So how are those new years resolutions going?
Surveys suggest that eating healthily and getting more exercise are the two most popular new year resolutions, here’s a few easy options to get you started.
We all know that new years resolutions are notoriously difficult to stick to. Whilst it is generally recognised that exercise and/or calorie control are the only sure-fire way to lose weight, here are a few less extreme options we can all start to do to feel healthier and drop a few pounds, from smart hydration, to non-caffeine stimulants, to microbiome food and through to pain fighting foods.
We are made up of about 60% water, and our bodies use water in their cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate temperature and maintain healthy bodily functions. But because our bodies are losing water through breathing, sweating, and digestion, it’s important to rehydrate often by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water.
How much water is enough? Our bodies need about 2 to 3 litres of water a day on average, depending on your size, gender and whether you live in a hot/dry climate. But remember staying hydrated can be aided by more than drinking water, as we can also derive water from our diet, particularly fruit and vegetables. But take the guess work out of your hydration management by using this calculator (https://www.h4hinitiative.com/tools/hydration-calculator%20)
To meet the increasing demand for hydrating products, the market for functional drinks is expanding rapidly. Functional drinks are defined as beverages that give consumers an extra health benefit – perhaps additional minerals, hidden protein via amino acids or nootropics – substances claimed to improve cognitive performance. The latest formulations aim to avoid traditional super sweet fruit-based beverages, which can be as high in sugar as a can of coke, and instead are based on cold pressed vegetables such as lettuce and cucumber.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed
If we want to stay hydrated, avoiding excessive consumption of dehydrating beverages like alcohol is important.
But what about good old-fashioned coffee, should we give it up to stay hydrated? The good news is that you don’t have to. A scientific report published in January 20141found that drinking a moderate amount of coffee each day does not contribute to dehydration, as had previously been believed. Researchers compared coffee intake with water intake in healthy populations. Four cups of coffee per day — around 800 millilitres — did not create any significant changes in hydration when compared to an equivalent intake of water.
If you want the energy and mental stimulation but want to avoid caffeine, you can access an increasing range of non-caffeine-based herbs and compounds – for example, huperzine Chinese club moss, Gutu Kola or Oat straw. The stimulation effects of these nootropics work in different ways to– which is known to increase general alertness but may not help your working memory. Interest is strong in finding true nootropics that improve all areas of cognitive function. Rigorous clinical trials are not required for such supplements, and natural doesn’t mean without side effects – so if you are imbibing rather than investing, you may be advised to seek medical advice first.
Getting a good gut feeling
I think unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, most of us will be aware that the bacteria that live in our guts – our own personal microbiome – can contribute significantly to our physical and mental wellbeing.
Tapping into this trend could be a shrewd financial decision as probiotics are booming business – great news for investors but what about consumers?
Certainly ingesting probiotics can alter our microbiome. But the current batch of probiotics are relatively simple and feature those strains which are easy to cultivate, survive our stomach acid and have a stable shelf life. They also have many different ways they can benefit us – from providing enzymes to help digest lactose products (lactobacillus species), fermenting plants fibres to create beneficial fatty acids that help regulate our metabolism and even prime our immune system to have a healthy tolerance to the outside world, preventing autoimmune disease. We also have vast differences in our resident bacteria dependant upon our age, gender, geographical location, genes and most importantly diet. So using a current commercially available formula may be the right mix for you – but also may not.
Whilst research gathers momentum to deliver personalised probiotic formulations, there is mounting evidence that that you can manipulate your own microbiome through diet, and the good news is that your gut microbiome can even start to change within 3 hours of consuming the right foods.
So what are the right foods for building a healthy microbiome – well perhaps its no surprise that it’s a diverse diet. If you have a diet rich in meat this will only encourage those bacteria that feed on the meat – so its also important to include foods with soluble fibre (e.g. fruit, veg, oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds and chia), insoluble fibre (whole grain, wheat bran) and resistant starch (potatoes and rice), which help a broad community of bacteria right across different regions of your gut.
Another quirk of gut microbes is that some of them can help you lose weight. There is mounting evidence that if you engage in fast:feast diet (e.g. the 5:2 diet as promoted by Michael Mosely) you select against microbes which extract more energy from your food, and select microbes which only eat our own gut mucin and mucous – lovely! So remember your not to eating just for one – but for the 100 trillion friends in your gut.
Food to fight pain
Whether its back pain, from time spent sitting or driving over the holidays, or sore knees, from the new year resolution gym sessions, pain is created in our brain as it interprets nerve signals from the body. Interestingly diet has a big part to play in helping or hindering these responses.
So in the same way you want to avoid an injury at the gym, we also want to avoid dietary injuries. Some foods create low levels of inflammation in the body – pre-disposing our cells and ourselves to disease and our tissues to injury. The problem is that only about 10% of our current western diet calories comes from anti-inflammatory foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, along with those that contain good fats and omega 3, which help calm our nervous system.
The positive impacts of omega 3 rich fish oils are now being taken seriously and have become more palatable by concentrating them to reduce the dose required and deodorising them to remove that fishy after taste. Scientists are also working out how to add omega 3 to a range of foods. For example by feeding chickens a specific diet so that their eggs are rich in omega 3, or genetically modifying plants to create better omega 3 profiles in common plants such as canola usually known for the less beneficial omega 6 oils. But you also don’t need to wait for these products to hit the shops as there are now a range of products that give a healthy omega 3 hit in unexpectedly pleasant ways, from cookies to chocolates.
So do these hydrating, microbiome-building, mentally enhancing and anti-inflammatory diet recommendations sound familiar – veg, fruit, nuts pulses, whole grains, less meat and more fish?
Funny it’s almost as though we evolved consuming this diet and our bodies are optimised for it…
Article by Prof Andy Lowe and Judith Lowe is an MSc in Translational Health Science at the Joanna Briggs Institute, University of Adelaide
Featured image – Shutterstock / Ekaterina Pokrovsky
1 Killer SC, Blannin AK, Jeukendrup AE. No evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population. PloS one. 2014 Jan 9;9(1):e84154