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New Year’s Resolutions: Quitting Bad Habits

New Year’s Resolutions: Quitting Bad Habits

Around 7 million of us will make New Year’s resolutions this month, hoping to improve some aspect of our health. Giving up common vices, such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar can have tremendous health benefits. Unfortunately only 8% of us manage to keep our resolutions. Read on for tips on how to boost your chances of success for a healthy and happy 2017.

Caffeine

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. The reason drinking anything caffeinated feels so good is because caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, our brain’s ‘reward’ hormone.

In moderation, coffee actually has some health benefits, including some protective effects for the liver. However, if you’re relying on caffeine to give you an energy blast or a mood boost, or if you’re having any sleep problems, then it’s time to reduce your caffeine intake.

The problem with quitting caffeine ‘cold turkey’ is because the effects of caffeine withdrawal can be miserable. Headaches, mood changes and tiredness are common. Other symptoms such as constipation can arise in the absence of caffeine’s stimulating effects on the bowel.

Quick Quit Tips

Don’t go cold turkey. Instead try to reduce slowly over the course of a week. For example, replace one of your regular coffees with a decaf, and then switch another high-caffeine drink to a cup of black tea.

Find another way to boost your dopamine levels. Exercise boosts feel-good dopamine and serotonin. Exercise doesn’t need to be gruelling – a simple brisk walk is sufficient. Supplements such as tyrosine, theanine and rhodiola can also support dopamine levels (1,2).

Guard your energy reserves by balancing your blood sugar levels. Follow a low GI diet with snacks such as fruit and nuts rather than your usual coffee fix. Consider taking supplements designed to support blood sugar and energy levels containing chromium, magnesium and B vitamins.

Alcohol

Binge-drinking over the Christmas period is common, and the effects include unwanted weight gain, poor quality sleep and low mood. For women, more than 6 units of alcohol is defined as binge drinking. Pub serving sizes can be large – a 250ml glass of wine contains almost four units, and so it is easy to overindulge (3).

Giving up alcohol is a popular way to ‘detox’ and to lose weight after the Christmas period. The health benefits of giving up alcohol, even just for a month, are considerable. A recent study found that committing to a ‘dry January’ resulted in a 15% decrease in fatty liver, a 5% decrease in cholesterol and a 16% decrease in blood glucose levels. Those who managed a full month without drinking also tended to drink less often and have fewer drinks in one sitting six months later (4).

Quick Quit Tips

Try changing your environment to avoid temptation. Rather than visiting your local pub, have a film night, book some theatre tickets or meet in a cafe.

Try out some non-alcoholic tipples. Refreshing, low sugar options include pink grapefruit juice, sparkling water, slimline tonic, fresh mint and lemon. Herbal teas and fruit teas can also work well – simply brew the tea and then keep it chilled in the fridge.

Enhance the positive impact of abstinence on your liver, with some liver-supportive nutrients. Silymarin (milk thistle), a herb with strong antioxidant properties, is commonly used as a natural liver-supportive supplement. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), another powerful antioxidant, has been found to improve liver function in those with fatty liver disease (5).

Sugar

In the UK we eat the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of sugar each day, contributing to widespread obesity, as well as digestive and blood sugar problems. Like alcohol, certain types of sugar have also been found to put pressure on the liver. High fructose corn syrup, found in all kinds of processed foods, has been found to cause damage to the liver over time.

Giving up sugar can feel like quite a task, especially as sugar is added to many processed foods from breakfast cereals to pasta sauces. Those who have relied on sugary snacks for regular energy boosts throughout the day can experience strong cravings and might struggle without a careful strategy to reduce their intake. It is worth persevering however, as the benefits of giving up added sugars are huge. As well as weight loss and improved energy levels, a reduced sugar intake is linked with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Quick Quit Tips

Those with a sweet tooth can still include sweet foods in their whole food form. Snack on naturally sweet bananas, grapes and pineapple. These whole foods are naturally high in antioxidants, fibre and prebiotics, supporting the liver and digestive system. Simply pair with a protein such as nuts or natural yoghurt to control the effect on your blood sugar level.

Include protein with your breakfast and switch to a low GI diet to help control sugar cravings. Eggs, fish, yoghurt or a protein shake with fruit make excellent breakfast foods, while nuts, seeds and oatcakes are handy for snacks.

Natural sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia can be added to sweeten foods for a lesser impact on blood sugar. Sweetening with a little chopped fruit, and using seasoning such as cinnamon or nutmeg are other good options.

