This is quite a topical debate concerning juicers vs. blending and which method offers the greatest health benefits. The main difference between the two methods is essentially what is left out of the process. Juicing extracts the water and nutrients from the produce discarding the fibrous component, whereas with the blending technique nothing is left out: the entire fruit is used, including the fibre components of fruit and vegetables, albeit broken down.
When you juice your fruits and vegetables, the nutrient content is more concentrated. This is because the majority of vitamins and minerals are typically found in the juice, rather than the pulp and fibrous material. Proponents of juicing will claim that nutrients will be more readily available, as your digestive system is not expending energy digesting the fibre. However, there is no hard science to confirm this assertion. On the contrary, when the fibre is removed it will result in a rapid sugar spike as the juice is quickly absorbed into the blood stream.
On the contrary, the retention of fibre in the blending process helps to create a slow, even release of nutrients into the bloodstream. As such, this exerts a better control on blood sugar levels. Fibre is important for optimal digestive health and helps you to fill fuller for longer keeping hunger pangs at bay. Furthermore, the research shows that blended juices may deliver an increased level of antioxidants as they are normally contained in the fibrous membranes.
Juicing vs. blending: Fibre delivers a plethora of health effects, and its relationship with health should not be underestimated. As such, if you are struggling to decide between a juicer and blender, blending is probably the most natural technique as it retains the core composition of the fruit or vegetables.
Fruit and vegetables (f + v) form an important component of a balanced diet and are also essential for keeping us healthy. This is why it is paramount that we meet the fruit and vegetable recommendations.
Origins of 5 A Day:
The recommendation to aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day emerged when robust scientific research showed that those who consume a diet rich in fruit and vegetables had significantly lower rates of disease e.g. lowers the risk of health issues including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity and some cancers.
What do fruit and vegetables contain that make them so invaluable to health?
They are an important source of essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, which may help lower blood cholesterol and phytochemicals.
What are the Recommendations: The World Health Organisation recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day, which equates to five 80g portions per day (five portions of fruit and vegetables altogether, not five portions of each!) As a guide, many health professionals have translated a portion as what would fit into the palm of your hand
What form counts?
How to incorporate them into your day
Have you ever wondered why we are constantly bombarded by a constant stream of such fundamentally contrasting dietary advice via a plethora of media channels? We are inundated on a daily basis on the ultimate weight loss tactic or optimal nutrition breakthroughs; however, there essentially seems to be no clear-cut, comprehensive scientific consensus concerning the optimal diet, as the information drags you in polar opposite directions. In fact, the science increasingly points towards the fact that there is — no one diet that fits all approach—. We are all inherently different, which may explain why we respond physiologically differently to nutrition strategies and why no universally accepted diet can be identified.
Now, can you imagine a world where your DNA is encoded from birth? Where you will have access to intelligence of the diseases you are strongly predisposed to developing based on your DNA. Where dietary advice will be personalised to your individual genotype. This nutrition revolution is gradually becoming reality. The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 has enabled the development of various techniques to characterise common genetic traits, leading to significant progress in the field of gene-nutrient interactions.
This realisation has scientists and entrepreneurs racing to deliver more effective nutritional advice based on individual factors such as genetic makeup, gut bacteria, body type and chemical exposures. This may also shed light on the apparent injustice of why some people struggle with weight loss strategies whilst strictly adhering to what is deemed to be a healthy diet, whilst others can seemingly eat whatever they like without this reflecting on the scales.
Genotype-based nutrition has the potential to provide individuals at high risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer with customised nutritional advice to reduce disease risk and onset. There is convincing evidence that a broad range of variations in population gene expression exist, which may explain the unique differences in biological response to how we absorb and metabolise nutrients and, as such, predisposition to developing chronic diseases. Interactions between genotype and diet will become increasingly important when assessing disease risk and preventative management.
Cardiovascular disease and gene-nutrient interactions
Research shows that people’s cholesterol levels can respond very differently to dietary intervention methods depending on their genetic makeup.
