Fruit & Vegetables

chewing and brain function

Chewing and Brain Function

A Broad Impact on Health

carrotWho would have thought that the action of chewing food had a role other than to start the digestion process! Increasing research studies have found that mastication (technical term for the the action of chewing food) has a major impact on many aspects of our health. Chewing and brain function effects have been found in connection to learning, memory, focus and concentration.

Raw fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and meat all demand more chewing. Many processed foods and cooked foods are softer and easier to chew through.  One of my pet hates when it comes to commercial food products are those ridiculous pouches of soft pureed fruit that kids consume direct from a tube, instead of chewing through an apple or orange! Now we know that this will have a negative impact on their brain, memory and learning.

On average, it is estimated that we chew 800 to 1,400 times a day.  We generally recommend chewing our food slowly, at least around 15 times, but for many foods we don't need that long and realistically swallowing is in an instinctive behaviour. We simply know when food is chewed well enough and then we naturally swallow. While it may seem logical that easy to digest food is a good thing, in reality we haven't evolved with soft foods. Many of the pathways that stimulate digestive juices and gut motility (that are essential for digestion) stem from the action of chewing and the taste of foods. Bitter foods for example are highly stimulating for digestion and chewing sends signals to the brain that stimulate the gut to prepare for food.

Good Teeth Are The Key!

elderlyAs we age, many people have declining memory and focus and concurrently may also suffer from poor dental function. With bad teeth, elderly people often resort to soft foods that don't tax the teeth, however this may lead to unexpected negative consequences. Not only will the gut not get clear signals for digestive juice manufacture, we now know there are more broad problems that can arise in distant regions of the body.  In particular, we know that mastication has a direct impact on learning and memory formation and so poor dental health can impact the brain. For instance, research has shown that the systemic effects of tooth loss are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus is the brain region that is involved with forming memories and it seems that the action of mastication, stimulates this area. Functional MRI studies can compare the difference in brain region activity in different populations. The acquisition of memory in elderly people was significantly enhanced by chewing, but benefits of chewing had less effects in younger people.

Interestingly, another study found that lower intakes of nutrient-dense foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods were also both independently associated with smaller left hippocampal volume. So it seems that it is both the processed foods being both nutrient poor and requiring less chewing that create a perfect storm for brain impairments.

Researchers have also found that a reduction in corticosterone production is another way that mastication can have a role in poor brain function. Thus a chronic stress state is induced by poor chewing activity and this can in turn lead to learning and memory impairments.  Concurrently, the act of chewing during stressful conditions was shown to attenuate the effects of stress on cognitive function. This has been further explored by some researchers with a recommendation to chew gum as a way of enhancing memory and cognition and delaying the development of dementia and also ameliorate the effects of stress on the brain.

appleSo there are so many reasons to chew your food well, and make sure the foods you eat include some types that require lots of chewing - like raw veggies! Also, it serves that foundational to this whole approach is to also ensure optimal dental hygiene. So if you choose to chew gum to boost your memory, make sure it is sugar free or contains xylitol which has been shown to reduce oral bacteria and prevent gum disease.

 

To learn more about maintaining healthy teeth through whole foods  - see this previous article.

 

Spicy Rainbow Coleslaw

Spicy Rainbow Coleslaw

Ever heard the term "eat the rainbow?"

20170922_122641_resized[1]Coloured veggies are known to pack a potent punch of goodness providing plenty of plant based antioxidants that our bodies just love! The carotenoids that give vegetables particular colours can improve our cardiovascular health, prevent cancer and support eye and skin health. So us naturopaths are always encouraging our patients to get a wide variety of different coloured veggies into their diets - effectively eating a rainbow of colours!

I find lunch is the perfect meal for getting a good nutritious boost of salad into your day. I often have patients who have other family members who aren't as adventurous or health conscious as they are. The evening meal has to work for everyone, because who wants to cook more than one dinner, right?!

Whereas, many of us eat a separate lunch at work or home - especially once the kids are at school and take a packed lunch. So lunch time can be a handy way of getting an extra intake of salad or veggies that might be missing at dinner.  I recently created this super food salad bowl, a spicy coleslaw recipe, rich in the coloured goodness of veggies and protein and is a tasty way of getting tonnes of nutrients into you!  Herbs and spices should be added to as many of your foods as possible as they are potent sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals - and they make everything taste more delicious!  

