Let's admit it, we all love the odd sugary treat, cake, chocolate and even many of our drinks are concentrated with sugar. But when is a treat a treat? Do you only have them 'occasionally'? This is often where the issue lies, we have something occasionally all the time, I call this 'occasionally syndrome'.
You see it's not our fault, it's a misleading world out there in our food industry, as a nutritionist let me explain a few things to you.
Sugar is Deceiving
It's a very confusing world out there in the food industry with food companies now mastering their marketing strategies, for instance "energy drinks are increasingly marketed to and consumed by adolescents and teens" or certain high sugar drinks being marketed as green and healthy (8). Please don't be fooled by foods which are marketed as healthy and low fat many of which include children's juice drinks, cereals or cereal bars, protein bars, smoothie drinks and so on.
When looking at labels please look at
I'll be doing sugar display video blog shortly some of which may shock you so keep posted.
How Much Sugar Is Recommended?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends no more than 10% of for adults your total energy (calorie) intake should be in the form of free sugar.
Or as diabetes Ireland describe "An average adult requires 1,500-2,000 calories per day. If 10% of this was to come from free sugars, this would equal 10-14 teaspoons of sugar per day" (15). This may seem like a lot but again please look at the 'of which sugars', it all adds up quite quickly.
For children, Early Childhood Ireland recommend that daily sugar intake should not exceed 20 grams/approx 5 teaspoons for the 0-1 age group, 16.6g/approx 4 teaspoons for the 2-3 age group and 12.5g/approx 3 teaspoons for the 4-8 age groups, which provides us with an idea of how little sugar children really require (16).
Sugar is Addictive
Many people are not aware that sugar is a highly addictive substance. Various studies including one carried out by the department of Psychology of Princeton University found that sugar exhibits behaviours such as "bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization" with bingeing being described as a "re-enforcer" (1). They discuss how such behaviours are "related to neurochemical changes in the brain that also occur with addictive drugs" (1). For example removal of sugar was observed to have "opiate-like withdrawal indicated by signs of anxiety and behavioral depression"(1).
You may be wondering how this is possible?
The study explains how "brain pathways that evolved to respond to natural rewards which are also activated by addictive drugs" and similarly sugar also has an influence on opioid and dopamine receptors as well neurotransmitters, which are responsible to for sending signals to the brain (1).
Sugar Can Have Massive Effects on the Body
At a global level a 2014 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that “obesity has more than doubled since 1980”(2). The WHO also found that 39% of adults were over-weight and 13% were obese, whilst data from 2013 found “42 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese” globally (2). This rising epidemic of overweight and obesity has been termed as as “globesity” (7).
The WHO also predicts that Ireland is "on course to be the most obese nation in Europe by 2030" out of a table of 53 countries (3), they mapped that by 2030 as much as "90% of Irish adults will be overweight", specifically 89% of men and 85% women (4, 5). Whilst at present, six in ten adults and one in four children are obese in Ireland (6).
You can probably agree that this is a major problem but we also need to accept that obesity is as a result of the food that we consume, with sugar playing a major role.
In fact sugar sweetened beverages are often the single largest source of added sugar in many of our diets, with many people having a misconception that liquid calories 'are not a real food' or that you only have it 'occasionally'. Here we have our 'occasionally syndrome' again.
What about a sugar tax? A risk assessment model carried out in the UK found that a "20% tax on sugar sweetened drinks would lead to a reduction in the prevalence of obesity of 1.3% (around 180 000 people), with the greatest effects predicted occur in young people" (7). Similarly a Health Impact Assessment was carried out in Ireland in 2012 with a proposal for a 10% sugar tax which states that "sugar sweetened drinks are a source of energy intake with little or no other nutrient contribution to the diet" (9). They also state that the "balance of evidence concerning sugar sweetened drinks consumption and weight gain is very clear (9).
Type 2 Diabetes
A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) investigated at the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, fruit juice and the incidence of type 2 diabetes (10). This study concluded that the "habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes" (10). Independent of obesity they suggest that younger adults and men would have greater numbers of type 2 diabetes events related to consumption of sugar sweetened beverages than older adults and women (10).
Interestingly this ties in with data from the WHO displaying higher rates of obesity in men (2), is this a coincidence?. The study also estimates that the current consumption of sugar sweetened beverages could to cause "approximately two million excess events of type 2 diabetes in the USA and 80 000 in the UK over 10 years" (10).
Is it time to curb our sugar habit?
Other Names for Sugar
Dextrose, fructose and glucose are known as your 'simple sugars' (one sugar or monosaccharides) with the only difference being they are metabolised differently, note: dextrose and glucose are very similar so keep an eye on ingredient labels for this.
Your classic 'table sugar' is a combination of simple sugars (50% glucose & 50% fructose), disaccharide (two sugars). High fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), is a combination of 45% glucose & 55% fructose, be careful of this one though as research has found that it can contribute to significantly more weight gain than your table sugar as well as other health complications, another one to watch out for on labels (11).
How to Curb the Habit?
Not a lot of people are aware of chromium, its' use in carbohydrate metabolism and improving insulin sensitivity. For those who have sugar cravings, blood sugar level imbalances, going through periods of stress, or are simply trying to wean off sugar chromium particularly in its' organic form really does do the job. I recommend the PharmaNord Bio Active Chromium as it's the only organic chromium in Europe (17).
Cinnamon taken in food or supplement form has been proven to significantly reduce blood glucose levels, with one study recommending consuming 1-3g of cinnamon per day particularly for those with type 2 diabetes (18). It's great to have a natural way to control our blood sugar levels.
So for those of you who want a little sweetness in your lives, there are some healthier ways of doing this through the use of natural sweeteners
Although honey is approximately 53% fructose, it is completely natural and has been shown to have great health benefits when used in moderation in it's raw form. In fact honey has been considered a 'power food' being antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, wound healing and soothing in for coughs and sore throats to name a few (14). With Manuka Honey (of New Zealand) having particularly unique properties and found graded with a UMF (Unique Manuka Factor), with the higher UMF mark indicating higher purity & quality (15).
Why not try a couple of spoons of Manuka Honey, some Apple Cider Vinegar and warm water first thing in the morning to start of your day.
This classified as a 'sugar alcohol' although it neither a sugar or an alcohol (confusing I know), its' structure gives it a sweet taste. It looks like sugar, tastes like sugar but the great part is it doesn't contain as many calories as sugar and is a natural alternative. It usually comes from birch bark or corn cobs. It's possible to get xylitol granulated just like sugar as well as within other products such as chewing gum (instead of artificial sweeteners, I'll cover a blog on these also so keep posted). In fact xylitol has been shown to be good for your teeth making it a good substitute for sugar (12).
This is originally a South American plant but is now grown worldwide and is now used as a zero calories table top sweetener usually in the form of "stevia leaf extract" (13). This is a great healthy alternative to sugar.
I hope this has informed you a little better on the impact of sugar and some alternative means for which to curb our habits and cravings.
I think we can all agree that we're definitely sweet enough.
Laurann O'Reilly - Nutritionist
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There is no doubt that we will all experience joint and/or bone-related problems at some stage of our lives. Be it when we’re children exploring the world, through adult adventures, sports, accidents, injuries and wear and tear, falls and illness.
Whilst many of us can recover fully from these many of us are left with a weakness or vulnerabilities which continue to give us issues. Many of these issues can also result in pain ranging from mild all the way up to chronic. For this reason, it’s important to be kind to our bodies and support them in every way we can through practical tools, movement and nutrition.
Hopefully this blog will provide you with some practical pointers and nutrition tips to help improve your bone and joint health in some way
Whilst there are numerous factors which affect joint and bone health, some of the sources issues include
If we have sustained a mild or serious injury, for instance, a sprain, break, fracture-dislocation or a combination of these, the natural response of the body is to set off inflammatory markers to the area which can result in pain or swelling.
It’s important to remember that injury pain is there for a reason it requires rest and an opportunity to heal. In the case of injury NIAMS (National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Conditions) suggest to “never try to ‘work through’ the pain of an injury” to “stop playing or exercising when you feel pain as this may only cause more harm”
NIAMS also suggest seeing a doctor right away if you experience any of the following “1) An injury that causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness, 2) When you can’t put any weight on the area, 3) An old injury hurts or aches, 4) An old injury swells and 5) The joint doesn’t feel normal or feels unstable”
Arthritis Ireland describes this as “an inflammation of the joints that causes pain and immobility, ranging from mild to severe”. They state that although “there are over 100 types of arthritis” the most common forms are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (also known as rheumatic arthritis) and fibromyalgia.
People of all ages are living with arthritis, not just the elderly and Arthritis Ireland state that the average age of diagnosis for people with rheumatoid arthritis is 35.
Although there may not be a direct cure, it’s possible to alleviate and manage your symptoms through some strategies which I will discuss below.
Osteopenia & Osteoporosis
Osteopenia is described by the Osteoporosis Society as “the early stage of osteoporosis”. They state that “having osteopenia places a person at risk of developing Osteoporosis” and that “a diagnosis of osteopenia is a warning that you must start taking care of your bones and that prevention methods need to be put in place”.
The Osteoporosis society defines osteoporosis as “porous bones. It is a silent disease that is usually not diagnosed until a fractures and broken bones occur”.
They describe how “bone is a living tissue that is constantly being removed and replaced. Bones need balanced hormones, calcium, vitamin D, adequate calories, proteins and weight-bearing/strengthening exercise to keep them healthy”.
I will discuss below some practical strategies for improving your bone health both from an exercise and nutritional perspective.
This can often put extra pressure on the body and joints and it’s important to support the body in anyway we can, with many women having back and pelvis related issues a maternity orthopaedic support belt such as this one here may be an option for you.
In pregnancy, our bodies also secrete a hormone ironically called ‘Relaxin’, this hormone is responsible for “relaxing the ligaments in the pelvis and widening the cervix in preparation for childbirth” with relaxin levels being highest within the first trimester of pregnancy. It may, however, affect muscles unrelated to birth which may affect balance and posture so it’s important to be extra careful.
Unfortunately carrying excessive weight has many negative health implications, however we will focus on how it directly affects bone and joint-related issues.
Firstly, let's imagine our blood has to supply all of the organs in our body which is a big enough job to do. If we carry a large amount of excessive weight our heart has to work that little bit harder to supply that blood around our body which means it isn’t as efficient as it should be and we cannot perform at our best.
Next let’s think about the impact that additional weight has on our bones and joints. This additional weight can cause a significant amount of strain on the body resulting in joint pain. To further emphasise this the John Hopkins Arthritis Centre states that being “10 pounds overweight increases the force on the knee by 30-60 pounds with each step”.
Obesity and excessive weight is also a risk factor for osteoarthritis which may be as a result of an “increased load being placed on the joints such as the knee, which increases stress”. This in turn “could possibly hasten the breakdown of cartilage”. Whilst Arthritis Ireland suggests that obesity “also increases the chances of osteoarthritis worsening once it has developed.
So What Can We Do?
Of course these are just listing some common joint related issues but the following recommendations may apply to all.
Posture and Ergonomics
On a practical side we must not underestimate the importance of our posture in the prevention and treatment of joint related injuries. This is achieved through ‘ergonomics’. Basically it’s “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely” and to ensure our wellbeing.
I love how The Back Shop describes the spine as “a superb piece of electrical and mechanical engineering” and “a vertical flexible column kept upright by a sophisticated balancing system, which is constantly feeding information on body movements to the brain”, the key here is vertical. They describe how when seated “this balancing system relaxes and mixed or no information is sent to the brain” this consequently results in back pain.
Based on my own experience for someone who has a weak back due to injury and either on the road or sitting at my desk I swear by correcting the following.
The Car: It was only recently that I realised that I’ve been sitting the wrong way in my car the whole time and would often end up putting heat packs on my neck (yes that much driving). here is a great article that can help you adjust your driving position to avoid unwanted back pain. Another life saver I stumbled upon was the car lumber support which naturally straightens your posture, I bought this one here from The Back Shop.
The Desk: For those who spend hours sitting at their desk, I feel your pain (well I used to). Many of us may have already have started experiencing repetitive strain injury (RSI) from an improperly set up desk. Here is fabulous article from the Mayo Clinic on how to ergonomically organise your workspace
Shoes: If anyone has had any injuries in the past it’s very possible that your posture may be misaligned as a result of your feet. I highly recommend getting a gait analysis done. This basically involves the measurement of where your feet exhibit most of their pressure and special insoles called ‘orthotics’ are then made for you (on the spot). I had mine done in Elverys Sports Store, you can check out what they do here. Let me tell you I was walking on air afterwards and my posture greatly improved. For those of you who play sports or run I also highly recommend Amphibian King who do a thorough analysis and fit you to the correct shoes.
Pillows: Oh boy is a good pillow important if you have any back or neck problems. I personally love the orthopaedic pillows to support my neck after a hard days’ work. I love my memory foam contour pillow here is one that I recommend from Ortorex.
Exercise & Strength
Physical activity has been proven to help in the management of bone and joint related issues as well as arthritis. Arthritis Ireland discuss how “as well as reducing pain and inflammation, keeping active improves joint support and lubrication, helps with weight control and has many other health benefits". Exercise through movement can help to re-establish proper movement and build muscular strength.
Low Impact Exercises: Dr Sarah Jarvis suggests that “Low-impact bending and stretching – including cycling for knees and stretching exercises at home – keep discomfort to a minimum and prevent muscles and joints from seizing up”. Other low impact exercises include walking and swimming.
In fact breakingmuscle.com highly recommend swimming as it “1) is low impact, 2) is a form of active stretching – swimming technically will ensure full range of motion movements for many different body parts and 3) it provides just enough resistance from water to provide, over time, sustained aerobic conditioning to a rehabilitating person”. Trust me I have used this technique myself, I called it ‘aqua therapy’.
Arthritis Ireland provides some other low impact exercises here
So we’ve discussed some of the reasons for bone and joint issues and some practical lifestyle strategies but we must not underestimate the power of proper nutrition in the prevention and treatment of bone and joint related problems. I call this medicinal nutrition as they help to build strength, reduce inflammation and aid in recovery.
As I mentioned in my blog how to combat fatigue, it is important to have a wide a variety of good quality protein for recovery and repair. In this I described how “virtually every cell in the body is made up of different protein combinations such as muscles, bones, hormonal function and immune health”.
The key here is to get a wide variety to meet all the different functions. Good sources would be lean meat, turkey, chicken, dairy products, cheese, pulses, nuts, seeds as well as eggs being one of the most bioavailable source of protein. Oily fish is also a great source of protein which contributes to the building of healthy muscle, in addition to this the Arthritis Foundation also suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are a great source of anti-inflammatories. Quorn is also a good source of protein for the vegetarians out there, is a mycoprotein in which is derived from mushrooms which is low in fat and high in fibre.
Nuts & Seeds
Let’s not forget the amazing health benefits of nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds. High in protein, good fats and fibre they’re also natural anti-inflammatory foods.
This study has described how calcium plays a major role in bone health with “approximately 99% of body Ca is found in bone, where it serves a key structural role”. We have greater requirements for calcium “during the periods of rapid growth in childhood and adolescence, during pregnancy and lactation, and in later life” so it’s extremely important to ensure adequate calcium consumption in the diet and in supplement form. Inadequate calcium consumption can increase one’s risk of low bone density, osteopenia and osteoporosis. This Solgar Calcium and Vitamin D3 is a great supplement.
Vitamin D plays a major role in calcium absorption but also holds other functions such as hormonal and immune health, which is particularly important for anyone who may be taking medications which lower your immune system. Also for those of you who may be taking steroids as part of your treatment it’s important to keep an eye on your bone density and it’s highly recommended to increase your vitamin D intake and through diet and supplement form. The Vitamin D supplement I recommend is the Pharma Nord Vitamin D Pearls, which contain the bioactive vitamin D3 in its most absorbable form.
Magnesium serves many functions for instance Arthritis Society describes how it “strengthens bones, maintains nerve and muscle function and helps maintain joint cartilage” and can be found in foods such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter; soybeans, spinach, dried beans, potatoes and whole grains. A good Magnesium supplement would be the Pharma Nord Magnesium, having three absorbable forms, magnesium can also be found in liquid form, so if preferred I really like the Floradix Magnesium
Glucosamine & Chondroitin
Both glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally found in healthy cartilage. The Arthritis Foundation describe how “in laboratory tests, glucosamine showed anti-inflammatory properties and even appeared to help cartilage regeneration” whilst chondroitin helps to ensure fluidity within the joints, making them a great combination and often found together in supplements.
The Arthritis Foundation describes how “joints are like gears – they work best if they’re well lubricated. In a healthy joint, a thick substance called synovial fluid provides lubrication, allowing bones to glide against one another, whilst also acting as a shock absorber”. Unfortunately in individuals with osteoarthritis “a critical substance in synovial fluid known as hyaluronic acid breaks down” which may contribute to joint pain and stiffness. I highly recommend this fabulous Solgar supplement has a combination of the Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM and Hyaluronic Acid in it. Like the magnesium, the hyaluronic acid supplement can also be purchased in liquid form for superior absorption such as the LubriSynHA
Natural Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Ginger – Has many healing properties which include anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property. Why not try add a couple of teaspoons of ginger to your food in a curry, smoothie or take it in supplement form.
Cinnamon – Has antioxidant properties that help inhibit cell damage. Why not try add a couple of teaspoons to porridge oats for a nutritious breakfast.
Turmeric – Not many people are aware of this wonder spice. The Arthritis Foundation describe how “curcumin is the active chemical in turmeric root”. This is a natural inflammatory which can as a result “translate to reduced joint pain and swelling”. Why not try add turmeric to a curry or smoothie to make it extra nutritious.
Garlic & Onions – Both garlic and onions contain a substance called ‘diallyl disulfide’ which also is a natural anti-inflammatory compound. Again the Arthritis foundation suggest that it can “help fight the pain, inflammation and cartilage damage of arthritis” and other joint related issues
Hopefully we have provided you with some practical tools to support your bone and joint health as well as some nutritional strategies for you to try.
Helping You Every Step of the Way.
Laurann O’Reilly – Nutritionist
So we've all been there, where we may be a little burnt out. Perhaps we've been working a little too hard, 'firing on all cylinders' for too long. Maybe we've been sacrificing sleep to keep up with our busy lives 'burning the candle at both ends' so to speak. Maybe it has eventually caught up with us and we find ourselves in a state of exhaustion and fatigue.
What we must come to realise that unless we make the necessary and simple changes it's very difficult to break the cycle.
Hopefully this article provide you with some useful and practical tools, both nutritional and lifestyle to help you combat fatigue once and for all so you can perform at your very best in work and life.
First of all it is important to understand how you got here, into such a state of fatigue.
You Are Only Human
Let's face it life is very demanding and does expect you to be functioning at top form whilst attempting to balance your family, work, social life and all the stresses in between. You are not super human so don't be so hard on yourself it is ok to feel tired.
You see having learnt from experience, the key here is to take note of when you are fatigued as an indicator or red flag as such. It is an alarm bell telling you to SLOW DOWN. It is vital to look after yourself or else you most definitely wont be able to function at your best, you will make yourself ill and I'm guessing you probably don't have time for that right?
Fatigue & Stress
A little amount of stress actually good for us, it keeps us motivated and gives us the fire to get tasks done. Psychology Today discuss the "Theory of Mental Toughness" and that "experiencing some manageable stressors, with recovery in between, can make us more mentally and physically tough and less reactive to future stress" (1). The key here you see is 'recovery in between'.
Think about it, when you train your body in the gym your body needs to recover. Similarly, just like rest your body after a heavy training session you must rest your mind also, you wouldn't run with a pulled muscle would you? You would only do further injury. It makes total sense.
So what happens if we don't take the opportunity to recover?....we burn out.
Fatigue & Burnout
So maybe we've pushed ourselves too far and most of us will experience this at some stage of our lives if we haven't done already. HelpGuide.Org describe burnout as "a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands" (2). They describe how stress and burn out "reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give" (2). Does this sound familiar?
So how do I combat fatigue you may ask?
Here are some nutritional and lifestyle strategies to help both in protection and recovery of fatigue.
I'm sure we're all probably well aware of the importance of sleep. Just like food is our fuel, sleep is our battery. We can't possibly expect to function at our best if we're not getting enough hours sleep. For instance the American Psychological Association describe how poor sleep can "can affect memory, judgment and mood" (3).
In fact we can get ourselves into a vicious cycle with stress preventing us from sleeping, lack of sleep reducing our productivity and thought processes and not being able to sleep because we are stressed.
We're all aware at this stage that we get our energy from food right? But it's not that simple, it's important that the energy we consume is also nutritious.
We want to consume carbohydrate based foods which support us and keep our energy sustained for longer. These foods include brown and wholegrain foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice which are slowly absorbed into our bloodstream and keeps our energy sustained for longer (this is particularly important for any diabetics too, as a key to stabilising blood sugar levels).
The key here is to get a wide variety to meet all the different functions. Good sources would be lean meat, turkey, chicken, oily fish, dairy products, cheese, pulses, nuts, seeds as well as eggs being one of the most bioavailable source of protein. Quorn is also a good source for the vegetarians out there, is a mycoprotein in which is derived from mushrooms which is low in fat and high in fibre (5).
As a nutritionist, my recommendation is to include nutritious fats in your diet such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, grains, olive oil, rapeseed oil, coconut oil as avocados.
These nutritious fats are not alone great for hair, skin and nails (which often suffer with stress) but also circulation, concentration and joint health. So an all round nutrition support for your health (6, 7).
What other nutrients help to support us during periods of stress
Magnesium as also been nicknamed 'the chill pill' or 'natures natural sedative' as it's been shown to help with anxiety, depression, irritability, headaches, sleeping issues, muscle cramps, with stress massively increasing or requirement for magnesium (9).
CoQ10 is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting our cells from oxidative damage. Oxidation can contribute to heart disease, cancer and even the ageing process (10). As it is difficult to get antioxidants through diet alone for instance fruits and vegetables, CoQ10 supplementation could be a great way of protecting our body from illness as well as getting the best benefit in terms of energy from our foods. The Pharma Nord CoQ10 is fabulous supplement and the best that I've been able to find due to it's great absorption levels (11).
WARNING: Do not take ginseng if you are pregnant, suffer from high blood pressure or are taking anti-coagulents (blood thinners). It is also not suitable if you are diabetic, where there is a family history or risk of oestrogen-dependent cancers. This product should not be used with other stimulants (12).
Okay, so what we've started to do here is to fill a toolbox for combating fatigue, so far we have sleep and nutrition but we also need some other tools to help prevent and combat fatigue.
So now we have a full toolkit for which to prevent and combat fatigue through sleep, nutrition and tools to keep us strong in the face of stress and we're ready to take on the world.
Here with you every step of the way,
Laurann O'Reilly - Nutritionist
Laurann has an Honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham, a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin, is an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London, a professional member of the Celiac Society Ireland, is registered with the Institute of Public Health Ireland and fully insured.