Double Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Namaste all you chocolate lovers out there!

My girls have been begging me to make ANYTHING with chocolate….and what does a good mum do? I say “hell yes!”

My oldest asked if we could make it vegan so that I could join them whilst they put the cookie monster to shame…(again, who am I to say no!)..bless her 4 year old heart 🙂

So here we go – vegan double chocolate chocolate-chip cookies adapted from Oh She Glows.

Double chocolate chocolate-chip cookies!

Double chocolate chocolate-chip cookies!

This recipe makes about 12 depending on how big you like your cookies. Prep time is kinda hard to estimate because I had the girls help me out and you know how that usually goes down. If it were just you, I think you’re looking at about 15 minutes prep time and 10-13 minutes baking time (this can vary depending on the oven you’re using. Our’s is very eager to burn things so we usually have to reduce the bake time)

Ingredients:

Wet:

  • 1 tablespoon ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • 55 grams or 1/4 cup  virgin coconut oil (do not melt)
  • 65 grams or 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 78 ml or 1/3 cup maple syrup (if you want your cookies sweeter, you could add sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or freshly grated vanilla pod

Dry:

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons dessicated coconut powder
  • 145 grams or 1.5 cups gluten-free rolled oats ground into flour
  • 4-5 teaspoons non-dairy milk (I used oat milk because it’s naturally sweet) to moisten the batter
  • 100 grams finely chopped dark chocolate

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 176C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. In a cup, mix together the flax and water and set aside for a few minutes so it can thicken up. Whisk the mixture again once thickened.
  3. Add all the wet ingredients in a mixing bowl (along with the flax mixture). Beat the ingredients by hand or with an electric mixer until combined and smooth. Check for sweetness here, and add sugar/more syrup accordingly. I prefer my desserts on the less sweeter side so stuck with the amount of maple syrup mentioned above.
  4. Add the dry ingredients one by one. If your dough is a bit dry, add some non-dairy milk and beat the mixture again. The dough should be moist enough to form balls without cracking, but not sticky.
  5. Chop/grate the chocolate (I did a bit of both). Fold the pieces into the batter.
  6. Lick spoon 😉
  7. Shape dough into balls and flatten them between the palms of your hands.
  8. Arrange on the baking sheet and bake for about 12-13 minutes.
  9. Cool cookies on the baking sheet until they harden up a little (if you can wait that long – as you can see, someone (not naming names..ahem) ate half a cookie whilst they were still cooling!)

Dig in!!!

 

“Let it go…Let it gooooo..”

You’d think that after a year of listening to Elsa sing “let it go” on our stereo system at home, in the car, on vacation and basically every darn place you can think of, I’d be the last person to use it as the title of this post! HA! Elsa, nicely played……

Since the beginning of this year I’ve been obessed with the subject of letting things go. You see, this for me is very difficult. I grew up thinking that if you threw something away, it had no meaning to you, and that you rather overeat and feel sick right after just to avoid putting away/throwing away the last few spoonfuls of food on your plate (don’t get me wrong, I don’t encourage food wastage, but I never thought to myself that I could take smaller portions at a time). So what happened down the line? I saved EVERYTHING – down to ticket stubs….and for years (can you imagine what a nightmare it is to move house as a hoarder?!). Oh, and I overate – a lot! (food and weight are a HUGE aspect of the Indian culture. If you’re lean, you’re unhealthy; if your not stuffed to your eyes with food by your host/hostess, it’s not good hospitallity; watching what you eat/eating smaller portions is “complicated” and “unnecessary” if you’re lean because you need to have fat on you.)

Starting out as a mum, I was pretty sure I was doing the right thing passing on this “quality” to my kids…..up until the beginning of this year when I took my yoga practice to a different level and made the decision to teach. I realised that “keeping memoires” (as I like to tell myself I was doing) wasn’t a fantastic quality to have…the truth was that I was hanging on to everything from years gone by. That meant I had a whole lot of unresolved issues and emotional baggage I had been lugging around for years. I now realise how this has been affecting realtionships around me….

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali talk about non-attachment. Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t care, it just means that you don’t place importance on things, emotions, acts, status, ego etc. Placing undue importance creates chains around your mental ability to think clearly…it binds your heart so tight that it is not open to receiving anymore.

Yoga sutras :

Two core principles: Practice (abhyasa, 1.13) and non-attachment (vairagya, 1.15) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests (1.12). It is through the cultivation of these two that the other practices evolve, by which mastery over the mind field occurs (1.2), and allows the realization of the true Self (1.3).

