Five health-boosting seasonal foods for November

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A range of roasted vegetables

With winter rapidly approaching and the ever-present need to protect our immune system, why not add some wonderfully colourful and health-giving foods to your daily diet? 

Eating seasonally means you are getting the best out of these foods and if you can buy locally, even better.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five foods in-season right now and awaiting arrival onto your plate!

Turnips

Now is the perfect time to be eating root vegetables and it’s no coincidence that many are in season during autumn and winter. At this time of year, we need to be grounded within ourselves to help protect the body from unwanted illness.  Turnips fit the bill perfectly.

Roasted turnip side dish

Turnips are part of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, which includes Brussels sprouts and kale. They provide plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C as well as calming minerals including calcium.  They’re also packed with fibre and contain a small amount of protein.

Turnips are not always top of the shopping list because people are unsure what to do with them.  They have such a delicious naturally ‘rooty’ flavour, they need no more than to be peeled, cut, and placed in the oven to roast with a little olive oil and the tasty herb, thyme.

Beetroot

If you want to brighten up your plate whilst enriching your health, beetroots are the perfect answer. Often termed ‘super foods’ they really live up to their name.  Their rich red/purple colour means they are packed with anthocyanins – plant compounds high in antioxidants which help protect us against disease. They are also rich in energising folate and heart-loving potassium, as well as being great for detoxifying the liver.

Roasted sliced beetroot

Whilst you might not want to eat them cold in a salad right now, why not cook them and serve them warm with sliced pears, goats’ cheese and toasted walnuts?  They’re also delicious roasted in the oven and served with other root vegetables as a side.

Venison

A sometimes-forgotten meat, and not as readily available as other red meats, venison is lower in fat and slightly higher in protein.  Because deer are predominantly ‘free-range’ their meat is intrinsically lower in fat, including cholesterol.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Essentially deer are only fed on grass, wildflowers, clover and legumes, all naturally rich in essential nutrients, making it a great food choice.  This also makes the meat super-tasty and tender, therefore it only needs lightly cooking as a steak and can be served up with a choice of vegetable sides. 

Oysters

Whilst we often talk about oysters in February, specifically around Valentine’s Day, they are in season right now.  It is their richness in the mineral zinc, essential for fertility and reproductive health, that has given them their claim to fame as an aphrodisiac. However, zinc is also essential for immune health.

A plate of fresh oysters

Oysters are also rich in protein and low in fat, making them a great meal choice or decadent starter.

Apples

Their list of health benefits is nearly as long as the number of varieties of apples!  Whatever the variety, they all contain some wonderful nutrients and provide benefits especially to the digestive tract.  They help feed the good bacteria that naturally reside in the gut and which are essential to overall wellness.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples contain an abundance of polyphenols – plant compounds that provide so many health benefits, especially antioxidant protection. They have also been found to help reduce cholesterol levels, and this is mainly down to their high fibre pectin content.  This fibre also helps to keep the bowels moving smoothly. And for those watching their waistline, apples have a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels, which is key in maintaining weight in the healthy region.

So, enjoy some variety and colour and look for foods in season right now for the greatest health benefits.

Stay well.

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Take the Veg Pledge

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Vegetables provide so much nutritious goodness for us that they should feature much more frequently as the main event of a meal rather than just a side dish. 

Eating a more plant-based diet is great for our overall health, so get peeling and chopping and reap the benefits!

This Veg Pledge month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ideas for including more vegetables in your daily diet.

Colourful smoothies

Two glasses of berry smoothies

We often think of smoothies as only being fruit-based but they can taste equally delicious by including more vegetables than fruit.  Whilst you’ll lose most of the fibre from the vegetables by blending a smoothie, you can add extra fibre in the form of flaxseeds which are also rich in the healthy omega-3 fats.

Whilst the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables is five portions (and currently only 27% of the population achieve this) optimal health can be achieved by aiming for closer to ten portions. However, it is quite difficult to eat this amount, hence smoothies are the perfect answer.

A green smoothie

For a tasty green smoothie, blend cucumber, carrot, celery, ¼ avocado, spinach plus some apple and banana for sweetness, together with unsweetened almond milk (or soya if preferred).  You can change the taste (and colour) by using berries rather than apple.  The perfect start to the day!

