or even a migraine.

Early Warning Signs and Symptoms

Early intervention and treatment are necessary for the best possible outcome. Therefore, it’s extremely important to recognize the initial signs and symptoms.

At the onset of glaucoma, your dog may experience one or more of the following:

  • Red and/or cloudy eye(s)
  • Bloodshot eye(s)
  • Abnormally small or large pupil(s)
  • Abnormal blinking
  • Squinting or fluttering eyelids
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of interest in playing or socializing
  • Rubbing eye with paw or on the floor (due to pain)
  • Tearing or watery discharge
  • Crust around eye(s)
  • Bumping into walls and furniture
  • Swollen eye(s)
  • One eye larger than the other
  • Intolerance to light
  • Third eyelid elevation

Types of Glaucoma

Glaucoma is classified as either primary or secondary.

Primary Glaucoma

Primary glaucoma often occurs suddenly without warning. It’s believed to be genetic and caused by a physical or functional abnormality that prevents eye fluid from draining properly. For example, the drainage angle may be deformed or the opening may be too small.

Primary glaucoma typically starts in one eye and then moves to the other. Thus, always check for differences between the two eyes.

The age of onset is usually between four and ten years. However, it is possible at any age.

While primary glaucoma has been documented in mostly all dog breeds, some breeds are predisposed, which include:

  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Basset Hound
  • Wire Fox Terrier
  • Boston Terrier
  • Chow Chow
  • Shar-Pei
  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Siberian Husky
  • Samoyed
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Miniature Poodle
  • Beagles
  • Dalmatian
  • Chihuahua
  • Magyar Vizsla

In North America, the prevalence of primary glaucoma in these predisposed breeds can be as high as 5.5%.

Secondary Glaucoma

Secondary glaucoma occurs when IOP increases as a result of another eye related disease or damage to the eye. Such conditions include:

  • Cataracts
  • Tumors
  • Lens dislocation
  • Penetration of the eye
  • Infection
  • Inflammation (anterior uveitis)
  • Scarring from injury
  • Bleeding and blot clots
  • Retinal detachment

As a result, diagnosis and treatment of these conditions is also time sensitive to prevent the occurrence of glaucoma. Further, dogs with these disorders should routinely have their IOP measured.

While secondary glaucoma is not considered hereditary, the underlying conditions may be, such as cataracts and lens dislocation.

The combined prevalence of primary and secondary glaucoma is approximately 2% in the general canine population.

It’s also worth noting that the prevalence of cataracts (a common cause of secondary glaucoma) is estimated to be as high as 3.5% within the general canine population. However, for breeds with genetic predispositions, the prevalence has been calculated as high as 11%. Further, several of the same breeds predisposed to primary glaucoma are also more likely to develop cataracts, including cocker spaniels, terriers, and miniature poodles.

Inflammation caused by anterior uveitis is also very common in dogs.

Diagnosis

As previously mentioned, immediate medical treatment is necessary if your dog exhibits one or more of the symptoms listed above. Complete loss of vision is more likely to occur the longer you wait. In some cases, blindness can occur within hours.

The veterinarian will perform an eye examination as well as measure the fluid pressure with an instrument known as a tonometer.

For a majority of dogs, a normal IOP is between 15 and 25 mmHg. Early stages of glaucoma typically produce IOP results between 20 an 30 mmHg. Moderate cases reach IOP levels between 30 mmHg and 40 mmHg. With advanced stages, IOP can rise between 40 and 50 mmHg.

If the pressure is raised above normal, and there are no other obvious explanations, glaucoma is diagnosed.

Promptly you will need to see a veterinary ophthalmologist whom has all the necessary equipment to further evaluate the eye to determine the best course of action. Specifically, the ophthalmologist uses special tools to examine the drainage angle and the optic nerve. X-rays and ultrasounds may also be required to rule out the presence of tumors, injuries, and abscesses.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the severity of damage, and each case is different.

In general, the key goals of treatment are to:

  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce intraocular pressure
  • Increase drainage
  • Decrease fluid production

If there’s a chance to save your dog’s vision, medical treatment will be administered to reduce IOP. The drug or combination of drugs your ophthalmologist chooses with depend on the level of pressure and condition of the optic nerve.

Some medications are given orally, while others get placed directly in the eye. The most commonly prescribed drugs include:

  • Osmotic diuretics – reduce fluid production
  • Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors – reduce fluid production
  • Miotics – promote fluid release by constricting the pupil
  • Adrenergic drugs – promote fluid release
  • Prostaglandin analogs – promote fluid release
  • Beta – blockers – reduce fluid production

With secondary glaucoma, the underlying disease or dysfunction must also be treated. This may involve medications to reduce inflammation (i.e., corticosteroids) or treat an infection (i.e., antimicrobials).

While medication can reduce pain and delay disease progression, it’s not an effective long-term solution. Thus, once IOP has been reduced, surgery is most often necessary.

Some surgical procedures aim to reduce fluid production. However, other more successful procedures involve the use of implants to promote better fluid drainage. Specifically, a small hollow tube is placed in the eye to prevent blockages.

In either case, success is not guaranteed and complications are possible. Thus, the eye will need to be carefully monitored on a regular basis. Unfortunately, repeat surgeries may be necessary.

Further, certain medications (i.e., cholinesterase) may be prescribed to slow the progression of disease in the unaffected eye. As previously mentioned, primary glaucoma almost always occurs in both eyes.

In the case of irreversible vision loss, which occurs in approximately 40% of cases, surgical removal of the eye is recommended. It’s truly the best way to alleviate pain and prevent further complications.

Cost of Treatment

As discussed above, primary glaucoma can develop suddenly without warning. Further, treatment is required immediately after diagnosis.

Below is a summary of the expenses you will most likely incur if your dog is diagnosed with glaucoma:

  • Emergency veterinary hospital visit
  • Ophthalmologist office visit
  • Eye examinations (i.e., IOP measurement, optic nerve imaging, ultrasound, X-rays)
  • Medications (immediate and ongoing)
  • Surgery (possibly more than one)
  • Follow-up office visits

In addition, if your dog’s vision is lost, you may need to make certain modifications in your home to ensure his or her safety.

Needless to say, the cost of treatment can reach as high as $3500 in a very short period of time.

In Conclusion

  • Glaucoma affects the eye and is one of the leading causes of blindness in dogs
  • Identifying early warning signs is essential since the disease progresses quickly
  • Prompt treatment is necessary and most often involves medications as well as surgery
  • Cost of immediate and ongoing treatment is high

References

Gelatt, K. N. (2014). Essentials of veterinary ophthalmology. Ames, IA: Wiley Blackwell.

Gelatt, K. N. et al. (2005). Prevalence of primary breed-related cataracts in the dog in North America. Veterinary Ophthalmology,8(2), 101-111. doi:10.1111/j.1463-5224.2005.00352.x

Gelatt, K. N. et al. (2004). Prevalence of the breed-related glaucomas in pure-bred dogs in North America. Veterinary Ophthalmology,7(2), 97-111. doi:10.1111/j.1463-5224.2004.04006.x

Gelatt, K. N., at al. (2004). Secondary glaucomas in the dog in North America. Veterinary Ophthalmology, 7(4), 245-259. doi:10.1111/j.1463-5224.2004.04034.x

Johnsen, D. A., et al. (2006). Evaluation of risk factors for development of secondary glaucoma in dogs: 156 cases (1999–2004). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 229(8), 1270-1274. doi:10.2460/javma.229.8.1270

Mellersh, C. S. (2014). The genetics of eye disorders in the dog. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology,1(1), 3. doi:10.1186/2052-6687-1-3

Miller, P. E., et al. (2015). Clinical Signs and Diagnosis of the Canine Primary Glaucomas. The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice, 45(6), 1183–vi. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvsm.2015.06.006

Researchers Advance New Glaucoma Treatments. (2015, February 3). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from https://cvm.ncsu.edu/researchers-advance-new-glaucoma-treatments/

Tinsley, David M., et al. (1993) Glaucoma: Past and Present Management Techniques. Iowa State University Veterinarian, 55(1).

salmon dinner

7 Reasons Why You Should Be Meal Planning

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(Originally written for Pure Plates)

salmon dinner

If your goal is to eat healthier to lose weight and optimize your health, then meal planning is the way to go. Hands down.

In addition to having nutritious meals at your fingertips, there are many other benefits of meal planning. Let’s take a closer look…

Top 7 Benefits of Meal Planning

Saves You Time

While you might spend 10 to 15 minutes once a week meal planning, you’ll still actually have more time in your week for other (hopefully relaxing) things.

For example, meal planning involves creating a shopping list of only the things you need. Thus, you’ll be able to get in and out of the grocery store much faster.

In addition, you should only need to make one weekly trip to the store. And, you’ll be sure to have everything on hand when dinnertime rolls around. Thus, no more last minute pit stops.

Eliminates Food Waste

If you head to the grocery store without a plan, you’re probably buying items without knowing what you already have at home and what you’re going to do with the foods you buy. In addition, you may forget about various events or activities in which you need extra food for guests or no food at all.

Thus, when you get home, you might find you’re missing a key ingredient or two. Or, you might be wondering what to do with the foods you got. And after a long day, take-out starts sounding much better than heading back to the store or finding a new recipe with the ingredients you do have.

As a result, some foods are likely to get tossed by the end of the week. However, with a meal plan, everything you buy has a purpose.

Saves You Money

With a meal plan, you’ll only be spending money on foods you truly need. You can also create your plan around your budget. In addition, planning ahead gives you the opportunity to take advantage of sales and coupons.

Reduces Your Stress

Having a meal plan takes the stress out of healthy eating. It gives you one less thing to think about. And, there’ll be no more scrambling last minute trying to figure out what’s for dinner, especially at the end of a busy day.

Adds Variety & Balance to Your Diet

Meal planning sets the stage for eating a variety of foods and well-balanced meals throughout the week.

For instance, when you see your plan on paper (or your computer or phone), you’re less likely to pencil in the same foods back to back. You’re also able to see whether or not your meals have a good balance of proteins, carbs, healthy fats, and (lots of) vegetables.

Gives Kids an Opportunity to Get Involved

Kids love to have a voice when it comes to dinner. Thus, meal planning is a perfect opportunity to get your little ones involved. For example, let each child pick one meal for the week. Or, let your children choose a veggie side dish.

They’ll be more excited about home cooked meals. And, they’ll learn how to meal plan, which will help foster healthy eating habits.

In addition, your kids will stop asking, “what’s for dinner” when you post your meal plan on the fridge for all to see. And, if they know what to expect, they’ll be less likely to complain at the dinner table.

Eat Healthier

Now let’s circle back to your original goal of eating healthy. Based on all the benefits of meal planning we discussed above, it would be almost impossible not to eat healthier with a meal plan.

Meal planning leads to more home cooking as well as more variety and well-balanced meals. Thus, it naturally leads to less take-out and fast food. And these things lead to weight loss and better health.

Meal Planning Tips

Meal planning shouldn’t be difficult. In fact, there are many online meal planning services as well as apps available. Some that even do all the work for you.

In addition, you don’t need to plan a home cooked meal every night. Most likely you will eat out a night or two. And one night you may have dinner at a friend or family member’s house. In addition, some nights you can even add Pure Plates meals to your plan. However, it’s still important to include those nights in your plan to reap all the benefits of meal planning discussed above.

And if you’re looking for a complete solution, Pure Plates offers a 30-Day Fresh Start Program, which provides a 30-day meal plan along with all your meals. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

In Conclusion…

The benefits of meal planning are substantial, especially when it comes to your health (and sanity). Thus, we hope you’ll give it a try.

And, if you’re already a meal planning pro, we’d love to hear from you! What are some of your best meal planning tips and tricks?

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Why You Need to Healthy Fats to Thrive

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(Originally written for Pure Plates)

There’s a lot of buzz about fat in the media these days. And while dietary fat was never the leading cause of obesity and heart disease, this message is slowly reaching mainstream.

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Fat is Not the Enemy

Since the 1970’s, we’ve been warned of the dangers of fat. We’ve been told dietary fat is what makes us fat. And saturated fat specifically clogs arteries and leads to heart attacks. However, these theories were never proven by science. In fact, according to this article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the sugar industry paid scientists to produce studies that would paint fat as the villain and shed doubt on sugar’s role in the development of heart disease.

This means fat was never the enemy. And there is plenty of scientific evidence (herehere, and here) proving there is no direct link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease.

Nevertheless, this topic is still controversial. Thus, we think it’s important to understand the key functions of fat to get a better understanding of why we need fat in our diets.

Key Functions of Fat

  • Fat is required for the absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins, which include A, D, E, and K. For instance, leafy greens are especially high in vitamin A (as beta-carotene) and vitamin K. Thus, adding a source of healthy fat to your salad will increase your nutrient intake.
  • Fat is used to synthesize hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Therefore, diets void of fat may lead to hormonal imbalances as well as infertility.
  • A membrane consisting of fat molecules encapsulates every cell in our bodies. Therefore, we need fat in our diet to produce healthy cells capable of obtaining nutrients, removing toxins, and communicating with other cells.
  • Our brains are mostly made of fat. They need a constant influx of fat molecules for optimal development and performance. Therefore, low fat diets can negatively impact your memory, productivity, and mood among other things.
  • Fat protects our organs, and it insulates nerve cells to assist with the transmission of nerve signals.
  • Fat is involved in the regulation of body temperature as well as metabolism. It can also be used as energy source in the absence of carbohydrates.
  • Fat gives food flavor! When manufacturers removed fat from their products based on faulty dietary guidelines, they added more sugar and other food additives to improve taste and texture. And we think most people would agree that veggies roasted or sautéed in olive oil or coconut oil taste much better than steamed veggies.

Based on all of the above, we think it’s safe to say dietary fat is an essential component to a well balanced and nourishing diet.

Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

Now if you’re wondering if eating fat makes you fat, the answer is “no.” The truth is eating an excess of refined carbohydrates (i.e., pasta, bread, crackers, etc.) and sugar is what triggers your body to store fat. And while these foods are easy to over consume, high fat foods are not. For example, a half of an avocado or a handful of olives or nuts are much more filling than an entire bag of chips.

Further, we’re not suggesting eating as much fat as you can. But we are saying that eating foods with fat and cooking with oils is healthy (and delicious).

Not All Fats are Created Equal

Now that we got that settled, it’s important to understand that not all fats are created equal. While some promote optimal health, others promote disease.

All foods with fat consist of multiple different types of fat. However, they are characterized by their predominate type of fat. There are four types of dietary fats:

  • Saturated fat
  • Monounsaturated fat
  • Polyunsaturated fat
  • Trans fat

The difference in these fats comes down to structure. A saturated fat is solid at room temperature ((i.e., butter or coconut oil). And an unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature (i.e., olive oil).

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are mostly found in foods such as cheese, butter, eggs, meats, and cream. The best saturated fats come from healthy and humanely treated animals.

Coconut (and it’s unrefined oil) is another healthy source of saturated fat. In fact, coconut oil doesn’t require a complex digestive process. Therefore, it passes quickly into the bloodstream to provide an instant source of energy.

Monounsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are broken down into two categories – mono and poly. Monounsaturated fats are found mostly in avocados, olives, and some nuts. There is little debate about the health benefits of monounsaturated fats. They are a staple in the diet of many healthy cultures.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetable oils. They are broken down into essential Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They also play an important role in heart health, immune function, and brain development. Unfortunately, they are often lacking in the standard American diet.

On the other hand, Omega-6 fatty acids are often consumed in excess since they are found in most packaged and processed foods in the form of highly refined vegetable oils (i.e., canola, corn, soy, sunflower, and safflower).

Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, which is necessary to fight infections among other things. But an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids can lead to chronic inflammation, which is now believed to be an underlying risk factor in many modern diseases. Therefore, we recommend getting a healthy dose of polyunsaturated fats from whole foods, including seafood, nuts, and seeds.

Trans Fat

Now the worst type of fat comes in the form of “hydrogenated” oils (a.k.a. trans fats). Hydrogenated fats are artificially altered to produce unsaturated fats that are solid at room temperature. While this creates a cheap, highly stable oil, it’s also very damaging to the body.

Trans fatty acids have the ability to replace natural fats in our cells (including our brain cells), which can negatively impact their functionality. Further, trans fats have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

The medical and nutrition community agree that no levels of trans fat are safe. Fortunately, the FDA has banned their use. However, manufacturers have until 2018 to completely remove them from their products.

To Sum it Up…

Dietary fat is not only needed to survive, but it’s also needed to thrive. However, not all fats are created equal. We recommend steering clear of heavily processed vegetable oils and trans fat. Instead, we suggest eating and cooking with naturally occurring and unrefined fats and oils from whole foods to boost nutrition and flavor.

Olive oil

The Top 5 Healthiest Cooking Oils

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Fat is an essential component to a well-balanced and nourishing diet. And cooking with healthy oils adds flavor as well as increases the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).

However, some oils are healthier than others. And even the healthiest cooking oils can be harmful if not used or stored properly.

Key Factors in Choosing the Healthiest Cooking Oils

There are three factors that come into play when determining which cooking oils to use. The first is chemical stability.

Chemical stability refers to oil’s ability to resist oxidation, which occurs when fats are exposed to heat, light, or air. The oxidation process generates free radicals. Thus, when oxidized fats are consumed, they have the potential to cause cell damage, inflammation, and premature aging among other things.

As a rule of thumb, saturated fats are most chemically stable. This includes butter, ghee, coconut oil, and rendered animal fats (i.e., lard and tallow). The least chemically stable oils are polyunsaturated fats, which includes nut, seed, and vegetable oils (i.e., canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn).

The second factor in choosing which oils to use is the smoke point. This is a specific temperature at which oil begins to break down and form harmful compounds as a result of oxidation. You’ll know this has happened if the oil begins to emit a bluish smoke.

The third factor is how the oil is processed. For example, while vegetable oils tend to have high smoke points (400 – 500 degrees Fahrenheit), they’re extracted using chemicals and extremely high temperatures.

The oils are stripped of nutrients. And the high temperatures from processing vegetable oils alone can cause oxidation and create rancid oils right from the get go.

However, the oils are deodorized and bleached to give them a neutral flavor and clean appearance so you would never know. For these reasons, we don’t recommend cooking with vegetable oils.

Instead, we recommend cold-pressed oils (unrefined), which are processed at low temperatures and retain their natural aroma, flavor, and nutrients. Expeller-pressed is second best, which uses a mechanical process as opposed to chemicals.

Based on these three factors above, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 healthiest cooking oils below…

dreamstime_m_6624463Butter

Butter is chemically stable and delicious! It’s great for baking as well as sweating and gently sautéing.

In terms of nutrition, butter is a great source of vitamins A, D, and K. It also contains a short chain fatty acid known as butyrate, which supports optimal colon health and reduces inflammation.

Butter has a smoke point of approximately 350 degree Fahrenheit, and it browns quickly. Thus, for higher heat applications, ghee is a better option.

Ghee

Ghee is made by gently simmering butter to remove its water and milk solids (sugars and proteins). This process increases its smoke point (450 to 485 degrees Fahrenheit). Thus, ghee is a great cooking fat for most applications, including searing and stir-frying. Plus, it adds a delicious nutty flavor to food.

Ghee has the same nutritional benefits as butter. However, since it doesn’t contain milk sugars or proteins, those with dairy sensitivities or intolerances to lactose usually tolerate it well.

