Chromium… what do we know about it? I recently did a functional nutrient test and my chromium levels were pretty low. I knew chromium is vital for blood glucose regulation (I make sure my grandma supplements with this for her diabetes and we’ve seen improvements), but I thought I’ll refresh my mind about this essential mineral.
First discovered in 1797, chromium is mainly known for its role in enhancing sensitivity to insulin and thus lowering blood glucose levels. It does have a few other functions related to its blood sugar balancing benefits, such as:
Carbohydrate & fat metabolism
May lower blood pressure
May improve blood lipids
May enhance cognitive function
It could even improve mood
Chromium deficiency is rare, since it is found in many whole foods, especially in:
Apples (with peel)
It may even be found in some beer & red wine products (chromium is present in grapes after all)!
Signs of insufficient levels include:
Elevated blood sugar & lipids
Elevated insulin levels
Anxiety (due to blood sugar imbalances)
Vitamin B3 and C can enhance chromium absorption. Iron & chromium compete for the same transport proteins in the body, although chromium supplementation does not seem to affect iron levels.
Do you often find your nails weak, thin, easy to break off or peel? Do they have ridges or lines? All of these could be signs of the following nutrient needs:
👉Dietary protein provides the building blocks (amino acids) necessary for keratin synthesis – a type of protein that makes up our nails, hair and skin.
✅Other signs of insufficient protein intake include slow wound healing, fine & brittle hair, decreased muscle strength, impaired immune function, fluid retention in feet & ankles, anxiety, poor concentration, joint pain, cravings and more.
✅Low intake of protein may not be the only reason for poor protein status – insufficient stomach acid and digestive enzymes can reduce the amount of protein our bodies absorb from our diet.
👉Iron, copper, zinc, and calcium which are all needed for healthy nails. Just like with protein, in order to absorb them we need sufficient stomach acid.
✅Other signs of mineral deficiencies include pale skin, tongue and gums, cracks in corners of mouth, kinky hair, weak bones, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, acne, poor vision, geographic tongue, loss of taste, diarrhea and more.
👉Essential fatty acids, which are needed for healthy cell membranes and may reduce nail brittleness.
✅Other signs of deficiency include acne, reduced visual acuity, dandruff, parasthesia and neuropathy, impaired memory, increased thirst, eczema, dermatitis, poor mental health and more.
The above are only some of the functions & deficiency signs of these nutrients, our physiology is quite complex and many nutrients interact in multiple ways, so we should not view them in isolation.
As always, it is recommended to check your nutrient levels and speak with your healthcare provider before coming to conclusions and starting any supplementation.
We all know the importance of a healthy breakfasts, but what if you're not an 'egg & veggie' type of a breakfast person. What if you're not a breakfast person at all? Enter the breakfast smoothie! It's a great option for those who just can't stomach solid foods in the morning or prefer to start their day with something on the sweeter side. And, best of all, allows us to pack in loads of nutrient-dense foods, such as veggies, seeds and healthy fats. I also love breakfast smoothies because they are quick and easy to make, you can even batch prep your ingredients and store them in individual serving bags - all you have to do is pop them in your blender in the mornings.
Tips: Feel free to experiment with different fruit & veg combinations. The key thing is to make sure your smoothie includes: protein (e.g. nuts, seeds, beans, collagen or protein powder), fats (nuts or seeds butters, coconut or MCT oil, etc.), veggies (frozen cauliflower and baby spinach are great for beginners), and a liquid for hydration (e.g. nut milk, water or herbal tea). Add a small amount of fruit for sweetness and some herbs or spices for extra flavour!
2 stalks celery
½ cup broccoli florets
2 small cucumbers
1 cup baby spinach
1 cup (or more) water
1 banana, frozen
2-3 sprigs parsley
2-3 sprigs cilantro (coriander)
1 tbsp collagen powder
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp tahini
Pinch of cinnamon
1 tbsp maple syrup (optional)
Chop celery, broccoli and cucumber.
Place spinach, broccoli and water in blender, blend on high for 10-15 seconds.
Add cucumber and celery (and more water if needed), blend on high for 10-15 seconds.
Add banana, fresh herbs, collagen powder, coconut oil, tahini, cinnamon and maple syrup if using, blend on high for 10 seconds.
Pour in your favourite glass and enjoy the green goodness!
Per Serving: 237 calories; 11.4g fat; 25.4g carbohydrates; 7.3g protein; 6g Fibre; 205% DV for vitamin K; 162% DV for vitamin A; 51% DV for manganese; 41% DV for vitamin C; 39% DV for potassium.
Dry skin. Seems like a common problem which we often try to solve with lotions and potions… but sometimes hydrating your skin is not enough. For healthy, glowing skin you also need sufficient amounts of these nutrients:
👉Vitamin A, which plays a key role in skin cell proliferation & differentiation, photo protection (from UV light), and overall skin health.
It is also an important epigenetic regulator that influences the expression of hundreds of genes.
Other signs of deficiency include acne, eyesight problems, gingivitis, bone & joint pain, skin hyperpigmentation, poor wound healing, psoriasis and more.
Zinc deficiency can impair vitamin A metabolism & function
👉Biotin, which plays a key role in the production of fatty acids that nourish the skin, as well as energy metabolism and cell membrane integrity.
It is also another potent regulator of genetic expression.
Other signs of deficiency include sore & reddened tongue, hair thinning and brittleness, slow cognition, seborrheic-like dermatitis and more.
👉Zinc, which can reduce skin inflammation and is needed for collagen production and wound healing.
And (no surprise here) this mineral also plays a role in regulating gene expression.
Other signs of deficiency include acne, poor vision, cracks in corners of mouth, geographic tongue, impaired wound healing, hair thinning and brittleness, loss of taste, weak nails, diarrhea and more.
Note: zinc, copper, iron & calcium all interact in each other’s absorption and metabolism.
👉Essential fatty acids, which are needed for healthy cell membranes, skin barrier integrity, protection from UV light, wound healing and reduction in skin sensitivity.
Remember, we have trillions of cells with fatty membranes and our brain is made up of nearly 60% fat, which makes healthy dietary fats an important component of our body’s physical structure.
Other signs of deficiency include acne, reduced visual acuity, dry hair, dandruff, weak nails, parasthesia and neuropathy, impaired memory, increased thirst, eczema, dermatitis, poor mental health and more.
✳️ The above are only some of the functions & deficiency signs of these nutrients, our physiology is quite complex and many nutrients interact in multiple ways, so we should not view them in isolation.
✳️✳️ As always, it is recommended to check your nutrient levels and speak with your healthcare provider before coming to conclusions and starting any supplementation.
Have you ever thought how impressive and intelligent our bodies are? Constantly ticking away, sensing and adapting to a whole host of internal and external inputs, and in the processes sending us a myriad of signs & clues about our state of health. Fascinating isn’t it?
In this new series of posts called ‘Body Signs’ we’ll learn how to decode our bodies’ messages from a nutrition perspective (and you’ll be surprised with some of the things we’ll uncover!) But why is learning to read our bodies important? Well, being aware of what is happening in our bodies can help steer our health in the right direction, ease our anxiety, motivate us to take better care of ourselves and build a better relationship with our bodies.
So let’s start with the tongue. It is often one of the first areas of the body to show signs of nutrient deficiencies. Although this sign may not tell us exactly what’s out of balance, it can help guide further assessments.
Both iron and B vits are necessary for energy production, hormone and neurotransmitter function, immune health and DNA repair. All of which are critical processes for our overall health.
Blood tests are usually used to determine iron deficiency, whereas B vitamin levels can be assessed either through blood (standard) or urine (functional) testing. The advantage of a urine test is that it tells us whether your body has enough nutrients to function optimally (vs. a set reference range on a blood test).
Of course, such assessments should never be viewed in isolation – there are a lot of tools we can use in combination to build a clear picture of our nutrition status (including these physical signs and biochemical assessments).
Did you know that there are 13 vitamins essential for life? They are essential because each one of them serves a whole host of important functions in the body.
Take for example Vitamin A. It is needed for:
Optimal gene expression
Red blood cell production
This fat-soluble vitamin is found in animal foods as preformed vitamin A and in plant foods as its precursor – carotenoids.
Top sources include:
Dark coloured veggies (spinach, kale, collards, etc.)
Vitamin A status can be tested through a simple serum (blood) test and deficiency can produce notable symptoms such as vision problems, poor immune function, skin and hair conditions, thyroid dysfunction + more (we’ll explore some of those in our Body Signs series).
Zinc and iron deficiencies are often associated Vitamin A deficiency (zinc is needed for vit. A metabolism, whereas vit. A is needed for iron metabolism).
If you have had even the tiniest of experiences in weight loss or ‘toning’ your body (i.e. building muscle) you would have been told to stick to your daily calorie target. You would also have been told about the concept of ‘calories in’ vs. ‘calories out’. In order to lose weight the calories consumed should be less than the calories used up.
Although this concept is very true and correct, simply looking at calories is not automatically going to give you good health (even if you’re achieving your fitness/weight loss targets!).
Why is that? Because each calorie has its own nutritional value. That means that, depending on its source, a calorie will have a different composition of nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water). And so calories from fat will function differently in the body compared to calories from sugar.
Sugar, the simplest form of carbohydrates, requires very little digestion and goes straight into the bloodstream. Now, the body can only process the sugar at a certain rate and it also has a limit as to how much sugar should be circulating in the blood. Too much sugar in the blood can cause a range of serious metabolic derangements in the body and so our bodies try really hard to remove excess sugar from the bloodstream (in fact, our bodies work best when we have less than 1 teaspoon of sugar circulating in the bloodstream). And so the body will first use as much sugar as it can for energy and then the rest will be stored as fat.
On the other hand, calories from fats are released more slowly because fats take longer to digest and absorb (some say up to 8 hours!). This allows the body to use up the energy released from the fats in small batches, avoiding the flood of energy which then has to be stored as fat.
To make things more complicated, it is not just about the macronutrients (those required in large quantities) – proteins, fats and carbohydrates. We can think of these macronutrients as the fuel and building blocks of the body. However, it is the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which act as the gears that enable the body to use the fuel and function properly. Thus, a calorie which contains mostly macronutrients but little or no micronutrients is also of little use to the body.
And so we go back to the beginning – not all calories are made equal. If you’re just interested in weight loss, eating anything within your calorie target could still help you lose weight. However, in addition to losing weight you may also deplete the body of the vital minerals and vitamins, the gears of the body, which affect how your body functions and ultimately your health!
Oh, by the way, did you also know that calories from different food sources are burnt differently? We’ll talk about this and the various factors which affect how we burn calories in part 2 of this post. Stay tuned!
Nutrition – the word itself conjures images of strict diets and weight scales, doesn’t it? And yet nutrition is about a lot more than just that.
Over the years nutrition has started taking a more prominent spot in the worlds of health and medicine. Not just in the treatment of digestive diseases, but for a wide variety of ailments and health situations.
At the forefront of change is a new discipline called ‘Functional medicine’ – I spoke about it in an earlier post. In a nutshell, functional medicine relies heavily on nutrition and lifestyle interventions before turning to pharmaceuticals.
Why are these changes happening now? Because people from both sides of the field (i.e. patients and healthcare providers) are starting to realize that the current system doesn’t work.
To put it in the words of the great biochemist and author Dr. T. Colin Campbell, most countries today have a “disease-care system” rather than a healthcare one.
Current Western medical models are too focused on the individual parts of the human body (reductionism). Although this approach can tell us a lot about how specific organs work on their own, it doesn’t reveal much about how they all function together in the complex human body. For example, knowing how the neurons in the brain work doesn’t really help us understand why we react emotionally to our favorite song.
We need to see the full picture to truly understand what is going on. And we can do this through functional medicine and functional nutrition.
How? Functional nutrition goes much deeper than food labels and diet plans – its main focus is finding the root cause of your symptoms and resolving them. A nutritionist trained in functional medicine will use advanced laboratory testing and other assessment techniques to create powerful and highly personalized therapeutic interventions.
The first step in the functional approach is to take a detailed look at the patient’s history – not just the physical symptoms but also other predisposing factors, such as past stressful life events. Stress is a huge factor in many (if not all!) diseases.
The next step would be lab testing to confirm (or exclude) possible underlying causes of the symptoms. As the saying goes – “test, don’t guess”.
Based on all of the information collected, a functional nutritionist will then start investigating what is the root cause. Where are all of your symptoms and ailments intersecting? Is there a common factor, pathway or axis? Are there any imbalances in body functions and systems?
You may be surprised how intricately all systems of our body are connected. For example, food intolerances (e.g. lactose and gluten) can cause headaches and migraines with mild or minimal symptoms in the digestive tract (which may be missed easily). A traditional doctor may just prescribe you a medicine for the migraines, without really looking into the root cause.
In other cases, a person may be experiencing a range of symptoms, however standard medical tests would come back “in the clear” and the person would be told that there is nothing wrong with them. This is usually because most lab reference ranges are for end-stage disease and not for optimal health – just because something isn’t marked red on the test result doesn’t mean that all is ok!
Another example is the link between inflammation and many “incurable” chronic diseases:
As you can see, a functional nutritionist is committed to finding the root cause of your symptoms and resolving them, no matter how long it takes. They are also committed to working together with you, listening to your story and how your body feels. And that is why functional nutrition and functional medicine is the answer to some of the problems in health and healthcare today.
