Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Juicing For Health: Facts and Fiction

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There's been a lot of chatter in the media about juicing recently, some of it woefully ill-informed. I've been a keen "juice-aholic" since 2006 when MS first arrived on the scene, and I believe that getting all that concentrated nutrition from vegetable juices every day has played a valuable role in my recovery.

I've learned a lot along the way, and made plenty of rookie mistakes, but I have no doubt that, done right, regular juicing can be one of the best things you can do for your health. 

What do I mean by "done right"? To answer this question, we really need to start by understanding what juicing for health is, and what it isn't.

What Is Juicing?

1. Juicing for health is putting fresh raw vegetables and fruits through a juicer - a.k.a.  juice extractor - which separates the juice from the fibre of the produce. 
There are basically two types of juicer: 
  • a centrifugal juicer which "whizzes" the produce very fast against a fine metal mesh and extracts the juice using the centrifugal force, and
  • a masticating juicer which "chews" the produce more slowly using a heavy auger and thus squeezes out the juice. These are also known as "slow" or "cold-press" juicers.
Centrifugal juicers are quicker, generally cheaper to buy, but extract less juice than masticating juicers, and the juice produced has a shorter shelf-life because the heat generated by the process speeds up the oxidisation process.

Masticating juicers are slower, more expensive to buy, and generally produce more juice, which can last up to three times longer if stored away from heat, light and oxygen.

2. Juicing for health means drinking the freshly extracted juice of raw whole vegetableswhich may or may not be sweetened with a little freshly extracted fruit juice. 

The reason for doing this should be clear when you bear in mind that: 
  • All of the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients the body needs to repair and maintain itself are found in plants, and
  • These precious nutrients are mostly dissolved or suspended in the liquids of the plants, rather than in their fibres, and
  • Anyone trying to live on the modern western diet will have a digestive system that by adulthood is, at best, a little worn out, and at worst, totally bunged up or clapped out. Impaired intestines have to work extremely hard to extract the nutrition held in plant fibres. They do their best, but it's a tough, demanding job that takes a great deal of energy. No wonder so many of us are tired! 
So the idea with juicing is that, as a supplement to eating a healthy varied diet rich in plant foods, we also give our bodies an extra boost, perhaps once a day, by giving them some pure freshly extracted vegetable juices. We outsource that energy-hungry extraction work and let the machine take the strain!

3. Juicing for health includes getting as much green juice as possible.
You were probably told as a child to "eat your greens or you won't get any pudding" - I know I was! I now understand why: green vegetables are the most nutritious and healing foods on the planet. Current theory states that dark green leafy vegetables contain more micronutrients per calorie than any other food. Indeed, the so-called "father of juicing", Norman W. Walker, who was said to be fit and healthy right up to his death at the age of 99, often emphasised the power of green juices for optimal human health.
Of course, spinach or kale juice on their own taste fairly strong, which is why we add other beneficial veg with softer flavours such as cucumbers, courgettes, something tangy like lime and ginger, or perhaps something sweet like carrot, apple or pear. But it's the green that does the most good. And these days, I feel my day's not complete without a green juice! Without one, the fatigue so common in MS and depression tends to come right back.

4. Juicing for health involves - ideally - getting a wide variety of juices, not just the same spinach and carrot combo day after day. Different vegetables offer different micronutrients and their cofactors, so it's a great idea to get as wide a range as you can overall.
For example, in the space of a week I might juice (or blend) all of the following:

spinach, kale (red or green), broccoli, cabbage (red, green or white), 
cucumber, celery, courgette, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, lemon, lime, 
ginger, turmeric root, apple, kiwi, pear, peach, banana*, avocado*,
blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries**

A nutritional scientist could hazard a guess at how many different micronutrients and live enzymes I'm getting in that lot, but even they wouldn't know about all the phytonutrients that we haven't identified and labelled yet! 
* Bananas or avocados can't be juiced but they're great when blended into a juice - in moderation, naturally.
**Berries are best blended in rather than juiced. They're a great option because they tend to be lower in fructose and higher in antioxidants than other fruits.

5. Juicing for health means, as a general rule, "drinking your veg and eating your fruit". This advice comes from one of the UK's popular juicing advocates, Jason Vale. It's also sound advice based in solid nutritional theory. Here comes the science bit:
Fruit is high in a simple carbohydrate called fructose, which is a naturally-occurring sugar. As with any kind of sugar, too much of it can cause problems with our teeth, blood sugar levels, pancreatic health and of course body weight. That's the bad news. The good news about fruits is that, like vegetables, they also contain an astounding variety of micronutrients, including those all-important antioxidants that help our cells fight the damaging effects of free radicals.
To get the benefits of fruit while limiting the risks, all we need to do is eat them whole. When I eat an apple, the natural sugar (fructose) is contained in the fibre of the fruit. So as my body digests the apple, slowly extracting its juice from its fibre, the fructose is absorbed into my bloodstream more slowly than if I had drunk only the pure juice of that apple. This means that blood sugar spikes are not a problem, and there's no risk to my pancreas or my waistline either. Likewise, if I blend my apple into some freshly extracted green juice to make a green smoothie, I am simply making the smoothie a little sweeter, plus adding in all the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and fibre contained in that apple, to create a delicious liquid meal.

So eaten whole as a snack or blended whole into a veggie smoothie, fruit can and should be enjoyed in moderation - unless you have a particular intolerance, allergy, or medical contraindication.
Vegetables, on the other hand, often have much tougher fibres than fruits and are much lower in fructose, so there is greater benefit in extracting the juice from the fibres and drinking it pure and fresh from the juicer.
Of course, many soft vegetables can be easy to digest and make terrific salads too. Juicing is not an alternative to eating salads - it's an addition.

What Juicing Isn't

1. Juicing for health is NOT drinking boxed or bottled juices
Whether in a carton, bottle, or can, any juice or smoothie that you buy in a supermarket must have been pasteurised, to prevent it from going off while it sits there waiting to be bought. In most western counties, this is the law. This is also true of the juices and smoothies that you find in the chiller aisle.
Pasteurisation is heating, or in other words, cooking.
Once you "cook" a juice you kill the live enzymes in it, and destroy a lot of the vitamins too. Enzymes are the chemical catalysts found in the whole vegetable or fruit that make it easy for the body to to digest it and know how best to use it. When we eat food that no longer has enzymatic activity - i.e. cooked food - our bodies have to withdraw enzymes from our their own store in order to process that food. The body can cope, because that's what bodies do, but it's harder work and less energy-efficient than consuming the food uncooked and with the necessary enzymes included. That's one reason why a freshly extracted vegetable juice is so energising - you get all that nutrition without have to dip into your energy or enzyme stores in order to digest it.
The other problem with pasteurised juices is that they are very high in the kind of pure fructose than can cause blood sugar problems. This is precisely the sort of juice that the tabloids are thinking about when they print their ridiculous "juicing makes you fat" kind of headlines. Yes, drinking a carton of pasteurised orange juice every day probably would contribute to weight gain and tooth decay, but doing so is NOT juicing.
I repeat: "juicing for health" is not drinking shop-bought (pasteurised) juices. Got it? Good! :)

2. Juicing for health is NOT drinking lots of fruit juice
Most vegetable juices need the inclusion of a little something to cut the bitterness of the flavour, especially those deep greens. This can be done by including the juice of an apple, a pear or even just one of the sweeter veggies like carrots and beetroot. It can also be done by blending in a piece of fruit, so you also get that extra fibre, or half an avocado, for the beneficial fats.
But juices that have only fruit juice in are not recommended, especially not for anyone with weight problems, blood sugar issues, or weak teeth or gums. While it's true that you get more vitamins and enzymes in a freshly-extracted fruit juice than you would in, say, a cola or a sugary latte, you also get a lot of fructose in pure fruit juice that can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, and increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
Once in a blue moon I might treat myself to a yummy "Green Sherbet Lemonade", when I fancy something sweet, but I don't kid myself that this is healthy. This juicy life is not about absolutism or any kind of rulebook. It is about loving life so much that I want more of it - which means keeping my body healthy and energetic enough to enjoy it.
Please be warned: there are a lot of unhealthy "fad" drinks out there that may be labelled "natural", "pure", "fresh", "100% fruit" and the like. But if they're in a shop, they're cooked, which means very high in pure sugar but without all the goodies, which means, if used too often, they could seriously damage your health (as well as your wallet). Don't be taken in!

One exception: nowadays you can find bottled juices in juice bars that should have been juiced that day. These do not have to be pasteurised, i.e. they are not "cooked".
If in doubt, ask when they were juiced and how they've been kept. The ideal is to protect juice from heat, oxygen and light in order to keep them "live" for longer.

If in doubt, remember: 
Drink Your Veg and Eat Your Fruit !

To find out more about juicing check out the links (on the right) and follow this blog for future juicing articles and recipes.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

What's all this about green smoothies?

With movies like "Powered By Green Smoothies" getting noticed, and Nutribullet adverts on the telly almost every time you switch it on, you may be wondering what all this "green smoothie" hoo-ha is about.

A green smoothie is simply a smoothie where around half the produce that you
blend in is those dark green leafy vegetables
that we all need to eat more of. I'm talking about the kings of the veg world: spinach, kale, chard, collards - pound for pound the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. The other half of a green smoothie is made up of fruit or berries, sweetening the whole thing to make it a delicious meal.
I don't mind admitting that I'm a big fan. And right now, while I'm living in a place without a juicer, I'm having a glass of this green rocket fuel every day.
If like me you have blood sugar issues, you may find it best to keep to a 50/50 ratio of greens to fruit, and exchange sugar-rich tropical fruits (bananas, mangoes, pineapples) for lower-sugar apples and berries.
If you're healthy and have no weight to lose, I can't see a reason not to follow the suggested 60/40 rule in this excellent beginner's guide to green smoothies, from the inspiring blog Simple Green Smoothies 

Three quick tips to get you started:

  1. You don't need to buy an expensive smoothie maker to make smoothies. Any good blender will do. Generally, the more powerful the motor, the smoother the mix.
  2. Before you whizz, just notice all the good stuff that's going into your smoothie. Imagine that lot on a plate. A smoothie is a MEAL, not a drink to gulp down WITH a meal!
  3. Be creative, but don't be put off if you have one or two disappointments as you're starting out. My first two attempts were fairly awful! Follow the suggestions in this guide and you'll soon get the hang of it.

To your good health!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Every little ting gonna be alright

Deciding to let my higher, wiser self to take the lead is proving to be a fascinating, hair-raising and thoroughly healing process.

Free of the need to control every event and every outcome, life is a much less stressful process. However, after a few weeks of trying to live this way, my habitual mind is still complaining several times a day that "it can't be this easy". Because honestly, after 3 decades of obsessive and culturally-sanctioned control freakery, I am still flabbergasted that letting go and trusting the process of life to unfold could really be this simple. 

The effects on my health have been astounding. The hormonal turmoil is already showing solid, measurable improvements. I am able to get up in the morning, and stay up and active all day, and to sleep at night without chemical assistance. I am no longer screaming at my husband on a regular basis. My monthlies are actually arriving monthly again. I sometimes catch myself humming, or smiling for no reason. I am even ready to return to work, and looking forward to it! 

This "letting go" is not a passive state. It's not about dismissing the ego either. It's simply learning to listen to the voice of my intuition, and following that, instead of automatically and unquestioningly obeying the barked demands of the habitual mind. That part of me believes that all of life is a zero sum gain, that nothing comes easy, that life is a painful, impossible struggle. I think perhaps that part of me has been wrong all along.

What I'm learning is that part of me never saw the whole picture. Its vision is so narrow: it's like a horse with blinkers on, that cannot see the glorious landscape through which it passes. It only sees the cold, stony path beneath its hooves. 
Following the voice of my intuition is like replacing those blinkers with a fine lace veil: I see more, but I don't see everything. And what I see now is so mysteriously appealing, that the journey itself is now bedewed with grace and beauty. 

So every time my "small self" clamours to retake the reins, I can point to the view and say: 
"OK, I know you miss being the driver, and that you're scared. But just for a little longer, please just enjoy the view. Isn't it better like this, feeling well? You're still part of all this, you're just not doing it alone any more. And the one holding the reins, well, she really does know what she's doing.

And then this song returns, unbidden, but perfect for this gentle, easy stretch of road...

"... don't worry about a ting ... 'cause every little ting gonna be alright ..."

Friday, 5 June 2015

Setbacks ... and surrender

So, it did seem that my "MS relapse" had passed, leaving me with only very severe and prolonged fatigue. Or so I thought...

Q: When is a relapse not a relapse?

A: When it's a whole new problem....

Yup, that's right. It seems I have a whole new set of medical labels and theories to juggle with, or soon will have. I say "seems" because I'm still waiting on the results of a lab-full of tests.

The main problem is this "new improved" fatigue, which I'd previously put down to MS, but now seems to be a whole new animal. It is utterly disabling all day, then suddenly lifts in the early evening, after which I feel fairly wired for a few hours and then find it hard to sleep. Added to that mood swings that would make Godzilla blush and very strange goings-on in my monthly cycle and it's clear that, whatever's up, it's not MS. I suppose I ought to be glad of the change, but right now the old addage that "a change is as good as a rest" feels like a nasty joke. I am sooo tired (I'm writing this at 10am, but it would be a different story at 10pm) that I'd take a rest over a change every time!

According to my own amateur sleuthing and some early DIY tests it looks like, at the very least, I'm dealing with what is sometimes called "adrenal fatigue", or hypoadrenia. The really swell thing about Mr Hypoadrenia is that he usually steps out with his pals Ms Hypoglycaemia and Mr Hypotension - that's low blood sugar and low blood pressure to you and me. Either of these could explain why I often feel like I'm going to faint for no apparent reason. Now I'm no dainty little thing and there's nothing wrong with my appetite, so feeling faint is something that doesn't seem right to me. Inwardly I feel more like an Amazonian warrior than a willowy princess type, but right now my body begs to differ. And I DON'T like it. 

I don't like asking for help all the time. I hate going back and forth to the medics like a hypochondriac. But most of all, I loathe not being master of my own ship, getting on with my life and being the super-efficient, go-getting, productive member of society that I feel I "should" be.

And it's exactly that sort of thinking that's got me into this mess. For all my healthy living, all the knowledge I've gained and all the addictions I've dropped, the one thing I never learned was how to release my addiction to stress. Can one really be "addicted to stress"? Well, in a sense, yes. It must be possible, because, psychologically speaking, I have been addicted to stress my whole life. It all comes of making the desires of my ego - "do more, achieve more, be more, get more ..." - more important than the desires of my wiser self, which are always to love, to give and to let it be.

My addiction to the stress of needing to control my entire existence and to continually "get more done" has led to the one thing that an unemployed, healthy-eating, would-be yogi like me would never expect: "burnout". Because that's what we used to call it in the '80s, isn't it? It brings to mind visions of overworked, overstressed executives, up to their necks in meetings, targets and impossible conflicting responsibilities. Or harrassed Mums-of-four swimming in dirty nappies, housework, demanding children and unfeeling partners. Not me, quietly sitting at home rebuilding my health through sensible eating, country walks and occasional writing. I have apparently achieved the impossible: I have got "burnt out" while doing virtually nothing, having no real responsibilities, no job or children and nothing of substance to worry about!

It's an object lesson in what addiction really is. An addict can find a way to get their fix in ANY situation. Somehow, despite leaving work and eschewing any kind of commitments, I have continued to indulge my egoic need to feel important by getting stressed. And now I am, once again, paying with my health. Indeed, I am virtually disabled by it.

So ... finally ...

white flag

I am recognising that the one thing I need to let go of is the one thing that has always mattered most to me: my puffed-up sense of my own importance. My ego. Call it what you will, but I now understand how much I need to chill the f**k out and get some perspective. Right now. And for good.

I am recognising that if I am willing to surrender my ego, or at least some of its more unreasonable demands, this could open up space for true healing. 
I am recognising that with all my cleverness I didn't leave room for miracles. I didn't leave room to allow That which created and animates this body to return it to wholeness. I didn't leave room for anything that wasn't my born of my own beloved ego.

Finally I am ready to surrender.

As I embark on this utterly new and alien approach to life, I am so grateful to have as my route map Tosha Silver's new book: "Change Me Prayers: the hidden power of spiritual surrender" ...
Change Me Prayers: the hidden power of spiritual surrender
... and my wisely open-minded and ever-adventurous husband as my travelling companion. 

The fact that he's up for all this wacky "spiritual surrender" stuff makes it even more thrilling.

If that's not too egoic a word. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Diary of a relapse - Day 28

Four weeks since this relapse began and I'm still weak and exhausted most of the time, but thankfully with no other neuro symptoms left. So I am recovering, but oh-so-slowly. It's very hard to predict too - I can feel perfectly fine for a few hours, and then suddenly so totally drained I don't even have the energy to get myself upstairs to bed! 

As I mentioned last week, it's clear that medication is no longer an option for me, and rather than thinking of so-called "alternative" options as a complement to conventional medication, I now need to consider the possibility that they really are my only alternative.

So, what are my options?

Prof George Jelinek's masterful book and programme Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis sets out a whole bunch of evidence-based diet and lifestyle changes which, if implemented fully and consistently, in time can lead to full recovery from MS. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are now recovering from MS by following this programme.

So, you many quite reasonably ask, why am I not doing all that already? Well, in fact, I have been doing my best to follow this programme over the last year since I first came across the book.
But it's tough. Even with a supportive hubby, the demands of the programme are fairly drastic, and involve every area of your life.

The programme isn't just a complete change of diet, it includes daily exercise and daily meditation, both of which I have really struggled to take on. I suppose you could say I've spent the first year just getting to grips with the diet, and have certainly felt some benefits already.

But what this most recent relapse has taught me is this: I can eat the most consistently healing and nourishing foods, sleep well, and rest rather than work when that's what my body needs. But without the peace of mind and equilibrium that daily exercise and daily meditation brings, my overactive immune system can still "freak out" and bring on another relapse. As I've learned to my cost. 

You see, in the weeks and months before this relapse I was excessively stressed and unhappy - even more than usual. This state of mind often tipped into uncontrollable anger, which led to frequent rows with the people around me - mostly my poor hubby. And that led to me feeling really ashamed of myself, and rather desperate and depressed. I could see that I was stuck in a negative feedback loop, and just couldn't seem to break out of it. And all this anxiety, rage, despair and self-recrimination triggered the acute inflammation that created a new relapse. In short -

I got sick because I got stressed!

I'm not talking about the every day, passing stress that we all seem to live with. I talking about the severe, ongoing, hanging-on-for-dear-life extreme stress that can lead to burnout, breakdown, or illness.  
In fact, it was not unlike the excessive stress I experienced in the year before my first MS attack - losing my father suddenly and unexpectedly, dealing with the pressure of university studies while acting as my mother's executor and keeping up visits to her in the nursing home, trying to maintain a long-distance relationship by telephone, and living in a shared house where 5 hours a night of undisturbed sleep was impossible.

That's why the OMS Programme, like most systemic approaches to healing, emphasises meditation and self-care as crucial components of the recovery process. In my attempts to follow the programme, I had unconsciously focused on only those parts I felt I could handle: the diet and supplements side of it. I'd pretty much ignored the rest, because I think I'd feared that it would just be too hard. Cutting out dairy, meat and almost all saturated fats and trans fats, and trippling the amount of delicious veggies I eat every day - a piece of cake compared to loving myself enough to get into regular exercise and meditation!

But I was wrong. What I have learned is, no matter how hard I may believe these things to be, they are not as hard as being unable to walk up my own stairs, or having to leave a job because I don't have the physical energy, or missing out on seeing my niece and nephew grow up, because the 2 hour drive to visit them would exhaust me.

So I've been wondering, praying even, for some help to answer this key question.
Now that I know pretty much everything I need to do to heal my body:
How can I motivate myself to do it ...
consistently ... every day ... for the rest of my life?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Diary of a Relapse - Day 22

When "the drugs don't work" ...

The Drugs Didn't Work

Now that my body is clear of the steroids, I am still dealing with an MS relapse that was not in any way helped by those drugs. 

Putting myself (and my poor hubby) through the hell of steroids made no difference whatsoever to my symptoms.

None. Nada. Zip.

This is a first for me: an exacerbation in MS symptoms that is totally impervious to the effects of high dose steroids. It appears I have reached the point where the only thing steroids can give me is the most atrocious, mind-bending side effects, without any benefits.

My doctor has nothing else to offer me that I haven't already tried.

I've always believed that medicine has a rightful place in health care, and still do. But we'd be idiots to think that medicine can fix everything, and it clearly can't deal with life-long, chronic illnesses like MS. 

"Alternative" medicine?

It's time to accept that good rest and Mother Nature's finest foods aren't just the best "alternative" for me: they're my only option. The question is, do I really believe that they will be enough?
... can Mother Nature help me?

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Diary of a Relapse - Day 7

Today is my 4th day on these weird steroids. 

The first two days were fairly hellish, with overwhelming mood swings, but after two more days of treating myself very gingerly indeed and having no more contact with people than necessary, I am feeling more calm than I have done in a long time. 

I am still trying to clarify exactly what is going on within my confused "body-mind", but I think I need to just accept that with these meds, the whole system gets so chaotic that the clarity I always crave is going to be impossible to find. And I hate writing when I don't feel clear about what I'm actually saying.
Solar Storm or Steroids?

I tried not to get too invested in all the coincidence of the recent extreme geomagnetic solar storms and my several days of fairly cataclysmic internal storms - that seems like a rabbit hole I could too easily get lost in...

Let's just say, I've passed through the storm of steroids relatively unscathed, and my MS symptoms are in reverse. 

And I don't want to let myself get so sick again that I ever need to take these terrible drugs again.