You can attend seminars and workshops or research on the net and be momentarily inspired to make meaningful changes. However, the translation of that initial inspiration to action is notoriously sluggish. We are more than "creatures of habit", we are often locked into rigid behaviour patterns (including diet) that are remarkably resistant to change. This tendency is more pronounced if the change involves effort or cost.
In light of this likelihood I have selected seven simple changes that anyone can adopt with minimum effort and cost. I was originally contemplating a list of twenty changes but I realised that this was overkill and it might increase the risk of inaction. Instead, I'll introduce seven changes over three issues of "Nutrition Matters". Here's the first instalment:
1) Drink 250 mL of pomegranate juice daily
This is one of those super juices that has been well promoted to help justify the $40 per litre charged in the health food stores. The good news is that this remarkable juice is now available from most supermarkets in organic form for just $6 per litre, so there is no excuse for not drinking it. Its cheap and you don't have to go anywhere special to purchase it! Here's the other reasons why: Heart disease remains the largest killer in the Western World and here is a well researched tool to reduce the risk. Atherosclerosis is similarly destructive and there is impressive research linking consumption of pomegranate juice to reduced risk of this disease. Loss of libido in men is becoming increasingly common in men over 40, as are prostate problems (and the two are often related). Pomegranates are often called "nature's viagra" in relation to their effect upon sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
The vitamin and mineral content is not the key to the many benefits of this fruit. It is the sensational antioxidant effect that is truly therapeutic. Pomegranates contain flavonoids, a form of polyphenol similar to those found in green tea and red wine. In fact pomegranates have higher levels of flavonoids than either of these popular, antioxidant-rich foods. In addition to the rich lode of flavonoids, this fruit also contains anthocyanins (hence the deep reddish colour) and an exciting antioxidant that appears to be unique to pomegranates called punicalagens. Punicalagens are shaping up as promising anti-cancer agents and both pigments are also anti-inflammatory.
One benefit of pomegranate juice that boosts both heart health and libido relates to increased production of nitric oxide. This substance increases the flexibility of arteries allowing greater blood flow to both the heart and the penis. The huge selling sex drug, Viagra, sponsors an increased production of nitric acid to boost erections but it does not address any other aspect of heart health. Consequently, the chemically empowered lover can sometimes overexert and suffer heart failure as a result. Perhaps our bodies are sending a message when erections fail and we should get back to root causes (excuse the pun) rather than investing in a band aid.
The antioxidants in pomegranate juice can reduce oxidation of LDL. It is only the damaged form of LDL that can stick to arterial walls and increase plaque buildup. A reduction in arterial clogging means lower blood pressure and less chance of a heart attack or stroke. The nitric acid-sponsored, increased blood flow, offers dual benefits to the sex organs. The penis functions as it should and the prostate gland also benefits from increased blood supply. This little gland, which doubles as a sex organ, is serviced by a maze of tiny blood vessels which are particularly susceptible to congestion and malfunction. Improved blood flow means more efficient delivery of herbs like saw palmetto and stinging nettle (in the case of enlarged prostate) or antibiotics when prostatitis is involved. It also means that prostate health improves and this invariably increases libido. A glass of tangy juice a day can improve both love life and longevity. What are you waiting for?
2) Find 15 minutes per day to practise resistance exercise
This can involve any exercise where your muscles are encouraged to resist applied pressure. This could involve simple push-ups, for example, but the best strategy is to use light weights. Working with weights, in this instance, is not about building biceps or sculpturing six packs. Instead, we are striving to live longer, healthier lives and improve our muscle to fat ratio. Resistance exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective techniques to sponsor the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) from the pituitary gland. Our capacity to release HGH declines dramatically as we age to the extent that a 20-year-old has four times the level of this hormone in their blood when compared to a 60-year-old. We don't actually stop producing the "youth" hormone, we just stop releasing it from the pituitary. If we can encourage the ongoing release of HGH, there are multiple benefits. This hormone searches out and burns fat like a heat seeking missile. The muscle to fat ratio is a major indicator of ageing and a poor ratio also increases susceptibility to a raft of degenerative health issues. Australians are now the most overweight people on the planet with some 64% of us tipping the scales at least 5 kg more than our ideal weights.
One major study found that resistance exercise promoted HGH release by over 400%! All age groups can benefit from this finding. HGH is a fat burner that is often called "the fitness hormone" and it is also a remarkable anti-ageing tool. All you need to do is invest $30 on a set of 3 – 5 kg weights and work out, using groups of 12 repeats of each lifting pattern. 15 minutes of these reps per day is enough to flood your body with HGH to reap the many benefits.
3) Lose weight and live longer by eating according to the Glycemic Index
This is the proven way to lose weight without the dreaded “yo-yo” response and it is not that painful. The GI of food is determined by how fast a given food spikes blood sugar. This is a critically important consideration in light of the fact that low blood sugar means low blood insulin and low blood insulin is the single biggest indicator of longevity. Three studies of centenarians, completed last year, found that the only common factor amongst those that made it to 100 years plus, was low blood insulin. Insulin promotes cell division and you only have a certain number or cell divisions in a lifetime. The more insulin you produce (in response to blood sugar) the faster your cell divisions and the shorter your life!
So how do you lengthen your life by diet? Well, you can eat as much as you like of the low GI foods like fruit and vegetables and moderate amounts of medium GI foods like complex carbs and legumes. However, the trick is to reduce consumption of high GI foods like white bread, white rice, potatoes and pasta. Potatoes are Australia's favourite vegetable and yet they have a higher GI than white sugar (85 vs. 70). Sweet potatoes, ironically, have a GI of just 35. It is the fibre component of food that determines how fast blood sugar is spiked. Sweet potatoes are filled with fibre while potatoes contain very little fibre. Here are some guidelines for eating in accord with the GI index of food.
Tips to Master GI Weight Management
Drop beer drinking in favour of another form of alcohol like cider, spirits or wine. Beer has the highest known GI (110 vs 70 for sugar). It's not called a beer gut by accident.
Cooking certain foods can dramatically increase the GI impact. For example, raw carrots have a low GI of just 30 but once the carrots are cooked the GI jumps to 85. Even overcooking can increase GI. For example, Al dente pasta has a lower GI than over cooked pasta.
The inclusion of chia seeds can reduce the GI levels of the high ranking foods. Chia seed (Chia-Tone™ from NTS Health) contains very high levels of soluble and insoluble fibre and it is this component that drops GI. Chia seeds can be sprinkled onto your potatoes, for example, or chia gel can be introduced as a moisture source before mashing potatoes.
Soft drinks are a high GI poison but fruit juices are fine if some fibre is added back after juicing. This might involve adding back some of the extracted pith or, in the case of commercial juices, you could add some chia seeds to lower the GI.
The Glycemic Index is not necessarily related to nutrition. Honey, for example, is infinitely superior to white sugar from a nutrition perspective and yet it has a GI of 85 in comparison to 70 for sugar.
Pizza spikes blood sugar for a longer period than most foods, which is a problem considering the popularity of this fast food in Australia. Sprinkling chia seed on the cooked pizza before consumption can help, as can the inclusion of a high fibre topping and the use of wholemeal rather than white flour for the base.
Sourdough breads have a much lower GI than conventional breads and this is good news because these breads are also much healthier in other ways. The 12 – 24 hour fermentation of the dough removes the enzyme inhibitors that are found in cereal grains and it also neutralises the phytic acid which can otherwise tie up your zinc and magnesium (the largest mineral shortages in the Western world).
4) Embrace anti-inflammatory food and avoid those that sponsor inflammation
Inflammation is a root cause of most degenerative diseases and it makes good sense to reduce your risk with food selection. Here are some lists that may help:
Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Embrace
Foods from the allium family, including onions, leeks, garlic and shallots. Spring onions are particularly effective and garlic is a renowned botanical medicine. Two cloves of garlic each day can be remarkably protective but there is a trick to ensure maximum response. The active ingredient, allicin, is only formed when two other biochemicals combine. This fusion can only occur after the two components have been oxidised. The cloves should be bruised, to encourage oxidation and left sitting for 11 minutes prior to consumption. Both "garlic breath" and "onion breath" can be neutralised by chewing on a sprig of parsley.
Ginger, the world’s most popular herb/spice, is both alkalising and it offers a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. Ginger tea is easily made by grating a tablespoon of ginger, adding it to a cup of boiling water and letting it steep for 10 minutes. This spicy hot drink is a powerful digestive aid while also fighting inflammation. Ginger also contains a compound called shagaol which has been shown to kill the virus behind the common cold. This protective action kicks in when shagaol is present at just one part per million. One tablespoon of grated ginger contains 1 ppm of shagaol!
Oily fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines contain good levels of the omega-3 fatty acids that have a powerful anti-inflammatory action. Omega-3 fats provide the building blocks for the body to heal, while omega-6 fats sponsor inflammation. The ratio between these fats should be 2:1 but it is currently 20:1 in favour of omega-6 fats in Australia. Chia seed and flaxseed are other rich sources of omega-3 fats. The salmon must be wild salmon as the farmed version is often fed omega-6 grains and therefore does not contain the same levels of omega-3. Sardines are exceptional food but they must be smoked as this gentle heat does not destroy omega-3 fats. Sardines are also a great source of calcium, magnesium and iodine (if the head is still attached). They are also one of the highest known sources of CoEnzyme Q10.
Brassicas are tremendous food. We all know about broccoli, but kale is actually superior. It has considerably more antioxidants and it also features a better mineral profile. Kale contains the highest levels of lutein found in any vegetable. Lutein is a carotene that is very supportive of the eyes. Kale is a great additive for green smoothies but it is also delicious when stir fried with leeks. The leeks neutralise the goitragenic effect that is associated with all brassicas.
Turmeric contains high levels of curcumin. Curcumin is considered one of the most powerful known anti-inflammatory compounds. Turmeric turns things yellow but it is not an overwhelming flavour and it can be added to many foods including curries, stir fries, stews, soups and steamed vegetables. It can also be consumed in drinks with lemon juice and honey.
Berries top the charts in terms of antioxidant content but they are also powerfully anti-inflammatory. Blueberries are the pick of the easily available berries. Research suggests they are protective against almost everything. However, the Tibetan goji berries are even better and the antioxidant effect is magnified four fold when they are eaten in dried form. When coated in dark chocolate, these irresistible snacks deliver a double whammy (check out Cocoji Antioxidants from NTS).The scientific measurement of antioxidants is called the ORAC score. Goji berries have an ORAC score of 25000 (compared to 800 for broccoli) while dark chocolate scores 18000.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Sugar is acid forming, addictive and highly inflammatory. Our consumption has increased fifteen fold in the last ten decades and it is now amongst our largest killers. Xylitol and stevia are healthy alternatives to sugar but avoid aspartame as it is a neurotoxin even more damaging than sugar.
Wheat has been wildly overused and is now a major source of inflammatory allergies. When we eat wheat cereals followed by toast for breakfast, muffins for morning tea, sandwiches for lunch, biscuits for afternoon tea and pasta for dinner, we are truly abusing wheat and many of us are paying the price.
Processed dairy is difficult to digest and can promote inflammation. Pasteurisation removes the 32 enzymes that help digest this complex food. One of those enzymes, lactase, is abundantly present in raw milk to digest the milk sugar, lactose. Many of us, myself included, are lactose intolerant but there is rarely a problem when consuming raw milk. It is, of course, a gross breech of personal freedom and democratic rights that this wholefood has been made illegal. The health conscious are forced to sneak around like desperate criminals if they choose to seek out real milk that has not been bastardised.
Margarine and omega-6 cooking oils are a notorious source of inflammation. They are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated and this is part of the problem. They are also adding to our lode of inflammation building omega-6 fats. We already have ten times more omega-6 fats than required (in terms of the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio), so it makes little sense to continue increasing that imbalance.
Feed lot beef is also a problem. When animals are fed unnaturally large amounts of omega-6-dominant cereal grains they become inflamed (just like humans over-consuming omega-6 fats) due to the induced fatty acid imbalance. They then require chemical intervention and the meat harvested from these animals is substandard. It contains five times more artery-clogging, long chain, saturated fats than grass fed animals and it no longer contains a highly protective fat called CLA that is found in grass-fed beef.
5) Increase your consumption of brain supporting fats
Fats are hugely important for brain health. Our brains are 60% fat by dry weight and the low fat, no fat, 98% fat free fare that lines the supermarket shelves is not doing our brains any favours. We basically die with the brain cells we are born with, unlike the constant replacement that characterises all other cells in our body. Fats protect brain cells and with degenerative brain disorders running rampant we need all the help we can get. The other important protector of brain cells is the fat soluble antioxidant, vitamin E. It is now understood that we need all eight forms of vitamin E for maximum benefit. There is one oil that supplies brain supporting fat, along with the highest levels of full spectrum vitamin E found in any food. I believe that this should be the cooking oil of choice for us all. Red palm oil contains a medium chain saturated fat favoured by both the brain and the heart and it also contains all of the tocotrienals and tocopherols (forms of vitamin E). It is, in fact, the highest known source of all four tocotrienals. Tocotrienals are forty times more potent antioxidants than tocopherols and yet alpha tocopherol is the only supplementary form of vitamin E available in the stores (in Australia).
Red palm oil is also the highest source of carotenes, hence the orange/ red colour. You can also enjoy the delicious flavour of saturated fat, without gaining weight, because this medium chain fatty acid boosts metabolism (like coconut oil) and can actually be used as a weight loss tool. All cooking oils are at risk of oxidation during heating. The oxidised fat then becomes a primary source of destructive free radicals. Red palm oil does not suffer this fate because of its extremely high antioxidant content.
6) Dose up with vitamin D
This nutrient is actually a hormone rather than a vitamin and it turns out to be a lot more important than anyone imagined. Every month sees new research highlighting the protective capacity of vitamin D, an essential nutrient that most of us are lacking. It is often called the "sunshine vitamin" because it is produced by our skin when stimulated by sunlight. Recent research revealed that 78% of Queenslanders are vitamin D deficient and when this level of shortage occurs in the "Sunshine State", something is obviously amiss. Full body sun exposure is required for 20 minutes a day to produce enough of this nutrient and you can't go directly from the sun to the shower or you will wash of the recently manufactured "vitamin" before it is absorbed. Most of us do not get this level of sun exposure and most of the time we are wearing blockout which prevents the manufacture of vitamin D. It is then, a good strategy to supplement with vitamin D3 or consume foods rich in this nutrient.
Cod liver oil contains the highest source of vitamin D. A tablespoon a day of cod liver oil will deliver all the omega-3 fats you need, along with a healthy dose of both vitamin D and vitamin A. When Australia's longest living man died recently they replayed an interview with him conducted in 2010. When asked for the secret to his longevity he replied, "I have taken a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day of my adult life and I have very rarely suffered illness. That is my secret". The problem that many people suffer when taking this oil is a fishy reflux that can last a couple of hours after consumption. The trick to mask the fish flavour and prevent the reflux is to mix the oil with the juice of a lemon. It is then much more drinkable and there is no aftertaste. The lemon also serves to provide a much needed alkalising response.
7) Take three conscious deep breaths every hour
You could set your mobile phone as a reminder to do this initially, but after a month you typically begin to do it naturally. These conscious breaths tend to serve as a roundabout to slow the traffic chaos in our ever-active brains. We normally have around 50,000 thoughts each day, many of which are negative and represent a major source of stress. Deep breathing is a key strategy in meditation. When the brain is focusing on the breath it is no longer a buzzing, jumble of pointless thoughts. Just one minute of deep breathing each hour is enough to stem the flow and generate a sense of peace that grows like a flower if you can persevere for that first month. Deep breathing from the stomach rather than the chest also offers a range of physiological benefits. Breathing is the only bodily function that we do both voluntarily and involuntarily and it can be used as a bridge to link body systems over which we have no control. We can consciously use breathing to influence the involuntary sympathetic nervous system that regulates heart rate, blood pressure, circulation and digestion. Deep breathing stimulates blood and lymph flow improving both disease resistance and athletic ability. Most importantly, in a stress laden society, deep breathing stimulates the relaxation response.
These seven suggested changes are not confronting like giving up smoking or drinking. They represent simple adjustments that anyone can make to move towards a happier, healthier life. If you boost your heart health and sex life with pomegranate juice, practise 15 minutes of resistance exercise, adjust your diet in line with GI scores, eat anti-inflammatory foods, cook with a heavenly red palm oil, spend more time in the sun and deep breathe three times an hour you will feel and look different and that change will be positive.
Disclaimer: All advice in this article is for information purposes only. You should seek professional medical advice before undertaking any procedures and supplements included in this article.