The Real Heart-Healthy Oils

30 03 2014

As much as I like to believe that we’re making progress in the world of nutrition, sometimes I see something that makes me stop and think otherwise.  The other day Precision Nutrition posted this chart from the great minds at the Cleveland Clinic:


Not all the information on this chart is wrong, but boy do they make some terribly outdated suggestions. It’s doubly disappointing to me, because I sadly love everything Cleveland (Go Browns!), but also because this is one of the top hospitals in the US, and no doubt the world. A while back I wrote a piece on how doctors shouldn’t give nutrition advice if they don’t have a formal education on the subject, and this might just be more of the same.

If you’ve read many of past articles, you already probably have a good idea about what I’m going to criticize about this chart, but here’s the skinny:

 1) “The FDA recognizes cooking sprays as safe”

Um, OK? Is that a suggestion that they should be used? Do we have permission? Seriously people, stay away from cooking sprays. If you need to spray your oils, do what it says on the following line and buy some extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil and put it in a manual spray bottle. Steer clear of the packaged cans that contain nitrous oxide, additives and whatever weird oil they claim to be inside.

 2) Suggesting several times that Canola oil is a good choice.

Canola oil isn’t the worst oil in the world, but it’s far from the best. Canola is a huge American cash crop, which is why I’m sure it gets such praise on this chart. Canola oil is convenient because it has a high smoke point, but there are serious question marks about the manufacturing process (GMOs, etc.) and the majority of canola oil used in food processing is at least partially-hydrogenated.  If you are using natural canola oil it won’t hurt you much, but make sure to avoid anything hydrogenated, as this is closer to an industrial-grade lubricant than it is an oil for human consumption. There are simply many better options out there.

 3a) “Saturated fats cause heart disease”

This is me, banging my head against a wall. Research has shown that saturated fats are not the enemy, but are only a problem when consumed in an unbalanced amount in an unhealthy diet. Saturated fat should be balanced with unsaturated fat to ensure optimal health.


3b) “Steer-clear of tropical-sounding oils like coconut, palm, palm kernel and cottonseed oils. They all contain saturated fats”

As we just covered, saturated fats aren’t evil. As a matter of fat, coconut oil is one of the best oils to cook with and has a plethora of health benefits. Cottonseed oil on the other hand, with it’s 50:1 omega-6:omega-3 ratio should definitely be avoiding. It’s ridiculous that these oils were lumped into the same category.


For cooking, stick to coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil (for when you want to cook with extreme heat). For sauces and dressings, use flaxseed oil, walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil.  If you balance these different saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, along with a diet containing eggs, lean meats and fish, you’ll have an excellent fatty acid profile and be in the best position to ward off cardiovascular disease.



The Ignorance of our Carbohydrate Culture

22 05 2013

I’m often asked why I hate carbs. Let’s get one thing straight: I love carbs. I live for the post-workout window that allows me to devour sugar without any negative consequences. Chocolate is probably my favourite food in the world. Belgian beer is a close second. With that being said, when I’m not lifting weights or getting exercise, I don’t touch carbs. Why? Because they serve next-to-no purpose. As I’ve mentioned before, carbs have one purpose in the human body: energy.

Let’s recap what happens when we eat carbs:

Blood sugar levels rise and insulin is released; the type of carb and amount consumed will dictate the magnitude of this response (note: consistently elevated levels of insulin will cause cells to acclimatize to this environment and become insulin resistant; untreated insulin resistance leads to type-2 diabetes, which leads to an early death; ipso facto, excessive crappy carbs lead to diabetes). Insulin drives nutrients into the cells of the body. Some nutrients will be shuttled to cells for energy and repair, and to the CNS for metabolic function. However, in the absence of exercise, the majority of these calories will be shuttled to fat cells and stored for later use. Our bodies are designed for survival and will only use what is necessary, while storing the rest for an emergency. This was important for our ancestors, but incredibly inconvenient in today’s carb-saturated society.bad-things-to-carbs

Simply put, carbohydrate consumption should mimic activity level.  If you are sedentary, there is no need to consume more than 100 g of carbs per day. If you are active, increase your carbohydrate intake accordingly. If you are sedentary and eat a lot of carbs, you will be unhealthy, either because you’ll gain a lot of weight from the excessive calories, or because you’ll be malnourished from a lack of important proteins and fats.

The action of carbs in the body is extremely easy to understand, yet the majority of the population consumes a high-carb, low-protein diet. Why?

  1. Carbs are cheap
  2. Due to this, most snacks and convenient food options are carb-based
  3. Carbs are generally delicious and many have literally been engineered to be addictive
  4. Companies that push carb-based “foods” are rich and have great advertising
  5. Due to this advertising, the general population believes that it is acceptable (and even healthy) to consume a mainly carbohydrate-based diet

All of these factors have combined to create our current Carbohydrate Culture. It’s convenient, so I should eat it. It’s delicious, so I’ve got to have it. Ignorance is bliss, right? Well frankly, we’ve known for years that excessive sugar intake causes obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As is common in our culture however, these facts are hidden by the aforementioned rich, carb-pushing companies and their flashy advertising campaigns.

Yep, this happened.

Yep, this happened.

But that’s just sugar, and not all carbs are created equal right? This is correct. Natural carb sources like true whole grains, quinoa, and potatoes aren’t going to hurt you nearly as bad and should make-up the majority (or entirety) of your carbohydrate intake. However, let’s not forget that carbs remain largely unnecessary unless you are an active person. And even these “good” carbs will raise blood glucose levels and elicit an insulin response.

The Insulin Index on Wikipedia provides us with telling information. The foods that cause the most undesirable blood sugar and insulin responses? Processed/sugar-based carbs. The foods that produce the lowest levels of satiety? Processed/sugar-based carbs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the foods that fill you up and don’t destroy your blood sugar? Protein-, fat- and fiber-rich foods. Not only will these kinds of food prevent you from developing chronic disease, but they provide the human body with the valuable precursors needed for the creation of hormones, antibodies, neurotransmitters, muscles, tissues, nervous system, etc., in addition to providing energy; silly carbs, a one-trick pony with an unspecialized skill.

In conclusion, sugar isn’t food, processed wheat isn’t food, and carbs should make up the smallest part of your diet. Eat your protein and fats, include veggies at every meal, and complement this diet with natural carb sources as your activity level dictates. If you want to be truly healthy, it’s time to open your eyes, eat what’s necessary instead of what’s desired, and leave the ignorance at the door.

For specific questions on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, don’t hesitate to send me a message!


Balance Those Fats!

10 05 2013

Precision Nutrition posted another great article today that I wanted to share: Research Review: Should you balance your fats for better health?

If you’ve been following along, the results won’t be shocking, but to recap, for optimal health you should:

– Consume a balanced fat intake (saturated and unsaturated)

– Avoid processed, chemically-created fats (hydrogenated/trans fats)

– Beware polyunsaturated omega-6 cooking oils- these are some of the most harmful fats to the human body



– Fats from whole foods (meat, fish, nuts, seeds, veggies, dairy, etc.) are almost universally healthy

– Fats from packaged, processed food is generally unhealthy (if it comes in a cardboard box, you’re on the wrong track…)

– Cold-pressed and extra-virgin oils are generally the healthiest/least processed

– Butter oil, macadamia nut oil, and coconut oil are the best cooking oils due to their high smoke point and low levels of omega-6 fatty acids

– Same old bottom line: Eat REAL food, increase omega-3 balance, and be healthy


That’s all for today folks, enjoy your weekend!


The Final Word on Protein

20 02 2013

layne38I’ve been getting a bit of flak lately about the dietary protein intake that I’ve been recommending. Somebody recently said to me that they read that we can only absorb 30 g of protein per meal, so eating more is a waste. This information is false.  In my research to back-up my claim, I came across an article from 2009 on the Precision Nutrition website. This article tackles the protein consumption issue and hammers home the point that I’ve been trying to make: the human body needs protein; not just for muscle synthesis, but for countless other metabolic functions.

Please feel free to read the article, but to summarize:

Two studies were conducted in 2009 with respect to protein intake.  Both studies showed that muscle protein synthesis was stimulated maximally in the 20-30 g range, regardless of higher protein consumption rates. I assume that this is where the myth about 20-30 g per sitting began.

However, before jumping to conclusions, should we consider that maybe the extra protein was actually being used by the body in other productive ways (aside from muscle synthesis)?

Look at the results from a different angle an ask yourself the following questions:

1) What else will you eat? Carbs? Remember that not only do carbs spike insulin like crazy, but they have a lower thermic effect than protein (more on this below). If you’re loading up with excessive carbs, not only will your body composition suffer, but your health will deteriorate over time due to constantly elevated blood sugar (i.e. diabetes). Fats and protein should almost always make up the majority of your caloric intake.

2) What about the other benefits?:

Increased thermic effect of feeding — While all macronutrients require metabolic processing for digestion, absorption, and storage or oxidation, the thermic effect of protein is roughly double that of carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, eating protein is actually thermogenic and can lead to a higher metabolic rate. This means greater fat loss when dieting and less fat gain during overfeeding/muscle-building.

Increased glucagon — Protein consumption increases plasma concentrations of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon is responsible for antagonizing the effects of insulin in adipose tissue, leading to greater fat mobilization. In addition, glucagon also decreases the amounts and activities of the enzymes responsible for making and storing fat in adipose and liver cells. Again, this leads to greater fat loss during dieting and less fat gain during overfeeding.

Metabolic pathway adjustment – When a higher protein (20-50% of intake) is followed, a host of metabolic adjustments occur.  These include: a down regulation of glycolysis, a reduction in fatty acid synthesis enzymes, increase in gluconeogenesis, a carbohydrate “draining” effect where carbons necessary for ridding the body of amino nitrogen is drawn from glucose.

Increased IGF-1 — Protein and amino-acid supplementation has been shown to increase the IGF-1 response to both exercise and feeding. Since IGF-1 is an anabolic hormone that’s related to muscle growth, another advantage associated with consuming more protein is more muscle growth when overfeeding and/or muscle sparing when dieting.

Reduction in cardiovascular risk — Several studies have shown that increasing the percentage of protein in the diet (from 11% to 23%) while decreasing the percentage of carbohydrate (from 63% to 48%) lowers LDL cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations with concomitant increases in HDL cholesterol concentrations.

Improved weight loss profile —Research by Layman and colleagues has demonstrated that reducing the carbohydrate ratio from 3.5 – 1 to 1.4 – 1 increases body fat loss, spares muscle mass, reduces triglyceride concentrations, improves satiety, and improves blood glucose management.

Increased protein turnover — All tissues of the body, including muscle, go through a regular program of turnover. Since the balance between protein breakdown and protein synthesis governs muscle protein turnover, you need to increase your protein turnover rates in order to best improve your muscle quality. A high protein diet does just this. By increasing both protein synthesis and protein breakdown, a high protein diet helps you get rid of the old muscle more quickly and build up new, more functional muscle to take its place.

Increased nitrogen status — Earlier I indicated that a positive nitrogen status means that more protein is entering the body than is leaving the body. High protein diets cause a strong positive protein status and when this increased protein availability is coupled with an exercise program that increases the body’s anabolic efficiency, the growth process may be accelerated.

Increased provision of auxiliary nutrients — Although the benefits mentioned above have related specifically to protein and amino acids, it’s important to recognize that we don’t just eat protein and amino acids — we eat food. Therefore, high protein diets often provide auxiliary nutrients that could enhance performance and/or muscle growth. These nutrients include creatine, branched chain amino acids, conjugated linoleic acids, and/or additional nutrients that are important but remain to be discovered.  And don’t forget the vitamins and minerals we get from protein rich foods.


Looking over this list of benefits, it’s hard to ignore the fact that we don’t just need protein for its effect on muscle synthesis.  Since a higher protein diet can lead to a better health profile, an increased metabolism, improved body composition, and an improved training response, why would anyone ever try to limit their protein intake to the bare minimum?

In conclusion: For optimal cellular function and healthy body composition you should aim for 0.7-1 g of protein per pound of body weight each day. This intake will make sure that you’re getting enough protein to reap all the benefits that this macronutrient has to offer, including but not limited to the muscle-building benefit. If you would like to lose some weight and tone up your body, try substituting some carbs for protein. It’s amazing what this small change can do!

For more information on protein and diet, don’t hesitate to contact me!


Macronutrient 411: Are You “on” Protein?

27 01 2013

Our diets are composed of 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein. I’m going to write a separate article on each explaining why certain macronutrients are preferable to others, which types of macronutrients should be ingested at which times, and other useful tidbits along the way.

Sidebar: I have to comment about the title of this post. It absolutely cracks me up when people ask me if I’m “on” protein. I honestly haven’t been asked this in a while, but when I started lifting weights back in university, I got asked this on a weekly basis. People threw around the question like it made perfect sense, as if whey protein powder was a kind of anabolic steroid. I would seriously hope that we are all “on” protein, much like we should all be “on” fat and “on” carbohydrates. If you aren’t, you’re probably reading this from the hospital. But I digress. Without further adieu…

Protein fast facts

1 g of protein provides 4 kcals of energy.

Dietary protein is absolutely necessary. Without a diet rich in essential amino acids, the human body will cease to function.

There are 12 non-essential amino acids (the human body has the ability to make these) and 8 essential amino acids, those that we must get from our diets. These include isoleucine, leucine, and valine (the BCAAs) as well as lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan.

Animal proteins are the highest quality proteins. Plant proteins are of a lower quality.

Higher levels of protein in the diet promote satiety (feeling full) and help to maintain a healthy body composition and immune function.

Proteins are critical for nearly every metabolic activity, including:

–  Production of energy (eg, the amino acid glutamine is a primary source of energy in intestinal cells).

– Production of glucose, ketone bodies, cholesterol, and fatty acids

– Synthesis of hormones, enzymes, antibodies, hemoglobin, neurotransmitters, etc.

– Liver protein synthesis

– Muscle protein synthesis

Types of protein

Protein is composed of amino acids. When amino acids join together, they form peptides. These peptides then link to form many different protein structures. Since dietary protein comes from plants and animals, it is already bound in these complex structures and the human body must break it down into individual amino acid groupings for use.  This is why we evaluate protein quality based on amino acid content. With adequate amino acids and energy in the diet, all the necessary proteins for optimal human physiological function can be formed later.

Like carbohydrates, different types of protein are absorbed into the blood stream at different rates. Slower digesting proteins release amino acids more slowly (meat, dairy, casein, etc.) while faster digesting proteins release amino acids more rapidly (whey protein, eggs, BCAAs, etc.). Slower digesting proteins therefore behave more like low GI carbohydrates while fasting digesting proteins behave more like high GI carbs.

Note: Going back to my article on Skipping Breakfast, this is why I also do not recommend eating whey protein/BCAAs/eggs upon waking, as when individually consumed they can cause a spike in insulin, shutting off the fat-burning process of the body. However, like with carbs, consuming fat and/or fiber in the meal will limit this insulin spike, as will choosing to consume slower digesting protein instead of sources that are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream.

BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) are absorbed faster than smaller amino acids. This is why they have recently become a very popular supplement for people that work out, because they enter the bloodstream quicker than any other type of dietary protein, which is what you want when you are working out (prevent muscle wasting, enhance muscle synthesis). It is important to note though, that high dietary intake of BCAAs can cause protein “congestion”, delaying the entry of individual amino acids into the bloodstream.

What does this all mean?

I covered a lot of this in my previous post, Why almost everyone should be on a protein supplement, but let me recap the important parts:

– Getting adequate protein from our diets is not simply important for guys that lift weights- protein is the macronutrient that keeps us all functioning on a daily basis.

– Without adequate protein in the diet, things like enzymes and structural proteins are cannibalized, and vital human functions begin to fail.

– Not all protein is created equal. The Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) uses the measurement of Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) to determine protein quality in the food we eat. Take a look at the chart below:


Although they rank lower on the scale, vegetable proteins can still provide all the essential amino acids needed by the human body. For those following a plant-based diet, it is therefore paramount to eat a varied intake of foods. Please note however, eating a plant-based diet puts you behind the 8-ball if your goals are to build muscle and maintain a lean body composition. Not only are plant-based proteins less bio-available, but they’re almost universally higher in either carbohydrate or fat than they are protein, meaning you have to take in a much higher caloric load to achieve the same quality and amount of protein. It is for this reason that I would never suggest such a diet to any of my clients; variety and inclusion of both animal and plant sources is the most logical and efficient path to both health and performance.

When it comes to special dietary restrictions, limiting amino acids is the biggest problem. The essential amino acid found in the smallest quantity of the food consumed is considered to be the limiting amino acid. In plant-based diets, lysine is often the limiting amino acid, as cereals and grains tend to be lysine-poor. Lysine is important for the conversion of fat to energy in the human body, as well as the synthesis of collagen and connective tissues, and also serves as an important regulator of calcium levels- again, as an essential amino acid, it is critical to life. Consuming a diet high in both beans (lysine-rich, tryptophan-poor) and wheat/rice (lysine-poor, tryptophan-rich) resolves this issue. Remember however, such a diet will be very high in carbohydrate and be less conducive to overall health and performance than a well-balanced diet inclusive of both animal and plant products.

How much protein do we need?

The recommended minimum amount of protein for sedentary (inactive) adults is 0.7g per kg of body weight. Please note: this is the minimum amount (to prevent deficiency and vital protein cannibalism) for an inactive person. As I stated above, amino acids are vital to our health and function, so why limit ourselves in any way? Recent research has shown that higher levels of protein in the diet can be vital to immune function (think health), metabolism (think fat-burning), satiety, weight management and overall performance. Due to this, many experts recommend protein levels that meet or exceed 1g per pound of body weight for both men and women. If weight-training or another type of high-intensity exercise is part of your lifestyle, don’t be afraid to consume upwards of 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight. When it comes to protein, more will not be detrimental.

When to eat what

Protein should be consumed at every meal. While it is fairly easy for the human body to maintain proper levels of carbohydrate and fat, it is actually quite difficult for the body to maintain a consistent amino acid pool with proper dietary intervention. Amino acids in the body are constantly being used (again, protein is required for nearly every metabolic function) so without dietary intake, things like enzymes and structural proteins will be cannibalized- again, something we want to avoid- and if this happens for an extended period of time, vital functions will being to shut down.

For example, as mentioned above, glutamine is a primary source of energy in intestinal cells. If we do not consume enough dietary glutamine, the body will break down muscle cells to provide the raw materials for intestinal glutamine needs. As you can imagine, this is undesirable for a number of reasons, again hammering home the point that consuming and adequate amount of high quality protein in the diet is paramount.

As certain types of protein absorb quickly and others slowly, there are ideal times to consume different types of protein. A few examples include:

– Although you all know how I feel about breakfast, if you are afraid of muscle-wasting, it would make sense to eat fast-absorbing protein first thing in the morning (whey protein, eggs, fish). However, if your concern is that you aren’t going to be able to eat again for a few hours, it would make sense to eat slower-digesting protein (meat, cheese, casein protein, etc).

–  During extended workouts (75+ minutes), either whey protein or BCAAs should be consumed to prevent muscle wasting. BCAAs are preferable as they are the fastest absorbing and are less likely to cause issues in the gastrointestinal tract.

– Post-workout it is ideal to consume a fast-digesting protein source (whey).

Long story short:

– Consuming an adequate amount of protein is critical to staying alive.

– There are 8 essential amino acids that must be consumed in the diet.

– Protein should be consumed at every meal, as it is constantly being used within the body and tissues will be cannibalized in the absence of dietary protein.

– Individuals with special dietary restrictions need to pay attention to the limiting amino acids in their diets. Eating a diet with a wide variety of protein sources will ensure that all essential amino acids are consumed.

– It is not advisable to eat a diet completely devoid of animal products.

– Different types of protein absorb into the body at different rates, making certain proteins preferable at specific times.

– Everyone in the general population should strive to consume at least 0.7g of protein per pound of body weight on a daily basis.

– Whole foods are preferable to protein supplementation, as they tend to have a slower absorption rate and are higher in vitamins and minerals. However, a protein supplement is far better than not achieving adequate levels of protein in the diet.

This wraps up the Macronutrient 411 series, detailing the importance of carbohydrates, fat and protein in the diet. If you have any additional questions on protein, or the other two macronutrients, please don’t hesitate to send me a message or to post a comment below.

I am so “on” protein.


Macronutrient 411: Fat

24 01 2013

Our diets are composed of 3 macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat. I’m going to write a separate article on each explaining why certain macronutrients are preferable to others, which types of macronutrients should be ingested at which times, and other useful tidbits along the way.

Fat fast facts

1 g of fat provides 9 kcals of energy.

Dietary fat is absolutely necessary. The human body can produce most types of fats, save for the two Essential Fatty Acids: linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid).

The breakdown of fat in the human body is a lengthy process (small intestine -> lymphatic system -> slow release into bloodstream), and fat does not actually enter the bloodstream until several hours after ingestion.

Dietary fat has several important functions in the human body, including:

– Energy (as per the 9 kcals per gram, fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient)

– The manufacture and balance of hormones

– The formation of our cell membranes

– The formation of our brains and nervous system

– The transport of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K

Types of fat

fatsThe smallest unit of fat is a fatty acid. Fatty acids combine to create the two primary types of fat: saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. The latter can be broken down into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. The ever important omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature, whereas unsaturated fats tend to be liquid.

Most dietary fat sources are a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is rare to belong entirely to one of the three types. The fat breakdown (roughly) for a few common foods:

Eggs: 39% saturated, 43% monounsaturated, 18% polyunsaturated

Beef: 55% saturated, 40% monounsaturated, 4% polyunsaturated

Avocado: 14% saturated, 72% monounsaturated, 14% polyunsaturated

Almonds: 6% saturated, 70% monounsaturated, 24% polyunsaturated

Aside from these naturally occurring fatty acids, we are also heavily exposed to another type of fat: trans fat. Trans fat is unsaturated, but created through industrial fat processing, or hydrogenation (take an unsaturated fat in liquid form and bubble hydrogen ions through it, causing it to become solid at room temperature, last longer, and taste better). These processed fats do not behave naturally in the human body (the bonds cannot kink, or adapt appropriately) so they pack into cell membranes very tightly and diminish blood vessel function and elasticity. These fats have been linked to countless health problems (high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, several other chronic diseases, etc.) Note: some trans fats exist naturally (eg, conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA); stick to a diet based on natural, unprocessed foods and you don’t need to worry about harmful trans fat.

The omega fatty acids

Humans evolved by eating a diet consisting of marine life, wild game, and/or inland plants- three important sources of the essential fats, omega-3 and omega-6.  The ratio between the two was 1:1. In our modern diet, the ratio is now closer to 20:1 in favour of omega-6, which is completely out of balance for optimal cellular health. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn oil (50:1 ratio, with margarine being the most common offender), safflower oil, soy oil, sunflower oil, and from corn-fed meat. This does not mean that you should remove all omega-6 fats from your diet however, as these fats are important for blood vessel constriction, inflammation, blood clotting, pain, etc. (these may all sound like bad things, but they are all critical to overall health).

The most important omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Flax and walnuts are great sources of ALA, but the most beneficial omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA) are found in marine sources such as fish oils and algae. Omega-3 fatty acids are so important because they keep our cells fluid (think: opposite of trans fat). Fluid cells facilitate many important functions, such as the transmission of neurochemicals like seratonin (which makes us feel happy!), and increased muscle cell insulin sensitivity (think: gain muscle, lose fat). These fatty acids also enhance our immune system, and low levels of DHA have been linked to memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and other mood disorders. As you may have guessed, omega-3 fats promote blood vessel dilation, anti-inflammation, anti-coagulation, decreased pain, etc.- or the absolute opposite effect of omega-6 fatty acids. Thus, it is easy to understand why a balanced ratio of 1:1 is required for optimal health.

Good fats vs. Bad fats

The general understanding of fats is that saturated fat and trans fat are bad, that unsaturated fat is good, and that omega fats are so good that you should consider supplementing. Although there is some truth to this, let’s set the record straight:

Saturated fat gets a bad rap because it is associated with an increased risk of cardivascular disease (among other health problems). Although there is a positive relationship between the two, the correlation only exists when dietary saturated fat intake is excessive and out of balance with the intake of unsaturated fats (and the relationship is further amplified if the diet is high in sugar/refined carbohydrate). Therefore, as long as your dietary fat intake is balanced between saturated and unsaturated fat, your health is not in danger. Saturated fat is not bad. Excessive irresponsible eating habits are bad. Also, some saturated fats (such as stearic fat, found in cocoa butter and beef) may actually lower bad cholesterol. So again, if you’re eating a healthy diet, saturated fat will be a part of the diet and will do more good than bad.

Bonus fact: Human breast milk, the “perfect” food for the rapidly developing human body, contains 54% saturated fat.

As discussed, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential (must be consumed in the diet, as they are critical to health and the human body is unable to manufacture them), so technically they are so good that you may need supplementation. However, we must not downplay the importance of all unsaturated fat, both mono and poly, as they are all extremely important for their beneficial effects on blood triglycerides, cholesterols, blood vessels, inflammation, and metabolism.

Sources of dietary fat

Wondering where to get your dietary fat? Here are some great options to include (Saturated, Mono, Poly) and those to avoid (Trans):

Saturated fat: from animals (beef, butter, cheese, eggs, etc.) and from tropical oils (cocount and palm)

Monounsaturated fat: from olives and olive oil, avocado, nuts (peanuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios, etc.), eggs, and some cheeses (Parmesan, Monterey jack, Roquefort, etc.)

