Do you chew your food? Do you think chewing is for whimps? Or those with time on their hands? Don't underestimate the (possibly boring) process of chewing. It's really worth doing. Read on to find out why.
Do you eat to balance blood sugar levels? If you would like to lose weight, regain more energy, stop cravings, improve your digestion, balance your hormones and speed up your metabolism, it is crucial to learn how to balance blood sugar.
They’re here at last: British strawberries! All berries – including strawberries – are excellent low-sugar food, which is very rich in nutrients. They are high in vitamin C and K, fibre and – the best thing about them – flavonoids.
Flavonoids are phytonutrients (plant nutrients), which have a wide range of health benefits. The most powerful flavonoids in strawberries are anthocyanins. They are what give them their rich, red colour. Anthocyanins have been found to be protective against inflammation, cancer, and heart disease. The anti-inflammatory properties of these phytonutrients mean that they can impair the activity of the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). Some painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, work by blocking COX, but they come with side effects such as intestinal bleeding. Anthocyanins do not cause any side effects.
Strawberries are also a good source of manganese, a mineral that helps protect bones and supports the thyroid gland.
To get the full load of flavonoids from strawberries, they need to be ripe. A perfect strawberry is red, shiny, plump and firm and of course free of mould. I only buy strawberries when they are in season, and then only British ones. Although many other countries grow perfectly good strawberries, I avoid foreign ones because transport means that they have been picked too early, before they have had a chance to develop their nutrients, flavour and fragrance. The more local your strawberries, the fresher they are. If there is a ‘pick your own’ field near you, then that’s what you should take advantage of. Those will be the ripest, yet freshest strawberries you can get.
Unfortunately – like all berries – strawberries are very delicate. They are prone to disease and fungal attack and therefore get heavily sprayed with pesticides and fungizides. Strawberries always end up among the Dirty Dozen. So, if you can find (and afford) organic strawberries, they’re the superior choice. As with most fruit and veg, you can get a much better deal at the farmers market or greengrocer than you will at the supermarket. Those places may also have the tastier varieties, as supermarket fruit is grown for durability and looks rather than flavour.
Thanks to air transport, strawberries are now available all year round, if necessary from far flung countries. For reasons stated above, however, they do not taste all that good, but are very expensive. It really is worth waiting for the British season. Eating seasonally has the added advantage that the food in question – in this case strawberries – becomes more special, because there are times of year where I have to go without.
If you can’t get organic ones, spray them with diluted additive-free soap or commercial produce wash before eating or freezing. Strawberries are great for freezing, but they won’t retain their shape once thawed. They’ll look a bit soggy. I like to use frozen strawberries in shakes and smoothies or blend them with frozen banana for instant dairy- and sugar-free ice cream. If you freeze them straight after purchase, they’ll preserve most of their vitamin C.
Strawberries contain moderate levels of oxalates. If you are prone to kidney stones, it is advisable to limit your consumption. Unfortunately, strawberries are also one of the most common food allergens.
What to do with strawberries?
If you love strawberries, you probably won’t need any recipes and just eat them straight out of the punnet. That’s fine, but here are some ideas, just in case:
- Whip up some fresh cream with a teaspoon of powdered vanilla and dip your strawberries in it.
- Chop into quarters and stir into yoghurt or quark.
- Mix chopped strawberries with cinnamon, lemon juice, and maple syrup and use as a topping for pancakes (e. g. coconut flour pancakes).
- Gently melt some dark chocolate and dip your strawberries in it. Leave to cool and for the chocolate to harden.
- Add sliced strawberries to a mixed green salad.
- For the more adventurous: Blend strawberries with 2 – 3 basil leaves, 2 tbsp of xylitol, Greek yoghurt, and a grinding of black pepper.
My tomorrow’s newsletter will have an easy recipe for a delicious strawberry-based breakfast shake. It’s not too late to subscribe!
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.
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.
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.
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.