Well, here’s a pleasant surprise…I’ve been nominated by Natural Health magazine as a ‘holistic hero’. I’m up there amongst some big names in the natural health field so it’s deeply gratifying (and mightily unexpected). I’m not sure ‘hero’ is the right term but I have been championing natural and integrated health for over twenty years now (yes, that long) so it’s really nice to have some recognition.
Garn! Not sure if the link has taken on that button but if you follow this link you’ll find the survey and I’m the third category. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/QPCJZWH
Every vote gratefully received and please do share the link freely. I’m happily voting for my favourite UK spa, online retailer and all-natural beauty range. Oh, and if you vote, you stand the chance of winning £500 worth of LoveLula vouchers – which would be very tasty.
If you aren’t already aware, I have written over twenty books on natural health and wellbeing. Do feel free to check my page on Amazon – a lot of my older books have now been updated and converted into ebooks and sell for about a quid or so.
Okay, shameless promotion now ending.
Can you cure cancer by diet alone? Could it be as simple as changing the pH of your body from acid to alkaline? A statement flying round the Internet insists that ‘Every single person who has cancer has a pH that is too acidic.’ It’s attributed to Nobel Prize winner Dr Otto Warburg whose argument was that cancer cannot survive in an alkaline environment and so we should all seek to alkalinise our bodies.
One website goes as far as to say: “What you put in your mouth can determine life or death. Starve cancer to death by removing acidic food and liquids, thereby allowing oxygen to return to the cells and the body to return to a normal pH balance.”
Given people are at their most vulnerable following a diagnosis of cancer, the vehemence of the statement – and the suggestion that you are to blame for contracting cancer in the first place through your bad diet – is concerning.
Alkalinity is also big business. There are copious books out there telling you how to follow an ‘alkaline diet’ and many websites sell products promising to turn your body alkaline. At a price of course. Tempted? There’s just one fly in the ointment. Warburg’s major work on cancer was written in 1962 and The American Institute for Cancer Research rejected the idea out of hand back in 2008. So why is it still being advocated? What is the truth?
‘All cancer bodies are oxygen depleted, highly acidic, and thus have a very low pH balance,’ insisted Dr Warburg. He believed that cancer cells maintain a lower pH (as low as 6.0), due to lactic acid production and elevated levels of CO2. He believed there was a firm correlation between pH and oxygen. A higher (alkaline) pH meant a higher concentration of oxygen molecules while a lower (acidic) pH meant a lower concentration of oxygen.
His ideas have gained a wide acceptance in the world of natural medicine. Alla Svirinskaya, a medically trained healer and author of Energy Secrets (Hay House) says, ‘Paying attention to the pH of our food really is at the cutting edge of nutrition and I guarantee that the new buzz in eating will no longer be a debate about whether you eat carbs or not, or what the GI of your food is – instead everyone will be asking what pH your food is.’
She states that, for optimum health, the pH of our blood should be 7.4, in other words, alkaline. ‘When the pH of your body shifts too far to the acidic side, you tend to become ill. Excess acid accumulates in your bones and joints. It has been said, “You are not what you eat, but what you absorb”. A stable pH helps you absorb food, vitamins and minerals in an optimum manner. It also will stabilise your emotions and reactions, as proven by much research.’
Bharti Vyas, author of The pH Balance Diet (Amorata Press) agrees: ‘All the food we eat ‘burns’ with oxygen in our cells to produce energy – our fuel,’ she says. ‘This digestion process generates an internal ‘ash’ that is acidic, alkaline or neutral. When acidic residue accumulates internally, it slows the body down, causing low energy, poor health and weight problems.’
She goes on to say that, ‘If you’re regularly eating too many acid-forming foods, you will be more vulnerable to infection – from candida to frequent colds and flu… you are likely to have many minor, and some not so minor, symptoms.’
However detractors say the theory makes no sense whatsoever.
Dr Gabe Mirkin, associate professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of several books on fitness and nutrition pours scorn on the idea. ‘No foods change the acidity of anything in your body except your urine,’ he says. ‘Your stomach is so acidic that no food can change its acidity. An entire bottle of calcium pills or antacids would not change the acidity of your stomach for more than a few minutes.’
All foods that leave your stomach are rendered acidic. Then they enter the intestines where secretions from the pancreas neutralize the stomach acids. ‘So no matter what you eat, the food in the stomach is acidic and the food in the intestines is alkaline,’ continues Mirkin. ‘You cannot change the acidity of any part of your body except your urine. Your bloodstream and organs control acidity in a very narrow range. Anything that changed acidity in your body would make you very sick and could even kill you.’
So can we confidently dismiss the idea and return to eating whatever we wish? It seems not.
Kevin O’Hagan, Health Promotion Manager for the Irish Cancer Society is keen to point out that diet is important, both for general health and following a cancer diagnosis. ‘Diet can help reduce the risk of cancer and it can also help you get back on track after a cancer diagnosis,’ he says. ‘Our simple advice to the general public and cancer survivors is to eat a healthy diet, be physically active and maintain a healthy weight.’
But what about the alkaline diet? ‘Studies are not conclusive in this matter,’ he says. ‘More convincing evidence is required before we can recommend this particular diet.’
Nutritional therapist Lowri Turner, author of The S-Factor Diet (Duncan Baird) is equally cautious. ‘I think a dose of healthy scepticism is wise, particularly when dealing with cancer,’ she says. ‘No reputable complimentary therapist would ever suggest abandoning conventional cancer treatment for dietary changes, although they can be a useful adjunct.’
‘I don’t think the peer-reviewed research has established a link between an acidic diet and cancer,’ she continues. ‘However, there is a growing belief that our modern acidic diet – high in meat and grains and dairy – may cause inflammation in the body and this is now believed to be at the root of many illnesses. What we do know is that ‘lifestyle factors’ are a contributory cause to many illnesses, including cancer. An unhealthy diet – one high in processed meats, high fat foods, sugar and dairy and alcohol – may be a factor in many diseases.’
So it seems we shouldn’t be too hasty. By dismissing the alkaline diet altogether we could just be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Fretting over the precise pH of your body could be an additional worry when you’re already under stress from a cancer diagnosis. But all the experts agree that, if you want to prevent cancer or kick it into touch, then it really is worth eating the most healthy foods you can. Interestingly, those just may coincide with the alkaline diet.
Cancer-proof your diet?
The Irish Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for a healthy diet that may help prevent cancer.
- Vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and pulses should form the central part of your diet. 34 percent of people in Ireland eat less than the recommended five servings a day. These foods are generally low in calories and fat, while high in vitamins, minerals and fibre. They also contain antioxidants that help protect cells in the body from damage that can lead to cancer.
- Eat less salt. The WCRF Diet and Cancer Report identified salt and salty foods as a likely cause of stomach cancer. Irish people take almost twice as much salt as they need.
- Cut down on red meat. More than 500g of red meat per week can increase the risk of certain cancers (e.g. bowel cancer). In general, limit your intake of foods that contain fat from animal sources.
- Lose weight. There is also strong evidence that being overweight increases the risk for certain cancers.
Alkaline superfoods – the Magnificent Seven?
These foods are all reported to have an alkalising effect on the body, according to Bharti Vyas. They are also generally recognised as being very healthful – so it’s win-win.
- Nuts: Almonds, chestnuts.
- Grains: Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, wild rice.
- Fruit: Apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, melons, figs, grapefruit, grapes, kiwi fruit, lemons, limes, mangos, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, strawberries, tangerines.
- Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, aubergine, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chicory, courgettes, cucumber, endive, fennel, green beans, kale, kelp, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, onions, parsnips, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, radishes, spinach (raw), sweetcorn (fresh, not tinned), sweet potato, watercress.
- Sprouts: Alfalfa, bean sprouts, wheatgrass.
- Spices: Garlic, ginger, parsley, sorrel.
- Honey, tofu, goat’s milk/cheese, carob, soya. (Although tofu and soya are contentious – some nutritional therapists are concerned about their oestrogenic function).
Acidic foods – the Dirty Dozen
Bharti Vyas labels these as the acid-forming foods to avoid. Most (but not all) health experts agree that the majority should be eaten in moderation.
- Meat: beef, pork, bacon, sausages, burgers, pies, ham, faggots, all processed meats and barbecued meat.
- All refined, packaged foods including the majority of cereals containing sugar.
- All ready meals, ‘diet’ meals and ‘fast food’.
- Wine, beer and spirits.
- Carbonated drinks.
- Fried food.
- Eggs, cow’s milk, margarine.
- Biscuits, cakes, crisps and snacks.
- Ice cream.
- White bread, white flour, refined pasta.
- Sugar, salt.
- Cranberries and green bananas.
Some acid-forming foods are fine to eat in moderation (around 20 percent of your daily intake), says Vyas. This is where most health experts would probably disagree – putting lean protein, seeds, nuts, grains and pulses on the ‘good guy’ list.
- Bread (ideally wholegrain, made from grains in the alkaline list).
- Cherries, plums.
- Chicken, lamb, turkey.
- Fish (salmon, cod, sardines, haddock, tuna or any cold-water fatty fish).
- Kidney beans, lentils, lima beans.
- Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Rice (brown), rye, tortillas, oats
- Eggs, cottage cheese, yoghurt.
- Nuts (all)
Irish Cancer Society: www.cancer.ie
Lowri Turner recommends What to Eat if You Have Cancer by Maureen Keane and Daniella Chase (McGraw-Hill).
This feature first appeared in the Irish Daily Mail.
(c) Jane Alexander
Jane Alexander is the author of numerous books on health and wellbeing. See her Amazon page for a full list of titles (many now available for Kindle).
Ti Sana has the ambiance of a monastery: an ancient but very smart monastery. Set in the heart of a small Italian village, midway between Milan and Lake Como, the spa has been created from an eighteenth century noble’s house and is intimate, a cluster of buildings looking inwards on itself – all soft stone and thick rustic beams.
It’s on a firm mission – to bring you to awareness about your health; to encourage you to make conscious choices about your diet, exercise and general lifestyle – and they’re taking no prisoners. The owner, Erica d’Angelo, and her team are young and highly committed – they walk their talk every step of the way. But there’s nothing flakey about this place – everything they do is based on the firmest science they can find.
First stop for any of their detox retreats is a series of tests at the medical spa, followed by a consultation with the spa doctor. There’s no hiding, no fudging the issue – if you fib on your questionnaire about your eating or exercise habits, your sins will find you out as the tests can tell pretty much everything - for instance, not only if you’ve got too much fat, but where it is and what type it is. They can pinpoint deficiencies and highlight any inflammation or weaknesses. It’s pretty grueling and, in my case, quite depressing. Despite being a vegetarian who doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee, and who exercises like a fiend, there was still plenty of concern in my reports. ‘Sometimes you have to tweak what you’re doing,’ says Mario, the physical trainer who is part of the testing team. ‘For instance, you should eat more in the mornings and do your hard physical exercise then too, when your body is naturally producing cortisol, rather than in the evening.’
Food is medicine at Ti Sana and there are three paths to choose. You can go hardcore with a seven day juice detox or opt for the middle path with a raw food diet. Or there’s the ‘energy lifestyle’ which gives you a much wider diet, while still having a strong detox effect. I seriously had more than I could eat on the latter –but a fellow guest (and novice detoxer) struggled with the juice only option and begged for the occasional bowl of soup. The spa isn’t draconian though – if you must have salt and pepper (and olive oil and Balsamic) they’re provided – though you’re encouraged to try sprinkling a little seaweed on instead.
All the food is so squeaky fresh they dub it ‘live food’. The spa grows as much of its fruit and veg as it can, at their own organic garden, and do their own sprouting. Food combinations are chosen very carefully to bring out the nutrients in each meal, so they can be absorbed in the most effective fashion.
