Great Ways to Get More Fruit in Your Diet

Which fruits should I eat more of?

Apples and bananas are generally the most popular fruit - they're easy to eat, easy (and cheap) to buy and are generally fairly convenient. However, there are other fruits that are more easily incorporated into different parts of your diet, and more beneficial for you.

Melon, grapes or citrus fruits are great to blend into salads, or go nicely as a dessert, whereas fairly starchy or solid fruits are really better eaten on their own or with nuts to ensure that you digest them properly.

Some fruits are very well known for their antioxidant properties, such as blueberries, plums, kiwis, apricots and strawberries. Some of these need to be in season to ensure that you get the full nutritional and flavour benefits from them, so look out for them when they are! Strawberries are just so much sweeter when you get them at the right time of year.

When should I eat it?

As already mentioned, it's really best to eat fruits when they're in season. It varies your diet and ensures that you're eating foods when it's natural for you to do so. It also lessens the environmental impact of your diet, and ensures you're getting the most nutrients from them. Here's some info on a few of the fruits' seasons:

January: Apples, pears
February: Apples, pears
March: Pears, rhubarb
April: Rhubarb, strawberries
May: Rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries
June: Blackcurrant, blueberry, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, tayberries
July: Blackcurrants, blueberry, gooseberries, cherries, loganberries, pears, plums, raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries, white currants, tayberries
August: Blackcurrants, blackberries, cherries, elderberries, grapes, gooseberries, figs, mulberries, loganberries, peach, pears, plums, raspberries, redcurrants, rosehip, strawberries, tayberries
September: Apple, blackberries, blackcurrants, damson elderberries, figs, grapes, peach, pears, plums, raspberries, rosehip
October: Apple, blackcurrants, pears, plums
November: Apple, quince, pears
December: Apple, pears

Some ideas to get more fruit in your diet

Munching on fresh fruit is refreshing, but it can get a little tedious if that's what you predominantly snack on. Here are some ideas to get more fruit into your diet without having to eat piles of it by itself:
  • Apple pies (wonderful in winter, when they're in season)
  • On or in pancakes (banana and blueberry are particularly good for this - try wholemeal pancakes to make them healthier)
  • In salads (apples and plums are wonderful in leavy salads - or add walnuts and lettuce to apple to make a waldorf salad)
  • Baked into granola bars (make your own to regulate the sugar content, and put in as much fruit as you like!)
  • Add melon to cured meats for some extra protein and a wonderful starter - melon and parma ham is a classic for a reason!
  • Teas (swap your usual black tea for a lovely fruit tea, and use honey to sweeten)
  • Smoothies

50 Reasons Why Kickboxing is Awesome

  1. You get to hit things - lets just call that stress relieving
  2. The satisfaction you get from knowing you have a perfect spinning hook kick - and the look on your friends' faces when you show them
  3. Kickboxing helps you sleep
  4. Kickboxing helps your immune system function better
  5. Kickboxing improves your appearance
  6. Kickboxing helps you relax
  7. Kickboxing reduces the risk of developing hypertension
  8. Kickboxing reduces your anxiety levels
  9. Kickboxing teaches you how to defend yourself
  10. It helps overcome jetlag
  11. It lowers your resting heart rate
  12. It increases you anaerobic threshold (allows you to work or exercise for longer at a higher level before a lot of lactic acid builds up)
  13. It helps to preserve lean body tissue
  14. Kickboxing improves posture
  15. Kickboxing helps you maintain your resting metabolic rate
  16. It expands blood plasma volume
  17. It boosts your energy levels
  18. Kickboxing increases the supply of blood to the skin for cooling
  19. It burns excess calories, and lets you eat more while maintaining a stable weight
  20. It improves circulation in general
  21. Kickboxing improves your reaction speeds
  22. Kickboxing improves your mental alertness
  23. It improves your discipline and self-esteem
  24. It makes you more flexible
  25. It improves your balance and coordination
  26. It helps you lose weight - and keep it off (unlike dieting alone)
  27. Kickboxing relieves the pain of tension headaches - possibly the most common type of headache
  28. Kickboxing increases the density and breaking strength of your bones
  29. It increases the circulating levels of HDL (good) cholesterol
  30. It improves short-term memory
  31. It reduces vulnerability to cardian dysrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms)
  32. It reduces circulating levels of triglyderides
  33. It beats watching reruns on Dave (and it's better for you)
  34. It gives you more energy in day-to-day life
  35. It increases the density and breaking strengths of ligaments and tendons
  36. It increases your level of muscle endurance
  37. Kickboxing helps to alleviate depression
  38. Kickboxing increases your maximal oxygen uptake
  39. Kickboxing teaches you to breathe properly when exercising
  40. It expands blood plasma volume
  41. It balances out the strength in your upper and lower body
  42. It improves respiratory muscle strength and endurance
  43. It reduces your risk of developing various diseases - from common colds to type II diabetes and coronary thrombosis
  44. It improves skin tone
  45. It improves your body's ability to use fat for energy during physical activity, so it's easier to shed fat
  46. It improves your pain tolerance
  47. It increases your overall health awareness
  48. It improves heat and cold tolerances
  49. It increases the diffusion capacity of your lungs, improcing the exchange of oxygen into the bloodstream
  50. Kickboxing improves your overall quality of life

