Gut, brain, hormones & immunity – it’s all connected!

Gut, brain, hormones & immunity – it’s all connected!

One of the most important things I’ve learned from both naturopathic nutrition and Yoga is that every part of the body is connected. We are one big moving part. Nothing in the body exists in isolation. Gut, brain, heart, hormones, immunity, muscles, bones, lungs, liver, skin; every organ and system is communicating with one another.

Whether its via hormonal messages, nerve fibres, fascia, or microbial metabolites: communication is constant.

I recently had the pleasure of talking about these incredible interconnections for a podcast (more details to follow on this). The podcast focuses on the links between the gut, brain, hormone balance, and the immune system. I like to make notes before I do any kind of talk, so I drew a mind-map of the links between these areas. It ended up large and colourful…

mind-map of links between gut, brain, immunity and hormones

And this is just the basic links, there are plenty more that wouldn’t fit on the page!

The Gut is the Foundation

The gut is always the first place to start when looking at a health issue. Whether its mental health, low immunity, hormone imbalance, or any kind of inflammation – look at the gut first. As the mind-map shows, this is where nutrient absorption takes place, and the elimination of waste (including old hormones). You can eat all the right foods and take top quality supplements, but if you’re not absorbing them well enough, or clearing out your waste each day, improvement will be very slow.

Our gut microbes (the microbiome) play a huge role in regulating our immune response, managing inflammation, and influencing mood. They communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, the ‘super highway’ communication channel between gut and brain. Anything that upsets the microbiome – stress, infection, antibiotics – can affect mood and immunity.

Hormones

Hormones are the chemical messengers zooming instructions around the body. When it comes to stress, cortisol is the main player. Ongoing high levels of cortisol can compromise our digestion making us more prone to gut problems like bloating, indigestion, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It also affects immunity, increasing the risk of infections, and hampering recovery. If we don’t learn how to manage ongoing stress, our mental resilience starts to wear thin too. Eventually this can lead to anxiety, depression, and burn-out.

Fluctuating oestrogen levels during the pre-menstrual phase (PMS) and perimenopause can affect gut health and mental wellbeing. High levels of oestrogen can be a triggering factor for migraines and PMS, while low levels lead to different symptoms depending on which part of the brain is affected. For example hot flushes, one of the characteristic symptoms of perimenopause, are triggered when there isn’t enough oestrogen reaching the hypothalamus, our central temperature regulator. Too little oestrogen in the amygdala can lead to anxiety, which in turn increases our sense of feeling threatened and stressed and upregulates cortisol production.

Balancing the connections

If you can make out my scrawls on the diagram, you’ll notice there’s a lot of crossover between the nutrients that support each area – gut, mental health, hormones, and immunity. Including these nutrients on a daily basis supplies your body with the tools it needs to:
– Build hormones
– Manage inflammation
– Maintain immune balance
– Support neurotransmitters
– Detoxify hormones
– Nuture the gut microbiome

Food connects us with ourselves, and enables our internal communications to run smoothly.

If you’re dealing with symptoms in any of the areas mentioned on the diagram, look at your food choices and see where you can make some simple swaps to include more of these key nutrients. This table lists some of the top sources so you can mix and match and enjoy the variety…

Table of food sources of key nutrients for gut, brain, hormone and immune health

Supporting Vagal tone

Alongside all these good foods, think about ways to incorporate more relaxation and mindfulness into your daily life. When we’re busy and stressed we are spending the majority of our time in the fight-flight-freeze response; the sympathetic nervous system. For our health, we need to balance this by switching to the parasympathetic response: rest-digest-heal. The vagus nerve plays a big role here, and anything that activates it will help. Taking a few slow deep breaths is the quickest and easiest way to do this because the brain thinks “ah, we can’t be in immediate danger, we’re breathing too slowly!” Singing is another good technique (not always practical in the middle of a work meeting though) and doing meditative movements such as yoga and Qi Gong.

Look at ways to fit pockets of relaxation time into your day. A short walk in the park at lunchtime, ten minutes of mindful meditation after work, taking 5 slow deep breaths before each meal – that sort of thing. The benefits of these little pockets soon builds up and you’ll feel calmer and more resilient.


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Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered

Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered

Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered

Perimenopause is a different experience for each of us, yet there are several common themes and questions. Fortunately, nutrition and lifestyle medicine can be a big help at this time of transition. From hot flushes to anxiety and low mood, making changes to what we eat and how we live can make a powerful difference during perimenopause.


Heavy Periods

Q. My periods are getting heavier and I’m starting to experience a lot more irritability and anxiety. I’ve just turned 41 – could this be perimenopause?

