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The ultimate New Years resolution. Ever!

I know, I know – not another New Years resolution. But what if I told you that this time – it will work, huh? And its the resolution of all resolutions. All you need is – people: family, friends, co-workers. Including people you don’t like and people who don’t like you, trust me.

So what the heck will this resolution be all about, I hear you ask. Simple – you will nominate people around you to do it for you. Still not making sense? Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you have this incredible goal for 2018 to become the ultimate version of yourself – sexy, fit, bad ass educated, fun, active, productive, friendly, helpful, etc, etc… but you actually can’t handle the thought of another resolution, because about 20 of those in the past have failed? Well, this time we’ll put the power of ‘connection’ into the game.

Team work

It will require only one tiny little detail of action though. You will have to admit (to your crowd) that you need help or otherwise convince people around you to help. And the best convincing technique I know is  – the benefit. Let people know they will actually benefit from helping you by ways of learning something new, perhaps participating in the same goal as you or maybe by making them a cup of tea/coffee in the morning. Deal done.

So now – friends, family and others, listen up! Your job will be to do one thing and one thing only for ‘me’ this year, every day in and out. Your job will be to motivate ‘me’ to (for example):

(Mom) eat healthy and help prepare healthy meals,

(Dad) finally learn handy man’s tricks around the house or simply to sit straight at a dinner table;

(Friends) stop making bad influence and seriously help you stop smoking and call you for a morning run every day – rain or shine.

(Colleagues) stop snacking on workplace junk, because you have a goal and that processed garbage that goes around the office every birthday is seriously not your responsibility. Or for God’s sake, take charge and make a deal with your managing director to turn this office into health hub. Benefit? – Fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and contrary to processed carbohydrates, come naturally attached to fibre, which means that sugars will be absorbed slower – so no 3pm crashes, healthier, happier team meaning better productivity and a seriously caring attitude. Which MD wouldn’t want that??

(People that don’t like you) make sure they know the opposite of what you want to achieve, because usually, they’ll do anything to gainsay you.

(People that you don’t like)  give them most power. Let them polish you, because chances are high that the reason you actually don’t like them, is because they remind you of something that’s you.

Oh and last but not least. Accept no bulls.it. A man of the word is a man of the word, which means if they don’t do their job – they don’t get their benefit. Simple.

 

 

Is it possible to reduce cholesterol naturally?

There’s more to life than worrying about cholesterol, for sure. But it’s one topic that continuously penetrates into our lives whether we want it or not: just think of the amount of  ‘low fat’, ‘no hydrogenated fat’ or ‘good for your heart’ slogans you’ve seen in the last month. Impossible to count, right? But in all of the ‘noise’ about cholesterol, you have to understand 3 truths:

  1. Cholesterol is essential for health: it’s needed for proper cognitive function (most of our brain tissue is made up of fat), for hormone synthesis, for proper cell to cell communication, for proper digestion since bile is made up of cholesterol etc.
  2. Our body is capable of producing cholesterol – which means that we don’t need to eat saturated fat containing foods, since our body can produce cholesterol when and if it is needed. Simple as that.
  3. Diet and lifestyle has an influence on cholesterol levels. Duh – of course! Too much saturated fat containing foods, too much processed carbohydrates, too much protein, sedentary lifestyle, stress…you name it – but the fuel you put into your car, will ultimately affect it’s performance and it’s parameters.  And here’s one more thing – most of our ‘food’ is either art or science fiction (those pink and blue coloured cakes, french macarons, burgers…no wonder we are the species that have to deal with early age strokes, allergies and God knows what… My ultimate message however – the power is in your hands.

What causes high levels of cholesterol?

