Saturday, September 28, 2019

Is Animal Fat Really Bad for You?

When people think of animal fat – they tend to fall into one of two camps:

Animal Fat is Artery-clogging and the cause of all problems with diets.

Animal Fat is the key to managing weight and having a healthy diet

The facts about plant and animal fats
Like many aspects of diet and nutrition the facts behind animal and plant fats and effects on health and weight management are much more complex than the two points of view expressed above.

Fat is not just for insulation and energy storage, it’s also for nutrient absorption, cell signaling, immune function, and many other critical processes. Many people think the main difference between plant and animal fats is that animal-sourced foods contain more saturated fat, but that is NOT the case – nor is it is a sample as saying saturated fat is bad.    Here are some key facts about fat that may surprise you:

1. All whole plant and animal foods naturally contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats.

2. Some plant foods are higher in saturated fat than animal foods, with coconut oil topping the charts at 90 percent saturated fat. That’s more than twice the saturated fat found in beef fat (tallow).

3. The primary type of fat found in pork is a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid, the exact same fat found in olive oil.

Essential Fatty Acids
There are essential fatty acids that humans cannot manufacture and therefore must be obtained from your diet and they fall into three categories:

·       Omega 3 Fatty Acids – in plants the Omega 3 fatty acid is called Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA for short).

·       In fish and animals the Omega 3 Fatty Acids come in the form of EPA/DHA

·       The essential dietary omega-6 is called Linoleic Acid (LA for short).

What often goes unsaid is that both ALA and LA are found in a wide variety of both plant and animal foods, so it is rather easy to obtain both of these fats, regardless of your dietary preferences, so long as you are including enough fat in your diet.

But here’s the rub: Our bodies cannot use ALA and LA in our cells. ALA and LA are considered upstream/”parent” fatty acids, because they are used to manufacture the form of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids our cells can use: EPA, DHA, and AA—none of which exist in plant foods!.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is an omega-3 that serves primarily anti-inflammatory and healing functions.

AA (arachidonic acid) is an omega-6 often thought of as a “bad” fatty acid, because it promotes inflammation. But inflammation is an important and necessary part of a healthy immune response and AA has many other crucial responsibilities, and even promotes healing.

DHA – (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 that has many important functions – particularly in our brains.    Our brains are extremely rich in fat. About two-thirds of the human brain is fat, and a full 20 percent of that fat is DHA.

Among many other functions, DHA participates in the formation of myelin, the white matter that insulates our brain circuits and nerves. It also helps maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, which keeps the brain safe from unwanted outside influences.

DHA is critical to the development of the human cortex—the part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking. Without DHA, the highly sophisticated connections necessary for sustained attention, and decision-making do not form properly     

DHA and Fetal/Neonatal Brain Development and Health
The most rapid phase of development of the infant cortex takes place form the third trimester of pregnancy through Age Two.  If there is not enough DHA available during this time, there can be severe and irreversible consequences. For example, a higher likelihood of psychiatric disorders including those that tend to show up early in life like Autism and ADHD.

Plant foods contain absolutely no DHA
For those who choose vegan diets, it is important to know that plant foods contain no DHA. The omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods like flax, walnut, and chia is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Unfortunately, it appears to be rather difficult for the majority of adults to make DHA out of ALA, with most studies finding a conversion rate of less than 10%.    Quite a few studies show ZERO conversion, and there are genetic variations that allow a small percentage of people to convert very well while for the majority there is little to no conversion.

Indeed, it appears that the fewer animal foods we eat (fish IS an animal for this discussion), the lower our DHA levels tend to be    DHA levels are on average 31% lower in vegetarians and 59% lower in Vegans compared to Omnivores.

When it comes to children under 2, the science is clear that the conversion pathway from ALA to DHA cannot and should not be relied upon to keep pace with the DHA demands of the rapidly growing body and brain. Therefore, most experts agree that caretakers should provide infants and very young children with dietary or supplemental sources of DHA, as ALA alone is not sufficient to support healthy infant development.

It has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of Americans have sub-optimal blood levels of DHA.

Include animal-sourced DHA foods in your diet if you can

The easiest way to obtain DHA is to include some fatty fish in your diet, but as you can see from the list below, there are other options.   

