Category Archives: Tips & Advice

Nine things you probably haven’t tried for dealing with sleep deprivation

Happy new year everyone!

For the first time in 6 years, I stayed up last night to see in 2016 with my partner. Our children went to bed at 10pm (3 hours past their bedtime) so it seemed reasonable to assume they would sleep in this morning, and we could get away with staying up for a whole 3 hours past our bedtime too… Oh, what a mistake. They were up bright and early before 7am, which is almost an hour later than they would usually get up, but meant we had just 6 hours sleep. And for me, it was 6 hours of broken sleep, dealing with a sleep walking 3 year old at 4am AND at 6am…

For those who have never experienced it, let me tell you: sleep deprivation is not fun or good for your health.

I actually feel qualified to say that, after 6 years of restricted sleep, broken sleep, early mornings, and the odd night of no sleep thrown in for fun (clearly their fun, not mine!)

Short term (one or two sleep restricted nights) the effects include the obvious fatigue, brain fog, sugar cravings, and grumpiness, but repeat those sleep restrictions too frequently, and you’re left with raised cortisol levels (feeling “wired but tired”), insulin resistance, and a subsequent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Throw in a lowered libido, and things are really not looking too dreamy.

Long term (weeks, months, or even years of sleep restricted nights) the risks are far greater. We’re talking autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriasis, type 2 diabetes, and more. Then there’s the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s enough to give you insomnia just thinking about it!

But this blog isn’t about looking for your sympathy (though, feel free to offer it!)

I’m writing this because I know I’m not the only person with children who think sleep is for wimps, and even if you don’t have children, with modern lifestyles and high levels of stress for many there’s a high chance that you’re burning the candle at both ends too – the studies show that “work hard, play hard” isn’t a recipe for success anymore either.

So, if we can’t (or won’t) change our sleep habits, what can we do to lessen the effects on our wellbeing?

  1. Resist the temptation to use sugary foods, coffee, or any other caffeinated drinks to give you energy – the high will only be temporary, and you’ll end up craving more or, heaven forbid, feeling even worse than you did! Go for nutrient dense foods like nuts and seeds, and perk them up with a bit of Himalayan salt, or perhaps a few oatcakes with almond or peanut butter. Green tea is a good alternative to coffee with a lower caffeine content, or choose herbal teas (I love Pukka teabags).
  2. Spend one or two hours a week preparing huge batches of heart-warming soups or casseroles, then freeze them in individual portions. A homemade “ready-meal” is the perfect way to stop you eating your way through all the Nutella with a spoon because you’re just too tired to cook.
  3. Go to bed as early as possible! My children go to bed at 7pm, and are up by 6am everyday, without fail. My bedtime most nights is now somewhere between 9pm and 30pm. If I didn’t need to eat/run a business/research college assignments, I would be in bed at 7pm too!
  4. Grab a 15 minute power nap if you need it. For those with children, everyone who told you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” was right. Now, this only works if you have just one child at home, or no children. But yes, short naps have been proven to improve attention spans for the rest of the day.
  5. Download yourself a guided meditation app for your phone (Headspace is great for 10 minute sessions, and the first 10 sessions are free) and enjoy the benefits of switching off your brain while you listen. Studies show that meditation can improve insomnia, lower cortisol levels and improve overall quality of life. Try 10 minutes before your day begins (even if that is at 5am on the sofa while your little ones play with their toys, or 8.30am squashed on the central line with your nose in someone else’s armpit). If you like it, why not do it at the end of your day too?
  6. If you can’t handle meditation, then how about adult colouring-in books? Or painting with watercolours? If you have children, you can even colour in their books (if they’ll let you!) or play with their paints or their play dough. Again, 10 minutes at the start of your day can be very therapeutic, and incredibly beneficial to your wellbeing. Plus the kids will love you playing with them…
  7. If you’ve never tried it, then find a class near to you, and experience the health improvements that yoga can provide such as lowered anxiety and stress levels. Once you feel confident with a range of positions, you can practice in your own home and in your own time. Try to do an hour session at least once a week, if not twice a week.
  8. Find an exercise you enjoy, and spend time once or twice a week enjoying it. It could be walking, running, cross fit, swimming, exercise DVDs… whatever floats your boat. If you enjoy it, then do it. If you don’t, then stop. You don’t need more stress!
  9. When you feel like everything is on top of you, take time out to just stop and do some deep breathing. Take 10 deep breaths, and remind yourself that you’re only human/you only have one pair of hands/life happens, etc.

And of course, if children are the reason you’re sleep deprived, call in as many favours as you can to help you out. Family, friends, other parents… if someone offers to have your child for a few hours (and you know and trust them) then let them! And if they offer to do the night shift for you, then you can laugh hysterically at the state of them the next day (and then show them this blog post to help them cope!)

Love Kate x

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20054188 Influence of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance and insulin sensitivity in healthy women.
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19337560 Sleep restriction increases white blood cells, mainly neutrophil count, in young healthy men.
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20371664 A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects.
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17524614 The effects of 40 hours of total sleep deprivation on inflammatory markers in healthy young adults.
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14592192 Sleep duration and mortality: The effect of short or long sleep duration on cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in working men and women.
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14975482 Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk.
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17431741 The relevance of sleep abnormalities to chronic inflammatory condition.
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22844441 Impact of five nights of sleep restriction on glucose metabolism, leptin and testosterone in young adult men.
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21162647 Sleep disturbances and inflammatory bowel disease: a potential trigger for disease flare?
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19240794 Sleep restriction increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by augmenting proinflammatory responses through IL-17 and CRP.
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26390335 The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia.
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14749092 Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress and levels of cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and melatonin in breast and prostate cancer outpatients.
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16124661 Recuperative power of a short daytime nap with or without stage 2 sleep.
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22502620 The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress.

New to dairy free? Here’s what you need to know!

You probably know at least one person who avoids dairy products in their diet, whether for allergy, intolerance, or ethical reasons. Perhaps you’ve been tested by us at The Allergy & Health Test Clinic and have discovered you need to avoid dairy products too, but aside from not having milk in your regular morning latte, your head is full of questions and you don’t know who or what to believe.

What are dairy products, and why do I need to avoid them?
Milk, whether skimmed, semi-skimmed, full-fat, dried, powdered, evaporated, or condensed, contains lactose, casein, and whey. You may have been told to avoid dairy because you are CMPI, or cows milk protein intolerant. This means you can’t fully digest the casein protein and/or whey protein in dairy products. Or you may be lactose intolerant, and unable to digest the lactose in dairy products because you lack the lactase enzyme in your own digestive system.

You may be ok with goat and sheep dairy products, but this varies from one person to the next, so for this blog I’ll assume you need to avoid all dairy – cow, sheep, and goat.

Apart from milk, you‘ll also need to avoid (unless told otherwise):
– Milk products
– Cheese and cheese spreads
– Yoghurts
– Ice-creams
– Butter & spreads
– Cream
– Milk chocolate

It is also time to start reading labels on products such as soups, sauces, cereals, bread, breadsticks, crackers… it never fails to amaze me where you can find dairy products in processed foods!

What is the best alternative milk to have in my tea or coffee?
Unfortunately, none of the alternative milks taste exactly like cows milk, mainly because they are made of other ingredients. I recommend to clients that they try a different milk each week (or each day!) until they find one they like. Coconut milk is a popular one for tea, while almond milk is often preferred for coffee.

Whichever type of alternative milk you choose, look for one that does not contain sugar, any avoid those that use any kind of flavouring, E numbers, emulsifiers or additives (such as lecithins and carageenan) and preferably choose an organic brand.

Won’t I be missing out on calcium? Where else can I get calcium without dairy products?
There are many myths around dairy products, and lots of us have grown up believing the main one – that dairy is the only food group in our diet that provides us with calcium. But here’s the truth: while dairy products may provide us with calcium and a few other nutrients (including magnesium, saturated fat, and lots of calories) those same nutrients are readily available in leafy green vegetables, along with a far greater density and variety of other nutrients such as fibre, and always with low levels of saturated fat and calories. If we eat more dairy products than we do vegetables, it becomes clear that we are at risk of nutritional imbalances.

Adding plenty of kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, rocket, watercress, pea shoots and any other green vegetables you enjoy to your diet will ensure you are not missing out on any nutrients when you go dairy free.

Will avoiding dairy products increase my risk of osteoporosis?
Who remembers being told as a child to drink their milk to keep their teeth/bones strong and healthy? I certainly do! But what if I told you that high consumption of dairy products has now been linked to osteoporosis or “brittle bone disease” – a common “calcium deficiency” disease. Don’t believe me? The latest nutritional research shows that high protein intake in the diet is acid yielding, and the body then leaches alkalising calcium from the bones to neutralise the acidity of the blood. Dairy isn’t the only food to blame for this though. Meat, sugar, and processed carbohydrates are guilty of it too.

Weightbearing exercise is a far better way of keeping your bones strong and strengthening muscles to prevent falls – walking, taking the stairs, lifting weights, even dancing to the radio in the kitchen!

But aren’t we meant to drink milk?
Cows produce milk for their offspring, just as human mother’s produce breastmilk for their children. Without going into the horrors that are rumoured to exist in the milk industry (slaughtering of male calves, routine antibiotics for infections such as mastitis etc) the truth remains that we are no more meant to drink cows milk than cows are meant to drink human milk. Cows milk contains protease inhibitors which can contribute to gut issues, contributes to inflammation in the body, contains proteins that the human body finds difficult to digest and lactose that requires the lactase enzyme (missing in many of us), is highly allergenic, increases mucus production, and contains bovine (cow) hormones. You probably wouldn’t expect a 30 year old female human to be still drinking her mother’s breastmilk, and yet no-one bats an eyelid if she chooses to drink the breastmilk from a cow.

Tell me again – do you still think we are meant to drink cows milk?

Talking of which, let me own up to something that I did 5 years ago – after the birth of my first child, I used 3 ounces of my own freshly expressed breastmilk in a fudge recipe, as we don’t keep cows milk in the house. Everyone who visited our new baby knew to bring their own milk for tea/coffee, but sampled and complemented me on the delicious fudge! I’m sure they would have run a mile if they’d known the truth!

What will I do without ice cream?!
If you’re one of the people worried about forever giving up ice-cream, then fear not. There are alternatives made with delicious coconut milk and/or cashew nuts (try The Nude Spoon, Coconut Colaborative and Booja Booja). And if all else fails, there’s always sorbet to tempt your tastebuds!

There are also alternatives available for milk, cream, chocolate, cheese, butter, yoghurt… you just need to know where to look! Try Ocado, Planet Organic, and Wholefoods for a wide range or alternatives.

Should I switch to soya products?
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend soya products as an alternative to dairy. Most soya products are made with non-fermented, non-organic, genetically modified soya and have been associated with oestrogen balance and thyroid hormone function in the body – you can read more in this book (affiliate link) and many other books. When I switched to soya as an alternative to dairy over 10 years ago, in the days before there were any other alternatives, not only did I have acne, weight gain, and severe moodswings, but my periods were irregular to the point of absence and my GP gave me the crushing diagnosis that I was clinically infertile.

A safer choice would be alternatives made with almond, coconut, oats, rice etc.

Can I eat butter?
It may seem confusing, but most people who need to avoid milk because of a lactose intolerance are ok with real butter, and even some who avoid milk because of milk protein intolerance will be ok (but this will vary from person to person so always check first). How can that be, I hear you ask! Well, butter is the preferred option over and above any processed margarine-like products, and when shopping you should look for butter with a carbohydrate content of around 0.1g per 100g. Why? Well, it means that the majority of the milk solids have been removed and mostly just fat remains with a small percentage of milk proteins. That small percentage is so low most people are able to consume small amounts of butter with no problems.

Still have a question that needs answering? Feel free to email me kate@www.allergytest-london.co.uk or leave a comment on this blog and we’ll do our best to answer it for you.

Kate x

Five ways to be an unhealthy vegetarian

This post is dedicated to my parents, who reminded me this weekend of my dislike of vegetables as a teenager. I know you guys are reading this 🙂

Now, it wasn’t so much that I disliked vegetables as a teenager – it was more that I disliked the vegetables from my parent’s allotment that came with extra protein in the form of slugs, snails, caterpillars etc. I’ve had a phobia of slugs and snails since I was young, and will go to great lengths to avoid touching them – I’ve even been known to cross a road if there are too many on the pavement! And when you have a phobia like that, it can be pretty difficult to still eat that pile of broccoli and cabbage that may or may not have been nibbled before reaching your plate!

But moving on…

In my early 20’s I went through a spate of health issues and, having consulted the “health” pages in several glossy magazines, I decided I would cut out meat and fish and follow a vegetarian lifestyle. But after just six months my health issues had worsened. I felt dreadful, and my skin looked terrible. I’d gained weight and had no energy. I was “clinically infertile” according to my GP. And I had no idea why – surely being vegetarian should have made me healthier?

Years later, while training as a nutritionist (and no longer a vegetarian) I slowly realised the mistakes I’d made, and why they had caused me so many issues.

1. Too many refined carbohydrates
A typical day for me would have involved a bowl of cereal or a sachet of porridge for breakfast, a white bread sandwich for lunch, and pasta or pizza in the evening. It was all refined carbohydrates, and they were giving me blood sugar imbalances on a daily basis. I had mood swings, acne, and afternoon slumps in energy. Not only that, but the gluten found in wheat, oats, rye and barley is known to increase inflammation – did I mention I was trying to improve my health? I was really not helping myself at all. I should have stuck to complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, brown rice pasta, quinoa, rye bread, and oat cakes which would have regulated my blood sugar levels.

2. High dairy intake
Cheese. I ate so much cheese while I was playing at being a vegetarian. Brie, stilton, cheddar, parmesan… I certainly wasn’t fussy about which type of cheese. I had milk with my cereal, and got into drinking milky teas and coffees too. Somehow I ignored the nausea in the pit of my stomach, the sinus congestion and the headaches, and the weight gain.
Avoid making the same mistake I did and keep high fat dairy products such as cheese to a minimum. If you want to move away from cows milk, then choose almond or coconut milk alternatives.

3. Inappropriate protein choices
I can’t digest eggs, which are one the of the better protein sources for vegetarians, so I didn’t eat them at all whilst vegetarian. I also didn’t eat many legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, or beans. Instead, I ate soya products – tofu, tempeh, soya mince, soya cheese and so on, on a daily basis. Soya products are often cited as the cause of hormonal imbalances, and while I can’t prove it, I suspect this was the source of my fertility issues.
I also discovered quinoa – we all know that is marketed as a high protein vegetarian food right? I didn’t like the taste but believed the hype surrounding it and ate it daily – what I didn’t realise is that quinoa is actually not that rich in protein. Yes, it’s true – look here!  Quinoa is really just a carbohydrate with a little bit of protein (21g carbs and 4g protein, per 100g quinoa!) and my high intake wasn’t doing me any favours.
Better protein choices would have been nuts, seeds, eggs, protein powders (I personally like Pulsin Hemp protein powder), lentils and other legumes. And don’t believe the quinoa propaganda.

4. Too many raw vegetables
Whilst vegetarian, I ate a disturbingly low number of cooked vegetables. Plenty of fruit and salad leaves, maybe a few raw peppers, but very few cooked vegetables. In those six months, I probably cooked and ate one courgette, one head of broccoli, a few carrots, and my entire body weight in jacket potatoes!! Aside from the mental “extra protein” scarring from those allotment vegetables, my main issue was that I just didn’t know how to cook many vegetables so I stuck to salad leaves as they were easy (open bag, rinse, place on plate). Salad leaves, and raw vegetables in general are of course incredibly good for us, but research shows that cooking vegetables releases nutrients locked away in the cell walls, such as lycopene from tomatoes – known for it’s anti-cancer properties. And there I was missing out on these for the majority of my meals.
These days, a three tier vegetable steamer saucepan is my most used kitchen gadget. It’s an absolute essential as you can steam just about any vegetable and retain most of it’s nutrients in just a few minutes (and with minimal cooking skills!)

