Nutrition for stress: can what you eat help you feel calmer?

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Unfortunately, stress is very much a part of normal everyday living. Stress affects everyone in different ways and can really affect quality of life. The good news is that the right nutrition can have a positive influence on the body and mind, particularly during stressful situations and for everyday life.

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Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top nutrients and foods to help keep you calm and reduce stress.

 

 

B Vitamins

These are key to the production of our stress hormones and for the health of the central nervous system generally. B vitamins are also used up during stressful times so they certainly need to feature highly in your anti-stress larder. Plus, they’re essential for helping the body release energy from food which can be very helpful when stress is sapping your energy levels.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Make sure you’re eating plenty of B vitamins throughout the day as they’re water-soluble so are quickly excreted from the body. The great news is that they’re found in so many different foods. Wholegrain cereals such as oats (porridge for breakfast), eggs, beans and seafood (all great as part of a lunchtime salad), green leafy vegetables and other whole grains such as rice (salmon, brown rice and broccoli for dinner). They are certainly easy to incorporate into the daily diet.

Vitamin C

Another important nutrient that’s needed for production of stress hormones, but vitamin C also helps fight infections; the body is more susceptible to attack from viruses when stressed. Whilst vitamin C is found in lots of fruits and vegetables, especially peppers, berry fruits, citrus fruits and kiwis, it’s not that easy to eat enough when your body and mind are really stressed.

A rnage of colourful fruit and vegetables

To increase intake, why not make a daily juice with mostly vegetables and some added apple or pineapple for taste? Whilst there’s lots of negative press about juicing, mainly because it lacks fibre and beneficial enzymes, it can really increase your intake of vitamin C, which is much-needed during stressful times. You should also include plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables with your meals to gain benefit from all the other compounds naturally found in these foods. Plus of course, even more vitamin C!

Green Tea

Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine which helps promote the production of one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA. In fact, even though green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, theanine helps balance out the stimulatory effect of the caffeine: when you’re stressed, excess caffeine can stimulate feelings of anxiety, worsening the stress response. Green tea also contains lots of antioxidants which help protect the body from infection, which can often become more prevalent during stressful times.

A cup of green tea

Look for pure green tea which is readily available in supermarkets or health food stores and drink around three cups a day for best results.

Green leafy vegetables

These are superfoods for many reasons. Not only are they high in B vitamins which support the nervous system, they’re also loaded with calming magnesium. In fact, magnesium is known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it helps relax muscles and creates feelings of calm within the body. Moreover, it’s used up more during stressful situations which means ideally we need to be taking in more.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, pak choi, kale and sprouts are all great for their magnesium content and are very quick and easy veggies to cook and include in the daily diet. For those who really don’t like their ‘greens’ then why not try adding broccoli and pak choi to stir fries? Try grilling kale with a little olive oil sprinkled with salt. Have a go at flash frying sprouts with bacon. It couldn’t be easier!

Natural yoghurt

The reason that natural yoghurt can really help manage stress levels is because it’s loaded with probiotics. These naturally feed your good gut bacteria, which in turn have a very positive effect on mental health and overall wellbeing. Additionally, dairy products contain B vitamins so you’ll be gaining double the benefit.

Natural yoghurt

Importantly, the yoghurt needs to be ’live’ to contain the beneficial bacteria, and natural; many fruit yoghurts contain lots of sugar which will have the reverse effect. Yoghurt is great added to your wholegrain breakfast cereal of choice, with some berries, or it makes an excellent snack on its own.

So try and make the right nutrition your first priority to help balance the stresses and strains of daily life.

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Five nutritious breakfasts to start the day right!

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day. Clearly, all three main meals are important as they provide fuel and essential nutrients for the body. However, after a period of fasting during the night, blood sugar levels are low so it is essential to refuel.

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If you’re only drinking a double espresso for breakfast, with no food, your blood sugar levels will be imbalanced and so will your energy for the rest of the day.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite breakfasts, whether you’re on the run or having a lazy weekend.

Fast and effective: Overnight oats

Soaking oats overnight in milk or apple juice is really easy to do. It provides you with one of the best ‘on-the-run’ breakfasts you can have, as you’re prepping it the night before, and your energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Oats are packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates, plus they’re a great source of fibre and energising B-vitamins. They also help keep cholesterol levels in check. If you choose to soak them overnight in almond milk, you’ll also be getting the benefit of some omega-3 essential fats, and a banana will give it some added flavour and heart-loving potassium. Just smash the banana into the milk, mix with the oats and leave overnight in the fridge. If you want to add some extra fruit or natural yoghurt in the morning, then fill your boots!

The green one: Smashed avocado on toast with sprinkled seeds

Instead of putting a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and spreading them with the first thing that comes to hand, take an extra minute to smash an avocado on toast.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Use wholemeal, rye or other non-white bread to provide you with lots of energy-giving B-vitamins. Avocados themselves are high in vitamin B5 which is needed to produce our stress hormones, helping to manage your anxiety levels. Sprinkle it with some mixed seeds (flavoured with soya sauce if you like) and if you’ve got some cherry tomatoes and rocket in the fridge, add those to your plate as well!

The lazy weekender: Poached eggs with sourdough

Eggs are one of the best ways to start any day. They’re one of the most complete foods: packed full of protein they are also a good source of the trace mineral iron, needed for good brain function through the day. And whilst you might not want to be using your brain too much on a lazy weekend, iron is stored in the body so you’ll be sharp for the week ahead.

