Having suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome since I was nine-years-old, I’ve tried just about every healthy eating trend there is. Gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, salicylate-free, soy-free, MSG free, the Candida Diet, the Raw Food Diet – you name it, I’ve done it. Yep, I’m that person who turns up at cafes with her own special sugar-free-dairy-free-preservative free-taste-free rice milk.
I’m that diner who asks whether I can have the caesar salad, hold the caesar dressing, the parmesan, the croutons and the bacon?And while this has resulted in a good dose of skepticism towards food ‘cures’, I’ve also found that the biggest thing that improves or worsens my health is what I eat. It’s as simple as that. But trying to get to the bottom of what is actually good or bad for you, well, that’s a whole other story. With a food and health industry driven by making a proﬁt, the truth has become so shrouded in myth and fad that you’d need years of study to sort fact from ﬁction.
Here’s where Victoria O’Sullivan comes in. A leading health expert specialising in naturopathy with more than 14 years of experience in the wellness industry, Victoria has not only done the endless hours of study, but she has the practical know-how from working at a personal level with clients in her Sydney based naturopathy practice. Naturally, being the die-hard health-eating ﬁend that I am, I jumped at the chance to chat to Victoria about the truth behind the hype. Check out her new website www.victoriaosullivan.com.au for more information – it’s full of easy ways to improve your health.
AH: Why do so many more people seem to have intolerances or allergies nowadays? My whole family is dairy and gluten intolerant! Is this due to different ways foods are processed or is it something else?
VO: Our digestive system can be the root cause of many food allergies and sensitivities. The problem is undigested food particles passing through the intestinal wall, which is leaky gut syndrome. The ﬁrst time this happens our immune system will make antibodies of the antigen. The antigen being any foreign substance which our immune system doesn’t know.
Our immune system then creates antibodies to ﬁght it. If our immune system doesn’t recognise the foreign substances or antigens,it will treat it as a threat and the next time we eat the same food, it will cause an allergic reaction. By eating healthily and chewing our food properly we can have a healthy digestive system and a digestive lining that isn’t “leaky”.
Stress can also be damaging. When we are too stressed or our body’s reaction to stress goes for too long our immune system can lose track of what is good and what is bad. Harmless substances like pollens, animals, foods and medications start to become foreign and an allergic response can be triggered.
AH: One of the trends I’ve heard a lot about recently is the Alkaline Diet – should I try to change my diet to be less acidic? Or is this a fad?
VO: We operate at optimum health when we are close to an alkaline pH. The analogy I use with my clients is that acid is like putting diesel in your unleaded petrol car; your engine won’t be running at optimum levels. The acid starts to build up and may create ill-health anywhere in the body. Optimum health is more than just the absence of disease or pain in the body.
AH: So what are the most fuss-free ways that I can reduce my acidity and increase my alkalinity?
VO: Reducing acid in the body is easy and it is best just to keep it really simple.
First of all make sure that you are always well hydrated. As a rule we need 0.33ml per kilo of body weight in water so for example if you are 65 kg, you need 2.15 L of water per day. Adding two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice to water three times a day is a great way of reducing acid in the body as well. As
the acid hits the stomach and the pancreas releases bicarbonate, the alkalising process starts.
By reducing our sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake we also reduce the amount of acid in our bodies as these are all incredibly acidic. By increasing our intake of greens such as broccoli, bok choy, Chinese broccoli and rocket we reduce the amount of acid in the body as these are high in indoles and excellent for maintaining a hormonal balance. Engaging in stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation or any form of exercise will reduce the acid in the body as exercise releases endorphins which are a natural body tranquilliser.
AH: What’s your take on the Palaeolithic diet? Just another health craze, or the healthiest and most natural way of eating?
VO: The Palaeolithic diet – also known as the “caveman diet” – refers to the ancestral human diet and consists mainly of ﬁsh, grass-fed raised meats, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts.
It’s a diet free from processed foods such as sugar, grains, dairy and vegetable oils. As a species we are biologically, genetically and physiologically still hunter gatherers.
With the development of industrial agriculture we have seen an increase in grains and starches in our diet. This has led to a whole host of health problems, including weight gain, an increase in osteoporosis, rickets, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and for some, allergies, tooth decay and cardiovascular disease.
If we live by a palaeolithic diet we are feeding our body the foods it expects and can process. This way our metabolism works for us and not against us, making it the healthiest way of eating, in my opinion.
AH: I’m often daunted by trying to incorporate these ways of eating into my lifestyle, what are the easiest approaches to Paleo?
VO: As a simple rule, shop on the perimeter of the supermarket and leave all the packaged, processed foods in the middle. A few helpful rules I stick by: Eat a palm size serve of protein with each meal, such as chicken, ﬁsh, eggs, lean red meat, tofu, tempeh and then for your snacks half a palm.
Always have six to seven cups of vegetables/salads a day. This is a lot more than you think which is why I always get my clients to measure it out – you will be surprised. Eat a quarter of a cup of nuts and seeds every day. As this is high in protein and fat, it will ﬁll you up. Just don’t eat more than a quarter of a cup.
AH: Is it true that vegetables lose many of their nutrients when cooked rather than raw? I prefer the taste of cooked vegetables – is there a certain level I can cook them to without losing their nutrients?
VO: As soon as you start cooking vegetables they lose some of their nutrients.
In my opinion vegetables are at their best when they are picked fresh from the garden, however, if you prefer cooked vegetables a good way of preparing them (and not losing their nutrient value) is to lightly steam or sauté them.
Vegetables from the broccoli family such as cauliﬂower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are actually better for you cooked than raw. When eaten raw they contain plant compounds (goitrogens) that have been connected to blocking thyroid function. Tomatoes are another example of food that
is better when cooked: they have a higher concentration of lycopene, a plant compound that is a powerful antioxidant when cooked.
My belief is that to maintain a raw food diet you have to have excellent digestion. Some people have gas, bloating and are low in energy which suggests that their digestive systems aren’t working effectively enough to handle raw food. Raw juices can be extremely valuable but I recommend it only for people with strong livers and strong digestion.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter so much how you ingest your vegetables, but that you’re eating vegetables every day. Ideally six to seven cups a day. Chew them slowly and thoroughly (roughly 28 chews per mouthful) to optimise your release of your own digestive enzymes that will break down and assimilate the vitamins and minerals in your food.