Ingredientologist Peak Performance Is Within Reach Sat, 16 Jan 2021 12:26:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ingredientologist 32 32 Sugar: The Bittersweet Truth Fri, 04 Sep 2020 00:48:48 +0000 In this guide I’ll explore the good, the bad and the ugly of sugar. As with most topics that appear in the media, sugar was front and center for a decent period of time. It […]

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In this guide I’ll explore the good, the bad and the ugly of sugar. As with most topics that appear in the media, sugar was front and center for a decent period of time. It also made not only one, but a few appearances from its discovery to how we know it today. The highlights are as follows:

1700 – 1900 Sugar production first began in New Guinea and China and quickly spread to India where mechanization was introduced and production rates increased. Soon, sugar was introduced all over Europe and quickly spread to America. During this period, sugar went through a series of booms but the rate at which it became a luxury product with huge demand was astonishing. For example, Great Britain consumed five times the amount of sugar in 1770 than they did in 1710. The rapid rise in the demand and production of sugar all over the world was largely due to the Europeans beginning to eat more sugar. What began as a means to sweeten tea only, sugar became widely used in jams, chocolates, cakes, pastries, candy and beverages and with this, sugar farms, mainly in the Caribbean Islands churned out more and more every year, until the average sugar consumption was at 100lbs per person in Britain.

1900 – 2000 Now a staple in people’s diets all over the world, sugar was claimed to be the ideal fuel source, giving you a quick burst of energy so you can function optimally, be alert and productive at all times. The never-ending advertisements about sugar being a key ingredient in so many foods that appeared on the radio, television and newspapers during the 20th century really imprinted the fact that sugar was healthy and in fact extremely ‘necessary’ in our diets. We can still see this today; just ask your grandparents what they think of sugar, cakes and sweet treats, or how much sugar they ate in their youth. Many of them would have remembered sugar as a common ingredient, that wasn’t avoided like it is today.

In the 1950’s, high fructose corn syrup (extracted from corn) was discovered and because it was cheaper and just as sweet as sugar, the United States and Japan started using it in soft drinks and other processed foods. In America in 1984, Coca-Cola and Pepsi substituted sugar for high fructose corn syrup in all their beverages. To this day, all other nations use sugar, while America continues to use high fructose corn syrup!

In the late 1900’s, the American Medical Association’s Council on Food and Nutrition started to make people aware of the fact that sugar was not good for you and that it should be limited because of the link between sugar intake and diabetes and other diseases. But, the FDA strongly believed that fat is bad for our health, leading to a surge of ‘low-fat’ but high sugar foods, further contributing to disease.

2000 – present You’ll be surprised to find out that sugar substitutes were discovered due to real sugar being severely rationed during World War I and II, and not because we started to realise that sugar isn’t the best for our health! However, towards the end of the twentieth century and in the early 2000’s, we were well aware of the fact that sugar might just be the cause of obesity, diabetes and other related diseases. As with fat, sugar was now painted as the villain too, with sugar-free manufactured foods appearing everywhere. 

Sugar substitutes like artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols took the place of sugar in many products, and now more natural forms like honey, dates and stevia are becoming increasingly popular as we start to actively avoid sugar. 

The evolution of sugar has taken a rollercoaster ride to where it is today, making it a highly controversial topic with many mixed beliefs and opinions. What’s important to note is that most of what we believe is information fed to us by the media under the influence of large businesses deeply involved in the sugar industry. It’s either “sugar is BAD” or “sugar is GOOD” and we’re continually getting swung one way or another. 

To understand the enormity of this industry, it helps to look at these figures. The US produces about 9 million tons of sugar annually, putting it sixth globally, while it still imports a further 2 to 3 million tons each year. Americans adults are consuming on average 150 pounds of sugar each year, 66 of those pounds coming  from added sugar – almost twice the amount recommended. And our kids are no better off. American kids are consuming over 65 pounds of added sugar per year, coming out to about 81 grams per day. This is despite the fact that sugar is more than 100% higher in America than the rest of the world due to the ‘Sugar Program’ rolled out by the USDA. Government support in the forms of price support, guaranteed crop loans and tariffs allows sugar processors and producers to benefit by receiving roughly $4 billion per year in subsidies.

Ok, now that we know the history behind sugar and what the media has brainwashed us into believing about sugar, let’s take a look at the actual biochemical and physiological aspects of sugar. What does it do in the body? Where is it found? And should we be avoiding it?

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Where Are Sugars Found?

Sugars are found naturally, occurring in many plants, or as added sugar to food and beverages. Fruits, vegetables and honey are natural sources of simple sugars but the most concentrated form of sugar is extracted from sugarcane and sugar beets in the form of sucrose. Sugars and syrups are added in the preparation process to many processed goods, but also to our tea and coffee.

In most parts of the world, sugar has become a major component of the human diet. What started off as means of energy and a way to make food more palatable has become more than just an ingredient. It’s a multi-million dollar industry and it has influenced the lives of many people. 

added sugar to food and beverages

Sugar is extracted from sugarcane (>80%) and sugar beet (<20%). It is mostly used in confectionary goods, processed foods, fast food, soft drinks and candy, but today we find it added to many products that shouldn’t have sugar in them such as dried fruit, dried meats and other ‘health products’. 

Sugar is the generic name for sweet carbohydrates that come in different forms. The most common are:

Simple sugars or monosaccharides

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose

Compound sugars or disaccharides:

  • Sucrose (glucose + fructose) 
  • Maltose (glucose + glucose)
  • Lactose (glucose + galactose)

Sucrose is what we typically know as table sugar. Maltose comes from malting grain and lactose is the only sugar that can’t be found in plants as it is found in milk only. 

Longer chains are called oligosaccharides or polysaccharides but are not classified as ‘sugars’. Instead, these longer chains are what we know as starches and fibers in plants that make up their structure and energy reserves.

Disaccharides are simple sugars bound together by a glycosidic bond and they’re hydrolyzed by the digestive system into monosaccharides. Our body cannot tell the difference between sugar added to manufactured foods or sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables. All sugars get broken down into smaller monosaccharides in the same way. What differs is the rate at which the sugar is broken down and absorbed in the body depending on the source it comes from.

The rate at which carbohydrates or sugars are digested affects whether it has a low or high GI (glycemic index) or GL (glycemic load).

  • Glycemic index – A numeric score given to a carbohydrate containing food that indicates how drastically it affects blood glucose. It is a scale from 0-100 with 100 being pure sugar. The more refined and processed a food, the higher the GI. 
  • Glycemic load – Calculated by: GI/100 multiplied by the grams of carbohydrate in a food. This score is more specific to a specific portion size of certain food and is therefore a better indicator of how the food will impact your blood sugar.

While GI tells you how quickly a food will make your blood glucose rise, it doesn’t tell you how high. GL gives you a bigger picture of that particular food’s impact. GI and GL are not necessarily correlated all the time, for example, watermelon has a GI of 80 but a GL of 5.

The source affects these factors and mostly depends on the amount of fibers present in the food. For example, whole grains have a lower GI as they take longer to digest because they still contain the fibrous grain husk.

Furthermore, a topic I talk about regularly, bioindividuality plays an important role here. While the GI and GL, in theory, give us numbers that help us predict how a certain sugar or carbohydrate will affect us, these numbers have their flaws. The response to carbohydrates is very dependent on the individual. This topic has been covered extensively by Robb Wolf in his book Wired To Eat where he explains how some individuals have markedly different responses to the same foods. Some people have little glycemic response to bananas, whilst others have a large glycemic response.

Understanding the mechanism behind this phenomenon is complex, but it is likely due to the level of insulin sensitivity of an individual. The more insulin sensitive you are, the more efficient your uptake of glucose from the bloodstream into cells is. 

If I could, I would give everyone a continuous glucose monitor to track their glycemic response to different foods. This is a small device that is placed on one’s arm for roughly two weeks that measures glucose levels in the blood. This is a sure way to truly understand how you deal with certain types of carbohydrates. 

Sugar and Health

The thing is, sugar is not only sweet and delicious. It’s addictive. We don’t look at a food source as being addictive. I’m sure you may have heard of arguments around whether sugar is as addictive as cocaine. My take: it sure is.

Sadly, manufacturers of sugary foods and beverages and the Sugar Research Foundation are accused of influencing consumers and creating doubt about the potential health effects of overconsuming sugar. Furthermore, they are influencing medical research and as a result; public health recommendations too. By identifying saturated fat as a major health hazard in the American diet, the sugar industry has flown under the radar with most not knowing what effects it has on the body. 

Take Coca-Cola for example. They paid millions of dollars to health professionals, doctors, dieticians, researchers and health experts to spread controversial health claims relating to soft drinks and to shift the blame for diseases away from sugar. 

Let’s take a look at some of the facts:

  • After cereals and vegetable oils, sugar provides more calories than other food groups. In 2016, Americans were the largest consumers of sugar, followed by Germany and the Netherlands. 
  • Added sugar contributes zero nutrients but is a source of calories, providing roughly 4 calories per gram.
  • The average American in 2014 was consuming 99 – 125 grams of sugar each day.

Sugar provides ‘empty calories’ which means you get no health benefit from it! Unless you’re an athlete who struggles to meet their total energy intake, you don’t need sugar in your diet.

2009-2010 data from US Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015.

How Sugar Impacts Our Health

Let’s take a step back to understand what sugar does when we eat it. Sugar, or carbohydrates, get metabolised into simple sugars, glucose, fructose and galactose in the stomach and intestines. From here, they’re absorbed into the bloodstream which signals to the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Once in the blood, they’re able to enter our cells via a special family of glucose transporters called ‘GLUT transporters’, under the influence of insulin. They’re all over our body, and the more you have, the more efficiently glucose is cleared from the bloodstream. Once in the cells, sugars are broken down via glycolysis to produce ATP – energy!

You don’t want glucose to hang around in the blood because here it can latch onto other proteins or fat molecules. It’s these carb-protein or carb-fat compounds that can cause serious health problems – some of which will be mentioned below.

In an ideal situation, the above process would occur rather rapidly. If you were to track your blood glucose, you would see it rise after a meal containing sugar, insulin would act and you would see it fall again back to baseline levels within 2 hours after eating. In the case of someone who is insulin resistant or sedentary, this blood glucose spike can take longer to return to baseline levels, resulting in sugar staying in the bloodstream for longer. 

When sugar is overconsumed, i.e. you eat more than your body requires at that moment for energy, your body notices that there is an excess in energy (in the form of calories) and goes on to store the sugar as glycogen either in muscles or the liver. These glycogen stores have a limit to them, and if they’re ‘full’, any excess sugar will now be converted into fat molecules and stored as adipose tissue.

On its own, sugar is not the culprit to metabolic syndrome including obesity and diabetes. It is the overconsumption of sugar that is the major problem, as the process above describes. When more sugary foods and beverages are consumed, there is a markedly increased risk of gaining unhealthy amounts of fat and developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Apart from obesity and diabetes, other diseases associated with sugar consumption include:When sugar is overconsumed,

  • Hyperactivity
  • Tooth decay
  • Nutrient deficiency 
  • Alzheimer’s 

Recently, studies have indicated that vegetable oil consumption has increased drastically. However, as was the case with sugar several years ago, consumers are completely unaware of the negative health impact vegetable oils have. There are some theories proposed by many health experts that it is not the consumption of carbohydrates or sugars alone that is leading to the many metabolic diseases we see today, instead it is the vegetable oils.

The combination of damaged fats and highly refined sugars can cause serious negative consequences. Fat and carbohydrates are a unique combination that is extremely palatable and addictive, leading to the overconsumption of sugars as well as fat.

Are Natural Sugars Better?

Not necessarily. Fructose is in the highest concentration in fruits and impacts our health in the same way that glucose or sucrose does, for example. Natural sugars can have a less pronounced effect on blood sugar and insulin because of the form they come in; like a fibrous fruit with a whole lot of other micronutrients, vitamins and minerals! This slows the rate at which the sugar enters the bloodstream and as a result impacts blood glucose far less.

Some natural forms of sugar are marketed to be healthier with the most common ones being:

  • Coconut sugar (retains smalls amounts of minerals, antioxidants and fiber)
  • Agave syrup (low-glycemic and possibly lower effect on blood sugar/insulin levels)
  • Date syrup (contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids)
  • Sugar in the Raw

Sugar in the Raw is unique in that it is not bleached and is a more natural, unrefined sugar. While white sugar is made by refining sugarcane crystals to remove the molasses and trace nutrients, Sugar in the Raw retains these micronutrients as the juice is extracted from the sugarcane and crystalized through evaporation, giving it an edge in nutritional value.

What about High Fructose Corn Syrup? (HFCS) It’s controversial, but what we do know is that it is both GMO and some animal research has shown that it may have a greater propensity to be stored as body fat. There is also a lot of data showing it is fairly equivocal to regular sugar. The type of HFCS used is typically a 45 or 50% solution which is somewhat similar to the way sugar would work but there is also a 90% solution that would have much greater impact because the liver can only process so much fructose and then beyond that, it is stored as body fat.

Don’t be fooled though. All sugars can be hidden in foods in large amounts and end up impacting your health just as much as plain sugar.

Current Sugar Recommendations:For a person on a 2000 calorie diet, 50g of sugar represents 200 calories which is 10% of total daily intake

The FDA currently recommends 50g as 100% of the daily value (DV). In the case of vitamins and minerals, the daily value is represented on the label to indicate how much should be consumed, but for sugars, it’s intent is to indicate how much should not be exceeded.

For a person on a 2000 calorie diet, 50g of sugar represents 200 calories which is 10% of total daily intake.

The American Heart Association recommends that sugar contributes no more than half the daily value, 25g. That is less than 100 calories and 150 calories for men and women respectively, or six teaspoons for women and nine for men. 

To put this into perspective; the average soft drink contains 39 grams of sugar. And some of us are consuming more than one a day!

Although we don’t need sugar to function properly – i.e it is not an essential nutrient, we still find it difficult to avoid. It has taken many years for the sugar recommendations to fall to what they are today, but in my opinion, they should fall even more.

Hidden Sources Of Sugar & Labeling Products

New guidelines have been set out for identifying sugar as ‘Added Sugars’ on the nutrient label. These new guidelines were released in 2016 and all products were required to have them by 2018.

nutrition facts label

Changes to the nutrition facts label – FDA

Total sugars represents added sugars and natural sugars. Added sugars are the ones you want to avoid. Natural sugars will be found in any product containing dairy or fruit.

The food and beverage manufacturing industry are smart. By calling sugar different names on their product labels (mentioned above), they can trick consumers into thinking the ingredient is not the ‘dreaded’ sugar and that it might be something else. Often, the name will sound unfamiliar and sometimes benign while in actually really just a form of sugar. Here are some examples of alternative names to look out for:

  • Cane sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Invert sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)*
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn sweetener
  • Honey
  • Fruit juice concentrate

5 Ways to avoid hidden sugarUnderstanding just how much sugar is in a product can be tricky thanks to ambiguous labelling. However, a good understanding can be had if you become a detective when reading a label, and take note of the following:

  • Ingredient list: make sure sugar is NOT there. If it is, make sure it is towards the end of the list as the ingredients with the greatest amount are listed first. Look out for alternative names for sugar (see below).
  • Nutrient label: Look at the amount of carbohydrates (measured in grams) and ensure that the ‘Total sugars’ is low (I aim for below 5 grams if there is no way of getting around the product). With 4 calories per gram, 15 grams already provides 60 calories from sugar alone.
  • Hidden sugars: Apart from the sugars we know with names ending in ‘-ose’, sugar added to foods can be named in various ways that sometimes sounds healthier, but in actual fact it is just sugar. For example, raw sugar or cane juice extract.

*A very cheap form of sugar is corn syrup which is produced from converting the starch in corn into sugars: maltose, glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup is produced by further processing corn syrup to convert some of its glucose into fructose. The production of HFCS is cheaper and it became a popular substitute for sugar in soft drinks and other processed foods.

New requirements by the FDA, effective in 2018, stated that “Added sugars,” in grams and as percent Daily Value, must be included on the label. 

Another important point to make is that many products that are ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ typically have added sugar to compensate for the depleted flavor as a result of reducing the fat content. Additionally, gluten-free products, and sometimes ‘healthy’ paleo or wholefood bars contain added sugars.

Always put on your detective gear when reading labels! It’s a mystery out there and sugar always seems to pop up where you least expect it.

Do We All Need To Avoid Sugar?

We should all aim to actively reduce sugar in our diets. Following a whole-foods based ketogenic diet or paleo diet is an effective way to do so. When foods are in their most natural form, they’re obviously going to have no added sugars. Following diets that purely aim to reduce calories or cut out certain food groups only are more likely to still contain processed foods and low fat or fat free options making sugar intake far more likely. 

The amount of sugar one can have without negatively impacting their health depends largely on their lifestyle. Some of the major factors that influence how sugar is utilized in the body include:

  • Exercise level
  • Muscle mass
  • Stress levels
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Gut microbiome health

The more you exercise and the more muscle mass you have, the more glucose transporters you’ll have. This simply means that your body will be better at utilising the sugars you consume and you have a higher insulin sensitivity, making sugar intake not as problematic compared to someone who is sedentary.

If you’re highly active, it can be advantageous to have a high glycemic, quick burning carb for a fuel source as your body will use it up. I like to think of it as a fire. If your fire is roaring, you can add more wood and it will burn but if your fire is just smoldering, adding more wood isn’t going to stoke the fire in the same way. It’s the same with sugar and your ‘metabolic fire’ within. Sugar on its own doesn’t have to be labeled “bad.” The problem is when sugar is combined with so many bliss point ingredients like fats and salt that it becomes addictive. I mean, since when is maple bacon chocolate a real food?

With that said, anyone who over consumes sugar is increasing their risk for inflammation, weight-gain, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. This over-consumption however is a sliding scale based on the amount of muscle mass you have, how active you are and your insulin sensitivity. It’s a snapshot of any of those at any given moment. Consuming polyphenols like cinnamon, red wine, green tea, and Berberine (my favorite!) can also help with blood sugar regulation as well.

Exercise: a quick HIIt workout or even a slow jog or walk significantly improves your body’s ability to take glucose

There are ways we can minimize the impact sugar has on our blood glucose. Here are some of my favorite hacks for when I do consume any sugar:

  • Exercise: a quick HIIt workout or even a slow jog or walk significantly improves your body’s ability to take glucose from the blood and into the cells to be used for energy (instead of it being stored as fat)
  • Sauna or cold exposure: both of these can up-regulate the number of glucose transporter in tissue
  • Ensure fiber is present: by consuming highly refined carbohydrates with a source of fiber, the rate at which it enters the bloodstream is slowed
  • Glucose disposal agents: compounds such as berberine, bitter melon extract and cinnamon are effective supplements for reducing sugar’s impact  

From a luxury item to a public health menace, sugar has become the world’s most influential flavor. It is difficult to avoid completely, and we can only do our best to identify it, eliminate it and educate people on its health effects. With all the hype around sugar, artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes are becoming a huge market and a new area consumers need to learn how to navigate. That’s why I’m going to take a deep dive into artificial sweeteners in my next guide, to help you make the right decisions. So keep an eye out on my website so you don’t miss out!

Please share this article with your friends and family. It may be the next step they need to improve their health. Share your thoughts with me on Instagram or Facebook – @ingredientologist!


  7. What We Eat In America, NHANES 2013–2014 

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Your Guide To Lectins, Phytates & Oxalates Thu, 02 Jul 2020 15:39:23 +0000 You’re in Africa on a safari, and the game-ranger brings the vehicle to a grinding halt. There’s a lion chasing an antelope at full speed, just ahead of the vehicle. As they dart across the […]

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You’re in Africa on a safari, and the game-ranger brings the vehicle to a grinding halt. There’s a lion chasing an antelope at full speed, just ahead of the vehicle. As they dart across the track in front of you, the lion jumps on the antelope’s back, clinging on for a couple of seconds as the antelope battles to keep going. You’re holding your breath. You think you’re about to witness a kill. But, the antelope bucks repeatedly, eventually freeing itself from the lion’s grip and darts into the thick bushes, leaving the lion startled. The antelope put up a fight, escaped its predator and lived to see another day.

Now, take a moment to think about plants; the ones in nature and those you pick up from the supermarket for dinner. They can’t run, and they can’t hide, so they have a bit of a problem when it comes to fighting off their predators, like you and I, and the animals in nature. But, plants have evolved a brilliant defense mechanism that requires no running, nor hiding: chemical warfare. Plants have the machinery to produce powerful chemicals known as antinutrients. These substances are extremely well-designed to cause negative effects in the animals that ingest them. This is a plant’s way of escaping its predators, just like the antelope could run away from the lion.

Plants don’t like us. They don’t want us to eat them, or their babies. So you can’t blame them for producing these compounds to keep their species going. Lectins, phytates, oxalates and gluten are some of the major antinutrients found in plants. By causing gut discomfort, widespread inflammation or interfering with normal nutrient absorption, they can wreak havoc on those who eat them.

Antinutrients are present in all plant foods so avoiding them may seem like a daunting task (as if diets weren’t hard enough already!). But, in this guide we’ll cover lectins, phytates and oxalates; what they are, where they’re found, how to find out whether you should be avoiding them or not and how to reduce their impact.

Before you jump into the article, sign up to receive your free guide below!

A guide to Lectins, Phytates and oxalates


What are antinutrients?

Natural chemicals produced by plants that can cause negative health effects, and that interfere with normal absorption of nutrients, minerals and vitamins they provide. Antinutrients are a plant’s defense mechanism to prevent any animals from eating them, by causing harm, toxicity and sometimes death. Animals either evolved to adapt to these chemicals, or they stopped eating a particular plant when they realized it made them sick.What are antinutrients?

Plants aren’t ALL that good!

We’ve been brainwashed into believing that all plants are super healthy, nutritious and the ideal ‘health-food’. “Eat your fruit and vegetables!” Yes, we’ve been told this for years. But, while we know plants do contain plenty of nutrients that are indeed healthy for us, there are thousands of research studies providing evidence for the fact that plants actually contain antinutrients – compounds that oppose the action of all the beneficial nutrients found in plants.

These nutrient-sapping phytochemicals are silently preventing us from getting all we need from our ‘nutritious fruit and veg’ as they block our ability to absorb things like calcium or magnesium. Not only that, but they can also make their way into our bloodstream, bind to certain cells and trigger immune responses causing cellular damage, inflammation and a whole host of other unwanted symptoms.

Now, not everyone needs to eliminate all antinutrients from their diet. We’re all unique, and it is quite astonishing how I may be particularly sensitive to the lectins in tomatoes, and feel sharp joint pain the day after eating them, while you can eat tomatoes all day long without experiencing any negative effects.

There are diets that aim to avoid all antinutrients, or specific ones, and there are certain preparation techniques we can use in the kitchen in an attempt to reduce the antinutrient content of foods. It all begins with being aware of what they are and where to look for them so that we can make more informed decisions about what truly constitutes a healthy, nutrient-dense diet.


Some people are particularly sensitive to lectins, whilst others aren’t. Factors such as the health of your immune system, gastrointestinal system and your gut microbiome play a part in how you will respond to lectins in foods. Many health professionals swear by administering a lectin-avoidance diet because of the potential harm on one’s health.

