Magnesium

The days are shorter, the sun slants at a shallower angle and we won’t be able to make vitamin D until next March/April. At this time of year I usually remind you that a vitamin D supplement is a good idea. And since with all micronutrients they work together, something you’ll need for your Vitamin D to work is magnesium (plus vitamins K2 and B6).

Magnesium is important for your heart, for your brain, for energy production, for insulin sensitivity and so much more. It’s essential if you take calcium. Deficiency is linked to: acid reflux, anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD and depression, constipation, fatigue and insomnia, muscle problems like cramp, fibromyalgia and post exercise soreness (the dreaded DOMS).  I heard in July from Dr David Unwin about how it helped a patient whose fitting had not responded to medication and turned out to be magnesium deficiency caused by other medication.

Having suffered with for years, I was thrilled that it also helps with Raynaud’s. As soon as there was a cool, damp day (even in summer), I’d touch something cold and the circulation in my fingers would just switch off. I’ve even had to warm up cutlery before eating and have occasionally been in so much pain with it that I cried. But since I started taking magnesium a year ago, my fingers have stayed pink.

Most people are deficient but it doesn’t show up with a simple blood test because your body will keep levels constant, even scavenging from your bones and muscles for the sake of your heart.

The main food sources are kelp, wheat (only wholegrain), nuts, soya (best only eaten fermented) and coconut. You could also take tablets, soak in an Epsom salts bath or spray an oil mixture on your skin.  There are different compounds of magnesium available as supplements.  Dr Mercola discusses their merits here.

Check out The Magnesium Miracle by Caroline Dean or her blog.

Top tip – Boost your health with magnesium

NB There are a few reasons why you shouldn’t take magnesium

  • if you have kidney failure,
  • very slow heart rate,
  • bowel obstruction
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • and check with your doctor about any medication.

Real Food Rocks

Saturday 20th July dawned (just about) dark and wet. It didn’t look good for Real Food Rocks at Brathay, Ambleside. The promise of sessions with some of the country’s leading food and exercise visionaries had more than doubled expected ticket sales and bookings had to close at 700.  David Unwin and his wife Jen organised the event, bringing top quality speakers and vendors (check out the Horned Beef Company and Hunter & Gather avocado oil mayonnaise), music and family fun. Was it a gamble holding a prestigious nutrition event in the lake district in summer?

I arrived early and got a seat in a room already almost full, to which were added a couple of dozen standing, more sitting on the floor and some listening to Dr Michael Moseley from outside through the open window. This set the pattern for the day but I managed to squeeze my way in to hear Ivor Cummins, Jenny Phillips, Dr David Unwin (an award-winning GP from Southport who is putting his diabetic patients into remission with diet) and Emma Porter whose low-carb recipes I am enjoying very much.

Here are just a few of the key messages from the day:

Michael Moseley

The Mediteranean Diet (the real one with lots of fats and oily fish, not the one on the NHS website which looks suspiciously like the standard, bad dietary recommendations) helps with severe depression.

Disappointingly, he told us that when his son did medicine at university recently, in the 5 years there was nothing at all on diet or exercise due to lack of time!!! The students organised their own study group. Change is coming as a grass roots movement but the NHS is as hard to turn round as a tanker.

Michael’s wife Dr Claire Bailey (GP) demonstrated fermented food for good gut health. There are as many brain cells in your gut as the head of a cat. Michael said they have a smart cat.

Commenting on exercise, he revealed that the 10k steps a day is not evidence based but came from Japan and was started by a company that makes pedometers!

Ivor Cummins

Ivor talked about ‘healthspan’ rather than lifespan. Bad lifestyle choices can rob you of your health as many as 10years too early. Good lifestyle choices can increase your healthy time by 10years.

Choosing to address your diet, exercise and stress can give you 20 extra quality years.

David Unwin

David spoke affectionately about the many different animals he has owned from the mallard ducklings he nearly killed with a vitamin deficient diet of porridge to a cow.

