A healthy, happy Ramadan

During the holy month of Ramadan (ninth month of the Islamic calendar), adult Muslims across the world fast during daylight hours for 29-30 days. Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam and means abstaining from food, drink, sexual activity and smoking during daylight hours. Some people who are ill or whose health could be affected by fasting are exempt: pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with diabetes, people travelling…

Here are a few tips for a healthy and happy Ramadan.

Stay hydrated

Before breaking your fast, drink fluids to avoid dehydration: water, teas (low in theine in the evening) and herbal teas are your best allies. Be mindful of the sugar content of juices and soft drinks. It is also very important to hydrate enough before the breaking the fast at Suhoor each day.

Dates at Iftar

Dates are traditionally eaten (in an odd number!) to break the fast, they will increase your blood sugars and give you energy, as well as fibres and minerals. Other dried fruits such as apricots, figs, raisins or prunes will also provide fibre and nutrients.

Have a soup

Soups help with hydration, energy and provide a range of nutrients: carbs (potatoes, cereals), proteins (eggs, meat or poultry but also beans and pulses), fibres from beans, pulses and veg,

More veg!

In salads, sides, veg provides us with vitamins, minerals and fibres.

Breakfast – Suhoor

Have carbsbefore the fast begins to ensure you have sufficient energy for the day. Cereals, particularly wholegrains, such as porridge, muesli, oats or slices of wholemeal sourdough are good choices for a slow energy release. Be mindful of the salt and sugar content as it could make you thirsty. Proteins also help with satiety.


Building habits (part 1) : why habits matter

Today’s post will be the first of a series about habits (and change). The objective is to give you an explanation of why we have habits, and how we can change them to make them literally work for us. Why do I write about habits here? Because a lot of our lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking…) consist in habits, and if we want to make a lifestyle change last, having some basic knowledge in psychology and neuroscience can help. Let’s start by having a look at our brain.

Isaac Tobin/Dan Harris/ABC News

As human we have a uniquely large executive brain that support executive functions such as working memory, flexible thinking, impulse control, self monitoring, motivation, emotional control, willpower, planning, prioritisation and task management. These functions are future-oriented and enable us to make decisions according to our objectives.

Executive functions require a lot of mental energy, which can be drained by the demands of our busy, modern lives, leaving us feeling low.

This is where the autopilot, that sits deep within our brain, comes handy. The autopilot does not interact with motivation, it is made of habits. Habits are stimulus-response behavioural task, they are automatic. Brushing your teeth, going to the gym every Monday lunchtime, eating porridge at breakfast, adding salt to your food….

If our habits support our goals, we rely on autopilot more and have more mental energy available for our executive brain. We are more motivated, we perform better. When our habits don’t align with our objectives, our executive brain uses extra mental energy to suppress them, eventually we risk feel drained. The problem is that we cannot always replenish our mental energy enough, or reduce the demands of our executive brain.

Therefore, to cope with the demands of our busy lives, we can build habits that support our goals, while changing the habits that go in their way.

This might make you poop

Ah, poo! Le caca in French! Say this simple word and you will get a lot of attention (not only from children). Let’s have a look at what can make you poop, and it’s not only food as you will see.


Some of you may have experienced that: you start your run and after a few minutes, mid-run or even just at the finish line you feel the urge to poop. Although the exact mechanisms are not yet clear, a combination of factor can increase gut motility and bowel movements. These include increased blood flow triggered by the physical activity and the release of vasoactive intestinal peptide, neurotransmitters and adrenaline.


Caffeine may trigger contractions in your colon and intestinal muscles while relaxing the anal sphincters… Through other mechanisms a decaf coffee can have the same effects, the simple act f drinking making the colon more active.


Stressful situations trigger hormone release (adrenaline, cortisol, serotonin), which can upset the digestive system, causing intestinal spasms and increasing gastrointestinal motility.

Your period

The hormones at play this time are the prostaglandins that relax smooth muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.

Water intake

Water contributes to the digestion process, it can help soften stool and prevent constipation.

As you see, some factors are outside of our control, but you can act on others such as water intake and exercise in case you feel constipated. Finally, did you know that a poop scale exists?? It is called the Bristol stool scale or chart, ideally you want to be between types 3 and 4, a nice sausage 🙂

Cooked vs raw: how to get the most vitamin A from your carrots

Vitamin A is a group of fat-soluble retinoids involved in immune function, cellular communication, growth and development, and male and female reproduction. It is essential to vision.

It is found as retinol in animal foods, and carotenoids in plant foods, like carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, mangoes, oranges, spinach…. To say that vitamin A is fat-soluble means that it can dissolve in fats and oils, it is therefore absorbed with fats during meals and stored in the body’s fatty tissue and in the liver.

Several studies have found that carotenoids are better absorbed when eaten with fats (because of the fat solubility) and from meals containing cooked, pureed vegetables than from meals containing the raw vegetable. Cooking the vegetables helps the absorption of the vitamin.

Tips and tops against food waste

It is estimated that nearly one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, with considerable environmental impacts, aggravating ecosystem damage.

Polyphenols in plants are particularly concentrated in leaf tissues, they aid in plant defense, against ultraviolet radiation or aggression by pathogens. They contribute to the bitterness, astringency, colour, flavour, odour and oxidative stability. The more colourful a plant is, the more polyphenols it contains.

pesto herbs
Herbs pesto

A small change in your cooking habits can help decrease your food waste and increase your polyphenol intake. Because they are part of a plant defence system, polyphenols are concentrated in outer leaves or stalks, so don’t throw them away.

Here are a few ideas to increase your polyphenol intake and reduce waste:

  • eat the out leaves of salads,
  • roast the cauliflower leaves,
  • use carrot leaves, courgette stems, leftover herbs and greens to make pesto,
  • sautée beetroot leaves with EVOO, garlic and chili,
  • use grated broccoli stems in fried rice, pasta sauce, soups…

Vitamin D and your brain

In the UK, vitamin D deficiency affects 23% of adults (21% in those over 65yo), in winter the prevalence even rises to 40% (29% in those over 65yo). Vitamin D is mainly known for its role in the regulation of calcium homeostasis and in bone integrity, but it also plays an important role in the brain and is even considered neuroprotective.

Vitamin D promotes amyloid metabolism and clearance, neuronal and synaptic growth and neurotransmission. Many studies show the association between low vitamin D status and cognitive impairment associated with ageing (dementia). More recently, a study looked at vitamin D in 4 areas of the brain, 2 associated with Alzheimer, 1 with dementia and 1 with no association to cognitive decline. They found that high concentration of vitamin D in the 4 areas were correlated with better cognitive function. In another study, MR analyses suggested a causal effect of vitamin D deficiency on dementia.

The exact mechanisms by which vitamin D acts on cerebral health are not yet elucidated, but one thing is certain: whether it is for your bones or brain, take your daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement between October and March.

The chemistry of coffee (polyphenols) and milk (amino acids)

Perhaps you came across this research in the news: adding milk to coffee would increase the anti-inflammatory effects of the later. The study is called Phenolic Acid–Amino Acid Adducts Exert Distinct Immunomodulatory Effects in Macrophages Compared to Parent Phenolic Acids – yes it is a bit cryptic!

The study looks at how the amino acids contained in milk combine with the polyphenols (anti-oxidants) naturally occurring in coffee. The scientists found that « as a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, its inhibitory effect on inflammation in immune cells is enhanced », and this happens in milky coffee drinks. This association likely has the beneficial effect of fighting inflammation.

These results were observed in-vitro, and the University of Copenhagen who led the research, is already planning to investigate in animals and humans.

What this study also suggests, is that this reaction between polyphenols and amino acids occurs in other foods where proteins and fruits or vegetables are combined, for example in a smoothie.

Green or ripe: how do you like your banana?

We usually eat bananas when they are yellow, that is when they start to ripe. Green bananas and yellow, ripe bananas have distinct health effects, that you may be interested to know.

Green banana for your gut

Unripe, green banana have the highest proportion of resistant starch, a form of carbohydrate that acts like a fiber. Green bananas contain prebiotics beneficial to gut bacteria. Green bananas have a lower glycaemic index, which means it takes longer to digest and triggers a lower, slower increase in blood sugar.

The drawback: they can be harder to digest and cause bloating.

Anti-oxidant yellow banana

Riper bananas are easier to digest, the starch is more rapidly converted into glucose and released into the bloodstream. On the other hand, the riper the banana, the higher the anti-oxidant content.

The drawback: with time, the content in vitamins and minerals decrease, to minimise that, you can store bananas in the fridge.

How to get the most from… garlic!

Garlic is thought to have a lot of potential health effects, it is rich in antioxidants and compounds with powerful antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact garlic has been used since ancient times for its flavour and possible therapeutic effects, for example in Chinese medicine. Studies are still trying to understand better the mechanism of action of garlic metabolites.

One of garlic’s magic compound is called allicin, and this is what gives garlic its distinctive smell and taste. When garlic is chewed (raw), chopped, crushed or minced, a heat sensitive enzyme called alliinase will transform the protein alliin into allicin. Allicin has an antimicrobial activity and helps regulate the immune function.

The 10 minute garlic rule

To get the most of your garlic, you want to increase its allicin content. And there is a very simple way to do so: crush, mince, slice your garlic 5 to 10 minutes before cooking it. You can then add it to your tomato sauce, stir fry etc.


Ready to ski? What to eat for winter sports.

It’s peak winter season and some of us are heading towards the mountains for a good dose of winter sports. An adequate « mountain diet » depends on the intensity of physical activity you plan to have and the altitude of the place you go to. For good and safe fun, ensure sufficient energy intake: you may need to increase your consumption of quality carbohydrates to compensate for the increased energy expenditure and slightly increased metabolism in altitude.

Also, it is always better to have regular physical activity to hit the slopes in good shape, or to prepare the month before with specific exercise (you can find ideas on YouTube). It significantly reduces the risk of injuries.

Start your day with a nutritious breakfast

Unless you are very fit, trained and habituated, don’t engage in intense physical activity on an empty stomach. After a good night’s sleep, help yourself to a warm drink to hydrate, accompany with porridge or bread (better if sourdough and wholemeal for the fibre content, slower release of energy and satiety). Try to vary the grains: wheat, rice, rye, oats… Have some jam, marmalade, honey or butter. You may want to add a dairy or non dairy product such as milk, yogurt, cheese.
A piece of fruit will reduce the oxidative stress, provide vitamins and minerals helping you fight the cold and the risk of muscle cramps.

Morning snack?

If you have been on the slope since 8 or 9am, you may want a morning break. It will be important to hydrate: in altitude, we feel thirst less, yet we lose significant amount of water through perspiration and breathe because of the exercise and altitude. Have a hot drink like tea or herbal tea to keep you hydrated and warm, maybe with a piece of dark chocolate, dry fruit or nuts.
Avoid alcohol which dehydrates, it increases the risk of chill burns, decreases attention, reflexes and coordination.

A light lunch to recharge your batteries

If you plan to continue skiing, snowshoeing or any other physical activity in the afternoon, avoid meals that are too heavy and rich in fats. Choose food that are easy to digest and good quality carbohydrates such as polenta, pasta or rice with a light sauce, vegetables, maybe lean proteins. A bowl of soup with a good piece of bread will provide energy and liquid, you also can make your own sandwich of lean meat, cheese and veg.
You may treat yourself to a glass of wine, but leave the raclette and fondue for the evenings or snowy days, otherwise you will feel lethargic on the slopes!

What to pack?

Hydration is essential, take a bottle with you, filled with water, hot tea or herbal tea, fruit juice diluted in water etc. Interesting snacks include dry fruits, nuts, (wholemeal) bread, dark chocolate. A piece of fruit will provide water and nutrients.
If you feel tired, have a warm drink with sugar, but don’t take risks and stop if you feel it is too much.