Super-charge the extraordinary healing powers of garlic by chopping, crushing or grating & leave exposed to the air for at least 10 minutes. The allicin, the active compound that revs up immunity, helps protect from cancer, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol management, is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal & anti-viral becomes 100x more potent when you break open the cells of the garlic & expose to the air. Even better, the garlic retains its potency even during cooking if you do this. So prep your garlic before you do anything else and then add it to your dish after at least 10 minutes. Get garlicking everyone!
Whenever I mention in my health talks that oats aren’t ‘all that’, people are often shocked and horrified. ‘But oats are really healthy aren’t they?…’ I hear over and over again.
Well, yes and no. There is something useful, even healthful in oats; a very specific type of soluble fibre called Beta Glucan. It has been well studied and thought to help manage levels of fat in the blood.
Some products like yogurts, spreads and those expensive, sweet yogurty drinks proudly include beta glucan, making the product a ‘Functional Food’ that apparently does you good. The reality is, we need very high levels of beta glucan on a daily basis to have any bearing on blood fats. The amount would challenge even the most ardent porridge fan, so the reality is that most people are in no way eating the levels required to have any real effect on cholesterol… and just to confuse further, there is still a huge amount of debate regarding the merit of lowering blood cholesterol levels any way – low does not necessarily mean healthy (that’s a different blog!). So to be doggedly eating oats for their cholesterol-lowering benefits and certainly choosing to eat those highly processed ‘functional foods’ that are full of nasties, in the belief you will help your health, I think you need to re-think.
So, why not have oats anyway? Surely a daily dose of oats, a big steaming bowl of creamy, warming, filling porridge sweetened with a big spoon of honey, must be doing some good, right? Well, it all depends. If you have been working the land for a few hours before breakfast or chopping down trees, or have been training for a marathon, then yes, your body would welcome the massive hit of carbohydrate (read: energy for your body to replenish what you’ve burnt up from working the body hard) that the oats and honey (or any sugar) will offer and as a bonus, there will be a decent dose of fibre to help with digestive function and feed your beneficial bacteria. Fibre is extremely important and often lacking in the diet, so yes, go for fibre-rich foods, but they come in may shapes and forms and diversity is absolutely key.
But, and it’s a big one, if you are making yourself a big bowl of porridge, cooked in water or skimmed milk (aka sugar water) for breakfast and then spending the day in a fairly sedentary way, then there’s a huge amount of fuel in your body that is not being put to good use, so will be stored for later – as body fat.
Oats are grains. Grains are seeds of grasses. That means every single oat, or grain of rice, wheat, rye, barley, corn (they are all grains) is a seed that can grow in to a plant. That means there is a lot of energy stored in that seed to feed that plant as it grows. Think how many grains are in your breakfast bowl… that’s a huge amount of energy going in to you and there’s only so much your body can burn before storing it away for later use – that’s body fat.
If you really want your oats, here are a few must dos:
• Use whole / jumbo oats. These are minimally processed. Porridge oats or flaked oats are whole oats that have been cut up to cook more quickly and make a smoother porridge. That means less chewing and digestion is required from you and the energy in the oats is therefore released more quickly. This results in a more detrimental effect on blood sugar, triggering a quicker response to turning the energy from the oats in to energy stored as fat. Especially undesirable are the sachets of quick cook oats. They are highly processed, pre-cooked and are almost always laced with sugar and artificial flavorings.
• My mantra for health eating is to focus on FAT, FIBRE & PROTEIN. The carbs come effortlessly in our food these days in the form of fruits, veg, grains, starchy veg and sweet foods, so no-one I ever meet struggles to get enough of the carbs. Instead think, ‘where’s my healthy fat, where’s my fibre, where’s my protein?’… In oats, you’ve got some nice fibre, as I’ve said, but virtually no protein and no fat. To make a balanced breakfast, have a small amount of whole oats, ideally soaked overnight in water (super-charges the fibre). Cook slowly with some whole organic milk, or full-fat coconut milk (it won’t need much cooking if pre-soaked) and then add in more fat and some protein with some organic full-fat natural yogurt / coconut yogurt and mix in a range of nuts, seeds and a little fruit, or follow with a couple of eggs. Now you have a balanced, highly nutritious, blood sugar balancing breakfast that offers a great range of fats, fibre and protein and ensures the energy in the oats are released slowly in to the bloodstream to provide your body with long-term energy rather than adding to your waistline.
Click here to find my ‘What’s in This’ video on oatcakes.
Fermenting is quite a thing these days. Kefir has been a big topic on The Archers for months now, so clearly the time has arrived to embrace the world of fermented foods. You can see my own dairy kefir here in my YouTube series ‘What’s In This’.
This very ancient process of preserving foods is now well established to be astonishingly beneficial for our health. Many things, be it milk, vegetables, tea or even water can be transformed in to highly functional foods teaming with beneficial, health-enhancing bacteria.
The process of natural fermentation encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria and yeast to eat up the natural sugars in foods and in the process of the bacteria and yeast breaking down the sugars, they produce really beneficial microbes that support our gut health. Good gut health equals good health throughout the body, esp. important for strong digestion, well balanced immune system and brain health.
Pictured here are the 2 ferments I make every day. There’s dairy kefir – a highly complex sour yogurt-type drink that is teaming not only in very high numbers of probiotic bacteria but importantly, dairy kefir has a wide range of beneficial bacteria too. Your standard shop-bought yogurt will have 2 – 3 strains of bacteria. Dairy kefir can have more than 20!
Kefir, as with ANY and ALL fermented foods should be SOUR. Through the process of the fermentation, sugars are eaten up. I am somewhat dismayed that the push for fermented foods commercially has resulted in bottles of dairy kefir now being readily available, but due to the challenging nature of dairy kefir i.e. a very sour, slightly fizzy, thin yogurt-style drink, this is quite a hard sell, so many commercial makers are not leaving the process of fermentation long enough for the sugars to be eaten up. This not only leaves way too much lactose (milk sugar) present, but more importantly, means that the beneficial bacteria count will be very poor. Ironically kefir means ‘pleasure drink’, but due to our modern palettes being so used to sweetness, the sourness of real kefir can be more challenging than pleasurable.
If you have been buying kefir, merrily swigging away a delicious, creamy buttermilk type drink, you really are not getting the benefits of true dairy kefir.
It is extremely simple to make. Those odd little slimy white balls in the photo are dairy kefir grains (I got mine from Happy Kombucha. This specific SCOBY – symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast, are what eat up milk sugar. Therefore, you put these little magical bundles in some organic full fat milk, preferably non-homogenized, leave at room temperature for a couple of days and the job’s done. Strain off the kefir, put more milk in with the kefir and off you go again.
These are living, breathing organisms that need to be fed. If they are not kept in milk, they will die. And once they have consumed all the milk sugar, they will need to be re-homed in new milk fairly quickly. What is so staggering about making true milk kefir with these grains, is that you can’t create the dairy kefir. These bacterial bundles are ancient are believed to have originated many centuries ago in the Caucasus Mountains. Every dairy kefir colony today has to have originated from the ferments from way back then. This makes sense as the kefir grains quickly grow through the process of eating up the lactose. This means that anyone making kefir with grains (rather than the powder) very quickly find they have too many grains to cope with, so pass on thier kefir grains to friends and family and so it keeps on going.
Just 120ml a day of a good dairy kefir is enough for a therapeutic dose of beneficial bugs. You can use it in smoothies, add to yogurt, and blend up with berries or just drink. Your taste buds will quickly adjust. If buying commercially, look on the back of the bottle and see how much sugar is in the drink. The sugar content per 100ml should be below 1 gram. This is quite hard to find. For a really good product, try Chucking Goat – extremely therapeutic.
The other kefir in my picture is water kefir. This has a similar taste to Kombucha, which is fermented tea, but a different SCOBY and I think easier to make. Kombucha is also gaining popularity and again, often has way too much sugar in it. To make Kombucha, sugar is added to tea and the Kombucha SCOBY, a big slimy disc, eats up the sugar and leaves fizzy, live tea. But as with dairy kefir, to make it more commercial timing wise and taste wise, there is way too much sugar remaining.
Water kefir is also easy to make at home. You have to buy the water kefir grains, these are like little jelly crystals, and they eat up sucrose (sugar) rather than lactose. So to make water kefir, I put the grains in a glass jar with water and raw Muscovado sugar (this contains minerals as well as sugar) and the kefir grains eat up the sugar and thrive on the minerals and in the process, burp out lots of fabulous beneficial bacteria. The water becomes fizzy, sour and so, so delicious.
As above, after a couple of days at room temperature, the kefir is drained off, the grains are put back in a clean jar, more water, more sugar and off you go again. I like to add lime or lemon juice to mine, which provides more fuel for the kefir to feed on and adds flavour and nutrients.
The other well-known and now readily available ferments are live yogurts, both organic dairy and coconut are good, but check for no added sugars. Then there are the fermented veggies – sauerkraut, fermented cabbage; Kimchi, a spicy fermented Korean dish and variations on these such a my favourite, Beet Kraut made by Laurie’s Foods – so tasty, so live and fizzing, you just know it’s doing you good – but don’t heat, you don’t want to kill off those beneficial bacteria.
Raw apple cider vinegar, another great way to get live bacteria in to the system, and even mature cheeses contain good bacteria. Get your taste buds tuned in to these foods. The benefits are truly staggering and something to be made a part of your daily meals where possible.
I am often asked “which alcohol is best” or “how much alcohol is ok”. Well, neither of these questions, as with nutritional science in general, have a straightforward answer. There is very little that is black and white in nutrition and when it comes to alcohol, there is no consensus on whether a moderate amount of alcohol can be beneficial to health. There certainly are some studies that suggest there might be some heart protective and blood pressure lowering benefits to a moderate in take of alcohol. Equally there are many studies that highlight the inflammatory and damaging effect of drinking alcohol along with the potential for increasing caner risk. There is surely something beneficial in the absolute pleasure some people get from having their favourite tipple now and again but what is universally recognized – sola dosis facit venenum – the dose makes the poison.
It has always amazed me that people who know they feel dreadful the following day if they have been drinking, still choose to drink. Some people metabolize alcohol far better than others. There is a certain amount of tolerance that can build with regular exposure, not something to aspire to, but some people are lacking a gene that allows for efficient liver-breakdown of ethanol. It is these people who will get drunk quickly and suffer badly. For those that do have the gene, it doesn’t mean just because you don’t get terrible hangovers, that the alcohol is not taking its toll on the body.
What is considered moderate is a key part of the alcohol conundrum. The recommended weekly units, for both men and women is now given as 14, spread over the week, rather than consumed in one hit, allowing at least 3 days a week alcohol free.
To turn units in to something tangible, an average bottle of wine contains around 11 units, making a large glass of wine (250 ml) around 3.5 units. A pint of beer, obviously dependent on strength, is around 2.5 units, a pint of strong cider around 5 units and a standard (35ml) shot of spirits, 1.5 units.
As alcohol is so deeply entrenched in our social and celebratory habits and our sense of treating ourselves, as a reward or as a means of relaxing, it has become a very normal, acceptable even expected part of many people’s weekly and sometimes daily routine.
This normalizing makes it very easy to forget the indisputable fact that alcohol consumption poses a significant challenge to the body. Alcohol, in its purest form – ethanol, is an aggressive, complex toxin that demands a huge amount of concentrated energy from the liver to break down the ethanol in to something that can be safely eliminated. And while the liver is busy detoxifying alcohol, its many other vital functions are at best on slow-down and at worst, on hold. If you have consumed a lot of alcohol in one sitting, your liver could potentially be engaged in this process for days. If you are then drinking regularly, the liver may never be getting a chance to fully detoxify and regenerate, as it should be doing on a daily basis.
Over time, this can lead to fats building up in the liver, this further affects function and has a negative knock-on effect on blood sugar management (a fatty liver can contribute to type 2 diabetes), and inflammation within the body will increase, which can show up as pain in any number of ways and often weight gain.
So, coming back to the questions, “which alcohol is best” and “how much alcohol is ok”, there really is no best but there are slightly better than others. Much has been made of the health benefits of red wine. The truth is that the antioxidant, Resveratrol found in red wine and associated with heart protection, reduced blood pressure, risk of clots and lowering cholesterol is present in such tiny amounts in wine that to get a therapeutic dose equates to around 15 bottles, so clearly, that’s not an option.
There may still be some benefit gained from the resveratrol in a moderate amount of red wine, but it isn’t a good enough reason to hit the bottle in the belief it’s protecting you from chronic disease.
As above, there is a positive association with the pleasure a nice drink offers but the reality is that alcohol is tough on the body and doubly so when you factor in the sugar found in most alcoholic drinks and/or the mixers added to drinks. In some respects I object more to the juices, like cranberry or orange added to spirits and the artificially sweetened as well as fructose-sweetened tonics, which play havoc with blood sugar, hunger etc., as much as the alcohol itself.
There are a lot of nutrient-devoid calories in alcohol, alcohol stops us absorbing certain nutrients and with such an aggressive inflammatory toxin at the heart of all alcoholic drinks, it makes you wonder if alcohol were discovered now, would it ever be made legal.
Alcohol is preferentially burned off before any other calories and this ensures there’s no chance of burning any fat while there’s alcohol in the system. A big hit if alcohol on a regular basis could inhibit your ability to burn fat 24/7 – and that is not taking in to account the empty calories and the negative effect on blood sugar. That makes it a big no-no for anyone trying to lose weight. Alcohol also increases appetite and inhibits resolve, so the chances of resisting the bag of crisps, chips, kebab …… becomes highly unlikely.
For most people, most of the time, as long as you are healthy, digestively functioning well and eating good, wholesome foods to replace the nutrients that alcohol not only stops you absorbing, but actually utilizes as part of the alcohol being metabolized, then a small amount of alcohol, a few times a week is probably fine. If the body is strong and well nourished, it can cope. However, it is the highly stressed, fatigued, immune-compromised, digestively challenged physically and mentally run-down who are often resorting to alcohol the most as a means to coping with life’s pressures. These are the very people who are most vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol and to the temporary numbing affects becoming addictive – so be warned and be honest with yourself about you drinking habits.
• A simple but effective tip to somewhat ease the harsh impact of alcohol on the body, is to never, never, never drink on an empty stomach. If you know you’re going to be having a pre-dinner drink and you’ve not eaten since lunchtime, then eat a small handful of nuts (even roasted and salted peanuts are better than nothing) or a piece of cheese, some olives – anything that contains fat and protein. This will ensure your stomach is closed and retains the alcohol rather than hitting the bloodstream and liver in one immediate assault.
• As with eating, drink consciously. Mindless swigging will inevitably lead to excesses, so really savour every mouthful. It tends to help if you have something pricey and delicious rather than cheap and average.
• Match all alcoholic drinks consumed with the same quantity of water.
• Take milk thistle or black seed oil before bed whenever consuming alcohol (see below)
• Allow at least 3 days a week of no alcohol.
• Anyone drinking alcohol on a regular basis should take extra measures to support liver function. Milk thistle is a well-studied herb, shown to enhance liver detoxification processes and liver cell renewal. My current favourite liver-booster (also fantastic for pancreatic, immune and inflammatory issues) is Black Seed Oil.
In the world of fruit and vegetables, there is a definite hierarchy of popularity which determines what exactly we buy when out food shopping. Typically in most baskets and trolleys, you’ve got apples, pears, potatoes amongst your ‘classic’ staple five a day, but there is one grouping of fruit and vegetables that for years has gone under-appreciated and (more crucially) under consumed.
Known together as ‘purple superfoods’ thanks to their colouring and incredible nutritional value, this grouping consists of foods such as blueberries, aubergines, red cabbage, and beetroot amongst others.
Although perhaps not as attractive as more brightly coloured ingredients, the reason for the comparatively muted bluish-purple colour is due to the presence of antioxidants within the plants. Absolutely integral to the body, antioxidants are prized by experts within the farming industry, who have pointed out that a sole cup of foods containing these can ‘speed up your metabolism, whilst lowering your blood pressure’.
Capable of breaking down more harmful molecules (known as ‘free radicals’) within the body, antioxidants are key in ensuring the health of the entire body, from the eyes down the prostate. With every cell in the body producing these damaging free radicals, it comes as no surprise that the NHS has long advocated for people to eat more foods with a large supply of antioxidants. Furthermore, that’s not even to mention the rich level of high-quality nutrients that can be found within purple superfoods. Vitamins of all sorts can be had from even the smallest portion of these natural treasures, and go a tremendous way in fighting against all forms of diseases. Aubergines for example can do wonders for your iron levels, containing ‘Nasunin’, which maintains existing blood vessels as strong and healthy, whilst restricting the growth of new cells that could go rogue and lead to health complications. Being full of fibre and with a low quantity of fat makes this an ingredient suitable for those with dietary issues such as diabetes. Purple superfoods are indeed incredibly useful in such a case, and are virtually suitable for even the most restrictive of diets.
Indeed communities around the world have long valued purple coloured foods as an integral part of their diet. On the island of Okinawa, near Japan, residents have one of the highest life expectancies anywhere on the planet, thanks to the copious amounts of purple sweet potato they consume. Thanks to the ‘Anthocynins’ within, these potatoes have been found to be excellent at stimulating blood flow and keeping grey matter healthy. It’s not uncommon for the citizens of Okinawa to live to 100 and in good health, accustomed as they are to very frequent helpings of rich purple super-foods.
Last but by no means least, it should be taken into account that purple super-foods of all types quite simply taste good, even delicious in the right hands. True, they may not at first appear to be the most aesthetically pleasing, but with a little culinary persistence, there are countless exciting recipes that can be put together with these foods as an accompaniment, or even as the centre-piece of the meal. More and more vegans and vegetarians have come to rely on these foods as a core source of nutrients, but meat eaters too should not be averse. When we consider that within the UK some fruits are thrown away 25% of the time, perhaps it is time for a change up in the kitchen? A little experimentation can go a long way, and provide you with not only a tasty dish, but one that can do incredible things for your overall health.
This article was contributed by Justin Fox, a writer and food enthusiast from Distinctly, in Hertfordshire
There’s a real buzz about blue light exposure at the moment. It’s not new, but it is being shown to be having a detrimental effect on more and more people.
Blue light, or more correctly, blue spectrum light, is light given off by computers, smart phones, HD televisions, even domestic lights. As we are increasingly exposed to blue light, from morning to night, our natural sleep / wake cycles can be affected.This is due to blue light being in the same spectrum of light as sunlight. Our primal brain is deeply programmed to respond to blue light (sunlight) as the time to be active, awake, alert and ready for action. This makes sense, daylight was a time to hunt and avoid being hunted.
With our bright house lights and our reliance upon our phones and computers for watching movies, TV shows, for reading books and keeping up with social media, we are losing the natural cycle of light and dark that dictates high cortisol levels first thing, to wake us up and allow us to leap out of bed feeling perky and vibrant, and low cortisol at night to allow us to feel sleepy. As cortisol levels decrease throughout the evening, so our sleep hormone melatonin rises, to put us to sleep. However, as long as blue light is reaching the brain, cortisol levels are maintained and melatonin levels are suppressed.
Some people are far more sensitive to this than others. If you are finding you can’t switch off at night; if your brain is ruminating away, stopping you falling asleep; or if you wake in the wee hours with thoughts racing through your mind, then it could be you have lost your natural regulation of your sleep / wake cycle.
To help get your circadium rhythm working well again, there are some easy things that can really help.
– Get exposure to bright, natural daylight as much as possible during the morning and early afternoon.
– Use blue-blocking apps for your devices, which filter out the blue light, putting an orange hue over the screen instead.
– Put orange or red bulbs in your bedside lights.
– Dim your household lights throughout the evening.
– Wherever possible, avoid TV for a good hour before bed unless using blue-blockers (see below).
– Don’t put on the really bright bathroom light just before bed. Dim the light if you can, or get your ablutions done early.
– Buy some blue-blocker specs. They are cheap and easy to find and allow you to watch TV, use a screen without exposing your brain to blue light. Blue blocker glasses will have orange or yellow lenses.
Why all the yellow, orange, red? Because we are PRIMAL. Yellow, orange and red light is akin to firelight. Firelight to our primal brain denotes darkness, hence night time. our brain understands it’s time to switch off and trigger sleep around firelight. This will allow your sleep hormones to rise facilitating a deeper, more restorative sleep.
Don’t underestimate the power of getting this right. With SLEEP, in my opinion, being THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of longevity and health, even above quality of nutrition, blocking out the blue might be a health game-changer for you.