Category: Health

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30
Mar

Drinking milk makes you die sooner

Written by vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Ask most Australian adults how much milk they drink, and they’ll answer

‘I really don’t drink milk – I just have a bit on my cereal and a dash in my coffee’.

But consumption data gathered by the dairy industry tell a different tale. Annual fluid milk consumption stood at 105 litres per person in 2015/16 (just under 300 ml per day), which the dairy industry is pleased to announce is “very high… compared to other comparable countries”. The main driver for this high level of milk consumption, again according to the dairy industry, is “the relentless expansion of the ‘coffee culture’ in Australia during the last decade.”

So how good an idea is all this milk guzzling? Pretty much every health claim that the dairy industry has made for their products has been debunked over the last few decades, with multiple meta-analyses showing that dairy product intake does not reduce the risk of bone fractures (and may even increase the risk), does not assist with long-term weight loss, is not responsible for the blood pressure-lowering effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and in fact is associated with higher blood pressure in lactovegetarians than vegans (see here also).

On top of this, dairy product intake is strongly linked to increased risk of prostate cancer, drinking whole milk raises the risk of dying of prostate cancer, and all full-fat dairy products raise the risk of dying of breast cancer.

Still keen on dairy? A recently published study on over 98 000 Swedish women and over 45 000 Swedish men whose dietary habits and disease risks have been tracked for up to 30 years, found that drinking more milk was associated with a higher risk of death. Chillingly, the researchers reported that

“In women, death rates were already increased at 1–2 glasses of milk per day”

which, as the dairy industry brags, is the average daily intake of milk in Australia.

The Swedish researchers speculated that the higher mortality risk they observed may be due to lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is broken down by our digestive processes into the simple sugars glucose and galactose, and galactose has been shown in animal studies to induce oxidative stress and inflammation, accelerating the aging process.

In fact, the same research team had found in a previous study that humans who drink more milk have higher levels of two markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, 8-iso-PGF2α and interleukin 6:

 

Lactose intake has also associated with an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, one of the most feared cancer types due to the grim fact that less than 7% of people diagnosed with it will still be alive after 5 years.

And if that’s not enough to get you to quit milk, the dairy industry is, according to Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, Bernard E. Rollin,

one of the most egregious abusers of animal welfare among all of agriculture

and also

one of the most ecologically harmful human activities“,

as a major cause of land degradation, deforestation, water stress, pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

Fortunately, there are many health-promoting alternatives to dairy products, including a wide variety of plant milks and yogurts. I favour whole-bean soy milk such as Bonsoy, oat milk and better brands of almond milk (the shorter the ingredient list, the healthier the product!) and home-made soy yogurt which I make from Bonsoy and a dairy-free yogurt culture. Coconut milk and coconut yogurt are far too high in saturated fat for anything other than occasional use.

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27
Mar

When to say ‘sometimes’ and when to say ‘never’

Written by vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Conventional wisdom has it that ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’, and that ‘everything in moderation’ is the key to good health. If this approach is working well for you – if you easily maintain your ideal weight, have a healthy relationship with food, and have no health problems – then great! Keep doing what you’re doing. If not, read on :).

This week, I shared my thoughts about ‘sometimes’ and ‘never’ foods – based on both my personal experience, and over 20 years of working with thousands of clients who have various degrees of ‘messed-upness’ around food – with a client, whom I’ll call Grace. She found the discussion enlightening and helpful. I hope you will too.

Let’s start by dividing foods up into 3 categories. The first is ad libitum foods – that is, foods that you can and should eat as much as you like of, because they’re flat-out healthy, and just about impossible to overeat. Think fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Ever tried overeating broccoli or boiled chick peas? How far did you get? I thought so.

The next category is sometimes foods. This category includes both plant-based foods such as dried fruit and nuts, which are wholesome but perilously easy to overeat, and not-so-wholesome foods such as animal products (unless of course you’re vegan, in which case they’re a ‘never’ food) and ‘vegan junk food’.

