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.

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.

Protein Powders: which are best?

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Protein powders are considered a staple of many person’s supplemental regimens, and for good reason too. Protein powders are cheap, simple, and effective. They can be used for fat loss, muscle-building, or for general health.

Recently, I have been asked about which protein powders are the best to use. I did a bit of research and have come up with the following information. Protein powders can fall under two main categories:

  • Animal-based proteins; and
  • Plant-based proteins.

There a many reasons to supplement with protein powders. Below is a list of situations where protein supplementation may be beneficial:

  • Post exercise recovery of muscle function and performance;
  • Increasing the duration or intensity of workouts;
  • Trying to gain weight or muscle mass;
  • Athletes participating in advance training;
  • Recovery from an injury or medical procedure;
  • Deciding to go vegetarian or vegan;
  • For the elderly.

Bio Availability (BV)
The BV is one way to measure a protein’s “usability”. The higher the BV, the greater the proportion of available protein that can be synthesized by the body’s cells. Note, BV scores are averages and does not refer to the amount of protein in the powder; it only refers to the usability of the protein in the powder.

 

Animal Based Proteins
Animal derived proteins are better overall than vegetarian derived. They are complete protein sources and are typically better absorbed and digested than their plant-based partners.

 

Whey (BV: 95-100)
The standard protein powder. Whey is derived from milk as the liquid component. It’s main benefits that make it stand apart from the rest are:

  • 25% branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content by weight, approximately;
  • High cysteine and glutamine content, which aid in glutathione production and gut health; and
  • Fast absorption speed relative to other protein sources (1-3 hours).

Various forms exist, such as Whey Concentrate, Whey Isolate, and Hydrolyzed Whey (digested slowest to fastest).

Out of all protein sources, whey can also be seen as the “healthiest” due to it’s cysteine and glutamine content increasing levels of glutathione (an intrinsic anti-oxidant) in the body, and providing an abundance of glutamine for cells lining the gut.

The BCAA content is also notable as it is rich in the amino acid Leucine, which has many muscle-building properties in the body and is one of the most important amino acids to ingest in higher-than-normal doses with the goal of building muscle mass or retaining muscle mass when losing fat.

Casein (BV: 75-80)
The standard ‘slow release’ protein source. Casein is the curd (solid) portion of dairy protein. The typical benefits associated with casein supplementation are:

  • A very high insulin secretion value relative to other protein sources;
  • Slower absorption in the intestines;
  • Great evening protein source.

Casein is found in various forms such as Calcium Caseinate and Micellar Casein. These are generally slow digesting proteins (6-8 hours). These proteins are also a great source of dietary glutamine, which feed the cells lining the gut.

Casein is also a protein source that some people find difficult to digest. If you have any digestive issues with dairy products then I’d stay away from this.

Egg (BV: 100)
Egg protein is typically dehydrated egg white albumin. Egg’s main marketing points are:

  • An excellent bioavailability;
  • A balanced amino acid profile; and
  • Is a medium release protein source (3-6 hours).

Egg white protein is heat processed, so the biotin-binding compound called ‘Avidin’ (which may lead to biotin deficiency via consumption of raw egg whites) becomes a non-issue.

Collagen (BV: 90-95)
Collagen hydrolysate or Collagen Peptides are produced from collagen found in the bones, skin, and the connective tissue of animals. Collagen is the key structural protein that ensures the cohesion, elasticity, and regeneration of all of our connective tissues.

Supplementing collagen provides all the amino acids you need for connective tissue repair, and it thickens the skin for a more youthful appearance.

Some of the benefits of Collagen:

  • Gut bacteria turns collagen into butyric acid which is good for digestion;
  • Supports connective tissue repair;
  • Supports bone health;
  • Great protein source for people who can not tolerate dairy based proteins;
  • Has a high glycine content (an amino acid that increases Glutathione production which has been dubbed the master antioxidant).

 

Plant Based Proteins
Not as good as animal based protein powders. Various vegan options exist each with their own list of benefits and drawbacks. They generally do not have complete amino acid profiles and need to be paired with other sources to transform them into complete protein sources.

Soy (BV: 75-80)
Soy protein is a protein source based on soy beans. It’s main selling points are:

  • A complete vegan amino acid profile;
  • Hormonally active constituents that may benefit bone health and anti-cancer effects; and
  • Very high and diverse micronutrient profile.

Soy is a controversial topic. Soy itself in an unprocessed (food) and unfermented form has many noted downsides to it, including:

  • Protease and trypsin (intrinsic enzyme) inhibitors;
  • Disruptions to the estrogen / testosterone balance in the body (via phytoestrogens);
  • Disruptions to thyroid metabolism;
  • Lectin content;
  • Phytic acid and similar anti-nutrients.

The significance of these concerns are dependent on the form of the soy ingested (fermented, unfermented and raw, processed, etc), on the person ingesting it (post-menopausal women v. 20-year-old male) and in the dose consumed.

