The summer holidays have finally arrived! And with good weather to match and the long-awaited lifting of government Covid restrictions, many of us are gathering together with friends and family for backyard BBQs and picnics in the park.
And whilst healthy eating might not be first and foremost in our mind when planning a party or get-together (in fact it might not be on our radar at all), there are some simple things that we can do to keep our celebrations as healthy as they are fun. Here are my top tips:
Pile your plate with produce. Hosting a picnic? Think leafy salads, vegetable sticks to serve with dips and big bowls of cut-up fruit. If you’re hosting a BBQ, try grilling veggie kebabs, cauliflower steaks and corn on the cob to serve alongside the usual burgers and sausages. And as a treat for dessert, pop some very ripe bananas in the freezer 24 hours beforehand, then when you’re ready to serve, blend them in a food processor for a few minutes until you get a texture like soft ice cream (I won’t tell anyone if you also add in some chocolate chips, crushed maltesers or a dollop of peanut butter).
Rethink your drink. There’s nothing more refreshing than a cold beer or chilled glass of wine on a hot summer’s day. But alcohol and the brain have a delicate relationship. Alcohol is a depressant drug which affects the balance of chemicals in the brain, decreasing the brain’s ability to efficiently process skills such as attention, memory, mood and mobility – all of which can be impacted by a neurological condition. Why not try out some of the great alcohol-free beers widely available in the supermarkets, serve up jugs of elderflower cordial and sparkling water, or get kids involved in making fun mocktails.
Get everyone moving! Plan some activities that get guests (and you!) on your feet. If you’re venturing out for your gathering, try geocaching or Pokémon Go to get your steps in while exploring the area. At home, garden games such as frisbee, quoits and boules can be a good opportunity to practice balance and coordination – or for kids of all ages (yes this includes grown up kids too) a piñata is a great arm workout!
Green Means Go! Green Food of the Month
This month’s green ingredient is mint, which has a sweet, refreshing flavour that leaves a lingering cool effect on the tongue. Mint is well known as a digestive aid and is great at relieving bloating and abdomen pain if you have overindulged. Mint pairs exceptionally well with watermelon, strawberries and lime to make a nutrient-packed summer smoothie, or for a digestive remedy add a sprig or two to a mug, cover with hot water, infuse for a minute or two and enjoy!
With sunshine and summer holidays on the horizon, it’s common for many people to think about losing a few pounds in anticipation of the warmer weather. And it’s not just us, it’s something that the diet industry is really keen for us to do too! I don’t know if it’s just me, but I seem to be seeing adverts everywhere at the moment promoting different diet methods from slimming clubs to tracking apps and meal replacement products to help us achieve our weight loss goals.
But before we look at the best way to achieve our goal weight , let’s take a brief look at why maintaining a healthy weight is important, how it can support recovery and rehabilitation goals, and reduce the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Carrying too much weight can increase our risk of having a cardiovascular health event such as stroke or heart attack, and this is because it increases our risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis (a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged with fatty substances called plaque). Each of these conditions is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, so maintaining a healthy weight is a really important part of reducing our risk. A healthy weight can also help to improve mobility and make exercise easier, by reducing pressure on joints. Not only does this lead to better health, it’s important for achieving personal recovery goals – anything from being more mobile and independent at home to running around with the family at the park, or even taking up a new sport!
But with so many different diets and weight loss approaches available, what really is the best way to safely and sustainably achieve a healthy weight? I’m going to share my top tips below:
Choose the right plan, not the fast one.“Lose 7lbs in 7 days! Drop 6 sizes in 90 days!” Although we might be drawn to the promise of rapid weight loss, research doesn’t back up its effectiveness long term. Consider this: weight gain tends not to happen overnight, so it also makes sense that weight loss won’t happen overnight either. Aiming for a weight loss of around 0.5lbs -2 lbs per week is an achievable amount and will avoid the side effects that can result from a rapid weight loss diet, such as a slower metabolism, muscle loss, dehydration, poor nutrient intake and feeling ravenous.
