As a health and wellness writer for the last 15 years, I’ve always been fascinated with vitamins and mineral supplements and always quizzing the experts for their recommendations.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been vegetarian nearly all my life and vegan since my mid-20s that nutrition has been a special interest of mine. I watch what I eat to try and avoid common vegan-diet deficiencies (D3, B12, EPA/DHA are common ones), and equally aware of supporting my sports and fitness lifestyle, which puts an added strain on my body.
That’s why I was excited to be introduced to Truth Origins water soluble liquid vitamins and invited to be part of the brand’s referral programme. This is the first referral and affiliate programme I’ve joined in the ten years I’ve had this blog so it’s definitely a product that I think is worth checking out.
I wrote this post a while ago, long before Coronavirus kicked in, but it’s been sitting in my drafts until now, when suddenly it seemed more relevant than ever to post it.
More than a few friends recently have talked about their stress and anxiety, with levels ranging from I can’t get dressed in the morning without crying, to I feel so overwhelmed at work I can’t sleep properly at night.
How does it work? Deep, slow and controlled breathing has been shown to activate the body’s relaxation response, leading to changes in the autonomic, parasympathetic and central nervous system.
I’ve been doing versions of this simple breathwork exercise almost every night for many years as it’s so unbelievably simple but incredibly effective. Once you build a habit, you won’t let this one go.
The best thing is, you don’t need to carve out any extra time in the day to do it – you just do it lying in bed when you’re ready to sleep, so there’s no excuses for not having time. There’s literally nothing else to do apart from try to relax into sleep.
It’s typically the time when thoughts start racing and and stress potentially building, so have this breathing exercise ready in times of need.
Ready? It’s super simple…
Start by gently placing the hands on the lower abdomen to help connect with your breath.
You might feel your hands rising and falling with each inhalation and exhalation.
Breathe in and out through the nose (mouth gently closed) for a few counts of breath.
Start to follow each breath as it moves in and out of the body, wherever it might be – it could be in your belly, throat, chest or elsewhere.
After following your breath for a few rounds, start counting your in-breath.
Breath in: one, two, three
Breathe out: one, two, three
After a few rounds you want to start making your out-breath longer than your in breath. Do this by consciously but gently slowing down each exhalation.
So the breathwork pattern will look like:
Breath in: one, two, three (an in-breath comfortable for you)
Breath out: one, two, three, four, five
Regardless of how long your inhalation is, your can promote the relaxation response by slowing down and making the exhalation longer.
Repeat this cycle of counting a longer out-breath to in-breath four of five times. Sometimes I keep doing this until I physically feel my body untangle and unwind and quite often I’m asleep before I reach ten rounds.
An extra note…
Once you get used to extending the exhalation, you can start experimenting with a gentle hold in between the inhalation and exhalation. This is more like an internal pause rather than a forced hold of breath. It should be totally effortless.
This type of breathing workout helps to slow down your heart rate which reduces the effects of stress on the body. As a result your thoughts may calm and eventually bring the body into a quiet stillness.
Once the physical body settles, the mind follows.
Do this breath exercise whenever you feel you’re getting tense, stressed or locked in a whirl of thoughts-on-loop. Not just in bed, but any time.
A word on meditation…
If you’ve tried meditation or keen to try it but not sure where to start, start here, with the breath.
Learn how to find the breath, follow it, listen to it and watch it. This is a form of meditation in itself as there is just one point of focus, the breath. So whenever your mind begins to wander, you just bring it back to the breath.
This is one of the simplest ways to start meditating as the breath is a physical, tangible, active point of focus. Listening and watching the breath is also a great tool if you are easily distracted or find sitting in silence (trying to meditate!) too challenging.
So give it a go. Commit to just a few minutes of deep, controlled breathing every night for a few days or a week and see how it feels.
If you’ve been inspired by the continued rise of natural and organic beauty then you’ll love this DIY natural facial massage from Weleda, one of my favourite natural and organic beauty brands. It’s also a lovely, nourishing treat to give skin at this time of year as the season and temperatures change.
The key product in this facial is Weleda Skin Food – an iconic skincare product that contains natural extracts of calendula, chamomile, rosemary and lavender, with natural waxes and plant oils (now also available in light version, lip balm and body butter) – alongside a few other Weleda products.
Yoga nidra is an old yogic practice that takes you to a deeply relaxed state between waking, sleeping and dreaming, and can be quite transformative. I’ve been doing yoga nidra as part of my yoga practice for over ten years now and as more of today’s teachers and studios are talking about and offering it, it seems fitting to share the benefits of yoga nidra and how it’s helped me.
Translated from Sanskirt, yoga nidra means yogic sleep. It’s a guided relaxation technique that leads to a light withdrawal of external senses while connecting to internal awareness and still maintaining full consciousness. Through a systematic sequence of verbal instructions, it helps to release physical and mental tension, relieve stress as well as help with issues such as insomnia and anxiety.
My teacher, Swami Pragyamurti at the Satyananda Yoga Centre in London treats the advanced classes to a monthly session and beginner classes to one a week, so I’ve experienced firsthand how amazing the practice is. Now that I’m teacher training and learning to deliver yoga nidra myself, I can share its incredible benefits and see how much people really do love it.
A tonic for tiredness – and more
You know the feeling after a really hard day when you body is heavy with tiredness and your mind is full of fog. That’s when I reach for a yoga nidra recording. However exhausted I might be, I know it will recalibrate and recharge me.
A full yoga nidra is 30 mins but even a short versions (around 20 mins) will be effective at settling the body, mind and emotions. I always wake up feeling refreshed, reenergised, and with eyes and mind bright and alert. Over the years it’s helped me feel calmer in mind and has helped to ease physical tiredness. It’s honestly quite magical.
The practice can also work on a deeper level to help heal and transform, making it a tool for some yoga therapists in the treatment of trauma, stress and anxiety. The use of the resolve / sankulpa is also thought to help initiate change in a person’s life as that intension is mentally repeated in a subconscious state.
Studies have shown it can calm the nervous system, increase the relaxation response and act as a powerful tool for coping with stress.
What happens during yoga nidra?
During the practice of yoga nidra you lie on the floor (it can also be done seated) with back and legs flat against the floor in shavasana (relaxation pose). Something to cover the body may be helpful as body temperature drops when lying still so it’s important to have appropriate cover so the body can remain warm and comfortable.
If it’s a full yoga nidra, and one that follows the traditional sequence, the teacher would go through eight stages. Shorter versions, or versions for beginners, might be cut down to three or four. The stages are:
Settling the body – one of the most important stages – by connecting to the physical body and becoming aware of the different senses, such as touch and sound, it’s an effective route to relaxation
Breath awareness – connecting to the sound, touch and flow of breath through the body
Resolve – a positive intention or change you’d like to see in your self or life (in Sanskrit this is called the Sankulpa)
Rotation of awareness – a systematic sequence of verbal cues through the body, starting on the right side. The teacher will go call out each body part and you follow, visualising or repeating each one mentally
Pairs and opposites visualisation – describing sensory opposites, such as cold and hot to facilitate deep imagination and visualisation
Visualisation story – a creative journey that might have some symbolic meaning
Resolve – returning to your resolve, mentally repeated three times again – this is like sowing the seeds of transformation
Externalisation – the teacher will externalise your senses and bring awareness back to the physical body so you awake safely and comfortably
All you have do is listen and follow mentally. Each stage sends you deeper and deeper into a relaxed state and if your teacher has the right tone, pace and intonation, you might fall quickly into sleep or drift in and out of sleep. This is completely normal! Staying awake and aware is the aim but a good yoga nidra often ends up with a few snoring heads.
How to do yoga nidra
Yoga nidra is always delivered and guided by a teacher so if you read descriptions online about how to do yoga nidra yourself (I’ve read a few, worryingly high up on google searches) these are incorrect and seem to be describing relaxation in shavasana (corpse pose), which can be done on your own but is a totally different practice.
To do yoga nidra you need a teacher to deliver it or a recording. Online recordings (there are many now on YouTube) can be a bit hit or miss so I have a few good ones from teachers I like bookmarked on my iTunes and on CDs. A classical version for beginners can be purchased and downloaded here and another traditional version on YouTube here.
There are several schools and traditions offering yoga nidra sessions (as well as teacher training) now but the Satyananda tradition is the most well known for bringing this ancient practice into the modern day over the last 40-50 years. You can read more about this in the well known text Yoga Nidra from the Bihar School of Yoga.
So, if you’re struggling to find ways to deeply relax, you want to feel well-rested, and release physical and mental fatigue, try yoga nidra. Would love to hear what you think.
I love a good cookbook. I have over 35-40 of them – bought, inherited or gratefully received. A few have proven their worth and have become absolute favourites. They’re the ones I can always rely on to provide me a new or interesting way of cooking with an ingredient. Or offer an inspiring recipe I can pull together with minimum effort and with simple foods I usually already have.
Friends often ask if I can recommend a good book and there are a few I always call out, which I’ve listed here. Each one is best for a different reason, occasion or cooking style. So if you’re looking to renew your repertoire of recipes or need fresh inspiration for healthy, plant-based cooking (that’s still hearty and filling!) then this is the list for you. Feel free to pass it on.
1. World Food Cafe Vegetarian Bible
By Chris and Carolyn caldicott
And it really is a bible. If you’re excited by the variety and flavours of world cuisine you will love this. Organised by region, the authors have cherrypicked recipes that show off the best from that area. I usually turn to this book when I’m looking for a curry, going straight to the index to see the options for my chosen veg (which is how I use most cookbooks) and then I can almost guarantee the dish I find in here wouldn’t be in any other cookbook.
Best for: interesting DISHES from FAR AND WIDE
2. The Happy Pear
by David and Stephen Flynn
This was a gift from a good friend and very quickly became a regular go-to. I’m quite averse to vegan food that’s light or superficial, inadvertently channeling the notion that vegans are not hearty eaters (which is far from the truth, in my case anyway!). The Flynn brothers have taken everyday, popular ingredients such as squash and lentils and not only given them fuss-free makeovers but the recipes are sure to fill you up too. There’s not a drop of pretentious cooking here, just down to earth, wholesome meals that are both inviting and easy to follow.
BEST FOR: keeping the family full and happy
3. Fresh India
by Meera Sodha
I received this as a birthday present from another good friend only a few months ago and it’s been the most exciting edition to my collection. I made three recipes within the first few days of receiving it and instantly bookmarked so many more to try. Possibly because I’m obsessed with vegetarian Indian cuisine – you’ll find me at one of London’s local pure vegetarian restaurants feasting on dosa, idly and vada at any possible opportunity – that I was smitten by this book but also because Meera Sodha makes everything so simple. For example, I’ve picked up lots of new (and uncomplicated) ways of cooking Indian-inspired sauces and I found it super easy to take ingredients from one recipe and combine with the method of another, depending on what I have in the kitchen.
Best for: being creative with Indian cooking with hardly any effort
4. The Nut Butter Cookbook by Pip & Nut
By Pippa Murray
This book isn’t vegetarian or vegan (in fact, apart from the nut butters there’s hardly any vegan recipes) but I have easily adapted ideas and replaced dairy ingredients with non-dairy alternatives. The highlight for me is the Peanut Sweet Potato Gratin – once I’d swapped the cream and milk for coconut milk, it was divine. I have also discovered super easy ways to turn nut butter into sauces, dips and dressings which has transformed my lunches and dinners. I now make peanut and sriracha sauce almost daily!
Best for: surprisingLy endless ways with nut butter
5. Silk Road Vegetarian
by Dahlia Abraham-Klein
This one was a bit of a wild card which I bought after a recommendation from my uncle, who also loves vegetarian cooking, and despite its slightly old fashioned imagery it’s definitely proven itself. Covering a region I’m naturally drawn thanks to my Iraqi heritage, I often reach for this when I want comfort food inspiration. It’s great for stews and rice dishes.
Best for: traditional cuisine that’s true to its origins
6. Cook, Share, Eat Vegan
by Aine Carlin
Who would have thought that one day there would be as many modern vegan cookbooks as there are out today. Bookshops and bookshelves are bursting with them all vying for our attention but it’s hard to see which ones are really worth having. Having eaten a vegan diet for over a decade now (way back when veganism was still very hippie) I feel like my plant-based cooking skills constantly needs challenging and refreshing which is why Aine Carlin’s collections appeal. If you’re looking for the next step up in plant-based cooking I’d definitely recommend this. The ideas go the extra mile to impress but still accessible and easy to make.
Best for: Impressing guests (but not leaving them hungry)
7. Riverford Companion: Autumn Winter and Spring Summer
I’m a regular customer of Riverford veg delivery boxes (I’ve tried other veg boxes over the years but always come back to Riverford for the variety and generous portion sizes) so it’s no surprise I also love their cookbooks, thoughtfully presented for seasonal cooking. Guy Watson and the Riverford team never fail to reveal a new or enlivening way to prep or cook a vegetable, banishing boredom and educating with their decades of expertise along the way.
Best for: never being stuck with what to do with a vegetable again
8. The Dal Cookbook
By Krishna Dutta
An oldie but a goodie. I have no idea how this one entered my life (another gift maybe?) but for lovers of dal (obviously) it’s a must-have. From simple to elaborate and all styles and flavours in between, this is a chance to experiment with over 50 ways to find your favourites. It’s also a bit of a reference book for all things lentil-based, another reason why it’s stood the test of time on my bookshelf.
Best for: Never cooking the same dal twice
Would love to hear what your go-to veggie/vegan cookbooks are! Thanks for reading :)
Yoga is one of the cheapest and most effective means of releasing trauma, stress and emotions from the body.
Symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD) include anxiety, nightmares, sleep disturbance, withdrawal, loss of concentration, stress-related physical ailments, anger and aggression. These issues can easily impact a person’s ability to function in society.
Here’s why simple techniques from classical yoga are powerfully therapeutic.
Bessel van der Kolk, a leading trauma psychiatrist, advocates yoga as one of the foremost means to quiet the brain and regulate emotional and physiological states. ‘Ten weeks of yoga practice markedly reduced the PTSD symptoms of patients who had failed to respond to medication or to any other treatment.’
Experts have in recent years shown how traumatic stress rearranges the brain’s wiring, and sets it on high alert. A key to the treatment of psychological trauma is soothing the nervous system and inducing the relaxation response.
For traumatised people, strengthening the relaxation response allows them to reengage in the present.
Through regular practice of simple yoga techniques, developing awareness of body and breath, the nervous system’s relaxation response gets stronger and the body’s stress responses calm down.
Bessel van der Kolk has spent three decades trying to understand how people recover from traumatic stress. He views awareness as the first step toward healing in his book, The Body Keeps the Score.
He says: ‘Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience’ – because yoga is fundamentally about developing awareness, research has proven it can help improve mental health.
Yoga develops awareness, first of the body and the breath, and then of our thought processes, emotions and behaviours. Through developing self-awareness, we can access our feelings, observe them, and eventually release them.
Read more about how we’re using yoga to help the refugee community recover from PTSD and other mental health issues ontools4innerpeace.org.
It’s a common misconception that yoga is an exercise. When people hear or talk about yoga it’s almost always referred to and understood as a form of exercise. But is it? Well, not really. So what is the difference between yoga and exercise?
While exercise and yogic postures (asana) share similarities in that they both involve movement, (most) exercise works on the sympathetic system and yoga (when done correctly) works on the parasympathetic system which is why it can be useful for people suffering from stress and anxiety. Both contribute to physical health but yoga relates to so much more than the physical.
Evolving slowly by ancient sages all over the world, yoga has it roots in early civilisation as people developed an awareness of spiritual capabilities. Its origins are also found in the Vedas, the oldest collection of Indian spiritual scriptures for personal and spiritual development.
This ancient discipline works on all aspects of the person: the physical, mental, vital, emotional, psychic and spiritual self. This is done through a practice of asana (posture or pose), pranayama (control of breath), mudra (hand gestures), bandha (energy locks), shatkarma (cleansing and purification of the body) and meditation. These are a few of the Eight Limbs of Yoga written in the scriptures that help to remove mental and physical obstacles.
Today, mainly in western cultures, yoga classes tend to embrace asana more than any other aspect of traditional yoga which may result in a one-sided development. Engaging with all ‘limbs’, can help to expand our connection and understanding of inner ourselves and outside world.
Physical asanas are usually people’s first experience with yoga. Not just movement though, asanas tap into energy points in the body with the potential to release energy blocks from wherever energy flow is suppressed, which is why people can feel good after a yoga class.
Moving on from the physical, yogic practices can help develop an awareness of connection between emotional, mental and physical body and how an imbalance in one of these can affect the others.
We are a combination of body, emotions, intellect and psyche and through the practices and experience of yoga – by actually living it, not just reading about it – we can develop and balance all of these, to become a happier and more integrated person.
Next weekend I’m running London Marathon, which I’m really looking forward to. It will be my third marathon but my first in London (Brighton and Edinburgh previously). I had never planned to run but was offered a last minute place by Lucozade Sport via Health & Fitness magazine who I write for, and seeing as London is so difficult to get into (oversubscribed ballot entry and expensive charity places) of course I said yes quicker than I can send the email reply. But I had just under three months to train so it’s been tight to say the least – a bit like cramming before a huge exam.
Interestingly, a year and a half of weight training and CrossFit has made me stronger than I was for my previous marathons so I’ve been able to tackle the long distances without too much risk of injury. All those deadlifts have luckily come in handy!
But long steady runs have had a surprising effect on my body. At the start of the training when I was building up from eight, nine miles to 15 and more I got leaner and noticed some excess weight fall off pretty quickly. However, during the weeks where I was running 18, 19, 20 and 21 miles I noticed things change – I was no longer feeling light or lean but quite the contrary, I felt like I’d filled out a bit despite doing big mileage every weekend.
I’d cut back on CrossFit (from four sessions a week to three) but I didn’t think that was the cause. Could I be imagining it? A quick step on the weights at my parent’s house confirmed I was right as I’d gone up a kilo but endurance training requires good fuel so I put it down to the extra calories I’d been consuming.
Turns out there’s more to it than that. When I saw my sports massage therapist – the brilliant Uju Eze, who is actually a movement specialist because she’s definitely more than just a sports masseuse – she confirmed there is science behind the gain.
“When you run at around 65% of your maximum heart rate for a long, sustained period the body goes into a catabolic state (muscle-wasting) which means it adapts and starts to store fat and use muscle as as fuel instead because it thinks something is wrong and it needs to get ready to survive.”
This, and a number of other reasons are why low intensity steady cardio (otherwise known as LISS which is the opposite of HIIT – high intensity interval training) can actually be the wrong choice of exercise if fat loss is your goal. Here are a few reasons why the body is not in a fat burning state:
the body adapts to low intensity steady state cardio and eventually doesn’t need as much oxygen or energy to do the workout so it becomes easier and consequently less effective. To keep reaping benefits you’d have to increase the intensity e.g. by either training faster or increasing distance.
Increasing volume however, could have a detrimental effect in the long run because of a loss of muscle mass (the catabolic effect) which in turn leads to fewer calories burned by the body at rest (the metabolic rate) because muscle burns more calories than fat, and if there’s no change in diet it will eventually lead to fat gain.
too much cardio can also lead to increased hunger and additionally, fuelling for long runs can often involve high glycemic foods before, during and after the workout which actually suppress fat loss and fat burn.
long steady state cardio only burns calories during the activity rather and doesn’t change your metabolism. To make changes to your metabolism and experience calories burn up to 24 hours after exercise, studies show HIIT training works because it produces mitochondria (cells where respiration happens) and increases mitochondria activity so your body increases its oxidative capacity.
So it wasn’t all in my head, I was indeed actually holding onto weight. There are more explanations and studies shared about this in this article, Does Cardio Make You Fat and following that, check out this article which compares HIIT vs LISS and explains why high intensity interval training is a better option for fat loss and toning up than low state cardio.
I’m now looking forward to the end of this marathon when I can go back to short, sharp and strength based interval training. However, research shows that some steady state cardio can be good as a means of recovery from high intensity strength training so I won’t be giving up on the steady state cardio just yet – it just won’t be as long as it is now.
And I almost forgot! For those friends and family wishing to donate here’s my marathon Just Giving page which a friend kindly set up for me. Even though I don’t have to raise any money for my entry we thought it was only fair to put a few pounds in the pot as a show of gratitude for my place – I’ll be donating to Parkinson’s UK. Thanks all!
A few months ago I attended the launch of Ten Health & Fitness’new class, Yoga for Hormone Balance. Designed to support and strengthen natural hormone function as well as to relax and rejuvenate the body and mind, after trying it out it seemed like the perfect antidote to a fast-paced life that puts a strain on the nervous system and hormones.
“When the sympathetic nervous system is constantly over-active, the adrenals are churning out adrenaline and cortisol to keep us going” says Dr Annaradnams of The Marion Gluck Clinic in London.
A little bit of this is ok when we need to kickstart ourselves into action but when the body is constantly in red alert mode there’s a knock on effect. Without sufficient downtime health and hormones will suffer.
The Ten Yoga for Hormone Balance class is two hours long and created by yoga teacher and movement expert Danielle Willemsen. It focusses on poses that open up the hips, elongate the spine and encourage the four key hormonal glands – pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and ovaries – to behave more harmoniously.
So much of modern yoga is fast-paced and dynamic and on top of an already stressful day and hyped up nervous system the results can be over-stimulating on the body so this new hormone-balancing class is a welcome change of pace.
Yoga was not originally designed to be a workout – in my opinion, if you want to sweat do a cardio class and choose to do yoga to slow down your breath, soften the mind and create more balance, physically and mentally.
Hormone doctors even agree that slow movement can benefit hormone function as it taps into the parasympathetic nervous system to settle the body and in turn, the nervous system.
After trying this Ten Pilates class at the press launch it inspired me to check out what classical yoga says about hormone balancing. For the last seven years I’ve been practicing a classic hatha yoga (Satyananda yoga) which is super slow and meditative and calms everything right down – mind, body and breath. My weekly Wednesday class is like a natural tranquilliser – there’s nothing quite like it – and I leave fully grounded and deeply relaxed.
The Bihar School of Yoga which I’ve been reading recently has an extensive library of books and in Yogic Management of Common Diseases I found a whole chapter on thyroid function. Here are a few extracts if you’re looking for more inspiration on yoga for hormones:
Yoga for the thyroid gland
“Long before medical science knew about the existence of thyroid glands, the yogis had devised practices that maintained healthy glands and metabolism. The good health of the neuroendocrine system was understood to be vital to higher awareness.” (pg. 24-45)
“Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) is the most well recognised asana for the thyroid gland. An enormous pressure is placed on the gland by this powerful posture. As the thyroid has one of the largest blood supplies of any body organ, this pressure has dramatic effects on its function, improving circulation and squeezing out stagnant secretions.”
“The most effective pranayama (breathing work) for thyroid problems is ujjayi breath. It acts on the throat area and its relaxing and stimulating effects are most probably due to stimulation of reflex pathways within the throat area which are controlled by the brain stem and hypothalamus.”
“One of the most prominent precipitating factors in states of thyroid imbalance is long-term suppression and blockage of emotional expression. Balancing the emotions and giving a suitable outlet for their expression is an important part of yoga therapy for thyroid disease. Kirtan (signing of mantras collectively) is one of the most useful means. Another is ajapa japa meditation in conjunction with ajjayi breath.”
At the very first sign of a tickling throat (you know that feeling when you might be coming down with something) or if you already have a sore throat, or people around you are coughing or contagious just whip out this mean machine herbal tincture and spritz three to four times.
With a few sprays to the back of the throat (I’m warning you now it’s got a crazily intense taste that will shock your taste buds but a few seconds later most people love the sage-hit) it instantly attacks gristly germs trying to bring you down.
It’s probably the one product I recommended the most and everyone who’s bought it at the back of my recommendation now swears by it. I love it even more because it’s a combo of natural, herbal and botanical ingredients: freshly harvested echinacea purpurea herb and root and sage leaves. The back of pack also says it contains sorbitol (407mg), ethanol (370mg), soy lecithin (20mg) and sucrose laurate (5mg).
It rarely leaves my side November through to March and even throughout summer I take it with me on travels, especially if I’m on a plane where the air is rife with germs. Even my editor, Anna Magee at Healthista love it- here’s her raving about it on Instagram:
I’m already on my second bottle this winter because this stuff really works!
In August I visited Amchara Detox Retreat on Malta’s sister island, Gozo for a review in Health & Fitness magazine. I stayed for five sunny days, three of which I spent on a juice detox and two were spent on a raw food diet. After a summer of festivals, holidays and fun it was a welcome break but the no-food-only-juice days were a shock to the system, mainly mentally because I hate going hungry! But after day two I started to settle into the process and after a few treatments a more positive feeling took over. Amchara is a laid-back, down to earth, nurturing and the people (staff and guests) really make the stay extra special. If you’re a first-timer to detoxing or fancy a relaxed retreat this is a great place to start. Here are the highlights with snapshots of my stay…
If you’re considering a meat and dairy-free, plant-based diet but don’t want to lose friends or your social life in the process then read on…
As someone who’s been vegan for over ten years and vegetarian nearly all of my life I thought I’d share my top five tips. After years of experience these are my go-to ways and shortcuts.
Maybe you’ve discovered your own – would love to hear them – and if you want more tips and tricks (I have so many) don’t forget you can leave a comment by hitting the plus sign below or tweet me @yanarbeauty.
1. Work out your motivation
Why are you doing it? What’s your motivation for taking on this way of eating. It’s also a way of life so the more you believe in what you’re doing the more likely you are to stick to it.
I wrote about my motivations and reasons for being vegan in a previous post here. It was a natural extension of being vegetarian from the age of nine – as my knowledge of the meat and dairy industry (and the impact it has on our health) grew so did my commitment. It’s taken years of education and awareness and I now passionately believe in it, it’s nothing like a fad.
2. Find your own boundaries
At the very beginning when I first toyed with the idea of going vegan I tried to be strict and failed miserably. A very miserable six month start ended up with a huge Christmas binge on cake and chocolate – lesson learnt – extreme and sudden deprivation can only lead to rebellion or failure!
There’s no need to lose your head over it so start gently, especially if you’re going from being a full meat eater. If someone offers you some cheese after dinner or chocolates in the office and you really can’t resist, it’s ok! Take it easy and be lenient and kind to yourself.
My boundaries are meat (obviously) and dairy as a whole ingredient, for example I would never have an egg sandwich but if someone has baked a cake for a birthday then I may have a bite or a slice out of courtesy (and sometimes I won’t – I’ll just judge the situation). I think it’s good to be balanced in mind and make small exceptions when needed and know you’re committed all other times.
3. Be flexible eating out
Eating out my seem like an impossible feat at first but it gets easier once you get the hang of it, I promise. The trick? Be flexible and open minded with the menu (mix and match ingredients and check out the sides menu for vegan-friendly options), be nice to waiters/waitresses, and don’t be anal. By that I mean, if something has a hint of butter in it maybe you can let it pass? For me, as long as butter, eggs or cheese are not the main ingredients I don’t get too caught up. For example, it’s ok if some ghee has been used in an Indian vegetarian meal (it’s likely to be minimal) but I won’t choose a paneer cheese dish. No one likes a food bore so it works for me to be flexible when social and then as true to veganism as I like when I’m at home. That way I get to keep my friends and social life too!
4. Eat more!
Cutting out three major food groups (meat, fish, dairy) means making up the calories, vitamins and nutrients somewhere else otherwise you might waste away or end up looking like a pale, unhealthy, anaemic vegan and that’s no fun. Stay strong and satiated with bigger portion sizes than you’re probably used to – the calorie content of vegetables and pulses is far lower than meat, fish and dairy so you have a lot of catching up to do at meal times.
Anyone who knows me well knows I eat family portion sized meals (and I’m still small) with a mega fast metabolism. In the past I’ve tried dipped into packet vegan / meat substitute foods (non-dairy cheese springs to mind) but found unprocessed wholefoods in their most natural state work best for me. This area is yours to experiment with.
5. Get friendly with fats
My secret to staying fuller for longer is to eat plenty of plant fats… I always have avocados, coconut oil, tahini paste, olive oil, argan oil and rapeseed oil in the cupboard and eat them with food on a daily basis. I use coconut oil instead of butter to spread onto toast (delicious on sourdough or rye bread) and drizzle olive or argan oil on food so it goes the extra mile. Otherwise I’d be starving again very soon! PLUS all of these plant fats are nourishing for skin and cells so it’s a win-win situation.
I do believe you need to be a bit of food lover to be vegan otherwise it’s difficult to make it work as it’s already a restricted diet. Enjoy yourself and be creative within the boundaries and experiment… Don’t be afraid to try something new and you’ll eventually arrive at foods and meals you love. Would love to hear any questions or tips you might have… Happy eating!
(Image credit: Gemma Correll – my favourite illustration, brilliantly depicted)
Every October it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a worldwide annual campaign to highlight the importance of breast awareness, education and research to support the 55,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer every year – that’s one person every ten minutes.
Brands across beauty, fashion and lifestyle release products to support the cause and it’s easy to spot these every October as they’re usually in some shade of pink (apart from Jane Iredale’s this year, which goes against the grain in green!). Whatever your thoughts on this charitable twist in commercialism, it does generate a lot of money (and awareness) for breast cancer charities, which I’m sure, can’t be a bad thing.
For October issue Health & Fitness magazine, I picked my three favourite breast cancer awareness beauty buys:
Jane Iredale Lemongrass Love Hydration Spray – in a fitting shade of green for lemongrass, profits from this uplifting facial mist will support Against Breast Cancer charity.
Paul Mitchell United in Pink Paddle Brush – a great budget-friendly brush that’s also useful.
GHD limited edition Electric Pink – makes a great gift, with £10 from each appliance going to Breast Cancer Now.
As well as these, a few other interesting things popped into my mailbox which I couldn’t squeeze onto the page but definitely worth a shout out:
Not Another Bunch of Flowers notanotherbunchofflowers.com – launched by Annika Burton, who was suffering from an illness herself and received so many gifts she couldn’t use during treatment she decided to set up a site with more suitable pampering gifts. You’ll find a whole variety of crafty ideas and cards that don’t shy away from the subject of illnesses such as cancer, and may even put a smile on someone’s face. It reminded me of Not On The High Street website but with a specialist spin. There’s also a great blog so check it out.
Beauty Despite Cancer beautydespitecancer.co.uk – a site dedicated to maintaining health, beauty and vitality despite the difficulties of illness, treatment and hair loss. Founder, Jennifer Young has dedicated her time to create skincare, beauty and even makeup suitable for patients undergoing cancer treatment and has even written a book to support this journey which would make a touching gift this month. Buy Recognise Yourself, Beauty Despite Cancer on amazon. The site also offers a wealth of resources, inspiration and motivation for cancer patients.
You can read more about the products Jennifer Young has produced for cancer patients in an interview I did with her previously for Healthista.com here.
If you’ve spotted any interesting breast cancer awareness buys or like to mark the awareness month in any particular way, do let me know – in the comments below or on Twitter @Yanarbeauty.
I’d never heard of GABA rice until recently when Minvita.co.uk introduced me to two varieties: Green Tea Jasmine rice, and Black Rice. Both are germinated / sprouted rice before being milled to encourage a higher content of vitamins, nutrients and particularly an amino acid called GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid). I tried both and the results were pretty tasty…
According to nutritional experts, germinated or sprouted rice has higher nutritional value than ordinary rice with more fibre and antioxidants. According to Minvita this rice contains ten times the amount of gamma-amino butyric acid which can aid kidney function.
It took a little longer than conventional white rice, probably about the same time as brown rice, and the cooked texture is not as soft and fluffy as white but is a bit more solid.
How to cook GABA rice:
For every cup of rice use 1.5 cups of water. Rinsing not needed.
Pour water over rice in a pot with a lid.
Bring to the boil with the lid on then reduce heat to simmer once the water has almost evaporated and cook for 40 minutes on the steam.
Remove from heat and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
I’m on the west coast of Morocco in a tiny village outside Essouira watching 30-40 local Berber women crack argan oil kernels with little rocks and nimble fingers onto big slabs of stone. The sound of tick-tick-tack-tack fills the air above the low murmur of chitter chatter. I’m with Weleda UK, the health and beauty brand that sources its fairtrade and organic argan oil from this women’s cooperative. These Berber women have been shelling argan for generations but now they’re being paid a better wage with good working conditions and even family benefits. They kindly let us film and photograph this fascinating process, which was a very special experience so I’m really pleased to be able to share it with you.
Most people have heard about argan oil – one of the biggest buzz words in beauty and haircare in recent years – but what you may not know is how labour intensive the journey is to get this prized argan fruit from seed to skin and what a superfood it is for skin and health.
My trip involved seeing the wild argan tree forests, the local Berber women at work, as well as the creche and kindergarten that looks after and educates their kids while they work, the filtration and production process and of course, sampling the finished argan oil products – both culinary and cosmetic.
Here I share the top three things you should know about argan oil and beauty as well as a few magical highlights from the Weleda trip.
1. Argan trees are precious property but in decline
The argan tree is an ancient species, thought to date back millions of years in this south-west region of Morocco. They survive dry and windy conditions in the semi-desert like terrain with their scruffy, rather rugged looking appearance but apparently it’s their long root systems that travel far through the soil and limestone that help seek out water, anchor them firmly into the ground and even keep the desert at bay. With gnarly branches, these trees are viciously thorny so don’t get too close. Only goats are unperturbed so it’s a striking sight to see them at the top of an argan tree, nibbling the fruit.
We took a brilliant ecological walking trip across the coast and our guide described the decline of argan trees over the last 100 years. At the turn of the 20th century Morocco had around 2 million hectares of argan trees but during the 1970s and 80s, there was drastic depletion due to a number of reasons: trees were felled to make way for fruit farming; chopped down for wood, destroyed through fires, or over-grazing by goats and camels. Considered to be the gold of Morocco, this region is now Unesco protected.
2. Producing argan oil is a long and labour intensive process
Extracting argan oil is time and labour intensive, which is why sourcing fairtrade is important. With the rise in worldwide demand for the ingredient, it’s easy for large cooperations to overlook the man (correction: woman) hours it takes to produce and bring prices down, which only really serves the end multinational while the Berber women who do the work are likely to get a raw deal.
That’s why the Sidi Yassine cooperative is so special. Ulysses Müller is the founder and owner of the cooperative which Weleda UK sources its 100% natural, fairtrade and organic argan oil from. Ulysses, of Swiss origin, set up the company 12 years ago with his Moroccan wife to create a product with high, international quality under fairtrade and organic principles. Sidi Yassine is still the only producer in the region with these credentials.
I’ve always been interested in the provenance of ingredients so getting to actually meet the women behind our moisturisers was amazing.
Weleda is a brand that’s always been committed to putting people before profits and operating sustainably in harmony with nature and people – that’s why the partnership with this women’s cooperative works so well.
Sidi Yassine provides jobs to around 700 people, 99% of whom are Berber women and among the poorest in Morocco. The positive effect has been empowering these women with a better wage and respect for their work.
It takes around 15 hours of labour to produce 2-2.5kgs of kernels for one litre of oil. After the fruit has fallen from the tree and then picked from the ground and once sun-dried, the wrinkly outer skin of the fruit is removed using a simple purpose-built machine, and the hard inner nut is then broken by tapping manually between a large stone and smaller one; these stones are usually the women’s own and handed to them through the family.
The argan fruit is green and fleshy, similar to an olive but a bit larger and inside there’s a large nut containing one to three oil-rich seeds or kernels – the gold! Nothing goes to waste in this process as the soft outer skins are used as animal feed and the hard nutshells are used as bio-fuel. Sustainability at its best.
3. Argan is a super superfood
Argan has been used for centuries in Morocco as a beauty oil; a staple for Berber women to treat skin conditions and now the key ingredient in the Weleda Pomegranate range, which helps to nourish and firm older skins.
Argan oil that goes into beauty products is cold-pressed and not treated with heat at all, in order to retain its vitamins and nutrients.
Hailed as a wonder ingredient for health too, it’s been used to treat rheumatism and heart disease by locals in the past. We now know it’s rich in fatty acids and contains around 80% unsaturated fat as well as vitamin E. Some say it contains 80 times more free radicals and antioxidants than olive oil while studies have shown it can protect connective tissue, lower bad cholesterol and restore skin’s protective lipid barrier.
For culinary use, the argan seeds are lightly toasted at around 60 degrees which brings out the oil’s distinctive and delicious nutty flavour, not dissimilar to a walnut or hazelnut oil. It’s not, however, suitable for cooking as it can’t withstand heat so use it as a finishing drizzle over cooked food, salad or use for bread dipping in the same way as olive oil. If you’re a fan of nut butters then the local delicacy Amlou is a must – a mixture of almonds, honey and argan oil for use as a spread or dip with fresh bread. It’s simply divine!
If you’re stressed out by sleepless nights you’re not alone. Apparently 56% of adults say lack of sleep is stressing them out*. April was Stress Awareness Month so here are my favourite natural sleep and relaxation products from supplements to sprays that I use, recommend and often write about.Wishing you a calmer and more peaceful night…
1. A.Vogel Dormeasan
When I’ve struggled to sleep in the past, this has been my favourite way to nod. Made from organically grown valerian root and hops. Simply add 30 drops to a dash of water, 30 minutes before bedtime and swig it back. You may not like the taste but it’s short and sharp, works beautifully and worth the restful night.avogel.co.uk
2. Viridian Cherry Night
A powder mix of magnesium, red date, cherry extracts and the amino acid glycine. Add one teaspoon to water or juice and drink half an hour before bed. A friend of mine swears by this and was surprised how quickly it brought on sleep and how deep that sleep was. Viridian.co.uk
3. Potter’s Nodoff Plus Mixture
This has the consistency of a cough syrup which makes it super convenient to take. You can easily reach for a teaspoon and jump into bed. Contains passionflower, hops, valerian and skullcap, all clinically proven to aid sleep.pottersherbals.co.uk
4. Pukka Night Time
If you prefer popping a capsule pill then try Pukka Night Time. Containing valerian too but also the ancient Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha root which aids relaxation. The outer capsule shell is vegetable based / vegan and all the herbs are harvested from highly fertile organic soils via Pukka’s fairtrade programmes. Contains no dairy, wheat, gluten, added sugar or soya and no GMO ingredients. pukkaherbs.com
5. This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray
I was sceptical about a pillow spray at first but after diligent testing night after night, I became a total convert and dare I say a bit of an addict. I loved spritzing my pillow and duvet edges with this and letting the aromatherapeutic scents drift around and work their magic. You don’t need to suffer from sleepless nights to experience this product – if you’re prone to endless thoughts before falling asleep this gently relaxes and unwinds. thisworks.com
6. Fushi Passion Seed Oil
For an alternative to tinctures, supplements and sprays I’ve also tried a calming natural body oil. This maracuja oil by herbal health and beauty brand Fushi is obtained from the the passion flower, known for its calming and stress relieving properties. Harvested from Uganda and supporting over 200 families via a women’s cooperative. I recommend adding a few drops to your bath or applying it as a body oil before bed. I also found an impressive array of Fushi night time tinctures here – can’t wait to try them!
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that since adopting a regular breathing practice before bed I’m now able to nod off fairly calmly without help from herbal remedies. This has been a transformative habit and highly recommend it as a way to de-stress the body and mind. You can read more about my bedtime breathing practices here.
Let me know if there’s a product or practice that works for you!
*Research conducted by the Henry Potter Advisory Committee on behalf of Potter’s Herbals.
If you’re a green tea devotee then you might also enjoy its South American counterpart, Yerba mate. Sent to try by new superfood retailer Nutriseed.co.uk I realised it’s more than just your average brew. It’s loaded with energy, vitamins and minerals and used for medicinal purposes too. I’m aware there are traditional ways of preparing and drinking this tea but here’s how I did it in my kitchen…
Yerba mate (pronounced yer-bah mah-tay) literally means ‘cup-herb’ in Spanish or Portuguese. It tastes similar to a mild green tea but without the smoky oakiness that some green tea varieties offer.
The team behind Nutriseed.co.uk are also behind one of my favourite health drink brands, Super Eleven Shake, the power drink made with 11 superfoods.
There are more unusual finds on Nutriseed too such as the Ayurvedic ashwagandha (a stress-relieving and restorative herb), 28-day detox tea (a blend of 6 cleansing herbal teas), superfood capsules (spirulina, maca root and acai berry) and a variety of cacao (great for keen cooks).
If you’re a Yerba mate fan too, would love to know!
I’m on a mission to get stronger and if you read my column on Healthista.comyou’ll see I’ve taken up Crossfit. To build more lean muscle only protein will help. As I don’t eat dairy I need an alternative to whey powder so I’ve been trying a variety of non-dairy shakes and powders suitable for vegans. These are my favourite, ie. the tastiest and best I’ve tried so far.
1. Neat Nutrition Vegan Protein, £34
A combo of hemp and pea powder for 25gm protein per serving. Try the chocolate or vanilla for a delicious milkshake-style drink. I think the touches of xylitol and stevia are the secret to the great taste so even without milk, just water, and without having to add any other powder or ingredients, it’s lip-lickingly tasty. If it’s too rich however, just add more liquid. www.neat-nutrition.com
2. The Protein Works Natural Sunflower Protein
Made from 100% organic sunflower seeds, high in fibre, minerals and nine amino acids and the taste is surprisingly nice – I thought it would be bland but it’s mild, nutty and a bit creamy. While it doesn’t really need mixing with any other powder I’ve been adding Neal’s Yard Organic Berry Complexto give it a lift – a powdered berry complex high in vitamin C so it’s a great antioxidant and immune boost especially after working out so hard when oxidation is at its peak. Best bit about Protein Works Sunflower Protein is the price – not everyone can afford the super luxurious protein shakes out there so if you’re on a budget, look no further. www.theproteinworks.com
3. The Super Elixir Nourishing Protein Powder, £48
I’m so pleased I’ve discovered this one from Elle Macpherson’s WelleCo brandand was lucky enough to hear all about it from Elle herself at the press launch of her 4-Week Body programme this week. The Protein Powder contains all high quality, organic and vegan ingredients as a superior alternative to whey: pea, brown rice, all nine essential amino acids, B vitamins, cacao powder and a plethora of antioxidant richness from acai, pomegranate, dandelion, grapeseed, rosehip and so much more! This is a truly intelligent supplement drink. The tasty is mild and chocolatey and works perfectly well alone which I love. The sweetness and chocolate taste are both low so if you want a more intensive experience on your taste buds add one and a half or two scoops. www.welleco.co.uk
4. Nutriseed Hemp Protein Powder, £11.49
This is from a new superfood retailer Nutriseed and I just love the style and packaging – simple, bold and gutsy. Hemp powder is green in colour but doesn’t taste as green as you might imagine (it’s not as terrible as spirulina) but it doesn taste better with another ingredient so I’ve been using this with the same Neal’s Yard Organic Berry Complex featured above. I’ve also been adding this hemp powder to supplement other shakes. While hemp is not a complete protein (as it’s lower in a few of the amino acids) the bonus is the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and fibre it contains. www.nutriseed.co.uk
I have a protein shake after every single Crossfit workout (I do three a week at Royal Docks in East London). The protein fuels muscle growth and aids recovery and the liquid forms means it’s broken down and digested quicker then solid food. I ALWAYS follow with a proper breakfast or lunch though as these are not meal replacements, but food supplements.
Doing more weight-bearing exercises as I speed through my 30s is important to help maintain bone health, keep metabolism high (which starts to drop the older you get), keep limbs nimble and skin toned. Basically to help fight all the signs of ageing!
Not heard of Crossfit? Now’s the time to check it out! It’s an intense workout that uses functional training, weightlifting and gymnastic exercises in interval style drills. It’s fast, furious and fun and a great way to build all-round fitness and strength but to really make a difference it’s also down to nutrition.
