January can so often be a time where people intend to make radical changes and become a new person. Unfortunately time and again the enthusiastic plans we have for the new year so often fall by the wayside. After all, who wants to go running on a dark evening? Or eat a salad when there is snow on the ground?! In nature the vast majority of plants and animals use winter as a time to rest and restore ready to bloom again in the spring.
So why not take January and February to really think about what you want to achieve this year and make a plan? Then go for it come the spring when the nights get lighter and nature comes alive. That's not to say you can't make a start now but make them small and realistic. Here are our top 5 things to do more of in 2018!
1. Go for walks in the woods.
Getting out for a walk in nature is a wonderful way to exercise in a calming and rejuvenating way. Spending time in nature has been shown to improve mood, boost the immune system, reduce stress and improve sleep. But I bet you didn't need a study to tell you that?!
2. Stay hydrated.
An oldie but a goodie... how many of us actually drink enough each day to achieve optimal hydration? Try and drink more water or herb tea throughout the day. Remember caffeinated drinks don't count towards your hydration goals as they are dehydrating. An easy change to make this month would be to swap just one of your cuppa's for a herb tea to help keep you hydrated.
I didn't think that meditation would be for me. But then I tried it and loved it. It can be so hard to find time for ourselves to just chill when life is so busy with work, children, dogs to walk, houses to clean, bills to pay... I'll stop before our blood pressure goes up! It's really worth just carving out 5-10 minutes a couple of times a week (or every day if you can) to just take a breath and chill. It doesn't need any equipment, it doesn't have to cost anything and you can do it anywhere. I really like the headspace app but I'd recommend trying a few (lots of videos on youtube) and finding one that suits you.
4. Eat more Greens.
Green vegetables like kale, cabbage, sprouts and broccoli are so good for us. Packed with fibre to feed our good gut bacteria and B Vitamins like folate which can improve brain function and support fertility. If you just can't face eating your greens why not try Pukka's Clean Greens an organic daily blend of 11 super-rich green foods including Nettle, Kale Sprouts and Wheat Grass Juice.
5. Make your bed.
This will probably seem like such a random addition but hear me out. By making my bed each morning before I leave the house I know if nothing else goes right I have at least achieved one thing. It also encourages me to try and make my room a little more organised and less of the dumping ground it could so easily become. It's also lovely at the end of the day to walk into my room and see a nicely made bed ready for me to curl up in with a good book and a sleepy tea. Maybe you do this already? If not try it and let us know how you get on.
For this final piece in my 12 days of Christmas. I’m thinking about rhythm and how it impacts our lives and health and can be a force for good at many levels of our consciousness as humans. Some of these, you may not have considered. I hadn't a
great deal and yet I know I am naturally drawn to this very natural phenomenon of rhythm in a variety of different ways and I find each one necessary and comforting.
At the centre of our own our being is the drum that beats all the time and is part of our daily rhythm, just there doing its thing. From the beginning of life in the womb, we have always had that rhythm.
I remember being first aware of my heart beating as a very small child and found it a strange concept, scary even. But one things for sure, we need to rely on it every moment of every day. Rhythm is something we feel and bring in to dance and music and even walking, marching and language. The power of rhythm is quite remarkable as it can help soldiers march better and stronger even when exhausted and it can get
a baby to sleep.
Rhythm is also part of language and speech. Poetry is a wonderful example of rhythm in the written word and it’s something that has the power to bring us together as humans in a way that general everyday language and speech cannot. Reading poetry much like listening to a beautiful piece of music can soothe the soul and heal the sad and burdened. In our overly technological age of memes and quips lacking depth and sincerity, finding our way back to rhythm in beautiful and and carefully crafted language can be as good as a massage. Another wonderful thing about poetry is that in our fast paced modern lives, its slow and gentle paced rhythm simply slows us down with it, taking us on a journey into a deeper sense of
self and ultimately bringing a sense of peace.
Whether we literally take up drumming, play another musical instrument, join a choir, walk, dance like no one is watching, read some poetry or listen to a waterfall, connecting with that natural rhythmic force can calm and heal in a profound way.
Choose your rhthym. Find your beat. Feed your soul.
“Rhythm is our universal mother tongue. It’s the language of the soul.” - Gabriella Roth
This one refers to the 11 faithful disciples. This made me think of antioxidants as these are truly faithful disciples in our diet as they mop up free radicals preventing the oxidative damage associated with chronic disease from cancer to heart disease to dementia. Science is quite clear that we need the best variety of these to maintain optimal health and prevent those diseases of the modern age. We can experience free radical damage from poor diet, taking medications, chemicals, toxic working
environments, cleaning fluids, cosmetics and more. Antioxidants protect us from the effects of this at cellular level. Some of the best antioxidant foods to include as your 11 disciples are......
Don't forget antioxidant rich herbs:
Traditionally this refers to the 10 commandments. Now if we want to stay leaping throughout the year one of the most important ways of achieving this is to de-stress. One of the things I’ve noticed with clients is that we are all stressed to a greater or lesser extent and whether we think we manage it well or not, we all of us (myself included!) need to observe the commandments of relaxation and stress relief to stay on top of our health and prevent unnecessary health challenges.
One of the things I see a lot in my work is that often period of stress and particularly if there is a trauma, we can find ourselves developing symptoms we didn’t have before or even a new condition! So I was having a think about 10 commandments for stress management all of which are evidence based. These are simply.....
Go for a walk! It only takes ten minutes to release those endorphins which you’ll be glad to hear reduces our stress hormones. Walking in green spaces also offers a few moments of meditation and peace.
Deep breathing. I especially like the alternate nostril breathing used in yoga sessions as breathing deeply in one side and out through the other can help get us into a parasympathetic state. It only takes 5 minutes and makes a dramatic difference.
Meditation is something I never did until this year. I didn’t believe I could! But actually thanks to great apps like 'headspace' and 'calm' it’s actually quite easy to take a few moments of quiet and calm the mind. No this doesn’t mean switching the mind off (we can’t actually do that any more than we can ask our hearts to stop beating). It just means letting the thoughts float away without actually taking them on. The research on the benefits of mediation is enormous and something to be ignored at our peril!
Bring nature into the home! House plants are great as air purifiers but also bringing nature into the home brings calm. A study at Washington State University demonstrated a drop in blood pressure when house plants were brought into offices!
Kissy kissy! Apparently those who kiss more have less stress (Or maybe those who are less stressed kiss more!) Northwestern University studied 2000 couples and found this to be the case. So better pucker up!
Music is one of my favourites. Well known as a stress reliever, it’s something we need to use more pro-actively as part of our routines. I play relaxation music now whenever I work or study and am actually listening to some now! It makes a huge difference to concentration and I think aids memory.
Laughter is the best medicine! Who needs research to prove this one?!! But ask yourself when was the last time you consciously put on a funny movie or box set of your favourite show. Spending time with friends who you know life your spirits and make you cry with laughter is medicine you can’t get in any supplement. It’s so easy to get in a rut and not make time for these things so make space for laughter. Your body will thank you!
Eat something sweet! Choose carefully here, but a little bit of dark chocolate or a carefully made piece of baking with a little honey or maple syrup can blunt cortisol. That doesn’t mean eating our body weight in ice cream when we are feeling low, but just a little something to give us a wee boost, a date, a couple for squares of dark chocolate or a teaspoon of quality raw honey.
Visualisations are a great way to imagine where you’d like to be or hat you'd like to achieve in your life. Research demonstrates you can imagine winning a sport or killing cancer cells or anything you put your mind to. The amazing thing is that this technique works and is being used in fields of health , business and sport more regularly. So simple too!!
Switch off that phone! There's no doubt about it, smart phones are one of the biggest stresses around. Remember a world when you could eat, sleep, bath, be ill, go to the loo etc etc without that thing bleeping, pinging and generally driving us mad! More and more people are switching them off at night and doing social media detoxes. We need to or we are gonna go crazy!!
Take up these tips and you will surely leap into next year!
On the 9th day of Christmas my true love said to me.....
Dancing is one of my greatest joys in life. As a child I studied ballet, tap and modern and as an adult I was privileged to teach dance for many years. When I met my husband we used to attend a ballroom dancing class and we also went to ceilidh dancing when we lived in Caithness. As everyone knows, I'm never happier than when I'm dancing.