Don’t eat less, eat smart. One of the misconceptions that many of us have about weight loss is that we should “eat less”, “cut back” or in some other way restrict our food intake. This is partly true – we need to eat less calories than we are burning for energy – but it’s also really important that we focus on putting the right foods on our plate:
lean proteins to keep us feeling fuller for longer and to maintain muscle mass
non-starchy vegetables (these are the ones that grow above the ground) to provide the vitamins and minerals our bodies need
and a smaller amount of starchy, wholefood carbs and/or natural sources of fats (foods such as brown rice, sweet potato, nuts, seeds and avocados).
If we think of our dinner plate, we might aim to fill 50% of the plate with non-starchy veggies, 30% with lean protein and the remaining 20% with starchy, wholefood carbs and/or natural sources of fats.
3. Focus on wholefoods. Whole foods are foods that are minimally processed and close to their natural state as possible – for example, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish that looks like fish, brown rice and beans. Eating more of these foods for our meals and snacks, and less ready-made, processed foods can help us lose weight because they change our body’s hunger signals, meaning that we feel less hungry and are less tempted to eat sugary or fatty processed foods such as pastries and cakes.
On the other hand, many ready-made foods (particularly those high in both fat and sugar) damage our hunger signals, increasing cravings and preventing us from feeling full. These foods are generally created by food scientists who know that these kinds of foods have a powerful effect on our hunger signals – that’s why it’s so difficult just to eat one chunk of chocolate, or a few crisps from a sharing bag.
4. Progress, not perfection. All that said, it’s important not to take an all-or-nothing approach to healthy weight management. Food should make you feel good and fit into your life, instead of forcing your life to fit into a meal plan. Deciding that chocolate, crisps, cakes or whatever treat foods you enjoy are off-limits is a sure-fire way to fall off the wagon – it’s perfectly fine to enjoy these foods from time to time as part of a balanced diet that focuses on healthy, whole foods. Strive for progress, not perfection, and you’re far more likely to succeed.
If you’re wondering how to get started with a healthy weight loss plan, why not sign up for one of my free 15-minute telephone consultations? I’ll show you who we are, how we work and help you make the best decision about your diet and lifestyle, with absolutely no obligation to book. Get started via Messenger (the blue icon bottom left of your screen) or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seasonal Food of the Month
This month’s star ingredient is asparagus, which is in season right now and therefore the very best time to enjoy this tasty and nutritious green vegetable. Asparagus is low in calories and a great source of nutrients, including fibre, folate and vitamins A, C and K. Additionally, eating asparagus has a number of potential health benefits, including weight loss, improved digestion, and lower blood pressure. Green means go, so go ahead and add some asparagus to your plate!
Your brain is kind of a big deal. As “command centre” for the body, it controls and regulates everything you do – from walking to talking, blinking to thinking, keeping your heart beating and your lungs breathing.
A healthy diet has long been known to help reduce risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but what about the role of diet in keeping our brains healthy?
Let’s take a look at some of the key nutrients that support brain health, and the foods and drinks that can keep your brain working in peak condition.
The human brain is around 75% water, therefore it stands to reason that staying well hydrated is really important. Even mild dehydration can impair brain function, causing difficulties with concentration, memory and fatigue. Unsweetened, non-caffeinated drinks such as water, herbal teas or fruit-infused water are the best choice, but tea and coffee also count towards your daily fluid intake – just make sure you also consume some non-caffeinated drinks too. How much you should drink each day varies from person to person, but around 2 litres is a good rule of thumb.
If you were to remove all the water from your brain, the remaining “dry weight” would be about 60% fat. The fats we eat are incorporated into the membranes of the cells that make up our brain and nervous system. But as important as ensuring we include some fats in our diets, is ensuring we choose the right types of fat that support good brain health. Most important is omega-3 which is known as an essential fatty acid because we can only obtain it via food. Many people will know that omega-3 can be found in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, but nuts and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds are also excellent sources of this essential nutrient. Aim for 1-2 tbsp seeds or a small handful of walnuts each day.
Our brains are incredibly energy hungry. Despite only representing 2% of our weight, our brains use an astonishing 20% of our energy. This means we needs to keep our brains well fuelled if we want to avoid low energy and problems with thinking, concentration and memory. Carbohydrates are our bodies’ preferred energy source, however not all carbohydrates are created equal. Refined carbohydrates such as those found in white bread, pasta, white rice, breakfast cereals or sugary sweets and treats have been stripped of their fibre and nutrients. This means they digest very quickly, causing a rapid boost in energy followed a while later by an energy slump, hunger, irritability and poor concentration.
Whole carbohydrates contain more fibre and nutrients than refined carbohydrates. This means they digest more slowly and help keep our energy levels steady, helping our brains to function better. Good examples of whole carbohydrates include wholemeal bread, pasta and rice, porridge oats, fruits and vegetables (keep the skins on potatoes!) and beans.
Antioxidants are molecules which protect cells in the body against damage. They are really important in keeping our bodies, and brains, healthy. The richest source of antioxidants are brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, especially berries and leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Coffee and green tea also contain a high concentration of antioxidants, and you will probably be pleased to hear that dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids which have been positively linked to memory. A great reason to treat yourself to a daily square of brain-boosting chocolate!
As well eating a balanced diet, staying physically active is one of the best ways we can look after our brain health. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and essential nutrients, and stimulating the growth of new brain cells. What type of exercise is best? Well pretty much anything that increases your heart rate, makes you feel slightly out of breath, and that you enjoy! The CSP have some great ideas for incorporating regular activity into your life when you’ve got a long-term health condition.
If you found this article helpful, you might like to join my new Facebook community where I am looking forward to sharing more tips and ideas to help you feel fitter, healthier and reach your recovery goals.
Feeling low in energy is a common symptom experienced by many people living with stroke, traumatic brain injury and other neurological diagnoses. Fatigue can seriously impact on your recovery goals and what you are able to do in your day-to-day life.
Fatigue can have a number of underlying causes. It may be directly related to your neurological condition, or it may be linked to other physical or emotional factors such as unsettled sleep, inactivity and loss of fitness, or low mood.
Feeling constantly tired is very common when you have a neurological illness or injury, but there are some things that you can do to help manage your energy levels.
Keep a diary. This can help you pinpoint which activities reduce your energy levels (e.g. therapy sessions, household chores) and which activities improve your energy levels (e.g. relaxing with music, socialising). Aim to achieve a balance of both within a day. A diary can also help you work out when you have more energy, for example in the morning.
Make a plan. Once you know how much you can do in a day, and when you feel most energised, you can plan out your day or week. Use a diary or a wall calendar to help you. Aim to spread activity evenly across the week. This might involve breaking larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps (e.g. vacuuming one or two rooms per day rather than tackling the whole house in one go).
Stay active. Regular physical activity can help to improve your energy levels, so try to incorporate some exercise into your day, but don’t overexert yourself. You could try a short walk, a few minutes on an exercise bike or a chair-based workout. We Are Undefeatable has some great ideas to help you find activities that work for you.
Pace yourself. It’s important to balance activities which drain your energy with activities which ‘recharge your batteries’ plus proper breaks. If you feel exhausted, then it’s okay to sit down or to take a short nap of up to 30 minutes; taking longer naps may impact on your sleep at night. This might mean you are not able to do all the things you’d like to, but over time you can build up your stamina.
Eat a balanced diet. The food we eat can either cause our energy levels to peak and dip throughout the day, or keep our energy on a more even keel. Reducing foods high in sugar and refined (white) carbohydrates will help avoid the highs and lows of the ‘energy rollercoaster’, whereas eating a balance of fruits and vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates, lean protein plus some healthy fats will help to maintain steady energy levels throughout the day.
Seeking support can also help you to manage your fatigue, improve your energy and achieve your recovery goals. Talking to your family and friends can help them try and understand your situation and support you. You could also contact us for a free 15-minute telephone consultation to tell us about your energy levels and see if we can help you find a way forward.