Category Archives for "Health"

Everything You Need To Know About Cholesterol

cholesterol myths

Cholesterol Myths and What to Eat Instead

Historically there’s been a bit of an over-emphasis (borderlining obsession) about cholesterol and how it affects your health.

Often people are concerned about cholesterol without anyone ever explaining to them what it actually is.

While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is what’s more important than just how much of it there is overall.  In fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart.  Yes, opposite!

So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood.  These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.

They’re grouped into two main categories:

HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).

And yes, it’s even more complicated than this.  Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.

So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol which is harmful, it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.

So, the old “Cholesterol’s Bad” Myth

Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats.  Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.

You get that it’s an important molecule now, right?

The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.

It’s the ration of LDL compared with HDL in your blood that’s important to note.  Too much LDL compared with HDL may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease although it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.

Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol, or does it?

Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver.  It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat.  In fact, cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact) because that’s where your cholesterol comes from!

In fact, what you eat does affect how much cholesterol your liver produces but not necessarily in a bad way.  After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much so it switches it’s cholesterol production line into slow-mode.

Is the aim to get your cholesterol as low as possible?

As with almost everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained.  There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.

People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers and in fact, suicide so trying to get your cholesterol too low can have negative effects.

Are Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance?

Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.

And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.

Guess what does?

Nutrition and exercise!

One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies.  And we mean lots, up to 10 servings a day.  Every day.

You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats.  That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil.  Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.

So as you can see the science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day.  Cholesterol doesn’t necessarily need to be the scary subject it’s made out to be.  And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.

If you want any further help on this or other lifestyle or weight management issues please get in touch. We’re happy to help.

References:

https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cholesterol

https://summertomato.com/how-to-raise-your-hdl-cholesterol

https://authoritynutrition.com/top-9-biggest-lies-about-dietary-fat-and-cholesterol/

How to Improve Gut Health – 29th May – World Digestive Health Day

healthy gut, healthy you

Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we’re not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We’re talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We’re just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of “the gut-brain axis”). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.

So, let’s talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I’ll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.

Our gut’s role in our overall health

Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.

This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.

For one thing, our guts can “leak.” Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it’s not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can “leak.” When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don’t seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.

FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.

A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.

The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.

So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!

How to improve gut health

There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.

You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.

By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.

The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.

Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.

And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.

Conclusion

The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.

The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/does-all-disease-begin-in-the-gut/

https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-nutrition-gut-health

https://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

Good Posture is Essential For Good Health

Good posture

Our modern lifestyles are doing nothing good for our posture and consequently our health.   All those millions of years learning to stand upright and we spend all our time sitting down!  Compound that with the amount of time that we spend checking our phones and our posture really suffers.  According to the American Journal of Pain Management  “Posture effects and moderates every physiological function from breathing to hormonal production including spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse, and lung capacity.”   Also, according to an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society poor posture has also been linked to “a trend towards greater mortality”.

So What is Normal Posture?

In normal posture you stand with the skeleton aligned so that your head, torso, hips and legs are help upright with minimal muscular force and placing no strain on the ligaments.

Two major risks to normal posture are the amount of time you spend sitting (normally this means slouching) and the amount of time you spend checking your phone.  Your body adapts to help you do the things that you do regularly or for long periods of time even if it’s not designed to accommodate those positions.  It’ll just do the best it can.

Over the past 7 years mobile usage has grown from less than 30 minutes a day to 6 times this at nearly 3 hours a day for an average adult! This forward head tilt occurs every time we look at our phone and effectively changes the weight of the head from 10-12 pounds to as much as 60 pounds. Over time, this puts excessive strain on the spinal joints and causes tension within the muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back.

What should you do to improve your posture?

First, try to change your position frequently.  If you work at a computer or sit at a desk for much of your day see if you can move from sitting to standing at regular intervals.  Standing desks are becoming more common giving you that option but if that’s not feasible in your job then at least stand to answer phone calls or get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour.

Also, start holding your smart phone at eye level. This will prevent you from excessively flexing your head forward. Additionally, squeeze your shoulder blades together 5 times every time you look at your smart phone as this will help strengthen your mid back.

If you’re at all concerned about your posture or would like to know if you’re already storing problems for the future we can carry out a PostureScreen assessment for you.  This involves taking two photographs and then marking specific points on your structure.  The software then assesses and highlights any deviations from normal.  We charge £25 for a PostureScreen (£10 for members).

You can then use this information to regularly do exercises that will combat the effects of poor posture by strengthening the muscles of the neck and upper back.

The earlier you start, the better – do them not only for your posture but for your overall well-being!

If you’d like more information about the PostureScreen Assessment please give us a call on 01249 463002.

References

https://abcmiracles.com/research/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15450042

Why Your Waist Circumference Matters 100x More Than What You Weigh

lose belly fat

Do you want to ditch the scales?

Or are you obsessed with your weight?

I mean, it doesn’t define you (obviously).

What you weigh can matter but only to a certain extent.

Let’s look at your waist circumference (well…you look at yours and I’ll look at mine).

Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):

Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”?  The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.

THAT is what we’re talking about here.

Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases).

Yup – that apple!

And it’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”.  The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.

This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that’s where a lot of the problem actually is.  It’s this “un-pinchable” fat.

The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.

And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.

So as you can see where your fat is stored can be more important that how much you weigh.

Am I an apple or a pear?

It’s pretty simple to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape.  You can do it right now.

Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category.  Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.

For men the number is 40”.

Of course this isn’t a diagnostic tool.  There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases.  Waist circumference is just one of them.

So what can you do about it?

Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:

  • Eat more fiber. Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways.  First of all it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food.  Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
  • Add more protein to your day. Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer.  It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
  • Ditch added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially those sweet drinks (even 100% pure juice).
  • Move more. Get some aerobic exercise.  Lift some weights.  Walk and take the stairs.  It all adds up.
  • Stress less. Seriously!  Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.
  • Get more sleep. Again, this is important.  Not only does lack of sleep elevate your stress hormone (see above) but studies show that lack of sleep drives increased hunger and carb cravings.

Here’s a high fibre recipe for you to add to a meal as a side dish:

Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves 4

1 lb Brussels sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)

2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

dash salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice.  Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 15 minutes.  Toss.

Bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip:  Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K.  You may want to eat them more often.

References:
https://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-abdominal-fat-and-risk
https://www.precisionnutrition.com/visceral-fat-location
https://www.drsharma.ca/inspiring-my-interest-in-visceral-fat
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-definition/abdominal-obesity/
https://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/weights-poids/guide-ld-adult/qa-qr-pub-eng.php#a4
https://authoritynutrition.com/6-proven-ways-to-lose-belly-fat/
https://authoritynutrition.com/20-tips-to-lose-belly-fat/

The Importance of Sleep for Weight Loss

Recently we’ve been talking to a lot of ladies about sleep in relation to their results on their weight loss journey so we thought it was worth clarifying some of the things we’ve been telling you. Lots of people suffer from poor sleep habits at some stage of their lives. Unfortunately women tend to be more affected than men.

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Have you got a bit too much bounce?

Did you know three quarters of women who exercise in the UK wear the wrong kind of bra for working out!

Going without the correct support can cause breast pain and upper back and shoulder problems, even if your boobies are quite small!

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