Monday, 31 October 2011

The Quantum Leap 

Dear NITC readers, here is another guest blog from a friend I affectionately call Zen Dog.  She will be doing a few blogs whilst I am away which will be more focused on Chinese Medicine, yoga, massage and, I am sure, many other interesting things thrown in!




Hi NITC readers!  I thought I would start my guest blogging with a subject close to me, that subject being's a tiny bit longer than normal but hopefully interesting....

I started to have acupuncture a few years ago for back pain issues and was so amazed at the results that, to cut a long story short, I am now studying it!

One of the things I have found is that acupuncture has had a very positive effect on many people's lives, but they are not sure why. I'd like to just share with you how I was able to make sense of acupuncture. 

If we start at the very beginning then we know that the body's building blocks are cells and cells produce energy as they actively do their jobs to keep us alive and functioning. This energy is called qi in Chinese medicine.  
Changes to our health, in the very beginning, are said to occur at this cellular level. The changes are then reflected in the energy of those cells. 

Stress on cells can occur through things such as overuse of a certain area of the body, long term emotional frustration, changes in environment and also diet.   These issues cause contraction of the cells and they start to dysfunction and simply not work effectively, with potential that they eventually stop being able to rid themselves of cellular waste.  This tends to make them particularly tired and irritated just as we can become tired and irritated when stuck on a platform filling up with people but not going anywhere during tube delays! Unlike the tube though, we are very fortunate that the body is an amazing feat of biological engineering and has an innate mechanism for self healing. Every second of every day systems are running checks on things like pressure, volume, chemical levels and temperature to then send in help where necessary to maintain a balance so we can function optimally. This balance is called homeostasis in the west and yin/yang in the east. 

The closest related theories that gel with the approaches of Chinese Medicine are those of the quantum physicist. Quantum physics describes everything as interrelated and a continuum. A change in one will inevitably cause an effect in another and incidents cannot be isolated.  So after quite detailed questioning, your acupuncturist will be thinking along the following lines; Where could this issue have come from? Why is it affecting this person this way? Do they have symptoms of any progression of where the next likely place to experience changes could be? How can we help nourish this energy to facilitate a positive outcome?  Is there anything underlying that keeps making this issue arise?

Now to the needles! The energy, or qi, of the body can be accessed via the meridians. There are 12 main ones running up and down the body. These meridians are the gateway to being able to tweak the energy - using needles. Needles are not the cure. Needles facilitate the bodys healing mechanism when placed on specific points that are linked to the presented condition of the patient.  The aim is for your qi to be in a healthy state and flowing evenly around the body.

The tradition of Acupuncture is over 3000 years old and the premise was to maintain wellness over treating illness. In the west, we are used to not really thinking about our bodies until they are sick and there is a physical manifestation that we can label  and symptoms start affecting our daily living. 

If we try to listen to small changes then the potential big changes may not get so big.  And this could be be true for any area of life! The quantum world is in our hands... 

Zen Dog

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Time for a break

I happen to love working in the city, but it certainly has some downsides and after a long stretch without a holiday I'm certainly feeling like I need a break. Thankfully our regulator, the FSA, requires we take two weeks consecutive leave each year so I now have to take a two week holiday ... drats!

For me this doesn't just mean a break from the day job, but also from all things Nutrition so I'll be logging off for a couple of weeks. I have however lined up a couple of fab guest bloggers whilst I'm off so there won't be total radio silence. I hope you enjoy their blogs.

In addition I've finally setup a recipe page on my site
, so you might want to take a look and add a couple of tasty yet healthy recipes to your repetoire. One of the keys to adopting a healthy lifestyle is finding healthy meals that you enjoy the taste of - I'm totally against eating food that doesn't taste good. I've certainly had a few failures, but I've only uploaded the recipes I and my friends have enjoyed. And, as always, if you have any healthy recipes to share, or any old favourites you need help healthing up just send them in.

Ciao for now

ps Happy Halloween!

Being ego-friendly - why environmentalism has good effects on how you feel

Greetings NITC readers ... today's guest blog is brought to you from the wonderful Lisa, a totally green goddess and a contagiously happy bunny.

Most people equate environmentalism with not having fun, going without things and generally having a hair-shirt mentality. But this certainly doesn't have to be the case and I see myself as living proof that you can have varied experiences and laugh a lot at the same time as minimising harm to the world. So I am going to talk about some of the ways I have become a bit greener and how they have added value to my life.

