Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Six Healthy Eating Secrets We Can Learn from the Japanese

It's a fact that Japanese people have a longer life expectancy than Westerners. They also have the lowest obesity rate in the developed world. This is all down to their healthy diet and lifestyle. But what are they doing differently from us?

Read on to learn how to reap the many health benefits of eating like the Japanese.
1. Eat fish.
And plenty of it! Fish is a staple of the Japanese diet. They particularly favour oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. These provide omega-3 fatty acids which offer a range of health benefits. They also tend to eat a lot less red meat than their Western counterparts. Too much red meat is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers so it's best to cut down on your consumption.

2. Cook with fresh, seasonal produce.
Japanese people don't eat microwave meals and order takeaway pizza. They cook their food from scratch, with wholesome, healthy ingredients. Five or more different types of vegetables may be served in a single meal. They also enjoy tofu and other soy products which are a good source of non-animal protein, and plenty of rice, a complex carbohydrate (go for brown rather than white). Dessert is usually an assortment of seasonal fruits.

3. Drink green tea.
I wrote a post two years ago about the many health benefits of green tea (click here if you want to read it). The Japanese drink it all the time – with breakfast, lunch and dinner, during the day and whenever guests arrive. You should also aim to make it a staple of your diet. Start drinking one or two cups a day and work up to about four.

4. Cut down on fat.
Japanese cuisine is typically low-fat and their methods of preparing food also use little to no fat or oil. Most things are boiled or steamed – two of the healthiest ways of cooking.

5. Serve smaller portions.
And present them nicely in pretty little bowls and plates, not all on one big plate like you would normally do. In Japan, everyone shares their food and has a taste of everything.

6. Eat mindfully.
Turn off the TV and sit around the dining table (that means not on the sofa) with the whole family. Slow down when you eat and savour every mouthful of food. Using chopsticks will force you to concentrate. You'll enjoy your food more and feel satisfied quicker because your brain will have time to register the feeling of fullness in your stomach.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
How to Eat Out the Healthy Way

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Sunday, 19 February 2017

Product Review: SCI-MX Protein Cookies & Shakes

Anyone interested in nutrition and fitness will know the importance of protein. It's essential for building, maintaining and repairing muscles, skin, hair and bones – and the more active you are, the more protein you'll need. Our bodies don't store protein so we need to make sure we're getting enough on a daily basis. It's better to spread our intake throughout the day so our bodies can use it as they need it.
You may have heard of SCI-MX Nutrition - they sell a range of products including whey protein powders, cookies, oat bars, milkshakes and even coffee. I was excited to be given the chance to try out their new PRO 2 GO range and receiving this box of goodies from the postman was like getting an early birthday present!
As the name suggests, the products are designed to be eaten on the go - whether for a quick breakfast or a post-workout protein hit. Here's what I thought of each item:
Original Protein Coffee
Two of my favourite words - protein and coffee. Put them together and you have my idea of heaven. I drank this in the morning in place of my usual coffee and it did a great job of waking me up and giving me loads of energy. It has a whopping 30g protein and less than 1.9g sugar per 330ml bottle.
Strawberry & White Choc Chip Protein Cookie
As I'm not a fan of white chocolate, I knew I wouldn't really like this one. However, my husband had no problem polishing it off and I think anyone else who likes white choc will love this too. It has 15g protein and just 2.3g sugar per 50g cookie.
Cookies & Cream Oat Bake
YUM is all I can say about this one. It's a bit like a flapjack as it's made with oats and therefore provides slow-release energy which kept me going for a few hours. It has 15g protein and 2.5g sugar per 50g bake.
Choc Chip Protein Brownie
Just as I knew I wouldn't be keen on a white chocolate cookie, I knew that a chocolate chip brownie was going to be my favourite product of the bunch! It's really chocolaty without being sickly and provides 20g protein and 3.3g sugar per 65g brownie.
Caramel Crisp Protein Bar
I really enjoyed this one. It was kind of chewy and crunchy at the same  time and tasted more like a normal chocolate bar than a protein bar. It has 21g protein and 7.4g sugar per 65g bar.
Chocolate Protein Milkshake
I love chocolate and I love milkshakes, so a chocolate milkshake was destined to go down well - and this didn't disappoint. I also love how it can be drunk either chilled or at room temperature so you can carry it around all day with you to drink when you need it. It has 22g protein and 11.2g sugar per 310ml bottle.
I am really impressed with this range by SCI-MX and will definitely be purchasing their products in the future to eat after my workouts and for a quick on-the-go snack.
Thanks to Nely for sending me some SCI-MX protein products to review. If you have a health, fitness or nutrition related product you'd like me to review, please email me at nicspirational@gmail.com. I will aim to post my review within a week of receiving and testing your product and will always give my honest opinion.
Liked this? Click here to read my other reviews.
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Friday, 17 February 2017

