I’m often asked for nutrition and lifestyle tips, and yet my approach is that there is no single one fits all approach. Individualised recommendations are what I do best, but there are some elements that come up time and time again and these are some of the top ones.
Sleep is one of the most under recognised tools in our health kit box. All the recent studies and research into sleep agree:
· Poor sleep increases the production of the hormone that regulates hunger and decreases the production of the hormone that regulates fullness. Do the math – this means we eat more than we need.
· Good quality sleep for 7-8 hrs is needed for the body to recover, restore and reset
· Poor sleep is one of the biggest individual risk factors for weight gain and obesity (in one study an 89% increased risk in children and 55% increased for adults.)
Time and time again when I work on sleep with clients, everything else falls into place.
Eat More Vegetables
In a community rife with confusion over what to eat (low carb, high carb, high fat, low fat), the one thing that every dietary regime and health expert agrees on is that eating more vegetables is beneficial across the board.
Vegetables (and fruits) are loaded with antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals all of which are essential for an optimally functioning body and mind. The benefits start in the gut and ripple outwards.
Eat a rainbow of colours. If you’d like my factsheet on the benefits of the different colours of fruits and vegetable and a handy chart to help the family eat the rainbow, pop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t Fear Fat
For my entire teenage and early adult life up until 4 years ago when I started studying nutrition, I was part of the low fat or no fat brigade. But its like Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better”. The science, and the anecdotal evidence shows that eliminating fat from our diet is harmful. Try a breakfast of half an avocado, handful of nuts, 2 oatcakes and a mandarin orange and you’ll see how long you feel full for. We need enough healthy fats such as that from sardines, wild salmon, mackerel, avocados, nuts and seeds, nut butters, olive oil etc to keep our brain in tip top condition, our joints working well and to help us fight the ever increasing march of inflammatory diseases that prevail with the modern western lifestyle. Yes, fat is highly calorific, but incredibly satiating and a little goes a long way. Natural saturated fats such as butter and coconut oil can be used sparingly and avoid the ‘plastic’ spreads and trans fats in processed foods and you’re well on your way to optimum health.
Just 3 brazil nuts a day give you the recommended amount of selenium (mood food) for an average adult. Nuts are loaded with magnesium, vitamin E, fibre, healthy fats, a good source of protein and loads of other nutrients. If you are consuming as a nut butter, check the label for ingredients – you are looking for 100% nut – either almond, peanut, cashew or whatever your preference is – if it is 100% nut it’s 100% fine. Remember, a little goes a long way. Check out the new Ethical Weigh shop in Eglinton and make your own 100% nut butter.
Truly the elixir of life. Even mild dehydration can impair memory and mood (from children to the elderly) and have a negative impact on anxiety levels and the occurrence of headaches.
We often mistake hunger or sugar cravings for thirst so its worth having a small glass of water before you rush to eat or nibble.
Water is also a critical component of the digestion process, important for motility and prevention of constipation which in turn is essential for getting rid of toxins, used up hormones and other nasties that can cause problems outside the digestive system (including weight gain).
Consistency is the key here. Set yourself a daily goal that you know 100% you can achieve - regardless. Regardless of the weather, holidays, birthdays, weekends. Start small, 5 minutes is great. If you are doing 5 minutes every day you are ahead of the person doing nothing every day or the person doing an hour at the weekend and nothing during the week. If you think 5 minutes is not much try running up and down the stairs for 5 minutes. Build in a few weight resisting exercises like lunges or squats. Weight resisting activity helps build muscle which we lose as we get older, which in turn works on the metabolism and improves insulin sensitivity.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee covers this in his book The Four Pillar Plan and you can search for his “The Five Minute Kitchen Workout – A step by step guide” on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtZB95-AVZM
Know Your Protein
Protein is one of the 3 macronutrients along with Carbohydrates and Fats. Protein helps slow down the release of sugars in a meal with carbohydrates, it helps keep you feeling fuller for longer, is needed for structure in our body, has been shown to lower blood pressure, blood sugar and eating enough protein at meals helps curb cravings and negates the need to snack.
As with everything, quality is key. Quality sources are lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts & seeds, soya (organic and non-GMO), dairy, lentils, beans and other pulses. Poor quality protein sources include highly processed meats and plants such as sausages, burgers, bacon, ham, veggie sausages and other highly processed vegetarian or vegan products. Always check the labels.
Eat quality protein at every meal for more balanced blood sugars, consistent energy levels and less cravings.
Eat Oily Fish
Few nutrients have been studied as thoroughly as Omega 3 fatty acids. The studies show that this key nutrient has proved beneficial for eye health, heart health, joint health, mental health, brain health, liver health, cellular health, hormonal health, skin health, digestive health, the list goes on.
What I’m recommending here is to increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids from either animal and/or plant sources. Our over-reliance on processed foods means that we have too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3. Studies have consistently observed a connection between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation. Increasing our intake of Omega 3 can help to redress the balance.
Good sources of omega 3 - mackerel, salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soya beans (just bought some organic soya beans in Ethical Weigh), walnuts, seaweed and algae are all high in Omega 3. If you suspect your dietary intake is low, it may be worth complementing your diet with a good quality supplement. I eat oily fish regularly but also take a daily Omega 3 supplement – belt and braces.
Know Your Carbohydrates
Carbohydrate is the new fat. It’s all ‘low or no carbs’ now. And yet carbohydrates are essential for a healthy functioning body. They are the first source of energy grabbed and used by the body, but the problem is that they burn up quite quickly leaving us wanting more. And they spike blood sugar often giving us a crash in energy. To correct this, we should be aiming to have more ‘complex’ carbohydrates – the more complex the better. Complex carbohydrates are released into the blood sugar much more slowly. They are your fruits and vegetables (especially with the skin on), wholemeal pasta or brown rice instead of white and refined products. Higher fibre carbohydrates paired with some quality protein will bring about slower releasing energy. The ‘low or no carb’ rule is mainly for the refined carbohydrates such as most processed bread products, sweets, pastries, cakes, pastry and sugary products. These are almost always wasted energy with little or no nutrient value. This tip works hand in hand with the Eat more Vegetables and Know your Protein tips. PS if you are eating more vegetables, you are consuming complex carbohydrates. I do tend to favour a lower carbohydrate style of eating in that I eat less potatoes, bread, pasta and rice than I used to and have more vegetables.
Finally, we must get our stress levels under control. Stress, when unresolved, keeps our body in a fight of flight state, where it thinks we are in constant danger and therefore prioritises essential over non-essential bodily functions. Surprisingly processes like digestion and menstruation are not considered essential. Fat burning is not considered essential, but fat storage is. Stress = inflammation, both of which are necessary when we are fighting infection or running for our life but not when we are just fighting our way through the day.
Our day in this modern world is filled with 100’s of micro doses of stress, peppered with bigger stressors such as work and financial pressures and most of us have our fair share of the biggies heartache, bereavement, relationship breakdown, job loss or ill health to name a few. Having a daily breathing exercise/routine sends a message to our brain that all is well, it can continue to work normally, burn fat, support digestion etc. No need to start diverting energy away from these areas.
Try box breathing. Slowly breath in for a count of four, pause for count of four, out for a count of four and pause for a count of four visualising your breath drawing a box. Breath a box 4-5 times 3 times a day – on waking, at lunchtime and before sleep. It’s like a wee pat on the back to your body to say ‘There, There, All is Well’. Doesn’t take the stress away but takes away the physical and internal stress response.
The Last Word
Try not to overwhelm yourself by trying to make too many changes all at once. Pick any one of these and do it well – one step at a time.