Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Caught red handed

Over some delicious homegrown beetroot from my mum's garden I was asked what made them purple. Now whilst you might not be that interested in why vegetables are the colours they are it is worth paying attention to the colours of the fruit and veg you're eating from a health perspective.

The pigments that give fruit and veg their rich and vibrant colours also contain phytonutrients which are highly beneficial for health. The different colours reflect the different phytonutrients which also have different health benefits.

The pigment that gives beetroot its beautiful colour (and creates terrible stains for messy eaters!) is a betacyanin antioxidant which has potent anti-cancer properties. Beetroot juice has also been found to improve cardiovascular endurance and exercise recovery and is really rather drinkable when mixed with carrot and apple juice. Other red and blue fruit and veg, such as berries, tomatoes, peppers and grapes, are also rich in anti-aging antioxidants so it's worth eating something red or blue each day to keep you looking youthful.

As for beetroot try and eat them freshly cooked (and ideally home grown) rather than served the english way - drowned in vinegar!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Plus ca change...

I was discussing nutritional therapy with someone over the weekend and they suggested that it must be difficult to stay up to date with the latest developments and dietary protocols given the constant publication of research in the field.

Certainly there has been an overdue increase in research in this area which is, in my opinion, still not sufficient given the importance of nutrition in health. It is also clearly important as a practitioner to be up to date with the latest findings and developments. However on reflection I realised that the majority of research studies I've read, or read of, over the past few years have concurred with the basics of good nutrition as I've always understood them; eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, limit red meat and saturated fats and have a regular intake of essential fats, minimise refined sugars, high GI carbs and alcohol, avoid caffeine, eat regularly, drink enough water, don't eat any one food to excess or cut out any food group entirely (carbs, fats, proteins) .. it's really all quite straight forward!

Where the latest research is more useful is in the treatment of specific pathologies and symptoms where knowing the latest dietary influence or beneficial nutrient can really help a client get better. However when it comes to the basics of good health, as the french saying goes: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Catering for the intolerant

With food intolerances and special diets on the rise it's increasingly likely that, if you like to throw dinner parties, at some point you'll be presented with a list of foods one of your guests has to avoid.

My friends have been presented with various exclusion lists from me over the last 8 years and have been wonderfully accommodating. Whilst I know it can be an inconvenience and sometimes be perceived as fussy eating it, it is a great help and relief to intolerance sufferers when hosts can accommodate a special diet.

Infact supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and even catered ski chalets have all made great leaps in providing special diets, I even was treated to an entirely gluten and dairy free afternoon tea recently.

So as the host how do you cater for the intolerant?

Firstly get an exact list of what they must avoid and then read all packets carefully for the allergens, you'd be surprised how many unexpected foods wheat finds it's way into.

When it comes to choosing a menu keeping it simple is key. A roast dinner is one of the easiest least allergy hazardous meals that most people will enjoy. It is also wise to serve a meal with the sauces and extras on the side - such as stuffing and gravy made from granules (both contain wheat). You can infact buy gluten free stuffing and make up a gravy by thickening the juices from the roast with some cornflour.

Chicken or fish in a tomato based sauce with some rice or potatoes and green veg is another allergy friendly, and healthy, option. I cooked up the tasty recipe below for Delia's chicken cacciatora and served it with rice and french beans for some unexpected dinner guests just last week:

For dessert a mix and match approach works well, so for example serve summer fruits with side dishes of broken up meringue pieces, melted dark chocolate and cream or yoghurt, allowing for several different options:

the totally healthy allergy friendly option: fruit only, or fruit with yoghurt for the dairy tolerant

the allergy friendly indulgent option: berries dipped in dark chocolate or mixed with meringue pieces

and the totally indulgent option: eton mess (cream, meringue and fruit mixed together) topped with a drizzle of melted chocolate.

And on that delicious note I'd like to wish you all a wonderful weekend. Us city folk will be enjoying a much needed three day bank holiday weekend so NITC will be back on tuesday. Enjoy!


Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Time for a diet coke break!

... actually I should rephrase that to 'Time to take a break from diet coke'!

Whilst the occasional (and by that I mean once a week not once a day) fizzy drink is unlikely to do you much harm, if you have gotten into a regular habit it may be worth taking a break, and here's why:

Firstly 'diet coke' is a bit of a misnomer, as per my 'Just to good to be true' blog last week artificial sweeteners actually make you eat more calories than you would normally, so unless you're avidly calorie counting rather than following your appetite (an approach I'm not a fan of) then having a regular diet coke is likely to be thwarting any efforts to lose weight. So should you have a 'full fat' coke instead?

Well, sadly no as the high sugar content will also induce an insulin spike encouraging fat storage .. basically when it comes to losing weight you need to try and consume as little sugar and sweeteners as possible.

So diet coke is fine as long as you're not trying to lose weight?

Wrong again. Carbonated drinks contain phosphoric acid and so regular consumption can erode the stomach lining, which is needed to protect your stomach wall from acidic stomach juices and also is an important line of defence against bugs in your immune system.

The acidifying effect of phosphoric acid may also suppress production of hydrochloric (stomach) acid, needed for digestion. Without sufficient stomach acid food may remain undigested causing indigestion, gassiness or bloating. Phosphoric acid is excreted by the kidneys and so drinking lots of fizzy drinks also puts extra strain on your kidneys.

And there's more ... drinking acidic drinks also causes leaching of calcium from the bones to neutralise tissue and blood pH (calcium is alkaline), increasing the likelihood of both osteoporosis and kidney stones (as circulating calcium tends to be deposited in the kidneys).
Some research also suggests fizzy drinks may increase the incidence of oesophagus cancers by increasing acid reflux, certainly the incidence of oesophagus cancers has increased along with fizzy drink consumption in the UK, whilst in other countries where consumption hasn't increased at the same rate the incidence of oesophagus cancers has also not risen significantly.

And if you needed anymore reasons to kick you DC habit you should also avoid it for the caffeine content.
So what should you drink instead?
Well water should always be the number one choice but isn't always a popular choice when you're out for drinks.

Sparkling mineral water is a bit more exciting, especially mixed with some fruit juice, but is still slightly acidic due to the carbonation. The same applies for appletize, still better for you than a DC, and for a replacement mixer with alcohol go for fruit juice.

If diet coke is your afternoon pick me up switch it for a herbal tea or green or white tea (as in white-leaved, not black with milk) if you need the caffeine. And just like all unhealthy treats enjoy them occasionally .. just don't let them become a habit.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A salty surprise!

I always want my blog to be relevant and interesting to its readers and so it's great to receive blog suggestions, even if I can't always blog on those topics straight away. So if there's a topic you'd like covered or any feedback you'd like to give just reply to one of my blogs.

Todays blog was suggested by a good friend, and regular NITC reader, who recently asked me why I haven't blogged about the dangers of excess salt. It is a worthwhile topic but not one at the forefront of my mind, principally because I make most of my meals from scratch with little added salt and don't eat out that frequently. However as most city folk do eat out or regularly by their lunch from one of the many city food outlets it's definitely a topic worth covering.

Small amounts of sodium are needed in the body for it to function properly and it is possible to have too little. Sodium helps to maintain the concentration of body fluids at correct levels, is important for the transmission of electrical impulses in the nerves and helps cells to take up nutrients. It is also used by the adrenal glands (the glands that regulate our bodies response to stress) and salt cravings can be a sign of over-stressed adrenal glands.

On the flip side excess salt leads to increased water retention which is linked to high blood pressure which is in turn linked to a greater risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Infact experts estimate that if the average UK salt consumption was cut to 6g a day (from the 9-10g average) it would prevent 70,000 heart attacks and strokes a year - a fairly staggering statistic.

But you buy your lunch from all the healthy city food outlets so why should you worry? Well whilst a lot of 'healthy' outlets have gotten their acts together when it comes to saturated fat and sugar contents, many are regularly serving meals laden with salt.

Earlier this year health campaigners found that ten soups sold by the Eat chain containing more than the 6g daily allowance of salt. The worst example was its Very Big Soup Bold Thai Green Chicken Curry with 8.07 grams in a serving of 907 millilitres (although why you'd want to eat a soup that big is beyond me!).

Wagamama chicken ramen had 7.2g of salt per serving and even my beloved Leon has a substantial 3.9g in one portion of its white bean and fennel soup.

Some of these healthy chains don't disclose the salt levels on their websites making it difficult to keep track, but I'd recommend checking the salt content on food packets of any processed foods you eat and undertaking a quick internet search for the salt content in all your lunchtime favourites to check you're not going over the limit, you may be surprised by how much salt you're eating.


Monday, 23 August 2010

Fitting it all in

The city life is a busy life ... long working days, client entertaining and busy social schedules ... add into the mix some kids and a commute and free time becomes a thing of the past.

Healthy eating, exercise and taking time to relax also easily becomes a long distant memory contributing to the post baby spare tyre in many a male banker and the stressed out over tired working mother.

Whilst it can sometimes feel like there's no time for anything other than working, eating and sleeping (or not sleeping if you also have young children to care for) it is rarely totally impossible to find some time to take care of yourself, and the value of doing so shouldn't be underestimated.

There are two key approaches to fitting it all in:
(1) Establishing a routine
Establishing a daily routine that allocates time for exercise, relaxation, healthy eating and sleep is extremely beneficial. It needs to be practical so you can stick to it (trying to fit in one hours exercise, 30mins relaxation and a three course home-cooked dinner every day may be tricky) and you need to accept that there will occasionally be days when the routine has to go out the window.

Important items to schedule are:

- establishing regular sleeping hours

- allocating some time for daily exercise, even if it's just a twenty minute walk to work

- make sure you fit in ten minutes to unwind each day, either when you get home, just before you go to bed, or if you have a full house maybe a ten minute break during your workday

- try and make time to eat un distracted and slowly. Even if you can only take a 15minute lunch break try and eat away from the desk, or whilst you eat turn off your screens so you can eat without distraction. Stop thinking about work or anything else and just enjoy your food.

- try to get 20minutes sunlight exposure each day, this might be whilst you wait for a bus, walk to the train station or during your lunch break. This is particularly important during the winter months for vitamin D synthesis.

(2) The second technique to fitting everything in is to break down tasks into bite size pieces:

- If you can't fit in an hour at the gym don't worry, do 20minutes exercise each day, rather than one or two long sessions per week. Body for Life interval training is great for this and I've heard rave reviews of the Davina dvds for a twenty minute home work out. Get some dumbells and alternate cardiovascular exercise with a short weights/toning routine.

- Don't spend hours in the kitchen, especially on a week night. Instead of planning over ambitious cuisine make simple quick dinners and add some salad to leftovers for quick lunches for work. Keep your fridge full of salad vegetables, smoked mackerel, organic chicken breasts (which cook in 6 minutes on a george foreman grill) and eggs. Stock your freezer with frozen veg, frozen fish and seafood and frozen fruit and your cupboards full of tinned pulses and tomatoes, sardines and healthy snacks (corn, rice or oat cakes, nuts, seeds, whey protein for smoothies). That way you can always rustle up a quick healthy meal or snack without eating into your evening.

- Sleep is an under-rated health aid that is often sacrificed in the face of a full schedule. Try going to bed just ten minutes earlier or setting the alarm ten minutes later to get some extra sleep, it might not sound like much but over a year it adds up to 2.5 days extra sleep!

- Practice switching off mentally, even just for a few minutes each day. Work up to ten minutes of complete zoning out. If you struggle read 'The Power of Now'

With a bit of planning you'll be surprised what healthy activities you can fit into your busy day and you'll be doing yourself a big healthy favour.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Wholesome but not so healthy

Foodie restaurants and shops tend to do very well in the affluent areas of London; organic gastropubs, gourmet burger joints, local patisseries selling homemade cupcakes, cheese shops full of organic local cheeses, specialist chocolateries, artisan bakers the delicious sounding list goes on.

However whilst freshly baked, homemade, organic foods are all much better for you than their processed counterparts, which are full of artificial ingredients that the body doesn't recognise, this doesn't mean they are healthy foods.

I think this is a common nutritional misconception, similar to the idea that being vegetarian means you'll automatically be in better health than your meat eating friends.

An organic pork roast or cheese board is still full of saturated fats and a freshly baked cupcake or homemade jam or chutney is still laden with sugar. Infact these high quality/luxury foods are often higher in sugar and fat than their cheaper counterparts.

Foodie over-indulgence often goes hand in hand with the 'I'm not overweight so I must be healthy' misconception. Depending on your biochemical makeup you may store more or less of your fat around your organs than the person sat next to you on the tube .. so they might appear fatter having the more visible fat stored just under the skin, but may have less of the dangerous fat surrounding their heart, lover or other organs than you do.

This is why it's a good idea to get your cholesterol checked even if you're slim and also to have a think about whether your regular food choices really are as healthy as you like to think.

Certainly when you're going to indulge go for the best most delicious fresh/homemade version of whatever it is that you fancy, but don't make the mistake of thinking that because your cappucino is organic and your brioche is freshly baked that you're eating healthily!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Why I love my zzzz

Oh how I love to sleep! Consequently my bed is one of my favourite places
in the flat which is why I took great care in finding my perfect mattress
and bedding. With a busy city life it really can be hard to get enough sleep
but it is so important for health.

Lack of sleep is very stressful for the body as this is the body's time to
rest and repair. If the body detects that sleep is scarce it will perceive
this as a time of stress i.e. that you are under threat which is why you
cannot have sufficient sleep. This will lead to increased production of
stress hormones as well as suppressed rest and repair in the body.
Insufficient sleep can also weaken the immune system, reduce concentration
and not inhibit detoxification which occurs mainly at night.

Lack of sleep is also bad for your waistline - researchers have found that
lack of sleep increases the production of the hormone ghrelin which
encourages appetite. At the same time lack of sleep depresses the
production of the hormone leptin which suppresses appetite, so not getting
enough sleep will make you feel hungrier and need to eat more. I certainly
find that if I haven't slept well I have a ferocious appetite, particularly
for carbs.

Most people need at least 7 (preferably 8) hours sleep per night, with a
higher requirement if they are exercising regularly. It is also important to
establish a regular sleeping pattern, preferably aiming to be asleep at or
by 10pm (not so easy with a city life!) as this is the time when your
circadian rhythm is preparing for sleep. If you are still awake around 11pm
your body will think you don't want to sleep and will start to wake the body
up again (and then prepare for sleep again 2 -3 hours later. When you do
get to sleep later than 10pm you are more likely to have a restless nights
sleep or wake early. A regular sleeping pattern is also less stressful on
the body.

Obviously being in bed by 10pm on the weekend is a bit of a social life
killer, however establishing an early weeknight bedtime will still be very
beneficial. As are weekend lie ins if you have had a late night, although
that's not always easy if you're in the habit of waking early in the week
for work. I'll certainly be trying to have one tomorrow morning! Enjoy your

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Quiche in the city

This evening the streets of the City were teaming with the youthful faces of this summers banking interns.

Brimming with youthful enthusiasm and strutting around in their new city togs they remind me of my happy days as an intern! It was a great time for partying, working and enjoying the sights and sounds of London for the first time, but didn't leave much time for healthy home-cooked meals!

Students, interns and young city professionals alike are often not that great at cooking for themselves which usually means lots of takeaways, restaurant meals and ready made meals. As per yesterdays blog regularly eating restaurant and processed meals can be detrimental to your health. However by learning a few quick easy recipes for healthy meals the need for and health cost of eating out can be reduced.

One such recipe which is quick, easy and very
satisfying is this wonderful crustless quiche recipe from New Zealand courtesy of my friend Juliet. It's lovely hot or cold for any meal (I thoroughly enjoyed a slice for breakfast last week, although quiche for breakfast won't suit everyone!).

I've included it in it's original form but to make a healthy lower-fat version leave out the bacon and cheese and add two pinches of salt in lieu. For gluten free use gluten free flour (I used doves farm gluten free brown bread flour) and for vegetarian just leave out the bacon. Enjoy!

6 eggs (beat together)
1 cup self-raising flour
1 onion, diced
1 cup grated cheese
400g grated courgette
2 tsp chicken stock
1 tin sweetcorn
1/4 cup olive oil
3 rashers bacon
1 cup grated carrot
3/4 tsp oregano
mix all ingredients together
Pour into quiche dish lined with greaseproof paper
Cook at 175 (or gas mark 4) degrees C for approx 60 minutes until lightly browned and firm to the touch (cooking time may vary between ovens)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Would you like some fries with that?

Eating out is bad for you ... which is a shame as it can be very enjoyable!
For anyone who read through Sunday evening's blog in detail you'll see that
minimizing or avoiding restaurant and processed meals is necessary to stay
in top health. Unfortunately dining out is a regular requirement for a lot
of city jobs, particularly sales people.

I think grouping restaurant and processed meals together is a bit harsh on
restaurants, although all restaurants are definitely not created equal when
it comes to health, with an organic vegetarian café being a far cry from a
harvester or pizza hut. But either way there's no escaping that eating out
is worse for you than having home-cooked fresh food, and here's why:

Higher fat content:
Fats enhance and hold flavour so foods higher in fats taste better which is
why fatty cuts of meat such as red sirloin steak, taste better than lean
cuts such as skinless chicken breast. Whilst you hope that a top quality
restaurant is sourcing good quality meat you can't be sure of the quality of
the food that you are eating, whereas cooking at home means you can choose
organic, free range, freedom ... or whatever food standard you like.

Higher sugar content:
Sugar makes everything taste better, but you can't avoid it purely by
passing on the dessert trolley. It's regularly added to soups, sauces and
salad dressings to enhance the flavour of a dish, so to be totally sugar
free choose dishes without sauces or dressings, or ask for the dressing on
the side.

Increased use of allergens:
Wheat and dairy both taste good and are found in pretty much all foody
treats. If you've ever tried to avoid both you'll realise how commonly used
they are and if you eat out regular it can be hard to avoid them.
Fortunately it's gotten a lot easier over the years. Thai and Japanese
cuisine still remain the most gluten and dairy free friendly, whilst
American and French are both pretty tricky.

Getting your moneys worth:
When you've handed over your hard earned cash for a plate of food it's very
hard not to finish it all to get your moneys worth. Interestingly this also
seems to apply even when you're not the one paying and the food is free!
Either way eating out makes you much more likely to over-eat past your
appetite with the extra calories leading to weight gain, excess insulin
production (increasing the likelihood of diabetes) and fatigue. It is
particularly bad for you to eat a large meal at the end of the day, which is
also when you are most likely to be eating out. Fortunately my local
Italian (La Figa in Limehouse) let's you take away what you can't finish ...
very fortunate in fact given the size of their portions! More and more
restaurants will offer you a doggy bag to take home, although it might not
impress your business associates or date!! Alternative tactics can be
having a starter for a main dish, skipping the starter and just having a
main, and of course getting into the very good habit of leaving food on the

Let's just have a bottle:
Eating out in the UK usually goes hand in hand with having a drink and
getting your moneys worth also means finishing the bottle of wine you've
ordered. Drinking more than an average of one glass of wine a day may have
a negative impact on health and also makes you more likely to over-eat both
at the meal itself and the next day by inducing a blood sugar low (why
hangovers and carbohydrate cravings go hand in hand).

There are lots of other perks of not eating out ... cooking at home gives
you a chance to polish your culinary skills, saves you money and is a lovely
way to catch-up with friends. If you do have to eat out regularly try and
vary the cuisines balancing out rich French and Italian food with the
lighter lower fat Asian cuisines and try and eat out more at lunchtime
rather than for dinner.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Snuffles in the city

I spent today recuperating from the cold that is currently working its way around the city. This involved spending most of the day in bed, napping in between watching films, snacking and keeping warm.

Lying around doing nothing isn't something that comes that naturally to me but is very important to help the body fight infection and much better than lemsipping yourself up to the eyeballs and dragging yourself into the office, delaying your recovery and potentially spreading your germs to your colleagues.

Whilst being a nutritional therapist sadly doesn't guarantee you won't pick up the latest bug doing the rounds, it does mean that you will usually have a good supply of supplements available to help you bounce back quickly when you do get ill.

My favourites for cold/flu type symptoms are:

Echinacea and Vitamin C, all-round immune boosters

Olive leaf and Cat's claw, potent herbal anti-virals

Horseradish, a natural decongestent

Whilst there are a lot of sceptics as to the benefits of herbal supplements, I've had many a convert who's experienced a remarkably speedy recovery by taking these remedies.

The final ingredient in my recovery plan is lots of sleep, essential for a quick and full recovery, and on that note I bid you goodnight!

ps If you are pregnant, are taking medication or have any health condition or health symptoms do not
take herbal supplements without consulting a doctor nutritional therapist.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

So what's the secret to optimal health?

Well it turns out there isn't just one secret, but 13!!  

The 100% health survey found that individuals with optimal health followed the following 13 rules.  As a reminder, the survey wasn't based on cause and effect but simply association between diet and health.  However the results are all in line with conventional nutritional wisdom and so worth following.  I've covered a few of these in my previous blogs, but here's the complete list (my comments in italics).  

Have a think about which of these you aren't even close to doing, and how you could implement them ... implement these steps one at a time, incorporating them as a genuine day to day habit ... and you should soon feel the benefits:

1.  Eliminate sugar-based snacks or limit to very occasional use (chocolate bars, cakes, biscuits etc). I’d interpret very occasional as once a week

2.  Avoid adding salt to your food

3.  Reduce wheat consumption to a maximum of 1 serving per day (bread, pasta, pizza etc.) Avoid totally if intolerant or allergic.

4.  Avoid adding sugar to food or drinks

5.  Reduce diary product consumption to a maximum of 1 serving per day. Avoid totally if intolerant or allergic.

6.  Eliminate tea, coffee and cola consumption or limit these to very occasional use. Substitute with green or herbal teas.

7.  Reduce consumption of refined foods (white bread, flour and rice etc.) to a maximum of 1 serving per day. Substitute with wholegrain, unrefined alternatives – wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice or brown rice pasta, oats and rye).

8.  Minimise the consumption of restaurant and processed meals

9.  Reduce the consumption of red meat to a maximum of 2 servings per week, particularly those already in poor digestive health

10.  Increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables to a combined total of 8-10 servings a day

11.  Increase consumption of oily fish to 3 servings per week

12.  Increase consumption of water to 8 glasses per day (approx 1.5 litres)

13.  Increase consumption of fresh, raw seeds and nuts to 3 servings a day.  A serving for nuts or seeds is a small palmful.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Beloved bread and cheese

Along with cutting out sugar the 100% health survey recommends reducing wheat consumption to one serving max per day and dairy produce to 1 serving max per day.
However your average british diet probably contains at least one, if not both, of these in every meal; toast or cereal with milk for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and a pasta dish with a creamy sauce or pizza with cheese for dinner.

So why did the survey find eating wheat and dairy was detrimental to health?

For starters both foods are common allergens, triggering immune reactions and digestive problems in intolerant or allergic individuals. This will then have knock on effects through poor nutrient absorption and over-active immune systems as well as unpleasant symptoms such as constipation (common with wheat allergies) and diarrhoea (common with dairy allergies).

Wheat also contains phytates which can irritate the digestive tract in non allergic individuals as well as binding with nutrients in food preventing your gut from absorbing them.

Dairy foods can also acidify the body causing calcium leaching from bones and other imbalances. It may seem counter intuitive as dairy is high in calcium so supposedly good for bones, but the governments recent attempt to stop free school milk was based on a review of the research finding no health benefits for drinking milk. Cheese is particularly detrimental and should be avoided by those at risk of or suffering from osteoporosis.

But it's not all bad, wholemeal pasta and bread are both low GI carbohydrates providing good sources of energy whilst natural yoghurts and low-fat soft cheese are relatively healthy protein sources. The key is not to eat wheat or dairy to excess, and for optimal health limit to one portion of each per day.

I personally avoid both wheat (and gluten) and dairy, but it is with great sorrow as I think a good brie spread on some french bread is one of lifes great pleasures! Before you get the violins out I must confess I do occasionally let myself indulge and savour every bite!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Just too good to be true

Having said I'm going to cover the other recommendations to come out from the 100% Health survey, I'm infact going to hold off til tomorrow ... as having talked about the dangers of added sugar yesterday I thought it was pertinent to also talk about some recent research I read on holiday relating to artificial sweeteners which are often substituted for sugar.

Sweeteners seemed to be the dieters dream product, making everything taste sweet and full of calories when it wasn't. Many individuals eventually discovered downsides ... Headaches, diarrhoea, other unpleasant symptoms and the foods dod not genuinely satisfy sweet cravings.

Recent research also suggests that eating more artificially sweetened foods may actually lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with the bodies regulatory mechanisms that control metabolism, hunger and fat-burning. In more detail, the research was suggesting that your gut has sweet flavour receptors that tell your body you've just eaten sugar, when infact you've had a sweetener. In response to the perceived sugar insulin levels increase and blood glucose storage (as fat) is upregulated, thereby inducing a blood sugar low likely to leave you hungry and craving more sweet foods.

So to put it more simply, your low calorie sweetened snack may only have 80 calories in it, but eating it will make you more hungry and craving more sweet foods, so therefore likely to eat more calories overall, whilst the resulting insulin production will make you store more of the calories you eat as fat.

So what should you choose when you fancy something sweet?

Well firstly avoid artificial sweeteners whenever possible, but this is no excuse to eat sugar with abandon instead!

Choose lower sugar treats such as dark chocolate rather than milk.

Eat foods that are naturally sweet such as fruits, in particular tropical fruits and dried dates or figs are all lovely as treats.

Choose sweet treats with higher fibre content than others as the fibre will slow the absorption of the sugars in the gut, so a granola bar would be better than a shortbread biscuit.

When making desserts at home reduce the sugar in recipes by a quarter, the desserts will still taste sweet and may even be more palatable. Also try using fructose instead of granular sugar (but note the different amounts needed as per the packet) which is lower GI than granula sugar. Also try and increase the fibre content, for example using oats instead of flour for a fruit crumble topping, using brown flour in cakes and choosing recipes with added seeds or nuts.

Alternatively avoid sugar most of the time and then once every couple of weeks indulge in whatever sweet treat you desire without worrying too much about the sugar content (unless of course your diabetic or have other health reasons to avoid sugar).

And if you find it hard to go a day without sugar it may be a sign of a harmful imbalance in your gut bacteria which you might want to have checked.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The sweet truth

Following on from yesterdays blog I want to spend the next few blogs sharing the dietary recommendations derived from the results of the 100% Health survey.

These recommendations aren't based on what nutritional science says we should be eating, but purely on what correlates between the health of those surveyed and their diets. However these results sit comfortably within the current nutritional wisdom.

One of the key recommendations is to eliminate, or limit to occasional use, sugar-based snacks such as chocolate, cake, cereal bars and biscuits, with 65% of those eating at least 3 sugar-based snacks per day being in poor or very poor health, and only 2% being in optimum health. The survey also recommended avoiding adding sugar to any food or drinks.

This finding and recommendations don't surprise me at all, for some time I have subscribed to the idea that sugar is more harmful to healthy than saturated fats, and the evidence to back up this view is mounting up. High sugar intake has been linked to heart disease, ageing, osteoporosis, hormonal imbalances, deterioration of eyesight and digestive complaints as well as diabetes and obesity. It is a combination of sugar and fats that is seriously bad for your health, rather than a high fat intake alone. However for some reason dietary sugar intake remains fairly high.

One reason for this is that most people just don't realise how much of their food contains added sugar and clients who have to go sugar free often express their surprise and horror when they realise that they have to avoid most of their regular food and drink.

I think it is an extremely valuable exercise for everyone to try and do one week without added sugar in their diet. Read the labels on everything you buy, even foods you really don't think will have sugar in such as gravy powder, soya sauce, crisps, savoury pies and vinaigrette. Avoid all the following ingredients and you'll soon realise how much sugar you've been eating, but hopefully also reap the benefits of cutting it out:

Glucose-fructose syrup
Corn syrup
Rice syrup (pretty much anything followed by 'syrup' is an added sugar)

ps. fructose is sometimes added to foods instead of glucose, but I see this as a less harmful alternative (it is lower GI than the other sugars) so I don't avoid it entirely

Monday, 9 August 2010

And the survey says...

On my recent holidays I took the opportunity to catch up on some nutrition reading including the results of Patrick Holford's '100% health' survey of 55,570 brits. This is the largest ever survey of diet and nutrition in Britain, and whilst most of the results seem pretty intuitive to me as nutritional therapist I thought they were worth sharing.

The survey was very extensive and the resulting report rather lengthy so I'll just share a few of the more interesting correlations:

Women who consume large amounts of fresh fruit are approximately twice as likely to have optimal hormonal health than those who consumed no fresh fruit. Whilst you might not naturally make the connection between hormones and fruit, fresh fruit and veg contain a huge range of beneficial nutrients that can have a positive impact on all systems in the body, so it may be beneficial to increase
your fruit intake in the week before your period.

Individuals consuming large amounts of dairy were less than half as likely to have optimum energy levels than those who did not. Dairy is often touted as a healthy food group, with individuals consuming large quantities of milk thinking it's doing them good, however increasing evidence suggests dairy foods are not that healthy and consumption should be minimised. The usually cited associated health problems include digestive difficulties, hormonal imbalances and even links to hormonal cancers. The survey results did not explain the link between dairy consumptionand low energy but I would imagine the high incidence of lactose intolerance in adults (milk from any mammal is only intended for infant stomachs) may be a large factor.

Individuals consuming high amounts of nuts and seeds were 2.5 times as likely to be in optimum health as those who did not. The term 'optimum health' is pretty broad but would have included multiple health measures and the results reflect the importance of essential fatty acids in the health of all organs. Essential fats are often lacking in british diets with an imbalance towards saturated fat intakes which can contribute to heart disease, skin conditions and hormonal imbalances.

These insights provide a snapshot of the surveys results, however the report usefully also includes specific dietary recommendations from the results which I'll cover on more detail in my blogs this week.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

What you should all have in your glovebox

One of the great things about living in the city is not needing a car to get around. However courtesy of streetcar or cheap rentals most of us can drive if we want to and often will to get out of London or to make the dreaded trip to IKEA!

For those of you who have your own car it's a good idea to keep some essentials in the glove box; insurance details, Tom Tom, babywipes and cheesy cd collection. In addition it's a very good idea to have some snacks stashed away as it's very common to experience a blood sugar low when driving.

This is partly because driving can be stressful causing blood sugar fluctuations, but also due to the length of the journeys necessary to escape the big smoke (it's not unusual to need to eat every 3 hours). If you get hungry and don't have food to hand your blood sugar levels may drop sharply causing a loss of concentration and increased likelihood of a car accident.

Obviously there are some constraints to what you can store in the car for snack emergencies. Firstly it needs to be durable (so vegetable crudites are out) and secondly it needs to be easy to eat in a car (small nuts and seeds don't work at all and rice cakes cause an awful mess). Given these restrictions here are my favourite glove box supplies:

Healthy snack bars: wallaby, laar or fruitus bars (available in health stores including Holland and Barrett), can all be eaten one handed without crumb production!

For a serious blood sugar low: 9 bars, tasty seed and nut bars but with some added refined sugar. I don't eat these regularly, but for a serious blood sugar low these get your blood sugar back and concentration levels back to normal in double time and seem to keep me full for quite a while after - choose the ones without carob topping for minimum mess.

Bounce balls: Nut and whey based protein balls. Much easier than trying to eat nuts and help keep you full, but not much carbohydrate so combine with another snack.

Gluten-free pretzels: not as healthy as some of the other options as made with refined flour, but they are good if you want something savoury being healthier and less messy than crisps or doritos. Oatcakes are a healthier option, but you will need to get the dust buster out when you get home to clear up the crumbs!

Make sure you also have a sealed or freshly filled bottle of water in the car, to keep you hydrated if you get stuck in traffic, and if you do find yourself peckish with nothing in the glove box then stop at the first service station you see. Food options have improved quite a bit so it's easier to find a healthy drive time snack, especially at the increasing number of M+S food stores I've seen at petrol stations.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Getting worse to get better

If you're anything like me then a wardrobe clearout usually involves an intermediate step where the contents of the cupboards ends up on the floor in a big mess and the room looks like it's been ransacked by burglars! Ultimately I end up with a tidy reorganised closet but it had to get worse before it could get better.

Detox can be pretty similar, inducing a range of unpleasant detox symptoms ranging from nausea, acne, headaches and flu like symptoms to a foggy head, confusion and despondency .. not particularly appealing I know, but if you can get through it the rewards can be worth the effort ... clear, vibrant skin, heaps of energy, boosted immunity, improved concentration and positive outlook.

A lot of the unpleasant symptoms of detox (particularly headaches, fatigue and a foggy head) come from withdrawal from either drugs (caffeine, alcohol) or drug-like foods (sugar, wheat and refined carbohydrates), or foods you're allergic too (commonly wheat and dairy).

I remember once watching Carol Mcgiffen on itv's Loose Women (my guilty pleasure) dismissing detoxes as nonsense as she once tried giving up alcohol and felt awful after two days and so had a drink and felt much better! This was said tongue in cheek, but is classic for withdrawal which usually takes 4-5 days to subside. If you do give up caffeine and alcohol find you feel pretty rough after a couple of days then it's a strong indicator that you need a good break from that substance.

So how do you get through withdrawal?
You need to drink plenty of water, stock up on detox (yogi) tea and dandelion coffee (a godsend for detoxing) and dig deep to find some serious willpower ... and remember, sometimes it needs to get worse to get better!


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The internal clearout

Don't worry I'm not about to suggest you all go and have colonics! Today's blog is about detox!

There's a lot of negative media about detoxing; that it's at best ineffective and at worst dangerous, and for some of the extreme regimes out there I myself would question their safety. However it's pretty hard to argue with the benefits of the traditional elements of detox:
Avoiding toxic and unhealthy foods
Increasing fruit and vegetable and water intake

By reducing the toxic load and increasing antioxidant levels a detox can support liver function and give your liver and digestive system a well-needed rest. Detoxes are usually lower in calories and higher in nutrients than your regular diet, helping shift spare fat and may also cut out foods you are allergic to reducing water retention (one client who recently did my detox found her feet shrank - a not uncommon side effect that usually indicates cutting out a food your allergic/intolerant to).

Extreme regimes of liquid only fasts and fruit and veg only diets are pretty hard to stick to whilst carrying on with your job/day to day routine and should, in my opinion, only be done under the supervision of a qualified health professional. The detox I have formulated involves juicing and cutting out the usual culprits (see below) but also contains easy to prepare proper meals and snacks and enough carbs and protein to keep energy levels up and hanger pangs at bay (see below for my super-quick detox compliant snack). For a DIY detox I'd recommend Dr Joshi's holistic detox (book available on amazon).

Here are the foods I exclude from my detox, which it's worth everyone trying to cut down:
Cane sugar
Artificial sweeteners
Dairy (excluding natural bio yoghurt if definitely lactose tolerant)
Red meat
Salt intake should be reduced but not eliminated

Emilie's super-quick sardine snack:
Toast two slices of gluten free bread (I like genius bread or Honest bread which is available in some Waitrose)
In the meantime drain a 120g sardines in oil, a good source of omega 3 fats, (waitrose essential sardines in olive oil are my favourite) and mix thoroughly with 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree (rich in lycopene a potent antioxidant).
Spread on the two pieces of toast and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of solo low sodium salt
Grill for 5-10mins til slightly browned on top.

Enjoy on it's own as a quick breakfast or snack, or serve with a green salad for a light lunch. Great for kids too.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Declutter your mind

Once you're done clearing out your cupboards it may be worth doing a bit of internal decluttering.

Most stress we experience is induced by how we perceive situations, so pretty much produced ourselves and usually needlessly. City life is stressful enough: tight deadlines, long working hours and difficult bosses can all take their strain along with juggling family and social commitments, without us adding to it.  However most of us have a constant internal chatter in the background running over what we have to do, what we have done, what we do or don't have time for along with over-analyzing situations and worrying about things that may or may not happen. 

Think about all the times you've worried about something and then it hasn't materialized ... this must happen millions of times in one lifetime, and each time you induce a feeling of stress you also set off a chain of biochemical reactions in the body, increasing your blood pressure, imbalancing your blood sugar and speeding up the ageing process amongst others.  In addition this constant mental chatter takes over brain capacity that could be available to other processes such as creative thought, problem-solving or memory. 

However telling someone to stop stressing is really unhelpful and fairly useless advice!! So what can you do to declutter mentally?

Meditation is a great way to switch-off and clear some mental space but can be hard for beginners - yoga is a great way to start with meditation, first focusing on the moves and breathing before moving to meditation at the end of a class.  It is beneficial even if you can only induce a zen like relaxed state in your mind for just a few minutes.  Most city gyms run beginners classes which will usually finish with a guided relaxation.  I also like the yogazone dvds which you can buy on amazon.

The Power of Now is an excellent book on cutting out unnecessary thought, but the technique takes some practice.  The author, Eckhart Tolle, recommends starting with just doing one task at a time and focusing on that task only rather than thinking about what you're going to do next or anything else ... much harder than it sounds for serial multi-taskers, but worth the effort.

If a lot of your thought or worries are generated by relationships with other people including your interactions with work colleagues then I'd thoroughly recommend reading A Model for Living by Julian Short which helps you see situations in a much more rational sense and thereby making you less likely to worry or over-analyze about them.

There is also a lot to be said for just taking a pause ... next time you feel overloaded just take a deep breath in counting to five on the inhale and five on the exhale ... you'll find even this tiny bit of space can give you renewed focus and calm to deal with the situation you're faced with.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Do you need some space?

I had a big clear out over the weekend, partly driven by a lack of wardrobe space, and my bedroom is now a much more relaxing tranquil space.

In Feng Shui, the chi (energy) is disrupted by clutter. The chi gets sucked in to the pile of clutter and stays there, stagnating, depleting the energy of the room and any people in that room.

Whether you buy into the energy flow concept or not there's no doubt that a tidy clutter free room is much more relaxing, whilst being surrounded by clutter is depressing and can lower your energy levels. I think that's a major contributing factor to being relaxed on holiday - staying in a clean uncluttered hotel room with your only possessions for that week being what you can fit in a suitcase.

Whilst real minimalist capsule living isn't for everyone a good clear out can make your home a more stress-free easy place to live, giving you space to relax, breathe and unwind from the hectic pace of city life.

There's a host of ways of disposing of unwanted clutter without creating unnecessary waste: charity shops, freecycle, ebay, clothing bins and friends and family are usually grateful recipients of good, but unwanted, items. Don't just empty your closet - go through your kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer and throw out anything out of date or that you never use and get rid of unused gadgets ... do you really still need that sandwich toaster from ten years ago? You'll be surprised how much calmer you feel when your cupboards are less cluttered.

If you're a real hoarder or need motivation to get started here's some recommended reading, and always remember to ask before throwing out anything that isn't yours ... in case not everyone agrees on what is clutter and you inadvertantly create some unwanted stress!

<a href="Clear'>http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0749918241?ie=UTF8&tag=nutrinthecity-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=0749918241">Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Space Clearing Can Change Your Life</a><img src="http://www.assoc-amazon.co.uk/e/ir?t=nutrinthecity-21&amp;l=as2&amp;o=2&amp;a=0749918241" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />


Sunday, 1 August 2010

Are you due an MOT?

I had my car serviced recently and it struck me that we often take a great
deal more care over our cars than ourselves. Certainly the first sign of
something not being quite right with my car ... a strange noise, something
not feeling right (I'm not great with cars!) and I get it checked out incase
it could end up being something serious further down the line leaving me
stranded by the roadside. However when it comes to health people often only
actively think about their health and how to improve it when they are ill or
have had symptoms for some time.

If you're one of those people where health is not something you consciously
think about or plan for then it may be a good idea to give yourself an MOT.
Are there any pains or recurring symptoms such as headaches, or anything
that isn't quite right - a regularly upset tummy, frequent colds or
infections. If so it's a good idea to seek some help firstly to help
improve the symptoms, thereby improving your quality of life, and secondly
to detect any disease before it becomes to serious.

First stop should always be your doctor, but osteopaths can be great for any
joint niggles whilst complimentary therapies, such as nutrition and
acupuncture, can be particularly good for any long-term symptoms which have
eluded diagnosis or aren't serious enough to require medical care.

Even if you feel fit as a fiddle it's always worth checking out what's going
on inside. Someone can be within the normal BMI range for their weight and
still have elevated cholesterol levels which 10 years down the line could
materialize as a heart attack. It's always easier to prevent disease than
treat it when it arises.

Your doctor can test your cholesterol and measure your blood pressure and
arrange other tests to determine the route cause of any other symptoms. Alot
of city employers offer private medical cover which includes an overall
health check so if this is available to you this is definitely worth doing.
A nutritional therapist can also arrange for a wide range of tests privately
from the basic cholesterol and blood lipid tests to comprehensive digestive
analysis and hormonal profiles.

So instead of just looking after your car, make sure you schedule a regular
personal MOT (once every 1-2 years for testing) and you'll avoid a breakdown
further down the road!