Key principles of a healthy diet

I am not the type of nutritionist who believes there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all diet. As I spoke about in my recent post, there are many factors which impact what and how much each person should eat to be healthy. That said, there are a few key principles to keep in mind to make sure your diet is healthy as possible. These tips are based on my learnings from Intuitive Eating principles, Health at Every Size and the Well Woman Coaching course from Well College Global. Enjoy!

Balance

All foods contain macronutrients that provide us with energy (carbohydrates and fats) and building blocks for repair (proteins). The diagram below shows examples of foods that typically contain these macronutrients. A balanced diet is one that includes all macronutrients in a proportion that suits the individual.

An imbalanced diet is one that overly restricts one or more food groups, for example very low-fat diets like the Pritikin or MacDougall diets or very low-carb diets such as the Atkins, keto or carnivore diets. The problem with imbalanced diets is that they put the body into an abnormal functioning or survival mode. Some doctors claim that this can have benefits for people suffering with specific, life-altering diseases. I am not here to dispute this claim, rather I believe that for the majority of people, a balanced diet which provides the body with all macro-nutrients and does not force the body into an extreme state is optimal for health.

The risk of low-fat diets include poor nutrient absorption and associated deficiencies, dry skin and hair and a weakened immune system. On the other hand, low-carb diets can cause weakness, fatigue, hair loss and chronic stress in the body. It is best to let go of dietary dogma and opt for a diet that includes a healthy amount of all three macro-nutrients. The exact ratios of each will depend on your personal physiology and lifestyle but my recommendation would be not to go below 20% fat, 20% protein or 40% carbohydrates. The NHS Eatwell Guide shows a balanced plate with examples of foods to eat from each group.

Variety

As well as macronutrients, foods also contain micronutrients that help to keep our bodies functioning optimally and prevent disease. The most well known are vitamins and minerals although other micronutrients such as polyphenols are now being discovered which have remarkable health-giving properties. Vitamins include B-vitamins which support healthy energy and metabolism, vitamin D which is needed for strong bones and teeth and vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin. Essential minerals include calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.

Each food contains unique combinations of these different micronutrients and therefore eating a variety of foods helps us to improve our chances of getting everything we need. If we exclude whole food groups from the diet or limit our diet to just a few different foods, we may be putting ourselves at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Instead, consume a variety of food from different food groups e.g. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meat, fish, nuts and pulses on a daily and weekly basis, finding a balance that suits your taste and lifestyle.

Additionally, food can have harmful properties as well as beneficial ones. for example, tuna fish contains a healthy amount of protein and vitamin D but it also contains mecury, a toxic heavy metal which can build up in the blood stream if we consume tuna too frequently. That isn’t to say we should avoid eating tuna altogether, our bodies have built in detoxification pathways to deal with these things but it is better to consume a variety of foods to avoid over-consumption of toxins found in certain foods.

Whole foods

Whole foods is a word that has been circulating a lot in the nutrition world, especially in the last decade, but what exactly does it mean? Whole foods is a term that refers to foods in their whole and mostly unprocessed form. It doesn’t mean that everything should be eaten raw, exactly as it comes from nature, just that the food is kept in tact as much as possible to make it edible and palatable.

This could mean consuming fresh fruit or juice rather than artificial juice or fruit juice from concentrate, choosing whole wheat bread or pasta instead of refined white flour products or eating home cooked mashed or roasted potatoes over potato crisps or oven fries. When we eat a diet based on whole foods, we are ensuring that our diet is as nutrient dense as possible, i.e. our food gives us the most “bang for our buck”. A whole foods diet also minimises our consumption of artificial additives such as preservatives, flavours and colours which may not be optimal for our health.

Now, anyone who knows me or who has followed my blog for a while will know that I am not one for extremes or restrictive diets. I believe there is a place for all foods, including processed or artificial foods in a balanced diet, if they bring us joy and pleasure. But research shows that eating a diet based mostly on whole and unprocessed foods is more likely to lead to better short and long-term health outcomes. So go ahead and enjoy your treats now and again but be sure to have a solid foundation of nourishing whole foods to build upon.

Individuality

Finally, a healthy diet is one that works for you. Not your friend or some random person you follow on the internet but you. We are all born into individual bodies with unique tastes and needs and whilst we know that eating a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods is optimal for health, within this there is still much scope for individualisation both in the amounts and types of foods that we eat. what works perfectly for one person may make another feel terrible.

Experiment with different foods and meals to find those which taste good, digest well and give you the most energy. Explore your local food culture and try out recipes with local and seasonal produce. Notice how you feel when you eat big meals vs. smaller meals with snacks between or if you practice intermittent fasting vs. eating whenever you are hungry. Don’t listen to strict rules and regulations when it comes to diet because there is better teacher than your own body.

Remember that your body is constantly changing as you move through life and that your diet can also change. Just like your friends diet may not work for you, the diet you followed in your 20s may no longer feel good once you reach your 40s. Allow eating to be a two-way communication between you and your body. This takes mindful awareness and repeated practice but it’s a skill that once you master it will serve you for a lifetime.

Over to you…

Let me know your thoughts on this interesting topic! Do you agree or disagree? Did I miss something? Please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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pink hiking shoes kea island greece

Hiking and yoga in Kea (Tzia) Island Greece

I just got back from a lovely trip on the Greek island of Kea, also known as Tzia. Kea Island is one of the closest islands to the mainland at just an hours’ boat ride away and is part of the Cycladic group of islands. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I have never been there before and it isn’t one of the more touristic islands, which is part of the reason we chose it. It is popular with the locals though who often visit for a weekend. My boyfriend who is Greek had never been there before though so it was a pot luck choice. We also brought two of our friends with us so we were hoping for the best. Thankfully it worked out well and we had a great time!

Each morning we (the ladies) practiced yoga on the shady terrace outside our apartment. With the hot weather and so much travelling over the summer, my usual yoga routine had become much more sporadic so it felt really good to get back into a regular practice again. The climate on Kea Island is also hot but compared to Athens it has a lot of wind and the breeze was so refreshing during the practice. We could just about see the sea in the distance from our practice spot and listen to the sound of nature as we relaxed in Savasana. I love practicing yoga in a studio but yoga outdoors in nature takes it to the next level.

Overall, the trip was the perfect mix of relaxation and activity with plenty of good food and beautiful scenery. Typically, the Cyclades are extremely dry islands with not much vegetation but Kea Island has abundant streams, forests and cultivated agricultural areas. Even the houses there are built in a local style using grey stone rather than the usual white Cycladic houses that you see. The beaches were stunning and there was a good mix of large sandy beaches and small pebbled coves. It had such a peaceful energy and it felt like we had our own paradise to explore.

Kea Island also has 12 hiking trails which take you through the countryside and down to secluded beaches. I didn’t know this before we arrived but fortunately we found this website with maps and descriptions of the different routes so we decided to try it out. I really enjoy being active on holiday and seeing as much as possible so I was very happy to explore the island. Especially with all of the delicious food we were eating (especially the ice cream!) it was also good to be able to move our bodies and get the energy flowing after lots of time relaxing at the beach.

We had chance to try out two of the hiking trails, the first was the Karthaia route from the village of Katomeria down to the ancient town of Kartheia and it’s beach. After a steep 3km decent down a path lined with fruit trees and fragrant herbs, we saw the ruins of the temple and amphitheater and cooled off in the clear waters of Kartheia beach before hiking back up to Katomeria to eat in a traditional tavern. We passed small farms with beautiful grazing animals and also the ancient water supply of Kartheia city, Vathypotamos spring. On the way back we saw the most stunning sunset with expansive orange and pink hues spreading across the sky.

The second hike began in the capital city of Kea Island, Ioulis and ended in Spathi beach which was our favourite beach of the whole trip. This was a 5km downhill route from the city to the spring of Rokomenos and then followed the creek of the river Flea, although it runs dry in the summer months. The route described it as being shaded by cypress trees which actually turned out only to be 1km of the route so we definitely sweated quite a bit but it was worth it. We passed through the valley and saw traditional local churches, watermills and cactus plantations. We had a bit of a disaster when we tried to pick a cactus as a souvenir and ended up with hands full of tiny little invisible spikes! We imagined that the farmer was watching from somewhere on the hill and laughing at our stupidity…

Again we had chance to cool off and swim in the sea at Spathi beach which is a sandy beach with clear shallow waters and very few waves. It was like swimming in a natural pool with the salty waters recharging our physical and emotional energies. We also had a go at playing the popular Greek beach sport of raquets which I haven’t quite got the hang of yet but I am determined to master it. It is a bit like tennis without the net, you play with heavy wooden raquets and the idea is that you are on a team and try to hit the ball as hard and fast as possible whilst keeping the ralley going. I definitely get more exercise just my running for the ball when I miss it and it gets pretty tiring with the sun and sun but it is a lot of fun!

We also visited several other beaches across the island including our local beach near to the town of Otzias and a beach in the north west of the island called Xyla beach. It was very remote and we had to pass through a pretty difficult dirt road to arrive at the beach but it was very beautiful with the peaceful sound of waves, crystal turquoise waters and soft sand. The problem was that we didn’t bring any food with us and there was nowhere nearby to buy anything so we couldn’t spend the whole day there and see the sunset. We also witnessed a crazy freak weather incident as a mini typhoon passed across the beach and nearly blew all of the umbrellas away. Luckily it passed quickly as if it had never been there at all but it was a very bizarre experience!

After all of these busy days, in the evening we wanted to relax and have a quiet dinner or a drink by the sea. We visited the port and the town of Otzias several times to enjoy a cocktail and chat until late into the evening. One night we visited the city of Ioulis and eat dinner in a terrace restaurant with very tasty food and a view of the city sprawling up the hillside. The other evenings we ate simple food in local taverns and also cooked Greek dishes at our apartment. After living in Greece nearly a year now, I know all of the basic dishes very well. I love the simple, plant-based style of the Mediterranean diet, especially the use of local and seasonal produce in nearly every place you eat.

Some of my favourite summer dishes are of the course the traditional Horiatiki Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta, Fassolakia (greek beans cooked in olive oil and tomato sauce), roasted or pureed Melitazanes (aubergine or eggplant), Fava dip and Kolokithokeftedes and Tomatokeftedes (fried courgette or tomato balls). Then of course I like to taste fresh fish and seafood whenever we can find it as well as traditional meat dishes, usually with lamb, goat or pork as the landscape here is not well suited to grazing cows. You can almost always find decent quality but cheap, local wine too across Greece which goes really well with the fresh local dishes. And for breakfast there is always the delicious combination of yogurt and local honey served with seasonal fruits, especially figs and grapes at this time of year.

The whole time I was in Kea Island, I was imagining how wonderful it would be to arrange a hiking and yoga retreat there next summer. It really is a place where you can fully relax and let go of your worries, explore nature and experience some of the Greek culture and the island way of life. I imagine daily morning yoga and meditation classes, healthy breakfasts with a gorgeous view, hikes in the hills and diving into the crystal waters. I imagine watching the sun set each evening over the mountain or the sea with tasty food and good company. I really enjoyed this trip to Kea Island and I hope that next year I will be able to share it with others.

If you would be interested in joining me for a hiking and yoga retreat next June or September in Kea Island, Greece, please let me know in the comments below!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and it maybe inspires you to visit Greece or even travel to Kea Island. Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more articles on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and I am currently training as a women’s wellness coach with Well College Global.

My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

What is health coaching? How a health coach can help you reach your goals

Health coaching is becoming more and more popular but what exactly is a health coach and how can a health coach help you to reach your goals? This year I have been training to be a women’s wellness coach and I have learned a lot about the health coaching practice and how to best support my clients. I am already a qualified nutritionist and yoga teacher but there is so much more to coaching and often it is misunderstood. In this post I want to share what I have learned through my training and through reflecting on my early health coaching experiences. I hope this will help anyone who has been considering hiring a health coach but is uncertain about the real purpose of a health coach and whether they can actually help to improve your health.

Knowledge and education

I am mentioning education first as it is usually what health coaches see as their main role. I know for myself, my first few health coaching clients I believed the same! I was so excited to share all of my knowledge and give my clients value for money by packing as much information into our sessions as possible but reflecting back now I would have done things differently. Whilst imparting knowledge and educating clients is an important part of health coaching, it is not the main purpose. Especially nowadays when there is so much freely available information online and we have access to scientific literature and endless informative books on health and wellness, a health coach needs to do more than just inform and educate clients. Yes we can share our expert knowledge and perhaps save time and effort for clients’ by streamlining this large amount of available and often conflicting information, especially in the nutrition world. However, the communication should be a two-way and collaborative exchange, rather than the typical one-directional authoritative approach from the coach to the client. As I always say, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to our health and so really understanding the client and their needs means that a health coach can offer tailored information and personalised advice.

Clarity and goal setting

One of the important roles of a health coach is to help their clients’ gain clarity on their desired health outcomes and setting meaningful goals. I wrote a post as part of my Real Health January series about setting SMART goals for your health and this is something that a coach can support clients in doing successfully. People seek out health coaching for many reasons and for the best results it is important to be clear on both the what and the why i.e. what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. Yes you can do this alone but a health coach can offer a helpful mirror to reflect back your thoughts and gain clarity on exactly what it is that you want to improve about your health and your overall vision for a healthier and happier life. On any transformational journey it can be difficult to remain focused on the initial aim and become distracted by the smaller, action-related goals. A health coach can help clients to set realistic and achievable goals which are in line with your overall aim. For example, perhaps you want to lose weight to be able to play more with your children but if you decide to go about this by setting a goal to spend 10 hours a week in the gym and it takes up all of your free time. A health coach may reflect back to you that perhaps you have gone a little off track and help you to set a more appropriate goal.

Decision-making and action

As I mentioned earlier, these days most of us have access to information which, in theory, would help us to reach our health goals. A quick google search can offer you diet plans, workout routines, guided yoga and meditation classes for all sorts of health conditions and levels of fitness. Then why do so many people still struggle with their health? There is so much information available that many people get frozen at the stage of deciding on a plan of action. Often complexity gets in the way of action and a simple, straight-forward action plan is what is needed. A health coach can guide a client through this decision making process, not taking decisions for them but offering options and helping them to gain the self-awareness needed to decide on an appropriate action to work towards their goals. Another common problem is that people know the what but not the how. For example, in the UK we have a freely available Eatwell Guide which shows the recommended diet composition for optimal health but without knowing how to prepare meals using these ingredients or how to navigate the supermarket, this information often does not lead to action. Through discussing potential barriers to implementing change, a health coach help their clients to put in place strategies to overcome these barriers and continue to take action without feeling stuck and unable to move forward.

Encouragement and accountability

In my opinion, encouragement and accountability are two of the key reasons why hiring a health coach has a much better success rate than going solo. We often speak harshly towards ourselves and our inner-critic has a field day when we embark on a challenging journey such as trying to improve our health. A health coach offers an outsiders view of their clients’ actions and will understand their strengths and highlight their successes, even when the client cannot see it for themselves. A good health coach will improve a clients’ confidence and self-efficacy so that they believe they do have the skills and power to make change. On the other hand, a health coach is also there to help their clients stay on track with working towards their goals and to offer strategies to get back on track when they fall off the wagon. It is so easy for one small slip up to lead to giving up altogether but a coach can help to see the big picture that one mistake does not meal total failure and can offer a helpful reminder of the clients’ overall aim and their why to keep them moving forward. Health coaches also use strategies for accountability to help clients’ build positive habits which support better health to replace negative habits which result in poor health outcomes. Usually it is this initial phase of habit replacement which takes the most time and effort and having a coach to be accountable to on a daily basis really can improve your chances of success.

Role model and leadership

Finally, the role of a health coach in general, not only for their clients, is to demonstrate that a healthy lifestyle is possible and be a positive role model for anyone looking to improve their health. By this I do not mean that a health coach should have the perfect body, the perfect diet or the perfect exercise routine or that they should never drink alcohol, stay up late or get stressed and overwhelmed. Rather a health coach can show a realistic view of a healthy lifestyle which is achievable for everyone and show that you do not need to be perfect to be in good health but that a strong foundation of healthy habits can take you far. They can share their personal health challenges and how they overcame them to give motivation and empowerment to others to do the same. We are all humans often living in societies that do not support optimal health but health coaches can act as leaders to show that there is a way to support your health, even in a less than supportive environment. Visualisation is an excellent tool to support you in achieving your goals and having an effective role model can help clients’ to create a vision for their health and expand their beliefs of what is possible and achievable. Again, this is not to say that clients’ should compare themselves to their coach or idolise them as the perfect vision of health, but more that seeing others success can help you to create your own vision of health and start out on the path of working towards your goals.

Over to you…

These are my thoughts on the role of a health coach and how a health coach can help you to reach your goals. Let me know in the comments below what YOU think a health coach is and whether you think coaching is helpful in improving your health. As usual, please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and I am currently training as a women’s wellness coach with Well College Global. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

What is the perfect diet for humans?

The world of nutrition and diets can be a confusing place. There are so many different diets that claim to be the perfect diet for humans and the optimal way to eat. I remember once reading a quote, “If you are not confused about nutrition then you haven’t studied it enough” and I find this to be so true. If you have been in the world of health and wellness for a while, you will have seen many nutrition trends come and go and often competing with each other for attention. In the last ten years alone we have seen the rise of vegan and plant-based diets (high carb low fat), paleo, keto and carnivore diets (low carb high fat) as well as gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diets..

I could go on but I’m sure you see my point. Each time a new nutrition paradigm is discovered there is a huge hype and a torrent of evidence to demonstrate that this is the perfect diet which will solve all of our health problems. Vegan nutritionists and doctors believe that animal products are the cause of all diseases of the modern world, including high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease and that eating a diet based on mostly plant-based foods will help us to live a long and healthy life. On the other hand, proponents of animal-based keto and paleo diets proclaim that sugar and carbohydrates are the devil and should be avoided at all costs. They believe that there are toxic compounds in plant-foods that wreak havoc on the body and that training your body to become a fat burning machine will help you to stay fit and lean and keep disease at bay.

Both sides have theoretical research, data and anecdotal evidence to support their ideas but how can this nutrition paradox exist? And what does this say about what is the perfect diet for humans? As I have said before, I believe that humans we are very adaptable creatures and we are able to survive in many different environments on a variety of diets. This is why we have been able to spread across the globe and build societies from the tropics to the snowy mountains of Siberia. When it comes to the perfect diet to thrive, I think this really comes down to the individual and the environment they live in. There are so many factors that affect what and how much you should eat to be healthy that it is truly impossible to state that one diet or specific way of eating is optimal for everyone, everywhere. Honestly, I think this idea is crazy!

According to Marc Davis in his book, Nourishing Wisdom, there are five key factors which can influence your dietary needs at any given time:

  1. Lifestyle
  2. Age
  3. Environment
  4. Season
  5. Health conditions

These things taken together account for changes in the quantities and types of foods that you need to eat at any time. For example, a male athlete living in California has very different dietary needs to a sedentary elder in Alaska or a pregnant working woman in London. There is no way that we can apply a one-size-fits-all diet to these cases. Perhaps these are extreme comparisons but even within the span of your own life there will be differences. Your activity and stress levels fluctuate as you move through your life and every year most locations in the world experience the natural shifts in weather and pace of life with the changing seasons. For women we also move through inner “seasons” each month following the hormonal rhythms of our menstrual cycle which changes our appetite and cravings as well as macro and micro-nutrient needs.

For many of us, trying to control our diets or our bodies is a natural response to the stresses of life. Change is always inevitable and often uncomfortable and we can turn to strict dietary rules or control of our bodies shape or size as a way to feel a sense of stability. Part of the holistic health journey is learning to accept and flow with these changes in our bodies and our diet rather that resist against them and create further stress and tension. When we learn to relax and listen to our bodies messages about what it needs at any given time, we take the pressure off ourselves and find that there is a natural intelligence that comes through. If we start a new exercise program, we may naturally feel hungrier and crave foods higher in protein. If we move house or change jobs, the stress may increase our appetite and cravings for sugar to calm the nervous system or on the contrary, shut down appetite all together. The body is always looking out for your and trying to do what it thinks is best for survival.

In my holistic health coaching practice, I have clients that come to me with a range of issues. Some want to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, others have been through years of restrictive dieting and want to regain a monthly menstrual cycle or overcome symptoms of a low metabolism such as fatigue, low mood and other symptoms of hormonal balance. Some clients live very active lifestyles with work, family and regular exercise and others have lower energy requirements due to a slower paced lifestyle. Each case is different and the dietary suggestions I make depend on the individuals’ lifestyle, health data and history, current health status and their goals. This can involve changes in the recommendations for how much to eat, when to eat, which types of foods to consume and in what ratios. Working with clients over several sessions, we can tune into what works and what doesn’t and find what is the perfect diet for them.

As an example, a metabolically healthy person with a few extra lbs to lose can afford to increase the fruit and vegetable consumption and lower fat consumption to reduce the overall calorie density of their diet and help them to lose weight without feeling deprived. A low calorie density diet can be the perfect diet to lose weight for many people. However, someone who is metabolically compromised and suffering from digestive and hormonal issues due to not eating enough food or enough variety of food is likely to feel worse on a a low-calorie density diet and is more likely to need to eat less fibre and more calorically dense foods to support their body in healing and recovery. When it comes to plant-based foods, it is not as simple as more is better. If you are already consuming 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, drinking 2L of water and wondering why you are still feeling rubbish then it is time to take a look and see what else needs to change.

I always recommend clients to keep a food diary, not to track calories or macro-nutrients but to see how their body responds to different foods and meals. A food diary is an amazing tool for anyone looking to improve their health and find the perfect diet as observing your bodies’ reactions can tell you a lot about your state of health and what you need to stay balanced. It is quite trendy nowadays to restrict foods such as gluten and dairy and to include “superfoods” like kale and spirulina but what if these foods don’t agree with you? Keeping a food diary can help you to understand the foods that digest well for you, keep you feeling full and energised for longer as well as any problem foods or combinations of foods that leave you feeling hungry an hour later or tired and sluggish for days. You might even find that certain foods work well in one situation and not in another, perhaps you can digest a particular meal but that same meal causes bloating and reflux if you eat in a stressful environment such as at your work desk.

I also encourage everyone to explore the local food culture in the area they live as traditional meals prepared with locally produced ingredients are more likely to support you in the environment you live in compared to copy paste recipes prepared by someone on the other side of the globe made with imported and mass-produced ingredients. Traditionally, people were more aware of the connection between us and our environment and more conscious of how different foods can be used to support us through environmental changes. Last year I moved from the UK to Greece and my diet completely changed. It was very disorientating but eating Greek cuisine daily and shopping for seasonal produce in the local market was very grounding and was a big wake up call for me to understand the importance of allowing changes in the diet and adapting to the climate that you live in.

I think this is one of the huge problems with the raw vegan movement. Yes it may work in certain locations where fresh, water-rich food is needed to keep your body cool and hydrated or perhaps for short periods of cleansing and detoxification for those with specific health conditions. But is a raw vegan diet is perfect for humans who live in colder climates or who are underweight and need to consume a higher amount of calories? I would argue not. Perhaps it is the perfect diet for a specific human in a specific life situation but no more than that. The same goes for the keto or carnivore diet. For someone who has deprived their body of nutrients present in animal products, maybe consuming large quantities of these foods can be therapeutic for a time to rebuild nutrient stores and rebalance their body but the problems arise when we hold on to these restrictive diets longer than necessary. Once our bodies start to react with cravings for foods outside of the diet, it is important to listen and not remain stuck in the idea that this is the perfect diet.

So where do you start with finding what is the perfect diet for you? I have lots of resources here on my website to help you assess your current state of health and find a nutrition path that works for you. If you need more tailored advice and a personalised holistic health and nutrition plan tailored to your current situation and your goals, you can reach out to me for support via my holistic health coaching program.

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and it gives you “food for thought”. Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more articles on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

Bedtime snack ideas for better sleep

In my recent post top tips for better sleep, I mentioned that low blood sugar during the night can cause sleep disturbances, in particular waking up in the early hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep. This is because when blood glucose drops and liver glucose stores have been used up, it is the stress hormone cortisol which is produced to allow stored glucose to be released into the blood stream. When we are in a stressed state and more sensitive to cortisol, this extra dose can raise our levels to the point where we are awoken from sleep. Not only is this annoying and frustrating but a poor night of sleep can also can cause further blood sugar instability the following day leading to a vicious cycle and chronic insomnia.

Signs that blood sugar instability is affecting your sleep include waking up feeling “tired but wired”, waking up with a headache, experiencing heart palpitations or sweating during the night or consistently waking up between 2 and 4am or 8 hours after your last meal which is when your liver glucose stores typically run out. Of course, some of these symptoms can also be signs of other health conditions so it is always important to consult with your doctor and rule out other possibilities but if you are suffering with unexplained insomnia and some of these symptoms, blood sugar could be to blame. There are many reasons why this can happen including a restrictive or unbalanced diet, not eating enough to support your activity or stress levels or an irregular eating schedule, particularly skipping meals or intermittent fasting.

If you struggle with insomnia and sleep distrubances, eating a small, balanced snack before bed can be just the trick needed to improve your sleep quality and help you to sleep through the night. Just think about how we take care of children, often we will give them a small snack before bed to help them to relax and calm down so that they can sleep. For some reason we think this only applies to children and for ourselves we prefer to adopt strict rules such as no carbs after 4pm or no food or drink after 7pm in the hope that this will bring us better health and weight loss. Sometimes it is the things that go against conventional ideas that can really support our health. Especially if you are currently under stress or following a strict diet and exercise program and finding that you are having trouble sleeping, why not try simply adding a small bedtime snack to your routine and observe how you feel in your body.

So what are the best foods for a bedtime snack? There are two things to reconsider here:

  1. Digestibility
  2. Balanced macro nutrients

Firstly you want to make sure that your snack is not too heavy and contains foods that are easy on the digestive system. The last thing you want is to be going to bed with a full stomach after a heavy meat meal or difficult to digest foods such as raw vegetables. Only you know what works best for your digestive system but generally easy to digest carbohydrates such as cereals, milk, honey and fruit work well along with a small amount of fat and protein to support blood sugar balance. Fats and proteins slow down digestion whereas carbohydrates tend to be absorbed much more quickly. Therefore eating a snack containing a balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein should prevent a high blood sugar spike followed by a low blood sugar crash and provide a more stable and even energy source for your body as you sleep.

Some examples of bedtime snacks for better sleep include greek yoghurt with honey, 2 boiled eggs with a piece of fruit, a slice of wholegrain toast with cheese or hummus, a small handful of trail mix or hot porridge oats with a spoon of peanut butter. If you prefer not to eat solid food before bed, you can go for a sustaining drink instead such as milk with honey, homemade hot chocolate or chocolate milk, a protein shake made with berries, milk and a half scoop of protein powder or orange juice with added gelatin. These are just some suggestions but feel free to play around with different types and ratios of foods in your bedtime snack to see what supports you in getting your best sleep and feeling energised and refreshed the next day!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more post on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

How to eat for healthy teeth. How I healed my teeth after veganism

After my last post about teeth issues I experienced whilst following a plant-based diet and how I healed my teeth after veganism, I wanted to explain in more detail how to eat for healthy teeth. This is not something that gets talked about enough in the nutrition world and dietary advice is usually simplified to “eat less sugar and acidic foods” which is absolutely not enough to maintain healthy teeth.

Tooth decay and de-mineralization

Modern dentistry usually puts the blame for tooth decay on bacteria in the mouth which feed on sugars in the diet and cause cavities. However, this is only part of the picture and a major component has been forgotten! That is that in order for bacteria to attack the teeth, a weakness needs to already be present. To understand this, we need to look at the structure of the teeth:

  1. The enamel layer on the outside of your tooth is what gives them a white colour and shiny, hard appearance. It is made up of minerals, primarily calcium-phosphate
  2. The dentin layer is less hard than enamel but also made up of calcified minerals. It usually has a yellow or grey colour. If the dentin is more exposed, you can experience tooth sensitivity and less white colour
  3. The pulp contains all the nerves and blood and is the most sensitive part of the tooth.

Strong enamel protects the dentin below from acid erosion and bacteria attacks. But enamel itself can also be worn down by acid, grinding the teeth or if minerals are leached from the teeth in a process called demineralization. Generally, minerals are constantly being lost and replaced via the blood supply to the tooth pulp and also the saliva. If the rates of mineralization and demineralization are equal, we have a stable tooth condition. In tooth decay, demineralization is generally occurring at a faster rate. Once enamel is worn down, it cannot be reformed but minerals can be deposited to strengthen the dentin and enamel layer. To heal the teeth we need to increase the rate of remineralization (more on that later).

Dietary causes of tooth de-mineralization and decay

In the 1930s, a dentist called Weston A Price discovered another theory for tooth decay. He studied indigenous people and found that many tribes living on traditional diets did not experience tooth decay, despite not having access to modern dental care and in some cases not even brushing their teeth! Once they switched to a more modern diet including refined carbohydrates and processed foods, they started to develop cavities and other dental issues. According to Price, there are three main dietary causes of tooth de-mineralization and decay:

  • Inadequate amounts or imbalanced ratio of minerals (mainly calcium and phosphorous)
  • A lack of fat-soluble vitamins (primarily vitamins A and D)
  • Imbalanced blood sugar levels

As teeth and bones are made of similar material and go through the same process of building up and breaking down, these factors also play a major role in bone mineral density. Two key minerals for maintaining healthy bones and teeth are calcium and phosphorous. Calcium is a key component of enamel which gives the teeth strength and protects from decay. Phosphorous helps the body absorb calcium and also helps to release energy from food. The ratio of these nutrients in the blood is also important.

Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are those that need fat to be present in order to absorb and store them in the body. They are also generally found in fat-containing foods such as dairy, meat or nuts and seeds. For healthy and strong teeth, vitamin A and D are particularly important. Vitamin A supports healthy saliva production which is important to maintain a neutral pH in the mouth and to kill harmful bacteria. It is also forms keratin in the tooth enamel layer and the gums. Vitamin D also helps with calcium absorption and plays a key role in remineralizing of teeth and bones.

Blood sugar stability is also important because high blood sugar levels trigger leaching of minerals such as calcium from the bones to neutralize the blood. Constant snacking or bingeing on sweet foods or processed carbohydrates as well a diet inadequate in protein and fat can lead to chronically high blood sugar or instability with peaks of high and low blood sugar several times throughout the day. This could be experienced as erratic energy levels, energy crashes throughout the day, constant or sudden hunger and cravings for sweet foods.

How a vegan diet can lead to tooth decay

Based on the above three factors, we can easily see how a vegan diet can lead to tooth demineralization and tooth decay. Let’s consider a typical, healthy vegan diet made up of primarily whole foods: fruits, vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, legumes and nuts/seeds. Plant-based sources of calcium could include fortified dairy-alternatives such as soy or almond milk, green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu and sesame seeds (tahini). With some attention, it is fairly easy to get enough calcium from consuming these foods as long as you are consistent day to day. The problem I see is in three areas: incomplete digestion, detoxification and the high carb low fat trend.

Firstly when it comes to digestion, you are not what you eat but what you digest and assimilate. By this I mean just because the foods you eat contain enough calcium, it doesn’t mean that your body is able to extract and use all of that calcium. Plants contain certain compounds which bind to minerals in particular making them more difficult to absorb. The bio-availability of nutrients in certain plants is therefore lower than in animal products meaning that you need to eat more to meet your nutritional needs. Many plant-based dieters are not aware of this and can unknowingly consume below their nutritional needs for a long period of time. Because we have a certain amount of nutrient stores in our body, it can take months or even years for deficiencies and symptoms to arise, at which point it becomes difficult to question the diet which has “worked” for so long.

Another common mistake with vegan and plant-based diets is the idea that we need to be detoxing or cleansing on a long-term basis. I am all for short-term cleanses to support the body e.g. on an annual or seasonal basis but I see many vegans attempting to live in a state of detox and this is a recipe for mineral deficiencies in particular. For anyone in the detox world, you may be familiar with the problems of tooth sensitivity, decay and even tooth loss than can occur with heavy detox. Rather than being just a part of the detox process, I see this as a major flag that the detox has been too prolonged and a period of rebuilding with mineral rich foods is essential to support the body.

Finally, there is also the risk of deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins that can occur with high carb low fat vegan diets. By nature, vegan diets are higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat compared to omnivorous diets and some plant-based doctors recommend as low as 5% fat in the diet for optimal health. Vegan diets particularly are low in saturated fats as all sources of meat and dairy are avoided and the only real source of saturated fat on a vegan diet would be from coconut. Without adequate fat in our diet, we cannot absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It is also not possible to obtain vitamin D from plants (other than a small amount in mushrooms) and therefore supplementation is necessary. Vitamins A and K are present in plant-based diets but they are again found in a different and less usable form compared to retinol and vitamin K2 found in animal products.

The best diet for healthy teeth and tooth healing

The UK national dietary guidelines suggest for adults aged 19-64 we should be consuming a minimum of 700mg of calcium and 550mg of phosphorous per day from either plant or animal sources. The recommended daily amount of vitamin A is 700mg (2300IU) for men and 600mg (2000IU) for women, for vitamin D it is 10mg (400IU). This can easily be achieved by following the Eat Well Plate and including a variety of foods in your daily diet. However, if you already are experiencing tooth demineralization or decay, these minimum intakes may not be adequate. In his book Cure Tooth Decay, which is based on the work of Weston A. Price, Ramiel Nigel proposes the nutrient intakes below to support tooth repair and remineralization which are significantly higher than our dietary guidelines recommend!

He recommends consuming foods from several categories on a regular basis for overall health, including for supporting healthy and strong teeth:

  • Full or half fat dairy such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter
  • Fish and sea food (especially small fish with bones such as sardines)
  • Organ meats (including liver 1x per week)
  • Bone marrow and broths or stews
  • Variety of green vegetables (cooked or raw depending on tolerance)
  • Moderate amount of cooked fruit and 1 glass orange juice per day

He also recommends to supplement with 1/2 tsp butter oil and 1/2 tsp cod liver oil daily.

You can use a food tracking app such as Chronometer to get a rough idea of your daily nutrient intakes and where you could be falling short. As an example, to consume approximately 1.5g of calcium you could include: 1c fortified cereal, 1c milk, 1c yoghurt, 1/2c ricotta cheese, 1c broccoli, 1c cooked greens, 1tbsp tahini, 1tbsp blackstrap molasses and 1 portion steamed salmon. You can see it’s quite a lot! You could try this as a vegan but you would need to ensure you are eating several portions of fortified dairy alternatives per day and exchange the salmon with 1/2c tofu or a whole cup of beans.

For blood sugar balancing, it is recommended to eat meals containing all three macro-nutrients as well as fibre. Fats, protein and fibre help to slow down the digestive process and rate of absorption of carbohydrates (glucose) into the blood stream. This prevents blood sugar spikes and crashes and maintains even energy levels as well as preventing mineral leaching from the teeth and bones. You can play around with the macro-nutrient ratios and see what supports your optimal mood and energy levels but try to incorporate at least some fat and protein at each meal or snack.

A note on fruit.. whilst fruit contains fibre and has a lesser effect on blood sugar levels compared to processed carbohydrates and sweets, it is still a high glucose food and can lead to blood sugar spikes if consumed alone or in too high quantities, especially dried fruits or juices. As there are so many health benefits from including fruit in your diet, I don’t recommend cutting it out completely unless your teeth are in a very serious condition. I usually recommend to my clients to consume fruit as part of a meal or if eaten as a snack to combine with raw vegetables or protein/fat source such as cheese or nuts for better blood sugar balancing. It is also helpful to neutralise your mouth after eating sweet or acidic foods such as fruit by rinsing with water or salt water.

Meal ideas for healing tooth decay

Breakfast

  • Full fat yoghurt with stewed fruits and seeds
  • Sardines on whole grain toast
  • Porridge made with 2% milk and blackstrap molasses
  • Smoothie with kefir, berries and 1 tbsp cocoa powder

Lunch/Dinner

  • Meat and vegetable stew
  • Green vegetable omelette cooked in butter
  • Liver and onions with rice or potatoes
  • Salad with olive oil dressing chickpeas
  • Vegetable and tofu curry
  • Roasted sweet potato with broccoli and tahini sauce

Snack

  • 1 apple or 1c grapes with cheese
  • 1c orange juice with 2 boiled eggs
  • Fruit with 1c cucumber or celery
  • 1c milk with 1tbsp blackstrap molasses

My experience shifting from a plant-based diet

For anyone like me in the past who is currently following a vegan or plant-based diet, reading this can come as a shock. I know, I was there. I was convinced that a vegan diet was the healthiest and most sustainable way to eat and that animal products were toxic and should be avoided. Honestly, it took me several years, including studying for a degree in Public Health Nutrition and doing my own research and experimentation to realize that yes we can survive on a vegan diet but not everyone can thrive.

I really wasn’t thriving on a vegan diet so in the end it was not difficult to reintroduce animal products, once I had made the mental shift. I was expecting to struggle with digestive issues after not eating meat and dairy for so long but honestly, it felt like my body absorbed them right away. The first few meals with fish and cheese tasted amazing and the craving that had been suppressed for so long (making me feel like I didn’t miss or need animal products) finally resurfaced. I started to have more energy and mental clarity and just feel more like myself which was not something I thought could be impacted by the diet.

If you are suffering from tooth decay or demineralization on a vegan diet, take it as a sign that you are not getting everything that you need from your food. It’s very common to experience black and white thinking and feel like it is either fully vegan or nothing when in reality there is a spectrum. It is possible to follow a mostly plant-based diet and add in some of the above foods and meals to give your body a healthy dose of concentrated nutrition. I did introduce things gradually over a period of two years and for a long time my diet was mostly plant-based. Even now I eat a lot of plant-based foods but I would consider myself a true omnivore and I make sure to eat at least dairy every single day!

Healing teeth on a vegan diet

I really didn’t start to see improvements in my teeth until I went all in and consumed dairy every day and ate meat and fish more regularly. But if after reading this you are still determined to remain vegan, here are a few tips on how to eat for healthy teeth as a vegan. Something which helped prevent further deterioration of my teeth was cutting back on some of the foods which I thought were contributing to my dental problems including oats, dried fruit and acidic fruits. Now I have added them back in without seeing any reversal of the progress with my teeth but in the beginning it was necessary to keep them to a minimum.

You can also make sure to include high calcium sources mentioned such as tofu, tahini, blackstrap molasses and green vegetables along with plenty of plant fats to help with absorption. Avoid restrictive diets or cleanses and really focus on eating balanced meals which support blood sugar stability. You can also consider taking a vegan calcium supplement but always consult with your doctor first as with any medication. The most important thing overall is to listen to your body rather than your mind when it comes to making food choices. Our bodies are extremely intelligent and know what they need to remain healthy and balanced, we just need to remember how to listen!

Over to you…

I really hope this post helps any of you who are struggling with teeth issues after veganism or any other restrictive diet. Please let me know if you found these tips and information useful or if you have any questions. Like this post and follow along with my blog for more posts about nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

Is a vegan diet bad for your teeth? My experience

I rarely write about my experiences with the vegan diet because I know it is such a controversial topic. I have previously shared my history with health and nutrition and my experience recovering my period on a vegan diet. Earlier this year I also posted an article Veganuary: Is a vegan diet best for the planet? where I mentioned that I no longer follow a vegan diet and my current thoughts about what an environmentally sustainable diet is. I haven’t spoken in detail about the health issues I experienced as a vegan because I know it can create strong emotions in some people and I understand that those still in the paradigm that a vegan diet is optimal for humans can take it quite personally when others decide it isn’t right for them.

At some point, I will speak in depth about how a vegan diet impacted my health and if this is something that interests you, you can leave a comment below this post or send me a personal message. In this post however, I do want to speak about one specific problem I had whilst following a vegan diet and that is dental issues. I visited the dentist yesterday which is what has inspired this post which has been a long time coming! Prior to adopting a plant-based diet, I never had any issues with my teeth. I had some slight crowding of my front teeth since childhood but other wise I had zero cavities or teeth removed in my whole adult life. I looked after my teeth well, visited the dentist regularly and never had any reason to worry about my teeth.