Seven Ways to Have a Perfect Night's Sleep

If you eat well and exercise regularly, you're probably a pretty health conscious person. But do you also make sure you get the right amount of sleep to keep your body in peak condition?

Many otherwise healthy people have a habit of neglecting their sleep. This is a shame because it's one of the most important things you can do to keep your body functioning properly.

Sleep is vital for maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory, concentration and decision making. Have you ever been so tired you started slurring or couldn't think straight?

Sleep deprivation can also have a major impact on both our physical and emotional health. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, obesity and can cause fatal accidents. This is why it's so important to ensure that we get sufficient sleep.

The actual amount of sleep we need varies from person to person, with some people functioning well on just six hours sleep while others can't perform unless they've had ten. The average amount of sleep you should aim for each night is eight hours. If you have difficulty sleeping, trying these seven simple tips may help:

1. Invest in a good quality bed. A mattress that's old, lumpy or uncomfortable won't promote restful sleep. We spend a third of our lives in bed so your mattress is definitely not something you want to scrimp on.

2. Get some exercise during the day. But don't work out right before you want to sleep. This will get your heart pumping, boost your adrenaline and keep you awake – great for the morning, not so much at bedtime.

3. Stop eating about two hours before bedtime to give your body a chance to digest any food. Caffeine can stay in your system for 8-10 hours so try to have your last cup of coffee in the early afternoon. And contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn't help you sleep better. It may get you to nod off faster, but you'll sleep fitfully and won't enjoy a deep, restful slumber.

4. Have a night time routine. This will make the transition from wakefulness to sleep easier for you to accomplish. Go to bed at a set time every night, but before you do, try this...

About an hour or so before bed, take a warm bath. The water will relax your muscles and the drop in temperature after you get out mimics your body's natural drop in temperature as you fall asleep.

Then about thirty minutes to an hour before bed, turn off all your technology (TV, laptop, phone etc) and go into your bedroom. Change into your pyjamas, dim the lights, light some scented candles and read a good book (preferably not one that's too gripping) until you feel tired.

5. Minimise distractions. Make sure your bedroom is dark, silent and well ventilated before you hit the sack.

6. Keep a pen and paper by your bed. Just before you turn out the lights, write down anything that's been troubling you. Getting the worries out of your head and onto paper will free your brain up for more important things (such as falling asleep) and it won't keep waking you up to remember the things you've been thinking about. If you do wake up during the night worrying about something, write that down too and resolve to take action in the morning. There's not much you can do about it in the middle of the night, so why upset yourself?

7. Have a morning routine. Wake up at the same time every day - even at the weekend. Plan or prepare something the night before to look forward to, such as a nice breakfast. And get up as soon as the alarm goes off. Hitting the snooze button repeatedly is not good for you. Being woken up every ten minutes in the morning will interrupt your REM sleep (the last stage of sleep, when dreams occur) and cause you to feel more tired.

Note: If you have a sleeping problem that persists for longer than a few weeks, it might be a good idea to pay a visit to your GP who will be able to identify any underlying issues such as a medical condition or mental health problem.
Sleep tight!
How well do you sleep? Do you have a night time routine? Any tips for people who struggle to sleep well? Then please leave a comment!
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
Ten Easy Ways to Have More Energy

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Three Ways to Fall in Love with Exercise

For the lucky few, exercise is a way of life and they don't think twice about turning up to the gym, bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing in the morning. But many people see exercise as a chore; something that has to be done in order to keep fit or lose weight.

