Interview with Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Sam Johnson about her personal experience dealing with digestive issues, self care and her health non-negotiables.
There’s more water than any other substance in our bodies. We have all heard the statistic that human bodies contain up to 70% water, but really this is pretty inaccurate and depends on variables like how much fat is on your body, how old you are and whether you are male or female. But to put it into perspective, bone which is the driest body part still contains around 30% water.
Oxygen is our number one most critical substance for survival but we tend to forget that humans can only live a couple of days without water compared to many weeks with no food. There are countless headlines devoted to food, yet drinking more pure clean water is rarely discussed. It’s common for many people to drink no pure water and subsist on only tea, coffee, soda and juices. Yes, these beverages contain water but they can also be dehydrating.
Is water the number one most common deficiency?
Natural whole foods have a large percentage of water. Fruits, vegetables, meats. But the modern diet of highly processed foods has been completely stripped of all water to be shelf stable and are very hard to eat without some liquid. These dry foods will draw water out from the body to become more digestible.
Water is used as a medium in our body to transport nutrients, hormones and chemical messengers to organs, tissues and cells. It fills the volume inside of our cells and outside our cells.
Our entire GI tract relies on mucus to lubricate it and protect it from corrosive enzymes, acid and alkaline substances. Mucous substances are composed of 98% water so it’s no surprise that dehydration can cause digestive issues. If mucus dries out due to body dehydration it wouldn't be able to protect delicate tissue from corrosive substances. Water is also needed for all digestive juices including bile and stomach acid, these can dry up if not enough water is present.
Water is also used to cushion bones and joints, regulates body temperature, flushes toxins, maintains electrical properties of cells and much more.
Are we only really thirsty when our mouth is dry?
Our body in a dehydrated state may still prioritise some water for saliva to keep the mouth moist for digestion. So it is misleading to think that we are only thirsty if our mouth is dry, by the time saliva dries up completely we are probably severely dehydrated.
The thirst sensation begins to gradually fail if we are chronically under consuming water. Once I upped my water intake it became obvious that I was thirsty the whole time but didn't register because the sensation came back.
Some common signs of dehydration:
Some signs of chronic dehydration:
Are you drinking enough water?
The best way to know is to track your water intake. Get a bottle and count how many times you drink it daily, most people are surprised that they have been overestimating how much water they actually drink. There are many theories about how much water to drink, but it’s recommended to not exceed one gallon (3.7L) a day because you could be losing minerals and electrolytes. Aim for around 2L and adjust for more if it’s hot or you’re exercising. Once you start drinking more water your natural thirst response will come back and you will crave drinking pure water daily.
Meditation, oil-pulling, yoga, walking, time in the sun, essential oils, reading, foam rolling, green juices, dry brushing, 10,000 steps, long baths, candles, crystals, self-improvement, all of it.
The overwhelm of trying to do all the things that are good for us could be our undoing. Sometimes the stress and anxiety caused by trying to get it all perfectly right can be more detrimental than not even trying to do those things in the first place.
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself - Ralph Waldo Emerson
We hear about all the things we “should” be doing. Doing for us, for our health, for our family. But who has all that time? It’s a full-time job to get all of those things done. It’s no surprise that research has been published showing that we associate business with success. Many of us tend towards the perfectionist side and when we lapse on all of the things we want to get done, we tend to feel guilty and beat ourselves up.
Social media does not help here, it looks like everyone is getting it all done except for me!
I love this idea of listing out your weekly self-care non-negotiables here (be realistic!) and ticking them off as you do them. Next week start again. The Minimalists get it right in this blog post. I love their work and this is a great simple explanation on how to make sure you are devoting time to yourself each week.
But the key as always is balance let’s not be so hard on ourselves if we didn't get it done. Relax with the step counting, biohacking, measuring our self-improvement from time to time.
Every day do something that brings you one step close to your goals.
Alcohol is quite the controversial subject sometimes. We hate to admit that maybe it’s not good for us. Or that maybe it forms a crutch to relax or be social.
I know it was a crutch for me for the years of my late teens and early 20’s. I drank to excess, I drunk to be social, to feel accepted, to bond with friends, to have a good time. I definitely drunk to feel happy since my emotions could be a roller coaster, not realising that maybe it was negatively affecting my moods.
