Three essential nutrients to boost energy levels this winter

Feeling tired, moody or blue? You are definitely not imagining that dip in your energy levels at this time of year.

The reduced sunlight hours over winter seriously impacts energy levels, mood and appetite. Research suggests that 9 out 10 people will experience a dip in their energy levels and in more serious cases people can experience SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD is a type of depression that occurs in winter, where the lack of sunlight significantly reduces the production of the hormones that regulate sleep, appetite and mood. It is thought to affect around 3% of the population and is complex and serious. Luckily the majority are not effected to the same extent, but in all seriousness the lack of sunlight can really leave people in a state of winter blues. 

Simply put, serotonin (the mood boosting hormone) is produced when the sunlight enters the eye and regulates all things related to energy, appetite and mood. When you aren’t producing enough these behaviours get thrown out of whack. Melatonin is produced in darkness (regulating the sleep cycle) and prepares the body for sleep. Hence dark early nights mean your body produces less of the mood boosting hormones and more of the drowsiness inducing hormones, making you want to hibernate and eat more.

Luckily, you can boost energy levels through foods and supplements to avoid dipping into hibernation mode for the next four or so months. Food is medicine as they say and these three nutrients can be found pretty easily, so incorporate into your foods and feel on top form this winter!

1. Vitamin D

This might be the most essential vitamin to take during the winter months. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in converting tryptophan into serotonin so it’s not surprising that Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression. The best source is through sunlight so over winter it’s even more important to add in to your diet. Luckily it’s easy to incorporate through foods such as fatty fish (e.g. Salmon, Herring, Tuna), egg yolks and fortified foods such as some milks (check the label). Besides sunlight the best form is in supplements, with a dose of 3000iu having high absorption rates. I cannot stress the importance of Vitamin D enough.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium has been shown to boost mood, as well as being a great all round protector for the body. It helps with serotonin and is often used to help combat fatigue and balance emotions. Magnesium is easy to get through foods, as well as sprays and supplements. Good sources of food include: Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts), spinach and beans.

3. Chromium

Chromium works directly with the hormones that regulate energy and mood (serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin). It helps to stabilise blood sugar levels which prevent energy dips. It’s found in small quantities in a lot of foods but the best sources are shellfish, brazil nuts, pears, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and oats. If taken in supplement form, research suggests 200mcg is the best amount to reap the benefits.

Upping your intake of these three nutrients will definitely help to boost your energy over  these long dark evenings!

 

 

 

 

Festive Feasting: healthy eating in December

Since I wanted to focus a new series of posts about the festive season, what better way to kick it off with some healthy eating tips!

The festive period is always the worst time to be healthy. With an endless supply of treats, Christmas parties and indulgent dinners, weight gain is almost inevitable. Then January arrives with a renewed sense of motivation for getting fit, losing that extra 5 or 10lbs and adopting an all round healthier lifestyle. Gym memberships peak and new fad diets flourish… which ultimately fail. Did you know that 80% of New Years resolutions fail before Valentine’s day, a mere 6 weeks later? Sorry to be the barer of bad news but the statistics do not lie in this case.

My question is this: instead of letting yourself totally go in December why not attempt to have a healthier season? It doesn’t have to be about restricting fun but rather indulging in moderation.

I always advocate living a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable and actually enjoyable. It’s never about cutting back or deprivation but more about being aware of how food impacts on your body, health and wellbeing. Christmas is all fun and games until your jeans are too tight!

With that being said, I often get asked how to eat healthily during this season, so I wanted to share some simple tips:

 

Tip 1: Stay hydrated

People often forget to drink water during this time, instead opting for more indulgent or alcoholic beverages. However, dehydration causes lots of issues such as playing havoc on the digestive system, lethargy and drying out your skin. On the alcohol note, be aware of

  • For optimal digestion aim for 2 litres a day
  • Drink a glass first thing in the morning 
  • Have a glass before or with each meal 

Tip 2: Alcohol calories

They easily add up. Simple as. Cocktails, creamy mixers and adding booze to your hot chocolate are easy ways to consume a lot of calories.

  • Opt for lighter spirits such as gin and vodka
  • Tonic water and sodas are lower calorie mixers
  • Drink water in between drinks

 

Tip 3: Never go to a buffet hungry

You’ll end up overeating. Buffet food is rarely healthy because it’s cheap and full of salt and sugar, making those little nibbles far too addictive.

  • Have a small snack beforehand to avoid turning up ravenous
  • Don’t skip other meals or ‘save yourself’ throughout the day as it will lead to overindulgence
  • Always eat breakfast (full of protein, healthy fats and slow release carbohydrates) to balance blood sugar levels and preventing a sugar crash. It’ll set the tone for the rest of the day

Tip 4: If you don’t love it, forget about it

Just because you’re surrounded by a plethora of food it does not mean you have to eat everything. Try to only indulge on the foods that are worth it and you really love or want to try. Before filling your plate at a buffet, look at the entire spread to decide what few things you want to indulge on. Fill the rest with healthier options such as protein and vegetables. The fibre will prevent overeating. You don’t want to be in the situation where you have eaten three desserts before spotting your absolute favourite! If it’s a three course meal, try to choose two healthier or lighter options out of three, or better yet share!

  • If you like the decadent dessert option then go for a lighter starter & main (and vice versa) 
  • Share a starter or dessert
  • Ask a waiter to adapt the option to make it healthier (restaurants can be very amenable to intolerances)

Tip 5: Don’t forget to eat the rainbow

Fruit and veggies that is! A plate of vegetables isn’t the most attractive food option at this time of year, but aim to eat around 5 portions a day. Why? If not you’ll end up with sluggish digestion and stomach problems. The fibre will also fill you up, potentially stopping you from overeating and preventing a sugar crash.

  • Fill half your plate with vegetables
  • Opt for fruit based desserts
  • Seasonal fruit and vegetables are delicious!

Tip 6: Out of sight out of mind

Simple. If it’s not in eyesight wont be as tempted.

  • Eat from a plate to be aware and accountable for what you’re eating

Tip 7: Be mindful and guilt free

Be mindful over the choices you make and remember the bigger picture. One indulgent day is not going to make a lot of difference in the grand scheme of things, but several could lead to unwanted weight gain. It’s easily done. Eat only when you are hungry and not out of boredom. Eat in a way to fuel your body and your soul.

  • Are you hungry or bored?
  • It’s ok to say no!
  • Do you really need that second helping? The first and last bite are always the best so enjoy in moderation
  • Going out? choose healthy options for the rest of the day but don’t restrict (e.g. Fill up on lean protein and lots of veggies for lunch)

 

Most of all, relax and enjoy the season! Focus on the bigger picture: taking time out and spending it with loved ones 🙂

 

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