7 Edible Anxiety Therapies: To Support COVID Stress

How are you going as we head into Level 3 of NZ lock-down?

Any old nutrition habits starting to creep in? Or perhaps you have used the time to really nail down a new way of eating, or refresh your menu?

Regardless, it is an interesting time for all of us, and we are all different, and therefore cope with things differently.

Something I have noticed coming up a few times in conversation is anxiety and for many different reasons. Some people find they have a lot of anxiety around the COVID-19 pandemic, and staying healthy, particularly as we head into Level 3 and start to go back out into society, albeit in a controlled way. Others find anxiety around the economy, and how this is hitting them financially. Also, there are those of you that have been struggling with simply being confined to one or two spaces, and how to deal with the lack of freedom they feel, or dealing with being around family a lot more than normal!

Whatever it is, anxiety is no fun for anyone, and its effects can range from psychosomatic paralysis, through to depression, to full-blown panic, anger and rage.

Since we are somewhat stuck in this situation for at least another fortnight, and then some, since we all know things are not going to simply go back to normal, it is absolutely essential that we address this issue, which affects our mental, physical and emotional health, as well as that of those around us. Now, I know anxiety well, and because of this, I have both researched and experimented with a range of things, in order to somehow allow my higher faculties to regain control, and even turn things around into a positive situation we can actually learn from.

Sound good?

Even better sounding, to me at least, is the fact that a lot of these things occur in an edible format!

So, what can we eat, and every single day, to help us calm feelings of anxiety, cope with the current situation, whatever that may be for you while achieving enough mental grounding to find the positive?

Here are my top 7 edible anxiety therapies 😊

1. High-quality protein

Ok, so this protein thing gets talked about a LOT, so much so that you may think it’s just an easy go-to for nutritionists who don’t really want to come up with something new…But the constant recommendation for high-quality protein is due to the fact that it is so super important for every single aspect of health, and thus mental health is absolutely no exception. In fact, it is so important that low protein consumption is directly related to risk for anxiety, as well as other mental and cognitive health issues.

Why is this?

High-quality protein sources (animal proteins such as dairy, eggs, meat and fish) contain an abundance of mood-enhancing minerals and vitamins, including iron, zinc, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and magnesium. However, the thing that protein sources give us that no other food can make up for are the amino acids, as many of these are precursors for neurotransmitters, molecules playing a major role in the signal transmission of feeling states throughout the brain and body. For example, the essential amino acid tryptophan is required for the production of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter when it comes to positive mood and coping with stress. The amino acid tyrosine is required for dopamine production, and glutamate and glycine function as neurotransmitters exactly as they are, although they perform opposite functions. Glutamate is required for excitation and action, and glycine for calming and relaxation. These must be in balance for optimal mental health.

Since protein is required for so many different functions throughout the body, and large amounts are used to build and maintain muscle mass and organ health, it is not uncommon for neurotransmitter synthesis to be less than optimal in a low quality/refined food diet. High-quality protein sources provide ALL the amino acids, at levels that support all the many roles of protein and the amino acids in the body. As mentioned in Part 1. of this two-part series, at least 1.2 g per kg body weight per day is necessary to support optimal health, and this requirement increases for active or older individuals. Soy protein also provides the amino acids at high levels but does not supply the minerals and vitamins that animal proteins do, particularly Vitamin B12.

 

Vitamin B12 has its own link to mental health, with deficiencies found in issues such as depression and dementia. If you are vegan, or a vegetarian who has a low intake of dairy and/or eggs, it is essential to supplement with Vitamin B12.

2. Collagen or glycine

Collagen is a type of protein that is high in the amino acid glycine, which, as a I mentioned above, is a neurotransmitter with roles in calming and relaxation – it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and has shown promise in the treatment of mental health disorders such as OCD, and is also a sleep aid. Glycine can be taken as a powdered supplement (take around 3 g or 1 tsp per dose, with up to 3 doses per day), but this amount of glycine is also provided in around 10 g of collagen, and when you take it as collagen, you are getting all the other benefits of collagen, such as joint and skin health.

It is very important to keep in mind that neither glycine nor collagen, can count towards your daily protein intake, as collagen has a protein quality of zero (it lacks the amino acid tryptophan) and glycine is only one amino acid.

3. Essential fatty acids (the ‘omega-3s’)

The essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are found in animal sources, such as fatty fish (salmon and trout), and ALA is found in vegetable sources, such as linseed/flaxseed, walnuts and some algae. All are exceptionally beneficial in their own right, and show significant anti-inflammatory and/or antioxidant properties. However, EPA and DHA have benefits for the brain in particular. While the body converts ALA to EPA, and then to DHA, this is done in a very limited manner, and, rather, ALA has its own benefits in the body, including the lowering of blood sugar and improved skin health.

The brain is an organ with one of the highest compositions of lipids (fats), and the fatty acid make-up of the brain’s grey matter is around 50% polyunsaturated fatty acids, of which around 33% are Omega-3s. Although DHA has been suggested to be the primary omega-3 fatty acid in the brain, recent research has suggested that EPA shows significant promise for the treatment of mood disorders, while DHA has greater benefit for cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s. 

What does all this mean?

Fish oil (with high concentrations of both EPA and DHA), is extremely important for brain health, ESPECIALLY if you are someone who is prone to anxiety or comes from a family with a history of neurodegenerative conditions. If you do not eat a lot of fatty fish, taking a supplement is important, even if you consume significant amounts of nuts and seeds. However, there are some tricks to selecting a good fish oil supplement, as quality will affect the actual levels of EPA and DHA in each capsule, as well as the degree of lipid oxidation, and thus rancidity.

Recommended high-quality fish oil supplements include Be Pure Three and Thorne Research Super EPA. Be Pure Three is also an NZ product and contains Vitamin E to assist in the prevention of lipid oxidation during storage.

4. Minimally processed complex carbohydrates

There is a reason we crave carbohydrates when we are feeling low, and a very good one, that has its foundations in biochemistry.

Above I mentioned that the amino acid tryptophan is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Well, in order for serotonin to actually do its job transmitting messages throughout the nervous system, it must first be released, and this release is controlled by food intake, primarily carbohydrates. To make a complex story simple, carbohydrate consumption increases serotonin release, but, while protein helps make serotonin in the first place, simply eating more protein (or fat for that matter) will not promote its release.

Complex carbohydrates, although looked down upon in some circles, are digested and absorbed at a slower rate than simple carbohydrates, and therefore promote prolonged serotonin release, rather than a simple short burst, meaning they are a much better go-to for anxiety.

Of course, the major point to note here is that healthy, whole-food, minimally processed carbohydrates are very different to their refined counterparts, so go for beans, legumes, unprocessed whole-grains and root vegetables, especially those packed full of colour.

A breakfast high in both protein and complex carbohydrates, such as porridge and Greek yoghurt, or even protein powder (my go-to), is the best way to tackle this and will set up serotonin production and release for the entire day.

What if you are following a keto diet?

You can still consume some carbohydrates, as long as they have a minimal impact on blood sugar, so pick wisely. For these diets, orange and purple kumara are extremely good options; 100 g of orange kumara, for example, contains under 20 g of net carbs.

Also, if you are following a keto diet and feeling a lot of anxiety with it, it may be a signal from your body and mind that you need more carbohydrates in the mix. Recent research has shown that dietary ketosis can still be achieved in a diet containing 15% carbohydrate as energy, which, for most people, is around 75-100 g carbohydrate per day. So listen in and be sure to follow the approach that is best for your holistic health.

5. Coconut oil or MCT oil

This little gem of an oil contains a large proportion of medium-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to possess anti-depressant properties. Of course, MCT oil is purified medium-chain triglycerides (which carry fatty acids), so will have a similar effect. The exact mechanism by which this occurs is not fully understood, however, medium-chain fatty acids are remarkably anti-inflammatory, and this property is likely to be involved.

You can add MCT oil to your coffee (start with 1 tsp only as it can cause digestive distress at high doses in some people), and coconut oil to your cooking, baking or even smoothies.

Even a coconut cream is an option for these benefits, and chilled coconut cream makes a lovely treat if you want something a bit special after dinner.

6. Spinach and other leafy and/or dark greens

Spinach (and other dark greens such as rocket, kale and broccoli), is another nutritionist old fave go-to, but that’s because it is another food absolutely packed full of nutrients. For mental health, a key vitamin in spinach and other dark greens is folate (Vitamin B9). Folate deficiency is extremely common in both depression and anxiety, as well as a number of clinically defined mental illnesses.

Folate plays a very important role in a pathway called the MTHFR pathway. This is the pathway responsible for methylation in the body, and methylation is absolutely critical for both physical and mental health. Actually, it is more correct to point out that it is a BALANCED methylation that is critical for physical and mental health – both too little and too much are a bad thing. Without going into extraneous detail (which I would LOVE to do but maybe in another blog post all of its own because that would be geeky and cool), folate is the molecule that actually allows the methylation pathway to run, which means it is an essential vitamin for us.

Why is methylation important for mental health? Well, methylation is needed to make creatine, which is great for athletes but also has a role in reducing depression. The neurotransmitter dopamine, that’s the one that makes us feel amazing or ‘on a high’, gets methylated and this methylation is associated with a reduction in rumination (those thoughts going around…and around….and around….and around…). Methylation is also important for the production of choline, which, among many other things, assists in mental focus.

 In addition to methylation, folate performs other roles that are important for optimal mental health, such as helping to conserve glycine, which you will remember above is a key inhibitory neurotransmitter and calms us down (which is SUPER for anxiety). Folate is also a star player in the prevention of anaemia, and since anaemia is a lack of red blood cells and therefore the ability to carry oxygen around the body, having enough folate means our brain will get enough oxygen, which again, is critical for optimal mental health.

 How much spinach do you need to eat per day? 300 g would give you your recommended intake, which is pretty much one of those small pre-packed bags from the supermarket.  However, remember that broccoli, rocket and kale are also high in folate, and so are leeks, so if you are eating a good serving of leafy green and/or cruciferous veggies every day, you are onto a good start. You also get a really good amount of folate from legumes such as chickpeas and liver (if you are keen to go that route! but don’t overdo the liver – keep it to once or twice per week only as it is very high in Vitamin A, which is toxic in high doses).

7. Herbs

Last but by no means least, are herbs.

Most people think of herbs as a way to add flavour, but these little plants are an absolute goldmine of phytonutrients, including some that can modulate brain function. In particular, a compound called rosmarinic acid has been shown to produce anti-depressant like effects, via a number of mechanisms that include upregulation of a super important molecule in the brain called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. You may have heard of BDNF if you have read up on the positive effects of fasting, as BDNF plays many roles in the brain (that fasting helps to activate) such as the growth and differentiation of new brain cells, and synaptic connectivity, which basically refers to how well signals are transmitted between nerve cells.

Herbs which are particularly high in rosmarinic acid are spearmint (which is your traditional garden mint), basil and sage, but oregano, thyme and rosemary also contain rosmarinic acid at lower levels.

Before you think you would need to eat a plateful of herbs to get any kind of decent benefit, simply 3 tbsp of fresh, raw spearmint will give you over 200 mg of rosmarinic acid, which is comparable to amounts used in scientific studies to produce significant health benefits.

 

Summary

If we take a good hard look at the list above, it isn’t hard to see, with the way that diets have become low in fresh whole-food produce and meats, and high in refined, processed carbohydrates and sandwich ham, why mental health has also taken a downwards turn. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

You can totally eat your way to feeling amazing – calm, motivated, focused and stress-free all at the same time! And you can do this healthily, and yummily, with no added sugar 😉.

 

-Dr. Carlene Starck

Nutritional Approach to Combating COVID-19

At the moment it is fairly difficult to think about anything other than COVID-19, and I don’t know about you, but despite my best efforts, it is taking a toll on my own anxiety and stress systems.

There are so many factors to consider – our own health, the health of our loved ones, our ability to be strong when it counts… and then the nutritional and psychological implications of a 30 day isolation period. Every single factor which places stress on our nervous system has the potential to decrease how robust our immune system is, which merely adds to the stress and worry. How do we escape?

After thinking about this for some time, I have come to the conclusion that we can’t. We simply have to accept it, accept what is happening in the world and around us, make peace with it, and look at all the positives it is going to bring, because, once you start thinking about it, there are many of these.

So we can’t escape and we can’t change what is happening.

But we CAN change and affect many things around us and those are the things that we need to focus on. With this post and those that follow, we are going to start looking at what we can do, to turn this around, and take some form of control back.

First of all, something we have a whole lot of control over is what we eat – our nutrition. Even if we are stressed and anxious we can eat in a way that nourishes our immune system, which will help to alleviate some of the anxiety around our health. Almost more importantly however, we can eat in a way that helps our nervous system to cope as the events unfold, and as the nervous system and immune system are intimately linked, this way, we are killing two birds with one stone. Interestingly, and to drive this point home, many of the nutrients are the same. So yay! Easy peasy. Let’s get started.

In this first post, we will address nutrition for the immune system and in Part 2, nutrition for anxiety, stress management and resilience.

PS In no way does this stand in the place of medical advice, and if you develop COVID-19 symptoms (runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever and shortness of breath) ensure you get medical advice and/or attention ASAP.

Nutrition for Optimal Immune Health & Defense.

First, a very quick, short and sweet overview. I categorise nutrients into three major fields:

Macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat, fibre)

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals, such as zinc)

Phytonutrients (the amazing array of bioactive compounds we get from plants eg anthocyanins, from berries, are a potent antioxidant)

We will consider each one.

  •   Macronutrients

For overall health, every single macronutrient is important, which means that, for immune health, eating a well-balanced diet is your absolute first go-to. However, protein needs to be a major point of focus during this time, as not only does it contain the building blocks for important immune molecules (such as glutathione), but in addition, when we are sick, the breakdown of our muscle proteins is increased to help us both fight disease and recover. The major way to cover both immune demands and this increased loss is by eating high-quality dietary protein. That means your animal proteins, such as eggs, meat, fish, dairy if you can tolerate it, and whey protein powder if you happen to be a smoothie fan. If you don’t eat animal protein, soy is your highest quality plant-based protein. The recommended optimal intake for protein is at least 1.2 g per kg of body weight per day, although, for highly-active individuals and the elderly, this can increase to around 1.6 g per kg of body weight per day. The best way to ensure you are achieving this is to consume high-quality protein at every meal.

Alongside protein, fibre is essential for maintaining the health of your gut bacteria, which form an intimate alliance with your immune system, and if the immune system in the gut is compromised, so is that of the entire body. However, also super important to consider is that the gut bacteria ferment the fibre to produce short-chain of fatty acids, which appear to play key roles in immune cell recruitment and function, alongside many other important functions in the body. Fibre is also delivered in combination with a bunch of phytonutrients that add to the strength of the immune system (which we will cover in a bit). The absolute best sources of fibre are your fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, beans, legumes and whole-grains. Some people find it hard to tolerate large amounts of nuts, beans, legumes and whole-grains, and if this is you, eating fresh produce is your best bet for optimal immune health. However, keep in mind that fibre can be overdone! Too much fibre can reduce the absorption of other key nutrients…so there is no need to go overboard, just be sure to include some form of fibre with every meal.

  •   Micronutrients

One of my favourite gurus in the micronutrient health world is Chris Masterjohn (CMJ). In a recent document, he outlined the most effective micronutrients specific to combating SARS-viruses such as COVID-19. In particular, these are zinc and copper.

Zinc has been shown to directly inhibit at least three mechanisms associated with the original SARS coronavirus, indicating that it is likely to be a key micronutrient here as well. In general, zinc interferes with the ability of the virus to replicate and function inside a cell. CMJ pairs zinc with elderberry extract (which we will talk about under phytonutrients), which may be able to prevent the virus actually entering a cell in the first place, so is the first line of defence.

All forms of zinc supplementation are useful, including sprays, lozenges and tablets, and the recommended dose to fight the virus is 10-15 mg 4 times per day, spaced well apart. These can be taken with food, or on an empty stomach, but if taken with food, it is recommended to avoid nuts, beans, grains and legumes, as these may interfere with full absorption of zinc.

Of course, zinc is potentially best obtained from food, primarily from oysters. However, since oysters are not common fare for the majority of people, supplementation is your best bet.

When you purchase a supplement, check that it is not in the zinc picolinate or zinc oxide forms, as these are not well absorbed, and once the threat of the virus has diminished, keep taking around 10 to 15 mg per day, as this is one mighty nutrient for overall health.

Copper is toxic to viruses, including coronaviruses, which is why copper surfaces are effective for hygiene maintenance. Copper works synergistically with zinc, and we should aim to get around 1 mg of copper for every 10 to 15 mg of zinc. This means that if you are taking 15 mg of zinc four times per day, you will need at least 4 mg of copper per day. Many supplements provide zinc and copper together, although copper from foods is superior to copper from pills. The best food sources to provide 2 mg copper are 2 oysters, 25 g spirulina, 40 g shiitake mushrooms, 50 g sesame seeds, 50 g cocoa powder, 56 g of 90% dark chocolate and 70 g of 70% dark chocolate. I know which one my go-to is going to be! However, since you would need 2 or 3 times the amount in each of these servings, supplementation is going to be necessary with a high zinc intake.

My personal approach moving forward is going to be 15 mg zinc 4 times per day, with 4 mg of copper from a supplement, and as much dark chocolate as I want. Why wouldn’t I?

Phytonutrients

Ah, nature, in all her glorious wisdom, who provided us with more healing compounds than you can poke a stick at right there in our garden. Or the fresh produce aisle of your local supermarket. For overall health, every single herb, vegetable and fruit is beneficial, when consumed in moderation. However, different phytonutrients work in different ways and some are more (and less) beneficial for a respiratory virus like COVID-19.

Elderberry. As I mentioned above, CMJ also states that elderberry has been shown to prevent the ability of the SARS coronavirus to enter cells, and so for this reason, it is an effective supplement to add to your virus prevention list. If you already have the virus, it is unlikely to reverse its effects, so zinc and copper are your best bets for this, although taking elderberry will definitely not hurt!

The recommended dose for elderberry extract is 700-1000 mg per day. After extensive searching, and finding that many elderberry supplements are sold out, I came across this Product: which would require 4-5 servings per day to provide the recommended elderberry dose. However, it also contains Vitamin C, for which the research is equivocal – while some studies show it is highly beneficial for respiratory infections, others show it may increase the inflammatory response. Personally, I am going to buy this supplement and take it, as a preventative measure, since it is all I can find! However, if I were to contract the virus, I would likely stop and focus on zinc and copper.

Allicin. In addition to elderberry, allicin, the key bioactive ingredient in garlic, has been shown to play a significant role in fighting a viral infection. Keep in mind that you have to eat garlic raw in order to gain the maximal benefits of allicin, which may not go down too well unless you are in self-isolation, in which case go nuts! However, allicin supplements are easy to come by, and I am going to add these to my regime. While CMJ recommends 180 mcg stabilised allicin per day, the supplements I have been able to find easily are 3000 to 4000 mcg per day, so I am just going to take these as is and hope for the best.

Oils of oregano, tea-tree and eucalyptus. We can also look at some essential oil powerhouses for fighting viruses. Oil of oregano is a traditional remedy for respiratory viral infections, as well as gastrointestinal viruses and inflammatory conditions, and research in animals is supporting this traditional use. While pure oregano oil can be taken internally, it must be totally pure for consumption, so a good alternative is to put a couple of drops on the soles of the feet. Oregano can be combined with tea tree oil and eucalyptus, also shown in research studies to possess potent antiviral activity. Both tea-tree and eucalyptus can be toxic when taken internally, so topical application, or aroma diffusion, is recommended.

Is there anything I should avoid?

Yes. Most definitely. As always, limit inflammatory foods such as refined sugar, refined vegetable oils and processed meats. In addition, CMJ recommends avoiding supplementation with high levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin D, as these can increase the production of molecules in the body that may benefit viruses like coronavirus.

Wrapping up….

This is by no means an extensive list! Every single macro, micro and phytonutrient has a role to play in our overall health and therefore, our immune health, when consumed in a balanced way. However, the nutrients that have been mentioned and described here were selected as those most beneficial for immune health, in the specific context of the SARS family of coronaviruses.

At the very least, if they assist in reducing some of the anxiety that you might feel at this time, that will be a huge benefit in and of itself. Share this list with friends and family, and possibly assist older family members in obtaining some of these supplements. Everything we can do to enhance our immune health, and the health of those we care about at this time is on the table.

Keep well! And stay tuned for Part 2….

 

-Carlene Starck

THE GAME CHANGERS FILM REVIEW

Game changers is all the hype at the moment, every day I get asked my opinion on my thoughts around the documentary so I thought best to outline my thoughts with a blog post, to provide a resource for all the confusion that is being produced.

Firstly, I am a big proponent of plant-based nutrition and I believe it should be the foundation of our diet. In the film, they presented a wide argument for why this is the case. Debunking many social beliefs around plant-based diet and performance. 

I truly believe if done right, this could have been a really good documentary. However, this film can not be referred to as a documentary. A documentary presents a balanced argument which this was not! I found it extremely dogmatic and reductive, twisting science to tell a story, that plant-based is the only way to eat….

An important caveat before getting into it, I found it interesting how they used the term plant-based which I believe is just in an effort to rebrand the dogma around veganism. I can’t blame them because it has taken a bad wrap but maybe that is for a reason….  In this article, you will see I have used both variations synonymously.

Balanced Argument?

As for a balanced argument, the first thing we must do is look at the funding and the expert’s background. Firstly it was funded by the founders of ‘Verdiant Foods’, an organic pea protein company. Who obviously benefit from people going vegan. What about the experts? All plant-based themselves which alone creates a basis

Some examples:

  • Dr. Dean Ornish: Author of several books including, “Undo It!” Which is a guide to reverse chronic disease with a plant-based diet. In addition, he hosts retreats and offers online programs for plant-based lifestyle approaches. 
  • Dr. Aaron Spitz: Author of “The Penis Book,” which highlights the importance of a plant-based diet for optimal penile function. 
  • Dr. Robert Vogel: A cardiologist and author of “The Pritikin Edge,” which focuses heavily on plant-based eating.
  • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn: Sells books DVDs, ad programs for reversing heart disease through a plant-based diet.                               (Maeve Hanan (2019), An Evidence-based Review of ‘The Game Changers’)

Naturally, these “experts” are all for veganism which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, I would have loved to have seen both sides of the argument to create a balanced discussion vs the pushing the vegan agenda. Great news Chris Kresser M.S., L.Ac the Co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine, founder of Kresser Institute will be on Joe Rogan Podcast to debunk this film on the 19th of November. He will no doubt discuss many of the points I am touching on here but will also have the platform to go a lot deeper so I highly recommend tuning into the podcast if you are interested.

Telling a Story through Science

Twisting science to tell a story is nothing new with so much potential financial gain to be had. It was poor science which led us into the obesity epidemic we now face. Ancel Keys an American physiologist in 1950s dubbed obesity on fat in particularly saturated fat. He did this through his famous 7 countries study that became the basis from the food pyramid and way of eating for 55yrs …. (we are still battling this today…) When it was really a 22 countries study (see image below) which he cherry-picked two markers and removed countries that didn’t fit his linear correlation…. I have written a blog around this if you want to learn more. Sadly game-changers took a leaf out of this book and created stories firstly they referenced Ancel Keys poor research, demonising saturated fat which as mentioned has been highly scrutinised on top of this they compared the average western (processed food, hamburgers etc) against a plant-based diet. Sorry but any diet is better than the standard western diet! I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the same effect going full carnivore (meat only) for the same period of time to these studies (Not saying this is a good thing either, just making a point). The negative impact of the standard western diet has been well documented and evidence is clear all you need to do is look at the obesity epidemic, obviously, nutrition is not the only factor but definitely one of the leading contributors.

Vitamin C

Another unbelievable moment for me was when a scientist states that plants are higher in Vitamin C and since our bodies can’t make Vitamin C we should only eat plants. I am not arguing that vitamin C comes from plants and I don’t think any other dietary approach would either (besides maybe carnivore…). But why is it we have to function in extreme measures of all or nothing (Plant vs. Meat)? Why can we not eat a balanced diet of plants and meat, we are omnivores after all…

One Diet Fits All

They state in the film that the plant-based diet is the one diet for everything …Sadly, there is no such thing as a one diet fits all we each possess so much diversity that what works for one person will not work for the next. Nutrition like most things needs to be individualised. There are some guiding principles that will apply to the majority but there are always exceptions to the rule and to ignore this is just foolish. 

Anecdotal Evidence

The film does a great job at highlighting a handful of vegan athletes. Their anecdotal stories are fascinating but again like mentioned earlier there are always outliers… I am not saying that these athletes are but with very little to work off besides anecdotal evidence, it is difficult to determine.  We must always approach anecdotal evidence with a grain of salt before we take it as the gospel. For example, when someone goes through a dietary change it often acts as what we call a keystone habit which promotes cascading of other positive habits to follow such as mindset shift, lifestyle changes (Prioritise sleep, implement stress management strategies etc), a greater focus on training and integration of new training methods etc. Besides the habit change and controllable factors are they genetic outliers? Plus just because they are seeing performance gains short term what is it doing to their overall life and healthspan? Once again I am not saying that plant-based couldn’t have achieved these results but a pinch of scepticism is always good when digesting anecdotal evidence, it is important to look at all the evidence such as what the science tells us. Let’s touch on a bit more science then 😉

Amino Acids: Meat Vs Plants

I would be remiss if I did discuss the amino acids argument. Firstly, as defined by the FDA, a complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Incomplete proteins do not have sufficient amounts of one or more of the essential amino acids[*]. Or, they’re missing amino acids altogether.

Animal protein sources consist of all the essential amino acids and quantities our body requires. Whereas plant proteins do not contain some essential amino acids with the exception of soy. Plants are especially low in the essential amino acid leucine compared to animal-based proteins. Leucine is well known for being a trigger for muscle protein synthesis (eg. muscle growth). To attain adequate protein then you’ll have to combine plants to get a complete protein. This is fine in theory however how much beans and rice do you need to eat to make the amount of complete protein that is present in a piece of chicken? A great example of this in the film was when they stated a peanut butter sandwich has the equivalent protein as 3oz beef or three egg. I love my nut butters as much as the next person, probably more but to achieve the same protein level you would need 5 tablespoons of peanut butter, for a total of 500 calories! (Not including the bread). Regardless, of the massive calorie intake of ¼ cup of Peanut Butter, it is a bit overkill for one sandwich.

Just like everything, it is not just about quantity but quality, this is no difference for protein. Quality of amino acid is characterized by the composition and digestibility. On average, animal-based protein is digested at a 90% or higher rate, while plant protein ranges anywhere from 55% to 80%.

Why? Plant proteins less digestible because of the “anti-nutritional” factors (trypsin inhibitors, hemagglutinins, phytates, etc). The good news for vegans is that cooking techniques like soaking, boiling, steaming, and fermentation have been shown to reduce the content of these anti-nutrients. It doesn’t solve the problem but does help with protein uptake. Another great option especially if an athlete as you need more protein, you should also consider plant-based protein powders (Hemp & Pea) as these are stripped of the anti-nutrients and allow for the uptake of the protein. 

Summary; With Plant proteins offering less digestibility vegans will often have to consume more calories to attain the same quantity of protein, like the peanut butter sandwich mentioned above.

Blood Testing 

The blood tests following meal really spiked my interest so naturally, I looked into what it all meant, was the “cloudy serum” a bad thing?

The cloudy effect seen in the blood is called postprandial lipemia. It is physiologically normal to see a rise in triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in the blood post-consumption of dietary fat and if a concern which it shouldn’t be for most, it is simply mitigated by movement and fasted windows. If we tested all these athletes fasted, their serum would all look identical. 

So really just a quick and easy way to fear-monger and scare you to confine to their story.

 

Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, BMI

How about the firefighters who lowered their cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI, etc from going vegan. Do you truly believe they had to go full plant-based, for these effects? No, because at the end of the day you will be healthier with a well-balanced diet with some meat consumption as long as it of high-quality source and not processed.

Vegan Paradigm

This is not related to the movie as such but I think an important consideration to include because no doubt some people will try the plant-based diet. In fact, many I know have already begun as a result. 

When on a new diet especially a restricting diet you will often see profound benefits early on, it is what I like to call the vegan paradigm. You change your diet and full of motivation you kick all the ‘bad foods’ and receive a massive influx of new nutrients which your body thanks you for as it is not used to getting them so you feel amazing as a result. Plus due to the limited nature of the diet, you naturally stay clear of all the junk food you used to eat so, of course, you see great results. This is the foundation of most diets but especially important for the vegan diet because if not a well thought out and structured, you will begin to lose key micronutrients B12, Omega 3, Iron etc that just can’t be attained in adequate quantities through the vegan diet. Yup, I said it, to do a vegan diet successfully you most likely need to supplement to get adequate nutrients that can’t be attained through you diet which to me begs the question, is this the way we are designed to eat? However, back to vegan paradigm, early on in the diet our bodies are great and compensating for this but over time this takes its toll and roughly 1-3yrs down the track of being vegan they begin to see a significant decline in their health and because they felt so great early on they don’t correlate it with the vegan diet, it must be something else? So often get more strict on the diet and really begin to spiral down.

Game Changers Take Home Message

Finally, thankfully they took a step back with their take-home message which was not to go full vegan but aim to reduce meat intake which I can absolutely get behind. Not that meat is bad but if you have a few meat-free meals of meat-free day (meat-free Mondays is a common approach) you will be forced into increasing the diversity of your diet which is a great thing for attaining more nutrients in your diet and improving your overall health.

My Summary of the Film

Although extremely dogmatic and reductive, it championed vegetables which is not a bad thing! We should all eat more vegetables and great diversity of vegetables. What really frustrated me is the way they approach it, saying it is the only way to eat and then backing their story with poor science and anecdotal evidence, not a balanced argument at all. One thing that really infuriates me around films like this, is they push the extremist narrative we must be all or nothing (Meat vs Vegetables) when instead we should eat both we are omnivores after all. I am all about championing the vegetables a reducing overall meat intake but there is no need to be so extreme. There are exceptions to this of course as discussed but let’s bring some common sense back into the nutrition game!

Re-United with My Sugar Addiction…..

Post-Holiday Addiction

I think we have all faced this at one time or another, you visit an amazing place with phenomenal food and you trying everything insite because, hey you’re on holiday.

Many of you will know I have just come back from Melbourne and to those that have been to Melbourne, you will know that is world renowned for amazing food. As a massive foodie, it is fair to say I went a little overboard…. But no regrets because that is what holidays are for, expanding your horizons to new things, just sometimes that also means expanding your waistline at the same time. There is nothing wrong with this and I think we should all live and experience life but I have noted since coming home the true danger lies in coming home reunited with my old friend my sugar addiction. As I have stated in many of my previous articles this is powerful as a cocaine addiction, as it reacts in the similar fashion in the brain.

In realising the trap for myself I quickly realised that I will not be alone in this struggle, so why not share the strategies I will implement to get myself back on track. This document is for anyone looking to cut sugar, it doesn’t matter if you have been on holiday or not, just coming out of winter can be hard enough, as we tend to drift towards comfort foods

Cold Turkey

Just like any addiction moderation is not a good idea as “just a little bit” ends up as a “big bit” or “another bit”

Time to be strict, no more sugar for me for at least two weeks, so goodbye to my beloved chocolate, although I eat 90% dark chocolate it does still have a small amount, so that will have to go as well.

Two weeks strict no leniency and following this I will reassess and most likely be more liberal with good quality sources eg my dark chocolate (90%). The key focus is to break the habits of snacking.

 

I’m going, Keto

Those who follow me know that I am an advocate for keto when done appropriately for the right person, I have written extensively on it

I traditionally cycle in and out of keto depending on my training and racing schedule, but it looks like it is time for another solid cycle of Keto, especially with race season around the corner now.

Keto is one of the quickest ways to kick the cravings to a curb. However, it is always harder going into with re-established sugar cravings. The induction period can be tough as for any detox you are removing an addictive stimulant that you currently rely on. Your body doesn’t know what hit it, naturally, you begin to crave those foods more and begin making elaborate explanations and justifications to why you “need sugar” or “This is a good source of sugar” All this does is draw out the induction period. If this sounds like you and something you have tried and failed with before, the next couple of steps may also be challenging for the same reasons but don’t worry we have a solution for you! Check out the Exogenous Ketone section.

There is no one fits all approach

Not everyone needs to go full keto, high fat low carbohydrate (HFLC) will be sufficient and keto maybe to extreme for many. You need to keep in mind my baseline of carbohydrate intake was previously very low and I know I personally function best in this state with my performance goals. Everyone will function off varying amounts of carbohydrate. It is what Cliff Harvey calls “carbohydrate appropriate” so don’t feel like you need to go all or nothing. I would personally suggest starting HFLC and see how you go, re-assess and decide if you want to take it a step further to keto.

 

No Snacking

While on holiday it is easy to snack and graze on food throughout the day. Although our bodies are not designed to graze, this places a greater demand on our digestive system which in turn our body neglects other key processors.

Back from holiday is a great time to establish my new routine so no more snacking instead focus on 2-3 key nourishing meals.

 

Intermittent Fasting

For those like me who like to take it a step further beyond restricting carbohydrate and snacking and want optimal benefits. Intermittent fasting should definitely be considered as it provides your digestive system a greater opportunity to rest placing less unneeded external stress on your system

There are wide-ranging fasting protocols, that you can select from and to learn more read my previous posts but I think the key to any of the protocols that is often missed is that you should never suffer! Fasting is not about starving yourself it is about listening to your body and eating when hungry. As you become less reliant on carbohydrate for fuel and your body shifts over to primarily utilising your fat stores, as this happens you will naturally be able to fast for longer, but you should never push this adaptation phase, listen to your body and gradually increase your fasted window.

 

This is too hard! I Need a Helping Hand

If you are struggling with the above steps and you need a helping hand or just want to stay feeling amazing, look no further than Exogenous ketones.

Exogenous Ketones

Cravings and hunger catch us all off guard at one point or another but what if you could remove these while putting yourself into a fat burning zone (ketosis) while increasing mental capacity and clarity.

Sound good?

Exogenous ketones are the answer with an extensive list of benefits they are phenomenal from a performance standpoint but also a sugar addicts best friend as they detox the sugar. They are my specialist trick and often refer to them as the “catalyst for ketosis”. There is nothing as powerful in getting you through the tough times of induction period of keto or kicking the sugar addiction. Firstly because they taste amazing (even sweet) but because they remove hunger, craving and keep you performing at your best. Plus they are high in electrolytes which keeps the dreadful keto flu at bay.  

 

Out of Site out of Mind

When struggling with willpower which you most likely will early on, hide your treats. For some, this is not enough so I suggest giving them away or throwing them out so that your house is clean with no treats.

Accountability

Get friends, family, flatmates onboard. Let them know your plan and why you are doing it, ask them to keep you honest and on track, because let’s be honest we can justify anything, at least this way you will get an unbiased accountability.

Brush your Teeth

Danger time for me is following dinner, normally when I reach for the dark chocolate or go for seconds and then thirds when I am not even hungry. Brushing your teeth straight after dinner is a great way to stop yourself from eating

Join in the Journey: Stay Tuned

Join me as I re-undergo this induction phase and ditch the sugar and carbohydrate. I have my exogenous ketones ready to go and looking forward to being addiction free and back full of energy with no spike or crashes.

 

Science Behind Ketone Supplements

Part Two: For those like me who enjoy the science

After discussing the application and benefits of exogenous ketones in my last post, I want to dive into some science behind them and highlight the differences between various types to arm you with the knowledge to make the right decision.

What Are Ketones?

Natural, Clean Energy

Ketones are our fourth fuel substrate, they are clean-burning as they reduce the production of potentially harmful Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) inside cells. Plus they also clean up ROS produced from other metabolic processes.

Ketones have been shown to be preferable fuel for the brain over glucose as they aid in brain development. When ketones are present they preserve glucose for pentose phosphate pathway which results in ribose for DNA syntheses and NADPH for lipid biosynthesis

Before we touch on ketone supplements you must first understand the mechanism that defines the state of ketosis. Simply put, when your body is in a state of ketosis, ketone bodies are present in a higher concentration than normal (0.5+ mmol/L). I have discussed this further in the previous post

Three Ketone Bodies:

  • Acetate (Acetone): Is the least abundant, produced in much smaller amounts, and is usually exhaled through the lungs rather than being used as fuel.
  • Acetoacetate (AcAc): Is part of the metabolic pathway whereby humans make and use ketones, but it tends to be found in the blood at lower levels than BHB.
  • Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) Is the most prevalent of the ketones. Due to far higher concentrations and existing outside the cell, compared to Acetone and Acetoacetate it is widely used to measure ketone levels.

Two Forms of BHB:                                                                

  • D-β-hydroxybutyrate: The right-handed version. 

“D” comes from the Latin dexter.

  • L-β-hydroxybutyrate: The left-handed version, lab-made ketones.                    

“L” comes from the Latin laevus.

