A little bit of what you fancy…

I’m always interested in the great debate about chocolate, should I or shouldn’t I?

Its been Jemma’s birthday in the office and she has chocolates so this question is very poignant for me right at this moment! I’ve been thinking GI and GL for my own benefit as much as anyone’s as I could do with losing a little weight, but I’ve just been handed a few squares of dark chocolate, and now I’m eating them thinking about how good these flavonoids are for me.

Honestly I’m not making this up! Small daily doses of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate eaten over a two-week period is thought to benefit blood vessels by helping them to dilate better.

Here’s the story – Scientists testing this out focused on epicatechin, a specific flavonoid that was absorbed at high levels in the blood, and found it to be particularly beneficial in blood vessel functions. Elevated levels of epicatechin trigger the release of active substances that increase blood flow through arteries and improve heart health. Chocolate has been shown in previous studies to improve the inner lining of blood vessels after just a single serving or several servings over a few days.

Dark chocolate has a lot of flavonoids, chemical compounds with antioxidant properties found in a variety of plants, which have been shown to have a number of cardiovascular benefits, including decreasing bad LDL cholesterol and inhibiting the aggregation of blood platelets that contribute to blood clots that produce heart attacks and strokes – get that!

The scientists mentioned above carried out a double-blind study in which 11 of 21 patients received 1.6 ounces of flavonoid-rich chocolate every day for two weeks. The rest ate chocolate with low flavonoid content. At the end of the trial, those who had eaten flavonoid-rich chocolate had a better reading of flow-mediated dilation, a marker for determining heart disease risks, than those who didn’t. Researchers also determined that concentrations of the cocoa flavonoid epicatechin rose significantly in blood samples taken from those who received the high flavanoid chocolate. Interestingly, the blood cholesterol levels in study participants didn’t increase in either group.

Dark chocolate has been found to have more flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine and black and green teas.

The study also suggested that eating chocolate with at least a 70 percent cocoa content, in moderation, can be beneficial in conjunction with exercise and a healthy diet. So don’t overdo it, I promise I won’t. All eaten now, so back to my GL plan for lunch.

Dr Mercola will back me up too, and he was perhaps more skeptical than me to begin with.

Glycemic Load v Glycemic Index

Reading a little more widely on the GI issues, research etc I have come across a new angle to the debate. Glycemic Load versus Glycemic Index.

The Glycemic Index tells us how quickly the sugar in the food raises the sugar in our blood, but just how much of that sugar there is doesn’t come into it. We just have to know that if a product is high in its GI then we should eat in moderation, but that is rather vague as a guide for a lifestyle change. As Patrick Holford has pointed out, the GI of a piece of chocolate is the same as 100 bars of chocolate. Mmm this sounds like my kind of diet?

Since beginning my research on the GI issue I have been put off melon because of its high Glycemic Index of 72 while a Mars Bar is around 68. Of coarse this is because the watermelon contains fast-releasing sugar, but very little of it, whilst the Mars Bar contains slower releasing sugar but loads of it.

So this GI scheme could get confusing and it looks to me like we need to redefine the indicators a little to take sugar quantities into account before we get too immersed in the GI indicators and put them on all our packaging. Using the Glycemic Load (GL) certainly looks like a more balanced indicator, where the GI is multiplied by the quantity of sugar in a food serving. This is what we should be using on our food labels.

More about Glycemic Load (GL)

What is Glycemic Load?

By using the GI and multiplying by the quantity of sugar in a serving (GI (%) x grams of carbohydrate per serving) we get the total glycemic response to a food or meal which is a very good indicator of the overall affect on our bodies.

One unit of GL ~ glycemic effect of 1 gram glucose

In this way we can count GL in a similar way to the counting calories principle. A typical diet would have around 100 GL units per day (ie. 60-180)

Here is a good guide from the university of Sydney who remain, in my eyes anyway, the authority on GI issues.

Low GI = 55 or less Medium GI = 56 – 69 High GI = 70 or more
Low GL = 10 or less Medium GL = 11- 19 High GL = 20 or more

Per day: Low GL is less than 80 High GL is more than 120

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements directive

Do you take any food supplements? Vitamin C maybe? Zinc if you feel a little bunged up and coldy? I try and take regular Vitamin B as I think I am quite deficient, plus some Ginkgo Biloba to help my memory, but yes – I do forget to take them!

Supplementation and trying to prevention sickness and disease with natural products surely cannot be a bad thing? I get very wound up by some of the debates on this subject which is why I want to draw your attention to what is happening in Europe with the Vitamin and Mineral Supplements directive.

The EU is wanting to introduce this directive which will mean that many forms of vitamins and minerals will be removed from stores (5 forms of calcium, 12 forms of magnesium, 12 forms of selenium, 20 forms of zinc and 10 forms of boron, for example). It also means that, in due course, higher dose supplements may also be banned. It’s not that they are deemed especially dangerous, (unlike paracetamol which can kill you or cigarettes which just carry a warning) – its just that some of them do not have adequate testing according to the “powers that be” to render them safe.

On12 July the European Court of Justice will decide whether this legislation is just or not and can proceed. At a first hearing the Advocate General said that, in his opinion the Directive is invalid as it infringes the principle of proportionality.

Surely any form of a vitamin or mineral should be freely sold, unless it is harmful. The proposed legislation says that no form of vitamin or mineral can be sold unless proven, by means of a very extensive and expensive dossier of information used for new drugs, that it is safe. This is surely disproportionate to the actual risk and really is making a mountain out of a molehill, probably aggravated by the pharmaceutical industry.

Apparently Tony Blair that had made comments that he too may think the Supplements Directive is wholly out of proportion to the risks.

This is a new developement and may help our plea through European Court, but the battle is not won yet.

We must get MPs and MEPs actively putting on pressure NOW to make sure this legislation, in its current form, doesn’t go ahead. Every letter they receive makes a difference. So, please WRITE NOW to your MP and MEP explaining:
1. Why you take vitamin and mineral supplements.
2. That despite promises from Government Ministers, more than 200 ingredients and thousands of products will become illegal in July this year as the result of the list of permitted ingredients coming into force.
3. That thousands more products will be lost in the future as maximum permitted levels are set most have which have no or little negative evidence.
4. That Government Ministers have adopted a “wait and see” policy that is unacceptable and are doing nothing to force the European Commission to sort out the problem.
5. That only a national derogation (right to opt out of the legislation) can save our supplements; 6. Asking them to write to the Government Minister and the European Commission demanding that the legislation be changed to ensure that the UK does not lose safe and popular products.

Please write to your MP at this address:(name) MPHouse of CommonsLondon SW1A 0AA
You can find the name of your MP by calling 020 7219 4272 or visiting www.locata.co.uk/commons Please write to your MEP at this address:
(name) MEP
The European Parliament
Rue Wiertz
1047 Brussels

You can find the name of your MEP by calling 020 7227 4300 or visiting www.europarl.org.uk/uk_meps/Please do this today as we must maximise pressure now to protect our right to choose safe supplements.


One of the Q&A’s that passed my desk today – quite interesting I thought? The surprising properties of herbs and spices – amazing.

Q: I have been taking fenugreek to help my hormones and to increase energy. Now I read that it also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. How much do I need to take to gain these benefits? And is there anything else fenugreek is good for?

A: Fenugreek is a plant that is native to southeast Europe and west Asia. Its small seeds, which have a bitter taste, are often used in Middle Eastern or North African cooking. But generations of Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans have also used fenugreek for its many medicinal properties.

As you have learned, the spice can improve cholesterol levels. In a 24-week study where subjects were given 25 g a day, “good” HDL cholesterol rose by 10 percent, while “bad” LDL cholesterol steadily decreased.

Studies have also shown that fenugreek can help stabilize blood sugar in diabetics. It works so well that sometimes it can cause the blood sugar to dip too low, so be sure to talk to your doctor before trying it for this condition.

Fenugreek can also aid digestion. Occasionally it can cause diarrhoea, though. Decreasing your dose should alleviate this side effect. In addition to seeds and capsules, fenugreek also comes in powder and gum forms.

Reasons for Organic

Tracy has just finished writing the organic leaflet, published here to enable easy access.

Organic foods are fast becoming a popular choice among people who care about themselves and the environment. For a total approach to healthy, natural and nutritious eating, organically grown foods are definitely the answer, and these are just a few of the reasons why…

Organically produced foods are not treated with pesticides and other chemicals used in conventional farming which leave high residues in non-organic food.
The pesticides used on conventional farms are designed to kill living organisms – they are not only poisonous to the pests – they are poisonous to us. One study into non-organic food has found that 23 of the 28 most commonly used pesticides are carcinogenic. Another study found 20-30 chemicals on the skin of the average conventionally grown apple – even after the apple has been rinsed! Animals reared on conventional farms are often fed many chemicals on a daily basis and these chemicals are passed on to us, as consumers of milk or meat.

Organic farms do not use additives, antibiotics or hormones, which can lead to serious health problems as well as impairing the human immune system
Research has shown that exposure to pesticides can cause many ill effects ranging from headaches and nausea, to cancer and neurological disorders. Compared to organic farmers, conventional farmers have more cases of cancer and respiratory problems as a direct result of their continuous contact with harmful chemicals.

Organic farming promotes high standards of welfare for animals, which results in better conditions and treatment
Organically raised animals are not fed hormones or growth stimulants – many conventionally reared animals are given so many growth hormones that they can barely carry their own weight. Animals raised on organic farms eat only organically produced feed ensuring that no pesticides are in their tissue, which means that no drugs will be passed onto the consumer. They are also protected by organic standards against being kept in poor conditions, and must have access to outside.

Organic farming supports our environment and wildlife, reducing the risk of pollution and dangerous wastes, and promoting healthy fertile soils and crops
Residues of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides remain not only in the soil, but also in the air we breathe and the water we drink. Many of these chemical residues take years to break down. The whole ecosystem is affected by conventional farming. Over the last 30 years it has been a major contributing factor to soil erosion, near extinction of species such as butterflies and frogs, and a fall of almost 70% of wild birds.

Organic foods are better not only for us and our environment, but also for our future.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the chemical residues found in food produced by conventional farming as it is much more difficult for them to process, and exposure to these chemicals can significantly impair a child’s immune system. Research has shown that some children are even born with a deposit of pesticides and other chemical residues in their bodies, and apart from the obvious physical dangers this poses, these children are also at serious risk from mental and emotional development difficulties.

Over a period of 15 years, organic farms use 50% LESS energy than conventional farms.

Organic food tends to taste better than non-organic produce, having a lower water content and more of its natural moisture
Healthy soil, full of its natural nutrients, will produce healthy nutrient rich food.
Because organic foods are not treated with fungicides, they are sent to market as close to harvest as possible which means the produce is ripe.

"Standby" appliances create greenhouse gas

I read this yesterday – The Independent 23.6.05

“STANDBY BRITAIN”1 million tons of greenhouse gas is pumped into the atmosphere a day because TV’s & other electrical appliances are left on Standby instead of being switched off.

I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of this, I just didn’t think. well, now I’m thinking and flicking the off switch. Please join me.

Dairy Free

At the Allergy show at the weekend I ran a seminar called Dairy Free and delicious. This was basically information on the basics of cows milk intolerance and allergy. I’m posting the comments of the seminar below as requested by some after the seminar. The content is basic as the real aim was to introduce the many people unable to eat dairy to the fantastic array of dairy free products which we did at the seminar, so in comparison the notes are a little bland. We had a range of almost 20 different milk alternatives available to taste, plus gorgeous chocolate and cheeses, as well as some even stranger products like Engevita Yeast flakes – have you ever tried them?

Anyway, here are the notes as promised:

Dairy allergy or intolerance is either a reaction to lactose – the sugar found in cows milk in which case it is an intolerance, or an allergic reaction to the protein in cows milk.

The first of these – lactose intolerance tends to be most common amongst adolescents and adults and is often an inherited condition. Having said that some children to have this intolerance too.

conversely the cows milk allergy is most frequent in children, but adults can be affected too. Children having this allergy may well have grown out of it by 4 or 5 years of age. It is possible to have an anaphylactic shock reaction to cows milk protein and this is not something to be taken lightly.

Lactose intolerance
Lactose is a disaccharide – a natural sugar, found in human milk and the
milk of other mammals. During normal digestion, lactase, an enzyme
breaks down the lactose so that the body can absorb it.
So if we can’t produce enough lactase, the lactose passes into
our large intestine unprocessed where the bacteria feed on it
– the result being gas and toxins, pain, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea.

Symptoms vary from person to person as does the severity
of intolerance. Some people can drink a whole glass of
milk whilst others cant take much at all. It is often trial
and error with the help of your dietitian to see what you
can tolerate

Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy
Here the body reacts adversely to the protein in cow’s milk. There are a variety of symptoms which indicate allergy to cows milk protein including diarrhoea, blocked nose and too much mucus, asthma
rashes and lumps on the skin, eczema is common, dark eye circles, glue ear, bloated swollen stomach, constipation,sickness, headaches, and hyperactivity in children and as I have mentioned this can cause anaphylactic shock.

Cow’s milk protein allergy can affect as many as 2 babies in every 100, but the child will probably grown out of this by school age.

The most effective way to alleviate illness due to these conditions is to avoid dairy products from the diet of those affected. In order to do that you need to be aware of all the different products which are derived from cows milk in some form. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of items to watch out for on food labeling.

Butter, buttermilk, butter oil
vegetable fats
casein, hydrolised casein
rennet casein, caseinates
hydrolsed milk protein
lactalbumin phosphate, lactalbumin
lactic acid (E270) in fact most products beginning with “lact”, lactoferrin, lactoglobulin, lactose but having said that glucono delta lactone is OK as it?s the natural sugar from grapes and nothing to do with dairy.
soured cream
whey, delactosed whey, whey syrup sweetener or whey in any form,
fromage frais
milk derivative fat
evaporated milk
condensed milk

Milk or milk byproducts are also used to produce latex, so don’t be surprised if there is a reaction to latex gloves or condoms.

Similarly milk proteins can be used in toiletries and food supplement tablets and pharmaceutical tablets, so opt for vegan choices where possible.

Get enough calcium

Milk is a valuable food, made up of protein, fat, carbs,
minerals (inc. calcium and zinc) and vitamins. Because it is so nutritious it is important to include in your new diet some foods that are rich in calcium.

One way to do this is to always select specially enriched milk substitutes, there are many of these available but ideally also make sure you include in your diet seeds, vegetables, especially green leafy ones, nuts and pulses like baked beans. These foods are particularly rich in calcium:

brazil nuts
sunflower seeds
sesame seeds

These are just some of the foods available. In order for your body to absorb and use the calcium present in food a certain amount of magnesium must be present too, so go for nuts, seeds and green leafy veg were the calcium/magnesium balance is just right to help your bodies absorb the calcium present.

What can I use instead of butter?
There are many dairy free margarine and spreads available. Click here to see a selection.
Also Coconut Oil is great for cooking as it is heat stable even at high temperatures and so there is no danger of transfats occurring.

What can I use instead of milk?
Again we have many dairy milk alternatives, including some made from soya, oats, peas, tiger nuts , rice, and nuts, so why not be adventurous? Be sure to select the ones with added calcium though.

Goat and Sheep Milk
The definition of dairy is really cow’s milk, so goats and sheep’s milk are not technically dairy products and you may be able to tolerate these and the products made from them like cheese & yogurt. To explain a little, the proteins found in goat and sheep’s milk are the same as those found in cow’s milk but constructed slightly differently, in fact there is slightly more of these proteins in the sheep and goat milks. This is also true of lactose which is also present in all three milks. Because of these facts, the medical profession and the FSA do not recommend substituting onto another mammal milk.

However there are many many testimonies about those who have tried these alternatives with beneficial results.

What do I give my baby?
Breast is always best for baby, but some babies may react to mothers milk if the mother has drunk a lot of cows milk. This is something to be aware of.

In the special cases where there has been a referral by a dietitian we can provide goats milk infant formulas and growing up formula. Goats milk should be given to babies over a year old.

What do I eat instead of cheese?

There are some amazing non diary cheese available:click here
as well as soft cheese spreads.

Something you may not have tried is Engevita Yeast flakes, these can be used to make toast toppers or savoury sauces as it tastes a little like cheese, definitely worth a try.

Some who are less sensitive may be able to tolerate goat’s and sheep’s cheese.

What do I eat instead of cream?
There are creams made of soya and rice, but why not include coconut milk, or oat cream in your diet. Tofu silken is great as a base for creamy sauces, both savoury and sweet. Amazake is a Japanese dessert made from rice which is a great base for sweet sauces or eaten as it is as a creamy dessert.

What do I eat instead of yogurt?

Try some of the dairy free desserts available, there is even a diary free Pro-biotic!
Note:Yogurt is one of those things which some people can tolerate who cannot otherwise take dairy products, this maybe to the natural enzymes in yogurt.

What do I eat instead of Ice Cream?
Some of our Oat and Soya Ice creams are as delicious as their dairy competitors, so give them a try.