Smorgasbord Health – Weight Reduction – Meet Helena the first of my clan.

In the first post of this repeated series on weight reduction, I explained that I did not believe in the “Quick Fix” approach to weight loss or magic pills for life to prevent diseases that are lifestyle related. Weight loss has become the obsession of most women today in the western world. Magazines, celebrities and experts are constantly bombarding us with the latest, guaranteed way to lose our extra weight, and there is a multi-billion pound/dollar business to service our obsession.

N.B. There have been some comments in the past about the use of the term ‘loss’ when referring to weight and that it carries negative connotations.  To be honest I don’t feel negative about the term as the very act of losing weight that is causing health problems is such a positive experience.  However, I am using the term reduction more frequently as I would also like to combat the incessant negativity about FAT... like a lot of good things you can have too much of it and you need a certain amount of body fat to be healthy.

For me the key to losing weight is not about following the latest diet, or taking the latest miracle supplement but coming to an understanding with, and respecting our body. Never before in history has so much information been available about how our body works and the diseases that can cripple it. Perhaps there is too much and we are overwhelmed? Advice is torrential and confusing. One minute you should eat meat and the next only carbohydrate. Exercise for 30 minutes a day or perhaps just 2 minutes at a run would do the trick?

Before we move further into the series and talk about strategies that you as an individual can use to tailor make a diet that suits you, I would like to dial things back a notch.

Actually quite big notch – I would like you to meet my grandmother 500 times removed – called Helena. A woman who has passed on her powerful mitochondrial DNA to me, so powerful that despite all the pairings of genes throughout the last 20,000 years, I still carry her within me.

When I began my journey 22 years ago to repair my body and my health, I realised that I knew very little about my own family history from a health perspective and even less about the history of humans in general.

My mother had little information or even family to share with us. Her father was killed in the last week of the First World War at age 31, when she was just over a year old and an only child. My grandfather was Irish and Catholic and my grandmother English and protestant. Although his close family, living in England offered to educate my mother, it was provisional on her being brought up Catholic. My grandmother refused and contact was lost with my grandfather’s side of the family and consequently we also lost all their history.

In the late 1990s  I embarked on two historical journeys. One into the recent past and one way back into the late Stone Age. I managed to research back as far as the late 1400’s on both my mother’s English family and my father’s roots in the North East. No surprises but some emotional discoveries that both saddened and inspired me.

The Clan of the Cave Bear

One of my inspirations for our next step on this journey of discovery were the books of Jean M. Auel – beginning with the Clan of the Cave Bear – set around 28,000 years ago when the Neanderthal branch of human kind was disappearing. The story follows the life of Ayla and the series of six books up to her most recent – The Land of the Painted Caves – is the most fascinating read of my life. I wanted to find out if there was an Ayla in my past.

My husband and I decided to take advantage of the recently emerged DNA ancestry projects and in 2001 we both had our mitochondrial DNA tested. If you want an insight into the process before having your own DNA tested then I suggest you read Dr. Bryan Sykes book The Seven Daughters of Eve.


When submitted, an individual’s DNA is tested against seven sets of bones. Each of the identified set of bones found in various regions in Europe was given a name. My results showed that my DNA came from Helena whose bones dated back around 20,000 years ago. My husband’s to a slightly later woman, Velda, 17,000 years ago.

So I now had two points at each end of my ancestry, Helena and my mother – and it was a fascinating process, not just to establish the likely route that my ancestors took to arrive in southern England, but to also establish some dietary and health links along the way.

Helena’s, and therefore my own DNA, is according to Dr. Sykes and his team, the largest and most successful of the seven native clans with 41% of Europeans belonging to one of its many branches. She was born somewhere in the valleys of the Dordogne in South Central France but the clan is widespread throughout all parts of Europe but reaches its highest frequency among the Basque people of Northern Spain and Southern France. (Perhaps explains my love of my former Spanish home in the mountains above Madrid combined with sunshine, olive oil, seafood etc.)

The ice-age was at its severest and stretched down as far as Bordeaux, and in Britain down as far as the midlands (Britain was still joined to continental Europe by dry land).   Helena’s diet would have consisted of meat, seafood from the shoreline such as oysters and possibly seaweeds, various plants and fruits, some tubers and mushrooms, seeds and grains. Recent research indicates that we may well have begun eating raw grains very early on when we left the forests for the grasslands, and that even 30,000 years ago we may have been processing existing grains for cooking. Rather negates the recent trend to take all grains out of our diet!

According to Helena’s bones, she was about 42 when she died and would have lived to see her grandchildren. That was a good age for the time. Life was very hard – apart from the cold and harsh living conditions, food scarcity, childhood was perilous and it was an achievement to reach 15. If you did, then provided you survived giving birth, avoided accidents and found enough to eat and store for winter months, you could look forward to perhaps another 20 years to your mid-30’s. In a time where survival of the fittest was the rule – Helena survived into her 40’s and produced daughters who were strong and fertile who resulted in not just myself, but my two sisters, and three granddaughters to carry on her legacy.

What is becoming evident is that because our ancestors were opportunistic eaters they had a much more varied diet than we do today, consuming over 100 different varieties of plant and protein. Today it is estimated that we restrict ourselves to around 25 different varieties. Take a look at your shopping basket and ask yourself when was the last time you tried something new?  This is not good for our general health as our bodies are designed to consume a broad spectrum of nutrients extracted from a wide variety of foods.

It appears that Helena’s descendants and their families wended their way through France once the ice had receded. They must have been strong both in mind and body to withstand the journey, its dangers and the daily grind of finding sufficient food to feed themselves and their families. Along the way some would have settled in with new groups that they encountered or simply as large family units. Eventually, some would have reached the fertile seashores of the South of England and the Isle of Wight, which may have been still attached to the mainland, and over the following centuries they would have created my immediate family.

Helena was 42 when she died 20,000 years ago and the interesting link is that according to the records I could find, nearly all my female relations from the recent past died at around the same age! In or after childbirth or worn out from the process of having a child a year, every year. Many children appeared to have died in the first year or two of their lives which must have been emotionally traumatic too. The first person in several generations to live a long life was my mother who died at nearly 95.

In fact it was not until the early 1900’s that this life expectancy would change. My grandmother and my mother in particular were the first of the women in my family to benefit from not just a more varied diet but a safer birth process, better public health and sanitation, reduction in childhood diseases, new medical advances, control and treatment of smallpox and measles and TB. Luckily neither was affected by the great Spanish Flu epidemic that killed millions in the two years after the First World War. Additionally they lived in the country with a plentiful diet of natural unprocessed foods full of variety and very little in the way of processed foods.

Sadly my grandmother had a weak chest and died from asthma at age 55 in 1945 and we never got to know her. The medical advances and drugs that might have saved her life came too late.

But I know now where I come from, who I am and that I have the strength derived from generations of strong women.   The journey gave me a greater knowledge of who I am and a greater understanding of my body. A body that is the outcome of thousands of years of survival. It needs to be treated with far greater respect than I gave it for the first 40 odd years of my life and I believe everyone needs to feel the same way about their own body and health.

So, before you embark on a starvation diet, or consume pills that promise you will lose weight, I would ask you think first about the impact of that action will have on your body. 

Links you might find interesting.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2018

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section and if you would like a private word then please email me

Smorgasbord Health – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Part Two – Strategies

Yesterday I outlined the basics of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and today a look at some of the nutrients that your intestine needs to work efficiently and also some of the triggers for the condition.

For some people the discovery that their favourite food – bread, pasta etc. is causing their discomfort, will be upsetting. We are lucky that in most cases there are alternatives and for some there is a management solution, where the food can be eaten in small amounts very infrequently.

To identify which foods are triggers for an IBS episode you need to complete a six week programme or better still extended to 12 weeks following each stage for two weeks. Nutritionally that is not a problem – two weeks without grains may be difficult but provided you are obtaining carbohydrates from other sources you should find you have plenty of energy.

The key is to listen to your body and to keep notes each day on symptoms and how you feel in general – keep a food diary, as this will provide you with the blueprints for your new diet going forward.


