The Hybrid diet - a new approach to gut and brain health? Find out more here
Nine foods a nutritionist doesn't eat Find out more here
What is a keto diet and does it really work? Find out more here
What cravings reveal about your health. Is it all in your head or is your body trying to tell you something? Find out more here
How to switch off the hunger hormone Find out more here
Boost your mood. The link between physical health and what you eat is well understood, but did you know that what you eat has a huge impact on your mood and how you feel? Find out more here
The Hybrid diet - a new approach to gut and brain health?
I was fascinated to attend a conference on Saturday that examined how the Hybrid Diet (more about that in a minute) could help with brain and gut health. The speaker was Patrick Holford – who founded the Institute of Optimum Nutrition, where I trained, and it was really interesting to hear him speak again. He is also the founder of the Brain Bio Centre that specialises in mental health and nutrition.
Patrick has spent the last 30 years developing and promoting blood sugar balancing through a low carb (GL - glycaemic load) diet as one of the most effective ways of optimising our health. However, research is demonstrating that ketogenic (keto) diets are effective in getting fats to the brain and helping brain health. So he teamed up with Jerome Burne, a keto diet specialist, and they have created the Hybrid Diet. The theory behind it is this: way back when, our bodies were used to alternating between using glucose (from carbohydrates) and fats for fuel. For some months of the year, you could fill your boots with berries, tubers and other plant-based foods (carbohydrates). In the colder months, when plants weren’t available, you would have eaten a protein and fat-based diet besides using your own body fat reserves when food was scarce. Scientists, including nutrition professionals, describe this ability to switch between these two types of fuel as being ‘fat adapted’ or ‘metabolically flexible’. And it is a good thing. The Hybrid Diet combines periods of following a high fat keto diet with longer periods of following a low GL blood sugar balancing diet, making it an approach more aligned to ‘real life’.
The problem is this…
Our bodies are so used to relying on glucose (the energy derived from carbs and sugar) as fuel that they have forgotten how to (or rather, become unaccustomed to) use fat instead.
This is largely because the modern diet has gradually drifted towards being very carb heavy. Bad science in the 1950s and the subsequent anti-fat propaganda pushed diets away from healthy fats and increasingly towards filling up on bread, pasta and rice. And the food industry since then has been encouraging us to snack between meals – and often not on the ‘right’ things.
One of the main issues with eating too many carbs is that this causes blood sugar levels to rise, which increases levels of insulin, and insulin is the fat storage hormone. With prolonged periods of producing too much insulin, our bodies lose their sensitivity to it, so need to produce more, which leads to weight gain and, ultimately, obesity.
So what is a keto diet?
The keto diet is largely based on fat with moderate protein and very low in carbohydrates. It is filling and satisfying. This means no hunger, no cravings and consistent energy levels. This kind of diet forces the body into a state of ketosis, a natural activity that helps you survive when food intake is low. Ketosis triggers a natural metabolic ‘clean up’ and repair process. It can also increase sensitivity to insulin so that, when you do eat carbs, the body metabolises them better.
… is that the ketogenic diet is very strict and not always compatible with the way most of us live our lives. Cutting out carbs means more than just avoiding the bread, pasta, rice and potatoes that we think of as carbohydrates, but also other foods, including many fruits and a number of starchy vegetables and even some nuts, such as cashews.
Patrick argues that it is actually more desirable to teach your body how to alternate between periods of fuelling with glucose (from low GL foods) and fat. He calls this the ‘dual fuel advantage’, where your body learns to grow healthy and repair as well as learning to use carbohydrates more intelligently, and this keeps weight and energy levels balanced.
The Hybrid Diet
His new book, The Hybrid Diet (£16.99, Piatkus) explains the concept and benefits of the ketogenic diet and the ‘slow carb’ low GL diet, and how you can combine them to reap the health benefits of both. He also introduces intermittent fasting (a regime of having extended periods of not eating anything) as an additional tool for weight and health management. His book guides you through an initial two weeks of a ketogenic diet, followed by alternating three weeks on a ‘slow carb’ diet and another week of keto. Sample menus and recipe ideas are provided. This equates to nine months a year with your body running on glucose and three months on fat – a very similar pattern to the one our ancestors would have had.
If you your energy is flagging, your brain feels ‘foggy’, you can’t sleep or you’re worried about your weight, this approach is certainly one to consider. Making substantial changes to your diet can feel tough, particularly if your regular way of eating is very different from the regime you are embarking on. You will have questions and need solutions to have your new plan fit into your lifestyle. As a nutrition practitioner, I work with my clients, so they achieve their health goals and feel supported as they put the changes into practice. If you know your diet needs to change and you’re not sure where – or how – to start, I warmly invite you to book a free no obligation 30-minute nutrition MOT with me. During this time, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss your goals, and I will share my top tips to help you get started.
Nine Foods a Nutritionist Never Eats
There is an argument that all foods are OK in moderation, and this is largely based on not having ‘being healthy’ become something that feels a chore or that has you missing out on some of the things you really enjoy. But as a nutrition professional, there are a number of things that I NEVER eat.
1 Low fat/ reduced fat foods/ diet foods
These foods are, by definition, very highly processed. Where fat is taken out of a food, what nearly always goes in instead is either sugar or artificial sweeteners. The idea that fat is bad or leads to weight gain has now been acknowledged as being entirely wrong. We now know that sugars (and excess starchy carbs) are what mostly leads to weight gain and keep you craving sweet things. Many artificial sweeteners aren’t great for gut health either. I’d far rather stick to the natural, full fat version.
2 Margarine and butter substitutes
Margarine and vegetable spreads are the nutritionally poorer relations of real butter, coconut oil and other healthy fats like olive oil. Again, they are heavily processed. Often what draws people to them is the thought that they are somehow healthier because of their lower levels of saturated fats. Given that saturated fat is not the enemy to your health – while artificially hardened vegetable oils (think trans-fats) are - it’s far better to stick to unadulterated fats, using ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil, or olive oil for cooking at lower temperatures.
3 Sugar free fizzy drinks, diet drinks and energy drinks
Sometimes I see clients ‘filling up’ on diet drinks, which (although they contain no actual calories) are doing your body no favours. They’re still conditioning your body to expect more sweet stuff, and the jury is still out on whether artificial sweeteners are not great or seriously detrimental to health. Energy drinks often provide a dual hit of very large amounts of caffeine accompanied by either a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners. When I’m working with clients who are propping themselves up with these drinks, I like to get to the cause of their fatigue, because what’s in the tin of Red Bull (or similar) will not be helping.
4 Hotdogs and processed meat
It is quite shocking how little actual meat goes into hotdogs, and processed deli-style meats are often pumped with water, sugar (even if it’s not actually called sugar, look out for anything ending in ‘-ose’ – like dextrose) and preservatives. Some of the additives in processed meats have been linked to increased risk of colon cancer. If my family demand ham, it’s pretty easy to pick up a small ham joint and cook it myself.
5 Shop-bought cereals
Most supermarket cereals are filled with sugar and very high in starchy carbs, which will have your energy levels crashing come mid-morning. Better options include home-made granola (like the cinnamon pecan granola from Deliciously Ella), which are easy weekend jobs and last a good while, porridge or overnight oats, omelettes or poached eggs (in fact, any kind of eggs) on wholemeal toast.
6 Rice cakes
These are often a go-to food for anyone counting calories. Unfortunately, they will skyrocket your blood sugar levels. A better choice would be a couple of oat cakes topped with unsweetened nut butter or a little hummus.
7 Agave nectar/ syrup
Agave syrup comes from a cactus, and the syrup is made from the pulp of the leaf. It’s very highly processed and is mainly fructose, which needs to be processed by the liver, causing more stress for an already over-worked organ. Fructose is actually worse for you than glucose (which is effectively what we are talking about when discussing ‘blood sugar’). Agave syrup (or nectar) is very similar to the (deservedly) much-demonised high fructose corn syrup, that has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic in the US. My advice? Do not use it!
8 Mycoprotein like Quorn
Quorn is a very processed food that comes from a fungus Fusarium venenatum and is fermented. It has a lot of other ingredients added – like flavourings, yeast, starches and colourings, gluten to give it the texture and flavour of meat. Lentils and pulses are a much healthier alternative if you’re after vegetarian choices.
9 Fruit Juice
The easiest way to get lots of sugar into your system in a short space of time is by drinking it. And since it comes in as liquid, the body doesn’t register it as “eaten”, so it cunningly slips past any detectors that might otherwise signal satiety or ‘satisfaction’. Fruit juice – particularly when freshly squeezed – certainly contains lots of lovely vitamins and minerals, but it contains just as much sugar as that can of Coke. So, don’t kid yourself: fruit juice is not healthy. If you want fruit, eat fruit. Don’t drink it.
What is a Keto diet and does it really work?
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Ketogenic (‘keto’) diets are back in fashion.
You’ve probably read the headlines and wondered whether you should take the plunge if the results are really that dramatic and that easy. But are they, though? Here I'll give you the inside line on what the diet involves, whether it’s healthy and even sustainable for ‘normal’ people.
The keto diet is the ultimate low carb diet. It’s also moderate in terms of protein and very high in fat. In essence, it’s pretty much like the Atkins diet, but its fans like to describe it as a more modern version of it, now with a solid scientific basis. Recent research over the last decade or so has provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets in many health conditions, including diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), acne, neurological conditions and the management of respiratory and cardio-vascular risk factors.
Although dieters tend to lose weight, there is more of an emphasis of the ketogenic diet as a therapeutic diet, which may improve compliance for those that follow it for health reasons. Like the Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet aims at keeping the body in permanent ketosis. Let’s take a look at what that actually is …
Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy so that it will be chosen over any other energy source. Insulin is produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by taking it into the cells. It’s the fat storage hormone produced in direct proportion to the type and quality of carbs consumed. When you lower the intake of carbs in your diet, you force the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a natural process that helps you survive when food intake is low. When in this state, you produce ketone bodies or ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver. They are an alternative source of energy, when glucose is not available. Energy from ketones works just as well and feels no different – better, if anything, and the brain actually prefers ketones.
What do you eat?
The ketogenic diet is largely based on protein and fat, and is filling and satisfying. This means no hunger cravings and consistent energy levels. The downside is the diet is very strict. Cutting out carbs means more than just avoiding the bread, pasta, rice and potatoes that we think of as carbohydrates, but also other foods including many fruits and a number of starchy vegetables and even some nuts, such as cashews. What you might not be prepared for is having to cut back on alcohol (it’s not cut it out entirely – spirits are OK but watch the sugary mixers, and champagne and wine are not so bad in moderation but it very much depends on your sensitivity to carbs), and your favourite cappuccino or latte, too.
Getting into ketosis
There are no fixed percentages for macronutrient distribution (ie not a specific ratio of fats, carbs, etc.) as not everyone is equally sensitive to carbohydrates. This means you’ll have to test where your carb threshold lies by measuring ketone bodies in the urine, blood or breath.
You might be reading this thinking, ‘I can do this’, but the reality can be very testing. One client of mine was committed for 16 days and didn’t, during that time, ever reach ketosis. It can, in fact, take 4 weeks to get there and during the transition period many experience ‘keto flu’ – flu-like symptoms, headaches, tiredness, and weakness. This happens when the body runs out of glucose and has not yet learned to switch to using fat for energy – that’s because it hasn’t had to for such a long time. Until you become ‘fat adapted’ (i.e. your body has re-learned to use fat) there is a period of low energy. It is this taxing time that can put people off.
The people that do well on a ketogenic diet are those with a really compelling reason to do it, perhaps one of the chronic health conditions this diet can help. The rest of us mere mortals will struggle to be committed enough to get into and stay in ketosis.
If you are keen to find out more about ketogenic diets or if you'd like to book a complimentary call to discuss which approach to weight loss would best suit you, please do get in touch.
What cravings really reveal about your health
Is it all in your head or is your body trying to tell you something? Some might dismiss a ‘wisdom of the body’ theory as quackery. However, if you think about the biological processes happening within your body and the factors affecting these, the argument to substantiate a link becomes more compelling. Here’s why.
Food is so much more than just calories. It’s information. The body is a wonderful machine, constantly sending you signs and signals about the information (or nutrients) it needs to function at its best. The trouble is, when you fall into unhealthy patterns, you unwittingly train your brain and body to think and crave certain foods. Often these foods give you a quick fix. You feel great for 30 minutes, yet an hour later your energy levels are on the floor and you need another hit to keep you going. Sound familiar?
This concept applies to everyone, not just women in pregnancy who are typically associated with an appetite for unusual or inedible substances such as clay, coal or dirt (this type of craving is referred to as ‘pica’ by the way).
ARE YOU CRAVING SUGAR?
One of the most common and documented cravings is, of course, sugar. In recent years, articles in the press have suggested sugar is as addictive as class A drugs. How true is that really? Or, have you been simply making excuses for your lack of willpower? You’ll be glad to know there is more to it than meets the eye.
The brain needs glucose to function – sugar, which comes from carbohydrates. When you’ve got a steady release of glucose into the blood stream throughout the day, this process works as it should. You’re productive, sharp, and full of energy. However, too much of the wrong kinds of sugar can throw things off kileter. Eating something high sugar and high in fat (like donuts, chocolate, cake, biscuits and sweets) triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward and satisfaction. By falling into this trap, you train your brain to think, ‘you need to eat this to help you feel better’. You might use these foods to regulate your mood and lower your stress. But in the long run, this sends you on a rollercoaster – with your energy, your mood, stress levels and sleep. Over time, this rollercoaster can result in the development of chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, inflammation, immune suppression or chronic fatigue.
So, what causes you to crave sugar in the first place? You’re more inclined to eat these kinds of foods when you’re stressed or tired, because your brain is looking for more fuel than it would be when you are relaxed and well nourished.
Sugar also stimulates the release of tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, which in turn produces melatonin helping you get a good night’s sleep. Similarly, woman can be more susceptible to sugar cravings around the time of their menstrual cycle. That might not come as a huge surprise to you…
Studies have shown that higher oestrogen levels are associated with greater levels of the hunger hormone, leptin, which triggers stronger cravings for sugary foods. PMS also causes the stress hormone cortisol to increase and the feel-good hormone serotonin to dip, making you reach for chocolate, chips and sugary snacks to give you a feel-good boost at that time of the month.
Generally, the foods you choose to eat every day can help to regulate or trigger these cravings. Try switching your white bread, pasta, sugary cereals, low fat products and processed foods for lower GL (glycaemic load) alternatives such as wholegrains, pulses, root vegetables and increasing your protein intake at each meal. This can help to regulate the release of glucose into the blood stream. Quality proteins such as eggs, turkey, salmon and nuts and seeds are also rich in tryptophan and tyrosine, which support production of serotonin and dopamine - a much better source than a packet of chocolate digestives or a bag of sweeties. Making the switch to a more wholesome and nourishing alternative may be a much more sustainable approach to healthy weight loss than crazy diets you might be tempted to try.
DO YOU CRAVE SALTY SNACKS?
Sugar doesn’t do it for you? Perhaps you are more inclined to reach for savoury, salty foods; crisps, salted nuts, cheese and biscuits. Generally speaking, this may be a sign that your adrenal glands are under strain, and similar to sugar, that hankering for salt could be attributed to stress, fatigue or PMS. You rely on your adrenals to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline whenever you need it. That might mean meeting that deadline at work, training for a marathon or gearing yourself up for a big presentation.
Like insulin, this is fine and necessary in the short term but chronic demand on the adrenals can result in fatigue and insufficient secretion of other hormones including aldosterone, renin and angiotensin, mineralcorticoids which regulates blood pressure by controlling fluid levels and electrolyte balance in the body.
When your adrenals are tired and don’t produce enough aldosterone, your blood pressure can become low and result in salt cravings and these might be accompanied with other symptoms such as fatigue, excessive thirst, headaches and nausea. If you are experiencing a multitude of these symptoms, a trip to the doctor would be recommended for further investigation.
Don’t read this that I’m suggesting you need to be consuming salt by the bucket load. Too much sodium (the key element in salt) should be avoided as it can tip the hormone balance in the other direction and contribute to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.
Ultimately, it’s about tuning into your own body and how it’s feeling. What signs is it giving you each day?
Working with a Nutritional Therapist like me can be a powerful way of tuning into your own body, equipping you with the knowledge to recognise these signs when they present themselves, and make positive changes to benefit your long-term health and wellbeing. For more information on what this involves, book a free health & wellness check.
How to Switch off the 'hunger hormone'
‘Hormones’. Oestrogen and testosterone are the two that most likely spring to mind, and their role in puberty, libido, the reproductive system. In fact, our bodies produce a whole host of other hormones which play a role in our health and how we function day in day out. Ghrelin, given its name as a ‘growth hormone releasing peptide’, controls hunger, food intake and combined with growth hormone, fat storage.
Stimulated by the cells in our stomach, ghrelin sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain telling our bodies it’s time to eat. Small amounts are also released by the pancreas and the small intestine. The more ghrelin in the bloodstream, the bigger the appetite and likely, the more food you eat. After food, ghrelin levels are decreased as we’re satiated, and they don’t rise again until your body starts looking for more energy.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be wondering how you can keep your levels low. To be clear, ghrelin is not bad. Our hormones are made for a reason - they have a specific job to do in the body. If we weren’t ever hungry, would we take as much joy from the food we eat? How would we know when we’re low on nourishment? How would we function at our optimum?
It’s when they stop working as they should that we can run into trouble. And, our diet and lifestyle choices have a significant impact on this. That doesn’t mean jumping to calorie restriction. Naturally, this will increase your ghrelin levels, potentially lead to overeating and storage of fat. Interestingly, research has shown lower fasting levels of ghrelin in individuals who are overweight, obese or morbidly obese, this suggesting that over time, overeating can decrease sensitivity to the hormone, meaning we lose this essential control mechanism.
However, it’s important to note that ghrelin may be equally as important for weight gain. It’s all about balance. So, we’ve highlighted a few tips here, which will help keep this specific hormone in check and doing its job correctly at both ends of the spectrum.
Fibre slows down our digestion while also keeping our gut bacteria diverse and healthy. Foods high in fibre also tend to be lower in calories and higher in nutrient density meaning you get better bang for your buck when it comes to calorie intake.
Refined and processed foods are high in calories and saturated fat and low in nutrients. As well as spiking your blood sugar for a short period, sending your hunger and energy levels on a rollercoaster, they trigger release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward. We start to associate that short lived high with reward as opposed to the feeling of being nourished and satiated.
Incorporating a portion of lean or vegetable protein into each meal (eggs, oily fish, organic chicken or turkey, tofu, beans and pulses) will slow gastric emptying, keeping you fuller for longer. It will also blunt the insulin spike you get from eating a carbohydrate based meal, preventing the sugar cravings which inevitably follow that initial sugar high.
Studies in animals have shown that exposure to chronic stress increases circulating ghrelin and growth hormone levels (Massachusettes Institute of Technology, 2013). It also interacts with the brain’s reward pathways to increase food intake, creating a vicious cycle where we begin to see food as a comfort during times of stress and anxiety. Incorporate yoga, meditation or breathing into your daily routine, get out for a walk or run in nature, find something that works for you to allow you to live (and eat) more mindfully.
Sleep deprivation has been associated with an increase in ghrelin levels, appetite and hunger comparative to sleeping for longer periods. Aim for 7-9 hours per night, practice good sleep hygiene by limiting screen time, avoiding heavy meals and alcohol before bed, and try to stick to regular sleep and waking up times to regulate the circadian rhythm.
Research in recent years has indicated a link between High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), reduced ghrelin and increased leptin levels. Incorporate some high intensity exercise to your lifestyle each week – circuits, sprints, cycling. Get out and get a sweat on!
If you’re looking for support with weight loss or indeed weight gain, incorporating these diet and lifestyle changes would be a great place to start. It’s important to remember however, that ghrelin is only one of many interrelated factors, which could be impacting on your health and wellbeing. Working with a me would allow you to create a plan specific to your body’s needs and your personal health and fitness goals. For more information on what this involves, contact me.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Ghrelin, a stress-induced hormone, primes the brain for PTSD." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 October 2013.
Boost your Mood
The link between physical health and what you eat is well understood, but did you know that what you eat has a huge impact on your mood and how you feel?
I wonder how we forgot about this connection, because it was common knowledge in times gone by. Way back when (think medieval times), people would eat quince, dates and elderflowers if they were feeling a little blue, and use lettuce and chicory as nature’s tranquilisers.
Modern science has extensively studied the impact on food on mood, and we now understand why food has such a positive (or negative) effect and also which foods we should be eating more (or less) of to support mental health.
Supporting anxiety, stress, depression and other mood disorders is complex, and there’s no one-size-fits all solution. But we know that the right diet and lifestyle plan combined with motivational coaching to help you each step of the way can be an enormous help.
If you have tried to make changes on your own in the past, you’ll understand that having the knowledge is only a very small piece of the puzzle. My signature Mood & Energy programme has been created to help raise your mood, boost your energy and help you get motivated and back to living life to the full, reduce anxiety, and improve your overall wellbeing. To find out more about this programme, contact me