THE BLOG

06
Apr

The biggest, baddest myth about gluten and wheat

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.
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23
Mar

The 5:2 diet

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.

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17
Mar

Understanding – and beating – food cravings

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.

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01
Mar

Coping With Animal-Cruelty-Induced Trauma As A Vegan

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.

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21
Feb

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

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!

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11
Feb

Inflammation: why you’re fat, sick, tired, depressed and in pain… and what to do about it

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

You may never have stopped to think about it, but every time you become unwell in any way, inflammation plays a key role.

That role is obvious in diseases like arthritis – inflammation of the joints, but perhaps less obvious in, for example, the common cold – major symptoms of which are rhinitis, or inflammation of the nasal passages, and fatigue, which results when inflammatory signals from around the body enter the brain; heart disease – which involves inflammation of the inner lining of the blood vessels; and cancer – which relies on inflammatory processes to grow and spread.

Then there’s the role played by inflammation in obesity – fat cells, especially abdominal fat cells, produce inflammatory chemicals which bring on insulin resistance, making it harder for you to lose weight – and in depression, which is associated with elevated levels of inflammatory chemicals both in the brain itself, and throughout the body.

Furthermore, obesity itself may contribute to depression, and not just because people feel bad about buying their clothes in the plus-size department, but because the inflammation brought on by being overweight affects their brain function (1).

So what’s driving this inflammation, and what can we do about it?

Fuelling the fire of inflammation

Inflammation is a response by the body’s immune system to a perceived threat, such as invading bacteria or viruses. One of the strongest triggers of inflammation is endotoxin, otherwise known as lipolysacccharide, a compound produced by certain types of bacteria. While you might think that exposure to infectious disease would be the primary source of this threat, many animal foods such as pork, turkey, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream contain signficant quantities of endotoxin – and this endotoxin is not destroyed by stomach acid or digestive enzymes (2).

In the study cited above, researchers proved that these endotoxin-containing foods caused human white blood cells to secrete inflammatory chemicals, and

“speculate that the occasional ingestion of meals high in LPS [lipopolysaccharide] and/or BLP [bacterial lipopeptide – another immune-activating compound produced by some bacteria] could promote transient, mild, systemic inflammatory episodes that predispose subjects to the development of atherosclerosis and insulin resistance.”

It’s worth emphasising here that the offending bacterial substances were

“minimal or undetectable in fresh fruit and vegetables.”

This relatively new research adds to the insights gained from previous studies, which found that a single fast food meal containing egg and sausage induced inflammation in the arteries of healthy young people, that persisted for more than 6 hours afterwards (3); while a meal containing animal fat caused inflammation in the lungs of healthy people, leading the researchers to speculate that regular intake of such foods may contribute to chronic inflammatory lung and airway disease, including asthma (4).

Endotoxin isn’t the only dietary culprit in inflammation. A study examining levels of inflammatory markers after intake of different foods found that people who consumed cream experienced not just increased levels of endotoxin, but also of the inflammatory markers NF-kappaB and TNF-alpha. On the other hand, in those given a glucose (sugar) solution to drink, NF-kappaB and TNF-alpha levels rose but endotoxin did not. Neither orange juice nor water caused any rise in inflammatory chemicals (5).

The bottom line here is that the major determinant of inflammation levels in our bodies – which in turn determines our risk of disease – is something completely under our control: our daily food intake. And while consumption of whole, unrefined plant foods is linked to lower risk of inflammation-related disease (6), consumption of animal products and refined carbohydrates has the reverse effect – in spades.

Sins of omission and commission

I often describe the effects of dietary choices to my clients with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Catholic church’s concepts of sins of omission and sins of commission. Sins of commission are bad things which we know are bad but choose to do anyway, while sins of omission are good things we can and should do but fail to do.

Interestingly, Catholic theologians don’t consider either type to be more ‘sinful’ than the other; both kinds are equally pernicious.

