Red meat – BBQ bliss or a health hazard?

After a bright and sunny Easter weekend there’s no doubt that, even in these restricted times, many BBQs will have been lit for the first time this year. For those of us lucky enough to have private gardens and outdoor spaces, a BBQ will have been welcome light relief from the time spent stuck inside. When you think of having a BBQ, do you automatically go for the classic BBQ foods – steak, sausages and burgers? But is that a healthy meal for us to be so excited about throughout spring and summer? We’ve all seen the headlines about red meat, and they can leave people confused about what’s safe to eat.

Is red meat really that bad? 

Red meat is full of vitamins and minerals, including selenium which supports the immune system*, plus essential amino acids from protein. But are there any downsides to eating red meat?

A large Swedish study published in 2014 examined the combined association of processed and non-processed meat consumption with survival in Sweden. The cohort included 40,089 Swedish men and 34,556 women. Red meat consumption was assessed through a self-administered questionnaire over a 15 year period. 

One of the most interesting findings was that high and moderate intakes of non-processed red meat were associated with shorter survival only when accompanied by a high intake of processed red meat.

Does this mean our steak is fine but our sausages and burgers are not?

In terms of general health, The World Cancer Research Fund state that we should not exceed 500g cooked weight red meat a week and that we should avoid processed read meat. This is because, when people consumer more than this, the rates of bowel cancer increase. 

The UK government states on the NHS website that both red meat and processed meat should not be consumed in amounts of over 490g a week, and you can save this up for intake on just 1 or 2 days if you want. It’s worth noting that burgers are only classed as ‘processed’ if they have added salt or other preservatives. Perhaps you could make your own burgers from lean steak mince and herbs if you’re hooked on the BBQ burger? Sausages and bacon are always classed as processed meat.

Is there any risk in barbequing meat?

It appears that cooking red meat at high temperatures may lead to the formation of mutagenic and carcinogenic heterocyclic amines. This happens through the interaction of muscle creatinine with amino acids, as well as the formation of N-nitroso compounds from the heam in red meat. All rather complicated language but in short, it’s the very high temperatures you need to be careful about.

Barbequing, frying, grilling, or broiling can potentially induce these changes. The aim is to not overcook red meat on the barbeque! If you burn processed meat (those sausages again…) or heat them to a very high temperature, you may be in for double trouble from a health perspective.

What can we eat?

A little red or processed meat can be incorporated safely into a plant based or traditional Mediterranean-style diet. Enjoy up to 500g non-processed red meat per week, don’t overcook and serve with plenty of colourful salad vegetables, beans and wholegrains! Why not consider a piece of marinated chicken or salmon for your BBQ every now and then? Plus, remember to get sufficient vitamin C from eating fruit and veg, which will help support the immune system*. Take a look at the Altruvita range, carefully formulated to support your health whatever the weather!

* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS

Super selenium, the lesser-known immune system hero

At the moment we are all keen to maintain good health and do our best to support our immune systems. There’s adhering to lockdown rules, washing our hands, not touching our faces and getting plenty of sleep. But what are the nutrients and vitamins hidden in our food which enable our bodies to effectively fight bacteria and viruses if we get exposed to them? You’ve probably heard of vitamin C in relation to immunity; perhaps vitamin D too… but what about selenium? Is this lesser-known micronutrient something you need to be aware of in these challenging times?

What is selenium and which foods is it found in?

Selenium is an essential trace element with a number of biological functions. Selenium levels affect the ability of the body to repair DNA by protecting cells from oxidative stress. Selenium is also heavily involved in the endocrine (e.g. thyroid function) and immune systems. Selenium occurs in organic and inorganic forms. The organic form is found predominantly in grains, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products and enters the food chain via plant consumption.

What happens if you are deficient in selenium? 

Selenium deficiency has also been associated with increased incidence, severity (virulence) and/or progression of viral infections such as influenza (flu), HIV and Coxsackie virus. For example, flu infections are known to cause significantly greater lung problems in selenium‐deficient mice compared with selenium adequate mice. Another study found the amount of inflammation and severity of illness was significantly higher in selenium deficient mice.

It has been suggested that increased severity of viral infections in selenium‐deficient mice could be the result of increased oxidative stress caused by impaired antioxidant enzyme activity. Excessive inflammation may be the result of viral‐induced tissue damage and an increased expression of NF‐kB, which controls inflammatory responses, because of increased oxidative stress.

What can you do to help ensure optimum selenium levels? 

Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. For that reason, it’s essential to eat a balanced diet so that you are giving your body the best chance of getting all the nutrients it needs. If you are concerned that you don’t eat enough of the foods listed above, perhaps because you are adhering to a strict vegan diet, it could be worth exploring a selenium supplement. 

Altruvita's selenium supplement

Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. Altruvita’s selenium is from selenomethionine (a naturally occurring amino acid) and provides over 180% of the adult daily requirement for health (nutrient reference value). We are also vegan and vegetarian approved by the Vegetarian Society, so this is the perfect selenium supplement for those sticking to a plant-based diet.

How to support your immune system

There has never been a more important time to be proactive with our nutrition, with the aim of supporting the very best immune system defence.

Our immune systems play a role not only in fighting off infections, but also in promoting tissue repair to recovery. To function properly, our immune system requires plenty of both macro and micronutrients.

To help support your health over the next few months, we’ve put together a few diet and lifestyle pointers to keep you going in this worrying time.

Avoid strenuous exercise

Moderate-intensity exercise can be protective against illness by boosting the immune system, whereas high-intensity sessions actually compromise the immune system. Our immune system takes a hit for up to 72 hours following high-intensity training, making this a key time for susceptibility. This is especially important to note if you exercise in a class with others, where you’re more likely to pick up bacteria and viruses.

Let yourself sleep, rest and recover

Rest and recovery are key to prevent getting ill and further unwanted illness. If you’re always on the go with minimal rest, your immune system can be compromised long term. Poor sleep can affect the immune system and make you more susceptible to infection or illness. Sometimes it’s hard to stop, particularly when the future feels so uncertain, but don’t ever underestimate the importance of rest and relaxation! Run a hot bath, read a book, get a massage or listen to relaxing music every now and again.

Don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol

Excessive chronic intake of alcohol can decrease the number of a few white blood cells types, which means that your immune system will not be as able to fight off any bugs. Keeping within the alcohol guidelines will help, which in the UK is currently set at 14 units per week. That’s 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine if that’s your preferred tipple. If you do prefer to round off the week with a few drinks you could pick drinks with healthy, vitamin-packed mixers such as orange, tomato or pineapple juice.

It’s not the time to diet

If you are unlucky enough to pick up an infection, you will need plenty of energy to fight it off. That means that it might not be the wisest time to start a calorie reduced diet – unless of course you have a pressing health issue that means you need to lose weight urgently. Low intakes of carbohydrates such as bread, rice and potatoes, which end up as glucose in the blood, can be a contributing factor to impaired immunity.

Keep well hydrated

Unfortunately, being dehydrated can also contribute to a compromised immune system. Still at this time of year when there’s still a bit of a nip on the air, it’s easy to forget to drink. One of the front-line defences in our immune systems are the immune proteins in our saliva. When we’re dehydrated, the levels of these proteins decreases, meaning our initial defence to bugs entering through the mouth is also decreased. Make sure you don’t wait to feel thirsty before you drink up, carry a water bottle with you (everywhere!) and keep sipping throughout the day.

Taste the Rainbow

Fruit and vegetables contain a wide range of different micronutrients with varying roles within the body. Many of these nutrients are involved in immune function such as iron, vitamins C and D, selenium and zinc. Anyone with even mild deficiencies in any of these micronutrients can have an altered immune response.

The easiest way to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and other phytochemicals is to consume a wide variety of different fruit and vegetables. Taste the rainbow- choose different coloured and textured fruit and veg every single day!

Vitamin Supplements

Vitamin C, vitamin D and selenium all help to support a healthy immune system. Not everyone can eat enough to get these micronutrients (or get enough sun in a UK winter), so consider taking a food supplement if you are lacking some antioxidant or immune protection. Contrary to popular belief, huge doses of vitamin C are not required in winter. At doses of say 400-500mg a day, the excess vitamin C is simply excreted in urine, making it literally money down the toilet!

In summary: consume enough antioxidants to support your immune system, sleep well, drink plenty (but not too many drinks of the alcoholic kind), avoid strenuous activity and wash your hands before eating to stay well.

Answering the 3 most common vegan nutrition questions

Both in the UK and across the Western world veganism is rapidly growing in popularity.  The number of people who signed up to take part in ‘veganuary’ between from 2014 to this January is an excellent demonstration of just how quickly dipping a toe in veganism is gaining in popularity:

2014 – 3,300

2015 – 12,800

2016 – 23,000

2017 – 59,500

2018 – 168,500

2019 – 250,000

2020 – 400,000

Even if you’re only trying out veganism for a short time, it’s still important to ensure you are getting a balanced diet. We sat down with Altruvita’s nutrition team to talk about the 3 questions about vegan nutrition that they get asked most often and make sure you have all the answers you need.

Can I get enough protein in my diet if I am a vegan?

Of the eight essential amino acids our body needs, two – lysine and methionine – are given special attention in vegetarian and vegan diets. This is because, compared with foods of animal origin like eggs, milk and cheese, various plants have an imbalance of either lysine or methionine. This includes cereals, such as wheat, oats and rice, and legumes; beans, peas and lentils.  Wheat and rice proteins are comparatively low in lysine but better sources of methionine whereas beans and peas are relatively high in lysine yet in lower methionine. This has naturally led to the idea of cereals and legumes as ‘complementary’ proteins. In practice this means that meals that combine for example rice with beans or hummus with bread will provide a biologically ‘complete’ protein intake.   

As the body does not readily store amino acids try to combine ‘complementary proteins’ at each meal as it has some advantages and seems a sensible way to approach a varied and complete diet. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do this for every single meal you consume, however.

I’ve heard vitamin B12 is important – how do I ensure I’m getting enough B12? 

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in brain and heart health, nerve cells and red blood cell function. The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal sources, with top sources including shellfish, lamb and beef. You may have good bodily stores of B12 when you begin a vegan diet which can keep you going for several months before they drop, and you start to notice symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and poor memory. Vegans need to ensure they are consuming reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or B12 supplements to keep adequate body stores and blood levels. 

Beware! Spirulina and other edible cyanobacteria (commonly called blue-green algae) contain a poorly bioavailable B12 which isn’t converted to B12 in humans.  We can’t absorb it, so consider using a B12 supplement if you plan to be wholly plant-based for more than a few months.

Can my dog become vegan too?

Dogs, like most canines, are naturally omnivores which means they eat both meat and plant-based foods. Some people who choose a vegan diet want to feed their pet one too. The reasons for feeding your dog a vegan diet might include the welfare of farmed animals being killed to feed our pets, as well as health, animal testing and the impact of meat on the environment. With a balanced variation in plant products, dogs can get all the nutrients they require from plants.

Pet food manufacturers have the option to declare ingredients by using ‘meat and animal derivatives’, which could include animals you don’t find acceptable, such as horses and body parts such as sheep intestines and rabbit ears. Parts of animals which are surplus to human consumption or are not normally consumed by people in the UK are classified as ‘animal by-products’.

There are now a number of vegan approved pet food brands certified by the Vegetarian society. 

Be aware of feeding fruit and vegetables known to be toxic to dogs.

For more vegan nutrition advice, why not take a look at our blog, Weighing up Veganuary?

Eating well for a winter health boost! Altruvita’s favourite winter dinner recipes for older adults.

Winter is always a tough time of year for older people, especially those suffering from poor health. The lack of sunlight inhibits our body’s production of Vitamin D, an essential micronutrient for immune system function as well as bone and muscle health. The cold and damp weather can exacerbate join stiffness (though, interestingly, the reasons why this is the case are still being researched) and leave us susceptible to respiratory disease. 

The UK has an aging population, and the associated strain on healthcare and other support service could be problematic, so what can we do to mitigate the impact on society? A healthy and balanced diet plays an integral part in the prevention of age-related diseases, but research shows that older adults aren’t necessarily getting all the nutrients they need.

From data gathered in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) 2008–2014, older adults in Britain are currently not meeting important dietary recommendations for their age group:

  • Over 65’s do not get the minimum five portions per day of fruit and vegetables (80 grams is one portion), most do not get the 18 grams a day of fibre either which may be related to this, but also can also be sourced from wholegrains.
  • Over 65’s should have 140 grams of oily fish per week but they are not getting this. 
  • Men aged 65 years and over are likely to exceed the 70 grams per day (on average) of red and processed meat.

Dietary intake in older adults is influenced by an array of factors including wealth, kitchen facilities, cooking skills, mood, strength to cut up food and the help or company that is available. 

Dental status is potentially an important factor. Older adults are susceptible to tooth loss and a large number are missing teeth or have dentures which can impair chewing ability. Consequently, reduced chewing ability may impact dietary eating habits, such as avoiding tough foods that are high in fibre including fruit, vegetables and nuts. That means they may miss out on key nutrients for optimal health in older age. 

Further analysis of the NDNS found that people with dentures have significantly lower levels of average daily intakes of omega 3 fatty acids, fibre, β-carotene, folate, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium, and had lower blood levels of vitamin B6, vitamin C and β-carotene concentrations. People with dentures were more likely to report difficulty eating apples, raw carrots, lettuce, nuts, well-cooked steak and crusty bread too.

Perhaps you are worried that your diet might be lacking some key nutrients? Here are some meal and snack ideas which could be really helpful:

Fruits

Fruit such as apple, pear, kiwi and melon should be ripe and finely cut. Stewed apple, rhubarb, plums and cherries can be served as desserts. All of these contain high amounts of vitamin C, potassium and fibre. Bananas and raspberries also contain magnesium.

Vegetables

Vegetables should be soft enough and easy to chew and are best left steaming for a bit longer than normal. Try mashing carrot, sweet potato, parsnip or swede into mashed potato. Stewing vegetables in with meat and gravy or tomato-based sauces will deliver an easy to eat, tasty and nutrient-rich meal. Easily to mash pieces of roasted butternut squash pack in potassium, fibre and beta carotene. Peas are well liked as they are soft, naturally sweet and contain folate, vitamin C, fibre and potassium.

Meat

Tender low-fat meats such as chicken or turkey from a whole bird are usually best tolerated and can be served with a cheese sauce or as a well-thought-out roast dinner. Chicken and turkey are also rich in vitamin B6, essential for protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism

Shepherds/cottage pie: Use quorn, beef or lamb mince with gravy, onion and carrots topped with mashed potato, delivering protein, fibre, beta carotene and potassium. Or even mince in a wholemeal shortcrust pastry topped pie, brushed with egg yolk and served with soft cauliflower cheese always goes down well, packing in potassium, fibre and vitamin C.

Fish

Seafood pies with creamy white wine sauces and peas can form a potato topped pie or mix with tagliatelle – they’re both rich in key nutrients B6, omega 3, folate and vitamin C and potassium. A tender salmon steak served with peas and dauphinoise potatoes is rich in B6, omega 3, vitamin C, fibre and folate. A salmon and broccoli quiche packs in magnesium, omega 3, B6. fibre, potassium, folate and beta carotene. 

Salads

Side salads could include guacamole which includes finely chopped red pepper. This packs in magnesium, fibre, potassium, folate and beta carotene. Roast pieces of butternut squash, peeled cucumber with coriander or mint and mixed into cous cous or rice salads add extra potassium, fibre and beta carotene.

Snacks

Make your own soft red pepper and tomato bread and serve with hummus, this provides vitamin C, potassium, fibre and beta carotene. Or buy a soft wholemeal roll and serve with homemade red pepper hummus for added vitamin B6, beta carotene, magnesium and folate.

Weighing Up Veganuary

2020’s Veganuary is set to be the biggest yet. This initiative aims to inspire people to go vegan for the first month of each year, spreading the word about veganism and educating people on plant-based ingredients and recipes. But is going vegan actually good for our health? Let’s take a closer look by weighing up Veganuary…

Done badly, a vegan diet is the same as any other poor diet. Technically someone who is following a vegan diet could live on crisps!

The good bits

People who decide to try a new diet at the beginning of the year are often trying to improve their health and or lose weight. Whilst it is important to know that one month of adhering to a strict vegan diet (or even a lifetime of veganism!) isn’t a cure for every known health issue, vegetarians and vegans are at lower risk of a range of health conditions. These include obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and some cancers. 

Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, soya products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fibre and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels and improve serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease.

The not so good bits

Despite what some press might suggest around the carbon footprint of meat versus plant-based diets, a vegan diet is not the answer to our environmental and food sustainability issues. Some ingredients loved by vegetarians and vegans have a hefty carbon footprint of their own, but a sustainable and locally sourced diet (meat or plant based) can ease the pressure on the environment.

People may not find a vegan diet easy to follow if it’s not what they have been brought up on. It can be especially complicated if you have a dislike of vegetables and pulses! Thankfully the rise in popularity of vegan diets means there are plenty of recipes and ideas online to help participants decide what to cook.  

There are certain nutrients that a wholly plant-based diet will struggle to provide. That means if you follow a vegan diet it’s important to consider supplementation to prevent any deficiencies.  Remember that some deficiencies can take months, even years to present with symptoms so don’t wait until you have an issue to take action. Let’s take a look at them:

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a good example of this.  You may have good bodily stores of B12 when you begin a vegan diet, and these stores can keep you going for several months before they drop and you start to notice symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and poor memory. The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal sources.  It plays an important role in brain and heart health, nerve cells, and red blood cell function. Top sources include shellfish, lamb, and beef. 

Vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or supplements. Spirulina and other edible cyanobacteria (commonly called blue-green algaes) contain a poorly bioavailable B12 which isn’t converted to B12 in humans.  We can’t absorb it, so consider using a B12 supplement if you plan to be wholly plant-based for more than a few months.

Omega-3 oils

Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to have plenty of omega-6 oils, but struggle to provide adequate with omega-3.  Nuts and seeds provide what is known as the ‘parent’ omega 3 fat, Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA).  This needs to go through several conversion steps before it becomes EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). DHA and EPA are the omega-3 fats we use in the brain and heart. They are ready formed in fish oils. The conversion steps rely on co-factor nutrients like magnesium, B-vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C, and a lot of ALA gets lost during the process.  It is therefore important that vegans include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and/or pumpkinseed oil every day for their rich ALA content, and to enjoy plenty of food sources of the co-factor nutrients too;

– Magnesium: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, dark green leafy vegetables

– Zinc: nuts & seeds

– B-vitamins, excluding B12: sweet potatoes, brown rice, avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and dark green leafy veggies are especially useful.

– Vitamin C: peppers, broccoli, berries, kiwi, papaya, peas, watercress

Iron

Iron deficiency is a particular issue for pre-menopausal female vegans due to regular monthly iron loss from periods.  Haem iron in animal products is much better absorbed than non-haem iron from plant sources so if you are relying on non-haem iron, make sure you include sources of vitamin C too, as this helps the absorption of plant-sourced iron.

Vitamin D

If you’re doing Veganuary, you’re starting it in the middle of winter when light levels are poor. Many of us, whether vegan or not, are low in vitamin D simply because we don’t get enough regular sunshine here in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately for vegans, the optimum dietary sources of vitamin D3 (the most active usable form) are eggs, liver and butter, with plant sources like mushrooms providing a little D2 which has to be converted. It is advisable for everyone to take a vitamin D supplement during winter months (October to April) and vegans may need to continue it all year round.  

If you’re experimenting with Veganuary this year, this blog should have helped give you a steer on the nutrients that may be missing form your day to day diet. Nutrition is a complex subject but if you’re up to the challenge, enjoy a plant-based start to 2020! 

Xanthohumol now used in IBD research

Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis are the two most common forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and together they affect more than 300,000 people in the UK. IBDs can trigger a wide range of symptoms including pain, cramps, weight loss, extreme tiredness, diarrhoea and swelling of the stomach. 

Due to the high prevalence of nutrient deficiencies in patients with IBD, routine monitoring of nutrient status and supplementation are recommended. Not only are deficiencies a wider problem, but the resulting inflammation causes pain and intolerance to food during flare ups when the diseases are active.

Xanthohumol is an extract of the hop flower which protects body cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Xanthohumol protects body cells from oxidation-induced cell stress and reinforces cell protection*

A team in Portland, Oregon, who have been running multiple studies investigating the health benefits of xanthohumol hop extracts, have released their latest preliminary study, this time in IBD. The formula contained xanthohumol and curcumin, which is well studied for its anti-inflammatory effects* in IBD. The formula also contained a mixture of micronutrients (including methylated forms of folate and vitamin B12), macronutrients, and phytonutrients including, ginger compounds, and quercetin. Ten adults with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis were recruited from the Portland metropolitan area. Participants consumed a beverage twice daily for 12 weeks. 

The researchers wanted to see if the beverage affected blood nutrients and blood cells involved in immunity. Primary measures were the following parameters: folate, vitamin B12, red blood cell (RBC) count, haemoglobin, haematocrit, electrolytes, and albumin. Exploratory measures included a food frequency questionnaire, circulating blood cell counts, and inflammatory markers.

Nine participants completed the study and one withdrew. Adherence was 98%. Serum folate and red cell distribution width improved in adults with IBD after 12 weeks. Modulation of leukocyte subtypes was also observed, including a decrease in neutrophils and an increase in lymphocytes, with no change in total WBC count. 

The team have planned a bigger study to fully examine the effects of the beverage in IBD patients, exciting news for those who suffer from these conditions.

* EU EFSA ARTICLE 13.1 BOTANICALS ON HOLD LIST.

Photo by zhenzhong liu on Unsplash

Frighteningly Good Tomato and Pumpkin Soup

Halloween is nearly upon us and although the temptation may be to have lots of ‘treats’, scary can be healthy too!

Here we have a soup which is full of carotenoids, bursting with beta-carotene from pumpkins and lycopene from tomatoes.

Here are some cool facts!

1. Lycopene is found in many forms

Your body works many wonders, but it can’t produce Lycopene by itself. Instead, it must be introduced to your body from foods and/or supplements. Since it is a pigment, it can be found in a select number of fruits and veggies like tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guavas and papayas. The best source of Lycopene comes from tomatoes and tomato products.

2. Boost the benefits with olive oil

Both all-trans lycopene and tetra-cis are best absorbed by the body when mixed with oil because Lycopene is fat-soluble (it binds to fats easily). To get the best bang for your buck, make a tomato salad with a drizzle of olive oil. Not only does is help absorb lycopene faster, the combination of lycopene and oil may reduce the risk of serious health problems

3. Eating raw tomatoes may not be enough

There are no recommended dietary intake values for lycopene, but health organisations like the NHS recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to help ensure that individuals get enough of the beneficial carotenoids in their diets. If you are looking to get the full affects, you may be surprised to find that the best sources are prepared tomato products. When eating raw tomatoes, the body goes through a long process to break down the cell walls of the food to separate the Lycopene and convert it into a form that it can use and benefit from. In the nutritional world, we would say that the Lycopene in raw tomatoes isn’t as “bioavailable” to the body as processed sources. The magical benefits of Lycopene occur when tomatoes are either 1) heated up or 2) the lycopene is extracted or 3) eaten with olive oil, because the cell walls of the plants are broken down and lycopene is fat soluble. The most bioavailable sources are prepared tomato products like tomato sauce, tomato soup, salsa, ketchup, and tomato puree

We’ve made sure we get the most lycopene out of our tomatoes!

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 red onion, peeled and chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato purée

3 red peppers, deseeded and sliced

1 pumpkin, halved, seeds and pulp removed and flesh chopped (reserve the seeds)

1 litre vegetable stock

6-8 tablespoons double cream, to serve

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the chopped red onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the sun dried tomato purée, sliced peppers, and the chopped pumpkin.
  • Cook for 10 minutes, then add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes.
  • Blend in a food processor (or use a stick blender) until smooth, then return to the pan to warm through
  • For Halloween, serve in bowls and make a spider-web pattern with cream by drizzling on two concentric circles plus a dot in the centre, then drag lines outwards from the centre with a skewer.
  • Top with baked pumpkin seeds which look like bugs, for a fun Halloween meal. (Bake your reserved pumpkin seeds in a preheated oven at 200°C, fan 180°C, gas mark 6, for 8 minutes until crisp. Or use ready-baked pumpkin seeds).

Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Diet and male fertility research

We recently wrote about the effect of a low selenium blood level in men causing male infertility, and the positive effects of supplementation.* Perhaps it is not a surprise that the rest of the diet can also play a role

A team in Spain examined the diets of men who were analysed within 35 studies. Their paper was published in Human Reproduction Update.

Generally, the results indicated that healthy diets rich in some nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, some antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, β-carotene, selenium, zinc, cryptoxanthin and lycopene), other vitamins (vitamin D and folate) and low in saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids were inversely associated with low semen quality parameters.

In terms of specific foods, the diets high in fish, shellfish, poultry, cereals, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and skimmed milk reflected in good sperm quality parameters.

Diets rich in processed meat, soy foods, potatoes, full-fat dairy and total dairy products, coffee, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets were detrimentally associated with the quality of semen in some studies.

The analysis also showed that a high intake of alcohol, caffeine, red meat and processed meat by males has a negative influence on the chance of pregnancy and fertilisation rates in their partners.

Although this review may show links or associations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something causes or prevents infertility. However the study is helpful to couples planning a pregnancy so they can be generally aware of what could be good, and what could be bad for their chances. As suggested in the first blog post, if possible, micronutrient screening blood tests of males can be done to see if deficiencies are present prior to conception.

* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS

Photo by Tim Bogdanov on Unsplash

CurCuring Oral inflammation

Curcumin has been highlighted for use in many health problems- from cancer to heart disease, but we don’t often think about potential benefits which don’t involve consuming the stuff. We know it’s a great anti-inflammatory agent, so there has been particular interest in using it to decrease signs of inflammation around the body. The latest area has been for inflamed gums, or gum disease.

Chlorhexidine is one form of standard mouthwash for oral inflammation, but it doesn’t sound like a great chemical to swill around your mouth does it, and it may trigger allergies.

A new study compared 0.1% curcumin mouthwash to 0.2% chlorhexidine gluconate as an antiplaque agent and its effect on gum disease inflammation.

One hundred and fifty subjects, age between 20 and 30 years were recruited and  split into 3 groups- one curcumin, one chlorhexidine and one inactive placebo.

Curcumin mouthwash was shown to be as effective in antiplaque and anti-gum disease properties as chlorhexidine mouthwash. A study in 2012 had a similar result.

It gives people a natural option which is unlikely to trigger an allergy, or kill off good bacteria. Perhaps eating turmeric in curry several times a day has a similar anti-inflammatory effect, although before you go making your own, remember that turmeric and its extracts do stain bright yellow- it is used as a natural food colouring after all! We’re pretty sure only people with a brace need to worry about that, all the rest of us shouldn’t gain a fluorescent smile 😉

Reference

Chatterjee A, Debnath K, Rao NKH. A comparative evaluation of the efficacy of curcumin and chlorhexidine mouthrinses on clinical inflammatory parameters of gingivitis: A double-blinded randomized controlled clinical study. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2017;21(2):132–137. doi:10.4103/jisp.jisp_136_17 �

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash