Why you should be eating cinnamon

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What is called cinnamon in most western countries is usually called cinnamon cassia, which comes from an evergreen tree native to China, Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. It is closely related to true cinnamon, cinnamomum verum, also known as ceylon cinnamon.

Cinnamon has been an important spice for thousands of years, and was once even more valuable than gold. It is often ground into a fine powder and used as a flavouring for desserts, curries and in baking. It is also used in some religious rights and even medicinally.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in fiber and mangansese;
  • Good source of calcium and iron;
  • Contains antioxidant anthocyanidins and chalcone polymers.

Healthy evidence
This study from 2009 reported that cinnamon was effective in the treatment of diabetes. In patients with diabetes, taking 1 gram of cinnamon daily for 90 days significantly lowered an important blood marker for blood glucose control, HbA1C. Researchers concluded that cinnamon could be useful to regulate blood glucose.

Cinnamon stimulates insulin-like activity. It can reduce insulin resistance in the body. This helps glucose to metabolise within the liver and lower the amount remaining in the blood. This meta analysis conducted in 2015 reported that taking doses of 120 mg/day for approximately 4 months resulted in a decrease in fasting blood glucose and an improved lipid profile.

Making the most of cinnamon
The consumption of roughly 1 tablespoon of cinnamon daily can be beneficial to health. Mix cinnamon in yoghurt, or alternatively add cinnamon to your hot drinks, such as coffee, tea or cocoa.

I regularly add some cinnamon to my morning coffee. Give it a try, and let me know what you think?

Are you at risk of Diabetes?

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What is Type-2 diabetes?
Type-2 diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. It is sometimes called a lifestyle disease, because it is more common in people who don’t do enough physical activity, and who are overweight or obese.

Type-2 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (reduced insulin production) and/or the insulin does not work effectively, and/or the cells of the body do not respond to insulin effectively (insulin resistance).

Type-2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, contributing to approximately 85% of all cases.

There are currently over 1.2 million people in Australia with diabetes. This figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, with over 2 million people at high risk of developing diabetes.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, lower limb amputations, nerve damage and damage to the kidneys and eyes.

In 2004-2005, 60% of all people reporting diabetes also reported having cardiovascular disease

– Australian Bureau of Statistics

Risk Factors
Many Australians, particularly those over the age of 40, are at risk of developing Type-2 diabetes through poor lifestyle choices such as inadequate physical activity and poor nutrition.

Some genetic factors may also increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Symptoms
Common symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst;
  • Frequent urination;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Increased hunger;
  • Reduced energy;
  • Reduced healing capacity;
  • Itching and skin infections;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Increased weight;
  • Mood swings;
  • Leg cramps.

Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to use glucose from carbohydrates in the food for energy, or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keep your blood glucose level from getting too high (hyperglycemia), or too low (hypoglycemia).

Many of the cells in your body use glucose for energy. However, glucose cannot go into most of your cells directly. After you eat food and your blood glucose level rises, the beta cells in your pancreas are signalled to release insulin into your bloodstream.

Insulin is often described as the key that unlocks the cell to allow sugar to enter the cell and be used for energy.

If you have more glucose in your body than it needs, insulin helps store the glucose in your liver and will release it when your blood glucose level is low or during times of physical activity. Therefore, insulin helps balance out blood glucose levels and keeps them in a normal range. As blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin.

If your body does not produce enough insulin or your cells are resistant to the effects of insulin, you may develop hyperglycemia, which can cause long-term complications if the blood sugar levels stay elevated for long periods of time.

Below is a table explaining risk levels based on your blood glucose levels, in both fasted and non-fasted (2-hours post-meal) states.

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What can you do about lowering your risk?
For a start, your lifestyle choices can definitely lower your chances, or, at least delay the onset of type-2 diabetes.

There are some factors that you can not change, such as your genetic makeup and predisposition to developing type-2 diabetes. You can, however, do something about being overweight, waist measurement, how active you are, eating habits, and how much or often you smoke.

