Category Archives: Healthy living

Food for the Brain

Food for Brain Health

Brain health is big news. There are a number of brain-related conditions on the rise including depression, multiple sclerosis and dementia.

Dementia is one that is becoming of increasing concern to governments worldwide. There are different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common. With Alzheimer’s, the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells.

There is no cure for dementia and the precise causes haven’t been identified. However, we do know that dementia doesn’t manifest overnight. And, did you know that only one in 100 cases of Alzheimer’s is caused by genes?

There are over 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and worldwide, the number is a massive 44 million. This is set to double by 2030. That is only 14 years away, which means that there is a possibility that the way we are living right now can impact our neurological health just a few years down the road.

Prevention is always better than cure, so this article provides some basic information on how to care for your brain throughout your life. Having a forward-looking approach to everyday health can help you and your family future-proof your well-being for decades to come.

RISK FACTORS FOR DEMENTIA

According to the World Alzheimer Report in 2014, smoking, high blood pressure and unmanaged diabetes are some of the key risk factors for developing dementia in later life. In fact, the correlation between diabetes and Alzheimer’s has prompted some researchers to refer to Alzheimer’s as ‘diabetes type 3’.

Certainly managing blood sugar can result in profound improvements in a number of conditions, but I think there is more to Alzheimer’s than just blood sugar control. What is fairly clear, is that what we eat, how we move and how we feel can possibly influence whether dementia will affect us in the future. So, it’s what we do in our younger years that can make a big difference to the quality of our lives as we age.

NUTRITION TIPS FOR A HEALTHY BRAIN

The following tips provide some pointers on how to eat well now, to ensure that your brain is receiving all the nutrients it needs.

  1.  Get your B’s (B6, B12 and folate).

broccoli-freeimages

These three nutrients are critical for ensuring that your body clears an amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are bad news in general, but have been closely associated with Alzheimer’s.

Nutrition tip: Eat leafy green vegetables every day: broccoli, spinach, cabbage, kale, chard, watercress and sea vegetables are excellent sources of B6 and folate. B12 is found in animal products, so ensure you include things like eggs, organic chicken, grass fed beef and lamb and some dairy in your diet. Vegans should consider a B12 supplement.

  1. Healthy Fats = Healthy Brain (omega 3 fatty acids).

walnuts

A number of studies have reported significant benefits of omega 3 fatty acids on cognitive decline. In fact, much of the brain is made of DHA, a type of omega 3. Some studies have found that lower levels of DHA are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Omega 3 also has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is being investigated as a contributing factor in dementia, so a diet rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients can be very important.

Nutrition tip: Focus on eating foods rich in omega 3. The best sources are oily fish: herring, mackerel, sardines and wild Alaskan salmon (avoid farmed salmon). Milled flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp and walnuts are good vegetable sources of omega 3. Incorporate the vegetable sources of omega 3 into your diet regularly and aim for 2-3 portions of oily fish per week. Young children, women of childbearing age and pregnant women should aim for 1-2 portions.

  1. Reduce Sugar.

Sweets

Besides predisposing you to diabetes, imbalanced blood sugar can result in inflammation, mood disruption, fatigue and poor immunity. Sugar does not only come from sweet foods – simple carbohydrates can also spike blood glucose levels.

Nutrition tip: Choose foods high in fibre and avoid processed carbohydrates and sugary foods. Easy changes include swapping white bread for wholegrain bread, white potatoes for sweet potatoes and limiting sweets and sugary foods to occasional treats. Eat plenty of vegetables and make sure your snacks contain protein, fat and/or protein. Try swapping your mid-afternoon biscuit with oatcakes and almond butter or hummus.

  1. Look after Your Gut.

Probiotic-rich food - kimchi

New studies are revealing the connection between the gut and the brain. In fact our gut is also called the ‘second brain’. We are coming to understand the critical role that gut health plays in all types of chronic conditions. In particular studies have shown that what is happening in the microbiome can influence inflammation in the brain.

The good news is that we can positively impact our microbiomes by what we eat.

Nutrition tip: Eat foods with plenty of fibre (that’s what the good bacteria need to thrive): whole grains and vegetables are your best sources. Also include foods that already contain beneficial bacteria – these include plain yoghurt with live cultures, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and my favourite, kimchi.

AN INTEGRATED APPROACH

Good nutrition is one part of a lifestyle approach to future-proofing your health. These food tips are a good start, but should be part of an integrated approach to wellness that includes stress management, sleep and activity.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them to my Facebook page.

 

Resources

If you would like to read more about dementia, here are some hand-picked resources:

Brain Maker – David Perlmutter

Foodforthebrain.org

Alzheimer’s Disease International

Alzheimer’s Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:
Fibre and how to get it

Fibre: Why it’s important and How to get more

We often hear about the importance of certain food components, but fibre tends not to make the headlines very often. Fibre is not glamorous, but it deserves as much attention as essential fatty acids, protein and vitamins.

I wanted to take some time to set down exactly why fibre is important. It is not less or more important than vitamins, minerals, protein and fats to our health, but the fact is, without enough dietary fibre, we are susceptible to some unpleasant health concerns and even some cancers.

WHAT IS FIBRE?

Fibre is the component of plant cell walls and cannot be digested or absorbed into our bloodstream. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, and you can find them in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, seeds and grains.

Soluble fibre tends to ‘dissolve’ or turn to gel in our digestive systems. If you have ever soaked flax or chia seeds you’ll know what I mean. Insoluble fibre does not absorb or dissolve in water but remains in its original form and helps move bulk through the intestines. You need both types of fibre for a healthy digestive system.

WHY IS FIBRE IMPORTANT?

  1. Fibre is critical for detoxification: One of the most important functions of fibre is to keep things moving through our digestive system. If you have fewer than one bowel movement a day, it is possible that you are constipated and fibre can help improve your transit time. If you are not having regular bowel movements you may feel sluggish, experience skin rashes, headaches or an inability to lose weight.

Fibre binds to bile and eliminates it from the body. Bile is manufactured in the liver and holds all the toxins that the liver has processed. If a person has a low fibre diet, the bile and its toxic load not bound in the faeces very well and they are reabsorbed. This can impact us in many ways, here are two examples:

Hormone balance: the liver processes hormones that have been used and packages them up in the bile for excretion. If there is not enough fibre in the gut, the hormones are reabsorbed and can contribute to issues like PMS, acne and oestrogenic cancers.

Heavy metals: The liver normally clears 1% of the body load of mercury every day. However 99% of what is excreted in the bile is often reabsorbed due to insufficient dietary fibre.

  1. Fibre helps to prevent diabetes and weight gain by keeping blood sugar levels balanced: fibre slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, increases cell sensitivity to insulin and improves the uptake of glucose by the liver. This keeps your blood sugar levels balanced and helps to prevent weight gain.
  2. Fibre could prevent cancer: studies have indicated that a diet high in fibre can be protective against colorectal and breast cancers.
  3. Fibre helps manage high cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease: legumes and oats in particular, appear to be effective in lowering total and LDL cholesterol.
  4. Fibre feeds gut bacteria: Data is now showing that a good diversity of gut bacteria is essential for good health – from immunity to mental health and autoimmune conditions. Gut bacteria feed on fibre, so if we don’t feed them, they will die off which is very bad news for us. In essence, we cannot be healthy without good gut bacteria, so we cannot be healthy on a low fibre diet.

Butternut soup

HOW TO GET MORE FIBRE INTO YOUR DIET

The typical western diet is generally low on fibre – foods like pasta, bread, potatoes, dairy and meat make up the majority of plates and have little to no fibre. Therefore, it is not surprising that heart disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer and gut-associated disturbances are on the rise.

The following foods are full of fibre and contribute to a balanced, healthy diet. Remember to eat them whole and unprocessed to get the most fibre.

Vegetables: All vegetables have fibre, which is one of the reasons why people who eat a plant-based diet* tend to have lower levels of chronic conditions and live longer. Remember, much of the fibre resides in the skins, so don’t peel your potatoes, carrots or parsnips – just give them a good scrub and cook as usual.

Artichokes, beetroot, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts and carrots are particularly high in fibre.

Fruits: Fruits can be very sugary, but fibre helps to slow down the release of the sugar into your blood stream. Apples, pears, prunes, figs and dates have the highest levels of fibre. Fruit juices do not contain much (or any) fibre, so please avoid them.

Legumes: Haricot beans (i.e. baked beans), chickpeas, lentils, black beans and broad beans are brilliant legume sources of fibre. They are also good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. If you are cooking them from dry, remember to soak overnight in warm water with a little acid (lemon juice or vinegar). This helps to pull out enzymes that block the absorption of essential minerals.

Wholegrains: When it comes to grains, always opt for brown/wholegrain options. The fibre in grains tends to in the outer covering, which are removed to make them white (i.e. white bread, white pasta, white rice). When you remove the outer husk, you remove the fibre which means these foods will have a higher glycemic load (i.e. cause havoc with your blood sugar levels). Oats, barley, brown rice, rye, quinoa and spelt are the best grains and full of fibre. Also try to soak grains in warm, acidulated water before cooking.

THE POWER OF PLANTS

The reasons why a plant-based diet is good for us go beyond the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are important to good health. The fibre that they provide us is invaluable. Imagine a world without fuel for our cars, buses or planes? It would come to a standstill. That is exactly what happens to our bodies without fibre – we literally cannot operate properly without it – we cannot detoxify and our good bacteria cannot survive.

Unlike vitamins, minerals, protein and good fats, there are no real supplement options for fibre, so you really must eat real food to keep your system healthy – there are no shortcuts!

Fibre is essential to overall good health, maintaining energy levels and avoiding lifestyle diseases. Are you getting enough?

Here are some top tips to get more fibre into your diet:

  1. Add chickpeas, lentils or beans to your soup or stew. Legumes are full of fibre and adding them to stews and soups are a great way to bulk out meat-based dishes and improve the nutrient content of your meal.
  2.  Keep the skin on! Did you know that much of a fruit or vegetable’s fibre content is in the skin? Leave the skin on apples, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash to increase your fibre intake and keep your immune system healthy.
  3. Get seedy! Seeds are fabulous sources of fibre. They are also full of protein, minerals and healthy fats. Add them to your porridge, smoothie or even bake with them.
  4. Aim to eat 5-7 portions of vegetables and fruit daily. It may sound like a lot, but fruit and veg are some of the best sources of fibre that provide food for our gut bacteria and help us eliminate toxins. An easy way to add more vegetables to your diet is to use them to replace low fibre carbohydrates like pasta. Try courgette noodles or cauliflower rice!
  5. Snack with fibre. Instead of the sweet biscuit or cake, choose snacks filled with fibre. Not only are they better for your digestive system, they will also keep your blood sugar levels balanced, giving you more energy. Snack on walnuts, almonds or Brazil nuts or try nut butter on oatcakes or hummus with vegetable sticks.

Check out these fibre-full recipes:

Bircher Muesli (oats, nuts, needs)

Chia Pudding (chia seeds)

Huevos Rancheros (beans, avocados)

Butternut Soup (butternut, skin on)

Sweet Potato Fishcakes (sweet potatoes, oats)

Beetroot hummus (beetroot, chickpeas, tahini)

High Fibre Rusks (nuts, seeds, coconut)

*Plant-based diets are not necessarily vegetarian or vegan diets. They are diets that focus on eating plenty of fresh produce, which may be supplemented with good quality protein and healthy fats.

Please like & share:
Crispy oatcake crumb

Salmon Sweet Potato Fish Cakes

Fish cakes are a wonderful thing.

They are easy to make, easy to cook, great to prepare in advance and, if done right, mighty healthy. Fish cakes (and other items crumbed and fried) also seem to be a way of enticing picky eaters to try something a little different. If you or any of your family are not keen on fish, then this is a recipe for you.

While regular shop-bought fish cakes can fill the gap – you never really know what goes into them. Making them at home couldn’t be easier and this recipe uses whole food ingredients high in fibre, antioxidants and heart-healthy fats.

Omega 3: the godfather of good fats

Omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs) as they cannot be manufactured by the body – therefore we must get them through food. There are two types of EFAs – omega 3 and omega 6.

Most people probably have heard that omega 3’s are good for you. Over the last few years they have been added to products from infant formulas to breakfast cereals, and it’s not just hype – the word essential gives you a clue to how important it is to include omega 3’s in our diets.

There’s not much of an issue getting in enough omega 6 – they are found in many foods and, in fact, most people take in too many. The ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 should be in the region of 1:2, but many people eating western-style diets have a ratio of up to 1:20! As omega 6’s are generally more pro-inflammatory, it’s important to ensure we eat enough omega 3’s to keep in balance.

Current studies have shown the following in relation to omega 3’s and our health:

  1. A large body of scientific research suggests that higher dietary omega-3 fatty acid intakes are associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk.
  2. Low levels of DHA (a type of omega 3) may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
  3. Increasing omega 3 intake may be beneficial in individuals with type 2 diabetes, especially those with elevated serum triglycerides.
  4. Randomized controlled trials have found that fish oil supplementation reduces the requirement for anti-inflammatory medication in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. The brain’s gray matter contains high proportions of essential fatty acids, suggesting they are important to central nervous system function. Animal studies have shown that depletion of DHA in the brain can result in learning deficits.

The best sources of omega 3’s are oily fish – about 2-3 times per week. Remember the handy acronym SMASH: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring (aka kippers) and always aim to buy wild fish (rather than farmed) as much as possible. You can also get omega 3’s from vegetable sources such as seaweed, flax/linseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, but they are not as bioavailable as animal forms.

The problem is, not everyone likes fish. So, getting the required amounts of good fats can be tricky. Enter, the sweet potato…

Orange is the new white

I’m not a white-potato-hater. I love them, they are comforting and delicious. However, white potatoes need a bit of a break – we eat too many of them and they are often fried in seed oils (high omega 6!).

Sweet potatoes bring a new dimension to potato eating. They have a similar texture, but add a sweeter taste to the plate and have a much lower glycaemic load. This means that they release sugars much more slowly into the bloodstream – keeping you fuller for longer and your blood sugar balanced.

Sweet potatoes are also full of vibrant antioxidants and excellent sources of vitamin A (immunity, growth), vitamin C (immunity, antioxidant), vitamin B6 (brain function, energy production) and vitamin E (nervous system, heart health).

Taste and Texture

In this recipe, the sweetness of the sweet potato is a useful flavour for those who struggle with the fishy flavour of fish. But don’t stop there. If you like something a little more exotic, add in a few teaspoons of Thai or Indian curry paste, smoked paprika or loads more ginger, garlic and herbs.

I’ve used oatcake crumbs to bind and coat the mixture. I like them as they are full of fibre, B vitamins, beta glucans and are gluten-free. However, if you don’t have any to hand, you could also use other types of crackers.

Go on. You don’t only deserve it – your body needs these fish cakes!

Superfood fish cakes

Salmon and Sweet Potato Fishcakes

Makes 4 large (or 6 medium) fishcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 2 fillets salmon (ideally wild / line caught)
  • 1 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup oatcake crumbs (about 10 oatcakes)
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • Big bunch of chives or three spring onions*
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbs coconut oil

*If your child doesn’t like to see anything green, replace with a shallot or finely chopped red onion.

Method

  1. Cut the sweet potato into chunks and steam or boil until soft. You can leave the skin on for extra fibre.
  2. While the potato is cooking, fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the salmon filets and vinegar, cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the fish to poach in the water for a further 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
  3. Blitz the oatcakes in a food processor (or put them in a bag and bash with a rolling pin) and set aside.
  4. Once the potatoes are ready and cooled to touch, mash in a large bowl with the ginger, garlic and chives/onions.
  5. Flake the fish and stir into the potato mixture.
  6. Add half the oatcake crumbs, season to taste and mix well. The mixture should be firm enough to hold together without sticking to your hands. If it is too wet, add some more crumbs.
  7. Season the remaining crumbs with salt and pepper.
  8. Form the mixture into individual fish cakes and coat in the seasoned crumbs. Cover and chill for at least 15 minutes in the fridge. These can be made the day before.
  9. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and melt the coconut oil. Fry the fishcakes until crisp and golden brown on each side.
  10. Serve with a side salad or vegetables.

