Nutritional Nerding – Part 2

In part 1, I focused on the macronutrients, and outlined what a difference they had made to me during a fitness competition. You can read Part 1 here if you missed it. So, following on, it’s micronutrient time. I am not going to try to cover the 25,000 antioxidants that we so far know about, or indeed 92 minerals in one article. What’s important here is how you can tweak your food and supplements to increase the micronutrient absorption and therefore get the greatest benefits.

I’m going to keep it simple, and state that in general, most micronutrients are either water soluble or fat soluble. The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. The water soluble ones are B and C. But there’s more to life than just those 6 micronutrients. Let’s look a little closer.

If you’ve read Love Your Bones, (or even if you haven’t) you probably won’t need me to remind you that vitamins D and K are hugely important. So, on a plant-based diet, how do we maximise absorption? I take D3 and K2 as a supplement, so if you’re doing the same (which you should, especially if you live in a climate like the UK where there isn’t enough sun for half the year), take it with some food that contains fat. I take mine just after breakfast, since I have chia seeds with home made nut milk for my first meal of the day. I also take my essential fatty acid supplement at the same time. The one I use contains a fantastic mix of omega 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9, all from plant sources (fish oil is not necessary, or recommended). You can buy it here.

Other essential fat-soluble micronutrients that are better absorbed in the presence of fat are the carotenoids. You may have heard of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, but also bear in mind that there are over 40 carotenoids that have a direct impact on our health, and we need all of them. The “old” method of improving absorption of carotenoids from plants was the recommendation to cook them with butter, but we’ve moved on, haven’t we. So if for example you’re having grated carrots in a salad, use a dressing that contains tahini to add a little healthy fat to that meal, or alternatively have some avocado with it.

On the subject of the fat-soluble carotenoids, there are two particularly important ones to mention here – lutein and zeaxanthin. Any ophthalmologist worth his Himalayan salt would be telling you that foods containing these carotenoids are absolutely essential for prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is located at the back of the eye, and is responsible for fine-detail vision. In one interesting study, blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin increased by 44% after subjects took this food supplement for just 28 days. Needless to say, this is something that I personally use and recommend.

On to some of the water-soluble micronutrients, and what could be better than to talk about the polyphenols? In this category we have flavonols, anthocyanins, lignans and stilbenes. The flavonols and anthocyanins in particular have huge benefits as antioxidants in the prevention of heart disease, reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and improving skin texture and appearance. Dark red berries contain fantastic amounts of these compounds – indeed, the darker the better. So, if you want really good results, you need to be eating (or taking supplements made from) those with blue-black pigments, such as blueberries, blackcurrants and blackberries. But there’s a new kid in town, better known to those from cold northern climates where this berry grows best – Lonicera caerulea, AKA the haskap berry, which has 3 times the antioxidant levels of blueberries. So if you live in Poland, Scandinavia, Russia or northern Japan, add some of these beauties to your smoothie.

Some of the beneficial phenolic compounds found in the dark berries can’t quite make up their mind if they are fat soluble or water soluble (indeed, some dissolve just as well in ethanol as they do in water). So if you’re putting berries in your smoothie and want maximum absorption, throw a bit of tahini in the mix to ensure you have everything covered.

What about minerals? I’ll make this clear – I don’t recommend taking mineral supplements. They just don’t get absorbed very well. It’s far better to eat mineral-rich vegetables, including dark green leaves and seaweed. Even so, the iron in these foods is better absorbed in the presence of vitamin C. The leaves themselves contain vitamin C, but for an extra boost to absorption, squeeze some lemon juice on your salad.

In summary, for the best absorption of your micronutrients, combine your meals to take advantage of what is water soluble and what is fat soluble. And if you’re using supplements, take them with food or just after meals, and make sure they are made from whole foods, always. Individual isolated supplementation is what people did in the 20th Century. From a health perspective, we’ve taken a giant leap forward, and so should you.

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Nutritional Nerding – Part 1

As a description of someone, the term “nerd” may be viewed in a negative light. However, I see it differently, and if someone called me a nutritional nerd I would be delighted. I even call my wonderful webmaster “Supernerd”, which fortunately he takes as the compliment it is intended to be. So – what exactly is nutritional nerding? I think I just made it up actually, as a blanket term to cover all the amazing things that one can study when it comes to food, what’s good for us, and why.

I have to confess, in all of my study relating to food and its ability to prevent disease, I was, and still remain, fascinated by the micronutrients – ie all those lovely molecules present in food of every different colour that have such incredible benefits for our bodies. I always believed that by eating a whole foods (ideally raw and sprouted) plant-based diet, together with judicial supplementation, we didn’t really need to worry about the so-called macronutrients (abbreviated to macros) – that is, protein, carbohydrate and fat. Apparently, I am wrong; particularly, it seems, in relation to achieving specific goals in sport. As someone who has been involved in competitive sport for several decades, it seems odd to only just be finding this out. Prior to September 2020, when I entered the first specific fitness challenge of my life, I did my running, went to the gym, and ate my living foods diet. As long as it was raw vegan and didn’t have added raw sugars, I just ate it, paying no attention whatsoever to these macro things. In effect, from a health perspective, I genuinely believed I had my diet nailed. As someone who is always helping other people to upgrade, it’s surprising that all this time, I was missing a trick.

Back to the fitness challenge. Admittedly I joined the challenge for the exercise, since my ultramarathon had been cancelled and I needed something else to focus my attention, but it came together with a vegan diet plan. I was all set to ignore this – after all, why would I want to downgrade my diet and start eating cooked vegan food? But evidently, the best results would not be obtained via the exercise alone. No, no, no… it was those pesky macros that were important on this plan, not the calories, the exercise or anything else. Who knew that you could turn your metabolism into a raging furnace of fat-blasting just by focusing on a macro split? Not that I had any fat to lose, or so I thought, but hey, if I was going to win first prize in this competition, it was time to delve into this new area of study.

