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    Archive for the ‘carotenoids’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Am I Eating Too Much Vitamin A?

    carrotsMy three favorite vegetables are: carrots, spinach, and kale.

    I eat about 6-7 servings of vegetables a day generally, and at least four of the servings include the aforementioned specifically. This means that I consume the proverbial Upper Limit of vitamin A.

    Am I at risk?

    — Julia Rhine
    (Location Unknown)

    Absolutely not!

    Although the term “vitamin A” is used to describe a particular nutrient available both in plant foods (i.e.: carrots, spinach, pumpkin, kale, lettuce) and animal foods (i.e.: eggs, liver, full-fat dairy), the story is a little more complicated.

    Vitamin A in animal foods is available to us as retinol, also known as “preformed vitamin A”.

    Plant sources, however, contain carotenes (of which there are over 600, including the ever-popular beta-carotene), which are then converted into retinol by our bodies.  Some carotenes are converted very efficiently; others are not.

    As I always like to say, our bodies are smart.  Individuals with low vitamin A stores, for instance, convert carotenes into retinol much more efficiently than those with sufficient stores.

    Even when dealing with beta-carotene (the most efficiently converted carotene), you are looking at significantly reduced bioactivity in comparison to retinol.  It takes 12 micrograms of carotenoids from food to equal one microgram of retinol.

    I specifically say “from food” because carotenoids in supplement form are more bioactive.  In their case, two micrograms are equivalent to one microgram of retinol.

    Let’s talk toxicity now.  While high amounts of retinol can be toxic, that is not the case with carotenoids.

    The only issue that arises as a result of consuming a high amount of carotenoids from food is your skin turning a yellow-orange color.  The most likely reason for this is that, as stated previously, if our vitamin A stores are high, carotenoid conversion is brought down several notches.

    Consume a diet that is consistently very high in in the pure retinol form of vitamin A, however, and expect liver problems as well as bone mineral density issues.

    Remember, since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is stored in the body; toxicity is not simply solved by drinking massive amounts of water and urinating large quantities out.

    What makes all of this even more (!) complicated is that while there are Recommended Dietary Allowances set for vitamin A, there aren’t any for carotenoids.

    So, then, how do vegetarians and vegans know how much plant-based “vitamin A” to consume?

    Well, one milligram of beta-carotene is equivalent to approximately 1,667 International Units of vitamin A.

    One medium sweet potato, for example, packs in 13 milligrams of beta-carotene — 21,671 International Units of Vitamin A.

    To convert International Units of vitamin A from plant foods into retinol equivalents, we simply multiply that figure by 0.1 and end up with 2,167 REs of vitamin A.

    Considering that adults need 2,310 (if female) to 3,000 (if male) International Units of vitamin A a day (that’s 700 and 900 REs, respectively), then that one sweet potato provides plenty.

    Some confused individuals claim that the lack of retinol in plant sources of vitamin A “prove” they are inferior sources, and that we should strive to get all of our vitamin A from animal sources.

    WRONG!  They (conveniently?) forget that carotenoids are phytonutrients, which means they contribute many healthful qualities.  Research has clearly demonstrated that diets rich in beta-carotene help lower heart disease and lung cancer risk.

    So, dear Julia, keep enjoying those vegetables!  Remember, though, to consume them in a meal that contains at least 4 grams of fat to ensure proper absorption!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Avocado Oil

    avocadoAs far as nutrition is concerned, is dressing a salad with avocado oil the same as adding sliced avocado to it?

    — Jennifer Garvez
    (City withheld), CA

    Absolutely not.

    Although avocado oil is a wonderful source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (especially oleic acid), slices of avocado provide a lot more nutrition.

    A 120-calorie tablespoon of avocado oil contains vitamin E, lutein — a carotenoid that helps combat macular degeneration — and unique phytonutrients that, in preliminary clinical studies, have been found to significantly slow down — and in some cases halt — the growth of certain pre-cancerous cells.

    Half an avocado, meanwhile, clocks in at 115 calories and provides all those components along with:

    • 4.5 grams of fiber
    • 18% of your vitamin K needs
    • 15% of your daily folate requirement
    • 10% of your vitamin C and potassium needs
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    You Ask, I Answer: Inflammation

    My mum asked me to look into foods that increase or decrease inflammation and related chronic pain conditions.

    I don’t know if such a thing is even possible, and Google leads me to thousands of quacks and charlatans. Can you help?

    — Rachelle T.
    Location Unknown

    Nutrition plays an important role in promoting — and reducing — inflammation.

    Before we even get to actual foods, though, it’s important to address weight.

    Excess body fat heightens inflammation, so working towards shedding any extra pounds is the first step in my book.

    Foods that I suggest your mother eat sparingly include refined carbohydrates (mainly white flour and added sugars), trans fats, and Omega-6 fatty acids (found in most processed plant oils)

    A point of clarity regarding Omega-6 fatty acids: although they absolutely serve a purpose (and are essential, meaning we can only get them from our diet), the traditional U.S. diet is overly abundant in them.

    Moving on, then. There are also many foods that help manage — and even decrease — inflammation.

    These include whole grains, monounsaturated fats (think avocados, olive oil, peanut butter, and almond butter), Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, tofu, wheat germ, and some legumes) and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

    In the case of fruits and vegetables, the more variety the better.

    Why? Research suggests that different compounds (i.e.: anthocyanins in blueberries, carotenoids in sweet potatoes, and phenolics in tart cherries) can aid in the reduction of inflammation.

    Keep in mind, though, that for optimal results, these foods should be consumed on a daily basis for a prolonged period.

    Additionally, the above mentioned foods should not be consumed with excess calories or sugars (putting a spoonful of walnuts into a Coldstone ice cream bowl or having a Reese’s peanut butter cup are not effective ways to manage inflammation.)

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    Five Diet Faux Pas

    Are you sabotaging your own healthy eating? You might be, if you’ve fallen prey to these five common diet mistakes.

    Leaving Out the Yolk

    THE MISTAKE: Getting an omelette sans yolk deprives you of vitamins (folate, vitamin D) minerals (zinc, phosphorus, calcium) and carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin). Additionally, an egg-white omelette (which is naturally fat-free) will not satiate you as well as one utilizing the entire egg. The longer you remain satiated, the fewer calories you consume.

    HOW TO SOLVE IT: Rather than getting an egg white omelette with cheese (a source of saturated fat and sodium), go for a regular omelette with three or four different color vegetables.

    Fearing Fat

    THE MISTAKE: Ordering salads or steamed vegetables and accompanying them with fat-free dressing is a waste of nutrients! Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and, therefore, need to be consumed with fat in order for our bodies to absorb them.

    HOW TO SOLVE IT: Replace fat-free dressing with an oil (preferably olive) based vinagreitte. If you absolutely love the taste of a certain fat-free dressing, add avocado, almond slices, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds to your salad.

    Forgetting Fiber

    THE MISTAKE: Snacking on rice cakes, pretzels, and crackers might sound healthy, but they aren’t your weight-loss allies. The reason? They are missing fiber, which is essential for a feeling of fullness.

    HOW TO SOLVE IT: Include high-fiber snacks into your diet: boiled edamame, fresh fruit, red pepper strips with hummus, plain popcorn, and high-fiber crackers (ie: Kavli, Triscuit Finn Crisp, etc.)

    (Artificially) Sweetening The Deal

    THE MISTAKE: Sugar-free pudding, ice cream, candies, sodas, and chocolates contain fewer calories than their regular counterparts, but they are still mostly devoid of nutrition. Plus, since the artificial sweeteners used are hundreds of times sweeter than regular sugar, often leading to more cravings.

    HOW TO SOLVE IT: Instead of replacing highly caloric sugary items with ones made with saccharine or Splenda, substitute them with real food. Replace a diet popsicle with an actual piece of fruit. You’ll get more nutrition — and real taste!

    Leaving Exercise Out of the Equation

    THE MISTAKE: Eating fewer calories isn’t the one and only diet solution. For optimal weight loss and maintenance, you should engage in physical activity at least three times a week. Remember, our bodies need to work hard (aka, burn calories) to sustain muscle.

    HOW TO SOLVE IT: If you are only doing cardio, add a 15 or 20 minute weight-bearing workout. Not only are you helping your bone density, you’re also helping your body shed the pounds faster.

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