January Resolutions

Is there something you want to change about your life?  Have you made a New Year’s Resolution?  Did you plan it before New Year with a view to starting on 1st January?

If you have celebrated Christmas in the traditional way like our ancestors did with a huge feast – or three or four, then you might be feeling somewhat jaded – not unsurprisingly.  From a nutritional standpoint, all that rich food, alcohol, sugar and indulgence is highly acidifying and makes us feel tired, lethargic with the odd headache throw in too, so it makes sense that many people vow to eat a healthier diet over the coming months, to rebalance.  The foods we really need plenty of, are the same ones we are always being nagged to eat – vegetables!  This is the ideal time to increase your veg intake with some good winter warming root veg and hardy greens.  Carrots, parsnips, celeriac, swede, turnips, and beetroots are warming and nourishing.  Cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale are cruciferous vegetables and have anti-cancer properties (indole-3-carbinole) which means they also support the immune system.  Then onions, garlic and leeks help with liver metabolism and getting rid of the by-products of all that self indulgence.

And forget the ‘5-a-day’ slogans.  Did you know that before that slogan for healthy eating was chosen, researchers found that actually people really needed to eat nearer 8 or 9 portions of veg a day?  However, they knew they wouldn’t be able to persuade people to do that but thought that 5 was acceptable as a minimum to aim for for!  So dig out your recipe books, visit your local organic farm/market/supermarket to buy lovely fresh veg and pile them in to all our dishes.

Root vegetables taste great when they are roasted, and hardy green vegetables a lovely stir-fried with a good oil like coconut oil or goose fat or butter.

Eating 8 or 9 portions of veg a day will chase away the winter blues and get your feeling full of vitality again!

So maybe a New Year Resolution of intent to eat 7 plus portions of vegetables a day would be a really good way to start the year and a healthier new you!

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Healthy Eating to Save the Planet

A couple of years ago, I realised that my training in Naturopathic nutrition taught us a Systems Approach to health through the naturopathic philosophies.  A Systems Approach theory stresses the interactive nature and interdependence of external and internal factors in an organization or system. Nothing exists in isolation, everything is connected and more like a network or web than a simple logical structure.  It is how life is, complex, chaotic and often unpredictable.

We learnt how organs and tissues are inter-connected and what affects one system will have a knock-on effect on other systems and tissues.  The human body cannot be likened to a car where if a part fails, you just replace with a new part.  Instead, if there is a problem in one organ, its lack of optimum function will be affecting other organs, and very importantly, the problem organ is probably being affected by less than optimum functioning elsewhere.  In a systems approach there cannot be a magic bullet solution, as all the issues have to be addressed until there is enough good function in the whole body to facilitate self healing.  Besides naturopathic medicine, other medical paradigms with a systems approach include Chinese 5 Element medicine and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine.  In the farming world, permaculture takes a Systems Approach and has developed it massively.  Some people might call this a holistic approach, one of considering all the possible causes and implications and how all parts of a system relate to each other.

Increasing knowledge (hopefully the wisdom of the years)  and reading is confirming my view that everything in life is inter-connected on some level. 

However in the world at large, the general approach is a more linear one of 0ver-simplifying problems into single cause and effect.  

For example, to take food and health, we know that what we eat affects our health and there is lots of evidence to show that how we farm affects our food, which in turn affects our health.  At the same time we are increasingly becoming concerned about climate change and sustainability and how what we eat can affect that. However if we only look at this from a simplistic perspective it is easy to jump to inappropriate conclusions.

So first let us look at what is health?  It could be simply, the absence of disease.  But there are plenty of people who do not have a disease who could be assessed as unhealthy so it is about more than the absence of disease.  Health could be considered to be when a person has the optimum function of the physical and mental body leading to a feeling of vitality.

Likewise, there are numerous definitions of living sustainably.  Some see it as living in a way that maintains the Earth’s status quo, or perhaps living in a way that does not undermine the ability of the Earth to support life.  There is another quote which more all encompassing than this.  A recent Quaker text, quoted in Resurgence magazine says:

living sustainably “should spring from a place of love rather than from fear” and that, although we may struggle to describe it, it might well be characterised by words such as “care, respect, love, symbiosis, honouring, valuing, hospitality, stewardship, nurture, humility, adaptation and accommodation, peaceable living, interconnectedness, awe, wonder, relationship, harmony, consecration, sacramental or holy living”.

For both ‘health’ and ‘sustainability’ there is no simple definition, rather each is descriptive title for a much larger and deeper meaning of the concept.

I want to illustrate the problem of simplistic linear thinking by linking health and sustainability, and then to offer a more complex solution to some of our current problems.

Throughout January, there have been many companies and organisations promoting a vegan lifestyle for health and for sustainability.  The advice is to give up eating animal products which produce high levels of CO2 and methane (another greenhouse gas) in favour of a completely plant based diet which will go a long way to averting climate change, and thereby promote sustainable living.  Consequently, the land used to farm animals could grow crops to replace the meat production.  In addition, this will dramatically reduce animal suffering.

There is good linear logic to this but the actual facts behind the headlines ‘Eat Vegan Save the Planet’ tell a different story.

There is no doubt that in general we all eat too much meat and that it is bad for our health to do so. A large proportion of the meat consumed is farmed in unsustainable ways which is cruel to animals, promoting huge suffering.

Rainforests are being cut down so farmers can grow soya to feed to cattle being intensively farmed in small areas.  Most cattle, wherever they are reared, are fed on grains to fatten them up to increase profit margins but grains are not their natural food.  

In UK, 70% of land is in agriculture and this includes uplands and moors where sheep are farmed.  Of all the land in agriculture, just 36% of the total is under crops and arable.  The remaining 64% is in pasture – that is for farming animals.  Half of arable land is growing cereals, a large proportion of which is fed to cattle to fatten them up.  

If we all stopped eating beef, and dairy products, then theoretically more land would be released for growing food crops for humans, as well as the land currently growing cereals to feed to animals.  However, most of the land under pasture is not suitable for growing crops.  The reason it is in pasture is because it is not possible to grow food crops the modern way with sophisticated heavy machinery.  Often the land is too wet, or with heavy clay by rivers or in flood plains, or it is too steep or inaccessible or the soil is too thin such as on hills and moorland.  So if farms stopped producing meat, most of the 64% of agricultural land, currently in pasture, could not necessarily be used for large scale growing of crops.  The land currently growing cereals to feed to cattle could however, be used for crops for people.

If people are not eating meat or dairy products, then another source of protein needs to be available.  Plant protein foods include pulses such as lentils and beans, plus nuts, and seeds.  There is some protein in grains but they need to be eaten with pulses to provide the full spectrum of essential protein constituents.

When it comes to eating healthy sustainable food we should be looking to eat locally produced food, to keep food miles low and reduce emissions for transport.  This can be a problem for the protein part of a vegan diet in UK.

Currently, the UK produces little plant protein and most of the protein in a vegan diet comes from abroad.  Lentils, beans, nuts and seeds could be grown here but not much is.  This could of course be changed, though the range of plant protein is going to be restricted by what will grow in our climate (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios and many other nuts only grow in warmer climates).   Soya will grow in UK but there are good health reasons why it should not be a major part of the diet. 

Soya beans are high in plant oestrogens, which may be problematic for people suffering from hormone related conditions (except for women in peri-menopause). They have a high level of goitrogenic compounds which suppress the function of the thyroid gland, and they contain a high level of oxalates which bind with minerals like calcium and magnesium making them insoluble and unusable by and in the human body.  Most of these problems can be reduced by turning the soya into tofu as the Japanese have done for many centuries and tofu is a relatively healthy food.  Turning soya into texturized vegetable protein or TVP provides a protein food but in a highly processed way with concerns for health, plus quite a lot of ‘embodied energy’ used in the processing of the soya beans, so it should not be an option for the climate conscious.

If everyone who currently eats meat were instead start to eat a lot more conventionally farmed plant foods, the net result could actually be an increase in the use of fossil fuels to make the necessary fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides and consequent increase in CO2.  In addition, large scale arable agriculture leads to soil degradation and loss, leading to higher use of fertilisers and loss of carbon from the soil.  Conventional agriculture is not sustainable and contributes to climate change.

If you want to go vegan and reduce your planetary footprint then you have to eat only organic or preferably permaculture produced food.  In fact we should all, meat eaters and vegans, be eating from small scale organic producers.

There has been quite a bit of research showing that eating meat can lead to cancer and other chronic and often fatal conditions, which is, of course, of great concern.  However more detailed research into the source of the meat eaten,  suggests that the meat that is so unhealthy comes from animals fed on cereals.  Many cattle are fed on grass during the warm part of the year when the grass is growing but are fed on cereals during the winter because there is not enough grass, or they are ‘finished’ on cereals in order to put on weight.  Eating cereals causes the animals to make an unhealthy type of fat that would not have existed in the animals our ancestors ate. Cereal fed beef fat is pro-inflammatory and cancer promoting and it is low in a chemical called CLE which is anti-inflammatory and health promoting.  Beef which are raised only on pastureland throughout the year do not have this damaging type of fat and are actually health promoting.  After all our ancestors often thrived on a mixed diet, and in winter time there were few plants around so they ate a lot of meat then, and cancer was a very rare disease.

So, if we are to source at least some of our protein locally,  save on food miles, and cut fossil fuel use in transport, then it would make sense to eat meat that is 100% pasture fed. In addition, the high levels of methane gas which have been recorded being released from cattle would seem to be a result of the grain diet they are fed, while pasture fed animals release much lower levels of methane. Eating animals, not just cattle, raised on land unsuitable for arable crops would make good use of pasture producing animals that are healthier, and even better, preserve pasture land which is good at sequestering carbon, thereby reducing the carbon foot prints of consumers.  In an ideal world, animals that are raised sustainably for local consumption would be slaughtered locally by the most humane methods available and not in large abbotoirs (but that is another story).

You can buy certified pasture fed beef on-line from small farm producers. See https://www.pastureforlife.org/news/100-grass-fed-certification-mark-approved

To summarise, eating conventionally grown plants on a vegan diet will not necessarily reduce the production of CO2 and methane or reduce fossil fuel use.  It is not necessarily a healthy approach to eating either.

A sustainable and healthy diet is one where a large proportion of the diet is made up of locally produced organic or permaculture grown plant food, with a small amount of pasture fed beef plus some organic free range chicken and eggs.

The subject of lamb production is another complex issue from a more Systems Approach.  The feeding patterns of sheep are such that wherever they graze they dramatically reduce the biodiversity of the landscape.  In reality, our so-called beautiful Lake District fells are sheep induced deserts with few species of plants, animals or insects. 

Pasture land by contrast, can have a much higher level of biodiversity and pasture land is a good sequester of carbon,  much better than conventionally farmed arable crops.  Going several steps further along this track, we should support rewilding our landscape – biodiversity and soil sequestration is the answer to climate change.


To support a sustainable lifestyle

Eat a lot less meat.

Eat some certified pasture-fed meat

Eat lots more vegetables, but only organic, biodynamic, permaculture grown ones.

Buy from organic farms, small-holdings, mixed farms and farmers markets where possible.

Buying food from small farmers supports sustainable agriculture and carbon sequestration.



Rewilding by Isobella Tree – there are lots of supporting references here.  Highly recommended reading.

Statistics from Wikipedia using information from DEFRA – in a more digestible form!

Some Stats

70% of UK land is in Agriculture

36% of all agricultural land is arable

64% of all agricultural land is pasture.

50% of crops are grains, a large proportion of which is grown as animal feed.  Of all cereals grown, wheat accounts for 65%.

Soil nutrient levels have dropped continually since the 1920’s.

Levels of nutrients in standard vegetables have therefore also dropped.

1926 MaCance made first analysis of vegetables

1940 McCance and Widdows produced  The Chemical Composition of Foods

100grams of different veg, fruit, cereals, meats, seafoods, beverages, sugars, preserves, sweetmeats, condiments and dairy.

In 51 years – to 1991 there has been

49% loss of Na

16% loss of K

24% loss of Mg

46% loss of Ca

27% loss of Fe

76% loss of Cu

Carrots have had a 75% loss of Mg

Broccoli has had a 75% loss of Ca

You need 10 tomatoes in 1991 to get the same Cu content as in 1 tomato in 1940

NPK  fertiliser encourages plant growth without the plant being healthy or having good nutrient levels.

In 2019, we are 28 years on from the date of the last big study so it is to be expected that levels will have dropped even more.

The soil is sick, so plants are sick which can only lead to sick people.

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Why can’t I stick to my healthy diet?

There are many reasons why it can be hard to eat a good healthy diet.  Temptation is of course the number one.  You see other people around you eating sweets, donuts, cakes and biscuits, drinking sugary drinks and you just want to join in too!  It is natural to want to be able to have the same experiences as those around you, because it helps you feel as if you belong.  Cravings are number two, probably.  There is often a time when the only thing you really want is a crunchy, sugary fix and nothing else will do.  

There are people who will say it is just a question of will power.  If you just have the will power you can do anything.  This is all very well but it comes from the “pull yourself together” school of helfulness.  That is, unhelpful, unsympathetic advice that you just don’t have the power to take on board because things are out of balance. 

People with some severe chronic diseases like diabetes or coeliac disease absolutely must stick with a restrictive diet or their health will deteriorate massively, but for some even the threat of osteoporosis or continuing irritable bowel is not enough to force the changes needed.

A friend of mine is an eye surgeon and she was telling me that more than half of her patients were diabetics, and she was treating them for diabetic retinopathy – a disease of the eye caused by high blood sugar levels.  If blood sugar levels stay high for a length of time, the sufferer will go blind.  If diabetics would only reduce their sugar levels and keep them under control by following the prescribed diet, she said she wouldn’t have many patients to treat. She also said that if she was told she would loose her sight if she were in the same position, she would definitely stick to the low sugar diet.

As most of us would agree, the threat of loosing ones sight ought to be a big enough motivator for healthy eating.  Yet so many people still can’t resist the foods that are making them blind and my friend wondered why.

There is an answer in the ancient philosophy of Chinese 5 Element Medicine. This philosophy with over 2000 years of observation on life, explains  how the human body is controlled by 5 governing and interrelated elements: Fire, Water, Wood, Earth, and Metal.  Each element governs the actions of two or more major organs, so, for example, the lungs and large intestine are governed by the metal element.  It may seem that these two organs are unrelated in function or appearance  so why would they both come under the same governance? However, both organs are organs of elimination.  The lungs rid the body of surplus carbon dioxide produced by the production of energy from food (and thereby regulate the pH or acid alkali balance of the whole body), and the large intestine eliminates solid food waste.  Another part of the body, not always considered to be an organ, the skin, is also an organ of elimination as the body eliminates salts and other unwanted metabolic waste, via sweat, so it is also a Metal element organ. 

As well as these organ and function correspondences in each element, there are emotional attributes too and the metal element is associated with the emotion of grief, or the need to let go – as we do to evacuate the bowels.  There is a flavour associated with metal and it is pungent, so spicy foods can be supportive to the Metal element provided they are not eaten in excess.

However when we look at the Earth element, we can start to see why sugar and sweet foods are so hard to give up.  The organs of the Earth element are the stomach and the spleen/pancreas.  These organs are concerned with digestion, with taking in nourishment and breaking it down ready for use by the body later.  The stomach secretes a protein digesting enzyme and hydrochloric acid which help to split large protein molecules into smaller ones ready for absorption, and the pancreas secretes many enzymes for the breakdown of protein, fat and carbohydrate foods groups.  Once broken down, the now small food particles can be absorbed from the gut into the blood stream. These functions make nourishment available to the cells and organs of the body, as our food has to be processed in order to be useful. Just as the Metal element was about Elimination, the Earth element is about Taking Things In. The flavour associated with the Earth element is sweetness.  This element also governs cycles such as menstruation, sleep, hormones, and our body clock.  Yellow and orange foods and sweet foods nourish this Earth aspect of our being. The Earth element is the most important because it is the source of all the others.

If the Earth element is deficient or in excess all the functions associated with it could be affected.  This will mean that we may not digest food well due to a lack of stomach acid or digestive enzymes, so we are not properly nourishing our body.  But also, on completely different level, if we are stressed our digestion (Earth Element organs) doesn’t work very well and so our Earth Element mal-functions.  Maybe you have noticed that food takes longer to ‘go down’ if you are stressed or you don’t feel like eating at all.  The same also applies if we have poor relationships with those around us. To cut a bit of a long story short, if we are emotionally undernourished it is difficult to stick to a nutrition program that eliminates sugars which is the sweet flavour which supports a feeling of well being.  We get cravings for sugar when we could really do with a cuddle or a sympathetic friend.  Sometimes we have got so used to shutting other people out due to feeling unsafe or being emotionally abused that we loose the ability to accept emotional nourishment when it is offered. Part of emotional nourishment is the sense of touch which brings connection.

Many years ago I was asked to recommend a healthy diet and supplements to a young man with special needs at a home which was part of a special college.  He had had a traumatic time during his early teens, often living on the street and having to go hungry.  At first the treatments went well and he was responding nicely, but then after about 4 weeks everything, not just the diet but also his behaviour deteriorated dramatically.  I asked the house parents if anything had changed recently and they said he was no longer receiving a weekly massage.  It seemed as if the massage was fulfilling some deep need in him that allowed him to take in the nourishment that was offered in this caring community.  But once the massage – and close touch connection, was withdrawn he relapsed again.  His Earth element was just so undernourished that he could not take in other forms of nourishment like food and as a result he collapsed on many levels.

So to get back to the question, “Why can’t I stick to a healthy diet?”, perhaps it is because you need to look at other areas of your life first, to find support for the Earth element so it is strong enough to take in and process our food properly which will then support the rest of the body, and then to feed the will (will-power). 

There are many ways to do this.  The Earth Element likes routines and regular habits.  Meals don’t have to be eaten at exactly the same time each day but a regular routine so that the body knows what is going to happen next is good. Do things that make you feel good.  Go for walks in nature, barefoot is you can – you want to connect with the Earth if possible and this is grounding.  Go to a comedy performance that will make you laugh or do fun things. Spend more time with the friends who are sympathetic and less time with those people who stress you out.  Have long soaks in the bath with lavender oil or some other pampering bath gel.  Book a series of massage sessions or healing sessions and turn up and relax. Avoid stressful films and TV series where there is violence and a sense of threat, instead watch things that make you feel positive.  Wear some yellow clothing!

Once your Earth element is more nourished, you may have less sugar cravings and more ‘will power’ to do what you need to do to get healthy.

This theory may be the root cause of the success of slimming clubs, where the comradarie and support of fellow dieters, is as important or even more essential than the diet programme itself.

If you like this theory and want to know more than see Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements by Dianne M Connelly

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Time to Ditch Wheat

Ever since I changed to a restrictive, but healthy, diet to address Chronic Fatigue syndrome, over 25 years ago, I have prided myself on continuing to eat organic and healthy food.  Then, two years ago, after a time of huge stress, I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, an auto-immune disorder where sufferers react to gluten in foods, even in the smallest amounts.  The test result astounded me.   I am a nutritional therapist and eat a healthy diet so how did that happen!  There was a strong sense of irony as I had recommended avoiding gluten containing wheat to lots of clients and now it was going to be off limits to me too – for ever.


The change to a gf diet was actually not too difficult for me as I didn’t eat wheat-laden junk food, or cakes and biscuits regularly – or so I thought.  However what I didn’t realise at the beginning, is just how pervasive and invasive gluten is in our home, our food, and our environment.

Not only do Coeliacs have to exclude all wheat containing products like the obvious bread, pastry, biscuits and cakes, but also foods with a little wheat in them which includes less obvious things such as burgers and meat balls, sausages, black pudding, ham with a breadcrumb crust, sauces, taramasalata, guacamole, crab pate and many others.  My husband has become very used to hearing ‘Why on earth do they put wheat in that!”  Very often wheat is not a necessary ingredient, just a filler and there are lots of alternatives. 


When one takes out other gluten containing foods like barley, rye, couscous, bulgar wheat, and oats plus foods containing extracts from them, another huge batch of foods has to be excluded.  Some coeliacs can tolerate gf oats but its best to avoid them as they still contain a form of gluten though different from wheat gluten.  Spirit vinegar and malt vinegar and malted products are out too as they are made from barley, and this includes most chutneys and many sauces.  And then there is wheat in cosmetics such as when vitamin E or wheat germ oil is used, and I can testify that it does cause a reaction.  

So what does one eat?  Well obviously meat, fish, eggs, veg, fruit nuts and seeds.  Ah, but not necessarily.  If you read the small print on packets you can find that it says ‘may contain gluten’ or packed in an environment where gluten containing products are packaged”.  Coeliacs are so sensitive that this immediately cuts out another large number of products.

When I got my diagnosis I thought I could continue to eat mostly organic food, often bought from the health food shop.  But I was wrong.  The only uncontaminated grains and pulses sold by my health food shop are – quinoa and brown rice flakes.  I cannot buy rice, millet, nuts, seeds, or lentils because their supplier buys these products from China, presumably where they are grown, but all packaged in the same factory that handles wheat flour. (I am not sure that I would trust a Chinese organic certification label in any case).

This makes trying to have a healthy organic diet very difficult though I have found that Waitrose’s range of organic foods is not contaminated, and is presumably grown in other countries than China. But Waitrose does not offer a full range of the usual Health Foods.

The whole experience of being a Nutritional Therapist with Coeliac Disorder has made me realise just how pervasive wheat is in normal diets. It is probably present in around 80% of foods that people routinely eat.  Medical authorities wonder at the explosion of wheat allergies and autoimmune disease, and at the huge growth in the demand for gf food. Human digestion has not yet evolved to eat a diet containing the modern form of gluten, as wheat is amongst the most highly selectively bred foods in farming, and in any case, gluten is a very difficult protein to digest, which is why our ancestors allowed it to ferment with yeasts to help it break down.   It would seem that we are being set up, albeit by accident, to suffer from wheat allergies and intolerances.  

Most Nutritional Therapists will ask their clients to cut down or exclude wheat from their diet when giving health advice.  From a naturopathic perspective, wheat is considered suppressive to liver metabolism, pro-inflammatory and with negative effects on the immune system.  It is difficult to recover from ill-health while essential organ systems are operating below par. A colleague has said that she has observed that patients don’t make any progress unless they stop having wheat (and dairy which has similar problems).

Today, walking round the health food shop in search of brown rice flakes, it occurred to me that the whole ethos of the health food industry is based on eating wholemeal wheat. 


There are so many products made with it and which take centre stage that it is as if the industry has forgotten that this is just one grain amongst many, and that it isn’t necessarily healthy even if it is organic and wholegrain. A loaf of home-made organic bread has become synomynous of the most healthy food one can eat.  And yet it isn’t – not by a long way.  

The acceptance of wholewheat as a healthy food means that a blind eye is being turned to its insidious use in a huge range of health food products.  Many people won’t realise that they are consuming so much of such an unhelpful food, thinking that they are eating a healthy diet because they buy their food from a Health Food Shop.

It is about time the health food industry caught up with its customers and modern science, to sell what customers are increasingly demanding – and it isn’t wheat products.  The upsurge of clean eating, detox diets and food sensitivities shows there is a demand to reshape what they offer.  It’s time to ditch the wheat.

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How do you get better sleep?

Sleep problems are extremely common these days and once one looks at the things that one can do to help, it becomes clear that the average lifestyle is not at all conducive to a good night’s sleep.  That said, there are many different reasons why we don’t sleep and it is a case of trail and error until you find what works for you.

We often take sleeping for granted but quality sleep is essential for maintaining health of the body and in particular of the immune system.

Cats don’t seem to have any problems sleeping

One could view the immune system as a housekeeper, keeping everything clean and organised and in working order, and noticing when parts need repairing too. It does a great deal more than fighting bugs. Most of the bodily repair processes are part of the immune processes and take place at night, during sleep. They are affected by the thyroid hormone, which controls metabolism, and by cortisol, which is produced by stress.  The body produces more cortisol during the day to deal with stresses and then thyroid hormone at night to drive the repair processes. When these hormones are out of balance and there is too much cortisol around at night we may not sleep well, the repair processes are compromised, and detoxification of cells does not take place. Over a long period of poor sleep our tissue toxins levels can rise giving rise to inflammation processes and our immune function is depressed. Sleep is essential for immunity. This is why we need to sleep or at least to rest when we are ill. If we continue working when we are ill, the body never has the chance to completely recover from a virus infection, like a cold, and we may ‘catch’ one cold after another throughout the winter. If stress levels remain high then we won’t sleep well, repair cells, and our immune functions become compromised resulting in  ill health and disease.

For good sleep we need to find ways of relaxing and de-stressing.

Ensure you have a regular bedtime routine that prepares you for sleep.
Spend some time during the day, in quiet relaxation and meditation
Take saunas and steam baths before bed
Have baths with Epsom salts or lavender oil before bed
Try a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow or use a lavender herb pillow
Exercise reguarly
Try stress busting techniques
Take Hot and Cold showers for waking up in the morning to help set your body clock
Use Lavender pillows or put lavender oil drops on your pillow.
Correct your breathing so it is deep belly breathing. (Breathing in the upper part of the chest stimulates the stress response and the release of cortisol)
Avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee and chocolate in the evening.
It may help instead to have a small bowl of porridge as this is calming. Lettuce has soporific qualities and so could be incorporated into the evening meal.
Avoid TV but especially news, thrillers, violence and stressful content. Wildlife programmes and other items that are uplifting are ok.

Avoid all TV, computer, tablet and phone screens in the last hour or two before bed (except ones like kindle paperweight that do not omit much light at you).
Keep light levels low – use side lights and lamps. Avoid looking at bright lights at night.
Listen to relaxing music or relaxation tapes.

If you wake during the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep try:
to count your breathes up to 21 and back to 1, and while counting concentrate on slowing the breath and breathing deeply. Sometimes if one wakes in the night it is because the thyroid or adrenals have woken up and increased the heart rate. By slowing it down again, it gives a message to go back to sleep mode.

Herbal supplements such as Hops, Passiflora, and Valarian can help.  Also Calms, available from your health food shop are good.
Try Avea Sativa from Weleda
Try Pukka Herbs Nighttime tea, or other brands of night-time tea.

Some people find that even the tiniest amount of spicy food will make them feel wired at night and stop them getting to sleep for hours, despite feeling tired. Alcohol can also cause this despite it being a relaxant. Avoid all spicy food for a week, including chilli, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, zartar, black pepper, curry powder, 5 spice mixture etc. Sometimes the ‘wired’ buzz can extend to a buzzing or tinnitus in the ears.

If these suggestions do not work for you then the problem needs addressing at its root. Hormone imbalances and inflammatory processes may need to be addresses before good sleep patterns can be established.  If you can’t find a solution to your sleep problem then consult a nutritional therapist for more help.

Let me know what has worked for you!

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Travelling with Coeliac Disease

My first year as a diagnosed Coeliac sufferer coincided with my busiest ever year of travel.  I went to Egypt 5 times, to the USA, to Spain, to the Yorkshire Dales, attended a walking leader course in Wales and made numerous visits to my mother, who suffers from dementia.  It has been quite a challenge to stay well with all with all these changes in routines and forced eating out, but on the whole the experience has been really positive.  It does take planning, and a change of attitude towards food and eating out.  It is just not possible to eat what other people do – but then having been a foodie and a health foodie at that, I have been used to being picky about food.

Firstly travelling to Egypt! This could have been the most difficult challenge but I found out that Egyptair does do gluten free meals, one just has to ring up the airline to book as it is not available on-line (although cholesterol free meals are?!!). Special meals arrive about 15 minutes before everyone else has theirs which is nice. Cairo airport only has fruit that is not wrapped in some sort of wheat parcel but arriving at 7 pm this is not a problem. The little resort at Sharm I visit has a buffet breakfast where one can choose omelettes, cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber. A slice of gf bread from my travelling stock p1050145completes a good breakfast.  The Bedouin quickly got on board with my ‘weird’ diet and soon everyone knew that I mustn’t have gluten and they have catered for me very well wherever I go.  The Marriot in Cairo was also good with so many gluten free options to choose from. I carry a Gluten Free Travel card in Arabic, downloaded off the internet so people will know exactly what my requirements are.

When we went to the USA to visit our son, we stayed with friends who were very p1010793accommodating and then hired a camper van for the journey from San Francisco to Bend in Oregon.  Self-catering is easy when there are lots of great health food supermarkets to stock up on. One night we went to a cinema called McMenamins (a chain of cinemas in the USA), to see the new Jungle Book film and they had separate catering facilities for gf so chips and all manner of junk food was available – just this once I indulged! British Airways had good gf meals on the flights there and back.

At Heathrow airport, there are gluten free snacks at Eat, gf options on the menu at Wonder Tree, and the Gorgeous Kitchen, plus a branch of Carluccio’s which is coeliac approved, so no problem having  lunch before an afternoon flight.

p1040915Going on holiday to Spain did worry me but it turned out to be a very positive experience and I didn’t get gluted once.  We booked through Collett’s Walking Holidays and they ensured that my dietary needs were communicated to their staff. Our hotel, in the tiny mountain village of Panticosa, was excellent with the chef preparing special adaptions of the meals just for me.  I bought ingredients for my own sandwiches with gf wraps I brought with me, and eating out was fine as they seem very aware of coeliac disease.  Our waitress at one restaurant said it was no problem as she had a cousin who was coeliac and knew exactly what was required.

Our walking holiday to the Yorkshire Dales, also booked with Collett’s Walking Holidays, was also fine with a choice of restaurants in the little village we stayed in.  One restaurant called Thirteen, had a menu that was all gf all the time as the chef had a problem with gluten!  The food was some of the best I have ever had. Even the village pub had meals that were gf.  The hotel we stayed in provided nice gf breakfasts and had recommended the excellent restaurant 13.

The worst experience was of Brittany Ferries on their Plymouth to Santander route.  We had previously used the ferries to get to Northern Spain on two other holidays and enjoyed great meals in the restaurant, before I had my diagnosis.  This time the company were quite unhelpful with advice when we booked, just saying we would have to ask the staff if they had any gf options but saying that they couldn’t do special meals.  When we asked one member of staff at the restaurant he just said take whatever I like from the buffet and remove the bread! Another waitress was a bit more helpful but they didn’t really know which foods were definitely gf so I worried about having a gluten attack. This spoilt the experience for me.

On visits to my mother’s house I just took most of my food with me.  She hasn’t been able to cook for herself for a while and would not have understood my problem so it was easier to sort it out myself.

When travelling I do take snacks and emergency foods with me.  9Bars are almost a meal in themselves and great if one is being very active. Packets of mixed fruits and nuts are good too, and I have found you can’t always trust the ones abroad, especially if they are spiced as they use some flour in the mix.  Naked bars are good alternatives to 9Bars.  BFree wraps are good and actually last quite a long time without refrigeration. And of course fruit is usually freely available too.

During my October trip to Sinai, Egypt, I led a group to build a small dam in the high mountains. There were 8 of us in the group, and just by chance, 3 of us were coeliacs.  The other two were mother and son and long experienced in travelling gf.  Freddie’s job takes him to some of the most remote parts of the world to film animals and he doesn’t find living gf too much of a problem, so there is hope for all us coeliacs.



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More Healthy Baking

This cake is not only delicious but has good levels of nutrients.  There are vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in the dried fruit, healthy fats (yes butter is a healthy fat after all!), protein from the eggs and nuts, and healthy carbs in the wholemeal flour.  For more nutritional info see below.

I call this type of cake recipe the potato masher cake because most of the work of mixing is done with a potato masher!

Banana and Hazelnut Cake


125g /4 oz prunes/apricots/dates

125g/4 oz butter or equivalent of oil such as light olive oil or coconut oil.

2 or 3 ripe bananas

2 eggs

30g/1 oz ground almonds

125g/4 oz hazelnuts

125g/4 oz wholemeal flour or wheat and gluten-free flour such as rice flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Cook the dried fruit in a small to medium-sized saucepan with sufficient water to cover them for about 15 to 20 minutes. Simmer gently, do not boil or they will burn. When cooked and mushy, add the oil or butter and mix well. Mash in the bananas. You can do all this in the saucepan with a potato masher. Allow to cool slightly.

Add beaten eggs. Mix well. Then add flour, ground almonds and baking powder and mix briefly and gently then add in the hazelnuts.

Turn the mixture out into a loaf tin or cake tin which has been greased and lined. Cook in a moderate oven, gas mark 3 or 4 for about 40 minutes or until done.


You can substitute mango for the banana, and vary the dried fruit and nuts and flours.


Put about 100g/3 oz of cashew nuts into a blender with about 3 or 4 tablespoons of apples juice, blend and spread on top.

Nutritional Information

Where possible always buy organic ingredients to avoid pesticides, growth hormones, additives and other unhelpful or harmful chemicals.

Prunes are a good source of provitamin A and phenolic compounds.  They are a good source of potassium, thiamine (B1), riboflavin(B2), vitamin B6, boron and dietary fibre.  They have good levels of antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and iron.  They are notorious for preventing and relieving constipation. The insoluble fibre in prunes provides food for ‘good’ bacteria in the large intestine.  An investigation of the blood of fifty-eight postmenopausal women who ate approximately 12 prunes per day for three months revealed the presence of enzymes and growth factors that indicated increased bone formation in their bodies.  These markers were not seen in women who did not eat prunes.  Prunes contain boron which is a trace mineral essential for bone metabolism and is a necessary factor in preventing osteoporosis.

Apricots are good sources of potassium, iron, fibre and carotenes such as lycopene and lutein.  These carotenes are what give red, orange and yellow colours to fruit and vegetables.  They are particularly beneficial for preventing macular degeneration, heart disease and cancer.  Where possible buy un-sulphured apricots, usually available in health food shops.

Dates are an excellent source of fibre; the B vitamins niacin (B3), B6, riboflavin (B2), thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5) and folic acid; copper, potassium, manganese, iron, and phosphorus, zinc and selenium. They are among the most alkaline of foods and contain a special fiber called beta-D-glucan which has been shown to decrease the body’s absorption of cholesterol and to slow or delay the absorption of glucose into the small intestine thus helping to keep blood sugar levels even.  Beta-D-glucan also adds bulk and softness to stools due to its ability to absorb and hold water.  The eases both stool movement through the colon and elimination – hence dates help with constipation.  In addition the soluble fibre passes through the intestinal tract more slowly than insoluble fibre which slows down the rate the stomach empties its contents after a meal.  This increases feelings of satiety and can help with weight loss diets.  Dates are surprisingly rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds.  Date extract  was found to prevent free-radical damage to both fats and protein in a dose-dependant manner – the higher the concentration, the greater the protection against free radicals.

Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and vitamin B6 and a good source of vitamin  C, fibre, riboflavin (B2), magnesium, biotin, and carbohydrates.  Potassium helps regulate heart function and fluid balance, lowers blood pressure and protects against heart disease and strokes.  In one study, researchers tracked 40,000 American male health professionals over four years to determine effects of diet on blood pressure.  Men who ate diets higher in potassium-rich foods had a substantially reduced risk of stroke.  In addition the soluble fibre in bananas helps normalise bowel function.

Nutritional information from the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray

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