The temperatures are inching higher here in Belgium, and during these warmer months, hydration, while always important to good health, becomes even more crucial.
Why is it so important?
Our body mass is 55-60% water and it makes up most of our cell volume and bodily fluids. Water has many important roles in our body, it:
helps us maintain a stable body temperature
acts as a shock absorber cushioning our organs, bones, and joints
improves oxygen delivery to our cells and keeps our cells properly hydrated
aids in our cell-to-cell communication and their electrical properties
transports nutrients around our body
aids our body’s healing process
We can only fulfill about 8% of our body’s daily water needs through our own production, so the remaining 92% needs to be consumed either through drinking fluids or eating water-rich foods. We can’t store water (it’s all being used in one way or another), so proper daily intake is crucial.
Dehydration can happen with as little as a 2% drop in your body’s water content and this can already cause fatigue or other signs of early dehydration. Did you know that the “dry-mouth” or thirsty feeling is actually one of the later signs that you need to drink more? Up to a 10% drop in water content in the body can cause significant health issues, and more than 10% can result in death. This is why you may have heard you can survive weeks without food, but only days without water!
Early signs of dehydration could manifest as fatigue, anxiety or irritability, depression, cravings, cramps, or headaches. Some of the more mature signs could be joint or back pain, migraines, heart burn, or constipation.
Diuretics are substances that actually deplete your body of more water than they are contributing to it. So drinking a large quantity of these beverages could be causing your dehydration without you even realizing it! Diuretic beverages include:
This is not to say that you have to cut all the above out of your life (although I would generally advocate for cutting out soft drinks or sugary drinks!), but you do need to be aware of how they might be affecting your body. For example, while you can up your water intake to offset your morning cup of coffee, if you are drinking 5 – 6 cups a day, just increasing your water on top of this probably won’t be a sustainable option.
How much do you need?
As with everything, you need to find the right balance for your body. The amount of water you need per day can differ depending on various factors like your climate, activity level, water-rich food intake, or current health.
But as a general rule, you can use the following rough formulas (up to a daily maximum of 100oz / 3L):
weight (kg) x 30 = # of mL per day
and if you consume diuretic beverages:
[weight (kg) x 30] + [mL of diuretics x 1.5] = # of mL per day
Of course your needs are going to be unique to you and could differ based on your daily activity and exercise, temperature/climate, and even based on what you are eating that day.
Generally this should be to a maximum of 3000mL / 3L per day.
(Visual in video is correct, but I incorrectly said “300mL” – sorry!)
So if you are 60kg (132lbs) you would need approximately 2L (66oz) of water or other hydrating beverages per day, without any diuretic intake.
Electrolytes are key for your body to use water properly. They are minerals that when dissolved into water become able to conduct electricity – which allows the water to preform all its necessary functions in the body.
Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, and bicarbonate are all important electrolytes.
If you are drinking your daily water requirement or more, but are still feeling thirsty, it could be because you are lacking in electrolytes to properly use the water. In general, if you are eating a real food, nutrient-dense diet, you should be getting the electrolytes you need. For example, using a quality sea salt when cooking!
However, if you do think electrolyte supplementation is needed, it can be as easy as adding some quality sea salt to your water! Try experimenting with sea salts of different origins as they will have varying mineral contents. A little bit of sea salt should not be detected when added to your water.
Or pick up an electrolyte powder from a pharmacy and make your own sports drink (the ones on the market are generally so full of sugar that they aren’t really going to help you hydrate!):
¼ – ½ tsp electrolyte powder
¼ cup juice (best is to use freshly pressed grape, apple, lemon, lime, or pineapple)
1 – 2 tbsp sweetener like honey or stevia(skip if using coconut water)
This drink is great to replenish electrolytes, especially after a longer period of intense exercise or when in hot climates as we lose a lot of electrolytes when sweating.
Or if you’ve been sick with vomiting and/or diarrhea, you may want to look into taking some electrolyte supplements.
Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash
When most of us think about calcium, we immediately think of drinking milk and having strong bones. However there is so much more to this important mineral that just that! Plus, making sure your body has enough calcium depends on many more factors than just whether you are consuming enough of it in your diet.
Calcium is a mineral – and our body is around 4% made up from minerals. Minerals aren’t something our bodies can produce; we need to get sufficient quantities from our diet. Our body’s supply of minerals is mainly stored in our skeletal system, calcium being the most abundant, and 99% of our calcium is found in our bones.
Benefits of Calcium
In addition to its major function as a key component of our bones and teeth, calcium also helps facilitate the movement of nutrients across the cell membrane. It also initiates the clotting process of blood when needed.
Calcium is one of the key nutrients for our body to maintain the pH level of the blood (meaning it shouldn’t been too acidic nor too basic). If our blood becomes too acidic, then calcium is released from the bone to counterbalance this. And vice versa if our blood becomes too basic. This is an entirely natural process, as our bones are continuously breaking down the old and remodelling it to create the new.
Calcium provides the means for electrical impulses to move along the nerves, it’s what our nervous system uses to conduct electricity and is therefore necessary for neurotransmitter activity.
It provides the electrical energy for our muscular system; the changes of calcium levels in the cells (in opposition to magnesium) is what causes our muscle contractions. It’s what is required by our heart for proper contraction.
Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash
Depletion, Deficiency, and Toxicity
There are quite some additional factors that play into whether calcium is being properly absorbed and used in the body. Someone may consume enough calcium on its own, but could still see signs of depletion due an issue with one of its cofactors. Proper absorption and use of calcium relies on the following factors:
Proper digestion: calcium is absorbed primarily in the first section of the small intestine (duodenum) and the environment needs to be properly acidic for this to happen. If we aren’t producing acidic enough stomach acid, this process can be affected and calcium can move along without being absorbed.
Healthy fats: fatty acids from healthy fat sources are needed to move calcium across the cell membrane and help increase the calcium levels of our tissues. (Read more about healthy fats here)
Hydration: consuming enough liquids ensures our blood is fluid enough to transport the calcium around the body
Other minerals & electrolytes: making sure calcium is in balance with other minerals / electrolytes is key to ensuring calcium can move properly in and out of cells.
pH level of the blood: calcium needs to be moved in and out of the blood to balance the acidity of our blood in opposition to phosphorus. Because the body is always trying to keep the pH level in balance, the last place you are likely to see a calcium deficiency is through a blood test.
Hormones: many hormones can affect our calcium levels, through different processes like the management of our bones or the pH level of the blood, or the interplay with other nutrients that can affect calcium levels. Parathyroid hormone, thyroid hormone (calcitonin), our adrenal hormones, and sex hormones can all affect calcium.
Vitamin D: vitamin D works with the parathyroid hormone to increase the level of calcium in the blood when needed. Therefore we need sufficient vitamin D levels in order to effectively use our calcium.
When we don’t have enough calcium our muscles can feel weak and tired. Too little calcium can mean that it is leeched out of the bones for buffering our blood pH and over the long term this can result in conditions like osteoporosis. Deficiency is also linked to issues like periodontal disease, hyperactivity, anxiety, and insomnia.
Our ability to absorb calcium also decreases with age, so keep in mind the cofactors above, as well as vitamins A and C which can help support the normal transport of calcium into our cells. Adequate protein can assist with absorption (although too much can inhibit it), as well as lactose and the protein-fat combination in milk products (so long as they are not low fat). Exercise can also improve absorption and stress can lessen it.
In general, overconsumption or calcium toxicity (excess of 3000mg per day) is fairly rare, generally only occurring with over supplementation and not through a whole foods diet. Too much calcium can cause imbalances with other minerals, especially magnesium. It can also result in too much calcium in the blood, a condition called hypercalcemia. This can lead to calcium being stored in places where it shouldn’t creating soft tissue calcification, bone spurs, or kidney stones.
Dietary Sources of Calcium
Most of us are well aware that calcium can be found in dairy products, and there are a lot of calcium-fortified products out on the market (most notably the non-dairy milk products). But you can also find calcium in the following sources:
Leafy greens: like spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, etc.
Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
Almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts
If you don’t (or can’t) consume dairy, it is definitely possible to get enough calcium from other sources – although it does take being mindful of what you are eating to ensure you are getting enough.
The recommended dietary allowances for calcium for adults between the ages of 19 and 50 is 1000mg per day.
If you are taking a calcium supplement it is best to take it between meals when the stomach is more acidic to improve its absorption. Always discuss supplementation with your primary healthcare provider.
What is it?
Fiber comes exclusively from plants; it is what gives them their structure (just like bones & muscles give animals their structure!). Dietary fiber is the parts of the plants we eat which is resistent to our digestive process.
There are two categories for fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble dissolves in water; it absorbs it and becomes gel-like as it moves through your digestive system. Insoluble does not dissolve in water; it stays the same as it move through your digestive system.
Why is it important?
Most studies don’t differentiate between soluble and insoluble fiber, but in general they are both beneficial for our health and we need both of them in our diet! They help keep our gut bacteria happy, make sure we are having healthy bowel movements, and even help regulate our blood sugar levels.
Soluble fiber has been shown to decrease blood cholesterol levels and help regulate our blood glucose levels. A type of soluble fiber, inulin, has been shown to help decrease intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and regulate our immune system. Insoluble fiber helps increase our the bulk of our stool; it’s incredibly important for having healthy bowel movements and avoiding constipation. A diet rich in insoluble fiber has been shown to decrease the risk of certain cancers and decrease markers of inflammation. There is evidence it can improve insulin sensitivity, and is essential for regulating our hunger hormones.
How does it relate to stress?
Fiber is an important aspect for making sure our elimination pathways are functioning properly, so ensuring all the excess hormones or toxins that have been created by the body’s natural proceses or ingested are disposed of. Without sufficient fiber in our diet, we might not be having proper bowel movements and therefore increasing the burden on our body’s natural detoxification systems as these compounds are reabsorbed in our digestive tract.
During periods of chronic stress it’s possible you might experience some constipation; adequate fiber can help regulate your bowel movements. As you work to recover from the effects of this stress, your liver may need to detox more than before, making it even more crucial that you have a healthy digestive system support by adequate fiber.
How much do I need?
The majority of the population is not getting enough fiber in their diets. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, women in the UK are averaging just 17.2g per day and men only 20.1g. The recommended average intake is 30g!
However, when studied, it’s been seen that with high fiber diets the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary events, stroke, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes is decreasing. Currently there has been no upper limit set for fiber intake. If you are consuming a natural, whole foods diet, you should be able to easily get well beyond the 30g of fiber per day.
Where can I get it?
It’s better to get your fibre naturally in your diet from whole foods where it comes packaged with other vital nutrients our bodies need. You can find fiber in all plant foods, so vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, and grains.
I tend to recommend focusing on vegetables and fruit for your fiber needs, even though often grains are advertised as the best sources. Veggies and fruit on average have a similar level of fiber content, but are generally packed with many more vitamins and nutrients than you will get from other sources. One of the most abundant sources of fiber is in lentils / legumes, but the calories consumed in a serving of these means that vegetables still come out on top as the most nutrient dense.
This is why I always promote smoothies over juices – if you are juicing your fruit or vegetables you are taking out all the much needed fiber!
If you are thinking about taking a fiber supplement, I would first encourage you to look at your diet for where you can further improve to get natural, whole sources of fiber. And of course, always consult with a health professional before starting any supplementation.
Some fiber content examples:
- Black beans (1 cup): 15g of fiber, 227 calories
- Collard greens (1 cup): 7.6g of fiber, 63 calories
- Broccoli (1 cup): 5.2g of fiber, 55 calories
- Raspberries (1 cup): 8g of fiber, 64 calories
- Wheat (1 cup): 8.2g of fiber, 151 calories
Any lingering questions on fiber? Ask away in the comments below!
Ballantyne, S. (2013) The Paleo Approach. Las Vegas, USA: Victory Belt Publishing Inc.
British Nutrition Foundation (2019 February 28). Dietary Fiber. Retrieved from https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/dietary-fibre.html
Wilson, J.L. (2001) Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Petaluma, USA: Smart Publications
World’s Healthiest Foods (2019 February 28). Fiber. Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=59
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Have you ever grabbed an apple mid-afternoon for a small pick-me-up only to feel hungry again a short while later? You think you’re making a healthy choice, but with your snack gone you’re maybe then pulled in the direction of not-so-healthy options to curb your hunger and energy needs?
I’ve definitely been there! A few years ago a piece of fruit was my go to snack at the office… although for some reason I couldn’t seem to kick my late afternoon chocolate bar and diet Coke habit!
Don’t worry, I’m not saying that fruit is unhealthy or even that it shouldn’t be a snack!
It’s totally the opposite! But there is a missing piece – balance.
Fruit is the easiest example, but really this is generally about carbohydrate dominant snacks. And when you’re trying your best to eat healthfully, the majority of people reach for fruit as that snack. But you could apply the same idea to any other carb-based snacks (I also use to be a huge eater of rice cakes!).
In general, carbohydrates are going to have a larger impact on your blood sugar levels. If your snack is predominantly carb-based, you’ll likely see a spike in your blood sugar soon after consumption followed soon after by a crash. The snack just doesn’t keep you satiated very long and there is a good chance you’ll end up with less energy and more hunger just a little while later.
