Many of us inherently feel that our digestive system is connected to our moods. Anxiety can trigger nausea or diarrhoea. This concept is embedded in our language. We have “butterflies in our stomach” when we are nervous, or have a “gut reaction” to a person or situation.
We are now finding out more and more that our digestive system and our brain function and moods are connected. And it is not just that our brain affects our gut, but that our gut affects our brain, too.
DID YOU KNOW?
Dietary changes, as well as certain nutrients and herbal medicines can be instrumental in improving both gut and brain health together. Get in touch with Tracey today to investigate your gut-brain health.
FEELING THE PRESSURE?
My thoughts are with you all over the coming weeks, as the pressures of an often increased workload collide with more frequent social and family commitments. This time of year is a great opportunity to hone your "present moment" skills. Can you keep yourself focused on just what you need to do right now, taking one step, one day at a time? Christmas will come, and it will go, and it may not be perfect, but if you start by showing some loving kindness for yourself in the lead up to it, you will not only enjoy yourself a bit more, but be teaching by example to those around you that they don't have to rush either.
Here are just a few tips that I truly hope will help you to enjoy your Christmas experience:
Even though the arrival of summer has been a bit slow here in the south it is definitely important to be thinking about sun protection. We are all aware of New Zealand’s astronomical skin cancer rates and want to avoid this.
While burning is bad, some regular sun exposure on the skin is still very important. Vitamin D is produced in this way, and most of us in NZ are low in this vital nutrient. Also, research shows that it is high dose, irregular sun exposure that increases our risk of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. Studies in people who are regularly exposed to sun in low doses, such as people who work outdoors, show a correlation with lower risk of melanoma.
So while the evidence around sunscreen and the risk of skin cancer is mixed, it is still important to reduce the risk of sunburn, which we know is dangerous.
In the past ten years or so, much attention has been given to the ingredients in sunscreens. People want to know that they are not only protecting us from the sun, but that they are non-toxic to our bodies.
The best type of broad spectrum sunscreen you can use is zinc oxide. Zinc is a mineral sunscreen which sits on top of the skin rather than being absorbed. It is more of a sun “block” as it is widely believed that it reflects and scatters the sun’s rays rather than chemically “screening” the sun out. This is why zinc oxide sunscreens often leave a whiteish hue on your skin.
While most sunscreens protect well against UVB rays, the ones that cause sunburn, not as many protect well against UVA rays, which can still damage skin and lead to skin cancer but without the tell-tale burn. While zinc may not have the highest SPF, it does provide a good balance between UVA and UVB protection.
Zinc oxide is also a highly stable molecule. In the last few years, reports have come out that the chemicals in sunscreens may themselves be carcinogenic. This is because some of the chemicals in sunscreen can break down when exposed to UV light, causing free radical damage. Zinc’s stability means that it does not break down, and is safer than many other chemical sunscreens.
While studies show that the actual zinc is not absorbed into the living layers of skin tissue and into the body, zinc is an essential mineral for humans. This is in direct contrast with any of the chemical sunscreens, none of which belong in our bodies.
This chemical rates highest for being a health concern. It is a known endocrine-disruptor and allergen. It has been found in the urine, blood, and breast milk of large samples of the population, meaning that it sticks around in the body, where it can potentially wreak havoc. I recommend that you avoid it.
While one of the best broad spectrum chemicals for both UVA and UVB protection (next to zinc), avobenzone is one of those chemicals which can break down in the presence of UV light, creating damaging free radicals. Zinc works at least as well, and is much safer.
One of the ways in which manufacturers of zinc oxide sunscreens have tried to make them more appealing to the general public is through the use of nanoparticles. This makes the appearance of the zinc sunscreen less white and chalky. Nanoparticles are simply very small particles- so instead of using a normal, relatively large molecule of zinc oxide, they are using tiny zinc oxide molecules.
Concerns have arisen about the safety of nanoparticles- are they absorbed into the body because they are so small? Can they cause damage?
Essentially, the jury is still out. The Environmental Working Group, a US-based organisation that keeps a close eye on such matters, states that at this stage, the research indicates that nanoparticles in sunscreen don’t penetrate the skin, and that the smaller particles actually work better as a sunscreen. They also state that given the broad definition of the term nanoparticle, companies which state they are using “non-nano” zinc or titanium dioxide may not be telling the truth.
If ingested or inhaled, these nanoparticles could be damaging to the body. For that purpose, I would recommend attempting to avoid nanoparticles, and especially avoiding spray or aerosol sunscreens containing them. (In general I think these kinds of sunscreens increase the risk of taking in chemicals which were never meant to be eaten!).
At the end of the day, sunscreen should be your last resort- not your main source of protection. Get some measured, unprotected sun exposure every day if possible, and then be sun smart the rest of the time. Wear clothes, spend some time in the shade, keep your eyes protected, and regularly apply sunscreen when needed.
Enjoy your summer safely!
4 things you didn't know about artificial sweeteners
As I mentioned in my last article, sugar is going through a bad PR moment. Recent documents have come to light showing that the sugar industry played a considerable part in condemning saturated fat in the 1960s, and downplaying the contribution that sugar can have towards issues such as heart disease.
So while we spent about 40 years being told that saturated fat and cholesterol were the bad guys, our sugar consumption was rapidly rising - causing at least as many health problems.
Now that it’s finally in the limelight, how are we to satisfy our sweet cravings without consuming harmful amounts of sugar?
This is where many people have looked to artificial and no-calorie sweeteners, such as aspartame (found in NutraSweet and Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), and sucralose (Splenda). They don’t decay your teeth, and contain no calories so shouldn’t add to issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, right? Wrong.
1. Higher aspartame ingestion is directly linked to obesity
One of the main reasons that people consume artificial sweeteners is to reduce their calorie intake, believing that they are a better option than sugar. This is not the case. When we crave sugar and then consume it, our body is rewarded by an influx of calories or energy. With an artificial sweetener, we don’t get the reward, and therefore our cravings continue, leading to increased calorie consumption and weight gain.
2. Artificial sweeteners affect blood sugar levels and can lead to diabetes.
Research has shown us that aspartame affects insulin output and glucose tolerance, meaning it affects blood sugar levels and can lead to metabolic syndrome and diabetes, just like sugar can.
Unstable blood sugar levels, either due to sugar or artificial sweetener consumption, can contribute to inflammation, diabetic complications, and other chronic diseases.
3. Artificial sweeteners are linked to heart disease, just like sugar.
Longer-term studies are now also linking aspartame, as well as other artificial sweeteners such as saccharine, sucralose, and cyclamate, to increased risk of heart disease and chronic kidney disease.
While it was previously thought that very high amounts of sweeteners needed to be ingested for adverse effects to occur, this study was done on just two servings a day, over 12 years.
Considering that artificial sweeteners are found in a wide variety of food and medications, this is not an unrealistically high dose.
4. Artificial sweeteners can accumulate in the body.
Artificial sweeteners are being found in urine, blood, and liver samples of humans, showing that many don’t break down well in the body.
Studies in mice have also shown altered brain and nervous system function following high dose aspartame ingestion.
All this to say that swapping out your sugar for a low-calorie alternative isn’t doing you any favours!
WHAT TO DO?
The thing with sweet cravings is the more you eat sweets, the more you crave sweet. But the opposite is true as well. The less sweet you eat, the less you will crave. Reducing the amount of processed sugary foods you eat, while difficult in the beginning, will change your tastebuds, even out your blood sugar levels, and calm your cravings.
Ensuring that you are eating protein with each meal and snack can also help. Keep nuts and seeds handy for snacks, and eat beans, legumes, eggs, fish, chicken or meat with each meal.
And when you do want sweets, try and consume them in whole-food form. Fruit, and occasionally using natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup are best. The more we reduce sweet foods from our life, the less we crave them; and the less obesity, blood sugar imbalances, and inflammation we will have!
Now it’s your turn. Do you have trouble with sugar cravings? Let us know what works or doesn’t work for you in the comments below.
And if you want to unhook yourself from sweet cravings, talk with us. Our meal plans are not only easy, but can sort out cravings within just a few days!
Now that I’ve given you the good news- the foods you should eat- it’s time for the bad news- the foods you shouldn’t.
These foods (and for some of them, I use the term “food” loosely), have been shown again and again to be harmful to us. Some of them aren’t even real food, but “food-like products”- highly processed, with no nutritional value, and some very serious health ramifications if eaten regularly.
TAKE THEM OUT:
Just like healthy fats reduce inflammation, unhealthy fats promote it. Trans fats are man-made, by turning a liquid oil into a solid oil.
Margarine and vegetable shortening are common examples, but trans fats are also often found in commercial baked goods such as cookies, pastries, and pies. These fats are cheaper than butter and last longer than if they were in their liquid form, which is why they get used regularly.
Does your margarine say “Trans-Fat Free”? This doesn’t mean you are safe.
These new spreads are made with another man-made chemical process called “interestification”, and the jury is out as to whether this is safe for humans.
2. Refined sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar is currently going through a bad PR moment, and unfortunately, it is well justified.
While our bodies are meant to intake small amounts of sugar from natural food sources such as fruits and vegetables, the quantity of sugar that we are eating as a species is astronomical.
Sugar found in fruits and vegetables also contains high amounts of fibre, which slows down the release of the sugar, as well as a wide array of other valuable nutrients.
Sugar found in fizzy drinks, lollies, and commercial cakes and biscuits contain little to no nutritional value or fibre.
The result? The sugar goes straight into your bloodstream, causing major blood sugar fluctuations.
Too much sugar in the bloodstream causes tissue damage, and what comes to the rescue? Inflammation.
Repeat this pattern at every meal 3-5 times daily, and you are left with major chronic inflammation.
Artificial sweeteners are not a better option, either.
Aspartame, the most commonly used artificial sweetener, is made up of phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid. While currently considered safe by most government regulators, it has been linked to a host of health issues.
We’ll be covering this topic in depth very soon- keep your eyes peeled.
3. Omega-6 Oils
I know, another section about fat, but it is important when it comes to inflammation!
One of the reasons that Omegas are so important, is that our body requires a specific ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids.
Before the advent of modern agriculture, it is believed that humans ate about 1:1 or 1:3 of Omega-3s to Omega-6s. These days it is more like 1:10 or 1:20. That’s a lot more Omega-6 in our diet! So why is this?
Modern agriculture has promoted the use of cheap, highly processed, often highly sprayed and genetically engineered Omega-6 oils. Think canola, soy, and corn.
Because these oils are so prevalent, we are eating them in much higher quantities than we would have when we were getting our Omega-6s from eating whole plants, nuts and seeds.
Omega-3s and Omega-6s work on competing biochemical pathways. Eat plenty of Omega-3s, your body makes anti-inflammatory compounds. Eat too many Omega-6s, and your body makes pro-inflammatory compounds.
Another problem with these vegetable oils is that they tend to be highly refined. The refining process often uses heavy mechanical and chemical means to extract the oil from the seed of the plant.
This creates an unstable product, which is easily oxidised, meaning it can go rancid very easily. Oxidised oils create free radicals in the body, and are pro-inflammatory.
Even if these oils do not become oxidised in the extracting process, they can become oxidised in storage. These oils are usually stored in clear, plastic bottles, with no regard for the fact that they are easily oxidised by both light and heat.
Several studies have shown that oxidised oils can cause brain damage and inflammation, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
What to do? Swap out your Omega-6 oils for healthier alternatives:
Tip- Don’t get overwhelmed
Making simple changes one step at a time is the best way to ensure that what you do is sustainable.
You don’t need to overhaul your diet immediately, but simply being aware of the way these foods affect your body can lead you to make healthy changes which can dramatically improve your health and your quality of life.
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Want to do something more about it now? Concerned about an inflammatory condition that is affecting your life? Book now for a one-on-one session with me to get to the root of your issues, and to guide you back to optimal health so that you can live your best life.
Tracey Loughran is a naturopath and natural health expert with over 10 years of experience.