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The debate about saturated fat and health has been ongoing for the last 70 years, so let’s take a look at some of the facts.

The history of the low-fat diet

The “fat-heart hypothesis” began in the 1950’s and claimed that dietary fat intake was linked to high cholesterol and heart disease (1).

In the 1950’s Ancel Keys began a 15-year study that involved over 12,000 middle aged men in seven different countries. The study found that a higher intake of saturated fat in north European countries was associated with increased serum cholesterol levels and heart disease in contrast with a higher intake of polyunsaturated fat in Mediterranean countries which saw lower serum cholesterol and heart disease (2). What followed was decades of advertising promoting low fat foods for health.

A few years later, Keys' study and other studies with the same conclusion of saturated fat and heart disease were found to be flawed. Other factors affecting cholesterol levels and heart disease such as trans fats had not been considered as well as the possible benefits of fibre, fish, fruit and vegetables from the Mediterranean diet on heart disease (3). The low fat movement steered people more towards a higher carbohydrate intake which led to increased body fat and cardiovascular disease risk (4).

So let’s go back to understanding fat.

What is fat exactly?

To answer this, we first have to look at fat: in the diet and in the body.

In the diet:

All fats are a mixture of saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in different proportions.

  • Saturated fats are found in high proportions in dairy products, meat, coconut oil and palm oil.
  • Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are found in high proportions in plants such as olives, avocados, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. They are also found in high proportions in meat (5).
  • Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are found in higher proportions in seeds, nuts, vegetable oils and oily fish. Omega 3 and omega 6 (vegetable oils) are also PUFAs and are classified as essential fatty acids meaning they need to come from your diet. Essential fatty acids are fats that cannot be produced by the body which we need from dietary intake such as omega 3 and omega 6 found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and oily fish.

Trans fats are sometimes found in processed foods and are produced by heating up polyunsaturated fat to make it more solid and to increase its shelf life. It's also produced using vegetable oils at high heat like deep frying. Trans fat is associated with reduced HDL cholesterol and inflammation (6).

Fat in the body is important for the following roles:

  • Supplies our reserve of energy
  • Protects organs
  • 70% of the brain is fat
  • Forms part of the cell walls
  • Forms hormones
  • Important for absorption of fat soluble vitamins
  • Keeps us warm

What are the current government guidelines?

Men are advised to have not more than 97 grammes of total dietary fat intake a day of which 30 grams should be saturated fat and women are advised to have 20 grammes of saturated fat a day.

Busting the saturated fat myth

Fat is one of the main macronutrients along with protein and carbohydrate and is essential in our diet. A meta-analysis concluded that there was not enough evidence to show that saturated fat was linked to increase CVD risk (7). Eating saturated fat is not the main issue for our health. The issue lies with a multitude of diet and lifestyle factors such as high sugar or simple carbohydrate diets, including trans fats or processed foods and meat in the diet and psychological, physical or physiological stress.

So what can you do?

The following list some healthy fat habits;

  • Cook from scratch with fresh foods to avoid processed or ready-made meals as much as possible as these may contain trans fats or processed grains.
  • Saturated fats are chemically more stable and better for cooking as they have a higher smoking point than MUFA’s and PUFA’s and are less likely to be damaged and oxidized. Avoid smoking of any fats as this changes the chemical structure of the fat and can be damaging to the body.
  • If you do want to fry foods, use coconut cooking oil for a short time at low heat.
  • Bake vegetables without oil and drizzle olive oil after baking.
  • Bake using lard, butter, ghee or coconut oil.
  • If you decide it’s essential to use oil for your cooking, use avocado oil which has a higher smoking point but limit use.
  • Avoid or reduce sugar foods and processed grains, as these are low in nutrients and fibre and broken down quickly to sugar. High sugar foods or the combination of high sugar foods and fats may increase inflammation, create an imbalance in cholesterol and body fat.
  • Use cold pressed virgin olive oil for salad dressings as it contains polyphenols which may be helpful for cardiovascular health.
  • Make sure you store oil in a cool dark cupboard with an air tight lid as oil can spoil with heat, light and air.
  • Choose organic free range meat which contains omega 3 fats as well as stearic acid, a type of cholesterol neutral saturated fat.

As always, any food or drink should be consumed in moderation. For more guidance on how to balance your fat intake along with other nutrients, please contact us to arrange a personalised nutrition consultation or dietary education session.