Sardines – 2,205 mg per serving
Wild Salmon – 1,800 mg per serving
Oysters – 613 mg per serving
Herring - 3,181 mg per serving
Anchovies – 951 mg per serving
Cavier – 1,906 mg per serving
Mussels – 506 mg per serving
Egg – 60 mg per egg yolk (only in yolks!)
DHA Fortified (chickens fed fish feed) – 168mg per egg
Chicken Meat Roasted – 30 mg per serving
Turkey Breast Roasted – 30 mg per serving
Lamb Roasted – 10 mg per serving
Shrimp cooked – 10 mg per serving

Minimize consumption of vegetable oils
Nearly all processed foods, prepared hot foods, packaged snacks, and convenience foods are made with refined vegetable oils, such as soybean or sunflower oil. Most vegetable oils are extremely, unnaturally high in LA (linoleic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid that reduces the production and effectiveness of DHA within your body. Excess linoleic acid drives systemic inflammation. Your best plant oil choices are olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or red palm oil.  

Lowering your vegetable oil intake increases the availability of DHA in your body, decreasing your need for dietary and/or supplemental DHA. The presence of high amounts of linoleic acid in the typical modern diet may help to explain why so many people appear to have low DHA levels even though most people do include animal foods in their diet already.

If you choose a plant-based diet, supplement properly
Thankfully, vegetarian and vegan-friendly DHA supplements extracted from algae are available. These supplements are more expensive and contain lower concentrations of DHA than fish or krill oil supplements (meaning higher doses are recommended), but may be important for maintaining healthy DHA levels, particularly in mothers and babies during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. All baby formula in the U.S. is supplemented with DHA already to mirror human mother's milk, which naturally contains DHA. If weaning your child before age 2, be sure to include DHA in your child’s diet as food or supplements.

If you have psychiatric symptoms, consider supplementation
As pointed out already, taking a decent dose of DHA without also lowering your linoleic acid consumption (by avoiding vegetable oils) may not be very helpful. However, supplementation is widely viewed as safe, and some studies noted modest benefits at doses of (combined EPA+DHA) of 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day, particularly for people with depression. 

The bottom line about DHA
Minimize refined vegetable oils and other processed foods, and either include some animal foods in the diet or supplement appropriately to avoid issues with inadequate availability of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids DHA and EPA.

To learn more about Saturated Fat and Cholesterol and their relation to heart disease and health check out this previous blogpost to get the facts:

For more information on Essentially Fatty Acids check out this previous blogpost on the subject:

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Incorporating Resilience Based Thinking In Daily Life

Resiliency is a highly prevalent topic in today’s culture, as there is an increased understanding that mindset impacts well-being. Additionally, as work and life demands have increased in our fast paced society, resiliency has become an important part of the solution to decrease stress. 
In the context of this article, resiliency is defined as the ability to bounce back after challenges and cope well with adversity.   It’s also defined as a state of being, and not a set trait. This is an important distinction to make because some individuals inaccurately think resiliency is a permanent trait; you either have it or you don’t.  
The truth is that resiliency is a choice. When stressful situations emerge, we choose how we look at them and if we want to respond in an adaptive way or not.  We have probably all seen individuals respond out of proportion to a small stressor that occurred. Similarly, we have all seen or heard about someone who handled a life crisis with ease.  The common denominator in both situations is mindset, or how a person thinks about and perceives their experiences. When people are resilient, they tend to have a more positive outlook when stressful situations arise; they are open to learning from mistakes and stay committed to continuing forward towards their goals despite obstacles. 
The good news is that resilience-based thinking can be learned. Anyone who might not incorporate this as easily as others can learn how to cultivate more of this type of thinking into their daily life.  By refining this skill over time, individuals can improve how they respond to stress and overcome challenges. Even better news is that the more we practice it, the better we get during times when we need it the most.  The reason this occurs is best explained by author Rick Hanson in his book, “Hardwiring Happiness”. The book educates readers on how they can strengthen different neural pathways and rewire the way they think and respond to stress. 
Personally, I believe that anyone who wants to cultivate more resilience-based thinking needs to make it a daily practice instead of waiting to apply it when obstacles occur.  If we start to practice this skill during small instances in our day-to-day, we will become more skillful at being resilient during larger life challenges.
Listed below are some helpful tips for individuals to consider when stressful situations or obstacles arise. By incorporating these tips, individuals can be more resilient each day to stress.
Take a moment to take a deep breath. This will allow you to pause for a moment and decide on the best course of action.  As a result, you will be fully aware of all your options, which will help you decide on how you want to respond.
Ask yourselves the following questions, “How might I adapt to this situation, and/or adjust my thinking to find a solution? Or, “Is there another way to look at this problem?”  Often, when we emote negatively about a situation, it decreases our creativity on finding new approaches or solutions. Before negatively reacting about an obstacle, take a moment to adapt or consider a new approach first.
There are situations in life we can control and those that we cannot. If something comes up that is out of our control, we need to acknowledge that, and let it go.  It does not help us to ruminate and obsess over something whose outcome we cannot change. Resilient individuals recognize what they cannot control and focus their attention on these details. The practice of doing this continues to cultivate and refine that resilience based thinking.
We have all been guilty of this at times. A small stressor occurs, and it snowballs into a larger experience where “everything is horrible.”  In moments like these, it is important to keep a long-term perspective. How does this minor stressor or obstacle impact the bigger picture? For example, if you are stuck in traffic and late to work today, will it matter a year from now?  Probably not, so try to keep your response appropriate to the stressor at hand.
Watch out for extreme thoughts as stressful situations arise. If you notice any extreme thinking, reframe and stay constructive about set-backs.  For example, if something goes wrong, acknowledge it and focus on what you learned, and/or will do differently moving forward. Say to yourself, “I learned that ____ from this experience, and I will use this information as I move forward towards my goals”
Instead of getting bogged down by an obstacle, keep your eye on the larger goal for yourself. Visualize where you want to be or go, and stay committed to that despite challenges along the way. 
As you start to incorporate more resilience-based thinking in your daily life, know that this is a practice that will take time if it does not come naturally to you. When you find yourself falling into old patterns, take notice of it, acknowledge what could have been done differently, and remember these tips to keep moving forward and upward..
Dana Bender, MS, ACSM, CWWS, E-RYT. Dana Bender works as a fitness and wellness Program Manager for Health Fitness Corporation in downtown Chicago. Dana is also a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, an adjunct professor with Rowan University, and an E-RYT 200 hour Registered Yoga Alliance Teacher.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Can Seniors Gain Muscle?

The good news is YES – seniors can add muscle mass just like younger folks!   Several studies have proven that even seniors who have never exercised can increase muscle mass.

A study published in August of 2019 compared rates of protein synthesis (the process by which muscle fiber size is increased) between Endurance-Trained Master Athletes to Untrained Seniors.   The results showed there was NO DIFFERENCE in the muscle building response to resistance training between the two groups!

This was a big surprise to researchers who expected the Master Athletes would have an increased ability to build muscle.    As per the lead researcher Dr. Leigh Breen:

“Our study clearly shows that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start.”

The Benefits of Resistance Training for Older People

Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle with aging, is an inevitable part of growing older and without any intervention you can expect to lose about 15% of your muscle mass between the age of 30 and 80.

This loss of muscle mass is directly related to a person’s ability to maintain an independent lifestyle.     The fact is without adequate muscle mass and the strength it brings people gradually lose their ability to perform activities of daily living including sitting and standing without assistance, walking up and down stairs, and preventing falls when balance is challenged.

So, maintaining muscle mass while we age is VERY important.    Other benefits of resistance training in older folks include:

Improved Walking Ability – a study showed that after 12 weeks of resistance training seniors over age 65 were able to walk 38% further without resting!

Joint Pain Relief – resistance training increases the strength and resilience of muscle, tendons, and ligaments around joints which can take stress off the joints and help ease pain while increasing mobility.

Improved Blood Sugar Control – resistance training also helps to control blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Improved Mental Health – resistance training also increases your production of key growth factors like Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).    BDNF is often referred to as “miracle grow” for the brain because of its potent effects on increasing neuron growth.   This helps explain why resistance training helps prevent dementia!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Important Changes to Nutrition Recommendations

Between 2016 and 2019, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new guidelines that changed the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for several nutrients.
Important Changes for Vitamin D
Among the most important changes was an increase in the RDA for Vitamin D.   No single nutrient is more important and has more important and far reaching influence of many aspects of your physiological function. Without it, your body can’t absorb the calcium you need to keep bones and teeth strong. It also plays a role in immune function, supporting a healthy mood, modulating cell growth and much more.

In 2016, the Food and Nutrition Board increased the RDA of vitamin D for most adults from 400 IU (10 mcg) to 600 IU (15 mcg) per day, and 800 IU (20 mcg) for ages 70+.

Some doctors and nutritionists still recommend higher daily vitamin D intakes, especially for those at risk for having low levels.  The Vitamin D Council, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about vitamin D, recommends average adults supplement with 5,000 IU (125 mcg) of vitamin D daily. Talk with your doctor about your individual needs.
Vitamin D Measurements: Micrograms vs. International Units
In addition, vitamin D amounts must now be listed in micrograms (mcg) on supplement facts and nutrition labels instead of international units (IU). Given that IU was a widely-established and recognized form of measurement for vitamin D, during the transition period companies may include both mcg and IU on product labels for clarity.

If you want to convert vitamin D IU to mcg, simply divide the IU number by 40 to get the equivalent mcg, or to convert mcg to IU, simply multiply the mcg number by 40.

1,000 IU = 25 mcg, since 1,000 ÷ 40 = 25
20 mcg = 800 IU, since 20 × 40 = 800
Changes to Your Vitamin D Supplement
You may have noticed that the daily value percentage on your usual supplement was suddenly lower, which may have led you to believe the product changed.

Take a closer look at your product label to be sure, but most likely the amount of vitamin D in the product didn’t change at all. The same product simply fulfills a lower percentage of the RDA than it did prior to the change because the RDA is now higher.
Daily Value Changes for Other Nutrients
In addition to the increase in recommended daily amounts of vitamin D mentioned above, the DV for fiber was increased from 25 grams to 28 grams, and the nutrients below have changed for most adults due to updated nutrition science research.
Daily Value Increases
Vitamin C: increased from 60 mg to 90 mg
Vitamin K: increased from 80 mcg to 120 mcg
Magnesium: increased from 400 mg to 420 mg
Manganese: increased from 2 mg to 2.3 mg
Phosphorus: increased from 1,000 mg to 1,250 mg
Potassium: increased from 3,500 mg to 4,700 mg
Calcium: increased from 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg
Daily Value Decreases
Vitamin B-12: decreased from 6 mcg to 2.5 mcg
Vitamin B-6: decreased from 2 mg to 1.7 mg
Biotin: decreased from 300 mcg to 30 mg
Niacin: decreased from 20 mg to 16 mg
Chromium: decreased from 120 mcg to 35 mcg
Chloride: decreased from 3,400 mg to 2,300 mg
Copper: decreased from 2 mg to 0.9 mg
Molybdenum: decreased from 75 mcg to 45 mcg
Zinc: decreased from 15 mg to 11 mg
Thiamin: decreased from 1.5 mg to 1.2 mg
Riboflavin: decreased from 1.7 mg to 1.3 mg
Pantothenic acid: decreased from 10 mg to 5 mg
Newly-Established Daily Value for Choline
Previously, no daily value had been established for choline. Your body produces some choline, but you still require a substantial amount of dietary choline.. Choline is essential for many processes in the body, from cellular structure and messaging to metabolizing fat and promoting nervous system health. It also assists vitamin B12 and folate with functions related to DNA synthesis.  

Perhaps most importantly it is used to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACH).   ACH decreases with age, and decreased ACH levels directly reduce cognitive function.   ACH supports alertness, attention, and learning.  ACH levels are critical for memory, and in Alzheimer's patients ACH levels are lowered.   

The newly-established daily value for choline is 500 mg per day. You can get it from choline supplements or foods including eggs (113 mg of choline per egg), beef liver (290 mg of choline per 2.4 ounces), chicken liver (222 mg of choline per 2.4 ounces), cod (249 mg per 85 grams), and more.
ACH levels are also lowered by many common over the counter anti-histamines taken for allergies and sleep such as Benadryl.  These drugs are directly linked to increased dementia risk for this reason.

Adequate dietary choline intake is particularly challenging for vegetarians and even more so vegans because the best dietary sources of choline are from animal products.   It is very difficult to get the 550 mg RDA of choline from purely plant sources.   For this reason it is worth aging Vegetarians or Vegans consider taking a highly bioavailable choline supplement like Alpha GPC.
Folic Acid Supplement Daily Value
Research shows that 70% more folate is absorbed from folic acid supplements than from foods that contain folate, so folic acid supplement labels will be updated to reflect this finding and better align with the dietary folate equivalent. A supplement providing 400 mcg of folic acid previously would have indicated it fulfills 100% of your DV requirements, however now that same 400 mcg supplement will be labeled as fulfilling 170% of your daily requirement.

Many people have a genetic variant in their MTHFR gene which prevents them from converting dietary folate into its active form.   This can cause big problems with many different physiological systems resulting in disorders ranging from severe depression, anxiety to increase homocysteine levels (a serous issue that greatly increases risk of cardiovascular disease) to bipolar disorder to colon cancer to chronic pain and fatigue.

Bottom line you want to get adequate levels of activated folic acid which is simple and safe by taking an activated folic acid supplement like methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF).

To learn more about the MTHFR polymorphism go here: and to learn more  about testing for this and other gene variations and what you can do about them go here: