Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Vitamin B

The scientists who first discovered vitamin B soon learned that it wasn’t just one vitamin, but a group of 8 substances. B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins, meaning that excess is excreted in your urine. They act as coenzymes in the release of energy from food. They don’t provide energy, they facilitate the release. If you think of metabolism as the engine in your body, B vitamins are the lubrication needed to keep the engine moving optimally. They don’t substitute the fuel, they lubricate the engine. A common crazy misconception is that vitamins have calories.

Some facts about B vitamin family:

- As a family of compounds, B vitamins are intertwined. Food sources are shared and often similar. If you have a deficiency of one, you’d be more likely to have a deficiency of another one.

- Alcohol is the ultimate destroyer of vitamin B. Alcoholics can exhibit signs and symptoms of deficiency of many B vitamins.

- B vitamin deficiencies are manifested in the mouth. Actually, they manifest in the whole gastrointestinal tract, but we see them in the mouth.

This group of vitamins include 8 compounds. I have separate articles for the most famous ones:

-Thiamin (vitamin B1): breaks down carbohydrate for energy.

-Riboflavin (vitamin B2): supports energy metabolism in the body.

-Niacin (vitamin B3): supports energy metabolism in the body.

- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): synthesizes enzymes important for obtaining energy from fat.

- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6): essential for amino-acid (protein building-blocks) metabolism.

- Biotin (vitamin B7): helps in fat synthesis and metabolism, amino-acid metabolism.

- Folic acid or folate (vitamin B9): essential for metabolism of amino-acids and synthesis of DNA. Also essential in cell division and development of neural tube in fetuses.

- Cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12): needed in the production of red blood cells, the maintenance of the central nervous system, the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrate.

Vitamin B12

Let’s talk about vitamin B12. As opposed to all the other B vitamins, which you must have daily in your diet, the body can store supply of B12 for up to two years in the liver. B12 is needed in the production of red blood cells, the maintenance of the central nervous system, the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrate. The absorption of B12 requires the production of adequate stomach acid and an intrinsic factor. An intrinsic factor is secreted in the stomach and is a substance that unlocks B12 from food. Gastric bypass, used for the management of obesity, reduces the amount of acid and intrinsic factor that the stomach produces. This loss also occurs naturally with the aging process and about 30% of those over 50 years old can mal-absorb the vitamin.

B12 vitamin deficiencies can take years to develop. If someone goes to the doctor after gastric bypass they may find they have adequate amounts of B12 in their blood. Over of time, however, they may lose the ability to absorb this vitamin. Sometimes they use injections or big oral doses of 500 milligrams. The injection only works if you actually have deficiency. You may see a lot of people believing that they need to have a B12 injection every month. That is true if you’re deficient.

B12 deficiency can cause a type of anemia called Pernicious anemia. You can also have nerve destruction that’s irreversible. Make sure you have adequate amounts, and if you are over the age of 50 or just had a gastric bypass, you should check your status. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal sources. If you’re vegan and don’t consume any food from animal sources, you may want to consult your doctor about whether you need a supplement or not.

Recent research also suggests that a deficiency of B12 may also increase the likelihood of neural tube defects.

There are no toxicities associated with B12.

Daily Requirements

Adults: 2.4 micrograms.

Foods Rich in Vitamin B12

113 grams calf's liver, braised41 micrograms
113 grams beef tenderloin, broiled2.92 micrograms
1 cup cow's milk, 2% fat0.9 micrograms
1 egg, boiled0.49 micrograms
1 cup yogurt, low-fat1.38 micrograms

Folic Acid

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin (B9). When thinking of food sources of folate, think green and leafy. It is more stable than other B vitamins and it is often found in fortified foods. Folate is often sprayed on breakfast cereal, so make sure to drink all the milk, because water soluble vitamins (folate and other B vitamins) are washed off into the milk. It is needed for the metabolism of amino-acids. It is unique in the fact that is also needed in the synthesis of DNA and it is absolutely critical for cell division. This explains in part some of the medical uses developed around these functions.

It is essential for the development of the neural tube, which is the embryo's precursor to the central nervous system. Neural tube defects may cause the infant to be born without a portion of his brain. Since 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, all sexually active women of childbearing age should eat enough amounts of this essential vitamin.

What about folate and cancer? A Harvard study suggested that women who took folate for over 15 years had a significant reduction in colon cancer. Other studies suggest that if the cancer is already present, folate may fuel the disease, given its role in cell division. Folate may actually provide the fuel to continue that cancer on its growth path. If you have cancer, this vitamin probably is not what you would want to be taking.

The body absorbs about 100% of folate in fortified foods and supplements if they are taken on an empty stomach. The folic acid that is sprayed on breakfast cereal is actually more biologically available than the folate in food. 85% is going to be absorbed if other foods are present in that meal. Between 50% and 75% of folate naturally occurring in foods is absorbed by your body.

Folic acid is extremely vulnerable to heat. Heat can destroy up to 90% of food folate. Vitamin C can actually aid in the protection of folate.

Until recently, folate was one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the United States. In 1998, the level of folate that was added to food was increased, which improved the blood levels of Americans and reduced the incident of neural tube defects.

Folate deficiency influences red blood cell development, resulting in blood cells that are poorly formed. This disease is called macrocytic anemia. Deficiency also impairs the synthesis of white blood cells and compromises the immune system. Any rapidly growing cell is quickly affected by folate deficiency, including the mouth.

Prescription medicines are out there that may actually act as a folate-antagonist, causing a deficiency intentionally. There are times when we want to halt cell division. Consult your doctor if you have any health problem.

This vitamin doesn’t have any known toxicity.

Daily Requirements

Adults: 400 micrograms.

Foods High in Folic Acid

1 cup spinach, boiled262 micrograms
1 cup broccoli, steamed94 micrograms
1 cup Brussel sprouts, boiled93.5 micrograms
1 cup green peas, boiled101 micrograms
1 orange39 micrograms
1 papaya115.5 micrograms

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine

There are multiple forms of vitamin B6, but collectively they are known as pyridoxine. Pyridoxine is needed for the functioning of over 100 enzymes. It helps in protein synthesis, particularly that of non-essential amino-acids. It can also convert protein to glucose if energy needs are not being met. This vitamin can be destroyed by heat. Deficiency of this vitamin is rare, but when it occurs it causes a type of anemia called Microcytic hypochromic anemia. It can be confused with iron deficiency, because they cause the same effects. This disease can damage the nervous system and elevate the risk of heart disease.

Medical uses of pyridoxine became prevalent when this vitamin was linked with the treatment of premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. Doses as low as 15 milligrams per day might be helpful to treat PMS. A study in the mid 1980’s looked at women taking high doses of pyridoxine, greater than 500 milligrams per day, over a period of time. They developed neuromuscular diseases: they couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. They lacked coordination between the brain and muscles. This was the first time in history that a water-soluble vitamin exhibited toxicity.

The maximum you should consume of this vitamin is 100 milligrams per day. Supplements are available on the market that contain more than this amount without any warning of toxicity, so, be careful with those.

Required Daily Amounts

Male (18-50): 1.3 milligrams.
Male (50-70): 1.7 milligrams.
Female (18-50): 1.2 milligrams.
Female (50-70): 1.5 milligrams.

Good Sources of Pyridoxine

1 banana0.68 milligrams
1 cup broccoli0.22 milligrams
1 cup asparagus0.22 milligrams
1 cup spinach0.44 milligrams
1 cup potatoes, baked, with skin0.42 milligrams

Monday, March 29, 2010

Niacin – Vitamin B3

Niacin is a powerhouse B vitamin. It participates in over 200 enzymes under normal conditions and during times of intense activity. If you’re a runner you’re really going to ramp up the metabolic engine with it. Tryptophan (an amino-acid) is a precursor for vitamin B3, and provides about half of the amount needed. Riboflavin, vitamin B6 and iron are all needed to convert tryptophan to vitamin B3. A deficiency of these nutrients can worsen a deficiency of this essential vitamin.

Pellegra is the deficiency disease of vitamin B3, and it means rough skin in Italian. The skin becomes rough and black when exposed to sunlight. The signs of this deficiency include dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death. Pellegra historically has been a killer of humans.

Chronic alcoholism and significant poverty can contribute to its deficiency. What about vitamin B3 toxicity? This vitamin is sometimes considered a drug because it has clinical usefulness. High vitamin B3 doses (higher than the recommended upper limit of 35 milligrams) can be used to lower cholesterol and is very effective at that. Before other drugs were on the market, vitamin B3 was the main tool for lowering cholesterol.

A popular book published in the 1990’s titled “The 8 Week Cholesterol Cure” touted high doses of vitamin B3. It is rare to see side effects of high doses, but they are pretty impressive. You can get flushing, redness and itching of your skin. You can also have elevated liver enzymes by taking high doses of this vitamin. If your cholesterol is high, make sure you ask your healthcare provider what to do. Don’t try to fix it by yourself by taking lots of vitamin B3!

