Category Archives: Winter Health

Flu Buster Shot

‘Tis the season to be germy, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. If you’re suffering from the sniffles, have a throat that feels like you swallowed a cactus or have contracted the dreaded man-flu, try this juice which is packed with potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory ingredients to get you feeling well again.

Pineapple Juice: A source of vitamin C which is an antioxidant and helps support the immune system, and bromelain, and enzyme which may help to break down mucus, supporting healthy nasal and respiratory airways.

Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly used in Asian food that is a member of the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family. Turmeric contains a variety of biologically-active constituents, such as curcumin, and is currently being researched for the treatment of many diseases and chronic conditions including cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and depression. Turmeric has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects and stimulates the immune system. It is commonly used in the treatment of bronchitis and respiratory infections. Fresh turmeric root is becoming more widely available – try your local farm shop (Riverford often have it) or large supermarket.

Ginger: Ginger is another of natures’ antiviral herbs. It contains nearly a dozen antiviral compounds. Ginger is pain relieving, antiseptic and antioxidant. It is valuable for preventing and treating colds, sore throats and inflammation of mucus membranes.

Horseradish: A pungent, peppery root that is related to mustard, broccoli and cabbage. Its peppery flavour is due to volatiles oils which will help to clear your airways when ingested.

Lemon Juice: Another source of vitamin C and used in many traditional cold remedies.

Honey: Honey has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Look for raw honey to ensure that the honey hasn’t been heat-treated as this reduces the effectiveness. The sweetness of the honey also counteracts some of the bitterness in this recipe!

Black Pepper: Contains the compound piperine, which significantly improves the absorption of turmeric. The black pepper must be freshly ground as piperine degrades quite quickly once exposed to the air.

Recipe (makes about 500ml) 

  • 1 large pineapple, topped, tailed and peeled 
  • 40g fresh ginger root 
  • 20g fresh turmeric root 
  • 10g fresh horseradish root 
  • 1 lemon 
  • 1 tbsp honey (preferably local honey) 
  • Black pepper

Pass the turmeric, ginger and pineapple through a juicer. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze into the juice. Add the honey and stir well. Freshly grind a little black pepper on top. Sip throughout the day.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

The clocks go back an hour this weekend, and many of us (me included!) will be dreading the thought of several long months ahead of getting up in the pitch black and coming home from work in the dark. We slip into ‘hibernation’ mode – struggling to get up in the mornings, craving comfort food and spending our evenings on the sofa in front of Strictly and X Factor with a tub of Pringles.

The truth is, it is quite natural to have less energy in the winter. This is a normal, seasonal adaptation that, in evolutionary terms, would have been useful in reducing our activity at a time when food was scarce. A few hundred years ago, we would have had no choice but to adapt our behaviour in winter. Most people would have worked outside, so the working day would have started later and finished earlier to coincide with daylight hours. Without electricity, our ancestors would have carried out quiet evening activities by candlelight before retiring to bed early. We would have relied on seasonal produce growing in our garden or from the farmer down the road and food that we had stored or preserved during the more abundant months. Now, with electric lights, cars, communications technology and imported food, we fight this natural instinct to slow down and attempt to continue our normal routines throughout winter, even though our evolutionary biology may not have quite caught up yet.

Whilst most of us find that our energy dips once Autumn arrives, some people seem to be more affected by the change in seasons than others. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which people whose mental health is normal during the rest of the year regularly experience symptoms of depression during a specific season (most commonly autumn and winter). Symptoms of SAD include difficulty waking up in the morning, a tendency to sleep more and overeat (particularly craving carbohydrates), low energy, difficulty concentrating and withdrawing from friends, family and social situations.

Whilst scientists haven’t yet established the cause of SAD, individuals with SAD have been found to have lower levels of Vitamin D (the ‘sunshine’ vitamin), lower serotonin (a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of wellbeing and regulates hunger), lower cortisol (an adrenal hormone responsible for waking us up in the morning), and increased levels of melatonin (the neurotransmitter that initiates and maintains sleep).

Here are my top tips to beat the winter blues:

1) Eat plenty of protein – ideally at every meal. Meat, poultry, eggs, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds contain the amino acid tryptophan which your body converts into mood-lifting serotonin.

2) Choose your carbohydrates wisely. It makes sense that we crave carbohydrates when our mood is low, since eating carbs triggers insulin production, which helps to transport tryptophan into the brain, where it can be converted to serotonin. However, some carbs are better than others. Choose carbs with a low glycemic load (GL) that provide a steady and sustained release of glucose into the blood stream. Good swaps include pumpernickel or rye bread instead of white bread; porridge oats instead of sweetened cereals; basmati rice or couscous instead of white rice; baby potatoes, sweet potato or butternut squash instead of baked potato or chips.

3) Eat oily fish 2 or 3 times a week. Oily fish is a good source of the omega 3 fats DHA and EPA which have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression.

4) Get as much natural daylight as you can. This will help to supress melatonin during the day and keep your circadian rhythm (‘body clock’) in check.

5) Use a sunrise clock. These mimic the effect of sunrise by gradually increasing the level of light, helping to supress melatonin and trigger cortisol production which helps to gently wake you up in the morning.

6) Top up your Vitamin D levels. If you can’t get away for a week somewhere sunny and warm, consider taking a supplement in the D3 form. Ideally, get your vitamin D levels tested first. You are more likely to be vitamin D deficient if you are older, have dark skin, avoid tanning, are pregnant, or are taking cholesterol-lowering medication (since cholesterol is the raw material that your body uses to make vitamin D).

7) Avoid bright lights and computer screens for an hour before bed, as these can supress melatonin production and make it more difficult to get to sleep.

8) Go to bed earlier. You probably find that you feel tired earlier in the evening in the winter. If at all possible, listen to your body and go to bed when you start to feel tired. Trying to fight through tiredness in the evening can trigger cortisol production which will make you feel alert and awake when it is time to go to bed.

9) Celebrate the change in the seasons! Build a bonfire, visit the Christmas markets, go for a walk in the woods and admire the autumn leaves, curl up in front of a log fire, buy a new hat, scarf or winter coat. Doing this will build up positive associations with autumn and winter and leave you looking forward to this time of year next time around!