Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Keeping your cool

It was seriously sticky in London today and the female contingent seem to be keeping cool by wearing as little clothing as possible whilst the guys swelter in their suits!

Personally I wouldn't feel comfortable going into work in a beach dress so here are some more sensible ways to stay cool:

Cool drinks are a great way to refresh and revive in the heat - avoid sugar-laden iced tea and frappucinos in favour of chilled fruit smoothies, fresh juices or Leon lemonade (which you can make yourself with water, fructose and freshly squeezed lemons).

Instead of ice cream freeze mini-sized fruit yoghurts with a lolly stick stuck through the lid of each one to make frozen yoghurt lollies. You can also make lollies by freezing fruit juice and make your own fruit frappe as an alternative to high sugar sorbets (see recipe below).

It may be obvious but avoid eating hot meals especially meat - these will heat you up whilst you eat them and in the case of meat/fish the protein will stay warm, continuing to generate heat, for quite a while after you've eaten. Go for water rich salads instead.

For instant relief put your wrists under a cold tap, or if you're at home your feet in a basin cold water. At both these areas your veins run closer to the skin so it's easier to cool your blood at these points.

Make sure you up your water intake to counteract increased sweating, especially if you're exercising in the heat. Counteract water lost at night (more than most people realise) with a glass of water on waking.

If you've got a long commute or travel on the tube make sure you have water with you and layer your clothes so you can stay cool on your way to work and then cover-up when you get to the office.

And if it all gets a bit much, just remember the summer doesn't last long here!

Jamie Olivers pineapple and grapefruit frappe:
Serves 4:
2 ripe pineapples peeled and chopped
3 grapefruits, halved and juiced
Sugar to taste (or sweeten with agave syrup for a healthier option)

Whizz up the pineapple in a liquidizer until smooth and pass through a coarse sieve. Add the grapefruit juice and stir in sugar to taste, remembering the sweetness will lessen slightly when frozen. Freeze for 2.5 hours stirring every 45 Minutes til set, then serve.

This recipe will work with pretty much any fruit combination and may not need agave syrup/sugar depending on the selection. A lazy alternative is to keep chopped fruit and berries in the freezer. Then you can take them out whenever you fancy, defrost very slightly in the microwave and use a blender to blend into a slightly runny sorbet. I like to do this with mango and raspberries.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

In praise of Pod

I usually bring my lunch into work with me but I didn't have time on Monday evening so had to buy lunch in the city and dropped into Pod at exchange square.

I've always enjoyed their hot dishes but was Impressed by their new range of healthy summer salads and nori rolls. Like Leon, Pod are great at labelling up if their food is wheat, gluten or dairy free and using good quality healthy ingredients. I was also impressed at how much they've widened their snack range since I last visited stocking RAW coconut balls and Bounce protein balls which used to be available only in very specialist health food stores.

Infact over the years both city food outlets and supermarkets in general have become a lot more health friendly stocking more healthy options and allergy friendly foods. This makes it a lot easier for city types, with no time to make up packed lunches, to eat a healthy diet, although I'm still waiting for someone to open up an organic lunch spot in the city.

Supermarket ranges are also frequently updated so it's sometimes worth revisiting the health food aisle or trying a different supermarket to see which products are available. I find that Waitrose and Sainsburys are often ahead of the other supermarkets in stocking new healthy ranges.

There are Pods all over the city, though sadly not yet in Canary Wharf or outside London. For their menu and details of outlets see

Monday, 28 June 2010

Beat the World Cup blues

An economist on Sky news today was saying that a short-term dip in the UK economy could be expected following our world cup loss given the depressive effect on the population! It sounded a bit OTT to me but I'm not a footie fanatic, so if you're feeling sad at our football failure or are just having a bad day what can you eat to help lift your spirit?

Have a banana - bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid (protein) used in the body to produce serotonin, a mood enhancing neurotransmitter. It is also found in avocados, cottage cheese, pulses, fish and meat. Several different mood lifting neurotransmitters are made from different amino acids, so it's good to have some lean protein with every meal.

Eat your Bs - b vitamins are used in manufacturing mood lifting neurotransmitters in the body so eating sources of B vits such as wholegrains, fish, eggs and green leafy veg may help keep you on an even keel.

Eat some wholegrain carbs - when your blood sugar drops so does your mood so eating regularly can help avoid mood swings and if you're feeling blue skip the sugar and refined carbs that can set you on a blood sugar rollercoaster and instead comfort yourself with some wholemeal toast or mashed new potatoes.

Keep your fats healthy - omega 3 and 6 fats found in oily fish, nuts and seeds are both involved in brain function and your brain is 60 per cent fat so eating the right fats is very important for brain health and mental balance.

Consider supplements - if you're having a particularly tough time you may have a higher than normal need for some of these nutrients so may benefit from supplementing. Your nutritional therapist can advise you on the best ones to take.

Try and avoid drowning your sorrows - alcohol can be a depressive so if you drink when you're feeling down you may find yourself feeling even more blue.


Sunday, 27 June 2010

Throw another shrimp on the barbie

What a glorious weekend, other than the football result, and alot of people were making the most of it and having bbqs. I love a good bbq - sunshine (hopefully), great food and good company - however they can easily turn into a saturated fat fest. So how can you make a bbq healthier without compromising on taste?

- Make your own burgers with lean mince, onion, herbs and egg or buy some ostrich burgers, a much leaner red meat than beef and also v tasty. Londoners can pick these up on a Friday from borough market.

- Add salsa and freshly sliced tomatoes and onions to add flavour to burgers instead of sugar loaded ketchup or brown sauce.

- Remember meat isn't the only protein you can bbq - king prawns and whole fish can all be barbecued making a great tasting healthy option and the metal barbecue cages you can now buy make it a lot easier.

- Don't forget your veg - don't just serve up the usual watery iceberg, make a colourful greek salad and bbq some corn on the cob. It's also super easy to make veggie skewers with chopped peppers, sliced courgettes and onions tossed in a little olive oil (liven up by adding herbs and/or minced garlic).

- Use chicken breast instead of pork or lamb when making skewers. Chicken breast can be dry but you can easily add moisture and flavour by using a marinade. Here's a super easy marinade recipe that I like to use on cubed chicken breast:
Quantity for four chicken breasts cut in 1 inch chunks:
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp grainy mustard
Mix all the ingredients well and use to marinade the chicken for 15mins-8 hours according to how much time you have. Bbq the chicken on skewers and always check a cube is done (not pink in the middle) before you serve.

And if the heavens open or you don't have a bbq to use just throw it all on the George Foreman grill and enjoy an indoor bbq!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Four weddings and a waistline

As we enter wedding season it seems like a good time to talk about how to keep your waistline when you have a wedding every weekend!

Weddings are a wonderful occasion to celebrate and enjoy some fabulous food and drink so I'm not suggesting you skip the cake and champagne altogether but some advance planning can help keep your blood sugar and waistline in check!

Firstly have a good breakfast as wedding breakfasts can be served pretty late. Go for low GI carbs such as muesli, porridge or wholemeal or rye bread combined with low-fat protein such as natural yoghurt, eggs, trimmed bacon, tofu or whey protein. This will help keep hunger at bay, regulate blood sugar levels and the low GI carbs are also good for calming nerves if you're in the wedding party.

Pack some healthy snack bars in your jacket pocket or purse, I like wallaby or laar bars (fruitus if you're not gluten free). These are easy to eat discreetly before the wedding or on your way from the church to the reception to keep hunger at bay and energy levels up.

Try and avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, this will spare you feeling hideous the next day and reduce the risk of over-indulging when the food is served. If champagne is served before canapes then take a few small sips to be polite and enjoy the champers properly once you've had at least a few nibbles. Any high fat low-carb canapes such as cheese or parma ham will help slow stomach emptying keeping you full til the main meal is served and slowing the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. During the meal and speaches try and alternate your glasses of water with wine to pace your intake and avoid an early headache.

If you are really commited to watching your weight and don't want to over-indulge the best strategy is to keep the event low carb, so enjoy cheese, smoked salmon and hams for appetizers and the meat, fish and non-starchy veg in your starter and main course but avoid any potatoes, rice or bread and skip the cake in favour of the cheese board. This will also help keep you fuller for longer reducing the desire for late night munchies.

If this all falls by the wayside and you find yourself a bottle of champagne down and halfway through your third slice of cake don't give yourself a hard-time - weddings are an occasion to celebrate so enjoy the party and get back on the health wagon the next day.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

How to recover from ten hours of tennis

Having watched part of the longest ever Wimbledon tennis match (which unbelievably still hasn't finished after ten hours of play) it seemed appropriate to blog on sports nutrition.

Infact I'm not even going to try to suggest a strategy that could deal with the tennis marathon both players have endured but instead will talk about the use sports recovery drinks for the non-professional exerciser!

Sports drinks taken immediately after exercise can help replace fluids and muscle glycogen as well as encouraging muscle repair, however alot of commercial isotonic sports drink contain artificial flavours and sweeteners so if you're trying to avoid these (which you should be) and are training hard which drinks can you use?

Both TAUT and SIS rego are good options but not easily available apart from in specialist sports stores and online. However you can make effective and cheap sports drinks yourself using any combination of powdered maltodextrin, fructose or fruit squash for the carbohydrates mixed with water. Dilute to 4-6g of carbohydrates per 100ml to make the drink isotonic. This is the optimal concentration for the most rapid absorption of water into the blood stream. Added electrolytes are only necessary for very strenuous exercise or exercise in hot temperatures, to replace salts lost through sweat.

I certainly imagine Messrs Isner and Mahut will be taking on some recovery drinks right now, although it will take a lot more than a sugary drink to recover from ten hours of tennis!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Saving money and lives

I was delighted to see on the bbc news today that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the NHS watchdog which amongst other things determines the cost-effectiveness of prescription drugs, is calling for trans-fats to be banned from food in England and is pressing for further reductions in salt and saturated fats, to help prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death in the UK and experts who worked on the report estimate that 40,000 of the 150,000 annual deaths from cardiovascular disease are "eminently preventable". They also came to the conclusion that by requiring food manufacturers to reduce salt and saturated fats and eliminate trans-fats from their foods, the consequent reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease could save the NHS more than £1bn.

Yes that's right, one billion pounds - not an amount to be sniffed at particularly in the current climate, and this amount could be saved by getting the population to eat healthier and that's without them even having to do anything - the food manufacturers would be required to make the changes.

I'm delighted that NICE has done this report, although these are guidelines so may not be put into effect. However it's the fact they are looking at the cost-effectiveness of nutrition in healthcare, rather than just drugs, and the benefits of a preventative approach to medicine.

I hope NICE continue to look into the cost-effectiveness of nutrition and preventative approaches to healthy - I'm sure vast sums could be saved through targeted supplementation and encouraging lifestyle and dietary changes in patients before serious symptoms present.

Vitamins and minerals are natural so can't be patented making them cheap relative to (particularly new) drugs. Sadly this means that there isn't much money to be made selling vitamins and so the budget spent researching them and promoting their usage is tiny in comparison to the amount of money the pharma companies use to promote and lobby for their drugs to be prescribed by doctors. Hopefully this report will help shine some well needed light on the benefits of nutrition in healthcare.

For those interested here's the bbc article:


Monday, 21 June 2010

Dealing with inflammation without the ibuprofen

A few weeks ago I blogged about hay fever and how food allergies could make it worse. I also mentioned that an anti-inflammatory diet could help hay fever.

Infact it can also be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and any health problems which involve inflammation in the body including cardiovascular disease and inflammatory bowel conditions. So which foods are anti-inflammatory?

- Omega 3 fats, found in oily fish and flax seeds
- fruit and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory
-Turmeric and ginger, both potent anti-inflammatory spices

The following foods all contribute to inflammation so should be avoided:
- Red meat, full fat dairy products and any foods high in saturated fats
- Refined sugar
- Caffeine
- alcohol if not drunk in moderation

Infact the commonly referenced 'mediterranean diet' rich in vegetables, pulses, fish, olive oil and moderate amounts of red wine is a naturally anti-inflammatory diet contributing to the longevity of those who eat this way although I'm not sure if anyone's researched the effect on continental hayfever sufferers!

Ps many thanks to one of my readers for sending this link in response to yesterdays blog ... apparently women eat more (and more unhealthily) in the company of other women - my take on this is that the food peer pressure I talked of yesterday is more likely to occur within same sex groups:

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Under pressure

My blog last week on drink driving also covered the common peer pressure to drink alcohol. There is also a bizarre amount of peer pressure to eat unhealthily foods or overeat.

For some reason people feel better about eating unhealthily if others join them and therefore often try and sabotage others diets or healthy eating. I'm not sure why people do this or why no one ever pressures others into healthy eating, but the pressure certainly makes eating healthily more difficult.

I've never had a problem standing up to this kind of pressure but it doesn't mean I'm always that popular. If you find yourself under pressure and want to avoid any confrontation or awkwardness what can you do?

- if you are on a diet don't tell anyone unless you're sure they will be supportive, for some reason people will often try and sabotage or criticise their friends diets

- if people comment or criticise your healthy meals or snacks make it clear that you're enjoying what you're eating and therefore won't be interested in an unhealthy alternative (which you should be - you shouldn't eat something unpleasant tasting purely because it's 'healthy')

- if someone is pushing unhealthy food on you say that you can't eat it because you have an intolerance to it or simply say that you don't like that food, both of these reasons are much harder to argue with than 'I'm trying to be healthy'

- if you're being pressured to eat second helpings then just say you're full, whilst a lot of people will eat beyond their appetite without thinking it's a very logical reason not to eat more

And next time someone tells you they're on a diet or healthy regime maybe offer them some words of encouragement rather than offering another slice of cake!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

One for the road?

A government commissioned report has recommended reducing the driving limit from 80mg to 50mg alcohol per 100ml of blood in an effort to reduce deaths from drunk driving.

I'd personally like to see a total ban as even small amounts of alcohol affect your judgement, reaction speeds and concentration. The guidelines for drink driving are also confusing - half a pint might be fine for one person but then for someone small who doesn't drink often, such as myself, this could put them over a 50mg limit.

One of the reasons it would be unpopular to introduce a total ban is the british attitude towards drinking and socialising. Alot of people find it difficult to socialise without alcohol and wouldn't dream of only having soft drinks whilst catching up with friends down the pub. Even for those who don't want to drink alcohol there can be a lot of peer pressure to drink, especially in the city.

This is a shame as although the odd glass of red wine may actually be beneficial, most people drink beyond a level that is healthy. Alcohol itself is an anti-nutrient causing the excretion of B vitamins and using up valuable antioxidants in it's detoxification as well as containing empty calories and being a mood depressive.

A total ban might not just save lives on the roads but perhaps also help make a much needed change to british drinking culture and make it more acceptable to socialize sober.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Why popeye loved his spinach

I was asked the other day about the best food sources of iron and thought I'd share my answer. Iron is needed to make haemoglobin which carries oxygen round your body, if this becomes too low you can become anaemic (also caused by vitamin B12 deficiency). Symptoms of anaemia/low iron status include fatigue, poor concentration, lethargy, apathy, muscle weakness, pale skin and fainting.

Red meat provides the most easily assimilated iron for the body, however it shouldn't be eaten too frequently due to the high saturated fat content. Other foods rich in iron include other meats, spinach, dried fruits, nuts and blackstrap molasses.

For those who don't know, blackstrap molasses is a very unrefined form of sugar which hasn't had all the nutrients stripped out during processing, consequently it is rich in minerals, particularly iron, and easily assimilated by the body. The downside is that it has quite a strong treacle-like taste and texture so isn't pleasant eaten off a spoon.

The following recipe is a pleasant and healthy way to eat molasses, although remember molasses is a form of sugar so shouldn't be eaten in large quantities:

Sticky banana & molasses cake:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius
Mix together:
150g wholemeal spelt flour (or gluten-free flour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 heaped tsp ground ginger
2 heaped tsp mixed spice
2 heaped tsp cinnamon
75g ground almonds
25g pumpkin seeds
150g dried mixed fruit
In another bowl mash 3 ripe bananas, beat in 2 eggs and add 100ml sunflower oil, 2 tsp vanilla extract and 3 large tbsp blackstrap molasses. Whisk the mixture til smooth and then fold in the dry ingredients.
Pour into a lightly oil 2lb loaf tin, cover with foil and place in a deep baking tray with water halfway up the side of the loaf tin.
Bake for 50-60 minutes (test with a skewer)
Turn out, allow to cool and then cut into slices.

(recipe taken form Optimum Nutrition magazine)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Spending it wisely

In last thursdays blog I mentioned choosing your food based on how much good it would do your health to eat it, rather based on the number of calories. This is a good policy for looking after your health as well as for those trying to lose weight.

Having said this I can't totally dismiss calories, although I never count them myself. It's true if you eat way too many or way too few it will be detrimental for your health. Most peoples intake will be regulated by their appetite, others will over-eat til they're uncomfortably full and some people will limit themselves by calorie counting (something I discourage as it tends to lead to poor food choices). Whatever the situation there's only so many calories you can eat in a day so you should use this amount wisely.

What I mean by this is maximising the amount of nutrients you take in for the food you eat. Of course you can take supplements, but the nutrients in food are usually more bio-available (useable) by the body. Obviously this means eating plenty of fruit and veg and lean proteins but also actively avoiding the big calorie wasters:

Sweets and chocolates - very calorie intensive and low in nutrient value - for a sweet treat swap for fresh or fruits or a small amount of dark chocolate (rich in antioxidants).

White processed carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, biscuits and crackers) - most of the vitamins have been removed in processing which is why the manufacturers often advertise that they've added them back. For carbohydrates with a higher nutrient content go for brown rice, wholemeal and granary pasta and bread, rye bread, oat cakes and new or sweet potatoes.

Non-fresh fruit juices and soft drinks - generally most drinks contain wasted calories so the first choice is to swap these for water but otherwise go for fresh (as in drunk within two hours of juicing) juices and smoothies. Don't be tempted to drink low calorie soft drinks either as the artificial sweeteners in them are not good for the body.

Ready meals, canned processed foods and junk foods - pretty much devoid of useful nutrients. Healthy dinners can be made in minutes and alot of supermarkets offer healthier fresh steam cuisine options, whilst the city is full of healthy food outlets such as Leon, Pret and Chop'd making junk food unnecessary.

If this all sounds like no fun at all remember that it can be good for you (psychologically) to have a treat every now and then. I usually recommend eating healthily 80% of the time and unhealthy foods 20% of the time. When having a treat find the tastiest version of whatever you fancy and enjoy every mouthful - don't waste your treat calories on poor quality junk, make them count!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Festival fare

Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday - I was enjoying the music at the Isle of Wight music festival ... which brings me onto the subject of todays blog - festival food.

It's not always practical to bring all your food with you (although packing some healthy snacks is a good idea) so what are the healthy options to go for at this summers festivals:

The vegan/vegetarian outlet selling falafel and veggie burgers looked promising but sadly got a bad review from one of my friends, still it may be worth looking for vegetarian outlets to get some more healthy options.

Vegetarian options on the regular food stands may also be worth a look - I enjoyed a tasty veggie balti curry with rice from an Indian food stool, which was probably also one of the lowest fat options for a hot dinner (if a bit short on the protein), whilst the mexican stall was offering jacket potato with veggie chilli, also a good option.

If you do feel like some comfort food the ostrich burger got a good review on the taste front and is a much leaner and healthier alternative to beef burgers.

I noticed a couple more juice and smoothie bars than last year, providing a good (and tasty) way to up your fruit and veg intake - it's not easy to get your five a day at a festival!

We weren't there for breakfast but the fruit/smoothie bars were serving porridge and muesli providing a healthy alternative to the bacon butties on offer.

Also if you're in the sunshine all day make sure you drink plenty of water. At £2 for a 500ml you might be put off, but the festival should provide free drinking water fountains to fill up your bottles.

Whatever you end up eating, enjoy the music and hopefully some sunshine!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Missing the point

I don't normally read the gossip mags but a friend lent me her 'Closer' magazine and a quick flick through revealed that every other story seems to be about some female d-listers weight loss of gain! One particular story was about the pregnant Danielle Lloyd who is delighted to be skinnier (apart from the bump) than before getting pregnant, having switched to a healthier diet from a previous diet of junk food and alcohol.

She is not alone in missing the point of eating healthily - it's to take care of the health of your body (and in this case baby) - rather than to just be slim. A common mistake made by individuals who naturally don't gain weight is to take their lack of weight gain as a license to eat as much junk food as they like without thinking it is doing them harm. They are still increasing their risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and speeding up the ageing process.

So next time you're choosing what to eat, instead of worrying 'will this make me fat?' ask yourself 'will this make me healthier?' and you'll probably make a better choice.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A bit of common sense

I love The Daily Mash but never expected its satirical articles to inspire my blog. Still today's roundup included a very amusing article about the perception a foreigner might form of the british people from reading the daily mail including this comment on the frequently published health scare stories:

"Then I notice how you are all in constant panic about whether or not to eat tomatoes. Some days they are best thing ever, other days they kill you. I am thinking 'this is not product of healthy brain'."

This is a bit extreme but what makes it so funny is how close it is to the truth. The media have encouraged a fear of food and wide-spread confusion over what is or isn't good for you.

It's true that there have been a number of deaths caused by individuals following extreme diets in the quest for health. However common sense should tell you that a diet of only carrot juice or drinking 5 litres of water a day is not a good idea.

Most people know which foods are healthy (fruit + veg, oily fish, nuts, seeds, white meat, wholegrains) and which are unhealthy (saturated fats, red meats, sugar, white carbohydrates, alcohol, caffeine, processed and junk foods), but may need to apply some common sense to their diets:

- Don't eat the same meals everyday

- Don't eat any particular food in very high quantities

- Don't exclude any of the main food groups from your diet (fats, carbohydrates, protein)

- If a new 'superfood' is discovered it may be worth adding to your diet, but not in huge quantities every day

And yes tomatoes are good for you, but that doesn't mean you should eat two kilos a day!


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The sound of silence

Yes it's true I do have a soft spot for the music of Simon & Garfunkel, but that is not my topic for today, instead it's the power of silence for your health.

London is by nature a noisy place and the lack of peace and quiet often drives city folk out to the suburbs, however even for those in the sanctuary of surrey individuals rarely get any proper peace and quiet. Think about your typical day - how much time do you have that's genuinely quiet?

Why is silence important?
All stimulation to your senses (taste, smell, touch, sound, sight) are stimulating to the brain and can induce a stress response - hence the use of music and light in extreme interrogation techniques. Stress is obviously a baddy when it comes to health and is a possible contributing factor to pretty much every ailment out there.

So it's important to give all our senses a break as this gives our brain a break and helps us de stress. This is why meditation is so beneficial. However even if meditation is a step too far, consciously having some quiet time can be very beneficial. You might want to try the following:

- switch off your phone, the tv and radio whilst eating, this lack of distraction will help proper digestion

- enjoy 10 mins quiet relaxation when you get home from work - don't immediately turn on the tv. Relax, take some deep breaths and try and keep a still mind.

- turn off the tv or radio 30mins before you go to bed to help you wind down and enjoy some restful sleep


Monday, 7 June 2010

The big sleep

A friend of mine was really tired a couple of weeks ago and decided to have a really early night. She ended up going to sleep at 8pm and getting 11 hours sleep! She felt so much better that she has decided to have another really early night this week.

It's not surprising my friend felt much better as sleep is vital for good health. Sleep is when your body rests and repairs: your liver detoxifies, your digestive system has a rest, your hair, skin and nails grow, muscle tissues are repaired and even your heart beat slows giving your heart a break. Insufficient sleep leads to low energy levels, poor immunity, increased appetite, increased stress hormone production and poor skin condition.

In an ideal world we'd all be asleep by 10pm every night and wake naturally 8-9 hour later, however with a city job and lifestyle that's pretty much impossible. This is where my friends idea of having a very early night each week comes into it's own as it's much more feasible to have one early night a week on a quiet night and get 9-10hours sleep, than to be in bed by 10pm every night.

It's been demonstrated that you can catch up on missed sleep and whilst it's not a one for one trade (it takes more than one hour to catch up for one hour lost) it's definitely worth doing. So next time you find yourself yawning in front of the telly at 9pm, switch off the box and have an early night.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Skin deep

I was explaining to a friend recently how the condition of your skin and hair reflects the health of your organs. Often if someone has hair or skin problems they try and treat the symptoms rather than the true cause. However the condition of someone's skin and hair gives vital clues as to their inner health and how to restore it.

So what can you tell about someones health from their appearance?

Here are some of the more common conditions and some of the possible causes:

Bags/puffiness under the eyes - poor liver or kidney function, mineral imbalance, underactive thyroid.

Dark circles under the eyes - lack of sleep, exhausted adrenal glands, food intolerances, digestive problems.

Thinning hair/premature hair loss:
hormonal imbalance (high testosterone in men and women), stress/adrenal imbalance, anaemia (low-iron), poor digestion, underactive thyroid.

Spots/acne: hormonal imbalance, diet high in sugar and/or saturated fats, digestive problems, food intolerances, poor immunity.

Psoriasis, eczema - food intolerances (dairy intolerance is common), poor fat metabolism, heavy metal toxicity, compromised digestion, poor liver function, stress.

Brittle/thin nails - low mineral intake, poor digestion.

Cracked lips - B vitamin or vitamin E deficiency.

Pale skin - poor circulation, anaemia (low-iron).

Cold sores, verruccas and warts - all viral infections they may indicate compromised immunity and high stress levels.

Cracked heels, thinning skin or dandruff - low essential fats in diet or poor fat digestion/metabolism, underactive thyroid.

There is quite a range of causes for each condition, but with a little detective work it's usually possible to work out the cause of the condition and then treat the cause rather than just the symptoms.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Beating the slump

Sadly I haven't found a way to save the UK economy ... I'm referring to the mid-afternoon energy slump that can leave you struggling to keep your eyes open and reaching for a cappuccino!

So if you regularly find yourself glazing over mid-afternoon and your boss hasn't warmed to your suggestion of daily siestas what can you do?

Stay hydrated - fatigue is often due to dehydration so drink a large glass of water 15-20 mins before you have your lunch and another one an hour after you're lunch.

Skip the wheat - wheat has a sophoric effect on alot of people, so even if you're not gluten or wheat intolerant it's worth avoiding wheat at lunchtime if you get post-lunch snooziness. Instead have new potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, pulses, oat cakes, rye bread or spelt pasta which is an older variety of wheat grain that is less problematic. EAT does a good wheat-free bread to go with it's soups and has a different wheat-free sandwich each day.

Skip the sugar - avoid sugary sauces or condiments (vinaigrette, ketchup, salad cream) on your lunch as well as puddings, fruit yoghurts or chocolate bars. These, along with refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, chips white pasta) and caffeine, may give you a temporary energy boost but this is usually followed by an energy crash. If you usually have a pudding or espresso after lunch switch it for a herbal tea, natural yoghurt, some fresh berries or even a square of dark chocolate.

Don't eat too much - if you eat a large meal blood flow will increase to your gut to help digestion leaving less blood, and therefore oxygen, for your brain bringing on fatigue. Aim for equal portions of vegetables/salad, protein and low GI carbs, each the volume of your fist. The low GI carbs will keep your metabolism fired up whilst the protein will encourage a slow release of energy avoiding the chance of a post-lunch crash.

Move! - If you sit still at your desk all day your metabolism will gradually slow down making you feel more fatigued so make sure you move at lunchtime. If you can go to the gym that's great but even a 20 minute walk outside will be beneficial. Also get up from your chair every hour and have a wander round the office.

Have a rest. Even if your boss doesn't approve of cat napping at the desk make sure you take a ten minute mental break. Staying focused and alert at work is pretty draining but you can counter this by giving your brain a rest. Either at your desk or in a breakout area stop working or reading and let your mind wander. Take some deep breaths and look out the window. If you can't do this at your desk pop outside for ten minutes and chill in the fresh air.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Cure your cravings

In the most part healthy eating is about making sensible choices: brown bread instead of white, salad instead of chips, one biscuit instead of a whole packet!

However if you get a real craving for a food it's very difficult to apply rational thought and talk yourself out of indulging. So if you crave certain foods what can you do about it?

Tea and coffee - as caffeine is a drug, cravings are inevitable especially if you're trying to cut down. The best approach is to gradually reduce your intake, rather than going cold turkey. Drink half a cup and then bin the rest, or work down to lower caffeine drinks so from coffee to tea to green tea to white tea. Eating low glycemic carbs and staying hydrated will keep energy levels up - and if you feel you really need the caffeine to stay awake drink a large glass of water, wait 15 minutes and see if you still need it.

Wheat - It is fairly common to crave the foods you are intolerant to and i think a lot of people have wheat or gluten intolerances without realising it. Unfortunately the cure for this craving is to avoid the food altogether, but you can make it easier on yourself by substituting with a wheat-free alternative such as gluten free bread or gluten free pasta. Also pay attention to cravings for other foods which you might also have an intolerance too.

Salty snacks - if you find all food tastes bland without salt then you've probably been adding to much and your taste buds have gotten used to it so you need to cut down. If however you have random cravings for salty foods then you may have overworked adrenal glands, which need sodium to help your body cope with stress. Avoid the crisps and instead go for lightly salted nuts or a rice cake spread with a small amount of marmite. Evaluate what causes stress in your life and how you can reduce these stressors and schedule in some regular relaxation.

Sugar - often craved when you're tired or if you have irregular blood sugar levels. Chromium drops and cinnamon are great for countering sugar cravings and when you do get them satisfy your sweet tooth with some fruit. Also remember to get plenty of sleep and eat regular meals and snacks.

Chocolate - one of the most craved foods and not just for the sugar content. Craving chocolate may be a sign of low magnesium levels so when you have a chocolate craving try a magnesium rich snack such as nuts and seeds. And remember a couple of squares of dark chocolate is much better for you than any amount of dairy milk!


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Some healthy perspective

I was reading an interview with Liz Hurley recently in which she demonstrated some healthy perspective when it came to weight gain. Liz still has an enviable body at 46 but is 10lbs heavier and a dress size larger than before she had her son.

Weight gain during pregnancy is very common and the extreme measures some celebrities follow to lose the extra pounds are often unhealthy. Weight should be lost slowly and steadily and a certain amount of weight gain as we age should be accepted as normal.

As we age our hormone levels change - oestrogen levels drop for women and testosterone levels drop for men. The body can produce a small amount of these important hormones from body fat and so compensates for the natural decline in hormone production by increasing fat stores, particularly around the torso.

Instead of resorting to the 1000 calorie a day diet and watercress soup regimen she used to use to stay slim, Liz has instead accepted her heavier natural weight, cleared out her closet of her size 8 clothes ('it's not good to make yourself feel heavy') and adopted a much healthier diet which I'd happily recommend to most clients.

I think this kind of healthy perspective often comes from having children, but we should all take a leaf out of Liz's book and instead of dieting to try to squeeze into our jeans from ten years ago, clear out our closets and focus on eating for health rather than trying to stay super slim.

For anyone interested the interview and food plan can be found in this months Zest magazine.