D-BHB vs. L-BHB: Which is better?

There is currently a lot of controversy around which form is safest and best to use as a supplement form. One side argues the D-BHB is superior in enhancing mitochondrial function, whereas other evidence suggests a mixture of D & L is handled better and more beneficial for neurological diseases and cancer. L-BHB is thought to be a signaling molecule to reduce inflammation and has been shown to also convert a portion to D-BHB. Additionally, the production of D-β-hydroxybutyrate (right-handed) is a more expensive supplement to produce.

When measuring it may appear that D-BHB promotes higher blood ketone levels. However, that is because most commercial ketone measuring devices only measure D-BHB, not L-BHB.

To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a comprehensive study to truly determine if D-βHB is more beneficial than DL regarding general use applications, or value to the consumer from a financial perspective.

History of Ketones

Ketones are nothing new, it is just our understanding that has changed. beginning, in 1865 scientist discovered a molecule called acetoacetate in the urine of diabetic patients. Acetoacetate is a ketone or also known as a ketone body. Through discovering acetoacetate ultimately led them to identify BHB.

In identifying them, they began seeing BHB in high concentrations in uncontrolled diabetics (Ketoacidosis), thus leading scientist to label ketones as bad. However, as our understanding has grown this was shown to be short-sighted and to predominantly be a factor for uncontrolled diabetics patients.

Ketoacidosis is Not Ketosis

I know it sounds similar but they are the same.

Ketoacidosis or Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a complication of type 1 diabetes mellitus. Associated with a dangerously high combination of ketones (much higher than ketosis) and blood sugars which makes your blood too acidic. As limited insulin is available for the cells to adequately uptake the sugar (glucose) in the blood to use for energy. Ultimately this can alter the normal functioning of internal organs like your liver and kidneys. It is a critical condition that requires prompt treatment as it is a life-threatening condition and often occurs quickly within as little as 24hrs.

DKA Ketone levels can increase up to 20-25 mM, which decreases blood pH, whereas a state of ketosis is determined as 0.5-3mM. With an upper threshold of 7-8 mM (e.g. during very-low-calorie Keto Diet and use of exogenous ketone supplements).

DKA is a predominantly a factor for type 1 diabetes but individuals with type 2 diabetes who have little or no insulin production, need to be careful as it can occur if not controlled.

Ketone Supplements:

  • Ketone salts: This is the form found in most ketone supplements available on the market. Ketone salts are a compound consisting of a mineral ion, such as sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), and BHB. Ketone salts are high in electrolytes; so they can aid replenishing electrolytes lost in urine while on the ketogenic diet.
  • Ketone esters: Ketone esters are primarily used in research and are not currently available to consumers. This form consists of pure beta-hydroxybutyrate or Acetoacetate without other additives.
  • MCT Oils: Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) doesn’t contain BHB but has been shown to moderately raise BHB levels. MCT’s require a greater amount of processing than other exogenous ketones thus taking longer to get into ketosis. Along with this, MCT’s are a more calorie dense which could be counterproductive for those needing to watch their caloric intake.

What Ketone Supplements do I use?

I personally utilise a mix of MCT Oils and Ketone Salts. I have used them for close to two years now and couldn’t imagine life without them especially the Pruvit (ketone salts).

My goal is performance and un-tapping my potential, I can’t settle for suboptimal, I want to always be performing at my best. Therefore, I use these supplements in many varying capacities from training and racing (triathlon), speeding up my recovery, to increase my mental capacity and clarity (ps. I am functioning on ketones as I write the majority of my blog posts 😉 ). Aside from performance end I also utilise Pruvit for longevity and to keep hunger at bay and extend my fasts so perfect for travel or when on the go with no good food insight or time, this gets me through these dangerous moments and keeps me functioning at a high level without hunger pains or cravings.

MCT Oils (Bulletproof or Melrose): I use this mostly when I need a little bit of mental and energy boost, but mostly to keep my hunger at bay. Plus sometimes to blunt the effects of those carbohydrate treats for me this normally means MCT Oil on my fruit salad. 

Ketone Salts (Pruvit): MCT is great but nothing compares with Ketone Salts, this would have to the biggest performance enhancing supplement I have ever taken, it is my rocket fuel!

Mixing Things Up:

I have traditionally taken each supplement separately until recently when I came across research stating the benefits associated with a combination of both Ketone salts (BHB) and MCT’s. This combo has been shown to further elevate the BHB response in the blood. Plus as it has a delayed gastric absorption it extends and sustains a higher elevation of blood ketone level over a longer period. The combination is looking extremely promising as it appears to be better than either ketone salts or MCT’s alone. Even better, it has been reported that it may remove the adverse gastrointestinal emptying effects of MCT oil that is often associate when MCT is taken on its own. However, further research is required to identify ratios and best application

Recently I have been playing around with my own ratios and I have introduced MCT oils into my staple long ride fuel of ketone salts and so far it has been great but I will keep you all posted with how I get on.

Why Pruvit?

Pruvit or Keto OS, which stands for “Ketone Operating System,” They were the first to patent to ketone technology, meaning they are most widely researched and used. Pruvit, is now one of the quickest growth nutrition based companies and has posted 400% year-to-year growth since its inception and is showing no signs of slowing down as it has recently moved into Canada, Asia, and Australia.

 

“I Need to Try Ketones for Myself!”

Flick us at Taylored a message and we can get you set you up with a trial.

[email protected]

Subject: Ketone Trial