Collage

Please like & share:
Coconut chia pudding with cherries

Cherry Coconut Chia Pudding (dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo, vegan)

Cherries are currently in season in Europe and I get a little over-enthusiastic about them every year. Growing up in South Africa in the 80’s and 90’s, only glace cherries were available. Once I moved to Europe and experienced fresh cherries for the first time I was hooked!

Cherries are as versatile as they are delicious – their sweet, but complex flavour lends them to all types of dishes, sweet and savoury. And, of course, they are full of goodness, bursting with nutrients!

Broadly, there are two types of cherries: sweet and sour. It’s the sweet ones we see on our supermarket shelves and the sour ones tend to be used for juices etc. Both are full of nutrients, however the sour cherries, appear to have a slightly higher concentration of vitamin C and some phytochemicals.

Three Cheers for Cherries

These vibrant berries are well known for their vitamin C and fibre content, but the real potent, health-giving properties appear to come from their rich abundance of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Think of how lemon juice prevents apples from going brown – that’s the antioxidant in the lemon juice preventing the air from oxidising the apple flesh. We need the same process to happen in our bodies, so it is important to eat foods rich in antioxidants.

Antioxidants are measured by their ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score – the higher the better. 1 cup of sweet cherries has a score of 4,873 while a medium banana has a score of 650. You can read more about oxidation and antioxidants in this post.

Cherries are full of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid with strong antioxidant potential. Flavonoids are being researched in relation to numerous health conditions, including cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, in laboratory studies, ‘anthocyanins inhibit the growth of cancer cells and stimulate their self-destruction, without affecting healthy cells. These compounds also show anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidant effects1.

When it comes to cherries in particular, studies have shown that they can be helpful for three common ailments:

  1. Arthritis: Arthritis is an inflammatory condition affecting the joints. It can be painful and debilitating, and affects around 400,000 people in the UK. Cherries appear to help symptoms of arthritis due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the anthocyanins.
  2. Gout: Gout is a type of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. This can result extremely painful inflammatory arthritis if the uric acid crystallises in joints. Joints of the foot, knee, hand and wrist – especially the big toe are most affected. Studies have shown that cherries can lower uric acid in the bloodstream and could reduce gout attacks by 35%.
  3. Insomnia: Insomnia needs no introduction – most people have experienced it at some point, and some suffer from chronic inability to get a good night’s sleep. The hormone melatonin regulates our circadian rhythm, allowing for a restful sleep. However, things like bright lights, poor diet, jet lag and device screens can interfere with melatonin balance. Cherries are one of the few food sources of melatonin, so including them in your diet may help improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

C4: Cherries, Coconut, Chia and Cocoa

This recipe features four powerful foods, each providing nourishment for your body: cherries, coconut, chia and cocoa.

You now know all about cherries and you can read more about chia in this post. Chia seeds form the basis of this dish and the dairy-free coconut milk binds all the lovely flavours together in a creamy ‘mousse’. You can substitute the coconut milk for almond milk or water if you like, but I recommend the coconut milk for its good fats and the level of satiety it brings to a breakfast dish.

Cocoa is a great source of iron and magnesium as well as the powerful flavanol antioxidant. Everyone knows that cherries and chocolate are best friends, however, the chocolate is optional in this recipe. If you want a fruitier flavour, feel free to leave out the cocoa powder.

Chia pudding with cherries and coconut

Pudding for Breakfast   

So, if you are looking for fresh breakfast ideas, then this is one to try. If you’ve never tasted chia pudding before, then expect something between that is rice pudding and chocolate mousse in texture. I like to grind the chia seeds for a smoother pudding, but some do prefer the texture of the whole seeds (more rice pudding than mousse!).

I also think that it’s important to try and get a bit of crunch into the final product. I use fresh shaved coconut and fresh fruit, but dessicated coconut, nuts and/or seeds will do.

The good news is that you can make this pudding with other berries too (try blueberry or raspberry). If cherries are out of season, 30-40ml of CherryActive* concentrate will give you the cherry flavour with most of the nutritional benefits. You should be able to pick it up at your local health store in the UK and ROI and, I believe, they do have stockists in South Africa, Australia and parts of Asia.

 

CHERRY COCONUT CHIA (CHOCOLATE) PUDDING

Serves 2 for breakfast and 3-4 for dessert/snack

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole fresh cherries (or 30-40ml cherry juice concentrate)
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder (optional)

For serving:

  • Fresh cherries
  • Shaved fresh coconut, toasted

Method

  1. Put the chia seeds into a coffee/spice grinder and grind into a powder. This step is optional – you can use whole chia seeds.
  2. Remove the stalks and stones from the cherries and place into a liquidiser or food processor with the other ingredients. Blend until combined. You can also use a hand-held stick blender.
  3. Scrape the mixture into a container or individual bowls/glasses, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight. Store in an airtight container for a breakfast or snack on the go.
  4. Serve with fresh cherries and toasted coconut shavings (or anything else that gives it a crunch: toasted and chopped nuts, muesli or seeds).

Cherry and chia pudding to go

*This post is not sponsored by CherryActive, nor am I affiliated with them. I have personally tried and tested the product and I think that it is a viable alternative if fresh cherries aren’t available.

 

Please like & share:
Fruits and vegetables on rustic background

Can food help balance teenage hormones?

This month I am launching a special clinic for adolescent girls, and I want to explain why.

I believe that everyone, in any age group and of any gender, can benefit from enhancing their diets to include whole, fresh, health-promoting foods. But I strongly believe that adolescent girls are one of the groups that can benefit the most.

From the onset of puberty, a woman’s body undergoes tremendous changes. Some girls sail through this period without a bother, but for others it can be a tricky time. As someone who has experienced some of the less pleasant side-effects of maturing into a woman, I know first-hand how it feels and, how what you eat can have an enormous effect on mitigating the hormonal storm going on in our bodies.

For both males and females, the onset of puberty is signalled by the release of sex hormones testosterone and oestrodiol. These hormones introduce changes to the body and manifest as physical changes and growth, behavioural changes and psychosocial changes

As a person matures, so their bodies require specific nutrients to ensure that growth and development take place properly. For that reason alone, it is important to eat a balanced diet, but teenage years often throw other challenges into the mix: acne, menstrual pain or irregularity and fluctuating moods. It is unclear why some suffer from hormone imbalance more than others.

There are a handful of medications used to treat female teenage problems, including antibiotics, oral contraceptive pills and isotretinoin (Roaccutane). While these are effective for some, all come with a list of side-effects ranging from nutritional deficiencies and thrush to more severe issues such as birth defects and liver problems.

Apple in waterCan a natural approach compete?

Natural methodologies generally look to address the underlying imbalance causing the complaint, and look to restore the body’s homeostasis, rather than treat symptoms. When it comes to hormone-related issues, a nutritional therapist will work on a number of systems, including:

  • The digestive system: ensuring used hormones are promptly excreted and that there is the right balance of good bacteria in your gut. It’s also important to establish whether you are properly absorbing nutrients from the food you eat;
  • The liver: ensuring that you have the right vitamins, minerals and other co-factors for optimal detoxification and hormone metabolism;
  • The nervous system: for many, acne flares up during stressful periods;
  • The endocrine system: this is the system responsible for manufacturing hormones. Proteins, fats and other nutrients are required for proper hormone development.

The good news is that nourishing your body with clean, whole foods is an effective way to get the hormones in balance. Nature provides its own dispensary of nutrients that ensure that the systems above are operating effectively.

How long will it take?

For many health conditions, people are often looking for a quick fix – prompt relief from their symptoms. This is completely understandable. For the most part, pharmaceutical drugs are able to deliver quick results as they often target the symptom, not the cause.

However, in the case of balancing hormones, especially associated skin conditions, even pharmaceutical interventions could take a minimum of three months to see results. When it comes to the pill, many are advised to stay on it long-term (as ceasing results in the reoccurrence of symptoms) and Roaccutane treatment generally lasts 8-10 months.

A natural approach, can also take 3-6 months to show results, but the upside is that the root cause is addressed, meaning reoccurrence is less likely.

Berries for hormone balancing

Getting started

Everyone is different and has a unique set of health requirements, but these five food heroes are a must for getting those hormones into balance:

  1. Water. Sounds obvious, but without it you will struggle to eliminate built up internal and external toxins.
  2. Good fats. Did you know that hormones are made from cholesterol? Good fats are essential for the manufacture of hormones and some, like omega 3’s, are anti-inflammatory. Avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds all provide excellent sources of good fats.
  3. Berries. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, especially berries, contain high amounts of antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory.
  4. Broccoli. Perhaps not as glamorous as cherries or avocados, but broccoli and related vegetables (cauliflower, turnips and kale) are the go-to foods for hormone balancing due to their powerful liver-supporting compounds.
  5. Flax seeds. These lovely little seeds work in a number of ways to help bring hormones into balance. They provide fibre for good digestive health, omega 3’s and important polyphenols, called lignans.

Blossom, for adolescent girls

Natural Teenage Health

So, my new clinic for teenage girls is up and running. First and foremost, I would like to help young ladies take control of their health by educating them on how diet (good and bad) and small lifestyle changes can impact their overall wellbeing.

Established dietary guidelines already exist for women going through menopause, so it makes sense that young women are also eating correctly for their life stage.

This is not about going against conventional treatments. It’s about trying an approach that has the fewest side effects and long-term results.

At the very least, a focus on fresh, whole foods will never do you or your health any harm!

Drop me a line if you have any questions or would like some more information.

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:
Healthy fruit, nut and seed breakfast

Pineapple and Coconut Breakfast Bowl

This is a quick, tasty and nutritious breakfast that will give you a boost in the morning.

Full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and good fats, this tasty breakfast bowl will keep you energised all morning.

Coconut and pineapple is a classic combination – and this breakfast gives you the taste of a pina colada, but with a much better nutrient profile!

Pineapple is the most summery of summer fruits. It smells, tastes and looks like a fiesta! This lively fruit is also packed with great nutrients. It is full of vitamin C and fibre – the benefits you can only enjoy if you eat the fruit whole. Pineapple juice might feel healthy, but the fibre is removed and, if not 100% fresh, the vitamin C will be reduced through pasteurisation and exposure to oxygen.

The blueberries in this dish add an extra dash of phyto-nutrients (thanks to the dark skins) and additional vitamin C.

Nuts for coconut

I’ve used fresh coconut in this recipe, as my local supermarket has had a stock of them for the last few months and they are generally reasonably priced. Yes, there is a bit of work opening them and slicing out the flesh, but I don’t mind – the ‘packaging’ is all natural and the flesh can be used for so many sweet and savoury dishes! Chunks of coconut are also excellent for snacking.

Coconut flesh is full of the healthy fats capyrlic acid, lauric acid and capric acid. These are known as medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and there is increasing evidence to show that they are beneficial to our health. Among the cited benefits are:

  • They are anti-microbial and anti-fungal
  • Due to their size, the body uses them easily for immediate energy
  • They are great for building muscle

Best of all, coconut tastes delicious. If you can’t find a fresh coconut, feel free to substitute with desiccated coconut in this recipe.

Pineapple and Coconut Breakfast Bowl

Ingredients:

Serves 2

  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • ¼ fresh pineapple, cut in wedges
  • ½ cup fresh coconut, cut into small pieces (or shaved with a potato peeler)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

Method:

  1. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and gently toast the pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts.
  2. Mix with the remaining ingredients and serve.

If you’ve never opened a coconut before, here is a YouTube video that will help you get started. Remember to keep the coconut water to drink!

Please like & share:
Heart healthy beetroot hummus

Beetroot Hummus (and why you need to eat it)

Escalate hummus to a vibrant, earthy treat with the addition of beautiful beetroot.

Hummus is one of my all-time favourite foods. It is a simple Middle Eastern staple that is both delicious and super-nutritious at the same time. A winning combination!

Made from chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and tahini (sesame seed paste), hummus (or houmous), has become increasingly popular in the last decade with tubs available at most supermarkets, corner shops and delis.

The good stuff

Besides being absolutely delicious, hummus is a popular ‘go-to’ food for nutritionists.

Here are five reasons why hummus should be a fridge staple.

    1. Hummus is high in fibre. Chickpeas are an excellent source of dietary fibre. Most western diets do not include good levels of fibre which is necessary to keep your cholesterol in check, balance your blood sugar levels and keep your hormones in harmony.
    2. Hummus is high in protein. Chickpeas are rich in the amino acids lycine, isoleucine and tryptophan. This makes hummus an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Amino acids are the building blocks of our cells, so it is important to include a variety of sources in our diets.
    3. Hummus keeps your blood sugar balanced. In order to avoid peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels, I always recommend that snacks should contain an element of fibre, protein or fat (as these slow down the release of sugar into your blood stream). Swapping sugary snacks for wholesome alternatives like hummus will help you maintain your energy levels and help you manage sugar cravings.
    4. Hummus is rich in phytonutrients. Garlic, chickpeas and the sesames in tahini are a holy trinity of superfoods. Your heart and liver will be jumping for joy. Garlic’s medicinal benefits have been recognised for decades. Its compounds have been shown to decrease the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver, help with inflammation and enhance the immune system. Sesame seeds and chickpeas are rich in a group of phytonutrients called lignans.  Lignans have mild oestrogenic properties, which is why lignan-containing foods are recommended for women moving into menopause or for those with hormonal imbalances. Lignans have also been associated with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
    5. Hummus is convenient. Hummus is portable, so makes a great snack on the go. A tub in the workplace fridge will last a few days and, paired with an oatcake, carrot sticks or some rye bread will provide a quick, easy, filling snack.

Homemade beetroot hummus

Beetroot Boost

This version of hummus incorporates the marvellous superfood beetroot. Its vivid colour is a tell-tale sign that this vegetable is packed full of health-promoting nutrients.

Besides gifting this hummus dip with its awesome colour, beetroot also lends a slightly earthy taste to the recipe, as well as additional fibre and antioxidants.

Studies have shown that beetroot may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. Furthermore, the prominent phytonutrient in beetroot, betaine, protects cells and enzymes from environmental stress and fights inflammation. Beetroot also supports Phase 2 liver detoxification.

So, while hummus is excellent in its traditional form, adding beetroot takes it to another level.

Enjoy this delicious dip with a virtuous smile on your face. It is also a great way to get children’s lunchboxes healthy and bright.

The ultimate healthy snack

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 250g cooked beetroot (about 2 medium beetroot), peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbs tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 250ml water (approx.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Put the chickpeas, beetroot, tahini, lemon juice, cumin and half the water into a food processor and blend, scraping down the sides with a spatula a few times.
  2. Continue blending and slowly add the rest of the water until you have the consistency you desire – you may need to add a bit more.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste and give it a final whizz.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Serve as a snack with oatcakes or vegetable batons, on rye toast for breakfast or lunch with avocado and pumpkin seeds or inside a pita with salads. This beetroot hummus pairs well with horseradish, mint and halloumi (not necessarily all together!).

 

Please like & share:
Bircher muesli - to go

Bling Your Breakfast – Bircher Muesli

Muesli is one of those foods vastly misunderstood. Often promoted as a healthy breakfast, commercial varieties can be full of sugar and, worse, many contain trans fats. However, if made right, and eaten in moderation, muesli is absolutely a healthful food. It is also one of those dishes which acts as a vessel for many other ingredients that can provide a super-boost of nutrients for the day.

Oats are the base of all mueslis and there are generally two types: those that are roasted to a crispy crunch and the soaked kind. This recipe is all about the soaking and the method is generally described as Bircher muesli (after the Swiss naturopath who popularised the dish in his clinic).

A Quick Fix

There are plenty of nutritional advantages to Bircher muesli, but one of the main advantages is its ease. Yes, many cereals are easy, but they won’t have a touch on the nutritional value that Bircher muesli provides.

This makes it a brilliant dish for those of you who, for convenience, either skip breakfast or opt for no-cook mug varieties (not good, please switch to this recipe!).

There are many ways to prepare Bircher muesli, but what they all have in common is soaking the grains. What this means is that you can prepare breakfast the night before and lob it into your handbag (or briefcase) on your way to work. Soaking oats overnight also allows them to become lovely and creamy, without the need for dairy. Because the mixture keeps well in the fridge, you can soak a batch and scoop out what you need on a daily basis.