Vitamin B3 also may elevate blood sugar. If you have pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome this vitamin as a drug may not be the compound for you.

Daily Requirements

Male (18-70): 16 milligrams.
Female (18-70): 14 milligrams.
Upper limit: 35 milligrams.

Foods High in Niacin

0.25 cup peanuts, raw4.4 milligrams
113 grams chicken, roasted14.4 milligrams
113 grams turkey, roasted7.22 milligrams
1 cup green peas3.2 milligrams

Riboflavin - Vitamin B2

Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, was originally thought to be part of the thiamin molecule. Excess vitamin B2 is excreted in your urine, because it is a water-soluble vitamin. The function of vitamin B2 can be described as lubrication of the engine. It extracts energy from carbohydrate, protein and fat. Some research suggests that it might have a role in the prevention of headaches.

This is a fuzzy B vitamin. It can be destroyed by ultraviolet light. Milk is a primary and significant source of vitamin B2, but if the milk is exposed to UV light, the vitamin in the milk can actually be destroyed. We’re now seeing that milk in glass bottles are becoming common again. That’s a bad idea. It is better if it comes in paper cartons. If it is in glass bottles vitamin B2 is going to be destroyed by UV light.

As with thiamin, vitamin B2 deficiency can occur in chronic alcoholics. The symptoms are an inflamed tongue, cracks at the corners of the mouth, the lips becoming inflamed and split. This deficiency is also common among teenage girls who don’t drink milk but soft diet drinks.

Vitamin B2 deficiency can also make other B vitamin deficiencies worse, such as vitamin B6 deficiency. If you skip breakfast you can end up with B vitamins deficiency.

Vitamin B2 is non-toxic, so no upper limit has been set. If you consume more than what you need, there is no risk of toxicity.

Daily Required Amounts

Males (18-70): 1.2 milligrams.
Females (18-70): 1.1 milligrams.

Foods High in Vitamin B2

1 cup reduced-fat milk (2% fat)0.4 milligrams
1 cup yogurt0.52 milligrams
1 cup spinach0.42 milligrams
113 grams Calf's liver, braised2.2 milligrams

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Vitamin B1

Historically, vitamin B1 (thiamin) deficiency disease was first described in Chinese writings over 4000 years ago. In 1885, a physician of the Japanese naval medical services cured sailors of a disease called beriberi by adding meat and milk to their diets. Beriberi means “I can’t, I can’t”. Thiamin is essential for breaking down carbohydrate and having a good source of energy.

Thiamin is part of a coenzyme that breaks down carbohydrate and powers protein synthesis. It helps in the production of neurotransmitters. Heat destroys the vitamin. Adding baking soda to vegetables destroys thiamin. Thiamin likes an acidic environment.

Thiamin deficiency can occur in as little as ten days. Body systems with high energy needs deteriorate first. Your central nervous system is a major energy consumer. It also can cause pins and needles sensations in hands and feet. Be careful with self-diagnosis, because there are other diseases and conditions that can cause tingling in hands and feet.

Thiamin deficiency is rare in developed countries. We have fortified foods and a wide variety of food sources. It is not rare, however, among alcoholics. It is prevalent but often overlooked. Many physicians don’t like to ask how much alcohol you consume. If you have a significant thiamin deficiency there are actually two different types. Wet beriberi is cardiac affects the cardiovascular system and causes fluid accumulation. Dry beriberi damages the nervous system.

Approximately 25% of alcoholics show signs and symptoms of thiamin deficiency. When paramedics find an unconscious unknown on the side of the road automatically think about thiamin deficiency.

This is one of the vitamins that don’t have any known toxicity. It is truly a water-soluble vitamin, you excrete all the excess.

Foods High in Thiamin

1 orange0.11 milligrams
1 cup oatmeal0.26 milligrams
1 cup tomatoes0.11 milligrams
1 cup spinach0.17 milligrams

A good and common source also is fortified breakfast cereals. You’ll have to look at the specific cereal to know its thiamin content.

Recommended daily intake

Males: 1.2 mg.

Females: 1.1 mg.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that functions like a hormone. It is not a truly dietary essential, because if you spend time in the sun, you can make it in your skin. The current requirement is now under review because of this. Emerging science suggests that vitamin D may aid in the prevention of diabetes and heart diseases, schizophrenia and cancer. This vitamin is a family of many compounds with only two being the most active: ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). The skin can make a version of vitamin D from cholesterol and then send it to the liver and kidney for final activation.


Its primary role is as a regulator. It is like the conductor of an orchestra. It tells cells what to do. There are receptors for vitamin D on cell membranes and nucleus of cells that receive the instructions from it. It regulates blood calcium level with the help of other hormones. Some studies suggest that vitamin D may protect your immune system and even help in cancer prevention.

The recommended amount of vitamin D is 5 micrograms for those under 50. The synthesis of vitamin D decreases in individuals above 50, so their requirement is 10 micrograms per day. Sometimes you may see the amount of vitamin D in nutrition labels in International Unites (IU). Remember this equation: 1 microgram = 40 IU.

There are many factors that can influence the vitamin D synthesis in your skin. Where you live is an important factor. In Texas you’ll have more sun exposure than in London. Skin color: if you’re African American, you have melanin on your skin that acts as a natural sunscreen, and you don’t make as much vitamin D in your skin. If you wear sunscreen you can reduce the synthesis of vitamin D. Put your sunscreen right as you walk out the door, and you’re still going to have vitamin synthesis because sunscreen takes about 10 minutes to activate. 10 to 15 minutes a day at the peak sun level is a good amount of exposure. I’m not promoting sun burn or skin cancer, keep it to 15 minutes.

Food sources of vitamin D are few, and most are fortified foods. Skim milk is fortified with vitamins A and D. Breakfast cereals are usually fortified with vitamin D. Oily fish, salmon for example, are good sources. Egg yolk and butter also are good sources.

Vitamin D Deficiency

The classic vitamin D deficiency symptoms are rickets and osteomalacia. This is a softening of the bones, a little different than osteoporosis. Deficiency can increase the fracture rate in older people, and also may explain why some people don’t respond to traditional osteoporosis treatment. Estimates of vitamin D deficiency in the United States suggest that up to 50% of African American adolescents are vitamin D deficient. This is the major nutritional deficiency in the United States. The challenge is that with obesity vitamin D is held in body fat, and that means it is not available in the blood.

Some experts suggest that we have an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency because the recommended requirements are too low. If you are one of the two thirds of Americans who are overweight, your vitamin D requirement is going to be higher. Some of these dissenting experts suggest that the requirement for optimal blood levels may be as high as 2000 IU.

According to Dr. Michael Holick, having sun exposure enough to induce mild redness can be considered equal to a dose of 20000 IU. The sun can be a powerful ally. I’m not promoting skin cancer, but never going outside is not very nice.

With these high amounts, shouldn’t we be concerned about toxicity? Sun exposure is not toxic, as the skin can regulate the amount of vitamin D precursor that is sent to the liver. We’ve got the ability in our body to regulate how much we’re getting. The brakes are in the skin, the liver and the kidney. Supplements can be toxic though, and the upper limit is 2000 IU according to the Food and Nutrition Board.

The best advice I can give you is to check your blood level of vitamin D at your next doctor’s visit. This is the best guarantee that you, as an INDIVIDUAL, are getting an adequate amount. Your blood level should be greater than 30 nanograms per milliliter.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Foods High in Vitamin E

Here I list foods high in Vitamin E and their content. Cooking, processing and storage can affect the vitamin E content of food. For example, sunflower oil that is stored for up to 3 months can lose 55% of vitamin E content. Keep it in your refrigerator and you’ll have more vitamin E. Roasting almonds can reduce vitamin E content by 80%. Peanut oil can lose up to a third of its vitamin E just by frying.

The higher your polyunsaturated fat intake, the more vitamin E you need. So, your required amount of vitamin E can be affected by the amount of polyunsaturated fat you take in. The requirement for adults is in the 15 milligrams per day, and 19 milligrams for breast-feeding women. Some supplements list its nutrients in international unites (IU). If vitamin E comes from natural sources, 1 IU is 1.67 milligrams. If it is in synthetic form (less effective), 1 IU is .45 milligrams.

Vitamin E deficiency is very rare. It only occurs in individuals with significant fat malabsorption or genetic disorders. In adults, deficiency may take up to 5 to 10 years to develop. Can it be toxic? As a fat-soluble vitamin, is relatively non-toxic. However, large amounts (more than 400 IU) may interfere with blood clotting, especially if you’re taking them with anticoagulants or aspirins. A recent analysis of 19 studies suggests that taking more than 400 IU may increase mortality from heart diseases. Don't worry about this if you're not taking supplements, it is almost impossible to have that amount only from food.

Foods High in Vitamin E:

100 grams sunflower oil41 milligrams
10 almonds9 milligrams
0.25 cup sunflower seeds18 milligrams
1 teaspoon safflower oil12 milligrams

Facts About Vitamin E

Let’s talks about the facts about vitamin E. Since its discovery, there have been a lot of misconceptions and myths about this essential nutrient, so I want to present you the hard science and what we can honestly know about it. It was first discovered in 1922, as its deficiency caused sterility in laboratory rats. Early on, it was considered an aphrodisiac by many people, but, as you may know, there is a big difference between infertility and sexual desire. It was promoted as anti-aging, said to prevent wrinkles and impotence.

In the early 1990’s vitamin E was one of the most popular dietary supplements. It is actually an antioxidant and the thought was that it could reduce the incidence of heart disease and cancer. Some of the studies at the time suggested that, so consumers where driven to buy supplements. Vitamin E may actually have some role in the reduction of chronic disease, but now almost every major study suggests that this vitamin is not the hero we thought it was. Major studies have failed to show an association between vitamin E intake and the prevention of chronic disease.

Let’s turn to the hard facts about vitamin E. It is a fat-soluble vitamin and it is stored in body fat. Its primary role is as an antioxidant. An antioxidant stabilizes cell membranes and protects them from oxidation. It protects lung membranes from environmental contaminants, it prevents mutations in DNA and also protects from cardiovascular disease by protecting lipid from being oxidized. Keep in mind that it is the oxidized LDL that is so lethal.

Vitamin E is part of the family of compounds called tocopherols. The most common form of it is alpha-tocopherol. There are other forms of it that are absorbed, but they contribute much less to the vitamin requirement than alpha-tocopherol.

Vitamin E and Heart Disease

Interest in vitamin E was generated when observational and epidemiological studies suggested it might lower the risk of heart disease. One of the most convincing studies was published in 1993 and suggested that women who took vitamin E for more than two years had a 30% to 40% risk reduction of cardiovascular disease.

At that time, other international studies suggested that vitamin E was also associated with reduced heart disease risk, so it wasn’t just in the United States, it was worldwide. Then came the HOPE study. With the HOPE study, vitamin E’s wheels began to come off. HOPE stands for Heart Outcomes Prevention and Evaluation. This long term study evaluated the effectiveness of vitamin E. They studied individuals who had preexisting vascular disease like diabetes, so they were in their way to developing heart disease. Vitamin E was thought to prevent heart disease, so why not give it to the most vulnerable people and see its effectiveness?

The study was unique because it followed individuals for up to 7 years. They were taking 400 IU of vitamin E, more than the requirement. There was no benefit in the prevention of heart disease or cancer in this group of individuals. They were high risk individuals and there was no effectiveness. Furthermore, in individuals who were taking this extra vitamin E there was an increased risk of heart failure. Now we’ve got evidence that not only there is no benefit, but there is harm.

Preliminary research suggests vitamin E may aid in the preservation of cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease. So, we’ve got some studies suggesting that this vitamin is good and others suggesting no.

A recent study by the American Cancer Society indicated that those who take vitamin E for 10 years can reduce the risk of bladder cancer. Observational studies suggest that maybe vitamin E and selenium together might be able to prevent prostate cancer. The SELECT study, however, which stands for Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, demonstrated that this combination is not effective as a prevention strategy.

We get again here this dichotomy of vitamin E. The bottom line is: get your vitamin E from food and stay away from supplements if you already have any vascular disease.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vitamin K

Vitamin K, also known as the master coagulator, is an important fat-soluble vitamin. It was first discovered in 1929 by a scientist named Henrik Dam, who was researching the role and nature of cholesterol. Dam was feeding chicken with a cholesterol-free diet. After a few weeks, chickens on this diet started developing hemorrhages and started bleeding. He couldn’t repair these deficiencies by supplementing their diet with purified cholesterol. It appeared that a second compound had also been extracted from the diet, and this one was thought to be responsible for the coagulation of blood. Coagulation in German is spelled with a “k”, so, the mysterious compound was named vitamin K.

There are two primary forms of vitamin K. Phylloquinone (K1) comes from plants. Menaquinone (K2) come from animals and bacteria in the gut. There is also a synthetic form known as K3. What is the function of vitamin K? Its name comes from the German word for coagulation, and it is needed for the normal clotting cascade of blood by the synthesis of blood proteins. Vitamin K is also needed for the production of what are known as Gla proteins, which are needed for the normal production of bone proteins.

Increasing evidence shows that vitamin K may aid in the prevention of osteoporosis. It forms a protein which is found in cartilage and provides the framework on which bone is formed.

There is no true requirement for vitamin K, because we don’t know how much the gut produces. Although no recommended amount exists, an acceptable intake is 90 micrograms for women and 120 micrograms for men.

Vitamin K Deficiency and Toxicity

Vitamin K deficiency is common among breast-fed infants, because breast milk is low on vitamin K. If a baby is going to be born, make sure that baby goes to a physician relatively early and gets a vitamin K injection to prevent poor clotting.

Vitamin K can interfere with anticoagulant drugs. Antibiotics kill the bacteria that can make vitamin K, so anybody taking chronic antibiotic therapy is going to be unable to synthesize vitamin K in the gut.

There is no known toxicity of vitamin K.

Foods High in Vitamin K

1 cup kale1000 micrograms
1 cup spinach880 micrograms
1 cup cabbage73 micrograms
1 cup broccoli155 micrograms
1 cup brussels sprouts218 micrograms

Vitamin A Toxicity

Vitamin A toxicity becomes an issue when the intake is about ten times the recommended daily amount (the RDA is 900 micrograms for male adults). The tolerable upper limit is about 3000 micrograms per day. More than this amount of vitamin A during pregnancy can cause birth defects and spontaneous abortion. The most notable birth defects in pregnancy are cardiac ones. That is one of the reasons why the formulations of pre-natal vitamins have changed in the past years. There used to be only retinol (active form of vitamin A) in pre-natal vitamins, but they now removed some of that and replaced it with beta-carotene (not active but can be converted to vitamin A in the body).

It can cause blurred vision and painful swelling of the long bones, like the femur or the leg. There can be swelling of breast tissue in men, called gynecomastia. However, the major cause of gynecomastia in men is obesity. Impotence and other sexual dysfunction can also occur with a level of vitamin A that is outside the recommended range.

There can be calcium loss in bones that can lead to osteoporosis. It can cause irritability, nausea, headache, fatigue, dizziness and diarrhea. Skin and hair change. Skin itches, becomes oily and hair falls. In infants, it can cause an abnormal softening of the skull bone and weight gain.

A consequence of excess beta-carotene, which is much less likely to be toxic than pre-formed retinol, is a yellow or orange skin. I knew someone who loved carrots so much that had bags of them every day. His hands and feet had a nice orange blow to them. Maybe this is not the look you are going for, but still gives a nice glow to your skin.

Is it harmful to eat a lot of carrots? No. Keep in mind that the studies designed to test the toxicity of a certain vitamin always use supplements and not real food. There is a difference between beta-carotene you get in your food and the one you take as a supplement. In some studies individuals were having up to 25000 micrograms of beta-carotene. You’re unlikely to reach that amount with carrots.

You’re not going to have an adverse outcome from food, but from supplements it is possible.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is not common in the United States. However, up to half a million children become blind each year as a consequence of it. A deficiency of this vitamin can occur from inadequate dietary intake or the malabsorption of fat. States of illnesses that may cause malabsorption of fat, very low fat diets or certain medications can have an impact on vitamin A status. Chronic exposure to oxidants like cigarette smoke can also affect the absorption of vitamin A.

Problems with vision may result from a deficiency of vitamin A. It may result in the inability to correct vision when going from a lighted room to a dark room; or, more importantly, from a lighted home onto the road when driving at night. If it goes on it can cause nigh-blindness.

It is also a cause of dry eyes and inflammation. There is also a condition known as Bitot’s spots, which are superficial white or grey patches occurring on eye membrane due to deficiency in vitamin A. Children are more likely to lack vitamin A in developing countries, and Bitot’s spots are one of the first things doctors can assess to see whether or not a child is lacking vitamin A.

A deficiency of vitamin A contributes to the high prevalence of measles seen in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization, 100 to 140 million children suffer from a vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness in children worldwide. Deficiencies are really rare in America, mostly common in immigrants from foreign countries.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an important fat-soluble vitamin. As a fat-soluble vitamin, it is more likely to be toxic than water-soluble ones. Its role is particularly important for normal and healthy vision. Deficiencies in the United States are not common. However, up to half a million children become blind each year as a consequence of its deficiency. This vitamin is a great multi-tasker and plays a wide variety of roles. It is an essential constituent to visual pigments necessary for black and white and night vision. It is also important in gene transcription, making DNA and RNA.

It is also needed in normal embryonic development and reproduction. Both its deficiency and toxicity can affect fetal development. As early as 1937 research suggested that vitamin A deficiency and early pregnancy increased the risk of fetus deaths. This is linked with cell differentiation and the inability of these cells to become what they are genetically predetermined to be.

It is also important in the growth and development of bones. It is needed for the formation of blood components. It is necessary for the maintenance of normal skin cells. Some research shows that it also has a role in reducing the risk of heart disease, but that’s not clear enough yet. It has antioxidant activity. Antioxidant means that it protects cell membranes from oxidation (damage).

What about the bioavailability of this vitamin? There are three different forms of vitamin A. Retinol is an active type and it is found predominantly in animal foods, things like liver, whole milk, butter, eggs, cheese and some fortified foods. Because it is a pre-formed vitamin it is much more likely to be toxic. Retinol and its cousins retinal and retinoic acid are the most biologically available forms of this vitamin.

Protein is required to transport this fatty vitamin in blood. Retinol and its cousins need what is called retinol-binding protein to be store in the liver. About 90% of vitamin A is actually stored in the liver.

Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are considered inactive forms of vitamin A. This means they can be converted to vitamin A in the body. We have about 600 carotenoids in food, but about 50 to 60 are found in the human diet, and fewer than this have vitamin A activity. Carotenoids, because they are precursors, are relatively non-toxic. The brakes can be put on if the body has enough retinol.

The absorption of carotenoids depends greatly on the amount of fat that is ingested with it. Fat in the diet increases its absorption.

Carotenoids are found in plant sources, such as green vegetables and carrots. They have an important role in the prevention of macular degeneration, an eye disease we get with advancing age; and the prevention of prostate cancer.

We now find many supplements of beta-carotene in the market, but they might not be a good idea. In a recent study called the ATBC they looked at 30000 people between the ages of 50 and 69, and those taking beta-carotene supplements died with increased frequency from lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. Current research indicates that beta-carotene supplements can cause oxidative DNA damage in lung cells. This might be the cause of increased mortality. Keep in mind there is a difference between the beta-carotene you get from your food and that from supplements.

Additionally, beta-carotene as a supplement is associated with heart disease risk and a possible increase in gastrointestinal cancer.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Too Much Vitamin C

Is it possible to have too much vitamin C? Vitamin C is relatively non-toxic. However, there are some studies that suggest too much of it is possibly linked with an increased prevalence of kidney stones. Vitamin C is metabolized to a urinary product called oxylate and many kidney stones are oxylate-based. In these clinical trials individuals are consuming 1000 milligrams a day or more. In individuals with iron deficiency, taking up to ten times the recommended amount can destroy significant amounts of vitamin B12. Vitamin C overdose can affect the bioavailability of vitamin B12. In healthy people, excess vitamin C can cause bowel irritation (diarrhea).

One of the most disconcerting things with excess vitamin C is that it can interfere with diagnostic tests. For example, if the doctor is trying to know if you’re a candidate for colonoscopy or not, a lot of vitamin C can actually interfere or react with the agent that is testing for blood. So, if you’re taking a lot of vitamin C, you should tell your doctor.

Vitamin C can also interfere with the test for glucose or sugar in your urine. It can show that you have sugar in your urine when you don’t, it’s just the excess vitamin C.

What should the upper limit of intake be? It should be about 2000 mg per day. Keep that in the back of your mind, although it is difficult to reach that amount without supplements.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is the most famous one of the water-soluble vitamins. It is the most popular supplement on the market. Why did it gain such notoriety? Nobel laureate Linus Pauling and others believed that the current recommended amounts of vitamin C might be enough to prevent deficiency, but not enough to prevent chronic diseases.

James Lind, a doctor in the British Royal Navy, conducted an experiment in 1747 with two groups of sailors at sea. One group was given lemon juice with their food, the other group wasn’t. With this he showed that vitamin C in the form of lemon juice prevented scurvy. Lind published his results in 1753 and the British Navy waited more than 40 years to add lemon juice to the standard rations for sailors.

What does vitamin C do? It is an electron donor for eight enzymes. This means that it allows enzymes to do their jobs better. It aids in the synthesis of carnitin. Carnitin is a compound that helps to get fat through cell membranes. Vitamin C is needed for the synthesis of collagen, a structural protein essential in wound healing, that’s why this vitamin gets its reputation as promoting wound healing.
It is needed for the synthesis of neurotransmitters. It is needed for peptide hormone synthesis and tyrosine.

It aids in the enhancement of iron absorption. Iron needs to be reduced in order to be absorbed. If you want to increase the absorption of iron take it with a source of vitamin C.

As an antioxidant, it decreases the damage from free radicals and harmful reactions from the body. It helps to protect cell membranes. Certainly it has a significant role in producing cartilage, bone and tooth.

Where do We Get Vitamin C From

Where do we get Vitamin C from? Fruits and vegetables. For example, 1 cup of strawberries has 97 milligrams, an orange has 70 milligrams. Any fruit or vegetable is going to have some of it. Here’s a table with some of my favorite foods and their Vitamin C content.


1 kiwi31 milligrams
1 organge70 milligrams
1 cup strawberries98 milligrams
1 cup watermelon12 milligrams
1 cup papaya87 milligrams


1 cup orange juice120 milligrams
1 cup tomato juice45 milligrams


1 cup red cabbage, raw40 milligrams
1 cup cabbage, raw26 milligrams
1 cup cauliflower, cooked55 milligrams
1 potato, baked 20 mg20 milligrams
1 sweet potato, baked29 milligrams
1 cup tomato, raw23 milligrams
1 cup tomato, canned22 milligrams

How Much We Need

These recommended amounts are sufficient to meet the requirements of nearly 98% of healthy individuals in particular life stages. There are no exact daily requirements for individuals who are ill. Individuals engaged in strenuous exercise and smokers need more than a normal amount, and you should consult your doctor if that is your case.

0-6 months40 milligrams
7-12 months50 milligrams
1-3 years15 milligrams
4-8 years25 milligrams
9-13 years45 milligrams
14-18 years75 milligrams
>18 years90 milligrams
9-13 years45 milligrams
14-18 years65 milligrams
>18 years75 milligrams

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Vitamins: Fat Soluble Versus Water Soluble

Vitamins are organic substances that our body can’t manufacture. This means they must be consumed in the diet. 13 different vitamins have been isolated and classified. In general, we put them into two categories: fat-soluble or water-soluble. One of the key concepts in vitamin nutrition is bioavailability. Bioavailability is the actual amount of the nutrient that you absorb and can utilize. If a book says some food has 60 milligrams of folic acid, that’s what is in the food, not necessarily what you can get out of the food.

There are some factors that influence bioavailability. First, the form of the vitamin. In the example of vitamin E, it has eight different forms and are not all equally effective. There is also the difference between natural or synthetic vitamins. Most of the time vitamins from food are better. In the case of folic acid, its synthetic form is more biologically available.

Sometimes a food component can increase or decrease bioavailability. Folic acid is better absorbed on an empty stomach than with food. In fact, synthetic folic acid on an empty stomach has a bioavailability of almost 100%. When taken with a mixed meal, the bioavailability goes down to about 85%.


Fat-soluble vitamins are the ones which dissolve and remain in the body’s fat stores. For example, if you have excess body fat, vitamin D is held in the fat, making it less available to other tissues within the body. Because they are fat-soluble you can store them in your fat. There is a less urgent need to have them on a daily basis.

As a group of vitamins, fat soluble include vitamins A, D, E and K. They should not be consumed in excess without medical advice.

Toxic reactions can occur with large quantities of these fat soluble vitamins. The most notable case is with vitamin A.


Water soluble vitamins are the ones you need to consume on a daily basis because they are lost in your urine. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have an undesirable side effect with excessive intake. These vitamins act as coenzymes: small molecules that combine with a larger compound to form an active enzyme. In other words, they accelerate chemical reactions within the body.

Within the category of water-soluble we have vitamins C, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavim) , B6 (pyridoxine), niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid and B12. If your diet contains less than 50% of the recommended values, deficiencies can begin to show up within 4 weeks. The excess of water-soluble vitamins is voided by urination. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that can have a toxic effect.

Water-soluble vitamins are dispersed in body fluids and aren’t stored to any great extent. The exception is vitamin B12. You can actually store vitamin B12 up to 1 or 2 years in your liver.

They exert their greatest influence for about 8 to 14 hours after ingestion. After that, their potency decreases.

How Much Fat You Need

Our calorie intake has risen over the past decades and most of them come from hidden fats and sugars. The average American is consuming about 15% of total calories as saturated fat. It is recommended to keep your saturated fat intake to 10% or less of total calories. Some suggest that it should be in the range of 7% to 10% of total calories. These low amounts of saturated fats are recommended to reduce the production of cholesterol in your body.

In the typical American diet, saturated fats from plant sources represent 30% of total fat. Animal sources contribute about the remaining two thirds. Reducing animal protein, especially those with a high fat content, can help you to reduce your total fat, your calories, and your saturated fat. You need to be weary of the types of fats you are consuming.