Polyunsaturated fat: from omega-3/omega-6 supplements, flax, fish, algae, hemp and canola

Trans fat: from fried food (donuts, french fries, fried chicken, etc.), margarine, vegetable shortening, chips, microwave popcorn, frozen dinners and most processed/sugar-filled foods

Long story short

– For optimal health and functioning a balanced dietary fat intake, with a fairly even mix of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, is necessary.

– Linoleic and linolenic acid must be consumed in the human diet.

– Most foods contain a mix of saturated and unsaturated fat.

– A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats is also very important; we should try to achieve a 1:1 ratio by reducing our omega-6 intake and by increasing our omega-3 intake.

– Trans fats, not saturated fats, are linked to high cholesterol, health problems, and chronic disease- trans fats in the diet are the single most important correlate to heart disease.

– A high dietary intake of saturated fat is only detrimental to health when intake of unsaturated fat is low. Some saturated fats are beneficial to overall health.

If you have any additional questions on dietary fat, please don’t hesitate to send me a message or to post a comment below. Stay tuned for an article on the final macronutrient: Protein.

Happy Hump Day!


Macronutrient 411: Carbohydrates

18 01 2013

Our diets are composed of 3 macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat. I’m going to write a separate article on each explaining why certain macronutrients are preferable to others, which types of macronutrients should be ingested at which times, and other useful tidbits along the way.

Carbohydrate fast facts

1 g of carbohydrate provides 4 kcals of energy.

Glucose is essential to life- the brain and Central Nervous System (CNS) prefer glucose to other fuel and function best with a constant supply.

In times of low dietary carbohydrate intake however, the human body is capable of fuelling basic metabolic functions through keytone production and also by providing the minimum amount of glucose needed daily (~50 g) through the natural process of gluconeogenesis (ie, you do not need dietary carbohydrate in order to survive).

The main purpose of carbohydrates is to provide energy; either for immediate use or for storage in muscles and fat for later use.

Types of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are made up of saccharides (sugars). There are simple sugars (monosaccharides; glucose, fructose, galactose), short chain sugars (ogliosaccharides; sucrose, maltose, lactose) and long chain sugars (polysaccharides; starch and glycogen, which are digestible, cellulose and pectin, which are indigestible). As you may already know, some carbs provide a source of energy faster than others, depending on how quickly your body can handle them and turn them into energy. Carbs that break down slowly are said to have a low Glycemic Index (GI) and carbs that break down rapidly for energy are called high GI carbs.

If the story ended there, carbs would be very easy to understand. Unfortunately, there are other factors in play. When carbs are eaten with other food (fats, proteins), the GI of that individual carb becomes fairly meaningless, as these other macronutrients will slow digestion and absorption. The serving size of the carb source is also critical. Due to this, the Glycemic Load (GL) index was created to account for these variables (GL = GI x serving size). Despite these two great indexes, other factors like the age of the food, fiber content, timing of the meal, exercise prior to meal, etc. can all effect how the body will react as well, so the science of carb ingestion is far from exact.

Here is a small snapshot of GI and GL:

The numbers in the parentheses signify: (GL, GI)

The numbers in the parentheses signify: (GL, GI)

You’ll notice, for example, that carrots and macaroni have the same GI, but that the GL of macaroni is 8x greater. This means that you would have to eat 8 servings of carrots to equal the same blood sugar reaction as 1 serving of macaroni- I doubt anyone is going to eat that many carrots.

For a detailed look at GI and GL for pretty much every carb on the planet, check out this list. You’ll see the GI in the first two columns (2 values, one based on glucose and one based on white bread) and the GL is the last column of the expanded table.

What does this all mean?

Low GI carbs are digested and absorbed more slowly, and should comprise the majority of your carb intake. These carbs help to control blood sugar, insulin concentrations, energy levels, satiety and body composition. Think: vegetables, high fiber grains, legumes, nuts, etc. (usually carbs that are unprocessed/natural).

High GI carbs are digested and absorbed quickly, and should make up a smaller part of your diet. These carbs raise blood sugar quickly, causing spikes in insulin production, and negatively affect (in the absence of exercise) energy levels and body composition. Think: sugar, candy, breakfast cereal, bagels, potatoes (usually carbs that have been processed/refined).

Please note: Gluten intolerance is a raging fad right now. I am not an expert on this subject, and I have never had an adverse reaction to ingesting gluten, but due to my aversion for processed foods (gluten is found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species), I consume little-to-no gluten in my diet. Stick to natural, unprocessed carbohydrate sources and you don’t have to worry about gluten. What about the ever mighty whole grain? Yes, whole grains are full of valuable micronutrients, but if you are eating a healthy and complete diet, you will get enough of these micronutrients elsewhere. If you insist on eating whole grains, try to stick to unprocessed types: long-grain rice, quinoa, rolled oats, amaranth, sorghum, etc.

The two most important things to remember are 1) Digestion/absorption rate (What are you eating your carbs with?) and 2) Total amount (How much of the carb are you eating?). For example, although potatoes are a high GI food, they are not evil. There are exceptions to every rule. This article will explain to you why potatoes are awesome. Just remember, high GI foods are really only bad if you consume excessive amounts and/or if you eat them without any other foods; this is why candy and soda are so bad (usually eaten without other foods), but why potatoes aren’t so terrible (usually eaten as part of a meal, with protein, fat and fiber).

When to eat what

By now, you all know how I feel about breakfast, but if you had to eat carbs early in the day, they should be low GI carbs, or carbs that digest more slowly and will give you a longer-lasting, steady stream of energy. Eg) Rolled oats (NOT pre-packaged processed, sugar-added oatmeal packages) with eggs and veggies. The worst carbs to eat in the morning are large servings of sugary foods, especially in the absence of other macronutrients. Morning foods to avoid include: anything with a high sugar content, which (oddly enough) includes many “breakfast” foods: pancakes, white toast, bagels, breakfast cereals, etc.  Slow-digesting carbs are also the preferred fuel for endurance activities, and should be consumed prior to a competition.

Hormonally, we are more apt to store carbs as fat in the morning and less likely to do so in the evenings (insulin sensitivity decreases throughout the day).  This leads us to 2 important observations:

1) It is best to ingest the majority of dietary carbohydrate later in the day (unless you are an extremely active person and will completely deplete your carbohydrate stores in the morning).

2) Late afternoon/early evening is the ideal time for a workout. Resistance training induces glucose transport proteins to shuttle glucose to muscle cells. This is why a high carb post-workout meal (especially one containing high GI carbs) is less likely to contribute to fat storage, and more likely to result in muscle gain. Please note, the basic guideline for a workout is at least 60 minutes of exercise that makes you tired and sweaty.  If you do not meet this guideline, do not feast on sugar post-workout- you will store fat.

Long story short:

– Everyone should favour unprocessed, slower digesting carbohydrate sources.

– The majority of carbs should be consumed later in the day.

– High GI, sugary, processed foods should mostly be avoided; post-workout is the ideal time to consume these types of carbs.

– You can limit the damage of high GI carbs if you reduce your portion size or include other sources of fat, protein and fiber in the same meal.

Finally, read the ingredients list on the food you plan to buy at the grocery store and do your best to avoid eating foods that contain these ingredients:

High-fructose corn syrup: The number one source of calories in the US diet, and is linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Nearly all HFCS is made from genetically-modified corn and often contains traces of mercury as well. Avoid at all costs.

Enriched flours: Otherwise known as Wheat flour or Enriched White flour (if it doesn’t say WHOLE wheat, it’s not whole wheat). The fiber and nutritious germ (along with vitamins and minerals) have been removed in the refining process, then re-added to try and restore nutritional value. Pass.

Artifical food colouring: Developed from petroleum. Many are known carcinogens. If you see any of these names on a food label- Caramel color, FD&C Blue #1, Brilliant Blue FCF, Bright blue, Blue # 2, Ingtotine, Royal Blue, Red Number 3, Erythrosine, FD&C Red No.40, Allura Red AC, Yellow 5 and 6, FD&C Green Number 3, Fast Green, Sea Green- you might want to consider leaving it on the shelf.

There are many other ingredients that our bodies simply don’t need as well, so be vigilant and read your food labels! For extra credit, head over to Born Fitness and read this article on why carbs don’t necessarily make you fat.

If you have any additional questions on carbohydrates, please don’t hesitate to send me a message or to post a comment below. Stay tuned for articles on the other two macronutrients: Protein and Fat.

Happy Friday!