How To Stay Healthy: Interview with nutritionist, Jenna Hope

aka @jennahopenutrition

To help support our Wellness campaign, we caught up with registered nutritionist and author, Jenna Hope. Also a new mum herself, we were keen to find out how what we eat can help both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Jenna, please can you share how you're finding motherhood so far and also, how you became interested in nutrition?

Sure. So firstly, how I'm finding motherhood...I love it. It's obviously all very new and has completely changed my life. But I think there's nothing more rewarding than being a mum. And I think in the past week specifically, I've really seen my baby develop quite a lot. She's much more alert and aware of what's going on around her. And I think those are the moments that you look back on and you're like, it's all worth it. It really is. We've had a couple of tough nights recently, but it's all worth it. And I know that in years to come, we're not going to look back and think about the tough nights, you're going to look back and think about the good times and the smiles and the giggles. So, yeah, that's how I'm finding motherhood. I'm really grateful and really do love it.

Nutrition-wise... so I grew up in quite a healthy house. My mum was always really aware of nutrition and tried to instil healthy habits within us, but I wasn't really very interested. I always loved food and was always a big advocate for food. And it wasn't until I was around 16 that I became more aware of my skin and my mental wellbeing.

And for me, it was never really a weight thing. I grew up in the 90s where food and nutrition was only really associated with weight. But I think one of the things my mum did quite well was separate that relationship between food and weight. And actually, it was much more about our health in general. So around the age of 16, I changed my diet and I noticed drastic changes to my mental wellbeing and my skin. And that was around the time that I was looking to go to university so I found it to be quite a natural decision to go and study nutrition. And since then, I just fell in love with it. I love the fact that food can bring so much pleasure, but at the same time, it can also be really nourishing and can help you to live a more fulfilled life. So that's how I got into nutrition, really.

"Food can bring so much pleasure, but at the same time, it can also be really nourishing and can help you to live a more fulfilled life."

As a new mum, how are you finding factoring in being able to nourish yourself when you're so busy looking after baby?

Yeah. It's really tough. And I'm not going to sit here and say it's so easy, just do X, Y and Z. There are definitely tips which I find really helpful, but that doesn't undermine how difficult it can be. And I know, especially in the first few weeks, it was something that I really tried hard to focus on because that's a big part of me and who I am. But for everyone, it's not a priority. So sometimes your nutrition can fall by the wayside.

Some things that I find really helpful are trying to prep ahead as best as I can. So I have a rule. Cook once, eat at least two, three times, use the freezer if you can. More recently, as my baby's kind of got that little bit older, she's around the four, four and a half month mark now. I actually put her in her highchair and I cook along with her, so that really helps. I engage her in the food, I show her what all the vegetables are, I talk her through everything. How much she's taking in, I don't know, but I think it's really important to start them young, so that by the time I come to wean her, she's familiar with a lot of the foods that I'm presenting, and hopefully that will be something that I carry through with her, always encouraging her and engaging her in the food process and the cooking process.

"Cook once, eat at least two, three times, use the freezer if you can."

So definitely doing that has enabled me to cook more healthier meals and cook from scratch more because I feel like it's an activity we can do together rather than, oh, my God, I'm going to have to cook when she's napping alongside everything else, working and the washing and juggling everything else. So that's been really helpful.

Also having snacks that you can grab and go. So not everything has to be prepared from scratch. We are busy and we don't always have the time or the energy or the thought to be able to think, what can I have now? So just knowing that you've got things in your cupboard, whether that be a couple of the date and nut bars, that you can pre buy. Whether it be some pots of yoghurt, Greek yoghurt that you can just take out, maybe with some frozen berries, put them together really quickly in a bowl; a couple of oat cakes, maybe it's some pre-chopped carrots that you can dip in with some hummus. So just things that you know that you can grab and go can be really helpful. Also one handed things as well as often we've got a baby in our arms!

So, can you grab a couple of nuts? Can you pre-cook a couple of boiled eggs? What I like to do is pre-boil lots of eggs together and then keep them in the fridge for a few days, and then that way you can just pick them and off you go. So it's just about being prepared and knowing what to turn to, because otherwise, I think if we're not prepared, that's when we tend to find ourselves reaching for the biscuits and the crisps and things that maybe don't make us feel as great as other foods.

"I know that if my house is filled with lots of nutritious, nourishing, delicious foods. I'm much more likely to reach for those than if I've got a biscuit tin sat on the side in a glass pot that's just staring at me all day. So it's about also making your environment more friendly to live a healthier lifestyle."

So thinking about mental wellbeing, then, and specific foods that could help boost mood, do you have any tips on what those could be?