Depending on who you listen to, one of the three macros is going to be your enemy (and this isn’t entirely accurate). I guess you have all heard that high fat diets are harmful (they can be), high protein diets are harmful (they certainly are if you’re eating animal protein) and high carb diets make you fat (indeed they can). So – what on earth are we supposed to do? By definition, if you severely restrict one macro (which I don’t recommend), your diet will be made up of the other two. Ultimately, all food is made up of the 3 macros, it’s just the ratios that are different, and depending on what your individual goals are, the macros can be tweaked to get you there faster.

Having eaten a raw food diet for so long, this came as somewhat of a revelation – the closest thing thus far to “raw food macros” that I had read about was David Wolfe’s “sunfood triangle” in his book The Sunfood Diet Success System. The macro planner in the fitness challenge I had entered depended on one’s current weight, and that was all. For every pound of bodyweight, apparently I would need one gram of protein, 0.3 grams of fat and between 1 gram and 0.6 grams of carbs, depending on which stage of the challenge I was at (first 2 weeks 1g of carbs, next 2 weeks 0.8g, next 2 weeks 0.7g etc). Now, if you’re eating prepackaged processed food, it’s pretty easy to work out how many grams of each macro is in your meal – after all, it’s listed per 100 grams of product, so you just plug your numbers in. Heck, there are even apps that will do it for you. What about my Sunday breakfast of chia seed porridge with home-made chocolate hazelnut milk though? What kind of a macro split does that have, and is it genuinely the best thing for refuelling my body after a long run? Time to work it out, and see if I can upgrade.

Chia seeds per 100 grams have: 486 calories, 42g carbs, 17g protein, 31g fat. I use 2 tablespoons, which gives me –
138 calories, 14g carbs, 5.6g protein, 10.3g fat. To this I add a scoop of Sunwarrior raw protein powder (chocolate flavour) which is 100 calories, 4g carbs, 17g protein and 1.2g fat. Nice high protein content for muscle recovery and keeping me feeling full for longer. Then, some liquid is needed, and I don’t like it with just water, so it’s time for my home made chocolate hazelnut milk to go with it. 250ml of this contains 182.5 calories, 15.5g carbs, 3.8g protein and 12g fat. Yikes! That throws off my macros a bit, giving me a total, for the meal, of 420 calories, 33.5g carbs, 26.4g protein and 23.5g fat. It’s a very healthy breakfast for a long distance runner such as myself, but for someone wishing to lose weight, it’s not a good split (too many carbs). And why? It’s because this particular home made milk contains dates. Oops! Take the dates out, use stevia as a sweetener instead and what do you get? 313 calories, 23g carbs, 23g protein and 10.9g fat. That’s quite a difference, and an instant upgrade.

So, what happened when I did my fitness challenge and paid attention to macros? I shed fat like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t really have a lot of fat to lose, but the macro split that I followed revved up my metabolism faster than just the exercise alone, and ensured that I retained and built muscle as opposed to losing it whilst on a calorie deficit. I ended up leaner, with better muscle definition and approximately 12% body fat, lower than I had been in years of raw food eating. And the best part? Because I built muscle and the weight training made me stronger, my running improved, especially uphill running. This stuff works!

I’ll be back again soon with more nutritional nerding, focusing on my favourite micronutrients – see you then.

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Health improvement in 2021

Feeling a little stuck with your goal setting for this year? Help is at hand! I always love to spend time at the beginning of each year to consider what I want to achieve in the coming 12 months, and create a vision board based on that. Today I am breaking this feature down into some general categories, getting more specific with each one as I go further into it. Let’s kick off with the obvious one – food.

3 simple diet upgrades for the New Year

Eat lots more greens. Yes, it’s important. After the indulgences of Christmas festivities, it’s possible that you might have not kept up your intake of greens, because it’s easy to let it slip a bit. Time to get straight back in. Rocket, spinach, kale, chard, watercress, lamb’s lettuce, cavolo nero, pea shoots, microgreens… the choices are almost endless and the benefits are massive. Have a good variety every day, and ideally in more than one meal. Yes, you can have greens for breakfast in green juice, greens in a mid-morning smoothie, greens for lunch in a salad, and greens in the evening, blended into a soup perhaps. Go large on the greens. They provide a host of minerals and antioxidants, are a good source of soft fibre and really are the foundation of a healthy diet.

This might be a little controversial – reduce your fruit intake. Yes, I am not an advocate of high fruit diets. Keep up the intake of berries of course, but don’t go overboard on the sweet fruit. The reason is simple – fructose, the sugar found in fruit, can surprisingly lead to weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels from the way it is metabolised. Yes, fruit contains beneficial antioxidants, but keep it low GI, by eating berries rather than bananas. The exception (because there always is one) – if you are an ectomorphic athlete involved in endurance sport. You are then burning off so much sugar that you can go right ahead with that 3-banana-and-buckets-of-berries smoothie. Yum! Thanks to some rather clever supplements, you can get the health benefits of a variety of different fruit without the sugar content. Email for more information, or click this link.