Enjoy!

Spicy Rainbow Salad Recipe

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Food Cravings and Instinctive Eating

Exploring the science behind food cravings...

Kale please, Mum!

Kale - rich in nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.... just what a sick body needs for a boost!

Kale - rich in nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.... just what a sick body needs for a boost!

After my son requested a bowl of kale (with lots of butter, please!) when he was recently sick, it got me thinking about the science behind instinctive eating. Hidden in our intelligent body are mechanisms that initiate cravings for certain foods that our body needs. But judging by the way most people eat, I think we have lost the art for healthy instinctive eating.

I am always fascinated how animals are so instinctive with their food choices - and yet humans seem to need to google for advice about what foods are good for them or maybe they come see a nutritional health professional like me!

So what went wrong?  When did we humans stray so far from our innate intelligence about what is good for us to eat? Most cravings we experience now are for the addictive substances like caffeine and sugar! While we all know the damaging effects of too much sugar, the cravings for sugar have do a biological drive behind them. Those hardwired desires for sugar, meant we ate sweet foods when they were available seasonally and they kept us alive and ensured our survival through the lean winters of bygone eras. Unfortunately we have gone overboard on this front as modern life allows us to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. We are no longer at the mercy of nature to provide our food - we are indeed spoilt for choice!

food habits over time

The change from eating close to nature towards modern food processing has resulted in chronically unhealthy humans.

I think the superpower that created us all those years ago, clearly didn't predict a time when we would be so disconnected from nature and our food supply. The clever system that allowed humans to flourish throughout history with all sorts of hardships, does not seem so clever now when we look at how we have ended up the fattest and most chronically unhealthy species. We were smart enough to develop agricultural methods of growing grains and crops, domesticating animals and eventually creating modern food manufacturing methods of processing and preserving. Clever on the one hand, yes, but our genetics unfortunately takes thousands of years to catch up with a changing landscape, not hundreds of years!  So we are now at the mercy of a very different food and eating landscape than we were designed for, and where our fine tuned instincts for certain foods have gone been hijacked by the drive for sugar!

Food brings with it not only sustenance but also pleasure. Everyone has experienced the multilayered sensory pleasure of a delicious meal. Modern neuroscience has now started to uncover some of the underlying mechanisms of associated brain changes that come with eating for both pleasure and health benefits. Overall, the accumulated evidence shows that the innate pleasure evoked by tasty food is remarkably similar to that of other rewards. This suggests that an innate pleasure system exists for humans, and is activated when we engage with food, sex, social and other higher-order rewards. So indeed, we are hard wired to seek pleasure as well as survival. Food is thus not only highly pleasurable but also an excellent way of learning fundamental principles of brain function.
pica

Pica is the craving for 'unnatural' food choices such as dirt, that may herald a mineral deficiency as dirt is rich in minerals that the body may need.

Instinctive eating - essentially means eating what our innate intelligence determines to be good for us. We are all born with the ability, much like other animals, to select appropriate food for our requirements. For example, a craving for bananas may show you are lacking potassium, while a craving for green leafy veggies may indicate you need more magnesium. The term 'pica' is used to define mineral deficiencies (often iron) that results in people eating strange things - such as dirt, rocks or ice. Most commonly seen in pregnant women and young children who have a high need for nutrients, pica is the most researched nutrient craving issue. Studies observe that individuals with symptoms of pica often have low iron, zinc or calcium levels. Supplementing with the lacking nutrients can reduce the pica behaviour in many cases. Craving for salt is also more common in those individuals who have low salt levels, so the wisdom of the body to correct the deficiency is obvious.

There is more evidence to suggest that, unlike hunger, for many of us cravings are largely about what your brain wants, rather than what your body actually needs.
Studies suggest that chocolate craving, especially among women, may result from a sense of deprivation or in reaction to stress, hormonal fluctuation and modulation of neuropeptide concentrations. The theory behind craving carbohydrates in order to make us feel happy, results from some observations that diet can modulate the serotonin system in the brain, which is linked to mood.
stressed

Emotional eating is a problem that can be explained by modern brain science.

