There is so much conflicting information surrounding weight loss, diet and what really makes you healthy. Our default setting is to be slim and healthy as human beings so is it any wonder we feel uncomfortable when we are not at our ideal weight? Obesity used to be a malady of the super-rich – kings, queens and aristocracy – until very recent times. Let’s explore how and why things changed so catastrophically and in such a short period of time....
Diet Mistake #1 - Metabolism Burn Out
One of the biggest mistakes we can make when we “go on a diet” is to think that our current metabolic rate will continue to run smoothly whilst we are starving our bodies. If an individual drops their calorie intake to below around 1,400 calories per day, metabolism will severely slow or even “shut down” and the body will hold onto adipose fat. Additionally, we tend to cut out foods which will support metabolism (saturated fat being one), whilst substituting foods which are proven to slow down this important process – even worse, eating “metabolism death foods” – a term coined by Dr Josh Axe to describe foods which are actively suppressing the metabolic rate.
Simply put, our metabolic rate is just the mechanism used by our bodies to break down the food we consume into energy we can use. The gland in charge of this important operation is the thyroid, it is its job through the secretion of certain hormones to regulate metabolism – imagine if your body were a car, the thyroid would be the accelerator pedal – your thyroid provides the oxygen to fan the flame of your body’s metabolism.
Here are some foods known to alter the focus of your metabolism and lead to; weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, fatigue, hormone imbalance and digestive disease:-
A notorious culprit of thyroid dysfunction, gluten causes autoimmune responses in many people and can cause your gastrointestinal system to malfunction, meaning the foods that you eat aren’t properly digested. This can often lead to “leaky gut syndrome” whereby these undigested food particles escape into the bloodstream where they are treated as “antigens” (substances that shouldn’t be there), leading your body to produce antibodies against them. Because these antigens are similar to the molecules in the thyroid gland, your body accidentally attacks your thyroid, otherwise known as an “autoimmune” reaction. This, in turn, can lead many thyroid problems which will ultimately wreak havoc with your weight.
Try replacing the grains in your diet with sprouted grain bread, coconut flour instead of regular flour and there are many great ways to replace regular pasta, for example courgette strips instead of spaghetti.
Many of the health shattering effects of sugar were addressed in Part 1 of this blog series, another serious side effect of too much sugar is that it can lead to “Metabolic Syndrome” – a condition which has now become so common in the western world that it has been predicted to ultimately bankrupt the healthcare system!
In a nutshell, when you consume too much sugar from refined carbohydrates, fruit juices, “low fat” and processed foods and obviously sweets and fizzy drinks, it causes your pancreas to secrete insulin to remove the excess glucose from cells. Over time, our cells lose the ability to respond to the insulin, the pancreas responds by sending out even more insulin - eventually creating a condition known as “insulin resistance” (the pre-cursor to diabetes). Studies have shown that these repeated insulin surges severely damage the thyroid gland resulting in its inability to produce thyroid hormones.
In particular rapeseed (canola) oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil and soybean oil. Whether cold-pressed organic or not, these oils contain substances that the plant uses to protect itself from predators and they block digestive enzymes in mammals. As early as the 1950’s unsaturated fats were clearly shown to suppress the metabolic rate, damaging mitochondria through oxidisation and enzyme suppression – the more unsaturated the oil is, the more specifically it suppresses tissue response to thyroid hormones.
Any oils which contain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s) should NEVER be heated, they are unstable at high temperatures, turn rancid and produce “trans fats”. These fats are extremely dangerous to our health with a direct link to diabetes and obesity. A recent article in the Daily Telegraph reported that cooking with vegetable oils releases toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases – scientists found that heating up these oils lead to the release of “aldehydes”, poisonous compounds which are linked to illnesses including cancer, heart disease and dementia. Martyn Groot, a Professor of Bioanalytical Chemistry and Chemical Pathology stated that his research showed, “A typical meal of fish and chips fried in vegetable oil contained 100 to 200 times more aldehydes than the safe daily limit set by the World Health Organisation”.
There are healthy exceptions to the above, extra virgin olive oil (used cold in salads or poured onto food AFTER it has been heated and cooled down), has been used for over 5000 years and its health benefits are legendary. It should not be heated as it too burns at a low temperature producing trans-fats. Coconut oil is the only safe vegetarian/vegan plant oil we can cook with – it remains stable at high temperatures due to its saturated fat content and provides many other well documented health benefits. Whilst it is too delicate to be heated, hemp oil is full of healthy fatty acids and makes a great addition to dressings and dips.
With over 900 published studies of the health hazards of aspartame, the dangers of these damaging chemical compounds are hard to overstate. However, we will just focus on the damage they can do to your thyroid in this article as the full horrors of almost all artificial sweeteners would take up a whole (very long) blog piece!
Artificial sweeteners, in particular aspartame, have been credited with actually causing autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s disease (inflammation of the thyroid). Dr’s Brownstein and Hal Roberts are two experts in the field of thyroid health, both have seen instances of these conditions reversed just by cutting out aspartame from the diet.
Another well-known body of research done by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists found that the use of artificial sweeteners, primarily aspartame and sucralose, correlated with elevated thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. High TSH levels are associated with underactive/hypothyroidism which not only slows down your metabolism leading to weight gain, other symptoms include depression, fatigue/exhaustion, brain fog, thinning hair and feeling cold – especially in the extremities. Lead investigator Dr Isaac Sachmechi found that 2 out of 3 of his patients with Hashimoto’s had a complete reversal of their symptoms when the stopped using artificial sweeteners with their antibodies returning to normal and were able to come off their thyroid medication.
Cutting out aspartame (NutraSweet, Saccharin, Amino Sweet), sucralose (Splenda) and all other artificial sweeteners will go a long way to preserve the healthy function of your thyroid gland. These nasty compounds can be found in almost all diet drinks, a lot of diet foods, chewing gum, breath mints and normally sweet foods and drinks purporting to be “Low Sugar” or “Sugar-free”.
Nature has provided us with the perfect sugar substitute in Stevia, this plant has not only been shown to be safe but to provide health benefits too.
Soy falls into the category of foods known as “goitrogens” – vegetables, grains and foods that promote the formation of “goiter” which is an enlarged thyroid. Soy in particular has been found to have a definite anti-thyroid effect, it appears to be able to slow thyroid function and, in some cases, trigger thyroid disease. Daniel Doerge and Daniel Sheehan, the US Food and Drug Administration’s key experts on soy, wrote a letter of protest to their own employer opposing the positive health claims the FDA was approving at the time. They wrote:
“There is abundant evidence that some of the isoflavones found in soy demonstrate toxicity in oestrogen sensitive issues and in the thyroid. Isoflavones are inhibitors of the thyroid peroxidase which makes T3 and T4 (thyroid hormones). Inhibition can be expected to generate thyroid abnormalities including goiter and thyroiditis. There exists a significant body of animal data that demonstrates goitrogenic and even carcinogenic effects of soy products. Moreover, there are significant reports of goitrogenic effects from soy consumption in human infants and adults.”
In a recent study, daily soy consumption resulted in symptoms of hypothyroidism in 50% of human subjects tested. These symptoms resolved one month after stopping the soy.
If you want to keep your thyroid healthy it is a wise move to avoid all products containing unfermented soy – unfortunately soy has crept into many popular foods including most of our favourite brands of bread using a percentage of soy flour mixed in with the wheat flour.
How to Keep Your Thyroid in Tip-Top Condition
If you avoid or greatly limit your intake of the above, you are already well on your way to a healthy thyroid! However there are other things we can do to maintain the ongoing healthy function of this important gland. Iodine is critical to the thyroid, it forms a part of the thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) which are used in every cell of our body to regulate metabolism and weight by controlling the burning of fat for energy and heat. Consume iodine rich foods such as kelp, Himalayan salt and blackstrap molasses to make sure you don’t become deficient.
Selenium is another important nutrient required to convert T3 into T4, without enough selenium the thyroid suffers. Great sources are; brazil nuts, shitake mushrooms, broccoli and seeds such as chia, sesame, sunflower and flaxseeds.
Ashwagandha, the herb known as “strength of a stallion” in India, is the miracle herb for your thyroid. It is an adaptogenic herb meaning it helps your body to successfully adjust to stressful conditions. It is extremely effective at increasing the function of the thyroid gland and the production of the two principle thyroid hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine – this effect has been shown in numerous animal studies – it stimulates a sluggish thyroid and improves both hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s) and hyperthyroidism (Graves Disease).
Chlorine, fluorine, bromine and fluoride are toxic halogens chemically related to iodine, they compete with it thus blocking the receptors in the thyroid gland. Chlorine, and in some places fluoride, are in the water supply so it would be best to avoid tap water wherever possible and only drink filtered or mineral water – unfortunately a lot of shop bought mineral waters now have chlorine added to them so, if you can, collect your own water from a local spring (this website is great: http://www.findaspring.com/category/archives/england/) or make sure you check the label of your water.
Diet Mistake #2 - Fat Makes You Fat
This has to be one of the all-time worst diet mistakes people still continue to make. The myth “fat makes you fat” is simply not true – saturated fat has been demonised for too long due to flawed research, with much government advice being based on the Ancel Keys “Six Countries Studies” and the subsequent “Seven Countries Studies”. These studies, which were the basis of the “diet-heart hypothesis”, have been roundly debunked and, incidentally, Ancel Keys was not a doctor, scientist or a health professional he was actually an economist! Moreover, in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991, the main proponent of this hypothesis Ancel Keys himself states, “Dietary cholesterol has an important effect on the cholesterol level in the blood of chickens and rabbits, but many controlled experiments have shown that dietary cholesterol has a limited effect in humans. Adding cholesterol to a cholesterol-free diet raises the blood level in humans, but when added to an unrestricted diet, it has a minimal effect.” This statement indicates that even he no longer believes his own hypothesis!
Fat is one of the body’s most basic building blocks, it is fundamental in the transport of fat soluble vitamins such as A, E, D and K and minerals such as magnesium and zinc which interact with these vitamins. Our brains are comprised of around 60% fat and need fat for fuel – not only does this mean we should be eating more, not less, saturated fat, it is absolutely essential to our overall health and the prevention of brain diseases. Have you ever wondered why Early Onset Dementia and Alzheimer’s in general have reached epidemic proportions in recent years? Dr David Perlmutter, Board Certified Neurologist, has this to say: "What we've crystallized it down to now, in essence, is that diets that are high in sugar and carbohydrates, and similarly diets that are low in fat, are devastating to the brain.” It’s because our brains have been starved of fat.
Fat Fuels Weight Loss!
The media has brainwashed us to actually fear fat and this powerful programming can be difficult to break. This fear is partly based on the fact that dietary fat contains 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 per gram for carbs and protein – this subscribes the “all calories are created the same” myth. Whilst this is true in a laboratory when you burn them in a vacuum, in the intricate, interconnected organism that is your body, calories simply do not behave in the same way!
There have been numerous studies and experiments done which prove those who eat high fat diets have a much faster metabolism than those eating a low-fat, high carb diet. Harvard Professor, Dr David Ludwig and his colleagues conducted a “controlled feeding study” where participants were fed either a high fat, low carb diet or a low-fat, high carb diet. The results were shocking – the high fat group not only burned 300 calories more a day than the low fat group, they had improvements in oxidised (bad) cholesterol, with insulin resistance and less likelihood to have blood clots or inflammation.
Other studies on brain imaging and brain function show that eating more fat actually shuts off your brain’s hunger and feeding centres – it leaves you feeling fuller for longer without the crazy insulin spikes and crashes that comes from eating carbs and sugar.
So Which Fats Should I Be Eating?
One of the healthiest fats we should all be consuming is Raw Virgin Coconut Oil. It’s myriad of health benefits include; powerful fat burning properties, boosts metabolism, sustains blood sugar levels, satiety, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial. Its fat burning potential comes from its high concentration of medium chained fatty acids or MCFA’s – a type of fatty acid which is quickly processed and turned into energy by the liver. A study published in the 2002 Journal of Nutrition reported that not only do MCFA’s increase energy expenditure, they help to promote healthy weight control when substituted for long chained fatty acids (LCFA’s), the type found in the unhealthy vegetable oils listed above. If you are interested to find out more about this miracle food, Dr Bruce Fife, Director of The Coconut Research Centre and author of over 20 books including “The Coconut Oil Miracle” and “Stop Alzheimer’s Now!” is an invaluable source.
Other healthy fat foods include; avocados, nuts and seeds, whole eggs (especially the yolks) – from ethically treated hens who are fed an organic, natural diet - olive oil, flaxseeds, butter and cream. Even the super-algae Spirulina and Chlorella are valuable sources of pre-converted omega fats, read more about this here.
By eating the right fats you increase fat burning, reduce hunger and reduce fat storage. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, fats can also improve your mood, memory, hair, skin and nails all whilst protecting you from diabetes, dementia, cancer and much more!
Diet Mistake #3 - To Superfood Or Not To Superfood
Whilst I was researching some of the finer points of this article, I was surprised by the amount of negative publicity I found in the mainstream around superfoods! It may be because there are some companies who make over the top claims about the wonders of superfoods, however, there are many peer reviewed, scientific studes which attest to the benefits of these nutrient dense plants. As I discussed in this article, fruits and vegetables pull up their mineral and vitamin content from the soil - unfortunately this content has become depleted over the last 50 years with industrial farming and pesticide use - meaning that we have to eat around 5 times more conventional fruits and vegetables to receive the same same amount of nutrition than we did just a few decades ago. This is one of the reasons juicing has become so popular and superfoods can give us the peace of mind that we are covering all of our nutritional bases whilst still enjoying a healthy and varied diet.
Our Bodies Are Designed to be Slim & Healthy!
"Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food"
The destruction of herbal wisdom has had a devastating effect on our understanding of health, with much of the ancient knowledge we lost only just beginning to resurface, many cases of “Old Wives Tales” are backed up by scientific research on a regular basis. Add to this the introduction of chemically enhanced food stuffs, GMO’s and dangerous dietary guidelines and we truly have a recipe for disaster. We are the sickest, most obese, nutritionally deficient race of people in known history – all in the last 150 years!
This is why I believe clean eating is so important. Our ancestors ate clean, nutritional foods – no pesticides, mineral rich soil and no chemicals. Our bodies are not designed to deal with this chemical onslaught, highlighting the importance of consuming antioxidant rich superfoods - our bodies create fat as a buffer to deal with excess toxins, detoxification will further boost our body's ability to shed excess pounds. Superfoods allow us to take our health into our own hands, not only that, when we give our bodies the nutrition it needs our cravings cease....
We are constantly bombarded (particularly as women) with images of the perfect body, whilst at the same time being equally bombarded with adverts for junk food, sweet snacks or quick, easy meals. Our body only responds to these kinds of images when it is deficient in something, the classic being chocolate for magnesium. Another example is that if we are craving fat we’ll be drooling over an advert for pizza with lots of cheese, this doesn’t mean fast food pizza is good for you, just that your body has been starved of something it desperately needs - fat. So we eat all the wrong things when we are (wrongly) depriving ourselves of vital nutrients, all in the name of slenderness when this is the body’s default setting all along!
It Really is that Simple...
Give your body what it needs, listen to your body, take responsibility for your own health, eat clean nutritious wholefoods, eat superfoods (they really do work!) and last but not least – if you do this you will naturally and effortlessly achieve your ideal weight and maintain it!
BE YOUR BEST SELF!!
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