Category Archives: Lifestyle

Hayfever sneeze

5 Nutrition Tips for Hay Fever

Watery eyes, itchy throat, runny nose? For some people, the start of summer is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s warmer and gardens are blooming, but… the blooming can trigger the annoying symptoms of hay fever.

HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?

Hay fever is a relatively common ailment afflicting many people each spring / summer.

Hay fever is essentially an allergic reaction and is most commonly triggered by grass or tree pollen, but other types of pollen can also be problematic.

The symptoms are a reaction of the immune system to the pollen, resulting in the inflammation of the nasal passages and eyes.

When a person with sensitivity to pollen inhales the allergen, the immune system reacts, producing the antibody IgE. IgE binds to white blood cells called mast cells and basophils, and these cells release histamine resulting in the physical symptoms of the reaction. These include: runny nose; sneezing; itchy watery eyes; fatigue; coughing and sinus congestion.

CAN FOOD HELP WITH HAYFEVER?

Yes, what we eat can have a positive impact on how the body reacts to allergens.

From a nutritional therapy perspective, intervention focuses on two key aspects:

  1. Addressing a sensitive immune system. In some respects, this is the root cause of hay fever. Not everyone produces antibodies to pollen, so suffering from hay fever, suggests that your immune system may be ‘overreacting’.
  2. Promoting a diet that is anti-inflammatory. Most symptoms of hay fever are inflammatory in nature. By favouring foods that have anti-inflammatory actions, your body is less predisposed to inflammation, which could calm down the system’s response to any allergens.

Green apples - quercetin

TOP FOOD TIPS FOR MANAGING HAY FEVER

Follow these tips to help strengthen your immune system and reduce your hay fever symptoms:

  1. Eat foods rich in quercetin.

Quercetin is the plant sterol with the most research connected to hay fever. Studies suggest that the body uses quercetin to prevent the release of histamine (i.e. it is a natural anti-histamine). Quercetin has also been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory compounds (prostaglandins and leukotrienes).

Bromelain is another phytonutrient that may be beneficial. You’ll find it in pineapples. It helps the body absorb quercetin and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Because it is helpful in digesting protein, bromelain may help break down mucus, a symptom of hay fever.

Green tea, apples, onions and kale are great sources of quercetin.

  1. Feed your gut with fermented foods.

Most of your immune system is located in the gut, so ensuring that it is in balance is essential. It is important that you have the right balance of gut bacteria for a healthy immune system. A 2014 study indicated that hay fever sufferers given certain strains of beneficial bacteria saw significant improvement in quality of life, in particular a reduction in runny eyes1.

Including fermented foods into your diet is the easiest way to start getting the balance of bacteria right. Sauerkraut, kimchi, whole plain yoghurt*, kefir and kombucha are excellent sources and are becoming more commonly available. Supplements of beneficial bacteria may also be helpful.

  1. Enhance your vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D helps to keep the immune system balanced and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

It is quite difficult to get enough vitamin D through the diet, but oily fish, egg yolks and dried mushrooms are the best food sources. Ideally, get responsible exposure to sunlight when you can or you might want to consider a good supplement.

  1. Eat plenty of omega-3 rich foods.

The EPA and DHA found in omega 3 oils help the natural production of anti-inflammatory mediators in the body.

Oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are good sources. Aim for 2-3 portions per week. Flaxseeds/linseeds and chia seeds are also good sources, but you will need to eat them in larger amounts.

  1. Incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet.

Curcumin, the active compound in the spice turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Its plant cousin, ginger, also provides anti-inflammatory actions. As such, they may be helpful in reducing some hay fever symptoms.

Curries are a perfect way to incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet. You could also try ginger tea or ‘golden’ tea (turmeric, coconut milk, black pepper and honey). TIP: turmeric is MUCH better absorbed if it is taken with a source of fat and black pepper.

Superfood fish cakes

ANTI-HAY FEVER MEAL IDEAS

  • Marinate fillets of salmon or mackerel in a mix of soy sauce, local honey, turmeric, ginger and garlic. Cook as you prefer and serve with a large helping of kale.
  • Brew a cup of green tea, add a squeeze of lemon and grate in a little fresh ginger. Make in bulk and refrigerate for a cooling, anti-inflammatory summer drink.
  • Grate fresh green apple onto your breakfast porridge. Add milled flax and chia seeds for extra omega 3.
  • Scramble eggs (add a pinch of turmeric), and serve with sautéed kale and onion and a side helping of smoked salmon.
  • Salmon and Sweet Potato fishcakes. Made with ginger, add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric for an extra boost.

