Nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton explains what foods can help keep you in tip-top shape this summer
The warmer, lighter nature of the summer months bring longer days and soothing evening light as well as a flourishing landscape. Symbolically this season represents vitality, joy and an indulgence in nature’s abundance. For some of us, it may also bring long school holidays and trips abroad that challenge the usual health routine we follow. Here are some practical steps you can take to minimise potential impacts to your health.
To protect your skin from sun damage and premature ageing, you should already be eating a rainbow diet of colourful vegetables to provide you with an array of food-based antioxidants – such as beetroot, red cabbage, red peppers, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and so on. For increased support, I recommend topping up with an antioxidant supplement one month before you go away (I use Wild Nutrition’s Antioxidant Boost). At the end of each day in the sun, apply a generous amount of a good quality chemical-free aloe vera gel all over your face – aloe vera contains plant compounds that encourage a natural healing process and cool inflamed skin. Once that has soaked in, apply a layer of after sun or a moisturiser. Look out for natural ingredients such as pine bark extract which has been shown to reduce skin damage caused by sun exposure.
Magnesium is an energy mineral and not only helps us recover from tiredness and fatigue but also supports the health of the nervous system, making it ideal for anyone who gets nervous from flying, is prone to ‘jangled’ nerves and generally feels worn out. Anything that helps the nervous system may also promote that restful summer feeling. Nourish yourself with magnesium rich foods including pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, wheat germ, oats, millet, buckwheat, avocado, barley, brown rice, kelp, collard greens, kale, figs and dates. Be mindful of your coffee intake, alcohol and long-term medication.
Using B vitamins such as B12 and B6 help support a healthy immune system (which may become vulnerable if we have jet lag or have sat on a plane with people sneezing and coughing) as well as helping us with good energy and recovery from tiredness and fatigue. Vitamin B1 has also used successfully by some people as a way to reduce pesky mosquito bites.
Travelling in itself can be tiring and this is when we can be vulnerable to picking up unwanted gut-based symptoms such as bloating, wind, nausea, diarrhoea and general sickness. Healthy gut flora will play a role in help your defence against infectious bacteria as well as reduce bloating associated with low levels of the good bugs.
Eat plenty of meals that include fermented foods such as sauerkraut (easily found in health stores), kimchi (Asian fermented cabbage and spices) and drink coconut water kefir that will feed the growth of the good bugs in your digestive system. You may also want to try supplementing with herbs such as oregano, garlic, grapefruit seed extract (sometimes called citricidal) or olive leaf before you go away and during your stay. These powerful herbs and spices contain natural antibacterial and anti microbial compounds that will give bad bacteria their marching orders! You could also use a good quality beneficial bacteria product before you embark on your travels, such as Wild Nutrition’s Multi-Strain Biotic. This is stable at room temperature so it’s a great product to pack in your suitcase if you experience an upset tummy or constipation.
Be sensible about exposure and find a happy medium between getting enough sun for vitamin D and protecting your skin from sun damage and premature ageing. Topping up vitamin D on holiday is essential, since we are only able to get 10 percent of this valuable nutrient from our food and UK weather is unpredictable. Vitamin D is key for the health of our bones, teeth and immune system as well as mental wellbeing. Research has looked at links to vitamin D deficiency and specific female gynecological conditions and fertility too.
Early morning or late afternoon sun is much safer to be out in and at those times of the day you may even manage 30 minutes of sunbathing without sun tan lotion. If your vitamin D has been very low, you may be able to top your levels up from one hot holiday but in many cases, this isn’t always enough to get you through the year. Certainly come autumn time, I would advise you to begin supplementing again.
Most importantly of all, rest and enjoy yourself in this wonderful season of abundance and liberation! Henrietta Norton is a nutritional therapist, author and co-founder of Wild Nutrition (wildnutrition.com). She has clinics at Grace Belgravia and SP & Co in London.
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