Thursday, 29 September 2011
The short answer is yes all the nutrients we need are available in food but that I think we need to top up our nutrient intake with supplements if we want to be in tip top health.
That's not to say that you can't be in good health without taking supplements, if you're on a healthy high-nutrient, low-toxin diet, but the argument that our ancestors didn't need to take supplements just doesn't wash with me.
Our diets include less fruit, veg and healthy fats than our ancestors ate and we eat more antinutrients than they did (caffeine, alcohol, sugar - just weren't part of the Paleolithic diet). Our lives are also more stressful and polluted than our predecessors so our nutrient requirements are higher.
Our food is also less nutritious than it used to be due to how it is grown/reared and the amount of time it takes to get to our plates.
This is backed up by research that has found that older varieties of fruit and vegetables contain higher levels of nutrients than modern varieties. For example the older varieties of apples contain higher levels of anti-cancer phytonutrients than the new varieties. This is because some of these nutrients are bitter tasting, so as apples have been bread to taste sweeter they've also become less nutritious.
So when you're choosing your apple a day go for a cox or pippin rather than a gala or a granny smith and maybe add in a multivitamin for good measure.
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Whilst spending 5 hours a day on a train is totally unacceptable for me, for some people this is just how it has to be. Sitting for hours on a train can be a very draining experience so how can you turn it into some beneficial "me time'?
Sleep ... If you're getting up at 5am to catch a train, I think adding some extra zzzz on your commute in is recommended (if you can get a seat!)
Read ... I see a lot of people reading some fairly trashy literature on their commutes home. Whilst a good read is a nice way to relax on the way home, interspersing it with some health related reading
Periodically swap Closer, Grazia or FHM for Zest, Healthy (from holland and barrett) Mens Health, Runners World or other health and fitness magazines. You'll be surprised how many healthy tips you pick up.
If you've got time to read a chapter of a book, periodically swap fiction for something educational:
Meditate - Practicing having a clear mind can be a real channel on a tube or train, but is worth working out. The Power of Now
, is a great place to start and includes good tips on dealing with things that annoy you, so helpful in avoiding tube rage. If that's not your bag try and get yourself a seat in the quiet zone and just enjoy some peace and quiet rather than instantly plugging yourself into your ipod.
Plan - It's easy to fall into a food and exercise rut, so take some time to plan for what you want to achieve - jot down some health goals, do you want to lose 6lbs, run a marathon, add some muscle? Then list what you're going to do to achieve it, write out an exercise schedule and list of healthy meals you want to cook. Add the ingredients to your shopping list.
Be creative - Once we leave school a lot of us stop colouring, glueing pasta to cardboard and being creative in other ways! However it's important for our mental well being to use our brains and imaginations. I tend to write my blog on the way home, with anything that happens to pop into my head at the time (can't you tell)! Perhaps you've got a Novel in you - write a page at a time, do some doodles, write some lyrics, draw a portrait of the strange looking man opposite?
Brain training - Sudoki, crosswords, Nintendo ds memory games, whatever floats your boat .. a few minutes day can help keep your brain connecting the dots as you get older.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Monday, 26 September 2011
Sunday, 25 September 2011
Thursday, 22 September 2011
So if you've had a high stress day, cycled home in traffic, eaten a fry up for breakfast and spent an hour on your mobile, what can you eat and drink to counter the oxidative damage?
Well the answer lies in antioxidants which cancel out the effects of oxidants ... The clue is in the name! Infact that's not quite true, they don't have the exact opposite effect, instead what they do is if there are free radicals circulating in your body they bind with them and in doing so neutralise them. This is why it's important to have a regular intake of anti-oxidants to neutralise free radical damage being constantly created in your body.
The food group richest in antioxidants by a mile is fruit and vegetables which is why I recommend having at least two portions of fruit or veg with every main meal. As I've also mentioned before it's important to eat a range of colours as the different colours come from the different antioxidants. It actually doesn't take a lot of effort to incorporate fruit and veg into your diet but it is absolutely essential so don't neglect it.
If you do struggle than having fresh juices and smoothies can be a good way to up your intake. My good friend Ms Haribos makes all sorts of sludge like smoothies containing spinach and cabbage ... but blended with some sweet fruit they're actually surprisingly palatable!
Even if you're having your five a day we all sometimes need a bit of an antioxidant boost, particularly in times of stress, having a shortage of sleep, doing a lot of travel or upping your exercise programme.
So far Cherry active still remains my number one liquid antioxidant supplement. Made from super concentrated Montmorency cherries and free of any sugars/sweetener/other nasties, it is unbelievably effective in avoiding post-exercise muscle aoreness that you get from damage to the muscle cells. And if it's producing that effect in your muscles it's going to be having beneficial effects elsewhere in the body.
As for actual vitamin supplements, vitamins A, C and E are your bricks and mortar antioxidants which you should be getting through plenty of fruit and veg (A and C) and nuts and seeds (E), but also you should look for them in a good multivitamin.
There are numerous other antioxidants you can supplement with, but for me there's two clear favourites, Resveratrol and Co-enzyme Q10.
Resveratrol is the protective antioxidant found in the skin of grapes, thought to be responsible in part for the mediterranean effect (why the french can drink more wine whilst having a lower rate of heart disease than us). It's particularly good for slowing the visible signs of ageing ie wrinkles and thinning skin and hair.
Co-enzyme Q10 is a fat soluble antioxidant so is of more benefit in protecting our fattest organ - the brain. Our brains are 60 per cent fat, which is why essential fats such as fish oils are so important to keep us sharp into old age. But so are antioxidants that can protect those fats from damage which is where CoQ10 comes in having been shown in numerous studies to help cognitive function and slow age-related mental decline. You might not be forgetting things yet, but it's never too early to start looking protecting your little grey cells!
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
I remember as a child staying up til 9:30pm was a real treat, now it would be a treat to be in bed by 9:30! The reason children can and should sleep as long as they do is firstly that they are usually way more physically active than we are so they're physically worn out by 8pm, but also because at night is when their growth takes place. Generating new cells takes up a lot of energy which is why it happens when you're asleep and not using up your energy running about. But why's this relevant to slowing ageing?
True I'm not growing anymore (sadly!), but night time is also when the body creates new cells to replace those that are damaged, for example by the free radical damage I talked about yesterday that ages the body. The more free radical damage you're exposed to, the more sleep you need to repair it.
Over time if you don't get enough sleep the deficit between the two starts to show, and it doesn't take that long - just a week of late nights and I visibly age, but equally a couple of good lie ins can reverse the effect.
I appreciate the city lifestyle doesn't make it easy to get to bed early, but just one or two early nights a week can make a big difference, not just to how you look but to how young your body is on the inside. It might seem a bit tragic to be tucked up in bed by 10pm but you don't have to admit to it!
The sun ages your skin by causing the generation of free radicals in the skin, these volatile molecules damage your cells and so age the body. Whilst I wouldn't recommend the parasol getup I saw, an spf moisturizer on your face and neck are a good idea as these area get the most sun exposure. But do try and expose some unprotected skin to some sunshine for 15 minutes a day to keep vitamin D levels up.
Free radical production isn't just triggered by the sun, so what are the other sources you should be avoiding to stay youthful and healthy?
Oxidized (fried/burnt) foods - so less barbecues and char grilled meats, go for steamed, roasted or lightly grilled foods.
Air pollution such as exhaust fumes. If you walk to work along a busy road or find yourself sat in non-moving traffic consider finding a less congested route into work. If you cycle in wear a mask and if you smoke give up immediately - smoking causes massive free radical damage in the body.
Pesticides and chemicals - pesticides found on non-organic fruit and veg as well as food additives and chemicals such as aspartame, can cause free radical damage and are totally unnatural so the body doesn't know how to process these. Eat organic whenever possible, wash fruit and veg thoroughly before eating it and avoid artificial preservatives and additives - food manufacturers have begun cutting these out more and more so they're not that tricky to avoid.
Chemical cleaning products - these can be full of harmful chemicals which you may inhale whilst using them. Switch to Ecover and other natural brands and ventilate your home when using chemicals eg cleaning or decorating.
The same applies for chemical moisturizers and beauty products which are all absorbed into the skin. Aim to avoid parabens, sulphates and petroleum based products. The easy way to do this is to switch to natural brands such as Liz Earle, Ren and Korres.
Electromagnetic radiation from routers, cordless phones and other wireless devices can generate free radicals. Turn them off when not in use and don't have these in your bedroom.
Breathing - even if you did nothing at all and lived in an oxygen tent, Michael Jackson style, your body would age, albeit it at a slower pace. This is because your body is constantly oxidising when it produces energy, generating free radicals. So every time you breathe you generate some oxidative damage.
Obviously you can't avoid breathing! but it does mean that very intensive exercise, that leads to increased respiration, does increase free radical damage in the body. This is why you need to up your intake of antioxidants and take particular care to avoid other sources of free radicals if you do a lot of exercise.
Sunday, 18 September 2011
Thursday, 15 September 2011
Most city folk have stressful lives - tough jobs, long days, egotistical bosses, busy social lives, irritating commutes, limited to no down time and possibly kids .... Who wouldn't feel stressed!
Active stress management isn't about giving all that up and going to live on a Kibbutz 'Eat, Pray, Love' style, however appealing that may be. Instead it's about accepting what can't be changed about your life whilst changing what you are in control of to make it less stressful.
For example, you might not be able to change the fact you work long hours but you can reduce the stress of it by not committing to early evening plans that you may be late for or have to cancel. Instead make plans later and if you can then leave nice and early make the most of it with a quick gym session or a bit of shopping beforehand.
Are you weighed down with your personal to do list? Rather than ruining your evenings trying to clear it, once a month schedule a relaxing Friday night in and then get up earlyish on Saturday morning and power through your list. Once you've made a good dent you'll feel more relaxed for the rest of the weekend. Whatever you do don't make the mistake of leaving chores til Sunday night, that's a terrible way to start the week!
Maybe your commute is stressful because you have to change at a busy tube station (Bank in rush hour is a real blood pressure riser). Can you take a different route or just get out and walk the second part of the route. Would the bus or boat be less stressful, even if it takes a bit longer it'll be worth it if you don't arrive home harried and grumpy.
It's obviously impossible to totally eliminate stress from a city life and this is why it's also key to put in your diary time for active relaxation. This is in contrast to passive relaxation - collapsing exhausted on the sofa at the end of the day. Instead it's scheduling some regular 'me time' where you switch off from day to day life and just do something enjoyable and relaxing. This could be for 10minutes a day (a relaxing bath, 10minutes of meditation or deep breathing or doing a face pack whilst you have e a cup of tea), for an hour a week (yoga class, massage, facial, spa experience, long relaxing walk in the park) or for a day a month (full spa day, relaxing weekend away, or just a day at home ignoring your to do list and watching old movies and pottering). Whatever you do try and be regular about it.
This kind of proper down time gives your nervous system a break by not stimulating it with the high brain activity associated with working or worrying about something. Whilst it might seem miles away when you're dashing around at work, over time active relaxation will help reduce the impact of this stress on your health and help you lead a happier longer life.
I'm possibly a bit obsessive in the care of my handbags and shoes, but I don't have an infinite clothing budget so I want them to last! However if all else fails I can buy a replacement bad when it wears out, something that isn't true for my body.
On day 1 we all get pretty much the same body and up til our mid twenties it keeps regenerating itself but from your thirties onwards it starts to wear out. This is when it becomes much more apparent who's looking after themselves and who isn't. Spare tires start appearing, as does grey hair, poor skin colour, dry or mousy hair, wrinkles and permanent under eye bags.
But just as you can keep a several year old handbag looking new with a bit of care, whilst others let their get old and worn, with a bit of effort you can keep your body young whilst others let themselves go to seed.
The key ingredients for anti-aging are antioxidants, sleep, water, essential fats, lack of stress, or active stress management, moderate exercise and avoiding pollutants/oxidants. If you want to stay young you need to put a bit of effort into keeping on top of all of these and I'll be giving some tips on each of them in the next few blogs.
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Monday, 12 September 2011
Sunday, 11 September 2011
Thursday, 8 September 2011
But it's not just the food you eat that's affecting your mood but also the bacteria growing in your gut. According to new research published inThe Economist, admittedly done on rats not humans, taking probiotics improved their mood and drive and reduced their levels of stress hormones.
So should doctors be prescribing probiotics rather than prozac? Well possibly (along with tyrosine and other nutrients needed for neurotransmitter production). But the link made in the article of most interest to me was that the over-prescription of antibiotics could be responsible for increasing the incidence of depression.
Certainly I think that doctors prescribe, and patients happily take, antibiotics without being fully aware of the possible repercussions. Every time you take probiotics you are killing off your gut bacteria, both good and bad, but the bad bacteria regrow more quickly so antibiotics make them more likely to take over. This can lead to gut disturbances, reduced immunity (your gut bacteria are a key part of your immune defence) and in depressed mood. Multiple courses over several years will put you at most risk, and any course of antibiotics should be followed by a course of probiotics, even just to lift your spirits.
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
I never thought I ate that unhealthily but, whilst I was pleased to see I was eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, I was shocked at the amount of dairy, wheat, sugar and caffeine I was consuming - I struggled to find a day that didn't include all four at least once (some days each meal was dairy + wheat based).
Given how rubbish I feel if I eat these foods now it's amazing to me how I even functioned, although I think I was using caffeine as a major crutch to keep me going.
The fact is that at the time I thought how I felt was normal, that not being able to stay awake in the afternoon was the hazards of a desk job and that my other health issues (digestive and skin) were unrelated to the huge amounts of wheat and dairy I was eating.
Now I often get comments on how virtuous I am with my food and the amount of self-control I must exercise. The fact is that the improvement in my health when I fundamentally changed my diet was so marked that it made it impossible to go back. The idea of feeling that tired and bloated is so hideous it can't be worth eating even the most delicious cake!
But I didn't change my diet overnight, it evolved gradually and that's the trick - start with small manageable changes and as you start to feel better you'll be motivated to make more until your diet eventually looks unrecognizable!
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Whilst low-carb diets can be very effective for short term weight loss their long term health benefits are questionable, particularly being high in saturated fats, low in fibre and low in antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C.
Atkins actually recognised this and improved on his diet in later books placing a greater emphasis of fruit and vegetables and minimising saturated fat intake. However the Dukan diet is infact a more extreme interpretation with absolutely no fruit or vegetables included in the initial phase and then still only allowed 5 days a week in the subsequent phase.
This leaves you with a menu of meat, fish, eggs and low fat dairy products and pretty much nothing else! Not exactly a balanced diet!
Obviously it's the quick results that attract dieters to such an extreme regimen, but if you are tempted to follow a low-carb diet I'd strongly recommend including at least 6 portions of vegetables daily plus topping up your vitamin C levels with lemon and lime juices. However thin it gets you, no diet is worth cutting out the most health giving foods on the planet. Plus, no one ever got overweight by eating too many greens!
Monday, 5 September 2011
Sunday, 4 September 2011
Whilst I'm generally not a hoarder, I still occasionally like to have a proper clear out to make sure I'm not hanging onto anything I don't need. Usually starting with my slightly over full wardrobe as well as getting rid of any books, CDs or gadgets that I don't use/need.
I feel much more relaxed once I've decluttered, but it's not just the wardrobe and study that needs the occasional overhaul.
Overtime most people will accumulate various tins and sauces that get shoved to the back of the shelf and slide past their use by date unnoticed. My wonderful grandmother had butter from the world war II butter mountain still in her freezer in the eighties!
If you're not religious at having a good spring clean your cupboards could probably have some nasty surprises lurking at the back, so it might be time for a clear out.
Firstly get rid of anything passed it's use by date, then throw out anything that's in date but just isn't appealing to you so you'll probably never cook (or give to your flat mate/neighbour/dog). For oils, smell/taste and throw out at the slightest hint of rancidity, also make sure you're not storing them anywhere near a source of heat, eg. Next to your hob or in a cupboard next to your oven.
Do the same in your fridge, then empty it entirely and give it a good clean. Also check your freezer - dump anything that's been in there over a year, and see if it needs defrosting.
If you find your cupboards are now bare, stock up on some fresh goodies, and if you found you threw a lot of jars and sauces away make a note to only buy the smallest jars so you'll waste less next time you have a clear out.
I'm very anti waste, so for any none food items I make use of the following rather than putting them in the bin:
Clothes - if they're still in good nick, give to friends, if a bit worn put in the charity bins at the supermarket where you can also donate old shoes, bed linen and towels
Books/DVDs - very easy to sell second hand on amazon, or donate to your local library
Unwanted gifts - anything brand new is easily saleable on ebay, anything of low value or used can be given away on freecycle
Thursday, 1 September 2011
Even though some people will turn their noses up at 'healthy options' as tasteless or bland, the truth is that pretty much everyone likes healthy food, just not all of it. Most people have some types of fruit and vegetables that they enjoy and a lot of people enjoy grilled fish or stir fried chicken.
The key is to identify what healthy foods and meals you enjoy and have those so that healthy eating becomes an enjoyable experience.
I know that even if they weren't healthy some of my favourite meals would stay the same:
Pasta (gluten free) with tomato based sauces
Babyleaf salad with sliced avocado, baby tomatoes and vinaigrette
Cashew and vegetable stir fry
Vegetable soup and a crusty wholemeal roll (gluten free)
Veggie chilli with a jacket potato
Nut roast with gravy, roasted sweet potatoes and peas
Homemade Nori rolls with brown rice, avocado, hummous and spinach
Toast with no sugar nut butter and st dalfour jam
Fruit salad sprinkled with chopped nuts
Stewed fruit with cinnamon and custard (made with rice milk and vanilla essence, no sugar)
By planning to make healthy meals that you enjoy and keeping your cupboards stocked with the right ingredients to make them you'll be less likely to reach for the cookie jar or order a takeaway without feeling deprived.
It's also a good idea to keep something healthy in the freezer at all times so when the fridge is empty you've always got something good to eat.
If you're not sure where to start, take a walk through the fruit and veg section in your supermarket and add anything that you know you enjoy to your basket. When you get home look up some recipes that incorporate these ingredients and get cooking!