 

*Some people may find that dairy increases mucus production.

1D J Costa, P Marteau, M Amouyal, L K Poulsen, E Hamelmann, M Cazaubiel, B Housez, S Leuillet, M Stavnsbjerg, P Molimard, S Courau and J Bousquet, “Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei LP-33 in allergic rhinitis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (GA2LEN Study)”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 602–607

 

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Fruits and vegetables on rustic background

Can food help balance teenage hormones?

This month I am launching a special clinic for adolescent girls, and I want to explain why.

I believe that everyone, in any age group and of any gender, can benefit from enhancing their diets to include whole, fresh, health-promoting foods. But I strongly believe that adolescent girls are one of the groups that can benefit the most.

From the onset of puberty, a woman’s body undergoes tremendous changes. Some girls sail through this period without a bother, but for others it can be a tricky time. As someone who has experienced some of the less pleasant side-effects of maturing into a woman, I know first-hand how it feels and, how what you eat can have an enormous effect on mitigating the hormonal storm going on in our bodies.

For both males and females, the onset of puberty is signalled by the release of sex hormones testosterone and oestrodiol. These hormones introduce changes to the body and manifest as physical changes and growth, behavioural changes and psychosocial changes

As a person matures, so their bodies require specific nutrients to ensure that growth and development take place properly. For that reason alone, it is important to eat a balanced diet, but teenage years often throw other challenges into the mix: acne, menstrual pain or irregularity and fluctuating moods. It is unclear why some suffer from hormone imbalance more than others.

There are a handful of medications used to treat female teenage problems, including antibiotics, oral contraceptive pills and isotretinoin (Roaccutane). While these are effective for some, all come with a list of side-effects ranging from nutritional deficiencies and thrush to more severe issues such as birth defects and liver problems.

Apple in waterCan a natural approach compete?

Natural methodologies generally look to address the underlying imbalance causing the complaint, and look to restore the body’s homeostasis, rather than treat symptoms. When it comes to hormone-related issues, a nutritional therapist will work on a number of systems, including:

  • The digestive system: ensuring used hormones are promptly excreted and that there is the right balance of good bacteria in your gut. It’s also important to establish whether you are properly absorbing nutrients from the food you eat;
  • The liver: ensuring that you have the right vitamins, minerals and other co-factors for optimal detoxification and hormone metabolism;
  • The nervous system: for many, acne flares up during stressful periods;
  • The endocrine system: this is the system responsible for manufacturing hormones. Proteins, fats and other nutrients are required for proper hormone development.

The good news is that nourishing your body with clean, whole foods is an effective way to get the hormones in balance. Nature provides its own dispensary of nutrients that ensure that the systems above are operating effectively.

How long will it take?

For many health conditions, people are often looking for a quick fix – prompt relief from their symptoms. This is completely understandable. For the most part, pharmaceutical drugs are able to deliver quick results as they often target the symptom, not the cause.

However, in the case of balancing hormones, especially associated skin conditions, even pharmaceutical interventions could take a minimum of three months to see results. When it comes to the pill, many are advised to stay on it long-term (as ceasing results in the reoccurrence of symptoms) and Roaccutane treatment generally lasts 8-10 months.

A natural approach, can also take 3-6 months to show results, but the upside is that the root cause is addressed, meaning reoccurrence is less likely.

Berries for hormone balancing

Getting started

Everyone is different and has a unique set of health requirements, but these five food heroes are a must for getting those hormones into balance:

  1. Water. Sounds obvious, but without it you will struggle to eliminate built up internal and external toxins.
  2. Good fats. Did you know that hormones are made from cholesterol? Good fats are essential for the manufacture of hormones and some, like omega 3’s, are anti-inflammatory. Avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds all provide excellent sources of good fats.
  3. Berries. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, especially berries, contain high amounts of antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory.
  4. Broccoli. Perhaps not as glamorous as cherries or avocados, but broccoli and related vegetables (cauliflower, turnips and kale) are the go-to foods for hormone balancing due to their powerful liver-supporting compounds.
  5. Flax seeds. These lovely little seeds work in a number of ways to help bring hormones into balance. They provide fibre for good digestive health, omega 3’s and important polyphenols, called lignans.