Saturated fat is linked with coronary artery disease. Replace at least some of the saturated fat and all trans fats with mono and poly unsaturated fats such as olive and sunflower oil. How can you accomplish this in a practical way? First and foremost, you can reduce high fat animal foods such as red meat and cheese with lower fat foods such as chicken and fish. This is a relatively easy first step. Then I’ll recommend you to replace fat-rich foods (specially saturated fats) with some fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

How Much Fat You Need

There is no standard for fat dietary needs. It is always recommendable to replace high fat foods with vegetables, fruits and unrefined whole grains. Remember to eat some foods with omega 3 fatty acids, however. The American Heart Association suggests eating no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Remember that we really don’t need cholesterol in our diet, as our liver makes enough of it.

The American Cancer Society is more aggressive and encourages a diet that contains only 20% of total calories from lipids to reduce certain types of cancer. I know from my own experience how difficult is to lower fat consumption. It is sometimes recommended by some experts to lower total fat to only 10% of calories. This is really difficult unless you’re vegan.

A moderate and prudent recommendation is that 30% or less of your total calories should be from fat. Those fats should be unsaturated, try to stay away from saturated. Your heart will love you.

The Functions of Fat

What are the functions of fat in our body? Fat is an energy source. It has 9 calories per gram. That’s more than two times that of an equal amount of protein or carbohydrate. Think about that from a weight management standpoint.

Fat also protects vital organs. The protection of the heart, liver, kidney, brain and spinal cord from trauma is really important. It is also a transport medium for soluble vitamins from the gut into the blood. We need to have some dietary fat for the utilization of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Fat can slow digestion, which gives the body time to absorb nutrients from other food. Keep in mind, however, that in terms of satiety, the most important nutrient is protein. Fat is necessary for the production of many regulatory hormones. It is necessary for the production of structural components such as the brain.

Omega 3 and 6: Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are fats that fall into two different camps: the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. These fats must be consumed in the diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are highly unsaturated fats. The name omega 3 is used by chemist to tell the position of the first double bond in the long fatty acid chain. It means the double bond occurs 3 carbons in. Most research studies suggest that we don’t consume adequate amounts of this fat. It is needed for the production of hormonal compounds.

They confer mostly positive health benefits and the risks are only associated with excessive intake. They can be found in oils of coldwater fish and flaxseeds. There are signs that omega 3 fatty acids reduce heart disease risk.

Omega 6 fatty acids tend to be over-consumed in the American diet. They are found in meat, corn oil and sunflower oil. They act in opposition to the omega 3 fatty acids.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What is Cholesterol?

What is cholesterol? Cholesterol technically doesn’t contain fatty acids, but it is still classified as fat because it has some of the same chemical and physical characteristics. It can be consumed, but it is also made internally by the body at a baseline rate that varies between 800 and 1500 milligrams per day. It is made predominantly in the liver, but also in other tissues such as arteries and intestines.

Why does our body need cholesterol? Cholesterol builds plasmid membranes, so it is part of every cell membrane. It is needed for synthesizing vitamin D, hormones like estrogen, androgens and progesterone. It is absolutely an essential part of every cell of your body. Cholesterol has no calories. You can turn on the switch to produce cholesterol in your blood with diets that are high in saturated or trans-fats.

Endogenous cholesterol (made by your body) produced in your liver is almost always enough to meet the body’s needs. Therefore, there is no dietary requirement for cholesterol. Certainly we might all be familiar with medications that lower cholesterol. They actually block or turn off that cholesterol switch in the liver.

We sometimes eat cholesterol and only comes from animals. What are cholesterol rich foods? As a quick rule of thumb, for each ounce of meat there are 25 milligrams of cholesterol. Cholesterol is going to be found in the cell membrane, so it is actually in the flesh of the meat. We find the same amount of cholesterol for six ounces of chicken. Whole fat dairy products are an important source of cholesterol also.

The challenge is that eating cholesterol in the diet doesn’t necessarily translate into an increase in blood cholesterol. Saturated and trans-fats are the ones who turn on the switch of cholesterol production in the liver, and they are the most important causes of high cholesterol in the blood. Dietary cholesterol comes as a distant third. You may read stories in the newspaper that somebody ate 12 eggs a day and they lived to be 105. An egg is a source of cholesterol, but has very low amount of saturated fat.

Saturated, Unsaturated and Trans Fats

Not all fats are bad. Not all fats are good. In this article I want to show you the differences of fats we find in our foods. Fat is the most energetic of all nutrients. It has 9 calories per gram. Carbohydrate and protein each have 4 calories per gram. This is true for all fats, whether it is healthy omega 3 fats or lard. Keep this always in mind when trying to have a balanced calorie intake.

Saturated Versus Unsaturated

What are saturated and unsaturated fats? Saturated fats are long chains where there is no space between the fatty acids that form it. The molecule is saturated with hydrogen ions. Saturated fats that you can see are hard, white and solid. Think about cheese, chocolate, ice cream and whole milk. The key point is that these solid white fats can raise your blood cholesterol in a predictable way. We are all vulnerable to the cholesterol-raising effects of saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are chains with double bonds in its carbon molecules. Because of these double bonds, these fats can combine with oxygen and become rancid. There are some compounds that have only one double bond, they are called mono-unsaturated fats. They may have two or more double bonds and they are called poly-unsaturated fats.

Poly-unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They include corn oil and sunflower oil and are considered healthy because they can lower blood cholesterol. They have a very weak structure, however. Mono-unsaturated fat is also liquid at room temperature, but it is thick or viscous when put in a refrigerator. It can be considered healthy. Mono-unsaturated fats are found in olive oil and peanut oil. They are a key component of the Mediterranean diet we hear so much about.

Trans Fats: The Root of All Evil

What are trans-fats? We certainly hear a lot of bad things about them in the media and the press. Trans-fats are unsaturated vegetable oils that manufactures try to make more solid so it lasts longer and less likely to become rancid. They make it more solid through a process known as hydrogenation. They blow hydrogen gas into this unsaturated fat, adding hydrogen to their double bonds. The consequence is that they twist the molecule.

Harshly hydrogenated fats are what you see on the label. Oftentimes they are found in foods that are premade. The major contributors of trans-fats in the American diet include things like muffins and cookies. Think about it, if I want to preserve the life of a food, I can do it using partially hydrogenated fat.

Current research shows us that these hydrogenated unsaturated fats (trans-fats) are just as likely to contribute to heart disease as saturated fats. Some research even suggests that this kind of fat is the major villain in the development of coronary artery disease. Since 2006, food manufacturers must list their products’ trans-fat content on the label. There is no dietary requirement for trans-fats, you don’t really need them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

How Much Protein Do I Need?

How much protein do I need? Good question. Normal adult protein needs are less than a gram per kilogram of bodyweight (to get from pounds to kilo divide by 2.2). In fact, most normal adult needs are .8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. What bodyweight do we use? Do we use our ideal bodyweight or actual bodyweight? If you’re within a normal weight range, you’re not too thin or too heavy; you can actually use your actual bodyweight. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to use your ideal bodyweight. Learn to calculate your ideal bodyweight here. Excess body fat doesn’t have the same demand for protein or amino-acids as muscle does. Conversely, if you’re a very physically active person, you’d probably want to use your actual weight even if you’re 20 or 30 pounds overweight.

What we know is that during periods of active growth and development, protein requirements are higher. In infancy, protein needs are 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Babies are growing machines, and as such, need a significantly greater amount of protein. Another period of rapid growth is during adolescence. Individuals going through adolescence need about 1 gram per kilogram of bodyweight.

What happens if you’re an athlete? What if you’re trying to increase your muscular mass? What if you run marathons or triathlons? Endurance athletes need anywhere between 1.2 and 1.4 grams of protein per kilo. Strength athletes (anybody who lifts weights) require 1.6 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.

Is it true that an athlete needs more protein? The simple answer is yes. Reality is that most amateur athletes have no clue and are consuming around 4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. That is a big waste of money. Keep in mind that so much protein isn’t good, as it increases the likelihood of kidney stones.

When the body is trying to heal itself (after surgery, for example), protein requirements are 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilo. With significant injury (burns, for example), the protein requirements can actually exceed that 2 grams of protein per kilo.

How to Get Complete Proteins Combining Foods

Some proteins contain all of the essential amino-acids. They are oftentimes called complete proteins. Usually, they are of animal origin: milk, cheese, chicken, fish or red meat. An exception to the rule is soybean. Proteins from other sources might be missing an essential amino-acid or not contain an adequate amount. These are called incomplete proteins. Most bread, for example, contain between 2 and 3 grams of protein per serving. That is not a complete protein; it is missing an essential amino-acid. This is the case also with rice, beans, nuts and vegetables. They are all good sources of protein, but by themselves are incomplete. They need a companion to balance that essential amino-acid that’s missing. This is why you need to combine proteins.

