Nutritional ketosis and sugar alternatives

In the context of a low carbohydrate diet we do not use traditional sweeteners like sugar, fructose, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup etc., because their calories is 100% carbohydrates. In order to make something sweet we have to use alternative no or low carbohydrate sweeteners.

Human beings react strongly to anything that tastes sweet, regardless of its physiological effects. It is true for sugar as well as artificial or “natural” low calorie sweeteners. Despite being considered safe, many reports sides effects like gastrointestinal upsets, headaches, increase hunger or weight stall. Many use them liberally with no reported issues.

After testing many sugar alternative on the market, I have concluded the following:

  • When I started using artificial sweeteners, I thought it was the greatest invention ever. I started drinking diet soft drink, having sweet tea and baking low carbohydrate sweet dessert. The honeymoon lasted for months. Then, I started gaining weight on the same amount of food I was eating previously and I was feeling hungry all the time. It’s like my body figured it out: if it tasted like sugar, my body reacted like it was sugar. I also correlated drinking diet soft drink with headaches. I had to cut down.
  • I realized I was addicted to the sweetness and/or the sweeteners. After that, I stopped using all sweeteners.
  • After a long “detox” period, I started testing different sweetener on myself, parallel to doing research on what effects each one has on the body. At the same time I looked into their safety with long term usage.
  • Now, I don’t use alternative sweeteners everyday. When I use it, I use the smallest amount possible for the food to be palatable. I have noticed that salt cut bitterness (think unsweetened cocoa) and that vanilla and cinnamon enhance sweetness. I also like to use ginger, nutmeg and cayenne. We don’t need to use a ton to have the effect. Most of the time, the food doesn’t even taste like vanilla or cinnamon, but adding them definitely enhance the overall sweetness of the food.
  • The fewer sweeteners we use, the more sweetness we will be able to perceive.
  • I use naturally flavored sparkling water with no sugar or artificial sweeteners instead of diet soft drink and I find them even more satisfying.

I think I’m on the sensitive side of the spectrum and I have settled on a blend containing two or three of the following ingredients: inulin, erythriol, stevia. If it’s mixed with anything else, I don’t touch it. I have found that stevia has a strong after taste of licorice to me, which is not ideal but it is self-limiting. In a blend it’s subtle enough for me to enjoy the food but I don’t feel like overeating it either. I like the taste and health benefits of xylitol, but I tend to go overboard after I use it for a couple of days. If I really feel like having something closer to the taste of sugar, which happens rarely, I might use saccharin (pink packet) or sucralose (yellow packet) but I don’t use the blue packets.

When I want a dessert, I will take some berries with a drizzle of cream and when it’s hot I use frozen berries. I like fresh cranberries as a snack. I also gradually moved from 70% dark chocolate to 85-90%, now 70% is too sweet to me. I can have a couple of squares of 90% without going over my carbohydrate allotment for the day.

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Nutritional Ketosis Day 5

I did not experience any hunger today. It might be three things: my coconut chocolate during the day, a slightly heavier protein meal last night or I am getting close to being fully keto-adapted. For dinner tonight I’ll make sure I don’t get more than 70 g of protein in my meal and I’ll repeat the coconut oil chocolate to see what happen tomorrow. It is important to isolate different variables in order to customize our eating plan.

Sleep is amazing; I wake up energized, without an alarm, earlier than usual. I gain 1 to 2 hours in the morning, I don’t cook, eat or make dishes during the day; I have so much more time, it’s mind boggling (hopefully it’s not temporary!). As an added bonus, my clothes are a bit looser. Inflammation is slowly going down.

Today I had: 4 Tbs of coconut oil in the form of coconut chocolate. Dinner consisted of a lightly cooked wild sockeye salmon, olive oil garlic aioli, lemon juice, cream cheese and some romaine and 3 Tbs of olive oil as a side salad. Total for today is about 2000 delicious calories!

Yay! It's salmon season!

Yay! It’s salmon season!

A better way to take in Coconut oil

I didn’t feel like having straight coconut oil this morning, so I made chocolate with it! It was delicious.

Ingredients:

4 Tbs of Coconut oil or 3 Tbs of Coconut oil + 1 Tbs Butter (salted or unsalted)

2 Tbs of Unsweetened non-dutched Cocoa powder (can use dutched)

1/8 Tsp of cinnamon

3 drops of good quality vanilla extract

1/16 Tsp of salt (it’s about a pinch, you don’t need to add salt if you use salted butter)

A little bit of low-carb sweetener (I used a 2 g packet of stevia/erythritol/inulin mix)

Put the coconut oil in a small bowl. Warm it up 30 seconds in the microwave or place the small bowl containing the solid oil into a pie plate filled with hot water from the faucet. If the oil is already semi-liquid, skip this step. Make sure no water gets into the oil. Add all other ingredients, mix well to make sure there is no lump left. Put in some type of silicone mold or ice-cube tray. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. It’s easy to pop it out of the mold by turning it upside down over a plate or by using the tip of a knife. Keep it refrigerated until 5-15 minutes before eating. The texture reminds me of a chocolate truffle.

Enjoy!

my coco choco!

My coco choco!

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

Smoothies, the Breakfast of Champions

Life is busy, and sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to eat as well as we know we should. It’s recommended that we consume 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Most people consume far less. Fruits and vegetables are low in salt, high in vitamins and minerals, an excellent source of fiber, as well as being rich in nutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants.

It’s recommended that we consume between 20 and 30 grams of fiber each day. The average person consumes less than 10 grams. Fibers are known to lower cholesterol, help prevent diverticulis, IBS and constipation, keep you full longer on fewer calories and slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood.

What if you could get almost a whole day’s worth of nutrients from breakfast alone, without cooking, at a reasonable price and in only 5 minutes? This is possible, by changing your breakfast from whatever it currently is, to a Smoothie.

There are tons of good combos to be made, but make sure your smoothies have:

  • At least 20 to 30 grams of protein (quality protein powder (ideally without sugar or fructose but can be flavored ie vanilla can be a nice touch), some plain Greek yogurt, silken tofu or liquid pasteurized egg whites are good options. There are a lot of recipes online but most lack proteins, just add a neutral tasting protein to their suggested recipe)
  • A couple of handfuls of Greens (If you are new to this, start with spinach for the first couple of days/weeks. It is the less bitter of the greens. When you find an enjoyable basic recipe you can try to mix in kale, which is super healthy. I like putting a spring of parsley too.)
  • Some fats to increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and nutrients, like A, E and K (I like to put some avocado, coconut oil, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and / or nuts.
  • Fruits to increase palatability (we want to keep the total sugar low. A banana is good for texture and sugar, plus 1 or 2 other fruits like a green apple, ½ cup of pineapple or mango or a cup of berries should be enough. I also add ½ peeled lemon or lime for the extra vitamin C and to prevent oxidation of my drink. If you have sugar in your protein powder and / or in your almond / soy /coconut milk, be careful, it adds up)
  • Liquid to blend (Water, chilled green tea, milk (any type), pasteurized liquid egg whites, coconut water, silken tofu are all good options. Look for unsweetened types)
  • Enough sweetness to make it taste good and feel like a treat. If the basic drink isn’t sweet enough for your taste buds, you can put a bit of raw honey, stevia, xylitol, erythriol, a splash of orange or pineapple juice or a sweetener of your choice.
  • Enough calories to keep hunger at bay until lunch. 400 to 500 calories is a good target.

A basic recipe could be:

  • 1 banana (can be frozen)
  • 1-1 ½ cup of fruits (can be frozen)
  • 1 cup of spinach/kale
  • ½ peeled lemon
  • 12 almonds
  • 1 Tbsp of flaxseed meal
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • Protein power (pea, rice or whey)
  • 1 ½ cup of liquid

Throw everything in a blender, blend. Add some liquid to adjust consistency. Sweeten to taste, if needed.

450 calories, 15-18g of fibers, 35g of protein.

A good routine could be: get up make a nice cup of green tea, sip while getting ready.  Before leaving for work: throw everything in the blender, blend for 30-60 seconds, transfer in a big smoothie cup with a straw and slowly sip on your way to work!

Should we pass on Nuts?