Rice (BV: 80-85)
Rice protein is a protein powder created from rice after the protein and carbohydrate sections have been separated by enzymatic treatment. Rice proteins main marketing points are:

  • Very easily digested (easy on the stomach);
  • Low allergen content.

It is usually paired with Pea / Gemma protein to get a more complete amino acid profile.

Pea / Gemma (BV: 70-75)
Can be seen as the ‘Whey’ of the vegan options. Pea protein is higher in the amino acids leucine, arginine, and glutamine. Pea protein’s main selling points are:

  • High leucine content;
  • High digestibility.

It is usually paired with rice protein in order to get a more complete amino acid profile.

Pea Proteins typically contain isoflavones, lectins and phytates and other anit-nutrients similar to soy.

Regarding Lectins, Phytates and similar anti-nutrients
Lectins are an extraordinarily sticky protein that particularly like carbohydrates (sugars). Once it enters into the small intestine, it has the tendency to stick to the intestinal epithelial cells, or as we’ve come to lovingly know them, the microvilli lining.

It’s here that the stage is set for yet another wonderful phenomenon known as leaky gut syndrome (I’ll save the rest for another post).

Much like lectins to carbohydrates, Phytates love to bind with calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. The take-away here is that due to the high amount of Phytate (found in cereals, grains and legumes), vegetarian and vegan diets are almost certainly deficient in calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

This is the main reason why smart supplementation, and timing is required when following plant-based diets.

In summary
Use the above information as a guide only. While supplementing with protein powders can help you reach your goals, the best option is to get as much of your daily protein requirement from your diet by eating plenty of lean meats, seafood and eggs.

My personal preference is using Whey Protein Concentrate or Collagen. They have complete amino acid profiles and have excellent bioavailability.

Noting that not everyone can tolerate dairy and other animal based products, or choose not to consume them for other reasons, there are suitable plant-based proteins on the market to help you reach your daily requirement.

The choice is yours.

Supplementing with L-glutamine

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What is it?
L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, making up approximately 60% of free-form amino acids. Glutamine is highly in demand throughout the body. It is used in the gut and immune system extensively to maintain optimal performance.

When the body is under stress from heavy training, the level of glutamine in the muscles and blood decreases dramatically (up to 50%) as the body produces more white blood cells to fight infection and repair damaged muscle tissue. If the body’s stores of glutamine and capacity to produce it are inadequate to meet the demand, the risk of over-training, illness and injury increases.

Who needs it?
Glutamine has been studied since the 1960’s in the treatment of those suffering from trauma (such as burn, surgery, and disease victims).

To a lesser extent, research has been done on its benefits for athletes. Since athletes use a lot of their glutamine during intense training sessions and competitive events, they are more susceptible to illness, as the immune system relies heavily on this amino acid.

Becoming ill or losing lean muscle mass are signs of a deficiency.

Benefits of taking L-glutamine
Here are some of the ways that glutamine supplementation can boost performance and assist in overall health:

  • Glutamine has been linked to protein synthesis. It prevents your muscle from being eating itself;
  • Glutamine may serve to boost your immune system. For athletes, this is important since intense workouts tend to greatly deplete glutamine levels;
  • Helps maintain cell volume and hydration, speeding up wound and burn healing and recovery;
  • Increases growth hormone production and release;
  • Glutamine is a precursor to Glutathione (an important antioxidant);
  • Decreases recovery time from intense training sessions or competitive events;
  • Glutamine is one of the most important nutrients for your intestines. It has the ability to ‘repair a leaky gut’ by maintaining the structural integrity of the bowels; and
  • Glutamine can cure ulcers! Studies have found that 1.6 grams of glutamine per day had a 92% cure rate in 4 weeks.

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How much should be supplemented?
The dosage relative to the volume of intensity and duration hasn’t been well established, but it appears that supplementing with 5-10 grams on the days of very hard workouts and competitive events may be beneficial. The is no known downside from taking in L-glutamine at these levels, and any excess will be excreted in the urine.

When to supplement?
Take L-glutamine in the evening before bed or in the morning upon waking, when your muscles have been without significant nutrition for up to 8 hours. Research shows that L-glutamine can raise growth hormone levels significantly by taking 5-10 grams before bed.

Another good time for L-glutamine is within an hour post workout. This helps in the recovery process from demanding workouts.

Final Thoughts
Whether you’re looking at increasing your athletic performance, build muscle or improve a health condition such as leaky gut or diabetes, L-glutamine should be a part of your daily diet.

Why you should be eating cauliflower

Cauliflower

Cauliflower, like broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family, contains an impressive array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals.

Antioxidants are nature’s way of providing your cells with an adequate defense against attack by excessive amounts of reactive oxygen species. Without an adequate supply of antioxidants to help suppress excess free radicals you raise your risk of oxidative stress, which leads to accelerated tissue and organ damage.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in Vitamins C and K;
  • Good source of Vitamin B6, folate, fiber, manganese, potassium, sulforaphane and omega-3 fatty acids.

