Archive for the ‘nutrients’ Tag

Pre-pregnancy Challenge to Increase Nutrient Density   2 comments

One my current goals is to increase the nutrient density of my diet in anticipation of gaining a parasite (aka getting pregnant), and I’ve been focusing on doing that by increasing my consumption of fruits and vegetables. A while back I switched from crackers for mid-day snacks to fruit and vegetable snacks, but I felt I was ready to take this a step further. So since March I have worked on making sure that I eat at least one serving of fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack. Well, sometimes it’s just a token with snack, but it’s all relative since a snack can be less than a serving size worth anyway. For this past month I’ve been keeping track of the total number of servings each day and comparing that to the old standard of 5 servings of vegetables, and 3 servings of fruit each day. At first it really depressed me that after all my effort I was barely making it most days, handily passing it some days, and occasionally missing the target. And that’s even if I count french fries and vegetable hot dog toppings as vegetables!

I confess to being a bit schizophrenic when I describe my diet. I don’t really consider my diet to be very healthy, but at the same time I recognize that by most standards it’s pretty good (decent amount of fruits and vegetables, lots of whole grains and whole grain products, frequent legumes, light on meat and dairy, well under 5 tsp/day of sugar). When I realized that even with the attention that I’ve been paying to increasing my fruit and vegetable consumption I’m still barely meeting the recommended target, I started looking at other categories, namely grains. If I remember the old pyramid correctly the recommendation was something like 9 to 11 servings of grains per day. By my accounting, on the days that I missed the fruit/vegetable targets I was also not eating that many grain products. At that point I figured that I need to start looking at this as more of a percentage/proportion thing, instead of a target number of servings. That lead me to the USDA website to check out the new “My Plate” thingy that’s replacing the complicated “My Pyramid” thingy that replaced the simple and clear food pyramid of yore (which replaced the really outdated quartered circle). I’m not impressed. For one thing, I suspect that there’s some politics being played. The personalized recommendation that I received included 3 cups (!) of dairy per day to maintain my weight, and 2.5 cups per day to lose weight. There’s no way I could possibly consume that much dairy in one day. The website recommends 3 cups/day of vegetables and 2 cups/day of fruit for me. Note that it takes two cups of lettuce to make one cup of vegetables, and a half a cup of cheese to make 1 cup of dairy. I’m not sure that “cup” defined in such a complicated way that it requires a chart is more helpful than “serving”. As far as using the plate graphic for reference goes, half of the diet is fruit/vegetable. I suppose on average over a week that’s almost true since some days are well over 75% and others more like 33%.

Oh, I should mention that the direct and labor-intensive method of actually keeping track of some key nutrients is not really an option. It’s labor intensive, ripe for frustration trying to analyze within the seasonal variations (since we get all of our produce from the farmer’s market we eat a seasonal diet: no tomatoes in winter, no asparagus in summer, etc.), and misses the point of whole foods that contain more than just the basic vitamins but also contain other phytonutrients.

What was my conclusion after all this? I’m figuratively throwing my hands in the air and declaring that it is not worthwhile to try use any metric to judge whether I’ve improved the nutrient density of my diet. Instead I’m relying on the more subjective (and unfortunately also subject to denial) sense that I have done so. And that sense that I don’t know how I could possibly increase the nutrient density of my regular diet anyway, except to never eat cereal for breakfast and bake bread weekly so that I don’t ever snack on the delicious white flour Pugliese bread that we get from Raleys.

Posted June 22, 2011 by mayakey in food, goals, health, pre-pregnancy

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Choline Summary   Leave a comment

Back to the research on nutrients. I had to take a break when I finished researching the nutrient deficiencies from my test results, so now I’m back researching my borderline nutrients. I hope this series isn’t boring anyone else to tears. The borderline nutrients are of concern because they may actually be deficiencies. For one thing, as I described in my first nutrient research post, since this is just one data point the natural amount of fluctuation is unknown. For all I know, my blood had a particularly high concentration of that nutrient the day my blood was drawn; or an unusually low concentration. The second reason is (shhh) lab results are not necessarily accurate; there may be up to 10 or 20% error in the result (or at least that’s my experience with environmental chemical analyses). Another thing is that everyone’s body is unique and the actual boundary for deficient/enough of a nutrient probably varies somewhat by person. Since I’m preparing for pregnancy, better safe than sorry.

To start this new rash of research I’m looking into choline. And I can say with absolute certainty that I don’t know what choline does. I tried reading the Wikipedia page, but it was going way over my head and I started skimming. At least until I reached the phrase “…important for pregnant women to get enough choline, since low choline intake may raise the rate of neural tube defects in infants…”. Ok, so this is another important nutrient. Don’t understand what it does, but it’s important for me right now. Got it.

Interestingly enough, choline is apparently associated with the B vitamins, which seem to be my nutrition Achilles heel. It’s water soluble, so the body probably doesn’t store much. When it comes to food sources, though, I am indignant. One of the best dietary sources of choline is eggs. I loooove eggs. I would probably eat a couple of eggs a day if it weren’t for a history of high cholesterol on both sides of my family. How am I not demonstrating a high blood choline concentration? This is why I had to take a break from the research. If the foods I eat regularly are great sources of things that I am deficient in or borderline, and I apparently have a confirmed case of leaky gut causing excessive absorption of some things (for a future post), what is preventing the absorption of these specific nutrients? It’s frustrating. My and my darned need to be involved in my own health…

Posted September 10, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Vitamin D Summary   Leave a comment

I think I remember reading in the newspaper a while ago that vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common because we’re spending more time indoors and less time outdoors in the sun. Plus (or minus), whenever we are in the sun we have on sunscreen. I remember thinking to myself, maybe a little bit smugly, that I didn’t have that problem. I don’t put on any sunscreen on routine days, and I figured that the sun exposure from a 20-30 minute commute and daytime/evening running would be good. By the way, I mention sunscreen because sunscreen prevents the skin from generating vitamin D. I think that applies to all types of sunscreen, since physical sunscreens block the UV radiation from the skin and chemical sunscreens cause a chemical reaction that temporarily changes the skin somehow.

Well, I now have proof that smugness is never a good idea. My blood level of vitamin D was 23 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), which means that I have either an “insufficiency” or a “deficiency”, depending on who you talk to. Apparently there is some debate as to the ideal blood levels of vitamin D. Below 10, 15, or 20 ng/ml is considered deficient by most people; but some people consider anything above 15 or 20 ng/ml to be fine. Other people think that concentrations above 30 ng/ml are optimal, and that anything between 15 or 20 ng/ml and 30 ng/ml is suboptimal. In any case; my blood level would be considered “low”, “insufficient”, or “deficient” depending on what reference range is being used.

Vitamin D does play an important role in maintaining bone strength, but I think the reason that my doctor is concerned about vitamin D is because it also may be linked to immune system function. Especially since I am extremely wary of the flu vaccine, I fully support anything that will boost my immune system before/during pregnancy. So in addition to milk and a supplement, I think I may try to add a short mid-day walk to my routine a couple times a week. That’s a form of nutritional supplement that I can live with!

Posted August 30, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Vitamin B6 Summary   Leave a comment

The last of the B vitamins that I am going to research right now is vitamin B6, pyridoxine. Like vitamin B1, the functions of vitamin B6 seem complex and not easy to summarize in lay language. As near as I can tell vitamin B6 is important for metabolizing nutrients (especially proteins), and synthesizing a variety of essential stuff for various body systems including the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems. It is water soluble, but unlike most water soluble nutrients that are not toxic at high doses because the body just flushes them out, apparently vitamin B6 may be toxic in high doses. According to Wikipedia, effects from toxic doses have been documented only from supplementation, not food sources of vitamin B6.

Luckily, vitamin B6 seems to be easy to come by in food since sources include fortified cereals, garbanzo beans, beef, potatoes, and rice; all of which I eat relatively frequently (but then, why I am deficient?). Bananas are also a good source of vitamin B6.

I have no idea why I’m deficient in vitamin B6 being that I’m not an alcoholic, elderly, undergoing dialysis, or taking any medications. It does seem like a common thread among deficiencies of the B vitamins is alcoholism; but really, I swear, I’m not an alcoholic. It is extremely rare for me to have more than one drink per week, and a more typical frequency would probably be once a month. We’d like to drink wine with dinner more often, but haven’t been able to get into a consistent practice of doing so.

Posted August 30, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Vitamin B1 Summary   1 comment

Now moving on to vitamin B1 (thiamin). It was a bit more challenging to find basic helpful information on thiamin than it was for vitamin B12 or folate.

What does thiamin do? Apparently, lots of things. The fact sheet from the lab summarizes the function as: “Thiamin is used by cells to help make energy from foodstuffs.” The Mayo Clinic also mentions carbohydrate metabolism and the production of hydrochloric acid for digestion, among other functions that do not translate easily into layperson-language. A deficiency seems to have far ranging symptoms ranging from fatigue and depression, to constipation and nausea, to nerve damage. I didn’t find any specific pregnancy-related risks listed, though, so apparently it is not in the “risk of birth defects” category.

It is a water soluble vitamin, and is not stored in the body long term so constant consumption is necessary. Luckily, good sources include fortified cereals/breads, and whole grains. This is where I am disappointed in the USDA. I looked at the same table that I referenced for folate, and expected to see brown rice and whole wheat flour at the top of the weighted list. No, not there. The USDA only lists white rice and white wheat flour; but thiamin is apparently found in the rice BRAN and the wheat GERM, which are the parts not included in the refined “white” versions of the grains. Seems like a glaring oversight to me.

I’m not really sure why I’m deficient in thiamin, considering that my husband started making rice or a rice blend (with spelt, millet, amaranth, or even quinoa) every week for us to take to work for lunches; and I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything other than brown or unrefined rice (well, I do have Arborio rice for risotto). Most of the wheat products that I eat also contain whole wheat. A minor personal mission of mine is to prove that it is easy and enjoyable to avoid refined grains. (Pasta is my weakness, I can’t pass up a good white wheat flour pasta.)

If I have to take a guess as the reason for my deficiency (and I guess I do), maybe tea is to blame. According to the fact sheet from the lab tea (and coffee, some fish, blueberries, and red cabbage) contain “anti-thiamin factors.” At work I drink 5-6 cups of tea brewed from 2 teabags every day. During the summer I am also sometimes drinking iced tea at home. I honestly don’t think I could give up my tea; after all the collection peaked at 19 different types in my cabinet at work, and I’m gearing up for a change to loose-leaf, whole-leaf for most of them.

Posted August 27, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Folic Acid Summary   Leave a comment

Since folic acid (vitamin B9) was mentioned frequently in the information about vitamin B12, I figure that is a logical next direction for my research to take. Luckily, I’m not deficient in folate, but I am borderline. Folate, like vitamin B12, is necessary for all cell growth, and as probably everyone knows that folate deficiency during the very beginning (first 4 weeks) of pregnancy can result in neural tube defects in the developing fetus (among other problems). Apparently blood folate levels drop during pregnancy, too. All the more reason to raise a borderline level beforehand.

Folic acid is water soluble, though, so any excess is excreted, not stored. It looks like folate is not stored in the body long term, and therefore consumption needs to be frequent to keep blood folate levels sufficiently high. I suppose this also means that you can have high folate blood levels one day and low levels the next depending on what you ate that day.

Seems like it should be easy to raise/keep good folate blood levels, since the list of foods that naturally contain folate is very large, most cereals and breads are fortified now, I’ve started on a B-complex supplement, and I’ll be taking a pre-natal vitamin with folic acid. According to the USDA, good natural sources of folate include lentils, garbanzo beans, spinach, black beans, asparagus, beef, collard greens, white beans, turnip greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, lettuce, and mustard greens. Those are all things that I like to eat, and eat on a regular or semi-regular basis. Generally, I’m not a fan of trying to measure daily consumption of nutrients, but rather trying to eat a variety of good foods that will contribute sufficient nutrients on a bulk level. I’d go crazy trying to keep track of individual nutrients AND enjoy my food. Plus, I don’t think my stomach could physically hold that much food each day.

It’s kind of funny that when I went to see an ob/gyn and asked about pregnancy preparation, his answer was just to take a prenatal vitamin so that I have enough folate; but after the results of the tests my ND had done, folate is not the nutrient that is the highest concern.

Posted August 26, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Vitamin B12 Summary   3 comments

At the urging of my mother, I started my research into the results of my nutrient tests with vitamin B12. Between Wikipedia and WebMD I found more than enough info for now. I’m just going to hit some major points here, not pointlessly summarize these resources since you can read them better for yourself if you should so desire.

The first thing that I think is important for anyone to keep in mind when evaluating test results is: it’s just one data point. As an environmental engineer I deal with lab reports all of the time (and lots of other forms of data), and one data point has little or no meaning. People generally tend to see a number and take it as fact; but numbers are rarely fact. At work I consider one data point to just give the general ballpark (positive versus negative, screaming hot versus clean), and it usually raises more questions than it answers. Two data points give an idea of “noise”, the amount of natural variation between two independent readings, and confirm the first data point. It’s not until I have three data points that I would even begin to draw conclusions about trends or averages.

Back to the vitamin B12. I don’t seem to display any of the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, and I can’t compare my results to the reference range given in WebMD since the lab didn’t measure concentration but used some weird cellular growth method that results in a percentage of optimal growth. My results were 11% relative to a reference range of at least 14%; but I don’t really know what that means.

The thing that stands out the most to me is that vitamin B12 deficiency is really rare because the liver typically stores at least a year’s worth of the vitamin. As in: you could consume no vitamin B12 for a year before you would be deficient. That means this is a chronic problem. I’ve never had stomach surgery, don’t drink a lot of alcohol, don’t have an autoimmune disorder that I know of, don’t have high levels of protein in my blood (that’s based on several years of annual physicals), have never taken proton-pump inhibitors, have never taken birth control pills, don’t smoke or use nitrous oxide, and I’m not taking antibiotics or potassium supplements. I cannot rule out pernicious anemia, hyperthyroidism, infection by a parasite, problems with the small intestine, or insufficient consumption in food. Actually, I’ve been fairly sure that I have some problems with my intestines for several years now, so hopefully that’s the cause (it’s the least scary cause).

The second thing that stands out to me is that vitamin B12 is essential for the nervous system, long term deficiency can cause “severe and irreversible damage, especially to the brain and nervous system” (Wikipedia), and according to WebMD women with B12 deficiencies in early pregnancy have been found to have higher rates of children with neural tube defects. So this is serious, and I really need to be diligent taking my new supplements for now.

As far as food, both Wikipedia and WebMD say that everyone except strict vegans should be getting enough from food no problem. I’m most definitely not vegan. I regularly eat fortified cereals and while I don’t eat meat every day, I’d say I eat meat 3-4 times per week. Apparently while eggs are a good source, they also contain a factor that blocks absorption. Maybe I should start eating termites 🙂

Posted August 24, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Nutrient Deficiencies, or Wow My Vitamin D Is Low!   1 comment

Today I had a followup appointment with my naturopathic physician after the results of most of my tests came in. It was slightly depressing seeing the list of nutrient deficiencies or borderline deficiencies. This is why when people tell me that I live a healthy life, I have to disagree. I know that this is normal, but that doesn’t exactly make me jump for joy. It would have been so nice to find out that my nutrient levels are all great, but I suspect that around 99.9% of the world’s population (if not more) is deficient in something.

My doctor started things out with a bang with the first results she handed me, from the lab where my vitamin D and thyroid hormone tests were done. Despite not wearing sunscreen for my regular day-to-day routine (sunscreen interferes with the body’s ability to create vitamin D from sun exposure) and having cereal with vitamin D-fortified milk almost every morning during the week, my vitamin D results were 23 ng/ml, compared with an optimal range of 30-100 ng/ml.

Not surprisingly, I am also deficient in vitamins B1, B6, and B12, and the lab’s metric for overall antioxidant function. I’m borderline low for thyroid hormones T3 and T4, folate, copper, and three amino acids: serine, glutamine, and choline. My glucose-insulin interaction is above borderline levels, but considering that I’m planning to get pregnant it is not so high that there’s no risk. On the plus side, my vitamin C, zinc, calcium, and pantothenate levels look really good. In the coming days I’ll do more research into my results. I am, after all, a proponent of being actively involved in my own health care. For now though, I brought home a bag of supplements (including a huge 7 pound bottle of whey powder).

I hate taking supplements. But seeing as how I am planning to get pregnant, I do understand the importance of raising key nutrient levels in my body before the parasite sucks them out for his or her own growth needs. (Romantic view of pregnancy, huh, but isn’t it technically true?)

Posted August 19, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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