You can combine proteins that complement each other, getting all the essential amino-acids. If you have a missing amino-acid or it is in short supply, protein synthesis stops. It doesn’t just slow down, it stops, because you are missing the blocks to complete its structure. This is why it is so important to make sure you’re getting a balance of protein-containing foods.

The only time I’ve seen an issue with incomplete protein is in inexperienced vegans. Most Americans get much more protein than what they need. Vegans are people who eliminate all sorts of animal products from their diet. You can have all essential amino-acids with a vegan diet, you just need to be wise in the way you combine proteins. For example, cereal grains are low in the essential amino-acid lysine. Beans can be used in place of low-lysine foods. You can do a research online and see what essential amino-acids your favorite foods have. You’ll only need to do this if you’re vegan, otherwise you can be pretty sure you are getting all essential amino-acids if you are having a somewhat balanced omnivorous diet.

We used to believe that you had to have these complementing foods, like rice and beans, at the same meal. Science proved that wrong. You must have them within the same day, but you don’t need to have them within the same meal. If at breakfast you have peanuts and a banana, you have an incomplete protein, but if at 10 o’clock you have a granola bar you’ve now had that missing essential amino-acid. It wasn’t at the same meal, but in the same day. It’s not really difficult to balance this out. So, veganism is really a healthy choice.

Protein Function

The most highlighted and important protein function is to build and repair tissue. That’s a pretty important function! When in the life-cycle would you build the most tissue? During periods of rapid growth and development. In infancy, babies can triple their birth weight in their first year of life. Because of that, babies have a really high protein need. When you have surgery (where doctors intentionally create damage to your tissue), you need extra protein to repair it. Oftentimes what people believe, however, is that when they’re laying flat on the bed after surgery they don’t need as many calories or protein. Physiologically that’s not true. Your needs for both of those go up significantly.

Another protein function is to hold your body together and let you move it. When muscular contraction happens proteins are sliding over each other. One of the reasons why athletes prefer a high-protein diet is because they want to create more of these sliding proteins (and hence have more strength).

In the process of weight lifting you are trying to increase the mechanical strength of those proteins. When you lift heavy enough weights these proteins tear, and when you rest (specially during sleep), more amino-acids are going to get to the damaged proteins and cause the muscle to get bigger.

We also know that we need protein for the immune function. Protein has a function in the synthesis of enzymes. Enzymes are compounds that accelerate chemical reactions. For example, lactase is the enzyme that helps to digest milk sugar. Also, hormones are proteins which act as chemical messengers produced in one part of the body but used in another.

Another protein function is to serve as transports. They transport drugs, vitamins and minerals throughout our body.

An important protein function is to balance fluid distribution in your body. Protein prevents fluid in your blood from leaking into the non-vascular space between cells. With inadequate amounts of protein, that water can leak from your blood into your tissues. This means you will gain weight!

Protein is a source of energy. However, it shouldn’t be used as a primary source. It is your body's least favorite fuel. Your body can use protein as an energy source (4 calories a gram), but that’s not its primary intent. Protein has to accomplish all those wonderful things I listed above. However, if I don’t take in adequate amounts of carbohydrate, protein is going to be sent to the liver and turned into carbohydrate.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in the athletic world is trying to replace carbohydrates with protein. They don’t realize that they are causing their body to take very expensive protein and sent it to their liver to get carbohydrates! Protein is designed for the building and repairing of tissue. You don’t need to use it as an energy source. However, if you use it for energy, it’s like trying to heat your house using 100 dollars bills as fuel. That’s what you do when you don’t take adequate amounts of carbohydrates and a lot of protein.

Protein can also help in weight management as it leaves your stomach slowly. What that does is to create a sense of fullness. At the grocery store you would see breakfast cereals aimed at weight management with added protein. They add it to promote that feeling of fullness.

In order to get all of this work done, the body needs a daily supply of amino-acids to make new protein. We don’t store protein. We can an endless ability to store fat and a small ability to store carbohydrate in our muscles and liver. We can’t, however, store protein. If we can’t store it, any loss of body protein is going to represent loss of function. This means your body can't accomplish all those things I listed! If you don’t consistently replenish protein on a daily basis, you will lose protein from some part of our body and that can represent loss of function.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What is Protein

What is protein? Protein comes from a Greek word meaning “primary”. It was first described by a Swedish chemist by the name of Berzelius in 1838. The first protein to be sequenced into its individual amino-acids(building blocks) was insulin, by Frederick Sanger, who won the Nobel Prize in 1958. How are protein and amino-acids interconnected? Amino-acids are the building blocks of protein. When Dr. Sanger sequenced insulin he actually discovered which amino-acids went in which order to produce insulin.

What is protein and why is it an essential nutrient? Protein is an indispensable nutrient, meaning that it must be consumed in the diet. Your body has no other way of getting this essential nutrient other than what you consume. Protein can be found in every single tissue in the body. It is in your skin, your hair and even in your bone and muscle.

At least 10000 different proteins of different shapes and sizes help to build your body and maintain it. With genetic codes as a blueprint, protein is built from amino-acids. The sequencing of these amino-acids determines the protein’s structure. We have a limited amount of amino-acids, but an infinite array of arrangements of those to get a protein. There are about 20 basic building blocks that our bodies use to get all the necessary proteins. While some proteins require short chains of amino-acids, others require multiple long chains that are intertwined and have a complex three-dimensional structure. When you digest that complex protein, the acids in your stomach help to unwind it.

There are essential amino-acids that you must have in your diet. The essential amino-acids are: Histidine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Valine.

Non-essential amino-acids are also important for creating protein, but why aren’t they essential? Non-essential means that under normal circumstances of wellness you can make those in your body. Non-essential amino-acids are: Alanine, Arginine, Aspartate, Cysteine, Glutamate, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine and Asparagine.

We’re talking about these non-essential amino-acids being made by your body when you are well. There are conditions and circumstances in your life where your body can’t keep up with the demand for these amino-acids. Sometimes you’ll see these amino-acids shuffle between essential and non-essential (depending the source you read). Part of it is because during periods of stress and illness your body may actually need some dietary support of these traditionally non-essential amino-acids.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

High Fiber Foods

What are the benefits of high fiber foods? It depends on the types of fiber that you eat: soluble or insoluble. The primary role of insoluble fiber is to regulate bowel function. Insoluble fiber is nature’s tool for regulating bowel function. Sources include whole wheat breads and cereals, nuts, vegetables, green beans, celery. Soluble fiber forms a gel when it is dissolved in water. It can help to lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels. Some foods that contain water-soluble fiber are pears, apples, citric fruits, berries and carrots.

Not one food is exclusively soluble or insoluble fiber. The best way to get an adequate amount of it is to eat a variety of high fiber foods. Try to avoid fiber supplements (they’re not evil, but fresh fruits and whole grains are better). The best benefit of a high-fiber diet is going to come from the food that you eat, not the supplements.

What are the benefits of a high-fiber diet? First of all, a softer, bulkier stool, which is easier to eliminate. It can also solidify loose and watery stools, but you have to have adequate amounts of fluid for that to happen.

High fiber foods also promote digestive health in other ways. It can lower the risk of hemorrhoids. If you’re moving your bowels easily it is much less likely for you to have hemorrhoids. Studies show that in countries where people consume large amounts of fiber there is little digestive disease.

Fiber can also help to lower blood cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Soluble fibers in oats, all bran and beans can help to lower LDL (bad cholesterol).

Water-soluble fibers make you feel full longer and can be valuable in the management of energy and weight. They help to control sugar levels by slowly controlling the absorption of it. They lower the glycemic index of the carbohydrates you consume. It delays the entry of that food into your blood supply. They may also help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

When consuming high fiber foods remember to chew them! It takes a little more effort to get the calories where they need to be. The more you chew your food the more likely you are to feel full. It allows your body to signal when you are full, so overall food intake is lower. As part of any weight reduction strategy, having more high fiber foods in your diet can promote overall fullness and make a meal seem larger.

A high fiber diet is often classified as less energy dense. That means fewer calories for the same amount of food. High fiber foods are also nutrient-dense. They have many nutrients packed into them.

What about the effect of a high fiber diet in the management of colorectal cancer? The results of studies vary. Some show benefits, some show no benefits and some even show greater risk. A lot of this depends on where in the process of cancer the patient is. The best prevention of colorectal cancer is a healthy diet along with regular screenings.

How much fiber do you need? Recommendations vary according to age and calorie intake. For men and women under the age of 50, 38 grams for men and about 25 grams for women are good. If you’re past 50, 30 grams of fiber for men and 21 for women is enough. For most of us, as we age, we can tolerate less calories, so that is the reason of the decrease of fiber.

Some of my Favorite High Fiber Foods:

A cup of raspberries: 8 grams of fiber.

A cup of oatmeal: 4 grams of fiber.

A pear: 5 grams.

A cup of broccoli: 3 grams of fiber.

Eat fruits and vegetables with the peel if possible. Add black beans to salads and other dishes. Use brown rice instead of white rice. The biggest barrier for most people with brown rice is the time it takes to cook it. You can actually use instant brown rice or visit this page to learn how to cook brown rice. Instant brown rice has great fiber content. There are now individual packs of brown rice that you can pop in your microwave for 90 seconds.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Glycemic Index

What is the glycemic index? In addition to choosing less monosaccharides and increasing the whole grains, a new tool for choosing the food you need has emerged over the past few years. It provides insight into the body’s use of carbohydrate, and more specifically, how quickly your blood sugar rises after the ingestion of a particular food.

Most carbohydrates are absorbed in a mono and disaccharide form. These mono and disaccharides are what impact the blood sugar level. As we digest these foods and break them down into their component parts, they reach the bloodstream at variable rates. This index measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after the ingestion of a particular carbohydrate.

Major studies indicate that those who eat a diet of high glycemic index carbohydrates have the greatest risk of many chronic diseases. That means that the carbohydrate in that food was thrown into the bloodstream at a rapid rate, and your body produces insulin to utilize that particular carbohydrate. Is it the carbohydrate or is it the insulin response? Most of the science says that if you eat a high glycemic index food, you’re going to have a significant increase in the amount of insulin that is produced.

We must know, however, that many factors influence this insulin increase. For example, white bread carbohydrates might reach the bloodstream quickly, but when I make a hamburger with it, it is going to leave the stomach slowly, and hence exhibiting a lower glycemic index response. Also, the organization of the carbohydrate influences it.

Foods such as oatmeal, most whole grains, non-tropical fruits (apples and pears, for example), legumes, dry beans and peas have a lower glycemic index. Think about it this way: the more hands touched it, in general, the higher the glycemic index.

Many studies are looking at the relationship between high glycemic index foods and chronic diseases. There is enough evidence out there. Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains are going to help you maximize the benefits of carbohydrates.

Is there a time when a high glycemic index food is desirable? Absolutely. There are times in the athletic world, for example, where they want that carbohydrate to get back in that muscle as fast they can. Why? Maybe they want to run another race in 2 hours. Sports drinks have a relatively high glycemic index. At that point in time, athletes are mostly interested in their performance.

Those who eat a diet with a high glycemic index as a chronic diet, meaning that you’re not using it for athletic performance but it is just the food choice that you make, you’re going to have more issues with chronic illnesses. These include obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even cataracts.

Friday, March 5, 2010

What are Carbohydrates

What are carbohydrates? In our culture, carbohydrates are considered malign nutrients. They are, however, nutritional powerhouses, and our bodies have many mechanisms for coping with having inadequate amounts of them. They are central to our human physiology. First and foremost, carbohydrate is the exclusive fuel of your brain and the first choice for exercising muscle.

Let’s review a little of the history of our food supply. Back in the early 1900’s, we ate a lot of carbohydrate, about 500 grams per day. A slice of bread is 15 grams of carbohydrate, so, you may note that 500 grams is a lot! I'm sure that back then people were more physically active. Whole grains dominated the carbohydrate supply. It was from whole wheat bread, brown rice and whole oats that those carbohydrates came.

There was a steady decline of whole grains until the early 1960’s. They were essentially disappearing from the American dinner plate. Why was that the case? We began refining carbohydrates. “Refining” means to take away outer bran layer. This began in the 1940’s.

In the 1960’s, we started to see total carbohydrate consumption to rise again. Instead of whole grain, however, we began to eat highly processed sweetened foods. Since the early 1900’s the consumption of sweeteners has increased substantially.

This shift in the American food landscape has been associated with the development of some chronic diseases, most notably type 2 diabetes. Is it the carbohydrate or is it the form of it?

What are Carbohydrates? Simple and Complex Ones

Let’s get to some carbohydrate basics. What are carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are made up of three elements: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbohydrates in foods exist in multiple forms, from the most simple to the more complex. How they are categorized depends on how many glucose or sugar units are contained within it.

What are the simple carbohydrates? These are termed simple sugars or monosaccharides. On your food label they are going to be listed sugars. The most important monosaccharides in human nutrition are glucose, lactose and fructose. Most monosaccharides don’t exist in simple form in food. It’s the disaccharides that are found in food, they are: sucrose (table sugar), maltose (malt sugar) and lactose (milk sugar).

If you look at a carton of milk it would tell you that each serving of milk has 12 grams of sugar. That is not sugar added by the manufacturer, but the sugar of the milk itself: lactose. These disaccharides are two monosaccharides stuck together.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are known as Polysaccharides. Poly means many (20 or more sugar units stuck together). Given the length of the compound, it takes longer physiologically to break those molecules down into their component parts. The carbohydrates that go to your blood have to be in a monosaccharide form. The digestion of that long complex carbohydrate takes a longer time.

Breads, cereals and fruits are mostly complex carbohydrates. Mono and disaccharides are also found in these foods in less amounts. The carbohydrate content of a slice of white bread and a slice of whole grain bread are actually the same. The content is the same, but they behave differently. Keep in mind also that not all the nutrients that are lost in the refining of that grain are replaced. The two that stand out are fiber and magnesium. We can look at big public health surveys that suggest that more magnesium in your diet, the less type 2 diabetes you have.

What are the functions of carbohydrates? The primary function of carbohydrate is to serve as an energy source. It is the high-octane fuel that your body prefers for your brain. It has 4 calories a gram. Fat is also a valuable supply of energy, but carbohydrate is needed to burn that fat completely. In the absence of carbohydrate, breakdown of fat is incomplete and so-called ketone bodies are formed. Ketones are like the waste products of an inefficient car engine. They cause nausea, stomachache and other awful things.

An often forgotten role of carbohydrate it’s protein sparing. Carbohydrates spare protein so it can do its own unique function. Carbohydrates protect or bodyguard protein. It protects it so it can build and repair tissue. When there is inadequate energy in the form of carbohydrate, some protein would be broken down to satisfy the energy need for basal metabolic rate.

Why is protein broken down and not fat? Because protein can serve as a source of carbohydrate. Protein can be sent to the liver and turned into carbohydrate if your intake is too low. I’m really serious when I say that your body needs carbohydrates for optimal functioning. In the absence of them, your body has a default plan: to send that valuable lean mass to the liver to turn it into carbohydrate.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How Much Water You Should Drink

How can you know how much water you should drink? Back in school we all memorized that we need 8 glasses of water per day. Let’s reconsider that. Are we all identical twins? Do we all have the same amount of muscle? The answer is NO! That might be a good general public health recommendation, but we are unique when it comes to fluid needs. For some of us, 8 glasses of water a day aren’t enough. For others that is far more than what they need.

Our bodies are 65% to 70% water. This percentage is lower if you have more body fat. Body fat has very little stored water, maybe less than 10%. Not so with muscle. Muscle can be 70% water. The typical American gains body fat and loses muscle throughout adulthood. However, this is not part of normal aging! Keep in mind that it is not “normal” to have that shift in body composition. I remind you that it can be prevented by a balanced exercise routine, one which includes strength training.

Functions of Water

What’s the function of water? Certainly if you’re thirsty it refreshes you, but what are its internal functions? It serves as a transport vehicle for digestion and a transport of nutrients to the cells within the blood. Maintaining an adequate blood volume enhances nutrient delivery, which makes us healthy and feel well.

Have you ever gone from a sitting to a standing position quickly? All of the sudden you get light-headed and dizzy. This is because you don’t have enough blood volume. You are not delivering enough carbohydrates to your central nervous system and your brain kind of goes into a holding mode. This is a great example of water serving as a transport vehicle.

Water also has mechanical functions. It lubricates joints. It makes up tears, which removes any dirt you may have in your eyes. For most of us, however, one of the most important functions of water is to regulate body temperature. Water is really good at holding and getting rid of heat.

How to Know How Much Water You Should Drink

How do we test our hydration level? How can you know, as an individual, whether or not you are well hydrated? A significant amount of fluid comes out in your urine, so your urine color can give you an idea of whether you’re hydrated or not. First morning urine is better. When you get up in the morning your urine should look like pale lemonade. If it looks like that you did a good enough job the day before. It shouldn’t look like water, but like pale lemonade. If you get up in the morning and it looks like apple juice, you didn’t do a great job. If you get motor oil, you probably need to get to the emergency room!

What about thirst as a measure of hydration? Can we trust thirst with how much water should you drink a day? There is a lag between the time you get dehydrated and the time you actually experience thirst. The old saying “if you’re thirsty you’re already dry” is probably true. Also, the older we get, the less sensitive this thirst mechanism is.

Hydration and Exercise

What should we drink when we exercise? If you exercise less than an hour, moderate intensity, water is just fine. The rules change if the activity is really intense or you’re exercising in the heat for an hour or more. In this case you probably need to switch to sport drinks. Sport drinks are intended to be used during physical activity, they’re not a lunchtime beverage. It is proven that when a beverage is flavored we tend to drink more of it. So, one advantage of sports drinks is that you get more fluid. The other valuable thing is the sodium you get from them.

