A Beginner's Guide To Mindful Eating

Mindfulness is a term that is now so ubiquitous that it can often be dismissed as nothing more than the latest buzzword. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. When applied to eating, it - in fact - has the ability to deepen and enrich the experience whilst also offering important feedback. Read on to find out how to incorporate this essential practice into your daily life and the benefits it can provide.

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of paying close attention - bringing all of one's senses to the present moment - without deeming whatever one senses as good or bad. When consistently presented with the facts in this way, we are much more likely to make better decisions.

We all know that eating with as much focus as we can muster throughout each meal can greatly increase the possibility of noticing just how full - or not - we are. This phenomenon is one that simply requires us to dispense with distractions thus enabling the mind to look out for cues from the body. Often missed due to the fast-paced nature of our busy lives, this information prevents us from overeating not just in the moment, but over the long term. Mindfulness is also instrumental in creating the perfect conditions for optimal digestion.

Below are a few tips to get you started:

  • Get curious: Whenever the urge to eat something presents itself, try getting into the habit of assessing what your body really needs. Are you truly hungry? Thirsty, perhaps? Are you making the most nourishing choice for your body? Could boredom, tiredness or stress be playing a role here? If so, is food the best antidote? A minute or two spent scanning your body for answers to these questions is usually enough to create space between your triggers and the choices you decide to make.

 

  • Prime your body and mind: Once you have concluded that food is indeed required, it is best to eat it seated at a table. Making sure that it is devoid of stress-inducing clutter (or anything that could prove to be a distraction from the task at hand) is vital. Next, take three deep breaths to put you in a better - or at least neutral - frame of mind.

 

  • Take a moment: This is all that is needed to look down at your plate (which is, hopefully, inviting) and to appreciate the colours and textures on it. If you feel uninspired by what you see, this is valuable data. It is often said that the first bite is with the eye so create a plate you can get excited about. The anticipation you feel as a result will be accompanied by the stimulation of your salivary glands, causing your mouth to water - an important first step of digestion. Leaning in to the food and breathing in the aromas also assists this process.

 

 

  • Chew thoroughly: Putting your cutlery down while doing so, is a great way to ensure that you do not speed up your meal by placing another bite of food into your mouth before you have swallowed the first. Only swallow once you have completely broken down the food. This will provide a greater surface area on which digestive enzymes in your saliva can work. You may find that you do not need the assistance of sips of water throughout your meal to send the food down.

 

  • Check in:  Pay attention to how you feel as each mouthful of food reaches your stomach. Could you do with a little more food? Do you feel satisfied and comfortable?

 

  • Repeat: The more you follow the steps above, the deeper the habit is embedded into your consciousness  - without having to continually rely on (and, eventually, deplete) willpower.

I will dig deeper into the science of mindful eating in a subsequent article. I would love to know if you put the steps above into practice - and how you get on - in the comments section below.

How To Be Supportive

Let's face it - change is both inevitable and one of the hardest things each of us will ever do. As we journey through life, we will encounter others grappling with the same reality and may attempt to assist them. For this to work, there must first be some kind of agreement between both parties and a desire - on the part of the helper - to be an ally rather than a dictator. This is sometimes not the case, however, with friends, colleagues and loved ones. In this article I will highlight the manner in which support is often given, the unintended consequences of trying to elicit change in this way and what to do instead.

Attempting to influence change (of behaviour or choices) in another usually plays out in one of the following ways:

 

  • You discover a new way of eating, managing your stress or moving. You feel better than you have in years and you want to tell everyone you know - or meet - about this exciting new revelation. Naturally, you begin with your partner/spouse then parents, friends and work colleagues. You not only regale them with tales of your transformation, but you become a zealot who now wants everyone else to act (and, therefore, feel) as you do.

OR

  • You read/hear about something that could help someone overcome a new or long-standing health condition. You decide to make it your mission to share this information and help them apply it to their particular situation.

 

On the face of it, these seem to be thoroughly justifiable and laudable pursuits but they inadvertently create an unhealthy attachment to an outcome that is very clearly defined and unwavering in the mind of the person who offers advice or support in this manner. It is entirely possible to accept the choices others make even when one does not agree with them. Despite appearances to the contrary, this conveys the fact that you care about - and respect  - the person enough to allow them to exercise the right to make choices governing the course of their lives.

You might feel that these choices will also affect your life and that the end, therefore, justifies the means.  While the former is strictly true, this train of thought - or perception - is not the best tool for the job at hand. Below are a few reasons why:

  • It may create the need (in your mind) for robust involvement, inciting resistance and defensiveness in the person you are trying to help.

 

  • It could - perhaps unintentionally - give you an air of superiority, thus creating distance between you and the recipient of your advice.

 

  • It may discount the innate imperfection of human beings, a trait that makes us all worthy of compassion.

 

  • Finally, it may breed resentment, frustration and - one of the most common causes (and drivers) of disease today - stress in everyone concerned.

 

MatthewHenryTea500.jpg

 

What to do instead:

  • Practice empathy: put yourself in the shoes of the person in question. This is a great way to awaken to the realisation that had you encountered all the experiences they have had thus far, you would behave exactly as they do. Consider using this as your default starting point.

 

  • Care: the best way to show someone that you care is to be caring. At best, scolding may temporarily mask underlying fears and the pain of perceived powerlessness over the situation in question. Can you recall a time when a scolding evoked feelings of being loved and cared for? What did you feel instead? Choosing to calmly express you fears or concerns using "I" statements (and without any expectations) can leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable but it is a much more effective way to show that you care. For example, "I'm worried about your health and I'm here for you if you ever need my help." Note that there is, of course, a difference between being genuinely caring and manipulation - or the notion of attempting to "save someone from themselves".

 

  • Ask permission or wait for an invitation: this may seem overly formal and completely unnecessary but nothing could be further from the truth.  You could say, "What can I do to help?" or "I just came across an article that I think might interest you - would you like me to email it to you?" Prepare yourself for the possibility that the answers may well be, "Nothing." or "No." respectively. When this happens, take this as your cue to resist the urge to coerce or shame them into giving your preferred response. Invitations are also best navigated with the same level of courtesy. Should a friend ask you to support them in their efforts to use less social media, for example, he/she may later decide that they no longer want/need your help whether they have "legitimate" reasons or not. Again, when this happens, believe it and accept it. You can make it clear that you will be there for them if they change their minds in the future - but only if you mean it.

 

  • Change yourself: you are - and always will be - the only person you can change. By the same token, changing your response to (or perception of) the behaviour and choices of others is the only behaviour you can control. It is often said that changing oneself could inspire others to improve themselves but I would add that it would be unwise to make this one's primary goal. Remember that every minute spent looking for opportunities to change others, corresponds directly with missed opportunities for self-improvement/mastery. Cultivate the habit of turning the spotlight inward on any unaddressed issues you may have been too distracted to notice. When you bring a version of yourself that is non-judgemental, caring and healthy to any relationship, you will be best placed to take on the role of an ally or carer, should the need arise.

 

There will be moments when any - or all - of the above will appear counterproductive, ridiculous or downright impossible. Perhaps you feel that way even as you read this. In those moments, it may take every ounce of your strength to act as I have suggested.

You might, on the other hand, find that you neither have the strength nor the desire to do so. If this is the case, don't be hard on yourself. We are all wonderfully, imperfectly human, remember?

Try to treat yourself with the compassion you will, no doubt, someday be able to extend to others.

I would love to read any thoughts and experiences you may have/have had on this tricky subject. Please share them in the comments section below.  

The Truth About Cholesterol: The Basics

There is so much misinformation and outdated science on cholesterol that a lot of people live in - needless - abject terror of certain foods. In this article, I hope to set the record straight so that you can apply a more informed (and effective) approach to your cardiovascular health.

Cholesterol and its link to heart disease is, undoubtedly, a hot topic. It is better understood than it has been in the past but not everyone - or every doctor, for that matter - has kept up-to-date with the most recent findings. Doctors have, of course, had years of intensive training and have a genuine desire to help their patients. In their defence, there simply are not enough hours in the day to re-educate themselves (and their patients) on such a rapidly evolving topic. For this reason, the following may completely contradict what you currently believe to be true:

Blood cholesterol simply does not exist. Cholesterol is not systematically dumped into the bloodstream. Rather, it is transported through the blood (along with triglycerides) in substances called lipoproteins (molecules containing both fat and protein). This point may well come across as nit-picking but it will, hopefully, be clearer in a minute.

Cholesterol alone does not determine the risk of heart disease. The confusion seems to stem from oversimplification of the very complex symphony of events that has to occur for the development of heart disease. Not everyone with high cholesterol develops heart disease and not everyone with normal cholesterol avoids it. While it is true that there is an association between cholesterol and heart disease, it is not the root cause. The concentration or number of lipoproteins carrying cholesterol through the blood (lipoprotein particle number  or LDL-P) is a more accurate predictor of heart disease. In addition, the cholesterol content of LDL particles varies more than two-fold among individuals. One person may have large, more cholesterol-rich low-density lipoproteins (LDL) while a second may have smaller cholesterol-poor LDL particles. A person with the same concentration of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) as another may have higher numbers of LDL particles. This discordance in certain individuals also makes LDL-P a more accurate predictor of heart disease. Imagine a busy road (blood vessel), if you will. Traffic is caused by the number of vehicles (lipoproteins) on the road not the number of people (cholesterol) in each vehicle. In recent years, considerable doubt has been cast on the rationale of using cholesterol as a predicting factor in the development of heart disease. Taking total cholesterol into account along with triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (and the presence of oxidised LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL),  and lipoprotein particle number is much more indicative of risk. I will address the factors affecting lipoprotein particle number (LDL-P) in a subsequent article.

 

MichalGrosickiEgg500.jpg

 

Lower cholesterol is not better -  particularly for women and the elderly. Moderately elevated cholesterol (by current standards) in women may prove to be not only harmless but beneficial according to a Norwegian study. It found that cholesterol levels were inversely proportional to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality. In his exciting new book - The End Of Alzheimer's - Dr. Dale Bredesen makes the link between low cholesterol levels and cognitive decline. He discovered that the likelihood of brain atrophy (or shrinkage) was higher in patients with total cholesterol levels of less than 3.8mmol/l.

Eating cholesterol-rich foods does not elevate cholesterol - in most people. In fact, we get a lot less cholesterol from food than you may think. Of the 25% obtained from the diet, only a small amount can be absorbed by the body. The liver's production of cholesterol accounts for a whopping 75% of all cholesterol found in the body. Our bodies maintain this percentage by dutifully making more when dietary cholesterol is restricted and vice versa. 1 in 4 people have increased cholesterol levels after eating foods that contain cholesterol but, as I said earlier, this is not indicative of the risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol is absolutely essential to life. Once this is fully understood, one can no longer label it as "good" or "bad". It is responsible for the formation of cell membranes surrounding each and every cell in the body and therefore influences cell to cell communication and transport of substances into and out of each cell. If our cells had no membranes, they would cease to exist - and, very shortly afterwards, so would we. Cholesterol is also a precursor for all hormones, without which all processes in the body would effectively grind to a screeching halt. The brain is especially rich in cholesterol because it supports learning and memory. It is, therefore extremely unwise to go to great lengths to lower such a key player in the maintenance of our overall health - particularly without first determining the root cause.

 

Elevated cholesterol is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of something deeper going awry. I like to think of symptoms as invitations to look for root causes which would then dictate one's approach. I would encourage you to do the same.

Food Origin: What To Look For And Why

All living beings (both human and animal) have an evolutionary heritage. It is now clear that our persistent disregard of this is the root cause of the chronic disease epidemic we face today. This is evident in the dysfunctional way we live, rear animals and grow produce for food. In this age of spin, words are used so indiscriminately that they cannot truly be ascribed to much of what is sold in supermarkets today. In this article, I will highlight the criteria to look out for whilst shopping for food so that you can be better informed on the purchases you make. 

I like to think of food as something that nourishes, sustains or supplies and everything that does not fit this description - but is promoted as such - as a food-like substance. For the purpose of this article, food is also produce that has been thoughtfully grown and animals that have been reared and fed in a species-appropriate manner.

What follows is the state in which food was given to us by nature so that we could thrive rather than merely survive.

 

Meat, animal fats and dairy: sheep and cows evolved to spend most of their time outdoors and - once weaned off their mother's milk - to feed exclusively on grass. Pigs thrive outdoors foraging for their food and should not be fed any soy. Studies show that the meat, fat and dairy from cows reared as described above has a superior nutrient and fatty acid profile to those from cows fed in a manner which is at odds with their evolutionary heritage. In addition, animals that have been routinely given antibiotics and growth hormones store these substances in their adipose (fatty) tissues. It is, therefore, best to trim and discard the fat from such animals. In contrast, fat from pasture-reared animals has a 2:1 ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 to inflammatory omega-6 fats making it a wonderful addition to one's diet.

 

 

Fish and seafood: wild-caught and sustainable fish and seafood are best as they are lower in toxic pollutants, higher in vitamin D (as well as other nutrients) and with a superior omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. It is important to note that larger fish - like certain varieties of tuna - are more prone to high levels of accumulated mercury and are best severely limited in one's diet or avoided altogether. The risk of mercury toxicity is greatly minimised by choosing smaller fish and certain varieties of seafood. Opting for wild-caught varieties increases the likelihood of a higher selenium content which is thought to be protective when it far exceeds mercury levels.

 

Poultry and eggs: birds evolved to roam freely on organic pastures. This enables them to forage for insects, worms, grass, seeds and the odd small rodent. Eggs and meat from such birds provide a rich supply of important sulphur-containing proteins, fat-soluble vitamins (A and D), vitamin B12, folate, antioxidants, omega-3 fats, choline and iron.

 

Fruits and vegetables: local, seasonal and organic fruits and vegetables - sourced directly from the grower(s) - tend to be fresher and higher in nutrients. In contrast, supermarket equivalents (organic or otherwise) are often grown without respect for the seasons and are typically picked before they are fully ripened. This, combined with weeks in transit (and yet more weeks in warehouses before delivery to retail outlets) means that there is little or nothing of any value left in them by the time they are purchased. Signing up to an organic fruit and vegetable box scheme provides the opportunity to eat a much wider range - and therefore, a broader spectrum of nutrients - that simply is not available in supermarkets. 

 

I have included the information above - and more - in a handy guide. You can download it here.

How To Meet Your Nutritional Needs On A Budget

Our bodies are made up of complex systems that require an array of non-negotiable nutrients in order to function optimally. As always, organic sources are ideal but buying the very best food you can afford is a good rule of thumb. This can get pretty expensive pretty quickly so I thought you might find it useful to have a comprehensive list of the most important - and cheapest - foods to focus on and how best to get the most out of them.

Offal: love them or hate them, organ meats (as they are also known) are by far the most nutrient-dense foods you will ever eat. Fat soluble vitamins A and D, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals are just some of the many nutrients to be gained from these traditional foods. They are also so cheap that sourcing them from exclusively grass-fed and outdoor-reared organic animals would still cost a lot less than meat from animals reared in exactly the same way. Disguise them if you must and make them as pretty and palatable as you can by seeking out recipes to guide you. Aim for one or two 85g servings a week and your body and wallet will thank you profusely for it.

Odd bits: fatty, gelatinous cuts of meat - and everything else between the nose and tail of animals - are the hallmark of traditional diets. This is in sharp contrast to the high (and almost exclusive) consumption of muscle meat in the modern diet. In addition to being far more expensive, muscle meat is higher in homocysteine-elevating methionine. Slow- or pressure-cooked oxtail and brisket are delicious and rich in glycine which enables the detoxification of excess methionine, thus reducing the body's demand for homocysteine-lowering nutrients (B6, B9, B12, choline and betaine). It is important to note that there is absolutely no need to restrict glycine-rich meat or to keep a tally of calories eaten. I encourage you to eat these nourishing cuts as your appetite dictates. If this all sounds rather daunting, you can try one of the following suggestions - depending on how squeamish you feel:

 

OR

  • Sip gently warmed bone broth (see below) seasoned with a little Pink Himalayan Salt with or between meals.

 

Bones: poultry, lamb and beef bones are now widely used to make soothing broths. The age-old practice of cooking with fish bones and heads is well worth reviving, however. Many fishmongers may be willing to give fish bones - and heads - away for free as they are usually discarded. All bones are rich in glycine but fish heads provide important minerals (like iodine and selenium) and impart a wonderful flavour to broths and soups. Non-oily fish are the best sources for this purpose. Enjoy 120-240ml of your favourite broth a day.

Eggs: contrary to conventional wisdom, these will not elevate cholesterol. They are, however, high in homocysteine-elevating methionine. Context is, as always, of paramount importance here. A nutrient-dense diet that mirrors that of our ancestors would include a wide range of foods - many of which are mentioned in this article. A range of combinations/recipes and a certain hierarchy or frequency of consumption would also be observed, which I have attempted to emulate in this list of foods. Egg drop soup and Avgolemono combine eggs and bone broth to make hearty meals that just so happen to balance methionine intake beautifully. Egg yolks contain healthy fat and are the highest source of choline so eat a minimum of four to five a week. Of course, the higher the quality, the more superior the nutrient profile will be.

Seaweed: these are so packed with minerals that a small amount is often all that is required to meet one's recommended daily intake. Kelp is especially high in iodine. It is available to buy as a powder and its salty flavour makes it a discreet addition to eggs, soups or stews.

Home-grown vegetables and herbs: these are my personal preference to the Clean Fifteen or Dirty Dozen as I explained in a previous article. If you are unsure of whether or not pesticides were previously used in your garden, this is easily remedied by using raised beds and/or growing in containers with organic compost. This means that you can eat local, seasonal and ultra-fresh produce all year round. Better still, ferment them for greater digestibility, vitamin K2 and a greater proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria. Use unheated as an accompaniment to meals twice a day.

Traditional, healthy fats: these are essential for brain development in children, cognitive health, energy, immune function, radiant skin and lustrous hair. Generally speaking, fats are still regarded as one of the most feared foods today - a mindset that is, sadly, eroding the health of many. I recommend beef and lamb tallow for cooking, particularly when cooking at high temperatures. Ghee (or clarified butter) - a time-honoured Ayurvedic healing food - is also well-suited to high-temperature cooking but it can be expensive if bought ready-made. It is, fortunately, very easy to make. Lard and duck fat are also great economical options, especially as they can be reserved from roasts (cooked at low temperatures) for future use. Being mindful of the smoke points of the fats you choose to cook with is of the utmost importance. Each fat has an ideal cooking temperature beyond which it loses its nutritional value and begins to oxidise, making it detrimental to health. I have created a guide to fats, their smoke points and how best to use them and you can find it here. Full fat dairy - providing it is raw/unpasteurised and well-tolerated - is another excellent source of healthy fats.

 

 

Tips for success:

Buy ingredients rather than ready-made products: it is tempting to buy ready-made products in a bid to save time but such items tend to cost a lot more than it would cost you to make them at home. It is also the best way to ensure that your meals are as wholesome and additive-free as possible. Here are a few ideas:

 

  • Make your own condiments: aside from being cheap, homemade mayonnaise is fresher and far more nutritious than anything you can buy in the supermarket. It can also be made in as little as 20 seconds, customised to suit your taste and turned into numerous dips and dressings.

 

  • Render your own fat (and churn your own butter): leaf fat from outdoor-reared pigs and unpasteurized cream (from cows reared exclusively on grass) are cheap and can be couriered from a farm to your doorstep for a very small fee - or none at all, depending on how much you spend. Rendering fat requires very little hands on time and making butter is so simple and rewarding that children would need little persuasion to get involved.

 

  • Make soups: these are easily made in batches - once you have batch-cooked some bone broth, of course. Simply cook vegetables, herbs and spices of your choice in the bone broth and purée using a hand blender until smooth. They can then be frozen and ready to defrost for quick nourishing meals, especially in the autumn and winter months.

 

  • Get creative with leftoverstry adding leftover meat or fish to salads and soups. Roasted vegetables can be beaten into eggs with herbs and baked in muffin cases for a portable lunch or snack.

 

Buy in bulk: invest in a chest freezer, look out for special offers and stock up. You will soon have a wide range of nutrient powerhouses that can be defrosted and turned into delicious meals.

 

Buy a pressure cooker: this will make short work of glycine-rich, gelatinous cuts of meat and bone broth, both of which typically require hours of cooking on a hob or in a slow cooker. A resulting deeper and richer flavour is a welcome added bonus.

Do you have any tips of your own to share? Please do so in the comments section below.

How To Be Healthy: Sleep

Sleep ought to be a welcome respite from the cares and frantic pace of the day but never has it been more neglected in human history than in our modern age.

The invention of the electric light bulb brought us one step closer to the manipulation and ultimate domination of nature, but at what cost? In a culture that celebrates the perpetual doer, it has created a perfect scenario in which daytime can be prolonged for as long as our packed schedules require it to be.

In his book, Healing Night: The Science And Spirit Of Sleeping, Dreaming And Awakening, Rubin R. Naiman paints a romantic scene of dusk as experienced in a bygone era.

 

"In times past, human activity naturally downshifted as dusk signaled the approach of night. There was no rush to get home since most people were already there. A majority of Americans were still living and working in rural areas. As daylight gradually receded, the winds would quiet, and the rhythmic chirp of crickets and night birds began as all things darkened, cooled, and slowed.

Evening activities occurred in a much gentler, dimmer light and were usually relaxing and restful. Dinnertime depended less on the clock and more on the season, on nature's timing. Rather than watching television, catching up on work, drinking, and being entertained, people made a slow and easy transition toward sleep."

 

The seemingly mythical beings depicted above were, in fact, made up of most of the same genetic building blocks as we are. Times may have changed but we have not. Acute and chronic sleep loss still trigger HPA axis dysregulation which is itself a key factor in any chronic disease process. Relinquishing the desire to remain active right up until bedtime is, therefore, still a necessity no matter where society decides to place it on the list of priorities for optimal health.

 

 

I am not suggesting that we dispense with the trappings of modern living so that we can live exactly as our ancestors did.

What I propose is the use of technology in ways that serve our wellbeing and the elimination of habits and gizmos that do not.

  • Let there be little or no light. Blue light (from artificial lighting, digital alarm clocks and computer/television/tablet/phone screens) is known to suppress melatonin. The inverse relationship between melatonin and cortisol helps regulate the body’s natural rhythms governing sleep and wakefulness (or circadian rhythms). Melatonin rises as night - and cortisol - fall and aids effortless and restorative sleep. It, therefore, has an indispensable role in orchestrating the perfect conditions for the upkeep and repair of practically every system in the body. As day breaks, melatonin falls while cortisol is gradually elevated throughout the day to support wakefulness and alertness. Consider getting dimmers for the lights in your home for use after sunset. For even greater benefits, replace your bulbs with red spectrum ones - and dim them. I also recommend Blublocker glasses after sunset but only to mitigate the effects of artificial light on melatonin production - not as a means to use light-emitting electronic media late into the night. Minimise - or, better still, avoid - the use of such media at least two to three hours before bed. Cover digital clocks or get rid of them altogether. Use blackout shades on windows and wear an eye mask when you sleep for good measure.

 

  • Oscillate between periods of rest and activity. These are known as ultradian rhythms and it is extremely vital that they are observed periodically throughout the day. One cannot suddenly attain a state of zen-like somnolence come bedtime, having spent the better part of the day in an endless loop of activity and stimulation. Taking 20-minute rest or play breaks for every 90 minutes of work or activity is a good rule of thumb. You could also use breathing techniques in the Feldenkrais Method® or work with a Sounder Sleep™ practitioner in your area to further hone ultradian rhythmicity. This will, in turn, support the entrainment of circadian rhythms as described above.

 

  • Remove all forms of stimulation.  Make your bedroom a sacred space where nothing happens besides sleep and sex. Simply surrounding oneself with a phone, television and engrossing books (without ever using, watching or reading them) is enough to scupper attempts to truly relax. Heated discussions or activities like workouts are also best avoided at least one hour before bed.

 

  • Keep noise to a minimum. Earplugs and/or a white-noise machine are especially helpful if your bedroom faces a busy street.

The above list is not exhaustive but is certainly as good a place to start as any. Should you choose to implement any of my suggestions, I would love to know how you get on.

 

Toxins: Easing The Burden

In a previous article, I touched on the importance of making our homes and bodies sanctuaries - of sorts - that are as free as possible from toxic chemicals. These are more ubiquitous than ever before so a multi-faceted approach is the best way to minimise your exposure.

Change is hard - and can be expensive - so do not feel disheartened if you cannot do everything recommended below in one fell swoop. I actively discourage you from doing so, in fact. The goal is to start somewhere - anywhere. When you get accustomed to each new habit, you will feel confident enough to take your next step.

  • Eat organic food. Ingested pesticides, antibiotics and/or growth hormones bear no resemblance to anything in nature, leaving your body unable to detoxify and excrete them to an optimal degree. In its infinite wisdom and in a desperate bid to keep us from harm, our bodies store these toxins in our adipose tissues, the cumulative effects of which can rob us of our health and vitality. The same phenomenon occurs in non-organic animals so it is best to trim off all fats (which would have otherwise been a great addition to your diet) from them before consumption. Similarly, there are no safe levels of chemical pesticides so if eating a 100% organic diet is too expensive, consider growing your own produce.

 

  • Choose non-toxic toiletries. Start by getting into the habit of reading labels and avoid those ingredients known to be harmful. For more information and resources - including brands with safe ingredients and those to avoid - please use the Guides To Non-Toxic Haircare/Skincare/Deodorants & Fragrances.

 

 

  • Choose non-toxic cleaning products. The market is flooded with brands that make all kinds of claims but as a rule of thumb, shorter ingredient lists with recognisable ingredients are less likely to be detrimental to your health.  Bio-D is a pure, effective and affordable alternative that is available online and in some health food stores. 

 

  • Avoid storing - and heating - food and drinks in plastic. Plastic leaches endocrine-disrupting chemicals (substances which dysregulate the perfect synchronicity of hormones) into food and drinks. While it is true that this is sometimes impossible to avoid (plastic packaging used for virtually all fresh food, for example), it is worth making a conscious effort to avoid it where possible. Kilner jars are a great alternative for storing everything from dry goods to bone broth. Stainless steel is a great indestructible alternative for lunchboxes, bottles, straws and ice-lolly moulds. Glass and ceramic dishes are largely oven-proof and therefore suitable for reheating food. 

 

  • Filter your water. Many filters are unable to remove heavy metals, antibiotics and additives (like chlorine and fluoride) from the water supply so it is worth seeking out products specifically designed to tackle the broadest range of toxins whilst keeping the essential components of water as found in nature. It is also worth considering filtering water used in baths and showers. The FreshWater Filter Company has a great range.

 

  • Use air-purifying plants indoors. Several house plants are known to filter out common volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Aloe vera and spider plants, to name just a few, can also help rid indoor air of harmful chemicals by absorbing them.

 

  • Be mindful of hidden toxins in furniture, carpets and DIY materials. Look out for - and avoid - fabric protectors and flame retardants on sofas and mattresses, MDF in furniture and formaldehyde in carpet underlays and VOC-laden paints. These are known to off-gas carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Choose natural materials like wood, removable/washable and untreated sofa covers and low-VOC paint instead.

Why I Do Not Recommend Clean Fifteen|Dirty Dozen Lists

I'd like to begin by sharing the Merriam-Webster definition of food, which just so happens to be my favourite.

Food is something that nourishes, sustains or supplies.

Anything we ingest that does not perform any or all of these tasks cannot, in my opinion, be justifiably regarded as food. We seem to have created a world in which the line between food and enticingly packaged - and marketed - food-like substances has been so blurred that we now unwittingly consume toxic substances daily.

It is all too easy to get confused by mixed messages in the media. You may have placed all your trust in a system which ought to give us the facts so that we can make informed choices. You may not feel ready to look deeper into the consequences of our collective quest for "convenient" and cheaper food-like substances.

Please know that this is not a judgement of anyone consuming produce sprayed with pesticides.

I understand. I have been where you are. We all do the best we can.

The premise of the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists appears to be based on the assumption that the use of smaller amounts of pesticides is somehow safer. I respectfully disagree.

This review explains that the term "low dose" is itself a misnomer since the potency or efficacy of individual chemicals studied was not taken into account. There is substantial evidence in the scientific literature linking the use of endocrine disruptor chemicals in pesticides to wide-ranging detrimental effects on health. They have additive and synergistic effects and very little is known about how these chemicals act in combination. Such substances penetrate deep into produce (thick-skinned or not) and cannot be washed - or peeled - off.

Money often comes up in conversations such as these. We each have a limit above which we cannot go when it comes to expense of any kind. With so much to do and buy these days, it can be hard to prioritise. Remember that each time you buy a food-like substance, you vote for the kind of food you would like to see more of.

Consider making the switch from that which will deplete you to that which will nourish and sustain you. You can do so by either:

  • Signing up to an organic veg box scheme. There are quite a few to choose from now and they tend to operate on a contract-free basis. This means that you can opt in or out from one week to the next or as required.

OR

  • Growing your own produce. With options ranging from balcony and container gardening to your very own fruit and vegetable plot, this is possible wherever you live. This infographic explains the basics beautifully. There is also an interactive version that can be customised with the climate where you live, etc., if you prefer.

If you would like to know more about pesticides and their effects, Guy Watson (organic farmer and founder of Riverford) has created a minute-long video and written a series of posts on the subject. You can find them here.

How To Be Healthy: Manage Stress

At first glance, the hallmarks of stress seem instantly recognisable - work deadlines, financial woes or the death of a loved one. Poor diet, circadian rhythm disruption and environmental toxins (be they from make-up ingredients and household cleaning products or toxic fumes), are less obvious - and equally important - triggers and drivers. When viewed from this wider perspective, it is clear that everyone - from a newborn baby to a high-powered executive in the City - is susceptible.

I now consider behaviour - or the manner in which a person responds to a particular situation or stimulus - to be the underlying cause of chronic stress. It is, without a doubt, the greatest driver of disease in the 21st century.

These responses become the raw material that is then fed into the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (or HPA) axis. Perceived as threats akin to that posed by a sabre-toothed tiger, these responses to triggers set off a cascade of events. Elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, for example, flood your muscles with much-needed oxygen and energy and offer - what should be - short term protection from imminent danger.

Modern lifestyle choices (like late nights, fad diets and over-zealous workouts) have a habit of frequently triggering this primal mechanism. This creates the perfect internal environment in which chronic disorders - like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure - can thrive.

The good news is that we can each begin to take small steps to change our behaviour. Easier said than done, I know, but well worth it.

 

 

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Observe ultradian rhythms. Simply put, this is making a conscious decision to oscillate between periods of intense activity or work to periods of relaxation or play. It is the very antithesis of relentless activity that dominates every facet and period of life - holidays included - today. You could experiment with taking 15 to 20-minute breaks every 90-120 minutes. I have found the breathing techniques in the Feldenkrais Method to be particularly beneficial. You can find a teacher in your area here.

 

  • Entrain circadian rhythms. The observation of ultradian rhythms actually goes a long way towards regulating our circadian rhythms (or sleep-wakefulness cycles). We are designed to be active in the daytime (preferably outside in nature) and to wind down - in preparation for restorative, restful sleep - at night. This mechanism gets disrupted by exposure to melatonin-suppressing blue light, melatonin being the regulatory hormone of circadian rhythms. Blue light is emitted by artificial light and screens (including - but not limited to - computer screens, tablets, smartphones and television) so it is best to limit exposure to these at least two to three hours before bed.

 

  • Change your thought patterns. We identify so much with the constant chatter in our heads that we frequently perceive it to be the unequivocal truth. It is possible to train oneself to not take everything so personally and to frame events more positively. For example, the man who just cut you up in traffic may be late for an important appointment and not at all focused on putting you in a bad mood. In the same vein, "failure" could be perceived as an opportunity to work out - without judgement of oneself - what one could have done differently to achieve a desired result. Meditation is a great way to train your mind to not get too attached to your thoughts.

 

  • Limit exposure to environmental toxins. Granted, we all have to live in a world where toxicity is rife but we can choose to make our homes - and our own person - a sanctuary of sorts from it all. I have created a few guides to help you with tips, resources and recipes (should you wish to make your own products). I post new ones periodically and you can download them here.

How To Be Healthy: Move

Movement does not have to be viewed as yet another accomplishment and worn as a badge of honour. It is simply something that we evolved to do as human beings to meet our need for food, shelter and play.

Exercise - movement's younger, trendier incarnation - is a term I have deliberately avoided using for reasons I will expand on in subsequent articles. For now, suffice to say that most forms use a lot less of our bodies than we think and, therefore, cannot possibly provide the vim and vigour required to meet life's challenges well into old age.

 

 

I recommend a slow, gentle start with easily achievable goals that you can build on over a period of time. I love Katy Bowman's concept of stacking one's life to accommodate natural and varied movement on your own or as a group and/or family. For example:

  • Pepper your day with varied movement breaks. Even the most dedicated gym goer is prone to prolonged periods of adopting the same position (be that standing or sitting) and/or repetitive movement. A two-hour workout is no use if the rest of the waking day is spent driving to work, sitting at a desk all day before driving home to "relax" by sitting on the sofa to watch television, for example. Aim for a 5-minute standing break every hour, stack it by adding some stretches and vary what you do each time. You might get some strange looks at work but it will be a small price to pay when you find that you become more energised, productive and supple over time as a result.

 

  • Hang. Trees, door frames and climbing frames in parks are free and offer opportunities to improve your grip strength, the loss of which is unprecedented in our modern age. If you are new to this you can address your technique here.

 

  • Walk as often as you can. This is not meant to be a sweat-inducing power walk. A leisurely 5-minute stroll around your own garden taken periodically throughout the day is absolutely fine to begin with. You can eventually progress to walks in the woods with your children or run errands on foot in your local area. Try to do this in progressively thinner-soled shoes until your feet feel strong enough for barefoot ones. Barefoot shoes have ultra-thin soles and, therefore, enable your feet to feel the terrain they are walking on. This sends sensory feedback to your brain which helps it to advise your body on appropriate adjustments to your gait, greatly minimising the risk of injury.

 

  • Pick up and carry heavy things - or people. Walking to the shops with nothing but some bags means that you will have to use extra effort to bring your purchases home - especially if you are shopping for the week. You can choose to go with your children, friends or partner if you want to start with a lighter load to begin with and share out the rest. You could also take/pick up parcels to/from the Post Office on foot, depending on how big/heavy they are and what you feel you can manage over a certain distance. Walks with little ones often present opportunities to give them piggy back rides when they get tired.

 

  • Do as much of your own housework - and gardening - as possible. Try this with your favourite music on and get your children involved.

 

  • Dance.

What is your favourite way to weave more natural movement into your days?

How To Be Healthy: Nourish

We are living through an - often - arduous era of taking apart everything our ancestors instinctively knew and attempting to put it all back together in a manner that best serves our wellbeing.

The physiological discomforts and lack of ease (or disease) we sometimes experience are manifestations of an evolutionary mismatch. The rapid evolution of the world we live in today has far outpaced the evolution of the human race even though it has made valiant efforts to adapt to its new environment. Traits that served us in our old environment are now maladaptive in the current one.

We are still hard-wired for potential scarcity (hence the strong inclination to gorge when food is in the vicinity) and yet, never has food been more abundant. We used to hunt and forage for food because not doing so meant certain death. Today - if nothing takes your fancy at your nearest food outlet - practically everything can now be delivered to your doorstep at the click of a mouse.

 

"Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them."

Albert Einstein

 

Whether we all agree on what constitutes a healthy diet remains in contention. That said, I think we can all agree that foods reared or grown as nature intended are more likely to bring our bodies back into alignment. It is also clear that where the standard Western diet dominates, so does chronic disease. This is evident in the exploration of any ancestral diet and the events that occurred following its abandonment in favour of instant gratification.

I hope that this does not lead you to believe that clinging to dogma and reenactments of the past is the way forward. This is a conversation that must allow room for individuality. There is no one-size-fits-all - the same food that enables one to thrive could enable another to merely survive. This is not to say that there isn't a basic framework on which the optimal human diet is based.

Our ancestors lived in close contact - and in harmony - with nature.  They revered the seasons and their bountiful gifts. Through trial and error, they discovered that the body has an innate capacity to heal, given the right conditions.

Hunter-gatherer populations ate (and thrived on) meat, offal, fish, seafood, an extremely diverse range of non-starchy and starchy vegetables, minimal - and properly prepared - grains, fruits, properly prepared nuts and seeds and traditional fats. More recently, dairy consumption saw a sharp increase when European-derived populations developed the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, owing to the rise of dairy farming. The emphasis now placed on less nutrient-dense foods like legumes (as a substitute for the more nutrient-dense animal proteins) and grains is unprecedented - particularly among the health-conscious subset of society.

Whilst considering the above, I would suggest that you keep an open mind. The press has a tendency to engender a mentality of elitism, guilt and even fear where food is concerned. Most confusing of all is the fact that substances that rob us of our health and vitality are not only referred to as food but touted as healthy. Terms like "superfood", "treat" and "guilty pleasure" do nothing to acknowledge the nuances required in determining the multi-faceted needs of the average 21st century human.

 

 

Essentially, you are what you - and your beneficial bacteria - eat, what you then absorb and what you do or do not detoxify.

This behooves you to consider the following:

Find a practitioner who will work in partnership with you. Figuring out the foods that help your body to unlock its full potential is best not attempted alone. The key is to find someone who discourages the use of quick fixes and is willing to dig deeper using appropriate testing. Determining whether or not you absorb nutrients from your food (or detoxify optimally) is vital for fine-tuning your unique dietary needs. If you feel at any time that you are being talked down to or that your feelings or questions are not taken into account, I would suggest that you find another practitioner.

Experiment. Listen to your body and pay attention to the signals it sends you. Remember that symptoms of gut disorders are not limited to the gut itself and can often manifest anywhere in your body. You could try eliminating the usual suspects, (e.g. processed foods, industrial seed oils and sugar) and highly allergenic foods (like soy, wheat, eggs, dairy or nightshades, for example) for a minimum of thirty days before reintroducing them individually. Notice how you feel with each reintroduction over a 3-day period. Do you feel depressed, fatigued or have stiff or painful joints? Remember that there can be no better expert on you than you so it is important to familiarise yourself with your physiological quirks. The information you glean will be doubly valuable, should you choose to work with a practitioner.

Dispense with the idea that food should be cheap and convenient. Good quality food costs money. Your body is, arguably, your most prized possession and therefore warrants the biggest investment you can afford. Just as cars require a non-negotiable type - and quality - of fuel to function optimally, so do our bodies. Attempting to decipher the average label on any ready-made product can be challenging. Do not be fooled by seemingly benign ingredient lists as there are legal loopholes that allow the addition of undeclared chemical additives. Cooking from scratch is your safest bet and buying ingredients rather than products (many of which are not food, strictly speaking) works out cheaper, anyway.

Cast your vote wisely. Buying food-like substances perpetuates the status quo. You have the power to change the course of history and to create a better, disease-free world every time you reach for your wallet. Consider making your next purchase from a local farmer who treats animals and the earth with the utmost respect.

How To Be Healthy

So much has been written on the subject that I wondered if the world needed yet another magic pill dressed up as a new exercise craze or the latest superfood - or this article. Faced with a concept so idealistic, highly prized and therefore so daunting, the kindest thing one can do for oneself is to keep it simple. Here's what I propose, if I may be so bold.

Let's boil down our perpetual quest for health to its simplest molecule. Choice.

There is power - real power - in choosing how you will respond to your circumstances from one potential-laden moment to the next. The decision to shy away from making a choice counts as a choice, too, by the way.

I said we'd keep things simple so here are three choices you may wish to consider as you get started (or continue) on your quest for true health:

  • Look within. Accept that the choices you have made up to this point have led you to where you are now. Acknowledge this without judgement, blame or criticism of yourself, others or your genes.

  • Practice gratitude. Isn't it incredible that we each have a body that constantly lets us know how we're doing? A physiological whisper ("Ahem! That raw kale in the green smoothie really didn't agree with me.") becomes an ear-splitting yell and, eventually, a diagnosis when appropriate changes are not made. Think of these as gentle nudges and signposts that can help you get to where you need to be.

  • Take action. This could be getting to bed earlier than usual or choosing to spend more time in contact with nature. Make the very best choice you can manage at the time. Baby steps.

What choices do you make to propel you to the next rung of the health ladder?