How Much Salt do we Need?

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Salt or sodium is a naturally occurring substance that our bodies need to function.  We need it to:

  • Maintain the right balance of fluids in our bodies
  • Transmit nerve impulses
  • Contract and relax our muscles

Our kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in our bodies for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys hold on to the sodium. When your body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in your urine.  But when there is too much sodium the kidneys increase blood pressure to try to excrete more of it. This increase in blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure.

The average Australian intake of salt is about 10g or 4000mg sodium per day. The suggested intake for optimal health is 4g of salt or 1600mg of sodium.  So Australians are consuming a lot more salt than they should be which is setting them up for future (or current) health problems.  The good news is that you lose sodium when you sweat, so when you exercise you may need to consume a bit more than this.  Otherwise, it needs to stay down!

Once your blood pressure has increased due to a high salt intake, it may not go down with reduced intake so it is important to decrease your salt intake before you have high blood pressure to prevent any damage to your body.

You may be surprised at how much sodium is in many commonly consumed foods.  Here are a few examples:

Masterfoods BBq sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 164mg sodium

Masterfoods tomato sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 127mg sodium

100g of beef sausage (about 1 sausage)= 652mg sodium

6 inch meatball sub from Subway = 695mg sodium

1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal = 144mg sodium

Masterfoods beef stroganoff sauce = 529mg sodium per serve

Lean Cuisine Chicken Chickpea Curry w Brown Rice and Quinoa = 763mg sodium

Gatorade 591ml bottle = 250mg sodium

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So, if you have 1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal (but most people probably have a larger serving), a sausage with sauce at Bunnings or your friend’s BBQ and then a Lean Cuisine for dinner, you are at your limit and you can’t have the hot chips, chips and dip, cheese or salted nuts for a snack.  Most of these processed foods are also high in sugar.  Read about what sugar is doing to your body and other reasons why you should watch these foods in my blog article about sugar.

Pre-packaged and processed foods as well as restaurant foods are where most people are getting their salt from in their diet.  Some of them may even look healthy with ‘heart ticks’ or stars on them, but make sure you read the label for yourself before assuming anything in a package is nutritious, because it usually isn’t.

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Even though you may not have high blood pressure now, it is important to implement healthy lifestyle habits before major health issues creep up.  Try to cut down on your intake of processed foods, especially meats, and decrease your take-away and restaurant food.  And for those in Australia, you don’t have to stop at every sausage sizzle you see!  I know they are everywhere, but that doesn’t make them good for you.

Enjoy your salt as a light sprinkle you add yourself and your kidneys will thank you.

 

Protein. What do we need it for?

fagioli borlotti - beansProtein is the most abundant substance in our bodies after water. Our hair, skin, eyes, muscles and organs all contain protein. We use it to make hormones, enzymes, blood components such as hemoglobein and ferritin, and antibodies for our immune system.

The average person needs 1g of protein per kg of a person’s weight. So if you are 70kg you want to eat 70g of protein in a day. One easy way to know if you aren’t getting enough is if you crave sugar. Protein is a slow burning energy that helps make us feel full. But when our bodies don’t have enough of it, it seeks to eat fast burning carbohydrates such as sugar. If you increase the amount of protein in your diet, you will notice a decrease in sugar cravings. And studies have shown that increasing protein intake can help reduce weight even without other lifestyle changes.

It is best to eat protein at each meal so that your body gets the sustained energy throughout the day and not leave it to just dinner. Breakfast, as people say, is the most important meal of the day and the most important time to eat protein. Some protein at breakfast will keep you going longer and help prevent those sugar cravings at morning-tea time. And eating a healthy breakfast leads to improved cognition and memory, reduced absenteeism from school and work and improved mood.

Selection of protein sources in kitchen background

There are many great sources of protein. Red meat, chicken, fish and eggs contain the most amount of protein. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products also all contain protein. There are also many great plant sources that will also give you good fats and fibre such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Beans, peas and soy are also great sources of protein.Dinner plate

No one wants to be weighing their food to make sure they are having the right
proportions, so an
easy way to make sure you are
getting enough is look at your plate. For a healthy meal, you want half of your plate to be fruits and vegetables, although preferably vegetables. A bit more than a quarter to be protein and a bit less then a quarter to be healthy carbohydrates.

If you need motivation to increase your fruit and veg intake along with your protein, how about this: one additional serving per day of fruit lowers your risk of death from all causes by 6%. Each additional serving of vegetables lowers it by 5%.

Most people are pretty good with having a balanced dinner plate, but struggle with breakfast. Some ideas are smashed avocado with an egg of wholegrain toast. Or make your own muesli or granola with lots of nuts and seeds.

Don’t forget to increase your water intake as you increase your protein intake to avoid constipation. And enjoy the increase in energy you will feel!

References

Wang X, Ouyang Y, Liu J, Zhu M, Zhao G, Bao W & Hu FB. (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 29 July. 349.

What are Fats?

healthy fats. healthy fats for heart. top view.

