I certainly don’t eat a conventional Western diet. In fact, I rarely eat in any conventional way. But I do love to experiment with my diet. Whether it’s HFLC, intermittent fasting, Paleo or raw food I like to bring new elements of nutrition and food into my diet and because of this I am very used to dealing with the strange looks and bemused comments regarding my choices. “What on earth have you got in your Tupperware today Chesso!?” is a common comment around the office but it’s a comment that I love to hear because it gives me the opportunity to discuss food, nutrition and health. But what if you don’t want to talk about your meal? What if you do mind the strange looks and dismissive remarks? Social management of an alternative diet can be a tough area to navigate, especially during the festive season, so what strategies can you employ to better manage the situation?
COPING WITH THE ENVIRONMENT:
It’s often much easier to manage your diet at home when you are surrounded by your own facilities and foods which meet your requirements but this shouldn’t restrict you from following your plan out with the home.
Eating Out at Restaurants:
Eating out is a major part of social society and because of the vast range of cuisines on offer it should be relatively easy to select dishes which meet virtually any dietary requirements. But in reality navigating a menu can be a minefield and restaurants are often an unnecessary source of dietary non-adherence.
· Understand the Menu: Try and take a look at the menu in advance of arrival to better understand how your needs can be met. If you can’t access the menu then call ahead and discuss your requirements with the waiting staff.
· Build Your Own Plate: If there isn’t a dish that you like then try building a plate from other items on the menu by swapping sides, sauces or cooking methods.
· Be Clear with Your Requests: It can be awkward giving detailed dietary information to the waiting staff, especially so if you are in a big group, so be clear with your requests and keep them relatively simple. Waiting staff and kitchens are used to dealing with specific dietary requirements so don’t feel embarrassed about making requests.
· Prepare to be Flexible: If you understand your diet you will know how and when to be a little flexible, restaurants aren’t personal chefs so be prepared to be flexible but without compromising your health of beliefs.
Eating at a Party
Managing your diet at a party is very situation specific but with a little planning you can maximise your enjoyment at a potentially disruptive time.
· People want to be Accommodating: Family and friends want to be accommodating and will often go to extra lengths to ensure you are comfortable and able to eat in a similar way to the rest of the party. But they can only do this if they know what you need in advance so give them a few suggestions or ask what the menu is to understand if it is suitable for you. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.
· Take something with you: Bringing a dish to a party is an easy way of guaranteeing that there is one thing you can eat. Ask your host if there is a theme or anything specific they would like you to bring then try and prepare it to suit your needs. Just remember to make enough to go round.
· Pre-Eat: Not an ideal solution but if you expect to feel uncomfortable at a party then eat beforehand to avoid compromising your choices. Better than going hungry.
COPING WITH PEOPLE:
Coping with other people’s attitudes towards your eating can be a tough and delicate situation but this shouldn’t preclude you from following your own diet. Food choice is an emotive topic and it often seems that some people feel your choices are a negative judgment of their own. For example, I recently had lunch with some colleagues and chose a chicken salad from the menu. Immediately I was inundated with comments of “healthy”, “why don’t you live a little?” and “you are making the rest of us look bad”. This can be an awkward and absurd situation. My chicken salad was a far better choice nutritionally than the loaded burgers and sandwiches that my colleagues were ordering but somehow I was being made to feel guilty about making positive health and nutrition choices. They felt my choices were a negative reflection of their own and perhaps made comments in an attempt to vindicate their meal selection.
Food plays a strong role in social cohesion but remember that a social meal extends beyond the food consumed, it’s the environment and interaction that also shape the experience (hence why the Mediterranean food pyramid is based on social eating and communication). So how can you best prepare for managing your diet amongst others?
· Be Prepared for Questions: People will want to know about your diet and reasons for undertaking something unconventional. Often it’s easy to mistake judgement for intrigue so be prepared to answer questions in a non-hostile way (unless you want to have the argument that is!).
· Be Respectful: If talking about your diet try to avoid preaching or overzealous persuading; this will lose and alienate more people than it gains. If there is an opportunity for delicate education then take it, if not then just move on or tell people where they can find out more information for themselves.
· Understand your Diet: If you can’t articulate (in plain language) what your diet is trying to achieve then you probably don’t understand it well enough yourself. This also allows you to better understand how and when you can be flexible with your choices without compromising your health.
