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Spring Clean Your Health

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Spring clean your health

Why wait until the start of a new year to give your health a spring clean when you can make a fresh start and introduce changes to your lifestyle right now!

Eating well – what the experts say

Eating a healthy, balanced diet (and ensuring you keep on top of your hydration) is an important part of maintaining good health and wellbeing. For example, fruit and vegetables are a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre. The NHS advises these should make up around a third of the food you eat each day. It’s recommended that we aim for at least five portions a day and nutritional experts encourage us to experiment with the range of fruit and vegetables we put on our plates. They recommend starting with introducing just one new vegetable each week to gradually increase the versatility of what you eat to boost your health.

Eating well also includes getting an adequate supply of protein, carbohydrates (starchy foods) and dairy or lactose-free or dairy-free alternatives in your diet.

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or have food sensitivities, intolerances or confirmed allergies, there are tons of nutritious free-from alternatives available now. Some people also try to plug gaps in their diet by taking supplements such as a multivitamin. The problem is levels of certain vitamins and minerals in supplements can be much higher than what your body needs as a daily requirement so you could end up peeing out more than you retain!

Signs of vitamin deficiency

You can be low in certain vitamins and minerals and the symptoms you experience could start quite minimally and be hard to pick up at first. But they can gradually progress to having a real rubbish effect on your health. For example:

Vitamin A is great for your immunity, skin and eye health but when you aren’t getting enough, you might spot this first because your hair and skin will become dry. You may also develop brittle fingernails and as it continues, you’ll find you are prone to colds and frequently feel rundown.

With some of the B vitamins, signs of possible deficiency can include loss of appetite, feeling irritable, and much more tired than usual. You may also notice sores around the corner of your mouth, changes in your bowel habits, you may not be sleeping quite as well, and you may also experience headaches and mood changes.

Women are at higher risk of not getting enough iron, particularly when they have heavy periods. Low levels can cause anaemia and signs of this can include feeling very tired and having poor concentration, pale skin and generally feeling under the weather.

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Food intolerances and food allergies

Some people find they have issues with wheat, lactose or gluten but aren’t quite sure what they are dealing with in terms of whether their symptoms require follow-up with a healthcare professional or can be self-managed via avoiding certain foods.

A food allergy is a reaction involving the immune system and it can be life-threatening in some cases, whereas a food intolerance is more commonly due to an issue with how your body digests a particular food.

Commonly intolerance symptoms of wheat, lactose and gluten include bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. They can also lead to skin rashes such as eczema, psoriasis and, in some cases, acne, headaches, migraine and unexplainable weight gain. In the case of gluten intolerance, though this can potentially indicate coeliac disease, you could also have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity too. The best way to work out what is happening in your body is to have a blood test to confirm your diagnosis.

With food allergies, proteins within foods can trigger immediate (within two hours) or delayed symptoms (up to several days later). Immediate food allergy reactions happen when your immune system reacts to a normally harmless protein. The release of histamine in your body then triggers allergic symptoms. These can include itching and swelling of the skin or gut upset such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Sometimes, symptoms can also include breathing problems and in rare cases, anaphylaxis, an extreme allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.

In cases of delayed food allergy, a different type of immune reaction is involved. Symptoms tend to affect the gut such as vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation or the skin such as atopic eczema.

Is it time for a health check?

Unless you have a series of blood tests following an appointment with your GP, it’s unlikely you will have any idea of whether your cholesterol is a little too high or just right. In addition, it’s a bit of a guessing game as to whether you could benefit from adding more Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in your diet or which vitamins and minerals could do with a top-up.

Peace of mind is on hand though via an at-home finger-prick blood test that can provide really useful insight into your diet and general health, so you know how to make lifestyle changes that are really going to make a difference for you.