Low-sugar Summer Sips everyone will love

Summer parties are often filled with sweet, alcoholic drinks that can unbalance your blood sugar levels and lead to weight gain.

Yet I know many clients wince at the idea of only having water on such occasions, and it’s not always easy to know what to drink instead without feeling deprived.

That's why I’ve put together some truly delicious and refreshing alternatives to see you through the Summer... Cheers!

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Strawberry lemonade 

Serves 8

  • 2 litres water
  • 8 lemons, squeezed (around 280 ml)
  • 1/2 -3/4 tsp liquid stevia (try NuNaturals)
  • 250g strawberries, sliced  

In a large jug combine water, lemon juice and stevia. Simply stir in sliced strawberries and serve over ice.


Cucumber, mint + lemon fizz

Serves 6

  • 1.5ltr sparkling water
  • half a cucumber, sliced
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Put all the ingredients in a large jug, chill and serve. 


Sparkling kombucha

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Kombucha is an elegant, healthy alternative to sparkling soft drinks and is known for being full of naturally occurring vitamins, acids, and beneficial bacteria (yes, it's great for gut health too).

Making it is a real labour of love. Learn how here:  https://happykombucha.co.uk/pages/how-to-make-kombucha.

Alternatively, you can buy it ready-made. (And no, I don't blame you!) I love PJ Kombucha (www.pjkombucha.com) for the purist approach to production they take to ensure a nutrient-rich, flavour-full drink which knocks the socks off other brands. 


Sparkling cherries

Serves 2

  • 4tbsp Cherry Active
  • 500ml sparkling water

Add sparkling water to the Cherry Active and serve with ice.


Sparkling lime water

Exactly as it sounds… Sparkling water with a good squeeze of fresh lime juice over ice. Simple and refreshing – and you can guarantee a pub will have the ingredients (but likely you’ll need to remind them about using fresh lime and not cordial). 


Garden Sour

  • Seedlip Garden (a distilled, non-alcoholic drink*), 50ml 
  • Cloudy apple juice, 35ml
  • Lemon Juice, 15ml
  • Cider vinegar, 5ml  
  • Sprig of rosemary & thyme 

Seedlip is premium distilled non-alcoholic drink. The price may make you wince (it’s no cheaper than buying alcoholic spirits) but it’s hot news this year and making an appearance in all the best bars. Find it at www.seedlipdrinks.com

A match made in heaven

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Wimbledon is in full swing and so is the strawberry season in the UK. These delectable red berries are so delicious and satiating it’s no surprise this pairing has become a competition tradition.

It’s said Wimbledon attendees consume 8600 punnets of fresh strawbs daily. The tournament lasts for around two weeks - that’s a lot of strawberries. In addition to the 28,000kg of strawberries, more than 7,000 litres of fresh cream is also consumed during the tournament (but let’s not dwell on that).

Strawberries provide a juicy boost of vitamins C and K, fibre, folic acid, manganese and potassium. They also contain a lot of phytonutrients and flavonoids which gives them their vibrant colour.

They’ve been used throughout history to reduce digestive problems, help whiten teeth and soothe skin irritations. Plus, they can also help regulate blood sugar levels and increase satiety.

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Here’s an easy and yummy STRAWBERRY & BASIL QUINOA SALAD dish to help keep you on your game:

INGREDIENTS

135g quinoa, uncooked, rinsed
250g quartered strawberries
5-6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
35g sunflower seeds
115g goat’s cheese, crumbled
For lemon dressing
2 tbsp olive oil
60ml lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp honey
1 large basil leaf, chopped
sea salt and pepper, to taste

METHOD

Rinse the quinoa in cold water. In a medium saucepan, bring 300ml water to a boil. Add the quinoa and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer for 15 mins or until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water.

Remove from heat and fluff the quinoa with fork. Place in large bowl and set aside to cool for about 10 mins.

To make dressing, put the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, honey, basil and salt in blender or food processor. Blend for 10-15 seconds. Fold into quinoa.

Gently fold in the strawberries and basil. At this stage, you have an option to add in other things like chickpeas or chicken. Season to taste.

Refrigerate for few hours to let flavors marinate, then sprinkle over the goat’s cheese, sunflower seeds and extra basil.

Optional: serve over a bed of spinach or rocket leaves.