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All vegetables and fruits are rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, essential through the winter months.  Plus, vegetables are loaded with varied carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body as needed, but they also serve as powerful antioxidants, further protecting the immune system and holding back the ageing process.

Make warming soup

A range of bowls of soup

Another perfect and very easy way of increasing your vegetable intake is by making soups.  As with smoothies, there are no end of variations.  However, if you want to create something more filling, perhaps for lunch, then it’s great to add some protein in the form of beans or lentils (colours and varieties of your choice) to sustain you until dinner time.

For a really tasty and warming winter soup simply boil up some carrots, celery, leeks, and chopped potatoes with some vegetable stock, garlic and thyme (plus the lentils).  If you want to change it up, why not add some chopped coriander or cumin? Or create a green soup using garlic, broccoli, courgette and spinach with some grated parmesan for added creaminess if you fancy it.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

Whilst the vegetables provide lots of energising B-vitamins, the additional protein in the form of beans or lentils will further boost B-vitamins, and keep you feeling fuller for longer. So, hopefully you’ll be less likely to be tempted to snack later in the day.

Roast up a trayful

A woman taking a tray of roasted vegetables out of the oven

Roasted vegetables tick all the boxes.  Not only are they delicious, but they can also be eaten with a protein source such as fish, chicken or quinoa for a perfect meal.  A trayful of veggies is loaded with fibre to keep everything moving smoothly and will aid digestion. And for even more variety, roasted vegetables are delicious cold, and added to salads.

A range of roasted vegetables

A mixed and colourful tray will deliver a plethora of nutrients.  All vegetables contain vitamin C in different amounts, but Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are also great for feeding the beneficial gut bacteria.  Courgettes are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – both carotenoids which are especially beneficial for the eyes.

Beetroot is simply a super food!  They are loaded with energising folate, iron and compounds that help liver detoxification. And the orange favourites that are carrots and sweet potatoes are both rich in the powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

As with all these vegetable recipes ideas, you’ll never get bored because there are so many different ones to choose from.  Why not try roasting some veggies you’ve never eaten before such as aubergines or fennel?  And for some added taste and protein, why not sprinkle with feta cheese?

So, make sure to include more vegetables in your diet and take the Veg Pledge today!

Stay well.

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Winter wellness: taking care of you

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The winter weather is rapidly approaching, and with the country now in another lockdown, there has never been a better time to really start looking after yourself.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips for being kind to yourself including improving sleep, enjoying greater energy levels and having glowing skin.

Sleep – the cornerstone of wellness

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Getting sufficient sleep is essential to feeling energised and having healthy glowing skin.  Everything suffers health-wise with a lack of sleep, including how we look and feel. If you’re struggling to sleep (as so many people are right now), the most important thing is to look to your diet in order to make some improvements.

The mineral magnesium is incredibly calming so try to eat foods rich in magnesium for dinner including beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables and nuts, which will all help improve sleep.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The amino acid tryptophan is important because it helps produce melatonin, our key sleep hormone.  Milk (soya, dairy and almond milks) contain tryptophan which is why having a warm milky drink before bedtime can be so effective.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, almonds contain melatonin, (as do cashews and pistachios, in lesser amounts) making them a very effective pre-bedtime snack.  Milk and nuts also contain calcium, another calming mineral.  Just by taking a little care and being kind to yourself, can make a whole lot of difference to how you sleep.

Energy – feed it to your body

A woman jumping with a sunset in the background

Do you feel tired all the time?  Firstly, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have the energy to do things.  It’s hard to feel energised and motivated when we are all in a state of flux. However, there are some particularly energising nutrients that can certainly help.

Enter the family of B-vitamins which all generate energy, primarily from the food we eat.  They are widely found in a range of foods especially whole grains, meat, fruit and vegetables and beans – in fact, in all healthy foods! If your diet is colourful and varied, then you should be getting what the body needs and this will help boost energy levels.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

‘White’ foods such as pastries, cakes, white rice, pasta and bread contain very little in the way of B-vitamins and will upset blood sugar levels, stripping energy rather than topping it up. Being kind to your body is about fuelling it with as much nourishment as you can at each mealtime.

