18th to 24th May is Mental Health Awareness week and the theme this year is “kindness”.
Being kind to oneself is often much harder than being kind to others. If we stop to listen to that voice in our head that criticizes ourselves or that incessant inner chatter, we would see how unkind we are to ourselves or how crazy we are sometimes.
Our minds like to be entertained with information from everything we experience through all of our senses. Then when the mind wanders around in thought, it likes to pick a few bits of information from each experience and create an entirely new idea or experience. Often these false images or ideas leads to negative thoughts and feelings that may cause stress, low mood or anxiety.
it is easier to have a clearer perspective about that person, event or idea. We can think of an event or person in its entirety rather than picking out only a few bits of information about it.
What we think leads to what we feel. Our thoughts fuel our emotions. So, if we can observe our thoughts then we can be aware of our feelings and make conscious choices about where we want to direct our thoughts and feelings.
the sensation of your socks on your feet, the gentle breeze on your skin, the sound of the birds, colours of objects, the sensation of joy in your heart… in every second, every millisecond and every moment.
A man is sitting in a beautiful park on a warm spring day, eating an apple, listening to his favourite music while reading his favourite magazine but his leg is moving agitatedly as if he’s not feeling settled. This is because his mind or his focus is stretched in too many distractions: the beautiful park, the warm weather, his music, his apple and his magazine. This person is feeling pulled in different directions and never fully present in any one of them. How unsettling that must feel. If he was to focus on one thing completely then he would be fully present, fully focused with all his awareness on that one thing.
It can be as basic as focusing on your breathing, focusing on what you see, feel, hear or thinking positive thoughts. All of these seem simple but if you tried to focus on only one thing for 10 minutes, you would see how the mind races around so many topics like a wild animal. Try to focus on that one thing without thinking why you are thinking that thought or without letting other thoughts emerge from what you are trying to focus on. And if the mind wanders then gently reign it in without reacting or getting frustrated.
Yes, it’s hard and that’s why it needs practice, just like any sports or exercise and it has to be consistent and for some people there needs to be guidance.
Just like your physical health, mind health requires daily practice and commitment rather than a one stop shop. Rather than committing to something that seems arduous, try short manageable practices of 5 minutes each day at the same time. Make it into a habit like brushing your teeth and eventually you will feel the subtle benefits.
Studies show that meditation may be able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite of the sympathetic or stress system. The parasympathetic system is also called the “rest and digest” system and activating this system may help to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, inflammation and anxiety but should not be done to replace medication.
Mémé has been attending retreats around the world and practicing meditation for over 25 years. Her daily practice supports her own self development work so that she can support the clients she sees in her nutritional therapy practice.
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 “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.
To answer this, we first have to look at fat: in the diet and in the body.
All fats are a mixture of saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in different proportions.
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).
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.
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.
The following list some healthy fat habits;
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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?