5. No omega 3
You’ve probably heard of omega 3 supplements, and you may know it’s found in oily fish – I think that is well drummed into our heads these days. Nuts and seeds are another source of omega 3, particularly walnuts, linseeds/flaxseeds, and chia seeds. I don’t recall whether chia seeds existed in the UK 15 years ago, but I was terrified of eating nuts and seeds in case they made me gain weight, so I probably wouldn’t have eaten them anyway. And I definitely wasn’t eating fish, so omega 3 was not something I was getting through my diet.
Omega 3 is vital to our health – it reduces inflammation, reduces the risk of chronic inflammation related diseases, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you want to supplement with a non-fish oil based supplement, you could try Viridian Organic Golden Flax Seed Oil (1 teaspoon per day) – try adding it to smoothies or drizzled over salad.

Kate x

How I got my kids to eat (and love) their vegetables

They may be the offspring of a nutritionist, but my kids are still kids. Just like every other kid (and most grown-ups too) they don’t think twice about eating sugary foods if offered to them, especially chocolates and sweets, and a bowl of chips wouldn’t last 5 minutes in front of my youngest.

But at mealtimes, they eat their vegetables, and they eat them well. There’s no fussing or refusing. I don’t dye them strange colours or cover them in cheese. And I certainly don’t have to force or bribe them to eat their vegetables. I let them choose from the fridge which vegetables I cook to go with a meal, but once they’re cooked and on the plate, there are no more choices. They either eat them or they go hungry (and they know better than to risk that!)

I make sure that the kids see me eating vegetables as often as possible. Breakfast (green smoothie, or leftovers), lunch (salad or steamed veg with fish), evening meal (always with two side portions of vegetables). Even when we go to restaurants, I’ll order a side salad or portion of vegetables to go with my meal, if I’m not already ordering a salad as my meal. But that isn’t enough – they need to see me embracing and enjoying vegetables (and I do!) – lot’s of “mmm… broccoli” and “these green beans are yummy” and so on.

If my kids eat something they’re not sure about, they will look at me with doubt in their eyes, and I make sure to take some of the same food and tell them how delicious it tastes to me. Their tastebuds are so young, almost a blank canvas, and as a parent I feel it is my responsibility to teach them to appreciate healthy food.

Think about behaviour and language – kids will always copy what they see or hear, especially if it’s negative. So let them see positivity and pleasure around healthy foods, and they’ll want to copy you. If I made a face and said “broccoli tastes of sweaty socks”, or “green beans are too squishy” then there’s no way they’d eat them, and why should I expect them to?

And that’s my secret to getting kids to eat their vegetables.

If you have any other ways that you’ve found that help with kids eating their vegetables, then please comment and share them with us – we’d love to hear them!

Kate x

5 reasons to love your Monday

I didn’t always love Mondays. 15 years ago the job I was doing was so stressful, and the hours so long Monday-Friday, that I would try to give myself food poisoning on Sundays in order to avoid going to work on Mondays – it never worked and my negativity was definitely affecting my health!

But I came to realise that if I couldn’t avoid Mondays, then I’d just have to learn to love them (and maybe change jobs – but that’s another story). And I did. I gave myself something to look forward to after a weekend of rest, and slowly but surely, Monday became one of my favourite days of the week.

Here’s how it could be yours too:

1. Monday is a day to make a new start. If your healthy eating went astray over the weekend, then consider Monday the day to wipe the slate clean and get it back on track. 

2. It is also a day of possibilities. With a new start to your week, anything could happen!

3. Monday is a time to return to your weekday routine, whether you work in an office, work from home, or don’t work at all, chances are your weekday routine is very different to your weekend routine. Embrace that difference.

4. If you commute to work, try a more mindful commute – take off your headphones and put down your newspaper. What sounds can you hear? What or who can you see? Are you hot or cold? What can you smell? I can almost guarantee that on a Monday morning it smells better on that bus/train than it will smell for the rest of the week!!

5. Catching up with friends who you haven’t seen over the weekend is a great reason to love Mondays – whether you are chatting with colleagues by the coffee machine or with the other mum’s in the school playground, talk about what you did at the weekend and why not make plans for something to look forward to with your friends this week.

And if nothing else, remember that after once Monday is over, you are one whole day closer to Friday!

Kate x