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Alex Allan Nutrition
By Alex on 23/05/22 | Nutrition Tips

The link between physical health and what you eat is well understood, but did you know that what you eat has a huge impact on your mood and how you feel?

I wonder how we forgot about this connection, because it was common knowledge in times gone by. Way back when (think medieval times), people would eat quince, dates and elderflowers if they were feeling a little blue, and use lettuce and chicory as nature’s tranquilisers. 

Modern science has extensively studied the impact of food on mood, and we now understand why food has such a positive (or negative) effect, and also which foods we should be eating more (or less) of to support mental health. 

Managing anxiety, stress, depression, and other mood disorders is complex, and there’s no one-size-fits all solution. But we know that the right diet and lifestyle plan combined with motivational coaching to help you every step of the way can be an enormous help. 

Good nutrition makes all the difference 

The very edited highlight of the research into what you should eat to balance your energy and improve your mood is to follow a Mediterranean-style diet featuring plenty of whole, natural foods. That also means learning to balance your blood sugar levels. Loss of blood sugar balance has a clear link to stress, anxiety, and depression. 50% of low mood is down to blood sugar imbalances. 

Learning how to become a master of your blood sugar balance is the secret to having more energy, a better mood and controlling your weight – and losing it if you need to. Feeling more confident about the way you look is in itself an excellent way to boost feelings of self-worth. 

In the same way that eating well can positively influence mood, making poor food choices can have the opposite effect. Research by a team at Binghamton, New York, showed that young adults under 30 who ate fast food more than three times a week scored higher when it came to levels of mental distress. The same researchers found that those who ate meat fewer than three times a week had more mental health problems (potentially as the amino acid tryptophan found in meat is the pre-cursor to the feel-good chemical serotonin). 

Key to your mood and brain function 

Few of us get enough omega-3 fats in our diet, and these are key to our mood and brain function. The dry weight of our brain is literally 60% fat - so not surprising that we depend on a daily intake of essential fats. 

EPA, DPA and DHA – certain long-chain omega-3 fats – build and rebuild your brain and are part of the equation for happiness. The higher your blood levels of omega-3 fats, the higher your levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin are likely to be. 

Omega-3 fats help build receptor sites as well as improving their function. There have been ten good quality double-blind controlled trials to date, giving fish oils rich in omega-3s to people with depression. Five showed significant improvement, greater than that reported for anti-depressant drugs. 

Most studies on anti-depressant drugs report something like a 15% reduction in depression ratings. Three studies on omega-3s reported an average reduction of 50% - and without side-effects. 

Sources of omega-3 fats: oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, cod, tuna, halibut), walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed. If you are vegetarian or vegan, consider taking an omega-3 supplement (e.g. DHA from seaweed). Most plant sources of omega-3 do not contain the long-chain fatty acids mentioned above. Although the body can make those from short-chain omega-3s – like the ones found in nuts and seeds – conversion is poor and it is difficult to get enough omega-3 that way, especially if you are not in good health or pregnant, when you need some extra. 

Low mood affects up to 20% of us at any one time 

Low mood affects up to 20% of us at any one time, so everyone is likely to experience some form of it at one time or another, particularly if you are also tackling a gut or hormone issue. 

Many periods of low mood can be almost eradicated by following the simple steps above and by following my signature Mood & Energy programme. Not only because this addresses many of the physical causes of low mood, but also because you are spending your time focusing on a positive action plan and learning new things rather than ruminating about problems. 

To find out more about how a nutrition & lifestyle programme can help, click here to book a free call with me.

By Alex on 04/04/22 | Nutrition Tips

Plan for the life you want to create

How often have you started following a healthy eating plan only to be forced to make unhealthy choices because you didn’t have the right foods in the fridge, you didn’t have time to eat a ‘proper’ breakfast or make the lunch you wanted to take to work? I’m guessing quite a few because that’s just what happens when life gets in the way. 

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. Or maybe ‘goals without a plan are just wishes’? They are things that we want but we have not yet committed to doing them… 

Without a weekly food plan, it will be pure luck if you end up with the right foods in the fridge or cupboards. And, without planning your time, you won’t always make the time to enjoy breakfast or make that lunch. 