Mornings start with a walk along the nearby River Adda, a serene space where you watch the early morning mist unfolding while the swans glide imperiously and the moorhens perform their water acrobatics. Then it’s back for juice (some delicious, some not quite so) before a relatively energetic morning fitness class (rebounding or kickboxing were on the menu when I stayed).
Afternoons usually include some kind of educational talk or demonstration – how to detox, how to cook healthy food, even a trip to a local supermarket to teach you how to read labels and make wise choices for your shopping basket. But it’s not all dour and worthy – guests can also go on a boat trip on the nearby lakes or even check out designer shopping in the renowned outlets around Milan.
Then you need to carve out time for the spa. Again, it’s small but rather lovely. You can take a ‘journey’ through a series of showers (mimicking different types of rain with varying scents), saunas and steams. The ‘salt cave’ is a hydrotherapy pool with one of those light shows that goes through the rainbow and a series of water jets to pummel and massage you. Bowls of walnuts, prunes and apricots are hugely tempting, but if you want to shed pounds as well as toxins, stick to the herbal teas and broths that are on offer all through the day.
The spa menu is broad, a little too broad to my mind –but their detox packages sensibly focus on deep tissue massage, MLD (lymphatic drainage) and body scrubs. The massages I tried were professional, the touch assured.
Ti Sana is small (there are only 22 rooms and they will only take around ten people at a time for detox) so there’s usually a high degree of flexibility around your program. They will also tailor your diet to any health problems you have or any specific issues you need to address. If you don’t feel like showing your detox spots to the world, meals will be brought to your room.
But there’s not much chance of wriggling out of colon hydrotherapy. The team is evangelical about the need for deep cleansing of the colon and everyone takes a trip to the medical spa to sit in the ‘Angel of Water’ for a session. I’m not a fan of colonics but, to be fair, this is the least invasive I’ve had. You are in charge of the controls yourself (although a therapist is on hand and with you in seconds if you need help) and it’s all very discrete. Did I enjoy it? Not really. But it wasn’t unbearable by any means.
All in all, this is the perfect place for the spa pragmatist. If you hate anything wafty or touchy feely; if you just want clear, straightforward and scientific, this is your spot.
On the other hand, if you like feeling nurtured, or if you are a first time detoxer, I’d recommend you travel with a friend – or find somewhere which offers emotional support. Many people find that emotional issues surface when on detox and Ti Sana doesn’t really major in tea and sympathy.
You also need to be aware that you could be sharing the spa with Italians on corporate trips. It can be a little off-putting when on detox to find yourself at supper sitting next to people glugging wine, sipping coffee and even smoking the occasional cigarette.
Ti Sana, Arlate, Italy (www.1711.it). My trip was organized by Wellbeing Escapes (www.wellbeingescapes.co.uk) who offer an exclusive 7-day detox package at Ti Sana from £1,799 (all inclusive, including flights and transfers).
A version of this feature first appeared in Natural Health magazine.
© Jane Alexander
A warm breeze is caressing my skin and I’m almost drunk on the sweet heady fragrance of orange blossom and jasmine. Lying in a hammock at Kaliyoga in the foothills of the Alpujarras in Southern Spain is so supremely relaxing that I keep reading the same page of my book over and over again. The soft hum of bees is replaced by a burst of laughter from the pool and I lift my head. More giggles ensue and curiosity wins the day. I slowly stir myself to wander over and, perching on the end of a sun lounger, join the fun.
If I had only one word to describe Kaliyoga I’d say ‘sociable’. Swiftly followed by ‘laughter’ and ‘warmth’. I don’t think I have ever talked or laughed so much as during my week with a bunch of people who started off as complete strangers. Maybe we were just incredibly lucky, maybe our group just happened to gel, but I also reckon it has something to do with the spirit and soul of Kaliyoga itself.
Our hostess Kaliyana gave us the widest smile as we arrived at the mellow Spanish farmhouse set amongst orange and olive trees. And, yes, we all thought she’d been named for the centre at first. ‘Make yourselves at home,’ she said, pouring us tall glasses of fresh lemonade. ‘Think of this as your place while you’re here.’ And we did. Yes, there are staff and all your needs are met but it feels much more like a holiday home than a hotel.
I’d imagined spending lots of time on my own, writing, thinking, meditating. But I ended up mainly chatting and cackling with my fellow guests. However, although the centre and grounds aren’t large you can easily lose yourself if you need some privacy. If you’ve always wanted to ease yourself into a more conscious way of life but don’t fancy anything too strict, scary or hair-shirt, this has to be the perfect place.
As you’d imagine, yoga rules at Kaliyoga with two sessions most days – one around 9am (lasting 2 hours) and one early evening (90 minutes). Dynamic Yoga is the house speciality but teachers bring their own style to the practice.
The yoga shala is set away from the main buildings, down a track edged by herbs, overlooking an orchard. You leave your shoes at the door and walk into another world. The laughter and giggling fall away to be replaced by a quiet calm.
Our yoga teacher, Lelly, sat cross-legged at the front of the class, flanked by a serene Buddha. Behind her the screens had been drawn back so one entire wall was open to the trees and flowers beyond.
We worked quietly and intently, Lelly’s soft melodious voice guiding us throughout. Most classes started with body awakening exercises or pranayama. We then moved into simple vinyasas (flowing sequences of postures), gradually incorporating more poses, more variations, providing us with the basis of a simple self-practice. Classes always ended with deep relaxation and guided visualisation before we moved into seated postures for a short period of meditation. We closed by chanting Omm together, just three times.
Sometimes Lelly decided we needed a session of Yin Yoga for a change (where you hold postures for around five minutes, giving an acupressure effect on the body) and we also played with partner yoga (huge fun).
Most mornings after class, a group of us would head out walking (there are several superb walks right on the centre’s doorstep) while others opted for therapies (at extra cost). Therapists have all been handpicked and were uniformly excellent. Veteran aromatherapy fans claimed Charlotte’s massage was the best they’d ever had and Thai yoga massage therapist Arantza received similar praise. I opted for energy reading and acupuncture with Yair and had an extraordinary experience, descending into possibly the deepest state of meditation I’ve ever experienced and clearing all kinds of deep family patterns. It felt more akin to shamanism than acupuncture and I found tears silently falling down my face as he gently shifted old blocks and hurts.
I also tried Maya abdominal massage with Philippa, another profound experience in which we investigated why I hold onto weight around my abdomen. Philippa then gave me a very deep (but not painful) back and abdominal massage, working deep into the stomach and pelvis.
Afternoons are generally free and, while some people opt for more treatments or extra sun worshipping duty, you can also go on outings (at extra cost). I was keen to ride up into the mountains and so three of us donned exceedingly unflattering helmets and met our mounts. Sarah, the owner of the stables, decided that Pasha and I would be a good match, on the basis of us sharing the same hair colour, and we clip-clopped down the twisting mountain road before going cross-country, splashing through streams, gallomping up gorges and trotting over open tracks with jaw-staggering mountain views. On our return my fellow riders and I bagged the hot-tub and watched the sun go down over the hills we’d ridden earlier. Quite magical.
Food is a big deal at Kaliyoga. The centre is totally vegetarian and alcohol-free (if you prefer a bit of meat and booze, check out their sister site, set in a hilltop hamlet in the South of France). The week I experienced was a raw superfoods retreat and chef Amanda was incredible. My previous experience of raw food had been less than exhilarating (I can still remember the jaw-ache I got from endless cabbage and carrot salad) but this was truly a revelation. Breakfast could involve a superfood smoothie and fruit salad; lunch might be gazpacho followed by nut and seed falafel, humus and salad; while one memorable supper served raw ‘lasagne’ (the ‘pasta’ was made from sliced courgette and the taste was mindblowingly close to the real thing) followed by ‘cheesecake’ made from avocado. Deceptive and delicious. Naturopath Veronika (a glowing earth mother of a wonder-woman) gave workshops on raw food lifestyle and also on superfoods and by the end of the week we all knew our acai from our ashwagandha, our chia from our chorella and went home determined to keep up our healthy eating.
The only sticking point for me was the lack of single rooms for solo travellers. Although my room-mate was absolutely lovely, I really missed having a space of my own. It’s a vital part of the retreat process for me. But it’s very much a case of horses for courses – some guests paid extra to preserve their privacy, others came with friends and some weren’t remotely bothered about sharing quite small spaces (the tipis are very snug for two). I’d also say that the general yoga retreats maybe aren’t ideal if you’re a very experienced yogi. Some guests found the practice didn’t quite stretch them enough. So maybe look at the weeks they run for more experienced people.
Be warned – the plumbing is delicate so nothing can go down the loos except organic waste (but truly there are no iffy smells) and there are also compost loos (again, perfectly fragrant).
Leaving was hard. We’d bonded into the perfect group – considerate, supportive and deeply fond of one another, despite the differences in our ages (20s to late 50s), circumstances and temperaments. As my car trundled down the rocky lane en route for the airport it struck me that the group had taught me and healed me just as much as the yoga, food and meditation.
The Kaliyoga Raw Superfoods yoga programme costs from £730 to £1045 (depending on accommodation). Cost includes accommodation, food (apart from Wednesday evening meal) and yoga but does not include flights, transfers, treatments and excursions.
I also enjoyed a week at Kaliyoga’s venue in the South of France. See full reviews of both venues at Queen of Retreats.
A version of this review first appeared in Natural Health magazine.
(c) Jane Alexander
The most fashionable trend in cookery is…not cooking. Raw food is on a roll with raw restaurants springing up, not just in California but all over the world. The buzzwords are sprouting, fermenting and dehydrating and the celebrities are falling over themselves to eschew the heat.
It’s easy to see why – raw food bodies tend to be long lean slim bodies. But it’s not just about aesthetics: many people insist they go raw for the supposed health benefits of the diet. Venus Williams started following the regime at the beginning of the year after being diagnosed with auto-immune disease Sjögren’s syndrome. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was also a fan – but unfortunately the diet didn’t prevent him dying of cancer.
Raw restaurants are increasingly fashionable, not just in California, but around the world. Gordon Ramsay recently put a raw food bar in his London restaurant and Claridges hosted a pop-up raw food restaurant.
There are various forms of raw foodism or rawism. While some advocates include raw meat and fish, the majority tend to a vegan or vegetarian diet, uncooked or at least not heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. In principle this means a lot of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Juices and sprouts (as in sprouted pulses and seeds) are big as is wheatgrass and fermented dishes such as sauerkraut. Dehydrating food is also popular.
It’s not a new concept. Back in 1926, Dr Max Bircher-Benner, renowned for his successful treatment of TB patients, advised the adoption of a mainly raw diet and natural health guru Leslie Kenton was advocating the same back in the late 80s.
But the new raw is even more hardcore, some would say faddist. The fresher and rawer the food the better, insist raw enthusiasts, many of whom grow their own vegetables and, in particular, sprout seeds and pulses in their kitchens. And, while Kenton prescribes a mix of raw and cooked food, many raw food gurus insist 100 percent raw is the only way to go.
The health arguments rely on the claim that cooking destroys the nutrient content of foods, in particular enzymes – the ‘life energy’ of the plant- and that beans, fruits, vegetables, even dairy are most nutritious when eaten raw. Elaine Bruce runs the Living Foods Program in the UK and is author of Living Foods for Radiant Health (Element). ‘Living foods still have their enzymes intact,’ she says. ‘Undestroyed by heat, wilting, storage or any other damage.’
She points out that raw food contains a host of beneficial nutrients. For instance, berries contain ellagic acid which neutralises carcinogens before they can damage DNA. Cruciferous vegetables contain ICT (isiothiocyanates), now linked to a lower incidence of cancer. Phytooestrogens (found in plants) protect against too much fake oestrogen found in pesticides and plastics.
‘The individual constituents of raw and living foods contain specific protective agents against cancers and other degenerative diseases,’ states Bruce unequivocally.
Research however is mixed. A 2005 study in The Journal of Nutrition analysed health markers in 200 people following a raw food diet for an average of 3.5 years. Overall the raw diet was associated with low ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides which is all to the good. But, on the minus side, nearly 40 percent of the participants were vitamin B12 deficient and nearly half had low ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Why? Simply because, while cooking destroys some nutrients (like vitamin C), it enhances others. For example, when tomatoes are cooked they release more of the active constituent lycopene than when consumed raw.
Christopher Wanjek, author of Bad Medicine (John Wiley), pours scorn on the question of plant enzymes being destroyed by cooking. ‘Enzymes are proteins that serve as catalysts for specific biochemical reactions in the body.’ he says. ‘There are many forms and, yes, heat can destroy enzymes. But plant enzymes, which raw dieters wish to preserve, are largely mashed up with other proteins and rendered useless by acids in the stomach. Not cooking them doesn’t save them from this fate. Anyway, plant enzymes are for plants. They help with the plants’ growth, and they are responsible for the wilting and decomposition of plants after they are harvested. They are not needed for human digestion. Human digestive enzymes are used for human digestion.’
He also points out that a raw food diet could be more dangerous than a cooked diet. While most people are aware of the dangers of poorly cooked meat, a vegetarian diet is not immune from bacteria and parasites. ‘Major and surprising sources of food-borne illness are raw sprouts, green onions and lettuce,’ he says. ‘These must be washed thoroughly before consumption. Raw (unpasteurized) milk is dangerous and mostly illegal to buy; trust your source. Raw (sprouted) kidney beans and rhubarb are poisonous.’
He also wonders about the ‘natural is best’ philosophy. ‘One needs to question why a so-called natural diet leaves the dieter dependent on pills for B12 (impossible to get without animal products, such as meat or eggs) or zinc (very hard to get on a raw diet).’
He feels that a macrobiotic diet (vegan but mixing cooked and raw food) is actually a healthier alternative. But overall, Wanjek just advises commonsense. ‘Humans have evolved to eat a wide range of food. We should welcome the take-home message of the raw food diet – that eating fresh vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds is generally good for you. But lighten up, and light the stove from time to time.’
The ‘Raw Chef’, Russell James is, perhaps surprisingly, in agreement with this kind of middle line. ‘I am beyond passionate about raw food,’ he says. ‘I have seen amazing things happen to people through a healthy diet and the incorporation of raw food into their daily lives. That said, it’s all about starting with what feels right for you, and working from there. I believe it is possible to be very healthy on a 100 percent raw food diet, but it’s not necessarily practical for everyone.’
But while a raw food diet may be all well and good in summer or in hot climates, surely it’s asking too much to stick to salads and cold meals when it’s cold and wet outside? Isn’t it all just a bit faddish?
‘Healthy eating can never be a fad,’ says James. ‘It’s about making a conscious decision to fuel your body with the best possible food at every meal.
As far as the seasons are concerned, most people would be amazed what you can do with winter produce. We actually just finished a full set of quick “everyday” meals using only winter produce for my latest series. I decided to incorporate a few cooking techniques such as making fluffy quinoa, lightly steaming vegetables, and basic baking to really satisfy those winter cravings.’
Ah, so not 100 percent raw then? Personally I think it’s a case, as it so often is, of moderation being the key. Nobody would argue that we should all include more fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds in our diet. But keep it balanced – particularly in the cold winter months. It’s just too raw out there to go entirely raw inside too.
Many raw food recipes are incredibly simple but Russell James says you can also make quite sophisticated dinner party dishes ‘all raw’. These recipes are all reproduced (with permission) from his website The Raw Chef – http://www.therawchefblog.com
Stuffed Vine Leaves with Mint Cashew Aioli
Vine leaves are rich in nutrients (vitamins C, A, E, K, B6 plus a host of minerals) and have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Cauliflower is a good source of vitamin C and manganese (plus a wide range of carotenoids) that help protect the body from free radical damage and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Cinnamon is also an antioxidant, with strong antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Makes 16+ stuffed vine leaves
For the vine leaves
3 cups cauliflower or parsnip
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
5 spring onions
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 2+ hours, then chopped into thin strips
2 cups tightly packed fresh mint, minced
1/2 cup raisins, roughly chopped
Pickled vine leaves.
- Pulse the cauliflower/parsnip in a food processor until it has a rice-like consistency. Transfer to a large bowl.
- In a high power blender blend the olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, lemon juice, sea salt and spring onions until creamy.
- Add this mixture to the rice and mix well.
- Add the sun-dried tomatoes, mint and raisins to the mixture and mix again.
- Now take one vine leaf at a time and place it stem-side up on a chopping board or sushi rolling mat if you prefer. Place between 1 and 2 tablespoons worth on the mixture on the leaf, depending on the size of the leaf.
- Roll up the leaf from the bottom first and tuck in the side bits after the first roll. I find it helps to brush olive oil on to the leaf at this point to help it stick.
- Once the sides are in, finish rolling upwards to make a neat little package. You may not get this first time but keep practicing and have fun with it.
- Continue until all the mixture is used.
For the mint cashew Aioli
1 cup cashews
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon agave
1 teaspoon lemon zest
5 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup tightly packed mint
- Place all ingredients except the mint in a high power blender until creamy.
- Add the mint to the blender and pulse in so to leave mint visible in the aioli.
- Serve with stuffed vine leaves.
Serves nine large portions. Can be made in a lasagne dish, or made as individual portions on the plate.
This dish is a powerhouse of nutrients. Macademia nuts are high in phytosterols, powerful antioxidants which have been associated with a decreased risk of cancer. Both macademia nuts and walnuts are high in healthy, heart-protecting and anti-ageing fats. Spinach is also packed with vitamins and minerals (it’s a particularly rich source of vitamins A, C, E, K).
2 cups macadamias, soaked 4 hours or more
1 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 yellow pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water as needed
- Process all ingredients together adding as little of the water as possible until a fluffy consistency is achieved.
Walnut “meat” layer
1/2 cup walnuts, soaked 1 hour or more
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 1 hour or more
1 tablespoon dark/brown miso
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 tablespoon nama shoyu
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon agave nectar
- Grind all ingredients in a food processor, leaving the mixture slightly chunky.
1 1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 2 hours or more
2 soft dates
2 cloves garlic
2 cups tomato, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Process in a food processor until smooth.
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
3/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Process all ingredients, leaving plenty of chunkiness.
6 cups torn spinach
5 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Place all ingredients in a bowl to marinade and wilt for 1 hour or longer, putting the covered bowl in a dehydrator will help this process but it’s not essential.
For the assembly
-5 medium courgettes, cut lengthwise and marinated in 1 tablespoon of salt and 3 tablespoons olive oil for 10 minutes.
Pinch black pepper
- Line the base of your dish with a layer of the courgette strips that slightly overlap.
- On top of this put down a layer of the walnut meat, then the cheese, then tomato sauce and finally the pesto on top.
- Finish this with another layer of slightly overlapping courgette strips.
- Repeat step 2 but before adding the final layer of courgette, take your wilted spinach and create an additional layer with that.
- Placing the whole dish in the fridge for several hours will firm it all up slightly which will make it easier to cut into portions.
- Garnish individual portions with black pepper and a sprig of basil.
Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake
Makes one 7” cheesecake
Pumpkins are rich in alpha and beta carotene, which may help reduce the risk of breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration. Phytochemicals found in pumpkin can help balance insulin and glucose levels, and reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Pecans are rich in antioxidants and plant sterols, again helping to reduce bad cholesterol. They may also help delay age-related muscle nerve degeneration. Cashews, like all tree nuts, are a good source of antioxidants. They are also high in the trace minerals copper, iron and zinc.
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup oat flour
7 apricots, diced
1/2 cup raisins, diced
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp coconut butter
- Grind all ingredients in a food processor.
- Press into the cheesecake pan.
1 3/4 cups cashews, soaked for 20 minutes
1 cup diced pumpkin flesh
1 cup carrot juice
1/4 cup honey or coconut nectar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lecithin
1 vanilla pod scrapings
1/2 cup melted coconut butter
2 tsp mixed spice
- Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth.
- Pour over base.
- Set in fridge and allow to set for 4+ hours, preferably overnight.
- Serve with a scoop of your favourite vanilla ice-cream.
Many place now run raw food retreats – I’d highly recommend those run by Kaliyoga in Spain. The food is totally delicious.
Jane Alexander is the author of over twenty books on natural health and wellbeing – many are now available in digital form for Kindle. See her Amazon author page here for full details.
This feature first appeared in the Irish Daily Mail
(c) Jane Alexander
I love ayurveda, the 5,000 year old system of Indian mind-body spirit medicine. In fact, I love it so much I wrote an entire book about it. Yet I hadn’t had a dose of ayurvedic cleansing for many years and was yearning for some of its deep pampering treatments.
Would I have to trek over to India or Sri Lanka to get my abhyanga and shirodhara fix? It seemed not. I could fly to Saltzburg and be at Schloss Pichlarn less than two hours later. No jet lag, no sirree.
Saltzburg? The Austrian mountains seem an unlikely venue for exotic ayurveda but, in fact, it’s not as strange as it sounds. Ayurveda became very popular in Germany and Austria in the 90s and there is a wide choice of ayurvedic spas in these most firmly western countries.
Schloss Pichlarn has been developed around an old castle (complete with turrets) with a vast slab of mountain behind. It’s big and grand (but not remotely stuffy) with all you’d expect from a large luxury hotel (there’s a golf course, tennis courts and the restaurant is first rate so if you want to visit with non-ayurvedic-minded partners or friends, they can easily do your own thing). Plus if you want to bring children or dogs, that’s cool too. There are family suites and even ‘dog suites’, handily located on the ground floor for immediate external access.
But I was there for the ayurveda. I’d been feeling a bit out of balance and wanted a tune-up so my first port of call was to see the in-house ayurvedic doctor. Dr Hans Schaffler has been practicing ayurveda for over twenty years. He welcomed me to his consulting room and reached for my wrist. Ayurvedic doctors primarily use pulse diagnosis for an uncannily accurate picture of their patients.
‘Your gall bladder is waving at me,’ he said with a smile. ‘Any idea why?’ I slammed my hand to my mouth: I had clean forgotten to mention my gallstones on my pre-consultation questionnaire. The rest of his diagnosis was equally spot-on, not just physically but also emotionally. It really was uncanny. He was a little concerned at my liver (my red wine fest coming home to roost maybe?) and concluded that my abdomen had issues. I lay on his couch and he probed and prodded, twisting and tweaking deep into my large and small intestine, explaining what was working well and what wasn’t as he worked to tonify this vital organ.
My prescription was two bottles of herbal tablets and a whole lot of bodywork at which point I broke into a broad smile. ‘We’ll start tomorrow,’ he said. ‘For today…just relax.’ I nodded but I’m not really the relaxing type, not when there’s a well-equipped gym, a whole pile of interesting looking fitness classes, two incredible pools and a delicious spa with sauna, two steam rooms and an infrared cabin to investigate. Not to mention miles upon miles of clean fresh air and mountain around the Schloss to explore.
But an overnight flight with no sleep had given my body other ideas so I found myself flaking out on a waterbed in the relaxation area, under a rooftop glass pyramid.
The next day (having slept for about fourteen hours in all) I woke to a hideous headache. But I dutifully hauled myself off to the gym for a session with personal trainer Christoph. ‘Are you feeling okay?’ he said.
‘Not really,’ I replied. ‘I’ve got a stonking headache.’
‘Then I prescribe no exercise,’ he said with a smile. ‘Not today. Just rest.’
Was he in cahoots with Dr Schaffler? For someone as driven as me the concept of rest comes tough. But my body was nodding vigorously with Christoph and so I went to the pools. The indoor pool is lovely but if you walk down a set of steps to one side of it, into water, you come to a pair of glass gates. As you approach they glide open and you swim straight out into the open air pool, deliciously warm and with uninterrupted views of the mountains. It was sheer heaven, especially first thing in the morning as stream rose off the surface – it felt like swimming in the dragon’s breath. I felt my headache clear and waves of tension just drop off me.
But this was just the start of my lessons in relaxation. Up on the fifth floor, behind a heavy sound-proofed door is where the ayurvedic treatments are carried out. The mood up here is quite different – Indian music plays quietly and the scent of herbs and spices tints the air. The therapists were just gorgeous – so gentle and kind, they almost made me cry. Monica settled me in a chair with a view over the mountains and reverently massaged my head. She then arranged me on the couch (you’re completely naked but really, it’s not an issue) and called in her partner. Many ayurvedic treatments are performed by two therapists working in tandem so you have four hands working simultaneously on you. It is – I promise – just the most heavenly experience. Every single part of your body (well, nearly) is given the oiling treatment – even my knees were massaged. And, once again, they paid attention to my abdomen (making me realise how often this part of the body is ignored).
Dr Schaffler had prescribed a variety of treatments over my stay: relaxing and balancing abhyanga; soothing shirodhara; stimulating vishesh; metabolism-boosting udvartana and abdominal toning udara. Everything was performed with such care and compassion, it made me feel quite blessed.
The hotel was quiet when I visited and often I had the spa to myself, drifting from steam room to sauna to the waterfall showers in a quiet world of my own. No piped music here which is bliss. Occasionally my stomach would grumble and I’d realise it was time to eat. The beauty of ayurveda is that even detox food is cleansing and comforting. Breakfast involved herbal smoothies, spiced porridge and softly stewed fruit. Lunch (the largest meal of the day) is self-service in the spa bar –with lassi (a yoghurt drink), poppadoms and chutneys to start, then soup followed by a simple but delicious main course. There were usually three pudding choices (I confess I often sampled all three).
Supper took place in the more formal main restaurant – a mere two courses this time, purposefully light as digestion is slower in the evening. Yet despite all this food, I still somehow lost five pounds in less than a week.
Yes, I did some exercise but, to be honest, not as much as I could. Aqua zumba in the indoor pool was a laugh and Christoph persuaded me to try the Miha Bodytech (electro-muscular stimulation). This involved stripping down and putting on what he called ‘special clothes’- plain t-shirt and leggings. ‘No sports bra?’ I wailed. He shook his head firmly. He and his assistant then helped me into a zip-up waistcoat with wires sprouting all over it. They plugged me into the Miha and proceeded to shoot a current through all my body as I did slow squats and very slow repetitions with light weights. It was different and interesting but I think I’ll stick to yoga.
By the end of my stay I could have been awarded a PhD in relaxation. I was so chilled that when Dr Schaffler said he was prescribing an oil basti (basically an enema) I just smiled and said, ‘Whatever.’ And it was absolutely fine. My skin was glowing, my eyes were bright and for the first time in my life I felt something approaching a state of peace with my body.
If you’re new to the idea of ayurveda and want something geared to Western sensibilities, while still remaining true to the therapy’s origins and precepts, I’d heartily recommend Schloss Pichlarn. It’s the best of all worlds.
Live Well – the ayurvedic way to health and inner bliss by Jane Alexander is now available in e-format from Amazon.
Thanks to Wellbeing Escapes who organised my break at Schloss Pichlarn.
A version of this feature first appeared in Natural Health magazine.
(c) Jane Alexander
You’d be hard-pressed to find a celebrity nowadays who isn’t sipping freshly pressed juice. Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Cattrall, Demi Moore, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Nichole Ritchie, Reese Witherspoon, Alicia Silverstone, Colin Farrell…the list goes on and on. It’s not hard to see why – juicing is touted as the elixir of youth, a magic bullet for preventing or curing disease and the holy grail of weight loss all squeezed into one glass. In Hollywood juice cafes are virtually considered temples.
You can simply incorporate the odd glass of juice into your daily diet or, as many of the A-listers do, give yourself the occasional juice ‘detox’, drinking nothing but juice for a few days or even a few weeks.
‘Juicing is great because you can take concentrated nutrients from a whole lot of fruits and vegetables,’ says Erica D’Angelo, who runs juice retreats at the Ti Sana spa in northern Italy. ‘Normally you simply wouldn’t be able to eat that amount at once. You’re consuming a substantial quantity of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help prevent the majority of diseases – from colds to cancer.’
Karen Boyle, head of Anamchara juice retreats in the UK, is equally evangelical about the health-giving power of juice. ‘We have seen dramatic improvements in conditions such as fibryomyalgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, ME and fibroids,’ she says. ‘One girl came to us with fibroids (having been trying to get pregnant for many years). She had them clear up completely within seven days of juice fasting and then conceived a few months after leaving the retreat.’
Boyle describes juice fasting as ‘taking an internal shower’, believing that pretty much everyone could benefit from a programme of juicing. ‘Our bodies have the innate ability to self-heal,’ she says. ‘They just need the right environment to do so. The idea of juice fasting is to completely minimise the work the digestive system has to do. The body cannot digest and optimally repair/heal at the same time – otherwise none of us would get sick.’
Juice detoxing achieves this, its proponents say, by injecting a hefty punch of nutrients, including disease-fighting antioxidants, into the body. As Boyle explained, the theory is that, because nutrients are so easily absorbed by the body in juice form, the digestive system requires a fraction of its usual energy to process them, hence freeing up resources to work on detox and repair. In addition, juicing is said to help alkalise the body, easing inflammation (said to cause disease and ageing) and allowing cells to return to their optimal state. It’s a bit like giving an engine a tune-up using the best quality oil.
However, the majority of people go on juice detox to shed pounds. With most juice only programmes clocking in at around 550 calories a day, weight loss is inevitable. ‘You can lose three kg (seven pounds) in seven days, depending on your metabolism and how much physical activity you do,’ says D’Angelo. ‘Weight loss varies,’ says Boyle. ‘Men tend to lose more than women but the average loss for one of our seven day retreats is 9-13 pounds though one person lost 18!’