He was told he must feed the cow magnesium so that it would not have fits because cows really need to eat wild flowers like buttercups not just nitrogen-rich green grass (see the Horned Beef Company). This turned out to also be the remedy for a patient’s severe fitting which had been not helped by drugs. Modern medicine often fails to consider nutrition even though we know how to look after livestock.

Emma Porter and Dr Ian Lake

Emma and Ian spoke about real food and carbohydrate restricted diets for type 1 diabetics so that less insulin is needed. (This must be done in partnership with your doctor.) Other results are boundless energy, weight loss, mental clarity, better teeth and stable blood sugar. Dr Ian Lake pointed out that although the short term results are fabulous, there are no long-term studies of a low-carb diet. However he said we do know for sure that if your follow the usual high carb guidelines you will come to a sticky end. Emma and Dr David Cavan have written The Low-Carb Diabetes Cookbook – it’s not just for diabetics.

Jenny Philipps

Jenny spoke about metabolic health. Her key messages were quality (real food), intermittent fasting and using David Unwin’s sugar equivalent infographics to choose low impact foods. If you are metabolically healthy, you’ll be fine eating the odd piece of cake. If your health is poor, it’s very important to avoid high sugar foods.

And the dodgy weather?  The sun came out, the scenery glowed and a good day was had by all.

Top tip: Real Food Rocks!

Eggstraordinary!

Happy Hens, Great Eggs

Eggs nutritional gold in their own little packages.
They're good value, easy to prepare, versatile, 
satisfying and delicious.  We certainly eat a lot of them
36 million a day!


Does anyone remember the slogan 'Go to Work on an Egg'?
The original Tony Hancock adverts are on YouTube.
It's much sounder advice than breakfast cereal ads today.

There was a time when we were advised to eat fewer eggs;
now the Food Standards Agency says they're good for
everyone, even raw.
The British Lion mark was launched in 1998 and shows when
hens have been vaccinated against salmonella.

So what’s in them?
  • Protein - including all the essential amino acids
     and against which all other 
    protein sources are measured.
  • Fats – including mono-unsaturated
    and essential long-chain omega 3 fatty acids.
    They famously contain cholesterol
    but this will not affect your blood levels.
  • Vitamins - A, B2 (riboflavin), B5, B9 (folate), B12
    and D.
  • Minerals - rich in selenium, phosphorous and iron.
  • Other - choline (the only other food rich in this essential
    nutrient is liver)
    - lutein and zeaxanthin (needed by your eyes).
    
How good your eggs are depends on how the hens
have lived.

Could you keep your own hens?
If that’s not an option and you haven’t any
hen-keeping friends, buy the best of what’s available
Organic eggs are the most expensive at ~30p each.
They have the best animal welfare standards and are 
always free-range.  Hens are naturally inquisitive
creatures, happier when free to forage outside.

Free-range eggs have better animal welfare than hens
kept inside and a superior nutritional profile with double
the amount of vitamins and omega 3 fats.


Sainsbury’s sells woodland eggs from hens free to forage
among trees as wild ones would.

Barn eggs come from hens kept inside, up to a maximum
of 6000, with space to move around.  They eat only the
food provided.

Omega 3 eggs have feed supplemented by flaxseed
oil and/or fish oil.

The cheapest eggs come from hens in cages.

Beware marketing tricks – is the idyllic farm in the picture
a real farm?  Each egg has a number stamped on it
where it came from.
When factory hens are crammed together there’s a greater
likelihood of disease so they get daily antibiotics.  This
adds to the danger we’ll lose the use of these
life-saving drugs one day.

14 year old Lucy Gavaghan's petition resulted in a huge,
national shift away from hens in cages.  Barren, battery
cages are now banned under EU law, so all Lion Marked
eggs come from enriched cages.

Caged hens are fed just on grains without all the good
plants and little critters they would grub up if they were
outside.
Having said that, even cheap eggs (~12p each) are
good for you and far better than many of the processed
foods for sale.

Local farm eggs are often for sale in your local butcher's
or supermarkets and could come under any of these
categories.  You might see signs on country lanes too.
Some of these eggs are superb but if they do not bear
the Lion Mark there are no guarantees of quality.

Find out more at egginfo.co.uk

Top Tip – Eat eggs laid by happy hens!

Energy Bars

Energy bars have acquired an air of healthiness which makes them very popular – but are they actually good for you? I’ve been having a look at some of what’s available and this month I share my thoughts with you.

I should first say that the general rule for a healthy life is to eat great meals so you don’t need to snack. If you do want a snack, it’s better to make something yourself and avoid all the sugar and weird stuff manufacturers use.

If you decide to buy snacks and energy bars, be aware that the downsides to factory made food are 1) the aggressive processing and 2) the weird ingredients needed to make a presentable product after it’s been through aggressive processing.

Some of the bars listed here have 20 or 30 odd ingredients, few of which are recognisable foods. I was interested to notice how many of the cereal companies make them, presenting the same cheery image they use to entice us to eat recreational, ultra-processed food first thing in the morning.

The unhealthy bunch – eat at your peril

Too much sugar and weird.

Alpen Light, Double Chocolate

Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain, Strawberry

Jordans Frusli – Juicy Blueberries. Only 2.2% blueberries

Nestle Lion Breakfast Cereal Bar – Chocolate

Kellogg’s Coco Pops – Chocolate.

Maxi Muscle – Chocolate Brownie

Kellogg’s Nuts and More – Dark choc and almonds

Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Bar – Choc and peanut

Tracker – Chocolate chip

Cadbury Brunch Bar

I wouldn’t eat these

Go ahead Yogurt Breaks – Red Cherry. Over 30 ingredients, vast amounts of sugar and only 1% cherry!

Possibly the worst I’ve seen.

.

So-so in a pinch

Nature Valley Protein Bar – Peanut and Chocolate

Eat Natural – Dark choc, cranberries, macadamias. I used to love these. They’re made with real ingredients but they’re sugary ingredients and I can’t cope with the extreme sweetness now. They also do a protein one which I haven’t tried but might be better.

Eat Grub – Cacoa and coconut. Made of good stuff (including crickets, hence the name) but at almost 40% dried fruit that’s a hit to your liver.

Nestle Yes – Coffee, Dark choc and cherry. Reasonable ingredients and nutritional profile.

Nutramino Protein Bar – Peanut and caramel

Atkins Bars – Chocolate fudge caramel. Low in sugar but I’m not sure I’d want to pay money for a product whose main ingredient is “bulking agent”.

The best of the bunch

These have the fewest, most natural ingredients.

Raw Chocolate – Nut pie. All natural.

Naked Bar – Pecan pie. Just 3 ingredients! Don’t eat too many though due to the high percentage of dates.

Nature’s Energy Meridian – Peanut and cocoa. My winner. All 9 ingredients are recognisable foods, the nutritional profile is balanced and they taste nice!

Better Still – Make Your Own

The simplest product is the Naked bar which is only dates, almonds and pecans.

Of course the thought that springs to mind is that you could just buy dates, ground almonds and pecans and squish them together to make your own. Get used to adapting the recipes you already have. I noticed recently that modern versions of old classics have double the sugar. That means you can halve what most recipes say. Lots of websites have recipes but a word of warning; some of them list vegetable oil as an ingredient. Seed oils like sunflower are not heat stable and should never be used in cooking. Use some butter or coconut oil instead.

Snacks like power balls are usually made with dates as a base or nut butter as in this example:

Power balls

In a bowl, thoroughly mix :

    • 2 heaped tbsp of nut butter
    • a drizzle of maple syrup (about a teaspoon)
    • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
    • 1 tbsp desiccated coconut.

Take out a teaspoon at a time and roll into little balls. They can be a bit sticky so you could roll them in sesame seeds or more coconut to form a dry coating. Keep them in the fridge.

As an alternative try quick and simple, low-carb, microwave –

Cake in a cup

Put into a large mug:

    • 1 egg
    • a drizzle of maple syrup
    • 3 tbsp Ground Almonds
    • 1 tbsp Coconut Flour
    • ¼ tsp baking powder
    • 1 dsp raisins

Mix with a fork then microwave on high for 1½ minutes. There’s your cake!

Top tip – If you want an energy booster, make your own.

Quote of the month – Smoking

Did you give up smoking last week (no smoking day 13th March)?  If you did and you’re finding it tough – stay strong.  If not, the best day to do it is today.

I lost my wonderful Mum and my fabulous Nana to lung cancer.

Mum and I in Keswick – happy times

For the sake of your loved ones who will miss you, and your own health, please stop smoking.

Helen Gerson said “There are only 2 sources of non-communicable disease – deficiency and toxicity”.

So don’t think vaping is much better; you’d still be taking chemical fumes into your lungs.  Read this sobering article from Dr Mercola.

 

Choosing What to Eat

You might have gone shopping this weekend.  How did you decide what to eat? When you’re walking round the supermarket, what factors determine what ends up in your trolley? Here are some common ones:

  • Cost – including what’s on offer, BOGOF

  • Convenience

  • Appearance

  • Habit

  • Cravings / addiction

  • Smell – especially round the bread!

  • What you like

  • Fat content

  • Hunger while shopping

Choosing food is clearly a complex operation.

So why do we eat?

We’ve come to think of food mainly as a source of energy, like petrol for the car. The simplicity of the idea is appealing but it’s only part of the story.

Nevertheless, since the introduction of calories as a measure, we’ve become obsessed with them. The calorie value of food has been elevated in importance beyond what it deserves. In spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices. In fact, it often drives us away from good foods and towards bad foods. You might have been led to believe that a calorie is a calorie regardless of source but I hope you’ll agree that whatever the calories say, a doughnut is not the same thing as a steak (Dr Andreas Eenfeldt).

Why else do we eat?

Our bodies need building material. Your cells and tissues are renewed all the time and the only things you body has to use for making new ones are the things you provide by eating. Substance and quality matter. You need protein – not just in total but including all the essential amino acids – to make muscles and chemical messengers. You need fats of the right shapes to make your cell membranes and hormones. You need vitamins and minerals and enzymes to support the zillions of chemical reactions going on inside. Not all the food you eat will contain these good things.

Are you getting enough goodness?

Recommended daily intakes are set at levels to avoid illness not at levels for optimum health or to cover increased demand eg if you are ill or under stress. Modern farming methods are degrading the soil so vegetables have lower levels of minerals (eg since 1940 carrots have lost 75% of their magnesium, 48% of their calcium, 46% of their iron and 75% of their copper.) Unripe foods are picked before their full nutrient potential has been reached so they can be transported long distances without spoilage. Processing of foods can damage or remove micronutrients. Good omega 3 fats might be taken out to increase shelf life while bad fats (eg damaged omega 6 fats like sunflower oil) are common ingredients. The trend is to eat grains such as wheat with every meal and these contain anti-nutrients (eg phytic acid) which block the absorption of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

The result of all this is that much of our population today is over-fed but under-nourished. Deficiencies may not be so drastic as to show up as beriberi, scurvy or rickets (although that happens too) but may be revealed as tiredness, low mood, aches and pains, poor skin, hair and nails.

The impact of poor diet on your mental and physical abilities affects your whole life, including your work performance, fitness for sport and the fun you have with your family. That’s why I ask people to think first about nutrition.

Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Major on fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Do your own cooking. Put calories in the back seat, steer clear of processed foods and make your choices based primarily on the goodness real food contains.

Top tip: Choose your food for maximum nutrition