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Toxins: Kicking the habit

Part 4

I promise this is the last I will speak about diets and all things bad for us for a while! There was a world of information to cover in this topic, and I must admit it’s been very insightful to research and write – I’ve learnt a thing or two and I hope you have as well! For the last in the series I’m covering salt and caffeine – if you’re not a salt addict chances are you’re hooked on caffeine – because us folk in the Western Isle are rather partial to a cuppa, aren’t we? When we go visiting a cup of tea isn’t an option – it’s compulsory! Whenever I overhaul my diet, or detox, the ONE thing I have never been able to kick to the curb is my morning brew. Whenever we’re happy, sad, celebrating or commiserating, the kettle is always bubbling away in the background.

But do we rely a bit too much on our caffeine fix to get us through the day? What would our bodies be like without this added stimulant? And is caffeine actually harmful to our health?

Green toxins (in moderation)


Caffeine is found naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves and in chocolate, as well as being an added ingredient to stimulant drinks, weight control aids and some over the counter medications. I don’t suppose you were surprised when you saw that alcohol, cigarettes, refined fats and sugars were labelled toxic in the previous columns. But it’s not what we immediately think of when a comforting cup of tea or coffee springs to mind! Caffeine is actually very toxic to the body – as when it enters the bloodstream our bodies react quickly by using the adrenalin ‘fight or flight’ hormone. Every time we drink something stimulating such as tea and coffee, we are jolting the nervous system and dehydrating the body – causing immediate stress to the body and brain.

It is also a bit of a nightmare where the waist line is concerned. When we take caffeine, our blood sugar levels are lowered, which in turn causes the brain to demand more sugar in replacement, hence where the tea and cake relationship no doubt started! And that’s before we take into consideration any added sugar we put in these drinks. In addition to the effects on the waistline, caffeine is a bit of a nuisance when it comes to the toilet, as it is a strong diuretic (in laymans terms, it makes you pee a lot!) And it’s not only our waist lines and toilet tales that can be affected...

According to Dr David Kerr, of the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, “Within half an hour of drinking one or two cups [of tea or coffee], the flow of blood to the brain is reduced by 10-20 per cent. Combine that with low blood sugar and you can soon start to have palpitations, feelings of anxiety or blurred vision.”

I can relate to this, as I’ve have palpitations after having strong coffee on more than one occasion, usually if I’ve been feeling particularly tired (a.k.a hungover) – and I probably never made the connection with the fact it was the coffee that was the culprit - the first time I had these palpitations I thought I was having heart failure! In addition to palpitations caffeine increases heart rate, blood pressure and can trigger headaches, restlessness (caffeine is working in the body for up to 6 hours) and can make us irritable.

So we should really face facts – caffeine is not essential to our diets, and can be harmful to our health – time to think about cutting down, or cutting out completely! Coming off caffeine altogether can be difficult for the first couple of days, some experience headaches and feelings of anxiety, but once out of the system the cravings can diminish quite quickly. Our energy sources should come from naturally stimulating foods such as fruits and vegetables – or better yet try your hand at juicing – a great way to increase energy levels (see previous columns on juicing). If it is simply habit, or the enjoyment of having a hot drink and it’s not the caffeine rush that you are chasing, why not give decaffeinated tea/coffee a go? Or better yet, try some of the gorgeous herbal teas that are available – my favourite being lemon and ginger by Twinning’s. Hot water and lemon is one of the best things you can give your body first thing in the morning.


Asides from my cup of tea in the morning, salt is another habit which I find incredibly hard to break – because I love the taste of it. Only two nights ago did I have another salt related falling out with my brother when he refused to pass the salt at the dinner table – a small panic rises up in my throat when I dine in restaurants that don’t put salt on the table, let alone when it is hidden from me in my own home! But I don’t think I’m alone in this – the reality is that the majority of us have too much salt in our diets.

Unlike caffeine, our bodies do require salt. It helps to control fluid balance as well as helping to control the way our muscles and nerves work. But if levels are too high we get thirsty and need to drink to hydrate again – hence why you should never drink the salt water if you ever find yourself stranded ‘castaway’ style on a desert island! Salt contains highly toxic sodium, and when refined salt enters the body the kidneys have to work extremely hard to get rid of it. Our blood pressure can be raised as a result as more blood is needed to help the kidneys eliminate the toxin, which in turn increases our risk of heart disease and stroke. It is also a diuretic and can make you go to the toilet a lot!

We shouldn’t have more than 6g (around 1 tsp) of salt in a day – this requirement can be found in most natural sources that we consume such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish – thus adding salt is (unfortunately for me) completely unnecessary. The most obvious way to cut down on salt is when it’s added at the table or in cooking, but also when making food/ingredient choices. 75% of the salt that we eat comes hidden in the foods we have every day. The following can be high in salt:

  • Soy sauce
  • Stock cubes
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Salami
  • Salted and dry roasted nuts
  • Bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta
  • Crisps
  • Pizza, ready meals
  • Tomato ketchup
  • Breakfast cereals

Some of these will have low salt versions such as the soy sauce and stock cubes. Thankfully labelling has become so much more advanced, so take advantage and check the labels. If the salt content is in the red put it down! If the salt is more than 1.5g per 100g it is high – if it is 0.3g per 100g then it would be considered low in salt.

Tips for cutting back on salt intake:

  • Check nutritional labels and avoid high salt choices
  • Add less salt when cooking and don’t add salt to your food at the table
  • Flavour your food with spices, pepper garlic or lemon juice
  • Avoid high salt ingredients such as soy sauce, stock cubes and olives
  • Avoid high salt foods such as bacon, cheese, takeaways, ready meals and processed foods

So there we have it, another two vices for us to break, caffeine and salt. Both can be detrimental to our health if we have too much, so it’s definitely two habits we should consider breaking; because high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke don’t sound like much fun, do they? Pass the salt or pour another coffee, anyone? I think we’ll all think twice!


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