Commonly cited as the cause for many autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammation and obesity, lectins have received a lot of media coverage and attention over the recent years. They’re a type of antinutrient that plants produce naturally in an attempt to ward off anything that tries to eat them. Lectins were first discovered in castor beans which contain a lectin, ricin, that is so toxic it can cause death. Other lectins aren’t as toxic as ricin, luckily, but still impact our health negatively.

What do lectins do?

Lectins are ‘carbohydrate-binding proteins of non-immune origin that agglutinates cells’. Simply put, they’re proteins that when ingested seek out carbohydrates to latch onto in the gut, bloodstream or any tissues in the body, forming clumps of cells that can cause immune reactions and other negative health effects.

They can also attach to certain cells, like the cells lining the intestine, damaging the enterocytes (cells lining the intestine) and inhibiting normal cellular function. These enterocytes are tightly packed together and act as a barrier, preventing toxins and bacteria from entering the bloodstream, and when it is damaged, various proteins that are meant to stay in the gut, enter into the bloodstream. The gaps between the cells become bigger and result in a ‘leaky gut’ (what is commonly known to cause digestive issues). 8 causes of leaky gutUnwanted proteins in the bloodstream can trigger an immune reaction, which in immunocompromised people is a particular problem. When this happens often, chronic inflammation sets in, further aggravating the intestinal tract.

Lectins are stable in an acidic environment, like the stomach, and they can’t get broken down by any of our stomach enzymes. Because lectins are resistant to proper digestion, they can reach the small intestine where they can enter the bloodstream..

So, in summary, lectins destroy the cells in the gut by binding to them, and they bind to any carbohydrates found in the body, further resulting in immune reactions. For example, eating even small amounts of raw or undercooked kidney beans can cause reactions in some people like severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea because of ‘phytohemagglutinin’, a type of lectin that binds to red blood cells once it passes into the bloodstream.


The most common side effects of lectins include:

  • Inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain*

*One of the carbohydrates that lectins bind to is called glucosamine, a carbohydrate that covers your joints. The lectin found in wheat binds particularly well to glucosamine, causing inflammation and pain around the joint.

But, lectins can also cause weight gain. Oddly enough, this was used to our ancestors advantage. When it came to the winter months when food was scarce, we intentionally gained some weight by eating lectin-rich foods like wheat. Nowadays, food scarcity isn’t a problem for the majority of people.

Interestingly, mucus – the thick fluid that lines our nasal passage and the gut wall, for example – is actually a ‘lectin-detecting’ agent. Mucus is technically a ‘mucopolysaccharide’ which means it’s a bunch of long chains of sugar molecules and so it traps a whole lot of lectins in its path. Our body’s detect when we have eaten lectin-containing foods, and we immediately begin to produce mucus to clear up the lectins. When we have excessive mucus production, we feel inflamed and ‘blocked up’ as a result.

Where are lectins found?

All plants contain lectins but the highest amounts are found in raw legumes – the fruit or seed of plants – which include beans, peas and lentils, and whole grains like wheat. Different plants have varying amounts of lectins and knowing which are the highest can help you avoid them.

Humans never ate grains or beans until we discovered agriculture, and since then, genetic engineering has progressed significantly resulting in new food varieties with different lectin-containing foods. This makes it difficult to identify foods that are the problem. And, when we began to eat wheat, rice and barley, we soaked, fermented, sprouted and leavened them, reducing their lectin content.

look out for these plants With lectins

There is no way to measure exactly how much lectins are in a particular food. The following foods highest in lectins include:

  • Wheat and other grains
  • Beans
  • Legumes (soy, peanuts, lentils & others)
  • Vegetables & fruit – The main culprits are called ‘nightshades’ which includes tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, goji berries, peppers, paprika, chili peppers*
  • Dairy (casein A1 is a lectin found in most commercial milks)

*Nightshades are members of the family Solanaceae, and are known to be the cause of joint pain, arthritis and digestive issues. While they may not be a problem for everyone, those who already have compromised immune or digestive systems are most likely to be affected by nightshades. They contain alkaloids such as solanine (in white potatoes), nicotine (in small, non-addictive amounts) and capsaicin (gives peppers their heat), which trigger an immune response, and cause more severe problems in those with autoimmune diseases. In addition to these alkaloids, nightshades are typically very high in lectins and being very prominent in many people’s diets, they’ll be the cause for leaky gut, digestive issues, inflammation and other related disorders in those who are more susceptible, while healthy individuals may handle them just fine.

How to test for lectin sensitivity:

Because lectins cause an immune response, you can get a simple blood test to look for specific antibodies in the blood. Another way is to simply record your symptoms after eating foods that contain lectins like kidney beans, wheat or eggplant. Notice if you feel any nausea, bloating, headaches, joint pain or diarrhea.


A lectin-avoidance diet is the most common treatment. Dr. Steven Gundry is well known for his book “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain”. He provides plenty of resources for following a lectin-free diet. To cut out lectins, focus on avoiding foods that contain them but don’t eliminate all nutrient dense foods. Luckily, healthy diets like the keto, paleo or low-carb diet that are whole-foods based are easily tailored to fit a lectin-avoidance diet. If you focus on eating less grains and sugar and prioritise protein intake, you will likely see improvements.

It can take up to 2 years for someone to heal their gut but some people feel better within days of removing lectins from their diet.

Foods low in lectins:8 foods low in lectins

Certain plants are lectin-free or very low in lectins. These include:

  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Lettuces
  • Cucumbers (peeled)

We often forget that herbs and spices still contain antinutrients. The most inflammatory herbs and spices include basil, rosemary, garlic, chives, ginger and parsley. The least inflammatory include chili flakes, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin seeds, paprika and nutmeg. Remember, that this is a guideline and a person’s response to these herbs and spices is highly individual, and you’re likely consuming them in small quantities. However, this is valuable information to know if you’re a particularly sensitive individual.

One key factor is that the seeds and skin of a fruit or vegetable contain the highest amounts of lectins, and so removing these is an easy way to reduce the lectin content. There are more ways to reduce antinutrient content in foods, which will be discussed at the end of the guide.


There are some supplements you can take that improve the digestion of lectins. One example is Lectin Shield, a supplement that helps relieve the unwanted effects of lectins. It is recommended to take them with each meal.

These supplements often contain a particular carbohydrate that lectins bind to, but instead of going on to cause a cascade of negative effects in the body, this lectin-carbohydrate complex actually neutralizes the lectin, so that it doesn’t cause harm. This may sound promising, but supplements are definitely not a magic pill here. A good diet, in combination with supplements is likely the best way to treat a lectin sensitivity.


Similarly to lectins, phytates are naturally produced by plants and are in fact the storage form of phosphorus in the seed. When the plant grows, the phytates release the phosphorus nourishing the plant’s growth.

What do phytates do?

Phytic acid prevents the absorption of specific minerals in our gut, and reduces the digestibility of proteins in our diet. When phytic acid binds to a mineral it is called phytate. Phytates aren’t digested when we eat them because we lack the enzyme phytase that breaks it down. Phytic acid binds to calcium, iron and zinc when ingested, forming complexes that can’t actually be absorbed and used by the body, contributing to nutrient deficiencies.

Where are phytates found?

Foods containing phytates include beans, seeds, nuts, grains & legumes while some roots and tubers contain some too. Phytate content varies, but it is particularly higher in raw, unsprouted seeds. High amounts of phytic acid is found in:Look out for these plants With phytates

  • Rice bran
  • Linseeds, sunflower & sesame seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat bran & germ
  • Almonds, brazil nuts
  • Beans

The amount of phytic acid varies in these foods. For example, the content in almonds can vary by up to 20-fold.

In contrast to its negative effects, phytic acid also has a beneficial impact on our health in some cases. It is well known to have antioxidant properties, reducing oxidative stress in the body. Phytates are also known to be preventative for cardiovascular disease, kidney stones and insulin resistance. Another benefit phytic acid provides is its ability to bind to heavy metals in the gut or in the plants themselves, preventing toxic metals from being absorbed and lowering the risk of heavy metal toxicity. So they’re not to be avoided completely, but their timing and amount should be carefully monitored.


There are no particular symptoms associated with phytates, however the fact that they reduce the bioavailability of nutrients and minerals suggests that they could be having profound effects on our health. Being deficient in iron for example, can cause a host of negative health effects.


If you think you may be negatively affected by phytates, the best option is to focus on avoiding them in your diet. You can use methods such as heating, sprouting, soaking and fermenting foods to reduce the phytate content. Although this isn’t always completely effective.

Some research has shown that vitamin C can counteract the effects of phytates with just 50mg of vitamin C being able to counteract a phytate rich meal. Additionally, animal protein appears to improve zinc, copper and iron absorption.

If you’re following a plant-based diet, or frequently consume raw nuts and seeds, you may not be getting all the nutrients you need because of high amounts of phytates in your diet. Take extra steps to prepare your food by soaking, sprouting and cooking foods that are rich in phytates to minimize your consumption of them. You’ll find more guidance on this below.


A slightly lesser-known antinutrient, oxalates also do a great job at eliciting adverse health effects on those that eat them. Again, as with lectins, some people are particularly sensitive to oxalates and tend to be those with autoimmune issues, weak immune systems or damaged digestive tracts, while others tolerate them well. When foods containing oxalates are eaten, they’re digested and the nutrients are absorbed. The waste products go to the kidneys to be excreted. The waste product of oxalates is called oxalic acid and is free to bind to minerals.

What do oxalates do?

When oxalates are eaten, they bind to minerals to form crystals called calcium oxalate or iron oxalate, either in the colon or this can occur in the kidneys or urinary tract. By binding these minerals in the gut, oxalates reduce their bioavailability and can lead to mineral deficiencies.

For most people, all of these oxalates are excreted in the urine and feces, but in highly sensitive people with diets high in oxalates, they run the risk of developing kidney stones. Oxalates bind to calcium forming calcium crystals which accumulate in the urinary tract and lead to the formation of kidney stones. About 80% of all kidney stones are formed from calcium oxalates although there are other forms.

Your gut health determines how much oxalates you absorb and therefore how they affect you. There are specific bacteria called Oxalobacter formigenes that actually use oxalate as an energy source. Antibiotics tend to reduce the amount of these bacteria, leaving more free oxalate. Also, those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have higher risks of oxalate toxicity as they are unable to regulate how much oxalate gets absorbed.

Where are oxalates found?

Look out for these plants With oxalates

Raw cruciferous vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and radishes have large amounts of oxalates. In fact, in a research study, they used spinach smoothies to induce calcium oxalate formation. (You may want to swap out those morning green smoothies for something else!). Other high-oxalate foods include cacao, black pepper, rhubarb, almonds and beans contain the highest amounts of oxalates.

The calcium in food is poorly absorbed when combined with oxalates. For example, spinach contains calcium, but also has high amounts of oxalates which significantly reduces calcium uptake. Interestingly, when calcium from spinach and calcium from milk are eaten together, the calcium from milk isn’t impacted by the oxalates.


Kidney stones may be a sign of too many oxalates in the diet. Other common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain & inflammation
  • Painful or itchy eyes
  • Vulvodynia – chronic pain around the vulva
  • Nausea & vomiting

By binding to calcium in the blood, oxalates form tiny, sharp crystals that can be deposited anywhere in our bodily tissues. These oxalate crystals can cause joint pain or burning eyes, mouth, ears and throat. They’re often the hidden, underlying cause to many people’s unresolved health issues, and when a concerted effort is made to limit oxalate intake, their health improves.


Oxalates have been shamed shamed as the real ‘bad guy’ especially amongst the carnivore community. If you’ve read about the benefits of a ‘carnivore diet’ – a diet that consists of only animal products like meat, seafood, organs and eggs – one of the main reasons for its positive effects points to the elimination of oxalates.

If you suspect oxalate toxicity, you’ll want to avoid high oxalate foods like raw cruciferous vegetables, and use some of the preparation methods mentioned below. Calcium also binds to oxalates in the gut, and so getting enough calcium in your diet may limit the amount of oxalates absorbed.

Avoiding Antinutrients

Diet Changes

Antinutrients come from food, and so the best way to address the problem is to adjust your diet.

Diets that aim to remove or reduce antinutrients include:

  • The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)
  • Paleo/Primal Diet
  • Whole30
  • Carnivore Diet
  • Ketogenic Diet

While these diets are slightly different in terms of their macronutrient ratios (you can find out more about the exact ratios in this post), they all have a few things in common.

  • They’re whole-foods based, which means they focus on unprocessed, natural foods and avoid processed foods.
  • They limit sugar intake.
  • Foods rich in antinutrients like grains, legumes, nuts & seeds and some fruits and vegetables are either completely eliminated or reduced due to their potential negative health effects.

If you’re looking for a one-word, straight-forward answer saying ‘do this’, you’re not going to find it. All of the diets mentioned above can be tailored to meet your specific needs, depending on which antinutrients you are sensitive to. Use these diets as a template from which you adjust and tweak based on your personal preferences. Conduct an experiment on yourself and begin by eliminating certain foods for at least 30 days and record how you feel when reintroducing these foods back in. For example, you may find that you tolerate dairy particularly well but nightshades wreak havoc on your joints. In this case, you could adopt a ketogenic diet that includes dairy but excludes nightshades. There is no one size fits all approach to finding the right diet for you!

How To Reduce Antinutrient Content In Foods?

While a diet that eliminates plant foods completely sounds a little extreme, there are many people adopting the infamous ‘carnivore diet’ and seeing many benefits. But maybe you don’t have to go to that extreme, and you still can enjoy your favorite plant foods by using a few cooking techniques.

There are ways to reduce and sometimes completely eliminate the antinutrient content in foods and they’re nothing new; they’ve been culinary practices for many centuries, we’ve just forgotten about them. They’re simple to do but do require some time and effort to carry out, but you will thank yourself later. Here are some ways to reduce your antinutrient exposure:

Soaking: allowing some grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and even some vegetables to soak in water over night has been shown to reduce the level of antinutrients they contain. Antinutrients are often found in the skin of the food and are water soluble, so they dissolve when soaked. The efficacy may depend on the type of bean/legume etc. but one study showed a 8-16 hour soak reduced lectin content in peas by 38-50%! Soaking can also decrease oxalates in leafy green vegetables.

How? Rinse the beans/legumes/seeds. Place them in a bowl and add enough water to cover them. Soak for 8-24 hours (the time depends on the food). Rinse and add fresh water every 6 hours if possible.

Sprouting: This simply means taking the plant to a period in its life cycle called germination; when it starts to grow from the seed. It can take up to a few days and makes the nutrients in plants more bioavailable – meaning we can absorb them better in our gut. When the seed gets ready to grow, certain antinutrients are deactivated. Phytates have been shown to be reduced by 37-81% in various grains, beans and legumes. You can do this with most seeds, nuts, beans, legumes and some grains and detailed explanations can be found on various websites.

How? Carry out the soaking process described above. After rinsing thoroughly, place them in a glass jar or sprouting vessel, away from direct sunlight. Rinse once every 8-12 hours until you see sprouts appearing.

Fermentation: In this process, natural bacteria and yeast begin to digest the carbs in foods. This degrades the antinutrients in plants. Cheese, bread, wine, beer and kimchi are examples of fermented foods. Fermenting kidney beans for 48 hours reduced phytates by 88%.

How? Make bread using a traditional sourdough starter culture, or you can soak any grains/beans/legumes as described above and leave at room temperature to start fermenting. Once again, follow guides online for specific instructions.

Boiling: The high temperatures are effective for destroying many antinutrients. Phytates are the most heat resistant of the antinutrients, but oxalates, lectins and tannins are reduced significantly.

How? The length of time will depend on the antinutrient type and the food, but longer boiling times are more effective. Simply boil the food and rinse afterwards.

Peeling & Deseeding – Remove the skins and seeds of fruit and vegetables.

Go Refined – It sounds counterintuitive, but refined grains contain less lectins because the outer coat of the grain is removed. For example, white rice has far less antinutrients than brown rice, and the same applies for white flour versus whole wheat flour. Bear in mind, this is only if you really can’t avoid grains altogether, because refined grains are stripped of their nutrients!

A combination of the above methods is most effective for degrading antinutrients and making the nutrients in plants more bioavailable. It is a good idea to make some of these techniques habits in the kitchen as they may help to take your health to the next level!

It is important to note that not all antinutrients are bad or detrimental to our health. We know that plants contain some chemicals such as polyphenols that are beneficial to our health and actually make our cells function better. For example, some lectins can actually provide immune benefits and reduce inflammation, but usually in small amounts and only specific types. While lectins are known to bind to carbohydrates and cause damage, some don’t possess this property, making them safe to consume.

The problem really occurs when antinutrient-rich foods are eaten in large amounts, regularly, as their harmful effects eventually result in noticeable negative side-effects. The key lies in understanding which plant-based foods to avoid and which ones to consume, how to prepare them and to identify whether you have a sensitivity to them or not.

Alternative to plants

We’ve evolved to eat a wide variety of foods. Both animal-based and plant-based. The media selectively pushes the ‘plant forward’ mindset and due to several decades of believing that red meat and animal products like dairy and eggs are the cause of heart disease, obesity and other metabolic disorders, many people are still afraid to eat these foods.

Animal-based foods do contain higher amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol – but this isn’t a problem! Meat and eggs are actually healthy foods that we can thrive on. Firstly, they are very nutrient dense and are a major source of all the macro- and micronutrients, vitamins, minerals we need in a more bioavailable form as they don’t contain any of the antinutrients we have mentioned above that prevent us from absorbing and using the precious nutrients they provide.

Secondly, scientists have uncovered the truth about red meat and saturated fats and cholesterol in particular, and proved that they aren’t in fact detrimental to our health. (It’s other lifestyle factors as well as the quality of the food – whether it is grass-fed or grain-fed, for example – that are important.)

Gram for gram, every micronutrient, except for vitamin C, in red meat far exceeds that in carrots and apples. When looking at organ meats, the micronutrient content is even greater, including for vitamin C. Let’s take a look at some of the micronutrients contained in some animal-based foods:
Beef – high in iron, creatine, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), selenium, vitamin B12
Salmon – high in iodine, omega 3’s, vitamin B6, D & E, potassium
Eggs – high in biotin, choline, folate, vitamin B5, vitamin K2
Butter – high in butyrate, calcium, vitamin A, E & K2
Liver – high in vitamin A, E, K, all the B vitamins, copper, zinc, selenium & iron

Most plant-based foods lack the following essential nutrients: vitamin A, B12 and D3, essential fatty acids EPA & DHA, heme iron and collagen. And, while they may have other minerals and vitamins, their absorption is prevented by antinutrients. Plant-based foods also provide incomplete forms of protein, which means they don’t contain the full spectrum of amino acids we require to build muscle. Lastly, iron, a mineral that is important for many metabolic processes, is in a form called non-heme iron which is poorly absorbed by the body, in contrast to heme iron found in animal sources.

I am not saying you should cut out all plants and eat only animal foods. We need some plant foods as they feed our gut microbiome and aid in digestion. What I am saying, however, is that plants aren’t as healthy as they’ve been made out to be and if you’ve been searching for optimal health, you need to consider the ‘dark side’ of plants. Including more animal based products into your diet while limiting, or at least being selective about the plant foods you consume, may help to take your health to the next level. That joint pain, the never-ending fatigue or the bloating you’ve been experiencing might just disappear when you focus on reducing the impact of antinutrients in your diet.

In summary…

Antinutrients are natural chemicals produced by plants that cause negative side effects when eaten. They include lectins, phytates, oxalates and gluten, but there are more. Although only certain individuals are sensitive to particular antinutrients, they can cause digestive issues, inflammation and other related disorders, as well as block the absorption of important nutrients from food. Following a diet that focuses on eliminating specific foods rich in antinutrients, incorporates preparation techniques that reduce antinutrient content and emphasizes quality protein and fewer carbohydrates is the optimal way to combat an antinutrient sensitivity.

Lectins: Indigestible proteins that pass through the gut to the intestine unchanged. They bind to carbohydrates, the cells lining the intestine, and prevent the absorption of nutrients in the gut.
Phytates: Main storage form of phosphorus in seeds. They bind to minerals like zinc and iron and prevent their absorption. Some may be beneficial to health.
Oxalates: Binds to minerals, especially calcium forming crystals that can contribute to kidney stones, joint pain and inflammation.

The bigger picture

When it comes to whole-foods, they’re generally healthy, but there are some caveats. Plant foods are good for us, but they can also be bad for us. It just depends on the type of plant, when you consume them and how you prepare them. Focusing on your diet is the best way to mitigate their negative side effects and with some self-experimentation, investigating which foods you react to, you can narrow in on which antinutrients you’re particularly sensitive to.

Are you aware of antinutrients in your diet? And have you made any changes to try and reduce them? I’d love to know! Please share this with someone you think may benefit from this information, and tag me so I can see @ingredientologist. I believe this is a topic we need to be speaking more about, and not just sitting back and listening to the mainstream media.

The post Your Guide To Lectins, Phytates & Oxalates appeared first on Ingredientologist.

A Gluten Guide Thu, 25 Jun 2020 18:13:37 +0000 Although most government guidelines in the USA and Europe advise people to eat adequate amounts of grains each day, it’s important to know that these grains often contain ‘antinutrients’ such as gluten and lectins that […]

The post A Gluten Guide appeared first on Ingredientologist.

Although most government guidelines in the USA and Europe advise people to eat adequate amounts of grains each day, it’s important to know that these grains often contain ‘antinutrients’ such as gluten and lectins that can cause disease and unwanted symptoms in humans. Gluten is a general term for a group of structural proteins found in wheat (prolamins and glutenins). It is also found in other grains like barley and rye, and is what gives bread its dough-like, fluffy texture and is also added to many other foods to create a more desirable consistency. As a result, it is used as an additive to many products in the food and beverage industry making it difficult to avoid completely.

Unfortunately, gluten is responsible for causing several intolerances in humans, most severe being celiac disease which is an autoimmune disease of the intestine. Slightly less severe is non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS); a related gluten disorder which triggers an immune response but is not an autoimmune condition. When gluten interacts with the cells lining the intestine, it triggers the immune system to respond, causing inflammation and damage to the gut. When this trigger remains, and the immune system is continuously activated, the inflammatory response can become chronic or long-lasting.

Both celiac disease and NCGS cause gastrointestinal and extraintestinal symptoms that are similar, and adherence to a strict gluten-free diet is the primary treatment in both cases. Adhering to a long-term gluten-free diet can be challenging as wheat and many other gluten-containing grains are a primary component of our diets today.

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Celiac Disease

Nowadays, the word ‘celiac’ gets thrown around a lot with little understanding of the pathophysiology behind celiac disease (CD) and the seriousness of its effects. Celiac disease only occurs in people who have a particular set of genes that produce certain molecules that recognize parts of gluten proteins and stimulate an immune reaction. Gluten is also responsible for other disorders such as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and wheat allergy, but CD is the most prevalent and severe of all.

Celiac disease is a gluten-induced chronic inflammatory enteropathy (disease of the small intestine).1 To put that in simple terms, it is a disease caused by an intolerance to gluten where certain parts of the gluten proteins are recognized by the body’s immune cells as ‘toxic’ causing them to launch a very specific immune response that results in damage and inflammation to the intestinal lining in genetically susceptible people. This damage to the gut causes gastrointestinal symptoms as well as poor absorption of nutrients from foods. But, extraintestinal symptoms such as headaches, skin issues, brain fog, fatigue and muscle weakness are also seen.1

Two of the major factors influencing the disease are environmental and genetic factors. This means your genetics as well as your exposure to gluten and other toxins can influence your risk of developing CD.

  • Environmental factors: Gluten exposure during childhood, especially during the first year of life, can influence one’s susceptibility and even the type of milk and length of breastfeeding are both potential triggers for the disease.2
  • Genetic factors: A particular set of genes that produce a certain protein called human-leukocyte antigen (HLA) DQ 2 or DQ 8 is associated with CD. If you have either one of these genes, you’re more likely to have the disease. This means that your cells express the ‘HLA complex’ which is suggested to bind strongly to gluten, presenting gluten to our immune cells which go on to cause an inflammatory immune response in the intestine.2

The mechanism of action

Gluten is a complex mixture of proteins found in cereal grains known as prolamins of which the main proteins are glutenin and gliadin and both have been implicated in causing gluten intolerance. These proteins are the storage form of starch for seeds, providing the sprouting seed with the nutrients it needs to grow. Scientists have uncovered many different but related structures of these gluten proteins. It was initially believed that only certain structures of glutenin or gliadin were toxic or immunogenic (causing an immune response), but now we know that almost all of them could be triggers. What’s more, is that different people may react to different gluten structures, and so identifying the exact mechanism behind gluten-related disorders is a challenge!3

As a side note, this is the basis as to why certain wheat varieties can be more ‘harmful’ to celiacs than others. In any given wheat variety, there exists over 100 unique gliadin and glutenin structures. The amount and type of gluten in wheat, and other grains, has evolved over the years with more modern wheat varieties being genetically modified. Ancient wheat species known as ‘diploid’ have given rise to new ‘tetraploid’ and ‘hexaploid’ species through natural hybridization/cross-breeding.3 These new varieties have a different set of genes that give the wheat larger amounts of gluten, making them more desirable for commercial purposes. As new structures of gluten proteins emerge as a result of modern agricultural practices, more immune-stimulating gluten peptides are found in foods.

Getting back to the mechanism of action, these gliadin and glutenin proteins are made up of certain amino acids with particularly high amounts of proline and glutamine. Their unique structure is what makes them resistant to proper digestion by any of our stomach enzymes and as a result, we can’t break them down into individual amino acids, as we would with other proteins. Large protein fragments (called peptides) of gluten end up in the intestine and in susceptible individuals these peptides are what trigger an immune response, inflammation and cause damage to the gut lining.1,3

When the peptides described above come into contact with the cells of the intestinal wall, they damage the cells lining the gut, increasing gut permeability. A protein, called zonulin, which regulates the tight junctions – the gaps between the cells lining the gut – is increased. Zonulin disrupts the integrity of the tight junctions, making them ‘loose’ allowing the movement of gluten peptides passed the gut barrier. It’s as if someone were poking holes in your intestinal wall making it a poor barrier between the food you’re eating and your bloodstream. This is what we know as ‘leaky gut syndrome’.

Now, these large gluten fragments can leak into the bloodstream that normally wouldn’t and once here, they bind to specific molecules called ‘HLA-DQ 2/DQ 8 receptors’ which are present in people who carry the genetic code for them. Gluten fragments are negatively charged, while the HLA-DQ 2/DQ 8 receptors are positively charged and so they bind very strongly. This bond then triggers immune cells (CD4+ T-cells) to start secreting many proinflammatory substances and antibodies.1,2

Another gluten-related disorder is non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) which is a clinical term used that describes the adverse gastrointestinal (GI) or other symptoms experienced after gluten ingestion, although is not associated with the same degree of immune activation or gut damage. There is a lot of controversy around whether NCGS is truly different from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or CD due to their overlapping causes and symptoms. Some experts suggest that NCGS may be caused by other dietary triggers found in gluten-containing foods such as allergens in wheat, amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATIs), lectins and FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). While FODMAPs are present in gluten-containing grains and have been identified to cause GI distress, such as bloating, they likely aren’t the cause of the extraintestinal symptoms, like headaches, fatigue and eczema, seen in NCGS. People who remove gluten from their diet still eat foods containing many FODMAPs, like fruit. The many unknown variables and lack of clear biomarkers makes identifying NCGS a challenge, and proves to be more complicated than CD.4

Approximately 1% of the global population has CD, and the prevalence is increasing. The disease can occur at any stage in life but peaks mainly during childhood (less than 6 years old) and in one’s 40’s or 50’s.5 On the other hand, the prevalence of NCGS has been reported to be anywhere between 0.63 and 6.0%.6

What is gluten and is it bad for you?


The main difference between CD and NCGS is the response of the immune system to gluten coming into contact with the gut lining. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where gluten triggers the adaptive immune system. This is seen by antibody production by your own T-cells which act as signaling molecules that tell the immune system there is something that needs to be destroyed. Immune cells continue to be produced that attack the cells lining your intestine, causing inflammation and damage to the cell wall.1,6

In contrast, NCGS is an innate immune response to gluten seen by a rise in innate immune cells and an absence of any gluten-related antibodies. Unlike the adaptive immune system which confers long-term memory for future antigen exposure, the innate immune defense is our first line of defense and doesn’t provide long-term immunity towards a particular toxin.1,2,6


Both CD and NCGS display gastrointestinal (GI) and extraintestinal symptoms. Symptoms can appear within days to weeks in CD patients and within hours to weeks with NCGS patients.

The table below summarises the symptoms related to NCGS, while those with CD experience similar symptoms. The severity of the symptoms depends on the individual entirely.

Table 1 Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity GI & Extraintestinal Symptoms


Gastrointestinal Extraintestinal
Bloating “Foggy” mind
Diarrhea Tiredness
Constipation Fatigue
Abdominal pain Joint pain
Nausea Depression
Vomiting Numbness
Anal fissures Loss of balance
Weight fluctuations

In addition to the above symptoms, CD patients can experience more severe forms of diarrhea and abdominal bloating, delayed growth, thyroiditis and even infertility.7

Diagnosis of CD and NCGS

To determine whether someone is celiac or not, tests for the presence of certain antibodies in the blood called immunoglobulin A (IgA) and immunoglobulin G (IgG) can be done, which is then confirmed with a genetic test for HLA DQ 2 or DQ 8. A tissue sample of a person’s intestinal wall is also taken and the extent of damage is evaluated with a grading system.

In contrast, there are no blood biomarkers that help us identify NCGS, and there is not much known about what causes NCGS exactly. Typically, it is determined by ruling out CD (absence of celiac-specific antibodies and a negative genetic test) in those with a gluten sensitivity who show gastrointestinal or extraintestinal symptoms, and whose symptoms improve following a gluten-free diet. Additionally, while those with CD display damage to the lining of the intestine, those with NCGS typically don’t.1,6,8

Because of their similarity, clinicians can’t differentiate between CD and NCGS based on symptoms alone, so these tests need to be done and should be done before implementing a gluten-free diet because testing after this can give inaccurate results.8 Most doctors will recommend a gluten challenge prior to testing, which means eating gluten to ensure it is present in your body before getting a test.

If you’re experiencing symptoms, but do not think it is gluten, you may have a wheat allergy. This can be confirmed by detecting IgE by a simple skin prick test and symptoms are usually seen within minutes or hours. An allergic response to wheat is different from the autoimmune or innate immune responses seen in CD and NCGS, respectively.8

Conditions associated with celiac disease

Many disorders appear to be associated with celiac disease with most being either genetic, autoimmune or neurological. Individuals with the following diseases have a greater risk for CD:

  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Autoimmune thyroid disorders
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Neurological disorders such as epilepsy

Gluten appears to worsen autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. This is because the underlying mechanism is the same in which the body’s own immune system identifies a foreign antigen (a substance that triggers an immune response) that shares similarities with your body’s own antigens. The result is an immune response to both the ingested antigen and your body’s own tissues.

Other conditions that gluten appears to worsen are bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These diseases are tied to the integrity of the gut lining and avoiding gluten appears to improve these conditions.


Gluten-free diets remain to be the gold standard treatment for celiac patients as well as those with gluten sensitivity. Sticking to a gluten-free diet for life can be challenging and requires a significant amount of energy and effort, especially with the excessive amount of processed foods today. Many celiac patients also report negative psychosocial effects due to the restrictive nature of the diet.

Studies have shown that 20-38% of celiac patients have some degree of nutritional deficiency whether it is total calories, protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals. It is unclear whether this occurs because of the disorder or because of the restrictive nature of a gluten-free diet. A nutrient deficiency is caused because of the damaged intestinal wall. Malabsorption of nutrients like B vitamins, iron, calcium and vitamin D in the small intestine is common and the degree of intestinal damage and the length of time following a gluten-free diet are factors that would influence how nutrient deficient someone is. Many gluten-free foods contain processed grains where the outer fibrous layer is removed, which lowers the fiber intake of anyone on a gluten-free diet. However, if fibrous vegetables, nuts and seeds are prioritized on a gluten-free diet, low fiber intake can be prevented.

In addition to actively avoiding gluten, there are alternative ways to decrease gluten’s impact on those with a gluten sensitivity. For example, there are some supplements you can take that help your body metabolize gluten slightly better.


As discussed, gluten is a protein, just like other proteins we get from the foods we eat as it consists of many amino acids that make up the whole protein. But, in the case for people with a gluten intolerance, their bodies can’t break down this protein properly. Gluten is only partially digested or not digested at all, which causes it to have negative effects in the small intestine.

There are gluten-digesting supplements that you can buy which contain certain enzymes that can break down the gluten protein by breaking the bonds between the amino acids of the gluten protein fragments in the stomach, before it reaches the small intestine where it can cause damage. These particular enzymes can break the proline and glutamine rich amino acid bonds.

Some examples:

  • Gluten Guardian by BiOptimizers
  • Gluten Digest by NOW
  • Gluten Rescue by Doctor’s Best

The use of certain strains of probiotics is also widely used to treat CD. These probiotics can ferment and degrade gluten proteins in the intestine into protein fragments that are no longer immunogenic. These probiotics can also improve the nutrient absorption in the gut and improve the overall gut microbiome.

Taking supplements to metabolize gluten while indulging in a gluten-containing meal, or following a standard american diet that is high in gluten is not recommended for someone who has CD. These supplements are definitely not a good long-term solution. However, they can be useful for when the risk of gluten exposure is high – for example when traveling or eating out.

Modified grains

Scientists can breed certain types of wheat varieties with a more favorable ‘toxicity’ profile by selectively breeding early wheat species or by genetically engineering them to have silenced gluten proteins, but none will be completely safe for celiacs. However, this is not widely done as removing the gluten proteins from wheat will take away the very properties that make it suitable for production, and there are many regulations regarding genetic modification of plants that need to be considered.10

Other treatments such as immunotherapy and vaccines are being investigated and as scientists progress in the research in this field, more solutions will become available to celiacs.10

You may think that whether you have CD or NCGS that it does not matter, as treatments are similar, but in the case for celiacs, symptoms are far more severe and frequent exposure to gluten can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other possible comorbidities. Let’s take a look at how to best navigate a gluten-free diet!

Gluten-Free Diets/Foods

Many diets have come and gone over the years, but the gluten-free diet is here to stay. Being the primary treatment for anyone with gluten intolerance, this diet won’t disappear like the other weight-loss fads. While it’s used clinically, people have started to adopt a gluten-free diet with the perception of it being healthier than a regular diet. In fact, there are so many people that aren’t even gluten sensitive and follow a gluten-free diet that there’s a name for this population. They’re called PWAG for ‘people who avoid gluten’ and there are studies being done on them!

Anyone who is celiac, or has a friend or family member who is celiac can agree that a gluten-free diet can be difficult. Going out to restaurants without interrogating the server like a detective just isn’t possible, and shopping at the supermarket is no easy task, with gluten appearing in almost everything. On top of that, people are always warned about a gluten-free diet being restrictive and causing nutrient deficiencies. Well, that’s not wrong, but sadly it is only because people are searching for the label that says ‘gluten-free’ on processed food options, instead of looking for foods that are naturally gluten-free.

With the marketing claims of many big brands, we are often misled to believe that something with a ‘gluten-free’ label on it is somehow healthier for us. Previous studies that have taken a look at the nutritional composition of gluten-free products found that they contain high amounts of fat, sugar and salt.11 Now, recall that eating fat and sugar together is a recipe for inflammation, glycation and oxidation in the body – all which lead to weight gain and poor metabolic health. On top of that, people adhering to a gluten-free diet don’t meet the recommended calcium, iron and fiber intakes. Overall, adults who follow gluten-free diets are not eating enough nutrient-dense foods to meet all nutritional recommendations.10,11,12

Why many people feel better avoiding gluten

Actively removing gluten from your diet probably means you’re going to be skipping many of the processed, packaged foods like breads, cereals, snack bars, and candy which are typically higher in calories, sugar and unhealthy fats. Of course, many people tend to lose weight and even improve things like joint pain, fatigue or other health issues when they avoid gluten. This is likely because of fewer refined carbohydrates and sugars in their diet. Also, digestive issues can disappear as FODMAPs are reduced which are carbohydrates that don’t get digested but get fermented by bacteria in the colon and can cause bloating and gas in susceptible people.

While many may benefit from a gluten-free diet, those who don’t focus on diet quality may be harming themselves.9,10 According to a study that looked at the effects of a gluten-free diet on non-celiac people, there are potential harms caused by the diet such as11:

  • Deficiencies of micronutrients & fiber
  • Increased (poor quality) fat content
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Increased financial costs
  • Social restrictions

Paradoxically, in many cases, following a strict gluten-free diet could be detrimental to a celiac’s nutritional health because of the poor quality nutrition it can provide. That said, if you’re not celiac, you probably don’t want to put yourself on a gluten-free diet as there are many other alternatives like a paleo or ketogenic diet that may not come with the negative side effects.

The best diets to follow:

  1. Autoimmune Protocol
  2. Primal diet
  3. Paleo diet
  4. Ketogenic diet
  5. Carnivore diet
  6. Whole 30
  7. Low-carb

7 Ways to eat gluten-free Although these diets vary in their limitations, most of them focus on limiting antinutrient intake, which can help reduce your exposure to gluten significantly. All of these diets are whole-foods focused which means they exclude processed products that contain highly-refined carbohydrates, sugars and additives. While the AIP diet is specifically targeted at autoimmune diseases, such as CD, it is a good place to start. Start your gluten-free diet as strict as possible and slowly reintroduce some food groups into your diet that may be potential triggers for your unwanted symptoms. The key to success here is self-experimentation, as no individuals are exactly the same in what they are sensitive to.

Gluten-free Foods

Gluten is found in many grains such as wheat, barley and rye. In the culinary industry, gluten is used to give food elasticity and moisture and it is what makes bread rise and gives it a chewy texture. These effects have made gluten a very desirable protein to be added to many foods. Better taste, texture and quality means more sales – it’s a no brainer!

Gluten-containing foods are a major component of the current Western diet and adhering to a gluten-free diet can improve the symptoms experienced by those with CD or NCGS. Improvements can be seen within a few weeks and the damage to the gut wall can take 1-2 years. A gluten-free diet doesn’t heal someone with CD, but it can improve their quality of life significantly.

Let’s take a look at some food categories and identify the foods that you can eat on a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, nowadays it is not as simple as excluding wheat, barley and rye as many boxed and packaged foods have added gluten and gluten-free grains can be contaminated with gluten during production.

Whole grains:

Surprisingly, there are a few grains that you can eat on a gluten-free diet. They may be less common and oftentimes more expensive. Many grains are naturally gluten-free, but some can get contaminated during processing. For example, oats are often processed in the same facility as wheat making cross-contamination possible, so make sure you look for certified gluten-free oats. Gluten-free grains include:

  • Brown rice & wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Sorghum
  • Tapioca
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
  • Arrowroot
  • Oats (labelled gluten-free)

8 gluten-free alternativesSourdough Bread: Bread made with gluten-free flours is optimal for those with celiac but research has shown that gluten proteins can be degraded by the bacteria and yeast during sourdough fermentation to the extent that sourdough breads may be more tolerable for some with a gluten sensitivity. Use a starter culture to make your own bread at home or look for artisanal bakeries that use traditional baking techniques.

Fruits & Vegetables:

All fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free, however be cautious when buying things like canned, frozen, dried or pre-prepared fruit/veg as they can contain thickeners or flavoring that can contain gluten. Look out for:

  • Maltodextrin
  • Malt extract/vinegar/syrup
  • Modified food starch
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • MSG
  • Citric acid
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein
  • Some natural & artificial flavors
  • Emulsifiers


Grass-fed meat, pasture-raised eggs and wild-caught fish are the best sources of protein and are gluten free. But, nowadays we tend to buy many pre-packaged proteins that contain marinades or sauces that contain malt vinegar, flours or soy sauce. Processed meats like sausages and salami should be avoided and vegetarian burger/meat sources almost always contain some gluten. Proteins that are safe to consume include unprocessed:

  • Red meat
  • Chicken
  • Seafood
  • Tofu, tempeh & edamame
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Beans & legumes

Dairy products:

As with protein sources, most dairy products are naturally gluten free but when they’re processed, flavoring, thickening and stabilizing agents are added which may contain gluten. You can include all dairy products, but double check the labels when it comes to the following:

  • Flavored & sweetened yoghurts/milks (especially if added granola/fruit pieces)
  • Processed cheese (usually fine, but check the label)
  • Dairy desserts like ice cream and frozen yogurt

Dairy is known to cause gastrointestinal issues due to lactose intolerance in some people, and those with gluten sensitivity are more likely to be lactose intolerant. Avoiding dairy products for the beginning phases of your gluten-free diet is a good idea while closely monitoring your symptoms when reintroducing dairy back into your diet.

Spices, sauces & condiments:

Naturally gluten-free options include:

  • Coconut aminos
  • Tamari sauce
  • Apple cider vinegar & white vinegar

Commonly overlooked, spices, sauces and condiments often have gluten added to them. In particular look out for maltodextrin, malt, modified food starch and wheat flour.

Read the labels of the following carefully:

  • Rice vinegar
  • Marinades
  • Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise
  • Stocks
  • Dry spices
  • Gravy mixes
  • Also check cooking oil sprays, and flavored oils


Most drinks are gluten free, but it’s a good idea to check flavored syrups, mix-in powders and ready-to-drink products. Alcoholic beverages to avoid include beers made from gluten-containing grains and malt-based beverages. Distilled liquor like vodka, gin and whiskey can sometimes trigger celiac symptoms, but wine, some ciders and gluten-free beers are tolerated.

As some nutrient deficiencies like iron, calcium and vitamin B are common among celiacs adopting a gluten-free diet, I recommend testing your nutritional status regularly and to supplement where necessary. But, meat, eggs and many vegetables can provide more than enough of these nutrients too.

In Summary

For the celiacs out there, going gluten-free doesn’t have to be that hard! By sticking to the golden rule of eating whole foods as much as possible, life becomes a whole lot easier. Learn how to read your nutrition labels and look out for the risky ingredients mentioned above. Anything that comes in a box or packaging is not only increasing your risk of gluten exposure significantly, but also making a nutrient deficiency far more likely because these processed foods are stripped of their nutrients.

In fact, a gluten-free diet can actually be played to your advantage. You’re forced to avoid foods that are high in refined carbohydrates which are often processed, contain added sugars and provide minimal nutritional value. Most bottled sauces, pre-made meals, breads and cakes are also eliminated, which is definitely a good thing for the waistline and your long term health. A shift in focus towards natural, whole foods is the easiest way to to limit gluten exposure, and funnily enough, is often the healthiest and most nutrient-dense diet.

If you suspect gluten intolerance, but don’t want to mess with any testing, why not try going gluten-free for a period of time and slowly reintroduce foods back into your diet. As long as you replace gluten-containing foods with nutritious foods, cutting out gluten won’t cause any adverse health effects. I follow a ketogenic diet most of the time and because I’m limiting my intake of any sort of carbohydrates, I’m almost completely gluten-free. There are many swaps you can make to begin a gluten-free diet. What are your favorite gluten-free items? Let me know if you’re following this diet and if it has helped you in any way!


  1. Sharma N, Bhatia S, Chunduri V, et al. Pathogenesis of Celiac Disease and Other Gluten Related Disorders in Wheat and Strategies for Mitigating Them. Front Nutr. 2020;7:6. Published 2020 Feb 7. doi:10.3389/fnut.2020.00006
  2. Parzanese I, Qehajaj D, Patrinicola F, et al. Celiac disease: From pathophysiology to treatment. World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2017;8(2):27-38. doi:10.4291/wjgp.v8.i2.27
  3. APA Howdle, Peter D. Gliadin, glutenin or both? The search for the Holy Grail in coeliac disease, European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology: July 2006 – Volume 18 – Issue 7 – p 703-706 doi: 10.1097/01.meg.0000221847.09792.34 
  5. Saturni L, Ferretti G, Bacchetti T. The gluten-free diet: safety and nutritional quality. Nutrients. 2010;2(1):16‐34. doi:10.3390/nu20100016 
  6. Di Sabatino A, Corazza GR. Nonceliac gluten sensitivity: sense or sensibility?. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156(4):309‐311. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-156-4-201202210-00010
  7. Vazquez-Roque M, Oxentenko AS. Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(9):1272‐1277. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.07.009
  8. Leonard MM, Sapone A, Catassi C, Fasano A. Celiac Disease and Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review. JAMA. 2017;318(7):647‐656. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.9730 –
  9. Naik RD, Seidner DL, Adams DW. Nutritional Consideration in Celiac Disease and Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2018;47(1):139‐154. doi:10.1016/j.gtc.2017.09.006
  10. Niland B, Cash BD. Health Benefits and Adverse Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet in Non-Celiac Disease Patients. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2018;14(2):82-91.
  11. Saturni L, Ferretti G, Bacchetti T. The gluten-free diet: safety and nutritional quality. Nutrients. 2010;2(1):16‐34. doi:10.3390/nu20100016
  12. Fric P, Gabrovska D, Nevoral J. Celiac disease, gluten-free diet, and oats. Nutr Rev. 2011;69(2):107‐115. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00368.x
  13. de Punder K, Pruimboom L. The dietary intake of wheat and other cereal grains and their role in inflammation. Nutrients. 2013;5(3):771-787. Published 2013 Mar 12. doi:10.3390/nu5030771

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Your Guide To Antinutrients from Plants Tue, 16 Jun 2020 12:04:48 +0000 Wait, what? Antinutrients? Yes, there is such a thing, and they’re so appropriately named because they oppose the action of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals in our diet by blocking our body’s ability to digest, […]

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Wait, what? Antinutrients? Yes, there is such a thing, and they’re so appropriately named because they oppose the action of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals in our diet by blocking our body’s ability to digest, absorb and use them properly. Not only that, but they are also the underlying cause of many gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut syndrome.

While they’re naturally abundant in many foods, even very healthy ones, being aware of where they are and how they function may be the step you need to take to make notable improvements to your health

What are antinutrients?

Plants are inherently healthy, right? Yes, and no. We just expect plants to be good for us, because that’s what we’re told, but the truth is that we have to be careful about what we eat, no matter what the source is. Some natural compounds are poisonous to us, like arsenic, and some (too many) natural foods are contaminated with one of the most detrimental ‘anti-nutrients’; round-up! The bottom-line is that while plants are healthy for us, some do contain natural compounds that are counterintuitive to our health. These compounds have been collectively called anti-nutrients. Just because plants are natural doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

These ‘nutrient-sapping phytochemicals’ are a plant’s natural defense mechanism – it’s their way of fighting back. As with all species on earth, plants just want to survive. In an attempt to prevent them from being eaten to extinction, plants produce natural chemicals that when eaten cause some degree of sickness which discourages us, animals and insects from eating them in the future.

