30 Days to Better Health

January 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Diets, featured, Health

There is no better time of year to start thinking about getting healthier, but many people are put off because they see it as beyond them, or will take too long. The good news is that only 30 days of eating a naturally better diet can improve your health and guard against many of the leading chronic diseases that take the lives of millions worldwide each year. The less good news is that even one unhealthy meal can have a negative effect on hundreds of your genes.

The results of a study performed at Lund University in Sweden have shown the link between healthy food combinations and reduced disease risk. Their research focused on forty-four adults aged 50 to 75 who were fed a diet that included high antioxidant, low glycaemic sources including oily fish, barley, blueberries, almonds, cinnamon, vinegar and a high fibre wholegrain bread for a period of 4 weeks.

They were able to demonstrate the influence of food on our genome as a single unhealthy meal can negatively impact hundreds of individual genes. The usual suspects I am afraid: processed foods packed with sugar, refined carbohydrates and hydrogenated fats. These all lead to a continual state of inflammation throughout the body and metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer`s are all fuelled by the release of dangerous chemical messengers that are the result of inflammation.

Blood samples taken at the end of the test period showed that a natural diet exerted a powerful effect on all key biomarkers associated with inflammation, blood sugar and blood clotting. Results included:

• Oxidized LDL cholesterol was reduced by 33%
• Blood pressure dropped 8%
• Total blood lipids improved 14%
• Blood clotting marker fibrinogen dropped 26%
• Systemic inflammation was greatly reduced
• Memory and cognitive function were improved

Previous and extensive research has shown that eating a diet that was consumed during the course of human evolution is the best way to prevent and treat diabetes and heart disease. Basically that means you think natural and unprocessed so focusing on fruit, vegetables, nuts, lean meat and fish as these food sources regulate blood sugar and insulin response as they are low in fast-releasing carbohydrates, and eating a minimum of grain-based foods such as breakfast cereals and pasta.

So let’s hear it for the good news, which is that even small changes in diet over a short period of time like 30 days have been shown to significantly lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease and dementia. A diet of unprocessed foods can provide protection from disease and reverse the progression of serious illness and also seriously improve your quality of life.

Men are better than women at dieting

September 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Diets, Mens Health, Womens Health


Most men do not embrace the concept of dieting unless pushed to it by a health problem or a few gentle (ie nagging) remarks from their partner. But research shows that when they do decide to got it they are better at it than women.

Men have not been well served by the diet industry, partly because of inertia, but also because of embarrassment. The traditional dieting aids for women like slimming groups just do not attract men. Do not despair though because I have found a couple of resources that can really help.

First is a clever woman who realised men don’t like dieting in public, for example asking for a gin and slimline tonic still isn’t quite the thing – and actually from a health point of view that slimline tonic is worthless. It may have fewer calories but it also has a cocktail of chemicals in it – go for the real thing and get the benefit!

Jeni Blaskett decided to create a slimming group in which men would flourish and lose weight. One that meant that men could go about their daily routines without feeling they were losing face so she set up a website www.Beltdown.com exclusively for men

Beltdown’s key diet plan principle is unique, and couldn’t be easier to follow – ‘If you can’t wash it, try to avoid it’. So a cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms makes it onto the tick list, cake and biscuits do not. The website has plenty of info aimed specifically at men, such as which are the lowest calorie beers and curries, and the format allows for men to stay totally anonymous, whilst still getting the challenge, competitiveness and interaction of a group – but online.

If you have an internet connection, it costs £8 a month membership and is available 24/7 – so no more excuses skip over to www.beltdown.com

Men only

If you want a programme designed by a man who has been there and done that himself, then I can recommend Robert Paterson’s book ‘Warriors’. He found the same problems in going to slimming groups as Jeni describes so he put together a very successful programme that has all the elements needed for successful weight loss. It is particularly aimed at those who have found success in their careers but who, due to hectic lifestyles and lack of time, have lost their healthy body in the process.

