Read an Excerpt
Busy Mom's GUIDE
to Family Nutrition
By PAUL C. REISSER
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 Paul C. Reisser
All right reserved.
Chapter One NUTRITIONAL BASICS
Have you ever said to yourself:
Sure, I'd like my family to eat a healthier diet, but what does that really mean?
I know I should read food labels in the grocery store, but what exactly am I looking for?
Every month someone seems to come out with a new, surefire way to lose weight. I've tried most of them without success. What am I doing wrong?
My kids gravitate toward fast food. How can I help them develop better eating habits?
If you've been stymied by issues like these, I encourage you to read on. This book will help you make better-informed decisions about the foods you buy and prepare for yourself and your family.
It should also help you better understand food labels and evaluate extravagant claims that are often made for diets or supplements. Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, started every training season by announcing, "Gentlemen, this is a football." In that spirit, we begin our overview of nutrition with the fundamentals.
What is a nutrient? If you stop and think about it, the utilization of food by our bodies is an incredible accomplishment and a marvelous feat of engineering. An enormous number and variety of substances that we chew and swallow (usually with some pleasure) are broken down into basic components that serve three general purposes:
1. To provide a steady supply of fuel for thousands of mechanical, electrical, and chemical processes that go on twenty-four hours a day
2. To build, maintain, and repair structures of incredibly diverse shapes, sizes, and constituents
3. To provide some degree of protection against certain destructive processes
We may buy the best fuel and additives for our car, but they can only power the engine and perhaps reduce some wear and tear. A vehicle that could take gasoline and other raw materials and then repair itself exists only in the realm of fantasy. The fact that our bodies do all of this and more without our awareness, supervision, or understanding is truly mind-boggling.
There are six types of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. The first three are called macronutrients because we use them in substantial quantities. They are also known as energy-yielding nutrients because they provide the fuel we need for all of our bodily functions. Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients because of the tiny amounts that we use. They do not provide any energy, but they play a number of important roles in releasing and regulating it. Macronutrients and vitamins are called organic compounds. The word organic has acquired all sorts of meanings over the years (such as "natural" or "unadulterated") but it simply means that the substance contains carbon, the element found in every living thing. Minerals and water are inorganic, though no less important (or natural).
What are carbohydrates?
We hear a lot about "carbs" today, and based on what you have heard, you may think of carbohydrates as the staff of life or the root of all illness. Neither viewpoint is particularly accurate; we'll try to explain what some of the fuss is about.
Carbohydrates fall into two basic categories: simple (commonly called sugars) and complex. Three of the most important simple carbohydrates are glucose, fructose, and galactose, which are also called monosaccharides because each consists of a single ring of carbon molecules. These are the building blocks of other carbohydrates.
Glucose. The primary energy source for almost every cell in the body, glucose is called blood sugar when in the bloodstream. The body's biochemical machinery is programmed to break down more complex carbohydrates into glucose or to convert the other simple sugars into it. The central nervous system has no fuel storage capability and requires a continuous flow of glucose. If blood glucose falls drastically (a condition called hypoglycemia), consciousness rapidly becomes cloudy. If blood glucose levels are not restored quickly, brain damage can result.
Fructose. The sweetest of the sugars, fructose is abundant in fruits and honey and is readily converted to glucose.
Galactose. This component of lactose appears only when lactose is digested.
The other important simple sugars are the disaccharides, which consist of two monosaccharides joined together. They are sucrose (also called table sugar), lactose (milk sugar), and maltose (malt sugar).
While the sugars consist of various combinations of glucose, fructose, and galactose, the complex carbohydrates are built almost entirely of huge numbers of glucose molecules chained together. Starch is the general term for a long chain of hundreds or even thousands of glucose molecules linked together and packed into certain parts of plants. Glycogen (which is made only by animals) also consists of chains of glucose molecules, though with many more branches. Found in muscle and the liver, it serves as a short-term fuel supply when food isn't available.
The chemical bonds that link the glucose molecules together in starch and glycogen can be readily broken down to provide glucose. In the third important type of complex carbohydrate, fibers, the chemical bonds linking the sugar molecules together cannot be broken during human digestion. Fibers are components of the cell walls of plants, and include cellulose, hemicellulose, pectins, gums, mucilages, and lignins.
We will take a closer look at starches and fiber later in this chapter.
Why do I sometimes seem to crave sugar?
Many books and articles have painted a vivid picture of the ways sugar can provoke mood and behavior disorders, including anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue, and even violent or psychotic (delusional) episodes. A variation on this theme describes cravings or even outright addiction to sugar as a major cause of personal and social ills.
Is it possible to be addicted to sugar or carbohydrates? The answer is yes in the general sense that a person's desire for sweets or carbohydrate-rich foods (primarily starches) can range from pleasant enjoyment to craving to compulsive consumption of large amounts in the face of obvious consequences (such as obesity). The nature of craving and compulsion, however, is complex.
What drives excessive consumption?
1. We derive pleasure from the taste and feel of food, the relief of hunger, the time-out from a difficult day, camaraderie with family and friends, and associations with comforting memories.
2. Swings in blood glucose after eating sweets and refined carbohydrate foods may provoke a rebound hunger, which in turn leads to more eating.
3. Changes in brain neurochemistry are associated not only with increased (or decreased) appetite, but also with desires for certain foods. Carbohydrate cravings are often seen among people with certain types of endogenous depression—that is, depression related to alterations of chemical messengers or neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
What is hypoglycemia—and do I have it?
True hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is not a common event because, barring unusual circumstances, our bodies are designed to maintain adequate blood glucose levels at all costs. The normal range for blood glucose in humans is between 60 and 150 mg/dl.
The symptoms of true hypoglycemia typically appear when blood glucose drifts below 50 mg/dl. Fatigue, clouded thinking, light-headedness, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness arise from the brain, which is being deprived of its fuel. If hypoglycemia isn't rapidly corrected, confusion, seizures, loss of consciousness, and coma will follow.
A very small number of people have true reactive hypoglycemia, in which glucose rises and then plummets to dangerously low levels after they eat a meal loaded with carbohydrates. Many more, however, experience a drop that is not as severe, but enough to bring on a sense of fatigue, hunger, tremulousness, or other symptoms. An improvement in symptoms following a small snack is a clue that this might be occurring.
If there is any question that shifting blood glucose levels might be causing symptoms, there are three relatively simple ways to find out. One is to have a physician check your blood glucose when you are fasting, after a meal, when you feel poorly, or perhaps as part of a more formal glucose tolerance test, which measures blood sugar one and two hours after you drink a standardized load of glucose. If there is still some doubt, a glucose meter can be purchased at a pharmacy or discount store. (These are used routinely by type 1 diabetics to monitor their responses to food and insulin and by some type 2 diabetics to track their progress.) Your glucose levels can be checked as frequently as needed to clarify their connection (if any) to symptoms.
A second, very practical approach is to make a straightforward change in eating habits: take a time-out from foods that are likely to cause trouble. These include foods in which added sugars are listed as one of the first two ingredients.
Third, fluctuations in blood sugar can be avoided by eating smaller amounts of food more frequently. This very practical approach of eating smaller meals more often ensures that a steady flow of nutrients enters your digestive tract—and thus your bloodstream—throughout the day.
What are the different sugars I might find at home?
You might notice some of the following listed among the ingredients of the foods on your shelves.
Sucrose. Also known as white sugar, table sugar, refined sugar, granulated sugar, cane sugar, and beet sugar, each teaspoon of sugar contains about 16 calories.
Powdered sugar. Also known as confectioners' sugar, powdered sugar is basically white sugar pulverized to a fine consistency, with a little cornstarch added to prevent lumps from forming.
Raw sugar (partially refined sugar). This sugar is brown and coarser than white sugar. True raw sugar is banned in the United States because it may contain unsavory ingredients such as bacteria and insect parts. The products sold here (such as Sugar in The Raw or "turbinado") have had impurities removed.
Brown sugar. White sugar to which molasses has been added.
Molasses. This thick, brown syrup is produced during the extraction and refining of sugar from cane.
Dextrose. Another name for glucose.
Levulose. Another name for fructose.
Invert sugar. This mix of glucose and fructose occurs naturally (as in honey) or by chemical action on cane sugar.
Corn syrup. A liquid (containing mostly glucose) derived from cornstarch.
High-fructose corn syrup. Introduced in the mid-1960s, this form of corn syrup contains glucose and fructose, but with a higher proportion (up to 55 percent) of fructose. This product is sweeter than corn syrup, cheaper than sugar obtained from sugar cane (but equally sweet), and not prone to crystallize, making it a popular sweetener that has been added to an enormous number of products. Between 1970 and 1999, high-fructose corn syrup consumption in the United States rose from 0.4 pounds to a peak of 45.4 pounds per person annually. However, as of 2010 this number has declined to 34.8 pounds per person per year.
What about honey and its components?
Honey contains primarily glucose and fructose, but typically with a higher percentage of fructose, making most forms sweeter than white sugar. It also contains a small percentage of sucrose and other simple sugars. A tablespoon of honey contains about 64 calories (compared to about 48 calories in a tablespoon of sugar).
How can something that tastes as good as sugar be bad for me?
Sugar and obesity. The number of Americans, young and old, who are overweight or obese has increased dramatically over the past two decades, as has our national consumption of added sugars—that is, sugars in various forms that are added to foods during processing, preparation, or at the table. Based on data from the 2001 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Americans averaged 22 teaspoons of added sugars (totaling 355 calories) per person per day. The front-runners in added sugar consumption were 14- to 18-year-old boys, who averaged 34.3 teaspoons per day (549 calories)—a solid 20+ percent of their total calories.
Among the young, soft drinks—what some critics call "liquid candy"—are a major source of these calories. A typical 12-ounce canned soft drink contains the equivalent of about ten teaspoons of sugar, yielding 140 calories. This by itself represents the maximum daily intake of added sugars recommended by the American Heart Association for an adult male. But fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and movie theaters sell soft drinks in colossal serving sizes ranging from 32 to 64 ounces, often with free refills. A 32-ounce nondiet soft drink packs more than 300 calories.
Fat storage. The contribution of sweets to obesity may involve more than calorie counts. In most people the metabolic response to surges of blood glucose from products containing a lot of simple sugars appears to promote fat storage. Unfortunately, the same may be happening with starches and other mainstays of the low-fat approach to eating that has been encouraged by government and health professionals for the past three decades.
Empty calories. One of the strongest arguments against the wholesale consumption of sugar is that it is basically a raw energy source without any additional nutritive value. No vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other useful compounds are present in a typical can of soda.
Enjoy a medium-sized orange and you get a total of 80 calories, of which about 56 come from sugars. But the orange also contains 7 grams of fiber, a gram of protein, a generous dose of vitamin C, and some vitamin A, iron, and calcium. Polish off a mere 5 ounces of a typical orange soda—less than half of a 12-ounce can—and you get the same number of calories, all from sugar in one form or another, plus a little caffeine to jangle your nerves and—that's all, folks! Drink the entire can, and you'll consume twice as many calories as the orange contains. Of course, using artificial sweeteners is one way to indulge your sweet tooth without consuming empty calories, but some have questioned their safety, as we'll discuss later.
Sugar vs. the teeth. Actually, sugar isn't the only culprit in causing tooth decay. Carbohydrates in any form serve as a food supply for bacteria within the mouth that produce enamel-eroding acid. What makes a carbohydrate bad for the teeth isn't necessarily how sweet it is—the bacteria can be as happy with raisins as with candy—but how long it hangs around inside the mouth.
Sticky, sugary foods are thus likely to be troublemakers, especially for those who don't brush after every meal. In general, the greater the percentage of one's daily calories that comes in the form of sugars, the greater the risk of dental caries (tooth decay).
Sugar and hyperactivity. The popular notion that hyperactivity or aggressive behavior in children is provoked by eating sugar has persisted for decades, despite a lack of any consistent support from scientific research. Numerous studies evaluating behavior and learning among children given variable amounts of sugar and artificial sweeteners have shown minimal, if any, objective impact.
If Johnny seems "amped up" after a few rounds of soft drinks, cake, and ice cream at a friend's birthday party, the sugar he gobbled up might seem like a prime suspect. But the general excitement, games, presents, and perhaps the caffeine lurking in the sodas are more likely to blame. Nevertheless, if parents notice that a child's behavior seems to take a turn for the worse whenever sugary foods cross his lips, it certainly wouldn't hurt him to stay away from them.
What are the different artificial sweeteners, and are they safe?
Over the past hundred-plus years, a number of substances have been discovered—nearly all of them by accident, by the way—that provide sweetness without calories. But are they safe? And do they really do any good in the long run? Here is a look at the three most widely used sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose.
Saccharin was discovered in 1879, and by 1907 it was used as a substitute for sugar in the diets of diabetics. With no calories, no metabolic by-products, and sweetness about five hundred times that of sucrose, saccharin was the only nonnutritive sweetener available in the United States through the 1970s. It is still added to a wide variety of products (including cosmetics and medications) and is the sweetener found in Sweet'N Low.
Saccharin generated controversy during the 1970s when it was reported that high doses were associated with an increased risk for bladder cancer in rats. Subsequent research failed to demonstrate a risk of bladder (or any other) cancer among human users. Furthermore, the rats had been given huge daily doses of sodium saccharin—on a dose-per-weight basis, an adult human would have to drink hundreds of cans of diet soft drinks every day to consume an equivalent amount. In 2000, a federally-mandated warning regarding the question of animal cancer, which had appeared on saccharin products since 1977, was removed.
While available evidence indicates that saccharin is safe when consumed in limited amounts, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for this sweetener at 5 mg per kg of body weight per day. For a 150-pound adult, this is about 350 mg of saccharin—roughly the amount in ten packets of Sweet'N Low.
Aspartame was discovered in 1965 and introduced in 1981 after extensive human and animal studies. (Some two hundred have been conducted to date.) Approved for use in one hundred countries, it is found in more than six thousand products and is the sweetener in Equal and NutraSweet. Aspartame consists of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, in a form which, when digested, yields these two molecules plus methanol. The amino acids are building blocks of naturally occurring protein, and methanol is found in foods in amounts larger than those generated by typical doses of aspartame.
Aspartame has been the object of a vigorous campaign (much of which has been waged on the Internet) blaming it for a vast array of symptoms and diseases. However, no professional organization (including the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics) or government agency (not only in the United States, but also in England, France, and Canada) has found these claims credible. Both physiology and research findings argue strongly against the breadth and severity of these hazards.
Excerpted from Busy Mom's GUIDE by PAUL C. REISSER Copyright © 2012 by Paul C. Reisser. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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