Humans and animals have always and will always eat some plants in their diet, but we need to understand that plants have the ability to fight back. Some antinutrients are extremely toxic, while others have almost unnoticeable effects on our health. In most cases, the nutritional health benefits from eating foods that contain some antinutrients outweigh the negative nutritional effects, as they’re also very rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein.

Antinutrients are highest in grains, seeds, legumes, beans and nuts but are also in plant roots, stems and leaves. There is no way of knowing exactly how many are in each food, but we have a rough idea thanks to research. Not all antinutrients are bad, however, and we don’t need to eliminate every single one from our diets – that can become a very restrictive and depressing way to live. Some can actually be beneficial, acting as antioxidants or having anticancer effects and so avoiding them completely is not recommended.

What we do know is that people vary by how sensitive they are to antinutrients and what types affect them. You guessed it, that means a little bit of self experimentation is required to narrow in on which, if any, antinutrients are having negative impacts on your health.

Before you jump into the article, sign up to receive your free guide below!

The best way to identify whether you’re particularly sensitive is to observe how you feel after eating certain foods. You need to be intuitive and perhaps record how you feel regularly. Symptoms vary, but if your body is reacting to a certain antinutrient in a food, you’ll experience things like:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Brain fog
  • IBS
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating & gas

While antinutrients are hard to avoid completely, we can reduce the amount we consume and their impact. Two of the best ways are:

  • Carefully preparing foods: Most antinutrients can be deactivated or removed by cooking, soaking, sprouting or boiling foods that contain them. For example, fully cooked beans usually contain between 200 and 400 units while the same raw kidney beans contain from 20,000 to 70,000 lectin units.
  • Focus on variety: Avoid eating a lot of one type of high antinutrient-containing foods in one meal. Rather than eating a large serving of whole grains for example, have a smaller amount and combine it with other vegetables. Aim to increase your variety of foods at each meal and throughout the day to avoid ‘overloading’ with antinutrients.
  • Focus on timing: Meal timing can be helpful too because antinutrients interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients. For example, only drink tea in between meals instead of with meals to avoid decreasing iron absorption from your food.

Hopefully, we’re all aware that many health fads come and go. They gain a lot of traction and hype , sweeping across the media, and then naturally they fade away because, in reality, there’s no one diet that will work for everyone. One particular buzzword that has seemed to linger for longer is ‘gluten-free’. Gluten-free diets have worked wonders for many people, improving weight loss and solving many health issues from IBS and leaky gut to joint pain and fatigue.

What many people don’t know is that gluten is an antinutrient. But, it is only one of many that scientists have uncovered and while gluten may be one of the major players in many health problems and weight gain, it is only part of the problem. There are other antinutrients that most people aren’t aware of and these guys may just be the culprits.

The main antinutrients we have to look out for are gluten, lectins, phytates and oxalates. Let’s take a look at each one to better understand what they’re doing in our bodies.

What are antinutrients


The most well known antinutrient by far is gluten. Gluten is actually a family of proteins found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye. While they offer wonderful functional benefits in the culinary industry giving bread a soft and chewy texture, gluten can wreak havoc on certain people’s health. There are varying degrees of gluten sensitivity. They include:

  • Celiac disease: A serious autoimmune condition where a person’s immune system attacks gluten fragments (partially digested gluten) within the small intestine after eating gluten. Genetic and environmental factors (such as feeding patterns as a baby) influence incidence of the disease and severity of symptoms.
  • Non-celiac gluten-sensitivity: It is uncertain what the underlying cause for adverse reactions to gluten is here, but some individuals experience symptoms similar to celiac in response to gluten-containing products.

Symptoms of celiac disease include skin problems (eczema; rashes), gut issues (inflammation; diarrhea; pain) and neurological issues (fatigue; confusion; depression).

Everyone know’s somebody who is either celiac or has a ‘gluten sensitivity’ in the absence of celiac. Any sensitivities in those who are negative when tested for celiac disease may be due to other proteins present in grain-based products, such as lectins. As the interest in gluten-free diets increases in the general population, more and more food options are appearing which make a celiac’s life a lot easier. But, gluten-free diets are becoming trendy and people are opting for gluten-free products simply because they appear to be healthy when, in fact they contain ingredients that are often worse for our health.

There is no human protein or enzyme that can break down gluten. That is a fact. So, when we eat gluten, these partially broken clumps of gluten protein are floating in our bloodstream, called gluteomorphins and our immune systems react with them leading to the many symptoms of gluten intolerance. What’s more is that these gluteomorphins actually bind to opioid receptors in the brain, exactly like morphine does triggering the production of endorphins – the feel-good hormones! Constantly stimulating these endorphins with bread, pasta and that blueberry muffin leads to you needing more and more to get that same feel-good response. So, gluten is addictive.

Gluten doesn’t necessarily bind to minerals or other nutrients to limit their absorption directly, but they cause nutrient deficiencies in other ways. Gluten can cause a lot of inflammation and irritation in the gut, damaging the gut barrier and disrupting normal nutrient absorption. The gut microbiome is also negatively affected resulting in poor gut functioning too.

While gluten-free diets may be the answer to your health problems, some gluten-free products on the market nowadays may be even worse than gluten-containing products. They’re highly processed, and packed with more nonsense than real foods. Many products that wouldn’t normally contain gluten like sauces and spice blends have gluten added to them. So, read your labels! The best gluten-free diet is one that is whole-foods based.


One of the more well-known antinutrients, lectins have received a lot of attention in the media with several ‘lectin-free’ diets appearing. They’re found in all plants, but raw legumes (peanuts, beans, soy, lentils) and whole grains like wheat are particularly high in lectins. The part of the plant that develops into the leaves when the plant sprouts, aka the cotyledon or the seed coat, contains the most lectins. Fruits and vegetables, unfortunately contain lectins but the main culprit vegetables are called ‘nightshades’ which includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants.

Lectins on Your Guide To Antinutrients from PlantsLectins are ‘carbohydrate binding proteins’ which simply means that they’re plant proteins that when ingested, cause clumping of carbohydrates in our bodies. Whether it is in our gut, bloodstream or other tissues, lectins find any sugar molecules and stick to them. Our immune system responds to these ‘sticky’ clumps which results in inflammation. By binding to cell surfaces, lectins interfere with cell-to-cell communication and disrupt normal functioning of our bodies.

Once in the gut, lectins can bind to the cells of the gut lining, damaging them and weakening the gut barrier. The result is a ‘leaky gut’ that allows other proteins, and lectins, to seep into the bloodstream that normally wouldn’t. Our immune system detects these ‘foreign’ proteins in our blood, and an immune response ensues as we produce antibodies to attack them. The degree to which your immune system reacts determines your sensitivity to lectins and can vary greatly from person to person. A leaky gut also prevents normal absorption of essential nutrients.

If you’re very sensitive to lectins, you’ll probably know about it, and you’ll want to take extra measures to limit your intake.


Phytate, or phytic acid, is known to have strong antinutritional properties by ‘chelating calcium, iron and zinc’, which means it binds to these minerals forming complexes that can’t be absorbed by the gut properly, leading to mineral deficiencies. Humans can’t metabolize phytates in foods because we lack the enzyme that breaks it down called phytase, which leaves it free to bind to minerals from our diet.

Phytates on Your Guide To Antinutrients from PlantsOn top of limiting mineral bioavailability, phytates can also bind to the protein from our diet which prevents protein degrading enzymes, proteases, from being able to metabolize them. This further leads to nutritional deficiencies.

Phytates are present only in plants, with the most found in the seeds, which serve as the main storage form of phosphorus which plants use to grow when the seeds sprout. All edible seeds, nuts, grains and legumes contain phytates with small amounts in roots and tubers too. As with other antinutrients, fermenting, soaking, milling and cooking phytate-rich foods can reduce phytate content.

Iron and zinc are two minerals we get from our diet that are particularly affected by phytates in plants. The absorption of non-heme iron, the form of iron that plants provide, is influenced by phytates and so people with iron deficiency and vegans or vegetarians should take extra steps to limit eating phytate-rich foods with their meals. This is also why it is recommended that vegans and vegetarians eat more iron containing foods than omnivores.

Interestingly though, phytates are also known to have some positive health effects such as antioxidant properties, and being preventative for cardiovascular disease, kidney stones and insulin resistance. So they’re not to be avoided completely, but their timing and amount should be carefully monitored.


This particular antinutrient is an organic compound found in raw cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower and radishes, as well as cacao, black pepper, rhubarb, nuts and beans. There are more oxalates in younger plants and fewer in older, more ripe plants. Your gut bacteria and the integrity of your gut barrier determines how much oxalate you actually absorb. People with low levels of oxalate fermenting bacteria and those with leaky gut or IBS have little control over how much oxalate gets absorbed in the gut.

Oxalates on Your Guide To Antinutrients from PlantsLike the other antinutrients, oxalates also block mineral absorption in the body, but mainly calcium. Oxalates can bind to calcium, and other minerals like iron, in the gut when we eat food, or in our blood stream or kidneys. For example, spinach contains calcium and oxalates, and so very little calcium is absorbed from spinach.

By binding to calcium in the blood, oxalates form tiny, sharp crystals, called calcium salts, that can be deposited anywhere in our bodily tissues. These oxalate crystals can cause joint pain or burning eyes, mouth, ears and throat. They’re often the hidden, underlying cause to many people’s unresolved health issues, and when a concerted effort is made to limit oxalate intake, their health improves.

Kidney stones are actually formed by oxalates depositing in the kidneys. The kidneys clean our blood by removing toxins or waste and putting them into urine. When we absorb too much oxalates, they get excreted in the urine but can crystallize with calcium to form kidney stones.

It has been shamed as the real ‘bad guy’ especially amongst the carnivore community. If you read any material online about the benefits of a carnivore diet – a diet that consists of only animal products like meat, seafood, organs and eggs – one of the main reasons for its positive effects points to the elimination of oxalates. Again, people respond differently, some may not be affected at all by oxalates, while others are extremely sensitive to their effects. The latter are the individuals who likely benefit most from the extremely restrictive nature of a carnivore diet.

Oxalates can be reduced in foods by cooking and draining the water or by soaking them in acid. Having too low dietary calcium can increase the amount you absorb because calcium can bind to oxalate in the gut, stopping it from being absorbed. Choose low oxalate vegetables, and avoid eating large amounts of raw vegetables as they’re typically higher in oxalates.


Top 10 Antinutrients

While we get nourishment from nutrients to grow, antinutrients block our ability to absorb them. Luckily, we can lessen the impact they have by taking extra steps in preparing and processing foods or eliminating certain foods from our diet after identifying those that affect us most. Certain diets are constructed around limiting anti-nutrient intake and while many may be fads that don’t work, there is one diet I believe to be effective for overall health, including reducing anti-nutrients and that is the Paleo diet. I’ll dive deeper into the basis of the Paleo diet in upcoming guides and why it is one of the many that have stuck around for years.

Don’t forget that while antinutrients are known to cause problems, you may not be particularly sensitive to them. But, if you are, you’re now equipped with the knowledge of how to identify them and ways to limit their impact.

Look out for more guides coming out soon where I will go a little deeper into each of these antinutrients and how we can hack our diets to minimize their negative effects! Share this with someone you feel may benefit from knowing more about how what they’re eating might be causing their health issues.


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A Beginner’s Guide To Apple Cider Vinegar Fri, 29 May 2020 18:39:42 +0000 Apple cider vinegar has become all the craze lately. This new hype is actually ‘old news’ as apple cider vinegar is one of the oldest known natural health remedies, and has been used medicinally for […]

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Apple cider vinegar has become all the craze lately. This new hype is actually ‘old news’ as apple cider vinegar is one of the oldest known natural health remedies, and has been used medicinally for years! We’re just becoming more aware of these benefits. It is simply a re-discovery.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is talked about everywhere as people look to improve their health in more natural ways. The natural product has high levels of acetic acid, among other compounds, which are responsible for its supposed health benefits of which improved glucose and fat metabolism are most desired. It’s a common pantry staple and is often taken as a supplement in small quantities to help with digestion,

You may have heard of people who swear by taking a shot of ACV in the morning and they wouldn’t be the same without it. All this hype around this seemingly simple pantry item is totally valid, as most of the health benefits are backed by science.

Before you jump into the article, sign up to receive your free guide below!


What is apple cider vinegar?

Crushed apples are exposed to yeast and bacteria to make ACV. It is essentially fermented apples. This is how apple cider is made, but with a second fermentation, instead of just one, the cider is turned into vinegar.

The yeast and bacteria work as a team. Yeast digest the sugars from the apples into alcohol while the bacteria, called acetobacter, convert the alcohol into acetic acid. 

Many ACV labels will say ‘contains the mother’, which sounds absurd, but the ‘mother’ is the clumps and strands that you see floating around. This is the yeast and bacteria that continue to ferment the apples and is completely safe to consume. You can buy filtered or distilled ACV which is clear, but the raw, unpasteurized version is cloudy with the mother floating around.

Some argue that the mother is responsible for all of ACV’s health benefits. This is partly true since the mother is a probiotic, but the majority of the benefits may come from the acetic acid made by the bacteria. Other organic acids such as citric, formic, malic, lactic and succinic acid are also produced as by products of the bacterial fermentation, while acetic acid appears to be the major player here.

On top of the probiotics and acetic acid, ACV contains some minerals that apples do, as well as some polyphenols (plant-based antioxidants). The real bonus is that ACV comes with almost no sugar load compared to apples, thanks to the fermentation of the sugars in the apples. 

So, by converting the often unwanted, and sometimes health-negating sugars in apples into something that actually improves our health via a natural process that has been around for thousands of years, we have a powerful natural health remedy that’s widely available and affordable.

What is Apple Cider Vinegar

What are the health benefits?

There is little high quality evidence that supports the purported benefits of ACV and the science that has been done is usually done using other vinegars. With that said, ACV should be taken as a supplement to a healthy lifestyle, and not used as a means to achieve health on its own.Health benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

On a surface level, the main benefits of ACV are:

  • A natural laxative 
  • Ease heartburn & improve digestion
  • Improves satiety & regulates appetite
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Lowers cholesterol

The science

Apple cider vinegar’s many beneficial effects are attributed to the ‘mother’ as a probiotic, the acetic acid produced and the polyphenols present in the apples themselves. Let’s geek out a little on how these apples magically turn into a liquid that claims to cure many health problems.

Acetic Acid

The fermentation of alcohol by bacteria called acetobacter produces acetic acid and is what makes ACV acidic, as you might have guessed. It is also responsible for ACV’s many benefits.

Acetic acid (C2H4O2) is a short-chain fatty acid with 2 carbons in its chain length. In its pure form, it is a clear liquid that has a very strong smell and is extremely corrosive to the skin. It is not safe to consume! But, all vinegar contains acetic acid, in amounts that are safe to consume. To get a better understanding, let’s take a look at the difference between white vinegar and apple cider vinegar.

White vinegar: It is sometimes called spirit vinegar and is clear or white in color. It is made from the fermentation of grain alcohol. It can be used for cooking or baking and is a powerful antimicrobial making it a good household cleaning agent. It contains 4 to 7% acetic acid and 93 to 96% water. 

Apple cider vinegar: It is brown in color, often murky, and is made from apple juice going through a two-step fermentation process. It is more versatile when used for cooking, and has greater nutritional value than white vinegar because of the fruit it came from. It contains 5 to 6% acetic acid and 94 to 95% water.2,19

As mentioned, acetic acid is produced by bacterial fermentation in ACV, but it is also produced naturally inside our gut by our own gut bacteria. The bacteria in our gut ferment indigestible fibers producing short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) as end products that go on to confer many beneficial metabolic effects. Acetic acid is the most abundant SCFA that our gut bacteria produce, with propionate and butyrate also being made. They each have distinct functions:

  • Acetate enters the peripheral circulation to be metabolized by peripheral tissues.
  • Propionate is largely taken up by the liver.
  • Butyrate is the major energy source for colonocytes.

These SCFA are present in our large intestine (colon) in a ratio of 60:20:20, respectively. Once acetic acid is absorbed from the gut and into the bloodstream it acts on various tissues around the body like muscle, fat and liver by binding to certain proteins.18

Acetic acid has numerous studies backing its ability combat the obese, insulin resistant state. Most notably, by regulating blood glucose and insulin responses to meals and improving insulin sensitivity. It is also well known to increase satiety by stimulating specific hormones that affect appetite. In fact, it plays such an important role in weight control and blood sugar balance that medical professionals have looked to “oral acetate administration (vinegar intake), colonic acetate infusions, acetogenic fiber, and acetogenic probiotic administrations as approaches to combat obesity and comorbidities”. 

Any increase in the amount of acetic acid present in the gut is thought to be beneficial. This is part of the reason why we take probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics; to increase acetic acid in the gut. We can obtain acetic acid from dietary sources (vinegar or ACV), it is produced naturally within our gut from the fermentation of fiber in our diet and it is increased with prebiotic and probiotic administration.

In summary, acetic acid has been shown to act in various ways in the body:

  • Increased energy expenditure
  • Browning of white adipose tissue
  • Improved glucose uptake
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Increased satiety
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Increased fat and glucose oxidation in the liver

Apple cider vinegar benefits

Figure 1 Acetate sources and acetate-mediated effects in metabolic health.

The fact that acetic acid has these many beneficial effects is promising for ACV as a supplement, however, more research is needed on this ancient natural remedy itself.

Other bioactive compounds:


Now let’s get back to ACV and what makes it better than regular grain-derived vinegar. Because ACV is derived from fruit it contains phenolic compounds or polyphenols which are plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. These compounds are known to scavenge free radicals or reduce oxidative stress in our cells.

Studies have shown that ACV contains3:

  • gallic acid
  • catechin
  • epicatechin
  • chlorogenic acid
  • caffeic acid
  • p‐coumaric acid

Depending on the total phenolic content of a particular product, ACV may be a good supplement to add to your antioxidant stack.

100g of ACV contains the following minerals4:


Minerals         %DV    Quantity

Calcium           1%       7 mg

Iron                  2%       0.20 mg

Magnesium     1%       5 mg

Phosphorus    1%       8 mg

Potassium       2%       73 mg

Sodium            0%       5 mg

Zinc                 0%       0.04 mg

Weight Loss

Historically, ACV has been used as an antibiotic, It goes without saying that any supplement that is aimed at weight loss should be coupled with a healthy, whole-foods-based diet that is low in processed foods and a regular amount of exercise. The same is true for ACV.

One study examined the effects of ACV on 39 overweight or obese people on a ‘restricted calorie diet’. ACV reduced body weight, waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), plasma triglycerides, total cholesterol, visceral fat and appetite score, while it increased HDL – the ‘good’ cholesterol. All of these markers are indicative of improved metabolic health and support weight loss. However, this was a small group examined for a relatively short period of time and the subjects were following a restricted calorie diet and they exercised.5

The evidence behind ACV for weight loss is poor, and more work is needed. The many beneficial effects on weight control are likely because of the appetite regulating effects of ACV and not the fact that it causes you to burn more fat, as many products lead you to believe.

Blood Sugar & Insulin Control

I have talked about how frequent spikes in our blood glucose can lead to a state of insulin resistance. This just means that after a meal, our cells lose the ability to respond to insulin effectively, leaving high sugar levels in the blood instead of allowing it to enter our cells to be used for fuel. As this spike in our blood glucose occurs more and more, our cells start to become resistant to insulin. Insulin resistance is one of the biggest indicators of diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases.

Several experiments have analyzed the ‘antiglycemic’ or blood glucose lowering effect of vinegars, while a select few have looked at ACV specifically. The mechanism is likely attributed to the acetic acid present in all vinegars in slightly different amounts.3

Interestingly, ACV has been shown to reduce the blood glucose spike after a meal that contains carbohydrates. One study showed glucose levels in the blood to be 20% lower when acetic acid (as vinegar) was ingested with a carbohydrate containing meal.6

ACV was also shown to slow gastric emptying (delay the rate at which food leaves the stomach), which prevented a quick spike in blood glucose by slowing the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. This effect lowered both the blood glucose as well as the insulin response to a starchy meal. This is beneficial to diabetics and anyone looking to be metabolically healthy.8

Another study in humans showed that vinegar increased the glucose uptake by cells in forearm muscle and decreased the amount of insulin released after a meal. Again, two changes that are beneficial to improving insulin resistance.7

Satiety & Appetite

The weight loss benefits of ACV are largely due to its ability to increase a person’s satiety in response to a meal. Greater satiety significantly reduces the amount of food you eat, indirectly leading to weight loss. A study examining the effects of acetic acid on satiety after a meal of white bread showed that levels of satiety was increased in 12 healthy individuals.

The acetic acid stimulates the secretion of two important gut hormones; glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and peptide YY (PYY) which send a signal of satiety to the brain.

Lower Cholesterol

The cholesterol-lowering effect of ACV has been reported with one study showing that ACV supplementation lowered total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while increasing HDL in the blood.

Antioxidant (ROS)

Reactive oxygen species that build up inside our cells are known to cause damage to our fats, proteins and DNA which results in accelerated aging. The phenolic compounds that are found in vinegar (discussed above) have an antioxidant effect, reducing the activity of ROS.

Oxidation of LDL particles is what leads to and worsens the highly inflammatory chronic condition of atherosclerosis. Chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol present in high amounts in ACV may reduce the oxidation of LDL particles.3


In some food products, ACV and other vinegars are used as a food preservative thanks to its antibacterial properties. The acetic acid in vinegars can inhibit the growth of bacteria in foods by getting into the cells and killing them. Among all of the organic acids present in vinegar, acetic acid was shown to be the most effective at killing E. coli (a common type of bacteria), followed by lactic, citric and malic acids.3,17

Skin health

There is limited evidence supporting ACV’s ability to treat some skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It is always cautioned however that you should only apply diluted ACV to the skin as pure vinegar can cause burns.17

Improve digestion

A common use for ACV is to improve digestion, treat acid reflux and to reduce bloating. There is no clear science that supports these claims, however there are many anecdotal reports about ACV improving digestion.

More uses9 ways to benefits from Apple Cider Vinegar

Food preparation: Apple cider vinegar is a well-known supplement now, taken as shots or even pills, but it truly belongs in the pantry, or at least it has a place there. As a food item, ACV is commonly used in salad dressings and vinaigrettes or for marinating or pickling, It is also a great way to give your water some flavor or as an ingredient for a health elixir to sip on.1, 16

Most interestingly, a recent study looked at whether spraying meat with vinegar before cooking affected the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). They found that ACV caused a 66% decrease in the amount of PAH formed during the cooking process in charcoal-grilled pork loin!10

Cleaning/Beauty: According to the Environmental Working Group, Apple cider vinegar is overwhelmingly safe. In fact, it is considered to be a ‘low’ overall hazard in beauty products and safe as an ingredient for cleaning agents. You’ll find ACV in many natural shampoos, soaps and moisturizers. It is also used for bug bites, stings and for sunburn. Because of its antibacterial properties, its use on wounds and skin disorders is fairly common, but caution must be taken to dilute ACV to avoid further damaging the skin.14, 15

Adding ACV to your supplement stack

Look for raw and organic ACV products. Read the label carefully to see what the percentage of acetic acid is and what the polyphenol content is. This may not be shown, but can set apart a good and bad quality product.

Choose unfiltered and unpasteurized products which you can identify straight away by the murkiness and the strands of the ‘mother’ floating around. Although this may look rather off-putting, it is completely safe to consume and contains healthy bacteria, enzymes and amino acids! Filtered ACV will be a clear, light brown colour in contrast.

You’ll find ACV in the grocery store as a pantry item, but it will most likely also be in the supplement aisle where it can be in liquid or tablet form. Wherever you get it, just make sure you read the ingredients and that it says ‘apple cider vinegar’ and not acetic acid or white vinegar.

How to take ACV

As a liquid, you can either:

  • Add ACV to salad dressings, marinades or use it for pickling.
  • Add it to water or make a tonic using water, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.

Always dilute ACV with water and rinse your mouth with water afterwards to minimize tooth exposure to acetic acid.

Some companies sell ACV in a tablet form which you may prefer if you don’t enjoy the taste. Just be sure to follow the dose instructions on the label.

Fasting: Many claim that taken in the morning on an empty stomach will make you burn more fat. This isn’t the case! WHat it will do, however, is control your appetite by increasing your satiety. This is why I like to use ACV while I am fasting. I add it to a big jug of water and sip on that throughout the day. If anything, it just adds flavor to my water and keeps me going without food.

With food: Even if you’re not diabetic or obese, reducing fluctutations in blood sugar and insulin should be a priority. Warding off insulin resistance is key to long term metabolic health. The research pointing to ACV’s ability to decrease spike in blood glucose and insulin after a meal suggests that adding a tablespoon or two just before or during a meal is a good idea.

I always use Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar as they’re a well-trusted brand that is organic and unfiltered, containing the ‘mother’.

If you feel nauseous after taking ACV on an empty stomach, consider taking less or diluting it down a little more.


There is no standard recommendation so, depending on who you ask, the dose of ACV may differ. It also depends on how you take it. If you’re taking it as a supplement, it is best to stick to 1 – 2 tbsp at a time, diluted in some water. It is best taken just before or during a meal if you’re just starting out.

If you’re using it to prepare food, it is likely that the dose is less important, however you should be aware that ACV does come with a few side effects. Remember, just because it is a natural product does not mean that it can be taken in large amounts.

When to be cautious

  • Make sure you trust the brand you are buying. Sometimes a company may use plain vinegar. And be sure about the acid level as some may contain a higher acid level than the expected 5 – 6% of ACV.
  • Taking ACV too frequently can cause the enamel on your teeth to decay due to its acidity.12
  • Too much ACV was shown to cause potassium levels to be depleted in one case report, which is particularly a concern if you have high blood pressure.16
  • Diabetics should be wary of taking ACV while taking insulin medication, as it can alter insulin levels and may cause low blood sugar.11
  • Nausea is a common side effect, especially when taken on an empty stomach.

Traditionally used in food preparation, and with many years used as a natural remedy, ACV has now received a lot of attention for its therapeutic benefits. While more large-scale and long-term clinical research is needed, there is a good reason to incorporate ACV into your diet with its anti-diabetic and antioxidant effects being the most well-backed. However, small doses are recommended as more is definitely not better when it comes to ACV.

Have you been using ACV in your daily supplement stack? I’d love to know when you take it and what benefits you’ve had. It is definitely one of my go-to’s, especially during a long fast. If you haven’t been using it, why not give it a try with your next meal. A fun experiment would be to test your blood glucose 30, 60 and 120 minutes after a meal with and without taking ACV and see if you notice a difference!

Tag me in your experiments, and let me know if you have any questions in the comments on my Instagram page. Head over there now to share this with your friends and family.


  2. Hernández MAG, Canfora EE, Jocken JWE, Blaak EE. The Short-Chain Fatty Acid Acetate in Body Weight Control and Insulin Sensitivity. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1943. Published 2019 Aug 18. doi:10.3390/nu11081943
  3. Properties of vinegar: Budak NH, Aykin E, Seydim AC, Greene AK, Guzel-Seydim ZB. Functional properties of vinegar. J Food Sci. 2014;79(5):R757‐R764. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12434
  5. Weight loss study: Solaleh Sadat Khezri, Atoosa Saidpour, Nima Hosseinzadeh, Zohreh Amiri. Beneficial effects of Apple Cider Vinegar on weight management, Visceral Adiposity Index and lipid profile in overweight or obese subjects receiving restricted calorie diet: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 43, 2018.
  6. Blood glucose: Johnston CS, Steplewska I, Long CA, Harris LN, Ryals RH. Examination of the antiglycemic properties of vinegar in healthy adults. Ann Nutr Metab. 2010;56(1):74‐79. doi:10.1159/000272133
  7. Insulin response: Mitrou P, Petsiou E, Papakonstantinou E, et al. The role of acetic acid on glucose uptake and blood flow rates in the skeletal muscle in humans with impaired glucose tolerance. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015;69(6):734‐739. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.289
  8. Liljeberg H, Björck I. Delayed gastric emptying rate may explain improved glycaemia in healthy subjects to a starchy meal with added vinegar. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1998;52(5):368‐371. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1600572
  9. Satiety: Ostman E, Granfeldt Y, Persson L, Björck I. Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(9):983‐988. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602197
  10. PAH: Tânia Cordeiro, Olga Viegas, Marta Silva, Zita E. Martins, Iva Fernandes, Isabel M.L.P.V.O. Ferreira, Olívia Pinho, Nuno Mateus, Conceição Calhau. Inhibitory effect of vinegars on the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in charcoal-grilled pork. Meat Science, Volume 167, 2020, 108083 ISSN 0309-1740.
  11. Caution diabetics: Hlebowicz J, Darwiche G, Björgell O, Almér LO. Effect of apple cider vinegar on delayed gastric emptying in patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus: a pilot study. BMC Gastroenterol. 2007;7:46. Published 2007 Dec 20. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-7-46
  12. Tooth Erosion: Willershausen I, Weyer V, Schulte D, Lampe F, Buhre S, Willershausen B. In vitro study on dental erosion caused by different vinegar varieties using an electron microprobe. Clin Lab. 2014;60(5):783‐790. doi:10.7754/clin.lab.2013.130528
  13. Burn: Bunick CG, Lott JP, Warren CB, Galan A, Bolognia J, King BA. Chemical burn from topical apple cider vinegar. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;67(4):e143‐e144. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2011.11.934
  18. Wong JM, de Souza R, Kendall CW, Emam A, Jenkins DJ. Colonic health: fermentation and short chain fatty acids. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2006;40(3):235‐243. doi:10.1097/00004836-200603000-00015

The post A Beginner’s Guide To Apple Cider Vinegar appeared first on Ingredientologist.

Magnesium – How to supplement with and why you should do it Tue, 19 May 2020 17:43:59 +0000 Eat right. Exercise regularly. Recover well. Get sunlight. Take your vitamins and minerals. There is no doubt that these are all incredibly important steps to a healthy life. But, ensuring you have adequate minerals in […]

The post Magnesium – How to supplement with and why you should do it appeared first on Ingredientologist.

Eat right. Exercise regularly. Recover well. Get sunlight. Take your vitamins and minerals.

There is no doubt that these are all incredibly important steps to a healthy life. But, ensuring you have adequate minerals in their ideal ratios, is arguably the foundation to health and longevity. These minerals are what drive all of the cellular processes in our bodies – from creating energy to move to sending nerve impulses between our limbs and our brains. Our bodies are electric beings. Our cells all have a voltage, and it is the quantity, location and interplay of these minerals that keeps our cells ‘charged’ in order to function optimally. A low voltage means a low functioning cell.

One of the minerals that is vitally important to us is magnesium. It is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies and the second most common deficiency we see in the world today – the first being vitamin D (read my guide on Vitamin D here). If you’ve been contemplating supplementing with magnesium but just don’t know where to start, then this guide is for you.

Before you jump into the article, sign up to receive your free guide below!

Facts about magnesium

We tend to think of mineral deficiencies as having little impact on our health, but when we’re talking about magnesium and the fact that it is essential for the function of over 354 enzymes in our body and there are over 3751 binding sites for magnesium proteins in our cells, we should re-evaluate its importance! In fact, some even argue that magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other mineral deficiency.

There are seven macrominerals – minerals that we do not make ourselves and need to obtain more than 100mg of them from our diet. We have about 20 to 28 grams of magnesium in our body. One percent of that is in our blood, 60% in our bones and teeth and the rest is in our muscles, heart, brain and other tissues.

Magnesium is found naturally in plants and some animal foods which they absorb from the soil. We absorb this mineral throughout our small intestine in a well-regulated and sensitive way, and our kidneys control how much is secreted and reabsorbed depending on our magnesium status.

But, magnesium is also the most depleted mineral in our soils. Factors that cause this depletion include:

  • The use of pesticides and herbicides
  • Potash fertilizer – potassium chloride/carbonate that replaces magnesium in soil
  • Soil erosion and acid rain

All of these strip magnesium from the soil and result in plants that are weak and pale as magnesium is needed for chlorophyll and plant photosynthesis.

Facts about Magnesium

What depletes magnesium in humans?

  • Food processing: Modern processing methods like refining grains, heating and treating natural foods, and even boiling vegetables strips them of magnesium.
  • Fluoride & Chlorine: Found in water and toothpaste, fluoride displaces magnesium in our cells, and stays there.
  • Stress: High amounts of stress influences how we absorb magnesium by lowering our stomach acid.
  • Gut Sensitivities: IBS or leaky gut cause poor absorption.
  • Anti-nutrients: Some plants contain tannins (in tea), phytates and oxalates. These compounds all decrease the absorption of magnesium.
  • Highly processed, sugary foods: These foods provide zero magnesium, but use it to be metabolized. They deplete vitamin B6 levels which is responsible for magnesium absorption.
  • Alcohol, some drugs & caffeine: These can impact absorption and distribution of magnesium in our bodies.
  • Hypokalemia: Low potassium levels influence the balance of magnesium.
  • High estrogen levels: Estrogen has been shown to lower levels of magnesium.
  • Insulin resistance: Being insulin sensitive is vital for our intestinal cells ability to absorb magnesium. High levels of insulin in the blood cause magnesium to be lost in the urine.
  • Coffee: Although coffee provides a source of magnesium, it causes less magnesium to be absorbed, and more to be excreted by the body.
  • Low salt intake: Low sodium in the blood causes both sodium and magnesium to be pulled from bone and placed into the blood. It also increases magnesium lost in sweat.
  • Low stomach acid: This reduces the absorption of magnesium in the gut.

Looking at all of these factors that impact a healthy level of magnesium are because of the modern world we live in today. Many people are overly stressed, have a poor diet that is low in magnesium-rich foods and are either severely or moderately insulin resistant.

In fact, if we look at the calcium:magnesium ratio, back in the early 1900’s it was 1:1 – the optimal ratio of magnesium to calcium. Today, we have a ratio of anywhere between 5:1 and 15:1, simply because of the modern environment we live in. This ratio is extremely important, with too little magnesium causing constipation, for example.

Magnesium Supplements

Why take magnesium?

Well, apart from what’s already been mentioned about how critical magnesium is in many processes in our bodies and how likely it is that we’re deficient, let’s take a look at some of the mechanisms by which magnesium acts:

  1. Energy Production

Magnesium exists in every cell and for good reason. The enzymes involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate or ATP – the ‘energy molecule’ – all require magnesium ions to work. In fact, ATP exists in our cells as MgATP.

Low magnesium status = low ATP production = low energy = fatigue. Many people attribute their fatigue to external life stressors, but a low magnesium status may be the underlying cause.

  1. Neurotransmission

The firing of nerves in the nervous system is tightly controlled as minerals and neurotransmitters (chemicals that control nerve signals) flow in and out of neurons. Magnesium controls the flow of calcium ions which controls the excitability of nerve impulses. Without this regulation, nerves fire at random and too frequently, causing ADHD and poor sleep.

Magnesium also binds to NMDA receptors in the brain which regulates glutamate production. Overall, synaptic density, function and plasticity is influenced by magnesium. This is the underpinning of a healthy functioning brain.

  1. Muscle Contraction & Heart Function

Over 35% of magnesium is within our muscles because it is essential for muscular contractions – the very process that moves our bodies!

Magnesium plays a similar role in muscle contraction as it does in nerve transmission; tightly regulating the flow of positively and negatively charged ions into and out of cells. The build up and consequent flow of these charged ions is what creates an electrical gradient that drives the ‘pumping’ of our hearts.

Calcium, another important player here, flows into muscle cells and causes a contraction. Magnesium is a calcium channel blocker which means it controls how much calcium gets into muscle cells so that our muscles aren’t always in a state of contraction. With low magnesium, our muscles cramp regularly, we get muscle pain, fibromyalgia and even heart arrhythmias.

Our blood pressure is also influenced by magnesium as it plays a role in producing nitric oxide – a compound that dilates our blood vessels. For this reason, hypertension is commonly seen in those with magnesium deficiency .

  1. Protein Synthesis

From amino acids into functional proteins; the process of making new proteins and repairing existing ones is dependent on magnesium. RNA, DNA and glutathione are a few examples.

  1. Psychological Health & Sleep Quality

Depression and anxiety are major clinical symptoms of a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is a cofactor needed in the formation of important mood-related hormones: serotonin, melatonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Each step in the production of these hormones needs a magnesium ion to work. For example, the biochemical process: tryptophan → 5 HTP → serotonin → melatonin, needs magnesium at each step. Imbalances in these hormones is the underlying cause of many mental disorders like anxiety and depression and of course, poor sleep.

Others include:

  • Blood sugar control
  • Activation of B Vitamins, Vitamin D and glutathione
  • Cell division (growth of new cells)
  • Electrolyte homeostasis (Na, K, Ca, P, Mg etc.)

We can see how diverse magnesium’s role is in the body and why being in a deficit can cause so many health problems. The diversity of the systems in the body that are impacted make the symptoms of magnesium deficiency rather broad:

Mild deficiency:

Loss of appetite, nausea
Headache, brain fog
Eye twitching
Chocolate cravings

Severe deficiency:

Arrhythmias (irregular heart beats)
Muscle cramps
Numbness & tingling

It is estimated that a whopping 75% of Americans aren’t getting enough magnesium. That’s 3 out of every 4 people. On average, people’s intake of magnesium is below the recommended daily allowance, with an average of 250mg. This is likely because of our nutrient depleted soils, a low intake of magnesium-rich foods and a high intake of refined, processed, sugar-laden foods. The standard American diet is a sure route to becoming deficient in this essential mineral.

Magnesium and the athlete

Magnesium is essential for optimal performance and post-exercise recovery! The mineral is needed for the energy producing pathways glycolysis, the TCA cycle and creatine phosphate production, which in simple terms just means the breakdown of glucose or other food into energy to fuel exercise. On top of that, exercise is known to deplete magnesium stores, especially through sweat which is why athletes may have a higher requirement for magnesium compared to a sedentary person.

Magnesium and the immune system

Magnesium is not often thought to influence the immune system. You’ll be surprised to find out that magnesium is essential for our immune cells, specifically natural killer cells and T cells to express receptors that bind to virally infected cells and cancerous cells to target them for destruction. Without magnesium inside our cells, we can’t attack viruses.

Additionally, we know how important vitamin D is for a healthy immune system. But, vitamin D needs to be converted from calcidiol into its active form called calcitriol by various enzymes in the liver and kidneys. This cannot happen without magnesium. No magnesium means no active vitamin D.

Why people supplement with magnesium

Based on magnesium’s many functions in the human body, it plays a role in the prevention and treatment of many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and ADHD to name a few. We can see from the many roles described above that having adequate magnesium levels is important. Because of its universal role in the body, some companies can make far reaching claims. Most commonly, magnesium is taken to:

  • Improve sleep
  • Enhance exercise performance
  • Reduce muscle cramps and pain
  • Prevent migraine headaches
  • Treat constipation
  • Improve heart health
  • Improve insulin sensitivity

Nutrition is key!

Magnesium is found in many plant foods and animal foods but due to food processing techniques and our mineral-depleted soils, some foods are devoid of magnesium by the time they reach our plates. One study showed that “the daily dietary intake of magnesium in Western society has been declining from about 500mg per day in the 1900’s to a value closer to 175mg per day.”

Being careful about what you eat is important – focus on eating foods in th

eir natural state and buying organic where possible. Following a paleo diet or a well-formulated ketogenic diet that is whole-foods based is a great way to start.

It is hard to overdose with magnesium from food sources, as any excess will simply be excreted in urine by your kidneys. In contrast, overdosing with supplemental magnesium can cause negative side effects like diarrhea.

Interestingly, magnesium and sodium (salt) balance play a role in maintaining normal magnesium levels. If you don’t include enough salt in your diet, you have low sodium in your bloodstream which causes your body to pull magnesium from your bones and place it into the blood to counteract this. Also, when we sweat, we excrete mostly sodium. If you’re low in sodium, magnesium replaces this in sweat and you end up losing more magnesium. The bottom line is: if you eat a mostly whole-foods diet, you should regularly salt your food, but in the modern world, many people consume too many processed foods that contain way too much sodium!

If you’re got your nutrition dialed in but still experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, or have had your magnesium levels tested and you’re still deficient, then adding a magnesium supplement that suits you is a good idea.

Measuring magnesium status

There are 3 tests that you can take to determine whether you’re magnesium deficient. You can measure the amount of magnesium in:

  1. Serum/blood
  2. Urine
  3. Cells (red blood cells)

A simple blood test is the easiest but is not reflective of your overall levels because, as mentioned previously, only 1% of magnesium exists in the blood. It is a good indicator for acute changes in magnesium like straight after taking a supplement. If you have too much magnesium in your urine, you may be excreting too much, but its presence is not necessarily a bad thing as our kidneys are continuously controlling our levels by retaining and excreting certain amounts. The level in your cells – measured by the amount in your red blood cells – is a more sensitive method but again, if it is low, this may mean you have a poor ability to absorb magnesium into your cells.

In summary, the most optimal situation would be to test all three so that you can have a well-rounded understanding of your overall magnesium status.

Supplementing with Magnesium

Choosing Supplements

With the wide range of magnesium supplements on the market today, choosing the right supplement can be challenging! What’s the difference between the different forms? Which one does my body need? When should I take it?

These are all very valid questions! And I have asked them a couple of times myself. There are a few things to consider when choosing a supplement, the most important being bioavailability. The last thing you want is to be spending money on supplements that your body isn’t using.


The truth of the matter is that there are many factors that influence the bioavailability of a magnesium supplement. This means the amount of elemental magnesium that gets absorbed and used by the body and can range from 35% to 70%. This is the very reason researchers and scientists have come up with so many different forms of magnesium, searching for the form with the best bioavailability.

What matters is whether a supplement increases the amount of magnesium within our cells. Magnesium is an ‘intracellular’ mineral, which means that it does most of its ‘jobs’ inside our cells. An oral magnesium supplement needs to get from the acidic environment of the stomach, get absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestine and circulate throughout the body where it can enter the cells. If a supplement can do this, it is very bioavailable.

The three main factors influencing bioavailability:

  1. Solubility – the more soluble, the easier the magnesium ion separates from the compound it’s attached to so that it can be absorbed.
  2. Elemental Magnesium Load – the amount of magnesium that the supplement provides compared to the salt/chemical it is bound to.
  3. Magnesium Status – the person’s level of magnesium will influence how much is absorbed, with greater absorption seen in those who are deficient.

The different forms

Magnesium supplements come in different forms that vary in the factors described above. Typically, magnesium supplements are sold as magnesium salts, which is essentially a magnesium ion bound to either an organic or inorganic salt.

Organic salts are created by combining magnesium with an acid or an amino acid (protein) – called an ‘amino acid chelate’. For example, magnesium citrate is made by combining magnesium with citric acid while magnesium glycinate is made by combining magnesium to the amino acid glycine.

Inorganic salts are generally harvested from the earth.

Organic magnesium salts bound to an acid include:

  • Mg Citrate
  • Mg Gluconate
  • Mg Malate
  • Mg Orotate
  • Mg Ascorbate
  • Mg Lactate
  • Mg Fumarate

Organic magnesium salts bound to an amino acid include:

  • Mg Glycinate
  • Mg Threonate
  • Mg Pidolate
  • Mg Taurate
  • Mg Glutamate
  • Mg Aspartate

Inorganic magnesium salts include:

  • Mg Oxide
  • Mg Chloride
  • Mg Sulfate
  • Mg Carbonate

Which form is the best?Which form of Magnesium should I choose

From the scientific research that we do have, the results tend to differ quite a lot, but generally, organic salts have a greater bioavailability than inorganic salts.

Multiple studies have shown magnesium citrate to be more absorbable than magnesium oxide because it can withstand the acidity of stomach acids and it is very soluble. There is a tradeoff between the two however, where citrate has a higher solubility than oxide, it comes with a slightly lower amount of elemental magnesium.

There has been no evidence to show amino acid chelates to have better bioavailability than other magnesium salts. Their benefits may come from the value of the amino acid itself. For example, magnesium glycinate provides a glycine amino acid with it which has unique gut health and brain benefits. Another, magnesium threonate can potentially allow the magnesium ion to cross the blood brain barrier getting more magnesium into the brain, however more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Many people are aware of the laxative effect of magnesium. In this case, it isn’t ideal to continue supplementing with it because you don’t absorb all of the magnesium. Instead, it is flushed through your body far too quickly to have any impact. Magnesium citrate and hydroxide are two forms commonly used for their laxative effect. The reason you experience this is because magnesium draws water into the intestines and colons, increasing gut motility. Rather experiment with a different form, or check with your doctor before carrying on.

In summary, highly absorbable forms of magnesium salts are magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate. More research needs to be done comparing all of the different forms to one another, but if you opt for organic salts over inorganic salts, you’re taking one step in the right direction.

Other forms: 

Nano Minerals

Interestingly, a new form of magnesium called a ‘nano mineral’ appears to be a highly bioavailable supplement. In the form of ‘nano magnesium chloride’, it is essentially a smaller magnesium ion that, because of its size, can pass into the bloodstream from the intestine easily, without the need of a transporter. More research is needed on this. 

Topical Magnesium

Many forms of magnesium can be used topically – applied to the skin – such as magnesium chloride and magnesium sulfate. While the skin is the largest organ in our body, some argue that it has the best rates of absorption. It is also a good alternative to getting enough magnesium if you experience adverse effects from oral supplements. Taking an epsom salt bath is a very common relaxation practice.

Each person responds differently, however, commonly used forms for specific health problems are:

  • Improve brain function → magnesium threonate (readily absorbed into the brain)
  • Increase bowel movement → magnesium oxide, hydroxide & citrate (laxative effect)
  • Muscle relaxation → magnesium citrate, sulfate (calms muscle tissue)
  • Improve sleep → magnesium glycinate (glycine may help sleep)
  • Improve energy & muscle pain → magnesium malate (malate can improve stamina)

What form do I use?

My preference, especially on the keto diet, is magnesium glycinate but I also like to have a powdered magnesium, by BioTrust, before bed as it helps me to relax.

What lowers magnesium’s bioavailability?

  • Phytates, oxalates and tannins
    These chemicals found in plants inhibit the absorption of magnesium and other minerals in our gut (calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, chromium and manganese). They are dietary ligands (proteins) that bind to minerals in the intestine, decreasing their ability to get absorbed in the gut.
  • Insulin resistance
    Having poor insulin sensitivity, which means your cells don’t respond to insulin very well, has been linked to poor magnesium absorption. People who are insulin resistant tend to have higher blood sugar levels which can increase magnesium loss in urine.
  • Calcium intake
    Some medical professionals believe that when calcium and magnesium are taken together that the bioavailability of magnesium is decreased. This may be because they are both ions with a positive charge of 2 and therefore compete for uptake in the gut. Perhaps, if the magnesium and calcium salts were of different forms, this problem could be avoided.
  • Magnesium status
    The more deficient you are in magnesium, the more magnesium your body will absorb in the gut.


Top 3 Magnesium Supplements on a budget

The recommended daily allowances:

Men (aged 19+): 400 – 420mg per day

Women (aged 19+): 320 – 360mg per day

Children (aged 1 – 18 years): 85 – 300mg per day

Pregnant/breastfeeding women: 350 – 400mg per day

Dosage recommendations can vary depending on your needs. The bioavailability of the supplement will influence what dose you’re ultimately getting too. Studies have found positive effects with daily doses between 125 – 2500mg, however it is best to get tested first and to consult with your doctor before taking a supplement, especially at higher dosages.

Can you overdose with magnesium?

Your kidneys should do the work to get rid of any excess magnesium and so overdosing is not very common. Although, in individuals with poor kidney function, taking too much magnesium could lead to hypermagnesemia.

In general, the risk is low for healthy people, but if you are experiencing adverse symptoms like loose stools regularly, you may be taking too much magnesium.

By now I hope you realize just how important magnesium is for a healthy functioning body. If you’re not already making a conscious effort to incorporate magnesium-rich foods into your diet, then you may want to get your levels tested. Be aware of all of the magical marketing claims out there – they can be misleading, especially when the science behind the different magnesium forms is lacking.

Let me know if you take a magnesium supplement, and what forms you have found to work best! We are all on a continuous journey to find ways to optimize our health. Follow mine on Instagram, and share yours with me too!


Kass LS, Skinner P, Poeira F. A pilot study on the effects of magnesium supplementation with high and low habitual dietary magnesium intake on resting and recovery from aerobic and resistance exercise and systolic blood pressure. J Sports Sci Med. 2013;12(1):144‐150. Published 2013 Mar 1.

Blancquaert L, Vervaet C, Derave W. Predicting and Testing Bioavailability of Magnesium Supplements. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1663. Published 2019 Jul 20. doi:10.3390/nu11071663

C Coudray, M Rambeau, C Feillet-Coudray, E Gueux, JC Tressol, A Mazur, Y Rayssiguier . Study of magnesium bioavailability from ten organic and inorganic Mg salts in Mg-depleted rats using a stable isotope approach. Magnesium Research. 2005;18(4):215-223.

Gröber U, Schmidt J, Kisters K. Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients. 2015;7(9):8199‐8226. Published 2015 Sep 23. doi:10.3390/nu7095388

K Kisters, F Wessels, F Tokmak, ER Krefting, B Gremmler, M Kosch, M Hausberg . Early-onset increased calcium and decreased magnesium concentrations and an increased calcium/magnesium ratio in SHR versus WKY. Magnesium Research. 2004;17(4):264-269.

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A Guide To MCTs: Benefits And How To Supplement with Tue, 12 May 2020 17:57:46 +0000 This guide will cover one of the most common supplements to the ketogenic diet; medium-chain triglycerides, aka MCTs. If you’re new to keto, those three letters may sound new to you, but even the seasoned […]

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This guide will cover one of the most common supplements to the ketogenic diet; medium-chain triglycerides, aka MCTs. If you’re new to keto, those three letters may sound new to you, but even the seasoned keto dieter can have quite a bit of misunderstanding about them.

MCTs are widely available, extremely effective and are relatively affordable as a supplement, making them a prominent feature in many people’s keto lifestyles. Their main attraction is their ability to raise ketone levels in the blood relatively quickly. While they don’t contain any ketones, they possess a type of fat that is readily converted into ketones by the body.

In this guide, I want to educate you on exactly what MCTs are and how they work in the body so that you’re not fooled by all the marketing claims out there.

Medium-Chain Triglycerides MCT

What are MCTs?

Medium-chain triglycerides are a type of dietary fat. To simplify things, a ‘triglyceride’ is a technical term for fat. If you were to draw your blood and measure the amount of fat in it, you’d be measuring triglycerides. All triglycerides are made up of three fatty acids bound to a glycerol backbone.

Most people know that there are different types of fats, such as saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, which are classifications based on the presence and number of double bonds in a fatty acid’s carbon chains. But, fats are also named based on the length of their carbon chain. We have short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain triglycerides and long-chain fatty acids (these are the common terms, but ‘triglyceride’ and ‘fatty acid’ are often used interchangeably).

Carbon chain length:

  • Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) – 2 to 6 carbons
  • Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) – 8 to 10 carbons
  • Long chain fatty acids (LCFA) – 12 to 22 carbons

Most naturally-occurring fats – both in the diet (e.g., oleic acid from olive oil) and in the body – contain 16 – 18 carbon atoms, and are therefore considered long-chain fatty acids. While short-chain fatty acids consist of 2 – 6 carbons (for example, butyrate, which has 4 carbons and is referred to as C4).

MCTs are unique because of their chain length. The 3 MCTs include:

  • C6 / Caproic acid
  • C8 / Caprylic acid
  • C10 / Capric acid

There is debate around whether C12 is considered a long or medium chain fat, but it does not retain the same unique properties that the other MCTs do.

What makes MCTs so special?

  • They’re 10% lower in calories than long-chain fats (8.3 calories vs 9.0 calories per gram).
  • Because of their shorter chain, they get absorbed in the gut more rapidly than LCFA.
  • They get converted into energy (ATP) in the mitochondria more quickly than LCFA.

These points alone explain why eating more MCTs instead of LCFAs could be beneficial for weight loss. But, let’s take a look at exactly how MCTs work.

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How do MCTs work?

The length of MCTs is what makes them function differently in the body. There is a big difference in the rate of absorption in the gut between LCFAs and MCTs and when we understand this difference, we realise how powerful they can be as a supplement.

When LCFA are ingested, they have to be broken down into individual fatty acids by enzymes called lipases. These fatty acids then pass through the gut lining and get packaged into micelles – parcel-like structures that carry fats – which are transported into the lymphatic system. Here, the fats get converted back into triglycerides and can go into the bloodstream. This whole process involves many enzymes, bile salts and is a very complex process.

In comparison, MCTs are absorbed from the intestine straight into the bloodstream where they are transported directly to the liver. They do not require any micelles or enzymes in this process. Once in the liver, they get broken down into two-carbon fragments called acetyl-coA. Acetyl-coA is basically the building block of energy for our cells and gets converted into ketone bodies: beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate to be used for energy.

This essentially means that MCTs bypass all the complex processes long-chain fats undergo to be metabolized and instead get transported straight to the liver to be turned into energy.

This is the underlying reason that they are a perfect supplement for the keto diet. When you begin a ketogenic diet, you restrict carbohydrates by quite a lot, depriving your body of its ‘normal’ fuel source: glucose. When you continue to restrict carbs, you force your body to start burning an alternative fuel source: fat.

But, this process does not take place immediately. It takes time for your body to adapt to burning fat, and to actually switch on those metabolic pathways. Your body is so used to just burning glucose day in and out, that it has to ‘learn’ how to convert fat into energy.

While this phase of ‘keto-adaptation’ is taking place, you may experience energy slumps and fatigue, or other unwanted side effects like nausea, lightheadedness, cramping and headaches which are known as the ‘keto-flu’.

Because MCTs are rapidly converted into ketones and can produce energy readily in the body, they are a great way to support this transition from carb to fat burning. They can help you raise your ketones and give you a boost of energy, preventing those ‘keto-flu’ symptoms.

Where do MCTs come from?

Many food sources contain MCTs like coconut oil, palm kernel oil, butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Top 3 MCTs on a budget

Coconut oil is well-known for its MCT content, but about 13 – 15% of the fat in coconut oil comes from the MCTs C8 and C10. While, about 7 – 9% of the fat in butter comes from these very same MCTs.

Coconut oil only contains about 13 – 15% as the MCTs C8 and C10. The overwhelming majority of the fat in coconut oil comes from lauric acid (C12). While lauric acid is sometimes classified as an MCT, caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10) seem to be responsible for the benefits typically associated with MCTs. In other words, coconut oil does not equal MCT oil, and along those lines, it does not necessarily provide the same benefits (although many would leave you believing that it does).

There is no doubt that purified MCT oil where C8 and C10 are concentrated from coconut oil is a far more effective way to supplement.

Benefits of MCTs

Despite falling under the umbrella of saturated fats, which have also been mistakenly demonized, MCTs have also earned a health halo. For example, many in the scientific community have dubbed MCTs as “functional” fats thanks to the wide array of potential health benefits they offer.

Two of the most important benefits of MCTs are:

Increased Ketone Bodies.

One of the most outstanding benefits of MCTs is that they are known to have a high “ketogenicity”, which means they are readily converted to ketone bodies. Having said that, research has shown that C8 increases ketones by approximately 3 times more than C10 and 4 times more than coconut oil. In other words, C8 is the most ketogenic MCT.

The very reason many athletes, biohackers, celebrities and many more high performers adopt a ketogenic diet is for the effects of ketones themselves. They’re an important energy source for the brain, and for the heart, skeletal muscles and other tissues that are more energy-efficient and provide more energy per molecule compared to glucose. This makes MCTs a powerful supplement to enhance the diet’s effectiveness.

Along with their ability to boost endogenous ketone production, MCTs can be used by those who don’t follow a keto diet. So, you can still get the benefits from ketones themselves without the dietary restriction that comes with a ketogenic diet!

It is also worth mentioning the therapeutic effects of ketones. They have been shown to act as signalling molecules in the body giving them potent anti inflammatory, antioxidant and even anticancer effects. The presence of ketones in the blood has been used to treat many disease like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, cancer, diabetes and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Enhanced Focus, Mental Clarity, and Cognitive Function

Ketones, unlike fatty acids, can cross the blood-brain barrier making them a key energy source for the brain. This is important to note because, while the brain usually relies on glucose for fuel, it cannot use fats for fuel. Fats need to be converted into ketones (as MCTs do in the liver) to become an important “alternative energy source” for the brain. In fact, some believe that ketones are the brain’s preferred source of fuel, particularly during periods of fasting and extended exercise.

Many studies have shown supplementing with ketones to improve cognitive function, learning and memory. They’re often incorporated into many ‘nootropic stacks’ for this very reason.

In summary, they’re a powerful brain-boosting supplement that can not only enhance the brain’s function, but also protect and nourish the brain.

Other benefits include:

Increased Energy Levels
Because of their shorter length, MCTs are easily digested and rapidly absorbed in the body and are transported directly to the liver, where MCTs are quickly and efficiently burned for energy.

Less Likely to be Stored as Fat
Because they are transported directly to the liver, they bypass adipose (fat) tissue, which makes them less susceptible to be stored as fat. What’s more, while dietary fat typically provides 9 calories per gram, MCTs provide only 8.3 calories per gram.

Increased Metabolic Rate
Compared to long-chain fats, MCTs have been shown to increase metabolic rate (i.e., thermogenesis) and total daily caloric expenditure.

Enhanced Satiety and Appetite Management
Several studies have shown that MCTs may increase satiety, reduce appetite, and decrease total caloric intake. Research suggests that MCTs may trigger the release of key satiety and appetite-suppressing hormones (to a greater degree than other types of fats).

Improved Weight Management
Considering that MCTs may both increase metabolic rate and help manage food intake (i.e., calories out and calories in, respectively), it stands to reason that supplementing with MCTs and replacing normal dietary fat (i.e., LCFAs) with MCTs can help support weight management.

Supplementing with MCTs

MCTs typically contain a mixture of the different medium-chain triglycerides described above. Caprylic acid or C8 is the most ketogenic MCT, with C10 being slightly less effective. Some brands have MCTs as either 100% C8 or C10. Lauric acid, or C12, while technically a LCFA is the least effective at raising ketones but is a powerful antimicrobial, making it a perfect immune system supplement.

Use & Timing

MCTs are very versatile as it can be used in:

  • Coffee (Bulletproof coffee – a high-fat coffee blended with butter and MCT oil)
  • Smoothies/Protein shakes
  • Salad dressings
  • Baking

It can also be taken as is. Keto dieters will often knock back a tablespoon of MCT oil to give them a boost in their ketone levels throughout the day. They’re also a great way to increase fat intake on a ketogenic diet due to their associated health benefits.

Top 3 ways to use MCTs

MCT oil vs Powder:

Depending on what you’re looking for out of an MCT supplement, you may prefer one form over the other.

MCT Powder:

+ Easier on the GI system

+ Mixes easily into drinks

+ Easy to travel with or take on-the-go

+ Often comes blended with added health benefits (e.g. MCT + collagen powder)

– Can be 2x the price of oil

– May contain additives and fillers that decrease MCTs per gram

– Not as well researched as MCT oil

MCT Oil:

+ Cheaper

+ More widely available

+ Good substitute for other oils

– Can leave oily layer in drinks

– Can cause GI issues

– Less travel-friendly

MCTs are best taken in the morning, with a coffee or a high-fat shake, for example. They will raise ketones more effectively this way. However, some people may experience some gastrointestinal discomfort, especially if taken on an empty stomach.


Generally speaking, for metabolism, appetite, and weight management benefits associated with MCTs, studies suggest a range between 18 – 24 grams per day of a combination of C8 and C


A normal dose is 1 tablespoon of MCT oil. MCT powders may

have different doses depending on other ingredients. 1 tablespoon contains roughly 14 grams of fat.

If you’re new to supplementing with MCTs, be sure to begin with smaller servings to avoid GI distress. Start with 1 tsp and work your way up to a full serving.

It is generally accepted that there is no associated risk with normal consumption levels of MCTs. Remember, they are a source of calories (8.3 calories pero gram to be exact!) and so overconsuming them isn’t a good idea if your goal is weight-loss.

What To Look Out For

Look at the label of an MCT product and it should list the breakdown of the types of MCTs that have been extracted from either coconut oil or palm oil. Good brands will contain roughly 60% caprylic acid (C8) and 40% capric acid (C10) and less than 1.5% lauric acid (C12).

The best MCT supplements are those that are 100% C8 MCT, as this is the most ketogenic MCT there is. C8 raises ketones far more rapidly than C10 and C12.

If the product doesn’t list the breakdown, it is likely to be lower in C8 and C10 and contain more C12. This extraction process is more expensive and the cheaper MCT supplements are usually the brands that don’t go through this process, resulting in a less effective MCT oil.

Who Should Be Taking MCTs?

  • Those following a ketogenic lifestyle & anybody who is new to a ketogenic diet: MCTs are a great way to increase the percentage of fat in your diet, and due to their ability to raise ketones, they can aid in the fat adaptation phase.
  • If you’re intermittent fasting: A serving of MCT oil will not spike your insulin and is therefore often accepted as a fasting supplement as it can help boost your energy and reduce appetite.
  • Any healthy individual: Anyone can consume MCTs as they’re less likely to be stored as fat and can be converted into energy immediately, compared to LCFAs that require many more steps before being burned. While MCTs can be (and often are) used in tandem with intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets, it is possible to induce ketosis without extreme dietary restriction by using MCTs as ketone precursors.

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Beginners guide: When and How to Supplement With Ketones Tue, 05 May 2020 20:32:04 +0000 The ketogenic diet is gaining popularity amongst those who wish to boost productivity, lose weight or improve overall health. As a result, we’re seeing a tremendous spike in supplements intended to complement the ketogenic lifestyle […]

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The ketogenic diet is gaining popularity amongst those who wish to boost productivity, lose weight or improve overall health. As a result, we’re seeing a tremendous spike in supplements intended to complement the ketogenic lifestyle and boost results. The most popular, by far, is exogenous ketones with many companies jumping on the bandwagon and new products being released frequently. So, what’s the deal with exogenous ketones, and how do they really work?

Briefly, let’s recap a little bit about the ketogenic diet.

Scientists discovered that the absence of carbohydrates in the diet, even in the presence of food consumption, triggered the production of ketones in the body. This led to a surge in the research surrounding a diet that induced ketosis – a Ketogenic Diet – with which you can alter your physiology and induce a state of ’nutritional ketosis’, which is defined by having ketone levels in the range of 0.5 – 5.0mmol/L in your blood. This means that your body begins producing ketones from fat to be used for energy, instead of relying on glucose.

The restriction of carbohydrates is the primary cause that creates 3 necessary conditions in the body:

  1. Blood glucose levels are reduced
  2. Glycogen stores are depleted
  3. Insulin levels are reduced

These conditions force the body to use an alternative fuel source to glucose: fatty acids.

  • Lowering glucose availability: in the blood, and that stored as glycogen, leads to fat (ketones) being used as fuel (because there is no longer glucose available)
  • With lowered carbohydrate intake and thus lowered blood glucose, insulin is low. The hormone insulin promotes fat storage and inhibits fat breakdown. When insulin is low, stored fat (triglycerides) can be broken down and converted to ketones to be used as fuel.

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In summary, the reliance on fat as fuel is enhanced when blood glucose, glycogen stores and insulin levels are lowered. Fats are converted to ketones which are an alternative, yet cleaner and more efficient fuel source for the body.

  • Ketones are a more EFFICIENT fuel source:
    Fuel, either ketone or glucose, is broken down in the cell to produce the energy we need to live. The redox potential generated by ketones is greater than glucose. This basically means that there is more of the energy molecule, ATP, produced per ketone molecule consumed compared to a glucose molecule. We’re getting more bang for our buck!
  • Ketones are a CLEANER fuel source:
    Mitochondria are like car engines – they don’t always function at 100%. The generation of by-products, or reactive oxygen species (ROS), can occur in the mitochondria when we create energy, which can damage cell membranes, proteins and DNA. However, there is far less of this ROS production in the cell when ketones are burned, compared to glucose. They also increase levels of NADPH in the cell – NADPH is the basis of all antioxidants (like glutathione) in the body! So, we’re getting a 1-2 punch here: reduced oxidative stress AND a boost in the oxidation defence mechanism!

This is particularly important for brain neurons. Most cells in your body are continuously being regenerated, but neurons are extremely long-lasting. Any oxidative damage occurring in your neurons can accumulate & make their mitochondria less efficient (producing even more free radicals!).

Your neurons are with you for life – you need to look after them! Feed them ketones, not glucose!

Achieving a state of ketosis (i.e. having elevated ketone levels of >0.5mM in the blood), can be achieved via 2 distinct ways, namely endogenously (which means “within the body”) and exogenously (meaning “outside the body”).

  • Endogenous ketosis: Ketones are produced by the liver naturally when on a very low carbohydrate diet (keto) or in a fasted state. This is due to a reduction in insulin, allowing free fatty acid release from fat stores, which are converted into ketone bodies.
  • Exogenous ketosis: Consuming ketones from an outside source, either directly via ketone supplementation, or indirectly through a ketogenic precursor, like MCT oil, that results in ketone production.

It is important to differentiate between ketogenesis and ketosis: those who elevate blood ketones exogenously are not ketogenic, but are in ketosis! Ketogenesis refers to a ketotic state that is accomplished by following a keto diet and/or fasting which causes your body to produce ketones naturally.

It is difficult to say, however, whether the state of ketosis (as induced by exogenous ketones) would have the same effects as a ketogenic state (induced by fasting and/or a ketogenic diet). Nevertheless, I am confident that when we understand exactly how ketones are working in the body, we can better decide on how to use them to support a ketogenic lifestyle.

What are exogenous ketones

Supporting A Ketogenic Lifestyle

The ketogenic diet can be a particularly restrictive diet for some, making it hard to adhere to for long periods of time. Fortunately, we can still benefit from ketones without prolonged fasting or being on a keto diet all the time by using exogenous ketone supplements. Generally speaking, they’re marketed to help boost the effects of a ketogenic diet and/or provide many of the benefits of keto without restricting carbs.

Keep in mind, however, that it is still unknown as to whether being in a state of ketosis through consuming exogenous ketones has the same beneficial effects as being in a state of nutritional ketosis (producing ketones naturally/endogenously).

There are three types of endogenous ketone bodies:

  • Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
  • Acetoacetate (AcAc)
  • Acetone

Most forms of exogenous ketones deliver BHB, which is the most prevalent ketone in the body when produced naturally. BHB can cross the blood brain barrier and enter the mitochondria via a specific transporter called a monocarboxylic transporter (MCT). As you become a better ‘fat burner’ you increase the amount of these MCTs in your cells, enabling you to be more efficient at burning ketones.

The years of ketogenic research have provided substantial evidence showing that the benefits of the diet are, in part, due to the unique signaling properties of the ketones themselves – in particular the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate. Although acetoacetate has also been shown to have more specific therapeutic benefits. This means that supplementing with ketones may be worth exploring.

Supplementing with ketones

As mentioned above, ketosis can be achieved either endogenously, or exogenously. Exogenous ketones are a quicker alternative to elevating blood ketone levels, and may be useful for athletes or people looking for a mental edge, or those looking to support their ketogenic lifestyle. The majority of products on the market are made up of BHB, likely because it is more chemically stable (than acetoacetate) and can be made into a shelf-stable product more easily.

There are two main types of exogenous ketones:

  1. Ketone Salts are powdered exogenous ketone supplements that consist of a ketone molecule (BHB) bound to a mineral salt, such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, or potassium.
    • When consumed, the salt dissociates from the ketone and causes blood ketone levels to reach between 0.5-1.0mmol/L.
    • They’re generally a more cost-effective way to elevate ketones.
    • They can help to replenish electrolytes. For example, when they’re bound to sodium and potassium, they can help boost your electrolyte levels that may be imbalanced when following a keto diet. Although caution should be taken to avoid overconsumption of certain electrolytes.
    • A ketone salt is typically 75% ketones and 25% salt.
    • Some ketone salt products are combined with caffeine, MCT powder, carbohydrates or amino acids. So be sure to keep an eye on the ingredient list.
  2. Ketone Esters consist of a ketone molecule (BHB or AcAc) bound to a ketone precursor such as glycerol or butanediol and are in a liquid form.
    • When ingested, the ketone ester gets broken down in the gut and the ketone precursor goes straight to the liver to be converted into another ketone.
    • They cause a quicker and more sustained rise in blood glucose, compared to ketone salts – generally to between 3.0-5.0mmol/L within 30 minutes of ingestion.
    • They will put you into ketosis even if you’re not on the keto diet and are consuming carbohydrates.
    • They’re more expensive and often have an extremely bad taste!

In addition to these, MCT oil (medium-chain triglyceride oil) is often considered an exogenous source of ketones, but they do not contain BHB or any ketone molecule. They can however raise blood ketones to roughly 0.5-1.0mmol/L because the medium chained fat has the ability to get rapidly converted into ketones in the liver.


Choosing the right chemical form

It’s also important to point out that ketones exist in two forms (called isomers): D or R -BHB and S or L – BHB. These two isomers are the same molecule, but are mirror images of one another. The D-BHB form is the most prevalent in the human body and is the form that we actually break down to use for energy. Many ketone salt supplements on the market are a 50/50 mixture of the D- and L-BHB isoforms, which in scientific terms is known as a ‘racemic mixture’. It seems as though the body does not use them the same way, and L-BHB seems to be “weaker” than D-BHB.

There is also evidence to suggest that when BHB is bound to sodium, it elevates ketones 30% more effectively than calcium. Sodium is also a very important electrolyte that many keto-dieters, especially athletes need a lot more of, and calcium, when taken in excess could lead to calcification without proper levels of vitamin D3 and K2.

In summary, when purchasing a ketone salt supplement, it is important to look for a pure D-BHB form, and one that contains mostly BHB bound to sodium.


The ideal dose for exogenous ketones may vary depending on your lifestyle. For example, if you’re a keto-adapted athlete, you may need a slightly different dose compared to someone who is sedentary and is new to keto.

Ketone Salt:

  • 5-15g of the active isomer (D-BHB). Research shows that 12 grams is the minimum effective dose. But in my experience, doses of 5-10g show some benefit.

Ketone Ester:

  • Usually sold in 25-30g servings. You could split this dose into 2 or 3 servings, depending on your goal. An athlete, for example, looking to use exogenous ketones for a performance boost may take the entire dose in one go.
  • A 25g serving contains 120 calories, and some products have added stevia to improve the ‘jet fuel’ flavor they’re said to have.

As mentioned, many ketone salt supplements are combined with MCT powder, which may provide a more sustained release of ketones into the bloodstream – specifically C8 MCT.

I like to take ketones pre-workout, especially if I am fasted, and they are great to give you a kick of energy when you reach an afternoon ‘slump’. You could also take them in place of your morning coffee, to give you a more instant surge of ketones for mental alertness.

Side Effects

Unfortunately, side effects are very common with GI distress being the most popular. It depends on the dose and the individual. Starting with smaller doses, of both the ketone salts and esters is a good idea.

What to look out for

Some products are often “fairy dusted.” Many companies are taking full advantage of the popularity of exogenous ketones by including ketone salts (in ineffective levels) in products just so they can market them as such. This is a practice known as “fairy dusting,” and these products often contain other “experiential” ingredients — namely, caffeine — so that the user “feels” like the supplement is “working.”

They are expensive. There are many options when it comes to exogenous ketones, and seemingly more pop up every day. One of the biggest downsides is that they are expensive, which may be quite surprising given the paucity of scientific support. The most popular brands of ketone salts run anywhere from $4 – 5 a pop, and many companies recommend using 2 or more servings daily. One commercially-available ketone ester supplement out there is priced at $33 per serving.

They are not provided in the best form. As mentioned a few times, the research suggests that the ketone ester form of exogenous ketones outshines the ketone salt form, which has very little supporting evidence. Pretty much all of the commercially-available exogenous ketone supplements are provided in the seemingly inferior ketone salt form. Additionally, the D-BHB form is the active isomer, and many companies sell a mixture of the D and S isomers, making the product far less potent.

They may cause GI distress. As mentioned, studies investigating ketone salts suggest that negative side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and reflux, are relatively common, and they are probably the result of the accompanying salt load and/or taste.

They don’t taste great. The taste of exogenous ketone supplements has improved markedly over the last few years; however, there is still quite a bit left to be desired, as few would describe the taste any better than tolerable. Most supplement companies selling exogenous ketones don’t hide this either. In fact, one popular company says in a blog post on its website, “Make no mistake, if we drink exogenous ketones for a great taste and pleasant mouthfeel, we will be disappointed. If we drink ‘ketones’ that taste ‘great,’ it is because there’s little to no actual ketone bodies in the product [and/or] there’s an enormous filler/garbage to ketone ratio.”

Ok, what brands do I love?

For ketone salts, which I use more frequently, I like to use:

When I need an extra cognitive boost, for example for a busy day with lots of meetings or maybe a podcast, I may use a ketone ester. The brand I use is KetoneAid Pro.

Benefits of Exogenous Ketones

Quicker ketosis: Many ketone supplements can elevate blood ketones within 30 – 60min of ingestion. Thus, they can be used as a quick performance boost, just like caffeine. Although they don’t increase endogenous production of ketones, they do raise ketones in the blood that are available to be used as fuel. If you’re following a ketogenic diet, you’re more likely to be able to use those ketones as fuel

Aid in the transition to a keto-diet: Exogenous ketones can help you get back into ketosis more quickly – perfect if you’re following a carbohydrate-cycling routine or cyclical ketogenic diet. For example, if you re-introduce some carbs into your diet every weekend or once a month, you can quickly slip back into ketosis with the help of some exogenous ketones. If you’re new to keto, they can help prevent the keto-flu if you haven’t fully adapted yet.

What is keto-adaptation?

Keto-adaptation is the process that takes place when you start to ‘teach’ your body to use ketones as a primary fuel source, instead of glucose. It does not occur simultaneously to the build-up of ketones in the blood. The fundamental cellular adaptations can take anywhere from 3 or 4 weeks to several months and is dependent on factors such as previous diet, level of physical activity, age & insulin sensitivity.

Specific adaptations include: Increased fat metabolizing enzymes, greater number of mitochondria in the cell, increased ketone transporters (called MCT’s), elevated ketone levels, enhanced ability of cells to metabolize ketones. These adaptations can still be occurring even after a year! Everyone is unique in how long they take to adapt to burning fat for fuel.

This adaptation phase can be lengthy, and is often accompanied by the well-known ‘keto flu’; flu-like symptoms that occur as your body is switching its primary fuel source from carbs to fat. That is why it is often recommended to support this process with exogenous ketones, so that you give your body some energy supply as it adapts to making its own ketones.

There are other ways to reduce or completely avoid the keto flu. These include:
Electrolyte replenishment
Dietary fat type
Fasting/Meal frequency adjustment

Improvement in athletic performance: This is arguably the most well-researched area of exogenous ketones (although there is still a LOT we don’t know). For the most part, the scientific research has focused on ketone esters, which have been shown to improve endurance and recovery from exercise (increased muscle glycogen resynthesis and increased protein synthesis). Even with some promising performance results, many questions (and skeptics) still remain. Among the current published studies investigating the effects of ketone salts in athletes, none have demonstrated an improvement in performance. In one study, performance actually decreased by 7%. Among the participants, 60 – 78% reported GI distress (e.g., nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, lightheadedness) when the exogenous ketones were taken alongside exercise.

During exercise, we see a very evident decrease in glycolysis – the burning of carbohydrates for energy – when supplementing with ketones. Some may see this as a negative because carbohydrates are the main fuel supply during high intensity exercise. This is why I usually recommend lower intensity exercise for keto dieters, and a targeted ketogenic diet for those doing high intensity exercise often. This means that you consume more carbohydrates around more intense workouts.

On the flip side, the presence of ketones in the blood does slow down glycogen breakdown – the breakdown of stored carbohydrate. We have about 300-600 grams in our muscles, plus 80-110 grams of glycogen in our liver which can fuel an athlete for about 2-3 hours of exercise. The reason exogenous ketones are attractive to many endurance athletes is due to their ‘sparing’ of glycogen in our muscles and liver, enabling us to exercise for longer periods as we have this ‘saved up’ fuel on board.

In summary, being able to burn an alternative fuel source, ketones, during long lasting exercise may be beneficial by preserving our carbohydrate stores for later use.

Other reasons ketones support athletic performance:

  • Reduced lactate
  • Increased triglyceride use in the muscle
  • Improved executive function

Exceptional Cognitive Focus: Many keto-dieters will be familiar with the mental clarity that comes with being in deep ketosis. You’ll be surprised at how sharp your mind is after taking exogenous ketones, especially when combined with intermittent fasting. Ketones can cross the blood brain barrier and our neurons (brain cells) have the ability to burn ketones for fuel. In some cases, our neurons prefer ketones over glucose. When our brains run on this cleaner, more efficient fuel, it feels as though your mental alertness is through the roof!

Deeper ketosis: Already in ketosis? You can achieve even higher levels of ketones than you would naturally achieve by supplementing with exogenous ketones. It is often said that there is no need to ‘chase ketones’, but sometimes more is better, depending on your goal.

Appetite suppression: While they may not cause weight-loss directly, exogenous ketones suppress appetite, reduce hunger and cravings. This allows you to get through fasting periods, lengthen the time between meals and ultimately reduce the amount you eat – leading to weight-loss.

Weight-Loss: Ketones are certainly not a weight-loss tool and are unlikely to directly cause fat loss – they are an energy source! However, supplementing with ketones may have indirect effects that can help fat loss, such as:

  • Increased brown adipose tissue (BAT) – the type of fat we want on our bodies
  • Improved insulin sensitivity, which allows us to use glucose more efficiently as opposed to just storing it
  • Suppressing appetite – as discussed above, this can reduce our overall a=calorie consumption

The down side: Exogenous ketones suppress endogenous production of ketones. If you think about it, you’re giving your body ketones, tricking it into believing that it has produced enough ketones and can now shut down the ketogenic pathways. And just because exogenous ketones increase blood ketone levels does not make you a fat burner. They can enhance the benefits mentioned above, and elicit the therapeutic effects below, but in essence, they’re there to support your keto lifestyle, and not replace it.

Benefits of Ketones


Therapeutic Benefits

Neurodegeneration – As we age, our brains become less efficient at using glucose for fuel, but also, when our brains are damaged, their ability to metabolise glucose and make energy is hugely impaired.

A normal healthy brain can take up glucose from the bloodstream and make ATP to use for energy to function. The transport of glucose into the brain is impaired when trauma occurs (in the case of a TBI) or when the brain degenerates, as is the case with Alzheimer’s Disease, for example. When glucose can no longer be taken up by the brain and converted into energy for the neurons, the brain begins to degenerate rapidly. Providing the brain with an alternate fuel source; ketones, can give the brain the fuel it needs to function.

Research shows that the transporters that allow ketones to pass the blood brain barrier are increased in these conditions. They are called MCT transporters and their increased number makes ketones a preferred fuel source for a damaged brain. This has led to ketones being an extremely powerful tool for the prevention and treatment of neurological diseases.

Diabetes – Several studies have looked at the effects of supplementing with ketones on blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity. A well known researcher in the field, Dr. Veech found that supplementing with a ketone ester which raised blood ketones to 3.5mmol/L resulted in a 40% increase in insulin sensitivity.

Dr. D’Agostino’s research group examined the effect of three types of ketone supplementation: ketone salts, ketone salts with MCT oil and ketone ester on the effect of blood glucose levels in rats. All three groups showed significantly reduced blood glucose levels following supplementation, suggesting improved insulin sensitivity.

Numerous studies have confirmed that blood glucose is indeed decreased when ketones are present in the blood in a wide range of people. Improving insulin sensitivity and regulating blood glucose can have huge positive implications in those with diabetes or other metabolic diseases.

Cholesterol & Triglycerides – Two very important blood biomarkers; cholesterol and triglycerides, are indicators of heart health. The high fat nature of the keto diet has led to the misconception that the keto diet leads to high cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood – which is a known risk factor for heart disease. This leaves many people concerned. But, studies have shown that following a ketogenic diet can in fact improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL and raising HDL and also reduce triglycerides. This is pretty powerful, but more studies are needed to determine whether the ketones themselves are responsible for some of these benefits.

Cancer – The concept of using ketones as an adjunctive therapy to cancer treatment has been around since the early 1970’s. But, with the rise in chemotherapy and other radiation therapies, this has fallen by the wayside. Research is continuing, however, and we have more evidence that ketones can slow tumor growth and increase the survival time of cancer patients. There are many mechanisms by which ketones are exerting these effects on cancerous cells, which we will not go into detail with now.

Muscle Atrophy – A very serious and detrimental process that occurs with age and is often accelerated in those with diseases, like cancer, or any inflammation-related illnesses. The wasting away of muscle can cause many problems, especially in the elderly. In fact, one of the greatest ways to live a longer and healthier life is to have more muscle mass as you age. Recent studies have shown that the ketone acetoacetate can prevent muscle wasting, a very powerful finding in longevity research.

In the diseased states mentioned above, it is often the case that patients with these illnesses are not following a well-formulated ketogenic diet, and are likely heavily reliant on carbohydrates for fuel. This may not be the case for everyone, but unfortunately it probably is for the majority of these cases. Fortunately, this is exactly where exogenous ketones can be so beneficial as they provide an alternative way to achieve ketosis and raise blood ketones to a level where these therapeutic benefits are seen. Hence the ongoing research on ketones and their potential to prevent and treat these diseases.

Wow. Exogenous ketones seem like pretty powerful molecules that can really improve our health! For the most part, this is true, and is the very reason we continue to hear about many people having breakthroughs in their health all thanks to these ketone molecules.

There is one important caveat, which we have already mentioned, and that is that it is unclear whether all of these benefits occur when supplementing with exogenous ketones, as opposed to achieving a state of endogenous ketogenesis (that’s accomplished via fasting and/or a ketogenic diet).

With that said, these benefits are likely to be achieved and in some cases enhanced, when adding exogenous ketones to an already well-formulated ketogenic lifestyle. That means eating a whole-foods based diet that is high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates, specifically highly processed carbohydrates.

Exogenous ketones are a tool that can support your ketogenic lifestyle and enhance its many benefits, from accelerated weight loss to improved athletic performance. Just be wary about the claims that some companies make, purporting ketone supplements to be a magic bullet.

If you follow a well-formulated ketogenic diet and are looking to optimize its effects, exogenous ketones can be a great supplement for you. I would love to know more about how you use them, and whether they have supported you on your health journey. Have you tried exogenous ketones? What were your experiences? I’d love to hear from you!

Head over to Instagram, @ingredientologist. and comment with any questions you might have about ketone supplements. Let’s get the conversation going!


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SNR #195: Brendan Egan, PhD – Exogenous Ketone Supplementation [Internet]. Sigma Nutrition. 2017 [cited 2018 Sep 18]. Available from: 

Martins N, Stubbs B. Ketone Supplement Fundamentals [Internet]. HVMN. 2018 [cited 2018 Sep 19]. Available from: 

O’Malley T, Myette-Cote E, Durrer C, Little JP. Nutritional ketone salts increase fat oxidation but impair high-intensity exercise performance in healthy adult males. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab Physiol Appl Nutr Metab. 2017 Oct;42(10):1031–5. 

Stubbs BJ, Cox PJ, Evans RD, Cyranka M, Clarke K, de Wet H. A Ketone Ester Drink Lowers Human Ghrelin and Appetite. Obes Silver Spring Md. 2018 Feb;26(2):269–73. 

Waldman HS, Basham SA, Price FG, Smith JW, Chander H, Knight AC, et al. Exogenous ketone salts do not improve cognitive responses after a high-intensity exercise protocol in healthy college-aged males. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2018 Feb 16;43(7):711–7. 

Murray AJ, Knight NS, Cole MA, Cochlin LE, Carter E, Tchabanenko K, et al. Novel ketone diet enhances physical and cognitive performance. FASEB J Off Publ Fed Am Soc Exp Biol. 2016 Aug 15; 

Newport MT, VanItallie TB, Kashiwaya Y, King MT, Veech RL. A new way to produce hyperketonemia: use of ketone ester in a case of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement J Alzheimers Assoc. 2015 Jan;11(1):99–103. 

Cox PJ, Kirk T, Ashmore T, Willerton K, Evans R, Smith A, et al. Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes. Cell Metab. 2016 Aug 9;24(2):256–68. 

Holdsworth DA, Cox PJ, Kirk T, Stradling H, Impey SG, Clarke K. A Ketone Ester Drink Increases Postexercise Muscle Glycogen Synthesis in Humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Sep;49(9):1789–95. 

Vandoorne T, De Smet S, Ramaekers M, Van Thienen R, De Bock K, Clarke K, et al. Intake of a Ketone Ester Drink during Recovery from Exercise Promotes mTORC1 Signaling but Not Glycogen Resynthesis in Human Muscle. Front Physiol [Internet]. 2017 May 23 [cited 2018 Sep 19];8. Available from:

Pinckaers PJM, Churchward-Venne TA, Bailey D, van Loon LJC. Ketone Bodies and Exercise Performance: The Next Magic Bullet or Merely Hype? Sports Med Auckl Nz. 2017;47(3):383–91. 

Evans M, Patchett E, Nally R, Kearns R, Larney M, Egan B. Effect of acute ingestion of β-hydroxybutyrate salts on the response to graded exercise in trained cyclists. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018 Apr;18(3):376–86. 

Fischer T, Och U, Klawon I, Och T, Grüneberg M, Fobker M, et al. Effect of a Sodium and Calcium DL-β-Hydroxybutyrate Salt in Healthy Adults [Internet]. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2018 [cited 2018 Sep 19]. Available from:

Myette-Côté É, Neudorf H, Rafiei H, Clarke K, Little JP. Prior ingestion of exogenous ketone monoester attenuates the glycaemic response to an oral glucose tolerance test in healthy young individuals. J Physiol. 2018 Apr 15;596(8):1385–95. 

Newman JC, Verdin E. Ketone bodies as signaling metabolites. Trends Endocrinol Metab TEM. 2014 Jan;25(1):42–52. 

Why Exogenous Ketones Taste Bad [Internet]. Perfect Keto Exogenous Ketones. 2017 [cited 2018 Sep 20]. Available from:

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Zinc Supplement Tue, 28 Apr 2020 20:33:17 +0000 Another must-have in your daily supplement stack, in my opinion, is Zinc. I talk a lot about oxidative stress and how the over production of ‘reactive oxygen species’ or ROS in our bodies is one […]

The post Zinc Supplement appeared first on Ingredientologist.

Another must-have in your daily supplement stack, in my opinion, is Zinc. I talk a lot about oxidative stress and how the over production of ‘reactive oxygen species’ or ROS in our bodies is one of the three major underlying causes of age-related, degenerative diseases (the other two being glycation and inflammation). Any ingredient that can combat the buildup of oxidative stress is something I always recommend, especially if you want to live a longer and healthier life in the modern world we live in.

What is zinc?

This underappreciated trace mineral is involved in over 300 metabolic processes in our bodies. Trace minerals are needed by the body in small quantities, but are extremely important. Others include manganese, fluoride, iron, copper, iodide, selenium and cobalt. Zinc plays a major role in regulating our immune response, and is why it is found in many over-the-counter drugs sold for cold and flu remedies. It’s also important for protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, wound healing and it has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

We also need zinc for normal growth and to be able to taste and smell! We need a daily dietary intake of zinc because we don’t have the ability to store it for long periods of time. Interestingly, it is estimated that 10% of the human genome codes for proteins that need zinc to function. That means without enough zinc, 10% of our genes won’t function properly.

Zinc is often a forgotten mineral! Everyone focuses on minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium, but zinc is one of the most prevalent minerals in our body and a deficiency can wreak havoc on many of our physiological processes.

What does zinc deficiency look like?

Because zinc is involved in so many processes in the body, deficiency can cause a variety of health problems. Most commonly seen is severe immune dysfunction, impaired growth, low testosterone levels and cognitive impairment.

At minor levels of deficiency, impaired immune function is almost always seen. This is because when pro-inflammatory cytokines (substances secreted by immune cells) are released in response to infection, they alter the amount of zinc in our blood, which increases our need for dietary zinc. Of all the zinc in our body, only 1% of it is in the blood – the portion that can be used for the 300 metabolic processes that require zinc.

Symptoms of more severe zinc deficiency include:

  • Hypogonadism in males: underfunctioning sex organs
  • Hair loss
  • Neurosensory changes
  • Low libido
  • Poor wound healing
  • Mood disorders
  • Diarrhea

Laboratory blood tests for zinc levels are the best way to test for zinc, although sometimes symptoms can be seen without having abnormal levels in the blood. Certain risk factors for zinc deficiency include inadequate caloric intake, alcoholism and digestive and malabsorption issues.

Vegetarians are also at a greater risk for deficiency because they don’t eat meat – a very good source of bioavailable zinc – and a generally higher intake of phytate-rich foods. Phytates are compounds found in legumes, cereals and grains that bind to zinc and inhibit its absorption. Using preparation techniques like soaking beans, grains and seeds for several hours before cooking them, and allowing them to sprout, can increase the bioavailability of zinc. Including more leavened grain products (such as breads) as opposed to unleavened grains (like crackers and cereals) can also increase zinc absorption as leavening breaks down the phytates.

The main and most easily recognizable warning signs to look out for are hair loss and loss of taste or change in taste.

Immune boosting mineral Zinc

Zinc & Health

One of the main reasons for zinc deficiency being an underlying factor to several diseases is because any process in the body that requires a rapid turnover rate of cells, requires a lot of zinc. The replication and production of new cells needs zinc to occur. Processes like regeneration of mucosal linings (in the gut, the nasal and throat passages) occurs frequently, skin and hair are continuously being replaced by new cells and lastly, our immune cells are rapidly growing, dividing and maturing. Additionally, growth and repair of cells which is high during recovery from an injury. All of these regenerative processes require the important mineral; zinc.

Let’s take a look at some of the major areas where zinc may impact our health status.

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Immune System

Both the innate and adaptive immune systems are affected by low zinc status, increasing the susceptibility to infection. Zinc plays the role of a ‘second messenger’ in an immune response by binding and signaling to cells to trigger an appropriate response. Macrophages and neutrophils, which are immune cells that destroy pathogens by ‘phagocytosis’ (engulfing and killing), are impaired and natural killer cells are also reduced.

The adaptive immune system consists of T cells (immune cells produced by the thymus gland), and B cells (produced in bone marrow). The production and growth of T cells and B cells is impaired when there isn’t enough zinc in the body. Their function is to recognize foreign cells, like tumor cells or viruses, and to produce an antibody response that works to kill off the infection. This response is dependent on the rapid proliferation of T and B cells, and if this isn’t working properly, our immune system can’t fight off pathogens.

With aging, we see a decline in immune function, called immunosenescence, in a similar way to zinc deficiency which includes poor functioning of the thymus (the gland responsible for producing some of our immune cells: T cells), imbalance in T-cell production and impaired function of immune cells. Supplementing with zinc shows improved immunity and a decrease in inflammatory markers as well as oxidative stress markers.

Hormone Production

The metabolic enzymes that play a role in the production of our hormones rely on zinc. Zinc plays a role in controlling cholesterol levels which is a major precursor to the sex hormones in our body, and without adequate zinc, luteinzing hormone (LH) declines which is a hormone that triggers the production of testosterone.

Most commonly seen is low testosterone levels, but other hormones are affected too like estrogen and thyroid hormones. A study that restricted zinc intake in patients showed that these patients halved their testosterone levels within 5 months, and experienced low libido.

The Common Cold

Zinc lozenges have been used to treat the common cold for many years and studies have shown that they could reduce the duration of the common cold by 33%. Zinc acetate and zinc gluconate have been shown to be effective for treatment and preventing the common cold, although the zinc needs to be in the form of a lozenge, enabling it to reach the infected nasal tissue.

Wound Healing

Zinc helps to maintain the integrity of skin and mucosal membranes, and people with low zinc status show very slow healing rates of ulcers and skin lesions.

Oxidation & Heart Health

Lower LDL cholesterol and overall cholesterol is seen with zinc supplementation. But zinc also acts to improve antioxidant activity by supporting superoxide dismutases – an important antioxidant in the body.


A blood biomarker called CRP or ‘C-reactive protein’ is a good indicator of chronic inflammation. Zinc gluconate taken in 45mg doses was shown to decrease CRP levels. This is closely tied to oxidation because a rise in reactive oxygen species (ROS) causes a rise in oxidized LDL particles (the ‘bad’ cholesterol), which elevates inflammatory markers including CRP. Zinc activates many antioxidant pathways, limiting ROS production and thus lowering inflammation.


Zinc is essential for the functioning of the pancreas and the regulation of blood glucose. The highest concentration of zinc is found in the pancreas cells that secrete insulin, and insulin needs zinc to function properly. Supplementing with zinc can support the signaling of insulin in diabetic patients, improving their ability to regulate their blood glucose.


Malnourished children show a striking increase in the incidence in violent and anti-social behaviour, depression and anxiety. Additionally, the more depressed someone is, the lower their zinc levels. Zinc in combination with SSRI’s showed a greater improvement in depression compared to antidepressants alone.


Learning and memory is carried out by a process called long-term potentiation in the brain – a form of synaptic plasticity which means the ability of your brain to grow and develop neurons. The presence of zinc in the brain is vital in this process. Additionally, zinc acts to regulate the release of neurotransmitters in the brain – the very molecules that control all of the signals in the brain.

Supplementing with zinc can aid in recovery from traumatic brain injury and neurological damage from a stroke.


Supplementing with zinc may lead to a 9-23% shorter duration of the symptoms of diarrhea.

Zinc and health - Supplement

Supplementing with zinc

If you’re eating a diet where most of your zinc comes from phytate rich foods, or you have any of the risk factors mentioned above, you may need to supplement with zinc. Another time you may want to supplement is if you suspect the onset of a cold or flu, when you want to support your immune system, or when you’re in a need for rapid growth and repair of cells in the case of an injury, for example.

However, as with vitamin D, you would want to check your blood levels with your doctor to better know whether you need to supplement or not. Below is a table showing the blood levels of zinc that represent deficiency levels to intoxicating levels. Blood levels of zinc don’t always determine whether you have a deficiency or not, because zinc inside the cell is what is important, and this is not what’s measured. You may have low zinc in the blood, but have adequate levels inside your cells. In fact, low zinc levels cause an increase in copper absorption and so elevated copper levels can be a helpful indicator that zinc is in fact deficient.

Blood Levels of Zinc

A zinc lozenge is especially effective for colds as it supplies a steady release of zinc over 20-30 minutes, allowing you to absorb more and get into the throat and nasal tissues a lot quicker, which can stop viral replication in infected tissues when you start feeling symptoms.

Taking zinc daily is a good preventative method to ensure your immune system is functioning optimally. You can’t ‘load up’ on zinc because of our body’s inability to store zinc.

Zinc supplements can be in a tablet or gel form, but also in a spray or a lozenge.


The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 11mg for men and 8mg for women with a tolerable upper level intake of 40mg per day. Anything above this may decrease your ability to absorb enough copper – another mineral we need, and the reason you may see copper added to zinc supplements.

Additionally, supplementing with iron may decrease zinc absorption so taking any supplemental iron at a different time than zinc can help avoid this problem.

I usually recommend 10-15mg of zinc per day. It is best taken on an empty stomach as you will absorb 60-70% of the zinc this way, which is enough. If you take your supplement with a meal, you may be inhibiting the absorption of the zinc.

It is often recommended to increase your zinc intake by up to 220mg a day when you’re experiencing a cold or flu. When I do this, I take 18-24mg every 2 hours, but only for a couple of weeks. Separating these into 2-3 doses a day is better to maximize absorption. Taking larger doses should only be done for short periods, like 2 weeks at a time to avoid the negative effects of too much zinc.

Supplementing with Zinc

Choosing the right form

Most supplements on the market come as zinc that is bound to another compound, like a protein, acid or a salt. For example, there is zinc sulphate, zinc gluconate, zinc picolinate, zinc citrate or zinc acetate. This means that a large portion of what you’re getting is the compound bound to zinc, with the rest being elemental zinc. The recommended dose refers to the amount of elemental zinc (of which you should be aiming for 10-15mg per day).

Zinc sulfate is the cheapest, but is not absorbed very well. Research shows that zinc picolinate is absorbed better than zinc citrate and gluconate and is therefore preferred. Zinc carnosine is also a good form as studies have shown that when zinc is bound to carnosine it releases zinc into the gut at a slower rate, allowing better absorption.

I have tried a variety of brands, and like to use Thorne’s zinc picolinate, NOW (Zinc gluconate), Doctor’s Best (Zinc carnosine) or Bulletproof (Zinc orotate) for zinc supplements.

Food sources of zinc

Food Sources

The majority of zinc in our diets comes from red meat and poultry, but oysters contain the most amount of zinc per serving. Cheese, dark chocolate and cashews are also good sources of zinc. There are many grain based foods like cereals as well as beans and some nuts and seeds that are high in zinc, but as mentioned above, these contain phytates, inhibiting the zinc absorption in the gut.

If you rely on these plant-based foods to get your zinc, scientists suggest that you may need 50% more zinc to achieve the recommended amount.

You can time your meals to ensure you have optimal zinc absorption. Eat zinc rich foods at different times to eating grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Zinc & Viruses

Given the current state in the world, I wanted to touch on the effect that zinc can have on viruses. To understand exactly how zinc can help protect us from viruses, we need to take a look at some molecular biology for a second.

A virus contains genetic material, just like we have DNA, that allows it to create the proteins that it uses to function and grow. When we make proteins, we first convert DNA into RNA, but unlike us, viruses just have RNA. When a virus infects a human, it releases its RNA into our cells and because it is structured in the same way as our RNA, our cell’s machinery ‘reads’ this RNA and makes a viral protein called ‘RNA-dependent RNA polymerase’ or ‘replicase’. This viral protein, replicase, can now read more of the viral RNA that is injected into our cells to produce viral proteins that allow the virus to replicate and spread.

I hope I didn’t lose any of you, but this is where zinc comes in. Zinc has the ability to shut down the viral replicase enzyme. Remember, this replicase is necessary for the virus to replicate, so if we can stop that, we can stop the virus from growing in number. This is good news, but there is one problem: zinc cannot get into our cells easily – where the replicase is located. Zinc is a positively charged ion, which means that it needs a special transporter called a ‘zinc ionophore’ that acts as a gate for zinc to enter the cell. Luckily, we know of two compounds that act like zinc ionophores in our cells: chloroquine and quercetin.

There are zinc ionophores already present in our cell membranes, but only tiny amounts of zinc can enter the cell. So taking zinc alone may still be somewhat beneficial.

This is the reason that zinc is recommended in combination with a zinc ionophore for the treatment of viruses. Trials are being carried out in China and the USA to explore this further.

It is important to consult your physician before considering any treatment. We need more controlled clinical trials to confirm these findings. 

To sum it up, zinc is quite crucial for a healthy immune system and the regeneration, growth and repair of our cells. It offers protection against the common cold and some other viral diseases. You should make sure your diet provides you with enough, but not too much zinc by including the foods rich in zinc and avoiding phytate-rich foods. 

Always consult your doctor before implementing any of these recommendations. I would love to know if you have been using any zinc supplements and what your experience has been. Share your favorite brands in the comments below, or tag me on instagram @ingredientologist so I can share it! TOP 10 FOOD SOURCES OF ZINC



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Rao G, Rowland K. PURLs: Zinc for the common cold–not if, but when. J Fam Pract. 2011;60(11):669–671.

The effects of zinc supplementation on wound healing and metabolic status in patients with diabetic foot ulcer: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Momen-Heravi M1,2, Barahimi E1, Razzaghi R1, Bahmani F3, Gilasi HR4, Asemi Z Wound Repair Regen. 2017 May;25(3):512-520. doi: 10.1111/wrr.12537

Hemilä H. Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage. JRSM Open. 2017;8(5):2054270417694291. Published 2017 May 2. doi:10.1177/2054270417694291

Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc 

Zinc ionophore activity of quercetin and epigallocatechin-gallate: from Hepa 1-6 cells to a liposome model. Dabbagh-Bazarbachi, Clergeaud G, Quesada IM, Ortiz M, O’Sullivan CK, Fernández-Larrea JB. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 Aug 13;62(32):8085-93. doi: 10.1021/jf5014633. Epub 2014 Jul 31.

Chloroquine Is a Zinc Ionophore. Xue J, Moyer A, Peng B, Wu J, Hannafon BN, et al. (2014) PLoS ONE 9(10): e109180. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109180

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Vitamin D Tue, 21 Apr 2020 19:26:40 +0000 Vitamin D, sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is in fact a hormone that plays a major role in our overall health. It is one of the fat soluble vitamins which includes vitamin A, D, E […]

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Vitamin D, sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is in fact a hormone that plays a major role in our overall health. It is one of the fat soluble vitamins which includes vitamin A, D, E and K. It differs from other vitamins in the fact that it is produced within the body. We can get small amounts of vitamin D from food sources, but the main source is a stepwise process that starts in your skin when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, and continues in our liver and kidneys where the final product is formed: active Vitamin D3.

For those who love to geek out on science (like I do), I’ll briefly explain the pathway of how vitamin D is made in our body. For those who don’t, you’re welcome to skip the next two paragraphs!

Vitamin D3 is produced in the skin via a two-step process. In the skin, 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) is broken down by the UV radiation of the sun – specifically UVB radiation – into pre-D3 which is then converted into D3 via a heat-sensitive process. None of these ‘reactions’ are caused by enzymes; they are all a result of the UVB radiation from the sun.

Now, the vitamin D3 gets converted into calcidiol or 25 hydroxyvitamin D3 (25OHD3), mainly in the liver but also elsewhere in the body. The next step occurs in the kidneys, but again, in other tissues too, where 25OHD3 is converted into the active form of vitamin D called calcitriol or 1,25 hydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3). These reactions are carried out by a group of enzymes known as CYPs. This is the steroid hormone and metabolically active form of vitamin D as it is what binds the vitamin D receptor (VDR). When it binds the VDR, it can attach to our DNA, controlling hundreds of genes as a result, turning genes on and off, and this is why it has a huge impact on multiple biological processes in the body. If you think about it, this is epigenetics at work! – The change in an organism as a result of something causing a change in the way the genes are expressed, and not because of a change in the actual DNA sequence.

For those of you who skipped the details, briefly, the sun’s UV energy converts a chemical in your skin into Vitamin D3, which is taken to your liver and kidneys to be converted into the active form of vitamin D.

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VITAMIN D3 THE sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D and our health

Recent research has shown that every cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor (VDR). That alone helps to explain why it is so fundamental to our health. As I explained above, when vitamin D binds to the VDR, a whole host of genes are affected which influence how our bodies function.

Currently, it is estimated that 70% of the people in the United States have a vitamin D deficiency while over 40% of the global population are deficient. This is probably due to lifestyle changes over time that have reduced our exposure to the sun and therefore affected our vitamin D levels directly. We work mostly from indoor offices, compared to working on farms in the past. We eat in restaurants or in our houses, we spend most of our time glued to screens indoors and we even exercise indoors!

We’re now seeing that even people living closer to the equator, where sun exposure is sufficient, are vitamin D deficient. Because vitamin D deficiency is associated with many diseases and mortalities, this has become a pandemic that a lot of research has gone into, with many drugs being produced that are structurally similar to vitamin D as well as foods like cereals and milk that are fortified with vitamin D.

Most commonly known is rickets, a disease caused by poor bone mineralization causing soft bones and is mostly seen in children in developing countries where vitamin D deficiency is common. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, various forms of cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, decreased immune defenses and increased mortality. Vitamin D plays an essential role in the regulation of blood glucose and insulin levels, which are important for healthy weight control, and attenuating inflammation that is caused by obesity.

With that said, it is obvious that this vitamin has important functions, but perhaps two of the most vital are the absorption of calcium and phosphorus which influence bone health, and the regulation of the immune system.

The former helps us to maintain healthy and strong bones. Low bone calcium stores, increases our risk for fractures and bone diseases – something you really don’t want as you age! Without vitamin D, we can only absorb 10-15% of dietary calcium, but this is improved by 30-40% when we have normal reserves. Additionally, lower calcium and phosphorus stores cause a rise in a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH) which acts to release calcium from our bones (to try and compensate for the lower calcium absorbed from the gut), leading to low bone mineral density.

There is a strong correlation between Vitamin D levels and immune function. It is no coincidence that the hype around supplementing with vitamin D has skyrocketed since the spread of the virus.

Vitamin D influences the proliferation and differentiation of immune cells. Without vitamin D, our immune cells aren’t able to fight off infections. Studies continue to show how low vitamin D levels are associated with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), acute lung injury, tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases like asthma.

A recent study showed that vitamin D supplementation could reduce the risk of getting a respiratory tract infection by up to 50%, with a greater effect for those who were already deficient.

Calcitriol, a drug that is the metabolically active form of vitamin D, influences host immunity in two different important ways: it suppresses adaptive immunity, while it stimulates innate immunity, two processes that regulate our immune response to infection. It is understood that when vitamin D is converted to its active form, it turns on genes that make cells and proteins that are essential for a robust immune response.

Evidence that Vitamin D influences the immune system

There are a few points to highlight that support the fact that vitamin D is indeed one very important vitamin when it comes to our immune system’s strength.

  1. Seasonality of viruses:
    The main source of vitamin D is the sun’s UV radiation, and because it varies in intensity throughout the seasons and at different geographic locations, we see that vitamin D deficiency is common during the winter months (Oct – Mar) in northern latitudes 20 degrees above and (Apr – Sep) in the southern hemisphere 20 degrees below the equator. 

coronavirus compared to influenza

  1. A well-known study showed that children who were exposed to UV light had a 2x lower incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, the flu and sore throat compared to children who were non-exposed.
  2. We see a difference in influenza virus rates in rural vs urban areas, with rural people having lower infection rates and higher vitamin D levels – due to working and spending more time outside, compared to city dwellers who spend most of their time indoors.
  3. As mentioned above, there is a profound preventative effect of vitamin D supplementation bacterial and viral chest infections. A low vitamin D status is associated with a greater URTI incidence. This is because vitamin D increases immunity and decreases inflammatory responses, lowering the risk of infection.

These points tell us that it is very likely that a low vitamin D status can increase your risk of getting some sort of respiratory disease. As we will discuss, this is extremely important during the current period we are in with the virus pandemic. 

Supplementing with vitamin D3

Supplement with Vitamin D

There are only 3 ways you can get vitamin D:

  • Sun exposure
  • Food Sources
  • Supplements

Before supplementing with vitamin D3, you should make sure you’re getting sufficient sun exposure every day and eating enough food sources of D3. You should also consider getting your levels tested.

Know your levels

The best way is to test for ‘25 hydroxyvitamin D3 TOTAL’ or ‘25(OH)D3 TOTAL’ by getting a blood test from your doctor.

Preferred levels are between the range of 30 – 60ng/ml, but vitamin D deficiency is a problem all over the world and 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient! Levels of 20ng/ml reflect vitamin D inadequacy, while 20-30ng/ml are borderline deficiency.

Vitamin D from the sun

Researchers found that one full-body exposure to UV radiation that causes slight pinkness in the skin – which they called the minimum erythemal dose, 1 MED – is equal to supplementing with 10,000 – 25,000IU of vitamin D. That’s a lot!

We definitely can get enough vitamin D produced in our bodies from the sunlight, but we need to be conscious about making this a routine part of our lives. More recent recommendations say that 15 minutes of sun exposure, or until the skin turns slightly pink, between 10am and 3pm can produce roughly 3000IU of vitamin D in the body. Another bonus is that vitamin D produced from the sun can last twice as long in the blood compared to vitamin D from the diet.

Food Sources of Vitamin D

Vitamin D from food

Relying on foods as a source of vitamin D alone is not ideal as it is hard to reach the amount you need since very few foods contain significant levels.

Food sources include: cod liver, eggs, liver, fatty fish like salmon (which all contain D3), and mushrooms (mushrooms contain D2).

In some countries there are fortified foods like cereals and milk, however one glass of milk contains only 100IU. So coupling sun exposure with a good diet is key.

Cod liver is the single best source of vitamin D. Just 1 tablespoon (15ml) can give you more than you need per day. Fatty fish like salmon is also good, but you would need to be eating this everyday, which is unlikely.


Factors leading to lower Vitamin D levels

Several factors influence how much of the precursor chemical in our skin gets converted into the active form of vitamin D3. Below are some of the major ones to consider, and could help determine whether you should be supplementing or not.

  • African American → Darker skin means a higher amount of melanin in the skin – a protein that protects us from the sun’s UV radiation. It is hypothesised that humans adapted as they migrated north to less sunny regions by getting whiter skin, so that more vitamin D could be produced in the skin. Having darker skin is protective against too much sun exposure near the equator (at least before urbanization).
  • Obesity → Research shows that the more obese a person is, the lower their vitamin D levels will be.
  • Elderly → As we age, rates of vitamin D deficiencies are higher.
  • Sun protection → Concerns about skin cancer have prompted people to wear sunscreen and protective clothing in the sun, which limits sun exposure and vitamin D production significantly.
  • Season & latitude → The angle of the sun in the winter prevents people in the northern hemisphere from producing enough vitamin D. In the countries north of 35°N, no vitamin D is produced during the winter months. Smog/pollution and cloud cover also significantly reduce UV radiation.
  • Outdoor behavior → There is an ongoing trend towards less outdoor activities, either for work or preferred leisure activities, increasing our susceptibility to vitamin D deficiency.

Taking these factors into account, you may need to be increasing your levels of vitamin D through supplementation.

Supplementing with vitamin D

When looking for vitamin D supplements it is important to know that there are two forms of vitamin D:

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) → Found in some plants and fungi (mushrooms). Humans do not make D2.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) → Found in oily fish, fish liver oil and egg yolks. This is the form found in humans.

D3 is more effective than D2 as it raises and maintains elevated blood levels of vitamin D for a longer time. A study showed that 50 days after a period of supplementing with vitamin D, people who had D2 form had their levels return to baseline, whereas those who had D3 had elevated levels.

Improve your health by supplementing VITAMIN D3

Vitamin D and Vitamin K work as a team

It’s not as simple as supplementing with vitamin D alone. Combining vitamin D with vitamin K2 is important because of how they work together in the body.

The role of vitamin D

To maintain adequate calcium levels in the bloodstream by two ways:

  • Enhancing absorption of calcium from the food we eat in the gut.
  • Releasing calcium from the body’s ‘calcium stores’ – our bones, when we don’t have enough calcium in our diet.

Calcium is essential for bone health, but also other vital functions in the body like muscle contraction and nervous system function.

The role of vitamin K

While vitamin D maintains calcium levels, it does not control where that calcium goes. Vitamin K does two things:

  • Promotes calcification (the buildup of calcium) of bone – which means it ensures that the calcium goes to the right places like bones and teeth.
  • Reduces calcification in soft tissues – this means that vitamin K prevents calcium from accumulating in tissues where a build up would be harmful, like our blood vessels and kidneys.

Together, vitamin D and K2 regulate calcium levels and its action in the body making sure that we have calcification in the right places.

There are two main types of vitamin K2: MK4 and MK7, with the latter being the biologically active form so I recommend looking for the MK7 version to stack with your vitamin D supplement. Vitamin K2 can also be found in leafy green vegetables, fermented legumes or vegetables as well as fatty animal-based foods like liver, egg yolk and cheese.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, and so taking it with a source of fat can be helpful. It is also stored in our adipose tissue, and is released as needed if intake is too low. Supplements that have vitamin D in an oil based form have proven to be more bioavailable than those in a dry powder form, likely due to its fat soluble properties.

My top brands are:


The US Institute of Medicine recommends 400-800IU (or 10-20mcg) per day, but recommendations are continuously adjusted upward as some recommend 2000 IU/day or 60IU/kg. It really depends on your current levels, and the other lifestyle factors mentioned above. The upper limit is 4000IU per day, but taking vitamin D is generally very safe with little to no negative risks.

Current RDA’s are as follows:

  • 400 IU → Infants (0-12 months)
  • 600 IU → Children & Adults (1-70yrs) including breastfeeding and pregnant women
  • 800 IU → Adults (70yrs and older)
    (1mcg = 40IU)

The most obvious benefits from vitamin D supplementation is seen in people who have vitamin D deficiency (<20ng/ml) or insufficiency (20-29ng/ml). It was also found that higher doses taken monthly were less effective than taking a lower dose daily or weekly.

So, how do you get more vitamin D?

  1. Sensible sun exposure:
    Getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight between 10am and 3pm can produce 3000IU naturally. Don’t wear sunscreen, sunglasses or other protective gear for the 15 minutes.
  2. Supplement daily:
    Consider a vitamin D supplement remembering to combine it with vitamin K2 (MK7 form) and a fat source.

Bottom line?

  • Get at least 15 minutes of sunlight each day
  • Don’t use sunscreen all the time
  • Supplement with Vitamin D3 (and K2)
  • Opt for daily or weekly doses instead of monthly

Vitamin D3 Supplement Dosage


Vitamin D and Respiratory Tract Infections

I’d like to bring your attention to a study published in the British Journal of Medicine. It is a meta-analysis, which means the authors gathered many different studies on the topic and analyzed the data together to give an overall result, thus delivering high-quality evidence.

The study looked at the preventative effect of vitamin D supplementation on respiratory tract infections. The data showed that taking vitamin D as a supplement could reduce the risk of bacterial and viral chest infections.

Why is this important? Well, for two reasons:

  • We know that respiratory diseases are a major cause of death globally and account for 10% of emergency department cases!
  • Also for Infection associated with a respiratory condition, specifically ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome).

Briefly, how ARDS affects the lungs is by causing a major inflammatory response in the ‘air sacs’ of the lungs when a bacteria or virus infects us. This prevents the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the blood and the air we breathe, and our immune system overreacts.

This study shows that vitamin D has the ability to control this overactive immune response, by downregulating the inflammatory response and increasing the number of immune cells that can fight infection, like lymphocytes, neutrophils, monocytes and dendritic cells.

It also showed that taking vitamin D daily or weekly gave a far more profound benefit compared to taking it in monthly doses, and that the benefits were greater in those who already had a low vitamin D baseline level.

It is now more important than ever to optimize our health. If you want to boost your immune system, take a look at my previous guides on medicinal mushrooms and vitamin C, and check out my instagram profile to share these graphics with your friends. Share this with your friends and family!  We all need a reminder to get outside for some sunshine and nature. Share your time in the sun with me by tagging @ingredientologist! 


Vitamin D Metabolism, Mechanism of Action, and Clinical Applications Daniel D. Bikle, VA Medical Center, Department of Medicine and Dermatology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA

Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Hooper RL, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ. 2017;356:i6583. Published 2017 Feb 15. doi:10.1136/bmj.i6583

The Relationship between Ultraviolet Radiation Exposure and Vitamin D Status Ola Engelsen. Nutrients 2010, 2, 482-495; doi:10.3390/nu2050482

Hansdottir S, Monick MM, Hinde SL, Lovan N, Look DC, Hunninghake GW. Respiratory epithelial cells convert inactive vitamin D to its active form: potential effects on host defense. J Immunol. 2008;181(10):7090–7099. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.181.10.7090

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