Coconut Oil

Coconut OilCoconut oil is a chemically stable saturated fat. It’s extra virgin form offers a subtle coconut taste as well as numerous health benefits. For instance, it’s antimicrobial and anti-fungal. It’s also easy to digest and provides a quick source of energy.

Unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it best suited for baking and sweating as well as gently sautéing and roasting.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

There’s no question about the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. It’s loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds as well as vitamin E. Thus, it helps to protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other modern diseases.

For these reasons, we highly recommend cooking with extra virgin olive oil as well as using it to make delicious dressings, sauces, and dips.

Olive oilHowever, there is controversy surrounding its use. Many sources only recommend using olive oil for low-heat cooking or salad dressings. But, science has shown that extra virgin olive oil is extremely capable of resisting oxidation due to its antioxidant power.

In fact, it took 24 hours of constant deep-frying before olive oil began to break down and form damaging compounds in this study. And in this study, olive oil retained most of its health benefits after 36 hours of cooking at 356 degrees Fahrenheit.

We think it’s worth noting that deep-frying temperatures typically fall between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Roasting temperatures range from 250 to 450 degrees. And while broiling, searing, and stir frying occur at high temperatures, the cooking time is often short.

Therefore, it’s safe to say olive oil makes a great cooking oil for baking, sweating, sautéing, and roasting. But, it’s important to note that the type and quality of olive oil matters.

Extra virgin olive oil (as opposed to virgin olive oil or olive oil) contains the highest concentration of antioxidants. And depending on its quality, extra virgin olive oil can have a smoke point up to 410 degrees Fahrenheit.

avocado oilAvocado Oil

Cold-pressed extra virgin avocado oil is another great option for cooking. In addition to containing health promoting fatty acids and potent antioxidant compounds, avocado oil has a smoke point up to 520 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on its quality). While this makes it a great choice for high heat cooking, unrefined avocado oil also works nicely in dips, sauces, and dressings.

Nut & Seed Oils

Unrefined and minimally processed oils from nuts and seeds have limited stability. This includes oils from flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts.

Therefore, they are not recommended for cooking. However, they work great in dressings or they can be added toward the end of cooking or after cooking to enhance flavor.

How to Safely Store Cooking Oils

Keep in mind that heat, light, and air can cause oxidation. Therefore, fats and oils must be stored properly to maintain their freshness and health promoting properties.

Butter and ghee should be stored in the refrigerated. All other cooking oils should be stored in dark glass bottles, tightly sealed, in a cabinet, and away from heat. This means your oils should not be kept on the counter next to the stove.

Since nut and seed oils are particularly sensitive to oxidation, we suggest buying them as needed and in small quantities.

To Sum it Up…

Choosing the healthiest cooking oils depends on:

  • chemical stability
  • smoke point
  • processing

Based on these factors, the oils we use and recommend include:

  • butter
  • ghee
  • extra virgin coconut oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • extra virgin avocado oil

These cooking oils promote health, prevent disease, and taste absolutely delicious!

clean label starches

Clean Label Starches: Better for You or Just Another Bait & Switch?

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(Originally written for and posted @ www.theingredientguru.com)

clean label starches

Well, the answer depends on whom you ask. If you ask the food manufacturers, clean label starches are definitely a better choice over more traditional modified food starches. Not because clean label starches are actually better for you, but because they allow processed foods to have a cleaner looking list of ingredients.

Both starch additives are derived from ingredients such as corn, potato, tapioca and wheat. Both are modified from their original native state to withstand extreme food processing conditions, such as ultra high heat and homogenization.

So what’s the difference?

It all comes down to HOW the starches are modified.

Chemicals (usually acids) are used to make modified food starches. As a result, the FDA requires them to be labeled as “modified” food starches. On the other hand, clean label starches are produced by physical means, such as purification and heat treatment. Since no chemicals are used, a clean label starch may simply be referred to as “starch.”

Modified food starches and clean label starches both act as thickening agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers in many processed foods. Both are added to improve “mouth-feel” as well as maintain a desired texture and taste.

