You wake up in the morning JONESING for that first coffee.
You head for the bathroom to brush your teeth and all you can see in the mirror is how dry and flaky your skin is.
You're not overweight and you eat pretty well, but you still have a stubborn muffin top - and you don't even eat muffins, not even gluten free ones!
You haven't been to the gym but your muscles are aching like you've just run a marathon in heels.
Any - or all - of the above sound familiar? Your diet could well be to blame - but maybe not in the way you think.
What to eat. When to eat it. How much to eat. The health and fitness industry is a minefield of information (and misinformation) on nutrition. There are more options than in an all you can eat salad bar. Vegan, paleo, vegetarian. Gluten free, sugar free, low FODMAP, low carb. Even if you aren't trying to lose weight, it can be hard to know what really constitutes a healthy diet.
But whatever you choose to eat - or not it - as with in so many areas of life, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. And learning a bit more about the structures of foods and the effects they have on our bodies can help us in the quest for more energy, better gut function, less inflammation and joint pain - a better picture all round.
So, let me introduce you to a couple of elements contained in multiple foods that can have drastic effects - both positive and negative - on how you feel and function.
First up - the bad guy. Lectin. Not to be confused with leptin, lectin are carbohydrate binding proteins present in all plants (and animals), there to act as bodyguards against predators. These natural pesticides have been there long before we decided it was a good idea to spray our food with chemicals, and were doing a pretty good job of it - any animal gorging on lectin filled these plants paid the price with nasty digestive problems. You've heard the saying 'does a bear sh*t in the woods'? Well, maybe the bear in question had just eaten a lectin rich feast and just had to go. As you might know, gut health is an area where research is progressing rapidly, in leaps and bounds, and recent studies have shown that lectin can affect the composition of gut bacteria and could be a factor in some autoimmune diseases.
Lectin doesn't just cause upset stomachs - it could be a major cause of the fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain that many of us suffer. So what are the worst culprits?
Grains - wheat, rye and barley all contain high amounts of lectin. Although gluten gets a bad rap, lectin seems to be far worse. If you really must eat bread try sourdough, it's fermented, and that fermentation process helps to reduce lectin. Soaking is another good way to lower lectin levels in grains like rice, quinoa, amaranth, as well as nuts and seeds - soaking these foods overnight can make them much easier to digest.
Nightshades - That's potato, tomato, peppers and aubergine - all high in lectin.
Legumes - All beans including peanuts and soy contain large amounts of indigestible lectin and are best avoided.
Dairy - As well as lectin, milk products and cheese also contain hormones that are detrimental to health.
As you can see - that's a fairly extensive list, and as lectin is present in many other foods, it would be impossible to avoid it entirely (and undesirable to do so - some lectin help specific bodily functions). But by cutting down on the above foods, and adding in some beneficial ones (more on that in a moment) we can start to repair a bit of damage done.
That's where Polyphenols come into the picture. Polyphenols are compounds found in natural plant sources abundant in antioxidant properties. They play a key role in maintaining health by protecting the cells in your body from free radicals.
From the Epoch Times:-
"[B]erries are some of the most disease preventive foods on the planet ... their high levels of polyphenols and other nutrients provide health benefits from head to toe ... One of the most remarkable gifts from berries is the protection they afford your heart, which results mostly from their anthocyanin content.
As above, foods rich in Polyphenols include dark berries - blueberries, cherries, cranberries as well as more exotic varieties. Raw cacao is also rich in them, so you can indulge in some raw chocolate and genuinely claim it as a health snack. Cloves, thyme, black olives and pecans are other good sources, among many more - it's worth getting hold of a full list here to find your favourites.
To really optimise the absorption of these nutrient rich foods they need to be consumed with some fats as they are fat soluble. So some nuts and dark berries as a snack could be doing you more good than you give credit for (as long as the nuts are soaked)! Or why not try this delicious polyphenol rich berry truffle recipe:
Quick Dark Berry Chocolate Mousse
1/2 cup frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup frozen cranberries, tbl spoon coconut oil, tbl spoon raw cacao, raw honey to taste.
Blitz all the ingredients in a blender or nutribullet adding a little water if the ingredients gets stuck. Blend until light and fluffy. Add the honey as you go and keep tasting until it is sweet but still retains it's bitterness. Spoon into a bowl, add a few berries or a drizzle of honey on top and enjoy.
These can also be made into a truffle by blitzing the ingredients, omit the water and add a little coconut flour so they keep their shape. Spoon into small truffles and place on baking paper then pop them in the freezer to set.
So. there it is - a two pronged attack on some of the most common symptoms that plague so many of us in our day to day lives. Reduce the lectin, add in some polyphenols and see if you can feel a little better tomorrow than you did yesterday.