Guest post by Carrie Dennett

Deep fried pastry sticks. Photo Credit: vanillaechoes (via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Photo Credit: vanillaechoes (via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Fried foods, like these deep fried pastries, can be a source of trans fat.

A revolution is under way in the food industry, spurred by science, consumer demand and legal pressure. Trans fats, otherwise known as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, are surely and steadily being removed from our food. It’s a good thing.

Once hailed as a healthier alternative to saturated fats, trans fats are now being called “metabolic poison” by some health and nutrition experts. Unfortunately, these artificially derived fats made their way into all areas of our food supply, and stayed there for decades, before their true nature was revealed.

What is a “fat”? What is a “fatty acid”?

A fat, also known as a triglyceride, is composed of three fatty acids attached to a glycerol “backbone.” A triglyceride can have three matching fatty acids, or contain a mix (see image below). A fatty acid is made up of a chain of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. Each type of fatty acid is defined by the length of its carbon chain and how “saturated” it is with hydrogen atoms.

Why is some fat solid at room temperature while others are liquid?

A saturated fatty acid is filled up with hydrogen atoms, which makes the carbon chain straight. An unsaturated fatty acid is missing one (monounsaturated) or more (polyunsaturated) hydrogen atoms, causing the carbon chain to bend at each missing hydrogen.

A triglyceride with saturated fatty acids is compact because the straight fatty acid “tails” fit neatly together, and the resulting fat is solid at room temperature (i.e., butter or the fatty streaks in bacon). If the triglyceride contains unsaturated fatty acids, the bends in the carbon chains create space between the fatty acid tails, and that space makes the resulting fat fluid at room temperature (i.e., oils) (see image below).

Saturated and monounsaturated cis and trans triglycerides. Image created using eMolecules.com

–Triglycerides have 3 fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone. –The fatty acids can all be the same (A) or can be different (B and C). –Saturated fatty acids “stack” nicely with each other and with other saturated triglycerides (A). –Unsaturated fatty acids can be trans or cis. The cis form has bends in it that affect how the fatty acids “stack” together (B), but the trans form (C) “stacks” like the saturated fatty acids. Image created using eMolecules.com

A trans fat is an unsaturated fat (usually polyunsaturated) that has been hydrogenated. The hydrogenation process forces extra hydrogen atoms  into the empty slots on the carbon chain, creating an unsaturated fatty acid that looks like a saturated fatty acid. Because saturated fats were linked to heart disease and unsaturated fats were known to be heart-healthy, it was believed that trans fats, would offer the best of both worlds: Heart-healthy unsaturated fats with the culinary properties of saturated fats. As anyone who likes to bake knows, there are some recipes that require a solid fat like butter or shortening.

As it turns out, once unsaturated fats are hydrogenated, they are no longer heart-healthy. In fact, they are even worse for heart health than saturated fats. One reason may be that hydrogenated trans fats are artificial—they don’t occur in nature (very small amounts of natural trans fats are present in meat and dairy products).

Why did it take so long to do something about trans fats?

Although some experts expressed concern about trans fats in their early days, it took decades before their voices (together with mounting scientific evidence) grew loud enough that the mistake could no longer be ignored. In the meantime, trans fats had seeped into all areas of food preparation. Restaurants were frying in hydrogenated oils (trans fats) instead of beef tallow (saturated fat). Home cooks got the message that margarine (trans fats) was heart-healthy and that butter (saturated fat) was not. You would be hard pressed to pick up a box of crackers or cupcakes without seeing hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list.

Finally, we’ve arrived at the point where restaurants and food manufacturers are turning away from trans fats. Trouble is, when you remove a major ingredient, you need to replace it with something.

What exactly is taking the place of trans fats?

Trans fats, and saturated fats before them, were valued for their stability at high heat. Any replacements for trans fats need to have similar qualities.

For commercial frying, partially hydrogenated oils are being replaced by vegetable oils that are naturally stable at high heat (corn, cottonseed, palm, peanut and rice bran) as well as sunflower, soybean and canola oils that have been modified to make them less likely to break down and become rancid at high heat.

The situation becomes trickier when looking for a replacement for solid hydrogenated fats, such as those used for baking. Any candidate must have the right texture and creaming ability, and it can’t turn to liquid too soon. It’s also important that the fat doesn’t go rancid quickly, so the product will be shelf-stable. The trend so far is to produce trans fat-free shortenings using either palm oil or interesterified vegetable oil.

What is palm oil? What are the pros and cons?

Palm oil is a tropical oil that comes from the fruit portion of the palm fruit (as opposed to palm kernel oil, which comes from the kernel of the palm fruit). Palm oil is rich in palmitic acid, a saturated fat, but there is disagreement among scientists and health experts about the effect palmitic acid may have on blood cholesterol and heart disease. Additionally, there are environmental concerns about the harvesting of palm oil.

What is interesterified oil? What are the pros and cons?

Interesterified oils have been used since the 1930s, but interest in them increased as trans fats began to be taken out of foods. Interesterified oils take a small amount of unsaturated triglycerides (usually soybean or cottonseed), fully hydrogenate them, then mix them with a lot of the non-hydrogenated oil. The triglycerides in the mixture are broken apart and their fatty acids rearranged, producing oil that is solid at room temperature. If you buy trans fat-free shortening or chocolate bars that have had their cocoa butter removed, you’re using interesterified oil.

The concern is that whether interesterified oil is harmful to our health or simply neutral may depend on exactly how the fatty acids in the triglyceride get rearranged. Scientists are finding that it’s not just the type of fatty acid that matters, it’s also the position it occupies on the triglyceride. The interesterification process is not precisely controlled, and some of the random arrangements produce triglycerides that are not found in nature.

What are health experts saying about these trans fat “alternatives”?

Most health and nutrition experts agree that palm oil is a lesser evil than trans fats, even if they don’t agree on whether palm oil is good, bad or neutral for health. Many experts also agree that research needs to continue on the possible effects of interesterified oil on health, especially if our consumption of it goes up due to increased use in commercial food preparation.

What can I do now until we know more about these fats?

  • First, don’t assume that the words “trans fat free” on a food package means that food is healthy. It’s wise to also consider what else is in the food. Is it high in…
    • Sugar?
    • Refined flour?
    • Artificial ingredients?
  • Second, if you eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods, you’ll naturally be eating less of whatever type of fat is used in place of trans fats. This means you will be less affected if years from now it turns out that these trans fat alternatives aren’t any better for us.

If you’d like to read more, Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source website has a nice page on trans fats.

Carrie Dennett is a MPH student in the Nutritional Sciences Department and the Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics at the University of Washington. She writes a nutrition column for The Seattle Times; “On Nutrition” runs on the health page every third Sunday. She also blogs at Nutrition by Carrie.


Also read…

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By Shelly Najjar

Bunch of yellow bananas by adamr via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo Credit: adamr (via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Can you list at least 3 foods that have more than 500 mg of potassium? (Hint: one is in the title of this post.) If you can’t, that’s okay. A few days ago, I couldn’t either.

A family friend asked me to find some information about potassium, including how much she should get every day and what foods she should be eating to reach that goal. I couldn’t tell her off the top of my head (even though we’ve had assignments on this topic in the past) so I told her I’d get some resources for her.

What is potassium? What does it do?

Potassium is an element/mineral that helps maintain electrolyte and pH balance, affects muscle contraction (including the heart muscle), and allows nerves to transfer signals more efficiently.

How does it work?

Many cells in our body use potassium to transfer other ions (electrically charged particles) across membranes. Sodium (another electrolyte and a part of table salt) has a negative charge. Potassium has a positive charge. These signals are important because they affect how well a signal can travel through the cell (like what nerve cells do).

