Six ways to support your immune system

The ‘super six’ immunity boosters

The human body is a marvellous machine, consisting of many complex and interactive systems. The immune system, for example, underpins our overall health and wellbeing.
And although we can’t actually see it, it’s crucial that we nurture our immune system so it can protect us in return.

What is the immune system?

In a nutshell, your immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defend the body again infection. Every day, an array of bacteria, chemicals, viruses and cancerous cells try to breach the body’s defences. Fortunately, a healthy immune system is always on high alert, effectively patrolling, locating and destroying these unwanted antigens via our bloodstream.

Most of the time, we’re unaware of the constant micro-battles that take place inside us. But when your immune system is weakened, or the antigen is simply too much to handle, we can get sick. Looking after yourself and paying particular attention to the needs of your immune system is fundamental to your health. To make things simpler, we’ve compiled the ‘super six’ – an easy to remember top-tip list. Why not start today?

1. Stress

Work, money, relationships…being stressed about being stressed. Stress is rife. But what’s it got to do with immunity we hear you ask?

Just as all rivers flow to the sea, pretty much everything we do or eat leads back to our immune system. When we’re stressed, the hormone cortisol is released which can suppress the body’s ability to produce lymphocytes – specialist white blood cells which help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more likely you are to succumb to viruses, including cold and flu.

Prioritise pockets of relaxation. Try a guided meditation app, listen to your favourite music or simply slow down and gaze out the window for ten minutes and focus on your breath. The frenetic pace of modern life has wound our minds and bodies up so tightly, it’s critical that we find the time to slow down and relax before it makes us ill. Yoga, hot baths and a good stretch will all help you find your inner zen.

2. Sleep

Sleep glorious sleep. What’s not to love about hours spent in a warm, soft bed where your mind and body have time to heal? It’s alarming therefore, that many of us suffer from poor sleep and insomnia. Most people need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly and maintain good health.

Your vital organs carry out essential maintenance during sleep which they simply can’t do when you’re awake. Your liver, for example, works best at night and will happily detox in the small hours leaving you refreshed by the morning. But if you’re not getting enough shut-eye, it can’t carry out this crucial function. Equally, eating a heavy meal late at night or drinking too much alcohol or caffeine before bed will play havoc with your system, leaving you fatigued and foggy the next day.

In addition, insufficient rest means your body makes fewer infection-fighting proteins called cytokines which target inflammation. Cytokines are produced and released during sleep which means scrimping on slumber will hit your immunity twice as hard. If you find it difficult to get enough quality sleep at night, try grabbing naps in the day. 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted snoozing will give your body the boost it needs.

3. Stomach

Or more specifically, the next stage of the digestive process – the gut. 80% of the entire immune system is housed here, so it’s important to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet and nurture your microbiome. Try to bolster your daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only will they provide your gut with fibre , you’ll benefit from a range of vitamins and minerals. Leafy greens, bell peppers, kiwi and citrus fruit are packed with vitamin C which helps with immunity, while cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower contain plant-based compounds that may help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer.

Shitake mushrooms contain protein, fibre and are packed with B12 – a vitamin powerhouse that is crucial for your metabolism and immune system.

4. Supplements

At Balance Box, we’re fans of getting vitamins and minerals through fresh and delicious food. But that’s not always possible, so taking high quality supplements is a great way to keep your body healthy.

Vitamin D is a hot topic at the moment due to the ongoing research linking low levels as a potential risk factor for COVID. It’s cheap, very hard to overdose on and has no side effects. If you’re not doing so already, we recommend you start taking 1000 iu daily as soon as possible. Doctors have recommended taking vitamin D for years between October and March when the days are short and dark. It’s a fat-soluble compound, so make sure you take it with something oily like avocado or a few olives.

A zinc supplement is another great option for this time of year as it’s been found to help produce and activate T-cells – a type of white blood cell that plays an essential part in our immune system. Consider also magnesium which will help your nervous system unwind and improve sleep.

5. Serotonin

Serotonin is often called the ‘happy hormone.’ It’s an important neurotransmitter that can affect our overall wellbeing including mood, digestion, sleep and memory. Studies have shown that serotonin plays a critical role in the function of a healthy immune system and fortunately there are many ways you can raise levels through diet and exercise.

Foods that can increase serotonin include eggs, cheese, turkey, nuts, salmon and tofu. A daily 30-minute brisk walk or jog, preferably outside in nature, will improve levels by triggering the release of tryptophan into your blood – an essential amino acid that is essential for the production of serotonin.

6. Stay away from…

Yes, it’s coming up to Christmas, but go easy on alcohol, sugar, processed foods and late nights. They might feel good at the time but over-indulging will play havoc on your immune system and leave you wide open to infection. Go to bed a little earlier when you can, introduce non-alcoholic drinks into your weekly shop and make a little time for relaxing baths and long walks. If ever there was a year to hit the brakes on excess, 2020 is it.

At Balance Box we love creating freshly prepared meals to your door. We use seasonal produce and we always include a wide variety of gut-loving fruit and vegetables. If you’re prioritising your health this winter, hop over to our menu page and choose your box – no shopping, no chopping, no cooking – just tasty, nutritional meals ready to eat in minutes.

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

What’s all the fuss about vitamin D?

There’s been lots of chatter in the media recently about a potential new weapon in the war against COVID-19: vitamin D. While the scientific data is still sketchy, there’s a growing school of thought among researchers that vitamin D supplementation not only improves our overall health but it may help our immune system defend against coronavirus.

In fact, a recent US study has suggested that patients with sufficient levels of vitamin D are less likely to be infected, experience complications and die from COVID-19.

Prof Jon Rhodes, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Liverpool, says vitamin D has anti-inflammatory effects, and some research suggests it may dampen down the body’s immune response to viruses. This could be relevant in very ill coronavirus patients, where severe lung damage can result from an inflammatory “cytokine storm” in response to the virus, he says, although much more research is needed.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin – it’s a hormone produced by the kidneys and is essential for regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the body which is important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

Why is vitamin D important?

A lack of vitamin D can cause bone deficiencies such as rickets in children and osteomalacia (where the bones soften) in adults.

While there is no evidence to suggest that vitamin D boosts your immune system, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have identified that vitamin D may help regulate it. The study investigated how vitamin D affects the immune system and the ability of dendritic cells to activate T cells which are important in fighting infection. Another study found that vitamin D reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infection among all participants.

Furthermore, after lockdown, Public Health England’s (PHE) chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone recommended that everyone take a vitamin D supplement due to spending so much time indoors.

How can I increase my levels?

There are three ways to get vitamin D: sunshine, supplements and diet.

Sunshine

The sun’s energy turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, which is carried to your liver and then your kidneys to transform it to active vitamin D. Biological alchemy, if you will.

But in the northern hemisphere, between the months of October and March, we simply cannot get sufficient levels of vitamin D from the sun alone – the days are short, grey and wet and we tend to spend more time indoors. During summer, it’s important to expose bare skin – chest and forearms are fine – for periods of time. Don’t overdo it though – be sensible, use SPF and seek shade when the weather heats up.

Where can I buy vitamin D?

Everyone in the UK is recommended to take a vitamin D supplement through autumn and winter- babies, children, breastfeeding mothers and the elderly. However, at the time of typing, there’s a bit of uncertainty around recommended daily levels of vitamin D. The official advice is for adults to take 10 micrograms  (400 IU) daily. But a team of researchers and doctors have recently formed an alliance encouraging governments to increase recommendations to 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) daily*.

You can purchase vitamin D supplements cheaply from pharmacies, health stores and supermarkets. But, rather like toilet paper, please don’t buy more than you need – there’s enough to go around.

*Balance Box suggests sticking with the NHS official guidelines of 10 micrograms a day unless a change in recommendation becomes official. A doctor may recommend higher doses to those with a proven vitamin D deficiency. Always consult medical advice if you’re thinking of upping your intake.

Diet

Vitamin D is hard to get through food alone and if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, near impossible. Sources include oily fish such as wild caught salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified cereals. In light of the latest scientific speculation around vitamin D and COVID, a recent rush on mushrooms at supermarkets has been reported. Although fungi don’t naturally provide high levels of vitamin D, some are treated with UV light to boost their nutritional content.

Conclusion

In short, if you’re not doing so already, start taking a daily vitamin D supplement today. If you have a family, encourage them to take it too. Although the evidence around vitamin D and coronavirus is being debated, the overall health benefits to your bones and muscles are scientifically proven.

It’s especially important for babies, young children and people who are black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) to increase their levels. People in the BAME community are twice as likely to get really sick from coronavirus and typically have lower level of vitamin D.

 

At Balance Box, we create delicious meals delivered to your door using only the freshest ingredients.

It’s really important to eat healthy, seasonal food through the winter as it can improve your overall health and wellbeing. If you have any particular health concerns, or are interested in improving your diet, get in touch –  food is our favourite topic of conversation.

Eating for energy

Put some fire in your belly

Your body is a hungry furnace which relies on fuel to keep it burning brightly. If you’re not incorporating the right nutrition, you’re going to find energy levels spike and crash, leaving you stuck in a downward sugary spiral. To fight fatigue and keep sparkling through the darker months, check out our top three ways to boost energy.

Mighty mitochondria

Cast your mind back to senior school and you might recall learning about mitochondria. They are the ‘cell’s powerhouse’ and are responsible for turning the sugars, fats and proteins we eat into energy. Unsurprisingly therefore, mitochondria health is important. So important in fact, that mitochondria dysfunction has been linked to serious diseases such as dementia, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

To optimize your cells’ ability to generate energy, try to include plenty of the following in your diet:

 

  • Antioxidants. Foods like blueberries, pomegranate seeds and green tea will sponge up harmful free radicals and boost mitochondria function. Sulphur- rich veggies such as cauliflower and cabbage encourage glutathione production – an antioxidant which the body produces in the liver and gives energy levels a helping hand.
  • B-vitamins. B-vitamins act as co-enzymes in energy metabolism. This means they kick start the process, similar to how a key kick starts a car’s engine. Great sources include grass-fed beef, organic free-range eggs and dark, leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.
  • Fabulous fats. As well as being crucial for good brain health, fats play an important role in energy production. Every one of your cells is surrounded by a protective membrane of fat. Extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, grass-fed butter and wild Alaskan salmon are all excellent sources of high-quality fats so you can maintain and rebuild your cells’ structure.

So-long sugar

Yes, sugar does provide you with energy. But beware: foods high on the glycaemic index (GI) will spike your blood sugar levels quickly, then bring them crashing down. This will leave you tired, irritable and reaching for the biscuit tin.

Foods to avoid include sugar-laden energy drinks, white bread, processed cakes, doughnuts and biscuits.

Try replacing them with wholegrain foods such as brown rice and bread, plenty of organic fruit and vegetables such as apples, plums, asparagus, green beans and mushroom, and snack on seeds and nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds.

 

Hydration station

Water is essential for every aspect of your health, including your energy levels. Tiredness and fatigue are the most common signs of dehydration. And, as the body contains up to 60% water, it’s no wonder our major organs rely heavily on good hydration to function well.

The NHS advises us to drink 1.5 – 2 litre of water every day, yet most of us don’t meet this target. Furthermore, alcohol and caffeine are diuretics which means they will cause you to urinate more often than normal and contribute to dehydration. The solution? Boring but true – aim to drink eight large glass of water each and every day. If you’re exercising or frequenting saunas, you’ll need more. And go easy on coffee and alcohol. Not only do they contribute to anxiety (not good for mental health), they’ll leech your body of precious fluids and dent your energy levels

 

At Balance Box, we use only the freshest seasonal produce to create delicious and nutritious meals. So, if you’re feeling wiped out and want your mojo back, click here to order a range of balanced, energy-boosting meals delivered straight to your door.

How to start running – a beginner’s guide from Onetrack

Full length of black sportswoman jogging during autumn day in nature.

Outdoor cross-country running in morning sunrise.Due to the measures that were implemented as part of the COVID pandemic, a lot of us were forced to take a more self-propelled approach to our fitness. Running suddenly became the nation’s number one go-to activity.

People that used to hate running were suddenly lacing up their shoes and facing their fears head on. If you have recently taken up running or are looking to. Anthony Fletcher – one of the UK’s top running coaches and founder of Onetrack run club – advises us on how to get started.

We have a lot of new runners coming to us at Onetrack and the good news is that the advice is the same for everyone: Start slow. Be consistent. Learn about your body.

Start slow

Speed is subjective but most runners should spend more time running slower. At Onetrack we use a scale of 1-10 called RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), this helps to assess how hard you think you’re working. Most continuous efforts should be around the 3 and no higher than a 5 on that scale. We chat about our starting point a bit later but the main thing to consider is that you’re getting into running for your own reasons and you are different to every other person who is also using running. Don’t feel the pressure to pick up the pace, our bodies need time to develop and adapt, the speed will come.

Be consistent

We know life gets in the way and sometimes you don’t have the time or energy to do the session you originally planned. Rather than calling it all off, adapt. What could you do? If you planned for 40 mins could you manage 20? If you planned for 8 reps could you do 4? Physiology responds to consistent stress, if we want to get better or even maintain then we have to learn to negotiate with ourselves, even if we do not feel like exercising. Do what you feel comfortable with rather than nothing. If you do nothing, you gain nothing.

Learn about your body

Formula 1 racing drivers might not be the best mechanics, but they know how a car works and can feel how it’s performing. I feel that as drivers of our own body we should educate ourselves on how it works and responds to training. We don’t have to become a running coach, strength coach or nutritionist but we should try to learn more so that we could talk to these professionals in their language.

Where to start?

The million-dollar question, and in truth, it depends on what you feel comfortable with.

Would you prefer to put in more effort but for short durations?
Start with some interval training of a run-walk format.

Or would you prefer to take it slow and steady?
In which case how do you feel about running for 30 minutes? Begin with a 10 minute jog followed by a 2 minute fast walk and repeat three times.

Ultimately, there are many ways to start your running regime but keeping going is the most important thing. You should always walk away from a run feeling like you could do more. Be patient and the rewards will come.

Join the Onetrack virtual run club. Workouts are free but a donation is welcome.

Support your new exercise regime with nutritionally balanced meals from Balance Box.

To salt, or not to salt? 

Different types of salt. Sea, Himalayan and kitchen salt. Top view on three wooden spoons on black background

Different types of salt. Sea, Himalayan and kitchen salt. Top view on three wooden spoons on black backgroundIf salt could speak, it would undoubtedly complain about its reputation. Positioned as the bad boy of dietary minerals, its hidden presence in fast and convenience foods has got whole populations hooked on over-salted foods and contributed to the rising epidemic of coronary heart disease seen in the Western world.
However, salt, or rather the sodium chloride which it contains, is actually an essential nutrient. And because our bodies can’t produce it, it’s important that we consume safe amounts of sodium through a healthy diet.

 

Why it’s good

Salt is crucial for good health. We literally wouldn’t be able to function without it. It helps regulate the balance of fluids in our body, as well as control blood pressure. It’s also necessary for nerve, brain, cell, muscle and blood function.

In addition, sodium – along with potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphate – is an important electrolyte found in the body. (Electrolytes are minerals dissolved in the body’s fluids which create electrically charged ions. Your body needs a balance of them to function).

Lastly, salt is a taste hero, beloved by chefs due to its flavour boosting properties. For chef and food writer Samin Nosrat, salt is the starting point for her book ’Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking.’ “Salt has a greater impact on flavour than any other ingredient,” she says. “It softens bitterness, tames sweetness and brings out the flavour in almost any food.”

Nosrat suggests making the water for blanching vegetables as salty as the sea. Sceptical? She points out that most of the salt goes down the drain anyway. So why bother? Because a bit of cooking alchemy happens when you use salt. The vegetables are greener, they taste better and brighter and surprise, surprise, you use less salt at the table. And if vegetables taste better – in fact, if any home-cooked food tastes better – isn’t that a good thing?

 

Why it’s bad

Well, let’s not beat around the bush. Too much salt leads to all manner of bad health situations. Excess sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body and that, in turn, creates an added burden on the heart. The knock-on effects are an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease. And excessive sodium is a massive public health problem. So big in fact, that since 2005, regulators of the UK food industry have reduced salt in foods by 30%. But there’s still work to do.

 

The verdict?

