For most of us, good nutrition means eating a balance of fresh, seasonal produce, trying not to snack between meals and limiting junk food, sugar and alcohol intake to a minimum.
Throw in a dash of exercise (medical guidelines recommend 30 minutes a day, five times a week) and you should be guaranteed good health into your eighties, right?
I did all of the above as a matter of course (well, apart from the last one) as a veggie, non-smoking, sporty runner of marathons with an open air gym known as the Côte d'Azur to work out in.
However, when I was diagnosed with a serious illness three years ago, I was forced to look deeper into my nutrition and lifestyle habits to see where I could make changes that would help me regain my health.
Under the guidance of a nutritionist (and alongside conventional medical treatment), I was advised to follow an alkaline diet as my body was too acidic thanks to illness. Cutting out gluten, bad fats, dairy, refined sugar, coffee and alcohol was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
Finding tasty substitutes like xylitol for sugar, spelt instead of gluten and non-cow dairy like goat’s and sheep’s cheese instead of Camembert or cheddar was a challenge that put my considerable research talents to the test.
But along with a generous daily dose of super greens, vitamins and minerals to top up levels I was deemed low on, the ensuing results spoke for themselves. My skin became clearer, my laughter lines were less obvious, my energy levels rose, I got well again and I now feel and look several years younger than I did before (according to friends!)
It worked for me, so much so that I stick to it pretty zealously five days out of seven. There are times, of course, when only a skinny latte and almond croissant or a glass of Veuve Cliquot will hit the spot but the rest of the time, I've learned that my body functions better and feels more energised when I stick to the programme.
There is a minefield of information out there; the trick is to identify what you need and choose the best plan for you.
These changes should become second nature within a month. With the New Year stampede towards gym memberships, crash diets and healthy eating goals following the excesses of Christmas, now is the perfect time to pick a regime that will work with your lifestyle.
One of the newest, simplest and most inexpensive blenders on the market, the Nutribullet is specifically designed as a smoothie/juice maker. It boasts a unique blade and a powerful motor which can break down even the toughest of ingredients.
Rather than extracting juice, it pulps everything, unlocking more vitamins and nutrients than from juice alone. Many people replace a meal with a smoothie to aid weight loss but it is also an effective way of getting your daily allowance of raw veggies and fruit in one fell swoop.
Stick to organic produce, use a little fruit and a lot of veggies to avoid loading up on natural sugars and throw in some fresh herbs to pep it up a little….a blend of apple, kiwi and ginger along with kale, spinach, fresh mint, parsley, cucumber or celery is a tasty and filling smoothie packed with goodness that can easily replace breakfast or lunch.
Don’t store juice in the fridge, drink it straight away as it loses many of its vital nutrients if left. One extra tip - wash the kiwi under the tap and chop without peeling as the skin is packed with vitamin C.
A fashion designer friend of mine, who has battled for years with her weight, told me: ‘I’ve lost almost two stone by using the Nutribullet. I’ve had complicated, expensive juicers before but they gathered dust and never got used. This is easy to use and clean and doesn’t take up much room. I make enough juice to drink for breakfast and also have some with my lunch. My daughter is also a fan and has noticed her skin is much clearer now. I have more energy, I feel less bloated and I crave carbs and sugar far less than I used to. It’s so filling that you don’t feel the need to snack.’
This sludgy green powder might just be one of the most potent miracle powders of the 21st century. An intense base blend of spirulina, alfalfa, kelp, chlorella, barley and wheat grass, one to two teaspoons added daily to coconut water or filtered tap water and shaken in a cocktail mixer is all you need to kick start your system.
Packed full of enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, it is mooted to deliver all sorts of amazing health benefits from boosting your immune system to rebalancing your digestion, blood sugars and hormone levels. An even more potent claim is that it can help to prevent serious illnesses including cancer, dementia and diabetes.
Nutrition experts advise taking Super Greens as a supplement to a healthy balanced diet - in other words, you still need to eat your greens as well as drink them.
Celebrity fans include Elle Macpherson, who was so impressed that she developed her own brand, The Super Elixir.
In an interview for Hello Fashion Monthly, she recently told me: ‘I want to share the benefits of The Super Elixir with other women because it made such a difference to me. I feel great. I’ve always had a prevention and maintenance philosophy to my health and wellness but once I started taking Super Elixir, I saw a big change in my body and spirit. People started telling me my skin was looking good, I had more inner vitality and was more inspired to be physically active with more efficient workouts. I also found that my sleep and digestion significantly improved.’
The Alkaline Diet
Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kirsten Dunst (and my good self) are followers of this eating plan, which aims to put less stress on the body by neutralising the highly acidic western diet of mainly meat, dairy, maize, refined sugar and carbohydrates through increased consumption of alkalising foods.
The body has a number of organ systems that are adept at dealing with excess acid and it can maintain an acid-alkaline balance if the organs are functioning effectively, an alkaline diet is being eaten and acid producing factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol intake are avoided.
Its benefits are numerous; the body processes food more efficiently, the digestive system and kidneys, which aid detoxification, are less strained, the metabolism gets a kick start and fans of this diet report feeling more energised and less sluggish.
Comprising chiefly of fruits, vegetables and certain whole grains, this regime suits vegetarians very well. Alkalising produce includes beetroot, broccoli, celery, cucumber, kale, lettuce, spinach, apples, berries, melon, lemons, ginger and almonds.
I followed this diet during highly intensive drug therapy and can honestly say it enabled me to lead a close to normal life at a time when that seemed impossible.
The Paleo Diet
Originating from a group of Stone Age, Caveman and Hunter-Gatherer diets, the Paleo Diet derives from the idea that the optimal eating plan is one to which we are genetically suited.
Based on a diet of wild plants and animals consumed by our ancestors during the Paleolithic era, which ended 10,000 years ago with the arrival of agriculture and grain based diets, it modestly bills itself as the world’s healthiest diet and promises long term success for prolific yo-yo dieters.
The principle ingredients are fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and grass fed pasture raised meats. No nos include dairy produce, refined sugar, salt, processed oils, grains and potatoes; if a caveman didn’t eat it, then you shouldn’t either.
The high protein, high fruit and veggie intake claims to speed up your metabolism and control your appetite though increased consumption of omega 3 oils, monounsaturated fats and protein.
Promised health benefits aside from weight loss include a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, better sleep patterns, a higher libido, more energy and improvement in acne and skin conditions. It is a gluten free diet. Celebrity followers include Jack Osbourne, Uma Thurman and Jessica Biel.
Stocking up on superfood ingredients will get you started and could have an instant impact on your wellbeing and health. It goes without saying that you need to buy organic.
Chia seeds Loaded with nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids, these tiny super seeds are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. They also act as pure gelatine in a dessert. Try a spoonful mixed with a small bowl of coconut milk and fresh mango. Delicious!
Blueberries Packed full of antioxidants, highly beneficial for the brain and nervous system, recent studies have shown that blueberries can improve memory and slow down cognitive problems. They contain anthocyanins, believed to attack cancer-causing free radicals and prevent tumours from forming. If that isn’t enough, they also help guard against urinary tract infections.
Green tea There’s no disputing that green tea is an acquired taste but once you get over the earthy, faintly old dishwater taste, you will be converted. A former UK chief medical officer told me off the record that three or four cups a day can actively prevent cancer.
One of the oldest fruits still in existence, pomegranates are rich in large quantities of three types of antioxidant polyphenols - tannins, anthocyanins and ellagic acid. They can reduce joint pain and inflammation in arthritis sufferers.
Turmeric An Indian spice which gives curry its yellow colour, turmeric has also been used medicinally in India for thousands of years. Curcurmin is the main active ingredient, making this spice a powerful antioxidant and a potent anti-inflammatory. You can add it to soups, broths and casseroles as well as curries.
Broccoli Another great cancer preventative, broccoli contains a ridiculous amount of good stuff, including selenium, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron and magnesium. Try steaming it then tossing it for two minutes in a pan with finely chopped garlic, red chilli and ginger, a dash of soy and a teaspoon of organic honey.
Cayenne An amazing cure-all, cayenne pepper is known to speed up the metabolism by stimulating the digestive tract, aiding food digestion. It can break up congested mucus, help prevent blood clots and stimulate the body’s circulation. Add a dash to a large mug of hot water and fresh lemon juice every morning to spring clean your system.
Lemons You might think of a citrus fruit like a lemon as acidic: au contraire, lemon juice actually alkalises the system. An excellent source of vitamin C, it neutralises dangerous free radicals and a dash of lemon juice lifts and enhances the flavour of other foods and sauces.
** For further reading from the author Karen Hockney, her memoir Breathing Out covers much of the diet advice above in greater detail.