Sub-lethal poisons in food
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Get Your Daily Dose of Poison – Seriously!

Sub-lethal poisons in foodIn my last post I wrote about the fact that the marketing and hype around taking antioxidant supplements is not supported by the research – and that numerous research studies show that taking anti-oxidant supplements (especially individual supplements) may actually cause us harm – partly by down-regulating our own natural antioxidant defence system.

However, it’s important to differentiate between supplements and real food – fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of anti-oxidants, and they have them in a complex cocktail that is necessary to sustain life.

There are quite a few researchers who question whether the quantity of antioxidants in fruit and vegetables is enough to have a significant physiological effect in humans, and that the antioxidant defence model has been massively oversimplified. I (and many others) feel that we should be talking much less about anti-oxidants and much more about plant botanicals, or phytochemicals, in general.

Polyphenols are a sub-class of phytochemicals and some of them act as antioxidants (improving cell survival through complex mechanisms), whereas some act as pro-oxidants.

As we have over-egged (and over-simplified) the antioxidant story, I want to focus on the pro-oxidant story, which is really a story of hormesis in action. Remember from earlier posts that hormesis is the stress resistance that comes from sub-lethal exposures to toxins that would be lethal at higher doses.

It turns out that sub-lethal exposure to pro-oxidants in fruit & veg up-regulates protectives genes (increases gene expression), which not only increases our powerful anti-oxidant defence systems, but can also prevent tumor growth.

Let’s take the cells of our brain, known as neurons, and investigate how hormetic plant chemicals can protect against Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

WARNING – geeky science bit inbound!! – It is known that Galantamine (from the snowdrop plant) increases levels of an important neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (which is reduced by AD). Cathechinsfrom Tea, Caffeine from tea & coffee, and Capsaicin from capsicums/peppers help this acetylcholine to release calcium ions in the other neurons (which is how the brain works). Inside the neurons, the plant TOXINS Sulphoraphane (from brocolli), Curcumin(from the spice tumeric), Resveratrol (from grapes – and wine!) and Allumin(from onions and garlic) all help to increase the expression of protective genes, which produce growth factors as well as our endogenous anti-oxidants that combat the cellular stresses that create the damaged proteins that are teh hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease.

This is not a process that is exclusive to the brain – it happens in all of our cells and it turns out that the vast array of plant phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables play critical roles in cellular metabolism.

There are a long list of phytochemicals that have been broken down into numerous sub-classes (such as Flavenoids, isoflavones, Lignans and Cartenoids) and studies have shown that these plant phytochemicals protect us against Aging, Cardiovascular Diseases, Diabetes, Cancer and Brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases.

The bottom line – eat real foods that we have co-existed with for millions of years, rather than eating a diet with significant processed foods and trying to off-set it with chemically manufactured supplements.

Lastly, remember that hormesis is about a sub-lethal exposure and that although many plant phytochemicals are great for our health, overconsumption of some of these can have both beneficial and harmful effects – soy isoflavines being one example. Eating a varied diet rich in fruit and veg will help keep you healthy –partly by exposing you to small doses of poison!

Resilience of People
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That which does not kill us …

In the late 1800’s, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

It is a phrase often used to explain the resilience of people who have endured hardships. It turns out that it certainly contains more than a grain of truth.

My interest in this subject arose from undergoing a course called Air 427 in 1998, whilst serving as an officer in the British Armed Forces. The course was 10 days of rigorous combat survival and resistance to interrogation training, which involved walking 100’s of km over 10 days, with very little sleep due to sleeping rough in freezing conditions, and the only food over the entire 10 days was a chicken between 4 people – and it was alive when we got it. To ramp up the pressure, the final 5 days was an ‘escape and evasion’ phase, where we were to evade a Hunter Force that was equipped with helicopters, vehicles and dog teams.

At the end of the 10 days we underwent interrogation training, which consisted of alternating bouts of highly uncomfortable stress positions (blindfolded while exposed to very loud ‘white noise’), with interrogations of increasing intensity.

Once the course was over, the first thing that struck me was that I had a new-found appreciation for things that I took for granted – as well as the obvious such as food, shelter and warmth, there were lots of little things that I appreciated much more, such as a toothbrush, clean underwear and toilet paper!

It wasn’t until a few weeks and months later that I noticed something more long lasting – my view of what was stressful had completely changed and my resilience was greatly enhanced. I realised that this phenomenon was very well explained by knowledge from my first Masters Degree in Sports Science – that of training adaptation. Exposing the body to training stresses, such as sprinting or lifting heavy weights, induces changes in gene expression which result in a an adaptive response – and the body ultimately becoming bigger, faster, stronger.

This knowledge led to me reframing potential stress in my life as something that would make me stronger. When I left the Armed Forces and became more of an academic I looked deeper into the research in this area, and that is when I uncovered a topic that has real relevance to many areas of our life – that of hormesis.

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect results from low doses of a stressor or toxin that a higher doses is harmful or even lethal. As you will see over the next few blogs, we can harness this biological phenomenon in a systematic and deliberate way to improve many aspects of our health and move us beyond resilience to being what I call ‘stress adapted’.

If you choose to adapt the hermetic lifestyle, you will likely be changing how you eat, what supplements you take, how you exercise and your view of stress to enhance production of protective genes and enzymes that will protect you against disease and increase your lifespan.

I’ll explore how anti-oxidant supplements can be bad for you, the truth about why vegetables are good for you, and the best type of exercise for health.

This is not the lifestyle equivalent of a fad diet, but the application of years of research into areas as adverse as gene expression, exercise adaptation, dietary polyphenols, ageing, resilience, toxicology, radiation, immunotherapy and special forces training – all under the same fascinating umbrella called hormesis.

Grains in your diet
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For or Against the Grain?

There is so much in the media and the blogosphere about cutting out grains and living a life similar to that of the caveman through a Paleo diet. Although some of the claims of the Paleo community don’t stand up to good scientific scrutiny, there are many people who have seen incredible results including weight loss, reversal of Type 2 diabetes and autoimmune conditions, energy increases and more by adapting a Paleo diet.

However, we are not here to advocate giving up grains. If you can tolerate them (and lots of people can) then there is little reason to give them up. Our approach at Ritualize has long been to eat grains sparingly, putting more emphasis instead on other nutrient dense foods via the 80/20 Food Pyramid (see below). It’s interesting to note that nutrition Australia has very recently released a new food pyramid which is moving towards the 80/20 food pyramid by putting vegetables at the bottom rather than grains (we still think they have some work to do J).

Let’s talk about what we at Ritualize believe when it comes to eating grains:

In traditional cultures, grains are soaked and some sprouted before baking with them – as are beans and lentils. Even our grandmothers soaked oats before they made porridge. However, modern lifestyles have demanded that everything be instant, so we now skip that process. The thinking behind the soaking of grains (as well as beans and lentils) is that it makes them easier to digest, and removes some substances that the Paleo community refer to as ‘anti-nutrients’. If you think about it, grains are seeds, so in nature they don’t want to be digested, they want to be planted! The plants probably created these ‘anti-nutrients’ within them to make them difficult to digest, which would persuade creatures not to eat them. There are also certain compounds that stop the active enzyme activity of germination. So, if grains are soaked for a certain period of time, the sprouting process is started, which helps you digest them more readily – and makes them more nutrient dense.

In ‘western diets’, we consume far too much of 3 crops – wheat (in breads, cereals, pasta, etc., etc.), corn and soy (mostly through vegetable oils in processed foods). There are many ways to make better choices when it comes to grains and carbs in general. Eat a variety of natural, unprocessed grains, such as quinoa (strictly a seed), barley, cous-cous and oats. Wild rice, for instance, has almost twice the amount of fibre as brown rice. If you cook potatoes, cool them before eating. This increases levels of resistant starch, which bypasses the small intestines and goes straight through to the large intestines, where it feeds your good bacteria. There is now evidence that if you cook rice with a tablespoon of coconut oil, then cool it right down, the resistant starch is increased and the calories are decreased by 50-60% – that’s a win on 2 fronts!

And what about bread? I think even the most loyal of Paleo followers must crave a piece of toast at some stage (ok, maybe not, but many of us do). There are many grain-free bread recipes out there, but if you are eating wheat bread, we highly recommend buying authentic sourdough bread made the artisan way. The gluten, which is very high is mainstream breads, is consumed away in the 12+ hour fermentation process, so much so that up to 90% of the gluten is gone by the time and bread is baked. Not only that, it’s delicious! Next time you’re buying a loaf, consider spending a little more and get a true artesian sourdough bread, which you will find them at most good deli’s and farmers markets.

The bottom line is that Government guidelines have traditionally promoted unprocessed whole grains for their fibre intake, but most of the grains that we eat are the highly processed, nutrient depleted type. Instead of this, follow the Low HI (Human Interference) principles of our 80/20 food pyramid and get your fibre and resistant starch from vegetables and fruit, soaked beans and lentils and a moderate amount of unprocessed whole grains in different varieties – and prepare and cook in a way that optimises their health value.

Benefits of eggs in your diet
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What a good egg!

Eggs have had gone from good to bad and now back to good.  They are a great source of protein and good fats (if you buy free range eggs). Eating eggs for breakfast keeps you fuller for longer, so you eat less throughout the day, which can lead to weight loss. They are also good for your brain!

Don’t worry about the cholesterol as it has a minimal effect on your blood cholesterol and the link between blood cholesterol and heart disease has been completely over blown. Free range eggs have more Omega 3’s and higher in nutrition than cage eggs (plus they are happier chooks!).

Eggs are easy and versatile, so start eating them for breakfast and see what a difference it makes to your day!

HIIT and Endurance training
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Exercise for Maximum Reward in Minimum Time

This week we’re going to talk about HIIT, or high intensity interval training. HIIT is on the rise and for very good reasons – firstly, traditional endurance training is known being shown to be bad for our health when performed excessively (more on that in the next blog), and HIIT training has been shown to improve many of the same things as traditional endurance training, with some extra benefits – and all in a fraction of the time. HIIT has been shown to:

  • increase aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • reduce blood pressure
  • increase mitochondrial biogenesis (the ‘powerhouses’ of your cells)
  • improve cardiovascular health
  • enhance insulin sensitivity, protecting against diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease
  • improve cholesterol profiles
  • reduce abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass
  • burn more calories in less time than traditional workouts

HIIT involves repeated bouts of high intensity effort followed by varied recovery times. The intense work periods may range anywhere from 10 seconds to 8 minutes long, and are usually performed at high intensity (see below for more detail). The recovery period usually lasts for less time than the work periods and are either total rest or low intensity exercise (see below) and the workout continues with the alternating work and relief periods, usually taking anywhere from 8 to 60 minutes.

Why is HIIT Training so Popular?

HIIT training can easily be modified for people of all fitness levels and special conditions, such as overweight and diabetes. HIIT workouts can be performed on all exercise modes, including various forms such as resistance training (using weights or bodyweight), traditional cardio training (cycling, swimming, running etc.) or a combination of all of them.

HIIT workouts give you a much better ‘bang for your buck’ because they tend to burn more calories than traditional workouts, especially after the workout. This critical post-exercise period is called “EPOC”, which stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which means that you continue to burn extra calories for a couple of hours as your body restores itself to pre-exercise levels. Now, that’s good news!

HIIT also leads to much quicker metabolic adaptations, which are driven by upregulated gene expression in response to the intense work. What does that mean? Basically, the body realises that it needs to ‘up it’s game’ and responds accordingly. So if you do long duration steady state runs, your body will respond appropriately. Up the intensity, and the body ups its’ response.

Practical Guidelines for HIIT?

Before you do a HIIT program, consider the duration, intensity, and frequency of the work intervals and the length of the recovery intervals. If you know your max heart rate, ≥ 80% is your desired target, or use a ‘perceived exertion’ of between 7 and 9 on a 10-point scale. Using the talk test as your guide, that range of 7 to 9 goes from ‘it’s difficult to carry on this conversation’ to ‘I can’t talk right now’! The interval should either be rest (for shorter workouts), or 40-50% of your estimate maximal heart rate (around 3 to 5 out of 10) for longer work periods. This would be a physical activity that felt very comfortable, in order to help you recover and prepare for your next work interval.

The relationship of the work and recovery interval is important. Many studies use a specific ratio of exercise to recovery to improve the different energy systems of the body. For example, a ratio of 1:1 might be a 3-minute hard work (or high intensity) bout followed by a 3-minute recovery (or low intensity) bout. These 1:1 interval workouts often range about 3, 4, or 5 minutes followed by an equal time in recovery.

Another popular HIIT training protocol is called the “spring interval training method”. With this type of program the exerciser does about 30 seconds of ‘sprint or near full-out effort’, which is followed by 3 to 4.5 minutes of recovery. This combination of exercise can be repeated 3 to 5 times. These higher intensity work efforts need to be shorter bouts, but can increase up to 60 seconds as you get fitter.

One of our favourite ways to do HIIT workouts at Ritualize is ZUU HIITS – these a variety of bodyweight exercises that we program in a certain sequence (targeting different muscle groups) so that you keep the intensity high without having to stop due to muscle fatigue. Check out Ritualize for these ZUU exercises and try using a work:rest ratio of 20:15 seconds (for beginners), increasing up to 30:10 work:rest for 12 exercises for advanced. That will give you a supercharged 8-minute workout (shown at Ritualize.com under the exercise section) that targets all of your muscles (including ones you didn’t know you had), has a high cardiovascular load (as it’s anaerobic), uses strength throughout range of motion, and increases mobility – no other workout that we know of does this!

How Many Times a Week Can You do a HIIT Workout?

HIIT workouts are more exhaustive then steady state endurance workouts. Therefore, a longer recovery period is often needed. Perhaps start with one HIIT training workout a week, with your other workouts being steady state workouts. As you feel ready for more challenge, add a second HIIT workout a week, making sure you spread the HIIT workouts throughout the week.

A Word of caution!

If you have been living asedentary lifestyles or haven’t been exercising regularly, make sure you get a check-up before starting HIIT training. A family history of heart disease, cigarette smoking, hypertension, diabetes (or pre-diabetes), abnormal cholesterol levels and obesity will increase the risks.

Prior to beginning HIIT training, it’s a good idea to create a base fitness level by doing some more traditional steady state exercise such as running, or only reaching about 60-70% of your maximum intensity during the work periods. Safety in participation should always be primary priority, and you should focus more on finding your own optimal training intensity, rather than trying to keep up with others.

It’s a good idea to go through the Pre-exercise screening questionnaire on the link below – especially if you are over 40 or haven’t been exercising regularly!

Benefits Good Fats in your Diet
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Let’s Chew the Fat

Most of us have had it drummed into us that fat is bad and we should only be eating food low in fat to prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a host of other preventative diseases. However, does the evidence reflect the guidelines we have grown up on? To look at this properly, we need to go back in time and look at the story of saturated fat.

The thinking that saturated fat is bad for you originated from one man in the US – Ancel Keys. He had a hypothesis that high cholesterol caused heart disease, and that because fat (especially saturated fat) increases cholesterol, it must be the driver of heart disease. I will write much more about that story in another blog, but suffice it to say that he got a large amount of Cardiologists and Government agencies on board by publishing studies from 6 countries (and later a 7tth), showing a strong association between fat intake and heart disease.

However, there are 2 major flaws with this:

  1. Association does not mean causation – we now know that cholesterol does not cause heart disease per se, and that cholesterol is raised if you are chronically stressed or have systemic inflammation – both more direct contributors to heart disease.
  2. Most importantly, his research was fraudulent! He actually studied 22 countries, but because the data did not fit his theories, he cherry-picked the 6 countries whose data best fit his theory. This is the complete opposite of good science.

There are also a lot of flaws with subsequent studies that came out to show a link between saturated fat and heart disease, such as researcher bias, publication bias, poor study design, the possible inclusion of harmful trans fats under the saturated fat umbrella, and a poor understanding of the metabolic drivers of heart disease.

Now that we have a better understanding of the metabolic drivers behind heart disease, and having completed some better designed studies, lots of researchers are now saying that the current government guidelines on fat intake do not reflect the evidence. We now understand much better that total cholesterol does not cause heart disease and even LDL is not a good measure; and that HDL is even more protective than we once thought.

What is emerging are the dangers of oxidised LDL, small dense LDL particles, high triglycerides as well as low HDL and other factors like inflammation, high blood pressure, central obesity and diabetes. These are all independent risk factors, and when you get combinations of them it points towards metabolic dysregulation at a cellular level.

From a cholesterol perspective, what we now know is you should strive to have as high a level of HDL as possible and minimise your oxidised LDL and small, dense LDL – big fluffy LDL are not pathogenic and shouldn’t be of any concern. You should also keep your triglycerides and blood sugar under control.

Your diet has a big impact on all of these, so let’s discuss the interactions between fat, carbohydrate and these risk factors.

The Fat Story

When we’re talking about fats, we know that monosaturated fats are actually very good for heart and brain health. Recommended examples are extra virgin olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, any nut oils (except peanut) and unsalted, raw nuts.

Saturated (SFA) fats have been unfairly demonised. As I mentioned above, they increase your level of protective HDL and encourage big, fluffy LDL and do not induce damaging, small sense LDL . So, a moderate amount of saturated fats is perfectively fine. Don’t worry about the fat in dairy either – eat a moderate amount of full fat dairy, eat fat on meat (as long as it’s grass fed) and coconut. Avoid processed fats, trans fats and vegetables oils – stick to stuff low on the human interference factor and you’ll be ok.

With this in mind, here is a list of great cooking fats, which we cook with regularly in our family. If you’re going to fry foods, especially at high temperatures, you should be using saturated fats, as they don’t become oxidised. So this list is good, not just because they’re safe to cook with, but also because they taste so good!

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

This should be your go to fat for sautéing and medium temperature cooking. Whilst normal olive oil has a smoke point of 140 degrees, extra virgin is 210 degrees – and it also maintains most of it’s polyphenol content after frying, so is the healthiest fat to use. As well as this, when you sautee vegetables in EVOO, there is a chemical reaction that creates a class of fatty acids known as nitric fats, which are protective for your heart and brain. Make sure it is cold-pressed, as heat-pressed oils can already be oxidised. But be aware some of the polyphenols will deteriorate at temperatures of around 150-160 degrees celsius, so for higher temperatures, you should use saturated fats.

Ghee

Ghee is clarified butter, and it’s popular in Indian cooking. Because the milk solids have been removed, it’s very low in lactose and is almost entirely fat – mostly saturated. Use ghee to brown meat, top a few teaspoons on a roast and add to roast pumpkin or sweet potato. A tablespoon of ghee contains 8g SFA, 3.7g MFA fat and 0.5g PUFA.

Coconut oil

Along with ghee, coconut oil is one of the best fats to cook with because it’s almost entirely saturated. In fact, coconut oil is more than 90% saturated fat. While this makes it the devil according to the government guidelines, this is not the case. Coconut oil has some unique properties. It is a special type of saturated fat called medium chain triglyceride (MCT). Unlike other fats, MCTs do not require bile acids for digestion. This means they are easily absorbed in the upper part of the small intestine. Coconut oil is also rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid found in breast milk that is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral. We are known to eat it my the spoonful! Mix it with almond or macadamia nut butter for some added goodness. Coconut oil has 4g of SFA, 0.3g of MFA

Lard

Lard is very popular in cooking and baking because it has little flavour. It’s an incredibly versatile fat and can be used to brown meat and roast vegetables. Unlike olive oil, vegetables roasted in lard do not get soggy or greasy, but stay crisp with a wonderful flavour. A tablespoon of lard has about 6g MFA, 5g SFA and 1.6g PUFA.

Duck fat

Potatoes roasted or fried in duck fat…. divine! Before rancid, industrial oils appeared, the French cooked their fries in duck fat!. Roast your veggies or home made chips in duck fat and you’ll discover why the French love it so much. A tablespoon of duck fat has 6 g MFA, 4 g LCSFA and 1.6 g PUFA.

Butter

Good quality, grass fed butter has an amazing taste and despite it being demonised, it’s very good for you. It is full is vitamin A, E and K2 (the latter involved in calcium metabolism). It is a great fat to put on fish, low heat scramble eggs in or slow cooked stews. Butter has a lower smoke point than the other fats, which makes it less suitable for high temperature cooking and it burns easily. A tablespoon of butter contains 7.2g of SFA, 2.9g of MFA and 0.4g of PUFA.

A Word on Commercial Vegetable Oils

In our house we avoid these like the plague as they are high in Omega 6 fats. Whilst some Omega 6 fats are necessary for good health, at higher amounts they start to trigger dangerous inflammation at a cellular level. We get sufficient Omega 6 fats from eating vegetables, but using vegetable oil for cooking is, in my opinion, one of the worst health recommendations we have made. Commercial food processing destroys a significant amount of essential fatty acids, and polyunsaturated oils (Omega 3 and 6) are unstable and very quickly become rancid. Oxidized fatty acids are dangerous to our health, and unless you buy cold-pressed oils, the actual process of expelling the oils using heat (to get it out of the plant in the first place) will cause oxidisation.

The bottom line is to eat food that is real and cut right down on processed foods. This includes your fats. The best thing you can do today is throw away your margarine and your vegetable oils and replace with the fats listed above. You are doing this for your health and your tastebuds!

Benefits of the cruciferous family
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Welcome the cruciferous family to your life

What do broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy have in common?

They’re all members of the cruciferous, or cabbage family of vegetables. And they all contain phytochemicals, vitamins minerals and fibre that are important to your health.  Two big benefits to consider is that they may help reduce your risk of getting cancer and oxidative stress (which can lead to cancer).

There are many delicious ways to cook these super veggies, so if you have childhood memories of soggy Brussels sprouts or smelly, overcooked broccoli, forget the past, open your mind and get cooking!  They will soon become a daily addition to your plate and a massive benefit to your health.

 

Importance of Gut Bacteria in Your Diet
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Love your guts…

There is more and more research coming out on the importance of gut bacteria on our health and well being.  The bacteria in our intestines outnumber our cells by 10 to 1, which means we are more bug than human!  The gut is now being described as a second brain, with more than 100 million neurons.  Even happiness can stem from your gut.  In fact, 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, so if you’re bugs aren’t happy, then neither will you be!  Gut bacteria is negatively affected through poor lifestyle choices, such as processed foods, many vegetable and seed oils, alcohol and stress to name a few.

Working towards a healthy gut is about making healthy choices.  Fermented vegetables (found at many health food shops, or homemade) are full of good bacteria to help populate your gut.  You can feed your bugs on what’s called resistance starch from things like beans, cooled cooked potatoes and certain forms of fibre.  Vinegar is also great for your gut bacteria, so make your salad dressings from extra virgin olive oil and balsamic or apple cider vinegar.