Would You Go Vegan?

Being vegan is really fashionable right now, and those in favour of this way of eating will tell you that it’s the absolutely healthiest diet you can have from a nutritional perspective, plus you get to save not only the lives of animals but the planet too. For many of us it could be a bit challenging to go from where we are now to a 100% vegan diet.

So, I’m going to put it all out there for you: what it means to be vegan, what’s great about it, potential drawbacks and where you might struggle – and I’ll also be giving you tips for getting started, whether your intention is to immerse yourself fully or if you just fancy dabbling (either is fine – just saying).

WHAT IS A VEGAN DIET?

A vegan diet is a stricter version of a vegetarian diet. So in addition to not eating any meat, fish or seafood – i.e. dead animals, a vegan diet also cuts out any food stuffs made from animal sources (some of which are the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat). So, not just cutting out chicken meat, but also cutting out eggs. In the same vein, not just cutting out beef but also milk, yoghurt, butter and cream. And that means honey, too, as well as certain wines* and desserts (gelatine).

In a nutshell, vegan diets abstain from ALL animal products and consume only plant-based foods  which means NO meat, fish, eggs or dairy.

There is no set macro of micro nutrient ratio for a vegan diet; just vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and any other foods made from plants. However, since the main vegan protein sources are pulses and grains, and only a combination of the two provides complete proteins (containing all the amino acids), by definition this can be a high carbohydrate diet.

* If you’re wondering ‘why is wine not vegan?’ Here’s the answer…all young wines are a little bit cloudy thanks to tiny molecules like proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are completely harmless, but we wine-drinkers like our wines to be clear and bright. To make the wines clear, wine makers have traditionally used some added ingredients called ‘fining agents’ to help the process along. They include casein (milk protein) or albumin (egg whites), gelatine (animal protein) or isinglass (fish bladder protein). They act like a magnet, resulting in far fewer ­– but larger – particles that are more easily removed.

Advantages Of Going Vegan

  • Cruelty-free
  • Promotes natural foods
  • Rich in vitamin C, fibre, antioxidants and other plant chemicals
  • Helpful for some health conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, other auto-immune conditions).

Potential Challenges In Going Vegan

  • Natural food is not a requirement to comply with the diet
  • Does not explicitly encourage healthy eating patterns
  • May be nutrient deficient (B12, haem iron, omega-3 fats, complete protein)
  • Often high in carbohydrates which can lead to weight management issues
  • Can be too low in protein, which could be problematic if you’re stressed or recovering from adrenal fatigue
  • Does not limit or exclude sugar
  • Not suitable for elderly, pregnant women, type 2 diabetics, or those with high triglycerides or carbohydrate intolerance
  • Not always practical, especially when travelling abroad
  • May or may not be effective for weight loss

IS BEING VEGAN HEALTHY?

 Good question! There have been various well-publicised assertions over the years (most notably the book The China Study and, more recently, the film What the Health) that claimed eating a vegan diet was the healthiest thing you could do. A vegan diet, when carefully planned and executed, can be healthy for many people — however, it’s not always a good idea for everyone nor does it automatically mean it’s a healthy diet. And it depends whether you do it short or long-term.

Some studies have found that compared to lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets (those who eat eggs and dairy but not meat), vegan diets seem to offer additional protection for obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular mortality. On the other hand, studies also show that there are some nutrient deficiencies that tend to be higher among vegans, especially those consuming processed diets or struggling with other health conditions that interfere with normal nutrient absorption (like anaemia, or being underweight).

Although vegans commonly take an interest in how diet relates to health and tend to educate themselves about nutrition, the vegan diet does not explicitly prescribe healthy foods. There is a vegan alternative for every junk food out there.  And you can live on white toast with margarine and jam (and see your blood sugar levels sky rocket) while still being vegan – and that is certainly not healthy.

Given that the vast majority of health complaints are linked to chronic inflammation, a plant-focussed, antioxidant-rich vegan diet plays an important part in mediating inflammation, and it will certainly not hinder your attempts to become more healthy. Plus, given we don’t eat nearly as much fibre as we should for optimum health, committing to eating more plant foods is only going to be a good thing.

But, it may not provide sufficient nutrients for combatting certain conditions, notably auto-immune conditions where inflammation is at the root cause- here the addition of fish and eggs would better support the immune system.

Compromise….? Because a vegan diet can be both hard to follow long-term and is also potentially problematic, some people prefer to stick with a “flexitarian” approach instead which involves eating fewer animal products. For example, you might not consider yourself a vegan or even a vegetarian, but you can still make a conscious effort to limit your intake of animal products, focusing on eating plant foods the majority of the time. With this flexible approach you might still choose to have animal products several times per week but probably not every single day.

Things To Be Mindful Of On A Vegan Diet

  • Vegan diets don’t provide the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. You can’t get vitamin A from carrots. What you get is beta carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A.
    • You may have heard that carotene can be converted into vitamin A, but this conversion is usually insignificant.
    • Firstly, it takes a huge amount of carotene to convert into a small amount of vitamin A.
    • And, if you have low thyroid function, impaired digestion or a lack of healthy fats in the diet, this conversion won’t happen at all.
  • Vegan diets (unless you’re eating a lot of natto – a kind of fermented soy) don’t give you the vitamin K2. This is needed for shuttling calcium into your bones.
  • Many people try to be vegan by relying on fake food ­– they replace milk, cheese and meat with foods manufactured to look and taste as though they are milk, cheese and meat. What is used is non-foodstuffs, including stabilisers, gums, thickeners and highly processed protein extracts. Moreover, you may be counting your vegan cheese in as a source of protein, when many of them are actually made from carbs or fats.
  • Vegan diets can be low in protein– proteins are broken down into amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and are important for cellular health, proper metabolism and the immune system. Too little protein can contribute to muscle wasting, cognitive changes, mood swings, low energy and a weakened immune system.
  • Vegan diets are low on vitamin B12 and iron. The readily-absorbed forms of these nutrients are found in animal products. Several studies suggest that up to 68% of vegans are deficient in vitamin B12.
  • Several studies have shown that both vegetarians and vegans are also prone to deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, and essential fats like omega 3 (fats which can’t be made by the body but need to be obtained from food- or supplements) which are readily- absorbed only from oily fish.

HOW TO GET STARTED ON A VEGAN DIET

Some people like to make changes all in one go. If this is you, choosing a vegan recipe book from the resources I’ve listed below will be helpful.

Or you might try changing one meal at a time – possible having a vegan breakfast during your first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on.

You might try changing one product at a time, for example, swapping traditional cow’s milk for almond milk, or butter for coconut oil. There’s a plant-based alternative for most things you can think of.

One thing that you can look forward to is some exciting new recipes. Bringing vegan principles into your life even a few days a week (assuming we are talking veg-based meals rather than fake or junk foods) will deliver a whole new taste experience. There will be things that you love – and things the family rejects. It’s all part of the fun of discovering new things.

RESOURCES – BEST VEGAN BLOGS

The Colourful Kitchen www.thecolorfulkitchen.com

Deliciously Ella www.deliciouslyella.com

Minimalist Baker www.minimalistbaker.com

Oh She Glows www.ohsheglows.com

The Vegan Woman www.theveganwoman.com

RESOURCES – VEGAN RECIPE BOOKS

Christine Bailey, Go Lean Vegan: The Revolutionary 30-day Diet Plan to Lose Weight and Feel Great

Hugh, Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Much More Veg: 175 easy and delicious vegan recipes for every meal

Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows

Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows Everyday

Ella Mills (Woodward), Deliciously Ella

Ella Mills (Woodward), Deliciously Ella The Plant-Based Cookbook: 100 simple vegan recipes to make every day delicious

Juicing and Smoothies- How Healthy Are They?

Smoothie vs juicing Fruit and veg is good for you. No one would argue with that.