References

  1. Forouhi NG, Krauss RM, Taubes G, Willett W. Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: Evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance. BMJ. 2018;361.
  2. Menotti A, Puddu PE. How the Seven Countries Study contributed to the definition and development of the Mediterranean diet concept: A 50-year journey. 2014 [cited 2020 Mar 7]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.numecd.2014.12.001
  3. Temple NJ. Fat, sugar, whole grains and heart disease: 50 years of confusion. Vol. 10, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2018.
  4. DiNicolantonio JJ. The cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or ω-6 polyunsaturated fats: Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong? Vol. 1, Open Heart. BMJ Publishing Group; 2014. p. e000032.
  5. Harcombe Z. To cite: Harcombe Z. Br J Sport Med [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2020 Mar 16];53:1393–6. Available from: http://bjsm.bmj.com/
  6. Mozaffarian D, Clarke R. Quantitative effects on cardiovascular risk factors and coronary heart disease risk of replacing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with other fats and oils. Eur J Clin Nutr [Internet]. 2009 May [cited 2020 Apr 3];63:S22–33. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19424216
  7. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr [Internet]. 2010 Mar 1 [cited 2020 Mar 15];91(3):535–46. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648

When we have an intuitive thought we say “I’ve got a gut feeling that…. ”. When you look at the science behind that expression there are some really interesting facts about why our thoughts are connected to our gut but first let’s have a brief look at:

The brain

There are billions of nerve cells or neurons that carry messages around the brain to connect our brain cells. The neurons contain different types of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, adrenaline, dopamine or acetylcholine. One of the most well-known being serotonin is also called the mood-balancing neurotransmitter. Did you know that serotonin is also produced in the gut where it has various functions? However, the research on whether the levels of gut serotonin affect levels of brain serotonin is still controversial.

Adrenaline is involved in motivation and like all neurotransmitters, is made from protein with certain vitamins and minerals needed to convert protein to adrenaline.

Dopamine is linked to concentration, alertness and feeling good. It is the neurotransmitter found in low levels in some cases of Parkinson’s disease and it is also involved in the pathway to produce adrenaline.

Acetylcholine is important for memory and mental alertness and is made from choline (see below for food sources of choline).

So, we can already start to see just how some of these neurotransmitters involved in mood and motivation are related to nutrients either from food that enters our gut or made in the gut.

The gut

This is your first defence line or the bridge between the outside world and your body. This is the hub where you convert all you eat and drink into nutrients to feed your cells and organs. The right nutritious food may support health while unhealthy foods may lead to health issues.

The gut is also where trillions of bacteria live which are vital to our health and wellbeing. Some of these have been considered as ‘beneficial’ and some as ‘unbeneficial’ bacteria. The ‘good’ ones have multiple roles such as converting fibre to make short-chain fatty acids that keep the gut healthy or breaking down food, converting food to nutrients and more.

The gut-brain connection

If there is an imbalance in gut health and bacteria then this may activate your defence system and release immune cells or inflammatory cells that can travel to the brain through a number of pathways: the nervous system, the immune system and through hormones. Inflammation in the brain has been associated with low mood and cognitive decline.

In contrast, when we become stressed from day to day living such as work or relationships, we activate the stress response, which has been shown in studies to reduce the balance of the gut microbiome. This can lead to the increase of unhelpful bacteria that can release inflammatory cells and the loop continues. 

Tips to support the gut-brain connection

Healthy protein, healthy fat and vegetables are not only full of nutrients, they also provide the energy or building blocks to support your gut and brain health (see What Powers Your Life).

Tips for the brain

  • Choline is found in food such as legumes, eggs, liver, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.
  • Tryptophan which converts to serotonin is found in chicken, turkey, fish, nuts, seeds, red meat, lentils, eggs and beans.
  • Avoid processed foods and deep-fried foods as these may increase inflammation in the gut or the brain.
  • Vitamin D may help to balance low mood and anxiety. It is mainly produced in the body from the sun but is also found in small amounts in sardines, mackerel, salmon, shitake mushrooms and egg yolk.
  • There are many studies to support omega 3 found in small oily fish and how it may support those with low mood.
  • Vitamins and minerals are important for the pathways creating your neurotransmitters and giving them the energy to function but supplements for supporting brain health should be taken with guidance from a qualified practitioner.

Tips for the gut

  • Natural probiotics such as yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir may help to support your beneficial bacteria. However, those with gut issues are advised to see a practitioner for additional recommendations as there are times when probiotics should not be taken.
  • Eating a wide variety of foods may provide nutrients to feed the beneficial bacteria.

Tips for both

  • Meditation and moderate exercise like walking, gentle cycling and swimming have been shown in studies to activate the “rest and digest” response which is the opposite to the stress response and may help to reduce inflammation, support digestion, and mental wellbeing.
  • Try meditation apps and mindful exercises like yoga and tai chi.

Remember, nothing in excess is helpful for your health and wellbeing. Moderate intake of foods and moderate lifestyle changes to support your mood is advisable.

Mental health is a much more complex topic than what has been discussed here and although diet and lifestyle changes may help to support brain health, it is important to seek medical guidance from your GP. Personalised nutrition looks at the root causes of health issues and looks at your health history to see how nutrition and lifestyle recommendations may help to support your physical health and mental wellbeing. For more information contact us here.

Are you feeling bloated? Tired? Hungover?

Christmas and New Year celebrations are a great opportunity to enjoy festive favourite foods and drinks. The problem is they may not be in line with the healthy habits you’ve worked to maintain over the last year.

For most people – except for those with severe allergies or other chronic health issues - that’s OK. We don’t need to eat like a saint for 365 days a year.

How do you start the year without the guilt or feeling daunted by the idea of diet restrictions? The answer is to start with small steps and small goals. Take an interest in your health and be prepared to approach it as a gradual change in your perception, beliefs and habits about your diet and lifestyle choices.

Nourishing your body with fresh foods can provide the nutrients to support the foundation of your health and wellbeing. Then the next step is a focus on digestion, to enable the absorption of those nutrients into your cells, organs and body, to provide the energy needed to function, think and enjoy life.

Start with these five steps, for just a week, and see how you feel

  1. Avoid alcohol for a week. Alcohol converts to acetaldehyde, which is toxic to the body. Alcohol may also damage the gut wall, and reduce the absorption of nutrients.
  2. Add colourful vegetables to at least half your plate. The greater the variety, the more important nutrients your body receives.
  3. Do 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day, such a walking, cycling, yoga or swimming. Exercise can support your digestive health, mental health and immune system.
  4. Avoid sugar for a week to start changing you taste for sweet foods. Substitute with nuts, crackers and nut butters, fruit, vegetable sticks and smoothies. Sugar highs and lows are stressful to the body, and may lead to irregular carbohydrate metabolism and fatigue.
  5. Aim for eight hours of sleep, to give your body time to rest, renew and regenerate.

While these steps may seem obvious, they can lead to powerful changes. These are just a few of the many choices you can make every day - to start changing your past habit patterns that have accumulated over the years and that might have resulted in how you feel today.

If you want to make a significant leap in how you feel, you may want to go even beyond these five steps. You can contact us to discover how personalised nutritional guidance can help you, or book a free 15-minute chat.

Work, sports, hobbies, charities, family or friends? Whatever it is that powers your life, there’s also a biochemical factor that helps to fuel your life? Whether this is mental of physical fuel, it all starts from food.

If we think about the complexities of the body and its interactions with all the different types of nutrients that exist, it becomes too complicated so we’ll keep it simple and start with carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

From pain and stress management to all the functions of the different tissues and organs, the body does it all naturally and has an incredible ability to maintain balance in all body systems and biochemical pathways. What does that mean?  It means that every cell has hundreds of biochemical reactions occurring all the time, which assists in the mechanics of your body from the way you walk to the way you feel.  To create these reactions, cells need nutrients from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Those are the physical building blocks that make you…you.

Busting the myths about carbs, proteins and fats

Myth 1: Carbohydrates are just sugar!

This myth is based on simple carbohydrates, which are the unhealthy ones like sugar and processed flour that are stripped of nutrients. The healthy carbohydrates are actually the main source of energy for your cells and found in whole grains, legumes and vegetables. They are also an important source of fibre and energy and help healthy digestion as well as forming an important part of cells. 

