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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Start thinking about realistic health goals

Setting Realistic Health Goals for the new year

It’s that time of year…. the Christmas chaos is over and there are a few days left until the new year begins in earnest. For many, this is a time of introspection and resolution-setting for the coming 12 months. Just as animals prepare for the change in season, we humans, using a Roman calendar, often use this time to reflect on what we have achieved (or no,t) in the last year and make plans for positive changes moving forward.

At the end of the festive season, when the effects of the period’s over-indulgence is beginning to be felt (think loosening belt buckle, dark circles under eyes, general sluggishness – you know what I’m talking about!), it’s easy to set a number of resolutions to get into shape for the new year, but its carrying them through that is the challenge. Having an occasion as a focal point (wedding, holiday etc) helps, but what happens after the event? Health and wellness should be a way of life, not a temporary boot camp to achieve a single goal. 

Personally, I’m not a big fan of ‘new year’s resolutions’. In principle they work, but in practice they rarely stick. Instead, I prefer my clients to set a small handful of long-term, achievable health goals.

Over the next week or so, I’d encourage you to make some time for yourself to really think about what you want to achieve for yourself in 2014 – here are some tips for setting goals that last:

  1. Frame the goal positively. Rather than having something you are moving away from, aim to move towards something that is compelling and that you get really excited about. Instead of ‘losing weight’, how about setting a goal of having lasting energy throughout the day. The changes you’ll make to achieve the latter, will almost certainly have an effect on the former!
  2. Distinguish what you want to do, rather than what you feel you should do. Linked to the point above, this tip helps you to visualise something that is meaningful for you. Rather than ‘I should eat fewer take-away meals’, you might want to consider setting a goal of eating more meals cooked from scratch.
  3. Be realistic with yourself. Consider whether you’ve tried to make similar goals in the past and given up. This could apply to your job, relationships or your own well-being. If you find yourself with writing down the same set of goals/resolutions each year, really consider whether you find yourself in a pattern of behaviour where you consistently self-sabotage your attempts at making positive life changes. If you think you do, try and identify what is holding you back from achieving the things that are important enough to commit to each January. Instead of a long list, pick the top 2-3 things that you can commit the necessary energy to achieving this year and make it happen.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you feel you’re stuck in a job, relationship or health rut (or negative cycle), then look for some support from trusted friends or experts.  You’d be surprised at how much life/career-coach can help you see the wood for the trees and help you make changes you’d always been afraid of (or didn’t even consider!). If you have long-term diet or health issues, consulting with a good nutritionist (pardon the self-promotion!), herbalist or other holistic healer can be just the thing you need to jump-start your journey to improved well-being.  Equally, setting a common goal with a friend, family member or work colleague can provide the motivation you both need to get to where you wan to be.

You are the only person who has the power to create a life that is energising, abundant and happy. Carve out the hour or two you’ll need to set your goals and set yourself on the best path for the next year.

If this is the year you want to rejuvenate your eating habits, join my 28-day Detox and Reset Programme. Contact me for more details.

 

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Reindeer

8 ways to get through the festive season in one piece

The festive season is a wonderful time of year when we can, more or less guilt-free, indulge in regular bouts of cheerful revelry, rich food and late nights. Most of us acknowledge that this is an exceptional part of the year when we can forget about being good and pick up the pieces in January.

I personally love the festive season and look forward to it. Besides the opportunity to let your hair down and celebrate with friends, there’s all that lovely food we’ve been holding out for all year.

However, the good times can take a toll on your health. Late nights, rich food and alcohol create a heavy load for your body to process. Now, I am not going to be a killjoy and recommend you forgo the champagne and Christmas puds for elderflower cordial and tofu cheesecake. I think that the period of festivities, reconnecting with families and friends, and good home cooking, is a wonderful tonic after a year of hard work. It is important to have joy and fun in life. Sometimes that means giving in to foods that we know are not healthful.

It’s not great, but it happens. Because your lifestyle should never be ‘all or nothing’, I’ve listed out eight ways you can be kinder to your body during the festive season. These are small, yet practical things you can do to help your system stay strong whilst you make the most of a fabulous time of year!

1. Protect your liver. Everything you put in your body gets processed by the liver. The bigger the load, the more work, so keeping your liver in good shape during the festive season is important.

For many, the festive season is characterised by higher-than-average consumption of alcohol and rich food. The first thing you can do is take preventative measure to protect your liver. Think about taking a good milk thistle supplement. The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin has been shown to protect the liver. In addition, milk thistle can also aid digestion.

2. Get your greens (and reds and yellows!). Christmas parties and festive dinners tend to focus on carbohydrates and protein. But don’t forget to ‘eat a rainbow’. You need to vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from fruit and vegetables to keep in good health.

Cruciferous vegetables are especially important help your liver detoxify during periods of indulgence. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are packed with B vitamins and a host of compounds that maximise liver function. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants that help mop up free radicals – important every day, but even more so when we have more alcohol and rich food flowing through our systems.

3. Be good at breakfast. Breakfast truly does set you up for the day. During busy times, it’s also one of the meals you have the most control over.

If you know you’ll be out and about, use breakfast as an opportunity to get in the nutrients you may not get throughout the rest of the day. Make sure to include a source of protein. This will balance your blood sugar and help prevent sugar cravings during the day. A warming bowl of oatmeal will provide you with fibre and B vitamins. Top with cinnamon, fresh berries or grated apple and sprinkle with milled seeds and ground almonds for protein (what’s more Christmassy than almond, berries and cinnamon?!). Eggs are also fabulous. They contain sulphur which helps your liver do its thing. Try an omelette with two big handfuls of spinach, and sautéed tomatoes, onions and peppers.

4. Hydrate. Water is essential to most bodily functions and it is always important to keep well hydrated. Alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate your body, so if you find yourself over-indulging during the festive season, you need to be especially vigilant in topping up your water levels!

Water helps flush out toxins and aids in the secretion of digestive juices. If you’re not getting enough, you’ll feel sluggish and will battle to manage large, hearty meals. Make sure you drink at least 1.5 litres across the day (caffeinated tea and coffee don’t count!).

5. Choose organic where you can. I am a big believer in organic foods, but I am realistic that it can be pricey. If you are going to pick specific foods to buy organic, then animal products are where you should invest.

Meat, dairy and eggs carry by-products of hormones and antibiotics used in animal farming (particularly poultry and eggs). As these items make up the bulk of most festive menus, try and buy organic if you are cooking animal products over the season – the taste and quality will be better and again, you’ll be doing your poor old liver a favour.

6. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating is not cheating! Drinking on an empty stomach is a fool’s game – it takes you over the limit quicker, makes you feel worse off the next day and causes you to made bad food choices.

Alcohol often results in a rapid increase in blood glucose levels followed by a drop. When your blood sugar levels drop, you start craving food – particularly sugary, carby foods (think late night chips and kebabs). Making sure you eat before or during drinking will help avoid the blood-sugar rollercoaster, and, hopefully leave you feeling a little more in control at the end of the night.

7. Sleep. Don’t underestimate the effect a string of late nights can have on your health. Impaired sleep or sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your physical and mental well-being.

To avoid waking up in January like a zombie, make time in your busy festive calendar to get good amounts of restorative sleep.

8. Have fun! Laughter and enjoyment are essential to good physical and emotional health. If you’re going to be partaking in the full festive experience, make sure that you’re getting all the upsides – laughter enhances the immune system and helps the body release mood-elevating endorphins.

Even better, pass the joy on. If you know of anyone feeling low over the festive season, even a small gesture can improve their well-being and it doesn’t cost much.

Season’s greetings to you all!

Need a kick-start into the new year? My FreshStart 28-day programme will be launching in January. If you want to clear out those cobwebs and start 2016 in a good place (nutritionally), this step-by-step programme will set you up! Get in touch if you would like more information.  

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