Even if you haven’t won the gene pool lottery, you can still reduce your risk with positive lifestyle choices. This is called gene expression. Simply put, you genes load the gun, but it’s your environment that pulls the trigger.

What does this mean? Well, by increasing your physical activity, improving your eating habits and getting some quality sleep you will be well on the way to lowering your overall risk.

Sleep quality
Poor sleep can affect diabetes both directly and indirectly, by changing normal patterns of hormones, contributing to greater weight gain and obesity, and causing changes to lifestyle.

Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality, especially as we reach middle age and older, can almost double your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, according to several large studies.

Sleep deprivation also increases the stress hormone cortisol, which can make cells even more insulin resistant.

By improving your sleep patterns you will be setting yourself up for success. Sleep has a strong influence over eating patterns, exercise habits, and the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety.

Physical activity
The Australian Government Department of Health guidelines for physical activity suggest that adults should be aiming for somewhere between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate level physical activity per week, or alternatively, 1 to 2.5 hours of high intensity physical training.

Most people understand the benefits of pushing some weight around in the gym, but this doesn’t mean that everybody needs to live there. A casual jog or run around the river, swimming some laps in the pool, a game squash or even a short hike will all work well. The variations are endless.

Even something as little as adding a 30 minute walk after meals you can greatly reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body.

The take away here is that some physical activities better than zero physical activity.

Nutrition
Making the shift to more of a whole food based diet and lowering your overall carbohydrate intake will great reduce the body’s requirement to control insulin. A paleo type diet is a good place to start as it eliminates most of the troublesome foods like refined sugars, cereals and grain based products, and emphasises on eating lean meats and fish, along with plenty of vegetables and some healthy fats and oils.

The aim here is to reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body. Lowering your dietary carbohydrate intake will most definitely reduce the need for your body to produce insulin.

How low-carb do you have to go? Well… The issue here is that what works for one person may not work as well for the next. This is where personalised nutrition can play a part in your success. All this means is that different foods react differently with different people.

Modern era diets can be upwards of 55% carbohydrate for total caloric intake. This can be about 300-350 grams per day. That is quite high considering how sedentary the modern lifestyle has become.

Lets say you half that number. 100-150 grams per day. Pretty easy to do if you ditch cereal and grain based products. It takes a lot of broccoli and spinach to total 100 grams of carbohydrate.

Now combine that with quality sleep and some physical training, and you will be reducing your body’s requirement to produce insulin whilst activating optimal fat burning processes.

Another bonus is that you will be lowering your total caloric intake without a real loss of nutrient density, so you’ll probably find that you’ll also lose a few unwanted kilograms at the same time, which will likely improve several other health biomarkers, leading to an improved quality of life.

To me, that looks like a net win.

If you are struggling with controlling your insulin levels, it is always best to consult with your health professional.

The evolution of the human diet

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The human diet has changed quite dramatically throughout our history. From opportunistic scavengers, to traditional hunter-gatherers to the postindustrial age.

There have been obvious advantages with the evolution of modern society, however the majority of changes in the human diet that accompanied both the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, affected the general health of modern humans, and not always in a good way.

Let’s have a look.

The Paleolithic era (2.6 million years ago – 10,000 years ago)
As hunter-gatherers, the general diet was varied due to differences in geographical location and season, however they all consisted of wild animal and plant sources.

Macronutrient distribution was approximately:

  • Protein: 19-35%
  • Fat: 28-58%
  • Carbohydrate: 22-40%

Other characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Low glycemic load;
  • High antioxidant capacity;
  • High micronutrient density;
  • Equal Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio;
  • Close to equal Sodium to Potassium ratio.

Did hunter-gatherers eat grains and grasses? Probably. Did they eat them often? Unlikely. The effort required to consume unprepared grains or grasses would have been too taxing on the digestive system, which would have likely led to decreased performance and not enough of an energy return to warrant regular consumption.

As a result, hunter-gatherers were generally lean and strong, with dense bones and broad dental arches. Health biomarkers such as blood pressure and cholesterol were generally normal into advanced age.

