We hear a lot about good bacteria, bad bacteria, microflora, microbiome, gut flora. But what are these? Why should we care?
Essentially our bodies are made up more of bacteria than they are of human cells. New research last year puts the number of bacteria as roughly equivalent with human cells. Which, lets be honest, is a hell of a lot of bacteria inside us!
If we break it down to layman's terms - not all the bacteria in your body is good. Some of it is bad. When the bad overtakes the good we see some signs of immune dysfunction (remember 70% of the immune system is based in your gut!) This could be frequent infections such as bronchitis, fungal infections, scalp and skin problems, eczema, psoriasis. Bloating and gas could be a sign of bacteria overgrowth in the small intestine as can IBS, IBD, food intolerances, and more chronic illness' such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Sometimes our stomachs are called our second brain. This is due to the enteric nervous system located here - the second largest part of our neurological system. Although research is ongoing there are links to gut bacteria and dementia, autism, Alzheimers. Truth be told, scientists are still discovering what the connection is between humans and our internal bacteria and the undoubtedly huge effect it can have on our health.
In some cases, antibiotics are needed to kill off the bad bacteria. Antibiotics can be lifesaving and are totally necessary to human survival. However, unfortunately after the discovery of them, they have been dished out more and more by the medical profession (a lot of the time unnecessarily) due to a lack of understanding of bacteria in our bodies. This means not only is the bad bacteria destroyed but also the good. Overuse of antibiotics can also result in bacterial resistance.
Anyway, you get the picture - you want to keep the bad bacteria to a minimum and look after the good guys. How do we do this?
Firstly, prebiotic foods. Food that we can eat that also feed the bacteria in our gut. Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, oats, apples, jerusalem artichokes. All of these food items have numerous health benefits, not least because they sustain our gut microflora (or bacteria) living in our colon.
Secondly, probiotics. You can take a probiotic supplement or even easier (and cheaper!) you can eat probiotic food. So food which actually contains live bacteria. Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, tempeh, live yoghurt, kefir, buttermilk, pickles (brined in water rather than vinegar) sourdough, kombucha. Some of it is quite exotic sounding (and tasting!) but as our knowledge increases so does availability of these things! Make sure you don't buy mass produced supermarket versions of these things - they need to be live and unpasteurised and in the case of something like sauerkraut raw!
Or go one step further and make something probiotic yourself. I had a go at homemade probiotic lemonade. Its dead easy, relatively quick and absolutely delicious! A superb way to get probiotics into children too....
Happy (a little belated!) new year!!
There’s been so much in the press this January regarding the sugar content of our cereal. Of particular worry is how much our children are consuming from what most parents see as a healthy meal choice. Public Health England have highlighted this saying many children are consuming over half of their recommended sugar allowance for the day before they reach school. To see more about this argument I would really recommend watching the BBC breakfast interview with one of my favourite experts on functional medicine Dr Chatterjee: http://www.drchatterjee.co.uk/blog/video-kids-eating-too-much-sugar-at-breakfast.cfm
Cereal was a concept first invented by the Kellogg brothers in the C19th who came up with the ‘cornflake’ idea for breakfast. John Harvey Kellogg was a medical doctor with a particular focus on nutrition and favoured a low protein, vegetarian, high carbohydrate diet as a means of promoting health. Although some of his views were extreme, offensive and strange and what we would now consider totally outrageous (especially his views on racial segregation, sexuality and abstinence!) some of the basic nutritional values that he encouraged were similar today in that he promoted the use of whole foods and whole grains. However, alas it is John Harvey Kellogg and his brother we have to thank for their poor legacy - the breakfast cereal. Nowadays, the concept has been bastardised even beyond the first flawed concept with many children eating chocolate, marshmallows and copious amounts of sugar in their cereal - very little nutritional value and not a good way to start the day for anyone.
So lecture and history lesson over! Here's a quick and simple recipe if you're trying to improve your breakfasts. Ditch the sugary, shop-bought granola's and concentrate on something homemade and wholesome with less of the sweet stuff but still glorious and warming for breakfast. I especially enjoy this with warm coconut or almond milk on a cold morning for a real wholesome treat. As well as containing some nice protein sources with the seeds and nuts, it also contains cinnamon which is great for reducing the glycaemic index of foods especially beneficial for diabetics and those with high cholesterol. (** you need to make sure you are using true / ceylon cinnamon rather than cassia cinnamon which doesn't possess the same health benefits)
400g of jumbo or rolled oats
80g of coconut oil
2-3 teaspoons of ceylon cinnamon (to taste)
4 tablespoons of chia seeds
60g desiccated coconut
50g of raisins
50g of pumpkin seeds (or other seeds / nuts of your choice e.g. sunflower seeds, chopped almonds, macadamia, pecan, brazil nuts - be creative!)
