Are Peanuts Bad for Me? Is Diet Soda Better than Regular Soda? Help.

Thank goodness you’re here!  I need to tell you something!

In light of some statements I have heard in the relatively recent past by the uninformed, the following are a few nutrition clarifications.  Enjoy!

Why peanuts aren't bad for you and diet soda isn't good for you

Myth: Peanuts are bad for you.

Fact:  Peanuts are not bad for you.

  • The thing is, peanuts have a higher ratio of omega-6 fatty acids (which are essential but pro-inflammatory) versus omega-3 fatty acids (also essential but anti-inflammatory).
  • However, an often overlooked factor is that the most abundant fat contained in peanuts is monounsaturated fat (aka MUFA), one of the healthiest types of fat we can consume. The nearly concrete evidence supporting the Mediterranean eating style points toward MUFA as the bomb.com when it comes to fat choices.
  • Furthermore, an average handful of peanuts has about 3 grams of fiber and packs a big huge punch of much-needed vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium and folate.
  • Including foods that are moderately high in healthy fats and fiber into your meal or snack routine helps you to stay satisfied on less food, which is a big win when it comes to trying to maintain a healthy weight (or to lose weight!).
  • Disclaimer:  if you’ve ever gotten constipated or bloated from eating peanuts, it is highly likely you a) ate way too many or b) aren’t drinking enough water or c) (less likely than the first two) have a food sensitivity.  Peanuts do not typically independently cause constipation.

 

Myth: Diet soda is much healthier than regular soda.

Fact: Diet soda and regular soda exert a negative impact on one’s health, it just happens in different ways.

  • I’m sure you’ve heard about the negative ramifications of added sugar intake (especially that from sugar-sweetened beverages (aka SSB), but replacing the soda with diet soda isn’t “better.”
  • People turn to diet soda to find a refreshing beverage that is supposed to be “guilt free” because diet soda contains zero calories and zero sugar.
  • What is important to realize is that more and more evidence in the literature supports that artificial sweeteners alter the bacteria in our gut (aka microbiota). We typically have a little good bacteria and a little bad bacteria in our guts.  However, countless studies have shown that the fake sugars completely alter one’s gut microbiota, which can create a trickle effect of problems.
  • Altered gut microbiota, aka “dysbiosis,” is linked to numerous health conditions including (but not limited to) insulin-resistance and/or diabetes, obesity, IBS, depression, etc.
  • Just because I’m saying diet soda isn’t the glorious creation you may have once thought it was doesn’t mean I’m elevating regular soda. It just means that I suggest you try to either avoid both of them or limit them to super-special occasions.  And no, every afternoon at 2:00 doesn’t count as a “special occasion.”  😉
  • The same rules apply to ANY artificially sweetened beverage: diet tea, those little neon drink-flavoring packets, etc.
  • Some truly “guilt free” beverages could include WATER, water with lemon or cucumber (or any fruit/vegetable you feel like throwing in there), plain tea of any kind, or plain black coffee (try to keep it to less than 3 cups/day).

 

Myth: My blood levels of calcium, magnesium, etc. are good and I don’t even eat healthy.  I must be getting all the nutrients I need nonetheless!  Go me!

Fact: You can have the appearance of “adequate” nutrition in your blood values during your annual exam with your provider even when you are at risk for insufficiency or deficiency of certain nutrients.

  • Your body is a marvelous creation, and can adapt to adversity pretty well. But let’s use calcium as an example, shall we?  Your body keeps the peace in terms of blood calcium homeostasis incredibly well; so well, in fact, that it will rob calcium from your bones to the point that they have holes in them if it means keeping your circulating calcium levels in tip-top condition.
  • In other words, serum calcium only captures about 1% of your body’s total calcium content. Because, among other jobs, calcium is critical for proper muscle contraction (especially for keeping your heart ticking properly!), your blood calcium will rarely ever be too low or too high in the absence of more serious health conditions.  Even if you don’t drink milk ever, your bloodstream will maintain a pretty solid calcium level because it has a nearly endless supply to rob from your bones.bone
  • If we wait until we actually can quantify a vitamin or mineral deficiency via a serum lab value, damage to our body has already begun to occur in some big ways.
  • In fact, serum levels of most vitamins or minerals are not independent indicators of overall nutrition status at all, but they do offer us insight as part of the whole health picture of an individual. Plus, if these labs are abnormal, they can indicate more severe health conditions that can often be treated.
  • It’s worth mentioning that while I am whole-heartedly a functional nutrition supporter and practitioner, beware of hokie tests that claim to do “muscle testing for nutrient deficiencies” or “hair testing.” These types of money-grubbing snake oil tests are absolutely, positively, not medically recognized measurements of nutritional status.  Not at all.  Not even a little bit.  They can have other interesting applications (mainly in the research world), but currently very few reliable biomarkers exist that can give us usable insight into nutrition status.
  • The good news is, that after decades upon decades of reputable, long-term research, we have the Dietary Reference Intakes to provide enough insight for us to consume adequate vitamins and minerals without trying to poke and prod people’s bones, blood, or tissues to determine if they’re getting enough of certain nutrients. Yay! Easier, huh?!
  • Additionally, the easy answer to getting enough of any nutrient would be to turn to supplementation. But supplementing certain nutrients, such as calcium, is not without risk.  If we inadvertently over-supplement with calcium, our body can start to deposit calcium in soft tissues throughout our body where calcium doesn’t belong.  One place this often happens is in our artery walls, which can be a contributor to heart disease.
  • I’m not saying that supplements are always off-limits, but consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for individualized guidance on supplementation to ensure you’re doing it safely.  Or, better yet, try harder to get nutrients from FOOD!

 

Love ya, mean it.

xoxo – Casey

Fiber: More than Just Poop Support

Fiber does much more than just help you go poop.

Fiber is often an under-appreciated piece of the nutrition world.  Some look at fiber as simply “roughage” or the “stuff we don’t digest.”  However, fiber works to support our health in some pretty powerful ways.

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Before we talk about what fiber does for our health, it’s prudent to talk about where we find fiber.  We obtain fiber from whole vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.  Notice a theme there?  Yup, WHOLE foods are the only way we get fiber.  Sometimes processed foods have added fiber – this should be a red flag.  If a food contained enough whole, plant-based ingredients, it wouldn’t require the manufacturer to add fiber.  Think about that for a second.  The simple addition of fiber to that otherwise junk food doesn’t make up for its lack of overall nutrient content.  Read the ingredients list if you’re curious.  A popular fiber-additive you’ll see on those overly-processed popular fiber bars or “white whole grain bread,” for example, is inulin.

Sometimes people take fiber chewables or add a spoonful of fiber to their drink so they can ensure they are consuming enough fiber.  Why is this a problem you might ask?  If you are not getting enough fiber (or suspect that you aren’t), you are also not getting adequate vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants due to the absence of whole plant foods.  Period.  I’m sure that fiber chewy has done wonders for your poop quality, but you are still short on all the other nutrients we are supposed to be getting from our food.

To put it simply, two main types of fiber exist in our plant foods:  soluble and insoluble.  Think of soluble (aka “viscous” aka “fermentable”) fiber as the stuff that helps to solidify your diarrhea but also helps to soften your hard, constipated turds.  It works on both sides of the fence, which is awesome.  Think of insoluble fiber as a chimney sweep for your guts.  Insoluble fiber is not digested by us, but it helps to stimulate movement of your turd through your guts and scrubs the walls all the way to the toilet.

The thing is, all plant foods contain a combination of insoluble and soluble fiber.  However, some have more of one than the other; for example, celery and corn have more insoluble fiber while beans and carrots have more soluble fiber.  The moral of the story is, rather than worrying about which foods are higher in which type of fiber, you benefit from simply striving to obtain a variety and abundance of whole plant foods in your diet.  Keep it simple!

