Himalayan Salt seems to be one of those trendy ‘buzz’ foods at the moment; it’s pink, it’s pretty, it costs a small fortune, so it must be good stuff right?
Just the same as the ‘buzz’ around different types of fats (Still confused about fats? Read here), it is important to keep things in perspective. Yes salt, or more specifically sodium, plays an important role in our body at a cellular level but given how far and wide salt can be found in our food supply it really is not necessary to add it to our diet - no matter how pretty and pink it is or how impressive the claims may seem.
The picture below is just one that popped up in my Facebook feed recently and although the benefits of Himalayan salt over regular salt may seem impressive, I feel I have to be the ‘fun sponge’ (or voice of reason) and point out that maybe, just maybe, they are a tad misleading.
Of course we know excess salt isn’t great for us, right? - It can raise our blood pressure which does damage to our blood vessels and can lead to cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure trumps obesity as a risk factor for disease and is in fact the greatest attributor to cardiovascular disease, accounting for over 42% of the total burden - and what a burden it is; cardiovascular disease is the reigning champion when it comes to killing Aussies. (1)
Although these stats are alarming they aren’t really a surprise considering the typical Australian diet contains about 10g of salt which is more than twice the suggested dietary target for sodium (1600mg of sodium, equivalent to about 4g of ‘common’ salt; or about 3.4g ‘Himalayan’ salt, based on trivially less sodium content claimed in the image).
About 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods, 18% is estimated to come from discretionary use (that is added directly to cooking or at the table at the users discretion, only 50 – 70% of people do this), and the remaining 7% or so comes naturally from foods. (2)
So as you can see switching to Himalayan salt over regular salt isn’t really going to have a big impact on the type of salt you consume with the majority hidden in processed foods.
Let’s look at the claim about magnesium:
It is estimated the about 30% of Australian adults may not meet the RDI (310 – 420mg/day) for magnesium (remembering there are big safety margins on this figure so this does not necessarily equal deficiency). Low intakes of magnesium probably have something to do with the fact that more than 90% of the population are not eating enough vegetables, many of which are a great source of magnesium. (3) Most green vegetables, legumes, peas, beans, nuts and most whole grains are rich in magnesium and unlike Himalayan salt, these foods also provide a host of other nutrients, like potassium, which directly work to counter the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
I can’t find any reliable statistics on the actual magnesium content of Himalayan salt but I would assume you would have to eat a decent wack of the stuff to make any sought of contribution towards the RDI. I know a lot of people aren’t too keen on eating veggies, but surely a side of broccoli would be preferable to a big bucket of salt??
What’s about Iodised Salt?
Iodised salt is actually a good thing despite the connotation in the image. In 2009 regulations were put in place in Australia to ensure that the salt used in commercial bread making was in fact iodised to counter the re-emergence of iodine deficiency which can affect thyroid function and cause mental retardation. Iodine deficiency is said to be the most preventable cause of mental retardation in the world – if you do choose to add salt to your food choose iodised salt.
Seafood, seaweed and eggs are also good sources of iodine.
The Moral of the story:
If you eat a diet comprising completely of unprocessed foods and you enjoy adding a little Himalayan salt to your meals – go for it. If you fit into this category I will assume you are also getting plenty of magnesium and potassium from the loads of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts you eat every day as well as sufficient iodine for the 2 – 3 serves of seafood you eat each week.
If you currently don’t add any salt to your food, you really don’t need to start especially if you do eat some processed foods like breads, crackers, sausages, ham, bacon, sauces and any other condiments.
If you eat a lot of processed foods, like those already mentioned plus chips, biscuits, frozen and readymade meals, and take away, then you need to throw out the salt shaker all together and really work to reduce your intake of high sodium processed foods and increase your intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains and legumes.
Don’t forget to read the label
Once you start looking at labels the amount of sodium in common foods is pretty scary.
Where possible choose foods with ‘no added salt,’ ‘reduced salt’ or aim for around 120mg of sodium per 100g – this is a really optimistic target since although even the best* (in terms of their sodium content) breads contain more than double this!
Try adding flavour to your meals with herbs and spices and simply opt for homemade over commercial wherever possible.
Let me start off by saying, that each and every meal is important – it is an opportunity to refuel, replenish and nourish your body, but there is good evidence to support that, yes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day (if you had to pick one).
Why is breakfast so important?
Evidence shows that people who habitually eat breakfast tend to have a lower BMI, may have lower circulating LDL cholesterol and better diet quality overall, particularly in regards to carbohydrate and fibre intake. (1, 2,3) Eating a quality breakfast kick starts the body’s metabolism after an overnight fast (aim for a 10 – 12hour fast) and provides a fresh supply of glucose to the brain to tackle the day ahead. Children who regularly eat breakfast clearly demonstrate this advantage and can be seen to have better concentration and attention, they perform better academically and are less likely to be disruptive in class. (4)
Eating breakfast may also help to reduce binging on less healthy foods later in the day (more on how to prevent diet ‘blow outs here).
Are all Breakfasts created equal?
Manufactures have been pretty enthusiastic with this idea that breakfast is the most important meal and have developed literally hundreds of breakfast specific foods and although something is probably better than nothing we certainly shouldn’t consider all breakfast foods to be equal.
Now there are no hard and fast rules on what constitutes a breakfast food – if you want to have a roast meal with all the trimmings, go for it! Obviously this wouldn’t be a quick or convenient choice for most people but the point is you are ‘allowed’ to think beyond cereal or toast. If little Suzie says she wants to eat Lunchbox sushi for breakfast, what’s the harm? – It has good whole grains, a little protein and veggies, which to me sounds like a perfect way to start the day.
Highly processed breakfast cereals (especially the ones marketed towards kids), usually lack the fibre and protein needed to give you sustained energy across the morning and are usually loaded with added sugar which can trigger restless behaviour, irritability and poor concentration as blood sugar levels drop quickly (note that this is not the same as hyperactivity which is unrelated to sugar).
Ideally aim for something like little Suzie’s Lunchbox Sushi which contains whole grains, lots of fibre, has a little protein and naturally contains some good fats. Of course add a serve of fruit and/or veg too.
Great Breakfast Ideas
Natural muesli with seeds or nuts, served with milk and fruit would tick all boxes, as would avocado, cheese and tomato on a slice of dense grainy toast. No added salt baked bean on grainy toast are always a winner in our house too.
Eggs – scrambled, poached, boiled or sunny side, are all good options; serve with some baby spinach on a slice of sourdough and you got yourself a great breakfast.
Even grabbing a few almonds, a glass of milk and a banana as you run out the door would give you a good start to the day.
Homemade muesli bars or muffins could even be a good option if you are really time poor.
If you still want more ideas, try some of these:
Apple & Pumpkin Butter on Grainy Toast
Banana Coconut Pancakes
Raw Buckwheat Porridge
Spinach, Fetta & Sundried Tomato Frittata
When you have the sneezes and sniffles a glass of milk is probably the last thing you feel like reaching for, but is there any real reason to avoid drinking milk when you have a cold?
Does drinking milk increase the production mucus and phlegm when you have a cold?
As we come into the cooler months and those cold and flu bugs start to get around, this seemed like the perfect myth to bust.
The idea that milk increases mucus and phlegm is pretty common, but to cut what could be a long story short, it doesn’t. Plain and simple, this issue has been the focus of multiple research papers, including a review study in 2005, which found no link between milk consumption and an increase in mucus (1, 2, 3, 4). In one study participants were infected with the common cold virus and their mucus production measured. This totally gross science detected no difference in mucus production and concluded no association between milk consumption and mucus production when infected with a common cold (4).
It was noted in another study however that participants reported sensations such as a “coating/lining over the mouth, throat or tongue," the "need to swallow a lot," and "saliva thicker, harder to swallow than before," with the consumption of milk. These sensations however are likely to be result from the texture and thickness of the milk as opposed to an actual increase in mucus production (2).
So if milk doesn’t increase mucus production when you have a cold, is it a good drink choice?
The sensation of 'thickness' and a difficulty to swallow milk when you have a cold as previously described by study participants is something I can definitely relate to, but putting this aside, milk is actually quite a good drink choice if you are feeling a little under the weather.
It definitely isn’t the first food that comes to mind when you think of battling a cold or flu, but much like the electrolytes found in that soothing chicken soup, milk is fantastic for keeping hydrated and as a ‘complete’ food is also very nourishing when your appetite dwindles. Of course if you can’t stomach it, there is no harm in avoiding it until your cold passes but if you are up for a tall cold glass of the white stuff, go ahead, it actually could do you the world of good.
Introducing your baby to solids is a momentous occasion, but the plethora of mixed information out there about what and when to give bub certain foods can be very confusing.
I must admit I have been a bit puzzled by some of the foods I’ve heard parents restrict from babies; nuts, eggs, wheat and watermelon, among many others. Of course the sources of this mis-information (often friends and family) generally mean well however their advice tends to add to the stress and confusion many parents face when it comes to feeding babies and toddlers.
In the past there have been various recommendations about the introduction of solid foods which stipulated the introduction of different foods at different times. For example, introduce vegetables before fruits, egg yolk before egg whites and avoid nut products before 12months of age.
Generally these recommendations were made to reduce the risk of food allergies; however the latest infant feeding guidelines (2013) present quality evidence to busts this myth.
According to the evidenced used to develop these guidelines delaying the introduction of solid foods until after the age of 6 months of age is associated with an increased risk of developing allergic response. This perspective is supported by the Australasian society of clinical Immunology and Allergy that has found little evidence that delaying the introduction of solids beyond 6 months reduces the risk of allergies, some evidence that delaying the introduction of foods may increase (rather than decrease) the risk of allergies, and, insufficient evidence to support previous advice to specifically delay or avoid potentially allergenic foods such as egg, peanuts, nuts, wheat, cow’s milk and fish to prevent food allergy or eczema (this also applies to infants with siblings who already have allergies to these foods). It is further acknowledged that, as with all aspects of nutrition, the evidence is continuing to evolve and there is still much to learn.
In light of this, according to these latest Infant Feeding Guidelines:
“As long as iron-rich foods are included in first foods, foods can be introduced in any order and at a rate that suits the infant.”
Although there are still a few considerations to keep in mind:
Choking hazards are obviously one; when referring to nuts for babies, I am NOT talking about whole nuts which would be an obvious chocking risk, but products which contain nuts such as nut pastes or meal.
Honey is another; which can contain the bacteria Clostridium botulinum and can cause botulism so is not suitable for children under 12 months.
Similarly, cows or other animal milk is not suitable as a complete milk drink (i.e as in instead of breast milk or formula) under the age of 12 months due to differences in protein concentrations, but it is fine to have in small amounts such as in cereal. (Reduced and low fat varieties of milk are not suitable under 2 years of age. Beyond appropriate milk drinks, only water should be offered to infants and children)
There is also no need to add salt or sugars to an infant’s food (nor anyone’s for that matter) and always opt for unprocessed foods.
So stress less about the do’s and don’ts of infant feeding, enjoy this special time and pave the way for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
The idea of working out in the ‘Fat Burning Zone,’ sounds great in theory – if you want to lose body fat, you need to moderate your exercise intensity so as fat is the predominantly fuel ‘burnt’.
It sounds straight forward enough, however it’s not really the most efficient way to reduce your body fat.
The Fat Burning Zone
So the idea of the ‘Fat burning Zone’ isn’t where this theory is flawed. It is absolutely correct that at low/moderate intensity exercise, you will use more fat to fuel your exercise then if you were to workout at a higher intensity (where glucose/glycogen become the predominant substrate).
In fact, working out at around 50% of your VO2 max you will burn around 50 – 60% fat (and 40 – 50% glycogen/glucose; with a significant allowance for individual variances), compared with working out at around 75% of your VO2 max, which burns around 35% fat (and 65% glycogen/glucose). (1)
Better news still, at rest you burn around 66% fat – so you don’t need to exercise at all, you’ll burn fat in your sleep! Clearly this isn’t helping anyone lose weight.
(Note, this is a very simplified explanation of a complex physiological process)
Increase your intensity
Although while working out at around 50% of your VO2 max you burn a greater percentage of fat, your overall energy expenditure and thus overall fat use, will be far less than when working out at a higher intensity which achieves a greater overall energy expenditure in the same timeframe. (That is, 35% fat from a bigger energy expenditure is more than 50% fat from a smaller energy expenditure.)
It is possible to achieve the same energy expenditure from low/moderate intensity training as higher intensity training however you will need to work out for far longer and unfortunately you will still not reap all the same weight loss benefits of high intensity training.
To give you some figures to put this concept into perspective we can look at a study of the effects of a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT, think hill sprints, squat jumps, burpees) protocol compared with a continuous aerobic exercise protocol. This study showed that after 15 weeks of HIIT training participants lost 13.9mm of fat (based on skin fold measurements), compared with only 4.5mm after 20 weeks of a continuous aerobic exercise protocol. (2) What is particularly interesting in this study is that participants in the HIIT group lost far more fat, despite expending significantly less energy during their training program (remembering that the HIIT group exercised for 5 weeks less). Once adjustments were made with the data from this study, the overall effect on skin folds (as a marker of body fat) from the HIIT group was 9 times that of the continuous exercise group, which is quite impressive.
So as I said, even with matched energy expenditure, or in the case of this study greater energy expenditure, the same weight loss benefit of high intensity training is not achieved – but why??
HIIT training is more effective for weight loss, even when matched for energy expenditure with low/moderate intensity training because of a little thing called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). EPOC basically means you have an oxygen debt to pay back to your body after you finish exercise which comes at an additional energy cost.
So although the energy expended during a HIIT session might be less than an aerobic workout in the ‘fat burning’ zone, thanks to EPOC as much as 95% of energy expended can occur after the workout while you repay that oxygen debt. This ‘after burn’ has been reported to last for as long as 48 hours!
In addition to EPOC the metabolic adaptations which occur with ongoing HIIT appears to have long term additional ‘fat burning’ (beta oxidation) benefit. That is, remember how I earlier said to allow for large individual variance in ‘fat burning,’ well this is why – with ongoing HIIT your body become better conditioned to using fat a fuel.
What’s not to love about HIIT!
Don’t get me wrong
This is not to say that low intensity exercise isn’t worthwhile, it’s simply saying that if weight loss is your goal than high intensity training is a better use of your time.
A further clarification still, if you are just starting out on your weight loss/ exercise journey a low intensity program can be very beneficial to ease your body back into exercise and reduce the risk of injury and/or the risk of you quitting the program before you’ve reaped the benefits because it is too hard and you struggle to move for days after.
So by all means, start off at a low intensity and as your fitness, confidence and motivation increases start to build your intensity to get the most out of your workout time (it’s always a good plan to get medical clearance before starting a new exercise regime).
A bit more bang for your buck
In addition to your HITT training (or lower intensity cardio equivalent), adding some strength exercise to your workouts will help give you more ‘fat burning’ bang for your buck.
But strength training, like lifting weights, will make you bulky, right? … Well that’s another myth for another day =)
Gluten free diets are being hailed for their role in weight loss, and much, much more...
There was a lot of ground to cover in this month’s myth bust, so it will be coming to you in a two part instalment. Part 1 clears up some background information about what gluten is and why people might avoid it for medical reasons while Part 2 looks at those other reasons people are avoiding gluten, like for weight loss and general health - enjoy
Part 2: Why else go Gluten free?
Beyond the conditions discussed in Part 1 of this monthly myth bust, gluten has been branded as the cause of weight gain, general feelings of lethargy, poor health, and inflammation which underpins heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis, amongst other things. Consequently, the hyped reasoning to avoid gluten includes increased energy levels, aiding weight loss, and a general “healthy” or “lighter” option.
With this impressive health resume, does a gluten free diet live up to the hype - Should we all be avoiding gluten?
As we’ve seen so far the evidence for specifically avoiding gluten beyond Celia Disease is limited and yet ordering from the gluten free menu seems to be the new “I’ll just have a salad …”
Weight loss is quiet possibly the biggest preoccupation of our modern western society and of course we would just love to find something to ‘blame’ for our population-wide weight worries (other than poor dietary choices, limited physical activity and generally being immersed in an obesogenic environment) – enter Gluten.
We’ve tried blaming carbohydrates, we’ve tried blaming fat and we’ve tried blaming sugar, next on the chopping block is gluten.
The underlying mechanism by which gluten is blamed for weight gain is inflammation, which is also said to be the reason it causes heart disease, diabetes etc. There is evidence to support the inflammatory effect of gluten in people with Celiac Disease, as is to be expected, and even a little for those with NCGS, despite no clinical markers currently being accepted. (1) But within the general population the evidence is (again) limited.
The one and only study which seems to be quoted as the ultimate ‘evidence’ that gluten causes weight gain in subjects without Celiac Disease or NCGS, claims that removing gluten from the diet of mice reduced inflammation, insulin resistance and adiposity (fatness), compared with mice fed a high fat diet (61% of energy from fat), comprising 4.5% gluten, however this diet is hardly reflective of the typical Western human diet, or even the recommended diet (e.g The Australian Dietary Guidelines), so the beneficial effects of a gluten-free diet as claimed by this research, seems a bit of a stretch (but of course more research is warranted). (2)
The benefits of a gluten free diet in the general population is further questionable given that another study on human subjects with hyperlipidaemia, reported that increasing wheat gluten on a weight maintenance diet reduced triglyceride levels by 13% independent of fibre content, suggesting that gluten may in fact have some benefit in improving lifestyle related conditions. (3) Of course, we could then consider the plethora of data to support the beneficial role of whole grains, including wheat and other grains containing gluten, in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer and weight management. (4)
The fact is there is insufficient data to support any of the widely made claims the gluten causes weight gain, hampers weight loss, or causes inflammation, diabetes or heart disease within the general population.
So despite a few mice seemingly benefiting from removing gluten from the diet, do I think cutting gluten from your diet should be the first lifestyle modification made to aid weight loss or improve lifestyle related conditions? Umm, No…
Ultimately if people have lost weight by ‘going gluten free’, more than likely they have just cut their carbs, which we know results in short term “weight loss” largely from water losses. We know that a low carb diet results in no greater weight loss after 6 months than other dieting methods (such as low fat, high protein etc) and is difficult for many to sustain long term.
So if you are stocking the pantry with gluten free products simply to lose weight you are wasting your time, your money and could actually be risking your health.
Negative Consequences of avoiding Gluten
Resistant starches in grains like wheat (which we know contains gluten) creates healthy gut bacteria shown to reduce the risk of some cancers, inflammatory conditions, and cardiovascular disease. (3) Given the dependence on wheat in the western diet a significant portion of resistance starch comes from wheat consumption and as such following a gluten free diet unnecessarily could have adverse effects on gut health. Conversely positive changes in gut health as a consequent of including whole grains in the diet have been seen within as little as 3 weeks. (3)
Despite the hype around gluten there certainly is no reason for the general population (outside of having a gluten related disorder) to jump on board this movement. Cutting gluten from your diet to improve your overall health, prevent disease or aid weight loss is not substantiated by current research and in fact, gluten could in fact have some health benefits. Although the research to support this is far from definitive, the role of grains in good health is definitely well understood. Of course branching out from wheat, irrespective of gluten, adds nutritional variety to the diet and assists to increase crop biodiversity so by all means enjoy a variety of grains, gluten free or otherwise, within your diet too.
- Celiac’ s must adhere to an exclusively gluten free diet
- Our understanding of NCGS, and specifically the role of gluten in this condition, is very primitive
- There is insufficient evidence to say that a gluten free diet has any positive effect on conditions such as MS, schizophrenia, dementia or autism
- There is similarly little evidence to say that a gluten free diet causes any harm in these conditions
- There is insufficient evidence to say a gluten free diet has an effect on weight loss, obesity, inflammation, insulin sensitivity or diabetes
- The gluten free food industry is cashing in on processed products that are equally energy dense and nutrient deficient as their gluten containing counter parts
- Whole grains are good for us and many of them just happen to be gluten free
This is a really great fact sheet that guides you through the spectrum of gluten related disorders including symptoms and appropriate diagnostic protocol. (open fact sheet)
Gluten free diets are a hot topic and apparently they're not just for Celica's
There was a lot of ground to cover in this month’s myth bust, so it will be coming to you in a two part instalment. Part 1 clears up some background information about what gluten is and why people might avoid it for medical reasons while Part 2 looks at those other reasons people are avoiding gluten, like for weight loss and general health - enjoy
We know that for people medically diagnosed with Celiac Disease a strict gluten free diet is necessary to prevent damage to the villi which line the small intestine wall. Along with gastrointestinal distress, the damage caused to the villi by Celiac Disease can lead to malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies and secondary conditions such as osteoporosis.
But, for the other 99% of the population (yep, only about 1% of people are Celiac) is there any reason to jump aboard the gluten free movement? (1)
Food fashions and fads come and go and it seems at the moment ‘going gluten free’ is in style. Celebrities are doing it, all the trendiest restaurants and cafes feature gluten free options, it’s a hot topic in the media, and a multimillion dollar industry (which far exceeds the needs of Celica’s), has emerged almost overnight.
What is Gluten?
There seems to be a huge amount of confusion around what gluten actually is and consequently the myths about why people should avoid it. So let’s clear that up to start with.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats (controversially) but its uses within the food supply spreads far and wide as along with being found in products that use these grains it acts as a great thickening agent in many sauces, condiments and processed meats. Clearly avoiding all of these foods in order to ‘go gluten free’ is quiet a commitment and requires an extensive diet overhaul.
Fortunately, there are many foods that are naturally gluten free that can be appropriately substituted into the diet, including amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, cornflour and meal, millet meal, polenta, psyllium, quinoa, rice, sago, sorghum and tapioca. Of course many specifically developed gluten free products are available too.
So in the absence of Celiac disease, why are people going gluten free?
More than likely you may have come across someone with a “gluten allergy,” this however is a complete myth – or at least a bit of a misunderstanding on what may actually be a wheat allergy, Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity, or another gluten related aetiology.
A wheat allergy is an immune mediated reaction to wheat itself and there is no question it is legit (estimated to affect 0.1% of the population); Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, which like many autoimmune diseases, presents with mixes aetiology (over 300 symptoms have been reported!), it has an accepted diagnostic protocol and common clinical markers; Gluten sensitivity or intolerance however, is a bit of a phantom condition that is still under a lot of investigation. (2)
In the absence of Celiac Disease or a wheat allergy there is a sub-population who report being gluten sensitive or intolerant (often referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity; NCGS). Unlike Celiac Disease or wheat allergies, NCGS is far less understood which makes diagnosis and even recognition of the condition difficult, however it has very crudely been estimated that 20% of the population believe they are gluten sensitive or intolerant – many of them self-diagnosed (rightly or wrongly). (3)
NCGS as a condition has only really been validated in the last few years, it often comes with similar symptoms as Celiac Disease (abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bloating and excessive wind, as well as lethargy, poor concentration and general aches and pains), however does not result in the same villi damage as Celiac Disease and as yet has no accepted clinical markers.
Much research (with much funding from the gluten free food industry), has been done into this condition in an effort to uncover and legitimise it, too little prevail. (3,5) It is largely thought that NCGS generally occurs from a heightened immunological response to gluten in genetically susceptible people, although this isn’t universally accepted (6). Regardless of this, for people with this phantom condition removing gluten from their diet seems to alleviate the symptoms.
Interestingly however, recent research has suggested that in the case of NCGS, gluten may not be the culprit at all.
A double blinded cross over trial of 37 patients with NCGS were placed on a low FODMAP diet (fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols; Short chain carbohydrates which are hard to digest, leading to fermentation in the gut hence boating, wind and discomfort), for 2 weeks then placed on either a high-gluten (16 g gluten/d), low-gluten (2 g gluten/d and 14 g whey protein/d), or control (16 g whey protein/d) diets for 1 week, followed by a washout period for 2 weeks. Several months later twenty-two of the participants then crossed over to another protocol group for a further 3 days. The researchers found that all participants’ symptoms improved on the low FODMAP diet and only 8% of participants had gluten specific responses. (4)
This is only one small study and obviously a lot more research is needed but the results suggest that people who are “gluten sensitive” may feel improvements in gastrointestinal problems consequently as a gluten free diet is also low in FODMAPs.
This study again raises questions of the legitimacy of NCGS and questions the appropriateness of treatment with a gluten free diet. FODMAPs are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables and can affect people differently, so simply removing foods which contain gluten may not be appropriate. (For this reason it is important not to self-diagnose or simply choose gluten free without seeking medical advice.)
Similarly, another recent review suggested that other constitutes of grains, particularly wheat, may be the underlying issue in NCGS and not in fact gluten. (5)
Gluten Free for other conditions
Further to this, gluten free diets have been used for the treatment/management of schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, dementia and a bunch of other diseases, but unfortunately the actual benefits of this treatment/management protocol remains ‘alleged’ with insufficient evidence to support a medical benefit from a gluten free diet in these conditions. (6, 9)
Regrettable, autism one of the many ‘other’ conditions to have insufficient evidence to support any benefit of a gluten free diet. (7, 8) Fortunately though, no harm has been reported either.
The conditions mentioned are highly complex with multiple aetiology and comorbidities, much is still unknown about them and despite current limitations in evidence much support remains for trialling a medically supervised elimination diets. (9)
Why else avoid Gluten?
Beyond these conditions gluten has been branded as the cause of weight gain, general feelings of lethargy, poor health, and inflammation which is said to underpin heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis, amongst other things. Consequently, the hyped reasoning to avoid gluten includes increased energy levels, aiding weight loss, and a general “healthy” or “lighter” option.
With this impressive health resume, does a gluten free diet live up to the hype - Should we all be avoiding gluten? – Stay tuned for part 2 of this monthly myth bust.
T’is the season to be jolly – so why have my kids been so irritable and restless?
One minute they are bouncing off the walls, the next they’re in a heap screaming on the floor. They don’t listen, they can’t concentrate and all they seem to do is fight with each other…
Could the copious amounts of sugar laden festive treats be to blame for their hyperactivity?
The idea that sugar causes hyperactivity in kids has been around for a long time and is fairly well accepted within certain circles, but the truth of the matter is, this is a complete myth – Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.
What is hyperactivity?
Clinically, hyperactive (as one diagnostic component of ADHD), is generally diagnosed after a rigorous testing process, based on multiple and ongoing symptoms such as fidgeting or tapping of hands or feet, squirming when seated, leaving a seat in situations when remaining seated is expected, running about or climbing in situations where it is not appropriate, an inability to play or take part in leisure activities quietly, often "on the go" and acting as if "driven by a motor", talking excessively, blurting out answers before a question has been completed, trouble waiting their turn, or interrupting or intruding on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).(1)
So despite how the term is often used, hyperactivity is not an intermitted bout of excited, energetic or reckless behaviour caused by a cup of cordial at a birthday party.
How did it all start?
The notion that sugar causes hyperactivity seems to have emerged around the time of the Feingold Diet, which was developed by an allergist in 1973 who advocated a diet free of salicylates (naturally occurring compound found in many foods), food colourings and artificial flavours to treat hyperactivity. (2)
Since then, the idea of sugar causing hyperactivity in children has been a hot research topic and ruthlessly studied. A review of twelve double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials into this issue however concluded that sugar did not cause hyperactivity in children with or without ADHD. (3) Similarly, a meta-analysis of 16 studies also concluded that sugar did not affect a child’s behaviour or cognitive performance. (4)
Although both of these studies were conducted in the mid 90’s and are somewhat dated, a more recent systematic review conducted between 1995 and 2006 showed similar results, concluding there was no credible evidence linking sugar to ADHD (or dementia or depression). (5)
It's all in your head
So why do kids turn feral at birthday parties? – because pass the parcel is the true cause of hyperactivity…
Ok maybe not, but research has suggested that it’s all a matter of perception. Basically, a research team lied to a bunch of mums who believed their 5-7 year old boys were “sugar sensitive.” All children were given a placebo drink (no sugar) but half the mothers were told their child had been dosed with sugar. The mothers who believed their children had been given sugar rated the child’s behaviour worse and, interestingly, were also noted to be more controlling and critical of their child. (6)
If not sugar then what?
Of course many highly processed foods which happen to be laden with sugar also contain artificial colours, additives and preservatives, which in a small number of sensitive children can trigger behavioural problems like irritability, restlessness and mood swings along with headaches, skin irritations, and digestive distress amongst other things. (7) So in the case of these reactions, sugar could be masking a sensitivity to additives, preservatives or colourings – just as Feingold had suggested back in 1973.
Remember however, that such sensitivities or intolerances are not necessarily restricted to artificial food stuffs but also can occur from many naturally occurring compounds like salicylates, amines and glutamates found naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, dairy.
So why have my kids been so restless and irritable over the school holidays?
Well probably because they are spoilt little sods… =)
Realistically, children are highly excitable, emotionally immature, overwhelmed easily, and quiet often in need of a good sleep. These traits partnered with a big bowl of sugar at breakfast, lunch and/or dinner (typically disguised in the form of breakfast cereal, juice, biscuits, muesli bars and other crap marketed to kids) typically results in tantrums, poor concentration and irritability simply as a result of the blood sugar “crash” that comes with these high GI foods – you can also imagine that for a child diagnosed with ADHD, who already may suffer these symptoms, a sugar “crash” could quiet dramatically exacerbate these symptoms.
The simple solution: choose less processed foods which apart from often being high in sugar and salt, are often high GI and contain little fibre so don't provide stable or sustained energy; choose more wholefoods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains which are higher in fibre; enjoy all foods in moderation; and, accept that your child is a little monster =)
So sugar might not cause hyperactivity, but is it toxic?
*If you suspect your child has a food sensitivity, intolerance or allergy seek professional help from a registered dietician who is able to guide you through an appropriate elimination diet whilst maintaining nutritional adequacy. Similarly if you suspect your child is hyperactive seek appropriate medical advice.
Nothing sells like sex - Except for nutrition and fitness myths, hypes, quick fixes and general BS.
With only a few days left in 2013 I am excited to announce that during 2014 I will have a new blog segment – The Monthly Myth Bust, which aims to uncover the truth about the crazy and confusing nutrition and fitness myths that clog our Facebook feeds and google searches.
No celebrity endorsement, personal anecdotes, bias agendas, quick fixes or “evidence” that sounds too good to be true - just honest research, solid evidence and best-practice information.
So stay turned, the first Monthly Myth Bust is only days away!
Got a myth you want busted? Please send it on through =)
The Monthly Myth Bust
Using research and evidence to bust and debunk all those Nutrition and Fitness myths you've been wondering about.