If you’ve tried a good protein shake recently sans the whey and dairy then let me know! Or maybe you’re a dairy-free Crossfitter with some good tips? Tell me more! x
Roasted fennel is, for me, one of the tastiest vegetables that can come out of the oven but sometimes I want to take advantage of its fresh, raw goodness – refreshing, energising and detoxing – as well as its distinct, aromatic aniseed flavour and gorgeous crunch so only a salad will do. This is one I prepared in under ten minutes and brings out the best in this bulb.
1 whole fennel grated, including stalks
2-3 carrots grated
1/4 cucumber sliced finely
1 tablespoon sesame oil (this adds great complimentary flavour)
Dash of apple cider vinegar (rice vinegar or red wine vinegar will also work) – to give it a vibrant lift
Quarter squeezed lemon
Mix the grated fennel and grated carrot with the sliced cucumber in a big bowl. Add the rest of ingredients to the bowl and mix again. Serve.
Mine tasted delicious served with soup and then again served on sourdough bread toast.
Good news for celebrity vegans attending the BAFTA awards (Sunday 14th February) as this year vegan food is on the menu. Hoorah! Finally, a plant-based diet without dairy or meat is coming out of the shadows and being noticed by the mainstream as something desirable to try.
I was away for most of January but it seems Veganuary was a huge success. According to the organisers, around 23,000 people had pledged to give up meat and dairy so far, up from 3,000 in 2014. Very impressive.
I’ve been a vegan for around 10 years now (and vegetarian since I was nine) so it’s no new thing for me but there’s never been a better time to go dairy and meat-free.
Blogs and websites are full of inspiration for cooking and health (Green Kitchen Stories,Natural Kitchen Adventures and Sprouted Kitchen are a few of my favourites) and supermarket shelves are exploding with non-dairy produce. Years ago I’d be lucky if found one variety of non-dairy milk. Look at it now! (That picture was taken in Morrison’s a few weeks ago.)
Years ago it was not the coolest of lifestyle choices. I was usually too embarrassed to say the V-word in case people thought I was weird let alone promote it as something to try. I would always say I’m ‘vegetarian and I didn’t eat dairy’ (mumbled quietly and quickly before anyone really noticed).
Now doing the big V is like proudly wearing the latest wellness badge and touted as the must-try new thing to help you lose weight, stay slim or eat more superfoods. Luckily they were never my primary motivations but definitely an added bonus of not eating butter, cheese, cream, eggs or meat. Some people will try Veganuary as it’s another trend to try, for others it will resonate more deeply and they will hopefully stick with it.
Sticking to a vegan diet has never been hard for me as it was never a fad or fashion. It was something I believed in
I did it for fairly strong ethical and health reasons of my own will. It came from an unwillingness to support the very act and nature of meat and dairy farming. I realised the problems that motivated me to be vegetarian (inhumane, unnatural and intensive farming) still very much existed in the dairy industry so it didn’t make sense to eat dairy and not meat. The more I read about the dairy industry the more I knew I couldn’t support it.
I didn’t want to buy into an industry that’s unethical in its practices (see ethicalconsumer.com report here), pumps its animals with antibiotics and growth hormones which we end up ingesting, puts unfair pressures on farmers to meet unrealistic supermarket quotas, and intensive farming methods that have massive environmental and human impact. I don’t agree with any of those things and don’t want any of them on my conscience.
So whatever your reasons for going vegan, whether it’s to less meat, be more healthy, lose/manage weight or even do your bit for the environment, the secret to sticking to Veganuary after January is to make sure the motivation comes from within.
The more the decision resonates with you personally, the more likely you are to stick to it.
Read up about what you’re doing, learn how to make it work, what sacrifices you may have to make, and how to eat well – being vegan means you omit a few major food groups so it’s important to substitute well so you don’t fall weak or ill. Discover where your boundaries lie (e.g. will you eat honey, but say no to a leather sofa? Or are you happy to have a bit of cake on special occasions (like I am!) particularly if your friend has baked it, but won’t wear a leather jacket. Experiment and you’ll discover what’s right for you and your lifestyle and where you can draw the lines.
If you’re going from full meat eater to vegan then it’s a massive jump so take small steps rather than going cold turkey, excuse the pun. Don’t be hard on yourself for having a bit of cheese after dinner and be open to trying new and alternative ways of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. In restaurants, be creative with the menu but always smile sweetly at the waiter/waitress when making your extra special requests.
Remember, it’s not a punishment so enjoy it. Done with an open, relaxed and flexible mind it can be a really vibrant and creative way to eat.
It’s the best thing I ever did and if you’re giving it a go, let me know how you’re getting on and hope you love it too.
A few weeks ago Lifespan Fitness sent a press release about a treadmill desk – a health-fanatic’s upgrade to the standing desk – I was hooked. A slow-moving treadmill connected to a height-adjustable desk, a novel way to workout while you work I thought. I buzzed my editor at Healthista.com, knowing she would absolutely love it, and before I knew it my ordinary desk, where I also work at BeautyMART HQ, was whipped away and this mean-machine was put in place instead.
Walking and working became my daily grind for a few weeks, with the lulling sound of the treadmill in the background. The girls in the office found it hilarious and loved making videos but I was knackered.
Then Victoria Beckham tried it and tweeted about it. We’re so on the pulse! Although VB and I don’t share the same taste in footwear (see her sky-high stilettos below) we certainly know a good health craze when we see one…
Health benefits of a treadmill desk – it’s meant to be used as an office hot-desk so if you persuade your boss to introduce one, everyone will feel the health benefits. The treadmill is capped at a very slow speed so no chance of flying off and makes multi-tasking more simple than expected. Hop on and off throughout the day and it will wake up all the muscles that have been sitting sedentary for hours and lengthen the spine again. A half-hour burst certainly helps to bust away a mid-afternoon energy slump and minimises a hunched back from sitting at a desk all day. It’s thought just two hours on the treadmill desk, interspersed throughout the day, can counteract the damaging effects of a desk-life.
The downsides – because it was my actual desk for this review, I was literally walking for hours on end which had a knock-on effect on concentration levels. I wasn’t really able to focus on anything more taxing than being on the internet or posting on Facebook. By 4pm I was crawling to our office sofa, feeling grouchy and losing concentration.
But my legs had turned to steel (I hailed it the secret to red carpet legs on the BeautyMART blog), I felt lighter and I’d zapped away countless calories, although my appetite had tripled. For my Healthista.com review I spoke to Max Henderson, co-founder of Hot Pod Yoga about why sitting at a desk is bad for us and what we can do about it.
“Hunched over a desk will lead to bad posture, which is intrinsically linked to back and spine problems. Our central nervous system runs alongside our spine, which the spine protects. A curved spine prevents the muscles from protecting the nerves which can cause huge problems for the main trunk of the nervous system,” explains Max. “Plus a sedentary life can lead to wider health issues related to the pancreas and heart.”
Where do you get your calcium from? That’s probably one of the most common questions people like to ask when they hear I don’t eat dairy. The simple answer is, I go green – kale, spring greens, Chinese cabbage, savoy cabbage, parsley are all high calcium-rich foods. But did you know that kale is one of the highest sources of well-absorbed calcium compared to all other foods? Yes including milk…
Kale contains more of the good stuff per gram than milk (and although specifics on grams of calcium per 100g serving vary from site to site across the internet, just type kale vs milk calcium into google and you’ll see the battle is well documented but kale always wins). It’s a fact that still surprises many but what’s even more delicious than lovely, bold green kale is deep, dark and frilly purple kale.
But the next question that everyone asks: How do you cook it? I’m not one for following recipes by the book and whenever I look up a recipe for a green leaf I’m always disappointed to find it’s just a sidekick – like adding Swiss chard to a soup and getting a few measly leaves as part of the deal. Lovely, but no thanks.
So I generally do my own thing, cook up the whole bag and make it a dish in itself. Not only to get the full whammy of nutrients – iron, calcium, vitamin E (great for skin), vitamin K (great for bone health too), vitamin C (more than an orange), omega 3 and 6 (great for skin and joints) and magnesium (necessary for absorption of calcium) – but inevitably, if you just cook half with the intention of cooking the rest another day, that day never comes and that poor half-bag of kale just sits there in the fridge, wilting and getting old. So cook the whole bag and have the rest (if there is any!) for lunch the next day.
My current favourite way to cook kale is really very simple. I chop it as finely as you fancy, stalk and all (that part is actually very delicious cooked with a subtle sweet flavour), and add it to a pan with around 3 – 4 cloves of garlic (pressed lightly against a chopping board with the back of a knife). Then I cook for just a few minutes, just so the kale softens a little and the garlic infuses the leaves.
More often than not, I’ll serve it like this, with salt/pepper seasoning, olive oil and half a lemon squeezed on top. Lemon is a never-to-be-missed addition to any green leaves dish as the vitamin C is essential to for iron absorption. Its alkalising properties also release enzymes for better digestion.
For more flavouring, I love adding a tablespoon of Clearspring Organic Japanese Miso which melts down into consistency as thick or thin as you like, depending on how much water you mix it with (use hot water so it melts down easily). Pour into the pan as the kale is cooking and let the flavours of this ancient Japanese food spread into the leaves.
Serve your kale as a side with any dish you like – today I’ve chosen to go simple with good old avocado on toast (that powerhouse food I turn to day or night); or serve with meat if you’re not a veggie.
A few more tips for cooking kale:
Blend: Use a food processor to blend leaves down to a finer texture to reduce the toughness. Blend with tomatoes, parsley, nuts, olive oil, seasoning and lemon to make a delicious and colourful tabbouleh-style salad. I do this quite often.
Try raw: Blend, juice or add uncooked kale to smoothies for maximum nutrients. After my adventures with raw food, reporting for Healthista.com, I’ve been experimenting with raw slaws which are super easy to make as long as you have a food processor. You simply add three salads or vegetables together with a bunch of herbs and seasoning and blend.
Find organic: If you can, choose organic – probably around a £1 more than a standard bag – but because pesticides love getting into the nooks and crannies of kale’s frills, it’s always better to go organic if possible.
Christmas, health, diet and wellbeing don’t usually go hand in hand, which is why I’ve taken away a dream team to help me through the festive period in a slightly better state – let’s call it damage control. Not only is it Christmas but I’m on holiday too so double trouble.
These health favourites are nothing fancy, and nothing complicated, just products that are natural, simple to use or take, easy to incorporate into a daily diet (however overindulgent it might be) and will hopefully mean the damage-remedy in January will be less of a mammoth task to manage.
From left to right:
Viridian Equinox Elixir – with nasty air con blasting, you’re lucky to get off a flight without sneezing or coughing so I take this herbal tincture with a bit of water when I’m in the air to ward off any bacteria or germs. Antioxidants are my number one in-flight essential and because Viridian Equinox is helpful for boosting the immune during a change of seasons, it’s perfect for travel too.
Viridian Digestive Elixir – I’ve made it a daily habit to take 20 drops of another great Viridian tincture, Digestive Elixir, after learning about the benefits of morning bitters from the experts at Grayshott Hall. This one supports the enzymes necessary for digestion and I’ve taken it every day without fail this holiday. I’m eating extraordinary amounts of food this holiday, some of which I’m not used to, so setting myself up on the right path first thing in the morning helps my tummy get through the day!
VeryWise EnergyWise – this is a new kid on the health block so I’ve taken it away to try. There are six oils in this new range of Omega 3 ‘shots’ by VeryWise, as Omega 3 is thought to be the cornerstone of heart, brain and joint health. Each variety is specially formulated for a different health focus and this one, EnergyWise, is the only one that’s vegan (the others contain fish oils). It’s got a lovely mixture of B vitamins, some caffeine (75mg) and the medium chain fatty acids (MCTs, as found in coconut oil) that support balanced blood sugar levels and metabolism. It tastes like a caramel espresso shot (yum!) and gave me a noticeable boost of energy. My only gripe is that the bottle and cap gets messy, reminding me of the way children’s medicine does, so don’t throw away its cardboard container.
Nosh Detox Raw Boosters – as I can’t take away my green veg and blender on holiday, these little sachets of health containing raw, organic, freeze-dried super powders are a portable substitute. A power-mix of alfalfa, kelp, chlorella and other greens for a quick way to balance any acidity from overindulgence; bread, wine, dairy or meat are the biggest culprits for an over-acid stomach and that means one thing: bad digestion, low absorption of nutrients, bad skin and weight gain. One of these green shots (pictured) can help rebalance the alkaline in the tummy, even with festive over-eating. Lemon water first thing in the morning also helps.
I thought mixing with water rather than juice would taste terrible but it wasn’t bad at all and I’m definitely going to buy some the next time I go away.
Pukka Organic Coconut Oil – I’m a huge fan of coconut oil and use it practically every day so I wouldn’t dream of going away without it. Most tubs are huge but this one from Pukka Herbs is the perfect size for holidays, trips and overnight stays. Delicious on bread or toast, on skin and generally for health, coconut oil is a powerhouse for health and diet: its slow-release energy keeps you fuller for longer, it’s used by the body as instant energy rather than stored as fat and has an amazing power to increase the metabolism – not far off detoxing while you eat!
The Organic Pharmacy Detox – after reading my Raw Food Diet Challenge, founder of The Organic Pharmacy, Margo Marrone, kindly sent me her Detox capsules to try, telling me they’ll keep my tummy flat without having to slave in the kitchen for a raw food diet. I’ve taken them meticulously as instructed (three capsules 30 minutes before food in the morning and three caps in the evening after food) and I have to say my tummy would not be as well behaved and un-bloated for the copious amounts I’ve eaten this holiday, and with all the baklawa I’ve eaten, there’s no way my skin would have remained so clear.
I’ve tried a lot of detox and cleanse supplements over the years and this one is also gentle, as it says it is, i.e. no sudden rushes to the bathroom. The blend in the vegan capsules contains burdock root, alfalfa, chorella, slippery elm, psyllium husks, barley grass and other fabulously detoxifying herbs. Highly recommended as a supplement to any festive food and drink blow out.
I’m on a mission to stop bread, from being bad-mouthed and rejected. It’s time to stop the bread-hating and the guilt. This wonderful food that’s been a staple in our diet for hundreds of years seems to be the bane of so many eaters and experts, not to mention dieters who can’t even say the word without shuddering (or salivating). The columnist Eva Wiseman once wrote a love letter to bread which was very endearing (apart from the ending where she grew apart from it).
Many nutritional therapists and naturopathic experts have tried to convince me to banish bread from my diet, scaring me with stories of gut irritation, intolerance and inflammation, but of all the health and food concerns I’m passionate about, bread is the one thing I’m the least interested in giving up or scaring people away from.
Why? Because I love it, and I think it’s modern day processes that have caused bread to irritate guts – the additives, fillers, bulking agents, preservatives and other ingredients that manufacturers use to produce bread as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. That’s what’s hurting people’s tummies.
If you select your bread carefully, from traditionally-made sources, using natural and organic ingredients with no added nasties then I don’t see a problem with it. It’s a delicious food! Granted, some people may have a specific intolerance to gluten which I can’t argue with but for the rest of us, we should be able to enjoy good food in moderation.
I also don’t have any of the tell-tell signs of a gluten intolerance (severe bloating, IBS, chronic pain) there’s no reason for me to say bye-bye to bread. It’s also not a problem for my weight – I eat it only a few times a week, I don’t have sandwiches for lunch and I always buy fresh bread that’s made well, probably once every ten days or more.
My favourites are a sourdough or dark, dense fresh rye. The darker and richer, with more interesting ingredients such as seeds, nuts and different grains, the better. I recently discovered Able & Cole deliver bread too – a Rye and Spelt loaf is coming in my next box to try. Can’t wait!
As a vegan however, people wonder what I spread on toast – obviously I don’t smother it with butter so if you’re stuck on what non-diary options to have on toast my recommendations are here.
Coconut oil – this is my bread’s daily ‘butter’ – I use it almost every time I have bread or toast, whatever ingredients I add on top. I have a tub in my cupboard on the go at all times! Currently I’m loving Tiana Fairtrade and Organic Coconut Oil (they have a plethora of interesting coconut oil products so click the link and check them out).
Avocado – another staple in my diet – without avocados I think I’d be a very hungry (and sad) person. If I have time, usually at the weekends, I add complimentary ingredients such as chilli flakes, fresh chilli, lime juice, red onion or salad onion. All other times I just smash and spread. A grilled or fresh tomato on top really does the trick too.
Sesame Seed Oil / Tahini – I discovered how amazing this is as a spread when I did my Vipassana 10-day silent meditation. I watched people eat it with honey drizzled on top and I instantly fell in love. The dense, rich nutty taste of the sesame seed and the sweetness of honey to lift it is an utterly divine combo. I don’t have this all the time, but it’s great when you fancy something sweet.
Olive oil – cold-pressed and organic, for dipping at the dinner table. Looks nicer and neater than a big tub of coconut oil!
So there you have it, a health-geek who loves bread. I’m off to have my breakfast now – avocado on toast, of course, what else? x
Colds, flu, coughs, sneezes, headaches, sore throats, germs, illness – there’s something in the air at this time of year. A new season, a new start. But if your immune system is buckling under the pressure of seasonal change then you need to get your hands on some effective winter health care. I’ve discovered, tried and tested three easy, natural ways to prevent and cure a cold. Notepads at the ready:
1. Elderberry tincture If you’re suffering with a full, heavy cold like I was a few weeks ago then I highly recommend popping to your health food shop and asking for some elderberry tincture. Avoid the syrup version (sweet and thick and loaded with sugars) but find the concentrated oral liquid version which is just distilled herbs. Most come with alcohol (minimal amounts) and there are some without, which are slightly more expensive.
