Busting some fat myths

So often considered to be the enemy, fat can be good for you – in fact, I will go further and state that to live an optimally healthy life, eating the right type of fat, in the right quantities, is an absolute must. I have devoted a whole chapter to the importance of the right type of fat in my latest book The Fatigue Solution, and if you want the complete lowdown you can listen to my CD or MP3 The Importance of Fat. In the meantime, here’s a summary for you.

Myth 1 – eating fat makes you fat
It doesn’t, provided that is the right type of fat. The raw plant fats such as avocado, olives, flax oil and the many different types of nuts and seeds actually help to keep us slim. Many people are put off eating nuts because they are seen as a high fat, high calorie food. However, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013 came to the following conclusion: compared with control diets, diets enriched with nuts did not increase body weight, body mass index, or waist circumference in controlled clinical trials (1).

Myth 2 – a low fat diet is healthier
This is a potential sticking point, since some low-fat diets can be very healthy; notably the plant-based, whole-food and mainly raw diets. However, if your diet is low fat because you are relying on processed reduced- and no-fat microwaveable ready meals provided for you by the processed food industry, your sugar and refined carbohydrate intake is likely to be far too high for your personal wellbeing.

Myth 3 – hydrogenated fat is OK to eat
It most certainly isn’t. Hydrogenation is a method of turning liquid oil into cheap, spreadable solid fat with a long shelf-life. Remember that the healthy seed oils are liquid at room temperature (with the exception of coconut oil), and animal fats such as butter and lard tend to be solid. Therefore, if you see those “vegetable spread and margarine” butter substitutes which you’ll readily find in the supermarket, beware! The end product is horribly bad for you and is just one chemical reaction away from being plastic. These deranged fats are also found in processed, added-sugar laden foods such as cakes, bread, biscuits, crackers, cereals, soups, chocolate, crisps and many other convenience foods. The reason they are so bad for you is that during the hydrogenation process, molecules of so-called trans fats are produced. These abnormally structured fats do not exist in nature and are structurally stiff and inflexible, causing serious problems if we then try to construct our cell membranes from them.

Myth 4 – there’s nothing wrong with fried food
All fats are damaged by heating, but frying is the most dangerous cooking method. Frying is one of the greatest creators of free radicals known in the human body. The more fried food you eat, the more antioxidants you need from ripe raw fruit and vegetables to reduce the ravages. Even coconut oil, one of the fats which is most stable at high temperatures, becomes damaged by frying, and the oils that are most health-giving when cold-pressed and raw become the most dangerous when fried, such as olive, flax and hemp oils.

Now for the good news – healthy omegas

Energy and stamina
Essential fats can elevate our metabolic rate and in turn increase energy levels and stamina – just what you need in the face of fatigue. They also help athletes to recover from injury more quickly.

Weight loss
Interestingly, essential fats actually increase calorie burning and keep us slim. They help our kidneys to dump excess water which might be held in the tissues – water that constitutes some of the “weight” in overweight people. A trigger for overeating is often considered to be a body’s cry for more essential fats, and depression also causes many people to overeat, as they try to numb their negative emotions with food. Essential fatty acids elevate mood and reduce depression, and this in turn can make us feel like being more active.

Healthy hearts
Cholesterol is often considered to be the bad guy, and cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins have in turn made billions for the pharmaceutical companies which developed them (see my separate blog post about statins here). Cholesterol transport in the blood requires essential fatty acids. Elevated blood triglycerides can be lowered with a good omega 3 fat intake.

Other health benefits
Via numerous enzymatic pathways, healthy omegas are converted to active substances in the body which prevent your blood platelets from sticking together, act as vasodilators (relax the blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure), stimulate the immune response, reduce inflammation, reduce pain transmission, dilate the airways, increase endurance and increase the flow of oxygen. You can read more about this, and all the benefits it has for you, in The Fatigue Solution.

Watch out for my next newsletter and blog post which will go into detail on whether we should be taking an essential fat supplement. Sign up at www.therawfoodscientist.com

References

1. Flores-Mateo G, Rojas-Rueda D, Basora J, et al. Nut intake and adiposity: meta-analysis of clinical trials. AmJClinNutr, April 2013; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.031484

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Progress over Perfect

I’ve got a lady called Amy Lieberman to thank for this title – she shared her blog on this subject on one of the LinkedIn groups that I am a member of. It really resonated with me, and it comes to mind a lot when thinking about making positive changes to your diet and lifestyle.

What happens when you try to set yourself up to be perfect? The perfect diet, the perfect exercise program, the perfect body… whatever it is that you want to be perfect about your life. I’ll tell you what happens – life gets in the way, something or someone throws you a curveball, and suddenly all your plans are messed up. If you are looking for perfection in your diet, you might get so hung up on what it “should” be like that you never actually get round to making any changes. Is that you?

My advice in this situation – start small. What small change can you make today? This week? This month? Can you start to apply it consistently? If you apply one good habit consistently, you’ll start to make, and feel, a difference. So maybe add one good habit per week, or, if you are moving rather more slowly, one per month. What do you think will have happened by the end of the year? If you drop 3 things per month that no longer serve you, and adopt 3 good habits per month, then by the end of this year it’s quite possible that you will have turned your entire life around.

The good thing about starting small is that you are not going to get hit by the “deprivation” word. Trying to be perfect tomorrow is almost doomed to failure, because after all we are creatures of habit and it takes time for us to adopt positive, new habits. Think about adding, and stick with one good thing. Got a juicer? Commit to using it every day. Already juicing regularly? Upgrade the ingredients. Aim for more green. Add the large tray greens such as sunflower greens and pea shoots. Add the smaller green sprouted foods to your diet, such as alfalfa, red clover, broccoli and sango radish. Most supermarkets even sell these now, so there’s no excuse! If you want to upgrade your lifestyle in a really easy way that requires next to no effort, you can start using a whole foods supplementation regime (check this one out – this is what I use).

Aim for progress every day. Start now; get perfect later. Good, positive habits are invaluable from a health perspective and can last a lifetime. What can you do today that will help you to progress? What are you already doing that you would love to share? Do let me know – I’d love to hear from you!

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Why, How and Now

Why do you want to improve your health? Why is it important to you? What is driving this process? Are you being driven by pain, or pleasure? It’s often said that pain is a bigger driver of change than pleasure. Do you have some pain in your life that you want to overcome? Or are you already healthy and fit but just want to manifest peak performance in all areas? Whatever your why, you’ll need clear direction on how you are going to achieve it.

On our Advanced Retreat, 24th to 26th February 2017, we hosted guests who had come to us with their own big why. These whys were all different, but they had a common theme, and this is where the how comes in.

I was recently on a weekend course where the strapline was “education, decision, action”. This resonated with me. Yes, you need to know what your big why is, but then you need the information and tools on how you are going to achieve what you are striving for. That comes down to education. What do you need to learn this week, this month or this year to move you towards your goals? In the case of our retreat, was it the scientific information about an optimally healthy lifestyle which needed reinforcement? Was it practical sessions in the kitchen, learning how to prepare the amazing food which in turn leads to optimal health and vitality? Was it the question and answer sessions that people needed the most, giving them tailored advice regarding their own health goals and how to achieve them? For all of our guests, it transpired that it was actually all three. The practicalities of preparing optimally healthy food was just as important as the scientific rationale behind these choices.

So that’s the education part. Next, you need to progress with a decision about what you are going to do. Decide to upgrade, decide to make changes, decide to value yourself enough to keep going and consistently apply these new, beneficial habits. You might need further help along the way. It’s no surprise that half of our guests on the advanced retreat were repeat visitors.

Ultimately, all of this is irrelevant without action. And when is the best time to take action? Now. Today. Whilst you’re still fired up and armed with the knowledge that you need. Not next week, or sometime later this year. Start now. Get perfect later. And if you need help and inspiration to get you started, or to get you going again, come on the summer retreat, 16th to 18th June 2017. Book today. You won’t regret it, and it might just change your life.

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Boosting mood with food

I’ve been asked to talk about depression, and it’s a serious issue. Let me point out right away that I am not a mental health expert or counsellor. I’ve been asked to comment from a nutritional perspective; indeed, that is the only area which I have any experience in. From SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, or “winter blues”, which I have been affected by in the past), through to people living full-time with this often misunderstood mental illness, there is a broad spectrum of effects that it can produce. Depression can affect anyone at any time; often the people you least expect. Many of you might have friends affected by it; I certainly do. And it isn’t enough to say to them “cheer up, everything will be fine”.

So, what can we do to boost our chances of feeling happy? It comes down to, nutritionally, what we put in and what we avoid, as well as getting active (one of the best ways to boost your mood that there is), and changing your mindset/peer group/perceptions. In this article I am just focusing on a few suggestions of what to add to your diet, and what to avoid. This is by no means a comprehensive list; more of an introduction. Make sure you exercise too, because research has shown that it’s much more effective at overcoming mild to moderate depression than the use of prescription drugs. And if you’re an SAD person like I was, try full-spectrum lighting in the home (and, if you can, workplace), and if you get the chance, go on holiday somewhere sunny in the winter. For some summer inspiration and feel-good food, why not join my next retreat?

Food to avoid
Sugar. Sugar and processed carbohydrates are an absolute no-no for so many reasons, not least of which messing with your mood. If your blood sugar is out of whack you’ll feel dreadful, as well as prematurely age yourself and weaken your bones, tendons and ligaments. Sugar interferes with the production of serotonin, one of your happy hormones. Ditch the sugar and feel better fast!

Red meat. There will still be people who tell you that red meat is good for you because of its protein content. Never mind that we can’t access most of that protein because it is denatured and coagulated by the high-temperature cooking process. In an article published in the journal Medical Hypotheses in 2012, the authors put forward the suggestion that pro-inflammatory cytokines (bad molecules basically), which form as a result of eating diets high in red and processed meat, dairy products and having insufficient vegetable intake, are linked to the increased risk of depression seen in numerous other studies.

Bad fats. Your brain is made of fat, as well as your cell membranes. If you are eating fried food, cooked vegetable fats and, even worse, trans-fats, your cells, including your brain, will not function properly. It’s because your ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats will be badly wrong as a result of these food choices. Simple as that.

Alcohol. Yes, I know it makes a lot of people feel better initially. But then it will make you feel a whole lot worse. It interferes with your blood sugar balance and stops your brain working properly. And then there’s the hangover. It’s never worth it – ditch alcohol and see how much better you feel after a few days or weeks.

Foods that boost mood
Anything that is high in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can be converted to serotonin (also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT). Classically the answer comes back as turkey being the best food source, although it actually isn’t – that honour goes to sea lion kidneys, a favourite, as I understand, of the Inuit populations. However, since I advocate a plant-based diet, that’s off the menu. Sea vegetables and algae are excellent plant sources, and so is spinach. Sesame seeds and tahini are good sources as well, as are hemp seeds. No need to go native in the arctic.

Probiotics. Your friendly bacteria make up more of you than you do. As I state in my book The Whole Body Solution, most of the DNA in your body is not yours. In my forthcoming book The Fatigue Solution (available to pre-order now) you can read all about how a good probiotic level can boost your serotonin production and make you feel happier and more energetic. What’s not to like? Just make sure you get your probiotics from capsules, not those dairy-based drinks that are advertised everywhere. The reason? They usually contain only one strain of gut bacteria, and very frequently lots of sugar as well, negating any potential benefits.

Blue-green algae and other good sources of omega 3 fats. These help your brain to work better. Blue green algae also contain a phytonutrient called phenylethylamine (PEA), the consumption of which has been linked to the release of endorphins – those happy brain chemicals that are also involved in “runner’s high”, for all my fellow runners out there. Try E3Live Brain On for the best effects. You’ll also hear that PEA is present in chocolate. Yes, it is. But go for the algae instead, since practically all chocolate is full of sugar (even the dark stuff). More about how to feed the brain here.

Onions. Yes, really. Japanese researchers suggested in a paper published in 2008 that onions exerted an “antidepressant-like activity”. Since onions are good for heart health too, it’s worth adding them to your soups and salads.

Vitamin D. Researchers have been looking into the correlation between depression and low vitamin D levels, and the answers are interesting. Depressed people have low vitamin D status. But is this because they live in northern latitudes and suffer from SAD because they don’t get enough sun? If you don’t have adequate sun exposure, your vitamin D levels will be low, but is this cause or effect? Anecdotal evidence suggests that supplementing with vitamin D boosts mood. Since there are so many other benefits to increasing your vitamin D levels, I’d say go ahead and do it, especially if your levels are low. Ensure you take plant-based vitamin K2 with it though. This avoids the dangers of tissue calcification, which you can read about in my award-nominated book Love Your Bones.

