News

Sugar - Exfoliant!

Having written an article on sugar and refreshed my memory about all of the reasons we should avoid white sugar, I recently enjoyed sugar in a whole new light. I was lucky enough to have been given a voucher for a body treatment which included a massage, a body scrub and a spa bath - utter bliss! What was in the body scrub? You guessed it - sugar. Who knew it was a such a great exfoliant?

We all need to take time out for ourselves, especially at this time of year when we are all just a little bit over winter! We can't all regularly indulge in gorgeous spa treatments but there is nothing to stop us replicating them at home. Run a bath, throw in some flower heads or petals, light some candles and indulge in a body scrub. Soak in your luxurious bath then follow this up by moisturising with some almond oil and a few drops of your favourite essential oil or body lotion and a glass of water in a stemmed glass, yes, you know you need it on the inside too!

You can capture that feeling of enjoying some pampering and time out on a more regular basis without blowing the budget. Check out  "Bathroom Relaxation"  on this website.

What does a bath have to do with nutrition? Our body is strongly influenced by our state of mind and reducing stress not only improves digestion but puts less pressure on the cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems.

Constant stress can exacerbate many chronic conditions. Taking time out is not something to feel guilty about, it should be treated as part of your overall health plan!

I digress - if you feel you are consuming too much sugar have a look at the article on my website for some healthier alternatives. We can still enjoy the sweet things in life and provide some nutrients at the same time.There is still some debate around sugar being an addictive substance - sugar is a carbohydrate and these appear to encourage addictive tendencies.

The NZ Medical Journal recently cited the case of an obese woman who experienced "withdrawal syndrome" for about a month after giving up sugar and white flour. Read the article.

For those with a sweet tooth, don't despair!  Go ahead and enjoy that favourite treat, just aim to keep it on a weekly, rather than daily basis.

Avocados

July 2011

Wow, we planted an avocado tree 2 years ago and were told that it would be at least 4 years before we saw any fruit. We are just finishing off the last of 13 gorgeous avocados – so perfect inside it is almost unbelievable, probably due to the lack of handling they have been subjected to. A few were given away with much trepidation, would they actually ripen? Indeed they did!

Avocados, along with eggs, received a bad rap for quite some time a few years ago but they are such a wonderful nutrient rich food. They make a great spread to replace butter or margarine, can be thrown in a smoothie, made into a spicy guacamole, sliced or mashed on toast, added to sandwiches or wraps and are lovely in salads. For the very brave there is even a chocolate sauce recipe at the end of this article containing avocado!

In fact, recent research suggests that the addition of avocado to a salad actually increases the uptake of two important anti-oxidants, lycopene and beta-carotene. The highest concentration of these wonderful antioxidants in the darkest flesh closest to the skin so it is best to carefully quarter an avocado and then peel the skin off so that none of the flesh remains, yes, this does depend on the fruit being the at the perfect stage of ripeness!

Their bad rap did indeed come from the fact they do contain unusually high amounts of fat for a fruit. (Around 85% of calories are in the form of fat). However, the fats that reside in the beautiful creamy flesh of an avocado are very beneficial to our health.

Phytosterols account for a large proportion of the fat (phytosterols are plant alcohols and were very high in early diets but now our Western diet is relatively low in them). They discourage cholesterol being absorbed by the intestines and food containing phytosterols appear to prevent cancer though it has not been determined whether it is the phytosterols that are responsible or other compounds found in plant foods containing phytosterols.

These phytosterols include beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol which all contribute to keeping inflammation under control throughout the body. The anti-inflammatory benefits of these avocado fats are particularly well-documented with problems involving arthritis and some anti-inflammatory components of the avocado are credited with preventing arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  The phytosterols, in particular, (stigmasterol, campesterol, and beta-sitosterol) discourage excess pro-inflammatory PGE2 (prostaglandin E2) production by the connective tissue.

The next beneficial fat in avocado are known as polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFA’s) which are found in abundance in sea vegetables but are unusual in land grownplants. These PFA’s also provide anti inflammatory benefits.

There is also an unusually high ratio of a fatty acid called oleic acid, over half of the fat in an avocado. Quite a similar make up to olives and olive oil. These fatty acids aid absorption of fat soluble nutrients such as the Vitamins A, D, E & K and carotenoids. This monounsaturated fatty acid has been identified as a player in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Vitamin K, potassium, folate, Vitamins B6 and C, copper and fibre all add to the healthy status of this lovely fruit also known as an alligator pear!

Avocado contains a unique 7-carbon sugar, (mannoheptulose), which takes the body longer to break down therefore is excellent for regulating blood sugar levels (thus improving energy levels and mood). The fats in avocado are moisturizing for the skin and aid cognitive function possibly due to the fact that the fatty acids help keep brain cell membranes healthy.

The unusual mix of both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients contribute to the anit-cancer properties in an avocado. Risk factors for cancer proliferation are almost always related to excessive inflammation (related to lack of anti-inflammatory nutrients) and oxidative stress (related to lack of antioxidants). Here is why the avocado story is especially interesting. In healthy cells, avocado works to improve inflammatory and oxidative stress levels. In cancer cells, avocado works to increase oxidative stress and encourage cancer cells into a programmed cell death cycle (apoptosis), lessening the cancer cell proliferation.

This means that avocados appear to selectively increase cancer cells oxidative stress and increase their probability of dying, all the while actively supporting the health of non-cancerous cells by increasing their supply antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. There is still much research to be conducted in this area in relation to humans, but it does lend further weight to the mounting evidence that avocados are indeed a health food and should be consumed in moderation regularly.

Avocados:

  • Contain Anti-inflammatory nutrients
  • Support cardiovascular health
  • Support the fight against cancer
  • Regulate blood sugar levels
  • Supply vitamins and minerals

Guacamole Recipe

3-4 ripe avocados

2 tbsp lemon or lime juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tomato, finely chopped

½ - 1 red onion, finely chopped

Fresh chillis, deseeded and finely chopped, add according to taste!

¾ cup fresh coriander or ¼ tsp ground cumin powder

Blend or mash all together leaving some chunky bits for texture. Serve with pita bread, use as a spread or use on top of Mexican dishes.

Chocolate Dip

1 ripe avocado

1/3 cup cocoa or carob powder

1/3 sweetener such as maple syrup or honey

2 tspn vanilla extract

5 tbspn water

Blend all ingredients except sweetener in a blender and blend until well mixed, slowly add sweetener, taste as you go as you may not need this much. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. Lovely served with a fruit platter.

A good start to eating a rainbow every day!

Brain Health

March, 2011

I do tend to go on and on about taking fish oils supplements and my newsletter was going to be all about brain health and fish oils but I was sidetracked by research that has been published extolling the virtues of fish oil supplements with regard to breast cancer prevention. Though further study needs to undertaken it is an interesting observation.

In NZ breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women and more than 2,600 women are expected to be given such a diagnosis this year. Men are not immune either, although it is fairly rare in the male population, but around 20 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. So that’s another good reason to take fish oils.

Ministry of Health/NZHIS (April 2010). www.moh.govt.nz

Many of are probably aware of some of the benefits associated with good quality fish oil supplements such as:

Improve cardiovascular health (irregular heartbeat, blood clotting, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure)

Lower cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats)

Encourage anti-inflammatory prostaglandins

Assist with structural integrity and flexibility of sperm to achieve fertilisation

Assist with weight loss

Aid depression

Ensure good brain and eye development in the foetus and newborn

Aid cancer prevention

Let’s get back to our brain! It has become evident that even as adults we can grow new brain cells – good news for most of us! The human brain is composed mostly of fat and most of that is DHA or di.................... It makes good sense to replenish our stores of DHA rather than consume fats that actually contribute to the killing off of brain cells. Good quality fish oils can defeat free radicals that destroy brain cells, decrease responses in the immune system that trigger cell damaging inflammation and alter the way neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), behave and even change the physical structure of the actual brain cells or neurons.