There has been a great deal of research in recent years to support the claim that eating more fruit and veg may be able to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, while also helping to manage your weight. It can be a challenge to eat five portions of fruit and veg each day, even when you like vegetables. And now a new report suggests that eating 10 portions is what we need to stay healthy for longer. Most people don’t come nearly close to having enough, and I bet you’re wondering how on earth you’re going to manage that!

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of juicing and smoothies. Both are trending right now and there’s a huge debate. But what is better for your health – and losing weight- and are there any downsides? I’m going to give you the lowdown on both so you can get the hard facts from a nutrition professional and make an informed choice.

SMOOTHIES

The Benefits of Smoothies

When you make a smoothie, the whole lot is whizzed up in a blender. The juice and the pulp go in. This means that smoothies contain fibre. Fibre is good for you for so many reasons. It’s great for the digestive tract, helping to bulk out stools which helps you ‘go’ more regularly. Fibre supports weight loss because it helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the body, meaning that fruit and sugar-rich vegetables like beetroot and carrots are less likely to give you a blood sugar spike – ­ albeit a natural one. Fibre absorbs cholesterol in your digestive tract and flushes it out of your body, which is helpful for reducing risk factors for heart disease.

Dietary fibre also activates a few hormones really helpful in weight loss (called PYY and CKK and GLP-1, since you ask). These are appetite suppressors, meaning you’ll want to naturally eat less the more veg you consume. Fibre also decreases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, and increases another hormone called leptin, which tells your body you’re full. So, all in all fruit and veg are the good guys.

Fibre isn’t the only good thing in a smoothie. In a 2012 study in which scientists blended and juiced grapefruit, researchers found that the blended fruit had a higher concentration of the beneficial phytochemicals than juices because that compound is primarily found in the fibrous membranes of the fruit.

Given a smoothie can be packed with fibre, it can even serve as a meal replacement if you’re smart about what you add in it- more on this next (breakfast would be the perfect example).

The Downsides to Smoothies

When you eat fruit and veg you have to chew them which helps breaks down the fibre This in turn slows down the release of the sugars, helping to prevent a blood sugar spike which can lead to fatigue, low mood, increased hunger, weight problems, sleep problems etc.

On the other hand, when you blend fruits and vegetables in a machine, although the smoothie still contains fibre, it’s been broken down (literally pulverized) super-fast during the blending process- basically, the blender is doing the work your digestive system should be doing, which takes both energy and time to digest.

Even if you’re making your smoothie at home, using only fruits and vegetables with no other added ingredients, you can drink it in just a few minutes, compared with the time it would take to eat the same fruits or vegetables whole. It’s very likely that you are also getting more calories and sugar when you drink a smoothie than when eating whole fruits or vegetables. Research shows that we don’t register liquid calories as accurately as food we’ve chewed. So, smoothies enjoy a “health halo” that can be misleading.

The Best Way to Have Smoothies

If your idea of the perfect smoothie is only fruit and some liquid … Well, that’s a sugar bomb waiting to happen and is likely to upset your blood sugar balance. Plus, if consumed too frequently, this will have you start piling on the pounds.

But, if you combine a little bit of fruit and mostly veg, with a healthy source of protein such as yoghurt, a handful of nuts and seeds, nut butter  or a protein powder that would be best. Why? Firstly, with the addition of protein you’ll have a healthy, nutritious and filling meal to take with you on-the-go. And secondly, you’ll help avoid the blood sugar spike.

Also, quantity is important. To give you an idea, according to the national Eatwell Guide, we should only be having one serving of smoothie or juice, which is 150ml. That’s the same as a “mini” can of cola and less than half the size of a standard can of soft drink. If you’re using mostly veg in your juices and smoothies, and adding protein to your smoothies then the amount can be increased.

JUICING

The Benefits of Juicing

When you juice, your juicers extract the water and nutrients from what you feed it, leaving behind the pulp. Many juicers will also have a filter attachment, so you can remove even more ‘bits’ from your juice.

Given the lack of fibre, juices provide an almost immediate energy boost. The bulk of the vitamins and minerals found within a fruit are typically in the juice rather than the fibrous pulp. And without the fibre, the nutrients are absorbed into the body more efficiently. Additionally, the digestive system doesn’t have to work hard at all to process what you’re consuming. The cherry on top is that juicing allows you to eat a far higher range of nutrients from leafy greens and vegetables you wouldn’t normally eat in such quantity or blend – like cabbage and wheatgrass! Typically, juices (rather than smoothies) are a great way to detox.

 Downsides to Juicing

When you juice, the fibre is usually removed. And without the fibre slowing digestion of the sugar in fruit, the juice drives up your blood sugar rapidly which can lead to symptoms discussed above. This can also contribute to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

If you juice mostly vegetables, you’ll get a potent dose of phytochemicals and disease-fighting compounds without all the sugar. But do it incorrectly, and you can get more sugar than a soda. Thing is, many “green juices” actually do have more sugar than a can of soda. Why? Because people don’t like bitter green juices and so most contain lots of fruit juice, carrots, and beets. A study in 2014 found that, on average, fruit juices contain 45.5 grams of fructose per litre, not far off from the average of 50 grams per litre in fizzy drinks.  If it has more than 5 grams of sugar, stay away.

Verdict

Which is better depends very much on what your health goal is. Juicing offers the possibility of getting in a greater concentration of nutrients, increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption, and possibly making it easier on your tummy if have a hard time digesting the fibre in vegetables.

On the other hand, fibre IS super important in your diet, and in juices you are missing out – plus you could also be losing other important elements like antioxidants.

For weight loss, energy, mood, PCOS, high cholesterol the added fibre is a huge bonus for balancing your blood sugar levels. Smoothies provide this. They also bring the possibility of adding other beneficial ingredients, like collagen (for arthritis suffers), protein powders, prebiotics, nuts or seeds.

Ultimately, you need to consume more fruit and veg than you are currently eating. Both smoothies and juices give you options to consider.

 HEALTHY JUICES

Green juice

2 apples

4 stalks celery

1 orange

½ lemon

5 handfuls spinach

½ thumb ginger root

Start with the spinach. A good tip is to try to roll it into a ball in your hands before feeding through the juicer. Peel the orange and lemon, then juice. Cut the apples into halves, then juice the rest.

Green goddess

3 cups spinach

6 stalks celery

2 pears

½ cup parsley

½ lemon

Start with the spinach and parsley, rolling them into a ball in your hands before feeding through the juicer. Follow with the lemon (peeled), then juice the remaining ingredients.

Liver cleanse

1 apple

1 beetroot

3 beet leaves (or a small handful of spinach)

4 carrots

1 stalk celery

½ thumb ginger root

Cut the beetroot and apples in half to juice. Add the ginger and celery. Roll the leaves into a ball (makes it easier to juice). Cut the skin from the pineapple (but leave in the core – it has extra enzymes), peel the orange and then juice.

HEALTHY SMOOTHIES

Put all the ingredients in the blender with a cup of liquid (water or almond milk, etc.) to start with and increase liquid to desired consistency.

Berry nice

½ avocado

75g fresh or frozen blueberries

1 tbsp chia seeds

½ tbsp coconut oil

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ banana (ideally frozen)

Small handful of ice

Water, as desired

Hidden greens

25g vanilla protein powder

1 kiwi, peeled

Handful of strawberries

Handful of kale

Handful of watercress

1 tbsp cashew butter/cashews

2tbsp broccoli sprouts

Small handful of ice

Water as desired

Blueberry + kale

Handful blueberries

Handful kale

1 small banana

1 tsp cashew or almond nut butter

1 tbsp sunflower seeds

Small handful of ice

250ml coconut or almond milk

Sugar Substitutes

One of the things I am asked about most as a Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach is sugar substitutes. “What can I use instead of sugar ?” I am asked, so here’s the here’s the good, the bad and the ugly low down on some of  those sugar replacements you might think are healthy (and some that definitely aren’t).

