We are still studying fats in my Nutrients class, and yesterday the assignment was to create a client handout on something related to fat. When we make client handouts, the purpose is to give clear, solid information on a topic that is relevant to a client’s health. I chose hydrogenation. There is so much information out there about hydrogenated oils, partially-hydrogenated oils, foods containing these oils… many people don’t know what to make of it all.

How Does It Work?

Hydrogenation is the most common method used for altering natural oils. It is also extremely harmful to our health. During hydrogenation, unsaturated and essential fatty acids are altered using high temperatures, high pressure, hydrogen gas, and a metal catalyst. The metal catalyst is usually nickel. However, it can be called nickel as long as it is 50.1% nickel, and this is usually the case – the other half is aluminum. The aluminum remains in the final product, and is therefore eaten by the consumer. Aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and even cancer.

So What is Partial Hydrogenation?

Partial hydrogenation is simply hydrogenation that is not fully completed. This keeps the oil at a consistency that is still useable in many products. However, partial hydrogenation also changes anywhere from 10% to 55% of the oils original fats into harmful trans fatty acids and other unnatural fatty acids. Full hydrogenation produces only saturated fatty acids, but is difficult to use in products because of its harder, waxy consistency.

The chemical changes made during partial hydrogenation alter fat molecules to the point where they are interfering with normal biochemical processes inside our bodies. Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol, decrease HDL cholesterol, interfere with liver detoxification, and inhibit proper function of essential fatty acids (which leads to obesity and other disease). All essential fatty acids (omega-3s and omega-6s), which are vital for health, are destroyed during hydrogenation.

Partially hydrogenated oils are found in products such as margarine, shortenings, shortening oils, certain vegetable oils, some salad dressings, fried foods, candies, and bakery products.

Why Is Hydrogenation Used?

Hydrogenated oils will not spoil, so shelf life is increased. The process of altering the oils makes them usable in a wider variety of products. Also, the hydrogenation process is inexpensive and products made with hydrogenated oils have extremely high profit margins.

A classmate mentioned last night that margarine, which is made from hydrogenated oils, is one molecule away from being plastic. And, rumor has it that if you leave a stick of margarine and a stick of butter outside, over time the butter will get completely eaten by bugs and squirrels and birds, but the margarine will be left untouched. What animals and insects want to eat plastic?? I can assure you I will be performing this experiment as soon as it gets warmer outside, so stay tuned!

What Does It Mean For Health?

During the hydrogenation process, the following items are removed from oils:

  • All protein
  • All fiber
  • 95-99% of all minerals
  • 65-100% of all vitamins
  • Almost all lecithin and phytosterols (both very beneficial nutrients)
  • All or some essential fatty acids

In addition, toxic substances are added into the oils so they are in optimal form for being inserted into food products. Trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated oils are foreign to our bodies. Because of this, they completely throw off balance and lead to the following health issues:

  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Damage to cell membranes
  • Harmful to the heart’s proper functioning
  • Impair energy flow and production
  • Interfere with pregnancy
  • Can cause low birth weight and other birth issues
  • Decreases insulin response (precursor to diabetes)
  • Other major diseases and health issues

What You Can Do

The best thing you can do is to completely avoid anything containing hydrogenated oils (partial or otherwise). Labeling can be unclear – depending on the degree of hydrogenation, the food company may or may not be legally required to label it “partially” hydrogenated. So, whether the label says “hydrogenated,” “partially hydrogenated,” or even “shortening,” just avoid it altogether. And when you see things advertised as “zero trans fats,” be careful. If the product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fats, they can claim to have 0 trans fats. So they may still contain trans fats, and if it is something you eat on a regular basis, that adds up.

Buy butter, not margarine or any other buttery spreads, as we talked about here. Of all the options out there, real butter is the only 100% whole food. And you know how I feel about eating only whole foods!

And, perhaps most importantly, educate yourself on fats. Essential fats are so vital to our health and without them, our bodies will eventually fail us. Too many of us are terrified of fats, leading us to consume only products labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free”. But if you do your homework, you will realize how harmful these products really are. So, go enjoy your butter (buy raw – it’s much better!) and remember that fats do not make us fat, as long as you’re eating the right kinds!


Organic Industry Structure but first... PWN Giveaway Winner!

The winner of the Blog Aid Recipes of Haiti cookbook, using Random.org number generator, is…


Kaleena is a Maine girl, and she loves to cook. Her blog Top Notch Eats has so many great recipes and they are simple to make, which for me is key! Be sure to check them out. Kaleena, I hope you'll make your way through the cookbook and blog some of your favorites! That way I'll know which ones I should try!

Thanks so much to everyone who entered my first giveaway!

And now onto the Organic Industry Structure:

In my Food Therapy class this week, a couple of my classmates did a presentation on the current farm bill. They showed some information on the organic industry structure, reflecting increased consolidation in this area. Some of the information was pretty surprising to me, so I wanted to share it with you here. I have included the pictures because sometimes that is more familiar than the actual name.

Hershey Foods: Acquired Dagoba in 2006

Coca Cola: Acquired Honest Tea (2008) and Odwalla (2001)

Pepsi: Acquired Naked Juice (2006)

Cadbury: Acquired Green & Black’s in 2005

ConAgra: Acquired Alexia Foods (2007) and Lightlife (2000)

General Mills: Acquired LaraBar (2008), Cascadian Farms (1999) and Muir Glen (1998)

Kraft: Acquired Boca Foods (2000) and Back to Nature (2003)

Kellogg: Acquired Bare Naked (2007), Kashi (2000) and Morningstar Farms (1999)

Heinz: Strategic Alliance with many companies including Rice Dream/Soy Dream (2002), MaraNatha (2008), Spectrum Organics (2005), Earth’s Best (1999), Garden of Eatin’ (1998), Arrowhead Mills (1998), and Westsoy (1997)

Do any of these surprise you? I was particularly surprised by LaraBar, Arrowhead Mills and Mara Natha. I am not trying to tell you to avoid these products just because they were acquired by non-organic companies. That would be ridiculous! I will continue to enjoy some of them on a regular basis. Like Lara Bars – they make a great snack! However, I do believe we need to educate ourselves about where our food comes from, and knowing who is behind the company is important information. Remember to always read labels carefully and don’t hesitate to research ingredients that you haven’t heard of. Be picky! A few days ago, my friend Sondra told me about an ingredient in a marinade she bought: titanium dioxide. She is a hair stylist and remembers seeing that ingredient in some of the styling products they used while she was in school. She immediately threw the marinade out! Who wants to eat something that is also used in hair products - gross!

Of course, buying something that was made locally, such as freshly ground wheat or honey from your local farmer’s market, is ideal. These things are more likely to be fresh and made with high quality ingredients. But this is not always possible, so just keep the above information in mind next time you pick up one of those brands!


How to Lower Your Cholesterol With Nutrition

Today is the LAST DAY to sign up for the cookbook giveaway! Go here to add a comment and you will be automatically entered. Winner announced tomorrow!

According to the book I am reading, the average total cholesterol level for Americans is 220 mg/dl. For those with cholesterol at 240 mg/dl, death rate from cardiovascular disease is four times higher than average. For people who live in poorer countries and live on diets containing only whole grains, vegetables, and some animal foods, cholesterol levels are in the 120 – 160 range and cardiovascular disease is extremely rare.An interesting fact: cholesterol consumption has remained about constant for the last 100 years, while cardiovascular disease has increased 300% and cancer has increased 500%. So in those 100 years, what type of consumption has NOT remained constant? Sugars and fake, refined, processed foods. Again, this leads me to believe we need to focus on eliminating these “fake” foods we have introduced into the American diet and return to the way people used to eat: fresh, local, whole foods.

Someone with high cholesterol really needs to focus on increasing vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake. I read that only 30% of people are actually subject to increasing blood cholesterol from increased consumption of cholesterol in food (animal foods). The other 70% are protected by an efficient regulating mechanism in which their body produces less cholesterol if they are consuming more, and produces more when they are consuming less. The point is, while eating animal food (meat, dairy, eggs) can increase cholesterol, it is more important and useful to focus on eliminating the processed, refined and fake foods that are so harmful to our health.

Cholesterol needs to be transported through our blood, and to do this requires binding to an essential fatty acid. Therefore, as I mentioned Monday and Tuesday, essential fatty acids are crucial for every diet, but especially for people with high cholesterol. After transport, cholesterol must be changed into bile acids so it is properly excreted. Vitamin C is required for this – another important nutrient for those trying to lower their cholesterol. When cholesterol cannot work the way it is meant to inside our bodies, we lose our health.

People trying to lower their LDL cholesterol should stay away from any excess or processed sugars, including boxed cereals, alcohol, cookies, cakes, pastries, bread products that are not “whole” grain or wheat, and flavored yogurts. If your LDL is really high, you may even consider reducing or eliminating honey and sweet fruits to see if that helps lower cholesterol levels. Refined, hydrogenated oils should AWAYS be avoided. Read labels!!!

Copper actually can be used to lower LDL cholesterol. Food sources of copper include beef liver (described by my Nutrients teacher as “the most nutrient-dense food you can eat” – more on this in a couple weeks!), rye, dried beans, cashews, black strap molasses, sunflower seeds, almonds, millet, prunes, pecans, and sesame seeds.

Chromium has also been known to lower cholesterol, in conjunction with niacin. Chromium is found in liver, green peppers, rye, carrots, apples, banana, spinach, cabbage and blueberries. Long term deficiencies in chromium lead to elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Niacin is a B-vitamin (B-3) and food sources include liver, chicken, salmon, halibut, brown rice, sunflower seeds, almonds, whole wheat and eggs.

Remember, fiber is also needed because it removes excess cholesterol from the body. Good food sources include apples (with skin), beets, carrots, flax, beans, oats, cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries, pears and some types of seaweed. Also, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines protect against cholesterol deposits.

In addition to lowering LDL, people with high cholesterol should focus on increasing HDL. HDL carries cholesterol to our liver for removal. We can increase HDL by consuming foods such as garlic, onions, ginseng, fish, chromium, vitamin C and vitamin E. Another great way to increase HDL (and our health overall) is to exercise more often. Below: Ed and me, with friends Mandy and Andy, after hiking to the top of Highlands peak in Aspen. Elevation: 12,392 feet. Exercise? I think so!

“Neither animal eaters nor plant consumers need fear cardiovascular disease is they take their foods from unrefined natural sources… Refined sugars, refined starches, hard fats, and refined, denatured oils from which vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein have been removed should be expected to create problems. Sugar consumption and high serum triglycerides correlate with cardiovascular deaths at least as highly as do serum cholesterol levels.”

I hope the information on cholesterol the past few days has been helpful. Eat whole foods, and avoid processed foods. If you do have high cholesterol, please take it seriously. I know it’s not fun to make sacrifices in your diet, especially if you are still young, but long-term health is so important and really not worth compromising for a beer here or there or your daily Starbuck’s muffin. Make changes that will support your health – I promise it will be worth it!


Processed Foods and Cholesterol

Day 2 of cholesterol info at PWN…

As we learned yesterday, essential fatty acids are necessary for removing excess cholesterol from the body. A diet too low in essential fatty acids can lead to high blood cholesterol levels. Foods containing essential fatty acids include flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, halibut, shrimp, scallops, winter squash, hemp oil, almonds, dark leafy green vegetables, lean meats and eggs. But if someone is eating plenty of these foods, what else can cause high blood cholesterol?

A diet that contains many processed foods, such as fast food, potato chips, sodas, cake or brownie mixes and other baked goods, frozen meals (even those such as “Smart Ones” or labeled “lean” or “lite”!), sugary granola or fiber bars, pop tarts, boxed crackers or sugary yogurts, can increase cholesterol. These foods produce an excess of acetate in the body. Acetate is a compound of fat. When we have an excess of acetate, the body automatically uses the acetate to synthesize more cholesterol, causing our levels to rise.

Trans fats should be avoided at all costs. The problem is, trans fats are everywhere! Some surprising foods that contain trans fats include the line of Special K weight loss foods; boxed granola bars; Fig Newtons; microwave popcorn; and Ritz crackers. Some of these products may now write “no trans-fats” on their packaging, but they can still contain up to 0.5 grams and write that. Trans fats not only increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol but they also decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol. They are also linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.

Bottom Line: Like always, we come back to the importance of eating fresh, whole foods!

Usually people have high cholesterol for multiple reasons. A diet high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods, and low in essential fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals, is only one reason. Other factors that contribute to high cholesterol include stress, genes, obesity, alcohol consumption and exercise level.

One very important thing to keep in mind is that each person is different. Some people can have a few drinks each night, eat lots of processed foods and exercise very little, while still maintaining normal cholesterol levels. Their genes may cause them to have naturally low cholesterol levels, so these lifestyle choices don’t matter as much (although they still matter tons for other reasons, in my opinion!). Other people, though, may have to cut back to only one or two drinks per week, or exercise for an hour every day, or eliminate processed foods almost completely, just to keep their cholesterol levels in check. Each person must figure out what works for them. There is no magic diet or trick that can fix all cholesterol problems. Sacrifices must be made, and for some people this is tough to accept. But it's a matter of health, and people must decide what is more important. If you do have high cholesterol, I recommend trying something for six months and getting it checked again before turning to cholesterol-lowering drugs.

ps: 2 days left to sign up for PWN’s first giveaway! The Blog Aid Recipes for Haiti cookbook can’t be found anywhere else, so sign up here to win! All you have to do is leave a comment. And for those of you who just signed up for the blog this week, you are still eligible to enter, so head over and read more about it here! Thanks!


Cholesterol: An Overview

So many of you have e-mailed me with questions about cholesterol and nutrition. I am finally starting to learn more about this topic in class, so I wanted to start sharing some good information.

Most people go to the doctor, get their cholesterol levels checked, and leave with a very basic knowledge of their “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels: too high, too low, or just right. But how many of us actually go home and do further research on what exactly these levels mean and signify about our health?

I am going to provide a basic overview of how cholesterol works inside our bodies. Later this week, I will begin to incorporate some nutrition into the equation. Keep in mind that every individual is different and so many things – such as genes, diet and lifestyle – can factor into cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is important for our bodies. It is an essential structural component of cell membranes and it manufactures bile acids, steroid hormones, and many fat-soluble vitamins. Within the cell, it is needed for transport and nerve conduction. However, high levels of cholesterol can lead to buildup and thickening of artery walls. This causes difficulties with blood flow and eventually leads to serious heart problems.

LDL stands for low-density lipoproteins, and is the “bad” cholesterol you hear so much about. LDL carries fats and cholesterol from our foods and from our liver to our cells. HDL stands for high-density lipoproteins, and is the “good” cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol from our cells back to our liver, where cholesterol is changed into bile and excreted into our intestines and then out through our stool. When you see a Total Blood Cholesterol reading, it refers to all cholesterol in transit to and from cells, so both LDL and HDL levels.

According to the medical world, a high HDL (“good”) level (50-75 mg/dl) indicates that excess cholesterol is being properly removed from our blood, which therefore means we are not at risk of cholesterol buildup in the arteries. A high LDL (“bad”) level (above 120mg/dl) may indicate our body is overloaded with cholesterol from either food, internal production of cholesterol, or improper removal of cholesterol. This excess cholesterol is deposited into our arteries and increases risk of cardiovascular disease.

Thought: Is the issue too much cholesterol in the diet, or is it not enough vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, which are required to remove excess cholesterol?

Cholesterol comes from two sources: foods or our bodies. Food sources of cholesterol are animal foods: eggs, meat, dairy, fish and shellfish. Plant foods are always cholesterol-free. About half of dietary cholesterol is actually absorbed; the rest is passed through our body unused. The amount of cholesterol produced by the body depends on the amount received from food. If we consume lots of cholesterol, the body makes less; if we have a low-cholesterol diet, the body is forced to make more cholesterol.

Our cells manufacture cholesterol based on need. For example, when we consume alcohol, the alcohol dissolves cell membranes. In response, cells create cholesterol and use it to build the membrane back up. As the alcohol wears off, the membrane hardens, and some of the excess cholesterol binds to essential fatty acids and travels through our blood to the liver, where it is converted to bile and removed from the body through our stools. The liver, intestines, adrenal and sex glands also produce cholesterol for proper functioning.

Thoughts: Lowering alcohol intake may help reduce cholesterol levels because our body will not need to produce cholesterol in response to alcohol’s damage to our cells. Also, essential fatty acids are crucial as they are responsible for removing excess cholesterol from our bodies; a diet low in essential fatty acids may lead to increased blood cholesterol levels.

Unlike carbohydrates, fats and proteins, cholesterol cannot be broken down by the body. It must be removed through our stool in the form of bile acid and cholesterol molecules. Dietary fiber aids in the removal of cholesterol, and without fiber, up to 94% of cholesterol and bile acids are reabsorbed. Therefore, low-fiber diets can lead to increased blood cholesterol levels.

Thought: If you have high cholesterol, perhaps try increasing fiber in your diet as one way to remove cholesterol from your body and lower your overall cholesterol.

Tomorrow I will talk more about nutrition and cholesterol. I have always emphasized balance inside the body, and high cholesterol levels can indicate an imbalance caused by nutrition alone. Since people with heart disease often have cholesterol buildup in their arteries, cholesterol is often identified as the cause of heart disease. However, some believe that lifestyle choices such as high consumption of alcohol, a poor diet, smoking or lack of exercise actually lead to heart disease, and the cholesterol buildup is just one side effect. There are many different theories and it is up to the individual to decide which approach they'd like to take: treatment by drugs, treatment by lifestyle changes, or a combination of both.

Also, please don’t forget to sign up for my cookbook giveaway! You have 3 days left to sign up. Simply go here to see the cookbook (it benefits Haiti!) and leave a comment so you are entered!