Don’t forget the fat. Healthy fats improve cholesterol transport in the blood and keep the arteries free from atherosclerotic plaque. They’re essential for cognitive function (how well your brain works) too. Counterintuitive perhaps, but nonetheless true. The best sources? Walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds and algae. No oily fish needed. Supplement-wise, if you’re looking for a good (and importantly, vegan) essential fatty acid supplement that’s high in omega 3 and also contains omegas 5, 6, 7 and 9 – this is the one I use and recommend

3 exercise suggestions

Cardio. Keep it simple. Raise your heart rate but keep it in the right zone for optimal fat burning without causing undue stress on the body by spiking cortisol. Subtract your age from 220, and take 75% of this as the heart rate you’re aiming for. Example for a 40 year old = 220 – 40 = 180. 75% of 180 = 135. So, during your cardio sessions, keep your heart rate at about 135. More than this and yes, you’ll burn more calories, but you could be putting undue stress on the body and causing your cortisol levels to rise. High cortisol actually breaks down muscle and potentially leads to fat gain – the opposite of what you want to achieve. Aim for an hour a day of steady cardio, and increase if you’re training for something specific. A couple of HIIT sessions per week is fine to throw in as well, just don’t make it the only type of cardio that you do.

Strength/resistance/weight training. What a game-changer! As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, I have been participating in two different fitness challenges between September and December 2020. By adding in resistance workouts 6 times a week, I absolutely blitzed bodyfat (not that I had a lot to begin with) and gained some quite spectacular muscle definition for someone of my age. It’s never too late to start and it’s actually quite fun once you get into it. It’s also absolutely essential for bone health, as I mention in my book Love Your Bones.
With gyms closed, get some resistance bands or just work with body weight. There’s so much you can do at home – many YouTube videos are available so take advantage, or sign up to a paid strength training and conditioning program.

Yoga. Brilliant for strength and flexibility, and some of the gentler styles are great for relaxation too – something we all need whilst experiencing the effects of a pandemic.
We all have time for exercise. I now get up at 6am and run for an hour before work, and do my strength training when I get home. If I can fit it in, so can you. Let’s build some healthy exercise habits to power us through 2021!

Some general lifestyle recommendations

Adequate sleep. Muscles grow and bodies recover whilst you sleep. Two surges of human growth hormone (HGH) occur whilst you sleep, and HGH could even be considered to be the fountain of youth. To get a good night’s sleep, eliminate screen time for 90 minutes before bed. Yes, if you make only one New Year’s resolution, make it this one. Blue light interferes with melatonin production and prevents you from falling asleep easily.

Feed your mind. Whether this is with an inspiring podcast (there are so many great ones to choose from) a fascinating book (I am currently enjoying Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty), or via a daily meditation practice, your mind needs input. Spend time doing activities that you enjoy. And if you have essential tasks to do that you hate, why not think of ways to enjoy them; or if they sap your energy, outsource them instead. Adding to this, declutter your space and let go of old paperwork, objects that are broken and that you no longer use, and anything that you don’t find either useful or beautiful. Your environment is absolutely impacted by what you keep in it, and an uncluttered space is essential for feeling lighter and more joyful in every respect.

Avoid negativity. I was amazed to read how many negative comments on people’s posts there were on one of the Facebook fitness groups I recently joined, so I quit the group. Misery loves company – don’t let it into your life. It has been said that we are the sum of the 5 people that we spend the most time with. Choose carefully.

So, a few suggestions which I hope you will find useful to help you to improve your health (both physical and mental) and fitness in 2021. Which will you commit to do?

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Do you have time to be fit and healthy?

“Max is the busiest person I know…”. So stated one of my friends who wrote an endorsement for my first-published book The Whole Body Solution. I hear time and again people saying that they don’t have time to exercise, or that they can’t get fit because they can’t fit it into their busy schedule. Whilst I appreciate that in rare instances this can be true, it doesn’t actually apply to everyone, if you really look closely at what activities they actually do spend their time on.

Shortly after my August ultramarathon was cancelled, I got a leg injury which prevented me from following up on my plan to run the distance anyway, just for the heck of it. I had a break from regular exercise for nearly 6 weeks, and confess that I was a little directionless. After all, running is my thing, and if I can’t do it… well, nothing can truly replace it. During this 6 weeks off, and following a bit of overindulgence on my still healthy, still raw vegan diet, I was ready to sign up for a fitness challenge that I had previously seen advertised multiple times. I was particularly interested that the challenge was vegan, and that there was prize money, so I paid my entry fee and got the download. It was only then that I discovered that it involved 3 training sessions per day of an hour each. How on earth, with my 10 to 11 hour working days, was I going to fit that in?

Many of you will have perhaps seen the “time management” quadrant, outlining that tasks are broadly divisible into 4 categories:
Important and urgent. This is the “firefighting” zone.
Important and not urgent. This is where all good businesspeople should spend their time.
Urgent and not important. The ringing phone, the constant Facebook updates, the pinging of e-mail and WhatsApp.
Not urgent and not important. Don’t waste your time in this area, or pay someone else to do it.

I have to say I have become really good at prioritising (in my work, I have to), but was I ready for this, and how was I going to achieve an additional 2 hours of exercise in my already pretty full day? Some serious evaluation was needed, so I broke my day down. Before the challenge started, this is what it looked like:
6.45am – get up, shower, make fresh green juice for the day, leave the house at 8am. Work all day (no lunch break), finish at 6.30 to 7pm, run outdoors for an hour or so or go to the gym, make food for the next day, usually finish all tasks by 9pm, then catch up, relax, wind down and in bed by 10.30pm.

“All” I had to do was carve out 3 hours for a 60 minute cardio (in my case running) session each morning, and a weights session for an hour at any time of day, and another hour run session in the evening. Simple right? As I write this, I have just come to the end of week 7 of this 8 week challenge, and I haven’t missed a single session. Not one. What changes did I have to make to achieve this daunting task?

Batch juicing. This has been an absolute lifesaver. On weekends, I batch-juice and divide my green juice into 500ml bottles, and freeze them. Wouldn’t I lose nutritional value by doing this? The answer is yes, but not massively. 98% of the antioxidants would still be intact, and 100% of the protein. Well worth the sacrifice.

Eliminate all unnecessary distractions. The pinging WhatsApp, Facebook updates and email notifications. I batch-checked e-mails and WhatsApp twice daily and replied to those that needed my immediate attention. Ignored and deleted the remainder (I get 300 e-mails per day, most of which just don’t require my attention when I am that focused on something that I consider to be majorly important). No TV. I am very strict about this. Rest assured, all requests for consultations and discussions from clients are always responded to.

As a result of the batch juicing, I was able to get a morning run in before work, just by getting up at 6am rather than 6.45am. An hour of extra exercise for 45 minutes less in bed. I’ll call that a win. Sometimes I even make it a 70 minute session. I am on the treadmill by 6.20am at the latest, jump off at 7.20am, grab my thawed green juice and pre-prepared lunch and leave the house at 8am as normal.

The evening training has been hard. Two 60 minute sessions back to back, every day. Initially I ran first, then went straight into the weight training. But because I am a better runner than weightlifter, I found that once I got off the treadmill, launching into the weights was really tough, so I flipped it on its head. Get in from work, change into sports gear immediately and launch into the weights session straight away. Mop the sweat off the floor(!), jump straight on the treadmill and run for an hour. No excuses. Get_it_done. Finish the run, make food for the following day, shower, bed. No TV. No screen time, no e-mails. Bed. Rest. Sleep.

Last week, I ran 70 miles. Yes, seventy. That’s a record for me. The program works. My aim was to get down to my 1990s “racing weight” of 52kg by the end of the 8 weeks, and of course win the competition. 7 weeks in, I have already surpassed that goal. I haven’t been this lean in years, and even my ultramarathon training didn’t give me a body like this. Although I was never overweight, I now definitely have an athlete’s body (admittedly, an older athlete). Time will tell if I win the competition (it is judged on 13th November), but this has in itself been a lesson in extreme discipline, focus and meticulous time management.

If you have a goal, and I mean a really huge goal that you absolutely must achieve (rather than one that you feel you “should” achieve) you’ll find the time to devote to it, even if it hurts like hell. If it’s important enough, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse. Now tell me – do you have time to be fit and healthy? I bet you do, if it’s important enough to you that is.

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Your big vision

From a young age I was a big fan of Lewis Carroll. Indeed, I was delighted to receive “The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll“, a huge tome of a book, from my parents when I was eight years old. Yes, just 8. I loved reading it, even if I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of the “frumious bandersnatch” in Jabberwocky at that time in my life. Undeterred, I memorised all 140 verses of his famous Phantasmagoria poem a few months later. What, might you ask, does all this have to do with raw food? It brings me neatly on to a section of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the part in which she meets the Cheshire Cat.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.
“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

Does this sound at all familiar? Are you focusing with laser-like clarity on your vision of what your diet and lifestyle will be in the future, and exactly which benefits you are going to enjoy as a result, and by when? Or are you drifting around, dare I say a little aimlessly, like Alice seemed to be in this encounter? What is your vision for your diet and lifestyle? Do you have one? And how will you feel when you have achieved it?

Let’s conjure up an example – say you want to enjoy an 80% raw plant-based diet because it will make you feel amazing, give you clear skin, boundless energy, the body of your dreams etc. All of those outcomes, when you aim for them, must be stated and written down, in the positive. Where focus goes, energy flows. If instead you focus on the downsides of not adopting a high-vibrancy plant-based diet, for example to no longer experience excess weight, spotty skin or poor digestion, then you’ll be likely to attract more of the same. The focus of having, for example, low energy, poor digestion or absence of a slim and fit body emphasises a feeling of lack. Focusing on not wanting these things makes you have to think about them. It’s kind of a backwards way of doing things.

In order to make your goal compelling (whether that be a body/health/lifestyle specific goal or otherwise), you have to be able to see, hear and feel what it will be like to have it. Focus on the ‘why’, rather than initially on the ‘how’, because the ‘how’ part might feel overwhelming at first.

Giving attention to how you are going to feel when you have achieved your goal will shift your mind towards the resources you need to achieve it. So, once you are clear on what you want to achieve (let’s say, for example a health or fitness goal), sit quietly in a comfortable place and think about how that outcome feels. Does it have a shape? A specific colour? A temperature? What is in your environment when you think about it? Who is there with you? What are you saying to yourself? Once you have formed this vision you can make it louder, brighter, bigger. Go deep and really feel it. A great big positive visualisation which, at the very least, fills the whole room that you are in.

When you emerge from this experience, write about it, and make your writing in the present tense, as if it is all happening right now, giving yourself clarity and direction. Your subconscious mind, which cannot differentiate between real and imagined, needs to get familiar with your goal, so that your mind can accept it as something real that actually exists (and can therefore become reality).

As a friend once told me:
“Whatever the vision of your future, your subconscious believes it to be true and it will focus on and (almost unknowingly to you) shape your behaviour and nudge you to take inspired action to reach your goal.”
And as I tell my clients, make three positive changes or adopt three new healthy habits every month, and within a year you will have turned your life around. Small positive steps, performed consistently, bring the biggest benefits. Imagine it and make it yours.

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Longevity Part 3

In Part 2 of this blog last month, which you can access here, I focused on some nutrients that have been shown to be helpful in boosting telomerase activity, to lengthen those little end bits of your chromosomes, thereby boosting longevity. Let’s look at a few more.

Vitamin K2. This fat-soluble vitamin could be the next vitamin D. Whilst most people get enough from their diet to prevent blood clots, they don’t necessarily have high enough levels for disease prevention. In 2004, the Rotterdam Study, which was the first study demonstrating the beneficial effect of vitamin K2, showed that people who consume 45 mcg of K2 daily live seven years longer than people getting 12 mcg per day. Association doesn’t always mean causation, but it’s an interesting finding nonetheless. Can you eat it? Yes, if you want to eat natto, a bad-smelling Japanese fermented soya product. You can get plenty of K1 from your greens, which, if your gut bacteria are behaving themselves, will be converted to K2.