The advantage of dancing from a health point of view is that it's truly the most wonderful exercise for mind, body and spirit! The body part we know about because we use our whole bodies, muscles and joints and cardiovascular system too. But the absolute joy we get from feeling every note of the music and expressing the beat and the emotion and the meaning in every phrase takes us into the spiritual realm, where we can forget ourselves and our worries as the music delivers us into another dimension.
The brain is also well and truly exercised when we dance as we have to remember the steps and the sequence and keep to the rhythm. Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that learning the steps to specific dance routines will increase brain function and improve memory. There is therefore great interest in encouraging dance in the elderly in various community settings for the obvious benefits of movement and balance, but also motor function and memory. One very interesting study found benefits across movement, balance and gait in people living with Parkinson's disease. What I love most about this study is that participants were randomly assigned to the Argentine Tango! How wonderful! In the words of Craig Revel Horwood....Fab-u-lous!!
The other great thing about dancing is that we don't have to go out in the cold or join expensive gyms! We just have to clear a space, turn up our favourite tunes and go for it!! The amazing thing is that in clearing such a space for our bodies to move safely, I believe we clear a space for our emotions too as we engage in what I believe to be the best form of movement, DANCE.
'Dance enables you to find yourself and lose yourself at the same time.'
Everyone loves cheese and biscuits at Christmas. Wondering which one has the most health benefits? Feta made from sheep and/or goats milk is rich in nutrients. It is also much easier to digest and much less allergenic and inflammatory than cows milk products.
Always look for unpasteurised cheese where possible as a number of nutrients are less bioavailable after pasteurisation.
1. Bone Health - Everyone knows calcium is good for your bones. But did you know that countries with high dairy intake also have some of the highest osteoporosis rates in the world? Wondering how that can be possible? It's actually because milk has a habit of causing acidosis (high levels of acid) in the body which can damage bones. Therefore a cheese like feta is a much better source of calcium and if it's raw cheese the calcium will be more bioavailable.
2. Support Immune Health - Feta Cheese contains probiotics which help support your immune system and help protect against foreign bodies which cause disease.
3. Prevent Headaches - Feta contains high levels of vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) which has been used for a long time as a natural remedy for headaches and migraines. Including foods rich in B2 (and taking supplements where necessary) can be a simple way to minimise the number of headaches and migraines you get.
4. Eye Health - People with diets rich in B2 have also been found to have much lower risk of developing problems like cataracts and glaucoma.
Can't tolerate any dairy products? Don't worry you don't need to miss out on cheese this Christmas. A number of the supermarkets including Sainsbury's and Tesco now have their own range of cheeses made from coconut milk. They come in a number of flavours including: cheddar; feta; Wensleydale and cranberry and spreadable with or without herbs.
There are also a number of brands of coconut yoghurt and 'single' cream from Oatly if you are looking for a dairy free alternative to accompany your festive puddings.
Six geese a laying historically refers to the 6 days of creation. One of the amazing miracles of the created world is definitely the goose. However, it’s not so much goose as a food that I’m interested in here as what’s really fascinating about the goose is its behaviour. We can learn a lot from the goose in terms of how it operates. It is the ultimate calling bird as you will know if you live in the flight path of these amazing birds! It wasn’t until I watched a documentary about geese that I realised how amazing they are as social animals. I knew that they flew in a pattern with one at the front but what I didn’t know was that the leader changes regularly to give the one at the front a break without compromising on speed. The honking is seen as a way of communicating and encouraging one another to keep to the plan. Even more amazing, scientists have observed that if one goose becomes ill or injured, two others will drop out of the team in order to sit with them and protect them from predators until they are once again able to fly or simply die. Boy do we have a lot to learn from nature!
Geese are simply a family, working to protect one another and share the load of life. As you make new year’s resolutions, think about the geese and the way they help each other. If you want to walk more, find a walking partner. If you want to give up smoking, find someone who wants to go for it with you or who will be there for support. If you want to change your way of eating or your relationship with food, seek help from those who can make it a whole lot easier for you. Whatever your plans and goals do it together. Remember to share the load like the geese and keep honking for support.
“There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests get together to work towards the same goal.” Idowu Koyenikan
The 5 gold rings apparently referred to the 5 books of the old testament. We thought we’d offer our 5 golden nuggets for health!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Whatever changes you make in the new year, make sure you include these 5 golden nuggets and step into the new you… as nature intended.
