The Essence of Nutrition

It would be difficult to have no idea at all about nutrition and diet. Newspapers, television programmes, magazines, posters – even supermarkets – are all ramming nutrition down our throats – pun intended! As with everything, these will have a different slant depending upon what they are selling – because they are selling.

Magazines and papers will sound-bite every diet related report as long as it sells papers, so the headlines have to be punchy. “Snacking Habits That Help You Lose Weight” and file000571098509Surprise superfoods: dieticians say popcorn and pork scratchings are bursting with nutrients – and could be GOOD for you.” You know the sort of thing. Television programmes are only marginally better as at least they have a bit longer to explain their specific point. Just looking at some of the programmes available, most are about weight-loss, reaffirming the myth that calorie counting is the way to go. Supermarkets and food manufacturers will just jump on any bandwagon that is conveniently passing at the time – low-fat, low sugar, no saturated fats, low salt and so on. But where are the nutrients? Confused? Then let me inject a note of sanity here.

“What is nutrition?”
Nutrition is supplying the body with all known and unknown nutrients required for the life and health of humans.

“How do we obtain that nutrition?”
We chew, swallow, digest, absorb and utilize the diet that nature intended. All stages of this process are necessary. We eat NATURAL foods, preferably organic.

Proteins are made up of amino acids of which there are many. Animal proteins are ideal for us as they contain all the essential amino acids that we need for the growth and repair of our bodies. Vegetarians can obtain a variety of amino acids from vegetables but as there are virtually none that contain all those needed for humans, care must be taken when menu planning.  We break down millions of cells every day and these must be replaced. Proteins are also needed for the formation of enzymes, hormones and other necessary substances in the body.
Animal protein sources: meat and offal, fish, eggs, dairy; vegetable protein sources: beans, lentils, nuts,seeds

Fats are a great source of energy. Animal fats and their essential fatty acids are needed for the formulation of hormones, the lining of cells, the metabolism of protein, the absorption of minerals and much more. They also contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D3, and K2 – all of which work together, so rather fortunate that they are usually found together in animal fats.
Animal fats: lard, dripping, duck/goose fat, butter, cream, oily fish.
The vegetable fats that have benefits for our health are olive oil (for salads) and coconut oil (stir-fries and curries). These contain chemicals which don’t conveniently fall into the vitamins and minerals category but are good for us none-the-less.
Seed oils (rape, grape, corn, sunflower, peanut or anything loosely termed “vegetable” oil are all highly processed which makes them toxic and they have no place in a healthy diet. (Eating the seeds is fine though.) Will they harm once in a while? Not if your main diet contains lots of protective animal fats.
All fats contain saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – it’s just the ratio that changes. We need them all, but eating a natural diet will supply them in just the right ratio – nature’s good like that!

Carbohydrates. First and foremost, there are no essential carbohydrates. In other words, they are not necessary for life. If you never ate another slice of bread in your life – you wouldn’t die! The metabolism of concentrated carbohydrate foods (eg. sugar and grains), uses up our essential nutrients, increasing our need for them. The body can use carbohydrates (which it changes to glucose – a type of sugar) for energy. Most of the carbohydrate foods available today are highly processed – cakes, biscuits, sweets, cereals and they don’t have any benefits for us. Since we have evolved as omnivores, some carbohydrate foods can be included with little problem but currently there is an “epidemic” of gluten intolerance, so it may be prudent to cut back on grains containing gluten – mainly wheat. The best carbohydrate foods are from vegetables and some fruits where they also have a wealth of vitamins, minerals, fibre and other nutrients.

If you eat the diet indicated above, you don’t need to think of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients because these foods supply them! It’s not rocket science is it? There are lots of articles on the website to tell you what our diet should be to obtain these nutrients. The only thing for you to do now is cook from scratch using the best ingredients you can afford!

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Home Grown in a Few Days – For Pennies!

We have issues with the ground attached to our house. Since the house was built on an area that used to be a gravel pit – well, I expect you can understand our problem! I have, over many years tried to improve the soil, but it has made little difference. Perpetual spinach is it! Actually, for anyone wanting to start growing food in their gardens, this is an amazing crop. I start growing it during the summer and it gets going before winter sets in, when growing slows almost to a halt. However, it speeds up again and you just pick the leaves as needed and it keeps producing more. Even now, when it has gone to seed, there are some small leaves to use raw in salads. I will be sowing the next lot at the end of the month.

Thanks to Dr. Joseph Mercola, I now grow seed sprouts.He has written about the subject extensively. Lots of you may have done this – mustard and cress and maybe mung beans. However, there are lots of seeds that can be used for sprouting. I am currently growing sunflower and daikon radish seeds (see pictures) but others include, broccoli, red kale, alfalfa, fenugreek and leek. Watercress too – as long as the compost is kept moist.

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Seeds tend to have a fairly high carbohydrate content – grains are seeds so think of wheat and rice. They also have a fabulous nutritional content. They are tiny concentrated packages of nutrition which just want a comfortable moist bed in which to create another parent plant. Acorns to oaks! When they sprout, much of the carbohydrate content is used and proteins are formed – these are the building blocks for all life forms. Plants harness the sun and use its energy to create their own energy systems. Providing they have the sun, a regular supply of water and organic compost to grow in, they will become a very valuable source of vitamins, minerals and amino acids in a relatively digestible form.

I use half-trays as there only three of us at home. It’s also nice to have more than one variety on the go. To be honest, whilst still edible, when the proper leaves start to grow (as opposed to the initial cotyledonous leaves) the concentrated nutrients and flavour are not as good. Put a centimetre of organic compost into the seed tray and water it. Sprinkle the seeds thickly and sprinkle a little more compost to cover them. Lightly water the top. Leave on a windowsill and wait, watering daily (I use an old washing-up liquid bottle for this). In a day or two, the seeds will be up and once they are 3-4 cms high, cut with scissors and add to salads, sandwiches or smoothies. Don’t let them get too big – cut and store in the fridge for a day or two. I find that I need to assist the sunflower sprouts to shed the seed casings, but the others are fine.

There are a couple of other things you can do too, to make the pennies go further. I buy, during the spring/summer (it doesn’t work in the winter) a bag of “Majestic Basil” from Waitrose. Wash it thoroughly then chop off a tiny part of the stem and put the bunch into water – an old cup/glass is fine. Change the water daily, but after a few days, the stems will have roots! Plant 4-5 to a 15cm pot, in organic compost and they will live happily on your windowsill/in the greenhouse for several months. Pick leaves as you need but obviously leave some on the individual plants so they continue to grow. Not organic exactly but as only a few leaves are used for flavouring, I think it’s fine.

2014-07-05 14.00.07Lastly (for now anyway!), lettuces. Buy mixed leaf seeds and sow thinly into troughs or pots. As they emerge, thin them a little but only to around 1-2 cms apart. When about 8-10 cms tall, harvest a few leaves from each plant and let them continue growing.So easy and takes only a week or two at this time of year!

2014-07-05 13.57.29Use organic compost – it doesn’t cost much more than the usual stuff but it is better for you and the environment. Also, find organic sprouting seeds – there are loads on the web. Start with a small amount of seeds and then buy larger amounts when you know which you like the best. My favourite are sunflower seeds so I buy 200g each time. They have a “meatiness” about them and taste mildly of the seeds. Radish sprouts taste exactly like radishes. I think I have to try leeks soon – love that idea! Happy sprouting!

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Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal?

Well this is a turnaround isn’t it? Breakfast is now not the most important meal according to this study! For so many years we have been told that we must have breakfast before starting our day and we have even been told that studies show how breakfast can help us lose weight, concentrate and stabilize our blood sugar. I am as guilty as many other professionals – I haven’t actually read these studies, just accepted the evidence for the most part.

In my defence, although I do read research reports, I make up my own mind about what is right for us and this is founded upon both my observations as a nurse and nutritionist and my usual way of looking at our diet and lifestyle against the back-drop of our evolutionary diet and lifestyle. There has been much research and speculation into what is right and wrong, but the bottom line is – we should do as our ancestors did. The only problem with this is that everyone has a different view of what they actually did! I have written a bit about this before so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say that we ate primarily meat and some vegetation when it was available. This study shows precisely this point.

What on Earth is breakfast – or lunch, tea or dinner for that matter? These are labels we have given to eating times, for our convenience. These meal times are fitted in file6401342550312before, during and after we go to work/school/college, but they are actually convenient times when we must top up our nutrients. We need vast amounts of quality nutrients for every single bodily function you can think of – blinking your eyes and producing tears; making the enzymes needed for the digestion of food; maintaining the electrical activity needed to allow your heart to beat and your muscles to contract and so on. Everything your body does, it does not do by chance. You make it happen by eating foods that supply these minerals, vitamins, fats and more.

A while ago, I wrote a blog about hunger which you can find here. It is important that we stay in touch with our bodies and really hear the message. The first thing you should be reaching for in the morning is liquid, preferably water, tea or a herbal infusion. The body detoxifies itself over night and the toxins need washing away. This could be why some people are never hungry first thing – and some even feel queasy. Hunger kicks in when the detoxing has finished. Always drink about half an hour, before you eat “breakfast”. In fact staying hydrated is one way to prevent over-eating or eating for no good reason. Drink sufficient liquid to keep your urine pale yellow – not clear which means you are drinking too much, or amber which means you are not drinking enough.

What is breakfast for you? I can hear your thought processes –
cereal, toast, eggs, file1281259008488porridge..! But what I’m getting at is what is the meaning of the word? Its literal meaning is of course, breaking one’s fast and I believe that this is the point. Why should this meal be taken before going out if you are not hungry? This study suggests that breakfast could be skipped, but it too is assuming that “breakfast” is the meal you have before your day starts.

Breakfast is the meal that breaks your fast – whenever that is. Your body very cleverly prepares itself for a meal. Once you are adequately hydrated and your body has finished its clear-up, signalling can get underway and you consciously think about food. This prepares your digestive tract – you salivate and your stomach rumbles, both of which mean that the enzymes and other chemicals needed to digest food, are ready and waiting. Absolutely the worst time to eat is whilst stressed, because this preparation stage will be omitted and indigestion ensues.

file000374824743There will be some people who wake feeling hungry. These are the people who eat very early evening, stay hydrated and don’t drink alcohol in the evening. In other words, there is less detoxifying to do so hunger is felt earlier. I know an aerobics teacher who is ravenous in the mornings and this is undoubtedly due to rapid usage of nutrients as well as early nights.

Remember that whenever you are ready to break your fast, you should provides what your body needs – essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats.

Some would argue carbohydrates in addition but since there are no essential carbohydrates, I don’t agree. However, the first nutrients in the list are the ones that your body is asking for and is prepared for, so make sure you provide these.

Many people will argue the time factors involved. No time in the morning for more than a piece of toast or no time to eat at ten o’clock when hunger hits. I’ve heard all the excuses and my answer is always the same – be prepared! If you cannot eat a good breakfast file0002090572764before leaving home, be prepared, as you will get hungry and you will eat something – as surely as day follows night. I am constantly amazed that work-places are completely geared for this – the coffee and doughnuts trolley materialises! There are also bakeries, sweet-shops and burger bars within close proximity. If you have a canteen at work, go and get yourself bacon and eggs!

There should be no hard and fast rules about what you eat or when as long as nutrients are supplied. If you had roasted meat for dinner the previous evening – take cold leftovers with salad or even cold vegetables with a nice creamy dressing. If you fancy an avocado to break your fast, accompany it with a few cherry tomatoes and a lump of Brie. Eggs from hens on pasture are possibly the best nutrition and the most convenient. Why not boil half a dozen and take two or three with you? Great with avocado, salad or cold asparagus. Try making a big frittata and taking a slice with you or make banana bread and take some of that. All of these suggestions will supply the necessary nutrients.

There is quite a bit of evidence that lengthening the time between your last meal of the day and the meal that breaks your fast the following morning helps with weight control and insulin sensitivity. I think it is a good idea anyway as it must emulate the eating patterns of our ancestors. Food would not have been available for “breakfast”, “lunch” and “dinner”. There may have been only one or two meals of meat or fish, with gaps occasionally filled by a few berries or nuts (in the autumn anyway) or roots, eggs, leaves and seeds. There were undoubtedly times of hunger but generally there would have been plenty of food to go around. The beauty of eating foods that we are genetically programmed for is that when properly nourished, we are less hungry.

Stop thinking of breakfast as such and instead, think of your first meal of the day as the time to supply all those nutrients that your body has told you it needs.

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The Life-Giving Sun

Well summer does seem to be here doesn’t it? One day of sun and a thunderstorm! It’s all good – nature needs both and frankly, so do we. The sun gives us huge amounts of vitamin D3 amongst other things.

I am still largely opposed taking supplements of vitamin D3. I have written many times about the problems with taking supplements and maintain my stance. Buying them is fraught because we don’t know how they have been made or whether they contain what they are supposed to contain and even if they do, whether it’s in the right form for humans to absorb! It is just too costly and complicated

We need the sun for our lives

Let’s take the benefits of the sun. Everyone knows that the sun makes vitamin D3 in our file000336228048(1)skins. Just think about that for a moment. Isn’t it absolutely astounding? This is just one example of how we are dependent upon our environment. (There are many others but I’ll save them for another time.) We need the sun for our lives – literally in every sense. We cannot survive without it and we become sick if deprived of it. We would not be here without the sun – and neither would anything else. It is vital that we appreciate and accept this fact. Our to-date evolution, over hundreds of thousands of years has depended upon the sun more than anything else. Most other factors in life have alternatives or can be foregone for a while.

..we have an epidemic of diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency

There is much evidence that certain diseases are more prevalent the further north in the hemisphere one looks. But we have lived in these places for many thousands of years and these diseases were not prevalent in our ancestors. “Modern” diseases are to be evidenced from remains that are less than 10,000 years old – giving grounds for the popular belief that these illnesses started during the time when we became farmers and had more permanent forms of shelter. Personally, I doubt that many of these illnesses were due to lack of sun exposure – we were very much outdoor people at this time. Their health change was more to do with their rapidly changing diet but as time continued, even more permanent buildings were constructed and much work was done indoors.

Even in the last couple of hundred years or so, we spent much time outside – walking (to get from one place to another, not necessarily for pleasure), farming, gardening and doing all those other necessary jobs that involve us stepping outside the house. Not anymore. Bringing it bang up to date, we travel to our place of work by car where we then enter an artificially lit, windowed building which allows no UVB light to enter. We travel home by car and spend the rest of the day inside. For many, the main source of UVB light is once a year on holiday. And then what do we do? Smother ourselves in sunscreen! We are in real trouble. Now, here in the northern hemisphere, we have an epidemic of diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency – and it is true – the further north you look, the more of these diseases you find.

How we obtained our vitamin D through pre-history

If you accept that we originated in Africa about 100,000 years ago and migrated northwards, you will also understand that at this time our skins were dark which protected us from the relentless equatorial sun whilst still allowing us to obtain the benefits. The northward journey took time – no jumping on Easyjet and arriving a few hours later! It possibly took thousands of years to inhabit the most northerly areas. Remember that at this time the Asia and Europe we know now, didn’t exist and the countries were merged making the migration easier.

As we very gradually moved northwards, our skins lightened. Why do think that was? In order that we could still benefit from the now much weaker and less reliable UVB rays from the sun! Our skins had to lighten in order to scavenge these less frequent rays at a much quicker rate than our African cousins – and the further north you live – the paler your skin will be and the faster you will get your dose of vitamin D! So, given that we need the same levels of vitamin D, the same amount can be obtained in just a few minutes if your recent ancestry is Scottish, a bit longer if you’re English but much longer if you are dark-skinned and living in Africa!

Vitamin D3 is not really a vitamin. It is a pre-steroid hormone and as such, can affect your DNA (unlike true vitamins). My take on this, is that many of the diseases that we label as genetic may in fact be acquired. Chronic vitamin D deficiency can be passed to our offspring. I have lots of reasons for believing this but one factor that I have come across many times when I am asking people about their health, is the “Welsh Tale” as I have named it. If someone has several generations of miners in their family, there is more risk of disease in that person. I’m sure you get the connection. Another scenario which is well documented is that of recent immigrants (within a few generations) to the northern hemisphere. It is this group of people who are the sickest in the western world – more diabetes, heart disease, obesity etc. Whilst there is a dietary factor, there is also a lack of vitamin D from the sun. Life is indoors and even if some time is spent in the sun, it is rarely enough for vitamin D to form. Each generation does seem to have lighter skin even if both parents are dark-skinned – nature knows what has to be done, but this takes time.

Sunbathe!

To prevent vitamin D deficiency, we must sunbathe. It must be taken like medicine. If the sun is high in the sky and your shadow is shorter than you are tall, the UVB rays are reaching Earth. Depending on your skin colour, sunbathe as near to naked as possible for as long as it takes your skin to go pink. Not red. When this has been achieved, cover up, use sunscreen (try to find a non-toxic one or use coconut oil which offers a little protection) or go indoors.

Don’t use soap/shower gel for at least 24 hours as this will remove the skin oils that contain the vitamin D. Use just water on the main parts and maybe just a little soap where you feel you must. Moisturise your skin with something natural such as coconut oil. With this amount of sun exposure you can make up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D but your body will stop the manufacture when it has sufficient to deal with. This takes 24 – 48 hours – then you can go out and make some more! You won’t find this quantity in a supplement and indeed, if you took this amount, it would be harmful.

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Since the fat-soluble vitamins work together, make sure you get plenty of vitamins A and K2 as well. Cheese is a good source especially Brie and Gouda.

Vitamin D is just one reason why we need the sun but there are others. For example, there is evidence that we need it for energy – just like plants. Lots of people feel energised when in the sun. Also, UV light through our eyes regulates our Circadian rhythms, thus helping us sleep. There will be more evidence to come I feel quite sure. Here is another article about the effects the sun has on us.

I have written about it before, but for completeness, I will give you a run-down of the diseases that seem (research is showing) to be related to vitamin D deficiency: around twenty types of cancer; diabetes; depression; heart disease; bone abnormalities; auto-immune diseases; infections. More about vitamin D3 here.

This is one way to boost your health enormously – it’s all of the above and more – and you can do it for free! Now what are you doing here? Outside you go!

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The Problem With Plant Foods…

Healthy EatingPlant foods epitomise all that is good for us don’t they? Articles about nutrition and diet are usually adorned with overflowing bowls of fruit, water-sprayed salads and colourful vegetable displays at markets or supermarkets – and indeed, many of my articles are similarly adorned. BUT there is a cost to be paid if we are to benefit from nutrients from plant foods.

As is my thing, I have looked at these plant foods with the back-drop of our (and their) evolution. Everything on Earth is here for a reason and for that reason, everything on Earth has efficient life-preserving and pro-creation systems in place. If this were not the case, then animals (including humans) and plants would just die out. Yes, I know there are more species that have become extinct, than exist today but at least in part this is to do with nature and how it selects. The rest is down to us, but I won’t step on that mine-field now! We and many other animals have hormones that allow us to progress the species. We also have hormones that allow “fight or flight” when we are in danger. We can regulate our temperatures so that we don’t cook in the sun or freeze during winter. Our skins brown in the sun to prevent our bodies becoming sun-damaged and we have immune systems that help protect us from pathogenic infections. We have more life-preserving tricks too which adds to why we are so successful as a species.

So what of plants? They too got to this point by evolution. Because they need it to thrive, some live in shade, some in full sunlight. Some like dry sandy soil and some like deep loamy soils. Some like moist conditions and some like dry. Plants are very clever with perpetuating their species and many have more than one way of doing this. Take strawberries – plantlets grow on runners but they can also be grown from seed. Raspberries and roses spread by their root-systems, throwing up suckers in the grass, to our annoyance! They too can be, but aren’t usually grown from seed. Many plants can produce “children” simply by a piece of the parent being broken off. These sections will root very easily – such as the willow tree. My grandmother had a huge willow tree in her garden and it grew from a willow washing-line prop! Plants have another form of defence too – they contain chemicals to discourage animals from feasting on them.

We have called these chemicals collectively, anti-nutrients. There are many – digestive enzyme inhibitors which can interfere with the digestion of our food; various acids such as phytic and oxalic which prevent uptake of certain minerals, especially calcium; glucosinates which prevent the uptake of iodine – vital for thyroid function; even eating lots of fibre, such as bran (which also contains phytates), can hasten food through the gastro- intestinal system preventing some valuable nutrients from being absorbed.

file8651336976179 We have evolved alongside plants and as any gardener will tell you it is a constant battle to get them to do what we want them to do! They want one thing, we want another which is why so many vegetable and fruit growers create artificial conditions and use artificial chemicals to nourish the plants and destroy pests. I suspect that we ate very little vegetation until we were able to cook. Most plants would have been too tough, unappetising and too indigestible prior to the advent of fire. Our taste-buds would have told us if our digestive systems could cope with what we put in our mouths. There is speculation about how long we have had fire but it dates back to at least 400,000 years ago and it was that event that made some foods more palatable and digestible. Even so, our choice would have been limited to the foods that could be wrapped in leaves and cooked in the embers – it was a long, long time before we had cooking pots! Remember too that the leaves, roots and fruits we see in the supermarket now are the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding and (disastrously), genetic modification. These actions have made them bigger/sweeter/more attractive/have a longer shelf-life/etc. – but the anti-nutrients persist.

Weston A. Price researched the diets of people the world over during the early 1900s and found (plus many other things) that amongst primitive people, health and diet often went hand in hand. They usually inhabited remote places but all were growing, rearing and preparing their own food. They were (and some still are) the picture of health. Some were vegetarian but due to their preparation of grains, beans, nuts and roots, they were able to destroy most of the anti-nutrients prior to consumption. Their methods are not complicated but they do take some time – obviously they had to plan, which is something we are all so bad at now! Grains, beans and roots were soaked with the addition of acid – vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt, whey etc. for a day or so. Only then were they suitable for cooking. Al dente is not something they knew of (especially as it is Italian!), because these foods need lengthy cooking to destroy even more anti-nutrients. Possibly all they knew was that the foods were more digestible but what they had actually done is make the nutrients more bio-available and therefore their food gave them more positive nutrition. I must stress that the vegetarians that were studied also ate raw dairy products and eggs too. Some will remember the “raw” phase that gripped the 1970s. Many jumped on this bandwagon and ended up very ill. Raw beans were responsible for many people being rushed to hospital with severe stomach pains. There is lots more on the preparation of beans, grains and nuts here.

One of the worst foods for us is soya. There is some very interesting reading here and whilst this is someone’s opinion, it is one I and many others share. Just to add insult to injury, about 90% of the soya produced is genetically modified and fed not only to us but to animals, making them sick too.

These are just some of the battles that we have to do with plant foods. There are more – foods belonging to the nightshade family for example – tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, aubergines etc. If we wish to eat plants, we take on this fight!

Just to put all this into perspective, organic, free-range meat and raw dairy have no anti-nutrients and make almost perfect nutrition for humans!

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Type 2 Diabetes – Could it Spell Doom For Us?

I doubt that there is a person in the Western World who doesn’t know at least one diabetic. Worldwide, there are around 250 million known cases and millions more undiagnosed.  Could it be the end of us?

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The circulatory system is the first to part of the body to be adversely affected by diabetes. If blood sugar is left unchecked or is not stable, the health of all organs in the body are at risk. Most commonly, the eyes, kidneys, heart and peripheral nerves are affected. If we can’t radically alter the pattern of this growing phenomenon – soon – I believe that the human species will fall into two subtypes – one that lives and reproduces and one that struggles with both of these. Let me explain.

Firstly, how does someone become a type 2 diabetic? There is a lot of science involved, some of which I don’t understand and no-one has all the answers – believe me I’ve looked. Remember too that just like me, all these people who expound on the topic are voicing an opinion or voicing their interpretation of research results. I am not a scientist but just try to see what is logical from our evolution. This offers us some reliable clues – some still open to interpretation of course, but generally history doesn’t change its mind as often as science does!

In Europe our ancestors existed through seasons, taking what food we could find from each one – and due to varying weather conditions, this would have been hit and miss. Spring: very little vegetation early in the year, but roots and shoots plus fish, birds and their eggs and animals. Summer: more vegetation, young birds, animals, fish, eggs and a few early fruits. Autumn: still some vegetation, roots, animals, birds and fish, more fruits (but remember these would have only been berries and a few small cherries), seeds and nuts. Winter: animals, birds and fish, nuts and seeds that had been stored from autumn, roots,  probably, probably insects and very few fresh leaves or other vegetation. Much of the year, they would have been living on their fat reserves – and the ketones produced from the breakdown of fat. This is the body’s preferred fuel and today this diet is called ketogenic.

In the views of many authorities, we have not changed much genetically in the last 10,000 years. In terms of nutrition, this diet would have sustained us – providing all nutrients necessary for existence and procreation. Therefore, I have no reason to believe that a diet far removed from this would be beneficial to us now. We got to this point in time because we became omnivorous, which to my way of thinking is nature’s way of protecting the species. (I should say here that when nature sees an advantage which aids the progression of a species, it can switch genes on and off to make use of this advantage. This is why we will continue to evolve – but very slowly.)

Our ancestral diet is relatively high fat (think duck, wild boar and organ meat which have a high fat content), medium protein and low carbohydrate. Diabetes was unheard of as we know it. People ate what they had to – not what they fancied!

IMG_2645Now to diabetes; during our evolution we developed the ability to digest all the above macro-nutrients. The relatively low carbohydrate content supplied by vegetation, roots, nuts, seeds, fruit and an occasional (rather painful I expect!) foray into wild honey, needs the hormone insulin for metabolism.  All these foods contain sugars that must be broken down into their simplest form for absorption – glucose. This was undoubtedly a life-saver all those years ago, because insulin is the fat-storing hormone. It can change glucose to fat for storage. During summer and autumn, when there would be a reasonable amount of carbohydrate containing foods around, fat could be stored for winter energy when times were lean. Brilliant! The human body is so amazing!

Now think about what happens today. We eat what we want, not what we need. We eat bread, cereals, fruit, potatoes (a recent addition to our vegetables – around 400 years ago) and rice every day and most often three or more times a day – because the government says we should! Insulin will be in our bloodstreams almost constantly and if you are not expending energy then your muscles don’t require a glucose diversion and all glucose in the blood will be stored as fat. After a of time eating this way, the body becomes “insulin resistant” – more and more insulin is needed to provide the same function and it is this state that can contribute to, or maybe even cause, type 2 diabetes.

There are some other possible predisposing factors for type 2 diabetes too:
Low vitamin D levels
Poor gut health
High intake of polyunsaturated fats
Diabetes in your family
Heart disease in your family
Obesity (indicative not causative)
Inactivity
Corticosteroid drugs

So why do I think we’ll split into two sub-groups? Well, my theory is to do with the main effect of glucose imbalance – damage in the circulatory system. Unchecked glucose in the bloodstream leads to inflammation – and this is disease provoking. Due to roughening of the blood vessel walls, the body sends out the rescue team which tries to repair the damage. This ultimately compromises arterial blood flow by narrowing the lumen, thus reducing the flow to all organs. Now, younger and younger people are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – even as young as teenagers. Diabetes can affect the artery supplying the groin. In men this can cause erectile dysfunction and production of sperm. In women it can cause poor blood flow via the umbilical cord to a growing foetus, making spontaneous miscarriage likely or the baby could be born with serious health problems.  These scenarios will lead to fewer viable pregnancies and therefore population decline. People who obtain all the nutrients – in the right proportions – for human existence will continue to thrive and produce healthy offspring. Please remember that this is my view and I have only my own observations to back me up. Something needs to be done about this situation but I suspect it will get far worse before it gets better. Sorry to be the harbinger of doom!

The advice I would give if you believe you are at risk is to go for a low-carbohydrate, natural, organic food diet. (Here are my health guidelines) Some nutritionists think it is a good idea to have your daily carb “fix” (if you need one) just once in the day, maybe breakfast or lunch time in order that you raise your insulin levels substantially, only once during the day. I think it is better to spread them over the day and get most of the carbohydrates from the most nutritious sources – nuts, seeds, root vegetables, fruits occasionally (and try to stick to berries and cherries). Leave cereals alone if you can or make them special occasions only.

file0001103320696By the way, animal fat is a definite must for diabetics and those with the risk factors, so go ahead with creamy (but not floury) sauces, pastured eggs, butter on your veg and the delicious fat and crackling from the organic roast pork!

This is a doctor’s view of the standard recommendations for diet, given to diabetics.

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Stop Counting Calories and Start Counting Nutrients – part 2

The government guidelines of the 1980s are still with us, despite oodles of research calling them into question.

The two main groups on the Eatwell plate, are fruit and vegetables and the carbohydrate foods – bread, pasta, rice etc. They both have their place but not in this way – I wrote about these groups last time. The foods here have a fairly low calorific value and of course, file331303081137(1)this is one reason why the government came up with this recommendation – to try (in vain) to curb obiesity. The calorific value of foods has become the most important attribute of a food to dieters, nutritionists, dieticians and even those who just want to look after their health. This is a mistake. The whole point of hunger is the body telling the mind that it is time to replenish spent nutrients. What is required is food that replaces these – not a rice cake which has very little energy value – and in fact, very little of anything else either. Let’s look at the rest of the Eatwell plate – three further sections (making up the last third) which make up the whole.

Non-dairy proteins: There are essential proteins – meaning we must eat them. The foods containing proteins are mainly of animal origin. These are complete proteins and ideal for humans. There are many vegetable sources of protein but as they are incomplete, a wide range of these must be eaten. The foods include eggs, beans, peas, fish and meat from animals.

A few problems:
1) There is no guidance for vegetarians as to how to mix vegetable sources of proteins.
2) The amount depicted is a little less than I would suggest. The “slice” represents about 13% of the total plate. Roughly the same is recommended for the dairy proteins bringing the total to about one quarter of the plate.
3) Lean meat is advised and there is no mention of offal. Muscle meat is good – with its natural fat which is needed for the metabolism of protein. Offal is incredibly nutrient dense so only a little at a time is needed in order to receive the benefits. Grazing animals, or more precisely, their gut microbes, are able to convert the vegetation they eat into all the nutrients they require. Having done this, the animals store their nutrients in their organs – liver, brain, glands and kidneys. Superb nutrition!
4) If you are not eating organic meats and wild-caught fish, then you are dosing yourself with broken down antibiotics/hormones and other drugs.

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Dairy proteins: This group of foods are advised for both their protein and their mineral content. Whilst unnecessary for good health, they make obtaining nutrition easier and more varied. In their natural state, they provide a wonderful array of goodies for us so if you can find a source, use raw milk products. Organic pasteurised milk is a reasonable food although it is not the same nutritionally as its raw counterpart. Sadly, most dairy products have been tampered with in some way.

The problems:
1) Dairy products are denatured by the pasteurisation and homogenisation of milk, the addition of colours, sugar, thickeners and flavours to yogurt, processing of cheese to make “child-friendly” products etc.
2) The recommendations are (with the exception of that given to small children) for low fat varieties. More denaturing.  It is the fat soluble vitamins contained in the cream that allow calcium and other minerals to be absorbed – so why is the cream removed? To save on calories of course!
3) Dairy cows are given antibiotics routinely, ensuring that you get some too.
4) Cream and butter are not even given a mention. They do not contain any useful protein but the dairy section of the Eatwell plate would be much more valuable had they been included. They contain lots of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. Raw butter and cream are health foods. There are essential fats – we must obtain them from here and from meat products.

The last and smallest section on the plate is the “fatty/sugary” foods and I (almost) completely agree. (I imagine the Eatwell Plate includes butter, cream, raw honey etc. here, but these in moderation add positive nutrition.) The problems with overeating these are many – diabetes, obesity, heart disease, compromised immunity and so many more. Our love for these foods corrupts the smooth-functioning of the body – literally everything will be compromised. As usual, there are sweet fatty foods and sweet fatty foods. Ice-cream made with vegetable fat, ordinary sugar, flavourings and colourings should be avoided at all costs. My ice-cream contains organic milk, eggs, cream and maple syrup. Not only is it a treat, but it is good for you too! There are lots of parallels to be drawn.

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In general, the foods to be avoided are the cheap sweet foods – sweets, fizzy pop, biscuits, bought cakes. They often contain large quantities of highly processed seed oils which are downright dangerous for our health. Sugar is nothing but sweetness with no nutritional benefits whatsoever. Sugar and seed oils are both contenders for the top spot as the most damaging “foods” for our health.

It is not a requirement to add vitamin/mineral content of foods on packaging. Since these values vary so enormously even in the same foods, neither would it be a wise addition. However, it might be a good idea to put “a good source” if a food is rich in a certain nutrient. Frankly, you are better off buying fresh foods without packaging and do your own research regarding nutrients. Read my guidelines for health for more information.

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Stop Counting Calories and Start Counting Nutrients – Part 1

It was during the 1980s that food nutrition labelling became compulsory and specific. I don’t remember exactly but it was probably at the same time that the government launched their nutritional guidelines – depicted now by the Eatwell Plate.

Most people will be familiar with it but as a rough guide – the plate is divided into three sections. In the first is for fruit and vegetables, the second for bread, cereals, potatoes and pasta and the third is again divided. It is divided into three segments, one smaller than the other two. The two larger are for dairy and protein foods and the smaller section for fatty/sugary foods.

There is no doubt that this way of eating is better than many diets – limiting “fatty/sugary” for one. (I agree with this as these foods generally contain highly processed seed oils rather than natural fats.) However, it falls short of advice for robust health.

This Eatwell Plate shows only the major food groups – proteins, fats carbohydrates and of course, as there isn’t a specific food group for fruit and veg, one has been created. What it fails in, is guiding us towards a nutrient dense diet – in fact it does just the opposite. The two largest sections on the plate are not (in general) nutrient dense. Let’s take each separately.

Carbohydrates: There are no essential carbohydrates but we are told we must base all our meals on these foods. That means potentially, you could be eating grains – usually wheat – three times daily and then there are the snacks on top. Carbohydrate foods are filling – temporarily, but they are not satisfying. Imagine the toast, potatoes and crumpets without butter… or the pasta or rice without their sauces.

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Some years ago I attended an eating disorders conference. One of the speakers – a doctor specialising in these disorders – told us of a very unscientific experiment that he and some of his colleagues had performed. The inserted naso-gastric tubes into each other and tested the effects of two foods on their ability to satiate hunger. Firstly, they filled each other’s stomachs with liquidised carbohydrate foods. The result – fullness without satiety even after some time. In other words, even though they felt stuffed – they still felt they wanted something else. Some time after the first experiment, they inserted the tubes into their duodenums – just past the stomach – and introduced a tablespoon of fat. It is the duodenum that communicates with the brain that we have eaten and as it takes about twenty minutes for the stomach to start emptying, it is wise not to eat too quickly! What they found was that the feeling of satiety was almost instant. As I said this is not real science but I think it does demonstrate that eating lots of carbs is not a good idea and eating some fats, is.

There are many problems with the over-indulgence of carbohydrate foods. Here are a few:
1) They fill us up temporarily but we feel the need to eat again soon after which encourages snacking. This effect also leaves less room for nutrient-dense foods.
2) They increase our need for vitamin C.
3) Carbs are broken down to their simplest form for absorption – glucose. Glucose is sugar.
4) They contain anti-nutrients. These can stop absorption of some minerals and play havoc with digestion.

Fruit and Vegetables: On the Eatwell plate, these look so healthy – depicted in lovely bright colours, typifying what we believe to be healthy and to some degree, they are. There are of course plusses as many of the foods in this group, do contain usable nutrients including fibre. Also, they can prevent snacking on worse choices. In my view, this group of foods has become more important as we now don’t eat the parts of an animal that at one time, was the main source of our nutrition. I’ll say more about this when I talk about protein.

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So here are some of the draw-backs to this group of foods:
1) Historically, fruit and vegetables in the northern hemisphere were largely available from Spring to Autumn only. What we consumed outside this time may have been fermented and thus we extended the season and also the nutrition! This is an unlikely scenario in pre-history.
2) Much fruit and vegetables on the shelves in our supermarkets comes from abroad. This means that most produce is picked before it is ready and has to travel miles. “Fresh fruit and vegetables” are usually anything but – including organic.
3) In order to preserve freshness, producers use a variety of methods; washing salad with a chlorinated solution, spraying citrus and other fruit with wax and irradiating. All these methods are good for the shelf-life of the product but not for us.
4) Most of our greengrocery has undergone enhancements! Bigger, sweeter, improved keepability – what we think of as natural just isn’t. We have played around with genetic modification for years. Most products have been subjected to this over time but the more recent genetic modifications are exceptionally harmful to us and wild animals.
5) Pesticides. If you are not eating organic produce, you will be ingesting hundreds of toxic chemicals. It is not just a matter of washing the produce – the chemicals will be found throughout in many of these foods. The idea to increase the current recommendation of “five-a-day” to eight will just tax your liver even more to get rid of these poisons.
6) Many of the nutrients in fruit and veg are not bio-available to us.
7) Some fruit and veg will contain antinutrients – see above.
8) It is a fact that some people will just eat fruit rather than vegetables. This provides far too much of the sugar “fructose” which can be damaging to health in quantity.

I will conclude this blog next time as it is rather lengthy!

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Choices Choices…

What does “choice” mean to you? Every day we are faced with choices and we decide what to do based upon our experiences, knowledge, available time to contemplate a situation and our mood.

We make choices when driving – have we got sufficient stopping distance when the amber light shows or should we accelerate? Should we overtake the slow driver in front or sit tight? At what time is it safe to enter a round-about? In the main, it is experience that answers these questions but experience comes after we have passed our driving test and we have met these situations for real. Only then can we become safe, competent drivers making the right choices. In other words, we have to learn the basics before we can make safe judgements.

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How about your work? Were you given instruction prior to starting a new job? Did you have to get a degree in something in order to follow your career path? Did you then have to undertake further, more specific training? The point I am trying to make is that in order to make meaningful choices, we have firstly to be taught and then we gain experience. It applies to most things. You only once need to click on a dodgy email to find out what a computer virus is and how to recognize it!

“Illness for the large part is preventable

You have heard it before, but if you don’t have your health, you lose everything – your freedom, your job, your home possibly and ultimately, even your life. I know this sounds dramatic but as a nurse, I have seen this so very many times. Illness for the large part is preventable. I have felt sad and frustrated when patients are diagnosed with preventable conditions that are set to devastate lives. So what is your choice?

Most people “learn” about food by walking into a supermarket and selecting foods that they want not need. We are not altogether to blame for this. A supermarket layout is designed for their benefit, not yours. Your choice is being manipulated. So often I see mothers with children in the supermarket and the children are making the choices! Did you see an advert on the television last night that made you think “I must try that”?   Again, our choices are being manipulated.

If we do learn about the food we are eating, how can you be sure that the information is sound? We are bombarded with so-called health programmes – people losing weight, embarrassing bodies, fat versus sugar and so on. These programmes are entertainment not education. By watching them we learn that vegetables are important to health and of course they are, but what we are not told is even more important. Vegetables may have been sprayed with toxic pesticides and the food may have been genetically modified which has known, serious long-term effects. The other little gem we all think we know is about calories. Calories in versus calories out = balance. So now we are searching for low calorie foods and this is stated on packaging making it easy for us. Another of our choices has been decided. Oh and of course, we must look for low-fat foods as fat is fattening. The reason the Western World has epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancers is because we trust that the information given to us is correct. We weren’t let loose in a car in order to learn safe driving so why do we think that going to a supermarket will educate us in nutrition? In both cases, we are going to crash.

My advice is to learn. Read. Possibly the first thing to look for is vested interest. Are you going to learn about probiotics from yogurt makers? Do you hear vitamin information from breakfast cereal producers? Do you trust information about heart health from margarine manufacturers?  Will you learn about cholesterol from people who want you to lower yours? When these questions are asked, it sounds mad doesn’t it?

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I want you to learn about nutrition and health from people whose aim is education not profit and I am one of these! As a nurse I believe we all have a right to health and I want to share my knowledge so that we can all make informed choices – the way it should be.

A wonderful non-profit organization is the Weston A. Price Foundation. This site has a wealth of information from people who are well qualified and really care. It’s a great place to learn the basics of nutrition.

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You’re Eating a “Balanced” Diet – But is it the Right One?

If you and a friend wrote a menu for the day which illustrated a “balanced diet”, I can guarantee it would be nutritionally, completely different. The trouble is, “balanced” means different things to different people. In fact it is a word that really bugs me (along with “super-food”!).

So many people say to me that they think that eating a balanced diet is the way to go and of course, I agree but as a nutritionist my “balanced diet” will be based on a very different set of guidelines to theirs.

There is only one set of rules for a truly balanced diet – this took me ages to put into words!
Eating the foods that supply all the nutrients known to be required (and those with no names as yet) for the correct functioning of the body at all ages.

It sounds simple and obvious but there is a lot more to it than these few words, albeit they are the bottom line. As far as we know, humans all over the world need the same nutrients. However, it is possible that the ratio of these nutrients will change from continent to continent, due to the hugely varying environments. How on Earth are we supposed to know what to eat and how much?

file0001949597792Supermarkets have for many years now, provided food to the majority of people. So, theoretically we should be able to buy our “balanced diet”. We think we can but supermarkets have a way of influencing us to boost their sales – not to boost our health! Sweets near the checkouts, wafts of bread baking, foods they want us to buy at eye-level – there are more wiles and I don’t know them all – but for them, it is an art. This can very much affect what we come home with.

It is all very well knowing a bit about nutrients and where they are found but can we rely on this knowledge? I could tell you that there is vitamin D in green leafy vegetables – and there is. The problem is that it is not in the form that is usable in the human body – we have to convert it and not everyone is able to do this. I could tell you that vitamin B12 is present in some vegetable foods but this is never available to us as the only B12 analogue that we can use comes from animal sources. Vitamin A is available in some plants but as a substance called beta-carotene – a pro-vitamin. In other words, we have to change it to the usable vitamin – and guess what? Some people can’t do it!

I have spoken before about “five-a-day”. I imagine that we all know what this means. I understand why this recommendation came about – an attempt to increase our nutrients and in recommending this, it would steer us away from junk foods. Laudable I’m sure. Strange as it may seem, other European countries have different recommendations on how many portions a day we should have! There are problems with all these guidelines.
1) A few hundred years ago, we had only fruit and vegetables that were in season and what we could preserve by drying or salting as there were no fridges or freezers. As this was case, from where did we obtain our needed nutrients?  And we obviously did because we’re still here!
2) Is it even beneficial that we consume fruit on a daily basis? Imported fruits tend to be high in sugar and little else. The same goes for some imported vegetables – by the time they reach us their nutrient content has depleted considerably.
3) Fresh vegetables and fruit sounds good doesn’t it? How good is it really? Firstly, it is rarely as fresh as it should be – just think of the long journey some produce has to make to get to us. These days, varieties are bred for their keepability and then they may be sprayed/washed in chlorinated water/waxed to enhance this further. Do we want this on our plates? Added to that, during the growth of veg and fruit, they will have been sprayed with pesticides which are very toxic.
4) There is a good chance that some standard fresh produce will be genetically modified – and this problem is increasing. There is much evidence that GMOs are dangerous to us long term.

We need to get a handle on a “balanced diet” and what it means for us. If you are to obtain the correct nutrients for humans, eat a variety of mainly seasonal, organically produced foods. Eat small fish and shellfish from a reputable fishmonger. Eat offal as well as muscle meat. Eat animal fat from animals raised on pasture, natural game and eggs from hens that have been allowed to roam outside. Grow your own vegetables and fruit or buy seasonal varieties. Organic dairy adds lots of nutrition. If you eat grains and legumes, treat them properly. Add in a few nuts and seeds. This should be the backbone of your diet – what you eat on a daily basis. Once this is achieved, it is fine to have an occasional treat (mine’s an almond croissant!). Problems arise when treat foods replace the nutrient dense foods listed above.

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The nourishment of your body depends upon this balanced diet. Your appetite will regulate itself and you won’t feel hungry as often. It is what you chew, swallow, digest, absorb and utilize that will determine your health. Unfortunately, in someone less than healthy, things can go wrong at each these stages. That is the time to see a nutritionist!

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