Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sugar - a Toxin?

YES! And it's also a very addicting DRUG!

Take a look at the definitions. A toxin is a chemical produced by living organisms that causes harmful effects on the body at high enough concentration. Sugar easily meets that definition. It is plant derived and there are numerous studies that show a variety of harmful health effects from excess dietary sugar. Below are the definitions from Wikipedia.

Toxin:
A poisonous substance produced by living cells or organisms.

Poison:
In the context of biology, poisons are substances that can cause damage, illness, or death to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism.

Drug:
A drug, broadly speaking, is any substance that alters normal bodily function. Recreational drugs are chemical substances that affect the central nervous system, such as narcotics or hallucinogens. They may be used for perceived beneficial effects on perception, consciousness, personality, and behavior. Some recreational drugs can cause addiction and habituation.

OK, is sugar a drug? If you've ever had a feel-good high immediately after eating sweet "comfort" foods, it's a psycho-active drug. If you've ever had a "craving" for something sweet, it's an addicting psycho-active drug.

So, my point is that we need to start thinking of refined sugar as a toxin and drug. That makes sugar by far the most common and abundant toxin and drug in the modern food world!

The body needs small amounts of sugar to function properly. But the body can make all the sugar it needs. There is no minimum daily intake requirement for sugar or even for carbohydrates. There are many nutrients that in small amounts are necessary for good health, but in excess are detrimental. Zinc,copper, iron, iodine, and vitamins A and D are examples. Likewise, sugar in small amounts is necessary for health, but in excess causes problems.

When natural sugars are ingested unrefined, as in fruits or dairy, the amounts are generally low enough not to cause problems. However, when the sugar is refined and concentrated as a food additive, it is easy to get too much. Because of it's addicting and feel-good qualities, sugar is often added in large quantities to processed/manufactured foods to make them sell better. So, if you eat a lot of processed/manufactured or restaurant foods, it is very easy to get too much sugar. People eating a lot of these foods commonly get as much as 20 to 30 percent or more of their calories from sugars. What's worse is that most of that sugar is now in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which is even more harmful than table sugar. Most healthy primitive diets had only small amounts of sugar, mainly from raw dairy or from fruit when in season.

Too much dietary sugar certainly won't kill you right away, but it does have short-term harmful effects, like suppression of the immune system, even with relatively small doses. That leaves you more vulnerable to infectious diseases and cancer. One study showed that ingestion of 100 grams of sugar caused about a 40% reduction in white blood cell activity against pathogens and found that it took about five hours for immune function to return to normal.

Over many years, too much sugar can lead to metabolic syndrome diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These are the diseases of aging and that's exactly what too much sugar does - speeds up the aging process.

So, how much sugar should we allow in our diet? Probably no more than about 5% to 10% of total daily calories and the less, the better. That means if your normal dietary intake is 2,000 calories per day, you should not get more than 200 calories from sugar. Since sugar has 4 calories per gram, that means no more than about 50 grams (2 ounces) of sugar per day on a 2,000 calorie diet. And that's total sugar from all sources. Here's the amount of sugar you get from single servings of some common "comfort" foods, listed in grams, to the left of the food name (from NutritionData).

Grams of sugar:
96 cake (1/8 slice 9 inch white with coconut icing)
57 candy (4 oz Snickers)
56 milk shake (11 oz vanilla)
39 soft drink (12 oz cola)
39 yogurt (8 oz low fat strawberry Breyers)
37 coffee (12 oz caramel mocha Starbucks)
34 apple juice (12 oz Starbucks)
32 pie (1/8 slice 8 inch pecan)
30 ice cream (1 cup chocolate)
29 orange juice (12 oz McDonald's)
28 muffin (101 g blueberry Starbucks)
24 donut (5 inch)
21 brownie (56 g large chocolate)
18 granola (2/3 cup low fat fruit Nature Valley)
15 cereal (1 cup frosted flakes Kellogg)
07 hamburger (105 g McDonald's)

For comparison - grams of sugar:
19 apple (3 inch with skin)
15 peach (2 3/4 inch)
12 orange (2 7/8 inch navel)
12 grapes (15 red or green seedless)
07 strawberries (1 cup whole)

Breaking the Sugar Addiction
To break your sugar addiction, eliminate foods with added refined sugar and reduce intake of other refined carbohydrates. Increase intake of foods with good quality animal or dairy fat, preferably from pastured animals, and add probiotic foods. Also, try coconut oil. And be sure to eat a variety of foods to get good nutrition. If you have Excel or Open Office, try out my dietary nutrition calculator. Dropping sugar may seem difficult the first few weeks, but after a few months of abstinence from refined sugar and with intake of more good fat, probiotics, and nutrients, you should lose any cravings for sweets. If you still have difficulty, another tool to try is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a type of accupressure that employs tapping instead of the needles used in accupuncture. Once you have broken your addiction, you can still allow occasional sugary foods, but not very often or you run the risk of becoming addicted once again. You may also find that sugary foods that used to be "treats" no longer taste as good - they're too sweet!

If a food does not taste good without adding sugar to it, then either learn to like it without the sugar, or find other foods that you like that don't have added sugar. You may find as you lose your sugar addiction that many foods that formerly did not taste sweet enough now taste good. Sour and tart foods may become more appealing. You may even develop a new appreciation for all of the wonderful flavors in nature!

Update 2008 December 20

Fructose appears to be the worst dietary sugar for causing long-term health problems from excess consumption. Fructose is 50% of table sugar (sucrose) and typically 55% of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Read this interesting editorial from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: How safe is fructose for persons with or without diabetes?

Update 2014 January 5

A more recent discussion of health problems caused by too much dietary fructose:
Clinical Scientist Sets the Record Straight on Hazards of Sugar

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Food and Environment


We are constantly exposed to a bewildering horde of artificial and natural poisons and toxins in our food and environment. The human body can properly handle small amounts of most natural poisons and toxins, but there are many new artificial chemicals for which the human body has not had time to evolve effective means of detoxification. All of these harmful chemicals can cause a wide variety of unpleasant symptoms and if exposure levels are high enough, serious complications like cancer or even death can result. The harm level of these chemicals can vary widely among individuals, influenced by health status, genes, and cumulative exposure effects. Most of these chemicals will cause serious harm in everyone at high enough concentrations. Some of these chemicals are actually nutrients that the body needs at low concentrations but become harmful if the intake is too high. The biggest problem, however, is the pervasiveness of these chemicals, such that individually they might not be a problem, but collectively, they can be overwhelming to our body.

So what can we do? It's nearly impossible to eliminate exposure to all potentially harmful chemicals. The best we can do is to learn where significant sources lie in our food and environment and try to avoid them. Also, if you can detect cause and effect relationships between symptoms and sources, you can avoid things that bother you.

There are a variety of actions you can take to lessen the toxic burden. Eat organic vegetables and fruits and fully pastured or wild animal foods for starters. Minimize sweets and foods high in omega-6 fats. Minimize highly processed commercial foods that are often full of artificial additives such as artificial preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and artificial trans-fats. Don't eat spoiled food or any food that does not taste good. Minimize consumption of large fish, like albacore tuna or swordfish, which often have high levels of mercury. Avoid processed meats preserved with nitrites (including those with added "celery juice" that have hidden nitrites). If your water supply has added chlorine or fluoride, get water filters that remove these and other contaminants. Use only plastics with recycle numbers 2 HDPE, 4 LDPE, or 5 PP. Don't use teflon or aluminum cookware. Be very careful in choosing skin, hair, and mouth care products (EWG has excellent helpful information). Don't get "silver" amalgam dental fillings and properly remove any that you may already have. Avoid vaccines and long-term use of medications. Don't use commercial pesticides or herbicides.

For those of you who may do all these things and still have sensitivity issues, an elimination diet may be helpful for determining problematic foods. Some seemingly healthful foods can have salicylates, amines, or other natural food chemicals that cause unpleasant symptoms in sensitive individuals.

Below is a partial list of some of the more common poisons and toxins with links to more information.

Medicines
Antibiotics - a double edged sword
Pesticides - in produce

Herbicides

Food Additives
Artificial Colors
. annatto - yellow food color
Artificial flavors
. MSG (free glutamate) - flavor enhancer
. ribonucleotides - flavor enhancers
Artificial Trans-Fats
Dough Conditioners (mono and diglycerides)
High Omega-6 Vegetable Oils
Sugar-free sweeteners
. aspartame (nutrasweet)
. sucralose (splenda)
. saccharin
. cyclamate
Sugar alcohols
. mannitol
. sorbitol
Sugars - how sugars can ruin your health
. sucrose (table sugar)
. dextrose
. HFCS - health hazard
Preservatives
. BHA/BHT
. EDTA
. proprionates
. nitrites
. sulfites

Toxins
. botulinum
Mycotoxins
. aflatoxin
. alcohol

Natural Plant Chemicals
alkaloids
cyanides
flavonoids
goitrogens
lectins
polyphenols
phytoestrogens
salicylate

Biogenic Amines

Venoms

Metals
aluminum - vaccines, anti-clumping agents
arsenic - pesticides, antibiotics
copper - also a nutrient
lead - glazed pottery, old paint
mercury - hazards, dental fillings, vaccines, large fish
nickel - some stainless steel cookware
selenium - also a nutrient
zinc - also a nutrient

Halogens
bromine - flour, antacids
chlorine - water
fluorine - water, toothpaste, pesticides, tea
iodine - kelp, also a nutrient

Petrochemicals
benzene
butadiene
parabens
propylene glycol
toluene
Plastics
. bisphenol A (BPA)
. polycarbonate (#7 PC)
. polystyrene (#6 PS)
. polyvinyl chloride (#3 PVC)
. pthalates

Other Chemicals
acrylamide - baked and fried starchy/sugary foods
asbestos - insulation and flooring in some older homes
carageenan - thickening agent in foods and skin care products
dioxins - a case for vegetarianism?
formaldehyde - vaccines, plywood, carpets
perchlorates - rocket fuel, fireworks, chlorinated water
polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) - fire retardant
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) - fire retardant
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) - combustion product
teflon - cookware

Comprehensive Harmful Chemical Listing from EWG

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Enduring Health Wisdom from a Remarkable Dentist

In the early 1900's this dentist noticed progressively worse dental problems in his patients over a couple of decades - not just dental caries, but also crowded teeth. He also noticed that these dental problems often mirrored the health of his patients. Poor dental health usually meant poor health in general. He theorized that the cause of this dental and health decline might be from the rapid dietary changes taking place at the time, as people began eating more and more of the "foods of commerce" - white flour, sugar, polished rice, and canned goods - and less of the whole foods that our ancestors ate.

In the 1920's he decided to risk life and limb to find and study remote peoples still eating their native diets to determine which foods provided the best dental and thus overall health. He made arduous trips to far reaching locations across the globe, including North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Pacific Islands. He documented the dental health of thousands of people, including thousands of photographs.

He found many remote "primitive" groups eating their native diet who had little evidence of dental problems. He also found that when peoples of these same groups abandoned their native diets in favor of the modern foods of commerce they very quickly developed dental problems and these problems were worse in succeeding generations. He was unable to find any healthy native groups eating an exclusively vegetarian diet. The healthiest groups included animal seafoods or organ meats or dairy or a combination of these foods in their diets, along with a wide variety of plant foods. He brought food samples back to his laboratory for analyses and found that the foods eaten by the healthiest groups were much higher in many key nutrients than typical foods from the civilized world.

His friends encouraged him to write a book about his findings. The book was first published in 1939 and can be read online: "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration". The book is also available in hard copy from the Price-Pottenger Foundation. Oh ... and the dentist's name was Weston A. Price. He was a renowned dentist of his time, but unfortunately he has been largely forgotten.

Today, Price's "foods of commerce" have turned into modern foods of convenience - highly processed, chemical laced, nutrient poor fake foods that are cheap and fill the stomach but leave the body with insufficient nutrition and added toxic loads that lead to declining health over time. Add to this dubious vaccines, over-used antibiotics, and grossly over-rated medicines that all have serious side effects and you have a recipe for major health problems. We need to return to the traditional foods that nurtured our ancestors and kept them healthy.

Here is Price's recommendation for dental and overall health:
"A first requisite for the control of tooth decay is to have provided an adequate intake of the body-building and repairing factors by the time the hunger appeal for energy has been satisfied. A sufficient variety of foods must be used to supply the body's demand for those elements which it needs in large quantities, that is, calcium and phosphorus, and the other elements which it needs in smaller quantities, though just as imperatively. One of the serious human deficiencies is the inability to synthesize certain of the activators which include the known vitamins. This makes necessary the reinforcement of the nutrition with definite amounts of special foods to supply these organic catalysts, especially the fat-soluble activators, including the known vitamins, which are particularly difficult to provide in adequate quantities. I have shown that the primitive races studied were dependent upon one of three sources for some of these fat-soluble factors, namely, sea foods, organs of animals or dairy products. These are all of animal origin. I have indicated in Chapter 16 the nutritional programs that have proved in clinical testing adequate for providing the body with nutrition that will not only prevent tooth decay, but check it when it is active. The stress periods of life, namely, active growth in children and motherhood, do not constitute overloads among most of the primitive races because the factor of safety provided by them in the selection of foods is sufficiently high to protect them against all stresses. I have indicated the type of nutrition that is especially needed for these stress periods in our modern civilization. Also, that it is not necessary to adopt the foods of any particular racial stock, but only to make our nutrition adequate in all its nutritive factors to the primitive nutritions. Tooth decay is not only unnecessary, but an indication of our divergence from Nature's fundamental laws of life and health."

As a final footnote on the work of Weston Price, be sure to read Interpreting the Work of Weston Price which discusses his findings and what they mean for health.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Selecting Fats and Oils for Health

One very important influence on our health is our choice of fats and oils in our diet. In general, we should look for oils and fat that are close to what is found in our bodies - mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with only a small amount of polyunsaturated fat. Below is a table showing the percentage of these types of fat in various fats and oils that we eat. The omega-6 and omega-3 fats are also included in the polyunsaturated total in this table. We need small amounts of omega-6 fat, but most people eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) get way too much of this type of fat and that depresses your immune system and increases your chances of getting cancer and heart disease. It's best to avoid fats/oils that have more than about 20 percent as omega-6 and use sparingly fats/oils that are more than about 10 percent omega-6. Oils high in omega-6 are commonly used in processed/packaged foods and in restaurants because they are inexpensive and because of misguided advice to avoid saturated fats. Because of the polyunsaturated bonds, the high omega-6 oils easily go rancid and are easily damaged in processing and cooking. Also be sure to read "Some Typical Questions and Misconceptions on Fats and Oils" by Mary Enig, PhD nutritionist and "The Great Con-ola".

Percentage of Classified Fats for Different Fats and Oils
Fat/oilOmg-6Omg-3PolyMonoSat
Cod liver oil1.020.524.550.924.6
Palm kernel oil1.70.01.712.186.2
Macadamia oil1.80.32.181.516.4
Coconut oil1.90.01.96.291.9
Butter oil (ghee)2.41.53.930.565.6
Butter2.90.44.027.968.1
Beef fat (tallow)3.20.64.243.752.1
Sunflower high oleic oil3.70.23.986.110.0
Mutton fat (tallow)5.72.48.242.449.4
Palm oil9.50.29.738.751.6
Olive oil10.00.810.875.014.2
Goose fat10.30.511.559.429.0
Pork fat (lard)10.71.011.747.241.0
Duck fat12.61.013.551.734.8
Avocado oil13.11.014.173.812.1
Flax oil13.355.869.021.19.8
Safflower high oleic oil15.10.015.178.46.5
Almond oil18.20.018.273.28.6
Canola (rape seed) oil19.29.228.564.17.5
Chicken fat20.41.021.946.931.2
Peanut oil33.60.033.648.617.8
Rice bran oil35.51.737.241.821.0
Sesame oil43.20.343.641.514.9
Soybean oil53.07.160.023.716.3
Cottonseed oil53.90.254.318.627.1
Corn oil56.21.257.429.013.6
Sunflower oil68.80.068.820.410.8
Grapeseed oil72.80.173.116.810.0
Safflower oil78.40.078.415.16.5
Compiled from USDA Nutrient Database
Note: about 4 to 6 percent of total fats were unclassified

Table Abbreviations
Omg-6: Omega-6
Omg-3: Omega-3
Poly: Polyunsaturated (including both omega-6 and omega-3)
Mono: Monounsaturated
Sat: Saturated

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Food Nutrient Information

Here are some resources for information about nutrients in food.

Search the USDA National Nutrient Database
The USDA has nutrient data for a large number of foods. You can even download their entire data base if you want. They also have convenient Nutrient Lists sorted alphabetically or by nutrient content.

Danish National Food Institute
A much smaller but complimentary nutrient data base with measurements for European foods.

Linus Pauling Institute
Excellent detailed information about nutrients.

Worlds Healthiest Foods
More good information about nutrients in food and a few anti-nutrients. Just ignore their fat phobia and love of soy :)

NutritionData
They offer nutrient data from the USDA data base in a convenient form. Be sure to ignore their misguided conventional dietary advice. They require registration to get full access to their most useful features, but it's free and so far I have not had any spam from giving them my e-mail address. To get summaries of the nutrients in the food you eat, first search for each food item and add it to your "Pantry" by clicking on the "Add to Pantry" button at the top of the food nutrient information. Then go to the "Pantry" (menu selection) and enter the food amounts for a meal or a day's worth of food and click on the "Total +" button at the bottom. All the nutrients are quickly tallied for the foods and amounts you have selected. If you enter or change amounts, it keeps accumulating the results until you click the "Total 0" button at the bottom of the "Pantry" to reset to zero. You can also save "Recipes" for foods or meals you make with multiple items. Overall it's a very powerful, fast, and relatively easy to use system. Too bad they don't have better dietary advice.

FitDay
Offers free online tools to help you monitor your daily nutrition and exercise to meet health goals. I haven't tried it yet but it looks useful. I did look at the tutorial and it looks like FitDay is geared towards weight loss.

Dietary Nutrition Calculator
This is my Excel workbook that allows you to estimate your daily intake of nutrients from the foods you eat. Click the link above for more information.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dietary Nutrition Calculator

In the quest for good health, getting a nutritious diet is the best foundation. To that end, I have developed an Excel workbook that calculates the approximate amount of nutrients in the food that you choose to eat and compares it to estimated dietary intake references. The nutrient data is primarily from the USDA food nutrient data base, supplemented with some additional data from other sources that are noted. The food nutrient data are very approximate, so this only provides a rough estimate of what is in the food that you eat. Also, nutrient absorption and utilization by the body will vary, depending on the food, combination of foods eaten, and your digestive health status. So, even though the nutrients are in the food, that doesn't necessarily mean that your body will be able to fully utilize them. But at least you have given it the opportunity :)

The Excel workbook has nine worksheets. It opens with the Result sheet, showing the results for a sample day of food. The Detail sheet shows even more detail, including individual fatty acids and amino acids. The Input sheet allows you to input the amounts of food that you have eaten or plan to eat. Be sure to delete all the sample entries before adding your own entries. You can use formulas to prorate amounts over a longer time period to a daily basis for comparison to the dietary references. The Calc sheet performs the calculations using the input amounts and the nutrient data in the Data sheet. The Calc sheet can be reviewed to see which foods are contributing what portion of the nutrients in the foods you are eating. The Data sheet has nutrient data per 100 grams of each food. It can be used to compare the nutrient density on a per weight basis between different foods. The Data by Calories sheet has nutrient data per 100 calories of food and can be used to compare nutrients for different foods on a calorie basis. The Load sheet provides assistance for adding additional nutrient data obtained from the USDA food nutrient data base. Follow the instructions on the sheet to load new data. More data loading tips and information are in the Notes sheet. And finally, the BMR sheet will calculate the target number of calories for your ideal weight, based on your height, age, and activity levels. It uses the Harris Benedict Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR) formulas.

Download the Dietary Nutrition Calculator

Click on the link above to download the latest version of the Excel workbook. This link will take you to the MediaFire file hosting site where you can download the Excel file free. Wait for the "Click here to download.." box to appear and then click on that link to download the file to your computer. To return here, use the "back" button on your browser.

If you don't have Microsoft Excel, you can also open and use the Excel workbook with the free Open Office spreadsheet program that can be downloaded here:  Open Office

Good luck in your quest for health!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Principles for good health

Some basic guidelines for health and happiness

Diet

Get good nutrition by eating healthy foods
Choose a variety of traditional nutrient-dense foods
Preferably organic, fully pastured, and wild foods
Boost immune system and digestive function with probiotic foods
Avoid sweets, refined carbs, vegetable oils, margarine, trans-fats
Avoid highly processed foods, artificial food additives
Listen to your body

Mind
Nurture a positive attitude
Focus on the good things
Relax and enjoy life
No worries mate :)

Exercise
Get at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise on most days
Include 10 to 15 minutes of intense exercise several days per week
Interval exercise is best

Environment
Avoid exposure to toxins and anti-nutrients
(in food, water, air, and skin contact)
Drive carefully!

Natural food-based supplements
Use to boost nutrition if diet is inadequate
May be less effective than a good diet

Herbal remedies
Use to treat causes more than symptoms
Reserve for acute illness

Refined supplements
Use to boost nutrition if diet is inadequate
Can be a doubled edged sword if not carefully used
May be less effective than food-based supplements

Refined medicinal remedies
A last resort for acute health problems if all else fails
Will likely have adverse side-effects over time

Count your blessings
Good health is not something to take for granted