According to tradition, the 4 calling birds symbolise the 4 gospels in the bible. If your wondering just what a calling bird is apparently we originally sang 4 collie birds which is an old word for a blackbird.
It is traditional to have much larger bird on the Christmas table roasted and decorated as the centre piece of the Christmas feast. For most of us that means turkey, but others across the world that may be a chicken, goose or duck or other meats and even vegetable dishes. Some families even indulge in a separate roast of beef or pork, served alongside the turkey!
Apparently Henry VIII was the first monarch to enjoy turkey on Christmas Day but it only took over as a tradition in the UK in the 1950’s. Up until then, turkeys were seen as luxury item and geese, pheasants and swans found their way onto the Christmas table more commonly. Last year, 10 million turkeys were consumed in the UK and 76% of families tucked into one. We have come a long way since Dickens’ Bob Cratchit was famously gifted an enormous turkey by Scrooge!
Turkey and geese are both perceived as healthy meats, ideal for lowering cholesterol, a great source of zinc, potassium and phosphorous and selenium which we need for thyroid metabolism and immune function. `Something else these meats have in common is the abundance of amino acid tryptophan which is a precursor to melatonin which could explain your post meal nap (and you thought that was the Christmas tipple!)
A survey has shown that in the UK the average age when women tackle their first Christmas lunch is 34!
The Christmas roast is one of those things we can stress over. Here are a few tips to get us through the meal with your questions answered.
Will the bird be fully cooked?
This is one I used to stress over! One way to check is to put a sharp knife between the breast and the leg and see if the juices are at all pink. If they are, pop it straight back in the oven until the juices run clear. Leave the bird to rest for half an hour outside of the oven before serving which gives you time to make your gravy. If like us you don’t have a double oven it’s perfectly fine (and actually makes the bird taste better) to leave it to rest even longer. Just cover it with some parchment and a couple of tea towels to keep it warm. That way the oven is free for roast potatoes/parsnips, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing etc. It’s much less stressful knowing the turkey is cooked and then you don’t have to panic about everything being ready together. If you are nervous about cooking a roast, a meat thermometer is very useful to ensure the joint or bird is cooked through.
NOTE: If you buy an organic free range turkey it will cook much quicker than a conventional turkey. This is because it hasn’t been pumped full of water and the birds have developed more muscle by roaming about freely. Nigella’s timings are a good guide. https://www.nigella.com/latest/talking-turkey
What if a family member is gluten free?
Most of the supermarkets have GF sausages and chippolatas at this time of year. Just ask the staff. If in doubt head to Marks and Spencer where they have a huge selection of Gluten Free options. Everything from sausage meat to gravy to Christmas pudding! There is no need to buy separate food as it would be impossible to tell the difference between them. Just give everyone the same sausages etc. If you are making home made gravy from the juices just use corn flour in a little cold water to thicken the sauce. As my Nan sued to do, a teaspoon of cornflour with a little water and mix well to a paste (no lumps!) then pour into your turkey stock in a small pan and beat with a whisk until thickened. Yum! (If you aren't comfortable making your own, all of the M&S gravies are gluten free anyway so problem solved!
How can I make sprouts more appealing?
Roasting sprouts in the oven drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt is a great way to make them more appetizing. You could also try them pan fried with some diced pancetta or streaky bacon. It’s surprising how different they taste when roasted instead of steamed (or worse boiled!). I just had a flash back to the Vicar of Dibley and Geraldine munching her way through plate after plate of sprouts as she finds herself in the awkward situation of several invitations to Christmas dinner!
Can I really get it all to the table while it’s hot?
Yes! Leave your turkey to rest to free up space and then just work out your timings for everything else. If using serving dishes you can fill these with hot water to warm them up before tipping it out and decanting the veg. If all else fails there is nothing that piping hot gravy can’t rescue so don’t panic and just enjoy your dinner. 😊
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Things will go much more smoothly if you delegate a few jobs. I’m sure you could get someone to peel the potatoes and parsnips while you do something else.
Finally, did you know that your Christmas roast dinner is probably one of the healthiest meals of the year? All those veg!! Just as important from a health point of view is that it's one day of the year, even us Brits linger at the table and enjoy a leisurely meal with loved ones and drink a toast to absent friends.
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