Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

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Top wellbeing tips for getting back into work

 

Woman working at her desk in office

Whether you’re coming off furlough or just heading back into the office a few days per week, getting back into the swing of things should be an enjoyable experience. 

Nothing feels quite normal at the moment, and it probably won’t for a long time.  Therefore, trying to keep yourself happy and healthy with a varied diet and balanced lifestyle can really get that feel-good factor going at work.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five to back to work tips.

Have a happy lunch

Whether you take your lunch to work,  eat out or take out, or there’s a staff canteen, what you eat at this time of day can have a massive impact on mood, motivation and energy.  Our happy hormone, serotonin, needs the amino acid, tryptophan, plus other nutrients for its production.  The good news is that tryptophan is found in many different protein-containing foods so there’s plenty of choice. Best lunchtime foods to consider are chicken, eggs, fish, soya produce, including tofu, cheese, turkey, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Combine with some vegetables or salad.

You can always cook some extra the night before and eat it for lunch the next day, or quickly rustle up a healthy salad using any of the above ingredients.

Exercise

For some, doing regular exercise has been an absolute saviour during lockdown, helping to keep a balanced mood and energy levels high.  However, for many it’s not been possible and home-working has made some of us more sedentary.

A woman in a business suit having a walk during her lunch break

If you can walk or cycle to work, this can really help increase activity levels without thinking about it too much.  If not, why not resolve to get into a routine by walking every lunchtime. Now gyms and sports centres have re-opened, if you feel comfortable to use them, why not consider working out or joining a class before work, during lunchtime or after work.

Try not to graze

Home working has meant the fridge and store cupboard have been much more accessible, therefore the temptation to graze and overeat is never far away.  Now that you’re physically not in front of them, it should be much easier to banish grazing.

The body needs definite breaks between meals so that it can enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion.  Constant grazing doesn’t allow this to happen and the body will start storing more fat than it would otherwise do.  Try to stick to eating three satisfying  and well-balacned meals a day and resist the urge to snack if can, especially if you’re not really hungry.

Sliced apple and cheese snack

If you do find you are hungry between meals think of protein and fruit as your go-to snack: think of cheese with apple, nuts with dried fruit or hummus with crudités.

Sleep

Many people have reported being able to get more sleep because they haven’t had the daily commute. However, some have found sleep more difficult due to heightened anxiety levels.  Whatever your situation, poor sleep is going to impact on how you feel and function at work.

Woman asleep in bed

Make sleep a priority and aim for seven to eight hours per night. Having a good bedtime routine can help massively, and most importantly, turn off electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.  Blue light is known to keep us awake.

Be kind to yourself

This is most important of all. Life has been challenging for everyone for many different reasons over the last few months and will continue to be for some time.  It’s also given us a chance to evaluate what’s working and what’s not in our lives.

A post it showing mind, body, soul and spirit being important in self care

Crucially, it’s made us appreciate the little things in life that matter and also confirmed that none of us are invincible.  Try to avoid giving yourself negative messages. For example, if you’ve put on some weight during lockdown, resolve to improve your diet and get more exercise but don’t beat yourself up.  Additionally, allow yourself some ‘down time’ to just be in your own headspace – your thought processes will become much clearer as a result.

So, with a little preparation, the next back to work phase can be enjoyable and rewarding.

Stay well.

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How to stay healthy during the lock down

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

It’s “National Walk to Work Day” today. But in these strange times, very few of us are likely to be walking into work.  However, we can still embrace this day and use the time to take good care of ourselves, continue exercising or even start a new fitness regime. 

It’s very possible to stay healthy and fit even during ‘lockdown’.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips to help boost your wellness during these difficult times.

 

Walk if you can

Walking is still one of the best, but often most under-rated forms of exercise. It’s also great for improving immune system function. Try to walk briskly and get the heart rate elevated.  If you’re able to get outside now, and it’s safe to do so, make your daily exercise really count.  And if you’re not used to walking very far, try to go a little further each day, but always walk for at least 30 minutes if possible.

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Whilst walking is great exercise for the whole body, including the legs, leg muscles still need further challenging.  Why not stop every ten minutes or so and do 10-20 squats? This is one of the best exercises you can do for the legs.  Keep squats as low as possible for best effects.

Create an ‘at-home’ circuit

Short, sharp circuits, often referred to as HIIT (high intensity interval training), are incredibly effective for weight loss and fitness.  Even better, you can set up a simple circuit in your living room.  Jumping jacks, burpees, side, forward and back lungs, jumping squats, high knees carried out in a continuous loop will certainly get the heart racing.

Close up of woman working out at home

The beauty of this type of training is that it raises your metabolic rate, so you’ll get the ‘after-burn’ if you do this first thing in the morning.  There are plenty of circuits you can find on-line.  Whilst it may be hard to keep your motivation up right now, if you do find yourself with more time on your hands, then try to use the time purposefully.  You may find your fitness levels improving, especially if you’re someone who generally struggles to find time to exercise.

Look after your good bacteria

Whilst it’s important to keep the outer body working well, you need to look after the internal too.  Clearly, we don’t know everything that’s going on within and often the body doesn’t tell us until we get sick.  But prevention is always better than cure and what you eat can have a significant impact on wellbeing.

A range of green vegetables

It’s super-important right now to look after your immune system to protect yourself as best you can.  The beneficial bacteria in your gut (also known as friendly flora) are the gatekeepers to the immune system. It needs nourishing and feeding with the right foods. Try including natural yoghurt, fermented foods such as tofu, tempeh, kefir and kombucha, plenty of green leafy vegetables and asparagus.  Drinking green tea is also good for feeding the gut bacteria.

Sleep well

Having enough sleep is essential for a healthy immune system.  It’s also essential for a healthy mind and body.  Stress and anxiety can really impact our ability to get a good night’s sleep.  If you are badly affected, then try to take steps to minimise them.

Close up of woman sleeping

Sometimes reverting to a simple routine can be helpful.  Start with a warm bath, using some essential lavender oil, light some candles, read a book and download a calming app.  Limit the time you read or listen to the News right now as this can exacerbate stress.  Sometimes, you must cocoon yourself in order to get your sleep patterns on track.

Plan and enjoy your meals

It’s often difficult now to get the food you want when you want it.  However, try to ensure you’re eating nutrient-dense foods as much as possible.  Choose unrefined, whole grains rather than white, refined foods and keep sugar intake as low as possible; sugar is very detrimental to immune system function. Choose well balanced meals with protein and plenty of vegetables.

Chicken breast with side salad representing balanced meal

Clearly, if you’re stuck indoors for long periods, it’s very tempting to snack but do try and put the fridge in isolation as well as yourself; your health will be much better for it.

So, whilst we all come to terms with the new way of the world, try to move more and keep well through a good diet and exercise regime.

Stay well.

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How to stay healthy and fit through the crisis

WOman holding a weight in one hand and plate of fruit and veg in the other

With the likelihood of a prolonged period of social distancing and home working, our normal everyday routine will become very disrupted.  Whether you’ve got a little more time on your hands because you’re not travelling to work, or you’re having to work much longer hours because you’re a key worker, it’s most important to keep as fit and healthy as possible during these challenging times.

Finding new ways to keep fit or new dishes to try will help to boost your morale and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for lasting wellness.

Load up on fruits and veggies

It seems like the shelves have been stripped bare of dried goods, such as pasta and rice, but fruits and vegetables are hopefully still available, certainly in lots of areas.  Also, don’t forget the corner shops and local farmer’s shops which still seem to be well-stocked.

A range of fruits and vegetables

Protecting the immune system is the most important thing you can do right now and there’s a variety of ways you can really help yourself and your family.  Fruit and vegetables are some of the richest sources of immune-boosting vitamin C, a great anti-viral agent.  Whilst it’s not going to cure the virus, having strong immunity will put you in better to shape to fight it if you are unlucky enough to succumb.

If you’re used to having pasta-based meals, then why not try more vegetable-based ones?  Sweet potato curry or sweet potato vegetable pie (loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene), roasted veggies with chicken, fish or tofu, cauliflower curry, fajitas with avocado and red peppers – it’s just about getting more creative with your choice of dishes.

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

If you’re one of the 72% of the population currently not eating the minimum five-a-day of fruits and vegetables, then use this time to eat as many as you can daily.  Frozen are just as good as fresh as they’ve generally been frozen quickly after harvest.  Make your meals as colourful as possible!

Take a vitamin D supplement

We are all advised by Public Health England to take a vitamin D supplement through the winter months.  Never has there been a more important time to be taking a vitamin D supplement; vitamin D is essential for the immune system. And even though some sunshine has appeared, it can never produce enough vitamin D on the skin to be fully effective.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

Better still, take a daily multivitamin which includes a minimum of 10 micrograms (ug) of vitamin D: a multivitamin will also help plug any other nutrient deficiencies and further protect the immune system. You can also get some vitamin D from foods; eggs, mushrooms and fish are good sources, plus certain fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Sleep and rest well

In these times of heightened anxiety, stress can have a detrimental effect on the immune system.  It’s therefore really important to make sure you’re getting sufficient rest and seven or eight hours sleep per night.  Lack of sleep suppresses T cells in the immune system, which are needed to fight viruses and infections.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Equally, trying to take some relaxation during the day, can help you to sleep better at night.  Try using a calming app, practising meditation, reading a book – whatever you find helpful.  Also try to keep to regular bedtimes.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

If you’re used to being a social butterfly, clearly everyone’s wings have been clipped for a while.  Use the time to cut down on caffeine and alcohol as both will stop the body from sleeping peacefully.  If you’re in the situation of being indoors much more, then take the opportunity to re-think your life and try to ditch those foods or activities that are not promoting good health.

Warm yourself from the inside

It’s crucially important to keep the body hydrated to protect vital organs and make your internal environment more difficult for viruses to enter.

Glass of water with lemon

Additionally, if you’re dehydrated, your brain is going to feel foggy, concentration will be poor and energy levels low.  The body really likes warm drinks (about blood temperature).  Start the day with some warm lemon water to flush through the liver.  You can also sip this with some immune-boosting ginger throughout the day.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

There’s a myriad of herbal teas which also boost immunity; echinacea, peppermint, red bush, green, rosehip and turmeric. Have one on the go throughout the day.  Soups containing loads of vegetables are also great immune boosters; chicken broth is thought to help fight viruses.  If you can boil up the bones to make a chicken stock first, even better!

Get some exercise

This is more difficult now with formal exercising venues, as well as public parks, largely being closed.  However, even if it’s a stroll around the block, getting some fresh air (away from other people) is great for the immune system.  However excessive exercise actually depletes immunity, so for some perhaps an enforced ‘slow-down’ may be good. Don’t overdo it.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

Get creative with some kind of exercise routine. Running up and down stairs, press-ups, core exercise, squats and lunges can all be carried out at home.  Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises only require a mat: there are plenty of free videos online to follow in order to keep motivated.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Most importantly, try to stay positive.  This is a phase in time that will pass.  However, the more you can do to keep yourself healthy the better you’ll come out the other side.

Stay well.

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Five top tips for a peaceful night’s sleep

Woman asleep in bed

We all long for a restful night’s sleep and to wake up feeling fully refreshed.  But, how much attention do we really pay to our sleep hygiene? 

Are we really giving ourselves the best opportunity of getting some good shuteye?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for ‘cleaning-up’ your bedtime routine.

Your day is as important as your night

What you eat and drink during the day has a massive impact on how well you sleep.  For example, if you’re overloaded with caffeinated or fizzy drinks, or alcohol, these are all sleep disrupters.  It’s best not to have anything caffeinated or stimulatory after lunchtime.  Whilst the effects of caffeine may wear off after a few hours, they have a lasting effect on blood sugar balance which will stimulate stress hormones, keeping you more awake.

A glass mug of coffee alonsgside some biscotti

Additionally, drinking alcohol during the evening (or even throughout the day), may make you feel drowsy at bedtime, but it will still disrupt your sleep.  Waking in the middle of the night is pretty normal after a ‘heavy night’ again partly due to imbalanced blood sugar levels and dehydration.

Stress can keep you awake

Most of us lead busy and, often, stressful lives.  However, it’s how we deal with stress that has the biggest impact on how well we sleep.  If you’re constantly juggling during the day, then your adrenal glands that secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, require some support to help you feel more balanced and calmer.

A range of fruits and vegetables

To work effectively, the adrenals need plenty of vitamin C, found in most fruits and vegetables.  Therefore, make sure you’re eating plenty of colour every day.  The more stressed you are, the more vitamin C you’ll burn.  Additionally, the family of B-vitamins, especially vitamin B5, is key to good adrenal function.  Include plenty of fish, eggs, broccoli and legumes in your diet – all especially rich in vitamin B5.

Take some herbal helpers

There are several herbs, known as adaptogens, which balance the body and help support it through stressful times as well as regulate sleep patterns.  The herbs ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all provide great help at getting sleep back on track.

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Sleep patterns can often be disturbed because cortisol levels are too high in the evening.  In these cases, cortisol maybe low in the mornings (when it should be higher) which is why some people struggle to get out of bed.  Adaptogenic herbs are effective at getting stress hormones back into good balance.

