10 things you need to know about iron

Iron – we know we need it, but perhaps we don’t know exactly why, what exactly iron is, how to get the amount we need, or even what that amount is.

Dr Cathy Stephenson shares all the key facts.

1. Iron deficiency is the most common dietary deficiency in the world. It is thought that up to 20 per cent of New Zealand women, and 3 per cent of men, may be lacking in this essential nutrient.

2. The rate of iron deficiency in children is not clear, but is likely to be high. Studies have reported rates as high as 8-14 per cent in New Zealand babies aged 6-24 months. Teenage years (around 11-14) are a risky time as well, because of rapid growth, and the onset of menstruation. In this group, the highest prevalence is in Maori and Pacific Island girls.

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3. Iron is incredibly important for our bodies and minds. It enables blood cells to carry oxygen to our muscles and brains. It keeps us mentally fit, strong and able to fight infections. A lack of iron will cause anaemia, tiredness, lethargy, pallor, increased susceptibility to infections such as coughs, colds or thrush, irritability or grumpiness, and poor concentration. In children especially, being iron deficient can contribute to difficulties in learning and retaining information.

4. Average daily requirements of iron vary throughout life depending on the stage you are in. For example, we know that babies and teenagers have much greater iron needs to cope with the rate of growth of their bodies. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need extra iron to cope with the baby’s demands; the same is true for women who are menstruating – they need extra iron to replace the iron lost each month with their period. Athletes may also need to be aware of their iron intake, as regular intense exercise will increase the body’s requirements.

5. In terms of recommended daily amounts, the guidelines are:

* Menstruating women – 18 milligrams per day (more if their periods are heavy)
* Pregnant women – 27mg per day
* Breast-feeding women – 10mg per day
* Other adults (male and female) – 8mg per day
* Children – depending on age, 7-10mg per day
* Babies – newborn babies have enough iron stores to last for the first 6 months of life; formula is fortified with iron, but breast milk isn’t so it is crucial that beyond 6 months of age, babies who are exclusively breast fed are also given iron-rich solids (such as fortified cereal).

6. Certain medical conditions can lead to iron deficiency, including Coeliac disease, kidney failure, heavy periods (known as menorrhagia), bleeding into the gut (example: from bowel cancer or ulcers) and chronic malabsorption. If you are a frequent blood donor, especially if you are female, you are at risk of becoming iron deficient – this is something the New Zealand Blood Service will screen you for.

7. Being vegetarian, especially if you are vegan, carries a higher risk of iron deficiency, if you have other risk factors such as heavy periods or pregnancy. Vegetarians need to eat about 80 per cent more iron in their diet than meat eaters do, as it is harder to absorb the iron found in vegetarian foods.

8. Iron in food comes in two forms – “haem” iron and “non-haem” iron. The body absorbs haem iron, much more readily than it can absorb non-haem iron. Foods containing high levels of haem iron include kidneys, liver, lamb, beef, canned sardines and tuna, chicken, pork and some fish. Foods containing non-haem iron include lentils, split peas, silverbeet, broccoli, spinach, kale, puha, eggs, wholemeal bread, raisins, dried apricots, porridge and other breakfast cereals with added iron, baked beans, tofu and nuts.

9. If you drink a lot of tea, coffee, coke or red wine with your food, it will inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron. Adding something containing vitamin C will do the reverse – so either drinking real fruit juice or eating vitamin C-laden fruit (kiwi, blueberries, citrus fruit) with your meal is a great idea.

10. Iron deficiency can be diagnosed by a simple blood test which checks the level of iron stores (ferritin) in your body. If you are deficient, and there is no serious underlying cause, simple iron supplements available on prescription will correct the deficiency and make you function noticeably better!


Foods you should never eat again

Frozen baked goods should be banished from your diet. Do yourself a favour and eat the fresh version instead.

WHILE it is often said that there are no individual “good” and “bad” foods, rather dietary patterns that predict health and weight outcomes, there are some foods so lacking in positive nutritional attributes that they are best avoided entirely.

Here are a few of the worst foods for you nutritionally and foods your health will not miss if you choose to never eat again.

Soft drink

Soft drinks ... more trouble than they’re worth.

Soft drinks … more trouble than they’re worth.Source:News Limited

No surprises here. Not only are soft drinks one of the most concentrated sources of added sugars in the diet with a 600ml bottle giving you 13 teaspoons of the white stuff but they are highly acidic which means a nightmare for dental health. And just in case you thought the diet option was a safe bet, while diet soft drinks contain no sugar, rather a range of sweeteners, there is more evidence building to link the consumption of diet soft drink to increased blood glucose levels, greater appetite and cravings for sweet foods and overweight and obesity. So stick to water when it comes to hydration and skip soft drinks completely.

Rice snacks

Don’t be tricked into thinking that rice crackers are a ‘healthy’ snack.

Don’t be tricked into thinking that rice crackers are a ‘healthy’ snack.Source:News Limited

While brown rice is a wholegrain and offers a number of key nutrients, processed white rice used to make rice crackers and snacks concentrates the starches resulting in highly refined snacks that send blood glucose levels soaring. If you consider that just 10 rice crackers, or a single row in a packet contains more carbohydrate than two small slices of wholegrain bread, it is easy to see how easy it can be to overconsume these carbohydrate rich snacks. The other thing not frequently considered is that a number of processed rice snacks, including those marketed to children contain added MSG, used to flavour a number of BBQ, chicken and pizza flavoured snacks. The less of these added flavours in the diet the better as evidence suggests that strong flavours programs the palate to seek out other rich flavours in the diet.

Vegetable oils

Try and give vegetable oil a wide berth.

Try and give vegetable oil a wide berth.Source:Supplied

Now we are not talking about extra virgin olive oil in this case, rather blended oils simply listed as vegetable oil on food labels. Not only do vegetable oils offer little nutritionally compared to extra virgin olive oil or nut oils but often the primary oil in the blend is palm oil, an oil primarily made up of saturated fat, the type of fat known to increase heart disease risk factors. Palm oil plantations are also causing much environmental damage. Vegetable oils are often listed among the first ingredients on margarines and other spreads including chocolate nut spreads and offer nothing positive nutritionally to the diet.

Frozen baked goods

Frozen party pies ... not a healthy option.

Frozen party pies … not a healthy option.Source:Supplied

The most popular foods in the frozen section of the supermarket — meat pies, doughnuts, cakes, sausage rolls, Danishes, apple pies and other desserts are not only baked full of saturated fats but often trans fats as well. Trans fats are particularly damaging to the body and are formed in foods when vegetable oils are heated to extremely high temperatures which is the case with commercial baked goods as the ovens used to make these products can be heated to exceptionally high temperatures, much higher than could ever be reached when we bake at home. So if you enjoy baked pies and cakes, homemade is a much better option and the less pastry we eat, the better it is in an attempt to keep our intake of nasty trans fats minimal.

Packaged noodles and pasta

Sure pot noodles are convenient, but they’re not doing your body any good.