However, there are ways to make your workout enjoyable, so you actually start looking forward to it and stop viewing exercise as only a means to an end goal.

I bet by now some of you are thinking nope, never gonna happen. So I'm going to give you some ideas of how to change up your exercise routine and start to learn to love it!

1. Don't think of exercise as a punishment for eating bad foods.
The most important thing to do if you want to start enjoying exercise is to change the way you think about it. Do you only go for a run as a way to burn off that huge slice of chocolate cake you just devoured? Well, that's where you're going wrong. Start thinking of your workout as the special time you devote to yourself to take care of your body and keep it strong. It should be a way to reward yourself by flooding your brain with endorphins to make you feel good; not a way to punish yourself for being 'naughty'.

2. Find something you love doing.
Step out of the gym if you don't find it enjoyable and try out a range of activities until you find something you like and can stick with. You could try hiking, surfing, swimming, roller blading, skiing, canoeing, climbing/abseiling, karate...the possibilities are endless. As in every aspect of life, when you love what you're doing you're more likely to see it through and achieve the results you crave.

3. Team up with other people.
Take a friend along with you for extra motivation when you work out. You could also join a sports club and take part in activities such as football, tennis, basketball and hockey, or go to a class at the gym to learn zumba, yoga, aerobics or whatever it is you feel like doing. Making your workout a social occasion will make you more likely to stay with it. You'll meet people with the same interests as you and start to look forward to seeing them every week.
Follow these suggestions for a couple of weeks and notice your attitude towards exercise start to change. Slowly but surely you'll start to realise that fitness really can be fun!

I want to hear from you! Have you always enjoyed working out or did you have to learn to love it? What are your tips for people who are still struggling to like exercise?

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Product Review: Roots Collective Vegetable Blends

When Roots Collective reached out to me and asked if I'd like to try their new vegetable blends, I was all over it. As I read their press release, I got more and more excited about the products. I love juices and smoothies; however Roots Collective Vegetable Blends are neither a juice nor a smoothie. They're as thick as a shake, have bite and can be eaten hot or cold. Roots Collective add whole vegetables to their blends so they still contain fibre (which is lost when juicing).

My husband and I are both nutrition geeks and love trying healthy products, so as you can imagine, we were practically fighting over these. I wouldn't let him open them until I'd taken some photos for the blog post - then I had to keep reminding him that I needed at least to taste each one as it was me who had to write the review.

Then I decided, as he had drunk as much (if not more) than me, that he could review them with me. So here are our opinions on each blend:

Garden Greens: Cucumber, peas, kale & mint
My thoughts: Very minty and fresh tasting. I can imagine putting this on a light springtime or summertime meal like salad or pasta.
His thoughts: "I feel healthier just holding this."

Sweet Beets: Beetroot, red pepper, honey & lime
My thoughts: This doesn't taste sweet to me. The main flavours are beetroot and red pepper, and it's savoury. It still tastes good and I love the vibrant red colour. It would make a good pre- or post-workout drink.
His thoughts: "It tastes like beetroot." [No shit, Sherlock!]

Green Warrior: Cucumber, spinach, parsley & chives
My thoughts: I love the name of this one! As well as the ingredients listed above, it also contains avocado, courgette (beating the current courgette crisis!) and coconut milk. It's very smooth and refreshing.
His thoughts: "Nice. I can mainly taste the cucumber and spinach."

Carrot Zing: Carrot, ginger, honey & lime
My thoughts: This would be good heated up as a soup. It has carrot bits in it which make you feel more like you're eating something than drinking it, and the ginger gives it a real kick.
His thoughts: "I think this one's my favourite. It's really gingery."

Asian Sling: Spinach, coriander, chilli & lemongrass
My thoughts: This is like drinking a Thai curry. It's fragrant and aromatic with a kick of chilli. I would add this to an Asian-style stir fry.
His thoughts: "Why is this smoothie spicy?"

Ok, so Hubster may have to work on his reviewing skills, but at least you heard his honest reactions!

Thanks to Josie at Roots Collective for sending me five different vegetable belnds to review. If you have a health, fitness or nutrition related product you'd like me to review, please email me at nicspirational@gmail.com. I will aim to post my review within a week of receiving your product and will always give my honest opinion.

Liked this? Click here to read my other reviews.

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Friday, 10 February 2017

Charity of the Month: February

At the beginning of 2017, I decided to start a new blog series called Charity of the Month in which every month throughout the year I dedicate a blog post to a small charity I believe you should check out and think about supporting. I'm so happy that January's post was well received and the charity benefited from the exposure, and I'm excited to talk to you about the charity I've chosen for February.

DDH UK is the UK's only charity dedicated to providing support for parents with children born with developmental dysplasia of the hip. Its founder, Natalie Trice (pictured above with her son Lucas) tells me her story:

"Seven years ago I handed my baby over to surgeons for hip surgery. Little did I know this was the first of many trips to theatre for my brave boy. 
"Lucas was born in 2009 and was diagnosed with Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) when  he was four months old. Since then, he has been in and out of hospital for months in harnesses and casts and most recently a wheelchair after his pelvis was cracked and rebuilt.

"Back in 2009, I felt like I was facing this journey alone. I couldn’t find any information, I didn’t know anyone who had been through this, I was confused about the equipment I needed. 
"I felt lost – but I knew I wasn’t going to be beaten. We would get through DDH one way or another and it would make us stronger.
"Rather than feel bitter or angry, I channelled my energy into ensuring DDH was on the radar of health professionals – early detection is crucial to successful treatment and pain free lives.  I also wanted to know parents had access to the information and support they needed on this journey.

"From this passion for change, I wrote my book Cast Life and set up DDH UK, the UK's only hip dysplasia charity. We are 14 months old now and have a global Facebook forum offering 24/7 support, we send cards before surgery, arrange regional group meet ups and provide buddy support. We have an equipment site, loan out books and make sure  that no parent with a child going through DDH ever feels alone.
"Lucas still isn't 100% and potentially faces more surgery in the future but on 1st March our school is hosting a massive fundraising event and people around the world will be raising money for healthy hips. We have a medical advisor from Southampton University and Gemma Almond, a paralympic swimmer with bilateral DDH, is our patron." 

If you want to support DDH UK, or for more information about their fundraising events, check out their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

You can buy Natalie's book 'Cast Life: A Parent's Guide to DDH' here.

If you are a charity or non-profit organisation who would like to be featured as my Charity of the Month (or if you would like to nominate one), please email me at nicspirational@gmail.com. This is a free service, however, while I will consider every application, due to the sheer volume it's impossible for me to feature every single one on the blog.

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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Recipe: Easy Matcha Green Tea Latte (Better than Starbucks!)

I'm such a fan of matcha. Not only does it taste amazing but it's extremely good for you and just so versatile. Amongst other things, you can add it to green smoothies, make iced teas and even bake it into brownies and cupcakes (yes, really!)

This matcha latte is one of my favourite things to drink on cold winter evenings, although it's good at any time of year. It's incredibly simple to make (which I love - I'm all about simplicity) and easy to adjust to your own tastes. I use either soya or coconut milk when making this, but any milk will work - almond, rice, dairy...whatever you prefer. There are also a number of ways you can sweeten this drink if you so wish - you could use honey, agave, maple syrup, stevia or even sugar.

And just how is it better than Starbucks, I hear you cry? Well, you know exactly what's going into it so there are no hidden nasties, it costs a fraction of the price and you don't even have to leave your house to enjoy it! So let's get into the recipe - I hope you love it as much as I do.

You will need:
1 heaped teaspoon matcha powder
3/4 cup milk of your choice
1/4 cup hot water
Honey or agave to sweeten (optional)

1. Heat the milk in a pan, bringing it to a simmer. Froth the milk using a whisk or milk frother.
2. Meanwhile, boil the water then let it sit and cool for a few minutes (it's important not to use boiling water as this can kill the flavour of the tea). In a mug, mix the water with the matcha powder until it has dissolved.
3. Slowly add the milk to the mug and stir.
4. If you want to sweeten your latte, add a little honey or agave now.

Do you like matcha? What's your favourite way to use it?

Liked this? Click here to see my other recipes!

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Monday, 6 February 2017

Product Review: Just for Tummies Probiotics

Just for Tummies is a range of products designed to support your digestive system and gut health. Formulated by Linda Booth, who runs one of the most successful natural digestive and gut disorder clinics in the UK, they are aimed at people who suffer from disorders such as IBS, urinary tract infections, abdominal pain, yeast infections and bloating.
"In my clinic I see first hand what happens when the digestive system and gut isn't working as it should" says Linda. "I developed the Just for Tummies range so my patients can live life fully, without 'tummy troubles'."
Linda sent me two of her products to review - a live bacteria probiotic and a pack of 'tummy tea'.
The live bacteria probiotics come in a capsule containing high-strength, multi-strain friendly bacteria to replenish your gut flora. I always find it really hard to review tablets as they don't taste of anything and, as I've only been taking these ones for about a week, I don't feel any different. However I do feel good knowing that I'm topping up my good bacteria and will continue to take them.
The tummy tea comes in pyramid shaped teabags, which makes me happy. I've always preferred pyramid-shaped bags to flat ones. For one, they look nicer and two, I think it gives the tea more room to infuse. Let me make it clear that this tea is not one of those bogus teatox products with their empty promises of making you lose weight, but simply a blend of herbs and spices to help soothe your digestive system.
Before I tasted the tea, I decided to try and guess which herbs were in it just by the smell. The first scent that hit me was ginger, followed by liquorice and then fennel. I even thought I got a whiff of pepper but there were a couple of other flavours in there which I couldn't identify. The actual ingredients are liquorice root, ginger root, fennel seed, carom seed, cardamom seed, fenugreek seed and black peppercorns, so I didn't do too badly at all!
I drank the tea with a teaspoon of honey to sweeten it a little. I found it quite calming and very flavourful. Even my husband loved the taste. I've been making it after dinner some nights to help with digestion and as it's naturally caffeine-free, we don't have to worry about drinking it late in the evening.
Overall I was really impressed with the two Just for Tummies products I tried. Other products in the range include milk thistle, digestive enzymes, charcoal, omega 3, fibre, garlic and a For Women probiotic, designed to support your live bacteria 'down below'. All JfT products are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Thanks to Linda Booth at Just for Tummies for sending me some products to review. If you have a health, fitness or nutrition related product you'd like me to review, please email me at nicspirational@gmail.com. I will aim to post my review within a week of receiving your product and will always give my honest opinion.

Liked this? Click here to read my other reviews.

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Saturday, 4 February 2017

Five of the Biggest Fitness Myths Debunked

Some things just won't go away...those annoying pop-ups that appear in the middle of an article you're reading (even though you click on the little X like a million times), that last 5lbs of fat you're carrying around your middle...and constant misinformation about how to lose it.

Some fitness advice has been around since the beginning of time (or at least since humans started exercising for fun instead of survival) and refuses to die, even though it's just plain wrong. Here are five popular myths that people still believe are true, despite evidence to the contrary.
Myth 1: You need to stretch before you work out
While it's important to stretch after a workout, there's no need to do so before. In fact, it's not recommended to stretch cold muscles as they're not as flexible and the risk of overstretching or injury is increased. The best way to warm up is to do a less strenuous version of the exercise you'll be working on – for example, if you're going for a run, walk for five minutes, jog for another five and then your muscles will be warm enough to begin running. 
When stretching after working out, make sure you don't 'bounce' the stretch. This is an old school practice which unfortunately some people still use. It can actually cause microtrauma in the muscle tissue, making you less flexible and more prone to pain. The best method is to hold your stretch in one position for at least 20 seconds. Also, always remember to breathe. Holding your breath while stretching can make you feel dizzy and light-headed.  

Myth 2: Don't lift weights if you're a woman or you'll get HUGE muscles
So many women avoid weight training as they're scared of bulking up and looking like a man. This couldn't be further from the truth. As a woman, lifting weights will give you a toned, sculpted look. Men bulk up from weight training because they have a lot more testosterone than us ladies – about 15 to 20 times more, in fact. Because of this, women are physically unable to get as big as men without the use of steroids. Strength training will give you strong and hard muscles, but they won't have as much mass as those of a dude. Even if you lift heavier and heavier weights, you'll only gain strength, not size. So keep calm and start lifting. 

Myth 3: Do XYZ exercise to burn belly/arm/thigh fat
Any personal trainer will tell you that there's no way to spot reduce fat, but still the myth persists that you can lose weight from the part/s of your body you please. Sorry, you can do all the crunches you like but you won't get a washboard stomach if your abs are hidden under a layer of fat. You can't control what parts your body chooses to deposit and lose fat from and everyone is different – some people carry their excess weight on their bum and thighs while others carry it on their belly and boobs. 

The trick is to work on reducing your overall body fat percentage – cardio is a great way to do this – but the sad fact is that the part you want to lose fat from will probably be the last to go, as that's where your crazy body likes to store it. 

Myth 4: After a workout, you should hydrate with a sports drink
The drinks companies would like you to believe this one, but you don't actually need to drink sports drinks during and after exercising. Unless you're a professional athlete or marathon runner, plain water will rehydrate your body just fine.

Most sports drinks contain a lot of unnecessary sugars that can actually be counterproductive to your workout. They do contain electrolytes - however, if you're just exercising for a short period of time (say, less than an hour) it's not necessary to replace electrolytes. FYI, coconut water also contains electrolytes and contains a fraction of the sugar and calories of sports drinks, so is a better option.

Myth 5: Eat THIS food to help you lose weight!
While it's true that eating lots of sugary processed foods will cause you to put on weight, there is no 'miracle food' that will help you burn fat. Yes, whole foods such as fruit and vegetables are low in calories and you'll lose weight if you eat these rather than stuffing your face full of sweets every day – but don't think, for example, that eating tonnes of broccoli will magically melt away all your fat from the inside. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise often and the weight will take care of itself.
What's the biggest fitness myth you've heard? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Thursday, 2 February 2017

How to Eat Out the Healthy Way

In an ideal world we'd all have time to buy fresh, seasonal produce and prepare every meal from scratch at home. However, for most people this isn't always possible and occasionally, whether for a special occasion or just convenience, we find ourselves eating in a restaurant.
Restaurant meals can be high in fat, sugar and calories – but they don't have to be. Here's how to minimise the impact on your waistline and your health when eating out.

1. A lot of restaurants now post nutrition information in their menus or online. Check these, preferably before you go out, so you can make informed choices about what to eat based on what foods are healthier and what are not so great for you.  

2. Eat a small bowl of salad before you leave the house - this will fill you up and help you eat less while you're out. Turning up ravenous will encourage you to overeat and make poor food choices.

3. When you get to the restaurant, resist the bread basket! A few chunks of bread and butter will set you back a couple of hundred calories before you've even ordered.

4. Some restaurants serve huge portions so try to go for a smaller size. You could also order one or two starters instead of a main course. And you don't have to finish all the food on your plate - ask if they can bag the rest up for you to take home. You can eat this for lunch the next day.

5. Order a side salad instead of fries, even if you've already followed the advice about eating a salad at home. You can never have too much salad! Just make sure to ask for the dressing on the side rather than poured all over so you can control how much goes on your food.

6. Choose dishes which include plenty of vegetables, wholegrains and lean protein and watch out for how they're cooked. Avoid anything fried and go for boiled, steamed or grilled options. If you only eat out occasionally, it's ok to push the boat out and indulge a little, however if you do this regularly you really should choose healthier foods most of the time.

7. Don't add salt at the table as most restaurant meals already have a high sodium content.

8. Drinks can also be full of sugar and calories so water is always your best option.

9. Skip the naughty desserts. Order fruit if it's an option, or just go without for once. You really don't need all those empty calories anyway. If you really can't resist something indulgent, split it with someone else.

See? It really is possible to eat out once in a while and stay on track with your healthy eating plan!

How often do you eat out? How do you manage to stay healthy when eating in a restaurant?

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