There is of course no such thing as a carbon free lunch, but there is lots you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your shopping habits. As I'm sure you all know, reducing or stopping eating (particularly red) meat has health benefits, but also cuts down on your carbon footprint. Farming cattle causes the most environmental damage of any non-human species, causing deforestation, methane production and it just doesn't make sense to expend so much energy on growing soya and other products to feed to animals that we have to keep feeding to eventually eat. I stopped eating meat in 2003 and as well as feeling smug about my environmental impact reducing, I have been continuously healthy, spend less on food and never get food poisoning!

As the saying goes, the fruit does not fall far from the tree, but with so much of our fruit and vegetables being imported from thousands of miles away this is often not the case. Somehow it feels instinctively right to eat things that are in season; there is nothing better than a good squash or pumpkin soup now as it starts to get nippy outside or a crunchy salad at the height of summer. Plus eating things that are seasonally specific reduces pointless expending of carbon on flying or shipping things long distances. There is nothing that annoys me more than visiting the supermarket and seeing apples from New Zealand on the shelves, when the UK has well over 1000 native apple varieties. Plus different varieties are harvested at different times and some of the popular varieties can be stored easily for months to ensure that we never go without. It doesn't mean you can never have a treat or the odd exception, but with minimal changes to shopping habits you can vastly cut down on environmental impact. I find the easiest way is to have a vegetable box delivered weekly by a company that commits to the lowest possible food miles. This means guilt free eating, exposure to seasonal vegetables that challenge my cooking skills and taste buds, as well as a lovely present to open on my doorstep once a week. Jerulsalem artichoke burger anyone?!

If we were meant to fly we would've sprouted wings and there are a surprising number of places you can get to within a day without having to experience the joys of Easyjet. On average, travelling by rail results in about a third of the CO2 emissions of the equivalent domestic or short-haul flight in Europe. I have recently returned from the best holiday I have every had travelling around Spain and even visiting Morocco without my feet leaving the ground once. In addition to the means of travel having less impact on the environment, I saw wonderful sights that I wouldn't have seen if I'd just gone direct to one location, experienced no delays and felt an enormous sense of achievement putting together my itinerary. The best website for finding out how you can get anywhere in the world is:

These tiny changes benefits the environment, but also seem to benefit me. I would describe myself as one of the most contented and happy people I know and abstaining from eating meat, flying, driving and minimising my waste is part of that rather than in spite of it.

Hope it works for you!


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Eating with the ancestors

During my rapture party to celebrate the world not ending on Friday (it was meant to be the apocolypse) I was asked a couple of nutrition questions by two different guests.

It's not unusual for me to be asked nutrition questions at any time and I'm always happy to answer them even when everyone around me is partying! But I thought I'd share these both with you also as they were both interesting questions and had related answers.

The first question was 'Do you think adults should drink milk?' and the second was 'Is it good for you to eat tropical fruit?'

Milk is very much a part of the British and American diet so it may seem odd to think we shouldn't drink it, but that's very much my opinion. Firstly non-organic milk can contain all sorts of antibiotic and hormone residues due to the nature of modern day farming, and secondly it clearly isn't meant for adult consumption.

Milk is mother natures amazing way of feeding babies on a nutritious easy to digest liquid diet. But once you're too old for breast feeding you're too old for milk - your digestive system changes to deal with solids, meaning alot of adults are lactose intolerant without even realising. And that's just human milk, if we're not able to cope with that then we clearly shouldn't be drinking the milk of another animal.

Just think of your ancestors - they may well have spent time and energy hunting an animal, but once they caught it do you think they'd start breast feeding from it? Ewww, clearly not!

Thinking of what your ancestors wouldn't have eaten is a good way to logically work out which foods we should be eating less of. Certainly processed foods, fizzy drinks, artificial sweeteners and sugar, other than sugars found naturally in fruit, would all be off the menu. But even within fruit there are types we would and wouldn't have eaten.

If you have ancestors from a tropical climate they would have eaten and been suited to plenty of tropical fruit, but our ancestors here in the UK wouldn't have been eating papayas and mangos. They would have eaten wild fruits such as blackberries, wild strawberries and damsons and more recently orchard fruit such as plums, apples, pears and cherries.

These are all much lower in sugar than tropical fruit so we're not as predisposed to digest sweeter fruit as our caribbean counterparts. This also applies to dealing with any sugars as we wouldn't have had sugar cane, which means an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria and yeasts such as candida is pretty common in the UK.

In short, yes in an ideal diet we wouldn't eat any milk/dairy products or tropical fruit, amongst other things. But that's not to say you can never have them - sticking to the 80/20 rule means not having them 80 per cent of the time and then 20 per cent of the time eating whatever you fancy regardless of what your ancestors would have eaten. Which is why, having answered these questions, I promptly tucked into the cheese board!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Can stilton make you stupid?

In the film Limitless the main character manages to access the large proportion of his brain capacity that is supposedly unused by taking a special drug and thereby becomes super intelligent. The film is clearly ridiculous, but surprisingly enjoyable, and Ms Haribo was at pains to point out that the whole premise is sheer nonsense.

But what if you could alter how effective your brain is, thereby becoming smarter without having to take some illegal (and entirely fictitious) drug?

Well you can ... Just by eating! As per my blog last week, food can have surprisingly significant effects on the body including on brain function. Concentration, synapse function and neuron condition can all be affected by what you eat speeding up the connections you make between brains cells, thereby making you smarter.

I remember getting clued into this fact quite early on and eating a tremendous amount of fish in the run up to my exams at university! It wasn't a very scientific experiment and I'm not sure it helpeds but plenty of evidence suggests the benefits of essential fats on brain function.

This probably won't be news to you, although if you're not a lover of fish you may want to consider taking a fish oil supplement.

What you might not be aware of is that eating the saturated fats found in animal products such as meat, cheese and eggs can prevent your body from processing the good fats in your diet. Therefore eating cheese can actually reduce the positive effects of eating oily fish.

Water is also super important - your brain cells produce energy in the same way as every other cell in your body - by combining water with carbohydrate in the presence of oxygen. If you're dehydrated your brain cells won't have as much energy and so will be less effective.

As far as specific vitamins go Coq10 is one of my top picks for protecting the brain from damage and ageing, unfortunately there's not enough in food to make a big difference so I take mine in combination with an essential fat supplement in Eskimo brainsharp.

Other fat soluble antioxidants - such as Vitamin D and Vitamin E are also important to protect the delicate fats in the brain (your brain is 60per cent fat). Vitamin D is found once again in oily fish but also eggs and dairy products. Vitamin E is found in avocados, buts seeds, pulses, rice, oats, such as chickpeas and eggs.

So a dinner of avocado starter, salmon and brown rice is great brain food whilst a pizza and a beer won't be getting you on Mastermind!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Guts for glory

Generally in sport it pays to be lean, and dropping even a few spare pounds can make a noticeable improvement in performance. Djokovic triumphed at Wimbledon this year having lost a few pounds on a gluten free diet and Layton Hewitt cited losing weight as a key factor in his successful comeback.

But there are some exceptions ... and tonight's American Football game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers featured some excellent examples!

Whilst most of the players looked muscular but athletic, a few of the defensive players had some substantial spare tyres! Despite all the kit they just didn't look like athletes and certainly weren't healthy looking. Top of the charts was J'Marcus Webb of the bears, weighing in at 333 pounds - 3 times my weight!

But these players aren't accidentally this heavy - to be a defensive block you need to be hard to knock over and basically act like a human wall ... being light on your feet is of no help!

What all this illustrates is that being sporty doesn't necessarily equate to being healthy, even though I think a lot of people think they do. Infact in England sport and unhealthy habits often go hand in hand, rugby teams post-match pub crawls, rowers post-training fry ups and generally eating large amounts of sugary foods in the name of 'carb loading'.

Being sporty is great, but just because you're burning off more calories than the lazybones at the desk next to you doesn't mean you can eat more chocolate or biscuits.

Certainly it's important to up your calories if you're training alot but not through loads of sugar - infact the more you train the higher nutrient intake you need so eating the empty calories in junk food is counter productive.

But there is one exception to this which gives you an opportunity to satisfy your sweet tooth. Post intensive exercise (60minutes plus) you should have a high GI recovery snack within 30minutes to replace glycogen in the muscles and reduce recovery time.

Alot of sports people will use sports drinks, but if you fancy a sweet treat then this is the time to eat something sugary. It should still be low-fat so could be a sugary cereal (frosties, crunchy nut), white toast with jam, a low-fat muffin, sweetened yoghurt or even sweets (yes even Haribo!). As a guide this snack should contain one gram of carbs for every kilo of body weight, per hour exercised. So for me that would be 51g of carbohydrate after a one hour spinning class (I weight 51kg).

