How much water do you drink? I’m guessing more than the average Joe/Jo, because if you’re reading this you’re probably a healthy(ish) sort. Do you drink bottled water? Or are you (like my Other Half) the sort of person who thinks all water is basically the same, so why pay for something that’s no different/better than what Yorkshire Water sends out of our taps?
Personally I like to drink at least a couple of pints of water every day in addition to any other drinks I have – which are, admittedly, mostly coffee and tea. I find I start to feel a bit tired and headachey by lunchtime if I don’t. I generally drink tap water at home. At work we have a fancy thing that does either boiling or filtered chilled water, which is fine. But I like some mineral waters and I do buy them occasionally. I use cheap Morrison’s Yorkshire Vale water to make a fizzy drink with fruit juice. I love Evian, but usually only drink it when I’m on holiday in France, where it’s much cheaper than the UK. If I need a still, bottled water in this country I choose Harrogate Spring Water if I can because it’s local (and nice) And I like to drink Badoit, which has a slightly savoury tang, with a nice meal if I’m not having wine. My OH thinks Badoit tastes “like farts”, but each to their own! Then again, Vichy water, which many French people swear by for its health properties, is a salty step too far even for me. So when I was sent some new Aqua Carpatica to try I was interested to see how it compared to waters I’m familiar with. Because when you start to dig down into the detail, all waters are not created equal by any means – it’s the varying mineral content of the different waters that makes some taste sweet and others like farts!
Aqua Carpatica comes from the Carpathain mountains in Romania, a rugged and romantic forest landscape full of wolves and bears – proper fairly tale stuff! It’s produced by many years of volcanic action, much like other popular waters such as Evian and Volvic. So far, so standard. But the USP of Aqua Carpatica is that it’s extremely low in sodium and nitrates, both of which are issues for some people. Personally I don’t worry too much about sodium as I have low blood pressure, but obviously if you’ve been advised to follow a low sodium diet you wouldn’t want to drink water that contains lots of it. And if you’re concerned about environmental toxins you presumably don’t want to be consuming nitrates. So from that point of view Aqua Carpatica has a lot going for it.
This stuff certainly tastes good; very clean and sweet – much like Evian in fact. And it comes in a very cool square bottle, which wouldn’t look out of place at a dinner party or in a fancy restaurant. However, I was interested to see how Aqua Carpatica’s mineral content (mg per litre) stacked up against my usual waters, so did a little comparison.
I’d never bothered doing this in any detail before and found it quite interesting. I got the analysis of my tap water by simply typing my postcode into the Yorkshire Water website – you may be able to do the same with your water provider. It seems that different waters are good for different things – depending on what you’re looking for!
So how do the scores stack up? Personally I Iike a water that has a good 2:1 balance of calcium and magnesium – hence my preference for Harrogate and Badoit. Aqua Carpatica has a lot of calcium in it, which I guess may appeal to some people. The still version apparently has the lowest sodium level of any bottled water. My cheapo Yorkshire Vale doesn’t have much calcium or magnesium in it – but it’s also low in sodum and nitrates. The tap water certainly has the highest level of nitrates, whilst Aqua Carpatica obviously has the lowest. Incidentally, you can’t remove nitrates from tap water by using a simple jug filter such as a Brita; you need a fancy reverse osmosis system to do that.
I haven’t drawn any major conclusion here, apart from it’s probably worth looking into the composition of any water you’re drinking to see what’s in it; and if you’re looking for a low sodium option Aqua Carpatica seems like a good bet. If you’re interested in trying it, it’s available at Tesco and Ocado.
What do you think about water? I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on how much you drink, what type and why.
Last weekend I went on a yoga retreat. I’d never done anything like that before and really enjoyed it. This post is a bit longer than usual because I had such a great time and want to describe it in detail for anyone who’s interested in yoga and/or healthy food. Feel free to bail out at any point!
Many years ago, when I worked in marketing in a big office in Leeds, I had a colleague called Jenni. One day Jenni discovered yoga, decided she didn’t to be on the corporate hamster wheel any more and took herself off to India to become a yogi. To be honest, we mostly thought she was a bit mad at the time – giving up a good job and a nice life to leap into the unknown. But it paid off – Jenni became a fantastic yoga teacher and has worked all over the world, mostly recently at Kaliyoga retreats in France and Italy. At the moment she’s back in God’s Own County for a few weeks, so organised a weekend retreat for friends and family in the Dales.
I’ve had an on/off relationship with yoga for a few years. I do love it, and often attend the flow class at York Yoga Studio. I think the dynamic nature of flow yoga is a great complement to running, building core strength and flexibility – also good for those of us who are getting on a bit and want to stay mobile! But what normally happens is that I go for a couple of months, something happens to make me miss a class and then it seems to take me a few weeks to get started again. I really want to do yoga more often, so signed up for Jenni’s retreat because I thought it might kick-start me into doing just that. It also seemed like a great way to relax and recharge at the end my running season.
So, last Friday afternoon twelve of us (all women) arrived at the Healthy Home on Cononley Moor near Skipton. It’s a fairly remote but apparently quite well-known place – an eco home designed by Gina Lazenby that has even had a book written about it! It’s all totally Feng Shui-ed, with Buddhas and angels in every room. I’m not sure I believe in all that sort of thing, but it’s certainly a very spacious and beautiful place – my bedroom was enormous! We were promised a weekend of yoga, hiking and healthy, veggie food, which sounded perfect. We were also encouraged not to use our ‘devices’, but to cut ourselves off from the outside world as much as possible to gain the full benefit of the experience. Personally I was more concerned about going without coffee!
Following an afternoon tea with some delicious raw cake, we had our first yoga session. All the yoga took place in an enormous conservatory, and during daylight hours we had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside as we practised. To ease us in we started with an hour of ‘restorative’ yoga, which was really relaxing, and a great way of letting go of our outside lives for the weekend. Afterwards we had a light supper of red lentil and coconut soup with buckwheat flour soda bread and a huge side salad featuring sprouted beans. Feeling very chilled out, we mostly retired to our rooms at around 9pm. Sleep was an important part of the break for some, especially those with small children!
I was slightly disturbed that our schedule for Saturday started with two hours of yoga from 8am, with no breakfast until 10am. I do love my brekkie and wasn’t sure I’d manage without food until that time! But Jenni assured me that once we started I wouldn’t think about food, and she was right. This morning session consisted of a guided meditation followed by some dynamic flow yoga, perfect for waking up the body, and slightly challenging in places. The two hours seemed to whizz by in no time. Our breakfast was worth waiting for: fruit salad, chia seed porridge with goji berries and bee pollen, plus two kinds of fresh juice – beetroot, carrot, orange and ginger, and kale, lemon, banana, hemp, chlorella, moringa, almond and coconut water. Both were amazing! I’d never had chia porridge before, but will certainly be having a go at making it myself.
After breakfast some of us went out for a walk. Luckily the heavy overnight rain had stopped, and it felt good both mentally and physically to be out in the fresh air. It was also a great bonding exercise. I really enjoyed chatting to all the amazing women there, including one who had cycled with her husband from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a journey that took four years! The only member of the group I knew before the weekend was Jenni herself, and I had been a bit worried that everyone else would be about 25 and super-bendy, but there were plenty of older women of varying abilities and Jenni was able to cater to us all yoga-wise.
A late lunch was our main meal of the day, and on Saturday it was vegan lasagne made with sheets of celeriac instead of pasta. I absolutely love celeriac, but had never thought of using it in this way before. This was accompanied by sweet potato wedges and another massive salad. Then there was pudding – an amazing confection called Caramel Swirl, which tasted just like cheesecake but apparently consisted mostly of cashews and dates. There’s a link to the recipe here and I’m definitely going to make it soon! In the afternoon I just chilled for a couple of hours, reading, looking at the scenery and watching the sun set. I literally can’t remember the last time I did this, so it was lovely. I had brought some running kit with me (in case you were wondering!) and was tempted to go out, but in the end thought I could run any time, so should focus on why I’d come on the retreat.
At 5pm it was time for yoga again – another restorative session with just a bit of flow in it. I think it lasted for about an hour and a half, but in truth I was so blissed out at the end I can hardly remember! Our supper afterwards was another fab soup – butternut squash, with oatcakes and homemade nut butter on the side. After supper a few people went straight off to bed, but a few of us stayed up to have a go with some Angel Cards. I’m a little sceptical about this sort of new age stuff, but the card I pulled out was the Archangel Michael, which is a coincidence as my birthday is 29th September – Michaelmas Day! Apparently he’s always watching over me, which is good news. I lay in bed later thinking how dark and quiet it was – although the moon was huge and bright and I did hear an owl hooting – then slept like a baby.
Sunday obviously began with yoga again! It was a beautiful day and the sun poured into the conservatory, flooding it with light. I realised it was the first time I’d ever done sun salutations actually looking at the sun, which was fantastic. The session lasted for two and a half hours, but never felt too long or boring. It was great to have so much time to dedicate to practice without having to rush or think about real world stuff. Breakfast today was raw buckwheat granola with yoghurt and fruit, plus another amazing drink: banana, almond, cacao, maca, mesquite, flax, chia and coconut milk – like a healthy chocolate milkshake! Later in the morning I had a fantastic Ayurvedic back massage from Jenni’s friend Maria, who had just undergone the training and wanted bodies to practice on – there were plenty of willing volunteers! Another super-relaxing experience. As our breakfast had been quite late we had a little play with inversion postures in the yoga space before our main meal. I even attempted a headstand – not very successfully, but something to work on I guess!
Our final meal together was a black bean stew with lots of lovely veggies in it, served with quinoa and kale. Jenni had also made us all some raw chocolate energy balls for the journey home, which basically tasted like gorgeous luxury truffles! I’m aware I’ve probably used the words ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ far too much with regard to the food, but it really was. It was so tempting to take photos and Instagram everything, but using phones and social media were off the menu. It was all so tasty, and I felt like I was bursting with goodness by Sunday teatime. There was also fruit and a huge range of herbal teas available all the time.
I left feeling looser, calmer and more relaxed than I have done for a long time – if ever – but also strangely energised. I’m totally inspired to do yoga more often and eat far more raw and veggie food. This might not be easy, living with a dedicated carnivore, but I’m determined to try. I might just have to ask Santa for a Nutribullet! The whole weekend was totally worthwhile. Jenni is the most talented and generous teacher as well as a brilliant chef! I would love to ‘retreat’ on a regular basis, but suspect time and resources will mean it’s more like once a year. I really would recommend this type of thing to anyone, especially if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out.
For more information on Jenni and her work you can read her blog here.
Last week I was invited to the opening of the new Holland & Barrett flagship concept store in York. I was working that day, so was unfortunately only able to pop in for a short time, but it certainly seems impressive! It’s a vast improvement on the old store which, although not very far away, was bursting at the seams and sometimes difficult to get round.
This bright and airy new outlet is one of the largest in H&B’s portfolio, and is certainly the biggest health food shop I’ve ever seen! It stocks a much wider range of products than the old store, and it was good to see lots of healthy foods, some lovely ethical beauty brands and a great variety of sports nutrition products (although not my favourite Clif Shot Bloks!). Everything is on Buy One, Get One Half Price at the moment, so I duly stocked up on magnesium and iron to support my marathon training.
There are some novel concepts within the store such as an olive bar, a fruit/nut ‘pick and mix’ station and a bar where you can create your own protein shake to take away. You can also have a body analysis test to help you decide on health and fitness goals, and there are lots of qualified staff on hand to assist.
Sadly I didn’t have time to take advantage of the pampering treats on offer, but I will definitely be back soon for a proper mooch about when I have more time. It’s a great addition to York’s retail scene and well worth a visit.
Yes, it’s that time of year again… although I’m not going to mention the C word! We all know that’s coming soon, but what really interests me is the run-up to the festive season. Everyone talks about the massive consumption of food and drink at this time, but I actually think the excess starts long before the big day. The works lunches, the mince pies, the tubs of choccies in the office – and of course, the alcohol. There aren’t many of us who aren’t presented with numerous opportunities to drink more than is strictly good for us at this time of year – and sometimes, in the face of peer pressure, it seems more socially acceptable to indulge than to abstain. Nobody wants to be branded a party pooper!
The amount of alcohol people drink was highlighted to me and several of my colleagues when we attended a training recently on Alcohol Brief Interventions (or ABIs). The idea of this was that if we come into contact with members of the public that we suspect are drinking alcohol at ‘hazardous’ levels, we’ll know how to broach this appropriately and signpost them to help. Not exactly easy, but doable in the right way. What really shocked me was learning about the amount that many people apparently drink and the harm this is doing to both themselves and society in terms of crime and the strain alcohol-related illness places on the NHS. Levels of liver disease have rocketed in recent years. I used to think the type of person who gets liver disease is someone who can’t get out of bed in the morning without swigging vodka straight from the bottle, but it can actually happen with a much lower level of drinking over a sustained period of time. And, despite what we see on the telly, those who are drinking the most aren’t young people out on the lash, but middle-class affluent sorts who most nights of the week might have a G&T ‘to relax’ when they get in from work and then a bottle of wine with dinner.
The amount you drink can easily be at a harmful level without you even realising it. The recommended daily allowances are pretty small really; 2-3 units per day for women and 3-4 for men. That’s official units, not individual drinks of the size you might pour yourself at home! A large glass of wine (250 ml) has a staggering three units. And saving up your weekly units for a binge on Saturday night isn’t good for you at all. If you think you might be drinking more than you should, check out the Change 4 Life website, where there’s some really useful information, including a helpful (and possibly eye-opening) booklet called Don’t Let Drink Sneak Up On You. It also gives advice on how to relax without resorting to drink, which might help the many people who say they drink alcohol to relieve stress. The Drink Aware website is also a great resource and features the fascinating (and somewhat enlightening) alcohol unit and calorie calculator, as well as an app that allows you to track your drinking.
I’m not a Christmas killjoy. Aargh – I said the C word! I like a glass of wine (Pinot Noir if you’re buying) as much as anyone – and we all overdo it a bit from time to time over the extended break from work. But if you keep an eye on your drinking levels for the rest of the year and you’ll really be doing yourself a favour. You wouldn’t want me staging an intervention, now would you?!
It’s not often I write about things I’m doing in the course of my work on the public health team at City of York Council (maybe I should?), but I just wanted to tell you about a project I’ve been helping with recently.
Launched this week, Breathe 2025 is an initiative supported by Public Health England and various local authorities with the ambitious aim of creating a smokefree future for the next generation of children in Yorkshire and the Humber. The idea is that in ten years’ time smoking will be unusual, and hopefully a thing of the past for young people.
Breathe 2025 is asking people and organisations to show their support by going to the campaign website or Facebook page and signing up to one or more simple, practical actions. This could be pledging to watch and share the Breathe 2025 video, or promising to display a Breathe 2025 poster. There are a range of simple actions to choose from, as individuals or on behalf of an organisation such as a school, GP or local business.
Smoking is still the greatest single cause of early death, killing around 100,000 people in the UK each year – an astonishing figure! And of course, the strain this puts on the NHS is huge. As most people start to smoke before the age of 18, it’s vital to target potential smokers at an early age, before they take it up and it becomes a habit. Although Yorkshire and the Humber has the highest adult smoking prevalence in England (20.1% compared to an England average of 18%), the good news is that only one in eight 15-year-olds smoke and the proportion of young smokers is dropping. Within the next decade there could even be a generation of children that don’t smoke. How amazing would that be?
I think Breathe 2025 is a great idea and am happy to be supporting it. You can do the same by visiting its website.
I seem to meet a lot of people who suffer with IBS with varying degrees of severity, and they sometimes find it very difficult to deal with. This guest post from Carly Trigg of My Well Being Journal has some great advice on dealing with IBS naturally – including running! You can read more from Carly at www.mywellbeingjournal.com and follow her on Twitter at @MWBJournal.
Who needs supplements, probiotics and tablets when you’ve got the great outdoors, good food and a great mindset? After trialling everything known to man for dealing with my IBS, I’ve found that doing it naturally is always the best way. So take a look at my top 5 ways to deal with IBS and see how easy it is to implement it into your own lifestyle.
1. Exercise early
If you suffer with IBS-C, you’ll notice that your body likes the digest food in your gut continually throughout the day, but the end product is just never there. You might then notice you become a VERY regular person (such that the only time you CAN do anything in the toilet, it’s first thing in the morning). This is because your body is given ample time without food to break down everything eaten in the day, given more time to properly come together and form more evenly. This makes morning my favourite part of the day. So, whilst you’re in high spirits with a great level of digestion going on, it’s worthwhile to fit in your exercise now. If you leave it til later you might find that the foods you’ve eaten have caused tummy problems and bloating and you won’t want to exert your body any more. Get up earlier, go for a run, feel the burn, and forget about the IBS.
2. Eat your breakfast
After your early morning run, you’ll be feeling pretty good. You might not feel that hungry though, or if you may not feel you have any spare time if you’re heading quickly out of the door for work. But making the time, even if it’s a quick 10 minutes, is necessary if you want to start your bowel movements right. You’ve been to the toilet and you’ve done your exercise, and now you need fuel, even if you don’t crave it yet. Otherwise you’ll be ravenous after an hour or so and your metabolism won’t be working half as fast as it does first thing in the morning, or after a workout.
3. Avoid meal-skipping
When you have IBS, a lot of the time you’re suffering with so much abdominal discomfort after food you consumed several hours ago that you really don’t want to do it again. You decide you’d rather skip the meal and let your bowels churn away privately without any interruption. This sounds fine in theory, but the ‘churn’ doesn’t stop. And, although it might usurp your appetite, your body still needs vital nutrients to keep going. Plus, you’ll probably be making up this lost eating time with drinking more, which needs to be digested anyway too. So don’t let the abdominal discomfort put you off your eating three basic meals throughout the day (minimum) and always keep a watchful eye on the ingredients in your foods.
4. Walk more
Because strenuous exercise can be a torturous feat when you have painful abdominal cramps, doing lots of walking can be really beneficial to your digestion, easing your stomach and seeing that you get outside and get moving. Rather than getting the bus, take a brisk walk. Go for a wander on your lunch break. Do it all and get your feet moving!
5. Stretch often
This might sound like a strange one (because who walks down the street, stops, and does a lunge?) but stretching is necessary for IBS sufferers, especially if you’re sat crouched in front of a computer all day. All that’s going in your stomach can continue to feel tight and unpleasant the more the day goes on, so make it a priority to stretch whenever you go to the toilet – this way you’re doing it privately and not provoking suspicion! By simply raising your arms above your head and tensing your stomach, holding your hands behind your back and pushing your tummy out, and twisting from side to side can ease your discomfort ten-fold.
If you’re reading this chances are that, like me, you’re interested in healthy living and try to eat well most of the time. In an ideal world we’d get all the nutrients we need from our food; but sometimes we aren’t always able to manage that. Busy lifestyles and the occasional need for extra or special nutritional requirements mean that supplements can sometimes be a good idea. For this reason I wanted to track down a good range of supplements and other nutritional products that I could offer to clients – and use myself – if necessary. After much research into different brands I’ve settled on Nature’s Sunshine because I’m satisfied that they are top quality, and they are also organically formulated wherever possible. As well as a range of supplements for everyday nutrition, Nature’s Sunshine also offers a variety of sports and fitness products that may be of use to those of us with an active lifestyle.
People sometimes ask me if I take supplements myself. I obviously prefer to get my nutrition from my diet if possible, but even a healthy diet is rarely perfect, so I occasionally take the following.
The Nature’s Sunshine range has over a hundred products. Some of the ones I like best are:
I could go on! Of course supplements are never a substitute for healthy eating; but there are time when we need a little extra help. You can browse or buy any of the Nature’s Sunshine products here on my website, and also take a lifestyle test to see which supplements might be of benefit to you personally. Feel free to contact me if you’d like any information or advice.
Hands up who’s feeling a bit rubbish after the festive break? I certainly am. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy eater most of the time, but the Christmas holidays are a hard test of anyone’s resolve! Christmas dinner itself isn’t really the problem; at the end of the day that’s just a roast dinner with a few pigs in blankets on the side. It’s all the other food that causes the problem… and the booze, of course! You could just say no to all of it, and I’m sure a few very disciplined people do; but everywhere you go at Christmas and New Year people want to feed you, and it’s usually hard to refuse! Things I’ve indulged in include mince pies, After Eights, trifle, Bailey’s, Pringles and wine. Plus I’ve been for a couple of meals at people’s houses where they’ve been to a lot of trouble and it would be rude to say no. I’m sure most of you will have had a similar couple of weeks. The only thing that’s counted in my favour is that I haven’t stopped runnning – even with a bit of a hangover on a couple of occasions!
The question is, what do we do to get rid of this horrible, bloaty feeling and lose the couple of pounds we’ve all probably put on? The media are currently full of the usual ‘new year, new you’ stuff they always pump out just after Christmas. This mostly seems to focus on articles about radical, expensive detoxes and abstaining from everything. ‘Give yourself a good purge and you will magically become a bright, shiny, thin new person’ is the general message. There will also be a mad rush of people joining gyms in January, planning to go five times a week for ever. But the reality is that most people will only stick to their new regimes for a couple of weeks – or maybe a month – before they revert to their old ways. The change is just too radical to be sustainable. The truth is that a few simple changes will soon have you feeling a lot better – and you’ll save a lot of money too! You don’t need to be a whole new you, just a slightly better version of the current you. So here’s what I recommend for a ‘New Year, Slightly Better You’ approach.
· First thing, there’s no need to ‘detox’ with special powders, juices or pills. Your liver and kidneys are fantastic organs and can actually cope with an awful lot. Unless you’ve been drinking a bottle of vodka a day they’ll deal with your festive excess just fine. Having said that, there’s no harm in giving them a bit of a rest from processing huge amounts of booze and rich food for a little while.
· Stop eating junk now. You may have leftover goodies or foodie gifts such as Christmas cake or boxes of chocolate/biscuits lying around the house. Put them away somewhere out of sight, take them into work, offer them to visitors or give them away. Most chocolates have really long use-by dates, so you could always regift them at some point! Some things, like cheese or panettone, freeze really well. Don’t feel you have to hoover up all the ‘bad’ things in the house before you can start being good.
· Focus on eating simple, healthy, unprocessed foods. Things like chicken, fish, pulses, vegetables and Greek yoghurt. Snack on fruit and nuts instead of biscuits and crisps. You know the score here really, so I won’t ramble on about it.
· Drink lots of water. You may well be quite dehydrated after two weeks of boozing and scoffing sugary/salty foods. If you don’t normally drink plenty of water you’ll be surprised what a difference this makes to how good you feel.
· Do some exercise. If you usually do exercise but have lapsed over the holidays, get back on it. If you don’t, start now but be kind to yourself. No need to crush it in the gym. Go for a long walk on a lovely sunny, frosty day. Have a kickabout in the park with your kids. Go to a yoga or Pilates class. Get that bike out of the garage and have a gentle pedal for half an hour. The more of this kind of thing you do, the more you’ll want to do, I promise.
· Get plenty of sleep. Most of us don’t get enough. Go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Your body will repair and restore itself while you snooze.
That’s all you need to do. That’s what I’ll be doing. In a couple of weeks we’ll all be feeling much better. And if you really want to go to the gym, wait until February – it’ll be a lot quieter then 🙂