Tag Archives: nutrition

The Paleo Diet: Quinoa, protein, anti-oxidants and saponins.

What is Quinoa and is Quinoa Paleo (OK for the paleo diet?)

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Quinoa is (are?) seeds from a broad-leaf plant.  Grains are from grasses.  When cooked quinoa tastes mildly like toasted broccoli.  This is not as bad as it sounds.  Quinoa is grain-like and can be used in place of rice or pasta.  It is good for breakfast with nuts and cinnamon.   Quinoa does not contain Gluten.  So if you have celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity you should be fine with Quinoa.

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Is Quinoa Paleo?

If you are trying to follow the Paleo diet, quinoa should be fine too. Quinoa commonly contains many important minerals, including selenium.  Selenium is an important anti-oxidant and is protective against some cancers.  It is also important for synthesis of testosterone, among other things.
Quinoa has a number of other benefits. Quinoa provides more anti-oxidants and protein than wheat.  The anti-oxidants in quinoa appear to be more bio-available than anti-oxidants from wheat.  Bio-available simply means that the nutrients can be extracted by the digestive system and used.  Somethings are present in foods, but cannot be used.   Things that are not bio-available are dumped.   Other benefits of quinoa include an omega 6:Omega 3 ratio of about 6:1, and high vitamin E and protein content (~15%).  It also has a low glycemic index.

What about Saponins? Are Saponins Dangerous?

Some people in the CrossFit and the Paleo communities believe saponins are dangerous and will damage the intestines.   Quinoa does contain saponins. Followers of the paleo diet have placed quinoa on the forbidden list for this reason.  However, saponins are a class of chemical. There are many different saponins.  There are good ones and bad ones (Francis et al. 2002). Some saponins can damage cell membranes. However, others are beneficial.  Some saponins are protective and serve as anti-oxidants. The Saponin arjunolic acid is one of these.   This saponin has been proposed as a possible treatment for diabetes. P-coumaric acid, another saponin that is present in quinoa, may reduce risk of colon cancer. It is also an anti-oxidant. Like curcumin.  Saponins are also found in many other healthful foods such as vegetables and tea.

Some people think that increasing selenium intake will increase testosterone levels.  But, that is probably not true. You can read more about that here.

Francis G, Kerem Z, Makkar HPS, Becker K.  2002.  The biological action of saponins in animal systems: a review.  British Journal of Nutrition.  88(6): 587-605.

Laus MN, Gagliardi A, Soccio M, Flagella Z, Pastore D.  2012.  Antioxidant activity of free and bound compounds in Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.) seeds in comparison with durum wheat and emmer.  2012.  Journal of Food Science. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02923.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Alvarez-Jubete L, Arendt EK, & Gallagher E (2009). Nutritive value and chemical composition of pseudocereals as gluten-free ingredients. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 60 Suppl 4, 240-57 PMID: 19462323 Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Ferguson LR, Zhu ST, & Harris PJ (2005). Antioxidant and antigenotoxic effects of plant cell wall hydroxycinnamic acids in cultured HT-29 cells. Molecular nutrition & food research, 49 (6), 585-93 PMID: 15841493

Coconut Oil 's Mythical Properties for Health, Nutrition and Performance

Coconut oil is an extra-ordinary food.

Coconut oil is an extraordinary food.  But what makes coconut oil special?  Coconut oil is a natural source of fat.  But what gives coconut oil its mythic properties as a perfect food?

Coconut oil and health nutrition and athletic performance.
Does coconut oil improve athletic performance and increase longevity? No one knows for absolutely sure that it doesn’t.

Coconut oil as a nutrient

Coconut oil is rich in medium chain saturated fat.  There is some evidence that medium chain saturated fatty acids may help with weight loss, possibly by suppressing appetite. Some saturated fat in the diet is probably OK.  Maybe we need some saturated fat in our diets to be healthy.  Who knows?  Unfortunately or not, research continues to show that diets high in saturated fat are unhealthy.  Research also continues to show that diets that contain more unsaturated fats relative to saturated fats are associated with better health outcomes.

Coconut oil and athletic performance

A well-cited article has been referenced to support the idea that coconut oil improves athletic performance.  The study compared cyclists who drank either a glucose containing beverage or a glucose and medium chain fatty acid containing beverage.  The study’s authors concluded that the medium chain fatty acid beverage impaired performance.  (They did not say that it helped).    The authors also concluded that the medium chain fatty acid beverage caused stomach cramps.  The authors suggested that the cramps may have been what caused poor performance.  More study would be needed to see if cramps are indeed the culprit.  This doesn’t mean that having medium chain saturated fatty acids circulating in your blood will provide you with an advantage.   In fact the body seems to prefer unsaturated fatty acids for fuel (Raclot 1997).

Coconut oil and CrossFit Masters
CrossFit Masters Athletes sometimes eat coconut oil. These guys are really good.

Coconut oil and longevity

If you Google “Coconut Oil” and Longevity you will find about a half a million hits saying that coconut oil improves longevity.  If you do the same research in Web of Knowledge (a database of scientific publications) you will find seven hits.  Five are about insect pest control.  One is about plants.  One is about coconut oil increasing atherosclerosis in rabbits.

Other wonderful properties of coconut oil

Coconut oil seems to work pretty well as a conditioner for cast iron cookware.  Coconut oil is made of mostly medium chain fatty acids.  Coconut oil has a high smoke point.  This means it can be used for frying with less risk of burning.  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature.  (As long as the room isn’t too warm.)  Coconut oil makes good popcorn that is light and doesn’t have a burnt oil taste to it. Coconut oil is good for frying for the same reasons it makes good popcorn.   Some people like to use coconut oil as a moisturizer.

What makes coconut oil so special?

Coconut oil has been called a perfect food because someone called it a perfect food.  And they must have called it perfect with convincing authority.  Free of doubt.  Pretty free of logic.  And pretty much free of evidence.   Dr. Oz may have been involved.  Almost all of us respond to authority.  Authorities provide us with answers to our questions.  The desire and drive for answers is a powerful inborn trait.  This quality may be uniquely human.  It has helped us make tremendous advances in understanding and controlling our world.   Answers may be treasured once we have them in hand.  Because they are so treasured we sometimes hold onto them longer than we should.  Sometimes we hold and treasure answers that are wrong.  Or that are simply expressions of someone else’s wishful thinking.

I would have written about this earlier, but so many people were telling me coconut oil was healthy that I didn’t question it for quite some time.  Go figure.
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Raclot T, Langin D, Lafontan M, & Groscolas R (1997). Selective release of human adipocyte fatty acids according to molecular structure. The Biochemical journal, 324 ( Pt 3), 911-5 PMID: 9210416

Jeukendrup AE, Thielen JJ, Wagenmakers AJ, Brouns F, & Saris WH (1998). Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 67 (3), 397-404 PMID: 9497182

Clegg, M. (2010). Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61 (7), 653-679 DOI: 10.3109/09637481003702114

Nutrition: Could Coconut Oil Speed Cell Aging?

Nutrition: Cell Health and Telomeres.

You can only be as healthy as your cells.  A major marker of cell health is telomere length.  Telomeres cap the ends of chromosomes.  They protect DNA from deteriorating.  They also protect DNA from accidental fusion with other chromosomes.  You need the caps.  Caps, however, tend to wear out (they get shorter) with repeated cell divisions.  Once a telomere suffers enough wear the cell can no longer divide.  Other things can wear out telomeres too.   Things like oxidative stress and inflammation.  Telomere shortening and wear is thought to play a major role in aging.  Preserving telomere length may be a way to prolong life.  Speeding telomere wear may cause faster aging.
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Short to Medium Chain Saturated Fatty Acids

A diet rich in short to medium chain saturated fatty acids may damage telomeres.  A new paper published in the Journal of Nutrition reports on diet, fat intake and telomere length.  Subjects were part of the Women’s Health Initiative study.  Women who ate a lot of short and medium chain saturated fatty acids had shorter telomeres.  Women with the lowest intake of short and medium chain saturated fatty acids had the longest telomeres.  Long-chain saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats had no effect on telomeres.

Nutrition take away.

A diet high in short to medium chain fatty acids may speed aging.  A lot of people in CrossFit follow the Paleo Diet.  Or The Paleolithic Diet.  The Paleo diet and a lot of its followers advocate consumption of coconut oil.  Medium chain fatty acids do have some nice qualities.  Medium chain fatty acids have been associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.  Medium chain fatty acids are easy to digest.  They may reduce appetite and feelings of hunger.  And they pack a lot of calories.  Having a source of calories is important.   The research reported here shows you are probably better off sticking to long chain, and unsaturated fats.  Drink olive oil.  Eat walnuts.  Future research may report something different.  Few people, after all, eat lots of coconut oil.  And there may have been other factors involved with the women in the Women’s Health Initiative study that might also have caused their telomeres to shorten.

Foods High in Short or Medium Chain Saturated Fatty Acids

  • Coconut oil: 66% medium chain saturated fatty acids
  • Palm Kernal Oil
  • Butter
  • Whole Milk
  • Cheese


Song Y, You NC, Song Y, Kang MK, Hou L, Wallace R, Eaton CB, Tinker LF, & Liu S (2013). Intake of Small-to-Medium-Chain Saturated Fatty Acids Is Associated with Peripheral Leukocyte Telomere Length in Postmenopausal Women. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 23616516

Nagao K, & Yanagita T (2010). Medium-chain fatty acids: functional lipids for the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Pharmacological research : the official journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society, 61 (3), 208-12 PMID: 19931617

Eat your vegetables or you'll get depressed.

CrossFit Diet: High Tomato intake help keep you from getting down, blue or depressed.  Which a lot of us might be feeling now that the CrossFit Open is over.

A recent study shows a strong relationship between high tomato intake and a low rate of depression.  People who eat a lot of tomatoes are less likely to depressed than people who eat other types of vegetables.  Those who are depressed tend to eat fewer vegetables than other people.  Of course it may be that people who are depressed are feeling too blue to eat much.  Or are feeling too blue to take the trouble to make a salad.  Or it may be that nutrients in vegetables, such as anti-oxidants, help preserve a positive state of mind.  One earlier reader suggested:  “Italians eat a lot of tomatoes.  Italians are a fun-loving bunch.  Germans do not eat a lot of tomatoes.  Germans are not a fun-loving bunch.  It is being Italian that saves people from depression.”  This is pretty good logic.  However, in this study all of the research subjects were Japanese.

CrossFit Nutrition Expert with other CrossFit women
CrossFit Nutrition Expert Dabney Poorter (right) with friends

Improve your CrossFit Diet: Eat your vegetables or you’ll get depressed.

Finish your tomatoes or you’ll get depressed may be a better dinner table admonition. Low anti-oxidant intake is strongly associated with risk of depression.  Anti-oxidant intake seems to help.  What is very interesting about the new study is that tomatoes seem to be more protective than other vegetables.  Tomatoes contain several anti-oxidants.  However, they are especially high in lycopene.  Lycopene may be the strongest carotinoid anti-oxidant.  High lycopene intake also seems to reduce risk of some cancers. Throw a few tomatoes into your CrossFit diet.

Take home for CrossFit Nutrition:

Take home message for CrossFit and Nutrition
Condensed version
Read this for CrossFit and Nutrition.

Kapoor S (2012). The emerging anti-neoplastic effects of lycopene: beyond its role in prostate carcinomas. Maturitas, 73 (4) PMID: 23067956
Niu K, Guo H, Kakizaki M, Cui Y, Ohmori-Matsuda K, Guan L, Hozawa A, Kuriyama S, Tsuboya T, Ohrui T, Furukawa K, Arai H, Tsuji I, & Nagatomi R (2013). A tomato-rich diet is related to depressive symptoms among an elderly population aged 70 years and over: a population-based, cross-sectional analysis. Journal of affective disorders, 144 (1-2), 165-70 PMID: 22840609

Protein intake and recovery for Masters Athletes

How much protein do Athletes need?

Younger athletes may benefit from increased protein intake in a number of ways. Increased protein intake may result in muscle strength gains in young adults in as quickly as six weeks (Candow et al. 2006).  Protein supplements may also increase strength in elderly people (average age 83) as well (Bjorkman et al. 2012).  The Bjorkman study of 106 elderly men and women showed a 2.1% gain in body weight with a high-leucine whey protein supplement vs. a 1.9% loss in weight with a placebo.  This was over a six month period.  Leucine is important because it serves as a trigger for muscle synthesis.  Leucine is also a branched chain amino acid (bcaa).  This does not mean supplements are better than a healthy diet. We have evolved to eat food, after all. However, we also seem to have evolved to not do as well as we’d like as we get older. Masters athletes may benefit from increased protein intake.
CrossFit Games Masters Competitor Ken Cutrer of CrossFit EST,

Protein may speed recovery.