Apoliprotein E (ApoE) is a protein involved in lipid metabolism. Individuals possess one of three different forms of ApoE, depending on their genotype: ApoE2, ApoE3, or ApoE4. Those with ApoE4, representing approximately 15% of the population, are more likely to have higher concentrations of cholesterol. In fact, those individuals possessing an ApoE4 genotype who consume a diet low in saturated fat are more likely to respond favourably to this dietary intervention; they will exhibit observable reductions in cholesterol levels, despite their genetic predisposition. This signifies that consuming a heart-friendly diet may be more pertinent for those with an ApoE4 genotype compared to other ApoE types, where effects may be negligible. However, until these people can be identified, recommending a heart-healthy diet to everyone is imperative.
Furthermore, individuals expressing the Apoliprotein (ApoA1) genotype will exhibit a higher HDL (“good cholesterol”) level in response to increased intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are considered healthy fats. Contrastingly, the science shows that individuals with a differing genotype display positive impacts on HDL cholesterol levels by decreasing PUFA intake. As such, it can be inferred that it would make sense for some people to consume higher amounts of PUFAs than others, depending on genotype, to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
Researchers have discovered several gene polymorphisms strongly associated with type 2 diabetes risk, which can be modified with diet. The research suggests that individuals, who have been profiled with a higher predisposition to diabetes, may modulate their risk by consuming a low glycaemic index diet (GI).
The “Personalised Nutrition Project” led by a team of Israeli researchers, suggests that individuals have very different blood sugar responses to the same food —with some showing large spikes even after consuming supposedly healthy choices—. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which are then released into the bloodstream. After consuming a meal, it is normal to experience an increase in blood sugar levels, termed “post-prandial glucose response”. However, consistently high blood sugar blood levels in the long run can increase the risk of weight gain, and disorders such as type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The study followed a cohort of 800 healthy and pre-diabetic individuals, whereby data was collected round-the-clock, to measure the effect of food on blood sugar levels. Many exhibited stark differences in their response to foods with the same GI. Some of the volunteers, dubbed 'carb-sensitive', had a higher blood sugar reaction in response to the more carbs they ate. This was in direct contrast to the 'carb-insensitives' whose blood sugar could increase even on a low-carb meal. Many responded very differently to fat consumption, and interestingly, tomatoes pushed up blood glucose response in some individuals, despite containing relatively low carbohydrates. The researchers suggest that carefully tailoring diets to meet individuals' blood sugar tendencies could be the wave of the future.
More research is required as the interactions among genes, microbiome, diet, environment and lifestyle are infinitely complex. Moreover, the effects of gene variants on risk of a complex disease are often inconsistent. Thus, a more robust evidence-based approach is required to improve the predictive accuracy of personalised nutrition. The future does seem to hold the promise of personalised nutritional recommendations based on genetic data, which will help fine-tune the prevention of nutrition-associated diseases. However, we have yet to progress in this field due to the complex nature of genes in the relationship between diet and health outcome.
Age plays an important role in changing nutritional needs throughout a person’s lifespan. In fact, what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet will be subject to slight variations depending on differing stages of life. Nevertheless, the core principles will essentially remain the same; a balance of diverse, nutritious, wholesome foods are focal to helping us look, feel and perform at our best, and to have a deeper, long-lasting impact from a health perspective.
In your 20s and 30s
Healthy eating is not always on the top list of priorities when you are in your twenties. Research often reveals that 20-somethings consume a greater volume of fast food compared to other age ranges and often eat inadequate levels of fruit and vegetables. This is probably due to the fast-paced, frenetic lifestyle most career-oriented 20-somethings lead, where food becomes an after-thought to ensure survival in its most elementary sense, instead of viewing nourishment as being synonymous with health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, the twenties are an ideal time in life to establish a healthy foundation for the rest of one’s life.
Bone density accrual continues until the late twenties, which makes nutrition for bone health crucial to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
Skipping breakfast and the over-reliance on quick, convenience foods containing elevated levels of macronutrients may result in an inadequate nutritional status and weight complications. In the long run, these set of circumstances create the perfect storm for increasing the risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure, all representing the major causes of death in modern day society.
Women who are considering starting a family should ensure they are consuming sufficient levels of energy, folic acid and minerals such as iron and calcium.
Making Health and Nutrition a Priority
Calcium: to ensure you are meeting the required calcium levels for health, consume three servings from the dairy group each day. Calcium-rich plant sources such as broccoli, spinach, beans and dairy alternatives are also good options.
