Inflammation. This topic seems to be absolutely everywhere these days. Who in the health and wellness field is NOT talking about the infamous inflammation?
Scientists are measuring levels of inflammation in our bodies and finding that it can be pretty bad for our health; this is especially true when it’s chronic (i.e. lasts a long time).
Inflammation has been linked to autoimmune diseases, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, just to name a few.
Diet can play an important role in both reducing and increasing inflammation so here’s a quick run-down of some of the best foods that reduce inflammation for you to consume.
Anti-inflammatory Food #1: Berries, Grapes, and Cherries
Perhaps the most amazingly delicious anti-inflammatory foods are a sweet favourite of yours?
Berries, grapes, and cherries are packed with fibre, and antioxidant vitamins (e.g. vitamin C) and minerals (e.g. manganese).
Oh, and did I forget to mention their phytochemicals (phyto=plant)? Yes, many antioxidants such as “anthocyanins” and “resveratrol” are found in these small and delicious fruits.
In fact, berries, grapes, and cherries may be the best dietary sources of these amazingly healthy compounds.
Anti-inflammatory Food #2: Broccoli and Peppers
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that contains the antioxidant “sulforaphane.” This anti-inflammatory compound is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
Bell peppers, on the other hand, are one of the best sources of the antioxidants vitamin C and quercetin.
Just make sure to choose red peppers over the other colours. Peppers that are any other colour are not fully ripe and won’t have the same anti-inflammatory effect.
Anti-inflammatory Food #3: Healthy Fats (avocado, olive oil, fatty fish)
Fat can be terribly inflammatory (hello: “trans” fats), neutral (hello: saturated fats), or anti-inflammatory (hello: “omega-3s), this is why choosing the right fats is so important for your health.
The best anti-inflammatory fats are the unsaturated ones, including omega-3s. These are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Opt for fresh avocados, extra virgin olive oil, small fish (e.g. sardines and mackerel), and wild fish (e.g. salmon). Oh and don’t forget the omega-3 seeds like chia, hemp, and flax.
Anti-inflammatory Food #4: Green Tea
Green tea contains the anti-inflammatory compound called “epigallocatechin-3-gallate”, otherwise known as EGCG.
EGCG is linked to reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and Alzheimer’s.
Drinking steeped green tea is great, but why not try matcha green tea? It’s thought to contain even higher levels of antioxidants than regular green tea. (BTW – it comes in powdered form so is easy to add to smoothies!)
Anti-inflammatory Food #5 – Turmeric
Would a list of anti-inflammatory foods be complete without the amazing spice turmeric?
Turmeric contains the antioxidant curcumin.
This compound has been shown to reduce the pain of arthritis, as well as have anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties.
Try and take it with a sprinkling of black pepper to help with absorption.
Anti-inflammatory Food #6: Dark Chocolate
Slightly more decadent than my #1 pick of berries, grapes, and cherries.
Dark chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa is packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants (namely “flavonols”). These reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping your arteries healthy. They’ve even been shown to prevent “neuro-inflammation” (inflammation of the brain and nerves). Reducing neuro-inflammation may help with long-term memory and reduce the risk of dementia and stroke.
Make sure you avoid the sugary chocolate bars. You already know those aren’t going to be anti-inflammatory!
There are just so many amazingly delicious and nutritious foods that reduce inflammation you can choose. They range from colourful berries, vegetables, and spices, to healthy fats, and even cocoa.
You have so many reasons to add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to get your daily dose of “anti-inflammation.”
Here’s a healthy latte recipe that’s dairy free and tastes really decadent!
¼ cup almonds, soaked overnight & rinsed
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup strong coffee, cold (or chai tea if you prefer)
½ banana, frozen
1 tsp vanilla extract
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high until almonds are smooth.
Add ice, if desired
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: By using soaked almonds, they tend to blend up smoother than hard and crunchy dry almonds do.
Phytic Acid, The Mineral Reducer – Just another scare story?
As we get older our digestions changes and we don’t always manage to get enough of essential nutrients so it’s particularly important to be aware of anything that makes it even harder.
Have you ever heard of phytic acid?
Have you ever been told that you should soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains and legumes otherwise the phytic acid can prevent your body from absorbing some of the minerals in your food?
Not even sure what phytic acid is? That’s ok, many people have never heard of it but read on and you’ll soon know all about it.
Phytic acid is naturally present in most nuts, seeds, grains and legumes; it is the plant’s storage form of the mineral phosphorus and is used as energy when the plant starts to grow.
The highest levels of phytic acid are found in rice bran, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, and walnuts.
Phytic acid and minerals
The reason that it’s often referred to as an anti-nutrient is because it binds to the minerals iron, zinc, and calcium, preventing them from being fully absorbed when eaten. This is why it’s known as a “mineral reducer.”
But, Phytic acid’s effects only apply to mineral-containing foods in the current meal. Once digested, there is no mineral reduction on any future meals and there is no impact to the minerals your body has already absorbed.
Phytic acid’s health benefits
And it isn’t all bad – Phytic acid has some health benefits too.
It can act as an antioxidant. It can also help reduce your risk of kidney stones, heart disease, and even some cancers.
Because it loves minerals (which are metals), phytic acid in your gut can also bind to any heavy metals (the metals we don’t want too much of) that may have hitched a ride with your food.
How to reduce phytic acid
As you can see, phytic acid isn’t something to be too concerned about, unless your main foods at most meals are nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Because many of these are nutritious foods, you probably don’t want to cut them out of your diet.
Considering both the good and bad properties of phytic acid you may want to increase your mineral intake if you’re consuming a lot of nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. Alternatively, here are two popular methods to naturally reduce phytic acid:
Why do soaking and sprouting help reduce phytic acid in certain foods?
It’s because being wet is a “sign” to leave their dormant (dry) state and start a new life. Enzymes activated during soaking and sprouting deactivate phytic acid to use its energy and stored minerals for the plant as it begins to grow.
Phytic acid has a bad rap as a mineral reducer. It’s found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Yes, it most definitely prevents absorption of critical minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium, if they’re in your gut at the same time. Phytic acid in food can become a health concern if you are deficient in these minerals, or if your diet is largely based on nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.
But, if you eat a varied diet, then phytic acid shouldn’t be as much of a concern. In fact, phytic acid does have some health benefits.
If you want to reduce it in your food, you can soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.
Most people know that blood sugar levels have a direct impact on their health and wellness and that uncontrolled blood sugar can conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections?
But probably a lot of people know that without really understanding what blood sugar actually is or how to prevent excessive highs and lows.
Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But why have sugar in your blood? Well, you need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.
The thing is, it can fluctuate. A lot.
This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When you eat foods with carbohydrates (i.e. sugars or starches) then your digestive system break these down into sugars which are then absorbed into the blood stream for transportation around the body. Your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues to be used for energy.
Why is it important to keep blood sugar stable?
Your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you’re not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. It should be low enough that your body isn’t scrambling to remove excess from the blood.
When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.”
When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to “insulin resistance.”
Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high.
Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.
So, let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.
Food for stable blood sugar
The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat. To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.
Eating more fibre is helpful too. Fibre helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level. fibre is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods often removes most of the fibre). Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fibre intake.
FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar so add it to drinks, sprinkle it on porridge, yoghurt or fruit.
Lifestyle for stable blood sugar
Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don’t ignore insulin’s call to get excess sugar out of the blood. Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood.
But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn’t you?
Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the “fight or flight” stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to “fight” or “flee”? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels. So, try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing, or gentle, restorative movement like swimming or yoga.
Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority – it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.
Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant). Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.
There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs, and eating more fibre, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).
Having recently returned to gym-life after a break of about a year due to pesky minor health problems, I decided it was time for an overhaul, conscious that, to maintain my now reasonable good health, losing a bit of weight wouldn’t go amiss.
For the first time ever, I decided to diet and embarked on the Inspire Fitness 21 Day Transformation programme. Once signed up, I considered my objectives and expectations. First, of course, was weight loss – a couple of pounds a week was a target. What else? I was aware my eating habits weren’t entirely healthy, no routine, going without meals and too ready to have enough butter on my toast to leave teeth marks! So regulation and routine might be not bad thing. I haven’t slept well in a long time, but refuse to take sleeping tablets, therefore, I was keen to see whether there would be any impact on my sleeping patterns (or rather, lack of sleeping patterns). Although quite modest objectives, I didn’t want to push too far and end up disappointed – so the line was drawn there.
The diet sheets came in and I was horrified to see spinach all over the place – in the smoothies, in the frittata, just everywhere. I’ve spent several decades turning my nose up at spinach and succeeded, up to this point, at keeping it at arms length. However, I was in this now (and the gym team would be watching!) But really it wasn’t that bad, in fact I’ve got to liking spinach. The smoothies were a revelation, they are now my favourite way to start the day – I never particularly liked eating first thing in the day – so having a healthy and filling drink suits me. Also, I love the date protein bars – no cooking needed!
During that diet period, did I feel hungry? Not at all. I think because my eating prior to the diet was dis-organised and irregular, the first week I felt like I was eating too much and found I would eat and leave half of the meal to go back to about 30 minutes later. Was I thinking about food all the time? No! Was it boring and bland? No. Meals were tasty and, importantly, all the recipes were easy to follow.
An important aspect of this 3 weeks was keeping the fitness regime going too, to maximise overall benefit. Therefore I set myself the target of at least 3 sessions in the gym each week, as well as continuing with running (on a treadmill) on non-gym days.
I’m grateful to the team here at Inspire, who were supportive and helpful all the way. Of course, it helped me stick to the plan knowing someone was looking over my shoulder.
So, what about results: to my delight 8.75lb have been lost and 4.25 inches, all in just 3 weeks. My sleeping is improving, with no more mid-afternoon sluggishness (this could just be coincidence, but as my sleeping has been erratic for a number of years and I was prone to very low energy dips mid-afternoon, I’m happy to think not). And I feel so much better for the weight loss. An unexpected bonus was a reduction in sweating, which has been a problem for most of my life. Perhaps some carbs in my previous diet weren’t agreeing with me and I didn’t know it! Who knows? With the support from the team at Inspire Fitness my initial targets are met.
My aim now is to keep coming to the gym at least 3 times a week and to continue with the principles of the Inspire 21 Day Transformation programme, (perhaps I might slip up occasionally, but we’re all human!) I shall be adapting some of the Inspire recipes and trying one or two of my own – low calorie, plenty of protein, of course!
We know all vitamins are super-important for health, right? But vitamin D is special.
It’s common for vitamin D to be deficient in people because it’s difficult to get enough of it.
The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing food, and through supplements.
Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal effective disorder so you can see it’s really important for our health.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia, which is a condition where the bones are soft and weak. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The “official” minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. Many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health.
To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.
Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to the sun; that’s why it’s referred to as the “sunshine vitamin. “How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun.
The recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week but between the months of October and April it’s unlikely that the sun is strong enough for you to get the right exposure. Of course, you should always avoid sunburn.
So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?
Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Also, if you leave mushrooms in the sun (say on a window sill) they’ll increase their vitamin D naturally.
Some foods are “fortified” (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course). Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.
It’s easy enough to just “pop a pill” or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra. Older people should take extra care to always use a “senior” range of supplements to avoid taking too much of any one vitamin as requirements change with age.
Before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won’t interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels and ask a healthcare professional for advice.
Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.
The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.
The best thing, if you’re concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which many people find difficult to maintain adequate levels. There are three ways to get enoug: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup oats (gluten-free)
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fibre in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.
Got a “gut-feeling”? It’s more than just an old wives’ tale. There’s research now that shows a direct connection between your gut and your brain and that you’ve even got a “second brain” in the gut.
If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!
And with new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no longer a wonder that what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.
What exactly is the “gut-brain connection.”
It’s incredibly complex and there seems to be multiple things going on. Things like:
Let’s dive a little deeper.
There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.
And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…
Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain! There’s that old “gut-feeling”!
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Did you know that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord? How amazing is that?
And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”
After all, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?
And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin (the happy hormone) is made in your gut, not in your brain! So if you’re feeling a bit down, think about what you’re eating.
The immune system of the gut
Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!
And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?
Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut that they don’t like, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain. And you already know that inflammation is the precursor to many diseases.
These are your friendly neighbourhood gut residents, or sometimes, not so friendly. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And providing you’re feeding them right so you have a higher balance of the good guys, they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!
More and more evidence is emerging though, to show that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
How do these all work together for brain health?
The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.
But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So, how do you feed your brain?
Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.
But two things that you many consider eating more of are fibre and omega-3 fats. Fibre (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
Courtesy of The Medicinal Chef – Dale Pinnock from his book Healthy Everyday
This is a great recipe for a simple “make-ahead/take-to-work” lunch or as a tasty side. It’s good for lowering cholesterol, improving digestive health and gut flora and providing sustained energy.
4 Ripe plum tomatoes
1/3 Red pepper, diced
1/4 Red onion, finely diced
Fresh coriander – small bunch, shredded
1 teaspoon Cider Vinegar
1 x 400g tin mixed beans
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste
Chop the tomatoes, retaining all the juice. Mix the ingredients to make a zingy salsa with the mixed beans.
Beans and pulses are a wonderful addition to your diet for several reasons: first, they assist in the removal of cholesterol from the gastrointestinal tract and add bulk to gut contents for better mobility through the gut. Second, they’re a fantastic lean protein source. Third, they’re rich in B vitamins and minerals.
⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup cocoa/cacao powder
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 dashes salt
4 tablespoons slivered almonds
1. Melt coconut oil, and whisk in maple syrup, salt, and cocoa/cacao powder until smooth.
2. Stir in slivered almonds until evenly distributed.
3. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.
4. Store in fridge or freezer to avoid melting.
Serve & enjoy! Tip: Substitute other seeds, chopped nuts, or dried fruit instead of the almonds if you wish