 

Good fats. Bad Fats. Mono, trans, saturated, omega 3. What does it all mean? The world of fats has become very confusing and it is hard to know what you are supposed to eat. If you would like to learn more about which ones you should and shouldn’t eat, please read my article, The Truth About Fats. Here, I will give you some background into the different kinds of fats that exist.

We need some fat – it makes up part of our brains, it protects our joints and it provides reserves for when we’re sick.

  • Fat provides needed energy.  It is difficult to eat the large amounts of food that you would need for energy in a very low fat diet.
  • Fat is needed so your body can absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K, and prevent deficiencies of these vitamins.
  • Provides back-up energy if blood sugar supplies run out (after 4-6 hours without food).
  • Provides insulation under the skin from the cold and the heat.
  • Protects organs and bones from shock and provides support for organs.
  • Fat surrounds and insulates nerve fibers to help transmit nerve impulses.
  • Fat is part of every cell membrane in the body.  It helps transport nutrients and metabolites across cell membranes.
  • Your body uses fat to make a variety of other building blocks needed for everything from hormones to immune function.

What happens if we don’t have enough fat?

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Hair loss
  • Low body weight
  • Cold intolerance
  • Bruising
  • Poor growth
  • Lower resistance to infection
  • Poor wound healing
  • Loss of menstruation

What is fat?

Fats, also known as fatty acids, are made up of a chain of carbon atoms with hydrogens and oxygens attached. The number of carbons and hydrogens and their configuration, will decide what kind of fat it is.

Length

Fats are classified by their length being short, medium, long and very long chain fatty acids. Short chains have less than 6 carbons, medium chains have 6-12, long chains have 12-22 and very long chains have greater than 22.

Triglyceride

A triglyceride is when 3 fatty acids are attached to a glycerol. This is the storage form of fats and generally what you are eating when you eat fat. This is also how fat is stored in your own body. Triglycerides can be made up of a variety of fatty acids. 

Saturated Fats

These fats have no double bonds between any carbons and so are ‘full’ of hydrogens. They are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are found in dairy products, meat products, coconut, cottonseed and palm oil, and even chocolate. These fats have typically been considered ‘bad’ fats but unfortunately it isn’t that simple. Animal sources of fat are usually completely saturated fats, but most plant sources are a mix of saturated and unsaturated so their effects on the body are more unpredictable and individual. It has been thought for years that a diet high in animal sources of saturated fats was linked to higher cholesterol and heart disease. This has recently been found to be untrue.

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Unsaturated Fats

These fats have at least one double bond between two carbons and are often either very soft or liquid at room temperature. There can either be just one double bond making it monounsaturated or many double bonds making it polyunsaturated. These double bonds can occur in 2 different formations: cis and trans.

Cis

The cis form results in a ‘kinked’ fatty acid which makes it into a liquid. These are naturally occurring.

Trans

The trans form results is a straight fatty acid like a saturated fat and so is more solid. These were manufactured in order to make a solid fat that would have a longer shelf life than saturated fats. As these are not naturally occurring, the body does not digest them as they would other fats and so they can cause problems such as increased cholesterol, decreased visual acuity, increased heart disease, insulin resistance (leading to diabetes), reproductive difficulties, decreased nutrition in breast milk and cancer. Read labels and avoid anything that contains ‘trans fats’ or says it is hydrogenated (the process of making a trans fat).

Polyunsaturated (Essential)

There are many polyunsaturated fats, but the key ones are the essential ones. The essential fatty acids are linoleic (Omega 6) and linolenic (Omega 3) acid. They are important for controlling inflammation, blood clotting, and brain development. These are considered essential because you must consume them as your body can not build them from something else. In general, Omega 6 fats increase hormones along the inflammation pathway and are considered bad while Omega 3 fats increase hormones that decrease inflammation and are considered good. Omega 6 fats are still needed in our diet, but we usually over consume them thus leading to excessive inflammation. The same enzymes metabolize both fats. If there are more Omega 6 fats then the enzymes will be busy metabolizing them instead of the Omega 3 fats. A balance of both fats is needed to promote health. Most sources suggest omega 3 and omega 6 be consumed at a ratio of 2:1.

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Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to be helpful for atherosclerosis, decreasing inflammation, lowering risk of heart attacks, lowering cholesterol, immunomodulation, constipation, diabetes, PMS, renal failure, mental health (depression, ADHD, schizophrenia), cancer prevention and treatment, pre-eclampsia and many more. Cod liver oil is commonly given as a source of Omega 3 in Australia, but you need to be careful because it is also high in Vitamin A. Excess Vitamin A needs to be avoided when a woman is pregnant as it can cause birth defects, but for others it can cause vomiting, weight loss, joint pain, dry skin, irritability, amenorrhea, digestive problems, fissures at the corners of the mouth, and liver enlargement.

EPA and DHA

Along the breakdown pathway for Omega 3 fats, they become eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). From here they become the anti-inflammatory hormones. Cold water fish oils (salmon, mackeral, anchovies, sardines, herring) contain EPA and DHA while flax, walnut and hemp contain linolenic acid. The advantage of taking fish oils is that you are taking in the substance that is already a few steps down the pathway.   Also, our bodies are not very efficient at turning linolenic acid into EPA and DHA and conditions such as diabetes and allergies can reduce the body’s conversion ability even further.

EPA has been found to be helpful with blood pressure, blood clotting, blood lipid levels, the immune response, and inflammation. DHA is important for reducing cancer risk, brain development and function, memory, depression, ADHD, and other behavioural problems.

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Omega 6

Omega 6 fatty acids are found in corn, cotton, soy, safflower, sunflower, black currant, borage and evening primrose oil. They may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but when they are in excess over Omega 3 fatty acids, they can contribute to allergies and increased inflammation. It is also possible that a high consumption of these fats can increase the likelihood of breast and prostate cancer.

Monounsaturated – Omega 9

We often see Omega 9 fatty acids grouped together with 3 and 6. Omega 9 fats are not essential as our bodies can build them from other substrates, but can be used therapeutically to improve cholesterol (lower LDL and raise HDL), reduce blood pressure, reduce insulin resistance and improve glucose control, improve immune function and reduce cancer risk. These fats are found in olive, canola, macadamia, avocado, peanut, sesame, tea seed, corn, safflower and sunflower.

Grass fed meat

Not all saturated fats are the same. Red meat is high in saturated fat and although we have just discussed how they are not actually bad for you there is an exception. Due to the large scale of beef and sheep farming, animals have come to be fed grain as it is easier and cheaper then having them graze on a large piece of land. Unfortunately they are not meant to eat grain so this diet produces inflammation in their bodies resulting in large amounts of inflammatory cytokines. It has been found that animals fed grass produce higher amounts of Omega 3 fats in their bodies, arguably as high as fish. If you eat red meat, it is best to eat grass fed and grass finished meat when you can.

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Processed Meat

The trend to reduce saturated fat intake has also led to an increased intake of processed, low-fat, meats. A study published in 2013 in BMC Medicine found that there was no link between unprocessed red meat and cardiovascular disease. The link is only with processed meats due to their high sodium and preservative content. This is consistent with the recent findings from the World Health Organization announcing that processed meats increase your chances of cancer occuring.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is mostly a medium chain saturated fat and is very good for you. It can aid in calorie burning thus improving weight loss. It has also been shown to help treat type II diabetes, dementia and epilepsy and improve digestion.

Farmed fish

Because farmed fish do not eat algae as they should, they are not actually as high in Omega-3 fats as their wild counterparts.

For more about which fats you should be eating, check out my article The Truth About Fats.  Enjoy eating fats.  Your body will thank you.

 

 

 

 

The Truth about Fats

Selection of healthy fat sources

For many years a low-fat diet has been considered healthy when in fact it has been contributing to the increase in diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

The original research that indicated a high-fat diet was associated with increased heart disease was an association study. It found that countries that consumed a high-fat diet had a higher incidence of heart disease. But this is an associated NOT causation. It is like saying New Year’s Eve causes fireworks. The study also didn’t include the data from all available countries. When included there is little to no association between a high-fat diet and heart disease.

Unfortunately the marketing world responded to the idea of low-fat being healthy by creating products that are low or no fat. As a result these products are higher in sugar and salt (to improve the bland taste from the lack of fat content) and thus dramatically more unhealthy. Check out the sugar content on low-fat versus full cream dairy products next time you are at the store.

In 1977, the US dietary guidelines suggested that an increase in carbohydrates should coincide with a decrease in fat intake. The reasoning was that fats have more calories in them so this would result in a reduction of overall calories. The exact opposite is what happened. Fats help make you feel satiated (full). If you eat low-fat products you are actually more likely to eat more calories. So although fats are higher in calories, you end up eating less than if the calories came from carbohydrates.

Oops

When people eat a low-carbohydrate diet it improves weight, lipids, diabetes, and inflammation. A low-fat diet with the same number of calories worsens all these measures. Fat intake is not associated with type 2 diabetes and there is in fact no association between percentage of dietary fat consumed and increased risk of death. Also, saturated fats do not increase cholesterol.

People have also been advised to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately this has mostly resulted in people consuming more omega-6 fats found in corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed and grain fed red meat, rather than the healthy omega-3 fats found in fish, grass fed red meat, flax and chia. This switch away from saturated fats to omega-6 fats resulted in increased cancer, increased heart disease, increased LDL, decreased HDL (good cholesterol), and increased death.

The most nutritious way of eating is to consume lots of vegetables, a moderate amount of protein from some meat but also vegetarian sources and a small amount of good quality carbohydrates.

So which fats should you eat? Coconut, macadamia, pumpkin, avocado, sesame and rice bran oils as well as butter are great for cooking. If you consume dairy products always buy full cream. Only eat grass-fed and grass finished red meat. Eat salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring and cod whenever you can. Avocado, walnuts, linseeds, almonds and hemp seeds are great for snacking. Avoid trans fats and farmed fish. Limit omega-6 intake especially in the form of vegetable oils.

Don’t be afraid of consuming good quality fats. You will feel fuller faster and for longer and will end up consuming less calories, improving your health and feeling better.

For some more information about fats, check out my video for the Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge: