What’s the Best Milk Alternative?

Many of us are deciding to give up cow’s milk. This could be because of allergies, intolerances or moving towards a vegan diet. Luckily, these days there’s a large variety of plant-based alternative milk products available in our supermarkets, but what type is best?

Cow’s Milk

Let’s first take a look at cow’s milk. It is widely available in supermarket shops and comes in three varieties – full fat, semi-skimmed and skimmed. Cow’s milk is a well-known source of calcium and protein as well as vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, iodine and vitamin B12. Cow’s milk is not suitable for anyone with a dairy or lactose allergy or intolerance and reduction may be recommended for people suffering from skin conditions such as eczema (always seek advice of a dietician or nutritionist).

Soya Milk

Soya milk is made from hulled soya beans. It is close nutritionally to cow’s milk in terms of macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat – however, it tends to be lower in calcium, iodine and B vitamins. Many varieties are fortified with these micronutrients so these are the best types to go for. This type of milk tends to be sweeter because it comes from a plant source so you don’t normally need to add extra sugar or sweetener. Soya milk is not suitable for anyone with a soya allergy or intolerance but is perfect for anyone who struggles with dairy. Soya milk is very versatile and can be added to tea, smoothies and cereal.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds which are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and other nutrients. However, experts warn that the process of making hemp seeds into milk can strip many of the essential nutrients so it is best to find a fortified version. It does, however, contain high levels of protein and more essential fatty acids than soya milk. The good fats in hemp milk can help boost our cardiovascular health. Hemp is suitable for anyone with dairy or soya allergies or intolerances. Hemp milk can add a sweet nutty taste to tea or baking.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is made from oats which contains beta-glucan – this contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels. Oat milk naturally contains more B vitamins than soya milk and coconut milk but has lower levels of protein and other vitamins and minerals. While it is suitable for people with milk or soya issues, it may not be suitable for people with gluten allergies or intolerances or celiac disease. It’s good added to your baked goods.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is made from almonds which contains high levels of protein, fats and flavonoids. However, most almond milks are made with only 2% almonds so contains little almond and will not boast the large amounts of nutrients. There are many varieties out there which are fortified with vitamins and minerals. It is suitable for milk and soya allergy/intolerance sufferers but not for nut allergy sufferers. It adds a great nutty taste to cereals and smoothies.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made from coconut cream. It probably has one of the lowest nutritional values out of all the milk alternatives. It contains almost no protein, higher amounts of fat (including saturated fat) and you would need to ensure that you get a fortified version to make up for the lack of nutrition. It also tends to be one of the most expensive. It is suitable for milk and soya allergy/intolerances but possibly not for nut allergies. It can be used for baking and making homemade curries.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is made from rice. It is the least likely to cause allergies as it contains no milk, soya and nuts. It doesn’t naturally contain good amounts of nutrients but is often fortified. It has a higher carbohydrate content so would not be suitable for diabetics. It’s texture resembles cow’s milk so is good in tea and smoothies.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is made from cashews and is one of the newer kids on the block. It is not naturally high in nutrients but is usually fortified. It has a creamy texture that is similar to cow’s milk and has a subtler taste than almond milk. It is suitable for milk and soya allergy/intolerance sufferers but not nut allergy sufferers. It is very versatile and can be included in tea, baking, cereals, smoothies, etc.

 

If you do decide to move away from dairy, seek the advise of a dietician or nutritionist and ensure that you find a brand that is fortified with vitamins and minerals to enure you’re not missing out on essential nutrients such as calcium and B vitamins.

National Vegan Day

Today is National Vegan Day so in celebration, I thought I’d write a blog telling you all about this specific lifestyle:

vegan-diet-

What is a Vegan Diet?

Veganism is a way of life which excludes all products which come from animals. This includes meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey. As well as food, vegans will also exclude clothing which comes from animals such as leather and wool.

So What Do Vegans Eat?

Alternatives to animal products include:

  • Tofu/soya meat alternatives
  • Quorn meat alternatives
  • Dairy alternatives (soya, almond, cashew, coconut, rice, hemp)
  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds

Can you Suffer with Nutritional Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet?

The Vegan diet can give you a boost of many nutrients such as Vitamin C and fibre because you are eating a predominantly plant-based diet. However, you could be at risk of being deficient in some nutrients which you would mainly get from animal alternatives such as:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3 fatty Acids

To ensure you are getting all of these vitamins and minerals in your diet, include:

  • fortified cereals (fortified means they have added vitamins and minerals)
  • fortified milk alternatives
  • yeast extracts such as Marmite (which contains B12)
  • pulses (which contains iron and calcium)
  • leafy green veg (which contains iron)
  • nuts (which contains iron)
  • flaxseeds (which contain Omega 3s)
  • chia seeds (which contains Omega 3s)

You may need to supplement vitamins and minerals if you struggle to get sufficient amounts in your diet but I would always advise visiting a nutritionist or dietician to get advise about this.

Conclusion

As long as you plan it, you can live a healthy life on a vegan diet. It would be difficult to turn vegan overnight so I suggest you look into all the alternatives, try out some meals and seek advise from a practitioner to help you create a balanced plan. If you worry you’re going to miss some of your favourite meaty dinners, don’t be. There are lots of great meat-free alternatives to your favourite dishes. I personally love my lentil cottage pie.

Let’s Celebrate National Egg Day

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Today is National Egg Day. Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse. Here are some of the reasons to include eggs in your diet:

Protein

They contain a great amount of protein which is important for muscle and tissue maintenance and repair. It can also be a useful tool for weight loss because protein can keep you fuller for longer and combining protein with carbohydrates will slow down the rate of blood glucose (sugar) being released into the blood stream so will release steady energy rather than make your blood sugar spike. This makes you less likely to crash and feeling like you need that quick sugar fix.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Eggs are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which are needed for heart health and brain health.

Healthy Immune System

Eggs also contain many beneficial vitamins and minerals which help to maintain a healthy immune system. These include Vitamins B12 and A and minerals such as Biotin and Selenium. This is especially important as we enter the winter months and we become more susceptible to those nasty viruses.

Healthy Bones

Eggs contain Vitamin D which is important for bone health. D aids the absorption of calcium so a deficiency may cause you to be at risk of fractures.

Great for veggies

This is a great meat alternative for vegetarians because of it’s protein content and it contains many of the nutrients that meat contains such as B12.

Other Nutrients

Other nutrients that eggs include are:

  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
  • Vitamin E
  • Choline
  • Folic Acid
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Phosphorous

They’re so versatile

There are many ways to include eggs in your diet. Here are some of the ways to enjoy your eggs:

  • Boiled
  • Scrambled
  • Omelette
  • Eggy bread (French toast)
  • In your baking (pancakes, healthy cakes, etc.)

Kinesiology

Do you suffer from low energy, sleep problems, stress, digestive issues, etc.? Well, let me introduce you to a therapy that could help you … Kinesiology.

Kinesiology

What is Kinesiology?

Kinesiology is a non-invasive alternative therapy which uses muscle testing to find imbalances in the client’s body. Muscle testing simply involves holding an arm or leg in a position that the kinesiologist requests i.e. straight up towards the ceiling (generally, these positions aren’t uncomfortable but you can tell the therapist if any are). The therapist will then push against the arm or leg while you try to resist it. If you’re able to resist it, it shows that the organ that this muscle’s energy system is connected to is balanced. However, if the therapist can move your arm or leg, it shows an imbalance. The kinesiologist will then investigate to find what the body needs in order to balance itself out. This could be nutrition (a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral), you need to release stress, you need a bach remedy or a food intolerance.

Kinesiology can help with the following issues:

  • Stress
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive issues (i.e. food intolerances)
  • Pain
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Mental health (i.e. depression and anxiety)
  • General wellbeing

The kinesiologist will have vitamins, minerals and bach remedies to test. If you want to test for food intolerances, you will need to bring in a sample. This just needs to be a thimble-sized amount and I would suggest bringing it in a glass jar (not plastic as this could affect results). Vitamins, minerals, bach remedies and food will usually be placed on the stomach while the muscles are tested. The therapist will give you homework to help keep your body in balance. This may include a prescription of vitamins and minerals to take daily, relaxation techniques or food to avoid.

My Experience with Kinesiology

I decided to try out kinesiology after I’d heard about the possibility of getting some food tested for intolerances. I had already been tested for some intolerances with wheat being the main one that showed up but I thought I’d get it tested using kinesiology to see if it came up with the same results. I thought I’d also get milk tested. As far as I can tell, I’ve never had a problem with milk but I thought I’d get it checked to see if anything showed up. Another big reason I decided to get a kinesiology test was because in the week leading up to the test, I suddenly broke out in this skin rash on my arms and a little bit on my face. This was after starting a Marine Collagen supplement (which is meant to help improve skin quality). I thought I’d see if I could get this tested to see if this was the cause.

I went to Ashlins Natural Health Clinic in Walthamstow, East London for my kinesiology session. My therapist first had a little chat to discuss what problems I was having and what I would like to gain from the session. I had brought in a small sample of the intolerances for testing. I brought in a small jar of bread to test for wheat, a small jar of milk and the Marine Collagen supplements I had been taking. After a shot discussion, I slipped off my shoes and hopped onto the massage table.

Firstly, he tested me to see if I had any nutritional deficiencies. He did this by testing a muscle (asking me to clear my mind and study the pattern on the ceiling) to see if it goes weak then placing a small jar of a vitamin or mineral supplement on my stomach and testing the muscle again. If the muscle was weak before the supplement was put on my stomach then became strong when the supplement was in contact with me, it means that I need it. He then tested the muscle to see how many I need to take per day and wrote me a little prescription. Luckily, Ashlins sell all the vitamins and minerals at their reception so anyone who needs them can buy them there. He explained that I may only need to take these for a few weeks to balance me out with levels being adjusted or removed at a follow up session. He gave me a multi-vitamin to take immediately and checked my muscles again. I was now in balanced which prepared me for the next part.

He then went on to test the samples I brought in. He started off with wheat. He placed the jar of wheat on my stomach and tested my muscles. Everything apart from the muscle connecting to my brain went limp. As soon as he removed the wheat, I was back in balance. He had a small jar of ancient wheat which he decided to test on me to make sure I wasn’t just reacting to modern wheat. Same thing happened. He advised that I avoid all wheat – which I obviously have been doing already but it’s good to know that he’s in agreement. Next, he tested milk. Unlike the wheat, all my muscles remained strong which means I don’t have a problem with milk. He suggested that in a future, I could bring some cheese to get tested as some people can tolerate milk but not cheese. Finally, he tested the collagen supplements. It was exactly the same result as the wheat. It made me wonder whether my chronic dry skin – which never gets relief no matter what products I use – could be related to fish (I eat a lot of fish). I queried this with him and he suggested that I come back in a couple of days with some fish to get it tested.

I came back a couple of days later with a small jar of cooked salmon. After checking to see if I was in balance, he started to test the fish. He found that the muscles connected to my liver and my GI system went weak. He theorized that if salmon is causing my liver to be out of balance, that could explain my chronic dry skin. He also decided to test fish oil capsules on me. When I was a child, I took fish oil capsules on my mum’s request in order to get my Omega 3s. Unfortunately, the smell seemed to come through my skin so I constantly smelled of fish. Testing the fish oil capsules would show whether I am reacting to the fish itself or whether it could be a reaction to any toxins or pesticides that can sometimes get into fish depending on how it’s caught and farmed. When he tested the fish oils, the muscle connecting to my liver went weak. This shows that I clearly have a sensitivity to fish.

Overall, I have certainly found kinesiology very interesting. While it should always been warned that intolerance tests aren’t always accurate, the results seemed to make sense with what I already knew (with the wheat) and what I was suspicious of (fish). Since cutting out fish, my skin has greatly improved. I will certainly go back to get more food tested.

If you would like to find out more information about Kinesiology or any of the other therapies offered at Ashlins Natural Health clinic, check out their website: http://www.ashlins.co.uk

Food Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Nutrition for sleep

Do you find yourself struggling to catch enough zzzs to help you function day to day? The average adult should aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep but at least one in five Brits say they don’t get enough. One way to help improve the quality and duration of our sleep is taking a look at our diets. Here are my top nutritional tips to help you get those 40 winks.

Protein

Making sure you get enough protein during the day can help you sleep well. Protein foods such as turkey contain an amino acid called tryptophan. This converts to the hormones melatonin and serotonin which are important in regulating our sleep and wake cycles. Turkey also contains zinc and Vitamin B6 which help the body to produce melatonin from tryptophan. However, try to avoid eating too much high protein food – such as red meat and nuts – within the last few hours before bed as they can be hard to digest so may stop you falling asleep.

Magnesium

Magnesium is known as “nature’s tranquiliser” and is needed to help relax our muscles. It is also needed for the function of the chemical GABA. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that your brain needs in order to switch off. You can get magnesium from food sources such as buckwheat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish, leafy green vegetables and dark chocolate. If you have a history of ulcerative colitis, gastritis or other digestive issues, caution may need to be taken if you are considering supplementation (as I always say, consult a doctor, nutritionist or dietitian) as these issues can be triggered by these supplements. For people with these issues, it may be better to use transdermal magnesium as these are absorbed through the skin so won’t affect the digestive system.

Zinc

As previously mentioned, zinc is needed to help the body produce melatonin from tryptophan. Foods rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, oysters, wholegrains and nuts.

Think About What You Eat and Drink Before Bed

Avoid eating large meals or anything that is too hard to digest for 3-4 hours before you go to bed as this can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. It is also best to stay away from fried foods and cheese as these can cause indigestion which can make sleep more difficult and uncomfortable. Stimulants such as tea or coffee should also be avoided as caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours. If you have problems sleeping, avoid tea or coffee after midday and try having calming herbal teas such as camomile.

Carbohydrates

While it has become common trend to avoid carbohydrates after 6pm to help with weight loss, your body needs sustained energy while you sleep to keep the brain and body working. Slow release carbs will keep your blood sugar levels (glucose) stable. If this falls too low, the body may release adrenaline and cortisol which will wake you up. To avoid this, include some complex carbohydrates with your dinner such as a serving of wholegrain or basmati rice or some oatcakes with houmous for a pre-bedtime snack.

Natural Health Tips to Help Relieve Colds and Flu

Women with tissue having flu or allergy

No matter how much we try, we can’t always avoid those nasty cold and flu viruses. However, we can make things a little easier for ourselves when we are struck down with these nasty bugs. Following these natural health tips can help lessen some of the symptoms and help prevent illness from getting in the way of our usual day to day lives.

  • Stay away from food products such as dairy (milk and cheese), chocolate and white flour products (white bread, cakes and pastries). These types of foods can produce more mucus which can make us feel more congested and generally unwell when we have a cold or flu.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar – particularly refined sugars found in white bread products, sweets, sugary drinks and cakes – eaten and drunk. Studies have shown that a high sugar diet can weaken our immune system which means our body will struggle to fight off infection. Concentrate on fresh wholefoods which contain natural sugars such as fruit (especially berries which contain antioxidants and citrus fruits which contain vitamin C), veg and wholegrains.
  • Try and eat if possible but don’t force yourself to eat certain things if your cold is making you feel nauseous as that will only make you feel worse. Give your body what it fancies.
  • If you have a sore throat, boil some water and add some lemon and honey. The lemon will help to cut through the mucus in the throat while the honey will help to sooth the soreness.
  • For a stuffy nose, boil some water into a bowl and inhale the steam, covering your head with a towel. This helps to unclog your sinuses.
  • Try to keep your body moving. Even if you can only manage a walk around your local park or a short stretch routine, doing some movement will help you feel less fatigued and sluggish. However, don’t push yourself to complete a whole cardio and resistance training circuit if your body doesn’t feel up to it. Not only will you possibly have a session where you won’t gain the benefits, you may end up suffering afterwards.
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids to help flush out the virus.

While I can’t promise you a happier cold or flu, these tips will hopefully make things a little bit easier for you.

What Do Your Food Cravings Really Mean?

Have you ever felt that you simply must have that chocolate bar or that bag of crisps? Many of us have our own individual cravings but did you know it could be a sign that you are lacking in certain nutrients? Here are some of the most common foods we crave and which nutrients you could be lacking in if you crave them:

Chocolate

Chocolate

Cravings for chocolate can be a sign that you need more magnesium. Magnesium can have a calming effect on us which is why we are most likely to crave chocolate when we are stressed. You may also notice that you crave some of the sweet stuff during the second half of your menstrual cycle. This is because your magnesium levels drop during this time which hints at a link with many PMS symptoms. If you feel like you need that chocolate hit, opt for dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa but you can aim for higher) as it is lower in sugar than milk chocolate and higher in magnesium. Other ways of getting some more magnesium are wholegrains, nuts, raw cocoa nibs, leafy green veg, bananas and legumes.

Salty Foods

Salty foods

Feeling the need to reach for a bag of crisps (or two) could be a sign that your adrenal glands are weak. The adrenal glands produce stress hormones during times of stress which can cause an imbalance of sodium in the body. This causes us to crave more salt. Instead of reaching for your salty staples, opt for olives, unsalted nuts such as cashews and walnuts, oily fish such as salmon, seeds and goat’s milk.

Ice Cream

Ice cream

If you struggle to resist a scoop or two of the frozen stuff, it could be a sign that you require more calcium. Calcium is required for keeping a regular heartbeat and keeping our bones, teeth and nails strong and healthy. Instead, try leafy greens such as broccoli, chard, kale, salmon, fortified orange juice, legumes, tofu and low fat dairy products such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk (make sure products such as yoghurts don’t have added sugar) which contain high levels of calcium.

Ice

Ice

You might not be aware, but some people have a craving for ice. This could be a sign that you are deficient in iron and have anaemia. While doctors are unsure why, Professor Lowe has stated that “it may be that ice helps relieve the painful inflammation in the mouth that can be a symptom.”. If you do crave ice and suffer from low energy, go visit your GP. Food wise, to up your iron levels, eat foods such as red meat, wholemeal bread, spinach, broccoli and lentils.

Carbs

Carbs

Craving carbs can be a sign that you are low in tryptophan which is an amino acid. Tryptophan is needed to synthesis serotonin which is the mood-regulating chemical in the brain. Lacking tryptophan can lead to low mood, anxiety and trouble sleeping. Carbohydrates don’t contain tryptophan but research has suggested that more tryptophan is transported to the brain because of increased blood sugar. You can decrease your carb cravings by upping your protein intake with sources such as turkey, milk, cashews, walnuts, eggs and cottage cheese. Bananas also contain tryptophan.

Sweets

Sweets

Craving sweets could mean that you are low in chromium. Chromium is a mineral that works alongside insulin. It’s needed for the release of energy from glucose. There have been studies that show that chromium helps to level out blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. However, you could be making the situation worse if you reach for sweets when you feel a bit of a sugar dip because it causes the body to produce insulin which can lead to a blood sugar crash. Instead, go for foods such as meat, wholegrains and eggs which will help you avoid those sugar crashes.

 

If you suspect you are deficient in any vitamins and minerals and want to supplement them, it is always wise to consult a doctor, nutritionist or dietician.

Diabetes

This week is Diabetes Awareness week. To help raise awareness, I have written this blog talking about the different types of diabetes and have invited a special guest writer to talk about her experiences with the condition.

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Diabetes is a life-long medical condition which causes a sufferer’s blood glucose (sugar) levels to become too high. If it is left untreated, high blood glucose levels can cause serious health complications.

There are two main types of diabetes; type 1 and type 2. There is also gestational diabetes.

The symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination, particularly at night
  • Feeling very tired
  • Weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
  • Itchiness around the genital area/frequent bouts of thrush (a yeast infection)
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow wound healing
  • At a later stage, vomiting or heavy, deep breathing

Diabetes can sometimes cause the sufferer to experience either hypoglycaemia or hyperglycaemia.

Hypoglycaemia

Hypoglycaemia (or simply known as a “hypo”) is when the blood glucose levels become very low. This can often occur from taking too much insulin, skipping a meal, exercising vigorously or drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Symptoms of a “hypo” include:

  • Feeling shaky and irritable
  • Sweating
  • Tingling lips
  • Feeling weak
  • Feeling confused
  • Hunger
  • Nausea

A “hypo” can usually be brought under control by eating or drinking something sugary. However, if it isn’t brought under control, it can result in confusion, slurred speech and possibly loss of consciousness. This would be an emergency situation and would require medical attention.

Hyperglycaemia

Hyperglycaemia is when the blood glucose levels become too high. This can often occur in type 1 diabetes because of the lack of insulin produced (explained in more detail below). Symptoms of hyperglycaemia include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • A frequent need to urinate

If it is left untreated, it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is when the body breaks down fat and muscle as an alternative energy source. This leads to a build-up of acids in the blood. This is a serious condition which can cause vomiting, dehydration, unconsciousness and possibly death.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. This means that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue. In the case of diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas. Therefore, the pancreas is unable to produce insulin because of the damage caused to it. Insulin is a hormone (produced in the pancreas) which works as a chemical messenger. This chemical messenger helps the body to use the glucose in the blood for energy. If the pancreas can’t produce insulin, glucose can’t be moved into the bloodstream and into the cells which means that the blood sugars will become too high. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed at a young age but can develop at any age. The symptoms usually develop quickly – over a few days or weeks.

Type 2 Diabetes

While type 1 diabetes is usually developed in childhood, type 2 diabetes is usually lifestyle related. It has a strong association with obesity and tends to be diagnosed in older people. Type 2 occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth. It occurs if the body can’t produce enough insulin to meet the extra needs of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can cause problems to mother and baby such as premature birth and pre-eclampsia but these risks can be reduced if it’s detected and managed well.

Diagnosis

It is important to get diagnosed as soon as possible. Your GP may request a blood test and urine sample. A blood test for diagnosing diabetes may require you to fast in order to test your blood glucose levels. A urine test can be used to check if there is any glucose passing from the kidneys into the urine (an indicator of diabetes).

Treatment

Diabetes is not curable. However, it can be managed. For type 1, you’ll need regular insulin treatment to make up for the lack of insulin being produced in the pancreas. This can either be done through insulin pen injections or an insulin pump. You may also be advised to monitor your blood glucose levels at home using a blood glucose monitor. When you’re diagnosed, a diabetes care team will teach you how to do all of this.

The treatment of type 2 focuses mainly on lifestyle changes. The three major areas of focus are:

  • Diet
  • Weight
  • Exercise

You may also be required to take medication to help control blood sugar levels such as Metformin which reduces the amount of glucose the liver releases into the bloodstream. Your diabetic care team will advise you on whether you require medication and what is the best type for you to take.

Gestational diabetes can be managed with the same type of lifestyle changes and treatment as type 2 diabetes.

If you have type 1, it is also important to make any necessary lifestyle changes to help with your weight and blood glucose.

Diet

For anyone with diabetes, it is important to eat a healthy and balanced diet to help control blood glucose levels and maintain a healthy weight. It is not a “diet” based on restriction, it is about making better choices and having certain foods in moderation. Even if you haven’t got diabetes, it is important to maintain a balanced diet and weight as it will help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 or gestational diabetes. Here are some tips for a healthy, balanced diet:

  • Swap refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta and sugary sweets and pastries for starchy carbohydrates such as wholegrains, fruits and vegetables. These release glucose at a slower rate which will prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Increase the amount of fibre with food sources such as wholegrains, beans and lentils, fruit and vegetables.
  • Eat protein with carbohydrates. This will slow down the release of sugars which will keep your blood sugar levels steady and will keep you fuller for longer.
  • Reduce your saturated (bad) fat intake by making simple food swaps such as switching to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. However, make sure you check the food labels as some low-fat products such as yoghurts contain added sugar. You can reduce your intake of fatty red meat and processed meat (burgers and sausages) and choose poultry (no skin) and fish to decrease saturated fat. Choose healthier fat sources such as nuts, oily fish and avocado.
  • Cook your meals yourself rather than buy ready meals or takeaways. That way, you can control the amount of sugar, fat and salt added.
  • Limit sugary drinks. This includes fruit juices. Also limit alcohol.

Weight

You are more at risk of developing diabetes if you are overweight or obese. If you already have diabetes, reducing your weight can help to improve symptoms and overall health. This can be done through changing your eating habits and doing physical activity.

Exercise

It is important for everyone to include some exercise into their daily lives. For diabetics, exercise can be very beneficial as it can help with weight control, strengthen bones and help the body use insulin more effectively. The general recommendations for children are 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise each day while the recommendations for adults are 150 minutes per week (30 minutes 5 days a week) of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise. This should be a combination of cardio, strength/resistance training and flexibility training. It is also a good idea to include forms of exercise which help to calm the mind as diabetes can often cause stress for a number of reasons e.g. poor management or the strain of having to try and manage it. Examples include yoga and meditation.

Here is a story of one person’s diagnosis and life living with Type 1 Diabetes:

“My name is Sally. I am 25 years old and have type 1 diabetes. I was diagnosed with the condition when I was 10 years old on 21st January 2003 – the day my life changed forever and one that I will never forget.

My story of how I came to be diagnosed is probably like that of no other young diabetic. A month before I was diagnosed, I had been drinking a lot of water and had lost a considerable amount of weight in a very short period. My mother had noticed my excessive thirst, but couldn’t figure out why it had come about. Despite being thirsty all the time, I don’t remember ever feeling ill or weak in the slightest – pretty strange when you hear the many stories of other diabetics.

Eventually, on Tuesday 21st January 2003, my father came into my room, looking concerned, but calm at the same time, to tell me that I would not be going to school. My father had explained that we would be going to the hospital. Although he would not tell me why we were going, dad told me I had nothing to worry about. I remember going into St Mary’s hospital on that day and feeling very happy and flattered by the love and attention that was being shown to me by the staff, despite being unaware of why I was really there. During my stay, doctors and nurses were constantly doing blood tests on me and taking urine samples. We were in hospital until the evening. As a child who never paid attention, the reality of my hospital visit hadn’t hit me and I went home not grasping the full reality of what was to come.

It was not until the next day that the reality had hit home. The doctor had come round to our house with some equipment: a small blood testing machine and some reusable injection pens. I had to be injected with insulin twice a day; once in the morning and once in the evening, before dinner. I found all this very unsettling and would ask my dad why I had to have these horrible injections? He then explained that I had a condition called diabetes and told me I could never eat anything with sugar. Being a child, this thought horrified me. However, my dad would lie to me, saying the condition isn’t long-term – ‘it will be gone next week’, then it was, ‘it will be gone next month’, and so on. Eventually, I came to realise that there was no cure for diabetes and that it was here to stay.

Knowing that I was stuck with this illness for life had brought my world down. I was in constant denial and had spent most days crying; it felt as though a part of me had died and I was in mourning for a long time. From then on life was a struggle as I suffered many high (hyperglycaemic) and low (hypoglycaemic) episodes (all though my blood sugars were never too high or too low to require emergency help).

At home, my father always gave me my injections and monitored my blood glucose levels. Whenever my blood glucose levels weren’t where they needed to be, he would shout and scare me by telling me that I would die from this disease or that it was slowly killing me. As a result, I became too scared to check my blood glucose levels and the relationship with my parents strained. This led to me rebelling by eating sweets when one was watching.

As a type 1 diabetic teenager, things went from bad to worst. In school, I had no one to support me and to see that I was getting the right care whenever my blood glucose levels dropped in class. Even if I explained my condition to the teacher, they always seemed annoyed and burdened. I now know that most teachers are not trained to deal with this sort of situation and so it would come as a shock to most. From the age of 16-18 I developed depression due to the stress of not only dealing the condition itself, but also a low self-esteem, developed from being bullied, pressured and being criticised by teachers for being too quiet in class. Teachers would judge me unfairly without even talking to me; there were other kids who never contributed in class, but were never singled out for criticism just because they had extroverted personalities.

Having developed depression, I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for 6 months. Whenever I went to the sessions, I felt happy and positive afterwards. However, home and school were both negative environments and as a result, the positive impacts of CBT would disappear. The stress of doing my A levels further led to me neglecting my blood glucose levels and my depression and negative attitude towards the diabetes had only worsened.

