Many of us regularly take over-the-counter acid blockers or protone pump inhibitors because our stomachs are producing way too much acid. Or are they? Are you sure that you even have enough stomach acid? Find out what stomach acid does.
It’s not something most of us in the west grew up with, but sea vegetables – or ‘seaweed’ – is something we should all consider incorporating into our diets. It enhances our diet from a culinary as well as a health perspective. In Japan, sea vegetables have been eaten for thousands of years, but even here in the UK – where we are surrounded by water after all – seaweed is part of a traditional dish: Welsh laverbread.
Sea vegetables contain virtually all the minerals found in the ocean, and there are no other plants that carry more nutrients, trace minerals and minerals. As a group, sea vegetables are known for their ability to detoxify environmental toxins and heavy metals, such as cadmium, from the body. Not only are sea vegetables rich sources of iodine – a mineral required for proper thyroid function – but also calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. They also supply some B vitamins, such as folic acid, riboflavin (B2) and pantothenic acid (B5). Moreover, they contain lignans – a chemical compound from plants – that is thought to provide protection from cancer and helps alleviate menopausal symptoms – as well as fucans, which can help reduce inflammation. Lignans (another great source are flaxseeds) block the hormonal signalling of oestrogen-related cancers. In addition, seaweed appears to impair angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels for the nutrient supply to tumours. Fucoids, another component of sea vegetables, a polysaccharide (carbohydrate) that is particularly rich in kombu and wakame, is believed to be cancer-protective, too, but is easily destroyed even by light cooking. To benefit from it, kombu or wakame need to be consumed in their raw or dried form.
The sea vegetables most commonly used for food are from the family of brown seaweeds (arame, hijiki, kelp, kombu, wakame) and red seaweeds (nori, dulse).
This wiry Japanese sea vegetable has a sweet and mild flavour. It contains 100 – 500 times more iodine than shellfish and is a great source of iron and vitamin A. Arame has ten times more calcium than milk.
Another Japanese sea vegetable, which is the highest in calcium, but also a good source of iron (eight times more than beef) and vitamin A. It has a stronger flavour than arame. Both hijiki and arame are available dried (long strands, similar to pasta) and will expand when rehydrated.
Kelp – like arame is a rich source of iodine and has four times more iron than beef. It is often sold as a powder or flakes.
Kombu is sold dried in wide strips or sheets. Adding a strip of kombu to dried beans and lentils during cooking helps them cook faster and alleviates digestive problems (flatulence, bloating) some people suffer when eating pulses. It contains potassium, calcium, iodine and vitamins A and C.
Nori is probably the best known sea vegetable as it is used to wrap sushi. It is usually sold in shiny, black sheets that are made in a similar way to paper, from nori pulp, but is also available as flakes. Nori is rich in calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin A.
Dulse has a reddish brown colour and a chewy texture. It is available in pieces (dried) or as flakes. Although all of the above contain protein, dulse and nori are particularly rich sources of it, with 20 – 30 per cent of their dry weight consisting of protein.
Most health food shops sell dried seaweed, either as long, dried strands, sea vegetable salad (dried pieces) or flakes. It is also available as a condiment, mixed with sea salt. Some supermarkets sell seaweed, too, but mainly nori for sushi making. It is also a component in some healthy snack foods such as crackers or savoury biscuits. Note that ‘crispy seaweed’ in Chinese restaurants or the ready meals aisle in the supermarket is not usually made from seaweed, but cabbage. Delicious as it may be, it is also deep-fried and covered in sugar and salt, so it really has nothing in common with the sea vegetables discussed above.
For ideas on how to incorporate sea vegetables into your diet, read tomorrow’s Nutrilicious News. It is 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.
Nuts have had a hard time: being high in fat and therefore calories, they were shunned by many. However, they’ve been enjoying a comeback since fat has been exonerated and we now know that “a calorie is not a calorie”. Recent research has shown that – contrary to popular belief – almonds actually help you slim down rather than make you fat, and protect the heart at the same time. A possible reason for the slimming effect of almonds may be that they make you feel satisfied and you are less likely to reach for sugary snacks. Another possibility is that they stimulate the metabolism. Nuts (and seeds) offer excellent nutrition and are a very handy, portable snack.
Although almonds contain mainly oil, they also have a significant amount of protein. They are also a good source of soluble fibre, which aids digestion. Most of the oil in almonds is monounsaturated (omega-9), the key fat in the Mediterranean diet, which has been found to protect against heart disease and high blood pressure. Their combination of fat, protein and fibre also ensure a slow release of energy, which helps stabilising blood sugar levels. As they contain virtually no carbohydrates apart from fibre, they are an excellent food for diabetics, too.
They are great sources of magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc and iron. Magnesium relaxes the mind as well as muscles and, like calcium, it is vital for strong bones. Potassium is an important mineral to support the adrenal glands (think: stress and fatigue) and is thought to prevent hypertension and possibly stroke. Zinc is an antioxidant, an essential co-factor in energy production and, among many other things, good for the skin. Almonds also contain copper, another mineral that promotes healthy skin and brain function. Moreover, they contain vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin that protects from tissue damage, not least the lining of the arteries. The brown skin of almonds contains the phytochemical resveratrol, a chemical that enhances blood flow to the brain. Another phytochemical in almond skin – laetrile – is thought to protect from cancer, particularly cancer of the colon.
A word of caution: Don’t go crazy on them either. One reason is that that are still quite calorific, and if you do eat a ton of them, you may put on weight after all. Studies that found that almonds reduce abdominal adiposity used 1.5 oz per day (40 g). You probably wouldn’t want to eat much more anyway, but consider this if using almond butter.
Almonds contain a compound called phytic acid, which impairs the absorption of iron, zinc and to a lesser extent calcium, if only in that particular meal, not any later meals. One way of reducing phytic acid is by soaking – which is what you would do before making almond milk. If you have a dehydrator, consider soaking, then dehydrating the almonds.
Have you ever seen “activated” nuts in the health food shop and wondered what that means? These nuts have first been soaked, then dehydrated. However, they are even more expensive than ‘normal’ almonds. Apart from reducing the phytic acid content, soaking deactivates an enzyme inhibitor contained in the almond, thus activating the enzymes they contain and making almonds even more nutritious.
Almonds need a warmer climate than Northern Europe can provide, so they are generally imported. If you buy almonds from a less affluent country, make sure to buy Fairtrade. Despite the fact that they are imported, almonds – like other nuts – are still a green choice. The trees absorb and store carbon from the environment, which makes them an environmentally friendly crop. Moreover, they do not require a lot of pesticides, so if you can’t afford organic, regular almonds are fine, especially since they are relatively expensive anyway. But remember how good they are for you. Also, they are quite filling, so you are likely to use them sparingly anyway.
If you end up with a bag of nuts that tastes stale or very bitter, they are rancid. Don’t be too shy to take them back to the shop and ask for a refund or exchange, as they are too expensive to write off. At home, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Light, heat and air destroy the unsaturated fatty acids, ie make them go rancid.
What to do with almonds?
- Coarsely chop toasted or untoasted almonds and sprinkle over salads or stir-fries or stir into yoghurt, muesli or porridge.
- Have a handful of almonds as a quick power snack.
- If you like to snack on fruit, combine with almonds to provide the protein you need to balance blood sugar levels.
- Make an open sandwich with almond butter, topped with banana slices.
- Snack on celery sticks or thin apple slices spread with almond butter.
- Use almond butter instead of cream in cooking – it’s great to thicken sauces, very creamy and very yummy.
- Make milk shakes using almond milk.
- Use ground almonds to replace all or some of the flour in baking. As ground almonds are heavier than flour, make sure to increase your raising agent (baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, yeast).
A blog on how to make your own almond butter is coming up soon.
Make sure to get tomorrow's Nutrilicious News for another quick almond snack recipe and a divine gluten-free and easy to bake Almond and Orange Cake!