My office is tidy, but the kitchen is a mess…

Have you ever felt that it is never ending – this quest for whatever you are currently focusing on in your life, whether that might be your health journey, your work projects or something else? This was brought home to me after I got back home at 11pm on Sunday night from the September retreat. I’d given it my all, and arrived home tired, unloaded the car, put the spare food in the fridge and went straight to bed.

I knew that I’d have a lot of sorting out to do, but was happy to leave it until the next day (I always take the day off “normal duties” after a retreat to get back to normal and sort out the house). After a really good sleep, I awoke feeling energised as usual, ready to launch into the tidy-up process and the barrage of e-mails that didn’t get answered over the days that I was away. Firstly though, the all-important green juice and a run.

I spent a good part of the day catching up; tidying the office, replying to all the e-mails I had missed, and the large volume of paperwork, and the important job of e-mailing other resources to my retreat guests who had questions during the retreat which I had promised to answer for them. By late afternoon I was finally done, and the office was clean, tidy and my “to-do” list clear. I then ventured downstairs, and was horrified at how bad the kitchen looked. If anyone had visited me, I would have been embarrassed to show them into the kitchen, lest their impression of me should take a serious nose-dive.

Allow me to clarify. I am not messy; in fact, I’m very organised. But picture the post-retreat scene. Blender still in a crate, dry goods (nuts, seeds, tamari, tahini, seaweeds etc) in bags, sprouting equipment in boxes, the few books and CDs which remained unsold in a separate box, sports bag and yoga mat on the floor, laptop and projector in yet another box … the list goes on, but all were still in the kitchen from where I had left them the night before after unpacking the car. So this got me thinking. If anyone had seen my office that day, they would have thought that I was one of the most organised, productive people they had ever met. Look at the kitchen, and it would have told a totally different story.

The moral? Look at what you have achieved so far and celebrate your successes. You’re never a finished article; there is always more to do. By the following day, my kitchen was likewise back to its normal organised self. Did I beat myself up and think that I could not take the evening off because I hadn’t managed to sort out the messy kitchen? No; I went to a yoga class at the gym (celebrating what I had already achieved that day). Realistically, I wouldn’t have been able to sort the kitchen out in one evening, and it needed a fresh and more energised “me” to tackle it.

Every so often, you need time off from things. And the harder you push yourself, the more time you need. This goes for anything in life, whether it’s a short break from the never-ending list of e-mails to reply to, or a rest after intense exercise, or even from tidying up. Taking mini-breaks allows you to be more productive in getting those tasks done. Wherever you are on your health journey, if you subscribe to my newsletter, realise that you’ve come a long way already, and don’t be daunted by the fact that there is “so much more to do”. Don’t stop striving, but allow yourself a break to celebrate that success. You deserve it!

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7 Lifestyle Hacks for Great Immunity

Your immune system – probably the best friend that you have. It stops you getting ill, it stops you getting cancer by recognising abnormal cells… the list goes on. Starting with the 5 “baddies” to avoid, the good news comes in points 6 and 7. Happy immune-boosting!

1.      Over-exercising

Exercise in general is great for the immune system, and people who regularly perform moderate intensity exercise for 40 minutes have on average half the number of coughs and colds that affect non-exercisers. However, more is not always better. Endurance athletes can start to suppress their immune systems with over 90 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise (such as long-distance running, triathlon etc), due to the production of two adrenal hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, both of which suppress the immune system. The effect of this can last up to 3 days post-exercise. Fit-looking endurance athletes are not always the healthiest people! If you’re involved in endurance events, avoid suppressing the immune system by eating a diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables and dark-coloured berries, and make sure you well exceed the very basic “five a day” recommendation. Alternatively, switch your exercise type – high intensity “sprint-type” workouts with short rests boost the immune system. Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones) in the brain, which help you to sleep better and improve your mood; both of which in turn help the immune system.

Finally, with obesity being at an all-time high, it’s vital to exercise to maintain ideal body weight. It’s also recently been discovered that obesity directly damages the immune system by reducing its antibody response.  

2.      Stress

Stress is an insidious killer. Whilst “eustress” (good stress) – that passion which sees you jumping out of bed in the morning to embrace the day – is good for you, chronic, long-term stress and anxiety severely degrade not just the immune system, but the whole body. It’s all because of cortisol and adrenaline again, and their negative effect on white blood cells. Stress also depletes magnesium, a mineral that is involved in over 50 biochemical reactions and is additionally vital to bone health.

Laughter is the perfect antidote to stress, and studies have shown that watching funny videos boosts the production of natural killer cells, a vital part of the immune system. Children laugh up to 400 times a day. How many times a day do you laugh? Make time for a good laugh with friends – it really is the best medicine.

3.      Alcohol intake

Alcohol consumption is rising in women, and it brings with it many health challenges. In addition to interfering with the beneficial effects of vitamin C, alcohol disrupts the activity of white blood cells and natural killer cells. Binge drinking seems to put the immune system at most risk. Take a look at your alcohol consumption. There is no alleged “beneficial” effect of alcohol that cannot be found elsewhere. Want heart-healthy antioxidants, the type found in red wine? Eat red grapes or blueberries; these will also boost your immunity.

4.      Antibiotic damage

A major proportion of your immune system actually lies in your gut, and antibiotics can wipe out these “friendly bacteria” and weaken your immune system. If you’ve been taking antibiotics, or if you suffer in general with poor immunity, it’s vital to restore the balance by using some probiotic capsules, or cultured/fermented foods such as fresh sauerkraut or kimchee. These are a healthier option than yogurt drinks. High sugar diets also adversely affect your natural probiotic levels – yet another reason to ditch the white stuff.

5.      Low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer immunity, since vitamin D is essential for triggering and arming T-cells, which seek out and destroy bacterial invaders. In the UK between mid October and early March, it’s impossible to get vitamin D from the sun because even if it is out, it’s too low in the sky to trigger production in the skin. It’s been estimated that one in 6 people are severely depleted in vitamin D. There’s a lot of fear surrounding sun exposure, but 20 minutes outside every 2-3 days, without sunblock, has been shown to be beneficial for vitamin D production. Alternatively take a good, plant-based vitamin D supplement, ideally combined with vitamin K2, as I discuss in my book Love Your Bones.

6.                  A good diet, which includes essential protective antioxidants, is vital for immunity. Ensure that you get enough variety of brightly-coloured vegetables, including leafy greens, red peppers, sprouted green foods such as alfalfa, and a moderate amount of low-sugar fruits such as red and dark berries. High-sugar sweet fruits such as dried figs and dates can be detrimental to immunity because of the sugar content. Avoid processed cereals, white flour, white pasta and baked goods and focus on high quality wholefoods instead. Your immune system, and your whole body, will love you for it!

7.                  Other boosts for immunity

Garlic is really helpful for keeping coughs and colds at bay. Allicin, a chemical found in raw, freshly crushed garlic, inhibits bacteria and boosts immune function. Why not crush some on a salad?

Massage is a great de-stresser which lowers cortisol levels. It also boosts levels of oxytocin in the body, a hormone which regulates the stress hormones.  

Walking in nature is great for immunity, as is, surprisingly, cold water immersion. Scientists have found that by jumping into water at a temperature of 14C, three times a week, 2 types of white blood cells which are associated with the immune response are stimulated. Cold showering has the same effect if you’re not feeling quite so brave. Finally, consider whole-food supplementation. Here’s a link to the one I have used for over 20 years, with scientifically proven results not just for the immune system but also many other whole-body benefits.






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The Happiness Molecule

For as long as I remember, I’ve always hated winter, apart from when it’s cold and sunny; that I can somehow cope with. To this day, I’m convinced I should really be living in the tropics, or…

Source: The Happiness Molecule

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The Happiness Molecule

For as long as I remember, I’ve always hated winter, apart from when it’s cold and sunny; that I can somehow cope with. To this day, I’m convinced I should really be living in the tropics, or, at the very least, the Mediterranean. I love summer – I love the heat, the brightness of the light, the intensity… The only time that I really seem to embrace winter is when I go skiing. The strength of the sun at altitude energizes me; it always has done. There’s a reason for this of course. It’s all down to a little molecule called serotonin.

Serotonin is a fairly unassuming molecule when you first meet it. It’s also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), and is made in the brain and the intestines. It is formed from tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. “Essential” here refers to the fact that you have to acquire tryptophan via your food, because the body cannot manufacture it.
Serotonin is classified as a neurotransmitter, and is known to affect mood, body temperature and other important vital functions. An important aspect of serotonin is that it is converted to melatonin, a hormone which gives us good quality sleep. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression and undesirable mood fluctuations. More recently, other “trace amines”, as they are known, have been found to have similar relationships with mood disorders and addiction (1).

Serotonin is produced when we are exposed to bright light, and it has been indicated that low serotonin levels are associated with chronic fatigue, which I discuss at length in my forthcoming book (due for release in March 2017). However, it is so far not known if it is the fatigue which reduces the serotonin, or the low serotonin which causes the fatigue. What is known is that low serotonin levels have a negative effect on mood, which is why certain antidepressant drugs have been developed which keep serotonin levels higher for longer. These drugs are the SSRIs, which I wrote about in my book Love Your Bones, because they have a negative effect on bone health.

The conversion of tryptophan to serotonin requires magnesium and vitamin B6, so if you are deficient in either of these important nutrients, you could easily end up with a poor conversion rate and low serotonin. Magnesium deficiency is rife in the developed world, with some authors suggesting that 80% of the population is deficient. Because serotonin makes us feel good and it is converted to melatonin, which helps us to sleep, what happens if you interrupt those conversion pathways? The potential for depression and poor sleep patterns. How many people do you know who are affected by these problems?

The enteric nervous system (the network of nerves that are found in the gut, and often referred to as the “second brain”) uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the intestines. So if our probiotics are out of balance, serotonin levels can be adversely affected and this in turn affects mood. Talk about a gut reaction! Can you see how all of these factors interrelate with each other? And how deficiencies of even one or two micronutrients can have such wide-ranging effects? As always though, there is never “just one thing” that makes the difference. If you are following a diet that includes daily green juices (including wheatgrass), lots of sprouted food, green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables and whole food-based supplements, you’re unlikely to be deficient, but remember that stress runs magnesium out of the body like you wouldn’t believe. So get out in the sun this summer, run around and enjoy it, and pay attention to reducing your stress levels. It’s all important.

1. Pei Y, Asif-Malik A, Canales JJ. Trace Amines and the Trace Amine-Associated Receptor: Pharmacology, Neurochemistry, and Clinical Implications. Front Neurosci. 2016 Apr 5;10:148

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Embracing Uncertainty

We have been hearing a lot about uncertainty in the UK over the past week as a result of the EU vote, and will no doubt hear plenty more in the weeks to come, but we all face uncertainty in our lives every day. Some of this we have control over, some we do not. This is significant in our relationship with food, to which many of us have emotional attachments.

When we start to upgrade our food choices, we begin to change emotionally and physically. We are, in effect, becoming better versions of ourselves; our cells become healthier and more vibrant, we think more clearly, and we might realise that we have been repeating behaviours which no longer serve us. This can feel threatening – not just to ourselves, but also those around us. Change can be a good thing, but we have to be ready not just for the physical improvements it brings, but also for some temporary emotional disturbances. Being ready to deal with this is going to have a big impact on whether we see the change as positive and stick with it, or see it as negative, and lapse back into old habits because they are “safe”.

Beware of the crabs

In a recent personal development meeting that I attended, the speaker gave an illustration of “the crabs” – outside forces that are trying to hold you back. Think of crabs in a pot, destined, poor things, for market. One crab starts to climb up the inside of the pot, not necessarily realising that therein lies the route to freedom, but dissatisfied with being stuck at the bottom, being clambered over by all the others. Rather than cheer him on, the other crabs start to grab his legs with their pincers, trying to drag him back down again to where it is “safe”. Down there, as it turns out, isn’t safe, but they believe that the status quo is less scary than the possibility of freedom, and want everyone to be in the same boat (or pot).

Are there any “crabs” holding you back from what you are trying to achieve? Is anyone negative towards you in regard to your desire for healthier dietary and lifestyle habits? This is likely to be a reflection of their beliefs about themselves, not you, but ultimately you are the one who is going to have to deal with it. Are you ready for the challenge?

A word of advice – belligerence, evangelicism and a “holier-than-thou” approach rarely works. It’s far better, in my experience, to explain what you are doing and why, tell people that you value their friendship but are making these changes because you feel it is the best thing for you. If they are really your friends, they will understand. And if they are not, sometimes you have to let things, and people, go when they are not aligned with your true life purpose. This can be painful, but it is the only way that we can ultimately grow.

Have I managed to remain cool, calm and collected on every occasion that someone has challenged my lifestyle? Certainly not; particularly not at the start of my radical lifestyle upgrading, during which time I was more than a little defensive. I’m far from perfect emotionally, and freely admit that. But I can tell you something – explaining who you are, the direction you are moving in and the reasons for it, whilst at the same time remaining open and non-judgmental, gets so much easier with time.

And finally –

Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable.  

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The Dangers of Chronic Stress

Although I would never have admitted it, in early 1990 in the lead-up to becoming seriously ill, I was chronically stressed. When your fear, fight and flight mechanism is continuously activated, things can start to go wrong quite rapidly. A lot of this is actually as a result of inflammation, and during chronic psychological stress it has been found that the body loses its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, research at Carnegie Mellon University shows that the effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.
The inflammatory response is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol, and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can become out of control. Prolonged stress decreases tissue sensitivity to cortisol, which allows inflammatory processes to escalate. Specifically, immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect. In turn, runaway inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases.
Research indicates that experiencing a prolonged stressful event prevents immune cells from responding to hormonal signals which normally regulate inflammation. In turn, those with the inability to regulate the inflammatory response are more likely to develop colds when exposed to the virus which causes the common cold. Additionally, people who are less able to regulate their inflammatory response produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, the chemical messengers which trigger inflammation, upon exposure to viruses such as the common cold. Since inflammation plays a role in a wide range of diseases such as cardiovascular problems, asthma and autoimmune disorders, research such as this suggests why stress can have an impact.
In addition to high levels of cortisol wreaking havoc with the immune system, chronic stress leads to elevated levels of adrenaline. Both of these hormones have an inhibitory effect on an important enzyme called delta 6 desaturase, which you’ll learn more about in chapter 5 of my forthcoming book, where I explain the importance of essential fats.
Great ways of reducing stress include exercise, spending quality time with friends, having a massage or just taking time out for yourself in nature. Get someone to give you a hug too, because hugs increase the secretion of oxytocin, a hormone which instantly calms the nervous system and makes you feel a whole lot better, fast. You can read more stress-busting tips and find out about other benefits of oxytocin in my 2014 book The Whole Body Solution.
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What on Earth are we Eating?

Last week I came across some interesting statistics, which were published in a magazine that, in case you were wondering, I do not actually read.

Published in The Grocer magazine, Britain’s 100 Biggest Brands report gives us the startling information that Coca-Cola became the first grocery brand to make more than £1 billion worth of sales in the UK. Yes, that’s right, over a billion. And people wonder where our so-called “obesity crisis” might have its roots. I’ve blogged about carbonated, sugar-loaded junk before here, aimed at the sports drink industry. But the remaining 9 brands in the top 10 for 2015 don’t make for particularly happy reading either.

Here’s the list. And with it, I’ll give you The Raw Food Scientist’s alternatives – what I would really love to see people eating and drinking instead.

1: Coca-Cola – £1.15 billion in sales. This figure astounds me. Why do people buy so much of this stuff? It doesn’t hydrate you. It rots your teeth and it makes you fat and miserable from the sugar content. It robs you of energy. It depletes your bone strength. I guess they must like the taste then. Either that or it’s cheap. But water is cheaper. Turn on the (filter) tap and it’s right there. Please do spare a thought though for the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, who had his total salary for 2015 slashed by 42%. He only received $14.6 million, down from $25.2 million for 2014, as a result of “disappointing sales” (source: How will he manage on that, poor chap? And how many more bottles of this stuff, realistically, do they actually want us to buy?

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – coconut water. It tastes great. It’s good for you. It hydrates you and gives you electrolytes. There are a lot of brands, so how do you pick one? I’d go for the raw one every time. My favourite brand is Mighty Bee, and second favourite is Unoco. Not cheap, but totally worth it. Alternatively, if you don’t mind pasteurised, Vita Coco would be my choice.

2: Warburtons, with 2015 sales of £695.3 million. People obviously love their bread. And surely bread can’t be that bad, can it? Well… yes, actually. Particularly if it is made from processed, bleached, white flour that even cockroaches won’t eat… So let’s look at some upgrades. Firstly you could make your own bread, with ancient, sprouted grains such as spelt, which you then dry gently in a dehydrator (or in the sun, like the Essenes used to do, if you have the climate for it). Or you could embrace Paleo and eliminate grains altogether. Many have done, and feel great for it.

Another Raw Food Scientist upgrade – raw bread. Try this. It kept me going for hours when I was climbing Kilimanjaro.

3: Walkers, with 2015 sales of £599.3 million. Just because they get a famous retired footballer to advertise their products, it doesn’t mean they’re good for you! Walkers make crisps (potato chips, for my American readers). Now, there’s a product that really doesn’t need to exist at all!

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – make your own crackers. There are some excellent recipe ideas for crackers in Good Raw Food Recipes, by Judy Barber. Try them out. Alternatively, look at Inspiral or Raw Health for their crackers. But both have too much added salt in my opinion, and they will leave you thirsty and dehydrated if you’re not careful.

4: Dairy Milk, with total sales of £528.5 million. Oh, seriously? You know my opinion on dairy products. If not, read Love Your Bones. So this company combines cow mammary secretions with vast amounts of sugar and heat-treated chocolate powder. That isn’t going to create health, but so many are addicted to chocolate that they just don’t care.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – raw chocolate bars that do NOT contain agave or other sweeteners (stevia is permitted). But they’re still chocolate, and feeding your addictions. Limit your intake. And with the price of raw chocolate bars, you’ll need to.

5: Bird’s Eye (total 2015 sales £490.2 million). Processed and frozen food. Fish fingers. Junk food aimed at kids. Well done Captain Bird’s Eye.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – how about a proper meal, prepared from scratch, with fresh vegetables at the heart? Heck, I don’t even mind if you cook it. It’s got to be better than this.

6: McVitie’s, with total sales of £464.5 million. McVitie’s “bake a better biscuit”, apparently. Maybe they do. But better than what, exactly? This biscuit company feeds you with sugar, deranged, heat treated fats that favour inflammatory processes and heart disease, and that’s somehow “better”. Just like with crisps, biscuits don’t really need to exist, do they?

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – try Snackaroons, made by RawLicious. They’re high in sugar from the dates and raisins that are part of the recipe, but they’re still a far better option. They’re expensive too, but maybe that means you’ll eat fewer of them, which would be better for you. Or make your own – again, Judy Barber has the answers in Good Raw Food Recipes.

7: Nescafé, with sales of £432.7 million. Instant coffee, brought to you by one of the world’s most unethical companies. Although many people can’t seem to start the day without it, drop the coffee and you’ll feel hugely better as soon as the headache disappears. Coffee overworks your adrenal glands, raises your cortisol levels and messes up your bone health (see Love Your Bones for how).

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – caffeine-free herb or fruit teas, or percolated dandelion coffee, which contains no caffeine. Go on – you know you want to!

8: Lucozade, with 2015 earnings of £426.7 million. See Coca-Cola above. See my separate blog Anyone for a Sports Drink? Enough said.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – see above.

9: Pepsi (£423.2 million). I bet they’re really annoyed that they don’t have the market share of Coca-Cola. They pay a “nutritionist” well over £100,000 per year to tell people that their products are not bad for you (source: LinkedIn). I could go on. I won’t.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – see above.

10: Andrex (£350.3 million). Aah, it’s all down to that cute Labrador puppy isn’t it? Personally, as loo roll goes, I prefer to buy unbleached, made from recycled paper. Less environmental impact. But that’s just me.

Which brands have the most market share in your country? I hope they’re not as depressing as in mine!




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