Obesity

Stress and weight gain

Stress and Weight Gain

stressed womanIt has been increasingly understood that being stressed is a factor in weight gain and the inability to lose weight. But before we look closer at that, let's first look at stress and its role in the body, and define exactly what stress is.

In biological systems, stress refers to what happens when an organism fails to respond appropriately to threats. While our modern day “threats” are more benign and less life threatening compared to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the impact can be equally demanding on our bodies. Of course, we know that some stress can be beneficial and can give an incentive to accomplish necessary goals and improve performance. However, in many cases, stress can reach chronic levels and have harmful consequences, such as compromised immune function, poor digestion, weight gain and reproductive issues.

It is important to note that while we will be exploring the role of stress, cortisol and weight in this article, scientists continue to argue that it is not a simple one-to-one relationship between cortisol/stress and weight gain. There are many different mechanisms of action and we are slowly understanding more and more of the complexity of this modern epidemic.

Now let’s look more closely at what we do know about stress, metabolism and weight issues. Stress is one of those things that can cause us to lose weight, gain weight or have difficulty losing weight. For some people being really stressed or suffering from anxiety can cause weight loss. For other people, stress can cause weight gain or a reduced ability to lose weight. Mechanisms for changes in weight involve a host of potential issues. Stress itself causes a change in behaviours for people - from changes to diet, to reduced exercise, late nights and poor sleep habits. Many people initially lose their appetite when suffering from acute stress and yet other people turn to food to cope and comfort eat. We will learn later, that both of these changes in eating patterns are in many cases caused by the complex and varied action of the adrenal hormone, cortisol. If you would like a bit more information about optimal adrenal health, please see my related article here.

The intensity of how the body responds to stress, and the impact that it has, is a large part to do with the stress hormones, particularly cortisol. Cortisol, can play a pivotal role in the maintenance of our body weight. It will have an impact in one direction when it is chronically elevated with ongoing acute stress or in the other direction when it is suppressed as what can happen with adrenal burn out. Getting a healthy balance in cortisol levels is essential in promoting normal adrenal function and promoting healthy weight levels. If the body perceives it is in a state of stress, it can go into a holding pattern and slow metabolism down. A whole cascade of interactions happen that create havoc for our desire to shift stubborn weight, even though it is the body's attempt at keeping us 'healthy'.

hurryWhen we are stressed, the adrenal gland actually produces more cortisol and other hormones such as adrenalin to have a very specific action on our survival. Cortisol’s main function is to restore homeostasis following exposure to stress. The effects of cortisol are felt over virtually the entire body and can impact a range of important mechanisms for health.

Cortisol in particular has a major impact on our blood sugar balance and promotes gluconeogenesis – which is the production of glucose.  During states of fasting, when blood glucose has been depleted, cortisol ensures a steady supply of glucose through its promotion of gluconeogenesis.  Cortisol is also involved in our wake/sleep cycle, has impacts on memory and has anti-inflammatory actions which in the short term can be beneficial, but in the long run can suppress immunity. The long-term, constant cortisol exposure associated with chronic stress impairs cognition, decreases thyroid function, and promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat, which in turn can increase risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

stressed outCortisol has a two-fold effect on our body fat. When the stress first occurs, fat is broken down to supply the body with a rapid source of energy. When we experience something stressful, our brains sends a signal to put the body on alert and send it into "fight or flight" mode. As the body gears up for battle, our appetite is suppressed, and the digestive system shuts off temporarily. Cortisol and adrenaline, help to mobilize carbohydrate and fat for quick energy for the body to use to flee or fight the stressor. Once the immediate stress is gone, the adrenaline dissipates, but cortisol hangs around to help bring the body back into balance.

An increase in appetite following a stressful event can often occur. This is primarily thought to be aimed at replacing the carbohydrate and fat we would have theoretically burned while fleeing or fighting the threat. However with modern day stress, we often have no need to actually expend much energy in physically fighting or running from our stressors, we often just feel stressed internally or emotionally. So this ancient mechanism that is operating to replenish our physical reserves after a stressful event, can lead in our modern times to weight gain. Sustained low grade stress often leads to chronically elevated levels of cortisol which promotes an increase in appetite and glucose production. The elevated glucose of course in turn causes insulin to be elevated and insulin resistance can occur, where the cells become resistant to insulin and fail to respond to the signals. Together insulin resistance and high levels of glucose promote the conversion of glucose into fat as a stored energy mechanism. Often this fat accumulates in the tummy region as this area is more sensitive to cortisol and insulin and is the preferred area for storing fat.

junkNow, enter the thyroid, a gland largely responsible for our metabolic rate and energy production. So how does the thyroid interact with stress, metabolism and weight?  In a previous article I took a look at the thyroid gland in more detail, but here I am just going to focus on its role in metabolism and weight for the purpose of this article. Stress can suppress the thyroid gland which can further aggravate the situation, in particular by slowing down our metabolism. A low thyroid function can also make a person feel tired and flat may increase comfort eating or the consumption of caffeine and alcohol – both of which in turn increase cortisol. Moreover, stress can also lead to sleep deprivation which in turn will aggravate the situation. Some research showed that cortisol levels were elevated by up to 45 percent after a night of sleep deprivation and lack of sleep often leads to poor food choices and increased eating and snacking the next day.

So we have now identified how chronic stress and elevated cortisol may be factors in weight problems, so it stands to reason that we want to reduce our exposure to stressful events and improve our resistance to stress.

Exercise is one of the best things we can do to reduce stress and improve insulin sensitivity. Even a simple daily brisk walk will help as it can promote weight loss by burning calories, but it also reduces insulin resistance and helps to neutralize stress hormones and their effects, which in turn will further help to keep weight off.  Even better, a walk out in nature will offer an extra break from our busy lives and helps us to get a better perspective.

meditationOther stress reduction techniques that are excellent include meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. Improving time management can also be essential to reducing stress in one’s hectic lifestyle. These activities or similar techniques, as well as getting adequate sleep, can help reduce your body’s physiological response to daily stressors.

Third, how a person perceives stressful situations is also important. One individual may feel major stress from a particular situation, whereas another person will handle it better by using the event as an opportunity to learn. Hence, stress makes life difficult, but our reaction to it is important as well. Learning to better manage stress and work with our inner mindset is a great way for tackling the underlying causes of stress and will help our goals of weight loss.

Next month I am offering my popular Busy But Balanced Stress Management Workshop once again to give you all the tools for managing stress, supporting your adrenals and achieving your goals – whether they be weight loss, inner peace or better digestion! Stress impacts on pretty much everything and effectively managing stress is a fundamental basic tool for optimal health and wellbeing.  Click here to learn more about the workshop and book your spot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Solutions For Hypertension

Natural Solutions for Hypertension

heart steth

Hypertension is a major risk factor for many diseases

Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure and is a very common medical condition in developed western countries.  Hypertension is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and has been linked to heart failure, stroke and kidney dysfunction.  High blood pressure is often known as the ‘silent killer’ as many people with it have an absence of symptoms and go undiagnosed.

Blood pressure is essentially a measure of the pressure that is exerted by the circulating blood on the body’s blood vessels.  With each heart beat blood pressure varies slightly. The maximum pressure exerted is called ‘systolic’ and the minimum pressure is ‘diastolic’. These terms are used in measuring and diagnosing a person’s blood pressure – with the measure showing systolic pressure over diastolic pressure in mmHg, for example a normal reading is 120/80. An elevated reading (at or above 140/90) over three visits to a medical professional will give a diagnosis of hypertension.

Hypertension is either classified as primary or secondary hypertension – referring to whether it is a stand-alone condition or it is a secondary symptom of another disease process.  For example, high blood pressure can result from kidney disease – as the kidney is an organ that has a role in regulating blood pressure.  However, most cases of hypertension are considered ‘primary’ and thus they have unknown or poorly understood causes.

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There are many natural solutions for hypertension

Blood pressure normally varies throughout the day and also over the course of one’s life.  For example, children have lower normal ranges than adults  and blood pressure tends to be higher in the elderly – primarily due to less flexibility of the blood vessels. Also blood pressure varies with exercise, sleep and digestion.  Emotional reactions can have a strong influence on blood pressure and many people suffer from ‘white coat hypertension’ – where the anxiety about having their blood pressure checked by a doctor, causes it to be elevated.

Environmental factors, diet, stress levels, behaviour patterns and genetics are all thought to play a role in the development of hypertension. The typical western diet is often implicated – with excess intake of processed foods, sugar, salt, refined fats, alcohol and caffeine, along with a shortage of fresh, whole foods, water and fibre.   Lifestyle factors linked to hypertension include lack of exercise, smoking, stress, occupational hazards and obesity. It is always important to address as many underlying causes as possible.

Research over the past two decades at the HeartMath Institute in America has found a direct link between high blood pressure and stress. They have found that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which increases adrenaline. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster, causes blood vessels to constrict and initiates the production of the major stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol causes blood-vessel constriction as well as salt and water retention in the kidneys and results in elevation of blood pressure. I have trained in HeartMath techniques and incorporate these along with other mindset and meditation tools to help people manage stress, anger and anxiety and transform their emotions. Learn more about these techniques here.

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

There are many natural solutions for hypertension and natural medicine has an important role to play in managing high blood pressure.  Assessing each person’s case history from a holistic perspective will reveal their individual contributing factors to their hypertension and a treatment plan can then be designed.  Herbs such as Hawthorn and Dan Shen have been traditionally used for managing cardiovascular complaints and have been shown to lower blood pressure in some studies. Herbalists normally combine a range of herbs to suit the person’s individual presentation.  For example, if they are stressed or need to lose weight different herbs will be indicated. Other supplements such as omega 3s, vitamin E, magnesium, garlic, ginger and turmeric may also be beneficial.

Preventative health is always about educating people so that they make healthy choices and prevent disease from occurring.  Understanding the benefits of a healthy diet, stress management and making wise lifestyle habits can make the difference between getting a disease or not. Hypertension, like many western diseases is a symptom of the body being out of balance.  It heralds a time to assess your life and make some positive changes!

 

 

 

Media Use and Child Development

Ten reasons why handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12

kidsmediaThe American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day. Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences. Handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increased the accessibility and usage of technology, especially by very young children.

The following article written by paediatric occupational therapist, Cris Rowan,  explains the potential negative impact of media use in children. Rowan is calling on parents, teachers, and government to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years. I am also a passionate advocate for supporting optimal child health and development - which often means removing or avoiding media to allow a more balanced lifestyle that fosters health and wellbeing on all levels. The benefits are far reaching and worth making the change for!

Take a look at Cris Rowan's ten reasons with research evidence to back it up.

babybrain1) Rapid brain growth
Between 0 and 2 years, infant’s brains triple in size, and continue in a state of rapid development to 21 years of age (Christakis 2011). Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by over exposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to negatively affect executive functioning, and cause attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity, and decreased ability to self-regulation e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).

2) Delayed Development
Technology use restricts movement, resulting in delayed development. One in three children now enter
school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting on literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013). Movement enhances attention and learning ability (Ratey 2008). Use of technology under the age of 12 years, is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010).
kidsjunkfood

3) Epidemic Obesity
TV and video game use correlates with increased obesity (Tremblay 2005). Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30% increased incidence of obesity (Feng 2011). One in four Canadian, and one in three U.S. children are obese (Tremblay 2011). 30% of children with obesity, will develop diabetes, and be at risk for early stroke and heart attack, gravely shortening life expectancy (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention 2010). Due to obesity, 21st century children may be the first generation many of whom will not outlive their parents (Professor Andrew Prentice, BBC News 2002).

4) Sleep Deprivation
60% of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010). 75% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted (Boston College 2012).

5) Mental Illness
Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011, Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008). One in six Canadian children have a diagnosed mental illness, many of whom are on dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddell 2007).

6) Aggression
Violent media content causes child aggression (Anderson, 2007). Young children are increasingly exposed to rising incidence of physical and sexual violence in today’s media. Grand Theft Auto V portrays explicit sex, murder, rape, torture, and mutilation, as do many movies and TV shows. The U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk due to causal impact on child aggression (Huesmann 2007). Media reports increased use of restraints and seclusion rooms with children who exhibit uncontrolled aggression (Vancouver Sun 2013).
kidscomputer

7) Digital dementia
High speed media content causes attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex (Christakis 2004, Small 2008). Children who can’t pay attention, can’t learn.

8) Addictions
As parents attach more and more to technology, they are detaching from their children. In the absence of parental attachment, detached children attach to devices, resulting in addiction (Rowan 2010). One in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile 2009). Never in the history of humankind have there been child addictions.
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9) Radiation emission
In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cellphones (and other wireless devices) as a category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) due to radiation emission (WHO 2011). James McNamee with Health Canada in October of 2011 issued a cautionary warning stating “Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents than adults as their brains and immune systems are still developing, so you can't say the risk would be equal for a small adult as for a child." (Globe and Mail 2011). In December, 2013 Dr.Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto's School of Public Health recommend that based on new research, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A (probable carcinogen), not a 2B (possible carcinogen). American Academy of Pediatrics requested review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices, citing 3 reasons regarding impact on children.

10) Unsustainable
The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology. A team based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children.

 

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Article provided by Cris Rowan.

For more information and facts, including research references please visit the zonein website.

 

 

 

Benefits of Fats

It seems like nearly everyone I see in my practice lately avoids fats. When recalling their daily diet to me, they proudly point out all the low fat and fat-free foods they eat. This is all very well, but I am not too impressed. The reason is that fat is essential for good health. With the growing controversy in the media recently regarding cholesterol and statin drugs, it is time to set the record straight about the benefits of fats.
So why do we need fats in the diet?

Fats are important for healthy brain function (60% of brain is composed of fat), for hormone production, for absorption of certain nutrients and for healthy cell function. Certain fats also carry the 'fat soluble' vitamins (vitamin A, D, E & K), so a low fat diet often creates vitamin deficiencies. Fat in a meal will slow down the absorption of other foods such as sugars and increases satiety – a fact often overlooked. Most fat-free products contain additional sugars and flavours to make up for the absence of fat. This in turn adds calories to the product and can lead to weight gain despite its fat-free label. Many people report being hungry again soon after eating fat free products which may cause them to eat more. Indeed, the increasing incidence of obesity and diabetes is linked to carbohydrate intake, not fat intake.

So fats are essential in the diet but all fats are not equal when it comes to health. Let’s look at different fats and see which ones are good for us and which ones are not so good. Firstly you need to know that fats are categorised according to their chemical structure. In reality, all fats are made up of different types of fatty acids, however the dominant fat is the one they are grouped under. The more 'saturated' a fat, the more stable it is, whereas the 'polyunsaturated' fats have inherent instability in the structure and can easily be denatured with cooking and processing.

  • Saturated Fats – saturated fats are found mostly in animal foods (eg. butter), but also in coconut and palm oils. While these fats have been demonised in recent years, saturated fats make up 50% of every cell membrane in the body, contain important vitamins and are required for a host of body functions including healthy immunity. These fats are also very stable for cooking.
  • Monounsaturated Fats – well known one is olive oil, but many people are surprised to learn that lard (pig fat) is also a monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturates are healthy fats that are also quite stable for cooking.
  • Polyunsaturated Fats – this large group of fats have a chemical structure that makes it vulnerable to oxidation and damage. Polyunsaturates include the wonderful omega 3 fats (eg. Fish oil) linked to healthy hearts and smart brains. While many of these oils have health benefits, they should never be heated in cooking as they form free radicals.
  • Trans Fats – these are not generally found in nature and are formed when polyunsaturated fats are hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is used to convert liquid vegetable oils into margarines or other solid fats and in the process changes its shape making it a very unstable free radical. Trans fats can damage healthy cells in the body and have been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer.  You should void margarines and all commercial foods containing margarines or hydrogenated fats (check labels).  See my article on butter versus margarine for more info.
  • Cholesterol – around 80% of the cholesterol in our blood is made by our liver. Cholesterol is essential for hormone production, bone health, brain function, digestion and other cell functions. Avoiding cholesterol in the diet will only have a modest effect on blood levels of cholesterol. While many people are scared of cholesterol and its theoretical link to heart disease, it is much more complex than merely looking at cholesterol levels in the blood. Eg. The proteins lipoprotein (a) and homocysteine are also involved in atherosclerosis and lifestyle factors such as smoking and stress are linked to heart disease.  For more information about cholesterol see Cholesterol & Health website.

 

So don’t assume that a fat free diet is healthy as healthy fats are essential for many aspects of body function. If you are worried about weight gain, cut back on the carbs before you cut back on the fats!

 

 

 

 

 

Obesity

Obesity - is it a disease or a lifestyle issue?

There has been much debate and controversy lately since the American Medical Association reclassified obesity as a disease, rather than a lifestyle. The obesity disease classification came about in July this year. Obesity is a growing problem worldwide and affects a third of the US nation and is estimated to cost the US healthcare system $190 billion annually and the costs are rising. More and more children and young adults are overweight or obese and the resultant diseases of heart disease, diabetes and cancer are rising in direct proportion.

Clearly, obesity is not something you can catch or contract like a regular disease, but it is the result of a lifestyle imbalance. Obesity certainly gives rise to a range of diseases, just as smoking gives rise to lung cancer and heart disease. But what they both have in common is the lifestyle choice factor. There are genetic factors, but really it is epigenetics rather than straight genetics - in other words it is the result of genes interacting with poor lifestyle choices that 'switch' on obesity genes.

Food is one of the few things many people freely choose each day, but some argue that the culture has become so entrenched with marketing of high sugar and junk foods and a focus on media use and lack of exercise that people no longer can 'choose' what they consume or how to live their life. Some in the medical profession argue the obesity disease classification will increase funding for research. Others suggest that it will make it easier for paediatricians to approach parents in terms of treating a disease rather than telling them their child eats too much or fails to exercise enough. But is this just avoiding the cold hard facts?

Please watch the interesting video below where a range of experts discuss this widespread social and health problem and look at ways of dealing with it.

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Sugar

 

Getting the Scoop on Sugar

I don't advocate the same diet for everyone and I prefer to personalise things for each person. But when it comes to sugar, the reality is that we really all do better without it.

Sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatigue, headaches, tooth decay, cancer and it also promotes premature ageing. It is a highly addictive food, that some argue is more difficult to quit than many street drugs. According to the latest statistics, sugar consumption in Australia is around 42 kgs per person per annum. The problem is that sugar is in just about every processed food today...from tomato sauce, breakfast cereals, savoury crackers and breads to yoghurts, dips, tinned foods and the obvious lollies and sweets.

In recent years with the push towards low fat products, we have seen a big rise in the amount of sugar going into processed low fat foods. When food manufacturers remove the fat from a product to make it 'low-fat' they replace it with sugar! 

Sugar is used to make up for the loss of taste, because much of the flavour in our foods comes with the fat. Just think about the taste difference between full cream and skim milk. Sugar is also used in products as a natural preservative - when the sugar level is high enough bacteria can't survive....which makes you wonder why we think we can survive with a high sugar diet!
Why Aren't Artificial Sweeteners Recommended?

Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (nutrasweet) and sucralose (Splenda) are not a safe option in any way. These processed food additives have been linked to cancer, migraine, obesity, high cholesterol and a range of brain issues - including memory loss, seizures and cancer.  What is probably most absurd is that the artificial sweeteners can even contribute to weight gain and increased sugar cravings. Aspartame failed to get FDA approval for 20 years, before it was finally approved in what appeared to be political bargaining rather than assured safety.

 What is wrong with fructose?... Isn't it just fruit sugar? 

There has been so much research into the damaging effects of sugar and processed sweet foods on our health. In particular a large body of evidence is mounting regarding consumption of high fructose corn syrup. This sweetener is used in many commercial goods that are sweetened, including cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and lollies. While fructose does not raise your blood sugar level directly the way that glucose does, it creates a whole series of other stresses that we can ill afford. The major problem with fructose is the effect that it has on the liver and is linked to many diseases including fatty liver and hyperlipidemia as well as obesity and cardiovascular disease.  Most forms of fructose also have a glucose molecule with it, so you tend to get both sugars operating in different ways in the body - making it double trouble.

Humans never evolved in an orchard with fruits all year round - so our modern ability to eat abundant amounts of fruit, regardless of the season, is a big unknown experiment. This is aside from the other issue of the enormous food miles in many cases that the imported or interstate fruit travels to get to our fruit bowl!  If you are going to eat fructose - you really are best to get it from local in-season fruit as the fibre it contains helps slow down the sugar surge. But remember you should really be limiting your fruit intake as well as it is still high sugar - so just stick to a couple of pieces a day of seasonal fruits. This is of course, as opposed to vegetables - where there is no limit!

What about the 'natural' sweeteners?

The judicious and occasional use of natural unrefined sugars such as rapadura sugar or coconut sugar can be an option when you need to bake or prepare traditional items. These work well in cooking as a substitute for regular sugar, though they will impart more flavour and colour to the recipes. Honey and maple syrup are also good natural sweeteners but they are still very sweet and should be used very sparingly.

Honey

Honey has a host of medicinal benefits - especially when in the raw and unheated form. Although honey is around 50% fructose it is a natural sweetener that has been prized for centuries. It is important to note that cooking with honey destroys some of these enzymes. Medicinal honey such as Manuka (from NZ) and Jelly Bush (from Australia) have high amounts of active constituents with antibiotic, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. It can be used externally for wounds as well as internally for sore throats, mouth ulcers and coughs. (I sell the Australian Jelly Bush honey in my clinic.)

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a traditional sweetener that has the characteristic earthy and caramel flavour. It is naturally quite high in a range of minerals - particularly manganese and zinc - that are important nutrients for a range of body functions. The syrup is a clear sap when tapped from the Maple tree and is then boiled to evaporate off the water and what is left is the golden brown syrup that is around 60% sugar.

Rapadura & Molasses

Evaporated cane juice is an unrefined sugar, also known as rapadura sugar or jaggery (which can sometimes come from palm sugar/dates).  As there is no refining and minimal processing, rapadura and jaggery still contain many of the natural minerals.  Do not confuse rapadura with brown sugar - as brown sugar is just refined sugar with some molasses added for colour and flavour.  Molasses is the left over by product of cane sugar or beet sugar refining. It is the mineral rich dark sticky byproduct and can be used sparingly as it is a rich source of minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It has traditionally been used as a health tonic - served in water. Its very strong and robust flavour only lends itself to a few traditional recipes if used in cooking.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is a sugar produced from the sap of cut flower buds of the coconut palm. It has been used as a sweetener for thousands of years throughout Asia.  The sap is collected and then heated to evaporate the water content which results in a thick syrup which is then reduced into a crystalline granulated form. Coconut sugar is a low GI sugar that is also a rich source of potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron. Compared to brown sugar, coconut sugar has 36 times the iron, four times the magnesium, and over 10 times the amount of zinc!

Agave syrup

Agave nectar/syrup is the new darling sweetener of the health food world - but in reality it is far from a good option. Agave is a mild flavoured low GI sugar alternative - but one that is very high in fructose - close to 90%!  We have already learned above why we would want to avoid too much fructose. The other problem with agave is that it is not a traditional sweetener in the same way that honey or maple syrup is. Agave has only been manufactured since the 1990's and requires quite a bit of processing to get it to be edible and commercially viable. While it starts out as a sweet watery liquid known as aguamiel or 'honey water' - it undergoes centrifuge processing and enzymatic conversion that turns the natural sugars into ones rich in high fructose and dextrose and then it is further processed and evaporated to condense the sugar content. The resultant sugar nectar is a far cry from the original honey water traditionally consumed and it packs a powerful fructose punch.

Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from the very sweet leaves of the South American herb, Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia is a safe sweetener and has no effect on blood sugar balance or liver health - though it is very sweet and slightly bitter in its natural form and is not always suitable in all recipes. Processed Stevia products have had their bitter compounds removed and come in the way of granulated products or liquids that can be used in cooking.

 

So really, all in all, the best thing to do is to kick the sugar habit! Once you stop having sweet foods all the time, your body adjusts and the cravings abate. Ensuring plenty of good quality fats and protein in your diet will also be helpful when giving up sugar as it ensures your blood sugar stays stable and your cravings will be minimised. I often use key nutrients and herbs when we need to support the body in initially adjusting to a low sugar life, so consider some personalised support by way of a consultation, if you are struggling to curb sugar cravings.

Remember you are sweet enough - so no added sugar is required!

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep Deprivation & Food Choices

Midnight Snacks

While we all know that a good night’s sleep is important, new research has now linked lack of sleep to poor food choices.

So many people are now getting too little sleep due to our 24 hour lifestyles. With computers and electricity, we can literally power on right through the night – but unfortunately this has a detrimental impact on many aspects of our health.

 

A couple of new studies have found that when we are sleep deprived we are more likely to eat unhealthy food. Furthermore, food cravings and sleep related hunger have been shown to contribute to weight gain and obesity. People who are sleep deprived tend to snack more and consume more calories. Scientists have discovered that the hormones in control of appetite are negatively impacted by lack of sleep, but other mechanisms in our brain are also playing a role. It seems that staying up all night or even just skimping on sleep can lead a person to seek out high fat and processed foods.

 

Two small studies conducted by sleep researchers have found that sleep deprivation appears to increase activity in areas of the brain that seek out pleasure.  It seems that these same pleasure centres are also activated by junk food. Unfortunately, tiredness can also dampen activity in other brain regions that usually serve as a brake on this type of craving.

 

The researchers performed functional MRI scans while showing the volunteers images of unhealthy foods interspersed with healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and oatmeal. Brain networks associated with craving and reward were more active when the participants were sleep-deprived than when they were well-rested. This was especially the case when the participants were shown the images of unhealthy foods.

 

The researchers postulated that when we are tired we tend to gravitate to energy dense fatty and sugary foods because our brains are seeking an extra energy boost to help our functioning. The sleep deprived brain reacts to food stimuli as though it were actually food deprived.  In addition, higher-order brain functions – such as making complex choices and being able to assess the pros and cons of situations - including about what we eat – may also be compromised by a lack of sleep. The frontal lobe of the brain is the region critical to making choices that are wise and health promoting and it is also associated with our ability to imagine and visualize our dreams and desires.  This was the region that was affected by sleep rather than the more primitive reward centres of the brain.

 

So getting a good night’s sleep will ensure you have the energy, brain function and discipline to make healthy choices and decisions in many areas of life. If we are making poor food choices based on lack of sleep, imagine how many other areas of our life are impacted and how many decisions that we make that are potentially effected by insufficient sleep!

Sleep Tight!

Karen

 

Click here for links to the research Research links

 

 

 

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Busy But Balanced Stress Management Workshop @ Cooroy Mountain | Cooroy Mountain | Queensland | Australia
Busy But Balanced – Stress Management for a Busy Life Do you want to feel inner peace and happiness? Do you want to achieve more balance in your life? Do you want to stay centred and[...]
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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