If you’re outside exercising and you’re sweating, what does your sweat taste like? I know you had that experience. Sweat tastes salty. The major mineral that is being lost in sweat is sodium. Everybody talks about potassium and how good it is (which is true), but what you really need during exercise is sodium. The potassium losses in your sweat are really insignificant.

Sport drinks provide calories, fluids and the sodium that is being lost.

To go a step further in knowing how much fluid you need during exercise you can calculate your sweat rate. Your sweat rate is how many pounds you lose doing physical activities. For each pound you lose after physical activity, you lose 16 ounces of sweat. That’s significant. To rehydrate you need anything between 16 and 24 ounces of fluid. Why do we need that extra fluid? Why can’t I just replace those 16 ounces of sweat with 16 ounces of water? Some of that water would be lost in urine. What we are trying to do is to rehydrate the muscle.

So, find out how much water you should drink per day as an individual. The universal recommendation of 8 glasses per day keeps most people hydrated, however. So, if you’re not exercising in the heat, that might be a good amount to start. It is better for you to do your own experiments, though. Watch your urine!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to Prevent Sarcopenia and Stay Strong

Sarcopenia contributes to a poor quality of life as we age and increases the tendency to add body fat. Let’s think about this a bit and see how we can help our bodies stay strong. You may have a very busy job working at a computer, or maybe you retired and you enjoy reading. Let me tell you something: as you age, you are losing that valuable and functional lean mass. When you lose that lean mass, you are lowering your metabolic rate. We lose (without physical activity, that is) about 3% of our muscle mass per decade. This is what is known as sarcopenia.

I knew a woman who was 5 foot 6 and 117 pounds. You might think she would be a pretty lean woman. She wasn’t lean. She was a skinny fat woman. How could she be fat? Well, she was 40% body fat. All she did her entire life was diet. She went from one weight reduction plan to another.

Preservation of lean mass and the prevention of body fat gain is why not only aerobic exercise is important (walking, jogging, playing golf, etc.), but also strength training. If you are only focusing in aerobic exercise, you are not promoting lean mass gains. You may say: “I’m a woman; I don’t want to look like a big and bulky football player.” Let me tell you something woman, in the real world, it is hard to get big and bulky!! Also, as a woman, you don’t have enough testosterone to look like a man. So, let’s throw away the misinformation and embrace strength training.

Strength training not only prevents sarcopenia, but also increases the amount of calories we burn per day. Basal metabolic rate (basic functions of the body like breathe and digestion) is responsible in most of us for approximately 60% to 75% of the calories we need per day. And what determines your basal metabolic rate? It is your muscle mass. As you may expect, men have a higher basal metabolic rate than women. Men, who are under the influence of testosterone, have more lean mass than women do (in most cases!!).

Another problem may be that you don’t know how to do strength training. This might be a great social opportunity for you. Go to the gym, hire someone to teach you how to lift weights properly and get the maximum benefits. If you can develop the discipline to do this at home you can buy some light weights and workout at home. Pushups and pull-ups are also excellent at strengthening muscles. I highly recommend you going to a gym, though, it is much easier.

I have to clarify something. The loss of functional lean mass as we age is not a normal consequence of aging. Sarcopenia is not physiologically normal!! It is a consequence of us sitting at a desk being busy but doing nothing. Don’t confuse being busy with real physical activity. Stay strong!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Calories Needed Per Day

Let’s calculate the number of calories needed per day and how you can burn enough of them. Total calorie needs are determined by a number of factors. First and foremost is basal metabolic rate. Basal metabolic rate is the amount of calories that you would need if you laid flat in your bed, awake, but just looking at the ceiling all day. Some other factors that influence calorie needs are gender, age and muscle mass. Another obvious factor is exercise. There is also an element called voluntary movement. This is not exercising, but walking from one room to another, for example.

Calories Needed per Day doing nothing?

Here I want to focus on the most important factor: basal metabolic rate. This is the number of calories needed per day at rest for those functions that are not under your voluntary control. This involuntary calorie burning includes your heart rate, digestion, maintenance of blood pressure and body temperature. If I’m in a room that’s 70 degrees, for example, the amount of heat that I produce to keep my body at 98.6 degrees requires energy. Digesting food and breathing also needs a significant amount of calories.

Basal metabolic rate is responsible in most of us for approximately 60% to 75% of the calories needed per day. That's significat, isn't it? Now, what determines your basal metabolic rate? It is your muscle mass. As you would expect, men have a higher basal metabolic rate than women.

Another source of calorie burning is something called the thermic effect of food. This is the energy you need to digest your food. The thermic effect of food depends on the foods that you eat. This factor generally accounts for 10% to 30% of your total energy expenditure. If you eat a meal that is pure protein, it’s going to give you a thermic effect of about 25% of the meal’s total calories.

Let’s talk about this in practical terms, though. Are there many occasions where you are only eating protein? Maybe if you are on a low carbohydrate diet you might (which I don't recommend), but the reality is that that’s not practical for most of us. What we can do practically to increase the amount of calories that we need to digest our meals? Exercise can augment or facilitate this calorie burning.

With the exception of people who are obese, moderate exercise (that’s the key!!) some minutes after a meal is going to help increase the thermic effect of food. Certainly that’s not often terribly practical. If you had a very large meal you might not feel like going out and jogging. You may try at least to go for a walk, however.

Calculate Calories Needed per Day

How do you calculate the number of calories needed per day? Your total energy expenditure is determined by your basal metabolic rate, thermic effect of food and physical activity. As a reminder, basal metabolic rate accounts for 60% to 75% of your total energy expenditure. Thermic effect of food accounts for anywhere between 10% and 30%. Physical activity accounts for the remainder 15% to 30%.

Let’s see the formula to estimate your basal energy expenditure. First you need to calculate your ideal bodyweight. You may say that this ideal bodyweight doesn’t apply to you: “I have big bones!”, or “I’m more muscular than the average person”. I understand your concerns, but still going to give you the equation, just stay with me. This equation is called the Hamwi equation.

This is how you do it: allow 100 pounds for the first five feet of height, and 5 pounds(women) or 6 pounds (men) for each inch after. For example, if you’re height is 5 feet 4, you allow 100 pounds for the first 5 feet of height, and 5 pounds(women) or 6 pounds (men) for each of those 4 inches above five feet (that equals 20 for women). So, you’re ideal weight would be 120 pounds. You may not like that number, considering that you are more muscular than that, but we’re just going to use that number to figure out your calorie needs.

This ideal bodyweight times ten would give you the calories needed per day for your basal metabolic rate. Let’s say your ideal bodyweight is 120 pounds, times 10, that’s 1200. This means that your basal metabolic rate burns 1200 calories daily. If you’re laying flat on the bed, looking at the ceiling, you’re going to need 1200 calories.

Keep in mind there are just estimates, plus or minus. We have to add to this amount purposeful activity. Non-exercise voluntary movement may be the decisive factor in calorie burning. People who are constantly in motion burn more calories. This may be the secret weapon in terms of weight management. I’m sure you know someone who can eat whatever he wants and never gain weight. Yeah, those…

Set a timer and get up and move every 15 minutes. That can be a really good strategy in the long run. Moving around also refreshes your mind. So, this is a very healthy habit you can adopt.

When it comes to calorie balance, most people outeat their exercise. There are many methods for calculating calories needed per day for exercise, but generally it’s 100 calories per mile. If you go out to walk your dog for three miles, you burn around 300 calories. If you eat a huge chocolate cookie, that’s 450 calories, you outate your exercise!! Most folks really don’t account for the amount of calories they are taking in.

Most public agencies recommend to get 10000 steps per day. There are about 2000 steps per mile. So, in a 10000 steps day you might burned an additional 500 calories. Most folks, when they walk or exercise, overestimate the value of that.

Exercise and movement can be quantified by adding about 30% to your basal metabolic rate needs if you’re sedentary. What does sedentary mean? Sedentary means that other than activities of daily living you are not going out and walking or doing anything that’s purposeful and physical. If your calories needed per day by your basal metabolic rate are 1200, you can add about 360 calories. That’s not really a lot of food in today’s environment.

If you’re unbelievable active, meaning that you have a PHYSICALLY ACTIVE JOB (waitress, for example), AND you go out and get purposeful exercise, you can essentially double your calories needed per day by your basic metabolic functions. So, if your basic calories needed per day are 1200, you can double that to 2400.

Most of us, however, are going to sit at the middle of the road. This means you are moderately active. You may have a desk job but you go out and get regular activity. If this is your case, you can add 50% to the calories needed per day by your basal metabolic rate. In our example of 1200, total calories needed per day would be 1800.

Now, YOU should calculate how many calories you really need and stay within that range!
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