Weighted vest exercise program can build hip bone mineral density

Grains may protect against telomere aging and cellular aging.

Telomere aging.

Aging is associated with many undesired developments.  Fragile skin, vision change, unimpressive reaction times.  Less noticeable, at least to others who may think you are becoming a little “slow”, are changes in hearing.

One of the things that biologists examine when assessing biological aging is telomere length.  Telomeres function as protective caps at the ends of our DNA.  Telomeres wear down a little with each cell division.  Older people, and older animals, will have shorter telomeres than the young.  However, the rate of telomere shortening, is not set in stone.  Oxidative stress can wear on telomeres as they do on other cell components.  Inflammation also appears to increase biological age as it also seems to speed shortening of telomeres.  Some researchers have found that long-term exercisers have longer telomeres than their sedentary peers.  Others have shown that a diet high in anti-oxidants (or high in fruits and vegetables) is also protective.   Accelerated telomere wearing has been associated with:

  • Osteoporosis (who’d have thought?)
  • Increased risk of bladder cancers
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Risk factors for faster telomere aging include:

Protective factors against telomere aging.

  • Mediterranean diet
  • Long-term exercise pattern
  • Fruit and vegetable intake
  • Grain and cereal intake
  • More things we can write about later.  This is a hot research topic.

Don’t give grains a completely short stick: grains may preserve telomeres and reduce cellular aging.

Cereals have gotten the short stick lately as two popular diets, low-carb and paleo diets, are anti-grain.  However, grains have been part of the human diet for millennia.  Certainly long enough for humans to have made genetic adaptations.  Grains contain anti-oxidants, minerals, soluble and non-soluble fiber.  All of these are beneficial to health.   Diets relatively high in grains are associated with longer telomeres (less cellular aging).  Diets rich in grains (cereal fibers) may help preserve telomere length . . . possibly by providing anti-oxidants and minerals . . . it’s too early to tell.   As for now, you may actually be better off including grains in your meals.  If, like me, you have continued to eat them despite all the pressure to stop from Paleo friends who are convinced you are slowly killing yourself with bran flakes. . . carry on.  You’re doing fine. Read more about telomeres and telomere aging here.

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Andrea B. Kirk, PhD

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Lee JY, Jun NR, Yoon D, Shin C, & Baik I (2015). Association between dietary patterns in the remote past and telomere length. European journal of clinical nutrition PMID: 25872911

Cassidy A, De Vivo I, Liu Y, Han J, Prescott J, Hunter DJ, & Rimm EB (2010). Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91 (5), 1273-80 PMID: 20219960

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Quinoa Stimulates Protein Synthesis via Phytoecdysteroids

Summary: While Quinoa contains saponins, not all saponins are harmful.  Some are anti-oxidants and are probably health protective.  Quinoa, as most readers will know, is relatively high in protein.  New research shows quinoa is also high in phytoecdysteroids.  Phytoecysteroids have been shown to stimulate protein synthesis, at least in rats.

Introductory paragraph: (feel free to skip).  I’m not sure where Quinoa falls on the dietary good-evil spectrum these days.  Many value it for its high protein and mineral content.  It can be a staple food for the health-minded vegetarian.  On the other side of the spectrum, Quinoa has been vilified by followers of the Paleo diet because advocates consider it to be a grain.  Paleo dieters have also been concerned that Quinoa contains saponins. Some have proposed that saponins may damage the intestines.  However saponins are beneficial anti-oxidants and some are health-protective.  For a more general discussion of Quinoa and why it should be an excellent addition to the paleo diet click here.

Phytoecdysteroids  in quinoa can help promote protein synthesis

Phytoecdysteroids in quinoa can help promote protein synthesis

Quinoa is high in protein, flavonoids and phytoecdysteroids

Analysis of quinoa extract shows that quinoa contains:

  • 20% protein
  • 11% oil
  • 2.6% flavonoid glycosides
  • 1% phytoecdysteroids (this is very high compared to other plants)
Crossfit trainer amie taylor crossfit seven with phytoecdysteroids

Crossfit Trainer Amie Taylor of CrossFit Seven gets ready for the snatch

Flavonoid glycosides are health protective anti-oxidants.   Quinoa contains high amounts of phytoecdysteroids relative to other plants.   These are thought to be part of a plants defense system against predatory insecct.  However, they may be good for people.  There are many different phytoecdysteroids. Different phytoecdysteriods may have different functions and behave differently in mammals.  The dominant phytoecdysteroid in quinoa is 20HE.

