New Year’s Resolutions for A New You.
Here are my Top New Year’s Resolutions for optimum health.
Grab Vitamin D – Our concern of skin cancer through sun exposure has led us to cover up resulting in us not getting adequate vitamin D from sun exposure. Sun is essential for Vitamin D. The UVB rays react with 7-hydroxycholesterol in the skin to produce cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3). Because we are all worried about sun exposure and our risk of skin cancer, we have been doing all we can to block UVB and UVA exposure. Glass also blocks UVB, as does cloud, smog and of course, our clothing. The consensus guidelines produced by the prominent charities suggest that, although there are many factors involved that need to be taken into account, we need to be exposing one-third of our body to the sun, without sunscreen, for just under 15 minutes every day, without, of course, getting burnt. What’s more, to ensure we are getting sufficient UVB rays, we may need to be making use of the midday sun for our daily vitamin D top-up, with the highest level of UVB available between 10am-2pm. Perhaps the more surprising news, however, is in the UK (and Northern Europe), are naturally deprived of the crucial UVB rays from October until April. So, whilst walking and sitting outdoors in the winter sun may still bring benefits in terms of sunlight exposure, vitamin D production is not one of them. The lack of vitamin D is impacting our health in many ways. Vitamin D deficiency can affect our immune system, respiratory system (especially incidences of asthma) depression, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, our mental health and even cancer. Vitamin D helps lower our blood pressure and helps to keep us calm and less anxious. It has even been shown to help the body break down the stubborn fat cells.
Resolution: Get outside more, for at least 15 minutes per day. For winter months and those who don’t get adequate sun exposure, have poor health or impaired immune system, take a vitamin D supplement. I recommend a good quality vitamin D3, ideally, with added vitamin K. I opt for strengths of at least 2500iu upwards. You can also get vegan D3, which is a great supplement for those who prefer to get their D3 from a vegan source.
Cut Down Sugar – I am a passionate advocate of leading a low or sugar-free way of eating. It sounds very scary, especially when up to 80% of our food contains sugar, but it is not as tricky as you may think. Sugar is not essential to our health. It contains calories but has no essential nutrients – just empty calories. A sugar and high carb diet contribute to obesity and weight gain. High fructose diets have been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, something we are now seeing in children. Fructose has also been implicated in heart disease, raising damaging triglycerides. Before you make a grab for the sugar-free date-based bars or free from refined sugar products, be aware of natural sugars. Just because they are natural does not make them less ‘sugary’ – your body does not care if the sugar comes from white or brown sugar, dates, maple syrup or honey. It is all the same and gets broken down into glucose and fructose.
Resolution: Get Sugar Aware! There are lots of tools to help, including phone apps, including Change4life tips. The first step is to reduce your sugar intake; awareness is key. Food labelling can be tricky to decipher, with food manufacturers constantly trying to trick us into thinking their product is healthier than it really is. The general rule of thumb is to look at the sugar content on the nutritional information and compare this to the serving size the values refer to. 4g of sugar is the equivalent of a tsp. The World Health Organisation recommends no more than approx. 6 tsp per day for an adult (25g) and far less for a child and zero for under 2 years old. When some low-fat yoghurts can contain up to 7 tsp of sugar, pasta sauce up to 11 tsp of sugar, bread up to 2 tsp per slice, it can be a real eye-opener to calculate our daily exposure. If you would like to reduce sugar for the whole family, I can offer lots of delicious recipes, including cakes, biscuits and even confectionary in my books The Sugar-Free Family Cookbook, Eating to Beat Type 2 Diabetes and Low Carb Slow Cooker. You can also visit my recipe website www.everydaysugarfree.co.uk for free recipes.
Get More Sleep - Sleep is not just a time to allow us to rest and recuperate, it is a time when our body can heal and restore. Lack of sleep can affect our relationships, our work and our energy levels, making us moody, irritable, unable to concentrate, hungry and tired but it can also affect our health and even our weight. When we sleep, we move from a Catabolic state (where energy is used by the body for multiple functions) to an anabolic state (when we conserve energy in order to repair and rejuvenate). Research has also shown that those who are sleep deprived have higher levels of inflammatory proteins in the blood, making them more susceptible to whole-body inflammation, putting them more at risk of diseases such as heart disease. Lack of sleep also lowers the immune system, in fact, it has been shown that those who have long-term sleep problems have a shorter lifespan. When you are sleep deprived, you upset your natural hormone levels, including Ghrelin, which is a hormone that sits in your stomach telling you to eat more, stimulating our appetite, especially for carb-rich and sugary food. At the same time our leptin response falls, this is the signal that tells the brain when we are full, so we are constantly hungry – a reason why shift workers find it so hard to maintain a healthy weight. A study by the University of Chicago, found dieters lost over 56% more fat than those who were sleep-deprived. Those who were sleep deprived lost the same amount of weight, but this was found to be more from muscle mass.
Resolution: Create the right environment to get the best sleep. To get a good night’s sleep, our body converts serotonin into melatonin. Melatonin synthesis in the pineal gland is triggered by darkness which helps induce and maintain sleep. The production of Melatonin is affected by lack of nutrients as well as computer and TV screen glare, which is why we should not have TV and electrical screens in our bedroom. Research has shown that exposure to noise and light during sleep can suppress the immune system as well as disrupt natural sleep patterns. Get the temperature right – a cooler room aids sleep as well as produces a better quality of sleep. Fill up on foods to help the melatonin cycle and can aid sleep, such as foods rich in Tryptophan, found in turkey, fish, nuts, seeds and bananas. Magnesium is a great mineral to aid a good night’s sleep. It helps relax muscles (so great for those suffering from restless leg syndrome) as well as regulating blood sugar and balancing electrolyte potential across cell membranes. Increase your magnesium-rich foods, filling up on green leafy vegetables, yoghurt, nuts, and dark chocolate. You could also opt for a magnesium-rich Epson salt bath, a great way to relax your muscles. B vitamins are essential for the production of serotonin and melatonin, especially B1, B3 and B6.
Eat Real Food – I am often asked what makes the healthiest diet, but a healthy diet is not so easy to pin down. Much depends on the individual. We are told to count calories as if that alone is enough to ensure good health, but it is not quite that straightforward and often very far from the truth. Carbohydrates are half the calories of fat and it is our demonization of fat which has led to our current obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemic. In our quest for calorie counting, we have seen a rise in Frankenstein foods all claiming to be low calorie and low fat, therefore healthy. 99calorie bars ensuring you can have your cake and eat it, but you do need a chemistry degree to decipher the ingredients.
Resolution: Stop chasing calories and start looking at the quality of the food you eat. A diet of real food is the first and foremost change everyone should make in their quest for good health. By avoiding processed, man-made foods, we automatically cut out unnecessary sugars and unhealthy fats. Opt instead for a variety of real food, colourful and packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants. Embrace natural, healthy fats such as avocado, coconut oils, oily fish and fill your plate with a range of colourful vegetables. Put basically, it is not the food that is at fault but what we have done to it.
Healthy Food Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive – We have all been there, busy day at work, kids hungry and you grab the frozen chicken nuggets and chips from the freezer, throwing in some token frozen peas for colour. We are all fighting time, juggling too many balls and often it is our mealtime where we grab for convenience. I often hear people say eating healthily is only for those who have money, and this can be far removed from the truth. Following on from the Eat Real Food resolution, there are a number of tips you can adopt to help not only keep costs down but also save time in the kitchen.
Resolution: Adopt new habits. Supermarkets may seem to have all the junk and processed food on offer, but actually you can make a meal from scratch for much less than a processed alternative. Plan ahead, sounds so boring but we all tend to eat the same food week in week out, so once you have a couple of weeks meal plans under your belt, you are good to go. This not only makes it easier to prepare but also avoids waste and saves money. Next, adopt a principle of bulk batch cooking and use your freezer. If you are making a meal, double it and freeze for another day either for the whole family or in individual portions, effectively making your own ready meals. This does not take any more time but can save money as you step up to the larger packs of meat and ingredients. A bolognese can become a lasagne, a shepherd’s pie or a chilli. Curries are great for using up leftover vegetables to bulk out a meal and they freeze brilliantly. Slow cookers are also fantastic for saving money and time.
De-Stress - Stress, anxiety and depression happens to all of us at some time in our adult life and is the most common mental disorder in the UK (according to the Office of National Statistics). When we are stressed or anxious, we often find it hard to concentrate and work as efficiently as we should be. Our brain can become foggy and we feel tired and drained. To make matters worse, no matter how tired we are, we may also experience insomnia and an inability to relax. Anxiety can leave us with a feeling of ‘What if?’ accompanied by panic, fear, poor concentration, loss of appetite, sweats, aches and pains and can even be the root cause of migraines and IBS. To counteract the feeling of low energy, lack of concentration and foggy head, we may reach for caffeine and sugary foods, but this can simply perpetuate the problem. Cortisol (produced by the adrenal glands) is often raised when we are stressed or anxious and this increases when we consume too much caffeine and sugary foods. Long-term stress and anxiety can cause our adrenal glands to become exhausted, leading to adrenal fatigue, which increases symptoms of fatigue, lack of concentration, mood swings, weight issues, fear, depression, muscle aches, cravings, memory loss, anxiety and insomnia.
Resolution: Finding ‘me’ time can seem like a mammoth task, but it is vital to our overall health and wellbeing. As you get older you realise time is quite precious. I lost my dad 4 years ago and that has left quite a hole as well as being an emotional rollercoaster. I am a workaholic and probably use this to escape my emotions, as do many of us. We all lead hectic lives, jumping from one task to another without pausing for breath. We may find time to sit in front of the TV, but with electricals taking over our lives, it is normally coupled with answering emails or social media! Incorporating all the resolutions on this page will dramatically help with our stress levels. Finding ‘me’ time, adopting a good sleep routine, eating a good diet, increasing vitamin D, getting outside and exercising are all vital.