Government guidelines recommend no more than 6g (or a teaspoon) of salt a day, and less for younger children. The trouble is, modern life can be relentless and the best intentions of home-cooked meals are often replaced with hastily purchased ready meals, laden with hidden salt. (About 75% of the salt we consume comes from convenience foods). Furthermore, our propensity to snack on salted nuts, crisps and cured meats just compounds the problem. The solution? Go back to basics:

  • Step away from the ready meals. Get the family involved and plan simple, easy to cook meals at home. If you automatically salt your food when it’s served, try and resist. Taste it first and season accordingly and sparingly.
  • Eat more potassium-rich foods. A recent study published in The Lancet suggested that foods containing potassium such as bananas, oranges, cooked spinach and mushrooms, can negate the effects of excessive salt consumption. These fruits and vegetables are not only great for controlling sodium but are important for maintaining good gut health.
  • Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about salt and your health. They should give you a once over, check your blood pressure and make recommendations based on your diet and exercise.

 

Like most things in life, moderation is key.

Unless you follow a radical, sodium-free diet (which would be extremely difficult to do), think ‘low’ not ‘no’. Go for unprocessed foods, and where possible, cook from scratch with plenty of fruits and vegetables. And if someone offers you some salted caramel chocolates, go for it. But maybe just one or two.

At Balance Box, we add minimal salt to our food which makes it easier for you to control how much sodium is in your diet. Explore our range of healthy, delicious, perfectly balanced meals, delivered fresh to your door.

 

Feed your gut

In our recent prebiotics and fibre articles, we’ve looked at how a healthy gut is linked to our overall mental and physical wellness. Now it’s time to put it in to practice.

These recipes are packed full of digestion-friendly ingredients that will leave your microbiome in tip-top condition.

Mango and Chia Seed Yoghurt

This nutritional powerhouse of a recipe is packed with probiotics, fibre and mood-enhancing omegas. Probiotics are naturally found in yoghurt and are great for gut health, digestion, and the immune system. That’s on top of all the great health benefits of chia seeds which are full of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fibre. Enjoy for breakfast, a snack or even dessert.

 

Serves 4
257 Kcals per serving

Prep time: 5 minutes
Refrigeration time: 15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 large ripe mango, peel and diced into 2cm pieces
  • 600g Greek yoghurt
  • 2 teaspoons of chia seeds

Preparation

  • Combine the diced mango and Greek yoghurt in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  • Stir the chia seeds into mango mixture and pour in a bowl or glass, then refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Chefs tip

Use coconut yoghurt in place of Greek yoghurt.

 

 

 

 

 

Wasabi Brown Rice & Soya Bean Salad

This salad is packed with flavour and simple to make. Brown rice is full of fibre and the vegetables give a healthy vibrant dose of prebiotics, essential for fuelling probiotics.

 

Serves 4
355 kCals per serving

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Dairy Free, Wheat Free

Ingredients 

  • ½ small butternut squash, seeds scooped out
  • 100g brown rice
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 300g frozen soy beans, defrosted
  • 1 bunch/packet asparagus tips, trimmed
  • 2 handfuls rocket
  • 4cm piece cucumber
  • 4 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon wasabi paste
  • Small handful fresh coriander
  • ½ bunch spring onions, finely chopped
  • Small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 pomegranate, kernels removed
  • 100g rocket, washed (to serve)

Preparation 

  • Cut the squash into small bite size pieces (leave the skin on the squash). Tip into a non-stick roasting tray and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  • Cook the rice in a pan of boiling water with the bouquet garni for 15 minutes until tender. Drain then tip into a large bowl. Discard the bouquet garni.
  • Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, throw in the asparagus and cook for 1 minute, add the soybeans and cook for a further 1 minute. Drain, and then cool under cold water. Pat dry and add the soybeans and asparagus to the bowl with the rice
  • Place the rocket, cucumber, rice vinegar, olive oil, wasabi paste and coriander into the bowl of a food processor or blender and blitz to a smooth green dressing. You may want to add some water to get it to the consistency you like your dressings.
  • Finely chop the spring onions and parsley. Mix through the rice.
  • Halve the pomegranate. Using a tablespoon, tap the skin of the pomegranate to release the kernels.

To serve 

Arrange the rocket on four serving plates. Spoon over the rice, soybean and asparagus mix and top with the roasted squash. Pour over the dressing, and garnish with pomegranate kernels.

Chefs tip

Wasabi, most commonly used as an accompaniment for sushi is a fiery horseradish so a little goes a long way. Don’t overdo it in this recipe or it will overpower the dressing.

 

Or, let us do the cooking

Get delicious, healthy gut-boosting meals delivered straight to your door by Balance Box.

