Category Archives: Nutrition

What’s the difference between Paleo and Ketogenic diet?

There are plenty of diets that end up being fads and flashes—here one year, gone the next. But other eating plans tend to have more staying power. Take both the paleo and ketogenic diets as two examples, which often are confused with each other.

Lets talk about paleo first. Adherents of the paleo diet draw their inspiration from what they say are the eating habits and patterns of our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors. Paleo draws much of its fare from meat and seafood, but particular strains of each—grass fed and wild. Nuts and seeds are OK too, as are fruits and veggies that are light on starch (think avocadoes) and fats that aren’t super processed. What paleo followers can’t have, however, are dairy products, processed foods, sugar, and legumes, among other things.

Those are some of the same guidelines as ketogenic followers, but there are differences too. What are they, and what do they mean? This graphic explains it.

What’s the Difference Between a Ketogenic Diet and a Paleo Diet?

Thank you to ZeroCater for the infographic! 🙂

The secret to a lightning fast recovery from any workout

how to recover quickly from DOMS

In a rush? Pin this and read later

About a year or so ago I met one of my clients for the first time (let’s call her as Amethyst). During our initial consultation, like many others before her, she confessed that she was terrified at the prospect of experiencing any kind of pain during or after exercise. I explained to her that there are different types of pain that mustn’t be confused with each other: there is the “burn” that we experience when we work a specific muscle group over and over again and that’s a good sign that we are creating the right stimulus to instigate changes. But we must beware of the “injury about to happen” type of pain when we are exerting ourselves past the point of safety or not exercising with correct form.

There is also the pain and stiffness that we might feel between 24 and 48 hours after exercising: the much dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness). The latter was the pain that Amethyst was referring to and was afraid of.

I could have lied to her or try to soften the blow, instead I decided to be honest and told her that both the “burn” and DOMS were inevitable if she decided to take up regular exercise but that both are manageable and with a bit of strategy DOMS can be made to become milder and can be overcome fairly quickly.

Admittedly in many years of working as a Fitness Coach (as well as being an athlete all my life) I have yet to experience a DOMS-free first workout of any kind, with the exception of totally pointless workouts executed less than halfheartedly. If I work out a different muscle group for the first time in a while I will feel it the next day, if I take up a new sport or activity I will definitely feel it the next day because I will have used my muscles differently from my normal patterns of movement.

The reasons for DOMS are not fully understood yet. The mainstream theory seems to be that it’s mostly due to micro-tears in the muscle fibres being caused by the lowering phase of an exercise (for example, returning the forearms to the start position after doing a biceps curl), this is also known as “negative”. There is also a theory that says the pain and stiffness stem from the inflammation following the muscle damage and another theory that states DOMS could be due to Nerve Growth Factor. Regardless of the probable cause there seems to be a strong interest among researchers in finding a way to get around this issue as it affects equally athletes and non-athletes.

When we exercise our body uses different sources of fuel: glycogen and fat. Glycogen is stored in the muscle fibres, reserves are low and are typically all used up in a very short time after which fat becomes the main source of energy. However, what also happens during exercise is that some of the protein making up our muscles is converted into glucose to be then used as fuel. This, effectively, causes us to lose some muscle as we workout. Although the metabolic mechanisms governing this process are still not totally clear we do know that protein plays a major role in the building and repairing of muscles after exercise. The breakdown and repair processes carry on for up to 48 hrs after exercising with an emphasis on eccentric (lowering) movements.

What does this mean for my client?

Firstly it means that if she wants to look buff and trim she needs to take her resistance training seriously and not be afraid to go at it wholeheartedly. The thing is “wholeheartedly and seriously” refer entirely to whatever she is capable of doing when she starts, they are not absolute measures. In order to achieve the much coveted “toned body” look she will need to stimulate the breakdown-repair process big time over and over again and in order to ensure that she keeps on building lean body mass and lose fat she needs to be meticulous with her nutrition.

Meme: Eat meticulous, train ridiculousThe effect of different types of sports recovery supplements on muscle damage have been tested in a variety of ways in many different experiments.

Protein shake supplements, whey in particular (not the isolate form), have come up trumps together with BCAAs (Branch Chained Amino Acids). Carbohydrates taken in isolation haven’t been found to be beneficial in the slightest, however the winning combination seems to be Protein + Carbohydrates taken together.

In addition to these both caffeine and Omega-3 Fatty acids have been found to be useful in containing the inflammation resulting from the muscle repair process (read the studies here, here, here and here).

It’s important to note that a good quality pure whey protein supplement will have abundant quantities of BCAAs in it and in most cases it will suffice. However because amino-acids are recruited in the production of energy if your workouts tend to be intense it makes sense to supplement with them in addition to the whey.

When does she need to take the supplements?

Again, different studies were carried out on this aspect of supplementation and the findings were all over the place (read the reviews here and here). Some studies showed a benefit in taking the protein+carbs supplement BEFORE exercise while others supported the hypothesis that there is a “window of opportunity” of 1 hr immediately AFTER a workout when supplementation would be most beneficial whereas other studies showed no benefit at all from following either protocol. Or both. The problem with drawing accurate conclusions from the research available is mostly due to the fact that none of the studies followed the exact same exercise protocol nor used the exact same supplements. Some participants were untrained, whereas others were fit bodybuilders who exhibited a slightly different response to protein uptake.

Having said all this, and after practically comparing apples with plums and pears, it appears that the winning solution for Amethyst might be to take some BCAAs immediately before her workouts to slow down the natural breakdown of amino acids for energy production during exercise AND then take a combination of proteins+carbs within 1hr of finishing her workout. This should ensure that her lean body mass increases and that the effects of her DOMS will be minimized.

How does this translate into practical, everyday terms?

Well, my client works from home. She prefers to exercise in the middle of the day and is able to schedule her meals around her commitments. She is not keen on using “products for body builders” and so for her the best strategy would be to use foods for muscle recovery after workout that she can find at the grocery store. She could have a glass of low fat milk before the start of her workout and then either have a full balanced meal afterwards to include a source of protein, vegetables, healthy fats and perhaps a slice of bread OR she could make herself  a milkshake with low fat milk, cacao, nuts and fruit (berries are perfect for this). Ideally I would like her to add some protein powder to this but as she doesn’t want to go through a radical transformation the milkshake is perfectly fine.

The “more accurate” way of doing this involves purchasing the various nutrients from specialized suppliers and get a little bit more scientific. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve: if you are happy to shrink a couple of dress sizes and look a little bit toned the first example is more than valid and will give you results. If you want to see radical changes and completely transform your body composition to lean and trim then you will be better off jumping into the supplements world with both feet.

The reasons are multiple: you know exactly how much of each nutrient you are taking, they are standardized (quality is consistent), they are practical and will save you from eating a whole chicken every day just to get enough proteins. Thus they are also cost effective. Unless you start buying one of everything.

Regardless of what the research suggests I find the use of post workout supplements highly beneficial both physically (my training sessions are usually intense because I like it that way) but also psychologically as the stress of a jolly good workout, the type that every fibre in my body is aware of, typically brings on the cravings for all manner of starchy things. If I can access a proper post workout meal everything calms down very quickly and I barely feel the DOMS the next day or so.

I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago when I did my first “proper” figure building training session for a competition that never happened. I didn’t take adequate supplements immediately after the workout and although I was fine the next day, 48 hours later I was more or less paralyzed and had to spend the next day or so sliding down the stairs on a bin liner. I had to avoid drinking water so that my laying down on the sofa wouldn’t get interrupted by the need to use the bathroom. It was funny even at the time but very painful.

Where do you find good post workout protein food?

There are many recipes for recovery shakes and protein bars on the internet. I experimented a bit with various combinations of ingredients and have now settled on a couple of things that seem to work consistently. During the winter months, when I tended to train during the day, my post workout protein shake consists of whey protein mixed with cacao powder, cinnamon extract, konjac, berries and mineral water.

However, during the time of the year when there is more daylight I tend to exercise later in the day and no longer have the time to prepare and drink the milkshake. So I turned my post workout recovery shake into protein bars that I can take with me and consume on the go. I adapted a recipe that I found on another website to suit my specific needs and taste and so far the results have been encouraging. As well as experiencing minor DOMS after my workout I didn’t get crazy hungry and in fact felt full for a number of hours after eating them.

Homemade protein bars

The process of making these is fairly simple and I much prefer the slightly bitter taste of my protein bars compared to those available commercially that taste like a sugar bomb to me. There is no baking involved and the ingredients are easily available from the grocery store. All you need is a food blender and some elbow grease.

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Inner Spring cleaning: why probiotics are your friends

During the past couple of weeks the buzzword on social media has been “Spring Cleaning”. This expression seems to be incredibly versatile and it can be applied to almost any field of interest: from decluttering around the house, to reorganizing files and directories, removing Facebook frenemies… but Spring cleaning can also be applied to our thoughts and habits.

Spring in the UK can be a funny time of the year. Actually, for someone like me who still remembers being too warm most of the year in Italy, Spring in the UK can be a source of tears because there are more hours of daylight but brighter doesn’t necessarily equal warmer. And so I cry whenever I have to wear three jumpers in April.

I am not the only one who’s been suffering though. Recently some of my clients seem to  have fallen victim to the Spring germs that brought them colds, flu and general misery. And that’s how I know that they haven’t really paid any attention to the advice I gave them when we first met…  😛

The impact of stress on the health of your gut

The thing is when you work long hours for long periods of time you are inadvertently placing your body under a lot of stress. This tends to weaken your immune system leaving you open to the attach of the many seasonal viruses. As the immune system is intrinsically linked to the health of your gut I like to start there when addressing the nutritional habits of my clients.

Intestine and bacteriaMy favourite recommendation is to consider adding probiotics to your diet in order to ensure that your digestive tract is in tip-top shape as you start your fitness makeover journey. When the digestive system is overworked it won’t be able to extract the nutrients from the food and drinks efficiently. This could result in varying degrees of malnutrition and a metabolism that is out of balance.

Our intestines are responsible for the absorption of nutrients from the food and drinks that we consume every day and they are populated by both good and bad bacteria. According to medical wisdom the ideal ratio between good and bad bacteria is 9 to 1, however most of us fall short of this.

Why is that I hear you ask? The foods that we eat have a significant impact on the bacteria population in our intestine for good or for bad. SMART choices will ensure you nurture the good bacteria in your gut, but bad choices made at the table could have a negative effect on your health and wellbeing.

For example, if you suffer from an intolerance to something like gluten should you choose to eat it anyway could result in your intestinal tract becoming damaged resulting in bloating, joint pain, bleeding gums and so on. Also, be aware that taking antibiotics to get rid of a stubborn and brutal cold will kill off a large proportion of the good guys in your intestine.


Pay attention to your diet

It might seem like I am stating the obvious but ensuring that you drink plenty of mineral water, eat mostly fresh organic produce with adequate amounts of protein can go a long way to improve your gut health. For some reason for many people this seems to be the hardest habit to change. They resist the idea of giving up convenience food and are in love with the illusion of a “magic pill” that will fix everything. Whereas a little bit of effort and willpower in the beginning will result in not needing any pills in the future.

When you are spring cleaning your nutritional habits protein has a major role in your diet. It is broken down into amino acids aka the body’s very own building blocks. In this context the most important one is L-Glutamine because of its ability to assist with intestinal function, health and repair. It also helps us build muscle and contributes to the health of our brain. L-Glutamine occurs naturally in both animal and vegetable protein, however it can also be taken as a supplement if you suspect that your gut lining may be damaged and you need extra help.

Give your digestion a boost

Digestive enzymes are often overlooked as a powerful digestion aid. Their task is to break down the macronutrients in your food so that they are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. They are especially useful if you suffer from food intolerances as these can cause varying degrees of malabsorption. You can feel the benefits almost straight away in terms of more energy and less hunger.

Take probiotics on a regular basis

There are many reasons why it’s a good idea to do so: as well as making your immune system rock solid they work in tandem with the digestive enzymes in transforming food into energy producing nutrients. Probiotics will also help you reduce hunger and bloating (hello flat belly!). You will find it easier to manage your food intolerances: sometimes these will get better and you might even be able to virtually eliminate some (since taking probiotics regularly I can eat dairy products safely without side effects). Allergies like hayfever will also improve because your body will carry less inflammation and therefore won’t react so violently to allergens.

You might still catch a cold or a flu every now and then, especially if the virus responsible is a new strain that you are not yet immune to, but these will typically manifest themselves as a couple of sneezes or feeling slightly under the weather for a day or two with no need to take medications other than for comfort (hot lemon… yum!).

Probiotics come in many varieties: for convenience you can buy probiotic tablets from your local health shop. In my opinion these aren’t great but are awesome when you travel, especially by air. You can also find many dairy based probiotics drinks at your local supermarket and although good they are not brilliant either. The best probiotics are the ones that you make yourself starting with some live cultures and leaving them to ferment in either milk (Kefir), sugary water (water Kefir), sugary tea (Kombucha) or vegetables (e.g.Milk Kefir sauerkrauts). Typically probiotic in kefir will have a much higher count of good bacteria than any dairy probiotic drinks you can get from a shop and no added preservatives, thickeners, fats, etc.

My personal experience and the reason I always recommend them to my clients is that since I started making my own probiotics in July 2013 I had a nasty cold once in September 2014 after spending 10 days on a road trip around Europe eating gluten (which I am intolerant to) and drinking alcohol destroying my intestines in the process. I got back on track immediately on my return and haven’t had anything major apart from a few sneezes in Winter every now and then.

Pretty good going, huh?

If you would like to have a go at making probiotics drinks yourself you can check out this post for Milk Kefir and this post for Kombucha. Do bear in mind that cultures tend to grow like triffids when they are happy so there is a good chance that your place will soon be overrun with them (if only my bank account behaved in the same way!).

Get plenty of restful and uninterrupted sleep

I know that this is very hard to achieve when you are super busy but remember that sleeping is the best form of detox available to you. It’s the time of the day when your body eliminates toxins and repairs itself as well as the time when cortisol levels drop and reset.

Sleep is the best form of detox ever

Find time for some “me time”

Spending some time alone in peace and quiet is a great way to relax and explore habits that are outdated and no longer serving you. This is another important aspect of an effective Spring cleaning mission. Sometime we get caught up in perpetual ruminating of thoughts going over and over the same scenarios in our heads. Putting an end to this will greatly reduce our chances of feeling drained and becoming emotionally stressed.

A technique that I love using when I catch myself ruminating is to visualize myself freezing that thought and face it head on. I allow myself to feel the feelings that it evokes and then I imagine it thawing and melting away.

Inner Spring cleaning is an all year round thing

Although Spring is the time of the year most associated with fresh starts it goes without saying that this type of reset can be done at any time of the year, month, week, day. Look at it as having a break from the life you got used to with a view of re-prioritising your health and well-being over everything else.

The rewards will come in terms of that feel good factor that will see your confidence soar leading you to make brave choices in your work or business helping you push the boundaries of your comfort zone. This is often where success is waiting for you.

Need help with your inner Spring cleaning? Get in touch now and book a complimentary 30 minutes breakthrough call to explore the best strategy for you. 

  • Verna EC, Lucak S. Use of probiotics in gastrointestinal disorders: what to recommend? Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 2010;3(5):307-319. doi:10.1177/1756283X10373814.
  • Aragon G, Graham DB, Borum M, Doman DB. Probiotic Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2010;6(1):39-44.
  • Özdemir Ö. Various effects of different probiotic strains in allergic disorders: an update from laboratory and clinical data. Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 2010;160(3):295-304. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2010.04109.x.
  • De Oliveira Leite AM, Miguel MAL, Peixoto RS, Rosado AS, Silva JT, Paschoalin VMF. Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology. 2013;44(2):341-349. doi:10.1590/S1517-83822013000200001.

A berry easy way to enjoy a delicious treat packed with many health benefits

There are many things that make the prospect of Summer getting closer alluring. Food-wise I believe one of the biggest anticipations is finally being able to eat fresh berries. And I mean literally just picked off the plants, fresh, scented, juicy. Perhaps accompanied by a Strawberries and champagne in a Martini glassglass of Champagne whilst sitting outside under a canopy of trees. Who else is salivating already?

But wait! Isn’t fruit a big no-no when it comes to fat loss?

Au contraire, in my opinion nothing is truly off-limits. Some things are perhaps more likely to hinder your progress, others can be downright destructive if you are intolerant or allergic to them but fruit offers plenty of benefits as well as providing us with a bit of healthy sweetness.

My personal experience is that once I got my shit together and sorted my nutrition out by going organic most of the time and buying from local farmers some of the time, I was once again able to enjoy the true flavour of cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries in its full intensity. It’s amazing how sweet real fruit can be once you wean yourself off from pre-fab foods.

It’s not just the flavour that you should go for though, there are also many health benefits in eating berries on a regular basis.


Cupped hands holding a bunch of freshly picked strawberries

Research recently carried out into why strawberries are good for humans1 showed that they are a rich source of micronutrients and phytochemicals such as α-carotene, vitamin C and phenolic compounds. Because of this they have shown to have antioxidant properties, can help in preventing cancer (or at least slow down its progress) and assist with the correct function of the immune system.

In order to establish how many of the beneficial compounds were available to us a small group of healthy individuals were made to consume “acute quantities (300g)” of fresh and stored (refrigerated for 4 days) strawberries obtained from a local grower and then blood tests were carried out. Of particular importance was to establish what difference eating fresh vs. stored strawberries would make to the bio-availability to humans of the many phytochemicals, after all it had been previously proven that storage methods can indeed have an influence on nutrients’ absorption but also on the chemical structure of produce.

Surprisingly (but also yay!) the blood tests carried out over a period of hours showed that there were minimal differences in the levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin E between fresh and stored strawberries, with the only significant difference shown in the levels of Vitamin C after consumption of stored strawberries. Levels of α-carotene were higher after eating fresh produce whilst antioxidant compounds didn’t show any significant results.

The takeaway from this experiment is that yes, storage methods can have an impact on the bio-availability of nutrients from fruit but that it’s so minimal that we really shouldn’t worry too much about it as long as the fruit is refrigerated immediately after harvest and consumed within 4 days. In fact, researchers have hinted that it’s the process of deterioration of the fruit that can possibly make some of the beneficial compounds more easily processed by our bodies.


A bowl of frozen berries

© SMART Fitness Makeover, MMXVI

Well, berry flavonoids and their health benefits for humans seem to have been the subject of many research papers. Women seem to have a particular interest in berries and have increased their consumption on the basis that they might help them cope with menopausal symptoms. Studies have demonstrated that post-menopausal women who consumed berries at least once a week over a 16 year period of time had a remarkably lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

From the data currently available2 it seems that berries have indeed beneficial effects, albeit moderate, on cardiovascular health, “bad cholesterol” levels, free radicals and weight loss. They appear to inhibit the expression of the inflammation gene and are helpful in the prevention of oesophageal cancer. The reasons for this effect are multiple: like strawberries other berries are also rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, vitamins A, E and C, carotene, selenium and folic acid. “Berry anthocyanins also improve neuronal and cognitive brain functions, eyes health as well as protect genomic DNA integrity4″. The bio-availability of these compounds unfortunately isn’t great and they tend to be concentrated in the skin of the fruits.

Berries are low in calories (approx. 40KCal/100g) and contain modest amounts of fibre which is always a bonus especially when on a calorie controlled programme. Of particular interest to me is the fact that berries, like chocolate, contain catechins which can support muscle growth when performing regular resistance training.

If all this wasn’t a good enough reason to regularly include berries in our diet researchers have found that “specific berries, such as bilberry and black currant extracts, chokeberry juice, cranberry extracts, and freeze-dried strawberries were shown to have favorable effects on plasma glucose or lipid profiles in subjects with metabolic risk factors including type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, or metabolic syndrome”3. Blueberries have been shown to be useful in improving insulin resistance.

The consensus among researchers seems to be that it’s best to eat berries either fresh or frozen when all their nutritional compounds are still intact. In the Summer it’s really easy to eat them straight out of the punnet they tend to come in. The rest of the year we can still enjoy them frozen.

I like to use mixed berries for my post-workout recovery shakes: I add 1 scoop of unflavoured whey protein powder to a mug with 1.5 scoops of raw cocoa powder, 2 grams of cinnamon extract and 1 cup of frozen mix berries from the local supermarket. Sometimes I mix the ingredient with mineral water, other times with coconut milk and then I blitz them until I have a thick but frothy shake and enjoy it as if it was a dessert. In fact, in the rare occasions when the temperature raises above 25ºC I might even turn this into a sorbet.

Had I not ripped out all the strawberry plants in my back garden mistaking them from weeds I would be repeating these experiment every year with my own crops. Especially the bit in which I have to consume berries in acute quantities like a whole punnet every day (but skipping the blood test bit). Instead I am forced to resort to some of the local growers who kindly sell their produce every fortnight at the local Farmers’ Market and eat them in moderation to make it cost effective.

I love all berries but I think if I really had to choose a favourite it would have to be strawberries. What about you?

1 – E. Azzini et al. , “Absorption of strawberry phytochemicals and antioxidant status changes in humans”, Journal of Berry Research 1 (2010) 81–89, DOI:10.3233/BR-2010-009
2 – Huntley, A.L. “The health benefits of berry flavonoids for menopausal women: cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognition.”, Maturitas (2009), DOI:
3 – Basu, A et al., “Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health”, Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; PMCID: PMC3068482
4 – Zafra-Stone, S. et al., “Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention”, Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2007, 51, 675 – 683 DOI 10.1002/mnfr.200700002

Chocolate to help you lose weight? Yes please! ♥

You will be pleased to know that chocolate is indeed good for you… or, more precisely, I am just about to reveal some of the wonderful array of raw cocoa powder benefits.

First of all it’s important to distinguish between pure unsweetened cacao powder made from roasted and crushed cocoa beans and chocolate which is made by combining cocoa powder, cocoa butter and anything else you find in a chocolate bar: milk, nuts, emulsifiers, soya lecithin, sugar, etc.

If chocolate is all that’s available then dark chocolate for health (the darker the better) is a better choice than any other type of chocolate.

In fact, when I was a child and was regularly hiking up and down the Italian Alps with my parents or the Summer school guys, we used to fill our rucksacks with dark chocolate bars which we would eat for energy all day long during the hardest and longest hikes.

On this occasion the cocoa butter in the chocolate was actually beneficial as we would spend all day at high altitudes and in all sorts of weather conditions. It made climbing some of the tallest mountains in Europe less painful and provided some soul cuddling every time I fell into a frozen lake seconds after being told not to jump on the ice…  RIP the days before the Healthy & Safety madness.

I digress. Apologies.

Luscious melted chocolate with nuts and pieces

Chocolate is a powerful hunger suppressant

The main reason that pure unsweetened raw cacao powder can help you lose weight is that it’s a very powerful tool to suppress hunger and cravings while on a restricted calories regime. There isn’t much of a way around this: in order to lose weight we must cut back on the calories that caused us to put it on in the first place (as well as paying attention to where those calories come from).

Until we have learned our unique nutrition formula cutting calories can lead us to become hungry in between meals and start craving all sorts of things that usually look like cakes, crisps, chips, pizza, ice cream and so on. If you are a woman reading this, you will also have to contend with the monthly fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone during your cycle and you will most likely be familiar with the “bottomless pit syndrome” that can happen as the progesterone levels drop off and you get closer to the end of the cycle leading to menstruation.

Heap of cocoa powderCocoa powder can help keep these urges under control. It does this by affecting a chemical compound called GLP-1, a hormone found predominantly in the intestines but also in different parts of the brain and is tasked with regulating food intake. It’s also involved in regulating the release of insulin into the bloodstream and has an action opposed to that of another hormone, ghrelin, responsible for feelings of hunger. 1

In addition to this, the bio-active compounds found in cocoa powder can help raise the levels of endorphines and dopamine making us feel happier and more relaxed. For this reason cocoa powder can be a natural anti-depressant helping us reduce anxiety and balancing our mood during times of stress.

