The evening of 26th January saw 14 of our clients join us for a fascinating talk from Sarah Zorab about how to achieve good nutrition for optimum women’s health and ways to improve particular conditions or challenges including digestive health, hormonal changes, energy levels and how and when to take supplements.
After we welcomed guests in from the cold with oatcakes and a homemade smoky vegetable and chorizo soup that Sarah had made (you’ll find the recipe at the bottom), we made a start.
Blood sugar balancing
When blood sugar, controlled by the hormone insulin, is balanced, our energy, weight control, concentration levels, mood, memory, sleep and stress tolerances will work to their best abilities. Insulin, part of the vital endocrine (hormone) system, is sometimes known as the ‘fat hormone’ because when carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, insulin reacts to cope with the influx, trying to control the body’s energy and weight.
It seems there are misnomers about how the amount of carbs we should eat and what carbs really are. The average person’s plate should be 50% non-starchy carb vegetables, 25% protein (animal or plant-based such as pulses and nuts) and 25% starchy carbs, ideally complex ones like heritage grains such as spelt and brown rice. For every meal, including breakfast, it’s best when protein is mixed with carbs because the protein helps slow down absorption and controls glucose levels. So many of us don’t eat protein at breakfast and it’s a real shame because it will significantly regulate energy levels and create a ‘full’ feeling for longer. Eggs are brilliant, so is full-fat plain Greek yoghurt with oats and nuts or a continental breakfast of low-fat, low-salt cheese and meat. Avoid shop-bought muesli or granola with added sugars and even lots of dried fruit – and did you know that most flavoured yoghurts contain 6tsp of sugar per serving?! We’ll come back to dairy later….
Essentially, the body converts anything other than protein and fat into glucose – it’s just the type of food you eat that determines how quickly.
Sarah also briefly touched on snacks and water, saying it’s best to spread your water intake out throughout the day, so your body is evenly hydrated. Coffee and caffeinated tea can cause blood glucose levels to spike, so stick to one or two cups per day. And with snacks, it does depend on your metabolism, digestive health and activity level, but three evenly-spaced meals are important for balancing blood sugar levels. If you must snack, never have carbs on their own – combine an apple with a piece of cheese, some hummus on oatcakes etc.
Finally, a brief look at sports nutrition. If you’re active for less than an hour, you shouldn’t need anything other than water and perhaps some non-sugar electrolyte water if you’re taking part in a high impact activity. For exercise over an hour long, you may need to consider boosting sugar levels in a way that will help your body cope with it. Remember that for about two hours after exercise, you’re more metabolically active and you must refuel within that time. If not, your body isn’t as receptive to the nutrients. Mix protein and complex carbs when you do.
Nutritionists and medical professionals are really starting to understand the critical importance of good bacteria (gut flora) for a healthy body. Bloating, wind, uncomfortable cramping, too much sugar, and a poor diet affects the balance of gut flora. Take a probiotic course for a month, once a year in the winter and after any course of antibiotics. Also looking at your diet and introducing more live foods and reducing sugar and alcohol will really help. When you do drink alcohol, do so with a meal and enjoy in moderation.
Mild gut issues aren’t well addressed by medicine at the moment but they can be very troublesome for people, and can influence their insulin levels and increase fat gain around the middle.
In summary, to take and maintain a full range of healthy bacteria, we need to eat as varied a diet of whole, unprocessed foods as possible. Oily fish is great, as is olive and linseed oil, slow-cooked meat, casseroles, soups and steaming our veg. Additionally, the trend for ‘raw food’ isn’t overly helpful for anyone with digestive issues because it’s more difficult for the gut to break down.
Lastly, Sarah touched on dairy and this prompted a few questions. She advised us to experiment with different types of dairy. Goat or sheep milk and yoghurt is easier to digest than cow’s milk, or try lactose free milk. Organic and free range milk is so much better as it’s also hormone-free, important for women. Nut and coconut milks are good for smoothies – but as a substitute they often have more preservatives and sugar in them, unless you make your own. Soya milk can either boost or supress oestrogen levels. Use sparingly if you have a history of oestrogen-driven cancer in your family.. If you like the taste of it, in moderation it’s fine.
For those of you who’d like to do more reading on this subject, Sarah recommends a book called ‘The Diet Myth – the real science behind what we eat’ by Professor Tim Spector.
It really hit home that as an ageing population, we have to learn how to look after ourselves and find ways to be comfortable in older age. The average age for going through the menopause is 51; some women will have lots of symptoms and others will be luckier. If symptoms are very acute, Sarah believes that the right dose of HRT can really help.
Nutritionally, stabilising blood sugar will be important, because going back to the first area we covered, this affects the endocrine system. Certain triggers can influence the symptoms according to oestrogen and progesterone levels, such as spicy foods, caffeine, fizzy drinks and alcohol.
Good foods are the natural foods, calcium-rich foods like dairy, leafy greens and sardines plus magnesium-rich foods like pulses, grains, greens. 70% of menopausal women are low in magnesium and Vitamin D so it’s worth upping foods containing these or taking a supplement. Try to eat organic eggs and organic milk – they’re a low cost upgrade, when you think about your total food bill – and will be hormone-free. Wash food, particularly fruit and veg, and buy organic or grass-fed meat if you can, again to avoid added hormones. Finally, find ways to stay active, including building your core stability, and get regular fresh air during the day.
The last subject that Sarah spoke about were the conditions which may benefit from supplements. We’re going to blog about her guide to supplements separately in another post soon.
Sarah Zorab’s Smoky Vegetable and Lentil Soup
1 tbsp coconut butter/olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small red chilli finely chopped (or to taste)
75-100g lean bacon or chorizo (cut into chunks)
Half tsp smoked paprika (1 x tsp if you like it hot)
Tin of chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp dried puy lentils, washed and drained
Bunch of flat leaved parsley
1 – 1 ½ litres of chicken stock (homemade if possible, otherwise we recommend Marigold powdered stock)
Bag of spinach, washed (or a good handful frozen leaf spinach)
Juice of ½ lemon
Seasoning to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed casserole over a medium heat; add the onion, leeks, carrots, sweet potato, and garlic. Mix well and gently fry for a few minutes. Add the chorizo or bacon, chilli, paprika and the finely chopped stalks of the parsley; continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, lentils, salt and pepper (NB if using stock cube/powder add the salt sparingly). Bring to the boil, cover with a tightly fitting lid and simmer for about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add the spinach, stir until the leaves have wilted (if using frozen spinach, stir in until it has defrosted and heated through). Add the lemon juice, and check seasoning. Serve in warmed bowls with a good sprinkling of chopped parsley.
This is a high fibre well balanced total meal. Lentils are a good source of protein, minerals and phytoestrogens. The tomatoes contain lypocene (a strong antioxidant), the onions, garlic and leeks are anti-microbial and there is beta carotene in the carrots and parsley. Parsley is also a natural diuretic – so great for fluid retention.