Alcohol is a depressant, after a big night the low’s hit hard. It was so ingrained in my life it became part of my identity. Working part-time in a nightclub enabled me to keep drinking to excess, even on nights I wanted to stay home. Things began to change when I started running to get fit. Obviously, my old pursuits didn’t gel with my new one. Training to run marathons was a big turning point. Not only was I too tired from doing a weekend long run to consider going out, I didn't want to feel like crap the day after drinking. Slowly my idea of a good time changed, I guess my tastes and hobbies matured with me and I no longer felt like I fit in out late at the bars.
Alcohol and me now
In the present, for me, discipline is choosing between what I want now and what I want most. I keep this in mind when faced with the option of having a drink. If what I want most is to be fit, healthy and I’m working towards a fitness goal, I prefer to say no. Or if I know I’ve indulged in other ways, lots of desserts and not enough vegetables, I know that having a beer isn't going to get me back on track. We’ve all heard that there are antioxidants in red wine, sure. But if we compare it to say, broccoli or blueberries it probably doesn't stack up too well.
Alcohol increases appetite
When we drink these empty calories not only are they devoid of any nutrition, it’s also too easy to overdo. Especially when you take into account the effect alcohol can have on our food choices. One or two glasses of wine deep, it’s not hard to convince me to get the fries and the pizza and the dessert. Then because your body is busy processing the alcohol out of our systems, which is it’s number one priority other bodily functions are put on the back burner. Research shows alcohol consumption can impair the metabolism of carbs, protein and fat. Our metabolism slows down, we stop burning fat and repairing muscle so that we won’t reap the rewards of that workout earlier in the day. It also puts normal detoxification processes that are going on in your body on the back burner. Then the next day the dehydration from drinking will impact our performance in the gym or on the hike or just in our regular day.
Alcohol reduces perfomance and recovery
Ok, I too have seen athletes or trainers posting pictures of them guzzling beer. Or that person we all know who can drink alcohol several times a week but still stay in great shape. Yes, life isn't fair. I have had to stop comparing myself and listen to my own body. I know that I don’t feel great the next day after having some drinks. My sleep is usually affected, it feels not as deep while my body is still trying to metabolize the alcohol. The next day I’m usually in a sluggish and lazy mood even if I didn’t drink enough to be truly hungover. One too many nights in a row and I start feeling soft around the middle. I don’t want to be sweating it out at the gym just to undo my hard work in a few drinks.
In the end, moderation is key for all things. If we truly want to indulge in a drink, do it in a deliberate way. Making the conscious decision that this is what you really want and then enjoy the experience and time to bond with friends or family. Make sure to eat something and drink water to counteract the effects of alcohol, have fun and then move on with your life.
The collagen trend has really picked up speed in the last year or two and doesn't seem to be slowing down. Why would it? Brightly coloured packaging promising beautiful hair, nails and skin sound like a dream come true. Brands really hit the nail on the head with marketing because improving appearance sells, it’s just much more glamorous than saying it will repair your mucosal lining in your digestive tract which you can’t really see anyway.
Then the biggest buy-in with collagen peptides is that people just add it to their daily cup of coffee or matcha. No nasty pills or liquids to forget to take. You just carry on as you were but add the powder to an existing habit of a hot daily drink. As someone who has looked into how habits form, this is key because linking something new with an existing habit is significant for successfully forming that new habit. Add to that you have to take it for a long time to see a difference and hey-presto there are your return customers.
Have you heard of a collagen deficiency? Me neither.
So the marketing ingenuity isn't why I stopped taking it. I just assessed how much money it costs vs the benefit I was getting. Yes, my hair and nails grew a little faster but honestly, my hair and nails didn't bother me before the collagen. I also thought it could help improve fine lines and wrinkles too but I didn't really see any difference there. Was I going to commit to taking this for the rest of my life? The truth is no I wasn't, there are better supplements and things that will improve my health than collagen.
But you do have brittle nails and hair you might tell me. So would you still benefit from taking it daily? My answer is always maybe, we are all bio-individual. But if those are your symptoms I would first direct you to work on your digestion. Nail and hair health can be a big sign that you are not digesting and absorbing nutrients very well. So inundating your body with collagen might give you a boost but you could achieve the same result as well as other benefits by working out the root of your symptoms because collagen deficiency is unheard of.
