Sunday, 25 March 2018

Healthy eating away from home: tips on where to eat and how to shop - by Maxine Sheils

It can be real nightmare eating away from home for someone with a chronic illness like cancer. Today's blog is written by Maxine from Igennus, who kindly shares her top tips to help you maintain a healthy diet when it comes to convenience food.

Eating out has never been more convenient. You’re either dashing to the local patisserie on your lunch break, popping out for a meal with friends at the weekend, or ordering a take-away on a Friday night or even in the middle of the week. Unfortunately for some, this means that you’re more tempted than ever to eat the foods you know aren’t necessarily good for you. Not only that, but as you’re not cooking the foods yourself, you have less idea of what you’re actually eating. Not only are the Igennus HQ staff health orientated, when we have a get together, we regularly have diets such as paleo or low FODMAPs being followed, as well as any intolerances to gluten, wheat and/or dairy which have to be accounted for, and the occasional preference for a vegan meal. Oh the joys for the waiter/waitress who pulled the short straw with our table! However, we’ve had tons of experience at dealing with these situations, leaving us very well equipped, so we thought it would be useful to impart some of this wisdom, with the hope that it will also help you.

Preparation is key

This age old saying is definitely your key to success because like anything, if you’re not prepared, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to succeed. This applies to all situations. If you buy your lunch from the local supermarket, write a list of what you need before you go, to avoid being tempted by the generously sized aisles selling crisps, sweets and chocolate.
If your weakness is mid-afternoon when you’re having an energy lull, firstly, ensure you’re eating an adequate amount of protein as this will help balance blood sugar levels to avoid the blood sugar dips that leave you reaching for the biscuit tin (you can read more about protein and work out your requirements here). Secondly, having healthy snacks available will reduce the temptation to reach for the sweet jar. If you can, prepare some healthy foods, or buy them from the local supermarket to prepare you for the week ahead. Healthy snacks include a boiled egg (which can be boiled in bulk and stored in the fridge – mark them to avoid messy accidents); carrots and hummus; your favourite nut butter with celery sticks; fruit such as a banana or a handful of berries; a couple of oat biscuits with some cottage cheese; or prepare a trail mix with a mixture of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, brazil nuts, dried coconut chips, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, with a handful providing one serving.
Healthy lunches that can be purchased from local supermarkets include a prepared salad with some cooked chicken and/or mixed beans with added hummus; a tin of Amy’s Kitchen vegan and gluten free chili served over cauliflower rice; a prepared meatballs dish (usually available with the tapas selections) served over courgetti; or some pulled pork served with a portion of prepared wholegrain rice and salad, creating your very own burrito bowl. Some branded ready meals are also great for something quick and warming; Pure offer wonderful gluten and dairy free meals; Kirsty’s, delicious meals which were originally prepared for Kirsty’s son as a way to cater for his gluten and dairy intolerance whilst still providing a nutritious meal, most of which contain a decent amount of protein with low levels of sugar and salt; Amy’s Kitchen provides a variety of organic soups; City Kitchen have some wonderful options including the Malaysian Coconut Beef Curry, Skinny Thai Coconut Chicken and the Skinny Teriyaki Chicken Noodles; Bol also have some delicious, vegan “Super soups” – packed full of vegetables, they contain 3 of your 5-a-day, and for those who prefer meat with their meals, you can simply add some prawns or chicken to these to top up the protein content.
Tips: When buying ready meals, always check the labels; if you haven’t heard of at least three ingredients, put it down (unless one of those is quinoa). If the sugar content is more than 5% of 100grams, put it down. If the salt content is more than 1.5grams per serving, put it down. Try and aim for a protein intake of around a quarter of your daily recommended intake.

Canteen dinners

Office canteens are not always the healthiest place to eat, but a few food swaps can make a world of difference. For breakfast, rather than a bacon or sausage sandwich, consider porridge (where possible) with a banana, as this will provide a good source of fibre to provide that full feeling for longer, whilst also slowly releasing energy. For lunch, instead of a side of chips, aim for a couple of servings of vegetables or a side salad to further increase your intake of fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals essential for health. Opt for a cooked meal rather than a sandwich, which usually lacks healthy filling and therefore doesn’t provide much satisfaction or nutrition. If the cooked meals in your canteen aren’t that appealing, consider a jacket potato with chili served with a side salad, and instead of reaching for the sausage rolls to snack on, opt for the soup of the day, which should provide you with a steady release of energy from vegetables rather than the refined flour found in pastries. Finally, instead of indulging in several coffees each day, consider making every other drink a herbal tea. Not only will this save you money (especially if you have your own teabags), but it may also reduce your intake of more refined sugars, especially if you sweeten your coffee or opt for a coffee with added syrup flavouring or cream.

Out & about

If you usually purchase your lunch on the go, our favourite convenient eating places include Pret a Manger, Leon (although this is restricted to London and bigger English cities), Itsu (or any Japanese sushi restaurant), Starbucks, any type of “meal-prep” and “high protein” restaurants, Las Iguanas and Nando’s. All of these offer full nutritional information on their website and make it clear whether a dish is free from some of the main allergens, and whether they are suitable for vegans/vegetarians. Whilst there are many other options, these are the ones we know you are more likely to find in your local town.
Pret is at the top of our list with their beautiful array of natural food and organic coffee. They offer multiple gluten and dairy free options as well as lots of vegan-friendly foods. We love all of their salad options, especially the tuna ni├žoise, crayfish and avocado salad, and the chef’s Italian chicken salad. Our pick of soups include the butternut squash dhansak, the chicken, broccoli and brown rice soup, and pork and lentil ragu. Some of the soups are a little low on the protein count, however, making the egg and avocado/spinach pot the perfect accompaniment. For a quick snack, consider their fruit pots as well as their delicious crisped kale or tamari pumpkin seeds. We also recommend their cold-pressed juices and shots to top up your nutrient intake.
Leon’s naturally fast food provides all the information you need regarding their ingredients, allergens and even the glycaemic load and index of dishes. Our picks include the naked Korean chicken burger, or the original superfood salad with an added chargrilled chicken pot, both of which are high in protein and greens to provide lots of energy whilst you’re on the go. Wash them down with a kombucha brew, or a kefir smoothie, both of which will feed the good bacteria in your gut, supporting digestion and the immune system.
Itsu, and many other sushi chains, offer great options for lunches on the go, containing foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and seeds; good quality vegan protein from tofu and edamame beans; miso, another fermented food that will look after the health of the bacteria in your gut. Our Itsu picks include the vegan dish ‘humble warrior’, containing avocado, broccoli, falafel and seeds; and the poached salmon and egg. We also love their raw chocolate pie, and their small packet of crispy seaweed thins. Itsu even offer wonderful panda boxes for the children.
Tip: be aware of the salt content of some dishes on offer in sushi restaurants as many of the dishes will contain your entire recommended daily intake of sodium.
With food intolerances and dietary requirements, one of the biggest difficulties of eating away from the home is when you’re asked to eat at a restaurant you’re unfamiliar with. Independent restaurants are great as the food is often homemade, fresh and often consists of local produce; however, whilst some independent restaurants offer full nutritional information, many do not. Again, the advice here is to prepare. Call or email the restaurant ahead of time. If you tell them your dietary requirements and ask if they can cater for you, you will know ahead of time and can be prepared when the waiter/waitress takes your order rather than panic, ordering and eating a meal that may not be suitable.
Also, if you’re unfamiliar with an area, a quick google search of ‘healthy eating’ plus the name of the area you are in should bring up some options, as should tripadvisor. Alternatively, is a useful resource for finding restaurants offering vegan and vegetarian options for your area or postcode. This is also useful for non-vegetarians as many of the options will be for relatively health-conscious restaurants who also offer non-vegetarian foods. There are also appss available such as ‘find me gluten free’ which can be a great resource when trying to find gluten free. It’s great to use on holiday.
Whilst we could write a small book on our most loved foods in each restaurant (between us, we’ve been to lots), our main recommendation is to check out your eating options ahead of time, have a look at the menu and nutritional information, and apply the same tips offered above for purchasing ready meals; i.e. check the protein, salt and sugar content, as well as the ingredient list to ensure there’s a minimum at most of chemicals and additives included. Fortunately, people are more aware than ever of dietary requirements, making it a lot easier for the rest of us to choose a delicious and suitable meal to enjoy with our friends. Enjoy!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Cancer Journey and Career Aspirations - by Anjana Nathwani

This week's blog is written by Anjana Nathwani, a two time cancer survivor and Business Psychologist. She discusses how the experience of having cancer can enable you to develop some key skills in your life and career. 

According to MacMillan Cancer support “by 2020 almost half of Britons will get cancer in their lifetime – but 38% will not die from the disease.”

Treatment options and lifestyle choices mean that survival rates are greater and many continue to live and thrive. As a two time cancer survivor, I have experienced my career being disrupted! As I continue my life's journey, the unpleasantness of the cancer experience has helped me to be on a quest to be more determined and make choices that support my well-being in all aspects of my life.

As I enter the third phase of my career, I am convinced that the disruption has given me greater self-belief and confidence to turn my passion into action and challenge the bias that exists regarding the cancer journey.

The stereotypical perceptions of an employee that has the disease can be summed up as someone who will require time off, their performance may be affected, there will be disruption in the team and arrangements will have to be made to cover the workload.

Though the reality is different. Many patients now manage their treatment, career and life in tandem. “Returning to work during or after a breast cancer diagnosis can be a very positive step and may help some people move forward by maintaining or regaining some normality.”

Many cancer thrivers develop attributes that are of significant value to the changing context in which organisations function these. These attributes include:

1.   Zest for Life: employees returning to work post treatment tend to have renewed zest for life and a greater enthusiasm to achieve goals. (from research conducted by Athena Business Psychologists 2016). There is a willingness to maintain a perspective on work-life balance. 

2.   Resilience: is the much sought after leadership trait during disruptive times. The pain of the illness helps to develop resilience. Many studies on mind over matter indicate that patients with a strong will tend to recover and develop the ability to regulate emotions. ( Resilient people are able to change course and soldier on.

3.   Optimism to Thrive: illnesses present an opportunity to evaluate life in its entirety - what is working, what needs to stay and what needs to change? People make wise career choices and are committed to achieving goals, as life is not taken for granted.

Cancer impacts all age groups and therefore can disrupt careers at any point. The disruption is also to organisational cultures that are stubborn and are challenged to become more agile. Of course there is the light touch approach to well being that includes; mindfulness sessions, or offering gym memberships or private healthcare or nutrition seminars - these are all valuable and improve awareness, though does this go far enough for cancer patients?

Employees going through the cancer journey or who have been through the journey require a more customised all inclusive approach that is empowering. Empowerment is essential given the context of choices in relation to lifestyle changes and also treatment and follow up. Employers have a duty to care and there is also a business prerogative.

Increasingly Inclusion and Diversity strategies are encompassing well being approaches. There is a wider talent recruitment and retention dilemma that needs to be addressed as well. For instance, when someone declares the illness on an application form or mentions the illness during an interview what is the impact of this declaration? 

One in two by 2020 is a statistic that cannot be ignored!

Anjana Nathwani is a two time cancer survivor! She believes that cancer is a pause that can be nurtured to find purpose in life. She is a Business Psychologist who mentors cancer patients and thrivers on careers and lifestyle and well being. She also specialises in employee engagement in relation to well being and inclusive cultures.,

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Top tips for optimal energy levels - by Maxine Sheils BSc DipCNM

This Sunday's blog post has been written by Maxine from Igennus. This week she shares a few suggested tweaks to help you boost your energy through this chilly period...

Maintaining energy and motivation in the colder months can be tough at the best of times but when you are also actively fighting cancer, going through treatment or in recovery, the extra strain you are under can make this time of year seem exhausting. Whilst it’s important to give your body the rest it needs when you’re unwell, there are other ways of helping combat low energy. Many people may be tempted to turn to quick ‘pick me ups’ such as caffeine, cakes or a nap to help get them through the day but when used in excess they could exacerbate the problem. It can be hard to tell the difference between wanting and needing to rest so by looking at other areas of your diet and lifestyle that may be adding to feelings tiredness, you may be able to identify a few simple tweaks to help boost your energy, and support your health, this winter.

Diet: balancing your macronutrients to support energy stabilisation

The diet is paramount to energy levels as we eat to fuel the body in order to function optimally, therefore you need to ensure your diet is supporting your body as much as possible. A simple way of increasing your energy is to eat regularly, i.e. every 3-4 hours; ensure you are eating 3 meals per day and add 1-2 snacks in between, especially for any prolonged periods between meals, or if you are unable to eat much in one go due to nausea or low appetite.

Look at your body as a fire, requiring fuel (from food) to keep the energy of the fire going. Carbohydrates work as the paper to your fire, they’re great for a quick boost but they’re  quickly burnt up; protein is the wood to the fire, providing more longevity; fat is the coal to your fire and will keep you going for much longer. When it comes to carbohydrates, it is important to distinguish between simple carbohydrates, consisting of one or two sugar molecules (found in cakes, biscuits, sweets, white bread and pasta, fruit juices and fizzy drinks) and complex carbohydrates, consisting of many sugar molecules joined together, found in starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, legumes and whole grains. Simple carbohydrates are burnt quickly by the body providing instant energy but leave you craving more to boost your energy again. This is what we call ‘the blood-sugar rollercoaster’ and when you’re on it, it’s extremely difficult to get off. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are burnt up slower than simple carbohydrates, providing a steady release of energy, and with a few food swaps, you should be able to even out the highs and lows to eventually maintain a healthy supply of energy to the body.

Starting the day with wholegrain toast (complex carbohydrates) topped with a poached egg for protein, and some avocado for fat; white pasta for lentil pasta or courgetti (spiralised courgette); white rice for brown rice, quinoa or cauliflower rice; biscuits for a protein smoothie, and cakes for homemade granola bars is a great way to optimise the nutrition in your foods without the need to eat huge amounts more.

Try to ensure you consume a source of protein with each meal/snack, as well as include healthy fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil, olives and avocados in your diet, to help to maintain a steady flow of energy throughout the day.

Looking at your caffeine intake is another important factor, as many rely on this to provide them with an energy shot. Whilst one or two cups of coffee can carry many health benefits, some people are slow metabolisers of caffeine (thanks to inherited genes), meaning it takes much longer for the liver to detoxify caffeine from the body. If you drink caffeinated drinks and struggle to fall asleep, you could well be a slow metaboliser, with a lack of good quality, restorative, sleep driving low energy levels. Try minimising your intake to just one caffeinated drink before midday to see if this has a positive effect on your energy. Make sure to drink adequate water, ideally purified or mineral water, as dehydration can also be a factor in low energy. For those who don’t enjoy drinking water, try infusing it with lemons which will further increase hydration levels and help support the immune system.

Using simple lifestyle techniques to increase energy levels

Exercise is a great way to boost energy levels as it gets the blood pumping around the body, carrying nutrients to cells to produce more energy, and increases levels of feel-good and energy-promoting neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. Whilst the thought of exercise might seem off-putting or impossible, it does not need to be a chore. Just start with what you can, be it a short walk to the local shops, five minutes around the block on your lunch break, or a weekend walk in the park is all you need to start with. Use this time to listen to your favourite artist, an audio book, or take part in a guided meditation and you’ll soon increase the length of time you spend walking. Over time, as as energy and other symptoms permit, you may want to try increasing your pace, some gentle stretch or signing up to a local gym to try out a fun exercise class, but the important thing is to take it in your own stride and enjoy being active.

With everything, life is about balance so it’s also important to notice when you need some down time and to ensure it’s productive. It is all too common today to be stressed, with stimulation from mobiles, laptops, televisions, the radio, from the moment we wake up to the moment the lights are turned off. Listen to your body and notice when you are in need of ‘switching off’. When we are stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, putting us in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Taking a moment to have a few deep breaths, or a short mindfulness exercise can relax the body and switch the nervous system from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’ mode, vital for restorative rest and recovery. 

Nutrients that will provide additional support for energy production

Omega-3: EPA & DHA

Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are required to aid the function and structure of every cell in the body, allowing nutrients to flow into the cells and toxins to flow out. If cells are lacking such vital nutrients, it is easy to see why a general feeling of fatigue and low energy may follow; your cells simply aren’t able to function optimally. Consuming two portions of oily fish such as mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring will aid with increasing EPA and DHA levels, however a typical western diet consists of high levels of omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) from foods such as grains, and animal produce fed a diet rich in grains. An imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 within the body, in favour of omega-6, can lead to silent inflammation, which can in turn affect energy balance, as well as affect immune function and cellular health. Supplementing with high dose omega-3 fish oil will help to restore the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 to a healthy ratio, and maintain optimal levels to keep inflammation in check.

Our recommendations: Pharmepa Restore & Pharmepa Maintain and Opti-O-3 blood spot test.


The body naturally produces an enzyme called Coenzyme-Q10 (CoQ10) which aids in the production of energy in the body. As we age, the body’s ability to produce CoQ10 decreases, peaking in our 20s and declining after this point. Low levels of CoQ10 are also associated with many health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, muscular dystrophies, CFS and ME; so it may be worth considering supplementation with CoQ10 to support the body with energy production.

Our recommendation: VESIsorb Ubiquinol-QH

B vitamins

B vitamins are important for energy production: vitamin B1 is required to turn carbohydrates from your diet into energy; vitamins B2, B3 and B5 aid with energy production from carbohydrates, protein and fats consumed; B6 helps break down stored energy from muscles and the liver; B12 is critical for producing cellular energy in the body. A complex containing the full spectrum of B vitamins will ensure optimal wellbeing and assist in energy production.

Our recommendation: Super B-Complex

Personalising your nutritional requirements

We hope that the above arms you with lots of information to start tackling your energy levels. We hope you start to see the benefits over the coming months by putting some simple practices into place. Igennus have witnessed confirmation over the years that the path to individual health is unique and you cannot generalise a plan as a ‘one size fits all’. We are aware that many factors could be at play and effectively preventing you from progressing with certain areas of your health. MyOnlineCLINIC has been developed from years of experience of working with customers, and provides a platform for everyone to gain access online to an experienced clinical nutritionist who can look at your personal circumstances, health and needs, and guide you towards feeling revitalised, refreshed and ready to take control of your health.

Use the code YESTOLIFE for 15% off all Igennus products bought at their online shop:

Maxine is a Nutritional Therapy graduate of the College of Naturopathic Medicine in Manchester who has recently joined Igennus as a Customer Support Nutritionist and is based here in Cambridge. Her interest in nutrition was sparked after working as an Au Pair in Australia to a family who were living on a raw food diet where coincidentally, she started to endure severe digestive problems. She joined CNM as a student to further her new found passion and was able to support her own body in regaining health. Maxine is passionate about nutrition and her ability to help others achieve their optimal health. She specializes in female hormonal problems such as endometriosis, thyroid problems, stress, autoimmunity and digestive disorders. Her degree in Psychology provides her with a strong ability to understand and motivate others to achieve their health goals.