Honey

Honey has a lot going for it in some regards. It contains amino acids, electrolytes and antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds that can support your health. To get these extra benefits, you’ll want to choose a raw (unprocessed) local honey. It may also help relieve allergy symptoms, specifically hay fever, because the bees feast on the local pollen, and taking raw local honey can help you develop natural immunity over time. But, whichever way you cut it, honey is sugar. It may be natural, but sugar it is, and it behaves that way in your body, spiking blood sugar exactly as actual sugar would.

Medjool Dates

Dates are a popular feature of many paleo or natural sugar-free bars, because they are naturally very sweet. They have the highest nutritional benefit of all-natural sweeteners because they also contain minerals like selenium, copper, potassium and magnesium, as well as providing fibre to slow the speed at which the sugars hit your bloodstream. Studies show that they don’t spike your blood sugar levels that much and they’ve been proven to decrease cholesterol and boost bone health, and can help relieve constipation. Stick to 1 or 2 a day so there is no guilt associated with these caramel-like gems.

Maple syrup

It contains antioxidants (24 in fact), which are helpful in the fight against cell-damaging free radicals and inflammation. While studies show maple syrup does not spike your blood sugar levels as much, it is still wise to use sparingly. You’ll want grade A (lighter in flavour) or B (nutritionally better as it’s richer in antioxidants than grade A and with a more intense flavour). Avoid maple flavoured syrups as these are not the same.

Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar has become very trendy of late and brings a lovely caramel flavour to your food. It contains small amounts of iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants, and a fibre known as inulin which  may help reduce the absorption of glucose. It is perfect for baking with and has a lesser impact on your blood sugar levels than regular sugar, but it is still sugar, so use sparingly.

Palmyra Jaggery

You may not even have heard of this, but it’s the crystalized nectar collected from the flower of the Palmyra palm and has a deep, warm caramel flavour. You use it exactly as you would sugar, and often you can reduce the amount needed by up to a half. It’s packed with B vitamins and has a much lower GL than table sugar.

Brown Rice Syrup

This has found its way into ‘healthy’ recipes. It’s made from fermented, cooked rice. It’s not a particularly good option as a sweetener as it’s highly processed, contains very little in the way of nutrition benefits and the effect on blood sugar is almost identical to standard sugar.

Agave Syrup

Agave syrup comes from a cactus, and the syrup is made from the pulp of the leaf. It’s very highly processed and is mainly fructose, which needs to be processed by the liver, causing more stress for an already over-worked organ. Fructose is actually worse for you than glucose. Agave syrup (or nectar) is very similar to the (deservedly) much-demonised high fructose corn syrup, that has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic in the US. My advice? Do not use it!

Stevia

This is another natural sweetener. There a number of different types of stevia, and ideally you want full, green leaf stevia that is unadulterated with other sweeteners. There are many brands out there that you should avoid because they’re so highly processed, and they also add in other chemicals. Pure stevia will not unbalance your blood sugar levels, thus avoiding an energy rollercoaster. But, a little bit goes a long way, so use sparingly.

Xylitol

Often found in the UK under the brand names Total Sweet or Xyla, xylitol is a sugar alcohol. It’s a little sweeter than sugar, has fewer calories and (the important part) 75% less carbohydrate, so the impact of blood sugar levels is lower than it would be if you were to eat the same amount compared to real sugar. It’s the same stuff used in sugar free chewing gum, thanks to its antibacterial properties. The downside is it is very highly processed, and some people can be sensitive to large amounts and may find their stools a little loose, or they get bloated, if they eat too much. Note as well that it is toxic for dogs.

Artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and saccharin)

People usually resort to artificial sweeteners in a bid to cut calories. This is bad news for a number of reasons, but I’ll mention the two biggies here: Research into some of them shows a correlation with cancer (weak, perhaps, and refuted by the food industry, but personally I’m not taking any chances). Secondly, nutrition science conclusively proves that weight gain/loss has little to do with calories in and out but what happens hormonally inside the body – how much insulin your body makes (insulin being the fat storage hormone that also sabotages fat burning). Recent research shows that these artificial sweeteners can increase blood sugar (and consequently insulin) levels more than normal sugar. So really, what is the point? Thirdly, research shows that ironically, they actually increase hunger. My advice is to stop now.

BUT…

The very best scenario of all is that you wean yourself off sweeteners of any kind as this helps you appreciate and embrace natural sweetness from real food. If you continue to eat sweet things, your taste buds will always want sweet things. That’s because sugar has been shown to have an effect on the brain similar to that of addictive drugs like nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. In fact, quickly removing it from your diet can cause withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, depression, headaches and muscle aches. No wonder it isn’t easy to quit.

If your diet has traditionally been quite high in the white stuff, the first few weeks can be a little tricky as your body (and brain and taste buds) starts to adjust – but bear with it.

 

 

 

Food Reactions Demystified

Is the food you’re eating sabotaging your health? You might not even be aware of it because sometimes it’s hard to directly connect a reaction to a food. What are food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, and what are the differences between them?

FOOD ALLERGIES

Many people are clear that a nut allergy is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition. But apart from this, food allergy isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. As it’s Food Allergy Awareness Week this week, I want to give you the lowdown on food allergy and intolerance, and what to do if you suspect there are foods that don’t agree with you.

What Is a Food Allergy?

To start, let’s get clear what a FOOD ALLERGY is …

The job of the body’s immune system is to identify and destroy germs (such as bacteria or viruses) that make you sick. A true food allergy happens when your immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein—an allergen. The body mounts an immune response by releasing IgE antibodies which stimulate the release of certain chemicals such as histamines which cause physical symptoms.

The symptoms can be restricted to one area (your digestive system, skin and so on) or the whole body, where the immune system triggers widespread inflammation and swelling – which can result in anaphylaxis and can be deadly. Symptoms usually show up immediately or within the first two hours after eating the problematic food.

The most common food allergens are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.

Mild food allergy reactions may involve only a few hives or minor abdominal pain. The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting

Severe food allergy reactions can lead to anaphylaxis which can cause life-threatening signs and symptoms, including:

  • Constriction and tightening of the airways
  • A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
  • Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or loss of consciousness

If you think you have a food allergy, you can often get tested free of charge via your GP, but private tests are also available.

Clinical Pearl

One clinical pearl I’m going to share with you is that, if you’re struggling with the symptoms of a true allergy (itchy eyes, swelling and the like), yet testing reveals no problem foods, or the test shows you have low grade reactions to a number of foods, the answer might be in the gut. For example, parasites also cause the body to produce high levels of IgE antibodies, yet these are not often considered by conventional medicine as a potential cause of allergy-like symptoms.

FOOD INTOLERANCES

With food intolerances your immune system isn’t involved and symptoms may not appear until hours or days later.

When a food intolerance exists, the problem is at the level of the digestive system –it can’t digest the food which causes uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. In contrast to a food allergy, a person with a food intolerance can typically eat small amounts of the identified food without experiencing symptoms.

Food intolerances are most commonly due to lactose, gluten, preservatives, additives, histamines in foods, salicylates, fructose, impaired complex carbohydrate digestion (the body’s enzymes simply can’t handle the volume of carbohydrates in the digestive system) and tyramine (common in cured meats, aged cheeses and smoked fish).

They can produce low grade inflammation throughout the body and symptoms that are far ranging, but altogether less dramatic. These can include the following:

  • Weight that won’t shift
  • Bloating
  • Migraines
  • Headaches
  • Coughs (frequent)
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy or overly waxy ears
  • Stomach ache
  • Irritable bowel
  • Hives
  • Fatigue
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Blocked nose
  • Ear Infections
  • Eczema
  • Sinusitis
  • Urticaria
  • Colitis

Why it’s important to deal with Food Intolerances

Although the symptoms might seem less dramatic, it really is worth dealing with food intolerances, especially if you’ve had niggly issues for years. This is because the low-grade inflammation created throughout the body when you’re repeatedly eating foods the body doesn’t like, frequently progress to more problematic issues. ALL chronic disease is caused by low- or high-grade inflammation of one sort or another.

