Repair Damaged DNA with a Good Nights Sleep!

Scientists have discovered that broken DNA builds up in brain cells in the daytime and repair work reverses the damage only during sleep. I am not surprised by yet another study that shows us how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. The health industry is now obsessed with sleep aids and I believe and expect more remedies will be on the market for many years to come.

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The research goes against the old trend, advocated by many high profile figures in the City and Government, such as Mrs Thatcher, who boasted about sleeping only four hours a night! I have always been suspicious of this view, because as an athlete, I learnt that rest and adequate recovery of the body is essential to optimum performance. I would not expect to perform well in endurance runs, for example, without appropriate rest. I would feel disturbed and foggy, and open to injury. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate properly without stimulants like coffee or tea. It is unsustainable and opens the body to long-term damage to their circadian rhythm, brain and immune systems…

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“Chromosomes are constantly changing shape to allow the cells’ natural repair mechanisms to mend DNA damage at different points. When awake, the repair work cannot keep up with the rate at which damage builds up, but in the calm hours of sleep, the repair mechanisms have a chance to get on top of the job. It’s surprising, because the brain goes into a rest state, but the chromosomes move about twice as much during sleep. There is repair going on in the day, but sleep allows you to catch up.” 

Lior Applebaum – BarIlan University Israel

These types of studies and research further highlight our responsibility to manage our lifestyles in order to maintain our long-term health. Broken DNA can lead to mutations that cause cancer, for example, amongst other illnesses.

“The best thing you can do for your health: sleep well.”

Should You be Calorie Counting to be Healthy?

The quick answer is no, you do not need to calorie count to be healthy. Although it is still pushed as part of a weight loss tool, the way we eat and our understanding of how calories are used in the body has substantially changed. Listed below are a number of factors that render calorie counting as an inferior, outdated health tool:

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  • Food labels underestimate calorie values by as much as 20%! It is difficult to reliability estimate how much one is really eating.

  • Our bodies are more complex than an oven, which is an outdated approach to so-called calorie burning. For example, a sugary drink has less calories than a wholegrain roll but the roll is healthier as it has less of a sugar hit in the body and is more satisfying and nutritious than a sugary drink.

  • Although fat is high in calories, it is essential to maintaining good health and necessary for making our hormones.

  • Calories in carbs can change a lot when they have been cooked, left to go cold, and then reheated before eating – they become a resistant starch, i.e. fibre, which passes through the body rather than being absorbed.

  • There is evidence that the lack of a good night’s sleep causes the body to create more fatty tissue.

  • Some people have intestines up to 50% longer than those with shorter intestines and thus absorb less calories; they release more energy from food and end up putting on less weight.

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One factor that has emerged from a number of studies that is important today in helping us remain healthy is eating natural whole foods. One study has observed that while athletes, for example, do not limit calories (and in my case, tend to eat on demand if I’m doing a lot of running around) they will eat a high volume of natural plant and animal material such as: fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish and meat. They eat real plants, which are high in complex starches, proteins, fibre and healthy fats, rather than food from industrial plants. And of course exercise works synergistically with this type of diet to remain healthy.

Nature’s Gift: Cannabinoids and Foods that Produce a Similar Effect

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This is great news because research offers insight on how we can nourish our endocannabinoid system (a biological system made up of neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and other areas of the central nervous system) with foods already in use. These won’t hurt our pockets or leave us open to some of the toxic effects of THC, which is associated with negative psychoactive reactions in the body if over-used. While I’m not a big advocate of the wide spread use of this plant without supervision - as I have seen mental health deteriorate and destabilise in some friends who are totally convinced its safety - CBD oils and medicines are helping many people and children suffering with long term pain and brain dysfunction. 

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Perhaps we can look at safe alternatives that may produce a similar result; nature really issues its gifts to one plant or species. One finding from studies is that the active ingredient in cannabis, called cannabinoids, acts as ligands that bind to proteins and modulate receptors in the brain throughout the body. There are a few common plants that mimic this biological activity such as the essential oils of Rosemary, Black Pepper, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, Cinnamon and Cloves. Also, Echinacea, as well as the following foods: Truffles and Cacao, Omega-3 fats, Kava and Maca, to list a few. More research along these lines as well as a full breakdown of the components of Cannabis and how it the cannabinoids work in our bodies would be helpful.

Nutritional Powerhouse: Tinned Fish

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Since last year, I’ve noticed a new product in the tinned fish aisle at the local supermarket – skinless, boneless sardines and mackerel! What a shocker… The nutritional value of these powerhouse tins is well documented; they’re packed with protein, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B12 and selenium, all of which help the body to reduce inflammation, build and maintain our bones, and support the nervous system. 

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Without the skin and bones, they are reduced in both the calcium and phosphorus necessary for our bone health. After a search around with producers, I understood that this new variety is meant to replace tinned tuna?! Rather odd, as tuna has a totally different taste and texture. To gain the optimum benefits from your tinned fish, choose the boned and skinned versions. Also, switch to those tinned in spring water if you want to lower calorie intake.

How Healthy is Your Coffee Snack?

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Nowadays nearly everyone has some sort of coffee snack during the working day. We take for granted that we need this fuel to get through the day and milky coffees especially can feel comforting and rewarding. The feeling of a warm take- away coffee in your hand and the oral fixation of constantly sipping on large milky drink is a pleasurable treat any time of the day.

Coffee bars offer a safe relaxed ambience, with comfortable sofas and chilled music: a home away from home. They provide a perfect meeting place, often replacing pubs, or a spot to sit alone, away from the stress of everyday life, allowing you to read a book or connect to free Wi-Fi and work on your laptop.

In the UK we drink 2.5 million cups of coffee a day and 930 million lattes each year, and the biggest growth market is non-dairy milk alternatives. It is interesting to look at how healthy these alternatives actually are.

A recent scan of the milk alternative offerings makes interesting news: milk alternatives such as oat, soya, cashew, almond and coconut milk are a great alternative for vegans and people who are dairy or lactose intolerant, but are not always the healthier option. They still have fats and sugars that can even be higher than in a traditional semi-skimmed latte, and none of them have the amount of naturally occurring micronutrients that are prevalent in milk such as calcium and B-vitamins, B12 in particular. Vitamins and minerals have to be added artificially, i.e. fortified, which is never as easy for the body to absorb.

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Producers of these milks add sugars and fat to replicate the texture and taste of milk. People simply do not realise how many calories they are drinking in these drinks, especially when cream and syrup are added on top.

Not to mention the hit to our pockets - the cost of one latte can be as much as an eye watering £8 in one particular Instagram-ready coffee shop in Central London!  Also, you pay an extra surcharge every time you have an alternative milk substitute… £1 extra.

It is better to see these café bought milky coffees as an occasional treat rather than a daily given. Or, if you must have a shop-bought coffee every day, try to swap for it for an espresso with a little milk and a smattering of sugar and try avoid having a refined flour and sugar-laden snack with it.

Yoga, Meditation and Tai Chi

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A Coventry University study from 2017 recently proved that mind and body activities such as yoga, meditation and Tai Chi, can actually affect molecular changes in DNA, which can reverse stress and anxiety. They affect our telomeres, which govern how our DNA behaves in our bodies.  These can shorten and die because of stress and emotional trauma and as a natural part of the ageing process. These mind body practices lengthen our telomeres and allow them to recover. When people perform these techniques they are repairing their DNA!

For me, the above research is simply another case of science finally catching up and proving that some ancient practices are very beneficial.  Over the past 10 years, there has been a shift in the status of science being a creator of truth and knowledge. Science often changes its mind and does U-turns on what it says from one year to the next: advice on fats, carbohydrates, and sugar has yo-yoed, resulting in a lot of confusion. People are sometimes removing foods out of fear that they are damaging, only to find out that later they are proven beneficial.

We need to accept and be aware that because something has not been proven scientifically today, does not mean it will not be proven later on.

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Doctors now recommend and even provide practices like Hypnotherapy and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) after science bad-mouthed these same therapies previously. The advent of brain scans and other imaging technology has helped to prove the effectiveness of meditation and neuroplasticity in the brain, meaning the brain can constantly grow and change.

With this in mind, it will be interesting to see when the data comes to light on the effects of radiation from Wi-Fi on our bodies and brains from mobile phones and computers, when some countries and states in the USA have already banded new 5G networks…

Weight Lifting for Later Life

A recent study at the University of Dublin showed conclusively how important it is to do resistance training later in life, combined with eating more protein. They recommended 20-25 minutes of resistance exercises 3-4 times a week along with a high protein diet

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As we age, our muscle tissue deteriorates so much that we eventually cannot support our skeleton. Mobility problems in our joints, such as hips and knees and shoulders, often occur due to a lack of muscle tissue support.

From our 30s onwards, it is a good idea to build a good solid muscular system, which goes against the long-established trend of being skinny or thin. Today, there are more athletic body images for both sexes - natural curves are considered attractive, unlike in the nineties and early 2000s, when the cult of skinny ruled. Thinness is often a lack of lean, dense muscle tissue which can cause serious health issues later in life.

To fully experience the most of life in older age, enjoy traveling, dancing and playing with the grandchildren as it is very important to not be restricted by mobility problems. Weight bearing or resistance training actually builds the bone as well as the muscle, which we need to continue building and repairing for our whole lives. Resistance training speeds up the growth and development of bone and muscle tissue when our natural growth hormone eventually diminishes. Weight bearing exercise is also particularly important for women with oestrogen related bone loss during the menopause.

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You can do some form of resistance exercise whatever your age – you do not need to go to a gym. Start at home or with a local group. Aqua aerobics is a great way for older people to take the weight off their joints, while still providing resistance.

Equally, it is important to eat the right diet to support muscle growth. This does not mean a restrictive diet, but rather, an inclusive diet, ensuring that we get plenty of good proteins, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats; protein is especially important. The symbiotic relationship between exercise and protein means that it is essential you embrace both to build muscle tissue.

Another recent study at Oxford University proved that healthy dairy foods are a really good way of feeding muscle tissue as you get older, because they are high in quality protein and calcium.

Deep Breathing to Combat Stress and Enhance Exercise Performance

We only use a small amount of our lung capacity in everyday life. In order for us to keep our lungs healthy, we should practice deep breathing to oxygenate our blood, which supplies nutrients to our entire body. Oxygen is a fuel in its own right for our bodies and the brain:

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-       Our lungs take in oxygen, burning food and releasing energy through a process called oxidation, which eliminates the carbon dioxide produced

-       Oxygen helps to destroy harmful bacteria in our bodies without removing the good bacteria that we need

-       All the metabolic processes in our bodies are regulated by oxygen! It makes the brain more powerful and stable, allowing it to process lots of information every second.

Anxiety and stress shorten our breathing pattern, so conscious deep breathing is recommended as it relaxes both our body and mind, slowing down our hurried pace and helping to stop the mind racing.

If you do not meditate or practice a deep breathing technique every day, exercise is the best way to improve your lung health and is very accessible to anyone without having to learn an addition skill. The more activity you do, the more oxygen is required by the body to aid performance, allowing the body to work more efficiently which leads to better results.

So, no matter the activity, dancing, swimming, walking, running or at rest, one of the best techniques is breathing from your diaphragm - breathing in through the nose and mouth, filling the stomach area with air then slowly exhaling as the stomach reduces. However, we need to clear our lungs of pollutants in urban areas and should be careful of the air we breathe... 

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When feeling anxious or stressed, diaphragm breathing can help to clear your head and release tension. When lifting weights, it can help you to lift more and exert more force with less effort. If you are running, you should aim to stabilise your breathing pattern, whereas when stretching you need to aim for extra-long inhales and exhales to help you to relax and lengthen muscle tissue.

The Carbohydrate Myth – Are Carbs Bad to Eat?

With the backlash against so-called “clean eating”, where whole food groups are labelled good and bad, a more common-sense anti-fad approach has been gaining strength.

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 Not only are these fads depriving us of necessary nutrients, at their worst they can be downright dangerous. Without carbs for fuel, in extreme cases, the body becomes catabolic, meaning it starts to break down lean muscle tissue for food.

Carbs are an excellent energy source for us. If our bodies need to use fat or protein, it takes longer for the body to convert these to energy. Good, healthy carbs are brain and mood food. However, make sure to control your portion size if you wish to reduce your weight leading into the spring and summer

I am advocating the use of low GI foods, which are highly nutritious: high-fibre whole foods such as organic brown basmati rice, sweet potatoes with the skin on, and small amounts of whole grain pasta. Always add a bit of fat to slow down the break-down of sugar in the body. Also, oats, which can be eaten as savoury or sweet, are excellent for providing fuel.

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Remember, many vegetables, nuts and beans have medium to high levels of carbs, so we are already eating carbs when we eat these foods too!

If you are a working mum or in a high-powered job, or even partaking in sports, you would not imagine eating starchy foods as they do not harm the body, especially if you need fuel to perform. We a need balance of all food groups. Fermented breads such as sourdough are great because they help good bacteria in the gut.

 

Top Tip - Resistant Starch

Place a bowl of cooked starches (pasta, sweet potatoes, rice) in the fridge and cool down, reheat and eat later in the day – this causes the starch to become more resistant and fibrous, which increases your fibre intake. Great for the brain and your mood!

Fake Meat - The Emperor’s New Clothes?

Are we being conned into believing that fake meat is good for us? Did you start the New Year with Veganuary, believing that it was the healthy option?

With new vegan brands popping up all the time and all the supermarkets now offering a vegan range, it should be cause for celebration – but the big question remains: are their ranges any better for our health or are they just a cynical marketing ploy?

While offering ready made vegan food will make it easier and more tempting to become vegan, and the new dirty vegan food trend means you don’t have to give up those burgers, pizzas and sausage rolls you love; are we creating more health problems with a high carbohydrate-dominated diet?

Not only are most of these foods processed, stripping many of the original nutrients out, they often consist of refined wheat and gluten.  Also, the benefits and risks of genetically modified soya protein are still a controversial subject.

We know that processed meat is bad for us and can cause cancer, but all processed food consumed in large amounts can be bad for us. The more food we cook from scratch the better.

Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Burger

Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Burger

I think the main three reasons for becoming vegan are:

  1. Ethical and moral

  2. The welfare of animals and environmental concerns, health

  3. The belief that a vegan diet is naturally healthier for the body.

However, the current trend has all the hallmarks of a fad diet and the usual culprits have jumped on the bandwagon, including many celebrities we admire; it is the new salvation diet that we can try and will often discard after the novelty has worn off.  

Veganism can be a healthy lifestyle that is kind to animals and the environment, but vegans must not underestimate the need to eat enough sources of natural protein and the quantity they need to eat to replace certain proteins, good fats, iron, B12, and vitamin D that is abundant in animal sources because  supplements are not as easily absorbed by the body as whole food.

Jackfruit, the latest trendy meat alternative that has a shredded meaty texture and is sold as high in protein, cannot compete with a like sized portion of chicken with 3 grams of protein to 20 grams in chicken. With a jackfruit pizza, for example, although it has nutritional benefits, it is loaded with quick-acting carbs from the fruit and refined carbs in the pizza without the balance of protein you would get from cheese or meat. Many fast food outlets offering vegan food use Seitan, a protein made from wheat gluten, which is an issue for many people. 

Vegan alternatives are expensive too; a classic case is the infamous cauliflower steak, for instance, where a restaurant charged the same as they charged for a quality beefsteak, although the cost was less than a quarter of the price! 

At the end of the day the solution is the same. The tried and tested diet of cooking from scratch as much as possible, getting a healthy balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, good fats, vitamins, and minerals whether you are a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan – a healthy diet is all about variety and balance.

Ways to De-Stress Your Day

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Thank you very much to Slim, Fit & Healthy for featuring my advice in an article about reducing stress in the day!

‘We can be tempted to eat fats, refined carbs and sugary foods when it is cold outside and we are feeling sluggish. This not only creates weight gain, but reaching for these foods will only make us crash after the initial energy rush, creating a vicious cycle’

To read the rest of the article, go here!