A broad spectrum of nutrients is required to enable the body to function and it is important that you eat a wide variety of foods to provide them. This is particularly important when your intestines are not working efficiently and only partially processing the food you eat. There are blogs on some of the nutrients in the archive but here are some that you should make sure you are consuming in food rather in supplemental form, as the body is designed to extract what it needs from natural sources rather than pills.

Cook from scratch and avoid all processed foods including sauces, ketchups, mayonnaise etc. Even the savoury kinds are full of sugar and additives that can irritate a sensitive gut. You should be eating lots of vegetables, some sugar reduced fruits and lean protein. Try not to eat very large meals that require a great deal of processing. Smaller portions with a gap of around 2 hours minimum between eating.

Some specific nutrients and food elements that are helpful for your gut.

Calcium (helps control diarrhoea) sardines, dark leafy vegetables, sardines, tinned salmon, beans, fruit such as figs and oranges, nuts and dairy if not lactose intolerant – in which case use lactose free alternative.  Calcium needs Magnesium and Vitamin D to be absorbed efficiently.

Magnesium (helps relieve constipation) Pumpkin seeds, Halibut, beans, wholegrain rice, avocados spinach.

Vitamin D acts more like a hormone and is essential for a wide range of reactions in the body. The best source of the vitamin is direct contact on the skin for at least 45 minutes a day (not to burn) but also from specific foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon and liver.

Fibre, to slow down the digestive process and allow normal absorption of nutrients and fluids from food – all vegetables and fruit.

Iron (for energy and blood health) Green leafy vegetables, fish and meat, beans, nuts, bananas.

Also anti-bacterial agents such as green tea, garlic and onions to restrict Candida growth

Peppermint tea 60 minutes after meals to reduce the cramps, spasms and pain if you are not intolerant to peppermint. You can also use peppermint oil but it is very strong and just one drop in a large glass of water is more than enough.

Some foods that can be hidden.

There is a link, as I have already mentioned, between certain foods and strong contender is gluten.The clue is in the name and comes from the Latin word for Glue!  It is a protein present in wheat and some other grains such as barley and rye.  Although not inherently present in other grains such as oats, they can become contaminated if they are processed in a mill that also works with wheat and the other grains. Gluten gives that elastic feel to bread dough and it also helps it rise.

I have not experienced a problem with wholegrain rice but it can be harsh on the intestines if you are going through an episode of IBS.. I suggest that you only have one or two tablespoons I find if I mix wholegrain with Basmati rice that is a gentler mix.

Grains are not just in cereals and bread but in many processed products including hamburgers, soups, sausages, processed meats, crisps and ready meals.

Refined Sugars are a real problem for IBS sufferers, particularly with the strong link to Candida, and it is important that you avoid refined sugar completely and also your intake of processed foods. Even savoury foods contain high levels of sugar as do breakfast cereals, jams, biscuits etc.

Here is the posts for Candida and sugars that you should read if you have IBS symptoms.


Water is important to help hydrate the body, particularly after IBS symptoms such as diarrhoea, and also to flush toxins from the body. However – you don’t need to drink litres as this will only cause a flushing effect. It will push any food you eat rapidly through the system – drinking two litres a day in delayed bursts is fine as most of the fruit and vegetables have a high fluid content too. I use a 2litre mineral water bottle – with tap water and make sure I drink throughout the day at intervals before and after meals.

Drink a glass of water when you get up and then 45 minutes before each meal. Leave at least an hour after eating before drinking anything so that the gastric juices in your stomach have a chance to digest the food you have eaten. It is better to leave two hours if you can.


If you are naturally pressing juices yourself than that is fine – one glass per day. Try to stick to vegetable with a small amount of fruit to taste- I actually enjoy a carrot juice with a small amount of blueberries. Store bought tend to have additives but you can find juice bars that will press a selection for you.


I love a glass of wine or a shot of whisky but for this re-establishment of good bacteria in your intestinal system you need to give up for the six weeks. You can re-introduce in week six – just one glass and then limit intake and watch for any increase in symptoms.


Our body is a rich soup of bacteria and yeasts, many that are needed for all the processing that is taking place continuously. Probiotics are the good guys and are beneficial for your digestive system especially when it is struggling to maintain a healthy balance.

You can find in foods which is obviously the best way for your body to utilise the bacteria. And whilst I would caution the use of some commericial live yogurts that can contain too much sugar and additives you can make your own at home.

I sometimes take Kefir which is a fermented dairy combination of goat’s milk and fermented kefir grains. High in lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria and antioxidants you will find in better supermarkets and also in your local health store.

Fermented foods are your other option including pickles,Sauerkraut, pickled red cabbage etc.  Also Japanese Miso soup which anyone who is familiar with macrobiotic cooking will be familiar with. It is again fermented and made from rye, beans and usually rice or barley.

Supplemental probiotics

I do take certain specific supplements when needed and one of these is a high quality probiotic. Whilst food should always be the first source of the nutrients that we need on a daily basis, there are times, such as during the recovery from an illness, when additional support is needed.

I take one probiotic capsule a day for maintenance and two when I feel I need extra help. You must keep in the fridge when opened and it needs to be of adequate strength. The one I use has 3billion active cultures and ask advice in the pharmacy or the health shop to find the most effective one for your specific needs.

If you are taking broad spectrum antibiotics, you either should wait until you have finished since they are designed to kill off all bacteria including any you might take in supplementation form, or you can get specific probiotics that are effective when taken in conjunction with antibiotics.

Tomorrow’s post The six week programme.

The aim of this programme is to reduce the symptoms that you are currently experiencing and to repopulate your intestines with the healthy bacteria needed for your body to function.

You only know if something is working if you keep a record. So to start you should write down all your symptoms and over the six weeks keep a journal – were there days when you noticed an increase or decrease in symptoms– what did you eat in the last 24 hours. Did you re-introduce a grain or dairy etc?

This will also help you in the future when you perhaps relapse and you can look back and perhaps identify a food or habit that might have crept back in.

I will also give you foods you can eat and when to reintroduce suspected triggers for symptoms.

Here is yesterday’s part one on IBS

The Cholesterol Myth – Carbohydrates – Not all are demons….

So far I hope that I have established that cholesterol is important for many areas of our health and that it is the LDL (low density lipoprotein) with its smaller particles, particularly when those particles are oxidized, that causes plaque build-up in the arteries.

This oxidation occurs when we have a diet high in white fat and white carbohydrates, sugar and indulge in activities such as smoking. Since the white fat diet is the most popular today – flavoured latte’s with muffins – cookies, high sugar white cereals, etc etc, the LDL levels of a great many people is going to cause health problems eventually.



Carbohydrates are a component of food that supplies us with energy in the form of calories to the body. Along with proteins and fats they provide the human body with the main elements required to be healthy. Carbohydrates are made up of sugars (simple carbohydrates), starches (complex carbohydrates) and fibre. If you take the fibre out of the formula through over processing you are just left with the sugars.. These are intense and result in blood glucose fluctuations. You may have experienced this for yourself after a heavy lunch with lots of white rice followed by a rich and sugary dessert. You become light headed and feel faint requiring a top up around 4pm in the afternoon!

To lower cholesterol levels naturally you need to eat carbohydrates that have retained the fibre element as this helps absorb some of the sugars and prevent blood glucose fluctuations.

Carbohydrates are not the demons that some would make out. They have essential elements that are required to make the perfect fuel mix for our bodies.

However,our requirement for carbohydrates will change as we get older. When we are children and young adults our growing bodies require a supercharged fuel – carbohydrates are also needed in higher concentration during periods of high activity as you get older but should be allied to that particular period of exercise. When men and women pass through the mid-life change the requirement certainly drops but levels again depend on how active your life style is.

If someone is a total couch potato drifting from bed to table, table to car, car to desk, desk to car, car to sofa – then putting a high octane fuel into the body will simply be converted to fat. However, stopping all carbohydrates is wrong – there are certain nutrients and fibre within wholegrain carbohydrates that the body needs so that the chemical balance is maintained. Here is the link to Food Pharmacy – Brown Rice and this will show you what is actually removed from the grain.

As far as LDL cholesterol is concerned there is some evidence that a lower carbohydrate intake can decrease the numbers.  I think that this is likely to be because of the reduction of sugars when the carbohydrates usually consumed are white without the fibre and B-vitamins element. However, a certain amount of wholegrain carbohydrate with the fibre attached should still be eaten in certain quantities.

Going back to the last post on the liver – the organ that is vital in converting the carbohydrates into energy – keeping the liver healthy is extremely important and if it is working efficiently your carbohydrate uptake can be less but still effective.

I am afraid I do not class white carbohydrates as a food group – they are sugars pure and simple and most have little or no nutritional value. By the time the wholegrain has been stripped of its fibre, vitamin B and other nutrients to suit today’s palate you have nothing but white stodge on a plate. There are exceptions – those of an Italian origin have been eating white pasta made with a specific flour for generations but it is offset too by their love of olive oil, lots of tomatoes, onions and garlic etc which is actual the predominant part of their diet not the pasta.

It is important that the grain carbohydrates should be wholegrain – rice, wheat and oats. However, wheat is one of the newer grains and does not suit everybody’s digestion –


Gluten is a protein present in grains such as wheat, barley and rye and it can be very difficult for some people to digest. Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that can ultimately badly damage the intestines. Having one parent or close relative with celiac disease your chances of being affected are around 1 in 25. An interesting study in China where the grain of choice is rice, has noted an increase in celiac disease and also the less severe gluten intolerance. There is some evidence to suggest that as more people adopt a western diet with industrially produced bread products they are developing this rarely reported reaction.

If you are reading this and you are an adult, have eaten wheat products all your life, have never suffered from prolonged bloating, stomach upsets and fatigue, then the chances are that you are not sensitive to gluten. If on the other hand you are suffering from these symptoms look at your food for the last few weeks and circle all items that contain wheat, especially industrially  processed.

I am personally better with home-made bread made from good quality organic flour than I am with commercial sliced bread of any kind which tends to have many more additives.

Back to carbohydrates.

Whatever age you are, if you are very active you can eat a diet of wholegrain carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats and plenty of vegetables with some fruit to obtain the nutrition needed for optimal fuel.

Breakfast – Porridge oats (buy guaranteed gluten free – they may be contaminated if milled in the same place as wheat) – or homemade muesli with nuts, seeds and a small amount of fruits – go easy on the dried fruit as it has higher concentration of sugars.

Oats contain soluble fibre and this works on your cholesterol in a couple of ways – If both your HDL and LDL are on the high side – the fibre will reduce the total absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream but it will also reduce the LDL cholesterol which is what you should be aiming for.   You need about 10 grams of soluble fibre a day and by having a bowl of porridge (6grams) and a banana (4 grams) you will have started the day well.

If you enjoy a cooked breakfast then one slice of wholegrain toast with a scrape of butter and a poached egg and perhaps a tomato…


Lunch – I medium potato with lots of green vegetables and some carrots or perhaps two tablespoons of brown rice with lean protein is all that is needed. If you enjoy pasta than buy a high quality italian variety or better still wholegrain.  Limit yourself to around 75gm and eat with lots of tomato sauce and onions. Avoid pies and other pastries unless you have made yourself with wholegrain flour and real butter (not margerine).

Supper -A bowl of homemade vegetable soup. A large salad with roast chicken. Salmon and green vegetables.  If you are going to be enjoying a night on the sofa and television the carbohydrate is not going anywhere except your waistline.

If you are working out three times a week then add another spoonful of wholegrain rice to your dinner the night before – eat a banana before your workout.

Other carbohydrates

nuts and seeds

Other foods to include with your carbohydrates are nuts and seeds – walnuts are great, beans, but only a handful, certain fruits such as apples (contain pectin which helps keep your bile ducts healthy) and prunes, and my favourite, banana, again not huge amounts but the fibre from all of these will not only help keep the LDL numbers in balance but also keep the bowels working and healthy.

Next time the greatest myth about cholesterol… that all fats are bad for you..

Here is part one and two in the cholesterol series.

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food for Health 2008