Here’s the thing about planning: 

It’s easy to get derailed by events, situations, relationships, and tasks that insert themselves into our already-busy lives. So, if you’re committed to changing the way you eat, losing weight and, in fact, making any change in your life, this post is perfect for you. 

The very first thing you need to do is to find time to sit down and plan your meals. When can you do that? Get that in the diary now. 

If you’re one of those super-busy people who always finds themselves complaining that they don’t have time, I have an exercise for that, too. You see, ‘not having time’ is a story we tell ourselves or other people in order not to have to take responsibility for – or actually have to do – a particular thing. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you make time for what you prioritise in life. Anything else is just an excuse. 

If you’re reading this thinking, ‘yes but…’ let’s take a look at how you are spending your time. 

Ask yourself how you feel about how you are spending your time. Are you in control of your time? If you looked back over your life, would you be happy with the way you had spent your time? 

Every day over the next week use a daily planner to jot down everything you are doing in the time slots provided. This can help you discover the REAL reason behind what you say you want and what you actually do. It’s common, for example, to realise you are spending 15##plus## hours a week randomly online (on Facebook, following links or doing ‘research’). 

Where you are losing time or being inefficient with it? What is the cost to you of spending your time like this? 

Does it make it impossible to follow a healthy eating plan? Are the Starbucks breakfast bills piling up because you haven’t made time to get breakfast at home? How is this working for you? It’s often incredible how much time you gain so reorganise your life in a new way to fit in your new healthy habits. 

Organise your week

Once you at the set-aside time in your diary when you are going to plan your meals, work out when you are going to fit in the shopping. Can you allocate time to go to the supermarket? Or can you book in an online grocery delivery. Get that in the diary now too and book the slot.

Next, work out what’s happening over the course of the week. Are you going out to eat any days? Do your kids have after-school clubs or packed lunches that need making? Are you working late one evening, so might need a quick fix supper? With these in mind, mark in your journal which meals will fit with which occasion. 

Then check your cupboards and fridge for ingredients you may already have for these meals, so that you don’t double up. Write up a shopping list for the ingredients you need for you to take to the supermarket, or put these items into your online shopping basket.

Job done!

You now have a week’s worth of meals planned, ingredients organised, and shopping on its way. You can rest assured that you are eating well and won’t be tempted to order a takeaway as you don’t have the rights foods in! Plus, you know that there isn’t going to be a whole heap of food waste going on, so it’s better for the environment too. It’s a win-win!

And if you’d like some help coming up with a weekly menu, drop me a line! I’m here to help people plan what works for them and their families.

By Alex on 14/03/22 | Nutrition Tips

How do you reward yourself? How do you comfort yourself when you are stressed? Think about that for a moment. 

Rewarding yourself for your successes, both large and small, is a key part of staying motivated. 

We are so time poor that rewarding ourselves with treat foods like cake and biscuits is the easiest way to show ourselves some self-love. And it’s the same for soothing ourselves if we’ve had a bad day. 

My experience of running a nutrition clinic is that so little of what or why people eat has to do with nourishing their body. The far greater part is to do with how you feel about yourself and about life in general. Eating half a packet of chocolate biscuits is much easier than figuring out – not to mention getting – what you really need, which might be a way to de-stress, feel loved, get attention, kick back your heels and even sleep. Many people are almost completely out of touch with their own bodies.

When I’m working with clients, one of the big things we are trying to achieve is to develop a different relationship with food and, also, a different relationship with rewards. 

Building in ways of making yourself feel good are essential for a number of reasons.  Perhaps the biggest among them is that you need to positively reinforce the fantastic healthy changes you are making to encourage you to maintain them long term. 

You need to build in more appropriate ways of making yourself feel better: far better to automatically choose to spend five minutes relaxing in the sunshine in the garden to recharge your batteries than to grab a handful of biscuits.  

Most of our rewards are habit. They are conditioning. Chances are, you have been conditioned to reward yourself with food, often from early childhood.

Normal ‘rewards’ are short lived and usually followed by recriminations. If you truly want lasting change, you need to find ways of regularly getting that feel-good feeling from other things. You’ll want to build in more appropriate ways of making yourself feel better and look forward to non-food related treats. 

I encourage my clients to build up a list of non-food treats to avoid any feelings of deprivation.  After a while, you will prefer these rewards and benefit from them far more than food treats that simply create other problems for you later. 

Regular ‘me time’ is important here as our lives are very busy and many of us have got into the habit of relying on food to give us a quick pleasure fix.  But, as we know, this ‘reward’ is short lived and usually followed by disappointment plus a large serving of guilt! If you truly want lasting change, you need to find ways of regularly getting that feel good feeling from other things.  We all deserve and need time to do positive things for ourselves - without feelings of guilt.  

Improving our relationship with food is all about changing behaviours.  We know that the carrot is more effective than the stick for long-term, self-motivated change.  So, as well as deciding on your big rewards for achieving long term goals, think of a few quick and easy things you can do at least 3 times every week.

So, as an example, you might be better to CHOOSE to spend 5 minutes relaxing in the sunshine in the garden to recharge your batteries than to grab a handful of biscuits.  

It can be a really empowering exercise to take a look at what you might normally do to reward yourself and think, are these appropriate now or do I need to replace them. 

Most of the time it’s a simple as putting in a new habit to replace the old one.  And, even better when the new habit is one that you really enjoy!  All this is good for your physical and mental health.  

Spend some time to identify some activities that you can build into your daily life that you enjoy and can use as your reward / de­stressor / way of taking a break / or just to have 5 minutes of indulgence or peace!

What would you like to spend more time doing?  What would make you feel good?

What would help you relax or de-stress?

A few examples:

  • A soak in the bath
  • Listening to calming music
  • Yoga
  • A gentle walk in peaceful surroundings
  • Reading a favourite magazine
  • Sitting quietly in the garden
  • Phoning a good friend
  • 10 minutes quiet relaxation

Add your own: think of at least 5 things that relax you...

Bored vs reward?

Most people can identify with eating when they were really bored. This often leads to mindless eating just to experience that sugar rush to give you a temporary high.  Or it may simply be that you need something to occupy your mind and hands as a distraction technique.  If you recognise yourself doing these things, then this is a great opportunity for you.  It actually means that you are looking for something fun / exciting / interesting to add into your life.  Use this as an opportunity to improve the quality of your life and build in new ways of enjoying yourself and enriching your experience of life.  

Simple steps to better rewards

  1. Identify when you are using food as a reward or to make yourself feel better.
  2. Choose a few alternative things you can do instead to make yourself feel good (that don’t involve food).
  3. Test it: try out the new choices to start breaking the pattern - see what works well.
  4. Change it: if something doesn’t work, change it or add to it until you find the right solution.
  5. Practice!  Keep practising it until it becomes automatic: a new habit.

What are your personal interests?  What activities do you enjoy?

  • Creative: eg. music, cooking, cinema, theatre, photography Physical: e.g. gardening, sport, dancing
  • Social: eg. family, friends, games, volunteering
  • Intellectual: eg. reading, learning a language, writing poetry / stories

What do you enjoy?  What would you like to try?  If you know this is something you want to improve on, it's worth spending a little time writing a list (in a notepad or on a phone rather than keeping it conceptually in your head). Choose one and have it as one of your goals for this week.

And if you’d like some help, why not book in a call with me here?

By Alex on 07/01/22 | Nutrition Tips

My top tips for a health Veganuary

January is a great time for changing up habits and trying new things. The excesses of Christmas are over, and the New Year brings new beginnings. It’s the perfect opportunity to try out something different. And over the last few years, one of the most popular January dietary changes has been Veganuary, where people try out an exclusively plant-based diet for the month.
 
But, if this is a new step for you, how can you ensure that you are doing this healthily? Here are my top tips for having a fun and healthy month trying out a new way of eating:

1. Don’t forget to eat a variety of foods

Do you find yourself always buying the same sort of veg each week? Well, then this is an opportunity to get out of that rut! Try adding in new vegetables and vegan ingredients to your shopping trolley. Or think about possibly signing up for a veg delivery this month. This will push you out of your comfort zone and make you mix up what you cook.

If you’re trying veganism as a new way of eating, it’s important that you don’t just continue eating your normal meals without the meat or fish. This is the perfect opportunity to try a whole new batch of recipes – with vegetables as the stars of the show. By having a wide variety of foods will help to ensure that you’re getting a good nutritional balance.

2. Cook from scratch

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s vegan and packaged up with healthy styling that processed vegan foods are any healthier. While it’s tempting to reach for the pre-packaged vegan foods as a quick fix, take care, as they may not be any better for you than non-vegan pre-packaged foods.  

For example, vegan biscuits may have just as many processed ingredients and sugar as non-vegan biscuits. By cooking from scratch, you can ensure that you are able to stay away from the not-so-healthy processed ingredients and that you can keep your nutrition levels high. Snacks such as carrot sticks and hummus or celery with guacamole are good quick and easy alternatives.

3. Discover new sources of plant-based protein

Getting enough protein is often an area that people worry about when embarking on a vegan diet. There are plenty of ways to include protein in your vegan diet, but it’s a good idea to vary the sources and try and include one or two different sources at each meal to ensure you are getting a full complement of protein.

Tofu, tempeh, and edamame, as well as certain grains like quinoa and amaranth, are vegan sources of complete protein. Another good idea is to combine grains and pulses together which then can also provide a good source of complete protein. For example, eating wholegrain rice and beans together, or having a pitta bread with some hummus.

4. Don’t forget about iron

Leafy greens, lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes are good sources of plant-based iron. However, plant-based (or non-haem iron) is not so readily absorbed by us as iron from animal sources. To ensure that you get as much as you can from your vegan source, try to make sure that you eat vitamin C-rich foods, such as broccoli, peppers, kiwis, and citrus fruits, alongside your plant-based foods to aid absorption.

5. Be sure to watch out for vitamins D and B12

Vitamin B12 is not produced by plants and, according to research, fortified foods or supplements are the only proven reliable sources of it for vegans. For example, vitamin B12 is often added to yeast extract, alternative milk products and nutritional yeast flakes and, therefore, it might be a good idea to include these sources in your diet on a daily basis. Or you may want to talk to your healthcare provider regarding supplementation.

Our main source of vitamin D is from the sun but, in the UK from October-May, the government guidelines recommend supplementation. But, it is always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before embarking on supplementation. Dietary vitamin D largely comes from oily fish or dairy products. However, it can also be found in some vegan fortified foods, such as alternative milk products and orange juice.

6. Include fish-free sources of Omega 3s

Oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, are the best sources of two omega 3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA – which are important for eye and brain health. However, they can be made in the body from precursor ingredients found in plant foods like flaxseed, walnuts, and soy. So, be sure to include these foods in your new plan on a daily basis. 
 
If this is something that you’d like to try, then do check out some new and interesting recipes. Check out the recipes section of the blog. Or feel free to book in a call with me to discuss – I’d be happy to help!

By Alex on 30/11/21 | Nutrition Tips

My six steps for not over-indulging – but still having fun! – in the festive season

It's December. The shops are full of celebratory food. We're stocking up on festive treats and special foods, especially this year when there have been so many other challenges to deal with - it would be churlish not to take part.

But how do we make sure that we enjoy the food we are eating, and not just mindlessly polishing off a tin of Quality Street that the kids opened? And in the run-up to Christmas, how often have you finished your lunch in front of your laptop, or grabbed a bit of toast whilst on the phone to someone? How easy was it to finish off the biscuits that were already open? This is where mindful eating comes in.

Research shows that being mindful of what we put in our mouths not only stops us from accidentally over-consuming, with the problems that that entails but also allows us to really enjoy the process and take full advantage of the flavours and experiences of the food we choose to eat.

Mindful eating allows us to be in tune with our hunger, to sense our levels of fullness, and to feel satisfied with what we are consuming.

