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The gut/brain connection


Did you know that up to 95 percent of serotonin and 50 percent of dopamine – vital brain chemicals which impact our happiness, wellbeing, reward and motivation – is made in the gut?

 

 

Leading Clinical Nutritionist Ben Warren is touring the country this month, helping Kiwis understand the strong link between what they eat and how they feel. We caught up with Ben about the latest research into our interlinked gut-brain connection and how nourishing your gut can create a more calm, joyful and peaceful mind.

Can you tell us a bit about the connection between gut health and mental health?
We’ve probably all experienced a gut feeling, tummy in knots, or butterflies. And the research is starting to show that this is more than ‘just a feeling’. In fact, it turns out that the gut might actually be our ‘second brain’ after all, and its health can impact our emotions and mental wellbeing.

Not only is the brain talking to the gut and the rest of the body, but it goes the other way too. The gut is talking to the brain which impacts how we think and feel on a daily level.

This feedback loop is known as the gut brain axis – a two-way communication pathway. The gut talks to the brain in a number of ways – through the central nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, through neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and via the immune system.

At the core of this is the microbiota, the trillions of bacteria and organisms that live synergistically with us. Research is looking heavily at these mind-altering microorganisms and the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour, specifically looking at emotions and the mechanisms of things such as probiotics and fermented foods and their ability to control and change how we think and feel; which makes supporting your gut an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating mental wellness.


Kombucha is being touted as the hottest thing for gut health at the moment, how effective is kombucha and other fermented foods at restoring gut health?
While it’s early days for the research on these traditional foods, the research is currently pointing towards having a broader, wider, deeper, more diverse microbiome (primarily the organisms living in our gut – although we have them elsewhere too) – as being associated with better gut health and also our whole body health too. Traditionally fermented foods can help contribute to this broader, wider, more diverse microbiome.

In an article published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology titled, ‘Fermented foods, microbiota and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry’ (2014), they answered this exact question. The take home message? Yes, fermented foods are beneficial, not only to our physical health but also to our mental health due to their ability to mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress. In another study looking at neuroticism and social anxiety, a higher frequency of fermented food consumption was associated with fewer symptoms of social anxiety, suggesting that fermented foods containing probiotics may serve as a low-risk intervention for reducing social anxiety.

When it comes to kombucha, I haven’t seen any specific research. However, if made traditionally as a fermented tea, it should contain strains of friendly bacteria as well as the beneficial metabolic byproducts of bacteria fermentation. I do have concerns with the commercialisation of kombucha, particularly how they are making it. They are sometimes using a lot of sugar and not letting it naturally ferment or carbonate, instead carbonating artificially like a regular fizzy drink. I would stick to trusted brands – the ones I go for are New Leaf, Organic Mechanic and Good Buzz.


What’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, and how critical are these to our gut health?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that have been shown to have a known benefit to human health, whereas prebiotics are the food that the beneficial bacteria need to survive. Like us, bacteria need food to live!

Our body is home to trillions of bacteria, and it is these bacteria that digest key aspects of our food to synthesise neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine and their precursors. In fact, up to 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut by the microbiome. Adding in probiotics (as a supplement or naturally through fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha or coconut yoghurt) is a great way to nourish your gut health back into balance by adding in a diverse range of beneficial bacteria.

We can support our bacteria by eating prebiotic-rich foods such as beans, legumes, bananas, raw onion or raw garlic. Eating a variety of vegetables will support diversity as different foods feed different types of bacteria.


How are antibiotics and their overuse contributing to poor gut health?
There is good research indicating that overuse of antibiotics is contributing to poor gut health. However, I’m not suggesting that you don’t take antibiotics, as they can be lifesaving in certain situations! Rather, I’d recommend taking a high-quality probiotic alongside the antibiotics and consuming fermented foods to minimise the impact on the microbiome.


Are supplements all they’ve cracked up to be and what should we be supplementing?
Absolutely, the increase in research on the benefits of probiotics for human health has been exponential over the last 20 years. Researchers are now isolating specific strains that impact mood, for example in one study looking at Bacillus coagulans(MTCC5856) on major depression with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the improvement in depression and IBS symptoms was statistically significant and clinically meaningful. In another study looking at Lactobacillus helviticus and Bifido bactaterium longum taken for 30 days they found it decreased global scores of anxiety and depression. It’s very early days in the research currently and there’s a long way to go, but there’s definitely enough research to justify their use.


What are some of your key tips for fueling our modern day lives to get best gut – and brain – health outcomes?
• Eat a wholefood diet focusing on a variety of vegetables
• Take a high-quality probiotic with a wide variety of proven strains
• Minimise sugars and artificial sweeteners
• Consume fermented foods as part of your daily food intake
• Consume chicken and bone broths to support gut healing
• Daily movement or exercise can help to modulate the biome by 20 percent!

 

 


 

 

Performance Nutrition


Ever wondered how athletes eat to get the absolute most out of their performance? Perhaps you’ve wondered how to make sense of the daily servings of ‘information’ you get fed by social media?

 

 

 

Conrad Goodhew, dietitian for the Crusaders, is the man to call. With eight years of university under his academic belt, he knows a thing or two about nutrition. “People rush uni, that’s what I say,” he laughs.

Conrad has played sport himself since he was four and for a long time thought he was going to be a veterinarian – after all, his family has worked with both racehorses and equestrian horses for many years. He dappled in sport business and sport science at Massey University and represented New Zealand in the University Colts tour for rugby, but it wasn’t until his own attempt at the popular paleo diet that he discovered a real passion for nutrition. “I did it for four weeks not really completely understanding how to do it properly and thought there has to be a better way of doing it,” he says.

After speaking to Dr Kirsty Fairbairn, a specialist in high performance sport and university lecturer at Otago who was the Highlanders dietitian at the time, he enrolled at Otago University, specialising in dietetics. Today he works with the Crusaders, Canterbury Rugby and the Crusaders Rugby Academy – in fact he’s worked with 70-80 rugby players over the last 12 months.

“Everything food comes through me, so that’s menu planning, development, ensuring the guys have everything they need, particularly when they travel and it’s about setting a precedent,” Conrad says.

“The guys will be eating at home 80 percent of the time, so if we’re not feeding them good food here (in camp), then they’re not going to eat good food at home.”

With many of the young players fresh out of home, away from their parents and flatting, they’ve suddenly got to fend for themselves and work their way through the misinformation out there because it’s food and fuel “that’s going to make the difference between being a good rugby player and a great rugby player”.

That’s where Conrad comes in, working with both his sports teams and private clients to dispel the myths and lay some solid nutritional foundations.

“Everyone is starting to become interested in nutrition, which is great, but there is a lot of misinformation out there,” he says.

“I deal with a lot of the aftermath of 6/8/12 week challenges and people getting really poor nutrition advice online. Often it’s about peeling back the layers of social media.”

 

One example of that misinformation is sugar. Conrad says that while sugar is an issue in things like fizzy drinks and orange juices, reducing sugar intake is a message targeted at the people who are obese and have metabolic issues, such as type 2 diabetes. Now we’ve got people without a problem worrying about the sugar in fruit. “Yes, if you’re having 10 bananas a day it’s an issue, but not one a day! It’s just about balance.”

Unfortunately however, the positive stories of diet fads and 10-week challenges tend to drown out the negative stories and, desperate to find the “right thing”, we jump on the ones about the person who lost 30kg doing X, Y or Z, he says, and don’t hear the stories of the people who had no energy and couldn’t function. That’s precisely how Conrad himself felt during his recent attempt at keto as part of a conference debate.

As keto has started waning, plant-based diets have become the latest thing, even for athletes who think that dropping the meat and dairy is the way to go. “I don’t agree,” Conrad says.

“I think we need to look at the individual. Yes, we want to do what we can at the public health level, but the problem is, everyone is jumping onto the latest fads, rather than simply moulding what they’re doing to just be ‘a little bit better’.”

So when we’re continually bombarded with information about what we should be eating, how do we make sense of it all? “We don’t know exactly what diet we should be following, but what we do know is overall healthy eating with lots of fruit and vegetables is really, really important.”

Nutritionally, it seems gut health is at the heart of it all. “Overtraining or doing too much exercise or high-intensity, back- to-back training will affect the way your gut functions as well, along with stress and sleep.

“We need to ensure we are getting enough fibre and, if we do get sick and take antibiotics, we need to repopulate our gut microbes using probiotics.”

And, as for supplements? Most of them too are made redundant by a good, healthy diet.

Most importantly, Conrad says, we need to understand that every single one of us is unique and what works for others may not be the solution for us all.

When you want to get healthy, don’t see someone who does a cookie-cutter “solution” but rather someone who sits down, takes into consideration all the other factors – exercise, family, work, stress – and then looks at where to go from there. “Too often people jump on a bandwagon that someone else has done and wonder why it’s not working for them.”

 


 

Superfood Support: Nicola Quinn Beauty & Day Spa


A natural nutrient boost could be your key to optimum health.

 

 

Many of us believe we eat a healthy diet full of nutrients, but did you know fruits and vegetables today aren’t nearly as rich in vitamins and minerals as they were decades ago? This is mainly due to modern mass-agricultural methods and the lack of nutrients in our soil. Supplements can help, however most on the market are made using synthetic vitamins and minerals, which studies have shown to be 50 to 70 percent less biologically active than natural ones – meaning our body can’t absorb and utilise them as well.

It’s vital to support our bodies in an age where we are time-poor, over-worked and under-rested, and a nutritional boost of natural vitamins, minerals, probiotics and more can assist with a range of health concerns and deficiencies. Kiki Health supplements and superfoods have just launched at Nicola Quinn in Merivale for the first time in New Zealand, and are natural, organic and GMO-free.

 

Their carefully selected ingredients are sourced ethically from remote areas of the world where they grow best, and are either raw, carefully cold-pressed or naturally dried to retain their benefits. The products are also completely free from fillers, additives and synthetics, meaning only pure and potent nutrients. Some powerful products in the range include alkalising powder, green superfood and Acai powders, marine collagen, hemp protein, probiotics and more, each with benefits specific to different health concerns.

To learn more and purchase Kiki Health products, visit Nicola Quinn Beauty & Day Spa, Merivale.

 


 

Seaweed

Seaweed spectacular: the delicious nutritious delights of this oceanic gourmet ingredient

It enjoys a great reputation in the context of its relationship with sushi, and plays an important role in miso soup, but have you ever stopped to consider the real benefits of seaweed?

Seaweed

Incredibly rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, seawood may not be a pretty face but it’s got some incredible street cred when it comes to its nutritional content. Low in calories, research has demonstrated it may help regulate hormones, is a good all round tonic, may improve heart health and provides your daily dose of iodine, a mineral that is critical for healthy thyroid function.
This dense green or brown sea vegetable can be introduced to your regular diet in a number of ways. Nori seaweed sheets can be used to roll sushi, tucked into a wrap or sandwich, cut in to pieces and tossed through a salad or added to pastas, casseroles, stews and soups.
As the Japanese say, ‘Oishii!’ (delicious).

clean eating

What is clean eating: taking a look at the basic nutritional principles behind the trend

Global empires have been built on the premise. Instagram influencers are courting the attention and affection of millions with their disciplined adherence to its principles. There are books, blogs and food bags dedicated to the cause. In short, cleaning is a food frenzy: but what, exactly, is it?

clean eating

At its heart, it is a very simple concept – it extols the virtues of whole or real foods – those that take a very healthy digression away from processed, refined and even handled foods. If you’re keen on the concept of clean eating but need to know the ins and outs, we’ve got you covered.

Ditch the sugar: Cravings for cakes and cookies might come calling but you need to shut the metaphorical door on these. Cleaning up your diet means limiting sweets – even those found in yogurt and cereal.

Limit sodium: Most of us are getting more sodium than we need. Cutting back on yummies that fall into the processed category will help reduce your salt intake. Salt isn’t a total no-no; it’s a brilliant flavour enhancer but use it sparingly.

Pick produce: We all know the 5+ a day advice and clean eating lends its voice to this philosophy. The fibre in whole produce is great for the gut as it works to keep your microbiome (good bacteria) happy.

Eat less meat: Extensive research suggests cutting back on meat does you, and the planet, a favour. While veganism isn’t a compulsory requirement of clean eating, eating less meat can help keep your weight in check and reduce blood pressure.

Oxford Women’s Health

A lifetime of good nutrition: Sara Widdowson of Oxford Women’s Health on eating your way to better health

Sara Widdowson
Sara Widdowson

As women’s bodies grow and change, nutritional needs change too. Sara Widdowson, a Nutrition Consultant and Dietitian at Oxford Women’s Health, shares her expert advice on staying healthy at every age and stage of life.

What are the top priorities for children and adolescents when it comes to good nutrition?

Children and adolescents are still growing and need lots of energy. Rather than filling them up with calorie-dense foods, keep the focus on nutrient-rich foods, such as colourful vegetables, lean meat and milk, to make sure they are getting all they need to thrive.
Encouraging children to listen to their bodies – like stopping eating when they’re full – helps to establish good eating habits that will set them up for life.
For young women, iron intake is particularly important. Meat, nuts, and leafy-green vegetables all contain iron.

What should pregnant women be eating to help improve the health of their baby?

Instead of ‘eating for two’, pregnant women should be eating food that is twice as healthy. ‘Quality over quantity’ is an easy way to think about it.
What mum puts in her body is really important for the baby’s development. Folate from foods such as dark green vegetables, beans and lentils helps to prevent neural defects, while iodine is important for brain development, for example.

Oxford Women’s Health

Do nutritional needs change when you are having a period?

Your basal-metabolic rate – how much energy you’re burning at rest – is higher when you are having a period. I encourage women not to avoid that hunger but to try and choose nutrient-dense foods. Instead of chocolate, try magnesium-rich options like nuts and seafood.

Which foods are beneficial for women going through menopause?

Oestrogen and progesterone drop during menopause, which is particularly detrimental to bone health. Upping your calcium intake by eating canned fish, soy products and calcium-rich milk is crucial during this time.
There’s evidence to suggest that foods like tofu, milk, chickpeas, flaxseeds and lentils can help to reduce menopause symptoms.

Do older people have different nutritional needs?

When you get older you lose your thirst receptors, which means you can be dehydrated and not know it. Have a jug of water or water bottles in your fridge, so you can make sure you are drinking enough.
Getting short doses of vitamin D from the sun every day is important for bone health. Deficiency in B12 is also very common in older people, so including foods like milk, eggs, fish and chicken in your diet is key.
The most important thing to do at any age is to eat a nutrient rich diet. Eat vegetables at every meal, if possible, and include ‘good fats’ like oily fish, avocado and flaxseed oil in your daily routine.

Drinkable Soups

Drinkable soups: the culinary craze that is perfect for Autumn

When someone suggests wrapping your laughing gear around the newest culinary powerhouse ‘drinkable soup’ you’d be well within your rights to look at them like they’re a little bit bonkers for stating the obvious. The concept of drinkable soup seems pretty standard, right? Wrong.

Drinkable Soups

Drinkable soup is flipping the status quo on its head. The new foodie favourite dominating the headlines has rendered spoons redundant. Just your lips or a straw are all that’s required to indulge. Dubbed the new ‘juice’, drinkable soups can be made from scratch at home and enjoyed cold or hot on the go, or alternatively, purchased from the cafes or grocers who are supporting this new wellness warrior and its super powers. Superfood power that is.
Drinkable soups are packing a super healthy punch with all their yummy ingredients – veggies galore, plus all the other goodies like kale, hemp seeds, ginger and turmeric. Marrying the best of both worlds – convenience and nutrition – they’ve moved out of the margins and into the mainstream.
Bottoms up!