Feeling blue after your holiday? Try these five tips to set yourself up for the rest of the year

Sad,Woman,With,A,Suitcase,,Independent,Travel

We look forward to our holidays for so long, and especially with everything that’s happened over the last couple of years. However, in a flash they’re gone and it’s back to the daily grind of life! 

If you are suffering with the post-holiday blues, the good news is that there are some lifestyle changes you can make to set yourself up well for the rest of the year.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some inspirational tips

Get back into a healthy routine

Whilst holidays are, hopefully, positive for mental wellbeing, our eating habits whilst we are away from home are not always the healthiest; we’re on holiday after all, and treats are a part of a well-earned break.  Unfortunately, for some of us, once we return, we can feel lacking in energy and sometimes put on weight too, which doesn’t make us feel great.

DOuble exposure image of a woman running and meditating to represent healthy lifestyle

If you have come back feeling sluggish, getting back into an exercise routine, and eating a well-balanced diet can really help our physical and mental wellbeing as well as energy levels.

shutterstock_390988804 green leafy vegetables Dec16Too many sugary foods and alcohol which we may have consumed on holiday can work as depressants by reducing serotonin levels in the gut. Try switching to a diet rich protein and healthy fats (think avocados and olive oil), plus plenty of green, leafy vegetables: this can really help re-set your mind and body.

Re-set your gut

As part of your health and fitness drive, resolve to love your gut.  Since most of our serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone) is produced in the gut, the good gut bacteria we have is essential for mental wellbeing.

shutterstock_271644209-indigestion-tummy-dec16

There are not many of us who can honestly say that our digestive systems work perfectly all the time.  Eating different foods and water whilst away, as well as often an increase in alcohol, can often upset things for a while.

Prebiotic,Products,,Sources,Of,These,Bacteria,,Nutrient,Rich,Food.,Flat

Think of the gut as a garden that needs seeding, feeding, and nurturing.  The seeding process is all about providing the gut with prebiotics, essentially from foods such as chicory, artichoke, asparagus, flaxseeds, garlic, leeks, onions, and bananas. Try to include some in your diet every day and also drink plenty of green tea.  A happy gut helps create a happy mind!

Make self-care a priority

When you return from holiday think about what makes you happy at home, in your own space.  Reading a book, an at-home pedicure, taking a long bath – the list is endless.  When we’re busy, we often put ourselves at the bottom of the pile when it comes to self-care.

shutterstock_252559804 woman in bath Jan16

Most of us don’t have the luxury of lots of time on our hands, but it’s all about prioritising the time we have, to do what’s good for our physical and mental health. Coming back from holiday with a plan in place for self-care is going to massively help relieve the blues.

Plan positively

Whether it’s another holiday, an event, a concert, a physical challenge, or all of the above, make plans on your return so you can start looking positively forward to what’s ahead.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

Whilst it’s important to ‘live in the moment’ and make the most of each day, having events to look forward to is great for keeping a positive outlook and outsmarting any post-holiday lows.

Get plenty of fresh air

With more of us working from home, and the days becoming noticeably shorter, it’s all-too easy to start hibernating.  However, getting some daily fresh air, even if you only have time for a walk round the block is essential for mental wellbeing.

shutterstock_218997220 woman walking trainers Mar18

Getting fresh air, and importantly natural light, into your brain is also essential for good sleep.  The brighter morning-light conversely, helps the body produce more melatonin – our sleep hormone – at night. It’s also important for circulation to the heart and muscles to take daily exercise in some form or another.

So, banish the post-holiday blues by looking forward to a healthy autumn with a renewed diet and exercise plan as well as some fun events in the future.

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Stress and anxiety: natural ways to support feelings of calm

Close,Up,Of,Calm,Young,Woman,Relax,On,Couch,With

It would seem there has been a dramatic rise in anxiety and stress levels generally, especially since the pandemic started.  Whilst it can be hard to change the way we are feeling, the body’s response to it can be supported. 

There are certain nutrients and herbs that are great for working with the stress response, helping to alleviate feelings of anxiety, and encouraging feelings of calm.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five recommended nutrients and herbs to help calm the body.

 

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years and has much robust research to support its use especially for anxiety.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

It is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it supports the body through the stress response and adapts to its needs.  Ashwagandha is a gentle, but effective herb and is great for alleviating anxiety, aiding restful sleep, and calming the nervous system generally.

It’s not available in foods, so needs to be taken in supplement form.

Vitamin B6

As with all nutrients, they perform several roles in the body.  Vitamin B6 is responsible for over 100 different enzyme reactions. Crucially B6 is responsible for helping to produce two key neurotransmitters and hormones which help stabilise mood: dopamine, and serotonin.  From serotonin, the sleep hormone melatonin is made, so vitamin B6 plays a key role in helping to instil calm.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

As with all B vitamins, they’re water soluble and therefore not stored in the body.  The good news, however, is that vitamin B6 is found in many different foods including beef liver, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, and poultry. This list is by no means exhaustive, so having a varied diet will certainly help to ensure you’re having sufficient vitamin B6.

Lemon balm

Officially called Melissa officinalis, lemon balm provides a very gentle sedative and calming effect. It might also help to fight certain bacteria and viruses.

shutterstock_395549032 glass of water with lemon Apr16

As with many herbs, it has been traditionally used, especially in its native Mediterranean region since at least the 16th century. Today, it’s mainly used as both a sleep aid and digestive tonic and can be taken as a supplement, in a balm or lotion, but frequently as a tea.

Some research seems to show that lemon balm works on the calming brain neurotransmitter GABA, helping alleviate anxiety and mood disorders. 

Magnesium

We can’t talk about calming nutrients without a big nod to magnesium. Often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ magnesium is known to support the stress response in the body and helping calm the central nervous system. Magnesium works in tandem with vitamin B6 in many biochemical reactions within the body, but particularly in producing our calming neurotransmitters.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Interestingly, signs of magnesium deficiency include panic attacks, brain fog, feeling tired but wired, insomnia and lack of concentration; all symptoms we would frequently associate with being stressed. Magnesium also helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

There are a number of different forms of magnesium which can make it confusing when choosing supplements, but the glycinate form is especially great for sleep and anxiety.  However, magnesium is frequently deficient in the heavily refined typical western diet but is rich in dark leafy green. So, load up your plate with kale, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.  Magnesium is also found in beans, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

Passionflower

The herb passionflower is incredibly effective at bringing calm to the brain and helps lower brain activity generally, which in turn, aids sleep.

A common symptom of anxiety is a nervous stomach and passionflower seems to really help.  Indeed, in ancient times it was often use for digestive upsets perhaps before they realised stomach problems were often caused by anxiety.

Close up of Passion Flower

It’s possible to find some passionflower tea, but it’s much easier to take in supplement form, especially if you’re really on the edge.

Clearly nutrients all work synergistically together so there is no problem with having a wide range in the diet or in supplement form, such as a high-quality multivitamin.  When it comes to herbs, it’s always best to try one first to see how it suits you.  And always remember that what works for one person, may not work for another, so keep trying the many options available until you find relief from your symptoms.

Stay well.

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Boost your mood naturally this January: top nutrients to support your mood

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

It’s that time of year again when we all tend to feel low in mood and generally lack-lustre.  Grey skies and post-Christmas blues all contribute to these feelings.  However, all is not lost! 

There is an unequivocal link between what we put into our body nutritionally and how we feel and there are some important nutrients that can contribute to your mood.

This Blue Monday Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top mood boosting nutrients and natural herbs, to help put a smile back on your face.

Omega-3 fats

We might not want to see the word ‘fat’ in January but, trust me, these are the good ones!  The omega-3 essential fats are part of the brain’s cellular make up and are essential for mental wellbeing.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fatsIf you’re following ‘Veganuary’ or are already vegan, then you might want to add at least a tablespoon full of ground flaxseeds to your morning cereal as they are a very rich source of omega-3s.  However, if you can eat fish, especially the oily kind, then omega-3s from these sources tends to be better absorbed by the body. As an example, wild salmon at least three times a week is recommended for you to notice an improvement in mood.

 

Vitamin B6

As with all the busy family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B6 fulfils many key functions within the body.  As well as helping with hormonal balance, thereby improving mood, vitamin B6 is needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone. 

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

B-vitamins are water-soluble so need to be eaten really regularly. Food which is high in vitamin B6 includes fish, liver, bananas, starchy vegetables, and other non-citrus fruits.  Why not cook a delicious root vegetable casserole including sweet potatoes, onions, parsnips, white potatoes, and broccoli. Add some vegetable stock, coriander and serve with cheddar cheese on the top. Root vegetables are all in season currently and this dish is certainly going to put a smile on your face.

Vitamin B12

If you’re vegan or just starting Veganuary, then do take particular note of vitamin B12.  It’s only really found in animal produce and is essential for the production of serotonin.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

Interestingly, some vitamin B12 can be produced in the gut and fermented foods may encourage this process.  Foods such as tempeh and tofu (great in a delicious Thai curry or stir-fry), miso soup and sauerkraut are your friends in this respect and will also provide plenty of other health benefits. However if you follow a vegan diet, a B12 supplement is recommended.

Vitamin D

Known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced on the skin in the presence of sunlight, vitamin D is deficient in the UK population especially during the winter months.  As well as being essential for healthy bones, teeth, muscles and immunity, research has also found it be essential for mood.  So, there’s certainly a physiological reason why we often feel low during January.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Whilst you can get some vitamin D from a few foods, namely oily fish, milk, and mushrooms, it’s not nearly sufficient for the body’s needs.  Therefore, it’s important to supplement with vitamin D (at least 10 micrograms daily) if you want to feel brighter.

Ashwagandha

The herb ashwagandha is known as an ‘adaptogenic’ herb. This means it helps the body better cope with stress and improves energy levels.  However, this effect also helps improve mood (it’s often recommended for people suffering from depression), and generally encourages people to feel more balanced.  It’s found only in supplement form.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

However, it’s also worth noting that if you’re feeling low, it’s generally not just one food or herb that makes all the difference: it’s generally a cumulative effect.  Nutrition also needs to be combined with lifestyle changes; why not write down a list of things that make you happy and things that you are grateful for.  Even if it’s only having clean sheets on the bed more often, small changes can have big effect.

So, help your mood naturally by including these nutrients more frequently into your diet.

Stay well.

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Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

Stay well.

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Boost your happiness with these five top mood foods

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

We could probably all do with a little mood boosting right now.  On a positive note, we know that what we eat can have a massive bearing on how happy, sad or anxious we feel. 

There is an inextricable link between gut and brain, mainly due to brain neurotransmitters, many of which are produced in the gut.  Furthermore, the microbiome, which includes those friendly guys that live in your gut, also plays a role.

 

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to help keep you feeling happy.

Spinach

Spinach is high in magnesium, nature’s natural tranquiliser, which is great for keeping our mood calm and balanced. Plus, spinach is rich in vitamin B6, needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

Spinach is so versatile and can be used in dishes hot and cold.  Whilst some of the vitamin content is lost through cooking, lightly steaming is the way forward.  Spinach leaves are great added to a salad with some stronger flavours such as goats’ cheese, beetroot and walnuts.  Alternatively, spinach, lightly steamed with garlic, makes a great vegetable side.

Chicken

Chicken is high in the amino acid, tryptophan, which is needed to produce serotonin.  Tryptophan is actually found in quite a number of protein-based foods but is especially high in chicken.  Try to choose organic chicken, where possible.

A roast chicken

Why not rustle up a delicious Mediterranean chicken salad?  Use cooked chicken breasts or thighs with spinach leaves, shredded red cabbage and cherry tomatoes.  The delicious flavour comes from the dressing which you can make with Dijon mustard, basil leaves, virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  An easy, tasty and mood-enhancing lunch.

Eggs

Eggs can help raise dopamine levels, another brain neurotransmitter needed for good mood and motivation. Interestingly, dopamine levels are also increased when bright light hits the back of the eye, which is one of the reasons why so many people suffer from SAD during the darker, winter months.

POached egg on wilted spinach on rye bread

Eggs make a brilliant start to the day not just because they raise dopamine levels, but they’re also high in protein. Protein is needed to keep blood sugar in good balance, which has a direct impact on mood and energy. Poached eggs on wholemeal toast with a few wilted spinach leaves is certainly a top breakfast!

Brown rice

Brown rice is a slow-releasing carbohydrate so it will not only help give you energy and balanced mood, it stimulates production of serotonin.  We all tend to crave more starchy foods during the winter months.  Maybe this is partly because the body is ‘asking’ for serotonin?

Salmon, brown rice and asparagus dish

Brown rice is a staple food that can be added to many meals.  It’s great with baked salmon (another mood-boosting food), with stir-fry veggies or cold as a lunch-time salad base. Whole grain foods are also high in fibre and B-vitamins helping your bowels to be more regular, which will also have a positive impact on your energy and mood.

Natural yoghurt

Natural yogurt is high in tryptophan but also helps balance the friendly flora (or goood bacteria) in your digestive tract.  Both factors are key to good mood so eating natural yoghurt regularly is an easy win.

Pot of natural yoghurt

Adding natural yoghurt to your cereal (homemade muesli with plenty of nuts and seeds is a good start), is an easy breakfast. It is also transportable if you like to eat breakfast on the go or when you get to work. Plus, it’s a great source of protein so blood sugar levels will start the day evenly rather than out of balance.  Furthermore, it feeds all the good guys in the gut; the better shape your gut bacteria, the more serotonin you’ll be able to produce, as that’s where most of it comes from!

Enjoy trying these five easy nutrition tips to help boost your mood and put a smile on your face!

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The importance of being kind: to others and to yourself

Hands surrounding a heart shaped world globe to represent kindness

Most of us try to be kind to others especially our partners, family and friends most of the time. However, within our stressful lives, we’re often so busy making sure everyone else is ok, we forget to think about ourselves. 

Being kind to yourself is so important for overall health and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some everyday ways you can bring more kindness into your life.

 

Be kind nutritionally

Your body will reward you with good health if you show it some love and kindness.  Be honest with yourself; are you simply eating to live, often on the run, without thinking about putting the right fuel into the body?  Every mealtime is an opportunity to take in precious nutrients the body needs to keep well. Right now, during the winter months, it’s also important to be looking after the immune system.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Think about colour variety on your plate; that will ensure you have lots of different nutrients from colourful fruits and vegetables.  Cook up some warming winter soups which will last a few days.  You don’t need to overthink them – just throw in as many vegetables as you’ve got in the fridge (frozen is good too).  You can also add some beans, lentils or barley to give them ‘bulk’.  A thick soup is a very nutritious meal all-in-one.

Be kind to the environment

Thinking about the environment and cutting down on the amount of animal produce you consume is also an act of kindness to yourself.  Being completely vegan is not necessarily a good idea for health as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and it certainly doesn’t suit everyone.  However, reducing intake of animal produce, and including more plant-based foods, is great for both your health and the environment.

A range of milks made from nuts

Cow’s milk can cause inflammation in the body, especially in people with existing eczema, asthma or joint issues.  Dairy produce can also disrupt hormones.  Therefore, try to include plant-based milks such as almond, coconut, soya, hazelnut and oat.  Equally, red meat is high in saturated fat and quite tough on the digestion, so reduce the amount you’re eating. For protein foods, choose sustainably sourced fish, beans, soya produce, organic poultry and eggs.

