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    Archive for the ‘analogue B12’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Seaweed

    895835I consider myself an adventurous eater, but other than a few sushi rolls when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I don’t eat much seaweed.

    Whenever I am at Whole Foods, I see a pretty good-size chunk of one aisle devoted to different kinds of dried seaweed.

    What are some ways I can eat them?  Do they offer any real nutrition  benefits or are they healthy just because they are low in calories?

    — Joanna MacKay
    New York, NY

    Seaweed — which is literally available in thousands of varieties — offers an array of flavors, textures, and health benefits.

    All varieties are good sources of B vitamins, calcium, copper, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and zinc.

    Most varieties also provide substantial amounts of lignans — the compounds found in flaxseed that are linked to decreased cancer risk AND lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels!

    Nori is the most commonly consumed seaweed, as it is the one used in sushi rolls.  However, many people also like to add a few slivers of nori to salads and soups.

    You can even buy sheets of nori and make home-made vegetable rolls.

    For example, roll up mesclun greens, sliced avocado, sliced mango, and julienned (that’s chef-speak for “thinly sliced”) red peppers in a nori sheet, cut the long roll into round bite-size chunks, drizzle a bit of dressing on top (this peanut-cilantro one complements the flavors fabulously), and you have yourself a fun — and nutritious — lunch!

    In Japan, toasted nori snacks are immensely popular (almost as much as potato chips are in the United States).

    Kombu is a type of seaweed mainly used for stocks, while kelp is often added to soups (like miso) or used in granule form to add fishy flavors to vegetarian items that aim to mimic seafood.

    Arame is used in many savory dishes, including stews and grain-based side dishes, while hijiki is often steamed and consumed as a side dish of its own (one restaurant I frequently establish serves up hijiki as part of a platter alongside brown rice, chickpeas, and stir-fried tofu).

    Dulse is mainly available as granules to add fishy flavors to food, although whole dried dulse can be eaten right out of the bag as a snack or used as a salad topper.

    FYI: most seaweed salads at Japanese restaurants use a combination of seaweeds.  The downside?  They contain a substantial amount of added sugars and oils.  If you want to start your meal with it, keep that in mind and make light entree selections.

    The biggest mistake I come across when it comes to the nutritional aspects of seaweed is the completely erroneous claim that they are a good source of vitamin B12.

    They are NOT.  Seaweed contains B12 analogues — compounds that mimic the vitamin.

    Vegetarians and vegans need to be very mindful of B12 analogues; they attach to B12 receptors in the body, and prevent real B12 in the diet from being absorbed properly!

    Also, since seaweed is very high in iodine, anyone with thyroid issues should first consult with a Registered Dietitian before adding it to their diet on a consistent basis.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Chlorella

    chlorellaWhat are your thoughts on chlorella?

    My housemate and other raw foodists I’ve met swear it’s the most amazing and beneficial stuff ever.  I’ve also heard that it’s dangerous and toxic.

    The way I’ve heard it spoken about makes it seem like it’s a trendy nutrient that’s not very well understood by most people.

    What’s true and what’s hype?

    — Leah (Last name withheld)
    (Location Unknown)

    Chlorella is, very simply, a species of freshwater algae.

    Despite very limited research, chlorella is accompanied by lofty claims from its manufacturers, including:

    • helps achieve weight loss
    • “eliminates cancer risk”
    • contains the highest amount of protein per ounce than any other food
    • provides nutrients easily absorbed by the human body
    • offers very high levels of chlorophyll

    Each of these claims, by the way, is either completely misguided or inaccurate.  Here is why:

    1. Helps achieve weight loss

    No single food helps speed up weight loss.  You can make the argument that a food, depending on its composition, can make weight loss easier.  For example, a food like almonds that provides a fair share of fiber, protein, and fats (the three pillars of satiety) is a great addition to a weight loss plan since it takes fewer calories to feel full, in comparison to other foods.

    Ultimately, though, weight loss is about caloric balance, not about one single food’s magical properties.  Adding chlorella to a diet too high in calories will not result in weight loss.

    2. “Eliminates cancer risk”

    This is one of those claims that send my blood pressure through the roof.  While many foods contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that can help reduce one’s risk of developing certain diseases, it is preposterous to ever claim something downright eliminates cancer risk.  After all, diet is not the only cause of cancer.

    3. Contains the highest amount of protein per ounce than any other food

    A “so what?” statement.  The average adult in the United States already consumes 200 to 300 percent of their daily protein requirement.  What this factoid leaves out of the equation is that chlorella contains a very high amount of protein as percentage by weight.  You would need to eat a very high amount of chlorella to get a decent amount of protein from it.

    4. Provides nutrients easily absorbed by the human body

    A cliché vague statement that is meant to sound a lot more important than it really is.  The same can be said for thousands of foods.  It is worth pointing out, though, that the B12 in chlorella appears to be absorbable (unlike that of many other sea plants, which is in an analogue form).

    5. Offers very high levels of chlorophyll

    Too bad we aren’t plants.  Chlorophyll is completely irrelevant within the framework of human nutrition.

    In regards to chlorella’s toxicity, one concern is that if the water system in which this plant grows is contaminated, these toxins are directly absorbed.

    Chlorella gets nothing but a shrug and a feeble “meh” from me, especially since it is mostly consumed in powder or pill form (highly processed forms that deteriorate its initial nutritional profile).

    I would much rather someone spend the money they were planning on plunking down for a chlorella supplement on real food instead.

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    You Ask, I Answer: E3 Live (Blue-Green Algae)

    E3We use a substance called E3 Live mint in the holistic clinic I work at as a neural/spinal detoxification.

    It seems absolutely ridiculous, but there are so many MDs supporting the cause that it makes me wonder what might prompt them, and countless others, to claim that this is such a miracle substance.

    I mean, most varieties of blue-green algae are toxic!

    According to the website, it’s a miracle cure for just about everything and everyone (pets included).

    Do you think there is any actual cause for this hype?

    — Kate (last name withheld)
    (Location withheld)

    Ah, yes.

    E3 Live — like other similar companies — sells what is basically extracts from Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA) blue-green algae.

    If you choose to believe the claims of E3 Live (by the way, E3 stands for “Earth’s Essential Elements”), it is apparently the cure to all problems — physical, psychological, and aesthetic — whether you’re human, dog, cat, or horse.

    All I can muster is an eyeroll, an uninterested “eh”, and a shrug.

    Some websites go as far as classifying AFA as “the first protein and most ancient food on Earth.”  I very much doubt the veracity of that factoid (what is even meant by the statement that it is “the first protein”?), but even if it were true — “so what?”  Those characteristics have absolutely no relevance to its nutritional profile.

    Despite the hype that it is “the most nutritious food, ounce by ounce,” there are plenty of other foods that, ounce by ounce, offer higher amounts of certain nutrients.

    If you want an excellent source of protein, selenium, or zinc, blue-green algae is not your “go to” food, no matter what proponents claim.

    The silliest — and most worrying — claims have to do with this algae’s chlorophyll and vitamin B12 levels.

    First of all, AFA blue-green algae contains vitamin B12 analogues (substances that mimic B12 and interfere with the absorption of the REAL thing).

    As for chlorophyll — since we are not plant organisms, those high levels don’t mean anything for our health.

    What truly upsets me are the claims that AFA blue-green algae can treat psychological disorders like depression and manic-depressive disorders.  That goes beyond bunk — it’s irresponsible and shameful bunk!

    Several years ago, some companies that sold AFA got into hot water for making unwarranted — and unprovable — health claims, so please believe they know exactly how to word things to fool gullible people while staying out of legal problems.

    Like you mention, this particular strand of algae grows alongside — and can be tainted by — other species that can be toxic to humans.

    The real hook here is that the company hopes you become an affiliate, sell the product to friends, and sign others on to become “affiliates.”  Even though you earn commission for references, the folks at E3 point out that “this is not a multi-level marketing program [because] it is only two tiers, no further.”  Fine, call it bi-level marketing, then.

    I suspect a lot of the strong endorsements have some sort of financial tie.  Besides, plenty of the featured testimonials are sourced to people with questionable initials after their name.

    Interestingly, there isn’t a single testimonial from anyone with a nutrition background.  Rather odd, don’t you think?

