Obesity – Adult vs Children

Common conditions, Food, Health, Lifestyle

Obesity

Obesity is the presence of excessive adipose tissue (fat) mass affecting the health status of any individual to an extent that it may lead to the risk of other serious health conditions. It is one of the most common global health problem replacing the more traditional public health issues.

Obesity in adults vs children

In order to classify an adult as obese, the body mass index (BMI) can be calculated that best classifies an individual according to his height and weight. 

BMI: It is the weight of the individuals body divided by the square of the body height ( expressed as kg/m2). The standard classification of an individual is given in table 1.

BMI good one

Note-BMI is not the best indicator for health as your excessive weight can also be due to healthy bulging muscles rather than fat storage. It does not give information on the fat storage distribution in the body especially in the waist region and cannot be used as a predictor for lifestyle changes and benefits.

Obesity in children  

In infants and children within 5 years of age, the obesity is determined according to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Child growth standards” and the WHO reference values for 5-19 years (body mass index-for-age).

WHO classification (birth to age 5)

  • Obese: Body mass index (BMI) > 3 standard deviations* above the WHO growth standard median*. 
  • Overweight: BMI > 2 standard deviations* above the WHO growth standard median*.

WHO classification (ages 5 to 19)

  • Obese: Body mass index (BMI) > 2 standard deviations* above the WHO growth standard median* (equivalent to BMI 30 kg/m2 at 19 years).
  • Overweight: BMI > 1 standard deviation* above the WHO growth standard median* (equivalent to BMI 25 kg/m2 at 19 years). 
*Growth Standard median: This is the standard of weight given for boys and girls by WHO according to the weight-for-length and weight-for-height of the children at a particular age.
*Standard Deviation: The weight difference of a child when compared to the mean (average) weight of the children belonging in the same age group.

Other classification for childhood obesity

  • Child is overweight: if BMI at or above the 85th percentile* and lower than the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
  • Child is Obese: if BMI is at or above the 95th percentile* for children of the same age and sex.
*Percentile: It is a term used in statistics to give a value of a percentage of a child’s weight compared to the weights of the children of the same age group. For example, a test score that is greater than or equal to 75% of the scores of people who took the test is said to be at the 75th percentile rank.

Measuring Body fat in Adults

Waist Circumference: This method measures excessive fat around the waist and can be used as an additional measure in people who are obese or pre-obese according to the BMI.

For men, a waist circumference no more than 94cm and for women no more than 80cm is considered a safe range. Beyond which, one can develop obesity-related health problems.

Factors that lead to obesity

Genetic factors: The risk of obesity can be more if one or both parents are obese. This relationship of genes and obesity due to the environment and eating habits.

Age: With age, there can be a decrease in the metabolism of the body and loss of muscle mass. If physical inactivity ensues, coupled with bad eating habits, this can easily increase their ability to store fat in the body. Sometimes hormonal changescan also play a role leading to obesity. 

Gender differences: Women tend to gain weight during pregnancy due to hormonal changes.  Hormonal changes including estrogen, progesterone hormones can lead to weight gain. Imbalances in these hormones can also trigger insulin resistance, which in turn, leads to fat storage. In Men, imbalances in testosterone hormone can lead to weight gain. In general, it is observed that women are more at risk of weight gain compared to men also due to lifestyle differences.

Lifestyle:

  • Physical activity: With improvements in modern technology and conveniences, there is an increasing lack of physical activity. 
  • Food habits: Consuming foods with excessive fat, sugar and calorific foods. Increased snacking and overeating can lead to excessive fat storage.
  • Stress and lack of sleep: Both stress and lack of sleep can slow the body’s metabolism. Eating late at night can cause indigestion and leads to fat storage. 
  • Socio-Economic Status: Lack of resources, lack of access to healthy foods, unable to afford healthy foods or improper cooking habits, eating out too often can all lead to obesity.  
  • Side effects of medications: Certain pain medication, corticosteroids, antidepressants, thyroid medications taken by people with thyroid problems and other medicines can slow down metabolism and lead to fat storage. 
  • Known Medical Problem: Arthritis in the lower limb causing pain on weight bearing can reduce physical activity that leads to increasing fat storage.

Diseases such as stroke, kidney disease, Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome and many others can prevent the person from engaging into physical activities due to pain or muscle/joint problems etc.  

Consequences of Obesity

obesity problems

Metabolic problems: 

The major metabolic risk factors resulting from obesity are

  • An increase in the total cholesterol concentrations especially triacylglycerol concentrations, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) concentrations.
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes: Insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.

All this may lead to Metabolic syndrome that describes a group of risk factors that can increase the risk of developing a heart condition. 

Diabetes: Obesity can lead to deficiencies in sex-specific steroid hormones (estrogen, progestin etc) that causes insulin resistance and a decrease in glucose metabolism. 

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD): Metabolic syndrome and diabetes can lead to atherosclerosis and blocking of the major arteries of the heart leading to a heart condition.

Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis (OA) is an inflammatory condition that can be caused by obesity. Excessive weight gain can lead to wear-and-tear of the cartilage and bone leading to inflammatory joints. Other reasons underlying the relationship between obesity and osteoarthritis can be metabolic changes associated with increased fat storage. 

Pulmonary disease: Excessive weight gain in the upper body can increases breathlessness that will lead to CO2 retained in the body and a mismatch in the ventilation and blood flow that further worsens the respiratory system.

Hypertension: The exact cause is unknown, however, due to weight gain there is an increase in resistance to blood flow to and from the extremities. Increases in body mass index (BMI) can put an individual at a higher risk of developing hypertension. 

Gallbladder disease: Obesity is associated with increased secretion of cholesterol in the gallbladder that increases the risk of gallstones particularly cholesterol gallstones.

Hormonal disturbances: Increased obesity in women leads to increased male hormone (testosterone) production leading to hormonal imbalances. Upper body obesity is associated with an increase in testosterone that may be a major cause of problems related to menstruation. Obese men can also get hormonal problems that lead to erectile dysfunction. Childhood obesity can cause early puberty and hormonal problems later in adulthood.

Some forms of cancer:  There is an increased risk of growth of cancer cells in various body tissue among obese people. 

Fatty liver: Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which fat storage is excessive in the liver that can cause inflammation of the liver tissue and scarring(Cirrhosis).

Various psychological problems: There has been increased links of obesity with depression and mood problems possibly due to underlying hormonal problems or other conditions.

Prevention and Treatment 

  • Realistic healthy weight loss goal

Comprehensive lifestyle changes: 

  • Dietary changes: Avoid calorific or sugary foods. Developing meal plans to track what you consume. Seeking advice from a specialist to know what nutrients you are lacking or how to go about the changes. 
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Exercise: 3-4 times per week for 30 minutes each. 
  • Group support: Joining a weight loss group can help psychologically and improve motivational level toward achieving your goals.
  • Relaxation and stress management

Adherence to a weight loss program is important to bring about changes and to prevent health problems due to obesity. For further detailed assessment and treatment, it is best to consult an expert for individualized weight loss programs.

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The Controversy about Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).

Common conditions, Food, Health, Lifestyle

CRS

In the food industry, great interest has been garnered over the use of a particular ingredient which has caused great controversy overtime. That ingredient is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). It’s often used as a flavour enhancer. Although additives can improve the taste of many foods, it does carry a threat of causing allergies, food intolerance and even certain conditions among some individuals. 

What exactly is MSG?

MSG is a crystallised water-soluble kind of sodium salt made up of the amino acid “glutamate”.

Glutamate is present in nature both in its free form and usually bound to peptides and proteins. The free form is used as additive and is responsible for the flavour enhancing properties. The bound form does not have any effect on taste and is considered an excitatory neurotransmitter (the ones that keep you alert and awake) as they mediate many signals in the brain and is involved in normal brain function such as cognition, memory and learning. 

Commercially, MSG is made by fermenting molasses, sugarcane, corn sugar or starch. MSG can also be obtained from natural protein-rich foods such as seaweeds. 

How does MSG work?

There are glutamate receptors present in many parts of our body like the brain, tongue and other peripheral tissues.  The MSG used in food stimulates the glutamate receptors of the tongue to give a “meat-like” or “umami” taste to foods. 

MSG – Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS)

MSG consumption has been linked to the term “chinese restaurant syndrome” since 1968. This syndrome is caused due to body’s intolerance to MSG. Although the use of MSG in chinese food is well known, other cuisines, processed foods and many fast foods also contain it. 

It is still considered as a common type of food intolerance that may possibly affect many individuals.  

Who can be more susceptible to MSG Symptom complex?

  • People with Respiratory problems like Asthma.
  • People with known immunity problems with histamine that causes allergies to additives.
  • People with intestinal problems like Coeliac disease.
  • People with a sensitive stomach to additives.

Signs and Symptoms of CRS

The type of allergic reaction, severity and frequency of symptoms can vary from person to person. Sometimes multiple symptoms can occur at the same time.

  • Neurological system:  anxiety or panic attacks, blurred vision, depression, dizziness, excessive sweating, fatigue, hyperactivity, irritable, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, mild to severe headaches, migraines, tiredness and leg cramps, numbness of the upper body, head and neck.
  • Skin problems: eczema, hives (urticaria), tissue swelling, tongue/ throat swelling, atopic dermatitis, facial flushing and burning, and angioedema (quick swelling of tissue under the skin).
  • Gut related problems: bloating(gas trouble), burning mouth or tongue, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, mouth ulcers, nausea,  vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping and irritable bowel syndrome.
  •  Respiratory symptoms: wheeze, cough, blocked nose and sinuses, hay fever, sneezing, rhinitis (inflammation of mucosal membrane inside the nose), unstable asthma, and laryngeal oedema.

When should you seek medical care?

Mild symptoms usually subside without treatment, however if symptoms are severe such as excessive swelling of the throat and tongue, difficulty in breathing and raised heart rate. It is best to immediately seek medical care to prevent the complication of allergic shock which is also known as “Anaphylaxis”. It is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction with excessively severe symptoms associated with the MSG intolerance.

Diagnosis of MSG intolerance?

  • Medical evaluation (clinical assessment) can determine if the symptoms are not due to some other identifiable cause or disease process.
  • Heart rate and ECG-Electrocardiogram may be recorded to check the normal heart rhythm.  
  • Respiratory status will be checked for bronchospasm (narrowing of the airways).
  • Skin prick tests (or RAST) are used as a standard way of detecting allergen-specific IgE (a type of antibody produced in the body).

Prevention and treatment of MSG intolerance

Drinking water: Water can help flush out any allergens from the body especially MSG. It can reduce the impact and delay the occurrence of the allergic reaction. 

Elimination Diet: You can be put on a diet that excludes natural salicylates, amines and glutamate, as well as additives such as preservatives, colourings and MSG. This is to see if your symptoms improve with time.

Medication: Medical care can involve the use of prescribed medications that can help reduce the symptoms of allergic reaction.

Although, a reasonable amounts of such foods can be eaten among mild symptomatic individuals. It is best to avoid it as much as possible to prevent further complications.   

Alcohol Flush Reaction – Why does it happen?

Common conditions, Food, Lifestyle

drinks

Many people experience a prompt reddening on their face after few drinks of alcohol. It is called “Alcohol flush reaction” and is also known as “Asian flush syndrome” due to its greater prevalence among Asians. The reaction is often considered to be a sign of natural body protection mechanism from excessive drinking. What might seem like an unexpected natural reaction is, in fact, a sign of alcohol intolerance. An associated risk factor to many health conditions.

Alcohol tolerance vs Intolerance

Alcohol tolerance is the ability of the body to metabolize alcohol and reduce its concentration in the blood. When the body and the brain are subjected to alcohol, it activates the liver to produce large amounts of liver enzymes for the breakdown of alcohol to flush out any toxic products of alcohol out of the body.

Alcohol intolerance is the inability of the liver to break down alcohol. It is related to a genetic disorder of aldehyde dehydrogenase gene (ALD­H2) that is responsible for normal functioning of the liver enzymes. Due to its absence, a toxic by-product of alcohol called ac­etalde­hyde builds up in the blood which causes intolerance.

Acetaldehyde in the blood triggers Alcohol flush reaction. It also releases a chemical called histamine in the body that causes inflammation and aids allergic reaction.  

Signs and Symptoms of high levels of blood acetaldehyde

  • Redness and flushing

One of the earliest reaction of Alcohol flush involves a persistently red face (refer Fig 1) due to enlarged blood vessels. This may also be seen on the chest and neck region.

before and after alcohol

Fig 1. Alcohol Flush Reaction

  • Palpitations

Acetaldehyde increases palpitation which is a sensation within the chest that brings awareness of an irregular or racing heartbeats.

  • Increased heart rate

An increase in heart rate is seen with increased levels of acetaldehyde. It causes the blood vessels to dilate, making the heart pump harder and faster for the blood to flow through relaxed blood vessels. 

  • Low blood pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in the circulatory system. Due to the alcohol reaction, the heart beats faster pumping out less volume of blood and dropping the blood pressure. One may feel light headed and dizzy which can get severe.

  • Extreme drowsiness and headaches

The direct cause is unknown, however, it is believed that due to the expansion of the blood vessels in the brain, histamine release and low blood pressure one may get extreme drowsiness and headaches. 

  • Pruritus (Itching)

This is an unpleasant sensation that provokes the desire to itch or scratch. This happens due to irritated nerve endings on the skin caused by histamine released by the acetaldehyde levels in the blood.

  • Nausea

A feeling of vomiting starts as the acetaldehyde levels in the body irritate the stomach lining, leading to inflammation (gastritis). 

  • Alcohol-induced asthma

Increased levels of acetaldehyde and histamine release in the body can trigger breathlessness due to constriction of the airway. It is often reported to appear after approximately 30 minutes post-alcohol consumption.

Risk Factors associated with people who get Alcohol Flush Reaction 

  • Esophageal Cancer

 Acetaldehyde in the blood is known to interfere with the DNA synthesis and repair mechanism and increases the risk of cancer by producing free radicals that are known to destroy healthy cells.

  • Alzheimer’s disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and affects brain function. Research has claimed that genetic disorder related to the aldehyde enzyme also interact with the brain cells which are believed to be a risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease. 

  • Heart disease

 Continual drinking of alcohol among people with Alcohol flush reaction will affect the functioning of the heart and may lead to the risk of heart problems.

  • Liver disease 

Acetaldehyde causes oxygen deficits in the liver (hypoxia), including formation of harmful compounds that damage the cells of the liver leading to a liver disease.

Are you sensitive to alcohol or is it something else? 

If you are only experiencing this reaction with specific alcohol beverages. This may suggest that it is not alcohol intolerance but could be due to other ingredients involved that triggered the reaction. 

What can be done about the Alcohol flush reaction?

There is medication available to help with the flush. However, these drugs can only curb the redness but will not be able to break down the acetaldehyde levels in the body. Thus, individuals who drink often and use drugs to suppress the flushing will still be at risk of developing a health problems.

The best way to prevent alcohol flush reaction and minimise health issues is by not drinking alcohol at all. This may however be an unrealistic solution to many especially during social events.

There are few things one could consider that may help reduce the alcohol flush reaction:

  • Eating before alcohol consumption.
  • Having drinks with lower alcohol content.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic drinks.

Like all things, always consume alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is a depressant, but it’s also an indirect stimulant. Never drink and drive. Medication can help mask the reaction but if you feel that it’s more than just a flush, always seek immediate medical attention.

The ‘Wee’ problem about Asparagus

Food, Lifestyle

ASPARAGUS

The asparagus is a tall plant belonging to the lily family and is cultivated for its edible shoots. The tender young shoots of this plant are eaten as a vegetable and is well known for its health benefits.  However, for some, there can be a distinct odor in their urine after consuming this vegetable. 

Brief History of Asparagus cultivation

Asparagus was first known in ancient greek mythology, where the descendants of the greatest greek hero “Theseus” of Athens planted and protected asparagus by law and out of respect for the ancestors. Formal cultivation of asparagus came into being in Roman times (234-149 B.C). It became more popular in Europe, when John Gerard in 1597 called the plant “asparagi ” which he translated to signify “the first spring or sprout of every plant, especially when it be tender”.

Asparagus and Odorous Urine

The phenomenon of asparagus causing odorous urine was first documented in the 18th century. French botanist, Louis Lémery, reported a link in its ingestion causing the production of odorous urine. John Arbuthnot, a Scottish mathematician and physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book on foods first published in 1731, that asparagus affected the urine with the distinct smell (especially if eaten when they are white). French novelist, critic and essayist Marcel Proust described his experience with asparagus to be like a Shakespeare’s fairy-tale story that transforms his chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.

What causes the “Asparagus Wee Phenomenon” 

With the use of soil fertilizers containing sulfur, it is believed that the sulfate components from the soil must have been absorbed by the asparagus plant. It was believed that upon digestion, this produces an odor in the urine. But why is it that other foods like garlic, parsley, cabbage and egg that contain sulfur do not create the same odor in the urine? This is as the asparagus has a unique component of sulfur that even after digestion, stays present in the urine.

Odor producing component in Asparagus

A sulfur derived asparagusic acid (1,2-dithiolane-4-carboxylic acid) is believed to be the main component that produces the odor. This acid is known to be deadly to insects and has a higher concentration in young asparagus. Through digestion, asparagusic acid is converted to methanethiol and other dimethyl components that causes the smell in wee.

Detectors and Non-detectors

The asparagus urine phenomenon does not affect all asparagus-eaters! 

Research tells us that although every asparagus-eater produce smelly components in their urine, there is a variation in:

1. the amount of smelly components one produces.

2. the ability of one’s nose to detect the sense.

There is no known scientific evidence of any clinical problems associated with the production or detection of the asparagus odor.

Despite this, the asparagus has many health benefits that make it one of the most healthy vegetables.

Benefits of Eating Asparagus 

  • Anti-inflammatory action

Asparagus contains a good amount of beacasparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin, diosgenin and many flavonoids that have been reported to reduce inflammation in the body. It will help in reducing chronic inflammation which is one of the causes for many conditions of heart, liver, joint etc. 

  • Anti-diabetic

The extracts from asparagus have amino acid asparagine and chromium that improves insulin secretion which is responsible for glucose metabolism in the blood. 

  • Anti-oxidant 

Asparagus is rich in glutathione, a detoxifying agent that can help destroy carcinogens. 

  • Rich source of Vitamin B 

Asparagus has a rich content of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 ) that helps to turn the food we eat into energy, it metabolizes sugars and starches, decrease in fatigue. It is essential for healthy skin, hair, and nails. It helps in cell regeneration that help repair and constant renewal of the skin. Vitamin B12 helps protect against unhealthy cholesterol levels, stroke, high blood pressure and cancer.

  • Aid digestion

Asparagus contains a substance called “inulin” that acts as a prebiotic which is used by good bacteria to improve nutrient absorption. Also, the vegetable has a high fiber content that helps get food through the gut more smoothly. Therefore, can provide relief from digestive discomfort.

  • Improves brain function

The folate in asparagus works with the vitamin B12 to helps cognitive function which mean it improves the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.  

  • Diuretic 

The diuretic and alkaline properties of asparagus help flush out the kidneys and eliminate water retention in the body. It contains a substance called asparagine that makes it the remedy of choice for urinary tract problems.

Considering the health benefits of asparagus, it would be wise to ignore the odorous urine and still consume the vegetable. If the smell is an issue, try eating older asparagus instead of young shoots. Though older asparagus have a woodier stem and will need that extra bit of peeling, its sulfate content is much lower yet they have the same amount of nutrients as the younger ones. 

The Truth about Coconut Water

Food, Lifestyle

Benefits of drinking coconut

We are all familiar with the uses of the coconut fruit from coconut water to other derived ingredients like coconut oil and coconut milk. Coconut water being the latest health food fad.

From unmarketable by-product to the most popular drink

Traditionally, coconuts were harvested for their meat or white coconut kernel to extract coconut oil. Because fresh coconut water is quick to decompose once the coconut is cut, the water was often discarded as an unmarketable by-product. With developments in technology, coconut water is now being preserved in cans or tetra packs and exported to international markets.

Coconut water- Why so Popular?

Fresh coconut (Cocos nucifera L) water is a clear, sterile, colourless and naturally flavoured drink.

Its main constituents (depending on fruit maturity levels) are:

  • Water- H2O
  • Sodium- Na
  • Potassium- K
  • Chlorine- Cl
  • Sulphur- S
  • Calcium- Ca
  • Magnesium- Mg
  • Phosphorus- P
  • Manganese- Mn
  • Aluminium- Al
  • Zinc- Zn
  • Iron- Fe
  • Copper- Cu

Other traces of elements such as selenium, boron, molybdenum are also found. All of these minerals are in the form of electrolytes, which means it can be easily absorbed by the human body.

It is also a rich source of essential amino acids (lysine, histidine, tyrosine, L-arginine and tryptophan), fatty acids, glucose, fructose, cellulose, sucrose, and organic acids such as tartaric, citric and malic acids. The contents in the coconut water is similar to the body fluid plasma. In WWII, coconut water was used as intravenous fluid hydration and also as resuscitation fluid. In other words, coconut water was infused directly into the veins to improve the fluid balance in the body. Most of the health benefits attributed to coconut water can be traced to its amazingly rich mineral content.

Lets look at the health benefits of coconut water

  • Low-fat Low-sugar drink

Compared to other readily available soda drinks that are high in chemicals (artificial colour and flavouring agents), fat and sugar, coconut water is relatively low in fat and sugar. It contains only a fifth of the sugar that you get from an equal amount of fresh grape or apple juice. Even though it has a low sugar content, it has a mildly sweet and delicate flavour. Making it a healthier alternative to most retail drinks.

  • Prevent heat stroke

heat stroke and coconut

Dehydration and heat stroke is very common in hot weather. It has been shown that coconut water is better than normal water and even fruit juices when it comes to such conditions. This is because, coconut water  re-hydrates the body by providing essential minerals that correct the electrolyte balance in the body.

  • Nature’s sports drink

The natural electrolyte content in coconut water is better than the chemical electrolyte additives in the commercial sports drinks. The potassium content in coconut water will help you get rid of any muscle cramps and replenish the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout.

sports drinks

  • Treatment for severe dehydration

Layout 2

Coconut water’s unique mineral composition is able to rehydrate the body and give it the necessary nutrients to recover. In addition, coconut water has a rich enzyme system which has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea, stomach flu as well as urinary stone dissolution.

  • Good heart, nerve and muscle functioning

Our body has the inherent ability to provide the nutrient supply for the functioning of various body parts. Coconut water has a rich content of potassium and some amount of sodium that plays a role in the normal bodily function.

Sodium K pump

Sodium is the principal ion in the fluid outside of cells while potassium is the principal ion in the fluid inside of cells. The concentration differences between potassium and sodium across cell membranes create an electrochemical difference known as the membrane potential. The membrane potential is the basis for any cell function. A large portion of energy in the body is focused at maintaining sodium/potassium concentration gradients and tight control of this cell membrane potential is critical for heart function, nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.

  • Controls Blood pressure (BP) and prevents heart disease

Doctor taking patient's blood pressure

High potassium content in coconut water can cause vasodilation in blood vessels and a significant improvement in endothelial cell (cells of the arteries wall) function. The walls of the arteries get dilated and improves blood flow. This will not only help reduce high BP but will also prevent any chances of atherosclerosis (Heart disease in which plaque develops in the arteries of the heart causing hardening and lack of blood flow).

  • Anti-aging effect

Coconut water contains a rich source of cytokinins which is a growth-regulating hormone. This aids in repairing cell damage and degeneration.

  • Treatment of Kidney Stones

Coconut water also helps to dissolve kidney stones by alkalizing the urine and acting as a natural diuretic. This means that drinking coconut water will increase urine production and flow.  Dilute alkaline urine has a lesser chance for crystal formation since most minerals get dissolved completely in alkaline urine.

  • Antioxidant effect

Amino acid L-arginine present in coconut water significantly reduces free radical damage. It reduces the oxidative damage to cells of our body, slowing down the aging process.

  • Hormonal effect

Coconut juice is also believed to contain phytoestrogen and other sex hormone-like substances which can be used in hormone replacement therapy. This can reduce the risk of dementia and aid wound healing in postmenopausal women.

Given its wide range of benefits, this drink has gained a huge following and widespread availability. While coconut water has its goodness, it’s always wise to have a balanced diet and consume all foods in moderation. When in doubt, always seek an expert for advice.

Refined Carbohydrates – Don’t blame the butter for what the bread did.

Food, Lifestyle

 Variety of uncooked pasta and vegetables

I start to get tired, I start to get headaches; my liver basically starts to fill up with fat because there’s so much fat and sugar in this food. My blood sugar skyrockets, my cholesterol goes up off the charts, my blood pressure becomes completely unmanageable. The doctors were like, ‘You have to stop!’

These were the words of Morgan Spurlock, the man who had MacDonalds everyday for a month for an experiment on a fast food diet.

Most experts recommend that carbohydrates (Carbs) should be about 50 to 55 percent of your total daily calories for maintaining good health. However, according to a study by American Journal of Epidemiology 2013, carbs that have been stripped of their nutritional value are as good as consuming cholesterol-rich foods, leading to life-threatening conditions.

There are two basic types of carbohydrates, simple and complex carbohydrates. The way we get it now – there are refined carbs (artificially made) and unrefined carbs (available in natural form).

Metabolism of Carbohydrates

Metabolism

All carbs eventually break down into glucose to provide energy for the body. The only difference is the time taken by different carbs to break down into glucose.

  • Simple and complex carbs (refined or unrefined). Both are broken down to glucose with a series of metabolic changes.
  • As blood glucose level rises, your pancreas produces insulin. The hormone that helps your body cells (muscles, brain) to absorb blood sugar for energy and some of the glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver.
  • As cells absorb blood sugar, glucose levels in the blood begin to fall. When this happens, the liver then starts releasing the already stored sugar.
  • This interplay of insulin from the pancreas and stored glycogen from the liver ensures that cells throughout the body and especially in the brain, have a steady supply of blood sugar.

Carbohydrates – Refined vs Unrefined

“Refining” is a process applied to both simple and complex carbs. Refined carbs have a longer shelf life and enhanced taste. In exchange, you lose the fiber, nutrients, water and other benefits of the food as compared to its unrefined (natural) state. Unfortunately, this process also concentrates the sugar content causing a spike in blood glucose levels when consumed.

Refined Sugar

It is available in various forms of sugar like glucose, fructose and sucrose (table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, jams, jellies, processed honey, etc). These are all simple carbs. They are small molecules and are quickly absorbed as glucose in the bloodstream.

sugar food

Refined grains

These are commonly used as refined flour to make processed foods like commercial breakfast cereals, bread, tortillas, and many junk foods that contains a lot of starch. When eaten, they are broken down into sugar by the digestive tract. They convert rapidly into simple sugars and have a similar or if not worse effect on your body as refined sugars.