Skin – radiate from within

Close up of woman smiling in a cosy jumper

How your skin looks and feels mainly comes from within.  If what you’re putting in isn’t right, it will show in your skin which may look dull and lifeless.  Being kind to your skin means providing it with specific beauty vitamins such as biotin, rich in eggs, beans, nuts and liver.  Plus, collagen, the body’s main structural protein, naturally declines with age, and a lack of which can leave the skin looking dull and less springy.

A range of protein sources

It’s important for all body systems and especially the skin to eat plenty of protein each day; include some at every meal – think eggs, meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy or fish.  This will also help collagen production.  Additionally, there are plenty of collagen supplements on the market, to further boost levels.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Collagen also needs vitamin C in order to work efficiently, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant protecting skin from free radical damage which is responsible for the ageing process. Your skin will certainly appreciate some kindness.

So, treat yourself to some kindness and it will really improve the way you look and feel, both now and in the future.

Stay well.

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Stress and anxiety: lifestyle changes you can make to help restore some calm

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Stress and anxiety levels are likely to be at an all-time high right now, for obvious reasons. Feeling anxious can be very unsettling and result in us not living our lives as we would like to.

Rather than trying to cope with it and accept it as ‘normal’, why not look to diet and lifestyle changes which could help to soothe your mind?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her top tips.

Nutritional swaps

It’s sometimes difficult to imagine that what we eat can have a marked effect on brain function, anxiety levels and mood.  For example, certain gluten-containing foods can cause low mood in some people.  Equally a lack of nutrients, especially zinc and B-vitamins can adversely affect mood and also cause anxiety.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

It’s important to make all mealtimes count as an opportunity for nourishing the body. For example, simple swaps such as wholemeal pasta instead of white and including fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon) rather than fish fingers, twice a week is a great start.

A range of green vegetables

Additionally, try to eat vegetables (which can be from frozen), particularly the green leafy variety, every day. They can make a big difference to brain function as they are rich in the calming mineral magnesium.  Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 3-4 of these being vegetables.

Always think brown rather than white when it comes to choosing whole grains, for example brown wholemeal bread and whole grain brown rice. All these foods are nutrient-dense and will help to stabilise mood.

Avoid the agitators

Whilst many people think that alcohol makes them happy, it’s actually a depressant, therefore having plenty of alcohol-free days is essential. Alcohol also upsets blood sugar balance, especially the day after. This can leave you feeling tired and often craving sugary, carbohydrate-heavy foods, which further deplete energy levels.

A cup of green herbal tea

Caffeinated drinks also cause blood sugar disturbances, which in turn affects mood.  Drinking decaf tea and coffee or herbal and fruit teas, together with 1.5 litres water daily will really reduce the caffeine load. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than others, but there will always be some kind of effect which may exacerbate anxiety.

Sleep support

Anxiety can cause sleep issues.  Changes to diet and lifestyle can have a really positive impact on getting a peaceful night.  However, if sleep is still an issue then it may be worth trying a supplement of 5-HTP, readily available in health food stores.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

5-HTP is the pre-cursor to tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin and in turn, melatonin, our sleep hormone.  It has the dual effect of reducing anxiety and encouraging restful nights. 5-HTP is best taken about one hour before bedtime with a carbohydrate snack.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Traditional remedies such as spraying lavender on the pillow can also be incredibly effective.  Even having a warm bath with some lavender oil an hour or so before bedtime can make a real difference.

Herbal help

Nature has incredible healing powers. The herb passionflower works on one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA, helping soothe anxiety and a nervous stomach.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

Camomile works in similar ways, so drinking camomile tea before bedtime is great, but also through the day can help too.  Additionally, valerian helps calm the body without causing excess drowsiness, and can also help solve sleep issues.

Treat yourself to kindness

It’s all about the messages you give to yourself.  Often without realising we beat ourselves up, bemoan that we could be better or get unnecessarily angry about things we can’t change right now.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Resolve not to listen to the inner voice when it chatters on your shoulder but take some time out for you.  Think about the simple pleasures that bring you joy and help calm the mind; a movie you’ve been meaning to watch for ages, a home spa treatment or a great book that you can escape into.

Allow yourself to enjoy these moments; don’t feel guilty and try to push away any negative thoughts to help promote feelings of calm.  Take some positive actions in order for the changes to be felt.

So, with a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to calm an anxious mind and body.

Stay well.

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Autumn nutrition: what to eat right now

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

The onset of Autumn generally conjures up thoughts of cosy evenings by the fire or wrapping up a little warmer. 

When the weather gets colder, the body craves and needs warming foods to keep it optimally fuelled and able to ward off colds and infections.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, serves up her five top foods to keep body and mind healthy and robust this Autumn.

Root vegetables

Top of the list must be root vegetables.  They are what your body craves when it needs nourishing support.  Swedes, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips are perfect for Autumn eating.

Not only are they high in vitamin C to support the immune system, they all contain specific compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates which are really protective against some of our nasty degenerative diseases.

Even better, they all make great ‘comfort’ food, which is perfect for the body right now.  Soups, curries and stews can be cooked in bulk and will last a few days. Plus, they all make great and simple vegetable sides. There’s no end of choices but make them a priority when meal planning.

Also try to include members of the cruciferous vegetable family, including cabbage, kale and broccoli.

Ginger

Top of the warming herbs list is ginger.  It’s also top of the list of healing ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine.  Ginger is a great digestive aid because it stimulates bile production (essential for good digestion), is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and has anti-bacterial qualities.  Even better, you can use it in everything!

Root ginger with a bwol of ground ginger

Use it to awaken your taste buds and digestion in the morning with some warm water and lemon.  This also helps cleanse the liver, so you’ll quickly feel invigorated.  Why not make your own fresh ginger tea and drink it throughout the day?  And if you’re struggling with headaches down to the amount of time spent in front of screens right now, ginger is also your friend.

Quinoa

Eating whole grains is important for Autumn since the body needs to be well nourished and grounded.  Quinoa is technically a seed not a grain, but it matters not when talking about its array of nutrients.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

In many ways, quinoa is better than rice because it contains much more protein, so is perfect for vegetarian and vegan diets.  It’s also high in trace minerals, including zinc, magnesium and iron, and also fibre. Even better, quinoa is high in antioxidants which help to combat free radicals and in turn supports a healthier you.

Cook up a batch and freeze it: quinoa is great hot or cold with most other foods.

White fish

Autumn is all about finding good life balance and this is also true for the digestive system.  It shouldn’t be put under pressure at the moment, hence white fish such as cod, sea bass, sole and haddock are very easy to digest, whilst providing plenty of wholesome nourishment.

Thai fish dish

Although white fish doesn’t contain all the pizazz of oily fish and the essential omegas, it is very high in protein and low in saturated fat. It will also help keep blood sugar in good balance so energy levels will be sustained.

Even better, it’s really easy and quick to cook; think seabass in a parcel with ginger, spring onions and lemon grass. It’s really delicious and ready in around 15 minutes.

Turmeric

This is a ‘must-have’ in your store cupboard.  The health benefits of turmeric just keep growing as new research comes to light.  However, it’s a great anti-inflammatory, a powerful antioxidant, a potent liver detoxifier and great immune booster. And it’s so versatile: it can be used in a plethora of dishes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Raw turmeric is more warming but it’s slightly time-consuming to work with, so ground and dried turmeric is fine and it’s best absorbed when eaten in a dish with black pepper.

Turmeric is an essential Autumn spice; why not try a turmeric latte, on trend right now!

So,  give your body what it needs this Autumn and hopefully you’ll stay happy and healthy.

Stay well.

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Top tips for managing your cholesterol

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

We hear the ‘cholesterol’ word used often because it’s a key marker for potential heart disease.  However, it’s also an essential part of our cellular make up and for hormone production, so balance is key. 

It’s important to keep levels in the healthy range, which is perfectly possible for most people by managing diet and lifestyle.

 This National Cholesterol Month Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five tips for keeping cholesterol in check.