Or do you just forget about your dietary goals and unconventional diet when the situation doesn’t support them (such as during the festive season)? Well, this may be an option, but understand that every time you do this you compromise your health in both the short and long term. Now this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t relax, be flexible and treat yourself but just be mindful of when you can and can’t stick to your goals then make the best choice for that situation.
Food is to be enjoyed and respected – let’s not make food the problem. Managing your diet is a personal challenge but needn’t be a source of stress. Enjoy the festive period, enjoy good company (tolerate bad company) and embrace the power of food!
Diets that advocate for a low-carb, low-fat, high-protein approach to weight loss and weight maintenance are popular and are endorsed by celebrities. However, will this actually lead to long term success?
Our bodies are wonderful works of engineering. They are able to use carbohydrates, protein and fat for energy. This ensures that no matter what the situation, our bodies can quickly adjust to the energy needs faced. Whilst changing the macronutrient ratio in the diet is key to effective weight loss, the common mistake people make when switching to a low-carb lifestyle is not consuming enough fat in the diet.
Our bodies can convert fat for energy through the use of ketones. Energy from protein however is converted directly into sugar for energy (a process known as gluconeogenesis). Protein in the diet, without the adequate amount of fat, will not lead to muscle gain and can in fact lead to muscle wasting. This protein will be turned into glucose so as to provide for your energy needs leading to a blood sugar spike and in return an insulin response. It is exactly this that happens on diets following a high-protein, low-fat, low-carb principle.
The importance of an adequate amount of fat in the diet can not be underestimated. Fat is important as not only does it provide satiety, it is also a mechanism to get micronutrients such as fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Here at Natural Ketosis, we understand how important it is to get the macronutrient content right in order to not only ensure weight loss, but also enable weight maintenance thereafter. Fat is required to optimise micronutrient uptake from vegetable sources thereby ensuring that the body is getting all the minerals and vitamins required for health.
Ensuring that you are consuming enough fat, through nuts, seeds, dairy and meat also ensures that any protein consumed is used to build muscle and stored fat is the main source of body fuel.
Whilst physical activity is important for preserving muscle and protecting your metabolic rate, is it really the only antidote to combat the obesity epidemic - in children and adults, we are currently facing?
Every few days there is a news story again stating that physical activity is key to weight loss and weight maintenance. Whilst we agree that physical activity does have a role, it is not the only aspect of our lifestyle that needs changing. If losing weight was as easy as joining the gym or playing sports, why is it that in over 30 years of the public being told to engage in physical activity for weight control, we are still experiencing an obesity epidemic?
The simple answer is that correct nutrition holds the key for weight loss and maintenance. Physical activity unfortunately plays only a small role in the matter. Although there are plenty of studies that illustrate the health benefits of physical activity - an important aspect of health and not to be undermined. However, it is currently of more importance to turn our attention and deal with the heart of the problem: nutrition.
We live in a food environment where at every turn there are items that contain carbohydrates. By carbohydrates items such as High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup, corn syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose… the list goes on and on, are the norm of the day. What people do not realise is that by continually consuming such products, not only does your palate alter dramatically, but your system becomes addicted to consuming a certain level of carbohydrates daily. Animal studies have shown that it is easier to give up cocaine rather than carbohydrates (Lenoir et al. 2007; Berridge et al. 2010).
There are no studies that show physical activity as the only way to lose weight. Studies have shown that the current guidelines for “healthy” eating put carbohydrates and low- calorie foods as the focus of good nutrition. These have been shown to not lead to weight loss maintenance and it does not improve overall health markers such as blood cholesterol and blood pressure (Yancy et al. 2004; Krieger et al. 2006; Hession et al. 2008).
In the end we are in the midst of an obesity crisis in the UK that is afflicting both adults and children. Rather than addressing the root cause of obesity i.e. nutrition, we are putting a plaster on the problem in the hope that it goes away.
Hession M., Rolland C., Kulkarni U., Wise A. & Broom J. 2008. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obesity Reviews. 10 (1): 36-50
Kent C. Berridge, Chao-Yi Ho, Jocelyn M. Richard, Alexandra G. DiFeliceantonio. 2010. The tempted brain eats: Pleasure and desire circuits in obesity and eating disorders. Brain Research, Volume 1350, 2 September, Pages 43-64
Krieger J.W,, Sitren H.S,, Daniels M.J. & Langkamp-Henken B. 2006. Effects of variation in protein and carbohydrate intake on body mass and composition during energy restriction: a meta-regression.Am J Clin Nutr. February, 83: 2 260-274
Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH. 2007. Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward. PLoS ONE 2(8): e698.
Yancy Jr WS, Olsen MK, Guyton JR, Bakst RP, Westman EC. 2004. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 140: 769–777.
“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.”
We all have fond memories of Winnie the Pooh and his adventures in The Hundred Acre Wood, not to mention his constant appetite for honey.
Honey is frequently hailed as a superfood, not to mention other health uses such as an antiviral and as an anti-fungal. Whilst these latter claims are well substantiated and have strong scientific claims behind them, the use of honey as a “healthy” sugar substitute or as a superfood are less-than glorious.
The micronutrient content of honey consists mainly of vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. However, from a nutrition perspective, that’s all - 5% of the total honey content. The other 95% is made up of a variety of carbohydrates, the main one being fructose.
It is important to mention that table sugar is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Hence the idea of substituting sugar for honey, may not be the healthiest thing that you can do as in actual fact you have not removed the sugar from your diet.
Honey, together with agave, are two very common sugar substitutes used within the paleo lifestyle. Therefore, if you are trying to make the full switch to a paleo lifestyle by removing carbohydrates from your diet, putting honey in your cereal and in your healthy bakes may be the reason why you have not seen the benefits associated with following a paleo lifestyle.
The quote from Winnie the Pooh about his feelings towards honey, perfectly sum up what happens after you consume items high in carbohydrates: you feel good before eating them, however this feeling quickly disappears after. In other words, eating honey will cause your sugar levels to rise quickly giving you that feeling of euphoria, however as soon as your blood sugar levels stabilise, your system crashes and you either feel hungry or in need of a nap.
Following a paleo lifestyle with the aim of losing weight needs to be not about avoiding carbohydrates, but about choosing the right ones. Whilst avoiding bread, pasta, rice, confectionary and other obvious carbohydrate-containing items, it is even more important to ensure that you are not consuming items containing hidden carbohydrates.
Whilst Winnie the Pooh may not have been the ultimate caveman with his love of honey, he certainly taught us that eating too much of it made you lethargic.
The soybean has been at the centre of controversy within the nutrition and fitness world. Some people see the soybean as a superfood whilst others see it as a poison.
The soybean is native to East Asia and it features heavily in the region’s cuisine in a variety of forms whether it be as soy milk, edamame, tempeh, miso, tofu as well as a meat-alternative. It is high in protein and is often referred to as the “poor man’s meat”. Soybean also contains a number of vital nutrients such as manganese, molybdenum, iron, phosphorus, vitamin K, tryptophan, etc.
The controversial issue surrounding soybean is not about its protein and mineral content but rather due to its high phytate and isoflavone content. Phytates are substances mostly found in grains and legumes. These bind to minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron in the gut thus inhibiting their absorption into your system. Whilst consuming a large amount of phytates is not recommended so is consuming a large amount of isoflavones.
What are isoflavones?
Soy isoflavones are biologically active compounds that are able to bind to the human body’s oestrogen receptors in the same way that human oestrogen can (Mortio et al. 2001). In doing so, they can disrupt the body’s normal endocrine system.
Due to their ability to mimic the human oestrogen hormone it is often used as an alternative therapy to relieve symptoms of menopause in women. It has also been shown that it interferes with normal thyroid function, however more studies are required to confirm this (Rao et al. 1997).
There has also been some studies suggesting that soy isoflavones may exert a feminising effect on men as they may interfere with their oestrogen:testosterone ratio. However research has shown this to be unlikely (Messina, 2010).
However soybean consumption is not all bad. There are studies which have shown that soybean consumption may have a role in cardiovascular disease prevention (van der Schouw et al. 2005), prostate cancer prevention (Lee, et al. 2003), as well as it having a role in the prevention of diabetes and obesity (Bhathena & Velasquez, 2002.). The latter is due to soy’s high protein content and its associated appetite suppression qualities.
The bottom line is that not all soy is bad. Yet unfortunately the type of soy that is mostly consumed in Western society is not whole soy - the one with all the nutrient benefits, but rather as soybean oil and soy protein. Due to their low-cost and various functional properties, these soy products can be found in a variety of unsuspected food items.
It is for this reason that here at Natural Ketosis we are taking the necessary steps to remove all soy ingredients from our products. Thereby ensuring that the quality of our food is second to none.
