Eat yourself happy

March 26, 2014 in Happiness, Health, Healthy snacking, Nutrition, Weight loss

Happy_ShutterstockAre you feeling down in the dumps? Are you anxious, irritated and generally in a foul mood? Before you reach for your favourite pick-me-up snack in a desperate attempt to feel better, read this.

A significant number of studies confirms that what you put into your mouth could have a huge impact on your mood.

Whereas some foods can help boost the feel-good hormones and lift your mood, others can do the opposite and raise your anxiety and stress levels.

Eat yourself happy with these six foods:

Grab a banana. Bananas  are rich in tryptophan, a type of protein that your body converts into serotonin, which helps to relax you, improve your mood and generally make you feel much happier. Bananas are also rich in vitamins and minerals such as potassium and iron which help to stabilise your mood and beat fatigue.

Eat some Brazil nuts, which are rich in the mineral selenium. Studies have shown that people with low levels of selenium are more depressed, irritable, anxious and tired. Just three Brazil nuts  a day will do the trick.

Indulge in some dark chocolate, which is rich in flavonoids, an antioxidant that increases the blood-flow to the brain and provides an instant boost in concentration and energy. Dark chocolate  is also loaded with compounds such as phenylethylamine, tyramine, tryptophan and magnesium which boost your mood by releasing serotonin in the brain and mood-elevating endorphins in the body.

Go for omega-3 fats. Your brain is 60% fat and particularly loves omega-3 fatty acids  as they improve memory and focus and help fight off depression and mood swings. Oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines) is rich in omega-3 fats. Other foods rich in omega-3 include walnuts, flaxseed and soybeans.

Tuck into whole grains. Oats, whole-wheat bread and other whole grains  are very effective mood boosters. Whole grains have a low glycaemic index which means that they slowly release energy into our bloodstream, sustain your energy levels and give your brain a constant supply of glucose – boosting memory, alertness, concentration and mood. Whole grains also trigger the release of serotonin which helps to stabilise your mood and keep you calm.

Snack on berries such as blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries. These sweet little treats are rich in antioxidants and the B-vitamin folate which help reduce stress and depression by increasing the happiness hormone serotonin and improving memory and concentration.

This is my last blog post as Diet Editor of Health24. I wish you good health and happiness.

Remember, life’ s too short not to enjoy good food and company. Just make sure that you don’t overdo anything. Start your day with breakfast, enjoy fruit and veggies  with every meal, limit your salt, fat and sugar intake, get some exercise every day and you will be fine.

Small changes, big results

February 3, 2014 in Health, Healthy snacking, Nutrition, Weight loss

It’s the beginning of February and most people’s New Year resolutions have already failed dismally – again! If your New Year’s resolution was to lose weight, don’t despair; it does not have to be stressful or complicated! The secret to success is taking one small step at a time. A few simple changes could make a big difference – over the long term.

We tend to forget that habits (both good and bad) are formed over years, and can’t expect to make a dozen changes in just a few weeks. According to experts, changing or forming a new habit takes at least 30 days and re-affirming the new habit requires another 30 days. The best way to achieve your goal is to break it down into small parts.

One reason small changes to habits work is because you build success quickly, experts say. Each time you follow through on a small habit, you build your confidence and feel more in control. As one habit becomes routine, you can add another small one to it. And soon those small habits turn into a big lifestyle change that you can be really proud of.

Here are four simple changes you could try – one at a time. This way you won’t feel overwhelmed. With time, these changes will not only improve your health; they will also help to melt away the extra kilos.

Eat more fruit and vegetables. If you’ve never liked fruit and vegetables much, you can’t expect to start munching away on these foods all day long, forgetting about the existence of the less healthy snacks overnight. Start your new habit by eating one piece of fruit for breakfast and including at least one vegetable for lunch or dinner. Visit your nearest fresh produce market and choose a few brightly coloured fruits and veggies. Not everyone likes all fruit and vegetables, but by experimenting you are bound to find something you like. Gradually increase your portions per day, until you reach your 5-a-day requirement. Popular fruits to try are: strawberries, watermelon, bananas, apples, grapes, pineapple and sweet melon. When it comes to veggies, easy pleasers include carrots, baby tomatoes, cucumber, peas, sweet potato and mealies.

Stop drinking kilojoules. Fizzy drinks, sweetened tea and coffee, alcohol and even fruit juice are high in kilojoules – liquid kilojoules. Yes, even “healthy” fruit juice can be a kilojoule trap. Instead of drinking orange juice, for example, rather eat the fruit. The fresh orange will not only give you more nutrients, it will also fill you up more because of the fibre content. Many cups of sweetened coffee and tea, as well as alcohol contain lots of sugar which significantly adds to your daily kilojoule/energy intake. Rather fill up on water. Water is the perfect kilojoule-free weight-loss drink, while keeping your body hydrated and functioning in top form.

Plan your meals and remember to pack healthy snacks for work. If you plan in advance, you will be less tempted to buy quick kilojoule-laden fixes at the vending machine or corner shop. Opt for whole grains, low-fat protein, nuts, seeds, fruit and veg. Regular healthy snacks will also help to keep the hunger pangs at bay and make fatty, sugar snacks less appealing. Best of all, packing your own food will help you save money!

Get daily exercise. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start with just 10 minutes a day. It can be a brisk walk around the block, only taking the stairs at work, doing jumping jacks or rediscovering the fun of a skipping rope at home. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a fun activity that you are willing to do once every day – whether morning, noon or night. Ten minutes of exercise might not sound like much, but it is far easier to achieve than attempting one-hour gym sessions from day one. Exercise helps to burn kilojoules, tone your body and up your energy levels. Soon you will feel more confident – and ready to increase your daily activity with five-minute additions until you can do 30 minutes a day comfortably.

These are just four suggestions. There are many more simple ideas, such as eating breakfast every day, cutting your salt intake and avoiding fatty, fried foods. Will they take you from overweight to slim and sexy in a month? No, of course not! But these small changes will all act as building blocks to gradual and sustainable changes, leading to permanent weight loss and a healthier lifestyle.

Party-season survival plan

November 27, 2013 in Health, Healthy snacking, Weight loss

Hooray! The end of the year is in sight and the party season has officially started. Though we’re still slaving away at the office to get all the last things done before year-end, we’re partying equally hard to reward ourselves for all the hard work.

If you’ve been watching your diet over the past few months and getting ready to show off your new figure this summer, you may be approaching the party season with some trepidation. Parties = foods and drink galore = kilojoule bombs = bikini crisis.

Before you sink into a deep pit of depression and deprivation, take heart: food fests and trim waistlines do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Follow these tips and you can have the best of both worlds:

  • Never go to a party hungry. Have a healthy balanced snack beforehand and you’ll be far better able to resist temptations.
  • Once you’re at the party, don’t torture yourself by lingering near the buffet table. The persistent call of your favourite party snack will become totally irresistible if you hover there long enough.
  • When you do feel like having a snack, avoid the fried, fatty foods, chips, nuts and cheese platters which are very high in kilojoules.
  • Rather opt for the vegetable crudités and fresh slices of summer fruit. Watch out for the fatty mayonnaise and creamy dips.
  • When it comes to drinks, choose carefully. Alcoholic drinks, especially cocktails, can be loaded with kilojoules and they also tend to make you feel like eating unhealthy snacks.
  • Add soda water or ice to your wine, use sugar-free mixers with spirits and drink lots of water in between.
  • And finally, shake that booty. If dancing on the tables or jumping into the pool is not part of your party repertoire, make some time for at least 30 minutes of exercise every day – this will act as the perfect antidote to that forbidden snack that somehow snuck past your willpower right into your mouth.

Here’s to a healthy, fun-filled summer.

4 quick diabetes tips

November 14, 2013 in Health, Nutrition

Today is World Diabetes Day. Do you have diabetes? There is much you can do to control your diabetes and make your life a lot easier.

