How to stay healthy
If your intake of booze and carbs have increased during quarantine, you're not alone. But it's time to take action! Nutrition and fitness expert Adele Smyth has this advice.
None of us could have imagined a few weeks ago that we would be living through a bad movie with no idea of how the storyline ends.
There is sadness and uncertainty around us and we are having to find ways to be creative with our time, and ways to keep our emotional and physical wellbeing healthy and happy.
Lots has been said about exercise and how this helps our health. And, yes, our physical state is important – and I am very happy that I can still go for a run and also teach my online classes to stay fit.
It’s always important to have a strong immune system and especially at the moment. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables are a great starting point to help with this, but there are other ways you can boost your immune system. Vitamin C is our obvious source of immune boosting goodness. But did you know that other citrus fruits as well as oranges are a good way to boost your immune system too?
Eating hydrating foods will also help to boost your immune system, and as the weather has been a little warmer recently the introduction of salads into your diet can hugely help. Lettuce and peppers are hydrating foods and these can boost your immune system also.
For when the weather may take a more autumnal turn, try introducing soups and stews full of fresh veg into your weekly meals as these continue to hydrate and support.
Lots of us have probably started some new form of exercise and perhaps rediscovered our love of running! I’ve been an avid runner for quite some time now and know how addictive it can be when you get started! As great as it is to start a new exercise regime, you may find that your joints and limbs can start to ache a bit as they are probably being used more frequently in a way they are not used to.
Therefore, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your meals is a great way to help combat this. Lots of foods can help reduce inflammation, but some of the best are the ones which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These include olive oil, fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna and anchovies; walnuts and brazil nuts too.
To carry on with the salad theme, (especially if the weather continues to be so good and we are having BBQ’s in the garden!) tomatoes, avocados and spinach are other great sources. Don’t forget about the fruit too! Strawberries, blueberries, oranges and cherries are all good for reducing inflammation. It has been said that a punnet of cherries are an effective pain killer – may give you a bit of an upset stomach though, so be careful how many you eat in one go!
Not only have sales of small exercise equipment and bread makers risen, so too has the amount of alcohol that is being bought each day. Yes it’s a nice way to unwind at the end of the day and red wine does have health benefits to an extent! But, drinking alcohol can lead to inflammation of your gut and also aches and pains in your limbs. Therefore, if you have had a slight uptake in the amount of alcohol you are consuming, the above anti-inflammatory foods will help you too.
Protein and protein rich foods are a necessity to help build muscle mass and protein is an important component for every cell in your body. Your body needs protein to build and repair tissues and is an important building block for your skin, cartilage, bones, muscles and blood. With the possible increase in the amount of exercise we are doing at the moment, more protein will be needed in your diet to ensure that your body can keep up with the repair and renewal of your tissues.
Chicken is an obvious source of protein and so too is fish. Tuna is one particular fish which is high in protein. But what if you are a vegetarian or a vegan? There are many other sources available to you and chickpeas, quinoa, tofu, peanuts, spirulina, lentils and almonds are amongst some of the favourites. If you are a pescatarian or do eat dairy, then add in eggs, cottage cheese and milk to boost your protein intake.
Protein shakes and protein bars I think are a personal choice thing. I’ve used protein powder a lot myself in the past and have found that my favourite way to have it is to either blend it with some plant based milk, my favourites being either coconut or almond milk. Add in some spinach or kale to get your daily dose of dark green cruciferous veg (which are a good source of iron and great for women in the peri to post menopause phases), maybe add in a banana or some dark berries and have it as a post work-out shake.
Spices added to your food can have many health benefits. They also can make your food taste even better. Spicing things up a bit can turn a bland meal into a new culinary delight!
Spices have been seen for thousands of years as being a great medicinal way to help with many ailments. They have especially been recognised as helping with mental health issues and anxiety.
In a time such as now when many things are unknown and we are unable to see friends and family, there is the likelihood that our emotional wellbeing will be adversely affected. Adding specific spices to your food can hugely change your feelings of sadness and discord.
Ashwangandha is an indian herb that helps to reduce stress and balance out your stress hormone, cortisol. It is not a commonly known spice, but it is possible to buy it from an online store such as Amazon:
Turmeric is another well known spice to help treat anxiety and depression. It is also a wonderful spice for using as an anti-inflammatory source and has anti-oxidant benefits great for fighting cold symptoms and flu.
Nutmeg works equally well as an anti-anxiety and anti-oxidant spice and can easily be used on top of deserts, in sauces and in cakes.
Saffron is a spice which we can readily get hold of, although a little more pricey than the others. Or better still, use cinnamon in cakes, shakes and on porridge. Cinnamon is a natural calmer and is a great source of manganese which regulates your blood sugar and is a mood enhancer too.
Finally, ginger we can add to food and drinks. It can help to relieve migraines and also fight off the symptoms of cold and flu.
A healthy balance and enjoyment
It’s hard enough at the moment to keep our spirits up without giving ourselves a hard time about what we are eating. At any given time it’s important to have a healthy balanced diet and I suppose now is no different time to some extent. However, now may be just the time to have some daily indulgence as long as it is not to excess.
In times of worry or stress, I believe that the last thing that you do is to give something up that makes you happy. So, if having a biscuit (or 2!) with your afternoon tea or coffee is something that makes you smile, then why on earth change it! But, now that you have got a bit more time, why not spend a bit more of that time cooking and baking your own biscuits so you know 100% what goes into them. You could experiment a little and add in different dried fruits as a variety or how about some of the spices we were talking about before?
Dark chocolate is a source of food which has health benefits and tastes good too (unless you go for the ridiculously high % of cocoa.). Dark chocolate provides benefits for your heart including better blood circulation, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lowering the risk of a stroke. What’s not to like about all that! You can get dark chocolate infused with spices too, such as cinnamon, turmeric, cardamon and so on.
The absolute doubly whammy is dark chocolate and red wine together! Red wine has antioxidants in it which when coupled with dark chocolate help to remove toxins from your body and lower the incidences of cell damage and infection in your body. As a result of the removal of these free radicals, your skin may take on a more youthful appearance.
Apart from being my favourite tipple and tasting rather lovely, red wine is high in nutrition would you believe it! It is packed with potassium, magnesium and vitamin B and a rich source of polyphenols. Polyphenols help with boosting your immune system – bonus!
So you can still enjoy foods and drinks which you may see as an ‘indulgence’, but in moderation.
We are experiencing some testing times and it is ever so easy for our nutritional health to take a back seat. We must make a conscientious decision to invest more time in our weekly meal planning, preparation and creativity. When we finally emerge from this ‘temporary normal’ why not take some of what you have learnt from this experience into your everyday and continue to look after your body from the inside out.
Adele is a nurse and a Pilates, yoga and barre instructor in Thames Ditton, Surrey, with a specialist interest in women’s health and wellbeing. During lockdown she is offering online fitness classes.