By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

Oils & Fats

I’ve recently had a lot of questions regarding cooking oils, so I thought I’d shed a little light on which fats/oils are safe to cook with, and which are not.

When it comes to fat there are basically two types: Saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are high in saturated fatty acids – tiny chains of carbon molecules that are packed closely together. This quality means the fat is solid at room temperature. Examples of fats rich in saturated fatty acids are coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, and palm oil. Ghee is an alternative to butter and is suitable for people intolerant to lactose or sensitive to dairy proteins like Casein.

Unsaturated fatty acids have carbon chains that are bent at all sorts of different angles and don’t pack together very well. Because of this, these fats are liquid at room temperature. Some common examples include: olive oil, vegetable oil, and grapeseed oil.

Saturated fats are more temperature stable than unsaturated fats. This means that at high temperatures, saturated fats do not oxidize as readily as unsaturated fats. When exposed to high temperatures (or even UV light) unsaturated fats become oxidized and toxic to humans. As I wrote about in my last article, oxidized fats can damage blood vessels and lead to plaque formation. We’ve all smelled rancid fats before – did you know that rancid fats are associated with increased risk of neurological disease, heart disease, and cancer?

Both saturated and unsaturated fats are needed for a well balanced diet. Saturated fats help our body make cholesterol and hormones, while unsaturated fats like omega three fatty acids keep our brains healthy and reduce inflammation.

When it comes to eating and cooking with fats there are some very simple rules to follow:
1) Avoid highly processed, man-made fats like margarine (transfats), and highly refined oils that use chemicals like hexane for extraction
a. Oils that are commonly processed with hexane include: Grapeseed, canola, safflower, sunflower oil, and vegetable oils.
b. To avoid hexanes and other harmful solvents, choose cold pressed oils.
2) Choose organic fats
a. Many pesticides are fat soluble and are concentrated in fats
3) Store them properly
a. Buy small bottles of oil. They run out sooner, meaning you’ll use them before they go rancid
b. Opaque, glass bottles protect the oil from harmful UV rays
c. Store oils in a cool dark cupboard to protect them from heat
4) Cook with solid fats and save liquid oils for salad dressings

The things I want you to take away from this are: Oils are essential for health, but they should be treated and consumed carefully. Liquid oils are extremely fragile and if exposed to high heat or UV rays can be harmful to our health. Generally most liquid oils are safe to consume as long as they are organic, cold pressed, come in an opaque glass bottle, and are stored in a cool, dark place. If it were up to me, I would choose organic ghee or coconut oil to cook with and I would make salad dressings with cold pressed, organic olive oil.

By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

Recently, cholesterol has been making the news. In the US, new dietary guidelines will soon suggest that cholesterol is no longer as much of a concern as once thought. After 55 years of having a bad reputation, negative perceptions of cholesterol are shifting. Cholesterol is generally not bad for people, and in fact, we need it to survive.

Cholesterol is a special type of fat called a sterol. It is produced by animals and is vital to life. Cholesterol keeps our body’s cells from falling apart, is used to make hormones like cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and vitamin D. Cholesterol is a critical component of our nervous system and helps keep our nerves firing properly.

Although cholesterol is generated by every cell in the body, the majority of it is made in the liver. The two most well known forms of cholesterol are high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is what leaves the liver and transports cholesterol to all the cells in our body. HDL helps to remove cholesterol from cells and take it back to the liver for disposal. Therefore, HDL is considered to be the “good” cholesterol and LDL “bad.” But is LDL really to blame for problems like increased risk of stroke and heart attacks? The answer is yes… and no.

As LDL travels through the blood it can interact with oxygen to become oxidized. Once oxidized, LDL does become bad – it sticks the walls of the vessels and leads to inflammation, which causes scar tissue and plaque formation. So, the more LDL you have the greater possibility it has to be oxidized and lead to a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.

As a naturopathic physician, it’s always my goal to determine what’s causing heart disease. Could it be too much cholesterol? Lowering dietary cholesterol or fat intake doesn’t necessarily reduce health risks. It’s important to address what’s causing the oxidization of LDL. It is likely that excess consumption of processed carbohydrates (high fructose corn syrup, sugars, flours), trans fats, and smoking are leading causes of heart disease.

How can you incorporate this information into your life? One of the best diets is the Mediterranean diet. It consists of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil), lots of fruits and veggies, grains, fish, poultry, minimal red meat, and small amounts of processed carbohydrates. Unless you have high cholesterol, don’t focus on restricting it in your diet. Enjoy sources of cholesterol such as eggs, dairy and meat in moderation. Red meat should be eaten once a week, poultry 1-2 times a week, and fish 2-3 times a week. Dairy and eggs can be consumed daily (ie one egg a day).

Cholesterol is critical part of a healthy diet and, like everything in life, the key is balance and moderation.

By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

Diet and supplementation

As a naturopathic physician, I routinely talk to my patients about the food they eat.
In fact, some of the greatest improvements I have seen with patients have come from making healthier dietary choices. And there is a very obvious reason for this – all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need to function can be found in the plants and animals we eat.

What I typically do when a patient consults with me is review their diet and tailor it to suit their health concerns. We may also identify foods that are actually worsening their condition by causing inflammation. There is not one condition where making better dietary choices will not help.

In today’s western society we tend to eat too many processed foods devoid of healthy nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Some foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals, but often our bodies do not easily utilize these man made particles. The vitamins and minerals found within whole, unprocessed foods are naturally in a format that can easily be absorbed and therefore readily used by our bodies.

There are situations where vitamin and mineral supplementation are important and should be used. One example is supplemental magnesium. In 2009, the World Health Organization reported that a significant portion of all Americans did not consume enough magnesium in their diet. There are multiple reasons for this: processed, high sugar diets lack the leafy greens, nuts and seeds that are sources of magnesium; vegetables produced for mass consumption may be grown in poor quality soil lacking in many of the minerals required for good health; common medications like acid blockers actually prevent the absorption of magnesium; stress and drinking alcohol causes us to lose a lot of magnesium in our urine. Furthermore, when we are under stress, there is a higher demand for vitamins, minerals and nutrients. As you can see, it is relatively easy to be deficient in magnesium and quite possibly many other vitamins and minerals. To combat this, supplementing with a good multivitamin can help you make up for any dietary deficiencies, or lifestyle factors that deplete your stores.

When choosing supplements, it is important to pick ones that are easily absorbed in the intestinal tract. To continue with magnesium as an example, supplemental magnesium comes in various forms; magnesium oxide is poorly absorbed and commonly used as a laxative, whereas magnesium citrate and glycinate are much more easily absorbed.

With so much information to consider, the best way to proceed is to do your best with whole, organic foods produced in good, local soil and have a qualified health practitioner help you supplement your diet where necessary.

By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

Stress: ever-present and an underlying cause of many health concerns. Can’t sleep at night because your mind won’t shut off? Heart racing? Sugar crashes? Hanger (hungry+angry)? You’ve got stress!

Our bodies and brains are evolutionarily geared to react to stress as an automatic response — the fight or flight response. When we are faced with a stressor, a series of chemical reactions take place that increase blood sugar and blood flow to muscles. This boost of energy in the right places allows us to run away from our stress or to fight it off.

Adrenal glands are partly responsible for this stress response. They are tiny pyramid shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Although small in size, they are a powerful contributor to our well-being and survival. Adrenal glands produce sex hormones like testosterone; estrogen and progesterone; aldosterone, which helps to control blood pressure; cortisol which raises our blood sugar and quenches inflammation; and finally adrenalin, which increases the heart and breathing rates while promoting blood flow to the muscles.

Although this reaction is useful in the short term for ensuring our survival against predators, chronic stress is bad for our health! Stress has been linked to heart disease (atherosclerosis and elevated blood pressure), asthma, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, IBS, headaches and the list goes on.

Whether we realize it or not, we are faced with potential stressors every single day.
There are the obvious stressors such as deadlines, scary movies, abuse, and violence and then there are not-so-obvious stressors to consider as well. Non-obvious stressors include a high sugar diet, anxiety (where one makes mountains out of molehills), excessive exercise, inflammation, obesity, excessive screen time at night, and working night shifts. All of these stressors lead to increased levels of cortisol and altered cortisol production.

There is a complimentary medicine theory that excessive production of cortisol leads to adrenal burnout and a condition called “Adrenal Fatigue.” This term, however, is not currently recognized as a diagnosable medical condition.
The argument is that adrenal glands do not “burn out” unless you have a condition called adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease. Some of the latest findings suggest that adrenal glands do not burn out from fatigue, but rather chronic stress results in inappropriate cortisol regulation resulting in symptoms of fatigue, depression and chronic pain. A newer, better term for “Adrenal Fatigue” may be “Stress Induced Cortisol Dysfunction.”
Regardless of what you call it, patients who struggle with symptoms related to chronic stress may benefit from the following lifestyle changes:

• Sleep! Aim for seven to eight hours per night and go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. This solidifies the circadian rhythm and helps to control appropriate cortisol and melatonin production.
• Avoid the nighttime “second wind.” If you are tired, go to sleep or wind down for the evening. Don’t wait for another boost of energy as this will also alter melatonin and cortisol production.
• Start a good nighttime routine. Two hours before bed, turn the lights down low, shut off the screens and read a calming book.
• Moderate exercise before noon — put that adrenalin and rise in blood sugar to good use: burn it off!
• Regular low glycemic meals. Low glycemic meals of fiber (legumes, leafy vegetables), protein and fats prevent sugar crashes and subsequent cortisol release.
• Calming exercises: Qi gong, yoga, meditation on a daily basis.
• Appropriate mental-emotional support. Visit with good friends and seek counselling when needed.
• Minimize caffeine to one to two cups in the morning. Savour the flavour; don’t rely on it to get you through the day.

Lastly, it should be noted that persistent fatigue could be a symptom of a serious underlying disorder. Talk to your doctor to rule out other causes of fatigue such as hypothyroidism, iron deficient anemia, or underlying chronic disease. But whatever you do, don’t stress out about it!

By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

How to support your Circadian rhythm

Our body’s sleep wake cycle naturally follows the rotation of the earth. This is called the circadian rhythm and our biochemistry and wellness depend on it.

There are two important hormones involved in the circadian rhythm: cortisol and melatonin. Melatonin is our main sleep hormone. When the sun sets, melatonin levels begin to rise and we gradually get tired and fall asleep.

Cortisol is our wakefulness and “stress” hormone. Its primary action is to raise our blood sugar to give us energy to deal with stressors. Cortisol reaches it’s peak approximately 30minutes after waking and declines throughout the day. Its levels are lowest at night; right about the time that melatonin is at its peak.

To support melatonin production:

– Turn the lights down about two hours before bed. This means shutting off tablets, computers, TV, and phones. Make your bedroom a “screen free” zone. Choose to read a book with a light that doesn’t shine directly into your eyes. If you need to use a computer or phone before bed, try blue light blocking glasses or computer programs. Blue light produced by these devices reduces melatonin production and can prevent a restful night’s sleep.

To support healthy cortisol levels:

– Have a healthy snack before bed: keeping your blood sugar level steady will help you stay asleep. As we sleep we aren’t eating (unless you sleep walk and raid the fridge) and our blood sugar level drops. When blood sugar levels are too low, Cortisol is released. It tells the body to raise blood sugar to give it a source of energy. But as a result, it wakes us up because it is also a stress hormone. To prevent this, eating a light snack rich in protein, fat or fiber before bed can help to keep the blood sugar levels steady and keep you sleeping longer. Good bedtime snack examples include an egg, peanut butter and toast, veggies and humus. Avoid sugary foods like fruit and cereal or else your blood sugar will rise and then come crashing down as you try to sleep.

– Go to bed and wake up at the same time on a consistent basis – even on the weekend. The more consistent you are with your sleep/wake cycle the better you will sleep and more energy you will have during the day.

– If you need a little bit of caffeine to get your day started, drink your coffee when your morning cortisol isn’t at it’s highest. Cortisol levels peak approximately thirty minutes after waking. To get the best boost from your cup of joe, drink it as your cortisol levels begin to fall, about an hour after waking. When you drink caffeine at your peak cortisol level you won’t experience the jolt coffee has to offer, because your body is already naturally energized.

– To prevent caffeine from affecting your sleep, try to minimize caffeine consumption after lunch.

By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

As part of my practice, I routinely discuss the benefits of a healthy diet and consistently find that cutting back on sugar is a critical component of patients getting better. This not only helps their present concerns but may also help prevent diseases and conditions associated with excess sugar such as:
• Alzheimer’s
• Cancer
• Diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease
• Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
• Tooth decay
• Obesity

Recently, a study confirmed that replacing sugar with healthier options can result in impressive health improvements. The study changed the diets of unhealthy obese children, by giving the children the same number of calories but changing the source of those calories from pure sugar to a complex carbohydrate. In the group of children that received starchy carbohydrates (like root vegetables and whole grains) instead of foods with added sugar, they not only lost a bit of weight, but there was a significant reduction in cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The most astounding finding was that these positive changes occurred in only nine days. The key to the children’s success appeared to be a reduction of foods containing sucrose, also known as table sugar.

The researchers speculated that fructose, a component of sucrose, was the culprit to blame for poor health. Why is fructose so bad? Like any food, fructose has the potential to be unhealthy when consumed in high quantities, and as a population, we do tend to eat fructose in large amounts. It is added to manufactured and packaged foods such as baked goods, granola bars, ice cream, pop and energy drinks, candy, cereals, and juice such as fruit cocktails. Some studies have suggested that not only does excessive fructose consumption increase the risk of diabetes, but the liver metabolizes excess fructose into cholesterol and triglycerides which puts people at higher risk for obesity, heart disease, and a fatty liver.

Tips to lower sugar consumption
• The World Health Organization recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day. This applies to sugar added to packaged foods and beverages, fruit juices, and sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup. Sugars from fresh produce are not subject to this 25 gram limit.
• Be mindful of the sugar content of foods not typically associated as sugary – such as yogurt, bread, healthy cereals, soup, and even condiments like ketchup and hot sauce.
• Choose whole, unprocessed foods. This means whole grains and food made from scratch.
• If you can’t avoid packaged foods, choose ones that are low in added sugar such as sucrose.
• Sugars considered “healthy” such as coconut sugar, brown sugar, cane juice, molasses, honey, maple syrup, dates, and agave should still be consumed in very small quantities.
• Dried fruit contains a higher amount of sugar per gram than fresh fruit.
• At a minimum, have an equal amount or more of vegetable servings as you do fruit servings. When you can, favor raw, brightly colored vegetables.

By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

We’re finally well into spring – the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and many people are beginning their yearly tradition of Spring Cleaning. We take time to wash the windows, finally vacuum under the couch and beat the rugs, but what about cleaning your liver? According to traditional Chinese Medicine, spring time is the time of year the liver and gallbladder are most active. For many of us, we find ourselves entering spring with a desire to lose a few pounds and change poor dietary habits gained over the winter. Luckily spring is a season of renewal and our diets naturally improve as fresh vegetables become more plentiful.

Our bodies are subjected to harmful substances on a daily basis – from airborne pollutants, chemical sprays on our fruit vegetables, hormones added to meat, and even some pharmaceutical drugs. In this day and age, our livers work overtime on a daily basis. The liver is our body’s most well known “detox” organ. It uses many complex processes to turn harmful substances into less toxic compounds that can be excreted through our digestive and urinary systems.

I think yearly “cleanses” are a great idea if done properly – it’s your chance to quit coffee for a few weeks, give up alcohol for awhile, eliminate sugar, and even try a daily green smoothie! During a cleanse or detox, most people note that the first few days are a struggle, but if they can stick with it, they are soon rewarded with improved energy and better health.

Although yearly cleanses are a worthy cause, I think it’s the healthy daily habits that make the biggest impact. Typically, I recommend well crafted cleanses to kick start a healthier diet which is ideally sustainable for the long term. Here are some tips for daily detoxification:

• Drink lots of water to support good kidney function
• Eat foods rich in fiber: This ensures your digestive tract continually flushes out what you eat
• Choose organic foods as much as possible to reduce the chemicals your liver must process
• Enjoy dark leafy greens and brightly colored vegetables. These provide vitamins A, C and many of the Bs used by the liver for detoxification
• Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, caulifower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts are rich in sulphur. Sulphur is key ingredient for detoxification
• Bitter foods such as dandelion greens, kale, and mustard greens help to stimulate the release of bile
• Coleslaw with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing is a great way to incorporate all the above foods for a healthy liver!

Of course, before beginning any cleanse or detoxification, talk to your doctor first. There are various herbs and diets that may not be right for you.

By: Dr. Mike Baker, ND

As we approach cold and flu season I thought I would touch on a common home remedy for fighting and preventing colds and the flu – vitamin C. It should be noted, however, that recent scientific studies have shown that vitamin C is not effective at preventing nor treating the common cold. The only convincing evidence suggests it may lower the duration of the common cold. How might it do that? We’re not sure, but it appears to play a role in immune support. Currently this exact process is unknown, but vitamin C is found in high concentrations in our immune system like white blood cells.

We do know, however, that it plays a key role in building collagen and preventing scurvy, and is used in enzyme reactions for building neurotransmitters, like dopamine.
Collagen is critical for building strong bones, joints, blood vessels, and skin. Without vitamin C, scurvy symptoms such as poor wound healing, fatigue, loose teeth, and bleeding gums can arise.

When it comes to supplementing with vitamin C, it is important to know that only small amounts can be absorbed at one time; as the dose goes up, a smaller percentage of vitamin C is absorbed. Taking greater than 1000mg at one time isn’t generally beneficial, because only a small amount is actually absorbed and the remainder either passes through or can cause intestinal upset and diarrhea. To improve the absorption of vitamin C it is best to take small amounts (250-500mg) multiple times throughout the day.

Integrative cancer therapy bypasses the absorption issue by injecting vitamin C directly into the blood stream: A mega dose of 25 to 100 grams of vitamin C administered intravenously may increase the effectiveness of radiation and specific chemotherapeutic drugs. This therapy has been shown to reduce side effects of cancer treatment and improve patients’ quality of life by increasing appetite, energy, and reducing pain.

Supplementation of vitamin C is so common because humans are among the few species of animals that cannot make vitamin C and must obtain it all through food. Kakadu plums and camu camu fruits contain the highest amount of vitamin C of any source. But there are other fruits and vegetables that are also very high in vitamin C and may even be found in your garden. These include rosehips, red bell peppers, and broccoli. Red peppers contain roughly 190mg per pepper and one cup of broccoli has about 90mg. Oranges are commonly believed to be a good source of vitamin C, but the average orange contains about half of what is found in a cup of broccoli, or 3.5 times less than a red bell pepper. Health Canada recommends 90mg a day for adult males and 75mg a day for adult females. Another note, pasteurization destroys vitamin C, so food sources of vitamin C are best consumed raw.

So, when choosing foods rich in vitamin C pick raw red bell peppers and broccoli over oranges and if you supplement, try smaller quantities multiple times a day.