Why Bliss Balls changed my life!

This may seem like a bit of an over-exaggeration but making my own bliss balls changed my outlook on chocolate!

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve tried to improve my diet and although I was eating a mainly wholefood diet I still struggled with cutting out chocolate bars. I’m not too sure if it was psychological or physiological but I regularly craved shop bought chocolate bars. I also had the idea that chocolate is very unhealthy and I should be able to eliminate it from my diet. No wonder I thought that with the ingredients of one of my favourite chocolate bars containing so many highly processed ingredients and different forms of sugar!!

Table 1: Ingredients in a shop bought chocolate bar

Milk, sugar, vegetable fat (palm, shea), glucose syrup, dextrose, dried skimmed milk, cocoa butter, wheat flour, fat-reduced cocoa, cocoa mass, humectant (glycerol), dried whey (from milk), emulsifiers (E442, E471), flavourings, dried cellulose, salt, barley malt syrup, raising agent (sodium bicarbonate), tartaric acid, magnesium stearate.

I began to eat dark chocolate but usually the dark chocolate bars that were readily available only contained 50 to 60% cocoa, and there was still quite a lot of sugar present. About 3 years or so ago my lovely friend Claire shared some bliss balls she made. They were so tasty and chocolatey, and when she told me that she only used a mixture of nuts, seeds, dates and cacao I was very surprised!  How could this taste so good and not contain a lot of rubbish ingredients?! She told me about Deliciously Ella website and from there I started to make my own bliss balls. There is a simple bliss ball recipe from her website on the following link https://deliciouslyella.com/classic-almond-and-cacao-energy-balls/

From then I haven’t looked back. Every week I make a batch of bliss balls and I have one or two as a snack at around 3-4 pm to keep me going before the gym or whatever it is I’m doing before I have dinner later. It’s great to know that I’m eating ingredients that are really going to nourish my body. I also find that I’m satisfied after one or two and less likely to over do it as you easily can with regularly chocolate!

Now I just mix up whatever I have and see how it goes. Yesterday I mixed almonds, milled linseeds, sesame seeds, cacao, and as I didn’t have any dates I tried mashing up some fresh mango to make all the ingredients stick together and to give some sweetness. These all worked really well together!

If you don’t have a food processor you can buy ground up nuts and seeds. Cacao can be quite expensive so you can use cocoa instead. Cocoa undergoes more processing than cacao but it still contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. Also, you can use any dates really as medjool dates can be expensive.

So there it is, I still love chocolate but bliss balls have allowed me to have my guilt free chocolate fix!

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

Sports supplements: Are they worth all the hype?!

Sports nutrition continues to boom with interest in sports supplements extending beyond athletes and body builders. Your everyday gym goer wants to be lean and strong; strength has become a greater priority than the figures on the scales. There is a surge in fitness and health bloggers with their photos on Instagram and Facebook creating a desire and motivation to achieve a leaner body. Non-professional sports are becoming more and more competitive and individuals are increasingly more open to taking supplements in hope they will gain an added edge.

Although there is continued research and funding to show a given supplement can improve body composition or performance, very few supplements have been shown to be effective. Those that show effectiveness are often based on research conducted on a small number of male athletes (such as cyclists) and therefore, how can we be convinced that this will work for everyone?

Below are my top 5 supplements that have the most robust evidence and a good safety profile, but of course there is no substitute for disciplined training and a proper diet!

  1. Creatine:

Creatine phosphate is stored in your muscles and provides an excellent store of energy for very high intensity exercises (when oxygen supply to the muscles is insufficient). You will be using your creatine phosphate stores when you do an “all-out sprint” or lift maximum weights. Both of these examples cannot be maintained for very long and this is because the creatine phosphates are spilt to produce energy and they must be recycled. The recycling process requires oxygen so you will need to get your “breath back” in order to make more creatine phosphate.1

We consume creatine via meat and fish products and we can also make it in the liver; both of which amount to about 2g/day.  An average (70kg) athlete stores around 120g of creatine. Supplementation studies have shown that muscle creatine concentration can be increased by up to 20% using creatine supplements.2

This is achieved by creatine loading: 2

  • Consume 20-25 g/day of creatine over 5-6 days followed by 2g/day as maintenance or
  • Consume smaller amounts (around 3g/day) over 1 month.

Improvements in performance have been shown in weight lifters who loaded with creatine. Creatine supplementation can also cause weight gain (1-2 kg increase in total body mass has been documented after 20g/day loading with creatine for 4-28 days).2 Supplementation increases intracellular water in the muscle which may stimulate glycogen storage. However, there are responders and non-responders; it does not work for everybody! Lastly, anyone with kidney disease should avoid creatine supplementation as it may affect creatinine clearance.

Summary: Creatine supplements may allow maintenance of top speed/strength for longer but this does not always equate to improved performance.

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  1. Caffeine

Caffeine is a socially acceptable stimulatory drug. Caffeine can improve performance in endurance exercises such as running and cycling and also in high intensity sports such as rugby and soccer (from 1 to 3%).3 Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and works by reducing an athlete’s perception of effort and/or pain threshold.2 It has been used as an adjunct to weight loss but caffeine alone has not been shown to have an substantial effect on weight loss.  Unless you are already dehydration, caffeine has not been shown to negatively impact hydration status. Caffeine tends to work when 1-3 mg per kg body weight is consumed before or during exercise.4 A typical cup of coffee contains 80-100 mg of caffeine. You can also take caffeine supplements but if you drink coffee then you can just get your caffeine hit with coffee!

Caffeine is considered safe but excess (greater than 500 mg or greater than your own tolerance level) causes side effects such as increased blood pressure at rest and during exercise, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal distress and insomnia. Caffeine addiction has been documented with doses as low as 100 mg/day and sudden withdrawal can result in severe headaches, drowsiness, and inability to concentrate.1

Personally, I find a cup of coffee (although not a supplement!) before a run or the gym great for a boost but I do not take it before a competitive match because coffee heightens any nervousness I already have coming up to a game!

Summary: Caffeine can improve performance as it is a nervous system stimulant but in excess/above personal tolerance it can cause gastrointestinal distress, increased heart rate and insomnia.

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  1. Protein

The benefit of protein supplementation is more down to convenience than anything else! Protein supplements can be helpful for those going from work to training, or when it may not be possible to have a descent meal soon after training or for those with very high protein requirements; but protein supplementation itself is not more or less effective for increasing muscle mass than protein from food.2  Whey protein is a “fast acting” protein that is absorbed easily and therefore, its amino acids such as the branched chain amino acids- leucine, isoleucine and valine are quickly taken up by muscles. Ricotta cheese contains the highest amount of whey of any wholefood because it is made from whey protein. Casein is a “slow acting” protein with slower absorption compared to whey protein but it provides a more sustained rise in amino acids which may help supress muscle breakdown. Milk contains around 20% whey and 80% casein but all dairy products will contain a mixture of whey and casein. Milk is also rich in leucine which can minimise protein breakdown and is the only amino acid that by itself can stimulate protein synthesis! Research on other individual amino acids is mixed.2 For more on protein please read my recent blog what and when to eat to optimise sports performance

Summary: Protein supplements can be beneficial in enhancing muscle growth and recovery but has not been shown to be more superior to protein from food sources.

  1. Beetroot

Beetroot, spinach, rocket, carrots and most root vegetable contain nitrates. Nitrates can be converted in the body to nitric oxide which improves blood flow via vasodilation. Nitrate intake has been associated with enhanced exercise performance.1 A study by Murphy et al. in 2012 showed that whole beetroot consumption improved running time in 11 recreational fit men and women who ran 5km compared to those who consumed cranberry relish (12.3±2.7km/hr versus 11.9±2.6 km/hr).5  Furthermore, during the last 1.8 km of the 5-km run, running velocity was 5% faster (12.7±3.0 vs 12.1±2.6 km/hour; P=0.02) in the beetroot group. Although beetroot is a food and not a supplement it is worth a mention as the results have been very positive. Perhaps you could have a beetroot, spinach and carrot based smoothie pre-training!

Summary: Consumption of beetroot or an equivalent nitrate dose from other vegetables improves running performance in healthy adults.5

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  1. Probiotics

Athletes with prolonged, intense training often experience diarrhoea and upper respiratory tract infections. This is because vigorous exercise increases gastrointestinal permeability causing ‘leaky gut’. In 2011 West et al. showed that supplementation with a probiotic called Lactobacillus fermentum reduced the severity of self-reported symptoms of lower respiratory illness, use of cold and flu medication, and severity of gastrointestinal symptoms at higher training loads in Australian male athletes.6 Although this research was specific to male Australian athletes it may be worth a trial of this strain if you experience re-occurring diarrhoea and/or respiratory tract infections.

Summary: Athletes experiencing diarrhoea may benefit from a trial of probiotic bacteria called Lactobacillus fermentum.

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

References:

  1. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015). Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage:
  2. Helms et al (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11:20
  3. Noakes, T.M. (2002). Love of running (4th Ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
  4. Burke, L.M. (2008). Caffeine and sports performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33, 1319-1334.
  5. Murphy, M. et al. 2012 Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112;4:548-552
  6. West N.P, et al. (2011) Lactobacillus fermentum (PCC®) supplementation and gastrointestinal and respiratory-tract illness symptoms: a randomised control trial in athletes. Nutrition Journal, 10:30

Do MY FOOD CHOICES affect anyone else?

The reason I named my facebook page Our Food Karma is because I wanted to highlight the idea that we are all in it together and our own food choices have a massive influence on the food choices of others and I’ll explain why…!

Family influences:

If you have one parent who is obese you have a 50% chance of becoming obese as an adult and if both your parents are obese then your obesity risk goes up to 80%! I argue that the risk is more down to nurture rather than nature! Our diets in adulthood are largely influenced on what food we were given as a child. Although easily mistaken, love is not providing sugary foods to settle children. If you are overweight as a child you are likely going to be overweight as an adult, unless you change your diet dramatically later on in life.

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Parents/caregivers who eat unhealthily will undoubtedly impart at least some of these unhealthy eating behaviours to their children. Also your diet prior to and during pregnancy along with your weight can have long lasting effects on your child’s health even in adulthood!! Women who enter into pregnancy overweight increase their own risk of developing gestational diabetes and increase the likelihood of their child developing type 2 diabetes later in life!

So in order to ensure your kids are healthy and less likely to become overweight, develop type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease as adults it is worth reassessing mealtimes and making nutrition a priority.

Friends:

Whether we realise it or not our food choices affect the food choices of our friends. For example, when you are meeting up with friends and someone suggests a dessert, do you say

  1. “yes, that’s a great idea, I was eyeing up the chocolate éclair” OR
  2. “I’m good, the dinner was enough for me!”

When  you visit friends do you bring cakes and biscuits or do you bring a healthy dip? When you go to the cinema do you convince your friend to get popcorn and chocolate too so you can feel better about treating yourself? Do you bring sweets for your friend’s children or instead buy them a colouring book, bracelet, or DVD? What I’m discussing here is what you do most of time; sometimes you might bring ice-cream to cheer yourself or a friend up, or maybe you have that dessert just because you feel like it, or maybe you do bring sweets over for a friend’s child but as long as your habit (what you do around 80% of the time) has a positive impact overall then you will be doing okay! Our friends are often the most influential people in our life! It pays to be around healthy friends..!!

Housemates:

Every house I’ve lived in (and I’ve lived in a lot), I’ve learnt or picked up some cooking tips from a housemate. You notice what your housemates buy in their grocery shopping and you see and smell the end results. This affects you whether you know it or not! However, when your housemate prefers to order a pizza then this can make you a bit more relaxed and perhaps not as stringent with your home cooking (…but at least there’s no one taking over the cooker!). If we look at things the other way round your housemate may start to become curious about your food and perhaps may start to buy some of those “strange” vegetables you get each week!

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Grocery shopping:

The food industry and supermarkets are to blame for all the cheap and easily available unhealthy food. There is enticement and temptation everywhere, as their sole objective is to make money! However, it is ultimately us who swipes our bank cards and pays for our own food shopping. If we did not continue to purchase all those sugary drinks, biscuits, cakes, pastries, and chocolate then there would no longer be a demand for them and suppliers would stock more healthy food (but only if there is a demand!).

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This is a photo taken by my friend Elize when she was in Amsterdam. Sometimes a photo can describe a thousand words!! Very ironic!

Eating out:

Similar to grocery shopping above, if we make the individual choice to stop buying takeaways and instead eat at healthy restaurants then the demand for these fast food chains will go down! Fast food restaurants located near schools or near residential areas is associated with an increase in obesity! We can also do our bit at restaurants. Portion sizes in restaurants are often a lot bigger than what you would normally eat at home. There is often the dilemma of not wanting to waste food and to get value for your money. Although you may feel awkward asking the following questions, my advice is to not care as most restaurants are a business and are there for profit but if people keep asking then they will gradually change their menus/options! The following questions can be helpful in making sure you follow a healthy diet while eating out:

  • Are there half portions available?
  • Can I have the dressing on the side?
  • What exactly is in the salad? I find salads can be hit and miss. You can get amazing, tasty and filling salads and on the other hand you can get miserable, tasteless and unfilling salads, and then you wish you ordered those chips that someone else has (and you may even treat yourself to a dessert to feel better after this mishap!).
  • Can I have a larger portion of vegetables instead of the baguette/bread/chips? Or a side salad with the soup instead of white bread (which is commonly provided)?
  • Ask to have what you’re not eating put into a takeaway container. This prevents you from continuing to graze and it means you have another meal/snack for later (sustainability!).

Conclusion

We live in a world that is becoming more and more aware of the link between nutrition and health but unfortunately our awareness is not having enough action. Although it may seem like we can only play a small part; if everyone made one small change to their diet every week we would have a healthy and happy population in no time!

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma