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The Five Health Challenges to try NOW

In June, the British Nutrition Foundation set five health challenges with the purpose of bringing together all UK workplaces, universities, schools and nurseries to create a focus on healthy eating and physical activity to celebrate healthy living and healthy lifestyles. The five challenges they set can be implemented easily by everyone and in doing so, can really help improve the health of your family and the entire nation if adopted as long term changes. So let’s take a look at the five challenges that the British Nutrition Foundation set and see how many you are already do and the ones you could be doing. 

Challenge 1 - Have Breakfast

How many of you leave the house in a morning without having breakfast and how many of you don’t have anything to eat until lunchtime? Research would suggest that around 50% of people in the UK do not eat breakfast and this is definitely a habit that needs to change. How can you expect to function optimally when you have no fuel in you since your dinner the night before. Not only will skipping breakfast leave you feeling hungry, but it will also make you feel tired and affect your mood negatively and let’s face it, no one wants to be around a grumpy person, especially a hungry grumpy person! In fact there is actually now a word ‘hangry’ to describe exactly this and it even appears in the Oxford English dictionary to mean ‘a person that becomes angry and irritable due to hunger’ and this is exactly what can happen to many people when they skip breakfast.

When we eat, our body breaks the food down into a form of energy the body can use, which is glucose. Glucose is the main source of energy for the brain and central nervous system, so if you are avoiding eating or you are skipping meals, the supply of glucose to your brain reduces. This results in impaired concentration, reduced focus and memory and low mood. Why would you want to start the day setting yourself up to fail? No matter how busy your life is, there is ALWAYS time to grab even a quick snack, even eating on the run is better than eating nothing at all. 

The best breakfasts contain a combination of protein and fibre, so if you have a little more time in the morning scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast or Rye bread with smoked salmon or mackerel is an excellent choice, or a bowl of porridge with fresh berries and pumpkin seeds is another tasty option. If time is limited and you have hit the snooze button a few too many times then nuts and a banana make an easy but nutritious ‘on the run snack’. Remember just eating fruit on its own in a morning is not the best, as it is not going to fill you up and because fruit contains quite a lot of sugar, if eaten on an empty stomach it can raise blood sugar levels higher than desired, so if possible eat fruit with some fibre or protein such as oats, rye flakes and/or yogurt. 

Challenge 2 - Have five a day

This is a phrase that almost everyone will be familiar with, but how many people actually achieve it? The phrase ‘eat five a day’ actually refers to the minimum amount of fruit and vegetables that we should be eating every single day. Some research suggests that ideally we should really be eating more like ten a day, but as many people fail to even eat five, then eating ten is often seen as a totally impossible mission. However, eating at least five a day may not be as hard as you think when you stop to think about how this can actually be achieved, you just need to have a little bit of creativity. 

It will always be easier to achieve the five a day if you start doing this in your first meal of the day (breakfast – see challenge 1). Just 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit or veg counts as one portion of your five a day. So adding 80g of berries to your porridge or yogurt in a morning, or eating that ‘on the run banana’, will already set you on your way to achieving this goal. 

Eating vegetables, such as carrots, celery and peppers as an afternoon snack with a tasty dip such as hummus and guacamole, will also help to increase your daily portion amount. Roasting vegetables the night before when you are making dinner and then adding them to salads or sandwiches for the next day’s packed lunch can also be a simple but tasty way to get towards the magic number of five. Other easy ways of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your daily meals include mashing avocado and using it as a sandwich spread instead of butter, making a roasted vegetable wrap packed with different varieties of vegetables and making a vegetable soup to eat for lunch or a mid morning snack, are all great ways to add more vegetables to your life.

Pretty much all fruit and vegetable count as one of your five a day, as long as you have the recommended amount per serving (80 grams). Potatoes however DO NOT count unfortunately, as they are starchy vegetables and although great at providing energy and other nutrients, do not count in this challenge I’m afraid. The good news is that sweet potatoes DO count, and as they are so versatile, they can make a quick and easy way to add some good nutrition to your plate. 

Challenge 3 – Drink Plenty

For some people, drinking plenty throughout the day comes easily, they don’t need to be told twice, but for others whose thirst levels are far less, it can be a struggle to get enough fluids.  Never is it more important to drink enough than when the weather is hot, so during the summer months you really need to keep a close eye on your fluid intake, and if you know you are not a big drinker, make more of a concerted effort during the warmer months to drink more and take a water out with you so you can sip it often. 

Lack of fluids has a really negative impact on many aspects of overall health. Being dehydrated, even mildly, causes you to feel tired and exhausted, in fact dehydration is one of the number one causes of tiredness and with this symptom alone being prevalent in society, it would suggest that most people drink far less than they should. A study in the Journal of Nutrition showed dehydration caused fatigue, low mood & low concentration levels. If you are someone who plays a lot of sport or someone who naturally perspires a lot, then you are particularly at risk, as sweating is the most common cause of dehydration. Water is by far the best thing to rehydrate the body, so drink plenty of it throughout the day taking little sips frequently rather than drinking a lot all in one go as this can cause bloating.

Lack of fluids also plays havoc with your skin and even a small amount of dehydration can have a very visible impact on your skin and will certainly not provide you with a ‘healthy glow’ that so many people seek. If you do not have adequate water intake, the skin appears duller and wrinkles and pores more prominent and no one wants that!!

If you are a keen frequent drinker of tea and coffee, then remember caffeine is considered a diuretic especially if you like your hot beverages strong, so make sure you are drinking additional water to make up for the diuretic effect caused by the caffeinated drinks. 

So how do you drink more water? Here are some ideas:

  1. Make water more exciting and flavoursome by adding items fresh fruit such as lemon, limes, orange slices or watermelon to it. Adding cucumber slices also gives a great refreshing flavour as does adding fresh mint leaves. 
  2. Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up in the morning as this is an easy time to remember to do it and will easily become a habit if you let it!
  3. Carry a water bottle with you, that way you always have liquid at hand and you can take frequent sips throughout the day. It’s amazing how much you can drink that way. 
  4. Eat foods with a high water content such as cucumbers (96.7% water), watermelon (91% water), celery (95% water), lettuce (95% water), tomatoes (94% water), as these will help to keep you hydrated just as well. 
  5. When drinking alcohol, in between each of your alcoholic tipples make sure you sneak in a glass of water. This will help increase your daily water levels, reduce the dehydration caused by the alcohol and also make you feel far less hungover the following day. 

Challenge 4 – Get Active

The clue is in the title here, so no real explanation needed. Many of us are guilty of being too sedentary, in fact never has it been easier to be sedentary than in current times. Being too sedentary has huge negative implications on our heath and increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, so we all need to find ways to move more, whether that be taking up a new hobby that’s active in some way, walking or cycling to work for some or all of the week, taking a walk around the block in your lunch hour or even doing the house work more vigorously. All of these options would make a difference to your health, so which of them will you choose?

Challenge 5 – Make a Change & Try Something New

The final challenge set gives chance for imagination and flexibility and allows you to decide on one or more thing that you could add or change in your diet or lifestyle that you have never done before. This could be as simple as starting to eat a new fruit or vegetable you have never tried before, or taking up a sport you have never tried. The main thing is that whatever you decide to do for this challenge, try and make it fun. For example if you decide to try a new healthy food, find a tasty recipe to make with it in so you can enjoy making a whole new meal or snack, if it’s a  new activity you choose, then choose something that excites you, not something that you will dread going to just because its exercise. Here are some other ideas for you to achieve challenge 5:

  1. Why not make the challenge a social one and challenge your friends to cook up the healthiest but tastiest meal that you have never made before and make an evening of it. 
  2. Read the food labels of the foods you buy regularly and select five of them that are high in salt, sugar or fat and find healthier alternatives to them.
  3. Improve your sleep patterns by going to bed an hour earlier, not using your mobile phone after 7pm at night, or eating more foods that can help aid sleep such as milk, cherries, bananas and herbal teas.

We all generally know the ways in which we should be making changes in order to lead healthier lifestyles and hopefully some of the above suggestions and the challenges ultimately set by the British Nutrition Foundation this June, has helped to focus your mind on which things are most pertinent to you. Why not share with us on Facebook what you and your family decide to do for challenge number five, it may even inspire others.