However, leaving school at 18 marked a turning point for me: I had moved from paediatric to adult clinic and started self-managing my condition, without the involvement of my parents. Slowly, but surely my blood sugar levels were stabilising and I started to feel much better than I ever had before. From this I discovered the connection between poorly controlled diabetes and mental health, something which I believe many medical professionals fail to educate and prepare diabetics for. My conclusion now, which seems frustratingly obvious, is that had I maintained better control of my diabetes, my concentration at school wouldn’t have suffered and I possibly would’ve been able to handle stressful situations. From this moment on, I take a positive approach to my diabetes and do everything in my power to keep it under control, through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise. Since adopting this approach, my blood sugar levels have improved greatly.

Since September 2013, I have been administering insulin into my body in the form of an insulin pump. Unlike with the injections, the pump gives me greater flexibility, in terms of exercise, eating times and what I can eat. Nevertheless, it has taken time for me to fully understand the features of the pump and when it is best to adjust and decrease my insulin levels. I guess you can say that type 1 diabetes isn’t as straightforward as many other conditions; you’re always learning something new about it as the years go by.

I would like to conclude this blog by telling you what I’ve learnt about being a type 1 diabetic, having lived with the condition for over 14 years now. I believe that the more educated and aware a person is about diabetes, the better control they will have over it as they will know what to do and be well prepared for what is to come. In addition, as unfair as it is that a diabetic has to work full-time to manage their condition around the clock in order live a normal life, it is worth it; when its well-controlled, you don’t feel any different to a non-diabetic.”

 

Diabetes is not an easy condition to live with but as long as you properly manage it and have the support of loved ones, support networks such as diabetes.org.uk and a medical team, you can lead a normal and happy life.

How to Boost your Mood with Food

Our diets are not only important for our bodies, they are also important for our minds. What we eat can influence our moods. Research has suggested that being low in dopamine – which is the “happy hormone” – can cause us to become stressed, anxious and depressed. Some foods can help us to produce dopamine and other mood boosting chemicals. Here are my top food tips to boost your mood:

Ditch Refined Carbs

carbohydrates

Diets high in refined carbohydrates can have a big effect on our mood and bodies. Refined carbohydrates include products such as biscuits, cakes and white bread. They are highly processed and will give you a short-term energy hit after eating them. However, the sugar crash that comes afterwards will leave you feeling low in energy which can make you feel low. To avoid this, switch to complex carbohydrates such as, wholegrain bread and brown rice. These release their energy at a slower rate so you will have energy for longer without the sugar crash afterwards.

Add Some Spice

spices

Spicy food causes a tingling taste sensation once consumed. This prompts your body to release endorphins which act as the body’s own painkillers in order to block the heat. The release of endorphins induces a natural high and stimulates the release of dopamine. Endorphins and dopamine are both considered “feel good chemicals”. You can add chilli or cayenne to your meals.

Include Some Meat and Tofu

Chicken

For those of us who live in the UK or other cold climates, we tend to get less sunlight – especially in the winter – which can lead to a dip in another “feel good chemical” called serotonin. Foods such as tofu, turkey, chicken and nuts are rich in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid which supports serotonin production. Therefore, these foods will help boost your mood. Enjoy your meat or tofu with a side of complex carbs and lots of colourful veggies to make a great meal for the mind.

Boost Your Energy with Fruit

Fruit

Fruit such as grapes, oranges, papaya, strawberries, prunes and watermelon are high in an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine is needed for energy and brain function. Enjoy as a fruit salad with some natural or Greek yoghurt (or soya/dairy free alternative if you’re intolerant, allergic or vegan) for breakfast to start your day off well.

Chill with Nuts and Seeds

nuts and seeds

Nuts such as Brazil nuts are rich in selenium. Selenium is a mineral which can support the body’s resistance against stress. Seeds can also be helpful in fighting against stress. Seeds contain magnesium, vitamin B6, folate and zinc which can all help us to fight off stress. Enjoy as a snack or toast and sprinkle over salads.

Enjoy Life with Veg

19-greenveggies

According to an Australian study, eating vegetables can lead to increased satisfaction of life. Vegetables such as artichokes, avocados, cabbage, broccoli and leafy greens (i.e. spinach and kale) are full of B vitamins. B vitamins help to boost your serotonin levels and keep you alert. Enjoy a variety of veg as part of your meals.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

ibs

What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition which affects the digestive system. It is a long-term condition with varying degrees of severity depending on person to person. Most people have flare-ups of symptoms which can last a few days. The symptoms may then improve but not go completely. The main triggers include certain foods and stress.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhoea or constipation (or sometimes alternating between the two)
  • Bloating and distended stomach
  • Excessive wind (flatulence)
  • Occasionally needing to urgently go to the toilet
  • Feeling that you have not fully emptied your bowels
  • Passing mucus from your bottom

In addition to these symptoms, people with IBS may experience some of the following:

  • Lack of energy (lethargy)
  • Feeling sick
  • Backache
  • Bladder problems (i.e. feeling an urgent need to urinate or waking up at night to urinate)
  • Pain during sex (dyspareunia)
  • Incontinence

Causes

The exact cause of IBS is currently unknown. Some experts have suggested the following causes:

  • Problems with digestion – It is thought that the natural process of moving food through the digestive system by squeezing and relaxing the muscles in a rhythmic way is altered in IBS sufferers, causing food to either move through the digestive system too quickly (resulting in diarrhoea) or too slowly (resulting in constipation).
  • Increased gut sensitivity – Some experts believe that people with IBS may be oversensitive to the digestive nerve signals. For example, mild indigestion may be barely noticeable to a non-IBS sufferer but will present itself as distressing abdominal pain in IBS sufferers.
  • Psychological factors – There is evidence to suggest that psychological factors play a role in IBS. This does not mean that it is “all in the mind”. The symptoms are very real. Emotional states such as anxiety and stress can trigger chemical changes that can interfere with the normal workings of the digestive system. Some sufferers feel that their symptoms worsen when they are under stress.
  • Food triggers – Certain foods and drinks can trigger the symptoms of IBS. Examples include alcohol, fried/fatty food, fizzy drinks, etc. but not everyone with IBS has the same reactions to the same foods.

Diagnosing IBS

There are no specific test for IBS as it does not cause any detectable abnormalities in the digestive system. In most cases, a diagnosis will be made depending on the symptoms the patient presents. A diagnosis may also be made once other conditions such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have been ruled out. To rule these out, the GP may order blood tests and other tests such as an endoscopy.

Treatment

IBS can often be managed by changing your diet and lifestyle. The main dietary tips offered to IBS sufferers are:

  • Try eating smaller meals throughout the day (i.e. 5 or 6 small meals) rather than large meals (i.e. 3 large meals)
  • Don’t rush your food
  • If you have diarrhoea, try to cut down on insoluble fibre (i.e. wholegrain bread, nuts, seeds, bran, etc.)
  • If you have constipation, try to increase soluble fibre (i.e. oats, barley, rye, fruit such as bananas and apples, golden linseeds, root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, etc.)
  • Certain teas may have a calming effect on symptoms of IBS, i.e. peppermint tea may help with cramping and spasms while ginger tea may help nausea
  • Drink plenty of fluid throughout the day i.e. water and herbal teas
  • Restrict tea and coffee to a maximum of three a day
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol and fizzy drinks you drink
  • Some sweeteners such as sorbitol can trigger IBS symptoms. Avoid this sweetener. They are often found in some chewing gums, drinks, diabetic products and slimming products
  • Limit fresh fruit to three portions a day
  • If you suspect certain foods are your triggers, do an elimination diet where you completely eliminate those foods for 4 weeks then re-introduce them (one at a time if you’ve eliminated more than one food) to see if your symptoms have returned. If they return then eliminate that food again.
  • Low FODMAP Diet: FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. They are types of carbohydrates which are not easily broken down and absorbed by the gut. Because of this, they start to ferment in the gut quite quickly. The gases which are released during this process can cause bloating. Doctors or Dieticians sometimes recommend a Low FODMAP Diet to IBS sufferers. It involves restricting the intake of foods considered High FODMAP which include some vegetables, fruit, animal milks, wheat products and beans. This diet can be quite restrictive and may not work for everyone but some individuals may find relief of their symptoms

Many people find that regular exercise can help relieve their IBS symptoms. You should aim to do a combination of cardio (3-5 days a week for 20-90 minutes), strength/resistance training (2-3 days per week for 20-60 minutes), core stability training (no set guidelines) and flexibility training/stretching (2-3 days per week with each stretch being held for 15-60 seconds).

Some people find stress and anxiety are triggers for their symptoms so reducing stress levels can be very beneficial. Ways to reduce stress include:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Counselling
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Colouring books
  • Yoga
  • Exercise such as running, walking or swimming

Probiotics can often be recommended by a doctor or dietician. They contain “beneficial bacteria” that can supposedly improve digestion. They can come in supplement form and can also be found in yoghurts and yoghurt drinks.

Doctors may prescribe certain medications for IBS. These include:

  • Antispasmodics
  • Laxatives
  • Antimotility medicines
  • Low-dose antidepressants

Some complementary therapies may also be useful in the treatment of IBS such as acupuncture and homeopathy.

 

If you suspect you have IBS or have been diagnosed with IBS and feel it is ruling your life, the first step is to go see your GP to start the process of getting to a healthier and happier state.