How to lose weight well

Waist measurement close up.

Waist measurement close up.What does it mean to lose weight well?

For us at Balance Box HQ, losing weight well means a healthy, sustained and effective decrease in stored fat that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived, lethargic or frustrated. Your diet should be balanced and nutrient rich – full of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and lean protein.

Here’s our top ten tips for losing weight well:

 

1. Lose weight at a safe rate

Crash dieting simply doesn’t work in the long term. Not only is starving your body potentially dangerous, but it can also leave you miserable, tired and fed-up. Most weight lost in this way is actually the result of fluid loss, which will come straight back once you start eating carbohydrates again. And if you deprive yourself for too long, the chances are your cravings for sugary, carbohydrate rich foods will win out as your body desperately tries to refuel. Instead, think of healthy weight loss as a marathon, not a sprint.

The NHS advises losing 0.5kg – 1kg (1lb – 2lbs) of weight per week which roughly equates to an intake of 1900 calories for men and 1400 calories for women a day. However, at Balance Box, our nutritionists have devised delicious menu plans that can help you lost up to 2kg a week safely by creating balanced meals that are rich in nutrients but low in calories.

 

2. Eat regular meals

While there is evidence to suggest that controlled intermittent fasting can aid weight loss, unless your will power is rock solid, it’s better to eat healthy, regular meals throughout the day. This reduces hanger pangs which can result in cravings and giving in to tempting snacks. Eating regularly will help keep your digestive system ticking over and raise your basal metabolic rate (BMR) as it burns more calories to function.

 

3. Choose a balanced diet full of whole foods

A balanced diet is key to helping you lose weight well. This means choosing foods that cover the three main macronutrients – complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and good fats, as well plenty of fresh, colourful fruit and vegetables to ensure your micronutrient needs are covered too. Look for wholefoods – foods that are not processed – so you’re eating as naturally as you can. Not only should you start seeing the pounds drop off, but your skin will glow and you’ll be full of energy.

 

4. Eat high fibre foods

Fibre is your friend. Big time. It helps your digestive system function optimally, it maintains good gut health, it reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes and helps you lose weight well by filling you up and stabilising your blood sugar levels. Load your shopping basket with fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils and whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa.

 

5. Control your portion size

Weight loss is theoretically a simple equation – if you burn more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. But beware – if you only focus on improving what you eat, but not how much you eat, you might not see the weight loss results you’re hoping for.

Fortunately, there are some simple hacks to make portion control easier. Try using a small plate to get used to eating smaller portions. And the rule of palm is a nifty way to ensure you only eat what you need. Aim to fill your plate with:

    • 1 palm-size portion of protein
    • 1 palm-size portion of complex carbohydrates
    • 2 palm-size portions of fruit or vegetables

 

6. Slow it down

Ever wondered how speed eaters can wolf down eye-watering amounts of food so quickly? It’s because their brains haven’t caught up with their stomachs.

It takes around twenty minutes for your brain to register that you’re full and put the brakes on. So if you take your time to eat, chew your food well and pause between mouthfuls, you’ll not only help your gut (guts love well chewed food), but you’ll also help your stomach recognise that it’s full, minimise over-eating and hit those weight loss goals quicker.

 

7. Choose healthy snacks

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t snack. We’d stick to three healthy meals a day, and not have a single hunger pang or desire to eat between meals. However, we know that snacking is tempting. Especially in the current climate where we’re mainly working from home, in or near a kitchen.

At Balance Box, we say if you’re going to snack, snack well. Often, boredom can drive us to snack so make sure you get fresh flavours and crunchy textures involved to keep your taste buds tickled. Try raw carrot batons, celery with humous and fresh fruit. We’ve created a range of healthy snacks which complement our meal plans, all of which are calorie counted, heathy and delicious.

 

8. Exercise for better results

Done correctly, changing your diet will have a major impact on your weight. But it’s important to make sure you’re exercising too. Are you getting enough cardio as well as strength training? If not, it’s time to mix things up. Cardio is great for keeping your heart and lungs healthy as well burning fat, and strength training will improve your muscle tone and ensure your BMR is increased (muscle burns more calories than fat).

There’s a wealth of affordable online fitness platforms offering excellent at home workouts. But they’re not essential. A brisk walk or jog a few times a week for 30 minutes, combined with squats, press ups and abdominal crunches in your living room will work wonders and help get your body spring and summer ready. Not only will regular exercise help keep your waist trim, but it’ll also do wonders for your mental health by releasing endorphins – one of the feel good hormones and a natural pain reliever. The so called ‘runners’ high’ is not a myth – it’s real and it’s yours for the taking.

 

9. Sleep

The benefits of a decent night’s sleep are plenty. Not only will it leave you bright eyed and bushy tailed, it will directly support weight loss. Matthew Walker, author of Why we Sleep says: “The less you sleep, the more you are likely to eat. Sleeping less than seven hours a night increases your probability of gaining weight, being overweight or obese, and significantly increases your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.”

This is because sleep plays a vital role in the regulation of the hunger and appetite hormones – leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells you when you’re satiated or full, and ghrelin drives feelings of hunger. A lack of sleep has been found to decrease levels of leptin and increase levels of ghrelin meaning you spend the day feeling hungry and prone to overeating.

Prioritise good sleep by creating a nightly ritual. Perhaps a long soak with Epsom bath salts will relax you, or try a few calming stretches or deep breath work. There are plenty of free tutorials online. Dim the lights and light some candles which will send a signal to your brain that it’s nearly slumber time and help produce melatonin – the sleep hormone.

Stay away from alcohol as it really is a sleep saboteur and make sure your bedroom is cool, but not cold. Lastly, a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow and a silk eye mask should help you drift off into a dreamy bliss and wake feeling restored and balanced.

 

10. Plan your meals

It’s all very well having the knowledge but in reality life is busy. Work, children, chores and to-do lists can get in the way of meal planning, shopping and cooking. You might have all the ingredients you need for a healthy family meal, but when you’re backed into a time-squeezed corner, it’s easy to reach for the take-away menu. We all do it.

However, with a little time and preparation, you can make life easier. Can you sit down for twenty minutes once a week with pen and paper and make a list? Find some healthy recipes on- line and print out the ingredient list or save it to your phone so you have it to hand when you’re shopping. Rope in your partner and children, don’t let them leave it all to you.

Alternatively, why not let Balance Box do the hard work? We’re constantly creating and improving delicious, balanced meals which can be delivered straight to your door. Our team of experienced chefs and expert nutritionists have devised an array of menus to suit different needs. If weight loss is your target, our calorie counted meal plans are just the ticket to reach your goals.

Should we be counting calories?

Healthy meals on table, counting calories

Healthy meals on table, counting caloriesTheoretically, weight-loss isn’t rocket science: if you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. If you eat the same amount of calories that you burn, your weight will stay the same. And if you eat less calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. Simple right? Well, not quite. Which is why so many people who adopt a solely calorie counting approach to weight loss find themselves confused and frustrated. Here we explain why counting calories is only one aspect of healthy, sustainable weight-loss.

 

Every bit of food you eat has a calorific value. A calorie is a unit of measurement representing how much energy is stored in a mass of food. If you look at food packaging, you’ll see calories are indicated by ‘kilocalories’, or kcals. One calorie equals a kcal. So for example, a croissant contains around 400 calories – the same as a large jacket potato with baked beans. A single calorie is defined as having approximately the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1C. On this basis, it might surprise you to know that an apple contains enough energy to boil a litre of water.

Simple, you might think. I need to lose weight, so I’ll just make sure whatever I eat is less than what I burn. Well, not quite. If your goal is to lose weight in a healthy and controlled way, you’ll need to focus on more than just calorie counting. If all you do is count calories and choose foods based on how much energy they contain, there’s a high chance you won’t see results if you don’t focus on a nutritious, balanced diet which is essential for good health. Let’s dive into the science and find out why.

 

How many calories do I need?

To maintain weight, an average man needs around 2,500kcal a day and an average woman around 2,000kcal. If you want to gain weight or lose weight, then these figures will go up or down and will need to be adjusted for any exercise you do, because exercise burns more calories.

In addition to the calories we burn during exercise, we also need to consider our basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is the minimal energy required for your body to function during rest. Even when you’re sleeping, your body needs exercise for automatic processes such as keeping your heart pumping or your lungs breathing. Your BMR accounts for anything between 40% and 70% of your body’s daily energy requirements, depending on your age and lifestyle. Any extra energy you consume above your BMR will either be used by your body when you exercise or be stored as fat.

 

Why calorie counting alone isn’t enough

Not all calories are created equal. Some foods might have the same calorific value but vary in their ‘metabolic efficiency’. This means certain foods (with poor metabolic efficiency) make your metabolism work harder to digest them, and other foods (with high metabolic efficiency) glide through your digestive system with minimal effort.

Cooked foods, especially carbohydrates such as pasta, have a far better metabolic efficiency compared with raw fruit and vegetables. But it’s the foods with a poor metabolic efficiency that have the advantage for weight-loss. Confused? Celery might help.

Are you familiar with the urban myth that celery contains negative calories? Although the celery myth isn’t proven, it no doubt stemmed from the concept that your body has to work really hard to digest something with a relatively low calorific value. Our cave-dwelling ancestors would have preferred cooked, fatty meats to survive the winter over celery sticks. But things are different in our modern society where so many people consume more calories than they need and end up with excess fat stores.

 

Balance is the key

A balanced diet is just as important to weight-loss as calorie counting. Ideally, you need to factor in both – choose your foods wisely based on how much energy they will give you, as well as the macro and micronutrients they will provide.

A diet high in fibre, fresh fruit and vegetables is a safe bet, because unprocessed foods will give you a metabolic advantage. In addition, whole foods will provide plenty of roughage which will keep you fuller for longer without an energy surplus (an energy surplus that will ultimately turn into fat stores).

However, it’s also important not to cut out food groups when looking to lose or maintain weight. Many popular diets try to cheat the metabolism by swerving certain types of foods but this can lead to problems. The keto diet, for example, is based on the idea that if you cut carbohydrates from your diet, your body will be forced to draw energy from your glucose reserves, stored as fat. This is called ketosis and you may have noticed that this diet certainly has a lot of fans on social media.

But be warned – you can’t cheat your body for long. A low-carb diet can lead to symptoms such as nausea and bad breath as well as kidney disease and kidney stones. Instead, choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains which will release their energy slowly and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

 

Do calories matter?

Yes, calories do matter for weight-loss. If you consume more calories than you burn, you’re going to put on weight. However, there is a ‘but’. If you choose foods based solely on how many calories they contain, instead of aiming for a healthy, balanced diet, you’re inevitably going to run into issues. Would you choose to eat a bag of sweets instead of a full meal if the sweets contained slightly fewer calories? Hopefully not.

Instead, nourish your body with a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, good fats, protein and complex carbohydrates. If you’re determined to achieve your weight goals, choose a healthy balanced diet, sprinkle over some exercise and watch the pounds drop off.

 

Leave it to us.

Life can get busy. And although you might know what foods you should be eating, you might not always find the time to plan and cook healthy meals. That’s why we created Balance Box. Our expert nutritionists and chefs carefully create menus that take into account nutritional values and calorie content to optimise your health.

Looking to improve your nutrition? Take a look our meal plans and let us do the hard work.

What is a balanced diet?

A Balance Box balanced diet including Roasted Plum Bircher, Chickpea Chilli & Feta Salad and Butternut & Edamame Bean Risotto

A Balance Box balanced diet including Roasted Plum Bircher, Chickpea Chilli & Feta Salad and Butternut & Edamame Bean RisottoWe all know that balance is key to leading a healthy, happy life. If you’ve had an intense week at work, for example, it would make sense to balance this with a restful weekend. Are you feeling run ragged by those around you? Then it’s a good idea to carve out some ‘me’ time. But in terms of nutrition, what exactly does ‘balance’ mean? What is a balanced diet and why it’s so crucial for maintaining your weight, health and wellbeing?

Why do we need a balanced diet?

The digestive systems of our hunter-gatherer ancestors were not designed to depend on just a few types of food, because no single food contained all the essential nutrients they needed to stay healthy. Instead, our forebearers adapted to the environment they lived in and survived on a wide range of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. And, on a good day, a bit of meat or fish.

But what does the food source of our ancestors have to do with our modern, balanced diet? The answer is that human bodies have evolved over millions of years to eat a variety of whole foods (‘whole foods’ are unprocessed, unrefined plant foods that haven’t been interfered with) to unlock the rich source of vitamins and minerals they contain. In evolutionary terms, the 12,000 or so years that separate us from hunter-gatherers is merely a blink of an eye. Biologically, we are the same.

The trouble with a Western diet, however, is that it’s heavy with convenient, processed, fat and sugar-laden foods. Foods that would be unrecognisable to our ancestors. And yet, many of us can’t get enough of them.

Why would we bother to eat ten different types of fruit and vegetable a day, when we can feel full and satisfied with a big bowl of pasta? This dish might provide us with an energy surplus but it’s not nutritionally balanced. It’s no surprise, therefore, that a large chunk of the population is overweight or obese, and consequently at an increased risk of a range of associated health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

When considering how you can improve your diet, it really helps to remember that our bodies crave the vitamins and minerals found in whole foods because, quite simply, they are the foods that we are designed to eat. If you want to lose or maintain weight, feel better, be happier, healthier and have more energy, then the easiest way to do this is a eat a balanced diet full of fresh whole foods.

A balanced diet – what you need to know

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins: these food groups, or macronutrients, are the holy trinity of a healthy diet, and the human body needs a certain amount of them in order to survive. Macronutrients can be further subdivided into micronutrients which relates to the vitamins and minerals contained within these foods.

To embrace a balanced diet, it’s important to make sure you’re eating a wide variety of foods that cover all the macro and micronutrients your body needs. Let’s go into more detail.

Carbs are not the enemy

Carbs get a bad rep in some weight-loss circles. But carbohydrates are essential for our bodies to function well. At Balance Box, we don’t neglect any food group because we believe that a diet consisting of healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates is the key to a balanced diet which can help with long-term weight-loss and weight management.

Carbohydrates are organic compounds in plants that are broken down when digested and converted into glucose which the body uses for energy. However, not all carbohydrates are nutritionally equal.

Simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and white sugar, are 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. In short, simple carbohydrates are not your friend.

Complex carbohydrates, however, 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.

Protein

Protein is crucial for a healthy body. Consisting of essential amino acids that we cannot produce ourselves, it helps repair and build the body’s tissues, facilitates metabolic functions (such as digestion and blood clotting) and bolsters the immune system. Pretty powerful stuff. Incorporate lean protein into your diet such as poultry, venison, fish, nuts, pulses and tofu and enjoy feeling stronger, fuller for longer and fizzing with more energy.

Fats

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, (some) fats are fabulous. As with carbohydrates, fats fall into two categories – good and bad. Good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which contain Omega-6 and Omega-3. These fats 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. Aim to eat a thumb-sized portion of essential fats each day. As for “bad” fats, definitely try cut back on saturated and trans fats which include full-fat dairy products, cakes, cookies, margarine, fast-food and milk-chocolates.

Eat the rainbow

Another clever trick to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet, is to 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:

Red. Red fruit and berries such as pomegranate, rose hips, goji berries and red peppers contain high levels of anthocyanins, which are thought to be effective in fighting cancer, bacterial infections and neurological diseases

Orange. Carrots, oranges, squashes and sweet potatoes are high in carotenoids – crucial for maintaining a good immune system and supporting cell repair and healthy vision

Yellow. Sweetcorn, pineapple and squashes contain large amounts of bioflavonoids, which fight infection and reduce inflammation

Green. Broccoli, cabbage and spinach contain nutrients including lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin, folic acid and glucosinolates – all of which have been associated with lowering the risk of cancer

Blue and purple. Blueberries, blackberries, grapes and purple sprouting broccoli are extremely high in antioxidants, promote healthy blood, and are thought to have anti-ageing properties

Portion control

Just because you choose to eat a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, good fats and protein doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll lose weight. 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.

Build movement into your daily schedule. Walk to places where you can, try an online HIIT workout for fifteen minutes, take up jogging or yoga. Not only does exercise have a positive impact on your mental health, but regular movement is also an essential part of a balanced approach to weight management.

In terms of portion control, the Rule of Palm is a straightforward method for making sure you don’t overeat. A balanced meal should consist of three key components: protein, complex carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables. Aim to fill your plate using the following guideline for an easy-to-remember approach to eating and portion control:

  • 1 palm-size portion of protein
  • 1 palm-size portion of complex carbohydrates
  • 2 palm-sized portions of fruit or vegetables

Et voila! A healthy, balanced diet means eating a wide range of fresh, colourful whole foods as well as exercising and ensuring good portion control. However, although it sounds straightforward, cooking from scratch every day with fresh seasonal produce can sometimes feel like an impossible task.

That’s why Balance Box was created. We’re passionate about healthy eating and wellbeing. Our mission is to provide our customers with nutritionally balanced meals, delivered straight to their door. And with different plans, there’s something for everyone no matter what your health goals are. Head over to our meal plan page and see what’s cooking in the Balance Box kitchen.

Customer Stories: Meet Kate

There’s nothing we love more than hearing your stories about how Balance Box has helped you. Here we caught up with long term client, Kate.

 

Tell us about yourself?

I am 38. I live on my own and run my own business working with charities which usually involves travelling. I often get up early get home late. I am quite active, and regularly attend the gym.

 

What brought you to Balance Box?

I was getting home late and eating cereal, toast – basically an abundance of beige carbs. I wanted to avoid feeling sluggish and to try to maintain a healthy diet. I didn’t want to consume meals containing preservatives and was looking for a healthy alternative to a ready meals. I tried a lot of other services, which unfortunately looked unappetizing due to the vacuum packaging. When I came across Balance Box it was wonderful!

 

What do you enjoy about Balance Box?

I enjoy the variety of food. I think it is more of a variety than one would eat if cooking for oneself. The salmon ceviche is a great hit with my sister. I once let her try it and ever since, whenever it is on the rotation, I now give it to her. We even attempted to make it ourselves.

 

How has Balance Box helped you?

It means that I do not have to think about food at all! If you think about how many times a week the average person has to think about going to the supermarket, making sure the fridge is full… it’s one big thing that I know is taken care of. The only other thing you need to do is, deliver two pints of milk once a week, and then I wouldn’t have to go to the supermarket at all!

It is very convenient, as I often eat them right out of the pots whilst on the go. My family never stop asking me if ‘pot life has arrived’, because Balance Box has become a part of me.

 

How would you say our food has affected you mentally, physically and emotionally?

It has certainly helped me to keep eating healthily and maintain a healthy mind. It does affect your mood – You are what you eat!

The lighter plan works well for me as I am only 5ft and I weigh 8.5 stone. It is the right amount of food for me so if I do decide to eat anything extra than the food provided, it’s a treat that I do not have to feel guilty about. I am still maintaining balance without overindulging.

If somebody was using it to lose weight, it is actually sustainable, whereas fad diets are unrealistic, and it is unlikely you would want to eat them forever. I have been subscribing to Balance Box for 5 years now and it’s still is proving an easy ‘diet’ to maintain. I am single at the moment and it almost makes me not want a partner, because what would I do with my Balance Box meals? I am certainly not sharing.

 

What is your favourite BB dish?

It’s definitely Beef and Pearl Barley. It comes on a Friday so it’s a perfect Friday night treat. It’s closely followed by the Chilli con Carne.

Ultimate Guide to Christmas Cooking

Leiths Christmas Dinner

 

Our friends at Leiths have created this amazingly helpful guide that gives you time to open your presents and chat to guests on Christmas Day. Getting ahead of the game will allow you to have a far more pleasurable and relaxed time and a few willing helpers for peeling and chopping with ease the load too. We’ve added a few Balance Box tweaks to help you stay healthy without missing out on festive fun.

8 reasons why Christmas dinner is good for you

1. It’s the perfect balance of nutrients

We certainly know a few things about balance when it comes to nutrition. So, it’s good to know that a traditional Christmas dinner contains the three main macronutrients that provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs – protein, carbohydrates and fats.

Jennifer’s tip: always buy the best quality ingredients you can afford. Organic, seasonal and local produce not only tastes delicious, it’s a great source of vitamins and minerals too.

 

2. Top marks for turkey

Turkey is a healthy lean protein and a rich source of niacin, vitamins B3, B6 and B12 which support brain health and energy production. What’s more, turkey provides zinc and selenium (good for immune system and skin) and the amino acid tryptophan which can help boost your mood.

Jennifer’s tip: opt for a skinless portion to reduce fat content, and order free-range and organic turkey where possible.

 

3. Go crazy with the cranberry sauce

A great source of vitamin A, C and K, this ruby coloured jam not only complements turkey, but it can also help lower cholesterol and support your immune system. Cranberry sauce contains proanthocyanidins (PACs) and antioxidants that may help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Jennifer’s tip: beware – shop-bought sauces contain loads of sugar. Better to make your own or look for a jar with a lower sugar content.

 

4. Bravo for Brussel sprouts

Brussels might be giving us a headache with regards to Brexit right now, but the mighty Brussel sprout will do wonders for your gut health. Few vegetables are as divisive as this baby brassica – some people proudly gobble them up, others hide them under a napkin while childhood memories of boiled, bitter school dinners come back to haunt them. But cooked properly they can be delicious which is excellent news as they support gut regularity and support the immune system. Just eight sprouts provide over double the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K and 125% of the recommended daily vitamin C intake.

Jennifer’s tip: roast 450g of halved Brussel sprouts with ½ tablespoons of cider vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup until tender and golden. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds or chopped chestnuts. Delicious and certain to convert even the most ardent Brussel hater.

 

5. Colourful carrots

Tasty, and highly nutritious, carrots are a particularly good source of beta carotene, fibre, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. They’re weight-loss-friendly food and have been linked to lower cholesterol levels and improved eye health. What’s more, their carotene antioxidants can help reduce the risk of cancer.

Jennifer’s tip: carrots are found in many colours, including yellow, white, orange, red, and purple. Use a variety to create a pretty, festive plate.

 

6. Sweet, earthy parsnips

Low in calories, high in fibre, roasted parsnips introduce a wonderful sweet taste and texture to your Christmas dinner. They contain antioxidants and folates which can help reduce the risk of cancer and high blood pressure

Jennifer’s tip: try roasting your parsnips with a sprinkling of cinnamon and lemon zest. The natural sweetness of cinnamon enhances the earthy sweetness of the parsnips.

 

7. Versatile chestnuts

Whether you eat them with sprouts or add them to stuffing, chestnuts are a great way to boost your health at Christmas time. Unlike most nuts, chestnuts are surprisingly low in fat and also an excellent source of vitamin C. On top of this, they’re a great source of protein, fibre and nutrients, including iron, B vitamins and folate.

Jennifer’s tip: vegetarian Christmas dinner? No problem. Create a delicious, show-stopping chestnut-based centrepiece. One of my favourites is Leiths Aubergine and Chestnut Pie. Even the carnivores will devour this.

 

8. Christmas is great for your mental health

The most important thing about Christmas time is the joy that it brings. Although the pandemic means we’re not going out and mingling as much, hopefully, we can still see a few family and friends in person or come together virtually. Now is not the time to be worrying about every single thing you eat, and food should be enjoyed mindfully. Take time over your meal and eat to enjoy, not to excess. Load your plate with veggies first, then add your meat so you’re less likely to over-indulge.

Jennifer’s tip: we like to take our four daughters and three dogs for an invigorating walk after lunch. This helps reduce bloating and prevents an energy slump. Then it’s home for dessert.

 

We’d like to wish all our readers and clients a Merry Christmas and hope that next year will bring better things. Enjoy the season with your loved ones and remember, there’s plenty of time to get back on track in the new year with Balance Box. We’re taking orders for January now so why not take a look at our nutritionally balanced meal plans here.

Need a little help planning and cooking Christmas Dinner?

Our friends at Leiths have created the Ultimate Guide to Christmas Cooking that gives you time to open your presents and spend time with loved ones on Christmas Day.  We’ve added a few Balance Box tweaks to help you stay healthy without missing out on festive fun.

How to beat the hangover blues

Lady trying to get over hangover laying in bed, covering head with pillow.

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. Dry mouth, cracking headache, anxiety, racing heart and pink eyes. Hangovers are never pretty. But during the party season, they’re often inevitable. If you need a health S.O.S the morning after the night before, read on for our handy guide to ease you back to normality.

 

What exactly is a hangover?

The misery caused by hangovers is down to multiple factors. Dehydration, lack of sleep, a sensitive stomach and low blood sugar levels. The leader of this gang of woe, however, is a toxin called acetaldehyde. When you drink alcohol, your liver gets to work straight away metabolising the ethanol in alcohol into acetaldehyde. From here, the liver breaks down acetaldehyde into acetate – a less toxic compound that the body can eventually expel through urine, breath and sweat.

However, your body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour. And given that a 175ml glass of white wine contains 2.3 units, it’s no surprise that over the course of an evening, acetaldehyde levels invariably build up. Your body will continue to try and clear this toxic backlog when you’re asleep, but the chemical and physiological stress that heavy boozing puts on your system will culminate in a hangover from hell.

 

Water is your friend

Good hydration is the key to optimal health at the best of times. But when you’re drinking alcohol, it’s even more important. This is because alcohol is a diuretic and curbs the production of a hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin regulates your body’s water levels and enables the kidneys to reabsorb water. When vasopressin levels decrease, you’ll make more urine and if you don’t drink enough water, you’ll end up dehydrated.

TIP ONE: Drink water before, during and after a night on the booze. Sip, don’t gulp and try a light ginger and citrus tea if your stomach feels sensitive.

 

Low blood sugar levels

Cocktails, mixers, cider and beer – many of our favourite alcoholic drinks are laden with sugar. And while moderate amounts of these drinks can cause blood sugar levels to rise, excessive consumption will often lead to dangerously low levels. This is because sugary alcoholic drinks can reduce the effectiveness of insulin (the hormone which regulates our blood sugar levels) which can lead to confusion, drowsiness and even unconsciousness.

It’s a good idea to eat a meal containing protein, carbs and fat before you start drinking but if you’re looking for a hangover-busting breakfast, choose scrambled eggs on toast – eggs contain an amino acid called cysteine which will help your liver metabolise acetaldehyde and wholemeal toast will help balance your blood sugar levels. If you’re vegan, you can buy this amino acid as a dietary supplement called L-cysteine.

TIP TWO: Where possible, opt for low-sugar options like vodka and tonic, or a glass of prosecco. Eat a balanced meal before you start drinking and have your eggs and bread ready for your hangover-easing breakfast the next morning.

 

Anxiety

Alcohol is both a sedative and a depressant that messes with levels of serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone) and other neurotransmitters in your brain. While one or two small drinks can make you feel happy, it’s easy to tip the balance and wake up feeling anxious as the alcohol wears off and your neurochemistry struggles to rebalance. This can sometimes last for hours or days, affecting your ability to function at work or home.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to ease anxiety like the ‘5-4-3-2-1’ exercise, which helps calm a racing mind and anchors you to the present moment. First, focus on your breathing with long, slow and deep breaths. Controlled breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, sending a signal to your brain to relax and helps lower blood pressure and feelings of stress. Once you’ve got your breathing steady, try to answer the following five questions:

5 – what five things can you see? It could be clouds drifting in the sky, a pencil on your desk, or a photo on your wall.

4  – what four things can you touch? It could be the fabric of your clothes, the back of your chair or the floor beneath your feet.

3 – what three things can you hear? Perhaps it’s the sound of birds singing in your garden, the washing machine spinning or distant traffic.

2 – what two things can you smell? If no smells are immediately obvious, take a little wander through the house or outside. Can you smell food cooking, hand soap or damp leaves?

1 –  what one thing can you taste? Do you have a drink you could sip? Is there a taste lingering in your mouth? Toothpaste, or coffee perhaps.

There are some great guided meditation apps that you can download on your smartphone too. Try Headspace or Calm – both of these offer meditations that target moments of anxiety and stress. In addition, consider dietary supplements such as magnesium, L-theanine and vitamin B12 all of which can help calm the nervous system.

TIP THREE: Anxiety and panic attacks can be an unpleasant consequence of excessive drinking. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, focus on your breath or download a guided meditation app.

And so to bed…

Alcohol is a master sleep thief. Its diuretic properties can leave you gasping for a glass of water in the middle of the night, and because it disrupts neurochemicals in the brain, it prevents us from spending time in the restorative phase of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Consistent, good quality sleep is a crucial component of maintaining a healthy mind and body, so to minimise the impact of a night on the razzle, try and alternate every alcoholic drink for a non-alcoholic one – no one need know.

TIP FOUR: If you wake up feeling like you haven’t slept, sip some water, eat some breakfast and try and go back to sleep. If that’s simply not possible, make sure you get to bed early the following evening to compensate and whatever you do, do not reach for a hair of the dog. You’ll only find yourself back at square one.

 

Friends, family, food and merriment are the best ingredients for a wonderful festive season. And although things are definitely going to be a bit different this year, there’s still lots we can do to enjoy ourselves. However, planning for Christmas and New Year can be hard work. So why not ease the load and invest in yourself in the New Year. We can plan, prepare and deliver perfectly balanced, nutritious meals and snacks to your door, so you can begin 2021 as you mean to go on.

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.