Thanks to truebluetitan for the image.

4 Pancake Recipes: I Can't Think of a Better Way to Start the Day

I adore pancakes - they put me in a fantastic mood for the day and they're incredibly versatile. I also think that they're pretty underrated as a reasonably healthy breakfast; granted, pancakes covered with maple syrup with bleached white flour aren't very healthy, adding bananas, cottage cheese and wholegrain spelt flour to recipes decreases the calories while increasing the protein and vitamin content, making them a healthier, filling breakfast. You don't even need to make them from scratch in the morning - just mix everything together the night before and leave it in the fridge.

For this post, I've just listed ingredients for each recipe, as the combination and cooking is the same for all of them (and I'm sure you know how to make pancakes!)

Banana Pancakes
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 mashed banana
1 knob of butter
pinch of salt

Spelt Pancakes
1 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 tbs melted butter
1 ts vanilla extract
1ts baking powder

Cottage Cheese Pancakes (these taste way better than they sound)
3/4 cup cottage cheese
1 egg
1 cup flour (may need to add more later)
pinch of salt
2 tbs melted butter

Blueberry Pancakes
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup milk
1 egg
handful of blueberries
1 knob of butter
pinch of salt

Why not try adding slices of apple while you're cooking them, or frozen mixed berries? I haven't added sugar to any of the recipes as the banana or blueberry will make the pancakes sweet, and you can add honey to taste. The cottage cheese pancakes are savoury, as are the spelt ones (although they also taste great with yoghurt).

Thanks to ChannahG for the image.

Exercise Helps You Regenerate Brain Cells!

The Cell Transplantation Journal recently published a study that shows that brain cells do in fact regrow! Despite past claims (mostly up to the 60's), researchers in Hong Kong have found that brain cell regeneration does happen, and it plays a key part in reducing stress. They're also found that exercise is the key factor in brain cell regeneration (neurogenesis) - in fact, it activates the process.

Dr Kwok-Fai from Hong Kong said "Research has shown that exercise can improve mood and cognition and has also demonstrated that a deficit in adult neurogenesis may result in depressive disorders." His team's research  looked at exercise as a means of combating stress and the idea that exercise promotes neurogenesis.

The effect of stress and depression on the brain is astounding; in severe cases, it impacts part of the brain called the hippocampus (part of the brain that is involved in memory and emotional regulation). It can actually go as far as shrinking that part of the brain, eliminating the possibility of brain cell regeneration.

Regular exercise helps the hippocampus  mend damaged brain cells and grow neurons by maintaining 'plasticity' - the new neurons tend to enhance mood, maternal behaviour and reproductive function. 

This study reinforces the message that exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle - both physically, and mentally.

Thanks to Liz Henry for the image.

Bananas 4 Ways

Bananas have a lot of health benefits - they're high in fiber and potassium, fructooligosaccharide (a compound that nourishes 'good' bacteria in the digestive system), as well as vitamins such as B6 and B12. They're also low in sodium, and can help reduce your blood pressure, treat heartburn and are even said to help reduce morning sickness. Here are 4 ways so serve bananas so you can get more of their benefits, while varying your mealtimes.