Abhyasa/Practice: Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and   maintain a state of stable tranquility (1.13). To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break (1.14). From this stance the deeper practice continues to unfold, going ever deeper towards the direct experience of the eternal core of our being.

Vairagya/Non-attachment: The essential companion is non-attachment (1.15), learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.

They work together: Practice leads you in the right direction, while non-attachment allows you to continue the inner journey without getting sidetracked into the pains and pleasures along the way.

Hurt, dissapointment, emotional wounds – we’ve all experienced them. If you analysed past situations in a non-judgemental way, you’d see that most of these “injuries” arise from expectations…..expectations of the other person involved or of what you thought the outcome should have been. In the present, these past unfulfilled expectations still leave a sour taste in your mouth. You’re always wary and cautious. You’ve built some form of armour around yourself. Now, imagine how many layers of armour you’d have built over the years everytime you encountered unpleasant, “not-what-you-expected” situations…..how much inner strength do you think it will take for you to break those walls down and get to the core of who you really are? Breaking those walls is nothing but forgiving, bidding good bye to the past, and moving forward…..breaking those walls is letting go.

“The root of suffering is attachment”     – The Buddha

Letting go doesn’t necessarily mean something from the past (although in most cases, the roots will lie back in time. The past is usually what shapes the present), it can be in the here and now too (down the line “today” will be a day in your past) – maybe it’s something you did/said, something someone did/said to you, maybe it’s a relationship that’s either not benefitting you in a positive way, maybe you can’t change the situation/the person involved and it’s tearing you up inside. Ask yourself if it’s worth all the time and emotion you invest into the feelings these people/situations conjure up in you. Depending on your honest answer, you will know what to do.

So how can you start breaking down the armour, letting go and moving forward? Ok I’ll be honest here, each of us have our own battles…and whilst some things are easier to kiss good bye to, others need a lot of time. I’m in no way saying that you have to move on from one day to the next, but just setting the intention and knowing where you want to be sometime in the future is enough to start with. Setting honest intentions and repeating these to yourself everyday (maybe even multiple times in a day) can work wonders in manipulating your subconscious mind.

How did I start out?

Well, first thing I did was to get rid of clothes. This was the first exercise I set for myself and it was TOUGH!

Second, toiletries (yes, you may be laughing here, but I actually developed an unhealthy obsession with stocking up on toiletries that I never used for fear that the container would be empty one day!)..in 3 months I haven’t had to buy shower gel because of the stockpile I have lying around!!! These might seem really lame, but I kid you not they’ve wonders in changing my attitude and outlook.

I’d read an article not long ago about how clutter in the house is a barrier to free flowing energy, and that clearing up clutter pockets like drawers, closets etc. can have a huge effect on how you feel. I can vouch for that…

Third, I made a 2 column list of people from the yesteryears – one for those I never really forgave and the other for those I’d hurt and never apologised to. I went through each name on the list and had the “conversation” I should have had, ending with “it’s over…let’s move on”.

Fourth, my kids – I make them clear out their rooms once a month (or every week depending on the clutter) and make it a point they understand how to regulate their food portions and appetite. If they skip a meal, big deal – they’re healthy and happy and more than honest with me when it comes to hunger!

Maybe you have a few toxic relationships in your life and you’re scared to “let them go” because (perhaps) society would see you as being cold, or maybe because you don’t want to hurt them. Let me tell you from personal experience, that if a relationship is pulling you down so much that it’s stopping you from moving forward, affecting the innocent people around you and leaving you depleted…it’s not worth having in your life at the moment (if you feel you’re not strong enough to handle it) or at all….the choice is yours. The resolution you may choose to make is to always keep your heart and mind receiving, open and full of love to these people if and when they are ready to re-enter into a fullfilling, positive and nurturing relationship. Again, let not expectations drive any of these decisions.

Negative emotions cause blockages in the flow of vital energy within us. When left to fester for too long these can manifest as diseases of the body and mind. A documentary I watched a few months back said that physical ailments can be treated by first cleansing the mind. An unhealthy mind results in an unhealthy body. I’ve come to believe strongly in this.

We’re all on our personal journeys with challenges and achievements that are unique to us. Your yoga practice can only help you on this journey. It is so unique to you and is different from one day to the next. Keep practicing, keep your intentions clear and keep your breath flowing. Honour the present moment and be thankful for it. It is in this moment you can decide where you place the step in your path – forward or back.

Namaste.

Lowering Cholesterol

How many people have we come across (maybe even us) who have been to their regular blood tests only to find that their cholesterol values have a little star beside it denoting “sorry mate….looks like you’ve got a problem there”. In this article I want to touch on what cholesterol actually is and how you can naturally keep it under check.

Short on time? Jump to the Conclusion

Most people tend to associate triglycerides and fats with cholesterol. Apples and oranges really.

Triglycerides are a storage and transport form of fatty acids. The structure is one of 3 (tri meaning three) fatty acids bounds to one glycerol (glyceride part of the name) molecule.

Triglyceride

Triglyceride

The fatty acids here can be saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

The structure of cholesterol looks like this:

Cholesterol

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a lipid/sterol (naturally occurring organic molecules) contained in the body’s cells and fluids that act as a precursor to fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K), hormones and bodily structures. It has several essential roles such as:

  • Cell membrane function
  • Absorption of dietary fat
  • Synthesis of steroid hormones (including vitamin D)
  • Production of sex hormones like androgens and estrogen
  • Production of anabolic hormones responsible for muscle growth and repair
  • Synthesis of bile salts

Nearly all the tissues in the body are able to synthesise cholesterol. The liver makes 20% and other tissues including the small intestine make 80%. This accounts for two-thirds of the total cholesterol entering in our body each day and outweighs the dietary cholesterol intake. Now, the body is smart at regulating this – should our dietary intake of cholesterol increase, the amount synthesised within the body decreases (and vice versa). Cholesterol, being insoluble in blood and hence not easy to transport, is packaged into lipoproteins and transported. These lipoproteins are what we know as HDL (High density lipoprotein), LDL (Low density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). Apart from shuttling cholesterol around the body, the lipoproteins also carry triglycerides and other molecules. The “density” of the lipoproteins is the ratio of these molecules, the highest (HDL) made up of least amount of triglycerides and cholesterol and the lowest (VLDL) made up of the highest amount of triglycerides and cholesterol.

LDL

These cholesterols transport triglycerides ad cholesterol to the cells for various uses (including storage). When LDL deposits cholesterol in the circulatory system (Arteries, veins and capillaries – the blood vessels), there is an increased risk of fatty plaque formation (atherosclerosis) in the inner lining of the blood vessels. Also the size of the LDL particles is an important aspect to consider. They come in small, medium and big. Smaller size LDL particles deposit easily in the tissues lining the heart, blood and lymph vessels (the vessels carrying fluid containing immune building cells called lymphocytes from the blood vessels to the tissues) when compared to their larger counterparts. They then get oxidised releasing inflammatory and adhesive proteins resulting in atherosclerosis. Dietary intake of refines carbohydrates and trans fats tend to decrease the size of the LDL particles.

HDL

What LDL giveth, HDL taketh away! HDL is cardio protective by nature; it carries cholesterol and other fatty acids away from the cells and to the liver for excretion in the bile. With the help of a specific enzyme, HDL can carry cholesterol away from LDL reducing plaque build-up. This is why higher levels of HDL (with lower LDL levels) will get you a big whoop-de-whoop from your doctor.

There is a small catch here though – If you are diabetic/insulin resistant, HDL doesn’t function as it should.

What do I do now?

Whilst everyone would like to place the blame on cholesterol for heart diseases etc., it is not the sole culprit. There are several factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease risk including triglycerides (probably THE most important factor), homocysteine and antioxidant levels. That’s not to say that cholesterol gets away scott free. It still has a role to play.

So what can you do?….

  1. Physical activity everyday – get lean and drop the excess weight. Include strength training, flexibility and cardio workouts.
  2. Eat Fruits and Veggies like there’s no tomorrow (hint: smoothies are THE best way of getting in lots of fruit and veg). Include nuts and seeds (unsweetened) as well (take care that nuts are caloric dense so don’t binge on them).
  3. Whole grains and legumes are fibre rich and hence cholesterol lowering. Soluble dietary fibre binds to a portion of the bile salts in the small intestine during digestion and this combo is eliminated from the body. As new bile synthesis (in the liver) requires cholesterol, more cholesterol is utilised. Thus, fibre can lower blood cholesterol levels.
  4. Up your omega-3 intake by adding flax, chia and hemp seed to your meals. Walnuts are also rich in this essential fatty acids as are marines sources such as algae, salmon and mackerel.
  5. Limit/avoid meats and dairy. If you must eat meat, then make sure it’s organic and grass fed. Anything else is can feed the bad cholesterol.
  6. Apart from teaching my kids to steer clear of drugs and strangers with candy, I tell them to run for the hills when they see processed foods. Trans fats are an absolute no-no and should not feature in your diet if you care for your health. Always check the packaging.
  7. Limit highly caffeinated drinks like coffee (opt for lower caffeinated versions) as these can increase cholesterol by 10%. Instead, increase your tea intake. Tea helps to lower plaque build up.
  8. Limit your alcohol intake.
  9. Include spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric and other herbs. Cocoa in small amounts can also help.

 Note: for those concerned about eggs, the science shows that how your body’s cholesterol regulates itself is dependent on the person. One study showed that 70% of the people showed no response in terms of total or LDL values, the other 30% showed a slight increase. Eggs can change the LDL particles from small to large (a good thing in terms of avoiding deposition and oxidation). Omega-3 rich eggs would be your best option if you choose to keep eggs as part of a healthy, well balanced diet.

Here’s a really cool table I found at Precision Nutrition:

TYPE OF EATING STYLE

% DECREASE IN LDL CHOLESTEROL

American Heart Association Standard Guidelines 6%
Atkins Style (higher protein and fat) No significant changes
Lower fat, plant-based, still including dairy and eggs 16%
Mediterranean No significant changes
Statin drugs 26%
100% plant-based diet, well planned, with nutrient dense foods 33%

Conclusion

Cholesterol plays an essential role in the body’s functioning and whilst higher levels do have a role to play in cardiovascular diseases, it’s not the only factor involved

HDL – “good cholesterol” takes shuttles cholesterol away from the cells and to the liver for elimination.

LDL – “bad cholesterol” takes cholesterol and fats from the liver to the cells.

Higher HDL values (with no insulin resistance) can combat the harmful effects of high LDL levels.

High LDL, and especially the smaller molecules cause plaque build up on the insides of the vessel walls.

Things you can do to tackle cholesterol:

  1. Exercise
  2. Include fruits, veggies, nut, seeds, whole grain and legumes as part of your diet
  3. Increase your omega-3 intake
  4. Drink tea
  5. Include ginger, garlic, turmeric and other herbs and spices in your diet
  6. Avoid trans fats
  7. Limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  8. Limit/cut out meat and dairy intake

Lifestyle changes play a vital role in maintaining good health. Proper nutrition and exercise can work wonders and leave you feeling like a new person. …everyone deserves to feel good.

Making lifestyle and diet changes are by no means easy especially if you’ve been doing things a certain way for as long as your can remember, but with guidance and support, and incorporating habits one at a time at your own pace you can make those big changes and be successful at keeping them up. These changes become your new lifestyle – your new way of doing things.

Namaste

 

References

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cholesterol

http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/nutrition/a-primer-on-dietary-fats-part-1.html/

http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2006/5/report_heart/page-02

The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, second edition – John Berardi, Ryan Andrews

http://authoritynutrition.com/how-many-eggs-should-you-eat/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904713/

https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/

 

Blood Pressure

I think the majority of us in this day and age can safely say that we’ve found ourselves in quite a few situations that either “stressed us out”, or “made our blood pressure rise”. It’s now such a normal way of life to rush through the day not thinking twice about what it’s doing to our bodies and minds. Then one day your doctor hands you your meds to lower your blood pressure and even this very act has a certain normalcy to it….makes you think about where our society is headed.

Today I’d like to talk about blood pressure and how you can take med-free steps to control it.

Short on time? Read the Conclusion

Blood is pumped by the heart into the blood vessels and as it flows it “pushes” against the vessel walls as it makes its way to the organs and tissues. The strength of this push – the pressure exerted by the flowing blood against the walls – is called blood pressure. High blood pressure is termed “hypertension” and low blood pressure is “hypotension”. I found this chart which I thought was helpful in knowing where you stand (if you’ve ever had your blood pressure measured):

BP chart

The ideal blood pressure for a risk free, healthy life would be 120/80 or lower (generally lower is considered better) where the upper value 120 (systolic) is the highest pressure the blood exerts on the vessel walls while the heart is pumping, and 80 (diastolic) is the lowest pressure exerted while the heart rests between beats.

If your value falls in the 120/80 – 140/90 (pre-high blood pressure) you should take steps to lower it. Anything above the ideal blood pressure range increases the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Values in the “low” range could have one or both of the systolic and diastolic values low. For example, 115/50 would be considered low blood pressure.

Blood pressure varies throughout the day, lowering when you rest and rising when you’re active. The body is very sensitive to changes in BP and works to either raise or lower the pressure to bring it back to normal (homeostasis). When this natural tendency towards homeostasis in terms of blood pressure is affected or does not happen fast enough we end up with either hyper, or hypotension

Hypotension

Some people naturally have low blood pressure and exhibit no signs or symptoms. In this case low BP is not a health risk. If your BP drops to a point where you feel faint or dizzy then it warrants your attention and that of your physician.

Symptoms of low BP:

  1. Fatigue, dizziness/light-headedness, Fainting
  2. Cold, clammy, pale skin
  3. Nausea, blurred vision, lack of concentration
  4. Rapid, shallow breathing

Some causes of hypotension are:

Pregnancy, dehydration, severe allergic reactions, low blood sugar, thyroid disorders, Pulmonary embolism, central nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Infections, Anemia.

Hypertension

Having your blood vessels try and manage high blood pressure is much like trying to use a garden hose to handle the pressure of a fire hose – you’re bound to run into a bit of trouble there. Here’s what can happen:

  • Damage to eye vessels leads to blindness
  • Damage to kidney vessels could lead to you on dialysis
  • Damage to brain vessels lead to stroke or Alzheimer’s
  • Damage to vessels in the limbs (legs and arms) and internal organs lead to peripheral vascular disease (leading to open sores that do not heal, ulcers, gangrene due to inadequate blood supply to the affected areas, and in some severe cases amputation may be necessary)

For each increment of 20 mm Hg (a blood pressure measurement), your risk of cardiovascular disease doubles!

(Apologies if the images below are unclear – clicking on them will open up a legible copy)

Preventable causes of death in the U.S. (Image source: Danaei G, et al. The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Med 2009;6:e10000058.)

Preventable causes of death in the U.S. (Image source: Danaei G, et al. The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Med 2009;6:e10000058.)

BP risk

High blood pressure, a global risk factor

Unfortunately unlike hypotension, hypertension sneaks up on you with no symptoms. The risk of a person developing hypertension is dependent on sex, age and racial-ethnic background:

  • As they age, women are more likely to suffer from hypertension than men
  • People of African origin are genetically more inclined at having higher blood pressure.
  • Even children and adolescents are not exempt from developing hypertension.

But lifestyle can influence those factors to a large extent – for example, though Indians as a population have in the past ranked low in a worldwide survey (World health statistics 2012), a large part (limited data is available) of the population now suffers from high blood pressure according to cardiology outpatient surveys, experts at the Public Health Foundation of India and Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurgaon. This, they say, is attributed to risk factors such as physical inactivity and low levels of awareness in terms of good diet.

Controlling it all

Hypotension

  1. Drinking plenty of fluids
  2. Increasing sodium intake as sea salt (which also contains other minerals – avoid the processed kind) and potassium intake (beans, bananas, avocados, mushrooms, potatoes with skins, dark leafy greens, squash, nectarines). *
  3. Stand up slowly from seated
  4. Learn to recognise the symptoms of a dizzy spell or fainting, sit down with your head between your knees or lie down. This helps to raise your blood pressure again.
  5. Coffee is a temporary treatment
  6. Tulsi/Holy Basil (My personal favourite) tea is a better alternative to coffee. It helps to relieve stress and boost your immune system. It is also rich in Vit A, Vit C , Magnesiun, Potassium, manganese, calcium and iron
  7. Eat small meals frequently – a rainbow diet with plenty of fruit and veggies will give you all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Whole grains help to keep your blood sugar levels steady and keep your blood pressure from falling. Include garlic and beetroot in your diet. Spices such as turmeric, cumin, cayenne pepper are helpful in stimulating circulation. Onion and horseradish root should also do the trick.
  8. Physical activity that stimulates blood flow is good to raise blood pressure.

Hypertension

  1. Stay lean – Fat cells produce substances that produce inflammation in the heart and blood vessels.
  2. Workout – Exercise alone can lower your BP by about 4 mm Hg. It decreases the sympathetic nervous system activity, lowers insulin production and increases elasticity of the blood vessels. Cardio, high intensity, low intensity, resistance training. You name it, if you’re moving your body enough, you’re definitely on the right track to lowering BP. If you suffer from high BP and have been physically inactive for a while, start slow and build up your workout intensities. Again, check with your general practitioner.
  3. Cut down on alcohol and quit the cigs – Smoking has been known to raise BP. Alcohol in small amounts can help in lowering BP but think twice before you think that binge drinking night out with the gals/lads on an empty stomach is going to benefit you. Alcohol activates the sympathetic nervous system, increases the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and decreases the production of nitric oxide which is required to keep your blood vessels elastic.
  4. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition – eliminate processed foods. Add more plant foods to your diet to increase your intake of arginine, lycopene, folate, fibre, magnesium, potassium, sulphur and vits C & E.

Here’s a helpful table the guys at Precision Nutrition put together:

Plant foods rich in vitamins C and E:green leafy vegetables, broccoli, potatoes, peas, oranges, mango, olives, avocado, tomatoes, apples, carrots, nuts, seeds, whole intact grains Plant foods rich in arginine:lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, Brazil nuts, coconut, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds
Plant foods rich in lycopene: tomatoes, grapefruit, salsa, watermelon, guava, baked beans Plant foods rich in folate: leafy greens, lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lentils
Plant foods rich in fibre: beans, peas, nuts, seeds, whole fruits, whole vegetables, whole grains Plant foods rich in magnesium:black beans, broccoli, peanuts, okra, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, spinach, oats, artichokes, banana, barley, buckwheat, navy beans, corn, raw chocolate (aka cacao)
Plant foods rich in potassium:apricots, avocado, banana, beets, potato, dates, melon, Brussels sprouts, oranges, pears, peanuts, raisins, spinach, squash Plant foods rich in sulfur compounds:garlic, onions, leeks, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), nuts; onions and garlic in particular are high in sulfur compounds that increase nitric oxide production

So basically eating a variety of fruit and veg, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and peas should provide you with plenty of dietary ammo to fight hypertension. If you eat dairy, make it a low fat option and for those with a sweet tooth, small amounts (10-30 grams/day) of dark chocolate may help increase blood vessel elasticity.

  1. Get some sunshine – sunshine = vit D = good in helping to lower BP. I was surprised to hear from a paediatrician in India that Indians suffer from vit D deficiency! She explained that it was due to everyone wanting “fair” skin and them shying away from the sun or slathering on layers of sunscreen that’s led to the deficiency.
  2. Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acid through flax, chia and hemp seeds. Walnuts are a good source too. Although I don’t promote eating meat, I do respect everyone’s choices and so will say that oily fish and wild game are non-vegetarian options (be wary though, adding meat to your diet has been shown to raise BP). Omega-3 fatty acid is known to increase blood vessel dilation whilst Omega-6 (already abundant in our diet) causes vessel constriction.
  3. Cut out the sugar and reduce your salt intake *
  4. Destress – yoga, meditation and breathing exercises are a wonderful, enjoyable way to relax and centre ourselves. If these don’t float your boat, then pick an activity you truly enjoy , set sometime for yourself every day/week and make it all about “you”.

* Sodium is naturally present in fresh vegetables albeit in varying quantitites:

High sodium (more than 140 mg/serving): Spinach, swiss chard.

Low sodium (35 – 140 mg/serving): Artichokes, sweet potatoes, radishes, celery, carrots, broccoli and bell peppers.

Very low sodium (less than 35 mg/serving): Brussels sprouts, lettuce, mushrooms, cabbage, cauliflower, green onion and tomatoes.

Sodium free (5 mg/serving or less): Asparagus, cucumber, corn, green beans, avocado, potatoes and summer squash.

Conclusion

Hypo or hypertension isn’t the end of the line for the people diagnosed with it. Good nutrition and plenty of exercise can go a long way to controlling or reversing the problem. Vegetables naturally contain varying levels of sodium. So if you are hypo/hypertensive, you may choose to control your sodium intake by choosing the appropriate veggies.

In a society obsessed with food and treating ailments with medication, taking a step back and observing your life without any judgement (as if you were a 3rd party looking in), might just show you what it is you need to change. That in my opinion is the best diagnosis anyone can give you. Don’t fight your body, accept where it is today and treat it with care. Befriend it again and work with it towards a healthier, happier future.

Making lifestyle and diet changes are by no means easy especially if you’ve been doing things a certain way for as long as your can remember, but with guidance and support, and incorporating habits one at a time at your own pace you can make those big changes and be successful at keeping them up. These changes become your new lifestyle – your new way of doing things.

Namaste

 

References

http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/BloodPressureandyou/Thebasics/Bloodpressure

http://www.betterhealthfacts.com/2014/09/low-bp-symptoms-causes-and-treatment.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/c/pmh_cons/?term=high%20blood%20pressure

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-high-blood-pressure

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20433547

http://www.medicinenet.com/peripheral_vascular_disease/page4.htm#what_are_potential_complications_of_peripheral_artery_disease

http://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/indians-suffering-from-hypertension-set-to-increase/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/High-BP-driving-heart-diseases-in-India/articleshow/47368318.cms?

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0063034/

https://www.organicfacts.net/nutrition-facts/herb-and-spice/nutritional-value-of-tulsi-and-ginger.html

http://www.healthyeating.sfgate.com/much-salt-naturally-vegetables-8949.html

https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/

Another write up on belly fat!

All of us (and let’s be honest here) have at some point in time obsessed over our abs – mostly our concerns have been (and maybe continue to be) with shrinking it, or getting a 6 pack. Here, I’d like to cover what belly fat is and what you can do to reduce it.

Short on time? Read the Conclusion

What is belly fat?

Belly/abdominal fat is a combo of visceral and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the fat you can’t see, that which surrounds your organs and acts like a cushion so they don’t get in each other’s way. It can only be measured using a CT/MRI scan.

Subcutaneous fat is the fat under your skin usually hips, thighs, belly and upper back (how many of you are pinching your bums right now?!) and sits on top of your muscles (so there’s where your 6 pack is hidden). For those of you who’ve undergone skin fold measurements, you’d probably know that the value you were given is the percentage of subcutaneous body fat you carry.

Abdominal fat is an important indicator of overall health compared with Butt and Thigh fat. It has been linked with a host of health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease to name a few.

Pre-menopausal women tend to have fewer visceral fat deposits compared to men but once they hit the big M, they accumulate as much visceral fat as men thanks to lowered levels of estrogen (and you were complaining about how your period was a nuisance!).

Age also plays a role in how much visceral fat we store, as does genetics. According to research, families tended to store the same amount visceral fat. Ok so I’ve given you gender, age and genetics as your go-to excuse.

But there are lifestyle related factors we can influence (HA! You had to know this was going somewhere) –

  • Physical activity. Being sedentary – regardless of if you’re lean or on the heavy side – most certainly increases your risk of increased visceral fat. Here’s a fun fact I came across, obese sumo wrestlers actually hold very little visceral fat, owing to all the physical activity they do!
  • Nutrition. High sugar diets have been shown to increase visceral fat deposits in humans and animals.
  • Stress. Under stress the body increases adrenaline production which in turn releases fat from its stores to fuel the body to “escape” from whatever it was that caused the stress. Whilst this “fight and flight” holds good if you were being chased by a rabid dog, it doesn’t really help with mental stressors we experience almost every day. You see, the same sequence of events happens (adrenaline-fat-energy) except that you’re not sprinting for your life. Enter the hormone cortisol, released from the adrenal glands to sweep up all this unused fatty acid and store them away. And much like that one drawer of the house we love to store unwanted items “for now”, cortisol’s drawer is the abdomen! More stress = more belly fat.
  • Sleep. Lack of sleep (less than 6-7 hrs) stimulates the release of the body’s “hunger hormone” (Ghrelin, in case you were interested) increasing your appetite.

So what’s the solution to dropping the fat act? Let’s start by talking about physical activity.
Working the body’s muscles results in improved fat mobilisation i.e. removal of fat from storage and conversion into energy.

  1. High intensity workouts (sprints, jumps etc.) use up your glycogen (stored glucose/carbohydrate) stores first and then draw further energy from fat stores. These forms of activites improve your endurance (by strengthening your heart) and also increase fat mobilisation. They can, however, be tough on your joints and if not careful can cause injury. Once you get the hang of alignment and practise good form, you can include high intensity workouts 3 times a week. These need only be about 20 – 25 minutes a day.
  2. Low intensity workouts (yoga, walking) burn fat to fuel your body. The advantages of these types of activities are that they are sustainable for longer periods and are not demanding on your joints. In addition, you can do them every day.
  3. Weight/resistance training. Functional strength training (using several muscle groups to accomplish a movement) includes working the larger muscles and burns more energy during and after your workout (during which time energy is used to repair the muscle). As we age, our activity levels/intensity decrease causing metabolism to decrease. Increased muscle mass is important to maintain a higher metabolic rate (even while you rest) and decreased fat storage. Older ladies should incorporate strength training into their training plan 3 times a week.
    A study conducted on 34 obese women aged 40 – 60 years, over a period of 16 weeks showed that the group with a calorie deficit of 500 Kcal per day and weight training twice a week lost fat around the lower abdomen, whilst the group with the same calorie deficit but no weight training lost fat from the lower body. This study not only showed how diet + weight training can help with fat loss but where the fat loss may occur.
  4. Stress management – Yoga, meditation, read a book….anything that you enjoy. Take time for yourself. You only have one body – nurture it. Breathe deeply when you feel like things are overwhelming.
  5. Sleep – Start a bedtime routine. Remove gadgets that will distract you from your bedside. I personally love to stretch before bed. It eases all the physical tension I sometimes don’t realise I’m carrying and I sleep better after.

Before we move on, I’d like to point out that regardless of what media and fad diets will have you believe, you cannot spot reduce fat i.e. attempting to reduce subcutaneous fat stores in a certain part of the body by targeting it with specific exercises. A perfect example would be performing sit-ups to shrink your belly. Abdominal work is important to include as part of your workouts to strengthen your core and minimise lower back injuries but that’s all it does really. The washboard ab definition comes when the fat sitting on top of your rectus abdominus muscle melts away exposing the muscle’s definition.

Here’s an interesting point about fat accumulation and distribution. Your genetic make up determines where and in which order fat is stored in your body. For example, some may accumulate fat in the abdomen first, then the upper body, face and neck and the the lower body. Some might start at the hips and thighs and then move on upwards. Others, a whole new sequence. Just as fat is laid down in a certain order, it is removed in the same order. So whilst we might want to work towards losing fat in a particular area, it’s not really in our control. A well rounded, whole body approach is the best way to go.

Moving on to diet. Again diet and exercise are not mutually exclusive. It’s your well known calories in vs. calories out theory.

  1. Whole grains over refined grains. No brainer here really – whole grains stabilise your blood sugar levels, leave you feeling full longer, have that oh-so-good fibre. Examples would be brown rice, quinoa, millet, rye..even popcorn made oil free (couscous, in case you’re wondering, is refined).
  2. Go crazy on fruit and veggies. Nuts, though high in unsaturated fats, are known to lower the bad LDL cholesterol levels when eaten as part as a balanced diet. In addition, they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E (and are awesome when you’re craving “fatty” food).
  3. Don’t go crazy on cheese, butter, fatty meats, fried food etc. Depending on what quantity they’re eaten in (and trust you me, it’s very easy to indulge in fats due to the texture, aroma and mouthfeel of these energy-dense foods), they can spike your energy intake during a meal and are quite rich in saturated fats.
  4. Eliminate transfats and fast food. Transfats are found in margarine, cookies, pastries, fried and convenience foods. If you must pop into your local fast food joint, familiarise yourself with the menu beforehand so you know what’s offered and what your best meal choice would be.
  5. Eliminate/reduce processed foods e.g. Oils, deli meats, cream cheese spreads, even packaged/bottled salad dressings. These foods interfere with the normal signalling within the body leaving you feeling hungrier, which leads to overeating and consequently depression. In addition, they tend to be high in salt causing increased water retention and that bloated feeling.
  6. Indulge in alcohol (a high caloric beverage) once in a while – don’t make 3 beers a routine. One 2013 study review from Denmark suggested that intake of beer is associated with abdominal obesity, while a German study found that lifetime consumption of alcohol is positively related to abdominal fat in 160,000 women.
  7. Read food and drink labels – watch out for added sugars (which equal added calories) such as dextrose, glucose, maltose, high fructose corn syrup. Many low fat commercial foods have a lot of “extras” added to make them palatable. If the ingredients list is longer than your grocery list, chances are you probably aren’t familiar with most of what’s stated and are better off going for the “full fat” option.
  8. Drink unsweetened tea (green tea has been known to aid in fat loss) and water instead of soda. Artificially sweetened soda has been shown to increase waist size, BMI and total fat percentage when compared with normal soda.

CONCLUSION

How much fat you carry is part determined by your genes but is also influenced by lifestyle.
There is no quick fix, magic diet out there to aid you in fat loss. It all comes down to how active you are and what you feed your body. This holds good for all body types. Other factors that play an important role are sleep and how well you manage stress.

As part of your physical activity, include low intensity activities (walking, cycling, swimming, yoga etc) daily, high intensity workouts 3 times a week and weight training 2-3 times a week.

I’d like to mention that this article is not to scare you away from fats nor am I an anti-fat activist, rather it is to bring to your attention how a balanced lifestyle (activity and diet) can leave you feeling like a new person. Once you find this balance, everything else happening under your skin will fall in place (or melt away as in this case).

Making lifestyle and diet changes are by no means easy especially if you’ve been doing things a certain way for as long as your can remember, but with guidance and support, and incorporating habits one at a time at your own pace you can make those big changes and be successful at keeping them up. These changes become your new lifestyle – your new way of doing things.

Namaste

 

References
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/visceral-fat-location
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-abdominal-fat-and-risk
http://breakingmuscle.com/strength-conditioning/spot-reduction-one-final-attempt-to-kill-the-myth
http://www.sportsmd.com/sports-nutrition/weight-loss/fallacies-spot-reducing-truth-fat-loss/#sthash.2ndFxEjX.dpuf
http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/6-reasons-youre-not-losing-belly-fat/slide/6
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20820174
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53528/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635
https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/