The darker nights and drop in temperature means we need to prepare ourselves and our bodies for winter.
At this time of the year it’s essential to provide the relevant ingredients to (naturally) fuel our bodies so that we can stay healthy and keep our immune system in good order.
Homemade soups and stews are often thought of as essential winter foods, so experiment with traditional produce such as root vegetables, squashes, seasonal greens, beans and other items such as whole grains to create delicious flavour combinations. Don’t forget that you can also make nourishing dishes using cooked apples, pears and citrus fruit – all key to your body’s maintenance.
If you think your diet alone is not providing sufficient nutrients during the cold snap, try using food supplements to support the immune system. Typical winter supplements are vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc. A good preventative supplement for winter colds is taking beta glucan to strengthen your immune system. Meanwhile horseradish and garlic are both rich in compounds with immune boosting, antibacterial and antiviral activity. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can also help support healthy immunity.
Don’t be discouraged from going outdoors because of the cold weather. Doing at least 30 minutes daily exercise – such as a brisk walk – will keep your circulation going and help keep the viruses at bay. Also try to keep a healthy mind as well as a healthy body by considering some stress management practices such as yoga or meditation.
There are simple measures to help reduce the risk of becoming susceptible to winter bugs: drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration and remember to regularly wash your hands to prevent infecting others.
Most importantly take time to relax, rest and recover as the cold and darkness urges your body to slow down.
Winter is a great opportunity to reflect on your health, replenish and conserve energy levels by eating the right foods and adapting some lifestyle changes.
Remember, it’s a combination of all the above factors that will help you stay well.
Statistics surrounding weight loss often make for depressing reading. Losing weight, especially if done rapidly, causes changes in appetite-regulating hormones and brain chemistry, which can make long-term weight loss difficult. In fact, after a weight loss diet, up to 50% of lost weight is typically regained within one year, and around 90% is typically regained within 5 years (1).
However, a new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that a few simple strategies can make a big difference (2). Researchers followed 508 overweight and obese post-menopausal women over a period of four years to evaluate the most consistently successful weight-loss strategies.
Menopausal women have a particularly difficult time losing weight. Changes that take place in menopause, such as altered oestrogen levels, result in an accumulation of abdominal fat and an increase glucose and insulin levels (3). Coupled with a natural decline in energy expenditure, these menopausal changes appear to be the perfect recipe for weight gain.
The study divided the women into two groups. The first group of women attended Lifestyle Change classes run by nutritionists and psychologists. They were given detailed dietary advice and a goal-oriented exercise programme. The second group attended classes on general women’s health. The researchers then assessed the eating behaviours and weights of the women at the 6-month mark, and again after four years.
The researchers discovered that while strategies such as reducing restaurant visits and reducing fried foods were helpful in the short-term, they were not linked to weight-loss after four years.
Study leader Dr Barone Gibbs concluded that some weight loss strategies are simply not sustainable in the long-term, after initial motivation begins to decline “Maybe you can say no French fries for six months,” she said, “but not forever.”
So which strategies were helpful in the long-term? At the four-year mark, there were just four factors linked to successful weight loss:
Reduced consumption of meat and cheese;
Fewer sugar-sweetened drinks;
An increase in fruit and vegetables.
Overall the winning dietary strategy for weight loss in the long term was found to be replacing meat and cheeses with fruits and vegetables. A simple and manageable change such as this would not only lower levels of saturated and trans fats, but it would increase levels of phytonutrients and soluble fibre, boosting digestion and even helping to curb troublesome menopausal symptoms in older women.
The simple message to take from these findings is that restrictive diets are destined to fail in the long-term, but committing to small, healthful changes can make a big difference. Weight loss needs to be viewed as a permanent healthful change in diet and lifestyle. This is especially true for menopausal women who can find weight management particularly challenging.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.
1. Wadden TA, Sarwer DB. Behavioral intervention of obesity: new approaches to an old disorder. In: Goldstein D, editor. The management of eating disorders. Totowa (NJ): Humana Press; 1996. pp. 173–199. 2. Barone Gibbs (2012) Short- and long-term eating habit modification predicts weight change in overweight, postmenopausal women: results from the WOMAN study. J Acad Nutri Dietetics112(9):1347-1355.e2. 3. Carr MC (2004) The emergence of the metabolic syndrome with menopause. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 88(6):2404-11. 4. Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane.
I recently offered some nutrition tips for kids as they prepare for the new academic year. However, September is not only ‘back to school’ for kids, but it can also mean ‘back to the daily grind’ for busy parents and teachers too. The return to work after a summer break can be quite stressful for many. Fortunately a few nutritional strategies may help to cushion the blow.
A recent Health and Safety Executive report states that stress is one of the most common types of work-related illness, with teachers, healthcare workers and social workers most commonly affected (1).
There are in fact numerous nutritional strategies that can help support stressed workers. For example, choosing foods and adopting eating patterns to keep blood sugar levels stable can help to manage mood and anxiety levels. Below is a quick guide to some of the most effective nutritional strategies for dealing with work-related stress.
Foods to include:
Including protein with each meal will go a long way towards helping your body cope with the demands of work stresses. In fact, starting your day with a protein-rich breakfast such as eggs or yoghurt can actually help control your blood sugar levels for the rest of the day, helping to keep you mood and energy levels more stable.
Keeping healthy snacks at hand – fruit, nuts or even protein shakes are easy to store at the office – will also help to manage your blood sugar levels as well as providing nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C which are in great demand at times of stress.
Finally, keep hydrated with plenty of water, herbal teas and decaffeinated teas throughout the day. Dehydration can affect mood and concentration, making it more difficult to cope with the everyday demands of the office.
Foods to avoid:
Alcohol is used by many as a stress reliever, and a couple of glasses of wine in the evening seems harmless enough after a hard day at work. Unfortunately, alcohol can in fact deplete levels of vitamins and minerals that are needed in times of stress, and over time it alters levels of stress hormones such as cortisol (2).
Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause irritability. Many office workers habitually turn to caffeine for a mid-afternoon boost when energy is flagging. Unfortunately stimulants such as caffeine place additional pressure on the adrenal glands, important bodily organs which we rely on in times of stress.
Sugar can impair the function of out ‘stress buffers’, the adrenal glands. Eating sugary foods means that the adrenals must work harder to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Nutrients for stress: B, C and Omega-3
Nutritional therapists often recommend B Vitamins alongside Vitamin C in order to help the body to cope with stress. In fact a recent study has found that a simple B Vitamin supplement may provide welcome relief to stressed workers (3).
The study was a double-blind, placebo controlled trial. To determine whether a high dose B vitamin supplement could improve mood and psychological wellbeing linked with chronic work stress, researchers supplemented 60 men and women with a high dose B Vitamin or placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, those who had taken the B Vitamins reported significantly lower levels of stress symptoms such as depressed mood, confusion and personal strain.
The B vitamins are needed in higher amounts when the body is under stress, as the adrenal glands require these nutrients to function effectively. B vitamins are also involved in the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and acetylcholine which help to ward off feelings of anxiety.
A recent review of functional foods in the management of psychological stress concluded that the most promising nutritional intervention in relieving stress is high dose Vitamin C with omega-3 fish oils (4). Well-controlled human trials have found that high dose sustained-release vitamin C can lower the effect of stress on blood pressure and improve recovery time after stressful periods (5). Omega-3 supplementation has also been found in several human studies to lower the stress response and decrease levels of stress hormones (6,7).
Many of us have suffered with work-related stress at one time or another, and this type of ongoing stress has a serious effect on wellbeing and quality of life. Returning to long days at the office after the summer holidays can be a daunting prospect for the best of us. Choosing the correct nutrition might just help make that transition a little easier.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC
References 1. HSE (2011) Stress and Psychological Disorders. www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/index.htm
2. Badrick et al (2008) The Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Cortisol Secretion in an Aging Cohort. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 March; 93(3): 750–757.
3. Stough C et al (2011) The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Hum Psychopharmacol 26:7 470-476
4.Hamer et al (2005) The role of functional foods in the psychobiology of health and disease. Nutr Res Rev 18, 77–88.
5. Brody et al (2002) A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress. Psychopharmacology 159, 319–324.
5. Sawazaki et al (1999) The effect of docosahexaenoic acid on plasma catecholamine concentrations and glucose tolerance during long-lasting psychological stress: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo) 45, 655–665.
7. Delarue et al (2003) Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy men. Diab & Metab 29,289–295.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a very common female endocrine (hormone secreting glands) condition which is characterised by excessive androgens (mainly the male hormone testosterone) in the blood and anovulation (no ovulation). This leads to underdeveloped ovary follicles which are unable to fully release their eggs, then becoming attached to the ovary edges and developing into excess amounts of egg filled cysts (polycystic). Symptoms of PCOS often include sub-fertility, irregular periods, acne, excessive hair, insulin resistance and obesity which can all be extremely distressing for the individual. Consequently, low self esteem and depression are also common for sufferers.
A review (1) on PCOS published last year (2010) in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society journal looked into the roles that diet and weight have on the symptoms. The review reports on the great impact weight loss has for those that are obese as it helps with insulin resistance and reduces the male hormone testosterone, which then improves ovulation and fertility. However, weight is not the only concern with PCOS and diet has also been shown to be a powerful influence on the symptoms. Due to the link between PCOS and insulin resistance, low glycaemic index diets (which include foods which release glucose in to the blood slowly and steadily to prevent sugar highs and lows) have been shown to benefit insulin sensitivity and the menstrual cycle for sufferers. These foods include beans, lentils, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, nuts, salmon, meat (excluding red meat), all vegetables except green peas, sweet corn and carrots and fruits such as apples, oranges, grapes and pears among many others. As you can see from this list of healthy foods, low G.I foods are a great addition to any diet as they also keep you fuller for longer, are packed with nutrients, and can help with weight management as well. In addition to these foods, the authors of the review also commented on reports that fatty acids may help with the symptoms of PCOS as they reduce the levels of abdominal fat and liver fat, and new research suggests that fatty acids may also reduce androgen secretions, which again can benefit PCOS symptoms.
The fantastic effects of food on PCOS was also recently addressed on the Channel 4 programme Food Hospital which many of you may have seen, where a young lady was suffering with the classic symptoms previously described. After 12 weeks of improving her diet aiming to reduce the amount of testosterone in her body (by including the foods mentioned earlier, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and limiting junk food), the sufferer significantly reduced her symptoms. She also had a considerable boost to her self esteem as her facial hair had reduced and she had lost weight. The results were positive and are a good representation of how powerful food can be for our health, and supports any efforts to make more healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Written by Lauren Foster
(1) O’Connor, A. Gibney, J. and Roche, H.M. (2010) Metabolic and hormonal aspects of polycystic ovary syndrome: the impact of diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 69, 628–635.
Are you the type of person that jumps out of bed every morning with a smile on your face as soon as your alarm goes off, ready and waiting to face the day? Do you remain full of energy and on full pelt for the rest of the day before having a great night’s sleep every night? Or are you more likely to hit snooze on your alarm as much as possible before you absolutely have to get up? Then day-dream about your bed as your energy levels drop through the floor throughout the day?! If you are more likely to be the latter, you are most certainly not alone.
A persistent lack of energy is one of the most common complaints in both men and women across the nation. Daylight, and more importantly sunlight, has a great effect on our overall energy levels. Historically we are used to being outside all day benefiting from the effects of sunlight. Modern living, however, results in the majority of us spending large amounts of time indoors, deprived of sunlight and this causes problems with our body’s natural rhythm and well being.
Officially summer comes to an end this weekend with clocks going back an hour. This signals the start of dull days with very limited and less intense sunlight and even less opportunity to benefit from the sun. This can bring about a reduction in energy levels for much of the population and reduced daylight can, in some cases, cause Season Affective Disorder (SAD) – sometimes known as Winter Depression. As a result many people begin to dread the winter months. There are, however, many natural ways to combat low energy and SAD. Balancing your circadian rhythm is a great way to do this.
Below we have drawn up a brief guide on how you can boost your energy levels and prevent the frequent desire for those 3pm snoozes!
Early Morning (approx 6.30am – 9am)
Your Internal Bodyclock is in its “awakening” mode at this stage. Your metabolism is slow and rising. Your body temperature, blood pressure and cortisol levels are all also increasing, signalling to your body to wake up. You may feel ‘groggy’ first thing and crave that morning cup of coffee or a bowl of sweet, sugary breakfast cereal. This may give you a rapid increase in energy, but it will also leave you with an energy slump once the initial effects have worn off. This is where people can fall into the habit of regular caffeine or sugary snacks in an attempt to maintain this feeling.
There are better ways to boost your energy and replenish the low blood glucose levels that have developed during sleep. Try adding a slice of lemon to hot water – this has natural sugars and also helps cleanse the digestive system (having the effect of a bit of a mini detox) ready for the day ahead. Also opt for high fibre breakfasts such as 100% pure rolled porridge oats with a handful of fruit and seeds or a boiled egg with wholemeal toast. These kinds of foods will provide you with a slow and sustained release of energy throughout the morning, keeping you full for longer and reducing those energy slumps.
Try to get out in the daylight as much as possible in the morning as this will wake your body up for the day. The winter days will prevent many people from being able to do this, therefore you may wish to try using a sunrise alarm clock, like the Lumie Bodyclock Starter in the mornings. This will stimulate your brain into waking gradually, balancing your circadian rhythm and your cortisol levels, which has the added bonus of being able to also support your immune system and stress levels.
Morning until Lunch (approx 9am – 2pm)
As your cortisol levels are still increasing you are more alert and efficient and your mental capability has reached its peak of the day. This means your concentration, memory and focus are all waiting to be utilised. So use this time to get all your lingering tasks done!
You could also try using a SAD light for 30 minutes every day for energy stimulation. The effectiveness of SAD Lights is measured in lux, which is the level of light intensity that you would normally get from the sun. A SAD light with 10,000 lux is recommended for those who want to see the most benefits.
Also avoid drinking coffee at this time as this can cause the swift rises and falls in energy levels. Instead you could try green tea, which is packed with antioxidants and contains much less caffeine per cup. Other teas are also great options such as ginger tea, which is good for digestion. Peppermint, fennel and camomile are also good options.
Females should take extra care too. A lack of energy can be due to low iron levels and coffee has been shown to reduce iron stores in the body. Make sure your levels are topped up by eating foods rich in iron such as meats, some fish and leafy greens such as spinach. Consider taking an iron supplement and remember to take this with vitamin C to help its absorption. B vitamins are also great for energy – You could try adding a multivitamin with extra B Complex, such as Viridian High 5 Multi Vitamin to your daily routine.
Another helpful tip is to try to get outside during your lunch break – the fresh air and daylight can do wonders to prevent that mid-afternoon slump. When choosing your lunch, choose slow-release carbohydrates such as brown rice or wholemeal bread rather than refined carbs such as white bread or crisps. Also ensure you have some protein in your meal too – such as lean chicken, fish, beans or pulses.
Afternoon (approx 2pm – 5pm)
Your cortisol levels start to drop which can often lead to drowsiness or that mid-afternoon slump. It’s best to avoid the temptation for biscuits or chocolate for a sugar boost at this time. If you must have a snack, try a small piece of minimum 70% quality dark chocolate or some dried fruit, nuts or seeds. Make sure you prioritise your tasks for the afternoon so you know exactly what you need to achieve before home time. That way you can go home happy and content with the day. ‘A well spent day brings happy sleep’ after all. Also taking in deep breaths is great for energy levels and can help reduce stress and aid concentration.
Evening (approx 5pm – 10pm)
As the evening progresses your melatonin levels start to increase (the hormone that prepares your body for sleep) and your digestion slows. Try to avoid snacking in the evening and heavy meals before bed time. This will require a lot of digestion as insulin is less effective at night. Also your digestive system will struggle to cope with excess amounts of food before bed and this can lead to weight gain as well as disruptive sleep – contributing to an imbalanced circadian rhythm. It is best to avoid all stimulants such as coffee, tea and alcohol as much as possible at this time as these can also disrupt your sleep.
A bad night’s sleep can cause low energy the following day and contribute to reduced mental performance. This can cause stress and lead to a spiral of stress and disrupted sleep which is hard to get out of. If you have trouble drifting off at night, try a sunrise alarm clock with a sunset feature like the Lumie Bodyclock Active. The light gradually dims helping your brain to naturally switch off. If a sunset feature is not for you, then try spraying lavender on your pillow or rubbing some lavender sleep therapy balm on your body to help you switch off.
In addition to these helpful tips, specific nutrients that can support energy levels are:
Magnesium – found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale
Vitamin B Complex – found in brown rice and wholemeal bread. If you supplement this, it is best taken as a “complex” of B Vitamins
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) & Acetyl-l-Carnitine (ALC) – Found in green foods such as broccoli, spinach and some red meats
Co-Enzyme Q10 – found in fish, organ meats such as liver and whole grains
Iron – found in a multitude of food sources, such as red meat, beans and pulses, leafy green vegetables, tofu and fortified breads and cereals