Go low glycaemic

In a world where fad diets seem to predominate, the benefits and simplicity of eating a low glycaemic diet are often forgotten.  The glycaemic index is just a measure of how quickly food affects blood sugar levels.  High sugar, low fibre food has a massive impact but has also been found to raise cholesterol levels.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Opt for a diet that contains whole grains, plenty of fibrous vegetables, beans and minimal sugar.  Oats are especially beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels as they contain beta-glucans, a special fibre with lots of research to support their effectiveness. Eating low glycaemic will also help sustain your energy levels.

Eat essential fats

Not all fats are created equal and whilst eating too much saturated fat found in red meat and butter can raise cholesterol levels, the omega-3 essential fats found in oily fish have the reverse effect.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are the way to go; try to eat some at least three times per week.  However, for those not liking oily fish, either take an omega-3 supplement or eat plenty of flaxseeds (they can easily be added to your whole grain porridge), walnuts and pumpkin seeds.  If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol and are vegetarian, then it would also be advisable to take a flax oil supplement too.

Take plant sterols

Plant sterols are a group of substances found in nuts, oils and some vegetables that have been found to reduce cholesterol levels. To make life easier, plant sterols are often added to margarines and some yoghurts. However, be aware that these foods often also contain some less healthy ingredients so always combine them with plenty of healthy oils (especially olive oil), foods high in fibre and loads of green, leafy vegetables.]

Reduce your stress levels

High stress is another factor in raised cholesterol levels, partly because of the normal hormone response that happens during the stress response.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

When life is challenging, and it’s certainly that right now, it’s often hard to keep calm.  So find something that works for you and take some time each day to destress.  Why not practice meditation, go for a brisk walk or take a relaxing bath? You can relax on your bed listening to some music or do a yoga session. Whatever works for you, build it into your day every day.

Additionally, try drinking green tea: it contains theanine which helps stimulate our relaxing brain neurotransmitters. Another natural option is to try the herb, passionflower: it can work very quickly especially if you’re suffering from a ‘nervous’ stomach.  Dealing with stress should be addressed as a priority to help keep cholesterol in check.

Load up on vitamin C

Thankfully vitamin C is found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts, and it’s also useful for reducing high cholesterol.  Vitamin C is one of our key antioxidant nutrients so it helps protect artery walls from damage; hardening arteries is one of the key factors in heart disease.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All berry fruits, red peppers, mango, kiwi and spinach are especially rich in vitamin C so prioritise these foods in your diet if possible.  Additionally, aim for closer to 10 portions of fruits and veg a day if you can.  It’s sometimes easier to add a daily juice, smoothie or soup into your routine to increase your portions.  Whilst much of the fibre is lost by juicing, you’ll still be getting plenty of vitamin C and other key nutrients, including magnesium – also great for reducing cholesterol levels.

So, try and adopt some of these tips into your daily diet and lifestyle and help reduce your cholesterol levels naturally.

Stay well.

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Nutritious and healthy bakes for autumn

Close up of woman preparing pastry for baking

It’s National Baking Week so why not enjoy some new recipes that are enjoyable to make and can also boost your health at the same time?

We often connect baking with sweet treats, but savoury can be just as enjoyable and generally healthier too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top three savoury bakes and tells us how they can help boost your nutrition.

Savoury Muffins

The word ‘muffin’ tends to conjure up thoughts of a rich, chocolatey dough!  Lovely as they are, chocolate muffins are high in sugar and calories.  However, equally delicious and much healthier are savoury muffins.  Think feta cheese, sweet potato and avocado and you’ve got yourself a great breakfast or delicious snack.

Added to the key ingredients are eggs, polenta, ground almonds, milk and seeds for the topping. These muffins contain a good amount of protein so make a great start to the day or afternoon snack to banish the post-lunch slump.

Savory muffins

Sweet potatoes contain loads of immune-boosting beta-carotene, and avocados are packed with vitamin E, also great for immunity.  These muffins are also high in fibre (around 9g) each which goes a long way to meeting the recommended 30 grams of fibre daily.  They are quick and easy to bake and will last for up to three days in a sealed container.