Refined Carbs (both Simple and Complex Carbs)

The Health Promotion Board in Singapore recommends whole unrefined grains and to limit refined sugar intake to no more than 10%(8-11 tsp) of your daily dietary energy. Studies have also shown that processed carbohydrates may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, brain and heart problems, more than fats, because of its growing ill-effects.

Bad Effects of Refined Carbs

Pro-inflammation – “Slow fire rising within you”

  • Spiking blood glucose levels leads to increased  pro-inflammatory free radicals. Excess glucose and insulin in the blood causes inflammation of the cells of the blood vessels. In response to this, your body uses fat to be deposited around the inflamed cells causing the formation of atherosclerosis, increasing the risk of heart disease.

atherosclerosis

  • Excess glucose in your body is also stored in your liver by converting it into glycogen. Excessive sugar can fill your liver glycogen stores to its maximum capacity.  To compensate for the overload of glucose in your blood, your liver converts all the stored glycogen into fats causing the inflammatory process in your body.
  • Refined foods also elevate C-Reactive protein levels which will be identified by a blood test. It is an indication that there are high levels of inflammation in your body.
  • Excessive gluten consumption on the other hand not only causes inflammation of the blood vessels but also inflames your gut.

High Insulin Levels – “Are you at risk of getting diabetes?”

sugar diabetes

Glucose in the blood stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin. Excess glucose in the blood causes excess insulin secretion. As insulin’s role is to absorb and help store sugar in your blood, excess levels of insulin can drop blood sugar levels very quickly as it stores it rapidly. If blood sugar levels go down too fast, it can cause the body to crave for more sugar. But if you eat food that is too high in glucose again, it can create a vicious cycle as the blood sugar levels are never adequately balanced. If this glucose roller coaster ride goes on for months, it can have short term consequences on your mood and concentration. Long term exposure puts you at increased risk of type II diabetes. This form of diabetes means the body becomes insensitive to insulin and the excess sugar in the blood can lead to chronic inflammation of blood vessels, which in turn can lead to heart disease or other severe illnesses.

Leptin Resistance – “I always feel hungry in the night”  
 
SNACKING
 
Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat cells to give the body a feeling of ‘fullness’ or satisfaction. By feeling satisfied by the food we eat, we can avoid taking in excess food. If we lack leptin, it will make us hungry. This is the body’s mechanism to ensure we get the exact amount of energy we need.  If we ingest foods high in sugar, it interferes with leptin function and this means we can eat far more than our body needs and still not feel full. If we continue to eat foods high in sugars, the brain can become addicted at the same time and fail to get satisfied by the food.
 
Loss of Nutrition Reserves – “Sick and tired of being sick and tired?”
 
BEING TIRED

Your body needs essential nutrients from your food in order to metabolise sugar. Refined foods are of very low nutritional value so the body is unable to properly control and regulate sugar metabolism. Your body still has to obtain these nutrients from other sources, causing a depletion in your nutritional reserves making you feel tired.

Brain function – “Something’s not right”

EATING CHOCOLATE

Glucose rollercoaster rides puts the brain (mood, concentration, thinking) on a roller coaster ride as well. There has been studies showing links between refined sugar consumption to hyperactivity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, irritability, reduced performance in school, juvenile delinquency, mental illnesses like schizophrenia and even increased criminal behavior.

Gastro-intestinal disorders – “I feel bloated”

Fibre content is reduced in refined complex carbs, this affects the function of the gut causing unwanted side-effects like excessive production of gas. This gas causes discomfort, bloating and flatus in many people. Digestive disorders come from constipation – difficulty to have a normal bowel movement.

Obesity – “I eat when I’m hungry and I’m hungry all the time”

Fructose is associated with increased fat deposition, which results from bad effects on hormones associated with satiety. Insulin-induced low blood sugar will specifically increase appetite and hunger for more carbohydrates, especially those with sugar content. Diet high in sugar content may cause greater appetite and increased hunger leading to obesity. Sugar is effectively addictive for the brain.

Eating in moderation is key and always consult an expert about your nutritional concerns when in doubt.

Avoiding the Glucose Rollercoaster

Food, Geeky stuff, Lifestyle

Several types of white sugar - refined sugar and granulated suga

We are all aware that Glucose is a primary source of energy for the body. it requires no further digestion and is available in your blood. Carbohydrates (carbs) is one such food group that breaks down into glucose during digestion.

The type of carbs that you consume will determine the amount of glucose present in your blood. The Glycemic Index (GI) is one such indicator which scales from 0 to 100, telling you the glucose level in your blood. The lower the GI, the better the food is for your body during the energy conversion process. Foods rich in protein and fats usually don’t have a GI value. While they do cause an eventual increase in blood sugar level, the process is slow unlike carbs/sugars which can cause an immediate spike.

Generally, when eating high GI foods together with proteins and fats, it slows down the body’s ability to convert the sugar as quickly. Slower sugar conversion results in a lower blood sugar spike. What this means is, if you ingest a fast-absorbing protein like casein which is found in milk, even though you will increase overall sugar levels, you decrease the effect of insulin and delay excessive absorption of the sugars in your blood. This in essence lowers the GI load on your body.

GI Standard Values (GI Low- less than 55, GI High- above 70)

Most fruits, vegetables and whole wheat foods  that we consume are on the lower side, with values in the 30s and 40s. On the other higher side of the scale, potatoes rank way up in the 80s, and white bread falls in the 70s.

White Pasta vs White Bread – Both made from Refined flour

stk78768cor

Non-whole grain bread and pasta noodles both contain similar amounts of starch. Their starches are similarly composed of long chains of the simple sugar, glucose. The structure of bread allows more of the starch to be exposed to enzymes in our saliva and in our digestive tract. This greater exposure to enzymes allows more of the starch to be broken down into sugars giving white bread a higher GI value than white pasta. Effectively, both are still high on the GI value scale so moderate consumption will be recommended.

Insulin Insensitivity

The problem with ingesting foods with a high GI load over a prolonged time  can cause your body to become insensitive to a hormone called insulin. In the early stages (pre-diabetic) this can be reversible by making dietary and lifestyle changes. If no changes are made, and the person continues to eat high quantities of GI rich foods, it can lead to type II diabetes.

Know the GI but also the nutrient profile of your foods 

While a very high intake of GI rich foods should be avoided, you must remember that GI load does not measure nutritional intake. The body needs more than sugar for health and some foods while high in GI values, may have benefits that outweigh the disadvantages. Like brown rice, bananas and oats are all foods high in GI values, but they are also high in important minerals, vitamins and proteins essential for a healthy body. Balancing the benefits of reducing GI load while also making sure you get your full nutritional requirements is much more important. Portion size also plays an important role when it comes to such foods.

Much research have shown the benefits of low GI diet in weight loss, lowering the risk of diabetes and eliminating the sudden sugar rush and crashes. However, some studies have also shown no difference in hunger, satiety, or energy level after eating high- or low-GI foods. With research, the results of studies can’t necessarily be replicated and generalized for everyone but yes, for people who eat only high GI foods knowing its bad effects is a must.

Eating sensibly is the key!

healthy snacks

Everybody is unique with different metabolisms. Having said that, people’s metabolism also have different effects on blood glucose levels.  And most often, we eat foods in combinations of all different nutritional values. All we have to understand is that even if research trials have shown the benefits of low GI diets, in reality, it is best to only incorporate the knowledge rather than eliminating all high GI foods. That would be impractical and impossible.

Here are some GI values of the most commonly eaten foods.

Enjoy eating healthy and making healthy choices because what makes you feel better on the inside will show on the outside.

High-carbohydrate foods   Breakfast cereals   Fruit and fruit products   Vegetables  
White wheat bread 75 Cornflakes 81 Apple, raw 36 Potato, boiled 78
Whole wheat/whole meal bread 74 Wheat flake biscuits 69 Orange, raw 43 Potato, instant mash 87
Specialty grain bread 53 Porridge, rolled oats 55 Banana, raw 51 Potato, french fries 63
Unleavened wheat bread 70 Instant oat porridge 79 Pineapple, raw 59 Carrots, boiled 39
Wheat roti 62 Rice porridge/congee 78 Mango, raw 51 Sweet potato, boiled 63
Chapatti 52 Millet porridge 67 Watermelon, raw 76 Pumpkin, boiled 64
Corn tortilla 46 Muesli 57 Dates, raw 42 Plantain/green banana 55
White rice, boiled 73     Peaches, canned 43 Taro, boiled 53
Brown rice, boiled 68     Strawberry jam/jelly 49 Vegetable soup 48
Barley 28     Apple juice 41    
Sweet corn 52     Orange juice 50    
Spaghetti, white 49            
Spaghetti, whole meal 48            
Rice noodles 53            
Udon noodles 55            
Couscous 65            
Dairy products and alternatives   Legumes   Snack products   Sugars  
Milk, full fat 39 Chickpeas 28 Chocolate 40 Fructose 15
Milk, skim 37 Kidney beans 24 Popcorn 65 Sucrose 65
Ice cream 51 Lentils 32 Potato crisps 56 Glucose 103
Yogurt, fruit 41 Soya beans 16 Soft drink/soda 59 Honey 61
Soy milk 34     Rice crackers/crisps 87    
Rice milk 86