The Blonde Ethos

A SMART APPROACH TO FIT + HEALTHY LIVING

STEVIA: A NATURAL SUGAR ALTERNATIVE

Health, NutritionNatalie GoodchildComment
Quest-Bar-Nutrition-Stevia-Sweetener

Choose a natural alternative to sugar + artificial sweetener

Sugar is getting some unfavourable coverage in the media at the moment, as it has been linked to a range of health issues. Quite simply, I think that a good rule of thumb is to avoid added (not naturally occurring) sugars, but not to get hung up on the idea of avoiding sugar altogether.

However, there are times that it isn’t convenient to grab something in its most natural form. Sometimes you need to grab a refreshing soft drink or fuel up with a protein supplement, and you expect them to taste sweet.

Like a lot of people, I dislike the idea of putting artificial ingredients in my body and I don’t enjoy the artificial taste of sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, so I have long sought out products that use stevia as an alternative.

WHAT IS STEVIA?

Stevia is a natural, calorie-free sweetener that comes from the stevia rebaudiana plant. The sweetness itself comes from steviol glycosides, which are extracted from the leaves of the plant and purified.

Gram for gram, stevia is between 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), which means a far smaller quantity of stevia is used in comparison.

While doing my research I also discovered that because stevia is so intensely sweet, it requires a lot less land and water to provide the same amount of sweetness as other mainstream sweeteners, making it a more carbon-footprint-friendly option!

WHERE TO FIND STEVIA

Stevia is appearing more and more frequently in the ingredients lists of a variety of food and drink products, making natural, lower-calorie options more widely available.

AS AN EXTRACT

Stevia can be bought alone (there are lots of stevia products on amazon such as from the brand Natvia) to use as a sweetening agent however you desire, such as in a cup, of tea or when baking healthy treats. It may be in powder or liquid form.

IN PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS

Protein powders aimed at the body-conscious tend to avoid adding extra calories to their supplements by using sugar-alternatives. Most commonly, sucralose is used as a sweetener, but brands are increasingly adding stevia options to their growing range of flavours. For example, MyProtein now offer a selection of stevia flavors in their popular Impact Whey Protein.

STEVIA-SWEETENER-V-WATER

IN FOOD PRODUCTS

While stevia doesn’t appear to be as commonly used in food products, there are some protein-based snack bars that have incorporated stevia options into their product ranges.

Some flavours of Quest Bars avoid artificial sweeteners entirely. My favourite that uses only natural sweeteners, stevia and erythritol (also a natural sweetener), are the Double Choc Chunk Quest Bars, which I always manage to find cheapest through Amazon.

IN SOFT DRINKS

While I prefer to carry a bottle of water with me wherever I go, if you are prone to grabbing a soft drink on the go, it's good to know that stevia has become more common place in the soft drinks market.

BENEFITS OF USING STEVIA AS A SWEETENER

IT'S NATURAL

“Naturalness” has become a bit of a buzzword that has become synonymous with healthiness. However, remember that there are plenty of natural substances that are harmful, so always be wary. Nevertheless, stevia is recognised as safe, and so makes a good alternative to artificial sweeteners.

IT'S SUGAR-FREE + CALORIE-FREE

Steviol glycosides have zero calories on their own, and so are a great option to people looking to manage their weight without cutting out all sweet treats.

While I wouldn’t advocate cutting out all sugar in favour of stevia, I highly recommend seeking a stevia alternative to products that historically contain added sugar, such as soft drinks.

What’s your favourite product that takes advantage of stevia as a sweetener?

YorkTest Food Intolerance Test Review - My Results

Health, Nutrition, ReviewsNatalie GoodchildComment
Food&DrinkScan-YorkTest-Food-Intolerance-Review

Eliminate the Guess Work with a YorkTest Food&DrinkScan

As I mentioned in my Food Intolerance Test Guide, which looked at gut health, as well as symptoms and types of food intolerance, having an inflammatory reaction to foods can massively affect your wellbeing. As I’m always determined to better my body, I took the comprehensive Food&DrinkScan from YorkTest* to learn about my unique ‘food fingerprint’ so that I can tailor my diet for optimal health and fitness.

While a standard elimination diet could help me identify food intolerances, they take a lot of time and effort, and are very difficult to conduct, with some symptoms taking hours or days to present themselves. YorkTest have banished the guess-work by providing me with a specific list of foods to which my body is reactive, so that I have the perfect starting place for improving my diet.

My Food Intolerance Test Results

After doing my part of the testing (I detailed the Food Intolerance Test Process in my guide), my results arrived back with me within a few days. I was so excited to see them, but they weren’t quite what I was expecting.

The accompanying letter stated that I had a high number (25) of reactions and borderline reaction ingredients that were tested for.

Some foods I already suspected that I was intolerant to or had an unexplained dislike for, but others came as a complete surprise.

Essentially, the protocol from here is to eliminate the foods that I am reactive to, and eliminate or reduce my consumption of borderline foods (which may or may not elicit a reaction).

All of my reactions can be seen in the images within this post, but especially after talking to Sarah, the YorkTest nutritionist, there are some results that are worth mentioning in a little further detail...

Food-Intolerance-Test-Results

Egg

I showed a reaction to both egg white and egg yolk. I’m not very fond of eggs and only recently learnt to like them when scrambled (I was determined, as they’re such a nutritious food!) so I thought this wouldn’t bother me too much. However, I realise I consume quite a few other foods that contain egg as a hidden ingredient, from pancakes to meatballs. If you can recommend an alternative binding agent for recipes like this, please let me know!

Cow’s Milk

With cow’s milk, the first thing that is important to point out is that this is not an indication of lactose intolerance (as outlined in my Food Intolerance Test Guide post).

The IgG antibodies used in this kind of intolerance testing can only bind with proteins. Therefore, my reaction to cow’s milk is in fact indicating an intolerance to whey and/or casein. Unfortunately the test does not differentiate between the two.

As I consume a lot of protein shakes (predominantly whey) to supplement my high protein intake, this will make a huge impact on my diet (read: at times, thinking about this intolerance result makes me want to jump off a cliff).

I wish that the the scan tested for whey and casein separately because I could easily consume one or the other in isolation if need be.

Screening for whey and casein reactions separately would make this test infinitely more valuable, and I’d love to see YorkTest introduce this kind of testing to reflect the growing popularity of supplements based on these ingredients.

Gluten + Wheat

As I mentioned, this food scan tests a reaction to proteins. Wheat contains four proteins; albumin, globulin, gliadin and gluten. The fact that I am intolerant to wheat, indicates an intolerance to all of these proteins. However, gluten is found in many other food products so this is indicated separately as well.

This came as no surprise to me as I’ve experienced a range of issues when consuming gluten from bloating to extreme lethargy. I’ve avoided having bread on a regular basis for a long time, and haven’t eaten pasta for as long as I can remember (except once during my trip to Technogym Headquarters in Italy).

It’s great to have this intolerance confirmed as I’ll now make more effort to avoid gluten in other, less obvious, products, such as soy sauce.

Yeast

My reaction to yeast is one that I found particularly interesting. It isn’t something that I considered I might have an intolerance to, although I know that an overgrowth of Candida (a form of yeast) in the body can have large, and obvious, symptoms (thrush, for example).

While I’d considered that consuming sugary foods which can fuel the growth of yeasts in the body (leading to cravings for even more sugary foods - something I’ve definitely experienced!), I’d never given much thought to the consumption of yeast itself.

But now, it feels like yeast is in everything.

As well as being an integral ingredient within many products, yeasts can also occur naturally, growing on the skin of some berries and soft fruits. It is even present in mushrooms and stock cubes. It’s almost impossible to avoid while having a balanced diet.

Not only that, but all alcoholic drinks depend on yeasts to produce the alcohol, although distilling and filtering will tend to remove most of the yeast. While I’m not much of a drinker, from now on I will be sticking to spirits such as gin or vodka (especially as I’m reactive to many types of grape - and therefore wine!).

One thing that I discussed with the YorkTest nutritionist is that my reaction to yeast could have been influenced by a recent course of antibiotics. She agreed that this could be the case. Just one dose of antibiotics could alter gut flora for up to a year! While this doesn’t really help my situation, it’s definitely interesting to know.

Food-Intolerance-Results-Guide

Resolving Food Intolerances

Thankfully, IgG food intolerances can be resolved. This is because the IgG antibodies in the blood only live for a couple of months. If the problematic foods are avoided for 3-4 months, by the time the food is reintroduced into the diet all the IgG antibodies programmed to attack the food should have left the bloodstream.

However, a lot of people develop intolerances because the gut wall, which separates food ingested from the blood stream, gets damaged by antibiotics, painkillers, alcohol and too much wheat gluten and this may cause incompletely digested food proteins to get into the bloodstream and trigger your immune system to attack.

Therefore, as well as avoiding problematic foods, it’s also important to take actions to repair the gut.

Next Steps

It’s going to be really difficult to cut out my ‘reaction’ foods. It will require a lot of planning and a lot of dedication, but I’m really keen to see what improvements I can notice in my health and wellbeing from persevering with it.

Something that I need to constantly remind myself of, is that inflammation does not always manifest itself in obvious ways. So although I may feel fine, or not notice a particularly uncomfortable reaction, that’s not to say that an issue isn’t present. Especially with an medical condition (read my ‘about me’ section to learn more), I need to make sure that my levels of inflammation are kept as low as possible.

Since getting my results, I’ve got really wrapped up in considering foods in terms of whether I’m intolerant to them or not, and forgetting that just because I’m not intolerant to things, it doesn’t mean that they are okay to consume. Sugar is a great example of this. As I know that I have a problem with yeast (which feeds off sugar), limiting my sugar intake as much as possible will be especially important.

Other things that I will be doing is staying as hydrated as possible (cue me nipping to the kitchen to grab a drink mid-writing flow), and taking supplements that I know to be beneficial for gut health (stay tuned for a future post on this!).

Finally, I’d love to re-test in a few months to see if any of my reactions are different. I’m also really keen to take the Gut Health Test to learn if I have any imbalances in my gut flora that I can correct (and also for my own learning and pure fascination!).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the test, and any advice that you may have regarding how I can amend my diet in the least painful way!

ClassPass - Explore London's best fitness studios

Fitness, LifestyleNatalie GoodchildComment
ClassPass-London-Studio-Map

Exploring London’s Fitness Scene with a ClassPass Membership

For those of you that don’t know, I have just moved to London (after going between Cambridge and London and pretty much living out of a suitcase for a few months). I’m so excited to finally be here permanently, and even more excited to use ClassPass to discover my local fitness hotspots.

ClassPass is a monthly fitness membership that allows you to experience a diverse range of workouts across a network of beautiful, boutique partner studios in participating cities.

ClassPass only launched in London in March, but knowing that they already successfully operate in a multitude of U.S. cities, I was absolutely thrilled to jump on board right away to start exploring .

ClassPass London Studios + Classes

There are thousands of classes available to ClassPass members, including cycling, pilates, yoga, strength training, dance, martial arts, and more. There are outdoor classes, indoor classes, and they are spread all over the city.

I’ve noticed that there’s a large number of yoga and pilates studios and classes, especially, from well-known studios such as TriYoga and TenPilates, to smaller centres with more of a community feel.

There are also some cult studios such a FRAME, 1Rebel and BOOM Cycle that have joined the diverse ClassPass network.

Honestly, there is so much variety and such an incredible quantity of classes available every single day that I usually don’t even know where to start when I log in to book onto some sessions!

I really like the feature on the site that allows you to ‘favourite’ particular studios. I have marked the ones that are closest to me and that I’m particularly keen to try out.

New studios and classes are also being added on a frequent basis so I’m constantly keeping my eyes peeled for exciting email alerts.

ClassPass-Studio-Favourites

How ClassPass Works

As a ClassPass member, you have the freedom to take as many classes as you want per month. However, each studio in the ClassPass network can be visited a maximum of 3 times per month under the ClassPass membership. I think this is a brilliant idea, so that you can get a feel for a studio by taking alternative classes or you can return to your favourites, but you are also compelled to keep variety and excitement in your workout schedule, which is what ClassPass is all about!

It’s so easy to book, even when you’re on the go. The ClassPass website is really well optimised for mobile although I’d love to see an app launched in the near future.
Edit: My wish has been granted; the ClassPass iOS app has landed in London.

Checking in at classes is super easy, too. There are no print outs or vouchers to show, but it’s a good idea to take a photo ID.

If need be, you can cancel your ClassPass membership at any time, or even put it on hold for a month.

Sign Up for a ClassPass Fitness Membership

ClassPass membership is available for just £89 a month - that’s generally cheaper than a membership to a single boutique studio.

Even better, if and when you’re ready to commit, you can sign-up for 3 months for £69 a month or 6 months for £59 a month!

The link below is your invitation to join ClassPass, go ahead and check it out!
Click here for a ClassPass Fitness Membership

If you haven’t yet started your membership, what studios and classes would you be keen to try?If you’re already in the ClassPass club, what are your favourites?

I’ll be doing my best to keep you updated on the best classes that I visit during my membership!

Food Intolerance Test guide

Health, NutritionNatalie Goodchild2 Comments
Food-Intolerance-Test-Guide-YorkTest

Improve your Health by Personalising your Diet

When people tell me various symptoms that they are suffering from, I nearly always recommended that they assess their diet. Now, I also recommend that they consider taking a food intolerance test.

I think that most people dealing with conditions, ranging from mild to chronic, are too willing to blindly accept (or prescribe!) medication when a dietary solution could remove the need for medication entirely, or at the very least complement it.

I’ve read a lot about the importance of gut health and food intolerance, and for a long time have been tempted to do an elimination diet so that I can tweak my diet to achieve optimum health. Elimination diets, however, are very costly, both in time and energy, as well as difficult to determine triggers. YorkTest and their food intolerance testing programme have been a massive help in eliminating the guess-work and giving me reassurance where my health and diet is concerned.

Gut Health and Intolerance

The gut is the epicentre of your mental and physical health, so much so that it is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. For example, as well as playing a huge role in your immune health, 90% of serotonin, the brain’s ‘happy hormone’ is produced in the gut!

There are more bacteria in your gut than cells in your entire body, so when the bacteria are out of balance, it can have a massive impact on your wellbeing.

Things that can cause an imbalance of the bacteria include illness, medication, stress, and the food and drink that you consume.

Like these other triggers, food intolerance is essentially an inflammatory response in your body. So, while food intolerances are generally associated with digestive issues, they can affect many other aspects of health too.

Symptoms of Food Intolerance

It’s true that food intolerances are inextricably linked to gut health, but symptoms are not restricted to your gut.

Digestive Issues

People commonly report feeling bloated after eating certain foods, with symptoms of a tight, uncomfortable tummy and excess gas. Other well-known digestive symptoms include IBS, constipation and diarrhoea.

Skin issues

Conditions such as eczema are atopic (may occur in a part of the body not in contact with the allergen) and caused by skin prone to inflammation. Other dermatological issues associated with food intolerance include acne and itchy skin.

Respiratory issues

Asthma, also an atopic inflammatory condition, can be worsened by food intolerance. The inflammation caused by intolerance can also cause sinusitis, rhinitis, and frequent colds and infections.

Joint Pain

Joint pain symptoms can include aching, stiff or swollen joints. Arthritis suffers frequently report that cutting out trigger foods can reduce their symptoms.

Migraines

People who suffer from migraines may all experience different triggers for their symptoms. A link between food intolerance and migraines has long been suspected, so knowing your personal ‘food fingerprint’ can be highly beneficial.

Fatigue + Mood issues

From feeling sleepy, irritable, and lacking concentration, food intolerance can cause signs of fatigue. The gut is also linked to mental health conditions, such as depression, and mood is incredibly frequently cited as a symptom of intolerance.

Food-Intolerance-Test-YorkTest-Food-Scan

Types of Food Intolerance + Allergy

Food allergies and most food intolerances are caused by the body’s immune system producing antibodies that ‘attack' certain foods as ‘foreign'.

Food intolerances involve an antibody, called IgG, which causes a reaction, which is usually not immediate or severe. Often a person will develop symptoms the day after consuming the problem food, making the source hard to identify.

It is the IgG reaction that YorkTest monitor when testing for food intolerance.

However, there is no one definitive test for food intolerance because it takes on many different forms, which are all tested in different ways. Other kinds of intolerance include:

Food Allergy

Conventional food allergies involve an IgE antibody that tends to cause immediate and severe reactions.

Coeliac Disease

This is a lifelong autoimmune reaction to gluten proteins that damages the gut wall and prevents nutrients being properly absorbed.

Enzyme deficiencies

Lactose and fructose are both sugars and intolerance to these is caused by a lack of enzymes to break them down in the body. A hydrogen breath test can diagnose lactose or fructose intolerance.

Chemical sensitivities

This can include reactions to food additives like tartrazine (E102), caffeine and sunset yellow (E110).

Food Intolerance Testing with YorkTest

YorkTest are highly regarded for Food & Drink Intolerance testing, although they also offer other kind of health tests too.

“YorkTest Laboratories have over 30 years of excellence in laboratory diagnostic testing, and are Europe’s leading provider of food and drink specific IgG antibody testing programmes.

When deciding to test for food intolerance, York Test offer several options. You could start with the ‘First Step’ test which provides a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ indicator of food intolerance. Should you receive ‘yes’, you can follow up with a full test programme.

The comprehensive tests are the FoodScan, which tests reactions to 113 foods, and the Food&DrinkScan, which tests reactions to 158 foods and drinks.

However, with a money-back promise if no reactions are identified, I would recommend launching straight in with a full test programme to fast-track yourself to better health with a little less hassle.

The FoodScan Testing Process

After ordering and receiving your test pack, all that is required of you is a finger prick (to draw a tiny amount of blood to sample) and return of the pack in the pre-paid envelope. It’s a very quick and simple process.

Once it reaches YorkTest laboratories, experts carry out an enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA) test for food-specific IgG antibodies.

The reactions are then clearly, visually indicated on a report, which is sent to you very quickly, and followed up with a call from a nutritionist, to answer your questions and advise you on your next steps.

It’s such a smooth and effortless process to achieve potentially life changing results. While it obviously requires parting with your pennies, you learn invaluable, life-changing information about your body and gain the power to improve your health.

Look out for a follow up post to hear all about my personal experience with the York Test Food & Drink Intolerance Test, my results, thoughts, nutritionist chat, and plan of action.