Did you know that the gastrointestinal tract (also known as ‘the gut’) is the body’s largest sensory organ?
With a huge surface area, the gut consists of mainly smooth muscle and works on an unconscious(involuntary) level. It contains millions of nerves which are different from those found elsewhere in the body and the nerve network in the Gut is as extensive and complex as the nerve network in the brain.
We have many microbes in and on our body of which up to several pounds of them are in the gut and microbiologists have confirmed that we have 10 times as many microbial cells (bacteria, fungi, viruses) in our body as human cells! This means microbes outnumber our own cells by 10 to 1. Therefore 90% of cells within us are microbes.
Humans carry about 3-4 pounds of beneficial bacteria in their digestive tract. Our gut microbiome (the community of bacteria and their genetic material living in the gut) plays a very significant part in human health and wellbeing.
Microbes in our body depend on us for survival and that’s pretty well known. However, its lesser known that we depend on microbes for our survival too and that’s where Probiotics come in….
‘Probiotics’ – what are they?
Probiotics are often referred to as the ‘good’ bacteria which have a role in the maintenance of good health.
They mainly come from 2 families of bacteria called Lactobacillus and Bifodobacteria and play a major role in controlling harmful bacteria.
Probiotics have been around and used for years in different food preparations all over the world such as Sauerkraut, sourdough bread, live yoghurt and crème fraiche.
Currently, probiotics are being sold in tablet form and scientific research is showing how beneficial they can be. Research is proving positive not only on preventing and helping with gastro-intestinal problems but also with boosting immune system, lactose intolerance, weight loss and diabetes.
Probiotics also found naturally occurring in breast milk and are highly beneficial to a new-born baby.
What do probiotics do?
Probiotics maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut. They prevent harmful bacteria from taking over and causing gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea and intestinal pain. They do this in the following ways:
Consume nutrients which fuel ‘bad’ bacteria leaving the bad bacteria less able to survive.
Bind to ‘receptor sites’ on cells which are usually occupied by bad bacteria so block the bad bacteria from affecting many cells.
They produce lactic acid which inhibits growth of harmful bacteria.
They produce fatty acids (for example Butyrene) which are beneficial for the villi in our intestines. Butyrene reduces inflammation and acts as fuel for the immune cells in the gut so enabling the villi to become stronger. The villi play a major part in absorption of nutrients and when in optimal condition, they can effectively select optimal nutrients and discard harmful ones.
Probiotics – Treatment of illnesses and Health benefits
Treatment of gastrointestinal problems.
Immune system boost – Studies have shown that both the elderly and high-performance athletes are less prone to catching infections such as colds if they take probiotics regularly.
Assist with overcoming obesity.
Inflammatory joint disease
General health and wellbeing – a probiotic daily will suffice although after a course of antibiotics (which wipe out both bad a good bacteria) or during times of high stress, a stronger probiotic will be necessary.
Please note that when taking a probiotic, its best to take for at least a month to feel the benefits. Also, there are specific probiotic bacterium for specific conditions as the genes in probiotic bacteria vary and some are specifically used to treat GI problems whilst others are to boost immunity.
Picture - What are ‘Prebiotics’ and what do they do?
Prebiotics are ‘Probiotic’ fuel.
Therefore, for Prebiotics to have any benefit, probiotics must already be present in the gut. Prebiotics give the ‘good’ bacteria a healthy boost and encourage an increase in the ratio of ‘good’ bacteria to ‘bad’ bacteria.
Some examples of Prebiotics are:
Consumption of Probiotics
Probiotics are found naturally occurring and have been used for many years in foods all over the world such as live yogurt, kefir(which has some amazing health benefits), sourdough bread, crème fraiche and sauerkraut. Consuming probiotics in foods are advantageous as the natural buffering of stomach acid by foods enhances the stability of consumed probiotic.
However, a very potent method of introducing probiotics is by supplementation. Probiotic supplements are now made by culturing the beneficial bacteria in the laboratory then freeze drying the bacteria which is a method used to maintain their efficiency and stability. These freeze-dried bacteria will remain stable for many months without the need for refrigeration. On swallowing, the contact with moisture in the body activates the freeze-dried bacteria back to life.
As mentioned before, it would be advantageous to take supplements with food (which naturally buffers stomach acid) to enhance stability of the probiotic.
Probiotics – The future.
Extensive research is currently being carried out on probiotics and illnesses correlated with our gut microbiome include allergies, asthma, weight problems, infections, inflammation, lactose intolerance as well as the usual gastrointestinal problems.
Recent studies have also linked our gut microbiome balance to depression and much research is still being carried out on this. It is now known that the health of the gut can have a direct effect on our brain and an earlier study in 2013 found that humans taking a cocktail of bacteria for 4 weeks were found to have alterations in the areas of the brain processing both emotions and pain. It also been shown that IBS sufferers have above average occurrences of anxiety and depression. Research has been ongoing since these studies and there is much evidence to suggest that diet including probiotics affect mental and emotional states.
Managing Microbiome balance is on the cutting edge of scientific research and who knows what treatment will become available from this in future years. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to take care of your own gut microbiome by eating healthily and ensuring some intake of probiotic in the form of either food or supplement in particular during times of stress or following a course of antibiotics.
Forest Therapies and Wellbeing
Research is out there that recommends a healthy lifestyle in order to take a proactive approach to debilitating disease like as Alzheimer's. 8 hours sleep, less sugar, healthy fats and remaining active both physically and mentally are all things in our control and will lower your chances of developing the disease.
Here are 10 foods you should add into your diet that can help improve your mind:
1. Leafy greens. Some ideas: kale, spinach, collard and mustard greens. These foods are high in folate and B9, which improve cognition and reduce depression.
2. Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, brussels sprouts and kale contain folate and have cartenoids that lower homo-cysteine (an amino acid linked with cognitive impairment).
3. Beans and legumes. These foods contain more folate, iron, magensium and potassium that can help with general body function and neuron firing. They also contain choline, a B vitamin that boosts acetylcholine (a neuro transmitter critical for brain function).
4. Whole grains. Good bets include quinoa, kammut and gluten-free oats (not bread and cereal)
5. Berries and cherries. These fruits contain anthocyanin that protects the brain from further damage caused by free radicals. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and contain antioxidants and lots of vitamin C and E.
6. Pumpkin, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots and beets. These vegetables, if not overcooked, contain vitamin A, folate and iron that help with cognition.
7. Omega 3s. People whose diets contain daily omega 3s have been shown to have 26% less risk of having brain lesions that cause dementia compared with those who do not. These fatty acids help the brain to stay in top shape. You can get your omega fatty acids from fish, flax seeds, olive oil (not safflower) or by taking a good quality omega 3 supplement.
8. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts and pecans. All of these nuts contain omega-3s and omega-6s, vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6 and magnesium.
9. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. These seeds contain zinc, choline and vitamin E.
10. Cinnamon, sage, tumeric and cumin. Theses spices can all help to break up brain plaque and reduce inflammation of the brain which can cause memory issues. In addition to eating the foods listed above, you’ll want to decrease the risk of illnesses that can make your brain age such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
Other things to avoid are the toxins in your food, water, soil and environment, unnecessary stress, caffeine, sugar, drugs, alcohol and sugar.
Encourage healthy decisions, conscientiousness, positive peer groups, a clean environment, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, 8 hours of sleep, stress management and gratitude for your life.
These are all areas that we cover on our corporate programme via our Zest! portal.
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Anxiety over a project at work… a marital spat… financial trouble… health problems… the list of potential stressors is endless, but wherever your stress is coming from, it likely starts in your head.
An inkling of worry might soon grow into an avalanche of anxiety. It might keep you up at night, your mind racing with potential "what ifs" and worst-case scenarios. Worse still, if the problem is ongoing, your stressed-out state may become your new normal -- extra stress hormones, inflammation, and all.
While beneficial if you are in imminent danger, that heightened state of stress – the one that makes your survival more likely in the event of an attack, for instance – is damaging over time.
The thoughts in your head are only the beginning or, perhaps more aptly, are the wheels that set the harmful mechanism known as chronic stress into motion – and, once spinning, it's very easy to spiral out of control.
As reported in Science News: "Stress research gained traction with a master stroke of health science called the Whitehall Study, in which British researchers showed that stressed workers were suffering ill effects. Scientists have since described how a stressed brain triggers rampant hormone release, which leads to imbalanced immunity and long-term physical wear and tear.
Those effects take a toll quite apart from the anxiety and other psychological challenges that stressed individuals deal with day to day."
Stress: It's Not Just in Your Head
You know the saying "when it rains, it pours"? This is a good description of chronic stress in your body, because it makes virtually everything harder. The term psychological stress is, in fact, misleading, because no stress is solely psychological… it's not all in your head. Let's say you lose your job or are struggling from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from abuse you suffered as a child.
Excess stress hormones are released, including cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Your stress response becomes imbalanced; it's not shutting off.
Your immune system suffers as a result, and epigenetic changes are rapidly occurring. The stress is triggering systemic low-grade inflammation, and suddenly your blood pressure is up, your asthma is flaring, and you keep getting colds. That cut on your leg just doesn't seem to want to heal, and your skin is a mess. You're having trouble sleeping and, on an emotional level, you feel like you're nearing burnout. Stress is very much like a snowball rolling down a mountain, gaining momentum, gaining speed and growing until suddenly it crashes. That crash, unfortunately, is often at the expense of your health.
More heart attacks and other cardiovascular events also occur on Mondays than any other day of the week. This "Monday cardiac phenomenon" has been recognised for some time, and has long been believed to be related to work stress. During moments of high stress, your body releases hormones such as norepinephrine, which the researchers believe can cause the dispersal of bacterial biofilms from the walls of your arteries. This dispersal can allow plaque deposits to suddenly break loose, thereby triggering a heart attack.
Stress contributes to heart disease in other ways as well. Besides norepinephrine, your body also releases other stress hormones that prepare your body to either fight or flee. One such stress hormone is cortisol.
When stress becomes chronic, your immune system becomes increasingly desensitised to cortisol, and since inflammation is partly regulated by this hormone, this decreased sensitivity heightens the inflammatory response and allows inflammation to get out of control. Chronic inflammation is a hallmark not only of heart disease but many chronic diseases.
Learning how to recognise stress, understanding the effects that it has on the body and knowing how to keep your body in balance so to minimise risk, is an important part of health and wellness.
Natural medicine has long held that these round purple berries give long-life health benefits that far exceed their tiny size. Native to North America, blueberries are rich in proanthocyanidin, contributing to blueberry benefits that include fighting cancer, losing weight and glowing, young skin. Blueberries are also rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and other antioxidants that lead to its numerous other health benefits.
Blueberry Nutrition Facts
Blueberries are one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world and contain large levels and a broad range of antioxidants. The ORAC score of blueberries is an incredible 9,621, which makes it one of the highest antioxidant foods in the world. Consuming just one cup of blueberries provides the following nutrients:
Blueberries Research on Gallic Acid
Of all the nutritional components of the blueberry, gallic acid stands out for a couple reasons. One, most people have never heard of it, and it is definitely worthy of mention. Second, it has been thoroughly researched. Almost 6,500 peer-reviewed scientific articles referenced gallic acid, so it’s safe to assume that the health claims laid out here are anything but “experimental.” Third, as the research indicates, gallic acid is a powerful antifungal/antiviral agent and is an extremely effective antioxidant.
This combination makes gallic acid-rich foods like blueberries a natural medicine powerhouse not to be reckoned with!
Top 7 Health Benefits of Blueberries
1. Combat Aging
Antioxidants are your best friend to keep Father Time at bay. They help reverse damage done by toxins and free radicals and help your body defend itself against dangerous pathogens. Not only are blueberries rich in antioxidants as a whole, but they are especially rich in proanthocyanidins, which have been observed to have additional anti-aging properties in several animal studies.
Much of the research has linked this to the ability of proanthocyanidins to reverse inflammation, the No. 1 of chronic disease in the world. Inflammation is at the root of most diseases and taxes the body like no other — it causes heart disease, diabetes, cancer and almost every illness known to man.
2. Boost the Brain
Because they contain such a high amount of phenols, particularly gallic acid, blueberries are known as “neuro-protective agents.” According to researchers from Iran, this means that they can literally protect our brains from degeneration, neurotoxicity and oxidative stress. Some other foods high in gallic acid are known for their brain power as well. Brain foods that boost focus and memory include:
Another study found that consuming more blueberries slowed cognitive decline and improved memory and motor function. The scientists in this study believed these results were due to the antioxidants in blueberries that protect the body from oxidative stress and reduce inflammation.
3. Fight Cancer
Clinical studies have even discovered that, unlike conventional strategies, gallic acid-rich foods like blueberries can kill cancer without harming healthy cells. For instance, the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology published a study evaluating the anticancer effects gallic acid has on breast cancer cells. Like countless studies before, researchers discovered that blueberries and gallic acid slow and even destroy breast cancer. Blueberry benefits cancer primarily due to their wide range of antioxidants, with gallic acid the primary and resveratrol also offering support.
4. Support Digestion
Being a natural source of soluble and insoluble fiber, blueberries can help regulate your gastrointestinal track by just eating a couple handfuls a day. In fact, University of Maine researcher Vivian Chi-Hua Wu states that, “Addition of wild blueberries to diet can alter the balance of gut microbe in favor of members of the Actinobacteria phylum.” Wu and her team discovered that wild blueberries have prebiotic potential, which promotes growth of good bacteria (probiotics) in the colon and promotes digestive and health benefit.
5. Promote Heart Health
The journal Circulation published a study showing that eating strawberries and blueberries together has a superpower tag-team effect that actually decreases your risk of heart attack by up to 33 percent. After conducting research with more than 93,000 women 25 to 42 years of age, they did not observe this type of benefit in other types of antioxidants that were studied. Blueberry health benefits have also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol naturally, raise HDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure naturally.
6. Benefit the Skin
Blueberry extract skin care products are becoming very popular around the world. It’s been reported that the wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals help restore hormone balance, which counteracts acne. That makes blueberries an excellent home remedy for acne. Also, blueberries contain resveratrol, which is proven to reduce damage from over-sun exposure and can naturally darken your skin. Along with blueberry skin benefits, they have also been shown to naturally treat macular degeneration and improve vision.
7. Aid Weight Loss
Being low in calories, low on the glycemic index and high in fiber, everyone has at three reasons to eat blueberries to lose weight! According to the Mayo Clinic: Because low glycemic index foods are absorbed more slowly, they stay in your digestive tract longer. This is why these foods are sometimes called slow carbs. These foods may help control appetite and delay hunger cues, which can help with weight management. Balanced blood sugar also can help reduce the risk of insulin resistance.
As with all foods, nothing on its own is a miracle cure for anything, but we need to be aware of the benefits of good, targeted nutrition and ensure that we get a balanced daily intake of nutrition, alongside other wellness techniques in order to minimise our chances of developing serious illness..
By Debbie Goodridge
Reaching and maintaining a healthier weight contributes to your overall health and well being. Losing even a few pounds or preventing further weight gain has health benefits. Are you ready to make changes in your lifestyle and move toward a healthier weight? Here are some tips to get you started:
Start with a plan for lifelong health. Focus on the big picture— achieving overall good health—not just short-term weight loss.
Set healthy, realistic goals. You are more likely to succeed in reaching realistic goals when you make changes
step-by-step. Start with one or two specific, small changes at a time. Track your progress by keeping a food and
Get a personalized eating plan from a qualified health coach. If you have special dietary needs, consult a registered dietitian for a customized plan.
