Meal composition

Meal composition

By
Dale Pinnock
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 541 7

After you have got to grips with choosing low glycaemic foods and being carb smart, one of the best weapons you can have in your armoury on a daily basis is to be aware of meal composition. The way in which you combine foods can have a huge impact on blood sugar levels, insulin response and insulin sensitivity.

So, if the first part of the picture is choosing foods with the lowest GL values and keeping a curb on carbohydrate-dense foods, then the next part is how you eat them. The combination that foods are eaten in can affect their glycaemic impact. If you recall, some foods, such as proteins, take a very long time to digest and stay in the stomach for much longer than other foodstuffs.

So, rule number one in every meal is: look to see where your protein is coming from. The protein in the meal will slow down the digestion and release of usable sugars from the meal considerably. The proteins require more digestive effort within the stomach, as hydrochloric acid does its thing to break the bonds. As we saw, very little in the way of carbohydrate digestion takes place in the stomach. So, a meal with a good protein content is going to leave the stomach much more slowly than would a simple carbohydrate meal. This basically releases the sugars from the meal into the bloodstream in a much more slow, sensible and sustained fashion.

To take this process a step further, and bring down the glycaemic impact of a meal even more, bring in a good source of fat with each meal. I’m not talking a pound of lard, but healthy fat sources such as olive and flax oil dressings, nut butters, avocados… Fat slows gastric emptying, so this effect of drip-feeding blood sugar is enhanced even further.

Now, don’t panic about fat. As we have seen above, the evidence that links fat and heart disease is complete nonsense and many studies since have backed this up further. Fats are an absolute vital nutrient for almost every body system. Cut them out of your diet at your peril.

Fats are essential for the manufacture of hormones, vitamin D synthesis, transporting fat-soluble nutrients, regulating the structure and function of cell membranes, regulating the inflammatory response and many other metabolic functions.

Low-fat diets fail at keeping us healthy and anybody that has tried them long term will attest to that. Adding a good source of fat with each meal will have unforeseen benefits. Not only will it keep you feeling fuller and lower the glycaemic response of the meal, but it will also help you to absorb the fat-soluble nutrients in the food as well as ensure that you get adequate intake of the vital essential fatty acids your body need each day. Fat. Get it in and don’t be scared of it!

So, in practice, this is how we could put meals together. As I have mentioned previously, the ideal meal composition would be protein, vegetables and fat. So an example of this would be a salmon salad with a bit of feta cheese and a nice olive oil dressing. It could be a baked chicken breast with steamed greens, roasted carrots and a sauce made with soft cheese and dill, or even a good Sunday roast, minus the roasties… OK, maybe a couple. Breakfast could be a frittata. If you wanted to have a cereal for breakfast, don’t do it every day and, as I have said, go for an unsweetened oat-based cereal such as porridge or a clean (sugar-free) muesli. But, make sure you have protein and fat with it. This is an easy one. Sprinkling it with nuts and seeds gives you a good protein boost, plus a good lashing of important fats. Chicken with vegetable stir-fry and seedy quinoa. You get the picture, I am sure. The beautiful thing is that eating this way is a doddle and a joy, too. No weird exotic additions to your diet, merely being conscious of what is on your plate.

Fatty acid composition of the diet

I have touched on the fact that fats are of drastic importance when it comes to our health. Our relationship with fat has gone dreadfully wrong and we are paying the price. Big time!

The problem we are facing started with the publication of Keys’s very watered down study of 22 countries; remember, he only used the data from seven because their numbers proved his theory but, when all 22 were observed, the connection between fat and heart disease was non-existent.

This farce caused an international public health campaign that drummed it into us that we need to avoid saturated fat like the plague and instead opt for more ‘heart-healthy’ options such as sunflower oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, soy oil...

Why would this be a problem? Well, these types of oils are made up almost completely of omega 6 fatty acids. There are two essential fatty acids our bodies need to get from the diet and are vital to health. These are omega 3 and omega 6. So if they are important for health, what’s the problem? Well, omega 6 is only needed in tiny amounts. When taken in these amounts it plays some very important roles in our body. Once we get past this level, this once beneficial compound becomes incredibly problematic.

Dietary fatty acids play many roles. One of their biggest is as metabolic building blocks for the production of an important group of communication compounds called prostaglandins.

Essential fatty acids are incorporated into our cell membranes and are liberated by an enzyme called phospholipase for use in daily metabolic processes, such as the formation of prostaglandins. These prostaglandins regulate several important responses in the body, including the inflammatory response. There are three types of prostaglandin: Series 1, Series 2, and Series 3. Series 1 is mildly anti-inflammatory, Series 2 is powerfully pro-inflammatory (ie it switches on and exacerbates inflammation), and Series 3 is powerfully anti-inflammatory.

Omega 6, when consumed at a level above our daily needs, gets converted into something called arachidonic acid. In turn, this is then converted into Series 2 prostaglandins, the powerfully pro-inflammatory variety. On average here in the UK, we are consuming 23 times more omega 6 than we need per day! The end result of this is that we are essentially force-feeding metabolic pathways that manufacture prostaglandins and our bodies’ expression of the pro-inflammatory Series 2 goes into overdrive.

It’s pretty logical what’s going to happen here. This leads to a state of subclinical (ie not immediately obvious, such as your big toe swelling up), chronic (ongoing long-term) inflammation. In its most obvious manifestation, this can exacerbate inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and eczema.

But probably of more sinister consequence are the small, subtle changes that it makes within body tissues. Continual inflammation within tissues can lead to damage to them, such as that found in cardiovascular disease, when the blood vessel walls become damaged by inflammation and plaques then form. Inflammatory changes in tissues have also been linked to the changes that occur in the instigation of cancer.

The other thing this can do is affect cell receptor function. The fatty acid content of our cell membranes has a massive effect upon the cell and its functioning, and also upon the functioning of trans-membrane and membrane-bound structures. What one cellular structure is of great importance to us here? The insulin receptor. Our fatty acid intake will affect the performance of this, so we need to make sure it is correct.

So, on the flip side, the other big dietary fatty acid, one you have probably heard a great deal about: omega 3 fatty acids. These amazing fatty acids are almost an antidote to the above. There are three main types of omega 3 fatty acid: ALA, EPA and DHA. As has been outlined, the essential fatty acids are the metabolic precursors to prostaglandins. EPA and DHA are actually metabolised to form Series 3 prostaglandins (EPA more so). These are the ones that are the most potently anti-inflammatory and an increase in their production can influence inflammatory events very quickly indeed. Consuming good quantities of omega 3 fatty acids encourages our body to produce more of the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

The benefits of omega 3 on heart health are well documented and have been studied widely for at least 20 years. However, in recent years we have found that omega 3 intake benefits other aspects of the metabolic disease storm that we are weathering. Increased omega 3 intake is associated with improved insulin production, utilisation and sensitivity. A study of 126 adults in rural British Columbia, Canada found that increased omega 3 intake was negatively associated with insulin resistance 1. This is a population-based observation study and only shows associations rather than cause and effect, but some experimental studies have offered compelling support. A small experimental study conducted by Tsitouras et al in 2008 found that individuals who ate 720g of fatty fish per week, and took 15ml of sardine oil daily, had greater insulin sensitivity after eight weeks than those who ate a control diet 2. There are many more of these small experimental studies and population-based studies around.

While more research is needed, it certainly looks like a pattern is emerging and, when viewed from a logical, physiological point of view, it makes sense. At the end of the day, the massive health benefits associated with increased omega 3 fatty acids across the board means that even if this observation proves to not hold true, there will be no harm to our health, only benefit.

So, as is becoming obvious, our fatty acid intake does become a bit of a balancing act. As you can see, omega 3 fatty acids are a pretty important part of the picture, while too much omega 6 can cause a problem. So it is vital to get the balance right. With the current trends arising from research, the recommendation now is to aim for a 2:1 ratio in favour of omega 3. That basically means that you need to be eating twice as much omega 3 than omega 6 in order to maximise the potential benefits, and counteract any negative effects of omega 6.

Thankfully this is pretty easy in practice. The first step is to avoid most vegetable oils like the plague. These are the apparently ‘heart-healthy’ oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil or generic vegetable oil. These are basically pure omega 6 and will send your levels rocketing up very fast.

In place of these oils there are two cooking oils to choose from. In most of my cooking I use olive oil. The dominant fatty acid in olive oil is something called oleic acid which comes into a third category: omega 9. Omega 9 fatty acids have zero influence on omega balance, so don’t particularly present a problem at all.

The other oil I use to prepare food is coconut oil. This is best for high-temperature cooking as it is completely heat stable. Also the fatty acids found in there, medium chain triglycerides, are rapidly broken down and used as an energy source, so their impact on post-prandial lipaemia (elevation of blood fats after a meal) is minimal.

The next step in aiming for omega balance is to drastically cut back on processed foods. This is good advice for a million and one reasons but, in terms of omega balance, many processed foods use untold amounts of vegetable oils. They are cheap as chips and, for decades, food manufacturers have been under pressure to reduce saturated fat in foods, so have moved over to cheap vegetable oils as an alternative. Most ready meals, pre-made sauces and so on will have a lot of omega 6 in them. Get back to basics, like we do in the recipes in this book and get into cooking your food from scratch as much as you can.

The second part of the picture is to up the omega 3. The first and most obvious place to start is by eating oily fish around three times per week. Then you could consider taking supplements as well. I personally take an omega 3 supplement that contains 750 mg of EPA and 250mg of DHA twice daily. (If you are taking medications such as warfarin, or if you have recently had a heparin injection, please check with your doctor first before using high-dose fish oil supplements as there is potential for interaction here.)

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