Nutrients

Ketogenic Diets are back

You’ve probably read the headlines and wondered whether you should take the plunge if the results – steady and sustainable weight loss and improvement of health markers - are really that dramatic and that easy. But are they, though? This post will give you the inside line on what the diet involves, whether it’s healthy and even sustainable for ‘normal’ people. Here goes …

The ketogenic diet is the ultimate low carb diet. It advocates a moderate protein intake and is very high in fat. It is similar to the Atkins diet, but it as a more modern version of it, now with a solid scientific basis. Both are very low carbohydrate diets, but the Atkins diet tends to be higher in protein, whereas keto somewhat restricts protein in favour of fat. Recent research over the last decade or so has provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets in many health conditions, including diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), acne, neurological conditions - particularly epilepsy - and the management of respiratory and cardio-vascular risk factors.

Although dieters tend to lose weight, there is more of an emphasis of the ketogenic diet as a therapeutic diet, which may improve compliance for those that follow it for health reasons.

Like the Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet aims at keeping the body in permanent ketosis. Let’s take a look at what that actually is …

Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy so that it will be chosen over any other energy source. Insulin – a hormone made in the pancreas – is produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by taking it into the cells. It’s the fat-storage hormone produced in direct proportion to the type and quality of carbs consumed. When you lower the intake of carbs in your diet, you force the body into a state of ketosis.

Ketosis is a natural process that helps you survive when food intake is low. When in this state, you produce ketone bodies or ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver. They are an alternative source of energy, when glucose is not available. Energy from ketones works just as well and feels no different – better, if anything, and the brain actually prefers ketones.

 Photo by  Katherine Chase  on  Unsplash

Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash

What do you eat?

The ketogenic diet is largely based on protein and fat, and is filling and satisfying. This means no hunger cravings and consistent energy levels.

The downside is the diet is very strict. Cutting out carbs means more than just avoiding the bread, pasta, rice and potatoes that we think of as carbohydrates, but also other foods including many fruits and a number of starchy vegetables and even some nuts, such as cashews. What you might not be prepared for is having to cut back on alcohol. It’s not about cutting it out entirely – spirits are OK, but you have to watch the sugary mixers, and champagne and wine are not so bad in moderation, but a lot depends on your individual sensitivity to carbs. Your favourite cappuccino or latte may also be out.  

 

IN

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs.

Leafy Greens like spinach and kale.

Above-ground vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, peppers, etc.

High Fat Dairy like hard cheeses, cream, butter, etc.

Nuts and seeds 

Avocado

Berries – raspberries, strawberries, blueberries blackberries, and other low GL berries

Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.

 

OUT

Grains like wheat, rye, oats, corn, rice, barley.

Pulses such as chickpeas, soya, kidney beans, lentils.

Sugars: honey, agave, maple syrup.

Fruit like apples, bananas, oranges.

Potato, sweet potato, carrots, beetroot, etc.

 

Getting into ketosis

For most people, a ketogenic diet means that carbs are restricted to no more than 20g per day, however not everyone is equally sensitive to carbohydrates and some can get away with up to 50g. You’ll have to test where your carb threshold lies by measuring ketone bodies in the urine, blood or breath.  

You might be reading this thinking, ‘I can do this’, but the reality can be very testing. It can, in fact, take 4 weeks to get there and during the transition period many experience ‘keto flu’ – flu-like symptoms, headaches, tiredness, and weakness. This happens when the body runs out of glucose and has not yet learned to switch to using fat for energy – that’s because it hasn’t had to for such a long time. Until you become ‘fat adapted’ (i.e. your body has re-learned to use fat), there is a period of low energy. It is this taxing time that can put people off.

The people that do best on a ketogenic diet are those with a really compelling reason to do it, perhaps one of the chronic health conditions this diet can help. The rest of us mere mortals may struggle to be committed enough to get into and stay in ketosis. At the same time, be aware that the ketogenic diet may not be for you, for example if you are on insulin or blood pressure lowering medication. Make sure to educate yourself first to be safe.