Chocolate is a rich source of magnesium

But wait! There’s more…  😀

Unless you have lived in a world without social media lately you will have no doubt seen the many memes going round warning you about Magnesium deficiencies in the modern Western diet and how you should take this supplement and that supplement to make things ok. Well, as it turns out cocoa powder naturally contains high levels of Magnesium making it incredibly useful in modulating blood pressure, stabilizing your sleeping patterns and ensuring continued cardiovascular health. It also contains Copper which helps with oxygenation of the blood having a positive impact on preventing the onset of dementia.

Chocolate can help control cravings for starchy foods

Consuming raw unsweetened cocoa powder is an acquired taste but it is so effective at suppressing hunger and crazy cravings that it’s worth putting up with the bitter taste and finding a way of making it palatable without compromising its properties.

Whenever my hormones go on a rollercoaster ride leaving me hungry when I shouldn’t be (because I have been meticulous with my nutrition) I make myself a hot drink by mixing a heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder with some hot water, a few drops of vanilla extract and perhaps some cinnamon. I don’t like using sweeteners but if you do you could perhaps add some Stevia to it and/or some unsweetened almond milk.

I sometimes add half a scoop of pure whey protein powder or just BCAAs and I can be guaranteed to feel pleasantly full and chillaxed for a good few hours and certainly until my next meal. As well as making me more comfortable throughout the day it also means that I want to put less food on my plate because I am not starving.

Chocolate can help you build muscle, lose fat and slow down aging

One of the many nuisances associated with old age is the progressive loss of skeletal muscle (sarcopenia) and the increase in body fat. So far the best way of countering this process has been thought to be exercise, however this can be a problem for those who are suffering from other ailments or injuries that cause them to be less mobile.

For some strange reason there don’t seem to be many studies available on other ways of slowing down the onset of sarcopenia perhaps through the use of supplements or dietary changes. However, this might be about to change thanks to a “proof of concept” trial in humans 4 that suggests there is a way of reversing this aspect of aging in the older populations even without resistance training.

To explain sarcopenia in a very (very!) simplified manner you could say that there are two main modulators responsible for skeletal muscle growth: Myostatin and Follistatin. The former inhibits muscle growth and levels in the blood stream increase with age. The latter, instead suppresses the effects of Myostatin thus allowing continued muscle growth (including the heart), or at least less loss of it, well into old age (levels decrease with age).

The compound that affects the balance between Myostatins and Follistatins is one of the flavanoids contained in cocoa called (-)-epicatechin. A recent study carried out in Mexico on a very small number of human subjects has yielded encouraging results: by supplementing their diet over 7 days with a small quantity of pure (-)-epicatechin (less than 1mg/Kg of body weight per day) those receiving the supplement recorded an increase in bilateral hand grip strength of approx. 7% plus a favourable increase in the ratio of Follistatins vs. Myostatins of approx. 49% although the individual values were not reported. These results replicated previous findings on similar experiments carried out on mice and it was concluded that this is an area which warrants investing in further thorough research as the implications could be huge should a viable supplement with standardised levels of (-)-epicatechin be developed.

The active flavanol is naturally contained in raw cocoa and dark chocolate (but also in green tea!). Consuming moderate amounts of either product every day (30g) should be enough to encourage a small increase in Follistatins and therefore prevent too much muscle wastage as we get older, although we shouldn’t be tempted to go gung-ho in our quest for Myostatin suppression as this can cause brittle and weaker tendons and ligaments. So, as is often the case, moderation is the key until more research has been conducted on larger groups of human subjects and the side effects and contraindications of supplementing with (-)-epicatechins have investigated over long term.

All of the above is the reason why I include copious amounts of cocoa powder in my home made post workout recovery protein bars.

Where to find raw unsweetened cocoa powder?

One thing to watch out for is that many supermarkets don’t sell pure cocoa powder, the only one I have found so far that does is Tesco (according to the label) so make sure to read the box carefully before buying a product that says cocoa because it will almost certainly contain fillers and various additives. Your local health food store should be able to procure organic raw cacao powder though and of course there are loads of online retailers too.

How do you like taking your cocoa?

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1. Holst, J.J. – “The Physiology of Glucagon-like Peptide 1” (2007), Physiological Reviews

2. Hollenberg, N.K. & Fisher, N.D.L. “Is it the dark in dark chocolate?” (2007), American Heart Association

3. I. Andujar et al., “Cocoa polyphenols and their potential benefits for human health (PDF)” (2012), Hindawi Publishing Corporation

4. Gutierrez-Salmean G. et al., “Effects of (−)-epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation” (2014), J Nutr Biochem. 2014 Jan; 25(1): 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.09.007.

Cinnamon: your new BFF against love handles?

The internet and social media can be funny things. It seems that at some time or another a subject gets into the spotlight and everyone writes, or at least rewrites, about it. Cinnamon is not exempt from this and I still remember the flurry of memes and inspirational quotes about it plastered on every social media channel that I follow. According to some of these memes the humble Cinnamon is supposed to help us with weight loss by regulating insulin and on top of that it is said to have anti-aging properties. For totally selfish reasons I felt curious to find out more about this and reviewed a number of research papers reporting. This is what I found out.

First of all cinnamon is obtained from the bark of trees belonging to the Cinnamomum genus native to East Asia. There are several variations but they can be narrowed down to two sub-groups: CinnamomumVerum (aka “true cinnamon”) and Cinnamomum Cassia (the common spice sold in supermarkets all over the world). When the trees are harvested the stems must be processed immediately and the outer bark separated from the inner bark while it’s still wet. As the bark is drying naturally it starts to curl up and is eventually chopped into sticks and sold.

Cinnamon plantsAccording to a meta study carried out at the University of California in 2010(4) “Cinnamon is a rich botanical source of both Chromium and polyphenols that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine and has been shown to affect blood glucose and insulin signaling”. High fasting blood glucose levels are a typical tell tale sign of Type 2 diabetes which is caused by poor insulin sensitivity.

Other studies have shown that the Verum genus is richer in beneficial nutrients than the more popular Cassia variety however the latter is richer in the compound coumarin that acts as a blood thinning agent akin to some stroke prevention drugs. For this reason, consumption of cinnamon in high doses is slightly concerning however, despite the lack of studies on the long-term effects of consuming cinnamon, this spice has been used by humans for thousands of years without any knowledge of any adverse effects.

Cinnamon extract powder in a small bowl with two cinnamon sticks

© MMXVI SMART Fitness Makeover

A study conducted on a small group of healthy human subjects(1) showed that after adding 3g of cinnamon to their daily diet cellular glucose uptake was increased whereas a long-term study of non-diabetic women with polycystic ovary syndrome showed a significant reduction in insulin resistance after taking 1 g cinnamon per day for 8 weeks before an oral-glucose-tolerance test was performed. A further study conducted in Pakistan(2) showed that by feeding 1g, 3g, and 6g of cinnamon daily for 40 days to a group of men and women with Type 2 diabetes resulted in lower levels of fasting glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol (the subjects of the study were receiving oral blood sugar lowering treatment). However the same results were not experienced by overweight, post menopausal women with Type 2 diabetes.

The conclusions of the meta study mentioned above(4) were that cinnamon whether used as a straight powder or as an extract does indeed seem to have a modest effect in lowering fasting blood glucose levels in individuals suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Surprisingly, this effect is comparable to that of the more famous drug metformin with cinnamon showing a slightly stronger effect overall.

At the point in time when the meta analysis was carried out there was still a fair bit to learn about the “why it worked” in the way it did. A study subsequently conducted in Japan(3) on live rats with Type 2 diabetes set out to investigate the mechanisms by which Cinnamon is effective on regulating blood sugar levels. For the purpose of the experiment the researchers prepared a Cinnamon Extract by boiling some Chinese Cinnamon sticks for 30 minutes. The study was successful in explaining the mechanisms that make cinnamon useful in managing Type 2 diabetes, however these are extremely complicated and unnecessary for the purpose of this blog (plus, admittedly, I barely understand them as I am not medically trained).

What to make of all this information?

The main issues with regards to all these studies on the effects of cinnamon on insulin management and levels of fasting blood glucose are that some have used natural cinnamon, others have used a cinnamon extract obtained in different ways, whereas others have used standardised extracts isolating the active components and nobody quite knows where the cinnamon came from in the first place or what genus was used, how it was dried, and so on. In some instances participants were already taking blood glucose lowering medications which makes it difficult to extrapolate any significant data as the medications may have well masked the effect of the natural product.

Finally, although there seems to be an almost unanimous agreement across most researchers that cinnamon does improve insulin sensitivity we must remember that most studies were carried out over a short period of time and on small numbers of human participants at any one time whose history of medications and lifestyle habits aren’t always described and taken into account. Even by “combining” the results as part of the meta study the sample is still minute and it’s therefore hard to know whether the same findings could really be applied to the World population at large.

Other interesting findings about the effects of cinnamon are that it appears to be beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and also in cases of ischemic stroke by blocking cell swelling(5).  Again, despite the lack of clarity in the materials available, it appears that nevertheless cinnamon is also useful in bringing about small improvements in body composition, with tackling metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Should you have a go at using cinnamon or not?

In my opinion, if you suspect you may have insulin sensitivity issues you should consult a doctor to have blood tests done and not rely on a blog post to solve your doubts. Depending on the results, if they are normal and you suspect a bit of foul insulin play in your efforts to lose fat then it might be worth seeing if, over a period of time and with everything else remaining the same, cinnamon is the key to your fat loss success. The doses in the studies were between 1 and 6g of cinnamon/cinnamon extract. The best results were given by using 3g per day (which is a lot of cinnamon) taken with sugary foods. Higher doses haven’t shown a bigger effect so it’s best to stay on the safe side and not go over 3g. By the way, insulin resistance tends to show up as “love handles” so if you can’t bear the thought of taking regular measurements around key points on your body, pinch yourself around the hips from time to time to measure your progress. It’s not scientific nor accurate but it will give you a sense of whether anything is changing or not.

If, however your blood test results show that you are above the normal range and tending towards developing diabetes you must discuss your next step with your doctor. Bearing in mind that cinnamon has been proven to be as effective as metformin there is no harm in mentioning this to your GP or specialist. Chances are that if you are just borderline outside of normal he or she might agree to check your blood again in a couple of months time giving you the chance of adjusting your diet and lifestyle accordingly before prescribing you drugs. The time in between blood tests would be a good time to also experiment with cinnamon knowing that you will have tangible proof either way in a short period of time. Remember: the first study showed an improvement in fasting blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity after only 40 days.

Last, but certainly not least if you are also a bit vain, the same mechanisms that make cinnamon a valuable tool in maintaining our health also facilitate collagen biosynthesis(6) in our skin thus providing an important anti-aging service!

Need help with managing your Type II Diabetes or PCOS? Book your 30 min complimentary breakthrough call to find out how I can help you. Just fill in the form that appears on the right or use the contact form at this link.

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  1. Hlebowicz J, et al. “Effects of 1 and 3 g cinnamon on gastric emptying, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, and ghrelin concentrations in healthy subjects.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(3):815–821
  2. Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. “Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes Care 2003;26:3215–8
  3. Shen Y, Honma N, Kobayashi K, Jia LN, Hosono T, Shindo K, et al. (2014) “Cinnamon Extract Enhances Glucose Uptake in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and C2C12 Myocytes by Inducing LKB1-AMP-Activated Protein Kinase Signaling.” PLoS ONE 9(2): e87894. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087894
  4. Paul A. Davis and Wallace Yokoyama. “Cinnamon Intake Lowers Fasting Blood Glucose: Meta-Analysis”, Journal of Medicinal Food. August 2011, 14(9): 884-889. doi:10.1089/jmf.2010.0180.
  5. Qin B, Panickar K and Anderson R.A. “Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance,
    Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes”. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, Volume 4, Issue 3, May 2010
  6. Takasao N, et al., “Cinnamon Extract Promotes Type I Collagen Biosynthesis via Activation of IGF-I Signaling in Human Dermal Fibroblasts” – Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2012, DOI: 10.1021/jf2043357

Don’t panic, go organic!

Below is my first ever Periscope broadcast on the subject of how easy it is to switch to an organic produce diet… if you live in the UK (specifically in Essex) at least.

I am still not that good at keep fit videos as I seem to run out of things to say quickly so further down is an “almost transcript” of my ramblings with a few bits added to it that I meant to say on the day but escaped from my brain before I could actually say them… 😀

The reason that prompted me to do this broadcast was that I was reading one of the many newsletters that I subscribe to and keep coming into my inbox and somebody was pointing out [pause… some twat asked me to show my boobs]… somebody was actually saying that it’s quite silly, when working with fitness clients, to obsess about recommending to them to eat a natural diet consisting mostly of vegetables, natural foods, organic stuff because it’s difficult and impractical to source it all.

My weekly organic food deliveryOf course, a few minutes later the doorbell went… somebody knocks on the door and it’s my delivery driver with the organic basket full of food for the week. So I am thinking that’s probably not quite right that it’s a hard thing to do because, for me at least, it’s very very simple and, as a matter of fact, this is what was delivered to me earlier yesterday morning. This is a whole week’s worth of supplies of food: meat and vegetables.

It’s all organic, the animals have been raised in a high welfare environment so they get to enjoy decent lives in a natural environment before being killed for food. None of the fruit or vegetables are sprayed with chemicals or any other nasties. And because the soil can’t cope with intense farming it stays rich in nutrients which in turn give produce their distinct flavours.

GROM organic Italian ice creamI am a big fan of GROM ice creams, if you follow me on Facebook you will know that I will happily travel to Italy by any means possible just to have one of their masterpieces. The reason I love their ice creams so much is that they are made with ancient varieties of fruit that haven’t been genetically manipulated (much) and that are grown on healthy soil respecting the natural rhythm of the seasons. The results are outstanding: fruit that tastes like fruit and is naturally sweet.

The same is true for the organic food for sale in the UK: each vegetable has its own distinct flavour as opposed to each variety looking pretty and different but tasting the same.

So I must say, when I do consultations with new potential clients it’s difficult and… I do try and put across to them that actually buying organic like this is easier than going shopping every single day and certainly cheaper because all that I have just shown on the table cost me less than 30 quid and how many times do I manage to walk into a shop or my local supermarket and come out spending less than 30 quid and have that much food with me? It hardly ever happens and it’s usually mass produced tasteless stuff. And yes, unfortunately sometimes you just have to go with that because there’s no other choice but really it’s sooo sooo easy to actually do it properly and to feed yourself in a way that’s body friendly and doesn’t cause you to develop crazy allergies just because of all the hormones that are being injected in the meat or the chemical crap that’s sprayed on fruit and vegetables or any other produce.

Anyone that says it’s difficult to go organic and follow a natural diet I think they are probably talking crap. At least here in the UK it’s really, really easy to do and it’s just a no-brainer: cheaper than normal stuff and it gives you a chance to be creative in the kitchen and come up with something really, really nice.

PMS, PCOS, menopause: learn how Agnus Castus benefits those who suffer

A few weeks ago I was reading the transcript of a training call I attended a few months back and my attention was caught by a snippet in which the herb Vitex Agnus Castus was mentioned as having progesterone-like effects that are beneficial for women suffering from bad PMS, PCOS and those approaching menopause.

Having suffered all my life from fairly severe PMS symptoms including breasts so sore that somebody waving a hand a foot away would make me wince I decided to investigate this further as this herb sounded like it had superhero potential during a difficult time each month.

Surprising Agnus Castus benefits

My research lead me to discover that in addition to being a well known folk remedy for thousands of years there is a substantial body of evidence to support the theory that Vitex Agnus Castus benefits those who are managing infertility, menopause, PCOS, PMS and more specifically to bring relief for cyclical mastalgia (sore breasts).

Vitex Agnus Castus, also known as Chasteberry, is a deciduous shrub that is native to Mediterranean Europe and Central Asia.

Traditionally, the fruit extract has been used in the treatment of many female conditions, including menstrual disorders (amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), corpus luteum insufficiency, hyperprolactinaemia, infertility, acne, menopause and disrupted lactation.

The female menstrual cycle

But before I dive into the research findings let’s quickly remind ourselves how the female menstrual cycle works (in simple words).

There are two distinct phases to the menstrual cycle: the first phase (follicular phase, estrogen dominant) starts on day 1 of the menses and lasts approximately 14 days during which a follicle inside one of the ovaries matures under the influence of FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) and eventually culminates with the release of the egg (ovulation) into the womb. This is when the second phase (luteal phase) of the menstrual cycle begins. After the egg is released the follicle is transformed into the “corpus luteum” which in turn becomes the major source of progesterone.

Two things can happen at the beginning of the luteal phase: either the egg gets fertilized and pregnancy occurs or the egg doesn’t get fertilised and the corpus luteum gradually degrades and both estrogen and progesterone levels drop leading to the beginning of the menses and the repetition of the cycle.

The reasons for women experiencing discomfort during the luteal phase of the cycle are thought to be due to elevated levels of prolactin, a protein secreted from the pituitary gland that enables female mammals to produce milk. The increase in prolactin levels can have a negative impact on the correct development of the corpus luteum thus also reducing progesterone levels during the luteal phase. This is believed to lead to the problem of sore breasts and even infertility.

Research on how Agnus Castus benefits those with disrupted menses

agnus castus vitex chasteberryDouble blind controlled studies conducted over the years with many groups of women in different countries have demonstrated that regular consumption of Vitex Agnus Castus berries extract over the course of 3 months resulted in the normalization of progesterone levels and the gradual elimination of luteal phase defects. This is thought to be due to the fact that compounds found in the Chasteberry can inhibit prolactin production by influencing the pituitary gland.

In reality, it appears that this mechanism isn’t completely understood but a review of 13 double blind controlled studies (1) has demonstrated that women taking Vitex Agnus Castus extracts over three cycles were overall better off than those receiving a placebo when experiencing a reduction in the symptoms of PMS with hardly any side effects.

Admittedly the studies leave a lot of room for improvement but nevertheless they all seem to come to a similar conclusion. It also appears that Vitex Agnus Castus can affect the secretion of melatonin suggesting that it might help women sleep better especially as they go through perimenopause.

Furthermore, although there isn’t much research available on this, based on what is known of the mechanisms that make Vitex interact with the endocrine system, it has been postulated that Agnus Castus can be useful in the management of PCOS and in particular with issues surrounding hirsutism (too many androgens in the bloodstream) and low progesterone levels.

My personal experience with Vitex Agnus Castus

Personally, I have been taking Vitex from the day of ovulation up to the first day of the menses for a very long time now and have experienced many of the Agnus Castus benefits mentioned before. Perhaps, as a consequence of my hormones being in better balance, I also had a few additional pleasant surprises.

At last, in the two weeks leading up to my period I don’t feel (or think I look) like a beached whale from the ridiculous amount of water retention I used to suffer from. I only have very faint mastalgia and the excruciating tummy pain has been replaced with very mild discomfort.

The first surprise is that I definitely have softer hair and fresher looking skin that doesn’t require moisturisers. Not to mention the world is now safe from my irrational outbursts of pure anger for no reason other than “it’s coming up to that time of the month”.  😉

Agnus Castus benefits for fat loss

Does this help with fat loss? Yes it does. Indirectly, but it does. Both estrogen and progesterone have a say on the way in which fuel is used or stored and how our body reacts to stress.

Estrogen in particular has a gentle influence on both insulin and cortisol, whereas progesterone only influences cortisol. If estrogen and progesterone are being released in the correct amounts then our bodies will be well equipped to support our fat loss efforts by inhibiting the fat storage properties of insulin and opposing cortisol.

So if you too are a member of the “Terrible PMS” Club, the next time you walk by your local health food store why not give Vitex Agnus Castus a try? It’s inexpensive and it might make a whole world of difference to you keeping you sane and pain free during those days.

Obviously, using this herb is only a tiny part of managing the discomfort of PMS, PCOS or the onset of the menopause. There are many more things that you can do to keep the symptoms under control and, in fact, use your cycle to program your nutrition and workouts with fat loss in mind. If you would like help with this get in touch by booking a complimentary, no obligation, call using the form below.


1. van Die, al., 2013, Vitex agnus-castus Extracts for Female Reproductive Disorders: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials, Planta Med [online] 79: 562-575. Available at: [Accessed: 22 June 2015]


Not keen on water? Let cucumber come to the rescue.

One of my clients’ biggest complaints when I tell them they need to make sure they drink adequate amounts of water is that they don’t like the taste of it. These are often people that add squash to their water or consume large quantities of carbonated drinks loaded with sugar or their evil sugar free counterparts. Sure, especially here in Essex, UK tap water tastes like a swimming pool and is laden with hormones and chemicals so I can sympathize with my clients on this.

My solution has been to switch to drinking natural mineral water that I can buy in 5 litre bottles from my local supermarket. It’s very cheap and tastes …well of not much, which is what pure water should be like. It’s fair to say that even this doesn’t taste anything like the water I used to drink straight from the rocks when hiking at the top of the Alps, but it’s a major improvement on anything coming out of the tap.

With Summer finally announcing its presence even here in the UK, staying hydrated on the warmer days becomes more important than ever and so it’s worth considering ways to make water taste acceptable so that we won’t hesitate to drink more of it.

Cucumber slices

Provided you like the taste of it, adding sliced cucumber to your drinking water could be just the solution to make it easier to consume healthy amounts of water and as a bonus you will be reaping a wealth of additional benefits.

1. Cucumbers help to keep your skin and muscles healthy – that’s because they contain (among others) silica, a trace mineral that the body needs to keep connective tissue in tip top shape and a host of antioxidants that help your body fight damages from free radicals thereby slowing down aging and preventing disease.

2. Cucumbers can help you lose weight – they have diuretic properties and can help you get relief from bloating and excess water retention. In addition to this cucumbers will provide additional hydration and fibre as well as a host of vitamins and minerals ensuring your metabolism works efficiently and your body has all the nutrients it needs to thrive. These fruits are very low in calories so they can be eaten ad lib thus adding fibre to your diet to support a healthy digestive system.

3. Cucumbers show to have the potential to cure cancer – the polyphenols (lignans) phytonutrients (cucurbitacins) found in cucumbers have shown promising results in lowering the risk of developing different types of cancer including breast, uterine, ovarian and prostate cancers. A study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences in 2013 showed how cucurbitacins compounds have shown an ability to prevent and stop the proliferation of cancer cells and they can help cope with inflammation therefore also supporting the use of plants from the same family as cucumber as folk medicinal remedy over time.

4. Cucumbers can help with heart health and high blood pressure – they do this by providing us with healthy doses of potassium which is an electrolyte tasked with many functions including helping control nerve impulse transmission, muscle contractions and heart function.


cucumber water

Although I love to keep this simple and just add a few slices of cucumber to my bottle of water there are many different ways to make this more suitable to your palate. The important thing is not to go mad with the ingredients otherwise your cucumber drink will also become a sugar fest and lose many of its health benefits.

Some ideas are:

  • Lemon, cucumber and mint
  • Cucumber and (straw)berries
  • Cucumber and seasonal fruit

Herbs will be typically better than fruit because like cucumbers have an almost negligible caloric value, however if the taste of ripe fruit is what it takes to persuade you to drink adequate amounts of water (approx. 1 litre for each 25 Kgs of body weight) then so be it.

Have fun with this and let me know how you get on in the comments below.

How to get lean without sacrifices

The majority of prospective clients I meet have a similar burning question: how to get lean without having to make any sacrifices both in terms of food and time spent exercising. The reason they ask is that they are typically only interested in shrinking a dress size or two but they see that as a major undertaking. My short answer to the burning question is usually “no sacrifices needed”.

However, the long answer is “it depends on what you perceive as a sacrifice” and “how well you understand the benefits of the process of learning what makes your metabolism tick”.

Admittedly sometimes this kind of answer freaks people out because it’s not black and white. In fact, it’s totally grey. The next step is usually being asked whether I can recommend a recipe book or a diet (totally missing the point)…

Sure I could, but how’s that going to help them in the long term? It won’t. Unless the recipe book was written especially for them based on their genetics and natural tendencies towards metabolizing different nutrients. But I suspect that would be more expensive than hiring me.

What do you perceive to be a sacrifice?

And so we go back to mindset and thinking about different ways of perceiving a “food sacrifice”. If someone was addicted to crisps, biscuits, cakes, sugar, soft drinks, etc. then my guess is that, to these people, suggesting they reduce the amount of these foods from their diet would seem like a sacrifice or, more likely, torture. And yet if they asked me “how to get lean” in a few easy steps that’s what I would recommend.

From my point of view, because I love fresh produce, I would consider it a sacrifice having nothing to eat but convenience foods all the time as they provide very little nutrients, lots of calories and then make me crave more of them (which is by design). Convenience food tastes nice and I will have some from time to time too but it’s a choice, not a way of life.

Wanting to know how to get lean but dreading the answer is a reflection of a mentality centered around the idea of “having to go on a diet in order to lose weight”. Or, in other words, meaning that we have to give up something we love in order to achieve something that we aspire to. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just think: how committed can anyone be to a weight loss program when they are working within this framework? In my experience these people make some sort of effort the first two weeks, then they gradually jump off the wagon and revert to their old habits with a vengeance followed by the inevitable crocodile tears.

How to get lean without going on a diet! Yay!

So why not give up the idea of “going on a diet” altogether and instead learn what makes your body tick? The perk is that you can keep on eating your favourite foods while you learn to love others that perhaps you never thought we could love before.

Again, learning how to get lean is all down to fully understanding the benefits of shifting our way of thinking about food, exercise and the strategies that help us achieve fat loss.

For example: I love a good glass of wine in the evenings BUT drinking alcohol after a workout reduces the amount of fat that my body is going to use as fuel after exercising. I have a choice to make: after each workout I either have the wine and shut up OR I wait 48hrs and enjoy my glass of wine or two AND make the most of the afterburn generated by the workout in the meantime.

If I am on a fat loss mission I will always go for the latter, but if I am not I go with either depending on the mood and whether I have to go out to get the wine. 😉 If I find myself craving the wine I know that my metabolism is out of balance and needs to be addressed. There could be issues with my nutrition or I could be emotionally rattled over some event that I cannot control. Shit happens and how I deal with it has an effect on my ability to control stress, hunger and cravings.

Another example: I love chocolate. I love it dark and I love it dark with hazelnuts (Nutella in solid form). Normally I wouldn’t be ashamed to eat a bucketload of the dark stuff and I don’t deny leaving my other half asleep on the floor in the middle of a Thai Yoga Massage treatment to go and eat the Christmas chocolates in the kitchen.

Although chocolate has many health benefits (estolled in another post) and helps curb cravings for starchy carbs, it’s also calories dense and too much of it has made me mucho fat in the past. It’s not an addiction for me but I do like it. So my strategy is to leverage its “superpowers” to help me shrink without desperately needing another bite.

I found my magic formula for breakfast to consist of a mug of milk kefir, pure whey protein powder, a splodge of glucomannan and a couple of heaped teaspoons of pure, dark, cocoa powder. This is especially awesome for me on super busy days because the combination of ingredients keeps me full all day long and I can happily go for up to 4-6 hrs without getting hungry. This might not work for anyone else but it works for me.

How to get lean without giving up chocolate

Have I made a sacrifice? Nope. In my quest to find out how to get lean I discovered that I can have a treat every day AND get slimmer on top of that.

Final example: when I suggest clients to have a salad for lunch they often give me the “oh f**k I am on a diet” look. So I ask if their version of a salad is like the boring, tasteless and pitiful portions you get in pubs and restaurants or if it’s more Mediterranean style, i.e. chuck in it every bit of fresh colourful juicy vegetable that you like. Dress, toss and eat.

Salad doesn’t equal boring, it’s just a way to describe eating a mixture of fresh raw vegetables. And for all the funky dressings available in the shops, I swear salads taste better with just some EV Olive Oil and the juice of a lemon or some balsamic vinegar and rock salt. The latter is really brilliant for enhancing flavours. You can also add meat to your salad, eggs, cheese, anchovies, salmon, olives and anything that’s going to make it sexier for you.

How to get lean and eat well? Have a sexy salad for lunch

What better way to eat your carbs and fibre both of which will keep you full and give you energy? In the picture above is a typical salad that I would have for lunch, usually made in a hurry with mixed baby leaves, a couple of vine tomatoes and half an avocado. Does that look like a sacrifice? It looks more like another treat to me.

The thing is, I haven’t even thought about calories reduction so far and yet I am already doing it naturally and effortlessly just by choosing to eat healthy and fresh foods.

What about the crisps and the cakes, etc.? Well I might have some at some point but they are no longer that appealing to me and I certainly don’t feel like “I have to have” some or I go all psycho on everyone. So, again, I am effectively discarding them as opposed to “having to give them up”. No sacrifices.

Want to master the art of taming your metabolism like a boss? Book your 30 minute complimentary breakthrough call now and let’s make today the first day of your healthier and more fabulous life!

Kombucha: the elixir of life

When I first realised that I was suffering from chronic fatigue a few years ago, I spent an awful lot of time trying to understand my problem and looking for a solution. After putting Dr. Google through his paces I discovered that one of the many causes of chronic fatigue was malabsorption of nutrients from my food due to damages to the intestinal wall courtesy of my gluten intolerance. Even with the best intentions it’s not always possible to be 100% gluten free, especially when traveling or sharing the place with people who don’t suffer from the same intolerance or don’t understand it.

glass of kombuchaOne of the remedies that was mentioned in one of the many documents I read was a drink called Kombucha, made out of sugary tea that had been left to ferment with some yeast and probiotic cultures for 7 to 14 days. It sounded intriguing so I did some further research into it. What I discovered was nothing short than amazing.

Apparently Kombucha as a drink has been around for over 2000 years. Originally from East Asia it became “famous” in the West after WWII when the Stalin administration decided to investigate anomalies in the rates of death from cancer across the former USSR. It appeared that there were two distinct areas in the whole of Russia where the locals didn’t have cancer and the only few deaths from the disease were from people who had only recently moved there. So two separate groups of scientists were dispatched to each location to conduct a thorough research of the lifestyles of the locals.

They quickly discovered that the environmental pollution was exactly the same as that of other areas with higher death tolls and that the locals were also consuming large quantities of alcohol and tobacco but the number of drink driving accidents or even misdemeanor from being drunk were negligible. It was only by chance that they discovered the reason why: during a home visit an old lady offered the scientists a slightly fizzy drink, a bit sharp, ever so slightly sweet that she referred to as “tea kvass”. She went on to explain that the drink was made from sweetened tea that had been fermented by means of a “tea fungus” that was large, round, translucent, flat and jelly like. By pure coincidence the other team of scientists in the other location came across exactly the same scenario. And so the research into the fungus started.

The science bit

Analysis of the fermented product revealed that it contained some of the building blocks of glucuronic acid, folic acid, lactic acid and trace quantities of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12. Glucuronic acid is thought to be responsible for the main health benefits of Kombucha: this has the ability to bind to toxins in the bloodstream and then expel them via the urinary system. This was document by clinical tests carried out on patients that had never previously drunk Kombucha.

The same building blocks for glucuronic acid have also been found to be important components of hyaluronic acid from which connective tissue develops as well as chondroitin which is essential for healthy cartilage. It also contributes to healthy stomach lining and healthy eyes. Most importantly Kombucha has strong antibacterial and antivirus properties. Because of all this Kombucha has been successfully used in the treatment of many disorders: from joints degeneration, to eyes issues, to repairing damages to the lining of the digestive tract, fatigue, wrinkles reduction, relief of painful menstruation, psoriasis, adult acne, constipation and a weak  immune system.

The stories

There are many anecdotes relating how Kombucha has saved many people from cancer, the most notorious ones are relating to Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitzyn who was said to have been experimented on with Kombucha when he was dying from cancer and made a “miraculous” recovery. Another extraordinary tale relates to the late Ronald Regan who, after finding out about Solzhenitzyn’s recovery, was prescribed Kombucha at the time when he developed stomach cancer from which he also made a complete recovery and eventually died from old age several years later.

But of course it’s not all down to story telling evidence, there has been plenty of scientific research carried out on this subject both in the former Soviet Union and Germany that substantiate and explains the reasons behind many of the anecdotal claims.

How to make Kombucha at home

Kombucha home making kitKombucha is very easy to make at home. All that’s needed are a few glass jars, ordinary black or green tea bags, white sugar and a SCOBY (the fungus) consisting of a symbiotic culture of different types of bacteria and yeasts forming a jelly like substance. The main bacterium, Aceterbacter xylinum, is activated by the caffeine in the black tea and through the complex process of fermentation converts the sugary tea into Kombucha. This is typically slightly fizzy and can have an alcohol content of 0.3%.

The first step is to prepare a sugary tea by using a couple of ordinary tea bags and approx. 85g of white sugar for each litre of boiling water. The tea bags need to be infused for 30 minutes or so and then removed. Once the tea has cooled down to room temperature it can be poured in the glass jar and the SCOBY added with a bit of previously made Kombucha. Cover the top of the jar with a muslin cloth and tie in place. Store at constant temperature away from direct sunlight for 7 to 14 days.

After the first 5 days the bevarage will taste a bit peachy and can be drunk already, however to get the full benefit from the drink it’s best to allow it to ferment for an extra 2 to 3 days when it will start to have a sharp taste. At this point it will have become a strong antibacterial and antiviral drink too. When it’s ready carefully remove the SCOBY and place in a separate jar with a bit of the fermented product to be used to regulate the acidity of the next batch. Strain the beverage through a plastic sieve (no metal), bottle up and refrigerate. Be careful if you decide to store the bottles at room temperature as the fermentation process will continue and they have been known to explode. You can check the acidity levels with a litmus strip: ideally the pH will be between 3 and 4.

Litmus strips

It’s very important that the glass jar used is very clean and that the SCOBY is always handled carefully and with clean hands. Some people say the cultures don’t like direct sunlight, others say they want to be in the dark. Personally I found that they like temperatures of around 20+ ºC which can be tricky in winter if the heating isn’t on all the time. I worked around this problem by keeping mine on the top shelf in the spare room which is South facing and has a heating vent in the ceiling. It’s also important that the cloth used to seal the glass jar is thick enough to prevent bugs ending up in it but not so thick to prevent air flow. I use kitchen towel and it works a treat.

In the Summer when there is plenty of fresh fruit available I tend to play with different flavours and I substitute some of the sugar with organic fruit (berries, mango, cherries, peaches) that I chuck in the glass jar and leave to ferment. When the drink is ready the fruit will be reduced to a mush and can only be thrown on the compost bin as it has no flavour left. Be careful never to use honey as it has antifungal and antibacteria properties and will destroy the cultures. Also, analysis have revealed that in order to get the full benefit from the fermentation process it’s best to use white refined sugar instead of raw cane sugar and other natural sweeteners.

Just like when making milk Kefir the Kombucha cultures grow like triffids in the right conditions. These can either be used to make more batches, donated to friends and family (always good to spread the love and health too), dumped on the compost heap and even blitzed and turned into moisturiser to get rid of wrinkles and crow feet.

My story

I personally swear by Kombucha and I cannot bear the thought of not having some nearby. Since I started drinking it I seem to have been able to resolve many nagging health issues that annoyed me for most of my life, I can keep the chronic fatigue under control and can take liberties with the occasional pizza or pastry knowing that I won’t suffer afterwards. The dry eyes from having Lasek many years ago are a thing of the past, my skin is fresh, my joints are healthy (x-rays taken last Summer after a fall show no signs of arthritis whatsoever) and my immune system is strong.

The best part? The detox effect of Kombucha means that when I drink a glass of wine the alcohol is metabolised and eliminated quickly and as a result I no longer wake up with a hangover!!

Want to try some too? If we know each other personally ask me to bring you a SCOBY next time we meet, otherwise you can find them easily and inexpensively online.

The Wonders of Milk Kefir

If you follow me on social media you will often see me talking about my probiotics drinks. The reason for this is that they have been nothing short of absolutely magic in helping me overcome health issues related to my food intolerances and the damages that ensued. 

Probiotics help ensure that your intestine is populated with good bacteria, the kind that will help you digest and absorb all the nutrients in the food you consume every day. They also keep your bowel movements regular and, most importantly, they ensure that your immune system is working correctly and even help you cope with stress better. 

I have now been taking probiotics for almost a year and haven’t had any colds, flu or viruses ever since. My energy levels are stable on high, my mood has improved and I am virtually stress free. Pretty awesome, right? 

The best part is that you too can enjoy all this at virtually no cost.

Milk Kefir

Although there are many choices of probiotics available to buy on the shelves, I choose to make my own by using a glass jar, live kefir cultures and whole milk (raw milk would be better but it’s not always easy to find). It’s that simple. The fermentation process takes between 24 and 48hrs depending on ambient temperature and at the end of it you will have a slightly fizzy yoghurt that’s rich in vitamins B, friendly yeasts and trillions of good bacteria. Milk kefir is a very versatile drink, virtually lactose free (the cultures feast on lactose) and easily digestible. I use mine to make fruit smoothies, ice creams and as a replacement for yoghurt when cooking (especially yummy in scones). 

The live cultures can be bought on Ebay and/or specialist websites for very little money, however as they tend to grow quickly when handled correctly, I always have a surplus that I am more than happy to share with anyone who wants to adopt some. 


Molasses: why they are so good for you.

When chatting to my Thai Yoga Massage buddy a while ago she mentioned that she used molasses as a sweetener as part of her healthy eating regime. Having only used molasses to trick my horses into ingesting disgusting medicines in the past I was familiar with the horrible smell and taste but was never aware of the many health benefits that they bring to the table.

Image of blackstrap molasses jar

Goth sweetener anyone?

This is what I learned:

Blackstrap molasses are a byproduct of the refining processes of the sugar cane plant. Unlike refined cane sugar which is highly toxic for our bodies, molasses are so rich in body friendly nutrients that are classified as a superfood.

The most notable property of molasses is that they are rich in minerals: calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium and vitamin B6. A single tablespoon of molasses per day will supply between 25 and 50% RDA of all the above nutrients in a lovely low GI form that will not cause any insulin spikes (i.e. won’t make you fat unless you eat tons of it).

Among the many health benefits of molasses are the fact that they are rich in antioxidants (Mn), they are a natural laxative and they are said to help with a variety of conditions such as Chronic fatigue syndrome, Depression, anxiety and related nervous disorders (Cu), arthritis and rheumatism (Mg), Tumors and fibroids, Constipation, Heart palpitations (K), Anemia and Acne.

Although the majority of research papers available cite the benefits of molasses in animal husbandry, in a few studies carried out on humans there is evidence to suggest that molasses, due to their anti-oxidants content, may be beneficial in restoring correct mitochondrial functioning in individuals suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.

There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence available on the web where people who have been using molasses regularly over a period of time have reported many important benefits such as an improvement of anemia, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, clearer skin, shinier hair, relief from bloating and IBS, less sugar cravings, more energy, less fatigue and less hunger.

The general consensus on the best way to incorporate molasses in the diet is to take a tablespoon dissolved in a little bit of water first think in the morning and before eating anything to ensure maximum mineral and vitamin absorption. Personally, I like to add molasses to my espresso or to the evil herbal concoction I take to support renal function. It tastes like duckpond at the best of times, the molasses almost make it taste good.

I buy mine from The Natural Way in Braintree, Essex. They are relatively inexpensive and from organic crops without added sulphites.