Are You Being Preserved?

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In my previous article on the advantages of organic food, I focused on the health risks involved with pesticides.  In order to be organic, foods must also be free of chemical preservatives.

Many foods are prepackaged and need to be able to sit on the grocery store shelf for long periods of time.  This has led to manufacturers using preservatives to keep the food from going off before the consumer buys the product.  Some natural preservatives include sugar, salt, vinegar, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), freezing and pasteurizing (heat treating).  Others are not so natural and may be detrimental to your health.

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The recent health trend to help reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been to cut down on eating saturated fats and cholesterol by decreasing the intake of red meat.  This has led people to increase their intake of ‘low fat’ processed meats.  A study published in 2013 in the journal BMC Medicine found that there was no link between unprocessed red meat and CVD.  Eating processed meats on the other hand increases your risk of CVD by 30% and increases your risk of cancer, in particular colon cancer.  This includes bacon, devon, ham, bologna, salami, lunch meats, hot dogs and sausages.  This increased risk is due to the high sodium and preservative content.

A study from the US published in 2013 found that kids who drank more soft drinks were more likely to have asthma regardless of their weight.  They only looked at kids who drank regular soft drink so they were not consuming artificial sweeteners.  The authors speculate this is most likely due to the preservatives. So just because you exercise and burn off the calories, soft drinks still have detrimental effects on your health.

Preservative 211 Sodium Benzoate

Certain preservatives have been found to have a wide range of side effects.  Sodium sulfite (221) and sorbic acid (200) suppress immune cells.  Sodium nitrate (251) and sodium benzoate (211) alter DNA, which is how many cancers begin.  Sodium sulfite and sodium benzoate decrease the hormone leptin. Leptin levels falling are a trigger for us to eat. Consumption of these preservatives can lead to overeating which leads to weight gain. Sodium benzoate and artificial food colourings are linked to hyperactivity in children.  Sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate (212) when combined with ascorbic acid (found in juice) creates benzene, which is a known carcinogen.  Benzoates are slowly being phased out but they are still in circulation so you need to watch out for them.

Sodium metabisulphite (223) has become more popular as a preservative because it actually kills food contaminants as opposed to the others, which just inhibit the growth.  It is used to sterilize equipment for wine and beer brewing.  It is used during processing and is present at levels lethal to bacteria when we consume the products that contain it.  As I have mentioned in previous articles, having healthy gut bacteria is important to our overall health status. Consuming foods that contain lethal levels of preservatives is going to put your gut bacteria out of balance potentially causing illness.

In Australia, as in many other countries, if an ingredient is at a concentration of less than 10 parts per million (ppm) it does not have to be declared on the label. This is in spite of the fact that 10ppm is an effective level for killing bacteria. This has led some companies to advertise their products as ‘preservative free’ despite containing preservatives. Also, artificial colours and flavours are loaded with preservatives. If you see these on a label you know the product contains some sort of preservative.

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Although it is important to keep microbes off our food, the best thing is to eat it fresh so you don’t need to eat any chemicals. If you do eat preserved food, make sure you check the labels carefully.  If you have any questions, talk to your local naturopath.

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Is Eating Organic Worth It?

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There is an ongoing debate about whether organic foods are really better for you than conventionally grown foods.  As it is more expensive, it is important to know whether it is worth the money or not.

For a product to become certified organic it must pass several criteria including being free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics and food additives.   These products are then labeled with the logo of the certifying body.  These organizations include the USDA, Australian Certified Organic, Canada Organic, or EU Organic Farming.  Some products aim to deceive by putting the word organic in their name, but this does not necessarily mean it is organic.  In Australia, several ‘organic water’ bottlers have been forced to remove the word organic from their name.  Water cannot be organic or otherwise.  Also, organic does not necessarily mean it is free from genetic modification, but these often go together.

