Natural ways to a stress-free Christmas

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

The lead-up to Christmas is traditionally a very stressful time of year.  There’s always so much to do and often many people to please. 

What you eat and how you plan your time can really help support your health and minimise stress, so you can fully enjoy the festive season.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips for a stress-free Christmas.

Load up on magnesium

Nature has supplied us with everything we need in terms of nutrients.  The good news is that the mineral, magnesium, is especially calming.  Whilst magnesium is important for energy production, it’s also needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  This includes playing a role in the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially calming GABA which decreases activity in your nervous system. Magnesium also helps manage the body’s normal stress response as well as aiding muscle relaxation.  No wonder it’s known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Foods high in magnesium are going to become your best friends over the next few weeks.  Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale, wholegrains such as oats, almonds, dairy foods, beans, and meat should all be on the menu.  It may also be worth taking a magnesium supplement.  If you take it about an hour before bedtime, it can help you to sleep peacefully too.

Try some calming herbs

Just as nature has delivered us calming nutrients, it’s also delivered calming herbs. And there are many ways you can use them in meal preparation.

Clearly, time is a precious commodity right now, so spending hours in the kitchen is not on the menu.  However, basil is a tonic for the nervous system: it’s calming and can also help digestion.  Why not use it in an easy chicken pasta dish, using whole wheat pasta (which contains more magnesium and B-vitamins) or with mozzarella cheese and buffalo tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil?  Two easy supper suggestions.

Mozzarella, tomato and basil salad

Camomile is a popular calming tea which is especially good before bedtime, as is mint tea which is soothing for the digestive system.  Additionally, rosemary adds a wonderful taste and aroma to many different dishes. Think roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, chicken, soups, or simply rubbed over chunky bread with a little olive oil.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Some herbs can act as both an energy stimulant as well as encouraging calm and relaxation.  They are known as adaptogenic herbs; ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all have this effect.  They are best taken in the morning in supplement form to help with energy levels, but because they manage the stress response, they body will also feel calm and better able to sleep.

Make time for relaxation

Unfortunately, we often push ourselves very hard at this time of year.  This can suppress immune function making us susceptible to all the nasty colds and bugs flying around, not to mention leaving us feeling low and tired.

The good news is there are many relaxation apps you can download and listening to them won’t eat too much time out of your day.  Meditation can take a little practice, but an app can really help guide you along the way.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

The benefits of relaxation are far-reaching not just at this time of year but for long term health and longevity.  Try and allocate around 20 minutes a day. Just listening to a relaxation app and being still for a short time will refresh your body and mind.

It’s important to give back to the body what it needs.  While it’s working hard and functioning day to day, it’s easy to forget that the stress response uses up more nutrients (especially magnesium and the B-vitamins, which are essential for energy). Therefore, it should be properly fuelled with nutrients and lifestyle changes, so it continues to work as it’s best for you.

So, just a few small changes can make a massive difference to how well you cope over the next few weeks and can hopefully help you have a happier Christmas.

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Christmas food planning: top ideas for healthy sides and snacks

Woman preparing christmas dinner

We hardly need reminding that there’s just one month to go until the big day! There’s always so much to do, not least when it comes to food planning. 

However, it’s not too late to conjure up some healthy snack ideas and side dishes for your Christmas meal.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers five deliciously healthy suggestions.

Keep your blood pressure low with cauliflower cheese and walnuts

A traditional Christmas meal is probably one of the most stressful anyone will ever have to cook!  There’s huge expectation and excitement around it, plus trying to have each dish ready for the same time is not easy.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Cauliflower cheese as a vegetable side is always popular, but why not add a healthy twist with some chopped walnuts scattered over the top.  Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats and have been found to help reduce blood pressure.  Plus, cauliflower is a member of the super-healthy brassica family, and is packed with energising B vitamins, fibre and the mineral magnesium.  This dish can also be made and cooked ahead – just put under the grill at the last minute to heat through.

Get your circulation flowing with gingered sprouts

No Christmas meal is complete without sprouts!  Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying they are quintessentially Christmas.  Many people have a gene which makes sprouts taste bitter.  Therefore, why not mask that flavour by adding some ginger and orange?

Sprouts are hugely healthy, containing plenty of vitamins and minerals.  However, they also aid liver detoxification, which might be helpful around Christmas time.

Sprouts dish with ginger

With this vegetable side simply cook the Brussels lightly for about 5 minutes and then toss them in crushed ginger, soy sauce and a little orange juice.  Ginger is a wonderfully warming spice which helps blood circulation around the body, delivering nutrients where they’re most needed. None of your guests need to complain about the bitter taste of sprouts again!

Boost your immunity with Santa on a stick

It’s not the usual way we visualise Santa! However, for the younger guests (and slightly older too!) why not offer banana and strawberries in the shape of Santa?

Many people find Christmas pudding far too rich so what better as a healthy and super-easy alternative?  Bananas are always popular and are loaded with heart-healthy potassium.  Plus, strawberries contain some of the highest amounts of immune-boosting vitamin C of all fruits.

Chopped strawberries and bananas

Simply find some long sticks, halve a strawberry for his hat, add three slices of bananas for the body, and add some chocolate drop eyes and buttons as you see fit.  It will certainly bring a smile to everyone’s face and provide a healthy dessert option.

Spice up your greens

Kale often gets overlooked when planning the Christmas meal as it can taste quite bland.  Plus, if not cooked properly, the leaves are tough to eat.  However, why not spice up your kale with some garlic and sesame seeds?  Garlic is great for keeping blood pressure in check and sesame seeds are full of bone-loving calcium.  Kale, of course is another member of the brassica family and is loaded with anti-aging antioxidants; very helpful during the stressful Christmas period.

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Make sure you blanch the kale for about three minutes and then stir fry it with crushed garlic and sesame seeds.

Turbo-charge your day with maca

The herb, maca, is often referred to as natural caffeine.  This is because it will certainly provide a boost of energy without the side effects of caffeine.  Maca also has many other health benefits including helping to balance hormones, boosting libido and managing the stress response.

Pot of maca powder and glass of milk with maca

You can make a delicious maca shot by using almond or coconut milk (700 ml of either), blended with six dessert spoons of Maca Powder.  It will certainly stop your guests from falling asleep after lunch!

So, enjoy creating a range of healthy and delicious sides and snacks this festive season.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts