There is no better time than the new year to introduce a healthy new diet. It is a simple equation: eat badly and you may feel bloated, lethargic and stressed in the classroom. Eat well, and it will transform your energy levels and sense of well-being.
The reasons are well documented. Carbohydrates such as bread and pasta are converted by the body into glucose, which becomes energy. Eat too much sugary food and large amounts of glucose will rapidly enter the blood, over-stimulating glands and organs before leading to eventual exhaustion and burn out.
It is also likely to make you more stressed. When your blood sugar crashes after something sweet, your adrenal (stress) glands are stimulated to produce hormones to raise it again. Similarly, if you are stressed, your blood sugar levels will be raised to give you extra energy.
It can be hard in schools. Teaching is hungry work but classrooms are traditionally no-food zones. After several lessons, you can be famished and in need of an urgent pick-me-up. Somehow an apple will simply not suffice; it's the canteen's double chocolate flapjack or nothing at all.
However, with a bit of forward planning, teachers can avoid the lure of quick unhealthy sugar fixes. Stock your desk draws or bag with fruit, seeds, nuts, oatcakes or sugar-free cereal bars, such as Eat Natural or Living Food Energy, which you can grab between lessons.
If your staffroom has a fridge, stock it with live yoghurt, carrots and houmous that you can munch during breaks or free periods. If you still crave something sweet, opt for the darkest chocolate you can find - at least 70 per cent cocoa - as it is lower in sugar than milk chocolate and higher in antioxidants. But try not to eat it on an empty stomach.
If you go for more than five hours without food, your body will experience a drop in energy and a surge in stress. Snacks are a good way to combat this, but they should never replace regular meals, including breakfast. Choose wholegrain foods wherever possible and try to include a little protein with each meal. And why not replace caffeine with fruit smoothies or hot water with a slice of lemon three times a week? Whatever you eat or drink, consciously slow down and enjoy it - then wait for the benefits to hit.
Penny Crowther is a nutritionist with 10 years' experience in private practice. Read more at www.nutritionistlondon.co.uk
HOW TO GET STARTED
- Porridge with soya milk.
- Sugar-free muesli.
- Wholewheat or rye toast with boiled egg or houmous.
- Fresh fruit, live bio yoghurt and ground almonds.
To avoid feeling sleepy or bloated after lunch, use brown rice instead of bread. Then add the following proteins:
- Peanut butter, grated carrot or banana.
- Chicken and crunchy lettuce.
- Tuna or smoked salmon with chopped pepper.
- Hardboiled egg and cress.
- Low fat cream cheese or cottage cheese and dates or apple.
- Houmous, sliced cucumber and cress.
- Grilled meat or fish with salad or steamed vegetables.
- Brown rice risotto with prawns, chicken, tofu or green soya beans.
- Kidney bean chilli with brown rice.
- Omelette with salad or vegetables.
- Lentil dhal with brown rice.
Recommended recipe book: Cooking Without by Barbara Cousins
Helpful vitamins and minerals
- Magnesium: good for tight muscles, nerves, anxiety and PMT. Eat nuts and wholegrain foods.
- Chromium: reduces sweet tooth. Eat rye bread, chicken, eggs and wholegrain foods.
- Zinc: helps mental function. Eat pumpkin seeds, seafood, peas and eggs.
- B Vitamins: reduces stress and anxiety. Eat wholegrain foods.
- Omega 3 fats: important for memory, concentration and mental agility. Eat oily fish, nuts, seeds and flax oil.