Here is an oversimplified explanation of the reason we need fiber so badly:

  1. Mental Health: Adequate fiber consumption enhances the health of our intestinal tract.  A HUGE connection exists between the health of our gut and the health of our brain.  At the very least, one reason why gut health supports mental health is that a large amount of serotonin (a feel-good hormone) is produced in the gut.
  2. Poop: Simply put, you will have better and more regularly scheduled poops if you are consuming adequate fiber.  If you have loose or watery stools, fiber will help to form better turds.  If you have difficulties with constipation, fiber (and water!) will likely help provide some relief if consumed daily.  You should be releasing a lovely, formed poop at least once per day.
  3. Immunity: Although it doesn’t seem to get as much press, your gut is the foundation of supporting a healthy immune system.  Read more about GALT here.  A health gut = better resistance against harmful bacteria and viruses.
  4. Overall Health: The health of your gut is the absolute fundamental aspect of your overall health.  Odds are, if you’re battling ANY health condition (to include both mental health and physical healthy) your gut is probably not the healthiest it could be.  We have good and bad bacteria in our gut.  The way we eat determines how much of each we have at any given time.  Research is continuing to support that those who are struggling with weight or diabetes (or pretty much any condition) often have imbalanced gut bacteria.  While probiotics are a hot commodity when it comes to this topic, fiber is a PREbiotic.  In other words, fiber helps to feed the good bacteria in our gut to ensure it thrives and repopulates.  Probiotics are much more powerful when consumed along with prebiotics (fiber-rich foods).
  5. Cancer: Fiber is the main source of energy for the cells that line your colon.  By the time certain types of fiber reach way down in our gut, they are fermented and eventually become short-chain fatty acids, our colon’s favorite food.  Without adequate fiber, our colon cells do not thrive, and can become damaged and sick.  Inadequate fiber intake is a huge risk factor for colon cancer.  Despite the role that the ketogenic diet can have on some forms of active cancer, the fact that it tends to be severely deficient in fiber makes it significantly ineffective in preventing colon cancer.
  6. Diabetes: Consuming carbohydrate-rich foods that are low in fiber increases blood sugar rapidly, which subsequently increases the body’s insulin response.  Many individuals are struggling with insulin resistance or full-blown diabetes.  Adequate fiber can help to improve blood sugar management in both those with diabetes and those trying to prevent diabetes by reducing the body’s insulin response.  All carbs are NOT created equally.  Lack of fiber (and most other nutrients) is one of the biggest reasons that we benefit from avoiding white (enriched) flour grain products as best we can.  Just about every single grain product like bread, crackers, pasta, buns, etc. has a 100% whole grain version that can be used.
  7. Weight: Just about everybody I talk to who complains of sugar cravings or being “hungry all the time” isn’t consuming adequate fiber-rich foods.  See for yourself!  I can tell you both from the science evidence and my anecdotal experience that sugar cravings and overall daily food intake is decreased when adequate fiber is consumed.  Plus, if you’re eating vegetable-rich meals, you are likely getting to eat a larger volume of food but still not overdoing your overall energy needs.  Nifty, isn’t it.

From a basic standpoint, the best idea would be to aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day from food, not supplements.  If you’re focusing on most every meal consisting of half a plate of non-starchy vegetables, ¼ plate starchy vegetables OR 100% whole grains, and ¼ plate protein-rich food, it would be impossible for you to not get enough fiber.  Again, keep it simple.

A good quality 100% whole grain bread will have 3-4 grams of fiber per slice.  (It’s also going to have more calories, but consider the nutrient density superior to the number of calories.  Read more on the important aspects of nutrition math here.)  Anyway, if your bread contains 5 grams of fiber per slice, a regular ol’ sandwich would then contain 10 grams of fiber!  It could have even more fiber if you use hummus or avocado as a spread instead of mayo!  Easy peasy.  If you are reaching for fiber supplements to reach the recommended daily fiber intake, I highly suggest you reevaluate your eating style.

Cheers to healthy guts, fabulous health, and satisfying poops!

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xoxo – Casey

Ps – You HAVE TO drink enough water to support an increase in fiber or you will fart your brains out.  Water + fiber = BFF.