Evidence also shows that our need to eat certain foods (often unhealthy types) is sometimes driven by emotions. Many people are "emotional eaters" and tend to eat for reasons that are driven by emotions and have nothing to do with being hungry or needing a nutrient. People who craved foods were shown in studies to more likely to be bored or anxious or have experienced a depressed mood immediately before cravings. Several brain imaging studies have shown that overconsumption of certain foods creates the same changes in the dopamine receptors of the human brain as alcohol and other addictive substances.

So all in all, we do not fully understand what is happening in our brains when we crave or consume certain foods. It is definitely a vastly complex process and is attenuated by many different cues coming from social and cultural inputs as much as nutritional drivers. For example, most celebrations have particular foods that are so strongly associated together that we barely question it.  What is a birthday celebration without the birthday cake?

The one thing that is worth taking home is to pay more attention! Try to differentiate when the craving is just coming from an old habit or an emotional driver and see if you can notice cravings for healthy choices that might still be available to you.  Tune in first, before you eat and see what your body really wants! If you find you are really stuck on an underlying pattern with your eating habits or food choices, remember that there is a lot we can do (such as mind/body techniques like Psych K) to help remove the block and give you more freedom around food, so consider coming in and getting extra help!  

Buon appetito!

Natural Menopause Solutions

Natural Menopause Solutions

Transitioning Naturally Through Menopause

The term ‘menopause’ generally relates to the years before the final menstrual period and those years soon after. In fact, the years leading up to the menopause are more accurately coined the ‘peri-menopause’. A woman is considered to be truly menopausal when she has failed to have a period for over twelve months.   The journey to menopause may take many years and health needs vary over this time. This transitional time is often marked by changes in menstrual cycle, both in length and blood flow, as well as a host of other hormone related symptoms. These may include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood change and memory loss.

 

Many things influence a woman's journey through menopause.

Many things influence a woman's journey through menopause.

I find that many things will influence a woman’s experience of the peri-menopause and beyond.  Studies show that women’s emotional health, social situation and stress levels will influence her experience of menopause. Thus it is not just all about hormones!

A woman’s diet and lifestyle, including exercise and stress levels, can play an important part in this phase.  Natural therapists view the menopause as a natural transition and seek to support women through this period, providing both symptom relief and preventative health care advice.

 

Hormone replacement therapy implies that menopause is a deficiency syndrome rather than a natural process.  For most women, HRT is not necessary for a healthy menopause experience, and its use should be carefully considered as it is not without inherent risks. Most people are now aware of the longitudinal studies (such as the nurses health study) and their findings which have narrowed the therapeutic use of HRT to short term treatment of severe flushing. While some authorities still recommend HRT to prevent osteoporosis most now believe the risks are outweighed by any possible benefit from a reduction in fractures.  Other early cited benefits of HRT on diseases such as heart disease and mood/memory have now also been discounted by substantial research.

 

Black Cohosh can help with menopause.

Black Cohosh can help with menopause.

Naturopaths and herbalists apply a range of strategies for treating menopausal women and they offer an alternative to HRT for most women.  Herbs are used to address symptoms of low oestrogen and progesterone during the peri-menopausal years, helping to balance hormone problems.  They can be very effective in treating heavy periods, hot flushes and erratic cycles.

There are other herbs that can be used to improve memory, mood and sleep problems.  The herb Black Cohosh is particularly useful for menopausal hot flushes, but I find it works best when combined with other herbs to treat each individual.

 

A personalised approach will factor in each woman’s individual situation, including her diet and lifestyle, and how it may be impacting on her menopausal complaints.  A treatment plan may include lifestyle changes such as increased exercise. Some studies have shown that women who exercise regularly experience less severe flushes than sedentary women. Exercise is also important for maintaining good bone density which starts to decline in midlife. Ensuring you have good adrenal function and managing your stress is also important, as your adrenals are responsible for picking up the slack hormonally, once your ovaries wind down. Click here to learn more about your adrenals.

 

Flaxseed can help modulate oestrogen.

Flaxseed can help modulate oestrogen.

Dietary changes can also be helpful. Foods such as legumes, sprouts, nuts and seeds can be helpful in offsetting declining oestrogen levels. These foods contain substances known as ‘selective oestrogen receptor modulators’ or more simply SERMs. They appear to interact with oestrogen receptors and can stimulate an oestrogen-like action – which can make up for declining ovarian oestrogen production. Food sources are far safer than using concentrated isoflavone extracts from soy (such as tablets and powders), as these have not stood the test of time. Indeed, soy should only be consumed in a traditional fermented ways (such as tempeh & miso) as it is difficult to digest and can inhibit thyroid function.

 

Self help measures for hot flushes might include avoiding spicy and hot foods and drinks, stimulants such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, and alcohol which is known to increase heat and sweating.  Other tips include regular exercise, dealing with stress and anxiety and dressing in layers to enable easy undressing when hot. Lastly, it is good to try and embrace the journey to menopause rather than fight it. Women who seem to enjoy the time that the menopause brings for reflection and an honouring of wisdom, seem to have less symptoms and more enjoyment.  The good thing to know that after the transition happens, many symptoms settle as your body adapts to the new post menopausal state.

 

 

natural treatment of acne

Natural Treatment of Acne

pimplNearly everyone would have experienced acne at some point in their lives – with more than 85% of Australians experiencing some form of acne between the ages of 13-25 years. The typical spots, known as pimples and black heads, can be mild and infrequent or severe and prolonged, bringing both physical and emotional pain and discomfort. Acne vulgaris is the most common form of acne, but there are other types such as acne rosacea which is more common in adult women.

The teenage years are, of course, when we are most prone to this skin affliction and nothing brings dread into the heart of the average teenager more than a bad case of acne. Puberty heralds an activation of reproductive hormones and this increases the likelihood of acne.

Causes of Acne

Acne is caused by androgens (such as testosterone) stimulating the sebaceous glands in the skin of the face, neck and upper body. This stimulation causes an increase in the size of the glands and also an overproduction of sebum. Too much sebum can cause a blockage which results in the small fluid filled spots known as pimples. Bacteria and white blood cells get trapped in the pimples and multiply quickly causing swelling, redness and discomfort. Blackheads are also caused by too much sebum but the dark appearance is due to the presence of the pigment melanin.

sadteengirl

Acne can have a big impact on self esteem

Stress is also a common trigger for acne and while this has always been common knowledge to acne sufferers, only recently have studies been done to prove the impact of stress on acne. Exam stress was found in one study to definitely exacerbate acne in students. Stress is thought to worsen acne due to increased hormones produced by the adrenal glands and also by slowing down healing. Self esteem issues are common in most teenagers, but particularly those with acne. Studies have shown that teenagers with acne experience low self esteem, social isolation and are more prone to depression and anxiety. So it is essential that treatment for acne is holistic and takes into account the psychological elements as well as the physical.

The good news is that there is a lot that can be done to treat acne. Firstly, let's look at the conventional medical treatments and some of the problems with them. Standard medical treatment normally involves long term antibiotics which are aimed at decreasing the infection in the skin. The problem with antibiotics is the destruction of healthy bacteria in other areas of the body, such as the gut. This seems counterintuitive when a healthy gut and bowel function are essential in clearing body wastes including excess hormones as well as supporting optimal immune function. Retinoids (such as roaccutane) are another medical treatment derived from synthetic vitamin A which are used in bad cases of acne. These are powerful drugs with many serious side effects and I believe they are best avoided. There are also topical types of retinoid creams that are less harmful that the oral dose. Other treatments such as the contraceptive pill can be used in women to help balance the hormones that cause acne - however from a holistic perspective this is not really treating the underlying cause.  Natural approaches always aim to determine and treat what is contributing to the complaint.

Natural Treatment of Acne

A diet low in sugar and rich in veggies is essential in treating acne.

A diet low in sugar and rich in veggies is essential in treating acne.

Natural approaches to acne tend to focus on hormone balance, a nutrient dense & low sugar diet, healthy bowel function and stress management. Nutrients that are essential for healthy skin include vitamin A, E and C and the mineral zinc. When these nutrients are deficient, the skin is more likely to be unhealthy and will also scar more readily. Scarring in cystic acne always improves when the right nutrients are supplied.

A healthy diet is absolutely essential in treating acne, but not always easy for the average teenager to adhere to. Sugar is a major culprit in acne as it causes a surge in insulin which in turn stimulates an increased production of androgens which go on to trigger acne flare-ups. So avoidance of sugar and refined carbohydrates such as white flour products like breads, cereals and biscuits will indirectly decrease acne. A good intake of fibre from vegetables, nuts & seeds will ensure excess hormones are removed through the bowel, decreasing the stimulus on acne. Probiotic supplements and fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or kefir can also be useful as they help to promote good gut health, detoxification and robust immunity.

Burdock is a herb that helps to purify the skin from the inside out

Burdock is a herb that helps to purify the skin from the inside out

Herbal medicine provides many options for acne with hormone balancing herbs, liver and bowel herbs, immune and general ‘skin cleansing’ herbs. Once again, when you have a whole health assessment, we can detect what the underlying trigger for the acne is and then an individual herbal formula can be designed for each case and often gives great results.

Stress management is essential in acne treatments and should include yoga, meditation, massage, exercise and a balance should be sort between work, study and rest. If stress is a big trigger, herbs and flower essences can also help.

Natural Topical Treatments

It is normally best to not squeeze pimples and avoid touching your skin too much as your hands carry bacteria, which can make pimples worse. While, most of the problems with acne come from the inside out as detailed above, there are also some good natural remedies that you can apply to blemishes and pimples to promote healing and reduce inflammation on the surface. Apple cider

Honey can be used to soothe and heal the skin

Honey can be used to soothe and heal the skin

vinegar diluted 50:50 with water makes an effective treatment for spots as does lavender oil, teatree oil or raw honey applied to individual pimples. Be sure to find a good natural cleanser, use a microfibre cloth, carry out gentle exfoliation regularly and using a light lotion based moisturiser is normally necessary. Stripping too much oil from the skin can create rebound overproduction of sebum which may aggravate skin further.  Rosehip or argan oil are very good for promoting healing after a lesion has healed and can reduce scarring.

 

Patience is also necessary as all treatments for acne, whether they be natural or drug based, can take at least six weeks to have any noticeable impact, as the skin takes some time to respond.

 

bloating remedies

Say Goodbye to Bloating!

bloatingBloating is a common complaint that many people suffer from and depending on the severity can be either inconvenient or quite distressing. Abdominal bloating can be due to a range of different conditions and from a holistic perspective, we always assess the patient from a much larger picture than just a cursory look at digestive function.
Let's look at the causes and some natural bloating remedies.

Probably the most common cause of bloating however, is simple digestive dysfunction caused by eating too much, eating the wrong foods or eating while on the run. One of the major causes of poor digestion and bloating can be a lack of digestive enzymes, including hydrochloric acid, that the stomach and pancreas produce. These enzymes help to break food down and when insufficient, can lead to bloating and fermentation as the food takes much longer to be digested than what is ideal. Digestive enzymes tend to decline with age, but stress is also another major reason for low enzyme levels and poor digestive function. When we are stressed, the nervous system switches over to “flight or fight” mode and in turn the stimulation to our digestive system is put on hold. When we eat while stressed or on the run, we often don’t allow our body to digest our food and symptoms of bloating, wind, reflux and sluggish digestion can prevail. So managing your stress, taking time out and slowing down to practice mindful eating is a good simple way to ensure optimal digestion.

gentian

Gentiana lutea - a classic bitter herb

 

The European habit of having an aperitif before meals is a traditional way of stimulating digestion. Often aperitifs are quite bitter in taste. The bitter taste creates a strong nerve reflex and stimulates release of digestive juices. Naturopaths often prescribe bitter herbs or foods before meals to promote optimal digestion. Gentian is my favourite bitter digestive herb that has been shown to increase gastric secretions.

It is amazing how much just slowing down and preparing properly to eat a meal with awareness will enhance digestion. Chewing our food well and eating slowly also helps to predigest our foods and prevents overeating. Following the Okinawan habit, known as “hara hachi bu” of eating to 80% full is a good idea.

 

IBSBloating may be connected to a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This disorder is very common and presents with one or more of the following symptoms - bloating, wind, cramping, diarrhoea or constipation. IBS is a diagnosis often given to patients, when a range investigations fail to find any underlying pathology or reason for the symptoms. Many patients I have seen over the years had all the tests and were told by doctors that there was nothing wrong with their gut, and yet they still had symptoms that were quite debilitating. IBS is a very common condition and thought to affect up to one in eight people. There is no standard medical treatment for IBS, but I always find herbs and dietary change can make a big difference to the symptoms of IBS. Food intolerance to foods such as wheat and dairy products is quite a common cause of IBS and bloating. Not surprisingly IBS is often associated with stress and people suffering from anxiety have a high incidence of IBS.

 

Gut bacteria is an important component of digestive health. Whether we have a good array of beneficial bacteria or a collection of unhealthy bacteria will to a large extent determine our digestive function. Ongoing research into the human microbiome (gut flora) continues to display important ibs triggerslinks to many, often seemingly unrelated conditions, such as immune issues and mental health disorders. A relatively recently discovered condition called SIBO can also be a major cause of intestinal bloating and wind. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and occurs when bacteria that are normally only present in the large intestine, migrate to the small intestine thereby causing havoc. These bacteria feed on carbohydrates in the diet and produce a range of gases such as hydrogen and methane, which in turn can cause bloating, discomfort and wind. Patients with SIBO will often feel worse after having fruits and other fermentable carbohydrates, often grouped as FODMAP foods. FODMAP is an acronym for specific fermentable sugars and carbohydrates – oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These foods include many fruits, certain vegetables, legumes, wheat and dairy foods. The low FODMAP diet is often used to help treat SIBO and IBS sometimes along with conventional antibiotic treatments or herbal therapies when necessary.

 

So there are many possible causes of the dreaded abdominal bloating! Starting with a good look at your diet, eating practices and stress levels is the best place to start. If that doesn’t help then consider a full health assessment and we can do comprehensive functional testing for food intolerance and bowel issues as well as look at prescribing some herbal digestive remedies, enzyme supplements and more.

Remember while you are what you eat…you really are what you digest!

 

 

Boost your brain power

Natural Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

Who doesn't want better memory, focus, concentration and mental performance? Whether you are a stay at home mum with little kids, a corporate executive, a student or a builder working on a complex building project - we all need our brain to be in top gear. Let's explore some natural ways to boost your brain power with herbs and nutrients.
bacopaOne of my favourite herbs that can help sharpen the mind and adapt to stress is Bacopa. Bacopa monnieri is a herb, which hails from the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, has been used for thousands of years to aid memory and learning. It is also a wonderful adaptogen, which essentially means it can help us adapt to stress by supporting adrenal and nerve health. This small creeper thrives in wet and marshy conditions and is found in many regions throughout the world, including Australia. I have some growing in my garden in a water pond and the small leaves and white flowers are very pleasant, though quite bitter to taste!

 

Modern research has revealed that Bacopa is indeed a valuable herb to improve cognition, mental performance and memory. There has been a large body of research including clinical trials that have been done on a specific Bacopa extract that have found it to be neuroprotective, antioxidant, anxiolytic and antiinflammatory - which basically means it can protect our brain cells, decrease inflammation and decrease anxiety. It has been shown to improve the speed at which we learn and process information as well as improve our short and long term memory. As Bacopa also helps us when we feel stressed and anxious, it makes it a valuable herb for modern times.

 

negative-thinking-patterns-fullIndeed, stress is a big impediment to mental performance and memory. When our brain is in a flight or fight response, we tend to access our primitive brain centres and act on impulse rather than being able to utilise our higher brain centres involved with reason, logic and even intuition. Stress makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed and will adversely affect our ability to think, remember and perform mental tasks. Our brain is really not designed to multitask the way modern life dictates. While we can certainly be engaged in many things at once, we tend to lack accuracy and focus and our performance declines. We really are far better to switch off our phone and email and remove ourselves from other distractions when we need to engage with some serious study, learning or mental work tasks.

 

Herbs and nutrients that can help us with stress will often indirectly improve our brain function and walnutsperformance. In addition to Bacopa, other herbs we often use to improve mental function include Gingko, Rhodiola, Gotu Kola and the Ginsengs. The B complex vitamins, magnesium and omega 3 fats (fish oils) are probably the most important nutrients to optimise memory, concentration and brain function.  Making sure you have regular meals and protein rich snacks will also ensure your blood sugar is stable and this will in turn enhance performance and mood. Nuts are a great option as a snack as they are rich in magnesium which has been shown to increase the cell connections in our brain. I love the way walnuts just look like little brains - a perfect example of the doctrine of signatures! Generally increasing fruit and vegetables will provide the antioxidants your brain needs for optimal function.

 

It is well known that when it comes to brain power if we "don't use it, we lose it." This motto is behind the push to exercise our brain as we get older, engaging it in specific tasks to improve mental performance and memory such as crosswords, puzzles and learning a new skill like an instrument or creative activity. Working with using all aspects of your brain, gives you a well rounded function that supports learning and cognition as you age.

 

timeout natureWorking with your stress levels and engaging in relaxing practices like breathing, yoga, sitting down with a cup of tea for a conscious break, walking in nature, playing with a pet, doing a craft project, playing an instrument or getting some sunshine are all important. Choose one that resonates with you and give yourself regular small "time outs" that will make a big difference to stress and performance!

 

Lastly, ensure that you get adequate sleep as being sleep deprived is a certain recipe for poor brain function! Research shows that learning is also consolidated at night when we sleep, so the old traditional saying that "the morning is always wiser than the evening" is true.

 

 

 

Real versus Processed Food

Real Versus Processed Foods

Ok, so if we are going to debate what is best, real versus processed foods, I don't imagine it would be hard to pick the winner. But here are  my top 5 reasons to include real food or avoid processed food.

realfoodReal Food

  1. Tastes better - real food comes straight from nature and doesn't need to be flavour enhanced to taste good.
  2. Avoids chemical additives - whether it be organic produce or natural, untampered food, real food doesn't have hidden chemicals from any part of the production process.
  3. Real food has loads of nutrition and vitamins come in a form that the body can readily use. Vitamins don't need to be added back in, like in processed foods, because they were never taken out in the first place by processing.
  4. Real food is what our bodies have evolved with, living close to nature over thousands of years, we have adapted to the foods available. Modern processed foods are so far removed from their natural origin, that our bodies may struggle to adapt.
  5. Real food promotes health, while processed foods destroy health. So many chemicals added as artificial sweeteners, flavours and preservatives have been shown to create dysfunction and disease.

 

Wonder what a beaver has to do with strawberry flavouring?  Or maybe how you can get natural chicken flavour that doesn't contain chicken for vegan foods? I go into much more detailed information about the problems with natural flavours and other additives in my webinar video included in the Healthy Lunchbox package.

 

Here is a great and very funny video to watch that reveals the awful truth about the advertising of natural food products to unassuming consumers...

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The many benefits of heirloom seeds….

Seeds may be tiny, but they really are the basis of life, playing an essential role in our food supply and future food security. Did you know that the ten largest seed companies in the world account for over 70% of the seed market worldwide, and their market share is growing all the time. With the massive increase in genetically modified crops, we are seeing a severe reduction in the availability of old heirloom seed varieties of fruits and vegetables.  Old heritage varieties of plants offer important benefits for human and environmental health.

At the turn of the 20th century we had thousands (yes, thousands!) of varieties of apples and yet today in most supermarkets, you can only get a small handful of varieties. Most people wouldn't recognise the old apple varieties with exotic names like Calville Rouge d'Automne, Saint Edmund's Pippin or Chenango Strawberry. You can see some more of the old varieties profiled on this website devoted to apples. Many heirloom seeds from fruits and vegetables have been saved over time because they were simply the best performers in home and market gardens and gardeners loved to save seeds of their favourite plants. Historically we weren't interested in shipping food hundreds of miles like we do today, so varieties that tasted good and had optimal nutrition were favoured.

Have you tasted the difference between old varieties of tomatoes and the average pale red, early picked, dry and thick skinned modern variety? There is no comparison. Biting into a juicy and succulent tomato or a crispy heirloom apple is a taste sensation and makes you want to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables! This is certainly one reason why many people fail to eat enough fruits and vegetables, because they simply don't taste that good anymore.

A lot of the genetic programming of crops focus on commercial interests - such as increasing durability in transport or to enable early harvesting and in the process they sacrifice flavour and nutrition. The commercialisation of seed varieties also means that local varieties of plants that have adapted to local growing conditions are lost. When I first moved to Noosa I was given seeds from an old variety of lettuce, called First Fleet lettuce, from a local because she said they were the best for this area. It was originally grown at Farm Cove in Sydney and was a lettuce variety that came with the early settlers. This locally grown one though had adapted over a number of years to the subtropical climate of the Noosa hinterland, and grew well despite the vastly different climate to its birthplace of England.

With a pursuit of profit the big agricultural giants are also making it increasingly difficult for farmers to use the age old technique of seed saving. Across the world, people in all cultures always knew that seeds and plants belonged to everyone, so the thought of companies now owning patents on plants and controlling who can obtain them is both both strange and concerning. Nature is not a commodity that anyone should own and I argue that safeguarding our future food security is a basic human right. We also need to maintain the number of crop varieties which are available to stop shrinking the genetic base which ensures health in plants and humans.

If you would like to make a difference and help ensure the availability of old varieties of seeds and plants and in turn maintain the biodiversity of food supply then get active! By buying organic and biodynamic produce, you will often find interesting and less commonly available old varieties and you will also ensure better nutrition and taste. A range of environmental organisations also promote awareness about this important issue.

The True Food Network is one group that educates and advocates about the risk of genetically modified crops.  This national network has harnessed the diverse voices of well-known chefs and health advocates alike who are concerned with genetically modified foods.

Local permaculture groups such as Permaculture Noosa can help you to grow your own food and they usually have an active seed savers arm that helps create local seed banks.  You can read an article on how to save seeds in your home garden here.

I personally, also support Alliance Eliant, an organisation that promotes diversity in agriculture and nutrition, medicine and health care and education. They are also known for supporting European artisan food producers under threat by draconian EU health and safety regulations.They have recently launched a new initiative aimed at saving old varieties of seeds and increasing awareness of biodynamic agriculture methods.

So get active today and ensure the future of our food for many generations to come! And don't forget to be adventurous and seek out some unusual vegetable or fruit varieties next time you are at the farmer's market.

 

 

 

Ribollita

Ribollita

Tuscan Kale Soup

Kale is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family which also includes veggies like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. It really is one of nature's super foods - packed full of calcium, magnesium, iron and antioxidants.

There are many different varieties of Kale - this recipe calls for Cavolo Nero (also known as Tuscan Kale - see picture) - but you can substitute curly kale or even silverbeet if that is all you can get hold of.  Ribollita is one of my favourite soups and it comes from the Tuscan region of Italy. It is one of those delicious peasant style soups that are so thick and hearty that it becomes a meal in itself.  I first had it years ago when I was staying at a beautiful rustic farmhouse outside Florence in Tuscany - and since then I have been hooked and I often make it on cold, wintery days.

Ribollita in Italian actually means "twice cooked" - owing to the fact that it is best to make this soup the day before and reheat it the next day when it will be more thick and flavoursome. My sister who lives in Italy, says that a good Ribollita should be thick enough to allow a spoon to stand up in the pot!  You can use up bread that is a bit stale and dry in this recipe or you can toast a fresher type of bread to achieve the right consistency.

But if you don't have time to make it the day before you can still make it on the day - it will be equally delicious!

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • pinch of dried chili
  • pinch of fennel or aniseed
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon organic tomato paste
  • 1 bunch organic Tuscan kale, washed and chopped finely
  • 1 can organic diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 300g dried cannellini beans soaked overnight (or 1 can beans)
  • optional 1 handful or two of hard/dry bread of your choice – gluten free or sourdough
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • extra virgin olive oil

Method
  • Cook the soaked cannellini beans in lightly salted water with a bay leaf until soft.
  • Finely chop your onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Over low heat, put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and add the vegetables with fennel seeds and chilli and sauté over low heat for 10 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes.
  • Add the cooked beans, stock and kale and allow to simmer over a low heat for about 30 minutes. Add tomato paste, salt and pepper and the bread to the soup (if using) and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Top with parmesan cheese and a good slurp of extra virgin olive oil.

 

 

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To me Karen is an absolute angel! I highly recommend Karen to anyone who is going through the whole ‘roller coaster’ journey of IVF. It was so lovely to actually have someone that actually listened to me, it was in 2010 when we decided we would give IVF one last go before having a break. Karen put me on a super tonic which I call her ‘magic potion’ and after a few weeks in taking this my FSH levels dropped dramatically and this was my lucky month and my dream had finally came true. I always feel so positive every time I leave Karen’s rooms, I’m so glad that I found her I can never thank her enough for my positive out come!
Megan Wolarczuk
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