There are many trends in the world of nutrition, but one that is currently gaining momentum is a renewed focus on inherent nutrition. These days, foods lacking in minerals, vitamins, fiber, enzymes, and antioxidants are being mass produced. Fortunately, we’re starting to discover the effects of additives we can’t read, pesticides, antibiotics, added hormones, and carcinogenic food stuffs (yes, food stuffs is the name given to something that may be eaten, but does not retain enough of its original wholesomeness to be referred to as food)—just to name a few. Clearly, the brakes need to be applied to this runaway train of food manufacturing.
The new trend towards health is a return to ancient foods with sound science to back it up.
Perhaps we could add a little incentive to produce a higher quality, more nutrient-dense product with an ingredients list we’re actually able to pronounce. The incentive could be starting a trend (and trends equal money) backward to “greener,” more wholesome days, and forward enough to use our scientific knowledge to choose the right foods—and produce enough of them—without the questionable side effects. So, let’s turn back the hands of time and look at some foods you may have just started to notice on store shelves, but that have actually been around for centuries.
Call them superfoods if you want (a term made famous by Oprah and Dr. Perricone), but these are all foods packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. There are no boxed or manufactured foods on this list. People who talk about acai berry, omega-3s, and high protein yogurt are no longer considered “crunchy,” but rather “in the know.” This new trend towards health is a return to ancient foods with sound science to back it up. We now understand why aboriginal tribes made tea from eucalyptus for ailing tribe members. Ancient cultures used many foods by trial and error for centuries. Somehow we came to trust our laboratories more than centuries of application. Join the trend. Look to the past, rather than to 50 years of mass food distribution.
Kefir: A Different Kind of Grain
Over the past decade, grains have found themselves on a nutritional roller coaster of sorts. Once thought to be an essential part of any healthy diet, grains later became the black sheep of weight loss plans due to their relatively high glycemic index and low nutrient density. However, an ancient grain has sprouted back into the dietary good graces of nutritionists everywhere. Kefir is a low carbohydrate and low glycemic (GI=36) grain that is produced by the fermentation of milk with a grain-like starter culture. These grains have a very specific balance of microbes that keep each other in check, not allowing any single microbe to overpower any other microbe. Beyond its benefit to low-carbohydrate dieters, kefir can also reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance, stimulate the immune system, lower cholesterol, and act as an anti carcinogen.
Coconut Oil: A Good Saturated Fat
Saturated fats have long been represented as pure dietary evil, whose ability to clog arteries go unparalleled. But they can’t be all bad, as saturated fats do have some redeeming qualities. Coconut oil is gaining accolades, as it contains lauric acid, which is the predominant medium-chain triglyceride (MCT)—a particular type of fatty acid. (Fatty acids are chains of carbon molecules, and their length determines their properties, function, and metabolism.) MCT’s are absorbed directly into the portal blood, meaning that they do not require bile acid for absorption, and can quickly reach a destination to be used for energy or repletion. Most other dietary fats are stored instead of being immediately used in this way. Fifty percent of coconut oil is in the form of an MCT, which allows most of it to be metabolized like a carbohydrate and be used for immediate energy, rather than being stored as adipose tissue (fat). Additionally, these fatty acids are quickly absorbed by the cells, thereby contributing to increased metabolism. Coconut oil has also been shown to increase HDL levels, the good stuff.
Herbal Supplement Worth Including: Evening Primrose Oil
This is an oldie, but should soon be getting some new visibility. Many herbal remedies include this oil, and the benefits are mostly attributed to a special fatty acid called Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA). GLA is created in the body from dietary essential fatty acids, like those found in flax oil. So, if you eat fat, your body is able to chop it up and reorganize the fatty acid chains to create GLA. However, in some people and circumstances GLA is not adequately produced, and must be supplemented. Primrose oil may contribute to clear, smooth skin, strong nails and hair, as well as hormonal and mood balance. It can also support the structure and function of inflammation and immune response, the cardiovascular system, the glands and organs responsible for hormonal metabolism, nerve function, joint health, and skin cell production. Some studies have shown that GLA, consumed with omega-3, can have a synergistic effect, enhancing the anti-inflammatory response, which may be especially beneficial to athletes.
Our Best Omega: Flaxseed Oil
The modern North American diet tends to favor omega-6 fatty acids over omega 3’s. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is 3:1, meaning that we typically need to either decrease our intake of omega-6 or increase our intake of omega-3. This ratio contributes to a host of hormonal substances that are involved in blood vessel action and inflammation. To this end, flaxseed may be one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. There is some evidence that it can help to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. That is quite a tall order for such a tiny seed.
The flaxseed has been around for centuries, and is found today in all kinds of foods from crackers to frozen waffles. In 2006 there were 75 new products brought to market that listed flax or flaxseed as an ingredient. Consumers have become quite interested in this product, and are demanding more and more of it. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant-based omega-3s. Besides that, flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans are (an estrogen-like chemical that acts as an antioxidant) than other plant foods. Stock tip: Buy shares in any company that is manufacturing omega-3s via plants, flaxseed, or fish oils. We are already starting to see flavored omega-3s, and we’ve only just begun.
Anne Rollins is a registered dietitian working with triathlon coach Jesse Kropelnicki and TheCoreDiet.com and QT2Systems.com. She holds a bachelors and masters degree in nutrition. TheCoreDiet is a sports nutrition specialty group working with athletes from age groupers to world class professionals. Visit their website to explore how they can add a nutrition component to your coaching business and help your athletes achieve better body composition, health, and performance goals.