Over the last 50 years or so people’s attitude and approach to food has changed. Aspects such as speed of preparation, presentation and taste have replaced nutritional value as the primary criteria and now override the fundamental considerations of health.
Although we live in a society where we have a great abundance and variety of food the sad thing is that many are not only malnourished, but actually suffer from nutrient deficiencies which impact on their health. Yet by improving the quality and balance of what we eat, we can keep our bodies and minds in the best possible shape!
A century ago people consumed three times more vegetal protein than meat, today the proportions are reversed. The average intake of sugars has increased dramatically over the same period. In the early 1900’s this was around 0.6 kilograms per person per year, now it has risen to 35 kilograms per year per person!
The chemical elements which make up all foods can be classified into 6 distinct groups:
• Proteins which should comprise 10 – 15% of your total daily calorie intake
• Lipids (oils and fats) should make up 30 —35% of your intake
• Carbohydrates, sugars, starch and cellulose should account for 50 – 55% of your intake
Proteins are one of the basic building blocks of your organism, but they are constantly being used up and have to be replaced regularly. Eating foods that contain protein is therefore a vital necessity. If we don’t then our cells will not be able to grow or regenerate. So just where do we get our protein?
Large amounts of protein are contained in:
• Fish, seafood and shellfish
• Dairy products
Substantial amounts are also found in:
• Seeds and nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds etc.)
• Beans and lentils
Other foods contain protein but only in small amounts:
• Green vegetables
• Grains and their derivatives (bread, pasta. rice)
During digestion proteins are broken down into simple substances called amino acids, a chemical process which enables them to pass through the walls of the intestines, to be absorbed by blood and lymph, which transports them to our cells. The food we eat must provide us with 9 essential amino acids because our bodies are not capable of synthesizing these on its own. It is doubly important that we get all 9, if only one is missing, the others may be assimilated badly or not at all! (One amino acid, histidine is particularly important for young people, as adults can synthesise most of their needs through the liver, children and young people can’t.) Nearly all foods, except eggs, do not contain all 9 essential amino acids. This means that the only way to provide our bodies with all essential nutrients and in precisely the right amounts, is to eat a BALANCED and varied diet.
Proteins should constitute around 15% of your daily food intake, in the region of one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. How does this translate into actual food? Between 15 and 20 grams of protein will be present in:
• 100 grams of meat
• 100 grams of fish
• 2 eggs
• One half litre of milk
• 60 grams of hard cheese
Vegetables, grains, nuts and algae also contain protein, which although easy to assimilate, often does not have the same biological value as protein obtained from non-vegetal sources. However pure and vegetal proteins can be combined together. The most recent studies have shown that the ideal ratio is 50% animal protein and 50% vegetal protein.
Sources of vegetal protein per 100 grams:
Peanuts 25 Cocoa 17 Whole Wheat 12 Rye 13
Almonds 19 Oats 14 Soya Beans 35 Whole Pasta 9 Walnuts 10 Dark Choc 6 Lentils 8 Whole Rice 2.5
As people get older their ability to synthesize proteins diminishes. Elderly persons should in fact double the average daily intake, as they need to absorb more proteins in order to prevent a deficiency.
Protein and Amino Acids
Large amounts of protein are contained in:
• Fish and seafood
• Dairy products
Fair amounts are also found in:
• Seeds and nuts
• Beans and lentils
Other foods contain only small amounts of protein:
• Grains and their derivatives (pasta, rice, whole grain bread)
• Green vegetables
During digestion proteins are broken down into simple substances called amino acids. The food you eat MUST provide you with 9 essential amino acids as the body itself is not capable of synthesising these 9 on its own (However see Histidine).
Getting all 9 amino acids is doubly important for the following reason; if only one is missing, the others may be assimilated badly, or not at all!
Most foods, except eggs, do not contain all 9 essential amino acids. They may contain one or even a few, but the absence of the others (or even their presence in too small amounts) can inhibit the assimilation of the amino acids they do contain. Meat and cow’s milk lack methionin; fish lacks tryptophan. This means that the only way to provide the body with all the essential nutrients in precisely the right amounts is to eat a BALANCED diet.
If for example you eat mainly fish and avoid meats and dairy products (a fairly common diet nowadays) you will lack tryptophan. At certain times too your body will need more of certain amino acids because your cells have to regenerate faster. This is true of children, teenagers, pregnant or breast feeding women and persons fighting disease or convalescing.
Proteins should make up 15% of your daily food intake. The amount generally recommended is one gram of protein to each kilogram of body weight. Growing adolescents or persons participating in sport or carrying out demanding physical work, can increase their protein intake to 1.5 or even 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight.
How does this translate into actual food? 100 grams of meat contains between 15 and 20 grams of protein as does:
• 100 grams of fish
• 2 eggs
• Half a litre of milk
• 60 grams of hard cheese (medium strength)
However vegetables, grains and nuts etc all contain some protein, these are the vegetal proteins. Although easy to assimilate, they do not have the same biological value as protein obtained from non-vegetal sources, primarily because they lack one or a number of essential amino acids. Vegetal proteins obtained from grains generally lack isoleucine and lysine. On the other hand it’s easy to compensate for this lack by combining a grain from another source of vegetal protein (in the same meal). Eating a grain like rice with beans, lentils, soya-bean, peas etc provides you with all essential amino acids. On the other hand you could also combine a grain with meat or a dairy product (cheese, eggs, chicken etc).
Let us look at the amino acids in more detail, what they are , what they do and which foods apply.
WHAT ARE AMINO ACIDS?
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are necessary for the body for repairing and maintaining muscles, bones, body organs and blood. Therefore, when you eat foods with protein, you are also ingesting amino acids. As the proteins you eat are broken down and digested in the body, amino acids are left over. The amino acids are then used by the body for a variety of important functions, including breaking down food, promoting healthy growth, repairing body tissues and other needs of the body. In addition, the amino acids can be reused to make proteins so that they can carry out their aforementioned roles within the body.
ESSENTIAL AND NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
Though there are many various types of amino acids in existence, there are 22 specific amino acids that your body needs regularly. Of those 22, your body can make 13 on its own, even if you aren’t getting them in your diet. These 13 compounds are called nonessential amino acids because you don’t have to make sure that you are eating proteins which contain those particular amino acids.
The remaining nine amino acids that your body needs are called essential amino acids. Your body is not capable of making these particular amino acids on its own (see however Histidine), so it’s critical that you eat foods that contain these compounds. The nine essential amino acids are:
WHERE TO FIND ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
Individuals should try to get each of the nine essential amino acids in their diet each day. These amino acids can be found in a variety of different foods which contain protein. The following is a list of the best sources for the nine essential amino acids:
1. Histidine: This is found in the highest concentration in various types of game meat. Deer, boar and antelope are each a top source of histidine. Pork is also a good source, regardless of the way it is prepared. You can also get histidine from fish like cod, pike, haddock, sardines and tuna. Other sources of histidine include chicken, turkey and kidney beans, eggs, dairy products, some grains, rice, wheat, rye, beans, mushrooms, citrus fruits and bananas. Histidine is the one amino acid vital to children (adults can synthesise most of their needs through the liver, children can’t and must obtain the amino acid through the food intake).
2. Isoleucine: If you want to get isoleucine in your diet, your best option is to eat egg whites, which contain by far the most of this amino acid per serving. Turkey is your next best option, following by soy, chicken, lamb and crab. Many types of fish also contain isoleucine, including pike, cod and tuna as do cottage cheese and legumes.
3. Leucine: Leucine can be found in some interesting foods, including soy, seaweed and elk. However, egg whites are also an excellent source of this amino acid, as is chicken. Tuna is another great option if you are looking for ways to add leucine to your diet. Cottage cheese, cheeses, milk, nuts and sesame seeds are also sources.
4. Lysine: Lysine is found in the highest concentration in chicken breast meat and turkey breast meat. However, fish is your next best option, with ling, pike, tuna, cod and dolphin all being excellent sources of lysine as well. Though not as high in concentration, watercress, seaweed and parsley also contain significant amounts of lysine, as do soya bean, lentils, peas, beans and semi-skimmed milk.
5. Methionine: As with many other essential amino acids, egg whites are the best source for methionine. However, fish like pike and tuna aren’t far behind. You can also eat meats like elk, turkey and chicken to get this amino acid in your diet. Lobster and crab are also among the top foods for methionine. Other sources are spinach, broccoli, zucchini, brazil nuts and sesame seeds.
6. Phenylalanine: Meat is the way to go for phenylalanine, which is found in the highest concentration in pork, beef, turkey, veal and lamb. Salmon is also a solid source of this amino acid, as are other sea-foods, cod, crab, oysters, mussels, tuna and sardines. Liver, chicken, cheese, milk, walnuts, eggs, soy products, lentils and chickpeas also have some content.
7. Threonine: Threonine marks a refreshing break from meats and fish since the top source of this amino acid are raw watercress and spinach. However, you can still get this compound from moose, turkey or tilapia if you so choose. Egg whites and soy are also significant sources of threonine. Other sources are lentils, walnuts, milk and seaweed.
