Sugar down the hatch, money down the drain…

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Every now and then you read a statistic which just really grabs you and makes you want to scream at the screen. This morning this happened to me twice. Firstly I read the staggering fact that 1/10 of all money spent by the NHS goes on diabetes! When you consider the sheer volume that the NHS budgets have to cover, from intensive care to trauma medicine, from cancer treatment to birthing wards, the proportion spent on just one entirely preventable disease is utterly mind blowing.

The article went on to explain that the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have proposed to offer weight loss surgery (costing between £3,000 and £15,000) to diabetic patients with a BMI of 30 or more which amounts to around 850,000 patients. The figure may be even higher as those of Asian descent are to be considered at lower unspecified BMIs. Unsurprisingly NICE has raised concerns that the NHS will not be able to afford this. Surely some of this money would be far better spent getting this individuals onto weight loss programmes!

What will it take for the Government to realise that prevention has to be prioritised more than it currently is. Firstly, there should be a sugar tax so that those who choose to consume foods and beverages packed full of added sugar are at least footing more of this bill for these ridiculous treatment costs. Secondly, the efforts to make people aware of dangers of smoking need to be applied to the sugar industry – including clear and visible health warnings on food and beverage packaging.

The second statistic I read is that the number of Alzheimer’s patients is set to triple by 2050. What many people do not know is that there is a wealth of scientific research supporting the view that raised blood sugar levels are slowing rotting our brains leading to cognitive decline and dementia – so much so that some leading experts in this area are terming Alzheimer’s as Type 3 diabetes. The recent increased Government focus on dementia is promising but important research on the dietary factors is just not getting enough focus yet. Surely this is yet another reason that the Government needs to seriously rethink how to reduce the sugar in our diet and raise awareness of sugar’s adverse health effects.

Immune to pregnancy…

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I recently read about a new fertility treatment being pioneered in Britain which works on the premise that some failed pregnancies may result from an immune response mounted to destroy the embryo as if it was an invading pathogen. The treatment involves pumping women’s bodies with a mixture of egg yolk and soya oil (which has been likened to receiving an injection of mayonnaise!) which inhibits the mother’s Natural Killer cells effectively restraining the body’s immune response. Alongside flooding the bloodstream with fatty acids women are recommended to take steroids to further inhibit the immune response and also blood thinners to prevent clots which can impede embryo implantation.

The treatment is controversial given the current lack of clinically-controlled randomised studies proving its effect but high-profile fertility experts Zita West and Dr George Ndukwe are convinced by it and in the past two years have helped 50 women embrace motherhood using this treatment. However, alongside the treatment, Zita West recommends acupuncture, supplements and dietary and lifestyle changes and it is possible that it is these factors which are bringing about the successful pregnancy.

It is clearly a very interesting and exciting new area and more research is needed but even if it can help just a handful of women have a child then I would say it’s worth its weight in mayonnaise!

Is fat the new black?

 

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Our body needs fat. Our brain is made of fat, our hormones are made of fat, nutrients are transported in fat…the list goes on and I could write a whole lengthy post about the importance of fat. But instead I just want to draw your attention to two examples of fat finally having its trumpet blown after too long being blamed for our health complaints.

I recently stumbled across an article on the London Foodie sisters “Hemsley + Hemsley”. Having read the press on them and devoured their recently published cook book I am hooked, inspired and shamefully horribly jealous of them all at the same time! These sisters have burst onto the foodie scene in an explosion of creamy buttery coconutty goodness! As well as focusing on “mindful eating” (which is all about remaining connected with what you are eating) the Hemsley + Hemsley sisters hope to raise awareness of the benefits of eating saturated fats and in particular champion coconut oil, nut butters and avocado. I have copied a link to their website below if you are interested in finding out more.

http://www.hemsleyandhemsley.com/

The second example I want to mention is the work of the leading neuroscientist Dr Perlmutter. I recently read his brilliant book “Grain Brain” which really throws the spotlight of the importance of dietary fat and also surprisingly cholesterol for our health and in particular brain health. Dr Perlmutter provides stunning evidence to support the idea that it is the rise of our high carbohydrate and low fat diets which has led to the explosion in Alzheimers, cognitive decline and a whole range of mental health problems including depression and ADHD. Dr Perlmutter also has fascinating things to say about gluten intolerance. I can not recommend this book enough – if you have any interest at all in avoiding cognitive decline then please read it! I have copied a link to his website below if you are interested in finding out more.

http://www.drperlmutter.com/about/grain-brain-by-david-perlmutter/

Seed cycling

 

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As a lover of learning all things hormone related I recently came across “seed cycling” and thought I would share this interesting concept… as women we all know the woes of a menstrual cramp, mood swings and for some of us less fortunate PMS, low energy, back ache, irregular cycles and uterine fibroids – all of which simply boil down to hormonal imbalances (in particular an imbalance between the hormones progesterone and oestrogen). Seed cycling is all about correcting this imbalance by supporting the production of the right hormones at the right times in the cycle. To understand how this works you need to know two things:

1) Oestrogen levels increase during the first part of our cycle whereas progesterone levels increase during the last part of our cycle whilst oestrogen levels are slowing declining.

