Low fat vegetarian diet looks good for MS patients

How eating meat might possibly affect any disease, let alone multiple sclerosis, was the furthest thought from my mind as a child.

My family, as I was growing up, were all meat-eaters and this has continued throughout my journey into adulthood including one long, but ultimately failed, marriage right up to the current day – almost five years into my second attempt.

I enjoy meat and have always laughed off the scare stories about risks to health. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, I was a rural affairs farming journalist in an area renowned for both quality lamb and beef.

Yes, I visited many farms but was able to keep a clear, albeit false, distinction in my mind between animals in the fields and the food on my plate. Lambs could be cuddled but lamb chops were for eating. I carefully avoided visiting the local abattoir, however.

Well, this is now changing, not because of any desire by me to improve my health but because my wife Lisa has started a new anti-animal abuse website called Please – No More! She has uncovered such abuse in terms of the shameful and disgusting methods used in modern factory farming that we have decided to become vegetarians. It won’t happen overnight as we still have meat in our freezer and it won’t help those animals if we just throw it away.

vegiBut once it has gone, it will be gone – and both of us will hopefully benefit from enjoying a meat-free Spanish Mediterranean healthy diet. Right now, Lisa is honing her vegetarian cooking skills. Indeed, tonight we ate a completely homemade vegan lasagna and were both absolutely stunned by the fantastic taste.

Coincidentally, the potential gains to MS patients of a low-fat vegetarian diet have been a topic of discussion for quite some time but without any firm scientific evidence either way.

Now, however a pilot study seems to be saying that such a diet would be beneficial.

A team led by Dr Vijayshree Yadav, at the Oregon Health & Science University, indicates that a very-low saturated fat, plant-based diet, can be a starting point.

The results were published in the study “Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial,” in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

I am not going to go into all the details here but if you are that interested in reading the entire report, just click on the link above.

Although the results showed no effect on MS disease activity, neither in MRI nor clinical tests, improvement was found in quality of life, including overall mood and levels of fatigue, the latter being a debilitating problem among Relapsing RMS patients.

“Dietary intervention participants experienced reduction in weight, body mass index (BMI), LDL (“bad” cholesterol), total cholesterol and insulin levels,” the authors wrote. “These improvements would likely enhance their long-term general health if they remained on the diet.

“If maintained, the improved lipid profile and BMI could yield long-term vascular health benefits.”

 

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You can ski on real snow in southern Spain

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Now, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. The weather here in southern Spain is not all sun, sun and yet more sun. It can get really cold too.

Where Lisa ad I live, that’s a natural feature of our desert-like climate where clear sunny days are followed by clear starry cold nights.

But even daytime temperatures are much lower in some areas. In under a three-hour drive from leaving home, on a warm and sunny day, we can reach an area where winter clothing is the usual wear in autumn/fall, winter and spring. That, along with skis and other necessary equipment for real snow; nothing artificial here.

Yes, southern Spain’s region of Andalucía, includes the country’s Sierra Nevada mountain range that overlaps the border of the provinces of Granada and Almeria, where we live.

The mountains include Mulhacén which, at 3,478 metres/11,411 feet above sea level, is the highest point of continental Spain. In comparison, that is more than three times the height of Snowdon in Wales and 2½ times that of Scotland’s Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest point.

In Spanish, Sierra Nevada means ‘snowy range’ and the area is a popular tourist destination. It is one of Europe’s most southerly ski resorts made possible by high mountain peaks in an area close to the Mediterranean Sea. Just below the mountains is the city of Granada and, not far away, those of Almería and Málaga.

In 1986, Sierra Nevada was named by UNESCO as a Bioshere Reserve, and in 1999, a large area of it was declared a Spanish National Park, owing to the region’s biodiversity and its broad range of mostly floral wildlife and its rich and varied natural landscapes.

Sierra Nevada National Park occupies 86,000 hectares/212,500 acres which, together with another 86,000 hectares of the surrounding Natural Park, make up an area of protected land that measures over 170,000 hectares. Both the ski resort and the Sierra Nevada Astronomic Observatory (at 2,800 metres/9,200 feet) are inside the national park.

ski2ski3The ski resort is open from November until May and has 110km/68 miles of pistes over 1,200 vertical metres/4,000 feet. It is renowned as being a place where you can ski in the morning and enjoy a drink as you sunbathe on the Mediterranean coast in the afternoon. Some are even brave enough to ski in bikinis on the last day of the season in May, known as la bajada en bikini, which is said to be an unmissable day of champagne and near nudity. Anyone for a day’s skiing in May?

 

 

Dining outdoors wearing short sleeves in December

The Mediterranean is just feet from our table.

The Mediterranean is just feet from our table.

Friday was seven days until Christmas Day, one week to go exactly, and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon meal outside in the sun.

We had returned to El Faro Restaurant in Villaricos (see https://50shadesofsun.com/?p=932 for our first visit there) for its superb Menú del día (Menu of the Day) that offers an amazing salad platter and bread to share plus three courses, a

Our main course, partly eaten when photo was taken,

Our main course, partly eaten when photo was taken.

drink from the bar as well as coffee for just 12€. That’s about £8.80 or $13, a pretty good price for all that.

So, while the UK was experiencing temperatures peaking at 12-13°C/53.5-55.5°F with winds of 30mph and gales forecast, we ate lunch on the restaurant’s terrace overlooking the Mediterranean just a matter of feet away, as we enjoyed a shade temperature reaching 23°C/73°F and no wind at all. We were both wearing sunglasses and I was more than comfortable in a short-sleeved polo shirt.

Short sleeves, sunglasses and sangria. Cheers.

Short sleeves, sunglasses and sangria. Cheers.

Spain is the sunniest country in Europe and the climate on the Costa Blanca has been described by the World Health Organisation as being among the healthiest in the world. Its Mediterranean coastline, from the Costa Blanca to the Costa del Sol, enjoys an average of over 300 days of sunshine each year. When northern Europe is being deluged or is frozen, you can almost guarantee that the south of Spain will be bathed in sunshine.

After we got back home, I checked a world weather map online and I found that the afternoon temperature was almost on a par with Honolulu and higher than many other ‘hot’ places including Cape Town and Sydney.

Lapping up the December sunshine. The cardigan soon came off.

Lapping up the December sunshine on the terrace. The cardigan soon came off.

It is no secret to our family and friends that Lisa and I moved to Spain for its delightfully sunny weather, but why does southern part of the country benefit from such weather?

Having donned my researcher’s hat again, it seems that the country actually has three main climate zones: Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean. Basically, north-west, central and south-east respectively.

Well, we live in the province of Almeria which, along with most of Murcia and Alicante, has what is described as semi-arid climate – indeed, Almeria is said to be the driest part of Spain. Although we have not experienced it yet, having only arrived last month, it is very hot during the summer with average highs of 30°C/86°F but temperatures can exceed 40°C /104°F and the drought usually extends into the autumn.

South-east Spain is known for having a sub-desert climate, with rainfall as low as 120mm/4.7in a year in the Cabo de Gata which is supposedly the driest place in Europe.

We know our winter has yet to arrive and fully expect it to be cold but our neighbours tell us that only occasionally can we expect a morning frost and that snow has only been seen once in the last eight years. We shall see!

 

 

Around and about

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So many of you have been asking about the environment here in our part of Spain that I thought that I had better answer your questions in a post.

Our home is in the province of Almeria in southern Spain, between Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca but, thankfully, nowhere near the popular tourist destinations. We are in a small community of about 30 or so properties (I have never counted) in a valley completely hidden from the main road. There is a village in walking distance and a town some 8km/5m away.

The market is only yards from the sea.

Lisa shows the market is only yards from the sea.

The climate, as by now you must be aware, is sunny. It is said to have 330 days of sun here every year. As such, we are surrounded by palm trees, oranges and lemons grow just down the road from our front door and there are a variety of plants that grow well in tropical climes as well as some desert ones.

Agriculture is one of the major economies with melons and lettuces being two of the major crops. Near us, it was fascinating to see, just last week, people working for a local co-operative arrive and harvest a field of lettuces by hand.

We are in an area where desert meets the mountains and sea. Indeed, we can be on a Mediterranean beach in 10 minutes. Most of the rivers are dried up but they occasionally flood when the rains come. The wettest month of the year is September and the worst of winter tends to be January and February.

That's me, wearing sunglasses by the Mediterranean.

That’s me, wearing sunglasses by the Mediterranean.

Average temperatures reach their peak in August with highs of 30˚C/86˚F but occasional days of 35C/95F are not unknown. At night the average low temperature is 22˚C/62˚F. Spring and autumn temperatures are more moderate; they go up to about 23˚C/73˚F and down to around 12˚C/53˚F.

November’s average high is 20˚C/68˚F but, in fact, yesterday it reached 22˚C/62˚F. The nights, however, are quite chilly with average lows of 10˚C/50˚F.

This morning, Sunday, we visited a market in a nearby town right on the Mediterranean. The stalls were set among palm trees (see main picture), the sky was blue and the sun beat down. The temperature was 23˚C/73˚F; another glorious day. Did I mention it is sunny here?

 

 

Enjoying best of all worlds in November sunshine

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One disappointing thing about moving to mainland Europe is that while state pensions and disability benefits are still paid, the mobility part of both the Disabled Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment is not. Apparently, that is because the mobility element is not regarded as care.

I had previously used the mobility part of my DLA to meet the costs of a car provided through the Motability scheme, so I never saw the money – it was paid straight to Motability. The cars, that have served me well for nearly six years, came to an end when I returned my vehicle on 26th October, the day before Lisa and I sailed to America on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas.

Road cutting through rocky area with mountains in the background.

Road cutting through rocky area with mountains in the background.

That means that we now need to buy a car of our own – and on Thursday we started looking in earnest. All being well, we hope to have one at some time during the next week. Be sure to watch this space for further news on this subject.

Talking of driving, and by that I mean left hand drive cars on the right hand side of the road, I have to say that it is fast becoming second nature to me. Yes, sometimes I drift a little close to the kerb or, more often, the roadside verge but, generally, it’s ok and seems to be getting both easier and better.

Several people have asked me to describe the area in which we now live. So, here goes.

Greenery borders a town with hills beyond.

Greenery borders a town with hills beyond.

Our home is in a rural community close to a small village in an agricultural area known for growing melons, olives and oranges. There are mountains just a few miles away that make a backdrop to some spectacular views, plus fringes of arid land that afford a home to desert plants.

Situated within easy reach of two reasonably small towns, and only a 10-minute drive from the Mediterranean, we really have the best of all worlds. We are well away from popular tourist destinations.

As far as the weather is concerned, we arrived in mid-November so we could not expect too much. The daytime temperatures have only been in their 70s F (21+ C) with a mixture of cloudless blue skies and those predominantly blue with wispy clouds. I have worn shorts for the last two days and have relaxed at pavement cafes while enjoying the sunshine. It gets considerably cooler at night but that is to be expected.

We have followed the news about storms Abigail and Barney hitting the UK and can only have sympathy with everyone affected, especially with those who were without power. I have distinct memories of being without electricity in North Wales. The wet, cold and grey weather with such little, if any, sun was the main reason behind our move to Spain.

It seems that the finishing touches are being put on our new home, so we hope to be moving in very soon. The place we are in, while the work is being finished, is lovely but it isn’t ours.