What does it do? Just 20 or so drops in a shot of water 2-3 times a day basically reduces the severity of your cold or flu symptoms. I was back on my feet in miracle time and back to work the next day. I can’t recommend it enough! I paid £4.99 from Haelan Centre in Crouch End, North London. I found one from Nature’s Answer online here.
Another health-ranger but for prevention more than cure is Echinaforce Sore Throat Spraywith extracts of echinacea and sage. Whenever you feel any symptoms such as a tingling, scratchy or sore throat then spritz a few pumps of this to the back of the throat to stop things from getting worse.
The brilliant team over at A.Vogel including the resident nutritional therapist Ali Cullen, who is a wealth of knowledge, introduced me to a pile of winter-care products and this is one of my favourites. I now carry it with me almost everywhere I go and especially on a flight where germs are rife and illness is waiting to happen. A quick spritz before getting on the plane, one during and one after seems to stop germs their tracks.
What does it do? The echinacea extract is from the fresh leaves and root, thought to be the most potent parts in supporting the immune system. The sage is antiseptic so if you already have a sore throat, it’s great at helping to relieve symptoms and clear it up. Buy it here, £8.99, avogel.co.uk.
3. A Vogel Bronchoforce Chesty Cough Another tincture – yes I love a tincture! This oral liquid contains ivy, thyme and liquorice root to help get rid of a chesty cough, mucus and catarrh. All those pesky ailments that never quite leave your system after having a cold/flu. My yukky, hacking cough remained for a at least a week after I kicked the cold away.
What does it do? I took about 30-40 drops in a shot of water when my cough felt bad and sore. I kid you not, my cough was gone in less than 24 hours. It was another miracle cure that I had to share! It doesn’t taste great (but most tinctures don’t) and totally worth it. Buy it here, £9.15, avogel.co.uk.
Would love to hear how you fight off a cold and flu and any other natural remedy suggestions..!
“Start your day with a hot water and lemon” – it’s an age-old health tip that most of us have heard a thousand times but experts rarely explain what it does in our bodies that makes it so good. My younger cousin asked me about this the other day, which got me thinking – we’re always told it will help detox and cleanse etc etc but it wasn’t until I spoke to founder of Honestly Healthy, Natasha Corrett, that it really clicked. She explained exactly why, in very simple terms, and now I drink this almost every day as well as squeeze lemon onto almost everything I eat to aid digestion. Here’s what she said:
The body digests and detoxes over night (that’s why we sometimes feel windy in the morning) and by the time we wake up our stomach is in an acidic state (acid = not good) which needs to be re-balanced. Lemon, as we know, is an acidic food but once it hits the stomach it’s metabolised and becomes alkaline (alkaline = good), which then rebalances the gut to a state it can digest food more effectively, absorb more nutrients and fight off illness.
If you’ve read my Glow Girl column on Healthista.com you will have heard me talking about the benefits of an alkaline-rich diet: alkaline-forming foods will over time help stimulate essential digestive enzymes essential for weight loss, improve absorption of nutrients, keep everything moving (very good), maintain and balance energy levels and keep sugar cravings down. All good reasons to drink lemon water through out the day too, which is why I want one of these: A Citrus Zinger! Too many acid-forming foods (not just alcohol, fizzy drinks and sugary foods, but meat, dairy and cereals too) are not only difficult to digest but the body has to draw essential minerals and nutrients from elsewhere to break down the excess acid. Then it dumps the excess acid into body tissue as fat. Aaargh.
So now it makes sense, get squeezing and start to feel the difference. And let me know if you already have one of these nifty bottles in your life…
Healthista.com is the brand new website for women’s health and every fortnight I’ll be writing a column under the name of Glow Girl. My first post was on the alkaline diet i.e. eating your greens, and why this no-diet diet is so good for health and glowing skin. Expect an honest story of bloated tummies and belchy bellies and new found ways to turn a new, greener leaf. Read it here.
As well as talking about how I coerced myself away from daily glasses of red wine and the foods that I personally keep on and off the menu, I also spoke to Natasha Corrett, founder of Honestly Healthy, a fantastic recipe book and food delivery service that celebrates alkaline eating.
Healthista.com is the brainchild of health journalist and author Anna Magee who I’ve been lucky to work with on and off for the past several years. We first met when I assisted her on Red magazine where she was Health Director and I was just beginning my career in editorial. We’ve kept in touch ever since and it’s fantastic that our paths have continued to cross and I’m now contributing to this impressive new site, which is right up my street.
Healthista.com offers a wealth of knowledge for women (and men!) who want to feel empowered by deeper health knowledge – whether it’s mind, body, beauty, nutrition, sex, fertility or surgery – this site has it covered. There’s also a huge list of health experts involved so you’ll never be short of renowned expertise on these essential topics.
Join me on the Glow Girl column each week as I unveil the must-have health and beauty secrets and my quest for inner health and outer beauty – and don’t hesitate to let me know what you think! You can follow the Healthista team on Twitter too – @HealthistaTV and myself on @YanarBeauty.
It’s not always easy practising what I preach when it comes to health and nutrition – although I try to buy organic, I avoid dairy and I’ve been a vegetarian nearly all my life (since I was nine) – it’s taken a while to get on board the green juice/smoothie movement. Now that I have though I’m really quite into it – but how do you make them taste good?
First, I found this great list of four easy recipes for green juices and smoothies – I think it’s one of the better collections I’ve seen. I passed it round my non-hippy friends and to my surprise they were guzzling down green concoctions before I’d even had a chance to take a proper look myself. I finally dusted off my blender (a brilliant Kenwood Compact Jug Blender) and now perfecting the art of blending green…
I started experimenting with big bunches of green veg – whatever organic variety I could get at the shops: spinach, kale, lettuce leaves, celery, cucumber, parsley and mint as well as lemons and fruit for taste and added vits.
After a few attempts I’ve arrived at a few top tips on how to blend green and enjoy it.
– Use a whole (or half) lemon – yes, including the rind! – Buy organic, unwaxed lemons and add to the mix. Not only will it balance the earthy taste of the greens but the vitamin C will help your body absorb the iron more effectively.
So instead of just squeezing the lemon juice, use the whole (or half) lemon – chop up it up small (so the blender can handle it easily) and pop it in first. It gives the blend a fantastic kick.
– Balance any sour from lemon with low-sugar fruits – pears, kiwi (use the whole kiwi including the skin), blackberries, strawberries or melon will give the recipe a palatable lift and add more antioxidants and vitamin C.
– Experiment with different raw green veg – fresh, organic, uncooked spinach is great because we usually eat spinach cooked which means a massive loss of nutrients. Use half a bag (if you’re using baby leaf) or a whole bunch if using large leaf, fresh. The darker the greens, the greater the goodness so try different varieties of kale and/or parsley.
– Add liquids and high-water veg to thin it down – as with most smoothies, too little juice leaves things sludgy so thin it down with ice, apple juice, coconut juice or rice milk and you’ll get a better consistency and taste. High-water veg includes cucumber and celery.
– Add a superfood powders – one of the reasons I’ve turned to greens is to eat a more alkaline-rich diet. I’m hoping this will mean fewer health problems and a cleaner, healthier gut in the long run. When the gut is functioning properly it absorbs more nutrients and this can lead to better health and better skin too. I love Pukka Herbs Organic Clean Greens (includes sprirulina, kale sprouts and wheat grass juice).
Other super-food powders currently doing the rounds on the health-fanatics’s shopping list are Aduna Baobab Fruit Pulp Powder for a super-strength dose of immune-boosting vitamin C or Organic Burst Maca Powder for a natural way to boost energy levels – great if you’re a busy mum or do a lot of sport.
– Don’t forget it’s trial and error – the more you blend and experiment with quantities and combinations the better it gets. The first few times I did it I wasn’t so impressed but now I’m loving it – it’s great with mint and cucumber too so make sure you have plenty of those as make everything taste great.
I reviewed a very interesting massage treatment for Natural Health magazine recently which puts a totally new spin on a traditional massage. Instead of switching off, therapist Belinda Freeman encourages you to tune in and turn the mind on. The Mindful Massage (at Third Space, London) may sound like it defeats the object of having a massage but it’s actually quite clever and totally unique.
Belinda talks through the massage in a quiet, soft and soothing voice to keep you focussed on your body and breath. It’s totally guided so there’s little opportunity or space to let the mind wander, working in a similar way to some meditation where you just focus on your breath. As the mind starts to drift off, she brings you back to the present and to the sensations of her touch.
She’s cleverly combined elements from yoga nidra (yoga sleep where you stay consciously focussed but your body is in deep relaxation) with the concept of mindfulness (being aware of thoughts, actions and emotions) as well as drawing on her 25 years of experience in Tai Chi, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, hypnotherapy, counselling and more.
Recommended? Yes, definitely. Try this massage if you’re having problems relaxing and need to de-stress and settle the mind. Not only do you get an excellent massage, worth the session in itself, but may discover a new way to increase focus, clarity and emotional stability. It’s great if you have experience of yoga nidra too as there are several similarities to relate to.