2) Hormones are balanced by lignans (which bind up excess hormones) and essential fatty acids (which support hormone production).

Different seeds contain different types and amounts of lignans and essential fatty acids and therefore different seeds will influence how our body binds excess hormones and which hormones are being produced. It is best to have flax and pumpkin seeds during the first part (day 1-14) and sesame and sunflower seeds during the second part (day 15-menstruation). Naturopathic doctor Kristy Vermeulen (author of Happy Hormones) recommends 1 tablespoon of both flax and pumpkin or sesame and sunflower daily. According to the research on seed cycling, marked improvements in menstrual related symptoms are noticed after about 3 months so it does take a while – but given all of the amazing nutritious value and health benefits of seeds why not give it a try!

If you want to learn more I have pasted a useful link to a guide below:

http://nicolejardim.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Seed-Cycling-Protocol.pdf

Milk muddles

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For a while now I have been torn about dairy – I am swayed by the argument that we are the only mammal to drink another mammal’s milk and that surely can’t be good for us. Dairy consumption has been associated with a wide range of health complaints and in particular is not recommended for anyone with any hormonal imbalances such as PCOS. Then on the other hand it is a source of vitamin D, B12, zinc and calcium. For me the dilemma really boils down to the fact that life without cheese is unimaginable and I simply cannot accept that cheese and I should part ways. So I have found a compromise and decided to only have my dairy in cheese form so I am least cutting back. So why am I cutting back…?

One of the main reasons people drink milk is for calcium. However, milk really is not the best source of calcium and ironically we may be depleting our body of calcium stores by drinking it. In order to absorb calcium the body needs comparable amounts of magnesium (milk contains very little magnesium). Therefore, if we do not have sufficient magnesium we cannot absorb the calcium and the excess calcium is utilised by our bodies in injurious ways.

Further, dairy products create an acidic environment in the body which is never a good thing (in fact – our Western diets are overly acidic in general and this has been linked to a wide range of health complaints so we should be doing everything we can to alkanise the body). The acidity triggers a release of calcium from the bones in order to balance the blood pH. This can cause a 50% loss of calcium in our urine causing calcium deficiency, despite milk being renowned as a good source of calcium! This is likely to be why countries who consume the most dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Amazingly the correlation between animal protein and fracture rates is as strong as the correlation between smoking and lung cancer!

So where should we be getting our calcium? Green vegetables such as kale and broccoli have about as much or more calcium than milk by the cup. Also greens, unlike milk, have the added benefit of vitamin K, also necessary for strong bones. Sesame is also very high in calcium so a sprinkling of sesame seeds over porridge or salads is a great source. The link between dairy and calcium deficiency is just one small area of the potential adverse effects of a diet high in dairy but the rest will have to be for another post!

The link between dairy and calcium deficiency is just one small area of the potential adverse effects of a diet high in dairy but the rest will have to be for another post!

Soya – sweet or soya?

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Edamame, soya milk, soya yoghurt, tempeh…the options to add soya in to our diets have become endless. Even if we are not consciously choosing to eat soya it has become a cheap “bulk out” invisible ingredient in many foods, from roast chicken to breakfast cereals. Often hailed as a superfood I decided to embrace the trend and enthusiastically poured soya milk on my muesli each morning for a week. About three days into that week I noticed I was spotting (as I am currently on the pill I should not expect any such spotting between my pill free weeks). As lovely as my GP is, and typical of GPs, she neglected to ask anything at all about my recent diet changes when we discussed the possible causes. Not convinced by any of my GPs explanations I racked my brain as to what could have triggered it. It was like a light bulb moment. I put my google doctor hat on and began researching soya’s link to spotting and was shocked at the clear link I found. My realisation that soya had caused the spotting was both an uplifting and a frustrating moment. I was uplifted to see such a direct effect between diet and symptoms, strengthening my firm belief that diet should be first point addressed with almost every health complaint, but it also highlighted our healthcare system’s poor understanding and neglect of diet when discussing symptoms. If medical students were taught anything substantial about food’s powerful influence on hormones then perhaps my GP might have questioned any recent diet changes.

So why did soya it lead to spotting…? Soya products contain large concentrations of phyto-oestrogens called isoflavones. These phyto-oestrogens powerfully mimic the hormone oestrogen in the body, either having a agonistic (stimulatory) or antagonistic (inhibitory) effect. Research has shown that two glasses of soya milk a day over the course of a month provides enough phyto-oestrogens to significantly alter the timing of a woman’s menstrual cycle. A Swiss report on the issue reported that 100mg of isoflavones taken by an adult women provides the oestrogenic equivalent of a contraceptive pill. This fact has led to the shocking estimation (based on an infant’s smaller body mass) that infants who are fed soya formula receive the oestrogenic equivalent of at least 5 contraceptive pills per day.

