Sunday, February 28, 2010

Drug adverts not backed by science !!!

One would think that drugs advertised in medical journals would be backed up with scientific studies to justify their claims. Well apparently that assumption is not valid.

I watch a blog called Bad Science. The author of this blog does not like supplementation. So he is a critic of my pragmatic outlook - eat like you don't supplement and supplement like you don't eat. One needs critics - they keep you honest and on your game so to speak. However critics can be energy draining and divisive. Therefore I choose mine very carefully. What I like about Dr Ben Goldacre is that he is evidence based. Therefore when he is critical of some nutritional thing I know that he has good reason so makes sure I stay on the straight and narrow.

We today he has posted about medical trials and advertising in medical journals. It is shocking. The top medical journals like "Journal of the American Medical Association, the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine" were analyzed for how well their adverts were backed up by "good" science.
The bottom line only 40% were backed up properly. That is less than 50% ! Even I am shocked, I have quite a suspicious take on modern medicine, but even so I expect that more than half would have been backed up by good data. I suggest you read the whole post, it will shock you.  

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Peaches - vitamin C levels highly variable

Sweet juicy peaches picked straight from the tree... mmmmm that wonderful summer fruit. We are blessed, a next door neighbor a few years before we purchased our land had dumped the waste peaches from their tree onto our section. When we moved in there were at least 7 small trees. I have thinned them down to 4 different trees. The nice thing is that the genetics of the various trees mean we get a wider fruiting season than just one tree would give.

Was searching some historical papers and came across a 1942 paper that looked at vitamin C levels in peaches. In reviewing the literature they found many different stated levels. The graph to the right shows this.

You can see how wildly peaches vary in their vitamin C content. This makes a mockery of the 6.6mg/100 grams (or any other figure for that matter) that is the accepted vitamin C level for peaches.

 The study also looked at different levels of vitamin C with respect to (wrt) location in the fruit. The skin, the outside 5mm of the flesh and the inner 5mm of the flesh. The vitamin C was highest on the outside and lowest in the center of the peach as the graph shows, again there is significant variation and these peaches were from the same farm picked at the the same time and of the same ripeness. The highest level being in the skin and outer most parts of the flesh is disturbing. It is disturbing because when the peaches are canned the skin and outer layer is removed. Often in food preparation of fresh peaches the skin and outer layer is removed. Once again we are throwing out the most nutritious parts of the food!  

Interesting enough vitamin C level increases in peaches as it ripens. Often vitamin C levels drop as the acidity in the fruit drops. Even more fascinating is that as the peach moves from ripe to soft and mushy the vitamin C level increases. There is about 150% increase from hard peaches to ripe, and 200-300% increase from hard to soft and overripe.

Reference: G. M. Schroder, G. H. Satterfield, and Arthur D. Holmes The Influence of Variety, Size, and Degree of Ripeness upon the Ascorbic Acid Content of Peaches J. Nutr., May 1943; 25: 503 - 509.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cancer - 10 years on we still don't know

We have attended two funerals this year to people of approximately our parents age (or younger!). One a great uncle who had a wonderful wife who I always enjoyed chatting to at family do’s. The other Tiffany attended last week a lovely women, Vanessa,  who along with her husband played an extremely meaningful part in our maturing into young adults. Very tragic in both cases, young grandchild and children who got on well with each other and family.

So it is with some interest I uncovered a paper on diet and cancer prevention that I photocopied from the journal when I was getting into the “wellness” space way back in 2001. Here are some quotes from this paper:
The war on cancer, after 30 years of effort, is only partially won. The age-adjusted cancer mortality rate has declined 1% per year.
 I find this staggering over a 30 years of concentrated effort we have not moved forward significantly. A TED talk by David Angus is great for those who want to know why. However we do know what we need to reduce our risk of cancer. 
It is now estimated that nutrition and lifestyle factors may be determinates of up to 80% of large bowel, breast and prostrate cancer cases and of one third of all cancer cases. 
Ok so 30% of our cancers could be eliminated by dietary and lifestyle changes. What upsets me is that this paper is all but 10 years old. Given the time since this paper I would have expected the public health people to be broad casting this far and wide. 
The ...... expert panel came to a scientific consensus that cancers are largely preventable and that the most effective means of reducing risks are avoiding tobacco use, consuming an appropriate diet and limiting exposure to occupational and other environmental carcinogens. The panel estimated that 30–40% of cancer cases throughout the world are preventable by feasible dietary means. The evidence is convincing—or probable—that diets high in vegetables and fruits protect against cancers of the mouth and pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum, pancreas, lung, larynx, breast and bladder. Consumption of 400–600 g/d or more of fruits and vegetables and a variety of fruits and vegetables could, by itself, decrease the overall incidence of cancer by at least 20%, if implemented over time. 
So here we have more studies showing that diet is very important. Go measure out 500 grams of vegetables (vege's are better for you than fruits). This is equivalent to two 250ml cups. However it will be more like three cups because when serving out vegetables you have spaces between them so they are bigger volume than just water.This is quite a lot of vegetables!

Have a look at the following diagram, taken from the paper, of cancer development. Don't worry about the fancy names, see normal on the left and cancer on the far right. What the paper is saying is that the in-between steps can be prevented with nutrition and lifestyle changes.  

Cancer-causing agents and risk factors act or interfere with dietary constituents, such as tobaccos use, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, hormones and growth factors, radiation, environmental chemicals and infections agents.
Any thing on this list that concerns you? I get concerned that in the poor suburb we live in people burn rubbish all the time including plastics! 

