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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How to be kind to your liver

Saturday, January 14, 2012

As the holiday season draws to a close, you may be feeling more relaxed; but your liver may be struggling from indulgences. This amazing but often abused organ spends all its time processing food chemicals, helping ensure your bloodstream’s sugar and fat balance is correct, and breaking down worn out blood cells.

There are many physical signs of a struggling liver. Take a look at your tongue: A yellowy creamy coat, or a ‘scalloping’ pattern around the edges can be signs of a struggling liver. Feeling ‘seedy’, dark circles under your eyes and dull skin can also be signs your liver needs some TLC.

There are two phases in your liver processing: The small, aggressive molecules of caffeine and alcohol push their way to the front of the queue, demanding immediate attention. If your liver has the right amount of processing enzymes on hand, these can be sorted out quickly. If not (if you’ve been over-indulging), the molecules are despatched for another trip around your body, in the hope that by the time they return, your liver has caught up and is ready for them. It’s this processing backlog that gives you a ‘liverish’ feeling.

In phase II all the processing is completed. Toxins are dissolved in bile for disposal with your next meal. There can be another backlog here, if there is a shortage of enzymes. Your liver can produce as many enzymes as it needs, providing the raw materials (vitamins & minerals) are on hand. But if your diet is low in fresh foods, you’re probably low on vitamins and minerals.

If your relationship with your liver has become less than ideal, you can help mend it.  Here’s how:

-          The bile, with all those toxins included, is soaked up by soluble fibre for removal in faeces. If there isn’t enough fibre in your diet, the bile and toxins are simply re-absorbed and returned to your liver for another round of processing. This increases the load on your liver, and you can begin to feel like you’re, well, ‘toxic’.

-          High nutrient foods like fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, legumes, nuts and high quality protein contain the vitamins and minerals your liver needs to process food. Another reason to make a large raw salad part of your day.

-          Fresh vegetable juice can provide a vitamin & mineral ‘boost’, ideal for those who have been over-indulging.

-          A ‘detox’ can easily be achieved through a week without coffee, alcohol, or any food additives, and plenty of fibre. That means a diet of fresh food, high quality protein, and lots of water. Minimise your intake of grains, dairy and sugar.

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Where did that extra weight come from?

Saturday, January 07, 2012

We have all the information at our fingertips. We have access to good quality food, and  fitness training opportunities abound: From fun dancing classes, to social sporting groups, to gyms filled with modern toy-like equipment. And yet, collectively, the modern world seems to find it almost impossible to lose weight and keep it off. What’s going wrong?

Weight tends to creep on gradually, a kilo here and a kilo there, almost imperceptibly, until, shockingly, you have to buy larger clothes. You know that a crash diet may work, but those kilos will bounce back on when you return to ‘normal’ eating. Here are some reasons you may have gained weight:

  • You became malnourished in the vitamins and minerals that help your body create muscle rather than fat. Your body’s ability to build muscle relies on the presence of protein and important minerals that are often lacking in a modern diet full of processed food. Without these substances, your body creates fat instead of muscle.
  • You stopped moving: Perhaps you gave up that regular team sport because of an injury, but never got back to it, or didn’t replace it with another sport. Regular exercise boosts your metabolic rate and promotes the formation of muscle (which will burn energy 24 hours a day).  Your muscle turned to fat, which expends no energy at all to be stored. Goodbye toned shape. Hello flab.
  • Your portion sizes increased: Perhaps you purchased a new dinner set with larger plates, and your  dinner enlarged as well.
  • You began eating mindlessly, because you’re busier. Eating on the run while driving, watching TV, checking emails? It’s hard to hear your stomach shouting “enough - I’m full” when your mind is occupied elsewhere. 
  • You stopped planning ahead for meals, because you’re tired. So you opt for the ‘quick & easy’ instant or take-away meal instead of a home cooked meal. Preparing healthy food does take time. Somehow, the easy meals appear on the table more often, and your waistline is showing the effects of all that extra fat and sugar.
  • You embarked on several crash diets without extra exercise, then returned to ‘normal’ eating, and the kilos returned. With each round of dieting it seems to be harder to lose the weight. It is. You’ve lost a little more muscle with each diet (without exercise, you will lose muscle rather than fat when you withhold calories), and your metabolism is now in ‘starvation’ mode, rigorously sparing every possible calorie in case you ‘starve’ again. Increase your exercise first, then reduce your food intake.
  • You’ve aged, or you’re stressed, so your endocrine system needs support to create metabolism-boosting hormones. Stress and aging seem to promote fat deposits particularly on the abdomen. You may need professional help to address this.

Recognise yourself in any of these? If so, try ‘undoing’ what has been done for more effective, long term weight management.

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Twelve new healthy habits for 2012

Saturday, December 31, 2011

We all make new years resolutions about our health. Any  resolutions you make will be even more effective if they’re specific (a vague goal like ‘get healthy’ is likely to produce only vague results.) To get you on the right track, here are 12 healthy changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle this year. 

  1. Eat a protein-based breakfast that contains fibre too. It takes longer to digest, giving you sustainable energy. Eggs are ideal. A vegetable omelette, poached eggs on baked beans, or savoury mince on toast.
  2. Make legumes part of your life. They’re high in fibre, contain complex carbohydrates and some protein too. As phytoestrogens, they will help balance your hormones. You don’t have to eat heroic quantities: Half a cup of cooked legumes every day is enough. Try some chick peas with your lunchtime salad.
  3. Drink two litres of pure water every day. Just water. You’ll see the change in your skin.
  4. Make fitness training part of your daily routine. Start slow; get help if you need to; but start. Today.
  5. Stop and smell the roses for 30 minutes each day. Activities like meditation ‘switch off’ your stress response, helping you become more resilient to the pressures of modern life.
  6. Enjoy seafood almost every day, especially oily fish like tuna and salmon.  Omega-3 oils are potent anti-inflammatory agents.
  7. Use celtic salt (also known as ‘grey’ or ‘macrobiotic’ salt. ). Its evaporated sea water, full of trace minerals that are routinely removed from table salt.
  8. Stop skipping meals, your metabolism may slow down in response. Especially important for weight loss.
  9. Save cheese for special occasions. This is a high fat, high density food that was originally developed to save people from starvation over snow-bound winters.  We’re not subject to these conditions any longer, so too much cheese will just get deposited on your hips and in your arteries.
  10. Go to bed a little earlier, so you get a full eight hours sleep. Yes, you might need to wrench yourself from the internet, but you’ll be more fun to be around the next day.
  11. Play. Fun and laughter is really good for your wellbeing!
  12. Switch to game meat: Kangaroo, now widely available, has almost no saturated fat, and is high in zinc and iron.

Take on one new health habit each month, and look forward to feeling and looking much healthier by December this year.

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Why to eat real fruit rather than fruit juice

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Is fruit juice part of your daily diet? I’d like to explain why reaching for the real fruit rather than a fruit juice could be better for your health; particularly if you’re on a weight loss program, or working to overcome pre-diabetes.

It’s all about fibre, the buffer between you and the fruit. All fruit contains sugar to a greater or lesser extent (that’s why it tastes sweet). The fibre in the fruit gets in the way of sugar absorption, creating a slower rise in your blood sugar level.  Eat a whole orange and get 4g fibre; juice that orange, discarding the pulp, and get half a cup of orange juice containing only 0.2g of fibre. 

A sudden rise in your blood sugar level feels pretty good, at the time; but without fibre, fat or protein to buffer it, your blood sugar level is likely to dive again soon afterwards as the glucose is pushed into cells by insulin. That feels pretty awful, with brain ‘fog’, sometimes sweating too, and a dive in energy. The technical term is a hypoglycaemic attack, or ‘hypo’ for short.  The cravings for something sweet can be overwhelming; if you eat something sugary like fruit juice, the cycle can start again.

Some people notice that they experience severe mood swings as a result of this energy rollercoaster.

Because it’s faster to drink juice than eat a piece of fruit, you can easily ingest more calories than you intended, and it won’t be as filling. Not useful for weight loss programs. One filling medium sized orange will provide 68 calories. One cup of the juice (requires two oranges to create), without pulp, means double that calorie intake.

Why does your body respond so strongly to sugar? It’s the effect on your brain. This vital organ uses up most of the circulating glucose in your system to feed hard working brain cells. If this supply is threatened (with a low blood sugar level) your brain will create strong cravings for sugar, fast. Because if your brain isn’t functioning, your body doesn’t receive instructions.  Your brain will function best on a steady glucose supply from a diet low in free sugar and high in fibre.

If you drink juice because you find water ‘tasteless’, try adding a wedge of lemon or a small squeeze of lemon juice to your water bottle.

There are occasions where fruit & vegetable juices are actually more valuable: For people who are sick or have a low appetite, because they are so concentrated in nutrients and sugar.  For the rest of us, real fruit is the real thing.

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