Bhathena S.J. & Velasquez M.T. 2002. Beneficial role of dietary phytoestrogens in obesity and diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 76: 6 1191-1201.
Lee M.M. et al. 2003. Soy and Isoflavone Consumption in Relation to Prostate Cancer Risk in China. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. July 12; 665
Messina M. 2010. Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: a critical examination of the clinical evidence. Fertility and sterility. Volume 93 issue 7 Pages 2095-2104
Mortio K. et al. 2001. Interaction of Phytoestrogens with Estrogen Receptors α and β. Biological and Pharmaceutical BulletinVol. 24No. 4 P 351-356
Rao L. Divi, Hebron C. Chang, Daniel R. Doerge. 1997. Anti-Thyroid Isoflavones from Soybean: Isolation, Characterization, and Mechanisms of Action. Biochemical Pharmacology, Volume 54, Issue 10, 15 November Pages 1087-1096.
van der Schouw Y.T. et al. 2005. Cardiovascular Disease in Women: Prospective Study on Usual Dietary Phytoestrogen Intake and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Western Women. Circulation. 111: 465-471
[Note – this article refers to vegetarians as lacto-ovo-vegetarians (those that eat dairy and eggs but avoid eating meat, fish and poultry) as this is the most commonly adopted vegetarian diet in UK]
In a recent blog we outlined the primary nutritional considerations for athletes adopting a vegetarian diet. We surmised that athletes (in particular endurance athletes) can successfully consume an animal-free diet with suitable nutrition knowledge, planning and organisation. However, all athletes know the difference between surviving and thriving, so does a vegetarian diet allow an athlete to thrive? Let’s dig a little deeper.
The primary considerations we outlined in Part 1 were:
· Energy Intake: Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in fat and protein yet higher in carbohydrate and fibre which can make it difficult to consistently consume a high energy intake.
· Protein: The absence of animal protein restricts the total and variety of protein intake in a vegetarian diet. This may be a particularly important consideration for strength training athletes who require a higher protein intake than endurance athletes.
· Iron: Essential for oxygen transport yet primarily consumed from red meat.
· Zinc: Zinc plays a key role in the immune system but is often difficult to consume through plant-based sources.
· Calcium: Essential for bone formation and muscle function but generally not limited in the diet of individuals who consume dairy products.
· Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids: Essential fats that play key roles in brain and heart health as well as modulating the inflammatory response. Vegetarian diets tend to be low in the key fats which are abundant in oily fish.
As you can see above there are a number of basic nutritional considerations for the vegetarian athlete to be aware of. But with suitable knowledge, organisation and perhaps some intelligent supplementation with key nutrients there is no reason why a vegetarian diet cannot support athletic performance. But what else should the vegetarian athlete consider?
· Part 1 touched on the point that the vegetarian diet tends to be carbohydrate dominant. For some athletes this may not be considered a significant issue when carbohydrate needs for training and competition are high but when demand is low (such as during rest and recovery periods) maintaining a high carbohydrate intake can be damaging. Carbohydrate intakes which regularly exceed requirement will lead to a rise in insulin and subsequent carbohydrate storage (as either glycogen or fat). Prolonged excessive strain to the insulin response can lead to diabetes and this risk is pronounced if the carbohydrate sources are primarily refined grains and sugars.
· Beyond the management of carbohydrate disposal, individuals with a carbohydrate dominant diet may find it difficult to manage their weight effectively. Recent research suggests that increasing protein and reducing carbohydrate intake is an effective way of managing body fat. For the vegetarian athlete this is much harder to achieve because:
1. Many commonly consumed vegetarian protein sources also contain a significant amount of carbohydrate (e.g. pulses, legumes, oats, wheat and dairy). Thus, raising the intake of these “protein-rich” foods invariably raises the carbohydrate intake.
2. For athletes, reducing their carbohydrate intake may come at a significant cost to overall energy intake and therefore compromise athletic performance and immune status.
· Vegetarians consistently report lower protein intakes than meat eaters and this also reflects a reduced intake of the essential amino acid leucine. Leucine plays a key role in managing the production of new proteins in muscle tissue (muscle protein synthesis). When leucine is abundant it facilitates muscle protein synthesis allowing newer and stronger muscle tissue to be formed. Therefore a diet low in leucine cannot efficiently respond to the demand to generate new muscle fibres and thus compromises muscle recovery and adaptation. The vegetarian athlete can of course increase their leucine intake at key times (particularly through dairy proteins post exercise) but this may come at the cost of misbalancing carbohydrate and fat intake.