Potassium and sodium are also transferred in and out of the cells to maintain fluid balance, because water likes to collect in areas where there is a lot of sodium. If the inside of a cell has too much sodium, water will be drawn in to dilute it, through the process of osmosis (water moving from an area of low concentration to an area of high concentration). If too much water collects in the cell, it will burst.

One of the things cells do to prevent this from happening is to exchange sodium for potassium (potassium molecules are pulled into the cell and sodium molecules are pushed out).

Where is it found?

Obviously, potassium is important. It is in many foods, including

  • baked potatoes with skin (925 mg/medium potato)
  • canned white beans (595 mg/cup), and
  • canned clams (535 mg/3 oz).

(Note: You should now be able to answer the potassium question at the beginning of this post.)

There are a couple of lists of potassium-containing foods that I want to share with you.

  1. The first is a list sorted by the amount of potassium per serving: Food Sources of Potassium.
  2. The second is a more comprehensive list, organized by food groups separated into three categories (High Potassium, Moderate Potassium, and Lower Potassium foods), and then alphabetized by food name, rather than by amount: Potassium Values of Food.

How much do we need?

The recommendation for adults without kidney disease ages 19 and over is 4,700 mg (milligrams) of potassium daily. (See the Dietary Reference Intakes. They list it in grams, so you may need to know that 1 g = 1,000 mg.) Dietary Reference Intakes are listed by age and sex for each nutrient.

Important: Your health care professional may recommend a different daily amount if you have certain medical conditions, including but not limited to kidney disease or hypertension (high blood pressure). Please consult a doctor or Registered Dietitian. Also, see my disclosure.

Summary

  • Potassium is a mineral that our bodies need to work properly.
  • Many foods contain potassium. Besides potatoes and bananas, some foods with high potassium (more than 200 mg per serving) are avocados, fish, chocolate milk, and turkey. The two lists mentioned above contain many more options.
  • The recommendation for most adults is 4,700 mg of potassium daily.

Also read…

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and wellness coach at Confident Nutrition. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), and LinkedIn.

Like this post? You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

by Shelly Najjar

Note: an easier-to-read version of this article can be found here.

Stick of butter, Creative Commons-Attribution by Robert S. Donovan

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan
(booleansplit) via Flickr

Here’s another post based on a paper I wrote for school. I got interested in the topic because we learned about how oxidation (mentioned more later) is bad, and that rancid fats are oxidized, so it made sense to me that rancid fats would be bad. But, science is complicated, and I wanted to know if this was true, or if I was oversimplifying.

What is rancid fat?

Rancidity is the term used to describe the process and properties of a fat that is stale, smells bad, and is discolored. Scientists  studied rancid fat since before the 1800s, with great progress on discovering the process of rancidity and methods to prevent or slow the process. The consequences of eating rancid fat have also been investigated, sometimes prompted by scientific curiosity and sometimes by outbreaks of illness.

How fats go rancid

Fats can become rancid through oxidation, irradiation, enzymatic lipolysis, and heat. Light and metal ions can also quicken these processes. One of the main ways that rancidity happens is through oxidation, so that is what I’ll talk about here. (For a good overview of the other processes, see Kubow, S. Free Radic Biol Med 12(1):63-81, 1992.)

Lipid (fat) oxidation occurs through a chain reaction process. The stages of this chain reaction are initiation, propagation, and termination. Fats are many carbon molecules linked together. Initiation is the event that begins the chain reaction by removing an electron from a carbon in the fat. (Source: Gropper, Smith, and Groff, 2009 – commissioned link*). This is bad because now the fat interacts with the body differently, including continuing this chain reaction.

How rancid fats get in our bodies

Rancid fats are found in the human diet in places such as cooking oils and fats, deep-fried foods, and some ethnic foods that are purposely made rancid. However, any fat, given the right conditions and amount of time, can go rancid. That means that any food containing fat can become rancid.

This does not mean you should stop eating fat, though. It just means you have to be smarter about how you store fat and what you choose to eat.

