Brain damage. Breast disease. Cardiovascular risk. All of these mental and physical health problems can have an association with iodine deficiency. Yet if you’re reading this in the UK and many other European countries, it’s likely that you are at least slightly iodine deficient.
Most of us have no idea of how potentially serious a health issue this could be.
Over the past few years, a growing number of people have been taking doses of iodine ten times the daily amount of 150mcg recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Most of them – but not all – claim to have improved their health in this way, sometimes dramatically.
Vanilla extract has a beautifully fragrant smell and adds a subtle, sugar-free sweetness to recipes. It can be bought in large supermarkets, but it usually has alcohol and sometimes sugar added.
You can make your own alcohol-free vanilla extract easily and cheaply – however you have to leave it for a few weeks before using to allow the vanilla flavours to steep into the liquid.
• 12 vanilla pods
• 500ml food-grade vegetable glycerine
• an airtight jar
• chopping board
• sharp knife – ideally one with a sharp pointed tip.
You can make as much or as little as you like, but as a general rule, use 3-6 vanilla pods to 250ml/8oz glycerine. I’ve used 12 vanilla pods and 500ml vegetable glycerine for this recipe, which I’ve made several times before.
Vegetable glycerine can be bought online – make sure it’s food grade. I’ve used Innavir, which can be bought on eBay (opens in a new window).
Vanilla pods can be purchased from supermarkets, groceries and cookshops, but if you want to buy more than two or three you may need to go online. Different types of vanilla pod have different flavours, though some of the best-flavoured pods, like Madagascan, are very expensive. I find that all vanilla pods have a delicious aroma and flavour.
You’ll also need an airtight jar with a sealed lid. If you use a metal screwtop or jar lid it might rust, as the vanilla extract will be stored for several weeks or months. I’ve used a Kilner-style jar. Some people prefer to use a tall, slim jar to help the flavour steep out of the pods, but I’ve had great results several times using a shallower jar.
1. Start by slitting each vanilla pod lengthwise using the sharp knife, so that the beans – the tiny specks inside the pods – can be exposed to the liquid.
2. Slice the opened vanilla pods in half so that they’ll fit in the jar.
3. Put the vanilla pods into the jar and pour the vegetable glycerine over them.
4. Seal the lid and store in a cool place for about four weeks.
The liquid will turn a golden brown as the vanilla infuses into the liquid. Use it straight from the jar in smoothies, smoothie bowls and home baking.
Probiotics are live micro-organisms designed to add or replenish friendly bacteria in the gut. Foods can be probiotic if they contain live bacteria. Live yogurt is one of the best-known probiotic foods – others include raw cheese, sauerkraut, miso soup, kefir, kombucha or any other foods that have been fermented or use live cultures.
Bacteria have a terrible reputation. They are seen as disease carriers and signs of a dirty home or an unclean body. They are seen as a dangerous invisible presence that should be eradicated wherever they might possibly appear.
This is in spite of an enormous body of medical and scientific research showing that bacteria are essential for all life.
Humans have 10 times more bacteria than cells
Humans have 10 times more bacteria than cells – even the most healthy of us!
Just because some bacteria can cause disease, it doesn’t follow that all bacteria will cause disease. That’s like saying that just because some foods can make you ill, you should never eat food.
Most bacteria are good for us
We couldn’t live without them. Bacteria help us digest our food, work with neurones and hormones to send and receive signals to the brain which can affect whether we feel hungry, relaxed or anxious, and they also help boost our immune system.
However there are dangerous and damaging, or pathogenic bacteria too. Scientific research shows that most of us – probably all of us – carry “unfriendly” or pathogenic microbes, but they don’t necessarily cause any health problems unless certain conditions come into play, such as being tired and run-down.
Bacteria can help us build a strong immune system
If we have a strong immune system we are more likely to be able to fight off pathogenic triggers, and the “friendly” bacteria in our gut can provide important assistance in this.
Maybe it’s not surprising that many people still fear bacteria, because much of the success of modern medicine – certainly in the 20th century – has been due to the development of bacteria-killing antibiotics.
Antibiotics have helped us eradicate many of the terrible diseases and epidemics of the past, as well as reducing child mortality rates enormously.
But in the “developed world” we are seeing new epidemics. Rates of childhood asthma, allergies, obesity and auto-immune diseases like irritable bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis, where the body appears to attack itself, have exploded in the past few decades.
Scientific research indicates that the overuse of antibiotics could be at the root of many of these modern epidemics.
Antibiotics: a double-edged sword?
Antibiotics are designed to wipe out pathogenic bacteria, but in doing so they can also wipe out colonies of non-pathogenic bacteria whose importance we are only just beginning to understand. Bacteria that might normally dampen down an auto-immune attack or produce enzymes to help us digest cow’s milk can be eliminated by a course of strong antibiotics.
Sometimes it’s essential to take a course of antibiotics. I took them for three weeks when I had Lyme Disease. But their over-prescription, sometimes for conditions caused by viruses that are immune to antibiotics, is having devastating consequences, as bacteria are starting to mutate and develop resistance to antibiotics.
Thousands of people have died from C.diff (Clostridium difficile) and MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Even some of the epidemic diseases of the past, like tuberculosis, are developing antibiotic-resistant strains.
One possible solution, discussed by Dr Martin Blaser in his brilliant and alarming book Missing Microbes: How Killing Bacteria Creates Modern Plagues, is for doctors to prescribe more narrow-spectrum antibiotics, which would target the specific bacteria that are causing the disease – as opposed to broad-spectrum antibiotics, which target several different types of bacteria.
This is not as straightforward as it might seem. The doctor would have to be very certain about the diagnosis of the disease, which isn’t always possible. Also, the cost of producing narrow-spectrum antibiotics is much higher than the cost of producing broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Blaser suggests that a concerted public effort might be needed to fund development of these types of antibiotics, which could be the best hope of saving humanity from a new surge of deadly epidemics. Maybe this could be achieved via crowdfunding programmes, if enough people wake up to the threat and are prepared to do something about it.
On a more optimistic note, the discoveries that scientists are making about our friendly bacteria are offering hope for new ways to treat illness and disease. Incredibly exciting possibilities lie ahead – although most of this research is still at a tantalisingly early stage.
For example, research conducted on twins in 2014 showed that lean individuals were more likely to have higher levels of the bacterial family Christensenellaceae. The researchers then implanted some Christensenella minuta (cultured members of the Christensenellaceae family) into mice, and found that weight gain slowed in the implanted mice.
But can this actually be replicated in humans? If so, would the effects be long-term – and would there be any side-effects?
Another study conducted in 2014 found that Clostridia, a class of bacteria commonly found in the gut, protects against food allergies – including the peanut allergy.
But curing these often deadly food allergies may be more complex than simply popping a probiotic containing the required bacteria. Some bacteria do not survive for long outside the body. And other factors could be involved.
Even though the research is in the early stages, these findings are to be welcomed. There are so many exciting new discoveries being made about the human microbiome, and there are many things you can do to improve the health of yours.
Learn more about your gut
Probiotics and prebiotics are foods that can be taken to grow more friendly bacteria in your gut. Many foods act as probiotics or prebiotics, or you can buy them in chemists or pharmacies as food supplements.
Identifying which probiotic(s) you need to take is another matter. If you don’t want to go by trial and error, you could have your microbiome analysed. The British Gut Project and the American Gut Project are crowdfunded scientific research projects which allow you to have the contents of your gut analysed for a fee, which goes towards conducting research.
Or you could use a microbiome sequencing service like uBiome, which operates worldwide. Some people have their gut sequenced before and after medical treatment, to find out what effect the treatment might have had on their gut microbes.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by a tick. You don’t have to be in a tropical country to contract it, but infection is more likely to occur when the skin is exposed. This is why hikers are often advised to wear clothing that covers their legs when walking in areas with long grass or high vegetation.
Nutmilk adds a creamy flavour and texture to smoothies, smoothie bowls and vegan ice cream. It can also be added to soups – as long as they’re not going to be served to people with a nut allergy of course.
I like to change my diet now and again, but one thing that never changes is my practice of drinking two 500ml green smoothies every day.
I’ve been doing this since 2012 – four years.
What are green smoothies?
A smoothie is a drink made from fruit blended with water or fruit juice. A green smoothie is just a smoothie with greens added – any leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale or chard.
If you use a blender that is powerful enough to pulp the leafy greens to a smooth consistency, you’ll probably find the taste a lot more delicious than you expect. By combining the greens with sweet fruits like banana, mango, apple and/or orange the “vegetable” taste is completely masked.
If you can ignore the fact that your drink is bright green, you might find that you absolutely love your greens!
I was a big fan of juicing and smoothies before I discovered green smoothies. I bought my first juicer in the late 1990s, mainly to satisfy a craving for carrot juice.
It made delicious carrot juice, but cleaning the thing was a nightmare. It had umpteen parts, including little wheels and cogs, that had to be dissembled after each use, washed, and then somehow reassembled again. Eventually I got rid of it.
If only I’d kept it – it would probably be worth a bit nowadays due to curiosity value!
My interest in juicing waned after that, though I still continued to love freshly-made vegetable juice, when I could get my hands on it. One opportunity came when I visited friends, a family with two small boys, in London about 10 years ago.
They’d been given a juicer for Christmas, and they made a breakfast juice for the whole family, of carrot, celery and apple juice.
It was delicious! I had to hold myself back from guzzling the lot.
About a year or so later, when I was working long hours in an office and not feeding myself properly, I began to notice various unpleasant though not life-threatening health symptoms, including eczema, insomnia, and weight gain. It wasn’t surprising as I was living mainly on crisps, chocolate and ready meals. I just didn’t have time to shop for healthy food, and certainly not to cook.
Eventually I decided that enough was enough – I would have to find a healthy diet. The diet I found was Jason Vale’s Juice Yourself Slim. I bought the juicer he recommended – which was much easier to use than the old relic I’d been struggling with earlier – and a ton of organic fruit and veg.
I was serious about this.
After a week of living on fruit and vegetable juices and soup, I was astonished to find that I’d lost my target weight of 7lbs! But in case it went back on again, I continued to make myself lots of healthy juices, and I took them to work every day in flasks, in a backpack.
Running a juice bar
At this time my career was clearly heading downhill. I decided to make a complete change, and started to plan my own juice and smoothie cafe. I achieved my dream when I was made redundant a few years later, and I ran my cafe, The Flavour Co, for five years.
But it was in a tiny location so we often struggled to get customers – and when we did have a lot of customers, only a handful of them could fit into the place. It was hard work and a lot of fun.
This was in 2012, and green smoothies were a bit of a novelty then!
We put them on the menu, and found that they were much more popular than we had expected them to be in Glasgow, the fabled home of the deep-fried Mars Bar.
I started to experiment with green smoothie recipes, initially drinking just one 500ml green smoothie each day. Green smoothies are so high in fibre that many people who are used to a typical stodgy Western diet find that high fibre smoothies have a dramatic impact on their digestion.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The healthy fibre in a green smoothie can have a purging effect, rapidly eliminating starchy or stodgy food from the digestion. For people who are not used to having very many bowel movements, this can be a bit of a shock. If you have this type of reaction, it’s best to start small, with a 250ml green smoothie every day. Once you’re comfortable with that, move up to 500ml, and so on.
Take it one step at a time
Don’t increase your intake of green smoothies until you know your digestion is comfortable with that amount. Once you’ve eliminated the stodgy stuff and your gut flora starts to adapt to the healthy fuel flooding your system, your digestion should adapt, and you should find that you are having more regular and settled bowel movements.
Personally speaking, I have found that 1 litre of green smoothies (2 x 500ml) per day is the optimal amount. If I go above this amount my digestion makes it clear that it’s not happy.
Green smoothies won’t cure every ill, but they will help boost your immune system. They are full of vitamin C and magnesium, vitamins which are essential for your body to function properly. They are high in fibre, and will therefore have a prebiotic effect on your gut flora, providing fertile ground for friendly bacteria to flourish.
They are easy and cheap to make (recipe here), and very convenient to consume – you can sip them while you’re at your desk or carry them about with you when you’re on the move.
I’ve had some unrelated health issues since I started drinking green smoothies, but I believe that they have helped me to tackle these health issues without my whole system breaking down. I rarely get colds, and when I do, I hardly notice them – a bit of a sniffle and a twinge in my throat for a couple of days, and that’s it! (This may also be because I take a regular vitamin D supplement.)
Another thing you’ll probably notice if you take up a green smoothie habit is more compliments on your skin!