The Universe Within

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter

As I see more and more clients with complex, chronic health conditions, I am frequently reminded of Hippocrates’ statement from over 2000 years ago:

All disease begins in the gut.

Now, like a lot of pithy sayings, there will always be some exceptions to the rule, but as researchers delve into the inner workings of the digestive tract, more and more health conditions are turning out to have a significant gut component.

And as Dr Corey Howard explained in his presentation at the 2015 International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, that gut component of disease doesn’t just involve our own, human cells. Here are some startling facts to ponder:

  • Our bodies are comprised of around 37 trillion cells (in numerals, that’s 37 000 000 000 000).
  • The human genome contains approximately 21 000 genes.
  • 1.5% of those genes, or around 300 of them, code for proteins (that is, they contain the instructions for making particular proteins).
  • The remaining 20 700 genes regulate the expression of the 300 that code for proteins.
  • 100 trillion bacteria (that’s 100 000 000 000 000) reside in and on the human body – on our skin, in our nose, ears, lungs, eyeballs, the vagina in females, and of course in our gut.
  • There are more than 9 million unique genes in the human gut bacterial community, or over 400 times the number of human genes.

If you’re feeling a little creeped out by the discovery that you are more ‘bug’ than human, you’re not alone. We have been conditioned to think of bacteria as our mortal enemies, to be eradicated by any means necessary. Think of those advertisements you’ve seen for mouthwashes, kitchen sprays and toilet cleaners that proudly trumpet the claim that they ‘kill 99% of bacteria’. The market for antibacterial hand sanitisers has exploded in recent years, and many parents will beg their GP for an antibiotic if they even suspect that their child has a middle ear infection.

But as researchers delve deeper into the human microbiome and how it affects our physical and mental health, it’s becoming more and more clear that attempting to eradicate bacteria from our bodies and living environments is a Very Bad Idea.

Dr Howard focused his presentation on the gut microbiome, although the composition and function of bacteria that live on and in other parts of our bodies is a fascinating subject in itself.

The probiotic or ‘good bacteria’ that inhabit our intestines carry out several vital functions for us. They:

  • Produce some vitamins, including vitamin K and biotin, which we can absorb and utilise;
  • Synthesise amino acids – the building blocks of protein, which we can also absorb and utilise to build our own body proteins;
  • Carry out biotransformation of bile acids – metabolic waste products that contribute to bowel cancer and gallstones – so that they can be safely removed from the body;
  • Produce short chain fatty acids including butyrate, which decreases intestinal inflammation, heals ‘leaky gut’, modulates the sensitivity of visceral organs and improves intestinal motility (helping to overcome IBS), protects against colorectal cancer, lowers cholesterol and reduces insulin resistance… among many other benefits;
  • Secrete antimicrobial substances which inhibit the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria that can cause intestinal infections, leaky gut and inflammatory conditions including cardiovascular and autoimmune disease.
  • Interact with toll-like receptors, helping the immune system to identify and destroy harmful bacteria while tolerating beneficial bacteria, human cells and normal components of food.
  • Interact with dendritic cells, a type of immune cell, helping to calm them and reduce their production of inflammatory chemicals.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the delicate balance of the gut microbiome can be thrown out by a host of factors, setting the stage for all manner of ill-health.

  • Babies born by caesarean section are not colonised by the healthy bacteria that a vaginally-delivered baby will encounter on its way through the birth canal. Instead of its mother’s flora, the c-section baby’s gut ends up being populated by bacteria from the air in the operating theatre, and the garments of the doctors and nurses.
  • Breast-fed babies receive probiotic bacteria in their mother’s milk, as well as prebiotic oligosaccharides (carbohydrates that can’t be digested by humans, but feed the gut bacteria instead); while formula-fed babies miss out on both.
  • Antibiotics, whether prescribed for infectious illnesses (most of which are not life-threatening and would resolve spontaneously if left untreated), or consumed in dairy products, eggs and meat from factory-farmed land and marine animals that are routinely fed antibiotics, dramatically reduce the diversity of the gut microbiome and can set the stage for colonisation by pathogens such as Clostridium difficule.
  • A wide range of other drugs, including proton pump inhibitors (acid suppressors such as Losec and Nexium); non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and oral contraceptives, decrease the number of beneficial bacteria inhabiting the gut.

As Dr Howard explained, if you have acquired imbalances in your gut microbiome that are contributing to digestive discomfort and poor health, just taking probiotics won’t get you well again. You’ll need a total dietary overhaul to remove the substances that derange your microbial colonies (artificial sweeteners, animal products laced with antibiotics, refined carbohydrates) and add in the substances that restore balance (fibre, resistant starch, fermented foods); you need to get off drugs that wreak havoc on your gut flora; quit smoking and excessive drinking; and get regular exercise.

Does all of this sound familiar? The same lifestyle measures which promote the health of your human cells also promote the health of your microbiome… and perhaps that is no coincidence.


The Angiogenesis of Health and Disease

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter

One of the presentations I was most looking forward to at the 2014 International Plant-Based Healthcare Nutrition Conference (PBNHC) was the one that Dr William Li, the Medical Director and Co-founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation, was slated to give. Having watched Dr Li’s TED talk, Can we eat to starve cancer?, I was keen to learn more about the effect of angiogenesis. (If you’re thinking right now, ‘What the heck is angiogenesis and why should I even care about it?’, don’t worry, I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Unfortunately, due to a family emergency Dr Li was unable to attend the 2014 conference. So I was excited to see he was back on the conference agenda for this year’s PBNHC, and I’m happy to say that his presentation was every bit as good as I’d hoped for!

First, a brief explanation of angiogenesis: ‘angio’ means blood vessel, and ‘genesis’ means the beginning of something. So angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels from existing ones.