If you are keen to find out more about ketogenic diets or if you'd like to book a complimentary call to discuss which approach to weight loss would best suit you, please do get in touch.

 

Last Minute Tips for a healthier Christmas

Christmas is all about families spending time together, and food and drink are of course a major component of our biggest holiday of the year. There’ll be mince pies and ginger bread, salmon, turkey and stuffing, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and carrots, Christmas pudding and brandy butter, Stilton and cheese biscuits, champagne and port … Who could possibly say no? I’m not expecting you to – I’m sure you’ve already been following my tips for the party season, so you’re all set up to get back into your healthy routine in January without any effort – but here are some last minute tips on how to survive Christmas itself:

Breakfast

Have breakfast on Christmas morning, even if you are tempted to skip it, with the calories of Christmas dinner in mind. Your blood sugar levels will be low first thing in the morning, and having a healthy breakfast helps balancing your blood sugar, so you won’t end up starving and overeating by the time Christmas dinner comes along. 

Make it a low-carb breakfast as chances are that there will be more carbs than usual coming your way later in the day: low-GL granola with berries, poached eggs with steamed asparagus soldiers, or a good old-fashioned fry-up with sausages, bacon, egg, mushrooms and tomatoes, but without baked beans, toast or fried bread. 

Christmas tangerines
Christmas tangerines

Fill half your plate with non-starchy veg

Non-starchy vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower, should cover half your plate – always, not just at Christmas. You can even pile those high! Your source of protein – most likely turkey – should only take up a quarter, with the other quarter being shared by starchy vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and carrots (not piled high!).

Chew!

Your stomach has no teeth, and neither does your small intestine. Chewing increases the surface area of your food, giving digestive enzymes better access, thus improving digestion. It’ll also cause you to eat more slowly, so that you have a chance to notice when you are full.

Make it worth it!

If you are going off your healthy eating plan on Christmas Day, make sure that it is worth your while and don't just tuck in because it's there. Be mindful and ask yourself: "Do I really, really want this?"  If you love your Mum's homemade mince pies or Christmas pudding, go for them and make sure to enjoy every mouthful. If what's on offer is not all that enticing, it might be easier to just give it a miss rather than regret it afterwards. 

Go for a walk – come rain or shine Getting out of the house – even if briefly – has got to be a good thing. With the gym closed, you’ll miss out on your exercise, but a brisk walk in the fresh air will make up for some of that. Find a walking buddy – sometimes the best conversations happen when out walking.

Stay hydrated

There might be alcohol on offer over Christmas. Alcohol has a diuretic effect, and it is dehydration that is ultimately the underlying reason for hangovers. Make sure to drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks. That way, you can ensure to remain hydrated and pace your drinking at the same time.

Take a break

With all that rich food at Christmas, sugary snacks and alcohol, your liver will be working hard over the next few days, and with New Year’s Eve in sight, it soon will again. Why not use the few days between Christmas and the New Year to give your liver a break? Try saying no to alcohol over those days and top up your antioxidants by adding a green smoothie and/or a raw salad per day to your diet. The more colours you can get into your salad, the better, as different colours represent different plant nutrients. Go to bed early to give your liver the opportunity to detox – as it's while you sleep that it does most of its work.

Schedule your return to the gym - and your healthy diet

It can be hard to get going again after an exercise break – whether that’s due to a cold, a holiday or the Christmas break. According to the American happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, it helps to schedule your return to the gym, to literally write it into your diary. If you need something even more compelling, consider booking a personal training session or arrange to go with a friend.

The same strategy might apply to your diet: While I wouldn't advise you to throw all your healthy habits overboard for the festive period, you could set a date on which you will return to healthy eating.

5 Top Tips for Healthy Ageing

Throughout life, our nutrient requirements change as our body changes. As we get older, muscle mass and stomach acid levels, for example, naturally decline. You can support your body by providing the nutrients it requires and by adding in some exercise. Don't worry, there's no need to run a marathon, just don't stop moving. 

Plugged up?

It’s not something that is discussed much in circles of friends and colleagues – for obvious reasons – but constipation is common. In the UK, approx.12% of the general population suffer from chronic constipation. Twice as many women than men struggle with it, and the over 65s are most affected: 25% of free living older people experience constipation, but a shocking 80% of the elderly living in nursing homes. Because bowel habits are not a popular topic of conversation, it is hard to know what is normal and what isn’t. If you can answer ‘yes’ to two or more of the following, you are probably constipated:

  • Do you ‘go’ less than three times per week?
  • Do you often strain (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Are your stools often hard or lumpy (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Do you often feel that you haven’t been able to excrete everything (at least 25% of the time)

A comparison with the Bristol Stool Chart may also help you see where you are.

Man sitting on toilet bowl
Man sitting on toilet bowl

Why does it matter?

Not being able to ‘go’ can be extremely uncomfortable, but not everybody feels that way. Some people have infrequent bowel movements and feel fine. In fact, according to the (official) diagnostic criteria just emptying the bowel three times a week is ok. However, the ideal transit time for food is 12 to 24 hours. Defecating three times a week constitutes an average transit time of 56 hours, which really is too slow. A bowel movement at least once a day is what we should all strive for.

If you are not sure, you can test your transit time: Eat three or four whole beetroots and make a note of when you ate them. Wait and see when the beetroot comes out the other end. It should dye your faeces crimson. If you don’t like beetroot, try it with a generous amount of corn on the cob.

Having faecal matter sit in the colon for too long is undesirable for several reasons. Bile acids contained in it can irritate the gut wall, if faeces aren’t excreted swiftly, causing damage. The colon’s main function is to recycle nutrients and water back into the system and to eliminate waste products. In order to do this job properly it needs a healthy gut microflora. Chronic constipation can upset the balance of good and bad bacteria, and an imbalanced gut flora can lead to constipation – a vicious circle. If waste remains in the colon for too long, putrefying bacteria start working on it, releasing toxins, which then cause damage to the intestinal lining with potentially serious long-term consequences.

Old oestrogen, which was meant to be excreted, gets attached to a protein called sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in the liver. SHGB is the vehicle to see the oestrogen out. However, some strains of bad bacteria have the ability to uncouple hormones from SHBG, thus enabling those hormones to get reabsorbed. This can contribute to oestrogen dominance and related disturbances and diseases (e. g. PMS, fibroids, breast cancer). The slower your transit time, the more time bacteria have to send old hormones back into circulation.

Straining to excrete hard stools is the most common underlying cause for haemorrhoids (piles): enlarged, swollen blood vessels around the anus. Once formed, they can make defecation even harder and very painful, and they often cause rectal bleeding.

Other health issues linked to constipation are bad breath, body odour, depression, fatigue, flatulence, food sensitivities, headaches, indigestion, joint pain and dark circles under the eyes.

What causes constipation?

The most common causes by far are a sedentary lifestyle, dehydration and a low-fibre diet. The vast majority of sufferers get rid of the problem by increasing exercise, increase fluid intake and change to a diet high in fibre, eg from vegetables, beans and pulses, as well as wholegrains.

You can add extra soluble fibre by taking linseeds (flaxseeds) or chia seeds. These seeds soak up water and form a gel, which makes stools soft and easy to pass, but make sure to always have them with lots of water otherwise they can make the problem worse. Prunes, too, are excellent helpers. Not only does the fibre they contain help bulk up the stool and move things along, but they are also food for the good bacteria. Bacteria convert the fibre from prunes into short-chain fatty acids, which become fuel for the cells of the gut wall.

Another common contributor to constipation is magnesium deficiency. (Remember last week’s post on vegetables?) Magnesium is involved in the proper function of muscles. The entire digestive system is surrounded by smooth muscle, which contracts in stages (like a Mexican Wave) to move intestinal contents along, a process called peristalsis. For peristalsis to work, magnesium is required. Food processing causes the loss of 75% of the magnesium contained in food, and deficiency is very common. Yet another good reason to move away from junk food – which is also low in fibre! - and start cooking your own.

