19 Apr

A Tour of the Digestive System

Baking, Children, Cooking, Education, Grandparents

Over the next few weeks I am going into delve deeply into the digestive system. Many people suffer from digestive disorders. I will discuss what organs and processes are involved in eating, absorbing, digesting and finally excreting foods. Why is this important? If we understand how it works we may pay more attention to it and that in itself may help improve digestion. This is important for anyone with digestive issues but equally for us all as the saying goes you are what you eat but actually it goes further you are what you absorb!


The first organ involved in the digestive process is the brain. Soon as you start thinking about food the body starts to prepare itself for food. Digestive juices, saliva, enzymes and digestive hormones activate ready for the incoming food. A saying I hear on Australian Masterchef a lot is you eat with your eyes. Seeing food can also stimulate these juices as well as smell, taste and texture.

* Top tip*

  • One simple way to optimise digestion is to think about food before eating also cooking, setting the table are all good ways to send signals to your brain it is time to eat soon.

The mouth chews and breaks down your food to a mush so your stomach doesn’t have to! Saliva helps soften the food and also contains an enzyme called amylase. This enzyme is involved in breaking down carbohydrates. It also contains lipase which helps break down fats. Amylase is released and activated in the mouth, lipase on the other hand is not activated until food reaches the stomach. Saliva aids chewing and swallowing, it cleans the mouth, buffers PH of food, it is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal and it helps deliver important nutrients to the teeth. For the best digestion, healthy gums and teeth are essential.


*Top Tips*

  • Chew your food!
  • Drinking a lot of fluid when eating may hinder the action of saliva so try to drink fluids around eating and drink minimal amount when eating.
  • Focus on good oral hygiene.



This is a part of the body that I can NEVER pronounce! It is a tube that starts from the mouth  and leads to the stomach. Peristalsis is involved in this part of digestion, this is when food is pushed down towards the stomach. The oesophagus has a sphincter at the bottom, if working as it should it stop any food or stomach acid coming back up. It is closed most of the time but is open to allow food to travel down to the stomach. When people are bothered by heartburn type symptoms it may be because the sphincter is not working efficiently enough.


*Top Tips*

  • Slow down when you eat.
  • Don’t overeat at one sitting.
  • Eat at a table.
  • Try not to lie down immediately after eating.
  • Don’t wear tight clothing around the middle.
  • Avoid foods that may affect the tone on the sphincter: citric juices, spicy foods, tea, alcohol, mint may be a culprit or very high fat meals.

Next week I will discuss the stomach, the inner lining of the digestive tract and the small intestine.

13 Apr

Protein Powders

Protein Powders at Arcobaleno
What are they?

Protein powders are a supplement. Consequently they are not a replacement for whole food. They do receive a negative and positive press. In researching this I have come across headlines from stay away from to powerhouse foods. So are they needed, are they good for you and does everyone need to take them.

Protein is extracted from the following foods to make a powder: rice, dairy, pea, hemp, soy and egg. Inevitably this means they are processed and it can be this part that makes people want to stay away from them. However so are other everyday foods we eat are also processed like olive oil, bread, pasta, flours, dairy products, tinned beans and even the seeds I grind (process) every morning!

I see them as a good way of increasing protein into the diet in times of need. Many people do not eat sufficient protein especially at breakfast. Adding a scoop of a protein powder into your porridge or smoothie  is an easy, fast way without much thought. As breakfast has to be easy for most of us this is an excellent way of increasing nutrition into the body.

Best sources of protein are chicken, fish, red meat, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. When you exercise intensely you do need extra protein to build and maintain muscle. In times of challenge you may need extra protein. If you don’t eat enough your body will obtain it from your own tissue. This is known as catabolic and for optimal health you want to ensure you consume enough nutrition from your food.

Processing techniques

There are various techniques used to extract protein from very high heat, adding chemicals to filtration and breaking down the proteins with water. Here is a brief summary.

Concentrates – This is a high heat and acid extraction process. This method eliminates the other components of the food such as fats and carbohydrates and leaves you with protein. Some amino acids may be denatured in this process so you may not get a complete protein profile with this method.

Isolates – again this process separates the protein from the rest of the food, this is done by either washing in alcohol, water or ionisation. These methods leave a higher level of protein than concentrates.

Hydrolyzed Protein– Water is added to the protein to break it down into amino acids.Known as an expensive way of processing protein. It is also known as pre-digested protein. However it can be bitter-tasting so not very palatable.

Ion Exchange– protein ions are separated based on their electrical charge. They do this by adding in chemicals. This method reaps higher protein levels but strips some vital nutrients.

Microfiltration– This is filtering or sieving out the unwanted nutrients from the whey to leave a whey protein with the health promoting nutrients. This process may have less protein content but will have more nutrition to it than other processing methods.

To read more on this check out the following websites: https://www.thehealthcloud.co.uk/detailed-guide-whey-protein/


Different types and recommendations

Whey – is thought to be the premium protein powder as it contains the highest concentration of complete amino acids and is easily digestible. It has been shown to enhance healthy bone metabolism. However processing techniques may compromise this. Look out for isolates and microfiltration whey based proteins.  Whey contains high levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCCA) (leucine, isoleucine and valine), useful for muscle recovery during sport and it also contains glutamine, important fuel for muscle synthesis.

Brands: SOLGAR Whey to go, BIOCARE Body balance, LAMBERTS All in One, Performance, PULSIN

Pea – easily digested contains high levels of lysine and BCAA for muscle recovery, glutamine for muscle repair and arginine for muscle metabolism and energy. Can be more of a savoury taste to it.


Hemp – Easy to digest, good source of fibre and omega 3,6 and 9 fatty acids. This is not as high in amino acids and you need more of it to reach protein requirements. However it is less processed and has other nutrients in it to support the body. Some people don’t like the green colour on their porridge.


Rice Protein – Useful for people with allergies to whey. It is a complete protein which means it contains all the essential amino acids. It easily digested and flavour may suit more people.  Arsenic levels may be an issue so source your product well.


Mixed plant based protein


Some green powder blends such as Udo’s Choice Beyond Greens can be taken as a protein powder, it is rich in seeds and green powders that actually have a good protein content.


They should be considered as a supplement and not a replacement for a healthy diet.

It is important to check ingredients and make sure it does not contain artificial sweeteners, sugar and unhealthy fats.

Check how it is processed. Ask manufacturer if you’re not sure.

Taste is important, not all protein powders are the same and you will have a preference. I prefer ones without anything added. I am not a fan of Stevia. I add my own flavour. That way you are in control of the nutrition and flavour. I like to add raw cacao, baobab powder, lucuma and bee pollen.

I recommend alternating protein powders so to avoid a possible intolerance to them.

Can you live without them? Absolutely. Making sure you always have protein with every meal is important and whole foods are the best source. If this is difficult or your body is challenged in one way or another they may be a useful addition to your diet. Come in and ask advice if you are not sure.



05 Apr

Adrenal Dysfunction – Lifestyle – Part 3

George Ezra Usher Hall

George Ezra Usher Hall

Is Lifestyle Important?

I was lucky enough to see George Ezra at the weekend live in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. His new album Staying at Tamara’s (I highly recommend) is about ‘daydreaming and escapism’. The final part of the adrenal dysfunction focuses on that. Escape doesn’t have to be a holiday, you can escape to your bath, bed or for a walk in nature. Daydreaming is something we all should do a little more of. Ezra says his creativity happens when he is away from home. Holidays can do this for us. I always come back from holiday with fresh ideas. Perhaps because I have relaxed and refreshed my adrenals, so apart from a holiday what else can you do?

  • Take time out for yourself every day. Read, have a bath, exercise, bake something, knit, dance, sing – whatever it is just do it!
  • Treat yourself – indulge in your favourite movie or box set. Buy yourself a nice candle or favourite bar of dark chocolate. Go out with a friend for a walk, even cooking yourself your favourite meal.
  • Try breathing exercises. Doesn’t have to be candles burning sitting cross legged. Simply breathe in for 4 and out for 4, then in for 4 out for 6, in for 4 and out for 8 – build up to this if it is difficult, for 3-5 minutes every day. You’re in breath activates the flight or fight part of the nervous system and the out breath activates the relaxed response, so if you can focus longer on the outbreath then this will activate a relaxed feeling.
  • Green tea may be supportive as it contains an amino acid called l-theanine, that helps make a brain chemical that makes you feel relaxed. It is also rich in antioxidants. Try adding a slice of lemon helps you absorb these wonderful properties even more.
  • Exercise is an interesting one when addressing adrenals. Over exercising may make symptoms worse. However activity in some form may help. Walking, gentle swimming, stretching, yoga and Pilates are all examples of exercise that may be helpful. Start slowly. If you are already doing HIIT 3 times a week or running, cycling excessively, try reducing or even stopping for 2-3 weeks. It could make a huge difference to your performance and the way you feel.
  • Sleep is important and optimising it may really support the stress response. Find ways to help with sleep. Read more here.
  • Try meditation – Calm or Insight Timer Apps are useful if it is new to you.
  • Change one thing at a time and make the change doable.
Specific  Nutrients
  • Adaptogens may be helpful and I have a useful blog on this here.
  • Magnesium is involved in the relaxation of muscles and nerves it is also needed to make stress hormones. Epsom Salts are high in magnesium and research shows it can be absorbed well through the skin.
  • Vitamin C – is highly concentrated in the adrenal glands. It is needed with magnesium and Vitamin B5 for the production of cortisol. You do not need huge levels of it and best to take throughout the day so you have a continual dose.
  • B vitamins are needed for adrenal function. B5 is particular stands out as needed to make glucose into energy. B vitamins are best taken together as they work in synergy. However B vitamins also give you energy and may for some be too stimulating, some people may need a lower dose.

The Adrenal Stress Index is a salivary test that will measure stress hormones and their pattern throughout the day. It will show if they are out of kilter, this may help with discipline to make changes. More information here.

In essence slow down, take care and love yourself, in the words of Ezra from Pretty Shining People “Don’t we all need love. The answer is easy”.

30 Mar

Adrenal Dysregulation Food First – Part 2

Adrenal Dysfunction – Food First

The last blog looked at adrenals and how the stress response system works and what happens when it goes wrong. Today I will discuss how diet can support your body and help with the way we adapt to our busy lives.

It is easy for me to say the first bullet point and I probably say it in every blog! However the foods listed below may make a difference.

Variety and diversity is important.  The more types of food you eat the more chance you will eat all the essential nutrients your body needs.

Protein helps make chemicals in your brain and may help your ability to cope with a challenging life. Carbohydrates contain nutrients that support your bacteria in your digestive system. Many of the roles these bacteria play are involved in brain function and your ability to cope with life-load. Good quality fats build your brain and are involved in the communication of nerve cells.

  • Focus on eating nutritional dense foods in the forms of:
    • Complex carbs – vegetables, wholegrains such as oats, rye, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice and lower sugar fruits
    • Protein – fish, grass fed red meat, organic chicken, eggs and mix up proteins with plant ones as well: pulses, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds.
    • Good quality fats – olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, butter (in moderation), and coconut oil as well as grass fed meat and oily fish – salmon, trout, herrings, sardine and anchovies.
    • When thinking of your plate in any situation whether you are cooking, eating out – think half plate veg, so order an extra serving of vegetables and perhaps not have a desert! Some vegetables are also good sources of protein such as seed vegetables – broccoli and peas.

Broccoli and Peas!


  • Eating too much sugar can have a negative effect on adrenals. When you spike your blood sugar levels, your sugar levels will dip after the steep rise. The body sees the dip as starvation, a stressor and stress hormones are released. Keeping blood sugar regulated throughout the day helps avoid this.
    • Eating protein at every meal, reducing refined sugars and processed foods and not skipping meals can all support blood sugar regulation.


  • Caffeine may have a negative effect on the adrenals. If you are using it to stay awake and having problems sleeping at night it might be worth looking at reducing or stopping.


  • Eat a wide variety of foods, add a new vegetable or fruit to your diet each week. This can help support your digestive system. The gut and brain are linked, supporting gut health supports stress response to situations. Additionally seasonal eating can be useful for getting diversity into your diet. In April eat lamb, crab, asparagus, wild garlic and Jersey Royals. 


  • Green tea contains nutrients that support the cool and calm collected response, However there is caffeine in green tea so you don’t need a lot, couple of drinks a day, using the same teabag. Add in some dark chocolate, rich in magnesium, the mineral that supports nerves and muscles. This wonderful combo gives you some energy with a feel-good factor as well.

In this world you cannot avoid stressors. However, by supporting your response to it you can support your overall health.

Tune in next week for the final part and we will focus on lifestyle, supplements and testing.


23 Mar

Adrenal Dysregulation- Part 1

Nutritional practitioners like myself talk quite a lot about adrenals and adrenal dysregulation. To clients sitting in front of me many must think – what is that?

The two adrenals glands sit on top of your kidneys. As glands do they secrete hormones, as many as 50, they are busy organs in the body. They are heavily involved in the stress response and some of the main hormones they secrete are adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.

How they work:

The brain releases hormones when we are in a challenging situation, one with a rather long name called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone travels to your adrenal glands and this stimulates them to make and secrete various hormones.

Many of these hormones are involved in your fight or flight stress response.

Adrenaline (a hormone) encourages blood flow to your arms and legs so you can run fast away from the threat. It also is directed at you heart, lungs and muscles to increase oxygen, again enabling you to escape fast.  In cave man days this would have been a bear or tiger. Systems like digestion and reproduction is switched off because this is not important at this time.

The fight or flight response was only ever designed to be short-lived. Run away from the threat. Utilise the release of hormones to enable this. Once threat removed, the body returns to normal, the stress hormones are no longer needed. Unfortunately, in our modern living world this does not happen. The release of these hormones continues and this can drive disease and dysregulation of adrenals. The constant ping of notifications, being late for work, being unhappy at work or in a relationship are everyday occurrences for us all.

Adrenal dysregulation can also be triggered by early life stressors, in the womb or childhood experiences

The worst kind of stress is the one where you feel powerless and frustrated and you cannot change your situation.

Headaches, fatigue, irritability, changes in appetite, memory loss, low self-esteem, withdrawal, teeth grinding, cold hands, high blood pressure, disturbed sleeping patterns, allergies, muscle weakness, depression, anxiety and many more symptoms.

Cortisol has its own circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is your internal clock that can identify times of the day. So, you are meant to be awake in daylight and asleep when it gets dark. Cortisol is meant to be high in the morning and steadily decreases throughout the day being lowest in the evening. In adrenal dysregulation you may find cortisol does not follow this pattern hence symptoms of morning grogginess, daytime slumps and insomnia at night.


The way we live our lives is not going to change however you can make small changes to help you adapt better to fight or flight. Finding ways to switch it off when you need to through diet and lifestyle may support your symptoms and health. To find out how tune into Part 2 next week.







