Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fats: Friend, Not Foe

In years gone by, the coconut has waxed and waned in the eyes of the public. Rumors of saturated fat being the "lethal" ingredient to all that ails us colored our view of this nutritional powerhouse. We were lectured by the food industry to stay away from this innocent culprit. What drove such vehemence against this life-saving food, and why do we still consume it with fear in the backs of our minds?

If we look at cultures whose primary fats are saturated, versus the consumption of trans-fats (which America is the biggest consumer of in the world), we will find very little heart disease, obesity, and cancer in general populace studies (read: "Nutrition & Physical Degeneration," Weston A. Price). Americans revel in single-handed "food blame": we're overweight because of... (insert word here: stress, sugar, fat, etc.). In truth, the public is pining for more sound, independently conducted studies, those which are not funded by a vested party.

Coconut oil is one of the most powerful nutrient-dense allies for the body. It is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral. It is used internally, and for topical reasons, such as rashes, burns, etc. It is one of the easiest fats for the liver to process, and is typically thought of as a "satiation bullet." What this means is that when you include coconut oil in your diet, you will feel fuller, faster.

You may see on the internet, hear on "Oprah," and read in popular women's magazines about the "thermogenic effect" (ability to speed up metabolism) of coconut oil. This statement is accurate. It nourishes the thyroid, from a Chinese medicine perspective, thereby taking care of this vital endocrine gland which helps normalize weight.

There are two things which "activate" CCK (cholecystikinin) in the gut, the "satiation hormone": fat and fiber. If you're deficient, or low, in one of these two areas, your body's metabolism is sure to slow down. You give the opportunity for the body to feel full often, by feeding it healthy fats and high fiber foods (throw some good, high-quality protein in there), your body will be constantly re-reminded that it has no worry of starvation. The effect? A healthy, metabolism, which functions at optimal peak condition.

One of the biggest reasons for type 2 diabetes in this country is over-eating. Other countries call this disease, "the rich man's disease," as it typically is western industrialized nations that eat the portions that we do. Why are we not satisfied with the portion-size served to the French, Italians, Indians, or Thai? Yes, this is a complex problem, which has many issues as contributing to the problem. One is that we don't take time to enjoy the pleasure of our food. We don't allow CCK to kick in before we stop eating (statistically, this takes 20-30 mins.) Having a healthy amount of good fats in the diet, combined with fiber-filled food, will be the winning combination to create a sense of satiation early on within the meal.

By including such fats as coconut oil in the meal, you will notice your portion sizes decreasing without you even trying to do this. You will feel satisfied, and not hungry.

Coconut oil is one of the few oils that is heat-stable. What this means is that it may be used for high-heat baking, sauteeing, cooking, frying, etc., without losing its therapeutic or medicinal components. Olive oil is NOT this way. It should not be thought of as a cooking oil. In European countries, butter is used for high-heat baking and cooking. Olive oil is used for salads, and bread-dipping. Omega-3 oils such as olive oil, flax seed oil, borage oil, and cod liver oil should all be used for condiments only, and should be refrigerated at all times. If you purchase flax seed oil (or any other omega 3 oil) in capsules from your local health food store, and they're not refrigerated, you're not getting your money's worth. Only purchase these oils refrigerated. Once open, refrigerate them immediately. They are medicinally worthless not refrigerated.

(notice the color of the olive oil: dark green, not white or "greyish", this is what you're looking for in high-quality olive oil)

When I managed supplement departments around the country, during my undergrad. in college, this was the first thing I would change: out with all the un-refrigerated oils, put all cod liver oil, flax seed oil, etc. in the refrigerator. Patients say to me, "Almine, I don't notice any difference from the flax seed oil capsules I take daily." I ask them if they bought them on the store shelf. 99% of the time the answer is "yes." No wonder. We'd like to think that the "nice" people at the supplement companies have our backs in us wanting to feel a difference from their products, but the reality is, that as supplements, organics, etc. become more "mainstream" large agri-business companies are buying them up at a rapid rate. For instance, "Coca-Cola" recently bought the organic label "Cascadian Farm." What does this mean? Quality control goes down. When people don't feel a difference from their supplements, they typically keep buying more of the same supplement, because "I'm sure I'm just not taking enough." Its a vicious cycle.

I ask my patients to bring in the supplements that they're on. You would be shocked that I have several patients per week who will dump out 1-2 grocery bags of bottles on my desk. I ask them if they feel a difference from taking all of these supplements. Generally, the answer is "No." I'm assuming they aren't feeling what they want to be feeling, or they wouldn't be in my office.

(the best fermented, high-vitamin cod liver oil around. "Blue Ice" fermented cod liver oil can be purchased from: www.drrons.com)

Healthy, high-quality fats actually assist the body in absorbing proper nutrients, and breaking down plant cellulose fiber. This is crucial, as otherwise, your body is ill-equipped to do this on its own. Your grandmother knew exactly what she was doing when she fried up those collard greens in lard and poured a little vinegar on top. This is why our ancestors realized that oil was crucial to the nutrient absorption from raw vegetables (hence salad dressing). Acid plus oil equals the ideal "solvent" for proper plant cellulose break-down (but we'll save the topic of acids for another blog).

A low-fat diet is not the best option. Even for those with gallbladder issues, or even for folks whose gallbladders have been removed. The type of oil is to be considered, and my recommendation would be coconut oil.

When purchasing coconut oil, my recommendation would be extra-virgin, fermented coconut oil. You may purchase this at: www.wildernessfamilynaturals.com or www.tropicaltraditions.com

Coconut oil is an ideal oil for the athlete. I take 6 capsules per hr. for endurance events. Past 2 hours of vigorous, ongoing exercise, your body is in need of a more long-term fat source for fuel. Dean Karnazes, the "Ultra-Marathon Man" prefers vials of olive oil, 1 per hr. He learned this trick from the "Navy SEALS," as they've tested this fat source out as fuel in the most rugged of conditions.

I would experiment for yourself to find your ideal oil source for endurance sports. Coconut oil seems to be easier on my digestive system. The digestive system goes into "hibernation" mode, so that all necessary fuel goes directly to the muscles during exercise. Coconut oil seems to not bother my stomach, make me feel nauseated, and gives me long-lasting energy.

A question I get often is, "How do you take coconut oil when you're exercising? Isn't it cumbersome and messy?" I take it in capsules (see brand below). Your local health food store may carry this product. If not, you can order it directly online.

I would highly recommend reading up on coconut oil's benefits, incorporating it into your cooking, baking, and other high-heat activities. Melt it like butter, and put it in a smoothie. Its a versatile oil whose health benefits will be felt within hours.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sports Drinks Simplified: Which One Is The Right One For Me?

We've all heard about the importance of fluid hydration during exercise. Hydration for the athlete is a topic that is consistently being debated upon. From exercise physiologists to personal trainers, everyone has an opinion on how to deal with the issue, and what products to take.

While there is no one simple answer to this question, I do have some ideas for you to explore and play with. Ultimately, like nutrient intake, it will be a question of trial-and-error. You will need to go through the "gauntlet" of figuring out proper proportions and what products are right for you.

A tip would be to begin asking various athletes what they recommend, their personal favorite hydration products or beverages, and then give them a try. In addition, you will need to calculate how much hydration will be needed for your given event, and plan accordingly.

Unfortunately, I figured out the hard way, last year, during the "Xterra 10k" trail-run that I had drunk not only too much fluid before the race, but was also carrying way too much liquid in my "Camelbak" pack during the race. It weighted me down, and was unnecessary for me to be carrying that much while I ran.

So what is the "magic formula" for how many ounces to drink per hour, what product to take, etc.? The simple answer is: there is none. There are some guidelines and suggestions I may make, however, as I continue upon my own quest for the "perfect" hydration beverage for me (if there is one).

First and foremost, I am an advocate of getting your fuel from as natural a source(s) as possible, as often as you can. This is sometimes not possible, nor is it practical. For instance, I have 2 "natural" electrolyte replacement beverages that I choose from, and 1 powder-form electrolyte replacement to mix in with my water when needed. Why have this variety? One of the products that I like (will go into more detail below) comes in a glass bottle. It contains apple cider vinegar (ACV). ACV (or any other acidic juice, such as lemon, lime, etc.) should not be put in plastic. The acids "eat away at" or "leach" the plastic, thereby extracting potentially harmful compounds from the plastic into the water, which you then ingest. That's counter-productive. Also, a bunch of glass bottles can add up in weight if you're carrying a heavy pack, running a long-distance, etc. I keep that beverage for when I do "Bikram" yoga, because its easy to transport to the yoga studio. I keep my powder-electrolyte mix in a bag with a scoop (which is light in weight to carry) for backpacking trips, long climbing days, camping, etc.

I also suggest rotating sports beverages of choice (have an "arsenal" of 2-3 to pick from), so that you don't get bored with the same taste. Many people have an aversion to drinking something when they either don't like the taste, or get tired of it. So, think variety, yet consistency in electrolyte profile.

While there is no bullet-proof formula, "Hammer Nutrition" has put out a "guideline" that is fairly good to follow. It, at least, will get you started:

*FLUIDS: 20-25 oz. hourly
*SODIUM CHLORIDE (salt): 300-600 mg. hourly
*CALORIES: 240-280 cal. hourly

Again, if you're interested in a particular sport (ultra-running, Adventure Racing, cycling, etc.) talk to experts, friends, and folks who have put various electrolyte-replacement beverages to the test, and ask them for advice.

Here are my top 3 Favs.:

*"Amy & Brian's Coconut Juice" (this comes in a variety of flavors, & with/without the "pulp"). Check out the following link on this beverage: http://amyandbriannaturals.com/pdf/Coconut_Natures_Sports_Drink.pdf

*BRAGG'S Apple Cider Vinegar Drink. Check out the following link for this beverage: http://bragg.com/products/bragg-organic-apple-cider-vinegar-drink-honey.html

*"Hammer Nutrition" HEED electrolyte-replacement powder drink mix (comes in a variety of flavors). Check out the following link on this beverage: http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/heed-sports-drink.he.html?navcat=fuels-energy-drinks

There are very few over-the-counter sports drink mixes that settle well in my stomach. I've never had a problem with any of the "Hammer Nutrition" products. They pay meticulous attention to using such natural sweeteners in the products as stevia and xylitol, which in turn, keep your blood sugar nice and steady. Products such as "Gatorade," or any of the other myriad sports beverages you purchase at the grocery store cause excessive spikes in blood sugar, thereby setting the body up to "crash" during your event. The body doesn't process rapid jumps in blood-sugar all that well. The mantra to keep in mind is "slow and steady wins the race." Keep your hydration levels and nutrient levels at a nice, consistent "hum" throughout your day, and all will be well. Achieving this may take some time to figure out. Be easy with yourself, and realize that every new product is "on trial" by your gut until it proves itself one way or another. Many trails have been "christened" by athletes as they undergo this process of figuring out what works for their body. Its great if we can avoid this part, and skip to knowing exactly what works for us during long days of activity, but not always possible.

To look more closely at the nutrient/electrolyte profile of each above mentioned beverage I suggested, I recommend going to the links I provided and searching more on the internet about the benefits of each product. A blog post could be done, in and of itself, on the various benefits of raw honey and raw apple cider vinegar.

I hope today's blog was helpful to you, and that it sparked interest for you to undergo the process in finding a good electrolyte/hydration source for your body's needs. ***ENJOY***