Seasonal health: three top tips for living well to stay well

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As the weather gets colder and the nights draw in, the season of coughs and colds begins. Now is the perfect opportunity to build up your body’s natural defences.

Read on to understand the immune system and my three favourite tips for living well to stay well this Autumn and Winter.


What’s the purpose of your immune system?

Protection!  It’s your body’s own natural defence system and it can protect you from getting the common cold and the flu.  And it can also protect you from developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer.  

How does the immune system protect us?  

There are a variety of mechanisms through which your immune system keeps you healthy. The immune system is highly sophisticated when you start to delve into the layers, including the innate and the adaptive systems and their related defence mechanisms.

At a simple level, we can use the military analogy of an army protecting its territory. The immune system comprises an army of soldiers or specialist immune cells that exist in the white blood cells, and they identify enemies and effectively destroy them. The enemies could be a range of things, for example, foreign agents like bacteria and viruses and also defective body cells. 

For the last 100 years or so, western medicine has focussed on drugs designed to destroy invaders on our behalf. Think about antibiotics, antiviral agents, and chemotherapy. These clearly have a legitimate time and place, but only recently does it feel like our attention is turning ‘within’ and back towards the natural methods that strengthen our own defences.

This is really important to recovery from illness and to preventative healthcare, as our ability to react rapidly to a new invader makes all the difference between a minor 24-hour cold or stomach bug, and a week in bed with flu or food poisoning.


My top 3 top things you can do to support your immune system?

With just a little effort, you can integrate some relatively simple things straight away into your daily being to help you build your natural defences:

1. Eat a variety of red foods

There is a vast and wonderful array of foods, herbs, spices which all support the immune system thanks to their wonderful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and there are a range of specific nutrients in foods which may help enhance the immune system.

However, what I wish to focus on here is red foods.  Red is not an arbitrary selection, but because in our health red can be seen to symbolically represent the immune system, and many red vegetables and fruits are fantastic sources of antioxidant nutrients which can boost the strength of the immune system and neutralise or disarm potentially harmful chemicals called free radicals in the body which are produced by invaders to fight off the troops of the immune system.

When the production of free radicals overwhelms the body’s need for, and capacity to neutralise them, then cellular damage, inflammation, and chronic disease can result. Antioxidants are molecules that safely interact with free radicals and neutralise them, preventing them from causing damage and reduce the risk of oxidative stress.

There are a variety of antioxidant nutrients your body requires to assist with this process, and they need to be obtained from your diet. Examples of the powerful antioxidant nutrients present in red foods include vitamins C, and E, beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A), and a variety of polyphenol compounds such as lycopene, a powerful carotenoid that gives some red fruits and veg their colour, and anthocyanins which are in the flavonoid family.

Think about the red vegetables and fruits you are eating on a regular basis. How many of these could you name off the top of your head?  

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  • Red Apples

  • Beetroot

  • Cranberries

  • Strawberries

  • Cherries

  • Pomegranate

  • Tomatoes

  • Red peppers

  • Raspberries

  • Red cabbage

  • Radishes

  • Red grapefruit

  • Red grapes

  • Rhubarb

  • Red onion

  • Watermelon

  • Goji berries

  • Red currants

  • Blood oranges                                                     


2. Support your Gut health with probiotic foods

If you think of your digestive tract of one of the main gateways into the body, the mucous membranes that line that tract are one of the first lines of defence against infectious agents or pathogens.

Because our intestines are inside our bodies, most people don't realise that it forms a protective barrier between our bloodstream and the external world. But in fact, your gut and your immune system are very closely linked, and 70 to 80 percent of immune tissue is situated in your digestive tract.  

The vast ecosystem of friendly bacteria that reside in your digestive tract are another key form of defence - they have a powerful, beneficial effect on the gut's immune system, aid in the production of antibodies, and help regulate other functions of the digestive system, for example, stomach acid levels, which is also important for defence.

One of a number of factors which impacts our gut flora is antibiotic usage. Antibiotics do not discriminate well between infectious bacteria and commensal bacteria and consequently lead to more problems.  So, to help ensure you don’t deplete your beneficial microflora, you may wish to try giving your body a chance to deploy its natural defences and do not pressure on your GP to prescribe antibiotics to you without adequate grounds to believe a persistent infection is present.

Overuse of antibiotics is also become a bigger problem for society at large as bacteria become resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics and we are seeing the emergence of super-bugs such as MRSA.

To strengthen your own gut flora defences, I recommend regularly eating one or more probtioic-rich foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, or natto.  And consider taking a multi-strain probiotic supplement. If you are unsure where to start with this, please contact me and I will happily point you in the right direction.
 

3. Maintain gentle movement daily

Physical exercise is important for lymphatic drainage. The immune systems utilises the lymphatic vessels to bring any ‘invaders’ into its ‘forts’ such as the lymph nodes, tonsils, the appendix, spleen, and specialist patches in the digestive tract, from which the invaders can be destroyed.  Since the lymphatic system has no pump, it relies on muscle movement to move lymphatic fluid.

Here are some key thoughts to consider when thinking about how your own activity levels are affecting your immune system:

  • Regular movement in natural daylight

  • Ensure calming forms of exercise form part of your activities

  • Be wary of over-exercising which can increase oxidative stress and create a burden on the immune system if it’s already taxed

Prone to being unwell when the cold weather hits and interested in what else you can do?

I have created an Autumn Reset eating plan which includes a super simple, mix-and-match, flavourful menu, perfect for those in need of seasonal inspiration and want to approach the winter months eating well, feeling well and looking well.
Find out more here >

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? 

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. 

Gut intuition - follow it!

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Last time, we looked at the gut-brain connection and the impact of food on mindset and emotions. Eating to support mood is key in my book in terms of promoting a happier outlook in all aspects of life, as well as fuelling our motivation to continue to eat well. 

Now in my last post in this series, we’ll take the concept of the gut as ‘second brain’ a step further and explore a different take on ‘Gut feelings’ and how it can help support a more ‘intuitive’ approach to eating.

Researchers have determined that the enteric nervous system is constantly providing information to our brains regarding our nutritional needs. But most of us learn to eat by listening to messages coming from outside of ourselves - messages from our parents, teachers, friends, or the media including health claims and marketing messages.

In this context, it is all to easy to overlook, or override, the messages that your own inner source of knowledge is telling you. 

Yet the body is actually very clever at giving us signals about its general health and what it actually needs. For example, food cravings are an example of how the body might be hinting to us to correct a nutritional deficiency. Specifically, cravings for chocolate can be due to the need for more magnesium, while a desire for fatty foods may reflect a need for increased omega 3 fatty acids.

The condition of our skin, hair and nails may signal other nutritional deficiencies; urine colour will flag potential dehydration or possible liver stress; and bowel movements provide all sorts of clues to the functioning of our digestion system. 

So, how to tune in and trust your body’s wisdoms and learn to eat intuitively?

The first state is observation. It’s by starting to notice how your body is really feeling, the messages it’s giving you, and distinguishing the difference between physical and emotional hungers, so that you can more easily recognise your own eating patterns and how well your food choices are actually serving you. 

From this point of recognition, you can start to develop trust in your body’s inner cues regarding hunger and fullness, which sets you up to start making great choices around eating.

To support this, do give yourself a health dose of vitamin T - that’s Time! When you eat while in a rush or being absorbed with other thoughts and activities, this may lead to overeating, bloating, poor digestion and missing out on some of the true pleasure of eating. When you slow down you will be more ‘present’ and able to eat with more awareness of what’s going on in your body as well as savour the sensory experience. 

Undeniably, there may be certain emotions, situations, events which you may find throw your ability to trust your intuition around food including how, what and when you eat. In this case underlying beliefs, habits, or emotions may be getting the better of your gut, and some additional work may be required in order to address them and move forward.

So, do you need to slow down and tune-in? The simple act of listening to, trusting and following gut feelings, can lead to weight loss, improved energy and a better experience of life. What’s your gut telling you?