Evidence suggests that the incidence of diet related disease was low.

The Agricultural Revolution (about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago)
Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types of plants and animals started happening in separate locations worldwide around 12,000 years ago.

The transition from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, made larger populations possible. This however, greatly narrowed the diversity of foods available, resulting in a downturn in human nutrition.

Grains and dairy products from sheep started to become dietary staples at the expense of larger wild animals.

As a result, common characteristics of early agricultural diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Higher carbohydrate, diary fats, milk sugars and alcohol;
  • A decrease in protein intake;
  • A decrease in Omega-3
  • A decrease in antioxidants and micronutrients;
  • Higher overall caloric density;
  • Higher glycemic loading;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratios.

The transition to an agricultural dietary pattern led to a decrease in lifespan, a reduction in height, an increase in dental health problems, iron deficiency anemia, and several bone mineral disorders.

These health issues can be still seen today in hunter-gather communities that have only recently been exposed to post-agricultural diets.

The Industrial Revolution (about 250 years ago) and Modern era (the last 50 years)
The introduction of novel foods with the industrial revolution altered several nutritional characteristics of human diets, which has had far-reaching adverse effects on human health.

Extensive evidence shows that the consumption of westernized modern era diets adversely affects gene expression, immunity, gut microbiota and increases the risks of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and a plethora of other chronic health conditions.

Common characteristics of industrial and modern era diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets include:

  • Higher carbohydrate, alcohol, trans-fats, sodium & omega-6;
  • Lower in fiber, antioxidants, protein and omega-3;
  • Higher glycemic load;
  • Higher energy density;
  • Lower micronutrient density;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratio.

Even with the advances in medicine and technology, it has been estimated that the next generation will be the first in over one thousand years to actually have a shorter lifespan average than the current generation.

Many of the diet related diseases of the modern era can be reversed by increasing daily physical activity and modifying diet by eliminating known inflammatory foods. The issue however, is figuring out how to implement these changes at population-wide levels.

Coffee and Intermittent Fasting

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Intermittent Fasting has become one of the most popular dietary patterns in recent times. It is most popular within the health & fitness industry and many people are tinkering around with it to see if they can benefit from the plethora of health benefits associated with it.

Some of the most common questions surrounding fasting is;

What actually breaks a fast? And, can I have coffee?

The first question is fairly easy. Simply put, you’re eating or you’re not. Now for the coffee.

For most people, I wouldn’t be too worried about whether or not this is the case. The fact that you are already going 12-24 hours without any caloric intake places you ahead of the curve simply by being open to the idea that you don’t have to eat every other hour. Some coffee with full-fat cream isn’t really going to take away what you’re trying to accomplish.

Some people however, myself included, like to look a little deeper. So… let’s start with black coffee.

Here is how black coffee affects some of the more common fasting benefits.

Ketosis
Fasting is a quick and easy way to get into ketosis. You don’t have a choice in the matter. As your body depletes its glucose supply, it will automatically begin to break down excess body fat to produce ketones as a fuel source.

This study found that the consumption of caffeine boosted ketosis in humans.

Fat Burning
Fat burning is another popular benefit of fasting. As stated earlier, coffee has been shown to increase ketosis, so it would be safe to say that coffee also increases fat mobilisation and burning.

Insulin Sensitivity
In the short-term, fasting can reduce insulin sensitivity. This is a physiological measure taken by the body to preserve the little glucose that is remaining for the brain.

The real benefits occur over the long-term, where fasting is an effective way to improve your insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Just about everything that makes you more efficient at fat burning and expending energy, rather than the storing of energy,  like exercise, low-carbohydrate diets and fasting, tend to improve insulin sensitivity over time.

Coffee has a similar effect. In the short-term it reduces insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. With long-term use, coffee improves both insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Many studies have found that the more coffee you drink, the lower your overall risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Autophagy
Basically, it’s cellular cleanup. Autophagy is one of the ways that the body keeps its cells healthy and maintained, by recycling dead or damaged cells. Fasting is one of the best ways to induce autophagy. It is actually one of major selling points for fasting.