150ml of maple syrup
Pre-heat the oven to 160C or 140C (fan assisted).
Mix all of the ingredients (except raisins and coconut oil) in a mixing bowl. Heat the coconut oil in a pan until melted then add to the mixing bowl. Spread the granola mixture evenly on a baking tray covered with baking paper and bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove the tray from oven and leave to cool, then mix in the raisins. Store in a glass, sealed jar - this should keep for 2-3 weeks. Enjoy!
Six more sleeps till Christmas!
Having read yet another study showing the importance of vitamin D, this time in relation to autism. I thought I'd explain more about Vitamin D as it is something we are hearing more and more on the news but I'm not sure most people fully comprehend the importance of this particular vitamin and why the NHS are now recommending supplementation for many people throughout the winter months.
Before studying Nutritional Therapy, I had of course, heard of it ('something to do with sunshine?!') but really didn't understand what or why it was so crucial. Vitamin D, like any 'vitamin' is crucial to our survival. Vitamins are required in our diet as they cannot be synthesised or made by the body. So we have to eat enough sources of (for example) vitamin C, so it can perform vital and necessary jobs around the body. In a nutshell.
[Interesting fact by the way - humans, monkeys guinea pigs and fruit bats are some of the only animals who can't make vitamin C - your dog can make it themselves, but we need to eat lots of citrus fruit and dark leafy greens!]
But vitamin D is slightly different from other vitamins. First of all technically we can synthesise it when we are exposed to enough sunlight. When we aren't getting enough (e.g. in winter, working in an office and not getting outside enough) we need to rely on dietary sources. Obviously this is a modern problem as hundreds of years ago when we spent most of the day outside and didn't slather on suncream (which incidentally blocks the UV light needed to synthesise vitamin D) vitamin D deficiency probably wasn't an issue. Nowadays the WHO believes we are facing a global health crisis with over one billion people suspected to be either deficient or suboptimal with their vitamin D levels causing incredible health problems. Some of the more minor symptoms include migraines, low energy, joint pain, recurrent infections and low mood.
Secondly, vitamin D works more like a hormone in our body controlling the absorption of important minerals such as calcium and phosphorus so of course impacts the normal growth of teeth and bones.
It also influences over 2000 genes (!!) in our body so becoming deficient, or even below optimal levels can have disastrous effects on our body and has been linked to heart disease, depression, low immunity, asthma, diabetes, bronchitis, gum disease, weight gain, osteoporosis, PMS, m/s and other autoimmune conditions and as this more recent study shows autism....
But even the richest dietary sources of vitamin D (oily fish, liver, eggs and butter) are limited in their amounts - for instance as an adult over 25 you would need to eat 200g of butter to get your recommended daily amount (not recommended in case you were wondering!) and if you are over 65 where your requirements for vitamin D go up you'd need to double that - eek!
There are two main types of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) from plant based sources such as mushrooms and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) from animal sources like those listed above. Current evidence indicates that ergocalciferol is less than one third as potent as cholecalciferol.
This is obviously a problem to those wishing to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. These people would be considered 'at risk' for becoming deficient without supplementation. I would personally not ever recommend ergocalciferol supplementation - there is a very fine line between an effective therapeutic dose and toxicity with vitamin D2 which isn't present with careful supplementation of vitamin D3. You can get vegetarian sources of Vitamin D3 supplements (made from sheeps wool!) and for vegans (made from lichen).
Other groups of people at risk from vitamin D-eficiency:
Low fat dieters
Vitamin D is also fat soluble (as is vitamin A, E and K). Meaning you need fat in your diet in order for the vitamin to travel round the body doing its good deeds. This is therefore a problem for those wishing to follow a low fat diet (not recommended by the way).
People living in northern Europe
There is also very little storage of vitamin D meaning you can get all the outdoor air and sunshine you like which is fine in summer, but in winter when UV levels from the sun are low in northern Europe, its likely you will experience suboptimal levels no matter how much you 'banked' during summer holidays.
Sorry but as we age so do our nutritional requirements change. Anyone over age 65 should consider supplementation especially during winter.
People with darker skin:
Vitamin D3 synthesis is less effective for Asian/black/mixed race populations than in caucasians due to the darker skin pigmentation - which reduces the production of vitamin D3 so more sunshine is needed.
If you feel you are at risk of becoming deficient or low in this amazing and we're-just-discovering-how-crucial vitamin then speak to me or your local Nutritional Therapist about using a supplement effectively through the colder months of the year.
It's suddenly got freezing - autumn is here and winter is well on its way! Soups are fantastic at this time of year, filling, high fibre hopefully packed full of vegetables and unless shop bought (which can be very high in salt) so nutritious. Here is a very favourite recipe of mine for anti-inflammatory soup with two very under-used ingredients in my opinion: cauliflower and turmeric.
Good nutrition isn't just important for the health of our bodies but essential for our mental health.
With the news this week that childline has been inundated with anxiety calls as children express fears over global events, its more important than ever that we understand mental health and the role of nutrition both for ourselves and the next generation. Stress and anxiety play a crucial role in health and can have long term effects and influence the course of a chronic illness. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/)
I work on a holistic basis meaning I view the entire body as interconnected and can only be viewed as whole rather than just one part. When I look at someone's health, I take into consideration mental and social factors not just the symptoms a person may be expressing.
Recent evidence shows that food plays an extremely important role in the development and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly every chemical that controls the brain has been identified in the gastro-intestinal tract. Interesting? Scary? We really are what we eat...
NUTRIENTS TO HELP IMPROVE MOOD:
IRON: Lack of iron in the diet can leave us feeling tired and lethargic and increases the risk of anaemia. Include a good supply of iron rich foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, tofu, lentils and pumpkin seeds. Avoid drinking tea with meals and try and include a vitamin C rich source of food (e.g. broccoli, oranges and strawberries) alongside meals to help increase absorption of iron.
OMEGA 3: Omega 3 from fish has been studied in terms of the positive effects on mood and lowering the risk of depression. Fish highest in omega 3 include salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring.
SELENIUM: Too little selenium in the diet may leave us feeling depressed or low. Brazil nuts, legumes, lean meat, seafood, seeds and wholemeal bread are good sources of selenium.
VITAMIN D: More and more we are learning about how crucial this vitamin is to our mental health and well being. Our body is able to synthesise vitamin D from exposure to the sun but for the majority of people living in Northern Europe, this isn’t always possible year-round. A few foods contain vitamin D so good to include in your regular diet: fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel; eggs and beef liver are the highest sources.
B VITAMINS: Lack of B vitamins can result in irritability, tiredness and feelings of depressed mood. The B vitamins are crucial in how energy is produced in the body and can be found in a wide variety of foods. Folic acid (folate) and vitamin B12 are particularly important for older adults in preventing mood disorders and dementias and can be found in liver, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, broccoli and beans.
TRYPTOPHAN: Although research is on-going into the effects of this amino acid, it is known that tryptophan helps make serotonin (‘the happy hormone’). So including it in your diet is certainly a good idea. Food rich in this include bananas, walnuts, brown rice, sunflower seeds and animal protein rich foods such as turkey, eggs, chicken and fish.
FOODS THAT CAN GIVE YOU A LOW:
ALCOHOL: It might seem strange but alcohol is a depressant and can result in lowering your mood.
SUGAR: Sugar and refined foods tends to cause an initial ‘high’ which we find pleasurable. However, that soon wears off as the body increases its insulin production, leaving you feeling tired and low.
CAFFEINE: Although caffeine is known to give us energy bursts, caffeine raises Cortisol levels in the body (known as the stress hormone). Best avoided if you are feeling under stress anyway.
Don't underestimate the power of a few lifestyle changes which can make all the difference to mood and anxiety. Exercise is well known for its stress relieving abilities. It doesn't have to be high intensity running or exercise classes if that isn't your thing. Yoga, pilates even just taking a walk in the park can do immense good. Finding an activity which you find relaxing - gardening, cooking, reading the paper whatever it is find your 'thing' and enjoy it!
Lastly, for those of you who want to try something new. A technique known as 'earthing' or 'grounding' where quite literally a person takes time to reconnect with the Earths surface electrons by walking barefoot outside. This advocates a general feeling of well being and even reports of physiological changes including reducing pain, stress and improving sleep.
Sound a bit woo-woo? What have you got to lose - plus there is actual scientific research behind this:
Diet and Mental Health (2015) Available at: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/D/diet/
Food and Mood (2014) Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/foodmood.pdf
This is a beautiful recipe (adapted from the ocado website) which I love for three reasons.
1. It is super quick, easy and tasty.
2. From a nutritional point of view, its a winner.
3. People don't eat enough artichokes, which are, in my opinion a 'super' food.
Artichoke is a great source of vitamin K, vitamin C and folate as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. Plus full of fibre. Which we love.
It's also full of antioxidants, in fact a study by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/1/95.abstract), concluded it has a higher antioxidant status than blueberries and dark chocolate!
Artichoke also contains constituents which have liver protective qualities. Which lets be honest, at this time of year, when our bodies, immune system and livers get a battering, can only be a good thing! It can increase the production of bile (okay sounds gross but totally necessary) which helps speed up the transit of food through your digestive system, reducing bloating. In fact they were used as a digestive aid in Egyptian times - and of course now we know exactly why.
Its also a prebiotic, which feeds the probiotics (or 'good' bacteria) that resides in your stomach.
Artichoke is also reported to be beneficial for those with:
Whilst these more serious issues may warrant taking artichoke leaf extract (under the guidance of a doctor or qualified nutritional therapist), eating more artichokes is almost certainly going to be beneficial to health.
The heart of the artichoke is eaten because it is softer and the most edible part of the plant. Whilst it would be recommended to buy and prepare your own artichokes, this is, well...hard work to be honest! Buying a jar of artichoke hearts is very acceptable. Make sure it is preserved in olive oil with no / little added salt.
So hopefully I have persuaded you about why the artichoke is so great. Here is a wonderful way to serve it at a dinner party, or just smother it on toast or crackers for an incredible health boosting taste sensational snack.
This recipe also contains raw garlic (with potential cholesterol lowering, antibacterial, anti-fungal, blood pressure activity) virgin olive oil (with antioxidant, vasodilating, and antiplatelet properties, and potentially cholesterol lowering) and fresh basil (antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular health benefits). So really this is a superfood dip!
Serves 2-4. Takes 5 minutes maximum.
In a food processor, blend together all the ingredients. Whizz until smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and top with a little zest before serving with crudités or wholewheat breadsticks. ENJOY!
Yes autumn (aka snot season!) is most definitely here. And whilst its lovely to be having wood fires again and wrapping up in hats and scarves, it does bring the inevitable sniffy noses, feeling run down and days off school or work.....big sighs.....
After completeting my studies and learning a little more about the importance of supplementing in certain situations, I regularly make sure I supplement my children's already pretty healthy diet. I see this as strengthening their own natural immune defences and keep them in optimal health throughout the year.
Nothing in this area is totally black and white and it really is up to the informed choice of the parent, but I would always say when asked why I choose to supplement, which is better - acting preventatively or waiting till the child is unwell then dosing up on Calpol or antibiotics? Most people now know the risk of antibiotics which should really only be given in an emergency situation and not for many seasonal illness' (remember antibiotics kill bacteria infections NOT viral!) But recently there has been much in the mainstream media about the overuse of Calpol with children. It should always be remembered that Calpol whilst suitable for children, is still paracetamol, a pharmaceutical drug which a small body has to process and detoxify. Paediatricians are now warning that overdoing paracetamol or giving high doses increases the risk of developing asthma, as well as kidney, heart and liver damage. It should only be given to a child in pain and discomfort or with a very high fever and not for general malaise or a slight temperature. Whilst given with the best intentions, parents can often do more harm than good.
So, to avoid these situations I try and make sure a. my children's diet is good (sometimes easier said than done!) and b. I give them supplements for areas I feel they may be deficient. There is much evidence and advice now given by the NHS about the importance of supplementing children under 5 living in the UK with vitamin D, A and C all of which play a crucial role in our immune defence.
I choose to give these vitamin to my children with an omega 3 fish oil high in DHA (Lamberts) to support cognitive function plus brain and eye development - again very well researched and documented health benefits. My children don't eat a lot of oily fish as much as I try (!) so I feel happier knowing they are getting a source from elsewhere to support their continuing development: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738999/
I also feel a probiotic is justified in the winter months and there is some research on the reduction of common infectious diseases in children who are given probiotics https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20729255 And if you have had to given your child antibiotics, it is a good idea to look into building up their 'good' bacteria reserves again with a good quality probiotic supplement if possible. I like the brand Optibac as all their probiotics are fully backed up by current research.
Lastly, I use Sambucol, an elderberry extract, during winter also. Elderberry is a traditional method of warding off colds and flu. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27023596 And recent studies have also found it effective in the treatment of flu, cutting the severity and duration of the illness if taken soon after symptoms appear: http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20031222/elderberry-fights-flu-symptoms And most excitingly, no side effects. Always great to have in your bathroom cabinet I say!
For years we have been told that skipping breakfast is unacceptable. Now intermittent fasting is all the rage, so confusingly it seems en-vogue to skip breakfast again. So what's the answer?
Truth be told, like everything with nutrition, it depends on the person. I personally believe, backed up by scientific studies, that skipping breakfast for most people leads to poor food choices throughout the day and increased calories through the day. (Read here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15699226 & http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23672851 & http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11836452?dopt=Abstract)
Another mistake commonly made is when people choose overly sweet, sugary breakfasts over healthy, filling breakfasts. A lot of common breakfasts choices are actually akin to eating a dessert first thing in the morning. Packed full of sugar which is going to drive up insulin and lead to cravings mid-morning. If you are trying to lose or even just maintain weight, this isn't going to help. The first meal you eat in a day is most likely going to set your metabolic intentions for the day. If you start off eating rubbish, most likely you will continue this throughout the morning and afternoon.
Breakfast is also the meal you are least likely to want to change. If you are someone who DOES eat breakfast regularly and within the first hour of waking, you will most likely reach for something convenient and habitual. Meaning, humans as creatures of habit find it difficult to think about eating something new, first thing.
Last week on my Instagram feed (instagram.com/gingerandpicklesnutrition) I recorded seven days of my breakfasts to help people with variety and to try something new, quick and easy. They weren't all perfect, there were a couple of cheat days, but I had something different everyday and tried to make them as protein rich as possible. Protein rich breakfasts have been shown to to reduce down the hunger hormone ghrelin so keep you fuller for longer which means less snacking between meals. Winner.
Here are some of the ideas you could try at home. Eggs are my go to breakfast most days or else a smoothie but I wanted to try something different everyday to show that variety is possible, easy and delicious.
What is bone broth?
At this time of year, its a great practice to start making bone broths with leftover bones / carcasses. Bone broth is made by simmering animal bones alongside vegetables, herbs and spices. Delicious, nutrient dense bone broth is very easy and inexpensive to make.
Many cultures have used bone broth for centuries as both an inexpensive food source and a traditional medicine. It has long been valued as a tonic for the common cold, joint conditions and digestive disorders.
Why is bone broth so good?
The bones used to make broth house a variety of powerful nutrients that are released when they are slowly simmered in water. Bone broth is a rich source of minerals, trace minerals, gelatin and amino acids in a form our bodies can easily absorb and use. These nutrients supply the body with the raw materials needed to build strong and healthy cells throughout the body.
Bone broth contains calcium, magnesium and phosphorus which support bone and tooth health. The collagen content of bone broth supports the health of joints, hair, skin and nails. Collagen from the bones is broken down during the cooking process into another protein called gelatin. The gelatin in bone broth works to support and repair the lining of the gut. Certain compounds (chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine) extracted into the broth from cartilage tissue help to reduce joint pain and inflammation, whilst stimulating the growth of new collagen. The amino acids found in bone broths support detoxification and collagen production (important in wound healing). They also suppress inflammation, an important consideration for those with chronic inflammation or auto-immune conditions.
What bones can be used?
Bone broth can be made from the bones of beef, pork, lamb, poultry, wild game and/or fish.
When selecting bones to make broth from, it is preferable to use organic, grass-fed animals or
wild-caught fish. Bones from conventionally raised animals may contain many harmful
substances that can leach into the broth.
2-3kg beef/lamb bones, poultry carcasses
Large splash of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice (helps with extraction of minerals from the bones)
2 handfuls of onions, celery, leeks
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2-3 dried bay leaves
Put all the ingredients in a large stainless steel / ceramic cooking pot and cover with cold water.
The water should cover the bones by approx.. 5cm with some room at the top of the pan.
Bring to the boil with a lid on, then simmer for the required time, whilst skimming off foam from the top.
Strain the liquid (use a fine mesh strainer for poultry) and use immediately or leave to cool.
Bone broth can keep for several days in the fridge if left undisturbed.
You can use a slow cooker on high for 12+ hours or a pressure cooker for 3+ hours.
If freezing it is best to use glass containers and leave room for expansion.
Chicken / turkey should cook for 6-12 hours Beef / lamb can cook for 24 hours until bones look bleached.
If using fish 8 hours is the best cooking time.
The longer the bones simmer, the more nutrients released.
Sources used: Hemsley, J; Hemsley M. The Art of Eating Well (2010); http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/12/16/bone-broth-benefits.aspx; http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/broth-is-beautiful/