Fibre: is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. Fibre can help prevent the onset of chronic diseases and can do wonders for your digestive health. Opt for wholegrain bread, experiment with porridge oats at breakfast and discover whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur and quinoa. Whole grains will also deliver the all-important B-vitamins, which help to convert food into energy, allowing you to stay energised throughout the day.
Fruit and Vegetables: ensure you meet your 5-a-day fruit and vegetable target. This will also contribute to fibre intake and boost your nutritional intake.
In your 40s
In the 40s many take their good health for granted, whereby healthy eating and exercise are often neglected. However, as we advance in age, good nutrition and reversing the sedentary lifestyle trend begin to gain some ground in our list of priorities. A diet rich in antioxidants will promote cellular stability, staving off the ageing process and helping to protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer.
The metabolic rate, essentially the rate at which the body burns calories, will drop. However, the drop is minimal; the real reason why many people in this age bracket start to suffer from weight issues is due to the lack of movement. Excess weight, especially around the ‘middle’ is correlated with heart disease and diabetes. So start exercising and make a conscious effort to keep fit and be healthy.
A percentage of women in the 40s age range have low iron stores. Keeping the body well supplied with iron provides vitality, helps the immune system to function optimally and keeps the mind alert.
What to eat?
Antioxidants – a diverse range of differing coloured fruit and vegetables should be on the menu as they are an excellent source of antioxidants.
Iron – lean red meat is one of the most easily absorbed forms of iron. Aim to consume red meat 1-2 times a week. Fortified cereals can be a good option along with lentils, beans, pulses, and plenty of green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, green beans and broccoli.
In your 50s
Health problems, such as raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are on the rise in this age group. As such, a low fat diet incorporating plenty of fruit and vegetables is the best way to counteract these conditions.
Moreover, the menopause will have a significant impact on this category of women. Symptoms will vary greatly and are linked to a decline in oestrogen levels featured in the menopause. This accelerates the loss of calcium from the bone increasing the risk of osteoporosis and brittle bones.
What to eat:
Calcium: consume 3 portions of low-fat, low-sugar calcium rich foods every day to minimise bone loss. The Mediterranean diet comprises lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, delivering a spectrum of heart friendly vitamins and minerals.
Watch the fat: as we age, the body’s energy requirement decreases. Body fat gets deposited when too many calories are consumed and insufficient levels are burned. Include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from nuts, seeds and their oils instead of saturated fat.
Omega-3 fats: aim to eat 2-3 portions of omega-3 rich foods a week as these can help and keep bones and heart healthy due to their potent anti-inflammatory effects.
Hydration: continue to drink a couple of litres of water every day. Moderate caffeine consumption as it can interfere with the amount of calcium absorbed.
Spices: other anti-inflammatory spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and ginger confer many anti-inflammatory health benefits.
How to Eat Smart and be in Control whilst Eating Out
Making healthy choices when eating out often poses a challenge. It all seems to boil down to one dilemma: how can you ensure complete control over your diet when you are not in control of your eating environment?
You can be up against many villains when you are trying to upkeep healthy eating habits in a restaurant – big portions, too much salt, fat or sugar, tempting starters, side dishes and desserts just to name a few.
Sometimes you may have to deal with the added pressure of friends and family who may push you towards certain food choices, by encouraging you to live in the movement. In such instances, it is best to be prepared for this scenario and practice being strong by simply saying no, politely but firmly.
Is it possible to eat well when dining out? As with all challenges, it is best to be well prepared and informed. Eating at a restaurant does not necessarily have to sabotage a healthy eating regime. Implement smart-food strategies: plan ahead of time, consider the menu carefully and become menu savvy to ensure you select meals that will not lead you astray. Below you will find some tips to help you to feel in control of your eating out experience, and to help guide you in selecting healthier eating options.
Managing your portions
Keep it small: portion sizes at fast food joints or restaurants are usually much larger than what you would normally eat at home. Ask for half portions, share a large meal with a friend, and do not feel obliged to finish what is on your plate; ask for a doggy bag and take home the remainders of your meal.
