One Thing You Can Do Today

Recycle at Christmas

Good food, friends, family and… waste. Christmas creates tonnes of waste, such as wrapping paper, shiny decorations, plastic cups and cutlery, and flat batteries.

What can and can’t you recycle?


Do recycle:

  • Cardboard and paper wrapping (even if they have sticky tape on them).
  • Disposable aluminium baking trays and foil. Remove food scraps and oil and roll the foil into a ball shape.
  • Plastic cups and glasses. Because these are rigid plastic and 3D (not flat) they can be picked up and sorted into the plastic recycling area.
  • Batteries and fairy lights. These can be recycled as e-waste – most councils have a system for e-waste recycling such as dedicated drop-off days.

Don’t recycle:

  • Broken glassware and crockery. They don’t melt at the same temperature as bottle and jar glass.
  • Christmas decorations. Tinsel is particularly problematic in the recycling stations as it gets wrapped around machinery.
  • Tissue paper and napkins. These may be contaminated with food, but even if not, the fibres are too short to be used again. They can be dropped in a food and garden organics bin.
  • Plastic plates and cutlery. These are the wrong shape to be sorted by the recycling machines.

Be Good to Your Gut So It Is Good to You

Fascination with our gut microbiota – the millions of microbes that live in our intestines – has exploded in the last few years. How can you keep your gut’s residents as healthy and happy as possible?

There are many claims made about gut health. We are told that having the right gut bugs will make us slim, boost our immune system, even cure depression. But for all the health claims you may read, there is still a lot to discover about what gut bugs can and cannot do.


How to care for your gut’s microbes

Even though our internal world is still largely a mystery, we do have a good idea of how to keep the gut microbiome as diverse and healthy as possible. One way is through the foods we eat, and those we avoid.

The most important step is to eat a plant-rich, whole food diet, says nutrition scientist and gut health expert Dr Joanna McMillan. This includes fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and the oils made from them.

At the same time, limit or avoid ultra-processed foods. These are foods made from ingredients that are already heavily processed so that the resulting food product is far removed from the original plant or animal food.


Why the focus on plant foods?

There are two groups of plant compounds that are key for gut health and fuelling your microbiome, says Dr McMillan – fibre and polyphenols.

All the different types of fibre are carbohydrates that our digestive enzymes can’t break down, so they arrive intact to the large intestine (colon). Many of these types of fibre are fermented by the gut microbiome, explains Dr McMillan.

The gut microbiome works hard to support us, too. It produces substances that help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, reduce inflammation in the gut and the rest of the body, provide fuel for the cells lining the gut to keep them healthy, and support the immune system.

The best sources of fibre? All plant foods, but particularly legumes and wholegrains.

Polyphenols are compounds found widely in plant foods, says Dr McMillan, and like fibre, they also promote a healthy, diverse microbiome.

“Your friendly gut bugs convert these polyphenols into more bioactive compounds with diverse health benefits throughout the body,” she explains.

Recent research has shown polyphenols have prebiotic effects, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They are also anti-inflammatory and prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

The best sources of polyphenols?

Extra virgin olive oil has more than 30 polyphenols, says Dr McMillan. Other good sources of polyphenols are colourful fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.


Do you always but the same fruit and vegetable?

Sticking to the same fruit and vegetables every day is likely to decrease the range of your gut microbiota.

“If you want to increase gut microbe diversity, you should try and have 30 different plant-based foods a week,” says dietitian and gut health expert Dr Megan Rossi.

Sounds impossible? Gradually introduce foods you may not normally eat, such as barley, quinoa, chickpeas, eggplant, Brazil nuts, pumpkin and chia seeds, asparagus, and kale. For example, you can base a salad on barley, add some nuts and seeds, three types of vegetables, a little dried fruit, and a dressing based on olive oil. That will give you up to eight different plant foods.

Take a Hike? Why Not Take a Swim?

Some of us head to the pool or ocean all year. Others are fair weather swimmers. Whatever type you are, the water awaits. It’s time to swim!

There’s something deeply re-energising about gliding through the water, whether it’s chlorine or salt water.

You come out feeling relaxed and buzzing. Renewed. But you can’t help wonder… was it a good use of your time? Would you have been better off going for a run or doing an exercise class? And what about that thing your friend says that swimming makes you put on weight?

Don’t worry! Swimming is an amazing form of exercise, and wonderful for your physical and mental health. Here’s why:

1. It strengthens all your muscles

Swimming gives you a full-body workout. It works muscles throughout your entire body, including your legs, glutes, arms, neck, shoulders and core. Remember, water is 800 times denser than air, so it gives you a great resistance workout.

2. It lowers stress and helps with depression

Ever got out of the pool and felt the weight of the world had lifted off your shoulders? You didn’t imagine it. Swimming can induce a relaxation response similar to yoga.

The relaxation response is thought to be due to the constant stretching and releasing of your muscles, combined with deep rhythmic breathing. Plus, the feeling of being away from everything in the water (where your phone can’t beep at you) can help relieve stress.

3. It burns calories

Swimming can burn equal or greater calories than running, although it depends on how hard and fast you go.

Running for 10 minutes burns around about 100 calories (depending on your weight and speed).

With 10 minutes of swimming, you burn 60 calories with breast stroke, 80 calories with backstroke, 100 calories with freestyle, and 150 with butterfly stroke.

4. It regulates blood sugar

A 2016 study found that short bursts of high-intensity swimming three times a week can balance blood glucose. That’s great news for those with diabetes or it you are at risk of diabetes.

5. It helps you live longer

No, really. Researchers at the University of South Carolina looked at 40,547 men, aged 20 to 90, for over 32 years. They found those who swam had a 50 per cent lower death rate than runners, walkers, or men who didn’t exercise.

What about just submerging yourself in water? Is that good too?

Yes. And there’s different benefits for cold vs warm water. Immersing yourself in very cold water, that is around 15 degrees Celsius, can help with pain, muscle recovery and boosts your metabolism. Some studies suggest it can reduce symptoms of depression.

Ice baths take this idea up a notch. The “Wim Hof method” promotes ice baths or very cold showers combined with deep breathing. Wim Hof says it stimulates your vague nerve, which boosts your parasympathetic nervous system and affects conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Lowering yourself into warm water is a gentler way to promote relaxation. Research from Washington State University finds that warm water immersion, like a bath, balances your nervous system and helps lower stress.

“The effects of aquatic immersion are profound, and impact virtually every body system,” says Dr Bruce Becker, director of the National Aquatic & Sports Medicine Institute at Washington State University.

Can You Cure a Hangover?

Parties, barbecues, family dinners. Holiday get-togethers often lead to the dreaded hangover. Is there anything we can do to cure the aftermath of overindulging?

First the bad news. There’s no real cure for a hangover. No food or supplement, powder or pill – least of all the ‘hair of the dog’ (also known as drinking more alcohol).


What’s a hangover?

Your liver can handle moderate amounts of alcohol but if you drink too much you risk a hangover the next day.

Alcohol and its by-product, acetaldehyde, are toxic to your body. Together, they cause the symptoms of a hangover – fatigue, dizziness, headache, dry mouth and nausea. Someone with a hangover can also experience impaired memory, concentration and visual-spatial skills – potentially a safety risk to others in the workplace.


Is there any good news?

By focusing on what you eat and drink before and during your drinking session you can prevent the worst hangover symptoms.

  • Slow down alcohol absorption by ensuring you eat before or while you’re drinking.
  • Help prevent alcohol’s dehydrating effects by alternating alcoholic drinks with water.
  • Avoid darker coloured drinks, such as brandy, whisky, rum and red wine. They have a higher level of compounds called congeners which are believed to make your hangover worse.
  • Have a sports drink before bed as this helps replenish fluid and electrolytes lost through the dehydrating effect of alcohol.

Looking for evidence

Google ‘hangover cure’ and you will come up with everything from bananas, charcoal tablets, and ginseng, to green tea, Bloody Mary and pizza.

The British Medical Journal has even published a systematic review of randomised controlled trials looking at hangover cures and found no compelling evidence for any of them. Their conclusion was to avoid a hangover in the first place with alcohol abstinence or moderation.


What can help

Apart from waiting for your body to get back to normal, there are some things you can do that may help you feel a little better.

  • Rehydrate with water and/or sports drinks.
  • Eat a couple of eggs. Eggs contain an amino acid called cysteine which helps to break down acetaldehyde.
  • Get moving if you can. The endorphin release from exercise will make you feel better.
  • Try aspirin and a strong coffee. They can help clear your head as you wait it out, although they won’t sober you up any quicker.