Tag Archives: omega 3

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hayfever sneeze

5 Nutrition Tips for Hay Fever

Watery eyes, itchy throat, runny nose? For some people, the start of summer is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s warmer and gardens are blooming, but… the blooming can trigger the annoying symptoms of hay fever.

HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?

Hay fever is a relatively common ailment afflicting many people each spring / summer.

Hay fever is essentially an allergic reaction and is most commonly triggered by grass or tree pollen, but other types of pollen can also be problematic.

The symptoms are a reaction of the immune system to the pollen, resulting in the inflammation of the nasal passages and eyes.

When a person with sensitivity to pollen inhales the allergen, the immune system reacts, producing the antibody IgE. IgE binds to white blood cells called mast cells and basophils, and these cells release histamine resulting in the physical symptoms of the reaction. These include: runny nose; sneezing; itchy watery eyes; fatigue; coughing and sinus congestion.

CAN FOOD HELP WITH HAYFEVER?

Yes, what we eat can have a positive impact on how the body reacts to allergens.

From a nutritional therapy perspective, intervention focuses on two key aspects:

  1. Addressing a sensitive immune system. In some respects, this is the root cause of hay fever. Not everyone produces antibodies to pollen, so suffering from hay fever, suggests that your immune system may be ‘overreacting’.
  2. Promoting a diet that is anti-inflammatory. Most symptoms of hay fever are inflammatory in nature. By favouring foods that have anti-inflammatory actions, your body is less predisposed to inflammation, which could calm down the system’s response to any allergens.

Green apples - quercetin

TOP FOOD TIPS FOR MANAGING HAY FEVER

Follow these tips to help strengthen your immune system and reduce your hay fever symptoms:

  1. Eat foods rich in quercetin.

Quercetin is the plant sterol with the most research connected to hay fever. Studies suggest that the body uses quercetin to prevent the release of histamine (i.e. it is a natural anti-histamine). Quercetin has also been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory compounds (prostaglandins and leukotrienes).

Bromelain is another phytonutrient that may be beneficial. You’ll find it in pineapples. It helps the body absorb quercetin and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Because it is helpful in digesting protein, bromelain may help break down mucus, a symptom of hay fever.

Green tea, apples, onions and kale are great sources of quercetin.

  1. Feed your gut with fermented foods.

Most of your immune system is located in the gut, so ensuring that it is in balance is essential. It is important that you have the right balance of gut bacteria for a healthy immune system. A 2014 study indicated that hay fever sufferers given certain strains of beneficial bacteria saw significant improvement in quality of life, in particular a reduction in runny eyes1.

Including fermented foods into your diet is the easiest way to start getting the balance of bacteria right. Sauerkraut, kimchi, whole plain yoghurt*, kefir and kombucha are excellent sources and are becoming more commonly available. Supplements of beneficial bacteria may also be helpful.

  1. Enhance your vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D helps to keep the immune system balanced and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

It is quite difficult to get enough vitamin D through the diet, but oily fish, egg yolks and dried mushrooms are the best food sources. Ideally, get responsible exposure to sunlight when you can or you might want to consider a good supplement.

  1. Eat plenty of omega-3 rich foods.

The EPA and DHA found in omega 3 oils help the natural production of anti-inflammatory mediators in the body.

Oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are good sources. Aim for 2-3 portions per week. Flaxseeds/linseeds and chia seeds are also good sources, but you will need to eat them in larger amounts.

  1. Incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet.

Curcumin, the active compound in the spice turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Its plant cousin, ginger, also provides anti-inflammatory actions. As such, they may be helpful in reducing some hay fever symptoms.

Curries are a perfect way to incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet. You could also try ginger tea or ‘golden’ tea (turmeric, coconut milk, black pepper and honey). TIP: turmeric is MUCH better absorbed if it is taken with a source of fat and black pepper.

Superfood fish cakes

ANTI-HAY FEVER MEAL IDEAS

  • Marinate fillets of salmon or mackerel in a mix of soy sauce, local honey, turmeric, ginger and garlic. Cook as you prefer and serve with a large helping of kale.
  • Brew a cup of green tea, add a squeeze of lemon and grate in a little fresh ginger. Make in bulk and refrigerate for a cooling, anti-inflammatory summer drink.
  • Grate fresh green apple onto your breakfast porridge. Add milled flax and chia seeds for extra omega 3.
  • Scramble eggs (add a pinch of turmeric), and serve with sautéed kale and onion and a side helping of smoked salmon.
  • Salmon and Sweet Potato fishcakes. Made with ginger, add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric for an extra boost.

 

*Some people may find that dairy increases mucus production.

1D J Costa, P Marteau, M Amouyal, L K Poulsen, E Hamelmann, M Cazaubiel, B Housez, S Leuillet, M Stavnsbjerg, P Molimard, S Courau and J Bousquet, “Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei LP-33 in allergic rhinitis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (GA2LEN Study)”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 602–607

 

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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

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High protein, gluten free pancakes

Super Banana Pancakes (grain free, diary free, high protein)

Super banana pancakes

I love pancakes. There is something about them that is comforting and feels like a treat. Since going gluten free, I’ve struggled to find a pancake that results in the same satisfaction as the ‘full flour’ versions.

Breakfast-style pancakes can definitely be made gluten free. However, in the past I’ve found that the grain-based versions taste odd, the coconut flour versions can be too dry and others can be too runny. I also prefer to use as many wholefood ingredients as possible (gluten-free flours can be very processed).

I came across a recipe on Facebook from which these banana pancakes are based: 1 banana and 2 eggs – mix together and fry off in small batches. Brilliant – protein and fibre with a bit of natural sweetness! The result was moderately successful, but I wanted a bit more fibre and a bit more protein to make it a more rounded breakfast (or snack). I added ground flaxseeds and ground almonds to the mix – these essential store-cupboard ingredients also up the vitamin and mineral profile of of the recipe. If you are avoiding flax or nuts, the plain egg/banana version does work, but you need a good hot pan, a good amount of butter and nimble wrists to flip without splatting!

So, after a bit of trial and error, here is my offering. Even the husband likes them!

The Good Stuff

These lovely pancakes pack a particularly good nutritional punch. The eggs and protein will keep you feeling satiated (avoiding sugar cravings!) and eating a full portion will provide half* of your RDA of vitamins B2, B6 and magnesium! The high fibre and magnesium content makes these a great addition to your diet if you’re feeling a little constipated. See the end of this post for nutritional details on each of the ingredients.

This truly is a super-delicious, super meal!

Gluten and grain-free banana pancakes

Ingredients (makes about 12)

  • 1 banana
  • 2 organic eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1.5 teaspoons aluminium-free bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon almond or cashew nut butter (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Raw coconut oil or organic butter for frying

Method

All you need to do is combine the ingredients into a batter. There are a few ways you can do this:

Option 1: put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until it comes together

Option 2: put all the ingredients into a jug and process with a stick blender (my preference as you can then pour the batter directly into pan (less washing up!)

Option 3: if you don’t have any of the electronics, you can simply mash the banana with a fork, then add the other ingredients and whisk together.

  1. Ideally, leave the batter to sit for about 15-20 minutes before cooking. This will help it mature and make flipping a bit easier.
  2. Heat a knob of butter or raw coconut oil in a pan on a medium-high heat and fry off smallish pancakes (about the circumference of an orange slice).
  3. Use a thin, wide egg lifter or spatula to flip – you need to get right under them without breaking the cooked film on the edge.

Serve with a light drizzle of good quality maple syrup or honey, some organic plain yoghurt, berries or even some bacon.

These are not just for weekends. Because of the nutritional profile, they are great for a replenishing snack after sport, an after-school treat or a quick breakfast any day of the week.

Nutritional facts

This recipe is full of nutritious, whole foods. Each ingredient is particularly rich in key nutrients that contribute to a balanced diet and keep your energy levels up.

Eggs: protein, vitamins D and B12, selenium, choline,

Bananas: magnesium, potassium, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6

Almonds: high in protein, fibre, omega 3, magnesium, vitamins B2 and E, and potassium

Flaxseeds: vitamin B1, iron, magnesium, selenium, omega 3 and fibre

Cinnamon: balances blood sugar

 

*RDA percentages are estimated using NutritionData.com. Actual percentages may vary based on age of product and country of origin.

I have updated the recipe slightly from the original post – the addition of 1 teaspoon of chia seeds really helps the batter hold together well!

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Chia 1

Something to Chia about?

The word ‘superfood’ gets bandied about fairly easily and usually heralds the entrance of an obscure food substance from a remote part of the world that we now must eat to be healthy! I have always been a bit adverse to this way of approaching healthy eating.

For starters, I firmly believe that a healthy diet is one that includes a variety of fresh products, ideally as close to locally sourced as possible. The fact of the matter is, a lot of the in-vogue ‘superfoods’ touted by the media  don’t actually offer anything superior to the foods we have access to on a daily basis.

Chia 1

Whole organic chia seeds

So, given the above, why am I writing about chia seeds? Well, my initial reluctance to use them stemmed from the fact that they are grown and shipped in from South America. That’s a lot of food miles and I wasn’t sure that more local products couldn’t provide the same nutritional benefits that these little black seeds could. However, over the last 6 months, I’ve looking into chia a little more closely.  Yes, the seeds are flown a long way and yes, for the most part you can get the same balance of nutrients from other food sources. But what chia provides is a super-boost of nutrients that very few foods contain in one package. Here are the facts about chia seeds:

  1. Chia seeds offer a complete source of protein. That means they have all essential amino acids – very few plant sources can boast the full amino acid spectrum. This makes chia a very good source of protein for vegans, vegetarians and those looking to lower their reliance on meat and dairy products.
  2. They are an amazing source of calcium. Just 28g of chia seeds will give you 18% of your RDA. They are also excellent source of zinc, phosphorus and manganese.
  3. Chia seeds are full of fibre. Again, just 28g will give you 42% of your daily fibre needs! Fibre is brilliant for regulating blood sugar levels, detoxifying the system and keeping your heart healthy.
  4. They provide over five times more omega 3 fatty acids than salmon. Another win for vegetarians and vegans! These tiny little seeds are an omega 3 powerhouse. Omega 3 is a vital nutrient often missing from modern diets, but is essential for good hormone regulation, brain development and is highly anti-inflammatory.
  5. Chia seeds are versatile. I have used them in a number of recipes to great success – breads, smoothies, porridge, muesli and cookies. For vegans or those allergic to eggs, ground chia seeds can also be soaked with water and used as an egg substitute for baking.

So, you can see why I’ve been converted to a chia champion! I find that chia seeds are a wonderful addition to a healthy diet. If you haven’t tried chia seeds before, here is something I whipped up this morning that can get you started.

Refreshing Chia Berry Boost Smoothie (makes 2 large smoothies)Chia Berry Smoothie Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon organic oat flakes
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 cup nut milk (or coconut water or filtered water)
  • 1.5 cups frozen berries
  • 6-7 mint leaves, roughly torn
  • 2 big handfuls baby spinach

 

Method:

  1. Mix the chia seeds and oats in a bowl with the cup of water. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
  2. Once the chia seeds and oats are soaked (and the chia seeds have swollen), add all the ingredients into the blender (spinach leaves first) and blend until smooth.

This smoothie provides an awesome nutrient boost – a great way to start the day or a recovery smoothie after exercising. The mix of ingredients gives a vitamin, mineral, fibre and antioxidant boost that is delicious and refreshing. Enjoy!

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