A Nutritionist's Guide to Surviving the Festive Season
Being extra busy is fun but it can be tiring and stressful. At times like these our need for certain nutrients can greatly increase. If you don’t generally take supplements, this may just be the time to consider it, to give the boost you need to get you over the line in good shape. Consider a good quality B Complex or Magnesium (more on that later) or herbs like Withania, Siberian Ginseng, Rhemania and St John’s Wort. These help increase your resistance to stress, leaving you feeling calmer and more able to cope with a full schedule. The B group vitamins — B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 — play an important role in keeping our bodies running like well-oiled machines. These essential nutrients help convert our food into fuel, allowing us to stay energized throughout the day and are involved in the manufacture of neurotransmitters like serotonin. They are critical nutrients for all things mind-related: mood and memory can benefit from the B's. In the right amounts, the B's can quell anxiety, lift depression, ease PMS, and boost your energy. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins. Add them to your salads, smoothies and spread on your wholegrain bread.
Magnesium – Adrenal Superfood
Magnesium is probably the most prescribed nutrient I use in clinical practice and truly is your nervous systems friend. It helps regulate cortisol levels and promotes feeling of wellbeing. One of the great things the majority of my patients find is that it gives them a very quick boost to their energy levels. I generally recommend supplementing with a powdered form, it is better absorbed and faster acting. Apart from nourishing the adrenals, magnesium is also a key cofactor in the ATP cycle – how we manufacture energy – and is also an essential mineral that is used by the body in over 300 different biochemical processes. Because magnesium is so widely used, it is easy for it to become depleted. Common signs of magnesium deficiency include muscular cramps and spasms, headaches, eye twitches and even a decreased resilience to stress. Magnesium deficiency is surprisingly more common than you may think.
Magnesium comes in a wide variety of foods, from nuts and seeds, to leafy greens and grains. Include these nutrient-rich foods in your diet to support your magnesium status:
• Nuts and seeds - Raw almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and sesame seeds.
• Green leafy vegetables - Kale, silver beet, chard and spinach.
• Whole grains - Quinoa, wheat, buckwheat and rye are not only high in magnesium, but other nutrients too.
• Dark chocolate - Feel like a treat? Raw cacao is also high in magnesium and makes a great guilt free treat in moderation
Here's a few simple ways to increase the levels of magnesium in your diet.
- Make your own trail mix to snack on at morning or afternoon snack time. This has the added benefit of boosting your protein and 'good' fat levels, helping to balance your blood sugar levels and keeping you full for longer. Mix almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts with cacao nibs
- If you are always looking for a sweet treat in the afternoon as your energy levels flag, make your own protein 'bliss' balls using raw cacao, nuts and dates to sweeten.
- Over the summer months make a tasty, fresh chicken salad with magnesium rich foods - quinoa, spinach and a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds for added flavour and crunch.
- Start the day with buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat is rich in magnesium, gluten free and not even classified as a grain, coming from the rhubarb family.
- If you need a straight chocolate hit, stay away from the processed stuff and have a couple of squares of dark, organic chocolate. Just make sure it is over 75% cacao. It's a good source of magnesium and has much less sugar.
One thing I hear myself saying it over and over again in clinic to my patients is to include protein with every meal. Increasing your protein intake helps you feel full for longer, boosts your metabolism and maintain your lean muscle mass. Protein also increase’s your brain’s levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone that tells you when your belly is full. Keep this in mind before you head out to your work party or Christmas function – pop some protein on your plate with a good serve of salad.
· So how much protein do I need? The general rule of thumb is 1 – 1 1/2 palms per snack. You will be amazed that not only do you feel full for longer by doing this, you also find your blood sugar levels stay much more constant during the day.
· Tuck in to an egg/protein shake/scrambled tofu/smoked salmon at breakfast. Include a few nuts with your apple at snack time and make sure your salad/soup has some added chicken/fish/lentils/meat at lunch and dinner. Between meals good protein based snacks include nuts, yoghurt, hummus with vegetables, and cottage cheese.
· ‘Green’ shakes with some added protein powder are one of my very favourite ways to keep my vegetable and protein intake up and are perfect for breakfast or as a snack. An easy, tasty one to start with is ½ cup frozen berries, big handful of spinach, 1 tsp chia seeds, 1/4 frozen banana blended in a base of coconut water or almond milk.
Happy Liver Foods
It’s pretty hard to avoid not having a few extra drinks at this time of year, it goes with the territory. While it’s important to remember to keep your alcohol intake moderate and stay well hydrated by keeping your water intake high, there are also numerous herbs and foods that will support the livers detoxification pathways and regeneration of cells. Herbs such as St Mary’s Thistle and Schisandra have regenerative qualities, while dandelion root, globe artichoke and golden seal get the bile moving to break down some of those extra fats you might be indulging in and ensure your detox pathways are fired up and working well. As always, my favourite way to look after your liver is through the use of ‘food as medicine’. Try including a few of these goodies in your diet to keep you and your liver happy throughout the festive season.
· Include foods rich in the liver’s favourite nutrients (lipotropics) to support fat metabolism -
choline and inositol (whole grains, legumes, egg yolks and lecithin)
methionine (garlic, onion, legumes, eggs, yoghurt and sardines)
Carnitine (avocado, fish, beef and chicken)
B Vitamins (raw nuts and seeds, wholegrains and vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables and legumes)
· 'Good' fats generally improve liver function, support blood sugar regulation keeping us feeling full for longer, reduce inflammation and enhance our immunity. Think oily fish, nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seed oil, coconut oil, olives and legumes. ALWAYS check your fish is sustainably sourced. Our oceans are incredibly depleted and we need to do our bit to help conserve those that are left.
· Dandelion root tea is a natural liver tonic. With a slightly coffee-like taste, it can be drunk with your choice of milk or ‘black’. The bitterness stimulates digestion, enhances the detoxification role of the liver and can improve bowel function. Try making your own chai dandelion for extra digestive support and deliciousness.
· Cruciferous vegies such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy help support the detoxification process of the liver. There really is a good reason to eat extra kale this time of year!
And if you are looking for a delicious dessert that is rich in magnesium but low in sugar to help you celebrate the Festive Season, look no further ....
Chocolate Chia Superfood Pudding
1 1/4 cup almond or coconut milk
1/4 cup chia seeds
3 tbsp raw cacao
Pinch Himalayan salt
1 tbsp of maple syrup or brown rice syrup
Optional - organic dark chocolate shavings to serve
Place all ingredients in a large jar with a lid and stir well.
Put lid on jar and pop it in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours until the mixture is thick and creamy.
Serve with toppings like goji berries, chopped nuts, coconut and mixed berries for extra deliciousness.