Six tips for mindful eating

But how do you start with mindful eating? Well, here are my six top tips for incorporating mindful eating into your daily life:

1. Have a list

By preparing in advance what we need, this will help stop any impulse purchases at the shop. We know what we need and what we are looking for, so armed with our shopping list we can stick to this.

Being aware of the food choices we are making and what we are bringing home is an excellent start to the process. This also ensures that what we reach for at home is what we want to eat.

2. Avoid extreme hunger 

It's good to be hungry when sitting down to eat a meal, but not so much so that we're compelled to make the wrong choices as we're in a massive hurry and feeling famished. Being ravenously hungry and going past the point of when we should have eaten may make us panic and reach for foods that we wouldn't normally go for purely out of convenience.

3. Make a conscious decision to eat 

By planning our meals in advance this allows us to know when we are eating and what we will be eating. This helps us avoid the pitfall of ravenous hunger, but also helps us avoid absent-mindedly picking as we don't know what to eat.

Particularly at this time of year, you might like to indulge in festive treats, by making a conscious decision to do so, this will allow you to determine how much and what you have.

4. Take time to appreciate your food

Start with a small pause to smell and admire the food are eating. Hey, you or someone else has gone to some effort to provide this for you! The digestive process starts in the brain, so taking some time to smell, see and acknowledge your meal can also help improve digestion, as well as allowing you to enjoy the process.

5. Take your time over eating your food 

I grew up in a house where it was always a race to see who could finish dinner first and get down from the table. This is not what we should be doing! By eating more slowly and chewing thoroughly we help get the digestive processes working effectively, but we also allow the brain to sense when our bodies are full. And you get a chance to savour the foods as you eat them.

6. Eat without distractions

Turn off the telly, shut the laptop, sit down at the table. By eating with no external distractions, we can turn our full attention to what we are eating - which, in turn, allows us to be more in tune with our bodies, appetites and sense of fullness. 

As well as providing nutrients and energy, food should be a source of fun and enjoyment. And this is particularly true as we approach the festive season. Sharing food with our families is such an integral part of this time of year and we should take the time to enjoy it guilt-free.

By following these six simple steps hopefully, we can take some of the absent-minded eating away, leaving us with the foods we have consciously chosen, eaten in a way that enables us to enjoy them, and thereby we can thoroughly appreciate our celebrations.

And if you're interested in talking more about your health or nutrition, why not book in a FREE 30 minute health review with me today - just click here.

By Alex on 11/10/21 | Nutrition Tips

WHY YOU REALLY, REALLY NEED THE D

Did you know that the sun is our main source of vitamin D? However, here in the UK, due to our latitude, we can’t get it from the sun between October and March. So, it’s important to make sure we can get it in other ways.

Why? Well, vitamin D is a superstar vitamin. More correctly, it’s actually a hormone. If levels are too low, this is bad news for health. I’m talking cancer, osteoporosis, rickets in children, asthma, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis (and other autoimmune diseases), heart disease, diabetes, and dental problems.

WHY SO LOW?

  • Sun cream. Your body makes vitamin D after contact with the sun’s UV rays but, as we’re a nation of sun cream fanatics (and this covers the skin, blocking the rays of sunlight from getting through), you might not be getting enough straight-up sun.
  • Age. Among other things that go a bit wrong as you get older, your body is less good at turning the rays from the sun into vitamin D. Specifically, the kidneys are less good with age at turning it to the active form of calcitriol. 
  • Kidney or liver disease of any kind also means vitamin D is not converted to the active form. 
  • Tummy troubles. Problems with the digestive system (and I’m not talking about disease here – just an imbalance that may cause anything from a few manageable symptoms to more serious trouble ‘downstairs’) mean the digestive tract does not absorb the vitamin D as well. 
  • Obesity (technically that’s a BMI or body mass index of 30 ) has the fat cells in your body hoover up the vitamin D. So then it’s stored – unusable – in your fat cells and is not whizzing around your body in your blood. 
  • Lack of sleep.  Just as you need sunlight to make vitamin D, you need sleep to actually use it.
  • Stress. The presence of the stress hormone cortisol reduces the uptake of vitamin D by special vitamin D receptors. It literally sits there, in the body, without being able to be used. What a waste!
  • Your skin colour. The darker your skin, the less vitamin D you will make. This is due to the higher levels of melanin in your skin that protect against UV light. By blocking the sun’s rays, it also curbs the body’s ability to make the pre-cursor to the active vitamin D. 
  • Nightshift workers and anyone else who doesn’t spend much time in the sunlight, including children wearing sun cream all the time and babies. Quite simply, you need the sun on your skin. 

