Trouble sleeping? Discover some top tips on how to get more zzz’s

Woman asleep in bed

How many of us dream of getting a good night’s sleep?  For at least 40% of the UK population, sleep can often be a struggle, and things have become much more challenging over the last couple of years, for obvious reasons.

However, peaceful slumbers don’t need to just be in your dreams. There are a few things that you can do to help get a better nights’ sleep, which will in turn support your energy levels throughout the day.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

Review your diet

If you want great sleep, it’s important to eat right during the day. A diet that’s rich in low to medium foods on the glycaemic index, which includes whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables, is the way forward.  These will help to keep the body in good balance and encourage it to rest.

Low,Glycemic,Health,Food,For,Weight,Loss,&,Fitness,Concept

Foods lower on the glycaemic index also provide sustained energy throughout the day, without spiking blood sugar levels.  This means you’ll avoid those highs and lows, but also feelings of anxiety which often accompany blood sugar imbalances. Anxiety is certainly not helpful when you are trying to get to sleep.

Keep it regular

This means adopting a regular routine.  The body loves routine, so keeping regular sleep and waking times is essential for maintaining a healthy sleep pattern.  Generally, we need seven to nine hours sleep per night, therefore think about what time you need to be in bed depending on when you need to get up, in order to achieve this.

CLose up of an alarm clock and a woman getting out of bed to represent getting up at the same time every day

Trying to ‘catch up’ on sleep at weekends tends to push the body out of routine, so this can become a negative strategy.  Once you’ve got a routine going, it’s amazing how well the body will adapt.

Keep calm with magnesium

The mineral magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it has a calming effect on the body, down to its work as a muscle relaxant. Poor sleep, with long periods of tossing and turning during the night is often associated with magnesium deficiency. Plus, stress further depletes magnesium levels in the body.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that magnesium is found in whole grains and foods that are also low on the glycaemic index. Plus, green leafy vegetables are your friends in this respect too.  So, load up on broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and spinach.  This will help to keep the body calm and balanced and able to rest and relax.

Consider trying adaptogen herbs

Stress is obviously going to impact our sleep patterns.  And whilst we can’t eradicate all stress from our lives, we can take steps to support the body during stressful times by using adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens, as the name suggests, bend and flex to meet the body’s needs. Herbal adaptogens primarily relieve stress by working on the adrenal glands from where the body releases stress hormones.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha has long been studied for its benefits on sleep, with a recent trial further confirming its effectiveness. If stress and anxiety are effectively managed because stress hormone levels are balanced, then many sleep issues can be resolved.  The herb Rhodiola rosea is another adaptogenic herb, which can help the body get through stressful times, and in turn aid restful sleep.

Reduce caffeine and sugar intake

As we all know, caffeine is a stimulant which frequently impacts on getting a good night’s sleep.  For those of us who are especially sensitive to caffeine even having one high-caffeinated drink during the afternoon can have a detrimental effect on peaceful slumbers.  Plus, ‘decaf’ drinks still contain a small amount of caffeine unfortunately.

Coffee,Cup,Behind,Red,Forbidden,Sign.,No,Caffeine,Before,Bedtime.

Caffeine, and especially coffee, can cause more anxiety generally; often we don’t realise the overall effect on the body.  If you’re struggling to get some rest, then it’s really worth cutting out all caffeine for a week and seeing if things improve.

Sugar is also a stimulant so be mindful of overall sugar intake too.  Sugary snacks are going to send blood sugar levels up and the body’s overall balance will be upset. Try to keep the diet as ‘clean’ as possible and follow some of these simple strategies.  Improvements can be felt really quickly in many cases.

So, try some of these strategies to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Stay well.

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A balanced diet starts with a balanced plate: top nutrition tips for every meal

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

As we often say, life is all about balance.  And this completely resonates when talking about nutrition and having a balanced diet.  But what exactly does this mean, and how can it be achieved?

It is all about macronutrients, how each benefits the body, and, therefore, how to combine these to create well-balanced plates at every meal.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her nutrition tips and what a balanced plate of food looks like.

 

Macronutrients

There are three key macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. In addition, fibre is often referred to as a macronutrient, such is its importance in the diet and overall health. Water is of course essential for life, and we should be drinking around 1.5 – 2 litres of water daily, depending on activity levels.

Protein

Protein fulfils a wide range of functions and it’s an integral part of our body’s make up.  Protein forms much of the skeletal frame, primarily as collagen but also in muscle. Protein is also needed to produce immune cells, hormones, brain neurotransmitters, enzymes, and many biochemical reactions. It can also be used as an energy source.  There are 20 amino acids that help form the thousands of different proteins in the body.

A range of foods containing protein

Essentially, protein is sourced from both animals and vegetables. Animal sources include meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, whilst vegetable sources from plants, include legumes, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.  Many plant sources do not contain the full complement of amino acids; hence a wide range of foods need to be eaten, but it is possible to obtain sufficient protein from plants alone.

Such is protein’s importance to our health; we should eat it every day and ideally at every mealtime in some form or another.

Fats

Nothing in life is simple and the different types of fats can be confusing. We need some fat in the diet but ideally not too much saturated fat.  Ideally the diet should contain around 20-30% fat with no more than 10% coming from the saturated kind found primarily in red meat and high fat dairy produce like cheese and butter. However, fat is essential for the body to utilise our fat-soluble vitamins – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K. It is also essential for insulating the body and is used as an energy source.

shutterstock_376614814 omega 3 fats Mar16

We often see the word ‘polyunsaturated’ on foods. Care is needed with these because once heated polyunsaturated fats are turned into trans fats which can be damaging for the heart and arteries.  Eating too much margarine is certainly not a good idea.  However, essential omega-3 and 6 fats are super-healthy and must be eaten regularly in the diet.  To this end, oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends.

Carbohydrates

This macronutrient includes many foods such as fruits and vegetables as well as grains.  These are used to produce starchy foods such as bread and pasta.  It’s important to favour complex carbs found in whole grains over the refined variety which contain little fibre and nutrients.  Refined grains are frequently used to produce white bread, pasta, cakes, and pastries. Non-refined carbohydrates are found in whole grain rice, wholemeal bread and pasta and other grain-based food such as buckwheat.

Foods,Highest,In,Carbohydrates.,Healthy,Diet,Eating,Concept.

Carbohydrates provide the body’s preferred energy source, glucose, since the body can produce this easily from foods.  Glucose is also loved by the brain, and it uses a whopping 30% of what goes into the body.

Fibre is a carbohydrate and is high in fruits, vegetables, and non-refined grains; another great reason for them featuring highly in the daily diet.

What does a balanced plate look like?

Much depends on individual lifestyle and activity levels.  If you do a very physical job, you will need more carbohydrates.  However, a balanced plate of food should contain all macronutrients in varying amounts.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

As an example, a typical dinner plate might contain a medium-sized piece of wild salmon, a small amount of carbohydrate (say a clenched fist size) and two or three different portions of vegetables. This could be a few sprigs of broccoli, a handful of peas and a carrot, sliced and cooked. This plate therefore provides all macronutrients, including fibre, plus some of those important essential omega-3 fats.

Poached egg on brown toast

When it comes to breakfast, eggs are a great option, providing you with protein and fat, with a slice of wholemeal toast. Add a side of mixed berries to provide additional healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

It will not always be easy to get the perfect balance with every meal, but over the day, it can be achieved with a little planning.  Importantly, enjoy the food on your plate; food is one of life’s biggest pleasures!

 

Stay well.

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How to pack a healthy picnic

A picnic basket on a wodden table overlooking a beautiful countryside scene

It’s picnic season and time to fully enjoy the great outdoors with some delicious and super-nutritious foods that the whole family will love.

There is often a tendency when packing picnics to default to prepacked sausage rolls, Scotch eggs and crisps! But this doesn’t need to be the case. Picnics can be really healthy, nutritionally balanced, and tasty too!

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top picnic tips.

Crudités and Dips

Most people love a variety of dips, many of which are healthy.  However, it’s what’s dipped into them that really counts! Chopped carrots, celery, red peppers, and cucumber all make great accompaniments.

shutterstock_495222628-hummus-and-veg-crudites-nov16

Carrots are loaded with beta-carotene which the body turns into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed. Both celery and cucumber work as natural diuretics which help banish water retention and bloating (especially common in women) and red peppers are one of the richest sources of vitamin C, also amazing for the immune system.

Guacamole,Dip,In,Bowl,Over,White,Stone,Background.,Healthy,Avocado

Pack some hummus, which is high in protein and tzatziki made from natural yogurt which helps balance the gut bacteria. Guacamole, produced from super-healthy avocados, is a great option too. Adding these dips to your picnic has just upped the nutrition a good few notches.

Superfood Salad

Salads don’t need to be dull or limp!  If you pack a grain-based salad such as quinoa or couscous, you’ve got the perfect base on which to build your amazing superfood salad. For starters, these healthy grains contain some protein which helps to keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Plus, quinoa has the added benefit of being gluten-free if that’s a consideration for you.

Salads,With,Quinoa,,Arugula,,Radish,,Tomatoes,And,Cucumber,In,Bowl

A superfood salad can be totally freestyled!  You can add what takes your fancy.  However, the greater colour variety you have, the more health benefits you’ll gain.  For example, chopped tomatoes are high in the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which can help protect the body from free radical damage.  Or why not roast some vegetables to add to the grains?  Roasted aubergine, peppers, mushrooms and onions make a great combination.

