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How to switch off the ‘hunger hormone’

Clients often tell me they struggle to diet because they can’t get their hunger under control. But hunger is not an issue of being more disciplined or having more willpower. It’s a hormonal issue.

When we think of hormones we often think about oestrogen and testosterone and their role in puberty, libido, and the reproductive system. But, our bodies also produce hormones which regulate our appetite.  In this article, I’m going to talk about one of them called ghrelin and tell you everything you need to know about it and how to keep it in check.

All About Ghrelin

Ghrelin controls hunger, food intake and combined with growth hormone, fat storage.  Its main function is to increase appetite. It makes you consume more food, take in more calories and store fat.

This hormone is produced in your stomach and secreted when your stomach is empty. It sends signals to the hypothalamus, the part of your brain which governs your hormones and appetite, that it’s time to eat, by increasing your appetite. The lower your levels, the fuller you feel and the easier it is to eat fewer calories. After eating, ghrelin levels decrease because our stomachs are full and we’re satiated. They don’t rise again until the body starts looking for more energy. Ghrelin peaks every four hours or so–roughly corresponding to mealtimes.

So, if you want to lose weight, lowering your ghrelin levels can be beneficial. On the flip side, if you under-eat or struggle to gain weight, higher ghrelin levels may help you consume more food and calories.

Ghrelin may sound like a terrible, diet-wrecking hormone. However, our hormones have specific jobs to do in the body. If we never felt hungry, would we take as much joy from the food we eat? How would we know when we’re low on nourishment? How would we function at our best? In the past ghrelin played an important role in survival by helping people maintain a healthy level of body fat.

While you might assume obese people have higher ghrelin levels, they may just be more sensitive to its effects. Research shows their ghrelin levels are actually lower than in lean people, and are also associated with imbalances in other appetite controlling hormones. This suggests that over time, overeating can decrease sensitivity to the hormone, meaning we lose this essential control mechanism. Studies have also shown that after obese people eat a meal, ghrelin only decreases slightly. Because of this, the hypothalamus doesn’t receive as strong of a signal to stop eating, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be wondering how you can keep your ghrelin levels low.  It doesn’t mean jumping to calorie restriction and starvation as this will increase your ghrelin levels, potentially lead to overeating and storage of fat.

Interestingly, research shows that intermittent fasting can significantly decrease ghrelin, increase the feeling of fullness, and decrease the desire to eat. This has certainly been my experience with the manageable type of intermittent fasting I do with my clients.

I’ve highlighted a few tips here to help keep this specific hormone in check: 

Eat a diet rich in fibre from fruit and vegetables, legumes and wholegrains.  A high fibre intake slows the stomach’s emptying rate, keeping you full for longer, and also stretches the stomach which sends fullness signals to the brain. Foods high in fibre also tend to be lower in calories and higher in nutrient density.

Eat your calories rather than drinking them. Solid calories and liquid ones can affect appetite differently. Solids provide a greater sensation of fullness than liquids. This may in part be because the extra chewing time allows solids to stay in contact with the taste buds for longer, which can promote feelings of fullness. Solids also require longer digestion which keeps you feeling full for longer.

 Indulge in some dark chocolate.The bitterness of dark chocolate is thought to help decrease appetite and diminish cravings for sweets.Researchers also believe the stearic acid in dark chocolate can help slow digestion, further increasing feelings of fullness. Amazingly, one study observed that simply smelling 85% dark chocolate decreased both appetite and hunger hormones just as much as actually eating it!

Eat protein with every meal Incorporating a portion of lean or vegetable protein into each meal (eggs, oily fish, organic chicken or turkey, fermented tofu, beans and pulses) will slow gastric emptying, keeping you fuller for longer. One of the mechanisms behind this is a reduction in ghrelin levels.

Spice Up Your Meals. One small study found that consuming 2 grams of ginger powder diluted in hot water at breakfast reduced the hunger participants felt after the meal. Capsaicin, found in hot peppers, and capsiate, found in sweet peppers can help decrease hunger and increase feelings of fullness.

 Manage stress. Studies in animals have shown that exposure to chronic stress increases circulating ghrelin (Massachusettes Institute of Technology, 2013).  It also interacts with the brain’s reward pathways to increase food intake, including the consumption of sweet food over bland food. This creates a vicious cycle where we begin to see food as a comfort during times of stress and anxiety.  Incorporate yoga, meditation or breathing into your daily routine, get out for a walk or run in nature, find something that works for you to allow you to live (and eat) more mindfully.

Sleep well. Sleep deprivation has been associated with an increase in ghrelin levels, appetite and hunger comparative to sleeping for longer periods. Research shows that individuals who sleep less than seven hours per night rate their fullness levels after breakfast as 26% lower.  Aim for 7-9 hours per night, practice good sleep hygiene by limiting screen time, avoiding heavy meals and alcohol before bed, and try to stick to regular sleep and waking up times to regulate the circadian rhythm.

Exercise. This is an inconclusive area as far as research is concerned. Exercise reduces appetite for some people but not all. Often my female clients tell me they are hungrier after they exercise. Interestingly, a small-scale study of 20 women funded by the National Institutes of Health found that exercise only reduced appetite in lean women. Other research suggests women, but not men, respond to starting an exercise regimen with changes in hormones that lead to appetite stimulation, but it isn’t known if the differences continue over the long term. In terms of types of exercise, some research suggests that aerobic activities such as running suppress appetite more than lifting weights or other forms of resistance training.

My advice is that until we know more of the nuances underlying exercise and appetite control, be mindful of how you feel after exercise. If it does increase your hunger, make sure you have something healthy to eat straight afterwards so you aren’t tempted to binge on unhealthy high carb foods.

If you’re looking for support with weight loss or indeed weight gain, incorporating these diet and lifestyle changes would be a great place to start.  It’s important to remember however, that ghrelin is only one of many interrelated factors which could be impacting on your health and well-being.  That’s why I create bespoke plans specific to my clients’ personal health and fitness goals.

References

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080617142925.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5037567/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0026049512002880

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23247700

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131015191405.htm

https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/346058

https://www.ncbi.nlm.ni

Fish Curry With Tomatoes And Tamarind

Use a sustainable white fish like hake and serve up this healthy, Indian spice-pot with green beans, cauliflower and brown rice.

Ingredients- Serves 4

  • 1 onion cut into quarters
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • 2 cm piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 red chilli roughly chopped
  • A bunch of coriander, leaves separated from stems
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • a small handful curry leaves (optional)
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp  ground coriander
  • 1 tsp  ground cumin
  • 400g plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • sustainable firm white fish (such as hake or pollack) 500g, skinned and cut into 4cm cubes

Method

Step 1 Blend the onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and the coriander stems in a blender until it makes a paste. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and fry the black mustard seeds and curry leaves until fragrant. Add the paste. Fry for 2 minutes then add the turmeric, coriander and cumin. Fry for 2 minutes more then add the tomatoes and the tamarind with 200ml of water an cook with lid on until the tomatoes start to break down.

Step 2 Stir in the fish, cover and simmer for 5 minutes until cooked. Serve with brown basmati rice, broccoli and green beans.

 

 

Adapted from From Olive magazine

Herbed Almond Orange Salmon Over Spinach

This recipe packs a double dose of omega-3s, by combining salmon and almonds, and has the added brain boosting benefits of spinach. Cooking over low heat ensures a silky-textured salmon that’s never overcooked.

Ingredients- serves 4

  • 4 salmon fillets (6 oz each)
  • Zest and juice of 1 large juicy orange
  • 2/3 cup almonds, chopped or flaked
  • 4 tablespoons flat leaf parsley or dill, chopped finely
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chilli flakes to taste
  • 1-2 large bags spinach

Preparation

For The Salmon

  • Bring salmon to room temperature by leaving it out on the counter for approximately 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 135C. Cover a small dish which can hold the salmon and its juices and place onto an oven sheet pan.
  • Combine orange zest, orange juice, almonds, parsley, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Put salmon fillets skin side down into the dish.
  • Drizzle/brush each fillet with about 1.5 teaspoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pan in oven and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Pat almond and orange mixture onto salmon, along with the herbs, and return to oven for an additional 5 minutes, until nuts are lightly toasted but not burned.
  • Salmon should be cooked through, although colour will remain vibrant and flesh will be soft.

For The Spinach

  • In the meantime, add the spinach to a pan/wok (don’t worry it will wilt to a tiny fraction of the volume it is when raw), add 1 tsp salt and 1-2 tablespoons of water (but not too much as the leaves will release water)
  • Cover with a lid and stir from time to time to get all the leaves evenly cooked
  • Drain thoroughly in a sieve, pushing down with a spoon to remove excess water
  • Return to pan and add 1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, chilli flakes to taste, a bit more salt if needed, and mix thoroughly
  • Cover to keep warm.

To Serve

Pile spinach onto each plate and then top with the salmon and its juices.

Adapted from Brain HQ

Quick & Tasty Chana Masala

Brain Healthy Ingredients: Chickpeas, Onions, Mushrooms, Spinach, Tomatoes, Curry Powder

For fish or meat eaters you can always add some prawns, beef/lamb/chicken.

Ingredients- Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions finely diced
  • 3 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp, or to taste, tandoori curry powder
  • 420 g mushrooms sliced
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas in water, drained and well-rinsed
  • 240 g baby spinach
  • 175 ml coconut milk
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a pan, add the onions and fry on a low to medium heat until the onions are golden, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes).
  2. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant- 2-4 mins.
  3. Add the curry powder and fry for a minute- make sure it doesn’t burn. If it starts to, add a tablespoon of water.
  4. Then add the mushrooms and fry until cooked through and any liquid evaporated.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, coconut milk and salt and pepper, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes under a lid.
  6. Add the chickpeas and baby spinach and heat through for a few minutes until the leaves have wilted.
  7. Serve with brown rice

 

Adapted from FabFood4all

Future-Proof Your Brain

Are you wondering about what you can do to help protect your brain from future cognitive decline? A fear for many people as they get older is that they are going to be sound of body but their mind may not be. Our mental health has an enormous impact on our day-to-day lives and maybe we should be spending as much time giving our brains a workout as we do looking after our bodies. If you send your car in for regular servicing, check the oil and the tire pressure, your car will probably run smoother for longer. Attending to your own brain maintenance,using evidence-based nutritional and lifestyle strategies will likely help provide the same benefit.

By the time you get to your 40s, chances are you’re already walking into rooms with absolutely no idea what you came there for. Of course, what’s going on is multilayered – forgetfulness and brain fog can be caused by so many different things (many of which can be helped by simple nutritional and lifestyle modifications) – but there are some foods and lifestyle strategies that scientists know are excellent for keeping the brain healthy and preventing the downhill slide.

Healthy Weight

At this point, you probably know that carrying excess weight on your body—particularly extra body fat around your middle—can increase the risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and dementia. And now, recent research in 2019 suggests that there is an association between having a bigger waistline and a high body mass index (BMI) in your 60s, and accelerated brain ageing, by at least a decade. This is due to the cortex thinning. Before you freak out,  what this really means is, that by losing weight (ideally, well in advance of your 60s), people may be able to stave off brain ageing and potentially the memory and thinking problems that can come along with it.

Good Quality Sleep

We already know that sleep is essential for good cognitive health. Researchers in 2019 followed 119 participants over the age of 60 for six nights of sleep, and found that participants with less deep sleep, as characterized by their brain waves, produced higher levels of a certain brain protein called tau. Elevated levels of tau in the central nervous system have been linked with brain damage. When looking at the brain of someone who is sleep-deprived, scientists have also found reduced metabolism and blood flow in multiple brain regions.

As you sleep, memories are reactivated, connections between brain cells are strengthened, and information is transferred from short to long-term. Without enough quality sleep, we can become more forgetful. I talk a lot to my clients about techniques to optimise sleep. It’s a big topic but good places to start are to stay away from gadgets 1 hour before sleep and to avoid exercising at least 2.5 hours before sleep.

Tea

A 2017 study showed that daily consumption of tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older persons by 50%. A 2019 study by the same authors showed that drinking oolong, black, or green tea at least 4 times a week for 25 years had a protective effect on age-related decline in brain organisation. So what does a well-organised brain actually mean? When the connections between brain regions are more structured, information processing can be performed more efficiently. As you might expect, organised brain regions are associated with healthy cognitive function.

Magic Mushrooms

Research in 2019 has found that seniors over the age of 60 who consume more than two standard portions (1 portion = 150g; 2 portions= half a plate) of mushrooms weekly may have 50%  reduced odds of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A compound called ergothioneine (ET) is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory found in a variety of mushrooms that researchers suspect is the root of these benefits.

Berries

Berries aren’t only delicious, they also work wonders for cognitive function thanks to the high levels of powerful antioxidants they contain, specifically anthocyanidin. Anthocyanidin has been shown to boost memory, neural function, and coordination. It does this by improving communication between brain cells, increasing plasticity – the creation and strengthening of neural pathways -, and helps with memory and learning, and reducing cognitive decline. As a rule of thumb, the darker the berry, the higher its antioxidant content, with blueberries and blackberries the winners.

Dark Chocolate

For similar reasons, the same is true of dark chocolate. The brain is very susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline, and foods with high levels of antioxidants fight the free radicals that cause this damage. In studies, cacao flavonoids encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in the parts of the brain related to memory and learning. A study in 2018 looked at what happened when people ate dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) and concluded that it helped brain plasticity, which helps memory and learning.

Nuts and Seeds

If you’re looking to justify your nut butter obsession a 2018 study found that eating more than 10 grams of nuts a day was positively associated with better mental functioning, including improved thinking, reasoning and memory in Chinese patients ages 55 and up. Instead of reaching for the sugary snacks when the slump strikes, give nuts a try. A scientific review in 2014 found vitamin E might help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The nuts and seeds containing the highest levels of vitamin E are sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and almonds.

Oily Fish

The same could be said for oily fish. The omega-3 fats it contains help build membranes around every cell in the body, including brain cells, where they improve the structure of brain cells called neurons. A few years ago, a study found that people with high levels of omega-3s had increased blood flow in the brain.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables like kale or spinach, are believed to protect the brain because they contain high levels of compounds that fight oxidative stress. Antioxidants found in dark leafy greens include lutein, zeaxanthin, phenols and flavonoids.

Soybean

Soybean products like tofu are rich in a group of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are linked to a reduced risk of dementia and other age-related cognitive problems. The polyphenols they contain – isoflavones, including daidzein and genistein – are antioxidants, and you’ve already learned how good these are for brain health. The best kind of soya to eat is fermented forms like miso, natto and fermented tofu.

Avocado

They are chock-full of nutrient-dense monounsaturated fats, which support blood flow to the brain. They’re also helpful in reducing blood pressure,  which is linked to cognitive decline.