Protein intake after exercise may also help speed recovery.  This would be important to athletes participating in an extended period of competition. The CrossFit games, for example. Or in similar high output situations. Whey protein hydrolysate increases the rate of recovery after resistance training.  When protein is hydrolysated it has been partially broken down.  This speeds absorption.  Unhydrolysated proteins (normal proteins from food) may take longer.   This may mean recovery takes 6 hrs. rather than 24 hrs (Buckley et al. 2010).

Masters athletes may benefit from protein supplements.

Older athletes take longer to recover, and lose ground faster during periods of inactivity. Hydrolysated protein supplements and supplements with high leucine content may help Masters Athletes.

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Candow DG, Burke NC, Smith-Palmer T, & Burke DG (2006). Effect of whey and soy protein supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16 (3), 233-44 PMID: 16948480

Buckley JD, Thomson RL, Coates AM, Howe PR, DeNichilo MO, & Rowney MK (2010). Supplementation with a whey protein hydrolysate enhances recovery of muscle force-generating capacity following eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 178-81 PMID: 18768358

Björkman, M., Finne-Soveri, H., & Tilvis, R. (2012). Whey protein supplementation in nursing home residents. A randomized controlled trial European Geriatric Medicine, 3 (3), 161-166 DOI: 10.1016/j.eurger.2012.03.010

An Introduction: What are Endocrine Disruptors?

The next several posts will be devoted to the subject of endocrine disruption with a focus on environmental chemicals that interfere with sex steroids, chiefly estrogens and androgens. Most people are probably familiar with estrogen and testosterone. These are steroids produced by the human body (and the bodies of other species) that play important roles in sexual development and reproduction. They also play many other related roles, influence growth and tissue maintenance, neurological function and behavior.

An endocrine disruptor is a chemical agent that interferes with very complex, inter-regulating and intertwined endocrine systems. Interference with one steroid hormone can produce chain reactions that impact other hormones that, in turn, influence other systems and other hormones. For example, Bisphenol A, an estrogen mimic will change production of Prolactin (Steinmetz et al. 1997).

A young boy ponders something.

The effects of endocrine disruptors can be strongest during critical periods such as fetal development, infancy, adolescence, conception and pregnancy. These are times of important changes that will have long-term consequences for a child (fry, larvae, pup, chick etc.) and its future children. Thousands of chemicals have been found to be endocrine disruptors. Some of them are very resistant to degradation and remain in the environment and in people’s bodies for decades or longer. Many of these are no longer in use even though we can still easily detect them. They were found to be a threat to health and were banned and/or replaced with something less dangerous. There are many other chemicals in use that have not been tested. There are others that are current foci of research and debate. These chemicals were not developed to cause harm to humans (at least not most of them), rather they were found to be harmful after they were already in use. An example that you may be aware of is the plastics additive Bisphenol A.

Bisphenol A is commonly called BPA. After years of debate and conflict among interested parties BPA has been banned from baby bottles in the US. Manufacturers are adapting and produced new products. Consumers can easily find BPA-Free materials and it seems likely that BPA will leave many markets.  While BPA may be in decline the issue of endocrine disruptors is far from resolved. The plastic products used to make some BPA-Free plastics also appear to be endocrine disruptors (Yang et al. 2011.) Some of them appear to be more disruptive than the BPA-laced plastics they are meant to replace.  It would be better to produce Endocrine-Disruptor-free products Instead of  BPA-Free products

It is very difficult to pull something out of the market once it is already there. People’s livelihoods have become dependent on continuing use, reputations are at stake, there may be millions of dollars spent on legal fees,  on efforts to fund studies that would show that the product in question was harmless after all, and then more time and more money spent arguing why banning a product would be unfeasible and not worth the cost of replacing it, developing alternative technology, or cleaning up environmental messes. Banning chemicals after they become part of the economy is hugely wasteful, makes people on both sides of the playing field upset and erodes public confidence. We may discuss this in greater detail later, but for now, just be aware that the chemical problem of endocrine disruptors is also an economic and then a political problem as well. This should be resolved eventually, but until then, we may have a very interesting, and for some a painful, ride.

Steinmetz R, Brown NG, Allen DL, Bigsby RM, & Ben-Jonathan N (1997). The environmental estrogen bisphenol A stimulates prolactin release in vitro and in vivo. Endocrinology, 138 (5), 1780-6 PMID: 9112368

Yang CZ, Yaniger SI, Jordan VC, Klein DJ, & Bittner GD (2011). Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119 (7), 989-96 PMID: 21367689