Turmeric is a rhizome that grows under the ground like ginger. It has a rich, bright orange color and is used in many foods. Originally used in Southeast Asia, it’s a vital component of traditional curries. You can find dried powdered turmeric in the spice aisle of just about any food shop. Sometimes they carry the fresh rhizome too (it looks like ginger root, but smaller).
Turmeric contains an amazing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound called “curcumin.” The amount of this bioactive compound is around 3-7% by weight of turmeric. Curcumin has been studied like crazy for its health benefits. Many of these studies test curcumin at up to 100x more than that of a traditional diet that includes turmeric.
Health benefits of curcumin
There are dozens of clinical studies using curcumin extract (which is way more concentrated than ground turmeric).
Curcumin fights inflammation at the molecular level. Some studies even show it can work as well as certain anti-inflammatory medications (but without the side effects).
Curcumin can neutralize free radicals before they wreak havoc on our biomolecules. Curcumin also boosts our natural antioxidant enzymes.
These two functions of reducing inflammation and oxidation have amazing health benefits. Chronic inflammation plays a major role in so many conditions. Including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, dementia, mood disorders, arthritis pain, etc.
Curcumin has other amazing functions too:
It does sound like turmeric should deserve the “miracle spice” title, doesn’t it?
How to get the most out of your turmeric
Curcumin is not easily absorbed by your gut. For one thing, it’s fat soluble. So, as with fat-soluble nutrients (like vitamins A, D, E, and K), you can increase absorption by eating it with a fat-containing meal.
The second trick to get the most out of your turmeric is eating it with pepper. Interestingly, a compound in black pepper (piperine) enhances absorption of curcumin, by a whopping 2,000%!
To get the health benefits of curcumin you’d need to eat an awful lot of turmeric, together with pepper so may be one of the occasions where a supplement is a good idea.
But before you take a curcumin supplement, take caution if you:
Turmeric is a delicious spice, and its “active ingredient” curcumin is a great health booster.
Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which are great to bust chronic inflammation. It also has other amazing health benefits, like brain- and heart-boosting properties, and even cancer-fighting properties.
Curcumin supplements can be great for your health, but they’re not for everyone. Check the label or speak with your GP before taking it.
Stress is a major problem today thanks to social media, long working hours, lack of physical activity and numerous other factors. Did you know it’s estimated that between 75-90% of all visits to the GP are related, either directly or indirectly, to conditions caused by stress?
While stress causes a variety of health conditions, one of the most common, which many people are unaware of, is the impact stress has on our hormone levels and our ability to maintain a healthy weight and stress that goes on for a long time is a triple whammy for weight management – it increases our appetites, makes us hold on to fat we already have and reduces our willpower making it harder to implement a healthy lifestyle.
The reasons why stress leads to weight gain are complex but the four major ones are:
Our hormones – When your brain detects danger, whether that’s a sabre-toothed tiger on the hunt or a looming work deadline, your body releases a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline, CRH (Corticotropin-releasing hormone) and cortisol. These help your body to feel alert, ready for action and able to deal with injury. Fighting off the tiger would take a lot of energy but luckily cortisol (the stress hormone) hangs around after the danger and signals the body to start replenishing its energy supply. Unfortunately sitting at your desk worrying about missing that deadline isn’t using quite as much energy as our ancestors would have used fighting the sabre-tooth but we’ve still got the same physiological system working to keep us safe so your brain is still going to tell you to get some food and fast as you can!
Belly Fat – back in the days when we had real and frequent threats from tigers and famine our bodies adapted to store energy for times of scarcity. Unfortunately for us that means that when we’re chronically stressed by work/life demands we tend to get an extra layer of “visceral fat” in our bellies. This fat is tricky to get rid of and releases chemicals that trigger inflammation in the body causing more stress in the system and increasing our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Excess cortisol also slows down your metabolism to ensure there’s an adequate supply of glucose available when needed to deal with potential dangers.
Cravings and Fast Food – When we’re stressed we crave comfort foods and there are both biological and psychological reasons for this. Stress plays havoc with our brain’s reward system by decreasing levels of the “happy hormones” such as serotonin so we crave foods that will give us the “reward” based experience such as highly processed, high-fat and high-sugar foods.
Poorer Sleep Habits – Research shows that worry is a major cause of insomnia. When levels of cortisol and other stress hormones like adrenaline are abnormally elevated throughout the day it can be difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. This lack of sleep impacts directly on weight maintenance as a lack of sleep affects the hormones leptin and ghrelin which dictate both appetite and feelings of satiety. Also, lack of sleep will erode our willpower and ability to resist temptation.
So what’s a person to do?
There are a number of ways that you can try to minimise the impact your stress levels have on your weight. These include:
Exercise – Exercise has been shown to reduce cortisol and trigger the release of chemicals that relieve pain and improve mood so it’s a good stress-buster. Picking an activity that’s quite challenging and forces you to focus so you can’t think about whatever’s stressing you is particularly effective. In addition, being active will help increase your metabolism so you burn off some of the extra calories that you may have “emotionally” overeaten.
Meditate/Mindfulness – More and more research is emerging to show the benefits of mindfulness or breathing practices for lowering stress levels. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting cross-legged in a darkened room with a candle and repeating “Ommmm”. There are now some really good apps that make spending a few minutes being mindful very easy. Getsomeheadspace.com and Calm.com are both worth checking out. Even a few minutes a day can have a profound impact on your body’s stress levels.
Keep a Gratitude Journal – Writing can give you an insight into why you’re feeling so stressed and adding in a few things that you’re grateful for, however small a win they may be, switches your brain from focusing on the negatives to a more positive way of thinking. This can help increase feelings of your ability to cope and reduce the emphasis on your problems.
So the take-home here is that even though your stress levels might be making it hard to lose weight, there are steps you can take which will help reduce your stress and those are important for your general health as well as your ability to lose weight.
If you’d like some more help with weight loss or finding a suitable exercise programme to help you reduce your stress levels then please get in touch with us.
On 27th March our clocks go forward an hour in line with Daylight Saving. We often think of this as the true start of spring and are grateful for the lighter evenings but have you ever wondered how this change affects your sleep?
You might think the only way the change to DST impacts your sleep is by making it an hour shorter for one day. But the truth is you’re more likely to have trouble falling, and staying, asleep and this can last for up to a week or much longer after the change.
When the clocks go forward and you wake up an hour earlier than usual — and go about your day eating, working, and exercising an hour earlier than usual — your body experiences a kind of jet lag. You won’t living in sync with your circadian rhythm, the internal clock that dictates our energy levels over a roughly 24-hour cycle.
One of the things that your circadian rhythm controls is when your body feels awake and when it feels sleepy so when it’s out of whack it can be harder to fall asleep. That leads to low energy the next day — think grogginess during an important 10 a.m. meeting.
Too many nights like this and you’ll end up with sleep debt. This is the amount of sleep you “owe” your body over the last 14 nights when compared to your sleep need. The amount of sleep you need is genetically determined with the average being 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes or so. Although there’s always a chance, you’ll fall in the 13.5% who need 9 hours or more sleep per night.
Sleep debt is one of the biggest factors determining how you feel and perform each day.
Clearly Daylight Saving Time can have a significant impact on us for days, or even weeks to come. Circadian misalignment has been linked to impaired cognition, cancer, workplace injuries, traffic accidents, heart attacks and strokes.
Obviously DST is going to happen whether we like it or not but you can reduce the impact of that lost hour of sleep by having good sleep hygiene and maximising the sleep you DO get. Switch off screens at least an hour before bed. Don’t drink coffee later in the day. Avoid heavy meals at least 3 hours before bedtime. Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
Everyone’s talking about how bad sugar is for you. There are even entire documentaries on the topic such as “That Sugar Film”.
Obviously sugar is not a health food. And “added sugars” (ones that are not naturally found in whole foods like fruit) are particularly bad. They’re not only bad for diabetes; but, also for your waistline, mood, and energy levels.
Organizations and governments are (finally) declaring a maximum amount of daily sugar intake although many of them don’t actually agree on what that maximum number should be.
The problem is that sugar is everywhere. It’s naturally occurring. It’s also added to just about every processed food there is. And this “added sugar” is a factor in many chronic diseases we see today. Sugar is inflammatory. Too much is associated with weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and cavities. Too much sugar is a huge health risk, no matter how you look at it.
Let’s discuss the difference between “added” sugar and “naturally occurring” sugar.
Fruit and other healthy whole foods contain sugar. They also contain water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. They are good for you. Eating fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risks of many chronic diseases.
“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are concerning. In 2013, the American Heart Association calculated that about 25,000 deaths per year were due to sweetened beverages. “Added sugars” are also in baked goods, sweets, soups, sauces and other processed foods. You can find sugar on the ingredient list as many names, often ending in “-ose.” These include glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.
So, “Total sugars” = “Naturally occurring sugars” + “Added sugars.”
Tips to reduce your sugar intake
For one thing, ditch as much processed food as possible, regardless of their sugar content. There are a ton of studies that show that processed foods are bad for your health. Period.
Here are some of my most popular recommendations to reduce your sugar intake, so you don’t get too much:
I need to make a confession………………………………………………………………………………..
I joined Inspire Fitness earlier this year.
It sounds so easy doesn’t it, but it wasn’t.
I had booked with Carolyn to come and look round after Christmas. I had been unwell for a few months and recently been diagnosed as perimenopausal. Having read lots about the vast array of symptoms I was suffering there were lots of indications that exercise can really help with the mental issues as well as the physical.
But lockdown came again. The gym was closed and my health took a turn for the worse. I started on HRT – the first type was horrific and I was worse than before. And my work stress became so overwhelming I was signed off.
Things were pretty bad there for a few weeks.
And then Carolyn contacted me to say the gym was going to be able to re-open with covid safety measures in place and did I want to rebook to come and take a look round. I tried to explain that I had been unwell and that due to severe anxiety at that point I hadn’t actually left the house for 2 weeks.
She was so kind and understanding I felt a bit silly turning down her offer. Armed with new HRT and pulling on my big girl pants I decided that I didn’t want to live like this anymore and I was going to have to really dig in and try to help myself.
So the day came. And I’m stood outside of the gym racked with nerves (I was actually shaking!). I HATED the gym. What was I thinking? I’m fat and unfit! I’m going to look like an idiot! All these negative thoughts ran through my head and I nearly turned around and walked home.
I’m so so glad that I didn’t.
The gym (and the HRT!) has transformed my life. Without the HRT I wouldn’t have had the emotional capacity to try something new and without the gym, I wouldn’t have scrambled together the resilience to become a less anxious and more confident person.
I train 5 times a week – sometimes 6! And it turned out I’m strong and I love weights! All along the staff team has coaxed and encouraged me, supporting my victories and providing words of wisdom on days when it’s been a tough session. One of the coaches quickly realised that I wasn’t working at capacity and chatted me through the different programmes offered, and recommended something she thought might be a bit more challenging for me.
I’ve been a member of Inspire for less than 5 months and I’m so grateful for the support shown to me by the team and the other members. The friendship and comradery I found have been amazing, it really is like no other gym!
I have increased my strength and flexibility, developed my cardio and improved my metabolism (just love seeing my stats on the app!!). I am about to complete the Athletic programme, it’s been very challenging, but hugely satisfying.
Oh. And I’ve lost 46lbs. So lockdown and menopause can do one – this lady is determined to be fit and fierce at 50.
I am now a certified gym bunny – there I said it!
There’s no doubt that what you eat can have a big impact on how you feel, right?
Mental health and brain health are complex. So are the foods we eat, and the ways our bodies interact with those foods. While we don’t know the exact mechanisms how food and nutrition help, we do know a few ways food impacts our moods.
First, what we eat becomes the raw materials for our neurotransmitters. “Neurotransmitters” are biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate (ever heard of serotonin, the happy hormone?). They are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health.
Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar. And having unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to mood swings.
Let’s talk about mood-boosting and mood-busting foods.
Some nutrient deficiencies can look a lot like mental health problems; this includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium. So, getting enough vitamins, minerals, (and other things like antioxidants) are key. These nutrients not only reduce inflammation but also fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies. Including those that create neurotransmitters. So make sure you’re eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are the happiest.
Also pay special attention to vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), as it’s not naturally occurring in too many foods. Selenium is an essential mineral found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry. Try to add some of those to your weekly diet.
Second, make sure you get enough protein. Protein is your body’s main supply of amino acids. Amino acids are very important for mood issues because they are the fundamental building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, poultry, and meat.
Third, complex carbohydrates like sweet potato and quinoa are great too. They allow better absorption of key amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by your body to make serotonin (your “happy hormone”) and melatonin (your “sleepy” hormone). So, if you want to relax, try these in the evening.
Fourth, fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae) are also mood-boosting. Omega-3s are definitely “brain food” and may help to ease some symptoms.
FUN FACT: One study showed that giving one multi-vitamin and one omega-3 fish oil tablet per day to prison inmates reduced the incidence of violent behavior by 50%!
Last but not least, make sure you’re hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well.
You won’t be surprised to hear me say processed foods are mood-busters, right? One study suggests that eating a lot of processed foods devoid of nutrients can increase your chances of becoming depressed by as much as 60 percent! This is on top of the research that shows nutrient deficiencies can look like mental health problems.
“But it makes me feel good!”
Yes, some of these mood busters can make you feel better temporarily. Some big food companies study how to maximize the “pleasure” centers with the perfect amount of sugar, salt, and fat. Not to mention the color, texture, and taste; they can light up our taste buds and make us feel good… in the short term.
A few other things to avoid are:
Bad moods can lead to bad eating habits; and, bad eating habits can lead to bad moods. If you need a mood boost, stick to minimally processed nutrient-dense whole foods. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables (including leafy greens), nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat. Avoid common mood-busting foods like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
And remember, sometimes “feel good” junk foods, only make you feel good temporarily.
Lot’s of people avoid fat in their diets believing it will make them fat, raise their cholesterol and cause heart disease BUT…
Not all fats are created equal!
Fat is one of the three critical macronutrients; along with protein and carbohydrates. Some fats are super-health-boosting; and others are super-health-busting.
Health-building fats support your brain, hormones, immune system, heart health, and moods. Health-busting fats pretty much bust all of these (brain, hormones, immune system, heart health, and moods) so are best avoided.
As a general rule, the fats from whole foods that are the least processed will be the healthiest for you. But, you already knew that, right?
So let me give you a definitive list of the fats to use, and the fats to avoid.
Health-boosting fats are from:
You probably already know, virgin oils are the best option. Getting the oil out of a whole food involves some processing. Sometimes it’s by squeezing, or heating. Other times it’s by using chemical solvents. The word “virgin” is used to show minimal processing (and no solvents!).
According to the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius:
“Virgin fats and oils are edible vegetable fats, and oils obtained, without altering the nature of the oil, by mechanical procedures, e.g., expelling or pressing, and the application of heat only. They may be purified by washing with water, settling, filtering and centrifuging only.”
For example, Extra virgin olive oil must:
Plus, the minimal processing helps to maintain some of the quality of delicate fat molecules, as well as their antioxidants. Win-win!
Just be little careful when choosing your oil because often the bottle will appear to contain virgin olive oil but when you look closely it’s been mixed with more processed oils to bring the price down.
Health-busting fats are from:
Hydrogenated oils are particularly bad; this is because they contain small amounts of “trans” fats. Studies show that trans fats lead to insulin resistance, inflammation, belly fat. They also drastically raise the risk of heart disease. Lose-lose!
Don’t forget, we’re not just talking about buying bottles of these fats for home cooking. We’re also looking at the processed foods, most of which contain them.
How to get more health-building fats
First, ditch any foods in your cupboards that contain safflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or any hydrogenated oil. Soybean oil alone accounts for over 75% of oils consumed by Americans, so you can imagine it’s a popular product in food manufacturing in the UK too.
Second, try substituting one of the health-building oils whenever you have a recipe that calls for the other stuff. Try flax oil in your salad dressing, avocado and/or olive oil in your cooking, and coconut oil in your baking.
Third, make healthier versions of your go-to processed foods. We’ll help out with a recipe later in the week that contains healthy fats.
Now tell me: What’s your favorite fat and why? Let me know in the comments below.
Do you ever feel a bit “overextended” in the belly after a meal? Perhaps “gassy?” Have you ever carried a “food baby?”
Well, bloating is common. Up to 25-30% of people experience it regularly. It happens when you have trouble digesting. The symptoms come from excess gas, reactions to foods, or food not moving through you as well as it could.
There are many possible reasons you might experience these symptoms. Maybe because of a medical condition, a food allergy or an intolerance to what you’ve eaten.
It can also result from how you eat.
If you have a serious digestive issue like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), then you should have been given some dietary advice so make sure to eat accordingly. Same goes if you know certain foods give you gas. Simply avoid them.
If you’re already doing those things, and still experience bloating, here are some great tips for dealing with it naturally.
1 – Don’t overeat
If you overeat at a meal, then you’ll feel bigger around the mid-section. You’ll feel more pressure in your abdomen. Plus, you’re giving your digestive system a hard time. It’s better to eat until you feel almost full and not overindulge. Grab an extra snack or small meal throughout the day if you have to. Just don’t over-stuff yourself in one sitting.
2 – Avoid sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols are low-calorie sweeteners made from sugars. In an ingredients list, they end in “-ol,” and include things like sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol. They’re found in some chewing gums and sugar-free foods. Some people experience bloating after eating foods with these. So, try avoiding them and see if that helps you.
3 – Avoid swallowing air
Sometimes the gas that causes pressure in your digestive system is from swallowing air. Things like carbonated drinks are the biggest culprit here. You can also swallow air if you eat with yoru mouth open, when you chew gum or when you drink through a straw, so try avoiding these and see if it helps.
You can also swallow air when eating too quickly or while talking when you eat. Which leads me to…
4 – Eat slower, more mindfully, and less stressed
Eating too fast isn’t doing your digestive system any favours. Digestion starts in the mouth so take time to really chew your food. It should be liquid before you swallow it. A secondary benefit of this is you will naturally find you eat less and may lose weight. Be mindful and enjoy the time you are spending eating your meals. Savour them.
Stress can also affect digestion and cause increased bloating. Stress-reducing techniques can help. Try meditating or deep breathing (but not while you’re eating). 🙂
5 – Try peppermint
Peppermint oil has been shown to improve bloating. It’s thought to increase transit time by relaxing the stomach muscles and increasing the flow of bile. Try steeping fresh peppermint leaves, or a peppermint tea bag, and drinking it slowly. See if that helps reduce your symptoms.
There are a bunch of natural ways to deal with bloating.
First, avoid it by not eating things that give you gas or aggravate a digestive issue. Try not to overeat, consume sugar alcohols, or swallow air. Also, eating more mindfully and reducing stress can help too. Finally, if you are experiencing bloating, enjoy a cup of peppermint tea.
If you do all of these, and still experience bloating, then you may have a food intolerance so try tracking what you eat and your symptoms to see if you can recognise a pattern. If you have a major concern, then please see your doctor.
There are lots of different kinds of salt: pink, iodized, kosher, sea, etc. They either come from salt mines in the ground, or from evaporating the water out of salt water and what all salts have in common is they contain the mineral sodium.
Salt has been a popular additive in food for centuries, both for flavour, and as a preservative. It preserves the food by drawing out the water that bacteria and mould need to grow so it doesn’t spoil as quickly.
When we talk about salt, most of us think of our salt cellar, or what we add to vegetables that we’re cooking but actually, 75% of our salt intake comes from foods we buy. These can include the obvious ones such as snacks like crisps, and salted nuts but also bread and biscuits, ready- made sauces, packet sauces, stock cubes, breakfast cereals, canned foods, pickled foods, boxed foods, deli meats, restaurant food, and fast food. In the same way that savoury foods often, surprisingly, have sugar added, sweet foods can often have some salt!
Salt is actually “sodium chloride.” It’s about 40% sodium and 60% chloride; this means that one teaspoon of salt (5,000 mg) contains about 2,000 mg of sodium.
Sodium itself is not that bad! In fact, it’s an essential mineral and an essential electrolyte in the body. It helps with fluid balance, and proper nerve and muscle function. But too much sodium can begin to cause problems! Regularly getting too much sodium can increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, stomach cancer, and kidney stones.
That one teaspoon with about 2,000 mg of sodium should be pretty much your entire days worth but anyone who eats pre-made, packaged foods tend to eat far more than that. And, if you’re at high risk for those conditions, then you should probably restrict your intake closer to 1,500 mg of sodium each day.
You might be wondering what role salt plays in increasing blood pressure? And why it makes you thirsty?
When you eat salt, it quickly gets absorbed into the blood. Your body recognizes that the blood is too salty, so tries to dilute the blood with more water (i.e. with thirst signals to make you drink more). More water in the blood means more volume of fluid your heart needs to pump and more fluid pushing against the walls of your vessels. It also sends more blood to the kidneys so the sodium can be filtered out into the urine.
As you probably realise, increased blood pressure also puts a strain on your kidneys and other sensitive vessels, including critical vessels in your brain and heart.
Limiting salt intake can help reduce blood pressure.
Pro Tip: You can reduce high blood pressure by eating more whole foods, and more mineral-rich plant foods.
If you are healthy and eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods, then you probably don’t need to worry about your salt intake. Feel free to add a bit of salt during cooking or at the table for flavour.
If your doctor has told you to reduce your salt or sodium intake, then you can do this by reducing your intake of processed foods, adding less salt to the food you make, and eating more plant-based foods.
It can feel harder to eat healthy at this time of year. We think of salads and light meals in summer but come the colder weather we start to think of heavy, stick-to-your-ribs, warming foods and often our calorie consumption creeps up.
But, there are some simple swaps you can make that help you stay on track.
Use Pumpkin in Cake Mixes
One of the easiest healthy food swaps you can do with your autumn treats is to use pumpkin puree in your cakes. Use pumpkin puree to replace fat and eggs. This goes really well in spiced cakes but don’t be afraid to experiment.
If you want to follow a recipe instead of adjusting one here’s a lovely spiced pumpkin cake recipe: Spiced Pumpkin Cake
Sweet Potatoes Instead of White Potatoes
Many people enjoy potatoes, especially in the autumn when you want something a bit more filling but they can lead you to overeat carbs. Instead of having traditional white potatoes in your dishes, try sweet potatoes. These are filled with nutrients. You can have stuffed sweet potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, or even sweet potato soup.
Use Cauliflower for Low-Carb Options
If you are on a low-carb diet, then you should be very familiar with cauliflower. The bland taste and slightly rough texture of cauliflower makes it perfect as a substitute for many of the carb-rich foods we tend to love. You can use it to make mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes, use it instead of rice with it, or even make cauliflower steaks. Be creative and find different ways to substitute the higher-carb ingredients with cauliflower.
Quinoa Instead of Rice
One more substitution you can make for a healthier meal is to replace your rice with quinoa. Rice is fine, particularly brown rice but quinoa has higher protein levels and is more nutritious. As it’s autumn why not go for a harvest quinoa side dish with squash, pumpkin, roast brussels sprouts and spices, which would be really healthy!