There are many types of carbohydrates: complex, monosaccharides, polysaccharides, and resistant starch to name a few. The key is to know what type of carbohydrate is right for you at certain times in your life and this is the work of your nutritional therapist. For example, an athlete may need certain types of carbohydrates at certain points of his or her training before a race or someone recovering from a certain health condition may also require certain types of carbohydrates to recover optimally along with the guidance of their GP. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also packed with nutrients. The more variety you eat, the more different types of nutrients you consume.

Myth 2: Fat Leads to Flab!

70% of the brain is fat and every cell has a cell wall made of fat but that doesn’t mean we can eat crispy fried chips every day. They contain trans fats, which are fats found in those delicious cakes, biscuits, crisps and many processed foods. As with carbohydrates, it’s the right type of fat that is important. Healthy fats come from foods such as nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados and we don’t need a huge amount in our daily diet to keep healthy. Having adequate healthy fats in the diet for most people can assist important functions such as providing another form of energy for the body, helping to form hormones (eg. sex hormones and hormones for sleeping, stress, controlling eating etc.) and protecting your organs.     

Myth 3: Protein Once a Day is Sufficient

Of course, this depends on the person and their health condition but generally, protein is important for every meal.  Protein is used for all your major functions in the body that uses hormones, neurotransmitter, skin health, sugar regulation, immune system, digestion, energy, tissue repair and DNA synthesis to name a few. The building blocks of protein are called amino acids and there are some our bodies can make but some we need to take from food called essential amino acids. There are 9 of them and all 9 can be found in animal products like eggs, dairy, meat and fish. You can find all 9 in plant products like quinoa and soya beans otherwise there are plants and grains that contain some of the 9 so you can mix and match a few. 

How do I make a start?

The British Association of Applied Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine has developed a comprehensive diagram called the Wellness Plate to show ideal portions of food groups for an average meal.  This is a good guide generally but “generally” cannot apply to the individual biochemical makeup and experiences that make each one of us a unique and individual person. For this, it is important to consult a qualified nutritional therapist who can develop a programme suited to a client’s needs. 

WELLNESS SOLUTION IMAGE                         

With the rise of many diseases such as diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases, healthcare has reached saturation point where hospitals and those in the medical field are no longer able to cope with the workload (1). GP clinics are filled with leaflets and videos encouraging us to take some responsibility for our health to prevent disease and the media is constantly giving news on health but with so much information, it can be difficult to know how to start. By understanding how our body works, we can have a better idea what we can do. Here we share some ideas to help you start your journey to empower your health.

Our bodies are so complex that it’s usually not just one or two factors that lead to a health condition. It can be a myriad of causes over a number of years that can result in symptoms. With the age of information and technology we have more knowledge about health at our fingertips. However, it is vital that information comes from valid sources such as primary research papers or established groups such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or The National Institute of Healthcare and Excellence in addition to professional guidance and recommendations.

Digestion In a Nutshell

The food we eat is broken down to smaller pieces as it travels through to our gut which is about 7 metres long and is where most of our food is digested and absorbed into our blood stream so that the nutrients from foods can feed all of our cells and keep our body systems healthy such as our immune system or cardiovascular system.

Food Propels Cells

There are an estimated 37 trillion cells in the body (2). To function effectively they require a variety of different nutrients depending on which type of cells they are. Cell types include nerve, muscle, skin, eye, hair, tongue, saliva, gut, kidney, adrenal, immune cells, the list is endless and are all part of who you are. You need just the right nutrients to make say, your eye cells function optimally so you see well. Despite what our bodies are subjected to, it is extremely good at adapting and keeping all the body systems in balance, however, sometimes one or many of these systems can become unbalanced and can lead to health issues.

A Day in the Life of a Cell in our Bodies

Each cell has a set life span ranging from days to months depending on what type of cell it is. Throughout its lifetime it may experience stress from pollutants, infections, physical trauma, psychological stress and inadequate diet to name a few. The memory of these experiences passes on to the next cell resulting in general life wear and tear over the years.

How Does This Affect Me?

There are 1000s of studies on diet and lifestyle factors that can impact our health, however, here we will take a look at just one of our every day food choices that may impact health. The WHO report that there are over 1000 pesticides used globally for food and that each pesticide has a degree of toxicity (3). A review of several studies on pesticides and health effects concluded that there was significant evidence to show that pesticides may have dermatologic, neurologic, reproductive and genotoxic effects (4). With ample studies to support the potential adverse effects of pesticides and the potential benefits of organic food consumption, The Soil Association’s Organic Market Report 2018 reveal that the UK has now the highest level of sales of organic produce in 6 years and is continuing to grow (5).

How Do I Make a Start?

There are many ways to make a start but one easy way when you do your weekly grocery shopping.

“The dirty dozen and the clean fifteen” is a well-known list of fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticide residues (6), however, this list was based on US studies compiled by the Environmental Working Group. The Pesticide Action Network published a report in 2013 giving a list of 12 worst and best foods with pesticide residue levels that can be bought in the UK (7).

What Choices Will You Make For Your Health Today?

Choose a variety of vegetables to provide your body with a variety of nutrients to help all the different biochemical reactions and tissues in the body.

Choose organic when you can especially if eating raw fruits and vegetables.

Check your local businesses to see if they provide delivered seasonal organic vegetables to make shopping easier.

Check out the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy to find your local nutritional therapist to help you with personalised recommendations for your health (7) or contact us to book an online appointment or in Edinburgh, Windsor or London. 

  1. http://www.health.org.uk/node/10302
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/03014460.2013.807878
  3. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/pesticide-residues-food/en/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2231436/
  5. https://www.soilassociation.org/organicmarketreport/
  6. https://www.ewg.org/release/2017-dirty-dozen-strawberries-spinach-top-ewgs-list-pesticides-produce#.Wq_1PpO5veQ
  7. http://www.pan-uk.org/our-food/#food_residues
  8. http://bant.org.uk/bant/jsp/practitionerSearch.faces

We’ve all heard how stress is bad for your health but some of us don’t even know we are stressed. How stressed you feel can be different to how much your body is able to deal with stress. We’ve created an efficient and technologically advanced society that is packed with plans, ideas, thoughts and experiences, so that resting with nothing to do or think about is almost awkward or feels unnatural.

Try this stress test designed by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24756311

Fight or flight

Your body can adapt incredibly well to our fast pace life in order to face that important interview, make sure the job is done, catch the train, deal with the accident, worry about a loved one or whatever it is that takes you out of your comfortable zone. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and was originally designed by nature to help man either fight or run away from danger.

Energy – Stress - Energy

To face these daily stressors in life you need energy, which can come from food. Once faced with danger, the body slows down any body systems that aren’t needed for surviving so that all energy is focused on dealing with the stress. This means that you could slow down your digestive system or your immune system or other functions in the body but not your heart pumping of course because you can almost hear that going when you’re stressed! Your ability to deal with stress is only meant for a short time so when you are continuously stressed then your body may not function optimally. For example, you may not get adequate nutrients because your digestion is not working optimally or your immune system might not be as resistant to colds as it normally is. Long term stress can eventually lead to other health conditions for example studies have also shown that there may be a link between stress and the level of pain felt (1), however, this and many health conditions can depend on many other diet and lifestyle factors.

De-stress Kit Ideas:

  1. Physical - Diaphragm breathing used in yoga or meditation can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can increase digestion and help the body to relax (2). Try 15 minutes a day.
  2. Psychological - Take 5 minutes at the beginning and end of the day to close your eyes and think of a happy or peaceful moment. Studies show that positive thinking and meditation can help to reduce stress (3).
  3. Biochemical – Stress is mainly controlled between the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain and the adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys. They release hormones in response to stress and there are numerous nutrients to ensure the body can adapt or recover from stress. See a qualified personalised nutritionist for recommendations on how to optimise your individual nutrient intake to support your stress response (4).
  4. Social – A study showed that stress increased health risks but this risk was reduced when people spent some of their time helping others (5). Donate, volunteer or help your family or friends when you can.

Is there such thing as healthy stress?

Can stress ever be perceived as healthy? Perhaps a little stress can push us to our full potential? A study concluded that there was a difference between perceiving stress as a positive or negative process and those who perceived it as negative had a higher health risk (6). So, could it be that choosing to react to certain stressful situations in a positive way may contribute to a healthier life? Why not try and see?

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16624497
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156028/pdf/nihms304992.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Giving+to+others+and+the+association+between+stress+and+mortality
  4. http://bant.org.uk/bant/jsp/practitionerSearch.faces
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921/
  6. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/art.22336
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