Why you should be eating bell peppers

bell peppersBell peppers belong to the nightshade (Solanaceae) family of plants, along with eggplant, tomatoes and white potatoes (but not sweet potatoes). Although most people have no problems with nightshades, they can have negative health effects for people struggling with inflammatory bowel disease or an autoimmune disease, such as celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

However, more research is needed before definitive claims can be made.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in Vitamins A, C and B6 along with fiber and folate;
  • Good source of vitamins E and K, manganese, potassium and several antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Healthy evidence
Bell peppers are one of the highest sources of vitamin C and a single cup can provide over 200% of the recommended daily intake of this important nutrient. Bell peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids).

Both of these nutrients are critical for proper immune function.

What is the difference in bell pepper colours
Most varieties of bell peppers start off green in color and undergo color changes during the process of maturation. These colour changes can range from yellow, oranges to reds and even purples.

Nutrients to boost the immune system

vitamin-c

Feeding your body with right foods may help activate proper function of the immune system. If you’re looking for easy ways to reduce the risk or even prevent illnesses such as the common cold and other flu-like illnesses, your first step should be a visit to the local grocery store.

Some foods are better than others when it comes to priming the immune system. Here is a quick look at a few key nutrients that are critical for proper immune function and which foods you can find them.

Vitamin A
A fat soluble vitamin, vitamin A promotes good vision, gene replication, healthy immune function and proper skin health.

There are two ways in which vitamin A is available to humans:

  • preformed vitamin A;
  • carotenoids.

Preformed vitamin A is found predominantly in animal sources like liver and butter, while carotenoids are found in plant sources.

Vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes, respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts, which all help the body to protect against infections. It regulates the immune system and plays a key role in producing white blood cells which fight off infections within the body.

Top foods for vitamin A

  • Lamb’s liver (735% RDA per 3oz)
  • Sweet potato (214% RDA per cup)
  • Carrot (148%)
  • Tuna (143% DV per 6oz)
  • Pumpkin (127% DV per cup)

Vitamin C
An essential nutrient, meaning that the body is unable to synthesize it on its own, humans must on rely on their diet for an adequate source of vitamin C.

Vitamin C performs a variety of functions  throughout the body. Primarily by donating electrons in biochemical reactions. It is required by the body for the development and maintenance of scar tissue, blood vessels, collagen synthesis and proper iron absorption. It’s also an antioxidant. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, a type of molecule known to damage and disrupt the immune system.

Studies have shown that high doses of vitamin C can boost immune function, and in turn reducing the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for vitamin C:

  • Guava (419% DV per cup)
  • Red and green peppers (211%)
  • Kiwi fruit (185%)
  • Strawberries (108%)
  • Oranges (106%)

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it is required to be consumed with fatty acids to be absorbed by the body. Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is also important in proper heart function, protection against heart disease and a reduction in chronic inflammation.

Top foods for vitamin E:

  • Almonds & sunflower seeds (49% DV per oz)
  • Avocado (28% DV per avocado)
  • Spinach (25% DV per cup)
  • Pumpkin (18%)
  • Kiwi fruit (18%)

Zinc
Zinc is an extremely versatile mineral required as a cofactor by more than 300 enzymes. Virtually all cells contain zinc, with the highest concentrations being found in muscle and bone.

Zinc supports many functions including the production of certain immune cells, building proteins, wound healing, reproduction and creating DNA. Zinc is also essential for creation and activation of T-lymphocytes, which are the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors the body’s immune response to specific pathogens.

Several studies have shown that supplementing with zinc can protect against respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. Similar to vitamin C, Zinc may also reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for zinc:

  • Oysters (327% DV per half dozen)
  • Beef chuck steak (140% DV per 5oz)
  • Chicken leg (49% DV per leg)
  • Tofu (36% DV per cup)
  • Pork chop (32% DV per 6oz)

 

Olive Leaf Extract

Olive-Leaf-Extract-1

Olive leaf extract has had a long history in traditional medicine, being used to prevent, treat or manage inflammation and infections (such as the common cold or influenza), diarrhoea, cardiovascular system function and osteoarthritis.

Produced from the leaves of the olive plant, research shows that the major active ingredient Oleuropein, has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties.

The benefits
Olive leaf extract has been used traditionally in western herbal medicine for:

  • Coughs, colds and influenza. Relieves symptoms of coughs, colds and influenza, sore throats and upper respiratory tract infections;
  • Immune support and general wellbeing. Supports the immune system and when taken daily, it also helps maintain general wellbeing;
  • Natural antioxidants. Olive leaf extract has powerful antioxidant properties to fight free radical damage;
  • Insulin sensitivity. Olive leaf extract may improve insulin sensitivity and overall blood glucose response, reducing the risk of developing diabetes and improving overall weight management;
  • Cardiovascular system function. Olive leaf extract can also be used to help regulate blood pressure, maintain normal heart and overall cardiovascular system function.

How to supplement with olive leaf extract
You can purchase olive leaf extract in capsule and liquid form. There is no actual recommended dosage, however the standard dose ranges from 500mg to 1500mg daily.

Doses can be divided into several smaller doses if required.

Are there risks or side effects
If you are currently taking blood pressure or blood thinning medication, or have diabetes it is recommended that you consult with a medical professional prior to trying olive leaf extract.

In extreme cases, it is possible to develop a respiratory allergic response.

My two cents
Olive leaf extract is just about the only supplement that I have personally found to noticeably reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu-like illnesses. On occasion, I’ve noticed a difference within 24 hours of supplementation. As a result, I’ll keep a bottle in the fridge and supplement daily throughout the cold and flu season.

Anecdotal and n=1 yes, but this stuff works for me.

Finally, this isn’t a cure-all supplement, but it may help with the reduction of the severity of colds, improved blood glucose response, leading to improved weight management, overall health and performance, along with some boosted immunity.

Cod liver oil and optimal health

Fish oil and fresh fish on light background

Cod liver oil is a fish oil supplement. It has a long history in medicine, dating back to the late 1700’s where is was first used to treat rheumatism and then rickets and a variety of other infections.

Similar to other fish oils, cod liver oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a variety of health benefits including reduced overall inflammation, improved brain function, heart health and lower blood pressure.

Cod liver oil also contains bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D, often deficient in the modern diet, provide many other health benefits contributing to optimal health and performance.

Typical nutritional profile of a 5 ml serving:

  • Calories: 45
  • Fat: 5g
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1000mg
  • Cholesterol: 25mg
  • Vitamin A: approx. 90% of RDI
  • Vitamin D: approx. 110% of RDI

Below are just some of the scientifically back health benefits of supplementing with cod liver oil:

Great source of vitamins A and D
Cod liver oil is incredibly nutritious food, providing approx. 90% of the daily requirement for vitamin A and over 100% of the daily vitamin D requirements.

Traditionally cod liver oil was given to children to support proper growth and brain development, stronger bones and a general protection from infection. It was also taken by mothers during pregnancy and breast-feeding to support the optimal development of their infant.

Vitamin A has many roles in the human body, including maintaining eye health, the immune system, brain function and healthy skin.

It is also one of the best food sources of vitamin D, which has many important roles in the body including brain health and maintaining bone homeostasis by regulating calcium absorption.

Reduced inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body fight infections and heal injuries.

In some cases however, this inflammation may continue at low levels for extended periods of time. This is known as chronic inflammation, which is harmful and may increase the risk high blood pressure and several other health conditions.

The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil may help suppress chronic inflammation.

Improved bone health
Having strong bones is incredibly important, especially as you enter advanced age. It is common for people to begin to have a reduction in bone density levels from about the age of 30 years. This can lead to fractures and breaks later in life, especially in women after menopause.

Cod liver oil is a great dietary source of vitamin D and may reduce age-related bone loss. That’s because it helps your body absorb and regulate calcium, which is a necessary mineral for strong and healthy bones.

Reduced joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by damage to the joints.

There is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. This study however, suggests that cod liver oil may reduce joint pain and improve some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis like joint stiffness and swelling.

In fact, cod liver oil has been used to treat patients with rheumatism since the late 1700’s.

Supports eye health
Cod liver oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA and vitamin A, both of which may protect against vision loss from age related and inflammatory eye diseases.

To summarise
Cod liver oil is an incredibly nutritious food supplement. It is convent and contains high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, along with bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D which are important to optimal health and performance.

Traditionally used to support the proper growth and development of young children, it also has many other health promoting benefits.

Adding cod liver oil to your diet may provide health benefits such as improved bone density, an increased protection against general illness and a reduction in joint pain for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

In general, dosing is usually between 1 and 2 teaspoons (5-10ml) per day. For those who can’t handle the taste it also comes in capsule form.

Alternatively, you can add your daily dose to a small glass of fresh juice or water.

Characteristics of traditional diets

Delicious  portion of  fresh salmon fillet  with aromatic herbs,

From the Weston A. Price foundation.

Characteristics of traditional diets

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colorings;
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed; muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred;
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet;
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw;
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments;
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid;
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids;
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids;
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt;
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths;
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

How to get more fat in your diet

a heart shaped butter pat melting on a non-stick surface

Most foods that we eat today have some amount of fat content. 

Fat is an amazing flavour enhancer. It makes everything taste better.

Many people are starting to accept that fat is not all bad and have started to make the shift into lower carbohydrate diets. The thing is, when you lower your carbohydrate intake, you will need to increase one of the other macro-nutrients, protein or fat.

From a nutritional perspective, humans have evolved eating mostly protein and fats. In fact, it was the shift into eating more fatty tissue and organ meats that made cognitive revolution occur. This is also known as the development of the human brain.

More recent times have led to the vilification of dietary fats, however it’s not all bad. Additional to providing flavour, dietary fat from whole food sources provides the necessary intake of valuable fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.

More and more research is proving that the real enemy is excessive carbohydrate and processed “food” consumption, combined with an overstressed, sedentary lifestyle, that is causing the explosions in obesity and chronic “diseases of lifestyle” that are so common in present day populations.

Here is a bunch of ways to get more fat into your diet:

Use whole, full-fat ingredients
It’s time to remove all of the low-fat or lite food products from the pantry and refrigerator.

Look for full-fat dairy products. Milk (if tolerant), butter, cream, yoghurt and cheeses. Add in avocados and some pastured eggs. Try to add natural fats rather than avoid them entirely.

Fatty cuts of meat can be more flavourful, and are often cheaper than leaner cuts. Wild salmon and sardines contain high amounts of important omega-3 fats and make valuable additions to the dinner plate.

Cook with fats
Cook your vegetables, meats, fish and eggs in natural fats like butter, ghee or coconut oil.

Use a variety of natural fats for flavour
Different fats can provide different flavours to your food. This will create variety to your meals without too much complication.

Try experimenting with these fats and oils:

  • Butter and ghee;
  • Lard, tallow, duck fat, or any other animal fat;
  • Coconut oil;
  • Olive oil;
  • Macadamia nut oil;
  • Avocado oil.

Top your dishes with butter or oils
A drizzle of oil. A dollop of sour cream. Melt some butter. You can top off almost any dish with some health promoting fats.

Garnish with high fat foods
Avocado. Cheese. Olives. Nuts and seeds. All of these high fat foods are packed with nutrients and important fat-soluble vitamins, so add these to your meals when available.

Eat more cheese
Cheese is a simple addition to any meal. It can even work as an appetizer. It goes with just about anything and can be eaten at anytime of the day. Packed with both protein and fat it makes a perfect addition to any meal or gathering.

If you are sensitive to dairy products, you may be able to tolerate hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar and Gouda as they have generally low amounts of lactose that most people will be able to manage small to moderate amounts.

Cheese is often served as dessert in my house.

Blend fats into your coffee or tea
Adding coconut or MCT oil to your morning coffee or tea is quick and easy. Full-fat cream works just as well and will give you that milky flavour with very little lactose content.

The combination of caffeine and MCT’s will provide you with some mental clarity, make you feel more alert and focused, as well as reduce the typical caffeine crash.

It will prime the body to shift from glucose to fat as a fuel source which will also keep your appetite suppressed for longer.

Are you at risk of Diabetes?

sugar-cubes-diabetes_h

What is Type-2 diabetes?
Type-2 diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. It is sometimes called a lifestyle disease, because it is more common in people who don’t do enough physical activity, and who are overweight or obese.

Type-2 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (reduced insulin production) and/or the insulin does not work effectively, and/or the cells of the body do not respond to insulin effectively (insulin resistance).

Type-2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, contributing to approximately 85% of all cases.

There are currently over 1.2 million people in Australia with diabetes. This figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, with over 2 million people at high risk of developing diabetes.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, lower limb amputations, nerve damage and damage to the kidneys and eyes.

In 2004-2005, 60% of all people reporting diabetes also reported having cardiovascular disease

– Australian Bureau of Statistics

Risk Factors
Many Australians, particularly those over the age of 40, are at risk of developing Type-2 diabetes through poor lifestyle choices such as inadequate physical activity and poor nutrition.

Some genetic factors may also increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Symptoms
Common symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst;
  • Frequent urination;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Increased hunger;
  • Reduced energy;
  • Reduced healing capacity;
  • Itching and skin infections;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Increased weight;
  • Mood swings;
  • Leg cramps.

Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to use glucose from carbohydrates in the food for energy, or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keep your blood glucose level from getting too high (hyperglycemia), or too low (hypoglycemia).

Many of the cells in your body use glucose for energy. However, glucose cannot go into most of your cells directly. After you eat food and your blood glucose level rises, the beta cells in your pancreas are signalled to release insulin into your bloodstream.

Insulin is often described as the key that unlocks the cell to allow sugar to enter the cell and be used for energy.

If you have more glucose in your body than it needs, insulin helps store the glucose in your liver and will release it when your blood glucose level is low or during times of physical activity. Therefore, insulin helps balance out blood glucose levels and keeps them in a normal range. As blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin.

If your body does not produce enough insulin or your cells are resistant to the effects of insulin, you may develop hyperglycemia, which can cause long-term complications if the blood sugar levels stay elevated for long periods of time.

Below is a table explaining risk levels based on your blood glucose levels, in both fasted and non-fasted (2-hours post-meal) states.

blood-glucose-numbers-e1542706142794.jpg

What can you do about lowering your risk?
For a start, your lifestyle choices can definitely lower your chances, or, at least delay the onset of type-2 diabetes.

There are some factors that you can not change, such as your genetic makeup and predisposition to developing type-2 diabetes. You can, however, do something about being overweight, waist measurement, how active you are, eating habits, and how much or often you smoke.

Even if you haven’t won the gene pool lottery, you can still reduce your risk with positive lifestyle choices. This is called gene expression. Simply put, you genes load the gun, but it’s your environment that pulls the trigger.

What does this mean? Well, by increasing your physical activity, improving your eating habits and getting some quality sleep you will be well on the way to lowering your overall risk.

Sleep quality
Poor sleep can affect diabetes both directly and indirectly, by changing normal patterns of hormones, contributing to greater weight gain and obesity, and causing changes to lifestyle.

Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality, especially as we reach middle age and older, can almost double your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, according to several large studies.

Sleep deprivation also increases the stress hormone cortisol, which can make cells even more insulin resistant.

By improving your sleep patterns you will be setting yourself up for success. Sleep has a strong influence over eating patterns, exercise habits, and the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety.

Physical activity
The Australian Government Department of Health guidelines for physical activity suggest that adults should be aiming for somewhere between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate level physical activity per week, or alternatively, 1 to 2.5 hours of high intensity physical training.

Most people understand the benefits of pushing some weight around in the gym, but this doesn’t mean that everybody needs to live there. A casual jog or run around the river, swimming some laps in the pool, a game squash or even a short hike will all work well. The variations are endless.

Even something as little as adding a 30 minute walk after meals you can greatly reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body.

The take away here is that some physical activities better than zero physical activity.

Nutrition
Making the shift to more of a whole food based diet and lowering your overall carbohydrate intake will great reduce the body’s requirement to control insulin. A paleo type diet is a good place to start as it eliminates most of the troublesome foods like refined sugars, cereals and grain based products, and emphasises on eating lean meats and fish, along with plenty of vegetables and some healthy fats and oils.

The aim here is to reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body. Lowering your dietary carbohydrate intake will most definitely reduce the need for your body to produce insulin.

How low-carb do you have to go? Well… The issue here is that what works for one person may not work as well for the next. This is where personalised nutrition can play a part in your success. All this means is that different foods react differently with different people.

Modern era diets can be upwards of 55% carbohydrate for total caloric intake. This can be about 300-350 grams per day. That is quite high considering how sedentary the modern lifestyle has become.

Lets say you half that number. 100-150 grams per day. Pretty easy to do if you ditch cereal and grain based products. It takes a lot of broccoli and spinach to total 100 grams of carbohydrate.

Now combine that with quality sleep and some physical training, and you will be reducing your body’s requirement to produce insulin whilst activating optimal fat burning processes.

Another bonus is that you will be lowering your total caloric intake without a real loss of nutrient density, so you’ll probably find that you’ll also lose a few unwanted kilograms at the same time, which will likely improve several other health biomarkers, leading to an improved quality of life.

To me, that looks like a net win.

If you are struggling with controlling your insulin levels, it is always best to consult with your health professional.