The first storm of the Autumn 2018 has come and the winds are roaring again. This year we had an awesome summer with extremely hot for Ireland temperatures and over 6 weeks of drought. The summer felt unbelievably long and by the middle of July I started looking forward to Read more…
Fall… the most charming time of the year. In many countries in the Northern Hemisphere it is probably the only time of the year when we really get to experience all four seasons in one day, even in Ireland. It may not be all that red and yellow here, but Read more…
It was never my intention to blog about all these World Days of this and that, but it just so happened that the recent World Days were about causes I strongly believe in and I have put everything else on hold to blog about it. Because today marks the beginning Read more…
It’s almost May, and so far the weather this spring has been the worst than any other year. After a sunny holiday in Gran Canaria it is particularly displeasing and there seems to be no way around it, other than to wrap up in a chunky cardigan or scarf and pour myself a cup of hot tea. Or coffee? No, tea. And sit closer to the window to catch whatever little light that comes from it and a rare glimpse of sunshine, often through the rain. Although, I do have to admit that the last couple of days have been quite lovely, the weather is ever-so-unpredictable and rain may come out any moment.
Ireland is a tea-loving country, and yet it amazes me how a cup of tea almost always rhymes with a black tea with milk. Sometimes, more milk than tea. Like in good old Father Ted:
Father Ted: This is a very milky cup of tea Mrs. Doyle… In fact this is an ALL milk cup of tea… I mean, is there any tea in here at all?
Mrs. Doyle: Well… No.
For me, tea rhymes with many different things. It rhymes with green, it rhymes with healthy, it rhymes with calming chamomile, it rhymes with taking moments and slowing down, it rhymes with joy and comfort. Tea for me almost inevitably rhymes with Wellness.
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Drinking Tea is So Much More Than Just Drinking Tea
Tea has originated in China, probably well before the 2nd Century BC, and was mainly used as a medicinal drink. It conquered the rest of Asia a few centuries later, but reached Great Britain only by the 17th century, then spreading to colonial India where the mass production had begun.
Since then tea has been used for many things – as a medicine, as a form of mindfulness and meditation or as an important attribute to social gatherings, because frankly, any conversation is better over a cup of fragrant tea. No matter the reason, tea had always had a purpose – other than just drinking tea.
And only in our fast-paced, busy-oriented world drinking tea has become just an unnoticed habit. We drink it just because we were taught to. We do it automatically, only in a form that we are used to – which is for many just that milky cup of tea.
One ancient Japanese priest, Eisai, once wrote:
‘Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and it has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete’.
Maybe it is worth learning from the ancient wise men to enjoy tea for what it was meant, for it is indeed a powerful tool to boost your wellness.
Mindful Tea Time
In Zen Buddhism tea has been regarded as cultivating the body and soul, which is the main goal of buddhist practices. Mindfulness is also one of the main concepts in Buddhism. Everyday life requires full attention to each and every moment. To Zen Buddhist monks, tea is no exception. In fact, their Way of Tea, or Chado, means just that – just tea, the experience that you get in the moment of drinking tea. They do it slowly, they enjoy every sip, they acknowledge the taste and the sensation. They don’t ponder in the moment, but just observe.
To a Westerner it may seem boring and a waste of time. But mindfulness is so important to learn to be able to live here and now – because this is where the life is happening. It doesn’t happen in the past, it doesn’t happen in your thoughts and it doesn’t even happen in the future. Only now. And that is what we are wasting, this precious moment – we’re wasting it by thinking instead of just observing.
If you are new to mindfulness and find it hard to sit still in a regular meditation practice, try meditating over a cup of tea. You don’t have to close your eyes and count your breaths. Just sit comfortably and really tune in to your experience of every sip. It is so calming and refreshing!
Jumping from chill and observant Japanese monks to Victorian England, the purpose of Five-o’clock tea was to bring people together, typically women, but sometimes men, too. The hostess would have a round table set with a hot kettle, a teapot under a cosy, little tea cups and saucers. Snacks, like cold meats, vegetables, sandwiches, fruit, scones with preserves and butter as well as tea cakes would have been served. But food was merely a part of such a gathering. The main idea of ‘high tea’ was to socialise.
Now, try to remember when was the last time you had tea with friends, lounging comfortably around the table or even in the sitting room, engaged in a perfectly pleasant friendly conversation, no matter the reason? If you have recently done it, then just skip the rest of the part – you’re ok without me. To those, who can’t remember – if the last time you chatted to your friend was on Facebook or some other kind of messenger (given they do not live long distance from you) I urge you to re-think your actions and invite the friend over for tea. It may be not a studied topic (yet!) but in my experience a cosy environment and pleasantly hot tea help people relax, open up and really deepen that social engagement.
Another tip: If you’re stuck in work and need a break, invite a colleague to have tea together, away from your desk. There may be nothing wrong with enjoying your tea alone at your desk if you want to have a mindful time, but in other cases a 5 or 10 minute tea break with a colleague will do you lots of good.
Tea as a Medicine
Ever since tea had become known in ancient China and later spread throughout the East, it has been used as a medicine in many cultures and is still used as such to this day. Tea, even the regular black tea, can have numerous health benefits. Some studies, for example, show that black tea can help reduce stress and bring the stress hormones back to normal levels. Whether it’s the effect of the chemical compounds or just the fact that you are slowing down to drink your cup, the effect is there and it is valuable.
I was going to compose an extensive list of different teas and their actions, but then decided that it’s a topic for another post. But since we are talking about tea for wellness, I think I’ll just group together different teas by their actions to give you an idea.
Tea for Your Wellness
General Health Benefits
(include cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes prevention as well as prevention of other diseases):
Energy boost, improved Memory and Cognition
Immune Boost + Cold & Flu Care
- Ginger**, Echinacea*** (not suitable for long-term use), Rose Hip tea**, Red Raspberry Leaf tea, Verbena
Glucose Control & Improved Insulin Sensitivity
- Black tea, Oolong tea
- Rose Hip tea**, Rooibos, Tulsi
- Pu-erh, Green tea, Black tea, Darjeeling
- Rose Hip tea**, Rooibos
Calming and Soothing
- Chamomile***, Lavender, Lemon Balm (Melissa), Peppermint, Verbena, Tulsi** (not suitable for long term use)
Weight Loss Aid and Metabolism Boost*
- White tea, Green tea
- Chamomile***, Ginger**, Rose hip tea**
Good for Digestion
- Chamomile***, Peppermint (anti-nausea), Ginger** (anti-nausea, but can cause upset stomach)
Good before Bed
- Chamomile***, Peppermint, Fennel tea**, Rooibos, Verbena, Tulsi** (not to be used long-term)
And that is about it. The linked teas are one of my favourite brands that use organic sustainable teas and biodegradable tea bags, because to be honest you don’t even want to know what kinds of bleaches and plastics can be found in conventional tea bags as sold in stores.
Keep Calm and Drink Tea.
“No one should have to choose between good health and other life” Happy World Health Day! Today, April 7th is the World Health Day, so let’s celebrate it accordingly and embrace a healthy lifestyle together. The health situation in today’s world is difficult, to say the least. Read more…
The holiday season is just around the corner. Even though its point is to relax and have fun, for some it could be a frustrating time when it comes to finding food in a foreign country, especially when they follow a particular diet or just try to eat healthy as Read more…
I think I’ve already confessed being a chocoholic? Most people don’t believe me, but those who know me close, they know that I can’t be with a bar of chocolate in the same house. Of course, there are exceptions – I wouldn’t touch just any chocolate as I have my Read more…
In our days almost no foods are off limit. Even in the most bitter days of winter there’s an abundant choice of fruits and vegetables on the shelves of supermarkets. Aubergines and courgettes that don’t come in till late spring/ early summer are available all year round, just like strawberries, raspberries and nectarines, although firm and tasteless, appear on the shelves in January, overlooking the fact that they are not in season till summer months. It would be natural to think Wow! So great to have this choice we couldn’t even think of a couple of decades ago! But… If you think deeper, these foods really shouldn’t be on the market this time of the year. Then how do they get there? Fortunately (or unfortunately?) people have developed all sorts of strategies to produce and sell the foods that normally are not in season – they are grown in greenhouses, treated with crop boosting chemicals or, at best, imported from the far-away countries to please us, the consumers. Or maybe to make money? It really works both ways, but better for them and less so for us.
The problem with imported produce
I think we all know what it means if the produce is grown in greenhouses, out of its season, and treated with crop enhancers, but if you are not sure, it means that food doesn’t contain the same vitamins, minerals and other compounds that it normally does when grown naturally in its appropriate season. Then, depending on the fertilizers and other chemicals used, the properties of food can be modified to promote a longer shelf life. It goes without saying that the longer the foods can be stored, the less nutritious they are.
When the produce is imported from other countries, it also means that the nutritive quality of food suffers because of the longer storage and transportation. The vitamin and mineral content of imported produce is simply not the same as of the foods produced locally. These foods are also frequently modified to prolong the shelf life of the produce – how else would it survive long transportations at irregular temperatures and conditions? In addition to nutrients content of the foods, transporting products from other countries means more greenhouse gas emissions. In the world where the global warming is happening much faster than we would have liked, additional CO2 emissions are definitely of no help. The more miles foods have to travel from their original location to your plate, the more is the cost. So, essentially, you are paying a higher price for a food that is less nutritious, probably genetically modified and chemically treated and contributing to the global warming. And let’s not forget about plastic. Imported produce requires some kind of packaging to be transported – usually plastic, and plastic is one of the biggest pollutants, killing approx. 1.5 million marine animals each year. It is truly sad that we have to pay extra for all this mess.
Why you should buy locally produced seasonal foods
It should be obvious by now that the benefits of seasonal and local produce are many. You know where your food comes from. You know that it is in season and thus has the best nutrients to offer. You know that it doesn’t contribute (at least as much) to global warming. It helps to avoid the excessive use of plastic – just be sure to bring reusable woven bags to the shop. You know that the money you pay stay in the community and support local farmers. You can always enquire about the farms at your local fruit and veg vendors. And you can always find local organic produce and buy it directly from the farm.
Yes, it takes a little bit of change, but it’s doable, and all the benefits are yours.
Foods In Season This Spring
These may not be your regular veg to buy, but it doesn’t hurt to try while they’re in season. Artichokes are quite low in calories, but contain a lot of goodness. Just 100 g provides you with 14% of daily recommended intake of dietary fibre, that keeps your heart and gut happy by reducing cholesterol and supporting the natural detox processes in the body. It is a source of vitamins C, K and Folic acid (20%, 12% and 17% respectively). Vitamin K, although often overlooked, is crucial to bone health and healthy neurons in the brain, making it a valuable addition to the treatment of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin C contributes to overall health as well as healthy and young looking skin. Folic acid is required for the DNA health and is especially important during the first weeks of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in babies. Artichokes have a good antioxidant content, helping to protect your body from the harmful free radicals; it is a source of many B-complex vitamins required for metabolism on a cellular level. Rich in Copper and Iron, it is good for your blood, and Potassium makes it helpful in regulating the water and Sodium levels, important for heart beat and blood pressure regulation.
Asparagus received a bad rap recently due to its content of asparagine – an amino acid found in excess in people who have breast cancer. It is, however, not clear if dietary asparagine raises the levels of asparagine in the body (since it’s naturally produced in the body). It is also not clear if the increased levels raise the risk of breast cancer, or breast cancer raises the levels of asparagine. Two things are for sure – people consume way more asparagine through dairy, eggs, meat and fish, which are all sources of it, along with potatoes, nuts, legumes and soya; and breast cancer can occur in people who have never had asparagus.
