What am I eating?

Do you eat “clean”?

In this modern age of processed foods, farming on a massive scale and the widespread use of artificial chemicals to enhance everything from taste and appearance to shelf life, you can no longer take it for granted that you know what is in your food just by looking at it.

Unfortunately, food is no longer a simple concept. Can you honestly say you know what you are eating and what is going into your body with every bite?

You might ask yourself, “why is this even important”? Well, the answer is your health. Chemicals, contaminants and pollutants can all contribute to illness and disease, and can even affect processes within your body ranging from weight loss, cognitive function and digestion, to hormonal balance and immunity.

With this in mind, can you afford to ignore the makeup of your meals?

Food additives

A prime example of “hidden” ingredients is food additives. Almost everyone has heard of them, but how many of us actually take the time to find out what they are, which ones appear in our food and how they might affect our health?

Actually more and more of us, particularly as the health benefits of natural living, healthy eating (and, more specifically, an organic diet) become better understood, versus the health risks associated with poor eating habits.

As a result, health-conscious individuals who are seeking to minimise their daily exposure to toxins and pollutants take the trouble to educate themselves about the different types of food additives out there. Over the years, there has been quite a bit of controversy about these chemicals and below are some of the “need to know” basics.  

The basics

As their name implies, food additives are substances that manufacturers add to foods for any number of reasons (usually to increase profits). For example, to preserve flavour, keep the food fresher for longer and to enhance taste, texture and appearance.

However, not all food additives are bad, despite the negative connotations with the phrase. Some are actually natural compounds – for example, vinegar used for pickling and salt used to preserve meat. These additives have been used for centuries and are natural methods. Similarly, there is a common misconception that processed foods automatically contain food additives, but this is not always the case. For example, long-life milk is processed, yet it doesn’t actually require added chemicals to prolong its shelf life.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of additives now used are synthetic or man-made and have, to a large extent, come about as a result of the increasing time constraints of modern living and the changing palates of modern consumers. For instance, the average person is looking for a snack that is either highly salted or sweetened. Similarly, in this age of competitive advertising and saturated food markets, the brighter, highly coloured food items are normally the ones that get selected. Food needs to be fun to eat, nice to look at and tasty.

The nature of the modern diet and lifestyle has resulted in fewer and fewer home-grown and natural whole foods, and an increase in the number and type of processed / refined foods. In turn, this has led to an increase in the number of additives used in foods – both natural and synthetic. While we are, thankfully, starting to see a reversal of this trend, it remains important to inform yourself about the ingredients in your food, to help protect the health of you and your family.

If you are unsure whether or not a food product contains additives, check the label. If there are ingredients that sound like a chemistry experiment, they are probably best avoided. It is also important to note that some listed ingredients may contain food additives themselves, without those necessarily being specified. For example, a product may contain margarine, which in turn contains additives, but only “margarine” will be listed as an ingredient on the label.

It is good practice to familiarise yourself with some of the more common food additive names, ready to identify them when out and about shopping. Below we will take a look at some of the most notorious additives – E-numbers.

E-numbers

E-numbers get a lot of media attention but, once again, the reality is a little different to what is often portrayed. The phrase itself conjures up images of “food nasties”, but are they really as bad as we are led to believe? The answer is probably “yes”, but it is worth taking a closer look to get the full picture.

After an additive has been tested and approved for use in foods in Europe, it is given a classification known as an “E-number” (a number with an “E” prefix, e.g. E100), for the purposes of regulation and to inform consumers. In other words, it is simply a systematic way of identifying different food additives. Countries outside Europe use only the number (no ‘E’), whether the additive is approved in Europe or not.

The important (and perhaps surprising) point to bear in mind, is that even natural additives will be labelled with an “E” prefix – so don’t automatically discount a food which otherwise looks healthy. Knowledge is power, so know your E-numbers!

Are food additives safe?

This is a controversial question and one that has not been answered satisfactorily as yet. However, common sense dictates that filling our bodies with synthetic chemicals cannot be as healthy as eating a diet rich in natural whole foods and is likely to be detrimental to health in the long term, for instance by adding to our toxic load.

Since the second half of the 20th century, there has been a significant increase in the use of food additives of varying levels of safety and for the reasons described above. This has necessarily led to the introduction of a wide range of laws worldwide, regulating their use.

The long-term effects on the body of regularly consuming a combination of different food additives are, unfortunately, currently unknown – hence the need for regulation. This is largely due to the fact that most additives are tested in isolation, rather than in combination with other additives. However, what is clear is that some people are sensitive to them and suffer reactions as a result of their consumption. These reactions include:

  • headaches
  • skin irritations (itching, rashes, hives etc)
  • digestive disorders (including diarrhoea and abdominal pains)
  • respiratory problems (like asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis)
  • allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock
  • behavioural changes (such as mood changes, anxiety and hyperactivity).

Research undertaken in 2007 by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and later published by the British medical journal “The Lancet”, provided evidence that a mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods serves to increase the mean level of hyperactivity. Similarly, in 2008, AAP Grand Rounds (the American Academy of Pediatrics) published a study that concluded that a low-additive diet is a valid intervention for children with ADHD.

Bearing all this in mind, it is important to remember that all foods are made up of chemicals, many of which are not always “safer” than those found in food additives. For example, people with food allergies and intolerances are also often sensitive to chemicals found naturally in certain foods, such as dairy, nuts or shellfish. However, it is always a good rule of thumb to opt for natural ingredients over synthetic ones and to adopt an organic lifestyle wherever possible.

Additives to watch out for… 

Some of the additives most likely to cause reactions include:

  • Flavour enhancers: A well-known example is monosodium glutamate (MSG E621). They are commonly found in crisps, instant noodles and microwave and takeaway foods.
  • Aspartame: This is an artificial sweetener, which is made of phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol (a type of alcohol). When broken down in the body, methanol forms formaldehyde, formic acid (found in the venom of ants and bees) and diketopiperazine – all quite nasty substances. Aspartame is found in diet drinks, yoghurts and sugar-free items (like chewing gum).
  • Sulphites: This group of additives is often found in dried fruit, desiccated coconut, cordial and wine. They have been known to trigger asthma attacks in sensitive individuals.
  • Propionates: This type of additive can occur naturally in foods (e.g. certain types of cheese). They are also common in bread. The effects are dose-related and may range from migraines, bed-wetting, nasal congestion and racing heart to memory loss, eczema and stomach ache.
  • Antioxidants: Don’t get confused with the naturally-occurring antioxidants found in whole foods like fruit and vegetables and which are widely used to support good health and immunity. Antioxidants in the context of food additives refer to those that are synthetic chemicals which are added to food, and may therefore have a harmful effect on the body. Examples include Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which are added to prevent fat spoilage. They are commonly found in margarine, biscuits, crisps and muesli bars. They have been linked to health conditions such as insomnia, tiredness, asthma and even learning difficulties.
  • Colours: The most common offenders in this category of additives are tartrazine (E102) and annatto (E160b). Synthetic colourings have been linked to allergic reactions, as well as learning and behavioural problems in children.

Categories of additives

Preservatives, colourings and flavourings are some of the best known additives. However, there are actually a number of other categories, each of which is tailored to a specific purpose. These include:

  • acids
  • acidity regulators
  • anti-caking agents
  • antifoaming agents
  • antioxidants
  • bulking agents
  • colour retention agents
  • emulsifiers
  • flavours
  • flavour enhancers
  • flour treatment agents
  • glazing agents
  • humectants
  • tracer gas
  • stabilizers
  • sweeteners
  • and thickeners

In fact, there are currently over 3000 additives used in food across the world, most of which are synthetic.

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Natural versus man-made food

Organic nutrients

Natural, organic nutrients – from, for example, fruit, vegetables and leafy greens – help to nourish the body, support natural detoxification and high energy levels and also help to naturally cleanse internal organs and alkalise the blood pH.

Organic forms of these nutritious foods means:

  • no toxic chemicals
  • no GMOs
  • a higher level of nutrients.

This principle extends also to the vitamins and other supplements you might choose to introduce into your daily diet.

Natural or man-made?

The number of milligrams you take of a certain vitamin or mineral on a daily basis is only part of the health equation. The most important factor is how many milligrams your body actually absorbs and uses.

If you buy synthetic or “man-made” health supplements, you could be wasting your money. As they are not natural, the body can’t always work out how to treat them, which means that often they are not fully absorbed. Only organic whole foods, balanced by nature, can provide your body with the nutrients and energy needed to achieve optimum health.

Even healthy people will not be able to fully digest, absorb and use most man-made vitamin and mineral pills. So imagine how little use they will be if you are ill or suffer from digestive system problems – virtually zero. They will pass through your body unabsorbed and be flushed down the toilet after a few hours.

In contrast, natural food state supplement enable the body to utilise the nutrients properly. Only natural whole foods can provide the vital elements and energy that are needed to assist our bodies to reach and maintain optimum health levels. Look after your health the natural way!

Healthy diet and nutrient intake

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all ensure our daily vitamin, mineral and general nutrient requirements were met by diet alone? Unfortunately, in today’s modern and fast-paced world most people consume a diet high in:

  • sugar
  • saturated fat
  • refined carbohydrates
  • nutrient-deficient processed foods
  • caffeine
  • alcohol. 

The lack of nutrients in the average diet is also often exacerbated by the use of prescription drugs, smoking, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, high stress levels and high levels of environmental pollution – the end result is toxic build-up, nutritional deficiency over time and inevitably the body becomes unable to cope.

Once nutritional deficiencies begin to take their toll, the body begins to break down (become ill). Symptoms can be exhibited through many different conditions.

Why you need to replenish your body’s nutrients daily

A lack of nutrients means that your body cannot repair itself fully or efficiently. Over time, this lack of nutrition can cause a host of problems, such as low energy levels, poor memory, irritability, a weak immune system and susceptibility to colds and flu – and these are just the mild issues.

The ability to recover and the speed of recovery following an illness or injury is reduced in nutritionally depleted bodies. We have to eat foods, not only for the calories, but more importantly for the nutrients found within them. This is why so-called “fast foods” and “junk foods” (non-organic processed foods) are basically useless to the body – even though they are high in calories, they provide us with very little by way of of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential oils, antioxidants etc).

The end result of continually eating high-calorie and nutritionally-devoid foods is therefore often obesity, low energy levels and poor health. In contrast, if you feed your body’s cells with nutritionally potent foods (such as superfoods) you will not only feel good, but will also look great and support your long-term health and vitality.

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Benefits of organic food

Discover the benefits of organic foods

When it comes to shaping your daily diet, organic foods have a great deal to offer you. If you are trying to understand the ways in which they can be beneficial, keep reading.

The modern world

Choosing organic food, using organic products and supplementing your diet with organic vitamins, herbs and food supplements is a great way to support the general health and well-being of you and your family in these modern times, in which mankind has unfortunately had a negative impact on the natural environment and the food chain.

Exposure to toxins

We are exposed to more toxic chemicals on a daily basis than ever before and the number keeps increasing. This places a significant burden on the body and, in particular, the liver and other detoxification organs.

It is therefore important that we take action by avoiding as many chemicals as possible (particularly in our diets) and ensure that we are keeping as healthy as possible in order to cope with this toxic world.

Live a life without toxins wherever possible

Globally, the awareness of the environmental harm and potential threat to human and animal health caused by deadly toxins (such as, for example, DDT, dieldrin and other insecticides), along with the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, has boosted the interest in organic farming and produce.

In recent years, health and the environment have become primary concerns for many people across the Western world, and consumers have become far more proactive in taking their health, and the future of the planet, into their own hands. As a result, organic products are now very much in demand, because living an organic lifestyle benefits both of these things.

Health benefits

Research has indicated that food produced using natural means typically has considerably lower quantities of nitrates and residues of toxic chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides than non-organic foods.

What’s more, recent research* showed that crops grown using organic farming methods are of a much higher nutritional quality than their non-organic counterparts.

If organically-grown produce contains higher levels of nutrients than their non-organic counterparts, the same goes for organic health supplements.

Organic supplements

Organic food supplements are natural products, which are produced from organically grown fruits, vegetables, plant-based foods etc.

They are not processed or synthesized and they have had no chemical compounds (including additives) introduced into their plants at any point – even at the time of harvesting.

Why are organic supplements needed? Is a balanced diet enough?

Given the realities of modern farming methods, manufacturing processes and diminishing soil quality, organic foods are helpful in terms of increasing your daily nutrient intake and keeping your toxic load down. However, sadly, even organic foods tend to require transportation, refrigeration and shelf-time; all factors that have an impact on nutrient content.

Organic supplements can therefore offer peace of mind, when it comes to ensuring that food nutrients are preserved. It is also possible to access a far higher number of ingredients (and therefore nutrients) in powder form, compared to whole food form. For example, organic superfood blends can cram in as many as 42 ingredients – not something you are likely to replicate in a salad!

Provided they are in raw, food form, such supplements can offer a clever way to boost your daily nutrition. And for some people, who are short on time or money, it is as close as they can get to enjoying the benefits of fresh, home-grown produce. These supplements offer excellent value for money, taking into account their ingredients and nutrient to calorie ratio.

*Information on the study sourced from the Soil Association website at https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/why-organic/its-nutritionally-different/
https://research.ncl.ac.uk/nefg/QOF/crops/documents/BJN%20Baranski%20et%20al%202014.pdf
https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/archive/2015/10/organicvsnon-organicfood/

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What are colon cleansers?

About the colon

To understand the role of the colon, it is important to first understand how the digestive tract (of which the colon is a part) is formed and functions in the body.

The digestive tract is the group of organs through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested and finally eliminated. These organs include the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus.

The large intestine consists of the colon and the rectum. The colon is approximately 5-6 feet long and has an ascending, transverse and descending portion. From there, it joins the rectum. It takes food around 18 to 24 hours to pass along the entire length of the colon.

The main functions of the large intestine are: the formation and excretion of faeces; the absorption of water and minerals; and beneficial bacteria in the colon manufacture vitamins B1, B2, B12 and K. They also help to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

Cells of the colon secrete mucus, which lubricates and protects the walls. Inflammation or irritation of the intestinal wall causes the release of large amounts of mucus, as well as water and electrolytes. In this case, mucus can be seen in the stools and there may also be diarrhoea.

On the other hand, if faeces remain in the colon for longer than is desirable, causing constipation, large amounts of toxins can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. This is called auto-intoxication or self-poisoning.

Waste matter is filled with bacteria, so it is important to get it out of the body as quickly as possible. If the colon isn’t working efficiently, problems such as bloating, wind and pain are likely to present.

The digestive system is under pressure to perform very important functions all day, every day. Generally, digestive system problems are caused by a toxic build-up in the body, so it can be beneficial to flush the body of such toxins and waste from time to time. It is widely held by many natural health practitioners that one of the best means of achieving this is with so-called “colon cleansers”.

What are colon cleansers?

Colon cleansers fall into two broad categories: oral/rectal supplements and colonic irrigation.

As the name suggests, they are all intended to cleanse or clean the colon of toxins and other substances that can lead to disease and/or the accumulation of fat.

They come in the form of supplements, laxatives or procedures / devices used to stimulate the bowels into producing a bowel movement. The idea is that, by stimulating the colon to expel its contents, this helps rid the body of the toxins and waste matter that has built up in the colon.

As mentioned above, the colon is the part of the digestive tract that stores the waste material that we would rather not think about (and most of us don’t, until our health starts to deteriorate or we experience digestive issues). Over time the colon has a tendency to get clogged with food particles, especially if the diet includes a high level of processed foods and insufficient fresh fruit and vegetables. This leads to an accumulation of parasites and toxins that can have a detrimental effect on health.

If the colon is repeatedly abused and neglected, it can become a cesspool of toxins. If these are not eliminated from the body, they can keep building up over time and may even be reabsorbed. This can lead to bloating, constipation, irritable bowel symptoms, fatigue and various other health issues.

Colon cleansers may therefore offer support for conditions such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, chronic fatigue, acid reflux and even skin and hair problems. Users of colon cleansers often say that they feel “cleaner” and healthier after cleansing, that they experience weight loss and increased bowel regularity.

Colon cleansing is not a new therapy. In fact, colonic irrigation was used by the Egyptians as far back as 1500 BC, was taught in Ancient Greece’s medical schools and was practised by Chinese medicine more than 3000 years ago. Even then, it was already recognised that water can be a highly effective cleansing agent that purifies, softens and neutralises.

In more recent years (and particularly as a result of the added pressure placed on our digestive systems by the modern-day diet), colonics and colon cleansing health supplements have seen a resurgence in popularity, as potential tools that can support digestive health and general well-being.

It is generally accepted that the colon is an important digestive organ in terms of our overall health. Colon cleansers have therefore become a popular means of detoxification, ridding the body of dangerous parasites that may have otherwise found a home in the digestive tract, and promoting colon health and a healthy balance of intestinal flora.

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Exercise health benefits

Why is exercise important?

Regular exercise is important for everybody, not just those who are looking to lose weight.

Our bodies operate best when they are engaged in regular activity. Conversely, health issues tend to crop up with your lifestyle is largely sedentary. The body craves movement and exertion, and it actually needs these things in order to function properly, to avoid muscle wastage and weakening, and to promote strength, vitality and longevity.

As obesity rates continue to rise, and we are seeing a growing older population, a lifestyle that includes regular exercise is a necessity. Ideally, this should be introduced at an early age for maximum benefit.

The bottom line is is to avoid inactivity for long periods; even some exercise is better than none at all. In other words, exercise is the key to good health and it can help to prevent a number of preventable health problems.

How can exercise support health?

Although exercise clearly helps to improve the appearance of the body (for example through weight loss and toning), it is also has countless other benefits for health.

Resistance training is often seen as being only for men or gym fanatics. However, exercise can take many forms and doesn’t necessarily have to involve the gym. For example, there is yoga, walking, running, cycling, boxing and countless others.

The important point to bear in mind is that exercise (any exercise) has a number of health benefits, which can contribute to the longevity and quality of life.

In particular, it is beneficial for:

  • detoxification
  • healthy digestion
  • heart health
  • weight loss (including a healthy metabolism).

Exercise is also important for muscle and bone health, and has a key role to play in maintaining a robust immune system by, for example, stimulating the lymphatic system. It is widely believed that the lymphatic system is the body’s first line of defense against disease. Exercise also improves circulation, helping to bring new fuel and energy to every cell.

In considered so important by governments that, in both the USA and Europe, there are a number of national initiatives that call for physical activity and exercise to be standard elements of both disease prevention and medical treatment for all ages.

How does exercise promote weight loss?

One of the most common mistakes that people make when trying to lose weight (and likewise one of the biggest reasons for failure) is focussing all their efforts on changing their diet, without thinking about the essential role of increased levels of physical activity.

Ultimately, your weight is dependant on the balance between the number of calories consumed each day and the number of calories burned. The main way in which exercise can assist with weight loss is through the burning of additional calories. Both aerobic and weight bearing exercise can achieve this.

Dieting alone is not going to be enough to ensure you reach your ideal weight in a healthy way, especially for the long-term. In fact, a 2006 study (Weiss et al) undertaken by Saint Louis University compared the effects of exercise combined with dieting, versus diet alone in losing fat. Although both sets of participants lost weight, only those undertaking exercise maintained their strength and muscle mass and increased aerobic capacity. Those who dieted only, lost muscle mass, strength and aerobic capacity.

Research consistently shows that regular exercise, combined with a balanced diet, is the most efficient and healthy way to manage your weight. In particular, exercise can affect our metabolism – when we exercise and eat healthily, the metabolism has a tendency to speed up and burn off excess calories and fat that it would not otherwise do, during periods of inactivity.

Getting the most out of exercising

If you are new to regular exercise, it’s important to take it slow and, if necessary, consult your doctor, a personal trainer or other qualified health practitioner before implementing radical changes to your diet or starting a new exercise regime.

Similarly, there are a number of health supplements that can support healthy weight management, athletic performance and nutrient intake. Increasing your levels of exercise should be viewed as part of a wider initiative to improve your health, including improving your diet to ensure that your body is getting all the “fuel” it needs to operate optimally.

For example, slimmers often find that protein powders and meal shakes can be helpful, because not only can they provide a low calorie source of nutrients, but the high protein content is vital for maintaining and increasing muscle and bone mass, supporting energy levels, for tissue and cell repair, for keeping the immune system strong and for preventing fatigue. And if you can find a shake that is fortified with nutrients, all the better.

A number of studies have suggested that a high-protein diet combined with exercise can support the weight management process, enhance fat loss, boost metabolism, improve muscle tone and improve blood fat levels.

As protein can assist in the repair and growth of muscle, this tends to mean that more calories are burned each day. Higher-protein diets may also help people to gain better control over their appetites and calorie intake, help them to regulate their blood sugar levels and reduce cravings. When your heart beats faster and you breathe more rapidly, it helps to lower your blood sugar level (which is why exercise is even more important if you have diabetes).

Similarly, ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral intake is an important part of any weight management programme, to ensure that you are losing weight healthily. For instance, antioxidants (such as vitamin C) are important in preventing damage by free radicals, which can be released during detoxification processes.

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