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A Guide to Dietary Fats

For decades now, ever since people started talking about cholesterol and heart disease, there has been a combination of concern and confusion over the topic of dietary fats.   So let me see if I can unconfuse things.   First, let me start with some basic definitions.

Triglycerides, Cholesterol, &c

While people tend to throw around the term dietary fat somewhat loosely, the fact is that not all of the dietary fat that we consume on a daily basis is the same.   Here I’m not talking about saturated versus unsaturated fats.  Rather, I’m referring to the different distinct chemical types of lipids (just another word for fats).

The primary two that folks eat on a day to day basis are triglycerides (TGs) and dietary cholesterol.  Dietary triglyceride contributes the bulk (over 90% of the total) of the dietary fat that we consume on a day to day basis.

We also consume small amounts of other lipids in the diet such as phospholipids. … Keep Reading

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The Energy Density of Foods

Today I want to cover another fundamental aspect of nutrition that is somewhat easy to confuse.  That concept is referred to as energy density.  Energy density integrates, in a fashion, the concepts of calories, nutrients and food intake.

First I want to define energy density before looking at some examples that will hopefully make the concept a bit more clear.  Finally, I’ll look at applications of the energy density concept in terms of dieting, weight gain, etc.

What is Energy Density?

Conceptually, energy density refers to how many calories are found in a given weight or volume or food.  Ok, what does that mean. Let’s say that you have 1 gram of each of the three macronutrients which are protein, carbohydrates and fat.

We know that these are given calorie values of 4 cal/g for protein and carbohydrate and 9 cal/g for fat.  Clearly, in this simple example, fat has over twice the energy density of either carbs or fat (9 cal in one gram vs.… Keep Reading

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The Mercury Content of Fish

Fish has long been considered part of an athlete and “healthy” diet and there are many good reasons for this to be the case.  It’s a high quality protein and, depending no location and type, is generally inexpensive.  Low-fat fish is nearly fat free and higher-fat fish contains healthy w-3 fish oils.  At the same time not all is good in the land of fish due to the mercury content.

The Mercury Content of Fish

Mercury, as I imagine most know, is a toxic metal compound that, when it accumulates in the body, can cause a lot of problems.   Quite in fact, readers may have heard of the Mad Hatter syndrome which was actually caused by mercury being used by hatters back in the day.  The exposure caused them to go nuts.  It also gave us a great Batman villian.

The Mad Hatter

But that raises the question of how much fish can be safely consumed.   … Keep Reading

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Dietary Protein Sources – Other Factors

Moving on from the topic of protein quality I want to wrap up this guide to dietary protein source by looking at a grab-bag of other factors.  This includes the micronutrient content, dietary fat content, and other issues such as availability, the protein content and price.

Outside of a few select groups (that often get a majority of their protein from isolated sources such as protein powders or amino acids), most people get their daily protein from whole food sources and whole foods contain other nutrients.  Some of those nutrients may be beneficial, some of them may be detrimental.  But all are worth considering.

Micronutrient Content

The major ‘extra’ nutrients I want to look at in this article are zinc, iron, B12, calcium. In the next part of this article series, I’ll take a look at the issue of dietary fat content, both in terms of good and bad fats.  This is simply to keep the length a bit more manageable.… Keep Reading

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Dietary Protein Sources – Protein Quality Part 2

In the previous section of this guide, I examined the issue of amino acid profile, primarily as it relates to general health and wellness.  My basic conclusion, based on the research is that basically any high quality protein source  more than adequately meet the amino acid requirements of adult humans.  In the modern Western world, obtaining sufficient protein is not an enormous issue and quality is unlikely to matter enormously.

Amino Acid Requirements for Athletes

Today, I want to continue that by looking at some issues specific to athletes and those involved in heavy exercise training.  It’s fairly well established that athletes need more protein than sedentary individuals although there is still great argument over just how much is needed.

Two specific amino acids that tend to get focused on by athletes are the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and glutamine, I’ll give a quick primer on those before discussing any of the other specific issues.… Keep Reading