You’ve actually experienced angiogenesis multiple times throughout your life, although you probably didn’t realise it. For starters, you wouldn’t exist without the angiogenesis that allowed your mother’s body to develop the placenta which nourished you until you were born. Then, every time you ever grazed your knee or cut yourself, angiogenesis kicked in, allowing granulation tissue to form and wounds to heal. If you’re a woman, you’ve been experiencing angiogenesis once a month since your menstrual periods began.

Those are all normal forms of angiogenesis, necessary for life, health and reproduction. But when angiogenesis goes bad, it can go very, very bad. As Dr Li explained, many common disease processes involve abnormal angiogenesis, including:

  • Cancer – tumours cannot grow to a clinically significant size until they have become angiogenic; but once they do, they can grow 16 000 times their pre-angiogenic size in a matter of just a few weeks.
  • Atherosclerosis – angiogenesis occurs within the cholesterol-laden plaques that grow inside blood vessels, making the plaque more unstable and prone to rupturing and forming a clot that can lead to a heart attack.
  • Obesity – in order for fat deposits to grow, they must develop a network of blood vessels to nourish them. Fat cells send angiogenic signals to neighbouring blood vessels when they become overstuffed with fat, and the new blood vessels secrete growth factors that stimulate immature fat cells to develop and multiply. This creates a vicious circle of fat mass expansion.
  • Psoriasis – uncontrolled angiogenesis contrubites to the formation of psoriatic plaques.
  • Arthritis – the formation of a pannus (an abnormal layer of fibrovascular tissue or granulation tissue) over joint surfaces, causing loss of bone and cartilage, is driven by angiogenesis.
  • Endometriosis – the abnormal growth of uterine lining tissue on other pelvic structures is an expression of aberrant angiogenesis.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma – this hallmark symptom of AIDS is associated with a herpesvirus that triggers angiogenesis.
  • Alzheimer’s disease – abnormal blood vessels that grow in the brain due to inappropriate angiogenesis release a neurotoxin that kills neurons (brain cells).
  • Macular degeneration – angiogenesis is the driving force in this age-related cause of blindness.
  • Multiple sclerosis – angiogenesis is found in the demyelinating lesions characteristic of MS.
  • Rosacea – both the initial development of this distressing skin condition and its persistent presence involve angiogenesis.

So that’s the bad news about angiogenesis.

The good news is that a host of compounds found in whole plant foods inhibit abnormal angiogenesis (without blocking the normal angiogenesis that we need for wound healing and pregnancy).

Some of the all-star angiogenesis inhibitors that Dr Li highlighted are:

  • Resveratrol, a pigment found in red grapes, peanut skins, pistachios, blueberries, cranberries, cacao and cocoa. In laboratory experiments, resveratrol inhibited angiogenesis in tumours by up to 75%
  • Ellagic acid, found in blackberries, cranberries, pecans, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, walnuts, goji berries and grapes.
  • Genistein, found primarily in soy beans and products made from them such as tofu and tempeh.
  • EGCG, found in green tea, which not only inhibits pathological angiogenesis but also mobilises the endothelial progenitor stem cells needed for tissue repair.

Many food compounds and foods inhibit angiogenesis more strongly than anti-angiogenic drugs, according to Dr Li, but without the nasty side effects which include black, tarry stools; bleeding gums; body aches and pains; burning, tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands, arms, feet, or legs; chest pain or discomfort; chills; cloudy urine; and convulsions.

Our food selection and preparation practices can profoundly affect the amount of anti-angiogenic activity that we reap from what we eat and drink.

  • Broccoli stems, which most people discard, have 2.5 times the anti-angiogenic power of broccoli florets. You can put them in soup, or take my client Dennis’ tip and use them, thinly sliced, as ‘dippers’ for hommous!
  • ‘Dunking’ your teabag instead of letting it just sit in your cup, increases the amount of antiangiogenic compounds in your tea.
  • Simmering tomatoes increases their trans-lycopene (a powerful angiogenesis inhibitor) activity by 50% after 2 minutes, and by 250% after 30 minutes.
  • The Rubygem strawberry cultivated in Queensland has the highest anti-angiogenic activity of all strawberries.
  • Whole wheat has almost double the anti-angiogenic activity of white.
  • Carrot greens have 2.5 times the anti-angiogenesis power of the actual carrot, so buy Dutch carrots and eat them greens and all!

Now can you see why I was so excited about Dr Li’s presentation? Understanding the effects of abnormal angiogenesis, and how to control it through simple dietary choices, gives us enormous power to take charge of our health destiny rather than buy into the popular notion that we are doomed to succumb to ‘age-related’ diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, dementia and macular degeneration.


Why Plant-Based Nutrition?

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Dr Scott Stoll is one of the driving forces of the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. He and his 2 co-founders, Tom Dunnam and Susan Benigas, hold a grand vision; one that, in fact, was first put into words at the beginning of the 20th century by the brilliant inventor Thomas Edison:

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Judging by the passion and energy with which Dr Stoll and his colleagues are approaching this gargantuan task, “the future” may come sooner than many of us have feared. Let’s hope so!

Dr Stoll’s presentation at the PBNHC followed directly on Professor T. Colin Campbell’s, which I reported on in last week’s blog, and it elegantly illustrated one of the 6 key principles of nutrition that Campbell outlined:

The nutritional effects of a whole food, plant-based diet (WFPBD) are broad and rapid.

The topic Dr Stoll chose to focus on was vasculopathy – disorders of blood vessels, in all their many forms. You simply can’t understand blood vessel disorders without comprehending the structure and functions of endothelial cells. Endothelial cells, or ECs, are the cells that line our blood vessels. If you laid them end-to-end, they would circle the Earth twice, and laid side-by-side they cover the surface area of 6 tennis courts.

Their major function is to produce the gas nitric oxide, which acts like Teflon on a non-stick pan – it keeps all the components of the blood flowing freely, instead of adhering to the blood vessel wall. When ECs are not functioning correctly, the blood vessel wall becomes more like Velcro, causing blood components to stick to it, and initiating an atherosclerotic plaque.

As Dr Stoll pointed out, the consequences of EC dysfunction are many and varied, and the different names given to all these conditions obscure the common origin that they spring from. For example, EC dysfunction causes:

  • Chronic low back pain. 77% of patients with severe long-term nonspecific low back pain were found to have lumbar and/or middle sacral arteries that were occluded by atherosclerotic plaque (the end result of EC dysfunction).
  • Rotator cuff injury. Almost all sufferers of this painful and frustrating shoulder condition were found to have atherosclerosis in the arteries supplying the bones, tendons and muscles of the shoulder girdle.
  • Erectile dysfunction. Two-thirds of men with clinically significant coronary artery disease also have ED, but the signs and symptoms of ED typically appear 2-3 years before any symptoms of coronary artery disease show up. That’s why urologists are now referring to ED as ‘the canary in the coal mine’.
  • Peripheral vasculopathy. Many sufferers of this condition have a genetic polymorphism called Glu298Asp, which affects the activity of the enzyme that ECs use to synthesises nitric oxide.
  • Diabetic neuropathy. This painful condition, which costs up to US$20 000 per year to manage, is caused by damage to nerves that’s driven largely by EC dysfunction.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. While amyloid plaques have long been the focus of Alzheimer’s research, Dr Stoll described how the ‘2 hit hypothesis’ has largely taken over: Alzheimer’s begins with artery damage, caused by EC dysfunction, and then amyloid beta deposits occur at the site of injury.

So what can we do to prevent or reverse the conditions caused by EC dysfunction? Stop injuring our arteries with:

  • Animal products (which contain EC-damaging saturated and trans fats, advanced glycation end-products [AGEs], and a host of chemical toxins that bioaccumulate up the food chain);
  • Refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils (which induce oxidative stress);
  • Salt (which causes EC damage and arterial stiffness even if it doesn’t raise blood pressure), and of course
  • Cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, one of the most potent agents of EC damage yet discovered.

In place of all that toxic food, we should fill our plates with EC-nurturing green leafy vegetables (more on that when I summarise Dr Caldwell Esselstyn’s presentation in a couple of weeks) and other colourful vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and small amounts of nuts and seeds – especially omega 3-rich seeds such as flax, chia and hemp.

How long does it take to work? In the case of diabetic neuropathy, pain relief can occur in as little as a couple of days – even in diabetics who have been heavily medicated and in terrible pain for years! Switching to a plant-based diet restores endothelial function in the penile artery so rapidly that erectile function can be restored in just weeks. The rewards of going plant-based appear much more rapidly and reliably than any benefits gained from medications… and the only ‘side-effects’ are positive ones such as weight loss, increased energy, more attractive skin, lower cholesterol and blood pressure.


Vegan Lollies You Can Buy In Australia

You can help us keep it up to date!
If you have any additions or corrections please contact us

Jila Chewing gum Mint and Spearmint
Jila Sugar free mints (tin) Peppermint & Spearmint
Chupa Chups Cola
Chup Chups orange
Coles Choc mint crunch
Coles brand Lemon Sherbets
Extra Chewing gum
Mentos Mini
Mentos Fruit
Mentos Spearmint
Mentos Pineapple
Pez Candy
Skittles Fruit
Tic Tacs original flavour
Wizz Fizz original

Sour Patch Kids
Woolworths Homebrand Black jelly beans
Homebrand Fruit flavoured sweets
Homebrand Barley sugar
Homebrand Aniseed humbugs
Life Savers 5 flavours
Life savers Strawberry sundae
Life Savers Peppermint
Life Savers Musk

Flirt Blitz Mints (tin) Peppermint, Spearmint
Dominion Naturals Sour stilts @Aldi
Flirt Chewing gum
Black & Gold Spearmints,
Black & Gold Milk bottles
The Jolly Lollie Company Liquorice Allsorts
Bols Lemon sherbets
Bols Fruity Sherbet bombs
Bols Hard Jubes
Bols Raspberries
Walker’s After dinner mints
Walker’s Sugared almonds
Ekologist Godis Frukt
V Sweet
Fino Berry Flavoured Jells
Fishermen’s Friends Mint
Go Natural Licorice
Green Grove Organics Licorice
Macro Organic Liquorice
Mike & Jack X-treme sour straps
Morish Peanut Brittle
Darrell Lea Rasberry Licorice Stix
~You can help us keep it up to date! If you have any additions or corrections please contact us

Taking the ‘die’ out of your diet

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Dr Kim Allan Williams is kind of into ‘firsts’. He’s the first African American to be elected president of the American College of Cardiology, which is highly significant because African Americans suffer the ravages of cardiovascular disease more than any ethnic subgroup in the US:

  • African Americans have the highest age-adjusted death rates due to heart disease and stroke of any ethnic group;
  • CVD is responsible for more deaths in the Black community than all other diseases combined;
  • Nearly 44% of Black men and 48% of Black women have some form of cardiovascular disease;
  • African American adults are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure than white adults, and more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke;
  • Up to 30% of deaths in hypertensive Black men and 20% in hypertensive Black women may be attributable to high blood pressure, which African-Americans may be more prone to due to genetically-determined salt sensitivity (1).

He’s also the first ‘openly vegan’ (is that the new ‘openly gay’ ?) president of the ACC, and he’s doesn’t hold back when asked why.