The good news is that this post-workout snack won't just improve your recovery time, by reducing exercise related fatigue, it can also help bring down the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is produced in response to intensive exercise. Cortisol encourages weight gain round your waist, so doing a lot of intensive exercise can infact encourage central weight gain and by having a sweet treat after exercise you're less likely to develop one of the substantial guts that I saw at tonight's game - sweet!

ps the Bears won :-)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Banana drama

My beloved's favourite fruit is the humble banana and he eats one almost every day, so during a recent trip to the supermarket he seemed particularly perplexed when I put one single banana in my basket rather than a whole bunch! When quizzed I pointed out that I only wanted one and that I don't eat the same fruit every day.

Whilst I often extoll the benefits of varying your food, it turns out there's a particular reason not to eat huge amounts of bananas ... coming surprisingly from the Nuclear Threat Initiative think tank. They've started measuring radiation in Bananas ... no seriously! Using the Banana Equivalent Dose.

It turns out that Bananas are naturally radioactive ... but don't panic you don't have to avoid them - 400 (roughly hot docs annual banana intake) is the equivalent of a flight from London to New York. You'd have to eat 20 million to get radioactive poisoning, so I'm not recommending you stop eating them if you enjoy them ... it just serves as an amusing reminder that even healthy foods can be harmful in high doses.

It's not just bananas - there has been a case of someone dying from drinking excessive quantities of carrot juice due to vitamin A poisoning and someone dying from kidney failure from drinking 6 litres of water daily.

It's unlikely any of you would be so foolish but it is a caution to not get carried away with the latest food fads. There are always the latest superfood of the moment ... goji berries, acai, green tea, and it's great to incorporate these into your diet .. but just a sprinkle here or a handful there ... not huge amounts everyday!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Sickly sweet

Watching Kirstie Alsopp's Homemade Britain this evening reminded me how much baking and afternoon tea is a large part of our British food culture, but also just how much sugar goes into all of it. Just watching the amount of sugar she poured into her damson jam made my teeth rattle. The high sugar content is sadly necessary to preserve the fruit and was a discovery used, before freezers were invented, as a way to be able to eat fruit out of season - as a child I would love eating plums bottled in sugar syrup from my mums garden as a winter pudding.

Sadly becoming gluten, dairy and generally sugar free pretty much ruled out afternoon tea or eating preserves ... but having always been determined not to miss out whilst I changed my diet, I have persistently tried to replace my favourite comfort foods with healthier alternatives.
Whilst refined fruit sugars, concentrated fruit juices and fructose based syrups, such agave syrup, are much less addictive than regular sugar and have less of a disregulating effect on your blood sugar, they are still super concentrated sugars so shouldn't be used with abandon. Still they are the saviour of trying to bake healthily and I am forever thankful for the wonderful people at St Dalfour for coming up with their delicious fruit juice sweetened james.

As well as using healthier sugars, there are other ways to reduce the baddie content of your baking. Cooking with seed oils, such as grapeseed, will reduce the saturated fat intake significantly. Adding nuts and seeds to your ingredients or cooking with nut flours you can up the protein content, again slowing the release of sugars from the cakey goodies in your stomach. Using recipes containing fruit or dried fruit will also up the fibre content, again slowing digestion and keeping you full for longer.

I don't have the patience to try and come up with genius no sugar, gluten and dairy free cake recipes, but my baking hero, Elena of Elena's Pantry, has posted a vast number of healthier cake and cupcake recipes - her banana cupcakes are a wonderful Sunday afternoon treat with a nice cup of rooibos tea.

If you don't have a sweet tooth then that's great, but if you are partial to some cake or a scone then I thoroughly recommend trying some of her recipes - they may be a bit less sweet than you're used to but they are still super tasty and hit the spot for an afternoon treat. They'll also go down a treat with kids, who'll be none the wiser, but alot healthier, for not having the sugar hit.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A little bit of magic

For all my criticism of celebrity diets I think there's a valuable lesson in some of the startling transformations that grace the pages of the Z list gossip mags. Not that we should all follow these extreme diets, but just of the immense power and transformative effects of food on the body.

Changing what you eat can change your appearance - your fat levels, muscle mass, skin and hair - but all this is reflecting significant changes within your body. Through changing your diet you can change your biochemistry - altering your metabolism, immune function, detoxification and even how you think and feel.

But the changes don't have to be extreme to have an effect - increasing daily water intake by half a litre, adding a palmful of nuts to your mid morning snack, eating a carrot a day, swapping your morning cereal for muesli, having soy or rice milk in your tea - all these changes can affect your body in ways you can see or feel.

Sometimes the effects of making simple dietary changes can be so profound it can feel like magic ... it's not magic - it's science ... but it's just as wonderful.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Protein pitfalls

I pretty much avoid junk food, but I’m not averse to some mental junk food … whether it’s in the form of an episode of TOWIE or a copy of heat magazine. Quite frankly city life can be all a bit serious, so I think we all need a bit of escapism, and if you can turn to a gossip mag for a bit of relief rather than a packet of hobnobs, then that can only be a good thing.

I generally don’t buy Heat or Grazia … my friends frequently pass them on to me … so apologies for being behind the times on the Z list news, but the copy of heat I happened to get my hands on had a couple of high protein celeb diets that I wanted to comment on.

The first was Jodie Marsh’s extreme high protein regime, that she followed to become a bodybuilder. This was based on 7 protein shakes a day, rather than eating “normal food”. When not training she was allowed berries, rice cakes, egg whites, apples and brown rice … all healthy in themselves but clearly not a healthy balanced diet. It’s true to get the extreme results she did you need to follow a high protein diet, but cutting out whole good groups such as fat and carbohydrates is not healthy, and not eating “normal food’ can lead to a difficult relationship with food and eating in the future.

Next up was “Cheryl’s drastic red-carpet diet”, whilst typically vague on details, the crux of it seems to be living off protein shakes and fruit and veg juices for two weeks whilst using diet soft drinks and smoking to keep hunger at bay … again high protein and low in everything else, although at least the juices would be bringing in some much needed antioxidant vitamins.

High protein regimes are pretty popular amongst celebs who want to shed some weight for a red carpet event, and as I’ve blogged previously I think a higher protein regime is better than a calorie restrictive one for a short term effect. However following this kind of regime repeatedly in the long run can have some serious health consequences, taxing the kidneys and adrenal glands and acidifying the body leading to thinner and weaker bones and eventually possible osteoporosis. Yoyo dieting also taxes the heart and can lead to future weight loss resistance so in the long-run can be counterproductive.

I’m not actually against moderate use of protein shakes – I think they can be a useful supplement to the diet, particular for people undertaking a lot of exercise, but alot of them are packed with artificial additives and sweeteners that your body really can do without. Instead I always suggest more natural whey supplements such as Reflex Natural Whey
y and Solgar Whey To Go Protein

For anyone embarking on a high protein diet I’d recommend keeping the saturated fats low (no egg yolks, no cheese, only low-fat cuts of meat and low-fat dairy products) whilst upping the healthy fats – eat fish and snack on nuts, seeds, olives and avocados. In addition include lots of non-starchy fruit and vegetables, cutting out root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, parsnips etc.), tropical fruit (bananas, mango, pineapple), grains and pulses. This is still pretty tricky to follow and not recommended for a long period of time or for anyone undertaking a lot of physical exercise, as it cuts out a large food group of starchy carbohydrates, but for a short-term diet it’s much healthier, and more sustainable, than living on a diet of protein shakes and cigarettes.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Granola goodness

It's getting easier and easier to eat gluten free both at home and out and about, and to my delight I discovered this weekend that one of my favourite pre-theatre restaurants, Pasta Brown in covent garden, have now started serving gluten free pasta for all their pasta dishes ... yum. This opened up a whole new part of the menu for me and I felt spoilt for choice.

One area where gluten free meals aren't so available are for brunch - most restaurants aren't yet serving gluten free bread with their breakfast options and muesli's and granola both contain gluten. This is a shame as usually these are usually the healthy brunch options and always the most appealing to me. Instead I usually end up with fruit salad and some eggs, which doesn't set me up nearly as well for the day.

But I refuse to let eating gluten and dairy free force me to go out without the yummiest of foods and so I set out to make some gluten free granola myself. So I adapted a recipe from The Kind Diet using rice flakes instead of oats and surprisingly, for a first-time recipe experiment, it actually turned out rather good and I served it up with some fresh raspberries and rice milk.