And finally, we have our never foods. These are the foods that really ought not to ever pass your lips, for the sake of your physical and/or mental health.

The tricky question is, how do we distinguish between a ‘sometimes’ and a ‘never’ food?

As I explained to Grace, a ‘sometimes’ food is one that you know you can consume, every now and again, with complete safety – that is, it won’t make you feel unwell, and after you’ve finished it, you don’t crave it, and you don’t think about it at all until the next occasion that you have it. And when I say occasion, I mean ‘occasion’. An occasion is a special event, like a birthday, Christmas, or anniversary. If you’re eating a particular food 4 times a week, that’s not ‘occasional’ consumption!

For both Grace and I, alcohol is very much a ‘sometimes’ item. As I told Grace, once a year I share a half-bottle of Macquariedale Estate dessert wine with my husband, on our wedding anniversary. It’s the one wine that doesn’t give me a headache within minutes of the first sip, so I enjoy it… and then forget all about it until the next anniversary.

Grace drinks champagne at weddings, but other apart from that, has no interest in alcohol. So for both of us, placing alcohol in the ‘sometimes’ category is a no-brainer.

What about the ‘never’ foods? For me, that used to be anything sweet and gooey – chocolate mud cake, cheesecake, custard tarts – anything with that magic combination of sugar and fat would flip my obsession switch. One bite was never enough. If someone in my family brought home chocolate mud cake, it would sing to me from the fridge. I’d hear it serenading me at night while I lay in bed. I couldn’t stop myself from opening up the box and cutting another piece – just a tiny sliver, then another, then another, until it was all gone and I was faced with both the physical discomfort of a stomach full of sweet, fatty stodge, and an equally sickening feeling of shame at my abject lack of self-control.

But even when there was none left, I would keep thinking about it. When could I get my hands on some more? Surely I could I just have one slice, and then put it out of my mind? Surely I could eat it ‘in moderation’; after all, other people around me seemed to be able to do that.

The breakthrough moment came when I acknowledged to myself that there were some foods that I simply could not be moderate with. To make my life easier, I had to put them on the ‘never’ list.

This is not such a foreign idea. We don’t tell smokers to ‘smoke moderately’; we tell them to quit. If someone is an alcoholic, we don’t tell them to cut down on their drinking. They need to stop drinking entirely, at least for a period of time; some former alcoholics are able to have the occasional drink after they’ve gone through recovery, while others find out the hard way that even one sip of alcohol will invariably lead to complete relapse.

You might have already put certain foods on your ‘never’ list; for example flesh foods, if you’re vegetarian, or all animal products, if you’re vegan. As social psychologist Melanie Joy points out, entire cultures put certain foods on their ‘never’ list; for example, dog meat in Western cultures, and pork amongst Muslims and Jews.

I have a number of Jewish clients who grew up in secular families, but in their teens decided to become ‘religious Jews’ – that is, to follow Jewish laws. One element of becoming religious was keeping kosher. The interesting thing is, that not one of the people I’ve spoken to who did this, ever experienced any difficulty in letting go of non-kosher foods – even foods that had been favourites before – once they made the decision to keep kosher.

Most of the vegans I see report the same phenomenon. There’s an identity shift that happens once you declare, to yourself and others, “I don’t eat that”, whether the ‘that’ is non-kosher foods, meat or chocolate mud cake. As Grace mused, other people tend not to argue with you (“Go on, just have one, I made it just for you!”) when you simply say “I don’t eat that”, probably because at some level they register that ‘not eating that’ is part of your identity, and non-negotiable.

As our discussion progressed, Grace realised that potato chips needed to become a ‘never’ food for her. She had already decided to never bring them home, but had given herself permission to eat them when at other people’s houses. Problem was, once she had one, she couldn’t stop eating them, and bingeing on chips tended to derail her attempts to eat more healthfully overall. That’s hardly Grace’s fault; as investigative journalist Michael Moss pointed out in his disturbingly brilliant book Sugar Salt Fat, Big Food invests Big Money into developing products that are so addictive, once you have one bite you can’t put them down.

