bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: #Elf4Health

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I saw a bunch of my social media RD friends participating in this challenge last year and I thought it looked like fun. So, this year, when I saw one of them tweet about it, I immediately signed up. You can too! You can sign-up to participate with and as a buddy or just go it alone depending on how much involvement you want to have.

Each day of Elf for Health yields a new challenge. Starting with going meatless on Monday, November 24th, and finishing with making a donation on December 21st. It’s a great way to focus on health during what can often be a stressful time of year.


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Food combining

Photo by Tom Ipri on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence

Photo by Tom Ipri on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence

Not long ago I had the pleasure(?) of overhearing a conversation about digestion over a meal. One woman was explaining why she wasn’t having carbs at her her meal (this despite the fact that the hummus she ate certainly contain carbohydrate, as did some of the vegetables with her meal). Her logic was that to aid digestion it’s better to consume food groups separately. Hence, she was just eating vegetables and meat. Someone else piped in that this made sense and added that eating foods in a specific order must also be beneficial. I did my best not to bite off my tongue and eat it along with my vegetables, meat, and (gasp!) rice.

Not everyone knows about how digestion works and I can see how these myths perpetuate. But please give your body some credit; it can handle more than one macronutrient at a time.

I’ve addressed the issues of food “layering” and combining before. Just a quick reminder: digestion starts in the mouth with amylase breaking down starches. Your stomach does an excellent job of churning all of the food you eat, breaking it down, and making it into an acidic stew. Believe me, nothing is sitting in there on top of everything fermenting. Most of nutrient absorption occurs in the intestine. Consuming more than one food at a time may actually aid in nutrient absorption as some nutrients, such as the fat soluble vitamins ADEK, need other nutrients to be absorbed (in this case fat).

This doesn’t even address the fact that many foods taste better together. Think: chocolate and peanut butter, apples and cheese, bread and butter. There’s no need to deny yourself the pleasure of these foods. Variety is the spice of life and choosing healthy foods is complicated enough without adding the element of what to eat with (or without) something else.


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Do you need a testosterone boost?

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A friend recently sent me a link to this article Why Testosterone Is Your FriendMy first question was: is testosterone deficiency a common problem. This study puts the prevalence at roughly 10% in males aged 20-79. However, deficiency was much more common among the older males. Testosterone deficiency may also be a problem for women. Naturally, the research in this area lags far behind that of the research on men so it’s impossible for me to comment on the need for testosterone boosting efforts in women.

The article is correct in stating that testosterone plays an important role in the body. It plays a role in sex development and libido, bone mineralization, weight and body mass composition, and energy levels (1). That being said, it’s relatively unlikely that a fit young person suffers from testosterone deficiency. If you do suspect that you suffer from testosterone deficiency, then you should visit your doctor. She or he will be able to measure you testosterone levels through blood tests. Pending the results, appropriate treatment efforts can be determined. Please don’t self-diagnose or take the advice of a fitness blog written by a personal trainer (or anyone, regardless of credentials as gospel).

Much of the advice in the post is solid advice for anyone regardless of testosterone levels. Indeed, obtaining an adequate nights sleep and reducing stress could benefit most of us. Let’s just quickly go through each of the suggestions…

1. Get deep sleep. Everyone can benefit from getting a solid nights sleep. Yes, this may help to increase testosterone.

2. Lift heavy things. Strength training is important for everyone to maintain muscle mass and bone density as we age. This may help to increase testosterone levels in people who are slightly low, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference for anyone who’s deficient (2).

3. Don’t run too much. As someone who loves to run, I have a bit of a personal bias against this one. Run too much? Does not compute. Apparently, those who over-train, or elite athletes, may actually see a drop in testosterone levels. However, it would certainly take more than running a few times a week to have such an effect. If you enjoy running, don’t stop.

4. Eat fat, especially saturated fat. This is quite a vague recommendation. I certainly thing that fat has been unfairly vilified in the past (and sometimes, in the present). It is also possible that consumption of fat, and saturated fat may impact testosterone levels (3). However, these findings are based on a very small correlational study which makes it impossible to draw widespread recommendations from them. That being said, fat is an essential nutrient and (aside from man-made trans-fats) should not be avoided. There’s a good review of the research here. The AMDR for dietary fat is 20-35% of total calories for adults. Of course, our needs vary so you may fall on the low or high end of that scale depending on your genes and activity levels. Ignore the recommendation in the article to eschew plant oils. Use a variety of oils and fats.

5. Eat enough protein. Most of the research on protein and testosterone focuses on the inverse relationship. Again, a very small study found that ingestion of whey protein following a workout increased testosterone and androgen receptors in men (aged 57-72) while a placebo had no effect. Interesting. However, I would caution against extrapolating such a small study to younger men and women and even to all middle-aged men. While most of us consume more protein than we need, we may be well-served by consuming more consistent amounts at meals and snacks. Focus on getting more than 15 grams of protein at breakfast, protein at all meals and snacks, and meet with a registered dietitian if you have questions about adequate consumption of protein.

6. Keep stress levels low. Low testosterone and symptoms of stress may manifest in the same manner but there’s little evidence to support the assertion that stress will lower testosterone (4). Of course, stress is not good for us so taking steps to reduce stress in your life will likely serve you well regardless of your testosterone levels.