That covers black coffee. What about the common additions to coffee?

Coffee with butter, coconut oil or MCT oil
Technically, this is breaking the fast. If you’re consuming calories (and depending on how much fat you add, it could be a significant amount of calories), these calories break the fast.

Pure fat however, has little to no effect on insulin, blood glucose, or any other measure that would indicate a broken fast.

By adding some fat to your morning coffee, you won’t be burning as much body fat. You will however still be burning a lot of fat.

It will most definitely help you fast for longer periods. For some people, adding some fat to coffee can make fasting more tolerable. If you can go 12 hours on black coffee, but a tablespoon of MCT oil can help you get 16-24 hours, then the addition of MCT oil is probably a good thing.

It shouldn’t affect autophagy. It’s protein consumption that interrupts autophagy. Butter has a small amount, but it shouldn’t interfere unless you’re consuming it in large amounts.

Coffee with cream
An ounce of full-fat cream has almost a gram of carbohydrate (lactose) and protein. Some cream in your coffee won’t affect your fat burning very much, but it might reduce the amount of autophagy. The point here is that your coffee should be black with maybe a tablespoon of full-fat cream.

That being said, if you’re fasting you may be already eating a paleo or ketogenic type diet which have been shown to increase autophagy. This is all a matter of degree and probably still a net win.

The takeaway here is that some autophagy is not zero autophagy.

Coffee with almond / other nut milks
Firstly, why? Black coffee all the way please. Maybe a little full-fat cream. Ok, I there are a lot of people who can not tolerate diary and can’t really stomach black coffee. Enter the almond / other nut milks.

As long as you’re staying away from the sweetened versions, or those fortified with additional proteins, and you’re not having half a cup or more at a time, then a little nut milk won’t make much of a difference.

There isn’t much nutritionally to most nut milks.

Coffee with collagen
Collagen is one of my favourite things to add to my black coffee. It is however, pure protein. Consuming protein tends to increase mTOR and inhibit autophagy. All this means is that having collagen in your coffee during a fast will probably help with fat burning and suppress your appetite for longer, but it will reduce the benefits of autophagy.

Ordering coffee
Try black coffee. Nothing beats it. Drip. Pour-over. Espresso. Long blacks. Whichever the method. It’s the simplest way to maintain a fast.

Ask for full-fat cream. A lot of coffee houses will stock it. Just be careful when using the “cream” that is set out for customer use. That will usually be cream mixed with milk, giving you too much of a protein and carbohydrate hit that will potentially break the fast.

Avoid nut milks. A lot of places will use sweetened nut milks to add flavour to their coffees. They’ll also overdo the amount. An almond latte will have up to 8 ounces of almond milk, which will definitely break your fast.

Is all yoghurt equal?

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The same basic principles apply to making all types of yoghurt. The addition of specific strains of bacteria to milk followed by the an incubation period at temperatures warm enough to encourage growth and proliferation.

Yoghurt is milk transformed into a creamy, tangy and more nutritious product. At this point all yoghurt is created equal. From here, food producers have made the case to ruin a perfectly good thing with misguided additions, or reductions in an attempt to capitalise in the modern market.

Often, they remove perfectly good fats and replace them with gums, stabilizers, thickeners and gelatin in an attempt to recreate the natural creamy textures.

They can load it with sugars and/or high fructose corn syrup, assuming that the consumer can’t handle the tang of real yoghurt (we have been conditioned to prefer sweeter foods).

They turn a highly nutritious whole food with thousands of years of tradition into an edible product with little resemblance of its predecessor.

So, what to avoid?

Yoghurt with added sugar
Yes, sweet foods do taste great. But you would be surprised at how much sugar is added to manufactured yoghurt. Some varieties can have upwards of 20 grams of pure sucrose, which is far, far too much.

If you must have something sweet with your yoghurt, drizzle some raw honey on top. Another option, and probably better again is to add some fresh fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or even a banana.

Yoghurt with added thickeners and stabilizers
Innately, people love the traditional thickness of yoghurt, but they have been conditioned to be scared of the fat that creates that texture. Manufacturers often remove the fat and replace it with additives.

These additives are not necessarily dangerous to human health, but there is some supporting evidence to suggest that some of these additives may increase your risk of obesity by altering the diversity of your gut bacteria. So, why risk it when you can eat the unaltered whole food?

Some yoghurts and even kefir will have prebiotic fibres, such as pectin or inulin added. This probably is a good thing, as adding a prebiotic may actually increase the overall health effects and support the microbial population.

Most low-fat yoghurt
A high percentage of the studies that find dairy products to be beneficial to human health, it is full-fat dairy that has been used. Conversely, when a study links dairy to adverse health outcomes, low-fat diary has usually been used.

Most likely, the reasons behind why full-fat dairy is so good for us is because of what it is not. Highly processed, with added thickeners or stabilizers, industrial fibres and sugars to make up for the missing fats.

Fatty acids in their natural state are generally associated with optimal human health. Such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in pastured-raised dairy products which offers some protection against cancer and heart disease.

There are times where low-fat alternatives can be beneficial for short periods of time, such as a bodybuilder in preparation for competition, who is looking for a high-protein, low-fat food source to kickstart post-workout muscle protein synthesis without the potential fat gain.

What about the good stuff?

Classic full-fat yoghurt
This is yoghurt in its natural state. It’s creamy (when made with full-fat milk), tangy and full of healthy bacteria. It’s classic.

Strained yoghurt
Also known as Greek yoghurt, strained yoghurt is just yoghurt with most of the liquid whey removed. This creates an ultra-thick, high-protein, high-fat creamy yoghurt that is great for a variety of uses, such as making Tzatziki dips, or for use in some Indian style curries. It’s also amazing with mixed berries or even some raw honey.

Skyr
This is an Icelandic yoghurt/cheese hybrid that incorporates both bacterial cultures and animal rennet to produce a thick, high-protein cultured milk product.

Skyr is non-fat, which is the traditional way to make it. Skyr makers would use the leftover milk after making butter. An efficient way to maximise your resources.

Making the most of eating yoghurt:

  • Try different types. Different yoghurts often contain different bacterial strain combinations. The variety of good bacteria will help improve you overall gut bacterial diversity.
  • Try different species. The fermentation process reduces the allergenicity of bovine whey and casein proteins, but may not be enough if you’re really intolerant. Try goat, sheep or even a non-diary version like coconut yoghurt.
  • Try smaller amounts. Start with a teaspoon at a time, building up from there. Remember, you’re adding new bacterial residents to your gut and they’ll need time to settle into their new surroundings.
  • Try sourer varieties. The more sour the yoghurt is, the less lactose remains. Lactose is a common gut irritant.

 

Why you should be eating Swiss Chard

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Particularly popular among Mediterranean cultures, Swiss Chard or Silverbeet is actually a member of the spinach family. It is however, more substantial and much greater in nutritional value than regular spinach. Generally inexpensive at the grocer, it makes an excellent bang for you buck.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in vitamins A, C, E and K, fiber, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron and antioxidants;
  • Good source of calcium and copper.

Healthy evidence
The high levels of antioxidants, found in Swiss Chard, have been shown to prevent cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. Several studies have reported that higher dietary intakes of potassium lowered the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Making the most of Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard packs a lot of nutritional density for bone health. A single serving provides approximately seven times the daily value for vitamin K.

The best way to retain the nutrient density is to sauté. Stems will take slightly longer to cook, so allow extra time and cook with a tablespoon of olive or coconut oil and some chopped onion. Once the stems are tender, add the leaves and cover until the leaves are also tender. To enhance iron absorption, add some acidic juice to finish, like lemon.

What is DHA?

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Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid.

Found naturally occurring in certain fish (with emphasis on mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines), it has been shown to be one of the most potent health boosters on the entire planet.

Structure
DHA is what is known as a ‘Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid’, as it is 22 carbons long, and has 6 double bonds (making it physically long in structure compared to other fatty acid molecules).

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DHA and the evolution of the human brain
An important turning point in human evolution was the discovery of high-quality, easily digested nutrients from coastal seafood and inland freshwater sources.

Previously, Neanderthals sourced protein predominantly from the red meat of wolves, large feline and hyenas. The is little to no evidence of fresh water aquatic species or marine sources of protein in the bone collagen of Neanderthal specimens.

In comparison, seafood consumption of early modern humans was a nutritional staple. Depending on geographical region, freshwater or marine sources of protein made up between 10-50% of the diet for these populations.

Freshwater sources occurred along rivers and included fish and/or water fowl and marine sources were coastal and included fish, shellfish and small slow-moving animals such as turtles or tortoises.

This study suggests that the discovery, and subsequent multi-generational exploitation of aquatic and marine food sources coincides with the rapid expansion of the brain that is unique to modern humans.

This exploitation coincided with a rise in cognitive development leading to a more elaborate enrichment in material culture, such as personal ornamentation, decoration of burials and pottery figurines.

Benefits of DHA in the diet
Supplementation of DHA has been shown to have profound effects on health, wellbeing and overall performance. Due to its somewhat broad influence throughout the body, these effects can impact a number of physiological systems, boosting health in a variety of ways.

DHA has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.

Brain health
The human brain requires somewhere between 20 and 30% of the body’s available energy. It is even higher during the early years of life. Both EPA and DHA are responsible for many of the brain’s unique cognitive capacities and advance brain functions.

As DHA makes up about 30% of our brain matter and approximately 50% of retinal structure in our eyes, it stands to reason that its consumption has the potential to impact our brain health and eye health. This has been well supported within the scientific literature.

Consumption of DHA has been shown to protect against age related declines in brain health, brain size, and associated reductions in neural function. With this has come an increase in performance during cognitively driven tasks, in conjunction with improved memory, and an improved capacity for learning.

DHA supplementation has also been shown to have a preventative effect on both dementia and age related cognitive decline, ensuring our mental function well into older age, while significantly reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Heart health
DHA has the potential to improve the state of the body’s cells, while simultaneously reducing harmful inflammation throughout the entire body.

Through these two mechanisms, the supplementation of DHA can cause significant reductions in blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).

DHA has also been shown to reduce cardiac arrhythmias.

As a result, the consumption of DHA can greatly improve our cardiovascular health and function, significantly reducing our risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

In summary
DHA is one of the most important nutrients within the entire body, where it is used to make the cell membranes of literally every cell in the body, while also acting as a key structural component for tissues found in the brain, eyes, and skin.

With this in mind, its supplementation can improve brain health, increase cardiovascular function, and cause significant improvement in eye health and function. Making it one of the most effective supplements on the market.

Why you should be eating Pumpkin

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Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in Vitamins A and C, fiber, manganese, potassium and antioxidants.

Healthy evidence
As potent antioxidants, carotenoids help prevent diseases in which oxidative damage plays a role, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. A 2009 study reported that women with the highest levels of alpha-carotene, lutein, and beta-cryptoxanthin had as much as a 50% reduction in breast cancer risk.

Making the most of Pumpkins
During boiling, vitamin C seeps into the water, so baking and roasting are preferable. Microwaving in little water is another good option. The carotenoid antioxidants, however, are not lost in cooking liquid.

Canned Pumpkin can be an excellent choice. In fact, the canning process increases the concentration of carotenoids. Add canned pumpkin to soups, stews, or even natural yoghurt.

Picking the best Pumpkin
Deep orange pigmentation is one of the best identifiers of beta-carotene content, and these foods live up to their colourful appearance. All varieties of winter squash contain beta-carotene, though pumpkin and butternut are superior to all other varieties.

Nutrition
The pumpkin is an incredibly nutritious food. It is nutrient dense, meaning it has a lot of vitamins and minerals and relatively low in calories. A real bang-for-buck food.

One cup (mashed, 245g) of pumpkin provides:

  • Calories: 49
  • Protein: 2g
  • Carbohydrate: 12g
  • Fibre: 3g
  • Vitamin K: 49% of RDI
  • Vitamin C: 19% of RDI
  • Potassium: 16% of RDI
  • Copper, manganese and riboflavin: 11% of RDI
  • Vitamin E: 10% of RDI
  • Iron: 8% of RDI
  • Folate: 6% of RDI
  • Niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and thiamin: 5% of RDI

As discussed earlier, Pumpkin is also exceptionally high in beta-carotene, a power anti-oxidant. Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid that converts into Vitamin A within the body.

Using almonds for recovery

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About Recovery
Recovery nutrition encompasses a range of physiological processes that include:

  • Replacing the muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores;
  • Replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat;
  • Manufacturing new muscle protein a d cellular components that are part of the repair and adaptation to exercise;
  • Enabling the immune system to face the challenges caused by exercise.

 

Almonds for Sport
Almonds provide a wide range nutrients that help to keep the body healthy for sports and performance. A single handful per day will help meet your needs. Almonds provide protein, as well as monounsaturated fats, including the antioxidant vitamin E. They also include other important vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B2.

Refuelling
During the immediate post exercise window (0-30 minutes), athletes should consume a meal consisting of both carbohydrate and protein in a 4-5:1 ratio. This is important as the rate of glycogen synthesis is at its greatest. This is of even greater importance if the next training session or competition in within the 8 hours.

If the session is close to the next meal time this would be a part of the recovery process. Another meal following a similar ratio between carbohydrate and protein should be consumed. The type of food chosen would need to take into consideration the individual athletes daily caloric requirements, gastric comfort and food availability.

Rehydration
A fluid deficit incurred during training or competition has the potential to negatively impact on an athlete’s performance in future training or competition sessions.

To combat this, athletes should aim to consume 125-150% of their estimated fluid losses within the next 4-6 hours after a session. The addition of sodium, along with other electrolytes to a drink or with the post workout meal will reduce further fluid loss, therefore enhancing fluid balance and overall recovery.

Muscle Repair and Building
Both high intensity and endurance exercise cause a substantial breakdown of muscle protein. During the recovery phase there is decreased catabolism and a gradual increase in the anabolic processes of muscle tissue. Early intake of protein during the first hour after exercise promotes the increase of protein synthesis.

The quantity of protein needed to maximise this adaptation to physical activity is 15-25g of high quality protein. With the addition of carbohydrate to this meal, you will aid the body ability to transport the proteins into the muscles.

Immune System
The immune system is taxed by intensive physical activity. This may lead to athletes succumbing to viral infections during or after periods of intense training or competition.

Evidence indicates that the most promising nutritional immune protectors include adequate carbohydrate intake before, during and after high intensity or endurance exercise. Other nutrients that have been identified as immune protectors include Vitamins A, C, D, E, along with glutamine and zinc.

Including Almonds as part of Recovery
Here are some ways that you can use almonds to help you meet the goals of recovery:

  • Salted almonds and fluids enhancing hydration;
  • As part of a snack providing a source of protein to enhance muscle repair and building;
  • As a source of Vitamin E for the immune system.

Here are some examples of almonds being used in recovery meals

Breakfast:

  • Yoghurt with berries and chopped almonds or LSA mix;
  • Diced coconut, almonds, dates and apple.

Lunch:

  • Chicken and almond stir fry with root vegetables;
  • Lean meat, salad and a handful of almonds.

Dinner:

  • Chicken salad sprinkled with roasted almonds;
  • Red chicken, vegetable and almond curry with white rice (or cauliflower rice).

Snacks:

  • Almond bar;
  • Trail mix with dry roasted and salted almonds;
  • Yoghurt with chopped almonds.

 

MCT Oil 101

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Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are medium length fatty acids. The term “medium” refers to the length of the chemical structure of the fatty acid. MCTs are most often derived from coconut oil and sometimes made from palm oil.

