Not only are we in the middle of a global health pandemic but we are seeing the physical health issues matched by the scale of the increase in mental health issues too.
So firstly I want to let you know I get it.
This makes perfect sense. The first thing I want to do is to acknowledge this is real, and justified in the current circumstances and if this is you, you are not alone by a long, long way.
Many of us are concerned over the future. Some of us have partners out of work, businesses threatened, children at home again while we juggle our own commitments, elderly parents who are at risk, maybe lonely and isolated and all manner of other knock on effects of Covid-19.
Not only that but in the UK we have the impending changes which accompany Brexit bringing more uncertainty, and with each day, the environment becomes far more of a pressing issue. Those of us both with children and without fear for the future of our planet with real reason to do so.
These are problems we face whether men or women but as a woman I do want to acknowledge that it often falls to us to deal with in laws, our own parents, and our children as the key carer and the overload I am seeing through my conversations with working mums right now is overwhelming in many cases.
The world can seem a frightening place right now and more than a little out of control.
When we as humans, feel out of control, due to this bigger picture we feel anxiety, stress and fear which we are seeing everywhere at the moment.
However, there are steps we can take to manage our own mental wellbeing and start to feel more empowered to deal with what is going on around us.
This starts with focusing on the difference between what we can control, what we can influence and what is just an area of concern. When we turn our attention to the areas we can exert power over in our lives, then we start to regain some control and our mental wellbeing improves.
Control the priorities right now
The above illustrate my point. If we spend our lives reacting to situations, people, and that which we cannot influence, psychologically this is disempowering and damaging to our mental wellbeing.
I have looked at many of these example models and see ‘Health’ inside the circle of influence when in fact, mostly, this is within our control. Certainly, there are ways to protect ourselves, build up our immunity and resilience, and support both our physical and mental health.
What is more, lifestyle disease is dependent on the choices we make and genetic exceptions to this are few. Without doubt the thing that has the greatest bearing on our long term health and wellbeing is Food.
Imagine a tree. The roots are where it all happens and damaged roots means a tree that pretty soon will wilt, and show signs of ill health. We are exactly the same. But our ‘roots’ are found in our gut which is responsible not only for providing us with our immunity but also for our mental wellbeing.
When we become overwhelmed during times like these and our focus becomes blurred, eating becomes functional and very often the last priority.
We eat quickly between meetings on zoom, or miss meals all together and end up eating the wrong snacks instead when we have 5 minutes.
We eat out of packets instead of preparing meals from scratch from fresh ingredients
We eat of packets because we don’t prioritise the time to do a mid week top up on the fresh stuff our bodies crave to be well
We perhaps drink more and look forward to an earlier glass of wine to relieve stress when in actual fact, the physical effects of wine actually exacerbate it, hinder your sleep quality, interfere with your gut health and therefore your anxiety and resilience
We tend to get take aways far more. Food full of empty calories, the wrong fats and high in sugar and salt and very often yeast too which has a negative effect on the gut biome and kills of our biota which is supporting our immunity.
We eat fast food at home; the likes of white pasta which converts to sugars and provides us with very little in the way of good nourishment.
We rely too much on caffeine
We increase our sugar intake ; both added and free sugars which is detrimental to our gut, our health and the key cause of lifestyle disease
Food should be our number one priority right now for so many reasons but not least because our relationship with food is personal. We become every mouthful that we eat – after all our cells as they renew can only be made from what we decide each day, each meal, each snack.
When we eat therefore, we are either eating foods that nurture and support our gut biome – those billions of different varieties of organisms that live in our gut, or we are consuming foods that deplete it.
What we should be trying to create in our gut is this perfect eco system which connects to the communication routes around our body, including the brain via the Vagus nerve. In this system, we are able to produce the right chemical reactions to support the overall wellbeing of our bodies.
For example, over 90% of our serotonin, that feel good chemical, is manufactured in the gut. But it needs the right conditions to be able to do so. We need our bodies to be firing on all cylinders for it to be able to do so and we need our bodies to be in balance.
We also require a vast amount and array of fibre to enable our guts to function properly and convert to short chain fatty acids. We need the phytochemicals and the anti oxidants from foods to protect us and build resilience. We need the vitamins and minerals from real foods to support so many other bodily functions, to provide us with the energy and also calming influences that they can bring.
So what can you be doing right now to ensure that your gut is looking after both your immunity and your mental health?
Make half of what you eat each day fresh vegetables or fruit; you should be eating 10 or so portions a day ( prioritise the veggies over the fruit as you want to minimise the sugars)
Ensure you are eating a huge diversity of plants and vegetables. Yes we need the amount of fibre but there are so many different varieties, each plant bringing it’s own biome which adds something else to our gut health, so make a list each day of the varieties you have consumed. The higher the better and aim for around 30 if you can.
Limit your intake of sugar and be aware of what products it has been added in to along with yeast which can lead to Candida and other conditions which detract from a healthy gut
Cut down or out alcohol. You may feel you need this right now as a crutch but please believe me when I say it will only be exacerbating your anxiety and stress and feelings of low mood in the long term. In fact all the stimulants I have mentioned will offer you a short term high but then drop you until you take the next hit.
Fill the void with large glasses of water, reward yourself with mint, ice, fruit, herbs in your soft drinks and understand what effects each mouthful has on your body.
Eat foods out of packets – cook from fresh and integrate colour for the antioxidants to build immunity
Choose foods to nurture your gut like fermented foods; kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and kimchi
Take a spoonful of apple cider vinegar every day
Boost your immunity through adaptogens and eat plenty of ginger, turmeric, maybe Maca, even ginseng perhaps
Look to natural health support like wonderful Manuka honey with the highest UMF value you can get hold of
Think about boosting your gut health by taking a good probiotic – and of course eating the prebiotic foods I mention above.
Fast on the heels of what we eat, how we sleep and exercise are also high on the priority list as a triangle of support for our mental wellbeing.
The chemicals released from one, impact the other and form a triangle of support for our health. But we do know exercise releases feel good endorphins, and a good night’s sleep and healthy sleep routine means we are far more ready to face the challenges which life is hurling at us right now.
And most of all, remember you are not alone, and nothing stays the same.
The government has said it will ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed and launch a short consultation on whether that should be extended to a blanket ban on adverts for sweets and fast food online. Without question is should.
Meanwhile in companies that have been the most creative with Wellbeing and made a core foundational principle of the business, offering help and support in all areas of health, nutrition and fitness there have been astounding results. For example, e-commerce company Nextjump proved that there had been a fourfold increase in annual sales growth from 30% to 120% and the only variable involved was the difference in the investment in it’s people! This statistic is truly astounding and illustrates that the right Wellbeing Approach is not simply a tick box nice to have extra but is business driven and a company issue that directly affects and drives the bottom line.
Since the beginning of lock down there has been constant talk of returning to ‘normal’ or going back to the way things were before Covid-19.
I don’t want to go back to the way things were.
The way things were, got us here.
The way we treat our planet.
The way we treat the other animals and creatures we share our planet with.
The way we think about and treat our food in the main.
The way food and eating is incidental and dispensed with at speed in this ‘more, quicker, harder, faster’ world we live in.
Where we can have everything – and invariably do at the click of a button.
Where our priorities are all skewed and we live life on a virtual treadmill.
Food has been a theme throughout this period. Whether the focus is on empty supermarket shelves, where people hoarded ingredients for themselves far beyond need, or the constant snacking that has been a theme and we are seeing all over social media.
Or the Food Banks and Soup Kitchens that have just not been able to provide anything near like the amount of food needed to people suffering hardship at this time.
The covid-19 pandemic will see more than a quarter of a billion people suffering from acute hunger by the end of the year according to new figures from the WFP ( World Food Programme). When we think we have had it hard, there is no hint of a comparison to those living in conflict zones at this time.
Poor nutrition leaves children especially vulnerable and it is vital that commercial trade continues to flow as humanitarian work depends on it.
Worldwide hoarding is going on and countries are putting up trade barriers and WFP chief economist Arif Hussain says ‘Just like in developed countries where governments are doing all they can to assist their people, we need to do the same for tens of millions of people’. An impossible task to be faced with.
I have taken part in two Food Summits since lock down where panels of worldwide revered and respected doctors, scientists, nutrition experts and writers have discussed the roots of Covid-19 and the direct link to the way we produce food both here in the UK and worldwide.
Although the outbreak was initially tied to the Wuhan market and pangolins there is emerging evidence that suggests the virus was spreading in the community since October before being recognised as the virus we all now know as Covid-19. This brings us to examine the way animals are bred all over the world but particularly in the wildlife trade. The immune system of animals who are kept in awful conditions are weakened as a result and this means there is a combination of species and pathogens leading to mutating viruses that can spread very easily from species to species.
Although the Covid-19 outbreak has led to more regulations because of public pressure around the wild animal trade it is thought the restrictions are narrow and won’t last long enough or go far enough.
Then there is the way food is globally produced and the destruction of habitats for so much of our wildlife. For example, the beef industry is responsible for 65% of rainforest destruction and the emergence of new pathogens tends to occur where humans, and big businesses are changing the landscapes forever, farming intensively, and building larger communities.
In the process we humans are destroying ecosystems, causing no end of destruction to the biodiversity, and releasing new viruses. We are also developing a resistance to anti biotics.
You would think we had learned the most valuable lessons from the break outs of SARS in Chinese wet markets in 2002 linked to civets, Australia’s 1992 Hendra virus from the treatment of horses, , camels indicated in the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012 and chimpanzees hunted for bushmeat linked to Ebola in 2014.
But instead of these cases leading to urgent action and huge changes, we are now faced with Covid-19.
The 5 trillion agribusiness industry ‘is in a strategic alliance with influenza’ argues evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace.
So I for one do not want to go back to what we had before.
From people having time to cook in their kitchens from scratch for the first time in ever.
To children baking and using ingredients they haven’t experimented with before.
To people questioning the origins of the food they are eating.