One example is yogurt. Take a look at the list of ingredients of a popular brand of fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt:

dreamstimemedium_2233139INGREDIENTS: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Cane Sugar, Non-GMO Corn Starch, Organic Natural Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Vanilla Bean Specks, Gellan Gum

One of the biggest hurdles manufacturers face with fat-free products is texture. This is where starch additives come to the rescue. They produce a thick and creamy yogurt in the absence of fat.

Just Another Bait & Switch

“Corn starch” sounds cleaner and more natural than “modified corn starch.” But from a health standpoint, clean label starches are no better than their chemically treated counterparts. Clean label starches are just another bait and switch in my opinion.

Both starches are nutritionally void. And it’s not always clear what ingredient the starch was originally derived from. In most cases it’s genetically modified corn, but not always.

There are also concerns regarding cross-contamination during the manufacturing process. So be extra careful if you have any food allergies and/or sensitivities.

Some argue modified starches are difficult to digest, especially for those with digestive disorders. And, there’s buzz about modified starches containing up to 10% maltodextrin, a complex sugar and a common hiding place for monosodium glutamate (MSG). But without access to industry formulations, we’ll never really know!

As always, you need to read the ingredient lists to know what’s in your food. But even then manufacturers keep coming up with new ways to trick consumers. When it comes to food starches, both the chemically modified and clean label versions are nothing more than highly processed additives manufacturers use to make foods highly palatable.

Healthy Alternatives

Bowl of fresh mixed berries and yogurtWhen it comes to Greek yogurt, there are several truly clean options available. But, only if you buy it “plain” and spice it up at home. Some of my favorite brands include:

  • Wallaby
  • Maple Hill Creamery
  • Strauss

I top my yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. If a little sweetness is needed, I add a drizzle of raw honey or pure maple syrup. A little bit goes a long way!

dreamstimemedium_10489247

What’s Really in Those Sport Drinks?

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(Originally written for and posted @ www.theingredientguru.com)

dreamstimemedium_10489247

I’m going to be blunt. Under no circumstances would I recommend commercial sport drinks. Period.

Well, maybe if you are dehydrated (literally) and no other liquid exists for miles. You get my point.

Commercial sport drinks such as Gatorade and Vitamin Water are nothing but liquid sugar and chemical additives. The cons far outweigh any benefit.

Most young children simply need water. Teenage and adult athletes may need extra support, but there are much healthier alternatives. And I guarantee professional athletes are not drinking Gatorade despite the advertisements you see on TV.

So what’s in them that make them so bad?

Let’s explore the ingredients in Gatorade to find out:

gatorade

Water: Good!

Sugar: And lots of it! An entire 16-ounce bottle contains a little more than 13 teaspoons of sugar. Isn’t it counterproductive to encourage our kids to play sports to be healthy, but then load them up with sugar after the game?

Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the primary source of added sugars in the standard American diet. And several studies have linked SSBs to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease [1].

Dextrose: Just another form of sugar.

Citric Acid: A flavoring and a preservative. It may seem harmless because it is naturally found in fruit, but the citric acid found in foods and beverages is chemically produced from black mold secretions.

Natural Flavor: Don’t let the name fool you. The “fruit punch” does not get its flavor from real fruit. These are flavors made in a laboratory. And no one really knows how or what is used to make them.

Salt: Sea salt would be better because it actually contains electrolytes (also known as minerals).

Sodium Citrate: Chemically processed food additive used to regulate acidity.

Monopotassium Phosphate: A common food additive as well as a fertilizer and fungicide. No joke!

Modified Food Starch: Another chemically processed food stabilizer.

Red 40: Artificial dyes are linked to behavior disorders and hyperactivity in children [2]. Some kids are more sensitive than others. For those that are sensitive, it can be disastrous for them and their families. These dyes are made from petroleum and coal tar and are banned in several other countries.

Glycerol Ester of Rosin: A food additive designed to keep oils suspended or evenly mixed in water. It is produced from pine tree wood rosin using a long list of chemicals.

Caramel Color: Just another artificial coloring additive. But who’s counting?

Do these ingredients look like something we should be giving our young athletes or drinking after a healthy dose of physical activity?

And you’ll be disappointed to know “zero-calorie” sport drinks typically contain the exact same ingredients. But instead of sugar, they use artificial sweeteners. While many turn to artificial sweeteners to consume fewer calories, studies have actually linked them to weight gain [3].

There are more “natural” brand sport drinks on the market today, but they’re mostly made of concentrated fruit juice (another form of liquid sugar). And they still have a few unnecessary additives. Why spend your money when water is much healthier and cheaper?

From an environmental perspective, we’d also use much less plastic if every team player brought a reusable water bottle filled from home.

While one sport drink won’t cause permanent harm, drinking them routinely is another story.

Truly Healthy Alternatives to Sport Drinks

When you or your children truly need a source of electrolytes after an intense or prolonged period of physical activity, simply

  • make your own drink by combining water, lemon, raw honey and sea salt
  • drink pure coconut water
  • add a trace mineral liquid supplement, such as LyteShow, to your water

But be sure to read ingredient labels on any and all commercial alternatives you choose :)

Whole foods

My Food Philosophy

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As a nutrition professional, I often hear comments such as “don’t look at what I’m eating,” and “I bet you wouldn’t approve of this.” And when dining at friends’ houses, I sometimes hear “just a heads up, this isn’t healthy.”

I don’t take it personally. But it is frustrating at times. Because it tells me most people have no idea what I consider healthy. And I can tell you my dinners NEVER consist of baked chicken breasts and steamed broccoli. Yuck!

I don’t eat perfectly. But I’ve never been more confident in my eating habits and food choices. I LOVE food! And I no longer feel guilty if I indulge.

It all started by swapping out heavily processed foods with a variety of nutrient-rich (and delicious) whole foods. That’s it. I started choosing nuts over chips. Sweet potatoes over pasta. Butter over margarine. And eggs over cereal.

When you eat more whole foods, naturally you’ll eat less nutrient-deficient and highly processed foods. The latter gets crowded out with minimal effort.

Let me walk you through an example… Say you typically have an afternoon snack. A store-bought granola bar. If you swapped out this bar with a piece of fruit and a handful of fresh nuts, you’d consume many more nutrients and less potentially harmful ingredients. Just this one change makes a difference. And if you do it regularly, it will become a habit that sticks.

Healthy eating is NOT about dieting, deprivation, counting calories or perfection. I don’t advise doing any of these things. They add stress (which wreaks havoc on your health). And, they’re not sustainable. Period.

The main goal is to slowly start adding in more whole foods and the rest will come naturally. And you don’t have to give up your indulgences completely. You’ll still catch me and my family at the pizza parlor or ice cream shop occasionally. And we all enjoy it without guilt. Because we know we’re still getting plenty of goodness from whole foods most of the time.

Bowl of fresh mixed berries and yogurt

And please don’t gauge your success on a scale. The truth is if you eat more whole foods and begin to move your body, you might actually gain weight as you put on more lean muscle.

Gauge your success on how good you feel instead. I guarantee your energy, mood, sleep, and physical symptoms among other things will start to improve. Your body will be getting the nutrients it needs to function at top speed.

And when your body is well nourished, you’ll start to feel satiated after eating. You’ll begin to hear the signals your body sends. You’ll eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.

Eating becomes intuitive and eventually, you may even discover how specific foods make you feel or affect your health. Somewhere along my journey, I learned too much dairy triggers my eczema.

Now let’s get back to the idea that healthy food is boring and bland. It’s just not true! Period.

There are many whole foods to choose from and herbs and spices to liven things up. I even recommend using healthy fats to add flavor, such as ghee, butter, olive oil and coconut oil. Most of the meals I make are dripping with delicious sauces, such as lamb curry and honey garlic chicken.

There are literally countless meals, snacks and even desserts you can make with whole foods that are super nutritious AND delicious. It’s all about using more from nature and less from a package.

And please remember it’s never all or nothing. Every bit counts! Swapping out one granola bar for an apple with nut butter once a week is still better than nothing :)