The Mood Boosting Plan

woman sportyWritten by positivity coach, Miriam Akhtar. Who is currently working with Ryvita and Davina McCall as part of their Positivity Panel to inspire women into #getmore good in their lives https://www.ryvita.co.uk/living-well/miriam-akhtar

Try  these tips to give yourself a lift when life is getting you down. Happiness is something we do rather than something that just happens so build some of these practices into your day to #GetMore good into life. Start with the ideas below, which are all known to grow happiness, and then plan your own playlist of mood boosters and do one thing from it every day, whether that’s going for coffee with a friend, or having a treat like a massage.

Three good things

What’s good in your life? What’s gone well? What are you grateful for? Just before bedtime sit down and write a list of your three good things for the day. Counting your blessings focuses your attention on the positives in life, which lifts the mood. We are wired to notice what’s wrong before we notice what’s right, so practiSing gratitude helps you tune in to appreciate the good things you have.

Slow down and smell the roses

A powerful mood booster is to savour positive experiences so that you squeeze all the juice out of them. Bask, marvel, relish, feast and luxuriate to maximise your enjoyment. First up you need to slow down and put your full attention on whatever you’re savouring so stop multi-tasking and switch the phone off. Then use all your senses to turn the volume up on the experience. In workshops I teach people how to savour with fruit – noticing the colour of a strawberry, its sweet smell, the crunch as you bite into it, the texture on your tongue and the full flavour of its delicious taste. You can savour the past – reminiscing over a happy memory or the future – relishing the excitement of something you’re looking forward to like a holiday. Ask yourself what is good about it?
Be a good friend

The number one source of happiness is other people so you can get an instant mood boost by reaching out to someone. Pick up the phone and speak to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Write someone a thank you letter. Help someone out. Acts of kindness help both givers and recipients feel good, so you get positivity bouncing back and forth between you. It’s also a useful distraction from your own troubles.
Get into nature

Green exercise is physical activity in a natural environment. It only takes a few minutes of walking in the woods or wild swimming to start generating positive emotions. Doing it by water has extra calming benefits for the mood. Find your nearest patch of green and get physical – go for a walk or do a few yoga stretches.

Play to your strengths

Your strengths are your positive qualities, such as courage or kindness, and your talents – the things you’re naturally good at. What are you doing when you’re at your best? What do you have a gift for? Finding ways to use your strengths can help you perform better at work and grow your well-being. Your strengths are like levers that you can pull to help you reach goals and resolve issues eg. how can your strength in perseverance help you reach the goal of running 5k?

Reframe

When something goes wrong, try to find the positive in the negative. A Sunday walk that’s rained off becomes an opportunity to linger over the Sunday papers or curl up on the sofa with a box set. Look for the positive in what happens. On the other side of a negative is an opportunity to prioritise your needs, pamper yourself and have total control over the remote!

Get into flow

What puts you ‘in the zone’? Flow is that state where you’re so completely absorbed in what you’re doing that you might lose track of time. People get into flow through hobbies like crafting or baking, doing something physical like gardening or jogging or creative like painting or jewellery-making. Try to set aside a couple of hours a week where you lose yourself completely in a flow activity. It’s a very satisfying experience.

Something to look forward to

Make a list of 3 positive things that you expect to happen tomorrow and then relish the anticipation of them coming up. What is there to look forward to? Indulge in some day-dreaming and spend a few moments anticipating the positive feelings that you will get from it. By doing this practice regularly you’ll start to feel more optimistic and excited about what’s ahead.

 

Discovering chia seeds

Chia seedsChia seeds may be tiny, but they are packed with vital nutrients so if, like me, you hadn’t tried them previously, it’s well worth starting to include them in your diet. They come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to Central and South America and a member of the mint family. It’s said that they were used in the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations as a source of energy (the word ‘chia’ means ‘strength’ in the Mayan language).

Our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three fabulous recipes right here:

The seeds are rich in fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and are a good source of plant protein. They taste a bit neutral, compared with other seeds, but they do have the interesting property of rapidly absorbing liquid to form a gel. This is the basis of ‘chia pudding’ (see recipe below) and also means you can use chia seeds as an egg substitute or thickening agent if you’re vegan.

There’s some (albeit rather limited) evidence that chia seeds might help you lose weight and, maybe, help prevent diabetes and heart disease. As ever, don’t rely on getting direct health benefits from chia seeds, but perhaps try including them in the ‘healthy balanced diet’ we always advocate to add variety and interest.

Autumn smoothie

I’ve been collecting blackberries from my local nature reserve and used them with chia seeds to create this beautiful pink-purple smoothie, with my usual cacao and matcha boosts.

Serves one
Around 300g blackberries
One tsp chia seeds, soaked for five mins in 3 tsp water
Almond milk, as required to make a thick, or thinner, drink
One tsp matcha
One tsp cacao powder
Blend all ingredients in a Nutribullet, or similar and drink immediately.

Carrot and chia salad

I’ve added chia seeds to my usual mix of sunflower, pumpkin and linseeds that I use for adding to salads.
Serves two
Four carrots, sliced into ribbons with a mandolin or spiralizer
Ten radishes, sliced
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
One tbsp. mixed pumpkin, sunflower, linseed and chia seeds
100g pomegranate seeds

Mix all the ingredients except the pomegranate seeds. Dress the salad with linseed oil, cider vinegar and lemon juice and top with the pomegranate seeds.

Chocolate ‘blancmange’

I saw the possibility of creating a very healthy chocolate pudding with chia seeds. No sugar, no dairy and with, hopefully, the texture of chocolate blancmange (anyone seem blancmange in recent years?) or mousse. There are many recipes online and lots of yummy pictures. I did some research and here’s my experiment. To be fair, the texture is a bit more tapioca (if you’re old enough to remember that pudding!) than blancmange/mousse, but I’m excited by my discovery of a cacao powder blended with cinnamon, which adds a luxurious depth of flavour to this dessert.

Serves four
400ml coconut milk (or almond/hazelnut/hemp milk, or a mixture)
60g chia seeds
2 tbsp cacao powder with cinnamon
1 tsp coconut palm sugar

Whisk all these ingredients together in a bowl and chill overnight. Serve topped with berries.

Next time: Experiments without potatoes

Experiments with low carb

raspberries low carbsWithout getting too heavily involved in the low carb, low sugar, low glycaemic index debate, I’d like to offer up just a few suggestions…My first thought was to look for lower carb versions of favourite pasta, rice and potato dishes. But I couldn’t face fish pie or shepherd’s pie with ‘alternative’ mash in this weather (I’ll be back with those in a couple of months) – so I’ve gone for a refreshing fruit smoothie instead. And when I say sugar, I generally mean a simple natural carbohydrate like fructose rather than added sugar, which is usually sucrose.

Our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three fabulous recipes right here:

Refreshing raspberry smoothie

All fruit contains some sugar but the amount varies quite dramatically. Check these amounts in grams per serving:
• Lime – 1.1
• Raspberries – 5
• Kiwi – 6
• Orange – 12
• Banana – 17
• Mango – 46

I’d usually make up a smoothie with hemp/almond/coconut milk, but the presence of the lime will make it go lumpy, so I used cactus water, which is lower in sugar than coconut water. I’ve added the matcha and cacao, as I do to all my smoothies for an extra healthy boost. The result has a refreshing sharpness that I think you’ll love!

Serves one
Four limes, juiced
Large carton of raspberries
Four kiwi fruit, peeled and halved
Cactus water
One tsp matcha powder
One tsp cacao power
Add all ingredients to your blender/Nutribullet, using the cactus water to make up the volume. Blend and drink immediately.

Protein pasta

You can find pasta made with a wide variety of grains, with lentil and spelt pasta being the most readily available. The one with the highest protein/carb ratio I discovered was edamame fettucine.
For comparison, per 100g.
Wholewheat fusilli 30.2g carb 5.2g protein
Edamame fettucine 15g carb 44g protein

I made up my favourite sauce to serve with the pasta…substitute your own.
Serves two

Large carton cherry tomatoes, halved
One large red chilli, finely chopped
Two cloves garlic, crushed
400g tin tomatoes
One tbsp. tomato puree
One tsp. mixed herbs
Fresh basil
Grated pecorino cheese

Fry the garlic and chilli till soft in olive oil then add the other ingredients and simmer until thick. Cook the pasta as per instructions on the packet, drain and serve with the sauce. Finish with torn basil and grated pecorino. Makes a good pasta salad when cold, or reheat.

Summer vegetable risotto

Use quinoa instead of rice, and twice as many green veg as in a traditional risotto recipe.
Serves 3–4

600g broad beans/peas/tenderstem broccoli/asparagus
250g quinoa
Bunch spring onions, chopped
Carton cherry tomatoes, chopped
Fresh herbs
Grated pecorino cheese

Cook the green veg and quinoa. Mix together and add the spring onion and tomatoes. Finish with chopped herbs and grated pecorino cheese.
Next month. Discovering chia seeds

Experiments with fermented foods

fermented foodsAn increasing amount of research is revealing the importance of a healthy gut microbiome in maintaining immunity, digestive and heart health, prevention of obesity and diabetes – and even in improving brain function, writes Dr Susan Aldridge,  Healthy Soul’s  guest blogger,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition. The microbiome is the community of bacteria, fungi and viruses living within the gut and it consists of more microbial cells than there are human cells in the rest of the body. You are, literally, more microbe than human, in material terms!

Improving the quality of the gut microbiome is basically a matter of tipping the balance between ‘good’ bacteria (mainly bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) and those which are less ‘friendly’. There are two ways of doing this: consume more prebiotics and/or more probiotics. Put simply, the fibre in prebiotics contains inulin, an oligosaccharide (complex carbohydrate) which feeds the healthy bacteria in the gut, promoting their growth, while probiotics (also known as fermented foods) actually contain good bacteria and deliver them straight to the gut.

So, this month I’ve come up with three recipes that combine prebiotics/probiotics with some seasonal foods.

Asparagus green smoothie

Asparagus, onions, garlic and artichokes are all rich in inulin, but asparagus is the only realistic candidate for a green juice. So, if you’re planning a classic summer lunch of asparagus, new potatoes and salmon, grab an extra bunch and try this healthy smoothie.
Serves one
One bunch of asparagus, chopped
Handful of spinach leaves
One kiwi, chopped
One apple, chopped
One tsp matcha powder
One tsp cacao powder
Hemp/almond milk or a mixture

Place all solid ingredients in a blender/Nutribullet and top up with the milk. Liquidise and drink immediately.
Sauerkraut coleslaw

Sauerkraut is cabbage fermented with salt for three weeks or more. It actually contains more lactobacilli per serving than yoghurt. The bacteria occur naturally in the cabbage and, during the fermentation, they convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, which gives sauerkraut its characteristic acidic taste.
As interest in the microbiome grows, fermented foods like sauerkrant are increasing in popularity. I bought the only version on offer in the supermarket for my recipe, but there are many novel versions to explore in health food shops (might also be worth looking in your local Polish shop if you have one). I’m also going to try kimchi – Korean sauerkraut – which is fermented cabbage and radish with chilli and other additions.
To be honest, I didn’t really fancy sauerkraut on its own (and certainly didn’t fancy making it from scratch, although it’s said to be easy!). So, I put together a coleslaw, where sauerkraut replaces the fresh cabbage. And if you’re in a hurry, try mixing sauerkraut with prepared coleslaw in equal quantities.

Serves two

Three tbsp. sauerkraut
Three grated carrots
One bunch spring onions, chopped
Handful of mixed seeds
Dressing:
One small tub yoghurt (an extra dose of Lactobacilli – I actually used a tub of tzakziki left over from a barbeque)
One tbsp. flax seed oil
One tbsp. mustard.

Combine all the coleslaw ingredients, then whisk up the dressing and toss it all together.
To make this seasonal, serve with boiled new potatoes. To make it a bit (vegetarian) Germanic, serve with Quorn smoked ham or sausages. And to make two meals, double the coleslaw, dressing and potatoes and make up a potato salad to serve the following day with the coleslaw and more ham/sausages.

Summer fruits cheesecake

Kefir is another fermented food – similar to yoghurt but made in a different way. Quark is type of soft cheese which is higher in protein and lower in fat than regular cream cheese and now there is a quark made with kefir, that seemed like a good basis for a cheesecake topped with berries. Here I mixed the kefir quark with regular quark. I’ve also experimented with feta cheese, instead of the usual cream cheese, to add a slightly savoury note and drastically cut the amount of sugar in this adapted recipe (there should be enough sweetness in the biscuit base and fruit topping). This went down very well with someone who doesn’t usually like dessert!

Serves four
40g biscuits (amount might vary depending on the size of the dish used choose anything you fancy – ginger goes well with the lemon, but you could use choc chip, plain digestive)
25g butter (again, adjust depending on the size of the dish)
100g feta cheese, finely crumbled
250g quark (one 150g tub kefir quark and 100g regular – increase quantities if needed, to create the layer in the dish)
One tbsp. caster or icing sugar
Zest of one lemon
Gelatine (vegetarian if you prefer)
Juice of two lemons
Fruit topping (raspberries, blueberries, sliced strawberries – alone or mixed – I used frozen berries to get blackcurrants and redcurrants which are hard to source fresh and added raspberries)
Crush the biscuits, melt the butter and mix. Spread mixture over the base of a pie dish and chill for several hours. Beat the cheese, quark and sugar together and fold in the lemon zest. Soften the gelatine as per the instructions on the packet and melt into the lemon juice over a low heat. Stir into the cheese mixture and spoon onto the base. Chill overnight, then add berry topping.

Next time: Experiments with low carb

Experiments with cacao

CacaoIf you love chocolate, it’s worthwhile starting to include cacao powder in your daily diet. Unlike chocolate, raw cacao is naturally fermented, unprocessed and free of sugar, milk and other additives. This concentrates the true chocolate and coffee flavour compounds, allowing for a deeper taste experience, writes Dr Susan Aldridge,  Healthy Soul’s  guest blogger,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Cacao contains over 700 different phytochemicals. Some of these have powerful antioxidant properties; cacao compares favourably with dark chocolate, green tea and blueberries as a source of antioxidants. It is also rich in magnesium. Research suggests that cacao might help prevent blood clots, improve cognitive function and insulin resistance and lower blood pressure.

These recipes use an organic cacao powder that is pressed from raw cacao beans, and has no additives.

Cacao smoothie

A luxurious, tasty and nutritious drink
Serves one
One punnet of strawberries
250mul almond milk
One tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp cacao powder
Blend everything in a Nutribullet or similar device and drink immediately.

Vegetarian chilli

I replaced the mince with a packet of quinoa with seeds (many other varieties of packet quinoa available!)

Serves 2–3 (reheats well and great for a summer party if you scale up)
Two cloves of garlic, chopped finely
Two chopped red chillis
One red onion, chopped
One yellow Romano pepper, chopped
One red Romano pepper, chopped
400g tin tomatoes
400g tin mixed beans
Two tbsp. tomato puree
250g pack quinoa, ready cooked
One tbsp. raw cacao powder
Fry the onion, peppers, garlic, chilli and cacao powder in olive oil till the vegetables are soft. Then add the tomatoes, beans, tomato puree and quinoa. Cook for 15–20 minutes.
Serve with grated cheese/sour cream/finely chopped chillis/sliced avocado. Drizzle with chilli oil if you like it hot.

Cacao peach melba

A healthy take on this classic dessert.
Serves two
250g of the thickest, most luxurious yoghurt you can find
Two tsp raw organic cacao powder
Two peaches, sliced
Handful of raspberries
Stir the cacao powder into the yoghurt and divide between two dessert glasses. Top with the sliced peaches and raspberries and refrigerate, preferably overnight.

Next month. Experiments with fermented foods