As well as unbalancing our oestrogen levels there is also concern that phyto-oestrogens might adversely impact our thyroid health, cognitive function, mineral absorption, contribute to some cancers and also lower sperm count and mobility. However, it is important to note that findings have been mixed and are often limited to animal studies only.

Although the research remains inconclusive it is clear that the potential adverse health effects should be more balanced against the health benefit claims so that us ladies can make a more informed decision before opting for that soya latte. So perhaps it is best to be a little more cautious with our soya intake until there is more information available, particularly if you suffer from any hormonal imbalances or are noticing any irregularities with your cycle. There are now so many brilliant dairy alternatives to try instead – I am a huge fan of almond milk and also the divine coyo coconut yoghurt (try it topped with nuts and blueberries and popped in the freezer for about half an hour before!)

One lump or two?

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Sugar has been having a pretty tough time recently and my sweet tooth and I have been becoming increasingly concerned that we might have to part ways! Not only was it becoming clear quite how much damage sugar is doing to our health every day, my particular health issues (which I will go into in more detail in other posts) meant I should take even greater care with sugar. So I began to consider very seriously exactly how much sugar I was consuming. I realised that the problem isn’t necessarily the obvious culprits such as fizzy drinks and doughnuts because these are foods we know we should avoid. The real problem lies with the hidden sugar in foods, especially in foods marketed as being healthy and good for us. In this post I want to focus on this hidden sugar, but I plan to do future posts on sugar’s appalling impact on our health.

Now to give you a little context – the classic white sugar cube which we can all conjure up in our minds is 4 grams of sugar. The normal amount of sugar in our blood is about 4 or 5 grams. This means whenever you eat sugar your body has to work it’s little socks off to get your blood sugar back down to about a sugar cube amount. With that sugar cube image in your mind start checking the grams of sugar in your daily drinks and snacks and prepare to be quite surprised!

I would often start the day with the Pret green goddess juice but that was starting the day with 42.8 grams (10 and three quarter sugar cubes).

Now I don’t want to appear to be bashing Pret (because I am a huge fan and think they offer fantastic lunch options – not to mention their almond croissants are to die for…) so I thought it only fair to mention a couple of similar examples. Moma bircher muesli, again something which seems like a healthy choice, has 26.4 grams of sugar (6 and a half sugar cubes). The Naked “Green Machine” juice, again marketed as a health drink, has a staggering 52 grams of sugar (13 sugar cubes).

I should mention here that fruit juice is a real booby trap in the battle against sugar. Fruit juice bars have been popping up everywhere in the last few years and are fueling a bit of a misguided health craze. Of course the vitamin and antioxidant contents of such juices are fantastic but this comes at a serious cost on the sugar consumption front. Fructose – the sugar in fruit – is natural but a sugar all the same and triggers exactly the same physiological response as added refined sugar would trigger. Pret proudly claim to squeeze over half a kilo of fresh fruit and veg into every bottle but this is a bad thing for two reasons. Firstly, this is a totally unnatural amount of fruit to consume in one sitting. We would never sit down and eat a dozen oranges and a couple of bananas so we shouldn’t drink the equivalent in sugar! Secondly, the fibre has been removed in the process of juicing. Mother nature (sensible woman that she is) produced food with its sugar content balanced with fibre and this is key. This fibre buffers the release of sugar into the bloodstream avoiding blood sugar spikes. So we should focus instead on vegetable based smoothies which are much lower in sugar, still contain the important fibre and still provide that rich nutrient injection.

So you’ve maybe had your 13 sugar cubes in your juice so far and now you are at desk your mind turns to coffee. The world of coffee is on crack…hazelnut macchiato, vanilla spice latte, salted caramel mocha, iced caramel macchiato…the options are endless. Then the coffee shops do us favour by offering us the “skinny” alternative of skimmed milk because heaven forbid we might consume some FAT. So let’s look at a few of these coffee drinks on crack…(amounts below are based on the medium “Grande” Starbucks cup).

Caramel macchiato – 31.9 grams (8 sugar cubes)

Iced chai tea latte – 42.1 grams (10 and a half sugar cubes)

Coffee frappuccino – 49.6 grams (12 and a half sugar cubes)

Caramel frappuccino – 61.3 grams (15 sugar cubes)

Perhaps at lunch you choose to be healthy again and grab a vitamin water – that is 33 grams of sugar (8 and a quarter sugar cubes)! That one really shocked me because it is marketed as water with added vitamins. What they don’t mention is that there is also only 6 grams less sugar than there is in a classic can of coca-cola!

I could go on but I hope this has given you a flavour of the issue and encourages you to be a little more savvy with the labels on the food and drinks you are consuming.