Burger Showdown: Beyond vs. Beef

There’s lots of hype about the new Beyond MeatTM products, so naturally, we should make sure we’re making informed decisions about what we’re eating! Let’s take a look:

Ingredient Comparison

Beyond BurgerTM Ingredients:

  • Water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavours, cocoa butter, mung bean protein, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate fruit powder, beet juice extract (for color).

Breakdown of the Beyond BurgerTM ingredients

  • These ingredients are free from the top preservatives, thickeners, and other “junk” that are often found in “alternative” products.
  • I’m impressed they used natural extracts for colouring instead of the cheaper and more common route of using red dye #4, which is found in many pre-made beef burgers and sausages.
  • I never love the words “natural flavours”, and canola oil isn’t the healthiest choice, but I understand the need to create a similar texture to beef using fats.
  • Overall, it’s better than most pre-made burgers on the market, but not as great as a home-made beef burger (*insert plug for turkey burgers here*).

Nutrition info comparison

Beyond BurgerTM, 4oz

  • Calories 250
  • Total fat 18g
    • Saturated fat 6g
    • Trans fat 0g
  • Cholesterol 0mg
  • Sodium 390mg
  • Total Carb 3g
    • Fiber 2g
    • Sugars 0g
  • Protein 20g
  • Calcium 8%
  • Iron 25%

Comparison #1: Lean Ground Beef*, 4oz

*NOTE: Most burgers aren’t made of just 4oz of lean ground beef! If you buy pre-made burgers, please read the label and see Comparison #2 below.

  • Calories 284
  • Total fat 17.5g
    • Saturated fat 7g
    • Trans fat 0g
  • Cholesterol 102mg
  • Sodium 82mg
  • Total carb 0g
    • Fibre 0g
    • Sugar 0g
  • Protein 29g
  • Calcium 2%
  • Iron 16%

Comparison #2: PC Thick and Juicy Beef Burgers (note, this is 6oz… most burgers are bigger than the 4oz in Beyond BurgersTM!)

  • Calories 441
  • Total fat 17g
    • Saturated fat 7g
    • Trans fat 0g
  • Cholesterol 105mg
  • Sodium 547mg
  • Carbs 0g
    • Fibre 0g
    • Sugar 0g
  • Calcium 3%
  • Iron 16%

Breakdown of the nutritional information:

  • Typically, we don’t make just plain lean ground beef into burgers, and if we do, we consume more than 4oz. So total calories tend to be higher for beef than Beyond.
  • Total protein of the real stuff is higher than its plant counterpart, but both meet my minimum requirement for most people of 20g of protein per meal.
  • The biggest shock is that they’re comparable in fat profiles, so if you’re think you’re cutting down on fats, think again. However, I can’t stress enough that as long as there are no trans fats, I’m okay on the amount and type of fat in both product options. Fat doesn’t make us fat!
  • A huge win for Beyond is that it is significantly lower in cholesterol when compared with beef burgers. If you have cholesterol concerns, consider choosing Beyond more often.
  • One thing that may be misleading is the amount of iron and calcium. I love that Beyond has fortified their product so that we can eat it without missing out on some key nutrients. However, nutrition labels don’t have to list things like B vitamins (most v/veg are deficient in vitamin B12) and most minerals, all of which are most likely much higher in beef burgers than Beyond.
  • Bottom line: it’s not a perfect match to the nutrients we get from animal proteins, but they’ve done a great job of creating a comparable product to beef, and a far superior job when compared with most other v/veg “burger” patties on the market.

Other considerations in favour of the Beyond Burger TM

  • More environmentally sustainable than a beef burger
  • It’s gluten-free and soy-free, and is verified non-GMO
  • The high protein content makes it leaps and bounds better than most other v/veg “burger” replacement products.
  • A healthier decision for people with high cholesterol, heart disease risk, and gout.
  • I think it tastes pretty darn good!

Is this really helping our vegan/vegetarian friends?

  • V/veg often don’t want something that looks and has the texture of meat
  • My guess is that it has a lower B12 and mineral content compared with beef, so we need to continue to remind ourselves this is not a perfect substitute, and v/veg need to eat a wide variety of protein sources
  • Often prepared on the same grill as meat products, so many v/veg and people who don’t eat beef for religious reasons may choose to abstain

Dr. Chambers’ overall assessment:

  • I think the media attention and wide availability of Beyond Meat is spearheading a cultural shift toward healthier and more sustainable food choices becoming more accessible and accepted by the general population.
  • Although it isn’t a perfect match for animal-protein, it is the closest thing to a healthy meat-less alternative that meat-eaters can embrace without too much upset to their regular mealtime routines.
  • This product gets my stamp of approval as part of a healthy diet for meat-lovers and v/veg alike.

 

*Dr. Chambers is in no way affiliated with Beyond or any aspect of the food industry.

Benefits of Vitamin B12

As we wade-through the winter months, many people get tired and bogged down. Energy and mood can be low, and stress levels can become more difficult to manage. Vitamin B12 injections are something that I love to use to help my patients (and myself!) cope with stress, low energy, and a whole host of other concerns.

What is Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient called cobalamin that your body cannot produce on its own. Typically we get B12 from foods; the richest sources being clams, mussels, salmon, beef and eggs. Vitamin B12 is necessary for many crucial functions in our bodies. It is used to convert food to energy, make red blood cells to carry oxygen around our bodies, make DNA and nerve cells, balance hormones, detoxify, and fight infection. It’s amazing to think that this little nutrient is so important, and yet many of us are deficient.

Who benefits from B12 injections?

B12 deficiency causes fatigue, depression, mood swings, poor circulation, poor memory, brain fog, muscle weakness, and/or tingling in the fingers and toes. People with a B12 deficiency often have difficulty coping with stress, have low energy, and have symptoms of excess estrogen. Most people with these symptoms can benefit from B12 injections, and it’s not toxic at moderately high levels.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common, especially in people under stress, people over 50 years of age, and vegetarians or vegans. We often don’t get enough B12 from our diet, so B12 injections provide a boost of B12 into the body, and then in most cases you can take a supplement to keep your levels high.

Some people have a condition called pernicious anemia. These people produce less intrinsic factor, which is needed in the stomach to absorb B12. Moreover, if you are over 50, or taking proton pump inhibitors or antacids, you are also likely not absorbing B12. For these people, B12 injections are necessary to ensure your body is getting enough of this essential nutrient.

Energy Production and Stress Management

Vitamin B12 is an essential for converting food into energy, or ATP, and without it the process slows down dramatically. People who feel sluggish, or low in energy even with adequate sleep and a good diet, would likely benefit from B12 injections. The injection gets that pathway working efficiently and gives you a boost of energy.

Stress takes both an emotional and a physical toll on our bodies. Vitamin B12 helps us to cope with stress by balancing our brain chemistry, sharpening our cognitive abilities, and improving our memory. It also reduces physical stress in the liver by methylating and detoxifying hormones and toxins.

Brain Function – Depression and Alzheimer’s disease

Vitamin B12 is necessary for the production of monoamine transmitters, which are deficient in people suffering from depression. Research shows that B12 injections improve mood in some depressed patients without the use of antidepressants.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency such as memory loss and reduced mental state are also found in dementia. There is growing evidence that many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia are actually overlooked cases of B12 deficiency. Studies show that the progression of Alzheimer’s can be prevented if treated early with B12.

Infertility and Hormone Health

B12 deficiency is also often overlooked in cases of infertility and irregular hormone patterns. Vitamin B12 it is used to break down estrogen so that it can be excreted from the body. As a result, women with B12 deficiency may experience infertility or irregular cycles because high estrogen levels can cause lack of ovulation, embryo implantation failure, and difficulty maintaining pregnancy. Low B12 can also cause hypercoagulability, which is a cause of early recurrent miscarriage.

Testing and Treatment

I recommend annual B12 testing every 6-12 months, with regular monitoring of your levels if you are receiving B12 injections to improve your mood, memory, energy, immune system or balance hormones.

If you and your ND decide that vitamin B12 injections would be beneficial for you, we are pleased to provide B12 injections at our clinic. Please contact our office for more information.

References

Bennett M. Vitamin B12 deficiency, infertility and recurrent fetal loss. J Reprod Med. 2001;46(3):209-12.

Dubey RK, Jackson EK, Gilespie DG, Zacharia LC, Imthurn B. Catecholamines block the antimitogenic effect of estradiol on human coronary artery smooth muscle cells.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004;89(8):3922-31.

Ellinson M, Thomas J, Patterson A. A critical evaluation of the relationship between serum vitamin B, folate and total homocysteine with cognitive impairment in the elderly. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2004;17(4):371-83.

Quadri P, Fragiacomo C, Pezzati R, Zanda E, Forloni G, Tettamanti M, Lucca U. Homocysteine, folate, and vitamin B-12 in mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease, and vascular dementia. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(1):114-22.

Reznikoff-Etievant MF, Zittoun J, Vaylet C, Pernet P, Milliez J. Low Vitamin B12 level as a risk factor for very early recurrent abortion. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Repord Biol. 2002;104(2):156-9.

Tiemeir H, Ruud van Tuijl H, Hofman A, Meijer J, Killaan AJ, Breteler M. Vitamin B12, Folate, and Homocysteine in Depression: The Rotterdam Study. Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:2099-2101.

 

 

Vitamin D: How much do you really need?

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that we primarily absorb from the sun. Living in Canada, we’re amongst the most deficient countries in the world when it comes to vitamin D. In this article we’ll explore the debate about adequate versus beneficial amounts of vitamin D in the body, and how to make sure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient.

Why do we need Vitamin D?

  • Bone health – vitamin D allows us to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Low vitamin D contributes to low bone density, known as osteoporosis, which leads to increased risk of fractures.
  • Powerful cancer prevention – vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Important for mood – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is caused by low vitamin D levels, and primarily affects people during the winter.
  • Helpful in treating (and possibly preventing, although not all research studies agree) autoimmune disease, autism, chronic pain, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Required for immune system function, helping to fight infection and prevent illness.

Where do we get vitamin D from?

Most of our vitamin D is produced from exposure to the sun. We need about 15 minutes of our arms and legs exposed to the sun daily, during peak sunshine hours, without sunscreen, to produce adequate vitamin D levels.

People with darker skin tones don’t absorb vitamin D as well as those with lighter skin tones due to higher melanin content in their skin.

It is possible to get small amounts of vitamin D from fortified sources, including milk. However, Health Canada statistics still show that even people who consume the most amount of dairy (toddlers and seniors), are still not reaching adequate blood levels of vitamin D.

What should we be looking for on lab testing?

There is a lot of debate between Health Canada versus scientific research about how much vitamin D is “adequate”. When Health Canada runs its statistics about how many Canadians are deficient in vitamin D, they use the number 50 nmol/L as the cut off. Lab test reference ranges and Canadian MDs use 75 nmol/L as the cut off. However, most scientific literature showing significant benefit to human health promotes 100 nmol/L as the appropriate cut off for being vitamin D sufficient.

Research estimates we would see significant reductions of diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hip fractures due to osteoporosis, and respiratory infection. A study published in 2016 found that by increasing the standard to 100 nmol/L, Canadians would save about $12.5 billion annually on healthcare costs, and prevent 23,000 premature deaths per year.

As you can imagine, the low cutoff used by Health Canada skews the numbers to show that only 60-66% of Canadians are deficient (still a huge number!). When we use the research-supported cut off of 100 nmol/L, we find that about 93% of Canadians are falling short.

Is vitamin D testing covered by OHIP?

Despite this research vitamin D testing is not covered by OHIP. If I’m running labs with my patients, I always discuss the benefit of testing vitamin D ($33). If a patient is getting labs done through their family doctor, I always recommend they ask to pay out of pocket to be tested.

It sounds like the solution is to take lots of Vitamin D orally?

It’s very important to note that taking too much vitamin D orally is toxic, and this amount can vary from person to person. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, the body cannot simply get rid of any excess. Research also shows us that damage due to toxicity can occur in the body before we notice anything overtly in terms of symptoms – meaning we could be doing damage by taking too much before we notice anything is wrong.

The bottom line:

  1. Have your vitamin D levels tested at least once per year.
  2. Most of us need to supplement with oral vitamin D, at least during the winter.
  3. Vitamin D can be toxic, so it’s important to know how much you need to take daily, and use lab testing monitor that you’re staying within a healthy blood-level.

 

References:

Alshahrani, F., & Aljohani, N. (2013). Vitamin D: deficiency, sufficiency and toxicity. Nutrients5(9), 3605-16. doi:10.3390/nu5093605

GrassrootsHealth – Scientists’ Call to D*action. http://www.grassrootshealth.net/epidemic

Greene-Finestone, L. S., et al. CaMos Research Group (2010). 25-Hydroxyvitamin D in Canadian adults: biological, environmental, and behavioral correlates. Osteoporosis international : a journal established as result of cooperation between the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA22(5), 1389-99.

Janz T, Pearson C. Vitamin D blood levels of Canadians. January 2013. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-624-X http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11727-eng.pdf

William B. Grant, Susan J. Whiting, Gerry K. Schwalfenberg, Stephen J. Genuis & Samantha M. Kimball. 2016. Estimated economic benefit of increasing 25-hydroxyvitamin D conzcentrations of Canadians to or above 100 nmol/L,Dermato Endocrinology, 8:1, DOI: 10.1080/19381980.2016.1248324

Vitamin D Society Press Release. 2013. Stats Canada Data: Canadians’ Vitamin D Levels Declining. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/2/prweb10380382.htm

 

 

Curb Your Sugar Cravings

Do you have a sweet tooth? There are lots of physiological reasons that we might crave sugar. When patients come in asking about curbing their sugar cravings, my first goal is to understand why they might be experiencing cravings in the first place. Then we can take a targeted approach to make those sugar cravings stop for good.

Reason #1: Low energy levels

When we’re tired, our bodies seek out ways of boosting energy. The fastest way to make energy (ATP) is by using sugars in the blood stream (glucose), and the fastest way to get them there is by eating simple sugars. This is why at 3pm, when we’re running low on energy, we often crave a sweet treat.

Solution #1: Understand why you’re tired, and fix it.

This often means improving your sleep quality and or sleep quantity. It also means researching other common underlying causes of fatigue, like dehydration (so simple, but so true!), nutrient deficiencies, or having an under-active thyroid.

Reason #2: Emotional eating and boredom

When we eat sugar, our brain releases a hormone called dopamine, which is our reward hormone. Dopamine makes us feel good! However, research shows that over time this response becomes worn-down, so that we need more and more sugar to get the same dopamine “feel good” response.

Sometimes we’ve also learned to eat sugar out of habit or boredom. We don’t even notice it’s happening until the bag or bar is empty, and we’re not even enjoying the deliciousness of the treat.

Many of us have also learned to use sugar as a coping mechanism for stress. Treats may have been used to reward us as children (or bribe us…), or are associated with happy memories, like getting ice cream after winning your soccer game. For myself, once I finished my dinner I was always allowed to eat two cookies. This isn’t bad parenting at all – but to this day, I don’t feel as if dinner is complete without that hit of sweetness at the end.

Solution #2: Mindfulness

The key lies in recognizing these patterns so that they no longer have a hold over us. In the example of my own life, I can cognitively say to myself “I know I have eaten enough food, I know that I’m full, and I don’t need a cookie to finish off a meal”. For the person who eats for comfort, it might be recognizing that and then engaging in positive self-talk, or finding another activity to release dopamine like going for a walk or hugging your partner/child/pet. For the person who reaches for sugar out of habit or boredom, use a small bowl and eat one bite at a time, trying to savour each bite, and see how you feel.

Reason #3: Candida (yeast) overgrowth

Candida is a yeast that occurs as part of our gut flora. Like all molds, if given too much fuel it can over-grow, and yeast feasts on sugar. As a result, an overgrowth of yeast can actually make us crave sugar, because it wants to keep growing. Candida overgrowth can cause bloating, low energy, brain fog, and lots more. Read about it in this article for the full lesson on Candida.

Solution #3: Kill off the excess Candida and replace it with healthy bacteria.

This should always be done under the care of an experienced healthcare practitioner, as many “online guides” can be either ineffective or dangerous and detrimental to our digestive system.

Reason #4: Blood sugar crashes

When we eat simple carbohydrates (foods that are easily broken down into sugars), our bodies digest them quickly and then dump a large amount of glucose (sugar) into the system all at once for fuel. This causes a spike in blood sugar, and a big release of insulin to help metabolize the circulating sugars. When the dust settles, we get a blood sugar crash and our bodies crave sugar again to boost these low blood sugar levels. The higher the high, the lower the low, and the stronger the cravings.

Solution #4: Balance blood sugar

My mantra for keeping blood sugar stable is: fat, fibre, and protein with every meal and every snack. These three macronutrients are harder for the body to break down, so they slow down what’s called our “gastric emptying time”. All this means that instead of a quick spike and subsequent crash, it’s a slow-release of fuel into the blood stream, with a lower insulin release. This prevents the crash from happening, and we avoid the subsequent sugar craving all together. Added bonus: These nutrients also keep us fuller for longer, which doesn’t hurt the sugar cravings, either.

Reason #5: Eating artificial sweeteners

Research shows that people who use artificial sweeteners actually end up eating more sugar during their day than people who don’t. Artificial sweeteners pack a lot of sweetness per tastebud; even a small amount tastes very sweet. As a result, they send a very strong message to the brain, and to the rest of our digestive tract that says. “We’re about to be hit with a BOAT LOAD of sugar, so get ready!” … and then our stomach doesn’t receive the corresponding expected amount of fuel (whomp whomp). As a result, a signal is sent to the brain to tell us to crave more sugar.

Solution #5: If you’re going to eat something sweet, just do it.

Focus on sugars with a lower glycemic index, like maple syrup, honey, sugars found in fruit (dates and bananas are often in recipes as sweeteners) and raw organic coconut sugar. These are the “healthiest” sources of sugar, but still count as sugar, so please continue to practice mindfulness around eating them.

If you go by the “knowledge is power” rule, and you know you can have stevia in your coffee and not give into the corresponding sugar cravings later in the day, then go ahead. Please continue to avoid all other types of artificial sweeteners for reasons I will write about another time.

Other quick tips for curbing sugar cravings:

  • Brush your teeth right after dinner
  • Plan, plan, plan! Have readily available snacks that are full of fat + fibre + protein (nuts and seeds, dried chickpeas, nut butter with celery or an apple, greek yogurt with pumpkin seeds or hemp hearts, or my amazing protein bars.
  • If you haven’t the mastered self control (like me + cookies), then don’t bring it into the house.
  • Treats should be a treat! Save it for once a week – date night, dinner at a friend’s, holidays, etc.
  • Be confident with saying no at work. Ask for peoples’ support in your health choices if they chide you, and realize they’re projecting their own sugar-relationship onto you if they’re not being supportive (circle back to Reason #2).
  • When you do eat sugar, ENJOY IT! No guilt, no rushing, just savour the deliciousness and enjoy the hit of dopamine :).

Book an appointment with Dr. Hilary Chambers, ND to develop healthy sugar-free habits and address the underlying causes of your sugar addiction.