Saturday, 23 November 2013

Coconut Craze

The use of coconut oil has been said to do many impressive things for the body, but is this backed up by science or is it just another fad?

First let’s look at some brief history – coconut oil is edible, and has been consumed as part of the regular diet in tropical places for years. Some studies have shown that the people in these areas are more generally in good health, and don’t suffer as much from the diseases that we see in our western nations, where coconut oil is rarely consumed.

This surprised me as coconuts are high in saturated fat (the bad fat), but it has been shown that the increases in HDL cholesterol are higher than the increases in LDL cholesterol – which may actually mean improvements in the blood cholesterol profile.

Interesting targets for coconut oil, especially for this time of the year, are the skin and hair. With the winter months bringing dry, crisp and brutal weather it’s increasingly important for us to protect these areas. 

In a study done years ago, they tested coconut oil versus sunflower oil as well as mineral oil on different types of hair. The study showed that among the three, coconut oil had the best results on decreasing the loss of protein from damaged or non-damaged hair. The authors postulate that this is because of the saturated fat content (specifically lauric acid) which gives coconut oil a high affinity for hair proteins. Due to its low molecular weight and straight linear chain, it is able to get within the hair shaft and affect the proteins. This is not the case for bulky sunflower oil or mineral oil which has no affinity for protein and is the reason they do not change the actual health of your hair in terms of preventing protein loss.

It has also been shown that coconut oil has great moisturizing properties when applied directly to the skin, but these properties are comparable to the active control product, mineral oil.

So, coconut oil may be worth a try, but remember to do your research about any product you think sounds interesting before buying into the “hype” as it might just be the new fad of the month.

Keep your skin and hair healthy this winter!

Karine Shirazi

4th Year BSc NANS

Monday, 18 November 2013

Local fruits and veggies year round!

With the colder months approaching many of us struggle with trying to eat local foods as much as possible. Ever wonder which fruits and vegetables are in season in November in Ontario? Although our selection in terms of local foods may decrease in the winter months, there are quite a few fruits and vegetables grown locally through November. These include:

·      Crabapples
·      Pears
·      Beets
·      Bok Choy
·      Brussels Sprouts
·      Cabbage
·      Carrots
·      Cauliflower
·      Greenhouse cucumber
·      Garlic
·      Leeks
·      Greenhouse lettuce
·      Mushrooms
·      Onions
·      Parsnips
·      Greenhouse peppers
·      Radishes
·      Rutabaga
·      Sprouts
·      Squash
·      Sweet Potatoes
·      Greenhouse tomatoes


A great place to look for local fruits and veggies is your local farmer’s market. Here in Guelph we have a great farmer’s market open year round with many vendors selling everything from beets to handmade socks to freshly squeezed juice! See for more information.

A great way to include some of the above super foods into your diet is in a homemade juice or smoothie. Here is a simple recipe for a delicious energizing juice:

- 1 beetroot
- 1 cucumber
- 2 sticks of celery
- 3 carrots
- 1 red apple
- An inch of ginger

Juice it up and enjoy! Both colourful and delicious!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Coffee Controversy

Recently it has been shown through epidemiological studies that habitual consumption of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee is significantly associated with a decreased risk of Type II Diabetes. However, short term intervention trials have demonstrated coffee to acutely reduce insulin sensitivity. This may sound like many other nutritional news reports you have read or heard; one day they say something is good for you, and the next they say it’s bad. Who do you believe?

There are a few things to remember when you have been given conclusive statements regarding the toxicity or benefits of different nutrient extracts, whole foods, or beverages. First, if you are reading it in the newspaper and hearing it on the news, remember the only stories that get published in the news are those that draw a reaction out of the public. We see reports of floods, hurricanes, and crimes… not reports of those towns that didn’t get flooded, or reports of people who have managed to follow the law perfectly. It’s not any different in the nutrition world. One study does not represent the entire story. Second, many reporters will take a correlation and make it seem like a cause. The months of June, July, and August are correlated to increased ice cream sales. These months don’t cause the sales to increase, it just so happens the temperatures are higher and most people prefer ice cream when it’s hot. In other regions of the world it could we warm year round, or hot during a different time of year. Which bring me to my next point; understand the context! Due to ethical reasons, many studies are conducted using animal models. They may or may not be representative of human metabolism. It is also very common to increase the doses in order to see results, because interesting results means more publications, which ultimately leads to a larger paycheck. Many of these doses are so high, they are unrealistic to that of human consumption. Remember what the Paracelsus stated in the 1950’s; “Everything is poison. Only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” So before you jump on the bandwagon of the next nutritional claim supported by a study or two, albeit positive of negative, do your research. 1. Does the person reporting the findings stand to benefit from making these proclamations? 2. Have the proper conclusions been drawn, in other words is it causative or correlative? 3. Are the settings and dosages/exposures realistic? You don’t have to acquire your PhD to decide whether a claim is true or not, just use common sense.

Back to the coffee controversy. This is an interesting topic a couple of my friends and I have been tackling for a Nutrition Toxicology class. Yes one side is more correlative and the other is more causative. However, the negative effects caused from coffee seem to only occur acutely, and the amount of caffeine within the coffee also seems to have a significant role as well. Could it be dependent on our P450 genes (a topic discussed previously in this blog)? Could we adapt to the initial negative effects of coffee to the point where other components within the coffee, namely the many different phytochemicals, provide a more positive impact? Due to the lack of fruits and vegetables in the average consumers’ diet, many people receive most of their phytochemicals from coffee, especially when it’s not uncommon to have over 500 mL a day. We know many phytochemicals have antioxidant capacity, and that oxidative stress is also significantly associated with insulin resistance. By no means is this enough information to draw proper conclusions, but it begs for another study to help solve the mystery! I’m not telling you to increase your coffee consumption, nor am I telling to stop drinking it all together. Remember what you consume does impact your health, and balance is the key to a healthy diet.

Mary Allison
4th year BSc. Nutrional and Nutraceutical Sciences

University of Guelph

Friday, 1 November 2013

Halloween Sweets- good or bad?

We all know Halloween is a time for splurging our sweet tooth but as Halloween has come to an end many of us are eating the leftover treats that were suppose to be given out. But, you may want to think twice when you are about to reach for another piece of that chocolate bar.

We all have read the numerous facts and studies about how chocolate is actually heathy for us, but is it really? Chocolate is high in empty calories and a lot of Americans these days can eat three chocolate bars and still not be full and this all because of the empty calories in it. Empty calories causes weight gain and we all know that weight gain can cause so many health effects such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. The high amount of calories in chocolate bars are due to the loads of sugar found in them. But the sugar in the chocolate bar is crucial for customers to keep buying it. Can you imagine a Kit-Kat without it being sweet? It would be extremely bitter and no one would buy it. Next, chocolate contains a chemical called tyramine which is thought to be associated with migraines. This is why when someone finishes eating a chocolate bar they may experience a migraine. Chocolate also has a chemical known as oxalates which can causes kidney stones.

Now I am not saying to stop eating chocolate but you may want to eat less of it. Here are some healthier alternates to curb your sweet tooth.

-yogurt with granola
-trail mix

I hope you all had a great Halloween!