Q&A With Nutritionist Alice Mackintosh
Alice Mackintosh is a fully qualified, degree level Nutritional Therapist in central London. Her experience as a practitioner led her to release a range of top quality, effective nutritional supplements (www.equilondon.com) and in January 2017 she released a book, The Happy Kitchen, a guide for eating to keep you calm, happy, boost your energy and help you sleep.
Our Needs Change As We Age
How do our nutritional needs change as we pass through our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s?
Though there are a group of core essential nutrients that we all need throughout our lives, as we transition through different stages of life we should make slight adjustments to our diet to stay happy, healthy, energized and of course with supple, radiant skin!
Our 30’s and 40’s
Our 30’s and 40’s are some of the busiest times of our lives. The pressures and demands of work can increase, and many of us have to find time to balance our professional careers with an active social life, travel, workouts and beauty regimes. It can be really hard to find time to relax, and many suffer with anxiety, bloating, PMS and low energy levels as a result of not balancing diet with lifestyle. For some, 30’s can also involve drinking more alcohol and eating out more often, which needs to be accounted for with the diet.
Many women choose to have children in their 30’s and 40’s, which means entering a new realm of busyness, and can also mean your life revolves much more around others. Sleep can go out of the window and your nutritional needs often get sidelined. The diet should also focus on hormonal health to support fertility and ensure our bodies are ready for pregnancy, and hopefully bounce back quickly afterwards.
What To Eat
- Getting enough protein at every meal helps to prevent blood sugar highs and lows that can leave the body even more stressed. Chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, hummus, pulses, lentils, nuts and seeds are ideal alongside moderate whole grains and vegetables.
- Eating foods to keep the adrenals supported is essential, as these little glands are the ones that keep us going during exceptionally busy times – mushrooms, greens such as kale, broccoli, spinach and watercress, peppers, oily fish, walnuts, brown rice, oats and eggs should be abundant.
- Iron rich foods to prevent anaemia (especially important if you have heavy periods, or work out a lot) – go for lean beef/lamb, venison, dried apricots and figs, kale and spinach.
- At least 5 fresh vegetables per day plus two fruits and herbal teas such as ginger, fennel, peppermint and dandelion to aid detoxification and fibre rich foods such as whole grains, nuts and legumes.
It’s possible (though not guaranteed) that we have a little more time to think about ourselves, and hopefully take steps to change unhealthy habits that maybe setting us back. This is even more important now than before to help keep our hearts and minds healthy, joints limber and skin young.
The diet should centre around reducing inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular concerns, supporting healthy hormone balance as we become premenopausal and also deliver all the nutrients to keep our brains sharp and happy.
All the above also applies, but with more of a focus on:
- Reducing inflammation with plenty of oily fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds and spices such as ginger, garlic and turmeric. Also don’t overdo meat, especially fatty cuts of red meat, opting instead for poultry and fish.
- Antioxidants from berries, fresh colourful fruit and vegetables, salmon, hemp seeds and fresh herbs.
- Hormone health, with foods such as flaxseed, beans, pulses and lentils as well as iodine rich foods such as seaweed, and selenium from Brazil nuts.
- Digestive support can also do with a leg up, in the form of fermented foods such as natural probiotic yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut.
- It can also be more difficult to lose weight, so limiting sugar and white refined carbohydrates is key, as well getting out and exercising daily.
- Support your skin with at least 2 portions of healthy fats per day (mackerel, salmon, flaxseed and walnuts are best), and a rich source of antioxidants (as above). Resveratrol from organic grape skins is a powerful antioxidant for the skin and silica from cucumbers, rhubarb and oats is great for helping to support collagen production. For a natural source of collagen, try to make your own bone broth and add this to soups, stews and curriers. I also recommend cacao powder, spirulina and wheatgrass for extra hit of goodness to add into smoothies, and fresh herbal teas are also a great way to keep the skin hydrated.
7 A Day
If there was one thing you wished everybody paid attention to in their diet and nutrition, what would it be and why?
No one person is the same, but the universal dietary faux pas is probably not eating enough vegetables! 5 is an absolute minimum (even the government has recently upped this to 7) made up mostly of veg and 2 fruits/day max.
This might sound tricky, but a big salad or a soup can be at least 3; and a casserole, stew, curry or bolognese can also have 3 portions. Snacking on crudités with hummus or guacamole also help bring this up, as does a handful of berries or a sliced pear at breakfast.
Manage Your Cortisol
Can diet have an impact on stress and anxiety?
Though it needs to be part of a bigger shake down on lifestyle and general outlook on life, a good diet can absolutely help with relieving anxiety.
A lot of this centres around managing cortisol. Known as our stress hormone, cortisol a big hitter in the body – it has enormous impacts on the way we function. It’s the hormone responsible for waking us up, keeping us alert, warm and compos-mentis; but it is also the driving force behind our all important ‘fight or flight’ response.
Get stressed, and by that I don’t just mean emotionally, but physiologically (tired, hungover, injured, low blood sugar etc) and your cortisol is normally being secreted in increased amounts to help get you through. As important as this is, we don’t want fluctuations in cortisol as it can make us anxious and unable to cope with stress.
To stop cortisol from jumping up and down:
- Make sure you keep blood sugar balanced by eating often, with low GI carbs and protein rich meals and snacks. Avoid carb abundant dinners like pasta, risotto, pizza etc.
- Stimulants like caffeine, sugar, sweeteners stimulate your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol and adrenaline so ensure you limit as much as possible and cut out after 4pm.
- Top up magnesium: This nutrient does so much in the body and unfortunately we get through it at a rate of knots when we’re really busy or stressed. Working out also burns up magnesium, so it is pretty common to be deficient, especially if you don’t eat plenty of green leafy veggies, wholegrains, beans, pulses and seeds. Magnesium is great for relaxing muscles and tension, which can really help you switch off and relax. Ideal after a stressful day at work or if you are just a bit wound up. Magnesium is a big and bulky nutrient, so most multivitamins fall far short of what you need. I recommend taking a Epsom salt bath, using a magnesium spray or finding a supplement that contains 200-300mg magnesium glycinate. You can take more, but do so under the supervision of an expert.
- Try herbs such as adaptogenic ashwaghanda, cordyceps and ginseng that have a balancing and restorative effects on the adrenals.
How do you feel about Adaptogens, which we wrote about recently?
When I first heard about the power of adaptogenic herbs, I could scarcely believe it! I spent hours researching the benefits of different herbs from all over the world and how different people could use them.
I use ashwagandha and cordyceps the most in my clinic, and find that these really help stressed out, super busy women trying to do it all. A gentle dose of good quality siberian ginseng or schisandra can be useful for women with hormonal strife, and rhodiola has the benefit of also being mood boosting.
As with all supplements, they need to be administered carefully, and it’s important to make sure that specific herbs are right for you before taking them. You must also check drugs interactions, and run anything you aren’t sure about past your GP before taking them.