Friday, March 14, 2014

Food Chemistry: Make it Personal {Week 10}

Alright so for the past 10 weeks, we've talked about lots of things. But recently, we've talked about dietary guidelines, dietary requirements and being active about your health. So it just makes sense that we now talk about labeling and personalized food plans. So a little about nutrition facts.
This is one of my favorite nutritional fact helpers. Some of you may know this, but some may not. I work in a student-run clinic as a nutrition education intern. It's basically a student-run free health clinic for underserved/uninsured populations. Med students from our college work in there to 1) gain practice 2) help those who otherwise would not receive any health care. So as the nutrition intern, i'm basically the only "nutritionist" there. So I get to do a lot of nutrition advising that a registered dietician would normally do for a clinic/hospital. Not only is it a fantastic experience for me in my long-term career goals, but also, it feed directly into my passion so much. I really feel like I found myself in this clinic. I found how much I absolutely love counseling people on what to eat. 

First thing I do with my patients is walk them through a food label. Like- what is it? Personally, I spent hours and hours going grocery shopping. Because, I literally just walk through, aisle by aisle just reading every single food label. Not because I was going to buy everything, but because I love just learning about how much sugar something has, or the calories in a cup of mac 'n' cheese. Yes, i'm weirder than your average person. No one spends 3 hours in whole foods per week. But hey, it's my passion. So to walk you through the food label, I have attached the picture above. An important part to look at is the Daily Value calculator. People always get confused at these percents. 

 "Does this mean thats 30% of what I should eat?"

"Or does this mean that I have 30% of my calcium intake and therefore should have 3 of these foods plus a third to get 100%?"

These percents are the % of this serving that fulfills the RDA requirement for that nutrient. We talked a lot about RDA values in Week 8. So basically, they take the amount of the nutrient/RDA for that nutrient * 100 = the % of the requirement you will "achieve" by eating that food. Does that make sense?

 But there are all different kinds of labels nowadays. For example, the picture below shows all the different kinds of food labels found on the front of packages, besides just the standard label on the back. 

Okay, so now you know how to read labels and know what to look for... but what does it mean? First, it is important to maintain a balanced caloric intake. Don't let anyone fool you, it is important to count your calories. However, the Paleo-side of me, is cringing at the thought of saying this. Reason being, I don't want you guys to obsess over numbers. It is more important to eat wholesome good food. But, just because bacon is considered a Paleo-approved (and encouraged food) doesn't mean that you should be overloading on bacon everyday. Or, sweet potatoes. Yes, sweet potatoes are a total "go" food. They contain complex carbs and are honestly a huge staple in my personal diet. But, keep in mind, a small sweet potato is ~ 70kcal. So when you opt for sweet potato fries, although they are paleo, you are upwards of 300 kcal per serving. So be careful. The other big one in the Paleo diet is ghee, or clarified butter. One tablespoon of ghee is ~ 74 kcal. You can't just keep pouring ghee on everything thinking "oh it's paleo, i'll lose weight" no. Yes, you're body will feel better with these foods. Yes, you will begin to notice changes in energy, health, etc. But at the end of the day, your calories intake must = your calories you put out via exercise in order to maintain your weight. If you are trying to lose weight, you should have a deficit in out calories vs. in. So it is important to count.

My favorite way of counting is through handy dandy trackers on my smartphone such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It. This way, I can also determine my fat intake, carb, protein etc.

 Another great resource to get more into the details of nutrients is the new USDA Food tracker, Super Tracker. This resources allows you to input everything you ate, how much you ate, for what meal, how much water and exercise you had, etc. Then you can glean nutrient reports and find out where you are deficient. Say for example you had a ton of broccoli this week so you have lots of calcium, but you didn't eat any meat or spinach so therefore you are low on iron. Here is a snapshot of my own SuperTracker nutrient report for the last 10 days. 

I basically just spent the top half of this post about what you can do for yourself. But now, let me address the "meal-planning" passion of mine. 
Because I work in the clinics, I like to make individualized meal-plans for my patients. Not everybody likes yogurt, not everybody likes greek yogurt with blueberries. Maybe someone likes to eat boiled chicken in the morning instead of the standard egg whites with steel-cut oats. So I enjoy recalling peoples diets for the last 24-hours and then figuring out what they like to eat and try to create meal-plans based on what they normally eat but with portion control. Because the main goal of the 21st century is to promote health and prevent disease, this is all about portion control and food. The goal of the USDA is perfectly in line with my life-long career goal.