He created a specially developed ‘business plan’ to show you how to: – Set targets you can meet – Devise sensible day-to-day eating plans – Motivate yourself when the going gets tough – Achieve long term success – Treat your body as your business

Robert was an international banker weighing 22 stone who lost 8 stone on his regime, and kept the weight off. He is now Chairman of the Emerging Markets Group and Chairman of Performance Consultants, Brasil. He is a spokesman for the British Heart Foundation and regularly competes in events to raise funds for them. You will find his book on Amazon by typing in his name and Warriors in their search box.

Food to change your mood

January 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health, Natural Medicine

Food is so closely associated with our emotions that we scarcely give it a thought. We overeat when unhappy or depressed, chomp chocolate to soothe a broken heart and celebrate with special foods to make an occasion memorable. However, it might help you to know that you can manipulate your moods to some extent by paying attention to your diet.

There are some foods in particular which trigger chemicals in the brain and these can have an effect for up to 3 hours on our emotions. I know this first hand because I wrote a book with a naturopath many years ago and she said she always knew when I had been eating chocolate – which I was doing a lot of at the time – because my mood was different and my responses not as fast or open. Knowing which foods can help, or hinder, your mood might be a useful tool to get you through any challenging situations that can arise. There are three neurotransmitters (chemicals) in our brain that affect our emotions: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Our brain produces them in different quantities depending on certain elements in our food so the more, or less, of these we eat then the more we will feel their influence.

Feeling Good:

We are fairly familiar with the effects of serotonin as it makes us feel calm and positive and modern anti depressants are based on enabling greater serotonin intake. Serotonin is manufactured in the body from the amino acid tryptophan, which is present in most protein-based foods. If you want a natural mood boost then add in some of its best sources: cheese, meat, soya beans, sesame seeds, oats, bananas, dried dates, milk and salmon. Plus of course my perennial favourite – chocolate.

However, given the fashion for high protein diets, please don’t ignore the important role of carbohydrates. If you have a very low, or no, carbodydrate diet then your serotonin production can just cease as the brain needs them to produce serotonin. You may be thinner, but your mood could plummet. In fact you may be doing yourself a disservice by cutting down on carbs as serotonin helps control the appetite by giving us the feeling we are full and stopping us from having that extra helping. If you need to calm down, then reach for a slice of bread, some whole grain cereal or pasta and that will increase your serotonin levels and balance your mood.

Women particularly need to pay attention to their serotonin levels as we have less than men do and therefore are more affected by a low-carb diet. In fact it can lead to symptoms similar to those of PMS, so if you feel any of those you might try just upping your carbs and seeing what difference that makes.

Feeling Alert:

If you are starting to slow down, or even want to have forty winks, and need a quick boost then the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are the ones that can help increase your focus and alertness. That mid morning slump is often treated with coffee or a biscuit, but in fact for a temporary lift you would do better to head for protein. Having a steak in your coffee break isn’t always appropriate, so snack on something like tuna or eggs. Go to work on an egg was an old slogan, but keep a hard boiled egg handy and you will be as alert at 11am as you were at 9am.

Feeling lethargic:

Our energy levels do fluctuate during the day, but if yours are extreme then one remedy might be to switch to foods with a low Glycaemic Index (GI). These are digested more slowly and release their energy in a more measured fashion and so have much less impact on your blood sugar levels. Look for unprocessed foods, grains, and particular fruits and vegetables. The high GI foods are usually those that are more processed and include baked goods, sugar and that breakfast favourite – cornflakes. If you eat more low GI foods you should be able to contain those energy swings, and for a full view on how to do that there are plenty of excellent books on the subject on Amazon like: The Low GI Diet Cookbook: 100 Delicious Low GI Recipes to Help You Lose Weight and Keep It Off or GI High Energy Cookbook: Low-GI Recipes for Weight Loss, Health and Vitality

Top 4 foods to fight cholesterol

As winter approaches and cold weather is upon us, we naturally start to change our diets and often we are going for food that is comforting and also high in cholesterol from increased amounts of things like red meat and butter. Now while I admit that a crumpet with low fat spread would never pass my lips, it is sensible at this time of year to look at your overall diet and see if you are including the best possible foods to help fight cholesterol if that is a health problem for you. Women might also want to check out the Health Bites item for a tip on vitamin K.

I don’t think any of these ‘superfoods’ are going to be a revelation to you, but they might remind you of how helpful they can be in your fight to maintain low cholesterol. Many people ask me why I don’t just suggest statins (see previous issues on the website for my negative views on that) or just take one of the many cholesterol-lowering drinks you find in your supermarket. You can, of course, but if you read the labels on many of them you will find they are full of sugar, or worse, sweeteners plus E numbers and colours.

Also, the American Heart Association warns consumers about filling their diet with sterol-enhanced products such as spreads and drinks unless they also cut back on other sources of fat. If you just add these items in without doing so, they warn that obviously it could lead to excess calorie consumption which is not healthy and that anyone who has a history of heart disease or elevated LDL levels, must talk to their doctor before adding these sorts of products into their diet.

These suggestions are for a natural way to control cholesterol, and in these economically challenged times they are also cheaper – and healthier – than those manufactured products.

1 Oats
The Scots have had it right all along, because porridge for breakfast is one of the healthiest ways to start the day. If you don’t fancy the traditional salt version, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you are dealing with heart disease, then try it with semi-skimmed or low-fat milk and sweeten with a little honey or maple syrup. It’s the fibre in the oats that plays a significant role in decreasing “bad cholesterol” (LDL) levels. It works to reduce LDL levels by grabbing onto the cholesterol and eliminating it from the body through the digestive system. If you want to increase your fibre intake even more then add a chopped apple, or some prunes to the breakfast bowl. Some excellent fiber-rich choices besides oatmeal and oat bran include beans, barley, apples and prunes.

2 Plant Sterols
Another way to significantly reduce LDL levels is to include plenty of natural sterols found in fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. They work by blocking cholesterol absorption and preventing it from getting into the bloodstream. People who include plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet experience, on average, a 9% decrease in LDL levels and an average 12% reduction in C-reactive protein levels, another key indicator of heart disease risk. Another good reason for exceeding your ’5 a day’ quota.

3 Fatty Fish
I can’t help it, the phrase Fatty Fish reminds me of a childhood reading of Billy Bunter, and doesn’t sound all that appetising does it? However, wild salmon, sardines and anchovies are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. There is so much research now on how these “healthy fats” are essential for so many functions in the body that I hesitate to even mention it. But – in case you haven’t heard, they reduce LDL levels, help lower high blood pressure and cut cardiovascular risk. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also raise levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL), which helps transport bad cholesterol to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body. The usual recommendation is to have these fish at least twice a week, but not from the fish and chip shop as they are at their healthiest when grilled or baked.

Vegetarians, or fish haters, can also get the same good benefits from soya beans, seeds or nuts. A study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association reported that omega-3 fatty acids from walnuts and flaxseeds had as much impact on blood pressure as omega-3 fatty acids from fish. A handful a day is enough to provide the heart benefits you need – any more and you are running into high calorie territory. Oh, and check out the health bites for another benefit of Omega 3.

4 Olive Oil
I have mentioned the benefits of the Mediterranean diet before, and olive oil is a key component of it. For a healthy heart we need to cut down on saturated fat and trans fats – often listed in the ingredients as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’fats or oils.

Sources of the healthier monounsaturated fats are extra virgin olive oil, avocados, peanuts and nuts and they will all help lower your LDL and raise your HDL levels. Again, however, please be cautious as all types of fat contain more than twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates.

So how do you combine them in the ideal day? Well you could start with breakfast of porridge with an apple chopped into it, then for lunch a large salad and dinner of grilled fish and home made ratatouille – lots of olive oil and healthy garlic in there!

Post festive fasting could it help your heart

With all the food we eat over the festive period, and much of it not too healthy, it may be time to try an ancient method of health care – fasting. New research reported in the American Heart Association™ Scientific Sessions in November 2007 seems to indicate that people who skip meals once a month are 40%less likely to have clogged arteries as those who do not fast on a regular basis.

This data was collected as a result of work done in Utah, where about 70 percent of the population are Mormons, who fast during the first Sunday of each month as part of their religious observance. The study was undertaken after researchers discovered that only 61% of Mormons had heart disease compared with 66% of non-Mormons. After surveying 515 people about Mormon’s typical religious practices, which included a weekly day of rest, not drinking alcohol or smoking, donating time and money to charity, avoiding tea and coffee, and monthly fasting, only fasting made a significant difference in heart risk.

Only 59 percent of those who skipped meals regularly were diagnosed with heart disease, compared with 67 percent of non- fasters. The researchers suggested that periodic fasting forces your body to burn fat and also gives it a break from making insulin to metabolise sugar. Fasting for one day a month may therefore help to re-sensitise insulin-producing cells and make them work better.

However, fasting does not work for everyone, and in fact can be counterproductive for some. If your diet consists of fast food, junk food and other processed items that are high in sugar and grains, then not eating those foods for a period will likely cause improvements to your health. This is because this type of diet is causing surges in your insulin and levels, and even giving your body a break from this cycle temporarily will be beneficial.

This is the principle that calorie restricted diets work on, because reducing calories definitely helps to slow down aging, reduce chronic diseases and even extend your lifespan. When you restrict your calories, as you do during fasting, it reduces your metabolic rate and oxidative stress, lowers your insulin levels and improves insulin sensitivity.

BUT, if you are already eating healthy foods designed for your nutritional type, then you will probably not experience benefits, and may even have some problems, such as hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Fasting seems to work best for those who thrive on a high-carbohydrate diet such as vegetarians and those who nutritionally thrive best with a high-protein diet don’t do nearly as well on a fasting regime.

Is there a middle way? Well, yes there is now increasing evidence that you’re actually better off on the ‘little and often’ diet plan where you nibble and graze small amounts frequently throughout the day. Eating small amounts of healthy foods at regular, frequent, intervals has been found to lower cholesterol, reduce appetite, and cause the least amount of disturbance to your body’s natural balance.

Natural tips for weight loss

October 28, 2007 by  
Filed under Diets, Food & Nutrition, Health, Lifestyle

Quick fix diets are just that – quick, but not necessarily healthy. Do you think eating salad will help? Well, it could but you would do better apparently by switching it for a nutritious soup before your main course. Medical researchers in Texas found that by giving their volunteers a bowl of a high-fat soup then sending them off to a pizza buffet – only in America would that be in a diet trial – the participants followed it by eating considerably smaller portions, and fewer calories from the buffet table. Apparently the reason it works is that when the small intestine absorbs fat it releases hormones that make you feel full, if you then wait 20 minutes before your second course – just keep talking, or read a book – then you will definitely eat less of a second course and so lose weight. Of course anyone on a limited budget discovered this all on their own without the benefit of a research grant. When I was at university, I made pots of homemade soup, which was cheap, so I wouldn’t need so much of the more expensive protein main meal that usually followed. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but the end result was that I felt full by eating less. Ahead of my time, as usual.

Oh and the second tip? It’s often suggested you drink a glass of water before you eat, again to fool the stomach into thinking you are full before you start eating, but a more pleasant way to do it is include lots of water-rich foods in your diet and that means plenty of fruit and vegetables. Researchers from Penn State University found that those who did so on average ate 25% more food by weight but still lost more pounds than the control group. Again, it’s because you can eat lots of fruit and vegetables so you get the feeling of richness from the quantity, and the fibre fills you up but gives you far fewer calories.