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!

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Enjoy fun in the sun with these top summer health tips

After, what seems like a very long winter, summer is finally here! So are you full of energy and ready to enjoy these longer days or feeling a little lack-lustre?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives some top tips on how to best prepare for some summer fun!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

ENERGISING NUTRIENTS

If you’re not feeling super-energised right now, then it may be that you need some more energising nutrients in your diet. A key nutrient to give you that ‘get-up-and-go feeling, is iron; it transports oxygen throughout the bloodstream. People who are slightly iron-deficient often get out of breath easily, particularly during exercise, and other symptoms can include fatigue and pale skin. So how can you increase this important nutrient?

Red meat contains the most absorbable form of iron. However, if you’re a non-meat-eater or vegetarian, foods such as beans, dried fruit, spinach and dark chocolate contain some iron and if eaten with other foods or drinks containing vitamin C, then the iron becomes much more absorbable.

The family of B vitamins are also essential for releasing energy from food. Some of the best food sources are whole grain cereals (some are also fortified with additional B-vitamins), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and lentils.

TROUBLE SLEEPING?

Light mornings often means we wake up earlier than we would like, plus summer nights can be hot and humid. Ideally a bedroom needs to be dark to allow the body to naturally produce melatonin, our sleep hormone. If you find you’re waking up too early, either invest in some black-out blinds or curtains or alternatively try an eye mask.

A warm milky drink before bedtime is not just an old-wives’ tale! Any type of milk, particularly cow’s milk or soya, contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps produce more melatonin. A couple of oats cakes as a snack before bed will also encourage a peaceful slumber.

DRINK FOR YOUR SUMMER SKIN

The hotter it gets, the more hydration your body needs and your skin will really suffer if you’re dehydrated. As a general rule, the body needs at least 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily (this can include herbal or fruit teas). However, if you’re getting really hot and sweaty, then the body needs its electrolytes replenishing as well: these are salts within the body that are depleted when the body loses fluids. Magnesium, sodium and potassium are examples of electrolytes.

Whizzing up a juice or smoothie is a great way of getting some of these electrolytes back into the body. Think avocado, blueberries, and beetroot with some coconut water for an electrolyte punch. Plus, avocadoes are packed full of skin-loving vitamin E, to give you an extra glow!

DOUBLE UP YOUR EXERCISE

The summer often makes us feel like we want to increase an existing exercise plan or get one started. The best way is to double up your gains is by joining a group or club (think tennis or outdoor fitness) or participating in a team sport.

High intensity training can be tough, especially in the summer heat. However, sessions are often relatively short and when done with other people (or a partner or friend), they can actually be fun too! It will make sticking to the plan much easier.

EAT AWAY STRESS

Stress is our modern day epidemic; long working hours, busy family life, relationship woes or money worries all take their toll. Plus, of course, it can impact on summer fun and enjoyment. Whilst stress is often unavoidable, the body can be fuelled to better cope.

Vitamin C is needed to help produce our stress hormone cortisol. Strawberries (in season right now), red peppers and citrus fruits are all great sources of vitamin C. Plus the B vitamins also play a key role in helping the body to manage the stress response.

Additionally get some walnuts in your life! Why? Because they’re high in the essential omega-3 fats. We frequently forget about them but omega-3’s are key in brain function and in helping the body better manage stress. If walnuts are not your bag, then pumpkin seeds or oily fish are also great sources.

So with a few dietary changes and some lifestyle shifts, you can be enjoying wonderful summer days to the full.

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Eat your way to better sleep

It’s thought that as many as one in three people in the UK suffer from poor sleep1. This is categorised as a number of things including not being able to get off to sleep, waking up too early, waking for long periods in the night and not feeling refreshed in the morning after a night’s sleep.

There can be many reasons for having poor sleep. However, the good news is that eating certain foods may help to alleviate the problem.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips to keep you slumbering all night long!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

DE-STRESS FOR BETTER SLEEP

Easier said than done of course! We have busy and stressful lives. However, chronic stress can lead to a disordered sleep pattern. Plus, the more stressed you are, the more B vitamins the body will naturally burn. So, if you’re lacking in B vitamins, it’s more likely that you’ll suffer from sleep problems.

Therefore, during the day, try to include foods rich in the B’s; whole grains, oily fish, eggs, brown rice, all types of beans, sunflower seeds and nuts. Having plenty of B vitamins in your diet will really help you to cope better with anxiety and stress – both very real barriers to getting a peaceful night’s sleep.

GET YOUR OMEGA FATS

Your nerve cells need essential fats to function correctly. If you have good nerve function, this will help you to overcome stress and anxiety, which, in turn will lead to a better nights’ sleep.

These omega 3 fats can’t be made in the body, therefore they have to be taken in the diet from oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna. If you’re vegetarian, then nuts and flaxseeds, which can easily be added to cereals, porridge and salads, are rich in omega-3s.

HAVE A MILKY DRINK

Any food or drink that promotes the release of tryptophan, an amino acid that produces melatonin which is our sleep hormone, is going to be really helpful. Therefore, in the evening, plan to eat a small snack before bedtime of either a banana, some dates, a milky drink, nut butters with oatcakes, or some natural yoghurt.

Paradoxically, certain foods promote the release of adrenalin which is going to keep you awake. Foods best avoided in the evening are bacon, cheese, aubergine, ham, potatoes, sauerkraut, sugar, sausages and spinach.

HERBAL TEAS

There are a number of calming herbs which can be drunk as a tea. For example, camomile tea is known to be very relaxing because it contains a particular flavonoid known as chrysin. You certainly need to be avoiding caffeinated drinks late at night, and ideally at least four to six hours before bedtime. This includes caffeinated tea, coffee, chocolate and fizzy drinks. Do remember as well that even decaffeinated tea and coffee will still contain a small amount.

Green tea, however, contains theanine – an amino acid which helps promote the release of something called GABA – which is one of the calming neurotransmitters in the brain. It makes sense, therefore, to have a relaxing tea about an hour before bedtime for a more peaceful night.

DRINK SOME TART CHERRY JUICE

This may sound a strange suggestion, but there has been some limited research to suggest that tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries may help people sleep. This is because these special cherries naturally contain some melatonin, our sleep hormone. They also seem to keep more tryptophan, which contributes to the production of our sleep hormone, in the body.

Research has only been carried out on small groups of people2 but improvements were found in sleep time by drinking around 200 ml of tart cherry juice once a day for two weeks. Although, there’s no real robust research, it’s certainly worth considering if you’re struggling to sleep. Cherries also provide many other health benefits, particularly because they contain antioxidants which help prevent the ageing process.

It is no fun not being able to sleep, so hopefully these suggestion will really help. Sweet dreams!

 

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

Sleepy foods: five foods to eat for a great night’s sleep

For many of us, trying to get a restful night’s sleep can often be challenging; stress, long work hours, erratic eating patterns, health issues and a lack of routine can all contribute to poor sleep.  However, what we eat can have a really positive effect on sleep patterns.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods for aiding restful and restorative sleep.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

OATS

Oats not only make a great breakfast but they are a wonderful choice if you’re struggling to sleep!  They’re high in the amino acid tryptophan and vitamin B6 which are essential for the body to produce melatonin – and why is this important?

Melatonin is the sleep hormone. It’s naturally produced in the hours of darkness, which is why having a dark room for sleeping is so important.  Melatonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan, therefore foods containing high levels of tryptophan, such as oats, are great for aiding sleep.  Even better, because oats also contain vitamin B6 (which is also needed for making tryptophan) it’s a win-win situation!

Not only that, but if you eat your oats with milk (as you normally would), milk is also high in tryptophan, which is why having a glass of milk before bed is also a good idea.  So, why not think about swapping what you might eat for breakfast and having it as a snack, an hour before bedtime?

ALMONDS

If you’re struggling to get a restful night, then having a few almonds as a snack before bedtime might just do the trick.

As with oats, almonds are high in tryptophan.  They are also packed with omega-3 fats which are needed for hormone balancing.  This is important because the sleep hormone melatonin is part of our whole body’s hormone system, and all hormones need to be in balance for optimum health.