    Remember, it is not only pharmaceutical companies that aggressively campaign and woo practitioners.  Just because someone is selling algae does not mean they live in a world of kumbayas where money is no object.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B12 Content of Berries and Herbs

    hawthorn_berries_shropshire_september_2006_close_upI recently went vegan [and had a question for you].

    [Can an individual get sufficient vitamin B12] from alfalfa, burdock root, hawthorn berries, cat nip, or dong quai?

    It’s an ongoing debate [in the vegan community].

    — @IraGM
    Via Twitter

    A few of the herbs you ask about contain a certain amount of Vitamin B12, but it’s really a moot point.

    First, the majority of the B12 in these herbs is not “human active,” meaning it does not have the same characteristics — or efficacy — of the B12 found in animal products.

    Second, many of these herbs also contain B12 analogues, which can often result in reduced absorption of human-active B12.

    You should not rely on these herbs for adequate B12 intake.  As a vegan, you are better off with nutritional yeast, fortified foods (mainly cereal and non-dairy milks) or a supplement in pill form.

    From my viewpoint, there isn’t much room for debate on this issue.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Miso

    Is [tamari] similar to miso? I’ve seen miso listed as an ingredient before, but have no idea what it is.

    — Corey Clark
    (location withheld)

    Miso shares some similarities with tamari.

    Whereas tamari is liquid, miso is a thick paste usually made by fermenting soybeans, rice, buckwheat, or barley (with the help of a particular mold, of course).

    Before letting it age for anywhere from two months to three years, a little salt is also sprinkled on.

    Miso is mainly used as a flavoring agent — often in place of salt — due to its high sodium levels.

    Many chefs prefer to use miso since, as a result of its fermentation, it adds earthy, savory tones to food (akin to nutritional yeast.)

    Some vegans like to include it in their diet since the bacteria used in the fermentation process creates B12.

    However, miso’s B12 content — which isn’t really that spectacular — is of the analogue variety, so I urge vegans to instead get this vitamin through nutritional yeast or fortified soy products.

    The most popular use of this ingredient in the United States is with miso soup, which is basically a mixture of miso paste with water, seaweed, tofu, and scallions.

    Although some people laud it as a nutritious food, its high sodium content has me viewing it more as an alternative flavoring agent to use when cooking, rather than an ingredient to bolster the nutritional profile of a dish.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B12

    As a vegetarian (vegan most days) I know I have to supplement my diet with vitamin B 12. However, I’m really puzzled about something.

    The best sources (non-veg) of vitamin B 12 are mollusks, snapper, calf’s liver, lamb, venison, etc. If these animals are able to produce vitamin B 12 in their tissues, why aren’t we?

    — Jennifer Armstrong
    Saratoga Springs, NY

    Great question.

    Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in animals’ — yes, that includes humans — digestive tracts. However, since this occurs in our large intestine, it is past the point of absorption (nutrient absorption takes place in the small intestine).

    You may be wondering, then, why Vitamin K — also synthesized by bacteria in the large intestine — is absorbed with no difficulty.

    Simple. Our colons contain Vitamin K receptors which aid in the absorption process. Keep in mind, though, that we do not produce enough vitamin K to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance, so we must get some from food.

    While we’re on the subject of B12, I want to point out other important factors regarding its consumption and absorption.

    Too often, I see various forms of algae and seaweed described as “good sources of B12”, which is inaccurate.

    What those foods contain are B-12 analogues — compounds that mimic real B12 and compete with it for absorption (bad news!).

    Some fermented soy foods (natto, tamari, and miso) contain real B12, but the amount is so insignificant that it is really a moot point.

    A much better idea for vegans and vegetarians is to supplement B12 through fortified foods (i.e.: certain brands of nutritional yeast, as well as most brands of non-dairy milks and cereal) or supplements.

    It is not only vegans who need to be concerned with B12, though.

    People with celiac disease need to be careful; gluten intake damages the microvilli in their small intestines, thereby inhibiting absorption of nutrients, including B12.

    Similarly, individuals who undergo total gastrectomy are at high risk of developing B12 deficiencies, as they lack intrinsic factor (a glycoprotein produced by the stomach and required for B12 absorption.)

    A large body of research has also established that B12 absorption capacity decreases with age, which is why it is often recommended that individuals over the age of 60 supplement B12.

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