How is PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) diagnosed?

How is PCOS diagnosed?

Many women who suspect they have PCOS feel they don’t need to worry about it until they are ready to start having children. Truth is, the sooner you understand the type of PCOS you have and how best to manage your symptoms the easier things will be for you when you are trying to fall pregnant. Managing your symptoms is also important for reducing your risk of other conditions linked to PCOS.

If you have any symptoms of PCOS it is important that you get an official diagnosis, as this will help you manage your symptoms going forward.

As a reminder not everyone will have all the symptoms, the most common symptoms of PCOS include: hirsutism (excessive hair growth), acne, difficulty losing weight or unexplained weight gain, irregular or absent periods (typically menstrual cycles that are shorter than 21 days and longer than 35 days) and alopecia (hair loss).

The most widely accepted diagnostic criteria are the 2003 Rotterdam criteria, it states that women need to have two of the following three:

  1. Hyperandrogenism (increased androgens):

This includes hirsutism (excessive hair growth appearing in a male pattern e.g. around the chin) and acne. It can be diagnosed on clinical appearance or through testing serum androgen levels or both.

  1. Ovulatory Dysfunction:

This is typically defined as a menstrual cycle that is shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days. It is important to note that regular periods every 21-35 days do not indicate normal ovulation in women with hyperandrogenism (increased androgen levels). Around 15-20% of women with hyperandrogenism and regular periods suffer with ovulatory dysfunction.

  1. Polycystic ovaries:

This is currently defined as 12 or more follicles (2 to 9mm in diameter) in either ovary, ovarian volume greater that 10ml in either ovary, or both.

As part of your diagnosis it is important that your GP rules out any of the following: late-onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Cushing’s syndrome, or an androgen-secreting tumour. It is also recommended that the following tests are carried to assist in diagnosis:

  • Total testosterone
  • Prolactin
  • Luteinizing Hormone and follicle stimulating hormone (LH & FSH)
  • Sex hormone-binding globulin
  • Thyroid stimulating hormone

Getting an official diagnosis is not always easy, unfortunately not all GP’s are up to date with the latest research around PCOS. If your GP does not see the need to test the above, then I encourage you to see another GP who is slightly more up to date on PCOS.

 

 

References:
Azziz R, Carmina E, Chen Z, et al. (2016) Polycystic ovary syndrome. Nature Reviews Disease Primers;2.
Rotterdam ESHRE/ASRM-Sponsored PCOS consensus workshop group. Revised 2003 consensus on diagnostic criteria and long-term health risks related to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). (2004) Human Reproduction; 19:41–7.

What is PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome)?

What is Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

PCOS is the most common endocrine condition affecting women of a reproductive age (15 – 49 years, WHO). The reports vary but it is said to affect between 5-20% of women in that age group worldwide; that’s between 1 in 6 and 1 in 20 women.

Although the name suggests the presences of cysts on the ovaries, this is in fact not the cause, but rather one of the potential symptoms of the condition. These ‘cysts’ are not in fact true cysts, rather follicles that have not matured into ovulation.

The cause of PCOS and the hormonal imbalances associated with this condition are still largely unknown. It is thought to be a genetic condition that is triggered or exacerbated by environmental conditions. The hormonal imbalances seen in PCOS are thought to be responsible for the severity and type of symptoms.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

It’s important to remember that PCOS shows up differently for everyone. Some women may experience all the symptoms listed below, and others only a few. Because PCOS seems to be impacted by our environment as you go through different stages in your life, some symptoms may vary in severity.

Some of the more common symptoms of PCOS include:
– Acne
– Irregular periods
– Excess facial and body hair
– Insulin resistance
– Anxiety and depression
– Infertility
– Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
– Alopecia (hair loss)

What else do we know about PCOS?

Other conditions associated with PCOS are:

Insulin resistance
It is thought that 65-80% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This is one of the reasons women with PCOS struggle to lose weight. Elevated insulin levels also stimulate the ovaries to produce excess testosterone which causes excess hair growth, acne, and irregular periods. Women with PCOS are also more susceptible to developing diabetes because of this insulin resistance.

Cardiovascular disease
Evidence suggests that elevated androgens, insulin resistance and low sex hormone-binding globulins result in increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease, particularly high blood pressure, elevated LDL cholesterol, decreased HDL cholesterol.

Infertility
Caused due to anovulation. It is important to note that women with PCOS have successful pregnancies all the time, it often just takes a little longer due to irregular ovulation.
Psychological disorders
PCOS has been linked to increased rates of anxiety and depression, although the cause has not yet been confirmed. It is thought to be closely linked to other PCOS symptoms including acne, hirsutism, infertility and difficulty losing weight.

Pregnancy complications
Gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia and premature births are more common in women with PCOS. This is thought to be caused by hyperandrogenism, insulin resistance and metabolic abnormalities.

Currently there is no cure for PCOS, and although all the above sounds very doom and gloom it is important to remember that PCOS is manageable through lifestyle changes. The good news is that most symptoms can be controlled through a healthy diet, supplements, exercise, adequate sleep and stress management. This will also help reduce your risk of developing other conditions and risks associated with PCOS.

If you think you may suffer with PCOS it is important to ask your GP for a diagnosis to rule out other conditions and start managing your symptoms straight away. For more information on how PCOS is diagnosed and what to ask you GP for, read my blog post on diagnosing PCOS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1. Azziz R, Carmina E, Chen Z, et al. (2016) Polycystic ovary syndrome. Nature Reviews Disease Primers;2.
2. International PCOS Network (2018) International evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome 2018. [Free Full-text]
3. Marshall, J. C., & Dunaif, A. (2012). Should all women with PCOS be treated for insulin resistance? Fertility and sterility, 97(1), 18–22. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.11.036
4. McCartney, C. R., & Marshall, J. C. (2016). CLINICAL PRACTICE. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. The New England journal of medicine, 375(1), 54–64. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1514916
5. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2018). Polycystic ovary syndrome. Retrieved from https://cks.nice.org.uk/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
6. RCOG (2014) Long-term Consequences of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk
7. Rotterdam ESHRE/ASRM-Sponsored PCOS consensus workshop group. Revised 2003 consensus on diagnostic criteria and long-term health risks related to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). (2004) Human Reproduction; 19:41–7.
8. Spritzer PM, Marchesan LB, Santos BR, et al. (2019) Prevalence and characteristics of polycystic ovary syndrome in Brazilian women: protocol for a nation-wide case control study. British Medical Journal Open;9: e029191. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2019-029191
9. Yu, H.F., Chen, H.S., Rao, D.P. et al. (2016) Association between polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of pregnancy complications: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore) (51), e4863.

Potato and Kale Breakfast Hash

This is great for a Sunday brunch! The sweetness from the sweet potatoes, tanginess from the mustard and smoky paprika pack so much flavour in to this simple recipe. It may be gluten and dairy free but it’s still delicious.

25 – 30 minutes

Serves 2

 

Ingredients:

1 small potato

1 small sweet potato

1 Leek

1 Cup Kalettes or Kale (stalks removed)

1 Tbsp mustard

1 tsp smoked paprika

4 Eggs

Salt and Pepper

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees
  2. Chop the potatoes in to small cubes and pop in boiling water for 10 minutes, or until soft
  3. Wash and finely slice the leek, heat a frying pan (preferably one you can pop straight in to the oven) with some olive oil and gently fry the leeks until soft
  4. Pop the kale in the water with the potatoes for the last 2 minutes to soften the kale
  5. Drain the potatoes and kale and add them to the frying pan until the potatoes are lightly browned
  6. Add the paprika, mustard and season with salt and pepper
  7. If your frying pan is not oven proof, then transfer the mixture in to an oven proof dish
  8. Create two holes in the potato mixture and crack two eggs in each
  9. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes

Dish up and enjoy!

I got my kalettes from Morrisons, but if you can’t find any then ordinary Kale works just as well.

Is dark chocolate good for you?

“If you’re craving chocolate you should have dark chocolate because it’s healthier than milk chocolate”. I’m sure most of you have heard this statement before and wondered what the difference is and if it’s even true.

Let’s take a look at the differences and why dark chocolate is promoted as the ‘super hero’ of the chocolate world.

What’s the difference?

Calorie for calorie, there isn’t much of a difference at all, in fact dark chocolate is slightly higher in calories containing 580 calories per 100g and milk chocolate containing 534 calories per 100g.

An important question then follows, where do those calories come from and why is dark chocolate higher?

I’ve put it in to a table for you, so you can clearly compare the two:

Milk Chocolate (per 100g) 70% Dark Chocolate (Per 100g)
Energy 524kcal 580kcal
Fat 30g 42g
Saturates 18g 25g
Carbohydrates 57g 36g
Sugar 56g 29g
Fibre 2.1g 10g
Protein 7.3g 9.1g
Salt 0.24g 0.08g

 

You’ll quickly see that the biggest differences are in the fat and the sugar content, dark chocolate contains 7g more saturated fat and 27g less sugar than milk chocolate and because fat is more calorie dense than sugar this is what drives the total number of calories up. In addition to this, dark chocolate is also slightly higher in protein and in fibre.

The difference in the two comes from the quantity of original cocoa found in the chocolate, the quality of the other ingredients and the additives.

A standard bar of milk chocolate contains 10-20% original cocoa, whereas a bar of dark chocolate contains anywhere between 30-80% original cocoa, the higher the cocoa concentration the more bitter the chocolate.

Looking at the ingredients list is always a good way to understand the difference;

Milk chocolate bar Dark chocolate bar
Milk**, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Vegetable Fats (Palm, Shea), Emulsifiers (E442, E476), Flavourings, **The equivalent of 426 ml of Fresh Liquid Milk in every 227 g of Milk Chocolate, Milk Solids 20 % minimum, actual 23 %, Cocoa Solids 20 % minimum, Contains Vegetable Fats in addition to Cocoa Butter Cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Natural Bourbon Vanilla Bean, Cocoa Solids: 70% min

As you can see there are very few ingredients that go in to dark chocolate. And although sugar is listed as the second ingredient in each of them the quantities vary greatly, as mentioned in the first table.

Lower quality versions of dark chocolates may contain added butter fat, artificial flavours or colours and vegetable oils so always check the ingredients list.

Milk chocolate contains milk, sugar and fats to make a creamier, sweeter and less bitter variation of its darker counterpart.

Although dark chocolate has a higher amount of fat, nutrients should not be looked at in isolation, it also has higher amounts of protein and fibre, less sugar and other additives. Dark chocolate is also usually consumed in smaller quantities than milk chocolate due to its rich flavour.

Why then is dark chocolate said to be so much better?

The ‘health benefits’ of cocoa come from the flavanols which are naturally occurring in the cocoa plant. These flavanols are anti-oxidants and studies have shown they decrease our risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, improve glucose metabolism and provide cognitive benefits. As dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa it generally contains a higher amount of flavanols which means gram for gram it offers more health benefits than milk chocolate and you’d need to eat a lot more milk chocolate to gain the same benefits.

But before you think of using this as an excuse to add dark chocolate to every meal of the day to improve your health there’s something you should know. Most of the studies looking at the benefits of these flavanols contained doses of between 100-800mg, the average bar of 70% dark chocolate contains approximately 100mg, therefore to reap the benefits you would need to consume 100g (that’s 1 bar) of 70% dark chocolate a day. When you look at the impact that the fat and sugar content may have on your health it’s clear that this wouldn’t be a wise move.

However, having a few squares of dark chocolate alongside a healthy balanced diet that included other good sources of flavanols such as apples, pears, grapes, tea and red wine (no more than one glass) may be beneficial to your health.

Because dark chocolate has a slightly richer and bitter taste it’s less likely that you’ll over indulge. Milk chocolate on the other hand just tastes like more and before you know it you’re left trying to hide the evidence of an empty wrapper, choosing dark chocolate is a handy tactic to help control your portions.

Should you avoid milk chocolate completely?

Firstly, if you can do this I’m not sure if you’re an alien or a superhuman but I need to meet you! Secondly, no! If you put yourself on a milk chocolate ban you are likely to be left feeling sad, deprived and haunted by images of galaxy bars floating around your head. Practice moderation, if you allow yourself a bar of chocolate (maybe not the whole slab) every now and then, alongside a healthy balanced diet that’s ok!

If you are making a conscious effort to be healthier and know you struggle to cut down on your chocolate intake, then try having a few squares of dark chocolate (70% or more) as a tactic to help you eat smaller quantities.

And let’s be honest not all chocolate bars are created equal, when that craving for a Twix or a Kit-Kat strikes no amount of dark chocolate is going to help. So, eat the darn Twix, just not too often.

What about flavoured dark chocolates?

This is hugely dependant on the brand. Some flavoured dark chocolates contain roughly 20g more sugar per 100g compared to their plain bar and only contain around 40-50% cocoa. Other brands use oils to flavour the chocolate which has little/no impact on the sugar or cocoa content – so choose your brand wisely and ALWAYS read the label!

Its true then, dark chocolate does have more health benefits in comparison to its milk chocolate counter parts but like anything if consumed in excess it’s not going improve your health and it shouldn’t be used as your only attempt to improve your health. Eating milk chocolate is not BAD and it’s not going to have a negative impact on your health unless you consume it in excess.

Eat your fruits and vegetables, be active, and nibble on some chocolate when the craving strikes – it’s all part of living a healthy, happy and balanced life!

What is mindfulness?

Hearing the word mindfulness often conjures up images of someone sitting peacefully on a yoga mat, surrounded by candles, the sound of calming music, eyes shut and breathing rhythmically as they shut out the outside world. Whilst this isa form of mindfulness (more mindful meditation), mindfulness is the every day practice of being in the present moment. It’s the practice of focusing all your attention and senses on one moment and acknowledging the feelings and emotions that arouse from it.

 Why is mindfulness important?

We live in a fast-paced world in which we are constantly multi-tasking and thinking about the next thing on our to-do-list. Have you ever gotten to work and not really remembered the journey? Watched a television programme and not been able to recall what happened, or eaten a meal and not paid attention to the flavours and textures? For many of us we spend our free time scrolling through our phones; browsing the internet or social media, catching up on emails or texting friends or loved ones – our minds are never still, and we are constantly stimulating our brains. Whilst we are thinking and doing our brains do not have the time and space to process everything that is going on around us, which manifests in many different forms, such as stress, a feeling of being overwhelmed, anxiety, depression, insomnia etc.

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

  1. Better stress management – if we can focus on the present and not allow ourselves to get lost in thoughts about what could happen in the future, or has happened in the past, the opportunities for worrying and feeling overwhelmed suddenly become fewer.
  2. Our relationships improve – being mindful around people means that we listen to what they say, notice how they look and feel, respond to their body language and make true connections through quality conversations. We’re all guilty of pretending to listen whilst our mind wanders to a totally different place.
  3. Productivity increases – focusing on one task at a time and not allowing yourself to be distracted by roaming thoughts, the constant flow of messages on your phone or reliving a conversation you had earlier, means you will work better and faster creating so much time for yourself.
  4. It improves your relationship with your body – there is no doubt that there is a strong connection between our brain and our body. Ever eat too much and suddenly feel fatigued and unable to concentrate? Ever feel uncomfortable in your clothes and feel a bit low all day? That’s the connection right there. Being mindful about the foods we eat and the impact they have on our body can do wonders for our confidence and energy levels.
  5. It improves sleep – if we allow ourselves enough time in the day to process our thoughts and emotions and provide our mind with some space without being overstimulated, then when it comes to going to bed at night our brain is not still running at a million miles an hour, making it impossible to get some quality sleep.

It’s easy to see how mindfulness does not just impact your mind but your overall health and wellbeing. Make sure you are giving yourself the time and space to be more mindful. And remember; it’s a process – you won’t master it straight away, but practice makes perfect! Click here for ways to incorporate mindfulness in to your daily routine.

 

How to find time to exercise with a busy schedule

How to find time to exercise with a busy schedule

Back in the day our ancestors didn’t need to make time to exercise; whether they were walking from one place to the next, washing their clothing by hand or going in to a field to pick vegetables for dinner that night, their lifestyle meant they were constantly moving throughout the day.

Today, we hop into our cars and drive to work, sit behind a desk all day, drive home and spend the evening relaxing on the sofa watching tv. Our lifestyles are far more sedentary, they are also far busier. For many of us both partners work which means there is no one at home to have a meal prepared for you when you walk through the door after a long day at the office. We spend a lot of time commuting to our place of work and do a huge amount more socialising than ever before. This means that we are left with very little time to relax, and for most of us exercise does not fit under our definition of relaxation, so when our days get busy exercise is bumped to the bottom of the list.

It’s easy to forget that exercise plays a very important role in keeping us healthy, not only physically but mentally too. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and the endorphins released during exercise can help us feel both happy and energised. Not to mention all the other benefits such as reducing the risk for cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes, strokes, certain cancers and maintaining a healthy weight.

So how do you make time to fit exercise in?

  1. Figure out what time of day is better. I’m a morning person, I don’t struggle to get out of bed in the morning, but in the evening after a long day I get lazy and will find every excuse under the sun to avoid exercising. Other people prefer spending a little longer in bed – it’s important you choose a time that suits you.
  2. Plan it – Take a look at your schedule for the week ahead; what days would it be possible for you to squeeze in some exercise? Writing it in your diary means you’re committing to doing it and are less likely to not do it.
  3. Start small – There’s no point saying you’re going to go to the gym for an hour seven days next week when you’re currently struggling to get there once. Start small and as you get in to a routine of going you can increase either the amount of time you spend exercising or the amount of days – or both (who knows you may even enjoy it)
  4. Do what you can – Exercise doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym, in fact, if you find something you love doing you’re far more likely to keep it up. Walking, running, yoga, Zumba, boxercise. You could even book on to one of my Pilates classes. There are so many ways to exercise these days so try a few new things until you find something you enjoy
  5. Be realistic – don’t commit to an hour when you really are short on time or a newbie to exercise. Doing a 20-minute workout in the comfort of your own lounge is just as good as going to the gym or heading out for a run, and it can be done before the kids get up or after they’ve gone to bed.

Don’t expect to find your rhythm immediately, starting is the hardest part so go easy on yourself. Remember, even if you only manage to do one session a week in the beginning, it’s better than nothing at all.

Beef and lentil meatballs

Adding lentils to a traditionally meat based dish is a great way to extend the dish, this enables you to make the meat go further so you’re making more portions (less time in the kitchen) with less meat (saving the planet).  Lentils also add fibre which slows down the digestion process keeping you fuller for longer.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

500g lean beef mince

400g tin brown lentils, drained and rinsed

1 onion, grated

2 tsp oregano

¼ cup oats

1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 egg

Salt & pepper

Olive oil

500ml tomato passata

2 tsps. balsamic vinegar

100g reduced fat feta cheese

 

Method:

  1. Place the mince, lentils, onion, oregano, basil, oats, garlic, egg, salt and pepper in a big mixing bowl and mix well. Using your hands create small balls with the mixture and place them on a plate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up.
  2. Prepare vegetables or salad of your choice and heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan and fry the meatballs until evenly browned, then place in an oven proof dish
  4. Add the balsamic vinegar to the passata, mix well and pour over the meatballs
  5. Crumble the feta on top and place in the oven for 25 minutes
  6. Serve with whole-wheat pasta and a vegetable of your choice or a side salad for a balanced meal

Seven ways to be more mindful every day

7 ways to be more mindful

Mindfulness can sound overwhelming and technical, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important to remember that getting good at practicing mindfulness takes time; start with small changes and build on them as you get better. Here are seven simple ways that you can start incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life:

1. Mindful mornings

So many of us reach for our phones as soon as we open our eyes. We don’t even give our brains the opportunity to acknowledge how we feel when we wake up, what our concerns are about the day ahead or what we’re excited about – whatever we see on our phones dictates this to us. Spend the first five minutes of your morning checking in with yourself; how does your body feel, what thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them and let them pass. Sometimes it can help to write things down, not as a to do list but just as a way of acknowledging the way we feel.

2. Put your phone away

Do you reach for your phone as soon as you sit down, stand in a queue or have time to kill? Put it away and let your mind be still for that time instead, check in with your mind and your body and how you’re feeling.

3. Practice mindful eating

How often do you eat in front of a screen, whether it’s a computer, a TV or a phone? We’re all guilty. This draws your attention away from your food, the flavours you’re tasting, the smells and textures as well as your body’s natural signals which let you know when you’ve had enough. Practice eating away from a screen

4. Mindful listening

The next time you have a conversation with someone, listen. Don’t allow your mind to wander, pass judgement on what is being said or think about what you are going to say back. Don’t just hear what they are saying, listen to their words.

5. Check in

So often we rush from one task or event to another and do so with a list of things rattling through our head. We’re never fully present when we arrive as our mind continues to rattle through and add to that list. The next time you arrive somewhere, take a deep breath, acknowledge where you are and what you’ve come to do and leave every other thought at the door.

6. Schedule time for nothing

It may feel like a weird thing to do, many of us feel uncomfortable and guilty even just sitting down and doing nothing. You’ll be amazed at how much difference even just five minutes of stillness can make. Whether you flop on your bed, sit in your favourite chair or find a sunny spot in the garden, take time to just be alone with your thoughts.

7. Exercise

Many of us don’t realise just how mindful we become when we exercise. You’re often left concentrating so hard on doing a certain exercise or just making it through the class that your mind has no space to think about anything else – that is mindfulness at it’s best. It’s one of the reasons exercise is so good for stress management and linked to making us happier people.

Try adding one or two of these to your daily routine and gradually add more as you get better.

Six Ways to motivate yourself to exercise

6 ways to motivate yourself to exercise

If sticking to a regular exercise regime was easy then everyone would be doing it. Whether your barriers are a lack of time, not enjoying exercise, a lack of confidence in the gym, family commitments or a busy social life we all have days or weeks where the last thing we want to do is make time for exercise. But we know it’s important that we make time to do it and that once we’ve worked up a sweat we feel great (most of the time any ways). So what can you do to make sure you’re motivated and less likely to talk your way out of getting sweaty?

1.  Sign up for a challenge and go public

Whether it’s an obstacle course, a 5km walk, run or maybe even something more challenging like a triathlon, once you’ve committed to doing an event and have a date and challenge to work towards you’re much more likely to stick to a regular training routine. And by telling your friends and family or even raising money for charity you’ll be even more likely to follow through.

2.  Set rewards for yourself

This old trick was taught to us by our parents at a young age; do as you’re told or get good results and you’ll get an ice-cream as a reward. We carry this with us into adulthood so why not set yourself a clear goal and reward yourself once you achieve it. Perhaps your goal is to go to the gym a minimum of three days a week for six weeks and your reward is that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing up. Once you’ve achieved this goal, set another with a new reward – maybe a massage next time.

3.  Phone a friend/partner

Accountability is key, when you’re not just relying on yourself to get to the gym but are going with a friend or partner you’ll be less likely to flake. They’ll be there to motivate you on days you just can’t be bothered, and visa versa.

4.  Find something you love

Committing to running three days a week when you can’t stand the thought of it is a recipe for failure. Write down a list of things you think you might enjoy and sign up for taster classes until you find the thing you enjoy most. If you enjoy doing something you’re far more likely to want to keep going.

5.  Get some new gear

There’s nothing quite as exciting as a new pair of trainers or brand-new gym kit; if you look great you feel great. The term ‘dress for success’ applies to exercise too – so dress up like a pro and get your sweat on!

6.  Know your why

Why are you exercising? To improve your health; boost your confidence; lose a few pounds? Whatever your reason you need to understand why you’re doing something. If you’re doing it because you think you should or because your doctor said so you don’t have an internal motivation to keep you going. If you’ve been lacking confidence lately and know that it’s due to poor lifestyle choices then your motivation is because you want to feel great again. If you know this happens when you exercise regularly then you have a strong internal motivation/reason to keep going on days you’re feeling a little de-motivated.

Peanut Butter & Jam Porridge

Peanut butter & jam porridge Recipe

If like me, you think peanut butter and jam are the world’s best combination then this porridge recipe is for you! For those of who that have never tried peanut butter and jam (how is this even possible – I’m judging you), then you need to try it NOW!


Here’s my version of Peanut butter & Jam porridge

Peanut butter & jam porridge Recipe

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup oats⁠
1 cup milk (or dairy free alternative)⁠
1/2 Cup raspberries⁠
1 teaspoon honey⁠
1 heaped teaspoon peanut butter (crunchy for the win)⁠

Method:

1. Pop the oats and milk in a pot and leave to simmer (or pop in microwave)⁠
2. In the meantime, pop the raspberries, a splash of water and honey in another pot and leave to simmer⁠
3. When the oats are done to the creaminess you like, take it off the heat and place in a bowl, top it with the raspberries and peanut butter and enjoy!⁠

*Tip: If raspberries are not in season head to the frozen section and grab a bag, they are just as nutritious and tasty!

Pea, pine nut & goats cheese tagliatelle

Pea, pine nut & goats cheese tagliatelle Recipe

I don’t have pasta very often but when I do I absolutely love it. I’m not a huge fan of dry pasta so always try and get the fresh stuff. Waitrose now do fresh wholegrain pasta which is great for a high fibre option.

This delicious recipe has 13 grams of fibre – that’s nearly half your daily intake, and it only takes 10 minutes to throw together.

Serves 1

Pea, pine nut & goats cheese tagliatelle Recipe

Ingredients:

125g Wholegrain tagliatelle
80g Frozen peas⁠
30g Goats cheese⁠
Handful fresh Basil, chopped⁠
I tablespoon pine nuts⁠
Olive Oil ⁠
Salt & Pepper⁠

Method:

1. Pop the pine nuts in a frying pan to lightly toast them (this brings out the flavour)⁠
2. Boil the kettle, pop the peas in a bowl, cover with hot water and put a lid on the bowl⁠
3. Boil water in a saucepan, add the tagliatelle and cook until al dente (5 minutes)⁠
4. Drain the pasta and the peas, place them back in the saucepan, add the basil, salt and pepper, crumble in the goat’s cheese, drizzle with olive oil and stir. ⁠
5. Pop in a bowl, top with the pine nuts and enjoy!⁠

Salmon and Puy Lentil bowl

Salmon and Puy Lentil Recipe

This recipe gets made often on a weekly basis in our house, it’s super simple and great for those nights when you don’t have loads of time to spend in the kitchen. The lentils provide lots of fibre and are surprisingly filling, there’s plenty of veg and the salmon is filled with those all-important Omega 3’s. This is also a great recipe to double up and use for a salad the next day.

Serves 2

Salmon and Puy Lentil Recipe

Ingredients:

2 fillets salmon

1 x packet puy lentils

Mixed peppers

Tender stem broccoli

Plum/cherry tomatoes

Garlic

Onion

Balsamic Vinegar

Olive oil

Chilli flakes

Salt & Pepper

 

Method:

Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius

Place water in a pan on the stove to boil, once boiled pop the broccoli in for 3 minutes, remove and rinse in cold water

Slice peppers and place them in a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper for 10 minutes. On a separate tray place the salmon in foil, season with chilli flakes, salt and pepper – wrap the salmon in a foil parcel and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and cook sliced onions and garlic. Add the lentils and 2 tablespoons of water.

After 10 minutes, give the peppers a stir and add the tomatoes, pop back in the oven for 10 minutes.

Add the broccoli to the onion and lentils, add 1.5 tbsp balsamic vinegar and stir.

Once the salmon is cooked, remove from the stove. Mix peppers with lentil mixture and season with salt and pepper if needed. Place on a plate, top with a salmon fillet and enjoy.

*If you’ve made extra for lunch the next day, leave the salmon and lentil and veg mix to cool down. Pop some spinach leaves in a container, flake the salmon and mix it into the lentil mixture and pop this on top of the spinach.

Spanakopita Eggs

Spanakopita Eggs Recipe

If you’re looking for a little breakfast inspiration – here it is, with a slight Greek twist!⁠I love scrambled eggs, and probably have them at least once a week. The great thing about eggs is how versatile they are – you can try so many different flavour combinations and sneak in some extra veg at breakfast.

Spanakopita Eggs Recipe

Ingredients: ⁠

Sourdough bread⁠
2-3 eggs⁠
20g Feta cheese⁠ (use reduced fat if you’re trying to cut back on calories
1 big handful of spinach⁠
Olive oil

Salt & Pepper⁠

Method:

1. Mix your eggs, spinach, salt and pepper in a bowl⁠
2. Pour in to a heated non-stick frying pan and pop your bread in the toaster⁠
3. Once the eggs are nearly done add your feta and keeping mixing the eggs⁠, this softens the feta and makes the eggs a little creamier
4. Once the toast is done I drizzle mine with a little extra virgin olive oil and then pop the eggs on top and enjoy!⁠

 

*Tip: Crack eggs on a flat surface to avoid the shell ending up in the food

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki Recipe

Despite having a tricky name, this recipe is incredibly easy and delicious. Cabbage is one of those ingredients that never sounds particularly appealing, this is a great way to use it when it’s in season and overcome the stigma that it doesn’t taste great.

Serves 2-4

Okonomiyaki Recipe

Ingredients:

150g cabbage, finely shredded

6 Spring onions, sliced

1 Parsnip, grated

110g plain flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 Large eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

Topping –

Light salad cream/mayo

Siracha

Radishes, thinly sliced

Poached egg (1 per person)

Pickled ginger

Method:

  1. Place the cabbage, spring onions and parsnip in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix the eggs with ½ cup water, add the flour and salt and mix well.
  3. Add the egg mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well
  4. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan (with a metal handle) and place the ingredients in the pan, patting it down with a spatula to make a thick round pancake. Reduce the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the grill on to medium to start heating
  5. Turn the pancake over, I use a big plate to cover the top of the pan and tip it onto before flipping, place the pan under the grill for 5-10 minutes, keeping an eye on it.
  6. Whilst it’s under the grill, boil water in a pan to poach your eggs
  7. Once the okonomiyaki is nicely browned, remove it from the grill and place it on a chopping board. Pop the poached eggs, radish slices and ginger on top and drizzle with mayo and siracha. Serve cut in to wedges with 1 poached egg per person.

Five tips for workplace wellness

Workplace wellness blog image

One-third of your adult life is spent at work. That’s a pretty big chunk of your life which is why it’s important to make sure that your work place is having a positive impact on your health and wellness and not a negative one.

Whilst more businesses are offering a spectrum of ‘wellness’ benefits to employees there is still a long way to go for some, and we can still take ownership of ensuring we are looking after our own health. I’ve created a list of the five things I think are most important when it comes to looking after yourself in the office:

Stay hydrated

We often get to the end of the day and realise that we’ve been sipping on tea and coffee all day and only had the occasional glass of water. Up to 60% of the human body is made up of water which helps the body function on a daily basis by aiding digestion, flushing waste, delivering oxygen to different parts of the body, and the list goes on. Keeping a bottle of water on your desk helps as a constant reminder to keep drinking. Drinking herbal teas also counts towards your daily fluid intake. It’s recommended that we aim for 2 litres of water per day, if you’ve participated in exercise where your daily losses (sweat) would be higher then you may need a little more to replace this.

Keep moving

Many of us have a job which involves siting at a desk for 6-8 hours a day, followed by relaxing in front of the tv or with a book (in a seated position). Inbetween all this we are commuting – mostly seated. When we are siting we are using very little energy and not a lot of muscle movement is happening, which is not great for our health and wellbeing. Where possible, try to get up and walk around, use your lunch time as an opportunity to go for a walk (even 10 minutes is better than nothing) and on your way to and from work find ways to walk a little more – whether that’s getting off the bus one stop earlier or parking a street or two away. All of these little batches of steps add up and can make a big difference. Going for a walk and some fresh air at lunch time can also do wonders for your energy levels and productivity.

Be aware of non-hunger snacking

Snacking can often be caused by emotion; we snack when we’re stressed, upset, frustrated or even bored. All common workplaces are full of emotions, so it’s no wonder we find ourselves reaching for a little pick-me-up, not to mention all the treats that get brought in by the office star bakers which make it near impossible to choose an apple over a gooey chocolate brownie. Whilst the occasional treat is most certainly allowed, avoid getting into the habit of reaching for a sugary snack. Go to work armed with healthy options, as having these to hand makes it easier to make a better snack choice. Nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain crackers with peanut butter, air popped pop-corn, yoghurt are all great options.

Be conscious of your caffeine intake

Although there are benefits to drinking caffeine, such as increased concentration and alertness, having too much can have a negative impact. Consuming more than the recommended amount of 400mg per day can cause headaches, irritability, nervousness, upset stomach and sleeplessness. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks are all sources of caffeine so try and be aware of how much your consuming. For more information on the caffeine content in certain drinks click here. If you’re struggling to sleep at night, try and avoid caffeine in the afternoon as it can stay in your system for 5-10 hours.

Practice being mindful

It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut of going to work, charging through the day and heading home again. When last did you stop and take the time to think – think about how that healthy lunch gave you energy to be productive in the afternoon or how that walk you went for at lunch time gave you perspective after a challenging meeting? How did it feel to take five minutes out of your day to catch up with a colleague and share a few lol’s? What about spending a few minutes after each meeting thinking about what you learnt, what could have been done differently, what didn’t work well? Giving yourself time to reflect on your day and different elements of your day helps you to identify things you do and do not enjoy as well as, areas of strength or gaps in skill/knowledge that you can develop further. It can also help you to become aware of tasks that energise or drain you and by learning more about yourself you can improve your overall wellness.

Always remember that you’re not only at work to do a job and earn a pay cheque – you’re there to grow and develop, improve your skills and knowledge and stimulate yourself. In order to do these things well we have to be well so looking after yourself should be your top priority.

How does caffeine keep you awake, and can you have too much?

Caffeine Coffee image

Caffeine is a natural ingredient found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans and over 50 other plants. Coffee, tea and fizzy drinks are the most common sources of caffeine in our diet, however it can also be found in some medications like cough syrups. Caffeine is a stimulant, when consumed it causes a feeling of alertness which is why so many of us reach for a coffee first thing in the morning and late afternoon to help wake us up and get over that 3pm slump.

But how does caffeine exert its ‘awakening’ effect on us? In order to understand this, we need to understand why we feel tired in the first place. This process is begun by a compound called adenosine, which is naturally released by our bodies throughout the day.

During the course of the day our muscles and brain are actively working. As they do so they trigger the release of adenosine. Once adenosine is released it binds to receptors in our brain, and this binding action promotes muscle relaxation and sleepiness. As the day goes on more adenosine is released, binding to more of these receptors and making us feel progressively more tired.

By the time bedtime rolls around we feel very tired and sleepy due to a whole day’s worth of adenosine binding to those receptors in our brain, telling us we need to sleep. Whilst we’re sleeping our bodies recover from this fatigue by metabolising (getting rid of) adenosine and we wake up feeling refreshed, unless of course you didn’t get enough sleep (less than 6-8 hours), in which case not all the adenosine was metabolised leaving you feeling a little sleepy and feeling the need for a big steaming cup of coffee.

So what effect does caffeine have in this process?

Once caffeine enters our blood stream it heads towards the receptors that adenosine normally binds to and blocks the way, this stops the receptors connecting to those receptors preventing the feeling of sleepiness and influences the release of dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin which all play a role in causing you to feel more alert and awake.

As your body metabolises the caffeine – this could take anything from 3-10 hours – those receptors become vacant again and the adenosine heads straight for them which is why you start to feel sleepy again. However, if you’ve consumed caffeine too close to bed time it takes a while for this sleepy feeling to return which may negatively impact your sleep.

Can you have too much caffeine?

Yes, you can, but too much will be varying amounts of caffeine for different people. Some are more sensitive to caffeine whilst others may have built a tolerance to caffeine after drinking it for long periods of time.

Current guidelines state that adults should consume no more than 400mg per day. During pregnancy, caffeine clearance from the mother’s blood slows down. Therefore pregnant and breastfeeding women should aim for no more than 200mg/day. Excessive intake in pregnant women may result in growth restriction, low birth weight babies or premature labour.

Here are a couple of common drinks and the amount of caffeine they contain per cup:

Tea – 10-50mg

Green tea – 30-50mg

Energy drink – 40-250mg

Single shot espresso – 75-85mg

Instant coffee – 60-100mg

Filter coffee (Short/small) – 157mg

Can of coke – 32-42mg

How do you know if you’d had too much caffeine?

A normal effect of caffeine is to feel slightly more awake and alert, however, if you are particularly sensitive to caffeine or have had too much you might experience side effects such as an upset stomach, headaches, anxiousness, fast heart rate, insomnia or nausea.

If you are currently consuming a large amount of caffeine and wish to cut down, it’s advisable to do so slowly as drastically reducing your caffeine intake can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and drowsiness.  Here are a few tips to help you gradually cut back:

  1. Replace every second cup of coffee with a decaffeinated version;
  2. Swap your coffee for tea, this way you’re still getting some caffeine but not as much;
  3. Reduce the size of your coffee, if you usually order a tall/large simply scaling back to a short/small will half your caffeine intake;
  4. If fizzy drinks like coke are a source of caffeine for you then try cutting back on the amount you have.

If you feel as though you have become tolerant to the effects of caffeine it can help to eliminate caffeine intake for a month to reduce your tolerance.

Caffeine can be part of a healthy balanced lifestyle and has been linked to health benefits such as reduced risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and liver cancer as well as improved physical strength and endurance. However, it should not be used in place of sleep, exercise or a healthy diet – using it as an occasional pick-me-up or simply enjoying a few cups of tea is definitely allowed!

Homemade Granola

Creamy yoghurt topped with crunchy granola is hands down one of my favourite breakfasts, sadly the store bought kind is often high in sugar and far too sweet! Making your own granola means you can have a tasty granola with all your favourite ingredients and less of the sugar.

Feel free to swap out ingredients according to your preferences, choose your favourite nuts, seeds or dried fruit instead of the ones I’ve added and choose gluten free oats for a gluten free recipe.

Here’s my recipe, it’s super quick to prepare.

Ingredients:

4 Cups oats

1 Cup mixed nuts, chopped into smaller pieces

1/2 Cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 Cup coconut oil

1/4 Cup honey

1 Tsp vanilla extract

1 Cup raisins/dried cranberries

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl
  3. Melt the coconut oil in a pan, remove from the heat and add the honey and vanilla essence
  4. Combine the wet and dry ingredients until all the dry ingredients are coated
  5. Place on an oven tray that you’ve lined with a sheet of baking paper and spread evenly
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring half way
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, don’t worry if it doesn’t feel very crunchy, it continues to ‘crispify’ as it cools
  8. Add the dried fruit and store in an airtight container

Enjoy over yoghurt of your choice and fresh fruit!

 

Is Breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

We’ve all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. But is there any truth behind this?

Unfortunately, there are very few studies which look at the overall impact on your health when it comes to skipping breakfast, most are focused on the impact it has on your weight.

The latest study on this topic, published in the British Medical Journal, found that individuals who ate breakfast ended up weighing 0.44kg more and eating an extra 260 calories per day when compared to breakfast skippers. They found no evidence that eating breakfast resulted in weight loss or that skipping breakfast resulted in weight gain. So according to this study it’s totally okay to skip breakfast, however the authors themselves admitted that the quality of the study was low, that the findings should be interpreted with caution and that skipping breakfast should not be used as a technique to lose weight.

Will skipping breakfast cause you to gain weight?

This will depend on your total calorie intake for the day. The reason this statement has been made in the past is that some studies showed that individuals who skipped breakfast were more likely to snack more throughout the day and tended to have a higher BMI. There are many things that could be at play here. Did those who skipped breakfast feel they were entitled to snack more during the day because of their early calorie deficit? Did the individuals with a higher BMI have a high BMI to start with and used skipping breakfast as a way to help them lose weight?

If skipping breakfast means that you end up reaching for a high energy snack mid-morning and being ravenously hungry, or eating larger portions than usual at lunch time then yes, skipping breakfast may result in weight gain. If you’re able to carry on as normal without needing to fill up on high energy snacks and large portions then skipping breakfast should not result in weight gain.

Will skipping breakfast help you lose weight?

Studies have shown that individuals who eat breakfast tend to have a lower BMI, snack less throughout the day and have more energy. Starting your day with a healthy breakfast often sets you in good stead to continue choosing healthy options throughout the day; it helps you maintain your energy levels so you’re not tempted to reach for a sugary pick me up.

By skipping breakfast you will create a calorie deficit in your total daily intake which should result in weight loss, however this is not a strategy I would recommend. Breakfast is a great opportunity to provide your body with some key nutrients like fibre, protein, calcium and other essential micronutrients. By skipping this meal it becomes slightly more difficult to consume the recommended daily intake of these key nutrients and not consuming sufficient amounts of these nutrients will have a negative impact on your overall health, so even if you do end up losing weight you might not feel that great.

Instead of skipping breakfast, have a look at what you are currently eating for breakfast and ask yourself if you are making healthy choices. Could you make some changes to ensure your breakfast is packed with all those good nutrients?

Will eating breakfast boost your metabolism?

Many believe that having breakfast is essential for an efficient metabolism; however there are currently no studies to support this. In fact, studies have shown that skipping breakfast had no impact on metabolic rate. Your metabolic rate is not impacted by the frequency of your meals but rather by your total caloric intake – once you start consuming fewer calories than your body needs for maintenance it compensates by slowing down your metabolic rate.

What if you’re not hungry in the morning?

I hear this one a lot, and whilst I do believe it’s ok to skip breakfast – as long as this isn’t your strategy to lose weight and you’re not depriving your body of the nutrients it needs – I also believe that not being hungry in the morning could be a result of one of two things, or a combination of the two.

Firstly, you’ve trained your body to not be hungry in the morning. If for the last however many years you’ve not had breakfast then you’re likely to no longer feel hungry every morning as you’ve conditioned your body to not expect it. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important you look at the impact this has on the rest of your day – are you reaching for snacks or having larger portions when hunger does finally strike? If the answer is yes, then it might be worth trying to re-introduce a morning meal.

Secondly, you’re eating large portions or snacking on energy dense foods the night before. By doing this it’s likely that you’re not giving your body the chance to adequately digest your evening meal/snack in time for your morning meal, which results in you not being hungry. Try having smaller portions in the evenings or cutting out that late night snack and see if that has an impact on your morning hunger levels.

There is no right or wrong, healthy eating is not a one size fits all approach. The important thing is that you do what works for you, and if you’re not sure then play around with a few of the things I’ve suggested and see if they make a difference to you.

Be Healthy, Be Happy, Be you!

Can your diet help save the planet?

Did you know it’s forecast that by 2050 there will be 10 billion humans inhabiting the planet, that’s an increase of 2.5 billion from today.

That’s a lot of pressure we’re putting on the planet to provide for us all, not to mention the carbon footprints that will be created by all of these billions of beings.

It’s not all doom and gloom, by making changes to the way we live and reducing our carbon footprint it will be possible for us all to live healthily and happily ever after. One of the ways in which we can help is by taking on board some of the recommendations published in the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet.

The planetary health diet was created by 37 scientists in an attempt to define sustainable food systems that will minimise damage to our planet; it informs the changes we need to make to the way we eat. What’s more by making these changes, not only will the planet as a whole benefit but our individual health too.

So what does this diet entail?

Firstly let me begin by saying that I am not a vegetarian or a vegan; I love red meat and fish but I’m also a huge fan of plant based meals and I am making a concerted effort to eat more plant based foods every day. Secondly, the information below is a guide – I’m not saying you need to completely overhaul your diet immediately, I’m simply giving you the information for you to use as you see fit.

A week on the planetary health diet would look like this:

  • 1 portion, 98g of red meat (beef, lamb and pork) per week
  • 1-2 portions, 203g of chicken per week
  • 1-2 portions, 196g of fish per week
  • 2 eggs per week
  • 250ml of dairy per day
  • Nuts, lentils and beans should make up the rest of your protein intake
  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Wholegrain carbohydrates for fibre and energy

What else should you take in to consideration alongside this planet friendly diet?

Choose locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables, if a food is not sourced locally it needs to travel 100s of miles, be sprayed, stored in refrigerators and artificially ripened in hot houses – all of these things create a huge carbon footprint, so always check what’s in season and find a local farmers’ market for your weekly veg shop.

Reduce food waste; food waste has a huge impact on the environment so taking steps to reduce the amount of food you waste will have a positive impact on the environment. Try not to over-purchase when doing your grocery shop and plan ahead to make sure you don’t have ‘just in case’ ingredients in your fridge that you won’t end up using. Always use leftovers or freeze them for quick mid-week meals and support grocers that sell wonky veg.

If looking at the diet recommendations above feels a little overwhelming and a huge leap from what’s usually on your plate then don’t worry, you don’t need to make these changes overnight and you don’t need to follow the recommendations precisely. The important thing is that you start making small changes where you can – every little bit makes a difference.

I started by turning every second day in to a plant based day and swapping out some of my dairy for dairy alternatives like fortified soy milk and yoghurt. I’ve loved my plant based days so much that they’re becoming more of a norm, and it’s resulted in me being a lot more creative and adventurous in the kitchen!

See what changes you can start making; you never know where they may take you.