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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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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Dietary Madness

­Is it really so surprising that people have lost faith in dietary recommendations from the government? I am constantly hearing “They keep changing their minds” and “eggs are full of cholesterol” and “I have to eat five-a-day”. The latest of course, butter is good, margarine is not.

 

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The bee in my bonnet keeps on buzzing. My aim is to help people stay healthy by thinking for themselves and not just going along with the latest food guidelines. I’m hearing arguments based on the government recommendations or even quoting programmes on the television. Even my son told me I should rethink some of my recommendations based on a TV programme he’d seen!

Let’s take this point by point:
“They keep changing their minds.” When I was pregnant with my son twenty-seven years ago, I remember sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s surgery. As a nurse, I interestedly read the leaflets and posters that were displayed. One poster was about what you should and shouldn’t eat for your heart-health. Now I’m not talking about a long time ago, but the advice then was all about cutting down on fats generally and the fat you should have if you have any, was polyunsaturated – the vegetable oils. So included in the list of no-nos was avocados. AVOCADOS!! Avocados are very rich in monounsaturated fat. Also, all meat must be trimmed of visible fat and actually, just reduce red meat. Don’t eat butter – eat margarine and use polyunsaturated vegetable oils for cooking. All dairy products must be low-fat. Of course, it is not just fat about which advice has changed – there are many other foods too.

Recent reports that have hit the newspapers and TV news, (a review of available research), show that there is absolutely no hard evidence that saturated fat from animals contributes to heart disease or illness of any sort. It also showed that added polyunsaturated fats have never been shown conclusively to protect from heart disease or illness of any sort (and there are many studies that show quite the reverse). The polyunsaturated fat contained in foods such as nuts and seeds, is fine in moderation as these foods also contain other valuable nutrients. Monounsaturated fat is still there in the middle but should stay as it occurs naturally in some foods. Unsaturated fats are unstable when heated and can become toxic. Saturated fats are much more stable.

“Eggs are full of cholesterol.” When I was young, the advert was “go to work on an egg”. Enter the “cholesterol” buzz-word and “salmonella in eggs” scandal of the 80s.  In my view, this did untold damage. Families went from serving a nourishing and sustaining breakfast, to serving cereals with skimmed milk and toast (which are nutrient-poor) which would probably last until mid-morning when hunger would again, kick in. If I told you that there was an article in the Nursing Times (info reaches the NT after the British Medical Journal) about ten years ago, telling health professionals that eggs are no longer a food which contributed to high cholesterol, would you be surprised? This is a great article from the doctor who really knows about cholesterol. Doctor Malcolm Kendrick celebrates the passing of the  Cholesterolasaurus. Worth a read!

“I have to eat five-a-day.” Well, to start with, other countries have different guidelines – some say six, some ten, some separate the veg and fruit – so who’s right? This recommendation came about in the early nineties in an attempt to improve the nation’s nutritional status. Not a bad idea but this pushed people to more poor nutritional behaviour. Three bananas and a pint of orange juice? A can of baked beans and smoothie? A large jacket potato with tomato sauce and sweetcorn? I could go on. The five-a-day recommendation was not based on good science.

“Mum, you need to rethink the advice you give.” Please, when you watch a television programme about diet, nutrition or any other health issue, you need to think about why the programme was made in the first place. Does it benefit anyone in particular? (Think food manufacturers, programme makers etc.) Is it good viewing – after all, who wants to sit and watch a dry documentary? Television programmes are sound-bites and cannot possibly show a balanced view of the subject in the given time frame. Unfortunately, many TV programmes about health are sensationalist at best and exploitation of unfortunate human beings, at worst.

The advice I give wavers very little as it is based more in history (and pre-history) than science. Science can be so amazing and illuminating but it can also be poorly carried out or interpreted and the results of poor science can often influence our whole lives. This is very much what has happened with conventional nutritional advice.

My advice is, eat real food. Grow fruit and veg yourself or buy organic. There is absolutely no point in eating five-a-day if you are eating genetically modified food or that grown with the use of pesticides, in fact you will be doing yourself more harm than good. Buy meat from animals that have been reared the way they are supposed to live – on grass, in forests, trees and fields, living outside for the most part. Organic meat producers only administer medication if their animals are sick, unlike the conventional farming methods which see the animals given cocktails of drugs on a regular basis. Eat organic eggs from hens living in a pasture. Dairy food is wonderfully nutritious but buy raw milk products if possible or at least organic.

Spring LambsThe other requirement is cookery skills. Please learn to cook and ensure that your children do the same. This is the only way that we increase our chances of living healthy, disease-free lives and ultimately, survive a bit longer as a species.

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Coeliac Disease

I meet people every week who have digestive problems. These conditions can vary from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), to bloating, flatulence, cramping and diarrhoea. Most sufferers believe that these are discomforts that they have to live with and manage in order to live their lives and many will learn by trial and error the foods that create or worsen these symptoms as this piece of research shows.

What is not generally realised is that these seemingly mild conditions are not only related to, but can be symptoms of more serious gut disorders. In addition, if allowed to continue, the mild conditions can become outright illnesses.

Coeliac disease is a condition whereby an individual cannot tolerate (it’s not a true allergy) gluten – a protein found in many grains including wheat. Symptoms can include all of the above, but these may not be apparent at all. Constipation, weight-loss, anaemia, mouth ulcers, muscle aches and depression can also be symptoms of this disease. Those who suffer gastrointestinal issues will often reduce their intake of bread and cereals voluntarily, as this will decrease the symptoms. However, whist it is very possible that they could be suffering from coeliac disease, there are other factors regarding grains that maybe causing the symptoms.

file1181249314967Modern grains (and therefore the flours produced from them), have been genetically tampered with over the years. Add to this the fact that bread and breakfast cereal manufacture has become a rapid process instead of a slow one, creating products that are hard to digest at best and make us ill at worst.

 

I would advise reducing grains in the diet for all. Many people have some degree of gluten intolerance, whether or not it is coeliac disease. Reducing grains will have many health advantages and not just to do with gut health. If you do include them occasionally here are a couple of tips; use organic, old varieties of flour for traditionally produced breads (or buy a good quality sourdough bread) and if you use porridge oats, make sure you soak them overnight in milk and/or water with a blob of natural yogurt, to help neutralise the toxins that interfere with digestion.

This interesting story also contains a recipe for home made sourdough bread.

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