10 SIGNS YOU MIGHT HAVE A VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY

  1. Depression or anxiety (including mood changes or irritability)
  2. Bone softening (low bone density), fractures
  3. Feeling tired all the time/ decreased performance
  4. Muscle cramps and weakness
  5. Joint pain (especially back and knees)
  6. Difficulty regulating your blood sugar levels/ post lunch energy crash
  7. Low immunity
  8. Slow wound healing
  9. Low calcium levels in the blood
  10. Unexplained weight gain

Symptoms like these are commonly overlooked because they don’t feel life threatening, and they’re often dismissed as normal, everyday aches and pains you have to deal with. But you don’t have to put up with these symptoms of ill health!

WHO SHOULD GET TESTED?

If any of the above resonates with you, then you should definitely get tested. You might find your GP will do this for you. My experience is that they are usually amenable to this particular test. 

If your doctor won’t test, consider getting it checked out privately. In the big scheme of things (like life and, you know, your health), the test is not expensive but it could change your enjoyment of your life. 

The test is the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test (also known as the 25-OH vitamin D test or Calcidiol 25-hydroxycholecalciferol test). It’s the most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body.

Your doctor will want to know that there is a valid reason for having you tested. Go back through the list of symptoms and go in strong with this being the reason why you want to be tested. 

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to ask, feels uncomfortable asking or is just curious to know their levels, you can get the test done privately for £44. It’s a finger prick test, so you can do it easily at home, then get guidance on how much to supplement safely. If this is you, and you want to know more, just hit reply to this email and we’ll talk. 

If you do take a test and you’re very low, you’ll need an intense 4-6 weeks supplementation at a higher dose and then re-testing to see the impact it’s had.  There is such a thing as too much vitamin D (known as vitamin D toxicity). You’d have to be going some way to get there, but it is possible, which is why it is essential you know your levels before you start guzzling any supplements. 

I know what you’re thinking. Here’s a few of those ‘yes, buts’ you have going on…

  • I already take a vitamin D supplement.  
  • I go out in the sun quite a bit
  • Wouldn’t my doctor ask to test me if they thought it were a problem?
  • I’m too busy to take time off to take a test. 

I hear you. If you seriously have nothing wrong with you, if you didn’t identify with any of the symptoms in the list, then don’t bother. But if you did…

HOW TO UP YOUR VITAMIN D

  • Get yourself some sun. Recommended sunlight exposure is between 10 and 30 minutes a day with no sun cream. 
  • If getting out in the sun is not an option, sit in front of a light box that supplies 10,000 lux of full-spectrum light for 30 minutes every morning. This is an especially good option for winter months, for night shift. Bit of a faff, but it’s an option. 
  • Take a supplement. You can take a generic 1,000 IU dose as an adult (but not children without consulting your GP) BUT, if you’ve no idea what your blood levels are, how to you know how much you should be taking?
  • Eat naturally vitamin D-rich foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, fresh tuna, trout, halibut, mackerel, et.), high quality cod liver oil, egg yolks and liver. Do not be fooled into thinking the fortified foods are the same or have similar benefits. Fortified foods (like cereals, margarine and some yoghurts) contain a synthetic version of the vitamin known as D2 (the natural form is D3). Research shows this is less effective at raising levels of vitamin D in the blood.  

Or if you'd like to find out more about your nutrient levels, or are concerned about any symptoms, please book in a free 30 minute health check with me today - just click here.

 

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