A – Z of Nutrition
A is for Antioxidants
Antioxidants occur naturally in plant based foods and are abundant in brightly coloured (and dark green) fruits and vegetables, chocolate (flavanols), teas and even red wine (resveratrol). Daily intake is essential protect the cells in your body from “free radicals” or “oxidative stress”. Put simply, this is the damage done to your cells every time you breathe, eat or exercise. We can add or reduce this load of oxidative stress through our lifestyle and food choices and boosting our antioxidant intake. Amazingly given the right nutrient balance the body also makes its own antioxidants!
B is for Brassicas
Brassicas are the family of vegetables including brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and kohl rabi. They contain sulphurous and other chemical compounds which have beneficial effects to support your liver in its constant job of detoxifying hormones and metabolic waste products. Regular consumption can help to ease pre-menstrual tension and recent research has shown that brassicas can also be protective against cancer and heart disease – make sure you have at least 2 portions a day!
C is for vitamin C
It’s the one vitamin we have all heard of, but what do we eat to boost our intake? Papaya, peppers, brussels sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi fruit, oranges, potatoes and cauliflower all have the highest amounts! Daily intake is essential. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, it supports the production of collagen (fights wrinkles!) supports the body’s immune response, assists iron abortion, helps to make neurotransmitters such as seratonin…...our bodies cannot make it, we need to take it in through food….. but when you cook, steam don’t boil as it is a water soluble vitamin!
D is for vitamin D
It is in the news every winter, but what does it do for us? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It has a role in bone health by increasing calcium uptake from the bloodstream, it supports the body’s immune response, supports cardiovascular function and it may play a part in reducing type 2 diabetes. Our bodies can generate it from sunlight (UVB rays - when not wearing sunscreen!) and boost levels from foods such as oily fish, cow’s milk, eggs and shitake mushrooms. We store it in the body, so caution is advised with long term high dose supplementation.
E is for Essential fatty acids
Omega 3 (linolenic acid, EPA & DHA) and omega 6 (linoleic acid) are ESSENTAL fatty acids as we cannot make them in the body, they need to come through food or supplementation. Research is currently examining their role in reducing the impact of inflammation, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, depression and other mental health disorders. Boost through diet with eggs and oily fish such as, salmon, mackerel, anchovy, sardines and herrings…remember them as “S.M.A.S.H”. Or boost through algae oil if vegan or vegetarian.
F is for Fibre
Boosting your soluble fibre intake on a daily basis from sources such as brown basmati rice, quinoa, oats, milled flax and chia seeds, psyllium, beans, pulses, vegetables and whole fruit with the skin on has many health boosting properties. These include gently slowing digestion so you can absorb the nutrients from your food and supporting blood sugar levels (it has also been shown to aid weight loss). Insoluble fibre is found in bran, nuts and seeds wholemeal bread, potatoes with their skins on and supports the movement through your digestive system, increasing your stools bulk – great if you are constipated. We need a mix of both for a healthy happy gut!
G is for Gut
Is for the importance of the flora and fauna in your GUT – your Microbiome. The microbiome is a highly beneficial ecosystem of bacteria within our bodies, most of them colonising our digestive system. We cannot live without them, they synthesise vitamins, regulate our immune system, provide the first line of defence against pathogens, support our acid/alkaline PH balance and support the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Stress, dehydration, caffeine and processed foods all weaken this teeming ecosystem whereas whole fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, grass fed meats and oily fish all support its vital functions and replication.
H is for vitamin H
Vitamin H (Biotin or Vitamin B7) is a little known water soluble vitamin that plays a vital role in maintaining and improving the condition of our hair, skin, nails and also supporting our blood sugar levels through the metabolism of glucose. It is known as vitamin H after the German words HARR and HAUT, meaning skin and hair! We cannot synthesise it in our bodies, so a small daily intake is essential. Dietary sources include almonds, sweet potato, oats, tomatoes, eggs, walnuts and salmon.
I is for Iodine
Iodine is a trace mineral that is best known for its vital role in thyroid hormone production. However, it is also important during pregnancy and early childhood to support the development of the brain. Regular intake of iodine rich foods boosts the health benefits of increased energy, stamina, increased immunity and improved detoxification. Food sources are a good place to begin, iodine rich foods include, sushi and other seaweeds, cranberries, baked cod, plain yoghurt, eggs, dried prunes, strawberries and sardines.
J is for Juicing
With the current trend towards both blending and juicing which one is right for you? Juicing provides a smooth concentrated vitamin, mineral and antioxidant rich drink to nourish, but may sugar quickly in the body and imbalance blood sugar levels later on due to the lack of fibre. Blending makes a larger, bulkier drink (usually with fewer ingredients and therefore less nutrients) More soluble fibre such as seeds, chia and flax etc. can easily be added your blended smoothie to help you keep fuller for longer.
K is vitamin K
Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin that activates the protein that clots our blood when necessary. It also has a vital role in improving bone density, and supporting our heart and oral health. Our bodies can synthesise vitamin K if our gut flora are in balance. We can also boost K1 and K2 through diet, choosing vegetables such as kale, soy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and prunes to boost K1 and dairy products (and the fermentation of our own gut flora) to boost K2.
L is for Liver
Optimum liver function is essential for our digestive, nervous system, hormonal and skin health. Its role is to store nutrients, produce hormones, detoxify waste substances and help regulate our blood sugar. Processed or “cooked” fats, high fructose, alcohol or sugars intake puts an extra burden on the liver. To support its daily functions, choose herbal teas such as nettle or fennel and eat at least 2 portions daily of cruciferous vegetables. Have 2 days a week that you are alcohol, sugar and fruit free. Ensure you are well hydrated and keep your blood sugar levels balanced and stress levels down throughout the day so the liver is not called upon too often to release its stored sugars into the bloodstream for energy.
M is for Magnesium
Relaxing in the bath is a great way to boost magnesium levels – add 2 mugfulls of either Epsom salts or magnesium chloride flakes. This is an excellent way for transdermal absorption of this critical mineral. Amazingly the body will take just what it needs into the blood, to supply your cells with magnesium to carry out over 300 chemical reactions in the body!
N is for Nibbling
Nibble on nuts and seeds. To lift the fatigue and “cravings” for something sweet between 3-5pm chose a mixture of organic nuts and seeds (with a few dried cherries or cranberries if needed for sweetness!) This is a protein rich and sugar free snack that will support the balance of your blood sugar levels at this time, releasing energy slowly whist providing vital minerals. Keep them in a sealed container and store in the fridge when not nibbling to preserve the beneficial essential oil content.
O is for Organic
Organic produce costs a little more and is considered more nutritionally dense and better for us…but is this true? Simply put, YES. The organic branding in the UK means that far fewer chemicals have been sprayed on the food. Also, the soil is often more nutrient dense, so more nutrients are absorbed into the produce grown from it. Buying organic also supports the food chain, enabling this method of farming to grow, working with natures pesticides, rather than chemicals which then add an additional toxic burden to our liver and overall health.
P is for Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients are chemical compounds found in fruits and vegetables that are present to actually protect the food itself from environmental damage such as pests, toxins, pollution and radiation. They also contribute to the plants', taste, colour and smell. So when we eat these antioxidant rich foods we reap the same benefits from them! Dense phytonutrient rich foods include: deeply coloured vegetables, fruits, beans and plant based beverages, green and white tea being the most well-known.
Q is for Quercetin
Quercetin is a chemical compound (polyphenol) antioxidant found in plant foods such as deeply coloured fruit and vegetables, raw red onions, apples, and even red wine. Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory. It plays a role in regulating the immune system’s response to outside stressors, supporting allergies of all kinds, one of these being pollens – so it’s a great one to supplement alongside vitamin C during the hay fever season.
R is for Rest
How often do we find ourselves eating on the go, when stressed, sat at our desks or in the car? In order for the digestive system to produce enough hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and other lubricating juices we need to be resting. When we are physically, emotionally or mentally stressed our body moves into a “fright, flight, fight” response (adrenaline and cortisol dominant). In this response blood is diverted to our large muscles to deal with the potential looming threat (often there isn’t one – just chronic stress) and away from our digestive system, compromising its function and leading to bloating, IBS, heartburn etc.
S is for Smoothies
We have all heard about the benefits of smoothies and they are now available in every supermarket and café. However, they can also be a rapid source of fruit sugar and a consequent rise in our blood sugar levels, adding to blood sugar peaks and troughs through the day. Adding in at least 2 vegetables to every portion of fruit and a scoop of vegan protein powder ensures a nutritionally balanced smoothie that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
T is for Time
Time to change your eating habits… Often a good intention to improve your diet ends in falling back into old patterns and “bad” eating habits. Research suggests it takes at least 12 weeks to fully change an eating pattern. So aim for 12 weeks of dedicated change to alter the pattern into a long-term way of life that benefits you!
U is for Under
Under ripe fruit … In the case of a banana this can be beneficial as slightly green bananas contain higher levels of “resistant starch” and may help you to feel fuller for longer and support your blood sugar levels. For berries, grapes and tomatoes the riper the better as they boast higher levels of antioxidants, (anthocyanins and lycopene in tomatoes) in the final stages of ripening.
V is for Vegetables
How many is enough? Put simply, 9 plus portions daily are now recommended to move towards optimum health. A portion is actually larger than you think. One portion is approximately 80g, or if you do not have a set of scales to hand cup your hands together and the vegetable portion should fill the space!
W is for Water
Filtered, bottled (watch out for the xenoestrogens) purified or straight from the tap our bodes need at least 1.5 litres daily to run all of the bodily functions. To really help your body hydrate why not add a twist of Himalayan pink salt and a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber, this aids your bodies electrolyte balance. Water is best taken in small amounts throughout the day, always check if you are feeling hungry, is it really a thirst signal your body is giving off? Have a glass of water first then reassess!
X is for Xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that mimic the effects of oestrogen in your body. They are widely added to many products we use daily such as foods wrapped in plastics, hair dyes and household cleaning products. Constant exposure adds to the body's toxic load, potentially leading to chronic disease and hormonal imbalances by blocking or binding to receptors that our own hormones should be using! Avoid them where you can by using natural cleaning products, skincare and avoiding processed packaged foods.
Y is for Yeast
Yeast, beneficial or an allergen? For vegans and vegetarians "brewer's yeast" or “nutritional yeast powder” can be a vital source of B vitamins and chromium. It also supports the microbiome, helping to prevent diarrhoea and as a digestive strengthener after antibiotics. However, an increasing amount of people are yeast intolerant and find that it leads to bloating, flatulence and IBS symptoms when excess yeast is eaten in the diet. Baker’s yeast is commonly found in breads and sauces, brewer’s yeast in wine, beer and lager.
Z is for Zinc
Vital for the optimum functioning of the immune system, zinc is also an important mineral to make proteins and our genetic material, aid digestion and support hormonal balance. Symptoms of low zinc status include feeling run down, susceptibility to infections, poor wound healing and poor concentration. Food sources include: pumpkin seeds, seafood, fish, lamb, grass fed beef, chickpeas, chicken and turkey.