As with anything in life, in order to make a change you have to first identify the cause of what you are trying to change, so in this particular case, you have to identify the cause of high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Possible causes:

  1. Poor diet: (meaning) rich in saturated fats and processed carbohydrates or excess protein intake, alcohol consumption;
  2. Sedentary lifestyle;
  3. Inflammation – this is quite a commonly used, but probably least understood term, at least among my crowd. Inflammation is basically an ‘alarm state’ in the body which can be ‘turned on’ by various stimuli. Think of it like having a blue light at home instead of your usual lights – under these circumstances you will no longer ‘perform’ the same, which is exactly what happens to the body. Due to varying degrees of inflammation, the triggers and the things that continuously ‘drive’ inflammation – normal bodily functions will be affected. Inflammation can be caused by a ‘ton’ of different things such as gluten and leaky gut, to infections, sleep deprivation, stress, diet…
  4. Low levels of vitamin D or inadequate exposure to sunlight – this is a theory, but in my opinion, a credible one. Vitamin D is synthesised in the skin by utilising fat and sunlight. If however your vitamin D levels are low the body may ‘think’ that it doesn’t have enough fat under the skin to produce vitamin D through the skin’s contact with sunlight, and therefore may up-regulate cholesterol production. But if we don’t live anywhere sunny or/and our job requires to stay indoors, then no extra cholesterol will help to synthesize vitamin D. So check your Vitamin D levels and if given opportunity – enjoy the sun.
  5. Toxins (anything from amalgam fillings, high mercury fish such as tuna, to food poisoning or work related exposure to toxins…)
  6. Underactive thyroid which you can pretty much recognise from the signs and symptoms of having slower metabolism and therefore feeling tired, colder, having poor hair/skin/nails etc.
  7. Genetics which could vary enormously, from inability to ‘switch off’ cholesterol production to inability to sense when there’s enough cholesterol etc.

So is possible to reduce cholesterol naturally and how to do it?

Yes it is. But it’s important to understand that all areas of your diet and lifestyle have to be addressed meaning that while you can balance your cholesterol levels for a short while naturally, if you want long term results – you will have to commit to a sexy and exciting lifestyle of healthy eating which in my book means plant based low fat diet. Exercise including! But fear not, because making even a smallest change will bring about a massive transformation (longterm – not short term).

High cholesterol and plant based diet

Ok, but what if you have plenty of vitamin D, your thyroid function is good and there’s no identifiable genetic influence on your cholesterol levels…  What other techniques could be used to balance blood cholesterol level?

Here is my list of cholesterol balancing ‘tools’:

  1. Low fat plant based diet which means eating at least 80% fruit and vegetables. Nuts and seeds go into the additional 20% so choose wisely. No pressed plant oils or nut butters – it’s not like we have a wellspring of oil in the forest (meaning these are indeed processed foods, even if minimally). So while I am not advocating to fully remove them if you find it really really hard to do that, sticking to wholesome fruit and vegetables will be a ‘game-changer’.
  2. Reduce stress: emotional (No more dramas in your life! Stress is not some mosquito  that comes and bites you – it’s your response to life around you, so change your attitude which will ultimately change your response. A new you with that zen attitude – wawaweewa!), physical (Injury or too much exercise too often) and biochemical (Poor diet, mineral and vitamin deficiencies which ultimately alter bodily functions etc…).
  3. Probiotics “For your cholesterol’ by Optibac Probiotics 
  4. Red yeast rice – a Chinese supplement made by fermenting yeast over red rice.
  5. CoQ10  – a nutrient that comes in two froms: ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Ubiquinol being a form that’s ‘ready to be used’ by the body.
  6. Vitamin E

I wouldn’t recommend trying any of the above without consulting qualified nutritional practitioner, so that most suitable ‘tool’, dosage and timeframe could be identified and prescribed based on personal health and lifestyle history. In the end – your health is not something you want to experiment with so educate yourself, ask questions, be patient and most importantly, stay positive.

 

 

 

 

What is gluten and why it is bad for you?

You probably heard of gluten or at least “gluten free” since almost every supermarket has a ‘gluten free’ range and as many, you probably assigned this to a “fad” perhaps linking ‘gluten free’ to a trend or something “pretty girls” or only those with celiac disease talk about or eat.

And while it may seem that there’s enough information about gluten (Google for instance, brings around 91 million and 700 thousand results for “gluten” but with that many search results it can get a little daunting, especially since)  it’s not that easy to find answers to all the ‘gluten’ question in one place, which is precisely what this article intends to do: to answer all – important questions relating to gluten so that you can once and for all understand what gluten is, why eating foods that contain gluten isn’t beneficial or even necessary and finally how to live a gluten-free life in a world of pizzas, croissants, burgers and sourdough toast…

So what is gluten?

In simple words, gluten is a storage protein of a grain such as wheat, rye, barley, kamut to name just a few. (For ease of understanding, think of a grain as your house and gluten as a storage unit at home.) Gluten, based on the characteristics can also be further categorised into Gliadins and Glutenins. Gliadin in this case is what we really talk about when we talk about gluten.

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So since I mentioned that gluten is a protein I want to explain how it acts in our gut. Now, as with all proteins, in order for us to absorb them, though the process of digestion we have to break them down into their smallest units called amino acids. However it’s not exactly a straight forward process since proteins have to be firstly divided into peptides before being broken down into amino acids (for ease of understanding think large-smaller-smallest = protein-peptides-amino acids).  So gliadins, which make up for the majority of gluten, has to be broken down into amino acids (smallest absorbable units of protein) for absorption. The problem with this process or gluten itself is that no human-being can fully break down gluten into its smallest units because we (humans) simply do not have the enzyme to do that. So how do we digest it, you ask?And why don’t we have the enzyme if we’ve been eating gluten ‘forever’ and finally, why have we all not fallen sick if gluten was/is that bad?

Well, in our gut gliadin is degraded into peptides (in fact polypeptides which are peptides with more than 10 amino acids) called exorphins.

This means 2 things:

Our gut can not fully digest and therefore absorb gluten constituents meaning that these undigested particles remain in the intestines, which through the chain of events causes leaky gut (which I’ll explain below).

And ‘thanks’ to structural similarity of exorphins, they can bind to opioid receptors and mimic opioid effect (opioids can cause anything from constipation, lethargy to paranoia etc).

Sounds simple and not at all that bad?Well, maybe it wouldn’t be that bad if gut wasn’t such an important, in fact in my personal opinion, central area of health and wellbeing for the simple key facts that:

1. The gut houses most of our immune capacity (Hello, microbiota!) so poor gut health = poor immunity

2. It’s the place of digestion and absorption so poor gut health=poor digestion/absorption

3. It produces various vitamins such biotin, B1, B9, B12, vitamin K, and short chain amino acid.

4. It produces certain hormones such as serotonin. In fact it produces around 80-90% of serotonin which is linked to improved mood and cognitive function in general.

5. And last, but by no means least (like literally this could be the star of this article) – the gluten link with mental health through hormone and short chain fatty acid production, enteric nervous system and my personal favourite – the ‘missing link’ aka the vagus nerve link to central nervous system.

I think it’s crucial to keep all above points in mind when thinking about anything that can potentially affect gut, because it is one of the most important ( and fascinating) areas of wellbeing. (OK – this is perhaps my bit of enthusiasm and interest in the gut, but the fact of the matter is that no one system or organ or anything in life is ‘independent’ of anything or in other words everything is connected. (Basically we live in a domino world and we are a domino world itself. Nicely put, no?)

OK – so let’s discuss gluten and it’s relationship to leaky gut and the opioid receptors.

Gluten and gut permeability

After we ingest and part-digest our foods in mouth and the stomach, the foods continue moving through gastrointestinal tract starting off with small intestine and then finally the large intestine. The small intestine is where the most chemical digestion and absorption happens. It is here that gluten has to be broken down into amino acids for absorption which happens by active transport (think of absorption process as a delivery service where a special transporter/postman is used for the amino acids to go from intestines into blood stream where it can then be carried around the body and used as necessary). The need for a transporter/postman is a good thing, since it prevents large molecules like proteins or viruses, parasites and toxins from entering into blood stream. It’s a protective thing. It keeps large molecules and potential foes in the intestines for excretion. But what happens when we eat gluten? Gluten stimulates intestines to release zonulin, which acts on the intestinal wall and makes it permeable by somewhat dis-assembling tight-junctions (connections between the cells that hold them together) and creating gaps between cells thus allowing unwanted and possibly undigested material to ‘leak’ into lamina propria (a layer of tissue just underneath the tight junctions). Interestingly, zonulin release can be stimulated by gluten or by bacteria, which in a words of Dr.Fasano (who is a leading authority when it comes to gluten research) leads to thinking that our bodies can potentially treat gluten like a bacterium.  And so if you were wondering why we all don’t fall sick if we eat gluten then think why don’t we all fall sick when we come in contact with bacteria (and we do that all the time/non-stop)? In other words – our bodies do have defence mechanisms in place and capacity to fight off the foes. Not forever though so in case of gluten anyone can potentially come out with gluten intolerance even if they consumed gluten all their life with ‘seemingly’ no problems. It’s all about how many ‘punches’ your immune system can take. And that alone depends on multiple factors ranging from genetic make-up to the type, the amount and the frequency of gluten you consume among other things like environment, diet and exposure to chemicals/toxins/heavy metals etc.

So the leaky gut situation activates immune system, which through the chain of events causes inflammation and in the case of celiac disease villous atrophy, crypt hyperplasia, and increased intraepithelial lymphocytes with symptoms such as bloating, fatty stools, weight loss etc. That’s pretty much a ‘picture’ for Celiac disease. What’s interesting though is that Celiac’s disease may manifest through a number of other symptoms since gluten has an effect on multitude of body systems both through its abilities to bind to opioid receptors, through stimulation of zonulin and inflammatory reaction and immune system activation.  In my personal or more like ‘familial’ experience I identified gluten to cause depressive mood, apathy, mood swings and anxiety over a short period of time, which is why I decided to almost completely (in all honestly around 95%) remove gluten from my diet.

Gluten and the opioid effect

As mentioned earlier, part-digested gluten peptides called exorphins can bind to opioid receptors and mimic opioid effect. It’s important to understand though that opioid receptors are widely distributed throughout the body, not only in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, opioid receptors can be found on cells of immune system, in central nervous system, in midbrain, limbic and cortical structures and elsewhere, which means that opioids (or molecules that can bind to opioid receptors such as exorphins) can have an effect on a wide range physiological functions, including cognitive ones (as mentioned from my personal experience earlier), educed gastrointestinal motility, urinary retention, pruritus, anxiety, memory problems, depression, sedation, constipation, nausea and more. The take away message here is that gluten should not be exclusively viewed to only affect gastrointestinal tract.

Why do we not have the enzyme if we’ve been eating gluten ‘forever’?

I love the paleo trend but to eat the foods our ancestors ate is literally impossible, because over thousands of years not only agriculture practises changed, but the availability of foods and the amounts of toxins are at completely different levels. So, no we haven’t been eating this type of gluten forever and in fact we haven’t been eating gluten that long at all – it is estimated that gluten reached Europe in around Bronze age – we are talking about maximum 10 000 years of total gluten exposure, but not in the amounts and form it is presented today, which is why our body did not manage to get up to speed with the evolution the western diet and lately – culture of pastries and cakes in increasingly larger amounts.

Food for thought or I challenge you!

So I do hope all above made sense (if you still have questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer), but in case you still unclear as to why gluten is bad for your health, here’s a list of foods that contains gluten and I challenge you to tell me what nutrients I could miss out on if I excluded these foods from my diet or simply: tell me what vitamins and minerals are in these foods that can nourish my body because for all I know – these are nutrient-free foods (for all you who question fibre – you can get more fibre from salted dried peas with more nutrition than in any bread, so no – your best fibre source is in fact veggies, not gluten-full foods). And finally, why in a world of so many delicious alternatives, should you or me choose gluten-rich ‘foods’ like: cupcakes, muffins, all sorts of pastries, pies, cakes, breads, crackers, biscuits…tell me what is in these foods that I can not get in a fruit or vegetable?

A gluten-free life

We are all beautiful and unique human beings, which means we all have different requirements for our optimum health. No one diet and lifestyle plan can fit two different people, so if you feel good on gluten (which is possibly because you are not eating too much of it or you are eating possibly exceptional quality grains) then happy days. Although even if that is the case, here’s a beautiful list of really lovely gluten-free alternatives that I have personally tried and can attest that they do taste great (this post is not sponsored, just in case):

Marks and Spencer Gluten free bread (available only in store)

Nairn’s Gluten free oatcakes

Organic Amisa Quinoa crispbread

Kallo Gluten free rice cakes/ buckwheat cakes/corn cakes  (just add Gluten free filter)

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten free quick cooking oats

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten free oat flour (for those Saturday pancakes or perhaps an apple pie)

Organic Amisa Buckwheat flour (great for baking as well)

Sukrin Fat Reduced Gluten Free Organic Coconut flour (act like a sponge for water, fantastic if you need to thicken up your batter – just add a little at a time and watch)

King Soba Pumpkin and Ginger noodles ( I love these instead of pasta, although you could do even better and use courgette as your pasta)

Best wishes,

Sandra

 

 

TOMATO SALAD

Summer glorious summer. It’s my favourite time of the year when it comes to food since everything tastes sooo much better. Seriously, I forgot how great vegetables can taste (and look). Tomatoes finally don’t taste like cardboard. And the market stalls are all but flooded with fruit, berries, new season root vegetables and greens all of which make food shopping so much more exciting. Gone are the days of online grocery shopping – well at least for the summer, but I don’t mind, not at all. Not surprisingly though – for me grocery shopping was never about stocking up on ‘greens’, but rather a whole experience, I pretty much take it as an ‘outing’. And London, by the way is literally sprinkled with farmers markets, so there’s always something to look forward to.DSC_9177

Fast forward to the last visit to my local farmer’s market in Orange square, on Pimlico road – I found myself in a heaven of tomatoes. Imagine me rocking up to a stall of a size of pickup-truck with tomatoes in all shades or red and yellow aaaand green… A dream. I instantly felt somewhat transported to my childhood times and the tomato harvest my brother and I used to drag home bucketfuls. I mean, this was pretty close – I ended up buying 3 kilograms, you know, just in case. In fact I thought to use this opportunity and make a couple of my favourite recipes, which I did and will share with you them soon, because this little ‘accident’ recipe just happened to be perfect in every way – simple, flavourful and quick and easy to make. The key though is actually getting your hands on the actual tomato that tastes somewhat orangey. Maybe that’s a cross between two? Who knows? So for the accuracy purpose please talk to your seller and ask for either ‘Mr Stripey heirloom tomatoes’ or ‘Rainbow heirloom tomatoes’ – either/or should work just fine.

TOMATO SALADSo here’s what you’ll need for 1 portion of tomato salad:

1 large or 2 smaller Mr Stripey /Rainbow heirloom tomatoes

2 table spoons of cooked tricolor quinoa

A pinch of salt and cayenne pepper

Small bunch of chives and parsley

Enough feta to crumble up on top

Olive oil and lemon vinaigrette.

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Method

Slice the tomatoes and assemble on the plate. Add 2 tablespoons of cooked and salted tricolor quinoa (cold), add chopped herbs, sliced or whole olives, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. It’s that simple.

Recipe tip

If you can’t get your hands on the exact kind of tomatoes I’ve mentioned, use yellow tomatoes and add a squeeze of orange juice on top.