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We have all come across these terms, often in a daily basis. If you are like me, not a chemist, or a science person, you may lack knowledge of what these seven terms actually mean. I often find myself making decisions on the very cursory knowledge of these terms. For this purpose, I am taking …   Read More

We have all come across these terms, often in a daily basis. If you are like me, not a chemist, or a science person, you may lack knowledge of what these seven terms actually mean. I often find myself making decisions on the very cursory knowledge of these terms. For this purpose, I am taking my time to not only understanding them, but then also sharing them in this post as I believe in understanding them, we can make better dietary decisions and even live healthier lives. I am no doctor, but I hold the capacity to draw from the well explained understanding that already exist.

Antioxidants

netscafe-antioxidantI am sure if you just thought out about it for a minute, you would realize that “antioxidants” has the word oxygen in it, and we all know we need oxygen to survive, we know that much. However, what we really need to understand, to understand antioxidants, is the term “free radicals.” Free radicals are what could be labelled as the “dark side” of oxygen, or the damaging molecules and these molecules are capable of attacking healthy cells in the body. This attack, as I have understood it, can be the cause of a variety of disease and severe disorders. Where would be commonly find foods as sources of antioxidants?: Red beans, wild blueberries, blueberries, artichoke, prunes, strawberries, pecan, black plums, gala apple and recently also coffee beans and caffeine.

Calories

100caloriesIn Spanish, the word for heat is “calor” and like many terms in Latin alphabet based languages, we find a lot of Latin based words. Therefore, as a Spanish speaker, I know that “calories” has something to do with heat and therefore energy. It turns out my assumptions are not wrong, calories are in fact units of energy and energy is contained in the food we eat. So, this explains how much we need energy to fuel this very complex bio machine we call our bodies. This is why we need calories to survive and why we may feel so low in energy sometimes. Therefore, the correct amount of calories we consume has a direct impact over the state of our daily lives. We could just have a miserable day if we either lack calories or when we have too many calories. There is actually a way to understand how many calories in food has by understanding a couple of units:

  • 1 gram of carbohydrates (I will get to carbohydrates below) contains 4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories

Therefore, the tricky question to ask is how many calories do we need? This depends on a variety of factors, such as the the activities you engage with, your health, weight, height, shape, your age etc. The next question to ask to understand calories is: If calories are energy, why are there so many products which advertise to be low calories, and why is there so much talk about foods which have too many calories, wouldn’t that be ok? It turns out there is such a thing as “empty calories.” Empty calories are those calories which contain absolutely no nutritional value such as vitamins, proteins, minerals etc. These empty calories are usually found in sugars, solid fats which are found in just about anything you might call “naughty” such as fast foods, sugary things etc. Therefore, what is really bad about too many calories is not really the fact that you are consuming empty calories, but it is that you are consuming empty calories by way of ingesting food which is really just “junk,” or empty.

Carbohydrates

carbsmartCarbohydrates or simply “carbs” are organic compounds that contain saccharide (sugars). Therefore, carbs are the substance which our bodies use to make glucose. Like calories, exploring carbs is also complex, and it is here I am starting to understand why all these terms are really hardly known to most of us. Having said this, there are two types of carbs: Simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs, are the carbs that typically digested or absorbed by the body. These are most easily known as sugars found in fruits, vegetables and milk. One of the easiest way to find out how many carbs are found in a food is by looking at a couple of terms: corn syrup, dextrose, brown sugar, maltose, molasses, lactose etc. Complex carbs are the ones we would relate with starches and fibers. They are called “complex” because unlike simple carbs, they are harder to extract energy from because they must be digested first. These carbs are found through fibers that exist in oatmeal, whole grain cereals, fruit and brown rice. As you choose these carbs, these will provide with energy and helping you feel “fuller” longer. Now here is the important question, when is it why would it be good to avoid carbs, after all we have heard of the “carb-free” diet. Since we talked about calories, you know that calories are important for our bodies, because our bodies are so energy demanding, our bodies constantly extra what they can to get energy, because in a sense without energy our body will collapse, cease to function and we will consequently die. If you deny your body of carbs, your body will then start to draw from calories that exist in fat, fat stored in your body, and begin to deplete it, thus we will lose weight. And this is why the idea of a “low carb” product, what is so popular these days implies simpy limiting the amount of carbs to our bodies. In doing so, we will simply lose weight, because that is exactly what can make us lose weight. The problem with this approach to weight loss is that unless you consistently avoid or limit carbs from diet, you will gain the weight immediately (through fats) again. However, if you are consistent in your limitation of carbs, you can remain lean.

Gluten

glutenfreeThis is perhaps one of the most discussed food substances these days. Gluten refers to the proteins found in the tissue produced in seeds that are grounded to make flour. Like all of the other food substances discussed in this article so far, understanding gluten is not the easiest. Gluten is found in just about anything we eat like pizza, sauces, soups, beer etc. Gluten is found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Now, I have to say I found the literature about gluten to be rather dark in explaining what is the real benefit of consuming gluten in our diets, other than discussin about the boost in taste gluten provides. What I did gather in my research, it’s the understanding that gluten does contain calories, vitamins and minerals. Now, in this article so far, I have defined calories, therefore we know that -generally- good calories are good for us, while vitamins and minerals also sound good to have. What is interesting about the gluten-free diet movement, and where the controversy lies,  it’s that during the past few decades, an intolerance to gluten has arisen. Mainly the rise of particular disease, celiac disease, which means an intolerance of the body, mainly manifesting in the small intestine to properly digest gluten, making it difficult to absorve nutrients, leading to unpleasant consequences like anemia, fatigue, infertility, chronic diarrea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating and more. For this reason, the need to make products that are “gluten free” arose, but is it a good idea to consume gluten free products when we do not have celiac disease ourselves? The result is rather shadowy, but if I had to throw in a theory, as it is one of the theories which gives onus for why many people are developing an intolerance to gluten might be due to the rise of genetically modified foods. As there has already been links to GMOs and allergies, which would include celiac disease, as the culprit for the ability of a body to develop an immune/defense and thus rejection to something that the body perceives to be foreign. And you know what? our bodies might just be right in the long term. After all, there is wisdom in our bodies. It would be fair to say, however, that our understanding over the effects of GMOs and the cause of the rise of allergies, in general, is still in its early stages, but the indicators are certainly pointing towards GMOs and those who push GMO products in our grocery stores as the guilty.

Fats

9transfatI almost felt like I did not need to make much of a research to understand what are fats. After all, it seems, it is already very much common sense to assume that fats are kind of bad, yet we also need fat because, in fat there is energy. After all, in some places in the world, animal fat is used as a way to cook and even light up  homes where there is no electrocity. There are, of course, much more complexities in understanding fats, which is the reason why many of us don’t know much about them. I will not necessary delve into the intricate complexities behind it. Let’s just differentiate between two types of fats: Saturated fats and non-saturated fats. Saturated fats are the fats derived from animal products such as meats, dairy and eggs. They are also found in some plant-based sources like coconuts, palm and palm kernel oils. Saturated fats are bad for us, because they are directly responsible for cholesterol levels. To put it in layman terms, saturated fats are the kind of fats that become solid in room temperature, as this is the nature of their chemical composition, this is in contrast with non-saturated fats which are more oleic or in liquid form when kept at room temperature and they are the ones we know to be in more liquified form like the vegetable oils we use. What happens when we consume saturated fats is that they get mixed with our blood stream and when they do is to cause the clogging of arteries leading to heart disease and even strokes. Now we need fats, but we must avoid saturated fats or fats which stem from animals. We must instead choose oleic fats and oils, if we must. Now there is a whole literature which would advice us to be careful when cooking oils, because oils produce a chemical reaction when exposed to heat and temperatures, a reaction which can have negative effects for our health. This is not something I am not going to get into this article.

Organic

organicmilkThe concept of organic foods is very common and therefore, there exists a divide now when you visit the grocery market, as you will find: organic and GMO foods. In most cases, grocery shops won’t even give this choice or would not even carry organically labelled foods and products. The reason for this is because organic foods are usually more expensive and not everyone can afford to pay more for food. After all, why pay more for food, when we already have seemingly good looking foods for such low prices. Why would I pay 4 dollars for a handful of organic banana, when I can just pay 2.30 dollars for handful of GMO banana. It seems straight forward when you are in a low budget living. If you are visitor of this site, or if you get curious enough to search this site for the word “GMO,” you will see I have refer to this term often. The reason is, evidence is growing that the idea of creating foods in a lab can have is rather negative and is having adverse effects for our health and most likely responsible for the raise of a number of disease from minor to very deadly. I may have discussed GMOs before and mentioned the term “organic,” but I don’t think I did written about it or defined it. For food to be called “organic” it must:

  • have grown in “safe soil,” or little or no contact with petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticides
  • have no genetic modifications
  • have remain separate from conventional products, like non-synthetic

In a previous post titled “GMOs: It is now accepted that they do hurt us, so what to do?” I wrote about it how there is amounting evidence against the use of GMO, so much that perhaps we should start to evaluate about making the switch to organic, if not purely because there is a doubt, but if anything organic foods have fewer pesticides and chemicals designed to kills organisms, and yes these are “lesser” organisms like insects or pests, but we cannot be sure what effect they can have when we ingest them. After all we are an amalgam of very complex systems of cells and sub systems which conform organs that may be affected by these chemicals in the long term. Aside from crops, organic animal byproducts are better also, because they will contain fewer or no antibiotics, growth hormones which are fed to animals. This is good, because if this is true, as it has been known by now, that food companies like Monsanto feed their cattle with hormones and antibiotics, which remain in the animals’ meat, milk or even eggs. Another great benefit, and I am not sure how long it will remain this way, is that when you buying organic products you tend to support the small farming operations rather then the multimillion profit machine companies like Monsanto.

Aspartame and MSG

aspartame-msgI have talked about aspartame and Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in another article, however they both deserve to mentioned again as they are often still little understood. Although I have understood their harm, it is always good to reminded. Aspartame is a chemical compound which simply tricks your body into believing that something is sweet. Being a compound, aspartame is very cheap to produce and acquire in mass and this is most likely the reason why there are a plethora of products like candies, chewing gums and soft drinks which are sweetened with this deadly chemical. Now I call it deadly, simply because it is not a secret anymore. The problem is, this truth is not well spoken about and not all of us have come across information about its beginnings and what the scientific the trials on rats have shown us. Aspartame is to be avoided. MSG is the equivalent of aspartame but to the effect of salt. MSG is another deadly chemical which tricks our brain to believe something is salty, it is not only that it tricks us in to thinking and tasting salt, it also does produce a great flavor and thus it is often used as a flavour enhancer. In fact, MSG is used in many of the most known “tastiest” of foods, like Chinese foods, soups, condiments, broth etc. Unlike aspartame, MSG may not necessary be labelled as MSG, as it comes in different formats and through different names, some are referred as yeast extract, soy protein, gelatine, and many many more. Therefore, MSG is a very tricky compound to avoid. For aspartame, you need to simply read it, for example, if the chewing gum you are buying has it listed in its ingredients, then simply put it down.   I hope some of my research would serve to you and become an introduction for the understanding of the most often used food ingredients we encounter in our every day lives. If you are someone often found making choices, like when you are eating out or simply deciding what to snack on, while also trying to make sure you keep your weight balanced, it may be very crucial for you (as well as I) to be sure to really understand what these food terms really mean and apply them in our every day lives so we can contribute to a more healthy and beautiful existence.   Sources used in this post: http://www.jennycraig.com/site/learn/article/empty-calories-what-they-are-and-why-they-are-bad-for-you http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/calories/what-are-carbs-how-they-work-and-how-to-get-them-to-work-for-you.html http://www.livescience.com/39726-what-is-gluten.html http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/gluten-free-diet http://www.webmd.com/diet/healthy-kitchen-11/truth-about-gluten http://lowfatcooking.about.com/od/lowfatbasics/a/fats1004.htm http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/fat2.htm http://lowfatcooking.about.com/od/lowfatbasics/a/fats1004.htm http://www.helpguide.org/life/organic_foods_pesticides_gmo.htm http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html

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