A. Yes. Some of the first signs of perimenopause are changes to moods, period frequency, and/or period flow. These can start happening in your mid to late 30s. However, many women don’t notice this if they’re taking the Pill or using hormonal implants.
Fluctuating oestrogen levels affect our brain just as much as the ovaries and womb lining. There are oestrogen receptors throughout the brain, and each area responds differently to changes in oestrogen levels. For example, if the amygdala doesn’t receive enough oestrogen we can feel more anxious and fearful. If the hypothalamus (our central temperature regulator) is affected we can experience hot flushes.

Try keeping track of your symptoms to see if they fit into any kind of monthly pattern. To help manage the anxiety. follow the tips below in the Q&A for Anxiety & Low Mood.

Heavy periods can increase your iron loss, so be mindful of regularly including iron-rich foods throughout your cycle:

– Haem iron (animal source) is the most bioavailable form for us to absorb and use, and is found in red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
– Non-haem iron is found in animal foods too, and also in vegetables – especially dark green leafy veg; pulses, dried fruits, nuts, wholegrains, and Blackstrap molasses. Combine vitamin C rich foods with non-haem iron sources to aid absorption.

Q. My periods are incredibly painful and heavy and I don’t want to take the Pill or have a coil fitted. Do I have to put up with this until after menopause?

A. Symptoms like this can be a sign of fibroids or endometriosis. Both conditions are influenced by oestrogen and hormone fluctuations. During the early stages of perimenopause we can be in a temporary state of oestrogen dominance. Because we stop ovulating every month, there’s very little progesterone produced to counter-balance oestrogen. Unfortunately it can take months, even years, for fibroids or endometriosis to be diagnosed as many doctors fail to recognise how serious the symptoms are. Ask for a referral to a gynaecologist who will be able to offer the right support and testing. It will also be helpful to get your iron levels checked to make sure the heavy periods aren’t depleting your iron stores.


Hot flushes

Q. Hot flushes are keeping me awake every night. I’m feeling exhausted all day, and having difficulty concentrating at work. What can I do?

A. Hot flushes are one of the most distressing perimenopausal symptoms. I can’t promise these tips will get rid of them completely but they can certainly reduce the severity and frequency:

– Minimise caffeine as much as possible. Avoid it altogether if you can! This means tea, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate. And decaff versions too – sensitive people can react to the trace amounts of caffeine left in decaffeinated drinks.

– Keep your blood sugar levels balanced by eating within 2 hours of waking, replacing refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, cakes, sweets, biscuits etc) with smaller portions of wholegrain versions, and only snacking if there’s a gap of more than 5hrs between meals.

– Try drinking sage tea or taking sage tablets or tincture. The A.Vogel ‘Menosan’ tablets and tincture are a licensed herbal remedy for managing hot flushes and sweats and can help with temperature regulation.

– Relax! Stress is a big trigger for hot flushes. We can’t always make stress go away but we can change how we respond to it. We can do this by building daily downtime into our schedules. This might mean going for a mindful walk, listening to music, following a guided meditation, doing crafts or creative writing, or simply soaking in a bath with essential oils. Mindful relaxation (as opposed to flopping in front of Netflix) is a great way to build our resilience to stress.


Anxiety & low mood

Q. Since starting perimenopause my moods have been really low. I feel anxious and depressed a lot of the time. I’m also really tired. Is this normal?

A. Mood swings and anxiety can be symptoms of perimenopause, but they can also be linked to other conditions. Have you had your thyroid checked? Depression and fatigue can be signs of an underactive thyroid. Many women start to experience thyroid issues around the time of menopause so it’s worth getting your thyroid hormome levels checked with your GP. Ask them to check your levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T4 and T3 (thyroid hormones) and thyroid antibodies. The thyroid antibodies are important because an underactive thyroid may be due to auto-immunity. If your results come back positive for underactive thyroid see a Registered Nutritional Therapist for a personalised plan to support thyroid function.

If your thyroid is OK, look at ways to manage the anxiety and depression and low energy:

– Follow the blood sugar balancing tips (see previous Q&A) as poor blood sugar balance can worsen mood swings.

– Include at least 3 servings each day of foods rich in magnesium and B-vitamins such as avocado, sweet potato, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, poultry, and eggs. These nutrients are vital for mood balance and energy levels.

– Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Our brains need 7-9hrs each night, with at least 1 hr of that before midnight. Aim to be in bed by 10.30pm-11pm to give yourself the opportunity for a good rest.

– Include mindful relaxation time each day. Yoga, journalling, mediation, spending time outdoors in natural surroundings, and crafts are all known to be beneficial for managing depression and anxiety.

– Swap regular tea and coffee for herbal teas that soothe and support the nervous system. Lemon balm, chamomile, oat straw, valerian, and lavendar are good options.


Phytoestrogens

Q. I’ve been told to eat phytoestrogens. What are they and where can I find them?

A. Phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) are naturally occurring substances found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. They have a similar effect to human oestrogen, but are hundreds and hundreds of times weaker. They’re not a hormone replacement therapy by any means.  Instead, they have a modulating effect on our fluctuating oestrogen levels and may help reduce hot flushes and offer protection to our bones.

