What is Aspartame?

Artificial sweetener aspartame on s spoon and its chemical bonds
Photo: iStock

Overview

In our previous article on artificial sweeteners, we spoke about the pros and cons of numerous sweetening agents, including aspartame, but there have been many discussions and research on this sugar substitute and subsequently, we will dwell into the specifics of aspartame, its history, controversy and the details of this sugar substitute.

What is Aspartame?

It is a low-calorie sweetener that is used as a sugar substitute in numerous food and beverage products. This sweetener is known for its exceptional sweetness and studies have shown it is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar.

Aspartame is used in diet soft drinks, sugar-free desserts, chewing gum, tabletop sweeteners, and various low-calorie or reduced-sugar food items.  It is a popular sugar substitute that, according to many reports, does not contribute to large increases in blood sugar levels, which benefits those with diabetes and others who are concerned about blood sugar levels.

A Bit of History

Stevia sugar substitute
Stevia sugar substitute. Photo: © SMS

James M. Schlatter is the chemist known for discovering aspartame. Its ingredients contain a peptide (a short chain of amino acids), specifically aspartic acid and phenylalanine that are joined together. It is this combination of amino acids that contributes to its sweetness.

A Weight Loss Alternative to Sugar

Due to its intense sweetness, only a fraction of its calorie intake is required to achieve the same level of sweetness compared to other sweeteners.

 Controversy 

There have been claims about potential health effects associated with aspartame consumption, including links to cancer, headaches, and potential neurological disorders, but these claims have not been substantiated after many studies, consequently, regulatory agencies have reaffirmed the safety of aspartame when consumed within the recommended levels.

Results

As of July 2023, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the sweetener in the United States. Aspartame has also been studied by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and these agencies have also concluded that the sweetener is safe when consumed within the acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels.

Safety Exceptions

As with any drug, prescribed or over the counter), some people may experience mild reactions to aspartame, such as headaches, digestive issues or other ailments; however, this is relatively rare and studies have shown that most people do not experience side effects. For the vast majority of the population, aspartame is considered safe when consumed within recommended limits.

Additionally, it should be noted that aspartame may not be suitable for individuals with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU is characterized by the body’s inability to metabolize phenylalanine, which is one of the amino acids present in aspartame.  

Those who have this disorder or other health conditions or are unsure if they should use aspartame may want to discuss with their medical professional if it is safe to consume. 

Conclusion

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is used as a sugar substitute in various food and beverage products. It is composed of two amino acids, asprtic acid and phenylalanin.

It is a low-calorie alternative to sugar, which is appealing to people who are looking to manage their weight. 

It has been evaluated by regulatory agencies around the world for years, and it is considered safe for most people when consumed within recommended limits.  However, it is recommended that individuals with phenylketonuria should avoid aspartame due to its phenylalanine content. As with any food additive, it is essential to consume aspartame in moderation as part of a balanced diet and if you have any health conditions or concerns, it is always prudent to consult with your medical professional before consuming aspartame.

Unlocking the Power of Punkin Seeds: The Surprising Health Benefits of This Superfood

Pumpkin Seed and Pumpkins
Photo: iStock

Who would have thought that the little, orange-shaped seeds we call “pumpkin seeds” could be so powerful? Not only are pumpkin seeds delicious, but they provide an abundance of essential nutrients and health benefits. Studies show that these tiny grains of plant life can help to improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and even aid in weight loss.

Being packed with essential vitamins and minerals, to containing powerful antioxidants, pumpkin seeds are truly a superfood! 

Nutritional Profile 

About 25-30% of pumpkin seed weight is protein. They are also a good source of dietary fiber and iron, which is great for your blood flow. They also contain zinc, which helps to strengthen the immune system, and are rich in vitamins thiamin, folate, and vitamins A, B, and E. Additionally, they are high in beneficial fatty acids, such as linoleic, oleic, and palmitic acids.

Illustration of the parts of a neuron
Cell Structure. BruceBlaus / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

If that is not enough, these plant wonders are a great source of antioxidants, reducing inflammation and protecting against cell damage and disease, and they contain magnesium and potassium. Two minerals that are important for healthy muscle and nerve function.

Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

Here is a breakdown of the benefits that pumpkin seeds can offer you.

Great for Weight Loss

Woman showing how much fat she lost
Photo: Pixaby

The high protein and fiber content of these natural seeds can help to promote fullness and reduce hunger and cravings. Additionally, the healthy fats found can help to keep you feeling satisfied longer. 

Improved Digestion

They are a good source of dietary fiber, which can help to promote healthy digestion and prevent constipation. Magnesium helps to relax the muscles of the digestive tract, which can help to reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, healthy fats can lubricate the digestive system and reduce inflammation.

Reduces Inflammation

The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce inflammation throughout the body. High levels of polyunsaturated fats can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Additionally, they can help to reduce pain associated with arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

Improves Heart Health

Pumpkin seeds contain healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants, all of which can help to keep your heart strong. Healthy fats help to reduce cholesterol levels, while fiber helps to keep blood sugar levels steady. 

How to Add Pumpkin Seeds to Your Diet

      • Snack on them raw: They are a great snack on their own and can be eaten raw or roasted for a delicious crunchy snack.
      • Add them to salads: Puy them into salads for a nutritious and delicious crunch.
      • Sprinkle them on top of yogurt: The crunchy texture and nutty flavor are a great combination.
      • Use them in baking: Punkin seeds can be added to a variety of baked goods, from muffins to granola bars.
      • Add them to smoothies: Add them to smoothies for an extra boost of nutrition.

Recipes 

Pumpkin seeds are a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are some delicious recipes that make use of pumpkin seeds.

      • Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: A simple and tasty snack. Simply toss the seeds in olive oil, salt, and pepper and bake them in the oven.
      • Pumpkin Seed Pesto: This is a great way to add a nutty flavor to any dish. Simply blend them with olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic, and lemon juice for a delicious pesto sauce.
      • Granola Bars:  Simply combine them with rolled oats, honey, and nuts for a nutritious treat.
      • Porridge: Add them to your favorite porridge recipe for an extra boost of nutrition.
      • Hummus: Hummus on its own is nutritious. Now add the seeds for a delicious and nutritious dip. Simply blend chickpeas, tahini, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and garlic for a flavorful dip.

Conclusion

Pumpkin seeds are a delicious superfood that is packed with essential nutrients and health benefits. They are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

They can help to improve digestion, reduce inflammation, promote weight loss, and improve heart health. So, what are you waiting for? Unlock the power of pumpkin seeds and enjoy all the health benefits they have to offer!

 

What Is Serotonin and How Does It Affect Your Mental Health?

Colorful illustration of the brain
Photo: iStock

Overview

Before we proceed to discuss the benefits of serotonin, let us review the tasks of neurotransmitters. Simply stated, information from one cell will send information to the next cell by jumping across a synapse (the gap between cells).

If you are unfamiliar with this process, our article on brain cells will help clear up any confusion you may have, but keep in mind that neurotransmitters don’t only function in the brain. 

This article will discuss what serotonin is, how it works, and ways to naturally increase its levels, and we will explore how certain medications can be used to treat serotonin-related disorders. 

By understanding the effects of serotonin, we can help maintain a sound mind and body. So let’s begin.

What is Serotonin?

This is an important chemical found throughout the human body. It is produced in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys. It plays a key role in the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and learning, and in so doing, it is often coined the “happy hormone”. 

With that said, any serotonin deficiency can have a major impact on your health, especially, your mental health. Once in the synapse, neurotransmitters connect the chemical with receptors on the neighboring cell. This communication between neurons is what allows us to think, feel, and act.

How Does It Work?

Serotonin is produced by a chemical reaction between amino acids and enzymes. Once it is produced, it is stored in specialized cells called vesicles. The serotonin travels out of the vesicles and across the synapse to neighboring neurons and as mentioned, the neurons that serotonin affects are responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, and thinking. Therefore, any changes in serotonin levels can lead to changes in these functions. 

How Does Serotonin Affect Your Mental Health?

Silhouettes of people jumping for joy
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

A person’s cognitive health is affected by many factors. These include genetics, past traumas, relationships, current health, and daily habits. Let’s take a closer look at serotonin’s effect on these functions:

    • Mood: Mood is often the first thing to be affected when serotonin levels start to drop. If its levels drop too low, they may result in a condition known as serotonin deficiency. A serotonin deficiency is often associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
    • Appetite: Serotonin helps regulate appetite by triggering the sensation of fullness. Therefore, increased serotonin levels can result in a lower appetite. A serotonin deficiency, on the other hand, can result in increased appetite.
    • Sleep: A serotonin deficiency can result in insomnia and a serotonin excess can result in hypersomnia (excessive sleep).
    • Thinking: Serotonin is associated with focus and concentration. Moreover, it is also associated with positive or negative moods depending on the situation. A deficiency can result in poor focus and a lack of concentration. This can negatively affect daily tasks that require a higher level of mental focus.

How to Naturally Increase Your Serotonin levels

Two Men Exercising on Mat
Photo: graphic stock

Given that serotonin is so important to mental health, taking steps to increase its levels can have a significant impact on your health. Some ways to naturally increase serotonin levels include:

    • Getting enough sleep: Sleep is essential for serotonin production. Any decrease in sleep can reduce its production and any increase in sleep can increase serotonin.
    • Eating a healthy diet: A healthy diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which are required to produce serotonin. A diet that is rich in these nutrients can help to naturally increase serotonin levels. 
    • Practicing a healthy lifestyle: Regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and other forms of relaxation are known to help increase serotonin levels. 

What Foods Help Maintain a Healthy Serotonin Level?

Photo of foods rich in Serotonin
Some foods for good mood, brain, and happiness. Photo: iStock

Before we list some foods that are rich in serotonin, let us define tryptophan. This is an amino acid that plays a significant role in the production of serotonin and it is important to note that tryptophan cannot be produced naturally in the body. So with that said, let’s take a look at what foods contain this amino acid.

      • Salmon. This healthy fish has been mentioned numerous times on our website. And why? Because of all the nutrients it contains, which includes tryptophan.
      • Eggs: Another all-around healthy nutrient. In addition to all the other benefits eggs have, they are also rich in tryptophan.
      • Green Leafy Vegetables: Any veggies of this type, such as spinach contain a good source of tryptophan.
      • Pineapples: Eat them when they are fresh because they lose their serotonin levels as the ripening wears off.
      • Nuts: All of our favorite nuts contain tryptophan.
      • Tofu and Soy: Soy products are known to be significant in getting tryptophan to increase serotonin production in the body.

One note: Foods that are high in protein, such as salmon and eggs may compromise the serotonin boost even though they contain tryptophan, but if you add carbohydrates (carbs) to your meal, this can help keep tryptophan in the bloodstream.

Some healthy carb foods are brown rice, sweet potatoes, corn, bananas, and apples.

What Medications Can Be Used to Treat Serotonin-Related Disorders

pills in human hand
Photo: Graphic Stock

Some of the most common serotonin-related disorders include depression, anxiety, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. While some serotonin-related disorders can be readily managed with lifestyle changes, others may require the assistance of certain medications. 

Antidepressants are the most commonly used meds to treat serotonin-related disorders. They are helpful because they increase the serotonin level, but they may also have a negative impact on other neurotransmitters. As a result, it is important to speak to your medical provider before taking any medications on your own.

Takeaways for Better Mental Health Management

Mental health is a cyclical process that is affected by many factors. These include daily habits, current health, genetics, and past traumas. Given the impact of these factors, it is important to take care of ourselves and manage our health more effectively. 

One of the best ways to do this is by understanding serotonin and its effects. When serotonin levels are too low, a person can experience a serotonin deficiency, which can result in several mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, poor sleep, and poor focus.

Fortunately, there are several ways to naturally increase serotonin levels. These include getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and discussing with a medical professional. 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Benefits, Sources and More

Illustration of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Source: Free Images

Overview

How many of us have heard our parents say “Eat your fish! It is brain food!”? Well, even if you were a spiteful kid and didn’t listen, take note – they are right! 

Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (a covalent bond that contains four electrons in the outer shell of the atom). They are found in sunflower, flaxseed oils, as well as fish and walnuts, which are essential nutrients that play a vital role in the functioning of the human body, especially the brain, but your body cannot make these fatty acids. To nourish your body with these important ingredients, you need to eat the proper foods that contain them.

This guide will provide you with all the information you need to know about Omega 3 fatty acids, including their benefits, sources, recommended daily intake, and more. You will learn why they are essential for optimal health and how to incorporate them into your diet. 

With this information, you can make sure you are getting the most out of these nutrients and living a healthier life. Let’s get started!

Starting at the Beginning – What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Plate of uncooked salmon
Image by Piotr Eliasz from Pixabay

As mentioned, these are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in certain plants and marine animals.

They are considered essential nutrients for humans because the body is unable to produce most of them and consequently, we must get them from the food we eat. 

There are three types of Omega 3 fatty acids: 

      • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): ALA is found in plants, and is the only type of Omega 3 fatty acid that can be produced by the human body. However, the human body can only convert a very small percentage of ALA into EPA and DHA. 
      • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Found in fish and fish oils 
      • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Also found in fish and is an important nutrient for normal brain function in adults. Additionally and even more essential is that DHA plays a significant role in the development of the brain of infants. Experts have repeatedly stated that consumption of DHA in your diet will improve your learning ability, and lack of it has been related to a deficiency in learning.

Plant sources are mostly ALA (Alpha-lipoic acid) – A naturally occurring compound, but very little is converted into EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)Therefore, it is important to consume more ALA foods that convert into EPA and DHA.  

Benefits 

Omega 3 fatty acids are an essential part of the function of the cell receptors. They have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke and may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis,

Besides improved brain health, these healthy fats have additional benefits that include improved heart health, possible reduced cancer risks, and other conditions such as mood and reduced inflammation. Let’s take a look at each of these benefits in more detail.

      • Improved heart health: Helps to reduce triglycerides, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. These three factors are important for heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
      • Improved mood: Helps to reduce the risk of depression and promote feelings of happiness, and as mentioned, they help to promote brain health and may assist in improving symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 
      • Reduces risk of dementia: Helps to reduce the risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. They also help to improve symptoms associated with depression, ADHD, and anxiety
      • Reduced inflammation: Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to reduced risk of diseases like arthritis. 
      • Other benefits: Helps to reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, improves skin health, and promotes weight loss.

Sources 

Package of Flax Seeds
Seeds such as Flax and Chia can be found in any major grocery store. Photo: ©SMS

Flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, fish, marine algae, and fish are some of the main sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.

Let’s take a look at the different sources of Omega 3 fatty acids and their benefits.

      • Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds are a great source of ALA, which can be converted into EPA and DHA. The seeds are also rich in fiber and have a nutty taste and texture. They can be added to salads, baked goods, or other dishes. 
      • Chia seeds: This is a great source of ALA and fiber. They can be mixed into yogurt or added to salads. 
      • Walnuts: Walnuts are a great source of ALA and also provide some protein and healthy fats. They can be added to salads or eaten as a snack.
      • Fish: Fish is the best source of EPA and DHA and can be eaten regularly. Fish is also a great source of protein as well. 
      • Marine algae: Marine alga is a good source of EPA and DHA, but it is much less common than fish. It can be consumed as a powder or in capsules. Marine algae are also rich in other minerals.

Best Fish for Omega 3

Salmon on a plate
Photo: Graphic Stock

Researchers have said that the following are your best sources of omega-3 fatty acids:

      • Salmon
      • light tuna
      • Sardines
      • Cod
      • Atlantic mackerel
      • Herring
      • Trout

Recommended Daily Intake 

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of Omega 3 fatty acids varies between different age groups. The RDI of Omega 3 fatty acids for infants is 0.5 grams, while it is 1.5 grams for adults. 

The RDI increases with age, which is important to remember. It is also important to note that these RDIs are based on ALA, not EPA or DHA. Although the RDIs are based on ALA, it is important to get enough EPA and DHA in the diet to promote health. 

Let’s take a look at how much Omega 3 fatty acids each age group should consume.