8. Tryptophan: Though it is commonly associated with turkey, especially at Thanksgiving, tryptophan is actually found in the highest concentration in elk and sea lion meats. Other top sources for this amino acid include seaweed, soy, egg whites and spinach.
9. Valine: Once again, egg whites come in first when it comes to getting valine in your diet. However, watercress, spinach, seaweed, elk and turkey are also great options for this amino acid. Other sources are soy derived products, beans, lentils (good volume), peanuts and peanut butter: also chicken, tuna, cheeses and dairy products.
For athletes what are known as the branched-chain amino acids are particularly important as these significantly aid muscle recovery. These 3 are valine, leucine and isoleucine and all young people involved in sport should ensure they prioritise foods containing these amino acids.
Regarding meat substitutes such as quorn it should be noted that although mycoprotein (vegetable in origin) contains all the 9 amino acids these are not present to quite the same value as animal protein sources. Children or young persons on strict vegetarian or vegan diets should therefore be careful as to the levels of histidine in their total intake. Another aspect can be the lack of iron (abundant in red meats for example) not so readily available in meat substitutes. In the case of an unbalanced diet one must also consider the lack of other trace elements.
Sugar makes you fat. We should all live by one simple rule: Don’t eat Sugar. Basically our bodies are not designed to consume sugar and unless we cut it out, any dieting or exercising we do is ultimately doomed to failure.
In the early 1800’s nobody ate sugar for two reasons; it was ridiculously expensive and not produced commercially, nor were there many overweight people around. By the early 1900’s sugar based foods were starting to appear. By the 1960’s sugar was everywhere, in drinks, fruit juice, candies and chocolate and breakfast cereals
Let’s put this in practical terms. In the early 1800s the average person ate about 1.3 teaspoons of sugar a day. Now the average person eats somewhere between 35 and 45 teaspoons of sugar a day. But the irony is that the modern adult probably thinks they barely eat any at all. Our food supply has been so completely and totally polluted with sugar, that it is almost impossible to buy packaged food that doesn’t contain it. What are the results? The number of overweight people has doubled in 5 decades and heart disease has become endemic.
So what did people do? They stopped eating fat, dieted and exercised more. Food manufacturers made low-fat everything. So people ate more cereals, drank more juice and soft drinks, because none of these contained fat. But obesity levels did not decrease, they continue to increase as does type 2 diabetes, heart and fatty liver problems and other weight-related diseases that simply did not exist decades ago. What are we doing wrong? The figures don’t lie, more people are aware of dietary needs, exercise more and still as a nation we’re getting fatter at an alarming rate.
The human body is designed for balance like any other animal, we won’t get fat unless our appetite control system is unbalanced or has failed in some way. When we eat fat, protein or carbohydrates hormones are released by our gut telling us to stop eating when we’ve had enough. Except in the case of one carbohydrate, fructose, which is one-half of sugar, the other half being glucose. Only the fructose half is dangerous. Our bodies do not detect fructose as food and our livers convert it immediately to fat. This fructose will be circulating in your bloodstream as fat almost instantaneously. In the early 1800’s the average Briton’s annual sugar consumption was around 12lbs (6lbs of fructose) yet over the subsequent century this increased to a staggering 90lbs per person per year. By the end of the 1960’s fructose intake had accelerated to 60lbs per year, the main culprits being breakfast cereals, fruit juices and soft drinks.
Over the last decade researchers have found that too much fat in the arteries messes up the appetite control system for foods which trigger it. Also too much fat means that hormones like insulin, CCK and leptin (which tells us when to stop eating) no longer work as well as they should. Not only is fructose undetected and turned to fat but it increases the amount of other food we eat.
Persistently high blood sugar is the most immediate effect that fructose consumption has on our bodies. Eventually that transmutes into obesity and type 2 diabetes but there is even worse news. Recent studies have proved conclusively that there are strong links between type 2 diabetes and dementia but also that long-term sugar consumption impairs ‘cognitive function’. The higher the blood sugar level, the lower the scores on testing. Researchers noted too that a 1% rise in blood sugar takes you 2 whole years closer to dementia.
Fructose affects a number of different systems in our bodies in many complex ways, mineral depletion for one. It interferes with the body’s copper metabolism to such an extent that collagen and elastin cannot form properly during growth. Fructose also inhibits the absorption of iodine which can lead to problems with the thyroid gland. It elevates blood triglyceride providing a perfect environment for cancer growth, causes sustained increases in LDL cholesterol levels, leading to increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Fructose produces a spike in cortisol in our bloodstream. This depresses non-essential functions in the body one of which is the immune system, making us more prone to contracting disease. Fructose ingestion also elevates uric acid levels which lead directly to increased blood pressure, gout and kidney disease and significantly reduces nitric oxide production by the cells which line the interior surfaces of blood vessels.
By consuming fructose we increase the amount of fat that accumulates around the primary organs and in particular the liver. This central adiposity leads to fatty liver disease and ultimately to cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.
In 1945 only a quarter of the sugar we ate was already in food when we bought it. Now more than three quarters is already in food. Fructose has crept into almost every food we buy often under the pretext of making it healthier. We avoid fat and eat more fruit, even dried fruit (70% sugar), fruit juice (same sugar as soft drinks), low-fat products (need to be high-sugar to compensate for lack of fat/flavour), we avoid milk and switch to zero-fat alternatives (soft drinks and juices), we avoid high-fat spreads and switch to ‘healthy’ honey and conserves, we avoid high-fat breakfasts and eat ‘healthy cereals (a quarter to half sugar). The miracle is not that we are all becoming overweight or sick but that we are not all dead in the face of incessant fructose doping.
Why don’t we all just stop eating anything containing fructose? Nowadays it is not easy to tell how much fructose there is in most foods but in addition fructose is highly addictive. Whether we understand it or not we are addicted to a substance that is killing us in multiple ways.
Fat will definitely make you fat if you have fructose in your diet. Fructose encourages the liver to produce fat, stimulates our hunger and damages our appetite controls. Once you eliminate fructose there is no need to concern yourself with the fat content of foods. In fact you’ll be better off eating full-fat rather than low fat foods.
But remember 50% of sugar is fructose. The more sugar you eat the fatter you will get. If you stop eating sugar you will stop gaining weight. Even better you will stop gaining weight dramatically. You will be able to eat as much as you want of anything you want, just so long as it doesn’t contain sugar. And you won’t feel deprived in any way.
Foods to avoid and alternatives (where possible)
• Confectionary and dried fruit: avoid all candy, sweets, chocolate, dried fruit and sweet biscuits. Even almost all cereal bars have a high sugar content because of the dried fruit. The Go Ahead range has around 40 to 41% sugar. Cracker biscuits, rice cakes and oat cakes are generally ok but beware of the flavoured ones, which can contain substantial sugar.
• Sweetened drinks are the single most effective way of getting fructose into the bloodstream. Fruit juice for example is high in fructose, you can easily drink the equivalent of four apples (a massive intake of fructose) whereas you wouldn’t usually eat four apples at one time and if you did the fructose intake would be mitigated by the fibre in the fruit. Even soya milk contains high sugar levels. The only single health drink on the market with no sugar is Lucozade Original which contains pure glucose and this is acceptable.
• Almost all breakfast cereals now contain significant amounts of sugar. Anything more than a sugar content of 3 grams per 100 is out of bounds. Usually only porridge oats and some brands of Weetabix fall within these limits.
• Many condiments are high in sugar. Barbecue, tomato sauce and mayonnaise (except whole-egg full-fat brands) should all be binned. Soy sauce, mustard, cider vinegar and olive oil are all okay.
• Most sweet yoghurts and the fruit ones are high in sugar. The safer ones are sour not sweet: the Onken natural range, Total Greek range and the yoghurt drinks such as Actimel, Benecol and Flora pro-Active.
• Almost all breads contain sugar, white breads are worst and brown or whole-meal the best. If you want white bread without sugar then sourdough is the alternative.
• Avoid all jams, honeys and sweet spreads. Marmite, meat pastes, organic peanut butter and cream cheeses are okay.
• Limit yourself to two pieces of fruit per day (but as many vegetables as you fancy). The fibre in the fruit will limit the damage done by the fructose. Bear in mind no dried fruit or fruit juices.
• Once you are cured of your sugar addiction you may use dextrose or glucose syrup as sweeteners.
After you give up sugar, there are whole aisles in the supermarket which you need no longer bother with and others you need to focus on.
Whole Fruits - Although containing fructose (and in some cases large amounts) the fruit section is safe for two reasons. Most fruits contain a fairly large amount of fibre. If you give people a high-fibre diet good things happen around their blood sugar and insulin control. What is clearly evident is that fibre intake reduces the damage done by the fructose. Secondly fruit contains a lot of water which gives it bulk. That bulk significantly affects how much fructose you can take in from the fruit. The downside of eating too much fruit is that you eliminate some of the other more starchy sources of carbohydrate and reduce the overall beneficial effect of the fibre. Basically no more than two pieces of fruit per adult and one per child per day are recommended.
Vegetables - There is no such thing as a bad vegetable. The small level of fructose in vegetables is insignificant and vastly overwhelmed by the fibre content. The same warning applies to vegetable juices as fruit juices. Juicing the vegetable extracts all the sugar and concentrates it.
Nuts - Like vegetables there's no such thing as a bad nut and nuts have huge amounts of fibre.
Meat - The meat section is fructose-free. The only word of caution can be with some of the fancy pre-packaged marinated meats which can be high in sugar.
Eggs - Buy eggs at will, once your appetite control system is in working order any fats they contain will be properly regulated by your body.
Yoghurts - Only natural or the tartest of yoghurts.
Milk and cream - Unflavoured milk and cream labels will tell you they contain 4.7% sugar. This sugar is all lactose and can be safely ignored. Whole milk and unflavoured creams are fine on your new diet. Of course ignore all reduced fat products and any flavoured items.
Butter and margarine - The products to avoid in this section are the low-fat spreads and margarine. There is nothing wrong with full-fat butter as long as your appetite control is functioning properly.
Cheeses and cured meats – There’s not much danger in this section. Meat is sugar-free and any sugar in cheese is all lactose. Just avoid flavoured versions.
Bread - All breads contain sugar, white bread the most. Brown and whole-meal are low sugar and have twice the fibre. If you want white with no sugar then sourdough is the way to go. There is no good reason to eat any type of fruit loaf.
Spreads - There is almost nothing worth buying in this section. Honey, jams, low-sugar conserves are all to be avoided. Marmite, meat pastes and organic peanut butter are fine. Cream cheese spread is also an option as the 3% sugar is all lactose.
Condiments - Many sauces and flavourings are dangerous territory. Barbecue sauce contains 55% sugar, more than chocolate topping (43%), ketchup varies from 18 - 27%. Tabasco and Soy sauce are just about the only sugar-free alternatives. Mustards, vinegar and olive oil are mostly okay with salads or meats etc.
Trace elements, though required in only very small amounts, are vital for maintaining health.
Known also as micro-minerals they are a vital part of the enzymes, hormones and cells in the body. The lack of trace elements such as iron, iodine, fluoride, copper, zinc, chromium, selenium, manganese and molybdenum can result in serious health problems, ranging from weakness and vertigo to brain damage in newborn children.
Iron -- is a vital nutrient and one of the building blocks of hemoglobin which carries oxygen through the body. An iron deficiency, which tends to be found more often in women, is characterised by weakness, fatigue and vertigo and in children by developmental issues. Good sources of iron are as follows:
• Beef liver 6.5mg per 100grams = 36% of daily needs
• Pork liver (paté) 18mg per 100 grams = 100% of daily needs
• Clams 28mg per 100 grams = 155% of daily needs
• Oysters 12mg per 100 grams = 67% of daily needs
• Mussels 6.7mg per 100grams = 37% of daily needs
• Spirulina 4.3mg per 15grams = 24% of daily needs
• Soy Beans 9.3mg per 250 m/lit = 52% of daily needs
• Spinach 3.0mg per 85 grams = 17% of daily needs
• Lentils 7.0mg per 250grams = 39% of daily needs
• Ginger 3.4 mg per 30 grams = 19% of daily needs (Ginger Tea)
• Fortified Cereals (Often added Iron) = See labelling
Iodine -- is critical in the formation of thyroid hormones and an inadequate supply can cause an enlarged thyroid gland; a deficiency in pregnancy can lead to brain damage in the new-born. Sources are seafood, eggs and milk.
Fluoride -- has a role in strengthening teeth and in bone formation. Sources are fluoridated water, salt water fish, tea and coffee.
Copper -- Due to its antioxidant action it prevents damage to cells and helps in energy production from carbohydrates, protein and fats. It is essential in the formation of bone, connective tissues and red blood cells. It is present in organ meats, shellfish, chocolate, beans and wholegrain cereals.
Zinc -- improves the immune function, helps clot blood, maintains the senses of taste and smell, keeps skin healthy and enables normal growth and development. Sources are eggs, seafood, red meat, fortified cereals and whole grains.
Chromium and Selenium -- Chromium is necessary for normal insulin function, the hormone that maintains blood sugar levels. It is essential too for the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Important sources are liver, processed meats, whole grains, cheese and nuts.
Selenium works as an antioxidant and prevents cell damage. It may prevent some cancers and is essential for normal thyroid function. Sources are meat, seafood, nuts and cereals.
Manganese and Molybdenum -- Manganese helps in the formation of enzymes and is necessary for their activation. It works as an antioxidant, helps develop bones and heals wounds by increasing collagen production. Sources are pineapple, nuts, whole grains and beans.
Molybdenum also helps activate some enzymes and enables normal cell function. Sources are milk, legumes, whole grain breads and nuts.