Tag Archives: health

Five Reasons for Choosing Organic (And One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics)

I started writing about organic eating in 2011 and since that time, this blog has grown to incorporate green, natural living and eco-travel.  In the intervening 7 years, organic food has become much more prevalent, with more people choosing to buy organic on a regular basis.  Which is great, but sometimes when a movement becomes widespread, it becomes a bit like white noise.  We forget WHY we initially made the choice to switch to organic and our intentions become less resolute.  And some folks probably never really knew why they started buying organic foods in the first place, other than for vague reasons about it being “healthier”.

In short, by buying organic food, personal care products, home products and clothing, you are making a decision to consciously support sustainable agricultural land use (as well as a positive impact on the natural lands which surround it – for the wild birds, bees, flora and fauna), improved animal husbandry welfare (including no routine use of antibiotics which is important as we sit on the cusp of the post-antibiotic era), no use of artificial colours or preservatives which is better for your body and you’re also buying products made from natural materials which will more easily break down into compost at the end of their useful life, rather than spending the next 500 years in landfill.  So many great reasons to make this conscientious decision to buy organic as often as you are able.

What first inspired me to create this blog was my desire and passion to share with others why I choose to buy organic food, clothing and home items as often as I can. And I haven’t done that in a while, so I thought I’d remind my readers (and myself!) my main evidence-based reasons for choosing – and continuing – to buy organic.

Learn More – GO! Organic Festival (8-9 September 2018)

If you live in the UK and you’d like to explore more about organic living, my first suggestion is that join me at the Battersea Park on 8-9 September 2018 and celebrate everything organic at the GO! Organic Festival.  They’ve very kindly partnered with me to sponsor this article and to offer you the opportunity to win a free pair of tickets (see below). I’ll be there, so let me know in the comments below if you’re coming too! Buy your tickets HERE.

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There will be loads of organic food and drink (including beers & wines), celebrity chefs, pop up vendors and a marketplace with lots of my favourite organic companies including skincare companies, clothing and homewares.  (One of my favs, Greenfibres will be there too, you can check out my review of their pillows HERE.) There’s also a MainStage with a great line up of music.

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Oh, and if you have kids, can I just say that Andy (yes, CBeebies Andy, THAT Andy) and Mr Bloom will be there too!  There will also be facepainting, etc. In other words, it’s a very family friendly day out.

You can win a free pair of tickets by entering our Rafflecopter giveaway HERE.

In the meanwhile, start supporting your local farmers markets and natural foods shops, and when you do buy a packaged product, learn to read the label. You don’t need to change everything in a day, but the more you learn about why some people choose to buy organic foods, clothing and personal care products.  If you’re a bit skeptical about  why its important to buy organic and would like to learn more about why I “became organic”, then I invite you to keep on reading…

Why Did I Choose Organic?

I sometimes hear really intelligent people say that buying organic isn’t necessary because it’s just a marketing ploy to charge more, and that makes me sad. (I hear this a lot in the vegan community, and we should really know better.) Because while these folks are partly right that there is a marketing element to the organic label certifications and branding, that’s not why I choose to buy non-sprayed,  non-GMO foods, clothing and home products.  In fact, on many occasions the organic products I’m buying aren’t labelled organic at all.  I just talk to the farmer or producer and find out what farming and production methods they’re using.  I encourage you to do the same. I like supporting local farmers wherever possible, but I also have good reasons for making sure that I’m choosing organic products (and supporting organic producers, including those who go to the effort of obtaining pricy and demanding organic certification standards).
The US National Academy of Sciences reports that 90% of the chemicals applied to the foods we eat have not been tested for their long-term health effects before being deemed as “safe.” Furthermore, the US FDA only tests 1% of foods for pesticide residue.

“The most dangerous and toxic pesticides require special testing methods, which are rarely if ever employed by the FDA.”

Here are my top 5 evidence-based reasons for living an organic lifestyle.

1. Genetically Modified Foods

I’m not afraid of the boogey man or Franken-whatever – that’s not why I don’t eat GMO foods.  The point of most widely available GMO foods – especially the big ones like corn, wheat, canola and soya – is that they are branded as “Roundup Ready” and as such, the plants are designed to be resistant to higher levels of glyphosate so that more weed-killer can be used for a higher product yield – levels of toxins which would kill a conventional plant. Glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup and it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical which the WHO has listed as a probable carcinogen, in particular linked to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and to which there is increasing evidence and current legal debate that it causes genetic damage.

So when you see “soya”, “soy”, “canola”, “corn”, “fructose”, “glucose fructose”, avoid buying those foods unless they are labelled as organic or non-GMO. (Foods labelled as non-GMO, GMO-free and Non-GMO Project Verified foods aren’t necessarily free from Roundup (glyphosate) and other harsh weed-killing toxins like Dicamba (also produced by Monsanto), but they will have lower levels of those poisons. I won’t lie – I do occasionally buy those types of non-GMO foods, but it’s better to buy organic as often as possible.  I tend to apply a 90/10 rule at home – 90% organic, whole foods (I prefer to eat whole foods for my own health reasons – you don’t need to do that) and 10% fun foods (my fun foods are always vegan and always GMO-free, organic where possible). It’s nearly impossible to guarantee eating GMO-free when you go out to restaurants unless you eat somewhere like Chipotle, the first national chain restaurant to cook with all non-GMO ingredients. Just do your best.

If you want to know more about practical ways to avoid GMO foods, check out Mama Natural’s blog post on how to avoid GMO’s. You can also check out my previous article on the subject.

If you don’t have the time for reading all those articles and you don’t have time to read labels at the supermarket, the easy solution is – just buy and eat organic food.  

Organic food cannot be genetically modified, so it’s an easy cheat to avoid having those toxins in your food.

2. The Health of Agricultural Workers

There are over 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides used in the agricultural industry worldwide (1 billion of that is in the US) and with woefully inadequate hazard assessments taking place, especially when chemicals are combined, each year 25 million agricultural workers experience unintentional pesticide poisoning.

(Note, I’m not even touching on how those chemicals affect the environment, animals, the bees and bird life.)

Personally, I care about the health of all those agricultural workers and their families and I don’t wish to contribute to risking their lives so I can have a cheap bag of Doritos or whatever.

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3. Groundwater Becomes Poisoned

The US Department of Agriculture has found that the groundwater which provides drinking water for around 50,000,000 people in the US has been contaminated by pesticides and chemicals from the agricultural industry.

“According to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel, it is estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests. The bulk of pesticides (99.%) is left to impact the environment.”

But maybe you’re not a statistics person.  Maybe you need to see an example of the kind of thing I mean, so please check out the video below showing the issues with the Costa Rica pineapple industry.

4. Because Pesticides Get EVERYWHERE

Even household dust (in addition to food and water) is now contaminated with pesticides, particularly in rural agricultural areas. Studies have found that children between 3 and 6 years of age received MOST of their dermal and non-dietary oral doses of pesticides from playing with toys and while playing on carpets which contributed the largest portion of their exposure.

That means the dust from the air settling on the toys of our kids  – on the objects we use everyday – is toxic.

That bit of dust that’s settled on Sophie the Giraffe or my daughter’s favourite blankie is toxic.

Do you find that as shocking and distressing as I do?

This means the more of us who buy and support organic, the more farmers will be able to make the viable economic decision to farm using sustainable, organic methods and this will mean gradually, fewer and fewer pesticides in the air, especially in agricultural areas where this issue is most prevalent.

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5. Increased Nutrient Values

In the past when I researched this topic, there didn’t seem to be much evidence that organic foods had much more nutritional value than conventionally grown goods, aside from increased phytonutrient content.  But more high quality studies and reviews have shown that foods grown in well-nourished soil, using organic, sustainable practices have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

As an example, five servings of organically grown vegetables  can provide an adequate daily level of vitamin C, where the same number of servings of conventionally grown vegetables do not.

Organic produce, on average, contains:

  • 21.1% more iron
  • 27% more vitamin C
  • 29.3 more magnesium
  • 13.6% more phosphorous

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One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics

There is one aspect to buying organic food which does get my back up.  And its not the perceived increase in cost. When I go into the supermarket, all the organic produce seems to have extra layers of plastic. (You can watch my Real Food Organic Groceries on a Budget video here to see what I mean.)  I appreciate the supermarkets need to differentiate the conventional produce from the organic for pricing reasons, but surely they could do that with produce stickers rather than having to add so much plastic. This isn’t an issue when I can make it to the farmer’s market or when I order my organic fruit and veg box from Ocado (email me at ourlittleorganiclifeblog@gmail.com to get a voucher to save £20 off your first order) or from Abel and Cole or Riverford Organics (my downstairs neighbour uses Riverford on a weekly basis and I’m always so jealous of the gorgeous produce she gets each week).

However, the good news is that supermarkets here in the UK (where I currently live) are soon going to have to become more accountable for their plastic usage in the coming years so thankfully this should become less of an issue in future.

Resources: 

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/
3.  https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/a20453119/top-reasons-to-choose-organic-foods/
Nielson EG, Lee LK. Agricultural Economics Report Number 576.US Department of Agriculture; Washington: 1987. The magnitude and cost of groundwater contamination from agricultural chemicals: a national perspective.

Identifying populations potentially exposed to agricultural pesticides using remote sensing and a Geographic Information System.

Ward MH, Nuckols JR, Weigel SJ, Maxwell SK, Cantor KP, Miller RS
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jan; 108(1):5-12.
4. Biologically based pesticide dose estimates for children in an agricultural community.
Fenske RA, Kissel JC, Lu C, Kalman DA, Simcox NJ, Allen EH, Keifer MC
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jun; 108(6):515-20.

Organophosphate urinary metabolite levels during pregnancy and after delivery in women living in an agricultural community.

Bradman A, Eskenazi B, Barr DB, Bravo R, Castorina R, Chevrier J, Kogut K, Harnly ME, McKone TE
Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Dec; 113(12):1802-7.
5. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/107555301750164244

Photo Credits:

Farmer photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Baby photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Kale salad photo by Deryn Macey on Unsplash

How to Make Your Own Cashew Milk

I like making my own cashew milk because its rich and creamy and it tends not to split in coffee or tea. I won’t lie and say I never buy store bought plant milks (because I do), but I try not to do so all the time because commercial manufacturers do add rather a lot of extra unnecessary additives. (However, as with cow’s milk, they do fortify these milks as well, so remember to adequately supplement your diet if you decide to eschew the commercial plant milks entirely.)  Of all the homemade plant milks I’ve made, cashew milk is my most successful one and everyone who has tasted it has loved it. It passes my “milk and cookies test” meaning it is delicious served neat in a glass with a cookie for dunking.

Nutrition-wise, cashews are one of the lowest fat nuts with around 82% of their fat being unsaturated, and of that, 66% is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, like the kind you find in olive oil. It has been found that when added to a low-fat diet, monounsaturated fats can help reduce high triglyceride levels in diabetes patients.  (Triglycerides are the form in which fats are carried in our blood and are what block our insulin receptors from activating and prevent glucose from entering our cells, thus keeping blood glucose levels high and contributing to the diabetes process.)

Cashews are also a great source of copper and a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and zinc. Its also great news that regular nut eaters tend to be slimmer than non nut-eaters and are also at a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, gallstones and Type 2 Diabetes. Just stick to your portion sizes of roughly 1/3 c of nuts per day.

I make my cashew milk quite extra thick and creamy, but if you want a thinner drink, just add more fresh filtered water in 50ml increments until you get the consistency you like. I also recommend buying cashew pieces because its often cheaper than buying whole cashew pieces. If you’re buying in bulk, make sure you store your cashews in the fridge (for up to 6 months) or the freezer (for up to a year).

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cashew nuts*
  • 6 cups fresh filtered water
  • medjool date*
  • Pinch of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (optional)

Equipment

Method

1. Soak your cashew nuts overnight (or for at least 4 hours) in 2 cups of fresh filtered water with the medjool date and a pinch of salt. You’ll be amazed at how plump and moist the nuts will become after even just a few hours of soaking.

2. After soaking, drain the pre-soaked nuts (and de-pitted medjool date) and add them all to a high speed blender with 4 cups of fresh filtered water. You can now add a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of vanilla. This is optional, but I highly recommend it because of how delicious it makes the end product! Blend this mixture on a high speed for 1-2 minutes, depending on how powerful your blender is.

3. Strain the mixture through your nut milk bag* and store in a jar or milk bottle in the fridge. It will keep for up to 3 days.

Tip: You can save any remaining strained nut pulp by freezing it and adding it to cookies or other baked goods at a later date, however if you have a high speed blender, you’re unlikely to have much or any pulp leftover.

cashewsSources: World’s Healthiest FoodsJournal of Biological ChemistryLivestrong, “How Not to Die” by Dr Michael Greger MD



*I’ve popped in a few affiliate links into this post, directly with Nutri Ninja (worldwide) and Amazon (UK), so if you’d like to support what I do here at Our Little Organic Life, then please do shop via these links – you don’t pay any more and I get a small commission. Thanks!

The Perfect Diet

So here it goes.  A moment of truth…and shame.  Since I was about 15 years old I’ve been a chronic dieter.  And as a result, I’ve done a lot of damage to my body by depriving it of the essential healthy fats and other nutrients that it needed to be nourished.  And even worse, an imbalanced body like mine was utterly unable to support the healthy mind and spirit needed to really love myself.  The worst damage was done in the time leading up to my wedding when I began a 1000 calorie a day diet.  If I’d been just eating big bowls of vegetables and lightly steamed greens it might not even have been so bad, but I wasn’t.  I was incorporating the nutrition-less, empty calorie ‘diet’ foods like Weight Watchers meals and diet sodas.  And the awful thing, was that after 9 months of eating like this, depriving my body of any nourishment, I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and I wasn’t really losing that much weight.  I struggled to keep up my exercise routines because I had no energy.  I think I lost around 12 pounds in total.  I went to see a dietician at my local GP practice and her “sage” professional advice, after looking at my diet diary was to swap butter and olive oil for margarine and suggested that perhaps I should reduce my diet to 900 calories.  Yep, you heard it.  She wanted me to remove the small amount of healthy essential fat I actually WAS getting in my diet and replace it with toxic, hydrogenated, free-radical spread…I mean margarine.  Even I knew that was wrong, so I ignored her and continued with what I was doing.  It was only later, after the wedding and honeymoon, when I started thinking about wanting to become pregnant that things really changed and I realised the damage I had done to myself through deprivation dieting.

And now I’m ready to share with you the perfect diet.  Are you ready?  Here it is………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….there is no perfect diet.

There is a perfect diet for you, but there is no perfect diet that will work for all of us.  And here’s why.  It’s really complicated.  It’s because, get ready for it, we’re not the same person.  That’s right.  I’m not you and you’re not your neighbour John, or Sally who works at the supermarket.

Do I wish that we could all use the same diet and exercise formula and get the same results?  Yes, of course I do.  But genetics doesn’t work that way.  We each have different DNA (aside from identical twins, but even they express those genes in different ways) and so we don’t all have the same number of genes.  There is no perfect or ideal number of genes, so its not a competition.  But it does mean that some of us may have mutations with, or even lack, enzymes which are essential for different body processes.  (Bear with me here, this will come back around to diet.)  You may have heard of the MTHFR, COMT or BRCA genes.  MTHFR and COMT enzymes are essential for methylation, which is used to control gene expression.  Women who have mutations with these genes will have difficulty becoming pregnant and maintaining pregnancies.  On the other hand, the BRCA genes are tumour suppressing proteins and Angelina Jolie made the BRCA I & II genes famous when she had prophylactic surgery undertaken to remove her breast tissue, ovaries and fallopian tubes because of her high genetic risk for getting this cancer.  So what I’m getting at here, is that we don’t all process the world around us in the same way.  And we have to love our bodies for what they are.  The lack of this gene or a mutation with that gene doesn’t make us imperfect, but it does make us realise that we may have to take certain precautions to avoid higher risks for foods, toxins and lifestyles which our bodies are simply unable to handle.

Okay, so I started eating healthfully again.  I got skinny right?  Wrong.  I started eating normally for like the first time in years, and my body had no. clue. what. to. do.  I mean I’d basically been telling my body – in prehistoric terms – that I was going through a time of famine and so when it started getting a normal amount of food, and I’m talking like 1500-1700 calories here, it thanked the god of rain for sending it a time of plenty and it decided to store every calorie it could.  As fat.  Yay.  But the good news was that all this healthy food I was now eating allowed me to maintain a really healthy pregnancy and produce a really healthy baby.

So a year and a half on postpartum, no I’m not skinny.  I’m not where I’d like to be, but I’m okay with how I look.  I fit into my size 8 jeans and that will do for the time being.  I’m still breastfeeding my daughter and I’m grateful to my body for all its been through and for the beautiful daughter its given me and still helps to nourish.  I continue to support my thyroid health through diet and the use of therapeutic essential oils, and that is helping me enormously now.  So I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve very slowly found the diet that is right for me.  And actually, it isn’t a diet at all.  I’ve learned that I can’t eat too many sugars (argh!), one cup of coffee a day does me good (but more than that doesn’t) and that I definitely can’t process gluten very well (as much as I like to tell myself I can when I see a croissant winking at me from the bakery window).  However, you may not be able to tolerate coffee at all.  And some people have issues with one of their liver enzymes and can even build up high levels of mercury from eating something as simple as salmon, whereas the next person processes it perfectly well.  Even healthy juices green smoothies could actually do you a lot of damage if your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally.  And I haven’t even touched on how your gut flora fits in to all of this.  The list goes on.  Bodies are funny old things, aren’t they?

There is an easy and shorter – but more expensive – way to learn all of this about yourself.  You can get genetic testing done and enlist the help of a reputable nutritional therapist.  They can help you to understand your test results and to recommend bespoke  adjustments to your diet and lifestyle which will support what your individual body is able to do, and to avoid what it isn’t able to do.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to tell you that a Slim Fast shake is the perfect diet solution for you.  But its not.  Not for anyone.  And the one bit of generic advice I can give everyone is to get the toxic chemicals out of your food, cleaning and skincare regimens.  Eat organic, biodynamic or non-sprayed foods.  Eat more plants.  Use natural skincare.  Clean your home and office with natural cleaning products.  (They work just as well, by the way, and they cost less.)  Yes, we do have livers and yes, livers were designed to remove toxins from our bodies, but no one’s liver was designed to handle the amount of chemicals we eat, breathe and slather onto our skin every day in today’s world.

So whether you choose to go the slow route of figuring out the right diet for you, like I did (and continue to do), or if you opt for a faster route with the support of a nutritional therapist, I hope that above all you prioritise learning to love yourself and love your beautiful body.  Personally, I found the support of my Young Living essential oils incredibly helpful in both an emotional and physical capacity over the last 9 months of this process.  But I guess what I’m saying is be gentle with yourself, be kind to yourself, eat beautiful foods and move in ways that make you happy.

Essential Tips for First Time Hiking With Your Kids

This week, Zara Lewis, blogger,  mother of 2 and regular contributor to High Style Life joins us for a guest post on essential tips for hiking with children.

As a person in love with hiking, it was one of my greatest fears that once I had kids I would have to forget about my passion. Luckily, it wasn’t the case; my kids love hiking adventures and nature as much as I do, and our hiking trips have been a great source of joy for all of us. Of course, some things had to change, and I have adapted and adjusted so that all of us can have fun but still be responsible.

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Be practical with your food

I remember back when I was a kid how my mother always packed just bare necessities in my backpack and I was devastated because I wanted chocolate and sodas like other kids. However, once I became a mother myself I discovered that my mother was right: you do not need a ton of sweets, but rather practical and nutritious foods to keep you strong. I always pack healthy sandwiches, my own protein bars, and plenty of nice fruit: apples, pears, and peaches. This way I am sure my kids are eating healthy food without sugar and additives, and most importantly: we never leave candy bar wrappers or any other sort of garbage behind.

It can rain anytime

Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way. After a couple of our hiking trips ended abruptly because of light rain that started falling suddenly, it became a custom of ours to pack light raincoats in our hiking backpacks. These do not take too much space, but are wonderful protection from the elements. We would end our walks suddenly even if it was just light rain, but now we just take our raincoats out and keep walking for as long as we want. Pro tip: you can even use raincoats instead of tablecloths when having a picnic, since they are water-resistant and a million times easier to clean afterwards.

ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR HIKING WITH KIDS 2

Thorough examination afterwards

Always carry hand sanitizer with you when going for a hike, but when you get home that is when the real battle starts. Remove all of your clothes and examine your body to see if you have any ticks or other possibly dangerous insect bites on your body. Do it for your kids too, and then use a natural cleanser to remove all the dirt from your hands, face, and body. Your face is putting up with a lot during your hikes, and it is important to wear a protective hat and apply sunscreen so you don’t get a sunburn. You can apply a face mask made of baking soda and activated charcoal to remove sweat and dirt particles from your pores.

Stretching and relaxing

Kids will probably want to run like crazy all the time, and that is fine. They are young and restless and they should spend their energy like that. As for you, try not to push yourself too much, choose a nice easy tempo and stick to it so you don’t pull a muscle or hurt yourself. You can even take a short break from time to time and stretch so your body can relax. What is more, there are some easy stretches you should do before you set out on your hiking adventure; this way your body will prepare and warm up so your hike will not be as difficult as you thought it would be.

Time spent with my family away from the city crowd is truly a blessing: we watch birds, learn about different plants and animals, and experience the seasons much more intensely than we would in the city. We are used to fresh air, the chirping of birds, eating while sitting on the grass, and the smell of earth after rain. Don’t be afraid to take your kids out for a hike; it is a beautiful experience which all of your family will enjoy.

The Lowdown on Goji Berry Juice

Goji berries.  Those little shrivelled orangey red berries you bought at the health food store that were disappointingly bland.  Remember them?  You bought them because of something about them being a superfood…but then they languished in the cupboard and they were thrown out after the expiration date.

Yes.  That was my experience anyway.

I really didn’t like them and proceeded to forget about them for the next six or seven years.

The Facts

Goji berries are also known as wolf berries and they originate in Tibet and China.  The best wolf berries come from the Ningxia Province of China.  They’re a member of the nightshade family, like tomatoes and aubergines, and they are considered a superfood because they are rich in antioxidants, as most berries are, and because of the generations-old traditional Chinese belief that eating them can lead to a long and healthy life.  As with most natural products, the big pharmaceutical companies don’t want to invest their money in researching inexpensive and easily available food products, and so the research which has been done on the health benefits of goji has been sparse and of poor quality so far.

However…here are some nutritional facts about the fruit and you can make your own conclusions about whether it is likely to offer some health benefits:

  • contains all the essential amino acids, which makes it unique amongst fruits
  • highest concentration of protein of any fruit
  • high in vitamin C
  • contains more carotenoids than any other food
  • contains 21 trace minerals
  • high in fibre
  • has 15 times more iron than spinach

In my internet travels, I found an online lecture which I took with a pinch of salt, as it was promoted by a particular brand of goji berry juice supplement, but unless they were out and out lying, the results were impressive.  The lecturer shared sample blood work results for their producBaseline Blood Samplet had done for an individual’s red blood cells.  First they showed the baseline blood sample of the individual.  The red blood cells were stacked and unhealthy with very little surface area.  The video doesn’t go into it, but I should explain that in cytology, stacked red blood cells are called ‘rouleau’ and this happens as a result of various types of physical and/or mental stress which sends electrical currents through the body, forcing the cells to change their charge and stick together.  In practical terms, this is what high blood pressure looks like.

The lecturer then showed the second blood sample taken from the same individual, only 15 Second Blood Sampleminutes after they had consumed 1oz their brand of goji berry juice supplement.  These red blood cells now appeared much healthier.  Again, the lecturer didn’t cover this, but in cytology these would be called ‘normocytes’ which are the red blood cells of a healthy person.  They have a dip in the middle, with lots of surface space to detox and they flow freely in the plasma because they are all negatively charged.

I then went to the NHS website to see what they said and they pretty well pooh pooh’d the benefits of the goji berry.  Not because they had any evidence that the goji berries did not do what the anecdotal evidence suggested, but because of the lack of solid scientific evidence in favour of them.   Unfortunately, without serious financial investment, such evidence is unlikely to be researched and conventional medical websites like the NHS will continue to sing the same tune.

However…when generations of a traditional culture have relied on a food for its health benefits…its usually for a good reason.  And there is an awful lot of anecdotal evidence as well as the evidence from the small number of studies mentioned above which suggest that regular consumption of goji berries can improve diabetes*, high blood pressure* and age related macular degeneration.    In particular, preliminary studies involving consumption of goji berry juice resulted in a feeling of well being and calmness, improved athletic performance and quality of sleep as well as weight loss.  So, I guess I’m willing to play that gamble for the small expense of a few goji berries every day.

The Problem

The problem is that goji berries and goji juice…well, they don’t taste very nice.

My Experience

I had heard so many positive things about a particular brand of goji berry juice, that I ordered a couple of bottles and about a month ago I started taking a 50ml shot of it daily first thing after waking in the morning.  At first it just tasted good and I didn’t notice anything special in how I felt.  But after about a week of taking it daily, I found my energy levels significantly improved.  I mean really really improved.  I went from a constant state of lethargy and “I can’t keep up with this toddler” to feeling absolutely rested during the day, perfectly able to keep up with whatever is new in the world of my toddler, and I never have that ‘shattered’ feeling I had all the time before.  I have so much energy.  And I’m not sure why, but also an uncharacteristically optimistic and positive outlook on life…which I guess I can just describe as an overall sensation of ‘wellness’.  Another result, which I was not at all expecting, but am nonetheless delighted by, is that I have lost about 10 pounds, despite no change in exercise or diet (aside from the addition of the goji juice).  And the product I purchased** tasted delicious as it was blended with other antioxidant juices and had a tad of stevia added for sweetness.

I suppose that after spending so many years being disappointed by so many supplements, vitamins, superfoods, eating trends and so on, in battling my general state of poor energy and fatigue, I’m a little surprised that I feel as good as I do just from one tiny glass of juice each morning.  But I do.  So I guess I should just be happy about that!

In Summary

I am seriously impressed by my experience with this goji berry juice and will continue taking it long term.

I did have some slight concerns about the fact that goji berries are grown in China, but the company that made the supplement I have been taking is very aware of issues of toxicity with foods coming from China and their berries come strictly from the Ningxia Province which is very remote and is separated from the rest of China by a desert.  In addition to this, they perform a metals test on every new batch of berries they receive. Goji berries from ANY other part of China are loaded with heavy metals, including mercury.

And, I’ll add that I also gave the dried berries themselves a second chance and made some goji berry muffins.  I’ve include a link to the video and recipe!  They were delicious!  (I don’t recommend making the sugar glaze as directed in the muffin recipe – they don’t need it.  You can also use regular flour in place of the einkorn flour, although Dove’s Farm does make an einkorn flour here in the UK, and the ‘Blue Agave’ just means agave syrup.  You could use honey instead.)

*If you are taking drugs for either of these conditions, or if you are taking a blood thinning medication such as warfarin, please discuss taking any goji berry supplement with your doctor first, as it could interact with these prescriptions.

**I bought this product at full price with my own money and have not been paid or otherwise compensated to review it.  The results I describe are honest and based on my own experiences using this product.  There are many goji berry products on the market, however, I cannot guarantee that they come from the Ningxia Province in China and are free of heavy metals.  If you are interested in knowing the product I used, please follow this link.  You can order it retail or set up your own wholesale account, in which case you may be asked for a ‘Sponsor or Enroller ID’.  I’d be very grateful if you used mine, which is #3514264 and they’ll send me some sort of referral thank you.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.  I bought the product referred to with my own money and my comments are based on my own research and experience.  The information presented on this website is for informational purposes only.  The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals.  Consult your physician, nutritionally oriented doctor, and/or chemist regarding any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.

Photo Credit: Healthyfig.com

Alternative Natural Sodas

The other day after coming out of the mum & baby cinema around lunchtime, I was absolutely famished, and headed into the Gourmet Burger Kitchen across the street for a veggie burger.  It was a hot day and before I knew it I had seen the chilly, frosted iconic glass bottle and had ordered myself a coke.

For me that coke was a very rare ‘treat’.  But like our American and Canadian friends, many Brits continue to drink their calories in the form of beer, wine, juice and soda.  I don’t need to shock you with the risks associated with soda consumption, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and obesity…because these aren’t shocking facts anymore.  They’ve been around for a long time now so its so easy to glaze over when you read them and just not take them seriously.

The high fructose corn syrup which sweetens soda comes from genetically modified corn that contains pesticides which – in only seconds – destroys your good gut flora, ruining immunity and contributing to an overall immune-compromised body that constantly struggles to find nutrients for survival and systematically loses the ability to fight off pathogens, parasites and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

You’ll probably also know that diet sodas are just as bad, with research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showing that diet soda intake is directly related to abdominal obesity in adults over the age of 65 and the waist circumference amongst diet soda drinkers being three times that of non-diet soda drinkers.  Oh poo.  Well, there goes that plan.

Overall, surprise surprise, its just better to drink water.  The University of Bristol and Bangor University found that drinking sweet tasting drinks, regardless of their sugar content or lack thereof, dulls your sensitivity to sweet tastes in general and the sweet treat you once enjoyed becomes less of a special reward.  This establishes a vicious cycle eating sweet foods and drinks on a regular basis.

Okay, so water’s great as a daily thirst quencher, but what about on those special occasions like a BBQ or family movie night in front of the TV where you really do want a treat.  I’ve tracked down the…not ‘best’, but ‘least detrimental’ options for you which are available here in the UK:

Zevia

cola-flavorZevia do every flavour of soda you could want, from cola to grape soda to cream soda and root beer, all packaged in aluminium cans (although they do a glass bottle range now as well).  They do a tonic water for those of you who miss the occasional G&T and – get this – they even make a ‘Dr Zevia’.  Its sweetened with stevia, monk fruit and erythritol – all plant-based with no caloric value or effect on blood glucose levels – and they are Non-GMO Project Verified.

The good news is that in the US and Canada it’s available nearly everywhere.   EDIT 2018: The bad news is that here in the UK it seems to have been halfheartedly launched a couple of times, but never really took off, which is a shame.

Whole Earth

range-refreshingWhole Earth are a London-based company here in the UK which grew from a small macrobiotic restaurant back in the 60’s.  They make a range of organic sodas packaged in aluminium cans.  They make a cola as well as cranberry, lemon and elderflower sodas.  You can see their macrobiotic roots reflected in their cola which is flavoured with barley rather than the weird and wonderful botanicals you seem in some natural colas. They’re sweetened with organic agave nectar which has a lower GI than cane sugar.

Fever-Tree

2663-200ml-white-indian-tonic-low-res-rgbFever-Tree are a UK luxury botanical drinks company.  They primarily make mixers, such as tonic water, ginger beer, ginger ale and lemonade.  Their drinks are beautifully packaged in glass bottles so you do feel you are drinking something special with their products.  As a result, they have rather a lot of rewards to show for their efforts.  Their drinks are all sweetened using natural cane sugar and natural fruit sugar.

But, remember, its still sugar.  Its still going to spike your insulin levels.  Its still high GI.  It still has calories.  But its ‘real’ sugar, so it will be less damaging to your gut than the sugar you’ll find in a can of Coke.

Fentimans

fm_colaFentimans market their sodas as “botanically brewed beverages”.

But at 50 calories per 100 ml, their Curiosity Cola comes in at 8 calories per 100 ml higher than a can of Coke and it contains glucose syrup, yeast, sugar, unspecified flavourings, and a variety of e-numbers such as caramel colour (E150d) and phosphoric acid (E338).  Oh, and it is caffeinated as well.  It has been labelled by The Guardian as “The World’s Best Cola” however, so its up to you if that’s how you choose to spend your daily caloric intake.

They do a number of other flavoured sodas and cocktail mixers as well,  including a delicious Rose Lemonade (coming in at a whopping 52 calories per 100 ml).

They’re not organic and they only will confirm that their Victorian Lemonade and Ginger Beer are GMO free.  (Find out more about why you’d want to avoid GMO’s here.)  As such, I opted not to do a ‘taste test’ of their cola for this article and would NOT consider Fentimans to be a healthy alternative to conventional soda.

Roots

Because this article is about soft drinks available in the UK, we now come to Roots, a small, small, independently owned soda works in Granton, Edinburgh.  They make their soda by hand hoodoo-sodaand claim that their beverages are all natural fizzy drinks comprising of carbonated water, freshly squeezed whole fruit juice, raw cane sugar with infused flavour from herbs, spices, and petals.  Their sodas contain no artificial sweeteners, colourings, flavourings, preservatives or caffeine.

They’re not organic, but I like that they market their sodas as a special treat, only to be consumed once in a while, because “sugar is still sugar, and both fructose and sugar are *not cool* for us.”  At the moment there are only a couple of places in London carrying Roots sodas (BrewDog in Camden and Shoreditch).  I’m a mother of a 4 month old baby, so heading off the Shoreditch with the pram to taste a soda for my blog article wasn’t going to happen.  And as the company couldn’t provide me with a sample of their product for this article, I have to say I haven’t tried it yet.  I’ll update this article when I’ve done so.

Coca-Cola Life

Sigh.

1673295-slide-coca-cola-lifeOkay, I’m including this product in this article in no way because I think you should drink it.  I’m including it because some people will want to know:  “Is this a healthier alternative?”  Yes, its a healthier alternative to Coke Classic, in the way that cigars are a healthier alternative to cigarettes.

To start with, the green label is an absurdly obvious bit of greenwashing, as is the 30% of the bottle being made from unspecified plant-based resources (which I seriously suspect is GMO corn).  The product was launched in Argentina a couple of years ago and has now made its way to the UK.  (Pepsi have a similar product called Pepsi True, but as it doesn’t appear to be available in the UK, I’m not including it here.) EDIT 2018: This product was phased out of the UK market in June 2017, but it’s still available in around 30 other markets, including the US.

Coca-Cola Life contains 1/3 less sugar than regular Coke, but still contains 2/3 of whatever awful sugar it is that Coke uses in their normal soft drinks, along with a bit of stevia for “Natural Sweetness”.

And it tastes awful to boot.

 

Paleo Diet Review

At first glance, my friend Sarah and I couldn’t have more different diets to each other.  So when we found out that the the other had decided to try the high protein, high fat Paleo diet earlier this year for the month of January, we were equally surprised.  Sarah was surprised because she secretly wondered how the heck was I – a vegetarian – going to eat Paleo…and just what would I be eating?  And I was surprised because after 18 years of friendship, I’ve never seen Sarah go a day without eating sugar and dairy.  So, with some delay (I like to think as a period of reflection) we would like to share our stories and thoughts on the experience.

Sarah’s Story

At the beginning of January I sat down with my computer and a hand-drawn calendar and mapped out Paleo meals. And then my family of 5 followed the Paleo diet for one month. It was ambitious. I was hard. It was sometimes complicated. But was it worth it in the end?

Maybe?

As a stay-at-home mother of three boys (with ages ranging from “will eat anything that’s put in front of him” to “won’t eat it if it’s not peanut butter”), I struggle every day to ensure my kids are eating healthy food.  Mostly my approach is pretty basic.  I buy organic, local produce (when I can).  I use whole grains.  And I cook, every day.  But kids are kids.  And although some people have those children who will eat anything, I don’t.  So the idea to cut out whole food groups that my children will eat (pasta, bread, cheese) was something that I didn’t take on lightly.  Would my children starve?

They didn’t of course.  And neither did I.  Because by week three, I was cheating.  Well, I wasn’t cheating.  But the kids were.  Because you can’t tell a five year old that spaghetti squash is pasta (because it’s not).  And the baby, it turns out, really missed yoghurt.

It turns out that there are a lot of good things about the Paleo diet.  We ate a lot of vegetables.  We avoided refined sugars.  I tried baking with alternative flours, and have added some really good new recipes to my files.  We eat locally, sustainably raised meat anyway, so that wasn’t different.  But our meals did become more…protein focused.

But we did miss the foods that we love.  And that was sometimes hard (hence my caving and cooking the boys pasta because they really wanted it).  Like any diet that is quite restrictive, there were times when the diet wasn’t any fun. And at the end of the day, I’m not sure, for example, that legumes or dairy are really all that bad for you.

The intriguing thing about the Paleo Diet is that it seems logical. As humans, we evolved a certain way, to eat certain foods. So it makes sense that these are the foods we should be eating to be healthy.

But healthy eating, for me at least, isn’t about restriction.  It’s about ensuring that I and my family are eating the largest variety of foods possible – including carbs and glutens and legumes when appropriate.  The Paleo diet turned out not to be for me, but the discipline of really being conscious of my food choices was useful in “resetting” my meal planning, and getting me out of the post-holiday sugar-pasta-junk food rut.  Will I try it again?

Maybe?

But with so many food trends out there, maybe next January I’ll try “Vegan before Six.”

Kelly’s Story

Student Nutritionists go through something similar to first year med students – the med students tend to get a bit hypochondriac and nutrition students love to try out all the hype diets.  As a responsible nutritionist, I will someday know that everybody and their body is different and will suit a different diet.  Some people do better with high fat, high protein diets, others favour raw vegan lifestyles.  Others, like macrobiotics, and followers of Weston A Price favour a pretty balanced whole foods diet.  (No one flourishes on a standard diet of processed foods, though.  No one.)  However, until that responsible future nutritionist (me!) is qualified, I’m enjoying trying out all kinds of different diets and ways of eating; partly so I can see what suits me and partly so I can understand the challenges that my future clients might face when moving onto specialist diets for one reason or another.

Its pretty easy for me to try these things out, as my lifestyle is pretty flexible and I don’t have children.  However, I do have a husband.  But he’s easy, you know.  He’ll pretty much eat whatever I’m eating…

…but with a steak thrown on top.

So, back to Paleo.  I already knew that I had an intolerance to modern hybridised wheat (while seeming to do just fine on heritage wheats like emmer, kamut and spelt), so I wondered if taking all grains out of the equation might make me feel even better.  (I’m slightly extremist at times.)

I was pretty dubious about taking my beloved pulses out of my diet, but in the interests of the experiment, I did.  I was okay about eliminating sugar and terrified about eliminating most dairy.  As I don’t eat meat, but do eat fish, I substituted organic or wild fish for the pasture-fed organic meats.  Otherwise, it was pretty much the same.  I actually emailed the founder of the Paleo movement, Dr Loren Cordain, to ask about this and received a pretty frank reply that a life without meat was an unhealthy one.  Uh huh….so that was a nice start.

But I was assured by all the fancy-looking blogs I had read and high energy Bulletproof Diet TED talks I’d seen, that once on a high fat, high protein, low carb diet, I would immediately drop a ton of weight and become the happiest, healthiest and most energetic I had ever been.

As it happened, I had low energy all the time because my brain wasn’t getting the glucose it needed for me to get on with my very busy life, my mouth eternally tasted of grease from all the coconut oil, fish oils, avocados and grassfed butter I was eating and no to put too fine a point on it, I may as well have piped polyfilla into my digestive tract.

Oh, and I gained about 8 pounds.

So Paleo wasn’t for me.   (I mean, have you TRIED Bulletproof coffee???)

But it wasn’t all bad.  It gave me an opportunity to try out lots of recipes using different wholefood ingredients which was fun and educational.  A few (Paleo pancakes) have even continued on as firm household favourites.  It made me reconsider a lot of the health food store processed foods I still somewhat relied on and it weaned me away from dairy, to which I was completely addicted.  It was really nice in mid-winter to come home from the shops with nearly nothing packaged in a box or bottle – just fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs (oh God, so many eggs) and organic fish and meats.  And that’s what I’ve kept from the experience.

So a few months down the line, my food intake is a much more satisfying and balanced high complex carb, low fat, low-med protein diet and it suits me so much better.  I can eat all the fruits and veg I want, along with some legumes (I really missed those in January) and a bit of brown rice or wholegrain pasta.

Oh and yeah, I kept the coconut oil.  Just, um, its not in my coffee this time…