At this time of year if I don’t prepare myself I can be susceptible to the winter blues. I might feel ok till January but then I will feel tired and feel like hiding under the duvet till the snow drops appear in the Spring.
10 years back, I recognised this and invested in a lightbox. It transformed my winter mood. The winters I forgot about my light box same thing happened when January hit. I would think what is wrong with me, figure it out, start using the light box and energy lifted, was less sleepy and mood improved.
I have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). NHS website describes it here. However, I do know my mood and energy levels dip as the days and nights start to get darker.
How I use my light box?
Switch it on first thing in the morning when I waken. You can buy alarm clocks that have this function built in. I put the TV on and watch 15 minutes of breakfast TV with light on. I then use the light again when I am getting myself ready, drying my hair and or putting on my make-up. A total of about 20-30 minutes daily.
A small study in 2009 saw that people who had depression who were exposed to bright light for 20, 40 and 60 minutes a day for several weeks experienced a drop in their depression symptoms. There was no difference between the improvement in 40 and 60 minutes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913518/
Last winter I had a great winter as far as mood and energy levels were concerned. I made a big effort to get outside more especially when it was sunny. Early morning light in particular can be helpful as it acts similarly to the lightbox. I also started using the box from September.
Seasonal eating is something else I have embraced and having a local farm deliver their fresh fruit and vegetables makes that a whole lot easier. When it gets cold I stop eating salads. This time of year, the box contains parsnips, beetroot, butternut squash, carrots and Jerusalem artichokes. These are great for adding to hearty, comforting meat and or vegetable casseroles.
I keep saying it but keeping protein levels up are really important for mood. In College a wise lecturer told us that protein was a grounding food. And it so is. We make brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, some you will have heard off ;
To make these chemicals that are so important for our brain and mood we need to eat protein. Include protein at every meal.
A function of fat is to keep us warm, another is to support our brain and mood again. Oily fish such as salmon, tout, mackerel, anchovies and herring contain the essential fatty omega 3 and within omega 3 there are two fatty acids called EPA and DHA. Studies have shown EPA has a protective affect against depression.
Move more. Exercise has been found in research to improve mood when you have the winter blues, in fact it improves mood at any time of year. Walk outside in the light and fresh air, swim, yoga, gentle stretching, Pilates, gym workouts, cycling, Park runs are all some suggestions. In January last year I took up weight training this also contributed to me avoiding my winter blues. It was a form of activity and I was learning something new, which brings me on to the next tip.
Take up a new hobby
Dark evening and mornings don’t mean you can’t do anything. You can find time to invest in yourself and start a new skill. Or go back to an old one. Did you used to do something before life got busy; art, knitting, sewing, singing, learning a language or colouring in – take it up again.
This has shown to be helpful to support mood. It is something I have dabbled in a bit recently and I have found it useful. It can help if you are struggling with sleep, dumping thoughts, feeling, things to do before bed means your brain will switch off when you are asleep.
This is as important as activity. We are designed in the colder months to hibernate. Take it easy. Allow yourself to read, have a hot bath, have relaxing cuppas with friends and family or a day binge watching Friends!
These are tips from my work and personal experience. If you feel you are struggling with mental health speak to your GP or someone close.
As we enter a new University/College year I thought it would be useful to give some advice on eating well when you have left home. As a student living away from home for the first time or returning for another year it is when you are entering a world of total freedom and choice.
It can be easy to develop bad habits. The following article is designed to help you. If even reading this is overwhelming, choose one tip below and stick to that. Choose one recipe to master and stick to that. Choose one piece of fruit your going to eat daily, similarly a vegetable and stick with that. Build on this once you feel less overwhelmed.
Nutrition may not be at the forefront of your mind. However eating the right foods can set you up for coping better with the changes.
Protein rich foods are vital for optimal mental health. Colourful fruit and vegetables can also support your mood but also set you up for the Winter, helping you fight of colds and flu’s.
Essential fats found in flax, pumpkin, sesame, chia and sunflower seeds as well as oily fish, avocados and olive oil are essential for your brain, making energy, skin and all your cells. Complex carbohydrates such as oats, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, beans and pulses and starch veg; potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre to support your digestion.
Adjusting to a new regime, feeding yourself for the first time, Fresher’s week and missing home will all factor into your life in the first few weeks. This is why eating well is even more important than usual.
A 2014 study on student’s eating behaviours found that there was an array of reasons why students made their choices about food. The study wanted to find out ways to improve eating habits of students and in turn health and well-being. For example, time, availability of food and equipment, taste and past eating habits all affected the choices of the students surveyed.
In light of the above here are some valuable tips to takeaway:
Learn to cook now! Use the time you have while you are still at home to learn from family members on basic cooking skills. Ask them to teach you their favourite recipes.
Use the Internet. There is a vast amount of information and you can look up how to cook basic foods such as eggs, sauces, soups and chicken.
Ask family members for their top three recipes to have a selection of dishes to cook to take away with you.
Invest in cookery books. They can be a good start to cooking and as you improve you can adapt to make the recipes your own. My daughter found the Bosh recipe book useful. Adjust recipes where you don’t have the ingredients. Don’t be scared – if it doesn’t work, you know what to do or not next time.
Practice, practice, practice – just do it! Even kitchen disasters can turn into triumphs the only way to learn is to just cook! Start small. Learn how to boil, and scramble eggs or make a simple tomato pasta sauce.
Stick to a few signature dishes. Pasta sauce, curry, omelettes. Keep making these until your confidence grows.
Invest in a soup/hot food flask, in the Winter make soups and take with you for lunch.
Shopping and Budgeting
Have a budget and stick to it. If you run out of food midweek and don’t have enough money to buy anything this will affect your nutrition. This is when you might start to feel tired, catch a bug or lack in some energy.
Can you afford something like salmon? Possibly, think about where you spend your money, can you forgo a couple coffees, an extra beer or so – then perhaps you can spend a little more on food.
Share costs. Offer to cook for people you share accommodation with and ask for a contribution to the cost. Whoever cooks doesn’t wash up. Share the cooking as well. You could do a rota or you could make something together.
Shop local. Get to know butchers, fishmongers and local fruit and vegetable shops. Shopping local may also be cheaper, especially when you are buying whole foods as opposed to ready-made meals. Ask the butcher for cheaper cuts of meat for slow-cooking casseroles and stews. This can be a more pleasant way to shop rather than trudging around a supermarket.
Use the supermarket for deals. Where there is a deal on bulk items take the opportunity to stock up on healthy food. Quite often there are deals later on in the day.
Shop seasonal. The food will be higher in nutrients as it is at its peak and will also be cheaper as travel costs are low.
Planning and Making it Easier
Plan. Make out a weekly meal planner. This will help with budget, shopping and nutrition. A client recently showed me a wonderful menu/budget planner she made on Excel, worth experimenting.
Batch cook. Pick a day to cook a few dishes in one day, if you have a freezer you can cook more. This means during the week when you are busy, you can just reheat.
Ask family members when you are home to cook you a meal and take back with you to your accommodation.
Buy tins and frozen pre-cut vegetables. These are for the days you are time or energy poor.
Have a store cupboard with the basics so when food or budget is low you can always whip up a meal very easily – pasta with tomatoes, clove of garlic and some chickpeas or a lentil curry with a sweet potato.
Put some music on – music can help with the motivation to cook.
Have the Right Equipment
Mini-fridge. The study previously mentioned reported that university catering is not always healthy and nutritious. To overcome this a mini fridge will help up nutrient status, stock up on salads, ground seeds, nut butters and avocados.
Good set of sharp knives or a knife sharpener. Blunt knives will put anyone off cooking, if you cannot afford a good set of knives a knife sharpener is a handy gadget. Ikea middle range knives are good.
Food processor or blender, not a necessity but could be handy. It chops, blends, grates and mixes. Handy for making soup, guacamole, hummus, chopping onions and garlic, making healthy snacks and baking.
Tupperwares are handy for freezing foods and for taking leftovers with you for lunch, which is also a great way to save money.
Similar to blunt knives, a dirty smelly kitchen is not very encouraging environment to start cooking, clean as you go and clean and tidy at the end of every meal. Hopefully if sharing accommodation others will follow and help.
Change cloths and dishcloths daily to avoid being exposed to harmful bacteria that may give you an unwanted stomach bug.
Just as you want to source good quality food, source your cleaning products, choose eco-friendly and free from chemicals and toxins. This is beneficial for the environment and yourself. I like Dr Bronner products, lasts ages and can be used for everything, they also smell good as well.
Being a student and entering a new journey in your life is fun, introducing cooking and eating healthy meals into this journey and the benefits will be invaluable for life.
Links you may find useful, if you have any questions please contact me:
In Scotland children are back to school this week. It has prompted me to write on preventing infections as we enter the Autumn and Winter months. This will apply for students returning or starting university in September.
Today I am focusing on 4 nutrients. For more information on immune system support see previous blogs here and here.
I will start with Vitamin C. This is a cupboard must in our house. I take a daily maintenance dose and increase if I feel I am coming down with something. It is hard to get decent levels from food however I encourage you to eat an abundance of colourful fruit and vegetables to add the the content. I won’t recommend dosages on here, make an appointment or ask in your local health food store.
Vitamin C food sources: berries, broccoli, brussel sprouts, citrus fruit, parsley, peppers, sauerkraut or raw cabbage, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Zinc is the next nutrient that is helpful for prevention. It becomes depleted in times of challenge and not enough of us eat enough foods that contain it. It is something I also have in the cupboard however supplementing should be advised and monitored as you don’t want to take too much or take for too long.
Zinc foods: Pumpkin and sunflower seeds – add to breakfast, salads, pasta dishes, curries and soups. I make a lovely green lentil dish where I add pumpkin seeds right at the end of cooking.
Other sources are: Beef, interestingly I read an article in The Telegraph on how higher meat consumption lead to lower incidences of depression in females. Zinc is needed to make the brain chemical known as the mood neurotransmitter – serotonin – could zinc be the link here?
If you like eating meat, then source local grass fed where possible. I on a weekly basis make dishes like chilli, cottage pie, pasta ragu or pasta with meatballs and also burgers. I also make casseroles with stewing steak to make sure we all eat enough meat. The research suggests too much can be detrimental to mental health, I cook a meat dish 2-3 times a week. I always serve plenty of vegetables with meat dishes as this helps with the digestion and excretion of it. Vegetables contain fibre and fibre is essential for gut motility.
Eggs, dairy such as milk and seafood are also good sources of zinc.
Vitamin D years ago was used but not really with them knowing to treat infections such as tuberculosis before the advent of antibiotics. Patients were sent to sanatoriums and were treated with sunlight, vitamin D is absorbed through the skin from sunlight. Cod liver oil, a rich source of vitamin D has also been used in the treatment for tuberculosis and also has been used for protection for other infections. According to this paper a report on 19,000 people showed that those with lower vitamin D levels were more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections compared to those with acceptable levels. I suggest getting levels tested so you know how much to take. If you are prone to recurring infections, the antimicrobial effect of Vitamin D should be something worth considering.
Mushrooms – This is something I started to take in supplement form last year after a bout of infections. It certainly stopped a theme of contracting a cold every 2-3 months. There is quite a bit of research on the anti-viral properties of mushrooms. The simple white button mushroom has been shown to be effective at fighting viruses, add these to your weekly shop and eat once or twice a week, serve with breakfast or a simple mushrooms on toast with parsley on the top at lunch time. If making a casserole or a Bolognese then add mushrooms for flavour and goodness.
Lastly this tip is not a nutrient but to encourage you to wash your hands regularly but not excessively. I have noticed that this also makes a difference. However I really encourage you to source hand wash that avoids nasty chemicals such as triclosan. Triclosan is an antibacterial substance and is partially banned in soaps by the FDA. It strips the skin on healthy bacteria, healthy bacteria is protective against infections. It is also found in some toothpastes – find ones that do not have it.
I use natural hand washes in the house and always check the ingredients and I carry around Dr Bronner lavender hand spray when I am out and about. It is a natural antimicrobial so will not strip away my natural healthy bacteria that lives on my skin.
The hot weather over Europe and actually here in Scotland(!) this week means it is important to keep hydrated.
What are the signs of mild dehydration?
Sluggishness, feeling tired, overheated, feeling faint and nauseous.
How to monitor?
Check the colour of your pee, if dark yellow you are probably dehydrated. It needs to be a clear colour.
How to avoid becoming dehydrated
Drink water and or herbal teas throughout the day – aim 5-8 glasses. If you struggle with water on its own, add lemon, strawberry, orange, cucumber or fresh herbs such as mint for flavour. Cool herbal teas down in the fridge and again add some lemon or fresh mint to enhance flavour. Add some local honey to a cooled herbal tea.
If Apps are your thing use one to track and remind yourself to drink. An analogue way of tracking would be putting an elastic band round your wrist, every time you look at it, it’s a reminder to drink some water.
Eat vegetables and fruit for their water content.
Soups, stews, dishes made with sauces are also ways to get liquid into the body. Soups can be cold at this time of year, avocado soup, Jamie Oliver has a recipe here.
At breakfast add fruit to porridge, oats or cereal, add dairy or non-dairy milk increasing the liquid.
Drink water first thing in the morning on awakening.
Snack on raw vegetables such as carrot, celery and peppers.
Drink smoothies for breakfast or snacks.
Hydration Summer Smoothie (serves 1-2 – add more liquid to increase quantity)
Cup of frozen berries
250ml non-dairy milk
2 tbsp of milk kefir or plain natural yoghurt (optional)
For some reason one day last week I woke up in a bad mood. I had a good sleep. So was not sure why. I went to the gym and it escalated because my earphones didn’t work, something to do with Bluetooth, technology quite often triggers me! Silly but it didn’t help. Part of the gym experience is my music, if I don’t have it, I struggle to keep motivated. My mood became worse. I wanted to go home.
What I did?
My training as a Wellbeing Coach has helped me change my mind set. It has helped me become more aware of how I feel and how that affects my behaviour. Here are the steps I took to reverse my grumpiness:
The first thing I did was adapted my workout, I did half cardio and half weights, somehow I don’t feel the need for music so much doing weights. During one of my coaching session I realised sometimes I can be inflexible with myself. Recognising this has made me more aware. Adapting to situations when they don’t go to plan improves the way you can feel about something.
Exercise to Improve Mood
I ran, cycled, rowed a little faster, using up the pent up grumpiness and letting it all flow out in the exercise.
Mindfully, I paid attention to people in the gym, people-watched, listened to the noises, became aware of my environment and started not to miss my music.
Distraction with Imagination
I imagined throwing my earphones across the room and standing on them. Using my imagination distracted me from becoming low about it, I saw the funny side. I heard about this on the Dr Chaterjee Podcast channel, episode 60.
Got it off my Chest
When I returned home I vented a bit to my son and daughter about my earphones, sharing my woes helped me get it all out my system. They looked at me as if I was making a bit of a deal, and I was. Reality check!
Green Tea and Chocolate
Next I sat down cup of green tea and dark chocolate. Green tea contains L-theanine, this is an amino acid found in protein and helps make a brain chemical that has a calming effect. Dark chocolate is a treat. More food ideas for mood click here.
Nature and a Dog
Finally and what really put it away was I took the dog out for a walk. I enjoyed watching her smelling the grass and trotting along. I took in the greenery and breathed and at that point I felt a whole lot better.
These are some tips that might help but if you feel you can’t shift it then that’s ok and it is also ok to ask for some help from a professional.
What do you do to help yourself to get out of a bad mood?
Do you consider what you eat impacts how you perform when studying and sitting exams?
Focusing on keeping the mind and body fit, healthy, alert, focused, calm and happy is fundamental. Good nutrition and lifestyle habits can support you and make the whole process easier. Below I will discuss important eating habits and foods that can support brain health in the lead up and during the exam period.
Start the day with a good breakfast
Starting the day with a good breakfast. Porridge is an excellent way to feed the brain to prepare for the day ahead. Add berries to porridge – evidence shows blueberries may help with memory and protect the brain from cognitive decline. Another good breakfast is a slice of wholegrain toast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Smoothies are another option. Add an avocado for good sources of fats, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Snacks – mid morning and mid afternoon
Adding in a couple of snacks can keep you sustained throughout the day and support memory and mood.
Snack ideas: oatcakes with nut or seed butters, raw carrots, celery, peppers with houmous or an apple with some nuts or seeds, cheese and oatcakes, avocado or a boiled egg.
Always include protein, complex carbohydrates, colour and quality fats.
Protein is needed for brain function. It is involved in helping brain cells communicate with each other. Once protein is broken up in the body the amino acids help make up brain chemicals. These are involved in what makes you think, move, sleep, get up, remember and focus.
Good quality proteins are: eggs, grass fed and organic meat, chicken, fish, lentils, pulses, peas, chickpeas, beans, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Fats are important for brain health and 60% of the brain is made of fat. It aids cell communication and also keeps the cell membrane healthy. Omega 3 and 6 fats are essential fats for the brain.
Eat oily fish at least two to three times a week. Good sources are salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. Studies on teenagers and young offenders have shown improvements in attention spans, reading and writing and aggressive behaviours when they were supplemented with fish oil.
If you are vegetarian then flaxseeds, walnuts and seaweed include omega-3 fats that are essential for brain health. However it is not quite as easy to access the omega 3 fats from these foods.
Good quality red meat, organic or wild can also be a good source of omega 3 fats. I encourage students to eat meat because of the nutrition found in meat can be really helpful for brain health. I stress though to buy the best quality you can afford. Sometimes buying from a local farm shop can be quite affordable, shop around.
Olive oil, butter, coconut oil and nuts and seeds are other good fat sources.
Salmon with new potatoes and steamed broccoli, chicken and or vegetable curry served with brown basmati rice, wholegrain pasta with pesto made with walnuts, basil, rocket and olive oil served with a salad.
Eat a rainbow
Colourful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and have a protective effect on the brain. Include apples, pears, berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, beetroot, sweet potatoes, carrots, herbs and spices daily. The more colour you can get into your diet the better. Don’t get worked up about 5 a day, increase the colour and variety of plant foods. Your brain and gut will thank you!
Vitamins for brains
B vitamins are essential in helping make brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). They pair up with broken down proteins called amino acids and contribute to making neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. B vitamin deficiencies can lead to poor concentration, depression, poor memory, stress, depression and anxiety. B vitamins are best when you have a good supply of all of them, therefore eating them through food is a good idea.
Good sources are whole grains, such as brown rice, wholegrain bread, oats, quinoa, buckwheat and vegetables, meat, fish, nuts and seeds and dairy products. If you eat a wide, varied diet you will get a good supply of B vitamins.
Choline is needed for memory and movement, this is found in eggs and fish.
Vitamin D may be important for memory and brain function. A recent study in 2014 found deficiencies in older people increased the risk of developing dementia. Good sources of vitamin D include salmon, dairy and eggs but the best is sunlight.
Minerals for the mind
Good sources of zinc include meat, game meat, fish, seafood, seaweed and nuts and seeds. Teenagers may be depleted in zinc because it is essential for growing bodies, it also may be depleted when the body is challenged.
If you are are low in iron you may experience foggy thinking and low mood. The best source are lean red meat, fish and eggs. Vegetarian sources are found in beans, pulses, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, avocado, seeds and dried apricots. Eat these foods with foods rich in vitamin C to increase the absorption – salads, broccoli, parsley and fruit.
Known as the calming mineral. The clue for magnesium rich foods mainly is the colour green. Eat: Swiss chard, spinach, pumpkin seeds, butternut squash, green leafy vegetables, steamed broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Cavolo Nero.
Dark chocolate surprisingly is a good source of magnesium, 2-4 squares with a cup of green, black tea or good quality coffee can be a morning treat during an exam break.
This mineral is also needed for brain function. Calcium works together with magnesium to support the relaxation of nerves and muscles. Signs of deficiency along with magnesium deficiency can be anxiety, nervous, irritability and aggressive behaviour. Dairy, sesame seeds, houmous and green leafy vegetables are good sources. Bone broths are another good calcium source – boiling bones in water and veg make a good basis for a stock and can be used in soups and sauces and are also a good source of protein.
On the day
Morning exam: Follow the same rules eat a good breakfast. If you have a couple of exams in one day, make sure you fuel in between and after an exam as you would in sport. Have a fast releasing carbohydrate coupled with protein snack like a banana and some nuts or seeds, or a granola bar.
Afternoon exam: Have a brunch around 11am. Try not to eat something that will make you feel tired. Scrambled eggs on toast, soup or salad with lentils or quinoa. If you are really not hungry, keep it light like banana on some toast. Also don’t try any new foods close to the lead up to exams, keep your digestion calm like your brain!
Is it just about food?
No! It is really important to look after yourself during this time in other ways. Make sure you keep up your hobbies. If you like going to the gym, schedule time to do this. Being outside can be beneficial, get out into nature and also top up your vitamin D levels. Find ways to relax. Do what suits you. This can be reading, exercising, yoga, swimming, knitting, singing – the list is endless, whatever distracts you from studying. Connect with people face to face. It is so easy to not do this more than ever. You can socialise while at your desk and not physically see another soul, don’t do this! It is beneficial to meet people in person, meet for a coffee, find a study partner or arrange to meet up at the gym. If you have an off day then stop working, take time out and start again the next day. You need to recognise this and be kind to yourself.
I speak as a nutritional therapist, a student, regular presenter to students on exams and mum of two teenagers. One of my children is at Uni and one just about to embark on Highers. I have breadth of experience supporting yourself or others during this time. I have put all my hats on and hope that you can gain something from this article.
What is Digital Minimalism? It is what it says, living less with digital technology and taking part in activities that do not involve a huge amount of technology if at all.
I listened to a Podcast on the Dr Chatterjee, Feel better Live More channel with Cal Newport. Cal has written a book on digital minimalism and the podcast explores this. I was blown away. Already aware I was addicted to social media and my phone; this Podcast was the kick up the backside I needed to say no more! Immediately after the Podcast I deleted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and also my email from my phone. I had tried before to minimise use, put the apps to the furthest away screen but it didn’t work. Deleting them was the only way.
Digital Minimalism – Impact
I am now on day 29 of digital minimalism. What has this been like? The words that come to my new free mind are: free, light, relaxed, more time, in control, energised, better sleep and comfortable, clear eyes. For about the last 9 months every day I experienced watery, stingy eyes. The optician gave me drops and they helped but I still suffered at least once a day. Since reducing screen time my eyes are the best they have been in months. For anyone suffering from itchy, nippy, watery eyes this is worth trying and no medication or cost is involved!
Further Advantages of Digital Minimalism
I sleep better, I am in deeper sleeps and I wake up refreshed. I am rising earlier than before and feel ready for the day. My brain feels more creative as it has more time and space. I like the idea that social media is not controlling me – I have choices and I decide, before it didn’t feel like that, I was a slave to scrolling mindless information. I also like that I am not inclined to “like” things all the time. Though if there was a like button for digital minimalism I would click it right this moment.
I can concentrate on things that really matter. That is more time interacting with my family and pet. I am focused on conversation as I am not distracted by a ping or a light notification appearing on my phone. I am taking a break from work when I should because email is now not as accessible. Meditation has creeped back in and with more ease.
Are there any disadvantages? I was asked this recently, I pondered. I did think about it: I am not being as social with lots of people, but I didn’t see it as disadvantage. Cal says in the podcast, social media interaction does not replace human face to face interaction, as far as making us feel good it cannot compete. The time I spend with family and friends face to face has more meaning. There are no disadvantages. I was worried about my business pages on social media. However, I have created time and space into developing my business in other ways.
Would I recommend?
Absolutely. I have been taking part in more analogue activities and this has enhanced my life and wellbeing. We have been playing board games at home and I have been reading more books. I am exercising more and listening to music. Podcasts are becoming my new way of learning new information.
I am still deciding, I would quite happily not go back. If I do then it has to be controlled. The way social media is designed I am not sure it will be that easy. A few people have suggested spending one day a week on social media for my business, this is doable. I won’t put Facebook back on my phone, there is no need. I can do most marketing from my laptop and Instagram might be the only one that is allowed back in on my phone.
For at least 2 days I will not be sharing this on the usual platforms, Linkedin only. Please do share as much as you can and convince me there is no need to go back! If you have done this or have any ideas on how to manage social media better, not having it or having it but controlling use, please let me know.
February is Raynaud’s Awareness month and chosen, because it is typically a cold month and it is a disease associated with cold weather. Do you have cold hands and feet? This does not mean you have Raynaud’s, but if you are feeling the cold this winter and longing for some warmth in your body, the tips below are good ways to incorporate heat and energy into your life.
So what is Raynaud’s?
It is a vascular disorder that results in hands and feet being very sensitive to cold. When these extremities are exposed to cold the small arteries that supplies the toes and fingers suddenly contract and go into a spasm. The fingers and toes are then deprived from oxygenated blood causing them to turn a white or bluish colour. They can also feel numb and painful. It can also affect other extremities such as nose and ears. There may be an autoimmune link with Raynaud’s as there is a common occurrence in developing it if you already have an autoimmune condition.
Raynaud’s has 2 categories: Primary Raynaud’s which is not seen as serious but that’s not to say the symptoms are not bothersome and Secondary which has an autoimmune connection and in chronic conditions the surface area may shrink, ulcers may form, damaging tissues and may result in infection under the nails and toenails.
It affects about 10 million people in the UK. Young girls and women more than men are affected. Onset is usually from about 20-40 years of age however children can develop it.
Eat a wholesome, varied healthy diet.
Aim for half your plate to be vegetables at all meals.
Include spices and herbs into cooking especially warming ones such as ginger, cinnamon, paprika, cumin and turmeric.
Warm up your digestion. Starting the day with fresh ginger tea supports digestion and will help warm your whole body up. Make warm soups, stews and casseroles. Cooking food at a low temperature for a long period of time breaks down the proteins in the food and makes them easier on digestion. Use slow cookers, they are easy and your meal is ready for when you come in from work. In the winter months if having cold foods add ginger, Ayurvedic medicine encourages this to warm up your digestion.
Add nuts and seeds to your diet for their vitamin and mineral and essential fat content.
Use cold pressed olive oil – add to cooking, use a dressing on vegetables and salads
Eat 2-3 pieces of fruit a day; try eating seasonal fruit, Chinese medicine suggests this supports your digestion and health. February fruit: blood oranges, clementines, kiwi, lemons, pears, pomegranates and rhubarb.
Eat a diet rich in wholegrain, vary grains and don’t just stick to wheat – quinoa, buckwheat, millet, brown rice, oats and amaranth.
Eat good quality proteins with each meal: fish, organic chicken, organic eggs, grass fed meat, beans, pulses, lentils, peas, plain natural yoghurt, nuts and seeds
Include oily fish at least 2-3 times a weak – salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines
Avoid caffeine as it may impact constriction of blood vessels.
Keep your hands and feet warm – wear gloves and warm socks when you feel you need to. Running tops and jackets with sleeves where you can put your thumbs into can be handy (excuse the pun).
Avoid smoking as this constricts blood vessels.
Find ways to relax – at least once a day find something you enjoy doing that you find relaxing, that might be doing nothing or it might be reading a book. Switch off electrical equipment so not to be distracted. Meditation may help increase temperature; studies have found an increase in core temperature after a meditation practice.
Exercise is helpful as it increases temperature and supports circulation, but stay warm if exercising outdoors. If new to exercise, seek professional advice and start of slow, walking is a brilliant way to start.
Over the next few weeks I am going into delve deeply into the digestive system. Many people suffer from digestive disorders. I will discuss what organs and processes are involved in eating, absorbing, digesting and finally excreting foods. Why is this important? If we understand how it works we may pay more attention to it and that in itself may help improve digestion. This is important for anyone with digestive issues but equally for us all as the saying goes you are what you eat but actually it goes further you are what you absorb!
The first organ involved in the digestive process is the brain. Soon as you start thinking about food the body starts to prepare itself for food. Digestive juices, saliva, enzymes and digestive hormones activate ready for the incoming food. A saying I hear on Australian Masterchef a lot is you eat with your eyes. Seeing food can also stimulate these juices as well as smell, taste and texture.
* Top tip*
One simple way to optimise digestion is to think about food before eating also cooking, setting the table are all good ways to send signals to your brain it is time to eat soon.
The mouth chews and breaks down your food to a mush so your stomach doesn’t have to! Saliva helps soften the food and also contains an enzyme called amylase. This enzyme is involved in breaking down carbohydrates. It also contains lipase which helps break down fats. Amylase is released and activated in the mouth, lipase on the other hand is not activated until food reaches the stomach. Saliva aids chewing and swallowing, it cleans the mouth, buffers PH of food, it is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal and it helps deliver important nutrients to the teeth. For the best digestion, healthy gums and teeth are essential.
Chew your food!
Drinking a lot of fluid when eating may hinder the action of saliva so try to drink fluids around eating and drink minimal amount when eating.
Focus on good oral hygiene.
This is a part of the body that I can NEVER pronounce! It is a tube that starts from the mouth and leads to the stomach. Peristalsis is involved in this part of digestion, this is when food is pushed down towards the stomach. The oesophagus has a sphincter at the bottom, if working as it should it stop any food or stomach acid coming back up. It is closed most of the time but is open to allow food to travel down to the stomach. When people are bothered by heartburn type symptoms it may be because the sphincter is not working efficiently enough.
Slow down when you eat.
Don’t overeat at one sitting.
Eat at a table.
Try not to lie down immediately after eating.
Don’t wear tight clothing around the middle.
Avoid foods that may affect the tone on the sphincter: citric juices, spicy foods, tea, alcohol, mint may be a culprit or very high fat meals.
Next week I will discuss the stomach, the inner lining of the digestive tract and the small intestine.
Protein powders are a supplement. Consequently they are not a replacement for whole food. They do receive a negative and positive press. In researching this I have come across headlines from stay away from to powerhouse foods. So are they needed, are they good for you and does everyone need to take them.
Protein is extracted from the following foods to make a powder: rice, dairy, pea, hemp, soy and egg. Inevitably this means they are processed and it can be this part that makes people want to stay away from them. However so are other everyday foods we eat are also processed like olive oil, bread, pasta, flours, dairy products, tinned beans and even the seeds I grind (process) every morning!
I see them as a good way of increasing protein into the diet in times of need. Many people do not eat sufficient protein especially at breakfast. Adding a scoop of a protein powder into your porridge or smoothie is an easy, fast way without much thought. As breakfast has to be easy for most of us this is an excellent way of increasing nutrition into the body.
Best sources of protein are chicken, fish, red meat, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. When you exercise intensely you do need extra protein to build and maintain muscle. In times of challenge you may need extra protein. If you don’t eat enough your body will obtain it from your own tissue. This is known as catabolic and for optimal health you want to ensure you consume enough nutrition from your food.
There are various techniques used to extract protein from very high heat, adding chemicals to filtration and breaking down the proteins with water. Here is a brief summary.
Concentrates – This is a high heat and acid extraction process. This method eliminates the other components of the food such as fats and carbohydrates and leaves you with protein. Some amino acids may be denatured in this process so you may not get a complete protein profile with this method.
Isolates – again this process separates the protein from the rest of the food, this is done by either washing in alcohol, water or ionisation. These methods leave a higher level of protein than concentrates.
Hydrolyzed Protein– Water is added to the protein to break it down into amino acids.Known as an expensive way of processing protein. It is also known as pre-digested protein. However it can be bitter-tasting so not very palatable.
Ion Exchange– protein ions are separated based on their electrical charge. They do this by adding in chemicals. This method reaps higher protein levels but strips some vital nutrients.
Microfiltration– This is filtering or sieving out the unwanted nutrients from the whey to leave a whey protein with the health promoting nutrients. This process may have less protein content but will have more nutrition to it than other processing methods.
Whey – is thought to be the premium protein powder as it contains the highest concentration of complete amino acids and is easily digestible. It has been shown to enhance healthy bone metabolism. However processing techniques may compromise this. Look out for isolates and microfiltration whey based proteins. Whey contains high levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCCA) (leucine, isoleucine and valine), useful for muscle recovery during sport and it also contains glutamine, important fuel for muscle synthesis.
Brands: SOLGAR Whey to go, BIOCARE Body balance, LAMBERTS All in One, Performance, PULSIN
Pea – easily digested contains high levels of lysine and BCAA for muscle recovery, glutamine for muscle repair and arginine for muscle metabolism and energy. Can be more of a savoury taste to it.
Brands: NUZEST, PULSIN
Hemp – Easy to digest, good source of fibre and omega 3,6 and 9 fatty acids. This is not as high in amino acids and you need more of it to reach protein requirements. However it is less processed and has other nutrients in it to support the body. Some people don’t like the green colour on their porridge.
Brands: PULSIN, CREATIVE NATURE
Rice Protein – Useful for people with allergies to whey. It is a complete protein which means it contains all the essential amino acids. It easily digested and flavour may suit more people. Arsenic levels may be an issue so source your product well.
Brands: SUN WARRIOR CLASSIC
Mixed plant based protein
Brands: VEGA, SUN WARRIOR BLEND
Some green powder blends such as Udo’s Choice Beyond Greens can be taken as a protein powder, it is rich in seeds and green powders that actually have a good protein content.
They should be considered as a supplement and not a replacement for a healthy diet.
It is important to check ingredients and make sure it does not contain artificial sweeteners, sugar and unhealthy fats.
Check how it is processed. Ask manufacturer if you’re not sure.
Taste is important, not all protein powders are the same and you will have a preference. I prefer ones without anything added. I am not a fan of Stevia. I add my own flavour. That way you are in control of the nutrition and flavour. I like to add raw cacao, baobab powder, lucuma and bee pollen.
I recommend alternating protein powders so to avoid a possible intolerance to them.
Can you live without them? Absolutely. Making sure you always have protein with every meal is important and whole foods are the best source. If this is difficult or your body is challenged in one way or another they may be a useful addition to your diet. Come in and ask advice if you are not sure.