THE BLOG

20
Jun

You are what your gut bacteria eat

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By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

You’ve heard the saying “You are what you eat” a thousand times. But have you ever thought about what the trillions of bacteria that inhabit your gut might be eating, and how this impacts on your health?

Your gut microbiome is comprised of roughly 500-1000 species of bacteria, whose combined numbers run into the trillions, outnumbering your own cells; along with fungi, yeasts, archaea and viruses.

In case you’re feeling a little grossed out by the idea that your insides are teeming with ‘foreign’ life forms, consider this: even your own cells contain bacteria DNA. The tiny mitochondria inside most of your cells, which produce the energy that you need in order to think, move yourself around, make hormones, digest food, excrete wastes, and do all the other activities your body engages in on a daily basis, are thought to have originated from bacteria that were incorporated into the cells of very early life forms. The way our mitochondria carry out their metabolic functions still betrays signs of their bacterial ancestry (1). We truly are more ‘bug’ than human!

But back to those bacteria that inhabit your gut. It turns out that each person has a bacterial profile that is quite unique to them – like a fingerprint. However, while the proportions of various different species may vary quite substantially from one individual to the next, all humans’ microbiomes can be broadly classified into two categories: a microbiome dominated by Prevotella species, and a microbiome dominated by Bacteroides species (2).

‘So what?’, you might be asking at this point. Well, for starters, having more Bacteroides overall, or more of certain Bacteroides species in your colon, is associated with a higher risk of developing bowel cancer (3), type 1 diabetes (4) and coeliac disease (5).

The good news is that you have an amazing degree of control over the dominant type of bacteria you grow in your gut. It all comes down to what you put in your mouth. You see, only a certain proportion of the food you eat nourishes you. The remainder – the parts of the food that are either indigestible, or that escape digestion; as well as the byproducts of your own digestion of food – feeds your gut bacteria.

Eat a diet high in fat, and you will end up with a Bacteroides-dominant enterotype, as these bacteria thrive on the bile acids produced in order to digest fat. Unfortunately, the bacteria metabolise those bile acids into compounds that are strongly implicated as causes of bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (6, 7).

Eat a diet rich in carbohydrate, and Prevotella species will happily ferment the indigestible residues in your colon, producing short chain fatty acids, including butyrate, that protect against cancer and IBD (8).

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Even more remarkable, your gut microbiome begins to shift within just 24 hours of changing your diet in either direction (9). Starve those bile acid-eating Bacteroides by reducing your fat intake, and they will drop off pretty rapidly; feed your Prevotella with the fibre and resistant starch from legumes, vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts, and they will begin replicating at a rapid rate, ‘squeezing out’ unfavourable bacteria.

This has powerful implications for those already suffering from a microbiome-related condition, such as IBD or bowel polyps, and also for people who are genetically at higher risk of such conditions: Researchers investigating the link between gut bacteria and type 1 diabetes, found that the sudden up-swell of the implicated Bacteroides species preceded development of the disease by about 8 months, and that it occurred at the time that solid foods were introduced (10).

The types of foods that babies are weaned onto may have long-term implications for their health, with Western-style dietary patterns dominated by animal products and fibreless refined carbohydrates, establishing an enterotype that sets us up for Western-style diseases.

In my own practice, I’ve seen remarkable recoveries from supposedly incurable conditions such as ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis, in clients who have adopted the low fat, high nutrient, wholefood plant-based diet that I prescribe. Until a couple of years ago, I always attributed these recoveries to an increased intake of antioxidants, decreased triggering of the immune system by antigen cross-reactivity, and other factors involving the interaction of food components with our human cells.

Since the explosion of research on the human microbiome and its effect on our health, I now know there are other mechanisms contributing to the dramatic improvements in health that result from adopting a wholefood plant-based diet, that are mediated by the teeming colonies of invisible life forms that make our bodies their home.

Whether or not you’re a nerd like me who is fascinated by every detail of the microbiome, here’s what you need to know: If you look after your gut microbiome, it will look after you!

12
May

Refusal Skills When Offered Non-Vegan Food

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by Jess Ang

A lot of us find it really tough to say “no”, and if we do manage to say it, we sometimes feel ridiculously guilty. We are social creatures and the potential to upset others or face disapproval from those we care about (or even from people who we don’t know very well) can lead us to accept things we would have preferred to decline.

As most people in our society are not vegan, it’s very normal to be offered non-vegan food, particularly if you’ve just started trying out a vegan lifestyle or if you haven’t told many people about it. Before we go into tips about how to effectively say “no” to others, it’s worth considering the need to say “no” to ourselves first.

Learning To Say “No” To Yourself

I remember hearing my mum talk about how horrified she was after being told by a friend that he loved the smell of barbecued cockroaches, as they were considered a delicacy in his culture. I have no doubt that Mum wouldn’t have needed any assertiveness training or additional skills to decline such a “delicacy” if it had been offered to her. It’s when things are still tempting to us that there’s a risk of not being able to refuse them properly.

When I chose to go vegan, I noticed it wasn’t easy at the start to say “no” to foods that I was used to eating and enjoyed the taste of (e.g. cheesy pizza, ice cream). At that time though, saying “no” to meat was not at all challenging like it was when I first gave it up. My ability to refuse meat was strengthened by the fact that I had no desire for it anymore, so I didn’t have to worry about my own temptation leading me astray!

So how can we learn to “no” to ourselves? One way is to write down every single thought that might lead you to accept a non-vegan offering, even after deciding in advance that you don’t want to.

Just for fun, you can try visualising a little cartoon angel on one shoulder and a little cartoon devil on the other shoulder. You’ve probably seen this kind of thing in children’s movies when the main character was experiencing some sort of inner conflict or trying to make a decision. The angel will whisper in your ear (just like your conscience, or Jiminy Cricket if you’ve seen the Disney cartoon Pinocchio) to encourage you to make a “good” choice, while the little devil will want to push you over the edge and give in to temptation. One example of the angel/devil dialogue that a lot of people can relate to could go something like this:

• Little devil: “Go on, sleep in a little longer, you can go the gym another day, or later tonight”.
• Little angel: “You know how hard it is to exercise unless it’s first thing in the morning. You’ve felt so good this week since starting your health kick.”
• Little devil: “Exactly! You’ve done so well, you deserve a break. Just start again tomorrow …”

For every thought that could lead you to say “yes” to non-vegan offers when you would actually prefer to say “no”, come up with a new thought that will allow you to stay strong at times when your willpower is tested. Remember why you decided to go vegan in the first place, whether it was due to feeling compassionate towards animals, caring about the environment, wanting to improve your health, or for any other number of reasons.

Saying “No” To Others

Expressing Gratitude & Letting People Know You’re Vegan:
Offering food can be an expression of love, caring and social bonding, so it’s normally worthwhile to express your gratitude when people offer you food, even if you aren’t going to eat it: “Thanks so much – I don’t actually eat cheese because I’m vegan, but I really appreciate you offering me some”. Better yet, let people know in advance that you’re vegan so they’re much less likely to offer you non-vegan food. Sometimes well-meaning people will forget, or won’t be sure what vegan means.

There’s often an assumption that you have to act a little aggressively when refusing something, or at least offend people in the process, but that isn’t true. Remember that although you can’t control how someone else will act, you can always make sure that you respond in a way that is polite, respectful, and acknowledges the effort another person may have gone to when preparing or buying food for you.

Give Clear Messages – Verbal & Non-verbal:
If you’re sure that you want to refuse something, then communicate that to the other person both verbally and non-verbally. Maintain eye-contact, don’t slouch, and speak clearly. People often send a reinforced message by the tone of their voice, indicating that their word is final and not up for debate. You don’t have to narrow your eyes and hiss through clenched teeth, but avoid showing weakness in your resolve with indistinct mumbling or trailing off in uncertainty, which can give mixed messages.

Answer Quickly Without Long Excuses:
Hesitation increases the risk of being undermined by your own doubts, and gives off the impression that you’re not sure what you want to say. Say “no” straight away and, if you must, give a short reason why. Offering multiple explanations or long excuses can make you sound confused (or even boring), and it gives the other person more material to argue or challenge you on. Give a quick, clear response and avoid leaving the door open for future offers by saying things like “maybe later on”, “not right now” or “let me think about it.”

No Means No:
If others are persistent and continue to pressure you to eat meat or other non-vegan food, you can repeat your answer as many times as it takes for the other person to get the message. Again, there’s no need to resort to aggression. Sound like a broken record if you must, but keep repeating “no thanks” until the other person understands that you’re not going to change your mind. If it gets to the point where you are sick of repeating yourself, then you can politely ask the other person to stop offering: “Thanks, but I’d rather not be asked about it anymore”.

Remembering It’s Ok To Say “No”:
If you ever feel guilty about saying “no” to non-vegan food, then remind yourself of your values, how important veganism may be to you, and always be gentle on yourself. It’s useful to imagine if your roles were reversed and consider, ‘If I asked this person to eat something they didn’t want to, would they do it? Would I want them to feel pressured and uncomfortable? And if not, why should I feel guilty about saying “no”?’

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing saying “no” with a close friend or in front of a mirror might seem silly. However, it’s much better to feel sheepish in an environment under your control rather than feel intensely uncomfortable or end up compromising your values in a real-life social situation that you could have dealt with better, had you practiced. Every relationship is unique, so make a list of all the people who are most likely to offer you non-vegan food, and what you could specifically say to them in order to firmly but respectfully say “no”.

It’s not enough to just write this down. Practice until it feels natural, and you are confident about your ability to decline non-vegan food in any situation. Eventually you will find that refusing non-vegan food is as easy as saying “no” to a plate of barbecued cockroaches!

About Jess:
Jess Ang photo  Jess Ang has enjoyed a vegan lifestyle since January 2010, shortly after surviving a 30-day vegan challenge!
Jess is an intuitive counsellor with over 8 years’ experience as a registered forensic psychologist. She offers
intuitive readings worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com, as well as programs to help people change their
alcohol use.

18
Apr

Do you have what it takes to get healthy?

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By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

On Tuesday 12 April, I had the enormous pleasure of attending the seminar ‘How to Reverse Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms’, which featured the inspirational plant-based doctor Michael Klaper and Clint Paddison, developer of The Paddison Program.

Dr Klaper has been a hero of mine since I watched his video – yes, video, as in VHS!!! – A Diet For All Reasons, when I was a naturopathy student in the early 1990s. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can now just watch it online.

Can you imagine how excited I was when I met him at the 2nd International Plant-Based Nutrition Conference in San Diego in 2014, and ended up sitting at his table for lunch? (I briefly thought about asking for his autograph, but he’s such a humble and self-effacing man, that I didn’t want to embarrass him ;-).)

Dr Klaper recapped some of the material he presented at the San Diego conference (which I summarised in my International PBNHC Round Up video – the section on Dr Klaper’s presentation begins at 1:44:05) and updated it with some new and fascinating research on the impact of diet on the human microbiome, which is now recognised to play a driving role in the development of all autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.

I’ll sum up his part of the presentation by simply stating what I’ve confirmed in my own practice:

  • A wholefood plant-based diet, with some judiciously-chosen supplements including probiotics, will rapidly reduce joint inflammation, fatigue and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the vast majority of cases.
  • An elimination diet followed by careful reintroduction of foods, to identify food triggers, may be necessary for complete relief in some individuals.
  • A water-only fast may be beneficial to resolve persistent inflammation (see my client Dennis’ story), or to achieve immediate relief from severe pain and inflammation at the beginning of the healing process.

Clint Paddison is a former RA sufferer who stumbled across nutritional treatment of RA after using conventional therapy (antibiotics, prednisone and methotrexate) for several years, only to see his symptoms worsen and overall health deteriorate. (You can watch his TEDx talk for the full story.)

The program he has developed for reversal of rheumatoid arthritis is very similar to the way I approach RA and other autoimmune disorders.

What particularly fascinated me though, was what his talk revealed about the psychological characteristics which allowed him to regain his health. It gelled with my observations of clients, friends and family members over the years, as I’ve pondered the question ‘Why do some people succeed at regaining their health, while others don’t?’

Now obviously there are many non-psychological factors that influence an individual’s outcome too, such as their diagnosis, the stage of their disease, and possibly genetic factors too. But there are certain mental attributes or features that appear to be indispensable for recovery. Here’s my first attempt at summarising these… and I’m sure this will be a work in progress!

Intense frustration with being ill.

My clients report this in terms of ‘being at the end of my rope’; ‘I’m just fed up with this’; ‘I can’t take it any more’; and even ‘If the rest of my life is going to be this way, I don’t want to live’. People who have resigned themselves to their fate are generally not good candidates for recovering their health.

Intolerance for further suffering.

At this point, the person perceives that the pain (physical and psychological) of being sick outweighs the pain of change. Many people fear changing their habits more than they fear continuing to suffer from their illness. This fear of change can prevent them from undertaking the degree of diet and lifestyle change that is necessary for overcoming chronic illness and restoring vibrant health.

Willingness to change.

This follows from the last point. It has always amazed me that some people value the fleeting pleasure of eating certain foods, or smoking a cigarette, more than they value the enduring experience of enjoying vibrant health and boundless vitality. Yet many people do, and if they refuse to even entertain the idea that healthy living provides more pleasure than self-destructive habits, I can’t help them.

Hope.

There must be some vision of a better life that the unwell person holds, and believes is possible for them. Whether it’s simply the restoration of their former capacity, or going on to achieve even more than they did before they got sick, hope provides the incentive to change. People who’ve lost all hope of ever getting better simply won’t be motivated to change.

Curiosity.

People who recover their health become intensely curious about their illness – what caused it, why did it happen to them, what are the processes involved, how have other people with their condition recovered, what is the latest research on their condition. They turn their illness into a research project and commit themselves to learning and experimenting until they achieve recovery. In contrast, people who ‘check out’, try to ignore their condition or avoid thinking about it, aren’t likely to recover.

Taking responsibility for one’s own health.

All of my clients who have recovered from illness have taken responsibility for their own health. They treat their medical and health practitioners as resources, guides and mentors, not gurus or saviours. They question what they’re told, want to know the rationale behind the treatment plan, and recognise that having the right information, while absolutely critical, is a small part of success; what makes the difference is implementation. People who relinquish responsibility for their health to their doctor, naturopath, ‘healer’ or some self-styled ‘expert’ on the Web, aren’t likely to see real and lasting improvements in their health.

Relentless commitment to do whatever it takes to get better.

The process of recovering from chronic disease can be long, slow and frustrating, with many setbacks along the way (although sometimes it’s not, as Dennis’ story demonstrates!). People who give up easily are not good candidates for recovering from chronic illness and building vibrant health.

13
Apr

Sweet Poison debunked

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By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

In a previous post, I summarised the answer I gave to an EmpowerEd member, during a live Ask Robyn session, about the 5:2 diet. Another question from that session was about Sweet Poison by David Gillespie, one of a slew of books and documentaries that has come out in the last decade or so, blaming increased consumption of sugar for the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in Westernised countries.

I wanted to give you a taste of what you’re missing out on if you’re not already an EmpowerEd member, so here’s a summary of the answer I gave to the question:

First up, let me point out that David Gillespie is a lawyer by training and has no qualifications in nutrition. He claims that having legal training equips him to see flaws in arguments, and I know from the personal experience of being married to a (now ex-) lawyer that this can be true. The problem is that Gillespie’s complete lack of knowledge of basic human and nutritional biochemistry, not to mention the scientific process – he admits in the introduction to Sweet Poison that he almost failed biology and chemistry in high school, and boy, does it show – makes him prone to being sucked in popular theories that just don’t fit with the facts.

His books have almost no references, and when he does cite sources, he’s highly selective (two hallmarks of pseudoscience, as I discuss in detail in my Empowered Eating seminar). A few examples:

Example 1

In the introduction to Sweet Poison, he describes how his quest to discover the ‘truth’ about sugar was set in motion by the 1966 book The Saccharine Disease, written by a British navy doctor, which blamed “the highly processed sugar and refined flour diet of the twentieth century” for the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease which was in its early days back then.

The problem with this argument is that, as Michael Pollan pointed out in In Defense of Food, a reduction in the sugar tax in 1874 led to a massive increase in sugar consumption in England, since poor people could now afford what had historically been a luxury food for the rich. By the end of the 19th century, sugar comprised one-sixth of total energy intake, which is similar to current intake levels in western nations… but there was no accompanying increase in rates of obesity, heart disease or diabetes, rates of which did not begin to rise until decades later. If fructose (which along with glucose, forms sucrose or table sugar) is the deadly poison that Gillespie claims it is, why weren’t those Brits getting sick from it?

Example 2

Gillespie repeatedly claims that fructose is the major cause of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But a 2010 review of the published scientific literature found

“no evidence which shows that the consumption of fructose at normal levels of intake causes biologically relevant changes in triglycerides (TG) or body weight in overweight or obese individuals.”

A 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis found

“Isocaloric exchange of fructose for other carbohydrate improves long-term glycemic control, as assessed by glycated blood proteins, without affecting insulin in people with diabetes.”

In other words, swapping an equal calorie amount of fructose for other sugars actually improves blood sugar control in diabetics.

And most recently, a 2016 review of recent randomised controlled trials and prospective cohort studies (the two forms of studies considered to produce the highest-quality evidence in nutrition research) concluded

“normal added sugars in the human diet (for example, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup and isoglucose) when consumed within the normal range of normal human consumption or substituted isoenergetically for other carbohydrates, do not appear to cause a unique risk of obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”

Example 3

He repeatedly ignores easy-to-obtain Australian data on sugar consumption because they don’t fit his hypotheses, in favour of overseas data which do. Comparison of food consumption data and obesity rates in Australia, the UK, Japan and the US found that fructose consumption has declined in Australia, the UK and Japan while obesity prevalence has increased, and

“unlike the USA, total fructose consumption is inversely associated with overweight/obesity in Australia, the UK and Japan since the early 1970s.”

Or, in plain English, the more fructose people eat (at least in Australia, the UK and Japan), the thinner they seem to be.

Example 4

Gillespie also claims that

“every gram of fructose we eat is directly converted to fat”.

This is completely incorrect—every first-year nutrition student learns that fructose may either be converted to glucose (gluconeogenesis) and be converted into glycogen for storage, or be converted into fat (fructolysis). Evidence suggests fructose is preferentially converted to glycogen until liver glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate in animals’ bodies) is replenished; only then will the fructolytic pathway predominate.

Example 5

One of his most ludicrous statements is that

“The metric equivalent of the calorie is a joule, and calculated using Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 …” (p. 203 of Sweet Poison).

ROFL!!! Einstein’s equation for the special theory of relativity has precisely diddly-squat to do with calories or joules. A joule is the basic SI unit of energy (and also of work), and is defined as the energy transformed (or work conducted) when a mass of one kilogram is accelerated at one metre-per-second-squared over a distance of one metre.

The moral of the story:

Don’t buy into pseudoscientific claptrap about diet, written by a person with no education in the subject!

Now, to be perfectly clear, I’m by no means telling you to go out and eat sugar. Refined sugar is devoid of the fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that the whole sugar cane or sugar beet contains. Eating sugar, or any other natural or artificial sweetener, distorts your palate and displaces nutrient-dense food that you should be consuming instead.

My point is that the search for a single dietary scapegoat that we can blame for all our woes is just plain stupid. Dietary patterns make the difference between health and disease, not the inclusion of some so-called ‘superfood’, or the the exclusion of some individual ‘villain’.

I advise my clients to avoid sugar and all other sweeteners – yes, that includes agave, honey, and all the fancy-schmancy sugars – with just two exceptions: date sugar and organic blackstrap molasses. Instead of using dextrose (the most common form of glucose) as Gillespie incomprehensibly suggests, just learn to appreciate the natural sweetness found in fruits and starchy vegetables. My personal experience – backed up by virtually all of my clients – is that cravings for sweet foods diminish quite rapidly when you eat a high-nutrient diet of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. In fact, nowadays I can’t stand the sweet cakes, slices and biscuits I used to love; they’re too cloying for me.

11
Apr

Using Your Unique Strengths For Vegan Advocacy

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By Jess Ang
published mon 11th April 2016

If it weren’t for a couple of very outspoken vegetarians who I crossed paths with in my teenage years, I’m not sure that I would have ever questioned my habit of eating meat on a regular basis back in the 1990s. My decision to explore a plant-based diet was also influenced by a lady I met at an aikido class, who patiently answered several questions I had after finding out she was vegan.

Although I understood how eye-opening and helpful it was to hear the reasons why various people gave up eating animal products, I admit that I’ve had a tendency to struggle to find the right words myself when asked to explain why I’m vegan. I’ve felt a mixture of things when hearing others speak honestly and shamelessly about veganism, including admiration, curiosity and even slight horror when such conversations turned into conflict and arguments! I’ve wondered how these people were able to articulate their opinions so well and to stay calm even when their lifestyle or views were being verbally attacked.

There have been several occasions when I’ve felt bad for staying quiet when I could have spoken up, like when hearing things such as, “well you know fish don’t feel pain, right?” or “I imagine dairy cows quite enjoy being milked”. Even when I’ve made an effort to remember certain facts or statistics so that I could share relevant knowledge when needed, my mind would often go blank whenever an opportunity came up to talk about what I’d learnt.

Accepting What You’re Not-So-Good At

Despite being able to speak more openly about veganism over time, I’ve come to accept that this is definitely not one of my strengths. I’ve also noticed that when friends or family members either adopted a vegan diet or cut down on meat, it was certainly never due to a lengthy conversation or debate we’d had on the subject. More often than not it was due to a book, website, or DVD that had been shared.

Accepting what you’re not-so-good at can allow you to save time and energy that might otherwise be wasted. For example, being a fantastic cook and creating yummy dishes is an effective way to show that vegan food can be delicious. But what if you’ve tried in vain to master this skill in the past, and you still either don’t enjoy cooking or find it to be a constant challenge to prepare edible meals even when following recipes that the average person might consider simple? If you accept that cooking is not your forte, you might consider buying some store-bought treats to share at social events instead, or asking a friend who’s great in the kitchen to assist you. It may not be as impressive as if you had prepared the food yourself, but it can save time and take the stress off while still achieving the goal of sharing tasty vegan food.

The more you shift your focus away from your weaknesses, the more you can concentrate on using and building on your strengths.

Knowing Your Strengths

A couple of years ago I read a book by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton titled ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’. It got me thinking about the importance of focussing on our strengths as much as – if not more than – our weaknesses, because:

‘… to avoid your strengths and to focus on your weaknesses isn’t a sign of diligent humility. It is almost irresponsible. By contrast the most responsible, the most challenging, and, in the sense of being true to yourself, the most honorable thing to do is face up to the strength potential inherent in your talents and then find ways to realize it.’ (page 126). 

The authors explain that the most successful people in all sorts of occupations and walks of life tend to make use of their strengths every day, and to manage around their weaknesses rather than focus all their energy on them.

Funnily enough, many people are unaware of what their strengths actually are because they seem so natural, which can lead to the assumption that everyone can easily do those things as well.

If you’re not sure what your strengths are, you can ask yourself some questions such as:

  • “What activities or tasks are almost effortless for me?”
  • “What can I spend hours doing and not feel bored or tired afterwards?”
  • “What are some skills that I was able to learn very quickly, or to excel at without that much practice?”

All Strengths Are Good

When it comes to strengths, there’s no such thing as right or wrong. For example, the strength of discipline is not superior to the strength of empathy, nor is the drive to achieve better or worse than the strengths of analytical ability, focus or connectedness. No matter what your strengths are, they can come in handy in any area of life, and vegan advocacy is no exception.

Looking back, I realise that it wasn’t just the outspoken vegetarians who led me to explore a vegetarian lifestyle. Those conversations may have planted the seed, but it was also through reading books about healthy diets, non-violence, and vegetarianism that I felt motivated to give up meat. The authors of those books may or may not have been outspoken in their everyday life, but their strengths in other ways were clear in terms of written communication, ability to summarise research, or creative expression of their ideas.

Later on while completing a 30 day vegan challenge organised by Animal Liberation Victoria, I got to read about other people who were vegan, all with different personalities, strengths, and their own unique way of inspiring people to go vegan.

What Are You Awesome At?

What are your strengths, and how can you use them to be a role-model for other aspiring vegans?

Maybe your biggest strength is literally strength – i.e. being physically strong and fit. How you move and your body itself can be an amazing promotion for a vegan lifestyle.

If you know that you’re emotionally resilient and your strength is remaining calm in tough situations, maybe you’re well-suited to rescue work or undercover investigations.

If people often comment on your warmth, compassion and ability to make others feel comfortable around you, you may be drawn to supporting others and listening to their concerns about animal cruelty or the potential challenges of going vegan.

If you find it really rewarding to help people achieve their potential, you could make a wonderful coach or vegan mentor.

If you’re a fun-loving person, you may be able to positively influence people through your laughter and cheerfulness – others will want to be more like you!

If you’re passionate about fashion, beauty and make-up, you may have people admiring the way you look and wanting to know more about the vegan clothing and cruelty-free cosmetics you wear.

If you just love being around animals, don’t mind hard work outdoors, and have enough persistence, determination, and motivation, you could be one of the best people out there to run an animal sanctuary.

If you’re a bookworm, you might like to explore the available literature on veganism, to let others know what you’ve read about, and to even write about certain issues yourself if you are a talented writer as well.

If you enjoy film*, whether by simply watching or actually being involved in the production of it, then it’s good to remember how effective film (and documentaries in particular) can be to inspire others to try a vegan lifestyle. In fact, many strengths come into play when making a film – not only the camera skills and talents required for animation or visual effects, but also sound recording, acting if there are actors involved, musical ability, and the knowledge of experts who may be interviewed.

And if you do happen to be a naturally outspoken vegan advocate who thrives when engaged in conversations, debates or public speaking – don’t take that for granted! The clear and open way that you verbally express yourself is by no means easy for everyone else.

Be Your Extraordinary Self

The point is that you don’t need to change your personality or to feel bad about anything that you’re not naturally good at. Know your strengths and make use of those talents that you already have.

As written in Now, Discover Your Strengths (page 130):

‘The old maxim says that you can’t see the picture when you are inside the frame. Well, you spend your whole life inside the frame of your strengths, so perhaps it is little wonder that after a while you become blind to them … your instinctive reactions to the world around you – those things that “you can’t help but…” – are not mundane, commonplace, obvious. On the contrary, your instinctive reactions are unique. They make you different from everyone else. They make you extraordinary.’ 

Using your strengths will not only allow you to be a more effective vegan advocate if that’s what you want, but also to make any area of your life easier and to be true to your ‘extraordinary’ self.

————————-

You can easily access great films on veganism through streaming or purchasing them online or on netflix / quickflix. If you’re interested, there’s a list of recommended films on the Sydney Vegan Club website: http://www.sydneyveganclub.com.au/recommended-films

About Jess:
Jess Ang photo  Jess Ang has enjoyed a vegan lifestyle since January 2010, shortly after surviving a 30-day vegan challenge!
Jess is an intuitive counsellor with over 8 years’ experience as a registered forensic psychologist. She offers
intuitive readings worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com, as well as programs to help people change their
alcohol use.

06
Apr

The biggest, baddest myth about gluten and wheat

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By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Gluten-free diets are all the rage right now. It seems like every second celebrity, athlete and blogger has lost weight, improved their tennis game, cured their anxiety/acne/cancer/leprosy and won Lotto, all because they cut evil gluten out of their diet.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are people who should absolutely avoid eating wheat or any other gluten-containing food because they have coeliac disease, wheat allergy or appropriately diagnosed non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, or a non-coeliac autoimmune disease which benefits from gluten restriction. Some people who have those conditions in a silent form, or haven’t been diagnosed correctly, would experience health benefits if they cut gluten out of their diets.

But since coeliac disease and wheat allergy combined currently affect less than 2% of the Australian population, and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is only slightly more common than coeliac disease, the majority of the more than 10% of Australians who actively avoid gluten don’t actually need to. Worse yet, following a gluten-free diet may actually be harmful, since it reduces the population of beneficial gut bacteria, setting up the circumstances for an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, and decreases the immune system’s ability to respond to infections.

Many people who are following gluten-free diets have been persuaded by 5 major myths about wheat and other gluten-containing foods that float freely around the Internet and popular books and media. (I thoroughly debunked these 5 myths in my Deep Dive webinar, ‘Should I be Gluten-Free’; EmpowerEd members can access the video recording of the webinar along with the fully-referenced slides.)

I’ll cover the #1 most often-circulated myth in this article.

The Biggest Myth About Gluten:

Wheat (and other gluten-containing foods) cause health problems in humans because we have only been consuming them since agriculture began, and that’s not long enough for us to adapt to them.

Here’s the reality:

Absolutely everything that humans eat now, including animals, has only been consumed since agriculture began. We have extensively modified all food species (plant and animal) through selective breeding, which was – and still is – intended to enhance desirable characteristics in food, such as size, sweetness, hardiness to environmental stress or cropping duration. It is simply no longer possible to find the species of plants that our ancestors ate unless we go foraging in the ever-shrinking wilderness; and the nutritional composition of beef, lamb, pork and poultry is dramatically different to that of the wild animals that pre-agricultural humans hunted.

If you think that you should only be eating what humans ate in Paleolithic times, prepare to be very hungry indeed… and forget about living in a city!

How long have humans been eating wheat, anyway? Wheat was first domesticated – that is, deliberately cultivated – in southeastern Anatolia (now part of Turkey) roughly 11 000 years ago. However, archaeological evidence from the Ohalo II site in Israel (a cave inhabited by hunter-gatherers) shows humans gathered, processed and ate wild grains, including barley and wheat, around 23,000 years ago – that is, during the Paleolithic era. They also ate herbs, nuts, fruits and legumes, as indicated by the tens of thousands of seeds and fruits discovered at the site.

Aside from the fact that humans have been eating grains (including wheat) for far longer than we’ve been intentionally growing them, the argument that humans have not had enough time to genetically adapt to grains just doesn’t stack up.

Humans, along with all other species, are constantly adapting to their environment through the random generation of genetic mutations that occurs when sperm meets egg, and their genetic material combines (called ‘recombination’). If those adaptions are beneficial to survival and reproduction, the ‘new’ gene will persist in the population. That’s how humans came to have more copies of the gene that codes for production of the starch-digesting enzyme amylase in our genome than earlier humans, and non-human primates – being able to digest cooked starches from tubers, and later on from wild grains, was a significant survival advantage. (In fact, without this capacity to harvest energy from starches, we would never have developed the brain size and capacity that distinguishes us as humans.)

Furthermore, population growth increases the speed of adaptation – more individuals means more reproduction and more genetic diversity – and agricultural facilitated a dramatic increase in the human population. Only a few million of us walked Earth 10,000 years ago, at the beginning of the agricultural revolution. After roughly 8000 years of agriculture the human population had swelled to about 200 million people; and from there to 600 million people in the year 1700. Now there are over 7 billion of us.