There are 3 types of phytoestrogens. The top food sources include:

  • Isoflavones found mainly in soybeans (edamame) and fermented soy products like tofu and miso. You can also find them in chickpeas, aduki beans, kidney beans, and red clover. Red clover seeds can be sprouted – try sprouting them alongside mung beans and alfalfa seeds.   
  • Lignans flax seed is by far the richest source, followed by sesame seeds, broccoli, and cashew nuts.
  • Coumestans found in mung bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts. 

Q. Is soy safe to eat? I’ve read so many conflicting things about it!

A. Soy foods certainly are a controversial subject! Unfortunately a lot of the research done on soy uses raw soy extract – not the natural wholefoods recommended for perimenopausal women. The soy foods suggested for perimenopause are the fermented soy products like tofu and miso, and whole cooked soy beans. These foods are part of the traditional diet in Far Eastern countries where women have far fewer menopausal issues. Having said that, no food is entirely suitable for everyone, and some people find soy difficult to digest. If you have any concerns about soy, give yourself peace of mind and enjoy other phytoestrogen foods instead.

I hope you’ve found this Q&A helpful! Watch out for more updates on my forthcoming book “Perimenopause – The Natural Nutrition Guide: What to eat to feel good and stay sane” which will cover all these points and so much more.

Got more questions? Come and join the Facebook Group or follow my Facebook page – or join me on Twitter @nutritioninyork

Top 5 Foods for Anxiety

Top 5 Foods for Anxiety

Anxiety has been an unwanted companion of mine since childhood. From anxiety-induced stomach aches before school swimming lessons, to panic attacks while out shopping, anxiety has a big impact on my life experiences.

Over the years I’ve learned to take a two-pronged approach to anxiety. To manage it I use:

  • Speedy remedies like chewing on lemon balm leaves, drinking valerian tea, dosing up on Bach Rescue Remedy, and using Ashwagandha tincture each day whenever I’m in a particularly stressful phase.
  • Long term nutrition support. I regularly include foods that supply the vitamins and minerals my nervous system needs to manage anxiety and support mental wellbeing.

This 5-minute video covers 5 of my favourite foods for nervous system support. Each one is easy to find and easy to prep – there’s no weird ingredients or lengthy recipes here. I recommend including these on a regular basis and noticing how you feel. If you scroll on down past the video you’ll find some more ideas for foods and drinks that can help manage anxiety. All of these foods can be safely consumed alongside anxiety medications.

More Good Foods for Managing Anxiety

Fermented foods: let’s not forget the gut microbiome! Our gut flora produce important molecules that influence the nervous system and the production of mood chemicals.

One of these molecules is GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system. Fermented foods contain the probiotic bacteria that produce GABA, and fibres to nourish other gut bacteria. In turn, this support a healthy environment in the gut, and continues the production of GABA.

Including a serving of fermented foods each day is a great way to top up and fertilise your microbiome. Choose from:

  • Sauerkraut: available from healthfood stores and some supermarkets (avoid the pasteurised versions as the bacteria die off during pasteurisation) or make your own
  • Kefir: milk kefir, water kefir, coconut water kefir – there’s plenty of different varieties. Again, you can make this at home with some starter granules
  • Plain live natural yoghurt
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha

Keen to try home fermenting? I can heartily recommend this book. It’s packed with tips and has easy-to-follow instructions – perfect for new fermenters!

Herbal Infusions

Quick and easy to make, a warm mug of tea is a soul-soother in itself. Although for anxious people, it does need to be caffeine free – there’s no wriggle room on that! This is because even decaffeinated versions of tea can contain enough caffeine to stimulate the stress response and aggravate anxiety.

Herbs offer some wonderful infusions for anxiety. Try these teas either as single-herb teas or in combinations. For example, chamomile and lemon balm blend well together:

  • Chamomile – soothing and anti-inflammatory
  • Lemon balm (Melissa) – shown to inhibit the breakdown of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter in the brain
  • Lavender – deeply relaxing, and the scent works on the olfactory senses too, to calm the mind
  • Valerian – this is pretty pungent and best combined with other herbs to balance the flavour!
  • Oat seed – oats are nourishing to the nervous system thanks to their high content of B-vitamins
  • Passion flower – calming, and particularly useful for menopausal anxiety

Are you an anxious person?

What tips and tricks have you learned to manage your symptoms of anxiety?

Share your thoughts over on the Facebook page.

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Corona virus – can nutrition help?

Corona virus – can nutrition help?

This winter’s flu season has taken a dramatic turn with the arrival and rapid spread of the Covid-19 corona virus.   A few weeks ago I highlighted some of the key nutrients we need for all-round immune support.  These nutrients are essential in the fight against flu.  But is there any evidence to say nutrition can help fight coronaviruses?

The short answer to this question is yes!  In a fascinating paper from the US, researchers explore the interactions between compounds in foods and the way our immune system deals with RNA viruses – including coronaviruses.

Immune nutrients

The compounds examined in this paper include:

Ferulic acid: an antioxidant found in many different plants

– Phase 2 inducers like sulforaphane.  Phase 2 is one of the detoxification pathways in the liver.  It requires plenty of glutathione, one of our most important antioxidant nutrients.  Sulforaphane can increase glutathione levels.

– The minerals zinc and selenium

– Anthocyanin compounds in Elderberry

– Phycocyanobilin in Spirulina: a type of cyanobacteria grown on freshwater lakes and sold as powder, tablets, or capsules

These compounds have multiple benefits for our immune defences.  This is seen through their modulating effects on immune cells and signalling molecules, and by providing powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection in the lungs and airways.

Nutrition and the elderly

A key observation of this paper is the way in which zinc and n-acetyl cysteine have been shown to support older peoples’ immune systems against ‘flu.  In a small-scale 6mth controlled trial involving 262 elderly people, those receiving 600mg of n-acetyl cysteine twice a day* experienced significantly fewer days of ‘flu and spent much less time confined to their beds, compared to those taking a placebo.

And, although the rate of infection was comparable between the two groups only 25% of the virus-infected subjects in the NAC group developed symptoms, compared to 79% of those in the placebo group.

*(This is quite a high dose, and not recommended unless advised by a nutrition practitioner)

Zinc and PPI medications

The benefits of zinc supplementation for the elderly were spotted as a by-product of another trial: the AREDS1 trial for eye health.  AREDS1 used a vitamin and mineral supplement with zinc in.  As the authors note: “…This effect might be pertinent to the significant 27% reduction in total mortality observed in elderly subjects who received high-dose zinc in the AREDS1 multicenter trial”.  It seems a supplement trial for healthy vision had an unexpected and positive effect on flu deaths!

Many older people take PPI (proton-pump inhibitor) medications like Omperazole, Lansoprazole, and Nexium, to manage acid reflux and heartburn.  These drugs suppress the production of stomach acid.  This can bring short-term relief from heartburn and reflux but it has a knock-on effect on nutrient absorption.  Using these medications for months on end can significantly impact zinc levels – and as a result, immune function.  If you or someone you know has been taking PPI meds for more than 3 months, it’s a good idea to have your zinc levels assessed either with a GP or via a nutrition practitioner.

So the big question now is where to find these amazing nutrients?

Zinc: poultry, shellfish (especially oysters – if you can stomach them!), red meat, pumpkin seeds, nuts

Selenium: Brazil nuts, shellfish, liverMixed nuts

Spirulina: use capsules or tablets, or add the powder to smoothies, pesto, and dark chocolate bark (this has to be the easiest and most enticing way of taking spirulina ever known)

Elderberry: keen foragers can make their own syrups.  The rest of us can find it in supplements such as ‘Sambucol‘ and Pukka Herb’s Elderberry Syrup

Sulforaphane: found in cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower

Ferulic acid: widespread in foods including oats, rice, pineapple, nuts, bananas, spinach, beetroot

Keep your diet as varied and interesting as possible and if you feel the need for more personalised advice, get in touch with your local Registered Nutritional Therapist.  York-people, you can find yours here!

Reference: M.F. McCarty and J.J. DiNicolantonio, 2020. Nutraceuticals have potential for boosting the type 1 interferon response to RNA viruses including including influenza and coronavirus Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2020.02.007

Seed cycling for hormone balance – is it worth it?

Seed cycling for hormone balance – is it worth it?

Seed cycling – have you heard of it?

It’s a technique of eating certain combinations of seeds during the menstrual cycle to help support hormone balance. 

Many women say seed cycling relieves PMS symptoms and helps maintain a more regular cycle.  It’s an easy technique to practise – so long as you enjoy eating seeds!


How seed cycling works

Based on an average cycle length of 28-30 days, the pattern for eating the seeds goes like this:

Chart for seed cycling

The plan is based upon the idea that the different nutritional qualities of the seeds support the variations in hormone levels over the course of the month.  But, is it really necessary to seperate the seeds out like this?  Does it matter if you eat a mixture of each seeds every day?

To date, there are no research trials looking at the impact of seed cycling.  However, there are several studies examining the nutritional qualities and actions of some of these seeds individually – particularly flaxseed.  Flax is packed with nutrients (see below) that can be incredibly helpful when dealing with PMS symptoms or perimenopausal hormone fluctuations.

 

How are the seeds helpful?

Flax: contains high levels of compounds called lignans.  Our beneficial gut bacteria can convert these lignans into phytoestrogen compounds which have a modulating effect on oestrogen receptors.  When natural oestrogen levels are too low, phytoestrogens can support them.  At the other end of the scale, if you’re oestrogen dominant (which is often the case in endometriosis, PMT, PCOS, and early perimenopause) the phytoestrogens block the actions of natural oestrogen, helping to reduce its activity.  Alongside the lignans, flax provides protein and the omega-3 essentail fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which converts into anti-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins.

