Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why you gotta be so Salty? Taste, pt 5

Salt is pretty pervasive not only in the Western diet but in the media as well. There seems to always be another study that is condemning salt for one thing or heralding its importance, sometimes even in the same article. Not only that, but it’s even historically significant. Salt made preservation possible (and thus food rationing after the big mammoth hunt) long before the days of preservatives and mass-production of ice cubes in nearly every home in America. The body is pre-disposed to love that tangy little zip that comes from salt. And not even all of it tastes like salt.
Ever wondered what makes a Cheez-It so cheesy? The secret ingredient in the herb/olive oil mix you get at a nice Italian restaurant? What is it about nice vinaigrette that helps cut the bitterness of a salad with dandelion greens to let the brightness of the dish shine through? Salt.
In the body, salt helps to maintain fluid balance. It is generally accepted that where sodium goes, water will follow. “Fluid retention” and “water weight” get talked about a lot, usually following a day of salty snacks. This is because the ions in your blood have to maintain a particular concentration. Sodium levels can’t get too high or too low without serious (even fatal) consequences. So, if you have a high amount of sodium in your diet, your body will pull fluid from the cells (or the brain) to help dilute it until it can be appropriately removed. In turn, this will deprive the cells of much needed water and cause a whole slew of problems. A lot of these mechanisms are controlled by the kidneys with a number of different hormones. Incidentally, these hormones also help maintain blood pressure, partly by controlling fluid balance. Cool, huh?

- Les, MS RD LD

Monday, June 17, 2013

Improve your Glucose Control, 15 minutes at a time

The benefits of physical activity are known far and wide. Weight maintenance, heart, lung and bone health, blood sugar control, improved concentration and sleep patterns. The list goes on.
Unfortunately, the very idea of exercise can be daunting for many. What does physical activity look like? Sweat bands and gym shorts? Hot and sweaty? Does it require any special equipment, such as dumbbells or a treadmill? Does going for a short walk with the family dog after dinner count?
A new study says yes. Especially for older adults. As we age, natural changes occur in the body. People who have had 20/20 vision all their life begin using reading glasses. Hypertension and high cholesterol become concerns and the subject of visits to the doctor. Blood sugars begin to creep up, and maybe insulin resistance occurs.
All of these problems (yes, even eyesight – see below) can see a positive impact from physical activity. But the idea of donning gym shorts, sneakers and hitting the gym can be daunting, particular for older adults who are most at risk for many of these health issues. The good news? Improvements in blood sugar control can happen with just a 15-minute walk after meals. While it is still recommended that adults get moderate physical activity several times a week, just a quick walk can lessen the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. The really great news is that by better controlling blood sugars, you can also reduce your risk of diabetes-associated complications. This includes cardiac disease, kidney disease, amputation, retinopathy and neuropathies.
It’s important to remember that even if you only have a few minutes to get in your physical activity, that few minutes can really mean a lot for your health.
For more information about eyesight, the great outdoors, and children, see this article:
For more information about this study, see the June issue of Diabetes Care.
- Les, MS RD LD

Friday, June 7, 2013

Microflora with Macrobenefits

The word “Probiotic” gets thrown around a lot these days. It sounds like the latest health-food craze. There are tablets and even gummies you can take once a day. There are variable levels you can buy, 75 billion, 10 billion, 250 billion (be ready to break out the big bucks, those are expensive!). Some advertise that they are enterically coated, or that their product survives better than a competitor. Certain foods advertise it, kefir, yogurt, kimchee… the list goes on. Other foods, beans in particular, are marketed as prebiotics. Or synbiotics. But what does all of this mean?
We’ll start with an anatomy lesson. The lower GI is populated with bacteria. There are plenty of more interesting ways to phrase it – microflora, microbiota – but really what this comes down to, is bacteria. A lot of bacteria. There are several different species, all totaling over 3 pounds. The genetic information of these bacteria is massive – more than 100x that of a human. Suffice to say, they are pretty important.
Bacteria breakdown foods that we can’t quite get to, releasing various fatty acids that the gut can use for energy. This, in turn, keeps the intestinal lining healthy. They also live in the nooks and crannies of the gut, making it difficult for other, more troublesome bacteria to take hold. Things likeE. coli or salmonella. Foods with probiotics really are just things that have some of these bacteria in them, and supplements are just capsules chock-full of the good stuff.
If you still aren’t convinced probiotics are a good thing, let me ask you this – have you ever taken a pretty rough course of antibiotics? How did the tummy feel? Maybe a little GI upset? Antibiotics not only fight the infection you have, but they also fight off your gut flora. This can lead to a few less desirable GI effects, such as diarrhea. Many doctors will recommend that patients eat yogurt or try a probiotic supplement while on antibiotics to prevent some of the unpleasantness.
Prebiotics are basically food for bacteria. Beans have plenty of oligosaccharides (carbohydrates) that these little dudes feast on, which at least partly accounts for the gas some people experience when some people consume legumes. The good news is, that over time, your microbiota changes to better accommodate what you feed it. Vegetarians have different biota than people who consume mostly meat. And if you are thinking of loading up on fiber one bars, start slowly, and give those tiny bugs time to adjust.
Synbiotics are just a little bit of everything – part bacteria and part bacteria food, these kinds of foods and supplements take care of both you and the bacteria.
Pretty cool huh?
If you’re interested in really learning more about the impact of probiotics, I’d direct you here: Who would have thought – the bugs in your belly can impact the brawn in your brain.
-- Les Salas, MS RD LD