16:8 diet

The 16:8 diet

The 16:8 diet is a form of intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating. The numbers in the ratio stand for 16 and 8 hours (of fasting and eating, respectively).

Intermittent fasting vs time-restricted feeding

These days, the term “intermittent fasting”, is being thrown around all over the place. Prof Valter Longo is the opinion that we need to stop using term “intermittent fasting” because it’s being used to talk about different protocols that have different effects on health (minute 1:01 in the video below).

Simply put, fasting = not eating. If you do it intermittently (i.e. not all the time), you are intermittent fasting. Humans, and all creatures, have fasted since the beginning of time. It can be argued that intermittent fasting is what our bodies are hard-wired to expect.

Time-restricted feeding is a specific type of intermittent fasting that happens every day (in contrast, intermittent fasting can be done, for example, once a week). The focus here is placed on the number of hours in which eating is “permitted”, i.e. 8 in the case of the 16:8 diet.

In some forms of fasting and all forms of time-restricted feeding, the idea is not alter the quantity or quality of food, but to consume it within a fixed window of time.

One more nuance: circadian rhythms

Circadian rhythm is what underlies any biological 24-hour cycle. Many organisms, including our own human cells, function according to a circadian rhythm that is influenced by the natural light/dark cycle and feeding/fasting periods. During the fasting periods, the body has an opportunity to repair damaged cells, proteins, etc. (2, 3).

Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles with 24/7 artificial light stimulation, disrupted sleep and eating patterns interrupt our body’s natural processes, predisposing us to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc. Hence, the aim of time-restricted feeding is to re-establish the body’s innate circadian rhythms (2, 3).

Prof Satchin Panda is dedicated to the study of circadian rhythms and health.

Benefits of fasting

The health benefits of fasting have been well documented thanks to large observational studies of populations who practice religious fasting. There have been also numerous studies in mice and other creatures that have given insight into the physiology of fasting, due to the fact that several cellular processes are conserved across species (2, 3).

Fasting promotes ketogenesis, increased cellular stress resistance, breakdown of fats (lipolysis) and cell destruction (autophagy). Clinical applications include the treatment of neurodegenerative, metabolic and inflammatory diseases, aging and certain types of cancer (particularly to reduce side-effects of chemotherapy) (1). Fasting may also help lower blood pressure and body fat (2).

Does the 16:8 diet work for weight loss and health?

A recent paper reported on a 12-week pilot study with 23 obese sedentary adults who followed a 16:8 diet. Subjects were allowed to eat from 10am to 6pm and their results were compared to matched subjects from another weight loss study. The experimental group more lost body weight and systolic blood pressure than the control group, but no relative fat mass, lean mass, diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, insulin nor homocysteine (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease). The authors of the paper acknowledge that alternate day fasting may be more effective for weight loss than time-restricted feeding (4).

On the flip side, an 8-week study with 34 lean young adult subjects explored the effects of combining a 16:8 diet with exercise. All subjects had been lifting weights for at least 5 years and followed a classic bodybuilding protocol 3 times per week. The time-restricted group ate between 1pm and 8pm and lost more of the following: fat mass, total testosterone, IGF-1 (but maintained fat-free mass), blood glucose, insulin, triglycerides, TNF-α and IL-1β (pro-inflammatory cytokines) (5).

Any fasting protocol may have detrimental side effects, so consult with your doctor or dietitian before trying the 16:8 diet, especially if you have health challenges or risk factors.

In the media

The 16:8 hour in the media was popularised under the name of 8 hour diet by American publisher David Zinczenko of Men’s Health back in 2012.

My experience with fasting

I don’t follow a structured fasting protocol but I do try to do some sort of fasting at least once a week. Sometimes it’s a 24 hour fast, sometimes it’s a protein fast (which triggers autophagy without requiring an actual fast), sometimes it’s a 8-12 hour time-restricted feeding period. The day and length depend on what else I have going on, i.e. training and social events. I try to implement fasting on recovery days, in which I do minimal physical activity (such as stretching, yoga or sprints). I learned the hard way: I tried fasting on a day I did clean heavy singles and I almost fainted.

References

  1. Longo VD and Mattson MP. Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications. Cell Metab. 2014 February 4; 19(2): 181–192.
  2. Longo VD and Panda S. Fasting, circadian rhythms, and time restricted feeding in healthy lifespan. Cell Metab. 2016 June 14; 23(6): 1048–1059.
  3. Melkani GC and Panda S. Time-restricted feeding for prevention and treatment of cardiometabolic disorders. J Physiol. 2017 Jun 15;595(12):3691-3700.
  4. Gabela K et al. Effects of 8-hour time restricted feeding on body weight and metabolic disease risk factors in obese adults: A pilot study. Nutr Healthy Aging. 2018 Jun 15;4(4):345-353.
  5. Moro T et al. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. J Transl Med (2016) 14:290.

[Photo by petradr on Unsplash]

weightlifting categories

New weightlifting categories

Olympic weightlifting is a weight class sport, meaning you compete against athletes that are within your particular weight range (plus gender and age range). A few days ago, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) announced new weightlifting categories, which hadn’t changed essentially since 1998 – there was one extra category added for women in 2017.

Current weightlifting categories

There are 2 sets of categories, one for competitions organised by the IWF and one for the Olympic games (approved for Tokyo 2020), which is essentially a subset of the former.

These are the changes for men’s weight classes (seniors and masters):

Previous Current
N/A 55 kg (IWF only)
56 kg 61 kg
62 kg 67 kg
69 kg 73 kg
77 kg 81 kg
85 kg 89 kg (IWF only)
94 kg 96 kg
N/A 102 kg (IWF only)
105 kg 109 kg
105+ kg 109+ kg

And below are the changes for women’s weight classes (seniors and masters):

Previous Current
N/A 45 kg (IWF only)
48 kg 49 kg
53 kg 55 kg
58 kg 59 kg
63 kg 64 kg
69 kg 71 kg (IWF only)
75 kg 76 kg
N/A 81 kg
90 kg 87 kg
90+ kg 87+ kg

What does this mean for athletes?

Apart from having to change their social media handles (kudos to Ursula Garza), some athletes might choose to adjust their weight up or down to fit into the new weightlifting categories. Typically, you want to be at the top end of your category to have a competitive advantage. This is because strength is usually proportional to body mass; this is why weight categories exist in the first place.

Most athletes train a few kilograms heavier than their competition weight in order to maximise their output. Then they “make weight” just before the weigh-in using a variety of methods, which normally involve water shifting (e.g. dehydration through sweating or simply not drinking water). There is a period of time between the weigh-in and the actual competition in which athletes recover fluids, electrolytes and energy to get ready to lift.

Weight manipulation strategies

Unfortunately, there is no single strategy that works for all athletes. It’s important to know your body and how it reacts to different strategies, which means you need to experiment and keep track of the results. A savvy dietitian can suggest strategies that are likely to work for you without compromising your performance or nutritional status.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t feel you need to go up to the next weight category just for the sake of lifting more weight. Some people feel/perform better at a lighter bodyweight.
  • If you decide to train above your weight category, just go over by a small percentage, i.e. a couple or a few kilos. The more weight you need to cut, the more difficult it will be and the more the cut will impact your output.
  • If you’re a female athlete, know how your weight fluctuates during your menstrual cycle and plan your competition strategy accordingly.
  • Test different strategies and keep note of how much weight you are able to cut and how long it takes for your body to react.
  • Don’t manipulate your weight if this compromises your health, nutritional status, strength or performance.

For more information, read this fact sheet by Sports Dietitians of Australia.

Why have weight categories changed?

I don’t know the actual reasons but isn’t it interesting that most categories have gone up by 4-5 kilos (men) and 1-2 kilos (women)? Does this reflect the fact that we, as a population, are getting heavier?

[Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash]

practice

Practice doesn’t make perfect

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent” is one of my favourite quotes ever by Kelly Starrett. Why? Because, in principle, is true in so many aspects of life.

In Starrett’s area of expertise (mobility), this applies to movement patterns that we develop as a result of doing the same thing over and over again, which can lead to injury when not performed correctly. This same principle can be applied to music, sports, language, diet, etc. In Buddhism, karma is sometimes explained as the result of habits; the more we repeat a particular behaviour, the more likely we are to fall in either a vicious or virtuous cycle with corresponding consequences.

Patterns in diet

As mentioned before, this also applies to diet. Our dietary patterns (breakfast/lunch/dinner) are, in part, a result of habits, as it is eating at the same time every day. Same with our taste preferences. Some of us practice (or get conditioned to) favouring sweet things at breakfast. Some of us are used to finishing all our meals despite not being hungry because that’s the way we were raised.

Not so permanent

Repetitive behaviours (and movement patterns) are difficult to change but not impossible. Granted, it is easier for some people than for others. It is important to know yourself and what drives you to action (for example, Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework is a useful tool to understand how we respond to inner and outer expectations).

Steps for change

  1. Know yourself and the strategies that work for you. Do this quiz. Figure out whether you’re a moderator or an abstainer.
  2. Identify which behaviours have become habits that are working against your goals. You might need someone else to identify these for you: a coach, a physiotherapist, a dietitian (wink, wink), someone who knows how to spot “incorrect technique”.
  3. Pick your battles. We can’t do everything we want. Often times, if we try to change too many things at once, we fail miserably. Identify the one change that will bring the most benefit and practice doing it the right way every day, until it becomes second nature.

Remember changes don’t have to be big. More often than not, it’s the little things that hold us down. For example, the changes below can have a huge impact in our wellbeing:

  • Drink more water
  • Get some sunshine every day
  • Spend less time on social media
  • Meditate for 5-15 minutes every day`
  • Go to bed earlier
  • Go for a walk after lunch
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Cook X meals every week
  • Snack less
  • Eat with friends or family at least once a week

[Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash]

Açaí bowls

What are açaí bowls and are they worth the $?

Açaí bowls have gained popularity in the past 18 months or so due to the reported health benefits of açaí (and, in my opinion, the rise of healthy eating and veganism).

What are açaí bowls

“Açaí na tigela (“açaí in the bowl”) is a “typical Brazilian dish made of frozen and mashed açaí palm fruit. It is served as a smoothie in a bowl or glass, and is commonly topped with granola and banana, and then mixed with other fruits and guaraná syrup.” Wikipedia.

But before we get any further, please listen to the correct pronunciation of açaí in this Youtube video.

Health benefits of açaí

The polyphenols in açaí seem to have potent antioxidant activity, induce vasodilation (expansion of the blood vessels) and lower blood pressure. Açaí extracts may also be protective against heart failure from myocardial infarction, renal failure and metabolic syndrome (1).

There is also evidence that polyphenol-rich plants may inhibit platelet activation and improve lipid parameters, thus reducing the risk for thrombosis and other cardiovascular diseases (2).

What about açaí bowls?

As mentioned at the top of the article, the bowls are made with the fruit extract and a bunch of other things. Let’s look at the Original Açaí Bowl recipe from Amazonia‘s website, a popular brand in Australia. The recipe calls for:

  • 2 Amazonia Açaí Smoothie Packs
  • 80ml liquid (non-dairy milk, apple juice or coconut water)
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • Toppings: granola and fresh fruits such as bananas, strawberries and blueberries

Let’s say we use almond milk and add 1/2 banana, 3 strawberries, 6 blueberries and 1/4 cup granola. Our healthy breakfast now looks more like dessert, with 1650kJ (394Cal) and 63g of carbohydrate, of which 44g are sugars. Is the sugar load in one sitting worth the (perhaps modest) dose of polyphenols? Maybe not for some people, particularly those with insulin resistance. On the bright side, a regular-sized bowl will cover your fruit intake for the day. As always, check what’s in your bowl before you eat.

Value for money?

The lowest price for açaí bowls I’ve seen is $7.5. More often than not the price is $11 and over. For example, the chain Açaí Brothers sells their bowl varieties in 3 sizes, ranging from $11 to $37. Bondi Wholefoods has a Famous Açaí Antiox Bowl for $18.90, with the option of adding protein powder for $2. Sadhana Kitchen sells their Epic Acai for $17.50.

References

  1. de Moura RS and Resende ÂC. Cardiovascular and Metabolic Effects of Acai, an Amazon Plant. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2016 Jul;68(1):19-26.
  2. Santhakumar AB, et al. A review of the mechanisms and effectiveness of dietary polyphenols in reducing oxidative stress and thrombotic risk. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014 Feb;27(1):1-21.

[Photo by Sara Dubler on Unsplash]

The Nordic Diet

The New Nordic Diet

The New Nordic Diet has been gaining traction as a strong contender against the Mediterranean Diet as one of the healthiest diets on Earth, particularly in the prevention of chronic disease.

What is the New Nordic Diet?

The New Nordic Diet was developed in 2012 as a collaboration between experts in nutrition, gastronomy and the environment, among other disciplines. The diet focuses on health, gastronomic potential and Nordic identity, and sustainability.

A great emphasis in gastronomy and the enjoyment of food was placed on the development of the Nordic guidelines, not coincidentally after Denmark’s Noma was named top 1 restaurant in the world by the prestigious San Pellegrino list. Before then, Nordic cuisine was generally regarded as bland and boring; however, the general consensus at the moment is that Nordic cuisine has many exciting flavours to offer.

