I am a massive fan of taking into account the whole picture when it comes to health and wellbeing. Based on that I’m so happy to share with you some fab tips from Victoria Bell who is a Nutritional Therapist and expert in helping busy mums with gut health, food intolerances and low energy – read on for her great advice and an amazing recipe!!
Sleep is such a rare commodity when you have young children. Perhaps if you have experienced Navy Seal training or extreme jetlag, you might have had a taste of the utter exhaustion that can hit you like a sledgehammer. Or if you’re a party girl at heart, perhaps losing a weekend or two to the after-effects of all-night partying (without an infant to wake up to, of course). But Navy Seals and frequent long-haul flyers don’t tend to be on duty 24/7 with a precious baby, do they?
Nothing quite prepares us for the physical challenges of being a Mum, people might have tried to describe it, but it can be an utter shock, nonetheless. And if you’ve spent any amount of time on a maternity ward or a café that makes a great meetup point for Mums and little ones, you will know that the fuel on offer tends to come in the quick and sugary form.
It’s irresistible when you are running on empty and those quick energy foods are being handed to you on a plate. But with a few tweaks here and there, you can improve the quality of your food intake and level out your energy without the crashes.
My Top 10 Tips for Better Energy Levels
1) Keep hydrated – if you’re breast feeding you will be familiar with the increased awareness of thirst. But for all Mums, drinking lots of water and herbal teas will help your body to get more energy out of your food. And often we mistake dehydration for hunger. Coffee and tea counts too, just drink an extra glass of water for every cup of coffee! Which leads us to the next tip:
2)Limit caffeine intake – coffee or tea may be absolutely non-negotiable in your day – a little caffeine boost here and there can really perk you up and make your morning seem more manageable. But pay attention to the tipping point when just enough turns into too much. Having too much can leave you jittery and leave you with less capacity to cope with the more stressful moments. Could you swap some of your drinks for half-caf, decaf or herbal? Having a cut-off in the afternoon will help to get better quality sleep when you do get the chance. For some people this is 3pm, for some this may be 12pm. Typically 2pm is a good cut-off for most people.
3) Include good quality carbs – contrary to the now outdated idea that low or no carb is best, switching for better quality carbohydrates and including a portion with each meal is key to stable energy. Oats, good quality granola and bircher muesli (think no-added sugar or artificial sweeteners) are great breakfast options. Whole grains such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta are known to release energy more slowly than their white equivalents. Basmati rice, although white has a better effect on your energy than other types of white rice. Sourdough also can be white or wholemeal but creates less of a blood sugar spike because much of the sugar in the bread has already been broken down. White potatoes are no longer the enemy either! Leave the skin on to get more nutrients. Experiment with sweet potato, celeriac and other starchy vegetables such as swede, parsnips and beetroot. They’re all full of fibre and vital nutrients.
4) Get some good fats in – fat was demonised for decades but it’s now becoming clear that we absolutely need good quality fat in our diet. Our brain is 60% fat, all our nerves are protected by it, and we use fat to make all our hormones. Limit saturated fat found in animal and dairy products (we need some of this too though) and include plenty of nuts, seeds, oily fish and oils such as olive, hemp, flax, avocado, coconut and nut. Be wary of hydrogenated fats in processed foods and reserve some of the more delicate oils such as hemp and cold-pressed rapeseed oil for dressings.
5) Get some colour onto your plate – “eat a rainbow” is popular advice, and for good reason. Different coloured fruits and vegetables tend to contain different types of nutrients, especially antioxidants which help you stay well, limit oxidative damage and even feed healthy skin and eyes! Throwing some berries onto your breakfast or into a bowl as a snack is a quick win. Get lots of dark green leafy veg and include plenty of orange, yellow, red and purple fruits and veg too. If you don’t currently eat heaps of veg, take it one day at a time – throw in an extra portion with your lunch or dinner, build up slowly every few days. Making small manageable changes gradually is more likely to lead to new habits you love.
6) Include plenty of protein – this is the building block for every cell in your body, so you need regular intake for repair, hormones and immunity. You also need protein to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin (the happy hormone), dopamine (for motivation), oxytocin (bonding, love and breast feeding) and GABA (for relaxing). Protein also helps you stay full for longer. Include good quality meats, eggs, dairy, fish, shellfish, beans, pulses (such as lentils), nuts, seeds or tofu.
7) Swap snacks for healthier ones – maybe it’s just me, but as a new Mum, cake featured quite heavily in the early months! But it doesn’t sustain you for long – later comes the energy crash, crankiness and at times some teary moments. Simple easy to throw together snacks include nuts, oat cakes, nut butter, smoked salmon, boiled eggs, fruit, vegetable sticks and guacamole. Although many shop-bought snack bars and biscuits tend to be high in sugar and heavily processed, there is an increasing variety of healthier and less processed snack products coming onto the market, so you have something you can put into your handbag. Examples include plantain chips, energy balls sweetened with dates or dried fruit, protein-based cookies made with nut flour and low in sugar and salted dried peas or broad beans (eat small amounts to avoid too much salt).
8) Don’t get taken in by the marketing hype – many whole foods are naturally low in fat or sugar. But if you’re looking at a food product that boasts these qualities, look a bit closer at the label to see what ingredients they are made with. Many low sugar products have artificial sweeteners which could still potentially interfere with your blood sugar levels, plus they can convert to glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter which can make you overstimulated and unable to sleep. You may also be surprised to find that your low-fat yogurt has added sugar in to replace the flavour lost by removing fat. Go for whole and natural foods as much as you can.
9) Get natural daylight – Having your sleep disrupted regularly can really throw out your circadian rhythm which helps you to feel sleepy at bedtime and nice and alert in the morning. Natural daylight as early as possible in the day helps to reinforce a good circadian rhythm, so when weather allows, try getting outdoors in the morning as often as you can.
10) Consider increased nutrient requirements – what does this mean? We are all unique and although we have RDAs for most vitamins and minerals (which are achievable with a well-balanced diet), sometimes as individuals we need a little more. For example:
– Iron: We should be able to absorb all we need from a good quality omnivore or plant-based diet. But as women, some of us are prone to still becoming iron-deficient. Pregnancy, complications with birth, or breastfeeding can also lead us to need more. A standard blood test from your doctor can identify if you need to supplement to top your iron levels up. The NHS have outlined some symptoms and guidance here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/iron-deficiency-anaemia/
– Vitamin D: We sometimes need a helping hand to get enough, especially in the winter when the sun isn’t strong enough to make what we need naturally. Your doctor can test for your Vitamin D levels with the above standard test (a Full Blood Count) and the NHS recommend that all individuals take at least 10 micrograms (equivalent to 800 IU) between September and March.
– B Vitamins and Magnesium: Some Mums who are sleep-deprived also benefit from supplementing with either or both of these. B vitamins are used to convert energy, help us to manage stress and are used much more quickly when we are unwell, overworked or tired. Magnesium is needed to relax muscles and also helps us to mentally relax – hence why it is needed for sleep! There are a whole variety of B vitamins available on the market, to work out what might work for you, ask the manager in your local health shop, call and speak to a consultant with any of the good quality supplement brands, or ask a nutritional practitioner.
Above all else, be kind to yourself and know that on any one day, you are doing your best as a parent with whatever situation you have. If you need support with getting through your days as a Mum with small children, reach out to friends and family for help and a sounding board or get in touch with Sleep Time Baby.
Banana Breakfast Bars
(great for breakfast or just as a snack and the kids love making them too!)
2 very ripe bananas
200g rolled oats
100ml almond milk
2tbsp cashew butter
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp honey
1tsp vanilla powder (optional)
1-2tbsp raw cacao powder (optional)
Other optional additions: nuts, seeds, raisins, cacao nibs
Coconut oil for greasing
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Slice and mash the bananas on a plate with a fork, place in a mixing bowl.
Add all the remaining ingredients (except the coconut oil) and mix well.
Grease a baking dish or brownie tin with coconut oil, add the mixture to the dish.
Level out with a spatula or large spoon, bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes.
Cool, then cut into 12. Store in a fridge for up to 5 days. Enjoy on their own or with nut butter spread on the top.
Victoria Bell is a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in supporting busy mums with gut health, food intolerances and low energy. To find out more, follow her on Facebook and Instagram @victoriabellnutrition, visit her website at www.victoriabellnutrition.co.uk or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org 07873 121616.