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    Archive for the ‘blood glucose’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Pasta

    I’ve heard so many different things about pasta from a nutritional standpoint.

    Is pasta from Italy enriched with vitamins and minerals [like it is in the United States]?

    Is pasta cooked al dente better for you because it digests slower?

    Some say [pasta] is no better than white refined bread, but others say differently?

    What’s the deal?

    – Carrie Watson
    (via the blog)

    What a great trilogy of questions! Let’s taken them one by one.

    White flour products in the United States are enriched with nutrients lost in the milling process (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and iron) as a result of The Federal Enrichment Act of 1942.

    In the United States, all white flour products are also fortified with folate.

    Some countries have similar laws (in Argentina, the same nutrients are added back to flour, whereas in England white flour must be enriched with these nutrients AND fortified with calcium), but Italy is not one of them.

    From a nutritional standpoint, cooking pasta al dente is recommended over mushy consistencies since the “al dente” texture has a lower glycemic index (meaning it does not spike blood glucose levels quite as much.)

    However, remember that the glycemic load of a pasta meal is ultimately determined by what else you are eating with your pasta.

    If, for example, your pasta dinner contains some protein, fat, and fiber (i.e.: whole wheat pasta with meatballs and parmesan cheese), those additional components will help slow down digestion and lessen the sharp spike in blood sugar levels.

    As far as white bread and pasta made with refined flour are concerned — yes, they are basically identical from a nutritional standpoint (the main exception being that one ounce of bread has roughly 150 to 200 milligrams of sodium, while most dry pasta is sodium-free.)

    It’s not that white bread and pasta are inherently unhealthy, but rather that, compared to whole wheat varieties, they are nutritionally inferior.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Hydrogenated/Interesterified Fats

    Thanks for explaining all about trans fats.

    I have a question, though.

    I have recently seen hydrogenated oils on Crisco food labels (not “partially hydrogenated”, but “hydrogenated”.)

    Are these also trans fats?

    – Patrick Altug
    Boulder, CO

    No, they are not.

    Whereas the partial hydrogenation of a liquid oil transforms its chemical structure in such a way that yields a solid, yet pliable texture (i.e.: easy to spread on toast,) full hydrogenation results in a solid mass that you can’t do much with.

    So, in an attempt to remove trans fat from their formulations, many products will interesterify fats.

    In this process, solid oils and liquid oils are combined in vats, hydrogenated, broken down to their most basic form (triglycerides) and later manipulated/reconstructed in order to achieve a desired consistency.

    Unfortunately, these fats come at a price.

    Recent research studies in the United Kingdom and Malaysia have found that interesterified fats decrease HDL (“good” cholesterol), raise blood sugar, and, perhaps more worrying, suppress the secretion of insulin.

    Why the worry?

    Raising blood sugar while lowering levels of insulin (the hormone that moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells) is certainly a rather powerful risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes.

    Although many people roll their eyes at this bit of news and often make statements like, “Are these dietitians EVER satisfied with anything? If it’s not trans fats, it’s something else,” there is an important lesson in all of this — stick with unadulterated fats!

    Whether partially or fully hydrogenated, those fat molecules have been chemically altered.

    A diet rich in minimally processed foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats) won’t include either type of hydrogenated oils.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

    What happens when your blood sugar is usually low?

    – Anonymous
    Via the blog

    This is known as hypoglycemia, which many people with diabetes can experience if their blood glucose levels are not appropriately managed.

    Whereas a fasting (remember, that’s at least 8 hours of no food or drink, other than water) glucose of 125 mg/dL points to diabetes, anything below 50 mg/dL is a sign of hypoglycemia.

    Symptoms can include dizziness, paleness of the skin, general confusion, and shakiness.

    If the symptoms are detected early enough into a hypoglycemic episode, the situation can usually be remedied by consuming a predetermined amount of carbohydrate.

    If, however, one of these episodes goes untreated, fainting will occur.

