Sunday, January 14, 2018

Health and Wellness: Nutrients

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Macronutrients and Micronutrients:

In some ways, this could have been our first blog, but it wasn’t. So, to give this topic the importance it deserves, we are starting the New Year with this topic. Let’s first begin with definitions. Nutrient: Substance needed by an organism(any living entity) to stay alive and grow. Macronutrient: Substance needed in large quantities by an organism to survive and flourish.  Micronutrient: Substance our body needs in tiny amounts but these are no less important for survival and optimal health.

Micronutrients can be broadly divided into 3 main categories. Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. On the previous blog we discussed the amazing health benefits of phytonutrients. On a future blog we will discuss the importance of vitamins and minerals in our diet.

3 Macronutrients essential for our survival and growth that most everyone is aware of are Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats. Though often forgotten, because it contains no calories, water is the most essential macronutrient needed for our survival. The other 3 macronutrients provide the energy and other essential compounds our bodies need for growth and survival.

Carbohydrates, an essential macronutrient, can be subdivided in 3 categories, sugars, starches, and fiber. This is the primary fuel for our body. Although our body can derive energy from fats and protein, its preferred macronutrient for energy production is carbohydrates or carbs for short. Each gram of carb contains 4 calories. So, are carbs good for you or bad for you? Stay tuned and we’ll explore this topic in more detail in the next post.

Protein is also an essential macronutrient. It is the scaffolding for all our tissues. The enzymes and hormones that orchestrate the variety of biochemical reactions that keep us alive and well are all made of protein. The building blocks of protein are amino acids. Each gram of protein provides the body with 4 calories. Are all proteins the same, or are some healthier than others. We will look at this macronutrient in detail in the post following our discussion on carbohydrates.

Fat, like protein and carbohydrates is an essential macronutrient. They are typically divided in 3 components, fatty acids, triglycerides, and cholesterol. When blood glucose is low in our body, fatty acids serve as fuel for our bodies. In addition, they are important for vital cellular functions and absorption of fat soluble vitamins. But, similar to carbohydrates and proteins, there are good fats and bad fats. We will finish up this mini-series on macronutrients with Fat.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Health and Wellness: Phytonutrients

Blog 3.2

We have all heard that plants are essential for good health. And, most everyone is aware that plants are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber--elements our body needs for optimal health. But the health enhancing benefits of plants don’t stop there. Perhaps, even more important than the elements mentioned above is the presence of thousands of other natural chemicals present in all plant foods, called phytonutrients or phytochemicals.

“Phyto” is the Greek word for plant. These chemicals help protect plants from germs, fungi, pests, and other environmental threats. And when we ingest them, they protect our health from various threats as well. They are best known for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.

All plant foods including whole grains, nuts, beans, and teas contain phytonutrients. However, they are most abundant in fruits and vegetables. Though there are more than 100,000 phytonutrients found in plant foods, we will just take 3 and discuss their health benefits and a few of their plant sources in this blog.

Beta-carotene is perhaps the best known phytonutrient. This is a precursor to Vitamin A which helps keep our immune system working properly and is essential for eye health.
Sources (orange colored plants) - carrots, apricots, mangoes, sweet potatoes

Lycopene has strong antioxidant properties, helps prevent cancer, and alleviates neuropathic pain. Since it is a fat-soluble nutrient, it is better absorbed when consumed with fats such as avocado or seeds.
Sources (red colored plants) - tomatoes, watermelon, red cabbage, guavas

Resveratol has gained a lot of media attention as being present in red wine and having anti-aging benefits. Since this unique antioxidant can cross the blood-brain barrier, it may help protect the brain and the nervous system. Additionally, its anti-inflammatory properties promote cardiovascular health.
Sources (blue/purple colored plants) - red grapes, blueberries, eggplant, plum

Unlike vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients can not be ingested in a supplement pill. We must eat whole plant foods to get these amazing nutrients and their health benefits!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Health and Wellness: Gut Bacteria

Blog 7.0: Gut Bacteria (Flora)

On the previous blog, we touched on the topic of how our gut bacteria can either promote health or lead to ill health. On this post, we will look at some of the benefits in a bit more detail.

Gut flora which represent the numerous varieties of bacteria in our intestines are responsible for synthesis of certain vitamins and amino acids. Vitamin K, which is crucial for the blood clotting after an injury, is made by our gut bacteria. Biotin, a B vitamin is also produced by these bacteria. Biotin assists the cell in energy production and is essential for healthy hair and nails.

Gut bacteria play a crucial role in production of neuroactive substances such as serotonin. Serotonin is important in regulating our mood and its deficiency is associated with depression.
There is emerging evidence that gut bacteria may play a role in development of ADD(attention deficit disorder), obsessive compulsive disorder, autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

Gut bacteria is crucial for digestion and absorption of nutrients from certain types of  dietary fibers which would otherwise be indigestible. Fermentation of these fibers  allows us to harvest more energy in the form of short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids not only serve as fuel for the cells that line our intestine but it keeps them healthy. One such fatty acid, butyrate, a short chain fatty acid,  has power anti-inflammatory function and reduces risk of development of colon cancer.

In the posts that follow we will explore how a plant based diet fosters growth of these symbiotic bacteria (Probacteria)  which perform all these wonderful actions.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Health and Wellness: Inflammation Part 2

Blog 6.2: Inflammation Part 2

On the previous blog, we focused on how advanced glycation end products(AGEs), which are particularly high in animal products, promote inflammation. On the current blog, we will explore other factors in our diet which contribute to inflammation.

It has been shown that a western diet which is typically rich in saturated fats/cholesterol, animal protein, high sugar and refined/processed foods not only promotes obesity, heart disease, and Diabetes but also plays a role in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes, and psoriasis.

The exact mechanism on how western diet leads to increased inflammation and promotes not only cardiometabolic diseases but also autoimmune diseases is being actively researched. One proposed mechanism is Exogenous Endotoxin theory.
Endotoxins are heat resistant toxins that come from bacteria. Endotoxins are prevalent in animal products(meat, eggs, dairy) and fermented foods. Adequately cooking food will in general destroy bacteria, but not endotoxins since they are heat resistant. Furthermore, animal fat boosts absorption of endotoxin from our gut thereby increasing its level in our blood. Higher levels of endotoxins in the blood trigger the immune system to increase inflammation.

Beneficial gut bacteria, which thrive on whole food plant based diet, help in maintaining an effective gut barrier limiting absorption of endotoxin. Study performed by Italian investigators showed that a high fiber diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains leads to healthy intestinal bacteria which promote health. Whereas a typical western diet replete in animal products and processed foods leads to preponderance of unhealthy bacteria in our gut.

Alteration of gut microbiota (varying species of bacteria in our gut) can cause immune dysregulation. This dysregulation of the immune system has been implicated in various autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Health and Wellness: Inflammation Part 1

Blog 6.1: Inflammation

On the previous post, we focused on the role of dairy in promoting heart disease and cancer primarily by focusing on the ill effects of saturated fat/cholesterol for heart disease and IgF-1 for cancer. On the current post, we will focus on how dairy and other animal products(meat, poultry and eggs) lead to chronic state of inflammation. Although animal foods promote inflammation in a number of different ways, on this post, we will focus on how generation of advanced glycation end products(AGEs) leads to oxidative stress and inflammation.

AGEs are generated when food is cooked at high temperatures, especially dry heat, such with barbecuing, baking, frying, and searing. Animal foods which are naturally high in fat and protein are particularly prone to formation of AGEs.  High carbohydrate foods, even after cooking, on the other hand, lead to relatively low production of AGEs.

Accumulation of AGEs leads to oxidative stress and inflammation. AGEs are degraded in the body by enzymes and antioxidants. Animal foods are poor source of antioxidants. In fact, on average, plant foods contain 64 times more antioxidants than animal foods. So by eating animal foods, not only are more AGEs formed but less can be neutralized due to inherent lack of antioxidants in animal foods. Conversely, a whole foods plant based diet, particularly one rich in greens and berries, contain abundant antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenols.

Inflammation is a key factor in propagation of atherosclerotic plaques, leading not just to heart disease, but vascular disease in other parts of the body. Furthermore chronic inflammation interferes with insulin-signaling pathways resulting in Insulin resistance.
This basically means that Insulin is less effective in doing its job and this in essence is what leads to development of Type II Diabetes.

Inflammation plays a direct role in progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease to hepatitis and cirrhosis. No medication is currently effective in reversing fatty liver disease. Best way to prevent fatty liver is to eat a whole foods plant based diet.
There is emerging evidence that inflammation also plays a key role in development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias.

On the next post we will look at other ways in which the SAD(Standard American Diet) promotes chronic inflammation. We will discuss other ways animal foods promote inflammation. And, we will focus on the role that inflammation plays in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, and Inflammatory bowel disease.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Health and Wellness: Dairy

Blog 2.2: Dairy

Why should dairy be taken out of our diet? Below is a list of several reasons backed by evidence that will make the case against dairy clear. Also, we will discuss how to get adequate amount of Calcium from plant sources to prevent osteoporosis.

Dairy contains saturated fat and cholesterol. The link between rise in cholesterol and heart disease from diet rich in saturated fats has been clearly established. Some recent articles and meta-analysis have erroneously questioned this association. With that in mind, AHA(American Heart Association) issued the following advisory: Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats will lower the risk of  heart disease.
Many individuals indicate that they use skim milk at home, so they are not so concerned about the ill effects of dairy on their heart health. But, unless you have eliminated butter, cheese, and ice cream from your diet at home and when eating out, you are still at increased risk for heart disease, because even low fat versions of these products contain excessive amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.

All animal products including dairy contain IgF-1(Insulin-like growth Factor). In addition to dietary ingestion of IgF-1, dairy protein further increases our blood levels  of this growth factor by promoting its production in our liver.  Furthermore, the presence of steroid hormones in cow’s milk work synergistically to further raise serum levels of IgF-1 in humans. Breast cancer and Prostate are particularly sensitive to IgF-1.
Recall from previous blog, IGF-1 not only promotes development of cancer but also fosters its growth, proliferation and metastasis.

Protein in cow’s milk, particularly casein causes inflammation. This may be related to conversion of casein to casomorphins. The link between chronic ear infections in children and dairy has been known for over fifty years.
Increased consumption of animal products, including dairy has been linked with increased incidence of asthma.

Dairy does contain calcium, but so do green vegetables, particularly collard greens, bok choy, and kale, as well as beans and legumes. But unlike vegetable protein, animal protein including dairy protein leaches calcium from our bones. Animal protein contains greater amount of sulfur containing amino acids which acidify the blood and lead to leaching of calcium from bones.
This may help explain why Americans despite consuming higher levels of Calcium have higher incidence of osteoporosis and hip fractures than Chinese. Calcium is just one component of bone health. For optimal bone health, you also need adequate amount of Vitamin D, other trace minerals and regular exercise.

With adequate availability of calcium from plant foods, why increase the risk of heart disease and cancer that comes with consuming dairy products?

Health and Wellness: Nutrients

Macronutrients and Micronutrients: In some ways, this could have been our first blog, but it wasn’t. So, to give this topic the imp...