Superfoods… Fad, Fact or Fiction?

Are Superfoods some mysterious, amazing or secret product that will prolong your life or are they a clever marketing ploy by the food and manufacturing industry?

There’s a lot of chatter on social media, blogs, websites, books, supplements… all about superfoods. Due to the welcome arrival of spring, I decided September is a great time to investigate superfoods to find out if they really can make us live longer, healthier and happier lives.

What are Superfoods?

If you google the word ‘superfood’ you’re more likely to come across statements such as: “Nutrient powerhouses!” “Packed with antioxidants!” “Reduce the risk of chronic disease!” and less likely to find an actual medical or scientific definition… and that’s probably because there isn’t one. The closest we could find to a definition that was reasonably consistent was the Oxford Dictionary definition: “Superfood: noun, a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being’ .

So, what is ‘a nutrient-rich food’?

Broadly speaking, nutrients is the stuff our body needs on a daily basis to keep us moving, thinking, smiling and looking great! Scientifically speaking, nutrients generate the energy to support our metabolism, they regulate our body functions and they supply materials for repair, growth and maintenance of body tissue. They’re divided up into macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Therefore, a nutrient-rich (or nutrient dense) food is basically a term used to identify the ratio of nutrients to calories (energy) in a particular food or substance. For example, a fresh apple contains about 68 calories but it’s also high in fibre (which will fill you up and keep your digestive tract healthy) and it contains potassium and vitamins C and K. In terms of being nutrient-dense, you get a lot of bang for your buck with an apple: low in calories, high in nutrients… just like all fruit, vegetables, whole grains, meat and dairy.

So, nutrient-dense foods are low in calories but high in nutrients, like the apple and they are opposite to energy-dense foods which are high in calories and low in nutrients, like a Kit Kat.
A Kit Kat (just the little 2 Finger one J) has 105 calories, zero fibre, zero vitamins and it’s high in sugar and saturated fat. Kit Kats, like alcohol, chocolate, cakes and biscuits taste amazing and can bring a smile to your face, but they won’t contrite much to the energy your body needs to fuel itself.

A superfood by any other name…

We now know that the term ‘superfood’ has no scientific definition, but has an accepted definition of ‘nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being’. We also now know that ‘nutrient-rich’ foods are low in calories and high in nutrients such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains etc. Does that mean that superfoods are just regular, boring old wholesome foods that humans have been eating for centuries?

Seems pretty straightforward so far, but we want to go a bit deeper. So join me next week for “Superfoods… Fad, Fact or Fiction? (Part 2)” where we find out what the experts say about superfoods.

Depression and Food for your Mood

Feel-good foods

The foods we eat can be either a completely destabilising cocktail for a healthy mood, accelerating and compounding depression; or an extremely powerful tool for preventing and treating it. So let’s take a look at the kinds of foods we can use in order to boost mood and enhance mental health. At the most basic level, it means eating a nutrient-rich, wholefoods (real foods) diet, and avoiding a handful of offending foods...

As a rule of thumb, try to opt for a SLOW foods diet:

Seasonal (in-season for you and your climate right now)

Local (sourced from close to where you live –Farmer’s Markets are great for this!)

Organic (wherever possible = higher nutrient value, with the added benefit of reducing intake of nasty chemical residues from pesticides)

Whole (foods in their natural state -such as fresh vegetables, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit, fish and lean, organic, well-fed, raised and sustainably farmed meats)

Wherever possible, try to avoid the packaged, processed, “food-like products” that are high in sugar, additives and unhealthy fats.  I saw a quote I loved recently, which said: “Real foods don’t HAVE ingredients, they ARE ingredients”They also supply your body with an array of nourishing and balancing nutrients that every cell, organ, tissue and body system depends on for good health and functioning.

Eating by these principles, your mood and your body will absolutely notice the difference!

At a glance, you really want to be increasing these specific nutrients in your diet on a daily basis;  so on a whole (pun might be intended!), the major foods to look at are:

Healthy (Omega 3) fats

Essential fatty acids play an important and therapeutic role in depression. The brain needs these fatty acids for both structure and function, as well as being required for serotonin and dopamine transmission, and to stabilise neuronal function.

Healthy fats are highly protective for the brain, neurological system and all body cells; and are necessary for brain chemistry production, amping up feel-good mood transmitters and enhancing their receptivity. They are necessary for hormonal regulation, and play a huge role in reducing inflammation, which is known to play a major role in the pathophysiology of depression, particularly as inflammatory processes degrade and inhibit health neurotransmitter production.

Find healthy, Omega 3 fats  in:

Oily Fish such as Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna, Sardines; Coconut and Olive oil; Avocado; all Nuts & Seeds; Eggs; Tofu.

