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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The Importance of Digestion (From Top to Bottom!)

file3011257997439 In my view, even if you smoke or are obese, the food you put into your mouth is the most important factor to determine your overall health. If you eat well your health improves; if you eat badly, your health deteriorates. Simple.

 

 

Well it should be simple but food and nutrition have become complicated over the last century. When we “process” food it can become difficult or impossible to digest. Add to that these other factors – we now eat foods that are not from our evolutionary diet, foods are often genetically modified, traditional food preparation has been replaced with super-fast methods and in many instances, cookery skills have been lost. Probably the most important is learning to cook from scratch using tried and trusted traditional methods and starting with the best ingredients, preferably organically produced.

We eat because we need nutrients which our bodies convert to compounds which are used in the hundreds of body processes that go on every second of our lives. Even if the food is the best, we still have to absorb and utilize these nutrients – and therein lies the rub!

Nutrition is not just filling our stomachs with any old food or a few vitamin tablets. Nutrition encompasses all of the following – the correct food being chewed, swallowed, digested (see below) absorbed and utilized. When any of these stages are omitted either within our control or without it, proper nutrition is forfeited. Let me explain.

When we anticipate or smell food, already our bodies begin preparation for digestion. We salivate, our stomachs rumble which indicates that the digestive juices are being produced. This enables various digestive enzymes to do their work before the next stage can commence.

Chewing food begins the digestion of carbohydrates and it is made more liquid. giant_panda_eatingThis is necessary if all nutrients are to be extracted. Swallowing begins the muscular wave (peristalsis) throughout the intestines to push food to the next stage of digestion. When food enters the stomach, protein is broken down by the hydrochloric acid contained in the digestive juices. The enzymes present continue the digestion of carbohydrates and begin the break-down of fats and proteins. When this is achieved, the small intestine continues the process using bile from the gall bladder and enzymes from the pancreas. Providing there is no disease in the small intestine, many nutrients and water are absorbed here. As the process continues into the large intestine, more fluid is absorbed and some of the B vitamins are created. The end of the scenario is a trip to the loo! This removes that which cannot be digested and other unneeded substances.

As you can see, there are many stages to digestion – which means that there are many ways for things to go awry. The food you eat makes the enzymes, saliva and gastric juices, so if your diet is poor, the situation moves from bad to worse.

Addressing the stages -
In the mouth:  If teeth are bad, the mouth is sore, dentures are poorly fitting, food may be poorly chewed or even avoided altogether.
In the stomach: Too little acid, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), ulceration of the stomach lining, frequent heartburn or a hiatus hernia and many more conditions can interfere with the initial break down of foods. This is especially true of vitamin B12.
In the small intestine: Food insufficiently digested in the stomach will be problematic, poor microbial mix or insufficient beneficial bacteria, Crohn’s and celiac disease, duodenal ulceration, poor bile and pancreatic enzyme production and other diseases  and insufficiencies will produce incomplete digestion here.
The large intestine: Diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (IBD), poor muscle tone (from years of the wrong diet), insufficient good bacteria, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will all disrupt the final stages of digestion.

There are all sorts of ways that we can become mal-nourished, even in our land of plenty. Of course, if there was nothing you could do about it, I wouldn’t be writing this! There is plenty you can do to optimise your nutrition.

  1. Choose the best food you can afford and learn how to cook it. (This book is an excellent start!) I won’t go into the minutiae of as there is lots of advice in my other blogs.
  2. Ensure your teeth are in good condition.
  3. Eat slowly. Chew thoroughly and don’t drink much with food as this dilutes the needed acid in the stomach. People who suffer indigestion and GERD should not drink half an hour before or an hour after meals.
  4. Eat fermented foods sometimes – sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt.
  5. Practice relaxation. Stress is very damaging on the digestive system at every stage.
  6. Ensure that meal times are just that. Make time to sit down and enjoy your food. I absolutely believe in chatting over a meal as this slows things down and is conducive to good digestion and not overeating.
  7. When you first feel the urge to go to the loo, please go!  Putting it off is damaging to the muscle tone of the bladder and the rectum.

There has to be at least one thing you can do to improve your digestion. One step at a time..

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Candida Albicans – The Main Cause of IBS? (IBS Part 5)

We live with yeasts. There are yeasts in the air we breathe, on the food we eat and living happily in our intestines. It is impossible to avoid them but fortunately, the healthy body has systems in place to keep yeast infections under control. Candida Albicans is the opportunist microbe and overgrows prolifically given the chance.

As I discussed before, medications and illnesses will deplete the beneficial gut bacteria and this allows the undesirables to proliferate and this can happen very quickly, especially if the diet is high in sugars and other carbohydrates. This is called dysbiosis – literally meaning , difficult life.

All yeasts have similar needs. If you have ever made bread or beer you know that mixing water, yeast and sugar in a warm place creates lots of bubbles. (Actually, if you used a spoonful of flour the effect would be the same.) This reaction is the result of yeasts feeding on sugar and multiplying. For Candida, the gut provides an ideal environment to set up home and have a big family. Friends will also be invited, but friends of Candida, not of us!

beerWhen bread or beer is made, the gases easily escape into the atmosphere but what happens if this fermentation goes on inside us? There is no immediate escape so gases build up causing much noise and often severe cramping pains. Eventually gas escapes as very smelly wind accompanied by acute embarrassment. Sometimes the gas does not escape easily and becomes trapped causing more pain and bloating. A story I hear often is that a bloated abdomen becomes apparent over the day and goes down overnight no doubt escaping during sleep.

So why the diarrhoea that often typifies IBS? When the yeast Candida colonises in the gut is becomes less of a yeast and more of a fungus. The organisms join forces and start to line the gut wall, anchoring with minute rootlets into the intestines. When this happens, there is little room for the good guys to colonise which means the delicate lining becomes eroded as there is no protection. Food cannot be digested and absorbed properly which means it leaves the body rapidly and barely altered from when it was eaten. Another likely scenario is that instead of being absorbed as nutrients, other unwanted microbes cause the food to putrefy adding to the toxic load. Whilst these effects are going to cause much discomfort and distress, another very troublesome situation is occurring – malnutrition.

This is the disaster that will almost certainly perpetuate or worsen the illness. We take for granted that our food will be digested once eaten but it is an extremely complex process – one which is dependent upon all areas of the gut doing their bit before the food is moved on to the next stage. With IBS these stages can be inadequate or missed out altogether. The end result is that nutrients are not absorbed and the body’s digesting fluids and enzymes cannot be created. Many other processes cannot be instigated. The vicious circle continues and we get sicker.

Next time, I will tell you the story of Micaela Stafford. This was a lady I met a few years ago who had the most severe form of gut dysbiosis I have ever witnessed. She has allowed me to tell her story.

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IBS – Host to a Host of Undesirables (IBS Part 4)

It is my belief that our gut microbes have a great deal to do with who we are as people. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Let me tell you how I see it.

We are literally heaving with microbes! We have trillions more microbes in our gut than we do cells that make up our bodies and they can weigh more than a kilo. We are not entirely  human!

As far as we are concerned, they come in three types:
1) The ones we need for our health.
2) The ones “passing by” (in quantity, some of these may also make us ill).
3) The ones that make us sick – the opportunists.

Now, if we have enough of the ones we need for health, they will ensure that the microbes in the other two categories don’t do us much harm.

The microbes needed for health help with many functions – including the digestion of food, protection of our gut wall and keeping all other microbes in check. In return, we feed them – a truly symbiotic relationship.

bacteriaAll living things need to take in some form of energy and as this is used up, waste products are created which have to be released. The waste products (or metabolites) of the “good guys” in our intestines are things we need such as B vitamins and enzymes. The metabolites of the passers-by are of no consequence in small quantities but then we come to the bully-boys. The metabolites of these can really make us ill – substances similar to opiates and others related to the tetanus toxin, production of horrendous gases such as hydrogen sulphide (the rotten eggs smell) are just a few of the effects that affect our health. Regrettably, our modern diets nourish these pathogens, perpetuating the problem.

Very often, these pathogenic organisms are left to dominate when we have been subjected to poor health over a period of time, repeated use of antibiotics, chemotherapy treatment for cancers and other continuous drug treatments for chronic illness. In order to colonise, some of these microbes have the ability to “anchor” themselves to the intestinal wall thus creating microscopic fissures in the delicate single-celled lining. This allows them, their metabolites and minuscule particles of undigested food into the blood stream. What happens then is another story but just consider what opiate-like substances might do to the brain if this can happen.

The most common opportunist microbe to invade the gut when conditions are right is candida albicans. This yeast acts as a fungus when allowed to overgrow. It needs another blog to describe the effects and this will be the subject for next time.

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Real Wellness and How I Came to My Conclusions

I have had a long career as a nurse and it gave me a bit of insight into what is happening to us. It occurred to me years ago, that people were becoming sicker and not healthier despite the government guidelines for health and less people smoking. There were a few questions about health that needed answering. Some of them about what is happening today, but some regarding our evolution.

Dinosaurs and Cavemen

  1. It is likely that our genes have not changed since Paleolithic (Paleo) times, so why do we believe that the diet now advocated as “healthy”, would be better for us than the one we evolved with?
  2. How did we survive with no dieticians and nutritionists/fitness instructors/diet books and the internet?
  3. Did cavemen eat cornflakes or run marathons?
  4. Why are we getting sicker but “living longer”?
  5. Why did my mum always cut out bread and potatoes to lose weight then regain that weight when she resumed eating them?

These are my answers to the above questions:

  1. All animals need protein, fat, vitamins and minerals and (maybe) carbohydrates. A cow’s gut is unique in that it can break down grass and weeds to the very basic building blocks. From this it can then rebuild these blocks to form proteins, fats etc. This process is also why it has to eat all day! Its stomach has four chambers and its intestines are about half the length of a football pitch! We do not have the guts for this vegetarian diet. Our gut is mainly designed for meat eating but nature has ensured the maximum chance for our survival so we are also able to digest some other foods.
  2. Our taste buds and other responses to food eaten, tell us what our digestion can cope with. Are we going to eat grass? No! Are we (on a regular basis) going to eat seeds? No! Are we going to lob a stone at a duck and roast it? Oh yes! (We have been cooking for at least 400,000 years) If you are now wondering why it is that you fancy a cake with your coffee, the reason is simple. In a cake we have combined protein, fat and carbohydrates and our taste buds are totally confused. The fat and protein are detected so they give the green light.
  3. No, our ancestors did not eat corn and run around like mad things – unless it was really essential. Collecting seeds was a labour of necessity not desire 40,000 years ago. This would have been an unnecessary energy expenditure most of the time. Using stealth, skill, team work and short bursts of energy would usually ensure that the family were fed good quality food in the form of wild animals. There would have been little edible vegetation for much of the year.
  4. There are several reasons why the statistics are showing that we are living longer both from Palaeolithic times and from a couple of hundred years ago. Cavemen died from severe injuries and overwhelming infections because there were no doctors. There is little evidence of modern disease until 5-10,000 years ago. Since Victorian times, much has changed, not just our diets. We have better sanitation, cleaner air, better medical care for injuries or infections and importantly for the statistics, less neonatal deaths.
  5. In the mid 1900s, the way to lose weight was to drop bread, cakes, potatoes and sweets. This worked because there was no need for the fat storing hormone insulin to metabolise these carbohydrates. During the 80s, the government intervened with a recommended diet and we all fell for it. The NHS took it as gospel and the word recommended was forgotten. So from this time we have eaten lots of highly processed carbohydrates, less fat and protein – and bingo! We are now a nation of obese diabetics with irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases! Yes I’m being facetious but the point has to be made that we are now sicker than ever, with diseases that were largely unheard of 100 years ago.

So this is where I started. It just made so much sense whereas before I was struggling to put the science behind the advice I was giving as a nurse. Now there is not only the backing of good science but for me, the history of us to give credence to the advice I now give. Natural and unprocessed food that has been produced the way it should be and a life, living as close to nature as is possible.

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Candida Albicans

How a Common Fungus Knows When to Attack

Have you ever noticed how easily and rapidly mushrooms and toadstools grow? Or how quickly warm water sugar and yeast start to bubble? Yeasts and fungi have the most amazing ability to capitalize on optimum conditions. In nature these conditions are often fleeting and in order for the organism to survive, it has to procreate at a rate of knots. Spores are also able to remain viable for great lengths of time.

Our insides are teeming with bacteria, viruses, parasites and yeasts. In a healthy body they are kept in balance and our health is at its best but in an unhealthy body everything gets out of hand and we suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food sensitivities and other gut problems.

Carbohydrate foods – pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes, bread and sugar, as far as your body is concerned, are all sugar. We break these foods down during digestion to the simplest molecule to absorb into the blood stream – glucose. If your diet consists of lots of these foods, you maybe nourishing yeasts, usually Candida (sometimes called thrush) more than you are nourishing yourself.

Read Micaela’s Story

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