Here are some examples of why this is important.

But… we do not see all the same health effects in humans that we do in animals. Human health information on this topic comes from reported cases of toxicity due to eating rancid fat, since it is unethical to experimentally test toxicity on humans. However, the scientific community is involved in describing health outcomes, determining and quantifying exposures, and identifying treatments when cases are reported.

So, what do the human cases show us?

Spain location

Photo Credit: The World Factbook – Public Domain

Case Study #1: Spain, 1981-2†

In the early 80s, one region in Spain experienced an epidemic of what seemed to be pneumonia, but with additional symptoms (Source: Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1982 Mar 5;31(8):93-5.). It was eventually discovered to be a new disease, named toxic oil syndrome (TOS), because it is thought to be caused by consumption of adulterated cooking oil. As a result of this disease, in the first two years 356 people died and over 20,000 people were affected.

This disease has three phases: acute, intermediate, and chronic. (Source: World Health Organization, 2006)

  • Acute – fever, rash, muscle pain, and problems with blood vessels and white blood cells; respiratory failure (lungs stop working) is main cause of death
  • Intermediate – muscle pain, muscle wasting, fluid retention, high triglycerides, pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), liver disease, and sicca syndrome (aka Sjogren syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that stops tear and saliva production and is often accompanied by rheumatoid arthritis); main causes of death were thromboembolism (a blood clot that moves to an area of the body like the heart, brain, or lungs) and pulmonary hypertension
  • Chronic – continuation of the intermediate phase plus nerve pain, scleroderma (connective tissue disease where fibrous tissue, like scar tissue, is made in the skin and other organs, causing tissue hardening and thickening), carpal tunnel syndrome, Raynaud’s phenomenon (cold temperatures or strong emotions cause blood vessel spasms that block blood flow to the fingers, toes, ears, and nose); deaths were caused by respiratory failure, central nervous system infection (infections of brain and spinal cord), and pulmonary hypertension

The people who are still living are at high risk of cardiovascular diseases (heart and blood vessel problems like heart attacks), even though they do have high HDL (“good cholesterol”), which is normally something that protects from having cardiovascular disease.

No treatments have been successful long term, probably because scientists are still unsure of what exactly caused the disease. It is similar to an autoimmune disorder (where the body attacks itself) triggered by the oil. The oil was deceptively sold as olive oil and possibly developed toxic compounds when it was processed with excessively high heat to remove the dye that had been added to mark the oil for industrial use only. (Source: Patterson R, Germolec D. J Immunotoxicol 2005;2(1):51-8.)

†Please note: It has come to my attention that the suspected toxic compounds created with the high heat in this case are not the same thing as rancid fat. However, I am leaving this case in this post to show that it is very important to be cautious when refining and storing oils.

India Location

Photo Credit: The World Factbook – Public Domain

Case Study #2: India, 1992

A group of 45 children were hospitalized with vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which prompted an investigation. (Source: Bhat RV, et al. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1995;33(3):219-22.) The investigation turned up a total of 71 children and 9 adults who were affected by eating rancid cream-filled biscuits the children had found in the street and shared with their families. Most children ate 0.5 to 2 biscuits (because they were bitter), and were discharged from the hospital within 24 hours; one girl ate 12 biscuits and remained in the hospital for 7 days.

There were two types of biscuits, both rancid, but the pineapple flavoring of one covered the taste of the rancidity. The biscuits had an inner and outer wrapper which contained different information. The inner wrapper said the biscuits expired almost 6 years before they were consumed, and the outer wrapper said they had expired 3 years before. It appeared that the biscuits had been packaged for export, but no one knew why they were in the street. All the hospitalized children were treated successfully, and the researchers decided that the cause of the illness was the oxidative rancidity of the cream inside the biscuits.