Here are four quick tips:

– Check your blood sugar levels regularly and take your medicine and insulin as directed by your doctor.

– Learn to recognise the symptoms of high and low blood sugar. If your blood sugar is high, you may have thirst, a dry mouth, blurred vision, frequent urination, weakness and tiredness. If your blood sugar is low, you may feel nauseous, dizzy, drowsy, forgetful, iritable, sweaty and hungry.

– Follow a balanced diet consisting of all the food groups. Never skip meals and avoid junk food and sugary drinks. Go for whole grains instead of refined starches, eat fresh fruit instead of drinking fruit juice, and snack on veggies, nuts and seeds. If you need to lose weight, visit a dietitian for an tailor-made eating plan.

– Regular exercise not only helps to keep your body fit, it also helps to lower blood sugar levels, strengthen your heart and improve your circulation. Try to exercise after meals to avoid low blood sugars.

More handy hints for diabetics

Visit our Diabetes Centre

Fat kids aren’t cool

October 30, 2013 in Nutrition, Weight loss

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. According to studies, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

South Africa is no exception. Not only are we one of the countries with the highest rate of obesity in the world (over 29% of men and 56% of women are classified as overweight or obese) we also have some of the fattest kids in the world.

Earlier this year the results of the first South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES-1) revealed that South Africa’s preschool children are among the fattest in the world.

The 2012 survey has found that 22.9% of SA children between two and five years were overweight. That is double the figure of preschool obesity in other African countries such as Morocco, Swaziland, Botswana, and Nigeria (11%) – and the US (12%).

The reasons for this shocking increase are complex, but our sedentary lifestyle (think TV, computers and cellphones), lack of physical activity (and PT classes in public schools), and poor diets of junk food and sugary sodas are definitely some of the big culprits.

Sadly, childhood obesity does not only result in low self-esteem and bullying at school, but also serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.

As adults we have a duty to teach our kids healthy habits. Part of the parenting role is to set an example by eating healthily, exercising regularly, and having fun while doing so. Actions are so much powerful than words.

Read these amazing stories of two overweight kids (a 17-year-old teenage boy and a 10-year-old girl) who managed to shake off their extra weight with the help of caring adults. If they can do it, so can you.

Are you OK?

October 24, 2013 in Health

The month of October has seen many different health awareness days and campaigns, including breast cancer, a cancer that affects millions of women (and men) around the world. Whereas it is of vital importance to educate as many people as possible around the symptoms and risk factors of breast cancer, another very important health issue has fallen by the wayside.

How many people know that October is also Mental Health Awareness Month? Why is it so much easier for people to talk about physical injuries and illness, than mental illness? Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

We live in a very violent society – fear and stress are part of our daily lives. Financial stress, fear of losing our jobs, fear for our families, fear of getting mugged, raped or killed, fear of not coping with life anymore. We all live under so much pressure, but rarely pay attention to it. It’s a typical South African thing to just “suck it up and soldier on” – after all, “there are so many other people who are far worse off than you”. And, if you’re not coping, you feel like a weakling, too ashamed to cry for help.

Don’t forget that we are all human – we can all cope with only so much. If you are feeling overwhelmed; if you are feeling despondent and tired of fighting; please stop and ask for help. Do it today. Don’t try to do this all alone! You would be surprised at how much compassion people have and, once you start talking, how many people may be experiencing some really challenging issues themselves. Give yourself the gift of love and compassion today by reaching out to someone you trust. If you feel uncomfortable to talk to people close to you, contact Sadag Mental Health Line (Tel: 011 262 6396 or 0800 21 22 23) or Lifeline (on 011 422 4242 or 0861 322 322). These phone numbers are manned 24 hours a day. You can also ask for help via Twitter or Facebook.

The poet Khalil Gibran has written the following words: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Don’t ever give up.

Does your heart need some TLC?

September 17, 2013 in Health, Nutrition

If you’re wondering why you’re being bombarded with so much heart news this month, the answer is simple: September is Heart Awareness Month.