The level of exposure of the cell DNA to those and other carcinogens depends largely on the general quality of diet; the presence of bioactivated dietary constituents, including antioxidant vitamins found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, counteracts the effect of these food carcinogens.

So what should be done about this information, the paper stated:

The national goal of cancer prevention programs is now focused on the need for dietary supplements, functional foods and drugs to prevent the onset of intraepithelial neoplasia or suppress or prevent its progression to invasive cancer.
Taking dietary supplements to increase our nutrition - what a clever idea (excuse the sarcasm!) 

A new paradigm for die and cancer prevention, research and strategy must be develop to include the nutrition modulation of the carcinogenesis pathway by nutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals. This includes biomarkers of the consumption of key dietary compounds.
Markers of dietary compounds would be great. That would tell us how much nutrition we are truly eating as our food can be significantly modified in nutrient levels before we eat them. Furthermore people have different levels of absorption and utilization. Homocysteine and CRP are good starts, but we need many more.

By combining chemoprevention approaches using single nutrients with multiple dietary constituents and functional foods, the scope of the future cancer prevention strategies will be broadened. Research on eating behavior and change dietary patterns as well as psychobiological approaches must be included in any cancer prevention strategy. 
I like the psychological side of things, eating and emotion are closely linked. Furthermore we change slowly and don't like massive change. If you didn't grow up in a culture which ate insects it is rather difficult to imagine doing this - even if they are nutritional wonders. 

Reference: Vay Liang W. Go, Debra A. Wong and Ritva Butrum Supplement: AICR's 11th Annual Research Conference on Diet, Nutrition and Cancer. Diet, Nutrition and Cancer Prevention: Where Are We Going from Here? J. Nutr. 131:3121S-3126S, November 2001.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chickens and campylobacter

Apparently that contamination of NZ chickens with campylobacter is 3 times more than Australia and 30 times higher than the USA. With up to 90% of fresh chicken contaminated. This would help explain why NZ has such a high level of campylobacter. This is rather shocking... but not as shocking as what I found later in the article. 

What I find worse is a myth busters section of the article. It states:
Myth: Chickens are fed antibiotics to make them grow faster.
Fact: The improvements in growth rates achieved over the years is not due to antibiotics........ The Australian Chicken Meat Federation recommends the use of antibiotics in two ....... ways. Therapeutic agents – used to treat bacterial infection in sick birds, preventative agents – used to prevent disease occurring in healthy animals
Talk about smoke and mirrors. So antibiotics are fed to chickens. This makes sure the chickens are healthy. Healthy chickens grow faster. So anybody can see that chickens are feed antibiotics, thus they grow faster. Talk about splitting hairs to try and make a bad practice look acceptable.

Picture credit

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Feed your sperm

Feed your sperm. Great title isn’t it?! Teading through my back files came across a New Scientist article with feed your sperm as its title.

The article went onto say 15% of couples have problems conceiving (I’m surprised that it is that low, in my experience it is higher than this). Fascinatingly enough  it is more likely to be the guys who have the problem.

They took men who were “subfertile” that is 5 – 20 million sperm per ml of semen (>20 is considered fertile). None of them had clinical signs of folic acid or zinc deficiency. However after 26 weeks (1/2 yr) of taking zinc sulphate and folic acid the number of healthy sperm increased by 74% !

The zinc I can understand, as 10-15mg are ejected when males orgasm (which is why men often need to supplement with it). However the same level of zinc without folic acid did not make any changes. Goes to show how interrelated your body nutrients are. So if you have any fertility concerns you should take a good multi for a few months as see if it makes any difference.    

Reference New Scientist 23rd March 2002 from Fertility and Sterlitily Vol 77 pg 491

Monday, February 22, 2010

Post harvest loss of vitamin C in spinach

We all know that once picked nutrients decrease in produce.  See graph to the left, clicking will enlarge it.

Unsurprisingly unrefrigerated spinach leaves soon loose all of their vitamin C. However refrigerated spinach also rapidly lost 25-30% of the vitamin C after one day in storage. It seems to then plateau, but between the 3rd and 5th day rapid loss occurs leaving less than 50%. Given that it takes at least 2-3 days for spinach to appear on the shelves it has lost a good proportion of it nutrients.... so grow your own or eat it quickly.

Oh and by the way this data was publish in 1936.

Reference: Ijdo, J., The influence of fertilizers on the carotene and vitamin C content of plants. Biochemical Jounral vol 30 no 12, 1936.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Vitamin C - sample variablitiy

Had a big clean up of office, threw out lots of paper and uncovered some very interesting articles that would have been good in my book..... such is the issue with having so many paper files :) So will be a few posts from these papers over the next we while.

The paper was published almost 20 years ago in 1991, in the first paragraph on the introduction they state:
It has long been known that the vitamin C content in a given food can vary appreciably depending on growing conditions, stage or maturity, regional differences, and seasons of the year. variations within a given fruit or vegetable also significant. 
It has long been known????!!! When did you find out about the variation in vitamin C?! I know I didn't know about it until the 21st Century, 10 years after it was written. Hence you can see the massive gulf between what researches know and what the general public know.

Let me pick out a few results:
  • Oranges, which people"know" are vitamin C foods range from 52-78 mg/100 g. That is approximately a 50% increase.
  • Grapefruit, another citrus varies from 21-31mg/100g. That is again a 50% increase
  • Potatoes, which in the Western diet significantly contribute to vitamin C intake, could have levels of 11mg/100g or 27 mg/100g depending on cultivator. That is more than a 300% increase. 
Due to this variation they conclude about human studies:
The large range of values for the vitamin content in a given food suggests further than in human diet studies, when the major sources of vitamin C are from a few foods, daily analysis are required for the necessary precision.
I haven't specifically gone looking for vitamin C studies based on food, that said this is the first time I have come across a recommendation that the exact food eaten on that day should be measured for the vitamin C content. Undertaking vitamin C measuring is complex and somewhat pricey so every study I have read uses tables cause this is simpler and faster. 

Reference: Vanderslice and Higgs Vitamin C content of foods: sample variability. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;54:1323s-7s.  Picture credit.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Weston Price Foundation is right about saturated fats

The Weston Price Foundation preaches that you should eat high nutrient foods. Nutrients that are fat soluble like vitamin A, carotenoids, vitamin D, vitamin K, and vitamin E get concentrated by animals into their fats. This means that one should eat foods that are high in fat, as these are high in the fat soluble nutrients. For example they champion eating things like:
  • Eggs (spot the difference between free range and caged to the left).
  • Dairy products
  • Fatty fish, fish eggs, deep sea fish
  • Livers and kidneys 
  • Cold pressed oils (olive, avocado etc) 
Clearly these animals/plants must be feed a high nutrient diet. Therefore they need to be out in the sun, eating fresh grass, fresh seeds, fresh insects (for fish and chickens) etc.

In a natural system where ever you find fat, you find heaps of antioxidants, so if you have a higher fat diet you would expect to have a lower risk of heart disease and strokes. However for the last decades one of the standard recommendations is a low fat diet to reduce heart disease / stroke risk. Given that most animals are raised in intensive production systems they don't get to eat their natural diet so they are likely to be low in nutrients. 

Therefore diets high in saturated (animal) fats may or may not show a health benefit / detriment because no studies that I am aware of have differentiated animal fats based on production system.

However it is very interesting to see that a meta analysis of studies that investigated the correlation between saturated fat and heart disease has just been undertaken. This meta analysis looked at studies that took 5 - 23 years and had 347 747 subjects. Of these 11 006 developed CHD or stroke. These are rather impressive numbers. Well what was the conclusion: 
Intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD [Chronic Heart Disease] , stroke, or CVD [Chronic Heart Disease]. A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD . 
So there we have it - decades of accepted good medical practice has no grounding in reality!

Picture credit. Reference: Patty W Siri-Tarino, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu and Ronald M Krauss Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.  Am J Clin Nutr 91: 535-546, 2010.  doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Plant, buy, eat, consume CHERRY tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes appear to be the best form of tomato to eat. Have been doing some research around lycopene after my horrendous post about lycopene.As you would expect the amount of lycopene is very affected by plant breed. It also varies due to :
  • Climate. The tomatoes produced in climates that have hot dry summers and wet winters (Mediterranean) have more nutrients than those grown in climates that have snow during winter and rain in summer (continental). However using a green house or tunnel to grow tomatoes produces redder tomatoes but interestingly enough they don't have higher levels of lycopene or other fat soluble nutrients.
  • Nutrients increase as tomatoes ripen. Lycopene, phenolics, flavonids and vitamin C all increase during the ripening. 
  • Post picking green house tomatoes vitamin C levels decrease by 12% after 5 days storage in the dark

Consistently cherry tomatoes came out as being more beneficial in terms of lycopene and other nutrients/antioxidants. It is thought that is this because of the high surface area to volume ratio. In simple terms there is lots of skin for the sun to shine onto, it is thought that the sunlight increases the good stuff in the tomatoes. So the smaller the tomato there is more of the highly nutritious outer parts, than the less nutrient dense parts in the middle of the tomato. So make sure you plant, purchase and eat lots of cherry/small tomatoes

Now I should point out that we should have a range of tomato colors yellow, red, deep red, purple..... also consider - do you eat a whole big tomato in one sitting once you have taken a slice off it. Or in the same sitting would you only eat say one cherry tomato. Because a whole big tomato, due to its larger nature will have more overall nutrients than one small tomato. Hence you should eat cherry tomatoes by the handful, not in small amounts.    

Photo credit and References:
1) Kacjan Marsić N, Sircelj H, Kastelec D. Lipophilic antioxidants and some carpometric characteristics of fruits of ten processing tomato varieties, grown in different climatic conditions. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Jan 13;58(1):390-7.
2) Jesús Periago M, García-Alonso J, Jacob K, Belén Olivares A, José Bernal M, Dolores Iniesta M, Martínez C, Ros G. Bioactive compounds, folates and antioxidant properties of tomatoes (Lycopersicum esculentum) during vine ripening. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Dec;60(8):694-708.
3) Molyneux SL, Lister CE, Savage GP. An investigation of the antioxidant properties and colour of glasshouse grown tomatoes. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2004 Nov;55(7):537-45.

When does the good cancel the bad

When you combine good food and bad food do you come out even, backwards or forwards. This is a question I often think about. There is no simple answers, however the questions I have are like:
  • I've just made a small amount of garlic bread for supper. Took 1/3 of french stick (white bread/white death) then made garlic butter, lashings of garlic, fistful of fresh parley (Italian), wholesome butter. Hmmm yummy. Does the health benefits of garlic, parsley and butter out weigh the bad of the white bread?
  • When you sprinkle sugar on your stewed plums (in the middle of winter cause we freeze them free flow in summer) do you make it nutritionally neutral. Plums are nearly always to sour/tart to eat by themselves, but when you put white sugar on them - was does this do to the nutrition. (we often get around this by putting a few plums at a time in stewed apple / apple crumble thus adding color, flavor and nutrition without any extra sugar as the apples have enough. 
These are the things that keep we wondering about lifestyle choices we make.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The question of sugar

Have been invited by tvCentral to be on the InDepth show on the 19th of February. Will be discussing the issues around sugar. Below are some questions that may be answered in the show. If they aren't you can read this after the show.

