Happy New Year :)

Happy New Year people. You’ve got better things to do than read a post from me (and I’ve got carrot bliss balls to make) so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Actually, this cool wee graphic I found on Peace Love Nutrition, a yoga blog, kind of sums it up. Not that I do yoga and, ironically, it was something that I was going to do as part of my 2014 resolutions that never quite got off the ground. It is something I want to want to do if you know what I mean? I kind of want to do it, but clearly not enough to prioritise it. Like gardening. I want to want to do it – but haven’t reached that point where I would happily potter away in the garden for a few hours. Of course, it helps to have a garden to do that in, and that’s something else I could work on. Anyway. This post isn’t going to be about all of the things I was going to achieve in 2014 (aka the fastest year ever). It’s about how to approach 2015 in a way that makes you even more awesome than you already are in as few a words as possible. Happy New Year 🙂

Great graphic, Peace Love Nutrition

Great graphic, Peace Love Nutrition

*unsurprisingly (given how verbose I am) this did end up being quite a lot longer, and I ended up deleting about 700 words. You haven’t missed much – in fact I’ve saved you from quite a bit of reflection and musings as to what 2014 brought with it, and what’s in store for 2015. You’re welcome.

Take a B vitamin supplement? Read this.

A lot of clients I see take a general multivitamin tablet, kind of as an ‘insurance’ to optimise their nutrient intake (or as a bandaid for a less-than-ideal diet). Some also specifically eat fortified foods to make up for the lack of nutrients in their food choices later in the day. Fortification is the addition of nutrients into a food product by manufacturers that are not originally present. Why eat real food when you can get all the nutrients you need in a box of cereal, right? Special K is high in protein (thanks to the addition of wheat gluten) and contains 18 essential vitamins and minerals. Despite not having research studies specifically telling me so, I’ve been mildly suspicious for years that our absorption of these would be different if they are added to a food product. A good example of this is iron – Nestles’ Milo contains 5.3mg of iron per serve (to add to our recommended 8mg – 18mg per day we should obtain from diet)  – but that certainly doesn’t come naturally from a…. milo bean. Whenever anyone asked my thoughts on how useful it is to incorporate Milo in their diet due to the addition of iron, I was more inclined to direct them to mussels and beef as a better source*.

I tend to think my suspicion could be more intuition as I delved more into the availability of other nutrients from the foods we eat. Take our B vitamins folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) for example. These are found in the diet in leafy green vegetables (folate) and animal protein sources (B12), with beef and chicken liver being a great source of both. These are also a favourite addition to the raft of supplements provided by breakfast cereal and the B vitamins as a group are often a supplement listed by clients filling out a health information sheet prior to a consultation, often as part of a stress complex (or de-stress) or prenatal formula. There are a number of different formulations for vitamins, and those  most widely available in supplements and in fortified foods are folic acid (as opposed to folate) and cynacobalamin. Does this matter? It could. Folic acid added to flour in many countries has been effective at lowering the rate of neural tube defects (NTDs) but if choosing to supplement rather than rely on fortified foods, it might not be the best form of folate to seek out.

I should back the truck up a little bit here. Firstly, folic acid is often used interchangeably with folate but they aren’t the same thing – and therein lies a (potential) problem. Folate is more of an umbrella term that encompasses a group of compounds from the biologically active form that the body uses to the synthetic folic acid produced in a laboratory to be shelf stable to be able to be added to food products or as part of a supplement. In between we’ve got a host of different forms of folate (folic acid, methylfolate, tetrahydrofolate as examples) and if you looked at the chemical structure of these they would look very similar – however there are differences which can determine their usefulness in the body. The most bioactive form of folate has a methyl group attached, and folic acid does not. This means that folic acid has to go through a bunch of different steps in the body to be converted into methylfolate.

Folate is not just beneficial for women of childbearing age to protect the foetus from NTDs – its functions are wide and varied. Our skin is regenerating itself on a daily basis, as are the cells related to our gut, our brain…. In fact, everywhere in our body. This is only made possible by our body’s ability to produce DNA. Folate plays an important role in methylation  – which is a whole series of posts within itself, and I’m not smart enough to write those. It is a fascinating area and one which I learned a whole lot more about at the Ancestral Health Society Symposium earlier this year from Dr Tim Gerstmar (who will be presenting at our AHSNZ conference in Queenstown, October 2015). Basically it’s responsible for turning on and off genes in our body (some we want to have on, others we want to have off), making certain genes, is vital for controlling inflammatory pathways, for detoxification…. Co-factors responsible for processes in the body (such as creatinine, Co-Q 10, phosphatylcholine to name a few) requires methylation, as does neurotransmitter production – melatonin and serotonin production. And methylation requires folate. Folate is also necessary for red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets – clearly, it’s critical! Without the necessary levels in your body, you can see that these everyday reactions could well be compromised.

When folic acid from supplements and fortified foods goes through the conversion process to the more bioactive forms, it is a slow process. This can lead to an accumulation of unmetabolised folic acid (UMFA). There’s uncertainty around the implications of this particularly with our immune system – as UMFA appears to inhibit the action of natural killer cells, an innate part of our immune system responsible for rejecting foreign bodies. . Further, high levels of folic acid can mask B12 deficiency.

What about B12? Same deal. It works alongside folate (and the other b vitamins) and is also required for methylation. While you might take a supplement (and your serum level of B12 when tested reflects a good intake) it doesn’t mean that you have good levels of active B12. Measuring methylmalonic acid (MMA) – which accumulates in the absence of adequate vitamin B12 can be tested alongside serum B12 to get an idea of functional B12, but I don’t know how standard it is to do so. If you suspect you are low (or your health professional does) then testing this could be a good idea.

So…  while I think that getting what we need from food should be a given, I’m not actually against supplements. Truth be told, more and more people I see tend to benefit from adding in supplements such as a B complex to help support energy metabolism (among other things) in addition to an awesome diet. So if you do supplement it makes sense to me to get the most bang for your buck and supplement with the most active forms, such as a methylated folate and cobalamin. I’ve come across the Biobalance brand as one such form (and, no, I’m not affiliated with this, but it’s good to share when you find something useful).

* Related, when I was investigating the cost of the average family’s food intake I was surprised to see that Milo was included as a staple from the ‘basic’ trolley to the more ‘liberal’. Milo had apparently become a staple food for all New Zealanders. After reading that the New Zealand Food Cost Survey aimed to meet current dietary recommendations for nutrients…it made more sense to me. After all, Milo also contains B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin A… and when teamed with trim milk it’s low GI. Wow, a superfood that could bump up the nutrient intake of all people, regardless of food budget. Who knew?!

Spice it up

One of the benefits of eating real food is that it minimises the amount of processed refined foods that drive the inflammation pathways in the body which, as you know, is the underlying cause of modern chronic disease. From a general health perspective, this is awesome. From an athlete perspective it is even more so – given that the training derived oxidative stress causes cell damage and breakdown, increasing recovery time from sessions. Anything that impedes recovery is not going to allow you to make the fitness gains you are looking for. Of course, it’s more than just diet you have to consider.  I’m three weeks post-marathon and am up to running around 50 minutes every 2-3 days, with calf and foot niggles making me more cautious that what I’ve needed to be in the past. It’s frustrating for me to tell you the truth; yes I enjoy gym work and swimming, but there is nothing I love more than running and when the weather is blossoming into summer and the choice is between a Smith squat machine or Auckland Domain, I’d know where I’d rather be. Worse is that I really only have myself to blame. I’ve pretty much got my diet dialled in (as to be expected – though, no, it’s not perfect as I am human 😉 ) and I honestly have been taking the return to running seriously and listening to both Coach and osteo advice to ease into it. But it’s slower than what I would have imagined. Where I fall down is the recovery out of training – you know, the wind down time, getting enough sleep – that kind of thing. Hence I’ve been making a real effort this week to get to bed early, to practice diaphragmatic breathing whilst driving and to invert my legs up onto the wall at the end of the day and just ‘be’. So it got me thinking about additional ways to support the body outside of the diet, exercise and lifestyle. What other dietary factors can help support the anti-inflammatory pathways in the body outside of a reduction of processed food and the free-radical scavenging properties of fruits, vegetables, animal protein and eggs?

A lot of athletes are heading into heavier schedules with the Christmas holidays allowing for some block training to occur. This is (for some) combined with the increased indulgences of additional alcohol at end-of year drinks and caffeine to get through the day. In combination with late nights and early starts, it’s no wonder that we hang out for December 23 as this time of year can wreak havoc on the body. It’s too easy to think you can pop a Voltaren or Neurofen tablet before going out and training (or at the end of a hard session) to mitigate the niggles and strains you feel that come from a lack of recovery. This might not seem like a big deal at the time but it really does more damage than what you think. I know – I used to be blasé about these things too – I had a ‘stomach of steel’ that was Impenetrable to even the most harshest of substances (there’s few things harder on the stomach than a mixing bowls worth of green gooseberries that I’ve successfully put this away with no ill effect in my younger years). But the older I’ve become, the more digestive issues I’ve struggled with around training, the more aware I’ve become of the impact that anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals can have on the gut and subsequent health. Training in itself has been found to increase gut permeability. The decreased blood flow to the gut through even moderate steady-state exercise has resulted in intestinal injury and elevated liver enzyme parameters – and that’s an acute effect of just 60 minutes training. You can imagine what your normal high intensity effort or Sunday bunch ride does in relation to tearing up your insides?*  This increased gut permeability is a big deal. The once tight junctures that should not allow foreign matter to travel through are now not-so-tight. When we have foreign bodies allowed into our system this sparks an auto-immune response. Inflammation is one of the body’s first line of defence against injury, and over time this acute inflammatory response can become chronic which leads to deleterious health effects moreso than just impaired recovery. So the training in itself loosens the guts main defence against foreign proteins, which can increase inflammation – and when you throw ibuprofen on top of that, the effects on the gut and inflammation over time are even worse. It’s an easy thing to do, certainly, and a lot of people do it – however over time this can cause sensitivities to foods that you once had no problem digesting. Think grains, milk, certain types of carbohydrates in the FODMAP spectrum. Our gut has just one cell thickness protecting it from the outside environment. It doesn’t take a lot to upset the balance.

Of course, I’m speaking mechanistically here and everyone is different – some people will go through their athletic career and not have an issue at all despite a regular habit of popping vitamin V; others though, will notice that their tolerance to certain foods is now lower, the time taken to recover from training sessions is greater, and they are not able to get as fit as fast as they used to be able to. Is it an age thing? Sure. You’re not as bulletproof as you were in your 20s. But it could be more than that.

So I thought I’d mention some spices that can help support the anti-inflammatory pathways in the body. This isn’t going to dive into the ins and outs of that information – this post is already verging on being too long.

Tumeric (active ingredient curcumin): (particularly in the presence of fat to help absorption) – my friend Chris loves eggs with a heaped teaspoon or two of turmeric, and avocado and butter in the morning.

Ginger (I love ginger tea, just grating it fresh into hot water) and in green smoothies with lemon.

Cinammon: known for helping blood sugar control and also for its anti-inflammatory properties – I always like to include this in my breakfast meals, as a sweetener for baked rhubarb (no sugar required), in a slow cooked meat recipe or mince.

Garlic a member of the sulfur family, a well known anti-inflammatory compound.(okay, not a spice, but worth a mention)

Cayenne and chilli (active compound capsaicin) – chilli flakes and cayenne pepper are great on eggs, in salad and have you tried chilli chocolate? it is Christmas after all.

The beauty of these spices is that they are cheap, readily available and complement perfectly your real food lifestyle. This post is not prescribing anything more than the liberal inclusion of them in your everyday food. Every real food pantry should regularly utilise these in cooking, baking and barbequing. They are not a panacea to burning the candle at both ends – but it is worth your while to spice things up a little bit in the kitchen if you’re not already doing so.