Although you can do your own elimination diet, cutting out foods you suspect you might have a problem with for a period of time, then reintroducing them and seeing what happens, this can be time consuming if you are not entirely sure which foods might be problematic. Testing can help you pinpoint which foods might be problematic for you- this can save a lot of time, remove the stressful guesswork and help prevent the unnecessary exclusion of too many foods.

Intestinal inflammation caused by a food intolerance may also impair your body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. This can lead to serious nutrient deficiencies down the road.

FOOD SENSITIVITIES

Researchers are finally validating what many of us have known for years: Certain foods just don’t agree with some people. Although food allergies are well-recognized because firm diagnoses can be made through the use of blood tests for the presence of IgE antibodies, food sensitivities fall into a grey area. Experiencing unwanted symptoms after eating certain foods are not as easy to diagnose, but it doesn’t mean that they’re any less real.

Some people can eat tiny amounts of these foods and not always have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are a lot less severe than allergies but can be just as debilitating and include migraines, brain fog, inflammation, digestive problems, and bloating.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP WITH FOOD ALLERGIES, INTOLERANCES, AND SENSITIVITIES?

The Gut Connection

Studies have increasingly found that food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies are associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease and a leaky gut (or increased intestinal permeability). So it’s important to not just avoid the food in question but to address potential underlying root contributing factors such as leaky gut and inflammation.

It’s not enough to just take the food out and not do anything about it. Because symptoms are another way of your body telling you that your gut needs some TLC to heal, restore and rebalance itself. Without this vital step, no matter how many elimination diets you do, if you don’t work on healing your gut you’ll likely end up fighting symptoms all over again. And also likely to eventually end up with more intolerances and symptoms.

Once you have really healed your gut, you may find that foods that once gave you problems are tolerable again. But it’s important to remember that many of the foods that we become reactive to are inflammatory in nature, so while you may be able to tolerate them, it’s good to eat them in moderation.

Food Allergies

Currently, there is no cure for food allergies themselves. The only way to prevent food allergies reactions is to completely avoid the food you are allergic to. So if you have a food allergy, you will need to avoid the food forever. That’s because part of the immune system works on the basis of memory. In exactly the same way your body remembers its response to, say, the polio vaccination you were given as a child (and can prepare its attack should it come into contact with polio again), it remembers its response to nuts, dairy, or whatever food you’re allergic to. However, making sure the integrity of the gut lining is intact is important to help reduce inflammation associated with food allergies and help prevent further potential complications developing in the long-term.

Food Intolerances

If you have a food intolerance, you don’t necessarily have to remove the food forever, it depends on the underlying cause of the reaction. Digestive support can often help alleviate many symptoms.

Food Sensitivities

Since 80 percent of your immune system is found in your gut, it makes sense that by healing your gut you could reverse sensitivities. Now, that doesn’t mean that every person and every single food sensitivity will be able to be completely eliminated forever—but you don’t have to think of it as a life sentence!

MOVING FORWARD

If you are wondering whether you have a food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity, please do get in touch. I can help by offering a variety of testing options where necessary to help get to the bottom of the problem, and my gut restoring programmes can help bring your body back into balance. Book your free call here: https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=14670092

 

 

How To Enjoy Easter Without Bingeing Or Deprivation

Easter is going to turn up, whether you like it or not. Moreish chocolatey treats, hot cross buns lathered in butter, will be all around us, and in every shop and TV commercial. It’s enough to melt away your good intentions, and with this much pressure, bingeing feels almost inevitable.

Of course, chocolate is available all year round. The trouble seems to come when there’s too much chocolate around, as during this time of year. In no time it leads to too much temptation, eating too much in one go, then feeling miserable because you over indulged. The worst parts of a binge are the feelings of guilt and failure that you feel afterwards.

So let’s sort that and figure out how we can enjoy our treats at this time of year, without bingeing but also without depriving ourselves.  And let’s start by accepting that Easter will mean chocolate indulgence on one level or another and then move on!

Top Tips to Avoid Over-Eating

  1. Try to discourage family and friends from buying chocolate for you, or failing that, let them know what and how much you’d like. This helps put you back in control.
  2. Ideally choose the darker chocolate eggs or chocolate selection. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the less room there is for sugar. Aim for over 70% which doesn’t raise blood sugar and insulin levels as much as milk chocolate. If that’s too dark for you, around 60% is a good compromise for those who prefer milk chocolate. Plus, from clinical experience, dark chocolate seems to dampen cravings, particularly chocolate that is above 70% cacao content.
  3. Don’t to eat too much in one go with the intention of getting ‘rid’ of the chocolate sooner. Eating a whole large egg will lead to an energy crash later on, not to mention, for many, feelings of disappointment in yourself that you ’gave in’ or ‘failed’ with your diet.
  4. Don’t eat chocolate on an empty stomach. Firstly, it will give you a blood sugar crash. Secondly, it will encourage you to overeat due to hunger. It’s healthier all round, both for your body and mindset, to have a smaller amount of chocolate as treats after meals containing protein (protein slows the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream) and/or to reduce the blood sugar roller coaster by eating a few nuts at the same time if you’re not having it after a protein meal.
  5. Plan your meals ahead of time so you can make the right choices. Don’t give yourself the excuse that there was nothing else to eat. Ensure you have plenty of your usual healthy foods to hand.
  6. Get a good night’s sleep– yes, really, if you want to keep your appetite in check, getting good quality sleep is essential! Our hunger hormone leptin increases when we become fatigued. That means a spike in our appetite, which inevitably leads to snacking.
  7. Eat mindfully– make sure you savour each mouthful of chocolate, don’t wolf it all down in one big mouthful! This will help you to eat less, as you will feel that you have truly been able to indulge. Savour it slowly, enjoying how it melts on your tongue, how the flavour floods your mouth. Swallow when you’re ready. When it starts not to taste as good and/or your enjoyment starts to fade, decide whether you have had enough. If not, continue eating. If so, then stop. Know that if you want more later, you can have it.
  8. Eat consciously. Make sure your decision to eat chocolate is a conscious one. “Some chocolate would be nice, but I choose not to have one right now”. Whether it’s donating an unopened box to a local food charity, or dividing it up among friends, and/or saving it for later, you can make the decision that you don’t want it. Choosing, and therefore consciously taking responsibility, puts you back in control.
  9. Remove guilt– we can feel deprived even as we eat (and overeat) something if we don’t really let ourselves have it without guilt. Feeling deprived will just lead to overeating so let go of the guilt and enjoy while you eat your treat mindfully.

Alternatives To The Traditional Easter Egg Hunt

If the Easter egg (and everything that goes with it) plays a big part in your family’s tradition, consider doing something a bit different this year.  Here are some great alternatives to the traditional Easter egg hunt https://www.parenthub.com.au/education/easter-egg-hunt-alternatives/.

 Chocolate Binge Rescue Remedy

Consider that even the healthiest people over indulge – but they don’t beat themselves up about it. They just go back to eating normally.

If you do happen to sugar binge this Easter, rule #1 is: don’t panic! Negative self talk and freaking out about weight gain will only exacerbate the situation – not fix it. Neither will throwing in the towel and continuing to binge OR going in the opposite direction and starting a fad diet.

Instead, you can still rescue the situation and stop it turning into a binge, sabotaging all your good work. Say: “It’s done, it’s in the past and I choose to move on”.  Easter is ONE DAY, that’s all. There is no need to be on the rollercoaster for the rest of the month.

Remember that small amounts of the best quality, dark chocolate has the following benefits: anti-ageing, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, is packed with antioxidants and important minerals like iron, potassium, zinc and selenium. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine; the same chemical your brain creates when you’re falling in love …

PS If you are the kind of person who KNOWS you will have a problem with the Easter binge because this kind of bingeing and self sabotage is what you do, or you need some help to get healthy, click here to book in a FREE 30- minute Empowered to Thrive Call HERE

 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic (literally, many cysts) ovary syndrome (PCOS or PCO) is a complex condition, characterise by hormonal imbalances that affects the ovaries (the organs in a woman’s body that produce eggs). In PCOS, the ovaries are generally bigger than average. The outer surface of the ovary has an abnormally large number of small follicles (the sac of fluid that grows around the egg under the influence of stimulating hormones from the brain).The ovaries are polycystic, with many small follicles scattered under the surface of the ovary (usually more than 10 or 15 in each ovary) and almost none in the middle of the ovary. In PCOS, these follicles remain immature, never growing to full development or ovulating to produce an egg capable of being fertilised.

This means that ovulation (releasing an egg) may rarely occur and can therefore lead to reduced fertility. In addition, periods may be irregular or absent. Other features include excess weight and body hair.

What are the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Symptoms that occur if you do not ovulate

  • Absent, irregular or light periods– periods can be as frequent as every five to six weeks, but might only occur once or twice a year, if at all
  • Fertility problems – you need to ovulate to become pregnant. You may not ovulate each month, and some women with PCOS do not ovulate at all. PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility.

Symptoms that can occur if you make too much testosterone (male hormone)

  • increased facial and body hair (hirsutism): usually found under the chin, on the upper lip, forearms, lower legs and on the abdomen (usually a vertical line of hair up to the umbilicus) .This is the only symptom in some cases.
  • Acne: which may persist beyond the normal teenage years.
  • Thinning of scalp hair (similar to male pattern baldness) occurs in some cases .

Other symptoms

  • Being overweight or obese: a common finding in women with PCOS because their body cells are resistant to the sugar-control hormone insulin. This insulin resistance prevents cells using sugar in the blood normally and the sugar is stored as fat instead
  • Miscarriage (sometimes recurrent): one of the hormonal abnormalities in PCOS, a raised level of luteinising hormone (LH – a hormone produced by the brain that affects ovary function), seems to be linked with miscarriage. Women with raised LH have a higher miscarriage rate (65 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage) compared with those who have normal LH values (around 12 per cent miscarriage rate).
  • Depression or poor self-esteem may develop as a result of the other symptoms.

Diagnosis

At least two of the following occur in PCOS, and often all three:

  • At least 12 follicles (tiny cysts) develop in your ovaries.
  • The balance of hormones that you make in the ovaries is altered. In particular, your ovaries make more testosterone (male hormone) than normal. The main hormones that are made in the ovaries are oestrogen and progesterone – the main female hormones, but the ovaries also normally make small amounts of male hormones (androgens) such as testosterone.
  • You do not ovulate each month. Some women do not ovulate at all. In PCOS, although the ovaries usually have many follicles, they do not develop fully and so ovulation often does not occur. If you do not ovulate then you do not have a period.

Therefore, it is possible to have polycystic ovaries without the typical symptoms that are in the syndrome. It is also possible to have PCOS without multiple cysts in the ovary.

Incidence

PCOS is relatively common among infertile women. If affects up to 10 per cent of all women between the ages of 15 and 50. In the general population, around 25 per cent of women will have polycystic ovaries seen on an ultrasound examination. But most have no other symptoms or signs of PCOS and have no health problems. The ultrasound appearance is also found in up to 14 per cent of women on the oral contraceptive pill.

What causes polycystic ovary syndrome?

The exact cause is not totally clear. Several factors probably play a part. These include the following:

1. A small increase in the amount of insulin and cellular resistance to its actions– insulin is a hormone that you make in your pancreas and its main role is to control your blood sugar level. Insulin acts mainly on fat and muscle cells to stimulate them to take in sugar (glucose) when your blood sugar level rises (as excess levels are toxic to cells). Insulin also stimulates the ovaries to produce testosterone (male hormone).

Women with PCOS have what is called insulin resistance, meaning that cells in the body are resistant to the effect of a normal level of insulin. Thus, more insulin is produced to keep the blood sugar normal.  Raised levels of insulin in the bloodstream are thought to be the main underlying reason why PCOS develops because this causes the ovaries to make too much testosterone. A high level of insulin and testosterone interfere with the normal development of follicles in the ovaries. As a result, many follicles tend to develop but often do not develop fully. This causes problems with ovulation: hence period problems and reduced fertility. Increased testosterone levels in the blood cause excess hair growth on the body and thinning of the scalp hair.
2. Raised luteinising hormone (LH) in the early part of the menstrual cycle- This hormone is made in the pituitary gland and stimulates the ovaries to ovulate and works alongside insulin to promote testosterone production. A high level of LH is found in about 4 in 10 women with PCOS. A high LH level combined with a high insulin level means that the ovaries are likely to produce too much testosterone.

3. Lower amounts of the blood protein that binds to and carries all sex hormones (called sex-hormone-binding globulin)– this  means that testosterone levels are higher and therefore more active. Sex-hormone-binding globulin levels are reduced in insulin resistance (meaning there are high insulin levels).

4. Hereditary factors- one or more genes may make you more prone to developing PCOS. PCOS is not strictly inherited from parents to children, but it may run in some families.

5. Weight– Being overweight or obese is not the underlying cause of PCOS. However, if you are overweight or obese, excess fat can make insulin resistance worse, a contributing factor to PCOS. This may then cause the level of insulin to not only rise even further, but high levels of insulin can contribute to further weight gain, producing a ‘vicious cycle’.

Risk factors for PCOS

  • a tendency in the family towards Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes)
  • a close relative who already has PCOS
  • a tendency towards early baldness in the men in the family (before 30 years of age).

Nutritional and lifestyle approaches to PCOS

Research has shown that weight control improves many aspects of PCOS. Menstrual cycles become more regular, testosterone levels are reduced, fat and sugar metabolism improves, and spontaneous pregnancy may follow. Obese patients do not have to reach the normal body mass index; a weight reduction of even a few percent has clinical benefits. This is because visceral fat (intra-abdominal fat located inside the abdominal cavity, packed between the organs) is metabolically more hormonally active, and weight loss of a few percent is associated with significant loss of visceral fat.

Weight management through nutrition and exercise is now recommended to all overweight/obese women with PCOS (Kovacs 2006).

So, here are some tips to help reduce the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS:

1. Research has shown that fat intake should be restricted to not more than 30% of total calories with a low proportion of saturated fat, which is found mostly in animal products such as meat and dairy. Healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts/seeds, avocados, and fish oil, and avocado are important parts of a PCOS–friendly diet however (Farshchi et al 2007).

2. Choose whole grain carbohydrates. The insulin level in your blood goes up after you eat. It increase the most after you eat or drink something that contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found in grains (such as bread, pasta, rice, cereal, and potatoes), vegetables, fruits and drinks such as soda and juice. Even if you eat two foods that have the same amount of carbohydrate, they may have a different effect on your insulin level. This effect has a lot to do with the type of carbohydrate the food has.

Whole grain carbohydrates which contain fibre such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, oats, barley, etc. have a low Glycaemic Index (GI). GI is a term used to describe how a food affects blood sugar; the higher a food raises blood sugar, the higher the glycaemic index. The benefit of consuming low GI foods is that it helps keep your insulin level down, and also keeps hunger at bay for longer, thus aiding weight management. Sugary foods or refined grains (such as white bread, white rice and white pasta) on the other hand have a high GI and can cause insulin levels to go up and are also not very filling (which means you may feel hungry again shortly after eating them.

3. Always have some protein with each meal or snack– combining a carbohydrate food with protein lowers the GI because protein slows the release of sugar from foods into the bloodstream. This helps reduce blood sugar spikes and therefore helps prevent high insulin levels. Protein can be found in lean meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, tofu, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds. Try to consume plenty of plant proteins which are often high in fibre and low in fat, rather than just sticking to animal proteins.

4. Have balanced meals containing carbohydrates, protein, and fat – combining foods that contain protein or fat with a carbohydrate will help to slow down the absorption of the carbohydrate and keep insulin levels low. For example, have almond butter or hummus on bread rather than just a piece of bread by itself. A typical plate of food should consist of ¼ carbohydrates, ¼ protein and the remaining ½ plate of vegetables!

5. Have smaller, more frequent meals (every 3-4 hours) to help control blood glucose levels. Your insulin will go up much more if you have 3 cups of pasta than if you have 1 cup of pasta. This means it’s usually better to have small meals and snacks during the day than it is to have fewer really big meals to keep your insulin level lower.

6. Exercise– Research has shown that at least 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity per week for diabetes prevention. This is because exercise helps  your cells become more receptive to the effects of insulin which in turn helps lower insulin levels (Knowler et al 2002).

7. Supplements– there are a number of supplements which can be very helpful to rebalance hormones. Recommendations are based on your individual health profile and are discussed at your visit.

References

Cahill D (2010) Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) last accessed 21.3.2013 online at http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/womenshealth/facts/pcos.htm

Farshchi H Rane A Love A Kennedy RL (2007) Diet and nutrition in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): pointers for nutritional management.  J Obstet Gynaecol 27 8 762-73

Kenny T (2010) Polycystic Ovary Syndrome last accessed 21.3.2013 online at http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Polycystic-Ovary-Syndrome.htm

Knowler WC Barrett-Connor E Fowler SE et al (2002) Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. N Engl J Med 346 393-403

Kovacs P (2006) Viewpoint: Lifestyle Modification is First-Line Treatment for PCOS last accessed 21.3.2013 online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/522390

Healthy Eating

Do we really need to worry about what we eat?

These days, more and more people are telling us that healthy eating is very important for our health and well being. However, is it really all that important? A human being is made up of roughly 63% water, 22% protein, 13% fat and 2 % minerals and vitamins (Holford 2005). Every single molecule comes from the food you eat and the water you drink. Eating the highest-quality food, in the right quantities, can help you to achieve your highest potential for health, vitality and freedom from disease. For example, there is good evidence that eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of obesity and illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and some types of cancer, including those of the bowel, stomach, mouth, and breast (Cancer Research UK 2009).

But eating healthily doesn’t just reduce your risk of ill health, it will also help boost your energy levels, mood, concentration and help you handle stress better, making you feel better all round.

How have our diets and lifestyles changed?

Although we are living in the 21st century, our human genome is greater than 10,000 years old.  The genome refers to our entire DNA, including our genes. Genes carry information for making all the proteins required by the body. These proteins determine, among other things, how well the body metabolises food or fights infection, and sometimes even how it behaves. Our ancestors consumed only natural and unprocessed food from the environment which provided them with a diet of moderate protein, high in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals. Thus, many researchers argue that there is a striking discrepancy between the diet we were biologically designed to eat and what we actually eat today.

Rapid changes in diets and lifestyles have occurred with industrialisation, urbanisation, economic development and market globalisation. While standards of living have improved, food availability has expanded and become more diversified, there have also been significant negative consequences in terms of inappropriate dietary patterns, decreased physical activities and increased tobacco use. This has corresponded with an increase in diet-related chronic diseases which are becoming increasingly significant causes of disability and premature death. For example, traditional, largely plant based diets have been replaced by an emphasis on animal-based foods and energy-dense diets which are high in fat- particularly saturated fat, and low in complex carbohydrates. Alongside this shift in dietary patterns, we have also switched to a much more sedentary lifestyle due to motorised transport, labour-saving devices in the home, the phasing out of physically demanding manual tasks in the workplace, and leisure time that is predominantly devoted to physically undemanding pastimes (World Health Organisation 2003).

Can nutrition help prevent disease?

It has been calculated that, in 2001, chronic diseases contributed to approximately 60% of the 56.5 million total reported deaths in the world and to approximately 46% of the global burden of disease- this is expected to increase to 57% by 2020(World Health Organisation 2003).

Chronic diseases are largely preventable diseases (World Health Organisation 2003). Although more basic research may be needed on some aspects of the mechanisms that link diet to health, the currently available scientific evidence provides a sufficiently strong and plausible basis to justify taking action now (World Health Organisation 2003). Modern dietary patterns and physical activity patterns are risk modifiable behaviours. Furthermore, nutrition has been shown to have the capacity to modify the expression of critical genes associated with normal physiological processes, as well as those associated with the development of disease, including age-related processes and cancer (Choi & Friso 2010). But diet, while critical to prevention, is just one risk factor. Physical inactivity, is now recognized as an increasingly important determinant of health, and is the result of a progressive shift of lifestyle towards more sedentary patterns.

What should we be eating?

There is no single “diet” which suits everyone-one man’s elixir could be another’s poison. However, there are some basics which apply to us all. Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, and too much fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables and fibre.

Increase Fruits & Vegetables

It has been estimated that eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day could reduce the risk of deaths from chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer by up to 20% (Department of Health 2000). But eating fruit and vegetables can help to achieve other dietary goals too, including increasing fibre intake, reducing fat intake, helping to maintain a healthy weight, and displacing foods with added sugars.

The reason why fruit and vegetables are so beneficial is because as well as containing fibre, vitamins and minerals, fruit and vegetables also contain many complex plant components called phytochemicals.  Phytochemicals are nonessential nutrients, meaning that they are not required by the human body for sustaining life, but they have protective or disease preventative properties. It is well-known that plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves but recent research demonstrates that they can also protect humans against diseases.

How many fruits and vegetables do we need?

The UK government recommends that we have AT LEAST 5 portions (400g) of a variety of fruit and vegetables daily, 2 of fruit and 3 of vegetables.

One portion of fruit:

  • half a large grapefruit
  • a slice of melon
  • 2 satsumas
  • 3 dried apricots, or 1 tablespoon of raisins
  • A glass of 100% juice- but you can only count juice as 1 portion a day, however much you drink. This is because it has very little fibre.

One portion of vegetables:

  • 3 tablespoonfuls of cooked carrots or peas or sweet corn
  • 1 cereal bowl of mixed salad.
  • Beans and other pulses, such as kidney beans, lentils and chick peas, count only once a day, however much you eat. While pulses contain fibre and protein, they don’t give the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables.
  • Potatoes don’t count towards 5 A DAY because they are starchy

Increase healthy fats

Eating too much fat can make us more likely to put on weight, because foods that are high in fat are also high in energy (calories). Being overweight raises our risk of serious health problems. However, this doesn’t mean that all fat is bad. We need some fat in our diet because it helps the body absorb certain nutrients, provides energy and essential fatty acids that the body can’t make itself.

Reading nutrition labels on food packaging can help you to reduce the amount of fat you eat:

• High fat foods: more than 20g of total fat per 100g
• Low fat foods: less than 3g of total fat per 100g

Reduce Saturated fats

There are two main types of fat found in food: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated and unsaturated fat contain the same amount of calories, but most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat: about 20% more than the recommended maximum. Eating a diet high in saturated fat can cause the level of cholesterol in your blood to build up over time which can increase your risk of heart disease. The main sources of saturated fat are meat and dairy products.

  • The average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day.
  • The average woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.

Look out for “saturates” or “sat fat” on the label: this tells you how much saturated fat is in the food.

  • High: more than 5g saturates per 100g. May display a red traffic light.
  • Low: 1.5g saturates or less per 100g. May display a green traffic light.

Unsaturated fats

There are also 2 kinds of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats which are found in olive oil and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 and omega-6 which are found in nuts, seeds and oily fish.

Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are essential for optimal functioning of the brain and nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system and skin health. Pumpkin and flaxseeds as well as oily fish (including salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, fresh tuna, sardines and pilchards) are rich in omega- 3 fats, while sesame and sunflower seeds are rich in omega-6 fats.

We should aim to eat a small handful of a combination of seeds and nuts daily, as well as eat at least one portion of oily fish weekly. In addition, by increasing our intake of plant foods, as opposed to animal foods, we naturally shift to a more healthy fat consumption.

Avoid hydrogenated and Trans fats

Trans fats are formed when manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats. Think shortening and hard margarine. Manufacturers create trans fats via a process called hydrogenation, a process by which vegetable oils are converted to solid fats simply by adding hydrogen atoms. Why hydrogenate? Because hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavour stability of foods. Indeed, trans fats can be found in vegetable shortening, margarine, crackers, cereals, candies, baked goods, granola bars, chips, salad dressings, fried foods, and many other processed foods.

Like saturated fats, trans fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. This is why it’s recommended that trans fats should make up no more than 2% of the energy (calories) we get from our diet. For adults, this is no more than about 5g a day.

Increase fibre

Fibre is the structural part of a plant that supports and holds it together. Fibre can be chewed, swallowed and subjected to stomach acid, yet much of it passes through the body unchanged.

Fibre is important because it:

  • stimulates the digestive tract and helps it work efficiently
  • encourages the presence of health-giving bacteria in the large intestine
  • softens the stool (bowel motion) and helps prevent constipation
  • slows down carbohydrate absorption, makes you feel fuller and so helps to control your appetite, and therefore helps with weight management
  • has also been associated with a decreased incidence of certain cancers of the digestive tract.

There are two types of fibre:

  • Insoluble fibre– insoluble fibre is less easily broken down by bacteria in the colon, so it passes through the gut, helping other food and waste products move through the gut more easily. It holds water very effectively (up to 15 times its weight in water) thus contributing to an increase in stool weight. Fruit and vegetables with their skins and pips, wholegrain cereals (wheat, quinoa, rye, rice) as well as nuts and some pulses are good sources of this kind of fibre.
  • Soluble fibre-this fibre forms a gel-like substance which can bind to other substances in the gut. It also has the extra benefits of lowering cholesterol levels and slowing down the entry of glucose into the blood, thereby helping to maintain good energy levels, concentration and mood. Fruits, vegetables, oats and pulses are good sources.

How much fibre do I need?

The recommended intake of fibre for adults in the UK is 18g a day, but 20 g -35 g in the US. However, most people in the UK don’t eat enough – the average intake is 12.6g a day for women and 15.2g a day for men.

So what does 18g of fibre look like? A few examples of the amount of fibre in some common foods include the following.

  • One bowl (30g) of high-fibre cereal, e.g. bran flakes – 4g
  • One slice of wholemeal bread – 3 to 4g (white bread contains less than half this amount)
  • One baked potato (with skin) – 5g
  • Half a tin of baked beans (200g) – 7.7g
  • Portion of dried figs (50g) – 3.8g
  • One medium-sized apple – 1.8g

Don’t forget the fluid

Without fluid, dietary fibre cannot do its job. Insoluble fibre, in particular, acts like a sponge absorbing water, increasing stool weight and size, thus putting pressure on the bowel wall and facilitating the movement of the stool. Without fluid this fibre is pointless and will only result in constipation.

Water

Two-thirds of the body consists of water and the body loses 1.5 Litres of water a day through the skin, lungs and gut and via the kidneys as urine, ensuring that toxic substances are eliminated from the body(Holford 2005). We also make about a third of a litre of water a day when glucose is “burned” for energy.  So our minimum water intake from food and drink needs to be more than 1 litre a day, with the ideal begin around 2 litres daily. Fruit and vegetables consist of around 90% water- 4 pieces of fruit and four servings of vegetables  can provide a litre of water, leaving 1  litre to be taken as water or diluted juices or herb or fruit teas. Alcohol acts as a diuretic and causes considerable losses of vitamins and minerals so it doesn’t count in this regard.

Should we be eating less?

We need to eat the right number of calories for our level of activity, so that we balance the energy we consume with the energy we use. Although consideration of calorie intake on its own is a simplistic view of weight management (and therefore also health management) if you eat or drink too much, you’ll put on weight. Likewise, if you eat too little for your energy requirements you’ll lose weight. The average man needs around 2,500 calories a day. The average woman needs 2,000 calories. Most adults are eating more calories than they need, and should eat fewer calories.

In fact, controlled, supervised calorie restriction is widely viewed as the most potent dietary means of slowing the aging process (Fontana et al 2004; Colman et al 2009).   Calorie restriction is a dietary regimen that restricts calorie intake, where nutrient dense, low-calorie foods are consumed to supply sufficient quantities of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. Generally, a calorie-restriction diet may call for 20 to 30 percent fewer calories than usual. Adult-onset calorie-restriction works best when it is imposed slowly, over two or three years, to allow the body to adjust.

How should we be eating?

We should always eat in a way which helps us maintain steady blood sugar levels. Why? Food is turned into glucose or sugar, which is the fuel that drives all cells and bodily processes. Thus, maintaining a steady supply of glucose to cells is key for optimal mental and physical functioning. However, blood sugar levels must be kept within strict boundaries, since too much is toxic to cells on the one hand, and too little makes us feel tired and lethargic on the other. This balancing process happens through the actions of two hormones. Firstly, insulin stimulates cells to take in glucose when there’s too much of it in the blood- this helps lower high blood sugar levels, but also provides cells with the fuel they need. Secondly, another hormone called glucagon breaks down stored sugar when blood sugar levels are low.

The negative effects of imbalanced blood sugar levels include irritability, poor concentration, fatigue, depression and food cravings- especially for sweet foods or stimulants such as tea, coffee and cigarettes, all of which in turn cause further blood sugar roller coasters.

How you can maintain steady blood sugar levels

1. Eat breakfast. The meaning of the word “breakfast” is literally “breaking the fast”. Blood sugar levels are low after an overnight fast and skipping breakfast will result in an inadequate supply of glucose to the cells. This can make you feel fatigued, moody and affect your concentration.

2. Don’t skip meals. This is for the same reason you shouldn’t skip breakfast- it will lead to low blood sugar.

3. Choose complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are broken down more slowly into glucose because of their fibre content and therefore provide a steady supply of fuel to brain cells. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables.

4. Avoid refined carbohydrates. They convert more quickly into glucose than complex carbohydrates. This causes rapid blood sugar spikes, which is then followed by blood sugar lows because the body keeps blood sugar levels within a narrow range to protect against the potentially toxic effects of sugar on cells. This rapid drop in blood glucose levels (below the optimal reference range) starves the brain of its primary fuel and we experience symptoms such as energy slumps, cravings for sweets and stimulants (tea, coffee, and cigarettes), irritability, mood swings, poor memory, poor concentration and fuzzy thinking.

Refined carbohydrates are found in white pasta/bread/rice (as opposed to their whole grain versions) and anything containing added sugar like cakes, sweets, ice cream etc. Natural sugars are found in fruit and are better sources of simple carbohydrates because they contain protective antioxidants as well as fibre, which slows down the release of fruit sugar into blood and so reduces blood sugar spikes.

5. Avoid stimulants such as coffee, chocolate and nicotine which increase levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline (Lovallo et al 2006) which sharply spike up blood sugar levels and subsequently leads to an energy slump as described above. Adrenaline and cortisol are “fight-or-flight” hormones, biologically evolved to help survival under stressful situations by breaking down stored sugar to heighten alertness and fuel muscles for emergencies. However, unless the extra sugar released in the blood stream is burned off through a physical response as in the “fight-or-flight” reaction in a genuine emergency, blood sugar levels will remain high. This will trigger a large insulin response and lead to low blood sugar levels because the body keeps blood sugar levels within a narrow range to protect against the potentially toxic effects of sugar. Usually this results in reaching for another cup of coffee or more chocolate and the blood sugar roller coaster starts over. When stimulants are consumed, blood sugar levels remain high because the “fight-or-flight” reaction has been artificially induced rather than through a genuine emergency and requires no physical “fight-or-flight” response which would use up the extra blood sugar and naturally lower blood sugar levels to safe ranges.

6. Make sure you consume protein with each meal and snack – this helps slow down the release of sugar from food into the blood. Choose from chicken and turkey, game, white fish, oily fish (tuna, mackerel, herrings, pilchards, sardines, and salmon), pulses, eggs, yoghurt, cottage cheese, feta, nuts and seeds.

How do you make healthy eating a habit?

  • Don’t try to change everything at once.
  • Set an easy goal you can reach, like having a salad and a piece of fruit each day.
  • Make a long-term goal too, such as having one vegetarian dinner a week.
  • Aim for balance. Most days, eat from each food group-vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives. Listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you feel satisfied.
  • Look for variety. Be adventurous. Choose different foods in each food group. For example, don’t reach for an apple every time you choose a fruit. Eating a variety of foods each day will help you get all the nutrients you need.
  • Practice moderation. Don’t have too much or too little of one thing. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be part of healthy eating. Even “treats” can be okay.

References

Cancer Research UK (2009) Diet, healthy eating and cancer last accessed 12.12.2011 at http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/dietandhealthyeating/.rs

Choi SW & Friso S (2010) Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health. Adv Nutr (Bethesda)11 8-16

Colman RJ  Anderson RM Johnson SC (2009) Caloric restriction delays disease onset and mortality in rhesusMonkeys Science 325 5937 201–204

Department of Health (2000) The NHS Plan. London: Department of Health

Fontana L Meyer TE Klein S Holloszy JO (2004) Long-term calorie restriction is highly effective in reducing the risk for atherosclerosis in humans Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101 6659-6663

Holford P (2005) The New Optimum Nutrition Bible Rev Upd Edition Crossing Press

Lovallo WR  Farag NH  Vincent  AS  Thomas  Wilson T(2006) Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women Pharmacol Biochem Behav 8 3 3  441–447

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2003) Technical Report Series 916: Diet, Nutrition And The Prevention Of Chronic Diseases last accessed 12.12.2011 at http://whqlibdoc.who.int/trs/who_trs_916.pdf

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Mindless Weight Loss

By London Nutritionist Sylvia Hensher

Introduction

Brian Wansink from Cornell University has spent much of his scientific career trying to understand what influences our food choices. His conclusion is that most of us are unaware of what influences how much we eat. We all think we’re too smart to be tricked by packages, lighting or the size of plates. We might acknowledge that others can be tricked, but not us. Yet every single one of us is influenced by what’s around us when it comes to deciding what and when we will eat.

In other words, we over-eat not because of hunger, but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colours, shapes and smells, cupboards and containers.

Read on to hear about his fascinating findings from decades of research into behaviour and eating patterns.

Brian Wansink on how to lose weight without thinking about it

The average person makes well over 200 decisions about food every day. Breakfast or no breakfast? Bread, bun or bagel? Part or all of it?

Every time we pass a dish of sweets or open up our desk drawer and see a piece of chewing gum, we make a food decision. Yet we can’t really explain most of these 200-plus decisions. Most of us are blissfully unaware of what influences how much we eat. Because although you can eat too much without knowing it, you can also eat less. Because, let’s face it, the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on…

Strategy 1- Remove The Mindless Margin

Just ten extra calories a day – one stick of gum or three jelly beans – will make you a pound heavier in a year. And 140 calories a day – or one can of soft drink – will make you put on a stone. And you won’t even notice.

Fortunately, the same thing happens in the opposite direction. This is known as the mindless margin: those few extra calories that you can consume – or not consume – every day that you really don’t notice. By cutting out 100 to 200 calories a day, you can lose weight. That can mean not having one of your daily Starbucks. Or not tucking into a packet of crisps when you get in from work.

Cutting out your favourite foods entirely, however, is a bad idea: you’ll just feel deprived. Cutting down on how much you eat of them, on the other hand, is mindlessly do-able.

Simply dish out 20 per cent less than you think you will want before you start to eat. You probably won’t miss it. For fruit and vegetables, though, think 20 per cent more. If you cut down the pasta you eat by 20 per cent, increase the veggies by 20 per cent.

Strategy 2- See All You Eat

When people put their food on a plate, they eat about 14 per cent less. So instead of eating directly out of a package or box, put everything you want to eat on a plate before you start eating – whether it’s a snack, dinner, ice cream or even crisps. Leave the packaging in the kitchen and eat elsewhere. You’ll also eat less if you are able to see what you’ve already eaten.

Strategy 3– Be Your Own Tablescaper

Continue reading “Mindless Weight Loss”

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The Thyroid, Adrenals And Weight Gain

by London Nutritionist Sylvia Hensher

There is a connection between our adrenal glands, thyroid glands and weight gain. When these two glands are not kept in a healthy state, the result can often be weight gain. The good news is that on the other hand, if these two glands are supported through proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, it can lead to a natural weight loss.

What our adrenal glands do

The adrenal and thyroid glands are very closely connected in how they enable the body to function properly. The adrenals are small triangular shaped glands that sit on top of both kidneys. They are responsible for releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which among other functions, help control body fluid balance, blood pressure, blood sugar and are designed to help the body deal with physical and psychological stress. In addition, the adrenal glands produce small amounts of oestrogen when women enter into menopause and the ovaries reduce their oestrogen output. This is why it’s so important to maintain adrenal function in the menopause years.

Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a “syndrome” that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level.  This happens most often when you are exposed to constant , uninterrupted stress so that your body (and adrenal glands) cannot fully recover, or during or after acute or chronic infections. Consequently, the adrenal glands become fatigued and are unable to continue responding adequately to further stress.

You may look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue and may not even have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of feeling unwell, tiredness or “grey” feelings. People suffering from Adrenal Fatigue often have to use coffee, tea and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.

Some Manifestations Of Adrenal Fatigue: Continue reading “The Thyroid, Adrenals And Weight Gain”

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Nutritional Support for a Healthy Weight & Thyroid

PART 2

by London nutritionist Sylvia Hensher

Hi again! In part 1 of this series on the thyroid we talked about what the thyroid is, how it might be affecting your weight, symptoms of an underactive thyroid and a simple test you can do at home to give you an indication, but no firm diagnosis, as to how well your thyroid is functioning.

In this 2nd part of the series, we’ll look at how you can support optimal thyroid functioning, and therefore optimal weight management, through nutrition.

Foods to help support optimal thyroid functioning

1. Iodine is required to manufacture the thyroid hormones. Without sufficient iodine, your thyroid cannot produce adequate thyroid hormones to help your body function on an optimal level. Seafoods, iodised salt and sea vegetables such as kelp, as well as foods grown in iodine rich soil, are rich sources of iodine. It should be noted, however, that too much iodine can actually trigger thyroid problems and worsen symptoms, so it’s important to have a healthy balance.

2.       Zinc is another essential mineral for optimising thyroid health.

3.      Selenium: This mineral is critical for the proper functioning of your thyroid gland, and is used to produce and regulate the active T3 hormone. Selenium can be found in foods such as shrimp, snapper, tuna, cod, halibut, calf’s liver, button and shitake mushrooms and Brazil nuts.

4.      Zinc, Iron and Copper are needed in trace amounts for your healthy thyroid function. Low levels of zinc have been linked to low levels of TSH, whereas iron deficiency has been linked to decreased thyroid efficiency. Copper is also necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. Seafood, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds can help provide these trace metals in your diet.

5.      B vitamins help to manufacture thyroid hormones and play an important role in healthy thyroid function. They are found in whole grains, pulses and green leafy vegetables. Continue reading “Nutritional Support for a Healthy Weight & Thyroid”

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