The impact of sleep deprivation on your body

A growing body of research suggests that there’s a link between how much people sleep and how much they weigh. If you’re not sleeping enough, the effects could be more significant than just dark circles under your eyes. Here we look at the surprising fact of how your size and your sleep are closely linked.

The rise of obesity over the last few decades is paralleled by significant reductions in the length of time we spend asleep.

At the same time, a large number of studies have reported associations between impaired sleep and the likelihood of developing obesity or diseases such as type 2 diabetes. (Note: the act of sleeping less does not in itself make you fat – after a few disturbed nights your body won’t automatically have created fat!).

We’re not talking about a cause/effect link here. We’re talking correlation. As the number of people getting less sleep has risen, so the number of people at risk of life-threatening metabolic and cardiovascular diseases has risen too. The reason for this correlation may lie in the effects that poor or less sleep may have on your behaviour and physiology. It’s these effects that can contribute to weight gain.

Inactivity – if you’re feeling lethargic and tired, you’re less likely to exercise and more likely to take shortcuts like using the lift rather than the stairs. This decreases the amount of calories you’re burning, which has a direct effect on your weight.

Mood fluctuations sleep is vital to regulating your mood. Less sleep could see you happy one moment and feeling low the next. Low mood can trigger emotional or ‘comfort’ eating, when our bodies crave high fat, high sugar foods. When eaten, these foods trigger the pleasure response in your brain, and we’re hardwired to crave them in times of distress.

Reduced leptin levels – less of the hormone that tells you you’re full could see you overeating without realising it.

Increased grehlin levels – more of the hormone that tells you you’re hungry will have you seeking out more food and snacks, even if you’ve consumed the right amount of food for you that day.

Recent analysis conducted by King’s College London reviewed dozens of small studies involving sleep and appetite. It showed that, although not everyone is affected in the same way, on average getting less than seven hours of sleep a night led to people eating significantly more overall.

A bad night’s sleep disrupts the two key hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin and this combination leaves us feeling physically hungrier, causing us to eat more. Studies also suggest that when we’re exposed to food while sleep deprived, there is increased activation in areas of the brain associated with reward. This can lead to us choosing foods that are higher in sugar and fat, rather than selecting healthy options.

All of this can help to explain why, in the long term, there’s a strong connection between poor sleep, weight gain and health problems like type 2 diabetes. The simple solution is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. For adults, 7-8 hours of sleep per night is associated with the lowest risk of incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

Find out more:

Will going vegan make you healthier?

The popularity of veganism has really taken off. More than four times as many people are now opting to cut animal products out of their diet than they were four years ago. Across Britain, people are spending more money on vegan products, and plant-based diets are trending online. With major supermarkets catching on and stocking up on vegan-friendly food – and even restaurants starting to offer vegan dishes and menus for their customers, we were wondering how easy is it to go vegan and stay healthy?

A recent episode of the BBC TV programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” posed this very same question, and set Cambridge Neuroscience Research Associate Dr Giles Yeo the task of going vegan for one month.

Specific aspects of Giles’s health were assessed by Dr Mellor, a dietitian and senior lecturer in human nutrition at Coventry University before and after his month of being vegan. We measured his cholesterol, body fat, weight, and his levels of iron, folate, zinc and vitamins A, E, D and B12. Dr Mellor also gave Giles a list of foods to eat to stay healthy and avoid becoming deficient in key nutrients.

The results

After one month on a vegan diet, Dr Yeo lost 4 kg and his body fat dropped by 2%. His BMI improved by 6% and his cholesterol fell by 12%. Thanks to Dr Mellor’s food suggestions, he didn’t become deficient in any key nutrients. However it’s more difficult to be so nutritionally diligent in the longer term and vegans can become deficient in nutrients you’d normally get from animal-based foods, such as iron and vitamin B12.

Essential nutrients for vegans

There are certain essential nutrients that we normally get from animal-based foods that vegans need to replace with alternative foods or supplements.

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is important for our bone health. It is produced in our body when sunlight hits our skin and is also present in a few animal products. Vegans might want to consider taking a supplement, but beware that not all of them are vegan-friendly. Vitamin D2 is always suitable for vegans, whereas some sources of vitamin D3 derive from sheep’s wool.
  • Vitamin B12 – We need vitamin B12 to keep our blood healthy. It is not produced by plants, but there are plenty of vegan products on the market, such as milks, spreads and yeast products, which are fortified with it.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – These are essential for brain function and are found in oily fish. Other good sources are flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy beans.
  • Calcium – While calcium is synonymous with dairy, there are plenty of vegan sources too. Tofu commonly contains calcium and there are calcium-fortified alternatives to cow’s milk available. Other good sources include green vegetables such as kale, pak choi, okra and spring greens, as well as almonds, chia seeds and dried figs.
  • Iodine – Iodine deficiency is not uncommon in the UK, even in non-vegans, particularly amongst young women. In the UK, cow’s milk is our main source of iodine, and the non-dairy alternatives, like almond drinks, have much lower levels. You can get iodine from seaweed (though the amounts are unpredictable) but you may need to take a supplement.
  • Protein – Some vegans worry that they aren’t getting enough protein, a nutrient people tend to associate with meat. However, eating a balanced diet with plenty of plant-based protein sources should provide all that you need. Particular foods to try and include are tofu, soy, beans and pulses.
  • Iron – Cutting out meat can also affect your iron levels – red meat contains a form of iron that is easy for our body to absorb, whereas the iron that you get in fruit and veg is less readily available. One solution is to accompany iron-rich vegan foods with a rich source of vitamin C, like orange juice, which helps to make the iron more absorbable.

And what does my favourite chef say about veganism?

Many argue that we should all be making a conscious effort to reduce consumption of animals and animal products for the sake of our health and for the planet. Vegan or not, a diet high in fruit and veg and plant-based food is a good starting point for a healthy lifestyle.

You can find out more about this experiment on the Trust Me I’m a Doctor website here >>

EGGS: Nature’s most nutrient-dense food

“But eggs contain cholesterol!” I hear you cry, “And doesn’t high cholesterol cause heart disease?” Well, although eggs do contain cholesterol, the amount of saturated fat we eat has more effect on the amount of cholesterol in our blood than the cholesterol we get from eating eggs.

Eggs are one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods and contain an ideal mixture of nutrients. Along with high quality protein, eggs are also naturally rich in vitamin D, B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B12, iodine, selenium and other essential dietary vitamins and minerals.

SO WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Previous limits on egg consumption have been lifted as it is now known that the cholesterol they contain does not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol.

A high level of blood cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. It was originally thought that eating cholesterol-rich foods was an important cause of high blood cholesterol levels and therefore increased heart disease risk.  In the past it was thought that people should limit the number of eggs they eat because they contain cholesterol. However, only around a third of the cholesterol in the body comes from the diet – our bodies make the rest. It is now accepted that the amount of saturated fat that we eat has a much greater effect on our blood cholesterol levels than cholesterol in the diet.

Recommendations on limiting egg consumption have now been relaxed by all major UK heart and health advisory groups, including the British Heart Foundation and the Department of Health.

This means that most people can eat eggs without adversely affecting their blood cholesterol levels, provided that they are eaten as part of a healthy diet that is relatively low in saturated fat.

The healthiest ways to cook eggs

Boil or poach eggs (preferably without adding salt) rather than frying and avoid adding butter to scrambled eggs. Frying eggs can increase their fat content by as much as 50%.

Find out how easy it is to cook the perfect poached eggs with Jamie Oliver:

Eggs and fitness

Whenever we do any form of exercise we gain muscle – how much depends on the intensity and frequency of exercise. The more muscle mass your body has, the more calories you burn, even when resting. To build muscle mass efficiently the correct nutrients must be consumed – this is where the introduction of nutrient-dense foods such as eggs to your diet can have huge benefits.

One of the main substances our muscles need to repair and grow is protein. High in protein, eggs are an ideal choice for post-workout nutrition. Plus, in addition to their high protein levels, eggs contain all eight essential amino acids that are required for prime muscle recovery.

You can find out more information about the many benefits of eggs from the British Egg Information Service (see below).

Thanks to:

True or false? Busting 9 of the biggest nutrition myths

Nutrition is an essential part of a healthy life, and something we should all have a good understanding of. But with so many nutritional trends and fads doing the rounds, thrown in with a good dose of misinformation, it’s now more confusing than ever to know what we should really be eating.

The other day I came across this article written by one of the nutritionists on Jamie Oliver’s team (who else?!) and thought I simply have to share this! 

Myth 1: A gluten-free diet is healthier

In a word, no. It’s not. Unless you have a legitimate reason to be avoiding gluten – if you have coeliac disease, for example – there is no reason to remove gluten from your diet. Due to its presence in wheat, barley and rye, gluten is present in many carbohydrate-based foods, some of which can be unhealthy (think biscuits, cakes, pies, and pastries). This may be the reason it’s gained such a reputation, but gluten itself isn’t unhealthy.

Myth 2: No sugar has a place in my diet

Sugar is sugar and, ultimately, all sugar is broken down in our bodies into glucose, which our cells use for energy. However, the difference between that teaspoon of sugar you add to your tea and the natural sugar in a piece of fruit is the presence of vitamins and minerals.

The same can be said of lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. Although it’s still a form of sugar, lactose comes with a healthy dose of the vitamins and minerals that dairy has to offer, such as calcium.

Honey, maple syrup, and agave syrup are all still natural forms of sugar – however, they are similar to refined sugar, in that their actual nutrient content is quite poor.

Myth 3: Low fat = healthy

Low-fat products are only useful when they are helping you to reduce your intake of saturated fat, the type of fat associated with high cholesterol and heart disease risk. If you do choose these kind of products, make sure you read the label to make sure they’re free from added sugar.

Myth 4: Eating carbs will make me fat

No. Apply the same theory here as you do with fat and focus on the type of carbohydrate you are eating, rather than cutting it out completely. Starchy carbohydrates come in two forms: refined and whole. The latter are the ones to go for – higher in fibre and full of other essential vitamins and minerals. In fact, far from making you gain weight, eating high-fibre foods will help to keep you feeling full, which means you are less likely to overeat.

We need starchy carbohydrates to give us energy, and they should make up one third of our diet. Instead of cutting them out, make some smart switches and cut down on the more unhealthy carbs, like highly refined flour products.

Myth 5: Fresh produce is healthier than frozen

On the contrary – frozen foods can sometimes be healthier than fresh! As fruits and vegetables ripen, their sugar content rises and their nutrient content deteriorates. Often, fruits and vegetables are frozen quickly after harvest, which prevents all of this, and actively preserves the nutrients. Fresh fruit and vegetables are great and when eaten at their freshest and most nutritious, but using frozen instead will do you no harm. And it can also be a super-easy and reliable way of getting more veg into your cooking!

Myth 6: Coconut oil is good for me

Sadly, coconut oil is a saturated fat – the type of fat associated with high cholesterol. Recent research has suggested, however, that the type of saturated fat present in coconut oil may be metabolised differently to other saturated fats, meaning it may not have the same adverse effect on blood cholesterol and general cardiovascular health. What is missed out by eating coconut oil, though, is the essential fatty acids found in unsaturated fats. These are the fats that help to keep our cholesterol healthy, as well as the fats that our bodies generally need, so while research is showing that the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil may not be as bad as we think, we may as well be eating the fat that we know is good for us!

Myth 7: If I exercise I need to take a protein shake or supplement

It’s true that if you are exercising you need protein. Our muscles need protein to grow and repair, and if you are undertaking exercise – particularly anything of high intensity – then you do need to make sure your protein intake is sufficient.

What is more important, though, is the timing of that protein intake, which should ideally be within an hour of exercising. Your body can only metabolise a certain amount of protein at a time, so overloading on the protein shakes is completely pointless. In the UK, most of us actually get more than enough protein through our regular diets. The goal should be to limit our protein intake to shortly after exercise so that our bodies can use it to help our muscles build and repair, rather than overdoing it on the protein shakes!

Myth 8: Snacking is bad!

If understood properly, it’s also a myth that we shouldn’t snack. Eating little and often is actually much better than eating three huge meals every day. Snacking is a good way to achieve this, and also helps to prevent energy crashes between meals.

The key is what you are snacking on – and here you can utilise all that info about fats and sugars. If your 4pm-slump go-to is a slice of cake or a sugar-packed processed number then the health benefits of snacking will be lost on you. Choose wisely, and go for something dense in nutrients that will help to fill you up – think a handful of granola, a slice of apple and peanut butter, or a natural yoghurt with some fruit.

Myth 9: Vegetarian and vegan diets are healthier

A vegetarian or vegan diet being healthy completely depends on what vegetarian or vegan foods are being eaten. For example, a diet of ready-salted crisps would technically be vegan, and a diet of cheese and chocolate would technically be vegetarian, but neither could ever be called healthy!

Avoiding meat and dairy products means avoiding the saturated fat and adverse health effects that come with the over-consumption of fatty cuts of meat and high-fat dairy products. However, vegan and vegetarian diets are only healthier if you replace these foods with worthwhile alternatives. Replacing the meat and dairy in your diet with refined carbohydrates and sweets will not make the switch to vegetarianism or veganism a healthy one.

Something that is generally true of vegetarian and vegan diets, though, is that they’re very environmentally friendly, and a lot more sustainable than a meat-heavy diet. If you can get it right, or even stick to it for a day or two each week, then it really will make a difference – both for the planet and for you!

Thanks to jamieoliver.com. You can read the full article by Rozzie Batchelar here.

See also:

How does the body turn “carbs” into “sugar”?

The secret of resistant starch

Reiki: my own experience.

Is it for me?

Should I or shouldn’t I? I fancy trying it, but not sure I want to spend money on it, supposing it doesn’t work? What actually does it do? It’s all a load of pseudoscience, waving your hands around – any effects are simply placebo! These are just some of the many comments I have heard about Reiki, so in a bid to debunk the myth and shed some light onto the “mystery” of what Reiki is and how it can help, here’s an interview conducted with my former patient David after he’d completed his first course of sessions with me.

If you want to know anything at all about this treatment, how it works and how it could help you, please do get in touch, I would be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

 

I felt like I had the best nights’ sleep ever! I woke up the next morning feeling so refreshed – I can’t remember the last time I felt like that – and totally changed my mind about the whole experience…

Q. What did you know about Reiki before your session?
Very little and I was very sceptical of it as I could not understand how it could work.

Q. What prompted you to try a Reiki treatment then?
I was very stressed at work and was not sleeping well. This was having a general “knock-on” effect with my everyday wellbeing and performance at work. I was recommended the treatment to help me relax, and I was told that this would help me. My first treatment was a taster session, so I thought “why not?”. I had nothing to lose by trying it, although I was very unsure about it. I’ve never been into any of this “holistic healing” sort of stuff before.