16 Mar

Pain Relief, Natural Solutions Without Nasty Side Effects and Addictions

The news reported today that the misuse of pain relief drugs and how there is an increase in people being addicted to drugs with codeine in them. An in-depth report interviewed people with addictions to opioid drugs. They reported mindfulness techniques are being used for some to try to help them deal with pain. This was refreshing and hopeful.

Charlie and Steff  on BBC Breakfast interviewed a GP live on the sofa. The GP welcomed a review into these drugs. She said that if someone is prescribed morphine for pain relief it only takes 72 hours to become addicted!  She also admitted GPs sometimes have no choice to prescribe these drugs because they have no alternatives. Many of the previous pain relief meds have been taken off the market due to side effects. I think GPs can recommend other routes such as the mindfulness the news report had just spoken about. Diet may support pain relief, exercise, massage, physio and talking therapies may also be very helpful. Dr Chatterjee is a GP who promotes these routes of health as opposed to the drug route. He is also rolling out his approach to GPs to help them improve their patient’s health.

Resources are scarce for these therapies in the NHS however, the waiting lists are long if they are available. However,  if they invested more in diet and lifestyle changes than in drugs perhaps there might be better outcomes for individuals and health of the UK as a whole.

Supplements and lifestyle are options try for pain management. This blog is focusing on some nutrients I have tried myself for frozen shoulder.

Curcumin (Turmeric)

There is so much talked about with curcumin, it almost feels it could be a fad. However looking at research and clinical evidence it suggests turmeric may be supportive for pain.  I take for the pain and if I don’t take it I notice, so it’s doing something.

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials found turmeric and its pain relieving properties had value however they did state there is not enough of these trials to make a firm conclusion of its effect.


How does it work?

Similarly, to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and aspirin. Curcumin blocks the pathway that drives inflammation. Inflammation that is in overdrive causes constant pain. The problem with turmeric it is hard to absorb, it is a huge molecule that cannot pass the lining of the stomach due to its size and it molecular make-up. However fat and black pepper can aid the absorption. Supplement companies also produce products that enable it to pass through the stomach and then reach the bloodstream.

Cooking with turmeric is useful, it is difficult to say how much pain relief it will have at culinary level. Always pair it up with fat and black pepper as stated. Curries are a great way to incorporate it. I also make scrambled eggs with turmeric and add it to smoothies and even my porridge.

Ginger also had pain relief qualities similar to turmeric. A lovely food study showed one patient lightly cooked 50g ginger per day. 6 more took 5 g per day of fresh ginger or 0.1 to 1g of dried powdered ginger. Even though there was a difference in dosage all reported a reduction in pain, swelling and stiffness in the morning. So, get the ginger in. Grate over fish, chicken in curries and make fresh ginger tea.


This is found in pineapple and is known as an enzyme. It acts by breaking down inflammatory compound such as fibrin ( build up of scar tissue), fibrin may lead to inflammation that causes pain and swelling. Bromelain is usually found in a supplement and often is combined with turmeric.

Fish oils

Overall evidence demonstrates that fish oils may be effective with people in Rheumatoid Arthritis not so much on Osteoarthritis. Studies have shown a reduction in NSAIDs whilst taking fish oils and an improvement in symptoms. It is important if taking a  fish oil supplement to source the best quality. Fish oils again work in a similar manner, they have been shown to block an inflammatory pathway and also increase anti-inflammatory substances within the body.


Rosehips contain a type of galactolipid that has anti-inflammatory action. Galactolipids are found in the cell membrane of plants. Extracts of rosehips and been used to make a powder and have captured the  anti- inflammatory properties of galactolipids. Rosehip is also rich in Vitamin C. According to artritis.co.uk “A 2008 meta-analysis of three clinical trials showed rose hips powder reduced hip, knee and wrist pain by about one-third in nearly 300 osteoarthritis patients and a 2013 trial found that conventional rose hips powder relieved joint pain almost as effectively as an enhanced version. In a 2010 trial of 89 patients, rose hips improved rheumatoid arthritis symptoms better than a placebo”

Other diet and Lifestyle options

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet with quality proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates with plenty colour goes a long way to supporting health. Incorporating exercise, gentle if needed, ensuring good quality sleep and finding me time are also ways that may improve overall quality of mind and body. Seek advice from GP and a nutritional therapist  about alternatives to pain relief.


28 Dec

Be Well Stay Well

Who wants to be well and stay well after contracting a bug over Christmas? So many colds and flu’s floating about just now. My 15 year old son in quick succession has had two bad viruses. As soon as one cleared up another fell on his heels very quickly and just in time for Christmas.

