March, 2016

The 8 Most Popular Ways to do a Low-Carb Diet

Low-carb diets have been popular for many decades. They used to be highly controversial, but have now been gaining mainstream acceptance. Low-carb diets tend to cause more weight loss than low-fat diets, at least in the short-term. They also improve numerous health markers, such as blood triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. However, not all low-carb “diets” are the same. There are many different types. Here are 8 popular ways to do a low-carb diet.

1. A Typical Low-Carb Diet

The typical low-carb diet does not have a fixed definition. It is simply referred to as a low-carb, low-carbohydrate or carb-restricted diet. This diet tends to be lower in carbs, and higher in protein, than a typical “Western” diet. This type of diet is usually based on meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. It minimizes the intake of high-carb foods like grains, potatoes, sugary drinks and high-sugar junk foods. The recommended carb intake per day generally depends on the person’s goals and preferences, but here is a popular guideline:

  • 100–150 grams: Weight maintenance or frequent high-intensity exercise. There’s room for plenty of fruit and even some starchy foods like potatoes.
  • 50–100 grams: Slow and steady weight loss or weight maintenance. There’s room for plenty of vegetables and fruit.
  • Under 50 grams: Fast weight loss. Eat plenty of vegetables, but limit fruit intake to low-GI berries.

Bottom Line: The typical low-carb diet is much lower in carbs and higher in protein than a regular diet. The recommended carb intake depends on individual goals and preferences.

2. Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. It is often referred to as keto. The goal of a ketogenic diet is to keep carbs so low that the body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis. When carb intake is very low, insulin levels go way down and the body releases large amounts of fatty acids from its body fat stores. A lot of these fatty acids are transferred to the liver, which can turn them into ketone bodies. Ketone bodies, or ketones, are water-soluble molecules that can cross the blood-brain barrier and supply energy for the brain. Instead of running on carbs, the brain starts running largely on ketones. The little glucose still required by the brain can be produced by the body via a process called gluconeogenesis. Some versions of a ketogenic diet even restrict protein intake, because too much protein may reduce the amount of ketones produced in some people. A ketogenic diet was traditionally used to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children. It may also have benefits for other neurological disorders, and metabolic problems like type 2 diabetes. It has also become popular for fat loss, even among some bodybuilders. It is a very effective diet to lose fat, and tends to cause a major reduction in appetite. A ketogenic diet involves high-protein, high-fat foods. Carbs are generally limited to less than 50 grams per day, and sometimes to less than 20–30 grams. A conventional ketogenic diet is referred to as a “standard” ketogenic diet (SKD). However, there are other variations that involve strategically adding carbs:

  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): Add small amounts of carbs around workouts.
  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): Eat a ketogenic diet on most days of the week, but switch to a high-carb diet for 1–2 days each week.

Here are two incredibly detailed guides about ketogenic diets, one from a fat loss and general health perspective and the other from a muscle gain and performance perspective.

Bottom Line: A ketogenic diet, or keto, involves reducing carbs sufficiently to induce a metabolic state called ketosis. It is a very powerful diet to lose fat, and has powerful benefits for several diseases.

3. Low-Carb, High-Fat (LCHF)

LCHF stands for “low-carb, high-fat.” This is a fairly standard very low-carb diet, except an even greater emphasis is put on eating whole, unprocessed foods. The LCHF diet has become very popular in Sweden, as well as other Nordic countries. It focuses mostly on meats, fish and shellfish, eggs, healthy fats, vegetables, dairy products, nuts and berries. The recommended carb intake on this diet can range from under 20 grams per day, to under 100 grams per day.

Bottom Line: The LCHF (low-carb, high-fat) diet is popular in Sweden. It is a very low-carb diet that focuses mostly on whole, unprocessed foods.

4. Low-Carb Paleo Diet

The paleo diet is currently one of the world’s most popular “diets.” This diet involves eating foods that were likely available in the paleolithic era, before the agricultural and industrial revolutions. According to paleo proponents, humans evolved eating such foods, and returning to the diet of our paleolithic ancestors should improve health. There are several small studies showing that a paleo diet can cause weight loss, reduce blood sugars and improve risk factors for heart disease. A paleo diet is not low-carb by definition, but in practice it tends to be fairly low in carbs. It involves eating meats, fish, seafoods, eggs, vegetables, fruits, tubers, nuts and seeds. A strict paleo diet eliminates processed foods, added sugar, grains, legumes and dairy products. There are several other popular versions of the paleo diet, such as the primal blueprint and the perfect health diet. All of them tend to be much lower in carbs than a typical Western diet.

Bottom Line: The paleo diet involves eating unprocessed foods that were likely available to our paleolithic ancestors. It is not low-carb by definition, but in practice it tends to be low in carbs.

5. The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is the best known low-carb diet plan. This diet involves reducing all high-carb foods, while eating as much protein and fat as desired. The diet is split into 4 phases:

  • Phase 1 — Induction: Eat under 20 grams of carbs per day for 2 weeks.
  • Phase 2 — Balancing: Slowly add more nuts, low-carb vegetables and fruits to your diet.
  • Phase 3 — Fine-tuning: When you get close to your goal weight, add more carbs until weight loss becomes slower.
  • Phase 4 — Maintenance: Eat as many healthy carbs as your body tolerates without gaining back the weight you lost.

The Atkins diet was originally demonized, but modern science has now shown that it is both safe and effective. This diet is still popular today.

Bottom Line: The Atkins diet has been popular for over 4 decades. It is a 4-phase low-carb diet plan that allows eating protein and fat until fullness.

6. Eco-Atkins

A diet termed Eco-Atkins is basically a vegan version of the Atkins diet. It includes plant foods and ingredients that are high in protein and/or fat, such as gluten, soy, nuts and plant oils. It tends to contain about 25% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 45% of calories from fat. This is a bit higher in carbs than a typical Atkins diet, but still much lower than a typical vegan diet. One 6-month study showed that an Eco-Atkins diet caused more weight loss and greater improvement in heart disease risk factors than a high-carb lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.

Bottom Line: The Eco-Atkins diet is a vegan version of the Atkins diet. It is higher in carbs than a typical Atkins diet, but still very low in carbs compared to most vegetarian and vegan diets.

7. Zero-Carb

Some people prefer to eliminate all carbs from their diet. This is called a zero-carb diet, and usually includes only foods from the animal kingdom. People who follow a zero-carb diet eat meat, fish, eggs and animal fats like butter and lard. Some of them also add salt and spices. There are no recent studies that show a zero-carb diet to be safe. Only one case study exists, from 1930, where two men ate nothing but meat and organs for a year but remained in excellent health. A zero-carb diet is lacking in some important nutrients, such as vitamin C and fiber. However, it seems to work for some people.

Bottom Line: Some people follow a zero-carb diet, which excludes all plant foods. No quality studies have been done on this diet.

8. Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is very popular, especially among health professionals. It involves selecting foods that were (supposedly) consumed in the Mediterranean countries earlier in the 20th century. Studies have shown that this diet can help prevent heart disease, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes. A low-carb Mediterranean diet is basically like a Mediterranean diet, except that it limits higher-carb foods like whole grains. It is similar to a regular low-carb diet, except that it emphasizes more fatty fish instead of red meat, and more extra virgin olive oil instead of fats like butter. A low-carb Mediterranean diet may be better for heart disease prevention than other low-carb diets, although this needs to be confirmed in studies.

Bottom Line: A low-carb Mediterranean diet is similar to a regular low-carb diet. However, it contains more fish and extra virgin olive oil.

Which Low-Carb Diet Plan is Best?

If you’re going to do a low-carb diet, pick a plan that suits your lifestyle, food preferences and personal health goals. What works for one person may not work for the next, and the best diet for YOU is the one you can stick to.

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11 Foods and Beverages to Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is one of the most vital and delicate times in a woman’s life. Therefore, it is more important than ever to eat a healthy diet. This means paying attention to what you eat, and making sure to avoid harmful foods and beverages. Certain foods should only be consumed rarely, while others should be avoided completely.

Here are 11 foods and beverages to avoid or minimize during pregnancy.

1. High-Mercury Fish

Mercury is a highly toxic element. It has no known safe level of exposure, and is most commonly found in polluted water. In higher amounts, it can be toxic to the nervous system, immune system and kidneys. Since it is found in polluted seas, large fish that live in these oceans can accumulate high amounts of mercury. Therefore, pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of high-mercury fish to no more than 1-2 servings per month.

High-mercury fish include:

  • Shark.
  • Swordfish.
  • King mackerel.
  • Tuna (especially albacore tuna).

However, it is important to note that not all fish are high in mercury — just certain types. Consuming low-mercury fish during pregnancy is very healthy, and these fish can be eaten up to 2 times per week. Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the baby.

Bottom Line: Pregnant women should not eat high-mercury fish more than 1–2 times each month. This includes shark, swordfish, tuna and mackerel.

2. Undercooked or Raw Fish

Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections. These include norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella, Listeria and parasites. Some of these infections only affect the mother, leaving her dehydrated and weak. Other infections may be passed on to the unborn baby with serious, or even fatal, consequences. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to Listeria infections. In fact, pregnant women are up to 20 times more likely to get infected by Listeria than the general population. This bacteria can be found in soil and contaminated water or plants. Raw fish can become infected during processing, including smoking or drying. Listeria can be passed to an unborn baby through the placenta, even if the mother is not showing any signs of illness. This can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious health problems. Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid raw fish and shellfish. This includes many sushi dishes.

Bottom Line: Raw fish and shellfish can be contaminated with bacteria and parasites. Some of these can cause adverse health effects and harm both the mother and unborn baby.

3. Undercooked, Raw and Processed Meat

Eating undercooked or raw meat increases the risk of infection from several bacteria. These include Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Bacteria may threaten the health of the unborn baby, possibly leading to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including mental retardation, blindness and epilepsy. While most bacteria are found on the surface of whole pieces of meat, other bacteria may linger inside the muscle fibers. Some whole cuts of meat — such as tenderloins, sirloins or ribeye from beef, lamb and veal — may be safe to consume when not cooked all the way through. However, this is only as long as the piece of meat is whole or uncut, and completely cooked on the outside. Cut meat, including meat patties, burgers, minced meat, pork and poultry, should never be consumed raw or undercooked. Hot dogs, lunch meat and deli meat are also of concern. These types of meat may become infected with various bacteria during processing or storage. Pregnant women should not consume processed meat products unless they’ve been reheated until steaming hot.

Bottom Line: Raw or undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria. As a general rule, meat should be cooked all the way through.

4. Raw Eggs

Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella. Symptoms of Salmonella infections are usually experienced only by the mother. They include fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. However, in rare cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth. Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:

  • Lightly scrambled eggs.
  • Poached eggs.
  • Hollandaise sauce.
  • Homemade mayonnaise.
  • Salad dressings.
  • Homemade ice cream.
  • Cake icings.

Most commercial products that contain raw eggs are made with pasteurized eggs, and are safe to consume. However, you should always read the label to make sure. Pregnant women should always cook eggs thoroughly, or used pasteurized eggs.

Bottom Line: Raw eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella, which can lead to sickness and an increased risk of premature birth or stillbirth. Pasteurized eggs can be used instead.

5. Organ Meat

Organ meat is a great source of several nutrients. These include iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A and copper, all of which are good for an expectant mother and her child. However, eating too much animal-based vitamin A (preformed vitamin A) is not recommended during pregnancy. It may cause vitamin A toxicity, as well as abnormally high copper levels, which can result in birth defects and liver toxicity. Therefore, pregnant women should not eat organ meat more often than once a week.

Bottom Line: Organ meat is a great source of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A and copper. To prevent vitamin A and copper toxicity, pregnant women are advised to limit their intake of organ meat.

6. Caffeine

Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world, and is mainly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and cocoa. Pregnant women are generally advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, or about 2–3 cups of coffee. Caffeine is absorbed very quickly, and passes easily into the placenta and fetus. Because unborn babies and their placentas do not have the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, high levels can build up. High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery. Low birth weight, defined as less than 5 lbs, 8 oz (or 2.5 kg), is associated with an increased risk of infant death and a higher risk of chronic diseases in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Bottom Line: Pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to 200 mg per day, which is about 2–3 cups of coffee. High caffeine intake during pregnancy can limit fetal growth and cause low birth weight.

7. Raw Sprouts

Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts, may be contaminated with Salmonella. Unlike with most other vegetables, these bacteria can get into the sprout seeds. They are therefore almost impossible to wash off. For this reason, pregnant women are advised to avoid raw sprouts altogether. However, sprouts are safe to consume after they have been cooked.

Bottom Line: Raw sprouts may be contaminated by bacteria inside the seeds. Pregnant women should only eat cooked sprouts.

8. Unwashed Produce

The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria. These include Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, which can be acquired from the soil or through handling. Contamination can actually occur at any time during production, harvest, processing, storage, transportation or retail. Bacteria can harm both the mother and her unborn baby. One very dangerous bacteria that may linger on fruits and vegetables is called Toxoplasma. The majority of people who get Toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, while others may feel as if they have the flu that lasts for a month or more. Most infants who are infected with Toxoplasma while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth. However, symptoms such as blindness or intellectual disabilities may develop later in life. What’s more, a small percentage of infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth. While you’re pregnant, it’s very important to minimize the risk of infection by thoroughly rinsing, peeling or cooking fruits and vegetables.

Bottom Line: Fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. It is important to thoroughly rinse all fruits and vegetables.

9. Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese and Fruit Juice

Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese can contain an array of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter. The same goes for unpasteurized juice, which is also prone to bacterial infections. These infections can all have life-threatening consequences for an unborn baby. The bacteria can be naturally occurring, or caused by contamination during collection or storage. Pasteurization is the most effective way to kill off any harmful bacteria, without changing the nutritional value of the products. To minimize the risk of infections, pregnant women are advised to consume only pasteurized milk, cheese and fruit juice.

Bottom Line: Pregnant women should not consume unpasteurized milk, cheese or fruit juice, as these foods increase the risk of bacterial infections.

10. Alcohol

Pregnant women are advised to completely avoid drinking alcohol, as it increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Even a small amount can negatively impact your baby’s brain development. It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome. This syndrome involves facial deformities, heart defects and mental retardation. Since no level of alcohol has been proven to be safe during pregnancy, it is recommended to avoid it altogether.

Bottom Line: Pregnant women should not drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and fetal alcohol syndrome.

11. Processed Junk Foods

Pregnancy is a time of rapid growth. Your body needs increased amounts of many essential nutrients, including protein, folate and iron. Yet even though you’re “eating for two” now, you don’t need twice the calories. You actually just need about 350–500 extra calories per day during the second and third trimesters. An optimal pregnancy diet should mainly consist of whole foods, with plenty of nutrients to fulfill the needs of the mother and growing child. Processed junk food is generally low in nutrients, and high in calories, sugar and added fats. What’s more, added sugar has been linked with a dramatically increased risk of developing several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And, while some weight gain is necessary during pregnancy, excess weight gain has been linked to many complications and diseases. These include an increased risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy or birth complications. It can also increase the risk of having an overweight child. This causes long-term health issues, since overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults.

Bottom Line: Eating processed foods during pregnancy can increase the risk of excess weight gain, gestational diabetes and complications. This can have long-term health implications for the child.

Take Home Message

Proper handling and sanitation of food is always recommended, especially during pregnancy. However, this is not always easy to do, since some foods may already be contaminated when you purchase them. For this reason, it is best to avoid the foods on this list as much as possible. The health of the expectant mother and her unborn child should come first.

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Salt: Good or Bad?

Health organizations have been warning us about the dangers of salt for a long time. That’s because high salt intake has been claimed to cause a number of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. However, decades of research have failed to provide convincing evidence to support this. What’s more, many studies actually show that eating too little salt can be harmful. This article takes a detailed look at salt and its health effects.

What Is Salt?

Salt is also called sodium chloride (NaCl). It consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride, by weight. Salt is by far the biggest dietary source of sodium, and the words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably. Some varieties of salt may contain trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. Iodine is often added to table salt. The essential minerals in salt act as important electrolytes in the body. They help with fluid balance, nerve transmission and muscle function. Some amount of salt is naturally found in most foods. It’s also frequently added to foods in order to improve flavor. Historically, salt was used to preserve food. High amounts can prevent growth of the bacteria that cause food to go bad. Salt is harvested in two main ways: from salt mines and by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich water. There are actually many types of salt available. Common varieties include plain table salt, Himalayan pink salt and sea salt.

This is what salt looks like:

The different types of salt may vary in taste, texture and color. In the picture above, the salt on the left is more coarsely ground. The salt on the right is finely ground table salt. In case you’re wondering which type is the healthiest, the truth is that they are all quite similar.

Bottom Line: Salt is mainly composed of two minerals, sodium and chloride, which have various functions in the body. It is found naturally in most foods, and is widely used to improve flavor.

How Does Salt Affect Heart Health?

Health authorities have been telling us to cut back on sodium for decades. They say you should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, preferably less. This amounts to about one teaspoon, or 6 grams of salt (salt is 40% sodium, so multiply sodium grams by 2.5). However, about 90% of US adults consume a lot more than that. Eating too much salt is claimed to raise blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, there are some serious doubts about the true benefits of sodium restriction. It is true that reducing salt intake can lower blood pressure, especially in people with a medical condition called salt-sensitive hypertension. But, for healthy individuals, the average reduction is very subtle.

One study from 2013 found that for individuals with normal blood pressure, restricting salt intake reduced systolic blood pressure by only 2.42 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by only 1.00 mmHg. That is like going from 130/75 mmHg to 128/74 mmHg. These are not exactly the impressive results you would hope to get from enduring a tasteless diet. What’s more, some review studies have found no evidence that limiting salt intake will reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death.

Bottom Line: Limiting salt intake does result in a slight reduction in blood pressure. However, there is no strong evidence linking reduced salt intake to a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes or death.

Low Salt Intake Can Be Harmful

There is some evidence suggesting that a low-salt diet can be downright harmful.

The negative health effects include:

  • Elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides: Salt restriction has been linked to elevated LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Heart disease: Several studies report that less than 3,000 mg of sodium per day is linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Heart failure: One analysis found that restricting salt intake increased the risk of dying for people with heart failure. The effect was staggering, with a 160% higher risk of death in individuals who reduced their salt intake.
  • Insulin resistance: Some studies have reported that a low-salt diet may increase insulin resistance.
  • Type 2 diabetes: One study found that in type 2 diabetes patients, less sodium was associated with an increased risk of death.

Bottom Line: A low-salt diet has been linked to higher LDL and triglyceride levels, and increased insulin resistance. It may increase the risk of death from heart disease, heart failure and type 2 diabetes.

High Salt Intake is Linked to Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is the fifth most common cancer. It is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide, and is responsible for more than 700,000 deaths each year. Several observational studies associate high-salt diets with an increased risk of stomach cancer. A massive review article from 2012 looked at data from 7 prospective studies, including a total of 268,718 participants. It found that people with high salt intake have a 68% higher risk of stomach cancer, compared to those who have a low salt intake.

Exactly how or why this happens is not well understood, but several theories exist:

  • Growth of bacteria: High salt intake may increase the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that can lead to inflammation and gastric ulcers. This may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Damage to stomach lining: A diet high in salt may damage and inflame the stomach lining, thus exposing it to carcinogens.

However, keep in mind that these are observational studies. They can not prove that high salt intake causes stomach cancer, only that the two are strongly associated.

Bottom Line: Several observational studies have linked high salt intake with an increased risk of stomach cancer. This may be caused by several factors.

Which Foods Are High in Salt/Sodium?

Most of the salt in the modern diet comes from restaurant foods or packaged, processed foods. In fact, it is estimated that about 75% of the salt in the US diet comes from processed food. Only 25% of the intake occurs naturally in foods or is added during cooking or at the table. Salted snack foods, canned and instant soups, processed meat, pickled foods and soy sauce are examples of high-salt foods. There are also some seemingly un-salty foods that actually contain surprisingly high amounts of salt, including bread, cottage cheese and some breakfast cereals. If you are trying to cut back, then food labels almost always list the sodium content.

Bottom Line: Foods that are high in salt include processed foods, such as salted snacks and instant soups. Less obvious foods, such as bread and cottage cheese, may also contain a lot of salt.

Should You Eat Less Salt?

Some health conditions make it necessary to cut back on salt. If your doctor wants you to limit your salt intake, then definitely continue to do so. However, if you are a healthy person who eats mostly whole, single ingredient foods, then there is probably no need for you to worry about your salt intake. In this case, you can feel free to add salt during cooking or at the table in order to improve flavor. Eating extremely high amounts of salt can be harmful, but eating too little may be just as bad for your health. As is so often the case in nutrition, the optimal intake is somewhere between the two extremes.

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Omega-3 Supplement Guide: What to Buy and Why

Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important. The best way to get enough is to eat whole foods that are rich in omega-3, like fatty fish. If you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish, then you may want to consider taking a supplement. However, there are hundreds of different omega-3 supplements available. Not all of them have the same health benefits. This detailed guide explains everything you need to know about omega-3 supplements.

Omega-3s Come in Several Forms

Fish oil comes in both natural and processed forms. The processing can affect the form of the fatty acids. This is important, because some forms are absorbed better than others.

  • Fish: In whole fish, omega-3 fatty acids are present as free fatty acids, phospholipids and triglycerides.
  • Fish oil: In conventional fish oils, omega-3 fatty acids are mostly present as triglycerides.
  • Processed fish oil: When fish oils are processed, either to purify or concentrate them, they become ethyl esters, which are not found in nature.

Reformed triglycerides: The ethyl esters in processed fish oils can be converted back into triglycerides, which are then termed “reformed” triglycerides. All of these forms have health benefits, but studies have shown that the absorption of omega-3 from ethyl esters is not as good as from the other forms. As a rule of thumb, the absorption of omega-3s in the form of free fatty acids (mostly found in food) is 50% greater than triglycerides, and the absorption of triglycerides is 50% greater than ethyl esters.

Bottom Line: Omega-3s come in several forms, most commonly as triglycerides. Some fish oils that are more processed may contain omega-3 ethyl esters, which aren’t absorbed as well.

Natural Fish Oil

This is the oil that comes from the tissue of oily fish, mostly in the form of triglycerides. It is the closest thing you can get to real fish. Natural fish oil contains several important nutrients. About 30% of the oil is omega-3 (EPA and DHA), while the remaining 70% consists of other fatty acids that can help with absorption. Additionally, natural fish oil contains vitamins A and D. If it is fermented, it also contains vitamin K2Salmon, sardines and cod liver are among the most common sources of natural fish oil. These oils are usually found in liquid form, and are more resistant to oxidation than processed oils.

Bottom Line: Natural fish oil contains EPA and DHA. It also contains vitamins A and D, as well as other fats that help with absorption.

Processed Fish Oil

Processed fish oil is usually purified and/or concentrated, which transforms the fats into the ethyl ester form. Purification rids the oil of contaminants, such as mercury and PCBs. Concentrating the oil can also increase EPA and DHA levels. In fact, these oils may contain 50–90% pure EPA and/or DHA. Processed fish oils make up the vast majority of the fish oil market, as they are cheap and usually come in capsules, which are popular with consumers. The body does not absorb processed fish oil as well as natural fish oil because it is in the ethyl ester form. However, some manufacturers process the oil even further to convert it back into a synthetic triglyceride form, which is well absorbed. These oils are referred to as reformed (or re-esterified) triglycerides. They are the most expensive fish oil supplements and only make up a small percentage of the market.

Bottom Line: Processed fish oils are purified and/or concentrated. They are more vulnerable to oxidation and less easily absorbed by the body, unless they’re converted back into triglycerides via a synthetic process.

Krill Oil

Krill oil is extracted from Antarctic krill, a small shrimp-like animal. Krill oil contains omega-3s in both triglyceride and phospholipid form. Numerous studies have shown that omega-3 is absorbed just as well from the phospholipids in krill oil as from the triglycerides in fish oil, sometimes even better. Krill oil is highly resistant to oxidation, as it naturally contains a potent antioxidant called astaxanthin. Additionally, krill are very small and have a short lifespan, so they don’t accumulate many contaminants during their lifetime. Therefore, their oil doesn’t need to be purified, and is rarely found in the ethyl ester form.

Bottom Line: Krill oil is naturally low in contaminants and contains a potent antioxidant. It provides EPA and DHA in both triglyceride and phospholipid form, which are well absorbed.

Green-Lipped Mussel Oil

The green-lipped mussel is native to New Zealand, and its oil is usually in the form of triglycerides and free fatty acids. Other than EPA and DHA, it also contains eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA). This rare omega-3 fatty acid may be even more effective at lowering inflammation than other omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming green-lipped mussel oil is considered to be environmentally friendly.

Bottom Line: Another source of omega-3 supplements is green-lipped mussel oil. This shellfish contains several forms of omega-3s, and is considered to be an environmentally friendly choice.

Mammalian Oil

Mammalian omega-3 oil is made from seal blubber, and is in the form of natural triglycerides. In addition to EPA and DHA, it also contains docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). DPA is a rare omega-3 fatty acid with several health benefits. Mammalian omega-3 oil is also exceptionally low in omega-6.

Bottom Line: In addition to EPA and DHA in triglyceride form, mammalian oil also contains a rare omega-3 fat called DPA.

ALA Oil

ALA is short for alpha-linolenic acid. It is the “plant form” of omega-3. It is found in particularly high amounts in flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Unfortunately, ALA is not active in the human body. It needs to be converted into EPA or DHA in order to become useful, but this conversion process is severely limited in humans. Most plant oils are also higher in omega-6 than they are in omega-3.

Bottom Line: ALA oils are made from plant sources, and contain both omega-3 and omega-6. They do not contain any EPA or DHA, the types of omega-3s that are active in the human body.

Algal Oil

Marine algae, particularly microalgae, is another triglyceride source of EPA and DHA. Actually, the EPA and DHA in fish originate in algae, and are then eaten by smaller fish and move up the food chain. Studies show that algal oil is even more concentrated in omega-3s, particularly DHA, than fish oil. It may also contain important minerals like iodine. Algal oil is an incredibly good source of omega-3, especially for vegetarians and vegans. Furthermore, algae is considered to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. It may help serve the growing world population’s need for omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, algal oil doesn’t contain any contaminants, such as heavy metals. This makes it a particularly good option.

Bottom Line: Microalgae is a plant source of EPA and DHA, in triglyceride form. It is environmentally friendly and considered an excellent omega-3 source for vegetarians and vegans.

Omega-3 Capsules

Omega-3 oils are commonly found in capsules or soft gels. These are popular with consumers, since they don’t have a taste and are easy to swallow. The capsules are usually made from a soft layer of gelatin, and many manufacturers also use enteric coating. Enteric coating helps keep the capsule from being dissolved until it reaches the small intestines. This is common in fish oil capsules, as it prevents fish burps. However, it can also mask the foul smell of rancid fish oil. If you take omega-3 capsules, it may be a good idea to open one from time to time and smell it in order to make sure it hasn’t gone rancid.

Bottom Line: Capsules are a popular way to take omega-3. However, capsules can mask the smell of rancid oil, so it’s best to open one up occasionally.

What to Look for When Buying Supplements

When shopping for an omega-3 supplement, then you should always read the label carefully.

Also check the following:

  • Type of omega-3: Many omega-3 supplements often contain little, if any, EPA and DHA — the most important types of omega-3. Make sure your supplement contains these.
  • Amount of omega-3: A supplement may say on the front that it contains 1000 mg fish oil per capsule. However, on the back you will read that EPA and DHA are only 320 mg.
  • Form of omega-3: For better absorption, look for FFA (free fatty acids), TG, rTG (triglycerides and reformed triglycerides), and PLs (phospholipids), rather than EE (ethyl esters).
  • Purity and authenticity: Try to buy products that have either the GOED standard for purity or a “third party tested” stamp on them. That shows they are probably safe and actually contain what they say they do.
  • Freshness: Omega-3s are prone to going rancid. Once they go bad, they will have a foul smell, and become less potent or even harmful. Always check the date, smell the product and see if it contains an antioxidant like vitamin E.
  • Sustainability: Try to buy fish oil that is certified by the MSC, the Environmental Defense Fund or a similar organization. Small fish with short lifespans tend to be more sustainable.

Bottom Line: Check your product for type and amount of omega-3. It should contain EPA and DHA in satisfactory amounts, and preferably an antioxidant to combat rancidity.

Which Omega-3 Supplements Are The Best?

A regular fish oil supplement is probably the best choice for most people just looking to improve their well-being. However, just remember that natural fish oil usually consists of no more than 30% EPA and DHA, which means 70% is other fats. If you wanted to take higher amounts of EPA and DHA, you would need to consume large amounts of calories and vitamin A to get the amount of omega-3 that you are aiming for. In that case, a supplement with concentrated omega-3s is probably a better idea, as EPA and DHA can be as high as 90%. Look for brands that contains omega-3s as free fatty acids (best), triglycerides or phospholipids. Here are a few good omega-3 supplements to check out: Nordic Naturals, Green Pasture, Bio-Marine Plus, Omegavia and Ovega-3.

Bottom Line: A regular fish oil supplement is probably enough for most people just looking to optimize their health. If you need large doses of omega-3, take a supplement with concentrated omega-3s.

Take Home Message

For most people, a regular fish oil supplement is probably sufficient. However, make sure the supplement actually contains what it says it does, and pay special attention to the EPA and DHA content. EPA and DHA are best found in animal-based omega-3 products. Vegetarian options are available, but they usually only contain ALA. One exception is algal oil, which is an excellent source of quality omega-3s and suitable for everyone, including vegans. It is best to take these supplements with a meal that contains fat, as fat increases the absorption of omega-3s. Finally, keep in mind that omega-3s are perishable, just like fish, so buying in bulk is a bad idea. At the end of the day, omega-3s may be one of the most beneficial supplements you can take. Just make sure to choose wisely.

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Matcha – Even More Powerful Than Regular Green Tea?

Green tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world. It has all sorts of health benefits, such as weight loss and improved heart health. One variety of green tea, matcha, is claimed to be even healthier than the other types. It is grown and prepared differently than other green teas, and the whole tea leaf is consumed. But does matcha really live up to the hype? This article takes a detailed look at matcha green tea and its health effects.

What is Matcha?

Matcha and regular green tea both come from the Camellia sinensis plant, which is native to China. However, matcha is grown differently than regular green tea. The tea bushes are covered for about 20–30 days before harvest, to prevent direct sunlight. The shade stimulates an increase in chlorophyll levels, which turns the leaves into a darker shade of green and increases the production of amino acids. After harvesting, the stems and veins are removed from the leaves. They are then stone-ground into a fine, bright green powder, known as matcha. Because the whole leaf powder is ingested, instead of just water infused through the tea leaves, matcha is even higher in some substances than green tea. This includes caffeine and antioxidants.

One cup of matcha, made from half a teaspoon of powder, generally contains about 35 mg of caffeine. This is slightly more than a cup of regular green tea. Matcha can have a grassy and bitter taste, and is often served with a sweetener or milk. Matcha powder is also popular in smoothies and baking.

Bottom Line: Matcha is a type of powdered, high-quality green tea. It is grown and prepared differently than regular green tea, and has higher amounts of caffeine and antioxidants.

How Is Matcha Tea Prepared?

Matcha tea is prepared differently than regular green tea. Regular tea is made from soaked leaves, while matcha is made from ground, whole leaves. It is usually prepared the traditional Japanese way. The tea is measured with a bamboo spoon, called a shashaku, into a heated tea bowl, known as a chawan. Hot water (about 70°C) is then added to the bowl. The tea is whisked with a special bamboo whisk, called a chasen, until it becomes smooth with froth on top.

Matcha can be prepared in several consistencies:

  • Standard: Most people mix 1 teaspoon of matcha powder with 2 ounces of hot water.

  • Usucha (thin): This thinner version uses about half a teaspoon of matcha, mixed with about 3–4 ounces of hot water.

Koicha (thick): This thick version is sometimes part of Japanese tea ceremonies. 2 teaspoons of matcha are mixed with about 1 ounce of hot water. There is no foam, and a higher grade of matcha is required.

Bottom Line: To prepare matcha tea, mix 1 tsp of powder with hot (not boiling) water. Use a whisk to make a smooth drink with froth on top.

Health Benefits of Matcha

Since matcha is simply a variety of green tea, it has most of the same health benefits. However, since matcha is more concentrated in antioxidants, a single cup of matcha may be equivalent to about 3 cups of regular green tea. There haven’t been many human studies on matcha specifically, but animal studies suggest that it may reduce the risk of kidney and liver damage while lowering blood sugar, triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Matcha also seems to be more effective than regular green tea at fighting bacteria, viruses and fungi. Here are the main health benefits associated with drinking matcha green tea.

Matcha is Packed with Antioxidants

Dietary antioxidants prevent free radicals from forming in your body, which protects cells and tissues from damage. Matcha is very high in antioxidants, especially catechins. The most powerful catechin in it is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG has been studied extensively. It may fight inflammation in the body, help maintain healthy arteries, promote cell repair and more. What’s more, whole-leaf teas contain more antioxidants than tea bags or ready-to-drink products. One study found that matcha contains up to 137 times more antioxidants than a low-grade variety of green tea, and up to 3 times more antioxidants than other high-quality teas.

Bottom Line: Matcha contains about 3 times more antioxidants than other types of high-quality green tea.

Drinking Matcha May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the biggest cause of death worldwide, and there are many “risk factors” that are known to drive heart disease. Drinking green tea may help improve total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar levels. Furthermore, green tea may protect against the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol, another major risk factor for heart disease. Studies have actually shown that green tea drinkers have up to a 31% lower risk of heart disease than people who don’t drink green tea. This is mainly attributed to the antioxidants and plant compounds in green tea, which are found in even higher amounts in matcha tea.

Bottom Line: Green tea drinkers have up to a 31% lower risk of heart disease, compared to non-drinkers. The same should apply to matcha tea, which contains even more protective compounds.

Matcha Tea May Help with Weight Loss

Green tea has often been associated with weight loss. In fact, it is a common ingredient in many weight loss supplements. Human studies have shown that green tea is able to increase total calories burned by increasing the metabolic rate. It has also been shown to increase selective fat burning by up to 17%. However, keep in mind that drinking green tea is only a very small piece of the weight loss puzzle, and not all studies agree that it helps. A recent review study concluded that the weight loss effects of green tea are so small that they are not of “clinical” importance.

Bottom Line: Drinking green tea may help with weight loss and fat burning. However, the evidence is mixed and the long-term effects are very small.

Drinking Matcha May Help with Relaxation and Alertness

In addition to being a great source of antioxidants, green tea contains a unique amino acid called L-theanine. Matcha tea actually contains much higher levels of L-theanine than other types of green tea. In humans, L-theanine may increase so-called alpha waves in the brain. These waves are linked to mental relaxation, and may help fight stress signals (26, 27, 28, 29). L-theanine also modifies the effects of caffeine in the body, increasing alertness without causing the drowsiness that often follows coffee drinking. Matcha tea has actually been reported to have a milder and longer-lasting “buzz” than coffee. L-theanine can also increase the amount of feel-good chemicals in the brain, leading to improved mood, memory and concentration. Furthermore, studies have shown that powdered green tea may improve brain function and reduce age-related cognitive decline in the elderly

Bottom Line: Matcha contains both caffeine and L-theanine, which promotes alertness without drowsiness. L-theanine may also improve mood, memory and concentration.

Are There any Adverse Effects?

Everything in nutrition has its pros and cons. Matcha is no exception. Because matcha is highly concentrated in substances (both good and bad), it is generally not recommended to drink more than two cups per day.

Contaminants

By consuming matcha powder, you are actually ingesting the whole tea leaf — along with everything it contains. Matcha leaves may have contaminants from the soil that they grow in, including heavy metals, pesticides and fluoride. Using organic matcha may reduce the risk of exposure, but the soil may still contain substances that are harmful in large amounts.

Too Many Plant Compounds

In nutrition, more is not always better. Matcha contains about 3 times more antioxidants than high-quality regular green tea. What this means is that two cups of matcha may provide equal amounts of plant compounds as six whole cups of other high-quality green teas. While individual tolerance varies, high levels of the plant compounds found in matcha may cause nausea and symptoms of liver or kidney toxicity. Some individuals have shown signs of liver toxicity after consuming just 6 cups of green tea daily for 4 months, equaling about 2 daily cups of matcha.

Bottom Line: It is not recommended to drink more than 2 cups of matcha per day. It contains extremely large amounts of many plant compounds, and may contain contaminants from the soil or environment.

Matcha is Healthier Than Regular Green Tea

Matcha is a special, powerful form of green tea. It comes from the same plant, but is grown and prepared very differently. Since the leaves are ground into powder, you end up consuming the whole leaf. For this reason, matcha may have even more benefits than regular green tea.

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