Guidelines for the New Nordic Diet

The New Nordic Diet is based on 3 simple guidelines (1):

  1. More calories from plant foods and fewer from meat. Increasing the amount of legumes,
    vegetables, fruit, grains, potatoes, nuts, herbs, etc. as a means to prevent chronic disease and increase sustainability of the diet.
  2. More foods from the sea and lakes, because these foods are abundant in the region and contain beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iodine and selenium.
  3. More foods from the wild countryside, such as plants, mushrooms, berries, fruits and meat. The argument here is that foraged foods are not only generally healthier but also more sustainable.

Composition of the New Nordic Diet

The New Nordic Diet advocates the daily intake of (2):

  • Fruits: at least 300g
    • Berries: 50-100g
  • Vegetables: at least 400g
    • Cabbages: at least 29g
    • Root vegetables: at least 150g
    • Legumes: at least 30g
  • Fresh herbs: as much as possible
  • Potatoes: at least 140g
  • Plants and mushrooms from the wild countryside: 5g
  • Whole grains: at least 75g
  • Nuts: at least 30g
  • Fish and shellfish: at least 43g
  • Seaweed: 5g
  • Free-range livestock (including pigs and poultry): 85-100g
    • Game: at least 4g
  • Milk: 500g
  • Cheese: 25g
  • Eggs: 25g

The average macronutrient composition is 17% of total energy intake from protein, 32% from fat (of which 10% should be saturated, 13% monounsaturated and 8% polyunsaturated) and 51% from carbohydrates, which should provide 41g of fibre. There is room for 1% of energy intake from alcohol and 4% from refined sugars.

Nutrient composition in the New Nordic Diet

Fat composition in the New Nordic Diet

Is the New Nordic Diet healthy?

There is no doubt that a diet following the above recommendations has the potential to be anti-inflammatory and prevent chronic disease for most people.

I like the fact that it explicitly includes cabbages, seaweed and free-range livestock. Cabbages (and all other cruciferous vegetables) are important for detoxification and rich in fibre. Seaweed is an important source of iodine and other minerals. Free-range livestock are raised in a more humane way and are likely to have a healthier nutrient composition.

New Nordic Food

This is a government initiative to promote the gastronomy of Nordic countries, which I think most governments should do. Head to www.newnordicfood.org to learn more.

References

  1. Mithril C, et al. Guidelines for the New Nordic Diet. Public Health Nutr. 2012 Oct;15(10):1941-7.
  2. Mithril C, et al. Dietary composition and nutrient content of the New Nordic Diet. Public Health Nutr. 2013 May;16(5):777-85.

[Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash]

the keto diet

The keto diet

The keto diet is gaining popularity in the mainstream health conscious community. In fact, Google searches trends show that there has been a massive surge of interest in the past 1.5 years, particularly in the past 6 months.

Interestingly, while searches for “ketogenic diet” have remained fairly stable, searches for “keto diet” are on the rise (one has to wonder how many people don’t know that “keto” stands for “ketogenic).

keto diet worldwide

As shown below, trends are similar in Australia.

keto diet australia

What is a ketogenic diet?

Ketogenic diets were designed in the 1920s as therapeutic diets for the treatment of epilepsy. They are low in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and high in fat in order to generate ketones.

Ketones are simple compounds made of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen made in the liver from fat. Ketosis is a metabolic state whereby the body generates most of its energy requirements from ketones rather than carbohydrate (1). This metabolic state has shown benefits in the treatment of epilepsy and other neurological conditions, metabolic syndrome, obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and mitochondrial diseases (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Ketogenic diets are typically constructed with ratios ranging from 2:1 to 4:1 of fat to protein + carbohydrates. This means that at least 2/3 of the dietary energy will be coming from fats. To put this into numbers, let’s take an average dietary intake of 2000 kilocalories (Cals).

keto diet macros

In the less strict version of the keto diet, the person would need to consume 148.1g of fat and 74.1g of carbohydrates and protein combined (1g fat = 9Cal, 1g protein/carbs = 4Cal). Let’s say this person weighs 60kg and wants to meet their dietary requirements by consuming 0.8g protein per kg of body weight, they would be consuming 48g of protein, leaving 26.1g of carbohydrate to consume per day. That’s not much, as you can see in the table below.

carbs in foods

Keto these days

As the terms “keto” and “ketogenic” become more common in the media and everyday conversations, there is more uncertainty as to what is considered a keto diet. Low carbohydrate and high protein diets are not necessarily ketogenic, because availability of glucose from carbohydrate intake or gluconeogenesis (where excess protein is converted into glucose) will prevent the body from generating ketones.

