Self care. I'm sure you've seen this term plastered across the headlines and hashtagged on social media - but what's it all about?
The term began in the civil rights era where people were fighting against prejudice and discrimination and self-care was not just about having a spa day but more about fighting for basic human rights. It was a declaration of intent that said, I deserve to not only live, but to live well.
Audre Lorde’s famous quote; “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation" still rings true to this day and modern day self-care, albeit still withholding of those values, is a slightly different take on this.
Our lives are more stressful than they ever have been and it's affecting our health and wellness like never before.
We might be living longer than ever, but we're living in poorer health. We're working harder and getting sucked into the daily grind and the idea of 'me time' at the end of a long day seems futile. But what if I told you it was essential? Essential for your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Modern day self-care is a movement that demands individuals put their health and wellness first, and let go of all guilt for doing so.
Think of the oxygen masks on an airplane. The flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why? Because you can't help others if you can't breathe yourself. You can't pour from an empty cup
Rather than thinking self-care has to be elaborate or time-consuming, I want to show you that it’s more about the things you do on a daily basis that add up.
Eating is of itself one of the core components to self-care because it literally is nurturing our bodies to exist. A simple way to start incorporating daily self-care is to start with your plate.
We usually eat at least three times a day.
So that's 21 meals a week. Approximately 84 meals a month. At least 1095 meals a year. Without counting snacking. 1095 times a year we are given the opportunity to take care of ourselves just by choosing what we eat.
I'm not saying you must always choose the spinach and kale smoothie over the doughnut. Sometimes, the doughnut will serve us in another way.
But with our busy lifestyles, we tend to eat foods that are easy to grab on the go, we eat fast at our work desks, wolfing our food down not chewing well and perhaps not really tasting much easier. We often eat too much or not enough. Neither of which looks after our body in the way it deserves and can reduce the amount of nutrients we are absorbing from our food.
Sometimes it's not even about the foods we are eating but how we are eating them.
People often like to say we are we eat, but the truth is that we are what we absorb.
Digestion starts from the moment we think, see and smell our food. The brain sends signals to the mouth and stomach to increase saliva production. When we eat on the go, we bypass this first phase of digestion and we often forget to even chew our food properly, distracted by work, television or our phones and this can impact our nutrient absorption.
Chewing is an important part of our digestive process. Our saliva has enzymes that both lubricate and start digesting what you eat. Also when you eat too quickly, the body doesn't get a chance to signal to the brain that you are getting full. Receptors in the stomach that respond to being stretched by food can take 15 to 20 minutes to kick in. So take your time to see, smell, savour and swallow every bite of your food.
Of course, it's not always possible to make the right match for what your body is calling for every time. Some days we are more mindful than others. This is where self-compassion is so powerful.
When the negative voice pops up, we need to be kind and caring towards ourselves, rather than letting this inner mean voice take over. Instead we can with kindness recognise that perhaps this particular choice at this particular moment wasn't the wisest move. Then move on.
So how can we make healthier daily choices when it comes to our food? What are some simple steps to take?
Eat the rainbow
Load your plates with fruits and vegetables. Think about eating the rainbow! Not tasting the rainbow as in Skittles (nice try!) but eating colourful fruit and vegetables. Studies have shown there's a correlation between eating fruits and vegetables and feeling more positive. To reap more nutritional benefits, make your plate as colourful as possible. The colours in fruits and vegetables come from specific phytonutrients, natural chemicals which have shown to be beneficial for our health.
For example, red foods like tomatoes contain lycopene, a phytonutrient that helps fight heart ailments. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin C and carotenoids, most notably beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A within the body, which helps promote healthy vision and cell growth.
Omega 3 is a key mood-boosting nutrient and one our bodies don't produce. Omega 3's alter brain chemicals linked with mood and is found in flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds. Bananas, nuts, seeds, whole-grains and oats are rich in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, a chemical messenger that’s believed to act as a mood stabilizer. Green tea can help calm nerves due to a number of mood-boosting nutrients including L-theanine, an amino acid that helps reduce anxiety. Protein is important too as it can slow the absorption of carbohydrates into your blood and increase the release of feel good neurotransmitters. You might also be surprised to hear that I'm going to encourage eating chocolate! A square or two of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate boosts the production of “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins. In addition to improving your mood, dark chocolate is also packed with antioxidants and beneficial to your brain health.
Adequate sleep is an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle. It elevates mood and helps improve your cognitive skills and cardiovascular health. Eating foods that induce sleep is a natural and effective way to fight insomnia. Nuts, seeds, oats, bananas, green leafy veg and Montmorency cherry are good additions to your diet that may help you catch those zzzs!
Eating small meals regularly throughout the day keeps your metabolism on an even keel, prevents overeating and regulates your blood sugar levels and eating irregularly can disrupt our circadian rhythm which is our bodies' time clock and can lead to cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.
Eat for your gut
Your gut is home to 90% of your serotonin, our chemical neurotransmitter that we mentioned earlier, that affects your mood, appetite, sleep and memory. It also acts a barrier to keep virus and harmful bacteria at bay. When you're stressed out, your digestive system can become inflamed and not function properly.
This, in turn, can impact your mood. As Hippocrates famously said, all disease begins in the gut. So look at incorporating gut-friendly foods in your diet. Prebiotic and probiotic foods. Probiotic foods contain live cultures of friendly gut bugs such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi. Prebiotic foods contain the stuff that we can't digest but is food for the friendly gut bugs such as leeks onions, dandelion greens, garlic and Jerusalem artichoke.
It’s over, sugar
Limit those added sugars. When we eat sugar, dopamine is released. Dopamine is part of the reward circuit of our brain associated with addictive behaviour.
When there's an excess of dopamine you feel a high that you want to repeat. Every time we eat sugar, we are reinforcing those neuropathways, causing the brain to becoming increasingly hardwired to crave sugar. Your blood sugar levels also spike and cause high insulin levels. The liver turns sugar to fat. As liver releases sugar into the bloodstream, blood pressure rises. High insulin causes glucose levels to plummet, so your body gets tired and feels like it needs more sugar to offset this imbalance.
Now life isn’t meant to be rigid. The same goes for eating. Allow for flexibility, enjoyment and pleasure. I challenge each of you to take a look at what self-care means to you. Find out what helps you be at your best physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Then, after finding out what helps you, try putting it into practice.
You are important. You matter. Stop putting yourself on the back burner. Your needs are important, too.
Another week, another new superfood!
Acai, chlorella, wheatgrass, baobab, maca... The list goes on and on.
Healthy eating is all the rage – Madonna and her coconut water, Michelle Obama raves about sweet potatoes and Gwyneth Paltrow loves her daily bowl of quinoa. It’s becoming extremely fashionable to eat well. This surely can only be a good thing, as it gets everyone talking about healthy eating.
Now, anyone who has dipped their hand in the healthy eating world has heard of these little gems - Chia seeds.
But, are they all they’re cracked up to be? Let’s take a look.
So Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia Hispanica (a tricky one to pronounce!) which grew in Mexico dating all the way back to Mayan and Aztecs cultures. So even way back then, chia seeds were on the menu. You can argue that there wasn’t much else around for them to eat but you cannot deny the nutritional value of them. The word “Chia” means strength. Very fitting for these tiny little seeds that pack a powerful nutritional punch.
Chia seeds are absolutely bursting with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fibre, iron (three times the amount of iron in spinach), antioxidants (three times the amount in blueberries) and calcium (five times the amount in milk). That’s a whole lot of goodness for something so small.
Although they taste rather bland, they can be added to pretty much anything. The versatility of these little seeds makes them an easy addition to your day-to-day from adding them to a smoothie to using them as an egg replacement in baking or to thicken sauces. An easy recipe for when you’re on the go is to soak them in coconut or almond milk in the evening and have them with flakes of coconut, nuts and berries the next morning. You’ll be amazed at how much liquid they can absorb – between 8-27 times their weight.
So there you have it – chia seeds are now ‘trending’ and for good reason.
Children's brains grow at an astonishing rate and a growing brain needs the highest quality building blocks out there.
1. Brain food
Our brain is in charge of everything we do including autonomic functions like breathing and digesting food, movement, emotion and sensory information. It's the boss. So it makes sense to give it top-quality nutrients to help keep it fuelled.
Opt for foods rich in Omega-3, antioxidants and foods with anti-inflammatory properties. Here are some of my favourite foods that are easy to add to any diet:
Blueberries - Packed with flavonoids, blueberries have shown to help improve memory, learning and general thinking while slowing the age-related decrease in mental ability.
Nuts - A source of mono-unsaturated fat and vitamin E, that may help protect the brain from degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s Disease.
Avocados - Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, avocado helps improves blood flow to the brain.
Dark chocolate - Dark chocolate has been found to increase blood flow to the brain, improve thinking and mood.
Make sure they're starting their day off right with a healthy breakfast. Research shows that breakfast-eaters have fewer behaviour problems than breakfast-skippers. However, the traditional high-sugar cereals and breakfast bars set our children for a major blood sugar surge followed by a a mid-morning energy crash. What a rollercoaster! Irritability, headaches and poor focus are all symptoms of low blood sugar and it has shown to lead to decreased brain function.
What sort of breakfast should they be eating? A great breakfast will offer protein and complex carbohydrates which are digested more slowly. It can be hard on a Monday morning to fit a healthy breakfast in, so why not try this brain-boosting smoothie packed with omega-3 and antioxidants:
1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 medium banana
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tbsp nut butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
Get moving! Exercise is one of the most important ways of supporting healthy brain development. Physical activity can boost blood flow and other positive nutrients to the brain and increase your levels of dopamine. It's important to fun forms of exercise for children. After-school activities like football, dancing and judo are all good options. But so are nature walks, tree-climbing and playing hide-and-seek. Play, just like exercise, is good for the brain too. So it's worth finding an exercise that combines both a high level of physical activity and elements of play!
Removing TVs, computers and other electronic devices from a child’s bedroom is a simple step to avoid the dangers of digital dependence. Creating a relaxing environment, free from the distractions of the outside world, may facilitate better sleep.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is responsible for helping children be goal-oriented and productive in every area of their life. Relaxation techniques and enjoyable activities can increase blood flow to the PFC, which can assist children in making better decisions.
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep! Research shows that losing one hour of sleep has a detrimental effect equal to losing two years of cognitive maturation and development. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night has been shown to help children's brain function at optimal levels. When your child doesn’t get enough sleep, they have overall decreased blood flow to their brain, which can disrupt thinking, memory, and concentration.
FIVE TOP TIPS TO support brain health in children
If you think mushrooms are only good for topping off your pizza, then think again. For over 2,000 years, Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) have been heralded as the secret to keeping people healthy and active well into their golden years so it comes as no surprise that in the far east, they are often referred to as the ‘mushroom of immortality’. Mushrooms have been used in Chinese and Japanese culture medicinally for centuries and the latter has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world.
Reishi were once considered a treasure greater than any jewel and this much-adored mushroom was often reserved for royalty to extend life and improve health. Thankfully, it is more widely available nowadays as effective cultivation techniques have been developed so even if you’re not royalty, you can still enjoy Reishi’s many benefits.
So where can you get this unique, ancient mushroom? How do you take it? What are the benefits?
With its’ powerful anti-ageing properties and numerous other health benefits, it is something that you won’t want to miss out on, so let’s get started and take a look at what Reishi has to offer.
REISHI UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Besides the numerous vitamins and minerals Reishi contains, the key to this mushroom’s healing potential is the multiple bioactive ingredients it contains, such as polysaccharides and triterpenes. Triterpenes are thought to be responsible for the lipid-lowering, antioxidant effects and potential anti-cancer effects of Reishi. Polysaccharides have shown to stabilize blood pressure, blood sugar and have an effect on free radicals. Beta-D-glucans, a type of polysaccharide, have also shown to
stimulate the immune system.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF REISHI
The benefits of Reishi are wide and impressive. Over the past 50 years, extensive research has found that they can support many health conditions. Studies have shown Reishi to be immune modulating, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, sleep promoting, antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-ageing, anti-diabetic, anti-oxidative and anti-ulcer.
The beauty of the Reishi mushroom is that it’s capable of doing so much, yet compared to conventional medication, it is generally non-toxic and has very few side effects. As an adaptogen it works in harmony with our body – always helping to bring us into balance.
HOW TO TAKE REISHI
Although they are edible, they are often described as having a bitter and tough texture – so you’re much more likely to find them in a different form. They grow above ground and produce a ‘fruiting body’ along with connective strands called mycelium. For most of history, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, fully grown Reishi mushrooms were dried, cut into slices, boiled in hot water and then steeped to make a healing tea or soup. Nowadays you can buy manufactured Reishi mushroom as a tea, powder or in extract form.
Having a Reishi tea is an easy addition to your daily routine, swapping for other hot drinks. It does however have a lower potency than the extract and the taste is slightly bitter.
Powder is easy to add to smoothies, yogurts and quick to take on-the-go. Again though, potency is lower than an extract.
Reishi extract (capsule)
If you want to unlock this unique mushrooms’s benefits to guarantee therapeutic potency then opting for an extract is the way to go. Extract can be 10, 20 or even 100 times the concentration of a powder. For example if you compared a 500mg tablet of Reishi Mushroom powder to a 500mg tablet of a Reishi Mushroom 10:1 extract you would find it would take ten 500mg tablets of the powder to equal one 500mg tablet of 10:1 extract. So although extracts may appear to cost more, you’re getting a lot more for your money!
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Unfortunately not all Reishi is created equally. There are poor quality, cheap products on the market and it is important to do your research carefully to ensure you are purchasing an authentic high quality product.
Look out for:
• Extraction ratio (the higher the extraction ratio, the more potent and concentrated it is.
Extracts that use almost no excipient in their production are known as “pure yield” and they
are always the best option)
• Ingredients label for any added fillers (you want as pure an extract as possible)
• The species name (Ganoderma lucidum is the most potent species)
To achieve optimum absorption, experts recommend to take Reishi mushrooms in the morning on an empty stomach with water and Vitamin C.