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A new year – a fresh approach to eating healthily and maintaining weight

The post Christmas festivities shock!

It’s that time of year again, when we are thinking of the same old New Year’s resolutions – to eat healthily, lose weight, reduce alcohol etc etc. Some of us may have decided to do ‘veganuary’ or ‘Dry January’ – or even both!

I have spent many years attacking January with a great abstemious gusto ( if that’s actually possible!) My experience over the years has been that any resolutions that are too harsh and extreme, will never last past February. Instead, I now take a much more forgiving approach to a healthier lifestyle, and I’ve found that this gives long term health benefits and frees me from guilt when I have the odd chocolate or glass of wine.

Here are my ideas for a healthier 2020

A healthy start to the day
  • Start the day with a mug of warm water with a squeeze of lemon. This will boost your metabolism .
  • Eat protein – eat some protein with every meal- e.g. yoghurt, eggs, chicken, lean meat, fish, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds. Try to eat organic as much as possible to avoid hormones and antibiotics found in non – organic meat. Plant based proteins like pulses and legumes, as well as proteins in vegetables, are very healthy so try to eat at least half of your proteins from this source.
  • Eat lots of vegetables – as much as you like and aiming for 7-8 portions a day. Vegetables are so nutritious, full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that give a fantastic anti-oxidant benefit to your body. Not only that, they are full of fibre including plenty of the non-soluble type, which giving your beneficial gut bacteria something to feed on. In return your gut bacteria will produce wonderful Short Chain Fatty Acids that are needed for a healthy gut lining, as well as making some B and K vitamins for you
  • Eat wholegrains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat and fibrous vegetables. Restrict bread to a small slice or two a day if you must and ensure it’s whole grain and/or sourdough.
  • Eat some nutrient dense fruit – around 2-3 portions a day
  • Eat good fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Butter and coconut oil are also healthy if not eaten to excess. Fat fills you up and is also needed to help your body absorb the vitamins from your vegetables
  • Eat fish. Its full of protein, not only that, but oily fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring and trout are full of healthy Omega 3 fats which reduce inflammation which is helpful if you’re trying to lose weight
  • Drink plenty of water and herbal teas. Aim for 2 litres a day
  • Ensure you have a gap of at least 12 hours between your dinner and breakfast the next day. This intermittent fasting helps keep down your insulin levels and gives every cell in your body enough time to clean up without having to cope with more glucose and insulin. Its good to increase that gap to 16 hours twice a week too if you can manage it.
  • Monitor portion sizes. No limit on non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, courgettes, salad leaves etc. A portion of wholegrain carbs, such as brown rice, buckwheat or starchy vegetables like sweet potato or squash, should be the size of half a tennis ball; a piece of fish the size of a chequebook; meat or poultry the size of your palm and fats the size of your thumb.
  • Exercise daily. Not excessively, as this can raise cortisol levels, which can ultimately make your body hold on to fat, but 30 minutes 4-5 times a week at least. Weight training essential to help you build muscle

What not to do

  1. Don’t eat refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, cakes and biscuits.
  2. Don t eat any processed foods if you can avoid them. They are often full of hidden sugars which make you crave even more sweetness after you have eaten them.
  3. Don’t eat any sugar either in cakes, sweets of drinks. It causes blood sugar hikes and troughs and will make you hungrier as well as adversely affecting insulin levels. Avoid diet drinks too – not only are they full of chemicals but they trick your body into thinking you’re eating sugar making you crave more sugar.
  4. Avoid trans fats like margarine, as well as vegetable oils like sunflower
  5. Don’t drink alcohol when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s just full of empty calories and will weaken your will power.
  6. Don’t constantly weigh yourself. It’s not the best way to assess a healthy weight – remember that muscle weighs more than fat. Look at inches if you must.
  7. Don’t graze and pick at food all day. Just eat three well balanced meals a day.

Focus on eating a healthy nutrient dense diet

Don’t focus on calories and cutting them down. Yes, it might help you lose weight in the short term but you ll not be able to sustain it indefinitely.

Going on ‘A Diet’ is a short-term strategy and usually leads to short term success only

Changing your eating habits to healthy ones is the only way to gain long term satisfaction with your weight.

Eat well and keep healthy at Christmas – put Good Nutrition First (but in a party friendly way!)

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

The Festive season is upon us again, and its all too easy to succumb to the temptations of the mince pies, slices of Christmas cake and the glasses of mulled wine. We all know that the parties play havoc with our weight, skin and sleep, yet nobody wants to be the party pooper holding a glass of water while staring wistfully at all our friends carousing around us.

What can we do to keep healthy and still have fun? Here are some tips:-

  1. Keep eating our vegetables. Piling up our plates with a rainbow of vegetables is a great antidote to the sausages and stuffing! Each different coloured vegetable is full of healthy fibre and contains antioxidant vitamins A and C as well as a multitude of different phytonutrients which nourish our body in so many different ways. If you can manage to eat 5 or 6 portions of vegetables each day (sorry, fries don’t count- not even sweet potato ones) then you know you are providing your body with good nutrition. Your liver relies on these vitamins to help your body detoxify. Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.) improve levels of potassium and contain indole compounds, a by-product that’s known to eliminate carcinogens from the body, while leafy greens, a great source of folate may also help you lose weight . Greens are low in calories while still being packed with nutrients and other active compounds. Their effect on weight loss goes beyond just calories. Greens contain nitrites, which are linked with converting fat-storing white cells into fat-burning brown cells. This creates extra fat burning and ultimately, weight loss.
  • Say yes to the turkey. Turkey is a protein filled, lean meat which contains the amino acid tryptophan. Your body changes L-tryptophan into a brain chemical called serotonin which helps control your mood and sleep. Some might use the turkey as an excuse for the post-Christmas lunch snooze (or could that be the sherry??) but eating it will provide you with satiating protein as well as helping you get to sleep. Tryptophan is present in most protein-based foods or dietary proteins. It is particularly plentiful in, oats, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, spirulina, and peanuts. Its also contained in chocolate – but more on that later!
  • Drink plenty of water. I know you’ll have heard this many times before, but we can get dehydrated even when the sun’s not shining. Drinking alcohol, and the dry air caused by central heating lead to dehydration. Also, in cold weather, the body’s thirst response is diminished  This happens because our blood vessels constrict when we’re cold to prevent blood from flowing freely to the extremities.  This enables the body to conserve heat by drawing more blood to its core. So, keep your fluids up and aim for 2 litres a day. It doesn’t have to be plain water, you can add citrus fruits to sparkling water and drink this instead of alcohol. If you choose to drink, then alternate with water or add some sparkling water to your wine. If a hot drink is needed then try a spicy ginger tea or a liquorice and peppermint one which will give you a little taste of sweetness.
  • Concentrate on the clementines – and all the other juicy citrus fruits around. Clementines are really good for the skin, owing to the presence of significant amount of vitamin C. Scientific studies have validated the role of Vitamin C in the synthesis of collagen, a structural component vital for the maintenance of healthy skin. Antioxidant properties of vitamin C present in clementines help in protecting the skin against the damage induced by UV radiations and helps in revitalizing the aging skin. Furthermore, it aids in reducing the formation of wrinkles, supports in repairing damaged skin, and assists in keeping the skin healthy and youthful. They also boost the immune system, strengthen bones and muscles due to their calcium content, and are good for your heart due to the potassium they contain. Clementines , tangerines and oranges are a part of the Christmas tradition and ones that we can enjoy to our heart’s content.
  • Go Nuts! We often avoid nuts because they tend to be high in fat and calories, but in actual fact they can help weight stabilisation. Recent studies have shown that nuts can prevent weight gain in adulthood. The researchers discovered that replacing foods that had less nutritional value with a 1-ounce serving of nuts and peanuts lowered the risk of weight gain and obesity over the 4-year follow-up intervals. Nuts have great nutritional value and are an important part of the so called Mediterranean diet known for its health giving benefits. Nuts are a source of anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids which are good for our brain, as well as being a fantastic source of insoluble fibre – which can feed our microbiome. Eat a variety:-Almonds are a great source of calcium, brazil nuts contain selenium while walnuts contain one of the best plant sources of Omega 3. And if you eat the ones that need to be shelled first, and risk of over eating them is reduced by the time it takes to shell them!
  • Ok have some chocolate – but make sure it’s dark – at least 70% cacao. Chocolate’s antioxidant potential may have a range of health benefits. The higher the cocoa content the more benefits there are – but check that it doesn’t contain lots of fat and sugar.

Chocolate is an abundant source of phytonutrients called flavanols which  may offer protection to the heart in various ways:- reducing Blood pressure, reducing clotting, and other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A number of studies have concluded that these flavanols might have a beneficial effect on heart and blood pressure. But don’t eat too much – a couple of squares of dark chocolate not a whole selection box.

A great way to have your chocolate fix is by making your own healthy snacks which contain cacao – unprocessed chocolate – as well as other nutritious ingredients like goji berries, dates, nuts and cinnamon.

See the recipe below for my Bounty Bites

So, enjoy your Christmas festivities – just remember that having fun and spending time with friends and family is a great stress reducer, and the benefits of that can outweigh the occasional bit of over indulgence.

Vitamin D – why we need it

VITAMIN D – the sunshine vitamin            

As winter draws in and summer sunshine is a distant dream, we should be thinking about how to maintain our body stores of Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is actually a pro hormone as it is synthesised by the body from sunlight.

There’s good reason why vitamin D is called “the sunshine vitamin.” When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur.

It is also found in food such as oily fish, eggs and butter. If you were to compare how much you get from 30 minutes midday summer sun -10,000 IU- with how much you get from food, e.g. a piece of farmed salmon -330IU; or an egg 128 IU, you can see that relying on food is a tough call. Public Health England’s latest advice is that people should take a supplement of 400IU -800IU per day – but this seems pretty low when you realise how much we get from the sun -when we get the sun that is!

But before we start thinking of dosage, maybe we should consider why we actually need Vitamin D. As well as strengthening our bones and muscle function and supporting our immune system, it’s also now being linked to our sleep, mood, memory and brain function. It also helps insulin regulation so helping diabetes management. And the more research that goes on establishes more and more links to other health issues like cancer, heart disease and auto immune disease. For example, a 2015 meta-analysis involving more than half a million people showed that people with higher vitamin D had lower mortality from all causes. The author concluded

‘The results of these studies are consistent with the recommendation to improve the general vitamin D status in children and adults by means of a healthy approach to sunlight exposure, consumption of foods containing vitamin D and supplementation with vitamin D preparations’

Some people are at higher risk of having lower Vitamin D than others. These would include:-

  • Older people – unfortunately, the ability to make Vitamin D declines as we age
  • Pregnant women, breastfed babies and children under the age of 5
  • Those who spend most of the time indoors
  • Those with obesity as the Vitamin D is stored in fat cells
  • Those with darker skin tone
  • Those living further north of the equator

What are the signs of a deficiency?

https://a99d9b858c7df59c454c-96c6baa7fa2a34c80f17051de799bc8e.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/images/vdd1.jpg

The illustration above gives a good picture of the symptoms. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to hair loss, gum disease and constipation.

So, what should we do to ensure that we are not deficient  in this essential hormone?

  1. Firstly, it’s important to get safe sunlight when you can, without burning. Between March and October in the UK you can ‘dose up’ by getting around 20 minutes of sunshine – without sunblock in the daytime. You would need to expose your arms or legs to get a sufficient amount.
  2. Eat a good diet and include Vitamin D rich foods like eggs, oily fish and butter. You will also find that some foods like milk and orange juice are fortified with it.
  3. Supplement between October and March when the sun is too low to generate enough rays

The Vitamins A,D,E, and K are all fat soluble and bound through shared receptors. Therefore, high supplementation in one can affect others. E.g. High Vit A supplementation can lead to brittle bones as it stops Vit D getting to receptors. In the same way excess Vit D could cause a Vit K deficiency. So, we need to be careful not to over supplement Vitamin D, as any Vitamin, without medical advice. There are some occasions when very high doses are appropriate – when levels are very low and a high ‘loading dose’ is needed. Not be done without medical supervision.

As always its s best to get as much as you can from a good diet.

Vitamin D – from sunlight, some in butter and egg yolks, oily fish and some of the less effective D2 in mushrooms

Vitamin K2 – fermented soy – natto, Gouda, Brie, Edam

Vitamin A – eggs, liver, converted from carotenes in carrots, sweet potato, kale, spinach

Vitamin E – nuts- almonds, seeds, avocado, wheat germ.

However, as we know that it is almost impossible to get enough Vitamin D from food, and as we won’t get any from the sun in the winter, Vitamin D is definitely one to supplement. It’s always best to test to see what your levels are first. Sometimes your GP will do it for you, but if not there are private companies that will d a blood spot test for you. L know that  BetterYou (find them online)  will do a test for £32.95, and  will give you a personalised supplementation plan based on your results, as well as a coupon code to redeem a free DLux Vitamin D spray

What should your levels be?

The NHS states that a level of over 50 nmol/L is sufficient, and 25-50 nmol/L is too low. However, a safer level is probably in the 75 nmol/L and above region.

How much should you supplement?

Although the NHS recommends that people supplement 400-800IU, other experts recommend much higher levels of up to 4000IU per day, especially if there is an insufficiency to start with.

I use BetterYou sprays, as I find them easier to take than a capsule or tablet – I just leave it by my toothbrush so I don t forget it! I use @2000IU of the Vitamin D and K2 version as the K2 helps the calcium that Vitamin D helps to mobilise, into the bones where it is needed. However, this is not recommended for people taking blood thinners as K2 also has this thinning effect.

So, do consider your Vitamin D status this winter. Check out your levels and if needed take a supplement.

Pumpkins

Autumn pumpkins in all their glory

There are so many pumpkins in the shops at the moment. They look beautiful in their Autumnal glow – but do we realise their wonderful nutritional benefits – they are definitely more than just a Halloween lantern

They are a great source of soluble fibre, and as they have high water content they are also low in calories. As they are low on the glycemic index they are a great vegetable for keeping balanced blood sugars and helping insulin regulation. I m going to post a delicious and easy recipe for pumpkin soup with walnuts and the end, but before I do I want to just give you an idea of its impressive nutritional value

Firstly, its a great source of the phyto nutrient beta – carotene which our body converts to Vitamin A. Just like carrots, the Vitamin A in pumpkins is good for our eyes, skin and also supports our immune system. This is just what we need as coughs, colds and flu are all around us!

It also contains a lot of vitamin C, which is also supportive of our Immune system, along with zinc, folate and vitamin K. It also has a huge amount of two phytonutrients , lutein and zeaxanthin which are supportive of eye health and are linked with reducing risks of cataracts and macular degeneration.

This combination of nutrients give it its’ anti inflammatory and antioxidant qualities making it a great choice for a winter vegetable. You can dice and roast it with a little olive oil seasoned with salt, pepper and some spicy chilli or paprika. Its also a great base for a soup. Remember that you can also roast and eat the seeds which also contain zinc and fibre, and are very tasty!

So if you ve carved your pumpkin, and are looking for a way to use up the flesh – why not give this a try

PUMPKIN SOUP WITH TOASTED SEEDS

Ingredients

  • 2 kg unpeeled weight pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 3 red onions cut into chunks
  • 4 large tomatoes quartered – you could use a can of tomatoes instead, but if you do, just add them after the pumpkin has roasted.
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • sea salt
  • 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
  • natural yogurt, to serve
  • For the Toasted Seeds
  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp sea salt
  • ½ tbsp soft brown sugar [see below for alternative]
  • 1 large sprig rosemary finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Method

  • Peel and cut the pumpkin into chunks. Heat the oven to 200C. Divide the pumpkin, onions and tomatoes between 2 large roasting tins. Toss in the oil, maple syrup and a good sprinkling of sea salt. Roast for 45 mins or until the squash is slightly charred at the edges.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the seeds. This will make more than you need but they make a delicious snack and will keep in a sealed container for up to 1 week. Just mix all the ingredients together then spread out on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 20 mins then leave to cool.
  • Transfer the vegetables to a large saucepan. Add the stock, bring to the boil and stir well. When it has cooled a little, blend to a purée. This makes a thick and hearty soup but just add more stock if you prefer a thinner version. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into bowls then top with a spoonful of yogurt, and some toasted seeds.

If you prefer to avoid the sugar you can sprinkle some Cajun spice or tamari sauce on the seeds before roasting.  This will give you a spicy or savoury version

How to support restful sleep

 

woman sleeping

The perfect day to help your night


Getting a good night s sleep for some people takes a bit more effort than just drawing the curtains and snuggling under the duvet….

However, I find that for many of us, a few changes in our daily routine can make all the difference. Here are my suggestions:-

  • Morning light and exercise/movement – Do this when you get up  Get some daylight for 20 minutes so that the morning light touches your retina to stimulate cortisol – your ‘get up and go’ hormone!. If possible get it by going outdoors rather than through a window
  • Flush your toxins – have a mug of warm water, with a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar.
  • Protein at breakfast – the important thing to remember is that you should eat some protein with every meal. Start with your breakfast. See my recipe for Overnight oats below which is a great balance of complex carbohydrates and protein.
  • If you enjoy a coffee, now is the time to have it
  • If you feel your energy is flagging mid-morning, just have a few nuts and piece of fruit, and try a herbal tea instead of more coffee and a sugary snack
  • Get up from your desk and walk for 10 minutes a few times during the day
  • Healthy lunch –) Again think about protein, vegetables and complex carbs -Try some rainbow salad, a tub of hummus and a piece of rye sourdough bread
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch
  • 4pm snack – maybe some nuts and a piece of fruit
  • 7pm . Eat dinner now if you can. Maybe some Omega 3 rich baked salmon and some sweet potato wedges with a spinach salad and a green vegetable with raita. (Recipe below ) Some carbohydrate at night is good as it supports the production of serotonin which then converts to sleep inducing melatonin
  • No blue light after 8pm. So, try to avoid using your phone or tablet – or at least dip down the light. Try the yellow tinted glasses you can buy which block out the blue light ( Try Cyxus). Remember, blue light makes your brain think it is morning, thereby preventing the production of the hormone melatonin which helps you sleep.
  • Epsom salts bath. This really relaxes your muscles and it makes your body heat move to your extremities thus cooling down your core temperature, aiding sleep
  • Magnesium support – Magnesium is a mineral known as nature’s tranquilliser. Although it is found in foods like leafy greens, nuts and seeds, it is thought that many of us have low levels, which can be a factor in insomnia. Try talking @100- 300 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate about thirty minutes before bed.  Many supplement companies produce magnesium supplements. I’ve recently been using one from a company called MAG 365, which you add to hot water to increase bio availability. The passion fruit flavour is delicious!
  • 10-10.30 Go to bed. Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark. I always use an eye mask to make sure that all light is kept out. Write 3 good things that have happened in the day in your gratitude journal
  • If sleep still evades you then have a tryptophan rich snack e.g. oatcake with banana or some warm oat milk
  • Remember that routine is the most important factor in all of this – our bodies like routine – so trying to establish a good pattern of bedtime can be vital in establishing better sleep
  • Sweet Dreams
Tricia s overnight oats with pic

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Tandoori Salmon with Spinach Raita

Winter warmers

Mediterranean Beef Stew

Recipe: Mediterranean beef stew

Now that we re firmly in Autumn, the thought of salads might be less appealing. I’ve pulled my slow cooker out of the cupboard and started using it again.

The recipe for Mediterranean beef stew is a good way of getting the nutritional goodness of good organic grass fed beef, without eating too much meat. I would suggest adding not one but two cans of butter beans – the flavours of the stew are so good that it will take the extra pulses. Add more herbs if you like. I added a teaspoon of paprika as I like the gentle heat it brings to the dish.  Slow cooking really is the healthiest way to cook – it allows the nutrients of the beef, peppers, onions, and herbs into the sauce so nothing is lost.

Grass fed beef is essential as it is a good source of anti inflammatory Omega 3 – whereas a lot of factory farmed beef is fed on Omega 6 rich feed which can be more inflammatory. If you can get organic, then even better. It is more expensive – but just use less and have it as a treat rather than on a daily basis. I suggest making this in bulk so that you can freeze a few portions.

I’m also adding a tasty Chicken and Sweet Potato tagine and a vegetarian Squash Chickpea and Apricot tagine recipe.

Apricot, squash and chickpea tagine

Chicken and sweet potato tagine

Hope you enjoy them

Mental Health Awareness Week

photo of a woman thinking

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and  I was pleased to be involved in speaking at the Cardiff Junior Lawyers Health and Wellbeing breakfast seminar to share how Good Nutrition can support Resilience to Stress

Everyone in the legal profession will be aware of the stress placed upon all levels of the profession in the current workplace environment. As a former solicitor, married to a senior lawyer, I am acutely aware of how the pace of business has increased to frantic levels, adding to the stress of living in our constantly connected 21st century. There are no surprises then that mental health issues are increasing in the profession. In 2018 LawCare received its highest ever level of helpline calls.

And of course, this issue is not limited to the legal profession – it exists in all areas of work, from accountancy, advertising and marketing, insurance, call centres, to  teachers, NHS workers and more….

As a Nutritional Therapist I see many clients suffering from conditions such as chronic headaches and migraines, IBS, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and low mood. Most if not all of these conditions are driven by stress.

There are a number of ways that food – both what you eat and how and when you eat it, can help reduce the effects of stress in the body. Sadly, the Standard Western Diet that many of us eat today is devoid of fibre and nutrients and fails to give our body what it needs to work well.

What can we all do to mitigate against this? The main strategies that I suggest are:-

  • Balancing blood sugar – eating natural unprocessed wholegrains – eat brown and seeded not white and refined, complex carbohydrates – including the carbs in vegetables; and protein with every meal. This strategy ensures that glucose enters the bloodstream in a gradual way, avoiding energy highs and lows which have a massively detrimental effect on energy and mood
  • Replacing depleted nutrients like Vitamins B and C, magnesium, zinc and iron. Easily obtained from vegetables, fruit and other plants – so eat a rainbow of these, aiming for 10 portions a day. It’s a lot, so work up to this gradually! Without these nutrients our body just cannot perform its metabolic functions -its not surprising that we can feel unable to cope with the stresses of daily life
  • Eating good fats to support a favourable Omega 3/6 ratio:- olive oil, oily fish, nuts, avocados. These all support the manufacture of hormones, cell walls, absorption of certain Vitamins and help our nervous system work well
  • Eating good proteins to provide the building blocks of neurotransmitters – especially plant proteins like beans, pulses, nuts and seeds
  • Supporting your gut microbiome by eating the 3 Ps:- Prebiotics –soluble fibre found in plants like leeks, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, lentils and oats; Probiotics – the live bacteria in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso. Finally, Phytonutrients – the plant chemicals found in, yes, plants. Research is showing that plants contain thousands of different nutrients that have a positive function on the gut and therefore on the rest of the body. I’m talking about things like the polyphenols in coffee, chocolate and red berries; the lycopene in tomatoes and quercetin in apples and onions. There is a massive amount of research into the Gut – Brain link at the moment. It’s showing that a healthy microbiome supports not only our digestion and nutrient absorption, but also our brain health. The key is Diversity – eat as many different natural foods as you can each day. Research shows that a diverse diet leads to a diverse microbiome which correlates with good health

assorted vegetable lot

Contact tricia@goodnutritionfirst.co.uk for more information on my Talks and Workshops