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Healthy body, healthy mind: an expert's view

02 October 2020

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Angela Steel, Founder of SuperWellness, guest contributor  

This week is the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) Healthy Eating Week, aiming to bring the UK together to focus on key health messages. To mark the week, we hear from Angela Steel, founder and CEO of SuperWellness, the leading provider of nutrition-centred wellbeing services, on why a healthy lifestyle is so important for mind and body.

There is increasing evidence about the impact of nutrition on mental health. Please can you tell us more about the relationship between mental wellbeing and nutrition?

Absolutely. In fact, a whole new field has emerged in recent years, called ‘Nutritional Psychiatry’ and the findings are relevant for all of us, particularly in three key areas. One is the gut-brain connection, the role played by bacteria in our digestive tract in activating neural pathways which influence our anxiety levels and the way we perceive stress for example. Another key area is nutrients, and the impact of certain deficiencies on our mental health. One example is Zinc, a mineral found in eggs, seafood and legumes, which is closely linked with mood. There are many others which play a part, and in particular antioxidant nutrients such as carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids which help protect and repair neurons. Finally, a diet high in sugar can have a huge impact on our mental health through the blood-sugar fluctuations and how they affect our mood and stress levels.

Since the pandemic began, what have we learnt about diet and lifestyle-related risk factors which makes us more vulnerable to diseases such as Covid-19?

Based on what we’ve found out in recent months, there are four key areas to be aware of. The first is metabolic health: having a BMI over 30 doubles the risk of hospitalisation from COVID-19. Secondly, as you’d expect, our immune system plays a big part, both in terms of the body’s defences against the virus but also in that inflammation can significantly worsen symptoms. It’s also more important than ever to build mental resilience. Underpinning all of these factors is sleep, which plays a key part in our metabolism, immunity as well as our mental health.

Many of us are spending more time at home than we ever have before. Can you suggest some tips for staying well through the winter months?

Winter can be a challenging time for our health. Colder and darker days setting in can really put a dent in our mood and motivation to follow healthy habits. My three top tips during those months would be: firstly, to make it a priority to get sunlight and exercise to boost endorphins and serotonin, the ‘feel-good hormones’. It’s easy to miss out on this when not having to commute each day, so instead try taking a brisk 30-minute walk at the time you would normally be travelling into work. Secondly, based on research particularly in recent months, linking low Vitamin D levels with susceptibility to viruses such as COVID-19, I recommend having a Vitamin D check either through your GP or using a blood-spot test at home. You can rectify any deficiency with a good Vitamin D supplement. And finally, our immune system needs all the nutrients it can get, so plan some time in for batch-cooking nutritious soups and stews packed with colourful vegetables. They will really make it easier to grab a healthy lunch when you’re working from home.

This weekend, BNF are promoting 'getting active together' and 'eating together'. Collective activities are, at the moment, not without their challenges, so what could you suggest we do to support these initiatives?

Indeed, we’re all really missing out on the social experience of eating together at the moment. Some employers have set up online cookery demonstrations, with colleagues showing how to make their favourite recipes, which is fantastic. Nothing really matches sharing a meal together, but a close second would be talking about food, which many of us certainly enjoy doing. We’re really looking forward to our group coaching sessions with our LGT Vestra programme participants over the coming weeks. They are a great opportunity for everyone to share recipes, talk about new ingredients and foods they have tried and inspire and motivate each other towards healthy goals that really make a difference to both physical and mental health.

LGT Vestra is working with SuperWellness on delivering a health and conditioning programme to employees as part of our wider workplace wellbeing strategy.

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