Eat at least three meals a day and plan your meals ahead of time. Whether you’re eating at home, packing a lunch or eating out, an overall eating plan for the day will help keep you on track.
Balance your plate with a variety of foods. Half your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, about one fourth with lean meat, poultry or fish, and one fourth with grains.
Start your meal with low calorie foods like fruits, vegetables and salads. These foods are packed with nutrients your body needs.
Focus on your food. Pick one place to sit down and eat at home. Eating while doing other things may lead to
eating more than you think. Also, switching from a large plate to a smaller one may help you feel satisfied with
Know when you’ve had enough to eat. Quit before you feel full or stuffed. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your body is getting food. When your brain gets this message, you stop feeling hungry. So, fast eaters—slow down and give your brain a chance to get the word.
Get plenty of fibre from fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Fibre can help you feel full longer and lower your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Watch portion sizes to manage your calorie intake. This is the key to an effective weight management plan.
Snack smart. Include snacks as part of your daily calorie allowance and limit portions to one serving. Plan for nutritious snacks to prevent between-meal hunger. Keep portable, healthy snacks in your desk, handbag or car.
Find your balance between food and physical activity. Regular physical activity is important for your overall health and fitness—plus, it helps control body weight, promotes a feeling of well-being and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.
Pick activities you like and do each for at least 10 minutes at a time. Aim for a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes or more each week of moderate activity such as brisk walking. If you are currently inactive, check with your doctor concerning increased physical activity.
©2014 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Authored by Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics staff registered dietitian nutritionists.
Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ADA Complete Food & Nutrition Guide
Many people store veggies in a cool place such as the fridge, the garage etc, the theory being that this helps them last longer and the cooler the better. Unfortunately, this is not the case with potatoes. I often come across clients that store their potatoes in the fridge as standard. When potatoes get chilled, the starch turns to sugar and they become tough. Although they look okay, when they are cooked there is a risk that they can emit harmful properties that they wouldn’t have if they were stored correctly. They can even become potentially toxic.
Basically, when a potato has been chilled, the sucrose (sugar) contained within them is broken down by an enzyme named invertase and converted into fructose and glucose which is the main sugar manufactured by your body and your chief source of energy. Potatoes also contain the amino acid asparagine and when this is combined with the fructose and glucose it forms acrylamide when they are baked or heated in anyway. When amino acids and sugars react together they produce thousands of different chemicals and starchy foods particularly, contain high levels of acrylamide when browned or baked to a high temperature above 120 degrees C. This can also happen in vegetables, grains and even coffee. Foods containing high levels of carbohydrates are most likely to bring about this chemical reaction.
Several years ago, the Swedish National Food Authority named acrylamide as a genotoxic carcinogen linked to an increased risk of cancer. As with any chronic illness, there are many factors to consider such as weight, lifestyle, environment and lack of nutrients. Raw food is a great way of consuming nutrient rich foods without heat removing some of the nutrient dense values. A daily smoothie is a wonderful way of getting raw foods into your body.
Most processed foods, because they've been subjected to high temperatures, contain acrylamide. Crisps are a perfect example.
You can also reduce acrylamide formation by soaking raw potatoes in water for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking.
Sweet Potatoes contain two important antioxidant enzymes: copper/zinc superoxide dismutase and catalase. The dark flesh colour also contains beta-carotene, another important antioxidant which is converted to vitamin A in your body and helps protect your eyesight.
The purple sweet potato variety contains more than three times the antioxidant power due to anthocyanins, also related to their pigmentation, which help fight several types of cancer, including stomach, colon, lung and breast.
In their unprocessed form, white potatoes provide nutrients such as vitamin C, copper, B vitamins, potassium, manganese, phosphorus and fibre, along with antioxidant phytonutrients.
In conclusion potatoes are fine as long as they are, stored correctly, not eaten excessively, not overcooked/burnt and I would always recommend eating the skins and choosing organic.
By Debbie Goodridge