How to stay warm but look cool: The 11 best beauty cures for your winter blues!

Feeling low? You are not alone. According to research, this is the most depressing time of the year. It’s cold, it’s grey and those holier-than-thou resolutions are laughing in our face. So, we could really use something to beat the blues right now.

Right?

So, come with me and let the smiling begin!

beauty-winter-mood-boostersTry the “happiness molecule”

Euphoryl – a molecule developed by Laboratoires Sérobiologiques – has the beauty world abuzz with its mood boosting promises. It is said to stimulate the production of dopamine and endorphins, which promote happiness, energy and sex appeal. An easy way to get your fix? The Physician’s Formula Happy Booster Blush ($10). Forget the science bit – the pretty pink hearts have us feeling more cheerful already.

Take a decadent dip

Bubble baths will warm you up mentally and physically. Especially when coupled with Champagne and some cozy tunes. No time for the tub? Fill a bowl with warm water and a squirt of bath gel. Soak hands only, palms up, while you feel the stress slipping away from your whole body.

Armed with aromatherapy

One of the best beauty cures for winter blues lies in the world of aromatherapy. Fruity scents – such as lemon and watermelon – are usually associated with the happiest, most carefree times in our lives, like summertime and vacations. Plus, the scent of fruit sends your body a message to release certain chemicals that create a state of blissful relaxation. So, create your own blend of cheery scents with a mix of essential oils or try a pre-blended product: use a citrus body cleanser or face wash like Soap & Glory’s Sugar Crush Sweet Lime Body Wash ($12) or stash a lusciously scented body lotion in your desk drawer.

Slather chocolate all over

The smell of chocolate releases seratonin in the brain, which works as a natural antidepressant. Give yourself an at-home chocolate massage, scrub or shower with these easy recipes or order up a scrumptious off-the-shelf treat. A couple of feel good finds? Hershey’s Cocoa Bath Set ($20) or The Body Shop’s Chocomania Scrub ($14).

winter beauty productsColor therapy

It’s said the right colour can turn a frown upside down so opt for bright hues. Result: an instant jolt of energy. The easiest switch is a red lipstick, whose association with fun and sexy times is full of positive energy.

The taste test

Something as simple as a new lip gloss in a flavour you love can bring out the cheerful! Citrus ones get bonus points for their uplifting aroma.

Show some massage love

A stress-busting massage sends messages to your brain, triggering the release of feel good chemicals that produce a sense of relaxation and well being. And that’s not all: massage also improves blood circulation, steps up lymphatic drainage, relaxes the muscles and boosts the immune system.

Embrocation creams

Sometimes, there is nothing more depressing as having to pile on layers and layers of heavy woollens to keep the cold at bay. Imagine how much time would be saved if we could skip the whole put-on-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat and then take-off-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat and then put-on-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat-all-over-again four times a day? And what when that cute cocktail dress really, REALLY demands bare legs? When it’s freezing outside?

Then you turn to embrocation creams – the stuff those cute spandex-shorts-clad cyclists use to trick their legs into thinking its 30 degrees warmer outside. Embrocation creams call upon blends of circulation-boosting ingredients like clove, capsica, peppermint and menthol to create a long lasting sensation of warmth that means bare legs can take the streets even in the dead of winter. Added bonus: the shea butter base hydrates winter-worn skin and gives it a super-sexy gleam. Happiness much? Look for DZnuts In-Heat Embrocation ($19.10) or Chamois Butt’r Hot Embrocation ($16.80).

Happy hair

Your hair products go a long way in deciding how you are feeling. That’s because skin absorbs upto 60% of what we put on it, and the scalp has some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body. So, choose your ingredients carefully and sail through the day cocooned in bliss. Mint and menthol-spiked hair products offer the perfect wakeup call, and will leave you refreshed. Seeking comfort? Lemongrass and tea tree oil create a slightly warming sensation, which combines with their aromatherapy qualities to relax the scalp muscles and make you feel calmer.

Love winter? Loathe winter? How do YOU cope with winter?

Why sugar hates your skin (and how to quit it without going crazy!)

If it wasn’t bad enough that sugar wreaks horrors on our health (diabetes, Alzheimer’s, mood swings, candida, hormonal balances, cholesterol… anyone?) research now shows that it’s terrible for our skin as well. An excessive intake of processed sugars can fast track the aging process, leading to dark circles, wrinkles, fine lines and loss of radiance.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

sugar-and-skinFirst, let’s look at the way sugar wrongs our skin

  • Sugar leads to premature ageing: When sugar enters your blood stream, it binds to proteins in a process called glycation. Glycation destroys the flexibility and density of collagen and elastin (skin’s protein-based building blocks), thereby leading to wrinkles and sagging.
  • Sugar breaks down antioxidants: This breakdown in proteins and collagen also weakens the body’s natural antioxidants, leaving it vulnerable to all kinds of environmental damage.
  • Sugar increases dark circles: The process of glycation produces toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products (commonly shortened, appropriately, to AGEs) that are directly responsible for dark under-eye circles, yellowing of skin and dullness.
  • Sugar suppresses the Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH helps regulate body composition, muscle and bone growth, fat metabolism and even the heart function; low levels make you look and feel older.
  • Sugar leads to chronic inflammation: A diet high in sugars is associated with inflammation, which leads to all sorts of skin and health issues (like loss of skin elasticity, broken capillaries and breakdown of cells). The result? Fast track ageing.
  • Sugar decreases the lifespan of skin cells: The sudden spikes in energy intensify the activities of cells and tissues, making them divide more rapidly and thereby decreasing their lifespan.
  • Sugar causes acne: Finally, sugar can also contribute to acne flare-ups, since they rev up all the body’s functions, including oil production.

How much is too much?

Ideally we should eat no processed sugars at all. Instead, sugar should come from  a wholefood diet such as grains, fruit and natural food. The American Heart Association recommends most women get no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day. That’s about 6 teaspoons (or 100 calories) – a little less than the amount in one can of soda. However, the average American woman eats more than 18 teaspoons of sugar every single day.

And exercise? Sorry to break the news but current medical opinion stresses that unless the exercise is extreme and the food is eaten directly afterwards, it is has little effect on blood sugar.

Fresh vegetables salad with croutons and chickenHorrified about the thought of giving up the sweet stuff? There is good news on this front. Forsaking sugar doesn’t have to be a miserable and tasteless existence. Neither should it give you the shakes, destroy all hopes of comfort food or take away the promise of chocolate. Rather, kicking the sugar habit should kick your mood and energy through the roof. So here are my tips to kick sugar without hating your life!

  • Drink water: Sometimes those sweet cravings are actually a sign of dehydration. So, instead of the sugar-laden beverages, opt for filtered water, coconut water or green tea.
  • Read the ingredient labels: Sugar is hidden in unlikely foods, from salad dressing to deli meats. Do a quick scan of the the ingredients and don’t just look for sugar –  it’s often disguised as glucose, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, fructose, dextrose, caramel or syrup.
  • Switch to low GI foods: Low GI (Glycemic Index) foods like whole grains and nuts, release glucose more slowly and steadily. This avoids the drastic spike and crash normally associated with sugary ingredients. The crash makes you crave even more sugar, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
  • Have a pre-meal: Eat a protein-based snack like hard boiled eggs, or an apple with a dash of almond butter, before hitting a party. This will keep you from making bad choices later in the night.
  • Experiment with spices: Not all spices are hot. Many – like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves – will add natural sweetness to your food. Certain spices, such as cinnamon, will also help to lower the blood sugar.
  • Eat every 4 hours: Fill up on healthy foods at periodic intervals so you are able to maintain stable blood glucose levels and don’t get have sugar-rich cravings. The more you eat sugar, the more you’ll crave sweet stuff.
  • Go easy on the booze: Alcohol is metabolized as pure sugar. Plus it makes you hungry, likely to overeat and prone to making poor choices. So, try to cap it at 2 drinks and drink water between refills.
  • Rid your kitchen of sugar: Throw out or give away any foods in your kitchen that contain added sugar. Out of sight, out of mind!
  • Relax: Because when you’re exhausted or sleep deprived, the body craves sugar-laden carbohydrates.
  • Slow down: For many of us, sugar has become an emotional crutch, a comfort zone, a reward or a way to relax. Instead of falling upon this sweet poison, slow down and decode your cravings. Identifying the real need behind the sugar is the key to kicking your sugar habit for good.
  • Go gourmet: If you simply have to indulge, stick to dark chocolate or truffles over high sugar candies. When baking, use unrefined sweeteners such as natural honey, molasses or maple syrup.

You slipped up… now what?

However, if you are like me and are reduced to tears with the mere thought of a life lived without chocolates and cupcakes, there is still some hope. What we need is moderation in our diet along with products that can neutralize sugar’s damaging effects on the skin. And the beauty industry is fast coming up with solutions.

How much sugar are you consuming on a daily basis?

Boozing with benefits: The right way to drink red wine for weight loss

It all started with the French Paradox.

The question about how the French eat a high fat diet, smoke and totally shy away from active exercise, yet they have half the rate of heart disease (143 vs. 315 per 100,000 middle-aged men) and live 2.5 years longer than anyone else in the world.

French researcher Dr. Serge Renaud’s studies concluded this was primarily because the French drank bucket-fulls of red wine – at the time 16 gallons per person per year vs. 2 gallons per person per year in America.

25 years later, practically every science lab across the world has not only endorsed the theory but actually taken it further, crediting red wine with everything from weight loss and protection against cancer to lowering the risk for diabetes and helping manage depression.

A sampler, if you may.

First, let’s look at red wine and weight loss

1. In 2015, researchers at the Washington State University, found that resveratrol – a key antioxidant found in red wine – helps convert ‘white fat’ into ‘beige fat’. Beige fat reduces weight gain by actively burning calories.

2. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health concluded a 13-year obesity study of 19,220 middle aged women in 2010. The result? Women who drank two glasses of red wine daily were 70% less likely to gain weight.

3. According to a joint study between Harvard School of Public Health in the US, the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Leipzig University, Germany, red wine increases the balance of HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol), while boosting glucose metabolism to curb diabetes.

4. At Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, scientists concluded that red wine creates thermogenesis, which raises body temperature by burning more calories.

5. At the University of Alberta, Canada, it was found that the weight reducing benefits of red wine are similar to that of exercise (this one’s my favourite study!).

6. A Norwegian study revealed that one glass of red wine a day significantly increases levels of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin.

7. At Purdue University, it was discovered that red wine contains piceatannol, which actually blocks the growth of fat cells. It also helps fight cancer, heart diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.

8. In 2012, a team of scientists from Arizona State University, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Harvard Medical School found that bumblebees who were given resvesterol late at night, ate less.

9. Wondering if virgin grape juice has the same benefits? A German study proved that wine drinkers lose more weight than grape juice drinkers.

10. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, red wine increases levels of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

And there are the other benefits of red wine, like preventing gastric infections, reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, preventing heart disease, strokes and other cognitive disorders (think dementia and Alzheimer’s), cutting the risk of depression and – in the strangest of turnarounds – actually decreasing the prevalence of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). But that’s a whole new story for another day.

So, why not white wine?

While both red and white wines are made from grapes, red wine is made from the whole grape, including the skin and seeds. The skin and seeds are what add powerful antioxidants like resveratrols, polyphenols, procyanidin and flavonoids, which give red wine most of its weight loss and anti-ageing benefits.

Red wine also has less natural sugars, while having more iron, potassium, magnesium and bone-friendly phosphorous.

red wine benefitsBut white wines are much less likely to trigger headaches, especially migraines, due to lower concentrations of histamines. And the paler varietal is also less likely to give you a hangover, as it lacks congeners – chemicals produced during fermentation.

And what about the calories?

Yes, red wine – like everything else that’s edible on Planet Earth – comes with it’s own set of calories. Specifically, about 125 to a glass.

These are however, negated by its low GI (Glycemic Index). GI measures how much glucose different foods produce in the bloodstream. Foods with a high GI score, like bread and cakes, produce large amounts of glucose, which is ultimately stored as fat. However, some high calorie foods such as nuts produce little glucose, explaining why they don’t make you put on weight. Red wine scores very low on the Glycemic Index (less than 15), which is why it doesn’t pile on the pounds.

And then there’s the research that a glass of red wine suppresses cravings for unhealthy snacks, like chocolate, biscuits and sweets, making you feel sated without going on a late night junk food binge. As always, the trick lies in moderation. Bingeing on the red wine will pile on more calories than can be outweighed by its benefits.

Does the variety of red wine matter?

The short answer is: Yes. Not all red wines are created equal. They are dependent on the grape varietal, fermentation process and age.

Red Wine Being PouredMadiran: Made from Tannat grapes in the Gascony region of the southwest of France, Madiran wines are extremely high in procyanidins (for cardiovascular and arterial health) and resvesterol (weight loss, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar control, cardiovascular health). In fact, they have up to 10 times the levels of procyanidins than wines grown elsewhere, which is why the Madiran area has double the national average of men aged 90, despite an extremely high fat diet.

Grenache: The Grenache grape, grown in Sardinia, Spain and southern France, is known for producing some of the greatest amounts of resveratrol of any varietal.

Muscadine (or Scuppernong): A wine grape native to southeastern US, Muscadine is extremely high in ellagic acid, which boosts weight loss. The levels of ellagic acid are boosted with each year of oak raging, so read the label. And incidentally, there are only about 5000 acres of Muscadine grapes in the world, most of which are concentrated in Georgia.

Pinot Noir: Pinot Noirs grown in cool, rainy climates have among the highest concentrations of resvesterol among any red wines in the world. Regions to look for include the Burgundy region of France, the Marlborough region of New Zealand and Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Barbera: Originally of Italian original but now also widely produced in California, Barbera wines  contains very high levels of resveratrol.

How much red wine should I be drinking?

Time calls alcohol the “Goldilocks of the nutrition world”. Drinking too little red wine may deprive you of its benefits; while drinking too much can also be destructive to your health.

The key lies in moderation. This means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, or less. And one drink is five ounces.

Why do women have a lower limit? It’s nothing to do with sexism… females generally have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, a liver enzyme that metabolises alcohol. Hence, that are advised to drink smaller amounts of any alcohol.

Even if we look to the French and the Italians for their propensity to drink more wine and yet be healthier than any of us, you will never catch them binge drinking. Even on weekends. Instead, they drink a little everyday and know just when to stop!

And when to drink red wine for maximum benefits?

Red wine, like every other alcohol, doesn’t play well with empty stomachs. The best option is to have it the old fashioned Mediterranean way: with a meal rich in vegetables and fish, complete with fruits and a healthy fat such as olive oil.

What if I simply can’t have red wine? Am I out of options?

Firstly, absolutely don’t start drinking red wine suddenly if you’re a teetotaller. Or without checking with your doctor if you have health problems. Or if you or your family has a history of health abuse. Or if you react badly to the beverage in any form!

Instead, stock up on other antioxidant and resversterol-rich foods, like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, red grapes, peanut butter, dark chocolate and apples. The weight-loss boosting ellagic acid is also found in raspberries, blackberries, green tea, oolong tea, walnuts and pecans.

Remember, a balanced diet is everything.

Cheers!

Beauty recipe: How to make virgin coconut oil at home (effort level: easy)

We already know that coconut oil is one of the most versatile beauty ingredients, tackling everything from cellulite and dark patches to frizzy hair and eczema.

However, after reading about how so-called ‘virgin’ oils, like coconut and olive, are amongst the most faked products in the food world, I started exploring the process of making virgin coconut oil right at home.

Turns out, it’s pretty simple. And you don’t need any fancy machinery – just what you have right in your kitchen already. It does require a bit of patience in parts but to me that’s a small price to pay for getting coconut oil that I unequivocally know to be fresh, pure and virgin.

Ready to try it out?

Making virgin coconut oil with fresh coconuts

You will need

2-3 mature coconuts (the brown-husked ones – they have the maximum oil content)
blender (optional)
cloth strainer
small saucepan
glass jar

How to

1. Split open the coconut and pour the water in a bowl

2. Scoop out the flesh using a sharp knife or a spoon

3. Roughly grate or shred the coconut flesh

4. Add the coconut water to the flesh and let it marinate for an hour (some recipes call for plain drinking water here but I prefer using the coconut water itself for two reasons: if any plain water is left over in the final coconut oil, it shall turn the oil rancid pretty fast; and the coconut water is itself a nutrient-rich oil base, so shouldn’t be wasted)

5. Pour everything into a blender and process till you get a paste-like consistency (if you don’t have a blender, skip this step)

6. Strain the paste (or the coconut-flesh-and-water marinade) through a thin cotton cloth to get rid of any residual solids; squeeze 2-3 times to get the maximum liquid out of the marinade

make coconut oil7. Now you have coconut milk (which has it’s own uses – more on that later!)

8. Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and simmer on medium heat till you see it granulating and the oil separating from the solids. This can take up to an hour; stir frequently and hold on to your patience at this point!

9. Once the oil has visibly separated and risen to the top, remove it carefully with a spoon and pour into a glass jar

10. Let the oil cool for a couple of hours and then place the jar in the refrigerator overnight. This will make the oil solidify and completely detach itself from any residual water or milk solids

11. Scoop out the pure coconut oil and use it for any of these fantabulous skin and hair recipes!

Have you ever tried making coconut oil at home? How was your experience?