Sharing is caring: share a starter if it strikes your fancy. If you are still feeling hungry after your meal, conclude with a fruit dessert or sip on a plain cappuccino. If you love rich desserts, order one and ask for additional spoons to split with your friends!
Appetisers: say no to bread or other nibbles before your meal arrives, as these are likely to increase your overall calorie intake.
Avoid super-sizing: choose standard or smaller portion sizes, and avoid "large" or "super-size" versions as they contain a high amount of fat and calories.
Making healthier choices
Be menu savvy when ordering: balance your meal by including healthier selections from all the different food groups such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. As a rule of thumb, half of your plate should be composed of vegetables, ¼ protein and ¼ (whole) grains.
Ask for more vegetables: if your meal does not come with vegetables, order sides of leafy green salad or steamed vegetables. This can replace a starter.
Opt for whole grains: look for dishes made with whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, barley, bulgur or oats. Fibre keeps you fuller for longer and helps to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Tomato and vegetable-based sauces: if you need to pay attention to your weight, opt for tomato or vegetable-based sauces and soups rather than cream, coconut or cheese-based ones.
Keep salt in check: choose fewer foods that have been smoked or made with soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Look for "light" versions of these sauces and ask for them to be served on the side. Do not add additional salt to your dish; exchange salt for peppers, other spices, herbs and lemon.
Ask for sauces on the side: sauces, condiments, dressings and spreads can supply excessive amounts of fat and salt to your meal. Ask for these on the side and so you can control how much you consume. Keep sauces to a minimum, and use just enough to deliver some flavour.
Skip sweet drinks: drink water in place of sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, ice tea or lemonade. Try sparkling water with lemon or lime slices. If you drink alcohol, limit it to one or two drinks for the day.
Learning the lingo: knowing menu terms and cooking basics makes ordering easier. Ask the food was prepared. Order foods that have been steamed, baked, grilled, or roasted. Fat and calories add up quickly when food is fried, deep-fried or breaded. Also watch out for sautéed items or foods described as "crispy," "rich" or "au gratin." Choose plain boiled rice instead of fried and go for boiled or jacket potatoes rather than chips or wedges.
Prepare in advance: examine the restaurant's website ahead of time. Look for healthier options that are higher in protein, fibre and vitamins and lower in calories, fat, sugar and salt. Ensure you eat a light dinner if you consumed a heavy lunch that day. Or, if you know ahead of time that you are going to a restaurant, cut back on calories during other meals during the day.
Eat slowly: it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry. Fast eaters often are overeaters, while slow eaters tend to eat less, while still being satisfied. Wait until you have eaten your main course before you order a pudding. When you have finished the main course, you may discover that you are satisfied.
Pause during meals and put your knife and fork down between each mouthful. Taste and savour each mouthful of your meal – enjoy the experience.
Practice refusing offers to overeat: learn to say ‘no thank you’ politely but firmly
Restaurants may be intimidating to people trying to stick to a healthy diet, but with a little preparation and confidence, you can enjoy your restaurant meal without abandoning healthy eating by implementing some smart eating strategies.
Chia seeds are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and antioxidants
A few month's ago I succumbed to the "chia" fan club. After having been exposed to the plethora of proclaimed health benefits in the media, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to investigate this further.
BACKGROUND: Chia seeds originate from a central/southern American plant, which belongs to the mint family. Chia seeds were once a nutritional staple of the ancient Aztecs.
CHARACTERISTICS: Chia seeds are relatively small, black seeds. They expand to a jelly-like, gelatinous consistency when they absorb moisture. They can be sprinkled onto baked goods, porridge, smoothies, yogurt, and can also be ground and added to water.
NUTRITION PROFILE: Chia seeds are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids (principally composed of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) acid), fibre and antioxidants (in the form of flavonols).
Remember: you are an empowered, informed consumer. Always remain critical when reviewing media claims.
That time of year is yet again upon us. Christmas is traditionally a time of over-indulgence and temptation; with the calories stacking up over the festive period, exercising to shed some of those extra kilos you may have gained has never been so appealing. Why not jump start on those New Year’s resolutions and embrace a healthy you now.
Perhaps you have set yourself some different types of goals over the holiday season: a charity run for fun? Training for your first half marathon? Or maybe you are simply aiming at improving your stamina and performance. No matter what your goal is, nutrition plays a focal role in supporting the training and competition requirements of sport, whether this is for recreational or elite purposes. Good food choices ensure that you have adequate energy to drive performance and aid recovery. There are no strict rules or dietary plan that you must adhere to. However, there are some nutritional strategies and tips that are advisable before, during and after you work out to optimise performance.
Before: Fuel up
Carbohydrates are vital for performance during sport. Muscles rely on carbohydrate as their principal source of fuel. The amount you require depends on your training aspirations and dietary goals. As a general rule of thumb, the more intense the training programme, the higher amount of carbohydrates your diet should comprise. The consequences of carbohydrate-poor diets encompass energy deficits during exercise, early fatigue, loss of concentration and delayed recovery between exercise sessions. Carbohydrate is stored in muscles as glycogen. As the body’s stores of glycogen are limited, topping up the stores each day is key. For your pre-workout meal, combining carbohydrate with protein and fat will provide sustained energy and maximum performance during a training session.
Suitable pre-training meals:
No time for a meal? Then have one of the following 5 – 60 min pre-training:
Timing of a pre-workout meal
The timing of your food before a workout can make a big difference to how you feel and will impact your performance. For most workouts, you should aim to eat 2 – 4 hours before exercising, depending on the size of your meal and what foods are being consumed. Essentially, you need to leave enough time to digest the food but avoiding too long a gap where this energy will be used up by the time you begin exercising. For the best results, listen to your body; you may need to experiment with timing. If there really is no time for a meal then plan a healthy snack up to 30 minutes before training.
After: refuel your tank
The most effective refuelling to kick-start recovery occurs within 0-30 minutes immediately post-exercise; for a rapid recovery, both carbohydrate and protein should feature in your post-exercise snack or meal. The combination of both nutrients promotes faster muscle repair and greater muscle growth, replenishes glycogen stores and reduces post-exercise muscle soreness. If you only focus on high protein intake without an adequate supply of carbohydrate, the protein will be utilised for energy purposes instead of being used to build muscle. Additionally, low carbohydrate intake will lead to low energy levels, making it challenging for you to train and perform at your best. Aim to consume 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight following the exercise. The more intense and longer the training, the higher the carbohydrate needs.
Protein for power
Furthermore, the post-workout meal or snack should also comprise protein. Protein is required for building and repairing muscle and plays an important role in how the body responds to exercise. One of the biggest myths is that consuming large amounts of protein equates to large biceps. Muscle is gained through a combination of resistance training and a diet that contains adequate energy and carbohydrate.
The ideal post-exercise protein dose to trigger maximum muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is 15 – 25g (or about 0.25g per kilogram of body weight). Exceeding this amount will not increase MPS for most people. Eating less than this amount of protein may produce smaller gains. Leucine, a branched chain amino acid and component of protein, is the key trigger that stimulates MPS as well as promoting muscle recovery after exercise. Milk, whey, casein, egg, meat, poultry and fish are rich sources of leucine.
Post-workout snack suggestions:
Some examples of healthful options that deliver carbohydrate and protein in amounts that optimise recovery as well as other nutritional needs encompass:
As muscle recovery continues for several hours − perhaps up to 24 hours − you should continue consuming protein at regular intervals throughout the day. Aim to have around 15 – 25g protein at each meal and also include protein in your snacks.
Maintaining adequate hydration is essential for physical and mental performance. It is paramount to start each exercise session well hydrated, to take on-board appropriate fluids during the workout and restore hydration levels as soon as possible afterwards in order to replace the water and salts lost in sweating, and to optimise the recovery process.For low intensity exercise lasting for a short duration, water is very good for rehydration. Water is affordable and convenient for most recreational exercisers. Sports drinks containing electrolytes are unnecessary unless you are training for over 1 hour and sweating profusely. For moderate to high intensity and endurance sports lasting longer than 1 hour a drink which contains carbohydrate and electrolytes, such as milk or a commercial isotonic sports drink, is generally more effective than water in enhancing performance. These drinks contain carbohydrate to help delay fatigue by providing glucose to the muscles, and electrolytes to replace sodium lost in sweat. It is important to note that some studies show that milk rehydrates you more effectively than isotonic sports drinks.