I usually prefer to make my own collagen-rich bone broth, the easiest way is with a slow cooker or InstantPot/pressure cooker if you have one. If you need a recipe, there are millions available at your fingertips via google - but here is one for "Better than Botox" bone broth.
One of the biggest mistakes someone can make in their health is waiting until it’s too late to do something positive. Waiting until a doctor diagnoses us with a condition or a disease is leaving things too late. The many years leading up to an event like this is where prevention can happen. These years could have been filled with symptoms that were brushed off as not important. Like trouble falling or staying asleep, difficult digestion, irregular elimination, low energy, mood swings, bloating, gas, constantly runny nose, anxiety, fatigue, or an energy roller coaster of highs and lows that you can’t get off.
One of the hardest things to learn in our modern lives is how to slow down and listen to the body. It's trying to tell us what we need if only we would listen.
Juice! It's so healthy right, this orange juice only has one ingredient, it's all natural. That's what we've been lead to believe at least. But turn that little bottle around and there are 39 grams of carbohydrate in that juice, nearly all of it pure sugar. Think about it this way, you need to eat more than those two oranges to get the same amount of carbohydrates. When have you sat down to your two eggs and bacon breakfast and then polished off two large oranges? I'm prepared to say that it's much less common than polishing off a tall cold glass of juice. Plenty of people still drink juice as part of their "healthy" breakfast or give it to their kids. Recent research presented at the 2018 European Congress on Obesity has shown that children that start their day with juice as a part of their breakfast are 40% more likely to be overweight. How could this happen? It's just fruit, right? I made the quick video below talking about exactly this.
Being in the nutrition field or any health-related field can be all consuming. Health is part of everything we do, it is our life. But it’s easy to get caught up in all the things that are wrong or could be better - our diet, our meditation practice, our exercise, or stretching, vitamin protocol, yoga practise, time away from glowing screens. The list is endless.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that my body wants to be healthy. It is completely natural and innately inbuilt into us to be healthy and heal our body. So when things aren't perfect now, I give myself more grace.
Skincare is pretty important to me as I’m now in my 30’s, prevention is worth more than an ounce of expensive vitamin C skin serum. Since I love spending a lot of time doing outdoor activities, the effect this has on my skin is definitely something I have thought about. Not that I would ever choose to stay indoors to protect my skin, but to acknowledge that it needs extra support. My main concerns, if I can call them that, are skin evenness, tone, redness, dry patches, and fine lines/wrinkles.
Up until I hit 30 I just used Dr Bronners to wash my face and coconut oil or rosehip oil to moisturize, very low tech. But I thought I would branch out and try something new. I already had pretty good skin but maybe amazing skin was just around the corner. The criteria for me was that it had to have ingredients I could recognise, I’m not a fan of any perfumes or strong scents so it had to be gentle in that area too.
The first option.
The first option I tried was this Primally Pure beauty cream which I got back in December last year. It’s based on beef tallow from grass-fed animals so can’t get more natural than that. It also smelled pretty great, my man definitely commented on it. At first, I thought it could be giving me a slight break out when I changed from coconut oil to this. It’s a pretty thick cream and felt heavy at times, I used it before bed exclusively. After a month my skin adjusted to the weight of the cream but I don’t think this would suit everyone.
The second option.
The second option I tried was the Marie Veronique Protective Day Oil, I got this in March. The instructions say to warm up a whole dropper full of oil, warm up between the hands and then massage into face, neck and chest. Honestly, that was way too much oil for me. I would walk around greasy all day. Once I reduced down to around 4 drops my skin decided it liked the oil after all. It absorbs fast and did leave my skin radiant.
I also tried a sample of the Gentle Retinol Night Serum from Marie Veronique but my skin did not like it, and it led to some blemishes which I never usually get. I’m really not sure why. The texture is very light and the smell reminded me of Dr Hauschka products I had tried in the past. Luckily I just paid for a small sample to try instead of committing to a full bottle. I also tried the Cocokind matcha stick, but I just use this on my lips because I love the smell of matcha and coconut together. It reminds me of my peaceful morning at home drinking a mug of matcha.
Then about a month ago I started drinking my essential greens powder every morning as I had done in the past and that alone has made my skin glow more than any of the products I tried. This just reminded me that we can spend hundreds of dollars on skincare but in reality, good skin comes from within. Eating plenty of vegetables full of antioxidants and drinking enough water daily is a lot more important than what cream you smear on your exterior. Limiting processed foods, sugar and alcohol is also key. Skincare and cosmetics are also so heavily marketed to women that it’s hard to not fall victim to their message that we are less-than without the latest product. So this is just a reminder to myself that a consistently healthy diet and lifestyle wins over quick fixes.
I've posted about my favourite powdered greens powder before, check it out here
What are your tried and true skin products?
EPA + DHA
Let’s all agree that humans need Omega 3’s for optimal health, they are essential fatty acids that the body itself can’t make. We need them for brain health, inflammation response, and cardiovascular health. But everywhere you look now there are fish oil Omega 3 supplements; at supermarkets, at drugstores, on the internet. Countless brands are touting and selling these capsules and liquids. No wonder that it is a billion dollar industry.
The problem with fish oil
The problem with fish oil is that Omega 3 fats are polyunsaturated which means they are the most fragile. They are easily damaged by heat, light and processing. A study completed in New Zealand showed that “almost all” of the fish oil supplements that were available on the NZ market were tested and showed they were highly oxidised. They also found that levels of EPA and DHA (the two key Omega 3 fatty acids) were markedly lower than stated on the label. If you think this won’t affect you because the product you have is considered high quality, think again. The researchers found that “best-before date, cost, country of origin and exclusivity were all poor markers of supplement quality”.
In the past few years I have consumed many bottles of Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil & Butter oil blend, but this was for the fat-soluble vitamins not so much EPA and DHA. I recently tested really well for adding some essential fatty acids to my life so decided to jump into the deep end with fish oil. I went with a product that came highly recommended to me, Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil - 1000mg EPA + DHA. The fish used is guaranteed sustainable and the processing used ensures that the product is not contaminated with heavy metals. It is also free of GMO additives.
Whichever EPA & DHA supplement you go with, just remember to do some research and go with a trusted source because the risk of those capsules containing a rancid oxidised polyunsaturated fat which could be more damaging than good is very high. Or play it safe and stick to whole food sources of these key fatty acids like eating sardines and wild salmon a few times a week.
Update November 2018: How do we know if the fish oil you are taking has gone rancid during processing or in the capsule? The easiest way is to crack the capsule in your mouth between your teeth and taste the oil. It should taste like fish and not fish thats gone bad. These days I crack the capsule in my mouth every time I take one and have it with food. Why? Digestion begins in the mouth so I want to mix the oil with the enzymes in my saliva and make sure I’m really getting the most out of the supplement I’ve spent good money on. I take it with food so my stomach is already acidic enough to digest food which kicks off the digestion cascade and makes sure I’m releasing bile to digest these essential fats.
Do I get fish burps from this process? I’ll answer this question because it’s a common complaint from taking fish oil supplements. No, I don’t burp up fish smell. One thing is I taste the supplement and it doesn’t smell or taste any stronger than eating a piece of salmon. If you are plagued with fish burps make sure you are breaking the capsule in your mouth for optimal digestion, if it tastes bad then don’t take it because it’s probably gone off despite what the best before date says.
On that note let me mention the fermented cod liver oil I used to take. Everyone who’s taken it knows it doesn’t smell or taste anywhere near delicious, in fact when I started taking it I would gag. Now that I know what I know, I won’t take it again. You can’t ferment an oil, which seems so obvious to me now but back when I first started taking it fermented was such a buzz word and the product was so highly recommended it clouded my judgement and it seems like the judgment of many other people. Polyunsaturated oils go rancid within hours of being exposed to heat, light and air. If you’ve ever smelled or tasted the unflavoured product then you know the word that comes to mind is rancid.
Fear not, there are great cod liver oil options out there that are not fermented! Check out this post from Cheeseslave to find out more. Side note: I started reading her blog when I first discovered the book Nourishing Traditions nearly 10 years ago.