Not only are we in the middle of a global health pandemic but we are seeing the physical health issues matched by the scale of the increase in mental health issues too.
So firstly I want to let you know I get it.
This makes perfect sense. The first thing I want to do is to acknowledge this is real, and justified in the current circumstances and if this is you, you are not alone by a long, long way.
Many of us are concerned over the future. Some of us have partners out of work, businesses threatened, children at home again while we juggle our own commitments, elderly parents who are at risk, maybe lonely and isolated and all manner of other knock on effects of Covid-19.
Not only that but in the UK we have the impending changes which accompany Brexit bringing more uncertainty, and with each day, the environment becomes far more of a pressing issue. Those of us both with children and without fear for the future of our planet with real reason to do so.
These are problems we face whether men or women but as a woman I do want to acknowledge that it often falls to us to deal with in laws, our own parents, and our children as the key carer and the overload I am seeing through my conversations with working mums right now is overwhelming in many cases.
The world can seem a frightening place right now and more than a little out of control.
When we as humans, feel out of control, due to this bigger picture we feel anxiety, stress and fear which we are seeing everywhere at the moment.
However, there are steps we can take to manage our own mental wellbeing and start to feel more empowered to deal with what is going on around us.
This starts with focusing on the difference between what we can control, what we can influence and what is just an area of concern. When we turn our attention to the areas we can exert power over in our lives, then we start to regain some control and our mental wellbeing improves.
Control the priorities right now
The above illustrate my point. If we spend our lives reacting to situations, people, and that which we cannot influence, psychologically this is disempowering and damaging to our mental wellbeing.
I have looked at many of these example models and see ‘Health’ inside the circle of influence when in fact, mostly, this is within our control. Certainly, there are ways to protect ourselves, build up our immunity and resilience, and support both our physical and mental health.
What is more, lifestyle disease is dependent on the choices we make and genetic exceptions to this are few. Without doubt the thing that has the greatest bearing on our long term health and wellbeing is Food.
Imagine a tree. The roots are where it all happens and damaged roots means a tree that pretty soon will wilt, and show signs of ill health. We are exactly the same. But our ‘roots’ are found in our gut which is responsible not only for providing us with our immunity but also for our mental wellbeing.
When we become overwhelmed during times like these and our focus becomes blurred, eating becomes functional and very often the last priority.
We eat quickly between meetings on zoom, or miss meals all together and end up eating the wrong snacks instead when we have 5 minutes.
We eat out of packets instead of preparing meals from scratch from fresh ingredients
We eat of packets because we don’t prioritise the time to do a mid week top up on the fresh stuff our bodies crave to be well
We perhaps drink more and look forward to an earlier glass of wine to relieve stress when in actual fact, the physical effects of wine actually exacerbate it, hinder your sleep quality, interfere with your gut health and therefore your anxiety and resilience
We tend to get take aways far more. Food full of empty calories, the wrong fats and high in sugar and salt and very often yeast too which has a negative effect on the gut biome and kills of our biota which is supporting our immunity.
We eat fast food at home; the likes of white pasta which converts to sugars and provides us with very little in the way of good nourishment.
We rely too much on caffeine
We increase our sugar intake ; both added and free sugars which is detrimental to our gut, our health and the key cause of lifestyle disease
Food should be our number one priority right now for so many reasons but not least because our relationship with food is personal. We become every mouthful that we eat – after all our cells as they renew can only be made from what we decide each day, each meal, each snack.
When we eat therefore, we are either eating foods that nurture and support our gut biome – those billions of different varieties of organisms that live in our gut, or we are consuming foods that deplete it.
What we should be trying to create in our gut is this perfect eco system which connects to the communication routes around our body, including the brain via the Vagus nerve. In this system, we are able to produce the right chemical reactions to support the overall wellbeing of our bodies.
For example, over 90% of our serotonin, that feel good chemical, is manufactured in the gut. But it needs the right conditions to be able to do so. We need our bodies to be firing on all cylinders for it to be able to do so and we need our bodies to be in balance.
We also require a vast amount and array of fibre to enable our guts to function properly and convert to short chain fatty acids. We need the phytochemicals and the anti oxidants from foods to protect us and build resilience. We need the vitamins and minerals from real foods to support so many other bodily functions, to provide us with the energy and also calming influences that they can bring.
So what can you be doing right now to ensure that your gut is looking after both your immunity and your mental health?
Make half of what you eat each day fresh vegetables or fruit; you should be eating 10 or so portions a day ( prioritise the veggies over the fruit as you want to minimise the sugars)
Ensure you are eating a huge diversity of plants and vegetables. Yes we need the amount of fibre but there are so many different varieties, each plant bringing it’s own biome which adds something else to our gut health, so make a list each day of the varieties you have consumed. The higher the better and aim for around 30 if you can.
Limit your intake of sugar and be aware of what products it has been added in to along with yeast which can lead to Candida and other conditions which detract from a healthy gut
Cut down or out alcohol. You may feel you need this right now as a crutch but please believe me when I say it will only be exacerbating your anxiety and stress and feelings of low mood in the long term. In fact all the stimulants I have mentioned will offer you a short term high but then drop you until you take the next hit.
Fill the void with large glasses of water, reward yourself with mint, ice, fruit, herbs in your soft drinks and understand what effects each mouthful has on your body.
Eat foods out of packets – cook from fresh and integrate colour for the antioxidants to build immunity
Choose foods to nurture your gut like fermented foods; kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and kimchi
Take a spoonful of apple cider vinegar every day
Boost your immunity through adaptogens and eat plenty of ginger, turmeric, maybe Maca, even ginseng perhaps
Look to natural health support like wonderful Manuka honey with the highest UMF value you can get hold of
Think about boosting your gut health by taking a good probiotic – and of course eating the prebiotic foods I mention above.
Fast on the heels of what we eat, how we sleep and exercise are also high on the priority list as a triangle of support for our mental wellbeing.
The chemicals released from one, impact the other and form a triangle of support for our health. But we do know exercise releases feel good endorphins, and a good night’s sleep and healthy sleep routine means we are far more ready to face the challenges which life is hurling at us right now.
And most of all, remember you are not alone, and nothing stays the same.
The government has said it will ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed and launch a short consultation on whether that should be extended to a blanket ban on adverts for sweets and fast food online. Without question is should.
Since the beginning of lock down there has been constant talk of returning to ‘normal’ or going back to the way things were before Covid-19.
I don’t want to go back to the way things were.
The way things were, got us here.
The way we treat our planet.
The way we treat the other animals and creatures we share our planet with.
The way we think about and treat our food in the main.
The way food and eating is incidental and dispensed with at speed in this ‘more, quicker, harder, faster’ world we live in.
Where we can have everything – and invariably do at the click of a button.
Where our priorities are all skewed and we live life on a virtual treadmill.
Food has been a theme throughout this period. Whether the focus is on empty supermarket shelves, where people hoarded ingredients for themselves far beyond need, or the constant snacking that has been a theme and we are seeing all over social media.
Or the Food Banks and Soup Kitchens that have just not been able to provide anything near like the amount of food needed to people suffering hardship at this time.
The covid-19 pandemic will see more than a quarter of a billion people suffering from acute hunger by the end of the year according to new figures from the WFP ( World Food Programme). When we think we have had it hard, there is no hint of a comparison to those living in conflict zones at this time.
Poor nutrition leaves children especially vulnerable and it is vital that commercial trade continues to flow as humanitarian work depends on it.
Worldwide hoarding is going on and countries are putting up trade barriers and WFP chief economist Arif Hussain says ‘Just like in developed countries where governments are doing all they can to assist their people, we need to do the same for tens of millions of people’. An impossible task to be faced with.
I have taken part in two Food Summits since lock down where panels of worldwide revered and respected doctors, scientists, nutrition experts and writers have discussed the roots of Covid-19 and the direct link to the way we produce food both here in the UK and worldwide.
Although the outbreak was initially tied to the Wuhan market and pangolins there is emerging evidence that suggests the virus was spreading in the community since October before being recognised as the virus we all now know as Covid-19. This brings us to examine the way animals are bred all over the world but particularly in the wildlife trade. The immune system of animals who are kept in awful conditions are weakened as a result and this means there is a combination of species and pathogens leading to mutating viruses that can spread very easily from species to species.
Although the Covid-19 outbreak has led to more regulations because of public pressure around the wild animal trade it is thought the restrictions are narrow and won’t last long enough or go far enough.
Then there is the way food is globally produced and the destruction of habitats for so much of our wildlife. For example, the beef industry is responsible for 65% of rainforest destruction and the emergence of new pathogens tends to occur where humans, and big businesses are changing the landscapes forever, farming intensively, and building larger communities.
In the process we humans are destroying ecosystems, causing no end of destruction to the biodiversity, and releasing new viruses. We are also developing a resistance to anti biotics.
You would think we had learned the most valuable lessons from the break outs of SARS in Chinese wet markets in 2002 linked to civets, Australia’s 1992 Hendra virus from the treatment of horses, , camels indicated in the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012 and chimpanzees hunted for bushmeat linked to Ebola in 2014.
But instead of these cases leading to urgent action and huge changes, we are now faced with Covid-19.
The 5 trillion agribusiness industry ‘is in a strategic alliance with influenza’ argues evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace.
So I for one do not want to go back to what we had before.
From people having time to cook in their kitchens from scratch for the first time in ever.
To children baking and using ingredients they haven’t experimented with before.
To people questioning the origins of the food they are eating.
We need change.
We need to think about the way the world organises food production.
Our wilderness and planet has to be protected. To avoid future worldwide pandemics unsanitary means of production has to end and we must dramatically reduce dairy and meat farming, eliminating all factory farming all together.
As human beings privileged to even share our planet with all the other amazing array of creatures we must take responsibility for and stop their barbaric treatment.
Food is a fundamental need to us all.
We share this responsibility to make it a priority globally to our kitchen, from our tables to our mouths.
We are what we eat has much more of a deep and poignant meaning right now.
I am always highlighting that our cells, every part of our being is only derived from every mouthful we take.
Let’s take the responsibility on exactly what this is.
Where it comes from.
How it is farmed.
What are the effects on our planet and the creatures we share it with.
And of course, is it nutritionally as well as ethically sound.
May sugar be the sweetest killer? Sugar has now overtaken cigarettes as the biggest contributor to lifestyle disease. It is slipped into so many products as other names and ingredients that we rarely even recognise it is there or check the quantities. In fact sugary drinks alone cause 184,000 deaths a year according to a study and report conducted by Tufts University in Boston. 76% of those deaths occurred in low to middle income countries. We now know the situation in the UK has slightly improved when it comes to fizzy drinks, but what about all the numerous other hidden sugars?
This blog is written for me by my good friend and psychotherapist Dr Robert Owen, who managed and reversed his own diagnosis for Diabetes Type 2.
Confessions of a sugar junkie.
I am addicted to sugar and it could kill me. I suffer from type 2 diabetes which, if not managed, can result in complications like blindness, amputation, heart problems and death. In spite of this knowledge I sometimes sucome to sugar loaded fare. I belong to a large family and there are lots of birthday parties. It’s normally that ‘small’ slice of cake that tempts me even though I know so much about the danger. I can’t say I haven’t been warned many times – as far back as the 1960s a friend introduced me to Professor Yudkin’s book “Pure, white and deadly”. Yet, I still sometimes find the temptation too much to resist. So why do I give into temptation when cake is on offer?
I know I’m not alone. How did we become sugar junkies? Who are the pushers? And other vital questions.
It started innocently enough
Sugar has been grown and used in India since ancient times. The word sugar derives from the Sanskrit language. How it was originally used is unclear, but it was certainly used as medicine in the Ayurvedic tradition.
As sugar juice it was not plentiful or cheap, in most parts of the world in ancient times honey was used for sweetening. Therefore, sugar remained relatively unimportant in diets until the Indians discovered methods of turning sugarcane juice into granulated crystals which were easier to store and to transport. This was known as Khaṇḍa, which is the source of our word candy.
During their campaigns in the Holy Land, Crusaders came across traders with “sweet salt” and brought this granulated sugar back to Europe.
It was a luxury and therefore not available to the majority of the population in Europe until the 18th century, when it gradually became more widely available. By the 19th century it came to be considered a necessity by the better-off. A change in taste occurred and the demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient soared.
During the Napoleonic Wars, sugar-beet production increased in continental Europe because of the difficulty of importing sugar when shipping was subject to blockade. And by the late 19th century sugar beet was the main source of sugar in Europe.
Sugar was rationed during World War I and more extensively during World War II, so we managed to exist with very little of it for many years in the 20th Century. I remember the wonderful day in September 1953 when sweets ‘came off rations’ and we kids gorged ourselves sat on the lawn in our back garden. This could be when my addiction started.
How did I get hooked?
Homo Sapiens has been around for a million years and for most of the time have survived without non-naturally occurring sugars, so it’s not a necessity. Why do we love it? To answer this question, we need to consider the evolutionary reason for the desire for sweet foods. It’s because our hunter gatherer ancestors searched for sweet foods (those containing naturally occurring sugars) because they weren’t poisonous.
And why does sugar make us happy? We are told that ‘happiness’ is partly the result of a biochemical process which relies partly on the neurotransmitter serotonin. I know as a psychotherapist that deficiency in serotonin is associated with depression. If we eat lots of carbohydrates – especially sugar, we can increase serotonin synthesis giving us short term pleasure but like any drug the effect doesn’t last long, and we have to consume more. Who’s eaten a bar of milk chocolate or even a box at one go? Scientific studies are available that suggest that sugar may act in a drug-like way and creates addiction in human beings. It can function very much like an opiate.
Are we consuming more than we know? Who are the pushers?
Many people are trying to come off their sugar dependency, but it’s easy to underestimate how much we’re actually consuming. Most people don’t realise when they’re eating it. One of the reasons is that many foods contain hidden sugars, including some foods that you wouldn’t even think of as being sweet. And what is most disturbing is that even products marketed as “low-fat” or “light” often contain more sugar than the regular versions.
Added sugars aren’t a necessary nutrient in your diet. Although small amounts are fine, they can cause serious harm if eaten in large amounts on a regular basis.
The British Heart Foundation recommends that people over age 11 should limit their ‘free’ sugar intake to 30 gms per day, while 7-10-year olds 24 gms and 4-6-year olds 19gms. A teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams. Even so some experts believe this recommendation is too generous.
The easiest way to avoid hidden sugar in your meals is to make them at home so you know exactly what’s in them.
Convenience food manufacturers add sugar in various guises see ‘Don’t kid yourself these are all sugars’.
What is the government doing about this health destroying addiction?
After concerns about the rising level of obesity, tooth decay and other issues, particularly amongst children in the UK , the Government in 2018 introduced a ‘sugar tax’ on sweetened drinks. Officially called the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), the tax puts a charge of 24p on drinks containing 8g of sugar per 100ml and 18p a litre on those with 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, directly payable by producers to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
It aims to reduce sugar consumption by persuading producers to reformulate their high sugar brands and avoid paying the levy.If they don’t reformulate, it’s up to manufacturers to decide whether to pass the levy cost on to consumers.
It’s not the first attempt to reduce sugar in the UK. In 2017, Public Health England (PHE) called for a 20% cut in sugar content within food produce by 2020, with 5% being the target for the first year. However a new PHE report released in May 2018 found that food manufacturers and supermarkets have only managed to cut 2% of sugar content. So, I’m not holding my breath over whether this levy will have much of an effect.
HOW CAN WE GET CLEAN?
4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar
Here are some foods and drinks that contain much more sugar than you would think.
Yogurt can be a highly nutritious food. However, not all yogurt is the same
Like many other low-fat products, low-fat yogurts have sugar added to them to enhance flavour.
For example, 245 grams of low-fat yogurt can contain up to 47 grams of sugar, which is 12 teaspoons. This is more than the daily limit for men and women in just a pot of so-called “healthy” yogurt.
Furthermore, low-fat yoghurt doesn’t seem to have the same health benefits as full-fat yoghurt. It’s best to choose full-fat, natural or Greek yoghurt. Avoid yoghurt that has been sweetened with sugar.
Like whole fruit, fruit juice contains some vitamins and minerals.
However, despite seeming like a healthy choice, these vitamins and minerals come with a large dose of sugar and very little fibre.
It usually takes a lot of fruit to produce a single glass of fruit juice, so you get much more sugar in a glass of juice than you would get by eating whole fruit. This makes it easy to consume a large amount of sugar quickly. PRESS JUICES / CONCENTRATED dilution?
In fact, there can be just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in a sugary drink like cola. The poor health outcomes that have been convincingly linked to sugary drinks may be linked to fruit juices too.
It’s best to choose whole fruit and minimize your intake of fruit juices.
Added sugars are often hidden in foods that we don’t even consider to be sweet, such as spaghetti sauce.
All tomato sauces will contain some natural sugar given that tomatoes are a fruit.
However, many spaghetti sauces have extra sugar added to them as well.
The best way to ensure you aren’t getting any unwanted sugar in your pasta sauce is to make your own.
However, if you need to buy ready-made spaghetti sauce, check the label and pick one that either doesn’t have sugar on the ingredients list or where it’s listed very close to the bottom. This indicates that it’s not a major ingredient.
Soup isn’t a food that you generally associate with sugar.
When it’s made with fresh whole ingredients, it’s a healthy choice and can be an effective way to increase your vegetable consumption without much effort.
The vegetables in soups have naturally occurring sugars, which are fine to eat given that they usually come in small amounts and with lots of other beneficial nutrients.
However, many commercially prepared soups have a lot of added ingredients, including sugar.
To check for added sugars in your soup, look at the ingredients list for things like sucrose barley malt, dextrose, maltose and other syrups.
The higher up on the list an ingredient is, the higher its content in the product. Watch out for when manufacturers list small amounts of different sugars, as that’s another sign the product could be high in total sugar.
All fruit contains natural sugars. However, some tinned fruit is peeled and preserved in sugary syrup. This processing strips the fruit of its fiber and adds a lot of unnecessary sugar to what should be a healthy snack.
The canning process can also destroy heat-sensitive vitamin C, although most other nutrients are well preserved.
Whole, fresh fruit is best. If you want to eat canned fruit, look for one that has been preserved in juice rather than syrup, which has a slightly lower sugar content.
Blending fruits with milk or yogurt in the morning to make yourself a smoothie can be a great way to start your day.
However, not all smoothies are healthy.
Many commercially produced smoothies come in large sizes and can be sweetened with things like fruit juice, ice cream or syrup, which increases their sugar content.
Some of them contain ridiculously high amounts of calories and sugar, containing over 96 grams, or 24 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving.
For a healthy smoothie, check the ingredients and make sure you watch your portion size.
Don’t kid yourself! Know what the labels mean – these are all sugars: Barley maltBeet sugarBrown sugarButtered sugarCane juice crystalsCane sugarCaster sugarCoconut sugarConfectioner’s (powdered) sugarCorn sweetenerCrystalline fructoseDate sugarDextran, malt powderEthyl maltolEvaporated cane juiceFruit juice concentrateGolden sugarInvert sugarMaltodextrinMaltoseMolassesMuscovado sugarOrganic raw sugarPanelaPalm sugarRapadura sugar
If you need to buy convenience food, make sure you read the label carefully to identify any hidden added sugars.
Ingredients are listed by weight, with the main ingredients listed first. This means that the more of something there is in a food, the higher up on the list it appears.
Food manufacturers get around this requirement. They make their products appear healthier, by use of smaller amounts of three or four different types of sugar in one product. These sugars then appear further down on the ingredients list, making a product look like it’s low in sugar when sugar is actually one of the main ingredients
Rosemary could enhance memory – a study of pupils working in a room with the aroma of rosemary in the form of essential oil achieved 5% to 7% better results in memory tests. Lemon and eucalyptus also great when revising.
Frozen veggies are even more nutritious than fresh.
People who eat spicy food tend to live longer.
A lemon has more sugar in it than a strawberry! But we don’t taste it because it is sour. Although it is acid outside our body, it is alkaline inside our body which is a good thing. Lemons are the original superfood.
Broccoli contains double the Vitamin C of an orange and more calcium than whole milk – we are also able to absorb it better. ( cut it in advance to preserve sulforaphane or add mustard after it is cooked).
Vitamin D can help with anxiety and low mood so make sure you get enough of it. Can be found in ;
Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon.
Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals.
Non dairy fortified milks
Wonderful brazil nuts for selenium which is a powerful anti oxidant – eat 1-2 a day.
Tomatoes can help protect you in the sun due to lycopene
Chocolate is not only full of anti oxidants but releases a dose of serotonin to make you feel great, naturally boosting your mood
Bright yellow turmeric – can whiten your teeth. Yes truly it can. It may turn your toothbrush yellow but your teeth will brighten while boosting your immunity.
Avocados – a complete food and super food of super foods. Brimming with all the nutrients we need and good fats and fatty acids and Omega 3 which is crucial for our central nervous system. Amazingly they help us absorb the nutrients of other foods too. The potassium may help you concentrate and make the best of your brain power and may help fight fatigue and depression – both of which would stop you concentrating. They stimulate production of ‘collagen’ which is essential for smooth skin and contain vitamin E – also wonderful for your skin
Chewing gum might help wake you up and make you feel more alert. Researchers have found that mint flavour gum may dramatically reduce feelings of tiredness. Another test showed that it helped improve test scores by 35%!!!
Cucumbers – 95% water, packed with a range of B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and a whole lot more. May freshen breath, with phytochemicals counteracting bacteria and relieve stress if used in a hot drink.