Taiwan Location

Photo Credit: The World Factbook – Public Domain

Case Study #3: Taiwan

Despite low rates of smoking, lung cancer is the leading cause of death for women in Taiwan; similar patterns have been noticed in Chinese women living elsewhere. (Source: Ko YC, et al. Am J Epidemiol 2000;151(2):140-7.) Researchers suspected inhaling cooking oil fumes increased cancer risk, so they observed non-smoking lung cancer patients and compared them to randomly selected community members and other non-cancer hospital patients.

They found that cooking frequency and methods were related to lung cancer.

  • Cooking more meals increased the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • There was also an association between lung cancer and the temperature of the oil at the time the food was added.
  • Women who experienced eye irritation during cooking were more likely to develop lung cancer than those who did not have eye irritation.
  • There was a higher risk of lung cancer if the women waited to use the oil until it was hot enough to produce fumes.
  • If the women used a fume extractor, the risk of lung cancer was reduced (but not completely gone, which the authors suggested meant the air still had some fumes from the oil that were not being removed).

The researchers attribute these findings to the high level of carcinogens found in high temperature cooking oil fumes, which the women were inhaling.

The reason this occurs was explained in another study (Totani N, et al. J Oleo Sci 2007;56(9):449-56.), which showed that compounds are released from the oil through the steam created from deep-frying foods containing water, which vaporizes in the hot oil and rises to the surface, taking with it volatile compounds (compounds that evaporate easily). The amount of these compounds increases rapidly as heating time increases, because oils are only stable to certain temperatures for limited amounts of time. When heated beyond the point at which they are stable, more of these compounds (which can cause oxidative damage to cells) are created (a process that can be considered a type of rancidity). Since heated oil not used for deep-frying contained more of these compounds, the researchers think the steam created during deep-frying is an essential part of removing these compounds from oil (preventing people from eating them), and moving them into the air (so people can breathe them instead). Breathing these compounds was associated with a higher risk of lung cancer, most likely due to the damage in the lungs caused by the compounds in the fumes from the deep-frying oil.

Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco Location

Photo Credit: The World Factbook – Public Domain

Case Study #4: Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco

Another type of cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), was noted to be high in certain populations although rare worldwide. (Source: Feng BJ, et al. Int J Cancer 2007;121(7):1550-5.) People living in North Africa have a high incidence, and a possible relationship between certain foods and the incidence of cancer had been implied. In 2007, researchers performed a large and detailed observational study on this topic, to find specific foods that may be related with increased risk of NPC. Patients with cancer from five hospitals were compared with non-cancer hospital patients and cancer-free friends and family of patients with cancers other than NPC.

Rancid sheep fat and rancid butter were both discovered to increase risk of NPC. A preserved meat dish called quaddid (dried meat stored in oil) was also found to increase risk, which supports the findings of the earlier studies. One explanation the authors provided for some of these findings is that rancid butter has a certain compound that can activate the Epstein-Barr virus in white blood cells. Activation of this virus is a major risk factor for NPC, and may be an example of indirect toxic effects of rancid fat.

Recommendations

So, what do you do about all this information? Should we quit eating fat because it might become rancid? Do we need to be concerned about every fat-containing food?

Case studies #1-2 involved unintentional exposure, and #3-4 addressed exposure through common cultural food practices. Through these and animal studies, many recommendations have been formed to prevent the negative human health effects caused by rancid fat. The recommendations fall into two major categories: 1) prevent (or slow) the process of rancidity and 2) decrease the effects rancid fat has on the human body.

Here are three things you can do to protect yourself from the effects of rancid fat:

  • Avoid fat or fat-containing products that have a rancid or stale smell.
  • Store oils and fats correctly.
    • Since light and heat can start the oxidative process, fats and oils should be stored in cold, dark places away from sources of heat such as the stove top.
  • Consume antioxidant-containing foods such as dark green vegetables
    • Antioxidants, whether natural or synthetic, have been shown to decrease the amount of oxidative damage to lipids and prevent the formation of other chain reaction initiation factors, as well as preventing oxidation of vitamins like biotin. (Source: Pavcek PL, Shull GM. J Biol Chem 146(2):351-5, 1942.) Fruits and vegetables are great sources of natural antioxidants.

**Note: an easier-to-understand version of this article can be found here.**

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and wellness coach at Confident Nutrition. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), and LinkedIn.

I appreciate your support. *Affiliate link = Amazon pays me a small portion of the sale price, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend things that I think are worth buying. You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

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Alcoholic drinks in minibottles, photo credit: jekert gwapo, Creative Commons: Some Rights Reserved, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jekert/3522147659/

Photo Credit: jekert gwapo via Flickr

The title of this post was my research question for a class paper last quarter, and I wanted to share what I learned with you.

Some background

Alcohol is metabolized (broken down) in the liver, usually by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). In the late 70’s, a couple of researchers  did a study on whether women in different phases of their menstrual cycle were affected differently by the amount of alcohol they drank (citation: Jones and Jones, 1976, Ann NY Acad Sci). It was a poorly designed study, so most scientists discussing this study don’t consider it strong of a conclusion as it could have been, but you’ll still hear people state that there may be effects.

Why it’s plausible

Throughout the menstrual cycle, levels of estrogen and progesterone (hormones) rise and fall. Researchers (citation: Holdstock and de Wit, 2000, Psychopharmacology) thought estrogen was going to increase euphoria and a drinker’s preference for alcohol, because they both can act on the dopamine system in the brain. They guessed that progesterone would increase sedation (sleepiness) and decrease ability to do tasks (impaired performance), so the effects of alcohol (which also does these things) may seem stronger. On the other hand, estrogen was thought to increase ADH activity (it would work better and faster), which would lead to faster elimination (citation: Mumenthaler, 1999, Alcsm Clin Exp Res).

So, overall, it was thought that at certain times of the menstrual cycle, the effects of alcohol may be more intense, but that it wouldn’t last as long.

What the research says

Although there are several older studies on the topic, their study designs (how they set up the study) were not very good. There are now three things that researchers say are essential for any study on this topic:

  •  Use a within-subjects design (testing different things on the same person at different times in their menstrual cycle, rather than testing different things on different people at different times). This allows better comparison, since it limits the effects of variation between individual people.

  • Confirm menstrual cycle phase using hormone testing (rather than just relying on counting days since the last period). This increases accuracy, since there is variation and inaccuracies if you just count days.

  • Don’t use people with anovulatory cycles (a cycle when the egg does not get released). This is important because estrogen and progesterone don’t rise when this happens, so effects caused by changes in estrogen and progesterone won’t be seen (citation: previously mentioned Mumenthaler article).

I looked at two studies because they had these three features and were fairly recent.

Study #1: Holdstock and de Wit, 2000 (cited earlier)

These researchers used 16 women who each usually drank an average of 3.5 alcoholic drinks and 6 caffeinated beverages each week. Participants didn’t use drugs for at least 12 hours before and didn’t eat at least 2 hours before the test. Women were tested at 4 times through their cycle, each time being tested in the evening with spiked, sugar-free Kool-Aid. Each person drank 3 drinks over an hour, and their BAL (breath alcohol level) was tested. In addition, each woman did tasks that measured eye movement and mood.

After statistical analysis, this study didn’t show any effect of menstrual cycle on alcohol effects.

The study report was detailed and all measures, tests, and kits they used were reported (this makes a study more repeatable because another researcher has enough details to use the same technique to verify the results). Tests were done in a laboratory setting, which the researchers listed as a strength because it decreased the effect of the environment (example, you don’t have other people in the bar talking or flirting, or music playing, etc). However, this means that generalizability to a “real-world” setting is limited (do you act the same in a bar and a lab?). Although the researchers tested many phases, they decided not to test when estrogen was highest (during ovulation, when the egg is released), because it is very difficult to schedule people to come in for testing (ovulation period is only 2 days long). The researchers admit that there may be the possibility that the effect of estrogen on alcohol is only seen at high levels of estrogen, but since they didn’t test it, we don’t know. Finally, there were only 16 people in this study, but the measurements they used were accurate enough to detect a single drink’s effects, so if there was an effect that wasn’t noticed, it could be because the effect of menstrual phase is smaller than the effect of one additional drink.

Study #2: Corrêa and Oga, 2004 (citation in J Stud Alcohol)

This study used 10 women who, on average, drank 3 alcoholic drinks each, per week. Each woman didn’t use alcohol or drugs 30 hours before the tests, and had no food at least 6 hours before sessions. Women were tested at 2 points in the menstrual cycle, each test started in the morning, and lasted for 6-7 hours. Each person drank Scotch whiskey over a 10 minute time period, and then were tested throughout the day for BAL. Women received a “standard midday meal” 2 hours after they drank the whiskey, and “afternoon snacks” later in the day.

After statistical analysis, researchers didn’t find that menstrual cycle affected alcohol metabolism or elimination.

Like the first study, the tests and kits that were used to determine hormone levels were reported, which increases the study’s repeatability. In addition, since they only tested two phases of the menstrual cycle, it was good that they chose two with the largest potential difference in hormone levels. This would have the best chance of showing whether changes in menstrual cycle hormone levels affect alcohol metabolism. However, food and fasting can both affect alcohol metabolism, but the researchers never discussed this issue, although it has been noted that food, menstrual cycle, and alcohol can all change the amount of time it takes for things that go in your mouth to come out the other end. Although one study (the Mumenthaler study mentioned earlier) found that a “nonfatty breakfast” 1 hour before drinking doesn’t change BAL, the current study didn’t mention that, or the specifics of what they fed the participants.

Why it matters

Although these two studies used different approaches, they both came to the same conclusion, which also agrees with what is considered to be one of the best studies on the topic (Mumenthaler study mentioned earlier).

The implications of these results could range from research settings to social settings. In research, if the menstrual cycle doesn’t affect the metabolism of alcohol or the effects caused by drinking, then researchers may not have to control for which phase of the cycle female participants are in. As noted before, the lab setting is very different from social settings. Also, the doses used in many studies are higher than that of a standard drink and are usually consumed without food (and without having eaten for many hours). With a higher alcohol intake but less food to slow down absorption, you would think that any effects (if they exist) would be more obvious. Still, there is reason to be cautious because although alcohol levels may not be affected by the menstrual cycle, the effects may be seen with some of the things alcohol gets broken down to in the body.

So, like every research topic, more research is needed. However, if you do decide to drink, please do so with moderation, and know your body. If you think alcohol affects you differently at different times, be smart and adjust your intake. 

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and wellness coach at Confident Nutrition. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), and LinkedIn.

Like this post? You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

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What’s the Academy? Not “The Academy” that gets thanked during awards season, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Who and What

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) is the new name for what used to be called the American Dietetic Association (ADA). It is “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals” and has more than 75,000 members (source). 72% of those members are Registered Dietitians (read the post I wrote about that topic).

Where

Academy headquarters is located in Chicago, Illinois. They also have an office in Washington, DC.

Why

The website, eatright.org, lists its Mission and Vision:

Mission — Empowering members to be the nation’s food and nutrition leaders

Vision — Optimizing the nation’s health through food and nutrition

How

The Academy’s website lists 6 ways in which it “strives to improve the nation’s health and advance the profession of dietetics through research, education, and advocacy.”

  • Providing Reliable and Evidence-based Nutrition Information for the Public
  • Accrediting Undergraduate and Graduate Programs
  • Credentialing Dietetics Professionals
  • Advocating for Public Policy
  • Publishing a Peer-reviewed Periodical: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Giving Back: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation

You can read more about these efforts at the Academy’s website.

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and wellness coach at Confident Nutrition. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), and LinkedIn.

Like this post? You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.