There’s also a long record of tricking the body into producing ketones. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil has been used since the 1960s to facilitate this process allowing patients to be less restrictive with protein and carb intake (3). MCT oil has had a resurgence in the past few years thanks largely to Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof coffee.

Ketone supplements (a.k.a. “exogenous ketones”) are another tool that can help achieve ketosis without severe carbohydrate and protein restriction. They are sold as ketone salts and ketone esters and have been used in the military special forces and sport (1). I’d argue that adding exogenous ketones so that they are available for utilisation does not equal generating ketones, and thus a diet that relies on those products should not be considered ketogenic.

Moreover, I’d argue that unless you’re measuring your ketone levels (blood measurement is the most accurate way), you can’t be sure your diet is indeed ketogenic, particularly because different people will produce different levels of ketones at different levels of macronutrient intake. For an indication, it appears that blood levels must be greater than 5mmol/L for ketones to use be as preferential fuel source for the brain (1).

Cons of the keto diet

Documented potential negative side effects of ketogenic diets include:

  • Short-term include gastro intestinal problems (5)
  • Hyperlipidaemia, hypercholesterolaemia (2, 5)
  • Kidney stones and possible kidney damage (2, 4)
  • Electrolyte and/or calcium deficiencies due to increased excretion (1, 2)
  • Gout (2)
  • Risk of nutritional deficiencies (1)

In addition, following a ketogenic diet can be difficult, particularly for people who eat out and/or travel a lot. Food must be weighed, measured and logged to ensure compliance to the protocol. Ketones must be measured to ensure adequate levels are being produced. As an anecdote, I ate less than 30g of carbs per day on low-carb days while trialling the AltShift diet. Even though my usual diet is generally low-carb, I found it hard to stay below the carb limit.

Who is the keto diet right for?

If you have a health condition that has been shown to benefit from a ketogenic diet (see “What is a ketogenic diet?” section above), you may consider giving it a shot. Please check with your doctor and/or dietitian before jumping into it.

One last thing to consider with this and any other diets, is that food quality is more important than anything else. Yes, you can do keto by eating bacon 24/7 but you would likely develop nutritional deficiencies.

Vegan keto diet?

While in theory is possible to do vegan keto, a lot of vegan staples (fruits, some vegetables, grains and cereals, legumes) are high in carbohydrates. Also, a lot of keto staples (eggs, meat, fish, cheese, cream) are not vegan. It would be extremely hard to construct a nutritionally adequate vegan keto diet.

vegan keto diet

References

  1. Scott, JM and Deuster, PA. Ketones and Human Performance. J Spec Oper Med. 2017;17(2):112-116.
  2. A Review of Low-carbohydrate Ketogenic Diets. Westman, EC et al. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2003;5:476.
  3. Sinha, SR and Kossoff, EH. The ketogenic diet. Neurologist. 2015;11(3):161-170.
  4. Paoli A, et al. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2013;67:789.
  5. Branco AF, et al. Ketogenic diets: from cancer to mitochondrial diseases and beyond. Eur J Clin Invest. 2016;46(3):285-98.

[Photo by Casey DeViese on Unsplash]

Almonds

What’s the deal with almond milk?

It seems that almond milk is where soy milk was 8-10 years ago: available in supermarkets and most cafes and requested by customers who don’t do dairy. It’s also being used as a base for plant-based fermented products (e.g. yoghurt, kefir), ice cream, etc.

Interest in almond milk worldwide has been increasing over the past 10 years, especially in the past 7 years or so. In comparison, interest in soy milk has remain steady worldwide and increased only slightly in Australia over the same time period.

Almond milk trend worldwide

Almond milk trend Australia

What is almond milk?

No, it’s not the white fluid that comes out of tiny almond udders. In its basic form, it is water and almonds blended together and strained. It’s interesting to note that the Australian Nutrient Database defines almond milk as “a dairy milk substitute made from filtered water, almonds, agave syrup, sunflower oil, and salt, with or without added calcium.” (1)

The table below shows the ingredients list for several almond milks available in supermarkets. Notice the following:

  • The amount of almonds ranges from 2 to 11% (median 3.65% – not much!)
  • Unless the label reads “unsweetened” the product most likely contains added sugar
  • Besides added vitamins and minerals, some products include a number of extra ingredients, some of which better than others. Always read labels and don’t let buzz words mislead you.
Product Ingredients
Almo Milk Unsweetened Filtered water, 5% Australian grown almonds, calcium, non GM xanthan, sea salt
Almond Breeze Original Filtered water, raw sugar, ground whole almonds (2%), calcium carbonate (ground limestone), tapioca starch, sea salt, carrageenan, sunflower lecithin, natural flavour
Almond Breeze Unsweetened Filtered water, ground whole almonds (2%), calcium carbonate (ground limestone), tapioca starch, sea salt, carrageenan, sunflower lecithin, natural flavour
Australia’s Own Organic Almond Milk Filtered Australian water, organic almonds (3%), organic agave syrup, organic sunflower oil, salt
Australia’s Own Unsweetened Organic Almond Milk Filtered Australian water, organic almonds (3%), organic sunflower oil, salt
Community Co Unsweetened Almond Milk Water, ground almonds (2.5%), natural flavour, stabilisers (460, 466, 418, 415), mineral salt (170), salt, emulsifier (322) (sunflower)
Inside Out Original Almond Milk Filtered water, activated almonds (11%), Natvia™, vegetable gum (gellan), sea salt
Inside Out Unsweetened Almond Milk Filtered water, activated almonds (11%), vegetable gum (gellan), sea salt
MILKLAB Almond Milk Australian water, almonds (3.5%), sugar, sunflower oil, maltodextrin (from corn), acidity regulators (340, 332), vegetable gums (407, 410, 401, 412), sunflower lecithin, sea salt
Nutty Bruce Activated Almond Milk Filtered water (84.5%), activated organic almonds (10%), organic rice syrup, sea salt
Pure Harvest Activated Almond Milk Original Filtered water, organic activated almonds (10%), organic rice syrup, sea salt
Pure Harvest Activated Almond Milk Unsweetened Filtered water, organic activated almonds (7%), organic brown rice, sea salt, natural almond essence
So Good™ Almond Milk Unsweetened Filtered water, almonds (2.5%), mineral (calcium), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), natural flavour, salt, mineral salt (sodium bicarbonate), vegetable gum (gellan), antioxidant (ascorbic acid), vitamins (B12, B2, B1)
Vitasoy Almond Milk Unsweetened Filtered water, whole almonds (min 3.8%), mineral (calcium phosphate), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), sea salt, natural flavour, vegetable gum (gellan).

Is almond milk a good substitute for cow milk?

Depends! In culinary terms, some almond milks work well in place of cow milk in your morning coffee and to make anything from panna cotta to bechamel sauce.

Nutrition-wise, however, the composition of almond milk is quite different to that of cow milk. On average, cow milk is significantly higher calcium, energy, folate, iodine, phosphorus, vitamin A, potassium, tryptophan. It is also higher in naturally occurring trans fatty acids and cholesterol, although the levels are not concerning. Finally, cow milk is lower in sodium than almond milk. See chart below for a comparison per 100ml based on average values (1).

Cow milk vs almond milk

If you can’t or choose not to do dairy, please make sure you are obtaining the missing nutrients from other sources.

Which almond milk is better?

See the charts below for a comparison per 100ml of energy, protein, carbohydrate, fat, sugar, fibre, calcium and vitamin E between the different products. Use them to help you select a product based on your needs or preferences (i.e. low fat, low carb, low sugar, etc.). My recommendation is to choose based on ingredients list first (the shorter and more natural, the better), sugar content second, calcium content third (prioritise this if you’re not getting enough calcium from other sources).

Protein and energy in almond milk

Carbs and fat in almond milk

Sugar and fibre in almond milk

If you can make your own, this is even better. Just keep in mind that it will go off after 2-3 days.

References

1. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (2014). AUSNUT 2011–13 – Australian Food Composition Database. Canberra: FSANZ. Available at www.foodstandards.gov.au

low FODMAP

Is low FODMAP the new gluten free?

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual DAA (Dietitians Association of Australia) conference. I noticed a few products in the exhibition hall bearing the low FODMAP certification logo. I also attended a few talks on the topic of the low FODMAP diet in the management of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). One of the speakers, Dr Joanna McMillan mentioned the fact that “low FODMAP” is becoming trendy and might be the new “gluten-free”. Is that the case?

What are FODMAPs

In short, they are types of carbohydrates that can be fermented by our gut bacteria. The acronym stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.

The fermentation of FODMAPs in our intestine generates gas, among other things. The gas can cause bloating and discomfort in some people, particularly those who already have an inflamed gut, such as people with IBS and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)

Where do FODMAPs come from?

FODMAPs are present in many common foods, such as (Whelan et al, 2018):

  • Oligosaccharides
    • Fructans (oligofructose, inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides): Wheat, rye, onion, garlic, artichoke, low fat dairy products
    • Galacto-oligosaccharides (raffinose, stachyose): Pulses, legumes, some nuts
  • Disaccharides
    • Lactose: Milk and milk products
  • Monosaccharides
    • Fructose (in excess of glucose): Mangoes, figs, honey, fructose corn syrup, sweetener in dairy products, jam
  • Polyols
    • Sorbitol: Stone fruits, apple
    • Mannitol: Cauliflower, mushroom
    • Lactitol, xylitol, erythritol, maltitol: Sugar-free gum

What is the low FODMAP diet?

It is a therapeutic diet designed for managing symptoms in people with FODMAP intolerance. It is important to note that:

  • It’s normal to have some gas in the gut as a product of digestion
  • Food intolerance is not food allergy – people with intolerance to particular food components are able to tolerate those components up to a certain threshold before symptoms occur
  • The low FODMAP diet is not intended to be followed for life. It should look like this:
    1. A low FODMAP phase to determine whether FODMAP-containing foods are an issue and to achieve a symptom-free baseline
    2. A reintroduction phase to determine the tolerance to each food
    3. A long-term personalised diet with avoidance of only foods which cause significant issues. Tolerance to particular foods can change over time, so this diet should be revised periodically.

Is low FODMAP the new gluten-free?

I made a couple of comparisons to answer this question:

  1. I compared the number of gluten-free vs FODMAP-friendly products in Australia’s main 2 supermarkets. There is a big difference in the number of products that are labelled with either claim. Gluten-free is still a popular buzz health claim but it’s still early days for products marketed as FODMAP-friendly.

  2. Next, I ran a Google Trends comparison between “gluten free” and “low FODMAP”. Again, the former is many times more popular than the latter. I’ve included the interest per region and top searches, too.

I think it will take a while for “low FODMAP” or “FODMAP-friendly” products to become trendy and they might not ever reach the level of popularity of their “gluten-free” counterparts. In part is because it’s way easier to make something gluten free than to make it low FODMAP. By the same token, it is less likely for asymptomatic people to eat a low FODMAP diet just because it’s perceived as healthier.

I mentioned the low FODMAP logo before. This is an Australian certification (same as low GI), which means people are less likely to come across certified products in the supermarket, as I would guess a significant percentage of products come from overseas. Also, companies choose to certify their products based, in part, on the size of the market they are looking to attract, which at the moment is not large.

Is a low FODMAP diet inherently healthy?

The short answer is no. While a low FODMAP diet can certainly help relieve IBS/IBD symptoms, there is no evidence that following a low FODMAP diet makes any difference in healthy individuals. Moreover, if not overseen by a knowledgeable dietitian, people following a low FODMAP diet might develop nutritional deficiencies, e.g. calcium (important for bone health and many other functions in the body) and fibre (for a healthy microbiome).

Want to know more?

Here are some resources for you to read:

[Top photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash]

caffeine metabolism

Genes and caffeine metabolism

Perhaps it’s not news to you that genes affect caffeine metabolism. It makes intuitive sense as we all know that person who can have coffee right before going to bed and still sleep like a baby.

A little while ago I got an email announcing a new report derived from my myDNA genetic testing.

Which caffeine metabolism genes are tested?

myDNA analyses three genes (ADORA2A, CYP1A1-CYP1A2, CYP1A2 and AHR) to derive information about caffeine effect on the brain, caffeine metabolism and whether inducers (foods that boost caffeine metabolism) help or not.

My reaction to caffeine

I know from experience that whenever I drink coffee in the afternoon, my sleep suffers. Falling asleep might or might not be a problem, but my sleep quality is crap. I wake up multiple times during the night and usually find it hard to go back to sleep. Therefore, as a general rule, I usually have one cup of coffee between 8 and 9am and then switch to tea.

What do my genes say?

I was pleased to learn that, looking at the big picture, my genetic testing proved to be very accurate:

  • My caffeine metabolism is normal (~45 minutes to process caffeine)
  • I’m unlikely to get anxious from moderate caffeine consumption (<4 cups of coffee per day)
  • The effects of caffeine should last 6-8 hours in my body
  • I have high likelyhood of sleep disturbance if drinking > 4 cups of coffee
  • Inducers (such as cruciferous vegetables, tobacco smoke, certain drugs, charcoal-grilled meat) do nothing to boost caffeine metabolism in my case

The takeaway is that my last cup of coffee should be about 8-12 hours before going to bed, which is exactly what I know from experience.

Bottom line

The way our bodies metabolise particular substances, including caffeine, is highly individual. You don’t need to run genetic testing to find out how you react to caffeine, you can find out by observing how you react to different levels and timing of intake.

Want to know more?

If you are curious about what your genes say, you can invest in genetic testing by companies such as myDNA. The report will also tell you the percentage of the population that shares your alleles (e.g. your particular variation of the tested genes), how many kilojoules/calories, fat and sugar are in different types of coffees and the caffeine content in different beverages. You will also find the scientific evidence behind the analysis and recommendations.

Finally, the folks at Examine.com have also recently released an article entitled Caffeine consumption: how much is safe?. Note that these are general recommendations and don’t take into account individual variations. They include caffeine content for popular drinks, too. Worth a read.

carnivore diet

The carnivore diet (a.k.a. all meat diet)

If you’ve been paying attention to the nutrition world lately, you’d have heard of the carnivore diet (a.k.a. all meat diet). The baton holder at the moment is Dr Shawn Baker, an US orthopaedic surgeon and accomplished athlete. Dr Baker sells his fitness and nutrition plan at his website

The all meat diet seems to be popular with Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs/biohackers. The reason? My guess is that this is the crowd that seems to jump on the new trends, no matter what they are. Second, this is a male-dominated industry and meat (particularly red meat) continues to be a very “manly” thing to do in people’s minds.

What can you eat in the carnivore diet?

As outlined by Dr Baker, you can eat any meat, fish, butter, eggs, cream plus some other dairy products. I realised I had actually done the carnivore diet back in the early 90s (it was called “la dieta de las grasas” or “the fat diet” in the magazine I found it). I remember it being more enjoyable than the typical low-fat diets but my gall bladder/liver didn’t cope well with the switch. I might have done it for a week or so and then abandoned it.

Is the carnivore diet healthy?

Nutrition science has studied tribes like the Massai of central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania and the Inuit of the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska. People from these and other tribes are the original low-carbers and they have been found to be free(er) of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc.

So does that mean that we should mimic their diets in order to be healthy? Well, not necessarily, unless you have a similar ethnic background, participate in similar daily life activities (such as hunting, gathering, herding, etc.) and live in a similar environment (this includes same latitude or distance from the Equator). If you don’t tick all the boxes, I’m afraid you cannot tell this diet will be the silver bullet for you.

Will the carnivore kill me?

As said above, it’s impossible to say. There are clearly many people following an all meat diet who haven’t dropped dead and are, in fact, thriving.

It is important to note that individual requirements and tolerances vary from person to person. Some people are very resilient and can live on a diet of cigarettes, chips and Coke. This doesn’t mean this is a healthy option for most of us.

Having said that, governments and nutrition professionals are compelled to advocate for diets that are likely to benefit most of the population. This means, among other things, 5+ serves of vegetables per day and a wide variety of foods of plant and animal origin.

Pros of the carnivore diet

  • Good for people who like meat/fish/eggs/dairy and don’t care about vegetables
  • Good for people who suffer from decision fatigue and are happy to eat a limited variety of foods
  • This diet is likely to provide essential nutrients such as vitamins B12 and vitamin K (MK-4 form), as well as highly available complete protein, iron, zinc and calcium. Also omega-3 if fatty fish and/or grass-fed meat and/or enriched eggs are consumed.
  • There are a number of people following a carnivore diet that have reported improved body composition and athletic performance, including Dr Baker himself. I have also heard Dr Baker speak about improvements in a number of health markers, including testosterone levels and blood lipid composition (modest increase in HDL and decrease in triglycerides; no change in total cholesterol). This is, of course, anecdotal evidence that needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Cons of the carnivore diet

  • Lack of variety, not only taste-wise, but also nutrient-wise. A diet that excludes vegetables, fruits and other plant foods lacks important nutrients such as fibre and phytochemicals that are likely to play an important role in the prevention of chronic disease. A varied diet also ensures a more widespread exposure to potential food toxins.
  • Low sustainability (i.e. ability to follow it for life)
  • Low environmental sustainability
  • High cost if quality is a concern (and, in my opinion, it should be)
  • Difficulty navigating social situations
  • Potential issues for people with gall bladder/kidney issues or more rare nitrogen metabolism disorders

What if you want to give it a try?

You are free to do whatever you want but it would be a good idea to talk to your dietitian and/or physician (particularly if you suffer from a health condition) beforehand.

Please don’t expect to become as ripped or athletically accomplished as Dr Baker or any other carnivore ambassador. There are more things than just diet that play a role in body composition, athletic performance and health.

[Photo by Lukas Budimaier on Unsplash]