Pesticides are made to kill bugs on plants. Although they are allowed in low amounts on food, it only makes sense that if they can kill big bugs, that they could kill the small bugs in your gut.  Dr. Mark Donohoe is a GP in Sydney who previously thought there was no reason to eat organic, has recently discovered that pesticides can have a big effect on your normal gut bacteria. Good gut bacteria are needed to keep the bad bacteria at bay.  An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria has been connected to everything from IBS and headaches, to arthritis and weight gain.  With almost every health complaint, I start by making sure a patient’s gut is functioning properly.  To learn more about the importance of your gut bacteria, read my article 10% Human.

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It is still unknown the extent of the health problems that could be caused by pesticides but it is hard to believe they can kill bugs without affecting us.  The use of neonicotinoid insecticides has been banned in the EU due to its effects on bee health.  Beekeepers in Australia are calling for a ban on them too.

A study published in 2013 found that fruit flies fed organic produce had greater fertility and lived longer. These flies were also more active and showed more resistance to stress.  Another study published in 2015 found that tomatoes that were grown organically were subjected to more stress. This stress caused them to be smaller, but higher in vitamin C and phenols.  Phenols can act as antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol.

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Several studies have shown the effects pesticides can have on our health. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds up. It impairs the development of the prefrontal cortex in the brain decreasing cognitive skills and short term memory.  Children with higher levels of metabolites in their urine are more likely to develop ADHD as well as asthma.

A mother’s exposure to dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), a breakdown product of DDT, during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of asthma and wheezing in young children. Children with higher levels in their blood are also more likely to have asthma. Exposure to permethrin, an insecticide commonly used to kills lice and often used on cotton, corn, wheat and alfalfa, is also associated with a higher risk of wheezing and asthma.

A 2012 study found a higher risk of being exposed to antibiotic resistant bacteria after eating conventional chicken or pork as well as higher concentrations of pesticides in the urine of children eating conventionally grown foods.

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Lowering your pesticide concentration isn’t hard.  It can take as little as 2 weeks of eating organic food to lower the levels of many of these chemicals in your body.  Check out this video about a family who ate only organic food for 2 weeks.

To keep the cost of buying organic down, you can pick and choose some foods to buy organic and other conventional. Pesticides bioaccumulate in animals so eating organic meat and dairy is the most important first step. In Australia the foods with the highest pesticide residues are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines and peaches.  If you eat apples every day, but only have pears once in awhile, then you want to buy organic apples but could let the pears slide.  The foods with the lowest pesticide residues are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage. These foods are safer to eat conventional. Buying seasonal, local food is also cheaper.  When you do buy conventional produce, make sure that you wash it well.  Studies have found that washing with baking soda gets off the most pesticide residue but you can also use a 10% salt solution.  Here are some instructions for washing your fruits and vegetables. Remember though, just because it is organic, doesn’t mean it is good for you. Organic sugar is still sugar!

If you have any questions about organic produce, talk to your local naturopath.  Next week I’ll talk about the preservatives found in many processed foods and why you need to avoid them for your health.

 

Healthy Travel

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Many of us travel from time to time for business or pleasure. No matter where you are going, you don’t want to arrive sick. This can be especially problematic during plane travel as everyone is in a small space with limited air circulation. Here are a few suggestions that can help keep you healthy and rested during flights. I like to keep everything all in a small case that fits in the seat pocket so I can access them at all times.

Vitamin C is great for helping your immune system to function properly. You can take 1 gram every 2 hours while you are flying then take 2-3 grams/day while you are away. If you feel like you are getting sick while away, increase this to 5-6 grams per day. If you get loose stools, decease the dose. Saccharomyces boulardii is a specific strain of probiotic that is great for helping diarrhoea. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge so it is easy to travel with. If you have symptoms, take up to 2 capsules, 2x/day. Flying can be stressful not matter what your circumstances and stress does a number on the immune system. Rescue Remedy can be calming as well as help stave off headaches or colds.

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Bring your own water bottle. The occasional small glass of water is not enough, especially for long fights. The air on planes is dry, so you need to drink more than usual. If you are on a flight that is more than a couple hours, take electrolyte tablets with you as plane (get it, plane) water just won’t cut it.  This is especially important if you ever get headaches on the plane.  These are my favourite as they are low in sugar – https://nuunlife.com (I have no affiliation with them, just really like the product). I put half a tablet in the little plastic cups you get on the plane.

A saline nasal spray can also be helpful in such a dry environment. Bugs love dry nasal passages. Keep them moist to ward off getting sick and also to prevent cracking and bleeding. Thyme oil is also great at killing bugs. Put a few drops on a cloth and breathe deeply.

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If you are traveling a long distance it is important to sleep on the plane and adjust to the time change easily. Melatonin can be helpful for this. It occurs naturally in your body to maintain your circadian rhythm, but if you don’t sleep properly your body won’t make enough. Take 1-2 mg as you try to sleep on the plane, and then when you go to bed at your destination. Keep taking each night until you get a good night’s sleep. This can be taken in conjunction with some prescription sleep medication to improve the quality of sleep, but please talk to a naturopath before doing this. It is also helpful to take an eye mask. Bodies like to sleep in the dark, so your sleep will be much better if you wear an eye mask.

Last but certainly not least, exercise! The longer the flight the more important it is. You aren’t expected to stick to your regular fitness routine on a plane, but you want to get up every 1-2 hours to keep your blood circulating and prevent clots. If you can’t get up because the person next to you is sound asleep, you can still keep your blood moving – flex your muscles, starting at your toes and working your way up to your buttocks. Do this 10-15 times every hour to keep your blood moving.

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Here are a few non-health related suggestions from a veteran traveler:

  • Give a photocopy of your ticket and passport to a friend or family member staying at home. You can also scan them both and email them to yourself so that you can get a copy anywhere you go.
  • Arrive early and ask about the seating. If flying economy, the best seats are usually the ones either right behind business class or by the emergency exits as they have more leg room and can sometimes get up without disturbing the person beside you. These are sometimes saved until the day of the flight. Ask at the gate if you can change to a better seat.
  • Put all your carry-on luggage in a small rolling suitcase or a comfortable backpack as you will have to walk far through the airport.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Even if you have to go to a meeting at the other end, it is nicer to travel in something comfortable, and then you can change either on the plane or before you get your luggage.
  • Take a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth on the plane
  • Always pack a spare pair of undies and a shirt in your carry-on.  You never know if your luggage will be arriving with you.

If you have any questions about travel, talk to your local naturopath.  Happy travels!

 

 

 

 

How to lose weight … slowly!

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I don’t like to use the word diet, as that implies a sudden change in what you are eating for a short period of time.  Losing weight, in a healthy way, requires a lifestyle change.  No, you won’t be dropping kilograms each week, but you will slowly notice that your clothes are a bit looser, you have more energy, and that you just feel happier. Everyone has their own reasons to lose weight and become healthier.  Find yours and start today.

There are basics that apply to everyone, which I will talk about in this article, but each person is going to be different.  If you eat and exercise the exact same as someone else, you won’t both lose or gain the same amount of weight, or both be your healthiest self. When I was taking my degree the college had a program called “Be Your Best Self”.  I love this title because that what’s its all about.  It’s not about how you compare to someone else. Be the best you, you can be.  Finding the healthiest lifestyle for you may take some trial and error, but you will get there eventually, and you will feel better for it.

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The most important part of a healthy lifestyle is what you eat. If you have seen me as a patient, you know my plate analogy.  Cut your dinner plate in half and put veggies on one side.  On the other half, make two-thirds protein and the last third carbohydrates. If you have a sweet tooth it is usually because you are not eating enough protein.  Make sure you have protein in every meal as well as plenty of good fats to make you feel fuller longer. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats.  I have lots of information on my blog explaining why you need them and which ones to pick. Drinking plenty of water is also important for losing weight as it helps make you feel full and improves your metabolism.

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What you eat is about 80% of losing weight, but exercise is still needed to achieve a healthy lifestyle.  It improves cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, depression, sleep apnoea, sleep, arthritis, immune health, and how you look and feel. Just to name a few. It will also help you lose weight when combined with other healthy lifestyle choices. Read here for tips on how much you need to exercise.