   1.  Why has there been a rise in consumption of sucrose and fructose?
Because sugars taste good. However like most drugs you get immune to the effect so need more. An apple tastes sweet, however if you an apple after a lolly it doesn't taste sweet. So as more and more foods contain sugar, the sugar level needs to rise to maintain the same perceived level of sweetness.

   2. How do fructose and sucrose differ?

Carbohydrates, are carbon-hydrates. That is carbon with water attached to them.  The two most common building blocks are glucose and fructose. They are very similar except the water part is moved around. Sucrose is made up of two basic carbohydrate building blocks both glucose and fructose.  

   3. Fructose is called an impurity in the sucrose refining process, it is one of the components removed, so how did it become a sweetener that is used today?
Both fructose and sucrose are found in most fruits, and unsurprisingly in sugar cane as well. Fructose was thought to be better for you as it has a lower GI.So it became a "good"sweetener

   4. Why do some people have fructose intolerance?
Fructose needs to be carried by RBC to the liver were it is made into glucose. Glucose is the only sugar that the body uses for fuel. Some people don't have the right 'bit" on there RBC to carry the fructose away. So the fructose stays in the intestine. Bacteria (you have about 1 kg of them in your bowel) then use it as food producing gas, bloating etc as a side effect.  

   5. Are sweeteners responsible for the chronic diseases that are so rampant in our society? Why? High blood pressure, heart disease etc.?

   6. Are Fructose and /or sucrose responsible for insulin resistance and weight gain? Why?
A high sucrose diet (this includes starches) causes the insulin level to massively peak, then go negative. See here for a diagram. After a few years of this the pancreases that makes insulin wears out and you get type II diabetes / insulin resistance. The weight gain occurs as the body can't use the glucose in the blood as there is no insulin. Therefore the liver turns the glucose into fat for storage. Ironicly the body is starving for glucose, yet it can't use it.

   7. Why then have these sweeteners been recommended to diabetics over the years with the claim that they do not elevate blood pressure or cause weight gain?

This is due to an incomplete understanding of body chemistry. Glucose causes type II diabetes. Therefore remove the sugar and you reduce risk of diabetes. There decisions were made by highly intelligent scientists. However they were specialists. So they didn't know the effects of increasing fructose (or any other sweetner). Therefore we have recommendations that are not in the best for holistic health and wellness.  

   8. Why is there so much controversy over the whether the sugars are responsible for disease and obesity?

Because historically fat was seen as the enemy (remember sugar consumption has increased massively over the last decades so 50-100 years ago people were more likely to have a high fat diet rather than a high sugar diet). Therefore carbohydrates were seen as good. Also remember that the people who developed the food pyramid would have been through the depression and at least one world war. Therefore possibility of food rationing was ever present. Most people would prefer to eat 1/2 a loaf of bread to get there daily energy intake rather than consume a few tablespoons of oil.

It takes time for people to change their mind set, hence the controversy.

   9. What foods/beverages contain the largest percentage of these sugars?

How long is a piece of string? Check the label (see below).  The more something has been processed the more likely hood of sugar being added. 

  10. There are those that could be described as sugarholics, is this a medical condition or diagnosis?
Sugar addiction information can be found here. Sweet tasting food or drink activates the feel good parts of the brain (beta endorphin receptor sites). These are the same sites that are activated with morphine or heroin. However as there is no scientific consensus on what make a "addiction" or "addict" it is a gray area. Withdraw symptoms are my best rule of thumb. Go without sugar (or coffee, or any other suspected "drug"). If you get cravings, get grumpy, feel queasily etc you are likely to be addicted.     

  11. Most of the research coming out about these sugars is American based, what is NZ doing about the issue?

  12. Do we have to totally avoid all products with sugar in? Why? At what age should we take this more seriously?

The simple answer is yes we should avoid all processed foods. Remember that fruits are often high in sugars, thats why they taste so good. However fruits also come packed full of great nutrients.However we live in the modern world. Both partners working, time strapped etc. Therefore the question is how do we change our lifestyle and our mindset so we don't need to eat processed food? The answer to this is - at every meal ask yourself how can this be more healthy. This means over the years you will migrate to a low sugar diet. There are also herbs that have a natural sweetner in them.

  13. If we want to avoid these sweeteners, what do we look for in the ingredients list on the product?

Check the per 100gram label. Sugar can be "hidden" in products by adding various sugar types or components that have high sugar component. However the product must state how much sugar is in the product. So if it is more than 10% eg  >10 grams out of 100 grams it is to high in sugar.  Same rule of thumb works for fat as well.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Bad !

In my recent post I discussed lycopene levels in the blood and that ≥17.97 μg/dL was good. However I made a major error - I didn't include in the post what this means in real life. There was no data about what you could do to achieve this level. Thus it was a useless post because it didn't give you specific detailed information regarding what steps you should take to achieve this level.

I fell into the trap of thinking knowledge was wisdom. My apologies. Will try to be more specific with my future posts allowing you to apply knowledge. It is the wise application of knowledge that wisdom flows. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Healthy eating in the bush

When tramping with the kids. We have a wonderful time where great memories were made. As chief cook and food prepare I loved the convenience (and weight) of prepackaged pasta meals, high nitrate bacon and dehydrated peas for our main dinner. Followed by an adult only dark chocolate.  Simple, easy to make, clean up. Wonderful.