For those of you who don't know, I have a passion for medicine and nutrition. I want to create the link in between the two things. For example, preventative medicine is all about food and health. What you eat now, affects your health long-term. Whether it be food hazards that we talked about earlier, or the amount of fast food and saturated fat you consume, or just your lack of knowledge of food labels. Therefore, I want to ultimately get my dietician license and then go off into medical school I don't think medical professions have the opportunity to get a lot of nutrition education in their medical education, and I want to have that background going into school. 

I love love love love love talking about nutrition and health and the things that affect it. The two are so intertwined that it's impossible and silly to even try to separate. Well, I hope that you all enjoyed my past 10 weeks of "education". I know I have! When I started this adventure back in January, I didn't think I would be able to tie it in to the foundation of my blog, or to even be able to figure out what to write and how to incorporate it into my own life. But nutrition education is so applicable that it literally fits into every facet of your life. It's also so personal. It means different things to different people and it is completely unique.

 Although, this was a food chemistry class, I learned so much about how people choose their foods, and therefore their preferences will dictate what foods they eat and ultimately the nutrients they consume. Then there is the issue of having to trust an organization to make sure the food is completely safe to consume and won't bring harm to you. But on top of all of that, you need to be active in your health and seek out the resources that are there for you to learn from. I hope these past 10 weeks of posting has helped you guys have an avenue for gaining education about food in "layman terms" instead of the heavy scientific jargon. There is a lot of research and science behind all these resources, but they can all be broken down into regular terms, which I hope I did for you here.

Thank you for caring and reading a long. If you have any questions, as I mentioned above, this is my passion. Please feel free to comment below and I will reach you! 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Food Chemistry: Bioavailability & Fortification {Week 9}

So we've been talking a lot about food safety, nutrients in food, how food is stored, how the nutrient content is regulated, how all this applies to Paleo (and the purpose of this blog) but something we never considered is Bioavailability and Fortification.

Can I just take a second to say I love the way the structure of these posts have been going. If you've been following along the past 9 weeks, as I hope you have been, you will see that we started back with safety and hazards and then slowly started talking about nutrient requirements and how the industry is educated the public about requirements and now... we're talking about how the industry is trying desperately to get you to buy foods that meet your nutritional needs. By desperately, I mean, they want to convince you that even though a food product is processed it still has all the nutrients that a raw product would have (or so they say).

Just for some technical terms before the rest of this post. Bioavailability is the ability of the body to process the nutrient it is given while keeping in mind how much of that nutrient is available. Okay, what the heck does that mean? So say for example milk has 70 mg of Calcium. Just because it says it has 70mg of Calcium, doesn't mean your body digest, absorbs and uses all 70mg. It might use, say 40 mg. Therefore, the bioavailability is roughly 57% of that present.

This is particularly important when people consider, polyphenols. Polyphenols, an antioxidant found in plant-based foods is commonly thought to aid in preventative health measures. But how much of these polyphenols are actually absorbed? An article written in the The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, found that the polyphenols found most common in the diet are not the ones that are most active in absorption (have very high bioavailability). They found that most polyphenols are so hydrophilic (love water) that they pass through the gut in just passive diffusion, not letting them be absorbed well. Doesn't mean not to eat them, it just means... they might not be necessary in that high of quantities.

Bioavailability also is affected by nutrient loss. Nutrients can be loss via coking, processing, handling, etc. So bioavailability decreases when you have nutrient loss. But it can also be affected by just the type of nutrient you are putting in an its chemical properties. The different chemical forms, physical forms of the nutrient or even the digestibility can change bioavailability. In addition, the concentration of the nutrient is also affected. So if you consume high concentrations, you might get a slight increase in bioavailability because there is so much in the system, there's bound to be more absorption.

The Academy of Nutrition put out a handout about the difference between "enriched" and "fortification" which I will break down for you here. Some common examples of enriched and fortification are pictured below.

Enriched is the process of re-adding a nutrient back into a food that may have been lost by one of the processing techniques. For example, since we process milks (like soy) or process things like wheat for use of cereal, we lose nutrients. We can calculate the percent loss, and then "enrich" that food back with what was once lost.

Fortification, however, is the act of adding a nutrient to a commodity that was never there to begin with. One of the most fortified nutrients is Folate. The FDA mandated the fortification of folate in cereals starting 1998 because of the risk of neural tube defects in infants due to folate deficiencies. They found that fortification of foods was easier than constantly handing out folate supplements. But one can think of fortification as "supplementation" it's just done to your food instead of you taking a vitamin supplement.