A neuron is a fascinating cell made of a round body and nucleus (back to school chemistry!), with a single nerve fibre (axon), and many branch like structures called dendrites, that process messages and send them to the axon where those all important neurotransmitters are stored. When these neurotransmitters are released messages are conveyed across the synapses or cell junctions from one axon to another in a flurry of biochemical electrical activity. This is how our brain cells chat constantly to each other and affect our mood, memory and overall intellect.

All cells, and we have around a hundred trillion of them, need a membrane that is flexible enough to allow nutrients in and toxic waste out, but firm enough to contain the minute factory housed within in each cell. This is particularly important in the brain as the membrane of neurons must be pliable and constantly fluctuating to receive the messages flying across the synapses at lightning speed. The more synapses we have in the brain and the better they communicate, all contributes to increased brain function – even more so than the number of brain cells we have! Here’s where fish oil comes in, one of the most important building blocks for synapses is DHA.

DHA also appears to encourage higher levels of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression, suicide, impulsive and even violent behaviour, alcoholism and even some cravings. Good levels regulate mood, sleep, appetite, impulses and reduce anxiety.

Saturated fats are the fats responsible for making the cell membrane hard and inflexible.  Sat fat even contributes to stunted neuron growth and slower learning and intellectual ability. Remember this next time you are considering that drive through for a quick meal!

As with all things in life it is about balance and aiming to obtain the correct ratios of fats is of prime importance. As our brains evolved during prehistoric times the amount of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in the diet would have been about equal with a little saturated fat, today the ratio has ballooned to around 20 parts omega 6 to one part omega 3 with ever increasing amounts of saturated fats.  Our brains are not geared up to cope with this imbalance so aiming for a ratio of 4 parts omega 6 to 1 part omega 3 will help to redress this imbalance.

What should you do?

  • Aim to decrease saturated fats, omega 6’s and Trans Fatty Acids.
  • Aim to increase monounsaturated oils and omega 3’s.

Saturated Fats:butter, cream, palm oil, coconut oil, fried foods and takeaways, fat on meat, skin on chicken, full fat dairy, deli meats, commercial cakes, biscuits pastries and confectionery.

Omega 6 Polyunsaturated Fats:sunflower, safflower, soy bean, sesame, cottonseed and grapeseed oils, pine nuts and Brazil nuts.

Trans Fats:margarines and fat spreads (check labels), deep fried fast food, commercial baking – check for the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on labels. Note that if vegetable oil is stated it means they do not have to specify which oil has been used.

MonounsaturatedFats:Olives and olive oil, avocados, peanuts and peanut oil, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecan nuts, cashews and almonds.

Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fats:Oily fish – herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna, walnuts, linseed and linseed oil (also known as flaxseed). When it comes to fish the smaller the better as they have had less time to accumulate toxins such as mercury, PCB’s etc.

Of course there is more to brain health than just fish oils – here are a few more things you can include in your life to be as brilliant as you can be!

Increase your antioxidant and vitamin intake – think brightly coloured fruit and vegetables

Increase dark oily fish meals

Add some nuts to your day especially walnuts, almonds and 2 Brazil nuts

Reduce sugar intake

Minimise processed and take away foods

Reduce intake of meat

Exercise REGULARLY physical exercise is great for the brain on many levels but so too is mental exercise try getting dressed in the dark, taking a different route to work, mix up your walking routes, do crosswords or Su Do Ku puzzles, learn a new language or skill and keep up and make new social contacts – have some fun!

Finding the Fun

22 July, 2010

While out walking yesterday morning before the rain started a car came around the corner obviously on the way to drop children at school and one of the children was holding a colourful windmill out the window taking advantage of the wind and the motion of the car. I couldn't help but smile and was grateful for the sense of fun that child had provided.

Too often we get caught up in the rush of day to day life and forget to nuture our inner child and have some fun! As I discovered yesterday you don't even have to make your own fun - just keep an eye open for things going on around you.

Exercise is one of those things that for some is fun on it's own for others it is a chore however you package it! I was reminded how important it is to find the fun on a daily basis whether is be sharing a laugh with someone at the gym, connecting with someone at yoga or enjoying the antics of a fantail on a walk, there is plenty of fun to be had if you are open to it and incorporating some in to your exercise regime might just help you get out there more often.