If you want to make some regular granola from this recipe, swap two cups of oats for the soaked rice flakes (don't soak the oat flakes) and bake for half the time the second time round.

Rice & Coconut Granola
Preheat the oven to 180C
Add 1 cup of water to 1 cup of rice flakes and leave to soak for 10 minutes (until the water is absorbed). Then spread out the soaked flakes on a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

Transfer the rice flakes to a bowl, add the following and mix well:
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup goji berries
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup flaked almonds

In a cup mix 1/4cup agave syrup, 1/8 cup grapeseed oil and 1tsp vanilla essence. Pour over the rice flake mix and stir thoroughly.

Spread the mixture over a fresh baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Stir around on the sheet and then bake for another 10 minutes until golden.

Take out the oven and leave to cool. Put in an air tight container and shake in 1/4 cup of ground flax seeds.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Drink dodging

In my two days of bug imposed sofa time I caught up on some proper TV junk ... most of it was really not worth watching or blogging on, but bizarrely I did learn something new and nutrition related.

During one of many 'Keeping up with the Kardashians' episodes that blurred into each other I was surprised to find out that Kim Kardashian is pretty much teetotal. Surprised partly because I assumed most of the Kardashian craziness was alcohol fuelled but also because it's still not that common for young A-listers to be openly booze free, unless it's been forced on them through rehab.

When quizzed as to why she doesn't drink she gave pretty much my answer for it ... she doesn't like waking up hungover and then not enjoying or making the most of her day because of feeling jaded. Now I know some of you lucky individuals don't suffer with hangovers, but it's pretty rare for a boozy night out not to take the shine off the next day for most of us. It's just that for some people that will seem like a worthwhile trade off and for others it doesn't. That's a personal choice, and in the same way that I respect everyone's right to eat KFC I also respect everyone's right to a hangover!

Sadly, if you do decide not to drink, not everyone will respect you're decision and peer pressure to drink is still pretty prevalent. Even the lovely Kim was pressured into drinking by her friends only to embarrass herself and then feel thoroughly wretched the next day (we've all been there!).

Over the years I've used various strategies to dismiss pressure to drink and thought i'd share them incase any of you are trying to cut back, but finding it hard to say no. Even if you're not going teetotal completely, it doesn't mean you can't use it as a reason not to drink on the nights you want off - particularly if you want to avoid drinking at work functions - saying your teetotal nips the issue in the bud, whereas saying yes to just one drink usually leads to more being poured.

1. Play it polite .... when offered an alcoholic drink say no thank you politely and request a specific non-alcoholic beverage that you'd enjoy instead. If your host has manners they'll be delighted to get your drink whatever it is.

2. Play it mysterious ... if your host is still pressing drinks on you just say, 'Sorry I don't drink' and leave it at that. Some people's sense of etiquette will mean they won't question further, some may ask why and you can keep playing it mysterious by saying 'I had to give up for health reasons' ... although some people may then assume you have AA membership!

3. Play the medication card ... 'I'm on antibiotics' or be less specific and just say 'I'm taking medication that I can't drink with'. Most people won't quiz you on medications so that's an easy one. If you'd rather not say you're taking medication say you're on a detox, but give it more credibility by saying your Nutritionist or Doctor suggested it - people are less likely to ask with this. Alternatively say you're training for a marathon, triathlon or other competitive event ... most people stop drinking in order to train properly - but if you don't even own a pair of running shoes then it won't be credible!

4. Be honest ... I usually tell people I don't drink because I gave up for health reasons a few years back, and once I realised how great it was to never be hungover, and also what a difference not drinking made to my overall health I decided never to take it up again - and that's the truth. I do occasionally drink, but only when I want to, which is pretty much less than once a month. Most people accept that answer and those who don't or still try and pressure me into drinking don't get much of my time and quickly give up.

If you really feel like it would be rude not to accept a drink, either at a company event or where your host would be offended, then accept the drink graciously and take a sip. Then leave it by your plate, or even better abandon it on a coffee table, and move back to soft drinks. When the waiters come by to top up they'll see your glass is still full and leave you be.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

NITC ... back from the dead

Howdy readers ... first up apologies for going AWOL ... I was laid up with a really nasty gastro bug apparently going around London nurseries right now. If you can avoid kiddy contact in the next week I'd recommend it.