Soak Your Oats

Oats are a wonderful source of vitamins and minerals, however, they also contain phytic acid which can combine with nutrients like magnesium, iron and zinc and block their absorption.

That’s why a diet high in unfermented whole grains can contribute to deficiencies and soft bones.

Soaking oats neutralises the effect of phytic acid, so be sure to sit your oats in water for at least 30 minutes before making porridge. I recommend an overnight soak though. It means that you can have a delicious and nutritious breakfast without too much hassle in the morning.

The Good Stuff (pay attention if you’re managing your cholesterol)

Oats are full of B vitamins (particularly B3, B5 and folate), essential for energy production and overall healthfulness. ½ a cup will also provide you with 20% of your zinc and iron RDA and 35% of your magnesium RDA (if you absorb them – hence the soaking).

Oats are also cholesterol busters. A number of studies have demonstrated that individuals with high cholesterol levels experience significant reductions with frequent oatmeal consumption.

“In individuals with high cholesterol levels (above 200mg/dl), the daily consumption of the equivalent of 3g soluble oat fibre typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is highly significant, as with each 1% drop in serum cholesterol level, there is a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease1.”

So – oats are a nutrient powerhouse and help manage cholesterol – what a win. But wait, there’s more…

Oats are a fabulous source of prebiotic fibes. These feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts and keeps our digestive system healthy (which in turn keeps the rest of us healthy!).

Because all balanced meals should have an element of protein, this recipe contains ground almonds and ground seeds. Besides donating their protein content to the meal, they also provide excellent levels of vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids (also excellent for heart health).

So, get soaking.

Healthy Bircher Muesli

 

Ingredients

1 Serving:

  • 1/2 cup oats (or gluten free if required*)
  • 1 dessertspoon ground almonds
  • 2 teaspoons desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax and pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon raisins

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together and add enough filtered water to just cover. Cover well, and leave overnight in the fridge.
  2. Add your optional ‘sprinkles’ before serving: grated apples or berries, some more coconut and seeds – I like a bit of crunchy texture. In winter, you can add a splash of boiling water and stir through for a warmer dish.

The mixture can keep in the fridge for up to a week, so try making in bulk for a quick, nutritious breakfast.

 

*There’s no consensus on whether or not oats are gluten free. One of the arguments is that the grain is naturally gluten-free, but ends up being contaminated during processing. Some people with gluten sensitivity manage just fine on regular oats, but if you are a coeliac, you absolutely must go for certified gluten-free oats. They are a bit more expensive, but your long-term health is worth it.

 

1 Murray and Pizzorno, The Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine 3rd Ed. p683-684

 

Please like & share:
Detoxing is not about fasting

In Defence of the ‘Detox’

Detoxing. Detoxing. Detoxing. You’ll see the word more times than you care to at this time of the year. Like ‘superfood’, it’s one of those words used to describe a multitude of concepts, principles and products and has inevitably lead to confusion (and some negative press).

So what is detoxing? Is it a ‘real thing’ or slick marketing speak?

Given that I’m a nutritional therapist, I have a particular view on detoxing which may be contrary to those of a doctor or even other nutritionists. So this is all my perspective. When it comes to all things health-related, you are the ultimate judge – read up, consider arguments and decide what is right for you.

I do think that the word detox can be misused, but in general, credible detox products, detox programmes and detox recipes are generally designed to help enhance the body’s inbuilt detoxification organs. The liver, skin, digestive tract and kidneys are all used by the body to rid the body of toxins – i.e detoxify.

So technically, your body detoxes every minute of the day, but certain ways of eating (or not eating!), can help optimise natural mechanisms.

Many religions have periods of fasting built into their calendars. While these are usually associated with a specific event, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this behaviour exists across so many cultures. There are benefits to periods of abstinence and, if poor health isn’t a trigger, then having a spiritual point of reference can help with motivation!

What are toxins?

Toxins can be broken up into two types: endogenous and exogenous.

Endogenous toxins are by-products of metabolism and energy production. These are naturally occurring as part of the process of living (like exhaust fumes are a by-product of driving a car). They can be used hormones or by-products of exercise and energy production.

Exogenous toxins are those we absorb from the environment. These include toxins from cigarettes, mould, pollen, chlorine from water, insecticides and pesticides from food, alcohol, caffeine, medications, chemicals from food packaging and cosmetics, any many, many more.

You can see from the list above, that since humans were ‘designed’, there are a few new toxins on the market! So, while our bodies are naturally equipped to get rid of toxins from our bodies, modern life has introduced many more elements for our organs to manage.

Therefore, the concept of an annual period of considered detoxification makes sense – give the body an opportunity to get rid of all the nasties that have built up over a period of time.

How does detoxification work?

The liver and digestive system are really key to getting rid of toxins. Very simply, the liver first breaks down toxins and then packages them up into forms that can be excreted by the digestive system or kidneys. The liver needs B vitamins, zinc, sulphur, amino acids and the anti-oxidant vitamins E and C to do its work properly. If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, the process of detoxification in the liver doesn’t work well.

Equally, if your digestive system is sluggish due to constipation or an imbalanced gut flora, you may not be able to properly excrete the toxins, so they are reabsorbed into your blood stream. This can make you feel tired, but in some can also manifest as skin issues, headaches and hormonal problems like PMS.

Given that the liver needs a good supply of nutrients to do its job properly, you can see why a balanced diet, which favours fresh vegetables and fibre is very important to good health.

So, why detox?