Before we talk about MCT Oil it is important to understand what a fatty acid is and how to classify fatty acids.

Fatty acids are chains of carbons linked together, surrounded by hydrogen. These chains have a Methyl end (often known as the Omega end) and a Carboxyl group (acid end) at the other end.

The acid end is hydrophilic, meaning that it is water-soluble, while the rest of the fatty chain is hydrophobic, meaning that it is insoluble in water, and requires a water-soluble transporter to travel in the bloodstream.

These chains can vary in three ways. The number of carbons, the extent to which the carbons are saturated with hydrogen, and how the chain is shaped.

Fatty acids can be classified according to the number of carbon molecules in their structure:

  • Short Chain: Less than 6 carbons;
  • Medium Chain: 6-12 carbons;
  • Long Chain: More than 12 carbons.

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
The following fatty acids that are classified as MCT:

  • Caproic acid (with a chemical structure of C6:0);
  • Caprylic acid (C8:0);
  • Capric acid (C10:0);
  • Lauric acid (C12:0).

How do MCTs work
MCTs are commonly known for providing you with ready to use energy and better brain function. They’re absorbed quicker than other fatty acids and are easily converted into energy.

Although all four can be categorized as MCTs, only C6, C8, and C10 bypass your digestive tract and go straight to your liver where they’re broken down into energy-packed ketones, then sent out to the rest of your body via your bloodstream.

C12, on the other hand, behaves much more like a long chain fatty acid, going through your stomach, breaking down in your small intestine, then absorbing into your blood to get converted into energy.

Whole Food Sources
The following foods are the richest in medium-chain triglycerides, shown as the percentage of fatty acids that are MCTs:

  • Coconut oil: More than 60%;
  • Palm kernel oil: More than 50%;
  • Grass-fed dairy: About 15%.

Although the sources listed above are rich in MCTs, their compositions will vary. For example, coconut oil contains all four types of MCTs, along with small amounts of long chain fatty acids.

In coconut oil, MCTs consist of greater amounts of C12 and smaller amounts of C6, C8 and C10. In fact, coconut oil is about 50% C12, making it one of the best natural sources of this fatty acid.

In comparison to coconut oil, grass-fed dairy sources tend to have a higher proportions of C6, C8 and C10 and a lower proportion of C12.

Benefits of MCT Oil
With their unique structure and the way that MCTs are metabolized in your body give them a host of benefits that you won’t find in other fatty acids:

  • Antibacterial and antiviral properties that may help balance gut flora and support immune health;
  • Easier to digest than most other fats;
  • They may help you lose excess body fat;
  • Appetite suppression;
  • Provide quick, clean energy, especially brain energy;
  • May reduce lactic acid build up in athletes and increase the use of fat for energy;
  • May improve insulin sensitivity.

MCT Oil v Coconut Oil
The coconut oil industry loves to market the idea that coconut oil is a great source of MCTs because it’s about two-thirds MCT Oil.

Although just about all of the cheap and abundant oils in coconut oil are good for you, the problem is that the science shows that you just can’t get enough of the really useful MCTs from eating coconut oil alone.

Pure MCT Oil will usually consists of just C8 and C10 and is approximately six times more effective that coconut oil.

Some MCT Oils are diluted with large amounts of C12, which is a cheaper and more abundant part of coconut oil that is sometimes marketed as a MCT Oil. This may not be a concern for most people, however these oils are only about twice as effective as coconut oil.

C12 is most well-known for its antimicrobial properties, since it’s the precursor to monolaurin, an even more powerful antimicrobial agent that is able to fight viruses and bacterial infections.

While C12 itself has disease-fighting abilities, monolaurin from C12 is even more capable of inhibiting the growth of pathogens due to having stronger antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

If you’re after large amounts of C12 for its own health benefits, go for it. Just eat some coconut oil. You can get a fair amount of it from eating just a tablespoon or two.

If you’re after optimizing your brain function and overall performance, have a look into some quality MCT Oil.