· Systemic inflammation is a known risk factor for many cardiovascular, cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases. Chronic systemic inflammation is the result of release of pro-inflammatory agents from immune cells and chronic activation of the immune system. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to reduce systemic inflammation by dampening the inflammatory response but the extent of their influence partly relies on the balance of their intake with Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
· Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats compete with each other for metabolism and therefore a diet which is abundant in one over the other will result in a different inflammatory profile. A typical Western diet is thought to be approximately 20:1 omega-6:omega-3 with the ideal ratio for health thought to be closer to 1:1. As outlined in Part 1, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are limited in the vegetarian diet however foods high in omega-6 are prevalent. In particular vegetable oils (palm, soybean, rapeseed and sunflower oils), eggs, nuts and wheat.
· Further to the low intake of omega-3 fats, the vegetarian diet also contains some foods which are considered to be highly inflammatory to localised sites. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and is the object of elimination for a gluten-free diet and individuals with coeliac disease. Although the prevalence of coeliac disease is quite low, many individuals still suffer from gluten sensitivity where gluten slowly attacks the intestinal lining causing ruptures in the gut wall which can lead to food and digestive particles leaking out into the blood stream triggering an immune response. A regular vegetarian diet is likely to be high in gluten containing foods though breads, cereals, pastas and cous cous. Eliminating gluten from the vegetarian diet is certainly possible but further restricts the food choices and particularly some key carbohydrate-rich foods.
· Optimising the hormonal environment is a key part of an athlete’s programme because the hormones will dictate the body’s ability to recover, repair, grow and repeat. Therefore elevating hormones which negatively impact this process will hamper exercise performance. Soy is one food which may have this effect. Soy is a plant source of the hormone oestrogen, an essential sex-hormone found in men and women. Although the jury is still out on whether soy is positive or negative for women it definitely isn’t good for children or men. Males who regularly consume soy will experience an increase in oestrogen and decrease in testosterone which will negatively impact muscle function, recovery and body composition.
· In addition to its impact on oestrogen, unfermented soy is rich in phytates which block the absorption of key minerals, especially calcium, iron and zinc, which as we saw in Part 1, is already a concern for vegetarian athletes.
· Now, it’s important to note that soy isn’t the only food which can raise oestrogen levels but its presence in the vegetarian athlete’s diet is often promoted due to its full complement of amino acids. However, as with most foods, it can be safely included as part of a variety of foods and protein sources.
· Quorn Chicken Style Pieces, Soy and Gravy Pies, Mexican Tofu Bake…. the list goes on. The range of vegetarian and meat-substitute food products commercially available is larger than ever and supermarkets are dedicating greater amounts of precious aisle space to these and similar ‘free-from’ products. But a ‘Vegetarian approved’ sticker doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthier than its meat containing counterpart. The vegetarian athlete should still read nutrition and ingredient labels, understand where their food comes from and how it should be optimally prepared. For example, soaking legumes overnight can reduce their phytic acid content and therefore allow greater absorption of key vitamins and minerals. Processed soy foods may be made from genetically modified soybeans and many meat-free substitute products are packed with large numbers of artificial ingredients and fillers to help them achieve the optimal appearance and texture.
· The vegetarian athlete should also be aware of how well a vegetarian substitute replaces a non-vegetarian food. For example, a vegan who switches from cow’s milk to almond milk will be consuming 75% less protein per serving on the almond milk. Nuts are commonly touted as a high source of protein for vegetarians whereas they are actually a very high source of fat and only a moderate-low source of protein. As mentioned above, consuming certain foods to obtain a particular nutrient intake can often have repercussions on the intake of 2-3 other nutrients.
So, is a vegetarian diet optimal for athletic performance? Based on the information provided here perhaps not, but then again many of the arguments above could also be applied in a different light to a modern omnivorous diet. So what should the vegetarian athlete do? Arm yourself with knowledge and an enthusiasm for food then pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Welcome to The Natural Ketosis Company’s blog. We are fed up with the abundance of weight loss myths and miracle solutions that constantly appear in the press. Therefore, we have decided to expose the ridiculous claims that are prevalent in the diet industry and, hopefully in a humorous way, give you our honest opinion about them. We love to hear your opinions so please do not be afraid to comment!