7. Don’t binge drink. Duh. Binge drinking is bad for your liver, your brain, and every other organ in your body. Animal studies suggest that chronic alcohol consumption may lower testosterone levels. It makes sense that if heavy alcohol consumption impairs bodily functions that it would also impair testosterone production. Despite the lack of human evidence, I’m not going to argue with this one. Don’t drink to excess, regardless of your testosterone status.

8. Get enough zinc and magnesium. There may be benefits to getting more zinc if you’re not getting enough in your diet. If you’re already getting enough, more is not going to help (5). Many of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets so aiming to consume more magnesium-rich foods (e.g. nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate) is worthwhile. I wouldn’t recommend supplementing with zinc without first discussing with your doctor as zinc can interfere with the absorption of other minerals, like copper, and unnecessary supplementation could lead to deficiency in another mineral.

9. Make sure to get enough carbs. Personally, I love carbs. I’d never suggest anyone cut carbs from their diets. However, there’s no reason to believe that insufficient carb consumption will lead to testosterone deficiency.

10. Get enough vitamin D. Research on vitamin D has been mixed. Most of us can get enough from the sun in the summer months. We may benefit from supplementation of 1000 IU during winter months. Vitamin D may slightly increase testosterone in deficient males (6). As with most things, just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better. While uncommon, it is possible to consume toxic levels of vitamin D so don’t go mega-dosing.

11. Stay away from soy. Research looking at testosterone levels and soy consumption has focused on soy protein supplements. Results have been mixed. It’s quite unlikely that consuming soy in “natural” states (such as tofu, edamame, soy beans/nuts, or tempeh) is going to have any impact on your testosterone levels.

12. Eliminate wheat and gluten grains. Now we’re really going off the rails. There is no link between wheat and gluten and testosterone deficiency. There is no reason to eliminate gluten from your diet unless you have celiac disease or an allergy.

13. Limit all medications/birth control pills. Some medications may affect hormone levels. Some will not. Don’t stop taking essential medications and don’t take unnecessary medications. If you have any concerns about any medications that you’re on discuss them with your doctor.

There are also potential risks associated with high testosterone levels. Let’s not get carried away with focusing on low testosterone without first learning that our testosterone is indeed low.


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Follow Friday: @americangut

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I’m just finishing up a short course on the human microbiome on coursera. While we’re only just beginning to scrape the surface of our understanding of how microbes affect our health it’s a fascinating subject. Did you know that bacteria that are beneficial in your gut may be harmful if they’re found in another part of your body? Obviously your diet can transform your gut microbiome but what effect does it have on your health? It seems that exercise also affects the composition of your gut microbiome. In turn, your microbiome may impact your hormones and neurotransmitters.

You can get in on the ground floor of human microbiome research by supporting the American Gut Project. By pledging your support you can get a kit to send them samples of your microbes. In turn, you’ll receive an analysis of your microbes and see how they compare to others in the study. Despite the name, citizens of countries other than American are welcomed to participate as this can help to provide a larger picture of the human microbiome. The analysis is not intended to diagnose any medical conditions, it simply shows you the prevalence and variety of microbes in your gut at a given moment in time (and other areas of your body depending how much you pledge). However, you’re contributing to some really exciting research that will hopefully lead to greater insight into what your microbiome may mean for your health and well being.


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Have a merry Coca Cola Christmas

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Today I just want to have a little rant about the obesogenic environment we live in.

The other day I had to go to Walmart for something. I know, I know. It’s a store that I normally avoid like the plague but knitting emergencies do strange things to people. Anyway… Christmas is popping up all over the place despite the fact that it’s obscenely early and one of the first things I saw upon entering Walmart was a huge bin of Coke Christmas ornaments. These weren’t just ornaments though, they were bottles of Coke shaped like Christmas balls. Beside the fact that they’re completely impractical, they’d break pretty much any branch, why on earth do we need to put pop on a Christmas tree? I truly hope that this is a sign that the mighty are falling. If Coca Cola are becoming so desperate in their marketing that they’re resorting to make ornaments filled with pop maybe they’re not doing so well. Honestly, there is more than enough celebratory eating over the holidays is it really necessary that people adorn their trees with Coke???

Later that same day I went to Starbucks for coffee with a friend. I know, more corporate shame. Would you believe that there are no other coffee shops in the city open past 6 pm? I would choose somewhere local in a heartbeat but without that option I found myself ordering one of the new chestnut praline lattes. Because it was night time and I’m an old dietitian I ordered it decaf, half sweet, with 2% milk. Silly me, because I failed to request no whipped cream or sugary sprinkles. I’ve ranted about the use of sweetened coffee as the default for their iced coffees before but really, this is just a crime against coffee. No coffee shop beverage, aside from an espresso con panna, should automatically come with whipped cream and sugary sprinkles. A latte by definition is espresso, steamed milk, and a little bit of foam. Not whipped cream. Not sprinkles. If customers want those options they should have to specially request them and pay a little extra. Why must the unhealthy option be the default? Even at half sweet it tasted very sweet. According to the Starbucks website there’s 31 grams of sugar in a tall chestnut praline latte. That means in my half sweet version (which I scooped the whipped cream and sprinkles off of) there was still nearly 4 teaspoons of sugar! If I ever get it again I’m going for 1/4 sweet, which, at 2 teaspoons of sugar is still too sweet. Screw it, I’ll just have an herbal tea.