Fortification is commonly the processed used for almond milk processing as well. Almond milk fortified with Calcium provides more calcium / cup than bovine milk.  But is the calcium in almond milk absorbed the same as bovine? However, it as found that there are two forms of calcium commonly used in the fortification process, Calcium carbonate and tricalcium citrate.  It was concluded that the superior bioavailability of tricalcium citrate was on average between +22 to +27% better absorbability than calcium carbonate. So, when looking at fortified foods, look for tricalcium citrate, to get the most bang for your buck!

It's just funny to me sometimes to think that fortification is sometimes viewed as supplementation. Because all my paleo-people or even the "health- nuts" out there, always freak out when you bring up the topic of supplementation. "WHAT, I have to take a pill?!" But did you ever stop to think that the processed foods you eat are actually considered broken down pills.

So if you're not about pills, guess what... you can't eat processed foods anymore! Because, that's exactly the same thing. Cue in the Paleo talk. For this reason, Paleo lifestyle is surrounded around the idea of eating unprocessed foods in order to receive the natural nutrients it offers without having to consume supplements. So if you don't eat processed foods, then you won't lose the nutrients in your foods due to processing. Therefore, there is less likelihood of you needing supplementation to meet your dietary needs.

Boom, see how I convinced you to go Paleo just then?


Manach, C., Scalbert, A., Morand, C., Remesy, C., & Jimenez, L. (2004). Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability 1,2. American Society for Clinical Nutrition79(5), 727-747.

Shane, B. (2003). Folate fortification: enough already?. American Society for Clinical Nutrition77(1), 8-9.

Henry, C. J. (2007). Novel food ingredients for weight control. Cambridge, England: Woodhead Pub.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Food Chemistry: Have you had enough yet? {Week 8}

You guys have all seen this before, right? This is the new dietary guidelines provided by the USDA. However, as soon as this came out (June 2011), the critics started. Dr. Andrew Weil of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, wrote in the Huffington Post about the different problems this food guide exemplifies. For example, it just says "fruits". Some may think that fruits are "Fruit-roll ups" which carry 7g of sugar in each .5 oz role. Then, there is no distinction between "simple carbs" and "complex carbs". Plus, the most talked about controversy, the "dairy" section. So on this food guide, they have put dairy in a cup obviously signaling milk. However, the dairy industry is up in arms fighting because the industry is responsible for things like cheese, creams, yogurts etc. not just milk! Now, if people follow this guide "to the T" (which is the goal of the USDA) then, people should be consuming their dairy in a glass. Uh oh, bye bye Kraft cheese singles.
Lets take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

The first ever food guide was created in 1943, called "The Basic 7".The purpose was to create a balanced nutrient diet even during war time (World-war 2). What I really like about this guide is the bottom line, "In addition to these 7 groups, eat any other food you want." So back then, it wasn't about calorie control or trying to maintain healthy weights, or even exercise. It was merely a way to sustain yourself during war time. So they recommended you to make sure to eat the 7 groups, in terms of nutrient needs. But to feel free to eat anything else as long as you meet these 7! Sounds kinda cool...  But also interesting to see how far we've come to our current guidelines, but we'll get to that in a minute!
The next food guide, was the "Basic 4" created in 1956. The USDA basically said, make sure to eat these 4 things (no quantities given) and then you can also just eat anything else to... "round out your diet". Pay special attention to the fact that they have included things like, cheese in for dairy and how they include both fish, cows, chicken etc. for meat. It's more of a well rounded guide than the MyPlate, cause it tells you the foods in each group.

Then came the "Food Pyramid". This is by far my favorite one! Maybe because i'm so use to seeing it. This guide lasted from 1992- 2005! This guide includes serving sizes, the different foods included in each section, and gives visuals! They also include "milk, yogurt, and cheese" in the dairy section. This is more than I can say for the current guide.
Then came the MyPyramid. Or as I like to say it, here comes the decline of all USDA food guides.... This was an "attempt" to make the food guide pyramid from above, more personal to the consumer. It showed a hierarchy of steps and was more visual. Honestly, at first glance I had no idea how to even read this. What did it mean? Does it mean the first steps you take are the highest food group you should consume? But I think it has something to do with the wedges. Like if the wedge is big and wide then you eat more of that, and if the wedge is smaller like in the case of fats/oils (yellow) then you eat less? I don't know, it sounds really silly and looks silly and very confusing. The foods are all clustered on top of each other, how would anyone even know what wedge goes with which color.
Then, last but not least came MyPlate. I have a picture of MyPlate at the very top of the post. Like, I said.. this is just a steady decline of all food guides from the point of the "mypyramid" until now. Honestly, we need to just revert back to the food guide pyramid. It not only has serving sizes, it has all the foods that are in the food group, and it's visual and not confusing at all. You eat the most at the bottom and less as you go up, it's actually visually drawn in that way! For the first time, "advancement" may have actually hurt us instead of helped us.

However, a grand success of the USDA is the ability to create something so user-friendly from information that is so completely "science" based. What do I mean, "science-based"? If you've never taken a science or nutrition class, you probably haven't heard of the terms "estimated average requirement" or "adequate intake". Well, that's what you have me here for right? I pay ~ $30,--- a year to explain these terms to you.

So, I will have to draw on my nutrition classes to answer most of these terms as we didn't go into full detail in this chemistry class. But, you know what they say, if you're able to recall information from previous years and apply it again, it's that much more rooted in your brain for long-term storage. Starting with the first term Estimated Average Requirement, is the act of providing the exact amount of a given nutrient you need to consume to meet the needs of half of all healthy people in the population. Conversely, a recommended dietary allowance accounts of 97% of all healthy people. But, say for example you cannot establish either of these numbers. I don't know, maybe it's not impossible to track. Then an adequate intake value would be provided. I like to think of this one as the "ball park". Get somewhere around this "ball park value" and you are pretty well off. Like this value, there is also the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. This provides you with a "ballpark range " to help prevent or lower the risk of chronic disease. Finally, tolerable upper intake level is the maximum amount of something you can consume before hitting toxic level.

These new "recommendations" are here to replace the old recommended allowances. Okay, so what does this mean? Basically, before they use to tell us, that It is recommended you consume 500mg of Calcium (for example only). Now, it's more reasonable. There are sometimes just two numbers. An ERA (For example) 500 mg of calcium is recommended to meet the needs of half the people. So If you eat 500 mg, you're like "almost there"  to completely fulfill your needs. But they can also give you an RDA: "750mg of calcium is recommended" this tells you that if you eat 750 mg of calcium you are more than likely fulfilling your calcium needs, because an RDA accounts for 97-98% of all healthy people.

Does that make sense?

But be careful. Often times (especially in America) we always think "more is better" this is not at all true. Just because they are considered vitamins or nutrients doesn't mean you should start consuming a ton of calcium.
Picture Source
The sad part about the food industry, however, is that all food contains nutrients... right? For this reason, the industry goes to great lengths to try an determine the nutrient amount and uses various analytical methods, quantitive analysis and various measurement techniques to figure out what nutrients are in the commodity they produce.  One way to do this is by using various analytical methods such as: gravimetery, spectrophotometry, fluorometry, chromatography or microbiology analysis. Because all foods have, energy sources (fat ~ 9 kcal/g, carbs ~4 kcal/g, protein ~ 4kcal/g), nitrogen sources (protein), Fatty Acids, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber it is crucial to know "how much".

The industry determines "how much" by quantitative estimates. So determining how much of a specific nutrient is in the food (via scientific methods) and dividing it by the standard portion in the population. This method is much like determining protein quality, where you divide the amount of protein in your food in question, by the amount in a "complete" protein such as an egg. It's not just important to determine the amount of nutrient in a food, you need to educate the population! I mentioned this in my last post about the population getting active about their health. But they can't get active with resources not there. So the industry puts out information about nutrient content through means of the USDA. For example, they have various databases where you can go and find the nutrient content of foods. But that's the point, you need to go.

What do you guys think? Is the industry doing a good job educating its consumers? How about the food guides, how helpful are they? Honest answers: have you even followed a food guide before? Did you know that the food guide changed to MyPlate?  Comment below!

~ D

"Food Demonstrations To Be Held Over Nation"The Tuscaloosa News. The Associated Press. 2 April 1943. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
"The thing the professor forgot"National Agriculture Library Digital Repository. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
Huston, Diane (29 April 1992). "Food guide pyramid is built on a base of grains"Daily News (Bowling Green, Kentucky). The Associated Press. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
"MyPyramid -- Getting Started" (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
"USDA's MyPlate"United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2 June 2011.