Healthy evidence
Numerous studies have linked sulforaphane to reduced cancer rates in humans. A study in the Journal of Nutrition reported that treating liver cells with compounds contained in cauliflower reduced the production of lipids that increase heart disease risk when present in high levels in the blood. Other studies have reported that high intake of cauliflower was associated with a lower risk of an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Here are some of the science backed health benefits of cauliflower:

  • Fights cancer;
  • Heart health;
  • Lowers inflammation;
  • Supports detoxification;
  • Improves digestion.

Making the most of Cauliflower
The best way to eat cauliflower is raw in fresh salads, as this will retain the vitamin C and other water-soluble nutrients. Cauliflower can be used as a great substitute for potatoes in low carbohydrate nutrition plans.

Steaming cauliflower better preserves the anti-cancer compounds rather than boiling. Better again is a healthy saute. This is done by bring either some bone broth (beef or chicken) or water to boil in a pan then lightly saute the cauliflower florets for approximately five minutes.

Why you should be eating broccoli

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Vegetables have an impressive way of offering a widespread benefits to your health. Broccoli is no exception. When you’re eating broccoli, you’re getting dozen, maybe even hundreds, of super-nutrients that support optimal health and performance.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in Vitamins A, C and K, along with fiber and folate;
  • Good source of magnesium, manganese, potassium, sulforaphane, quercetin and other antioxidants.

Healthy evidence

Broccoli contains phytochemicals. It is high is the flavonoid quercetin and in sulforaphane, both protect the body against cancer. Potassium and folate also help prevent cardiovascular disease. Other antioxidants provide anti-bactierial and anti-viral activity.

Here is a short list of some of the science backed health benefits of broccoli:

  • Arthritis;
  • Cancer;
  • Blood pressure and kidney disease;
  • Anti-aging and immune system health;
  • Heart health, especially for diabetics.

Making the most of Broccoli

Broccoli’s phytochemicals and heat sensitive nutrients such as folate are best retained by either not cooking, steaming or lightly sauteing.

Boiling Broccoli reduces the level of active anti-carcinogenic compounds, with losses of approx 20% after 5 min and 40% after 10 min.

Another way to enjoy the many health benefits of broccoli is by eating its sprouts. Fresh broccoli sprouts  are FAR more potent nutrient dense than mature broccoli. They have about 50 times the amount of cancer fighting power of mature broccoli. This means more bang for buck.

Broccoli sprouts can be grown at home quite easily. They don’t have to be cooked and can be added to salads.

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The benefits of coconut oil

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Our body is well designed to run primarily on fat as a source of energy and when it does, it produces ketones bodies, which is perfectly healthy. Ketones are what the body produces when it’s using fat for energy in the absence of glucose. These ketones are a preferred energy source for the brain and heart.

Of the fats in coconut oil, 92% are healthy saturated fats. This makes it highly stable under heat when cooking and solid at room temperatures.

The main fatty acid content comes from Lauric acid (45-50%). Lauric acid is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) with a 12 carbon structure (C12:0). These MCTs are digested and assimilated easily in the body and are transferred directly to the liver where they are immediately converted into energy, also meaning they are not directly stored as body fat.

Other MCTs of importance found in coconut oil are:

  • Caprylic acid (C8:0);
  • Capric acid (C10:0).

Generally speaking, the shorter the fatty acid carbon length (Cx:0), he faster the body can turn the fatty acids into usable energy.

Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is unique and different from almost all other fats and possesses many health giving properties.

Lauric acid is a powerful virus and negative bacteria destroyer, and coconut oil contains the most lauric acid of any substance on Earth!  Capric acid, another fatty acid present in smaller amounts, has also been added to the list of coconut’s antimicrobial components.

Coconut oil has been shown to consistently raise HDL cholesterol levels in humans. Higher HDL is linked to a reduced heart disease risk.

Benefits of Coconut Oil
More than 2,000 studies have been performed on coconut oil, demonstrating a wide range of benefits. Here is a list of some of the benefits associated with the consumption of coconut oil:

  • Enhance immunity and fight infections;
  • Improve your cholesterol numbers;
  • Decrease risk of heart disease;
  • Promote weight loss;
  • Boost metabolism;
  • Boost energy levels and enhance athletic/physical performance;
  • Assist with blood sugar regulation & prevention/treatment of diabetes;
  • Improve digestion;
  • Improve brain health;
  • Improve skin health;
  • Improve hair health; and
  • Improve thyroid function.

Using Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be used both internally and externally. It is an excellent source of energy and when ingested as a food oil or health tonic. It adds both flavour and has therapeutic benefits.

Some of the more popular uses of Coconut Oil:

  • Coconut oil is one of your best cooking alternatives as it is so stable that when heated it will not oxidize or go rancid;
  • Mix it into smoothies, herbal teas or hot water;
  • Mix it into black coffee (instead of milk or other creamers);
  • Use it as a skin and hair moisturizer;
  • A natural SPF 4 sunscreen;
  • Oil pulling (using it as a mouth wash, will help with gum disease and tooth infection); and so much more.