Cucumbers

The ingredient in cucumbers we’re most interested in is the antioxidant fisetin, and science has previously found that it can improve memory. Now a study (admittedly on mice) found that a daily dose of fisetin can improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. You’ll also find fisetin in strawberries.

Legumes

Legumes like chickpeas, beans, lentils, and split peas are a good source of folic acid, which can improve verbal and memory performance, and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It makes sense, after all getting enough folic acid during pregnancy is vital for foetal brain development and preventing neural tube defects.

Coffee

Thanks to its caffeine content, people often use coffee to keep them alert when they’re flagging. Some research last year suggested that there’s another reason it might be helpful… Coffee may increase your brain’s capacity for processing information. Proper good quality coffee is also a source of antioxidants and has been linked to the prevention of cognitive decline and brain conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Eggs

Eggs are a super-duper brain food as they are packed with the B vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, and research shows these vitamins can prevent your brain from shrinking. They also contain choline, a nutrient that may prevent brain shrinkage and delay cognitive decline.

Broccoli

I am a big fan of this cruciferous vegetable because it has so many health-bringing qualities. The most interesting nutrients that broccoli contains for brain health are glucosinolates, which break down in the body to produce isothiocyanates. These isothiocyanates (and you can also find them in Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, and kale) may reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of degenerative brain conditions.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon may keep your brain healthy and your memory sharp. Studies have shown that the compounds in cinnamon may be beneficial for Alzheimer’s prevention. In Alzheimer’s, “plaques” and “tangles” damage brain cells, and cinnamon may prevent the formation of both the plaques and the tangles.

Turmeric

Curcumin, the compound found in this golden spice, is popular for many in the fight against getting older, specifically for its anti-inflammatory properties. You may already be taking it if you have arthritis or other aches and pains. It also protects long-term cognitive function, memory, and mood, as well as combating degenerative processes in the brain. After all, all ageing is in some way linked to inflammation.

 

 

 

Greens & Broad Bean Shakshuka

Broad beans (also known as fava beans) are packed full of fibre. They contain vitamins K, folate and B6, as well as zinc, copper, iron and magnesium. To save time you can buy them frozen.

  Ingredients  

   1 bunch asparagus spears

    200g sprouting broccoli

    2 tbsp olive oil

    2 spring onions, finely sliced

    2 tsp cumin seeds

    large pinch cayenne pepper, plus extra to serve                                                                                                                                                

    4 ripe tomatoes, chopped

    1 small pack parsley, finely chopped

    50g shelled peas

    50g podded broad beans

    4 large eggs

    50g pea shoots

    Greek yogurt to serve

Method

  1. Trim or snap the woody ends of the asparagus and finely slice the spears, leaving the tips and about 2cm at the top intact.
  2. Finely slice the broccoli in the same way, leaving the heads and about 2cm of stalk intact.
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the spring onions, sliced asparagus and sliced broccoli, and fry gently until the veg softens a little, then add the cumin seeds, cayenne, tomatoes (with their juices), parsley and plenty of seasoning, and stir.
  4. Cover with a lid and cook for 5 mins to make a base sauce, then add the asparagus spears, broccoli heads, peas and broad beans, cover again and cook for 2 mins.
  5. Make 4 dips in the mixture. Break an egg into each dip, arrange half the pea shoots around the eggs, season well, cover with a lid and cook until the egg whites are just set.
  6. Serve with the rest of the pea shoots, a spoonful of yogurt and sprinkle over another pinch of cayenne, if you like.

 

 

 

Courtesy of Good Food Magazine

What Cravings Really Say About Your Health

Those cravings you get for sugary or savoury things, are they all in your head- or is your body trying to tell you something? Some might dismiss a ‘wisdom of the body’ theory as quackery.  However, if you think about what biological processes are happening in your body and the factors affecting them, the argument to substantiate a link becomes more compelling. Here’s why.

The body is a wonderful machine, constantly sending you signs and signals about the information (or nutrients) it needs to function at its best. Food is so much more than just calories. It’s also sending information to all your cells and helping to direct their activity. The trouble is, when you fall into unhealthy patterns, you unwittingly train your brain and body to think and crave certain foods.  Often these foods give you a quick fix. You feel great for 30 minutes, yet an hour later your energy levels are on the floor and you need another hit to keep you going. Sound familiar?

This concept applies to everyone, not just women in pregnancy who are typically associated with an appetite for unusual or inedible substances such as clay, coal or dirt (this type of craving is referred to as ‘pica’ by the way).

Are You Craving Foods High In Sugar And Unhealthy Fats?

One of the most common and documented cravings is of course, sugar.  In recent years, articles in the press have suggested sugar is as addictive as class A drugs.  How true is that really? Or, have you been simply making excuses for your lack of willpower? You’ll be glad to know there is more to it than meets the eye and it’s not actually your willpower that’s missing.

The brain needs glucose, or sugar, from the right kind of foods to function optimally.  Glucose comes from starchy and non-starchy carbohydrates like pasta, bread, vegetables and desserts.  When you’re eating in such a way that your body steadily releases glucose into the blood stream throughout the day, this process works as it should. You’re productive, sharp, and full of energy, and you don’t need to rely on willpower to make good food choices.

