How to have a happy and healthy Christmas: top wellness and nutrition tips

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

With Christmas just around the corner, and most people still rushing around trying to prepare, it’s no wonder that many of us go down with a nasty bug or cold just as the big day arrives. 

It’s an all too common problem and the key to keeping well this Christmas is prevention.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five tips to keep you feeling happy and healthy this Christmas.

Support your immunity

The immune system takes a battering at this time of year.  It’s under threat from a wealth of bugs from crowded, centrally heated spaces with poor ventilation and less access to fresh air. Busy shops, public transport and burning the candle at both ends all take their toll.  However, it’s possible to protect yourself against all these nasties.

Two glasses of berry smoothies

Even if your usual healthy diet has gone awry during party season, try to make sure you’re taking in as many immune-boosting nutrients as possible.  One of the easiest ways of doing this is to make up a juice or smoothie in the morning. Fruits and vegetables are all loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene and many other immune-boosting antioxidants.  Plus you can add ginger, also great for the immune system, to many different juices or smoothie recipes.  Beetroot, apple, berries, bananas, avocado, mango, carrot, pear, spinach – the list goes on.  Just throw in your favourites, the more the merrier.  Even if you only manage this, it will really boost your nutrient levels.

Manage your stress levels

High stress levels can really impact on the immune system and energy levels.  This is because high cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, dampens the body’s normal inflammatory response, which is one of the ways the immune system does its job. High cortisol also reduces production of the body’s white blood cells that kill off unwanted invaders.

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

If you’re feeling wrung out right now, then try taking the herb Rhodiola.  It’s known as an adaptogen, meaning it adapts to what’s going on in your body. It can really help calm feelings of stress and anxiety. Take it in the mornings and you’ll get a boost of energy too!

Keep sugar to a minimum

Sugar is the immune system’s enemy. Part of the reason is that high sugar levels stop the body utilising vitamin C (our main immune-boosting nutrient) in the right way.  Plus, it stops the body fighting off infections as it should. Sugar is sugar in all its forms will all have a detrimental effect on immunity. This includes honey, artificial sweeteners, natural fruit juices and processed, sugary foods and snacks.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

Instead load up on immune-boosting foods (alongside your morning juice or smoothie).  Mushrooms, natural yoghurt, whole grains, garlic and chicken soup are all great choices.

Take time for relaxation

It’s amazing how much less stressed you feel when you take even a short time away from everything and enjoy some relaxation.  Most importantly, this can have a really positive effect on stress levels, which in turn helps the immune system.

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candles

Even 20 minutes each day can make all the difference.  There are so many relaxation apps available which you can download or why not just take time out to read a book.  Watching TV or looking at your phone just before bed are not conducive to relaxation as they simulate the brain, plus their blue light may prevent you from sleeping well.

Get some fresh air

The wintry weather makes us all huddle indoors, meaning germs are more likely to spread.  But breathing fresh air, perhaps taking a brisk walk, can feel wonderfully restorative.  Indeed, moderate exercise helps stimulate the immune system.

MOther and child on her back dressed up in hats and scarves on a winter walk in the snow

Even if you must endure some wind and rain, the health benefits will be worth it.  If you enjoy walking, there are many groups you can join if you want some company.  If you climb a few hills, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing scenery as well; the world looks very different from up high.

So, sail through Christmas and New Year in the best of health with these easy lifestyle tips – enjoy!

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

 

 

Self-care: it’s all about you!

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s National Spa Week, reminding us that we need to take time out to care for ourselves.  We often spend so much time ‘giving’ to everyone else – children, parents, friends and work colleagues – that we don’t make enough time for ourselves.

Self-care is essential to support our physical and mental wellbeing and there are lots of ways you can improve your diet to help you have a healthier lifestyle.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways in which you can take better care of you.

Make your diet more colourful

What you put into your body is the cornerstone of life.  How you look and feel is primarily governed by what’s within, meaning your nutrient intake.  The body requires around 45 different nutrients daily (including water), so each mealtime needs to count.

The more colour you have on your plate, the more nutrients you’ll be taking in without even thinking about it.  For example, a dinner plate that contains poached salmon, roasted red peppers and asparagus, mashed sweet potato and a portion of broccoli really embraces this concept.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

It’s the beautiful dark, rich colours in foods, especially in fruits and vegetables, that really pack a nutrient punch, so have some fun with creating your colourful plate.

Also remember that sugar, in all its forms, has no nutritional value and can even prevent absorption of certain nutrients, so really watch your ‘empty’ calorie intake.  Plus, you might appreciate the instant sugar rush and feel energised at the time but overall, you’ll feel more sluggish and not very spa vitalised!

Prepare for the next few months

Whilst we can often feel down as the colder weather and shorter days approach, autumn can be a magical time in the great outdoors; autumn colours are truly beautiful.  If you can get out for some longer walks in the countryside, this can be a great stressbuster plus you can literally lose yourself in the colour spectacle.

Changing seasons can unfortunately herald the start of the ‘bug’ season.  However, taking good care of your yourself can also help prevent their onset.  Cleaning up your diet is important.  Plus, poor sleep and over-indulgence in alcohol or too many late-night parties will deplete the immune system, so do pace yourself.

Stri fry showing garlic as an ingredient

Tap into Mother Nature’s little helpers in the form of immune-boosting herbs and spices.  Make your own ginger tea with lemon every day, using fresh squeezed ginger root.  Other great immune-boosting ideas include adding cinnamon to your morning porridge or cereal and using plenty of garlic in your cooking (stir fries are quick and easy). Try adding fresh rosemary to your roasted veggies or roasted sweet potato wedges and sprinkling turmeric over as much as you can (even scrambled eggs taste great with some added spice).

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Using shitake mushrooms rather than button ones will give you a real immune-boost (they also contain some vitamin D) and drinking two or three cups of green tea each day provides you with a range of antioxidants.  These few simple changes will protect and invigorate you over the coming months.

Take time to breathe

This means literally and metaphorically. When you’re stressed and racing around at 100 miles an hour, the body can quickly feel depleted of energy.  Deep breathing exercises can bring instant relaxation.  Even just lying on your bed or in a quiet place and breathing in for five seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds and exhaling for eleven seconds, a few times, can bring peace and relaxation to the body.  Try this a few times and just enjoy the feeling.  It will also help you to sleep if you’re struggling or will calm the body and mind during the day when life is too frenetic.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Taking time to breathe also means stepping back sometimes.  When you’re in the fast lane all the time, the mind and body can become overwhelmed.  This can cause anxiety, restless sleep, poor concentration and low mood.  Whether it’s taking a 20-minute walk away from your desk at lunchtime or after dinner, doing a yoga or Pilates class or reading a book, try to book some ‘you’ time in every day.  Try to recognise the signs of feeling overwhelmed in yourself and take time out, whether that’s a short break or a holiday.

So take a step back this week and decide how to create the ‘spa’ me time we all need to promote self-care.

 

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Are you getting enough sleep?

Woman awake in bed looking fed up as she cannot get to sleep

According to the Sleep Council one third of us in the UK sleep for just five to six hours per night. It’s generally accepted, and has been well-researched over many years, that the body needs more sleep than this, ideally around seven or eight hours each night. 

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

So, what’s going wrong and why are we generally so sleep deprived?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at why our shut-eye is so important and shares some tips on how to get more.

 

Why is sleep so essential?

It’s no secret that the body repairs and re-generates during sleep. It’s also a time of growth as specific growth hormones are released during the night. However, when sleep is problematic, the body and brain are fatigued and it becomes increasingly difficult to function effectively.

The body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, is naturally released during the hours of darkness. This is likely to be why night shift workers, who have to sleep during the day, will generally need to get their much-needed rest in a fully darkened room.

What to eat

What you eat and drink during the day and before bedtime can have a significant baring on how you sleep. For example, caffeine in coffee and theophylline in tea blocks our sleep-inducing chemical, adenosine. It’s best, therefore not to drink either of these after 3 pm.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

The amino acid tryptophan is needed to make melatonin, therefore eating tryptophan-rich foods is really going to help you get some shut eye. These foods include turkey, eggs, soya, cheese, nuts and oats. However, tryptophan also needs carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, grains and beans) to work most effectively. Therefore, having a carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich snack before bed-time can really help. Great choices would be oatcakes with cottage cheese, natural yoghurt (soya or dairy), a small bowl of oats or some sliced apple with nuts.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is also needed for the production of melatonin and one of its best sources is bananas. In fact, bananas hit the spot as a pre-bedtime snack because they’re also high in carbohydrates. The best advice is to change your snack each night and see what works best for you. Even more important, is not to go to bed hungry – you’ll certainly be counting sheep into the wee small hours if that’s the case.

Adopt a bed-time routine

It may sound strange, but going back to babyhood with a fixed bedtime routine can really promote good sleep. Most importantly, phones and other electronic equipment emit blue light which stops you from sleeping. Therefore, all these devices should be turned off two hours before bedtime. Ideally your phone should never be by the side of your bed as some studies suggest that the radio waves emitted may prevent sleep.

Have your main meal at least three hours before bed. Whilst going to bed hungry is not good, equally, being over-full may cause digestive upsets and acid reflux. About an hour before bed time try a warm, relaxing bath with some Epsom salts. It may be an old wives tale but they contain plenty of the mineral magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Have that bed time snack about half an hour before turning in, spray some lavender onto your pillow and enjoy some bed time reading. And as much as you can try and go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time too. Once you’ve adopted a strong routine, your body will really start to enjoy and expect its nightly ritual.

Enjoy some evening yoga

Yoga is an ancient practise but is wonderful for encouraging controlled breathing, strength, flexibility and relaxation. Hatha yoga is particularly good and really helps the mind and body to de-stress and switch off. Many people have found that attending a yoga class or doing some at home in the evenings has really helped them to sleep better afterwards.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Practicing yogic breathing techniques is also beneficial, even without the moves. Additionally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep or you’ve awoken in the night, then adopting the 5-7-11 routine can really help; breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold for seven seconds and breathe deeply out for 11 seconds. You should be able to feel your body relaxing after a few rounds of this and hopefully you’ll quickly fall back to sleep.

For more information visit the sleep council website.

Sleep is so important for our overall health, so make getting enough a priority and you will feel the health benefits longer term.

 

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

 

 

Five natural ways to make sure you have a relaxing holiday

Woman in bikini standing in the sea with her arms in the air to represent a happy holiday

You’ve planned and looked forward to your much-needed and deserved holiday for a long time. It makes sense that you want to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment and relaxation from that break. However, for many reasons, holidays can be a little stressful at times and things don’t always go according to plan.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips on how to make your holiday down-time as relaxing as possible so you come back feeling fully refreshed.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

BANISH TECHNOLOGY

We live in a 24/7 ‘always on’ society. This is great in one way as it makes communication so much easier. However, it has a massive downside in that we can never feel fully relaxed due to outside influences.

It’s no secret that the biggest issue we have is the mobile phone and the fact that we’re always contactable (unless we’re somewhere truly remote!). Therefore, the body and mind can never totally relax. Try to make this holiday the one where you decide to ditch the phone. If it’s switched on, you’ll still be checking emails and social media. The world isn’t going to end whilst you’re away so detach yourself, just for a short while.

Woman in bed looking at her mobile phone

Your body and mind will be so much more refreshed if you take a break from technology and everything will still be there when you re-connect again back home.

EAT RELAXING FOODS

We know that caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea will keep the brain on high alert and put more adrenalin into the system, making it difficult to relax. Equally, highly refined foods such as cakes and biscuits negatively affect blood sugar levels, also encouraging the release of adrenalin.

Whilst you’re away, try to give the body a break from foods that deliver no real nutrient value, and adversely affect mood and energy levels. Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits (think the Mediterranean diet) such as tomatoes, peppers, avocadoes, berry fruits, melons, cucumbers (the list is endless), provide a wealth of nutrients your body will love.

More importantly, many fruits and vegetables contain good levels of the mineral magnesium, frequently depleted in the daily diet, but one of nature’s most relaxing nutrients. Fish, particularly salmon, and nuts also contain good levels of magnesium. Thankfully, they’re all available in Mediterranean countries and around the world so try to make a point of including these foods as much as possible during your break. You’ll come back feeling so much more relaxed.

TAKE THE HERB PASSIONFLOWER

Plane journeys, car journeys, coach journeys, families – often all part of a holiday but also a potential cause of stress. If you have a fear of flying for example, or you encounter something on your break which sends your stress levels soring, then the herb passionflower, readily available in health food stores as a Traditional Herbal Remedy, can really help.

Close up of Passion Flower

Passionflower helps to stimulate the release of GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters, and it can work very quickly and effectively.   Either start taking some before your trip or pack some just in case.

TRY SOME YOGA

Yoga has increased in popularity enormously over the last few years. It delivers amazing health benefits as well as encouraging feelings of peace and wellbeing. Clearly, if your holiday choice is to attend a yoga retreat then you’re certainly going to come back feeling relaxed.

Woman in downward dog position in Yoga

However, you can still practice some yoga on your own whilst you’re away. Certain well-known yoga sequences such as Sun Salutations can be easily learnt and practised anywhere and there are plenty of free yoga apps and YouTube tutorials to help (you can switch your mobile on for this one!). A few rounds of these every morning is a wonderful way of waking up the body, stretching and encouraging lasting feelings of relaxation.

PRIORITISE SLEEP

Depending on your choice of destination or type of holiday, it may or may not be possible to get restful and rejuvenating sleep. However, it’s certainly worth trying to make your break one where you prioritise sleep. According to the Sleep Council (www.sleepcouncil.org.uk) one third of Britons only sleep for five or six hours nightly, as opposed to the recommended seven or eight hours and lack of sleep can have a long lasting negative effect on your feelings of wellbeing and relaxation.

Woman asleep in bed

Interestingly, just having fewer caffeinated and stimulatory food and drinks, turning off equipment emitting blue light (like your mobile phone) and keeping alcohol to a minimum, can have a marked positive effect on sleep patterns. Plus the herb passionflower also greatly aids relaxation, therefore improving sleep.

Your skin, mood, immune system and whole body will really appreciate some extra shut-eye.

So with a little forward planning, and these top tips, your holiday can be the most relaxing one ever!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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