He has had a fairly intense time with his first set of prelims. I suspect this has contributed to being run down. That and he does like his sugar, rubbish coffee from a certain well known bakers and not enough quality sleep.
It is fascination though, I was once guilty of this approach myself, of how many people recommend or treat cold and flu with paracetamol, ibuprofen and cold and flu remedies.
I follow a Facebook page where people ask for advice on all sorts of issues. Anyone can give their advice. One recent question was for what to take for a cough after a flu virus. Everyone was recommending alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen. It’s no fun being unwell and there may be a place for these drugs but all they do is curb your symptoms they do not improve your cold or make the symptoms go away!
Your body is making you fight the virus and that is why you feel the way you do. Adding these drugs into your system regularly will only put another strain on your body. I do question how much people are taking! Please do also seek advice from your doctor if you are unwell.
My son was desperate to get better as he was fed up with not feeling well and he had a Derby football match that he was not prepare to miss. So what did we do? As always I increase vitamin C and zinc, I introduce black elderberry and echinacea.  I have mentioned them before in a previous blog.

I also got him to try Pukka Andrographis for a few days with food. Andrographis is a stimulant to the immune system which may boost it and also help fight infection. It has the ability to reduce the severity and length of an infection. It may support influenza, sore throats and upper respiratory infections. It also is known as a liver cleanser, so if you are having to take pharmaceutical drugs it will support you in the short time that you need to do this. For more reading on Andrographis see this research paper. As with any supplement or herbal remedy seek advice first.

I infused my own herbal tea mixture: in a small pot of boiling water I added 1 tsp of chaga tea, 1 tsp. Indigo Herbs Breathe Easy Tea, 1 Pukka Three Tulsi tea bag and or 1 Rio Amazon Pau D’arco teabag. Heat at 2 then bring down to 1 on your cooker and let it steep for as long as possible with lid on. Basically he drank this for 2 days.
Food wise he had homemade chicken soup, lots of vegetables, pumpkinseeds for their zinc. He also ate freshly coloured seasonal fruit such as Sharon fruit and apples. He also had a homemade gently warmed orange juice drink, with oranges, lemon, ginger and a little honey.

He stayed warm, wore lots of layers and brought his duvet downstairs. Germs don’t like heat, hence your body produces a temperature at time when you have a virus, it’s the body’s way of killing the virus.

He avoided from refined sugar and dairy. There is not a lot of evidence around sugar and immunity. However a small study in 1973 by Loma Linda University proved that sugar impacted the immune cells of volunteers, reducing their ability to fight infection.

He loves sugar and has to have sweet tea but he knew to get better he had to forfeit his sugar habit. I would love this to last but it won’t – for now anyway. Dairy may make you produce more mucus.

He also went to bed earlier than usual.

Needless to say he went to watch his game which resulted in a nil-nil draw. His team scored but without goal line technology in Scottish football the goal was disallowed. I am not sure if it was worth it. However, this morning he feels a lot better and equates it to shouting at the match not my nursing and cold remedies. He did not take and medications and so is starting 2018 off in a better place. May be doing something he loved helped as well.

In summary my top tips for when you are not well:

  • Rest if you can
  • Stay warm unless you have a temperature
  • Use herbal teas to optimise your immune system
  • Eat fresh, wholesome foods
  • Chicken or vegetable broths are handy especially if you have no appetite
  • Stewed apples are my go to for everyone, supports gut health and the first line of defence starts with your microbiome
  • Monitor Vitamin D levels as may impact immunity
  • Avoid sugar
  • If you have a cough or blocked nose, try avoiding dairy for a few days. Replace with almond, cashew, oat or coconut milk.
  • Sleep – go to bed early

Have a healthy 2018 and look in your kitchen cupboard and fridge before reaching out for the over the counter pharmaceutical remedies.




01 Aug

Tips to reach 5 plus a day

Tips to reach 5 plus a day!

I am just back from holiday and I ate very well. However eating out every day to avoid cooking meant I did not eat as much vegetables as I am used to. I have come back craving green foods! It can sometimes be a challenge in reaching your 5+ a day but here are some quick tips that will help:

  1. Make kale chips (see recipe below). You can also roast cauliflower and broccoli in the oven with olive oil and spices.
  2. Beans, chickpeas and lentils are also part of your 5 a day, so increase pulses, add to soups, pasta sauces, curries and cottage pies.
  3. Aim half you plate be vegetables at mealtimes, use veg as the base of all your meals
  4. Stewed apples and pears with cinnamon and raisins makes an easy delicious desert and is also good for digestion
  5. In the summer you can experiment with salads with mixed lettuces, cherry tomatoes, courgettes, red onions, peppers, celery, carrots, beetroot, add a sprinkle some seeds and a handful of raisins for a bit of sweetness. Add crushed garlic to homemade salad dressings, this goes well with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  6. Keep a bowl of cut up vegetables i.e. carrots, celery, peppers in the fridge visible, serve with humus, avocado dip or a bean pate.
  7. Bake cakes with veg – pumpkin, beetroot and courgette go well in cakes.
  8. Add extra veg to pasta sauces, soups, curries and casseroles. As well as onion, garlic, and carrot to a casserole base add celery and a chilli pepper.
  9. Tins and jars of passata, tomatoes are useful cupboard items. If low on food, then a quick pasta sauce can be put together, add herbs and garlic to up the nutrition.
  10. Have one day a week meat free and replace with vegetables. Sweet potatoes are a good filler. Cauliflower can be made into rice. Roasted beetroot is also very tasty.
  11. Keep fruits and vegetables in sight, the more you see them the more chance of eating them. Use fruit and vegetables in smoothies. Banana and avocado with chocolate powder and milk is an easy go to smoothie.
  12. Herbs and spices contain phytonutrients that are supportive and protective to the body, use them in cooking. Add rosemary to roast potatoes, turmeric and mustard seeds to scrambled eggs, cumin to curries and oregano, basil and parsley to pasta sauces, soups and casseroles. Keep a pot of fresh herbs in the garden, that way they are accessible and easy to use in cooking. Rosemary, thyme and bay are all  hardy and easy to grow. Parsley is good in the summer months.
  13. Frozen fruit is useful to have in the freezer especially berries in the winter
  14. Whats in season – raspberries, cos lettuce and plums, checkout Eat Seasonally
  15. Fermenting vegetables is another way of increasing nutrients from vegetables. It also has the added benefit of supporting the digestive system as it contains useful bacteria for the gut.

