Nutritional Ketosis, Part III – Health benefits: ketogenic diet, cancer and more

ketogenic salmon recipe

Let’s revisit health benefits of ketogenic diet.

In Part I and Part II you learned how effective ketogenic diet can be in shedding extra body fat and making you perform better – both mentally and physically.  You have also learned that although it does not make you hungry like some calorie-restricted diets do, strict ketosis is, nevertheless, difficult to maintain because it eliminates some of your most favorite foods and leaves a limited number of ingredients that you can safely consume without shutting down ketogenesis.

So why would you subject yourself to this seemingly restrictive practice if you do not need to lose weight?

The answer is – because ketosis has several profound therapeutic benefits.

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Dietary Cholesterol Redeemed

Dietary cholesterol is not bad for you!

Let’s establish something before we start our discussion – and bear with me for a moment even it violates everything that you’ve heard so far – dietary cholesterol (and cholesterol in general) is NOT bad for you.

Shocking, right?  Isn’t dietary cholesterol responsible for cardio-vascular problems?  Isn’t excess dietary cholesterol a major cause of death from heart attacks and strokes?  Aren’t we supposed to stay away from fat, read meat, avoid cholesterol in eggs and other  dangerous foods that make us obese and clog our arteries?

You would be surprised, but the answer to all of those is – NO.

For many decades, dietary cholesterol has been blamed for something it was not responsible for and this image is so deeply ingrained in most people’s brains that it is extremely hard to wipe out. But now even USDA and US Department of Health and Human Services may be ready to scrap the guidelines of avoiding high-cholesterol foods.

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Nourishing good bacteria to improve health

bad and good bacteria

How bad and good bacteria influence everything in your life

You have 100 trillion bacteria in your gut.  This is 10 times the number of all other cells in all your other tissues combined.

You may not think much of bacteria and, in fact, try to eradicate it when you get a chance (using anti-bacterial sanitizers, soaps and shampoos to clean yourself up and gobbling up antibiotics when you get sick) – the symbiotic relationship of your gut bacteria with the rest of your biology has some people argue that we are nothing more than just vessels and vehicles for bacteria that control what we do, how we eat and how long we live – all as a part of a devious plan to ensure their survival and domination.

While this sounds a bit too much like science fiction, the reality may not be very far from it when you start considering a few facts.  We mostly think of our intestinal flora in the context of digestion problems, gas and stomach pains (and an odd yogurt advertised on TV), but it is so much more than just that.

In fact, your microbiome (gut bacteria) are responsible for a wide variety of functions, such as:

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How to lose weight by avoiding these 6 common mistakes

You would think that with so many strategies on how to lose weight, a plethora of certified dietitians, new hot diets coming out every month, countless tips in popular magazines, proliferation of “healthier” food and the number of companies selling all sorts of green coffee extracts and Garcinia Cambodia pills – we should have less overweight people.  But, somehow, none of these seem to work.  Even when people make a genuine and honest attempt to educate themselves on how to lose weight and proper dietary habits and stick to a specific plan – the majority usually fails miserably.  The agony of a constant struggle with weight seems to be the quintessence of modern existence for men and women alike.

Losing weight is not all about willpower.  In a desperate attempt to lose weight and look better, a lot of people are able to implement and stick to some brutal restrictions when it comes to what, how much or when they eat.  Surely, you would think that all this effort MUST pay off in the end.

But more often than not – it doesn’t.  We are still facing a sad reality with growing armies of obese people flipping through fitness and lifestyle magazines (that feature bad role models in a semi-anorexic state) and, in their wishful thinking, grasping at every opportunity (of which there seems to be an abundance) to try to lose weight, still wondering why the heck nothing works.

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Importance of reading ingredient lists and nutrition labels – Part II

(Continued from Part I here)

Sodium

While there might be various dangerous sources of sodium, such as monosodium glutamate (or MSG) or a plethora of sodium-containing food additives, such as sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, sodium nitrite and sodium acid pyrophosphate – all of which should be avoided completely, Sodium Chloride (or table salt) is the primary source of sodium in processed foods – it’s a preservative and dehydration agent so it is heavily used to inhibit bacterial activity (bacteria need water to survive and multiply).  And packaged foods usually have a lot of it.

Sodium has been blamed in the past for high blood pressure, but recent studies show that this might have been a bit overstated – while loading up on table salt is probably still not a very wise move (and if you avoid processed foods and, as an occasional condiment, use natural, less-processed or unprocessed salts, such as Himalayan pink, which is less in sodium and higher in potassium than other salts – it would be quite hard to overconsume sodium), what might be more important is the balance between sodium and potassium intake.  Sodium and Potassium are the two most important minerals in your body as jointly they regulate the most vital activities, such as carrying nutrients in and out of all your cells, helping your brain communicate with muscles via sodium-potassium ion exchange, etc. – and potassium offsets the hypertensive effects of sodium. When increased sodium intake is countered by equally sufficient potassium intake, most symptoms associated with excessive sodium intake – such as water retention, hypertension, cramps, heart irregularities – usually go away.

So, if you (sigh) do go for packaged food occasionally, at least try read the label and pick the one that has a balance of sodium and potassium – both are usually prominently disclosed on a nutrition label.  Better yet – keep in mind that foods that are OK to consume from a box, a can or a bag do not usually have high sodium content, because none (or very little) is added during processing – let this be your guide when you pick packaged foods.

By the way, if you are an endurance athlete, involved in competitive sports or generally exercise a lot, you might be losing more than the usual amount of sodium (and other electrolytes) through your sweat, so denying yourself salt completely may not be in your best interest – but, again, try to replenish lost minerals through natural and least processed foods.  Drinking soy sauce (which may contain up to a staggering 7 grams of sodium per 100 g. of the sauce), or even, more realistically – specialized “sports drinks”, such as Gatorade (which usually contain a lot of sugar and, potentially, chemical additives, as you read in Part I) is not the best way to do it.  Feel free to season home-cooked foods to your taste and monitor your reaction – if you feel like you are retaining too much water or, if you already have problems with hypertension – dial back.

Carbs and Sugars

Carb and sugar content is, probably, the first thing I look for, when reading nutrition labels, because of how easy it is to let it through your guard and how important it is not to.  You will notice that I do not separate (simple) sugars, such as sucrose or table sugar and other (potentially more complex) carbs, because, eventually, even complex carbs are broken down by enzymes in your body into simple sugars, such as  glucose, and further participate in metabolism in a similar manner.

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