Magnesium, often known as the mineral that “does it all”, also plays an important role in DNA replication, repair, and RNA synthesis. Dietary magnesium has been shown to positively correlate with increased telomere length in women. Other research has shown that long term magnesium deficiency leads to telomere shortening in cell cultures. Can you eat it? Yes – it’s abundant in greens. Wheatgrass juice is full of it, as is chlorella. Watch your stress levels though – magnesium is run out of the body in times of stress, as a result of the action of cortisol.

Polyphenols. Yes, I have mentioned them before, in my 2013 blog on longevity and also in various other blogs, because they are important. Resveratrol, one type of polyphenol antioxidant, is known to activate our longevity genes, and although we are not yeasts, one study has indicated that resveratrol prolongs the life of yeast cells. It’s a good start! Can you eat it? Yes, as long as you’re not avoiding fruit, since most polyphenols are present in dark skinned berries. You can get those without the sugar by using Juice Plus berry blend. They are also present in matcha (green) tea.

Folate (folic acid). According to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, plasma concentrations of the B vitamin folate correspond to telomere length in both men and women. Folate plays an important role in the maintenance of DNA integrity and DNA methylation, both of which influence the length of your telomeres. Can you eat it? Yes. Green leaves have loads of it. So does Juice Plus vegetable blend.

Vitamin B12. In the “sister study” as it is known, researchers concluded that vitamin B12 had its protective action on telomeres as a result of reducing oxidative stress. Brian Clement, Director of the Hippocrates Health Institute, recommends that everyone, without exception, supplements with B12. Do you take it? If not, why not start today? A word of warning – make sure you use methylcobalamin and not cyanocobalamin – a small difference, but an important one.

Turmeric. Curcumin, the active molecule from turmeric root with its amazing health benefits, also seems to have anti-ageing qualities. You can also get it in supplement form (I use it every day), and its absorption is enhanced by black pepper (piperine). Guess what’s in your curry?

Finally, let’s look at the practice of “undereating”. It’s all over the media isn’t it? 5:2, caloric restriction, intermittent fasting… and it could be the secret to life extension and freedom from degenerative disease. Gabriel Cousens, in his book Spiritual Nutrition, devotes a whole chapter to undereating. On the Hippocrates Health Institute program, participants fast once a week (Wednesday is fasting day at Hippocrates). However, we fast on “liquid nourishment” – i.e. green juices, and those that need to have a blended green soup in the evening.

So, what’s so great about fasting? Nothing if you view it as deprivation. Everything if you view it as the fountain of youth! Science has confirmed there are many good reasons for fasting, including:
• Normalising your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance (which is what you get when your insulin sensitivity plummets) is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
• Normalising ghrelin levels, also known as “the hunger hormone”
• Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process
• Lowering triglyceride levels
• Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage

There’s also plenty of research showing that fasting has a beneficial impact on longevity in animals. There are a number of mechanisms contributing to this effect. Normalizing insulin sensitivity is a major one, but fasting also inhibits the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in driving the aging process. The fact that it improves a number of potent disease markers also contributes to fasting’s overall beneficial effects on general health.

So there you have it – for now anyway. Here’s to a long, happy and fulfilling life – whatever that means to you.

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Longevity Part 2

What happened to Part 1? I wrote a longevity blog in 2013 which you can access here.
Further research has allowed me to elaborate on this, so here I bring you Part 2, with Part 3 to come next month. Who knows what amazing information is yet to be discovered, which I could be blogging about in a few years from now? Since living a long, happy, healthy and productive life is a top priority for me, you can be sure that I’ll be writing about, and acting upon, anything that I find out in years to come.

At seventy you are but a child. At eighty you are merely a youth, and at ninety if the ancestors invite you into heaven, ask them to wait until you are 100, then you might consider it. – ancient Okinawan proverb.

Telomeres are now considered by some authors to be the ultimate dictator of our longevity. Telomeres are the little end bits of chromosomes which shorten with each cell replication. However, the telomere length can be increased with a neat little enzyme called telomerase. But before we get on to how telomerase works, let’s take a look at telomeres and think about how they affect us. Remember of course that although researchers (and in particular the 2009 Nobel Prize winners who won for their work on telomeres) like to focus on one thing, it’s never really one thing. We have to focus on everything.

Telomeres shorten with every cell division, and cells can multiply about 50 times before they die. Young people’s telomeres generally are between 8,000 and 10,000 nucleotides long (nucleotides are the building blocks of your chromosomes), but old people may have as few as 5,000 nucleotides making up their telomeres.

Telomeres are shorter in certain disease processes, which has led to the “what came first” question. Is it that the disease-causing processes also shorten the telomeres, or is it that the telomeres just happen to be shorter anyway when the disease rears its head? So far, no one knows. However, it’s interesting to note that telomerase, the enzyme that rebuilds telomeres, can either be stimulated or blocked. Since telomeres seem to hold so many keys for us in relation to whether we age successfully or not, let’s look at how.

Firstly, here are some nutrients that help to lengthen your telomeres, most likely as a result of their action on boosting telomerase. These nutrients also have other beneficial actions that go way past just their activity with telomerase.

Vitamin D. In one study of more than 2,000 women, those with higher vitamin D levels were found to have fewer aging-related changes in their DNA, as well as lowered inflammatory responses. Women with higher levels of vitamin D are more likely to have longer telomeres, and vice versa. This means that people with higher levels of vitamin D may actually age more slowly than people with lower levels of vitamin D. Can you eat it? Not really, unless you want to start eating organ meats and eggs (off the menu here, for obvious reasons). You have to get it from the sun, or supplementation, or both. See last month’s blog for more information.

