Nutritionist, Hannah Brown (hannahbrownnutrition.com) believes food and drink should be considered not just as fuel, but as the best forms of natural medicine.
Hannah explains that, typically, the more vibrant the colour of the fruit or vegetable, the more health-promoting phytonutrients contained inside. For example, red or black grapes and red or pink apples contain higher antioxidant levels than their green counterparts.
“Deep red cherries are one of my favourite go-to foods to recommend for post work out muscle recovery, a good night’s sleep and to lower blood pressure,” she said.
“The Montmorency cherry is an all-rounder in terms of health benefits, and it’s so versatile and easy to take. The cherries retain their bright-red colour after being harvested and are a sourer version of the cherries we typically eat in the summertime.”
Hannah offers some dietary advice around exercise endurance and muscle recovery, lowering blood pressure and getting a good night’s sleep.
Endurance and work out recovery
Suffering from aches, pains and muscle soreness (DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) can often deter people from sticking to an exercise regime. Participating in some form of activity is much easier if you’re able to recover quickly from the workout.
Here are some top tips to help reduce inflammation, boost hydration, and fuel the body:
The health benefits of fruit – Try Montmorency cherry juice
Delicious and nutritious, the Montmorency cherry is great for enhancing post-exercise recovery, as it contains high levels of flavonoids and anthocyanins. These are antioxidants that inhibit the production of damaging oxidative molecules induced by exercise, helping to lower inflammatory levels. This in turn reduces muscle damage and accelerates strength recovery after exercise. In fact, the anthocyanins in Montmorency cherry juice have been found to be just as effective as Aspirin and Ibuprofen at reducing inflammation. Cherries have a high iron content; and their ability to generate nitric oxide (a blood vessel dilator) means oxygen delivery to cells is also enhanced – so you tire less easily. Add cherry juice to water to make a refreshing drink or mix it into a smoothie.
The health benefits of fruit – Swap electrolyte-rich sports drinks for coconut water
A quick, natural pick-me-up (pre, during and post exercise) is coconut water. It’s a much healthier alternative to electrolyte-rich sports drinks, which are commonly loaded with processed sugars, flavourings and preservatives. Coconut water contains all-natural sugars (glucose, sucrose and fructose) for an immediate source of energy, plus mineral electrolytes such as magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride ions, to hydrate your body at a deep cellular level. In studies, a mere two per cent drop in hydration has been shown to significantly impair both physical and mental performance, and can lead to stalled muscle growth, decreased strength and power, and delayed onset muscle soreness. Forget plain water – remember this wonderful tropical beverage.
The health benefits of fruit – Go Green
Spirulina is one of the most nutrient dense foods available to us. It’s a superior source of vegan protein, containing all the essential amino acids found in animal protein. So, it’s great for enhancing muscle mass and strength. The ‘phycocyanobilin’ pigment that gives the micro-algae its deep blue-green colour, provides potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, minimising muscle damage, at the root of stiffness and pain. It’s also thought to enhance fat and glucose metabolism, boosting energy production and fat burning (making it a great weight loss aid). Spirulina enhances mental and physical energy, prolonging exercise endurance. As an alternative to high fat animal protein sources (or a branch chain amino acid supplement), consider blending spirulina powder into a fruit smoothie or stir into orange juice.
The health benefits of fruit – Snack on watermelon chunks
Watermelon is 92 per cent water and six per cent glucose making it a fantastic hydrating pre-workout snack. In fact, to fuel your muscles and stay hydrated, you can even nibble on watermelon chunks whilst exercising (without any digestive upset) because melon flesh is rich in enzymes, so the digestive system hardly needs to process it when it enters the digestive tract. Dehydration (following a workout) can slow protein synthesis that rebuilds muscles, which can subsequently delay your recovery. The glucose and electrolyte content of melon, restores glycogen concentration in muscle fibres, playing a vital role in preventing a build-up of water-soluble lactic acid – a factor in muscle soreness
The health benefits of fruit – Don’t exercise on a full stomach.
Allow time to make sure the majority of your food has left your stomach before getting active. Exercise requires blood to be channelled to your muscles, heart and lungs and in the process, blood is funnelled away from non-essential organs such as the digestive tract – effectively shutting down digestion. Exercising soon after a large meal can leave you feeling like there’s a brick in your stomach and it may generate excessive gas and bloating. If you want your stomach to look flat in your Lycra sweats, wait at least 1.5 hours after your main meal to exercise. Alternatively, exercise before a main meal and snack on something light (i.e. melon or a banana) approximately 30 minutes before a workout.
High blood pressure
Diet and lifestyle can play a major role in heart health and impact your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Try these top tips for a more holistic approach to a healthy heart.
The health benefits of fruit – Montmorency cherries
I often recommend Montmorency cherries for high blood pressure if a patient wants a natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs (studies show that tart cherry juice lowers high blood pressure at the same level as medication). Cherries are packed with the antioxidants, resveratrol, phenolic acid and vitamin C. Together these compounds reduce inflammation within the cardiovascular system and strengthen the linings of arteries to protect them from damage caused by blood travelling through blood vessels at high pressure. Tart cherries also have significant weight management benefits, including reduced belly fat – a risk factor for high blood pressure. Natural nitrates in cherries incite the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and enhances blood flow, lowering blood pressure. Drink straight up or add to still or sparkling water to create a tasty drink.