Almonds also have a great mineral profile; they are high in magnesium which has been indicated to help insomnia. In fact, many people find their sleep is improved by taking a magnesium supplement before bedtime.  However, with almonds containing around 20% of your daily recommended magnesium needs, eating the real thing is always the preferred option. Eat around six almonds half an hour before bedtime.

CHERRIES

Tart or sour cherries, properly called Montmorency cherries, are high in melatonin and also tryptophan.  In a recent study[1], older adults were given tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks.  Results showed that their time asleep increased by around 90 minutes, which was a significant improvement.

Of course, it’s not just older people who struggle to get some rest as night.  The beneficial effects of tart cherries on sleep have been vigorously studied in a number of different age groups, and positive results have been reported.

Cherries also contain high levels of anthocyanins, packed with antioxidants which help stop the ageing process. It’s the combination of these and melatonin that provide the beneficial effects on sleep.  The most palatable way to have tart cherries is in juice form.

BANANAS

Delicious and nutritious bananas are a great snack at any time plus they can help you to get some shut-eye!  Their amazing nutrient profile contains both magnesium and potassium – muscle-relaxing minerals – and just like Oats they are high tryptophan and vitamin B6.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep then a snack of a warm milk drink (high in calcium, which is another relaxing mineral) with a banana an hour before bedtime, could provide the answer.

CAMOMILE TEA

There are a wealth of herbal teas available in supermarkets, many claiming to help you to sleep.  Whilst there’s not too a huge amount of evidence to support this, anecdotal reports on camomile are extremely positive.  Many teas also contain hops which appear to have a relaxing effect.

Camomile seems to work by calming and relaxing the nervous system, which is key to achieving restful sleep.  Camomile tea is caffeine-free and as we know, all caffeine should be avoided for at least four hours before bedtime if you’re struggling to get some rest.   Drinking a cup of camomile tea, without any sugar, an hour before bedtime can really help the body to wind down before climbing into bed.

As with so many things in life, what works well for one person may not work so well for another – we’re all individuals! It’s simply a question of trying these different foods and drinks to see what works for you.  The great news is that there are so many options, and with perseverance you’ll be sure to find the right combination for you!

[1] Lui AG et al.  Tart cherry juice increases sleep time in older adults with insomnia. Experimental Biology April 28 2014

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The truth behind Old Wive’s Tales: can these sayings really improve your health?

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There are many Old Wive’s Tales which advise us on how to take better care of ourselves, particularly when it comes to well-being and nutrition.  But are they fact or are they fiction?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, investigates some of the more common sayings and provides the real answers – and some of them may surprise you!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

AN APPLE A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY

Whilst it would of course be unrealistic to expect the humble apple to solve all our health problems, apples (and indeed, all other fruits) provide some amazing health benefits and should certainly feature in your diet every day.

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Firstly, apples contain pectin – a soluble fibre which helps to reduce the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (which can clog our arteries) and also helps keep our bowels regular.  Apples also contain quercetin, which is a natural anti-histamine, so is particularly effective at reducing allergic reactions such as hayfever.

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All fruits contain phytonutrients which are beneficial plant compounds that provide antioxidant protection for the whole body: antioxidants help to protect us from damaging free radicals which are partly responsible for our degenerative diseases.  Plus, all fruits are packed with the mineral potassium which is great for the heart and helps to regulate blood pressure.

So will an apple a day keep the doctor away? Maybe not, but it can only do you good if you eat one every day!

FEED A COLD, STARVE A FEVER

This saying appears to date back to the 14th century and interestingly there is still some debate about whether this is the right approach!

It goes without saying that whatever the illness, the body needs increased liquids to support it in fighting off the infection.  When there is fever present, frequent sipping of cool liquids certainly helps to reduce body temperature.

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One thing we do know is that we tend to lose our appetite when we are poorly, and maybe this is nature’s way of helping the healing process.  It would seem that starving the body may promote a particular type of immunity that can help combat bacterial infections that often result in a fever.

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However stopping eating altogether would not be advised as the body still needs optimum nutrients to keep the body in as healthy state as possible. You’ll also need energy if you’re feeling under the weather, so a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables is still key during ill health even if you don’t really feel like eating.

A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST

This saying can be applied to many areas of our lives. But in terms of what we eat, changing our diet to include different nutrients can be just as beneficial to the immune system as resting.

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It seems an obvious statement to say that we are all different. Of course we are!  And it has been shown that our health definitely benefits from eating foods that suit our metabolic type. For example, some people do much better including animal protein from meat and dairy in the diet, whereas others benefit from a more plant-based diet.  If a person is eating against their metabolic type, health can suffer.

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For example, there are many people following a vegetarian or vegan diet who are actually not suited to it, and this can lead to poor immunity, weak muscles and joints, and low energy.  Of course the reverse can also be true and if you are generally well and feeling energised it is likely that you have it just right!

If you want to find out more about your metabolic type feel free to tweet me @nutritionsuzie or speak to any nutritionist and they can advise you on dietary changes based on your own individual experience of health and well-being.

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Getting sufficient R & R (rest and relaxation) is also crucial to our health; when we are not getting enough sleep the immune system definitely suffers, making us more susceptible to infection. The body also does much of its healing and repair when we sleep, which is why we sleep so much when we are poorly.

So is a change as good as a rest? It turns out that varying your diet and ensuring you get enough sleep are both really beneficial to our health!

BREAKFAST LIKE A KING

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dine like a pauper. There is certainly some truth in this.

Much of it depends on body type, but most people definitely benefit from a good-sized and well-balanced breakfast.  The key point though is that it’s really important to eat breakfast full stop! The body has fasted for up to 10 hours overnight, which means in the morning your blood sugar levels are low.  If no food is eaten, the body’s natural adrenaline signals the release of glucose for energy which can promote anxiety and the stress response – not the best start to the day!

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As a general principle, we should always try to eat a low glycaemic breakfast so as not to promote a sugar rush and subsequent energy dip.  Oats are great to include in your cereal choice or a dish containing eggs – both hit the spot beautifully!

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Lunch is also an important meal; it’s another opportunity to get some great nutrition in and do make sure you include some protein and slow-release carbohydrates to keep energy levels in good shape.

When it comes to dinner, the key is not to eat too late in the evening.  Dining like a pauper may well have been advised because eating a large meal late at night is going to encourage weight gain, not to mention indigestion and poor sleep.

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Try to eat no later than 7 p.m. in the evening, therefore allowing time for the body to properly digest the meal. However you can apply the ‘pauper principle’ if you are eating later than 7 p.m. by reducing or cutting out your carbohydrate intake altogether (rice, pasta, potatoes etc) and focusing just on protein and vegetables.

So the outcome? There’s always some truth in what those wives had to say – it’s just that some of the reasons why they still ring true have changed over the years!

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Can what we eat affect our mood? Top nutrition tips to keep you feeling happy!

shutterstock_384995470-happy-woman-smiling-sept16Can what we eat affect our mood? The short answer is ‘absolutely’! 

Many people suffer from low mood, have difficulty concentrating or find remembering simple things a struggle. Everything that happens regarding how you think and feel, as well as mental energy and focus, requires an optimal supply of nutrients – and this means eating a well-balanced and healthy diet. But are there some foods which may have a more dramatic impact on how you’re feeling?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares with us which foods to eat for a happier you!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog picEAT SMART FATS

You may be surprised to know that your brain is around 60% fat and much of this is made up of the ‘good fats’ or the omega-3s and 6s (the essential fats).  It makes sense, therefore, that these fats need to be replenished to support good brain function.

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In the brain, these fats regulate the release and performance of neurotransmitters – one of them being our ‘happy’ hormone, serotonin. Higher levels of essential fats in the brain mean higher levels of serotonin which in turn means a happier mood.

shutterstock_439914103 omega 3 foods Aug16So what to eat?  Oily fish, including salmon, mackerel and sardines are key.  However, if you’re vegetarian, or don’t like fish, then walnuts, soybeans and wheatgerm are great sources of both the omega 3’s and 6’s (and the brain needs both).  Flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are also good but you can also look for a good quality supplement that contains both these omegas and take this daily to keep your levels topped up.

THE BLUES BUSTER

Serotonin, your happy hormone, is made from the amino acid tryptophan.  So it makes sense to eat foods which contain this amino acid from which the body then makes serotonin.

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Porridge made with soya milk, eggs with wholemeal toast, grilled chicken breast with baked potato and green beans, salmon fillet with quinoa and a green salad – a few good examples of foods to try.  Tryptophan also promotes sleep, so any of these foods should help you to get some rest – eat a couple of hours before your planned bedtime.

BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR

Did you know that your brain consumes more energy (or glucose) than any other organ?  Without a constant supply of glucose to the brain, you’ll experience fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, but most of all mood swings.  Your brain needs a constant supply of ‘slow-releasing’ carbohydrates to keep functioning at its highest level. This means that keeping well balanced blood sugar levels is critical to keeping a well-balanced mood.

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Eating complex carbohydrates like wholegrains, vegetables, beans or lentils release energy steadily and gradually throughout the day, therefore your mood stays even.  You can further balance your blood sugar by eating some protein such as salmon, chicken, cottage cheese, eggs or nuts at the same time as the complex carbohydrates, and ideally this combination should form the basis of every meal (alongside fruits and vegetables).

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If you really want to keep your mood as even and balanced as possible it is a good idea to avoid refined sugars and foods that create a sharp increase in blood sugar levels. Although they might make you happy at the time, biscuits and cakes along with white toast, fizzy drinks and rice cakes, should all be avoided or significantly reduced for optimal and sustained happiness!

ARE YOU ALLERGIC?

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Food allergies can provoke mental and emotional changes which in turn can affect your mood.  This is because there is a physical link between the gut and the brain, and one inevitably affects the other. This is also the case with food intolerances, where the body’s reaction can often be delayed after eating the food, but can be quite distressing and more difficult to detect.

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One of the most common allergenic foods in our everyday diet is wheat: this is because wheat contains a protein called gliadin which can irritate the gut wall.  Dairy produce can also cause allergic reactions in some people often due to the lactose content, but some people can tolerate sheep and goat’s milk but not cow’s milk.

If you have a history of mood swings, eczema, asthma, ear infections, or frequent colds then it might be worth having your allergies and intolerances checked by a Clinical Nutritionist or other qualified healthcare professional.  If any foods are identified as problematic, the changes to your mood by avoiding them can be incredible!

A FINAL WORD ABOUT STRESS

There’s no doubt that if you’re stressed, this will adversely affect your mood.  This is partly because stress reduces serotonin levels and we know we need serotonin to be happy! Low oestrogen levels can also reduce serotonin, making women more susceptible to low moods, particularly when under stress.

eggs

There are many different reactions going on in the body during the stress response but a helpful amino acid called taurine helps to produce GABA – one of our calming neurotransmitters.  So, if there was one good mood food I would recommend above all else it would be eggs!  They’re packed full of tryptophan, they encourage GABA production, they are high in protein (so balance blood sugar levels) and they also contain phospholipids – another group of fats which are great for brain function! So the humble egg can really be a great little mood-booster all on its own – and there are so many ways to eat them!

So it is indeed true that you are what you eat! And hopefully with these tips you can easily build these mood-boosters into your everyday diet for a happier you!

 

 

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[1] Rimer EG et al.  Acute dietary nitrate supplementation increases maximal cycling power in athletes. Int J Sports Physiol. Perform. 2015 Dec 2

 

Top tips for boosting your immunity this January!

shutterstock_313931255 woman in winter hat and gloves Jan16The immune system is one of the most important body systems and also one of the most complex. It is vital for protecting us from all kinds of incoming threats such as viruses like the common cold and flu, all of which are flying around right now!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares here top tips on how to boost your immunity this January and hopefully avoid those nasty bugs!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IMMUNE-BOOSTING DIET

The first thing to do is to clean up your diet. But what does this mean?

Certain foods take their toll on the immune system. For example, eating too much sugar can have a detrimental effect as it appears to prevent white blood cells in the body from attacking invading viruses. So, really look at how much sugar you’re eating. It’s worth keeping a food diary and writing down everything that’s going into your body – honesty is key! It’s only then that you can really see, in black and white, just how much sugar your diet contains.

shutterstock_280752443 less sugar Jan16Alcohol, sugar in tea and coffee, confectionary, biscuits, pastries and cakes, even certain breakfast cereals have a high sugar content. Write it all down and in the next column make some suggestions for alternatives; swap out a sugary cup of tea for fruit teas – they naturally quite sweet without sugar being added. There are numerous high protein snack bars that are sweetened more naturally, or why not try porridge or eggs for breakfast? It’s really worth taking control of your sugar intake – your immune system cannot fully function as it needs to, if your diet is preventing it working optimally.

shutterstock_81302035 vitamin C fruit and veg Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING NUTRIENTS

So you’ve started to clean up your diet which is great! There are also a number of nutrients that are your best friends when it comes to immune support. Good old Vitamin C is so well-known and researched when it comes to providing immune support; it increases white blood cell production needed to fight viruses and reduces the time taken to get over an infection.

Top food choices for Vitamin C are red peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi fruits, berry fruits and citrus fruits – it’s not all about oranges, so try to include a variety of these foods in your diet.

The mineral, zinc, is another important nutrient within the immune system. Oysters contain the most Zinc of all foods but they are an acquired taste! So why not try beef, other sea foods such as crab and lobster, whole grains and eggs – these are all good sources.

Vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin, is also key for immunity. Obviously, we get very little from the sun during the winter months, especially in the UK, and since the sun is the best source it’s advisable for everyone to take a supplement containing Vitamin D throughout the winter.

Foods that contain vitamin D include oily fish, liver, cheese and eggs. Additionally, Vitamin B6 is key in providing immune support; think foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, wholegrain foods including wholemeal bread, green leafy vegetables and eggs. In fact, all foods that you should be including in a healthy eating plan will help boost your immunity!

shutterstock_300746891 echinacia Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING HERBS

There are two specific herbs that really support the immune system: Pelargonium and Echinacea.

Pelargonium exerts some amazing anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects and is particularly effective in fighting colds and upper respiratory tract infections. For best results you need to take it at the very first sign that you’re getting a cold.

Echinacea, on the other hand, is best taken preventatively, especially if you’ve been around people who are already infected. Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell activity and is really effective if taken for around two weeks at a time during ‘the season’.

shutterstock_329275235 woman sleeping in bed Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING SLEEP

Achieving restful and restorative sleep can often be difficult to achieve. We tend to lead busy and stressful lives and this can disturb sleep patterns, plus we should be devoting eight hours out of our day to actually sleep.

A lack of sleep will reduce the functioning of the immune system, so if you’re struggling at night, is there any way you can take a power nap during the day? These are amazingly effective if you are able to fall asleep quickly and get the restorative benefits from a quick 40 winks.

Additionally, if your brain is busy and overloaded, make a ‘to-do’ list of all your jobs for the next day so you won’t be making lists in your head all night.

The herbs Passionflower and Valerian can also really aid sleep; Passionflower provides relaxation and Valerian helps you to actually stay asleep without feeling ‘groggy’ the next day.

shutterstock_37965340 woman walking in autumn park Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING EXERCISE

Moderate exercise is known to boost white blood cell production. Even a daily brisk walk for around 30-40 minutes can really help – try to go for a walk every day in your lunch break – the most important thing is get moving. This really helps the lymph (your body’s infection-fighting fluid) move through the body which delivers immune-protecting cells to where they’re most needed. Plus you’ll feel more energised and positive as a result!

However, if you’re marathon training, and many people are really ramping up the miles at this time of year in preparation, heavy exercise depletes your immunity for around 12 hours afterwards, so a supportive diet, good sleep and the right nutrients all need to be in place.

So, with some mindful changes to your lifestyle, catching a cold or flu this winter doesn’t have to be a ‘given’ – fight them off with diet and exercise this winter!

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