But after 3 years as a vegan and 2 years mostly plant-based, I started to have problems with my teeth. First with increased tooth sensitivity and feeling of weakness in my teeth and then the appearance of my teeth also started to change. It was my boyfriend that first noticed a difference visually. He came back after being away for a couple of months and he straight away asked what was wrong with my teeth. I looked in the mirror and noticed that they had a slight transparent, almost greyish tinge to them. I also checked my back teeth with a mirror and saw lots of small pinholes in my molars. As well as this, I had been told by my dentist a year previously that some of my gums had started to recede which he thought was a result of brushing too hard, now I’m not sure whether it was due to that or it was a result of nutritional deficiencies.

I was very worried but we were in the middle of a stressful time with the COVID pandemic and also preparing to leave the UK and move to Greece so I let it slide. I made some small changes like changing my toothpaste. rinsing with salt water after every meal and reducing the amount of acidic fruit I was eating but nothing too serious. But once we were settled in our new place, I noticed that things were not getting better and I also developed a dark spot on one of my front teeth. This really freaked me out and I immediately vowed to change my diet. One of the arguments against veganism is that it is bad for your teeth because it cuts out all dairy which is known to support strong teeth and bones.

Up until this point, I was so far into the vegan agenda that I believed dairy was acidic for the body and actually caused leaching of minerals from the teeth. I believed that plant-based sources of calcium such as broccoli, kale and sesame seeds (tahini) were adequate and even optimal for humans. However, this experience finally shocked me into the decision to completely let go of the idea that a fully plant-based diet is best for health and to start experimenting with adding in animal products on a more regular basis. I was already eating meat and fish a few times a week but I still avoided dairy thinking it was bad for my hormones and for the environment.

I was very closed minded and in the “vegan bubble” where I was listening mainly to sources promoting a vegan or plant-based diet as the healthiest and most sustainable diet. As a yoga teacher, I also have many friends and colleagues who are vegetarian or vegan and so it felt very difficult to step outside of this world and I wondered whether I could still consider myself a true yogi if I was harming animals by eating them. At this point though I was extremely concerned and I didn’t want my ethical ideals to lead to me becoming malnourished or losing my teeth! I started drinking organic goats milk daily, added cheese back into my diet and also started to take an Osteocare supplement which includes calcium and vitamin D, both good for building strong bones and teeth.

I think anything that affects our physical appearance can be the most scary and something that our ego struggles to deal with as our identity is so tied to how we look. I am all for separating our value and self-worth from appearance but in this case I knew that my physical appearance was also sending a message about potential problems on the inside too. Tooth decay is a major sign of dietary imbalances or more serious health conditions. Although it was very difficult emotionally and I had to do a lot of brain rewiring to let go of my previous beliefs, I managed it and I began to see positive changes. Luckily, I found plenty of research available on the impacts of a vegan diet on your teeth and how to heal cavities naturally through a healthy diet which contains plenty of bio-available nutrients.

Surprisingly, after about 6 months on this new way of eating, the spot on my front tooth had completely disappeared and my teeth were looking much whiter. Not only that the sensitivity was hugely reduced and my teeth felt stronger overall. I finally felt comfortable biting into an apple rather than chopping it into small pieces. Yesterday I went to the dentist for a check up and clean and she told me that my teeth are in great health and the amount of plaque build up on my teeth was also much less than my previous visit. The pinhole cavities that had developed have now hardened and they no longer pose a problem. Unfortunately the gums that have receded will never grow back and I will have to manage them to make sure they don’t get any worse.

I know this is a very heavy topic but I think it’s necessary for me to share with anyone who is vegan and experiencing dental problems or who is considering adopting a vegan or plant-based diet. It is very important to be fully informed when making decisions for your health and choosing to adopt a vegan diet is not something that should be taken lightly. According to the UK National Health Service:

“With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs. If you do not plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.”

Personally, I believe I was very careful with my diet as a vegan. I ate a good variety of foods and consumed fruit, vegetables, starches, beans, nuts and seeds as the base of my diet. I definitely ate more fruit and starchy carbs than the average person but I never went to extremes with my diet like some you see in the online world such as cutting out all fats or eating only one type of fruit for weeks at a time. For a while I did fall into the trap of believing I need to detox to overcome my health issues and I had periods where I would attempt a raw vegan cleanse for a few days but overall my diet was pretty balanced and I always tried to cover my nutritional bases.

I did my research and ate specific foods to obtain nutrients that are harder to find in plant foods such as fortified plant-milks for calcium and vitamin D, nutritional yeast for iron and vitamin B12 and hemp and flax seeds for omega-3 fatty acids. I also took supplements to make sure I was getting what I needed. The problem is that just because a food in theory contains a certain amount of a nutrient, it doesn’t mean this is the amount that your body can absorb and utilise. Depending on your personal health status and genetics, you may be less able to extract particular nutrients from foods. For example, nutrients found in plants are often in a less bio-available form than those in animal foods and also found up with fibre which can make it more difficult for your digestive system to process.

I am writing this post not to say that no one should ever follow a plant-based diet or that veganism always causes tooth decay but rather to share a side of the story that is less often talked about. By no means am I saying that vegans are the only ones who suffer with dental problems, there are plenty of omnivorous diets lacking in nutrients which lead to tooth decay and sensitivity. I am just sharing my personal experience as I want to help people make informed decisions about their health, understanding the risks involved with restrictive diets of any kind. If you have experienced similar problems with your teeth after following a vegan diet, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post about what a vegan diet did to my teeth. Please share with friends and family who may be interested and like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

Signs of holistic health for women (non weight related!)

For the last 5 years, I have been very focused on women’s health and in particular exploring the signs of good health which are not related to body shape and size. In the society that we live in, we are hyper focused on appearance and weight in particular. This leads many women to assume they are healthy just because they look like the typical fitness model or believe that they are unhealthy because they are carrying a few extra pounds. We mistake behaviors such as restricting our calories, eating clean or exercising a ton for true health which in reality comes in many forms. In this post I want to highlight some of the health indicators that I use for monitoring my own and my clients health. I have also included a health assessment form that you can download at the end of the article to understand where you currently are with your health and to track your progress if you are embarking on a journey to improve your health.

Energy

High energy levels or an aura of vitality is something we intuitively recognize in others and want for ourselves. Our energy and enthusiasm for life says a lot about our state of health. Unfortunately fatigue is something that many of us deal with at some point in life, whether we are going through a stressful period or our lifestyle isn’t exactly on point. When our energy levels are low, we feel tired and unmotivated for our work, social life and creative hobbies. On the other hand, when we eat well, get good sleep, spend time outdoors and move our bodies, we tend to feel more energised and radiate good health. Assessing your energy levels is an excellent way to understand whether your current health regime is working for you. If you are doing all of the “right” things yet still feeling tired, then perhaps it is a sign that something is not quite right for your individual situation.

Mood

Our mood says a lot about both our inner and outer world. When we are in a good state of health, we generally feel more relaxed and stable emotionally. That isn’t to say we don’t experience emotions which are the natural reaction to our life experiences, but when we are healthy they are much less extreme and easy to manage. Experiencing constant states of fear, depression or anxiety is a sign that something is not quite right with your lifestyle. Similarly, if you feel extremely sensitive or fly off the handle more easily than usual then perhaps your health is not as good as it could be. Perhaps this can be solved by simpler lifestyle changes such as eating a more nourishing diet, adopting a supportive exercise routine or getting better quality sleep. In other cases it is more complicated and could be related to wider aspect of health such as your family, work, self-worth and social life. Either way, a generally content mood and capacity to absorb daily stresses is a good sign of robust health.

Sleep

This is always an interesting point as in order to be healthy we need good sleep but equally, problems with our health can limit our ability to get a good night of rest. Chronic insomnia, unrelated to acute stressful events, is a major red flag that your health is suffering in some way. This is something that I personally suffered with for many years and I shared some of my tips for dealing with sleep disturbances in a previous post. Our quality of sleep can be impacted by many factors including our physical and mental stress levels, caffeine intake and also our diet as sleeping through the night requires good blood sugar regulation. It is very common for people on restrictive diets or who exercise excessively to experience sleep issues due to dysregulation of various hormonal pathways. Having a regular sleep schedule and getting adequate, restful sleep that your body needs is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.

Hair

Our hair is another one of the ways in which we can see our health history. We are all different in how our hair looks but whether is it naturally curly or straight, long or short, thick or thin we can still observe our hair quality to understand something about our health. If your hair appears to be thinning, becoming dry or brittle or is slower growing than usual, this good indicate an underlying health problem. If your hair is growing fast and looks healthy and strong this is one of the typical signs of good health! Our hair is also affected by many factors but most noteably diet and stress levels. Because it takes so long to grow, analyzing the mineral content of your hair can show nutrient deficiencies dating back years. It is common sense to associate hair loss with stressful periods of life but this can also be caused by physical stresses such as undereating or exercising excessively. For women, loss of hair around the hair line or unusual hair growth on the body can be a sign of hormone imbalance.

Skin

Along with our hair, our skin can be an excellent visual map of our internal health. Again, there are genetic factors at play when it comes to our skin and some people are more prone to skin issues than others. However, observing changes in your skin can be a good way to understand how your lifestyle is impacting your overall health. Sudden appearance of acne, rapid aging or unusual dryness or redness on the skin are all things to take note of. On the other hand, supple, moist, acne-free skin is one of the signs of good health that you want to focus on. If you suffer from acne, chinese face-mapping can indicate where in the body this imbalance could be stemming from. For example, acne around the chin and jawline tends to be related to hormone imbalance whereas acne on the forehead is more likely to represent digestive issues.

Digestion

Nowadays it is so normal to experience digestive issues and sensitivities that we rarely question it. Problems such as IBS, constipation and reflux are extremely common and sales of medications have sky-rocketed in recent years. It is almost trendy to exclude foods such as gluten and dairy and the amount of free-from products is growing exponentially. I used to believe that digestive issues were a sign that we need to eat a “cleaner diet” and avoid foods which cause us problems but my opinion on this topic has changed drastically over the last few years. Of course, in some cases people have genuine intolerances and allergies in which case yes, avoiding these foods is a good idea. But in most cases, what is really needed is support and strengthening the digestive system to increase the range of foods we are able to eat. When the digestive fire is strong, a healthy person can handle a wide variety of different foods, does not experience excessive bloating, gas or heart burn after a meal and goes to the toilet regularly.

Hormones

As a holistic health coach, this is something I focus on a lot with my female clients. Our menstrual cycle can be considered our 5th vital sign and having a regular, relatively symptom-free menstrual cycle with a consistent red colour and moderate flow as well as a healthy sex drive is ideal. Issues such as intense pre-menstrual syndrome, painful periods, PCOS, endometriosis, amenorrhea and infertility are all signs that something could be not quite right with your health. Our hormones affect all our bodily processes and imbalances can be linked to fatigue, skin issues, insomnia, and low libido, just to name a few. It also works in the opposite direction as our hormone balance can also be impacted by lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep and stress levels. Tracking your menstrual cycle is an excellent way to become aware of your natural rhythms and understand how your choices impact your hormones and therefore your overall health.

Creativity

This is another point mainly for the women and perhaps a controversial one. Our creative power is strongly linked to our feminine energy and a strong creative spirit can be a sign of good health and vitality. That isn’t to say you have to be a passionate musician or incredible artist but having the drive to create things, whether that is innovative solutions in your work, a tasty meal from scratch or expressing yourself through journal writing is a sign that energy is flowing freely in your body and that you are connected to your inner world. Feeling stagnant or blocked creatively is a common experience but rather than writing it off as that, it can be a chance to question and explore what is going on in your life and how you are feeling. One thing I observe is that in women who are trapped in the cycle of rigid dieting and exercise routines, is that their feminine energy is suppressed and this rigidity prevents the flow of their creative energy. Relaxing and surrendering more to the flow of life leads to an opening and blossoming which to me is a sign of a healthy woman.

So, if you are currently on a journey to improve your health, remember that this is about so much more than weight! It is possible to have a healthy lifestyle, thriving body and balanced hormones without dietary restriction and extremes or punishing exercise routines. If you have made positive changes to your lifestyle and you feel caught up in the weight-loss trap, come back to this list and see if your health is improving in other areas. As promised, here is a holistic health assessment that I use with my clients. You can use this assessment to determine your current health health status and set personal goals to improve your health!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on the non-weight related signs of health. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and share with friends and family who may be interested. Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

pro-metabolic diet ray peat orange juice

Top foods for increasing your metabolism and restoring hormonal balance

After my last post about when low calorie density diets don’t work, I got a few email questions asking what foods are best for increasing your metabolism. I have to admit, this is something I am still in the process of figuring out as I went way off in the wrong direction during the first years of my recover. This field of pro-metabolic nutrition was NOT something I was taught in my nutrition degree and in fact, often goes against public health advice. I am not saying this is the way that everyone should eat, but myself and many other people have had success with improving metabolism and eradicating some of the signs of a poor functioning thyroid (e.g. insomnia, fatigue, cold hands and feet, dry hair and skin, constipation) by following this somewhat controversial nutrition advice. If you have been struggling with these symptoms and want to try something new then read on.

I first discovered the research of Ray Peat and Broda Barnes whilst trying to recover my period 5 years ago. After many years of restrictive dieting, I definitely was showing signs of a reduced metabolic rate and my main goal was to balance my hormones and get my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. However, at the time I had decided to become vegan for environmental and “health” reasons so much of the dietary advice was so outside of my nutrition paradigm that I discarded it. I did take on some of the principles though which included:

  • Eating more food overall and listening to my true hunger cues
  • Cutting down on intense exercise and only walking and practicing yoga
  • Drinking less water and adding more salt to my diet
  • Including more root vegetables in my diet e.g. potatoes, carrots, parsnips
  • Adding in saturated fat in the form of coconut oil and dark chocolate
  • Consuming natural sugars e.g. ripe fruits and honey

These things definitely helped me to improve my energy levels and some of the symptoms I was experiencing, as well as to recover my period and have a regular menstrual cycle. But in truth, it wasn’t till I added animal products back into my diet that the real healing began. I will write another post at some point on my experience shifting from a vegan diet back to a omnivorous diet and how I dealt with the transition both mentally and physically. For today I will share my current top foods for increasing metabolism and restoring hormones.

1. Fruit

Ripe, sweet fruit is rich in natural sugars which will support a healthy metabolism and energy output. If you have been stuck in the mindset that carbs are bad and will make you fat, think again. Every cell in your body runs on carbs and prefers glucose as an energy source, especially your brain. Yes, we are adaptable beings and we have mechanisms to enable us to convert fat to energy (via ketosis) when carbs are not available. However this is a stressful process for the body and is not sustainable in the long term. The best fruits are the more dense, sweet fruits such as banana, mango, pineapple, dried fruits, figs, papaya etc.

2. Orange juice

I know oranges are a fruit but OJ is so amazing that it deserves it’s own category. I made a post on Instagram the other day about how OJ is life and it is so true! Drinking a glass of freshly squeezed OJ is like pouring life directly into your body, it makes you happy and floods your body with energy. As you are trying to improve your metabolism, replacing your water intake with juice or other metabolism supporting fluids is a great technique. If you are really struggling, adding a pinch of salt to your juice is even better and though it might sound counter-intuitive it will help with hydration as it helps you to better absorb the liquids rather than having them pass straight through you.

3. Cheese

OK so here we go with the non-vegan foods. I used to be so afraid of cheese. I thought it would mess up my hormones, give me acne and digestive upsets, not to mention it’s high environmental impact. Now I take a more pragmatic view. Cheese is a nutritionally dense food which provides high quality minerals and proteins and is extremely supportive for metabolic health. I’m not saying to go and eat a block of cheese every day but including a small amount of cheese as part of a balanced diet is a very healthy thing. Try to source organic cheese if possible with little additives. Cheese with fruit or OJ is a perfect, pro-metabolic snack and melted cheese on toast is the perfect warming meal.

4. Coconut oil

The keto community got one thing right and that is that the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT oils) in coconut oil are great for supporting the metabolism and providing your body with easily accessible fuel. Even the bulletproof coffee as a concept is not bad, although I would argue that in order to prevent a stress response from your body, a big spoon of honey or a splash of milk is needed and it’s always better to consume coffee with food rather than on an empty stomach. Coconut oil is a great option for cooking, it has a strong taste but goes well in asian style dishes like curries and stir fries or my personal favourite coconut oil roasted sweet potatoes – yum!

5. Root vegetables

Potatoes and starchy vegetables such as parsnips, beetroot and carrots are a great option to provide carbohydrate fuel for your body. The pro-metabolic community advise against grains and I am still on the fence with this one as personally, I had a lot of success with keeping oats and bread in my diet. Nonetheless, potatoes and sweet potatoes are perfect metabolism boosting foods and very versatile. For the best results try baking to bring out the natural sweetness and adding salt to taste. If you struggle with feeling cold, try eating a bowl of salty mashed or potatoes or home-fries and notice the warmth spreading to your fingers and toes.

6. Liver

Yes I said liver.. this is definitely not a food for every day but it really is a “super food” and eating liver either with onions or as pate once every 10-14 days will do wonders for your overall and metabolic health. I know it’s extreme to go from eating a vegan diet to including organ meats but it is something that our ancestors have eaten for many years, knowing about the health benefits and I personally think it is better than eating chicken breast on the daily or only eating prime muscle meats. Liver contains the highest and most absorbable amount of iron, vitamin A and B12 as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Since eating liver regularly my eyesight has improved to the point that I no longer wear glasses to watch TV or use the computer.

7. Chocolate

Eating chocolate or cacao is great for improving the metabolism and something I craved daily when healing from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Chocolate is a dense source of calories which is exactly what your body needs to dig it’s way out of a metabolic hole. I personally prefer dark chocolate but actually chocolate with milk and sugar (or smoothies made with cacao, ripe bananas, milk and honey) is optimal for boosting your metabolism. Chocolate contains some caffeine and theobromine which give you a natural energy and mood boost. Eating chocolate mindfully and truly savouring every bite is a way to send your body that signal that it is safe and the “famine” is over which is necessary to move out of the stress response and into a relaxed, high metabolic state.

8. Eggs

These were one of the first animal proteins I added back into my diet as I think many ex-vegans do. Of all of the animal products, it was actually boiled eggs with a runny yolk that I started to crave. Eggs are another great source of vitamin A and a complete protein so they are great to include as part of a vegetarian meal or snack. If you are trying to heal your hormones after restrictive dieting, you need cholesterol as it is a building block for your reproductive hormones and including eggs in your diet is actually a very healthy thing. Eggs may not be the best protein for improving metabolism (some red meat is most likely better) but for restoring hormone health or recovering your menstrual cycle, eggs are a great food to include.

9. Ice cream

My current favourite! I am in a phase of eating ice cream a few times a week because here in Greece there are so many amazing quality ice cream shops and with the hot weather it is the perfect snack. Unfortunately many of the ice creams in the supermarkets these days are heavily processed with additives and fillers which are not designed to be consumed by humans and are not healthy for us. However, ice cream in its natural form with simple ingredients (mainly milk, sugar, cream, eggs) is actually a great pro-metabolic food and a delicious way to boost your calories without feeling bloated or over-stuffed which is often one of the main hurdles for women trying to recover and raise their metabolic rate. A small bowl of ice cream is a great after dinner dessert or bedtime snack to keep your blood sugar up during the night and avoid those 2-4am wake ups that can occur with a low metabolism.

10. Honey/molasses

Both excellent sources of carbohydrates with the added benefits of nutrients and anti-oxidants. The pro-metabolic community often recommend eating white sugar as a way to boost the metabolism and although I am not against including sugar in the diet (I don’t think that any food should be completely restricted), I don’t consider it a health food and prefer natural sweeteners such as honey to use on a daily basis e.g. adding to tea, coffee or smoothies. Molasses has the added benefits of a great mineral profile, providing iron and calcium in particular. Drinking 1-2tbsp of molasses in hot water with lemon was a strategy that helped me to boost my iron levels and recover from iron deficiency.

As well as these top foods for boosting your metabolism, some foods to reduce during the initial phases of metabolic recovery include:

  • Raw vegetables and large salads
  • Low sugar fruits (unless consumed along with other higher calorie fruits or foods)
  • Cruciferous vegetables e.g. broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
  • Vegetable oils e.g. sunflower, rapeseed, sesame oil
  • Nuts and seeds (including tahini and nut butters)

I am not saying these foods are unhealthy, far from it. But if your goal is to boost your metabolism, repair your hormones or get your period back, then these foods won’t be the most supportive to your goals and consuming them in large quantities will only prolong your recovery process. Once things are more balanced you can of course add them back into your diet in balance with some of the more pro-metabolic foods. As you become more acquainted with your body and the signs of a strong healthy metabolism (e.g. warm hands and feet, good energy, regular menstrual cycle), you will be able to adjust your diet as you go to keep you feeling your best.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed these tips on how to increase your metabolism and balance your hormones. Let me know in the comments below if you have already discovered the work of Ray Peat and other researchers in this field and what you think of this pro-metabolic way of eating. I have to say, for me it has done nothing but good although everyone will have their own unique experience.

If you found this article interesting, like the post and follow along with my blog for more real health and nutrition advice. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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Real health #29 The healing power of nature (plus our Greek lockdown adventures!)

We are heading into our 4th month of lockdown here in Athens and it’s getting pretty tough! Being forced to stay at home for so long has made me realise just how important nature is for our health and wellbeing. We go for walks around our local area every day but it’s just not the same as getting out “into the wild”. If we haven’t escaped the city for a week or so I start to feel suffocated and I crave fresh air and expansive landscapes. Being enclosed in a house, staring at a screen is definitely not how humans are designed to live and I’m sure we are going to start seeing the negative impacts of this type of lifestyle even more over the next few years.

But why is nature so good for our wellbeing? There have been many scientific studies proving that nature helps to reduces stress levels, calm anxiety and improve your mood. Fresh air in your lungs and sunlight on your skin can sometimes be just the medicine you need to recharge your energetic battery (plus the vitamin D boost of course!). I know whenever I leave my phone at home and head out for a hike or sit by the sea for a few hours I feel like a completely different person. There’s something about the natural beauty and slow pace of nature that makes me feel relaxed and at peace. My breathing becomes deeper and slower and the tension in my body melts away.

I become much more present and mindful of the world around me instead of being focused on my to-do list, the latest news alert or my own worries. When we leave technology and the constant influx of information behind, our minds are free to wander, daydream and process things on a deeper level. When I was writing my first research paper, my most creative times were when I was out walking by the river or at the local nature reserve. The beauty and mystery of nature is inspiring and helps you to see things from a new perspective when you feel stuck. Nature truly is healing on so many levels. I think it’s so important now more than ever to try and get out in nature as much as possible.

So I wanted to share some of the beautiful places I have been able to visit during this lockdown. Partly as a reminder to myself how good it makes me feel and to motivate me to get outside whenever I feel low. Also hopefully to inspire you to explore your local area and find some hidden gems too! Our lockdown rules say we have to stay within the region of Attica which is pretty annoying as I can’t wait to get out and explore the rest of Greece. Nonetheless I feel lucky to live in the area we do as it is pretty green compared to central Athens and we have access to the beach and the mountains within an hours drive. But where ever you live you can find your piece of nature whether it’s the local park or even your own garden.

The view of Athens from the top of the hill in our area..

And a couple of photos from our hike at Mount Parnitha in December..

Playing on the beach at Saronida on the South coast of Attica..

Same coastline, a much sunnier day..

And a couple of weeks later snow! (a hike isn’t complete without some the yoga poses)

Finally what would nature be without some cute lil’ animals?

And I can’t leave out my own crazy fur baby who is always keeping us smiling

It makes me happy looking back at the fun adventures we’ve had over the last few months, even if we are stuck at home 90% of the time. The only thing missing is family and friends to share it with which saddens me a lot. I think this lockdown is harder for everyone, partly because of the winter but also because it’s gone on so long now. I just can’t accept the idea of the “new normal”. But I am staying optimistic, hoping that this passes soon so we can all get back to enjoying our lives. And for now we will continue to make the most of things and escape to experience the healing powers of nature as much as we can!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this more fun style of article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your favourite place in nature to escape to.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

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