So, What Causes You To Crave Sugar In The First Place?

Imbalanced biochemistry

Not balancing your biochemistry by having the right distribution of protein, fats and healthy carbohydrates on your plate. I often use a non-invasive genetic test to help identify the ideal ratio, which varies from person to person.

The toxic combination of sugar and unhealthy fat

Too much of the wrong kinds of sugar, as well as fats, can throw things off kilter. Studies have found that increased consumption of sugar and unhealthy fats (like in donuts, chocolate, cake, biscuits and sweets) triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward and satisfaction. And that means you now need superhuman amounts of willpower to stop eating these foods that give you a temporary high- and we all know how long that will last for….

By falling into this trap, you train your brain to think, ‘I need to eat this to help me feel better’.  You might use these foods to regulate your mood and lower your stress. But in the long run, this sends you on a rollercoaster – with your energy, your mood, stress levels and sleep. And over time, this rollercoaster can result in the development of chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, inflammation, immune suppression or chronic fatigue.

Processed and energy dense foods like junk food which are high in both fat and sugar have a higher association with food addiction. You never see this combination of high sugar – high fat foods in nature, but food manufacturers are very aware of the addictive quality of this toxic combination and use it to their advantage.

Feeling tired and the role of emotions

You’re also more inclined to eat these kinds of foods when you’re stressed, anxious, or tired, because your brain is looking for more fuel than it would be when you are relaxed and well nourished. What helps a lot of my clients is EFT or tapping, an evidence-based tool I use to help them manage these issues better on their own, so they don’t have to rely on me or anyone else.

If you’re craving sugar or carb-heavy foods you may also be low on serotonin, the neurotransmitter which helps regulate mood and helps keep you feeling positive, giving you sound sleep and days of productivity. Serotonin is made from tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid (or protein) found in almonds, fish, eggs, turkey, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

The challenging bit here is, that in order for tryptophan to release serotonin, it needs to be coupled with the right amount of carbs because it’s a bit tricky getting it into the brain where it needs to be to exerts its positive effects. Get the wrong amount and it can spike your serotonin for a couple of hours making you feel good- but then send it crashing back down, leaving you feeling moody and emotionally unstable.

Similarly, woman can be more susceptible to sugar cravings around the time of their menstrual cycle. That might not come as a huge surprise to you… studies have shown that higher oestrogen levels are associated with greater levels of the hunger hormone, leptin, which triggers stronger cravings for sugary foods.  PMS also causes the stress hormone cortisol to increase and the feel-good hormone serotonin to dip, making you reach for chocolate, chips and sugary snacks to give you a feel-good boost at that time of the month.

What To Do About Your Sugar Craving

Generally, the foods you choose to eat every day can help to regulate or trigger these cravings by helping to balance your biochemistry. Try switching your white bread, pasta, sugary cereals, low fat products and processed foods for lower GL (glycaemic load) alternatives such as wholegrains, pulses, root vegetables and increasing your protein intake at each meal. This can help balance your blood sugar better.

Quality proteins such as eggs, turkey, salmon and nuts and seeds are also rich in tryptophan, which support production of serotonin and dopamine – a much better source than a packet of chocolate digestives or a bag of sweeties.  Making the switch to a more wholesome and nourishing alternative may be a much more sustainable approach to healthy weight loss than crazy diets you might be tempted to try.

DO YOU CRAVE SALTY SNACKS?selective focus photo of french fries

Sugar doesn’t do it for you? Perhaps you are more inclined to reach for savoury, salty foods; crisps, salted nuts, cheese and biscuits.  Generally speaking, this may be a sign that your adrenal glands are under strain, and that hankering for salt could be attributed to stress, fatigue or PMS.  You rely on your adrenals to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline whenever you need it to meet challenging situations. That might mean deadlines at work, training for a marathon or gearing yourself up for a big presentation. The adrenal glands also play a big role in maintaining good energy levels and quality sleep.

Chronic demand on the adrenals due to long-term physiological stress (from over-exercising, medications, high caffeine, sugar, alcohol etc) or psychological stress/anxiety can result in fatigue and insufficient secretion of adrenaline and cortisol,  but also the hormones aldosterone, renin and angiotensin which regulate blood pressure by controlling fluid levels and electrolyte balance in the body.

When your adrenals are tired and don’t produce enough aldosterone, your blood pressure can become low and result in salt cravings and these might be accompanied with other symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings including low mood and anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, excessive thirst, headaches and nausea. These are often classic signs of adrenal fatigue, which can result after long periods of psychological/physiological stress which places extra demands on the adrenal glands and results in them ‘burning out’ and not functioning optimally.

Please don’t read this and think that I’m suggesting you need to be consuming salt by the bucket load. Too much sodium (the key element in salt) should be avoided as it can tip the hormone balance in the other direction and contribute to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.

The good news is that the adrenal glands can be supported through nutrition and lifestyle to help rebalance hormones. Working with a Registered Nutritional Therapist can be a powerful way of equipping you with the knowledge to recognise these signs when they present themselves, and make positive changes to benefit your long-term health and well-being. Please contact me for a complimentary 30 minute Wellness Call if you’d like more information: info@yournutritionalhealth.co.uk or on 07812 163 324.

Nutrition is Powerful Medicine

Food literally changes your biochemistry and gene expression

Did you know that the food we eat is so powerful that it turns our genes on and off, to alter our weight, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, cancer growth, and even our chances of healthy ageing, among numerous other aspects of our health? Until recently, it was believed you were stuck with the genes you were born with. But we know from research  now that your genes get turned on and off and are expressed to greater or lesser degrees depending on your diet and lifestyle factors. The impact of nutrition on our genes is called nutrigenomics.

It may be that our genes load the gun and are responsible for our predisposition to getting certain illnesses, but our diet and lifestyle pull the trigger, and largely influence whether or not we get them. Nutrition is powerful medicine you can use to your advantage.  It can literally change your life.

A healthy diet can make a big difference in your life but what happens if you don’t know how to start? A Nutritional Therapist can help set you on the right path to healthy living and ageing.

How can a nutrition professional help you?

So what’s to understand about good nutrition?! Everyone knows what a balanced diet is, right? There are articles on healthy eating in every newspaper and magazine. Why would you want to go to see someone to tell you what to eat?!! Your mum did that for you, didn’t she?

Most people get – on a conceptual level at least – that they should probably eat a bit better than they do, they should probably move more and take the time for more ‘me time’ to live a long and happy life.

‘Life’ seems to get in the way of achieving that. Many of us are juggling jobs and the complexities of modern relationships, leaving little time to dedicate to the business of ‘being healthy’. Convenience often wins. It’s not that that’s wrong per se, but here’s the thing: all the time we are not eating or moving or living well, we are silently getting unhealthier.

That may actually be going-to-hospital sick or it may just mean having health niggles that bother us greatly but that we have learned to cope with or accept as inevitable. I’m talking about things like IBS or other tummy troubles, PMT, arthritis, skin conditions, stress or anxiety, haywire hormones, or possibly weight that has crept on over the years and you can’t seem to shift it, no matter what you try.

What I want to share with you today is that the food you eat matters more than you can possibly imagine. Research confirms over and over again that every time you eat, you are literally self-medicating because food changes your biochemistry, and can make you feel rotten- or at the top of your game.

Amazingly, in many cases, simply by making changes to your diet, improving the quality of your sleep and exercising correctly, many illnesses can be prevented or the symptoms improved so markedly that there is a really profound shift in how you experience life. I’ve seen it happen many times and it’s actually a lot easier than you might be thinking.

Putting your nutrition knowledge into actual daily practise

Although Nutritional Therapy is evidence-based, and there are hundreds of thousands of research papers on the power of nutrition on health, it used to be referred to dismissively as ‘complementary medicine’. It’s only now that the science of what and how to eat is getting the recognition it deserves and is being actively promoted by a small number of well-known and recently enlightened conventional medical doctors, like Dr Rangan Chatterjee and Dr Michael Mosely.

Essentially, Nutritional Therapists apply the latest research in nutrition and health sciences to you and your symptoms and formulate a diet, lifestyle and (sometimes) supplement plan to support the body’s own healing processes. They also use the latest cutting-edge tests to help pinpoint key imbalances in the body’s functioning, where appropriate. If they’re health coaches too, they will focus on enabling you to put that knowledge into practice. Because what’s the point of having nutrition knowledge if you can’t put the ideas into practice in a meaningful way, or break through whatever barriers have held you back in the past?

Personalised detective work to find the root cause

Nutritional Therapists take a very personal approach. You might hear practitioners talk about people being ‘biochemically unique’. That means that there isn’t a single way of eating (or lifestyle for that matter) that is right for everyone. Isabel might have IBS and you want to lose weight, for example. Isabel might have a history of antibiotic use, while you had your gall bladder out when you were 14. Isabel might have an intolerance to dairy, while you hate strawberries. I could go on, but you can imagine the thousands of different permutations here. And the fact is that your DNA, previous medical history, any current symptoms as well as what you like and don’t like, not to mention your personal circumstances are all important when a Nutritional Therapist creates a plan for you. There is no way the same “protocol” is going to work for Isabel, and for you.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to the doctor, weren’t seen on time and then spent just a few minutes with your doctor before being ushered out? Or perhaps your health care provider sent you home with a few new prescriptions and no real explanation as to why your health was suffering? While most traditional GPs really do their best, unfortunately, they only have a maximum of 10 minutes to spend with you, they treat your symptoms rather than finding the root cause, and often you walk out with a dissatisfied feeling. A Nutritional Therapist invests a lot of time and skill to dig down deep, and do the detective work needed to find contributing factors, thread them all together and find root causes of symptoms.

You could of course download something from the internet – if you knew what you were looking for – but it’s not the same as having someone connect the dots and put everything together for you, and then give you the support you need to make the adjustments fit into your daily life long-term. A Nutritional Therapist may also work with supplements targeted to a specific condition or your own health goal. This can be a minefield – potentially dangerous and inevitably costly – if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Functional Medicine is the way forward: connecting genetic, environmental, diet and lifestyle factors

It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t understand what a huge effect a personalised food and lifestyle programme can have on the symptoms they have or how they experience their life.

Newspapers are full of soundbites about the latest foods, but they don’t really join the dots, and it’s difficult to see what might be possible for you. I’ve been told by GPs themselves (some of whom have been clients) that the vast majority of doctors – even those being trained today – have next to no current knowledge or practical experience of what their patients should be eating or how they might integrate the theory into their actual daily lives. They live in a world, by and large, where the primary solution presented during your 10-minute session lies in a prescription. They have few other options available to them.

Some – like Dr Chatterjee – are taking on training in something much bigger called Functional Medicine, often referred to as the future of 21st century medicine. Most Nutritional Therapists in the UK have been trained in the Functional Medicine approach. This addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms because it views the body as one integrated system, interacting like a web, rather than as a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their clients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, diet and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease.

If you think about it, nearly all medications merely suppress symptoms. Only very few are an actual cure – antibiotics come to mind here, one of the most important innovations in medical history, to which we owe much. The exclusively pharmacological approach conventional medicine so often employs usually does little to uncover the root causes. Metformin lowers blood glucose – but why is it high in the first place? Statins lower cholesterol – but why is it elevated? Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) numb pain – but why are you in pain? These are the questions nutrition professionals will ask before embarking on a quest to find out the root cause.

What happens in a nutrition consultation? 

Your first consultation will last around 60 to 75 minutes. You will have been asked to complete and send back a nutritional therapy questionnaire before you visit. This is in your interests as I analyse it and research where necessary in advance of your visit, so that we can get you moving forward straight away when we meet. During the session we’ll clarify your medical history, your health goals and any other challenges you’re facing, what you generally eat, what you like to eat, what you hate to eat and how you have to eat (on the bus, in a rush at your desk, and so on). It’s a partnership rather than me prescribing what you should be eating and doing (which usually doesn’t work, unless you’re the type of person who works best when someone explains what you need to do and you then just go off and do it come high or hell). I always explain to you why I’m recommending something and then if you’re happy to go ahead we discuss how you can put it into practice.

Nutritional Therapy programmes usually run over a period of months. That’s because most of us need longer term support to help us implement the programme, make changes in a way and at a pace that suits us, and to deal with any challenges or questions that come up.

What if I already know what to do?

Knowing what you should be doing is only part of the problem if you are unhappy with an aspect of your health. Integrating your programme into habitual daily life and staying motivated for the long haul is the hardest part of any plan. The single best way to stay in the zone is to have a buddy or coach who can give you a nudge or call you out if you start to go off piste. I’d say this is the single biggest thing that makes the difference between reaching your goal and actually staying there. That’s where health coaching comes in. It keeps you accountable and on track to ensure all that good work doesn’t go to waste.

If you’d like to know how you can take back control over your health and weight, and see if Nutritional Therapy is right for you, please book in a complimentary call here. I’d love to speak to you!

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Nutrition For Hay Fever

Itchy, watery eyes? Constantly sneezing? Hello hay fever! Now I really know it’s spring and you’re here to stay – like an uninvited guest – for the next six months. But while Mother Nature can be cruel, she is also kind. It might surprise you to know that changing what you eat can have a big impact on the severity of your symptoms. There is a noticeable correlation between what you eat and the severity of your hay fever symptoms. For example, if you are eating food products that contain high levels of histamine, then the chances are that this additional chemical influx will be intensifying your symptoms, making them more prominent and painful than ever before.

According to Allergy UK, as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children suffer from allergic rhinitis (the medical term for the condition), an allergic reaction to pollen. You might start noticing symptoms in March when the tree pollen season starts. Then there’s the grass pollen season, followed by the weed pollen season, which can go on into September.

If this is you, I sympathise: itchy, red or watery eyes; runny or blocked nose; sneezing and coughing; itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears; loss of smell; earache; headache; and feeling exhausted.

What Happens When You Get Hay Fever?

Airborne allergic reactions occur when substances called allergens connect to allergy receptors in the nasal cavity. The body releases a compound called histamine, which in turn causes a itchiness, runny nose, sneezes, watery eyes, and headaches. Histamine acts like a bouncer at a club. It helps your body get rid of something that’s bothering you — in this case, an allergy trigger, or “allergen.” Typical allergens can include dust mites, grass, tree and weed pollen, animal dander, and (shudder) cockroach parts.

When you have allergies, some of your triggers — such as pollen, pet dander, or dust — seem harmless. But your immune system sees them as a threat and responds. Your body’s intention — to keep you safe — is good. But its overreaction gives you those all-too-familiar allergy symptoms.

There are some foods will make the symptoms of hay fever worse, so try to cut these out or reduce them as much as you can during hay fever season. Other foods are naturally anti-inflammatory, so you’ll want to ensure you’re getting plenty of these in your diet.

Foods To Avoid

Foods and drinks containing high levels of histamine can aggravate your hay fever symptoms and include chocolate and alcohol- especially wine, champagne and beer (sorry about that), tomatoes, avocados and aubergines.

Histamine is not always present in certain food products, but it can be present in the bacteria that grows around them. So, food products that are aged, preserved, or fermented like vinegar, cured meats, sauerkraut, yoghurt, miso, soy sauce, and smoked and tinned fish can often end up being a big source of histamine.

There are also foods that, while they are not high in histamine themselves, are ‘histamine liberators’ and can trigger your mast cells (allergy cells) to release histamine. These include strawberries, pineapple, bananas, citrus fruits and egg whites.

Foods containing wheat – like bread and pasta, cakes and pastries –can stimulate an allergic reaction in those who suffer from grass pollen allergies.

Dairy products like milk and cheese thicken mucus, making blocked noses or ears much worse. Matured cheeses in particular tend to contain high levels of histamine. Dairy can also be responsible for releasing histamine into your systems. Even dairy alternatives such as soya milk should be considered with caution as soya milk contains a number of proteins that can cross-react with tree pollen, thereby stimulating an allergic reaction.

One of the most overlooked ways in which histamine tolerance can be improved is through the stabilisation of blood sugar levels. In the scientific literature, it is well-established that there is a bi-directional relationship between blood sugar control and histamine levels. This means that unstable blood sugar can increase histamine levels, and that we should reduce sugar intake and also make sure we have balanced meals with protein, fat and fibre rich carbohydrates at each meal.

Foods To Add In Or Increase When You Have Hay Fever

Some foods are anti-histamine foods and disrupt or block histamine receptors in your immune system, helping to reduce allergy symptoms. These include foods that contain the plant chemicals quercetin and beta carotene, and those high in vitamin C (see below)

Local honey also may be helpful because, although it contains trace elements of pollen, over time it may help your body become more familiar with the pollen entering your system and therefore reduce the inflammatory response it makes.

Quercetin containing foods: Onions, garlic, goji berries, asparagus, all berry fruits, apples, kale, okra, peppers, plums and red grapes.

Beta carotene containing foods: Sweet potato, carrots, butternut squash, red and yellow peppers, apricots, peas, broccoli, dark leafy greens like kale, and romaine lettuce.

Vitamin C containing foods: Blackcurrants, blueberries, peppers, kale, collard leaves, broccoli, kiwis, mango, courgettes, and cauliflower.

What To Drink

Drink plenty of water. Keeping well hydrated is helpful for all aspects of health. In the case of hay fever, it helps thin the mucous membranes in your nasal passages and reduces that ‘blocked up’ feeling.

Green tea is packed full of antioxidants, which are helpful for the immune system generally. It also contains a compound called EGCG, that is capable of blocking a key receptor involved with triggering an allergic reaction.

Ginger tea has been shown to help reduce allergic reactions by lowering your body’s IgE levels (the antibody involved in the specific immune reaction associated with hay fever).
Peppermint tea is worth trying because peppermint contains menthol, a natural decongestant that may help improve sinus symptoms.

Add nettle tea to your shopping list for its ability to relieve inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and ease nasal congestion, sneezing and itching.

An Anti-inflammatory Approach

Hay fever is an inflammatory condition and may be further helped by including other types of food that calm the inflammatory response. Top of the list are foods containing anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, which I often recommend to clients struggling with any inflammatory condition. These include all types of oily fish (like salmon, trout, sardines) as well as flaxseed and walnuts.

Coconut oil or milk is also anti-inflammatory due to being rich in medium-chain triglyceride (MCT’s) and can be used in cooking and baking or added to smoothies.

As well as adding flavour to your food, herbs like parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and basil have anti-inflammatory properties as do many spices, including turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, fennel and nutmeg.

While the main problem for hay fever sufferers is the pollen itself, you may also find that hidden food intolerances are making matters worse. I offer a range of testing options at my clinic if this is something you would like to investigate further.

Chilled Radish And Mint Soup

Radishes are in season right now and they add a lovely punchy feel to meals. This is a really unusual and wonderfully refreshing summer soup that makes use of the radish leaves as well as the roots. Rocket or watercress can stand in for leafless radishes, don’t worry.  Although they are a root vegetable, they have very little of the starch of things like potatoes and other root veg, making them a great addition to a low GL, low carb diet that will keep your weight and energy levels balanced.

Serves 4 as a starter.

Ingredients

About 20 radishes and their leaves (or 20 radishes plus two good handfuls of rocket or watercress)

12 mint leaves, plus extra to serve

250ml vegetable stock, chilled

1 small dessert apple, peeled, cored and diced

2 tbsp creme fraiche

1 pinch cayenne pepper

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Set aside two of the radishes. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, plunge in the radishes, their leaves (or the rocket or watercress) and the mint, cook for just a minute, then drain. Refresh immediately by plunging them into a bowl of cold water, or running them under the cold tap in a colander.

Put the blanched radishes, leaves and mint in a food processor with the stock, apple, creme fraiche, cayenne and some salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Taste, add more salt and pepper as needed, and chill.

Courtesy of River Cottage