    • Infants: 0.5 grams
    • Babies are not able to consume fish, which is the best source of EPA and DHA. Breast milk contains some Omega-3 fatty acids, but it is important to supplement with additional Omega-3 fatty acids. Talk to your doctor about the best infant formula and infant formulas with added Omega 3. – Children: 1.5 grams
    • Children are growing and their brains are developing. It is important to ensure that children consume enough Omega 3 fatty acids to promote proper brain health. Fish is the best source of EPA and DHA and can be eaten regularly.
    • Teenagers and adults: 5 grams – As we get older, we are less able to convert ALA into EPA and DHA. It is important to get enough EPA and DHA in the diet, especially as we age. It is also important to eat a healthy and balanced diet during this time to ensure that the body gets everything it needs.
    • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 6 grams – It is important to get enough Omega 3 fatty acids when pregnant and breastfeeding to ensure proper brain development in the baby. Fish is the best source of EPA and DHA and should be eaten regularly.

How to Incorporate Omega 3 Fatty Acids Into Your Diet

It can’t be emphasized enough that the best way to get these fatty acids is to eat more fish and marine algae. 

      • Eat more fish – Fish is the best source of EPA and DHA and can be eaten regularly. You can also eat other marine animals like shellfish, but it is best to limit these.
      • Eat more plant-based sources – Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are great sources of ALA. You can add them to salads, baked goods, or add them to yogurt. – Eat more marine algae 
      • Marine algae is the best source of EPA and DHA. It can be consumed as a powder or in capsules. 
      • Take fish oil supplements. Fish oil supplements can be taken regularly to get the recommended daily intake of Omega 3 fatty acids.

Potential Risks

The main risk is consuming too much fish and not getting enough nutrients from other food sources. It is important to get nutrients from other foods to avoid an imbalance in the diet. Another potential risk is consuming too many marine algae and not consuming enough other nutrients. 

All in all, consuming too much Omega 3 fatty acids is not likely to cause any serious side effects. It is important to consume the recommended daily intake to get the benefits associated with them. Besides, marine algae are rich in minerals and vitamins, so it is unlikely to cause any side effects. Fish oil supplements, on the other hand, are not as rich in nutrients, so it is important to get enough nutrients from other sources to avoid an imbalance in the diet.

Supplements

If you are having trouble incorporating enough Omega 3 fatty acids into your diet, supplements can be a great option. 

 

Surprising Health Benefits of Pickles!

A fork in a pickle
Photo: Unsplash

Pickles might make a great addition to your burgers and sandwiches, but did you know that they could also benefit your health? Whether you are a fan of sweet pickles, dill pickles, or even pickled vegetables, these crunchy delights can add more than add flavor to your meals. 

Pickles are a great source of probiotics (good bacteria) and have various other health benefits that you may not have known about. From helping to improve digestion to fighting off inflammation, pickles can be a nutritious and delicious snack in your diet. 

Read on to find out more about the surprising health benefits of pickles that you need to know about.

What are Pickles?

Pickles are food made by the process of fermentation (the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria). They can be made from many different types of vegetables, but the most common are cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, onions, and peppers. 

They can be either sweet or sour and are often eaten on their own as a snack, as a side to a meal, or as a topping for burgers and sandwiches. You can make your own pickles at home or buy them from a store where you can get different varieties like dill, kosher, and garlic. They can be either a sweet or sour side dish that has been made by adding vinegar and some spices to the vegetables.

Nutritional Value 

This veggie is a great side dish that is high in fiber and low in calories, making it not only a tasty option but a healthy one too. A 100-gram serving of pickles provides around 10% of your daily fiber requirement and is rich in vitamins and minerals.

Health Benefits 

Improved Digestion with Probiotics

Pickles are beneficial for digestive health. Eating them can help improve your digestion and has even been used to treat diarrhea and constipation.

Source of Vitamin K

This vitamin is commonly found in cabbage. It plays an important role in blood clotting and has even been linked to reduced risk of certain cancers, and plays an important role in blood clotting.

May Help Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

Eating pickles has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, and researchers believe that the probiotics found in pickles are responsible for this effect. They have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for those who are at risk of developing diabetes. 

May Help Lower Blood Pressure

Blood Cells
Photo: Big Stock

The probiotics in pickles have been shown to reduce blood pressure, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

May Help Fight Inflammation

Scientists believe that the probiotics found in pickles are responsible for this effect. Probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which has many health benefits including helping to relieve joint pain caused by arthritis.

How to Include Pickles in Your Diet

Even though they are healthy, you need to keep in mind that they are still a high-sodium food, so you should not overindulge in them. You should aim to eat pickles as part of a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fiber, and vitamins. 

Eating pickles with your sandwich or burger is a great way to add flavor and is a healthy option for those on a low-carb diet. You should aim to eat pickles as part of a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fiber, and vitamins. Eating them with your sandwich or burger is a great way to add flavor and is a healthy option for those who are on a low-carb diet. 

Conclusion

Pickles are a delicious and healthy snack that you can enjoy as part of a healthy diet. These crunchy delights are not only a great addition to your sandwiches and burgers, they are also high in fiber and provide many health benefits. Pickles are a great source of probiotics, are low in calories, and contain many vitamins and minerals.

 

Healthest Sugar Substitutes as Sweeteners


July 2023 Update – Aspartame

Note: As of July 2023, aspartame has been approved by the FDA and designated safe for human consumption; however, this doesn’t rule out ongoing studies that say there still can be a cancer risk. 

Taking into account the FDA ruling, it is logical to conclude that although some research hasn’t eliminated the cancer risk, the probability of acquiring this disease is extremely low.

The World Health Organization (WHO) tends to agree with this premise. According to AARP’s article “Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for You“, WHO was quoted as saying, “an adult weighing approximately 150 pounds would need to drink, for example, between nine and 14 cans of diet soda a day to exceed that limit.” 

In conclusion, there is no hard-core fact that proves aspartame is not harmful in some way, but being that not one of these organizations’ expert researchers cannot substantiate the effects of this sweetener one way or another, taking it should be left at an individual’s discretion.

March 2023 Update – Erythritol

A recent study by the Cleveland Clinic for the artificial sweetener  Erythritol is possibly linked to heart attacks and strokes.

Not only has this sweetener been gaining popularity, but it has been recommended for the Keto diet as well.  This study is very recent, so we are assuming those who are recommending Erythritol will be reviewing these results closely. The findings were published on nature.com.

Overview

Spoon in sugar
There are lots of alternatives to sugar as a sweetener. Photo: Pixabay

In our previous article, we focused on sugar substitutes and calorie intake. Now let us delve a little deeper and discuss what ingredients are actually in these sweeteners and the pros and cons they may contain.

Many dieters are looking to improve their health by avoiding refined and added sugar in their recipes. With many turning to popular low-carb diets, sugar substitutes are a must! This food additive has a sweet taste, similar to sugar but contains significantly less food energy. There are many substitutes on the market with some that are natural and some that are synthetic. It is important to know the difference between these sweeteners and how they can differentially affect both your health and blood sugar.

      • Aspartame 
        Please note the updates above, but as an FYI, we have left our previous notation about aspartame below:
        This artificial sweetener sold as Equal and Nutrasweet, isn’t without controversy about its safety. It doesn’t affect blood sugar and contains zero calories and a zero glycemic index, but those with a rare condition called phenylketonuria must avoid aspartame. Studies also found those more susceptible to headaches should also avoid it as well. A study from the University of Liverpool found that when aspartame was combined with certain types of food coloring, it became toxic to the brain cells and could cause undue anxiety. Better to be safe than sorry and avoid this sweetener“.
      • Sucralose – Also known as Splenda, this sweetener might be suitable for diabetics but one study found it may negatively impact the immune system. Sucralose also poses a potential risk to the environment. Researchers are finding that after it passes through our bodies and ends up in wastewater treatment plants, it can’t be broken down. Tests in Norway and Sweden found sucralose in water released from treatment discharge sites. Scientists worry it could change organisms’ feeding habits and interfere with photosynthesis, harming the entire food chain.
      • Sugar Alcohols – Sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol are all sugar alcohols that are popular in sugar-free candy and gum. However, these sweeteners do contain 2.6 calories per gram. They may be less sweet and less caloric than sugar, but large amounts can produce laxative effects and bloating. Excess consumption also raises blood glucose so these types of sweeteners should be consumed in small quantities.
      • Stevia Leaf Extract
        Stevia Sugar Substitute
        Photo ©SMS

        This natural sweetener comes from a plant in South America. Sold under brands such as Truvia and Pure Via, it contains no calories and doesn’t affect blood sugar. Its downside is that it doesn’t taste as sweet as the other substitutes and it doesn’t work well in baking.

        But it is a great natural alternative to sugar. With that said, be sure to check the label as many brands combine stevia with other sweeteners. Also, make sure the ingredients list only stevia extract and inulin fiber or erythritol which is another great healthy sweetener.

      • Erythritol – This sugar alcohol has a positive and rising reputation. It is produced naturally from glucose. In small amounts under 50 grams erythritol doesn’t cause a digestive upset like others in this category. Studies find that with its zero glycemic indexes, it doesn’t affect blood sugar or insulin levels and also doesn’t cause tooth decay. This sweetener is also a perfect candidate for baking and cooking and tastes identical to sugar when mixed with a tiny amount of Stevia. 

Conclusion

No doubt Stevia would be the winner here, but that does not mean you can’t delve into some of these other sugar substitutes if you want a sweeter taste. If you are unsure, talking to your medical practitioner is always a good choice, especially if you have a medical condition associated with these foods.

 

Healthiest Fish by Type

Salmon on a plate

Overview
Nutritionists, health professionals, and virtually all health experts have long promoted the nutritional benefits of eating fish. Both vegetarians and omnivores enjoy fish as a main source of protein. It’s not only high in protein, but fish is also the best source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, B-12, and Vitamin D that fights inflammation. 

Wild or Not?

The recommendation is to only buy the wild variety, as many versions of fish that are farmed contain very low amounts of nutritional benefits such as omega-3s when compared to their wild counterparts. Let’s delve a bit more into this.

Farmed Fish

Farmed fish are also fed unnatural diets that contain animal products, soy, and dye. The essential omega-3 nutrient found in wild fish plays an important role in our bodies. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation in the body such as joint swelling and pain. It’s also been shown to moderately improve ADHD and anxiety symptoms. 

Wild Fish

Unfortunately, wild fish contains varying amounts of mercury which is harmful in large doses. It can cause adverse neurodevelopmental, cardiovascular, and immunological health effects. Pregnant women should avoid eating fish that are highest in mercury at 500 parts per billion and over, while other women and men should avoid eating fish that contains 1,000 parts per billion of mercury. 

With that said, wild salmon is still considered one of the healthiest salmons to eat and provides the following:

      • Omega-3 fatty acids 
      • Protein 
      • Potassium
      • May reduce the risk of heart disease
      • May help in weight reduction

So What Fish Should We Eat? Take Your Pick!

Salmon
Photo: Pixaby
      • Light canned tuna is a cheap and quick source of protein. It contains only 118 parts per billion of mercury and is very high in omega-3s. 
      • Wild Atlantic cod only contains 70 parts per billion of mercury and is shown to help lose visceral fat and improve blood pressure when eaten once to three times a week. 
      • Almost all shellfish including mussels, shrimp, lobster, and oysters contain very low levels of mercury and are very high in B-12 and omega-3s as well as iron
      • Squid and calamari contain very low levels of mercury and very high levels of omega-3. 
      • Wild trout has very high levels of omega-3s and is a lean protein, but should be avoided because of its moderate polychlorinated biphenyl contamination
      • Wild Atlantic mackerel, wild halibut, Atlantic pollock, canned sardines, and European anchovies make the best choice for fish you can eat daily. All of these fish contain very low mercury levels and very high omega-3 levels. 
      • Fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, northern pike, and albacore tuna should be avoided as they contain high levels of mercury. As a rule of thumb to remember, usually the bigger the fish the more mercury it contains.
      • Every variety of wild-caught salmon from Alaskan salmon to Southeast Alaskan chum, sockeye, coho, pink, and chinook salmon, as well as Kodiak coho and chum salmon, are considered the lowest risk fish for consumption because of their low levels of mercury and other contaminants. 
      • As mentioned, all wild-caught salmon contain very high levels of omega-3s. Recent studies have found that this wonder fish also contains small bioactive protein molecules that may provide special support for joint cartilage, insulin effectiveness, and control of inflammation in the digestive tract. The selenium found in wild-caught salmon decreases the risk of joint inflammation and also helps prevent colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers, and is also important in heart health. 

Summary

Eating fish of any type will be a benefit to your health, but be careful with the wild kinds as they may contain a larger amount of mercury which can be harmful to your body.

Of all the types listed here, we believe that salmon would be the most beneficial. If you do want to go for the wild type, such as wild salmon, speak to a medical professional or your doctor first to confirm that it will not be overly harmful to you.

 

 

 

 

Best Human Food for Your Dog

Beagle Dog
Look how healthy Rover is! If you want him to stay that way, read on. Image by Denise coyle from Pixabay

Since humans and pets are different from one another, we think that both of them like to eat different foods, but that’s not entirely the case. Some human food is loved by your pets, but it has to be the right one. Check out this list of mutual food items you and your dog love. 

Note 1: It should be noted that, like humans, your pet could have allergies or other health issues when eating human-made food, so always check with your veterinarian before giving them any of the treats we love!

Note 2: If you are not already aware, chocolate can be deadly for your pet. NEVER give your dog chocolate or anything that contains chocolate of any portion! You can read more about this danger here.

Now let’s move on to what is considered healthy for your canine buddy!

Yogurt 

Bowl of Yogurt

Just like yogurt is good for human health, yogurt can also be a source of protein and calcium for dogs. It has vitamins that are good for the health of both humans and animals, which is why it makes sense for your pet to have too. But before choosing yogurt, you should pick the natural one with no artificial flavors without any sugars or sweeteners.

Also, it should not have any active bacteria because they will act as probiotics. In addition, if your dog is overweight, you should ensure you buy a fat-free yogurt, but not one with fat substitutes, such as olestra, simplesse etc. And when summer comes, why not treat them to some yogurt?

Rice

Bowl of Rice
Photo by Jocelyn Morales on Unsplash

Rice is loaded with iron and vitamins B3 and D. It is best to boil the rice until it is well-cooked but sticks with white rice. Brown rice can cause issues for your dog if he/she is having gastrointestinal issues or other health problems. 

White rice has a higher glycemic index than brown rice and can cause blood sugar levels to rise, but it is important to remember that white rice provides a source of starch that can be beneficial to ill dogs. Diabetic pets may still consume a small amount of white rice if they desire, but not regularly.

It is also suggested not to serve your pet rice alone, mix it up with portions of other food for a balanced diet. For healthy dogs, an appropriate portion of white rice should be fine; however, always check with your vet first.

Peanut Butter 

Peanut Butter in a jar
Photo by Tetiana Bykovets on Unsplash

While you may like to spread peanut butter on your bread at the breakfast table, your pooch may be looking right at you, drooling for some of this tasty delight too.

Dogs love peanut butter. It is good if you treat them with a spoonful of unsalted peanut butter daily. 

It is good for their health, but you need to purchase a good peanut butter brand that does not contain xylitol. This can be very dangerous for your pet! 

If your dog is inactive, it is good to feed them peanut butter as it is a source of protein, minerals, and fats.

Pumpkins

With Halloween coming, how can we leave out this seasonal squash fruit? Yes, fruit. Not a vegetable, although it may look like a vegetable. 

Pumpkins are rich in vitamins and minerals that include. Protein, Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin B2, Vitamin E, and iron.

Humans and animals alike can reap the benefits of the delicious fruit.

Eggs

Eggs can also be a food item that you and your pet can share. If you require proteins and energy, your doctor may recommend you eat eggs. Similarly, when it comes to dogs, eggs can also be a healthy snack. 

Providing dogs with proteins and energy, they can make an unhealthy dog healthy and fat. However, you should keep the quantity small because feeding dogs eggs daily can make them fat and gain weight, making them inactive. 

Now that you know how the people’s food items are also the favorite food items of your pet dogs, you should feed these foods to them too.

Summary

Although it is safe for Rover to have some human food, stick with what is recommended and don’t go off giving him/her anything not on the list from veterinarians and/or reputable internet sources. Especially stay away from foods that contain xylitol or chocolate! And always check with canine MD if you are unsure of anything that you want to feed your pet!

Difference Between Antioxidants and Antibodies

Antioxidant Red Banner
Background concept word cloud illustration of antioxidants. Photo: Bigstock

Let’s start by stating that both antioxidants and antibodies are essential ingredients in keeping you healthy. But with that said, what exactly are the differences between the two?

Many people are not aware of what the differences are but they are quite substantial, but with that said, there are numerous similarities between the two as well.

They both protect your body from disease and illness and are necessary for maintaining good health, but that’s about where the similarities end. 

This article will explore some of the main points about what antioxidants and antibodies are, what role they play in your body, and how you can increase your intake of each to maintain optimal health.

What are Antioxidants?

Fresh Berries in a bowl
Blueberries have great antioxidant properties. Photo by Brandon Wilson on Unsplash

Enter Free Radicals – The Bad Guys

These are compounds found in foods that are designed to prevent oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is the process by which free radicals can run amok in your body and damage healthy cells.

What Do Free Radicals Do?

Free radicals are atoms that are missing an electron and by so doing, they look for other cells’ atoms to which they can attach so that they can steal that cell’s electron. This is a common occurrence in nature when atoms have missing electrons. They need to balance out their electron count. When they find a healthy cell to attach to, they will merge with it, subsequently changing the characteristics of that cell to the point where the healthy properties of those cells are diminished or non-existent.

When this happens and too many damaged cells exist, it could result in your body becoming a risk for such diseases as cancer and heart disease as well as many other illnesses. 

Seniors playing chess
Oxidative stress occurs during a normal day of activity, even when you are at rest. Photo by Vlad Sargu on Unsplash

These bad guys are created during our normal lifestyle, which includes simply breathing and eating. In other words, oxidation builds up during daily metabolism – the energy that you exert daily.

Antioxidants – The Good Guys

Antioxidants are the free radicals’ worst enemy. They are molecules that will donate an electron to the free radical making it useless in damaging other cells. 

Antioxidants are naturally found in fruits and vegetables. Some of the best foods for fighting off free radicals are berries, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and tomatoes, but don’t stop there. Just about all fruits and vegetables will help build antioxidants.

They can also be found in smaller amounts in grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. The best-known antioxidants in vitamins are C and E, and beta-carotene.

When you eat foods that contain antioxidants, they enter your bloodstream and then proceed to neutralize the free radicals before they cause damage. This means that antioxidants can prevent oxidative damage and this is why antioxidants are so beneficial to your health.

Fruits and vegetables are your best fight against oxidative stress.

What are Antibodies?

Microscopic view of the COVID virus
Microscopic view of the COVID virus spike protein. The spikes are what attack the healthy cells unless blocked by antibodies. Photo: Pixabay

Antibodies are quite different in properties from antioxidants. Antibodies Are proteins. Proteins are molecules. Antioxidants are not proteins. Antibodies contain chains of amino acids which are naturally produced by your immune system when an infection is detected. They can recognize and identify harmful agents like bacteria, viruses, and other foreign agents. That is why you hear so much about antibodies regarding Covid but you don’t hear anything about antioxidants.

Antibodies are created by your white blood cells, called B cells, and bind to the glycoproteins – the enemy of antibodies, similar to how free radicals are the enemy of antioxidants. Glycoproteins are the carbohydrate portion of proteins that are found in bacteria and viruses. Once the antibodies bind to these bad proteins, they neutralize and remove them from the body before they have a chance to cause harm.

For Covid, the antibodies block the virus cells, called spike proteins from attacking healthy cells.

Your body will create antibodies when foreign agents such as a virus are detected, but vaccines can be injected to further the creation of antibodies if needed.

The Difference in a Nutshell

Antioxidants and antibodies are both designed to protect against disease and boost immunity. However, there are differences between antioxidants and antibodies that are worth noting.

Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that prevent oxidative damage. They don’t directly fight infections. They don’t recognize harmful bacteria and viruses.

Antioxidants also don’t circulate in the blood, as antibodies do. They are found in food, and can’t be detected in your blood. This means that antioxidants don’t boost immunity the way antibodies do.

What antioxidants do is help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals? These attacked cells can add up causing your body to become at risk of several dangerous diseases.

Antibodies detect harmful bacteria and viruses. They are created by our white blood cells and circulate through our blood vessels and look for bad proteins from bacteria. Once found, they block these bad proteins from attacking healthy cells.

More About Antioxidants

Illustration of how Antioxidant Works Against Free Radicals
Bigstock

As we’ve already explored, antioxidants are compounds that prevent oxidative damage. They do this by neutralizing free radicals with their electron pairs before they can cause damage. This means that antioxidants protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals. They also protect a person’s DNA from being damaged.

In addition to providing general health benefits, antioxidants can also help boost your immune system. They can do this by preventing oxidative damage to healthy cells. This leaves your immune system with fewer cells to protect, which means it can put more energy into fighting against infections.

More About Antibodies

Antibodies are proteins that are created by the immune system to protect against disease. They can do this by binding to bacteria and viruses and neutralizing them. Antibodies are much more active than antioxidants when it comes to fighting infections. They circulate through the blood and can detect infections and bacteria in the blood. They then bind to the harmful pathogen and neutralize it.

Antibodies can recognize certain foreign bodies. This includes bacteria, viruses, toxins, and even allergens like pollen. Antibodies also boost immunity by preventing harmful bacteria and viruses from causing infections.

Below is a quick chart of the differences between antioxidants and antibodies.

AntioxidantsAntibodies
What it vitaminsVitamins C & EProteins that contain amino acids
How it is createdFruits & veggiesIn white blood cells when an infection is detected within the body
What it fights freeFree radicals (atoms with missing electrons)Viruses
How to fightEat fruits & veggiesNormal activity within the body but can also be created through vaccines

Bottom Line

Person holding am apple
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Antioxidants and antibodies have similar functions but are very different compounds. While antioxidants don’t circulate in the blood and are designed to prevent oxidative damage, antibodies circulate in the blood and are designed to bind to and neutralize bacteria.

Antioxidants help prevent oxidative damage and can boost immunity, while antibodies do both of these things.

Antioxidants are beneficial for your health, but you can only reap their benefits if you consume enough of them. This can be challenging because many people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. This is why it’s important to get your daily dose of antioxidants. Antioxidants can help you stay healthy, and make sure you don’t get sick.

Organic Foods: What They Are and Why You Should Eat Them

Technologist with tablet computer standing by water tank conveyers doing quality control of apple fruit production in food processing plant
iStock

Pesticides – those scary chemicals that kill insects so that they will stop ruining the crops that we eat. But if pesticides are harmful to insects, are they harmful to humans? What is being done to avoid eating pesticide-laden foods? Let’s find out.

When you think of organic foods, you probably imagine crunchy kale, juicy apples, and other produce with leaves that look like they’ve been touched by a magic wand. Perhaps you assume these foods are expensive and taste weird. However, we now know that these assumptions are misguided.

Conventional fruits and vegetables are often loaded with synthetic fertilizers and other rather nasty ingredients. But what exactly does it mean for something to be organic? Do these foods taste better? Is it worth your money to buy them?  

What Does “Organic” Actually Mean?

Organic foods are produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. They are typically raised without antibiotics or hormones. Additionally, organic livestock is kept in conditions that are more humane and minimizes stress and pain than those of factory-farmed animals, so if you are an animal lover, this should whet your appetite. 

Why Buy Organic Foods?

When you buy food that isn’t certified organic, you’re likely eating produce that has been treated with toxic synthetic pesticides as previously mentioned. These chemicals can be found in conventional produce, as well as meat and eggs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows conventionally grown fruits and vegetables to be doused with a staggering number of pesticides. Why? Because the government believes that trace amounts of pesticides on conventionally grown foods are not harmful to humans.

Let’s take grapes as an example. One pesticide, methyl trifluoride (yes, that’s a word!), is allowed on grapes. In one application, up to 1.5 million pounds of this stuff can be sprayed on a single acre of grapevines. 

So Why are Pesticides Bad for Your Health?

Farmer Spraying Pesticides
Farmer Spraying Pesticides. iStock

Let’s put it this way – anything artificial added to food items would not make the good food health list and synthetic pesticides, which they all are, can potentially wreak havoc on your gut over the years. Besides synthetic pesticides, processed foods can also fall into this category. That doesn’t mean that everyone in this world who eats non-organic or processed foods is prone to disease, but wouldn’t it be nice if we do whatever is possible to avoid such a risk?

Quoting from nature.com, “… [when] eating a non-organic apple, you are also eating over 30 different pesticides that have been sprayed on the apple“.  And pesticides can be a potential risk for cancer, and Alzheimer’s Disease, and can have reproductive issues.

Which Foods are Best to Buy Organic?

While all organic foods are better than conventionally grown foods, some are more important to buy than others. These foods are most likely to contain high levels of pesticide residue. That makes it even more important to buy organic. These foods include: Grapes – Strawberries – Apples – Peaches – Bell peppers – Tomatoes – Celery – Spinach – Potatoes 

How to Find Truly Organic Food

Vegetables
Eating organic is more healthy but also more expensive

When you’re buying produce, you will want to look for the USDA Organic seal. This seal means that the food is certified organic and has met the government’s standards for being grown organically.

The same applies to meat, eggs, and dairy products. You will want to make sure they are certified. But what if you can’t find these? You can also look for foods that are certified by third parties; such as certification seals like these: – Certified Humane – Global Aquaculture Alliance – Animal Welfare Approved – Non-GMO Project – Food Alliance – Organic Materials Review Institute These seals indicate that a third-party certifying agency has verified that a product has been produced according to organic standards. 

The Big Problem with Organic Foods

The problem is that they cost more. Organic produce is twice as expensive as conventionally grown produce. Organic dairy and meat products can be even more expensive. And while these foods can be a good investment in your health, they may not be worth it for everyone.

If you are living on a limited budget, it’s possible it would be better to buy non-organic foods. For example, you may be able to get all the nutrients you need from a non-organic diet that costs a lot less per person. And while eating organic foods can be beneficial, it’s important to remember that eating anything is better than eating nothing at all. 

Final Words

The bottom line is this: Eating organic foods is not a frivolous thing to do. It is a way to protect yourself and your family from harmful pesticides that are sprayed on non-organic crops. If you can afford to buy them, they are worth the money.

Organic produce has fewer pesticide residues and more nutrients and is less likely to be contaminated with pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. Better care is given to organic farm aminals. The farming methods are also better for the environment, reducing pesticide and fertilizer runoff into nearby waterways. So eat up and enjoy!