What the heck is CHOLINE?!

Did you know that there’s a nutrient that is neither vitamin nor mineral? Choline acts sorta like an amino acid, and sorta like B-vitamins. It is a component of foods that our bodies need to thrive. Think of it in the category of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.

But what does this essential nutrient contribute? And how much do we need? Where do we get it?

Purpose

  • Our bodies require choline to do the work of making cell membranes. Without sufficient choline, those cell membranes are defective.
  • Liver function depends on choline. Choline deficiency is implicated in non-alcoholic fatty liver.
  • Healthy brain development and thinking depend on choline. Deficiency can lead to short-term memory loss. In an interesting study of seniors, choline intake was clearly linked with cognitive function, and deficiency might be implicated in dementia.
  • Muscle movement requires choline. Deficiency can lead to muscle damage.
  • Our nervous system needs choline for a variety of tasks, including regulating heart rate and breathing. Deficiency leads to all sorts of problems, one of which is decreased reaction times.
  • Choline helps us metabolize fats. Isn’t it interesting that a deficiency can cause cravings for fatty foods?

Deficiency

Even though our bodies make some choline, we don’t make enough – which means we have to eat it.

Maternal choline deficiency is implicated in neural tube defects in infants. The more scientists learn, the clearer it becomes that choline is essential.

In addition to those problems mentioned above, choline deficiency can disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause sleep problems, fatigue, mood swings, and irritability. Anyone with a hint of autoimmune disease and the accompanying fatigue would be wise to examine food choices.

Sources

Omnivores rejoice! Choline is mostly found in meat and eggs. Although there are some plant sources, it is nearly impossible for vegans to get adequate amounts of choline. Liver is the richest source. Three to four eggs per day will provide a full day’s supply of choline. Or mix things up and eat two eggs with breakfast and a serving of meat for supper. It’s not difficult to get enough choline if you’re eating a balanced diet, so I am appalled at estimates that 90% of people don’t get enough.

I feel significantly better when I am careful about my food choices. Sometimes we think about macronutrients (proteins:carbs:fats), but micronutrients are also important — including the one that everyone forgets about: choline.

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For further reading:

Food Sensitivities & Arthritis

It’s amazing how many people with the various types of autoimmune arthritis have allergies and food sensitivities. Kinda makes you wonder if there’s a connection.

Unfortunately, some people assume that food allergies are a figment of the imagination. I recall years ago telling my daughter’s rheum that she was allergic to dairy, soy, and eggs. That doctor asked no follow-up questions, yet the letter back to our family physician put quote marks around “food allergies” as if we were making things up. Had the rheumatologist bothered to ask (or at least expressed skepticism), we could have clarified that an allergist said that she had food allergies.

One school of thought has studied which foods are most likely to cause reactions in people with autoimmune diseases, then put together an eating plan that eliminates all those foods that might be causing problems. After a suitable period of time not eating foods that tend to be problematic, those foods can then be re-introduced one at a time – paying careful attention to whether or not the reintroduction causes a reaction.

This seems like a reasonable approach. For myself, I know that if I ingest milk, within one day I have tiny red bumps all over my upper arms. It takes six weeks of no-milk for those bumps to go away. So when people talk of eliminating a food for a month, I tend to squint at them and question what they hope to accomplish in only one month.

I know a few people who have tried this particular elimination diet, but they didn’t make it sound especially attractive – lots of restrictions and no real meals. As it turns out, I suspect that they didn’t really comprehend all that it entailed. They understood the “eliminate” portion, but not the “eat healthy” part. The goal is to focus on nutrient-rich foods and work on eating a well-balanced diet while avoiding potential allergens. I’m finding lots of delicious recipes (and a few strange ones).

Focus on eating:
• Meats
• Seafood
• Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc)
• Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, etc)
• Colorful veggies (carrots, yams, beets, squashes, asparagus, etc.) (avoid nightshades)
• Herbs
• Healthful fats (olives, avocados, coconut, olive/avocado/coconut oil)
• Berries & fruits (limit fructose to 10-20g daily)

I don’t know about you, but I think that looks like lots of pretty nutritious foods!

According to this theory, certain food groups are most likely to cause people to react, and it amazes me how many of these foods I’ve known for years to be a problem.  Categories of foods to be avoided for a period of time under this plan, are:

• Dairy (I already know that I have problems with milk & cheddar cheese)
• Eggs (I can eat duck eggs but not chicken eggs)
• Grains (I know I have problems with some grains)
• Legumes (I’m allergic to soy, and don’t eat peanuts or peas)
• Nightshades (I refuse to eat eggplant; potatoes make me ill; paprika makes my mouth feel like it’s on fire)
• Nuts
• Seeds
• Refined/processed sugars
• Refined/processed fats/oils (I know that some fats cause me to flare)
• Alcohol
• Sugar substitutes

Based on what I know about how my body reacts to some of these foods, I’ve decided that it might be worth taking the time to do the full-blown elimination diet while focusing on nutrient-dense meals. I’ll also be incorporating what I’ve learned helping my mom get her diabetes under control (considering the glycemic load of foods, balancing protein:carb ratios). Since I know that it takes a full six weeks to get rid of the rash that milk gives me, I’m planning to try this eating plan for at least two months, then start re-introducing foods.

Reports are that many people with autoimmune diseases are able to identify food sensitivities and then adjust their diets accordingly, and are able to put their disease into remission.

I tend to be skeptical. Unlike much in the CAM world, though, nobody’s getting rich fleecing sick people with this elimination diet. The information is available freely on the internet. We’re going to eat anyway – this just has us make healthier choices. I don’t know if I’ll get remission, but I’m certainly willing to adjust my diet if it means that I’ll feel better.

Some people go cold-turkey, jumping in all at once. I think that’s a good idea – in theory. In practice, I just haven’t managed to write up all the menus yet. I’ve tried, but life keeps encroaching on my time! What seems to be working is easing my way into it, finding and trying recipes when I can.

I’ve managed to write menus for three weeks’ worth of breakfasts. My goal is 18g protein with 39g carb, and the glycemic load 10-15; I’m rarely exact, but usually close. The wonderful thing from a time-management perspective is that many of these can be prepared in advance and stuck in the freezer. So if a recipe serves 8, I can eat it once and put seven servings in the freezer – so I actually have many more than 3 weeks’ worth of menus. 😊

The key to success seems to be careful planning.  If you walk into the kitchen hungry and wonder what to fix, it’s easy to default to the familiar — which might not be what’s best.  Planning in advance so that there are no decisions to be made at mealtime seems to make a huge difference (at least for me).

In case you’re interested in some new (sometimes strange) breakfast recipes, I’ve included links below.   Many of these can be made ahead, frozen, and reheated at a later date.

Week 1:

Week 2:

Week 3:

Weekends:
Traditionally, my family eats pancakes (preferably huckleberry) or waffles on Saturday mornings.  Sunday’s breakfast is prepared Saturday night, with a ham going into the crockpot to slow-cook, and cinnamon rolls prepped and set in the oven to rise overnight, and with the oven on time-bake so that we can wake up Sunday morning to the wonderful aroma of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and ham (served with applesauce on the side).

Obviously our traditions do not fit into my new way of eating. I’m still making my family their traditional foods. For me, I’ve searched for similar replacements:

Note: because I’m trying to carefully balance proteins:carbs at 18:39 per meal, the serving sizes that I’m using do not always (ever) match up to the recipe creators’ serving sizes — which is what has taken me so long to find menus that work without tons of repetition.  It’s not just “eat this, don’t eat that,” but working on the macro-nutrient quantities, too 🙂

FOOD

Now that breakfasts seem to be under control, I’ll begin working on supper menus.  Please chime in if you have favorites to add.

Does It Really Matter What We Eat?

How much do we really need to eat? What kinds of foods provide the best fuel for our bodies?  How do we know?

A year ago, Andrew did an excellent series about metabolic syndrome.  In part 3, he mentioned a book, which I bought.  Like many books, The Insulin-Resistance Diet has a could this be you? list:

A family history of diabetes, overweight problems, abnormal cholesterol or triglycerides, heart disease, or stroke.  yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes

Frequent cravings for sweet or salty, crunchy snack food. no – well, unless you count and skittles and pralines, and… okay, maybe that’s a yes

This was not a happy beginning to the list, but I continued, and before long said, “Wait! How many ‘yes’ answers do you need before this is something to be concerned about?”  Well, it turns out the answer is three, and when I finished the risk-test, I had a whopping thirteen yesses!  Most depressing.  It could, however, explain why all my clothes seem to have shrunk (and I can’t blame prednisone this time).

What struck me when reading the book were the similarities between this diet and the Zone. The Zone, in turn, has some similarities to Atkins.  The biggest distinction between Insulin Resistance Diet and the others is that there are no restrictions on what can be eaten.  You can eat whatever you want as long as you have protein every time you eat.  With Atkins, by the second day people are climbing the walls with cravings for a piece of fruit or glass of orange juice.

After reading The Insulin-Resistance Diet, I re-read Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution and Barry Sears’ The Zone: A Revolutionary Life Plan to Put Your Body in Total Balance for Permanent Weight Loss.  I own these because I inherited them from my father, who died of a heart attack at age 59.

As I continued looking for more information, I discovered Sears’ follow-up:  The Anti-Inflammation Zone, and a book by neurologist David Perlmutter: Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers.

These books all subscribe to a very different nutritional theory than the USDA and NHS.

NutritionTheoriesGovernment recommendations are that people should consume a significant amount of grains.  Really?  When we fatten up our cows for slaughter (the butcher will be here in a week), we bring them in off pasture and feed them lots of grain.  It should not surprise anyone that a diet rich in grains leads to weight gain — in people as well as cows.

How do we choose which theory to believe?  Lots of grains or no grains?  How do we know the best way to eat?  One thing I did was to look at credentials and motivation.

  • Dr. Atkins was a cardiologist who had spectacular results getting his patients to lose a lot of weight quickly.  Contrary to popular misconception, he only advocated extremely low carbs during the induction phase of his diet.  Long-term, his lifetime eating plan is quite similar to the carbs recommended by both Sears and Perlmutter.
  • Barry Sears is a well-respected researcher who comes from a family in which the men all die of heart attacks in their 50’s; he was searching for the truth to prolong his own life, not dabbling around in the lab looking to support the pet theory of his financier.
  • Dr. Perlmutter is a neurologist who found a common thread between diet and metabolism; he has helped patients with a variety of ailments, and refers to a number of credible studies in explaining the affect of food on our health. Lustig, Phinney & Volek  have similar work that is cited by Dr. Perlmutter.
  • The nutritionist and physician who wrote Insulin-Resistance Diet have helped people lose weight after all other diets failed them.

Those are all much better credentials than a theory based on research done to prove that a vegetarian diet is superior to any other — which (rumor has it) is where the food pyramid came from.  What if the government quit subsidizing wheat, corn, and soy farming, and started subsidizing green beans, lettuce, and spinach? Would that lead to a change in the USDA’s dietary recommendations?

It’s interesting to compare these theories.  What’s the same?  What’s different? What will work?

Zone and IRD both recommend consuming protein and carbohydrates in specific proportions.  7 g protein to 9 g carbohydrate for the Zone, and 7g protein to 15 g carb in IRD.

PCFZone

Atkins takes a slightly different approach, claiming that people whose diet has been drastically out of balance due to overconsumption of starchy foods and under-consumption of protein ought to compensate by first eating plenty of protein and no starchy foods; then, as excess weight comes off, increase healthy carbs to a more appropriate balance between carbs and protein.  Grain Brain, too, starts out recommending very low carbs, then increases after a month

All of these dietary plans reach the same conclusion:  It does matter what we eat.  To be healthy, people need to eat the right foods in the right proportions.

The reason this matters is something that I will elaborate on in a future post. Sears & Perlmutter are both adamant that there is a link between diet and autoimmune diseases.

To be continued