Heart disease is the number one killer in the world. In South Africa, one in three men and one in four women will develop heart disease and, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, about 130 people have heart attacks daily – that’s about five heart attacks every hour!

Many people mistakenly believe that heart disease only affects men. The truth, however, is that heart disease affects everyone – no matter your age, gender, race or income group.

It is also important to be aware that heart attack symptoms in men and women can be different. Whereas men often report pain and discomfort in the chest, women can experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

The good news is that there is much you can do to avoid becoming another statistic. The first step is to have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels measured at your local pharmacy or clinic. If your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are too high, you will need to change your lifestyle, as these two factors have been directly linked to heart disease. (You can also do this fun quiz to check your heart age.)

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa recommends the following lifestyle changes for a healthy heart:

  • reduce your salt intake, both at the table, and by being aware of hidden salt in processed foods
  • eat a balanced diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fibre, fatty fish, and limit red or fatty meat, fried foods and high-fat snack foods
  • avoid the harmful use of alcohol, that is, more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men
  • enjoy regular physical activity at least five days a week
  • maintain a healthy body weight, and
  • don’t smoke

Show your heart some TLC today, and feel the love for many years to come.

Throw away your salt shaker

August 27, 2013 in Health, Nutrition, Weight loss

Do you have a habit of adding salt to your food before even tasting it? Is your salt shaker always within arm’s reach? Well, you are not alone. In South Africa, up to 40% of our daily salt intake comes from the salt we add to our meals. This is far higher than the average of 15% in the UK and Europe.

The World Health Organisation recommends an intake of only 5g (one teaspoon) of salt per day, however some South Africans consume up to 40g of salt (or eight times the recommended daily allowance) a day.

So why does it matter how much salt we eat? Why is everyone always preaching about salt? The answer is simple: a diet high in salt raises your blood pressure; and high blood pressure (hypertension) can trigger cardiovascular disease, including strokes, heart attacks and heart failure. Hypertension can also cause kidney failure, blindness and even dementia.

Furthermore, hypertension does not discriminate – it affects everyone, no matter your age, sex, race or income group. In fact, stats have shown that one in every three South Africans suffers from hypertension. These numbers are likely to be even higher, as high blood pressure is a silent disease that shows no early symptoms.

One of the easiest ways to make sure that you don’t become a statistic; is by gradually lowering your salt intake. Research has shown that a reduction of only 2g (a quarter teaspoon) of salt per day can reduce cardiovascular deaths by 20%. Be more creative in the kitchen and flavour your foods with herbs and spices.

You should also be aware of all the hidden salt in processed foods such as soy sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, processed meats (bacon, ham, sausages, viennas, polony, salami), cheeses, pickled foods, bread and cereals, ready-made meals, two-minute noodles, soup powder, stock cubes and jelly.

Read all food labels. Just because something doesn’t taste salty, it does not mean it is low in salt. Even sweet foods can contain salt because it acts as a preservative that prolongs shelf life. So how do you know if it’s too high in salt? Salt is listed on food labels as sodium. Foods with less than 120mg per 100 grams are low in salt, while foods with more than 500mg are high in salt.

Earlier this year, the government has passed legislation to make salt reduction in the food industry mandatory. This will be a gradual process with specific targets that have to be reached by food manufacturers over the next number of years. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has also launched a lobby group called Salt Watch, to alert South Africans to the fact that too much salt could be killing them.

However, the first step always begins at home. Start reducing your salt intake today and help spread the news that too much salt can kill.

Cutting your daily salt intake can add years to your life!

Leading by example

July 30, 2013 in Health, Nutrition

When it comes to kids and healthy eating, parents have a very important role to play. From early childhood, kids learn by example – they watch us closely and mimic everything we do, including our eating habits.

It’s no use telling your kids that sweets and soda are bad for them and that they should eat their fruit and veggies every day, if you don’t do so yourself. After all, actions speak louder than words. So, what do your eating habits look like? Are you setting a good example?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you skip breakfast?
  • Do you drink lots of soda?
  • Do you avoid fruit and vegetables?
  • Do you eat in front of the TV?
  • Do you often snack on unhealthy treats?
  • Do you eat a lot of junk food?
  • Do you eat late at night?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you could be sending your child the wrong message about food.

Good nutrition is crucial to the healthy growth and development of a child. It also helps prevent childhood obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. The only way you will be able to introduce your child to a variety of healthy foods and the multitude of health benefits associated with it, is by enjoying those foods yourself. Numerous studies have shown that a child is far more likely to try new foods, if they see their parents being adventurous themselves.

Here are some healthy eating tips to try at home:

  • Always eat breakfast for sustained energy and improved concentration levels.
  • Enjoy dinner together as a family – switch off the TV, sit around a table and enjoy some quality family time.
  • Eat a rainbow of colours daily. This will ensure that you get your 5 portions of fruit and veggies every day.
  • Try new foods yourself and encourage your child to do the same.
  • Drink water and milk instead of soda.
  • Limit junk foods and desserts.
  • Have healthy snack foods on standby such as fruit, nuts, seeds, raisins and unsalted popcorn.
  • Watch portion sizes
  • When shopping for food, let your kids pick out their favourite fruits and veggies.
  • Let your kids help with the cooking and teach them about healthy cooking methods.
  • Always have a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter and veggie sticks in the fridge to stave off hunger pangs, and more importantly, set an example by snacking on them in front of your children when feeling peckish.
  • Allow the occasional treat. If you and your kids eat healthily 90% of the time, the odd slice of pizza, chocolate or packet of crisps will do no harm.

Make the decision today for you and your family to adopt a healthy lifestyle – and you will reap the benefits for many years to come.

Staying on top of your game

June 25, 2013 in Health

June is Men’s Health Month. Why is it that men are so stubborn when it comes to their health? We’re all busy and no-one likes to think about illness, but not paying attention to our well-being can come at a high price.

A survey has shown that men are twice as likely as women to avoid going to the doctor, even if they are feeling ill. It has also found that most men don’t do self-examinations and have no idea what their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are. Sound familiar?

Hiding your head in the sand is not going to protect you from any potential health problems in the future. However, being proactive by following a healthy lifestyle and going for regular check-ups can make all the difference. With early diagnosis, many illnesses (including testicular and prostate cancer) can be treated with great success.

Boost your health and increase your longevity by making the following lifestyle changes:

Get enough sleep.Adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of shut-eye every night. Too little sleep has been associated with a number of chronic conditions.

Stop smoking. It’s never too late. Quitting smoking immediately improves your health and lowers your risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer.

Get moving. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Combine aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, running or swimming) with moderate weight training for a complete workout. If you have not been exercising for a while, visit your GP first for a check-up.

Eat healthily. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and limit your intake of sugar, salt, fat and alcohol. If you are overweight, shed the extra kilos by increasing your energy output (exercising more) and reducing your energy intake (eating less). Obesity has been linked to a number of diseases including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Manage stress. We all need a certain amount of stress to motivate and help us achieve our goals. When it gets out of hand, though, it can have a serious impact on our health. Make time to relax, connect with your family and friends and stay active.

Know your numbers. Have your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels tested at least once a year. Hypertension and high cholesterol can easily go unnoticed as there are initially no symptoms.

Do a self-exam. Check your testicles every month to make sure there are no unusual lumps or bumps. If you do find a lump or swelling, have your doctor check it out, as it could be a first sign of testicular cancer. Don’t panic! Testicular cancer is almost always curable if it is caught and treated early.

Go for a prostate screening. Once you turn 50, go for a PSA blood test and/or a rectal exam every two years. Black men and men with a family history of prostate cancer should get tested from the age of 40 as they have a higher risk of prostate cancer. Don’t delay; the momentary discomfort or embarrassment is totally worth the health and peace of mind in the long run.

– (Photo of father and son from Shutterstock)

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