Supplements designed to support healthy blood sugar regulation should contain nutrients such as chromium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Cinnamon is also known to help maintain normal blood glucose levels. Try adding a spoonful to your porridge in the morning. If you don’t like the taste, then cinnamon can be taken in supplement form.

Sticking to your New Year’s resolutions may seem tough at times, but the benefits could be huge. Let us know how you’re getting on with your New Year’s resolutions on Twitter or Facebook.

References
1. Phytother Res. 2007. Jan 21(1):37-43
2. Neuropharmacology 2012 Jun. 62(7):2320-7
3. Unit and Calorie Calculator. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/unit-calculator?gclid=CPTr-IOvo9ECFUqdGwodf-sAIA.
4. de Visser et al (2016) Voluntary abstinence from alcohol during ‘Dry January’ and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology. 35(3) 281-289
5. Khoshbaten et al (2010) N-acetlycystein improves liver function in patients withnon-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepat Mon 10(1):12-16
6. Kavanagh K, Wylie T, Tucker K, et al. Dietary fructose induces endotoxemia and hepatic injury in calorically controlled primates. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013.

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New Year Detox

Too much alcohol, and eating the wrong types of food (and too much of it!) over Christmas can lead to bloating, tiredness, poor skin and weight gain. This is why January is the perfect time to take a look at the health of your digestive system and liver, to ‘detox’ your system and start the year as you mean to go on!

Eliminating just a few foods from your diet can help to give your liver and digestive system a welcome break. For many, the most important change to make is to eliminate alcohol. Alcohol is taxing for both the digestive tract and the liver. It also destroys B Vitamins, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin C, it irritates the digestive tract and it dehydrates the body.

Giving your body a break from wheat is recommended. This gluten-containing grain is commonly associated with allergies and intolerances and can be irritating for many. Gluten-free grain alternatives include quinoa and brown rice.

The second most common allergen is dairy. The protein in dairy, casein, can trigger immune responses in sensitive individuals. Others experience digestive problems in response to lactose, the sugar in milk. Good alternative sources of calcium include nuts (almonds, brazils), seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), beans, lentils and vegetables (spinach, cabbage, kale, carrots).

Caffeine is an addictive stimulant and can rob your body of energy in the long run. It also impedes digestion by diverting blood away from the digestive system. Giving your body a break from caffeine can restore healthy digestions and improve sleep quality, helping you feel more rested and refreshed each morning. For those who can’t manage without, try reducing your consumption to one cup in the morning, switching to other drinks in the afternoon and evening. Switching from caffeinated drinks to more hydrating beverages such as Rooibos tea, herbals teas and fruit smoothies is recommended.

Supplements designed to support your body’s detoxification pathways are often used alongside ‘detox’ diets. The liver performs a special process called ‘conjugation’ which chemically transforms toxins so that they can be removed from the body. My top three supplements for supporting the health of the liver are N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) and Milk Thistle Extract.

N-Acetyl Cysteine is a powerful antioxidant that boosts levels of glutathione in the body. Glutathione is primarily used in the liver, where it is needed for the liver’s conjugation processes. When toxic load become too great, this process can be overwhelmed, and so NAC supplements can provide welcome support.

Milk-Thistle
Milk Thistle may help the production of new, healthy liver cells.

Milk thistle, also known as silymarin, is another supplement that boosts glutathione levels. This plant extract also inhibits the production of leukotrienes (inflammatory substances that can harm the liver), and stimulates the production of new, healthy liver cells.

As it is both fat and water-soluble, alpha-lipoic-acid is a ‘universal antioxidant’. It has the ability to enter all parts of the cell, gaining access to toxins stored in fat cells. It also helps to support blood sugar regulation and energy production.

A detoxifying diet should contain an abundance of fibre and nutrient-rich plant foods. Foods that are especially good for supporting the liver include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower which boost levels of detoxifying liver enzymes. Glutathione-boosting avocado, walnuts and oily fish are also great additions. Finally, foods particularly high in protective antioxidants include tenderstem broccoli, berries, tomatoes, plums and watercress.

Suggested Meals

Breakfast: Warm water with fresh lemon juice. Scrambled omega-3 eggs with cherry tomatoes, spinach and watercress.

Snack: Grapefruit

Lunch: Marinated artichoke and chickpea salad with steamed asparagus, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.

Snack: Raw veggies with homemade guacamole

Dinner: Grilled salmon fillet with dairy-free pesto, puy lentils and a large green salad.

 

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