No, I don’t mean that “boring, bland, diet food” (although healthy food is not boring, but more on that later). What I’m talking about is your standard food intake. You know, the “wholegrain” sandwich and pasta, the takeaway pizza, the “healthy” rice bowl or potato mash – those kind of things.
How can they make you depressed – they taste like happiness right?! Well, despite the short-term boost in mood, a high-carbohydrate, high-sugar diet can lead to something called insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance (IR)
What is it? IR happens when the cells in your body are not responding to the hormone insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, takes excess glucose from our blood stream into many cells throughout the body.
When your cells refuse to open their ‘doors’ to insulin, the excess glucose remains in the blood wreaking all sort of trouble. Here’s just a few of the issues caused by IR:
The cells run out of fuel. Yes, our cells need glucose to produce energy and function properly.
The cells become malnourished. When our cells open their ‘doors’ to glucose, they also let in vital nutrients such as amino acids and vitamins. These nutrients are also needed for proper cellular function.
Burnout of pancreatic cells. The beta-cells of the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin. These cells are stimulated by excess glucose in the blood. Constantly high blood glucose levels will force these cells to work overtime, pumping out as much insulin as they can until they start to burn out and die. The result: reduced capacity of the body to produce insulin. This is the beginning of diabetes.
IR and brain chemistry
OK, we now know that both insulin and glucose are needed to take nutrients into our cells. But how does that relate to our mood, brain chemistry and depression specifically?
You may have heard that our moods are regulated by our brain chemistry. What that means is that certain chemical molecules can affect how our brain cells function. Such molecules are called neurotransmitters – they transmit ‘information’ from a nerve cell to another nerve cell or a muscle cell or any other cell in our body.
Neurotransmitters are made inside the brain from amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and other compounds. To get inside the brain, the amino acids have to pass a protective barrier called the blood-brain barrier (BBB). This process requires sufficient amounts of insulin and the cells to be sensitive to insulin’s actions.
The important neurotransmitters for regulating our moods are serotonin, dopamine, adrenalin, acetylcholine and GABA. Here’s how two of them are made:
Audio from Dr. Oscar Coetzee, Masters in Human Nutrition lecturer and clinical nutritionist.
So when the cells in our body, including the brain, are not responding properly to insulin fewer amino acids can cross the BBB leading to a drop in the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. This alters our brain chemistry and can lead to many emotional and psychological symptoms including the below:
So here you are – what you eat can make you depressed by altering your brain chemistry! Of course there are more factors including stress, addictive and toxic foods as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies. These will be covered in future posts, so keep an eye out if you’re interested!
First of all, I hate the word diet. It is terribly close to the word “die” and exudes connotations of great struggle and suffering. Oh, and I love food.
The poor word has been so badly abused by the media and health & food industry that it has now become our second nature to associate it with hunger, unpleasant meals and unhappiness.
Yet, it still feels like we are obliged to follow a “healthy” (definition: TBC) diet of some sorts. Apparently doing that can solve many personal and global problems. Problems such as:
Eliminating waste (buy only what you can eat, often misinterpreted as eat all you can and throw away nothing)
Ending hunger (similar to above, but with an extra dose of guilt)
Saving the planet (reduce environmental impact by eating local & seasonal foods)
Saving the animals (no explanation needed here)
Getting your body the nutrients it needs
Preventing disease and curing existing health problems
Getting in shape, losing weight
Maintaining a state of happiness and mental health
There’s probably more claims out there, but I believe these are the main ones.
Now do you see the problem? There are specific diets for each of these problems and there are diets which cover more than one problem. In fact, there are over 100 recognized diets!
However, I am yet to find a diet that can fix it all and keep you happy. You know what I mean?
If you eat meat, you are a merciless killer who’s likely to suffer some digestive issue due to the high acidic profile of animal products. Of course, the alternative is not eating meat and fighting a slow battle with pernicious anemia (B-12 deficiency) or trying to keep your kidney alive due to long-term supplement usage (ok may be I am a bit harsh, but you get the picture).
And there are many more examples…
So I think it’s time to move away from the word diet and take a closer look at our lifestyles. Fitting food around the way we live and the preferences we have will make things much easier. At least in theory.
We are all unique individuals with different needs and likes, so it’s only natural to adopt a lifestyle that feels healthy to you, makes you happy and energetic.
Have you found what works for you? Share your story in the comments below 🙂