Broad spectrum antioxidants, notably astaxanthin (from algae, rather than fish). It is by far the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant when it comes to free radical scavenging, being 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene, and 14 times more powerful than vitamin E. It’s also far more effective than other carotenoids at “singlet oxygen quenching,” which is a particular type of oxidation. It is 550 times more powerful than vitamin E, and 11 times more powerful than beta-carotene at neutralizing singlet oxygen. Another feature that separates astaxanthin from other carotenoids is that it cannot function as a pro-oxidant. Many antioxidants will act as pro-oxidants (meaning they start to cause rather than combat oxidation) when present in your tissues in sufficient concentrations. This is why you don’t want to go overboard taking too many antioxidant supplements like beta-carotene, for example. Astaxanthin, on the other hand, does not function as a pro-oxidant, even when present in high amounts, which makes it massively beneficial. For those taking this whole-food supplement, you can celebrate – it’s got bioavailable astaxanthin in it.

Lastly, one of the most profound features of astaxanthin is its unique ability to protect the entire cell from damage – both the water-soluble part and the fat-soluble portion of the cell. Other antioxidants usually affect just one or the other. This is due to astaxanthin’s unique physical characteristics that allow it to reside within the cell membrane whilst also protecting the inside of the cell. Can you eat it? Yes. Eat algae. And supplement with this.

Essential fatty acids. Some authors state that one of the top foods for rebuilding telomerase is extra virgin cold pressed olive oil. Make a salad dressing out of it. Don’t cook with it and don’t heat it, since the benefits would be destroyed. You can use EFA supplements as well. I have previously experimented with Echium oil, which gives a good distribution of omega 3, 6 and 9. However I currently use Juice Plus Omega blend which contains omega 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9, and is the most complete plant-based source of essential fats that I have found so far. You can order it here.

Well, that’s enough to be going on with for now. Next month I’ll bring you the lowdown on other aspects of longevity, including an additional list of nutrients that boost telomerase activity.

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5 important ways to keep your vitamin D levels high

Before launching in to this vital topic, let’s think about why we might want to maintain optimal levels of D3, the active form of vitamin D, in our bodies. Vitamin D is involved in keeping the immune system healthy and some hospitals currently dealing with COVID-19 are treating patients with supplementation of this important hormone/fat-soluble vitamin. It’s essential to bone health, it has been shown to be deficient in those suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) and it’s essential in energy production and generally feeling good.

It’s hardly surprising that its benefits are far-reaching, since vitamin D receptors have been found in 300 locations in the body (so far – no doubt there will be more discoveries in the next few years). Low vitamin D levels correlate with the increased risk of certain types of cancer, often associated with the increased levels of IGF-1 which occur when vitamin D levels are low (high IGF-1 is a risk factor for breast and prostate cancer).

Certain autoimmune disorders correlate with low vitamin D levels. Anecdotal evidence exists that flares of SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) are less acute and can be controlled with Vitamin D supplementation.

Indeed, whole books have been written about Vitamin D. For example, Dr Michael Holick reports in his book The Vitamin D Solution that after several months on supplementation with 2000IU per day, participants upregulated 291 genes that were responsible for 80 metabolic processes, ranging from improving DNA repair (which may explain another pathway for the benefits relating to cancer reduction) to having a beneficial effect on the immune system, whilst also reducing oxidative stress. So… keeping vitamin D levels within the ideal reference range is good for you!

Here goes with the 5 reminders on keeping your levels optimal.

1. It’s not all about the sun, but certainly the amazing weather we have had here in the UK recently (I, certainly, have never known an April as warm and sunny as this one) has reminded me about the importance of that feel-good solar radiation to our overall health. And getting sun exposure, ideally every day but at least 3 times a week, is hugely beneficial. We need to expose 80% of the skin’s surface for 20-30 minutes at a time to get levels into the recommended range. So that means stripping off a bit. At the very least, expose your arms and legs. By all means use some sunblock on your face to prevent premature skin ageing and melasma (unwanted patches of darker pigmentation due to uneven melanin distribution), but ideally don’t use sunblock on the rest of the body (unless, like me, you are a long distance runner or work outside and are going to be in the sun for hours on end). 

2. Are you over 70? If so, even with sun exposure, your mechanisms for converting vitamin D in the skin to its active form will be diminished by up to 75% in comparison with 20 year olds. As you age, it’s a great idea to get your levels checked and take oral supplementation in addition to getting sun exposure if you need a boost.

3. Are you a meat eater? I appreciate that most of my readers will not be, and that we are often (mis)informed that one can only obtain dietary vitamin D from the animal kingdom and not via plants. However yet another downside of animal protein consumption (and yes, this includes dairy and eggs) is that it blocks the enzyme that is responsible for converting vitamin D into its “supercharged” metabolite, thus suppressing 25(OH)D3. What’s on your plate, it appears, is just as important as what isn’t.

4. How are your stress levels? Many people are having a seriously hard time with lockdown. Personally, I am loving it! I don’t have any kids to home-school, I don’t have a partner to argue with (not that I would want to argue with him, but I know some people argue with theirs and that in the USA particularly, domestic violence levels have soared), and because I am working on alternate days, I have 4 days per week to get out in the sun, exercise, do my weight-training workouts with resistance bands, read, write articles and generally sort my life out. Your situation may be hugely different from mine, and if it is, I genuinely massively sympathise with you and appreciate what you must be going through. Stress is an insidious and well-known destroyer of health, and it also has adverse effects on vitamin D levels by reducing its absorption. We also know that this is a double-whammy for reduced bone health, since not only are vitamin D levels suppressed, but stress is also directly damaging to the bone formation process as well. In these remarkable times, work on self-love. It may well be the most important (and in some cases the only) love that you receive.

5. Do you shower a lot? Now this might seem an odd kind of thing to ask my readers, and I am not here to cast doubt on anyone’s personal hygiene. But please, hear me out. We know that vitamin D is fat soluble and that it is made in the skin. Recent research indicates that if we shower a lot, we can inadvertently disrupt the lipid (fat) layer on the surface of the skin, thereby reducing the formation and absorption of vitamin D in the process. Clearly if you are out in the sun exercising a lot, as I certainly am right now, you’re going to get hot and sweaty and you’ll need that shower. My suggestion – wash the areas of your body that get hot and sweaty/smelly (armpits, feet, groin, scalp) with non-toxic shower gel or soap, whichever is your preference, but use water only on the rest. If you remember, oil (fat) and water don’t mix. If you need a reminder, pour some olive oil into a glass, top up with water and observe. The only places where you disrupt vitamin D absorption from is where you have disrupted the lipid later – i.e. where you have used a surfactant (soap, shower gel).

So that’s it – use this time wisely to improve your health and vitamin D levels through sun exposure, exercise, adequate sleep, stress relief and showing appreciation and gratitude for your partner. It may be the best opportunity we have this year.

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Help – we’re in lockdown! What can we do?

We are currently living in unique times, and people might be wondering where all this is going and if everything will be OK eventually. Many will be wanting to keep some semblance of normality, and for good reason. Studies have shown that those people who don’t have structure in their lives might feel directionless. They are more likely to suffer from depression and a sense of having “everything to do”, but no motivation to do it. I totally get it. This is the first time in our lifetimes that we are likely to have experienced anything like this.

For those who are working from home, I imagine that life will continue in a similar way for the most part. In this situation, and having spoken to office workers in the USA who are now working remotely, they all reiterate that it’s important to keep a daily routine. So if you normally work an 8 till 5 job, stick to those hours, and the only thing you’ll miss is the travelling time, which can only be a good thing! Get up at the same time of day and go to bed at the normal time. Eliminate screen time at least 1 hour before bed and limit your access to news items and the frenzy of mass media, especially before bed, since this might embed negative thoughts or concerns into your subconscious. Blue light from phones and computers disturbs quality sleep. Unplug and switch off.

Here in the UK we are allowed out to exercise once a day and that includes walking, running and cycling. Make a point of taking advantage of this right now! Exercise is essential for mental and physical wellbeing. So if you aren’t a regular exerciser, start immediately. Get outside for a brisk walk or a slow run. It’s easy and it’s free. There’s never been a better time to start. Because, like all others in the UK, my gym has closed down, I have bought some resistance bands for home-based weight training workouts. I recommend that you do the same. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that show you how to use them. There – that’s something that you can do with any extra time you may have, especially if you have been furloughed.

If indeed you have been furloughed, spend your time at home as productively as you can. Have a massive tidy up and clear out. Being surrounded by clutter and things you don’t need dulls your focus and can reduce your enjoyment of your home (and make you grumpy). It might be overwhelming if stuff has been accumulating for years, so start small. Choose one room, or even one cupboard, and work out an action plan. Do you need just a general superficial clearance of clutter or do you want to go really deep and eliminate everything that isn’t absolutely essential in your life? I did this in my bedroom last August (going really deep) and it was cathartic and liberating. I loved the process! Whilst we in the UK can’t go to the tip or take items to the charity shop right now, it’s still an excellent opportunity to get really well sorted out; I’m sure you’ll love your new clear space and wonder why you didn’t do it years ago.

Looking after your health has never been more important. You need excellent immunity and high quality food to recover quickly from any viral attack, or better still, avoid it in the first place. Here are some ideas of foods and supplements that are excellent for your health at this or indeed any other time. More information on immunity and also keeping the respiratory system healthy can be found in my book The Whole Body Solution, available here.
As I understand it, this book was even being used in class by a year 11 vegan student in one school prior to lockdown, so word is getting out.

Moving on to food – eat your sprouts! Lentil sprouts and mung sprouts are an excellent source of protein and healthy carbs. They are cupboard staples that lasts for months and will see you through difficult times. Forget cans of baked beans – all you need is a sprouting jar and you’re good to go. Small green leafy sprouts are also brilliant for health, notably loaded with vitamins and trace minerals. I am growing lots of them in my Freshlife automatic sprouter and I recommend that you do the same. Need a Freshlife sprouter? Buy one online here, and quote RAWFOOD20 at checkout to get a 20% discount. Now’s the time!

Eat your greens. Because salad greens are perishable, they thankfully still seem to be in good supply. Eat salads every day and supercharge them with your sprouts. Add at least 2 cloves of crushed garlic to all your salads. For sure your breath might smell a bit, but who cares – we’re isolating, right? Garlic is antiviral, antibacterial and keeps the circulation healthy. Go on, add it to everything – I dare you.

Stock up on chia seeds. These little black wonders are a nutritional powerhouse and they last for months in the cupboard. You can serve them soaked in your favourite (preferably home-made) nut milk. In addition to my twice daily green juice, chia seeds with hazelnut milk are currently my post-workout meal.

Scared of food shortages? Grab some raw vegan protein powder. This is a great option for anyone who is exercising heavily, and all those with an ectomorphic body type. Ectomorphs are those tall, lean people who have trouble maintaining muscle mass. You know who you are… I have plenty of Sunwarrior and Vivo Sport Perform protein powder stashed away in case things get really tough, or if Waitrose runs out of lentils!

Supplement-wise I am asked all the time which supplements are good for the immune system. Information I have received from the USA indicates that those hospitals which are treating coronavirus patients with vitamin C are getting them better faster and getting them out of hospital more quickly. My favourite supplement, as many of you know, is Juice Plus capsules and one study performed in Germany indicated that taking Juice Plus every day had a protective effect against colds and flu in office workers.

To make it clear, no studies have yet been performed to see if Juice Plus helps people with coronavirus, but since other studies indicate it has benefits for the immune system, I am personally continuing to take all four capsule types every day. If you can afford it, I recommend that you do the same. To save on cost, you can “mix and match” capsule types – check out this webpage for more information and to order yours (scroll down for the various options, including the fully-vegan Omegas – which I also love). Finally, choose the capsules not the soft chewables – the capsules are much better.

A good quality green powder is also useful to get those superfoods on board and keep your resilience high. Add it to your daily green juice if you like – it’s what I do. I am currently using Raw Reserve made by Amazing Grass, mainly because it was the only one I found in the health food store prior to lockdown.
Here’s the USA site for my friends across the pond. For the UK, just Google.

So in summary – keep to a regular routine and avoid negative news. Get good quality sleep, and ensure that you exercise every day, or at least 5 times a week, for at least 30 minutes but preferably an hour. Have a project (something to focus on), and stay positive. Fuel yourself with excellent nutrition and clinically proven supplementation. Breathe and let go. And always remember the phrase: “This, too, shall pass.”

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Why are we still churning out the same outdated dogma?

Even before I read it, I had the feeling that the article would annoy me. Featured in the January issue of Platinum magazine, it was called The Bare Bones. Would they be serving up the usual outdated and inaccurate information we’ve all heard so many times before, or would the features writers for this lifestyle magazine, aimed at women over 55 who want to make the most of every day, finally give us something closer to the truth, stepping outside the often-repeated dogma of vitamin D and calcium?

Sadly, it was the former. One page of the feature included “foods for strong bones”, so that is of course where my attention went immediately. Let’s look at the recommendations:

Drink more water. Avoid alcohol and canned fizzy drinks containing phosphoric acid. Excellent – we’re off to a great start.

Eat your vitamins. Foods containing vitamin D were recommended and their suggestions were fortified breakfast cereals, oily fish and egg yolks. Oops – bad idea. Breakfast cereals are a poor source of the minerals needed to build bone strength, and often contain significant amounts of sugar, which leaches calcium and magnesium out of the bones, raises cortisol levels, and in turn inhibits DHEA (a hormone involved in bone-building). You’ll find out more about this on page 50 of my 2015 book Love Your Bones. The value of any added vitamin D in cereals would be very limited in the face of these other onslaughts.

Oily fish and egg yolks are poor food choices for bone health. Oceanic pollution concerns with fish aside, these are both animal protein sources, which negatively impact bone health. A study as long ago as 1992, published in the journal Calcified Tissue International, indicated an association between animal protein consumption and hip fracture across several countries. Numerous other studies published more recently indicate that hip fracture is more common when the ratio of animal protein to plant protein consumption is higher. High protein diets are implicated in bone loss, but there is no risk association with diets high in plant protein – it’s only animal protein consumption that increases the risk. See pages 46 and 47 of Love Your Bones for more on this. Animal protein consumption, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, inhibits the production of a particularly active form of vitamin D, therefore negating the value of any vitamin D that you might have obtained via the oily fish and egg yolks. Fascinating stuff. I wonder if the features writers were aware of this?

Get your greens. Hooray! But not because of the bone-beneficial amounts of magnesium present in the greens. Oh no, magnesium was not even mentioned. it was all about calcium, which is arguably significantly less important than magnesium for bone health. Greens were cited as a source of calcium, and other sources of calcium were listed as dairy products, fish and bread. Hang on a minute – why not focus on the greens?

Double up on dairy. Who writes this stuff? How many years have to pass before people start taking notice of the fact that countries with the highest dairy consumption have the highest incidence of osteoporosis and hip fractures? 20 years ago a large-scale international study indicated the link between dairy product consumption and hip fracture. Why are “experts” still ignoring this? Other studies show that whilst dairy-consumers may on average have denser bones on X-ray than dairy-avoiders, this does not protect them against fractures. The article stated “milk and cheese are rich in both calcium and protein, essential for improving bone health.” See above regarding animal protein – it’s detrimental to bone health. As for calcium, it’s just not that relevant for bone health in comparison with the minerals magnesium, boron, strontium and silica, as you’ll find out in Chapter 8 of Love Your Bones, starting on page 67. The conclusion of the authors of a study published in Pediatrics in 2005, following extensive review of the literature, is as follows: “Scant evidence supports nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralisation.” Other studies indicate that the same applies to senior populations. After having been practically force-fed dairy products as a child, which did nothing but aggravate my dairy-induced severe eczema, I am so pleased that I eliminated them at the age of 15.

At the end of the feature, we have the “case study” of a 65 year old lady called Christine who managed to reverse some of the osteoporotic features of her DEXA scan. She was told to increase dairy, which she reports to have struggled with since she is not a fan (sensible lady!). She has made many other lifestyle changes including weight training, which to be fair, has probably made the greatest difference in her case. But as I say to everyone, there is no “one thing”. If you truly want to tackle the multi-faceted disease processes of osteopenia and osteoporosis, you have to look at all the aspects that make a difference.

You don’t have to struggle with this. I have done all the leg-work and meticulous research for you. Heck, I have even put 100 recipes in my book Love Your Bones. Because your bones, just like the rest of your body, deserve love and attention. And, to the features writers of Platinum magazine, this means (according to the best research studies we currently have on this debilitating condition) ignoring the outdated dogma that still pervades in the medical establishment, and writing about the things that will make a positive difference. It means avoiding dairy products and animal protein, as well as heeding the many other recommendations that you’ll find in Love Your Bones. Please invest in your bone health and read my book, even if you have to borrow it from the library or from a friend. Sermon over.

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