Salad,Baked,Eggplant,And,Fresh,Tomatoes.,Top,View

Aubergines help replenish the gut bacteria, peppers are rich in vitamin C, mushrooms provide a small amount of vitamin D and onions are high in quercetin, a natural antihistamine which will help protect against hay fever symptoms. Even better, these salads are really easy to transport, can be cooked and kept in the fridge overnight and are simply delicious with pesto added.

Fruit Extravaganza

Just as you’ve packed some deliciously crisp and healthy crudités for dips, the same treatment works for fruit, and the colours will delight! It’s always good to end a picnic with a sweet treat, and rather than loading up with high sugar and fat-laden pastries or cookies, why not enjoy some delightful fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet cravings?

Mixed,Berry,Salad,With,Mint.,Fruit,Salad.

It being summertime, there is a great selection of berry fruits available.  Berries are all rich in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants, that protect the body from illnesses.  Why not grab some strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries?  They can all be mixed, just remember to wash them all thoroughly before packing in the picnic basket.

Healthy,Fresh,Fruit,Salad,In,Glass,Bowl,On,White,Wooden

You could also chop up some apples and pears, which are both high in vitamin C and fibre. Once chopped, and exposed to oxygen, they will go brown.  However, squeezing some lemon juice over them will stop this happening (lemon also contains antioxidants, which prevent oxidation of foods).

Kiwi,Fruit,In,A,Bowl,On,Wooden,Background.,Copy,Space

To complete your colourful extravaganza, pack some kiwis which don’t need to be chopped.  Kiwis can be eaten just like a boiled egg and peeled from the top and dipped with a spoon.  Kiwis contain some of the highest levels of immune-boosting vitamin C of any fruit.

So enjoy the healthiest, most colourful picnic yet this summer!

Stay well.

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Back to basics: everyday nutrition tips

shutterstock_335465993 nutrition words Mar21

The whole topic of nutrition has been highly glamorised in recent years, partly down to social media.  Whilst this is great in many ways because good nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness, it has left many people confused about what is right and what is wrong.

When it comes to a balanced diet there are a few simple rules which we can all follow to ensure we are getting the optimum nutrition we need.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes us back to the basics of daily nutrition.

What are macros?

As the name suggests, they are big, and in this case refer to the groups of food that we eat most of.  Essentially, there are three macronutrients: proteins,  carbohydrates and fats. Some people also talk about fibre as being another macro such is its important in overall health, although technically fibre is a carbohydrate.

Protein – essential building blocks for life

All macros form an essential part of the daily diet, so any restrictive diet is going to lead to nutrient deficiencies somewhere along the line.  Protein is literally the building block of life. It is essential for every bone and muscle in the body, as well as producing hormones, neurotransmitters and supporting the immune system.

A range of foods containing protein

There are nine essential amino acids that must be eaten in the diet (there are other amino acids that are essential, but these can be produced in the body). These nine amino acids are found primarily in animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy and plant sources quinoa, buckwheat, and soybeans.  If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you should combine grains and pulses to get sufficient amino acids, although this does not need to be in the same meal.

Carbohydrates – energy and nutrient providers

Carbohydrates, including fibre, provide an essential energy source for our muscles and brain.  Indeed, the brain requires around 30% of all carbohydrate the body intakes. Carbs are not all created equally in that slow releasing ones (essentially whole foods and fruits and vegetables) provide sustainable energy throughout the day. Conversely, fast release carbs primarily found in processed and refined foods give an energy boost then an energy crash due to their adverse effect on blood sugar.

Foods,Highest,In,Carbohydrates.,Healthy,Diet,Eating,Concept.

Carbs are often maligned but this food group contains some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and are loaded with antioxidants, so the body is missing out if they are not being consumed.

Fat – protecting and sustaining

Another maligned food group is fat.  However, fat provides the second energy source for the body, and it is essential for absorbing our fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

There is often confusion around good and ‘bad’ fats.  Essentially, good fats are the omegas 3 and 6 which must be eaten in the diet as the body cannot make them.  The omega 3s are crucial for hormones, joints, the heart, brain and eyes. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends in this respect.

shutterstock_196052645 avocadoes Oct15

Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil is great for the heart and should be included in the diet.  However, try to avoid the damaged fats; the trans fats found in margarines and refined foods.  The body cannot deal with these and trans fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, so try to be aware of not overeating the foods that contain them.

Fruits and vegetables – overflowing with goodness

As nutritionists we talk endlessly about getting sufficient fruits and vegetables into the diet.  Why? Because quite simply they are loaded with nutrients, especially the trace minerals that are so often deficient in the typical western diet.  It is all about colour and variety and not over thinking it.  Try to have plenty of colour on your plate at every mealtime.

A range of fruits and vegetables

There’s also confusion as to whether juicing is good or bad.  Juices are a great way of getting more nutrients into the body.  You might lose the fibre content, but juices are still loaded with nutrients.  Try to include more vegetables than fruits in your juices or blends to keep fructose (a fruit sugar) content to a minimum.

Water – pure and simple

We talk about the body being around 80% water.  Of course, this is not pure water because it is made up of solutes and everything within cellular tissue.  However, the body still needs plenty of plain water to keep it sufficiently hydrated.  It will quickly complain if dehydrated and you’ll feel low in energy, suffer brain fog, plus constipation may be problematic.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Our water needs vary depending on activity levels.  However, as a general rule, if you are having around 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily you will be doing ok, plus fruits and vegetables can count towards this target since they’re high in water.

The body’s needs are relatively simple so there is no need to overcomplicate diets; just try and stick to the basics for well-balanced nutrition.

Stay well.

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It’s all about balance: how to have your best year yet

Ven diagram with work, life, and health crossing and leading to the word balance

It’s all about balance – an often-used expression but it’s so appropriate when we’re talking about diet and lifestyle.  The body likes to be in a state of equilibrium, which is why it has so many in-built systems to keep it this way. 

However, we don’t always look after our bodies as well as we should, and we can upset the balance quite easily.

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, talks about how to better balance both your diet and lifestyle and have your best year yet!

Feast don’t fad

Well, maybe not a total blowout!  But the point here is to avoid fad diets, especially ones that advocate strict calorie restriction.  We know the body likes to be balanced and if it thinks it’s going to starve it will slow metabolism down to preserve energy stores.

It is true that you will lose weight initially but it’s not sustainable to live feeling permanently hungry. Research suggests weight goes back on once ‘normal’ eating is resumed, and sometimes even more!

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

If you’re still struggling to shift those excess pounds from Christmas, then key advice is to be mindful of portion sizes.  Stick to three balanced meals a day and avoid snacking, if possible, in-between.  This ensures the body can enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion, take in nutrients and avoid insulin spikes which ultimately lead to fat being deposited.

A range of high protein foods

Keep protein levels high at every meal, whether this is from fish, meat, poultry, eggs, soya, dairy, beans or nuts.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s protein that keeps you feeling fuller for longer, not carbs.  Protein keeps blood sugar levels balanced so energy will also be sustained.

A balanced meal of chicken, rice and vegetables

Think about the quantities on your plate too; if it’s piled high, it’s too much.  The protein source should be about the size of your outstretched palm (think about a chicken breast) and carbohydrate no bigger than a fist. And then fill the rest of your plate with nutrient-rich vegetables. Keep the rules simple: try to cook ‘from scratch’ (using frozen fruit and veg is fine) and banish nutrient-poor cakes, biscuits and pastries as much as possible.

Balance your mind

If you’re rushing around in a constant state of stress then it’s going to take its toll sooner or later.  The body has amazing powers of adaptation so many people continue living their life this way for years.  However, at some point the body loses tolerance and you can fall into what’s called adrenal exhaustion. This is when the adrenal glands secreting our stress hormones, such as cortisol, can’t take any more.

Close up on woman meditating in shadow with sunset background

Clearly, it’s difficult to avoid all stress in your life – we all work and play hard.  However, be strict with yourself.  Even taking 20-minutes out of every day with a calming app can make a huge difference.  You’ll feel refreshed afterwards and you’ll sleep better at night.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

It’s also good to put some mental boundaries in place too.  Instead of going to bed with all your worries on top of you, write them down before bedtime and visualise a block.  Tell yourself that it is tomorrow’s issue, not for worrying about right now.  If you need help with better balancing your mind then, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or neuro linguistic programming (NLP) are very effective.

Balance your lifestyle

Once you feel more balanced in your thought processes, then you’ll feel better equipped to tackle any issues in your life that need resolving and might be sending you off balance.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

The human body evolved to be active and it doesn’t like being sedentary.  Blood flow to the brain is so much better too when you’re active, not to mention the feel-good endorphins that are released, giving you an extra boost.  Just a brisk walk around the block every day will help. Find an activity you enjoy and are happy to do several times a week – you are much more likely to stay active if you’re doing something you love.

CLose up of woman reading a book relaxing by the fireplace

If you work long hours, or there’s lots of stress in your home life, you need to be able to take yourself out of this at regular intervals.  Whether that’s learning a new skill, reading a book, going for a walk, listening to a Ted talk or joining a networking group, there’s no end of available options.  Plus, try to take regular holidays, even for short breaks.  Whilst you might not necessarily be feeling the negative effects of long-term stress right now, managing this on a daily basis will put you in the best position to deal with it when it comes along.

So, resolve to be better balanced in all areas of your life in 2020!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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