Healthy diet for a healthy mind and body

Some of the many potential benefits of eating a well-balanced, wholesome and nutritious diet include greater longevity and better overall health and fitness. By taking the few easy steps in this blog post, you can be in great shape in no time!

Green leafy vegetables are particularly beneficial, as they are high in some of the nutrients your body needs most. Broccoli and brussels sprouts, for example, belong to the cruciferous family of vegetables, and are known to be helpful in promoting health and vitality. Broccoli is also high in vitamin C, a vitamin which is most notable for supporting the immune system.

Fruit also has an abundant supply of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Most fruits are also high in antioxidants. Nutritionists recommend you consume at least four or five servings of fruit each day, and the raw, ripe kind is the best – particularly in terms of alkalising the body. Apples are a great fruit to eat. They provide vitamins A, C, E and folate, along with a good amount of fibre.

Eat the rainbow – seek out brightly coloured fruits and vegetables to ensure a regular intake of beneficial antioxidants, phyto-nutrients and digestive enzymes.

When you are looking for whole wheat products, also look for products which specify that they are whole grain. If you see 100% whole wheat on the label, that can mean that whole wheat flour is used and you are not necessarily getting the benefit of the whole grain. Whole grains are nutrient-dense with more fibre, complex carbohydrates and vitamins, and are therefore of greater benefit to the body. Similarly, a product claim that something is “high in fibre” does not necessarily speak to the quality of the fibre. Some fibre (such as extracted bran) is actually irritating to the gut. Whole grain fibre, in contrast, is not.

Refined sugar, saturated fat and man-made chemicals are to be eliminated from the diet as far as possible. While ocassional treats are fine, processed foods and drinks are nutrient-poor (and can even be anti-nutrients, i.e. actively drain your body of nutrients) and should therefore be avoided if you are looking to improve your overall health, vitality and mental focus. The result of eating and drinking these kinds of food-stuffs is poor nutrition, higher toxic load plus weight gain.

Hydration is another very important, and often forgotten, aspect of health and nutrition. Water keeps your digestive system working properly and flushes out toxins from your body. The rule of thumb is to drink 8 glasses of water each day, but drinking more than that is a good idea if you are exercising or perspiring heavily.

Natural yoghurt and other probiotic foods make for great snacks. If efficient digestion is the cornerstone of good health, maintaining (and even building) levels of friendly bowel bacteria in the gut can only be a good thing.

Unfortunately, the foods that make up the average daily diet in the modern world do not supply the range of nutrients they once did. This is due, for example, to poor farming methods (including the use of pesticides etc), long-distance transportation of fresh produce, extended shelf-lives and synthetic ingredients. The only ways to offset this is to opt for organic produce wherever possible and supplement your balanced diet with high quality, food form nutrients.

It is essential that you get all the nutrients your body needs to perform at its full potential on a daily basis. Use the information in this article to make sure your mind and body are the best they can be.

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How antibiotics affect the gut

Good health begins in the gut

Many health experts agree that good health begins with balance in the body, particularly in the digestive system.

Inside our bodies there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells, and maintaining the correct balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria is a crucial part of avoiding illness and supporting long-term health and vitality.

Having the right kind of bacteria (so-called “friendly bacteria”), in sufficient quantities, is essential for everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections.

What can disrupt the balance of gut flora?

The delicate balance of healthy bowel flora can be disrupted by a number of things, including excess intake of alcohol, a diet high in sugar, poor digestion, stress, as well as exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants. For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of bowel flora imbalance – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the gut?

It is now generally accepted that antibiotics have historically been prescribed and used far more than they should be. While this is in the process of slowly changing, the result has sadly been an upsurge in antibiotic resistance – a type of drug resistance where a microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic.

What’s more, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their adverse impact on the digestive system and the balance of gut flora – they indiscriminately destroy both good and bad bacteria in the body. They work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – obviously good in terms of bad bacteria, but bad in terms of friendly bacteria.

This is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people are taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, but their medicine is destroying one of the body’s primary lines of natural defence. In fact, what is arguably the most important part of the immune system resides in the gut – Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) work hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria and viruses) from entering the body.  

Of course, antibiotics have their role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections. However, it is important to use them sensibly, in moderation and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after a course.

Too many bad bugs

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread.

An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis), for example, increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains after eating
  • wind
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome
  • and Candida overgrowth.

This is one of the reasons why antibiotic courses often result in thrush (a fungal infection caused by Candida overgrowth).

How to support the good guys

Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last far longer than was previously thought.

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in three healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater.

As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor ailments and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, you can support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements.

For instance, many cultures have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) and so include them as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh to name just a few. Including these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a good way to promote healthy intestinal flora.

However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through.

Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that can colonise the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

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Why do I have bad breath?

What is bad breath?

Bad breath can come in many forms, levels of severity and can even be triggered by many a wide range of factors.

Simply speaking, it is an unpleasant odour eminating from the breath of a person. Chronic bad breath is referred to as halitosis. Less commonly, it is also called fetor oris, ozostomia or stomatodysodia.

What causes bad breath?

Often identifying the cause of bad breath is the first step towards treating this entirely preventable condition. As mentioned above, it can be caused by a wide variety of things. For example, smoking, dry mouth, a medical condition (such as diabetes) or diet (for example, a diet high in protein or other acid-forming foods, eating garlic and onions or drinking too much coffee or alcohol).

The most common causes of bad breath are preventable and easily treated. However, in some cases, chronic halitosis may indicate an underlying problem in the stomach or digestive system. It is this potential cause that will be considered below.

The digestive system

The digestive tract extends all the way from the mouth right through to the anus. It therefore makes sense that any problems in the digestive tract (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, for example – see below), can result in bad breath. As such, it is possible for anyone to suffer from halitosis (including both vegetarians and those who eat meat).

Stomach, intestinal and bowel problems may all be a contributing factor to bad breath. Digestion begins in the mouth. Saliva has digestive enzymes which begin the digestion process, and the type of food eaten can affect the food chemistry of the mouth. Saliva will also pick up odours from food within several hours after it has been eaten. Odours are strongest from carbohydrates (sugars, starches and cellulose), less strong from proteins and non-existent from fats. Bacteria in the mouth react with the decaying food and drink residue and can be the source of foul odour.

Digestive enzymes and nutrition

Digestive enzymes become more important as we get older, because their production by the body decreases as we age. A high level of the naturally-occurring digestive enzymes in foods is also destroyed when they are cooked.

If our bodies are enzyme deficient, they must divert nutrients to manufacture those digestive enzymes, which would otherwise be used to make intracellular enzymes such as catylase and SOD, which protect cells as antioxidants. Lower levels of digestive enzymes can also potentially lead to excess gas formation and putrefaction in the intestines. For some, this can contribute to bad breath gases travelling through the bloodstream and to the lungs, where they are exhaled.

Dairy allergy, lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity

A dairy allergy or lactose intolerance could also be the cause of bad breath. If you think that this could be the case, you could try eliminating all dairy products from the diet temporarily to see if they are the culprit.

Even if you do not suffer from a dairy allergy or intolerance, some people find that the elimination of dairy products can nonetheless help with the control of bad breath odours. This is because dairy products can thicken mucous in the mouth and contribute to the anaerobic environment bacteria thrive in, leading to the production of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). It also supplies lots of protein used in the breakdown by bacteria to form VSCs.

For those individuals who are intolerant to gluten (a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related cereals) and are also suffering from halitosis, it is important to ensure that you are drinking a great deal of water to wash away thick mucous and bacteria and to keep the mouth flowing freely with saliva. This decreases mouth pH and increases oxygen, both of which help control halitosis.

Candida albicans

Candida is an overgrowth of yeast (referred to as candidiasis), which usually starts in the gastrointestinal tract and then gradually spreads to other parts of the body. It is a resilient and invasive parasite, which usually attaches itself to the intestinal wall and can (if left untreated) become a permanent resident of the internal organs. One of the known symptoms of candida is bad breath. This is because an abnormally high level of fungal organisms in the intestines may result in increased fermentation of the carbohydrates you eat. This produces a variety of toxins and gases.  

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, which results in unusual sensitivity and muscle activity. It is sometimes referred to as spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis or nervous stomach and is a functional disorder, where the function of the bowels may be abnormal, but no structural abnormalities exist.

It is widely accepted amongst naturopathic practitioners and other complimentary and alternative health therapists that bad breath can be a sign of long-term problems in the colon. They believe the health of the gastrointestinal system is integral to overall well-being, and support for IBS (and bad breath symptoms) often involves seeking to restore gut health (including a healthy balance of bacteria).

Dysbiosis

In adults, bad breath is often one of the first signs that normal bacteria levels in the gut are imbalanced. Dysbiosis (also sometimes called dysbacteriosis) refers to a microbial imbalance on or within the body; in other words, an imbalance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria. When levels of friendly bacteria in the digestive system are low, partially digested food decays, producing foul gas and toxemia.

Certain health foods, organic products and food-based supplements (such as herbal colon cleansers, high-strength multi-strain probiotics, digestive aids and cleanse and detox supplements) can offer support in resolving bad breath, particularly where this is linked to digestive health.

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Fibre for digestion

What is dietary fibre?

Dietary fibre, “bulk” or “roughage” (a complex carbohydrate) is the part of plant-derived foods that can’t be completely broken down by digestive enzymes in the human digestive system. Instead, it travels through the gut largely untouched, when it arrives in the colon where it may or may not be fermented by gut bacteria or micro flora. This is in direct contrast with most other nutrients, which are fully digested and used in other parts of the body during the digestive process.

Fibre is probably not something you think about too often, unless you suffer with chronic constipation or other symptoms of poor digestion on a regular basis. However, it plays a very important role in helping to maintain, not only a regular digestive system, but also a healthy body, for everyone.

As mentioned above, fibre is derived from plant sources, such as fruit, vegetables and grains, and contributes to digestive regularity, toxin elimination and is a key ingredient to a healthy, varied and balanced diet. Most people consume different types of fibre daily, without realising it. However, the quality of this fibre will vary greatly.

It is important to remember that fibre is about much more than just eating unprocessed bran, as is sometimes promoted by cereal companies. Bran has the potential to irritate many people’s guts, producing bloating, excessive wind and anal discomfort.

Soluble and insoluble fibre

Dietary fibre is often categorised according to its solubility, as soluble or insoluble fibre. In other words, whether it dissolves or not. Both types of fibre are found in different proportions in fibre foods.

What is soluble fibre?

Soluble fibre, essential for healthy digestion, is fibre that dissolves in water; a soft fibre that absorbs water as it moves through the digestive tract. It is made up of sticky substances like gums and pectin, which form a gel-like substance in the presence of liquid.

It is found in fruit, vegetables and other plant-based foods, and is probably best known for its cholesterol-lowering effects and ability to regulate blood sugar levels. When soluble fibre absorbs water, it turns into a gelatinous substance which is then fermented in the colon to produce short chain fatty acids. Soluble fibre is thought to bind with cholesterol and prevent it from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. This helps to lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease.

This type of fibre is a fermented source of nutrition, which means that it is acted upon by the normal bacteria in your intestines, which helps to break down the carbohydrates in your colon. One of the benefits is that your stomach stays fuller longer, providing a feeling of fullness.

Especially good sources of insoluble fibre include beans and other legumes, whole grains and certain fruit and vegetables (such as apples, citrus fruits and strawberries, and peas and lentils).

What is insoluble fibre?

Insoluble fibre, resistant to human digestive enzymes, is not digested by the body and it does not dissolve in water. It acts like a sponge, absorbing water and moving solid waste out of the intestines. In this way, it promotes regularity and softens stools

It is mainly found in wholegrain foods (such wheat bran, brown rice and couscous), root vegetables (such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes), celery, cucumbers and courgettes, fruit with edible seeds, beans, pulses and lentils, nuts and seeds. 

Constipation is a serious and chronic problem for many people of all ages in today’s fast-paced, fast-food society. Stress, low-fibre diets, lack of exercise, certain medications, very little insoluble fibre in the diet and dehydration all often result in continuous bowel problems. Toxic bowel material needs to be passed every day. Otherwise, if allowed to build up in the colon, it can lead to a range of bowel disorders and diseases.

Ironically, constipation can be a side-effect of a high-fibre diet if fluid intake isn’t also increased. This is because fibre acts like a sponge and absorbs water.

Why is fibre good for you?

Diets that are high in fibre have been shown to be beneficial in a number of ways, from supporting digestive health and regularity, to helping to eliminate toxins from the body. High fibre diets also help to regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer, thereby also supporting natural weight loss and a healthy heart.

Your daily diet should ideally contain between 25 – 30 grams of high quality fibre.

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Why am I always bloated?

The most common causes of bloating

Stomach bloating is a common condition that affects as many as 1 in 5 people. While it’s most commonly associated with women, men can be just as prone.

Bloating can be very unpleasant, with the stomach swelling up like a balloon and making it difficult to wear tight-fitting clothes or uncomfortable to carry out normal daily activities. Excessive wind may also be present, adding to the sense of embarrassment.

But what causes bloating? If there’s no other bowel disturbance (like diarrhoea or constipation), underlying disease is unlikely – although, if in doubt, always visit your GP.

Bloating is most often caused by gas in the bowel, the volume and odour of which can depend on a number of factors, including:

  • diet
  • how much air you swallow
  • and the mix of bacteria in your gut.

Below are listed some of the most common causes of bloating, many of which are connected or inter-dependent.

Did you know?

We produce up to four pints of gas a day and release it by either burping or passing wind (14 times per day on average).

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Previously known as “mucous colitis” and “spastic colitis”, IBS involves the colon being in spasm. The two main symptoms are abdominal pain / bloating and altered bowel habits. The pain is usually relieved on passing stool or wind. Diarrhoea with watery stools on wakiing in the morning may alternate with constipation. It is often accompanied with the sensation that the bowel is incompletely emptied and excessive flatulence. IBS is often linked to emotional factors (such as stress) rather than allergies / intolerances (although it is thought that cow’s milk and antigens in beef can precipitate the condition), with around one-third of cases being linked to diet. Women are more susceptible than men.

Bowel disease

Bloating is one of the symptoms of an inflamed bowel, which can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as severe food sensitivity (as is seen with coeliac disease for example – an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten intake).

Poor digestion

All too often, people eat their food too quickly because they are stressed, in a hurry or on the go etc. This is a bad start. Hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes are secreted in the stomach in order to digest protein. Stress inhibits all enzyme secretion and the levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach decline as we get older. As a result, many people routinely take antacids and other stomach acid blockers. These people are unlikely to be digesting protein properly and may therefore experience abdominal bloating, reflux and burping.

In the small intestine, bile from the liver, pancreatic juices and enzymes secreted by the intestinal lining act to digest food. Once again, stress, poor diet and nutritional deficiencies can all impair enzyme production which can in turn cause bloating of the stomach, wind and cramps.

Constipation

Constipation can have a number of underlying causes, but if food is only partially digested (e.g. because there has been a lack of digestive enzymes) and that food reaches the colon, it can putrefy and ferment. The problem is compounded if there is a lack of fibre and water in the diet.

The longer food sits in the bowel, the longer toxins inside your intestines are in contact with the intestinal wall and gas-forming bacteria have to work, meaning more gas can be formed.

Food allergy / intolerance

Any food that we are allergic or intolerant to acts like a poison in our bodies. In the majority of cases (+-95%), food allergies develop over time, so that a food that you once tolerated well might now be making you ill.

If our digestion is poor, there is an imbalance of gut flora (dysbiosis) or we have nutritional deficiencies, we may develop what is known as “leaky gut syndrome”. The intestinal lining can become more permeable than it should be, allowing toxins and partially digested food molecules to enter the bloodstream. This challenges the immune system and, over time, may contribute to food intolerances and/or allergies that can produce wide-ranging symptoms (including bloating, fluid retention, IBS, weight gain, cravings and fatigue).

Eating foods that you are allergic / intolerant to can create a lot of inflammation in the body, weakening your immune system. If you continue to eat these foods, your body will try to dilute them to minimise their harmful effects – this congests your lymphatic system, which can leave you looking bloated and puffy.

Dysbiosis

It’s estimated that there are more than 500 different species of bacteria present in the human gut in concentrations of between 100 billion to 1 trillion microbes per gram. This amounts to around 95% of the total number of cells in the human body.

The friendly bacteria in the stomach and intestines can quite easily become unbalanced (dysbiosis), making the body more vulnerable to yeast overgrowth (Candida), fungi, parasites and harmful bacteria. Poorly digested food, a high sugar diet and medication (like antibiotics) can all alter the intestinal pH, destroy good bacteria and then lead to bloating.

Beat the bloat with a healthy diet

A diet packed with fresh, enzyme-rich raw foods, fruit and vegetables, quality dietary fibre and fermented foods; low in saturated fats, salt and sugar; and with plenty of pure water, coupled with an active lifestyle, is the best way to keep your digestive system healthy and therefore beat the bloat.

You can also help to ensure healthy bowel function by:

  • eating slowly and chewing well (to avoid fermentation, gas formation and bloating)
  • eating only when calm and relaxed (to encourage the secretion of digestive enzymes).

When increasing the level of fibre in your diet, be sure to opt for naturally occurring fibre that is part of a whole food (e.g. in grains, fruit and vegetables etc). Try to avoid extracted bran, which is can have an irritant action on delicate membranes in the gut, leaving them open to inflammation (which will only aggravate bloating).

Also be sure to increase your water intake accordingly, otherwise any constipation could be worsened.

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