Asparagus is a very low calorie vegetable – just 20 kcal per 100 g, or roughly 1% of daily intake. Just like artichokes, it is rich in fibre, B-complex vitamins, including Folic acid. It is a good source of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, and it has even more vitamin K than artichokes (37% per 100 g). It is also a source of Copper, Iron, Potassium and Manganese and contains antioxidants that may help to protect your body from certain cancers.
Kale has been popular since the ancient Greek and Roman times. It is very nutritious and extremely high in vitamins A, C and K (we’re talking 200% +). It is also rich in minerals, namely Copper and Manganese, and is a source of Iron and Calcium. It houses one of the most potent antioxidants – Indole-3-Carbinol, that is protective from certain cancers, such as prostate and colon. Due to very high vitamin K content it may be beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease as it prevents neuronal damage in the brain. It offers protection from vitamin A deficiency, osteoporosis and Iron-deficiency anemia.
This is another spring vegetable, pretty tasty if you ask me. Peas are also good sources of many vitamins, including A, C, K and B-complex. Low in calories, peas are a decent source of protein and dietary fibre. In addition to fibre, peas have a phytosterol called ß-sitosterol, which helps lower cholesterol levels. They are a rich source of Iron, Copper and Manganese, and also contain Calcium and Zinc. Zinc is important for healthy and strong immune system, it can help reduce stress levels, control blood glucose in people with diabetes and treat acne.
Spinach is available all year round, but it actually only comes in season in March. It is probably one of the most popular greens, and rightly so. It contains good amounts of many of B-complex vitamins, which are required for metabolism and energy production. It is incredibly high in vitamins A and K and provides almost half of your daily requirements of Folic acid. It also contains vitamin E, which is important for many processes in the body. Being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E can balance cholesterol by fighting cholesterol oxidation. It also may slow down the progression of atherosclerosis due to its cholesterol-lowering action. It may slow down ageing and prevent many diseases, including cancers, which are more likely occur due to DNA damage by oxidation. It helps repair skin, lock the moisture in and assist in treatment of sunburns. It balances hormones and helps manage PMS symptoms, lower risks of dementia and be of a benefit to people with Alzheimer’s disease. In those who exercise, it may help boost endurance and muscle strength by decreasing muscle fatigue. Maybe there’s a reason Popeye was eating so much spinach.
Spring Onions (Scallions)
These green stalks grown on onion bulbs will add colour and juicy goodness to your salads, soups and stir fries. They are rich in fibre and low in calories – a mix we all want to see when it comes to food. Dietary fibre, aside from being good for your gut and blood vessels, is also good for filling you up and preventing you from feeling hungry too soon. As a member of Allium family, green onions contain very powerful antioxidants, but their properties are best released when you crush or chop the vegetable and let it sit for a few minutes before consuming it raw. Spring onions are anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-microbial, just like the regular onions, so they are great for those days when you feel under the weather. Allicin, another compound in spring onions is known to decrease the stiffness of the blood vessels, thus improving blood pressure. It may thin out the blood and prevent clot formation. All in all, spring onions are very heart-friendly. Now add to this package the aforementioned vitamins A, C, K and Folic acid along with Iron, Copper, Manganese and Calcium. Spring onions should totally be on your plate this spring season.
So these are the 6 foods that will make a nutritious addition to your meals this spring. But of course they are not the only foods that are at its best this season. Many other fruits and vegetables that we are used to have all year round are in season, too. You can look out for these foods at your local markets or fruit and veg shops to make sure that you get the freshest, seasonal and local produce. And even if you do buy them in your closest supermarket, there’s more chance you’ll find the locally produced varieties rather than imported, unless they are tropical fruits and don’t grow in your region.
Other fruit and veg to look for in spring:
Apples, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Grapefruit, Leeks, Lemons, Onions, Oranges, Pak Choi, Parsnips, Peppers, Pomegranates, Potatoes (new), Radicchio, Rhubarb, Sweet Potato, Watercress.
If you want to further boost your meals with unique flavours and nutrients, try these herbs that come in in spring:
Basil, mint, parsley, sage, coriander, chives and dill.