If you agree that:

  1. our bodies are continuously exposed to every-increasing exogenous toxins; and
  2. our diets are not always providing the nutrients our organs of detoxification need…

…then, you can see that at some point something is going to give.

If we’re taking in many toxins and not taking in enough of the fuel an optimal detoxification system, then we’re going to start getting ill.

So, in my opinion, detox ‘diets’ should be about reducing the burden on the liver and providing fuel to enhance natural detoxification.

This is where things start to diverge and you get variations on the best way to detox. These range from juice fasts, colonic cleansing, raw food diets and more moderate programmes which just eliminate lifestyle toxins (alcohol and caffeine).

My approach to detox programmes

I run detoxification programmes which reduce some foods and nourish the body with plenty of fresh produce to optimise our already brilliant detoxification mechanisms.

I’ve participated in juice fasts and there are benefits, but there can be drawbacks and they are not appropriate for everyone. I encourage you to do some research, get some advice and decide if it is for you.

Whatever detox you choose to do, the most important thing is that it is undertaken with a qualified healthcare professional. Detoxification needs to be carefully managed if your liver is not in good shape, or you are on important medication. A registered nutritional therapist will be able to advise you on the best way to detox, based on your individual needs.

January is naturally a time for considering detoxing – it’s a new year and the guilt from the Christmas binge is reinforced by the miraculous shrinking of our clothes! However, in the northern hemisphere January is the middle of winter, so a full-blown juicing or raw food detox is not ideal. However, it is an ideal opportunity to start eating healthily with a view to a ‘spring clean’ in April/May time.

So, in a nutshell, if you are feeling a bit sluggish and know that your diet is not as clean as it should be, a detox can play a really important role in boosting your overall health. You don’t need supplements, or to starve yourself – just some guidance and a bit of will power. Doing it with a friend or family member also helps.

FreshStart Cleanse and Health Reset

I am regularly run a 28-day Cleanse and Health Reset programme called FreshStart. It is a seasonal eating programme designed to enhance detoxification systems and help start you on the road to healthy eating.

Fresh Start header

Click here for more information or contact me for local dates.

 

Please like & share:
Gluten free noodles

Courgette Noodles with Tomato Sauce (gluten, dairy and grain-free)

Pasta is the ultimate comfort food. A steaming bowl of fettuccine coated in a flavoursome sauce can make you fall in love, forget your ex or make a wintry Friday evening at home that much more cosy.

Unfortunately for some, a big bowl of pasta also signals bloating, cramps or spasms for hours or days later. If you are a coeliac or are sensitive to gluten, the pleasure sought in that delicious bowl is paid for – and it’s not pleasant.

Some get on just fine with gluten-free varieties of pasta, however, I just can’t. Some are too slimy and others have long lists of very refined ingredients I am not partial to.

So, this dish uses courgette noodles. Inspired by the paleo ‘scene’, it takes a wholesome vegetable and turns it into an excellent vessel for your favourite pasta sauce. There’s no mucking about with ingredients and kneading – all you need is a sharp knife and pasta joy is a few minutes away.

How many have you had today?

I developed this recipe for a client who struggled to comprehend how he could eat 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, so the sauce is heavy on the veg. However, as the courgette is relatively neutral in flavour, you can substitute any of your favourite pasta sauces.

This recipe delivers a whopping seven (that’s 7) portions* of vegetables! That’s 3.5 portions per serving. If you add in any of the other optional ingredients, you can shoot up the nutrient content of this delicious meal even more.

This dish is also a brilliant vitamin C boost. The peppers, tomatoes and courgettes will take you to pretty much 100% of your RDA (although you typically need a little more than that for great health) and the courgettes alone will provide you with around 40% of your vitamin A RDA (per serving)

This recipe is remarkably simple and the noodles are a great way to get young children to try a green veg.

Enjoy!

 

Courgette Noodles and Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

Serves 2

For the noodles:

  • 400g courgettes (about 2 med-large. The longer the better)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil

For the sauce:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 1 tsp crushed chilli flakes or fresh chilli to taste
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, sliced
  • 1 can cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Method:

  1. Prepare the courgette noodles. Cut the courgettes into long thin strips using a sharp knife, a mandolin, spiraliser or a peeler
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on a low heat. Add the chilli, garlic and the onion and cook until translucent. It is important that the oil doesn’t get too hot
  3. Add the anchovies if using. These cook away to nothing, but add a lovely flavour. Just two fillets also add about 160mg of omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. While the onions are cooking, pit the olives and roughly chop.
  5. Add the peppers and sauté for another few minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes, olives and vinegar to the pan. Stir well, cover and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
  7. Now, cook the noodles. Heat the coconut oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the courgette noodles and sauté them for a few minutes until just cooked.
  8. Check the seasoning of the sauce – add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Divide the noodles into two warmed bowls and top with the sauce. Add a sprinkle of parsley and a drizzle of olive oil on top of each serving.

Optional extras: Boost the nutrient value of the dish by adding any of the following:

  • ½ cup sliced mushrooms at step 5 (=1 portion veg)
  • 2 cups of sliced kale – add to the sauce 2 minutes before serving (=2 portions veg)
  • 1 cup sugarsnap peas – add to the sauce 5 minutes before serving (=1 portion veg)
  • ½ cup frozen peas – add to the sauce 5 minutes before serving (=1 portion veg)

 

*Portions estimated based on the NHS fruit and vegetable portion guide.

 

This recipe is part of my Cleanse and Reset programme – a healthy start to the year with tasty, nourishing food. Get in touch for more details.

Please like & share: