As the late, long summer days drift languidly into autumn, my thoughts turn towards preparing both myself and my larder for the colder months. This transition has never been something I dread – I adore the new flavours of the bountiful harvest season and the riotous display of turning leaves far too much for that. There is something so magical about those crisp, clear autumnal mornings as the mist lazily clings onto the hills and the ripe apples and blackberries provide a viable walk-thru breakfast option whilst I take the dogs out. No, autumn is a season I look forwards to with open arms, but that ‘back to school’ feeling (why is it that this doesn’t seem to leave us, even as adults?) can be put to great advantage by motivating me to do a little thinking ahead. New stationary optional!
So here is the little autumnal health checklist I have been using to help consider how I can best support my body and mind to stay in optimal health throughout this season and right into the cosy days of winter ahead. I hope that by sharing my thoughts some of you may find it helpful, too.
Those dreaded days when you are knocked down by savage colds, or even ‘flu are always something I want to avoid, so I like to lay down some preventative foundations at the beginning of Autumn. These actions should help support my immune system to fight off any invaders before they have a chance to take hold, or at least reduce the severity and length of any infection. How do I do this?
- I try to minimise my risk of infection by regular hand washing (especially after coming into contact with people who already have a cold) and trying to avoid touching my eyes, nose or mouth too often. Staying hydrated helps to maintain the important barrier functions of mucosa (places like the mouth and lining of the nose) – so have plenty of filtered water to hand, or a regular mugs of steaming herbal tea if you prefer.
- I support my beneficial gut bacteria (which we now know plays a key role in helping our immune systems to function) by eating a widely varied diet packed full of fibre. That means lots of different whole fruits, veggies, legumes (things like beans, peas and lentils) and whole, minimally processed grains. Take a look at my warming chickpea & pumpkin curry recipe for a fibre-packed and filling meal, or my autumn survival carrot & turmeric soup for an extra anti-inflammatory boost.
- Get enough zinc. Zinc is essential for normal immune function, yet many of us don’t get quite enough zinc in our diets. Seafood, shellfish and nuts / seeds are all great natural sources. One of my favourite ways to get a tasty zinc boost is to bake up a few batches of my crunchy nut & seed granola to enjoy with all the delicious stewed fruit of the season (great for breakfast and puddings).
- Take time out to relax. Stress is one of the worst culprits for knocking your immune system back, meaning it is less able to fight infections. Aiming for a realistic balance in all areas of your life – family, life, work, other commitments – is often a challenge in itself, but is probably the most important step to help manage your stress. What could you try this Autumn to help reduce your own stress levels?
It can be really tough some days, when the weather is foul and the days are drawing in, to resist the urge to just curl back under your duvet and enter full hibernation mode. But I have found that there are a few great ways to help boost my own energy enough to fight of those urges and seize the day instead. For those of you severely affected, do take a read of my new article on Seasonal Affective Disorder too.
- Get enough sleep! This is so often the cause of low energy and morning fatigue, and although it is obvious (and easier said than done for some), it is a really important point. If you need to wake up at 7am, and you know that you need 7-8 hours sleep for optimal energy, then that means you need to be in bed, ready to sleep by 11pm most nights. Most people take 30mins to 1 hour to wind down after a long day, perhaps with a bath or shower, a warm drink and some time reading, so factor this in too. There is no shame in seeking out an early night!
- Get outside. We can still make vitamin D in our skin until the end of October / beginning of November in the UK, so get outside as often as you can to top-up your levels. 20-30 minutes of exposure to your hands and forearms is enough for most people. Plus, being outside in nature is a great way to see the beautiful colour displays of the changing leaves (and an ideal opportunity to go foraging – see eatweeds.co.uk for more information). I love the Swedish phrase that there ‘is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ because it reminds me that a spot of rain is not the end of the world, so I grab my waterproofs and get outside anyway – and always feel better for doing so.
- Exercise! I know that it can feel harder to motivate yourself to keep moving over the colder months than it is over the summer, but getting regular exercise actually boosts energy rather than sapping it. Any movement counts – so choose what you enjoy most. If you don’t really enjoy exercise much at all, then grab a pedometer and try to get those 10,000 steps a day just going about your daily life. Maybe this autumn is your chance to try something new too. Here is a light-hearted quiz bbc.co.uk/news/uk, courtesy of the BBC, which may spark a new interest for you!
- Watch those sneaky sugars. Swinging high and low blood sugars make us feel tired, and the commonest cause of this is a high-sugar diet or reliance on sugar snacks. When we are feeling lethargic it may seem like we need a sugary pick-me-up as a ‘boost’, but this will actually only make matters worse in the long run. Getting enough protein with your meals helps to tackle any hunger than can lead to a sugary binge – and breakfast is often the most important point to boost protein intake. How about making a batch of my egg muffins or kale mushroom muffins this week?
Although summer may nearly be over, the sudden abundance of delicious autumnal food is more than enough compensation. There is something deeply satisfying about filling up my freezer or food cupboards with lots of fresh and vibrant produce to see me through the winter months. Plus, it means that I can keep enjoying a wide variety of nutrients whilst fresh British produce is a little harder to come by, and the long air-freighted journeys of other fruit and veg on our supermarket shelves means that the nutrient content has started to degrade a little. For many foods, the longer the distance from field to fork, the lower the nutritional value, not to mention the higher prices.
Therefore, I like to truly embrace eating seasonally at this time of year – and any leftovers or gluts go straight into the freezer or larder for a rainy day.
Here is a list of some of my favourite British foods in season over autumn, plus a few recipe ideas to make the most of them.
- Globe artichoke – although there is an early peak in the season, there is a second, autumnal peak too. Enjoy as a starter with a delicious vinaigrette.
- Beetroot – see my #Eat in Season beetroot recipes here.
- Squashes and pumpkins – try my Warming Pumpkin Soup, Turkey & Pumpkin Chilli, Warming Chickpea & Pumpkin Curry
- Carrots – perfect for this time of year, try my Autumn Survival Carrot & Turmeric Soup
- Courgettes – one of my favourite dishes is Creamy Crab Linguine
- Celeriac – perfect for rosti
- Kale – Kale & Almond Pesto, plus 3 recipes here from my #Eat in Season series
- Runner beans
- Sweetcorn (corn-on-the-cob)
- Apples – see #Eat in Season apples
- Pears – see Pear & Almond Smoothy
- Plums & greengages
- Figs (always buy them perfectly ripe – figs don’t ripen any more once they are picked)