This rapid population expansion facilitates evolutionary adaptation. In fact researchers have found evidence of this adaptation in roughly 7 percent of all human genes.

Let’s put it this way: if the CCR5 gene, which originated only about 4,000 years ago, can now be found in the genomes of about 10% of Europeans, (it probably increased resistance to smallpox, and now have been found to protect against HIV infection) it’s a total cinch for humans to adapt to eating wheat and other gluten-containing grains over the course of 23 000 years.

The bottom line: If you have a health condition such as coeliac disease, wheat allergy, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, or a non-coeliac autoimmune disease that benefits from gluten restriction, you should be on a gluten-free diet. Everyone else can eat gluten to their heart’s content.
23
Mar

The 5:2 diet

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By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

My first Ask Robyn session, for members of EmpowerEd, was held last Tuesday. It was a lively and informative session that covered a range of topics including whether we need to supplement with minerals; how much sleep do people actually require; and is cacao good for you. I wanted to give you a taste of what you’re missing out on if you’re not already an EmpowerEd member, so here’s a summary of the answer I gave to the question

“What is your opinion of the 5:2 diet by Dr Michael Mosley, whereby women consume 500 calories & men 600, two days per week?”

In case you’re not familiar with this diet, and the book written about it (The Fast Diet), it’s a form of intermittent fasting. The idea is to eat a ‘normal’ diet 5 days per week, and then decrease energy intake dramatically on two days per week.

Mosley recommends that women consume 500 calories/2090 kilojoules per day on these ‘fast days’, and men 600 calories/2500 kilojoules. He provides no evidence to support these energy intake recommendations, which appear to be quite arbitrary numbers. He recommends avoiding potatoes (which he incomprehensibly lumps in with ‘refined carbs’) on fast days, and instead eating high protein, low carbohydrate foods on these days such as fish and meat, claiming that these are more satiating (appetite-satisfying); yet the humble high-fibre, high-carbohydrate, low-fat potato has been found to be by far the most satiating food, dramatically outperforming beef, eggs, cheese and yoghurt.

There have been no systematic studies of this diet but anecdotal reports of side effects include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Bad breath (a known problem with low carbohydrate diets)
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Hunger and
  • Low energy

The 5:2 diet is definitely not recommended for people with a history of eating disorders due to the restrictive behaviour required to stick to it.

Like any popular diet, of course, it’s promoted as an effective way to lose weight, particularly for people who struggle with ‘regular’ diets. But research on its effects is singularly unimpressive. For example, overweight women randomly allocated to the 5:2 diet for 6 months only lost 6.5 kg on average, while those randomised to a standard calorie-restricted diet based on the Mediterranean diet (which contained a whopping 30% of calories as fat, 45% low glycaemic load carbohydrate, and 25% protein… in other words, a highly ineffective weight loss plan) lost 5.7 kg in 6 months. An 800 g greater weight loss over 6 months isn’t something I would be getting wildly excited about, considering what the women on the 5:2 diet had to go through to achieve it.

The researchers also found that

“Both groups experienced comparable reductions in body fat, FFM [fat free mass], hip, bust and thigh circumference and composition of weight loss.”

The only difference was a slightly greater (although still very modest) effect on insulin resistance in the 5:2 diet group.

But if you’re concerned about insulin resistance, rather than slashing your calorie intake, why not just add dried beans, peas and lentils to your diet? A trial of legume consumption vs a low calorie diet found that adding 5 cups of beans per week to the diet for 8 weeks was as effective as eating 500 less calories per day in reducing prediabetes risk factors including waist circumference and blood sugar level, and superior to caloric restriction for improving levels of HDL cholesterol and C-peptide.

17
Mar

Understanding – and beating – food cravings

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By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Food cravings – those bouts of intense, seemingly uncontrollable desire to get hold of and eat a particular food, are one of the most distressing roadblocks encountered by people who want to lose weight and maintain healthy eating habits.

According to US research, nearly 100% of women and 70% of men report experiencing food cravings (1). Women tend to crave sweets, with chocolate topping the ‘crave list’, while men more often crave savoury foods such as chips. What’s virtually universal, though, is that cravings centre on high-fat and/or high-kilojoule foods (2).

(In over 20 years of clinical practice, I have NEVER had a client confess to me that they get totally out of control around alfalfa sprouts or broccoli!)

Contrary to popular myth, cravings do not indicate a need for particular nutrients (3); in fact, they have virtually nothing to do with the normal hunger drive, which is triggered by the body’s need to secure nutrients. Instead, food cravings involve brain chemicals that are also central to drug addiction: opioids and dopamine.

When we eat fatty and/or sugary foods, opioids – which are the body’s own morphine-type substances – are released into our bloodstream. They then bind to opioid receptors in our brains, giving us a ‘hit’ of pleasure. Intense opioid stimulation, such as from extremely fatty and sweet foods like chocolate, can produce mild euphoria (4).

Release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that also floods our system during sex and in response to drug-taking, is linked in with the activation of certain memories involving the craved food, suggesting that what we are really going for when we develop a craving for a food, is the positive emotion or mood that is associated, in our memory, with an earlier experience of that food (1).

This goes a long way toward explaining 2 things:

  1. Why will-power doesn’t work when it comes to defying food cravings; and
  2. Why EFT does.

Poor old will-power really doesn’t stand a chance when your ’emotional brain’ is compelling you to get relief from your current emotional state, by eating a food that will trigger a psycho-physiological shift to a happier state associated with a food experience.

For example, as a young child, one of my clients, whom I’ll call Cherie, had a favourite uncle who would shower her with the love and affection she rarely got from her stern parents – not to mention with sweet treats like cakes and pastries – whenever he visited.

The sugary, fatty taste and luscious mouth-feel of these treats became inextricably linked in Cherie’s mind with feeling loved and valued. No great surprise then, that as an adult she found herself craving cakes and pastries whenever she felt lonely!

Using EFT, we were able to access and re-process her early memories of the love and approval Cherie felt from her uncle, and literally disconnect these positive, desirable emotional states from the food. Subsequently, she was able to induce these wonderful feelings whenever she wanted to, by tapping on the memory of her uncle’s face, voice and words – and lo and behold, the food cravings disappeared.

EFT works directly with our emotions and memories, allowing rapid relief from seemingly intractable food cravings, and smoothing the path to healthy eating and weight loss.

01
Mar

Coping With Animal-Cruelty-Induced Trauma As A Vegan

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by Jess Ang, 1st March, 2016

If you’re vegan or thinking about going vegan, chances are pretty high that you’ve been exposed to some very disturbing information – whether it was in the form of a written article, a video, or a story told by a friend. The level of violence involved in the meat, dairy, egg, and other industries that use animals can be quite extreme, and it’s only natural if you’ve felt upset or even traumatised by it.

What is trauma?
‘Trauma’ comes from the Greek word for ‘wound’. Psychological trauma is like an emotional wound that you experience after going through a very stressful or distressing event, or series of events. You may be left feeling helpless or overwhelmed, with the belief that this world is a dangerous place to live in.

What causes trauma?
Events on their own don’t necessarily lead to trauma. Everyone is different and people rarely respond to the same event in the exact same way. It all depends on how a particular person makes sense of an event, how resilient he or she is, and how much support is available afterwards.There is a higher risk that an event will lead to trauma if it comes as a shock and you weren’t expecting it, and if you were in some sort of danger. Traumatic events can include being physically hurt or abused, or being involved in a life-threatening accident or a natural disaster like a bushfire or flood.Although traumatic events often involve harm or a direct threat to your own safety, it can result from witnessing or hearing about violence towards others as well. As stated on the website for Phoenix Australia: Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, traumatic events include “things that happen to you directly, or to someone you are close to. An event can be traumatic if you witnessed it happening to someone else, or if you were involved in the course of your work.”For example, I once spoke to a lady who experienced trauma after finding out that her daughter had been assaulted. She told me that she had become anxious and continued to have nightmares about what happened to her daughter even though she hadn’t actually been there to witness the event. She said she’d formed images in her mind of what had occurred, and these images arose unpredictably throughout the day which was extremely upsetting for her.I’ve also had conversations with people who said they felt traumatised after seeing  documentaries showing violence towards animals – some had vivid memories of what they’d seen, and described themselves as feeling a sense of hopelessness or believing there was nothing they could personally do to make a difference. It goes without saying that people who directly witness animal cruelty (such as through undercover investigations or rescue work as opposed to just watching it on TV) are at risk of experiencing trauma.

Symptoms of trauma
Some common symptoms of trauma include:
• Shock or disbelief.
• Nightmares and flashbacks.
• Finding it hard to concentrate during everyday tasks like reading or watching TV.
• Feeling down, moody and on-edge (e.g. you might get startled after hearing a door slam, or even from the sound of toast popping up from a toaster).
• No longer enjoying activities you used to like.
• Getting into more arguments or not trusting other people anymore.
• Losing your appetite or – at the other extreme – overeating.
• Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event.
• Becoming socially withdrawn and no longer wanting to see friends or family.
• Muscle tension, headaches, upset tummy, chest pain (be sure to see a doctor if you notice physical changes to make sure they aren’t caused by a medical condition).

Many people say it can be reassuring just to learn that their symptoms are common. If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms above after a traumatic event, you’re not alone – these are all normal reactions to trauma.

Coping as a vegan
When it comes to recovering from trauma, the support of friends and family can make a big difference. But what happens if you’re vegan or trying to transition to a vegan lifestyle, and your friends and family aren’t supportive or dismiss your concerns about how animals are treated?

It’s not unusual to be criticised for being vegan, even (and sometimes especially) by the people you love most. You may be called “extreme”, “self-righteous”, “too idealistic”, or “crazy”. People around you might be concerned that a vegan diet is unhealthy and try to pressure you to change your mind about it. All of these things can add to your distress.

You are also likely to be constantly reminded of what you’ve seen or heard regarding the treatment of animals just by walking past the local butcher, or when browsing through a supermarket, by seeing TV commercials advertising meat, or at the very least by seeing animal products on the plates of others.

You might wish that you could forget it all and go back to the way things were. Kind of like when the character Cypher in the movie ‘The Matrix’ wishes he had never woken up to reality, and says to Neo, “I know what you’re thinking, ’cause right now I’m thinking the same thing … Why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill?” Later on he takes a bite of steak that he wants to believe is “juicy and delicious” again, just as the Matrix wants his brain to believe, and tells Neo that “ignorance is bliss.”

It’s true that awareness of widespread violence and suffering doesn’t feel particularly blissful, and ignorance may seem appealing in comparison. However, by learning to cope with any symptoms of trauma that you’re experiencing, you’ll be healthier emotionally and in a better position to take a strong stand for issues that matter to you, such as protecting animals from cruelty.

Strategies to cope
As mentioned earlier, it can help just to realise that some of the experiences you’ve been having are common. At a workshop about trauma, I remember hearing a psychologist speak about how most people have bad dreams after going through something traumatic, and it can be comforting just to know that these nightmares are normal and provide a way for your brain to process the experience. Over time, the nightmares should become less intense and occur less often.

It’s also really important to be kind to yourself. I’ve heard people verbally beat themselves up about feeling traumatised: “I should really get over this, I don’t know why I can’t pull myself together”, or in the case of being upset about animal cruelty: “Other people don’t seem to get so disturbed. I guess I’m weak and just too sensitive.” Being sensitive means that you care, and caring does not mean that you’re weak. Trust that you can become stronger through this process, and if you want to learn more about how to cope better then try some of the strategies below:

• Care for yourself by eating healthy meals and going to bed at a regular time each night. Aim to get as much sleep as you need – for most people this ranges from 7-9 hours but you might be different. Even if it’s not easy to go to sleep, remind yourself that it’s worthwhile to at least lie down and give your body some rest.
• Pay attention to your breathing and try to breathe slowly into your lower belly rather than into your chest (which will feel weird at first if your breathing is normally shallow). This will help you to feel more calm.
• Bring your mind back to the present moment as often as you can. Notice what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling right now.
• Focus on what you can do to feel empowered rather than helpless. For instance, if you’re disturbed about violence towards animals, you might choose to no longer support industries that involve animal cruelty, or to start signing petitions and writing letters that can help promote change. You may also find it rewarding to visit an animal sanctuary or volunteer at an animal rescue centre.
• Educate other people who are open and interested in learning more about how animals are treated in various industries. Providing such information has the potential to inspire others to make more compassionate choices, and to help you feel that you’re making a positive difference.
• Limit or eliminate your exposure to graphic animal cruelty scenes if you can. For example, disconnect from certain Facebook pages or people who post violent scenes, and be careful about what documentaries and film clips you choose to watch.
• If you feel isolated, then consider reaching out to like-minded people, watching videos and reading books that were created to support vegans so you don’t feel alone, or joining a vegan community or meet-up group to share your experiences in a supportive environment. If you’d prefer not to talk to anyone else then it can be good to write in a journal about what you’re going through so that you don’t ‘bottle up’ your emotions, which isn’t healthy in the long-run.

Professional help
Although trauma symptoms are normal, it’s important to do something if you find that they’re impacting your life in a big way – for example, if it becomes difficult to carry out your everyday tasks at home or work, or you start to use more alcohol or other drugs than usual.

If you feel like your symptoms haven’t improved and if they continue to bother you over a number of months, it might be worthwhile seeking professional help. This can be particularly useful if you don’t have anyone in your personal life who you feel comfortable speaking with about this issue.

A good first step is to see a GP and have a chat about local mental health services, or ask for a referral to see a counsellor or psychologist for face-to-face sessions. You can even do your own search for a psychologist close to home by using the APS (Australian Psychological Society) website: www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/

You can make a difference
There can be a very fine line between caring deeply and caring so much that you eventually feel traumatised or emotionally numb in response to the suffering of others. It’s important to continue caring while at the same time making sure that you care for your own well-being too. This way you can become a more effective advocate for those who need help, and really feel that you’re making a difference through your choices rather than being powerless to change anything. You may even become an inspiring role-model for others. Remember, you can make a stronger positive difference in the world simply because you do care.

About Jess:
Jess Ang photo  Jess Ang has enjoyed a vegan lifestyle since January 2010, shortly after surviving a 30-day vegan challenge!
Jess is an intuitive counsellor with over 8 years’ experience as a registered forensic psychologist. She offers
intuitive readings worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com, as well as programs to help people change their
alcohol use.

21
Feb

Want to feel happier? Change what’s on your plate!

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By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Google the search terms ‘happiness’ + ‘research’ and you’ll get about about 171,100,000 results. Yet, as economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, and Professor of Public Health, Sarah Stewart-Brown, pointed out in a recent study, of the many thousands of scientific papers published on the various determinants of people’s happiness and psychological health, virtually none have investigated the role played by what people eat.

To address this glaring deficiency in our understanding of what makes people feel happy, the 3 researchers mined data from 3 large, representative, cross-sectional studies of random samples of adults in England, Scotland, and Wales – a total of over 80 000 UK citizens.

Each survey included questions on intake of fruit and vegetables, measuring it in standardised portions of up to eight or more a day; as well as on 7 different measures of mental health, from mental wellbeing (WEMWBS) through mental illness (GHQ-12), life satisfaction, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness and feeling low.

So what did they find?

Very simply,

“happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables.”

(Translation: the more fruit and veg the survey participants ate, the happier they were.)

The researchers were aware, of course, that there are many potential confounders (factors that may make certain other factors appear causally related, when in fact they are simply correlated. For example,

  • Wealthier people can afford to eat more fruit and vegetables, AND they are also likely to be happier than poorer people who can’t afford as much of them – so having more money is a ‘cause’ both of being happier and of eating more fruit and veg; and
  • People who are happier generally take better care of themselves, for example by eating more healthfully, than unhappy people – so in this case, happiness would be the cause of eating more fruit and veg rather than the higher fresh produce consumption being the cause of happiness.

So they used standard statistical methods to take account of a wide range of potential confounders including age, sex, ethnic group, marital status, having or not having children, socioeconomic and educational circumstances, work and unemployment status, disability and major illness, being religious, smoking, exercise level, body mass index, intake of meat, fish and alcohol, and being sexually active.

And even after taking into consideration all of those factors, they still found

“a remarkably monotonic dose-response relationship between mental health and the number of portions of fruit and vegetables consumed.”

In other words, even after all the statistical adjustments they made to cancel out the effect of potential confounders, the association between better mental health and higher fruit and veg consumption remained strong.

How large was the effect of fresh produce consumption on mental health? Well, for example,

  • On the Life Satisfaction Scale, when compared to those who ate almost no fruit and veg, individuals who consumed 8 or more portions per day had an uplift in their life satisfaction score that was only slightly less than the uplift seen in people who were married vs those who were single – and being married is one of the most powerful positive influences on life satisfaction known to happiness researchers!
  • On the WEMWBS (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale), which measures positive indicators of wellbeing, people who ate 7-8 portions per day had a wellbeing score approximately 3 points greater than those eating virtually none. If this doesn’t sound like much of a difference, consider this: unemployed people scored 2.4 points lower on average than those in employment, and people with a disability scored 6.4 points lower than the able-bodied; both unemployment and disability are considered by all researchers in the field, to be strong predictors of lower wellbeing.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Sarah Stewart-Brown, suggests that fruit and vegetable consumption may influence mental health through the nutrients fresh produce provides, which makes perfect sense: The brain is just like all the other organs in our body – it requires nutrients to function optimally; and if nutrient intake is inadequate, it will malfunction, resulting in emotional and mental symptoms.

Other researchers have found clear linkages between deficiency of nutrients found abundantly in plants, and various aspects of brain function. For example

  • A high potassium diet was found to ease depression and tension and increase vigour and the POMS global mood state score; while
  • Low folate levels are linked with depression – possibly because folate plays a crucial role in the activity of receptors for the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) adrenaline and serotonin, which profoundly afffect mood.

Crucially, since many of the key nutrients in plant foods are water-soluble, they are not stored in our bodies for very long, and therefore must be consumed regularly. Hence, missing out on fruit and veg for even a few days can leave you feeling down in the dumps; but on the bright side, boosting your consumption if it’s been low, can lift your mood very rapidly.

As Dr Stewart-Brown points out, increased fruit and vegetable consumption is already known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and many governments already have public health goals to increase consumption of fresh produce. However, on the basis of this recent research, current recommendations for 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day are probably inadequate to improve mental health (and I would argue, too low to achieve meaningful protection against cancer and heart disease too).

The bottom line: when it comes to fruit and veg, it seems you can’t get too much of a good thing!