chicken breast with cranberry

How to eat healthily this festive season

As much as I enjoy this time of year it can be a little fraught when trying to maintain any chosen eating plan. As a coeliac I obviously have a gluten-free diet but on top of that I like to eat a certain way (not too many carbs, but plenty of lean protein and vegetables for example) and whilst it is good to indulge a little, relying on other people to cater for me can be problematic. But whether you are coeliac, vegan, nut-free for example (or all three), the office party or a festive meal with family can cause anxiety.

Added to this there seems to be so much more to do in the run up to Christmas, what with finishing up work before the break as well as catching up with friends. Managing energy levels can be a problem too with so many commitments, but you can help keep energy levels consistent by taking advantage of how the human body digests different food groups for use as fuel to make glucose.

The digestive system is able to break down simple carbohydrates (such as white bread, pasta, rice or sugars) relatively easily but the denser, more fibrous complex carbohydrates (brown rice, whole grains, whole fruit rather than juice for example) take a little longer. Protein and fats take longer still. Having small meals and snacks at regular intervals during the day as well as always combining protein with complex carbs every time means that glucose is created in a drip-drip way rather than as a rush of energy, which can leave you fatigued and hungry within the hour.

In simple terms, that might mean a bowl of porridge with some added nuts for protein and a little fat for breakfast, hummus on a cracker mid morning and lentil soup for lunch. A vegan burger would be ideal in the evening along with plenty of vegetables and some quinoa, but any protein will do, be that tofu, beans or Quorn. This way of eating is quite sustainable even in the festive season as any complex carb or protein works and so you should be able to find something to eat even if someone else is in charge of the catering.

Smart supplementation could also be useful – you might consider a multi-vitamin and mineral that contains chromium which helps maintain blood glucose levels (which combines well with the way of eating described above). You might also take a B12, beetroot and iron complex containing iron, vitamins B2, B6, B12 and C all of which help combat fatigue.

Leave room for treats and plenty of fun too. In my case nothing hits the spot like mince pies, by far my favourite festive food and worth waiting all year for.

Walnuts, Cashews, Almonds

How to Support the Immune System this Winter

The immune system is an extraordinarily complex web of components that protect the human body from a vast array of potential threats. From food poisoning to hayfever, sniffles to more serious threats, the immune system is continuously challenged. Our diets should be optimised to provide healthy amounts of the key nutrients necessary to support the specific action of immune cells within the body.

There are several types of immune cells manufactured in various locations in the body, but it is white blood cells that are perhaps the most active as their job is to destroy rogue viruses.  They do so by miraculously changing shape and engulfing a viruse reducing it’s influence on the body little by little. This process is known as ‘phagocytic action’.

White blood cells that have this ability are known as ‘phagocytes’ and a robust immune system will have a large number of them.

Both the number of white blood cells and their action can be influenced by specific nutrients, and hindered by certain foods. To support the immune system it is encouraged that these nutrients be ingested to aid both  the formation and consequently, number of white blood cells, as well as optimising their efficieny or phagocytic action.


Which nutrients should be focused on?

Zinc – required to support the manufacture of white blood cells
Found in beans, nuts, brown rice, seaweed and pumpkin seeds

Vitamin C – enhances most areas of the immune system but can’t be stored in the human body so any excess is excreted. Regular topping up of this nutritent is encouraged
Found in berries, sweet potatoes, peppers, kale and cauliflower

Organosulphides – stimulates phagocytic action more efficient
Found in garlic, chives, onions and leeks

Carotenoids – stimulate white blood cell production
Found in carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, green vegetables, red peppers and dark berries

Omega 6 fats – helps red blood cells maintain their shape
Found in walnuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds, almonds and their oils

Selenium is involved in white blood cell and antibody production.
Found in onions, Brazil nuts, kidney beans and cashew nuts

Probiotics should be considered too as they can help with the penultimate stage of digestion as well as combat niggling bacterial and fungal infections, which may be depleting the immune system. Plain yogurt is a good source as are supplements, but get the best quality you can afford as not all probiotic capsules are equal.


Time to makes some dietary changes?

At Vertese® we’re very lucky that we get to work with many different experts and specialists in the field of nutrition. We asked our friend and well-known food expert, nutrition therapist and author Ian Marber, to share his thoughts on reducing or excluding meat from the diet.

Back in 1999 when I first started my career as a nutrition therapist being a vegan was considered a little extreme and alternative, but just as nutrition has become more mainstream and accessible, so has a vegan lifestyle.

Whilst I am not a vegan myself I have worked with countless clients who are and come to me for guidance to ensure that they are not missing out on any vital nutrients. Moreover they might come to see me to find a nutritional approach for day to day health issues just as anyone might whether they have a vegan diet or otherwise. More recently I have noticed an increase in questions, be they by email or to LBC or BBC radio where I have call in shows, about flexitarian diets. To the committed long term vegan the notion of being vegan sometimes must seem like an anathema but one could argue that this flexible approach is better than having no awareness at all of the amount of animal products in the diet. Recent media coverage of the World Health Organisation advice about processed meat and cancer risk certainly helps highlight this even for people who won’t change to a vegan diet but do want to cut down on how much animal derived product they consume. Now that it’s World Vegan Month, perhaps we might all consider making some changes.

I have become more aware myself and have one day a week – usually Thursdays – where I follow a vegetarian diet. Doing this has made me far more aware of what I eat the rest of the time and as I exercise a fair amount helps focus my mind on getting enough protein and omega 3 from vegetarian sources. Admittedly it’s fairly easy as it’s only one day but it is a weekly reminder not to eat on autopilot.

Whether you are a long term vegan or a carnivore considering making some changes there is always a way to make nutrition work for you. Whilst food should always be your first port of call there is often a role for supplements too – not taking them by the handful without appropriate consideration or advice, but taking the right supplements for your age and current diet.

Our thanks to Ian for sharing his views and we’ll bring you more from Ian over the coming weeks.

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