What Does That Really Mean?
Written by Dr. Lucas Szczepanik B.Sc., D.C.
You have just sat down for a little television after a home-cooked meal. You turn on the local news and you hear a news report about the health benefits of pro-biotics, or increased fiber intake. For the next couple of months you see it everywhere, on food labels, on commercials, magazine articles etc. After hearing about it forever you start to realize that this is something you want to include in your diet. But Why? After a while you forget why that particular food or ingredient is good for you. The internet is a good option to do more research, but you must be careful with where you are getting your information from. Some websites have outdated information or have no real background to support their claims. The gold standard across Canada is Health Canada and can be accessed through the internet at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/. This issue of the “Dr.Luke” newsletter will focus on some of the “buzz” words that have been floating around as well as give you an insight into claims on food labels such as “no-trans fats” or “a good source of protein”.
Fiber: this is something everyone has known about for many years. The gastrointestinal system (stomach, intestines, colon) will function much better with a balance of soluble & insoluble fiber from whole-grain and plant sources. Research has shown that high fiber diets may reduce the incidence of colon cancer as well as aid in prevention of gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease. There is also evidence suggesting that soluble fiber in the diet may lower LDL-cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol is bad cholesterol). The most important thing to remember is a supplement will not have any where near as much benefit as a natural food source. Examples of soluble fiber are whole grains, fruits, and legumes. Examples of insoluble fiber are include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and popcorn. The easiest way to increase fiber in the diet is WHOLE GRAINS (brown rice, whole grain bread, cereal, pasta).
Pro-biotics: Your large intestine contains natural bacteria that aid in the function of the large intestine. A pro-biotic is a culture of bacteria that is normally found in the large intestine. A depletion of this bacteria, or if the large intestine is missing any type of this bacteria, will alter how the intestine functions (gas, bloating, constipation). A common way to replenish this bacteria naturally is by eating yogurt. Yogurt contains natural bacteria, and some companies have fortified the yogurt further with probiotics. If you suffer from Celiac’s disease, Crohn’s disease, or any other inflammatory bowel disease please consult your health-care practitioner for specific treatment protocols.
Pre-biotic: Do not confuse pre and pro-biotics. A pre biotic is a food (usually a fiber source) that stimulates the growth of natural bacteria within the large intestine, whereas a pro biotic is a source of the bacteria itself. This one does not get as much publicity as pro-biotics, but you may start to see more of it in the future.
Whole-grains or Whole Wheat: They are not the same thing. This is a common misconception. Whole wheat bread is healthier for you than white bread but not as healthy as eating whole grain breads. With whole wheat bread and white bread the grains go through a refining process that gives them a longer shelf life (something the manufacturers and grocery stores like to see). Whole grain breads do not go through this process and will not last 1/2 the time on the shelf as a refined grain product. Whole grain breads are the best option.
Omega-3: This is an essential fatty acid that is very important for nerve tissue, brain tissue, and cardiac (heart) tissue. It can also have an effect on reducing pain and inflammation with arthritis. It is not the same as Omega 6 or Omega 9 fatty acids. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Many of the foods common to the Canadian/American diet have more than enough Omega 6 and Omega 9 fatty acids. Unfortunately we are lacking in Omega-3 fatty acids, the most important of the three fatty acids. Natural sources are from fresh deepwater fish, fish oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, flaxseed, walnut oil, and dark green leafy vegetables. Many companies are adding Omega-3 to their food because of the lack of it in our diet. It’s common to see “a source of omega 3” on bread and eggs. If you are looking to add Omega 3 to your diet as a supplement be careful with supplements that contain Omega 3, 6, & 9. This is usually a cheaper way to produce a supplement, as Omega 3 supplementation is very difficult and very expensive. Purity is very important here.
Trans-fats: A word used far too often, sometimes for the wrong reason. A trans-fat is a fat produced from an unsaturated fat through a process called hydrogenation. Trans–fats are “bad” fats (along with saturated fats) and will lead to increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can make you more prone to cardiovascular disease. Any label that says hydrogenated oil, or partially hydrogenated will contain trans-fats. The two most common sources of “trans-fats” are deep fried foods and processed foods. It is very misleading to see fast food restaurants claim their french fries have no trans fats. This may be true, but the fries are still deep fried and will contain high amounts of saturated fats. This is a way for the fast food companies to appear healthier in the public’s eye. Make sure to have a balance of fats in the diet through the use of “good fats” (the good fats are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats).
Label information: Not enough people read nutrition labels today. It is very important to understand what the labels mean and what your foods contain for nutrients. Serving size is very important to look at. If a food label says it has 3grams of fat per 200gram serving and the box indicates 800 grams in total, then the entire box of food contains 12 grams of fat. Percentage of daily intake is also important. This percentage is based on what Health Canada considers the daily average intake of a nutrient. The Canadian Food Guide can also be found on Health Canada’s website.
** Health Canada can be found at www.hc-sc.gc.ca. On the website you will find a food and nutrition chart that explains all the key words that appear on box labels (ex. “reduced”). The chart can be found by 1. clicking on food and nutrition 2. Click on food labelling 3. Click on nutrition labelling 4. Click on educators. This is where you will find the chart.