*Flax is best eaten ground as the tiny seeds are difficult to chew and can pass straight on through your digestion!

Pumpkin: excellent source of omega-3 ALA, zinc, magnesium, fibre, and protein.

Sesame seeds: naturally rich in calcium to support bone health and may also relieve some symptoms of PMS.

Sunflower seeds: packed with vitamin E; a powerful antioxidant and shown to help relieve hot flushes in perimenopausal women.

 

Seed cycling or seeds everyday?

There’s no firm agreement on this question.  If you are keen to try seed cycling, go for it!  If you are new to eating seeds start with 1/2 a tablespoon of each seed and work up to the full tablespoon to give your digestive system time to adjust to the increase in fibre intake.

If seed cycling sounds a bit too much like hard work, keep things simple and focus on including ground flaxseed each day instead.  However you decide to include more seeds, remember to increase your water intake too.  These seeds are rich in fibre that soaks up fluid in the digestive tract and keeps waste matter moving steadily along.  More water is essential to prevent the seeds causing constipation!

 

How to include the seeds in your diet

  • Smoothies – blend the ground seeds with fruit, dairy or non-dairy milk, veggies, and a dollop of nut butter for a satisfying smoothie
  • Salads – sprinkle them into salads made up of a mixture of roasted veggies, salad leaves, meat or fish or egg, lentil pate, and a couple of tablespoons of a grain such as brown rice or buckwheat
  • Add to yoghurt and fruit for a snack
  • Mix with quinoa, cooked lentils, egg, baby tomatoes, chopped herbs, and a handful of baby spinach for a protein-rich lunch
  • Mix with chopped dried apricot, raisins, nuts and coconut flakes as a trail-mix-style snack
  • Add to homemade bread, muffins – or try this Menopause Cake recipe – yes, cake really can help you get through menopause!

 

Have you tried seed cycling?

What are your favourite tips for using seeds in recipes?

Share your ideas and discover more tips over in the Facebook group – Nutrition in York!

Fight Those Winter Bugs – Top Tips for Immune Support

Fight Those Winter Bugs – Top Tips for Immune Support

Our immune systems get a real workout at this time of year with cold, flu’, and tummy bug germs thriving in warm, dry, centrally heated homes and offices.  It’s a good idea to top up on immune-supporting nutrients to give your system the best chance of fending off these invaders as much as possible.

Here are 4 simple ways to nourish your immune system this winter…

 

Need more?  Try these too:

Vitamin C has powerful anti-viral action, particularly against the flu’ viruses.  Food sources include watercress, peppers, kiwi, berries, peas, parsley, broccoli, and lemons.  If you’re at high risk of infection consider using at least 1000mg per day of ascorbic acid or Ester-C.

Zinc may help to reduce the severity and shorten the duration of colds.  Food sources include poultry (chicken soup really can work wonders), pumpkin seeds, red meat, and cashew nuts.  Zinc citrate lozenges are a quick way to boost levels and helpful at the first tingles of a cold.

Echinacea has a long history of traditional use for respiratory infections like colds and flu’.  Go for an organic whole herb extract that contains the natural balance of active compounds; A.Vogel do tinctures, tablets and a throat spray in their excellent ‘Echinaforce‘ range.  It’s a winter staple in my remedy cupboard!

Do you have a favourite  cold and flu’ remedy?
Come and tell us over in the Facebook group and find out more winter health tips and nourishing recipes!

 

Veganuary – Where to find the vitamins & minerals YOU need

Veganuary – Where to find the vitamins & minerals YOU need

Over 250,000 people participated in Veganuary 2019 (a massive increase from the 3,300 who participated in 2014) and 2020 is set to be even bigger.

Done properly, a plant-based diet can provide nearly all the nutrients we need to thrive.  I say “nearly all” because of the vitamin B12 conundrum – more on that later.  Done badly, a vegan diet is the same as any other poor diet.

As a nutritionist I come across all kinds of diets.  Vegan, juice fasts, raw food, keto, Paleo, Hay (eating proteins at a different time to carbs, not chewing on actual hay…though no doubt someone will one day, and probably make a ton of money from the idea) – and people ask my opinion of them.

When it comes to veganism, I think it’s great for many people so long as it’s done properly and involves eating real food.  I have several vegan friends and colleagues, including the brilliant nutritionist Elena Holmes, who epitomises the healthy vegan lifestyle.

However, a vegan diet is not;

– The answer to our environmental and food sustainability issues

– The cure for every known health issue

– Easy to follow.  This is especially true if you dislike vegetables and pulses.  And I have met vegans who don’t like vegetables.  Good luck with that.

There are certain nutrients that a wholly plant-based diet can struggle to provide and you may need to consider supplementation to side-step any deficiencies.  Remember that some deficiencies can take months, even years to present with full on symptoms.  Vitamin B12 is a good example of this.  You may have good bodily stores of B12 when you begin a vegan diet, and these stores can keep you going for several months before they drop and you start to notice symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and poor memory.

Vitamin B12

The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal products.  It plays an important role in mental wellbeing, heart health, nerve cells, and red blood cell function.

Top sources include shellfish, lamb, and beef (there’s an interesting list on Nutrition Data: it’s a US site, hence the inclusion of moose meat – not a common source for those of us in the UK!).   Beef cattle

Many foods suitable for vegans are fortified with B12; nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals for example.  Certain plant foods do naturally contain B12, the most notable being the sea vegetables green and purple nori.  Studies have shown that eating these forms of nori can improve B12 status, though you would need to eat substantial amounts every day to support levels in the long term.  Same goes for shiitake mushrooms.  Of all the edible mushrooms, shiitake carries good levels of B12 but you would still need to eat an average of 50g (dried weight) per day to maintain levels.  That’s a whole lot of mushrooms.  To be on the safe side, include these foods regularly and consider using a B12 supplement if you plan to be wholly plant-based for more than a few months.

Spirulina and other edible cyanobacterias (commonly called blue-green algaes) contain pseudovitamin B12 which isn’t bioavailable to us as humans.  We can’t absorb it or use it so please don’t be fooled by advertisements claiming otherwise.

Iron – haem and non-haem

Iron deficiency is a particular issue for female vegans due to regular iron loss from periods.  Haem iron in animal products is much better absorbed than non-haem iron Vegetablesfrom plant sources.  If you are relying on non-haem iron, be sure to include sources of vitamin C too, as this helps the absorption and usage of plant-sourced iron.

Good combinations include;

– Millet grain (iron) in a salad with vit-C-rich-foods like watercress, parsley, and peppers

– Blackstrap molasses (iron) in hot water with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice (vit C)

– Pumpkin & sunflower seeds (iron) in a fruit salad with papaya, kiwi, and strawberries (all good sources of vit C)

Vitamin D

Many of us, whether vegan or not, are low in vitamin D simply because we don’t get enough regular sunshine here in the UK.  Unfortunately for vegans, the optimum dietary sources of vitamin D3 (the most active usable form) are eggs, liver and butter, with plant sources like mushrooms providing a little D2.

It is advisable for everyone to take a supplement during winter months (October to April) and vegans may need to continue all year round.  To check your levels, see your GP or try a home test kit from www.vitamindtest.org.uk

Omega-3 fats

Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to have plenty of omega-6, but often struggle with omega-3.  Nuts and seeds provide what is known as the ‘parent’ omega 3 fat, Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA).  This needs to go through several conversion steps before it becomes EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). These are the omega-3 fats we use for brain and heart health, and which are ready formed in fish oils.

These conversion steps rely on co-factor nutrients like magnesium, B-vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C, and a lot of ALA gets lost during the process.  There isn’t an easy answer to this dilemma, other than to ensure vegans include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and/or pumpkinseed oil everyday for their rich ALA content, and to enjoy plenty of food sources of the co-factor nutrients too;

Magnesium: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, dark green leafy vegetables

Zinc: nuts & seeds

B-vitamins: widely spread throughout the plant kingdom; sweet potatoes, brown rice, avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and dark green leafy veggies are especially useful

Vit C: watercress, peppers, broccoli, berries, kiwi, papaya, peas

Are you experimenting with Veganuary this year?

Have you a delicious vegan recipe to share?

Tell us in the comments below, hop on over to the friendly Facebook Group for more conversations and recipe ideas or catch me on Twitter @nutritioninyork

Food Trends for 2020

Food Trends for 2020

We’ve had smashed avocado, coconut water and kale everything.  Smoothies, juice diets, goji berries, and veganism. Now it’s time for 2020 to give us the next big foodie trend.  Will it be nettles? Pine needle tea? Or my favourite (and vastly underated) combo of mashed carrot and swede?

According to food trend forecasts from Waitrose and Whole Foods, flexitarian eating styles and plant-based options are set to continue their popularity next year.  Research reveals celery juice, tahini and seaweeds are all in increasing demand and could be the next big trends (though I have to say, celery juice excites me about as much as pine needle tea).

Seaweeds
These have always had a devoted fan base.  Their distinctive taste adds depth and saltiness to soups, stir fry, and casseroles and makes a great sprinkle topping for salads (and chips!).  Rich in iodine, zinc, selenium and fibre seaweeds are especially good for mental wellbeing, energy, weight loss and supporting healthy thyroid function if your thyroid is underfunctioning (hypothyroidism).

Seaweeds are an extremely useful source of iodine for those who are dairy-free.  Aside from fish and seafood, dairy products are the main source of iodine in most diets.  If you’re not regularly eating fish and/or dairy products, aim to include seaweed 2-3 times a week to look after your iodine intake.

Clearspring produce a wide range of seaweed products as do Seagreens.  Both companies carefully source and sustainably harvest the seaweeds, ensuring strict high standards of production.

Tahini
Well known as a key ingredient in houmous, it can be hard to know what to do with any leftover tahini paste.  The type of tahini might influence your decision here; there are two types of tahini to choose from based on what sort of sesame seeds have been used.  Hulled sesame seeds produce a paler paste, whilst unhulled result in a darker coloured paste and slightly bitter taste.

Nutritionally, it is a great source of protein, B-vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium – great for energy levels, healthy bones, cardiovascular health and hormone balance.  A perfect menopause food if ever there was one.

If you’re brimful with houmous, try these suggestions for using up tahini paste;
– Add to salad dressings with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice
– Spread on griddled aubergine with a dash of soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free)
– Drizzle it over warm falafels
– Make baba ganoush
– Add a spoonful to butternut squash soup for a thick, creamy and slightly nutty taste
– Mix with honey and spread on sourdough toast for a comforting snack

Celery Juice
Perhaps my resolution for 2020 could be to get more excited about celery juice.  Whilst I love crunching on raw celery sticks (especially smothered in nut butter) the juice just turns me off.

Many of the health benefits of celery come from its fibre content and antioxidant compounds. Celery fibre aids digestion and cholesterol balance, whilst the antioxidants have anti-inflammatory actions, helping protect cells and tissues from damage.

The fibre is lost in celery juice, but vitamins and minerals remain, and celery’s high water content makes it a good base for a mixed veg juice blend.

According to the trend-setting soothsayers other foods to watch in 2020 include fruit based sugar substitutes such as pomegranate syrup and coconut syrup; different kinds of noodles, and unusual types of flour – think cauliflower flour and banana flour rather than plain or self raising.

Let’s see what unfolds over the next twelve months.  Maybe there’ll be a late surge for carrots & swede mash after all…

Tell us what will be on your plate in 2020 – come and join the conversations over in the Facebook group.  Trendy and non-trendy foods allowed.  So long as they taste good.

 

 

 

Meet the Producer:  Eleanor from Riverford Organic

Meet the Producer: Eleanor from Riverford Organic

Friday mornings are a bit exciting in my house; it’s Riverford delivery day.  At around 9.30am a friendly driver drops off the weekly box (hiding it behind the recycling bin if no-one’s home) packed with a delicious selection of organic fruit and vegetables.  And, rather helpfully, a leaflet detailing different ways to cook some of the more unusual contents.

I decided to find out more about the faces behind the vegetables and met up with Eleanor Fletcher who runs the York & East Riding Riverford Franchise.

Hello Eleanor!  Can you tell us about how you came to run the local Riverford delivery scheme?

Hi!  Yes, well I was born in York and grew up in Helmsley before life took me to London where I worked in publishing.  As a family, we’d planned on moving back to York at some point anyway, then one day I spotted theEleanor Fletcher holding organic Riverford carrots York Riverford franchise was available.  We’d been Riverford customers for many years and I was familiar with the products and really liked the ethos of the company, so I took the plunge and applied.

We began the new York franchise in August 2018 – it really was like jumping on a galloping horse!  There used to be 2 franchises in Yorkshire but these were combined into one when I took over.  We now cover York and East Riding and over to the west as far as Pontefract and Castleford.

Wow, that is a huge area to cover!  I’m guessing the food isn’t all grown up here in Yorkshire; where does it come from?

Riverford has 3 main farms in the UK; one fairly locally in Northallerton, one in Cambridgeshire, and one near Totnes in Devon.  We grow different produce at each farm according to what suits the soil and climate.  For example Yorkshire’s good for potatoes and brassicas, Cambridgeshire for onions, leeks and lots of salads in the sandy soil, while Totnes has a milder climate suited to tomatoes and winter salad leaves which wouldn’t survive well up here in the North.

All our meat comes from the Riverford butchery in Devon.  Dairy products are supplied by Acorn Dairies up near Barnard Castle and eggs from a farm in County Durham.

Is all Riverford produce UK grown?

No, we use some French farms in the Vendee, and a co-operative of Spanish farms too.  All our produce is land freighted though, we never air freight.  And thanks to extensive research we’ve discovered that a tomato grown in Southern Spain and land freighted to the UK has a lower carbon footprint than one grown in a heated greenhouse here in England.

One of the common objections about organic produce is that it’s expensive and hard to get hold of.  That’s often the case in supermarkets but your boxes pretty much prove that to be wrong!  Why do think customers choose Riverford?

I think they choose us for a variety of reasons.  Concerns about intensive farming methods and pesticides is a big driver for a lot of customers.  They appreciate the higher welfare standards of organic farms – for both the animals and staff – and love the freshness of our products.  Our usual turnaround time from farm to doorstep is 36-48 hours.  We don’t leave our veg hanging around in distribution centres for days and weeks, which is why it lasts longer and tastes so fresh.

Customers recognise how organic farming is preserving and enriching the soil and caring for wildlife.  Plastic is a really big issue too.  Our boxes use 77% less plastic compared to the supermarket equivalents of our products – that’s a huge difference.  We reuse the cardboard delivery boxes time and time again, and some of our smaller cardboard boxes can be composted on a household compost heap.

As well as running the delivery scheme you also run cooking workshops showing people how to use the produce in the boxes.  What are your favourite veggies and how do you serve them?

That is a tough question!  *thinks for a moment* Ok, I’m going to answer it by seasons…

In winter I love the deep savoury flavour of celeriac in soups, roasted, or as celeriac mash.

Autumn has to be cime di rapa which is a bit like spinach, but with the pepperyness of rocket.

Then in spring and summer I love using the bunched carrots.  They’re thinner and less robust than winter carrots but perfect for roasting whole and using the carrot leaves in pesto instead of basil.

Thank you so much Eleanor! 

To find out more about Eleanor’s delivery scheme and cookery workshops hop over to;

www.facebook.com/riverfordyorkeastriding

Instagram: @riverfordyorkhull

magazine for organic farming sustainability Riverford

Enjoy ‘Wicked Leeks’ the Riverford online magazine packed with info and tips about organic farming, sustainability, eating organic on a budget and more at https://wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk/

Do you grow your own organic veggies?

Have you got a tried and trusted veg box delivery scheme near you?

Tell us more in the comments below or over in the Facebook group.  And if you’ve enjoyed this article please share it on!

Nutrition tips I’d share with my 14 year old self!

Nutrition tips I’d share with my 14 year old self!

If I had a magic time machine I’d go back to the early 90s and have a quiet word with myself about food. 

I’d also have a quiet word about hairstyles and picking at spots, but food would be first.

At age 14 I was a terrible pescetarian.  I lived on tuna pasta bake, Linda McCartney Country Pies (*instant bloating*) Findus cheese pancakes, baked beans, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Black, two sugars.

I carried on eating like this into my late teens and early twenties.  My repertoire expanded a little when I moved out of home and lived with people who introduced me to houmous and feta cheese.

As you might expect, my health wasn’t exactly dazzling.  Every month I had 10-14 days of pre-menstrual tension symptoms of anger, depression, forgetfulness, brain fuzz, bloating and spots.  This was followed by heavy painful periods lasting 7-8 days.  I ping-ponged through the day on sugar-caffeine highs followed by exhausting slumps, and my bowels could tick off every type of poo on the Bristol Stool Scale.

If I’d known then what I know now, I would have abso-flippin’-lutely eaten differently.  The cheese pancakes would have been accompanied by broccoli for a start.

 

Nutritional gems I’d share with my Pearl Jam fan-girl, rubbish-pescatarian 14yr old self:

Drink some water.  I lived on coffee & tea, both of which were playing havoc with my digestion and blocking iron absorption (not a great combo with heavy periods).  Drinking at least 1l of water a day would have done my digestion, energy, and skin a whole lot of good.

Eat greens, everyday.  Mum always included at least 1 green veggie with our evening meal, however I could have been a lot more pro-active myself.  Brassica veggies in particular (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, rocket) are packed with nutrients that support oestrogen processing in the liver – essential for hormone balance and managing PMT.

Ease up on sugar.  Adding 2 sugars to every black coffee really racked up my sugar intake and contributed to the bloating and teen spots.  Add in white bread, white pasta, and other refined carbs and the sugar total was HUGE!  Swapping to herbal teas and complex carbs would have made a significant difference to energy, digestion, skin health, and hormone balance.

Eat Real Food.  Back then, as a pescetarian I really needed to be eating a lot more fish, eggs, beans, pulses, and colourful fruits & veggies and none of that processed fake food marketed to vegetarians.

Protein, protein, protein!  Again, the fish, beans, pulses and eggs would have helped with this, alongside nuts and seeds.  I was in dire need of protein building blocks for healthy skin, zingy energy levels, and stable moods, and my diet wasn’t supplying them!

Prep a proper packed lunch.  A typical lunch consisted of cheese sandwiches with white bread, cake, and maybe a piece of fruit (maybe).  Then I’d come home at 4pm and feast on chocolate spread sandwiches.  Blimey, my pancreas was working overtime!  Better options would have been wholemeal pittas with salad & fish / eggs / fruit salad with nuts & seeds / houmous / guacamole / and a lot less chocolate spread!

What nutritional gems would you share with your teenage self?

We’ve had some fun discussions about our teen diets over in the Facebook group: come and join us!