This meant I was totally off food for a few days and basically kept myself conscious with a diet of water, sugary drinks and bouillon stock drink for salts. During my feverish, sugar induced delirium I at least had the sense to recognize that writing my blog would be a mistake. But I'm back .. and back on food, thank god.

So what do you think I'd fancy after three days off food ... I'd expect my usual comfort faves .. nachos, chips, chocolate. So I was surprised to find that when my appetite came back that what I really fancied was the bizarre, but healthy, combination of new potatoes with hummous, salad and avocado, plus some stewed fruit, and it was divine.

Odd yes, but actually after three days of sugar and no fruit and veg it's no surprise that my body was craving vitamin C. Not only do we need Vitamin C as an essential nutrient for our body's functions, but it is a also water soluble vitamin so not stored in the body - meaning you can get depleted pretty easily. Sugar is also an antagonist to Vitamin C ... it competes with Vitamin C for uptake into the body's cells ... so even though my Ribena has added vitamin C it's dubious how much help that was, given the amount of sugar in it.

You see your body is extremely clever and usually knows what it needs to get back into balance ... you just need to tune in and listen to it. This is why I often tell clients not to worry if they find they go a bit off track after being super healthy for a couple of months ... if you let yourself indulge, rather than constantly being restricted, you'll be surprised how quickly you tire of unhealthy junk and go back to wanting healthy foods.

Btw if you do get the horrid lurgy I'd recommend supplementing any sugary drinks with some fresh fruit juice if you can find someone kind enough to make you some.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Stew and sauna

Talk about changeable weather ... last Sunday it was too hot to wear anything other than beach wear and then this evening I was shivering in a suit and rain mac!

I'm no meteorologist so I'm afraid I've no great insight as to whether we're in autumn proper of it this random weather will continue, but as I've blogged on before extreme temperature fluctuations can be stressful on the body and seasonal changes can lead to low mood and impaired immunity.

This is when it's important to stay flexible in what you're eating and your lifestyle. If it's warm dress lightly and eat lightly - cold dishes and raw salads will keep you cool, along with plenty of water. But don't let yourself get caught out if the temperature drops - a spare jumper or cardigan is essential at the moment, along with fairly regular checking of to plan weather appropriate outfits.

As the weather cools it's important to keep the body warm - this enhances immune function, helping you fight off colds and flu, and also keeps your body relaxed and metabolism high. Layer up, and don't be caught without a coat. Eat warm protein rich foods that will keep you warm for hours - soups and healthy stews are great for this - I get my soups from EAT and stews from POD or Leon. Porridge is a great morning warmer, but if you don't fancy it have a cold breakfast with a nice hot mug of herbal tea.

Exercise is also great for keeping your temperature up - which is why regular moderate exercise makes you less likely to get ill. Another good way to boost your temperature is to have a regular steam or sauna - if your gym has one try and go in once a week over the winter months, it's wonderfully relaxing and you can justify it as a defence against winter bugs.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

To snack or not to snack

Yesterdays blog on avoiding blood sugar dips also ties in nicely with my current experiment to cut back on the snacks.

By combining slow digesting carbs, protein and fibre in every meal you're not just avoiding glazing ocer - by delaying a blood sugar low you're also delaying when you'll next feel hungry. As a result you might not find yourself reaching for a mid morning biscuit or afternoon chocolate bar.

If you get your meals properly balanced, and your pancreas is working as it should, then you should be going 4-5 hours between meals before your appetite kicks in.

So far my no snack experiment hasn't been entirely successful - I've had to snack once or twice each day, but I'm lasting longer between meals than previously and I've needed a lot less to tie me over to the next meal - just a few raw almonds.

That's not to say I'm anti-snacking - sometimes a substantial but healthy snack is just what your body needs. However if you're snacking when you're not hungry, or picking at food all day rather than eating proper meals then you need to break those habits.

Use your appetite as a guide and also be mindful that there are also occasions when you definitely should be snacking:

- under high stress. High stress disregulates your blood sugar levels so you're more likely to need something to keep you going between meals. Also stress suppresses digestion so smaller more frequent meals can be easier on the system.

- if you've got a long day. If most of us early starters ate our main meals every 5 hours dinner would be at 5pm! So a late afternoon snack is pretty much essential. It is also a good idea before a long commute home - a blood sugar low is not what you need on a packed stuffy tube.

- if you're a gym bunny or training at a serious level - eating protein and carbs after exercise is a must for recovery so have a snack if you're not about to have a meal. If you're burning off serious calories you'll also probably struggle to fit your intake into three meals and if you're trying to maximise performance/muscle gain then eating mini meals every three hours is one of the most effective strategies.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Big crash, the sequel

Today my diet was anything but a crash diet, eating out for both lunch and dinner. This isn't something I do often but it's not uncommon if you work in a client facing/schmoozing role.

Your body certainly won't think you're starving on that kind of diet, however you run the risk of another kind of crash ... a blood sugar crash. We've all been there ... struggling to stay awake in a meeting following a heavy lunch!

But with a bit of care in your menu choices you can avoid the post-lunch slumber and have a productive afternoon.

One of the main culprits for the post-lunch snooze is too many carbs, especially wheat. Skip the pasta, pizza, bread and go for new or sweet potatoes or rice. Also make sure you exercise some portion control - even a big plate of brown rice will send you to sleep. Limit yourself to the volume of a tea cup. If you're going to have pudding skip the carbs altogether with your starter and main, you'll get more than enough in any dessert.

Next make sure you have some protein - fish is a good choice when eating out, but meat, eggs or pulses will do. As a rough guide have a portion the size of your fist. This will slow down the digestion of the carbs in your meal avoiding a post-meal blood sugar crash.

Finally make sure you have some veggies - not just to help you see in the dark - but the fibre will again slow the digestion of your meal.

If it all goes wrong and you end up in a post-curry coma drink plenty of water and have a green tea - resorting to coffee or chocolate to perk you up will just line you up for another crash later on.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The big crash

I think most of us know that crash diets are just a quick fix, but they're still very tempting to resort to when you have a big event you want to look good for or a beach holiday looming. However crash diets should carry a serious health warning - THIS DIET MAY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH!

But losing spare weight is usually a good thing, so why the warning?

Well crash dieting usually involves severe calorie restriction, with diets for women of usually 1300 calories or less. Whilst you might accept some tiredness, light headedness, lack of concentration and headaches as a temporary side effect of following such a diet most people probably aren't aware of the long term impact, particularly on the thyroid gland.

You see when you severely cut your calories your body thinks you're being starved and so it slows down your metabolism to help sustain you on a low calorie diet. The way it does this is by suppressing thyroid function reducing your production of thyroid hormones.

When you go back to a normal calorie intake your thyroid hormone production goes back up, but repeated dieting can overtime lead to a general suppression of the thyroid gland. This then causes weight gain, which becomes increasingly difficult to reverse, leading to people resorting to even stricter diets. This is why people often find diets that used to work for them are less effective when they try them again at a later date.

Under functioning thyroids are increasingly common with a lot of hypothyroidism undiagnosed and large numbers of individuals with borderline hypothyroidism which won't be treated with thyroxine.

Whilst it's possible to restore thyroid function with proper nutrition and lifestyle changes, it can be a fairly slow recovery - much better to skip the crash diet and not get to that point in the first place.

But I'm a realist and I know that whatever health warning I give some NITC dieters will still resort to a crash diet. In my opinion a low-carb diet is actually a much better idea than a calorie restrictive diet. True, the weight lost will be mostly water which come back on when you eat carbs again, but you don't have to restrict calorie intake and the body only detects food scarcity in the first few days whilst you move into ketosis, plus you won't be hungry. Alternatively a detox diet can be a healthy way to lose weight more rapidly whilst actually having some positive effects on health.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

True thirst

I'm always experimenting with my diet or supplements to see what works and what doesn't. Last week I was experimenting with snacking, or rather not snacking, working on making my meals as sustaining as possible to keep my blood sugar stable til the next meal.

I was relatively successful by combining fibre, protein and low glycemic carbohydrates in every meal, but more on that later.

I'm usually pro snacking, but I found a few advantages to not eating between meals, the main one being spending at lot less time eating, but also breaking the habit of boredom grazing - something I'm definitely guilty of.

Something that I hadn't anticipated was that I started drinking a lot more water, however this shouldn't be that surprising - food provides a fair amount of our water intake so if we eat more we'll need to drink less. It also means that sometimes hunger is infact dehydration in disguise, and so drinking enough water can reduce your appetite.

By making an effort not to snack between meals my genuine thirst became more apparent and I found myself drinking water more by desire than making myself do it because I know I should. The result - I felt hungry for my next meal later than normal and in addition I felt more clear-headed than usual - bonus!