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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Why I dont filter my almond milk any more

Friday, June 03, 2016

You may have seen my earlier blog post about making almond milk at home. How easy it is. But there's a fiddly, messy part too - straining the nut milk through cloth to remove the solids. It's messy, and the extra contact with the nut milk bag and human hands, however clean, seems to make the milk go off faster.

I don't like wasting food (who does?) although the leftover pulp could be transformed into cakes, contribute towards biscuit creations or even find purpose as a facial and body scrub, I worried that losing the pulp meant losing some nutrition too. So I tried a less-conscientious filtering method, and then no filtering at all to see how it came out. Here's what happened:

1. When I filtered the milk through a fine sieve some of the solids went through and some stayed behind. There was less pulp to find an alternative use for, I got more nut milk volume, and it stayed fresher longer, for up to a week instead of just a couple of days. And since I mostly use the almond milk to garnish steel cut oat porridge, I really didn't notice the different texture. That works for me.

2. When I didn't filter the milk at all it was thicker - much thicker. In fact, I had to add some extra water otherwise it wouldn't pour! The texture was OK, albeit even rougher than a moderately filtered variety. The volume of nut milk was even higher, and the taste was fine.  The photo here is completely unfiltered almond milk.

Although I don't think I'll return to using a cloth filter, I'm not sure whether completely unfiltered almond milk is right for me either. Frankly, I feel rather like Goldilocks confronted with three choices. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Nut Nutrition Without The Dental Dramas'

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How much carbohydrate in a low carb diet

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
low carb diet meal planSaying that the carbohydrate debate is “a controversy” doesn’t adequately describe the raging argument going on within scientific and clinical nutrition circles about the ‘right’ amount of carbohydrate for nutritious and yet safe diet, especially for weight loss. There are proponents at each end of the carbohydrate spectrum, from those eschewing almost any form of carbohydrate, to those who believe carbohydrates should be the most prevalent energy source.

The ultra-low-carb camp rejects grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. The high carbohydrate proponents believe that fuel from carbohydrates should make up at least half of your calories. Both groups approach their work with almost religious fervour, requiring your allegiance to one extreme or the other. Is there a middle road?  

What does science say?

Just breathe…..if you want to try out low carb eating you can probably eat more carbohydrate than you thought. Let’s look at what ‘low carb’ actually means as far as nutrition science is concerned.

Many low carb meal plans contain less than 50g of carbohydrates a day. That’s actually classified by nutritional science as a ‘very low carbohydrate’ diet. ‘Low carb’ means between 50g and 130g of carbohydrate each day, rather more. (I’ve listed a couple of the peer-reviewed papers at the end of this article if you want to review the data.)

In 2011 researchers at the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition crunched the numbers: They found that ‘low carb’ means 30-130g carbohydrates per day. In 2014 Michael Liebman from the University of Wyoming found that “there is much experimental support for the consumption of a moderately restricted carbohydrate diet (i.e one providing approximately 26-44% of calories from carbohydrate.)”

Do you have to leave out fruit and grains completely?

On an ultra-low carbohydrate plan of less than 50g per day there’s no room for fruit, nor for grains; great for fast weight loss, but isn’t so easy to maintain in the long term. But both these food groups (fruit and grains) provide valuable nutrients, including fibre. In moderation, their inclusion in a healthy balanced diet adds variety, interest and flavour too. 

Michael Liebman, the author of the 2014 paper concluded about ultra-low-carb diets: “…many individuals would likely find these types of diets very difficult to adhere to over long periods of time” If you’ve tried to rigorously adhere to an ultra-low-carb diet and eat out socially you’ve experienced the angst. (But if ultra-low-carb works for you, that’s great, I’m happy for you.)

A moderate low-carb diet, in comparison, will enable you to eat fresh fruit every day and at least one, often two serves of grains. To make sure this was possible I created a low-carbohydrate meal plan that included fruit and grains, and as much variety as possible. And I was easily able to stay within the 130g carbohydrate limit. Suddenly, trialling a low-carbohydrate diet doesn’t seem so hard, does it?

What about insulin resistance?

Folk who don’t respond well to ultra-low-carbohydrate diets are those with hyperinsulinemia, where their blood glucose response to carbohydrates can be extreme; and yet their blood glucose levels can remain perilously low without adequate carbohydrate input. No-one wants to live with the blood sugar drop ‘sweats and shakes’ nor the brain fog from inadequate blood glucose.  

Your do-able plan in approaching low-carb eating

Armed with this information (and feeling more an a little relieved, I can tell you) I created a week-long meal plan to prove to myself it was liveable and yet healthy: low carbohydrate, low sugar, high fibre, with plenty of fresh unprocessed food, vegetables, fresh fruit, and yes, some grain-based foods too. I was even able to include a café-cappuccino one day without busting the carbohydrate budget.

Then I typed up a meal plan for the week, to stick on the fridge door. Wrote out the recipes, and created a shopping list to make the weekly foraging expedition easier. Then I figured perhaps I should make this meal plan available for you as well. So here it is. If you’d like to try out a healthy, moderate, low carbohydrate meal plan you can purchase it for immediate download here. 

Here’s the papers I reviewed

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Discovering fresh is best - the hard way

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
nutrition fresh is bestIt might surprise you to learn that vitamins are a relatively recent discovery. Only in the last hundred years or so has our understanding of these food constituents developed. Even today our knowledge about nutrition and the optimum diet is still developing. Prior to the discovery of vitamins the accepted theory was that as long as you ate enough protein, fats and carbohydrate you’d be OK. But experiences of the time were demonstrating otherwise. 

Sailors died from scurvy on long voyages from lack of vitamin C. So many of them fell ill that explorers would routinely set off with double the requisite hands on deck knowing that they were likely to lose half of them before returning to port. The British army noticed their garrison stationed in Ceylon developed a disease culminating in fatal convulsions; it was beri-beri caused by lack of vitamin B1. Farming families in the southern United States who subsisted on an extremely restricted diet fell prey to pellagra, a disease induced by vitamin B3 deficiency. Germ theory was popular at that time, so many of these malnourishment diseases were incorrectly attributed to microbes. 
We now know that even minute amounts of vitamins have a positive effect on health, and that often our bodies’ ability to absorb these vitamins lifts when a deficiency is present. The amount of B vitamin in brown rice is only a smidgen; and yet that mite was enough to prevent B1 deficiency disease in communities reliant on rice as a staple food.

Don't Try This At Home

Scientific debate persisted about the ‘best’ diet, probably just as much as we debate it now. Researchers would sometimes experiment on themselves to bolster their arguments. One was Dr William Stark, a young man determined to explore the concept that a diet restricted to just one or two foods was healthiest. Why not try it out on himself? A list was duly developed and Stark began methodically working his way through, keeping careful notes. His foods of choice were commonly available like bread, sugar, milk, meat, oil. Just one or two of them, to be consumed for days or weeks at a time. Then he would carefully note the effect this diet had on his body, and move on. Unfortunately, fresh produce was at the end of his list.

Within a couple of months he really wasn’t well, with swollen bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, and lots of other unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms that I’ll spare you the details of. Undeterred, he persisted. Weeks passed with less and less vigour as his experiment wore on. Just over eight months after starting his project, Stark died. He never made it to the end of his food list, where the intake of vitamin-rich fresh produce were waiting to retrieve his health.

You can read the story of William Stark and several other adventurous scientists in ‘The Vitamin Complex’, a book by Catherine Price. It makes for enlightening, sometimes alarming and occasionally humorous reading as you learn more of what has brought us to the knowledge we have today. We can learn from their experiences. What Stark and his colleagues were doing in their nutritional quest was eating the equivalent of a modern diet completely devoid of fruits and vegetables, and focused on highly processed foods. If Stark were conducting his experiments today he’d be frequently selecting from the drive-thru fast food menu and pushing his supermarket cart straight through the fresh produce section without pause. We know he wouldn’t be well, and if we followed his diet we wouldn’t expect to be vibrantly well either.

What We Learned From Their Experience

Two themes emerge from the efforts of researchers who have gone before us: The first is that fresh, unprocessed food is essential for health. We know now it’s the potent vitamins those foods contain that are vital for maintaining good health. We also know the water soluble vitamins in plant foods decline as the time between picking and consumption lengthens. There may be other constituents of fresh food that we just don’t know about yet (rather like our ancestors were unconscious of the existence of vitamins).

The other theme that has emerged is variety is essential. You can’t expect to live well, for long, on a diet restricted to just a few foods. Fortunately for most of us this is an easy nutritional recommendation to comply with – our supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of a vast variety of different foods, and the fresh produce section always resembles a cornucopia. But the experiments conducted by those brave researchers should perhaps caution us against following artificially restricted diets of any variety.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Six Nutrition Questions To Ask Yourself Each Day'

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Chicken soup for colds and flu

Saturday, May 21, 2016
chicken soup cold flu immunityWe all have our own favourite ‘flu busters’, remedies we keep on hand to help as soon as a winter viral infection becomes evident. I’d like to suggest an extra tool for your kit: chicken soup.

Yes, really. Chicken soup has such a strong reputation in easing cold symptoms that medical researchers with the University of Nebraska Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine decided to prepare a pot of their grandmother’s traditional recipe chicken soup and assess the effects of this renowned folk remedy on immune cells. The results of their investigation, including the recipe, became an academic article published in Chest, a peer-reviewed scientific journal

They weren’t the first. Other researchers thought the power of chicken soup might have been the heat of the liquid; but no, chicken soup came out a winner in that study too. The journal of the Canadian Medical Association suggested that chicken soup was so useful it should be classified as an essential drug. Even the prestigious New York Times devoted column space to the science of chicken soup. 

It turns out that chicken soup affects the activity of neutrophils. These are the prolific white blood cells attracted to a site of infection (in the case of a cold, your lungs and nose), destroying invading microbes and inciting the outpouring of mucus, phlegm and snot that helps make you miserable. Chicken soup moderates their activity so your symptoms are reduced.

It’s an easy and thrifty cold remedy for you to create too. First, pick up a whole fresh chicken. Organic if possible please; they’re chilled with air rather than a chlorinated icy bath so you’ll get more flavour-ful and less waterlogged chicken meat.

A slow cooker is ideal for this process, but not compulsory. Roast the chicken in the oven or slow cooker first, after rubbing with olive oil and salt. Remove the meat for lunches, and put the carcass and any cooking liquid back in the pot with a roughly chopped onion, a stalk of celery, a large carrot, and some bay leaves, plus enough water to cover. 
Bring the water to a slow simmer (or if you’re using the slow cooker, set it to cook at low for 6-8 hours).The longer you can brew this healing liquid, the more dense the flavour will be. 

Enjoy the heavenly aroma filling your kitchen. Then strain the liquid through a colander to remove any solid particles. You can enjoy it straight away or freeze in portion sizes for future chicken soup or flu-busting emergencies.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How to Recover Faster From That Cold' 

Image credit: Chicken by Shanblan via MorgueFile

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Lemon juice and tooth enamel

Saturday, May 14, 2016
Inspiration this week came from an unexpected source: my thoughtful dentist. You know you’ve got a good dentist when his enquiries extend beyond whether your pearly whites have cavities, and whether your gums are retreating as you age. Even better, when he starts a conversation he waits for the instruments to be removed from your mouth so you can respond coherently.

After a recent check-up resulting in a thumbs-up, he asked if I start my day with lemon juice in water. He wanted to let me know that this healthy practice can have a not-so-healthy effect on your tooth enamel if you don’t manage it appropriately.

The old squeeze-of-lemon-juice-in-pure-water is a popular practice amongst those keen to optimise their health, because it can help alkalise your system. A reasonably alkaline system is important because it impacts on so many biochemical processes; this is the reason naturopaths often reach for the litmus paper to check a client’s saliva pH. I also think the lemon juice practice is a symbolic act of care for your body. 

If you utilise lemon juice this way you probably don’t indulge in soft drinks frequently; again, because you’re interested in better health. And yet these two foods – lemon juice and flavoured soft drink – share an attribute that could be harming your teeth enamel: acidity.

Lemon juice is acidic, even though it has an alkalising effect (a paradox of pH). Some types of soft drink are acidic too, particularly if they contain added phosphoric acid, a flavour enhancer. Acid, as you probably know, is corrosive. Turns out that lemon juice is acidic enough to damage tooth enamel if you leave it there too long. Bet eroded tooth enamel wasn’t your aim when you started the lemon juice practice.

Phosphoric acid is also corrosive, but I don’t know of any health conscious person who salutes the new day with a glass of soft drink. There’s no need to stop the practice of lemon juice in water if you enjoy it; just rinse out your mouth with some plain water straight after to wash acidic lemon juice off your tooth enamel. 

By the way, you don’t have to have lemon juice in water to alkalise. A diet rich in fresh unprocessed fruits and vegetables, especially greens and salads will do the job. Maybe save you some dental expenses too.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'If your gums could talk....' here

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Doing the thing you fear can make you stronger

Saturday, May 07, 2016
anxiety fear You can feel your heart pounding through your chest. A fine bead of sweat is forming at your hairline. Time seems to stand still. Then with a reassuring beep from the machine your credit card purchase is approved. With a sigh of relief you head for the doors, clutching your purchase. No need to feel the stinging embarrassment of a “declined” transaction – at least this time.

Would you stop using electronic payments just to avoid the tension of a situation like this? It’s alluring, particularly if you are in your senior years. You could just pretend you’re ‘too old to keep up with all this modern technology’. Life would be more familiar. Comfortable.

But with this outlook your horizons are likely to shrink, and the list of novel activities you’re no longer prepared to confront can grow. Eventually it can become almost impossible to leave the safety of your own home to avoid potential threats to your equanimity. 

The primitive parts of our brains are hard-wired to keep us safe. If they suspect we’re in danger they prompt adrenaline output to enable fast escape. That part of our brain feels it’s perfectly normal to manage threatening situations like potential purchase failures by avoiding them in the future. Usually our emotional (more recently developed) brains reconciles that the threat isn’t genuine, to allow you to continue.  But “fear can make a moth seem the size of a bull elephant.” (Stephen Richards).

As you age, your neuroprotective reproductive hormones decline, making keeping up with the modern world an ongoing challenge. And yet it’s facing those challenges, learning new skills and managing your inherent anxious feelings that helps maintain your physical independence and intellectual vigour.

Continually giving into the primitive, safety-oriented part of your brain can cause your horizons to shrink. Activities that you used to take for granted, like shopping centres, travelling, meeting new people, become overwhelming. Eventually you might not be prepared to leave your own home as your safety-focused brain has taken control of your physical body. 

Part of the talk therapy for overcoming this anxiety involves reconciling the primitive urge to stay safe with the emotional brain’s ability to manage the situation.  Gently and gradually your brain is re-trained to handle everyday situations without giving in to an urge to escape. As the Canadian-based philosopher Matshona Dhliwayo wrote, “Overcoming what frightens you the most strengthens you the most.” 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How Menopause Can Dampen Your Mood' 

Image credit: Prawny via MorgueFile

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Nut Nutrition without the Dental Dramas

Saturday, April 30, 2016
If your aging teeth and gums mean that you have to push away the proffered bowl of nuts don’t worry. You can still access the nutritional powers of nuts, their wonderful flavour and texture.

Nuts are true high density nutrition, a solution to that paradox of aging: that you need more nutrients than ever to maintain your body, but your ability to assimilate those nutrients decreases.

Nuts can offer you about 15% protein, not far behind a steak. They’re loaded to a greater or lesser degree with beneficial oils, and with those healthy fats comes fat soluble vitamins, E especially; helpful for heart health, your skin, and as an antioxidant. There are a bundle of minerals included too – remember that nuts are actually the seed for a new tree, so they contain all the minerals required to create that living plant.

So although you may have had to give away your trusty nut cracker, reach for nut butters, nut meal  or nut milks instead. Not just peanut butter: nut butters are now available as simple almond, cashew, brazil or macadamia nut butter, usually with no additives (unlike many peanut butters). Or you can enjoy a combination blend. These nut butters can be used as the base for biscuits so that your snack becomes a powerful nutrition booster, not just a sweet treat.

Nut meal, like almond meal, can be substituted for flour in many cake recipes. Originally a substitute for those avoiding grains, nut meals have become a staple of the baking elite.

Nut milks are easily made at home, and often better for you, as many packaged nut milks include additives like sugar. All you have to do is soak the nuts for a couple of days, rinse and allow your electric blender to make a milk with the help of some water. Strain to make a nutrient-rich milk substitute. There’s no waste; the leftover pulp can become the ingredients for a delicious cake.

The internet is a great resource for instructions on how to make nut milks, and recipes that demonstrate how to use the nut meals and nut butters in everyday cooking. 

You can see how moving your focus from grain based foods to nut based foods can really boost your intake of nutrients, enjoyably; even without young teeth and gums.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy this recipe for 'Nutty Biscuits'

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Why modern women are vulnerable to anaemia

Saturday, April 23, 2016
Female and feeling tired? The two conditions aren’t necessarily linked, but modern women need to keep a close eye on their iron levels because running short can leave you so drained of energy.

Modern women are vulnerable to anaemia as we experience more periods. In traditional societies a woman’s reproductive years are dominated by pregnancies. In Western cultures a women experience fewer pregnancies, meaning many more monthly periods. More cycles means a greater need for iron to replace the blood lost in periods.

A shortage of iron results in less haemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen around your body. There are a number of physical signs of iron deficiency (including fatigue); a regular blood test is an effective way to assess your iron status.

On the iron study your doctor orders there are two numbers to particularly note. (Tip: keep a copy). One is serum iron – this is the iron immediately available for use. The other is serum ferretin – this is storage iron, what your body keeps in reserve in case of sudden large blood loss. Rebuilding iron stores is a slow process, taking months, and your stores can be depleted fast if you have persistently heavy periods and don’t get enough dietary iron. So both serum iron and serum ferretin are important.

What you eat helps: The most easily absorbed is heme iron from animal products, especially red meat. Plant foods offer non-heme iron too, but it’s less easily absorbed.

What you eat can help or hinder your iron status: Tea blocks it (the tannins bind the iron before your body can absorb it). Phytates in food like raw greens also hinder iron uptake (another reason to be moderate with those green smoothies).  Vitamin C-rich foods boost iron uptake. 

Iron has its dark side too, the reason to test before supplementing:  If you have the gene for haemochromatosis then your body can relentlessly store this mineral, potentially causing liver damage, promoting inflammation and contributing to insulin resistance. 

If you have to supplement there are different types of iron available; some so brutal that they induce constipation. Others are more gentle, some ineffective. Discovering the most effective form for you is usually a process of trial and error; best explored with a practitioner and with regular re-tests to ensure you’re progressing. One last tip: don’t take a zinc supplement at the same time as an iron supplement, they compete for absorption.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How to extract more iron from your diet' 

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Thyroid hormones and what can interfere

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Here are the main players that control how much energy your cells will produce, and three frequently occurring health issues that can interfere:

TSH: Comes from your pituitary gland which, along with your hypothalamus, keeps an eye on how much thyroid hormone is needed, and instructs your thyroid how hard to work based on what’s happening. It’s the accelerator pedal of your thyroid system. The higher the TSH number is on your test results, the more your pituitary is urging your thyroid to work harder.

T4 is produced by your thyroid gland. Technically it’s a prohormone, because it’s transformed into the more active T3 variety that fits cell receptors so well. 

T3 is the active thyroid hormone that latches on to the cell membrane receptor and passes on the instructions about how fast your metabolism should be running. 

rT3 is what can be produced instead if the tidy process of T4 to T3 production doesn’t happen. rT3 is a ‘blank’: It will fit onto the cell receptors but doesn’t pass on any messages about doing work. Increased stress (elevated cortisol), inflammation and low serum ferretin (storage iron)

It’s possible to have a ‘normal’ TSH reading yet insufficient T4 and T3 because stress, inflammation or anaemia are interfering with the process behind the scenes. For a complete picture of what your thyroid is doing you need to test TSH, T4, T3 and rT3 as well as thyroid antibodies.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How Well Is Your Thyroid' 

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Will you be nice to me?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Let’s face it, meeting with a stranger to reveal details about your private health or emotional problems is scary.  Will they laugh at you? Be judgemental? Berate you?  Make impossible demands? Be understanding?  

If you’re going to get the most out of your treatment, feeling confident and comfortable enough to be open with your practitioner is important. The fastest way to find out whether you’re likely to feel comfortable talking with them is to pick up the phone and call, or take a look at their website to get a flavour of how they work, review their testimonials, and ask around your friends and colleagues who have already consulted that practitioner. 

This is an extract from "What Does a Naturopath Do?" You can download your free copy from this website, here 
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