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Nutrition 103: pH balance2012-06-16 09:13:28

Same disclaimer and meta-information applies to this post as my previous posts (Nutrition 101, Nutrition 102).

(Since I wrote nutrition 101 about sugars and 102 about fats, I was planning to make 103 about the final macronutrient group, proteins. But honestly I don't think I understand proteins well enough at this point to explain simply; so rather than hold up the series any longer I'll jump ahead and get back to proteins later.)

pH balance

So, let's talk about pH balance. pH is a measure of acidity/alkalinity on a scale of 1-14; 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. 7 is considered neutral, and your blood must remain in the range of around 6.8-7.8 in order for you to stay alive (usually it stays in the 7.3-7.4 range). This is absolutely critical, and so it makes sense that your body has all sorts of mechanisms to try and maintain your blood pH in that range.

One of these mechanisms is leaching calcium from your bones. That is, if your blood pH starts dropping towards the acidic side, you body starts breaking down bone tissue and releasing calcium; this triggers chemical reactions with a net alkaline output, and brings your pH back into balance. Over time this can lead to softer bones, osteoporosis and all sorts of other bad things.

So how can you prevent this and keep your pH in balance, you ask? Good question. Here is a link that shows you which kinds of foods are acid-inducing and which kinds of foods are alkaline-inducing: A list of acid/alkaline producing foods. Note how pretty much all fruits and vegetables (surprisingly, even acidic things like citrus fruits) are alkaline-inducing, and pretty much anything else is acid-inducing. Eat your veggies!

Calcium/potassium balance

Just as an addendum, if you're concerned about bones, another thing to watch out for is your calcium/potassium intake. If you don't eat enough calcium your body will use potassium as a replacement (they are chemically similar) in bone tissue. However, potassium is much softer than calcium, and again leads to softer bones and more chance of osteoporosis.

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Nutrition 102: McFatty Fat Fat2011-08-08 15:17:31

Same disclaimer and meta-information applies to this post as my previous post (Nutrition 101).

Fats

Fats are more complicated than sugars. There are lots of different kinds of fats and fatty acids, so I'm going to only cover the basics here.

First, saturated-ness of fats. Fats can be classified as saturated, or unsaturated (specifically mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated, which I'm going to group together), based on their chemical structure. Unsaturated fats are more unstable, and can go rancid easily. In fact, a lot of vegetable oils in stores are basically rancid unsaturated fats, and can be toxic in the same way that free radicals are. Even if they aren't rancid when you buy them, they will go rancid quickly if you cook with them. Saturated fats, on the other hand, are stable, and do not have this problem. Unsaturated fats are also usually in the form of vegetable oils, which require a lot of processing to extract from vegetables, making it much less "natural" that saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats can be further classified as cis-fats or trans-fats. Trans fats rarely occur in nature, and are usually created in food processing industries. Trans fats are generally accepted to be very bad for you, and have been linked to heart disease. Note also that trans fats and saturated fats are both generally solid at room temperature, and a lot of previous studies mixed the two together. This is why people used to think saturated fats were bad, because it was really the bad trans fats doing the damage. More recent studies have shown that saturated fats are not bad for you but trans fats are.

Finally, some types of polyunsaturated fats are "essential" fats that you need to eat, because your body cannot produce them by itself. Omega-6 and omega-3 are two types of these essential fats. Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory, but omega-6 fats are inflammatory. When you consume these, they should be in about a 1:1 ratio, so that their side-effects cancel each other out. Unfortunately, modern/processed foods have ridiculously high omega-6 content, and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is often something like 30:1 or 40:1. Even ratios of 5:1 are considered "healthy" and would help a lot with reducing inflammation throughout your body. Fish and grass-fed meats have more omega-3 fats, whereas vegetable oils and corn-fed meats have more omega-6 fats.

So, to summarize, cook with and eat saturated fats (e.g. butter, coconut oil) and only eat unsaturated fats that are found naturally (i.e. eat nuts rather than corn oil). Also, prefer grass-fed meat to corn-fed meat, and eat fish if possible.

See also: Nutrition 103.

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Nutrition 101: The Evils of Sugar2011-08-06 12:07:32

I've been reading a bunch about proper nutrition lately, and I wanted to write a summary of the main points I've come across. The main reason for this is just so it forces me to think about this better and make sure it all makes sense in my head. A secondary reason is to record what I think about this now, as I'm sure it'll change over time.

Also, a fair number of the statements below are controversial in that there are studies that agree and disagree with them. However, I'm not going to cite any sources for my statements because (1) I'm too lazy and (2) it helps eliminate bias because instead of just following my link and believing me, you're forced to research it for yourself and come to your own conclusions. And I do strongly recommend that you try to research any statement you feel is wrong or that you have a hard time believing, and post your comments below.

Finally, I'm going to try and keep this as simple as possible, to make it readable by the widest audience possible. This means avoiding the use of technical terms as much as possible, even if means sacrificing precision.

Sugar

Sugars (aka carbs) are generally bad for you. There are a few reasons for this.

1) When your body burns sugar for energy, the chemical reactions produce free radicals. Free radicals cause lots of damage because they destroy other molecules in your body. In particular, they cause proteins in your body to cross-link, which makes the proteins useless. This is why balancing any sugars you eat with antioxidants (which neutralize free radicals) is a good thing.

2) Eating sugar triggers your body's insulin response. The insulin's job is to store the sugar as fat in your body. After it's done putting away the sugar, it still sticks around for a while, until your body stops producing it. This extra insulin leads to cravings/hunger, even though your body doesn't really need food. Overloading your body with sugar will also, over time, decrease the amount of insulin your body produces, resulting in diabetes. This is why people who are diabetic need to take insulin with sugar - this is basically the same as having to take the antidote along with the poison.

(Update 2011-08-08: It was correctly pointed out to me that it's not the amount of insulin production that decreases, but rather your body becomes more resistant to the insulin, so the same amount of insulin has less effect. This insulin resistance is what causes Type 2 diabetes.)

3) Some of the sugar you eat gets stored as glycogen (a quick-burning energy source that your body uses for quick bursts of activity). However, each gram of sugar that gets converted to glycogen also requires 2-3 grams of water. Therefore, this has a dehydrating effect on your body. This water also gets released when the glycogen is burnt, and is the "water weight" that people lose when starting to exercise after a long time.

There are different kinds of sugars that you encounter in everyday foods. Some of these (e.g. glucose) are not as bad because they can be burnt by every cell in the body. Others (e.g. fructose) are really bad because they can only be broken down by the liver. Therefore, eating a particular amount of fructose stresses the liver far more than the same amount of glucose. Note that table sugar (sucrose) is 50% fructose, and pretty much any other sugar additive (e.g. high-fructose corn syrup, agave syrup) is just as bad.

Foods with refined sugars enter your bloodstream much faster, and so the negative effects from eating those foods are much sharper, and stresses your body more. The glycemic index of a food is a measure of how fast the sugar hits your bloodstream; foods with a higher glycemic index are worse. Foods containing a lot of fibre will slow down the sugar, and therefore help your body in dealing with the incoming sugar.

Overall, the amount of sugar you consume should be just enough to replenish your body's stores of glycogen (less than 100 grams per day for most people). You should drink plenty of water with sugar consumption to avoid dehydration when this happens. If you consume more sugar than this, burning it off before the insulin gets a chance to store it as fat is a good idea (unless, of course, you're trying to become obese). Finally, make sure to get enough antioxidants along with your sugar to neutralize those free radicals.

See also: Nutrition 102, Nutrition 103.

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