We need change.
We need to think about the way the world organises food production.
Our wilderness and planet has to be protected. To avoid future worldwide pandemics unsanitary means of production has to end and we must dramatically reduce dairy and meat farming, eliminating all factory farming all together.
As human beings privileged to even share our planet with all the other amazing array of creatures we must take responsibility for and stop their barbaric treatment.
Food is a fundamental need to us all.
We share this responsibility to make it a priority globally to our kitchen, from our tables to our mouths.
We are what we eat has much more of a deep and poignant meaning right now.
I am always highlighting that our cells, every part of our being is only derived from every mouthful we take.
Let’s take the responsibility on exactly what this is.
Where it comes from.
How it is farmed.
What are the effects on our planet and the creatures we share it with.
And of course, is it nutritionally as well as ethically sound.
I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue some four years ago. For me then, it is of utmost importance that I pace myself, take time out to recharge and most importantly of all, feed myself the right foods. Knowing this is the most important thing that I can do for both myself and my family, it is my priority. The one thing that I will not accept compromise on.
If the cleaning does notget done once in a while there are no consequences. If the children miss a football or dance session occasionally then so what. But if we do not fuel ourselves with replenishing, nourishing and nurturing foods, then we do bear the consequences. Feeding myself not only nutritious but also totally delicious food, is the highest form of self care – for myself and my children, knowing every cell of our bodies is renewed from every mouthful we eat.
So knowing the food we eat has the power to protect us from illness, disease, and promote longevity, it often interests me to look at the reasons people give for not eating more healthily. I examine each of the following in more detail in my book but they distil briefly to the following;
No time – I’m far too busy to cook from fresh each night; it’s just unrealistic
Too much conflicting information out there – I’ll stick to what I know
I never get ill! – I’ll be ok whatever I eat (I call this the Myth of Invincibility)
Too hard – I’m not very good at cooking and it doesn’t come easily
Fatalism – if I’m going to be ill there’s not much I can do about it anyway!
Not worthy – Unconscious or conscious view that I’m not worth looking after (often a protection mechanism)
If you are a mum reading this and recognising yourself in any of those scenarios, particularly the last point, then I would urge you to look afresh at your relationship with food.
I have no doubt that as a mum you are overstretched, a little frazzled to say the least and juggling your commitments like crazy while feeling the guilt that comes with the territory. I am sure you are always on the back foot and maybe dread the first question from the children as they step foot inside the door ‘What’s for dinner mum?’. You may also feel like you can never please anyone and that it is impossible to accommodate all the different dietary needs in your house. Perhaps you have built your eating habits around everything else instead of everything else around the priority of your nourishment. Maybe you find yourself giving into foods for children and you, just to placate them or for an ‘easy life’. But you can move from this place of overwhelm to confidence around healthy food, ensuring it underpins your own health, and then consequently that of your family.
Self love and self care are about you mum! You as a priority. Your health as priority. Your wellbeing. So build yourself a triangle of health, balancing your exercise, your sleep and most importantly, your nutrition. Count nutrients, never calories and treat food always as your number one reward, never denial for eating well is about self love of the highest order.
My mantra as a yogi is always ‘enough is good enough’.
Make it yours too. Please recognise long term change comes from gradual sustainable changes.
While I am always wanting everything now, and to be the best I can, at this point in my life I am trying to be kinder to myself. You should too.
Let things go.
Stop beating yourself up if something doesn’t go to plan.
Trust in the process of change; make a goal and know you will get to where you are going.
Be mindful of what you are eating.
Try to understand better what it’s doing for you.
You should be thinking ‘ME FIRST’ ALL THE TIME. I DESERVE THE BEST!’
May sugar be the sweetest killer? Sugar has now overtaken cigarettes as the biggest contributor to lifestyle disease. It is slipped into so many products as other names and ingredients that we rarely even recognise it is there or check the quantities. In fact sugary drinks alone cause 184,000 deaths a year according to a study and report conducted by Tufts University in Boston. 76% of those deaths occurred in low to middle income countries. We now know the situation in the UK has slightly improved when it comes to fizzy drinks, but what about all the numerous other hidden sugars?
This blog is written for me by my good friend and psychotherapist Dr Robert Owen, who managed and reversed his own diagnosis for Diabetes Type 2.
Confessions of a sugar junkie.
I am addicted to sugar and it could kill me. I suffer from type 2 diabetes which, if not managed, can result in complications like blindness, amputation, heart problems and death. In spite of this knowledge I sometimes sucome to sugar loaded fare. I belong to a large family and there are lots of birthday parties. It’s normally that ‘small’ slice of cake that tempts me even though I know so much about the danger. I can’t say I haven’t been warned many times – as far back as the 1960s a friend introduced me to Professor Yudkin’s book “Pure, white and deadly”. Yet, I still sometimes find the temptation too much to resist. So why do I give into temptation when cake is on offer?
I know I’m not alone. How did we become sugar junkies? Who are the pushers? And other vital questions.