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Why I’m excited about speaking at The Best You Expo

Saturday 4th March is growing ever closer. When I committed not just to taking a speaking slot at The Best You Expo at London’s ExCel on 4th and 5th March 2017, but also to having my next published book ready to launch at the event, it seemed so far off. But now – well, let’s just say that I’m making my final preparations.

Initially, I had no idea what I was going to speak about. Would it be mostly excerpts my forthcoming book, The Fatigue Solution, which tells my story of going from medical write-off to mountains and marathons; rejecting exhaustion and rediscovering life? I thought about that theme, but decided against it. After all, even I can’t cram a near-on 200 page book into 45 minutes. No, this huge 2-day event in London, with well over 6,000 guests expected, demanded something more. Something all-encompassing. Something to sum up the title of the event itself – the best you.

What is it that makes us better versions of ourselves, and how do we achieve that? What, exactly, is the process – the roadmap that we need to follow to get there? And realistically, can we ever really get there (wherever “there” actually is)?

It got me thinking about what we might want out of life. To a question such as this, everyone’s answer will be different. However in my profession(s), and in my free time, I think a lot about peak performance. I strive for it in every aspect of my life. When I’m functioning at my highest level, I’m in the zone, in the flow of things and nothing is a struggle. I’m also at my happiest. So why not speak about that?

Why not look at every aspect of our lives (physical, mental, spiritual) and aim for peak performance in each? What would we have to do to achieve that? And what would be the benefits of doing so? Could it be that this approach would put us well on the way to being the best we can be, all the time?

As we upgrade our lives to becoming our best selves, the subjects of diet and exercise must obviously feature heavily. But it isn’t only about that; there’s much more, and every aspect is important, since we are only as strong as our weakest link. And that is what I have decided to talk about – upgrading everything.

The title of my presentation is Manifesting Peak Performance: eating, moving and thinking your way to maximum health, vitality and happiness. It sums up what I think, deep down, we are all looking for. I’m excited. I can’t wait to share this information with you. I’ll see you there!

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The Triple Treble

I am a big fan of athletics, so obviously I was glued to the Rio Olympics in the summer. I was delighted to see Usain Bolt inaugurated into the heady category of “living legend” by winning the 100 metres, 200 metres and 100 metre sprint relay not just in Rio, but now in 3 consecutive Olympic Games, as well as being world champion and world record holder. It got me thinking about the “power of 3” as it is often known. For 2017, I have devised my own suggestions for a Triple Treble – ways that you can improve several aspects of your life, all at the same time.

Here are 3 categories that you might like to work on:
Attitude
Diet
Exercise

Let’s look at 3 aspects of each category. I could do more than 3 on each one, but it’s a well-known fact that if you try to change too many things all at once, it all seems to be a bit overwhelming and you may end up not doing anything. If you change 3 things per month, every month for the next 12 months, by the end of 2017 you will have completely changed your life around (if you want to, that is). Amazing!

Attitude

Acceptance

This is a big one. Accept that where you are right now is as a result of all the choices you have made thus far. We don’t make good choices all the time. Forgive yourself and move on, ensuring that you look to upgrade your choices at every opportunity. See things as they are, but not worse than they are. Always.

Positive thinking

Tony Robbins says in one of his lectures that positive thinking is not a matter of walking into the garden and repeating time after time “there are no weeds, there are no weeds” if there are weeds everywhere. We have to recognise the weeds and be strong enough to pull them out. It’s the same with ourselves. Like attracts like. If we put out a positive vibe to the Universe, it really does seem to listen and give us back more of the same. Yes, I totally accept that you don’t always feel positive every day. But look for everything that is good in your life, rather than focusing on the bad.

Peer Group

One of my extremely happy friends refuses to associate with the “energy sappers”, as she calls them. It can be scary to distance yourself from members of your peer group, but if they are dragging you down and preventing you from being at your best you might have to, painful as that might be. Onwards and upwards for personal growth.
For more motivational stuff on attitude, have a look at this article from Neil Martin, who has written the foreword for my forthcoming book, The Fatigue Solution.

Diet

Plant-based

This is one of the biggest upgrades you can make in your life. I appreciate that most of my readers will be plant-based eaters anyway, but the more you can move away from animal-based protein, the better your health status will be; reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and many other degenerative problems. Vegans also tend to weigh less than any other dietary group. With the most common New Year’s resolution being to lose weight, this is a bonus for everyone.

Sprouting

Commit to eating more sprouted food. It will give you energy, fuel your activities (see below) and provide many important micronutrients.

Get juicing (greens, not fruit)

This is my one “non-negotiable”; I drink green juice every day. It hydrates me, keeps my skin in good condition and makes my hair grow faster (yes, really). Use celery, cucumber, sunflower greens and pea shoots for the best results. Add turmeric, lime and blue-green algae for even better results. See my article about juicing and my juicer recommendations here.

Exercise

Cardio

Moderate intensity exercise needs to be done for at least 35 minutes, 5 times a week to get improvements. Start off slowly if you haven’t exercised for a while. You can’t go from sofa to marathon in one leap. Cardio exercises include brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, trampolining… anything that raises your heart rate continuously.

Strength and power

This is so important, especially as we age, since we start to lose muscle mass. Weight training not only strengthens your bones (see my book Love Your Bones for more info) but also gives you better definition and a more attractive physique. Say goodbye to bingo wings!

Stretching

A contentious issue for some people, and I once heard someone in a sports lecture saying “racehorses don’t stretch”. However, practically all the fitness instructors I have ever trained with bring stretching into their routines. It reduces the risk of injury and makes it easier to carry out everyday tasks with ease. After all, you never know when you might have to pick something up off the floor…

So that’s one Triple Treble for the New Year; feel free to invent your own, depending on what you want to focus on. And if you need help with any of the above (particularly the second category) why not consider a consultation with me to help you start 2017 off on the right foot? And finally, remember that the distance between your dreams and reality is called action.

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What are the benefits (if any) of cannabis oil?

One of my newsletter and blog readers has asked me this question, and I’m getting the distinct feeling that the cannabis oil/medical marijuana story is going to be highly divisive. There will be some who consider it to be a hallucinogenic drug which cannot possibly have any health benefits, whilst there will be others who report that it is a universal panacea which is going to cure all the world’s ills. There’s truth in both camps, so let’s take a look.

Before I continue, I have to state here that I am, and have always been dead against drugs and, with the exception of alcohol in my earlier life, have never used them. It’s a feeling that I am sure will stay with me for life. I think one of the main reasons for this was seeing a film called Christiane F when I was still a teenager – if ever something is going to put you off such substances, this film is it.

Firstly, some definitions, and the necessity to say that hemp oil, which you might put on your salads and in some recipes, is very different from cannabis essential oil which is a concentrated and powerful medicine obtained via steam distillation of the flowers and upper leaves of the plant.

Likewise hemp seeds, which are a great source of protein and essential fatty acids of the omega 3, 6 and 9 type, cannot be put into the same category as cannabis essential oil or medical marijuana (see below). You’d probably have to eat approximately 24kg of hemp seeds in one sitting to ingest enough THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychotropic drug that causes “trips”, and why most people take it as a recreational drug in the first place) to have any significant central effects.

Medical marijuana is obtained from the whole (medicinal grade) plant, which must be carefully grown without the use of pesticides and fertilisers. Its health benefits, and those of cannabis essential oil, come from the monoterpenes and flavonols (which benefit the immune system) as well as the THC, which is more controversial.

Several body systems possess cannabinoid receptors including the brain, lungs, liver and immune system. Medical marijuana and cannabis oil is being used in the USA and Europe for pain relief from specific conditions such as cancer, nerve pain, muscle spasms such as those caused by multiple sclerosis, etc. Predominantly in the USA, it is being used to treat mood disorders, cancer, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Parkinson’s disease and seizures, in addition to its role in acting as an excellent painkiller.

Cannabis oil is delivered under the tongue and is rapidly absorbed. Whilst it is true that cannabis essential oil can be used for the relief of stress and anxiety, I would suggest that there are perhaps other less controversial essential oils that would also do the same thing, in addition to using magnesium spray to boost levels of this important mineral, which some 80% of the population is likely to be deficient in.

Personally I would consider the use of this interesting medical intervention as a last resort when other approaches have failed. However I am sure that for the terminally ill and those who use it for the alleviation of chronic pain, it is a Godsend.

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