Beneficial effects of phytoecdysteroids

There have been a number of studies showing different positive effects of both phytoecdysteroids or of qunoia extract.

  • Phytoecdysteroids increased protein synthesis in animals with and without exercise
  • 20HE (the predominant phytoecdysteroid in quinoa) has anabolic-like properties that promote protein synthesis
  • 20HE Increased muscle fiber size
  • Phytoecdysteroids Inhibited tumor growth
  • Phytoecdysteroids increased grip strength in rats
  • Quinoa extract increased metabolic rate and may be an anti-obesogen
  • Quinoa extract lowered blood glucose in obese, hyperglycemic mice
Phytoecdysteroids  in quinoa can help promote protein synthesis

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How phytoecdysteroids work is not completely understood.  They do not seem to act in the same way as anabolic steroids.  Anabolic steroids interact with androgen receptors.  Phytoecdysteroids don’t seem to do that.   So far, phytoecdysteroids show very low toxicity in mammals but limited (if any) testing has been done in humans.  Some people are marketing ecdysteroids as body-building supplements.  So far there is no evidence that these provide any benefit.

Dinan L (2009). The Karlson Lecture. Phytoecdysteroids: what use are they? Archives of insect biochemistry and physiology, 72 (3), 126-41 PMID: 19771554

Báthori M, Tóth N, Hunyadi A, Márki A, & Zádor E (2008). Phytoecdysteroids and anabolic-androgenic steroids–structure and effects on humans. Current medicinal chemistry, 15 (1), 75-91 PMID: 18220764

Foucault AS, Even P, Lafont R, Dioh W, Veillet S, Tomé D, Huneau JF, Hermier D, & Quignard-Boulangé A (2014). Quinoa extract enriched in 20-hydroxyecdysone affects energy homeostasis and intestinal fat absorption in mice fed a high-fat diet. Physiology & behavior, 128, 226-31 PMID: 24534167

Gorelick-Feldman J, Maclean D, Ilic N, Poulev A, Lila MA, Cheng D, & Raskin I (2008). Phytoecdysteroids increase protein synthesis in skeletal muscle cells. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 56 (10), 3532-7 PMID: 18444661

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Paleo Breath and Paleo Sweat: why hard workouts and the paleo diet make you smell funny.

If you have recently started a high protein diet and are wondering why your breath smells so bad . . .

Paleo Breath is common among people following the paleo diet (aka caveman diet). There may be two factors involved in Paleo Breath. The first is the accumulation of ketones from fat metabolism.  Ketones are excreted in urine, but there are ketones that also volatile . . . those come out in breath too. Acetone is one of these.   Acetone in breath smells a bit like rotten apples.  The other bad breath agent showing up in paleo diet or low carb diet is ammonia.  Ammonia may show up in breath when people metabolize protein for energy.  Ammonia smells more like urine.  Urine breath may be more disagreeable than rotten apple breath. Or not.  You can get ammonia breath without being on the paleo diet too.    Ammonia breath happens when people are burning protein.

Hard workouts make your clothes smell terrible.

If you have noticed a sudden worsening of smell in your locker or gym bag it may be a sign you are really pushing it during your workouts.  Congratulations. Ammonia concentrations in sweat increase during intense exercise as well as when protein is metabolized for energy.  Ammonia in sweat will make your workout clothes smell nasty.   It may make you smell bad too.

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Ammonia in breath: a hot research topic

A lot of exciting work is being done on ammonia in breath.  While ammonia breath in people who follow high protein, low-carb or paleo diets may be an annoyance or embarrassment, ammonia in the breath can be caused by other problems and signal health concerns.   Ammonia in breath is elevated in people with kidney and liver disease.  Ammonia in breath may also be a sign of esophogeal or gastric problems (like cancer) or lung infections.  If you are eating a protein diet/paleo diet and are otherwise healthy the chance that your bad breath is being caused by a serious health problem are extremely, extremely small.  Still, research on breath is just fascinating.   We may soon be able to diagnose medical problems by having someone breath into a device that would create a profile of breath components.  This may help catch cancers early, so they could be treated earlier and more effectively.  It may also help us better understand physiology in general.  A just-published study has found that ammonia levels are elevated in the breath of obese children.  The obese children in the study also had other factors in breath that differed from their normal-weight peers.   Its not clear yet what elevated ammonia levels mean in over weight children.  A sign of impending diabetes perhaps?

Breath Profiles for Health and Sports

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WODMasters shirts for strong women and the men who think they are awesome, paleo breath and all. Check out the WODWomen Etsy shop.

While research on breath is focusing on detection of serious health problems there are so potential applications for general health and sports performance. Ammonia levels in breath (or perspiration) may help coaches and athletes determine exactly when an athlete researches a particular training threshold.

Take Away

Yes, your clothes will smell like cat pee if you don’t wash them after a heavy workout.  If you are following a high protein/paleo diet, showering will help control body odor by washing high-ammonia perspiration off your skin.  Mouth bacteria break-down products form ammonia in breath too. They can produce enough ammonia to confound breath analysis studies.  Nose sampling gives better data. Keeping you teeth and mouth clean should help with paleo breath too.

 

Effros RM, Casaburi R, Porszasz J, Morales EM, & Rehan V (2012). Exhaled breath condensates: analyzing the expiratory plume. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 185 (8), 803-4 PMID: 22505753

Alvear-Ordenes I, García-López D, De Paz JA, & González-Gallego J (2005). Sweat lactate, ammonia, and urea in rugby players. International journal of sports medicine, 26 (8), 632-7 PMID: 16158367

Alkhouri N, Eng K, Cikach F, Patel N, Yan C, Brindle A, Rome E, Hanouneh I, Grove D, Lopez R, Hazen SL, & Dweik RA (2014). Breathprints of childhood obesity: changes in volatile organic compounds in obese children compared with lean controls. Pediatric obesity PMID: 24677760

Timing of protein intake matters.

Crossfit Paleo Diet: Low-carb high-fat diets may impair glucose tolerance

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Low  Low carb diets may work better when people wear WODMASTERS workout shirts.

Low carb diets are very popular now.  This post is about a new research finding on the effects of low carb diets on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.  The finding is that Low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets may impair glucose tolerance (Biehohuby et al. 2013).  This was unexpected.  While, low carb/ high fat diets are used by many people for weight loss programs, some diet books and health advocates have been promoting low carb/high fat diets as a means of  improving insulin sensitvity.  And protecting people from developing diabetes.  In fact, improvement of insulin sensitivity is often listed as one of the reasons why the general public should follow low carb/high fat diets.

Crossfit Paleo Diet: Benefits of low-carb high-fat diets?

So far research has been inconclusive.  Some studies support the hypothesis that low carb/high fat diets help improve insulin sensitivity but others don’t.  Some have found that low carb/high fat diets make insulin sensitivity worse.  The study by Biehohuby et al. (2013) was undertaken to see how low carb/high fat diets change glucose and insulin handling.  Subjects were male rats.

Study Synopsis:

Four groups of rats were fed one of four different diets:

  • a low carb/high fat with normal amount of calories for a rat or
  • a low calorie low carb/high fat diet or
  • a high protein low carb/high fat diet, or
  • a low protein ketogenic low carb high/fat diet.

Sensitivity to glucose and insulin was tested.  Results were as follows:

  • Animals had lower fasting glucose and insulin levels (generally thought to be good)
  • the low carb/high fat diets impaired glucose tolerance (generally thought to be bad)
  • low carb/high fat diets impaired insulin sensitivity (generally thought to be bad)

Research Conclusions

Here are the scientists conclusion about their study in their own words:

“Taken together, these data show that lack of dietary carbohydrates leads to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance in rats despite causing a reduction in fasting glucose and insulin concentrations. Our results argue against a beneficial effect of LC-HF diets on glucose and insulin metabolism, at least under physiological conditions. Therefore, use of LC-HF diets for weight loss or other therapeutic purposes should be balanced against potentially harmful metabolic side effects.”

Many, if not most, people have heard or been told that a low carb diet is health protective. It may be a good strategy for weight loss.  Diabetics may also do well or better on a low carb diet.  However, it may not be good for otherwise healthy people to stay on low carb/high fat diets for long periods of time.

Many diet trends have roots in science and research. The Paleo diet is just one.  However, of these roots get tangled with dogma, loyalties, financial interests and personal reputations. It is not uncommon to hear disdain or contempt for people who do not follow low carb diets, as well as concern for the health of people who continue to eat carbohydrates.  At least among my crossfit paleo diet associates.  I As a scientist, I often wonder where dogmatic thinking comes from.  As a professor I wonder how best to teach people to use other approaches to figuring out the order of the universe.  Its not always easy.  It may be simply part of human nature to

  1. build little compartments
  2. stick things in the compartments
  3. put them back in the compartments if they get out
The WODMASTERS Rhino Design ruminates on Vitamin K

WODMASTERS Rhino thinks about low carb diets

The problem with taking this approach to health and nutrition information is that we are learning so much, so fast and more is pouring in every day.  Its awesomely incredible.  Really.  But with all these little bits floating around and new bits being added to the pile its hard to find permanent homes for everything.  A high fat diet may not belong in the “avoid” pile.  Maybe it should be taken out and placed into the “go for it” pile.  Better yet, keep it on the table and see what it fits into.

For Medical and Research People:

Might glucose challenge test results from people on low-carb/high fat diets lead to their classification as pre-diabetic?  What is the clinical significance of low-carb diet induced changes in glucose and insulin handling anyway?

ResearchBlogging.org

Bielohuby M, Sisley S, Sandoval D, Herbach N, Zengin A, Fischereder M, Menhofer D, Stoehr BJ, Stemmer K, Wanke R, Tschöp MH, Seeley RJ, & Bidlingmaier M (2013). Impaired glucose tolerance in rats fed low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 305 (9) PMID: 23982154

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CrossFit Masters Nutrition: Lutein Supplements Improve Night Vision even in people who do not have Macular Degeneration.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition and Vision. Our vision changes with age.  Much of that change may be due to exposure to ultra-violet light (uv-radiation).  Ultra-violet light is the same range of light that causes sunburns.  Eyes are naturally protected from ultra-violet light by anti-oxidants.

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There are three anti-oxidants that protect the eye.  These are lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin.    Lutein accumulates in the retina.  These macular pigments are powerful anti-oxidants.   As we get a bit older (wiser, smarter, cooler) these macular pigments tend to change.  And not for the better.  They get depleted and vision gets worse.    There are a number of things that can cause Lutein levels to drop off:

  • Diet low in Lutein
  • Smoking
  • Oxidative Stress from many different sources such as air pollution, arsenic and other bad stuff.
  • Maybe age

Fortunately, there are things we can do to protect our vision.

  • Don’t engage in nasty habits
  • Eat well to protect your vision and keep your vision strong over time.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition:  The Eyes Have It.

Most of us will notice vision changes in our forties and fifties.  Its not just a need for reading glasses.   Eyeball pigments (macular pigments) are needed for more than reading.  The loss of pigment makes us lose some of our capacity for clear, central color vision.   We may have a harder time with glare and with contrast.  These things can make depth perception and driving a problem.

Researchers been investigating the role of lutein supplements as a means to counter these changes in vision.  While we may not notice vision changes until we are in middle age changes and damage may occur decades before.  If Lutein is depleted it cannot protect your eyes from day to day stress.  This may cause damage to accumulate over time.   People who spend a lot of time outdoors seem to lose macular pigments like Lutein.  Loss of macular pigments is associated with increased risk of macular degeneration.  Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition: The study in brief.

The new study (Yao and Yuan 2013) looked at healthy, relatively young people.  Ages ranged from 25 to 47.   This study is especially interesting because the subjects did not have macular degeneration or other vision problems.  Subjects were given a thorough eye exam and given Lutein supplements for a year.  There were significant improvements in sharpness of vision, contrast sensitivity and sensitivity to glare.  Nice to know that improving your diet and help your driving and night basketball skills.  More studies are needed to see if increasing other macular pigments will also improve vision.  Lutein must be obtained from the diet.  The same is true for zeaxanthin.  Its possible that increasing intake of zeaxanthin would also improve vision.  Or that taking both would produce better results.  More studies will tell.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition: Supplements or Real Food?

You can get Lutein supplements if you want to go that route, but the best choice is probably to get lutein from real food.  Lutein is a carotenoid.  Like Vitamin A.  There are about 600 different carotinoids identified so far.  Most vegetables will contain many different carotenoids.  Some of these are also important for health.  Good sources of Lutein include:

    • Kale and other leafy greens
    • Peas
    • Egg Yolks
    • Carrots (Lutein in cooked carrots is more accessible)
    • Other Yellow vegetables

If you are following the Paleo diet and eating lots of vegetables you are probably doing well in this department.  If you are a vegetarian and eating lots of different vegetables you are probably doing well too.

Yao Y, Qiu GH, Wu XW, Cai ZY, Xu S, Liang XQ.  Lutein supplementation improves visual performance in Chinese drivers: 1-year randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.  Nutrition.  29 (7-8): 958-964.

Loughman J, Akkali MC, Beatty S, Scanlon G, Davison PA, O’Dwyer V, Cantwell T, Major P, Stack J, & Nolan JM (2010). The relationship between macular pigment and visual performance. Vision research, 50 (13), 1249-56 PMID: 20394766

 

Feeney J, Finucane C, Savva GM, Cronin H, Beatty S, Nolan JM, & Kenny RA (2013). Low macular pigment optical density is associated with lower cognitive performance in a large, population-based sample of older adults. Neurobiology of aging, 34 (11), 2449-56 PMID: 23769396

Celiac Disease and Children

Celiac Disease: protecting children from Celiac and Gluten Intolerance

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a problem of auto-immunity and exposure to the plant protein gluten.  It can be a rough road, especially for children.  They can’t eat the same things other children eat.  Other kids and even adults may not understand that something that seems so normal to them, like a cupcake or sandwich, can cause serious pain and discomfort for a celiac child.

two children without celiac disease
Two children enjoy a Box lunch at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.

Celiac disease is more common in people of European descent and probably has a strong genetic component.  However, there are other factors involved as well.  An individual may be predisposed to developing Celiac disease but not get it unless a combination of other factors line up as well.

Can Celiac Disease be Prevented?

One thing I had written about in an earlier post was the possibility that gut flora (microbial species and ratios of species) might influence the development of Celiac disease.  Intestinal flora in infants will be dependent on whether the infant was born by C-section and on whether he or she was breast fed or bottle fed.  The infant digestive system is not completely developed at birth.  It is suited for breast milk.  New research published this month (October 2012) supports a role for bacterial ecology in Celiac Disease.

Delaying introduction of wheat until the infant reaches 12 months of age appears to reduce risk that a genetically at-risk child will develop the disease.  Children with a genetic predisposition to Celiacs may take longer to develop an intestinal ecology favorable for wheat (and possibly other foods) than other children.  The study was a joint project of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Universita` Politecnica delle Marche, in Ancona, Italy.

Should I let my children eat gluten?

The answer to that seems to be yes.  Not exposing your children to gluten may make them more likely to develop celiac disease.A Systematic Review of infant feeding practices and incidence of Celiac (Coelicac) disease has also been published very recently (Szajewska et al. 2012).  The authors suggest that the best time to introduce wheat into an infant’s diet is between 4 and 7 months, and that it should be done while the child is still breastfeeding.   Introducing wheat before a child is under 4 months increases the likelihood that he or she will develop Celiac Disease.  Likewise, delaying introduction until a child is older than seven months may also increase risk of Celiac’s.

Gluten-free diets, such as the Paleo Diet, are very popular right now, especially within the CrossFit community.  If you are wondering “what is CrossFit?” here is a link.  If you are wondering “what is the paleo diet?” try this link.  Do parents who raise their non-celiac children on gluten free diets put them at risk of developing celiac disease? That could be the case.  This website, “Growing Up Gluten Free” is written and maintained by a child with celiac disease.  It helped me understand what life is like for kids like her.

There are lots of unknowns still.  The Szajewska paper does a great job of defining what they are.  

Sellitto M, Bai G, Serena G, Fricke WF, Sturgeon C, Gajer P, White JR, Koenig SS, Sakamoto J, Boothe D, Gicquelais R, Kryszak D, Puppa E, Catassi C, Ravel J, & Fasano A (2012). Proof of concept of microbiome-metabolome analysis and delayed gluten exposure on celiac disease autoimmunity in genetically at-risk infants. PloS one, 7 (3) PMID: 22432018

Szajewska H, Chmielewska A, Pieścik-Lech M, Ivarsson A, Kolacek S, Koletzko S, Mearin ML, Shamir R, Auricchio R, Troncone R, & PREVENTCD Study Group (2012). Systematic review: early infant feeding and the prevention of coeliac disease. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 36 (7), 607-18 PMID: 22905651

Foods with iodine. Father and daughter after crossfit workout.

The Paleo Diet and Iodine Deficiency: are Paleo Diet followers getting enough food with iodine?

Foods with iodine and the Paleo Diet.

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The Paleo Diet is very popular among CrossFit participants and is often advocated by CrossFit Boxes (gyms).  It consists of basically meat, vegetables and some fruit and excludes grains, beans, dairy products and limits or excludes salt.   This may pose a nutritional risk.  Dairy and iodized salt are the major sources of iodine in the US.  Since the Paleo Diet reduces foods with iodine, people following the Paleo Diet may end up  limiting their iodine intake.

CrossFit and iodine.

Most iodine is lost in urine.  New research indicates that people who drink a lot of water may excrete more iodine than other people.  Iodine may also be lost in sweat.  There’s probably no need to talk about Crossfit and sweat.

Why is iodine important?

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Iodine is an essential nutrient.  The major sources of iodine in the US are iodized salt and milk and sometimes bread (depends on how it was made).  Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones.  In adults thyroid hormones are needed to maintain metabolic rate.  Without enough iodine people cannot make enough thyroid hormone.  Without enough thyroid hormone people become hypothyroid.  Signs are low energy, slow, often gain weight, and develop poor blood lipid profiles which can lead to cardiovascular disease.  Iodine is especially important for pregnant women because thyroid hormones are also important for fetal brain development. Children whose mothers did not have enough iodine can end up with a lowered IQ and behavioral problems.  It is very important that pregnant women eat foods with iodine.  Breastfeeding women should also consume foods with iodine.

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What are some foods with iodine other than salt and dairy?

Milk and iodized salt are the major sources of iodine for most people in the US.  If you are following the paleo diet, alternative foods with iodine are sea vegetables (seaweeds, kelp) and sea food.  Some multi-vitamins also contain iodine, but many do not.   If you rely on vitamin supplements check the label and see if they contain iodine.  Watch what you buy.   If you use salt, check the label and see if it contains iodine.  Sea Salt, by the way, will not contain iodine unless the manufacturer added it.  The iodine in sea water is lost during the process of evaporating it down to salt.   Lastly, and as always, don’t go completely overboard and take more than you need. Total intake for a day should be about 120 to 150 micrograms.  If you are pregnant or nursing you may need more.  But don’t take too much.  Taking too much increases your risk of harming your thyroid and creating more problems.

Johner SA, Shi L, & Remer T (2010). Higher urine volume results in additional renal iodine loss. Thyroid : official journal of the American Thyroid Association, 20 (12), 1391-7 PMID: 21034227

Zoeller RT, & Rovet J (2004). Timing of thyroid hormone action in the developing brain: clinical observations and experimental findings. Journal of neuroendocrinology, 16 (10), 809-18 PMID: 15500540

Crossfit Masters Athlete at Crossfit Seven in Fort Worth. Quinoa and Paleo

The Paleo Diet: Quinoa, protein, anti-oxidants and saponins.

What is Quinoa and is Quinoa Paleo (OK for the paleo diet?)

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Quinoa is (are?) seeds from a broad-leaf plant.  Grains are from grasses.  When cooked quinoa tastes mildly like toasted broccoli.  This is not as bad as it sounds.  Quinoa is grain-like and can be used in place of rice or pasta.  It is good for breakfast with nuts and cinnamon.   Quinoa does not contain Gluten.  So if you have celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity you should be fine with Quinoa.

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Is Quinoa Paleo?

If you are trying to follow the Paleo diet, quinoa should be fine too. Quinoa commonly contains many important minerals, including selenium.  Selenium is an important anti-oxidant and is protective against some cancers.  It is also important for synthesis of testosterone, among other things.
Quinoa has a number of other benefits. Quinoa provides more anti-oxidants and protein than wheat.  The anti-oxidants in quinoa appear to be more bio-available than anti-oxidants from wheat.  Bio-available simply means that the nutrients can be extracted by the digestive system and used.  Somethings are present in foods, but cannot be used.   Things that are not bio-available are dumped.   Other benefits of quinoa include an omega 6:Omega 3 ratio of about 6:1, and high vitamin E and protein content (~15%).  It also has a low glycemic index.

What about Saponins? Are Saponins Dangerous?

Some people in the CrossFit and the Paleo communities believe saponins are dangerous and will damage the intestines.   Quinoa does contain saponins. Followers of the paleo diet have placed quinoa on the forbidden list for this reason.  However, saponins are a class of chemical. There are many different saponins.  There are good ones and bad ones (Francis et al. 2002). Some saponins can damage cell membranes. However, others are beneficial.  Some saponins are protective and serve as anti-oxidants. The Saponin arjunolic acid is one of these.   This saponin has been proposed as a possible treatment for diabetes. P-coumaric acid, another saponin that is present in quinoa, may reduce risk of colon cancer. It is also an anti-oxidant. Like curcumin.  Saponins are also found in many other healthful foods such as vegetables and tea.

Some people think that increasing selenium intake will increase testosterone levels.  But, that is probably not true. You can read more about that here.

Francis G, Kerem Z, Makkar HPS, Becker K.  2002.  The biological action of saponins in animal systems: a review.  British Journal of Nutrition.  88(6): 587-605.

Laus MN, Gagliardi A, Soccio M, Flagella Z, Pastore D.  2012.  Antioxidant activity of free and bound compounds in Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.) seeds in comparison with durum wheat and emmer.  2012.  Journal of Food Science. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02923.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Alvarez-Jubete L, Arendt EK, & Gallagher E (2009). Nutritive value and chemical composition of pseudocereals as gluten-free ingredients. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 60 Suppl 4, 240-57 PMID: 19462323 Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Ferguson LR, Zhu ST, & Harris PJ (2005). Antioxidant and antigenotoxic effects of plant cell wall hydroxycinnamic acids in cultured HT-29 cells. Molecular nutrition & food research, 49 (6), 585-93 PMID: 15841493

Diet Paleo vs. Diet Junk Food: A short video on diets and economics

Diet Paleo vs. Diet Junk Food.

Diet Paleo? Our lady of the kettlebells shirt crossfit women

Diet Paleo or Diet Junk Food? Our Lady of the Kettlebells Shirt for Women

You can diet Paleo by adhering strictly to several popular diet books.  Or you can diet Paleo by eating whatever you imagine your forebears might have eaten.  For some of us that would have included a lot of tree bark in the early spring, the bounty of summer insects, nuts in the fall and winter, shellfish and an occasional bite of carrion, buffalo, or aurochs.  Whatever was available where you happened to be.  But what about now?  What determines what people eat when the variety is overwhelming?  Many of us do what is easiest and fastest.  Totally reasonable.  Many of us also choose what we are used to.  How our families ate.  And how the people around us eat.  As anyone who has suffered the pain of bringing your carefully fed, healthy child to kindergarten knows, there are powerful social forces at play in food choice.  What about simple economics?  Is a healthy diet too expensive for some people?

Diet Paleo vs. Diet Junk Food:  How do costs compare?

The video below was put together by Academic Earth.  Academic Earth is a website that has put together a lot of different resources for information and education.  They have links to online courses from many different universities.  They also have video lectures.  And other resources.
Created by AcademicEarth.org

Here is Academic Earth’s description of the video:
“According to Dr. James Hill, director of the Center of Human Nutrition at Colorado Health Sciences University, “Genes don’t make us obese. They allow us to be obese.” If our genes aren’t to blame for this rise in obesity, what is? Recent research suggests that socioeconomic class can impact our bodies as much as genetics, and may be a more accurate predictor for a variety of future health issues, including obesity. Check out this video to learn more about how American policies, like food subsidies, have had a direct role in driving our current obesity crisis.”
Diet Paleo or Diet Junk Food?

Holst, D. (2010). Hazelnut economy of early Holocene hunter–gatherers: a case study from Mesolithic Duvensee, northern Germany Journal of Archaeological Science, 37 (11), 2871-2880 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2010.06.028

Coconut oil and athletic performance

Coconut Oil 's Mythical Properties for Health, Nutrition and Performance

Coconut oil is an extra-ordinary food.

Coconut oil is an extraordinary food.  But what makes coconut oil special?  Coconut oil is a natural source of fat.  But what gives coconut oil its mythic properties as a perfect food?

Coconut oil and health nutrition and athletic performance.

Does coconut oil improve athletic performance and increase longevity? No one knows for absolutely sure that it doesn’t.

Coconut oil as a nutrient

Coconut oil is rich in medium chain saturated fat.  There is some evidence that medium chain saturated fatty acids may help with weight loss, possibly by suppressing appetite. Some saturated fat in the diet is probably OK.  Maybe we need some saturated fat in our diets to be healthy.  Who knows?  Unfortunately or not, research continues to show that diets high in saturated fat are unhealthy.  Research also continues to show that diets that contain more unsaturated fats relative to saturated fats are associated with better health outcomes.

Coconut oil and athletic performance

A well-cited article has been referenced to support the idea that coconut oil improves athletic performance.  The study compared cyclists who drank either a glucose containing beverage or a glucose and medium chain fatty acid containing beverage.  The study’s authors concluded that the medium chain fatty acid beverage impaired performance.  (They did not say that it helped).    The authors also concluded that the medium chain fatty acid beverage caused stomach cramps.  The authors suggested that the cramps may have been what caused poor performance.  More study would be needed to see if cramps are indeed the culprit.  This doesn’t mean that having medium chain saturated fatty acids circulating in your blood will provide you with an advantage.   In fact the body seems to prefer unsaturated fatty acids for fuel (Raclot 1997).

Coconut oil and CrossFit Masters

CrossFit Masters Athletes sometimes eat coconut oil. These guys are really good.

Coconut oil and longevity

If you Google “Coconut Oil” and Longevity you will find about a half a million hits saying that coconut oil improves longevity.  If you do the same research in Web of Knowledge (a database of scientific publications) you will find seven hits.  Five are about insect pest control.  One is about plants.  One is about coconut oil increasing atherosclerosis in rabbits.

Other wonderful properties of coconut oil

Coconut oil seems to work pretty well as a conditioner for cast iron cookware.  Coconut oil is made of mostly medium chain fatty acids.  Coconut oil has a high smoke point.  This means it can be used for frying with less risk of burning.  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature.  (As long as the room isn’t too warm.)  Coconut oil makes good popcorn that is light and doesn’t have a burnt oil taste to it. Coconut oil is good for frying for the same reasons it makes good popcorn.   Some people like to use coconut oil as a moisturizer.

What makes coconut oil so special?

Coconut oil has been called a perfect food because someone called it a perfect food.  And they must have called it perfect with convincing authority.  Free of doubt.  Pretty free of logic.  And pretty much free of evidence.   Dr. Oz may have been involved.  Almost all of us respond to authority.  Authorities provide us with answers to our questions.  The desire and drive for answers is a powerful inborn trait.  This quality may be uniquely human.  It has helped us make tremendous advances in understanding and controlling our world.   Answers may be treasured once we have them in hand.  Because they are so treasured we sometimes hold onto them longer than we should.  Sometimes we hold and treasure answers that are wrong.  Or that are simply expressions of someone else’s wishful thinking.

I would have written about this earlier, but so many people were telling me coconut oil was healthy that I didn’t question it for quite some time.  Go figure.
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Raclot T, Langin D, Lafontan M, & Groscolas R (1997). Selective release of human adipocyte fatty acids according to molecular structure. The Biochemical journal, 324 ( Pt 3), 911-5 PMID: 9210416

Jeukendrup AE, Thielen JJ, Wagenmakers AJ, Brouns F, & Saris WH (1998). Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 67 (3), 397-404 PMID: 9497182

Clegg, M. (2010). Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61 (7), 653-679 DOI: 10.3109/09637481003702114