It started innocently enough
Sugar has been grown and used in India since ancient times. The word sugar derives from the Sanskrit language. How it was originally used is unclear, but it was certainly used as medicine in the Ayurvedic tradition.
As sugar juice it was not plentiful or cheap, in most parts of the world in ancient times honey was used for sweetening. Therefore, sugar remained relatively unimportant in diets until the Indians discovered methods of turning sugarcane juice into granulated crystals which were easier to store and to transport. This was known as Khaṇḍa, which is the source of our word candy.
During their campaigns in the Holy Land, Crusaders came across traders with “sweet salt” and brought this granulated sugar back to Europe.
It was a luxury and therefore not available to the majority of the population in Europe until the 18th century, when it gradually became more widely available. By the 19th century it came to be considered a necessity by the better-off. A change in taste occurred and the demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient soared.
During the Napoleonic Wars, sugar-beet production increased in continental Europe because of the difficulty of importing sugar when shipping was subject to blockade. And by the late 19th century sugar beet was the main source of sugar in Europe.
Sugar was rationed during World War I and more extensively during World War II, so we managed to exist with very little of it for many years in the 20th Century. I remember the wonderful day in September 1953 when sweets ‘came off rations’ and we kids gorged ourselves sat on the lawn in our back garden. This could be when my addiction started.
How did I get hooked?
Homo Sapiens has been around for a million years and for most of the time have survived without non-naturally occurring sugars, so it’s not a necessity. Why do we love it? To answer this question, we need to consider the evolutionary reason for the desire for sweet foods. It’s because our hunter gatherer ancestors searched for sweet foods (those containing naturally occurring sugars) because they weren’t poisonous.
And why does sugar make us happy? We are told that ‘happiness’ is partly the result of a biochemical process which relies partly on the neurotransmitter serotonin. I know as a psychotherapist that deficiency in serotonin is associated with depression. If we eat lots of carbohydrates – especially sugar, we can increase serotonin synthesis giving us short term pleasure but like any drug the effect doesn’t last long, and we have to consume more. Who’s eaten a bar of milk chocolate or even a box at one go? Scientific studies are available that suggest that sugar may act in a drug-like way and creates addiction in human beings. It can function very much like an opiate.
Are we consuming more than we know? Who are the pushers?
Many people are trying to come off their sugar dependency, but it’s easy to underestimate how much we’re actually consuming. Most people don’t realise when they’re eating it. One of the reasons is that many foods contain hidden sugars, including some foods that you wouldn’t even think of as being sweet. And what is most disturbing is that even products marketed as “low-fat” or “light” often contain more sugar than the regular versions.
Added sugars aren’t a necessary nutrient in your diet. Although small amounts are fine, they can cause serious harm if eaten in large amounts on a regular basis.
The British Heart Foundation recommends that people over age 11 should limit their ‘free’ sugar intake to 30 gms per day, while 7-10-year olds 24 gms and 4-6-year olds 19gms. A teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams. Even so some experts believe this recommendation is too generous.
The easiest way to avoid hidden sugar in your meals is to make them at home so you know exactly what’s in them.
Convenience food manufacturers add sugar in various guises see ‘Don’t kid yourself these are all sugars’.
What is the government doing about this health destroying addiction?
After concerns about the rising level of obesity, tooth decay and other issues, particularly amongst children in the UK , the Government in 2018 introduced a ‘sugar tax’ on sweetened drinks. Officially called the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), the tax puts a charge of 24p on drinks containing 8g of sugar per 100ml and 18p a litre on those with 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, directly payable by producers to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
It aims to reduce sugar consumption by persuading producers to reformulate their high sugar brands and avoid paying the levy.If they don’t reformulate, it’s up to manufacturers to decide whether to pass the levy cost on to consumers.
It’s not the first attempt to reduce sugar in the UK. In 2017, Public Health England (PHE) called for a 20% cut in sugar content within food produce by 2020, with 5% being the target for the first year. However a new PHE report released in May 2018 found that food manufacturers and supermarkets have only managed to cut 2% of sugar content. So, I’m not holding my breath over whether this levy will have much of an effect.
HOW CAN WE GET CLEAN?
4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar
Here are some foods and drinks that contain much more sugar than you would think.
Yogurt can be a highly nutritious food. However, not all yogurt is the same
Like many other low-fat products, low-fat yogurts have sugar added to them to enhance flavour.
For example, 245 grams of low-fat yogurt can contain up to 47 grams of sugar, which is 12 teaspoons. This is more than the daily limit for men and women in just a pot of so-called “healthy” yogurt.
Furthermore, low-fat yoghurt doesn’t seem to have the same health benefits as full-fat yoghurt. It’s best to choose full-fat, natural or Greek yoghurt. Avoid yoghurt that has been sweetened with sugar.
Like whole fruit, fruit juice contains some vitamins and minerals.
However, despite seeming like a healthy choice, these vitamins and minerals come with a large dose of sugar and very little fibre.
It usually takes a lot of fruit to produce a single glass of fruit juice, so you get much more sugar in a glass of juice than you would get by eating whole fruit. This makes it easy to consume a large amount of sugar quickly. PRESS JUICES / CONCENTRATED dilution?
In fact, there can be just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in a sugary drink like cola. The poor health outcomes that have been convincingly linked to sugary drinks may be linked to fruit juices too.
It’s best to choose whole fruit and minimize your intake of fruit juices.
Added sugars are often hidden in foods that we don’t even consider to be sweet, such as spaghetti sauce.
All tomato sauces will contain some natural sugar given that tomatoes are a fruit.
However, many spaghetti sauces have extra sugar added to them as well.
The best way to ensure you aren’t getting any unwanted sugar in your pasta sauce is to make your own.
However, if you need to buy ready-made spaghetti sauce, check the label and pick one that either doesn’t have sugar on the ingredients list or where it’s listed very close to the bottom. This indicates that it’s not a major ingredient.
Soup isn’t a food that you generally associate with sugar.
When it’s made with fresh whole ingredients, it’s a healthy choice and can be an effective way to increase your vegetable consumption without much effort.
The vegetables in soups have naturally occurring sugars, which are fine to eat given that they usually come in small amounts and with lots of other beneficial nutrients.
However, many commercially prepared soups have a lot of added ingredients, including sugar.
To check for added sugars in your soup, look at the ingredients list for things like sucrose barley malt, dextrose, maltose and other syrups.
The higher up on the list an ingredient is, the higher its content in the product. Watch out for when manufacturers list small amounts of different sugars, as that’s another sign the product could be high in total sugar.
All fruit contains natural sugars. However, some tinned fruit is peeled and preserved in sugary syrup. This processing strips the fruit of its fiber and adds a lot of unnecessary sugar to what should be a healthy snack.
The canning process can also destroy heat-sensitive vitamin C, although most other nutrients are well preserved.
Whole, fresh fruit is best. If you want to eat canned fruit, look for one that has been preserved in juice rather than syrup, which has a slightly lower sugar content.
Blending fruits with milk or yogurt in the morning to make yourself a smoothie can be a great way to start your day.
However, not all smoothies are healthy.
Many commercially produced smoothies come in large sizes and can be sweetened with things like fruit juice, ice cream or syrup, which increases their sugar content.
Some of them contain ridiculously high amounts of calories and sugar, containing over 96 grams, or 24 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving.
For a healthy smoothie, check the ingredients and make sure you watch your portion size.
Don’t kid yourself! Know what the labels mean – these are all sugars: Barley maltBeet sugarBrown sugarButtered sugarCane juice crystalsCane sugarCaster sugarCoconut sugarConfectioner’s (powdered) sugarCorn sweetenerCrystalline fructoseDate sugarDextran, malt powderEthyl maltolEvaporated cane juiceFruit juice concentrateGolden sugarInvert sugarMaltodextrinMaltoseMolassesMuscovado sugarOrganic raw sugarPanelaPalm sugarRapadura sugar
If you need to buy convenience food, make sure you read the label carefully to identify any hidden added sugars.
Ingredients are listed by weight, with the main ingredients listed first. This means that the more of something there is in a food, the higher up on the list it appears.
Food manufacturers get around this requirement. They make their products appear healthier, by use of smaller amounts of three or four different types of sugar in one product. These sugars then appear further down on the ingredients list, making a product look like it’s low in sugar when sugar is actually one of the main ingredients
A neurotransmitter that is linked to better mood and overall feelings of satisfaction.
But as well as regulating mood, serotonin is also needed for motor skills and brain function. It can help with memory and learning and give you a healthy appetite.
It also helps with nerve function and regulating blood pressure and heart rate so it’s very important!
Dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin are also valuable neuro transmitters that play a valuable part in mood and work together with serotonin to make us feel good.
A balanced diet that contains adequate protein, vitamins and minerals, probiotics and a moderate amount of saturated fat can help your body produce the dopamine it needs.
Meditation, listening to music and exercising can also release dopamine
Endorphins are another brain chemical released after exercise, or a hearty laugh or eating spicy food even. They make us feel naturally high.
Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain. It’s sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially.
How to Boost Serotonin
Eat well – lots of probiotic foods and fermented foods will support excellent gut health which supports mood
Get your Vitamin D
Get outside in the light and sunshine when you can
Foods to boost Serotonin
Food doesn’t contain serotonin but it can contain something called Tryptophan which is an amino acid that is converted to serotonin.
To ensure optimum absorption across the brain barrier it is advised we eat tryptophan rich foods with some good complex carbohydrates to help them reach the brain.
Whether you are sitting exams, prepping for a presentation, delivering training or simply want to boost your brain function, then my top tips below will support performance.
Eat foods that keep you fuller longer and release energy into your system slowly, such as oats, chia seeds, wholegrain bread and good cereals, brown rice, spelt, brown couscous, wholegrain, lentil or vegetable pasta, quinoa, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pulses, lentils, and bananas. A good breakfast is extremely important to wake up your system and give you energy.
Drink a glass of water at least once an hour to keep you hydrated and your brain working optimally. Add lemon for vitamin C
Eat some protein with your breakfast – studies have shown this keeps you feeling fuller longer so you won’t be distracted during revision or exams with a rumbling stomach or feelings of hunger. Eggs are good, or yoghurt, nuts and nut butters. Almond nut butters contain healthy fats which we need for optimum brain function, and a good dose of Vitamin E.
Eat as much green leafy vegetables as you can. The list of these wonderfully healthy vegetables is a long one and includes; broccoli, kale, spinach and chard. They are a vital source of vitamins and iron (for energy) and in particular vitamin K which assists the neural pathways. They are also packed with anti oxidants and B vitamins which are often associated with being alert and a healthy functioning memory.
Omega 3 and healthy fatty acids. These good fats cannot be made by the body and therefore we need to eat them. They are important in the context of revision and exams because they have been proven in tests to help reduce anxiety and even depression and help lift mood. Omega 3 therefore is crucial for our brains and may even fight inflammation in our body. Ways you can get your Omega 3 fats; Salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, shrimp, seaweed and algae, (chlorella and spirulina) walnuts, linseed, chia seeds, hemp, edamame ( soya beans) and kidney beans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Be careful of heavily caffeinated drinks but a white tea, or green tea might help keep you alert as well as offering valuable anti oxidants to your body to support your system.
If energy is low, then look to fruit. The fructose are healthier natural sugars which may give you a boost. Blueberries are an excellent choice.
Plan and give yourselves good quality nourishing treats. This may be fruit, hummus and crudites, nuts, avocado, crispy chick peas, a bowl of edamame, nut butters with apple etc.
Eat serotonin boosting foods. Foods don’t contain serotonin but they contain tryptophan which converts to this mood adjusting chemical 70% of which is made in our gut. You will find this in nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, eggs – and a really good dark chocolate ( at least 70%).
Vitamin D can help with anxiety and low mood so make sure you get enough of it. Can be found in ;
Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon.
Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals.
Non dairy fortified milks
Keep your immunity high by incorporating foods such as turmeric which is anti inflammatory, anti viral and anti bacterial. Include garlic, ginger, and onions for extra protection and have a jar of Manuka honey with a high UMF value on hand to make wonderful nourishing and immune boosting drinks from fresh ginger, lemon, turmeric and Manuka.
Eat foods rich in zinc which helps prevent illness during this time and may prevent colds. My healthiest recommendations would be; seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, whole grains, sweet potato, kale, chicken leg, eggs and shiitake mushrooms.
Since studies were shown that students performed 5-7% better, rosemary has been added to my guide for optimum performance. Infusing a room full of the aroma can support ‘ remembering to remember’, but there are also benefits from putting it into food and adding a piece to a glass of water. Dinner of turkey, in a lemon and rosemary sauce with shiitake mushrooms with brown rice, is a perfect way to cram much of the stuff needed mid prep or exams.
Rosemary could enhance memory – a study of pupils working in a room with the aroma of rosemary in the form of essential oil achieved 5% to 7% better results in memory tests. Lemon and eucalyptus also great when revising.
Frozen veggies are even more nutritious than fresh.
People who eat spicy food tend to live longer.
A lemon has more sugar in it than a strawberry! But we don’t taste it because it is sour. Although it is acid outside our body, it is alkaline inside our body which is a good thing. Lemons are the original superfood.
Broccoli contains double the Vitamin C of an orange and more calcium than whole milk – we are also able to absorb it better. ( cut it in advance to preserve sulforaphane or add mustard after it is cooked).
Vitamin D can help with anxiety and low mood so make sure you get enough of it. Can be found in ;
Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon.
Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals.
Non dairy fortified milks
Wonderful brazil nuts for selenium which is a powerful anti oxidant – eat 1-2 a day.
Tomatoes can help protect you in the sun due to lycopene
Chocolate is not only full of anti oxidants but releases a dose of serotonin to make you feel great, naturally boosting your mood
Bright yellow turmeric – can whiten your teeth. Yes truly it can. It may turn your toothbrush yellow but your teeth will brighten while boosting your immunity.
Avocados – a complete food and super food of super foods. Brimming with all the nutrients we need and good fats and fatty acids and Omega 3 which is crucial for our central nervous system. Amazingly they help us absorb the nutrients of other foods too. The potassium may help you concentrate and make the best of your brain power and may help fight fatigue and depression – both of which would stop you concentrating. They stimulate production of ‘collagen’ which is essential for smooth skin and contain vitamin E – also wonderful for your skin
Chewing gum might help wake you up and make you feel more alert. Researchers have found that mint flavour gum may dramatically reduce feelings of tiredness. Another test showed that it helped improve test scores by 35%!!!
Cucumbers – 95% water, packed with a range of B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and a whole lot more. May freshen breath, with phytochemicals counteracting bacteria and relieve stress if used in a hot drink.
Perspective, Priorities and Personal Development in Lock Down
I have been meaning to create a blog for the last 3 weeks but like most people, I have been adjusting to the changes which means trying to work with others around me or disturbing me every now and then. For me, having my house full with my three teens and partner when my norm has been to be alone to work freely, has disrupted both my schedule and my motivation.
But on reflection, I am glad I have waited since I now have a greater perspective on this strange situation we all find ourselves in.
Perspective forms a focus for this blog since I believe as a coach that we can all write and re write our own ‘stories’. It just requires however that we take ourselves to a different place. Mentally or physically. Or we change the ‘view’ from the same place. When we walk around a lake for example, the view changes every few steps. Sometimes it takes something or someone to point out those changes to make us aware of them.
I believe that this current situation, the likes of which have not been since war time, has the power to change our perspective on the rest of our lives for the better; how we treat each other, our fundamental values and on how we treat our planet. Indeed, I believe in many ways it already has.
As a personal development coach with a specialism of health primarily through food, I base my philosophy on what I see as the three fundamental priorities in our lives which underpin our long term health, longevity and well being. These comprise what I call the Triangle of Health;
I also believe there is a firm hierarchy in the above as I’ve written but each is deeply interrelated and needs to be incorporated in to our lives as a PRIORITY in order for our bodies to function as they should.
If we get it right in all three areas, we may affect both physical and mental fitness, and we may be ‘optimally healthy.’ We may live a full life in excess of 80 years with those years pain and disease free.
As a coach in these areas, the biggest obstacle to people undertaking change programmes, exercising, or cooking and eating well, is always ‘Time’. Or the lack thereof. Or so I am repeatedly told.
As a coach I also know while we are all busy and lead excessively busy lives usually, it is also a lack of connecting with these as deep values, or priorities in our lives…until that is, we are forced to due to ill health, the sickness of a loved one, or something close to home.
I call this stage ‘The Invincibles’. Since we all believe we are invincible, certainly in earlier life, until something happens to make us realise that sadly we are not.
Covid-19 has forced us all to take a long hard look at our lives. Perhaps and hopefully, at what the priorities are in our lives. And the lock down we all find ourselves in has undoubtedly given us time to reflect and indulge in activities we would not usually ‘have time for’.
The pandemic has forced us to think far more consciously about EVERYTHING, not just food. But we have seen a range of behaviours around shopping, cooking and eating change during this time. I want to look at the positives and negatives I’ve observed around this;
People are shopping much more mindfully so that they can plan their meals more effectively as they do not know when they next might get to the supermarket or get a delivery.
People are trying new foods as the staples cannot be relied upon to be on the shelves
People are experimenting with food and condiment substitutes because they have run out of or can’t replace their usual cupboard standards
People are taking time to prepare meals with families and share this time as a highlight of the day because we are ALL in the house at the same time rather than seeing each other as passing ships between the various activities
Teens, Tweens and other members of the household are taking responsibility for cooking to prevent boredom and to alleviate the pressure on the main cook
Planned meals are more nutritious since we have the time to ensure we are using good ingredients and we are less of a ‘white pasta three times a week’ nation.
We are offering to shop for those less able than ourselves who may be at risk or unable to get out
The supermarkets have offered slots for those more vulnerable or at risk so that they may have access to fully stocked shelves and a practically empty store
The hoarding we saw in the first few weeks as the virus took hold; the selfishness around core products and the emptying of shelves which left the vulnerable even more exposed.
The urge to eat more as we are all home and boredom leads us to consume more sometimes than we would usually, and foods which contain ‘empty calories’ with little nutrient value
Our timetable and ‘time’ is entirely our own. With the exception of those who struggle to sleep for one reason and another, there is no excuse for not getting the recommended 8 hours sleep. (In fact the BBC in an interview with a sleep doctor and author stated that less than 6 hours will make us far more prone to illness and susceptible to infection.)
We can take short ‘naps’ (between 60 – 90 minutes. Matthew Walker , author of ‘Why we Sleep says his research shows this aids learning by shifting memories from short term to long term storage in the brain – to lockdown in the frontal cortex, saving it to a USB effectively)
We CAN stick to the usual timetable of sleep we usually work to. Our bodies need to stick to the same Circadian Rhythms for many reasons which affect our general wellness and health. It is linked to our gut and immunity. The freedoms we now have in our timetables allow us to remain using our usual sleep schedules, if indeed adding to them slightly either end which must be done gradually to let our bodies adapt.
People are telling me they feel more rested than they have done in their whole lives
People are less stressed about work the next day and the quality of sleep appears to be deeper
People have observed with quieter roads, few planes and empty streets that they fall asleep more quickly and wake to sound of birdsong which they never usually observe in their day to day lives
Because of the lack of a normal timetable we may have changed our sleep schedules to something which is both erratic and unpredictable. This can lead to a number of negative and undesirable outcomes;
Our lives become deeply synchronised with the day night cycle and the timetable we set it. You are effectively changing your body clock when you disrupt your usual rhythm. The 24 hour cycle we have set ourselves affect the activity of the blood, liver, lung and kidneys.
In fact virtually everything in our bodies including our gut and digestion and enzymes in the gut. These are influenced in a major way by what time of the day these things are normally needed. Change them radically and you upset your whole equilibrium, including compromising our gut health and therefore our immunity.
You may experience physical symptoms as is headaches or a change in our digestion
Your memory may not work as it does usually
Your eating habits and appetite may be affected
Faced with the choice of time on our hands, I believe people will have gone one of two ways in this period of shut down. I asked my partner a question.
‘Do you think people will be much fitter when we come out of this period of isolation’? He replied that he thought those that exercised anyway, will continue to exercise in whatever way they can find. Those that don’t will not.
An eternal optimist, I am going to hope that the access that is available to nearly all to do some sort of physical movement in this period has instigated different behaviours. This remains to be seen and we will see when we come out of this if we are a nation of people ready to take responsibility for our health. Having said that I have seen so many positives from this situation with regard to exercise;
So many wonderful instructors who are not technically minded have got their heads round zoom and the online world and offered regularly timetabled classes. It has opened up a whole new world of clients for them. But not only that, it has meant that their days are not as stressful as they usually are, having to dash from location to location to teach in different venues.
It has meant many that I know are already thinking of changing their pre existing manic schedules and will continue to have an online offering long after this lock down is over. I am hugely grateful to them. As someone that needs to connect and exercise every day as I have done since a very small child, I would not be doing nearly so well during this period without them. Not that I cannot home practice alone or power walk with the dog, but this connection has given me and others like me, consistency while we are physically distancing to be socially connected with those I am used to seeing and practising with each week.
More widely, there have been nationwide online offerings from celebrities such as Joe Wicks to provide the opportunity for those even in the smallest of places to do some sort of exercise.
Because of the restriction based on the times we are allowed out of the house to exercise, many more people have taken advantage of the ‘constitutional walk’ once a day. With few cars, less planes and less pollution, we are more aware of the world around us. A world that is thriving and oblivious to what is going on with the humans who can be abusive and ignorant of its needs. We see Spring emerging everywhere, and the irony is not missed that while we are curtailed and limited, the earth is continuing to turn regardless of us and flow through the cycle of changes that come with a seasonal rotation. While we may be missing the outdoors as much as we are usually allowed; the air, the sun, the sea, the vitamins and nourishment they all give us, the earth is blooming and recovering with us in confinement.
We are so much more appreciative of the outdoors when we do go outside. The wildlife seems so much more prominent. The bird song is louder, clearer. The air seems fresher, more fresh and delicious. So many times I have heard people tell me this last few weeks that they have a far greater awareness of the sounds outside their windows and doors. The non ‘man made’ sounds.
People who have not been unwell with the virus have been saying they have more energy
People have directed exercise to cleaning the house, decorating, revamping and giving things within their environment a new lease of life.
Some have ignored the advice and gone outside as much as they like anyway, sitting in groups, having picnics, meeting friends for walks, cycle rides and seem to think they are immune from the same restrictions as everyone else. An abuse of the guidelines not only putting others at risk but placing themselves above advice and risking parks and public places being shut for the rest of us.
Restricted access to the outside can also make the perfect excuse to stay in and watch repeated Netflix and Amazon Prime for hours a day. That or play the X Box, Playstation or lose ourselves for hours and days inside a television screen. We can become unproductive and simply move between Netflix and naps with no exercise whatsoever.
It is according to our perspective therefore, and according to our values, that we will adapt our habits and actions to get us through this confinement. I believe there is huge potential for us to come out the other side a healthier nation, more aware of the planet upon which we are guests, kinder, more in control of our direction in life and with control over our personal development.
Indeed I believe that the difference between those that come out of this most challenging period better for it, will be those that focus now on personal development.
Giving ourselves time to plan the rest of our lives. That time which we will, in all likelihood, never have again.
What we want from it.
How well we want to be and what we are in control of in order to be as fit as possible, in mind and body when all this is finished.
Through loss and illness, we will have questioned our values.
What is important when all is said and done.
And distilled down, to what really matters.
I remind you, with care and compassion at this time that without our health we are nothing.
I am also mindful when writing this, that there are many for whom life is out of control at this point. Those in abusive situations which lock down has only exacerbated. Those who rely on food banks for meals. Those who live in the most confined spaces with family groups and have no space or privacy. I am also mindful of those who have experienced far greater hardship on a scale unimaginable to most of us; Terry Waite’s Tips for Lockdown this last week, put all into perspective.
So while we are all taking a view on this current lock down from a very different perspective, and our wellbeing and our health is at the forefront of your mind, while we listen to the real life stories of those struggling with this virus in all its manifestations, I urge you to make you, your priority. Those around you and those you can help, your priority.
Take the time we all have to re design your life. To ensure it is going in the direction you would like it to. This may be the first time you have had time to ever stop to check. In fact I expect you have spent more time planning your next holiday than you have the rest of your life.
Use this time as a gift for those of us that are able to )and I know we are not all as privileged or lucky), to personally develop, to gain strength, passion and move forward with purpose when we are allowed once more to move freely.
Because I believe the world will be a very different place.
This is your chance to decide, and take action on the sort of person you will be and where you are headed in that new world.