 Recipe for Kale Chips

Bag of washed kale on a baking tray 2 tbsp. of olive or coconut oil and rub into kale, sprinkle with chilli flakes and bake in the oven at 100 degrees Celsius for 25-30 mins. Enjoy! Tip – break up kale and remove any thick stalks.

03 Mar

Acne and Nutrition

Acne is an inflammatory skin disorder. Symptoms are blackheads, whitehead and pimples.  It is not merely a cosmetic problem, it can severely affect your confidence and self esteem. I have suffered and remember well the pain of the spots were enough to make you want to hide in your room all day until they cleared up.

It can arise mainly at puberty due to the dramatic changes happening in the body. Pesky androgens (male sex hormones) are the main culprit. These hormones stimulate the production of keratin (type of protein) and sebum (an oily lubricant). If sebum is secreted faster than it can move through your skin spores a spot occurs. The excess oil makes the pores sticky allowing bacteria to get inside. Adult acne is also common.

Blackheads form when sebum combines with skin pigments and plugs the pores. If scales below the surface of the skin become filled with sebum, whiteheads appear. In severe cases whiteheads spread under the skin, rupture and eventually spread inflammation.  Although proper skin care is important in the management of acne it is not caused by being unclean, it is an overproduction of oil.

Acne contributors: heredity – sometimes we are destined but remember the genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger. My daughter has suffered with spots but nutritional applications and products she has it under control. Other factors: oily skin, hormonal imbalance, menstrual cycles, diet and yeast infections. Stress, allergies, food intolerances and certain medications can also impact.

Nutritional deficiencies and/or diet high in sugar, saturated, hydrogenated, trans fats have a huge impact on skin health.

Sugar – acne is referred to as skin diabetes. Supporting blood sugar is important. Keep refined sugars low. Eat fruit for sweet taste and train yourself to like more savoury food. Eat protein and or fat with a carbohydrate and keep carbohydrates complex, such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat and millet. Vegetables are also a good source.

Dairy – lactose in dairy is a sugar. Dairy also contains hormones and steroids that have been indicated in acne. These are Insulin Growth Factor 1, insulin and androgens. The fats in dairy may also cause a problem.

There has been a link to gluten as well especially if you have a problem with digesting it.

Trans/hydrogenated fats are inflammatory to the body. Also eating too much omega 6 fats can also contribute to inflammation. Vegetable oil, such as sunflower oil is high in omega 6 and can be found in many processed foods such as margarines. Limit processed foods and eat foods with omega 3 fats. Nuts and seeds contain both omega 3 and 6. Omega 6 is not bad for you so don’t avoid; it is the ratio than can cause inflammation. So balance it out by eating more omega 3.

Studies indicate it’s the combination of trans fats, sugar and dairy can have the biggest affect on skin. Sometimes taking out dairy for a short period then reintroducing but keeping the other two low can have results. Nothing has to be forever…well may be the milk chocolate and chips need to go and deep fried mars bars are a definite no!

Acne is linked with other body systems: 

Liver and kidneys – the skin is the largest organ and the second largest organ for detoxification. If liver and kidney function is impaired this can impact skin as these are also major detox organs and a build-up of toxins will try to escape though other means for example the skin. Pollution and chemicals impact skin health.

Digestion – constipation increases toxins impacting the liver’s ability to detoxify and therefore impacting skin.

The digestive system contains immune supporting bacteria called probiotics. These powerful armies of bugs in our bodies will fight of infection at the first call. If they are out of balance this may impact skin. Antibiotics are commonly given out to help with acne but be careful as they can knock out your good bugs so when you come off them acne may reappear. If taking them then add in a probiotic supplement, but take at a separate time to taking the antibiotic.

Inflammation, acne is an inflammatory condition. Eating foods that are anti-inflammatory may support it. Vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit are a good start.

Lifestyle is important, sleep, life-load and how you cope a long with striking balance all help towards healthy skin.

Nutrients for skin – What to eat and lifestyle habits

Zinc – ground pumpkin and sunflower seeds, beef, egg yolks, ginger – ginger tea, grated into curries, soups, or juiced, liver, seafood, beans, pulses and whole grains.

Copper always likes to be balanced with zinc – almonds, avocado, buckwheat, mushrooms, chocolate and broccoli.

Vitamin A – The most absorbable form comes from animal products such as liver, eggs and cod liver oil. However beta-carotene is a form of vitamin A. Think orange and a bit of green – carrots, sweet potatoes, squashes, apricots, egg yolks and green leafy vegetables. Seek professional advice if pregnant.

Vitamin C – kiwi, parsley, citrus – grate rind of oranges and lemons onto salads, veg, chicken and fish, broccoli and strawberries.

Selenium – Brazil nuts are the only concentrated source – a couple a day – they are high in omega 6 so balance this out by eating walnuts and flaxseeds. Other sources: broccoli, cashews, crab, eggs, celery, fish, garlic, onion and turnips.

Chromium – apples, egg yolk, mushrooms, nuts, raisins, wheat and shrimps.

Vitamin E – avocados, almonds, egg yolks, spinach, sunflower seeds and sweet potatoes. Vitamin E along with A, K and D are fat soluble so eat these foods with a fat food such as olive oil, seeds, avocado’s and eggs already come with the fat so a great source.

Omega 3 fats – oily fish – salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and trout, flaxseeds, walnuts, grass fed beef and omega 3 eggs.

Liver supporting foods – cauliflower, broccoli, beetroot, eggs, garlic and onions.

Epsom salt baths – contain sulphur, useful for detoxification and contain magnesium. Magnesium may help with relaxation and sleep. Lie for 20 minutes in a bath of Epsom salts, 2 cups per bath, 2-3 times a week. Pat yourself dry when you get out so not to rub off the magnesium. We heal and repair when we sleep so useful for skin.

Dry skin body brushing may also help with detox and lymphatic drainage and in turn help with skin. Brush always towards the heart starting at feet. Below heart brush upwards, above the heart brush downward. If you have sensitive skin, seek advice first.

Kidneys – nettle tea may be useful for acne and support the kidneys.

Digestion – fibre rich foods – oats, flaxseeds, vegetables, quinoa, beans, pulses, brown rice, wholegrain pasta and fruit. Foods that contain probiotics – plain natural yoghurt and fermented vegetables. A good gut supporting meal is stewed apples with plain natural yoghurt. Eat slowly, relax and chew to optimise absorption and digestion.

Fats – Add 2 tablespoon of ground mixed seeds to your breakfast daily. 1 tbsp. of flaxseeds and 1 tbsp. mixed – sunflower, pumpkin and sesame. You can buy them already grind or make your own. Cook with olive oil or coconut oil.

Find ways to relax, reading, baths, meditation – Headspace App. Exercise is also useful.

Practical tips:

  • Change pillowcase every 3-4 days.
  • Use products without harsh chemicals – tea tree oil externally may help, Salcura skin range, Green People, Rio Amazon, Dr Bronner (shaving gel) and Jason are recommended.
  • Be mindful – are you touching your face?

There are many triggers for acne and the nutrition and lifestyle applications above can be very supportive. Increasing variety of foods to obtain the nutrients and avoiding the key contributors can have a positive effect. You don’t need to suffer alone, speak to your GP, nutritional therapist, beautician and anyone else who has suffered, you can gain useful insight and approach it holistically.

16 Jan

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Nutrition

You are not alone if you suffer from PMS. I do and so do up to 95% of women of childbearing age according to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (NICE) (2014)

 Symptoms include: mood swings, irritability – for me most people annoy me for no apparent reason! Some people experience more serious symptoms such as feeling out of control, depression and/or anxiety. My sleep is certainly affected and some people also crave certain foods especially carbohydrates. Given this happens monthly and 13% of ladies take time of work because of it, it is something that should be helped and managed.

 Physical symptoms range from bloating, headaches, abdominal cramps, backache (that’s me) and exacerbation of a chronic illness. (NICE 2014) I used to get frequent sore throats around the time before my period, so the immune system is also a factor to be considered.

Food matters

Diet plays an important role when dealing with PMS symptoms, however as usual in nutrition there is not a one size fits all. The principles below is a good place to start when trying to tackle the symptoms. Make sure when you make changes they are daily not just when you are suffering. In time the changes you make should make a difference to how you feel. Give it time and when struggling with dietary changes such as reducing sugar, think forward to how you feel when you have PMS. I have benefited from making changes, I do need to still work on it though. So relaxation is the the key one for me.

An excellent start would be a diet rich in whole-foods including vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, good quality proteins and good fats.


Other factors

The liver has a role in managing the hormones involved in the menstrual cycle so supporting the liver is important. Avoiding foods that contain external oestrogens and improving detoxification may help reduce symptoms. It is also important to support blood sugar levels and identifying any foods that may exacerbate the problem.

What dietary and lifestyle changes can you make to improve symptoms?

I have listed below the factors that may be impacting on your symptoms and how to help you feel better. I have also given you real food ideas to be able to put it into practice. If you understand what might be going on then have the tools to fix it, the easier it is to apply in real life.

  • Support blood sugar by eating protein and or fat with every meal including snacks. For example an apple and a handful of almonds, oatcake with tahini and a couple of slices of banana. For breakfast make a muesli with porridge oats with ground mixed seeds and nuts, served with some plain natural yoghurt and berries. Limit sugar based foods especially the white refined carbohydrates so biscuits, cakes, white bread and rice. Eat complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole grains and vegetables. Eat regular meals and do not skip any meals.
  • Concentrate on digestion by enabling the body to go to the toilet everyday and avoiding constipation. Oestrogen is excreted once the liver has broken it down. However if you are not able to go to the toilet daily it may be recirculated back into the body. Eat fibre rich foods such as flaxseeds, oats, vegetables and fruit. Make sure you drink water regularly throughout the day – 6-8 glasses. Herbal teas count and foods such as soup, smoothies and vegetables also help towards hydration.
  • Opt for organic meat and dairy products, they may have less exogenous oestrogens, consider keeping them low if you suffer with PMS. Observe if it makes a difference. The evidence is mixed whether we absorb the hormones and how much oestrogen’s are in meat and dairy products. I would encourage you to play around with it and eat in moderation. If you are having a glass of milk at breakfast, a latte mid morning, cheese sandwich for lunch then creamy pasta at dinner regularly then look for alternatives at some point in the day so you are not overloading on one food.
  • Some fruit and vegetables should be organic over others. Check out EWG’s web site https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ to find out when to choose organic. For example kale and apples are better organic as a lot of pesticides are used in these products. Where as avocados are ok to buy non-organic. Pesticides may interfere with normal hormone production.
  • Plastics, water bottles, containers and tins that contain Bisphenol A (BPA) should be avoided or limited. Animal studies have shown a link between BPA and hormone disruptions. Links have been found between BPA consumption and endometriosis and infertility. It is difficult to completely avoid but be wary of it and make changes around the home and shopping habits to reduce the load. Use glass bottles of tomatoes instead of tinned. Look at glass containers and buy a water filter jug or water bottle and fill up from the tap.

This web site gives you useful information on toxins and the impact it has on hormones in the body: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/

  • Caffeine may aggravate PMS, if you think it does limit or avoid. The link is really about the symptoms of PMS and side effects of caffeine are very similar. However caffeine may help you when you are feeling tired because of PMS. Though calming the nervous systems is the focus when addressing PMS. Chocolate may be the answer! It contains magnesium, a calming mineral and a small amount caffeine but opt for 75%+ dark chocolate, have 2-3 squares a day or avoid completely if even that amount of caffeine is too much.
  • Inflammation may play a role in PMS. Eat oily fish and or flaxseeds and walnuts for their anti-inflammatory role. These foods contain omega 3 fat, omega 3 and omega 6 fat must be in ratio of about 1:2. However in a typical western diet where consumption of foods containing omega 6 are higher the ratio can typically be more like 1:10, this can be inflammatory to the body. Reduce processed and fried foods such as chips and crisps. A study in 2004 of 823 nurses showed that a diet high in trans fats increased inflammation.
  • Eat foods to support liver – foods that contain sulphur such as garlic, onion, leeks and eggs. Beetroot supports detoxification – try roasting in the over with some olive oil, seasoning for 25 minutes and serve with guacamole for a snack or starter. Cruciferous vegetables are also helpful, steam broccoli and cauliflower, serve with a olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and black pepper dressing. You could add a little plain natural yoghurt or coconut yoghurt if dairy free and tahini to thicken the dressing up and add a different dimension!
  • Vegetables also contain B vitamins; B vitamins support the reproductive system and therefore may help with PMS symptoms. Try to make half your plate vegetables based. This is not that hard as pulses, beans, chickpeas and lentils also count as vegetables. An ideal meal could be: oven baked fillet of salmon marinated in lemon juice, lemon rind, salt, black pepper and spring onions with steamed broccoli with a olive oil dressing and herby lentils.
  • Calcium and magnesium are important minerals for PMS, sesame seeds; humus and green leafy vegetables are good sources of both these minerals.
  • Stewed apples are supportive for digestion and combine with plain natural yoghurt for the extra boost of digestive helper’s probiotics also will support the menstrual cycle.

Relax – if you are in a challenged frame of mind this may make PMS worse, so find ways to relax. This might be reading, meditating, walking, going to the cinema or meeting up with a friend. My perfect form of relaxing is having a bath with magnesium and sulphur rich Epsom salts and reading my book. Listening to music or dancing may be enough to change your state of mind and mood. You can learn relaxation techniques very easily now through Apps and the Internet. Or seek professional guidance to help you relax.

Move! Activity is what is important – gardening, walking, yoga, swimming. Do something you enjoy. It will increase the amount of blood flow and oxygen to tissues, as well reducing irritability and anxiety. Supporting your abdominal muscles through exercise especially something like Pilates may prevent back pain and cramps. Exercise can improve posture which is a cause of PMS. Increasing exercise 1 or 2 weeks before your period may have an increased affect.

This is a long list, do it in stages if it is easier. Trying everything at once is never a good idea so don’t overwhelm yourself. Each change you make is a step to feeling better, motivating yourself to do more.