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Feeling run down?

We look at the best foods and remedies to give you a boost this January and February

Winter is well and truly here, and we no longer have Christmas and the New Year to look forward to. For many people the early dark months of the year can be dispiriting and lead to exhaustion and chronic fatigue.

“Every year the reducing sunlight in winter affects our mood, our sleep and our vitamin D levels,” says Hannah Dare of health store and café Organico in Bantry, Co Cork. “We need to realise that winter is a time for rest, so if we have had a very active summer it can be a good idea to modify our activities so we don’t overdo it in the winter. Having said that, being too sedentary is also not great for our health. We still need to get out for walks and runs and keep our bodies moving. Striking a healthy balance is really important.”

Ideal winter diet

“Tiredness can be linked to imbalance in the blood sugar, affecting your mood, energy and concentration,” according to Frankie Lewis from health store Nature’s Gold in Rathcoole, Co Dublin. “It is vital to start the day with a protein-rich breakfast to help stabilise blood sugar, giving you sustained energy during the day. Try eggs or beans on brown bread toast, a protein smoothie, natural yogurt with nuts and seeds with a little fruit, or salmon and cream cheese on a rye crispbread.

“Reduce your coffee intake – drink a glass of water for every cup of tea or coffee. Keep a selection of nuts, seeds and home-made popcorn handy at work or at home, to graze on during the day, keeping your blood sugar balanced. It’s all about ‘grazing’, eating little and often of the right things to help your body provide you with sustained energy during the day. At each meal, try to ensure that you have a protein – tuna, salmon, fresh turkey slices, falafels, lentils, quinoa are all good.”

“It’s important to really focus on vegetables in the winter, as with the colder weather we can find ourselves eating more carbohydrates and sugar and this can lead to energy slumps,” says Hannah Dare. “As for snacking in the evenings, try not to buy chocolate, but stock up on healthy nuts instead. Soups, stews and warming foods are good for us in the winter months. Trying to stick to a veggie diet for a few meals during the week is a good idea as it will boost the nutrients you are taking in.”

Super winter supplements

“Check your vitamin C levels,” says Hannah Dare. “People with higher blood levels of vitamin C appear to have more energy than those with lower levels. This could be because vitamin C influences the production of l-carnitine, an amino acid that helps your body burn fat for energy. The best way to get plenty of vitamin C is from oranges and other citrus fruits, kiwis, peppers, broccoli, strawberries and cantaloupe.

“To improve sleep quality, apart from avoiding caffeine late in the day, we always check if someone is taking enough magnesium, vitamin D and B vitamins. Once they are not deficient in any of the above, we suggest herbs that can work on calming the nervous system. Valerian and hops can be good for both daytime stress and night-time wakefulness.

“Ashwagandha is helping a lot of people these days. It can decrease stress, increase energy levels and improve concentration. All good if you are feeling tired! Another herb people have found good for fatigue is ginseng, which can be taken in a few different forms.”

“There are many natural remedies available at your local health food store, says Frankie Lewis. Here’s a few:

  • Cordyceps mushroom – in powder form added to a warm drink or capsules. Cordyceps has been used for centuries for energy and stamina. Contains beta glucans too, so you are also boosting your immunity as well as your energy.
  • Epsom salts in a warm bath – will provide much needed magnesium, or a foot bath if you don’t have a bath.
  • A blend of magnesium bisglycinate, montmerency cherry, inositol and avena sativa – to promote deep, restful sleep.
  • A good multivitamin and mineral supplement – go for something vegan that does not contain any binders or fillers.
  • PQQ – aka Pyrroloquinoline Quinone, can create a new mitochondria (energy powerhouse) for every cell in your body. Particularly useful for people who are suffering from long covid or debilitating tiredness and fatigue.
  • Theanine and lemon balm – to promote meditative state and restful sleep.”

Healthy winter lifestyle

“Staying hydrated is essential to staying well at all times of the year, but especially so in winter,” says Hannah Dare. “Herbal teas and water are the best drinks. Some issues we see are to do with the hot and dry buildings some people are living or working in.

“During the winter months, the temperature can fluctuate drastically as outdoors you’re exposed to weather that often dips below freezing whereas indoors, the heating is often cranked up as high as it can go. This disparity can create a problem with your sleeping environment as the temperature often goes between two extremes, and the dry air can cause you health problems also, as the mucus membrane in your nose and throat contains your microbiome that protects you against winter bugs.

“A house that is too warm and dry, watching screens late into the night, and a diet that is too carbohydrate- and sugar-heavy can all impact our sleep patterns. Make sure your room isn’t too hot, keep a window open to keep the air humid and consider using a humidifier if the air in your home is too dry.”

“Here are my lifestyle tips for a healthier January and February,” says Frankie Lewis:

  • Leave your phone off for the first hour of the day, if you can.
  • Enjoy walks outside in nature.
  • Get good quality sleep – turn your phone off at least one hour before you sleep
  • Try to introduce some meditation into your daily life, start with 10 minutes a day.
  • A Himalayan salt lamp can put negative ions back into the atmosphere in your home, to enable restful sleep. Our homes have many electrical devices and wifi routers, putting positive ions into the atmosphere, this interferes with the magnetic field of your body. Negative ions clear the air of airborne allergens such as pollen, mould spores, bacteria and viruses.”
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