Chronic dehydration is one of the most overlooked causes of high blood pressure. Our bodies should be comprised of approx. 55-70 per cent water (depending on our age and sex), and that includes our blood. Water is the best natural ‘blood thinner’ available to us which, in turn, makes our blood less likely to form clots. Not drinking enough fluids throughout the day can significantly reduce blood volume and cause your blood to thicken. When the heart and blood vessels struggle to pump viscous, dirty blood around the body it can lead to an increase in blood pressure (as well as dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, strokes and even heart attack). Try to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Liven up your (still, sparkling, hot or cold) water by flavouring with fruits and herbs. Lemon, orange, lime and cucumber slices, or berries, coriander and mint make delicious additions.
Cut the caffeine and embrace herbal teas
Caffeine is a ‘stimulant’ so has the ability to trigger the adrenal ‘stress’ glands and immediately spike blood pressure. Caffeine-sensitive individuals, in particular, can experience a dramatic rise in blood pressure after their morning brew. If this is the case, you may want to try red clover tea (delicious with orange slices and raw honey). Red clover cleanses the blood of toxins and fats, improving circulation. This herb contains ‘isoflavones’ that were shown to improve arterial blood flow and reduce systolic hypertension (especially in menopausal women). Red clover is also a source of many nutrients including calcium, B complex vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin C for cardiovascular health. If you tire of red clover, you could also opt for other powerful heart health beverages like hibiscus or rosehip tea.
I frequently recommend clients with high blood pressure sing in the shower or belt out an upbeat song in the car on the way to work. There’s a major nerve, the ‘vagus nerve’, connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. Singing, humming, chanting and gargling vigorously can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve. As a major ‘parasympathetic’ nerve in the central nervous system, innervating this nerve has the power to relax the whole body, including artery walls, enhancing blood flow. Music also has a positive impact on stress levels and consequently the cardiovascular system. In fact, music is even played to patients prior to and after heart surgery to lessen stress and anxiety, and regulate blood pressure and heart rate.
Add the allium family to your shopping cart
The allium family of vegetables (garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, chives and spring onions) are rich in ‘allicin’ and sulphur compounds, known to reduce mortality from high blood pressure because of their significant anti-platelet and anti-coagulant activity. This means they prevent red blood cells from clumping together to form sticky blood and spontaneous blood clots – at the root of high blood pressure, strokes or heart attacks. The beneficial compounds in these vegetables are most potent raw, so consider crushing a couple of cloves into your salad dressings; enjoy steamed new potatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped chives or add crushed garlic to lightly sautéed leafy green veg and broccoli.
A good night’s sleep
It can be hard to get top quality sleep with non-stop lifestyles, high stress schedules or intense work out programmes, but getting sufficient shut-eye is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing (eight hours is recommended by The National Sleep Foundation).
Try these top dietary and lifestyle tips to help calm the nervous system and boost the body’s natural sleep hormone:
The health benefits of fruit – Cherries for natural melatonin
Cherries are one of the few natural food sources of melatonin – an antioxidant and a hormone that sets our body’s internal clock and helps us to synchronise our sleep-wake cycle (our ‘circadian rhythm’). Cherries also contain ‘threonine’, a protein found in the central nervous system to help regulate brain function and promote sleep. Melatonin is not only a sleep hormone, but a powerful antioxidant – which is why sleep protects from rapid aging, as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Extend your sleep time by drinking tart cherry juice approximately one to two hours before bed.
The health benefits of fruit – Sip on a soothing lemon balm tea
Lemon balm is a ‘nervine’ herb, meaning it can help to calm nerves in the central nervous system, easing tension and anxiety, and soothing a hyperactive mind. The power of lemon balm can be further enhanced with the supplementation of magnesium (200mg of magnesium glycinate). This combination successfully aids stress-reduction, relaxes muscles and enhances GABA brain chemical to help you nod off and get some good quality beauty sleep. Many clients find this brew to be far more effective for unwinding before bed than chamomile or valerian tea. Lemon balm’s delicate lemon flavour is delicious with an added slice of lemon and a teaspoon of raw or wild honey. Brew your lemon balm tea in a small cup of boiled water to avoid a night-time bathroom visit.
At least two hours before bed, stop working, stop working out, and stop watching horror movies
Busy minds and busy bodies can trigger the adrenal ‘stress’ glands to secrete adrenaline and cortisol ‘stress’ hormones. These hormones are antagonistic to melatonin, preventing the body from producing and secreting this sleep hormone. Large adrenaline surges are responsible for the ‘tired and wired’ feeling, which can leave you restlessly thrashing around in the bed or staring wide-eyed up at the ceiling. Studies have also found those who indulge in high intensity workouts, such as interval training, less than one hour before bedtime, take longer to fall asleep and have poorer sleep quality. Be strict with yourself and switch off all technology at least one hour prior to bedtime. If possible, exercise in the morning or before dinner.
The health benefits of fruit – Go bananas
Ditch the chocolate chunks late at night (yes, even the dark squares!), and reach for a banana instead. Bananas contain ‘L-typtophan’, a protein that freely crosses the blood brain barrier and is converted to serotonin (a ‘happy’ hormone that regulates mood and anxiety), and melatonin sleep hormone. Bananas are also rich in potassium and magnesium to calm and relax tense muscles and hyperactive nerves. It’s also beneficial to eat a little fruit snack about 30 minutes before bed to keep your blood sugar balanced. Many people eat an early supper (a good strategy), but then unknowingly lie awake in bed due to a drop in blood glucose levels (which signals the brain it’s time to eat, rather than sleep). If a plain banana doesn’t entice you, try blending a few bananas with cherry juice and honey, pop it in the freezer and hey presto! – a delicious sleep-inducing sorbet snack.