The Ketogenic Diet Craze: Fat-Filled Lies, Part 1

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ketogenic diPicture this: a thick, juicy, tender eventeak grilled to perfection with melted butter glazed on top, gently dripping down the sides. Lying next to the steak there’s a side of dark green asparagus sautéed in coconut oil and dusted with a sprinkle of sea salt. Could a diet loaded with fat help you lose diet-resistant body fat that’s been taunting the seams of your dress pants and poking through buttons on your shirt? Will eating fat turn you into an all-star athlete? This is part 1 of a 2 part series on the ketogenic diet.

Here is what I will cover in this blog post:

  • What is the ketogenic diet?
  • Adverse health effects.

Here is what I will cover in tomorrow’s blog on this topic:

  • The issue with ketogenic research studies.
  • Is the ketogenic diet superior for losing fat?
  • How will the ketogenic diet affect muscle?
  • How will the ketogenic diet impact athletic performance?

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

For nearly a century, epileptic patients have used ketogenic diets to control seizures when common medications provide no relief. Scientists aren’t sure why following a ketogenic diet decreases the incidence and severity of seizures but it works.

The ketogenic diet contains – 80-90% of calories from fat, 15% from protein and 5% from carbohydrate (1, 2). Food choices may include heavy cream, bacon, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, mayonnaise and sausage while fruits, starchy vegetables, breads, pasta, cereal and other carbohydrate-rich foods are not allowed.

During the first several days on a ketogenic diet, your body’s limited supply of carbohydrate stored in liver and muscle tissue decreases dramatically. As a result, you will feel like you have mono – exhausted, with headaches and easy exercise will feel like you’re climbing Mount Everest (3). Once your stored carbohydrate has dwindled, ketones, formed from the breakdown of dietary fat, become the primary source of energy for brain and body. Ketogenic means “ketone forming.” It takes at least seven days to reach nutritional ketosis and several weeks to fully adapt to the diet (12). If you aren’t in nutritional ketosis (as measured by blood, urine or breath ketones; ketone levels > 0.5 mmol/L), then you aren’t following a ketogenic diet, you are on a low carbohydrate diet.

Adverse Health Effects from the Ketogenic Diet

Much of the research on adverse effects comes from studies in epileptic children since they have been on the diet for long periods of time. These studies show soon after starting a ketogenic diet, blood cholesterol levels and artery stiffness increase (4, 5). High total and LDL cholesterol are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels). When arteries are stiff, they cannot expand as well in response to changes in blood pressure. Think of this like a garden hose when you turn up the water pressure, your hose either expands or the water bursts out of the space between the faucet and the hose. When arteries cannot open widely to accommodate increases in blood flow, blood pressure increases leading to microscopic tears on artery walls, development of scar tissue and the perfect surface for plaque buildup (6). Blood cholesterol levels returned to normal in patients who went off the diet and in those who stayed on it, they returned to normal after 6 to 12 months. Artery stiffness returned to normal after 24 months on a ketogenic diet.5 Studies in obese patients suggest ketogenic diets improve blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels over time, either due to the diet, weight loss from the diet, a combination of the two or carbohydrate restriction (7, 8). Lose weight, regardless of what you eat and blood cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar and many other disease risk factors will improve.

Ketogenic diets are typically low in calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, folic acid and fiber. There are several potential consequences associated with consistently low intake of each of these micronutrients including softening of the bones, decreased bone density, muscle damage, muscle weakness or spasms, and abnormal heart rhythm. However, with careful planning, a fiber supplement, multivitamin and under the guidance of a physician who may prescribe potassium and sodium supplements (blood sodium could drop to dangerously low levels while on this diet), nutrient needs can be met. Also, to prevent constipation when on a ketogenic diet, a fiber supplement may be necessary along with more water / fluid intake then you are used to.