Be kind to your soul

Do things that make your heart sing!  We can sometimes get so entrenched in everyday life that we forget to enjoy ourselves!  Long work hours and busy lives leaves little time for ‘play’.  However, it’s important to have time doing what you love and that genuinely feeds your soul.  Why not take up a new hobby, something you’ve always wanted to try, however diverse that may be?

Close up of a tap dancer to represent new hobbies

Perhaps it’s joining a singing group or doing something creative; there’s no end of choices.  Start by writing a list and then work your way through.

Be kind to others

If you choose to be anything, choose to be kind. There’s a famous saying: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’.  Not everyone is good and kind in this world but if you set your intention to be kind to others, you will be rewarded, and the right people will gravitate towards you.  You know how pleasurable it feels when you do something good for someone, however small, to help them through their day. And it can make a real difference to how someone feels.

A group of happy volunteers

Why not think about volunteering?  It can bring so many rewards and you often learn new skills on the way.

Be kind to your mind

Spending hours on social media is not being kind to your mind.  In fact, it can be very disruptive emotionally.  Plus, being exposed to blue light emitted from electronic devices, upsets sleep patterns. Even using a tablet to read a novel is not ideal if your overall exposure to devices goes into many hours a day.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Practicing meditation (and it does take practise) is one of the best things you can ever do for your mind.  Just like the body, the mind needs time to rest. It seems to be getting more of challenge to quieten the brain.  However, once you’ve mastered it, you only need to find around 20 minutes a day to meditate.  The results will be astounding, and you’ll sleep better and more peacefully for sure.

Being kind to yourself and others comes in many different forms but actively practising this in all areas of your life will be uplifting and rewarding for you and those around you.

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Top five foods to boost your libido this Valentine’s Day

A couple's feet sticking out of the duvet to represent sex and libido

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that it’s Valentine’s Day.  Those with someone special in their life will want to make it as memorable as ever; this means getting in the mood!

What we eat can have a big impact on how we feel and can also help improve our sex lives.

 Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourite libido-boosting foods – and some may surprise you!

Watermelon

Not only is watermelon super nutritious, it will get your juices flowing.  As well as being a tasty fruit, watermelon also contains an amino acid called L-citrulline which is turned into nitric oxide.  This dilates blood vessels and allows blood flow around the body, especially to the sex organs.  L-citrulline is also used in supplements to help boost libido.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Additionally, watermelon is loaded with antioxidants, including vitamin C, to help protect against the ageing process. This helps banish and prevent annoying wrinkles and allows you to glow all through Valentine’s Day!  Try to eat some watermelon regularly; it makes a really enjoyable snack.

Oysters

Often the top of everyone’s list when it comes to libido, oysters are frequently referred to as an aphrodisiac.  This is primarily due to them containing high levels of the mineral zinc, needed to help produce testosterone and essential for fertility and reproduction.

A plate of fresh oysters

Oysters also deliver a decadent treat and make a great starter is you’re hoping to impress your partner; serve them with plenty of fresh lemon and sprinkle with Worcester sauce to further add some spice to your meal and your evening!

Chocolate

Maybe not such a surprise about this one!  Whilst most people love chocolate and see it as a treat, it’s not just the taste that makes us feel good.  Research shows it has been found to increase levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.

Chocolate covered strawberries

Importantly, eating chocolate raises levels of a compound called phenylethylamine, which we naturally produce when in love.  Even better, chocolate is really high in plant polyphenols which naturally help blood flow and this also means blood flow gets to the parts it’s needed most!

Make sure chocolate is somewhere on the menu this Valentine’s Day and you can enjoy it completely guilt-free!

Avocados

The Aztecs apparently named avocados “the testicle tree”! Whilst this is not a well-known fact, the Aztecs were certainly on to something good when they realised that avocados could boost libido.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

They are high in zinc which we know is essential for fertility and reproduction but also vitamin E which helps blood flow generally around the body.  Plus, vitamin E is great for the skin, so you’ll certainly get that glow this Valentine’s Day and particularly if you eat them regularly in the diet.  They are delicious mixed with lemon juice and some salad leaves in a wholemeal pitta, making an easy lunchtime nutrient-booster.

You might also want to think about some guacamole as a mood-boosting starter to your romantic Valentine’s meal?

Oily fish

Sardines, salmon and mackerel are all rich sources of the essential omega-3 fats.  They’re essential because the body can’t make them, so they need to be eaten regularly in the diet. They’re also vitally important for hormone balance, therefore libido.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help keep the blood thin and free-flowing which will encourage blood flow to the sexual organs.  Don’t worry if oily fish isn’t your bag: you can still get plenty of these essential omegas from eating pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.

These foods might not be the ideal choices for your Valentine’s Day meal but if you include them regularly in the diet, you’ll hopefully keep that spark going.

So, the scene is now set for the perfect nutritional start to your Valentine’s Day – enjoy!

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Taking care of your mind matters: top nutrition and wellbeing advice for better emotional health

Two strawberries and a banana placed to make a smiley face

There’s much coverage in the Press and on social media about the importance of talking openly about mental health, and rightly so: there should be no stigma around the topic. Interestingly, getting your diet right can also be an important contributor to good emotional health.

So how can we help ourselves and look after our mental wellbeing through nutrition? 

This Time to Talk Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition and wellbeing tips for a happier mind.

Ditch the sugar

There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Eating foods, namely sugar, with no nutritional value and which deplete nutrients, should be avoided.  Most importantly, sugar can be something that many people are addicted to.  Like any addictive substance, it has side effects, one of them being low mood.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Being addicted to fizzy drinks, even the diet kind is not uncommon.  Many people are drinking between five and ten cans daily.  Not only does this deplete nutrients but sugar or sweeteners upset brain chemistry, both of which can cause low mood, irritability and lack of concentration.  They also upset blood sugar balance, leading to low energy levels and weight gain. Yes, even diet drinks can make you put on weight. Sugar, in all its forms, needs to be moderated as much as possible if you want to balance your mood.

Good mood foods

Certain foods can contribute to a much happier mood. Nutrient-dense foods contain key vitamins and minerals needed to produce the brain’s happy hormones and neurotransmitters.  Key to this are the B-vitamins which are also needed for a balanced nervous system.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

The good news is that B-vitamins are widely available in many foods including whole grains, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and dark leafy vegetables.  Plus, bananas are a really good source of vitamin B6, a great transportable snack.

Protein-rich foods including chicken and turkey, eggs, soya products, as well as oats are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin.  Try to include protein at every mealtime for best effects.

Get more of the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, it is also the sunshine vitamin because it plays an important role in balancing your mood. Whilst vitamin D is essential for bones, teeth and a healthy immune system, deficiency will cause low mood, even depression.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

During the darker, winter months, the only way to get enough is to take a daily supplement: even foods which contain Vitamin D deliver very little. Public Health England recommends a minimum supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily for everyone. Taking a vitamin D supplement daily is a really easy way of boosting mood naturally.

Get talking

We are all becoming more aware of the increased prevalence of emotional wellbeing issues and the fact it’s being more widely talked in general about can make a real difference to people suffering.  It’s always good to try and talk to a family member or close friend if you are feeling low or anxious. And it’s always good to talk to someone you know who you think may be having challenges.

Two women talking about mental health

Whilst many people bottle up their feelings, this can often make matters worse.  Putting on a ‘brave face’ and keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ might have been the norm years ago, but it can certainly cause more problems than it solves.

Getting outside professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist can provide much-needed support.  Most will offer a free initial session because it’s important to feel comfortable: it’s well worth investing the time to find the right person to help you.

Try some happy herbs

As we know, Traditional Herbal Remedies (or licensed herbal medicines) can be incredibly powerful and make a real improvement to many health complaints.  Top of the list for low mood is St John’s Wort which helps raise serotonin levels.  It can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops but always look out for Licensed Medicinal Herbs with the ‘THR’ symbol.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Herbs don’t work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs, so you may need to wait two to three weeks before noticing improvements, but it’s certainly worth trying the natural approach.

Additionally, the herb passionflower is incredibly calming.  Anxiety often accompanies low mood, and the two herbs work very well together.  Passionflower tends to work faster and can also be used before a stressful event as well as for longer term.

So, make looking after your emotional wellbeing a top priority during 2020.

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

 

 

Self-care this autumn: top nutrition and lifestyle tips

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

We’re coming into the harsh seasons; the ones that can take their toll on your body, affecting how you look and feel. 

Autumn and winter weather tend to put more stress on the body because it’s naturally trying to keep warm, whilst protecting itself from all the nasty bugs flying around.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five ways you can keep give yourself some autumn kindness.

Eat warm

It’s not just the seasons that change. The body also requires different foods at different times of year to maintain optimal health.  Energy levels tend to be lower at this time of year, so the body needs the right foods to kickstart metabolism and avoid any duress.

It’s not about over-indulging in calorie-dense, nutrient-poor snacks. Instead give the body warming foods.  For example, out go salads and in come hearty soups, which contain filling grains and beans, as well as vegetables.

Close up of woman's hands holding a bowl of warming soup

Warming spices are also needed at this time of year.  It’s no coincidence that cinnamon and nutmeg are traditionally Christmas spices, when the weather is generally cold.  Ginger is also another wonderful spice for warming the body. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and helps blood flow around the body, improving circulation.

Be kind to your liver

In naturopathic medicine, the liver is the organ of anger.  It makes sense, therefore, if you’re not being kind to it, it’s going to let you know.  Low energy, dull skin and poor digestion are often signs that the liver is distressed.

Asparagus tied in a bunch

Being kind to your liver means feeding it with liver-loving foods and herbs.  Both Jerusalem and globe artichokes are great for liver health.  Additionally, green tea, dandelion coffee, asparagus, parsley, milk thistle and chlorella help the liver’s natural detoxification processes and help protect it from damaging toxins.

Love your brain

The brain uses around 30% of our total energy intake.  Therefore, it needs to be frequently fuelled with nutrient-dense foods, particularly whole grains and omega 3 fats.

A range of wholegrain foods

Wholegrains such as oats, rye and barley, contain plenty of B vitamins, all of which are needed in different ways for good brain health and function.  Plus, they’re energy-dense, providing glucose that the brain loves.  Additionally, the brain contains lots of omega-3 fats, so these need to be eaten very regularly to ensure you’re treating it kindly.  Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the order of the day or try flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds if you follow a vegetarian diet.

Feel gratitude

It’s very easy to moan about life and our ‘lot’.  Indeed, daily life is tough with many challenges along the way.  It’s therefore all too easy to get bound up in everyday problems and forget to be thankful for everything that’s good in your world.

A close up of a typewriter with the word gratitude typed

Being grateful is a wonderful way of being kind to yourself.  Even if it’s only being grateful for a good cup of coffee or a nice message someone has sent you.  It’s always good to write or say out loud three things every day you are grateful for.  It will soon put a smile on your face.

Prioritise sleep

This is probably one of the kindest actions you can give your body.  Sleep is essential to restore and repair.  We know how debilitating it is when we have a run of bad nights, which may even lead to insomnia.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Good sleep invariably must be worked for.  Electronic equipment needs to be turned off completely two hours before bedtime.  Then try having a warming bath, reading a book, putting lavender on your pillow or listening to a sleep app. Eating a few almonds before bedtime helps produce the sleep hormone melatonin which in turn will aid your sleep. Meditation is also another helpful measure you can take. Find whatever works for you and enjoy peaceful slumbers.

So, practise being kind to yourself this autumn – your body will certainly thank you for it.

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Five foods to keep stress and anxiety at bay

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

Shorter days and dark mornings mean many of us are already starting to feel ‘down in the dumps’. We are also coming into the time year when people tend to feel more anxious and stressed, with the weeks running up to Christmas being challenging for many people.

The good news is that what we put into our bodies can have a positive effect on keeping anxiety at bay and reducing feelings of stress.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods to bring some calm into your life.

Almonds

Delicious and easily transportable, almonds can really help to ease feelings of stress and anxiety.  Why? It’s because they’re high in the mineral, magnesium.  Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it’s needed for muscle relaxation, therefore can really help the body feel calm and rested.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Almonds are also packed with other nutrients such as vitamin B2 and zinc which are used to produce serotonin, our happy hormone, needed to help manage the stress response.

Almonds make a great on-the-go snack, are delicious added to a stir fry and make a perfect bedtime wind down treat to help you feel calm and relaxed and better able to sleep peacefully.

Quinoa

Whilst it’s often referred to as a grain, quinoa is technically a seed. However it’s usually used in the same way as other wholegrains such as rice.  Importantly, it’s rich in B vitamins, all of which have their own part to play in keeping the body balanced.  B vitamins are needed to support the nervous system as well as helping to produce our stress hormones. Wholegrains in general are great for producing slow-release energy, so we don’t get the highs and lows which can cause feelings of anxiety.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Quinoa is a positive addition to any diet because it’s very high in protein.  Therefore, quinoa can be simply served with roasted vegetables, as a salad with feta cheese, chopped tomatoes and mint or alongside roasted chicken and vegetables.  Just use quinoa as you would rice or couscous.

Apples

Often used medicinally over the centuries, apples are as useful now to health as they’ve ever been.  Importantly apples are high in vitamin C, needed to help produce our stress hormones, but are also another slow energy-releasing food.  If your energy is consistent throughout the day, then you won’t suffer with as many highs and lows, and your mood will also stay better balanced.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples are another great snack and work well chopped with a few almonds, to keep you going.  Even better, they’re in season right now.  However, apples often sit in supermarket storerooms for many months, making then slightly low on taste.  Farmers markets are the place to look and having a browse around on a weekend is another great way to leave your worries behind for a few hours.

Chia seeds

For a food so tiny, chia seeds certainly deliver big health gains.  Originating from central and south America, the Aztecs were believed to have used them as an energy source.  This is because they’re high in protein, keeping blood sugar in good balance and so keeping energy levels and mood balanced.  Protein is also needed to produce hormones, especially stress hormones.

A scoop of chia seeds

Chia seeds are a very rich source of the brain loving omega 3 fats.  These are essential for a healthy brain and for producing brain neurotransmitters, including ones that keep us calm and balanced.

Even better, they are so quick and easy to include in the diet. Add to any cereal (porridge or an oat-based breakfast is best), or to natural yoghurt with some fruit. Try sprinkled over a salad.  Whilst they may not be big on flavour, their health benefits are wonderful.

Oats

We know they work well with chia seeds, but oats have an incredible calming effect on the body.  This is mainly down to them being high in all the B vitamins, plus they are packed with complex carbohydrates.  These work in the opposite way to refined carbs which send blood sugar levels soaring together with anxiety levels. Instead they keep blood sugar levels balanced and therefore help you to stay on an even keel.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are very high in fibre which helps keep the bowels moving smoothly.  Constipation causes toxicity in the body, which aggravates the liver.  This is turn can adversely affect mood, not least making you feel very sluggish.

If porridge isn’t for you, then why not soak oats overnight in a little apple juice or, better still, some almond milk. Then add some natural yoghurt and fruit in the morning for a super-quick but super stress-busting breakfast. You can even add chopped almonds and chia seeds for a triple-hit breafast!

Mother nature has delivered some amazing ways of keeping us balanced, emotionally and physically. So, why not try adding these stress-relieving favourites to your diet.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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