Protein

The amino acids in protein foods are the raw materials the body needs to make our neurotransmitters for healthy mood; for example, Serotonin (feel good), GABA (relaxing), noradrenalin (motivating). If we are not getting enough quality proteins through the diet, our bodies won’t have the building blocks to synthesise our brain chemistry.

Protein-rich foods include:

Fish; Meat; Eggs; Nuts and Seeds; Legumes; Tofu; Tempeh; Quorn; Wholegrains (e.g. oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet..).

B complex vitamins

B vitamins are necessary for optimal functioning of the brain and neurological system; for production of feel-good neurotransmitters and their transmission; as well as for stress support, digestion and absorption of nutrients, and energy.

Find B complex vitamins in:

Dark, leafy greens; Whole grains (e.g. oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet..); Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, Brazil, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Pine nuts, Pistachios, Walnuts, Sesame seeds/Tahini, Sunflower seeds; Soya beans; Yeast (bakers / dried / spread);Eggs; Kangaroo, Chicken, Turkey; Oily and white fish; Mushrooms.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential nutrient required by our bodies for stress, mood and nervous system support; energy production; and numerous cellular functions that play a role in depression and the regulation of neurotransmitters.

Find Magnesium in:

Dark, leafy greens;  Whole grains (e.g. oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet..); Legumes; Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, Brazil, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Pine nuts, Pistachios, Walnuts, Sesame seeds/Tahini, Sunflower seeds; Yeast (bakers / dried / spread); Licorice (confectionery), Dark Chocolate ; Chilli powder, Curry powder, Mustard powder; Goats milk;  Red meat, Chicken liver, Pork, Chicken, Turkey; Dried fruit: Apple, Apricot, Currants, Date, Figs, Sultana, Prunes; Passionfruit, Bananas, Blackberries, Raspberries.

Zinc

Low levels of zinc in the body are correlated with depression, with studies showing the more deficient the zinc levels are, the worse the depression. Zinc is a co-factor (necessary ingredient) for neurotransmitter production (feel-good brain chemistry) and many other important functions in the body.

Find Zinc in:

Pumpkin seeds; Eggs; Oysters; Nuts: Brazil, Almonds, Cashews, Pine nuts, Walnuts; Tahini, Sesame seeds and Sunflower seeds; Garlic; Green peas; Broad beans, Butter beans;  Spinach and dark leafy greens, including fresh parsley & basil; Mushrooms; Yeast spread; Tomatoes – sundried; Red meats, Chicken, Duck, Turkey; Cheese  (especially hard, yellow & blue cheeses).

Vitamin D

A deficiency of vitamin D is associated with depression and is responsible for modulating several neurotransmitters. Vitamin D  exerts neuroprotective effects, and interestingly, studies show it having a neuroactive hormonal influence as well. So it is a vital nutrient for many functions.

Vitamin D is best sourced by soaking up some sunshine through exposure of the skin to UVB rays (this accounts for approximately 90% of bioavailable D3 in the body) short periods, at non-extreme UV times of day. But you also need to have the correct amounts of magnesium present in order to activate it in your body. Obtaining adequate amounts of vitamin D through diet alone is unlikely, as vitamin D is produced in the body, and relies upon exposure to UVB rays in order to do so.

Find vitamin D in:

Sunshine (direct contact to skin); Oily fish –Salmon, Tuna, Herring, Sardines; Eggs, Beef; Butter; Mushrooms.

And don’t forget these important nutrients:

·    Quality sleep

·    Daily exercise

·    Rest, relaxation and fun

·    Nature (especially fresh air and sunshine)

Taking care to avoid certain things is also really important.

You’ll be doing yourself and your mood a real service by limiting or eschewing the following:

Caffeine

Caffeine has a demonstrated correlation with depression. It’s actually a highly psychoactive substance; and whilst many of us casually use caffeine in our daily diets, it depletes essential nutrients such as B complex vitamins and magnesium - which are vital to our wellbeing, in helping buffer the impact stress has on our nervous system and adrenal glands. Caffeine  also alters neurotransmitter function, for example via its effects on dopamine transmission, and has a  negative impact on  quality of sleep –which is a fundamental pillar for mental health and mood.

Sugar and artificial sweeteners

Studies have implicated sugar intake as a notable causative factor in depression. It can be linked to several actions, including dysregulation of blood sugars (a marked driver of depression); exacerbation of inflammatory processes that impact the brain and mood; and the leeching of important minerals needed for neurotransmitter production and function.

Sugars and high-carbohydrate foods (that rapidly flood the bloodstream with glucose upon ingestion) hit the reward centres of the brain, and act to temporarily boost mood and relieve depression. This can create a cycle of reliance upon the very substances (e.g. chocolate, biscuits, bread and alcohol) further perpetuating the situation.

Alcohol

Whilst it can appear to help temporarily, the fact remains that alcohol is indeed a depressant, especially on the neurological system; and so will have a worsening effect on depression. Alcohol also rapidly uses and depletes those nutrients the body needs to maintain a healthy mood, and causes huge blood sugar spikes and crashes; so it can be a real triple-whammy!

Wheat and dairy

What we know is both wheat and dairy are highly inflammatory and aggravating to A LOT of peoples’ systems. There is much more that could be said on the matter, particularly discussing the link between wheat in the diet and depression (along with other psychiatric conditions!). But if you really want to try a simple, no-nonsense approach with your (mental) health and wellbeing using a nutritional, food-as-medicine-based approach;  try cutting these two “bad boys” down or out of the diet completely (along with reducing or eliminating caffeine, sugar and alcohol –if and where you can) for 3-4 weeks…

Be sure to keep a food and symptom log, either on notebook or on your phone to jot down what you are eating, and also to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling; are you noticing any changes or improvements?  See if you can track the quality of your mood, your energy, clarity and focus, sleep, stress/anxiety, digestion etc. (whatever symptoms and markers are relevant to you). A useful way to do this is to rate your mood and symptoms each day from 1-10. Starting your log a few days to a week before you make any changes will help you to establish a baseline so you can really see your improvements on paper, as well as feel the benefits!

Proper nutrition and nutritional therapy can be a real game-changer…

If you experience depression or other stress and mood-related disturbances, I encourage you to seek the support of a qualified and experienced healthcare professional, such as a Naturopath, for a holistic assessment and specific treatment plan that will be therapeutic for you.

Shanna


Magical Mushrooms


With the Canberra Truffle Season in full swing let’s look at some of the amazing health benefits of mushrooms.

 

Button Mushrooms

Mushrooms are the only fruit or vegetable source of vitamin D, a vitamin in which one third of Australians are deficient. Just like our skin, mushrooms can convert sunlight into Vitamin D. Australian research has shown that placing mushrooms in sunlight for an hour boosts the Vitamin D content sufficiently to help us fight osteoporosis, boost our immune systems and help prevent heart disease and type two diabetes. Wow! 

 

Portobello Mushrooms

We usually associate anti-oxidants rich foods with colourful vegetable and fruits like berries and peppers. However, the more demure but nevertheless stylish Portobello mushrooms have the same oxygen radical absorbing capacity of red peppers boosting your immune system, your memory and your mood.

 

Shitake

A staple of Asian cuisine these fleshy and flavourful mushrooms are a powerhouse of health boosting properties. They contain eritadenine a cholesterol lowering substance as well as lentinan which has anti-tumour properties and has been used to treat cancer. Shitakes are also used to protect the liver, relive gallstones and stomach ulcers and have antiviral and antibacterial effects. 

 

Reishi

Reishi mushrooms are woody, hard and bitter so don’t pop them in your stir-fry! However being known as the ‘Mushroom of Immortatlity’, means they have some serious health kudos. Taken in the form of an extract or capsule, reishi mushroom is used to boost immune function, reduce inflammation and allergies and inhibit tumour growth. Ask your naturopath about dosage and suitability. 

 

Black Perigord Truffles

Whilst high in protein and low in fat, this most precious of mushrooms (technically an underground mushroom without stems) doesn’t really register on the nutritional hall of fame. However, with their alluring aroma and deliciously delicate taste, truffles enliven the senses and may for a short moment bring you ever so pleasantly into the moment. Which in our busy lives is surely one of the most important health benefits of all.

However, with their alluring aroma and deliciously delicate taste, truffles enliven the senses and may for a short moment bring you ever so pleasantly into the moment. Which in our busy lives is surely one of the most important health benefits of all.

HEALTHY EATING TO ENHANCE FERTILITY

Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for increased fertility in both men and women.  It is important to ensure that meals are balanced and that your body receives adequate nutrients to support your body during this time.

Eating organic fresh produce where possible is preferable as the pesticides used on inorganic food may (according to studies) reduce your risk of falling pregnant. Organic fruits and vegetables also have higher nutrient, vitamin and mineral content.

Below is a list of food that are excellent at improving fertility, as well as a list of food that are best avoided when trying to fall pregnant.