Here are some other potentially bad side effects from following a high fat diet:

  • Harm to your Brain. Studies in mice show a high fat diet, even when followed for as little as two months leads to chronic inflammation, sedentary immune cells in the brain – these cells typically act like janitors picking up trash and infectious compounds but when they become sedentary they stop doing their job, leading to cognitive impairment (9). Does this happen in humans and resolve over time? We don’t know.
  • Mad Bacteria in Your Gut. A diet with no probiotics (healthy bacteria) and low in prebiotics (certain types of fiber that the healthy bacteria much on for food keeping them happy) will likely change the composition of bacteria in your gut so you have more harmful and less beneficial bacteria.
  • Leaky Gut. High saturated fat meals increase bacterial toxins (endotoxins) in the intestines and intestinal permeability. In other words: leaky gut (10, 11). If you are on this diet, consider opting for foods lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fats (liquid oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives).
  • Free radicals in overdrive? If you can’t eat a number of colorful foods including blueberries, beets, corn, oranges, and more, chances are you won’t get a wide array of antioxidant compounds to quench free radicals (compounds that are important for good health but can wreck your body when they aren’t tamed by antioxidants) as well as other plant-based compounds that keep your arteries, muscles and other parts of your body healthy. Will your body adapt? We don’t know at this time.

Are the side effects and potential negative side effects worth it if you can lose weight on this diet? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on how the ketogenic diet impacts body fat and athletic performance.

References

1 Freeman JM, Freeman JB, Kelly MT. The ketogenic diet: a treatment for epilepsy. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Demos Health; 2000.

2 Paoli A, Bianco A, Damiani E, Bosco G. Ketogenic Diet in Neuromuscular and Neurodegenerative Diseases. BioMed Research International 2014, Article ID 474296, 10 pages, 2014.

3 White AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD et al. Blood ketones are directly related to fatigue and perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults adhering to low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(10):1792-6.

4 Tanakis M, Liuba P, Odermarsky M, Lundgren J, Hallböök T. Effects of ketogenic diet on vascular function. Eur J Paediatr Neurol 2014;18(4):489-94.

5 Coppola G, Natale F, Torino A et al. The impact of the ketogenic diet on arterial morphology and endothelial function in children and young adults with epilepsy: a case-control study. Seizure 2014;23(4):260-5.

6 Cecelja M, Chowienczyk P. Role of arterial stiffness in cardiovascular disease. JRSM Cardiovascular Disease 2012;1(4):1-10.

7 Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, Asfar SK, Behbahani A, Khoursheed MA, Al-Sayer HM, Bo-Abbas YY, Al-Zaid NS. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol 2004; 9(3): 200–205.

8 Volek JS, Feinman RD. Carbohydrate restriction improves the features of Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome may be defined by the response to carbohydrate restriction. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2005;2:31.

9 Hao S, Dey A, Yu X, Stranahan AM. Dietary obesity reversibly induces synaptic stripping by microglia and impairs hippocampal plasticity. Brain Behav Immun 2016 Jan;51:230-9.

10 Mani V, Hollis JH, Gabler NK. Dietary oil composition differentially modulates intestinal endotoxin transport and postprandial endotoxemia. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2013; 10: 6.

11 Lam YY, Ha CW, Campbell CR, Mitchell AJ, Dinudom A, Oscarsson J, Cook DI, Hunt NH, Caterson ID, Holmes AJ, Storlien LH. Increased gut permeability and microbiota change associate with mesenteric fat inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in diet-induced obese mice. PLoS One 2012;7(3):e34233.

12 Paoli, A, Grimaldi K, D’Agostino D, Cenci L, Moro T, Bianco A, Palma A. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012;9:34.

What Causes Muscle Cramps? How Can I Prevent Them?

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Muscle cramp
There are two main types of muscle cramps. If you can identify which one you are experiencing you may be able to stop cramping sooner and prevent future cramps.

Localized Muscle Cramping

Localized muscle cramps happen suddenly when a muscle is overworked and tired.

They feel like: constant pain.

Risk factors include: several factors may contribute to localized muscle cramping including: older age, history of cramping, metabolic disturbances, poor conditioning (or increasing the intensity of your training before you are ready) and not stretching. 

