Time to plug into nature

We’ve been watching far more nature programmes these past months.  So reliably uplifting, nature doing its thing.


Recently Spring Watch was on BBC, a very popular programme here in UK.  Two weeks of learning more about the amazing changes Spring brings with it.  We saw beavers and otters, fish, badgers, butterflies, you name it. 
The main focus, as always, was on nesting birds and their fledgings, with some precarious nests being built on high and others balanced in bizarre places just inches away from predators.  We watched parent birds constantly feed their young until finally most of the fledglings defied the odds and flew off.  A cheering message.  Reassuring to see nature going about normal business at a time when our world is so very far from normal.

The presenters talked about more wildlife and birds being about due to less traffic and noise, less activity in towns and built-up areas.  They shared some breath-taking videos and photos the public sent it.  People who were isolating or not working or on furlough – children still off school – all having more time to notice daily changes in their gardens and nearby parks. 

Every night it felt like an escape from the daily Downing Street updates and world statistics and scenes of angry demonstrators.  And yet nature is just as much a part of our reality as Covid-19 and world news.   A happier part that we can tune into every day – every hour of every day if we want!   Nature can most definitely help us feel better, lifting our mood with a surge of endorphins – those happy hormones – as we watch new life unfold around us.

It was interesting to see how much close-up photography was in the programme this year.  Filming the tiniest insect under a convoluted camera lens.  Seeing a mote of dust floating in water only to discover it was a creature with astonishing talons and fangs.   

It made me think about the macro and micro world we’re living in right now.  How we are changing focus far more than we might normally do.  Moving from the macro picture of what’s going on in our global community, to the micro picture of what’s happening in our personal lives, what we’re eating for dinner tonight.

Changing our focus, our lens, constantly is hard work.  It can be overwhelming thinking on different planes all the time as we try to absorb today’s communal bigger picture whilst looking after our micro world.  Feeding the family, understanding the latest Covid rules, tapping out work emails, seeing second spikes abroad, helping with homework, feeling for angry demontrators, watering the garden.  No wonder so many are saying they don’t want to listen to the news, that it’s too much.   

Most of the posts I’ve shared over the past months have had something to do with plants or gardens, walks or healing foods.  Giving myself and others some mindful space to plug into nature.  Giving those happy endorphins a chance to rise and expand. 

We all need a breather from this bigger macro picture so we can find balance and mindful time in our micro worlds.  This is where nature shines.  It’s right here, outside our windows and front doors.  So easy to bring into our daily lives.  Walking, weeding, cycling, sitting and watching.   Birds peepsing, petals opening, rain falling. 
The sky outside, is it blue or grey where you are right now?  Are buds unfurling or is winter mist drawing in?  Tell me what’s happening around you, I’d love to know.  x   

Nuts and seeds: health-giving zinc in pumpkin seeds

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Nuts and seeds are health-giving bombshells.  They are not just sources of protein, fibre and healthy fats, but also vitamins, minerals and a host of phytonutrients which have some extraordinarily specific health benefits.     Provided the soils where nuts/seeds grow are not depleted, or overworked, they will also give you minerals such as manganese, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, phosphorous….all of which play vital roles in every single system in your body.

So many benefits to be found in such small packages.
Today’s blog is looking at just ONE mineral in ONE type of seed  –  so imagine how many health-giving goodies you will eat in a handful.

When I think of pumpkin seeds I think ‘zinc’ because even though this mineral is found in many nuts and seeds, it is particularly high in pumpkin seeds.  It’s a great anti oxidant mineral, and one which is often low in our body.  Nuts and seeds are an ideal healthy way of increasing these levels.

Zinc is involved in a huge number of enzymatic reactions in the body.  A bit like magnesium, this mineral seems to be required everywhere, all the time.  And because we can’t store it, we need to eat it on a daily basis.

Zinc’s largest claim to fame is probably its role in immune health:  increasing production of white blood cells, helping fight infection and wound healing plus increasing killer cells which we need to fight disease….or the common cold (zinc supplementation will help reduce your cold’s severity and duration).

Skin health would be another biggie to think about.  Zinc is THE skin mineral, regulating sebaceous gland secretions, compensating for dry – or oily – skin conditions, hence it would be beneficial for both acne and something like dermatitis.

Do you know zinc is vital for your ability to taste and smell?  If you’ve lost either of these, don’t fear the worst.  Testing zinc levels would be an important first step, as it’s required to produce an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase, critical for the efficient functioning of your senses of taste and smell.

Another zinc benefit, crucial to male health, is the role it plays in sperm motility.  Anyone planning a family will ideally be taking at least three months to get their health in order, and good zinc levels, particularly for the future dad,  are vital.

All this is just a taster of zinc’s benefits, a mere page of information about one single mineral in one type of seed.
I’ve not touched upon pumpkin seed’s high magnesium, or tryptophan, or the wonderfully exotic cucurbitacin, let alone all the other seeds and nuts in these jars!

Another day…

Environmental toxins: plastic

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Not all plastic is created equal. We should be choosing plastic which is free of Bisphenol A, better known as BPA.

This is a chemical used to harden plastics, hence is found in a wide range of products such as coatings of food and drink cans, water bottles, baby bottles, dental fillings, dental and medical devices, DVDs, CDs, household electronics and sports equipment.

Worryingly, it’s also found in epoxy resins which are used as coatings inside food and drinks cans.

BPA was common in baby bottles, in sippy cups, baby formula cans and other products for babies and young children.

Thankfully, much controversy only a few years ago changed that. Now the six major companies in USA which make baby bottles and cups for infants have stopped using BPA in the products they sell there. Many manufacturers of infant formula have stopped using BPA in their cans as well. According to the U.S. Department of Health, toys generally don’t contain BPA.

BPA can behave in a similar way to oestrogen and other hormones in our bodies so it can act as an endocrine (=hormone) disruptor, namely a substance which can interfere with the production, secretion, transport, action, function and elimination of any and all of our natural hormones.

It can imitate our body’s own hormones in a way that can be very hazardous to our health.

Although public authorities set BPA safety levels, many experts think these levels should be reviewed, certainly after a number of recent studies were published in the States (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in USA) which found 95% of adult human urine samples and 93% of samples in children had bisphenol A (yikes!)

So what ARE the possible health effects of BPA ?

Obviously in view of the hormonal aspect, reproductive disorders figure high on the list. BPA exposure can affect egg maturation and be implicated in male impotence as well as changes in sex hormones in men.

Higher levels of urinary BPA are being linked to Type 2 Diabetes, CV disease and liver-enzyme abnormalities as well as to increased asthma rates, to brain fog and memory/learning problems.

Take a look at this link:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-379624/The-poison-lurking-plastic-water-bottle.html

Then this helpful link:   http://www.care2.com/greenliving/which-plastics-are-safe.html

…and then throw out those old soft plastic containers from the take-away.  Think twice about cling film (IF, then keep it away from the food in the bowl or dish) – and stock up on BPA free containers.

Salt – we love it but it hates us!

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First of all, some relevant facts:  Salt contains sodium which is an essential nutrient that maintains our water balance as well as our blood pressure.  Salt also helps regulate muscle and nerve activity, so, yes…. we need it, but not as much as we’re consuming.  The recommended limit is about 6g (1 tsp daily) – less for children – but the UK is currently estimated to be consuming around 8.5g salt daily.You say you’re not adding that teaspoon to meals?

Hmmm, you don’t need to.  According to research papers [He and MacGregor, 2009, Journal of Human Hypertension; & SACN, 2003 ‘Salt and Health’] about 70-80% of our daily salt intake is already in our foods.  Breads, cereals, ready meals , canned food products and snacks are all the obvious culprits.And this is why salt is a very real health problem.   We’re consuming it daily without even realizing it.Not only is salt intake a major risk factor in high blood pressure & cardiovascular disease (the latter still being the leading cause of death worldwide), it’s high intake is also linked to stomach cancer (irritates the gut lining a.o.), oedema and kidney disease.  It can also cause osteoporosis because high salt leads to high urinary loss of calcium which in turn leads to our body compensating for this loss by drawing calcium from our bones.

Look at this salty list on the NHS ‘Choices’ website:  ham, cheese, bacon, olives, pickles, prawns, anchovies, salami, soy sauce, stock cubes, yeast extract, smoked fish, smoked meat, gravy granules… and of course salted nuts and crisps.  A lot of these foods may not be obvious salt sources to everyone.  And even sweet snack foods are on the list because the food industry knows that taste buds love sweet ‘n salty!

The following too can also be high in salt:  tomato ketchup, takeaways, pasta sauces, bread products (like ciabattas or bagels), pizzas, ready meals and soups.

The word ‘salt’ is invariably not listed on labels, however ‘sodium’ may be.  But sodium isn’t salt, it’s just part of it.  In fact 1 g sodium is 2.5g salt…which is a lot more salt intake in a given food than we may have realized.

Is there any good news about all this?

Firstly eating less of any processed snack will be a great start.  Unsalted nuts and seeds or a piece of fruit because really it does seem as though most snack foods contain salt (apart from, for example, salt-free crisps – but those are deep fried and full of trans fats which is another topic for another time).
And if we cook more from scratch we will be in charge of how much salt goes in the pot.
Checking labels is another obvious step.  Choose the canned or packaged goods with the lowest salt or sodium content.

The really good news however is that as our salt intake drops, our salt taste receptors in the mouth adapt.  After 1-2 months we won’t miss it at all!

Environmental toxins – reducing exposure

 

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Eat organic where possible – especially when it comes to meats, eggs, dairy produce and grains.  Whatever you do, wash all food well before eating or cooking.
Check out the appleaday facebook post from a couple of days ago, regarding the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ ;  or google ‘Dirty Dozen’ and find out which foods you should really buy organic due to their very high toxic load.

Avoid processed foods, especially those with added colourings, sweeteners and flavourings… I realize most of you are well aware of this however it’s a useful reminder for all to check labels of any canned or bottled foods in the house.  And in this context of ‘clean living’, it simply must be mentioned J

Be aware of the water you’re drinking.  Possible contaminants include small amounts of pharmaceuticals, hormones, nitrates, lead….  Filter your water.  Take a look at multi-stage carbon filters or reverse osmosis filters

Reduce intake of soft-plastic-container bottled water.  Chemicals from the plastics often leach into the water – try glass bottles, or fill up a hard plastic drinking container with your home filtered water.

Avoid sipping your takeaway hot drink through the plastic lid.  And avoid using plastics in the microwave – ensure that any plastic containers you use for storage are free from bisphenol A (‘plastic’ blog will soon appear…)

Replace any Teflon cook and bake ware with uncoated glass, clay, stone or enamel versions

Minimise the use of cling wraps and aluminium foil.  A quick solution for storing left overs, but keep hard plastic storage boxes, and if you do use cling film try to avoid contact with the food it is covering in the bowl.  Best choice is to use glass or hard bisphenol A-free containers.
When baking use an oven container with a lid, or wrap the fish or chicken in baking paper or parchment paper instead of aluminium foil – works a treat.  Some origami in the kitchen, making a slightly loose parcel (ends however firmly closed to ensure no leakage)  and then using a wooden ‘skewer’ to keep it packed.

Avoid eating larger oily fish eg swordfish, tuna, marlin and shark, due to their higher levels of mercury and chemical pollutants compared to smaller fish.  The larger and older the fish, the more toxins they will have accumulated over the years.
Think ‘small fish with big eyes’, a teacher once told me as they live at greater depths (where one hopes the toxins will be more dispersed); being smaller, they will have less heavy metals, plastics etc stored in their bodies.  Wild salmon is a great choice, so keep an eye on offers at supermarkets or your fish supplier – and stock up.

When cooking avoid high temperatures – you don’t want food to be ‘smoking’ and certainly don’t want to eat burnt foods.  Bar-b-qs sadly are not on the healthy list – avoid whilst on a clean-eating, detox week – and otherwise enjoy in moderation – and eat less of those crispy charred bits…

Polyunsaturated fats should not be heated as they are more volatile than heated saturated or monounsaturated fats and therefore more prone to molecular structure changes which are now considered potentially carcinogenic.

Cooking with a monounsaturated oil is usually the advice given – although this is still a hotly discussed topic, as a lot of the beneficial nutrients in, say, virgin olive oil, a monounsaturated oil, will be cooked away (my suggestion: cook with it, and add a slurp of uncooked with your salad!  Difficult for many given the cost, so again, check out offers – there’s usually a virgin olive oil on sale at our local supermarket.  Stock up!)
Coconut oil is a saturated plant fat which, when heated, will not change its molecular structure to the detriment of your health.  There are loads of testimonials about the fantastic health benefits, and I personally love the taste of anything cooked in it;  claimed to be safer than heating animal-based saturated fats like butter however, again, there are opposing opinions on this.  Some CV doctors/nurses say all saturated fats aredetrimental to arteries and heart health – then there are in vitro studies showing massive overall health benefits including improved cholesterol.  Eat in moderation is my current recommendation.

I would  welcome hearing of results of large-scale research studies, preferably in vivo, on coconut oil so do please share any information on this 🙂

Environmental considerations:

Avoid pesticides or herbicides in your home or garden

Avoid aluminium-containing antiperspirants and antacids – huge links to breast cancer.

Have second-thoughts about water proofing or flame proofing furniture coverings and clothes – you can have severe reactions.

Check out natural carpets or hardwoods instead of the standard carpeting which is treated with chemicals

Hair products and skin care:  look for those without added alcohol, sodium lauryl sulphate, phthalates, parabens or other petrochemicals – look at www.essential-care.co.uk or numerous other natural beauty product sites

Use paints labelled low or no VOC. Various finishes and paints release low-level toxic emissions into the air even years after application – these VOCs (volatile organic compounds) may have short and long-term adverse health effects

Control the dust, mould and bacteria in your home.  Wet wipe, check out home air filters or ionisers…and adopt some indoor plants!

Go natural with cleaning products – make your own (I’ll post some tips about this later as a facebook blog and sometime next week on another website blog) Green People and Ecover are very good but there are now lots of fab choices to be made.www.naturalcollection.com is good to look around

Avoid heavy traffic for long periods of time – yes of course this is NOT always easy to control, however if you can pick your time to travel, avoid work/school traffic times…and if you go for a walk,  stride across fields, parks or small lanes, rather than walking on busier roads and breathing in car fumes. Another addition to your toxic load.

Avoid smoking and smokers….apologies if this sounds trite!  Such a huge subject in a mere sentence however it is too well known to labour the point.  We all know the facts, we’ve seen the packaging change from outdoorsie Malboro man to health warning signs and plain labelling. Smoking is a highly addictive habit and hence difficult for many to just drop.  There are lots of books to google, tapes to buy.  Hypnotherapy and psychotherapy can both be fabulous.
But in the end, it’s up to the smoker ….and those in the vicinity, inhaling a smoker’s puffs!

Electromagnetic fields are shown now to affect more and more people, not just very sensitive allergic individuals.
Restrict mobile phone use (turn off inbetween – it also limits how many ‘quick’ texts you send which can actually wait until later).   Turn off other electrical equipment when not in use and certainly limit the amount of electrical equipment in the bedroom.  T.V.s may be great company but apart from the electrical aspect of sleeping in a room full of equipment (computer, phones, electric alarms…what else?), all those little red and green lights can disturb sleepzzzzzzz.