But people do vary in their susceptibility to the addictive pull of processed foods, both for genetic (and possibly epigenetic) reasons and because of varying experiences with food during childhood, and different foods are ‘binge triggers’ for different people. I’ve never had much of a ‘thing’ for chips, so they don’t need to go on my ‘never’ list; it just doesn’t occur to me to eat them in the first place.

Placing all those gooey sweet treats on my ‘never’ list, on the other hand, completely liberated me from the endless, energy-draining back-and-forth in my head about whether, and when, and with whom, and how often, and how much I could eat those foods. Once I became a person who doesn’t eat ‘that’, I reclaimed all the energy that had been tied up in that conflict… and put it to much better use!

So how do you know if a food needs to go on your ‘never’ list? I simply ask clients to tell me which foods they crave, and then ask them

“If I were to tell you that you can never have that food again in your whole life, how would you feel?”

If they experience a visceral sensation that’s strikingly similar to the experience of grief – that ‘gutted’ feeling you get when someone you love dies or leaves your life – I know we’ve found a ‘never’ food. I mean, if you told me I could never eat broccoli again I would feel bummed, because I like broccoli, but I wouldn’t feel bereft. There are other vegetables in the world, after all!

I use Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Matrix Reimprinting to work through that grief and unpack the early-life experiences that forge our deep emotional attachments to certain foods, which helps bring my clients to the point of being able to move those particular foods onto their ‘never’ list with no ‘maybes’ and no regrets.

And the interesting is, most of them end up reporting the same experience as me: down the track from when I made that decision, I no longer have any interest in those foods. They don’t actually look like food to me anymore. So there’s no sense of missing out, or yearning for a lost pleasure. My life is better – happier, richer and fuller – for being a person who doesn’t eat ‘that’.

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16
Nov

Big Fat Myths

By vegan Naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Last month, I had the honour of speaking at the Cruelty Free Festival in Sydney. I titled my presentation ‘Myth-Busting the Vegan Diet’, and boy, are there a lot of myths to bust.

In the Q&A session afterward, several people asked questions relating to fat intake.

This is actually one of the most contentious areas of nutrition, even in the plant-based nutrition world. The Internet is awash with misinformation regarding fat, and a slew of popular pro-fat books released over the last several years has only contributed to people’s confusion about how much fat they should eat, and what type is best.

I’ve been asked so many questions about fat both by clients and members of EmpowerEd, my health and nutrition education program, that I thought I’d gather all the Big Fat Myths together into one post.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Myth #1: Coconut oil is a healthy food

I’ve covered coconut oil in detail in my article Coconut oil: beyond the hype; just to summarise this long and fully-referenced article, coconut oil:

  • Does not help you lose weight or belly fat;
  • Does raise the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease;
  • Does impair insulin sensitivity, which raises your risk of type 2 diabetes;
  • Does not prevent Alzheimer’s disease; and
  • Does dramatically decrease endothelial function (the ability of the inner lining of your blood vessels to regulate blood pressure and stop plaque formation) and impair the antioxidant capacity of HDL for at least 6 hours after consumption.

Again, read my previous article if you want more detail on coconut oil.

Myth #2: Olive oil is heart-healthy

Once again, I’ve already discussed olive oil in great detail in The Mediterranean diet: sorting fact from fantasy. The bottom line is that olive oil is not ‘heart healthy’; it’s just less damaging to cardiovascular health than saturated animal fats such as butter, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of olive oil.

Just like coconut oil, olive oil impairs endothelial function, causing accelerated growth of cholesterol-laden atherosclerotic plaques that cause heart attacks and strokes.

And if you’ve heard that the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) study proved that a Mediterranean diet with either olive oil or nuts is better for cardiovascular disease prevention than a low-fat diet, you’ve been suckered by one of the biggest Big Fat Myths of our time.

You see, the people assigned to the ‘low fat’ diet in the PREDIMED study didn’t eat a low fat diet at all.

As the table below, from the Supplementary Index to the study shows, the control group began the study eating a really high fat diet (39% of energy intake from fat), and ended up eating… a really high fat diet (37% fat).

predimed_fatintake

So what the PREDIMED study actually proved is that a pretty bad diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts, is a bit better for you than a truly god-awful diet. How much better? Well, eating a Mediterranean diet plus olive oil would lower your risk of the primary end point (a composite measure of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes) by 0.6% compared to eating the ‘low fat diet’ that was anything but low fat, and eating a Mediterranean diet plus nuts would lower your risk by 1%.

Excuse me for not being blown away by these outcomes, especially when I compare them to the amazing results that Drs Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn have obtained, using a low fat plant-based diet to reverse heart disease!

Myth #3: Avocado contains essential fats

Every time someone trots out this particular myth, I get an almost uncontrollable urge to scream at them, ‘Stop taking advice from people who earned their nutrition degree from the Academy of Google!’

As anyone who has actually taken a nutrition course knows, there are only 2 essential fatty acids (building blocks of fat that you have to eat, pre-formed, in your diet because you can’t make them yourself). They are the 2 polyunsaturated fatty acids

  1. Linoleic acid, an omega 6 fatty acid; and
  2. Alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid

That’s it. Every other type of fat that we need, we can make all by ourselves, out of these 2 fatty acids along with non-fat precursors, chiefly carbohydrate.

Avocado contains chiefly monounsaturated fat; in fact out of the 32 g of fat in half an average avocado (flesh only), over 19 g is made up of monounsaturated fat. The remaining fat in an avocado is chiefly saturated (more than 5 g), leaving just over 4 g of polyunsaturated fat. Out of this, most is linoleic acid (the omega 6 fat that most people get too much of anyway) and 0.255 g is alpha-linolenic acid (the essential omega 3 fat). In what universe does this constitute a food high in essential fats?

(For comparison, a heaped tablespoon of ground linseed (flaxseed) contains 2.3 g of alpha-linolenic acid and 0.6 g of linoleic acid, easily fulfilling the Australian RDI of 0.8 g of alpha-linolenic acid for women and 1.3 g per day for men.)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love avocado and enjoy the rich, creamy texture that it brings to salads and Mexican foods. But I don’t fool myself that it’s making some irreplaceable contribution to my nutritional intake; it’s just a treat that I have in very limited amounts.

Myth #3: Eating fat helps you lose fat

Oh, puh-lease. I know people love to hear good news about their bad habits, but this one is beyond ridiculous. The people pushing this myth are the same ones telling you that eating carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice, potatoes and lentils makes you fat, despite the fact that the slimmest populations of humans on the planet eat a starch-based diet.

Here are some facts about fat:

A 2015 study in which obese people were confined to a metabolic ward so that the effect of either carbohydrate or fat restriction on their weight could be precisely measured, clearly showed that it was cutting dietary fat that cut the body fat. The title of the study says it all: Calorie for Calorie, Dietary Fat Restriction Results in More Body Fat Loss than Carbohydrate Restriction in People with Obesity.

Myth #4: Fish oil is good for your heart

This is one of those myths that just won’t die, no matter how much evidence accumulates to disprove it. A major meta-analysis published in 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine summed up the state of play in regards to fish oil supplements:

“Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids did not reduce the risk of overall cardiovascular events…, all-cause mortality, sudden cardiac death, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, or transient ischemic attack and stroke.”

Even more worryingly, if you’ve already had a heart attack or suffer from angina, taking fish oil or eating oily fish may actually increase your risk of sudden cardiac death, and certainly won’t prolong your life-span; while eating dark fish may increase your risk of developing atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that increase the risk of stroke, dementia and heart failure.

Myth #5: You need to eat a high-fat diet for hormonal health

I’ve had so many female clients tell me that another naturopath or nutritionist advised them to eat a high-fat diet to ‘balance their hormones’ that I’ve pretty much lost all faith in the institutions that educate and credential such practitioners, whose modus operandi appears to be simply Let’s Make Stuff Up.

A high-fat diet wreaks hormonal havoc by lowering the level of sex hormone binding globulin; low SHBG is found in women with premenstrual syndrome, period pain and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Dr Neal Barnard of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine showed that a low-fat plant-based diet raises SHBG and reduces period pain and PMS. So if your hormones are giving you headaches, it’s time to give high-fat foods the heave-ho!

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13
Oct

Does fruit make you fat?

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Back when I was a naturopathy student in the early 1990s, no one I was acquainted with would have taken this question seriously. At that time, everybody ‘knew’ that being overweight was due to eating too much fat. End of story.

But then the Atkins diet – which exonerates fat, and vilifies carbohydrates as the culprit in weight gain – was reborn as the best-selling book Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (having died a rapid death in its first incarnation as Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution in the early 1970s).

A wave of me-too books followed: The Zone Diet, The South Beach Diet, Protein Power and a swag of others of lesser repute.

The Paleo diet craze also took off around this time, having originally been launched in the late 1970s.

While the proponents of each type of diet varied on some details, they all sang from the same hymn sheet on one point: ‘carbs’ (carbohydrate-rich foods) were bad. Carbs raised insulin levels, carbs turned to fat, carbs caused diabetes, carbs caused your arteries to block up, carbs caused inflammation, and so on ad nauseum.

Fast forward to 2016, and I’m still being told by clients on their first visit to me, that they’ve been restricting their fruit intake because their personal trainer, or some book they read, or a blog they follow, told them that “fruit is full of sugar” and “fruit makes you fat”.

I used to simply dismiss this preposterous claim with a rhetorical question: “Have you ever seen a fat monkey?” but the notion that fruit is fattening has wormed its way so deeply into the collective unconscious that I now need to address it more comprehensively in order to loosen its grip on my clients’ minds.

So this is what I tell them:

Firstly, epidemiological (population-based) studies have found that fruit consumption protects against weight gain – but fruit juice has the opposite effect (1).

Secondly, diets with a moderate amount of naturally-occurring fructose from fruit give better weight loss results than fructose-restricted diets (2).

Thirdly, the vilification of fruit by low-carb proponents is based on several misunderstandings about the fructose that fruit contains. Fructose is a simple sugar – called a ‘monosaccharide’ – that together with glucose, comprises sucrose, or table sugar.

Whereas glucose stimulates your pancreas to release insulin, allowing your cells to take up glucose and burn it for energy, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion and is instead is taken up almost entirely by the liver.

Under certain circumstances, fructose can be turned into fat, which can either accumulate in the liver causing fatty liver and hepatic insulin resistance; or be sent out into the blood stream, causing systemic insulin resistance, high triglycerides and fat accumulation in adipose tissue.

Sounds scary, right? But what are those ‘certain circumstances’ in which fructose creates such calamities? Quite simply, experimental feeding trials in which obese individuals are fed fructose at levels that no normal human being would consume – typically 50% above the 95th percentile of consumption, or in other words, half as much again as is consumed by those who eat the most fructose in their regular daily diet (3)!

In trials where fructose has simply been substituted for the glucose normally consumed in the average human diet, there were no adverse effects on body weight, blood pressure, blood fats or insulin level; and in fact a possible benefit was found for glucose tolerance and glycemic control in diabetics (4).

The other point to bear in mind here is that fructose in the human diet almost always occurs in combination with glucose, whether in fruit, honey, table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, so trials where fructose is consumed in isolation give very misleading results.

Just how much fructose does fruit contain, anyway? Different fruits have different amounts, but as a rough guide, a 420 kj serving of fruit (say, 1 apple or 1 cup of blueberries) contains 10 g of fructose.

How much fructose was found to wreak metabolic havoc and cause weight gain in experimental feeding trials? 104 to 250 g per day, or an additional 18% to 97% of total daily energy intake (4).

So if you’re intending to eat 20 apples today, you probably need to back off on your fruit consumption (and yes, that IS a warning for people following Raw Till 4 and other diet plans based on fruit; apart from anything else, excessive fruit consumption nudges out vegetables, which should really be the basis of our diet for optimal health). Otherwise, relax and enjoy some of Mother Nature’s dessert, guilt-free!

(And if you’re looking for something a bit fancier than an apple, try this recipe: Black Sapote Mousse :).)

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01
Sep

Why improving your body image must come before you lose weight

Most people assume that their body image – their perception of the attractiveness of their own body – will automatically improve after they lose weight. That seems fairly logical, right? If you don’t like the way you look now, surely you’ll be happier with your appearance once you’ve slimmed down?

I beg to differ. I would argue that in order for you to reach your healthy weight and stay there permanently, you need to improve your body image first. Yes, you read that right. What I’m saying is that hating the way you look now is actually a direct impediment to you being able to make – and sustain – the kind of changes in your weight and body shape that you’d love to see.

Here are 3 reasons why:

Reason # 1: Hating your body makes you feel down, and when you feel down you’re more likely to binge.

British women’s magazine Top Sante surveyed 3000 readers and found that 90% said their bodies made them feel ‘down’. 73% said they binged on food, with 32% admitting to bulimic behaviour (bingeing followed by purging, either through laxative abuse and/or self-induced vomiting).

In the course of my extensive work with women suffering from emotional eating, I’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between those 2 phenomena: when women (and many men) are feeling bad about their bodies, they find themselves irresistibly attracted to what I call ‘trigger foods’ – foods that they can’t stop eating once they’ve had a taste. Here’s a common thought pattern that many of my clients report, when I ask them what was running through their head just before they started to binge:

“Since I’m so fat already, what difference will it make if I eat this packet of biscuits/tub of ice cream/block of chocolate?”

The despair, disgust and hopelessness underlying this thought pattern are so overwhelming, your unconscious mind will drive you to seek relief… and one of the fastest ways to get temporary relief from these painful emotions is to eat ‘hyperpalatable’ foods, for reasons I’ve explained in a previous post. And because these foods not only pack such an enormous calorie punch, but also powerfully reinforce your desire for hyperpalatables and undermine your ability to enjoy healthy foods, every binge makes it harder and harder for you to lose weight.

Reason # 2: Hating your body makes you feel undeserving

In our thin-is-beautiful culture, the vast majority of people associate “fat” with a swag of undesirable characteristics. Here are some responses women gave when asked what they associated “fat” with:

body-image-words

Confronting, don’t you think? What I’ve found over and over again, is that women who see themselves as “fat”, with all the negative associations that trail along after that word, don’t feel worthy of having the body they’d really like to live in. Not only do they feel judged by our thin-obsessed society; they judge themselves. They defer self-acceptance and self-love until after they look the way they believe they ‘should’ in order to be acceptable.

They also have great difficulty seeing themselves as slim even when they’ve lost significant amounts of weight (see my previous post on body image lag), so they tend to self-sabotage and regain the weight they’ve lost.

In contrast, Rachel, after participating in The LEAN Program wrote to me

“I realised where I was stuck in critical thinking and how I could love my body shape no matter what family or friends think! What I found ironic was the more I accepted myself as fat the readier I became to be thin. So having lost weight I accept myself as I am now and I accept and recognize the ‘fuller figured’ shape I used to have.”

The key here is to love your body right now, not to defer that love until you look the way you want to look… because if you hate yourself now, you’ll still be hating yourself after you’ve lost weight – you’ll just find new things to hate!

Reason # 3: What you focus on expands

EFT Master and Law of Attraction teacher Carol Look is fond of saying

“You can’t get thin when you feel fat.”

I agree with her 100%! If all you can see when you look in the mirror is your cellulite, your flabby upper arms, your protruding tummy, droopy bottom, thunder thighs etc etc etc, you can bet your bottom dollar that’s what you’ll be getting more of! Conversely, when you can look in the mirror and notice what’s already beautiful and attractive about you, you shift your energy significantly, and set yourself up to receive more of what you’re experiencing: self-appreciation, gratitude and contentment.

That’s exactly what happened to Sona when we worked through The Mirror Exercise in The LEAN Program. When we began the exercise, she could only notice her “bingo wings”, “thick thighs” and “flabby stomach”. After we worked through the first phase of the exercise together, she could see her beautiful eyelashes, long legs and attractive hair – a hugely significant shift for her.

When you feel confident about yourself, and in touch with your own attractiveness, you make decisions about food and exercise that support you in losing weight healthfully and keeping it off; you feel deserving of having the body you’d like to have.

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04
Aug

Why are salt, sugar and fat so addictive?

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

In last week’s post, I introduced you to John and Ashleigh, who both struggle with food cravings when they become anxious.  As I pointed out in that post, “It’s not about the food”, many people overeat, or eat when they’re not genuinely hungry, to quell uncomfortable feelings. But why is it that, as John humorously pointed out, eating broccoli doesn’t have the same anxiety-relieving effect as his ‘frug’ (food-drug), freshly-baked bread with butter, Swiss cheese and avocado?

The answer largely lies in 3 components of processed food that drive cravings like nothing else: salt, sugar and fat. In his book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Michael Moss (whom you can watch in this interview) details how the processed food industry uses prodigious amounts of salt, sugar and fat in foods and beverages, very intentionally and unabashedly, to addict consumers.

Adding sugar, salt and fat to food makes perfect sense from the point of the food industry: these ingredients drive overconsumption of the foods and beverages they’re added to; and they’re cheap and readily available, which maximises profit.

The food industry employs scientists to study, in great detail, the way that the unholy trinity of salt, sugar and fat affects brain function in humans.

For example, food technologists do extensive scientific studies on products before they’re launched, searching for the exact concentration of sugar that will hit what the industry calls the “bliss point” – the maximum amount of activation of the brain’s pleasure centre. They have also altered the chemical structure of sugar, and add enhancers to it that amplify its sweetness 200 times.

Food industry scientists also use brain imaging and other advanced sophisticated neurological assessment tools to study the impact of fat on the pleasure centre in the brain. Using the results of these studies, food technologists then manipulate the chemical structure of the fats they add to processed food, to enhance their “mouthfeel” – the warm, melt-in-the-mouth sensation you get when you bite into a cheese-stuffed pizza crust, or a piece of chocolate.

The food industry also manipulates the physical structure of salt, pulverising it to a fine powder so that it hits your palate faster and harder to provide what they call “the flavour burst” – that tingling sensation you get when you put a potato chip in your mouth, which is way much more intense than the potato chips from my childhood. Again, this flavour burst sends signals directly to the pleasure centre in the brain.

In summary, the irrestibility of foods rich in salt, sugar and fat stems from the impact they have on the regions of our brain that register pleasure. But why would we be craving the pleasure of eating – which is very transitory, and suffers from the law of diminishing returns: the first couple of mouthfuls are always the best – to this intense and self-destructive degree? For most people, when they really drill down into it, the answer to that question is “Because I’m not happy!”

When I work with a client, or with participants in The LEAN Program, I’m always looking for the thoughts, beliefs and past experiences that limit that individual’s ability to experience happiness. Once I find that happiness-blocker, I get to work with EFT to root it out… and then something magical happens: there’s a spontaneous outbreak of happiness!

Everything in that person’s life that could be a source of happiness – their relationships, the beauty in their physical environment that’s just waiting to be noticed, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the personal growth they’ve achieved – suddenly becomes evident to them. And then the mindless pursuit of food-borne pleasure just drops away. Who needs to drug themselves with food when they’re already high on happiness?

As a client said to me many years ago, when you finally find something in life that’s bigger than the chocolate cake, the craving just falls away.

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13
Jul

It’s not about the food

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Whenever I’m working on food cravings with either my private clients or participants in The LEAN Program, we ALWAYS reach a point where they realise it’s not about the food.

They start off completely wrapped up in the desire to eat chocolate, or lollies, or hot chips, or bread and butter, or whatever their “frug” – my portmanteau for food-drug which is what these so-called ‘hyperpalatable’ foods really are – happens to be. Then, as we apply the EFT or ‘tapping’ process to the sensory elements of the craving, such as the sight, smell, taste and texture of the food, the level of desire for it drops away.

It’s at this moment that they usually notice the emotions underlying the craving: sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, shame, guilt, regret, loneliness or any of the other human experiences commonly labelled ‘negative emotions’ – a term I heartily dislike! I prefer to see these so-called negative emotions as elaborate and sophisticated feedback from our unconscious minds, acting as a guidance system to nudge us back into alignment with our deepest purpose.

When we pay attention to our emotions, honour them and work respectfully with them through tapping, these emotions abate and make room for the feelings we prefer to have: hope, pride in our achievements, equanimity about our past mistakes and optimism for our future.

Two wonderful experiences with my clients epitomise this transformation. John* and Ashleigh* are both firmly committed to following a healthy diet and lifestyle plan, but both get derailed by food cravings from time to time.

John’s “frug” is freshly-baked white bread with butter, Swiss cheese and avocado. Due to health issues, he knows he shouldn’t indulge in this concoction except once in a blue moon, but he finds that whenever he gets anxious, the desire for it breaks through his rational commitment to eat healthfully. We tapped extensively on all the sensory elements of this craving:

  • The visual aspect – contrast of the browned crust with the white bread inside, all the different colours;
  • The olfactory aspect – smell of fresh-baked bread, sharp tang of the cheese;
  • The gustatory aspect – sharpness of the cheese, mildness of the bread, butter and avocado;
  • The kinasethetic aspect – contrasting texture of chewy crust and cheese with softness of the inner part of the bread, creaminess of the butter and avocado.

Then we tapped on the anxious feeling in John’s stomach that seemed to be soothed – for a short while! – when he’d eaten enough bread, butter, cheese and avocado. By the end of the tapping session, John felt neutral about his favourite concoction – no desire for it, and a sense that he could take it or leave it.

You can watch an excerpt of this tapping session, which John very kindly agreed to share, right here:

 

Ashleigh has experienced dramatic health benefits from adopting a wholefood, plant-based diet, but still suffers sugar cravings when she gets anxious. We started her tapping session by working on the anxiety, and then segued to a Matrix Reimprinting session on a key memory from her childhood: her father making an unkind remark to her mother and aunty about her having ‘bulging hips’, right in front of her. This deeply painful memory was seared into her consciousness, and held in place a deep conviction that she simply could not be good enough unless she was thin.

Like John, Ashleigh has been very kind and generous in agreeing to share the audio of her session.

 

The phenomenon of ‘borrowing benefits’ – experiencing relief from your own issues simply by tapping along with someone else while they do EFT on their issues – is well-established in EFT circles, and has even been studied by 3 separate research teams. I know you’ll benefit enormously from tapping along with both these sessions.

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20
Jun

You are what your gut bacteria eat

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!

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18
Apr

Do you have what it takes to get healthy?

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.

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13
Apr

Sweet Poison debunked

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.

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