Treatment: for this type of cramping should include passive stretching, massage, active contraction of the antagonist or opposing muscle group (for instance, if your hamstrings are cramping, contract your quads), and icing.

Prevention:  Stretching (hold your stretch for at least 30 seconds), using proper movement patterns (biomechanics) and making sure you are conditioned before increasing the intensity of your training.

Exertional Heat Cramps

Exertional heat cramps are due to extensive sweating and low sodium levels from not consuming enough sodium and/or losing too much sodium through sweat.

They feel like: initially you may feel brief, spontaneous contractions that take time to develop followed by debilitating, widespread muscle spasms.

Risk factors include: high sweat rate, little sodium intake (especially if you lose a lot of sodium through sweat or over consume water or other no or low sodium drinks).

Treatment: replacing both fluid and sodium losses as soon as you start cramping. You can use an electrolyte replacement product or table salt! IVs are sometimes used to expedite this process. Massage and ice can also help relax the muscles and relieve discomfort.

Prevention: if you are a “salty sweater” – you see white salt crystals on your clothes, face or other parts of your body, be sure to salt your food prior to training and competing and consume enough sodium in your sports drink to prevent excessive sodium losses.

If you know what type of cramps you are prone to, you can better incorporate prevention methods and have treatment options readily available to stop cramping as soon as possible [ice, sports drinks, electrolyte products, table salt (restaurant salt packets in a ziplock bag always come in handy), a good athletic trainer nearby etc.].

As a review, here are your prevention strategies for cramping:

  • If you have a history of heat cramping, know that your cramps will likely reoccur at some point during training or competition.
  • Make sure you are conditioned before increasing the load or intensity of your training.
  • Incorporate stretching or hot yoga into your training regimen.
  • Give your body time to adjust to changes in elevation, heat and humidity.
  • Salt your food!
  • Do not over-consume water or any other low or no sodium beverage or you’ll dilute your blood sodium level and set yourself up for cramps.
  • Weigh yourself pre- and post- training. For each lb lost, consume 20 – 24 oz of an electrolyte-replacement drink.
  • Work with a sports dietitian or athletic trainer (ATC) to develop a hydration-electrolyte plan that specifically meets your needs. Sports drinks do not contain enough sodium for salty sweaters and those prone to exertional heat cramps.

 

 

Electrolytes That Will Help You Stay Hydrated & Perform Better

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tennis athleteElectrolytes are minerals that help you stay hydrated, regulate nerve functioning, and influence muscle contraction and relaxation. Any electrolyte disturbance can potentially hinder athletic performance and may lead to muscle weakness, muscle twitching, dehydration, and cramping.

Sodium and chloride (together they make table salt) are the major electrolytes lost through sweat followed by smaller amounts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Sodium is the primary electrolyte that needs replacing during exercise. In a healthy individual, blood potassium is well regulated. Also, supplemental potassium in high doses can be very dangerous therefore, while some electrolyte replacement products provide a tiny bit of potassium, this isn’t an essential ingredient.

Sweat sodium losses vary tremendously between athletes with reported losses ranging from the amount in a “pinch” of salt (0.2 grams of sodium) per liter (1 liter = 4.23 cups) of sweat to over 12.5 grams of sodium per liter (12.5 grams of sodium is the amount in 5.4 teaspoons of salt) of sweat. Sweat sodium losses are dependent on an athlete’s dietary sodium intake, sweat rate, adaptation to heat, and rehydration source (and how much sodium their during exercise beverage contains).

Hydrating with water alone can help prevent over-heating, though sodium helps your body hold onto the fluid you drink. In fact, relying solely on water and drinking tons of water (let’s say you only rehydrate with water during a four hour marathon) can dilute blood sodium levels and contribute to hyponatremia (dangerously low blood sodium that can result in muscle weakness spasms or cramps,  headache or confusion, low energy and at worst, brain swelling, seizure and coma). Drink tons of water after exercise to rehydrate and you’ll pee a good bit of it right back out. Popular sports drinks typically provide varying amounts of electrolytes though some athletes may need to add sodium to their sports drink to fully replace sodium lost through sweat.

If you find that you need more sodium, start by adding 50 – 100 mg for every 8 oz. of fluid. So for instance, mix ½ packet Gatorlytes into a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade or PowerAde (or similar sports drink).

Electrolyte Comparison Chart

Product, Rating, Description Bottom Line
Gatorlytes   ****
1 packet; powder
– Mix in any amount of water or other beverages
– No calories– Sodium: 780 mg
– Potassium: 400 mg
– Magnesium: 40 mg
Easily mixes into any beverage; good amount of sodium and you can use part of a package if you want a partial serving.

 

Generation UCAN Hydrate  **
1 packet; powder
– Mix in 16 – 20 oz. water
– No calories
-Lemon lime flavor
-Sweetened with Stevia -Sodium: 300 mg
-Potassium: 100 mg
-Magnesium: 50 mg
-Calcium: 15 mg
Already flavored so this can only be mixed with water. Best for the very light sweater – one who doesn’t sweat much or lose much sodium through sweat.

 

Not for serious athletes.

Hammer Endurolytes   *
2 electrolyte capsules
-Swallow capsules or open & mix in a drink
-Contains glycine to help neutralize the salty taste

-Sodium: 80 mg
-Potassium: 50 mg
-Magnesium: 50 mg
-Calcium: 100 mg

Low in sodium for an electrolyte product. Many athletes would need several capsules.

 

-Xylitol is a common ingredient in Hammer products, which like all sugar alcohols, has the potential cause GI problems

Infinit Nutrition :Speed < 3 hours  ****
1 packet :Speed < 3 hours
– 230 calories
– 55 g carbohydrate from maltodextrin and dextrose

-Sodium: 325 mg
-Potassium: 94 mg
-Magnesium: 5 mg
-Calcium: 3 mg

Good for the athlete who is looking for a sports drink with sodium.

 

Many athletes, especially those who are heavy sweaters or salty sweaters, will need to add additional sodium.

Klean Electrolytes   *
1 electrolyte capsuleThey recommend taking 1 – 3 capsules, depending on sweat rate, weight, and activity duration.

-Sodium: 40 mg
-Potassium: 25 mg
-Magnesium: 25 mg
-Calcium: 25 mg

Relatively low in sodium for an electrolyte supplement.
MyProtein  ****
-flavored Electrolyte powder

-Chloride: 320 mg
-Sodium: 210 mg

This is table salt (exact same ratio of chloride and sodium) with potassium sulfate, calcium di phosphate and magnesium added (it isn’t clear how much is added).
NUUN   *
Electrolyte tablets (12 per tube)
Comes in 3 drink options:1 NUUN Active Hydration Tablet
-Sodium: 360 mg
-Potassium: 100 mg
-Magnesium: 25 mg
-Calcium: 13 mg

NUUN All Day Hydration
– Sodium: 60 mg
– Potassium: 200 mg
– Magnesium: 20 mg
– Calcium: 0 mg

NUUN U Natural Hydration
– Sodium: 180 mg
– Potassium: 77 mg
– Magnesium: 20 mg
– Calcium: 0 mg

NUUN Active Hydration contains sorbitol which is a sugar alcohol that may cause GI (stomach) distress (sorbitol is one of the 2 worst ones for stomach uspet)

 

NUUN’s U natural hydration uses Stevia instead of sorbitol

 

 

Skratch Exercise Hydration mix   ***

Electrolyte mix that can be added into any drink
– 80 calories; 20 grams carbohydrate
– Uses fruit
– No artificial flavors or colors

1 scoop (20 gm) Lemons and Limes Skratch exercise hydration mix:

-Sodium: 240 mg
-Potassium: 40 mg
-Magnesium: 24 mg
-Calcium: 10 mg

As a powder this can be modified to fit a person’s individual needs. It contains carbohydrate though and therefore it may deliver too many carbs at a time when combined with a sports drink or other calorie-containing beverage. Too many carbs at a time = stomach upset.
The Right Stuff   ***

20 ml liquid electrolyte replacement designed as a pre-exercise hyperhydrator (to expand plasma volume via sodium fluid load)

-Liquid form
-Sweetened with Splenda

-Sodium: 1,780 mg
-Chloride: 1,379 mg
-Citrate: 2,953 mg

Good option for “heavy sweaters” or athletes exercising in hot and humid environments (due to its high sodium content). However, there is nothing to suggest The Right Stuff is better than other electrolyte products when equating for sodium content or, in the case of rehydration, other factors that may contribute to fluid balance including macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs).

The research listed on their website is less than impressive since most studies compared The Right Stuff against low and no sodium conditions (the studies were not designed to truly test The Right Stuff but instead make the product look good).
In one well-designed study, that included seven total beverages. Two contained the same amount of sodium, beverages 3 & 4 (The Right Stuff). Oddly beverage 3 is missing from the results data. Also, The Right Stuff didn’t fare better than a lower sodium beverage for improving hydration status after dehydration (technically termed hypohydration). Reference below:

Greenleaf et al. Vascular Uptake of Rehydration Fluids in Hypohydrated Men at Rest and Exercise. NASA Technical Memorandum. August 1992.

Feast on Fish for Your Heart

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Salmon dinner from Foodie Buddha
Salmon Nigiri from Foodie Buddha

By Collier Perno

If you’re among the 60% of Americans with elevated blood pressure I’m sure you’ve heard your doctors say these things: “lower your sodium intake,” “increase your physical activity,” and “decrease your alcohol consumption.” While these are all great recommendations, new research has shows there is an alternative treatment that may be even better at lowering blood pressure: the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA)4.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential (the human body can’t make them) polyunsaturated fat. There are three main types of omega-3s, EPA, DHA and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found in cold-water fish, fish oil, and algae and are crucial for brain development, reducing inflammation, protecting structural cell integrity, and they may help decrease muscle soreness in athletes1.

In March of 2014, the American Journal of Hypertension released a comprehensive meta analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies) that examined 70 randomized controlled trials studying the effect EPA and DHA on blood pressure (BP). Participants were adults with normal BP and adults with high blood pressure who were not taking BP lowering medications. Subjects were given EPA and DHA omega-3s in the form of seafood, fortified foods, or dietary supplements. The results of the study showed a decrease in both systolic and diastolic BP in all adults. The most significant effects were found in those with existing high BP. There was an average 4.51 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was reduced by an average 3.05 mm Hg4.

The analysis also compared common lifestyle recommendations and their effects on BP to EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids effects on BP. The findings were astonishing. When looking at SBP (the top number – this reflects the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats), consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 had an average decrease of 4.51 mm Hg, while reduced dietary sodium had an average reduction of 3.6 mm Hg, and decreased alcohol consumption had an average 3.8 mm Hg decrease. The only lifestyle recommendation shown to have a greater decrease in SBP was increased physical activity, which lowered SBP by 4.6 mmHg.

Still not sold on the benefits of consuming omega-3? There’s more! Over the past two decades, some research has linked the consumption of omega-3 fish oils to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. killing about 600,000 Americans each year (that’s 1 in every 4 deaths)2. As previously discussed, omega-3s reduce BP levels (a major risk factor for heart disease) and lower triglyceride levels. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association concluded consumption of omega-3 fatty acids creates a significant cardioprotective effect in non-hypertensive individuals3.

How do I get my omega-3 fatty acids?

  • The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week to increase omega-3 dietary intake
  • Fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, sardines, herring, albacore tuna, and salmon are all great sources of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Eating walnuts, flax seeds, soy beans, kidney beans, and tofu are other great ways to increase your omega 3 consumption. These provide Alpha- Linoleic Acid (ALA) form of omega 3s.
  • When looking for omega 3 supplements choose nordic naturals or any supplement that is USP certified. Costco’s Kirkland brand is a great option!
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids | University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 Fat. Acids. Available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  2. CDC – DHDSP – Heart Disease Facts. Am. Heart Dis. Facts. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  3. Key Messages for JAMA/Annals of Internal Medicine Studies. Journal of American Medical Association. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  1. Cid, Martha. Omega-3s Can Significantly Reduce Blood Pressure, Study Finds.     Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Accessed November 12,20

Keep Your Heart Health

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By Sara Shipley, nutrition student, University of Central Oklahoma

February is National Heart Month. With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US and the leading killer of women, an increased awareness of this disease is important. The American Heart Association encourages awareness through their GO RED campaign and promotes a heart healthy lifestyle, including physical activity and smart eating habits. In fact, this past Friday, February 3rd marked “National Wear Red Day”, which promotes awareness and advocacy for the prevention of heart disease.

Although most Performance Nutrition readers are active, there are several important issues to consider when it comes to risk factors related to heart disease.

High cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and tobacco use are all factors that can normally be controlled without medication(some exceptions apply to certain people). In general, minor adjustments to your eating habits can have significant benefits to lowering your risk for developing heart disease.

These adjustments include:

  • Keep your blood pressure low by watching your sodium intake– high levels will increase BP.
  • High cholesterol levels will increase your chances of developing atherosclerosis. When your arteries are hardened- your heart works harder to function, if it works at all. This directly leads to heart attacks.
  • Lower your saturated and trans fat intake, as these types of fats             have been determined to increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in your blood.
  • Eat foods with more fiber– whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Increased dietary fiber is linked to decreased risk of high cholesterol levels, controlled blood sugar and weight loss. Obesity makes your heart work harder, and counters every benefit just listed above from fiber.
  • Sugar control– natural, unprocessed sugar found in fruits and vegetables is great! However, baked goods and sodas should be moderately consumed and not a staple in your diet.
  • Smoking is bad for you. Do I need to explain any further?

This message may be old news to you or maybe you forgot all the repercussions that a poor diet can have on your health. Regardless, take this short message to heart and remember that without a healthy, beating muscle in your chest- you will not be able to run, jump, swim, bike, shoot hoops or do anything. Heart health is essential, especially to athletes with added stress to our bodies.

Have a great day and don’t forget to wear red not just on Friday, February 3rd to support the GO RED initiative but throughout heart health month!

Facing the Nutrition Facts

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Sara Shipley, Nutrition student at the University of Central Oklahoma

When you grocery shop, do you bother to read nutrition facts? When you scan the labels- what exactly are you looking to find? Total Calories? Grams of Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates or Sodium? The list of ingredients? Serving size?

Reading the Nutrition Fact panel on a package of food is a step in the right direction to mindful eating, and according to a study by Washington State University Economist Bidisha Mandal, reading food labels aids weight loss efforts. Mandal’s research shows that reading labels contributes to a greater chance of successful weight loss in those who do not exercise. However, reading the nutrition fact panel is only as valuable as understanding the information. And if you want to benefit from label reading, it is imperative that you know what to look for on a label. The percentage values, for instance, are not a ‘one-size fits all’ recommendation, and the order of nutrients are not necessarily listed in the greatest priority. In short- it’s no surprise that people glaze over when attempting to skim the labels. It’s basically a confusing cluster of numbers, unless you know what each value means to you.

Recently, a research study was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association investigating consumer’s behavior while grocery shopping. Previous research has been conducted on the subject, but this research was based on the subject’s perception of how thoroughly they read labels, rather than the actual amount they read. The researchers, D.J. Graham PhD and R.W. Jeffery PhD, from the University of Minnesota sought a more thorough approach with the use of eye-scanning devices strategically placed in the supermarket. They wanted to directly measure visual attention, and relate the data to perceived behavior reported from subjects. The results support the premise that although consumer’s reportedly read labels, only a fraction of people take the time to actually decipher the nutrition facts. According to the study, people only look at the first 4-5 lines. Well bad news folks- you’re missing out. Although serving size is relevant, there are so many additional, pertinent nutrients listed below. You might be thinking, ‘of course- why bother reading if you’re not going to actually pay attention to the entire panel?’ Well, how many times have you accidentally snagged the wrong flavored soup or yogurt by mistake? Though the name is usually plastered to the front of the can or carton, but habitually grabbing the familiar package is an honest mistake. So, what exactly are people missing at the very bottom, even below the fact panel? The entire list of ingredients. The problem with all of this is: if the average American is claiming to read the nutrition facts but too lazy to scan down 6-7 lines, their efforts are futile. Now, if at this point you’re thinking- ‘I don’t want to read that laundry list of items on every package I buy.’ You may want to reconsider consuming such processed foods.

Here’s why:

Reading the nutrition fact panel helps you make an educated decision about what you are eating. With the national average obesity rate at an alarming 33%, according to the CDC- people should be making more conscious choices.

Each person’s recommended dietary needs will vary, but this is my simple approach to reading nutrition fact panels:

  • Look at the Serving size and the number of servings in a package. Each ingredient value listed thereafter is according to a single serving.
  • Look at Saturated fat: eat minimally (<7% total daily calories, avg. 16 grams)
  • Look for Fiber: aim for 15-25 grams/day
  • Look for Protein: aim for 120-130 grams/day (depending on your weight, physical activity and health status – most adults should aim for 1.2 – 2.0 grams protein per kg bodyweight)
  • Look for Sodium: a healthy daily amount ranges from 1500-2300 mg
  • Look at Sugar: some very healthy foods are naturally high in sugar (fruit, dried fruit and dairy for instance) therefore, though you should be mindful of your sugar intake, it isn’t necessary or realistic to cut all sugar out of your diet (and for the athlete certain kinds of sugar, consumed at the right times can improve various aspects of athletic performance and recovery).

As you probably suspect- I read the labels. I want to know exactly what I am putting in my body. Likewise, if you’re training /regularly active, why absent-mindedly ruin your efforts with processed junk? You may not even realize the detriment to your diet because you thought all along that ‘multigrain’ crackers were the high-fiber choice. Reading the label should really be half of your efforts while grocery shopping. Try to ‘shop the perimeter’ where the produce, vegetables, fresh fish and meats are offered. These items usually do not have nutrition fact panels, because they are whole foods. Shop for whole foods that have a single ingredient and it takes all the confusion out of grocery shopping and reading nutrition fact panels.

Why Athletes Should Shake the Salt Shaker (on their food)

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Yesterday morning I was telling a young, inactive man how to lower his blood pressure. By afternoon I was pleading with a pro athlete to use the salt shaker. The response I received was expected, “but I thought salt was bad for me? Both of my parents have high blood pressure.” Ah, but do YOU have high blood pressure? If the answer is no (and I’d be shocked if it’s yes if you are an athlete, especially a young athlete), then you absolutely need sodium.

The collective “skip the salt shaker” and “lower your sodium” advice is geared to the general population. The masses of inactive, overweight and obese inactive adults that populate the U.S. and many Westernized nations. But for athletes, salt is critical for a few reasons:

  • Sodium is the electrolyte you lose the most of through sweat
  • Low sodium levels = more fluid lost through sweat = dehydration, increased likelihood of overheating, heat illness
  • Low sodium + fluid loss can lead to low blood pressure. And, low blood pressure sucks since it can leave you feeling dizzy, lethargic and with orthostatic hypotension (get up too quickly and the room spins and everything goes blurry for a few seconds). And, you can even faint from low blood pressure (again, no fun). Oh and by the way, athletes tend to have lower heart rates and blood pressure then non-athletes anyway.
  • Very low blood sodium is called hyponatremia, a very dangerous condition (read more about hyponatremia here)
  • And finally, your body can get rid of excess sodium.

So, as an athlete, please don’t listen to the general advice for the masses. If you have specific questions, go to a sports dietitian.