As this time of year is one of celebration, reflection and planning, we wanted to share these top health tips to help you survive the silly season and kick-start your new year!
GOOD FOOD = GOOD MOOD
1. Don't feel guilty enjoying a traditional Christmas lunch
Following the general rule of thumb of ‘everything in moderation’, King’s scientists with expertise in nutritional science explain how the traditional Christmas meal can have multiple health benefits, including ingredients that help lower blood pressure, reduce cardiovascular risk factors and support growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
‘Christmas is a time to enjoy yourself and for many that includes indulging in festive treats,' says Professor Kevin Whelan, Head of Department of Nutritional Sciences.
'You might be surprised to find that lots of foods we typically enjoy sharing with our families at Christmas have actually been shown to have nutritional benefits, such as the polyphenols in red wine and chocolate which can be good for cardiovascular health, the traditional turkey which is a low-fat source of protein and nuts that contain healthy fats.’
2. Thinking of going vegan? Plan ahead to stay healthy
Since 2008, there has been a 350% increase in the number of self-described vegans in the UK alone. When contemplating the years ahead on a vegan diet, which excludes any animal products, it’s essential to plan and balance your food intake to ensure you receive the proper nutrients to stay healthy.
Earlier in the year Sophie Medlin, Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, wrote in The Conversation about the significant changes that occur in the body after adopting a vegan diet, and outlined some key ways to enjoy varied and exciting meals.
3. Go nuts!
Traditionally nuts have been excluded from diets because of the belief that their high energy and fat content will promote weight gain. However, scientists from the Nutritional Sciences department at King’s College London have found that actually around 20% of the fat from nuts is not absorbed and therefore neither is 25% of the calories, which are excreted.
Looking at almonds in particular, the team found that eating nuts also resulted in a lower and slower release of fat into the bloodstream, which is beneficial for a whole range of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes. It has also been shown that those who regularly consume nuts tend to have smaller waists and better gut health.
'Our research shows how important it is to look past food labels on some foods, since what is displayed in terms of fat and calorie content may not accurately reflect what actually happens once consumed,' said Dr Sarah Berry from the Department of Nutritional Sciences. 'Nuts are a great example of this and it is crucial we move away from the long-held belief that they are full of calories and make us gain weight.'
4. Rethink your fibre intake
Whilst it’s widely known that fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet, new research shows that certain types of fibre may be more beneficial for maintaining gut health than others.
The study found that certain types of fibre, known as prebiotics, had a more significant impact on the microbiome (the community of micro-organisms, such as bacteria, found in the body) than the general types of fibre found in foods such as brown rice, fruit, and potatoes. Prebiotic fibre is used by the body to feed ‘good bacteria’ in the digestive system.
‘We’ve shown that not all dietary fibres are equal, so our findings are an important development in understanding the complexity of the gut microbiome and how it can be affected by the foods we consume, as well as how this can potentially be adapted and personalised for different people.’– Professor Kevin Whelan, Head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at King’s College London
5. Exercise to decrease your risk of developing depression
A team of international researchers that analysed data collected from over a quarter of a million people found that regular exercise decreases the risk of developing depression later in life.
‘The evidence is clear that people that are more active have a lesser risk of developing depression. We have looked at whether these effects happen at different age groups and across different continents and the results are clear. Regardless your age or where you live, physical activity can reduce the risk of having depression later in life.’– Lead author Professor Dr Felipe Barreto Schuch, Universidade La Salle (Brazil)
6. Move more to stay young
A lifetime of regular exercise can keep the body young and healthy, ultimately slowing down the signs and processes of ageing. After studying a group of older adults who had exercised most of their lives, researchers concluded that regular exercise can mitigate against a loss of muscle mass and strength, as well as prevent an increase in body fat and rise in cholesterol.
More surprisingly, the study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as the individuals studied also had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.
'The findings emphasise the fact that the cyclists do not exercise because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for such a large proportion of their lives.’– Professor Stephen Harridge, Director of the Centre of Human & Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s College London
7. Improve the quality of air you breathe and reduce your pollution footprint
The impact and health term consequences of air pollution have been dominating news headlines of late, with experts increasingly calling on governments to make air quality a public health priority.
How can you minimise your exposure and reduce the amount of air pollution you contribute?
- If you can, walk or cycle for your daily commute, choose quieter routes rather than main roads to reduce your exposure to air pollution. Driving not only contributes to the problem but also worsens exposure to air pollution - research indicates that pollutant levels can be higher inside cars than outside of them.
- Consider using a route planner that takes air pollution into account, such as Breathe London, so you can choose a route that minimizes your exposure.
- Reduce your online footprint by choosing ‘click-and-collect’ or ‘collect in store’ options rather than personal delivery. The vast majority of vehicles on London’s roads are delivery vehicles, many of which are for personal online purchases. This increases congestion and emissions, particularly nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.
- If you exercise outdoors, try to avoid exercising at rush hour when the air pollution has been found to be highest.
- Contact your local council and MP and ask them to take action on air quality.
For more air pollution tips, check out the London Air Quality Network.
GET MORE SHUT-EYE
8. Get more sleep to reduce your sugar intake
Increasing the number of hours sleep we get each night could affect more than just our energy levels. New research has indicated that sleeping for longer could help reduce intake of sugary foods and lead to a generally healthier diet.
‘We have shown that sleep habits can be changed with relative ease in healthy adults using a personalised approach. Our results also suggest that increasing time in bed for an hour or so longer may lead to healthier food choices. This further strengthens the link between short sleep and poorer quality diets that has already been observed by previous studies.– Lead researcher, Haya Al Khatib, from the Department of Nutritional Sciences
What other lifestyle changes are you seeking to make in 2019? Let us know on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and head to the 'Health' news section of our website for the latest research, insight and advice.