 

You may be interested in:

Gut health: Your guide to prebiotics
Gut health: Jonny Wilkinson tackles kombucha
Gut health: Mind the (fibre) gap

Gut health: Mind the (Fibre) Gap

Health food for a high fiber diet with whole wheat pasta, grains, legumes, nuts, fruit, vegetables and cereals with foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins. Rustic background top view.

A high fibre diet with whole wheat pasta, grains, legumes, nuts, fruit, vegetables and cereals with foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins.

In our gut health series, we’ve explored all things prebiotic and interviewed former rugby star Jonny Wilkinson on the benefits of kombucha. Now we’re turning our focus to fibre.

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. So, why are most of us still not getting enough?

 

The British Nutrition Foundation recommends we eat 30g of fibre a day, but the average person eats just 18g. Taking a little time to understand exactly why fibre is so important can encourage us to make better dietary choices.

 

Researchers are fascinated by the gut microbiome  – the collective name for the trillions of microorganisms that live inside our intestines. A healthy gut is a remarkable piece of biological equipment and by looking after it, you can radically improve your overall health and wellbeing. Your digestive system needs plenty of fibre to keep it in good shape. There are two types of fibre, soluble (which dissolves easily in water) and insoluble. It’s important to include a wide range of different sources of fibre in your diet to make sure you’re getting enough of both.

 

When fibre is passed into the large intestine intact, it’s broken down by the good bacteria that live there. And that’s where the magic begins. The resulting carbs are used or stored as energy, and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are produced.

 

It’s these SCFAs that researchers are really getting excited about because they’ve been shown to provide a crucial link between the gut and the nervous system, acting as a neurotransmitter to create pathways between stomach and brain.

 

It’s no surprise, therefore, that depression and neurological disorders are often accompanied by digestive issues. Furthermore, around 80% of our immune cells actually sit within the gut and it’s estimated that 90% of the body’s serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’ – is made within the digestive tract.

 

So, next time you’re at the supermarket, think fibre. Reach for 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.

 

Beware! Make sure you increase your water intake because fibre tends to sponge up the fluids in the gut and often leads to constipation. Too much fibre can overstimulate the gut and for people with conditions like Crohn’s, diverticulitis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it can make symptoms worse.

 

At Balance Box, we create delicious meals and snacks that are rich and diverse in fibre. So, if you want to eat yourself happy and improve your wellbeing, do it the easy way with one of our healthy menu plans.

5 Glute Exercises to undo sitting all day

If you work from home or in a sedentary job, the amount of time you spend sat on you behind may have caused your bum muscles to snooze.

Strong glutes are important for posture and performance and this workout from boutique fitness studio Flex Chelsea, will help you engage and activate your sleepy glutes in no time.

Repeat all exercises between 12-20 times, on each side if necessary! Take 2-4 rounds of the full set to get your peach burning!

Weights and bands are optional.

 

 

Banded Sumo Squat

Take a wide stance with your feet, toes pointing outwards. Have your band just above your knees and squat down, trying to get your bum as close to the floor as you can for depth. Push your knees out against the band to engage your abductors and obtain the correct form (make sure your knees are not facing inwards, this takes the pressure off your glutes and can lead to potential injury). Ensure your upper body is in a stable upright position keeping your chest up, shoulders back and facing forwards not down. Imagine you are sitting down onto a chair. Ensure your glutes are engaged throughout the movement and really squeeze when you get to the top. Weights optional

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curtsy Lunge

With the front leg, have your toes pointing slightly outwards and your knee pointing outwards in the same direction. Keep your upper body upright and stable facing forwards, not the same direction as your toes. Bring the opposite leg behind you only slightly, so your front toes are in line with your back toes. From here lunge down, you should have a 90 degree angle on both legs, and push through the front leg engaging your front glute.

 

Single Leg Deadlift

You want to perform this movement in a similar manner to how you would perform a stiff leg deadlift. So engage your core, and push your hips to the back of the room as if you were trying to get your glutes to touch a wall behind you, keeping the chest up. You want to lift one leg off the floor so your upper body and leg are in a nice straight line, so you are in a “T” shape. It is important to keep the core really engaged so you are stable and squeeze your glutes the whole way through, use them to hinge your upper body up and down. This movement should be done slowly and controlled.

Ensure to keep your knee of the leg that is on the floor nice and soft, so it is not locked out for the movement as this puts too much pressure on your knees. If you are just starting out with this exercise, you can hold onto a chair for stability with one arm and ensure your form is correct before progressing. Weights optional

 

 

Straight Leg Donkey Kickbacks

The key to this exercise is keeping your back leg as straight as possible by engaging the quads. From here you lift the back leg up by squeezing your glutes and using them to power the movement, so they take the whole weight of your back leg. Keep your torso stable and your back flat and still by engaging your core. When lifting the back leg, the higher you go, the more you will feel it in your glutes, and squeeze your glutes for a one second hold at the top of the movement.

  1. Lift the back leg up in one fast, powerful movement using the glutes
  2. Hold for one second at the top continuing and squeeze your glute as hard as you can
  3. Lower the leg back down in a slow and controlled movement to increase time under tension of the muscle and really feel the burn

 

 

The Glute Bridge

With this movement, have your feet nice and wide, wider than shoulder-width and your toes pointing outwards. Have your weight through your heels and really drive them into the floor.

Ensure your knees are pointing outwards, if you are using a band, actively push your knees out against the band to engage your abductors (the side booty).

From here thrust your lower body upwards and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can. To lift your glutes off the floor you need to be using your pelvis, ensure you tuck your pelvis under. The thrust movement should be powered through your glutes and pelvis. Therefore your upper back should stay on the floor.

 

FLEX Chelsea is a stunning boutique fitness studio in the heart of London that offers challenging interval training, spin and a variety of yoga classes. And with Balance Box, up until the end of August you can save 15% on all classes you buy with code BalanceBox15 – don’t miss out! Discount code also applies to FLEX LIVE, the digital streaming service that brings live classes straight into your home, recently awarded Top 10 Global Livestream Studio by ClassPass.

Gut health: Jonny Wilkinson tackles kombucha

After exploring all things prebiotic in last week’s focus on gut health, today we’re talking to former England rugby star and founder of No.1 Living kombucha drinks company Jonny Wilkinson.

 

Jonny Wilkinson CBE is considered one of the greatest English rugby players of all time, yet throughout his career, he faced battles with depression and anxiety. Since retiring from the sport, he has been on a personal journey of discovery, exploring the connections between mental health and diet. His interest in fermented food and drink to help tackle physical and mental health issues led him to launch kombucha drinks company No.1 Living.

 

Kombucha has been drunk for centuries in China where it is prized for its detoxifying and energising properties. It has gained huge popularity in the UK due to claims that it can optimise gut health, reduce inflammation, and boost mood. Kombucha is the product of tea fermentation and a number of probiotic bacteria are produced which at specific concentrations, can help balance the gut microbiome and improve digestion, boost your body’s immunity, and support your mental health. While claims remain anecdotal, Jonny is in no doubt of the benefits of kombucha to his health and wellbeing.

 

Here he tells us of his journey to making kombucha, his new perspective on health, and why we should focus on our food choices.

 

How have you been looking after yourself during lockdown?

I have been enjoying the challenge to my creativity that the imposed physical limits have presented. Through gratitude for being alive and well and with respect to those who have been personally affected – and who have been putting their health on the line for us – I have seen how I can make more and more of every moment.

 

What does health mean to you?

Health is the unlimited potential of our being. It is the incredible intelligence of the body and its seamless and constantly interactive relationship with the planet around it. Exploring this is a never-ending opportunity and it what I see as nutrition and diet.

 

How has your diet changed since you left the rugby pitch?

My lifestyle has changed and so have the demands upon my body. I have different passions and requirements and as a result, I am eating to help tune myself to being able to do what I need and want to do – today as this version of me – as effortlessly and joyfully as possible. This means eating less, eating fresher, investing more of myself in meal preparation, becoming more aware of compassion to animals and quality of farming, and finally becoming far more conscious of how I eat and enjoy the experience – which is very different from how things used to be.

 

What made you start a beverage company?

I have always been fascinated if a little obsessed with my potential and what I am capable of. Towards the end of my rugby career, I started to realise that this potential lies in mental and physical health and wellbeing and not where I was looking for it in fitness, achievements, respect and recognition. It was this realisation that led me to a living diet and as my wife and I were making kombucha at home, this revealed itself as the perfect entry opportunity.

 

When did you discover kombucha?

I had been exploring all kinds of other more natural and harmonious product opportunities within the diet and nutrition space beginning around 2011 but my journey into mental health and my wife’s journey towards becoming a nutritionist came together over the discovery of kombucha around 2014.

 

What is your favourite food?

It constantly changes but our No.1 Living kombucha is always right up there and I drink it every day. I also love fresh vegetables, fruit and salad and even more so since we have begun growing our own at home. Picking it and eating it straight from the source is a fabulous experience.If you could give one piece of advice about food, what would it be?

My view is that our bodies are essentially made up of the food we have consumed. We don’t just fuel the body; we constantly build and rebuild it too. Our vehicle for experiencing life is determined by our food choices and the quality of our digestion too. Therefore, what we eat and how we eat matters more than we can imagine. The body comes from the soil so eating closer to the planet, eating respectfully and eating joyfully all make a difference to the way life happens for us mentally, physically, emotionally, and in every other way possible.

 

These are all sentiments that we at Balance Box can agree with and it is why it is so important to us to carefully source and prepare the ingredients that go in your meal plans.

 

Find out more about Jonny’s story as the founder of No.1 Living.

No.1 Living are offering Balance Box customers 20% off your first order with the code BALANCE20. Valid until 31 August.

 

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Gut Health: Your Guide to Prebiotics

So, you’ve just got your head around probiotics, but what about prebiotics? To maintain optimal health, it’s essential to incorporate both into your diet to keep your gut – and consequently the rest of your body – tickety-boo. Read on

Gut health: Your Guide to Prebiotics

Gut Health: Your Guide to Prebiotics

So, you’ve just got your head around probiotics, but what about prebiotics? To maintain optimal health, it’s essential to incorporate both into your diet to keep your gut – and consequently the rest of your body – tickety-boo.

Probiotics are ‘good bacteria’. Think kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha. These fabulous, fermented foods contain millions of friendly microbes that, once inside your gut, boost your body’s immunity, encourage healthy gut function and support your mental health. Collectively, they’re known as the microbiome or gut flora. Think of them as your personal and peace-loving inner army. But, remember an army marches on its stomach. So, what are you going to feed them?

 

That’s where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are fertiliser for the gut. Foods rich in carbs and dietary fibre, which humans can’t digest, are golden for your microbiota. These foods reach the colon undigested and are fermented by your gut flora, resulting in an array of health benefits for you. Bananas, legumes, oats, berries, asparagus and onions…the list is a long (and delicious).

Diversity, however, is key. And 60% of Brits don’t reach the daily recommended amount of dietary fibre a day. If you want to ensure you’re feeding your digestive bacteria properly, try to include two servings of fruit and five portions of vegetables (seeds and wholegrains count too) every day.

 

Top tips for a happier gut.

  • Raw is more. Raw food contains more prebiotics than cooked. Simply swap boiled vegetables for a fresh salad.
  • Caution! Prebiotics feed bad bacteria too so make sure you’re eating a balanced diet of whole foods and reduce your sugar intake. Too much sugar and processed food creates an imbalance in the gut.
  • Water, water, everywhere. If you’re not used to a lot of fibre it can be a shock to the system at first. Stay hydrated with plenty of water. Keep a bottle with you through the day to sip on.

 

Prebiotic picks. Our favourites include:

  • Artichokes – rich in folate which supports healthy cell division (great for pregnant women or those who want to start a family). Folate also stimulates bile flow which helps digestion and supports liver health. Contains a number of flavonoids that feed the good bacteria and promote a balanced inflammatory response.
  • Blueberries – rich in antioxidants so help to buffer inflammation.
  • Flax seeds – rich in omega 3 fatty acids so a great plant source of healthy fats.
  • Bananas – gentle on the gut and have mucilaginous effect which essentially translates into ‘better gut function’.
  • Oats – known for their beta-glucans and their effect on insulin and blood glucose modulation.
  • Mushrooms – stimulate immune cells and therefore modulate immune response.
  • Garlic – anti-viral and anti-microbial properties. Inhibits plaque formation on top of the standard prebiotic benefits.

Are you worried you’re not getting enough variety in your diet? We create nutritionally balanced meals, packed with an array of prebiotics, to help keep you (and your gut) healthy. Order now