Tasty, tasty macadamia nuts

Macadamia nuts

Nuts are fairly high in Linoleic Acid, an Omega-6 inflammatory precursor, with a few exceptions like macadamia nuts which are lower. A diet high in nuts, would presumably skew the Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratio toward pro-inflammatory processes.

But nuts should not make up the bulk of our diet. On the spectrum of inflammation and Omega-6, a small handful of raw or lightly roasted nuts is nothing compare to stir-frying or baking with corn, grapeseed, margarine or soybean oil.

Nuts are much more than Linoleic Acid. In fact, they are pretty complete nutritional source. They have a good balance of fat/carbohydrate + fiber/protein, have a low impact on blood sugar, are a great source of antioxidants like Vitamin E and important minerals like selenium and magnesium.  Actually, one of my favorite snack or dessert is a dozen of macadamia nuts, a square of dark chocolate and a green tea with a squeeze of lemon or coffee with a dash of cinnamon.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Voltaire.

There are definitely better choices in every food categories, but over-analyzing our food intake is a good way to stress ourselves and make every little dietary decision an internal struggle. We have to stay informed and vigilant, but we have to pick our battles. Using healthier options like good quality olive or coconut oil preparing our food or passing on the box of donuts at the office is worth the effort; stressing over the Omega-6 content of 10 almonds is not.

Pinch the Cinnamon, reap the rewards

Current research has confirmed that many common spices have medicinal properties. One of the most beneficial is also the most common: cinnamon.

There is evidence that cinnamon can be used to reduce the glycemic index of a meal up to 29%. It can lower blood glucose, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Cinnamaldehyde, an active organic compound in cinnamon, is an effective anti-microbial agent.

There is many ways it can help manage our blood sugar regulation; it can increase our glucose metabolism and has been found to have insulin-like effects. Cinnamon slows down gastric emptying to reduce the rise in blood sugar after meals, improving insulin sensitivity.  A bioflavonoid found in cinnamon called proanthocyanidin may alter the insulin-signaling activity in our fat cells.

Cinnamon also enhances our antioxidant defenses, improves digestion, reduce inflammation, and improve blood circulation.

Cinnamon Variaties - Robin

Cinnamon

A number of species are often sold as cinnamon:

  • Cinnamomum verum (True cinnamon, Sri Lanka cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon)
  • Cinnamomum cassia (Cassia or Chinese cinnamon)
  • Cinnamomum burmannii (Korintje, Padang Cassia, or Indonesian cinnamon)
  • Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon, Vietnamese cassia or Vietnamese cinnamon)

European health agencies have warned against consuming high amounts of cassia bark, because of its coumarin content. A teaspoon of Cassia cinnamon powder contains 5.8 to 12.1 mg of coumarin and the tolerable daily intake for humans is 0.1mg/kg body weight. Measurements of coumarin in Saigon cinnamon are much lower than those in Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon contains hardly any coumarin.

Saigon cinnamon is the most effective on blood sugar regulation and is low in coumarin. Cassia and Padang Cassia are acceptable choices; it is effective but has higher level of coumarin. Ceylon has a much smaller impact on blood sugar management and is the most expensive.

One possible way to avoid coumarin and still use Cassia is to steep it in a non-fat hot liquid. Coumarin is fat-soluble so we can extract the beneficial compounds this way and leave out the coumarin. Just use the liquid and throw away the stick.

Cassia or Padang Cassia are the most commonly found in American grocery stores and coffee shops, if you ask for cinnamon. Finding Saigon cinnamon needs a bit more research. Some grocery stores will carry it, make sure the label say: Saigon Cinnamon. Look for it in higher-end/whole food type grocery stores, usually it is offered in the organic spices section.  I buy mine at Costco. They carry a very good Kirkland signature Ground Saigon Cinnamon.  It is a staple product for them; I was able to find some at several of their locations in Canada, United States, Hawaii and Australia!  Plus it’s very affordable.  I also sometimes use the Cassia sticks in teas and coffees.

To get the maximal benefits out of the spice get fresh ground cinnamon or grind it yourself. The polyphenols and active ingredients oxidize overtime.

You don’t need to eat cinnamon at every meal to get the benefits; it’s the total amount per day that counts. 1 gram is the lowest effective dose. ½ – 1 teaspoon per day is a good number to aim for.

Chocolate, the new health food?

Cocoa and chocolate are associated with an impressive array of health benefits. These benefits are coming from flavanol catechin, which act as powerful antioxidants similar to those found in fruits and vegetables. One tablespoon of natural cocoa has only 20 calories and more antioxidant capacity than about 2 cups of green tea, 1/2 cup of blueberries and half a glass of red wine. Half of the fat in cocoa butter (the fat in a dark chocolate bar) is oleic acid which is the same healthy monounsaturated fat that is found in olive oil and half of its saturated fat called stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on cholesterol.

Yet, not all chocolates deliver the same health benefits. A milk chocolate bar may feed our craving for sweets, but that’s about all we’ll get out of it. In choosing a quality chocolate for the health benefits and pleasure, it’s the cocoa that matters. The higher the cocoa content, the more health benefit we’ll get from it.  We want at least a 70% cocoa content and we have to make sure the percent is on the label “Dark” can mean as low as 50%.

Other excellent options are unsweetened non-dutched cacao powder, for cooking or to make a cup of cocoa, and roasted cocoa nibs.

Processing can impact the anti-oxidant content of cocoa. The main method is called alkalization or dutching.  The Dutch process lowers acidity (makes it compatible for baking with baking powder instead of baking soda), increases solubility, enhances color, and remove some of the natural bitterness. Unfortunately, those bitter compounds are the beneficial flavanols that we are looking for.  About 60% and as much as 90% of natural cocoa original antioxidants are destroyed by dutching. Natural cacao will contain about 34.6 mg/g of flavanols, while dutch-processed will be between 13.8 mg/g and 3.9 mg/g.

Some of the best (taste and quality), readily available and more affordable brands would be Lint 70% to 90%, Giradelli 86%, Green and Black’s Dark 85% and Trader’s Joes Dark Chocolate Lover’s 85%. The list is not exhaustive, if you can find some Valhrona Noir Extra Amer 85% or Scharffen Berger 70% – 82% and you want to splurge, you won’t be disappointed. If you are new to dark chocolate, Lint 70% is where I would start. As your taste buds adjust, you can go up from there.

Shop smart and ENJOY slowly, every day, without guilt. You’re definitely doing something good for your health!

YUM!

YUM!

Understanding Omega-3 and Omega-6 pathways; how it could change your life.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids i.e. we cannot produce it in our bodies and have to obtain them from our diet.  Omegas are the building blocks for hormones, it control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as being components of cell membranes. In our modern diet, there is hardly any good source of omega-3 fatty acids, except wild fatty fish. By contrast, sources of omega-6 fatty acids are abundant.  Our diet, which is rich in commercially farmed animal product and polyunsaturated vegetable oils will causes an omega 3 deficiency.

The simplified pathway graph below will help us understand what is happening in the body.

Omega-3 and omega-6 simplified pathway.

Omega-3 and omega-6 simplified pathway.

The boxes named ALA and LA represent omega precursors.  Precursors are building blocks from vegetable origin.  The body cannot convert and use them without the help of the enzymes ∆6 and ∆5 desaturase.

Let’s say we eat a piece of multigrain toast that contains flax and corn.  Our body will make the enzymes and indiscriminately convert the ALA in EPA, then DHA and the LA in AA.  If we eat as much of one as the other, we will have approximately a 1:1 ratio output. We’ll be in a balance of anti-inflammatory vs. inflammatory factors i.e. life is good!

But if we put peanut butter on our toast, we get in trouble!  Peanuts have a 5162 : 1 LA to ALA ratio, meaning it will skew the balance in the favor of AA, resulting in inflammation in the body.

This is why we hear so much about the importance of taking fish oil.  It is speculated that a couple of capsule of fish oil a day would counteract the overwhelming amount of omega-6 and omega-6 precursor we consume in our modern diet.  But is that so?

EPA and DHA have distinct functions

The omegas in fish oil are directly available to us, because it has already been transformed fish, from ALA in phytoplankton, to EPA and DHA.

Simply put, EPA would be the antagonist of AA.  EPA counteracts the inflammatory action of AA found in commercially farmed beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and dairies, as well as the AA produced from excess LA found in most of our foods like vegetable oil, margarine, grains, nuts, seeds and so on.

DHA has more of a structural function,  is the most abundant fat in the brain and is a large contributor to brain growth. Oxidative damage that comes with age diminishes DHA concentrations in brain cell membrane, and is linked with its degenerescence.  The important benefits of fish oil on moods and attention disorders is often attributed to DHA.

AA is not a bad guy. We need AA, it is an essential component in membranes of our body’s cells, and it is abundant in the brain, the muscles and the liver.

The problem is that we do not have the right balance in our modern diet. To function optimally, we should keep a ratio of 1 : 1 O-3 to O-6.  If you have been eating more O-6 to O-3 in your diet (everybody raise their hand), a 2-3 : 1 ratio in favor of omega 3 would be more appropriate to correct the overabundance of omega-6 already in our body. It is pretty discouraging and almost unrealistic to achieve this, in the context of our modern life.

I’m prone to inflammation, like most PCOS sufferer.  I always make sure I make the best food choice for myself, under the circumstances I’m in.  Beside the obvious culprits like commercially produced polyunsaturated vegetable oils, it is important to tend toward foods with a favorable ratio, and remove/replace those with an extremely inflammatory ratio (replacing peanut butter with almond butter would be a good example).  Grass-fed animal products have a more favorable fatty acid profile than grain fed animals because of the different omega precursors in their foods (Grass = ALA, Grains = LA)

Beware of misinformation, even from reputable sources!  We always have to keep and mind that we are looking at for high sources of ALA/O-3 AND a favorable ratio.

Let’s take a closer look at 3 of the food richest in ALA:

Their fatty acid profiles for 1 oz (28 g):

Flax seeds                                            Chia seeds                                           Walnuts

Total Fat:      11.8 g                               Total Fat:           9 g                              Total Fat:     18.3 g
Omega-3:   6388 mg                            Omgega-3: 4915 mg                           Omega-3:   2542 mg
Omega-6:     962 mg                            Omega-6:   1620 mg                           Omega-6: 10666 mg (!)
Ratio:  4:1 = anti-inflammation       Ratio:  3:1 = anti-inflammation      Ratio:  1:4 = inflammation

Let’s look at salmon too! Their fatty acid profiles per 100 g:

Atlantic salmon (farmed)                                                Wild Alaskan Sockeye

Total Fat:    13.4 g                                                                Total Fat:     7.3 g
Omega-3:  2506 mg                                                            Omega-3:  1130 mg
Omega-6:    962 mg                                                            Omega-6:      80 mg
O3:O6 ratio:  2.5:1 = anti-inflammation = good!       O3:O6 ratio:  14:1 = anti-inflammation = best!

It’s definitely worth to take some time to do our research!

Once we have the tool to make better choices for ourselves, we can add helpful supplements, if we wish to.  I use a two prongs approach.

  1. Using Chia seeds, Flax seed meal and Flax seed oil as a source of ALA.
  1. Using good quality Fish oil as a source of EPA and DHA.

Most people agree on taking the Fish oil but some frown on flax. The argument is that fish oil is superior to flax because the ALA in flax need to be converted by our enzymes in EPA and DHA. So it make sense to think that  1 g of fish oil would be more potent than  1 g of flax oil. It sounds logical but I still take flax with my fish oil!

My logic behind using flax, besides being very beneficial for PCOS, is that I want to make sure I provide some ALA to compete with the LA for the attention of my enzymes ∆6 and ∆5 desaturase.  I speculate that if my intake of ALA is very low compare to my LA, my enzymes we’ll be busy pumping out a huge amount of AA into my system.  A higher intake of ALA would slow down the output of AA and augment the circulating O-3 in my system. Then I take my fish oil to balanced the rest of the AA.  Without getting too technical, I get noticeable benefits from each independently and I feel they even work better when they are taken together.

The key is always to balance one, with the other.

Fish oil, at the right dosage, does wonder on insulin sensitivity, mood and energy. If I’m traveling and I forget my supplement, there is a noticeable change it my mood within days.

Almost everybody can benefit from this key supplement!

Best sources of Omega-3 and its precursor

Best sources of Omega-3 and its precursor

*It is important to say that omega-3, being involved in so many functions in our bodies, can have some interaction with certain medications.*