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!

fatigue-solution-retouched-v3

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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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Christmas shopping – sorted!

It’s that time of year again! And does it leave you agonising over what to buy for a health-conscious loved one?

Fret no more. Here’s The Raw Food Scientist’s comprehensive list of great products and recommendations that are as good to give as they are to receive. To make life even easier for you, I’ve included price categories. With all Tribest products, which are on sale at the moment (think juicers, blenders and dehydrators), you can access a further 10% discount by quoting RAWFOOD10 at checkout. Happy shopping!

Over £400

In this price category we have the fabulous Green Star Elite juicer from Tribest. This is the one I use and I wouldn’t be without it. It juices everything and if you want a juicer that will give you a lifetime of great service, this is the one to buy. It comes in white or chrome. Go on, you know you want to!

Alternatively, how about a detox retreat weekend? My advanced retreat is for serious health seekers only, and would make a wonderful present for a cherished loved one, or indeed both of you. All info here

£300 to £400

For this price you can get a really good dehydrator, fantastic for making crackers, breads, fruit leathers and many other living foods recipes. The quality of the Tribest Sedona dehydrator stands out from the crowd. Choose from the Sedona, the Sedona Combo and the Sedona Express, and remember, they’re on sale right now. Access 10% discount with the code RAWFOOD10.

If you’re after a chrome juicer, and can’t quite stretch to a Green Star Elite, the Tribest Solostar 4 in chrome is a superb single auger juicer in this price category.

Our summer retreat also fits in nicely here, suitable for all who are looking for a fabulous weekend detox break. All info is here. You really won’t want to miss this one.

£200 to £300

In this price bracket you’ll find some excellent juicers. There’s the single auger Solostar 4 and Solostar 3, as well as the “upright” single auger Slowstar juicer, which takes up very little counter space. For those looking for an excellent quality mid-priced juicer, one of these beauties will suit your needs perfectly. Access your 10% discount with the code RAWFOOD10.

£100 to £200

Juicers in this category include the Tribest Fruitstar. This space-saving little workhorse has a powerful motor and comes with a 10 year warranty. It juices fruit, vegetables and leafy greens. It’s a steal at £199, especially with a 10% discount if you quote RAWFOOD10.

Alternatively, why not consider a consultation – with me? Yours for £140 – no price rise for the past 2 years. Get in quickly before I change my mind…

£50 to £100

There’s so much to choose from in this price bracket! The Tribest Citristar juicer is a brilliant piece of kit for quickly making citrus juices, and is currently on offer at £58.95. Alternatively, a Z-star manual juicer is perfect for travelling, especially for those who like to be able to juice their leafy greens wherever they go. Also on offer, it’s yours for £82.45.

3 excellent personal blenders also fall into this category. Choose from the Tribest 150, 250 or 350 – they’re all currently on offer.

If you like the idea of nut milk and want to make your own, here is a kitchen gadget that will do it all for you – the Tribest Soyabella. And you don’t just have to use it for soya milk, despite the name – it makes lots of other yummy milks too.

Sprouting is such an important part of the living foods lifestyle, and an automatic sprouter really does do it all for you! I’ve got the Tribest Freshlife at home, and use it all the time. Why not try it? You’ll love the ease with which it gives you perfect sprouts every time. Most of it can even go in the dishwasher after use. Remember your 10% discount with the code RAWFOOD10 at checkout.

Finally in this category, what about some listening material? High quality studio recordings of my CDs are now available for your listening pleasure. All details are here.

Under £50

Ah, where do I start? Well firstly, everyone loves a good book at Christmas, and, at risk of blatant self-promotion, what about one of mine? All details are here, and you can get quantity discounts too!

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some skincare products, and I was fortunate to discover Conscious Skincare when I was a speaker at Bristol Vegfest in May 2016. Have a browse at their website – I’m sure you’ll find just the thing.

A neat kitchen gadget in this price range is a yoghurt maker from Tribest. Why not give someone a surprise with a Yolife? Making yoghurt at home with a milk substitute ensures you get more probiotics than you would with shop-bought yoghurt. Quote RAWFOOD10 for your 10% discount.

Finally, if you hanker after authentic products with a feel-good factor, I love the range made by artisans for SWAGS World. From sandals to bags made from recycled newspapers and magazines (I’ve got both the handbag and tote bag from SWAGS World, and much admired they are too!), toys and even Christmas decorations, that’s your shopping list sorted!

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Breaking Through the Pain

Having put a rib out whilst waterskiing in the Caribbean, I maybe should have listened more carefully to what my body was saying. But with an adventure quadrathlon to do two days later (or should that be a pentathlon since it also included a 100 foot abseil?) I was determined to get better fast. The resident osteopath fixed me up nicely, and I pronounced myself fit to participate in the fun on the following day. As it turned out, that was unfortunate. On the mountain bike section, I came off the bike and broke my arm. Yes, just like that – one compression fracture close to my right wrist. To put it mildly – ouch.
I bound it up with the only materials available – a napkin from last night’s dinner (why that was in the backpack I’ll never know) and a short length of elasticated bandage. I walked to the nearest accessible dirt track whilst my forearm started to swell dramatically, and awaited collection by the event organisers. Thence to hospital (after stopping off to collect my insurance documents and credit card, the ubiquitous necessities of modern life).

Breaking an arm (or any bone for that matter) causes some interesting physiological changes. The body goes into immediate stress mode: blood is diverted to the muscles, the adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol, and the heart rate and blood pressure rise rapidly. It’s a protective mechanism and the entire sympathetic nervous system is stimulated (Foex, BA: British Medical Bulletin 1999, 55 no.4).

Lying on the hospital bed, I decided to get to work on my body immediately. Controlling the pain was the first thing. When you’re in pain, the breathing changes from deeper, abdominal breathing to short, rapid gasps that deliver less oxygen to the tissues. That’s not useful – a different approach was needed.

I have never been good at meditation, being hopeless at sitting still for any length of time. Instead of meditating, I run. But on that Sunday, I lay there and focused. Really focused. On my breathing, on relaxation, on “healing vibes” to my right arm. I imagined myself back on the beach at the resort, listening to the sound of the Caribbean sea washing against the white sand. I imagined the lush forest surroundings, the steep hills behind the low-rise buildings, the hot sun, the sparkling water. It was an intricate, beautiful picture that I held in my mind, and my physiology responded accordingly. When the nurse entered to check my stats, she was astonished. Blood pressure – 130/78 (it often hits 200/110 with acute tissue trauma, but this wasn’t much above my regular stat of 110/70). Heart rate – 64/min (only slightly higher than my normal resting heart rate of 56/minute). Respiratory rate – 8/min. They took that one twice because they didn’t believe it.

By consciously creating a relaxing picture in my mind, I had effectively decided not to have a stress reaction. Back at the resort, plaster cast and sling on right arm, and having refused all pain relief, I laughed and joked with the people around me that it could have been much worse. In fact, my Facebook post for that day reads as follows:

“Thanks everyone for your concern. Came off the mountain bike and landed awkwardly. For the technical amongst us, I have a compression fracture of my right distal radius. But 3 good aspects.

1. I still have one arm and 2 legs that work fine.
2. I’m left-handed.
3. I’m in the CARIBBEAN!”

And what was the ongoing effect of laughing and larking around with people? Boosting my endorphin levels – natural painkillers.

The mind is an amazing thing, and it is intricately connected with the body. Last Sunday, I had first-hand experience of the power of visualisation to calm my pain and benefit my physiology. Certainly beats Ibuprofen!

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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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