Why It’s Important – Vitamin A

Hello all! I’m back from my road trip, which was fantastic. But I’m one of those people who needs to take a little mental vacation after my real vacation in order to transition back into my normal life. So the last few days has been filled with video games, reading, and research (because I’m a geek and I find all that stuff fun to do!).

So, apologies for the lack of a Monday entry. Blame my mom (kidding!). But seriously, I was inspired by a conversation I had with my mom. She asked me for advice on a good brand of Vitamin B-complex, and of course I ask (because I’m nosy), “Why do you take a vitamin instead of getting it from food?” And my mom replied, “How would I get 100% of all the B vitamins from food?”

Challenge accepted.

After spending hours researching all the B vitamins, finding food sources, and creating a one-day meal plan which contains almost 100% DRI/DV of all B vitamins, I decided to start a series about vitamins. I’ve still got a lot more research to do about Vitamin B – there’s a lot of them! And the meal plan I did for my mom contains oats, because that’s what she already eats for breakfast, so I want to figure out a grain-free plan. But so far, it’s been fun and enlightening, and the more I discover, the more I love whole, real food. Today’s entry is a brief look at Vitamin A. And stay tuned at the end of the article for some EXCITING NEWS.

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin. Fat soluble vitamins are vitamins that require fat in order to be absorbed in the body. Think of fat like a car – fat globules travel from mouth, to stomach, then to the small intestine. From the small intestine, fat travels through cell walls into the body’s general circulation and finally to the liver, where the absorbed vitamins get dropped off and stored until the body needs to use them. Without enough fat in your diet, you won’t be able to absorb enough fat soluble vitamins, which could lead to critical vitamin deficiencies.

Vitamin A has many functions. It helps eyes adjust to light changes, it keeps skin, eyes and mucous membranes moist, it is critical for bone growth and tooth development, it’s important in reproduction, cell division, and gene expression, and it helps regulate the immune system. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness, very dry and rough skin, slower bone growth, and a weakened immune system.

Vitamin A has a bit of controversy to it. There are some people who believe that there are two categories of Vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids. Others believe that there is only one usable form, and a precursor form. The research I’ve done makes me lean toward the second perspective. To me, it doesn’t negate the value of the nutrients, but it sheds light on how our bodies might use the nutrients most effectively.

Retinol, a type of retinoid, is found only in animal products, such as fish, eggs, liver, and full fat unprocessed dairy. Notice that the retinol is packaged in foods that have a high fat content? Mother Nature is smart! This is the most effective form of Vitamin A – 80% of natural vitamin A from animal sources is absorbed in the body.

Beta carotene, a carotenoid and a vitamin A precursor, is found in pretty much every orange or dark green fruit and vegetable: sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach, kale, and other leafy greens. The body needs to convert beta carotene and other carotenoids into a usable form of vitamin A, like retinol. This is important to note: beta carotene does not become vitamin A until it is converted. This conversion is very inefficient, as it takes about 10-20 carotenoid molecules to make one molecule of vitamin A. It’s estimated that less than three percent of carotenoids are absorbed from plants. (I’m curious if the lack of fat has something to do with that low absorption rate – what would happen to the absorption rate if you ate fat with your plants?) If you want the best bang for your buck, animal products are the best source of usable vitamin A, especially if you have a genetic variant that prevents you from converting carotenoids to vitamin A. Carotenoids are still very beneficial, especially for eye health, so go eat your vegetables!

The recommended amount is 700-900 mcg RAE, which stands for retinol activity units. 1 RAE = 1 microgram (mcg) of retinol or 12 mcg of beta carotene. 900 RAE = 3000 IU. Vitamin A becomes toxic at 3000 mcg RAE (not IU – unit labels are very important!). This is very difficult to reach through food, but can happen from a multivitamin if the does is too high (and if you don’t have enough vitamin D – more on that in a second). If you are taking a multivitamin that contains vitamin A, check the type (beta carotene or retinol), the amount and the unit of measure. Signs of toxicity include headache, nausea, and lose of appetite.

Lastly, you might need to increase their vitamin A intake if a you have a fever, cold, or infection to help support the immune system. Excessive amounts of sunlight (and vitamin D intake) will also require more vitamin A. Vitamin A and D frequently occur together in nature, and that’s because they work best in the body when they are balanced with each other. Nutrient synergy is so important, and we get the best nutrient synergy when we eat real food, rather than getting it all from a multivitamin.

Action steps:

  • Eat foods with the highest retinol content: eggs, full fat dairy, fish, and liver (yes, liver can be delicious, especially when mixed with bacon!)
  • Eat sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, and other orange and green vegetables and fruits with fat (add some butter!) to absorb the most amount of beta carotene possible
  • Improve your gut health, as this will help your body more efficiently absorb all nutrients
  • Balance your meals – fat, carbs (from vegetables) and protein at every meal so that nutrient synergy can occur

Now, I know these science-y entries aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. So I’ve got EXCITING NEWS.

Starting next week, I’ll be posting two entries a week on my new blog!

That’s right, I’m switching to a new blog: http://www.onebiteatatimejourney.com

It’s not completely finished yet, so I’ll be posting the same content on both blogs for a few more weeks. As for writing more, to be honest, I’m a little nervous about taking on too much, with a new day job starting as well. For that reason, I haven’t decided yet which day will be my second post. But ideally, one entry will be more science-y, and the other will be more practical tips/advice and recipes. September will definitely be the trial month.

Until next time, be well!

Sources:
http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/vitamin-supplements/fat-absorb-vitamins.htm
http://jdmoyer.com/2011/01/12/how-and-why-to-balance-fat-soluble-vitamins/
Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe
http://www.philmaffetone.com/vitamin-a-and-the-beta-carotene-myth
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=106

Travel Tips to Prevent Digestive Distress

Hello all! Sorry for the late post – I started writing this entry from my motel room in Ohio on Sunday, and we were traveling all day yesterday. The BF and I are on a road trip to meet with friends in Ohio and Minnesota this week. It’s a twenty hour drive, so I’m glad I knew how to best prepare my system for the change in routine. The last thing anyone wants on a road trip is digestive distress…the uncomfortable feeling of needing an immediate bathroom, or going days feeling like there’s a rock in your gut…it’s not fun, especially on vacation! (Yes, I’m talking about diarrhea and constipation – just to be clear.) Here are my top five tips to prevent digestive distress while traveling on the road.

1. Try to eat the same (or similar) foods you eat at home.

As tempting as it might be to indulge at rest stop eateries, your digestive system may not be happy with this choice. By being on the road, your body is already in a different environment, so you’ll want to avoid any unnecessary stressors to your system – unless you’re fine with stopping at multiple rest stops due to poor food choices. If your body is not used to eating chocolate at 10 am, for example, don’t buy that candy bar just because it’s available.

Once you’ve reached your destination, continue to respect your system by easing into trying new foods. I know that eggs are a safe bet for me, so I had that at the diner Sunday morning. I wisely chose not to have a milkshake – even though it looked delicious – because I just didn’t know how I would react to it, since I don’t have milkshakes at home. When you do decide to eat away from your norm, make sure you are near a bathroom for 30 minutes after your meal – just in case.

2. Bring your own food.

Not only will this save you money, you’ll have control over the ingredients, and you’ll avoid any negative consequences of being hungry but unable to stop because the next rest stop is 40 miles away. I made a huge chicken salad that the BF and I shared for lunch, and we brought string cheese, tankabars and epic bars, and I brought cans of sardines for myself so I can get a good source of healthy fat. I wish I had thought to also pack grapes and carrots for that first day’s drive – the food I brought definitely lacked crunch – so I made sure to get some for the next leg of the trip. But refer back to the first tip – if you don’t usually eat 1/2 a pound of grapes in one day, for example, and you do that on the road, don’t be surprised if your digestive system becomes unhappy.