Being the nutrients guy I wondered about eating healthy in the bush. Fitness aside it is the B-vitamins that give you energy. 1 gram of fat (or one cubic centimeter) has enough energy to power a 100km walk! So it is not the energy we lack but the ability to turn this energy into stuff your body can use. Hence B-vitamins are so important as they are involved in turning fat (and carb's) into energy the cells can use. We take kids B-vitamins which we feed to them at rest points if they are getting tired, this tactic work well. 

So how could we increase B-vitamin uptake in the bush without taking in a home grown green stuff? I have a copy of Andrew Cowe's classic:  A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand.There are a couple of plants you can eat that are nutritious and easy to recognize.

First up try the young shoots of Supplejack. It got is name as jack was the term used 150 years ago to describe something that was useful at a whole lot of things, hence jack of all trades. Find a growing end and snap it off. You can eat it straight, I've found it has a texture of asparagus (maybe this is a visual thing) and a taste that is vegetable like. Quite nice steamed with some garlic.... The only problem is that supplejack tends to grow upwards so fresh shoots don't tend to be within arms reach so you only find a few for each supplejack mess. Check out here for more supplejack photos and information from Uni of Auckland.

The other thing is soft fern fronds. I don't think there is any poisons ferns in NZ. (maybe even in the world). However some are definitely not edible! Once you have figured out which ones are ok there is a multitude of options to choose from. Only the very young not yet uncurled fronds are soft enough to be considered edible. This means that the plant has to be growing, hence the ground must be warm and damp, so spring and Autumn are the best times for these. Also they tend to be small so you need quite a few to make a dish - I used fronds off my own ferns are garnishes / something a little different to eat. I have tried hen and chicken fern, and kiokio (above to the right) finding them very pleasant. There are many other ferns which I have yet to try. 

Lastly I have nibbled on kawakawa (click on left for larger picture) and also boiled it with other herbs in my beer/gruit making. Haven't tried it in a meal however.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Geography matters when it comes to your health.

TED talks are fascinating. Here is one that links your geographic location with pollution and resultant health issues. I wonder if there is a map like this for NZ or the country you live in.

I remember years ago doing a questionnaire by Nutrlite about if I lived next to a train track (which I did). I couldn't figure out why they would ask this question. I suspect now that train tracks are associated with heavy (and hence polluting) industry.

lycopene, painkillers and Kidney disease

Painkillers (analgesics) are bad for you. They are nasty chemicals that your body must get ride of. You can view them as a poison and that is why some are used by people to commit suicide. However they are really useful substances. I am very grateful for painkillers. When you are in pain this is nothing like that wonderful feeling that washes over you as your painkillers kick in.

Kidneys filter out poisons in your blood stream (using the P450 pathway). Thus kidney disease may be caused by painkillers as the kidneys have to work overtime to get ride of the painkillers.  

Lycopene is a red pigment (picture on left)  in fruits and vegetables, most famous fore being an antioxidant in tomatoes.

A study looked at the blood levels of lycopene and chronic kidney disease.  Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is when your kidney is basically stuffed. It can be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure along with other reasons. The study found that higher lycopene levels reduced the probability of chronic liver disease. Specially:
  • Plasma lycopene level ≥17.97 μg/dL had probability of 0.32 of CKD
  • Plasma lycopene level ≥17.97 or 7.72–17.97 μg/dL had probability of 0.49 of CKD
  • When compared with a plasma lycopene level <7.72 μg/dL
A significantly higher risk was demonstrated in analgesic users than in non-users. This confirming that kidneys might be overworked with painkillers. However interestingly enough a significantly lower risk was shown in subjects who used analgesics on an as-needed basis than in non-users. This means people who do not use painkillers have a higher risk of CKF than those who us them periodically. I wonder if this is due to the stress that the body has when it is in pain.

The question is it the high lycopene intake that helps prevent kidney disease or is high lycopene indicative of a high fruit and vegetable diet which would be high in other antioxidants/micro nutrients? Either way this is great reason to eat high lycopene fruits and vegetables, lifting a list of wikipedia we find that:

Dietary sources of lycopene
Source μg/g wet weight
Gac 2,000–2,300
Raw tomato 8.8–42
Tomato juice 86–100
Tomato sauce 63–131
Tomato ketchup 124
Watermelon 23–72
Pink grapefruit 3.6–34
Pink guava 54
Papaya 20–53
Rosehip puree 7.8
Apricot < 0.1

Also red bell pepper, seabuckthorn, wolfberry(Gojiberry) contain lycopene. The two question that brings to mind is how much should I eat of these to raise my blood plasma levels to where do I get some≥17.97 μg/dL and where do I get some Gac from? Hopefully I will find the answers to these questions as I continue my journey through life.

Reference: Shou-Shan Chiang M.D., Cheng-Wei Tai M.S., Chi-Jung Chung M.S., Horng-Sheng Shiue M.D., Jin-Bor Chen M.D., Chien-Tien Su M.D. and Yu-Mei Hsueh Ph.D. Micronutrients and lifestyles in Taiwanese patients with stage 3 to 5 chronic kidney disease. Nutrition. Volume 26, Issue 3, March 2010, Pages 276-282. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2009.04.021

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"trick" yourself and your family to eat more vege's

Vegetables are wondrous. High vegetable consumption is associated with a multitude of health benefits include length of life and quality of life. These are important measures!

However if you are like me - I don't like vege's. My dad eats piles of vege's (and looks healthy and young) however I didn't get that vege loving gene. I got my maternal grandfather gene of cooking and a sugar tooth. Therefore I am always on the lookout for things that will help me eat more vege's.

A study published today looked at increasing the vegetable serving size at either 180, 270, or 360 grams. The higher the level of vegetable on the plate the higher the vegetable consumption.  So serve yourself and your family bigger serves of vegetables at they will eat more. Try weighing out a 360 gram vege serve it is quite big.

I think it is that belief that is "make sure you finish everything on your plate" and "think about the starving people in Africa who would love to eat that". Thus we get the guilts when we don't eat everything. I can remember when I was in the USA on a work trip and when they brought out the bread rolls while I waited I only ate one, when the meal came out I only ate the salad and meat leaving most of the potato fries. The waitress was very concerned that something was wrong and looked at me really weird......   

Reference: Barbara J Rolls, Liane S Roe and Jennifer S Meengs  Portion size can be used strategically to increase vegetable consumption in adults Am J Clin Nutr (February 10, 2010). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28801
Photo credit: Simon Howden

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Free range is better for you

I totally support the ideas and concepts of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Amongst other things they recommend eating free range meats. The animals should be exposed to sunlight, to make vitamin D, and eat natural foods eg grass for cows/sheep and bugs, seeds, vege's for chickens and other birds.

The reason for this these animals then concentrate up nutrients into there meat and organs, especially the fat soluble vitamins (A, carotenes, D, E and K + omega 3 fats) which we struggle to get enough of in our diet.

This makes all the meats more nutritious. A study has just been published that confirms this. Turkeys were feed a processed food diet (pellet feed) or this plus olive leaves or vitamin E supplements.

Upon harvesting the breasts were stored for 12 days and analyzed how much oxidation had occurred. Unsurprisingly the turnkey meat from turkeys on the higher antioxidant foods reduced the oxidation in there oxidation in storage. The higher the level of anti-oxidant in the diet the lower the level of oxidation.

Unfortunately this study was probably done to try and extend the shelf life of turkey breasts. However it shows that if you eat meat from chickens that are kept in coops that are moved around on grass - so they can eat green stuff which had vitamin E in it this will be much better for you.

Me and my brother once shot a wild turkey (they are a pest around here) in dressing it to eat we were amazed that the fat was fluorescent yellow. So much so it took me a few seconds to figure out what it was. None of this white stuff you see on chickens in the supermarket..... clearly the turkeys had fat soluble nutrients stored in its body fat. Another reason to eat food that can graze like they were created to.

Photo credit: Tom Curtis
Ref: Evropi Botsoglou, Alexandros Govaris, Efterpi Christaki and Nikolas Botsoglou Effect of dietary olive leaves and/or α-tocopheryl acetate supplementation on microbial growth and lipid oxidation of turkey breast fillets during refrigerated storage. Food Chemistry Volume 121, Issue 1, 1 July 2010, Pages 17-22 doi:10.1016/

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You know how your health is.....

I believe that the body is interconnected hence previous post about impotence and heart disease, or another post that shows older looking people die younger. So here is another example of this. Older men in Brazil were asked about their health to say if their health was:
  • Poor
  • Fair 
  • Good 
  • Excellent
Over the two year study those who rated themselves as poor or fair where more likely to die than those who said they were good or excellent. It must be noted that to obtain these indications the effect of
 age, regular use of the public health system, current smoking, and acute cardiovascular disease

were removed. This makes sense as someone who is 80 is more likely to die than someone who is 65, or a smoker is more likely to die than a non smoker.

This tells me that we know how good our health is, let us take the time to listen to our bodies.

Another paper based upon the same study looked at what did the poor or fair health men have, or didn't have. They were looking for indicators that other people could use to gauge their health. They found that people with poor or fair health had the following:
  • Number of chronic conditions
  • Regular use of medication 
  • Recent hospitalization 
  • Not currently working 
  • Low schooling 
  • Being a user of the public health care system
The first three make sense. If you body is breaking down then you will have chronic conditions, regularly use medication and likely to have been to hospital. Thus we should be very alert if we have any of these. Not currently working is a more difficult concept. This study was done in Brazil were I would suspect there is very little social wealth, so the elderly would continue to work in some capacity. So in a Western context this might be a active participant in the local community events (volunteer / Rotary etc). Low schooling this might be a secondary correlation for example highly educated people are less likely to smoke than those who quit school at a young age. Lastly the public health care system, with out knowing the geopolitical background it is hard to judge. However I suspect that you only use the public system when you can't afford private care. Therefore this is an indication of poverty - or lack of poverty.    

I have always believed that most of know how healthy we are. Now appart from that little voice inside that tells some of us that we should be eating more healthy and taking better care of ourselves - I do take note that whatever we are doing that little voice tells us we are not good enough.... so time to give that voice the boot. However we need to be more objective about our health - or lack of it.

So in conclusion - if your body is not well it shows up. So change for the better now when you have the chance and the time. Your body can health itself if you provide the right nutrients and environment.

Reference 1:  Lívia Maria Santiagoa, Cristiane de Oliveira Novaesa and Inês Echenique Mattos Self-rated health (SRH) as a predictor of mortality in elderly men living in a medium-size city in Brazil Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2010.01.004

Reference 2:Lívia Maria Santiagoa, Cristiane de Oliveira Novaesa and Inês Echenique Mattos. Factors associated with self-rated health among older men in a medium-sized city in Brazil.  Journal of Men's Health doi:10.1016/j.jomh.2009.10.005

Do we send enough time preparing food?

Was given a 1962 cook book by my sister last Christmas. She gave it to me as (1) I like cooking and (2) my mum has always used this cook book - except hers had big round circles on the back were it had laid on a hot element! so it has some sentimental value. 