The missing link is fat! Healthy fats help slow down our absorption of food and therefore energy. By ensuring you always have a source of fat along with the carbs in your snack, you’ll likely feel more satiated and have have more level, consistent energy!
Of course, depending on your preference, you could just skip the carbs and focus on a protein and fat based snack, but one is not necessarily better than the other – our needs are all different!
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
So what might be some healthful snack combinations to try out?
You could pair your carb-based snack with:
Nuts or nut butter
Full-fat yogurt (dairy or dairy-free)
Oily fish (like salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc.)
Oily fish might strike you as a bit strange for a snack, but they are one of the best sources of healthy, omega-3 fats and are incredibly nutrient dense! Although your co-workers at the office might not love this one 😉
And don’t forget, as much as I’m talking about fruit here, raw veggies are also a great snacking tool and can also pair with all of the above!
Some other snack ideas:
Small portion of leftovers
Egg muffins (like mini-frittatas)
Roasted veggies with an added drizzle of olive oil or tahini
Bliss balls (also called fat balls) or other nut-based bars
Trail mix (nuts & seeds base with optionally a small amount of dried fruit or dark chocolate)
Frozen yogurt & fruit popsicle
Chia seed pudding
Do you have any favourite go-to snacks that I haven’t mentioned? – Let me know in the comments below!
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, which means it requires an adequate healthy fat intake (along with sufficient bile salts from the gallbladder) in order to be absorbed in our small intestines. It can also be partially absorbed by our skin. It is then taken to the liver to be used or stored. However, it’s not stored as effectively as the other fat soluble vitamins (A, D, and K), with up to 50% possibly being excreted in our feces.
It is made up of two families of compounds, the tocopherols and the tocotrienols, with D-alpha-tocopherol being the most potent.
Benefits of Vitamin E
Vitamin E’s primary function is as an antioxidant. It reduces lipid (fat) oxidation as well as the breakdown or other nutrients by oxygen in our body. Its effects are also enhanced by the presence of other antioxidants, like those from vitamin C, beta-carotene, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, and selenium. Oxidation is a process that creates free radicals that leads to inflammation in the body and can cause diseases like atherosclerosis, heart disease, hypertension, and arthritis.
Vitamin E also helps stabilize our cell membranes (which are constructed mainly from fats) and helps protect the tissues of our skin, eyes, liver, lungs, breasts, and testes, which are more sensitive to the effect of oxidation.
It has also been shown to reduce platelet aggregation and adhesiveness to collagen both of which are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.
Its useful to increase consumption or supplementation before and after surgery (in consultation with your medical practitioner), due to its effects on healing and decreasing chances of blood clotting. It is also helpful in minimizing the appearance of scars.
Some claim (without solid scientific evidence) that vitamin E can improve fertility. It may also help reduce the symptoms of menopause.
Depletion, Deficiency, and Toxicity
A deficiency in vitamin E is fairly rare, but also difficult to diagnose since it is tied to vague symptoms. However, deficiency tends to be more common in people with gastrointestinal disease, poor fat digestion and metabolism (or those who have had their gallbladder removed), or pancreatic insufficiency.
People with diets high in possible rancid fats (a.k.a. consuming a high quantity of vegetables oils and fried foods) will need a higher intake of vitamin E, as well as those with high estrogen levels or those exposed to high levels of pollution.
Toxicity of vitamin E is fairly unlikely since it is not as readily stored in our body as the other fat soluble vitamins (A, D, and K).
However, a high intake can cause symptoms like nausea, diarrhea or gas, and immune system suppression.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Dietary Sources of Vitamin E
The best sources of vitamin E are plant-based. Some sources are coming from plant-based oils, however the vitamin E content of these may vary as it can be used up by the oil during its processing in order to stop the oxidation (/rancidification) process.
Sources of vitamin E are:
nuts & seeds and their natural, cold-pressed oils (used raw / cold)
wheat germ oil, safflower oil, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, brazil nuts
some uncooked veggies
green peas, spinach, celery, kale, cucumber, tomato, asparagus
mango & kiwi fruit
some animal products like butter, egg yolks, milk fat, and liver
Vitamin E supplements shouldn’t be taken at the same time as iron as it decreases absorption. Supplementation should be done in consultation with a medical practitioner, especially when on other medication (like blood thinners)
The RDA for vitamin E for men and women over 14 is 15mg / 22IU per day.
Still have some lingering questions about vitamin E? Leave a comment below!