In my analogy, the Western dietary pattern, with its heavy reliance on processed grains, sugar and animal products, and only token amounts of fresh, unprocessed plant foods, leads us to commit both sins of dietary omission and commission:

  • When we fail to consume ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, we omit from our diets the abundance of anti-inflammatory compounds – such as carotenoids and flavonoids – that they contain.
  • And conversely, when we eat eggs, yoghurt, beef, chicken, white bread and soft drinks, we load our bodies up with highly inflammatory substances, and the ‘punishment for our sins’ is the disease processes that eventually result: heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, depression, skin disorders and a host of other nasties.

That’s why I teach my clients that healthy eating is a package deal. It’s not just a matter of eating some token ‘good-for-you’ foods to expiate your dietary guilt (like having some iceberg lettuce on your white-bread cheese-and-ham sandwich); you have to minimise or avoid the ‘bad-for-you’ foods as well.

Fortunately, renouncing your dietary sins need not mean a life without culinary pleasure! Healthy food that fights inflammation is attractive to all the senses, delicious to eat, and imbues your body and mind with vitality and joy – just check out my recipe section! Even better, enrol in my 1-day nutrition intensive, Empowered Eating to learn how to make healthy eating simple and delicious, or join my 6-week nutrition and cooking course.

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05
Feb

The Mediterranean diet: sorting fact from fantasy

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Everyone who’s interested in diet and health has heard of ‘the Mediterranean diet’. Advocates of this dietary pattern claim that it protects against heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome (characterised by excess abdominal fat, blood pressure and/or glucose levels, elevated total cholesterol and decreased HDL cholesterol), many types of cancer, and even asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis (1).

There is actually a fair bit of scientific evidence for these claims. The problem is that – thanks largely to the marketing efforts of the olive oil industry, and the personal biases of many writers who have published popular books presenting their spin on the diet – most people think that the key component of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil.

When I advise my clients to cut out all extracted oils, they ask “What about olive oil? Isn’t it heart-healthy? Surely you don’t want me to cut that out!” Yes I do, and here’s why.

‘The Mediterranean diet’ as we understand it today was first characterised and promoted by the American researcher Ancel Keys. He described it as a dietary pattern high in fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish and olive oil; and low in saturated fat-rich animal foods such as dairy products, red meat and eggs.

In his Seven Countries Study, launched in 1958, he found that the inhabitants of the Greek island of Crete – the examplars of the Mediterranean diet – had the lowest rate of heart disease of the 7 populations he studied, despite consuming up to 40% of their calories from fat (mostly from olive oil and fish).

Keys concluded that replacement of saturated fat with unsaturated fat from plant sources, would bring dramatic health benefits (2) – and the Myth of Olive Oil as Heart Disease Preventer was born.

What Keys failed to acknowledge in his initial study was that the Cretans were incredibly physically active (Crete is very mountainous and at that time, most of the people walked everywhere – up to 9 miles a day!) and their overall energy (calorie/kilojoule) intake was low.

But life in modern Crete is dramatically different than in the era when Ancel Keys’ study was performed. Olive oil consumption remains high, but sedentary lifestyle, decreased consumption of fresh produce and higher intake of high-calorie, refined and animal-derived food have come to Crete.

Over 60% of adult Cretans, and 50% of Cretan children, are now overweight and rates of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease have skyrocketed in recent years (3).

A recent study in Crete (4) found that patients with heart disease ate significantly more olive oil than people free of heart disease, making it crystal clear that olive oil holds no magical power to stave off the health-destroying effects of inactivity and poor dietary choices.

Cretans appear to be suffering from the same delusion as Westerners who have jumped on the Mediterranean diet bandwagon – they think they can continue to eat olive oil with impunity, even if they are overweight and sedentary.

The only thing that protected their forebears from the hazards of olive oil consumption was their high activity level and plant-based, low-calorie diet.

What you need to understand is that oils impair endothelial function. What’s endothelial function? It’s the ability of the thin layer of cells that line your blood vessels, to regulate the flow of blood through those vessels, and it’s a strong predictor of your risk of having a heart attack (5). A well-functioning endothelium keeps your blood vessels reasonably dilated, which in turn lowers your blood pressure and ‘smoothes’ the flow of blood.

Endothelial dysfunction results in constricted arteries, raised blood pressure, ‘sticking’ of inflammation-producing white blood cells to the endothelial lining, and turbid blood flow which in turn increase the risk of microscopic injuries to the blood vessels (6). These injuries are ‘patched up’ with cholesterol, like you would patch up a damaged plasterboard wall with Spakfilla.

If the injuries are infrequent, the cholesterol ‘patch’ is soon reabsorbed and the artery wall is repaired with normal, healthy endothelial cells. If there are repeated injuries, the cholesterol patches aren’t reabsorbed, but instead start to form an atherosclerotic plaque, which narrows the lumen of the blood vessel (the hole through which the blood flows), eventually causing symptoms such as angina, erectile dysfunction and chronic low back pain, and increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack.

When you ingest extracted oils and fats, you impair the function of your endothelial cells for several hours (the duration of effect varies with the type of oil) and during this time period, the growth of atherosclerotic plaques accelerates precipitously.

Olive oil dramatically impairs endothelial function (7). On the other hand, nuts do not impair endothelial function in spite of their high fat content, possibly because they contain antioxidants (which decrease the oxidative stress that causes endothelial dysfunction) and arginine (which endothelial cells use to make nitric oxide, a chemical that dilates blood vessels, prevents atherosclerotic plaque from forming on the vessel walls, and keeps blood flow smooth and even by preventing platelets from sticking together)(8).

As cardiologist Robert Vogel, the pioneer of the primary test used to assess endothelial function, concluded (7):

“the beneficial components of the Mediterranean and Lyon Diet Heart Study diets appear to be antioxidant-rich foods, including vegetables, fruits, and their derivatives such as vinegar [and omega 3-rich foods].”

The bottom line: extracting an oil from the nutritional matrix that it is packaged in by nature is asking for trouble. If you want to minimise your risk of cardiovascular disease, enjoy plant foods that are naturally high in fats, such as avocado, nuts and seeds, in moderation, but leave the extracted oils out of your diet. Slim, active people with no cardiovascular risk factors can get away with some consumption of oil, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them!

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25
Jan

Carbohydrates at night help you lose weight!

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

For years, I’ve been hearing from clients that their personal trainer/nutritionist/astrologer (OK, I made that last one up) told them not to eat ‘carbs’ after 4 pm, or 6 pm, or whatever particular witching hour their self-appointed weight-loss guru nominates, if they want to lose weight.

The popular theory goes that eating a lot of carbohydrate-rich food stimulates excessive insulin release, and that since we’re less active at night than during the day, all that insulin will cause the glucose we absorb from starches to convert to fat. This theory is quoted as gospel truth on gazillions of weight-loss websites… but it turns out it’s completely false.

A recent study compared the outcomes of 78 obese police officers who were put on a low calorie diet containing 20% protein, 30-35% fat and 45-50% carbohydrate. The control group was told to distribute their carbohydrate intake throughout the day, while the experimental group was instructed to eat most of their carbohydrates at night.

The researchers found that, after 6 months of following the dietary plan, the carbohydrate-at-night group had lost substantially more weight, abdominal girth and body fat mass than the control group, despite the two diets containing the same calories and the same proportions of macronutrients.

Furthermore, the carbohydrate-at-night group experienced less hunger and had greater improvements in fasting glucose, average daily insulin concentrations, insulin resistance, cholesterol and the inflammation markers C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor-a, and interleukin-6, which are elevated in overweight people, and are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and depression.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading popular weight loss books and websites, the idea that carbohydrate-rich foods caused increased insulin secretion was debunked last century, in a study that examined the insulin demand generated by various foods.

Researchers fed 1000 kj portions of a variety of foods to healthy people, and measured the amount of insulin their bodies secreted in response. They found that both protein-rich foods and bakery products (which are high in fat as well as carbohydrate) elicited disproportionately high insulin secretion.

Beef and cheese, for example, raise insulin levels more than pasta!

Even earlier research found that glucose raised insulin secretion only slightly more than an equivalent amount of protein.

The bottom line here is that popular theories of weight loss should never be used as the basis of your weight loss plan. There is no substitute for properly-conducted testing of these theories, no matter how ‘scientific’ their proponents make them out to be.

The scientific literature is, in fact, very clear about what works for sustainable weight loss – a diet based on unrefined plant foods. See my articles Eating meat: the fast track to diabesity, and The Big Fat Protein Swindle for more information and scientific references.

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20
Jan

Can you change your genes?

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

What if you could change your genes, almost as quickly as you change your jeans? What if you could ‘switch off’ genes that cause disease processes, and ‘turn on’ genes that initiate healing processes?

Mention the word ‘genes’ to most people, and what they think of is fixed, immutable carriers of information. The term ‘blueprint’ is often used when discussing genes, as if they provide a very precise set of instructions that only has the possibility of producing one outcome. But the Human Genome Project (1) demonstrated beyond any doubt that this way of thinking about genes is outmoded and inaccurate.

Humans have approximately 20 000-25 000 genes – about the same number as mice and roundworms; not that many more than fruit flies (which have about 14 000 genes); and less than a water flea called Daphnia pulex which, at around 31 000, holds the record for the greatest number of genes in any organism whose genome has been sequenced (2).

We also share 97% of our genes with chimpanzees (3), but are clearly very different to them physically, behaviourally and psychologically. There is simply no way that we can explain the incredible complexity, diversity and adaptability of human beings using the old ‘genes = blueprint’ model.

While there is a small percentage of genes that act all by themselves to produce a particular outcome (for example, the genes that code for eye colour or blood type), this is the exception and not the rule. The majority of genes operate in remarkably complex networks, controlled by genes called transcription factors which themselves operate in complex networks.

And what controls these networks? Influences which scientists call ‘epigenetic factors’: changes in the environment of cells brought about by the level of various nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitters, toxins and so forth.

So if you want to change your genes in a health-promoting way, what should you do? Do what your mother always told you, and eat your fruit and veg. Not just one or two ‘superfoods’, by the way – the greater the diversity of plant foods in your diet, the more genes are influenced in a positive way.

Scientists used to think that fruit and vegies are good for your health because they contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta carotene. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals which could otherwise build up and damage DNA – the material our genes are made of – predisposing us to cancer and other diseases. However, human trials of supplementation of individual antioxidants have shown that they don’t protect against cancer, and some can increase the risk of cancer (4). What’s going on?

Well, it’s now known that phytochemicals (compounds that plants make to regulate their own metabolism, only some of which have antioxidant activity) actually increase our cellular defenses by activating those transcription factors I mentioned before. And what that means is that cells can recover their normal function even if their DNA is damaged by free radicals, rather than either dying, becoming dysfunctional, or turning cancerous.

The activation of transcription factors leads to a much longer-lasting protective effect than antioxidants, most of which have a very short half-life in the body.

In regards to dietary variety, a 2010 study (4) showed that adding 3 antioxidant-rich kiwifruit per day to the diet of male smokers with no known health problems, caused changes in the behaviour of 9 genes, 5 of them involved in cellular defence processes. But a dietary portfolio consisting of green tea, dog rose juice, cranberry juice, aronia juice, unsweetened bilberry juice, bilberry jam, bilberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate, dark blue grapes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red cabbage, kale, blue potatoes, tomatoes, dark chocolate, pecan nuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, thyme and oregano changed the behaviour of 44 genes, 25 of them involved in cellular defence.

The moral of the story? If you want to activate your ‘good genes’,

  1. Choose a diet centred on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables;
  2. Avoid taking antioxidant supplements that contain isolated nutrients such as beta carotene and vitamin E, and
  3. Don’t waste your money on high-priced ‘superfoods’ such as acai and maqui berry, which are sold on the basis of their high ORAC (antioxidant) score – which is far less protective against disease than activating your own cellular defence mechanisms.
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20
Jan

The Plant Gallery Bondi – Sydney Vegan Club Review

by Kym Staton, 20th Jan. 2016

The number of 100% vegan restaurants in Sydney has grown in the last twelve months, with at least three new vegan eateries opening their doors, as well as two restaurants making the historic and un-presedented move of replacing their animal-laden menu with a vegan one!

The newest welcome addition to the Sydney vegan dining scene is of the ultra healthy raw vegan variety, with the much anticipated launch of the intriguingly titled ‘The Plant Gallery’ at Sydney’s beachside health-haven Bondi.

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Three years ago The Plant Gallery co-owner David Ortega bought a one-way ticket to Bolivia on the search for new horizons and experiencing a different culture. Little did he know that this would bring about a dramatic new lifestyle direction, as it was here that he met raw-foodist and renowned chef Juan Carlos Miranda Ormena who introduce him to the enormous health benefits of a raw-food vegan diet as well as many of the amazing flavours of Peru. The pair formed a terrific friendship and came up with the goal of opening up a raw-food restaurant back in Australia.

David and Juan Carlos were toying with the idea of calling their restaurant ‘The Plant Gallery’ – as homage to the plant-powered menu – when by chance a venue previously used as an art gallery became vacant. It seemed like a match made in heaven to make use of the existing lighting and picture hanging systems and feature artworks on the walls of their restaurant.

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Having the pleasure of a first visit to The Plant Gallery I was impressed that in addition to the food/art synergy, the restaurant includes a number of other innovations.

Walking in you instantly notice the back wall is adorned with indoor plants which create a lovely organic natural backdrop. A tour of the large garden (out back) revealed the already active compost bins – big points for reduced food waste! Great to also hear plans for installing a garden and growing some of their own produce!

The furniture is all made of up-cyled timber which lends warmth and ambience. The centre of the restaurant has a huge communal table which encourages interaction from guests.

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Admiring all of these innovations, I almost forgot about the food, but was gobsmacked to see the delights on offer with their sophisticated, artistic dishes described on the menu. Then i noticed another innovation with their convenient ‘TPG experience’, in the bottom right hand corner, where newcomers or those who like a surprise can have the ‘chef’s choice of one entree, one main and one salad’ for two people – such a great idea!

Much of the menu is peruvian inspired – where David and Juan Carlos have taken traditional dishes of Peru and ‘veganised’ as well as raw-ified them to great success!

I started my first The Plant Gallery experience with the mushroom ceviche – which was a fresh and zesty salad of marinated mushrooms, onion and corn in a refreshing lime dressing. The flavours and textures were very enjoyable.

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For main course I had the spaghetti humancaina – a rich and very flavoursome journey of zucchini spaghetti in a rich cashew and yellow chilli sauce. The huge cashew parmesan chunks were very tasty.

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I finished with a very decadent and gorgeously presented dessert of deconstructed inca berry cheesecake with cashew cheese and orange nut crumble which looked like three sailboats floating on the pacific, and had dreamy flavours to match!

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The Plant Gallery’s aim is to put to bed the myth ‘that healthy food can’t taste good’. I can see that the team at this exciting new restaurant have both the passion and skill to do just that with their brilliant new venue and the terrific collaboration of dynamic duo David and Juan Carlos!

Sydney Vegan Club wish you the best of luck with your new endeavour and look forward to having a big tasting-party event at you venue very soon so that we can enjoy the flavours and ambience and culinary joys of you creations as a group.

SVC Vegan packman foodie rating:
five

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