Q. How did your initial taster session go? And what were your feelings about the treatment afterwards?
OK, Renata was very welcoming to me and did her best to calm me and make me feel at ease. In addition to feeling a little uneasy, I had a pounding headache and tired eyes, so probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind! However the treatment room was very nice and relaxing, and Renata explained what was about to happen and how she would proceed with the treatment.

I lay back on the couch, closed my eyes and tried to relax, not really sure what to expect. I was surprised that I could feel a definite warmth radiating from Renata’s hands over my head and eyes. Other than feeling more relaxed, I was also pleasantly pleased that my headache seemed to have lifted and my eyes didn’t feel so tired. But I didn’t really feel anything else during the session and I did wonder to myself whether it was worthwhile pursuing any more treatments.

At the end of the session, Renata offered me a drink and biscuit, we chatted a little while before I left for home. Overall at this point I would say I was still feeling somewhat sceptical about the whole process and thinking I would probably not go back for further treatments.

Q. So what changed your mind and made you decide to try further Reiki sessions?
That night having gone to bed pretty soon after returning from the first Reiki session, I felt like I had the best nights’ sleep ever! I woke up the next morning feeling so refreshed – I can’t remember the last time I felt like that – and totally changed my mind about the whole experience! I felt that it had completely relaxed and de-stressed me for the moment. I had a much clearer head and felt a lot calmer about things in general. I confess I was really surprised to feel this way too, I hadn’t expected to have a complete change of mind like this!

So I had a change of heart and decided to start to seeing Renata on a regular basis for a course of treatments. It was interesting because with each session the reaction seemed to be stronger, more pronounced – I felt Renata’s energy more and more around my whole body as time went on. My stress levels dropped considerably and I was sleeping so much better, in turn this had a direct effect on my overall wellbeing and an improved sense of positivity.

Today, even though I still can’t understand how it could possibly work. I just know that it does for me, and I would highly recommend her treatments.

My thanks to David for sharing his experience. I would love to help you discover how Reiki can change your life too.

Reiki – an ancient technique for modern life

I’ve been a Reiki practitioner for the past few years now, and I’m often asked how this holistic process works and what it actually is. Understandably, sometimes people can be a little apprehensive about embarking on a Reiki treatment and wonder what they are getting themselves into! Well, here I’m happy to put your mind at rest! It’s very straightforward and simple and is usually a very relaxing and calming process – no special equipment, oils or physical manipulation is required, and it’s completely non-invasive. So just relax and enjoy …

Firstly, what is it?

Reiki is a deep relaxation technique that reduces stress and promotes healing. It re-activates the body’s natural energy system, bringing you back into balance on every level – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – putting your body in the best position to help heal itself.

Reiki is the healing energy, with the capacity to change lives in the most positive way. It is a gentle and effective system of healing which activates the body’s own natural ability to heal itself. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to become ill, experience stress or anxiety – if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of holistic healing and self-improvement that everyone can use. It is effective in helping many conditions, and always creates a beneficial effect. It can also work in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and help promote recovery.

The work Reiki is from the Japanese – combining rei “soul, spirit” and ki “vital energy”. 

Reiki involves the “laying on” or hovering of hands on or above the body in a non-invasive manner.

So how does it work?

The ability to use Reiki is not taught in the usual sense, but is transferred to the student by the Reiki Master during an “attunement”. This transferal of the energy then allows the student to tap into an unlimited supply of “life force energy” to improve one’s health and enhance the quality of life. Once attuned, students are aligned to the Reiki energy and can begin to channel it through their hands.

As students progress through different levels of learning, they will receive several additional attunements from their Reiki Master. Each student will have a different experience when receiving an attunement, usually a positive feeling of total peace and calm.

Here I am treating David, hovering my hands over his crown chakra.

The treatment itself is quite straightforward. You lie on the treatment bed, fully clothed. I will ask you to remove your footwear, but that is all. You can cover yourself with the blanket if you prefer. Now close your eyes and try to relax. I will begin the treatment by laying my hands on you in a non-invasive manner, usually beginning at the head, then working down to the shoulders, hands, legs, ankles and feet.

What will it feel like and how do I know it’s working?

You may feel warmth, or heat, or tingling from my hands. Sometimes a buzzing sensation. Other sensations may include seeing coloured lights or feeling as if you are floating. Sometimes people have an “emotional release” for a little while during the treatment. I have also had clients drop off during a treatment too – it’s so relaxing! Even my most sceptical clients have experienced warmth and heat and other sensations from my hands. After the session you will usually feel very relaxed and calm. People often say they sleep better that night too. It all depends on the person really.

The Reiki tradition was founded by Mikao Usui in the early 20th century and evolved as a result of his research, experience and dedication.

  • Experience peace of mind and inner calm
  • Help to relieve and cope with stress and anxiety
  • Bring a sense of balance, clarity and focus
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Enhance other treatments and medications
  • Develop confidence
  • Quicken the healing process
  • Let go of emotional baggage

A Reiki treatment is a process that anyone can enjoy in the normal course of their life and it can be used alongside other conventional or complementary treatments. The effects of the treatment tend to build up and gain momentum over time, usually around 4 to 6 weekly interval sessions are enough to produce a change, with an additional maintenance top-up every 4 weeks if you would like a long-term effect.

Reiki can help us cope with life by encouraging relaxation and bringing balance to both mind and emotions.

If you’d like to find out more, or discuss the Reiki process with me in more detail, please do get in touch, I’d love to help if I can!

How does the body turn “carbs” into “sugar”?

We hear this all the time, but what does it actually mean? I decided to look into this process and find out more …

Carbohydrates are commonly classified as being either simple or complex. The difference between a simple and complex carbohydrate is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed – as well as its chemical structure.

Simple carbohydrates

  • Often referred to as simple sugars, these carbohydrates are composed of sugars such as fructose, glucose and galactose which have simple chemical structures composed of only one sugar – monosaccharides, or double sugars – disaccharides, which include sucrose (table sugar), lactose and maltose.
  • Sugars are found in a variety of natural food sources including fruit, vegetables and milk, and give food a naturally sweet taste.
  • Simple carbohydrates are easily and quickly utilised for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure. But they also raise blood glucose levels quickly.

Complex carbohydrates

  • These carbohydrates have more complex chemical structures, with three or more sugars linked together, known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.
  • Many complex carbohydrate foods contain fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they take longer to digest – which means they have less of an immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise more slowly.
  • However other so called complex carbohydrate foods such as white bread and white potatoes contain mostly starch but little fibre or other beneficial nutrients.

Dividing carbohydrates into simple and complex does not account for the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar and chronic diseases. To explain how different kinds of carbohydrate-rich foods directly affect blood sugar, the Glycaemic Index (GI) is considered a better way of categorising carbohydrates, especially starchy foods.

NOTE: the term complex carbohydrate refers to any starches, including the highly refined starches found in white bread, cakes, most pastries and many other food sources. However, when dietitians and nutritionists advise having complex carbohydrates, they are usually referring to whole grain foods and starchy vegetables which are more slowly absorbed than refined carbohydrate.

What is the Glycaemic Index?

The glycaemic index ranks carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how quickly and how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high glycaemic index, like white bread, are rapidly digested and cause substantial fluctuations in blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index, like whole oats, are digested more slowly, prompting a more gradual rise in blood sugar.

  • Low-glycaemic foods have a rating of 55 or less, and foods rated 70-100 are considered high-glycaemic foods. Medium-level foods have a glycaemic index of 56-69.
  • Eating many high-glycaemic-index foods can cause powerful spikes in blood sugar. This can lead to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.
  • Foods with a low glycaemic index have been shown to help control type 2 diabetes and improve weight loss.
Many factors can affect a food’s glycaemic index, including the following:

Processing: Grains that have been milled and refined (removing the bran and the germ) have a higher glycaemic index than minimally processed whole grains.

Physical form: Finely ground grain is more rapidly digested than coarsely ground grain. This is why eating whole grains in their whole form like brown rice or oats can be healthier than eating highly processed whole grain bread.

Fibre content: High-fibre foods don’t contain as much digestible carbohydrate, so it slows the rate of digestion and causes a more gradual and lower rise in blood sugar.

Ripeness: Ripe fruits and vegetables tend to have a higher glycaemic index than un-ripened fruit.

Fat content and acid content: Meals with fat or acid are converted more slowly into sugar.

You can find out more about the Glycaemic Index at Diabetes UK >>

These look rather tasty!

Carbohydrates and blood sugar

When we eat food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which then enters the blood.

  • As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes insulin, the hormone that enables you to digest starches and sugars. This release of insulin is sometimes called an insulin spike.
  • As cells absorb blood sugar, levels in the bloodstream begin to fall.
    When this happens, the pancreas starts making glucagon, a hormone that signals the liver to start releasing stored sugar.
  • This interplay of insulin and glucagon ensure that cells throughout the body, and especially in the brain, have a steady supply of blood sugar.
  • If you have a metabolic disorder such as diabetes that keeps you from producing enough insulin, you must be careful not to take in more carbs than you can digest.

The NHS advises that added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. This is about 30g of sugar a day for those aged 11 and over.

See more about how much sugar is good for you at NHS Choices >>

Eat sensibly and enjoy good carbohydrates!

It’s important to remember that the somewhat much maligned carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy and in fact your muscles and brain cells prefer carbs more than other sources of energy, such as triglycerides and fat, for example.  If you’re active and eating appropriately for your activity level, most of the carbs you consume are more or less burned immediately. However, if you’re eating a lot more calories per day than you are burning, then your liver will convert excess calories from carbohydrate into fats. If you consume too many calories from simple sugars like sucrose and fructose, then your body will more readily take some of those sugars and turn them into triglycerides (fat) in your liver.

  • Thanks to diabetes.co.uk
  • The Harvard School of Public Health
  • NHS Choices

The secret of resistant starch

“Resistant starch?” I hear you ask, “what’s that?”

If you just happened to be watching that rather interesting programme the other night – “The Truth about Carbs” on BBC1 – you would have discovered that there is a little-known type of carbohydrate called resistant starch. And, just like fibre, resistant starch can help keep bowel cancer at bay.

Most of us love starchy carbohydrate foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes but they’re not always good for our health. Although starch is an important part of a healthy diet, it’s easily broken down. As soon as we consume starch the body very quickly starts to digest it, releasing sugars into the blood which in turn causes our bodies to release the hormone insulin. 

Starchy foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes break down easily once eaten and release sugars into the blood.

WHAT IS IT?
Resistant starch is a form of starch that cannot be digested in the small intestine.  Most starch is usually quickly broken down into glucose (which is used for energy) and if we eat too much, the glucose can then be stored as fat. Due to its molecular make up however, resistant starch doesn’t get broken down like normal starch, and instead it passes through the stomach and the small intestine intact until it reaches the large intestine. Resistant starch is then fermented in the large intestine, producing short chain fatty acids which serve as an energy source for colonic cells and our gut microflora. Foods that increase the amount of short chain fatty acids in the colon are thought to be beneficial to health by helping to prevent the development of abnormal cells in the gut.

Resistant starch is naturally present in some foods such as bananas, potatoes, grains, pulses and seeds and is also produced or modified commercially and incorporated into some food products.

Eat green! Unripe bananas contain lots of resistant starch but this becomes digestible as the bananas ripen. Cooking will also destroy the resistant starch.

There are several different types of resistant starch:

  • RS1: This is inaccessible to digestive enzymes due to the physical barriers formed by cell walls and protein matrices. Present in bread, seeds and pulses.
  • RS2: This type of resistant starch is protected from digestion due to its crystalline structure. Present in potatoes (higher amounts in raw versus cooked), bananas (higher amounts in unripe fruits).
  • RS3: This is retrograded starch which is formed when starchy foods such as potatoes and pasta are cooked and then cooled.
  • RS4: This is a chemically modified starch. Present in foods containing modified starches such as some bread and cakes.

Note: In addition, two different components have been proposed as RS5. Either amylose–lipid complexes, which either form during processing or are created artificially; or resistant maltodextrin which is processed to purposefully rearrange starch molecules.

Researchers have known about resistant starch for over twenty years now, so why the sudden excitement?

RS3 – Why we are getting excited!

Back in 2014, the BBC’s “Trust me I’m a doctor” programme conducted an experiment with Dr Denise Robertson, from the University of Surrey and ten volunteers. The team were well aware that if you cook and cool down starchy foods, your body will treat it much more like fibre, creating a smaller glucose peak and helping feed the good bacteria that reside down in your gut. You will also absorb fewer calories. However what no-one knew was what would happen to the resistant starch if you reheated the cold food up again.

The volunteers had to undergo three days of testing in all, spread out over several weeks. On each occasion they had to eat their pasta on an empty stomach. The volunteers were randomised to eating either hot, cold or reheated pasta on different days.

On one day they got to eat the pasta, freshly cooked, nice and hot with a plain but delicious sauce of tomatoes and garlic. On another day they had to eat it cold, with the same sauce, but after it had been chilled overnight. And on a third day they got to eat the pasta with sauce after it had been chilled and then reheated.

On each of the days they also had to give blood samples every 15 minutes for two hours, to see what happened to their blood glucose as the pasta was slowly digested.

THE RESULTS
Just as expected, eating cold pasta led to a smaller spike in blood glucose and insulin than eating the freshly boiled pasta had. But unexpectedly, the team found that cooking, cooling and then reheating the pasta had an even more dramatic effect. Or, to be precise, an even smaller effect on blood glucose, reducing the rise in blood glucose by 50%. This certainly suggests that reheating the pasta made it into an even more “resistant starch”. It’s an extraordinary result and one never measured before.

The health benefits of resistant starch

  • When regular starch becomes resistant starch, most of the sugars it contains aren’t released in your gut and so your body will take in fewer calories from the same food.
  • Because less sugar is released into the blood stream from this resistance starch, there’s less of a blood sugar spike. In turn, this reduces the levels of insulin in the blood.
  • Resistant starch is indigestible and so shares many properties with fibre, helping food pass through the gut and generally improving digestion.
  • Once it reaches the lower gut, resistant starch feeds our beneficial bacteria, which in turn produce chemicals which can help our immune systems, cardiovascular health and many other benefits.

Freeze first then toast: make your bread work for you!

We love our bread. And it can be hard to give that up. But maybe we don’t need to. If you can’t stop eating bread, you can make the bread healthier for you by simply freezing it then toasting it. This turns some of the easily digestible starch into resistant starch. The act of freezing and then toasting means that your body gets far fewer calories from the bread. In effect, the resistant starch feeds your gut bacteria rather than feeding you. It really is that simple!

Thanks to:
BBC Trust me I’m a Doctor
BBC The truth about carbs
British Nutrition Foundation

EPOC – Metafit’s jewel in the crown

Burn fat in your sleep with Metafit! The 30-minute class that lasts 24 hours! The HIIT workout that keeps on working! These are just some of the claims that Metafit loves to make but what exactly do they mean and are they true?

I love Metafit. It’s by far my favourite workout. In under 30 minutes you can have an intense workout that burns fat, boosts metabolism and improves strength, speed and cardiovascular fitness. It is one of the quickest ways to improve your overall fitness and for beginners, if you’re committed and work hard three times a week, you can easily start to see real results within 6-8 weeks. So what is it about this short workout that makes it so successful?

The answer is simple: EPOC.

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (also referred to as the “afterburn” effect) is an increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity. Essentially, our body uses more oxygen after exercise than before exercise, and we expend more calories during our recovery from exercise than we do before exercise, even at rest. EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal resting metabolic function called homeostasis.

Your metabolism is how your body converts the nutrients you consume in your diet to adenosine triphosphate (or ATP), the fuel your body uses for muscular activity.

Here are seven important points about EPOC and how it can help you achieve optimal levels of calorie burning from your workouts:

1. During the immediate post-exercise recovery period, oxygen is used for the following functions:

  • Production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to replace the ATP used during the workout,
  • Re-synthesis of muscle glycogen from lactate,
  • Restore oxygen levels in venous blood, skeletal muscle blood and myoglobin,
  • Work with protein for the repair of muscle tissue damaged tissue during the workout,
  • Restore body temperature to resting levels.

2. Exercise that consumes more oxygen burns more calories.

The body expends approximately five calories of energy to consume one litre of oxygen. (A calorie is the amount of energy required to heat one litre of water to 1°C). Therefore, increasing the amount of oxygen consumed both during and after a workout, can increase the amount of net calories burned.

3. Circuit training and heavy resistance training with short rest intervals = a significant EPOC effect.

Strength training with compound, multi-joint weightlifting exercises or a weightlifting circuit that alternates between upper and lower-body movements places a greater demand on the involved muscles for ATP from the anaerobic pathways. Increased need for anaerobic ATP also creates a greater demand on the aerobic system to replenish that ATP during the rest intervals and the post-exercise recovery process. Heavy training loads or shorter recovery intervals increase the demand on the anaerobic energy pathways during exercise, which yields a greater EPOC effect during the post-exercise recovery period.

4. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most effective way to stimulate the EPOC effect.

The body is most efficient at producing ATP through aerobic metabolism, however at higher intensities when energy is needed immediately, the anaerobic pathways can provide the necessary ATP much more quickly. This is why we can only sustain high-intensity activity for a brief period of time – we simply run out of energy. HIIT works because during high-intensity exercise, ATP is produced by the anaerobic pathways – once that ATP is exhausted, it is necessary to allow it to be replenished. The rest interval or active-recovery period during an anaerobic workout allows aerobic metabolism to produce and replace ATP in the involved muscles. The oxygen deficit is the difference between the volume of oxygen consumed during exercise and the amount that would be consumed if energy demands were met through only the aerobic energy pathway.

5. EPOC is influenced by the intensity, NOT the duration of exercise.

Higher intensities require ATP from anaerobic pathways. If the ATP required to exercise at a particular intensity was not obtained aerobically, it must come from the anaerobic pathways. During EPOC, the body uses oxygen to restore muscle glycogen and rebuild muscle proteins damaged during exercise. Even after a HIIT workout is over, the body will continue to use the aerobic energy pathway to replace the ATP consumed during the workout, thus enhancing the EPOC effect.

6. Research has shown that resistance training can provide a greater EPOC effect than running at a steady speed.

One study found that when aerobic cycling, circuit weight training and heavy resistance exercise were compared, heavy resistance exercise produced the biggest EPOC.

7. The EPOC effect from a HIIT or high-intensity strength-training workout can add 6-15% of the total energy cost of the exercise session.

High-intensity workouts require more energy from the anaerobic pathways and can generate a greater EPOC effect, leading to extended post-exercise energy expenditure. Heavy weight training and HIIT workouts appear to be superior to steady-state running or lower-intensity circuit training in creating EPOC.

Watch Metafit’s Justin Corcoran (below) demonstrate the correct technique for the exercises in the May 2018 “10 Lashes” workout:

Increasing the intensity of your workouts will produce results.

It is important to remember that it is the intensity of your workout that produces the results. There is some debate about the significance of the EPOC effect for the average exercise participant because the high-intensity exercise required for EPOC can be extremely challenging. However, if you want results and are up for the challenge, increasing the intensity of your workouts by using heavier weights, shorter rest intervals or high-intensity cardio intervals may be worth the effort. While HIIT or heavy resistance training is effective and beneficial, remember to allow at least 48 hours of recovery time between high-intensity exercise sessions and try to limit yourself to no more than three strenuous workouts per week.

Thanks to the American Council on Exercise.

Metafit tips:

  • At the end of every Metafit session you should feel exhausted and be unable to hold a conversation for a minute or two.
  • If you are able to carry out a conversation during your workout you are not pushing yourself hard enough and you are unlikely to reach EPOC.
  • It’s important to get your technique right and it is better to use the regressive form of each exercise if you are struggling to maintain technique. Poor technique = less benefit and more likelihood of injury.
  • Think “slow and controlled” for your core exercises, particularly hot hands and hot knees.
  • That voice that says “I can’t do it” is the very same voice that says “I can do it!” Your mind will tell you “I can’t continue!” but if you push yourself a little further each time you will see that your body is perfectly capable of doing additional reps. Keep going no matter what – remember each interval is usually no more than 25 seconds.
  • If you are finding an exercise easy, then progress your technique by adding a jump or a tuck jump (for instance, adding a tuck jump after a burpee). Please ask me and I can show you progressions on all your exercises.
  • Metafit should never get easier – the fitter you become, the harder you can push yourself.

Men should exercise BEFORE eating and women AFTER, to burn the most fat.

Could this really be true? Well a laboratory test carried out by Dr Adam Collins, Senior Tutor in Nutrition at the University of Surrey indicates that the amount of fat we burn changes based on whether we eat before or after exercise – and this appears to be different for men and women.

Our bodies use two main types of fuel: fat and carbohydrates – and early indications from Dr Collins’s study suggest that we could increase the amount of fat we burn just by timing when we eat with when we exercise. I was interested to discover more – like many others I had thought that exercising on an empty stomach was the way to go, but now that school of thought appears to be changing.

Michael Moseley’s team from the BBC programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” worked with Dr Collins on an experiment to see if it might be possible to change our eating habits around exercise to increase the amount of fat our bodies are burning throughout the day. Here are the results of that experiment:

Experiment 1: The laboratory test

Adam’s initial experiment had shown that for young men, eating carbohydrates (CHO) before exercise significantly decreased the amount of fat their bodies were burning for the 3 hours afterwards, whilst they were resting (n=10, p = 0.02, Wilcoxon matched pair tests, repeated measures 2-way ANOVA, multiple t-tests).

When he did a similar experiment with both men and women, he and his team found that whilst the men still burned less fat if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising (n=7, p<0.05), the women burned MORE fat if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising (n=8, p<0.05).

* Significantly different between genders: p≤0.05;
† Significantly different between treatments: p≤0.05
Total fat (g) oxidation between treatments, and genders (Exercise + Recovery).

This experiment was repeated on a single brother and sister pair, Jess and Josh, and got similar results.

Jess and Josh results:

Experiment 2: The long term effect

In order to see whether this effect measured in the laboratory could actually be significant in the real world, “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” teamed up with Adam and his research group to recruit 30 volunteers to take part in a longer term experiment.

Thirteen men and seventeen women who did not normally do a lot of exercise we chosen and for four weeks they all took part in three supervised classes a week: high intensity training, Zumba and Spin classes.

All participants had a drink both before and after each exercise class, but one of their drinks was a placebo (with no calories), whilst the other was a carefully calorie-controlled hit of carbohydrate. No one knew who was taking which drink or when.

  • Seven of the men were taking the carbohydrate drink before exercising, whilst six were taking it afterwards.
  • Seven of the women were taking the carbohydrate drink before exercising, whilst ten were taking it afterwards.

At the beginning and end of the experiment, they were tested on how much fat they were burning whilst at rest (as well as a range of other measures such as weight, waist circumference and blood sugar/fat levels).

The Results

Whilst all the women ended up burning slightly more fat at the end of the experiment, those who were taking carbohydrates before their exercise were burning more.

Difference between men and women:
Meanwhile, all the men were actually burning slightly less fat at the end of the experiment, but those who were taking carbohydrates after their exercise were better off. We saw no significant differences in their weights or waist circumference, but their blood sugar levels changed in the same way as their fat burning.
Difference between men and women:

How it works

Men and women burn fat and carbohydrate in different ways.

Men are very much ‘carbohydrate burners’ – if as a man you eat carbohydrate then your body is going to burn it rather than fat. Just giving the men carbohydrate at any time in our experiment made them burn a bit less fat! However, given that we all have to eat (and carbohydrate is an important part of our food), it is better for men to eat after exercising if they want to burn fat. This is because after exercise, men will use that carbohydrate to replace the carbohydrate in their muscles rather than burn it for fuel and will continue to burn fat instead.

For women, the results clearly show that eating before they exercise is better than eating after if they want to burn fat. Women’s bodies tend to burn fat more easily than men’s, and are not fuelled so much by carbohydrate. Moreover, women are much better at conserving carbohydrate during exercise. So when women eat carbohydrate soon after exercise, this is effectively overloading them with fuel, and interferes with the body’s ability to burn fat.

The amount of carbohydrate in our tests is probably the equivalent of a piece of toast, or a small bowl of cereal – and for men ‘not eating before exercise’ means about 90 minutes before exercise, and for women ‘not eating after exercise’ similarly means for about 90 minutes after.

Although our study was quite small, put together with the evidence from the laboratory experiments, it does seem worth us all making that simple adjustment to when we eat in order to maximise the amount of fat that our bodies burn throughout the day.

So what do you think? These studies are always interesting and I would like to see more work in this area as there does seem to be a lot of conflicting advice available on the internet today.