Author Archives: Michela DiTocco

Improving your liver health

liverYour liver is an essential organ; responsible for an enormous number of metabolic activities, and you need an endless supply of nutrients, through your diet in order for your liver to be optimally healthy. It is the largest organ in our body and its main function is to remove toxins and process food nutrients.

Fatty liver disease is a build-up of excess fat in the liver cells. In some cases, fatty liver disease can cause damage the liver and lead to serious complications such as cirrhosis. The main risk factors for fatty liver disease include being overweight and obese, diabetes and elevated triglyceride levels, also in some cases malnutrition and alcohol abuse.

The main reason is people develop Fatty Liver disease is through their diet. People tend to eat too many carbohydrates, not enough protein and fresh fruits and vegetables. Another possible cause, mainly for older people is an over prescription of medications (like pain killers, anti-inflammatories, blood pressure or cholesterol tablets, the list goes on).  There is also a slight indication that exposure to certain toxic chemicals in our environment can cause this too. However, don’t stress because the damage caused by fatty liver disease can often be halted or reversed through simple lifestyle changes.

These may include losing weight safely, avoid alcohol, soft drinks and caffeine, reduce your carbohydrate intake (sugars, processed foods) opt for low GI alternatives. This is due to the effect carbohydrates have on raising your insulin levels, which can lead to fat storage. You should be increasing your intake of high-fibre foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables (garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables are the best) and with every meal include some low fat protein (either meats/fish or dairy products), which is full of amino acids and has no effect on your insulin levels. Now some people believe that you can get a fatty liver by eating too much fat. This is not entirely true; you need to eat some healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, eggs, seafood, raw nuts and seeds, for your body to function. What you do need to consider is eliminating fried foods and other high-fat foods (like processed foods containing hydrogenated oils). Also it is important to reduce the amount of medication you are taking (under your doctor’s supervision) as this is placing a great stress on your liver.

There are also some natural supplements you may want to consider taking with modifications to your diet, like folic acid, B-group vitamins, St Mary’s Thistle, dandelion and globe artichoke, selenium and sulphur containing amino acids. Also increasing your physical activity will help you lose some weight, improve your metabolism and regulate your blood sugar levels. As well as making your look and feel great.

Overall, this is a common issue in many people that goes undetected. If you have any concerns, please consult your doctor. As with many other health concerns, modifying your diet and increasing your physical activity can have a great impact on your health.

The FAST 5:2 Diet

fast dietWhat is the “Fast Diet”, it is also known as the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet, where by for 2 days out of the week you reduce the amount of calories you consume  and eat normally for the other 5 days. So the guidelines for following the fast diet are to reduce your calories by a ¼ of your regular intake, so 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men. This plan therefore needs you to consume on the other days of the week 2000 calories for the women and 2400 calories for the men, and not to overeat on these days if you wish to achieve weight loss.

The reason people are talking about this diet plan is due to the simplicity of it. You just reduce your daily calories for 2 non-consecutive days of the week. Then resume with “normal” eating again. There’s no fancy meal plan to try to follow, get bored of or is too complicated to adhere to. There are meal plans available for those who like the details; however you can prepare your own meals as long as you stick to the appropriate calorie limit. You can decide how to consume your daily calories on a fast day, all the various studies adopted different approaches, you can choose one big meal at lunchtime or 2 meals around breakfast and dinner or several smaller meals throughout the day, as long as it amounts to 500 or 600 calories for women and men respectively.

The basic principle to follow for foods to eat on a fast day should be high in protein and fibre, like fish, meats and vegetables. The main foods to avoid include refined carbohydrates (anything rich in sugar or flour), like pasta, rice, potatoes, sweets, cakes, biscuits, etc. The best drinks to consume is water, tea/coffee with no milk (low or no calorie drinks are best). Also safest to avoid alcohol due to the calories they contain and the effect it has on your insulin levels.

This diet not only claims to help you to achieve weight loss, but other health benefits like, improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduced insulin sensitivity levels. There are people who are not advised to partake in this diet due to numerous reasons, those people may be underweight people, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, diabetics, people recovering from surgery, people who have an eating disorder or people who just aren’t feeling well. People may be concerned about what they have heard about ‘starvation mode’ and that this fast diet may cause this to their body. Rest assured that ‘starvation mode’ only occurs after weeks of extreme caloric deprivation, not after one day of low caloric eating.

In reference to exercise and whether it is safe to do while following the fast diet, it is entirely up to you. If you feel you have the energy to exercise then feel free to slog it out at the gym. However, be mindful of not training too hard with endurance activities.

Once you have reached you goal weight (if weight loss is what you aimed to achieve) it is recommended that you continue at least one fast day a week. There are many more details, inspirational stories and research around this new phenomenon that is taking the world by storm through the website http://thefastdiet.co.uk/ or through their books ‘The Fast Diet’ and the corresponding  recipe book. Once you embrace the idea of intermittent fasting you will discover that your preferences towards food change, you have greater control over your cravings in between meals and that fear of hunger no longer dominates you.

Unclogging The Confusion on Cholesterol

CholesterolCholesterol is sometimes thought to be an evil thing and completely eliminated from our body. It is actually an essential type of fat present in our body and is used for many things including structure and membranes of cells, hormone production and various other functions. Our body produces enough cholesterol for all of these processes and doesn’t necessarily need any more from our diet to assist in these functions.

As you know certain foods which we consume are high in saturated fats and cholesterol, if we consume too much of these foods through our diet this can cause excess cholesterol to be present floating around the blood system and consequently blocking the artery walls and causing heart disease. Our body is good at removing excess cholesterol from our blood stream via the liver. The main concern for excess cholesterol in our body is overtime it can lead to heart disease

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Diabetes: The Short And Sweet Of It

Jelly BeansAround 4% of the Australian population are diagnosed with Diabetes, of these 3 out of 5 people have other cardiovascular concerns and half of these people are overweight or obese.  There are many people at risk of developing Diabetes or may have Diabetes and be unaware of it. 

These statistics may seem scary, but the prevalence of Diabetes is on the rise and most of the time good eating and exercise can help reduce the risk factors and keep your blood sugar levels under control. 

When diagnosed with Diabetes, people tend to think that it is going to be the end of the world; that they have to avoid sugars entirely, cut out carbohydrates, or eat special diabetic food. This is not the case, you can eat the same foods as everyone else in your family, and the only recommendation is to monitor your carbohydrate intake, as these foods are what increase your blood sugar levels. Most research will suggest consuming low GI foods.  The reason behind this is that they are digested by your body slowly and therefore elevate your blood sugar levels slowly, which is better than consuming foods which sharply increase your blood sugar levels. The other benefits of low GI foods are that they keep you feeling fuller for longer, and may help you to manage or lose weight. 

It is also important for diabetics to eat regular meals and not skip any meals (especially breakfast). Your body easily regulates your blood sugar levels when you are consuming your meals at regular times throughout the day and that they are of the same caloric value. It is very important to not skip any meals, as this also doesn’t assist your body to maintain its blood sugar levels, or eating bigger meals some days and less on other days (try to consume the same calories on a daily basis).  

Keeping a food diary in the beginning can help people understand what they are eating where to make changes and how to swap certain foods for more healthier/appropriate choices.  Research has suggested that for those people who keep a food diary they are more likely to lose weight and maintain this weight loss. The main foods that you need to be aware of due to their effect on your blood sugar levels are those highly refined carbohydrates. Listed below are a few examples; swap white rice for brown rice, white potatoes for sweet potatoes, pasta for wholemeal pasta, white bread for wholegrain/wholemeal breads, sugary breakfast cereals for high fibre cereals and croissants and pastries for bran muffins. All of the foods listed as an alternative are high in fibre, low GI and won’t rapidly spike your blood sugar levels. Artificial sweeteners can be added to your diet in place of sugars, without adding excess calories, however be aware of the recent research around on the detriments these products can cause. 

Another important thing to remember, is it’s not just the food you put into your body that can elevate your blood sugar levels, it’s also the beverages, more importantly, alcohol. People will tend to forget but wine and beer contain carbohydrates (sugars) and also some cocktails (with fruit juices). All of these need to be consumed in moderation and being a diabetic you will need to closely monitor your blood sugar levels when drinking alcohol. 

Exercise should not be overlooking when devising an action plan to manage your diabetes in as natural a way as possible. For those diabetics/pre-diabetics exercise is important in weight loss and maintaining weight loss and is also thought to help improve your body’s insulin sensitivity. Slow exercise may be all that you need in the beginning, to get moving again and help you feeling good. 

For diabetics in our society today, it is not that hard to make a few changes to the way you eat to help you live comfortably with the condition. There are many great websites out there that offer advice http://www.ndss.com.au/ or http://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/ and are a constant source of information and support. Also Australian chef Michael Moore has some great insights into the topic and has some great cookbooks and recipe ideas for people living with diabetes. 

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Are You A ‘Gluten’ For Punishment?

gluten foods

Gluten intolerances are common in today’s society and affect up to 15% of the population worldwide, many times these people are unaware and continue to suffer undiagnosed. What is gluten intolerance? It is where your immune system develops a hypersensitivity to one of the proteins found in gluten, causing your body to react in a negative way. This can cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pains, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, stomach cramps, fatigue & exhaustion, weight loss or gain, malabsorption, aching joints or arthritis, eczema and headaches. This however, is not to be confused with Coeliac disease, which is an auto- immune disease, as well as a disease of malabsorption, to gluten and can be more severe (as it damages the small intestines) and has a sudden onset. 

The foods to avoid as they all contain gluten include, grains and cereals such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt as well as breads, flour, biscuits, cakes, tarts, pizza, pies, porridge, pasta, noodles, cold cuts, salad dressings, malt, beer and many other processed foods which contain gluten. 

Gluten intolerances are not usually detected early in life (due to the nature of the symptoms displayed) and will usually be triggered in most adults by a traumatic/stressful event in their life such as a job loss, death in the family, divorce, serious illness, surgery, infection, emotional stress and pregnancy/childbirth. You will find that mainly women suffer from this through bloating after eating food and children who get skin rashes or experience abdominal pain. The easiest and most effective way to treat gluten intolerance is through following a gluten-free diet. All it involves is eliminating all products/foods that contain gluten from your diet. This is easier now a days due to the many new gluten-free products available in supermarkets and through many websites or cookbooks which offer gluten-free recipes and restaurants that cater for gluten-free customers. 

There are many great websites full of informative literature about this topic, such as http://www.foodintol.com/ . It along with many others explains what it is, how you can identify it, how you can treat it and feel better again. Many people who have experienced some of the above mentioned symptoms and eliminated gluten from their diet have raved about how they feel and the difference it has made to their health. If you are concerned about gluten in your diet speak with your Doctor or a health professional and look at making a change for the better.

 

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Going Mad For Dairy

Cow

Dairy foods are one of the five major food groups we need to consume on a daily basis and they provide many essential health benefits to help your body run effectively. 

The major nutrient found in dairy products is calcium, as well as potassium, phosphorus, proteins, vitamin D, A, B12, niacin, zinc and magnesium. These nutrients help benefit your body in many ways. They assist in weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight, sustaining healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis, lowering the risk of hypertension, kidney stones and heart disease, building and maintaining healthy muscles and even the prevention of some cancers. 

The recommended daily requirement of dairy products for Australian adults is 3 serves. A serve can be 250ml of milk (full cream or non-fat), 200g of yoghurts or 40g of cheese (preferably low fat). Most of the research conducted suggests that low-fat dairy options are the best due to the amounts of saturated fats animal products can contain and the lower caloric value low-fat alternatives have. 

The most important point we are constantly told when we are growing up is to drink milk for strong, healthy bones. This is important because obtaining calcium via foods, as opposed to supplements, is better absorbed by the body. Also if your body does not get enough calcium via your diet, it “steals” it from your bones to maintain adequate levels in your bloodstream. Over time this can lead to the onset of osteoporosis and other possible bone diseases. 

Recently, in society, more people are diagnosed as being lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products every day. Lactose intolerance means your body no longer produces the enzyme necessary to digest the sugars founds in milk, called lactose. The symptoms associated with intolerances are diarrhea, gastrointestinal distress and flatulence. Allergies however, are incurable and can cause more severe symptoms such as respiratory distress, digestive problems and skin disorders. For those people there are alternative sources of calcium and vitamin D that can be consumed in order to meet their daily requirements, including soya-based milks, spinach, broccoli and some bread. 

Overall, dairy products are back in fashion. They are a great way to keep your calories within the recommended daily limit and obtain essential nutrients your body needs to function. So make sure you have your 3 serves a day to ensure you are maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. 

 

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