As he explained in his opening address to the 3rd International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, which was held in Anaheim, California from 30 September-3rd October 2015, back in 2003, a routine blood test revealed that his LDL cholesterol level was a frighteningly high 170 mg/dl (4.4 mmol/l). It was a rude awakening for Williams, who had prided himself on eating a ‘prudent’ diet in line with American Heart Association guidelines – he avoided red meat and fried foods, minimised dairy products, and stuck to chicken breast and fish.

Coincidentally, after receiving his worrying result, Williams – who is a nuclear cardiologist, specialising in diagnosis of cardiovascular disease – reviewed a patient in whom he had identified severe coronary heart disease 6 months earlier. The woman had blockages in 3 major blood vessels supplying her heart, that put her at extremely high risk of suffering a heart attack. Unbeknownst to Williams, in the interim the patient had put herself on Dr Dean Ornish’s program for reversing heart disease, which incorporates a low-fat plant-based diet, exercise, meditation and social support.

Noting that her follow-up scan was essentially normal – that is, her severe triple vessel disease had healed in the space of 6 months – Williams quizzed her about what she’d been doing. She reported that her chest pain had resolved about 6 weeks after commencing Ornish’s program.

Spurred on by concerns about his own health, Williams began investigating Ornish’s research, and was so impressed by what he found that that very day, he dropped all animal products from his diet and put himself on an Ornish-style low-fat plant-based diet. Just 6 weeks later, his LDL cholesterol level was down to a  much more respectable 90 mg/dl (2.3 mmol/l).

Now 12 years down the track from his personal epiphany, Dr Williams recommends a plant-based diet to his own patients who have who have high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, and even tells them where to shop for the plant-based foods that he enjoys!

In an interview (2), Dr Williams commented


“Wouldn’t it be a laudable goal of the American College of Cardiology to put ourselves out of business within a generation or two? We have come a long way in prevention of cardiovascular disease, but we still have a long way to go. Improving our lifestyles with improved diet and exercise will help us get there.”

A long way to go, all right. Cardiovascular disease and stroke, combined, is still the leading cause of death in both the US and Australia. The practice of cardiology is a fraudulent farce, with close to 90% of interventional cardiology – stenting and coronary artery bypass grafting – being performed on patients who receive no benefit from these procedures (see my article What Bill Clinton’s cardiologist didn’t know (and why you need to know it) for more) but must still bear their economic cost, and the heightened risk of stroke, heart attack and cognitive impairment (‘pump head’) that come with them.

The bottom line is that sick people take medicines, undergo procedures, and put up with being ‘patients’. People who want to stop being patients, get healthy, and extract themselves from the medical mill, take responsibility for their own health and well-being. My client Dennis is an inspiring example of the latter; you can read his story of dramatic reversal of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and watch an interview with him here.


Staying on track while you’re on the road

From naturopath Robyn Chuter.

By the time you read this, I’ll be in San Francisco, one of my favourite cities in the world. My husband, 2 kids and I are spending 2 weeks exploring California (with a dash across State lines to visit the Grand Canyon), culminating – for me – with 3 days of full-tilt learning at the 3rd International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. (To read my reports from last year’s conference, go to my Article Library and scroll down to the Conference and Seminar Reports section.)

Our trip involves 5 flights and looooong stretches of driving on American highways, notorious for their endless procession of fast food outlets. So, you might be asking, are we going to dump our usual healthy eating style, ‘bust out’ and fill up on airline slop and all that world-famous (or infamous?) Yank junk food?

No way, José! I want to pack as much hiking, canyon climbing, tram riding and museum visiting as I can into this trip, and still arrive at the conference bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. That means I’ll need to be at my physical and mental peak, and the only way I can do that is to stick to my usual high-nutrient plant-based eating style and get regular exercise, any which way I can.

Here are my tips, gleaned from previous travel experiences, for staying on track while you’re on the road:

1. Surviving Long Flights


  • Be sure to specify your meal preferences when booking your flight. All airlines offer a wide range of ‘special’ meal choices including vegetarian, vegan, raw food and gluten-free. We’re flying Fiji Airways, which previous experience indicates serve quite delicious vegan meals with plenty of vegetables. A little heavy on the oil for my tastes, but loads better than the usual mass-produced airline food!
  • Personally, I prefer to eat as little as possible when flying to minimise the abdominal bloating that I tend to suffer on long flights (sorry if that’s TMI ;-)) but my kids and husband eat like horses whenever we travel, so I always pack some travel-hardy fruit such as bananas, apples and mandarins; raw vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks; and baked potatoes and home-made oven-baked falafel which are light but filling. Stay away from salty snacks which just exacerbate the dehydration that aeroplane travel is notorious for.
  • Speaking of avoiding dehydration, I grab the largest bottle of water I can find in the airport stores after I’ve passed through the security screen, and start sipping as soon as I board. Not only does this combat dehydration, it also forces me to overcome the inertia that tends to set in on long flights, as my bladder prompts me to keep walking down the aisle to the bathroom! Once I’m up, I will attempt to do a lap of the plane each time I make a pit-stop, unless the cabin crew are moving through with food and beverage trolleys.
  • I also stay on my feet as much as possible before the flight, knowing that I’m going to be confined to my Cattle Class seat for a bum-numbingly long stretch of time after we board the plane (aside from my bathroom excursions, of course). While others slump in the Departure Lounge seats, I do laps of the concourse, so I can keep my circulatory and lymphatic systems pumping until the very last minute. The risk of deep vein thrombosis from long-distance air travel is actually pretty low –somewhere between 1 in 4,656 flights and 1 in 6,000 flights – but I find that prolonged sitting just makes me feel lethargic.
  • I always pack some herbal teabags in my carry-on luggage. When the flight attendants come around offering tea and coffee, I just ask for hot water to make my own tea. I tend not to sleep well on planes (if at all), and the last thing I need is caffeine buzzing around my system while I’m trying to catch a little shut-eye!
  • Essential oils are helpful for combatting some of the unsavoury aspects of air travel. Inhaling essential oil of peppermint soothes airsickness (and other forms of travel sickness too); clary sage is wonderful for inducing sleep when you’re feeling too wired to unwind; and lavender oil calms the jitters if you’re an anxious flyer, which I’m fortunate not to be – probably the legacy of being the daughter of a Qantas flight engineer, and spending half my childhood around airports and on planes ;-). Essential oils generally come in quite small bottles (5-25 ml) so you’ll be safely under the 100 ml limit for liquids.
  • And finally, if you suffer from painful clogging and popping in your ears when you fly, do yourself a favour and pick up a pair of EarPlanes – cool little ear plugs that help to equalise the pressure on either side of your eardrums when the air cabin pressure changes as altitude drops. I bought them for my last trip to the US, and it was the first time that I’ve flown since perforating my eardrum in childhood, without suffering excruciating ear pain on the descent, and feeling like I was hearing all the sounds around me from under water for the next few days after the flight! Now I won’t fly without them, even if it’s just an inter-city hop.

2. Evading Hotel Traps


  • The first thing I do when I get into my hotel room is to clear all the soft drinks, mini-milk cartons and alcohol out of the bar fridge and replace it with fresh fruit, salads, hommous, and any other healthy foods I can pick up at farmers’ markets (for which San Francisco is famous – yay!!), health food stores or supermarkets. Likewise, the chocolate bars and packets of chips get cleared off the counter so that my daughter, who has a bit of a taste for junk food, won’t nag us to buy them.
  • When we travel, we mostly book self-contained accommodation so that I have cooking facilities. I’ll hit the local grocery shop and stock up on bags of frozen mixed vegetables, cans of beans and tomatoes so that I can throw together easy nutritious meals in 10 minutes or less. Unfortunately, this type of accommodation isn’t widely available in the US so on this trip we’re stuck with regular hotel rooms, some of them with a microwave oven. I’m not a big fan of microwave cooking – no real health concerns; I just don’t like the taste and texture of microwaved food – but if that’s the only way to cook a meal, I’ll take it.
  • We always travel with plastic plates, bowls, cutlery, a sharp knife and a flexible chopping mat, and on this trip we’re also taking a Birko food and drink heater which will allow me to cook porridge (or ‘oatmeal’, as they call it Stateside), warm up soup and boil water for beverages – annoyingly for me as a non-coffee drinker, American hotel rooms tend to be equipped with coffee makers rather than kettles!
  • I always prefer to book a hotel with an in-house gym so I can fit an early-morning workout in before my kids are awake. Exercise is my stress-buster and sanity-saver; anyone who knows me is all too familiar with the fact that I’m very grumpy if I don’t get to exercise each day! If there’s no gym I’ll content myself with running up and down the stair-wells for 20 minutes or doing a workout in my room, using a video from one of my favourite online fitness channels such as Fitness Blender orBodyRock.
  • Walking and cycling are always better ways of experiencing a new destination than whizzing past the sights in a car or bus, so whenever possible I hire a bike to get around, or just walk. Naturally, we’ll be taking a ride on San Francisco’s famous cable cars, but the city also offers wonderful walking tours of its historic sites. Hello, Haight-Ashbury – we’re gonna revisit the Summer of Love!


Car trips


After 3 days in San Francisco, which is blessed with a surfeit of vegan restaurants and cafés, not to mention numerous Whole Foods Markets (supermarket-sized health food stores bursting at the seams with fresh produce and prepared foods, many of which meet my high standards for healthfulness), we’ll be heading out to Yosemite National Park.

This long drive, and our subsequent trip to the Grand Canyon, will present the most serious challenge to staying on track with healthy eating (not to mention our sanity, with 2 kids in the back of the car chorusing “Are we there yet?”, hour after hour!). Once we leave the post-hippie vegan paradise of San Francisco, it’s all strip malls and fast food chains with nary a Whole Foods Market in sight!

  • We’re taking a soft-sided cooler bag which squishes up nicely to fit into a suitcase, and some freezer blocks. We’ll stock the cooler bag with salad vegetables, fruit, hommous, wholemeal wraps and whatever healthy pre-prepared meals we can find in Whole Foods Market before we leave San Francisco.  Roadside picnics are so much more fun than sitting in some soulless fast food outlet, eating same-old same-old pap!
  • Between the Birko and microwave oven, I’ll be able to throw together some simple evening meals using cans of beans and tomatoes, and fresh or frozen vegetables. My kids are quite accustomed to relatively fancy home-prepared meals, but as long as they have full bellies at the end of a day of hiking and canyoning, they’ll be happy enough to ‘rough it’ with simpler fare… which means I will be too!


Eating Out Without Busting Out

  • San Francisco, Monterey and all the other coastal towns we’ll be driving through, as well as Los Angeles itself, where we’ll be ending our trip, are blessed with an abundance of plant-based dining options. Café Gratitude, Gracias Madre and Sharkey’s with its famous Chef AJ vegan burritos, are all on my hit-list!
  • Although fast-food Mexican outlets serve up the same gloopy Tex-Mex slop that passes for Mexican food here in Australia, California – home to so many Mexican immigrants – also boasts an abundance of ‘real’ Mexican food outlets, featuring the corn, beans and vegetables that are the staples of Mexican food the way actual Mexicans eat it.
  • Other ethnic cuisines that offer delicious plant-based options include Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai and Chinese. I do my best to steer around the excessively oily and salty dishes, and stick to simple stir-fries, vegie curries and fresh salads.
  • All meals are provided at the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, and if last year’s fare was anything to go by, I’m going to be spoiled rotten!

So there you have it – how to survive a holiday without blowing your healthy eating plan… and coming back with unwelcome extra kilos and that “I-need-another-holiday-to-recover-from-my-holiday” feeling!


The pleasure trap

The pleasure trap – or how your brain gets tricked into thinking BAD is GOOD

By Robyn Chuter

The human brain and body are both adapted to live in a very different world than the one we inhabit today. Many of the health problems that are so prevalent in developed countries, and among the wealthy in developing countries – such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer of the breast, bowel and prostate – are simply the inevitable consequences of eating a diet rich in kilojoules but poor in micronutrients, and not getting enough exercise.

The problem is, over millennia of evolution in an environment where energy-dense food was scarce, our brains developed neural circuits that reward us with sensations of pleasure when we eat fatty, sweet or rich food.

This was a brilliant adaptation in our earlier history; it caused us to preferentially seek out energy-dense foods during the brief times that they were available and eat as much as we could, so we could lay down fat stores that we could live off during the lean times.

And during those lean times, we would still have access to low-energy but high-nutrient foods (leaves, berries, tubers), ensuring we didn’t become malnourished.

But in our present setting, there are no times of scarcity. Most of us are eating, on a daily basis, what our ancestors only ate rarely – even though those foods, when eaten any more often than on special occasions, undermine our health.

This phenomenon is the foundation of what psychologist Doug Lisle and Alan Goldhamer, director of the TrueNorth Health Center in California, have dubbed ‘The Pleasure Trap‘.

Put simply, your ‘primitive’ brain tells you that that chocolate bar, doughnut, hot chips, ice cream, hunk of cheese or whatever else your weakness is, is GOOD and you should eat more of it – even while your ‘rational’ brain is screaming at you to stop right now if you ever want to fit into your favourite jeans again!

Backed by millennia of evolutionary drive, the primitive brain wins the contest more often than not, leaving the rational brain to beat you up afterward for your weakness, and make you promise never to do it again.

So how do we break out of this pleasure trap and bring our eating habits into line with our knowledge and good intentions? Not through will-power, which flounders in the face of addictions such as these. I have found that using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is the simplest, fastest and kindest route back to dietary sanity.

EFT is a superb tool for beating food cravings, as a client I’ll call Jacinta discovered recently. Jacinta had a long history of addictive eating, and a generally uncomfortable relationship with food. She knew exactly what she should be eating, and had experienced the benefits of this way of eating in the past. But her healthy diet plans repeatedly came unstuck when cravings hit.

I taught her how to use EFT to deal with her craving for fresh bread and butter, and by the end of the session she felt repulsed by the thought of eating it – a very common experience, as I’ll discuss in a moment.

On her own, at home, she then tapped on her craving for hot chocolate and cola, which she’d been having daily. In each case, her desire for these foods simply disappeared, to the point where she could not recall even thinking about them, let alone wanting to consume them, over the last few weeks.

I have observed time and time again, that when people tap on their craving for unhealthy foods, their perception of the taste and smell of those foods start to shift, to the point where they experience repugnance for foods they previously would have driven across town, in the middle of the night, to get hold of.

Often they report that the food tastes or smells of chemicals, or feels oily in their mouths. My understanding of what is happening here, is that when you abolish your addictive cravings, you get back in touch with what your body’s infinite wisdom knows is actually good for you – and lo and behold, now it actually tastes good to you!

And that’s the good news about the Pleasure Trap: when you break free of the stranglehold of addictive cravings, your brain’s pleasure circuits recalibrate, and you find that you can get a very satisfying buzz out of things that really are good for you – nourishing food, physical activity, and of course that ultimate source of healthy pleasure, good sex :).

There’s no diminishment in the amount of pleasure you feel when you dump your bad habits and live a healthy lifestyle; in fact my personal and professional experience is that we feel much more pleasure, and of course there’s no guilt afterward!


Beat menopausal hot flushes with fruit-and-veg-powered weight loss

By Robyn Chuter, 7th Sep 2015

Hot flushes are the bane of many perimenopausal women’s lives. That sudden rush of heat from the chest up to the neck and face, is not just embarrassing or inconvenient. Hot flushes that occur at night – commonly called night sweats – can severely disrupt sleep, causing day-time fatigue.Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the standard medical answer for hot flushes, but the worrying findings that HRT dramatically increases the risk of heart disease and breast cancer have made many women understandably wary of taking it. So what’s a hot-and-bothered perimenopausal woman to do? A recent study published in the journal Menopause suggests a remarkably simple answer: lose weight by adopting a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in fat.

17,473 women with menopausal symptoms, who were not taking HRT, were recruited for the Women’s Health Initiative study, which compared outcomes in women who were given dietary counselling, to a control group who made no dietary changes.What’s particularly interesting is that weight loss wasn’t even a goal of the study; the participants were initially recruited to evaluate the effects of a low-fat, high produce dietary pattern on risk of heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and fracture in post-menopausal women.However, when the data were analysed, women who had been assigned to the dietary counselling group lost an average of 2 kg between baseline and year one, compared to the control group.

This modest weight loss achieved some benefits, but women who lost over 4.5 kg, or 10% or more of their baseline body weight, were significantly more likely to reduce or eliminate their hot flushes and night sweats after one year of follow-up, compared to women in the control group who continued with their normal diet. Although hot flushes are still not completely understood, they are believed to be caused by the impact of fluctuating hormone levels on the hypothalamus, a region in the brain that regulates our body temperature, blood vessels and sweat glands, and brain chemicals.

Previous research had indicated that both being overweight at the onset of menopause, and gaining weight during the perimenopausal period (as so many women do, when they eat the conventional Western diet!), increased the risk of suffering from hot flushes and night sweats, one reason being that these phenomena provide a way to dissipate the heat that is retained by the insulating effect of excess body fat. However, this study is one of the first – and the largest to date – to show that a diet high in fresh produce and whole grains, and low in fat (read, a wholefoods, plant-based diet low in animal products), improves the most common symptom of menopause.

It echoes the mantra I share with my clients – forget about weight loss, and focus on health gain. When you shift your perspective in this way, you step out of the deprivation/self-punishment model that characterises dieting, and into a place of self-love and appreciation for your magnificent body and the miracles that it performs every day. From this place, you want to make choices that nurture and support your body… and it just so happens that these choices facilitate effortless weight loss.


Diet and immunity: What’s the connection?

By Robyn Chuter, 24th Aug, 2015

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I spend too much time on Facebook. In my defence, I don’t post pictures of my lunch, or watch cat videos (well, not very often, anyway ;-)). No, my version of spending too much time on Facebook is getting involved in pointless discussions/arguments with people who hold silly beliefs about nutrition and health.

Just recently, a member of a Facebook group I’m in posted to ask if improving her son’s diet could help with his glue ear (a build-up of fluid in the middle ear that often follows a middle ear infection). Another member of the group – an individual who happens to work in a research capacity for the NSW Department of Health – replied that diet wouldn’t make any difference to her son’s condition unless he was a malnourished child from a developing country, and that she should give him the antibiotics that the GP had recommended as soon as he diagnosed the glue ear.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. First up, every reputable authority on children’s health advises against using antibiotics for glue ear unless the condition persists for at least 3 months after it’s diagnosed (for example, see the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s Clinical Practice Guidelines for Treating Otitis Media and their Parent Fact Sheet on Treating Glue Ear, the UK National Health Service’s advice on treating glue ear, and the Cochrane Review ‘Antibiotics for otitis media with effusion (‘glue ear’) in children’).

So just what was a researcher from the Health Department doing, urging a parent to contradict all this expert advice and give her son a treatment that was extremely unlikely to offer any benefit to him, may cause long-term disruption to his gut microbiome, and contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’?

But what I found even more disturbing was the researcher’s insistence that diet makes no difference when it comes to fighting infection, unless you’re suffering from the kind of protein-calorie malnutrition that we in Western countries only see in TV reports on starving kids in Africa. This belief is so wildly wrong, I can’t begin to tell you how perplexed I was that anyone who has read any research at all in the field of nutrition could hold it. Like I said, I wasted WAAAAAY too much of my precious time arguing with this closed-minded person, so I’m going to make sure I didn’t completely waste my time by sharing this important information with you, instead!

For those who love all the sciencey stuff, I have a detailed article on diet and immunity that you can download. That article is several years old now though, and there’s been some very interesting research on the link between diet, the gut microbiome, the immune system and human health since I wrote it.

Here are the points you need to know:

Sweet and deadly
Research from over 40 years ago indicates that concentrated sugar – whether in the form of glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, or orange juice… but not starches – reduces the ability of white blood cells to gobble up invading bacteria, a process known as phagocytosis (pictured above). Shockingly, the reduced bug-chomping capacity persisted for at least 5 hours after volunteers ate the various kinds of  sugar (1). Think about that for a moment. If you consume the typical Western diet, which contains added sugar in everything from breakfast cereal to biscuits, muesli bars to McDonald’s fries and chai latte to cheesecake, you’re essentially paralysing your white blood cells from the first meal of the day until long after you’ve turned in for the night.

Fat chance of defending yourself
Excess fat intake raises the production of the inflammatory prostaglandin E2. The omega 6 fat arachidonic acid, found primarily in animal products, and overproduced if we eat too many vegetable oils, alters the balance of fats in the membranes of our immune cells, disrupting their function (2).

Saturated fats (which come mostly from animal products, but also occur in large amounts in coconut and palm oils) are even worse, because of their impact on Toll-like receptors, a crucial element of the immune system designed to evaluate what specific type of invader – bacterial, viral, or fungal – is threatening the body (3). Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) is designed to sense the presence of bacteria. In order to carry out its job, TLR4 binds to a part of bacteria called lipopolysaccharide, which is mostly composed of saturated fatty acids (4). A high dietary intake of saturated fats causes TLR4 to constantly ring the alarm bell, announcing to the rest of the immune system that a bacterial invader is present and inciting inflammatory activity to combat it (5). This misguided attack on saturated fat causes intestinal  hyperpermeability (‘leaky gut’), further increasing immune dysfunction and worsening infection control (6). It’s also a major factor in triggering autoimmune disease (7).

Being overweight – or even just having a higher than ideal body fat percentage – compromises your immune function in several ways:

Firstly, fat cells are constantly pumping out inflammatory substances including interleukin (IL-) 1, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) (8). Over time, this constant release of substances that should be deployed only when there’s an infection to fight, may result in a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation – the immune system becomes so blasé about the constant warnings of danger, that it doesn’t respond to a real threat when it should (9).

Secondly, obese people have been found to have significant abnormalities in the number and activity of their infection-fighting white blood cells compared to lean individuals: they have fewer natural killer cells (which kill tumour cells and virus-infected cells), and reduced activity of T and B cells which give the immune system its ‘memory’ – that is, its ability to rapidly respond to bugs that it has encountered in the past, so it’s able to fight them off without you actually getting sick (10).

What this means is that if you’re carrying extra fat mass, you’re more likely to pick up an infectious disease; you’ll feel sicker when you have it (because it’s the inflammatory compounds produced by your immune system, not the bug itself, which cause the malaise, lassitude, fatigue, numbness, coldness, muscle and joint aches, and reduced appetite you suffer when you’re fighting off a bug (11); and you’ll be sicker for longer.

Good bugs, bad bugs
All of us have a diverse mixture of bacteria inhabiting our gut, primarily the large intestine (colon). There are beneficial bacteria (probiotics), which produce vitamins and health-promoting short chain fatty acids such as butyrate; help us to excrete metabolic toxins; and instruct our immune system to fight dangerous invaders while tolerating friendly bugs. Then there are dangerous bacteria (pathogens) which, if they get the upper hand, can produce toxins that can make us sick and even kill us. And then there are bacteria that could swing either way (pathobionts) depending largely on the prevailing food supply that’s available to them.

Broadly speaking, beneficial bacteria prefer to ferment the indigestible portions of carbohydrate (fibre and resistant starch) while unfriendly bacteria thrive on refined carbohydrate, protein and fat (12). So what you choose to eat doesn’t just feed you; it feeds the teeming populations of bacteria that inhabit your gut… for better, or for worse.

Pulling it all together
Back to the woman who posted in the Facebook group I belong to. By pulling the refined carbohydrate, vegetable oils (including saturated vegetables fats such as palm and coconut) and animal products out of her son’s diet, and increasing his intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, she will be essentially deactivating the handbrake that holds his immune system back from effectively combatting the bug that caused his middle ear infection – regardless of whether it’s bacterial or viral. On the other hand, if she gives him antibiotics, she’ll destroy the probiotic bacteria in his gut and further cripple his immune system’s ability to respond appropriately to infection.

Please note that I don’t oppose the use of antibiotics across the board. They are the appropriate prescription for life-threatening bacterial infections. But they’re completely inappropriate, and frankly harmful, for garden-variety middle ear infections and most cases of glue ear. Dietary change should always be trialled for several months before you even think about antibiotics, except in very rare circumstances.

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Does low meat consumption increase or decrease life expectancy in humans?

By Robyn Chuter, 17th Aug 2015

The priests of the Paleo movement constantly preach that humans evolved eating large amounts of meat (for evidence pointing in the opposite direction, see my Hot Topics April 2013 and June 2014 webinars), and that therefore we need to eat meat regularly – as the major source of daily calories – in order to achieve optimal health.

Optimal health may mean different things to different people, I suppose. Young women tend to equate being thin with being healthy, while young men tend to think BIG = healthy.

Less subjectively, one of the ways that statisticians calculate the health status of a nation, or its ethnic or cultural subgroups, is by examining and comparing life expectancy.

I think most people would agree that a diet that promotes optimal health would be one that allows people to live longer, in good physical and mental condition. If the Paleo folks have got it right, people who eat little to no meat should suffer poorer health, and die sooner due to the higher intake of carbohydrate, and lower intake of protein that inevitably accompanies a low- or no-meat diet.

So what does the science show?

Back in 2003, researchers from Loma Linda University in southern California reviewed findings from six different studies of the dietary habits of adults in North America and Europe, and Californian Seventh Day Adventists, to answer the question:

Does eating meat very seldom (less than once a week) increase life expectancy?
The answer, in a word, was ‘yes’. Of the six studies examined, four showed a significant trend toward longer life in those who ate meat infrequently, a fifth study showed a nonsignificant increase in life expectancy in people who ate meat infrequently, and the sixth showed virtually no association between meat eating and longevity (1).

In two of the studies that found an association between lower meat consumption and longevity, it was also found that a longer duration of adherence to a low-meat diet (more than 20 years) contributed to a significant decrease in risk of death, and a 3.6 year increase in life expectancy.

Now, you might be thinking that a 3.6 year increase in life expectancy doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually more impressive than the contribution made by modern medicine – both preventive services and therapeutic interventions – to increased lifespan in the second half of the twentieth century:

“Three of the seven years’ increase in life expectancy since 1950 can be attributed to medical care” (2).
Think about that for a minute. All the innovations in diagnostic technology; cancer screening programs; surgical techniques; device, vaccine and drug development and every other new-fangled thing from 1950 until the article cited above was published in 1995, added just 3 years to life expectancy – and at a truly extraordinary financial cost. To think that the same result could have been achieved just by encouraging people to minimise or avoid eating flesh foods!

For further comparison,

• If every smoker quit smoking, the population as a whole would gain about 1½ years of life expectancy.
• If you’re overweight, you would add roughly 6 months to your own life expectancy if you returned to normal weight, while if you’re obese you’ll gain up to 1½ years.
• If you’re sedentary but otherwise healthy, you could increase your life expectancy by as much as 12 months just by getting off the couch, while if everyone did as much exercise as the fittest people in society, the population would gain 2-2½ years of life expectancy (3).

Now how good does limiting or eliminating meat sound to you?

You may be thinking at this point that maybe there are newer studies than this 2003 review, which provide more support for the Paleo position on the central importance of meat. In a word, nup.

A 2014 literature review found that among Seventh Day Adventists – a population already known for enjoying a roughly 10 year longer life expectancy than the average American – those who avoid meat enjoy

• Lower BMI;
• Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer – especially of the colon risk reduction for cancer of the colon, other sites in the gastrointestinal tract, and prostate; and a dramatically lower risk of dying of breast cancer;
• And a longer life expectancy;

when compared to non-vegetarians (4).

Channelling Professor Julius Sumner Miller, the researchers were inspired to ask ‘Why is it so?’ The answer, it turns out, goes beyond the simple avoidance of meat. When Californian Seventh Day Adventists nudge meat off their plates, they tend to replace it with legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, washed down with extra serves of fruits and vegetables, all of which have been found to have disease-fighting and lifespan-extending properties. British vegetarians, on the other hand, tend to replace the dead animal parts with dairy products and fake meats, which is probably why they don’t enjoy any longer lifespan than health-conscious meat-eaters (5).

So here’s the deal on diet and lifespan: Eating meat regularly will shorten your lifespan, but if you want to add the maximum possible number of years to your life – as well as adding life to your years – you need to eat health-promoting whole plant foods that are rarely eaten by people who eat meat-based meals, not a slab of isolated soy protein doused with salt, artificial colours and flavour enhancers and extruded from a factory production line!

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