Fabulous five tips for a healthy and informed New Year

29 December 2018

Tomorrow I predict we are going to be bombarded with adverts and posts feeding into this crazy period that started with promoting excess and then, all within a week the message switches to one of guilt and self-loathing! And with that comes the packages and promises of a much needed “detox ” that will deliver weight loss and repent from all our overindulgence. But do we actually need to punish ourselves with juice fasts, boot camps and meal replacements?

Firstly, our body is equipped with an amazing built-in system to detoxify: our liver, gut, kidneys, lungs, lymphatic system and the skin.

Toxins (which can be hormones - yes oestrogen, testosterone for example in excess or if we can’t eliminate them properly are viewed by the body as toxins, environmental pollutants, acetaldehyde from alcohol, additives and fillers in many processed foods and ready meals to name a few) are transformed by enzymes that exist in the liver and also in the gut, into water-soluble substances and excreted through the urine, bile and faeces detoxifying the body.

When I work with my private clients or am running a Functional Day Retreat I see my role as two-fold:

  1. To inform, as information is power right? and
  2. Based on that knowledge, provide them with the tools required to start supporting the gut, liver, immune or endocrine system to best help balance hormones improve fatigue, bloating and reduce an overall toxic burden.

For now then, I’d like to share my Fabulous Five health tips for 2019 that will help tip the balance back into some equilibrium, accompanied with the reasoning why, without beating you with a guilty stick or asking you to live off green juices for a month!

My fabulous five tips for a healthy and informed New Year!

1. Meal Timing:

Eat 2-3 meals a day rather than snack and graze all day. Without even realising many of us are eating up to 16 hours a day. Leaving 4-5 hour gaps between meals or practising eating in an 8-hour window during the day reduces inflammation and also stimulates a wonderful protein called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF influences a variety of functions including: preventing the death of existing brain cells (sounds good!), inducing the growth of new neurons and synapses and supporting cognitive function. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to: Alzheimer’s, accelerated ageing, obesity and depression.

2. Tame inflammation:

Chronic low-grade inflammation (also termed silent inflammation)  is now documented as the predominant underlying cause of a range of chronic conditions from heart disease, arthritis, diverticulitis & colitis to obesity to name a few.

Inflammation is a vital process that our body uses to mount a response to a perceived threat in the form of infection or a physical injury. However, there are two different types of inflammation. One type is "classical" inflammation, which is usually associated with pain. This type of inflammation can also result from an overactive immune system that is constantly turned on so that the body attacks itself. This is precisely what happens in the case of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.  Silent inflammation, on the other hand, is different in that it is below the threshold of perceived pain. As a result, no action is taken to stop it, and so it smoulders for years, causing continued insults on the body system-wide: the heart, the immune system, the brain etc.

One of the largest contributing factors to smouldering silent inflammation is eating! The very act of eating is inflammatory, so eating or grazing for 15-18 hours a day by definition is adding fuel to the fire. I’m sure most of us don’t think that we do actually eat for this length of time each day, but consider this as a typical day:

Wake at 6am and have a coffee at the station on way into work at 6.30am, breakfast at 8.30am, coffee or cup of tea and a piece of fruit apple at 11am, lunch at 1pm, cup of tea and snack at 4pm, nibble on kids tea at 6.45pm, dinner at 8pm, cup of tea and square of chocolate at 9pm is 15 hours of continuous grazing. So, again consider eating in a smaller window of 8 hours, i.e breaking your fast at midday rather than at 6.30am at least 3 days a week and also being mindful to leave 4- 5 hours between meals and not snacking.

3. Consider which foods are the most inflammatory:

Research has demonstrated that both high levels of refined sugar and saturated fat produce dysfunctional proteins and inflammatory responses. As such, my tips are to:

  1. Cut refined sugar: Toss the refined sugar products (crackers, crisps, pies, scones, biscuits, etc). Recent studies showed sugar addiction to be a more powerful stimulator of dopamine reward pathways than cocaine!  While it’s hard at first, going through a sugar detox will free you from the need to eat every hour or two to keep blood sugar stable and will give you mastery and control over your food choices since you’re not following cravings. Once you cut it out you’ll notice the beauty of mother natures sweetness such as a handful of berries and some nuts and you’ll find confectionery a thing of the past!
  2. Lower saturated fat intake: This is a type of fat that contains triglycerides with only saturated fatty acids. Foods with high saturated fats include cheese, fatty meats, lard, coconut oil and butter. I am not advocating to stop butter and cheese altogether, rather think about your intake in an overall day. Butter, for example, is a fantastic source of vitamin A, which is needed for a balanced immune system but a daily diet of croissants and cheese on toast is tipping the balance too far. Similarly, the fad of all fats being replaced with coconut oil is somewhat flawed too!

4. Build strong fences:

In a normal, healthy gut lining there are epithelial cells forming tight junctions that allow certain molecules to pass across into the bloodstream, such as vitamins, minerals and digested food in the form of amino acids, glucose and some fatty acids. However, it also acts as a barrier preventing entry to larger damaging molecules, foreign particles and bacteria.

This intestinal lining is very delicate and can be easily damaged by poorly digested foods, provocative proteins (such as gluten), medications (especially antibiotics and NSAIDs), nutritional deficiencies (especially zinc, vitamin D and A, microbiome disruption (dysbiosis) and inflammatory food triggers.

When there is damage to this lining, it can open up slightly, causing a condition called “leaky gut” or Intestinal permeability. This allows partially digested foods, toxins, and bacteria to enter into the bloodstream and thus be presented to the immune system just beyond the gut wall. Resulting symptoms are persistent inflammation, irritation, possible autoimmune attacks, pain, digestive discomfort and food intolerances, all of which are a result of a now dysregulated immune system. To build strong fences and help prevent intestinal permeability I have these tips for you:

  1. Cut refined sugar: Read labels before buying and assess how artificial the product actually is, as artificial fillers and preservatives significantly contribute towards intestinal permeability. The best indicators of how highly processed a food is, can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items you should reconsider before buying.
  2. Increase the amount of fibre and polyphenols in your diet by aiming for 10 serves of vegetables a day. Fibre increases the production of short chain fatty acids, which help maintain the integrity of the gut barrier.
  3. Get your vitamin D level checked annually. Low levels of vitamin D contribute to Intestinal permeability.

5. Modulate the immune system via your gut!

The gut bacteria (also called microbiota) influence host health, and in particular immune function, by promoting the development and maintenance of the mucosal immune system, protecting against pathogen invasion and maintaining gastrointestinal tract barrier integrity. The mucosal immune system is essentially our first line of defence: present within our barrier structures namely the skin, gut, and respiratory membranes. This system induces what we term as “tolerance”, so the immune system doesn’t overact unnecessarily.

Dietary fibre (again!) and pre and probiotic type foods increase the production of short chain fatty acids, which help maintain the integrity of the gut barrier, as well as helping regulate T-regulatory cells which help maintain a well regulated immune system as they have been shown to suppress the responses of other immune cells, including those that promote inflammation. My tip here is to am to eat 8-10 servings of vegetables daily. Plants contain phytochemicals and these “chemicals” have so many health benefits: anti-inflammatory, aid liver detoxification enzymes and modulate the gut microbiome. My all-time favourite, if I had to name it –broccoli!

Tanya x