Sat down had a good read of it yesterday. What I was struck by was how much time things took. Perpetration and cooking time. There was a distinct lack of any processed foods. You had to make your own breadcrumbs, your own custard.... and there was nearly no machines, no electric beaters and food processors /blenders were clearly the latest technology.

Not only did you have to make these things you spent hours and hours preparing food and making it swish. Lots of time in making mashed potatoes into swirls and re cooking them, that kind of stuff.

The other interesting thing was the effect of season. It was a UK based book so fish types were seasonal along with various produce.

Today's cookbooks are all about speed in preparation. Speed because we have no time to spare because we have a billion other things, like work. Speed takes over - we have gadgets for everything, canned, dried, precooked, frozen. Everything you need whenever you need it. 

I am not suggesting that we go back to the 60's - the book states a number of times that housewives (!) would find this helpful..... However it has made me question how much time should I be spending in the kitchen and preparing things. We do a reasonable job of eating in season as we eat from the garden whenever possible and tend to purchase the cheaper fruits and vegetables which means that they are often NZ fruits / vegetables as they are in the "glut" of production.

I wonder about our lives of convenience - are they really that convenient? Mum and Dad working, having no time or energy, always busy, always doing. How to balance the reality of cash flow vs the rhythm of nature. Maybe I should be scheduling more of my day into food preparation. I really consider anything that takes more than a hour to do a waste of time (except smoking which I had my first successful go at it last week after Tiffany purchased some manuka wood chips as a Chirstmas present for me). Maybe I should be exploring options that take longer in the cooking. Preparing things after lunch instead of leaving it to 5:00 and doing it under pressure.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Understanding GI prt 3: The implications for weight loss

The fact that most starches have a higher GI than sugar (sucrose) answers a question I have always had. This question was about how come dropping starches from a meal can result in significant weight loss.

The traditional explanation is that the person is eating less energy thus they are losing weight. This has an element of truth in it as removing food from diet results in decrease in energy. However the lose of weight seems to be disproportionately high for the small amount of carbohydrates dropped from the diet. Furthermore they often still have a high fat, and hence high energy intake, so there is something else going on.

I have read someplace (before I started blogging) that blood sugar levels (or insulin levels, can't quite remember) are involved in weight gain/weight loss. That when your blood sugars are high then you can't loose weight due to some biochemical system....... (I will try and dig this up and nail down the details in a blog post)

Therefore when you have starches you blood sugars go haywire often worse than eating sugar. Thus if you struggle to loose weight by reducing total energy intake it is likely you will have more success by removing starches. This will preventing blood sugar swings and allowing you body to convert fat to glucose and loose weight.

Tiffany who I am married to has always struggled to loose weight. She can exercise hard out, eat small portions of a "balanced" diet and the weight loose is very slow. She only needs one bad meal or episode in a week and no weight lose will occur. She has gone onto a new dietary program monitored by Dr Bill Reeder.

The diet is called  Ultra Lite and has no starches and very little carbohydrate. It is designed to help people quickly loose weight and has been very helpful for Tiffany. She for the first time is able to loose weight in a "easily". I put easily in quote because she has to be extremely disciplined to not eat sugary food and to follow the instructions all the time. Compared to the effort based upon exercise and eating "balanced" food the Ultra Lite system is less effort, yet a much higher amount of weight is lost. I had wondered why this was until I uncovered the high GI of starches.  

Interestingly enough when she indulged a very small amount of starches and carbo's at Christmas and New Years it took 2-3 days for her body to get back into weight loss mode. That would imply that eating starches effects you body for at least 2-3 days after you consume them.  

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hops shoots - useful as a garnish/herb

I read someplace the other day that hops shoots were edible. Am always keen to try plants to see if I can increase the variety of vege's I eat. Cause we all know it is both quantity and variation is the best way to say healthy. 

Photo to left is my hop plant with flowers on it growing over the office. 

I am growing my own hops as I have been making Gruit. Gruit is beer made without hops, using a mixture of other herbs to create the four important parts of beer. These are bitterness, aroma, flavor and preservative (important before fridges). So this spring I put some hop vines in so I can make my own beer. Hops, which are flowers, are unique as they have all four properties needed for beer - hence they are now almost the only herb ingredient in beer.

Apparently the soft growing tips of the vine can be eaten after steaming. I was a bit dubious because the hop vine is covered in Velcro type "spikes". If these grab onto you and you keep going they can scratch across you especially on your exposed skin. So I didn't know how this would be eating them.
Photo to left shows small size of the shoots

Turns out that these grippyness is not a problem, except they hold onto each other in the pot and are quite difficult to serve. Taste test... they have a very unique taste that is pleasant but rather strongly herbal. Therefore it would work better chopped up into a salad or eaten with other vege's to mellow out the flavor. Shouldn't be surpirsed at this as most herbs have a strong flavor that is mellowed through diluting it in a food. They also lack substance being thin strips so definitely more a garnish or flavoring than a full  dish.

The other issue was that some of the shoots already had hop flowers growing on them. These flowers were still very small, however it was enough to give a very strong bittering flavour to the shoots. Therefore once you had got one of these shoots you were dubious about trying another. So next year I will harvest the shoots earlier, maybe with the asparagus, so that we have flower bud free hops.

To the left the very small hop flower buds are highlighted. 

Lastly a close up shot of the hop flower

PS the hop flower is surpposed to be a seditive, hence hop pillows used to be made. Don't think I was that smart to grow hops over our office ! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Understanding GI prt 2: GI's are high for most common food

Yesterday the background to GI's were explained. Today we look at the GI ranges for common foods. Have a good look at the figure below. I would draw your attention to what GI sugar (sucrose) has. This GI has been highlighted with a red line.

Staggering that nearly all starches have a higher GI than sugar. That means your blood sugar levels get messed up more by a tablespoon of potato than they do with a tablespoon of sugar. As our culture eats a lot of starch eg bread, rice, potaotes, etc that our blood sugars are all messed up.

I might point out that starches combined in your stomach with protein and vegetables would have a lower GI as the stomach and intestine process these things as well as the starch. Therefore the blood sugar rise would be less and more sustained.

Intriguingly enough pulses eg beans, peas etc have the lowest GI index. This means as a food source they are very healthy (they also have lots of fiber which is great for your health).

Milk products have a low GI, they have a sugar lactose in low concentrations 4-5%. Interestingly enough lactose is also made from two glucose molecules like maltose which has the maximum GI. At the moment I am at a loss for why this is. One reason could be that adults have reduced ability to digest lactose as they get older if they haven't had a constant milk intake over their lives. The other effect could be due to the protein in milk coagulating in the stomachs low pH, this could cause the sugars to be trapped into this solid mass and be up taken slowly.

Sweet fruits such as grapes and bananas have a higher GI than sugar, no real surprise here. However most fruits in their native form have quite a low GI. I was amazed that a few years back a customer talked to me about how her doctor told her not to eat fruit as it was a high GI product. At the time I thought this is wrong but couldn't put my finger on it. Now here is the evidence that I was right. Even sugary fruit such as an apple has one of the lowest GI.

Breakfast cereals (these are American?!) have higher GI than sugar. I find this totally amazing it in theory states that i would be better to have a tablespoon of sugar rather than a table spoon of breakfast cereal.I think I am going to make the move to non instant rolled oats this year. The GI's for breakfast cerals are shocking. I will read the labels closely when I am in the supermarket. I'm sure I have seen low GI advertised on a ceral box.
    You may ask where are the vegetables in this list? That is a really good question. Vegetables have an GI of effectively zero. That is right they don't causes rises in your blood sugars. Yet another good reason to have heaps of vegetables each day.

    So in conclusions I am left with the feeling that GI has not been well explained. For someone who prides himself on understanding most nutritional concpets I have learned a huge amounts in writting these two posts. At least another two posts will follow as we unpack the implications of this GI information

    Reference:  S. W. Rizkalla, F. Bellisle and G. Slama Health benefits of low glycaemic index foods, such as pulses, in diabetic patients and healthy individuals British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 88, Supplement S3, December 2002, pp 255-262 

      Monday, February 1, 2010

      Understanding GI prt 1: How the GI number is obtained

      Discovered a brilliant paper on glycemic index (GI). Has revolutionized my understanding, so over a few posts I will unpack some very enlightening material. This post is about the background to GI and how the GI scale/number is obtained.

      I assume that you have heard of GI as "LOW GI" is splashed across various cereal products. I had not really understood anything about GI expect that low GI was good and high GI was sugar.

      So lets discover what the glycemic index really is and how it came about.

      In the 70's it was proposed that different carbohydrates would result in different blood sugar / blood insulin levels. This was found to be true and the GI concept was first proposed in 1981. Yes that is right folks it has taken nearly 30 years from proposing GI to it becoming knowledge to the public.

      GI is a percentage from 1 - 100 %. So a GI of 1 would be the lowest and 100 the highest. Being a percentage it must compare the test food against a "standard" food. So it compares the rise of blood sugar levels, which is glucose, against the test food. The standard food is the food that gives the largest area under the glucose blood level graph.

      First surprise is that the standard food is actually maltose and not white sugar (sucrose). I had to look up maltose and it is a sugar which is made up of two glucose molecules. So it is no surprise that maltose causes a rapid increase in blood sugars as glucose is the sugar that powers your body. (It is  (glucose 6-phosphate for you techy's).

      Now if you go read a pamphlet or talk to a health professional they will show you these types of graphs. It is clear what the difference between the to foods are. One causes little rise and is soon back to normal while the high GI causes a big and sustained increase.

      Source for graphs 

      Now because every ones body is different to be perfectly accurate you would have to eat 50 grams of maltose and have your blood sugar levels monitored. Then you would have to eat 50 grams of the test subject. This issue is quietly ignored because it would be to difficult to undertaken this kind of testing for everyone. However it raises the issue that a high GI food might cause a much bigger increase in the blood sugar levels than for another person. There could well be a genetic component that changes how blood levels rise and fall.

      The above issue aside there is a very important issue. This issue is that blood sugars actually go negative. Have a look at this original data, again click to enlarge (the legend is also written by me under the graph)
      The graph shows the rise in blood glucose and blood insulin for three different carbohydrates.The are mung bean starch (square solid) maize starch (triangles) and glucose (circles). You an see that the mung bean starch causes much smaller rise in blood sugars and does not go negative, thus it would have a low GI. However both the glucose and maize starch sometime between 90 and 120 minutes crosses through into negative before slowly rising back towards zero but still not positive after 4 hours!

      This is very different behavior than the stylized graphs above. Mathematically the area under the graph for the stylized graph and the real data could be the same (area under curve is integrated to give the number). However having your blood sugars drop negatively after a food is a very concerning concept.

      So in summary GI is a percentage of blood sugar rise compared to maltose, which is two glucose moleculars. The blood sugars go negative. The next post will uncover various GI's and how they compare.

      Reference:  S. W. Rizkalla, F. Bellisle and G. Slama Health benefits of low glycaemic index foods, such as pulses, in diabetic patients and healthy individuals British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 88, Supplement S3, December 2002, pp 255-262