Supplements

A bowl of yogurt with blueberries and banana

I have had a long aversion to vitamin supplements. There have been a few exceptions with other sorts of nutritional supplements. For instance, probiotics after a round of antibiotics, extra iron when I was pregnant and post-partum. For the past few years, I have been downing a concentrated turmeric elixir because there is some research that turmeric MAY reduce inflammation and hence reduce the risk of dementia. I am very keen on avoiding dementia!

But taking VITAMINS? No way! In my opinion, supplements just make for very expensive urine! You can get all the vitamins and minerals you need with a healthy, balanced diet.

Apparently not always, as I discovered.

Vitamins come from food, right?

Whoosh – Foosh!

Late last year, I fell on my outstretched arm when I was doing some volunteer work with the SES. The tree branch I was trying to move snapped sending me backward down a hill. Thankfully, I was wearing my helmet and although I struck my head on the pavement, no damage was done there.

The cinematic slow-motion fall took forever. “Don’t break anything at this age you old chook! That’s the start of the end!” I yelled to myself. Embarrassed and feeling like a real old lady, I jumped up proclaiming “I’m ok, all good!” to my colleagues.


At first, the injuries seemed superficial; a grazed hand and a sore bum. After an hour or so I could no longer deny the fact that every time I moved my arm it hurt. A lot. My team leader dropped me at the ER of our local hospital and I sat and waited.


The X-ray came back clear with no break but the radiographer said I should get a follow-up CT scan because breaks in wrist bones are very hard to see. The CT scan also showed no break. My GP diagnosed it as a FOOSH injury. (Falling onto an outstretched hand!). It needed strapping, rest and time and that was it.

A cascade of tests

The CT scan did show that there was a possibility of osteopenia – the precursor to osteoporosis. My GP sent me for a bone density scan and blood tests. Those results showed that my bone density was fine but that I had low levels of Vitamin D and B12. He suggested I take supplements and boost my calcium intake with extra dairy.

Cue scary music here like in an Alfred Hitchcock movie!!!
GASP!!!!!

VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS!!!!!

Vitamin D and aging.

Vitamin D deficiency? How? I spend way too much time in the sun!

As well as ingesting Vitamin D from foods, your body makes it when your skin is exposed to UV radiation. In turn, Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy skeleton because it is necessary for calcium absorption. As you age the pathways for Vitamin D synthesis slow down and calcium absorption decreases.

Next, you end up with a decrease in your skeletal density, then osteoporosis, then breaks, then nursing homes and then death! That’s how I see it anyway!


Vitamin D supplements are cheap and easy to come by. But stick to the recommended dose! More is definitely not better when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins. (namely A, D, E, and K.) Remember those polar bear eating Arctic explorers?

Just like plants, you do need some sun.

Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a number of roles in the body apart from the maintenance of your skeleton including,

  • Maintaining a good immune function
  • Supporting a healthy nervous system including brain function
  • Regulating insulin
  • Regulating gene expression

Vitamin D levels are affected by our changing lifestyle. Staying in the shade and using sunscreen reduces our risk of skin cancer but it also reduces opportunities to make Vitamin D. Avoiding the sun altogether may lead to a serious Vitamin D deficiency. However, before you go out in the hot sun, slathering on the coconut oil as you go, note that you only need a little bit of sun! According to the Australian Cancer Council, you only need a few minutes, a few times a week in summer and just a little longer in winter. Using low-fat milk products could also contribute to dietary deficiencies of Vitamin D.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is absorbed in the stomach after some preliminary chemical restructuring. Your stomach manufactures an intrinsic factor that binds to B12 allowing it to be absorbed further down the intestinal tract. Of course, the ability to produce this intrinsic factor decreases as you age!

Vitamin B12 has many roles in your body including,

  • Blood formation and prevention of several forms of anemia
  • DNA synthesis
  • Nerve function

Sources of Vitamin B12

Active sources of Vitamin B12 are only found in animal sources (or supplements). There is some Vitamin B12 in various mushrooms and nutritional yeast. But, these sources behave differently in the body and are not reliable.

small yellowmushrooms
Inedible mushrooms!

Vitamin B12 and climate change?

Reducing your consumption of animal products is cited as one of the key ways individuals can reduce their climate impact. This is especially true for those foods produced by intensive farming methods. Getting enough Vitamin B12 can therefore present a tricky compromise if you want to live a sustainable/ethical lifestyle. If you are a vegan, vegetarian or one of the increasing number of flexitarians, you probably need a B12 supplement.

This makes me wonder if humans are meant to be strict vegans. If veganism was our true state we would have evolved to deal with B12 in a different way. On the other hand, I do think we need to reduce our consumption of meat from an environmental point of view. I eat eggs and dairy but have cut my meat consumption to once or twice a month. My next step is to ensure this meat is from a sustainable and ethical source.



There’s no point fighting it! I am getting older. I want to stay healthy. My body is not able to do everything it used to and it needs some help. I’ll still rely on my healthy diet to give me a very strong foundation but from now on my morning routine includes taking the supplements and the turmeric potion. For the next few weeks, I am also experimenting with magnesium, AND because I took a dose of antibiotics 4 weeks ago the capsule is a probiotic! OMG, I’m positively rattling!

BTW: The bruise on my bum was SPECTACULAR! All the colours of the rainbow and covering the whole cheek!

Healthy weight and mathematics

Maintaining a healthy body weight is a simple matter of mathematics. If your energy intake is higher than your energy output, you’ll gain weight, and if you use more energy than you eat, you’ll lose weight.

Energy in = Energy Out

As simple as that!

Pffft – yeah, right!

Our bodies are burning energy even when we are doing nothing, and because we have not mastered the art of photosynthesis, that energy must come from food. If you eat more food and hence consume more energy than you need, you will store the excess as fatty tissue. It’s not rocket science, even if it is maths!

This not-so-tricky maths gets in the way of things! As is the case with most people, I like eating!  I’d like to be able to eat more and maintain a healthy body weight. To do this, I need to use more energy.

Is there a way I can increase my energy expenditure without noticing it?

Our energy use is divided into three components:

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. This is the energy we use merely being alive. It is the amount of energy we use when we are at rest, after just waking up and with an empty belly. It accounts for around 60% of the energy sedentary people use each day. BMR is influenced by gender, age, and body mass. Essentially the bigger you are the more energy you need to keep your body idling. The older you get, the less energy you use. (So if your a little old(er) lady like me you’re not burning up much!)
  2. Thermic Effect of Food or TEF is the extra energy we need to digest and absorb our food.  It takes energy to break down the food in our digestive system and get it into our bloodstream. TEF is a bit like a service fee. The energy in our food needs to be converted into the type of energy our body can use, and this comes at a cost. It turns out that protein needs more energy to be converted into usable energy. TEF accounts for around 10 – 15% of our average daily energy expenditure.
  3. Activity Thermogenesis (AT) is the energy used up in moving around and is further broken into two categories.
      1. Exercise-related activity thermogenesis is the energy we use in deliberate exercise such as going to the gym, running, lifting weights, etc.
      2. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT is the incidental energy we use in walking around, picking up the kettle, sitting, standing, talking, shopping, cooking, doing the housework. The stuff we usually don’t change into active wear for!

Energy expenditure

We have the power to control activity thermogenesis. Since it makes up between 25 – 30% of the energy a sedentary person uses, it is the pathway to tipping the balance in favour of weight loss or gain.

Let’s pause for a little more maths.

  1. Every day has 24 hours.
  2. Let’s say you sleep for 8 of those hours where you are running on your BMR.
  3. That leaves 16 hours for you to burn up more energy.
  4. You spend one of your 16 waking hours at the gym (or running/swimming/whatever) and the other 15 hours doing the rest of life.
  5. That means only 6% of the time is used for exercise activity thermogenesis! For most people living ordinary urban lives, we sit on our butts for most of the other 15 hours! That means for 94% of our waking hours, we are using low levels of energy.

 

Thermogensis

Can you increase the amount of energy you burn in those other 15 hours?

The solution is self-evident! You have to increase the amount of energy you expend in all activities! Be more active and less sedentary! Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy!

In real life…not as easy as it sounds.

Life is busy. You can’t spend 5 hours at the gym every day. You have to go to work. You have to get to work, you have to look after your family. You have to DO life. You may not have time to increase your exercise-related activity, but you can increase the amount of energy you expend in non-exercise related activities?

How do you increase NEAT-ness in your life?

Here are a few suggestions. (some more sensible than others!)

  1. Fidget! Fidgeting wastes heaps of energy! Be careful you don’t annoy too many people though.
  2. Don’t sit when you can stand. If you work in an office, get a standing desk.
  3. Don’t stand still if you can fidget or move from side to side or jiggle around on the spot.
  4. Get your smart gadgets to buzz you if you are sitting still for too long.
  5. Walk to the next office to talk to someone rather than ring or email them.
  6. Ditch the remote control. Tape the remote to the TV, so you have to get up to change channels etc.
  7. Don’t sit in front of the telly and do nothing. If you’re going to watch telly – do something! Lie on the floor & do yoga stretches, get some hand weights or resistance bands and do a few (hundred) biceps curls while you’re bingeing on the newest must-watch show.  Alternate arms with legs and do some squats, lunges, hopping, hula hooping, etc.
  8. Don’t drive when you can walk or cycle. Pick a minimum distance and walk it. For instance, only drive if your destination is more than 3 km away.
  9. If you do have to drive, there are ways to do a sneaky car workout! It might not use much extra energy, but it’s better than nothing!
  10. Carry heavy things. Carry heavy things further.
  11. Park the car further away from the entrance when you go to the shops
  12. Get off the bus a stop earlier.
  13. Do 50 quick squats/lunges/calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth.
  14. Crank up the tunes while you’re doing the housework and dance like no-one is watching. If you’re doing the housework, probably nobody is watching! Check out these tips for exercises while cleaning. (some are a bit intense!)
  15. Play outdoors with your children/spouse/friends
  16. Take active holidays.
  17. Go for a hike rather than the movies.
  18. Choose more active leisure pursuits. Play tennis, not trivia. Go bowling.
  19. Choose a more active job! A labourer is going to use a lot more energy than an accountant!
  20. Wear fewer clothes and live in a colder climate! If you need to keep yourself warm, you’ll expend more energy.

The bottom line is, just move MORE and move more often.


Just for the record, sitting is NOT the new smoking. Research shows that the increase in mortality brought about by an excessively sedentary life is around 10%. The increase in mortality due to smoking is approximately 80%. So while both are bad for you, sitting is healthy compared to smoking!

Source:

Levin J.A. Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Nutrition Reviews Vol 26 No 1 pp S82-S97

 

 

 

Soup Season: Winter, a time for great soups.

I am getting excited because we have entered soup season! Who doesn’t love a good heart-warming (or is it gut-warming)  soup? I enjoy both creamy and chunky versions.

Soups have so many advantages:

  1. They are a great way of using up those close to expired vegetables lurking in the bottom of your fridge.
  2. They are economical and can make ingredients go a long way
  3. They are usually easy to prepare, but that, of course, will depend on the recipes that you choose.
  4. They are versatile and flexible. How many varieties are there? Google “soup recipes” and you get 672,000,000 hits! No doubt there are lots of double-ups but still, that’s a lot of soup.
  5. They are filling, especially with some nice crusty bread
  6. You can freeze them for later.
  7. You can add in all sorts of good for your gut ingredients.

I make lots of soup in winter. Lots! I always have the image of the Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi in my mind as I cook. I hear that fellow yell out “No soup for you!” but change it to “Yes! Soup for You!” A few years ago I even had the idea of doing a new blog based entirely on soup! I still might do that. It was provisionally entitled Sunday Soup Sessions.

Here are a couple of my favourites.

Harira (Moroccan lamb, tomato and lentil soup)

Lots and lots of good things in this soup. I am not sure if it would work so well without the meat.

Lamb Soup
Those Moroccans sure know how to make a good soup!

 

Orange Vegetable Soup

I make up my own recipes and it’s a bit hard to give the precise list of ingredients for these.

A case in point is this pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot soup spiced with ginger and turmeric.

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 12.02.31

The ingredients and method could be roughly translated as

Ingredients
  • Pumpkin – as much as you have depending on how much you want to make – cut into cubes
  • Sweet potato (orange variety) –  about half the amount of pumpkin – cut into cubes
  • Carrots – about the same as the sweet potato – cut into chunks
  • Stock and water – I would have used chicken stock but vegetable stock would be fine. How much…well that depends on how many vegetables you are using! At least a litre.
  • Tumeric – powdered or fresh, grated
  • Ginger –  fresh grated
  • Onion – at least 2 – sliced
  • Garlic – 1 tablespoon-ish
  • Olive oil
  • Lime juice to serve.
  • Feta cheese for garnish
Method
  1. Fry the onions and garlic in the oil till soft
  2. Add the turmeric and ginger and saute for 1 – 2 minutes.
  3. Add the veggies
  4. Stir around in the oil to coat and saute for 2 – 3 minutes
  5. Add enough stock to partially cover the veggies
  6. Put the lid on and simmer until the vegetables are tender. (maybe 30 minutes?)
  7. Use a stick blender to blend in the pot, adding more stock/water as needed to get the right consistency. Or transfer really carefully to your jug blender/mouli thingy and blend till smooth.
  8. Adjust seasoning
  9. Serve with lemon or lime juice and garnishes as you like.

Have you got any soup season recipes to share?