Vegetarian Potato Pie

Essentially this is another version of traditional Shepherd’s Pie but made with beans rather than meat.  You don’t need to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy it and will gain some wonderful health benefits from eating it too.

It’s always good to use mixed beans but also include some fava beans.  Beans are all high in protein and fibre and also contain plenty of energising B-vitamins.  Plus, they’re great for keeping blood sugar levels in balance which will also help sustain your energy levels.

Vegetable potato pie

This recipe uses onion and garlic which are both rich in antioxidants, as well as carrots and potatoes which are high in immune-boosting vitamin C.  You’ll also need some tinned tomatoes.  Interestingly, tomatoes are loaded with lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant and is also great for prostate health.  Unusually lycopene is higher in tinned or cooked tomatoes rather than fresh. Best of all this dish will fill you up so you’ll be less tempted to grab unhealthy snacks after dinner.

Salmon Quiche

This is a great way of getting super-healthy omega-3s into your diet from the salmon.  Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, but as many people don’t like fish, the UK population is deficient in these essential fats.

Salmon quiche

Quiche always has a pastry base and you can use ready-made pastry if you’re short of time. The mixture uses delicious smoked salmon, which also provides a distinctive tase, plus watercress, a great source of iron.  Women are often deficient in iron so it’s an easy way of topping up. You can also add some steamed spinach or broccoli for an additional vitamin and mineral boost.

Bake the pastry base as per instructions while you steam the spinach or broccoli for 5 minutes. Beat up the mixture of salmon, eggs, milk and dill, then add the broccoli or spinach and layer on top of the pastry. This can then be baked in the oven for around 35 minutes. It’s great for feeding a hungry family and can be simply served with a colourful salad.

So, embrace National Baking Week and serve up some deliciously healthy dishes for autumn.

Stay well.

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Discover foods to support your mind this World Mental Health Day

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

World Mental Health Day is taking place this week. There is a greater focus on mental health generally right now, so never has there been a better time to discuss the topic more openly. 

Importantly, it’s also the perfect time to be looking at the connection between certain foods and nutrients and their effects on emotional wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five foods to support a healthy mind.

Oysters

Not only called the food of love because they’re known to be ‘aphrodisiacs’, oysters are rich in the mineral zinc, which is essential for mental wellbeing.  This is partly because zinc is one of our busiest minerals, being used in over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body, plus the brain naturally contains zinc.

A plate of fresh oysters

There’s much research to suggest its positive benefits in cases of depression and zinc is known to be depleted in UK diets.  This is partly because it’s rich in whole grain foods, rather than refined ones which tend to feature too highly in the typical daily diet.  However, seafood in another great source and oysters are certainly top of the list.  Don’t wait for the next Valentine’s Day to enjoy a romantic oyster dish!

Bananas

Bananas are rich in vitamin B6 which is essential for producing our happy hormone ‘serotonin’.  Plus, vitamin B6 is needed for energy release, so you get the best of both worlds.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas make a perfect snack, especially when you’re on the run. They also make an excellent pre-workout snack for an extra boost so you can push your body that bit harder!

Broccoli

Often referred to as a super food, broccoli delivers health benefits in so many ways.  Importantly, broccoli (and other green, leafy vegetables) are high in the mineral magnesium, which is needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, but also has a calming effect on the body generally.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Anxiety levels are soaring right now, in all age groups, so we all need to be mindful of specific nutrients that can help calm both mind and body.  Stress depletes magnesium, so it’s even more important to be loading up on greens.

And rather than just serving up plain boiled or steamed broccoli, why not lightly toss it in some pesto and pine nuts before serving, to add some interest to your plate.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a tasty and super-healthy oily fish that’s loaded with omega-3 fats.  These fats are essential to have in the diet because the body can’t make them, and they are critical for brain health, because the brain naturally contains them.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys confirm that the UK population is very deficient in omega-3s across all age ranges.  The recommended weekly amount is at least two portions of oily fish (salmon is also great), to try and redress the balance.

Mackerel is such a versatile fish. Try it chargrilled, in salads (it’s especially good with beetroot) or as made a pate. It is also delicious pre-smoked in a risotto, or gently pan-fried and served with rice or potatoes and your favourite veggies.  If you’re in a rush, why not use some tinned mackerel on wholemeal toast for a quick and incredibly healthy and filling lunch.

Blueberries

Blueberries are loaded with vitamin C, another nutrient that’s essential for good brain health.  Vitamin C is also one of our most powerful antioxidants which are very protective of the brain. Even better, blueberries are rich in plant compounds called polyphenols, also packed with antioxidants; it’s their beautiful rich colour that’s partly responsible for their health benefits.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are low on the glycaemic index so, unlike many fruits, they won’t upset blood sugar levels which can also cause dips in mood.  Serve them with your morning porridge or cereal or eat them with some natural yoghurt and seeds, for a healthy and quick, energy-sustaining breakfast.

So, include nutrients and foods in your diet that feed your brain and help support your brain from the inside out.

Stay well.

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Five foods for a healthy heart

Blueberries in a heart shape

As the heart is one of our hardest working organs so it makes sense to look after it as much as possible. The risk of heart disease increases with age but, unfortunately, problems can start much earlier and may not always make themselves known.

So, this World Heart Day make now the time to be kind to your heart.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five foods to help support your heart health.

Beetroot

Whole beetroots

Beetroot is often referred to as a super food because it delivers so many amazing health benefits.  It is especially high in antioxidants which help protect the artery wall from damaging free radicals.  However, it’s also been discovered that beetroot contains specific plant compounds with anti-inflammatory effects.  Certain types of heart disease such as atherosclerosis are characterised by chronic inflammation and beetroot can help to reduce the risks associated with it.  Furthermore, beetroot juice has been found to help lower blood pressure.

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

Even better, beetroot is delicious either in sweet or savoury dishes, and makes a wonderful addition to any tray of roasted veggies.

Salmon

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Salmon and all oily fish including sardines and mackerel contain the essential omega-3 fats that are known to protect the heart and also encourage healthy blood flow through the veins.  They also have wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits which will have a positive effect on the health of the arteries.

Scrambled eggs on toast with a side of smoked salmon

Whilst smoked salmon does contain a high level of salt, it’s still rich in omega-3s so is great for a Sunday morning treat with your scrambled eggs!

Tomatoes

Tomato salad

Tomatoes are actually one of the most researched of all fruits and vegetables in relation to heart health.  Indeed, much research has looked at the ability of tomatoes to reduce overall cholesterol levels and also raise protective HDL levels.  Plus, tomatoes are high in antioxidants, specifically carotenoids, which protect the artery wall from plaques that can cause damage if left unchecked.

Smashed avocado, cherry tomatoes and feta on toast

Even better, tomatoes are very easy to include into the daily diet.  They are actually more powerful when cooked so they make a great start to the day, grilled with some avocado on toast or added to a wealth of pasta, soups, roasted veggies or one-pot dishes.

Garlic

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often regarded by naturopaths as a miracle food because of its ability to combat so many different illnesses, it’s also great for heart health.  Garlic can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and also raise HDL levels.  In higher amounts, it can also help break down blood clots.

Curry dish and rice

So many savoury dishes benefit from some added garlic, especially stir-fries, soups, curries, veggie sides, lamb and fish dishes.

Oats

A bowl of oats

Oats are another super food when it comes to heart health.  Specifically, they contain a form of soluble fibre known as beta glucan which has been strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels.  It can reduce both cholesterol and other blood fat levels. Whilst beta glucans can also be found in other whole grains such as wheat and barley, oats are the best source.  Plus, they are naturally lower in gluten, so less likely to cause digestive issues.

To put it bluntly, cholesterol has to be removed from the body via the stool, hence having healthy bowels is essential.  Soluble fibre naturally binds to cholesterol with bile from the liver and transports it safely out of the body.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

With the winter months now approaching, it’s a great opportunity to make porridge your go-to breakfast.  Add some delicious berries (from frozen is fine), a little natural yoghurt and you’ve got the perfect start to the day.  Make sure you’re eating whole grain oats though, as the level of fibre is much reduced in the ready-made porridge sachets.

So, why not try some of these easy wins when it comes to your heart health?

Stay well.

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Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock