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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The “Wise Traditions” Conference Part 1

After the two days at the Weston A. Price “Wise Traditions” conference, my head was buzzing – so much information to assimilate and figure out how to use this in my practice. Some of the topics discussed reassured me that I am on the right path with the treatment I advise. The “usual suspects” for disease came up often – low blood vitamin D levels in the western world, low-fat diets contributing to poor health, the detrimental effect of polyunsaturated oils and of course, the importance of a good microbiota – the colony of microbes in your gut. All the things I bang on about constantly!

DSC_6904Chris Masterjohn, talked about the importance of “Meat, Bones, Organs and Skin for Mental Health”. I am far from being a scientist so I won’t go into details here for fear of getting it wrong! Suffice it to say that there are substances in these foods that work together and in a domino effect, promoting the proper function of brain chemicals – proper functioning brain chemicals – proper functioning brain!
He also highlighted, chemically, what can go wrong for vegetarians. He was vegetarian/vegan for many years, believing that this was the healthy way to eat. His health suffered and his teeth began to rot due partly to the lack of fat soluble vitamins and the amount of grain he was eating. He began researching and came upon the Weston A. Price Foundation. Read more about this here.
There is some evidence that vegetarians suffer mental disorders more frequently than meat-eaters.
His second lecture was about how heart disease and degeneration are related to the nutrients in food. The most important message was about anti-oxidants. Most of us have heard this term and understand that they are needed to help our health, but I think the main message for me was that yet again, they do not work alone but need other compounds to do the job. I feel justified in my stance – I very rarely advise supplements for just this reason. If you take a supplement in isolation, at worst it could be dangerous and at best it can be pointless. More about supplements here.

file9121341856730Philip Weeks gave a talk about adrenal exhaustion, brought about by chronic stress. We all know that it is damaging, but even I was shocked at just how badly the body can be affected! Rather than summarise the talk, I found this on his website which explains.

Next week I will conclude this blog.

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Thinking of Becoming Vegetarian? Please Read!

Fancy being vegetarian or vegan? There are some extreme diets too such as fruitarians and breatharians which are both self explanatory and have little to recommend them! Before embarking on any diets, it is as well to keep some facts in mind. So often decisions are made on limited knowledge and in the case of what you eat, this can have serious consequences for your health.

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The definition of “diet”, from one source is “the usual food and drink of a person or animal” but so often it is synonymous with weight-loss regimes. The trouble is, most of us are unaware of what our “usual” diet should consist of! It does not matter where in the world you are from, we all need the same nutrients – although how we obtain them is often different. Therefore the diet of humans has to be one which provides all the nutrients that have been shown to be necessary for growth and health.  Sound reasonable? I would add here that necessary nutrients are being discovered all the time and for this reason, your main source of nutrition has to come from the food you eat, not from supplements.

Currently, there are about fifty known nutrients – too many to list here! However, there are some vital facts that must be taken into account.

  • Nutrients work together, not independently.
  • If you are ill, some nutrients may not be absorbed properly.
  • Some foods inhibit the uptake of certain nutrients.
  • Some foods use the available nutrients for their own metabolism thus robbing the body.
  • Some foods, whilst being sound nutritionally, will only give these up when properly prepared.
  • Where and how your food is produced will determine how nutritionally valuable it is.

I will just talk about the not too extreme form of vegetarianism. Those that adopt this way of eating do so for three reasons generally – religion, animal welfare and health. The first is difficult to argue so I won’t! All I will say is that I have been contacted several times by people needing help with gut issues who are from this category. 1008594_80327405The animal welfare reason is one I do sympathise with as I was vegetarian for ten years during my early adulthood for this cause. It is possible to be healthy if you are in this category but care must be taken with food choices if all nutrients are to be obtained. Those who choose vegetarianism for health reasons are often the ones who can succumb to ill health due to the wealth of misinformation that is currently available. These people often choose low-fat food options, eat lots of grain products and never venture out into the mid-day sun. They usually take supplements and they can be found at the gym or pounding the pavements several times a week. I am sorry to generalise but I have met these people during the last twenty-plus years of giving health advice as a nurse. This is not lifestyle which provides optimal health.

There is much that can be done to improve the usual vegetarian diet but it takes a little more thought and food preparation than for the meat-eaters. Here are some points to consider:

  1. Vitamin B12 is the most problematic vitamin for vegetarians (and especially vegans). It is only bio-available from animal products and although it is present in some vegetable matter, it is in the wrong form for humans. Your diet must contain pastured organic eggs, milk and cheeses (preferably raw) and fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir.
  2. Many vegetarians will eat copious quantities of grains and these are the foods which rob the body of nutrients, especially if not carefully prepared. The same is true of legumes which often feature as a source of protein in vegetarian diets. Click the highlighted words for information regarding preparation.
  3. When you eat large amounts of grain, your vitamin C requirement is increased. Obtain this from salads and vegetables rather than from lots of fruit and juice which will increase your sugar intake.
  4. Grains change to sugar in the gut which can lead to insulin sensitivity and diabetes.
  5. Meat, its fat and offal contain the fat soluble vitamins which are vital for the lining of cells, hormone production and integrity of the gut lining. When these are not eaten the diet must include eggs, cheeses and plenty of deep yellow butter.
  6. The body needs copious amounts of vitamin D3 which must be obtained from the sun.

My recommendations for a healthy diet and lifestyle can be found here.

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B12 – The Finicky Vitamin

Along with the other B vitamins, B12 is responsible for releasing energy from food, healthy nerves, the formation of blood and other cells, mental health and much more. Deficiency at its worst causes pernicious anaemia, (possibly) contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, psychoses and heart disease. The symptoms that often present initially are mood swings, insomnia, lacking energy and tingling in the hands and feet.

1426234_63077721It is very easy to become vitamin B12 deficient today. Life is so very different to how it was one hundred or even fifty years ago when home cooking was all that was available and nothing as wasted. We are a “fast” society now and everything has to be pronto – many don’t cook anymore – preferring microwave meals. We eat on the hoof just to fill our stomachs quickly with scant regard for the food’s nutritional value or whether we will digest it properly. It is incredible to me that people complain about the cost of food whilst buying ready meals and takeaways and it will contribute to becoming B12 deficient in our modern times.

Even if you care about your health, it is possible to become deficient in this vitamin. Those who are vegetarian through choice could be at risk. Likewise those who are vegetarian or vegan for religious or other reasons often miss out on this essential nutrient.

Some illnesses prevent B12 being utilised. The reason I call this the “finicky” vitamin is due to its metabolism. Simply, a protein called “intrinsic factor” found in the stomach juices binds itself to B12 to allow absorption. Most foods are digested and absorbed during the long journey through the small intestine. Not B12 though! There is a small area between the small and large intestines reserved for just this purpose. Because of this rather complicated process, illnesses affecting the gut can disrupt it at all stages.

  • Fast foods; even if any B12 is present, they are consumed quickly with minimal mastication and washed down with a drink of some sort. If foods are not chewed thoroughly, they cannot be digested effectively in the stomach. When food is accompanied by large quantities of fluid, the stomach acid is diluted and therefore, the intrinsic factor will be also. This can lead to the use of…
  • Antacids, reflux and ulcer medicines; these lower the acidity in the stomach making the digestion of B12-containing proteins difficult to digest thereby preventing its release from the food.
  • Ageing; stomach acid naturally reduces as we age leading to a similar situation as above.
  • Gut disorders; people who suffer the diseases that cause ulceration of the gut lining and diarrhoea are at risk. This includes sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (IBD).
  • Other drugs; diabetes medications, statins, birth control pills and antibiotics. There is a more comprehensive list and lots more information here.

So what can we do to maximise our chances of maintaining optimum levels of B12? It 736236_94991508would be far too easy for me to say that those people suffering from illnesses should seek to become well again (and some of the diseases I have named here are reversible) but nonetheless, action has to be taken one way or another! The best way to supplement B12 is by injection thus bypassing the complicated metabolic process. Or by sub-lingual drops. This is necessary for vegans too, as useful B12 is only present and available in animal foods. For vegetarians – kefir, organic cheeses and eggs are essential. The best sources for the rest of us are organic offal meats, shellfish as well as the above. To improve the uptake of B12 chew food thoroughly, don’t drink too much with meals so as not to dilute stomach acid and eat slowly. To stimulate stomach acid, eat fresh sauerkraut as a part of your meals, or a spoonful just a few minutes before a meal. Apple cider vinegar can be used too.

Above all, if you don’t or can’t cook please do something about it. The health of families starts in kitchens!

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