Saturday, July 26, 2008

Addendum to my June 16, '08 blog "Why Does Alcohol Make You Hungry"

I love to learn! I wish I had had this insane craving to make sense of what I hear or to understand things down to their most basic elements as a child and young adult- I'd probably have been an engineer or a scientist of some sort if I was more focused . At any rate, I was with my husband at a seminar recently when I learned about the liver's role in glucose production, and immediately I realized that my June 16th blog was incomplete.

In addition to that information, there is another character in the mix, which totally completes the story. So here's the scenario: It's 3pm and you're on a virtually empty stomach - 3+ hours since you last ate. You either have "one of those days", or you're like me, with such an appreciation for the smooth tannic taste of a big, bold, chewy Cabernet blend or the refreshingly crisp-dry tingle of a Pinot Gris in the summer - a glass of vino sounds ever so appealing at this point because you've learned to make an experience out of a glass of wine and view of the Gulf of Mexico! At any rate, wine, specifically dry wine, is very low in carbohydrate. Why didn't I pick this up in my June 16 blog? Shoot, we might as well debate why carrots or radishes make us hungry when we eat them, versus a low carb wine!

Well, there is a science-based reason for this "phenomenon", and it's because of the liver's role in glucose production. Who knew? (I sure didn't, and I'm certainly not afraid to admit it!)

So, let's recount a bit: What I had known to date is that the pancreas (a small organ situated near the stomach & liver) secretes a hormone called insulin. Insulin is released based on the amount of glucose (converted from the foods we eat) in our bloodstream. The insulin hormone is the key that opens the muscle and fat cells to allow glucose to enter to be used for energy and/or stored (as glycogen) for later use. Insulin basically ushers glucose out of the bloodstream and into our bodies cells, both for energy, and to ensure there isn't too much glucose circulating in our blood, which in of itself causes bad things like kidney dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, arteriosclerosis and premature aging, to name a few. Got it? Me too!

The liver also produces and stores glucose, and releases glucose when you are not eating, or between meals when blood glucose levels may drop below what is normal for your body. The human body cannot go 8 hours without glucose. We (humans) were created with a bit of a compensation mechanism where the liver is able to produce small amounts of sustaining glucose throughout the day and night to keep enough glucose (energy) for survival in our bloodstream. Our brains need glucose to function, as well. When we start eating, the liver "gets the message" and stops producing insulin. It resumes when blood glucose levels are low.

If, however, we drink alcohol on an empty stomach when the liver is active producing glucose (among it's many other talents), the liver must stop its task of producing glucose to process the alcohol, as it is the only organ in the body that can break down the alcohol circulating in your blood and process it. Detoxification is one of the functions the liver performs for the body - and apparently it can't do two things at once!

So, we're on an empty stomach and our body is void of food and the liver is providing us with the glucose we need in our blood stream, which is preventing the dreaded low blood sugar symptoms - and all without our thinking twice about this process! I must digress:

It is amazing to me - all the things our bodies naturally do to try do to keep us healthy and functioning at an optimum level (like maternal instincts)! Yet a big part of our society disrespects the body and feeds it crap - overprocessed, unnatural crap - that makes it so difficult for our bodies to do their jobs. Imagine if we thought this way: the systems in our bodies are what keep us alive! These intricate systems help us feel good so we can go to school, perform our jobs well to make money to support our families, play softball with the buds, care for, play with and nurture our kids. Because of all our bodies do for us, in turn, we treat our bodies well. We consume whole foods from naturally occurring, earth made sources - without chemical or pesticides to reduce the natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids that we get from food; we give our bodies enough rest, and exercise our bodies to keep our bones and muscles strong and our joints fluid. What would happen if we all thought and acted this way? American might not be one of the fattest and self-inflicted disease ridden countries in the world - and I did say "one of the", as I know we're not the only one. End digression.

Our amazing bodies are just doing their jobs - keeping us feeling healthy and good...which is why we probably want that glass of wine: we feel good - ahhhhh, more pleasure! So, we have our wine. The liver stops producing glucose to process the alcohol, and since the wine is seriously low (1-2 grams) in carbohydrate, there is no longer a source for glucose in our bodies (no food, no liver-produced glucose), and we finally DO suffer those low blood sugar symptoms - particularly HUNGER! Wala! I'm sure it's oh so much more technical than that, but in a layman nutshell, there it is. Nuts and low fat cheese...great pairings for our glass of wine, and a much needed preventative snack for alcohol-related hunger!

Protein: Meat & Beans

Well, after a much needed study hiatus, I need to focus back on the Pyramid. I want to get through this, because since I started this summary of the guidelines, so many things have happened that just erk me to the ends of the earth -and they all apply to the way we eat: kids on statins, hypertension, insulin & acid reflux meds, an unfortunate exposure to the American Diabetes Association pre-diabetes education class where diabetics and pre-diabetics were almost led to believe that a carb is a carb...whether whole grain toast or a freakin' chocolate chip cookie!!! My forehead is forever creased after that class!

At any rate, Meat & Beans are the protein category of the Food Pyramid, and in my unqualified opinion, it's underrated! But then again, I tend to be more physically active than the average American, so perhaps that's where my discontent comes from. Plus, I think that Americans are generally sedentary today, as compared to the days of our parents or their parents, which should direct the macronutrient profile - versus a generic model that is similar to that of 20 to 40 years ago when we were more active, and used up ALL THOSE CARBS!! Sorry to digress, meat & beans - just like they sound. Meat encompasses all animal flesh: beef, poultry (including eggs) , pork, seafood, and the less common meats such as buffalo, venison, lamb, etc. Obviously our choices should be as lean as obtainable. Beans are beans, including tofu, & peas (and these guys serve double duty in the Vegetable Group)! Nuts & seeds also fall into this category because of their protein and healthy fat content, which is good for vegetarians or those who try to go meatless for a day or two during the week.

The Pyramid recommends an average of 5 to 6 ounces per day for women and men, respectively. Studies tell us that protein is satiating. Studies also tell that when we snack or even have a meal, if we include lean protein with a carbohydrate it curbs the general hunger that follows an all carbohydrate meal or snack. Fat and protein are more satiating than carbohydrate alone.

For most, protein seems to be the easiest component of the Pyramid to figure out. The problems come about when we don't make lean selections and when we do make selections, we select too much according the Pyramid. The American Dietetic Association recommends between 10 and 35% of total calories to come from protein. But how many people can mentally break statement down and apply it. Here are two examples:
  • First, for a 1500 calorie per day diet (which is about what I take in @ 120# and with an activity level classified as very active). 10% of 1500 calories is 150 calories from protein, or 38 grams. How much is that in ounces? One ounce is approximately 28 grams. Holy cow! That's a little over an ounce. Can someone please make the "wrong answer" buzzer noise!!!
  • 35% of 1500 calories is 131 grams, or 5 ounces. This is more like it - at least for an active person. Actually, it's about what I take in - only I estimate it a bit differently: I try to get 1 gram per pound of body weight - specifically for the type of training I do. And truly, in my weight loss efforts over the past few years, this is one of the key components to my success, with the others being to increase exercise intensity, ensrue that most of my other nutritional choices wholesome and to cheat once a week (on purpose).
  • So, let's do a 2000 calorie diet, which is where my husband falls (or a bit more). 10% of 2000 is 200 calories from protein, which is 50 grams or 2 ounces (ugh!). Imagine where all the other calories are coming from...and imagine worse if a person is sedentary!
  • 35% of 2000 is 700 calories, or 175 grams of protein, which is 6 ounces. Again, more like it!

The ADA goes on to recommend that for recreational exercisers, 0.5 to 0.75 grams per pound of body weight is enough (I'd error on the high side). Endurance athletes are recommended to take in 0.6 to 0.7 grams per pound of body weight, and body builders or those trying to gain muscle mass and who train intensely are recommended to take in 0.7 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.

Don't forget that there are other sources of protein that you may be getting from your diet that fall outside the Meat and Beans Group. Milk, yogurt, kefir and cottage cheese supplies about 6-10 grams of protein per 8 ounce serving. Whole grains, specifically quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, kamut, whole wheat, millet and barley provide a good, quality source of up to 7 grams of protein per serving. So, it is easy to get protein in your diet. I think that each person has an individual threshold of the amount that works best for their body chemistry and makes them feel at their best. My husband knows within 5% if he's low or high on protein each day - he just feels it. The more in tune with your body, especially if your diet is clean and free of processed, refined junk, the easier it is to tell what it needs to function at its optimum level.

I do love this category! It's what we as Americans have been taught to base our meal planning around. Just make sure your sources are lean and of a quality nature!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dairy & all its splendors

Dairy products are such marvels - coming from animals that also provide us with quality protein from their meats, we also get milk to nourish our bodies, bones and overall health. Once again, without going into the modern century contamination and dangers of industrial farming that cause concern for the quality of the products we ingest, overall, dairy products are a great source of natural calcium, vitamin D, potassium and complete protein, just to name a few.

Per the Food Pyramid website, "All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group, while foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not." Good sources of milk are low fat and fat free milk, yogurt, cheese, and milk-based puddings, ice creams and frozen yogurts. All of which are highly satiating and full of high quality nutrients.

As adults we need approximately 3 cups of milk products per day to obtain the milk-based nutrients our body requires* (more on Food Pyramid requirements versus calories needed at a later time). The RDA for the milk group is easy to meet - milk with your cereal, oatmeal or somehow with your breakfast, yogurt, cottage cheese or string cheese as a snack option, and using milks in either sauces or sides for dinner, or including milk-based products for dessert complete our needs. Flavored milk products such as flavored milks, puddings, ice creams and yogurts are also tasty options, as long as any added fats and sugars fit into your discretionary calorie allowance.