Banana Porridge
A favourite of bodybuilders and children, this porridge is slightly sweeter than the plain stuff, without adding artificial sugars. Just mash up a banana with a fork and add the oats and milk to it and mix, then cook. Very quick, and contains around 12g of protein.

Banana Bread
Absolutely delicious! Try it with fruit and yoghurt with your tea. This is my favourite recipe:
125g butter
175g muscovado sugar (or any soft, unrefined brown sugar)
2 eggs
270g self-raising flour
120ml milk
3 bananas (ripe)
splash of vanilla extract
any nuts you'd like to add

Preheat the oven to 180C, then just blend together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs, then the flour and the milk. Finally add the bananas (mashed) and nuts. Pop it in the oven for about an hour and you're done!

Healthy Banana Split
Instead of using ice cream, try frozen yoghurt. Add a sprinkling of nuts for yet more protein and you have a great pudding.

Boozy Banana (not really that healthy, but everyone deserves a treat now and then)
Definitely one for the adults, and just as quick as the banana porridge. Put a few tablespoons of caster sugar on a hot frying pan and stir it until it begins to caramelise. Add a splash of Amaretto, and slice the banana down the middle. Put the banana on the frying pan and move around a little to ensure that it gets covered in plenty of Amaretto and sugar.   Don't cook for any more than a minute and a half, and eat immediately.

Thanks to Luis Condessa for the image.

5 Virtually Instant Ways to Improve Your Work Out

Very few people get the most out of the workouts - it only takes a few minor adjustments to how you train, and how you follow up your training to ensure that you are maximising the benefits of your work outs sessions, and that you are taking good care of your body.

1) Breathe Properly
Don't hold your breath while you're working out - to get the most out of your exercises take full breaths and breathe out when exerting (or hitting), and breathe in on the release. Learn to take full, complete breaths (by breathing from the diaphragm rather than just the top of your chest). This will help you to get the most oxygen possible to your muscles, and will improve your performance. Sensei Jim will tell you exhale when you are hitting, and will show you how to breathe properly when training - we'll be posting more on this subject soon.

2) Lose the Shoes
There are quite a few reasons we train barefoot in the dojo, and it can help you when working out in the gym/at home too. Removing your shoes creates more instability, which challenges the muscles in your feet and legs more, making you burn more calories during your work out. This can also increase your range of motion.

3) Add to Your Range of Motion
This makes each exercise harder, so that you gain more from every push up, sit up, dorsal raise, tricep dip... If sit ups don't challenge you enough, slip a folded towel under the small of your back to increase the range of motion. If push ups are getting easy, raise your hands off the floor so that you can dip lower with each one. There aren't many exercises that you can't 'improve' this way - you need to constantly push and challenge yourself if you want to continue to improve.

4) Don't Let Yourself Stay in Your Comfort Zone
Most people are guilty of doing this at least once - instead of pushing further and harder, it's easy to just do what you know you can and let your fitness plateau. Don't let yourself stay in your comfort zone! I'll take push ups for example - you can make them harder by pressing your elbows tight against the body, by moving your hands closer to the middle, by doing them on one hand, by jumping up and clapping between push ups. There is no reason to let yourself do exercises that you no longer find challenging - it's counterproductive, and will often mean that you'll start getting bored because it's too easy. Always go a little out of your comfort zone - a harder push up, a higher kick, a stretch that goes a little further than last time - and you will always improve.

5) Eat Properly Before and After Your Work Out
Paying close attention to your pre and post work out meals will help you achieve your body and fitness goals faster - whether you want to lose weight, add muscle or build strength. Ideally, you should eat quality carbs within 30 mins of your workout, and protein no later than 90 mins afterwards. The recommended carb to protein ratio for post workout meals is 4:1. Chicken, fish, egg whites, bananas, yoghurt are all good additions to a post workout meal or snack.  The next blog post will look at 4 ways you can add bananas to a snack or meal!

Thanks to SkinnyGuyWorkoutPlan for the image.

Eating: You're Doing It Backwards

So you're going to drive somewhere, and you need to fill the car up. Do you put in 5 litres, then another 10 and then add another 30 when you're nearer the end of the trip, or do you fill up the tank straight away and go? Stupid question, but we don't seem to fuel our bodies the same way. Because of jobs, late nights (and mornings), alarm clocks, the time it takes to cook and quite a few other factors, in the west we tend to eat a tiny (and nutritionally useless) breakfast, a medium lunch and then a comparatively huge dinner, right before we settling down for the night and spend 6-9 hours sleeping.

Good News - You Need a Bigger Breakfast
To eat heathily, and fuel our bodies when they need it, rather than when it's convenient, we need to balance the size of our meals; we need to increase the size and nutritional content of our breakfasts, have better lunches and actually decrease the size of our dinners so that we're not trying to digest them when we're about to go to sleep. Remember that it's also the nutritional content of the breakfast, not just the size, so eating a second bowl of Special K in the morning just isn't going to cut it.

Even More Good News - Have Some Bacon!
Many nutritional experts believe that we also need to increase the amount of meat we have in the morning to ensure a balanced diet throughout the day. It also gives us plenty of time to digest it properly and make good use of the energy it gives us; meat is digested slowly, releasing a slow and long-lasting supply of sugar into the blood stream which will keep you going, and full, for longer. If you fill an empty stomach with carbs and no proteins, you're triggering insulin overkill which means your sugars will drop more quickly. Eggs are also a fantastic addition to any breakfast - you can even get toasters that boil your eggs while your toast is toasting! If you're not going to need a lot of energy for the evening, or if you're having a late dinner, it's a good idea to try to eat as little meat as possible, and reduce the size of your dinner to suit.

Protein is also instrumental in creating and maintaining muscle mass - the rate at which you can build muscle stays constant throughout your life, but lowering your protein intake has a larger impact on your muscle mass as you get older, which is why you need to maintain a decent diet throughout your life time, to ensure that you can stay active and strong for as long as possible. The average person eats around 10g of protein during breakfast, around 15g at lunch and then 25-30g at dinner - not only does it usually fall below the recommended daily amount (roughly 1g per kilo of weight, or 1.4g per kilo if you're active), but it's also very uneven. Aiming for equal amounts, spread throughout the day is far healthier, and will help you maintain constant levels of sugar and muscle mass.

If that hasn't convinced you to have an egg or some bacon with breakfast, then this should; experts investigated the impact of increasing protein on muscle mass; when increasing protein intake by as much as 300%, the ability to make muscle did not increase by much at all. It actually stayed pretty much the same. More protein doesn't necessarily lead to more muscle - that depends more onwhen you eat the protein and how you eat it – higher quality sources like eggs and dairy are more efficient than vegetable sources such as soy. Eating it throughout the day has a larger impact than eating a lot of protein once a day. 

...And Try to Eat More Often!

Ideally, you should be eating 4-5 smaller meals throughout the day instead of 2-3. This will help increase your metabolism by ensuring that your body gets a steady stream of sugar into the blood, and doesn't feel the need to hold on to any extra fats in case of starvation.

It can be difficult to make healthy meals first thing in the morning, or even after a long day at work, or to think of quick snacks that don't make you pile on the pounds. I'll be posting healthy recipes and ideas on this blog to give you a bit more inspiration! If you'd like to receive these direct to your inbox, just subscribe using the box at the top right.

Thanks to Knick for the image.

10 Minute Work out (4)

Here's the last in this series of 10 minute work outs. This one is slightly different to the rest - you will exercise for 1 minute (flat out) and then rest for 30 seconds and  repeat that 6 times. As always, remember to stretch out and warm up properly.

First Exercise: Bicycle Sit Ups
Lie on your back, and raise your feet about 6 inches off the floor - keep them raised throughout the exercise. Hold your hands at your temples with your elbows wide out. Lift yourself up into the sitting position, while twisting your body slightly and bending one knee until your elbow touches the opposite knee. Then go back down into the original position and repeat with the opposite side.

(This exercise was also featured in our previous post 5 Simple Exercises to Better Abs

Second Exercise: Squats
Stand with your feet facing forwards, roughly shoulder-width apart. Put your hands behind your head and bend your knees slowly (with your heels flat on the floor) until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then straighten your legs. Ensure that you continue this in a smooth motion, not to damage your knees.

Third Exercise: Crunches
Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and raise your shoulder blades off the floor. Lift yourself another 4 inches towards your knees and then lower back to your original position. The idea is to do the 'middle' part of the sit up without fully sitting up or lying down, and to keep your abs engaged throughout. Pulse up and down to maintain continuous movement throughout the one minute.

Fourth Exercise: Plank
Hold the push up position (the plank) for one minute. Do not let your body sag or arch, and don't drop your knees to the floor.

Fifth Exercise: Monkey Push Ups
Put your feet together and sit upright on your heels with your knees apart. Then, put your hands on the floor in front of you (with your arms in between your knees) and bend your elbows to press down and push all the way back up to the original sitting position. The push up itself will need some speed to get you back to the original positions.

(This exercise was also featured in our previous post Push Up Masterclass)

Sixth Exercise: Dorsal Raise
Lie on your front with your legs straight and your hands behind your head. Without moving the bottom half of your body, and without putting your hands down, raise your chest off the floor (as far as you can). Lower and repeat.

Final Minute: Squat Jogs
Stand on your hands and feet, bent at the waist - ensure that you have enough weight on your hands to prevent you slipping before you starrt the exercise. Bring one foot forwards and then push it back again - repeat with the other leg and continue so that you are jogging your legs, but balancing some of your weight on your hands as you do it.

Hope you enjoyed this series! Let us know what you thought, and if you'd like more of these 10 minute work outs.

In case you missed the first 3:
10 minute workout 1
10 minute workout 2
10 minute workout 3

5 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Weight: Break the Habit

Everyone knows the feeling of aiming to lose weight but not really feeling the benefits of the latest fad diet or work out. There are 5 pretty simple ways to help you lose weight, and then keep it off. They're largely rooted in day to day habits, which is why we never notice gaining the weight in the first place.

1) You're still drinking alcohol
A glass of wine has about 125 calories, a pint of beer has 250. That glass or two of wine after work and the few pints over the weekend easily add up to make you pile on the pounds. A lot of people find it difficult to consider the number of calories in drinks due to our associations when we hear the word 'calorie' (ie. we tend to think of fatty foods as having a lot of calories, not drinks) but that pint of beer has the same number of calories as a slice of pizza!. Cutting out alcohol has many health benefits - a lower calorie intake is just one of them.

2) You're losing track of what you're eating
When you have a busy schedule, didn't manage to get a lunch break at work and just feel peckish when you come home, it's very easy to lose track of what you're eating (and how healthy it is). It's especially easy to start grazing on junk like crisps since you can buy them more easily than fruit. What did you eat today - can you remember everything? If not, it may be worth keeping a food diary to get a realistic look at what you eat, and what you need to cut out. There's no point having a salad for lunch if you have crisps during a break and a chocolate bar the moment you come home.

3) You're not drinking enough water
Drink water with your meals and you will fill up faster, Drink it to stay hydrated so your body keeps functioning properly. Drink it because it has less calories than soft drinks or juice....just drink lots of water.

4) You're not eating often enough
A lot of people cut down what they eat and how often they eat when they're dieting - there are a lot of terrible diets out there like the master cleanse, which will work for a short period of time but actually slow down your metabolism, so you will gain weight then you start eating properly again, and it will be harder to shift it. Ideally, try to eat about 4-5 times a day - they don't need to be large meals (it's better that they aren't), but this will improve your metabolism and ensure that your body doesn't hold on to fat unnecessarily. Pack nuts in your bag to graze on, bring fruit, eat a lighter lunch and have a mid-afternoon snack as well. But remember - every single time you put something in your mouth you are making a choice, you are either choosing to make your body and overall health better, or to just eat something that's convenient. Healthy eating does take more planning, but it's definitely worth it.

5) You're not eating at the right times
Unfortunately, modern life means that we are usually rushed in the morning and have time to relax in the evening, which impacts our meals. A lot of people have a tiny breakfast (just cereal really doesn't cut it) and then have a comparatively huge dinner, with a medium lunch in between. Try to balance out your meal sizes so that you aren't taking in the most calories just before you go to bed.

I'll be posting more about properly tiering your meals soon. If you'd like to receive posts direct via email, just subscribe using the box at the top right of this blog.