    In this case, the only viable step is to inject glucagon (an enzyme that, like insulin, is also secreted by the pancreas but, unlike insulin, RAISES blood glucose levels.)

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    A traditional Long Island iced tea (shots of vodka, tequila, rum, gin, and triple sec combined with sour mix and cola) contains 650 to 750 calories.

    The recipe I’m referring to is the one many bars in the United States offer — four jiggers of hard liquor, half a jigger of triple sec, half a cup of sour mix (pure sugar) and another half cup of cola.

    Not surprisingly, these are served in very tall glasses.

    Granted, some establishments offer smaller versions of this drink, but even then you’re looking at roughly 500 calories.

    It’s always a good idea to stick to a few low-calorie alcoholic beverages since alcohol lowers blood glucose levels, consequently triggering hunger.

    As you might guess, the more you drink, the hungrier you get. Which explains why some people can feasibly eat an entire bag of chips after a night at the bar.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Battle of the "Diets"

    Andy, are you going to blog about [the study that concluded that a low-carb diet was more successful at helping subjects achieve weight loss and healthier blood cholesterol profiles than Mediterranean or low-fat ones]?

    – Anonymous
    Via the blog

    I was most certainly planning on commenting on this study, mainly because of some very distracting flaws I noticed.

    Let’s begin with some basic information.

    The study — partially funded by the Robert and Veronica Atkins foundation (potential bias, anyone?) — took place over 2 years, during which 85% of the 322 participants stuck with their respectively assigned diets (low-fat, Mediterranean, and low-carb.)

    Now with some of my “uh, wait a minute” impressions.

    Firstly, when it came to weight loss, low-carb beat out low-fat by 4 pounds (10.3 lbs vs 6.3 lbs), but edged out a Mediterranean Diet (which includes higher carbohydrate consumption) only by 0.3 lbs.

    And although the low-carb diet resulted in the best blood cholesterol profiles, it’s important to note that for this study, researchers “urged [the] dieters [on the low-carb diet] to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein.”

    In other words, although the low-carbers had the highest saturated fat intake out of the three groups, the majority of their fats came from plant sources.

    There isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Anyone keeping up with nutrition research knows that mono and polyunsaturated fats are recommended for heart health.

    Hence, this study calls into question the belief so many low-carb fanatics like Gary Taubes fervently hold on to — that saturated fat is the best for blood cholesterol levels.

    The study specifically mentions that the blood cholesterol levels of the low-carbers is due largely to the consumption of monounsaturated fats.

    Besides, I always wondered why low-carb enthusiasts even bother bragging about improved cholesterol profiles on their diets when, two seconds later, they turn around and say that the cholesterol-heart disease link is a lie and the result of “bad science.” Which is it?

    The study wasn’t entirely a “low carb diets RULE!” piece, either.

    For instance, the Mediterranean Diet — which was highest in fiber — proved to be the most effective at managing blood glucose levels.

    Yet again, this goes against traditional low-carb beliefs (and, once again, those Gary Taubes loves to pontificate) that the research on fiber is “inconclusive at best” and that there is no need to have it in the diet.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat about whether or not I read Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes himself said at his New York University talk in March of this year that he didn’t think high-fiber grains were any healthier than refined ones.

    Speaking of fiber, I noticed that the low-fat group was only asked to consume “low-fat grains.”

    This struck me as odd, mainly because it is hard to find grains high in fat — they are all low-fat.

    Additionally, it’s hard to overlook some bias.

    The study does not urge low-fat dieters to consume the healthiest grains (whole grains), yet specifically requests that low-carb dieters eat the healthiest fats.

    I also found it strange that for the majority of this study the low-carb group was consuming 120 grams of carbs a day. This is definitely higher than the much lower levels recommended by most low-carb advocates.

    Atkins, for instance, usually calls for no more than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day during the maintenance phase.

    Finally, take a look at the numbers and you see that although the low-carb group was not calorie-restricted, their caloric intake was lower compared to their pre-study diet.

    So, as always, we are talking about weight loss as a result of reduced caloric intake.

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