However bear in mind that, while you will clearly lose weight if you follow a juice-only programme for a week or so, simply adding juices to your normal diet could actually make you put on pounds. Juices can be quite heavy on calories – with fruit tending to be far more calorific than vegetables.
Not everyone is convinced by the value of juicing for health either. Detractors say that you lose nutrients by juicing and deprive your body of essential fibre. For example, one medium apple eaten whole (including skin) contains 4.4g fibre and one percent vitamin C while once juiced its fibre content drops to 0.2g and its vitamin C to just one percent. Hence some naturopaths advise ‘pulping’ rather than juicing.
Registered dietician Lyndel Costain is one of those wary of the claims made by juicing enthusiasts. ‘Yes, juices will provide vitamins, especially C and folate, plus beneficial phytochemicals,’ she says. ‘But these can be readily absorbed from a variety of different plant foods. In fact, carotenoids (e.g. beta carotene, lutein, lycopene), rely on some fat or oil for optimal absorption and phytochemicals work synergistically with one another, and with other vitamins and minerals.’
She is also sceptical about the alkalising claims. ‘Our body very carefully regulates its pH value, so I don’t agree with that theory.’ However she doesn’t totally dismiss the value of juicing in general, or of juice fasting in particular.
‘If people feel that a day or two on a juice fast will kick them into healthier habits then that’s their choice,’ she says. ‘Plenty of fruit and veg can also mean more alkaline urine which can help optimise calcium balance and potentially benefit bone health. But overall I’d recommend people generally follow a varied healthy diet rich in fruit and veg (of different colours) alongside other nutrients – for instance, selenium (found in fish, nuts etc.) amplifies the benefits of glucosinolates found in cruciferous veg like watercress and broccoli.’
Miranda Vinall of spa and detox experts Wellbeing Escapes, also sounds a note of caution. ‘To detox in the most effective and healthful way, you need to support your body with certain nutrients,’ she says. ‘Also you should be careful with the kinds of juice you are drinking. They must be fresh and preferably vegetable. Fruit juices contain a lot of sugar, which even though it’s natural, can be hard on the liver during a cleanse.’
But the juice gurus stick to their guns. Karen Boyle freely admits that there isn’t a plethora of research behind juice drinking and fasting, pointing out that random clinical trials are expensive and geared towards pharmaceuticals. ‘All the evidence in the juice fasting world is anecdotal, lying in case studies and common sense,’ she says. ‘But we’ve seen over 500 people enjoy dramatic improvements in their health. Like the 72-year old man who had suffered fibromyalgia for 20 years before attending a retreat: his symptoms cleared up within the week.’
So, like most things in life, you have to suck it (or rather sip it) to see.
The super juices
Try combining vegetables to get a variety of nutrients and to make strong-tasting flavours more palatable.
- Beetroot: high in iron and trace elements, it helps protect the liver and bile ducts. However it is high in sugar so check with a doctor if you have diabetes or blood glucose problems.
- Carrot: packed with antioxidants, carrot can help battle disease and ageing. Its essential oils also improve digestive function and may even help balance weight.
- Celery: a strong alkaline which may help rheumatic and arthritic conditions. Helps to regulate the water balance in the body and may also soothe insomnia.
- Watercress: the plant draws a multitude of vital elements from the soil. It is rich in vitamins A, C and E, and the minerals iron, potassium, zinc and calcium. It helps to cleanse the blood and may help rheumatic conditions; it’s soothing for PMS and is a good expectorant.
DIY two-day juice fast
Ti Sana has put together a two-day juice fast programme especially for you to try at home.
It is safe for most people but would not be suitable if you are an insulin-dependent diabetic, have hypoglycaemia, have an eating disorder, have severe anaemia, are pregnant or breastfeeding. Always seek advice from your doctor if you have any serious health problem or are on medication.
Ideally follow this over a weekend, or when you don’t have to do a lot of physical work. Prepare for your juice detox by slowly cutting down on caffeine, sugar, alcohol and processed foods in the week before (or you might experience headaches). Make each juice fresh and drink immediately – the quantities given are for one serving of juice.
There are hordes of home juicers on the market but many are hard to use and very difficult to clean. Having tested a variety, I recommend the Oscar VitalMax 900 (www.vitality4life.co.uk)
Sip the juice slowly. Use organic fruit and veg if possible, to avoid pesticides. Each day’s juices contain around 500 kcals.
½ lemon with peel
Handful of kale or spinach
2 celery stalks
Handful of kale
1 fennel bulb
1 pear (not overly ripe)
1 large ripe tomato (or several small)
½ red or yellow pepper
100 g apple
100 g fennel
100 g courgette
100 g carrot
100 gr white grapes
1 handful of parsley
½ green pepper
Thick slice of onion
Slice of lemon
1 fennel bulb
2 stalks of celery
½ beetroot raw
Handful of kale
Handful of broccoli
½ green apple
Where to juice fast
If you want to juice fast beyond two days, it’s best to do it under supervision. The following spas offer guided juice fasting.
- Ti Sana Detox Retreat and Spa – Italian 5 star spa offering doctor-supervised juicing from 3 days to three weeks. www.tisanaspa.it
- Anamchara – popular UK detox retreat offering 7-day weight loss juicing programmes. www.anamcharadetox.com
- Ard Nahoo – a 5-day softer option (including smoothies) from this Co.Leitrim retreat centre. www.ardnahoo.com
- Shanti Som – 7 day juice detox at this smart new Spanish spa. www.shantisom.com
- Middle Piccadilly – long-established UK retreat centre offers tailor-made juice detox to suit individual needs. http://www.middlepiccadilly.com
Jane Alexander is the author of The Detox Plan (now available in an updated Kindle version) and many other books on natural health and wellbeing. See Amazon page here:
This feature originally appeared in the Irish Daily Mail
(c) Jane Alexander