Putting off going to the toilet can also lead to constipation. If you continuously postpone a bowel movement, the nerves of the rectum become less sensitive to the rectum being stretched and stop sending the message to the brain. If you think that you may already have lost that sensitivity, you can retrain your nerves: Sit on the toilet for 20 minutes every morning and relax. Your colon will soon learn to relax again, too. And stop putting off your trip to the loo: You may not like to go and empty your bowels when you’re not at home, but at work or travelling, but you need to get used to that. It’s what people do.

Other reasons

There are many more reasons why someone would develop chronic constipation. It is, for example, a very common side effect of medication. If you suspect your prescription drugs, take out the leaflet and have a look. If constipation is listed, speak to your doctor. Maybe there is a similar drug that you can tolerate better.

Constipation is also part of a number of diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, illnesses that affect the nervous or muscular systems (eg multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries), over- or underactive thyroid. Stress or depression, pregnancy, high calcium levels, iron supplements and the long-term use of laxatives can be behind the problem. Constipation is very common in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulosis and colon cancer. If your bowel habits change for no apparent reason, you must tell your doctor.

For more on constipation and bowel habits and more tips on what to do, read tomorrow’s Nutrilicious News. It is not too late to sign up.

If you are experiencing digestive issues, why not come and see me in clinic at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex? Contact me and we'll have a chat on the phone first to decide whether you would benefit from a personalised Health & Nutrition Programme with me. 

What's the deal with quinoa?

  It’s not new – even outside of South America -, and it has been around for a few years now, but have you tried quinoa (pronounced: keen-wah) yet? Yes, I know it has a bit of a health-nut and trendy reputation now, but if you can get past that you might find that it is a great addition to your larder.

First of all, it’s not a grain, even though it is often listed among the grains, or at least in the ‘starchy carb’ category. Quinoa is a ‘pseudo-cereal’, but really it’s a seed, just like buckwheat.

Couscous with vegetables

As it is not a grain at all, it is of course gluten-free, which is one reason it is so popular. Another is that it is a ‘complete protein’ food. So, what does that mean? Proteins are composed of varying combinations of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential, meaning the body cannot make them. They have to come from the diet.

If you are an omnivore, you won’t struggle to find complete proteins as all animal proteins (meat, fish, eggs and dairy) contain all essential amino acids, but not all plant proteins do. Combining grains and pulses creates a complete protein meal, and some traditional dishes must have been created that way intuitively (Mexican chilli: beans and corn; Indian dhal: lentils and rice; Japanese edamame and rice). It is not, however, strictly necessary to consume all 9 essential amino acids with the same meal, as long as they are all covered in a day.

Quinoa, however, is one of those rare complete plant proteins. It is also rich in minerals, particularly magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is common, most likely due to the low consumption of green leafy vegetables. Apart from magnesium, quinoa also contains significant amounts of manganese and phosphorus, and is a good source of folate, zinc, iron and copper.

It also contains valuable phytonutrients, the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol. Quercetin has been found to be beneficial for allergy sufferers, especially if their symptoms affect the upper respiratory tract. But it is also thought to support heart health, an even blood pressure and general health, as it is one of the antioxidants. Kaempferol, too, has antioxidant properties, protects DNA and the lining of the arteries. Needless to say: Quinoa is also a great source of fibre.

All the health benefits of quinoa aside, it is also very versatile, easy to cook and of course tasty. It takes just 15 minutes to cook, and once cooked, you can use it to replace bulgur wheat, eg in tabouleh, or like rice in both hot and cold dishes. Mixed with finely chopped veg and spices as well as a binding agent (whether that’s egg or, say, coconut flour), quinoa also makes lovely burgers.

For more more about quinoa – how to cook it, how to use it and the ethical downsides of the seed (and where to get it ethically), read next week's Nutrilicious News. It is not too late to sign up!