Thursday, 29 September 2011

An apple a day - but which one?

Something I often get asked is if you can get all the nutrients you need from food, without having to take supplements.

The short answer is yes all the nutrients we need are available in food but that I think we need to top up our nutrient intake with supplements if we want to be in tip top health.

That's not to say that you can't be in good health without taking supplements, if you're on a healthy high-nutrient, low-toxin diet, but the argument that our ancestors didn't need to take supplements just doesn't wash with me.

Our diets include less fruit, veg and healthy fats than our ancestors ate and we eat more antinutrients than they did (caffeine, alcohol, sugar - just weren't part of the Paleolithic diet). Our lives are also more stressful and polluted than our predecessors so our nutrient requirements are higher.

Our food is also less nutritious than it used to be due to how it is grown/reared and the amount of time it takes to get to our plates.

This is backed up by research that has found that older varieties of fruit and vegetables contain higher levels of nutrients than modern varieties. For example the older varieties of apples contain higher levels of anti-cancer phytonutrients than the new varieties. This is because some of these nutrients are bitter tasting, so as apples have been bread to taste sweeter they've also become less nutritious.

So when you're choosing your apple a day go for a cox or pippin rather than a gala or a granny smith and maybe add in a multivitamin for good measure.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Train Drain

I know I'm somewhat commute-phobic and as a result have always made sure I live less than thirty minutes from my work, but that isn't the case for most city workers, with an hour each way being pretty normal and 2.5 hour each way commutes not unheard of.

Whilst spending 5 hours a day on a train is totally unacceptable for me, for some people this is just how it has to be. Sitting for hours on a train can be a very draining experience so how can you turn it into some beneficial "me time'?

Sleep ... If you're getting up at 5am to catch a train, I think adding some extra zzzz on your commute in is recommended (if you can get a seat!)

Read ... I see a lot of people reading some fairly trashy literature on their commutes home. Whilst a good read is a nice way to relax on the way home, interspersing it with some health related reading
Periodically swap Closer, Grazia or FHM for Zest, Healthy (from holland and barrett) Mens Health, Runners World or other health and fitness magazines. You'll be surprised how many healthy tips you pick up.
If you've got time to read a chapter of a book, periodically swap fiction for something educational:
Patrick Holford's Six Weeks to Superhealthis a good place to start for inspiration to overhauling your diet and his Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs is a good place to start learning about the power of food on your health.
If you have a specific health complaint, any of Patrick's Say No To... range also provide easy to follow advice.
For some super healthy brainwashing I recommend the Juice Master's Slim 4 Life and for something a bit more entertaining (and extreme) try Skinny Bitch.

Breathe - Most of us don't breathe fully and so aren't as well oxygenated as we should be. Take five deep breaths when you sit down to calm the nervous system and mark the end of your work day.

Meditate - Practicing having a clear mind can be a real channel on a tube or train, but is worth working out. The Power of Now
, is a great place to start and includes good tips on dealing with things that annoy you, so helpful in avoiding tube rage. If that's not your bag try and get yourself a seat in the quiet zone and just enjoy some peace and quiet rather than instantly plugging yourself into your ipod.

Plan - It's easy to fall into a food and exercise rut, so take some time to plan for what you want to achieve - jot down some health goals, do you want to lose 6lbs, run a marathon, add some muscle? Then list what you're going to do to achieve it, write out an exercise schedule and list of healthy meals you want to cook. Add the ingredients to your shopping list.

Be creative - Once we leave school a lot of us stop colouring, glueing pasta to cardboard and being creative in other ways! However it's important for our mental well being to use our brains and imaginations. I tend to write my blog on the way home, with anything that happens to pop into my head at the time (can't you tell)! Perhaps you've got a Novel in you - write a page at a time, do some doodles, write some lyrics, draw a portrait of the strange looking man opposite?

Brain training - Sudoki, crosswords, Nintendo ds memory games, whatever floats your boat .. a few minutes day can help keep your brain connecting the dots as you get older.
Day dream - there's nothing wrong with a bit of staring out the window and day dreaming. Try and think positive/pleasant thoughts - day dream about fun times you've had, great trips you've been on. Feel gratitude for what you're happy with in your life and get inspiration on where you want your life to go

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Spinning and a smoothie

Having digressed slightly I want to get back to my series on anti-aging and finish it off by covering moderate exercise and stress management in one go.

Stress management shouldn't be new to NITC readers, I'm always harping on about how important it is to schedule proper downtime and prioritize relaxation, but if you need a motivator to get started then avoiding wrinkles is a pretty good reason.

You can eat all the antioxidants in the world, but if your life is very stressful it's going to show on your face. And not just in frown lines ... your skin will age faster and become pallid and grey. Not convinced? Just look at some photos of Tony Blair or Gordon brown before and after they were Prime Minister - that certainly is a stressful job and it shows!

So what's the anti-dote ... well the opposite of stress, and that is relaxation. This means doing something that helps the brain switch off and calm down - it can be taking a nap, having a massage, going for a relaxed walk, getting some peace and quiet on your own or going to a yoga class. Make sure you do something properly relaxing at least once a week to counter the aging effects of stress.

Now alot of people use exercise as an anti-dote to stress and it certainly is a good way to vent any pent up frustration, but with this caveat: Exercise that has you slightly out of breath for more than 45 minutes actually creates stress in the body. That's not to say it's not good for your health in terms of cardiovascular fitness, immune health etc. and I would definitely recommend moderate exercise as a way to keep your body flexible, fit and young. But intensive exercise doesn't count as stress reduction, and may even warrant some extra down time in the diary.

So half an hour on the bike is fine, but if you're regularly doing hour long fitness classes or training hard for a race then you are infact accelerating your bodies aging process rather than slowing it down. This is due to the increased cell respiration, which generates more oxidative damage, and is why athletes and anyone doing alot of exercise has a much higher requirement for anti-oxidants.

I would certainly always recommend anti-oxidant supplements for high exercises plus the use of fresh vegetable juices or fruit smoothies to up your intake. Most high-end London gyms have healthy snack bars where you can pick up fresh smoothies (with some added protein powder for muscle recovery), so follow your spinning with a smoothie to keep yourself looking and feeling more grad than gran!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Potato pleasure

I wasn't feeling too good yesterday and needed something plain but comforting to cheer me up. One of my favourite comfort foods is potatoes - chips, waffles, crips, hash browns - I love them all. But sadly all of these are high glycemic (digest quickly and cause weight gain) and are laced with saturated fats.

Fortunately I had some new potatoes, which are lower glycemic than other types and the only kind I usually eat, and some sliced spring greens in the fridge so was able to make this oven baked bubble and squeak from the wonderful Delia. With just a few strategic adjustments to up the health factor it made a yummy hash brown substitute and got me eating some Salvestrol rich greens. These would make a healthy accompaniment for a roast, or great as part of a warming cooked breakfast - both for kids and grown ups.

My healthy adjustments:
- I used new potatoes rather than desiree potatoes and kept the peels on when grating
- I left out the cheese to make them dairy free and zero saturated fat
- I coated them with gluten free flour
- I brushed them with olive oil rather than butter

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Why you should eat your sprouts and roast your veg

I will be finishing off my series on anti-ageing this week, but I went to a conference on the weekend where I learnt about a new nutrient called a Salvestrol and I wanted to share the information.

Salvestrols are found in fruit and vegetables and have been found to have anti-cancer properties. They aren't actually anti-oxidants but are instead an inactive biochemical that only becomes active in contact with a particular protein that is only present in cancer cells.

Now I don't mean to alarm you but we all have cancerous cells in our bodies at any given time. When your cells become cancerous they lose their automatic sell by date, which is when a cell naturally dies off. So one of the problems in cancer is the cancer cells outliving their welcome. Instead our immune system kills them off and you only get actual Cancer, when the immune system fails to keep them in check and so the cells don't get killed off and grow out of control. Salvestrol is harmless to your healthy cells, but when it gets incontact with a particular protein only present in cancer cells, and then it kills the cell, so it's like a cancer cell assasin.

Salvestrol is found in most fruit and veg, but is particularly high in apples, berries and cruciferous vegetables (sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower). It is in the skins so firstly don't peel your fruit and veg before eating them, but in addition it is easily washed out in water so it's much better to steam or roast your veg then boil them, as this keeps the Salvestrol content high. Steamed sprouts anyone?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Anti-ageing additions

In my anti-ageing series so far I've talked about how to avoid free radical damage, but it's just not possible to avoid everything that's bad for you, and it also isn't really much fun!

So if you've had a high stress day, cycled home in traffic, eaten a fry up for breakfast and spent an hour on your mobile, what can you eat and drink to counter the oxidative damage?

Well the answer lies in antioxidants which cancel out the effects of oxidants ... The clue is in the name! Infact that's not quite true, they don't have the exact opposite effect, instead what they do is if there are free radicals circulating in your body they bind with them and in doing so neutralise them. This is why it's important to have a regular intake of anti-oxidants to neutralise free radical damage being constantly created in your body.

The food group richest in antioxidants by a mile is fruit and vegetables which is why I recommend having at least two portions of fruit or veg with every main meal. As I've also mentioned before it's important to eat a range of colours as the different colours come from the different antioxidants. It actually doesn't take a lot of effort to incorporate fruit and veg into your diet but it is absolutely essential so don't neglect it.

If you do struggle than having fresh juices and smoothies can be a good way to up your intake. My good friend Ms Haribos makes all sorts of sludge like smoothies containing spinach and cabbage ... but blended with some sweet fruit they're actually surprisingly palatable!

Even if you're having your five a day we all sometimes need a bit of an antioxidant boost, particularly in times of stress, having a shortage of sleep, doing a lot of travel or upping your exercise programme.

So far Cherry active still remains my number one liquid antioxidant supplement. Made from super concentrated Montmorency cherries and free of any sugars/sweetener/other nasties, it is unbelievably effective in avoiding post-exercise muscle aoreness that you get from damage to the muscle cells. And if it's producing that effect in your muscles it's going to be having beneficial effects elsewhere in the body.

As for actual vitamin supplements, vitamins A, C and E are your bricks and mortar antioxidants which you should be getting through plenty of fruit and veg (A and C) and nuts and seeds (E), but also you should look for them in a good multivitamin.

There are numerous other antioxidants you can supplement with, but for me there's two clear favourites, Resveratrol and Co-enzyme Q10.

Resveratrol is the protective antioxidant found in the skin of grapes, thought to be responsible in part for the mediterranean effect (why the french can drink more wine whilst having a lower rate of heart disease than us). It's particularly good for slowing the visible signs of ageing ie wrinkles and thinning skin and hair.

Co-enzyme Q10 is a fat soluble antioxidant so is of more benefit in protecting our fattest organ - the brain. Our brains are 60 per cent fat, which is why essential fats such as fish oils are so important to keep us sharp into old age. But so are antioxidants that can protect those fats from damage which is where CoQ10 comes in having been shown in numerous studies to help cognitive function and slow age-related mental decline. You might not be forgetting things yet, but it's never too early to start looking protecting your little grey cells!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Bedtime botox

In my anti-ageing recipe list I included getting plenty of sleep, something I'm sure most of us wish we had time to get more of but don't necessarily make an effort to get enough.

I remember as a child staying up til 9:30pm was a real treat, now it would be a treat to be in bed by 9:30! The reason children can and should sleep as long as they do is firstly that they are usually way more physically active than we are so they're physically worn out by 8pm, but also because at night is when their growth takes place. Generating new cells takes up a lot of energy which is why it happens when you're asleep and not using up your energy running about. But why's this relevant to slowing ageing?

True I'm not growing anymore (sadly!), but night time is also when the body creates new cells to replace those that are damaged, for example by the free radical damage I talked about yesterday that ages the body. The more free radical damage you're exposed to, the more sleep you need to repair it.

Over time if you don't get enough sleep the deficit between the two starts to show, and it doesn't take that long - just a week of late nights and I visibly age, but equally a couple of good lie ins can reverse the effect.

I appreciate the city lifestyle doesn't make it easy to get to bed early, but just one or two early nights a week can make a big difference, not just to how you look but to how young your body is on the inside. It might seem a bit tragic to be tucked up in bed by 10pm but you don't have to admit to it!

Free radical dodging

On a sunny day last week I saw an Asian girl walking round spitalfields with a parasol and gloves on to shield her from the sun. It wasn't exactly glaringly bright but she was obviously concerned about sun exposure and extremely pale. While this is of course extreme it is true that the sun ages your skin so reducing exposure slows down ageing, whilst in the converse going on sun beds and lying out in the sun excessively is a short cut to leathery skin later on.

The sun ages your skin by causing the generation of free radicals in the skin, these volatile molecules damage your cells and so age the body. Whilst I wouldn't recommend the parasol getup I saw, an spf moisturizer on your face and neck are a good idea as these area get the most sun exposure. But do try and expose some unprotected skin to some sunshine for 15 minutes a day to keep vitamin D levels up.

Free radical production isn't just triggered by the sun, so what are the other sources you should be avoiding to stay youthful and healthy?

Oxidized (fried/burnt) foods - so less barbecues and char grilled meats, go for steamed, roasted or lightly grilled foods.

Air pollution such as exhaust fumes. If you walk to work along a busy road or find yourself sat in non-moving traffic consider finding a less congested route into work. If you cycle in wear a mask and if you smoke give up immediately - smoking causes massive free radical damage in the body.

Pesticides and chemicals - pesticides found on non-organic fruit and veg as well as food additives and chemicals such as aspartame, can cause free radical damage and are totally unnatural so the body doesn't know how to process these. Eat organic whenever possible, wash fruit and veg thoroughly before eating it and avoid artificial preservatives and additives - food manufacturers have begun cutting these out more and more so they're not that tricky to avoid.

Chemical cleaning products - these can be full of harmful chemicals which you may inhale whilst using them. Switch to Ecover and other natural brands and ventilate your home when using chemicals eg cleaning or decorating.

The same applies for chemical moisturizers and beauty products which are all absorbed into the skin. Aim to avoid parabens, sulphates and petroleum based products. The easy way to do this is to switch to natural brands such as Liz Earle, Ren and Korres.

Electromagnetic radiation from routers, cordless phones and other wireless devices can generate free radicals. Turn them off when not in use and don't have these in your bedroom.

Breathing - even if you did nothing at all and lived in an oxygen tent, Michael Jackson style, your body would age, albeit it at a slower pace. This is because your body is constantly oxidising when it produces energy, generating free radicals. So every time you breathe you generate some oxidative damage.

Obviously you can't avoid breathing! but it does mean that very intensive exercise, that leads to increased respiration, does increase free radical damage in the body. This is why you need to up your intake of antioxidants and take particular care to avoid other sources of free radicals if you do a lot of exercise.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

It's all about the membranes

Picking up on last weeks blogs on keeping your body young as you pass the thirty year marker, I'm going to tick two elements off the list in one .. essential fats and water.

The reason to cover both of them together involves a bit of basic biology ... so please bare with me.

Your cell walls are basically a membrane made of fats. This membrane works very cleverly to allow nutrients and fluids to flow in and out of the cell in a controlled manner. The reason the membrane is made up of fats is that your cell contents is mainly cell plasma which is a liquid, and the fats make the membrane waterproof stopping the liquid contents of the cell spilling out rather than the flow being controlled by the membrane.

As your body is at least 60% water it's pretty important that your cell membranes are capable of holding water in the cells. This is why essential fats as so important for health, and in particular in keeping the body young and working properly. Without sufficient polyunsaturated fats (the kind that are more fluid and are used to make cell membranes) your cell membranes won't function as well as they should and won't be able to keep the cells full of liquid. Water is an essential input into numerous biochemical processes in the body rangeing from detoxification to fat burning, to regulating blood pressure, so without being able to hold enough water in your cells these functions will be impaired.

This also means that you need sufficient water intake - it's all well and good having a nice waterproof cell membrane, but if you don't drink enough water to keep your cell full of liquid it will become dehydrated and shrivel like a deflating balloon. This isn't just bad news in terms of cell function, but also shows up as visible ageing - wrinkles are caused by a combination of sugar hardening the fats in your cell walls and your cells shrinking from being not properly hydrated. Suffice to say both essential fats and water are key ingredients to avoid looking like an old leather bag!!

What does this mean in practice? Well these two are actually pretty easy to tick off the list:

Water intake for an adult is generally recommended at 1.5 - 2 litres daily, but if you're exercising alot you'll probably need more than that. Don't just drink it all in one go! Start with a glass on waking and spread it out during the day to keep your body hydrated at all times. If you're not used to drinking plain water start with diluted fruit juices and herbal teas.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in seeds, nuts, olives and oily fish. If you sprinkle nuts and seeds on your breakfast cereal/muesli, have some olive oil dressing on your salad at lunch and eat oily fish three times a week you'll be getting plenty.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Finding room for some Zen

The first topic I'm going to cover from yesterday's blog on keeping your body young is stress management. I know this sounds like some kind of irritating New Labourism, but it's actually something you really shouldn't neglect if you care at all about your health, and definitely if you want to stay young.

Most city folk have stressful lives - tough jobs, long days, egotistical bosses, busy social lives, irritating commutes, limited to no down time and possibly kids .... Who wouldn't feel stressed!

Active stress management isn't about giving all that up and going to live on a Kibbutz 'Eat, Pray, Love' style, however appealing that may be. Instead it's about accepting what can't be changed about your life whilst changing what you are in control of to make it less stressful.

For example, you might not be able to change the fact you work long hours but you can reduce the stress of it by not committing to early evening plans that you may be late for or have to cancel. Instead make plans later and if you can then leave nice and early make the most of it with a quick gym session or a bit of shopping beforehand.

Are you weighed down with your personal to do list? Rather than ruining your evenings trying to clear it, once a month schedule a relaxing Friday night in and then get up earlyish on Saturday morning and power through your list. Once you've made a good dent you'll feel more relaxed for the rest of the weekend. Whatever you do don't make the mistake of leaving chores til Sunday night, that's a terrible way to start the week!

Maybe your commute is stressful because you have to change at a busy tube station (Bank in rush hour is a real blood pressure riser). Can you take a different route or just get out and walk the second part of the route. Would the bus or boat be less stressful, even if it takes a bit longer it'll be worth it if you don't arrive home harried and grumpy.

It's obviously impossible to totally eliminate stress from a city life and this is why it's also key to put in your diary time for active relaxation. This is in contrast to passive relaxation - collapsing exhausted on the sofa at the end of the day. Instead it's scheduling some regular 'me time' where you switch off from day to day life and just do something enjoyable and relaxing. This could be for 10minutes a day (a relaxing bath, 10minutes of meditation or deep breathing or doing a face pack whilst you have e a cup of tea), for an hour a week (yoga class, massage, facial, spa experience, long relaxing walk in the park) or for a day a month (full spa day, relaxing weekend away, or just a day at home ignoring your to do list and watching old movies and pottering). Whatever you do try and be regular about it.

This kind of proper down time gives your nervous system a break by not stimulating it with the high brain activity associated with working or worrying about something. Whilst it might seem miles away when you're dashing around at work, over time active relaxation will help reduce the impact of this stress on your health and help you lead a happier longer life.

How to not end up looking like an old handbag!

Walking home from work yesterday I saw a lady with the same handbag as me, one that I know was only on sale fairly recently. Mine was in almost as new condition, but hers was all scuffed down the sides and looked like it had a couple of years of wear.

I'm possibly a bit obsessive in the care of my handbags and shoes, but I don't have an infinite clothing budget so I want them to last! However if all else fails I can buy a replacement bad when it wears out, something that isn't true for my body.

On day 1 we all get pretty much the same body and up til our mid twenties it keeps regenerating itself but from your thirties onwards it starts to wear out. This is when it becomes much more apparent who's looking after themselves and who isn't. Spare tires start appearing, as does grey hair, poor skin colour, dry or mousy hair, wrinkles and permanent under eye bags.

But just as you can keep a several year old handbag looking new with a bit of care, whilst others let their get old and worn, with a bit of effort you can keep your body young whilst others let themselves go to seed.

The key ingredients for anti-aging are antioxidants, sleep, water, essential fats, lack of stress, or active stress management, moderate exercise and avoiding pollutants/oxidants. If you want to stay young you need to put a bit of effort into keeping on top of all of these and I'll be giving some tips on each of them in the next few blogs.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Mamil spotting

They come in all different sizes and various bizarre colours, they can be spotted all over the city during the week and in the countryside on the weekend and over the last few years the population has grown exponentially .. what kind of weird wildlife is this? It is infact the rise of the Mamil, the phenomenon that is Middle Aged Men in Lycra! They're so prevalant they've evenly warranted an article in the bbc last year!

I actually think it's great if middle aged guys are taking up exercise, and cycling is a great way to keep fit, but they're not always pictures of health. I saw a fairly typical Mamil today, in a tasteful luminous yellow outfit, with skinny legs and arms but a very noticeable spare tyre stretching his lycra top!! The fact is that just cycling in it's own is not a complete exercise programme and it's important to incorporate other exercise such as weight training and full body exercise rather than thinking your daily bike ride is sufficient for keeping your body in top health.

If you've got a Mamil roll going on, it's not just time to mix up your exercise programme. It's also a sign that your diet and lifestyle are stressing your body out. Storing fat around the middle is a very strong sign that your body is producing too much cortisol, the hormone you produce when you're stressed. This encourages you to store weight near your organs to have ready energy reserves to deal with life endangering events. This is good if you're going to be eaten by a tiger, but in the long run dramatically increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Here are my top diet tips for for losing the Mamil roll:
- Stop eating sugar (sucrose, glucose, table sugar, maple syrup) and caffeine - these are major stimulants for cortisol production. This includes avoiding all biscuits, cakes and chocolate.

- Eat something within 60 minutes of waking, this stops your cortisol levels going to high in the morning and then crashing later in the day. Something small like a piece of fruit is a good idea if you're not hungry that early

- Eat four three portions of fruit and four portions of veg every day. The nutrients in fruit and veg actually encourage fat burning

- Don't eat saturated fats with starchy carbohydrates. this means if you're eating any meat or cheese you can't eat any bread, pasta, rice or potatoes with them. Instead keep those meals low carb and just have veggies plus fruit for pudding. This really helps minimize the amount of these fats that your body stores

- Cut down on beer and yeasty foods such as bread, switch to dry wine or clear spirits and have muesli instead of toast for breakfast

Monday, 12 September 2011

Blowing in the changes

I almost blew over on my way into work and with all the leaves dropping it definitely feels like autumn. With the seasons changing it's not just time to change your wardrobe but it's also a good idea to change your diet.

As the weather gets colder it's natural to crave more hot food and have less desire for raw food so instead of forcing yourself to keep eating crudites and salads it's good to pay attention to what you feel like eating and go for soups and stews if that's what you're drawn to. These are easier to digest and more sustaining and warming so help the body get through the winter months.

What should be in your veg box should also change. No more strawberries, courgettes and runner beans. It's now time for blackberries, plums, apples, squash, celeriac and mushrooms. Buying food labeled as grown in the UK is an easy way to make sure you're eating seasonally and also avoid adding unnecessary air miles to your shopping basket. It also helps get out of a food rut of eating the same meals over and over again. Instead buy what's in season and look up some new recipes that will use your ingredients.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


I'm annoyingly sensitive to chillies which means I can't eat too much of them and can't eat them raw (cooking takes out some of the cook), which is probably why I haven't blogged on the virtues of the chilli plant until now.

Although excessive chilli consumption is aggravating for the gut and can be too stimulating to the nervous system (chilli addiction is surprisingly common!!), the capsaicin family, to which the chilli plant belongs, has numerous beneficial properties, including anti-inflammatory properties and increased blood flow. They can also thin respiratory mucus helping clear lungs so can be beneficial in asthma and are great for clearing a cold or catarrh.

Whilst I don't eat chillies that often, one of my favourite recipes actually includes them. It's Delia Smith's Pad Thai recipe, which makes a great comforting quick dinner and is a crowd pleaser for hungry friends. It's also gluten and dairy free and low fat so pretty much ticks all the boxes so I thought I'd share the recipe.

I halve the chilli content and would recommend you do the same unless you like your food nice and spicy. I also double the quantities as Delia seems to be catering for not particularly hungry guests!!!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Probiotics or Prozac?

A friend of mine was telling me recently about how much her diet effects her mood, something I think a lot of people are unaware of. However if most people on a healthy diet were given a high sugar, high fat, low nutrient diet for a couple of weeks their mood would become depressed to some degree.

But it's not just the food you eat that's affecting your mood but also the bacteria growing in your gut. According to new research published inThe Economist, admittedly done on rats not humans, taking probiotics improved their mood and drive and reduced their levels of stress hormones.

So should doctors be prescribing probiotics rather than prozac? Well possibly (along with tyrosine and other nutrients needed for neurotransmitter production). But the link made in the article of most interest to me was that the over-prescription of antibiotics could be responsible for increasing the incidence of depression.

Certainly I think that doctors prescribe, and patients happily take, antibiotics without being fully aware of the possible repercussions. Every time you take probiotics you are killing off your gut bacteria, both good and bad, but the bad bacteria regrow more quickly so antibiotics make them more likely to take over. This can lead to gut disturbances, reduced immunity (your gut bacteria are a key part of your immune defence) and in depressed mood. Multiple courses over several years will put you at most risk, and any course of antibiotics should be followed by a course of probiotics, even just to lift your spirits.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Memory lane

During my Jedward inspired clear out I found a load of old food diaries that I kept when I first became aware of the impact of diet on health and started trying to change my diet, many years ago.

I never thought I ate that unhealthily but, whilst I was pleased to see I was eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, I was shocked at the amount of dairy, wheat, sugar and caffeine I was consuming - I struggled to find a day that didn't include all four at least once (some days each meal was dairy + wheat based).

Given how rubbish I feel if I eat these foods now it's amazing to me how I even functioned, although I think I was using caffeine as a major crutch to keep me going.

The fact is that at the time I thought how I felt was normal, that not being able to stay awake in the afternoon was the hazards of a desk job and that my other health issues (digestive and skin) were unrelated to the huge amounts of wheat and dairy I was eating.

Now I often get comments on how virtuous I am with my food and the amount of self-control I must exercise. The fact is that the improvement in my health when I fundamentally changed my diet was so marked that it made it impossible to go back. The idea of feeling that tired and bloated is so hideous it can't be worth eating even the most delicious cake!

But I didn't change my diet overnight, it evolved gradually and that's the trick - start with small manageable changes and as you start to feel better you'll be motivated to make more until your diet eventually looks unrecognizable!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Doing the Dukan

I thought low carb diets had died out with the nineties but they seem to be back in vogue with the popularity of the new Dukan diet.

Whilst low-carb diets can be very effective for short term weight loss their long term health benefits are questionable, particularly being high in saturated fats, low in fibre and low in antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C.

Atkins actually recognised this and improved on his diet in later books placing a greater emphasis of fruit and vegetables and minimising saturated fat intake. However the Dukan diet is infact a more extreme interpretation with absolutely no fruit or vegetables included in the initial phase and then still only allowed 5 days a week in the subsequent phase.

This leaves you with a menu of meat, fish, eggs and low fat dairy products and pretty much nothing else! Not exactly a balanced diet!

Obviously it's the quick results that attract dieters to such an extreme regimen, but if you are tempted to follow a low-carb diet I'd strongly recommend including at least 6 portions of vegetables daily plus topping up your vitamin C levels with lemon and lime juices. However thin it gets you, no diet is worth cutting out the most health giving foods on the planet. Plus, no one ever got overweight by eating too many greens!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Your personalized diet plan

Today was a particularly hectic day and, having picked up some sushi on my way into work, I found that come lunchtime I didn't feel like anything that substantial, particularly as I didn't have alot of time and had to eat at my desk. So instead of the sushi I had some fruit salad with natural (soya) yoghurt and seeds - which was filling enough to keep me going and easy enough to digest so as not to slow me down in the afternoon. Don't worry, the sushi didn't go to waste - I just kept it in the fridge at work and then took it home for an early dinner when I could enjoy it uninterrupted.

The thing is on another day fruit and yoghurt wouldn't have been substantial enough at all and I'd need a bigger lunch. This is because how much and what you should eat at any given time all depends on hundreds of factors ... how much sleep you've had, how much water you've drunk, how much fruit and veg you've eaten (if you don't eat enough your body will keep you hungry to increase your intake of vitamins), how active you've been, how much stress you're under, if you're fighting off a cold etc etc.

So when I hear of people following a strict diet which tells them exactly how many calories to eat, or what to have in each meal every day it frustrates me. I'm all in favour of guiding people and suggesting healthy options, but no-one can possibly know what your body needs at any given time more than your body itself. The key is just to listen to the cues. For example the other day I had a very healthy lunch with rice, vegetables and some pulses. However at the end I felt distinctly unsatisfied - full in my stomach but also definitely needing to eat more. So I tuned into that feeling and thought about different foods I might like and through that realised that my body was craving protein.

I went straight down to the health food store to grab a bounce ball and a Sojade yoghurt and immediately felt alot better having eaten them both - no diet plan could have told me that was what I needed at that moment. Obviously if you find yourself craving Oreos or Ben and Jerrys that isn't a cue you should be following! But by tuning into your appetite and paying attention to foods you're attracted to you are much more likely to give your body the nutrients it needs to feel satisfied and for optimal health.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Unlikely inspiration

I never thought I'd ever be inspired by the words of Jedward, but having accidentally switched on Celebrity Big Brother I saw them scrubbing the BB house, declaring "A clean house means a clear mind".

Whilst I'm generally not a hoarder, I still occasionally like to have a proper clear out to make sure I'm not hanging onto anything I don't need. Usually starting with my slightly over full wardrobe as well as getting rid of any books, CDs or gadgets that I don't use/need.

I feel much more relaxed once I've decluttered, but it's not just the wardrobe and study that needs the occasional overhaul.

Overtime most people will accumulate various tins and sauces that get shoved to the back of the shelf and slide past their use by date unnoticed. My wonderful grandmother had butter from the world war II butter mountain still in her freezer in the eighties!

If you're not religious at having a good spring clean your cupboards could probably have some nasty surprises lurking at the back, so it might be time for a clear out.

Firstly get rid of anything passed it's use by date, then throw out anything that's in date but just isn't appealing to you so you'll probably never cook (or give to your flat mate/neighbour/dog). For oils, smell/taste and throw out at the slightest hint of rancidity, also make sure you're not storing them anywhere near a source of heat, eg. Next to your hob or in a cupboard next to your oven.

Do the same in your fridge, then empty it entirely and give it a good clean. Also check your freezer - dump anything that's been in there over a year, and see if it needs defrosting.

If you find your cupboards are now bare, stock up on some fresh goodies, and if you found you threw a lot of jars and sauces away make a note to only buy the smallest jars so you'll waste less next time you have a clear out.

I'm very anti waste, so for any none food items I make use of the following rather than putting them in the bin:
Clothes - if they're still in good nick, give to friends, if a bit worn put in the charity bins at the supermarket where you can also donate old shoes, bed linen and towels
Books/DVDs - very easy to sell second hand on amazon, or donate to your local library
Unwanted gifts - anything brand new is easily saleable on ebay, anything of low value or used can be given away on freecycle

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Sofa time

I'm not a big TV watcher but I do still enjoy an evening on the sofa watching the box every now and then. It's nice to have some sofa snack food to go with my TV viewing, but as per yesterday's blog it doesn't have to be unhealthy junk food to go with the junk TV - there are plenty of enjoyable snack foods that aren't full of saturated fats and salt.

The problem when you're eating and watching TV is that you can end up eating way more food than you really need, which is why I generally avoid it and don't recommend it to clients. When I am sofa snacking the key is to keep off the carbs ... Nachos are my total downfall, but there are plenty of other tasty lower carb sofa snacks:

- hummus, guacamole or salsa with carrot and cucumber sticks to dip
- fruit bowl to pick at - strawberries, grapes, melon sticks, have on it's own or serve with greek or soya yoghurt, or for a more decadent snack melt some dark chocolate and use it as a fondu dip
- unsalted nuts and dried fruit mix
- healthy flour free cookies such as these peanut butter cookies from elena's pantry
- have Appletizer, instead of coke or diet coke or make some virgin cocktails with fresh fruit juices instead of having a glass of wine

Another top tip to bring the grazing to an end, is to snack til you're satisfied and then brush your teeth - once you're minty fresh you definitely won't want to keep snacking.

Cauliflower toast for breakfast?

I was recently discussing healthy diets with Ms Haribo and she mentioned a recent diet she'd seen in a magazine where it suggested making some kind of fake toast out of cauliflower as it was 'less fattening'. Now I'm all in favour of healthy eating but I'm also adamant that food should be tasty and enjoyable - and cauliflower toast just doesn't sound appealing!

Even though some people will turn their noses up at 'healthy options' as tasteless or bland, the truth is that pretty much everyone likes healthy food, just not all of it. Most people have some types of fruit and vegetables that they enjoy and a lot of people enjoy grilled fish or stir fried chicken.

The key is to identify what healthy foods and meals you enjoy and have those so that healthy eating becomes an enjoyable experience.

I know that even if they weren't healthy some of my favourite meals would stay the same:
Pasta (gluten free) with tomato based sauces
Babyleaf salad with sliced avocado, baby tomatoes and vinaigrette
Cashew and vegetable stir fry
Vegetable soup and a crusty wholemeal roll (gluten free)
Veggie chilli with a jacket potato
Nut roast with gravy, roasted sweet potatoes and peas
Homemade Nori rolls with brown rice, avocado, hummous and spinach
Toast with no sugar nut butter and st dalfour jam
Fruit salad sprinkled with chopped nuts
Stewed fruit with cinnamon and custard (made with rice milk and vanilla essence, no sugar)

By planning to make healthy meals that you enjoy and keeping your cupboards stocked with the right ingredients to make them you'll be less likely to reach for the cookie jar or order a takeaway without feeling deprived.

It's also a good idea to keep something healthy in the freezer at all times so when the fridge is empty you've always got something good to eat.

If you're not sure where to start, take a walk through the fruit and veg section in your supermarket and add anything that you know you enjoy to your basket. When you get home look up some recipes that incorporate these ingredients and get cooking!