DISCONNECT + RECONNECT
One of the most recent and mind blowing stats that correlated with longevity and with that a certain joie de vivre wasn’t anything to do with diet or fitness but it was actually about social connection. Those who had a strong set of supportive family and friends and that were actively engaged with these people were said to be the happiest and live the longest. Christmas is undoubtedly one of THE best times to make a concerted effort to see those friends and family that you very rarely get to see but always make you feel good. So with that in mind reach out to those that you love the most and make some fun plans together. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated or expensive but just making time to really appreciate the people who you love and love you the most.
It might also be the time where you decide to let go of some of the people and things that don’t make you feel good too but that’s more about New Year resolutions if you are into that kind of thing. In the same way of ‘letting go’ we can put down the devices and remove the pressures to be on social media constantly checking phones and instead enjoying and being present in the moment. The concept of having a bit of a ‘digital detox’ might sound a bit woo woo, and frankly bordering on scary, for some people but the experience of allowing yourself to disconnect and reconnect on many levels is totally worth it.
After all Christmas “tis the season to be jolly” and there is nothing more joyful than fully immersing yourself and being with the heroes and heroines in your life. So give a big toast to them and enjoy with fun, laughter, love and soul enriching merriment!
ORANGE BLOSSOM SAKE-TINI
Your eyes do not deceive you…this is indeed a cocktail recipe. As you will probably have gathered, I believe that a healthy approach to our food and drink means everything in moderation. As with food, it is really a question of being a bit more discerning about the types of alcohol you are consuming. Premium sake, for example, can act as a good digestive tonic in small amounts. I’ve paired it with fragrant orange blossom water and the rich sweetness of pomegranate molasses for a fresh and uplifting mix that also has a certain festive nod to it too. Cheers!
100ml premium sake
½ teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
Orange peel shavings
Add ice to a cocktail shaker and add the sake, molasses and blossom water and shake. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with the orange peel shavings.
EAT, DRINK + BE MERRY
Christmas is the time of year where we rejoice in many ways and the festive fair on offer is a big part of the celebrations. I genuinely think we are missing the entire point of the frivolities and indulgence around Christmas if we are concerned about being overly virtuous and shunning some of the delights that we have but once a year in many regards. In fact it’s the binging and purging cycle that we can put ourselves through that actually doesn’t create a healthy relationship in the long term with the food that we eat or the way we treat and respect our mind and body.
Rather than stressing about what you may have over indulged in over the festive period try to look upon it as an enjoyable experience. I mean obviously we don’t want to feel (literally) like a stuffed turkey after the holiday season is over but in the same way its not the time to be stressing about being healthy to the point of not enjoying it either (to be honest there is no good time for fixating on that in any case). Ironically the more that we stress, the more we might be likely to gain weight from the circulating hormones that are activated in this response so it might not be the extra mince pie after all but more the stress around having eaten it. Our gut also reacts positively to being in more of a concerted ‘rest + digest’ state rather than the ‘fight + flight’ mode that we can typically gravitate towards. Reducing the stress and the negative emotions associated with that can therefore have a direct correlation on how our gut and microbiome feels too. And remember that indulgence is all part of having a healthy relationship with our food in general and there is no better time than Christmas for embracing that too. Furthermore by removing ‘rules’ and allowing yourself to have what you want you might not even go for it all the time anyway as its often the inner rebel in us that can be activated by labelling foods a certain way.
So with that in mind relax and enjoy the merriment…to the fullest, greatest and with the most joyful sense possible!
SWEET POTATO AND WARM HALLOUMI SALAD WITH TAHINI DRESSING
Sweet potatoes provide a wealth of nutritional benefits: they are high in beta-carotene, which is important for our skin and immune health, and are a great source of fibre for our gut microbes. Halloumi, like other traditionally made cheeses, is fermented that makes it easier on the gut. The combination of fresh mint and dill adds a vibrant colour, and fresh herbs are excellent for digestion. This is a great one for your nights “off” or to whip up quickly when you get home later than anticipated.
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon organic unsalted butter or ghee
4 slices (90g) unpasteurised halloumi, cut into 12–15 cubes
Small handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
2 generous pinches mineral-rich salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Put the sweet potato on the baking tray and cook for 25–30 minutes until tender.
While the sweet potato is cooking, heat a small frying pan on a medium heat, add the butter or ghee and lightly fry the halloumi for 4–6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl.
Add the mint and dill to the bowl with the halloumi.
For the dressing, mix the tahini, lemon juice, salt, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a little filtered water to thin; put to one side.
When the sweet potato is cooked, remove from the oven and add to the bowl with the halloumi, mint and dill and combine all together. Transfer to a serving plate and drizzle with the dressing and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
MOVE A BIT EVERY DAY
In the frivolities of the endless amounts of parties and shindigs your regular exercise routine might go out of the window somewhat. But don’t think that you if you are not slamming it in the gym or going nuts on a spin bike that you don’t have to bother at all. Even just a bit of walking every day that could mean getting off a few stops before you need to or deciding to not take transport at all and give yourself a brisk walk to work instead could be one way to get some more movement into your day. It may also brush off the ‘cobwebs’ from a bit too much mulled wine from the night before too. Getting on a bike on the weekend and having a ride around with friends and family can also be another way of getting in some easy and fun movement as well as spending time with your favourite peeps.
Another way to just give your body a bit of a stretch out is doing a few sun salutations in the morning in the comfort of your own home. Practises such as the more gentle hatha and yin yoga as well as pilates throughout this time where you might be needing to conserve energy and focus on bringing the body into more of a restorative state are actually ideal rather than pushing it when you are already maxing out on many levels.
The point is by keeping our bodies just that little bit mobile throughout the festive period can help you to not feel so lethargic and indeed apathetic about coming back to some of your more regular exercise routines in the new year. It might even make you approach them with even more gusto than you had previously as giving the body time to rest and recover is just as important as doing the exercise in the first place.
The fab thing about the festive holidays is enjoying the parties, people and generally having a very jolly time. However it can be a case of too much of a good thing so try and see if you can pace your partying a bit. This could be the events themselves but also with your food and booze too.
Try to avoid abstaining and then going totally crazy on the vino. The body will respond positively to regular alcohol intake with an increase in producing alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes needed to break it down. That’s not to advocate regular drinking but certainly if you do drink there is something to be said about moderate drinking rather than binging. Also genetically some of us just don’t produce as much of these enzymes, which is why some people suffer brutally worse hangovers than others. Moreover men will naturally have higher levels of these and glutathione, an antioxidant that supports clearing of alcohol and hence why (in general) guys can handle their booze much more than us girls. Also as we age we naturally produce less antioxidants, have less sleep, generally lead more stressful lives which will all have an impact on how well, or not as the case may be, we can deal with alcohol. Food wise its one thing to enjoy and indulge and quite another to feel stuffed to the point of being uncomfortable. Often that can happen because we simply don’t chew our food properly and continue to eat way beyond the point of being full so just take your time to eat and digest your food properly. For sure this won’t always happen especially when we are having to down canapés in one bite but where you can it will help you to feel less bloated.
Also when you look at the fun filled schedule of parties, dinners and drinks try and see if you can schedule in some R+R (rest and recuperative) ‘off’ days in between rather than doing back-to-back nights out. Even those hardened party-goers amongst us will suffer from multiple late (and often boozy) nights in a row as our sleep will invariably suffer from lack of quality and less pillow time. Adding it up you can see how you might in fact miss out on an entire nights sleep when taken over the course of a week. On the days that you do take it easy then really make an effort to maximise your rest and eat a supper that is light on digestion. Something like a veggie based soup with a slice of sourdough would be an ideal option. Before you go to bed make a turmeric latte (turmeric, cinnamon, ground ginger, honey and almond or full fat milk) that can also soothe you into a gentle slumber. Then you’ll be ready and fully charged for the next night out!
Cinnamon is synonymous with Christmas. Indeed this festively spiced loaf is an excellent breakfast option to have easily to hand when you are running around or need something quick and easy. This sumptuous loaf is based on chestnut flour, which is brimming with gut-friendly fibre, and almonds, which are an excellent prebiotic food. But the real hero ingredient here is warming cinnamon, one of the highest sources of chromium, which helps to balance blood sugar levels and our hunger hormones. Cinnamon also blends perfectly with the chestnut flour and almonds to provide our gut microbes with a sweet feast. Because this uses chia seeds to bind, it’s great for those who don’t do so well with eggs or are following a vegan diet. Serve it with some sliced banana or with nut butter. It’s great for breakfast and you can make it in advance and freeze it if you want to. It will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge.
Makes 1 loaf
2 tablespoons chia seeds
120ml warm filtered water
80g chestnut flour
100g ground almonds
45g flaked almonds
4 tablespoons coconut flour
45g activated pecans (page xxx)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons almond nut butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus extra for greasing
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
200ml unsweetened almond milk
Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas 2. Line a 23 x 12cm loaf tin with baking parchment and grease with a small amount of coconut oil.
Mix the chia seeds with the water in a small bowl and set aside.
Place all the remaining ingredients, except the almond milk, in a food processor and pulse to combine. Then add the chia mixture and the almond milk and pulse again to get a sticky cake mixture. Spoon this into the loaf tin and level the top. Bake for 1 hour, then check that it’s done by turning out and tapping the bottom: it should sound hollow. If not, return it to the oven for 5–10 minutes. Turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely before slicing.
THE DAY AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE
Well Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t have the odd heinous hangover thrown in there for good measure (or too many measures in this case!). Unfortunately the after effects of a pounding head and almost certainly a poor beleaguered gut are not quite so pleasant. So what to do when you have to face an overflowing inbox and the not so ‘merry’ faces of colleagues the next day after the office party that got…well, a bit too ‘merry’ to say the least.
Firstly an obvious one here but it is important that you hydrate well. Alcohol is great at stripping us of any liquid and that can make symptoms a whole lot worse. Water in any way, shape or form is going to be the best for that so whether its straight up h20 or in herbal teas then that’s great. In fact hot water with lemon, honey and ginger might help if you are feeling a tad on the queasy side. The temptation might be to load up on coffee but try to go easy as that will dehydrate you further. We typically crave caffeine and sugary drinks because alcohol can leave blood sugar levels low and we naturally need to compensate that with quick fixes. Something like coconut water is a good source of electrolytes that need to be replaced soon after a night out due to dehydration. It is also high in natural sugars, which is important since alcohol reduces blood sugar levels that we need to restore. This might also be the reason that you may have such ravenous effects the day after. Green tea is also good as it helps to support natural detoxification processes. And if none of this is touching the sides then a can of regular coca cola might be the best thing for you. A combo of the sugar and caffeine might be necessary to get you through the day and in the grand scheme of things once in a while is fine when you need to get your game face back on.
Food wise you might be surprised to know that there is something in the classic fry up that can work wonders for a hangover. The super greasy ones may have you feeling even more sickly, but a veggie riff on one that includes organic eggs, avocado and sourdough would be an excellent aftermath brekkie choice. Eggs are a great source of the amino acid cysteine that helps to clear out excess chemicals like acetaldehyde, the potent toxic by product of alcohol breakdown whilst avocados are a good post night out food since they are rich in glutathione which is used up very quickly when drinking alcohol. This causes a build up of this same toxic by product chemical so replenishing these stores is important to clear out of the system. They are also full of potassium, which is easily depleted after boozing. And sourdough is an excellent source of B vitamins that can also be used up after too many tipples, plus because its a fermented food it tends to be easier on digestion than some other breads, and that can help to support the gut that tends to get shifted out of whack during the festive period.
Turmeric, or more specifically curcumin which is the compound that gives its vibrant golden colour, acts very specifically in slowing and speeding up pathways in the liver as well as potentially having protective effects which is very helpful when trying to shift through alcohol. Added into a morning juice or smoothie/smoothie bowl that has some kind of greens (spinach, kale, broccoli) and you have a double whammy detox effect.
Generally though eating regularly throughout the day, providing you are not feeling really unpleasant, is the best way to manage low blood sugar levels and mild nausea. And also getting your gut back on track with maintaining your morning SYMPROVE will help our microbiome recover quicker after a night out too.
As for the ‘hair of the dog’ remedy (I often get asked this question)…a bloody mary might seem a good idea but there is a hypothesis that you are simply replacing methanol, present in tiny amounts in alcohol, for ethanol that also naturally occurs in booze and for which both compete for the same detoxification enzyme. Even if there might be something in this theory, and whilst it might temporarily abate some of the hangover symptoms, you’ll invariably need to deal with them at some point. So I’m afraid to say that there probably isn’t much truth in the old wives tale after all.
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
After a night on the tiles we are more often focused on what we can do to alleviate the aftermath of a hedonistic night out but in fact doing a bit of prep before you go out can help serve you back just as much, if not more so. If you know that you are going for drinks after work then make sure that you have something to eat before you start on the bubbly/beer/vino/tequila (*delete as appropriate). Drinking on an empty stomach means that the alcohol is absorbed much more readily meaning that you’ll be feeling a lot tipsier much quicker. Conversely if you have some food in your stomach before you start on the cocktails this can help to slow down the absorption of alcohol. Ideally you’d have a proper meal but that might not always be possible, particularly if it’s an impromptu night out. However having some handy snacks at work can be an absolute godsend. Things like oat cakes with hummus and ½ an avocado can easily be whipped up and nicely line the stomach before you head on out. Or even better take some leftovers from your meal the night before into work and have this before you start the evening.
In the same way the type of drinks consumed can also affect how you feel the next day so at least go into your night knowing what can (or not!) be the more faster working beverage choices. All alcohol will be broken down in the same way so really mixing drinks isn’t so much the main thing. It’s really that spirits are more concentrated and higher in their alcohol content and because you are likely to be mixing them with a carbonated drink this can affect you quicker. Anything fizzy like mixer drinks, champagne or prosecco will be absorbed quicker into the bloodstream. Typically when we are mixing alcohol we tend to overdo it as it might be more tricky to keep a track of what you have had so it is more the quantity than the drinks per se that you need to watch. Try to limit to no more than one per hour since it takes about this amount of time on average to process a single drink. Generally white wine is considered ‘better’ from a hangover point of view than red as it contains fewer congeners (the chemicals that can cause hangovers). However red tends to have a higher polyphenol (antioxidant) content that our gut microbes are rather partial towards so I’ll sit on the fence with that one (maybe not after a glass or two mind you!). One thing for sure, and I know its terribly old hat, is that drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage will help to keep hydration levels up and to dilute the toxic by products. And its also a good tip to have a pint of water and take some milk thistle, an age old liver tonic, that has been said to have some protective effects before going to bed that may help reduce side effects the day after.
Finally prepping your biome is also a good idea so if the numbers are plentiful before then it may help you to get back on track much quicker and easier after the indulgence of food and drink. Maintaining your morning shot of SYMPOVE can therefore help to at least prevent a less upset gut during the festive hols rather than waiting until your gut really starts to grumble.
SINGING A MICROBIOME CHRISTMAS TUNE
Think about it like this an orchestra wouldn’t play a piece of music without practising in advance, tuning their instruments to the correct pitch and having a conductor masterly overseeing the process. And indeed you could use that same analogy for making sure the musicians and instruments of our gut are all in harmony and, as per the famous lyric tells us, so that “the bells ring out for Christmas day” rather than being flat and out of sync.
It is fair to say that over the festive period our gut can suffer quite a bit of onslaught from lots of nights on the razz, coupled with a lack of sleep (our gut also needs decent shut eye) as well as the stress of the mountainous end of year deadlines at work and/or the sheer organisational aspect of shopping and family arrangements. Its no wonder by the end of it all we can feel pretty run down and be susceptible to the ubiquitous winter lurgies going around.
Harmonising your own gut ‘orchestra’ in advance though can serve you back tenfold during the run up to Christmas. Crucially that means nourishing and feeding your microbiome, aka the trillions of microorganisms that live in the gut, and what you might like to consider the ‘conductor’. Since 70-80% of our immune system is located in the gut and largely depends on the microbiome you can see why its important that you also keep this finely tuned too. Sadly the microbes in our gut are not so keen on some of the festive fair but they do love a bit of fibre. Try to think about having as much diversity and variety as possible with your fibre intake, that includes veggies, fruits, nuts + seeds and whole grains. It’s definitely not about totally eschewing the mince pies and other crimbo delights but just remember that you have these guys to cater for as well. Alongside fibre, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, unpasteurised cheese, kefir and kombucha can also provide some forms of beneficial bacteria that may help to up the microbial numbers and enhance your overall gut harmony. Just adding in small amounts regularly can soon add up and in fact kombucha is a brilliant non-alcoholic option if you are a wanting a change from swigging on the bubbles and mulled wine. Naturally also having your morning ‘shot of glory’ with the beneficial bacteria found in SYMPROVE can be an easy way to keep things ticking along nicely for our microbiome and gut health overall. So let the music begin and lets sing our way into a more digestively harmonious Christmas.