Sure pot noodles are convenient, but they’re not doing your body any good.Source:istock

If you check out the list of ingredients on a packet of 2 minute noodles, or boxed pasta and sauce you will get the drift. Not only are pre-packaged noodle and pasta dishes packed full of preservatives, flavours and additives but nutritionally they tend to be a high carb, high salt meal options. The average bowl of noodles can contain more salt than is recommended to eat in an entire day, while the pasta and sauce combos are often high in fat, salt and flavours. MSG is often added as are thickeners, preservatives, flavours and colours to help the food resemble what it is supposed to look like when reconstituted. Do yourself a favour and eat your noodles or pasta fresh, the way they are supposed to be enjoyed.

‘Yes, you can eat bread, just don’t live on it’

It's important to select the correct type of bread.

It’s important to select the correct type of bread.

OPINION: I frequently get asked about bread. Elite athletes and the general public alike all seem to want to know if it is OK to eat.

I can understand the confusion; bread has become something of an enemy which may be attributed to low carbohydrate trends as well as its gluten content.

Bread comes in many forms, but for the most part contains flour, yeast, salt and water. Not all breads are equal and some varieties contain far more nutrients than others. Two slices of white bread (although very yummy) contain only 1.5g of fibre, whereas multigrain breads contain 5.2g fibre (depending on brand), more protein, and healthy fats and vitamins due to the seeds and grains. The higher fibre content makes these breads more filling too, meaning you eat fewer slices to feel satisfied.

Performance nutritionist Lillian Morton.


Performance nutritionist Lillian Morton.

I think this is where the confusion arises.

If one uses bread as a food rather than a filler you eat smaller amounts. Many people use bread as a quick and easy alternative to making something else.

I’ll use an example to explain what I mean. I see time and time again in food diaries how bread used as a quick fix. You are feeling hungry, you scan the pantry and decide toast is easiest, with perhaps peanut butter or jam. Two slices are not filling enough so you make an extra slice.

Yes, toast is a quick and easy option but if one lives on toast as a snack then you miss out on other key nutrients that you may have eaten if you had perhaps made a smoothie (milk, yoghurt, banana, and berries), or had a pottle of yoghurt and a piece of fruit.

Another example is the humble sandwich. I frequently see sandwiches in food diaries that contain bread, ham, chicken or luncheon with some lettuce and mayo. Not very filling and so three to four sandwiches are eaten.

A better way to use bread is as a small part of the meal rather the primary ingredient. A good sandwich is made from multigrain bread, filled with salad ingredients such as lettuce, tomato, grated carrot, avocado, beetroot, sliced red onion, cucumber, and ham, chicken or some other protein source. This kind of sandwich is far more filling – and it’s yummy too.

There are some people unable to eat standard breads due to conditions such as coeliac disease and gluten intolerance. However, there are many bread alternatives available, and the same rules apply.

So, yes, you can eat bread, just don’t live on it.

Take a moment and think about how you use bread. If you are using bread as a substitute for other foods because you are too busy, too lazy, or too tired to prepare something else, then take some time to think about how you can change this.

Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, eat healthy snacks and avoid toast for dinner.

Lillian Morton is a performance nutritionist and senior academic staff member. She holds an MSc in sport and exercise science and is currently working towards her PhD.

Is omega-3 the holy grail of health?

Is there any other substance that offers a remedy for as many of our health foibles as omega-3?

Sourced from two polyunsaturated fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and to a lesser extent alpha-linolenic acids (ALA), these essential fatty acids are considered vital to maintaining optimum brain function, heart health and even said to help inflammation and aid in easing the pain of arthritis.

In fact, to hear Dr William Harris speak about them, omega-3s are the holy grail of health and overall wellbeing:

“There are two main essential fats: omega-6 and omega-3 and both have their uses – but omega 3 is the big one,” he says.

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“The primary source for these is oily fish, but they can come in plant form – things like flaxseed and soybean – but these produce a different kind of omega-3 source, ALA, which isn’t as easily converted into omega-3 as EPA and DHA.”

A professor at the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, Harris has spent the past 30 years studying and testing the seemingly endless benefits that come from these essential fatty acids.

“Unlike a lot of other vitamins and mineral fads – like vitamin E and beta carotene – omega-3 has stayed the course and each new study shows the benefits it has on our health,” he says.

“Each study clarifies what it does. It’s been shown to help brain health, depression, dementia and there is something there that omega-3 helps with. It just needs to be worked out. We’re just about to start this.”


Currently in Australia to launch a national omega-3 level-testing scheme called the omega-3 Index, Harris doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to expressing just how important these substances are as an indicator to our health.

“I view omega-3 as the new cholesterol,” he says.

“It’s a risk indicator for heart disease that you can actually do something about without the need for drugs. In fact, I would bet that omega-3 levels are the most important indicator of risk factors for heart disease.”

Once rolled out, the omega-3 Index will be as simple as pricking finger with a pin. According to Harris, all one needs to do is request the test from a doctor or naturopath. The sample will be forwarded on to a lab where the level of omega-3s in the blood will be tested and recorded as a percentage (“Health target levels are between eight and 12 and low is considered below four,” says Harris).

According to Harris, this will help doctors and health professionals keep track of a patient’s heart health to prevent the possibility of heart attacks.

But for all the this amazing goodness that omega-3s offer, there’s just one catch – our body doesn’t produce them naturally.


You see, like some sort of biological joke, it seems that for all omega-3s’ benefits to the body, we can only ever get them from external sources. And the primary source of this, is fish.

Fatty, or oily, fish such as salmon with the skin on, sardines, mackerel and herring are the best sources of omega-3.

“Fish is our primary source of EPA and DHA,” says Harris.

“These have higher potency, are much more easily converted into omega-3 and there is more evidence that shows EPA and DHA are better for heart health and brain function overall.”

Obviously something that the average vegan or vegetarian might have something of an issue with. And while fish oil supplements may seem like an easy solution to making sure your brain and heart are being fed the nutrients they need, consumer advocate Choice has already pointed out that the potency of many of these isn’t high enough to offer any benefits.

So what alternatives do our non-animal eating fellows have?

Dietitian and nutritionist Lauren Blair says that, while not offering as intense a hit as their marine alternatives, there are several plant-based sources of omega-3 that vegans and vegetarians can tap into.

“Plant-based sources of omega 3 are only marginally as effective as marine-based sources of omega-3,” she explains to Fairfax.

“So vegetarians and vegans need to take a few extra steps in order to maximise their omega-3 intake. I recommend eating good sources of whole-food, plant-based omega-3 (ALAs) including walnuts, chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds, soy beans, seaweeds and tofu while reducing the omega-6 foods in your diet as omega-6 can prevent omega-3 from being used properly in the body.”

According to Blair, you can do this by replacing sunflower, safflower and corn oils with mustard, walnut or chia seed oil.

And while it probably won’t appeal to those who embrace an ardent natural food philosophy, Harris says that there are several exciting developments in the GM industry that could help people who either can’t or won’t eat fish get the daily dose of omega-3.

“There are some GM oils made by Monsanto, one called Soy Mega, which is a derivative of the soybean and contains SDA, a compound one step closer to EPA than ALA. But, the crux is that it’s GM food which most vegans are not inclined to eat and also made by Monsanto, which doesn’t have the best of reputations.

“There is also the possibility of a supplement for vegans that uses an algae called OVEGA 3  and this has half a gram of EPA and DHA in each capsule.”


Extreme clean eating claims put to the test

Clean eating is associated with the healthy lifestyle and body beautiful that is promoted by many online bloggers. While the term is heavily used in social media, there has never been any agreement on what it really means or any comprehensive studies examining the potential benefits of a clean eating lifestyle as a whole.

However, the core principles that the big names in this movement champion appear to be: eliminate processed food; reduce salt intake; eat more vegetables; choose whole grains; eliminate refined sugar; reduce alcohol. For some, you also need to be gluten, dairy, and soya free and to eat raw (depending on how militant you are, food has to be entirely uncooked or only mildly heated). And if you want to be completely “clean” you should probably be vegan, too. Quite a list, then.

And there are also some big players online – including Food Babe, who was voted by Time as one of the 30 most influential people on the internet – who have significantly influenced this trend.

While some of the principles of clean eating are in line with the best available evidence for losing weight or preventing ill health – such as eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, sticking to wholegrains and limiting processed food – there are plenty of others that don’t stand up to scrutiny. It has been repeatedly proven that dietary restrictions such as a dairy-free diet or gluten-free diet are nutritionally substandard and studies have linked the introduction of a gluten-free diet with increased levels of psychological distress in coeliacs including depression and anxiety.

Some people find it difficult to understand why dietitians and doctors are against the clean eating phenomenon when there are still people eating burgers for breakfast and obesity is on the rise. However, some clean eating is sensationalist promotion of non-evidence based, and extremely restrictive, lifestyles that demonise everyday food essentials. And that can lead followers into having a sense of shame and failure for not eliminating “unclean” foods 100 per cent of the time – so you can see where the negativity from healthcare professionals stems from.

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There is significant research disproving many of the principles of the diet. Below are some of the big claims and why they don’t stack up.


Some clean eating bloggers claim to have cured themselves of diseases. The kinds of medical conditions that clean eating is supposed to cure are often conditions that are not well understood, such as chronic fatigue, which leaves sufferers desperate for a solution. And where there is desperation there is always someone willing to sell help – however unscientific.

One of the big names in clean eating who believes her diet controls her postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTs) – where standing up causes a drop in blood supply to the heart and brain and the heart races to compensate – intestinal issues and headaches through her method of a dairy free, gluten free vegan diet is Deliciously Ella. PoTS, however, has no proven link with food except that a higher salt intake is recommended to help keep blood pressure up. Having too little salt in the diet can exacerbate the problem. The reason that Ella is so much better now is much more likely to be age-related as we know that for 80 per cent of sufferers, symptoms disappear between the ages of 19-24. Ella was diagnosed aged 19 in 2011 and has been blogging about diet for four years.

One thing diet may have helped with though is Ella’s gastroinestinal issues. Her method of eating has a diet that is very low in fermentable carbohydrates or FODMAPs which have been robustly proven to be a cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which affects up to one in five people.


Many of the clean eating bloggers promote themselves as a model of how you could look if you follow their lifestyle. But it is important to remember that it is their job to look the way they do. If you have a full-time job and a busy life, the chances of you cooking every meal from scratch, never having to grab a sandwich from the supermarket for lunch and being able to work out for two hours a day are very slim. If you try to model your life on theirs you are more than likely to end up feeling like a failure because it is simply not realistic.

Interestingly, many clean eating bloggers claim to have been depressed before clean eating. There has been lots of research into dietary treatments for depression by increasing an amino acid called tryptophan which is a precursor for serotonin production in the brain, which in turn influences good mood. To date, no trial has conclusively proven that increasing dietary tryptophan improves serotonin production or depressive symptoms but a diet in line with clean eating actually has the potential to be low in essential amino acids such as tryptophan.

What is more likely is that all the attention and apparent public approval received for losing weight and improving their appearance has temporarily improved their self-worth.

Clean Eating Is A Good Way To Lose Weight

Clean Eating Alice, 23, is another big name in the game. Alice isn’t vegetarian but her diet is very low in carbohydrate. She claims that her diet and exercise regime has immeasurably improved her health and happiness. It was reported that through her version of clean eating and intensive exercise, she dropped 16kg and reduced her body fat percentage from 30 per cent to just 15 per cent. 

Alice’s reported body fat percentage is concerning. The minimum essential fat for a woman is between 10-13 per cent – we need this amount to maintain our immune system and maintain healthy hormone levels. Many professional athletes will have a body fat percentage of up to 20 per cent with the normal healthy level around 25 per cent. So holding herself up as a realistic and achievable role model is highly misleading.


The Helmsley Sisters were some of the first to bring the clean eating trend to our attention. Their philosophy aims to help people with their digestion and relationship with food, and teach the importance of gut health. Their recipes eliminate gluten, grains and refined sugar (and minimise natural sugars). However, the majority of people tolerate gluten very well – the exceptions are for people with conditions such as coeliac disease – sugar is absorbed so efficiently it has no impact on digestion and grains provide high levels of prebiotics to feed the good bacteria in your gut. The best thing for gut health is a good, balanced diet.


Many bloggers state that clean eating will keep you looking youthful. There is some compelling evidence that antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables can prevent premature skin ageing.

You do, however, also need plenty of good quality protein to maintain the integrity of your skin and therefore extreme clean eating could easily undermine the benefits of the antioxidants.


Detox diets are all the rage and the clean eating crew all have their own version of a detox diet. Fortunately, no one needs a detox diet because our liver and our kidneys are always already doing this. Everyone would agree that excessive consumption of highly processed food with lots of additives is not a healthy way to eat. However, neither is following a highly restrictive diet for any amount of time and there is certainly no health benefits associated with “detoxing”.

Some clean eaters promote an alkaline diet to prevent excess acidity in the body. Ironically, our stomach acid is only slightly less acidic than battery acid so anything you eat will be immediately placed into a highly acidic environment where the pH is tightly controlled. You cannot manipulate your body’s pH through diet (as the below tweet suggests) and you don’t need to try.





There are even more extreme examples of clean eating out there including Freelee The Banana Girl who promotes a raw vegan diet of 15 bananas, 40 pieces of fruit and a couple of kilograms of potatoes a day. She claims that eating this way has cured her weight issues, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, poor digestion and acne.

It is hard to pin down the most concerning thing about this diet but the fact that Freelee is consuming 6.5 times more potassium than is recommended and encourages others to do so is a big one. She even consumes 30 per cent more potassium than is shown to cause excess potassium in the blood, which can lead to deadly changes in heart rhythm. That said, whether or not she is absorbing any of the nutrients in her food due to the amount of fibre she is taking in is questionable and if her bowel habits are normal and healthy it is a medical miracle.

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and there are many quick courses that give a false air of credibility. There are also no regulations around what people can and can’t recommend as being healthy. It should be very hard to maintain a voice of authority in an area in which you are totally unqualified and in a world where your self worth depends on “likes” and “views” and “followers”.

An obsession with clean eating and the shame that is often associated with eating foods considered to be dirty can also lead to mental health issues such as orthorexia, an eating disorder associated with obsessive healthy eating. Emmy Gilmore, clinical director of eating disorders clinic Recover, even suggested in a recent BBC documentary that many UK clean eating bloggers had sought help from her clinic. So rather than watch videos of supposedly physically healthy girls as gospel, it’s better to develop healthy eating habits that come from sound scientific advice and which balance all the nutrients your body needs.

And if you’re seeking professional advice, find a nutritionist with a degree or a registered dietitian – it’s a protected title so you can be certain that the advice you’re given will be scientifically robust.

The Conversation

Exercise can change the brain’s chemistry for the better.

According to Depression NZ, one in every five Kiwis are affected by depression. This startling statistic reveals the reality that you or someone you know will experience the black dog at some point. But did you know  that regular exercise can change the brain’s chemistry for the better? That you can improve the way you feel just by going for a walk everyday?

A recent study of more than 40,000 Norwegians concluded that people who exercise regularly at any  intensity are less likely to have symptoms of depression. This exciting new research also found that 16 weeks of regular exercise is equally effective as antidepressant medication when it comes to treating mild to moderate depression.

Feeling tired and less motivated are two very common symptoms of depression, and exercise is often the last thing you may feel like doing. But once you put one foot in front of the other and get going, you’ll start to feel your mood change instantaneously.

Personal trainer and fitness guru Michelle Bridges lives and breathes exercise and has no doubts to how it can impact our mental and emotional wellbeing. “You don’t have to be wound up like a spring coil to do a training session,” she says.

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“You have to accept that you can just go for a walk today or do a yoga session.  That’s still going to elevate your mood, make you feel like you’re still sitting in the driver’s seat, you’re in charge but also being kind to yourself.”

Exercise helps boost serotonin, a chemical in the body that plays a key role in regulating mood, sleep, libido and appetite. It can also increase your levels of endorphins, which have natural mood-lifting effects. Exercise can also provide a great distraction from worrying and give you an increased sense of control.

Health Coach Scott Gooding’s tip is to move your body every day.  “People get stuck thinking they have to go to the gym or a class for an hour.  There’s no need.  I know and there’s lots of research out there to suggest that moving your body for 5, 10 or 20 minutes… whatever time you have, can elevate your mood.”

We know that staying active is so good for you physiologically and we’re constantly learning the benefits it has on our mental health.

Dr Sam Harvey from The Black Dog Institute says that the benefits of exercise kick in a very low level of intensity. “Even if you can go from doing nothing to an hour per week.  That will make a big difference in your risk of developing depression.”


– On most, preferably all days of the week, do a minimum 30 minutes exercise.
– Exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time – the 30 minute total does not need to be continuous.
– Ask a family member or friend to be your exercise partner to help keep you motivated.
– Be active in as many ways as possible each day: use the stairs, or get off the train one station early, park further away from the shops.
– A little activity is better than none at all and more is better than a little.  If you feel daunted, start small and find something you feel good about doing.

Do you really need to eat breakfast?

Eating an English breakfast will certainly keep you hunger-free until lunchtime.


Eating an English breakfast will certainly keep you hunger-free until lunchtime.

How good is sitting down to a plate of organic eggs, smashed avo and grilled mushrooms paired with a decent mug of petrol coffee first thing in the morning? Sounds delish.

But is eating breakfast integral to a healthy diet or have we simply become habitualised feeders?

For many adults, the message that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been drummed into us from an early age. Television commercials, government-funded food guidelines and dietitians are determined to have us believe that a good, healthy diet starts with a morning meal.

But a growing number of experts, and a growing body of research, question the validity of these claims if not reject them all together.

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Apple porridge is the perfect cereal fruit combo.

Emma Boyd

Apple porridge is the perfect cereal fruit combo.


Earlier this year, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine Aaron E. Carroll wrote an article for the New York Times questioning the push for breakfast in the media.

He pointed out that much of the data released in favour of eating breakfast was funded by groups, like Kellogg, who had a vested interest.

In fact, the phrase that breakfast is ‘the most important meal of the day’ was a 1944 marketing campaign launched by American company General Foods to encourage people to, you guessed it, buy more cereal.

But probably the most fascinating and poignant argument Carroll makes is how this research was – and still is – targeted towards children.

A fruit smoothie.


A fruit smoothie.

A good breakfast is regularly touted as being an essential part of their daily routine, particularly because it helps them perform better in school. But as Carroll points out, this research failed to take into account the general nutritional intake of the children being studied.

As Carroll noted, hunger “affects almost one in seven households in America, or about 15 million children”. So it makes sense then that kids who were going hungry at home would respond better when fed in the morning.

Carroll was also critical of studies that suggested kids who skip breakfast were more likely to be overweight than children who eat two breakfasts for the same reason – if you’re being nourished at home, you’re probably not starving at school.


Writing for Good Health (“the oldest health magazine in the world”) in 1917, Lenna F. Cooper stated that “in many ways, the breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because it is the meal that gets the day started.”

Not so coincidentally, Good Health also happened to be edited by Dr John Harvey Kellogg, the father of modern day flaked cereals. To say that Kellogg had an agenda when this was put into his magazine is an understatement.

But it’s also part of a bigger picture surrounding the science of breakfast and how research can be skewed to benefit the aims of the author.

Muesli and strawberry porridge.

Muesli and strawberry porridge.

In 2013, a paper published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied the literature surrounding links between breakfast and obesity. What they found was that scientists showed regular bias in their interpretation of research, favouring the notion there was a link between skipping breakfast and obesity even when no such evidence was apparent.

And only in a 2014 study conducted by Monash University, researchers found that skipping breakfast as part of intermittent fasting not only helped weight loss but also helped blood pressure and various forms of liver damage.

But this isn’t to say breakfast is bad and you shouldn’t be eating it. In fact, if you wake up hungry like those 15 million US school children then you most definitely should be eating it.

But eating it just out of habit? You can probably swap it out for an extra 30 minutes sleep.


Surely you can’t drink any alcohol when you quit sugar?

I Quit Sugar - Can I drink alcohol when i quit sugar?

Surely you can’t drink any alcohol when you quit sugar? It’s chockers full of the white stuff, right?!

We have some good news for you – you absolutely can still enjoy a glass of wine at dinner. Or even a beer on the weekend. Because quitting sugar doesn’t mean quitting the things you enjoy! The trick is to drink in moderation, and pick the right ones. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Can I drink alcohol when I quit sugar?

  • ✔️ Beer: While this beverage does contain a lot of sugar, it’s in the form of maltose (not fructose) which our bodies can metabolise just fine. Read more about our stance on fructose.
  • ✔️ Spirits: Dry spirits like gin, vodka and whiskey are very low in fructose.
  • ✔️ Wine: Believe it or not but wine contains very minimal amounts of fructose. See question two below.
  • ❌ Champagne or “sparkling”: Though similar in the fermentation process of red and white wine (as mentioned above), Champagne does tend to retain quite a lot of the fructose from the grapes. Which is why we don’t think this is the best option.
  • ❌ Dessert wine: A stack of sugar remains unfermented in these wines. Avoid!

2. What about the fructose in wine?

  • Believe it or not, but wine actually contains minimal fructose. How?
  • The fructose in the grapes is what ferments to become alcohol, leaving the finished product low in sugar.
  • If the wine has been fermented to “dry” (red or white) it contains very low levels of residual sugar (less than 1g per litre).
  • Red wine is lower in fructose than white wine and is definitely the better option in our opinion.
  • Read our interview with Rosemount Estate to find out even more.

3. Can you drink alcohol on the I Quit Sugar: 8-Week Program?

  • During our Program, we allow one glass of wine (preferably red) with dinner a few nights a week. Why? Because quitting sugar doesn’t have to mean quitting the things you enjoy.
  • While quitting sugar, your liver is under a little strain as you detox all the toxins (and addiction) out. Drinking any more than one glass of alcohol with a meal per day will only tax your liver more.
  • You may also find once you cut out sugar, that your tolerance for alcohol is much lower and wish to avoid it while going through the 8-Week Program.
  • Check out all the other things you are still allowed to do while on our Program.

4. Tips for sugar-free boozing.

  • Alcohol-free is always going to be your safest bet.
  • Soda or plain mineral water with a squeeze of lemon or lime is surprisingly satisfying. We love asking the bartender to jazz it up with a slice of cucumber or some fresh mint.
  • Clear spirits like vodka and gin mixed with soda water and fresh lemon and lime are probably the lowest sugar alcoholic drinks you’re going to be able to get.
  • Gin, soda water and fresh cucumber is one of our favourites. So refreshing.
  • STAY AWAY FROM SOFT DRINKS AND TONIC WATER… they are loaded with sugar!


A few more words of caution before you take a tipple.

  • Alcohol still has a multitude of metabolism and health issues that come with excessive consumption, not to mention it’s an addictive substance.
  • Although most alcohol is low in fructose, it’s still very high in empty calories.
  • Only ever drink spirits with soda water. Mixers, including tonic water, are full of sugar – about 8–10 teaspoons in one tall glass. Ditto fruit juices.
  • Remember, when it comes to alcoholic drinks, once you have too many it’s very hard to make sensible food choices. You’re far more likely to reach for that slice of cake after a few drinks than you would be sober. Just something to keep in mind.

We originally published this post in February 2014. We updated it in July 2016. 

Foods that can help boost your eye health

Foods that can help boost your eye health

Coloured vegetables and fruit contain carotenoids, which is good for eye health.

Investing in your eye health is potentially one of the most important investments you can make.

From having regular eye checks and monitoring any degeneration through to supporting your eye health with a diet full of fresh whole foods – there are many different ways you can support these amazing organs.

The eyes connect to the body in various ways. Certain vitamins and minerals can protect against and, in some cases, even help prevent numerous diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.

Dr Libby: The psychology of eating – when food becomes your comfort

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Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, which is critical to eye health.

Piccianeri | Dreamstime

Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, which is critical to eye health.


Vitamin A has many functions, not only can it help maintain a strong immune system, but it’s also absolutely critical for keeping the retina healthy.

In fact in many third-world countries vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of night-blindness, where you’re unable to see at night or in dim light. Night blindness is caused by a disorder of the cells in the retina that are responsible for vision in dim light.

Vitamin A is sometimes used to treat hereditary retina deformities and according to some studies supplementing with vitamin A may help slow the progression of the disease.

However, we also get vitamin A itself through the diet plus our bodies can convert plant chemicals (carotenoids) such as beta-carotene and alpha-carotene into vitamin A.

Coloured vegetables and fruit contain many carotenoids. A recent study conducted over a 10-year period found that consumption of fruits and vegetables, but in particular orange or yellow fruits and vegetables are the most protective against cardiovascular disease.

The same study named carrots as one of the most heart healthy vegetables because of its deep orange colour and therefore concentration of protective antioxidants and nutrients.


Carotenoids are antioxidants that are plant pigments. This category of nutrients is considered by many eye-care experts to be the most protective for eye health.

One of the best recognised of the carotenoid family is beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has antioxidant effects and aids in maintaining good vision, as well as night vision. It is because of this function that we often hear the phrase eat your carrots, as they help you see at night.

Research indicates it may play a role in cataract prevention. Luckily, beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body, is easily obtained through the diet. However, the conversion of these plant forms to retinol, a better-absorbed form of vitamin A, is not as well absorbed as it is from animal sources.

So there is no need to be concerned about eating too many foods that are a rich source of beta-carotene, as the body regulates how much is converted. In fact, they’re a wonderful inclusion in your diet for a number of health benefits. These foods include carrots, kumara, kale, spinach, papaya, capsicums, and pumpkin to name a few.


1. Kale. Leafy green vegetables, like kale, are superstars for eye health! Particularly as they’re a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants known to support healthy eye function. Evidence suggests that people with diets high in lutein were up to 23 per cent less likely to develop cataracts than those whose diets were low in this nutrient. If kale isn’t your thing, choose other dark leafy green vegetables, like spinach and silverbeet as they’re also good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, as are egg yolks.

2. Salmon. There is evidence to suggest that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids from fresh, cold-water fish like salmon and sardines, reduce the risk of developing eye disease later in life. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan include plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseeds or chia seeds.

3. Citrus fruit. Citrus fruits are a wonderful source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that is critical to eye health. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit and tangerine are all delicious and beneficial additions to the diet.

Dr Libby

Science Confirms That Turmeric As Effective As 14 Drugs

Turmeric or Curcumin is a wonder herb and it has many health benefits.It’s bright orange, bitter and powerful.Turmeric is the vibrant ingredient that gives curry it’s memorable hue. If you’ve tried Indian cuisine, you’ve likely tasted it and loved it.

This predominant spice is used generously in nearly all Indian meals. Perhaps that’s why India has among the lowest rates of lung,colon, prostrate & breast cancer,

Curcumin, the active agent in turmeric has been used in Ayurveda, the Ancient form of Indian Medicine for thousands of years and Western Science is catching on. Turmeric has matched and outperformed many modern medicines.

This potent spice is packed with anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants. Turmeric has been proven to fight free radicals, rejuvenate the cells, cleanse the liver, protect the heart, boosts moods and support the brain.

Sound too good to be true? There’s more.Turmeric has been shown to lift levels of norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. With a stronger cocktail of these neuro-chemicals we’re all a little happier.

Turmeric has ten neuro-protective actions that support better memory, focus and cognition. This multifunctional spice is also used to regulate fat metabolism, alleviate IBS, regulate bile flow, reduce joint pain and bring luster to the skin.

Turmeric or Haldi as they call it in Hindi is revered for it’s spiritual significance. Often referred to as The Golden Spice or The Spice of Life,turmeric is a common accessory in wedding rituals and prayer ceremonies. Originally the spice was used in rites and rituals intended to promote fertility, prosperity and spiritual purification.

Turmeric is incredibly purifying. As a sure source of anti-fungal, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial extracts, this spice can help you fight infections and boost immunity. Dense in vitamins and minerals this magical spice promotes overall well being.


This 2500 Yr Old Ayurvedic Supplement Is Better Than Any Modern Day Supplement. Find Out Why?

Curcumin/Turmeric Capsules, Not Nearly As Effective

The active agents in turmeric are fat soluble, meaning you need fat in the carrier to effectively absorb and assimilate the benefits. In order to make the most of your turmeric you must take it with a source of fat.The spice has stood the test of time in India as a form of medicine because it’s used in cooking and oil is almost always present in the recipe. The fat from the oil is the consort ingredient.

The vitamin and supplement industry is steadfast and ever growing. It’s the American way to think we can identify a component, examine it, prove it, magnify it, package it and sell it. Well, it doesn’t always work that way. The bedrock of Ayurveda and Eastern Medicine is that we are more than the sum total of our parts.

Holistic medicine stands firm on a platform that demonstrates the interconnectedness of the mind, body and soul. Just as there is a delicate and intelligent interplay between the mind, body and soul, there is a delicate and intelligent interplay between the brain, gut and formation of tissues.

A capsule version of turmeric (aka curcumin) will get the spice into your body but it won’t guarantee the digestion and absorption of the nutrients into your system. According to Ayurveda there are seven layers of tissues: plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bones, nervous tissue and reproductive tissue.

Each tissue is nourished in sequential order based on how well food is digested, absorbed and assimilated. If you want the benefits of turmeric to touch all your tissues, a capsule just won’t cut it. The body simply doesn’t integrate capsules as it would food.

Optimize Your Use of Turmeric

Doses Of Using Turmeric In Different Ways

1.Always buy certified organic.

2.Make sure your spices are free of chemicals, preservatives, fillers and additives.

3.Drink Golden Milk

Golden milk is an ancient health elixir: Combine 1/2 tsp of organic turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp of organic ginger powder and a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom into one cup of hot almond/soy/rice or hemp milk. If you’re using a liquid with low fat content you can add 1/2 tsp of coconut oil or ghee (clarified butter) to guarantee maximum absorption. Drink this daily.

4.Combine turmeric with black pepper to amp up the effect.

Cook with turmeric, black pepper and ginger. These heating, metabolism charging spices have a synergistic effect that will increase the bio availability by 1,000 times. Make sure to dissolve the spices in ghee or coconut oil while cooking.

5.Pour it into your smoothies.

Dissolve a full teaspoon of turmeric and a pinch of black pepper into hot coconut oil and pour it into your smoothie or juice.

6.Stir it into olive oil for salads and veggie mixes.You can also sprinkle it on an avocado and pair it with your meal.

7.Skip the pill.

If you’re taking the capsule version at least take it with 1 cup of hot water. In the cup of hot water, add 1 tsp of ghee or connect oil and a generous pinch of black pepper.

8.Turmeric Benefits For Skin

Combine 1 tsp of turmeric with 1 tsp of chick pea flour; add a dash of tea tree oil and enough water to create a paste (about 2 tsp of water). Apply the paste to the entire face, keep it on for 15 minutes, then rinse it with warm water. Your skin will look radiant.

Health Benefits Of Using Turmeric

1. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent.Application of Turmeric paste is useful in cuts and burns.

2. When it is cooked with cauliflower it works as a preventive against prostrate cancer.

3. Adding this to food will help in preventing breast cancer.

4.Reduces the risks of childhood leukemia.

5.It has proprieties that can prevent melanoma and can kill existing melanoma cells to die.

6.It prevents and slow the progression of Alzheimer diseases by removing amyloyd plaque build up in the brain.

7. It detoxify liver.

8. It slows the progression of multiple sclerosis in mice.

9.It helps in inducing metabolism and reducing fat.

10. It has anti-inflammatory properties so it useful in treating arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

source: http://mavcure.com/health-benefits-of-using-turmeric/

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Where’s the evidence for the gluten-free lifestyle?

With food allergies on the rise we probably all know someone who has to avoid one foodstuff or another for medical reasons. Now, though, there is also the rise of the “gluten-free” lifestyle, removing most breads, pastas and cakes from the menu, writes Dr Chris van Tulleken.

It’s estimated that 8.5 million people in the UK have now gone “gluten free” and it’s a very fast-growing section of the supermarket with an expanding (and expensive) range of gluten-free alternative foods on sale. So, what’s behind it all?

If you’re one of those who sigh and tut at the perceived fussiness of the new gluten-free brigade, spare a thought for the 1% of the population who suffer from coeliac disease.

Is going gluten-free good for me?

Coeliac sufferers have a lifelong autoimmune disease which means that gluten causes their immune system to turn on their own bodies, destroying the delicate linings of their guts and causing painful digestive symptoms as well as malnutrition and serious complications. The current boom in gluten-free products and gluten-awareness from restaurants is a huge benefit to them.

The vast majority of gluten-avoiders today, though, are doing it either as a diet to lose weight (not being able to eat most bread, pasta or cakes limits snacking options), or because they believe that avoiding gluten makes them feel better. What, then, is the evidence for that?

“Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity” is not a widely-recognised medical condition. Although many people who do not have coeliac disease claim to suffer gut symptoms like bloating and nausea when they eat gluten – and even other things like “brain fog” and tiredness – these have not been linked to any physiological changes that can be measured and hence used to make a clinical description and diagnosis.

The Trust Me, I’m a Doctor team signed up 60 (non-coeliac) volunteers willing to go gluten-free in the name of science. These included a good proportion of people who felt that they suffered symptoms when they ate gluten, and a good proportion of cynics, happy to go gluten-free in the hope of discovering that those who complained were merely hypochondriacs.

By performing the trial “double-blinded”, we tried to stop either camp from being able to influence the results. That meant that although all 60 volunteers were asked to remove gluten entirely from their everyday diet, we provided them with a daily meal of pasta.

Most of the time this was gluten-free pasta, but we secretly slipped each of them gluten-containing pasta for two weeks within the trial period – but no one knew which two weeks each volunteer had been eating gluten, until the results were analysed. This meant that we could compare the volunteers’ symptoms in the weeks they were eating gluten and the weeks they were gluten free and see whether they differed.

What, then, could we measure to try to determine whether some people really do suffer when they eat gluten?

Firstly, of course, there are the symptoms they felt – so we asked each volunteer to fill out a questionnaire each fortnight assessing the state of their gut and of their general health and wellbeing.

Then we wanted to measure any physiological markers that might indicate a cause for their symptoms.

Allergies are caused by a reaction in the immune system, specifically antibodies called IgE. Therefore, in order to check whether there might be any allergic reaction to gluten, we tested their IgE antibodies and other immune system markers every fortnight.

Intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, are quite different. Food intolerances are often due to a person not having the enzyme necessary to break down certain foodstuffs, although they may also be caused by substances in the foods themselves such as histamine content or additives.

A reaction because of intolerance is usually a slower onset than an allergy, sometimes taking hours or even days to manifest, and can lead to symptoms such as diarrhoea and bloating.

Many people feel that their problems with gluten are down to some kind of intolerance. These sort of gut symptoms usually cause some inflammation in the gut.

Recently Italian and American research groups claimed to have found biochemical markers of gut inflammation that were higher in people with “gluten sensitivity”, when they ate gluten. We therefore measured three different markers of gut inflammation in our volunteers each fortnight.

So, how did our volunteers get on?

Well, they almost universally enjoyed the experiment. Many found it made them eat more healthily, lose weight and feel better. None of that, though, could definitively be ascribed to the lack of gluten in particular – it’s possible we were just forcing them to consider what they ate more carefully.

Most, though, also felt that by the end of the experiment they could tell which weeks they were eating pasta containing gluten – overall, they reported significantly more gut symptoms in the fortnight that each was given gluten compared with the weeks when they were truly gluten-free.

As for the “health” symptoms such as tiredness and low mood, many did also report more adverse effects in the weeks they were being given gluten, but overall this was not statistically significant.

Admittedly it’s difficult to find gluten-free pasta that is indistinguishable from “normal”, and the Trust Me team had to have a few team dinners to road-test different options. The participants certainly couldn’t have been sure which was which, but their guesses may well have influenced their self-reported symptoms.

What, then, of the objective blood test results? Well, here there were no significant differences between any of the markers we measured in the weeks they were having gluten and the weeks they were gluten free.

Nor were the levels of inflammatory markers higher in people who reported symptoms when eating gluten than those who didn’t.

So, does “non-coeliac gluten sensitivity” exist?

Well, many of our participants clearly thought so – but their guesses at which pasta contained gluten may have biased their opinions of their symptoms.

Our biochemical measures showed nothing at all – but that could mean that we were just measuring “the wrong things”. The immune and inflammation systems are, after all, among the most complex aspects of the human body, and we have much yet left to understand.

On top of that, we are only just scratching the surface about understanding our relationship with our gut bacteria. There is the possibility that some people have gut bacteria that create symptoms when fed gluten-containing foods – something that might not have shown up in the markers we tested.

We, then, have found no test that could be used to diagnose “gluten intolerance” or “non-coeliac gluten sensitivity” and equally there is no evidence from any study anywhere to back up the use of popular home testing kits for “intolerances” – many expert groups around the world have spoken out against their marketing. Whatever they claim to measure, it hasn’t been shown to be strongly linked with symptoms, so don’t waste your money on them.

If you feel that you definitely suffer, then the advice is to first rule out coeliac disease. It is vital you continue to eat gluten before visiting your GP for this test.

Once coeliac disease and wheat allergy have been ruled out, the next step would be to try an “elimination diet”, ideally under the supervision of your GP or trained practitioner. This involves cutting gluten out of your diet for at least two weeks and then reintroducing it – at the same time monitoring symptoms (and this is true of any food that you feel might be causing you problems). You may feel better simply because it makes you eat more carefully and healthily, but that’s no bad thing.

It’s important that if you are excluding foods from your diet that you do so under the supervision of your GP, a dietician or a trained practitioner. There is a danger when eliminating food groups that vital elements of nutrition are lost. This is especially important in growing children. Another concern is that without expert advice, you may end up eliminating particular food groups unnecessarily.

So, whether you are convinced non-coeliac gluten sensitivity exists, or think that the 6% of the population who claim to suffer from it are purely hypochondriacs, then the Trust Me, I’m a Doctor study will probably give you something to discuss over the dinner table with your friends – whilst you argue over the gluten content of the bread.

Chris van Tulleken presents Trust Me, I’m A Doctor

Does food affect migraines?

Do certain foods ‘trigger’ migraines? Neurology expert Dr Peter Goadsby discusses which foods to avoid, and why chocolate and cheese might not be off the menu…

Does food affect migraines?

The NHS describes a migraine as ‘a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head’. Symptoms vary but can include nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound, as well as ‘aura’, such as visual disturbances, dizziness or numbness. Migraine usually starts in early adulthood, affecting around one in five women and one in 15 men. In the past, certain foods such as cheese and chocolate have commonly been cited as migraine triggers – but is this really true? We asked Dr Peter Goadsby, Director of the NIHR-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility at King’s College London, to tell us more. Here are seven things you need to know about food and migraines…

1. Specific foods don’t trigger migraines – with two exceptions…

In general, specific foods themselves aren’t considered migraine triggers, with the exception of two broad categories – alcohol, which is a well recognised trigger of migraine, and foods which contain nitrates. Nitrates are used in medicine to treat heart problems such as coronary heart disease, but are found in some foods as well. Cured meats and American hot dogs both contain nitrates and they’re fairly reliable triggers of migraine that have been well explored in research. After that, it’s quite difficult to label anything that we can give blanket advice about.
2. It’s important to distinguish between symptom and cause…

We now know that food cravings are part of the early stages of the migraine, which calls into question foods (such as cheese and chocolate) that have traditionally been considered ‘triggers’. Before the aura or headache actually start there’s a phase of migraine called the premonitory phase. It can last for up to a day and includes symptoms such as concentration impairment, tiredness, neck discomfort, mood change, passing more urine, yawning or craving particular things. I often see people who crave sweet or savoury things in the day or hours before their attack, but before this is pointed out to them, these cravings aren’t something that they’re conscious of. From their point of view, they eat something sugary and they end up with a migraine so they ascribe cause and effect, when actually, the sugar craving was a symptom of the migraine starting anyway. This is backed up by research – for example, chocolate was previously considered a trigger, but when tested carefully in a study, chocolate was no more likely to trigger an attack than other foods. There’s no doubt that some people are more sensitive to certain foods, but as we understand things better, we’re beginning to see that some of the commonly accepted ‘triggers’ are actually behaviours that manifest in the earliest part of the migraine attack.

3. Food intolerances also have an impact…

One example of this is what I would call ‘aggravation’. For example, if you’ve got coeliac disease and you eat gluten your migraine might play up, but only because migraine is susceptible to any biological or physiological change in the body. People don’t get migraines because they have a gluten sensitivity, but the biological change brought about by the gluten sensitivity triggers their underlying migraines. Very often when the migraineur avoids these triggers, something else turns the headache on because the problem is not the trigger, so much as the underlying condition.

4. Each individual will have different susceptibilities.

The really reliable triggers such as alcohol and nitrates aren’t unique to the individual, but the things that aggravate migraine are because it depends on what they are sensitive to.

5. Caffeine withdrawal, rather than consumption, may be an issue…

Regular consumption of caffeine doesn’t trigger migraine, but withdrawal from caffeine may. A very common phenomenon is that someone who works from Monday to Friday will have their coffee at a regular time during the week, but may sleep in later on Saturday and have their coffee later, so they get the withdrawal effect. If you’re a migraine patient and this caffeine withdrawal is enough to alter your physiology, what happens? You get a migraine.

6. Fluctuating blood sugar levels have much the same effect…

You want normality – if your blood sugar drops too low or if it goes too high, then it causes the physiological triggering of a migraine. Migraine is not caused by low or high blood sugar but it can be aggravated by it. It’s the same for dehydration and food additives – it all depends on what the individual in sensitive to, and whether the change in physiology is enough to trigger the underlying condition.

7. Overall, the key is normality, and avoiding anything that disrupts your physiological balance…

Migraineurs need to have regular sleep, regular meals, regular exercise – regularity in everything. And when you deviate from regularity – have some drinks, have a late night, skip a meal – that’s when you’re more likely to have an attack.

Where can we find more information?

Visit the Migraine Trust Website – they’re very well informed about new research and have self-help pamphlets as well, so they’re a really good place to start.

Professor Peter Goadsby is Professor of Neurology, King’s College London, and Director of the NIHR-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility at King’s College Hospital, London. He is an Honorary Consultant Neurologist at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond St, London, and in the Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco. He is currently Chair of the British Association for the Study of Headache.

Don’t fight your cravings

It’s time to stop focusing on what foods you can’t have and instead focus on the ones you can.

If I told you “don’t think of the Eiffel Tower”, it would be the first thing that comes into your mind.

Similarly if I told you not to eat cake, most people can’t stop thinking about it.

This phenomenon can be summed up in one phrase: “what you resist persists”. So rather than fighting against your cravings and making it a battle, simply let it go.

What does this mean? I hear you ask.

The minute you make it a battle there is only ever going to be one winner and it’s not you. When you can relax, stop fighting and understand that you deserve to be happy and healthy, all of these battles become choices and the choices become easy.

The key is not focusing and thinking about what you can’t have and instead focus on what you can have. And here’s the thing – most people think healthy means a steamed chicken breast and a bowl of dust or lettuce leaves with stale tofu. It’s just not.

Healthy is actually delicious – it is a whole new world of flavours, textures, tastes and aromas that will leave you feeling not just healthier but genuinely happy and satisfied. Don’t just feed your body but feed your soul as well.

There are so many rules everywhere – don’t eat gluten, don’t eat sugar, limit how much meat you eat, don’t eat too many carbs. With so much restriction everywhere it is very easy to see why people give up on their quest to eat healthily.

So often health is focused on what you can’t have when actually it’s  about enjoying amazing food which improves how you feel and once you’ve experienced that, there’s no going back. You might slip off the wagon but “nothing tastes as good as healthy feels” (yes, perhaps I am the Kate Moss of wellness).

When you can make the connection between what you eat and how you feel, everything changes. You may be one of the growing number of people who does understand that what you eat affects how you feel and if not, you may be part of the huge number of people that haven’t yet made that connection.

So if you take nothing else away from what I say here, understand this: what you eat affects how you feel. Your body is constantly talking to you; if you are bloated, gassy, tired, miserable, there is a good chance it has a lot to do with what you are eating.

So if you’re choosing foods that work for you, that make you feel good, that taste delicious, are you on a diet? Or are you just living a happier, healthier, more intelligent life?

How about instead of going on a diet you decide to finally be kind to yourself and completely change your life. There is a caveat to all of this – most people don’t know they’re sick because they’ve never been healthy.

They think that waking up feeling tired, achey, depressed, exhausted, bloated is normal. It’s not normal, it’s just common.

It doesn’t have to be this way and the power to change all of that is in your hands. So when I say be kind to yourself, it’s more than just a slogan or a cliche, what I mean is let go of shame and guilt, understand that your past doesn’t equal your future, if you have failed before use it as a lesson and see failure as feedback.

Accept yourself so that you can create a powerful platform from which to move forward towards a happier, healthier you.

Are you still thinking about the Eiffel Tower? Now you are. That’s why diets don’t work.


How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym

There’s value in learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable

Photo: Grady Reese

When I first started training for marathons a little over ten years ago, my coach told me something I’ve never forgotten: that I would need to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but that skill, cultivated through running, would help me as much, if not more, off the road as it would on it.

It’s not just me, and it’s not just running. Ask anyone whose day regularly includes a hard bike ride, sprints in the pool, a complex problem on the climbing wall, or a progressive powerlifting circuit, and they’ll likely tell you the same: A difficult conversation just doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. A tight deadline not so intimidating. Relationship problems not so problematic.

Maybe it’s that if you’re regularly working out, you’re simply too tired to care. But that’s probably not the case. Research shows that, if anything, physical activity boosts short-term brain function and heightens awareness. And even on days they don’t train — which rules out fatigue as a factor — those who habitually push their bodies tend to confront daily stressors with a stoic demeanor. While the traditional benefits of vigorous exercise — like prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and osteoporosis — are well known and often reported, the most powerful benefit might be the lesson that my coach imparted to me: In a world where comfort is king, arduous physical activity provides a rare opportunity to practice suffering.

Few hone this skill better than professional endurance and adventure athletes, who make a living withstanding conditions others cannot. For mycolumn with Outside Magazine, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the world’s top endurance and adventure athletes on the practices underlying their success. Regardless of sport, the most resounding theme, by far, is that they’ve all learned how to embrace uncomfortable situations:

• Olympic marathoner Des Linden told me that at mile 20 of 26.2, when the inevitable suffering kicks in, through years of practice she’s learned to stay relaxed and in the moment. She repeats the mantra: “calm, calm, calm; relax, relax, relax.”

• World-champion big-wave surfer Nic Lamb says being uncomfortable, and even afraid, is a prerequisite to riding four-story waves. But he also knows it’s “the path to personal development.” He’s learned that while you can pull back, you can almost always push through. “Pushing through is courage. Pulling back is regret,” he says.

• Free-soloist Alex Honnold explains that, “The only way to deal with [pain] is practice. [I] get used to it during training so that when it happens on big climbs, it feels normal.”

• Evelyn Stevens, the women’s record holder for most miles cycled in an hour (29.81 — yes, that’s nuts), says that during her hardest training intervals, “instead of thinking I want these to be over, I try to feel and sit with the pain. Heck, I even try to embrace it.”

• Big-mountain climber Jimmy Chin, the first American to climb up — and then ski down — Mt. Everest’s South Pillar Route, told me an element of fear is there in everything he does, but he’s learned how to manage it: “It’s about sorting out perceived risk from real risk, and then being as rational as possible with what’s left.”

But you don’t need to scale massive vertical pitches or run five-minute miles to reap the benefits. Simply training for your first half marathon or CrossFit competition can also yield huge dividends that carry over into other areas of life. In the words of Kelly Starrett, one of the founding fathers of the CrossFit movement, “Anyone can benefit from cultivating a physical practice.” Science backs him up.

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.

For this reason, the author Charles Duhigg, in his 2012 bestseller The Power of Habit, calls exercise a “keystone habit,” or a change in one area life that brings about positive effects in other areas. Duhigg says keystone habits are powerful because “they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible.” This explains why the charity Back on My Feet uses running to help individuals who are experiencing homelessness improve their situations. Since launching in 2009, Back on My Feet has had over 5,500 runners, 40 percent of whom have gained employment after starting to run with the group and 25 percent of whom have found permanent housing. This is also likely why it’s so common to hear about people who started training for a marathon to help them get over a divorce or even the death of a loved one.

Another study, this one published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, evaluated how exercise changes our physiological response to stress. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, divided students into two groups at the beginning of the semester and instructed half to run twice a week for 20 weeks. At the end of the 20 weeks, which coincided with a particularly stressful time for the students — exams — the researchers had the students wear heart-rate monitors to measure their heart-rate variability, which is a common indicator of physiological stress (the more variability, the less stress). As you might guess by now, the students who were enrolled in the running program showed significantly greater heart-rate variability. Their bodies literally were not as stressed during exams: They were more comfortable during a generally uncomfortable time.

What’s remarkable and encouraging about these studies is that the subjects weren’t exercising at heroic intensities or volumes. They were simply doing something that was physically challenging for them — going from no exercise to some exercise; one need not be an elite athlete or fitness nerd to reap the bulletproofing benefits of exercise.

Why does any of this matter? For one, articles that claim prioritizing big fitness goals is a waste of time (exhibit A: “Don’t Run a Marathon) are downright wrong. But far more important than internet banter, perhaps a broader reframing of exercise is in order. Exercise isn’t just about helping out your health down the road, and it’s certainly not just about vanity. What you do in the gym (or on the roads, in the ocean, etc.) makes you a better, higher-performing person outside of it. The truth, cliché as it may sound, is this: When you develop physical fitness, you’re developing life fitness, too.

Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He’s a columnist at Outside Magazine and coauthor of the forthcoming book PEAK PERFORMANCE. Follow him on Twitter