Thoughts and information on nutrition, science, food, fads and following a holistic lifestyle
Should I eat wheat?
Wheat is often treated as a food villain, but unless you have a diagnosed medical condition, there’s no reason to cut out this dietary staple (contrary to what many people without a recognised nutrition specific qualifications may want you to believe).
Here are a few reasons why wheat form a part of a healthy, balanced diet
- Wheat is naturally low in fat and sodium, and contains important minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc, B-vitamins and vitamin E.
- If you choose minimally processed wheat options (such as pearled wheat, barley or cracked wheat) or wholewheat varieties, it’s an easy way to add extra fibre to your diet. Fibre is associated with many health benefits, such as improved gut health, improved cholesterol profiles, improved blood sugar control and improved weight management.
- Compared to alternative grains, wheat is relatively affordable. Following a wheat free diet can be expensive, and unnecessary without a diagnosed medical condition or allergy. Spending that extra money on veggies, fruit and nuts will probably be more beneficial to your health.
- Though much of the nutritional value of wheat flour gets lost through processing, this is also true of other processed grains. In South Africa, however, it’s mandatory to fortify wheat flour (excluding crushed wheat, pearled wheat, semolina and self-raising flour) with vitamin A, B-vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid) iron and zinc. This regulation does not apply to other flours.
Tips to make wheat work better for you
- For extra fibre, replace rice with cracked wheat when you make a stew or a curry.
- Add pearled wheat to salads to stay fuller for longer.
- Swop white wraps, pasta or bread for wholewheat alternatives.
Note: Overconsumption of ultra-processed wheat containing products such as biscuits, cakes etc. can negatively impact your health. Choosing minimally processed or whole foods most of the time is always the best option.
Disclaimer: This post doesn’t replace a consult with your doctor or dietitian and is for educational purposes only. Your individual needs may differ. Article adjusted from a version I wrote for for Rapport newspaper.
How a dietitian can make you feel good
Do you know how it feels to really feel good?
When was the last time you had loads of energy, slept like a baby and had no stomach, bowel or heartburn problems? Excluding underlying or diagnosed medical conditions, these are common things people who consider themselves healthy, struggle with. Luckily, many people have become more aware of the role nutrition plays in health. Unfortunately, many people are consequently trying diets that may leave them deprived, or results in an “all-or-nothing” mindset (where the “all” part wins most of the time in the end!), and have given up on feeling good. If this sounds familiar, read on.
Through making simple adjustments in food choices, and by shifting the focus from “dieting” and restriction to nourishment and mental and physical wellbeing (thus also including things like self-care, a little physical activity, seeking support, relaxation and mindfulness), many people experience benefits ranging from increased energy, better gut health and improved biochemical markers (e.g. blood glucose and cholesterol) to improved sleep, improved mood, and yes, also weight loss (where this is the goal). Did you know dietitians can help you with this? So what’s stopping you?
Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard for not seeking help from a dietitian:
- You think we only focus on weight management and will put you on a strict diet (we actually see a variety of clients and dietary nutrition action plans are worked out to suit individual needs)
- You think we’re expensive (though an assessment probably costs less than a monthly batch of multivitamins and supplements, or a sick day off).
- We will judge you (we don’t)
- We’re boring and conservative (we just wait for the science before we support a trend)
- We only see people who have problems (nope, you don’t need to have an active problem to improve your health. We also do screenings and help with improving quality of life and preventing disease)
What perceptions do you have? There are many dietitians that want to help you feel better, so why not make the investment in yourself? You can only benefit (and perhaps even start feeling really, really, good).
Food and cholesterol - what's the link?
Did you know a blood fat test measures three types of fat?
1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – this is the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol that clogs your arteries. Over time, LDL can form a build-up of plaque in your blood vessels, which puts strain on them by hampering normal blood flow.
Eating products high in saturated fat (found in animal products such as meat, chicken skin, cheese, butter, cream, and many ultra-processed foods) is the biggest dietary risk factor for high LDL. Foods like eggs, high fat dairy and coconut oil also contain saturated fats and should be consumed with caution, especially if you have a family history or other condition, such as Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Target: < 3 mmol/l
2. High-density lipoprotien (HDL) cholesterol – this is the ‘good’ type of cholesterol that transports fat from your as your blood vessels and other peripheral tissues and takes it back to your liver for excretion as bile.
- Target: > 1,2 mmol/l (females) or 1 mmol/l (males)
3. Triglycerides (TGs) is another type of fat found in your blood. TGs are stored in fat cells and hormones release TGs between meals to provide energy needed for your body to function. Regularly consuming more energy (kilojoules) than you need can contribute to higher TGs.
- Target: <1.7 mmol/l
An overall target for your cholesterol is < 5 mmol/l.
Dietary plan of action if you have high cholesterol
If your cholesterol is higher than 5 mmol/l, more investigation is needed to see if you require medication to lower your cholesterol.
However, regardless of your medication, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make that also assist in lowering LDL and TGs, and increasing HDL. These include:
- Decreasing intake of saturated fats and rather choosing fats from plant sources e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil.
- Increasing dietary fibre, e.g. by eating more whole foods such as vegetables, beans and whole grains. The fibre in oats (beta glucan) is especially helpful in lowering cholesterol.
- Weight loss if your are overweight. Even moderate weight loss (2-5kgs) can decrease LDL and triglyceride levels.
- Moving more. Being active helps to increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels.
- Decreasing intake of refined starches, as these are often paired with ultra-processed foods high in saturated fats. It is also easier to consume an excess of refined starches as they are less satiating than wholegrain starches, increasing your risk of overconsumption and weight gain.
Often people who go on very low carbohydrate diets increase food high in saturated fats. This can contribute to increased LDL cholesterol and be potentially dangerous
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
High cholesterol doesn’t have symptoms, so it’s best to go for regular screenings. Based on your current cholesterol levels, age, family history and other risk factors, your dietitian or doctor can recommend how often you should get checked. High cholesterol is the leading cause of heart disease. Don’t play games with your heart.
- Also visit www.heartfoundation.co.za for more information.