Many strongly underestimate the importance of correctly refuelling our bodies. Considering your body is your vehicle and food intake is a critical factor in achieving the best results, you have to ensure you keep your engine optimally running when you work out.
Furthermore, the sports world is overflowing with bars, pills, powders and specialised foods that all pledge fitness or performance enhancements. They are particularly popular in the athletic, as well as recreational sporting domain. Recreational exercisers do not require supplements on top of their diet, unless otherwise indicated by a doctor or dietitian. Focusing on achieving a healthy, balanced diet will supply the necessary nutrients and energy for sport and achieving fitness goals.
Food plays an essential role in our life. Research shows that diet is strongly correlated with mood and cognitive function. Hippocrates was the first to suggest the healing power of food; however, it was not until the medieval ages that food was considered a tool to modify temperament and mood, although scientific methods as we know them today were not in use at the time.
Food embodies a powerful source to enhance mental well-being. Many people eat in order to distract themselves from, compensate for or cope with negative affects such as stress, anxiety, frustration, fear, daily hassles, sadness, boredom, depression and fatigue. The foods consumed under these circumstances are sometimes referred to as comfort foods, as they are mostly indulgent in nature; such foods confer immediate satisfaction and psycho-physical benefits.
Research is mounting that food can be used as a tool to modulate mood as it comprises specific nutrients and bioactive factors that exert an important influence on cognitive functioning and mood.
Stress and mental health
Stress-related mental disorders such as mood or anxiety disorders are the most prevalent and burdensome psychiatric disorders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) almost 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. As such, the pursuit to identify mood-enhancing food is of extreme value.
Nutrient and bioactive factors
Serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain, has a direct impact on mood and well-being. It is also commonly known as the ‘happiness hormone’. Serotonin is created from tryptophan, an amino acid present in the diet. Carbohydrates promote the production and availability of serotonin, leading to temporary mood improvements. This suggestion has been used to explain ‘carbohydrate craving’ – eating sweet, comfort foods to boost mood. As such, consuming carbohydrates may boost mood.
The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate supply of energy – from blood glucose – to the brain. Glucose is formed when carbohydrates are broken down in the body. Eating breakfast and regular meals containing some carbohydrate ensures an adequate supply of glucose in your blood. Insufficient blood glucose level, termed hypoglycaemia, can lead to weakness, tiredness and ‘fuzzy mindedness’. This may happen due to a lack of consumption of carbohydrate-containing food. It can also happen with people following very restrictive diets or with erratic eating patterns. However, though glucose ensures good concentration and focus, once your blood glucose reaches the normal range, you cannot further boost your brainpower by increasing glucose levels.
Iron, Selenium, B vitamins
Micronutrients that should be considered as powerful mood enhancers include B vitamins, selenium and iron. Shortfalls in these vitamins and minerals have been shown to affect your mood, leading to tiredness, depression or irritability. As such, it is of paramount importance to consume a nutrient-rich diet, to avoid the negative impacts on energy, mood and brain function.
Folate, a B-vitamin found in beans, citrus and dark green vegetables like spinach, affects neurotransmitters that impact mood. Deficiency can potentially result in depression, so ensure your stores are topped up.
Caffeinated black, green or oolong tea may elicit a more alert state of mind. Researchers believe theanine—an amino acid present in these tea varieties—may work synergistically with caffeine to improve attention and focus.
Oily fish, such as salmon, fresh tuna, sardines and anchovies, will supply omega-3s—a key mood-boosting nutrient and one our bodies do not produce. Omega-3s alter brain chemicals associated with mood—specifically dopamine and serotonin, which are linked with keeping depression at bay.
Caffeine, found in coffee, cola and energy drinks, is often called a ‘drug’ as it acts as a stimulant and can improve the feelings of alertness and counter the effects of fatigue. Beware, as overconsumption of caffeine may cause adverse effects of irritability and headache.
Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and anthocyanins. These nutrients are said to be great stress busters. Antioxidants combat free radicals, which may adversely affect memory.
The combination of omega 3 fatty acids and phytochemicals in walnuts are reported to exert natural antidepressant effects in human. Walnuts also contain other compounds like tryptophan, protein, and folic acid that contribute to enhanced mood.
Chocolate has long been associated with enjoyment and pleasure. Chocolate may interact with a number of neurotransmitter systems including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins that contribute to appetite, reward and mood regulation. Chocolate is rich in antioxidants and it contains amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that is said to reduce anxiety.
The interplay between food and mood is multifaceted: there are many ways that foods can affect our mood, just as how we feel has a large influence on what foods we choose. It is possible that the mood enhancing properties of food are due to a cumulative and synergistic action of nutrients. Some of the mood/food effects are due to nutrient content, but many are derived from existing associations of foods with pleasure and reward or deprivation.
It is quite common nowadays to be confronted with strongly upheld dietary convictions such as – carbohydrates are bad for you –. Digging a little further to better understand the foundations behind such beliefs reveals widespread puzzlement and dubious assertions that carbohydrates, also widely known as carbs, make you fat. It is very common for people, especially those attempting to lose weight, to completely cut out or radically reduce carb consumption because of their "supposed" association with weight gain and fat accumulation. But is there robust science to support this type of dietary behaviour? Or is it yet again another diet hype? This article will explore whether the science supports the claim that – carbohydrates make you fat – or whether, on the contrary, it refutes it.
"THE CARBS ARE BAD" MISGUIDED PHILOSOPHY
Diets such as the Atkins, Dukan and South Beach have certainly not done carbs any favours; on the contrary, the connotations surrounding carbs are very negative. "The carbs are bad" philosophy from the above mentioned diets have created widespread misperceptions about carbohydrates and their importance for health. Carbs represent such a broad food category; not all carbs are the same and it is the type and quantity of carbohydrates that matters.
WHAT ARE CARBOHYDRATES?
Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy. The body converts most carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), which fuels cells such as those of the brain and muscles. Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients found in food, along with fat and protein. There are three different types of carbohydrate: sugar, starch and fibre.
Sugar is the simplest type of carbohydrate as it consists of one single sugar molecule; it is naturally present in some foods, including fruit, honey and milk (lactose). Other forms of sugar (for example table sugar) can be added to food and drink such as sweets, chocolates, biscuits and soft drinks during manufacture, or added when cooking or baking at home. Remember: sugar is a carbohydrate but not all carbs are sugars.
Starch is a complex carbohydrate as it is composed of many sugar units linked together; starch is found in foods that originate from plants. Starchy foods (bread, rice, potatoes and pasta) provide a slow and constant release of energy throughout the day.
Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants. Fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate; the sugar units in fibre are bonded together in such a way that your body can't break the bonds and digest them. Instead, fibre transits through your small intestines and reaches the large intestine intact. Rich sources of fibre include vegetables with skins on, wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta and pulses (beans and lentils).
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CARBOHYDRATES
Carbs are important for health and as part of a healthy balanced diet they embody the body’s main source of energy, providing about 4kcal per gram. Carbohydrates contain fewer calories per gram than fat, and starchy foods can be a good source of fibre, which renders them a valuable component in weight loss plans. By replacing fatty, sugary foods and drinks with high-fibre starchy foods, it is more likely you will reduce the number of calories consumed. Moreover, high fibre starchy carb foods add bulk, ensure a slower release of sugar into the blood compared with sugary foods and drinks, giving you that feeling of fullness.
Vegetables, pulses and wholegrain varieties of starchy foods and potatoes consumed with their skins on are good sources of fibre. Fibre is an important part of a healthy balanced diet as it promotes bowel health and reduces risk of constipation. Some types of fibre have been shown to have cholesterol-lowering properties. Research shows diets high in fibre are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Many people are not meeting daily fibre requirements making it all the more important to include sources of fibre in your diet.
SHOULD YOU CUT OUT CARBS?
It would prove to be very difficult to eliminate carbs entirely from your diet. In the absence of carbohydrate, your body will utilise protein and fat to generate energy. Healthy sources of carbs such as starchy foods, vegetables, fruits, legumes and dairy products are an important source of nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins. Cutting out carbohydrates and replacing those calories with fats and higher fat sources of protein could increase your intake of saturated fat, which in turn raises the amount of cholesterol in your blood – an established risk factor for heart disease.
Cutting out a whole food group (such as starchy foods) as some diets advocate could put your health at risk because it could ultimately lead to nutritional deficiencies, unless the shortfall in nutrients are substituted with healthy alternatives. It may also be hard consume adequate levels of fibre, which is important for a healthy digestive system.
Furthermore, when you are low on glucose, the body breaks down stored fat, converting it into energy. This process causes a build up of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis. Ketosis as a result of a low carbohydrate diet can be accompanied by symptoms such as headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability particularly in the short term.
DO CARBS MAKE YOU FAT?
Any food can be fattening if over consumed. It does not seem to be of great consequence whether your diet is high in fat or carbs; what counts is how much you consume in total. In fact, gram for gram, carbohydrates contain fewer than half the calories of fat. Eating too many calories – whether they are carbs, protein or fat – will contribute to weight gain. To maintain a healthy weight cut down on sugary foods which have a high energy content in favour of fruit, vegetables, pulses, wholegrain starchy foods and potatoes with skins intact, while still keeping an eye out on portion size.
Carbohydrates will seldom be stored as fat. Unused glucose is typically converted to glycogen found in the liver and muscles. If unused, glucose can be converted to fat, for long-term storage of energy; however, this only happens if you frequently exceed total calorie requirements in your diet. The conversion of carbohydrates to fat requires significant amount of energy and is a complex process. As such, your body prefers to utilise carbohydrates as a primary fuel source.
ROLE OF CARBOHYDRATES IN EXERCISE?
Carbohydrates, fat and protein all provide energy, but exercising muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel. However, muscles have limited carb stores (glycogen) and they need to be topped up regularly to keep your energy up. A diet low in carbs can lead to a lack of energy during exercise, early fatigue and delayed recovery. Fat and protein are harder to turn into energy than carbs, which means you may feel low on energy during your exercise session.
WHAT CARBS SHOULD I BE EATING?
Sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes and soft drinks with added sugar are usually high in sugar and calories, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and can contribute to weight gain if consumed frequently, while being nutrient poor. Fruit, vegetables, pulses and starchy foods, especially wholegrain varieties, provide a wider range of nutrients, which confer health benefits.
Most national food-based dietary guidelines advise that a third of your diet should be made up of starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and another third should be fruit and vegetables. This means that about half of your daily calorie intake should come from starchy foods, fruit and vegetables. Try to aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day and select wholegrain starchy foods whenever possible.
I have been asked on several occasions whether it is healthy to eat fruits directly after a meal. I am not quire sure where this theory originates from, having been accustomed to eating fruit after a meal from an early age; this practice was so deeply ingrained in my conscience as being associated with health, that this has now become second-nature.
A closer look at the science
Our digestive system is ready to digest a variety of food during a meal. In fact, having a piece of fruit after a meal has many benefits; not only does it represent a treat for those who have a sweet tooth, but also eating some fruit is a more nutritious option than having a dessert, as it is lower in calories and fat.
If you are having an iron-rich vegetarian meal, for example spinach or lentils, having a vitamin C-rich fruit e.g. orange, melon or strawberries directly after your meal will enhance the absorption of iron from the food. This will enable you to better meet your iron requirements, which helps prevent iron-deficiency anemia.
A word of caution - don't go crazy!
Although fruit is nutritious, it does contain calories. If you consume some fruit right after eating an energy-dense meal, you will most likely be getting more calories than your body needs. The over consumption of calories, even from healthy foods like fruit, will inevitably lead to weight gain. Take into account the fruit you will consume after a meal into your total caloric limit for the day, so you do not end up taking in more energy than you can burn. Also, bear in mind that if your diet consists of a lot of fruit, it leaves less room for other nutritious foods such as vegetables, whole grains, lower-fat dairy products etc.
You can rest assured that eating a fruit at any time during the day will increase your intake of key vitamins and minerals. This will keep many diseases at bay. In case you feel really full after a meal, then save your fruit for a delicious and healthy afternoon snack. The timing of your fruit intake is up to you, as long you have 2-3 servings a day.
Sophie Bruno is a Registered Dietitian living and working in Brussels (Belgium). Read Sophie's foodie blog which will enable you to learn, increase your knowledge & cultivate yourself in the field of nutrition & health directly from Brussels