Blossom, for adolescent girls

Natural Teenage Health

So, my new clinic for teenage girls is up and running. First and foremost, I would like to help young ladies take control of their health by educating them on how diet (good and bad) and small lifestyle changes can impact their overall wellbeing.

Established dietary guidelines already exist for women going through menopause, so it makes sense that young women are also eating correctly for their life stage.

This is not about going against conventional treatments. It’s about trying an approach that has the fewest side effects and long-term results.

At the very least, a focus on fresh, whole foods will never do you or your health any harm!

Drop me a line if you have any questions or would like some more information.

 

 

 

 

 

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Detoxing is not about fasting

In Defence of the ‘Detox’

Detoxing. Detoxing. Detoxing. You’ll see the word more times than you care to at this time of the year. Like ‘superfood’, it’s one of those words used to describe a multitude of concepts, principles and products and has inevitably lead to confusion (and some negative press).

So what is detoxing? Is it a ‘real thing’ or slick marketing speak?

Given that I’m a nutritional therapist, I have a particular view on detoxing which may be contrary to those of a doctor or even other nutritionists. So this is all my perspective. When it comes to all things health-related, you are the ultimate judge – read up, consider arguments and decide what is right for you.

I do think that the word detox can be misused, but in general, credible detox products, detox programmes and detox recipes are generally designed to help enhance the body’s inbuilt detoxification organs. The liver, skin, digestive tract and kidneys are all used by the body to rid the body of toxins – i.e detoxify.

So technically, your body detoxes every minute of the day, but certain ways of eating (or not eating!), can help optimise natural mechanisms.

Many religions have periods of fasting built into their calendars. While these are usually associated with a specific event, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this behaviour exists across so many cultures. There are benefits to periods of abstinence and, if poor health isn’t a trigger, then having a spiritual point of reference can help with motivation!

What are toxins?

Toxins can be broken up into two types: endogenous and exogenous.

Endogenous toxins are by-products of metabolism and energy production. These are naturally occurring as part of the process of living (like exhaust fumes are a by-product of driving a car). They can be used hormones or by-products of exercise and energy production.

Exogenous toxins are those we absorb from the environment. These include toxins from cigarettes, mould, pollen, chlorine from water, insecticides and pesticides from food, alcohol, caffeine, medications, chemicals from food packaging and cosmetics, any many, many more.

You can see from the list above, that since humans were ‘designed’, there are a few new toxins on the market! So, while our bodies are naturally equipped to get rid of toxins from our bodies, modern life has introduced many more elements for our organs to manage.

Therefore, the concept of an annual period of considered detoxification makes sense – give the body an opportunity to get rid of all the nasties that have built up over a period of time.

How does detoxification work?

The liver and digestive system are really key to getting rid of toxins. Very simply, the liver first breaks down toxins and then packages them up into forms that can be excreted by the digestive system or kidneys. The liver needs B vitamins, zinc, sulphur, amino acids and the anti-oxidant vitamins E and C to do its work properly. If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, the process of detoxification in the liver doesn’t work well.

Equally, if your digestive system is sluggish due to constipation or an imbalanced gut flora, you may not be able to properly excrete the toxins, so they are reabsorbed into your blood stream. This can make you feel tired, but in some can also manifest as skin issues, headaches and hormonal problems like PMS.

Given that the liver needs a good supply of nutrients to do its job properly, you can see why a balanced diet, which favours fresh vegetables and fibre is very important to good health.

So, why detox?

If you agree that:

  1. our bodies are continuously exposed to every-increasing exogenous toxins; and
  2. our diets are not always providing the nutrients our organs of detoxification need…

…then, you can see that at some point something is going to give.

If we’re taking in many toxins and not taking in enough of the fuel an optimal detoxification system, then we’re going to start getting ill.

So, in my opinion, detox ‘diets’ should be about reducing the burden on the liver and providing fuel to enhance natural detoxification.

This is where things start to diverge and you get variations on the best way to detox. These range from juice fasts, colonic cleansing, raw food diets and more moderate programmes which just eliminate lifestyle toxins (alcohol and caffeine).

My approach to detox programmes

I run detoxification programmes which reduce some foods and nourish the body with plenty of fresh produce to optimise our already brilliant detoxification mechanisms.

I’ve participated in juice fasts and there are benefits, but there can be drawbacks and they are not appropriate for everyone. I encourage you to do some research, get some advice and decide if it is for you.

Whatever detox you choose to do, the most important thing is that it is undertaken with a qualified healthcare professional. Detoxification needs to be carefully managed if your liver is not in good shape, or you are on important medication. A registered nutritional therapist will be able to advise you on the best way to detox, based on your individual needs.

January is naturally a time for considering detoxing – it’s a new year and the guilt from the Christmas binge is reinforced by the miraculous shrinking of our clothes! However, in the northern hemisphere January is the middle of winter, so a full-blown juicing or raw food detox is not ideal. However, it is an ideal opportunity to start eating healthily with a view to a ‘spring clean’ in April/May time.

So, in a nutshell, if you are feeling a bit sluggish and know that your diet is not as clean as it should be, a detox can play a really important role in boosting your overall health. You don’t need supplements, or to starve yourself – just some guidance and a bit of will power. Doing it with a friend or family member also helps.

FreshStart Cleanse and Health Reset

I am regularly run a 28-day Cleanse and Health Reset programme called FreshStart. It is a seasonal eating programme designed to enhance detoxification systems and help start you on the road to healthy eating.

Fresh Start header

Click here for more information or contact me for local dates.

 

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Kitchen essentials (2)

Essentials for a healthy kitchen

If you are transitioning to a diet that is focussed on fresh whole foods and light on packaged food, then you may find that preparing meals takes a little longer than you’re used to. This isn’t a bad thing – you know, ‘good things come to those who wait’…

I encourage my clients to consume 6-7 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables daily (at least five of those should be vegetables). Don’t panic! It is possible and you don’t have to spend your day cleaning  a juicer to achieve the target. Eating clean, doesn’t have to be hard work. However, it does help to be prepared, organised and have a few kitchen tools that make preparation work a little easier.

For the remainder of this post, I’m going to list out the items that I find indispensable in my kitchen. If you are thinking of taking your cooking to a healthier level, some of these may help.

I am not promoting products on behalf of any brands. These are items that I have tried and tested and can wholeheartedly recommend. I’ve provided links to each item for visual purposes – these link to amazon.co.uk*, but you should be able to purchase most of these at any good cook shop or department store.

So, in no particular order of preference, here we go.

Microplane Fine Grater

This little guy is great for zesting citrus fruit, finely mincing garlic or finely grating chocolate or fresh coconut. I bought mine about 7 years ago with my first London pay check as a treat to myself. If you want to get delicate flavour and texture into your sauces, dips, baking and stews, this is a wonderful tool.

Food processor with liquidising jug

If there is one thing you invest in this year, let it be a food processor. It doesn’t have to break the bank and it will save you loads of time and effort (which makes eating healthier easier). I use mine almost daily to make pesto, energy balls, banana ice-cream, nut butters etc.

There are plenty of food processors to choose from. However, I would encourage you to look into one that is at least mid-range in price. Because I use mine so much, I know that a cheaper model would succumb to ‘wear and tear’. It’s a false economy to buy any electronics on the cheap, and, let’s be honest, it’s your health we’re talking about, so invest a little. This is the version similar to the one I use, but have a look, see what’s available and what you can afford. Sites like Amazon have customer reviews which may be helpful.

Kenwood food processor

 

Food processors come with a variety of attachments. I would recommend that you get one with at least a liquidiser/blender jug and grater attachments. The liquidiser is essential for smoothies, nut milks and sauces, and with the grater, you can literally whip up a healthy salad in 10 minutes – no fuss. An added bonus is a spice grinder, but you can also purchase this separately (see below).

Of course, the daddy of all processors is the Vitamix. If you can afford one, it’s a great investment, but a decent food processor will do all the key things you need.

Stove-top steamerStove-top steamer

If you want to get the best out of your veg, steaming is the way to go. I use this stove-stop steamer. I prefer it to a plastic plug-in version and it’s extremely versatile. Use it for vegetables, steaming fish or warming up meals (as I don’t use a microwave).

Spice grinder

If you don’t have a grinder attachment with your blender, I highly advise purchasing a separate spice grinder.

I use mine mostly for grinding flax seeds. They pop up in many healthy dishes and need to be ground in order to make the omega 3 oils available for absorption. You can always buy ready-ground seeds, but making your own is more economical.

Non-toxic, non-stick pans

If you’re going to go to all the effort of preparing healthy meals, ensure that your cookware isn’t leaching toxic chemicals into your food.

Cheaper non-stick coated pans, like Teflon, are likely coated with PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). PTFE is made from a chemical that can leach into cooking and release toxins into the air. Studies have been done to show that PTFE is not great for our health – do some research and decide for yourself. I also prefer not to use aluminum pots and pans.

There are other, non-toxic pans available on the market. I use ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron. These items are more expensive, but last much longer. I really believe that your pots and pans are a lifetime investment – if you buy good quality items they will be with you forever and have fewer ‘side effects’. I also advise buying pans that are oven-proof (very handy and less washing up!).

GreenPan

Ceramic, stainless steel and cast iron items can be pricey. So, start off with the items you use most at highest temperatures (frying, roasting etc) and replace those first. Take advantage of birthdays, wedding gifts or seasonal sales to get the most value for money.

Stick blender

If you have a liquidiser, a stick blender is technically not necessary. However, I have both and find the stick blender very useful for some tasks such as liquidising soups (in the pot), making pancakes or smaller quantities of sauces, dips and pestos.

Again, there is a spectrum of blenders available to suit your needs and budget. I have a fairly cheap version which keeps me going, but you may wish to invest in a more powerful blender.

Garlic crusher

Life is too short to chop garlic.

Besides that, crushing garlic is the best way to release the activate the compound, allicin. Allicin has been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, so the more you can get the better!

Invest in a decent quality crusher to make your life easier and get the most benefit from this brilliant food.

Good quality knives Good knives

Poor quality, dull knives make preparing food a trial. On the other hand, a set of quality, sharpened knives can make food preparation a pleasure. It may sound extreme, but it is true.

Please, please invest in some good knives and look after them (i.e. don’t put them in the dishwasher). For my smaller, serrated knives, I love Victorinox – my grandmother’s are still in operation, so I can testify to the quality. These are my essential kitchen knives, but ask around for recommendations:

Victorinox Parer

Victorinox – Tomato Knife 11cm

Victorinox Chefs Knife

Thin, flat egg lifter

It may sound strange to have an egg lifter on the list of essentials, but I truly couldn’t do without mine. It must be thin, so make flipping pancakes a breeze. It should ideally be of a good quality plastic to protect your lovely pans and heat resistant to avoid the inadvertent melt when left on the side of the cooker.

This is one of my favourites:

SprouterJar sprouter

Sprouts are nutrient dense and easy to grow on a window sill. They are a great addition to your weekly diet – scattered on a salad, blended into a dip, pesto or smoothie, or eaten as a snack.

If you’re starting off, a BioSnacky is a good option. Try to source organic seeds – I use this distributor.

Good set of measuring cups / jugMeasuring cups

Getting portion sizes right is key. Having a good set of measuring cups or a well-marked jug will make things much simpler for you when preparing delicious meals.

Good quality pepper grinder Peugeot pepper grinder

Believe me, buying cheap pepper grinders is a waste of time, money and adds to our landfill problem. I recommend investing in a good quality pepper grinder, such as Peugeot. It has a lifetime guarantee on the mechanism. They are more expensive than other mills, but you will have it forever.

These also make great gifts by the way.

 

Have I missed something off that you can’t live without? Leave your suggestions in the comment box below.

 

*I belong to an affiliate programme with Amazon which rewards me when you buy a product. This helps me run and maintain the blog, but don’t feel obliged to buy through Amazon. I would be even happier if you supported your local, independent kitchen shop.

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Sad to see the sunshine go? So is your body.

Here in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting colder and shorter. The leaves are turning golden and red and there is a hint of frost in the morning air.

At this time of year, our metabolisms start slowing down and conserving energy for the winter ahead. It’s a time for warming and nourishing soups, stews and apple pies.

Autumn leaves

This time of year also heralds the decrease in daily UV rays from the sun, which means our ability to manufacture the wonderful vitamin D is drawing to a close. This is part of nature’s cycle, so why all the fuss about topping up our vitamin D levels?

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients we make ourselves (for the most part). While we need to eat a balanced diet to ensure we get sufficient vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants, we were created to make our own vitamin D.  The ‘manufacturing’ plant is our skin. We receive UVB rays from the sun and the cholesterol under our skin converts the rays into vitamin D. It is then transported to the liver and kidneys where it is converted into usable forms of vitamin D that different tissues need.

However, modern lifestyles mean that we spend more time indoors which means we aren’t able to make this key nutrient. In addition, we are now more cautious of over-exposure to the sun, so when we are outdoors, we are well covered up with clothes and/or sunscreen.

Why do we need it?

Perhaps the fact that we are designed to make our own vitamin D indicates how important it is for our overall health – we’re able to make it regardless of how much food there is available to eat!

Vitamin D is required for the proper absorption of calcium, which makes it essential for strong bones and healthy teeth, and to prevent rickets. Therefore, in order to maintain healthy bones and avoid possible osteoporosis in the future, you need to have adequate levels of vitamin D as well as adequate calcium.

However, vitamin D is critical to our health in more ways. Research conducted over the last few years indicates that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with a number of illnesses and conditions. These include:

  • SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), also known as ‘winter blues’, symptoms of which include depression, lethargy and anxiety
  • Poor immunity (frequent illness)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Asthma
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes

Many of these conditions are more prevalent in the northern hemisphere, possibly due to lower levels of UVB rays during the year. Levels of vitamin D deficiency are also highest in the northern hemisphere, particularly in Europe.

Some research has shown that every cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor, which suggests that it may be required for way more essential processes than we currently know of.

Who needs it most?

It is now widely accepted that people of all ages need adequate vitamin D.

This means that even pregnant mothers need to ensure they have enough for themselves and their baby – particularly if the last trimester falls in winter.

Growing children and teenagers also need adequate levels to keep them healthy, achieve peak bone mass and prevent chronic illnesses down the road. In fact, if a young person’s diet is full of processed foods and soda, and they are spending longer indoors on devices or watching TV, then they are doing even more damage to their immune and skeletal health, so adequate vitamin D is imperative.

Adults and the elderly also need to maintain good vitamin D levels. Conditions such as osteoporosis are a long time in the making – keeping on top of your health throughout childhood and adult life is really your best insurance policy for a healthy and vibrant old age. Furthermore, as we age, our skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D, so the elderly need to pay particular attention to their levels.

It’s also important to remember that the darker your skin or the higher your BMI, the more vitamin D your body requires.

How can we get it?

The best way to get vitamin D is to make it yourself, through sensible exposure to the sun (that’s the way nature intended!).

It is generally recommended to get 20 minutes of exposure (without sunscreen) daily in order to make and store sufficient levels of vitamin D for optimum health.

I stress optimum health, because RDA guides will prevent you from being deficient. When you’re deficient, you can start to manifest health problems, so you really want to have levels that are above the baseline for deficiency!

Of course, over-exposure to the sun can cause problems, so be sensible. 20 minutes at the hottest times of the day can send some fair-skinned types into lobster territory. You know your skin – if you can do 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at say, 3pm, then that’s fine. Ensure you have your arms and legs exposed for maximum absorption. But if you can only nip out of the office during lunch, then just roll up your selves and soak up as much sunshine as you can. Sensibly.

The sun

Now, sunbeds are a source of UVB rays and are recommended by many as a *safe* way to top up your vitamin D levels if sun exposure is not an option. However, if you are considering this option, I would caution you to ensure that you only stay under the lights for the shortest time possible to manufacture some vitamin D.

You can get some vitamin D through food. The best sources include herring, oysters, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, mushrooms and organic/free range eggs.

However, you generally will only be able to get about 10% of the vitamin D you need through food.

That’s why a good supplement in the winter is a good option for those with low levels. A supplement with the active D3 is the best and should be taken with a meal, as vitamin D needs fat to be absorbed.

So, in summary:

  1. More and more studies are showing that vitamin D is essential for good health and prevention of disease
  2. Many in the northern hemisphere are vitamin D deficient (due to lower exposure to UVB rays)
  3. You need to ensure that you get adequate exposure to the sunshine when you can
  4. Eat vitamin D-rich foods to top up
  5. Consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement if your levels are below optimum.

 Notes:

  • Sun exposure times will vary depending on skin pigmentation and weight. An average of 20 minutes is recommended, but this could be more depending on your individual requirements.
  • Women who are pregnant or of child-bearing age and young children should not eat more than 2-3 portions of oily fish per week in order to reduce exposure to heavy metals.

 

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Essential nutrients for novice marathon runners

 

 

Jogging

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” Oprah Winfrey

Spring is marathon season in Europe and as the daffodils appear, they are urged on by the pitter patter and pounding of runners getting into shape.

If you are a casual jogger who has decided to take the plunge and sign up for a long-distance running event, then there are a few small things you can do to make sure your endurance and recovery are the best they can be.  Running a marathon or half marathon is a real push for the body, and what you eat can make a massive impact on your endurance and recovery.

A little bit of biology to set the context...

Your body uses energy from food to keep you alive, much like a car uses petrol to run. And, the process of using that energy results in by-products called free radicals which cause oxidation – think how exhaust fumes are the by-product of running a car.

As with exhaust fumes, oxidation is not good for us and too much causes damage.  These damaging free radicals are also called ‘oxidants’. An this is where ‘antioxidants’ come into the picture. Basically antioxidants stop oxidants doing damage to your body. Think about cutting an apple. If you expose it to the air for a time, it goes brown, but if you squeeze a little lemon juice over it, you prevent the browning. The browning is the process of oxidation and the lemon juice is an antioxidant.

So, where am I going with all of this? Oxidation is a natural process and a normal, balanced diet should provide the right amount of antioxidants to counteract natural oxidation from expending energy. However, when we exert ourselves, we produce much higher levels of free radicals. High levels of free radicals cause tissue damage, so it’s important to ensure that we have good levels of antioxidants to ‘eat up’ the free radicals. (By the way, smoking causes serious amounts of oxidation, so the same principle applies to smokers.)

Berries for hormone balancing

Antioxidants, antioxidants, antioxidants

Antioxidants are key. Without them, those nasty free radicals can start to do some serious long-term damage to our health.

A study published by the American Journal of Physiology found that if the production of free radicals is excessive, as during strenuous aerobic exercise, or if antioxidant defences are severely hampered, the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is lost. This may lead to tissue damage and thus there is a paradox between the benefits of heavy aerobic exercise on cardiovascular risk factors and the potentially harmful consequences of free radicals generated during heavy exercise.

So, to get back to the main point of this post – if you are training for an endurance event or do high levels of physical exercise, then you need to ensure that you are consuming foods that are high in antioxidants. These come from brightly and deeply coloured vegetables and fruit.

Mega magnesium

An adequate intake of antioxidants isn’t the only nutritional consideration when training for a marathon (or other big event). Magnesium is also important.

More and more, magnesium is being recognised as critical to overall good health and is often depleted – especially post-exercise. Magnesium might be one of my ‘favourite’ minerals. It plays a role in so many bodily functions and is a great therapeutic aid to many conditions. It is particularly useful during times of physical and emotional stress and anxiety. From a sports perspective, magnesium will aid in energy production, help your muscles recover and protect you from inflammation.

The good news is that it is easy to get through your diet – spinach, almonds, cocoa and sesame seeds are all excellent sources of magnesium.

So, if you’re a novice runner or regular exerciser, make sure you are getting your antioxidants and magnesium! Of course hydration, protein and the right balance of carbohydrates will positively impact your endurance, but these ‘feature nutrients’ will help you recover and prevent any long-term damage your outdoorsy ways may set you up for.

Here is a perfect for post-training smoothie: an antioxidant, magnesium and electrolyte-packed shake. Even better, it’s chocolate. Yes a delicious chocolate shake that is good for you. Happy days!

References:

A marathon run increases the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation in vitro and modifies plasma antioxidants

Ming-Lin Liu , Robert Bergholm , Sari Mäkimattila , Sanni Lahdenperä , Miia Valkonen , Hannele Hilden , Hannele Yki-Järvinen , Marja-Riitta Taskinen
American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and MetabolismPublished 1 June 1999Vol. 276no. E1083-E1091 http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/276/6/E1083

 

Magnesium and exercise

Bohl CH, Volpe SL. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2002;42(6):533-63.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12487419

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Reindeer

8 ways to get through the festive season in one piece

The festive season is a wonderful time of year when we can, more or less guilt-free, indulge in regular bouts of cheerful revelry, rich food and late nights. Most of us acknowledge that this is an exceptional part of the year when we can forget about being good and pick up the pieces in January.

I personally love the festive season and look forward to it. Besides the opportunity to let your hair down and celebrate with friends, there’s all that lovely food we’ve been holding out for all year.

However, the good times can take a toll on your health. Late nights, rich food and alcohol create a heavy load for your body to process. Now, I am not going to be a killjoy and recommend you forgo the champagne and Christmas puds for elderflower cordial and tofu cheesecake. I think that the period of festivities, reconnecting with families and friends, and good home cooking, is a wonderful tonic after a year of hard work. It is important to have joy and fun in life. Sometimes that means giving in to foods that we know are not healthful.

It’s not great, but it happens. Because your lifestyle should never be ‘all or nothing’, I’ve listed out eight ways you can be kinder to your body during the festive season. These are small, yet practical things you can do to help your system stay strong whilst you make the most of a fabulous time of year!

1. Protect your liver. Everything you put in your body gets processed by the liver. The bigger the load, the more work, so keeping your liver in good shape during the festive season is important.

For many, the festive season is characterised by higher-than-average consumption of alcohol and rich food. The first thing you can do is take preventative measure to protect your liver. Think about taking a good milk thistle supplement. The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin has been shown to protect the liver. In addition, milk thistle can also aid digestion.

2. Get your greens (and reds and yellows!). Christmas parties and festive dinners tend to focus on carbohydrates and protein. But don’t forget to ‘eat a rainbow’. You need to vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from fruit and vegetables to keep in good health.

Cruciferous vegetables are especially important help your liver detoxify during periods of indulgence. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are packed with B vitamins and a host of compounds that maximise liver function. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants that help mop up free radicals – important every day, but even more so when we have more alcohol and rich food flowing through our systems.

3. Be good at breakfast. Breakfast truly does set you up for the day. During busy times, it’s also one of the meals you have the most control over.

If you know you’ll be out and about, use breakfast as an opportunity to get in the nutrients you may not get throughout the rest of the day. Make sure to include a source of protein. This will balance your blood sugar and help prevent sugar cravings during the day. A warming bowl of oatmeal will provide you with fibre and B vitamins. Top with cinnamon, fresh berries or grated apple and sprinkle with milled seeds and ground almonds for protein (what’s more Christmassy than almond, berries and cinnamon?!). Eggs are also fabulous. They contain sulphur which helps your liver do its thing. Try an omelette with two big handfuls of spinach, and sautéed tomatoes, onions and peppers.

4. Hydrate. Water is essential to most bodily functions and it is always important to keep well hydrated. Alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate your body, so if you find yourself over-indulging during the festive season, you need to be especially vigilant in topping up your water levels!

Water helps flush out toxins and aids in the secretion of digestive juices. If you’re not getting enough, you’ll feel sluggish and will battle to manage large, hearty meals. Make sure you drink at least 1.5 litres across the day (caffeinated tea and coffee don’t count!).

5. Choose organic where you can. I am a big believer in organic foods, but I am realistic that it can be pricey. If you are going to pick specific foods to buy organic, then animal products are where you should invest.

Meat, dairy and eggs carry by-products of hormones and antibiotics used in animal farming (particularly poultry and eggs). As these items make up the bulk of most festive menus, try and buy organic if you are cooking animal products over the season – the taste and quality will be better and again, you’ll be doing your poor old liver a favour.

6. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating is not cheating! Drinking on an empty stomach is a fool’s game – it takes you over the limit quicker, makes you feel worse off the next day and causes you to made bad food choices.

Alcohol often results in a rapid increase in blood glucose levels followed by a drop. When your blood sugar levels drop, you start craving food – particularly sugary, carby foods (think late night chips and kebabs). Making sure you eat before or during drinking will help avoid the blood-sugar rollercoaster, and, hopefully leave you feeling a little more in control at the end of the night.

7. Sleep. Don’t underestimate the effect a string of late nights can have on your health. Impaired sleep or sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your physical and mental well-being.

To avoid waking up in January like a zombie, make time in your busy festive calendar to get good amounts of restorative sleep.

8. Have fun! Laughter and enjoyment are essential to good physical and emotional health. If you’re going to be partaking in the full festive experience, make sure that you’re getting all the upsides – laughter enhances the immune system and helps the body release mood-elevating endorphins.

Even better, pass the joy on. If you know of anyone feeling low over the festive season, even a small gesture can improve their well-being and it doesn’t cost much.

Season’s greetings to you all!

Need a kick-start into the new year? My FreshStart 28-day programme will be launching in January. If you want to clear out those cobwebs and start 2016 in a good place (nutritionally), this step-by-step programme will set you up! Get in touch if you would like more information.  

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