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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What’s the deal with fibre?

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Fibre is a carbohydrate that is neither digested nor absorbed in the small intestine. High fibre diets are associated with lower cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer as well as improved cholesterol, irritable bowel disease, uptake of calcium, Mg and iron, and lower body weight. Fibre also helps us to feel full and improves our immune function. It reduces the prevalence and duration of infectious diarrhea and antibiotic use in children. Adequate fibre intake is also needed to prevent constipation.

I often write about the importance of our gut bacteria, or microbiome, and how dysbiosis of these bacteria is associated with many different health problems including weight gain, inflammation and depression. Fibre is what these bacteria need to grow. But different bacteria like to eat different types of fibre so to have a diverse microbiome it is important to eat a variety of high fibre foods. If these good bacteria don’t have enough food in the form of fibre, they may turn to eating the mucous lining of the gut causing chronic inflammation.

Increasing your fibre intake will have an effect on your gut bacteria within a few weeks, but fibre needs to be eaten every day. Bacteria don’t like being starved for even a day. And if you stop eating enough fibre, the gut bacteria will decrease again.

Studies show that gut bacteria decrease over generations of low fibre diets. So if you, your children, and your grandchildren all don’t eat enough fibre, you can actually wipe out entire species of bacteria. This leads to an increased risk for all the diseases associated with gut dysbiosis that I have previously discussed. And even if your great-grandchildren eat a super healthy diet with lots of fibre, they cannot increase the number of bacteria of a species that isn’t there to start with.

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Some fibre foods that are great for specific health promoting bacteria are leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans. Other foods that are high in fibre include whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruits.

Most people consume about 15g of fibre per day, but this is not enough to promote health. Fibre intake should be at least 25g/day.  This really isn’t hard to do. If you have muesli with almonds, sunflower seeds, sultanas and dried apple for breakfast, an apple for morning tea, a sandwich with 2 slices of wholegrain bread for lunch, a pear for a snack, and include brown rice and some carrots for dinner you will have consumed 26g of fibre.  Too easy!

When looking to increase the fibre in your diet, try to avoid white foods. Have sweet potato instead of white potato, brown rice instead of white (it tastes better anyway) and wholegrain bread instead of white bread. Increase your fibre intake slowly until you are getting at least 25g per day.

Start increasing your fibre intake today! Your gut bacteria will thank you (and so will future generations).

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about fibre here:

10% Human

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I just can’t stop talking about the importance of healthy gut bacteria.  I borrowed the title for this article from a book I have been reading by Alanna Collen.  In it she discusses the importance of gut bacteria, also known as your microbiome.  The title refers to the percentage of our bodies that are actually human cells.  Of all the cells we walk around with each day, only 10% by number are actually our skin, blood, organs, tissues, etc.  The rest are mostly bacteria with some fungi and viruses. Slowly science is realizing just how important all these bugs in and on our bodies really are.  In order for us to evolve, we have had to hire out some of our essential functions.  These bacteria help break down plant fibers, fight off bad bacteria, create vitamin B12 and K and shape the intestinal wall just to name a few.  And in return we give them a nice place to live with lots of food.  But what happens when this symbiotic relationship gets disrupted?

Most people think their gut is only for digesting food, but in fact the digestive tract is the central area for the nervous, hormonal and immune systems.   This means that an imbalance in this area can have far reaching, and seemingly unrelated, effects throughout the body.

Improper or lacking gut bacteria (dysbiosis) are associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and food intolerances.  Any of these problems can cause debilitating symptoms.  Several autoimmune diseases are also associated with dysbiosis.  These include rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Type I diabetes and lupus.  Dollarphotoclub_64564172.jpg

Our digestive tract and our little bacterial friends play a role in regulating our mood.  One of the functions of gut bacteria is to make neurotransmitters such as GABA.  GABA is the calming chemical in the brain that decreases anxiety and helps relieve anxious depression.  Therefore a lack of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and depression.  Gut bacteria are also involved in other mental health disorders.  A recent study found that supplementing a baby with probiotics (supplement form of good gut bacteria) decreased the incidence of ADHD when these children became teenagers.

Dysbiosis is also associated with autism, allergies, eczema, asthma, some cancers and obesity. And these are just the health problems we know of so far.  Research is only just beginning to understand the importance of the bugs that live in our digestive tract.  Scientists keep looking for a genetic cause for diseases because we have the technology to change some genes, at least for the coming generation.  But most of these disorders didn’t exist 100 years ago.  Human genetics have not changed that fast.  So that means something must have changed in our environment and lifestyles.

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How to Keep Your Microbiome Happy

There are some things that disrupt our microbiome that we don’t have much control over. Caesarean sections save baby’s lives but this means that they don’t get exposed to mother’s bacteria in the vaginal canal at birth. Formula has also saved lives but formula does not expose the baby to mom’s healthy bacteria. When antibiotics are used correctly they save many lives but these can wipe out a lifetime of healthy gut bacteria leaving a very upset micro biome.  But there are many things you can do yourself to keep your little bacteria friends happy.

Eat fibre. Avoid sugar. Eat lots of fruit and veggies (with the skin on), legumes and whole grains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread. This provides great food for your microbiome as well as making sure everything keeps moving. Gut bacteria thrive on a variety of fibre so try not to eat the same things every day.  Bacteria don’t like it when stool sticks around too long so make sure you eat fibre every day. Sugar only helps to feed the bad bacteria so try to limit your intake.  Read here for more information on the effects of sugar on your body.

Don’t eat preservatives. Preservatives are designed to kill and stop the growth of bacteria, and that is just what they keep on doing inside your body. These pesky chemicals have only been in our diet for less than a century and they are wreaking havoc on our gut bacteria. Avoid products with preservatives listed. ‘Flavouring’ and ‘colouring’ are full of preservatives, which might not be listed separately on the label so avoid any products with these.   Product labels only have to show ingredients that are higher than 10 parts per million, but many preservatives are very effective at even this low level. Keep in mind that food manufacturers are out to make money so they may lie on their labels (even if it is illegal). So if there is a product that doesn’t go off within a few days, don’t eat it!

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Buy organic from the dirty list. Pesticides are also designed to kill. 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. The ‘dirty’ foods with the highest pesticide residues in Australia are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, and tomatoes. To save money, buy these foods organic and buy foods from the ‘clean’ list conventional. The ‘clean’ foods are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage.  Here is a  link to the full American list for 2016.  This list is updated every year.

If you are worried about the state of your gut bacteria or already have symptoms of an imbalance, taking a probiotic supplement may help, but you should seek advice from your local naturopath to make sure you get a good quality one.

The bacteria in your gut are very important to your health and longevity. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about the importance of gut bacteria: