Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Pick Your Own! (Strawberries)

Yes, that’s right, it is that time of year again! The fields are full of ripe, delicious fruit just waiting to be picked and eaten, and it is the perfect opportunity to boost your intake of fruit and all the essential vitamins and minerals it contains.

My favourite PYO, Strawberries fresh from the plant are sweet, juicy and almost universally loved. They taste fantastic as they are, but once you get them home there are so many different ways you can tart them up a bit – serve with cream or ice cream, make a fresh fruit salad, even make your own jam.

Strawberries contain more vitamin C than orange juice, which is good news for both your physical and mental health. Vitamin C is essential for a healthy immune system, but few people realise that it is also needed for a healthy mind too. A lack of vitamin C has been found to be associated with a number of mental health problems including depression.

Like all fruits, Strawberries also contain loads of other essential vitamins and minerals as well as lots of water. And don’t forget, they also taste delicious while only having very few calories per serving – so a great choice for snacking on this summer!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Are You Nutty Enough?!

Nuts are one of nature's finest snack foods, delicious, satisfying and full of goodness!

They have many health benefits, which include:

  • They are high in fibre, which helps you stay feeling full for longer, and speeds up the rate at which food moves through your body.

  • They are a good source of protein, as most vegetarians already know, which is essential ofr all cells in the body, including the chemicals which affect your mood and mental health

  • They are also a good source of essential fatty acids (good fats) which are really important for good mental health

  • They contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals (which varies between different varieties) - these include several of the B vitamins, vitamin E and Selenium.

As the amount of nutrients varies between varieties of nuts, a good way to get a good balance is to eat an assortment of mixed nuts (and seeds, I will cover these in another post). Unsalted are best.

I will be covering all the different vitamins and minerals and their health benefits in further articles if you would like to know more.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Good Mood Foods - Food Containing Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, one of the building blocks that your body uses in order to make new cells, hormones, chemicals etc. It cannot be made by the body, so has to be taken in through your diet.

The feel-good brain chemical Serotonin and Melatonin, which helps you sleep, both require tryptophan. So in order to boost production of both, hopefully lifting your mood and helping with sleeping problems such as insomnia, it makes sense to eat foods with lots of tryptophan in them.

Good foods to try include:

•Chocolate (yes, really!)
•Dairy Products
•Pulses eg chickpeas

One of the problems with amino acids is that they compete with each other to be absorbed by the body. So the best way to incorporate tryptophan-rich foods is with a meal containing lots of carbohydrates rather than proteins.

Breakfast Like A King!

It is definitely true what they say – breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Your body has been hard at work all night renewing worn out cells and keeping all of your organs ticking over without any food coming in to fuel it. So breakfast is your chance to get the day off to a really good start, giving your body all the nutrients it needs and making you feel energised, revitalised and ready to face anything life throws at you.

Some people wake up absolutely ravenous, and love the thought of tucking into a hot, filling cooked breakfast. Other people find the thought of eating anything other than cereal makes their stomach churn. But as with anything in life, there are always more options than you think, and there are always good choices you can substitute for the not so good.

Here are a few breakfast ideas that your body and mind will love (and so will you!):

For those who like a cooked breakfast:

Scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast with a glass of orange juice

Eggs Florentine

Bacon, lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

Welsh Rarebit (fancy cheese on toast!)

For those who prefer a more traditional breakfast:

Breakfast Smoothie – ¾ glass of skimmed or semi skimmed milk, a few tablespoons of natural bio yoghurt, a chopped banana and a couple of handfuls of mixed berries all whizzed up in a blender

Homemade Muesli with milk or bio yoghurt, topped with fresh or tinned fruit

Porridge made with half water, half milk and flavoured with cinnamon, ginger or vanilla essence and sprinkled with a couple of tablespoons of mixed nuts and seeds

Breakfast Muffin (try the delicious Banana and Muesli Muffin recipe)

Try a few different ideas and see what you prefer! You might even surprise yourself!

Banana & Muesli Muffins

Try these delicious muffins to get your day off to a flying start!

1.Prepare muffin tins / cases. Preheat oven to 190-200 degrees C (375-400 degrees F)
2.Sift together flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and muesli
3.In another bowl, mash bananas. Add sugar, egg, oil (or butter) and milk (or water). Stir well.
4.Pour wet ingredients into dry. Stir until just combined.
5.Fill muffin cases 3/4 full.
6.Bake for 20-25 mins until tops are lightly browned and spring back when pressed.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Going Bananas

Bananas are fantastic mood foods, satisfying your hunger (and your urge for something sweet) while at the same time supplying lots of nutrients to help your mental wellbeing. These include:

Tryptophan – an amino acid which the body uses to make serotonin, an important chemical which affects mood

Potassium – an important mineral which helps your nerves to function properly, and lowers blood pressure

Magnesium – another important mineral which can help prevent depression and acts as a gentle, natural sedative through its relaxing actions on the body

Vitamin B6 – a vitamin which can help fight depression, memory problems, fatigue and stress.

Fibre – not directly linked to mental health BUT you cant possibly feel good if your bowels arent working properly!

Plus small amounts of lots of other useful vitamins and minerals

It's A Balancing Act!

Our bodies are amazing, so much goes on beneath our skin that we are not aware of and just take for granted.

One of the things our body is doing all the time is maintaining a constant environment – everything from temperature to blood sugar levels are kept within strict limits so that our body can work as it should.

Nearly every cell in our body relies on a consistent supply of glucose (sugar) for energy, but we don’t eat constantly through the day to keep the levels even, so our body does this work for us, monitoring how much glucose is in the blood and either putting some into storage if there is too much or breaking down stores of energy if there isn’t enough.

The problem with our modern diet is that we eat far too many processed carbohydrates, which are quickly digested and released as glucose into the body. The body instantly reacts by releasing insulin which converts the glucose into a form which can be stored and causes the blood glucose levels to dip sharply.

This leads to that familiar feeling of hunger, grumpiness and irritability, lack of concentration and even “the shakes” if it is severe, and so we seek out something to eat to get rid of this feeling – usually something quick and energy rich, which leads to the same thing happening all over again!

But there is a simple solution to this problem, one which can help to keep your mood as well as your blood glucose levels even, and give you a much more constant supply of energy.

Wholegrain foods which take longer to digest release glucose much more slowly, and also keep you feeling full for longer. You may have heard of “low GI” diets – they are referring to the Glycaemic Index, which is a measure of how quickly foods are broken down. Sugar is the highest, with all other foods being compared to it, and any foods that have a low GI are a much better option.

Some supermarkets / brands have even marked some of their products as low GI, so it is worth checking the labels, but basically the more a food has been processed, the higher the GI usually is.

Good foods to look for include brown rice and pasta, oats, bulgar wheat, quinoa, pearl barley and rye – experiment with a few new recipes and ideas and see what you enjoy!

By breaking that yo-yo cycling of blood sugar levels that is so easy to get into, you will find that you have much more energy, can cope better with the demands life throws at you, and will rely less on sugary, fatty foods to give you a boost – which in turn could help you lose weight if you need to!