 

Foods That Promote Fertility

  • Protein: important for normal bodily functions, plus meats and poultry have high levels of iron. Low iron levels at the beginning of pregnancy increase the risk of developing postpartum anaemia. Iron levels in vegetarians are generally adequate, although it is still beneficial to check levels for anyone considering falling pregnant. A vitamin B12 supplement, is also important for vegetarians as this vitamin in generally only found in animal products.
  • Omega-3: many people are wary of the mercury levels in fish which are harmful to the foetus, however Omega-3 is very important for fertility and heart health. Fish that contain low levels of mercury include salmon, trout and canned chunk light tuna. If women are vegetarian or would rather avoid fish, flaxseed oil is an excellent source of Omega-3.
  • Whole grains: have more nutrients than refined grains and are full of fibre which assist in stimulating full body health. Rye, whole wheat and sourdough are great options that are rich in iron and B vitamins.
  • Calcium: people generally think dairy when they want to increase their calcium levels. However, there are other foods that are high in calcium which are less processed including – sesame seeds (tahini), broccoli, kale, oranges and salmon just to name a few.
  • Fruit & Vegetables: all fruits and vegetables are extremely beneficial for fertility due to their high nutrient content, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Foods such as blueberries, kale and capsicum also contain high levels of antioxidants which assist to counteract the negative effects of pollution and free radicals.
  • Folic acid: this is vital for fertility as it stimulates female sex hormones, while reducing the risk of spinal bifida in babies. Lemons and oranges contain adequate levels of folic acid, although supplementation is also an option.
  • Water: when trying to conceive sufficient hydration is vital. It is recommended that women drink 1.5-2L of WATER per day (this excludes sugary drinks).
  • Multi-Vitamin: a high quality multi-vitamin is an excellent way to ensure that you are receiving all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need during the pre-conception stage and afterwards. There are many pre-natal multi-vitamins available from health food stores. It is important to ensure they contain at least zinc, folic acid, and B vitamins.

 

Foods to Avoid

  • Colours & preservatives: this also includes artificial sweeteners found in “diet” food and drinks. These affect blood sugar levels and normal hormone balance.
  • Bad Fats: Foods high in fat.
  • Caffeine: Caffine should be limited as it restricts blood vessels and reduces the blood flow to the uterus and prevents eggs from attaching to uterine wall.
  • Refined and processed carbs: White bread, pasta and rice should be limited.
  • Limit meat: Limit your intake to average dosage as meat raises the body’s ammonia levels which inhibits implantation of egg and can affect sperm activity.
  • Alcohol, drugs and smoking: for obvious reasons
  • Soybeans and soy products: soy contains a component similar to estrogen which can decrease fertility. It has also been known to decrease male sex drive according to research. It also disrupts the absorption of zinc which is vital for sperm health in men.

When looking to improve fertility it is important to maintain a healthy balanced diet ensuring that you are receiving all the important nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

HERE’S A JUICY FERTILITY-BOOSTING TIP!

Diet, as you may well know, is a huge component of our overall health and wellbeing. But, we’re not talking fads and famine, rather the big-picture idea of long-term healthy living.

What we put into our body can have a massive effect on our energy levels, immune system, complexion, libido, and, yup- you guessed it – fertility success.

Now, we realise that dramatic changes to your food habits and lifestyle might feel a bit drastic, but just hear us out, because there’s one simple tip that EVERYONE can do to boost their health and improve their diet.

Juicing fresh fruit and vegies and blending yummy smoothies is one of the simplest ways to gain a few gold stars for maintaining a healthy diet, and it’s one of the most effective, too!

Consuming fruit & veg in liquid format means our bodies can easily absorb the nutrients, and it’s much easier to increase the intake. AND, by sipping away on that juice or smoothie, you’re providing your body with an abundance of good building blocks for healing and building healthy cells in preparation for conceiving.

Yippee!

 

Some Yummy Combos For You

Smoothies can be made with a milky, soy, or fruit juice base, and blend ice and fruit together to make a thick, delicious drink. Quite filling, they’re also great for breaky on the go, or a quick healthy snack. Try…

  • Banana + cinnamon + milk + yoghurt +honey
  • Berries + yoghurt + milk + honey
  • Strawberries + orange juice + ice + lemon sorbet
  • Banana + LSA + soy + honey + yoghurt + blueberries +ice

 

Juice is delicious and refreshing, and a great energy boost. Try single fruits, a combination of a few, or a mixture of fruit and vegetables to get the energy flowing! Try…

  • Apple + carrot + ginger
  • Orange + pineapple + watermelon
  • Watermelon + lime + mint
  • Apple + orange + celery + beetroot + carrot + ginger + strawberries

 

Now All You Need To Do Is...

  1. Buy organic! Organic produce contains no harmful pesticides or herbicides, which have a reputation for impacting fertility in both men and women.
  2. Choose your combo. Whether it be fruit and vegies, just one or the other, or a delicious smoothie, get creative, and mix and match.
  3. Drink up! It’s important that you drink your smoothie or juice ASAP as nutrients begin to fade as soon as your produce has been exposed to oxygen. Only cut your produce just before it meets the juicer, and make sure you get it into your system without great delay.

Until next time, live well everybody! And happy juicing...