Last, but certainly not least, you need to get enough sleep and reduce your stress level. If you need help with sleep, check out my blog article with some sleep hygiene suggestions. In times of stress, our bodies like to hold on to fat ‘just in case’.  Make sure you are getting enough rest at night, and taking time during the day to let your body and mind relax.

Food intolerances and other digestive issues can be a barrier to losing weight and being healthy.  If you are eating foods that don’t agree with you, your body could have a lot of inflammation. As with stress, it makes your body want to hold on to fat ‘just in case’.  If you have any digestive issues, make sure you talk to your local naturopath so you can start on your journey to a healthy lifestyle.

 

Here we go again … Flu Season!

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Flu season is coming around again (for those of us in the southern hemisphere that is). If you caught the flu last year, you know that is was a harsh one. And if you got vaccinated you probably got the flu anyway, because the vaccine was a very poor match for the prominent flu types. It was only 5-37% effective depending on the strain. I’m not going to discuss whether or not you should vaccinate for the flu. That’s your choice. But given how ineffective it was last year, I thought you could use a few other tools to help you stay healthy this flu season.

The first place to start is hygiene. Wearing surgical masks and washing hands, decreased flu-like symptoms by 75% in a study group of university students living in residence together. That’s huge! I know we don’t all want to walk around wearing a mask, but you can make sure you wash your hands when you get home and before eating. And if you have to be in contact with someone who has the flu, I think a mask would be worthwhile.

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The next important step is to keep up your immune system should you get exposed to the flu. Make sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoid sugar as much as you can. Sugar makes your immune cells less effective for hours after, so try to watch the extra treats especially if a friend or family member already has the flu.

You want to make sure your gut bacteria are happy. The good bacteria in your body help to fight off invading pathogens. You can keep them happy by consuming fermented products such as kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh and apple cider vinegar, eating yogurt with active cultures, or taking a probiotic supplement. For more information on gut health, read my article about your microbiome.

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It is important to take care of your mental health if you want to keep yourself physically healthy. Psychological stress is associated with a greater risk of depression, heart disease and infectious diseases. So take time out – exercise, garden, meditate, whatever it is that helps you to relax. And make sure you are getting enough sleep. There is nothing that your body finds more stressful than not getting enough ZZZZZs.  Read here about how you can improve your sleep.

Exercise is important for everyone. Appropriate exercises will be different for each person given their individual level of fitness. To keep your immune system at its best you want at least a brisk 30-minute walk each day. If you are training for an event such as a marathon though, this can also put a strain on your immune system. A happy medium is best.

Hot-Cold showers are an excellent way of improving your immune system, increasing circula­tion and elevating energy levels. After finishing your regular shower routine, do 20 seconds of cold and 1 minute of hot. Alternate 2-3 times, ending with cold. I know how it sounds, but it really works. Try it! Look how happy it is making this baby:

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There are also several herbs and supplements you can take to help you stay healthy. Autumn and spring are particularly stressful on our bodies as the weather can’t decide what its doing. Try Change of Season Soup, which is full of traditional Chinese herbs for boosting your immune system. I sell this through Emily’s Little Tea Company, but don’t have it up on the website yet.  Drink this tea daily, or make it into a delicious soup. You can also take daily vitamin C and zinc to improve your immune system.

If you find you are always getting sick, see your local naturopath. There could be an underlying issue that might be easily fixed with some diet or lifestyle changes. Stay healthy!

Healthy Banana Apple/Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins (that are also dairy-free!)

Muffins

I am so excited to share this recipe! Sugar-free, sweetener-free, dairy-free, nut-free muffins that are really delicious! It has taken many trials (all of which my family has been happy to eat up!), and I finally found the winning recipe.

The big kids get so much sugar especially now that they are in school. With birthday parties, cupcakes at school, Easter disco, chocolates from sporting activities, canteen treats and Easter around the corner, the chocolate and candy seem to be coming in on a never-ending stream! I’m still trying to shelter my littlest from sugar but all he wants is whatever the big two have. He is also dairy intolerant so I was already having to modify recipes. Dairy-free recipes always seem to use some sort of nut milk though which isn’t allowed if I’m going to use the muffins for school lunches. I’ve searched and searched but ‘healthy’ recipes always have some sort of sweetener in them be it maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave or even actual sugar. I knew there had to be a way to make actually healthy banana muffins that tasted fantastic.

In these muffins there is no sugar or other sweeteners (unless you add the optional chocolate chips), no dairy and no nuts. They do contain plenty of fruit, whole grains, healthy fats and even a vegetable! Everyone in the family loves the apple version, but my daughter is a bit of a chocolate fiend, so I make half and half apple and chocolate chip.

I like to make muffins that are on the smaller side to go into lunch boxes for my little people, so this recipe usually makes about 36 muffins. They freeze really well and can be pulled out when you are in a rush. I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine does!

 

Ingredients

Wet:

  • 2/3 cups melted coconut oil
  • 4 eggs, preferably at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup coconut yogurt
  • 3/4 cups apple sauce
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups packed mashed ripe bananas (about 6 bananas)*
  • 1 grated zucchini (about 1.5 cups)

Dry:

  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 4 cups wholegrain spelt flour
  • 1 cup whole rolled oats

Options:^

  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks (I often cut up a Green & Black’s 70% organic dark chocolate bar)
  • 3 medium apples cut into small chunks

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan forced (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Grease muffin tray with coconut oil if necessary. I use a silicone tray that does not require it.
  2. Melt the coconut oil in a large bowl if it is solid. Beat in the eggs, coconut yogurt, applesauce and vanilla. Mix until it looks creamy. I find the stand mixer works best for this.
  3. Add the mashed banana and grated zucchini. Set aside.
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients together in another bowl. If you can, get ‘help’ like I did.
  5. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together.
  6. Take half the mixture out and put in the other bowl.
  7. Add chocolate chips to one half and apple pieces to the other and stir until just mixed.
  8. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake muffins for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack to cool. You might need to run a butter knife along the outer edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan. Enjoy now or freeze some for later. Oh and remember not to feel guilty about eating them, because they are actually healthy!

Notes

*I find it best to use previously frozen bananas. Freezing them seems to break down the cell walls and makes the muffins moister.

^If you only want to make apple muffins, just double the apple and skip step 6.

Is Your Sleep Obstructed?

 

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Sleep apnea is when there is a pause in breathing while asleep. There are 3 different kinds of sleep anpea – obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive is when the airway has become narrow, blocked or floppy. Central is when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that are responsible for controlling breathing. Mixed is a combination of the two. This article will focus on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), although many of the causes and treatments are similar for all kinds.

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It is estimated that between 3% and 7% of the population have OSA but this number could be higher as many people do not seek treatment. Older men who are obese are more likely to have sleep apnea, but it can effect women and any age group including children. Obesity is the biggest risk factor for OSA so it is projected that OSA will become more common as the population becomes bigger and bigger.

 

OSA can cause increased blood pressure and is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with an increased risk of stroke, daytime drowsiness, motor vehicle accidents and lowered quality of life. Rates of depression are also higher in people with OSA so it is very important to seek treatment.

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Treatments

Starting to exercise is the first place to begin if you have OSA. Studies have found that OSA improved even when participants didn’t lost weight. This can have a big effect on improving overall quality of life as decreased OSA will result in a better sleep leading to more energy during the day. Then you will be able to exercise more! You want to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. See my blog article on exercise for weight loss for more details.

Studies have shown that acupuncture and herbal medicine are both safe and effective treatment options for OSA.

It is also important to avoid sleeping on your back. Purchase a pillow that encourages you to sleep on your side or you can sew a tennis ball into the back of your pyjamas to keep yourself on your side.

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Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol within 6 hours of sleep will worsen sleep apnea.

Quit smoking. Easier said than done, but smoking is another major risk factor for OSA.

Sleep hygiene is also very important.  Read my article about sleep to make sure your are doing everything you can to get a good night’s sleep.

If you think you may have OSA it is important to see your healthcare provider as even mild cases are associated with increased morbidity. For natural treatments, contact your local naturopath and start on your path to better sleep and better health.