Definitely. So mental wellbeing specifically in general, it affects everyone. But I think as a new mum, your mental health can be really tested. Maybe a new mum has just had their baby and they're starting to think about how they can get back to their postpartum body so they might start thinking, okay, I need to start cutting the carbs, because that's what the media tell you, go low carb. But actually, we know that complex carbohydrates, so things like oats, beans, whole grains are so important for supporting your mood. And naturally, often when you go on a low carbohydrate diet, you are at risk of low mood. So you really don't want to be doing that. 

If you've recently had a baby, you want to make sure that you're having lots of complex carbohydrates in the diet. Bananas are also a really good thing, so they can help to support mood. They've got B vitamins in there as well. Eggs contain B12 and B6. They're also really important for supporting mood. Also, things like dark chocolate can be really beneficial as well. So we don't have to completely eliminate all these foods that we tend to think of as "bad" - and I'm saying that in quotation marks, because I don't think that we should necessarily categorise foods as good and bad, but typically, that's what we tend to think. 

So dark chocolate can be really good, a couple of squares are really good for supporting your mood. And the other thing I think is really important when it comes to mood is that when it comes to nutrition, there are three different areas. We've got our physical wellbeing, our mental wellbeing, and our social wellbeing. And sometimes it is just about making a decision that's going to nourish our mental health. And if sitting down with a cup of tea and a slice of cake is going to really nourish our soul, then that's okay. Every now and again, as long as we're not making that a daily habit, by all means enjoy it. It doesn't mean that you have to never enjoy that slice of cake ever again. 

Vitamin D is also really important when it comes to mood. And specifically at this time of year, we generally get vitamin D from the sun. Living in the UK, we can't get it at this time of year because we don't have adequate amounts of sunlight. So making sure that you are taking a supplement is really important. The government recommends to take ten micrograms per day. And we know that there's a really strong association between low levels of vitamin D and low mood as well.

"We've got our physical wellbeing, our mental wellbeing, and our social wellbeing. And sometimes it is just about making a decision that's going to nourish our mental health. And if sitting down with a cup of tea and a slice of cake is going to really nourish our soul, then that's okay."

Speaking of supplements, are there any particular ones that you'd recommend? 

There are definitely supplements which I think are worth taking. So if we kind of go through the stages: pre-pregnancy, it's recommended that we're taking 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. And that's really important to help build up those stores so that if you do fall pregnant, it can help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.

Then when you are pregnant, taking a good quality pregnancy supplement that's got things like iron, iodine, choline, vitamin D, B vitamins, calcium in there is really important, and then postpartum.

So if you are breastfeeding, things like calcium and iron are really important for supporting your energy and your milk supply. Vitamin D as well, and you might want to take an Omega-3 if you're not breastfeeding. Also, your body has gone through a lot. So specifically, if you've given birth and you've maybe lost quite a lot of blood through the birth, then your iron levels are also going to be more depleted as well. So being aware of restoring your magnesium is also really important after pregnancy. What I would say though, is it kind of comes down to budget. So I don't necessarily want to give specific brands because I think budget is a big thing. And I wouldn't want anyone to think, oh, well, that's not realistic for me.

So I would say, look for something that encompasses a lot of those nutrients that I've spoken about. Try to look for the capsules and the tablets rather than the liquids or the gummies, because they typically have sugar and lots of other additives in there. And do your research as well. Brands who've got the research behind them, look on their website, see what they have to say. You'll be able to tell whether it's a good product. And anyone can always drop me a message on any specific brand, If they've got any questions on Instagram, I'm always happy to answer messages.

Some supplements are available through the NHS too aren't they? So would you say it's worth asking at antenatal appointments about these?

Definitely. I was actually given them in my antenatal appointments but not everyone is offered them. And I think it's really important that you do have access to those nutrients. And if maybe it's less accessible for you, then do speak to your GP and see what options there are out there, because I'm sure that there is help.

We've touched on boosting mood but sleep deprivation is also a huge challenge as a new parent. Are there any foods that are just amazing at giving you that energy boost throughout the day?

Yeah. So I think a couple of things on sleep that are really important to highlight, and it's definitely something which I've struggled with recently because I know how important sleep is. We know that when we have a bad night's sleep, we don't function as well. And it feels so out of our control when we're in this phase. So, firstly, surrendering to that and accepting that it's okay, but also acknowledging the impact that having poor sleep can have on you, I think can be helpful. 

So, for example, when you have poor sleep, you're much more likely to crave more sugar, you're more likely to be hungrier as well, because we know that your appetite hormones can be dysregulated after the back of a bad night's sleep. So accepting that is important and then working with that, so saying, okay, so I know that today I might crave more sugar or I might require more food. Maybe I'll start the day with a high protein breakfast, because that can help to stabilise your blood sugar levels. So it can help to control some of those sugar cravings and keep you fuller for longer.

But also going back to what we were talking about earlier, in terms of stocking up your fridge, making sure that you've got those protein rich foods in the cupboard. Whether that's a soya yoghurt or a Greek yoghurt, making sure that you've got roasted chickpeas, some nuts to hand, apples, peanut butter, lots of nourishing foods that can be really helpful in terms of foods that are going to help you sleep or things that you should be aware of, potentially. 

Think about your caffeine intake. And I know as a new mum or a mum in general, a lot of us thrive off caffeine or need caffeine, and I certainly do. And I have it in the form of Matcha. It's the thing that I really look forward to in the morning. So it's not about completely eliminating caffeine because that, for many people, just isn't realistic. Maybe it's about thinking about your timing. So we know that if you drink caffeine too late in the day, that can impact your quality of sleep. So even, for example, if you are super tired, you might be thinking that as soon as the baby goes down, I'm going to go to sleep.

We know that drinking caffeine after around 2pm can affect the quality of your sleep. So you might fall asleep fine and you might actually get the same number of hours. But the quality and the restorativeness of that sleep is not going to be the same as if you don't have caffeine.

So if you are drinking coffee or tea, maybe stick to having it before 2pm. Maybe have one, maybe two cups a day maximum. Try not to just go coffee after coffee and be aware that things like some medications; chocolate, green tea, also, people generally don't think about that as a source of caffeine. That can also be a source of caffeine, too. So just think about the overall amount that you're consuming, especially if you're breastfeeding as well. That's going to be something that you want to consider, but you don't have to completely eliminate it. 

And then thinking maybe about what you're drinking in the evening. So if you are having that glass of wine in the evening, that's also going to impact the quality of your sleep. So maybe you want to think about some other alternatives, non-alcoholic alternatives or switching that for a herbal tea instead.

"We know that drinking caffeine after around 2pm can affect the quality of your sleep. So you might fall asleep fine and you might actually get the same number of hours. But the quality and the restorativeness of that sleep is not going to be the same as if you don't have caffeine."

If we should try and limit caffeine and wine, what would your alternative recommendations be to wind down after a busy and stressful day of parenting?

Often we use that glass of wine to be like and relax, but we can actually get that from tea. It's all about the mindset. So if you make the environment super cosy; maybe light a candle, put on a scent diffuser and have some nice fluffy pillows or cushions. I'm a sucker for a nice cushion. And make your environment really cosy, then go and make yourself a cup of tea, maybe play some relaxing music. You can still get that moment. It doesn't necessarily have to come from a glass of wine.

And just to jump in there, I love a glass of wine. I'm not sitting here on a pedestal saying, oh, never touch wine. I love a glass of wine, I really do. But I just think it's about thinking when we're consuming these things. So maybe we want to save that wine for a weekend where maybe we're socialising with friends rather than just getting into that habit of having a glass of wine every night when the baby goes down. It's like an unwind thing.

Thinking about your book, 'How To Stay Healthy' - what would you say to anyone thinking this offers a way to fix those unhealthy habits? 

So I'm all about smart, simple and sustainable nutrition. I'm not about quick fix. So, in How To Stay Healthy, I'm not making any promises that this time next week you're going to feel like a new person. I'm there to hold your hand and to show you the small things that you can do every day that over time will really make a big difference and a big impact. And I think so many of us don't have time to focus on nutrition solely.

We've got so many other things going on, especially as parents, whether you've got one child or more children, your life is so busy. And really, in 'How To Stay Healthy', it is just about the small things that you can do. That on a day to day basis can really, really help you. So how you can improve the nutritional quality of your meals; what lifestyle habits might be impacting your overall wellbeing, what small things you can do in your night time routine to help improve your overall diet. 

And also, the other thing that I talk about in here is our upbringing. So specifically, if we are parents thinking about how we can nurture our children's guts and the impact of nurturing your children's guts from a young age and how that can affect their wellbeing later on in life, now, that's a whole other conversation. But really, I just want to highlight that it spans across a lot of topics and it's not a quick fix. And I would really be sceptical of anyone who claims that they can have a quick fix because ultimately we know that it's not sustainable. So it's a slow but long-term and sustainable approach.

I'm a big advocate for trying to make nutrition and health accessible, delicious and natural as well. So as I say, just having fun with it, get your babies involved. It doesn't have to be something that's stressful. It doesn't have to be something that you have to spend hours prepping. If you hate cooking, it's okay. In the book, there are some recipes that are super quick. I say that I'm not a Cordon Bleu chef. I'm just a home cook that really enjoys food and I try to make it easy, simple, accessible, but delicious and nutritious at the same time.

Thank you, Jenna. For further tips and tricks and where to buy a copy of 'How To Stay Healthy', follow Jenna on Instagram @jennahopenutrition or take a look at her website.