Poached egg on brown toast

Poached eggs on sourdough toast work really well with spinach. The tastiest way is to quickly ‘wilt’ the leaves in a little butter and add some chilli powder for extra taste.

The zingy one: Summer Berry fruit bowl

Even though we are in the midst of winter, the availability of frozen summer berries means this breakfast can be enjoyed all year round. The nutrient content of frozen fruits and vegetable stacks up really well against fresh produce because they tend to be frozen quickly after harvesting, therefore retaining most of their nutrients. And summer berries are packed full of vitamins.

A bowl of summer berries with yoghurt for breakfast

All you need for this is some frozen berries, plus half an avocado, a banana and natural yoghurt blended together. You can whizz this up the night before and take it on the run – why not add some oats and seeds before eating to give your breakfast an extra energy boost.

This is also a great way of helping you to eat a colourful rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day. This bowl is packed with antioxidants to help support your immune system through the winter months, plus the dark fruits are full of super-healthy flavonoids (powerful antioxidants responsible for the vivid colours in fruits and vegetables).

The indulgent start: Wholemeal bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

This delicious breakfast is packed with protein and energising B-vitamins, plus essential omega-3 fats, needed for great brain function through the day.

Bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

All you need to do is to toast a delicious wholemeal bagel and spread with low-fat cream cheese and add some smoked salmon. Choose low-fat cream cheese if you can as it’s obviously much lower in calories, but actually contains higher amounts of calcium (needed for strong bones, teeth and muscles). I promise you won’t notice the difference from the full-fat variety.

So, there you have it. Five great ideas to start your day the right way!

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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.

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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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Barbeque season: top tips for healthy al fresco dining

Group of friends enjoying eating a barbeque outside

One of the signs that summer is truly here is the smell of barbecued food in the air. As a nation, we love our barbeques and what’s not to like? Dining outdoors with friends and family and soaking up some rays is what summer’s all about.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips on what’s hot and what’s not on the Barbie!

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THINK BEYOND BURGERS!

Barbequed food has become much more sophisticated in recent times. However, many people still revert to barbeque ‘staples’, such as burgers, without giving it too much thought. Clearly, they have a place on the barbeque table but whole fish, (trout as a great example) is totally delicious cooked in this way.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Gutted trout can be stuffed with coriander, lemongrass, garlic and ginger and wrapped in foil or even newspaper and then cooked at a low heat over the barbeque. Trout are high in healthy omega-3 fats and all herbs deliver some wonderful health benefits. Garlic, for example, is great for the immune system and also helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.

SWAP COALS FOR GAS

Gas barbeques were once much-maligned! Whatever happened to the traditional way of cooking barbequed food? However, over time people have realised the many benefits of gas. Most importantly, cooking temperature can be much better controlled. One of the problems with barbequed food is that flames burn the outside of the food before the inside is properly cooked. This, of course is a real problem when cooking chicken and many people have fallen foul to food poisoning for this very reason.

Vegetable skewers on a barbeque

In terms of flavour, you’ll still get that wonderful barbequed-tasting food but it will be cooked evenly throughout. Once you’ve invested in a gas barbeque, there’ll last for years and you’ll find yourself cooking everything on it – even the Sunday roast!

HAVE A HAPPY TUM

On the subject of cooking food thoroughly, it’s no secret that many people suffer from an upset tummy following a barbecue. Obviously, this can be caused by improperly cooked food, but imbalanced gut bacteria can also be a culprit.

The digestive tract naturally contains billions of bacteria – some good, some bad. When there is a prevalence of bad bacteria it can cause all sorts of digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and wind. However, certain foods really encourage growth of good bacteria, many of which are perfect for the barbeque.

Tofu skewers with other vegetables on a barbeque

For example, tofu is a fermented food which feeds the healthy bacteria in the gut but can also be deliciously tasty on the barbecue! Tofu needs some strong flavours alongside it, so how about tofu skewers using tofu you’ve previously marinated? Think spring onions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, chillies and a little brown sugar mixed in olive oil. Healthy and delicious!

TURN UP THE HEAT

Obviously, you’re going to be doing this on the barbecue! However, why not add the healthy warming spice turmeric to your barbecue feast? Turmeric is great added to marinades. For example, chicken drumsticks which are marinated with garlic, coconut milk, fish sauce, turmeric and curry powder make a fabulous barbecued Thai chicken dish.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

However, the best reason for using plenty of turmeric in your barbecue fest is because it can really help alleviate stomach bloating – a common problem after a barbeque.

BALANCE YOUR SUN EXPOSURE

Part of the fun of having a barbeque is to enjoy the summer weather! It’s really important to top up on vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin, during the summer months. Vitamin D is also stored in the body; whilst this won’t be sufficient to get us through the winter months, it’s certainly beneficial during the summer particularly for the bones and immune system.

People enjoying a barbeque outside

Around 15 minutes exposure to the sun without sun cream is recommended. This is not long enough to cause any harm, but just long enough to do some real good. People are often reticent of putting on a high-strength sun cream fearing they won’t tan at all! Unfortunately, many people tend to stay out in the sun for too long, forgetting the strength of its rays at this time of year. However, if you always use a minimum SPF 30 on the body, it will maintain a healthy glow rather than a deep and skin-damaging tan. Plus always wear a hat and protect your eyes with sun glasses.

So make the most of the summer right now and enjoy deliciously tasty and healthy barbecues this season.

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

 

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!

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

 

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!

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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