The Great British winter is, at best, a long and bleak endurance exercise. But this winter, due to the lengthy restrictions we’ve lived under, most of us will be feeling especially demotivated, heavy and lethargic.
Lockdown fatigue combined with the winter blues is a challenging combination and it’s understandable to feel a bit low. But fear not – mother nature is here to give us a much-needed boost. Snowdrops and crocuses are already peeking through muddy lawns, and the days are getting longer and warmer.
Now’s a great time to harness the positivity of spring and clean-up your eating habits. Throw in a little outdoor exercise too and you’ll be rewarded with more energy, better sleep and a lighter mood.
Things to cut back on
Added sugar. Be ruthless – scour the kitchen for ingredients laced with added sweeteners and bin them. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, irritability and type 2 diabetes. Breakfast time is a good place to start – so, replace sugary breakfast cereals and flavoured yoghurts with oats, plain yoghurt, fresh fruit and toasted rye bread.
Salt. Unless you follow a radical, sodium-free diet (which would be extremely difficult to do), think ‘low’ not ‘no’. Government guidelines recommend no more than 6g (or a teaspoon) of salt a day, and less for younger children. Boost flavour with herbs and spices rather than an extra pinch of salt.
Refined grains and carbs. These are grains that have had the fibrous and nutritious part removed such as white flour and white rice. They’re converted into glucose and released into the bloodstream quickly – too quickly. This causes a problem as our bodies are unable to accurately control the flow of sugar in our blood. A flood of sugar causes a flood of insulin, which then leads to a sugar-crash and tiredness. What do we do when we’re tired? We reach for foods that are high in sugar so we can get an instant hit of energy and so we become trapped in a vicious cycle of craving, sugar-highs, sugar-lows and tiredness. This will ultimately lead to weight gain and potentially type 2 diabetes.
Processed foods. A lack of time can often cause us to reach for unhealthy takeaways and processed ready meals which are full of salt, sugar and bad fats. This can cause us to consume way over the daily recommended amounts which in turn can contribute to all sorts of health problems. Instead, look for quick and healthy recipes which use wholefoods, or check out our range of healthy, nutritiously balanced meals which can be delivered to your door.
Things to eat more of
Fruit and veg. Think about fruit and vegetables in terms of their colour. How much variety is there in your fruit and veg drawer? Ideally, you should aim to eat all the colours – reds, greens, yellows, blues and purples. Look for produce that is bright and shiny. Eating a colourful variety will help support gut health, ward off illness and prevent premature ageing. Each colour has its own superpower. In season now is radishes, carrots, bananas, asparagus, and purple sprouting broccoli.
Whole grains and complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates release their energy slowly which maintains energy levels, keeps you feeling fuller for longer and reduces the desire for snacking. Complex carbohydrates are found in wholegrains, vegetables and legumes, so consider swapping simple carbohydrates for complex ones such as white rice for quinoa, white potatoes for sweet potatoes and white pasta for wholegrain pasta.
Healthy fats. We need fat in our diet but the good kind. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contain Omega-6 and Omega-3 which can help lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. Good sources include olive oil, organic eggs, avocados, nuts, good quality meat, oily fish, soya beans and seeds. Cut back on the “bad” saturated and trans fats found in cakes, cookies, margarine, fast-food and milk chocolate.
Pre-pro biotics and fibre
To maintain optimal health, it’s essential to incorporate both probiotics and prebiotics into your diet to keep your gut – and consequently the rest of your body – in balance.
Most of us know that we should aim to include plenty of fibre in our diets because it lowers the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends we eat 30g of fibre a day, but the average person eats just 18g. Eat plenty of wholewheat bread, rice and pasta, load up with nuts, seeds and wholegrain cereals and bag yourself a rainbow of fresh and ideally organic fruits and vegetables. Chickpeas, pulses and beans are a fabulous source of fibre too.
Watch your portion size. Remember, if you consume more calories than you need, your body will store these extra calories as fat, and you will gain weight. Even if you’re eating the ‘right’ foods, if you eat too much of them, and you’re not active, you’ll be disappointed if your goal is to maintain or lose weight. Stick to the Rule of Palm:
- 1 palm-size portion of protein
- 1 palm-size portion of complex carbohydrates
- 2 palm-sized portions of fruit or vegetables
A simple but effective tip to remember is to eat slowly. By taking your time to chew, you’ll eat less, feel full and enjoy the flavours and textures of your meal more.
Around 60% of the body and 90% of blood is made up of water. It’s no surprise, therefore, that when dehydration kicks in, our body’s ability to function at its best declines. Dehydration can often lead to headaches because a lack of water can affect brain structure and function. How much water should you drink then? Nutritionist, Rita Arora, says: “Most people go with the 2 litres of water a day rule. But actually, we should be more specific and aim to drink a minimum of 35ml of water per kilo of body weight. So, a person weighing 100kg would need around 3.5 litres of water a day.”
Plan more plant-based meals
Forgoing meat just once a week can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. What’s more, studies show that people who eat a plant-based diet tend to weigh less than meat-eaters. But don’t replace meat with a processed alternative because these often contain added salt, sugars and fats. Instead, opt for tofu, eggs, pulses and lentils.
Grow your own
Not only will you gain nutritious and inexpensive fresh ingredients, you’ll get plenty of exercise. Research shows tending your own vegetable patch is a great way to destress and even help to ward of depression and anxiety. Don’t have a garden? Try planting in a window box or container garden instead. You can even grow some herbs in pots on your windowsill.
Why not give your digestion a spring clean with a Balance Box menu plan delivered straight to your door?