3. Watch your fiber intake. 

Buying grapes, carrots, and Terra chips was a huge help for the 2nd leg of the trip – it felt great to have real food to eat on the road, and fiber definitely can help you stay regular. But I neglected to remember what eating A LOT of fiber-rich foods can cause: flatulence. The fix? Make sure you also add some protein and healthy fats to your snacks. The balance of macro-nutrients will help ease any flatulence issues, and it will also keep you satiated and focused for your drive.

4. Supplements

One thing that made a huge difference for me was to continue to take probiotics. I have found the probiotics keep my digestive system consistent. Full disclosure: I often become constipated on road trips that last for more than a few hours. There’s something about sitting in a car for numerous hours that my digestive system just doesn’t like. But on this road trip, I increased my probiotic intake, and that, along with the first two tips, has helped keep me regular. So, if you aren’t taking a probiotic yet, go start – but make sure you begin at least a few weeks before your trip so your system can acclimate.

5. Stay hydrated – drink water.

It can be tempting to drink coffee, soda, or energy drinks while on the road, but it definitely won’t be kind to your digestive system! Hydration is crucial to preventing constipation, so bring that water bottle! Caffeinated drinks often cause dehydration, so try to limit your intake to one cup in the morning if you must have a little caffeine to avoid withdrawal.

Bonus tip: Already constipated? Try walking around.

Sitting for long periods of time can affect the flow of the digestive system. Moving the body, such as exercising regularly, also keeps the digestive system regular. But it’s quite difficult to exercise when spending the day in the car. The fix: when taking breaks at rest stops, devote some extra time to walking around. Even a 10 minute walk every 2-3 hours can help relieve constipation.

Got a travel digestion tip? Leave a comment to share!

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Leaky Gut and Probiotics

Hey y’all! I hope the last week has treated you well!

I’m been dealing with some health issues of my own lately. My back and shoulder has been out of whack – pro tip: don’t go a year without a chiropractor appointment when you have a history of easily going out of alignment. In addition to the back issues, I’ve had a lot of joint pain.

So I’m on a mission to figure out what is going on with my health. And it fit in perfectly that the health portion of the nutrition course I’m taking had to deal with digestive health. Today, I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned about Leaky Gut, and how probiotics can help heal.

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition described as intestinal permeability – the intestinal lining has become porous and things such as undigested food molecules, yeast, and toxins, instead of being screened out, get through into the blood stream. Leaky Gut has been linked to various autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, MS, RA, depression and anxiety. (I especially found the depression and anxiety link interesting because one of my symptoms when I had too much gluten – pre-paleo – was depression.)

What causes Leaky Gut?

There are a variety of factors:

Diet: if your diet is low in probiotics and fiber (more on probiotics in a moment), high in sugar or processed foods, and high in grains and conventional dairy, you might have Leaky Gut.

Medication: if you overuse medications such as NSAIDs, antibiotics, asprin, or take hormones such as birth control, you might have Leaky Gut.

Stress: If you have high emotional stress in your life, you might have Leaky Gut. (I’ve previously discussed how stress messed with my health here.)

Bacterial imbalances: If you suffer from candida, SIBO, or frequent yeast infections, you might have Leaky Gut.

Leaky Gut can lead to food intolerance, immune abnormalities, and autoimmune conditions. Inflammation plays an important role here: the body tries to protect itself from what it views as foreign objects. If your gut lining is disrupted, food particles can be viewed as invaders, and the body will create antibodies to protect itself. Maybe your body views gluten as an invader. Or casein. Or lactose. Food intolerance is one of the first signs that something could be going on with your digestive system. After a while, the body might get confused and think that the gluten protein, for example, is in the cells of your skin, and so you develop psoriasis.

In my case, while I’ve been good about avoiding gluten, I have had more gluten-free foods, dairy, and high sugar items (curse you, ice cream!) in the last few months than I usually have. So I believe it’s quite possible that my joint pain could be related to my diet.

How do I heal Leaky Gut?

First, the diet needs to support the digestive system. Eat simple carbs in the form of non-starchy vegetables, fruits and raw honey, healthy fats like ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil and egg yolks, and easily digested protein like fish, chicken, and grass-fed beef. Bone broth is also a wonderful addition to the diet to help heal, and I always drink it when I feel a cold starting in order to boost my immune system, since gut health and immune health are so strongly linked. Lastly, eating probiotic rich foods, such as sauerkraut and pickles, can help add the “good” bacteria back to the gut, especially if you’ve taken antibiotics recently, or often wash your hands with antibacterial soap (which is practically everyone). I also learned that foods that come fresh from the farmer – the ones that still have a bit of dirt on them – will naturally have probiotics from the soil. Unfortunately, these probiotics are washed away by the chlorine spray that supermarkets may use to keep their food fresh. Yet another reason to shop at your local farmer’s market!

Supplements can also help. I am not a doctor, so I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone what to take, I can only share what I’ve learned, what I’m currently taking, and what I plan to take.

I learned that there are 4 supplements that help allow the body to heal itself.

1. First, for more acute reactions, digestive enzymes may help. There are a variety of different enzymes, and this post from Whole9Life gives some great advice about how to find a quality product. But basically, digestive enzymes do exactly what their name says: they are enzymes that help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients. If we aren’t digesting food properly, we can’t digest nutrients properly, and that will interfere with our health. And if you’re making the effort to eat a diet like the one suggested above, you really want to make sure your body is able to get all the nutrients it can. I personally have been taking serrapeptase due to a recommendation from my Krav Maga instructor as a way to help relieve my joint pain, and I do notice I have less joint pain in my knees and ankles when I take it.

2. L-glutamine is another supplement that is recommended to help protect the gut lining. I don’t know much about it and will do more research before I start taking it.

3. Fermented cod liver oil – this supplement is my favorite. I’ve already been taking it since December as a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and K2. As some who tends to have low vitamin D levels (the joys of living in the northeast!), I wanted to find a real food supplement that my body could use more efficiently than a Vitamin D pill. I use the Green Pastures brand, and this post from Balanced Bites explains a lot about cod liver oil vs. fish oil and answers practically any question you might ever have about cod liver oil.

4. Lastly, probiotics. Probiotics are responsible for: producing vitamins such as B12 and K2, crowding out harmful bacteria, creating enzymes that destroy the harmful bacteria, and stimulating the secretion of regulatory T cells (cells that modulate the immune system and may help treat autoimmune diseases) and IgA (an antibody that is found in the intestinal tract – without it, you will have a suppressed or deficient immune system). 

A few tips when it comes to buying a probiotic supplement:

1. Get a reputable brand. You pay for what you get.

2. Look for a probiotic brand that has a high number of probiotic (15 billion-100 billion) and a high strain diversity (10-30 different strains).

3. Strains such as bacillus coagulans, saccharomyces boulardii, bacillus subtilis, and lactobacillus rhamnosus are heat resistant, so they will live long enough to get to the gut and colonize. It’s very useful (and cost effective) to take a probiotic that will have survivable strains.

As always, do your own research. Different strains will help with different needs. For example, bifidobacterium longum supports liver function and reduces inflammation, so for my needs I would search for a brand that contains that strain. If you have lactose intolerance, lactobacillus acidophilus could help with that. To support treatment of Crohn’s disease, saccharomyces boulardii has been proven effective, and this strain also reduces inflammation. Other strains boost the immune system, some support vitamin production, and others suppress the growth of bad bacteria like salmonella and e. coli.

I do not yet take a probiotic, but I started eating sauerkraut a couple months ago…and I don’t think I’ve had it in the last few weeks. Oops?

So my action plan to heal my own gut:

– Clean up diet – cut out the dairy, sugar and gluten-free treats for at least 3 weeks (although 4 weeks would be best). Just in time for a 21-Day Sugar Detox!

– Make more bone broth

– Eat more sauerkraut

– Research and buy a probiotic supplement

– Continue taking fermented cod liver oil

That’s all for tonight! If you liked what you read, please take a moment and leave a comment telling me a bit about yourself. I’d like to get to know my readers!

See you next week!