7 easy wins to support your health in January and beyond...
Happy 2019! At this time of year there’s a plethora of ‘New Year, New You!’ advice all over the place and whilst I am also jumping on the bandwaggon, I’ve tried to stick to suggestions that are effective and easy to stick with. You may do some of these already, but for those that aren't part of your routine, perhaps add one to start, and once this becomes a habit, add the next?
1. Make sure that your breakfast contains a good amount of protein, e.g. 2 eggs, soaked chia seeds and full-fat greek yoghurt with your overnight oats, a scoop of good quality protein powder in a breakfast smoothie (I like Pulsin brand). This will keep you fuller for longer and keep blood sugar steady so there’s less need to snack.
2. If you have any processed vegetable oils (e.g. corn, soya, sunflower, ‘vegetable’) or margarine in your cupboard/fridge, throw them in the bin and replace with olive oil and butter. Heavily processed seed oils and spreads are linked to inflammation in the body and despite what you may have heard, olive oil is absolutely fine to cook with - the antioxidants that it’s loaded with help to offset the oxidation that occurs at high temperatures. As for butter, as long as you’re eating it in moderation it’s certainly a healthier choice than margarine. I like my butter to come from grass-fed cows as it contains more supportive fatty-acids so I usually choose Kerrygold.
3. Hydration. Yes, it’s boring, yes, we’ve all heard it before, but are we all getting 2 litres of water/herbal tea daily? If you're not, work out some strategies to help you get there, e.g. reminders on your phone or a bigger water bottle or mug. However, try to avoid drinking large amounts of water at mealtimes as this dilutes stomach acid and makes it harder to break down proteins and extract the maximum goodness from our food.
4. Aim for a 12 hour (or longer) period each day where you don’t eat, or drink any calorific drinks. This might sound tricky but if you imagine fasting from 7pm to 7am it’s not so bad. In science speak, this is known as ‘time-restricted feeding’ and has been seen to have positive effects on the body’s ability to process blood sugar and on the health of the colonies of helpful bacteria (the microbiome) in our digestive system. Personally, I found that this pattern of eating improved my energy levels and stamina when exercising.
5. Add one extra portion of leafy greens to either breakfast, lunch or dinner each day. Leafy greens contain folate in the perfect form for our bodies to use and this nutrient is crucial for so many processes in the body, e.g. making neurotransmitters, renewal of body tissues and detoxification in the liver. I look for bagged salad that has dark coloured and purple leaves as these also provide phytochemicals (biologically active plant compounds) that can also support our health.
6. Be conscious of, and aim to reduce your gluten intake. Wheat is such a common ingredient and it’s quite possible to eat it 3 times a day (Weetabix for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and then pasta/couscous for dinner…). The first issue with this is simply that it doesn’t encourage the diversity of food intake which we need for a healthy collection of microbes in our gut. The second is that even in the healthiest person, gluten causes the tight links between cells in our intestines to relax, enabling larger particles than ideal to enter the blood system. This might be okay now and again, but if it’s happening at most meals, the gut can become ‘leaky’ which can in turn upset the immune system - an outcome best avoided.
7. Get your legs up a wall for 10 minutes each day. This is a lovely, easy, relaxing yoga pose. By raising your legs above your head, your lymphatic system is given a helping hand, draining the areas with the weakest circulation. This pose is also thought to be very calming and supportive of sleep (this is what I’ve found). There’s a slight knack to getting into the pose - sit at right angles to a wall, with your hip touching the wall, then lean back, swing your legs up the wall so that your hips are now parallel to the wall and lie down on your back. In an ideal world you might try some gentle breathing exercises, but if that feels like a bridge too far, just put your phone away and zone out.
I really hope that some of these ideas appeal to you and would love to hear what positive changes have worked for you as well as what's been a challenge and why.