Good health begins as a thought

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Have you considered that what you 'feed' your mind may have as much of an impact on your health outcomes, as the food and supplements you consume to feed your body?

For centuries, healers have pondered the interconnections between mental and physical health, matter and spirit, thought and action. And now in recent years, science is catching up in the recognition of emotional, spiritual, and behavioural factors in contributing to biochemical imbalances within the body, and directly affecting overall health and wellness. 

You may well have made a connection between eating sugar and toxins and feeling anxious, overly emotional, tired or not thinking so clearly, and may be well aware that consuming a daily diet based on wholesome food is an essential and powerful tool to feed great health. But, how should you deal with the consequences of negative thinking and stress on your mind-body health?

What we know for sure is that a positive attitude works - we just need to remember and take time to nurture it.

Experts rate exercise, sufficient sleep, meditation, yoga, controlling negative thoughts and building a strong social support as some of the best ways to decrease stress and boost immunity – so paying attention to your feelings and needs is as vital as drinking enough water and avoiding junk food.

Achieving long-term health and energy can, therefore, be seen as a mind-body balancing act. 

So, how are you 'feeding' your own mind? Here are five winning ways to promote good mind-body health:

1. Exercise

If you feel like you have an aversion to exercise, or struggle to prioritise it, please think again. The release of endorphins during exercise has been shown to promote a sense of wellbeing, which has also the added benefit of boosting your immune system.

During exercise, the lymphatic system – a network of tissues and organs that helps your body to eliminate toxins and waste – is mobilised. Its main role is to transport lymph fluid, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells. Unlike the blood, which is transported by the heart, lymph fluid only moves if you do. 

A recent study from a North Carolina university showed that people who exercised for five or more days weekly experienced 43% fewer days of upper respiratory infections.

Walking, running or any other muscle-moving activity also dramatically reduces stress by ‘working off steam’ when you are upset or angry. With the release of endorphins, your body receives a natural mood boost, resulting in reduced stress levels, which in turn puts less pressure on your immune system.

2. Get enough sleep 

According to an American Psychological Association study, stress is what keeps more than 40% of adults awake at night. To aim for the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, avoid caffeine, digital screens and try to turn in at the same time each evening. 

3. Focus on some self-care 

Make an effort to do something nice for yourself every day. Neglecting your own needs adds unnecessary stress to the system, resulting in increased vulnerability to illness. 

Women, in particular, tend to put their own needs last, especially if they’re caring for children and/or elderly parents.  If you battle with guilt when you take an hour off to read, go for a manicure or have a coffee with a friend. Remind yourself that if your bucket is empty, you’ll have nothing left to give anyone else. Simple, but effective. 

4. Mindfulness

Did you know that you cut in half the chances of catching a cold by meditating?

A University of Wisconsin study showed that people who practised mindfulness – a type of meditation or mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations – noted 13 fewer illnesses and took 51 fewer sick days.

Researchers concluded that this reduced the physical effects of stress, which is known to weaken the immune system.

5. It takes a village...  

Building strong social connections has proven psychological and physiological benefits. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, having a ‘support group’ – no matter how big or small – boosts immunity by creating ‘stress buffers’.

Being able to share stress or concerns with close family or friends provides an opportunity for outside support and advice, which alleviates a sense of being alone in your situation. 

Ongoing stress is also a contributing factor to many chronic diseases, and the stress hormone cortisol may be a serious barrier if you are trying to lose weight. 

“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” – Jack Kornfield, American author and Buddhist mindfulness pioneer. 

What could you do differently straight-away to harness your mind and help you heal your body? 

Zzzzz.... are you getting yours?

I think the message is hitting home that sleep is essential to feeling refreshed and rested, and is an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle. But so many people I see in clinic struggle with the effects of poor sleep. 

So, in aid of National Sleep Awareness Week this week [11-17 March], I want to remind you why a good sleep is so important and how you can go about getting it. 

Why a good night's sleep is as important to health as eating the right things and exercise

It is recognised that physical and emotional wellbeing depend on getting enough sleep. Yet we’re living in sleep-deprived times. Some people are even competitive about how little sleep they’re getting, like dragging yourself through the day on four hours’ rest is a badge of honour. Scientists even say we’re now getting an hour or two less sleep each night than we were 60 years ago. And the effect on our bodies is not good.

Waking up feeling refreshed in the morning is a good indicator and so is being able to wake without an alarm. If you need an alarm to wake up, you are not getting enough sleep.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you may not be able to concentrate properly, and become irritable or agitated. You may also have blurred vision, be clumsy, become disorientated or slow to respond, and have decreased motivation. And, on top of that, if you’re tired and cranky, you are significantly less likely to make the best food choices.

You might be surprised to learn that, in a computer simulated driving test, those who had had just a few hours sleep were more dangerous on the (virtual) road than the people who had had a few drinks! In fact, the majority of road accidents are caused by tiredness.

The purpose of sleep is to rest and recover – and to allow the body to repair itself. These maintenance and repair processes take 7 to 9 hours. Whilst the amount of sleep each person needs varies, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours per night – regardless of what you think you have trained yourself to get by with. 

The Sleep-Gut connection

Furthermore, scientists investigating the relationship between sleep and the microbiome are finding that this microbial ecosystem in our bodies (and mainly concentrated in our guts) may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of different ways: shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness such as serotonin and melatonin.

Sleep, in turn, may affect the health and diversity of the human microbiome.

But just how do you get a good night’s sleep?

The most common cause of insomnia is a change in your daily routine. For example, travelling, change in work hours, disruption of other behaviours (eating, exercise, leisure, etc.), and relationship conflicts can all cause sleep problems. Establishing good sleep hygiene is the most important thing you can do to maintain good sleep. It might also be helpful to keep a sleep diary to help pinpoint any particular problems.

DO

  • Try to go to bed at the same time every day. Your body thrives on routine.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable; not too hot, nor too cold.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. This may help you completely switch off. 
  • Keep the bedroom completely dark, so you’re not disturbed by light, which your brain detects even when your eyes are closed. Eye masks can be useful.
  • Spend time outdoors to soak up the sun.
  • Try to take some gentle exercise every day. There is evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise. A brisk walk ticks both boxes.
  • Make an effort to relax for at least 5 minutes before going to bed - a warm bath, massage, meditation.
  • Keep your feet and hands warm. Wear warm socks and/or mittens or gloves to bed.
  • Consider getting a traditional alarm clock so your smartphone can stay out of the bedroom (see below). Better still, work out how much sleep you need by going to bed 15 minutes earlier until you find that you wake up naturally before your alarm. That’s your personal sleep requirement.
  • Look after your gut health - and do keep checking out my other blogs and resources for tips about how to go about this. 

DON’T...

  • Engage in stimulating activities – like playing a competitive game, watching an edge-of-the seat film, or having an important conversation with a loved one. Even using smartphones and tablets can interfere with sleep, because they emit the same kind of light as the morning sun. 
  • Eat a heavy meal within four hours of going to bed.
  • Drink caffeine after lunch – like coffee, ‘normal’ and green tea, and colas.
  • Use alcohol to help you sleep. Alcohol can make sleep more disturbed.
  • Go to bed too hungry. If you are peckish, have a snack before bed – a glass of milk or banana are ideal.
  • Try to avoid daytime naps.
  • Try not to get frustrated if you can’t sleep. Go to bed in a positive mood – “I will sleep tonight”.  
What three things can you do differently straight away?

10 reasons you should care about your digestive system (even if you don’t have gut issues)

If you are struggling with digestive symptoms (such as IBS, bloating or reflux), then reading an article about getting your 'gut' right makes perfect sense. But what if you're reading this and you don't? Should you care? 

Yes. Because the state of your gut affects every aspect of your health, from weight loss and immunity to mood and skin health. 

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Here I reveal ten connections to help explain why an optimal digestive system is important for everyone.  One of the main things I talk about is something called dysbiosis - which is where the levels of bacterial in the gut are out of balance. That might mean there are too many ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut or simply insufficient numbers of the protective, ‘good’ bacteria. 

1. If you have a condition linked to too much oestrogen, such as endometriosis or fibroids, you should know that if you have dysbiosis, instead of the body getting rid of old oestrogen, it is likely to keep recirculating oestrogen tagged for detoxification. So poor gut health may mean more oestrogen and worse symptoms.

But this isn't just relevant to those with endometriosis or fibroids. Oestrogen is an obesogen ie. too much oestrogen may make you gain fat, so if you are eager to get in shape, get your gut in shape first so that it can it effectively process oestrogen.

2. On top of the oestrogen situation, you may absorb 15% more calories from your food if you have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.  

3. There’s also a growing amount of research that suggests your gut bacteria actually influences food cravings and metabolism too.

4. Listen up if you’re that person who is always ill or gets everything worse than everyone else. About 75% of your immunity is governed by your gut. If your digestive system is healthy, chances are you will be generally healthier, too. 

5. Not happy with the condition of your skin? Eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne are just a few skin issues linked to poor gut health. Much of this is down to permeability of the gut wall (sometimes called ‘leaky gut’), where your digestive tract is 'damaged' and things that should not normally pass through are now able to, like bad bacteria, gluten proteins and other undigested food particles, causing widespread inflammation and other health problems. 

6. This is true for hayfever and food intolerance too, for very similar reasons. 

7. The state of your digestive system is important for regulating your mood and for your mental health. The gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. That’s because, embedded in your intestinal wall are 500 million neurons that make up your enteric nervous system (ENS). Your ENS plays an important role in the production of 30 different neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are chemicals responsible for regulating mood. At the very extreme end of the spectrum, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut has also been shown to be factor in autism, ADHD and other brain conditions like epilepsy. 

8. If you have any kind of autoimmune disease you will want to support your gut as there is potential that “once you have one autoimmune condition, the door is open to all of the others”.  There are over 200 autoimmune conditions but some of the most common include Hashimoto’s disease (under-active thyroid), rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, coeliac disease, type 1 diabetes, systemic lupus, pernicious anemia, and so on. There are a number of potential causes of autoimmune disease, but "leaky gut” or intestinal permeability is considered a front runner. 

9. Bad breath – typically linked to dysbiosis (remember, that’s that imbalance of gut bacteria again) or bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Athlete’s foot or thrush are linked to candida, a potentially pathogenic yeast in the gut.

On the topic of Candida, it brings a list of other possible symptoms too - including mysterious aches and pains, that feeling of being hungover when you’re not, depression, fatigue, anxiety and brain fog as well as a host of tummy issues. 

10. If you have baby-making on your mind, you need to know that the little person you grow will inherit your gut immunity. If you have a healthy and balanced gut environment, then they will too.  
As the mother, you are the gate-keeper to your child’s health. That’s because in pregnancy you set your baby’s inflammatory 'set point'.  If your gut flora is out of balance, there may be a 15% increased risk of gestational diabetes and also a higher risk for group B strep.  

So, even if you have no digestive symptoms, here are 10 reasons not to wait until you see 'smoke'.

A happy gut = a healthy body. 

9 ways to avoid Christmas weight gain (and still have plenty of fun!)

As we enter the festive season, I reveal the top reasons why you may be prone to piling on the pounds at Christmas, as well as my favourite tips for avoiding weight gain – whilst still enjoying yourself. 

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It’s normal to want to indulge over Christmas, after all it's a wonderful time of celebration, but unfortunately the number of people joining diet clubs and gyms in January speaks volumes about how many regret their festive binges.

Is this a familiar pattern for you? Perhaps you’ve grown up associating food with pleasure and fun, so subconsciously you fear that if you don’t eat everything available, somehow you won’t have a such a ‘happy Christmas’. Or perhaps it's too easy to slip into a ‘one more won’t hurt’ mind-set, when you know that one more, is really one too many. 

When working with clients on weight management programmes, I am always keen to help my clients understand what kind of things have tripped them up or blocked their success in the past. These are a few of the things that often come up:

Portion control – have you ever felt you’ve waited all year for Christmas, so you’re not about the hold back?  The extra roasties or chocolates don’t seem to matter.

Social life – family commitments, work lunches and endless parties mean that you are literally overloaded with temptation, sometimes on a daily basis. And hangovers add to the urge to eat junk food and veg out on the sofa.

Sedentary lifestyle – a busy social life means exercise routines get put on the back burner as we swap dumbbells for the remote control. The average family spends 3.5 hours watching TV on Christmas Day. Swap that for some gym time and you’ll have done the hard work of actually making a start come the New Year!

Mental ‘hall pass’ – willpower goes out the window at this time of year. It’s almost as if you tell yourself that it’s fine to binge on everything in sight as you’ll lose it all when you go on a January diet / detox.

But the fact is, you really can still enjoy the festive season and not gain weight. As a qualified nutritional therapist, I work with clients to take control of their relationship with food and plan how to get through times when over-indulgence might feel hard to resist. Here are my 9 favourite simple strategies you could put in place before the festive season. Follow these and there is no reason why you can’t start the New Year looking and feeling fantastic:

1 SET A FESTIVE FOOD GOAL

It’s unrealistic to try and avoid all temptation over Christmas, but by setting a specific goal – say, limiting yourself to one treat a day, or scheduling in a quick workout once or twice a week to offset your increased calorie intake – will help you stay on track. You could even make it into a fun game and get the whole family involved. 

2 EAT SMART

If you don’t have a plan (for parties, going out, visiting friends, having family over and so on) you are setting yourself up to fail. Be clear in your mind what your healthy options are, and if you know you’re going somewhere you won’t be able to eat the right foods, take some nutritious snacks or meals with you.

Fill up on some protein-rich ham or leftover turkey, or keep sugar cravings at bay with a homemade energy ball before you hit the party circuit.

3 PORTION CONTROL

Eating from a smaller dish causes you to eat less, because the food itself looks more substantial. If you transfer food from a 12-inch plate to a 9-inch plate, it looks like more food and you, therefore, feel more satisfied.

4 AVOID EXCESS

Christmas excess can lead to hangovers, and hangovers often lead to poor food choices, especially a tendency to seek out sugar and starchy carbs. Research reveals that fat from certain foods, including ice cream and roast potatoes, goes straight to the brain and tells you to eat more! It triggers messages that are sent to the body’s cells, warning them to ignore appetite-suppressing hormones that regulate our weight.

The effect can last for a few days, sabotaging efforts to get back to a healthy diet afterwards. Dr Deborah Clegg, who conducted the research, explains: “Normally our body is primed to say when we’ve had enough, but that doesn’t always happen. When you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids and you become resistant to insulin (which regulates blood sugar levels) and leptin (the hormone that suppresses hunger). Since you are not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”

5 OUT OF SIGHT

If you want a Quality Street chocolate and all you have to do is reach to the tin and help yourself, chances are you’ll end up eating a handful. But if you have to get your shoes on, walk to the shop in the cold to buy some chocolate, you probably wouldn’t bother.

Ever heard yourself say “take this away from me, so I stop eating?” With food directly in front of you, it’s easy to overindulge. Once it’s removed, you realise you aren’t even hungry – you were just eating because it was there. So, make a decision to keep unhealthy foods out of sight in cupboards or better still, don’t buy them. 

6 LOAD THE VEG

Veggies don’t need to be doused in oil and roasted to within an inch of their lives to taste good. One of my favourite festive side dishes are thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, which I flash-fry with garlic, pine nuts and a dash of white wine. It’s so tasty, I make it all year round. Slow-cooked red cabbage and apple is another fantastic way to get some much-needed nutrients.

7 SLOW DOWN

It takes around 20 minutes for your body to tell your brain that you’re full. If you eat quickly, you’re more likely to eat more. Slowing down gives you time to recognise and assess how hungry you really are.

One trick I use is counting chews (it’s tedious but it works). If you chew a bite 10 times, you’ll eat slower. I also found myself enjoying food more, as there’s more time to actually taste what I’m eating. Eventually it becomes second nature to chew more.

If you’re in a group, try to be the first person to start eating and the last to stop. Pacing your eating like this will get you to eat more slowly without getting in your head about the specific amount that you eat.

8 CIRCLE OF SUPPORT

Emotional support is crucial to some people when they are trying to focus on eating healthily. Research shows that people who felt supported by their friends and family were 50% more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan.

So ask your loved ones to help you avoid temptation by not to offering you sugary treats. Buddy up with a family member who is also trying to lose or maintain their weight. Having that moral support will boost your chances of success (and you won’t be riddled with that horrible feeling of regret the next day).

9 BE KIND TO YOURSELF

It is the season of goodwill, after all. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up or see it as an excuse to write off the rest of the day and eat everything in sight. Just chalk it up as one bad decision and move on. You can get back on track tomorrow.

Now... relax, have fun and focus on what's REALLY important about the festive period - spending quality time with your loved ones and friends.