Adopt a regular routine

Just as the body loves (and needs) to be fed regularly, it craves a regular sleep pattern.  Sleep is essential for the body to rest, repair and detoxify.  The body is much better able to complete all these functions if it’s used to a regular routine.  For example, try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time.

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

Good sleep hygiene means trying to achieve seven or eight hours of sleep per night.  If this is a struggle for you because you wake early, then find a sleep or calming app that you can use if you find yourself waking too early.Try to resist the urge to get up, just because you’ve woken up.  You can re-train your body, it just takes a little patience and perseverance.

Don’t sleep with electronics

Falling asleep in bed with your laptop, tablet or phone is definitely not good sleep hygiene. Research suggests that emissions from electronic devices can have a negative effect on the body.  Try and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and resist the urge to use them in the hours leading up to sleep too. Blue light keeps up awake, so it can have an adverse effect on how easily you can fall asleep.

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

Instead, have a warming bath, maybe adding some Epsom salts, rich in soothing magnesium. Play some gentle music, spray some lavender on your pillow and grab your favourite book.  You’ll be amazed just how effective a strong bedtime routine can be when trying to get sleep on track.

Your body works hard for you so treat it to the best rest you can!

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Women’s health: nutrition at every life stage

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

Women’s health needs vary throughout their lives.  There are many years spent balancing hormones and this can have other knock-on health implications.

Thankfully there are some vitamins and minerals which can specifically offer solutions to women at every life stage.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at which are the top nutrients women should be focusing on during their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

The fertility years – 30’s

A group of women in their 30's

More women are now having babies in their 30’s than in their 20’s in the UK. And there are certain nutrients that can help support fertility.

It’s important to ensure the body is being fed specific nutrients such as the mineral zinc, needed for fertility as well as immune health.  Oysters (also aphrodisiacs), whole grains, seafood, beef, beans and mushrooms are all good sources so make sure they feature in your daily diet.  Zinc also helps with hormone balance which will help manage fluctuations better.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

In terms of looking after your hair, skin and nails, then the beauty vitamin is biotin.  It’s found in organ meats, soya products, oats and dairy.  Also make sure you are eating a varied, colourful diet, with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to keep you looking your best from the inside out.

The Peri-menopause years – 40’s

Group of women in their 40's

However, much we try to avoid saying the ‘M’ word, unfortunately menopause can start to become noticeable during our 40’s.  The average age for menopause is 51, however, during the 5-10 years leading up to it we may start to notice various symptoms. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate what’s down to peri-menopause symptoms and what’s caused by stress.  Anxiety, low mood, unwanted weight gain, poor sleep and heavy periods can all be problematic.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Thankfully there is some nutritional help at hand. Top of the list for supporting both stress and peri-menopause symptoms is vitamin B6. It’s needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, helps with the stress response and keeps female hormones in good balance.  Cereals, beans, poultry, fish and dark leafy greens are your hormone-friendly foods.

The Menopause years – 50’s

A group of women in their 50's looking at a photo on the screen of a camera

Around 80% of women suffer from menopause symptoms in varying degrees.  Some are so debilitating that women have to stop working, have relationship issues or just feel total despair.  The good news is that there’s much that can be done to alleviate symptoms.  Top of the list are phytoestrogen foods which help to balance falling levels of oestrogen naturally.

A range of phytoestrogen foods

Soya products such as soya milk and tofu, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, beans (especially edamame beans) and chickpeas are all great sources of phytoestrogens so try to have some at every mealtime.

Disturbed sleep can also be a problem during these years; if you’re struggling, the herb valerian, taken about an hour before bedtime is very effective and it won’t make you feel drowsy in the morning.

And if you’re looking for natural support for the symptoms of the menopause you could try Black Cohosh – a traditional herbal remedy used to help hot flushes, night sweats, disturbed sleep and mood swings.

The Freedom years – 60’s

Group of retired women in their 60's walking on a beach

Hormonal fluctuations are diminishing, family life and work pressures should be lessened and hopefully there’s finally a lot more time on your hands!  However, it’s also time when you need to be taking really good care of your bones.

Peak bone density is reached during your 30’s (or earlier) so bone strength can decline thereafter, and this can really accelerate after the menopause due to lack of oestrogen.  Make sure you’re eating plenty of bone-loving calcium-rich foods.  It’s not all about dairy. Soya products, green leafy vegetables, oily fish including bones (such as tinned fish) and nuts and seeds are all great sources.

A range of foods containing calcium

Additionally, calcium can’t do it’s work within bone structure without the ‘sunshine’ vitamin D.  During winter months, it’s impossible to get enough from the sun itself, so do make sure you’re taking a daily vitamin D supplement.

Exercise is also essential for bone health and mental wellbeing so make sure you’re doing some every day. It’s not about going to the gym if that’s not your bag, but simply about being as active as possible and enjoying what you’re doing.

So, with a little careful planning, us women can help meet our health needs with specific nutrition throughout all our life stages. 

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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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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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Natural Travel Health: top tips to stay well this holiday season

CLose up of smiling woman on the beach enjoying her holiday

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us will either be travelling to other parts of the UK or further afield. Wherever you’re going, you want to be feeling at your best and you don’t want to be struck down with any unwanted bugs whilst away.

Thankfully there are some simple things you can do to help yourself to stay well naturally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for travel health.

Drink ginger

If you’re like me, you tend to feel ‘queasy’ when travelling in a car, on a boat and sometimes on a plane. Ginger has been found to be a very effective remedy helping to quash those unpleasant travel sickness sensations. It also seems to help blood flow so is very useful for treating headaches.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

As with everything, prevention is better than cure, so it’s good to start sipping warm water with sliced root ginger at least an hour before you set off. If you can take a water bottle with you and continue sipping, this would really help. When travelling by plane, you cannot take water through security but it is a good idea to take an empty, refillable bottle with you and get a food outlet to fill it with water once on the other side. You can then take this on the plane with you. Have plenty of ginger drinks before you leave and take ginger tea bags with you on the plane.

Ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so you’ll be less susceptible to tummy bugs whilst you’re away.

Take probiotics

Whilst it’s great to travel to other countries, many of them do not have the same hygiene standards that we have in the UK. I’ve even known people to contract parasites in France. Any change of routine, food or water can potentially cause tummy troubles.

Having a good balance of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract can really help prevent any unwanted invaders. Make sure your diet is generally rich in fibre by eating plenty of wholegrains, pulses and vegetables that help feed the gut bacteria.

A word cloud around Probiotics

However, taking a course of probiotics for at least a couple of weeks before travelling and whilst you’re away, will really help protect your digestive tract during your trip. Probiotics are readily available in health food stores. Additionally, foods such as natural live yoghurt, sourdough bread, miso soup and almonds are also very gut-friendly and are often available wherever you are in the world.

Up your vitamin C

One of our key nutrients for supporting the immune system is vitamin C! If you only take one nutrient with you, then it’s got to be this essential vitamin! Whilst you’ll hopefully be having some fruits and vegetables on holiday that contain vitamin C, if you get struck down by a cold or start to get a sore throat, then you’re going to need slightly higher levels.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

It’s easy to pack some vitamin C powder in your suitcase (readily available in health food stores). If you do start to feel that tell-tale ‘tickle’ in the back of your throat or your nose starts to run, then take 2,000mg of vitamin C powder straightaway to ward off any nasty bugs and continue doing this every day until it passes.

Additionally, try to include plenty of citrus fruits, red peppers, garlic, ginger and green vegetables in your diet whilst away as these all contain good amounts of vitamin C.

Pack some Milk Thistle

When we travel, then our whole routine can get upset. Since the liver is the organ that literally has to process everything we eat and drink, it often gets overloaded. The herb milk thistle, is one of the most liver-loving herbs and can really help support detoxification. You can sometimes feel sluggish on holiday and this can often be down to a congested liver.

Close up of a milk thistle flower

The herb milk thistle also helps with digestion so if some of the ‘foreign’ food is not quite agreeing with you, it can help everything sit more comfortably in your tummy. Make sure to pack some and take it with you wherever you travel.

Sleep well

Whilst you obviously want to make the most of your time away it’s equally important to get plenty of rest and restorative sleep. Too many late nights will affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to bugs, either whilst away or immediately on your return.

Close up of woman sleeping wearing an eye mask

It’s advisable to pack an eye mask wherever you go. The body produces melatonin, our sleep hormone, when it’s dark so if your room is too light when the sun comes up, then you’ll also wake up and possibly miss out on precious sleep.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Pack a small spray of lavender which you can use on your pillow before bedtime which really helps relaxation and you can also spray it during the night if you’re feeling restless. Alcohol and caffeine are the two biggest sleep disrupters so have both in moderation (or abstain), if you want to come back from your travels looking and feeling refreshed!

So with a little planning, and a little bit of natural support, your travels can be healthy ones. Bon Voyage!

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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