How to balance your blood sugar: top nutrition tips

Blood sugar balance is frequently talked about, particularly by nutritionists! But what is its significance and why is it so important for our overall health and wellbeing?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for balancing blood sugar levels.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The sugar from the food we eat has to be very tightly regulated within the body so levels don’t get too high, and poor dietary and lifestyle choices can really challenge the system. Fluctuating sugar levels that are constantly up and down can lead to everything from weight gain, low energy and mood swings to general hormonal imbalances and lack of concentration. However, the good news is that everything can actually run very smoothly with a few simple tweaks.

EAT PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL

Protein found in meat, eggs, chicken, beans, lentils, soya, dairy produce, has a very positive effect on keeping blood sugar levels in good balance.

Protein helps balance blood sugar because it slows the rate at which food is absorbed into the bloodstream, plus it encourages the release of the fat-burning hormone glucagon. It makes sense, therefore, to include some at every meal. For example, egg on wholemeal toast for breakfast, salmon with a mixed bean salad for lunch and grilled chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner.

A range of foods containing protein

It’s also a vital part of the diet because it is the basic building block of all cells, muscles and bones, as well as skin, hair and nails. Because muscles are made up of protein, it’s essential to keep muscle mass strong, which also encourages weight loss by increasing the metabolism.

DITCH THE SUGAR AND STIMULANTS

If your diet is very high in white refined carbs then start by switching to ‘brown’ as much as possible. Refined foods, sugars and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol are quickly released into the bloodstream sending blood sugar levels soaring, which is not what they’re meant to do.

A rnage of wholegrain foods

Start by switching to wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and whole grain foods, which are absorbed into the blood stream much more slwoly and therefore sustain energy levels throughout the day. Switch to decaffeinated drinks and keep alcohol to a minimum.

EAT REGULARLY BUT DON’T GRAZE

It’s important not to go for too long without food (ideally around three to four hours). So, aim for three meals a day and maybe a small snack in between each. This will keep blood sugar levels even throughout the day. However, constant grazing is not good; this constantly challenges the insulin response, which will ultimately lead to highs and lows.

A healthy breakfast of eggs, smoked salmon and avocado

It is absolutely key not to miss breakfast. After a long night of fasting, if you don’t re-fuel in the mornings, the body will start to break down muscle. Over a period of time, this will lead to a lowered metabolic rate. Plus, if you just grab a quick espresso, your blood sugar levels will definitely soar and then quickly crash so you’ll be on a roller coaster all day! Eggs or porridge are two of the best starts to the day.

SNACK CLEAN

Eating a small nutritious snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon will help to stabilise blood sugar levels. Some great snack ideas include an apple with a few almonds, a small pot of live yoghurt with fruit, ½ an avocado, some chopped vegetables with hummus, peanut butter or other nut butters with oatcakes, fresh fruit with nuts and seeds – so many health combinations to try!

Woman eating yoghurt with berries showing healthy breakfast

The most important thing to remember is to try to include some protein with every snack, which as well as keeping the blood sugar levels in balance, means you’ll also stay fuller for longer and therefore less likely to reach for sugary treats.

EAT GOOD FATS

Whilst many people believe that ‘fat makes you fat’, the real culprit is actually sugar and refined carbohydrates in food. However, it’s no secret that too many ‘bad’ fats found in red meat and dairy products can cause heart disease if eaten too regularly. They also cause insulin resistance because they can make cell membranes hard and less receptive to insulin, which is essential for blood sugar control.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Enter good fats! These are the essential omegas that need to be eaten very regularly and help to boost metabolism and slow the rate that the stomach releases carbohydrates. Nuts, seeds and oily fish are the best sources of omega-3s. They’re not too difficult to include in the daily diet; nuts and seeds on your morning porridge, pumpkin seed butter on oatcakes as a snack and grilled sardines or salmon for lunch or dinner.

In short, the more even your blood sugar levels are, the more even your energy and mood will be, so adopt these dietary tips to keep your blood sugars balanced every day.

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Top nutrition tips to winter-proof your diet

Close up of woman with wooly hat and scarf to represent winter

With the onset of colder weather, our thoughts naturally turn to the approach of winter. Unfortunately, we tend to be more susceptible to nasty bugs at this time of year and through the winter months. However, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can winter-proof your diet to keep your body in good health all season long.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her tips on what’s good to eat and what’s best to ditch during the winter months.

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LOVE LEMONS!

Most people enjoy eating citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and tangerines, but avoid lemons because of their sharp flavour. However, their high vitamin C content can really help to support the immune system and they’re great at encouraging the liver to detox.

Fresh leons and lemon tea with root ginger on a wooden background

There are so many ways they can be incorporated into the daily diet; squeezed over grilled fish, added to salad dressings, drizzled over a morning pancake or added to a warming drink with ginger and honey. And for those with aches and pains, lemons also help balance the body’s natural alkalinity, so all the joints move a little smoother.

EAT YOUR GREENS

Spinach is obviously a green-leafy vegetable whose virtues are often extoled. However unlike other similar vegetables, spinach is high in oxalic acid which interferes with the absorption of certain minerals: oxalates tend to deplete iron and calcium, both of which are essential through the winter months to support the immune system and the muscles, joints and bones. But the good news is if you cook spinach this breaks down the oxalic acid, resulting in loss of fewer nutrients – so always go for steamed or sautéed spinach, especially during the winter months.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

There are of course also plenty of other green vegetables to choose from such as broccoli, kale cauliflower and sprouts, all of which should be readily eaten during the winter months for their very dense nutrient content.

SWEETEN WITH MOLASSES

When the temperature drops, we naturally tend to crave more sugary and carbohydrate-based foods. Clearly, we need to be mindful of this. However, molasses, which can be found in health foods stores, are a really good way of adding some sweetness to dishes. They actually have quite a strong flavour, so not too much is needed but they’re packed with the mineral iron to help keep energy levels up.

Roast leg of lamb with trimmings

Molasses can be used in sweet or savoury dishes; think pulled pork, lamb shank, game pies or chicken meals, in pancakes, flapjacks, or sticky toffee pudding (for a real treat).

AVOID WHITE SUGAR

Sugar is everywhere – often in foods you wouldn’t expect – and it is important to remember that it contains no nutrients at all. In fact, it may even impair absorption of essential nutrients. During winter-time the body is often under attack from infections, therefore the immune system needs to be in good shape. So it makes sense to take in good calories from health-giving foods rather than empty ones found in cakes, biscuits and pastries. It’s good to get into the habit of reading labels; many processed foods, cereals and those labelled ‘low-fat’ have much more sugar in than we realise.

FLAVOUR WITH GARLIC!

Garlic is a super food! It works naturally to fight invading viruses, bacteria and fungi. Therefore, it makes sense to include it in dishes as much as possible. Plus, of course it’s totally delicious and versatile.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic can be added to almost any savoury dish but it works especially well in soups, stews, lamb dishes, potato dauphinoise and stir fries. The more you eat, the better your immune system will cope during the winter months.

CUT DOWN ON DAIRY

Dairy products including milk, cream, cheese and yoghurt are not great for your respiratory system as they tend to encourage the production of mucous and nasal congestion, generally. With the threat of colds ever present during the winter months, it makes sense to reduce dairy intake where possible. There are so many dairy alternatives in the form of nut milks, oat, rice and soya. Why not try out a variety and see what works for you? Plus, you don’t need to miss out on yoghurt as there’s plenty of dairy-free ones readily available in the supermarkets.

A range of milks made from nuts

And if you’re missing some spread on your sandwiches, then why not use some hummus for a much healthier and tastier option?

So with a few easy dietary tweaks you can prepare your body to fight the oncoming bugs and be winter-ready!

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Nutrition for colds and flu: how to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands holding a bowl of warming soup

With the dreaded cold season rapidly approaching, now is the time to take steps to keep them at bay. What’s on your plate at each meal time can have a really positive effect in boosting the immune system and improving your health all winter long. And not forgetting that each meal time is an opportunity for including as many nutrients as possible for all-round great health.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for making each meal an immune-booster.

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MAKE YOUR MORNING COUNT

In so many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You’ve fasted through the night and the body is now looking for a really nutritious and energy-boosting start to the day. Moreover, eating a nutrient-rich breakfast provides the perfect opportunity to get your immune defences in great shape.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

Try to include some dark berry fruits into your breakfast: many of the secrets to the health benefits of these little berries actually lie in their beautiful, dark colours. Berry fruits are rich in plant compounds known as anthocyanins (blueberries especially so), which are high in immune-boosting antioxidants, that help protect the body against infections. Blueberries, cherries, strawberries and blackberries are also packed with vitamin C, one of our key defenders.

These fruits are coming out of season now, although they’re still readily available in supermarkets. However, use them frozen in a berry smoothie with banana and avocado and you’ve got yourself one of the best starts to the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Clearly you’ll need something more filling as well, so you can also add these fruits as a topper to porridge or other oat-based cereals. Oats are full of beta-glucans which help support the immune system, so what better start to the day during the winter than with a warming bowl of porridge topped with berries to see you through till lunchtime.

For those on the run at breakfast-time, a pot of live natural yoghurt, which is full of immune-boosting friendly bacteria, also makes a great option. Make sure you add some berries for that ‘hit’ of antioxidants and vitamin C!

LUNCHTIME POWER UP

Even though you’ve had a nutritionally-rich breakfast, by lunchtime your energy levels will naturally be flagging; the body needs re-fuelling! It’s really important to include protein at lunch for a number of reasons. Protein is needed for the body to produce immunoglobulins, a key part of immune function that helps to fight invasion of nasty bugs. Moreover, it will help stem the common 3 p.m. energy slump.

Baked sweet potato topped with salmon

So which proteins are best to eat? Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, which are packed with healthy essential omega-3s, are great as a topper on a jacket sweet potato. Loaded with beta-carotene, sweet potatoes will also provide great support for the immune system.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, or just fancy a change, then tempeh or tofu with some noodles or wholegrain brown rice also work really well. Tempeh is slightly higher in protein than tofu, plus it’s got a naturally nutty taste so tends to be more flavoursome.

Bean and rice salad stew

The mineral zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and is often lacking in diets that are high in white, refined foods. All types of beans contain good levels of zinc and they also make great lunchtime staples in a wrap, salad or soup. Chickpeas are another good alternative, so adding some hummus and wholemeal pitta bread to your lunchtime menu, or having some falafels, are other useful options.

HEALTHY SUPPERTIME

After a long, hard day, an evening meal can often be a rushed affair which can lead to less nutrients being eaten. However, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or a long time planning nutritious, immune-boosting meals.

Stir fries are always good because they’re quick and easy to prepare and you can use whatever happens to be in the fridge at the time. However, certain herbs such as garlic and ginger are real immune boosters and so can be included in lots of different dishes, especially stir fries, alongside your protein source and other vegetables.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Alternatively, why not make a warming and filling super soup? Butternut squash (full of beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A as needed), lentils (high in zinc) and coconut (great for the immune system) together provide a real immunity hit. Plus, you can add other ingredients such as fish, chicken or beans for a more filling option. The best thing is that you can make this in advance and it will last a few days so you’ll have a healthy meal ready whenever energy levels are flagging.

A bowl of warming butternut squash soup

Try to also include as many vegetables as possible into your evening meal for their vitamin C content. Red peppers, for example, are high in vitamin C, and are great added to a tray of roasted vegetables, which make a great accompaniment to any protein source. Other great immune-boosting roasting vegetables include sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, tomatoes and courgettes.

So include these immune-boosting foods at every mealtime this winter and keep those colds at bay.

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Autumn foodie favourites: what’s in season right now?

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutrition

Whilst it can be a bit confusing as to what’s in season when so much of our food is available year-round, it’s always best to try to ‘eat with the seasons’. So what does October bring us?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five great foods to eat this month.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

CRANBERRIES

Cranberries are traditionally associated with Christmas as an accompaniment to turkey. However, they’re at their best right now and that continues through to December. They used to be known as ‘bouncing berries’ as the fresh ones literally do! Most importantly, there’s a wealth of ways you can use them in the daily diet.

A basket of fresh cranberries

Cranberries are packed with plenty of immune-boosting nutrients to help you through the upcoming ‘bug’ season. They’re loaded with vitamin C, iron and plenty of antioxidants. Plus, they’ve also been proven to help fight urinary tract infections. However, it’s recommended to drink cranberry juice (look for low sugar ones), rather than the whole berries if you’re prone to suffering.

Cranberries are great in a sauce with roasted duck, can be used dried in breakfast muesli, and baked in muffins.

PUMPKINS

The month of October can never pass without mentioning pumpkins! The most famous of winter squashes, they are packed with the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene which the body turns into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed.

A range of pumpkins and squashes

Pumpkin is delicious roasted; in fact it’s probably easiest cooked this way as the skin can stay on. Preparing pumpkins can sometimes be slightly challenging although well worth it as they are delicious in stews, soups or mashed as a vegetable side. The seeds are highly nutritious and can also be lightly roasted with a little olive oil and salt for a healthy snack.

PEAS

Peas are often one of our staple vegetables on the dinner plate, partly because they are a popular frozen vegetable option. Frozen peas often more tender as they are picked and frozen quickly so the natural sugar doesn’t have time to turn into starch.

A bowl of fresh green peas and a pea pod

Peas are high in vitamin B1 which is good for the heart, and supports natural energy and the nervous system, plus they’re a good source of vitamin C.

The versatility of peas means they can be eaten in many different dishes; with pasta, in stir fries and risottos, in soups and as part of a Spanish tortilla, just as a few suggestions!

OYSTERS

Hailed as a luxury food, oysters will always make a statement on any plate! October is actually one of the best months to eat them in season as they are spawning during the summer months and their taste and texture changes.

A plate of fresh oysters

One of the best nutritional facts about oysters is that they’re loaded with the mineral zinc which is needed for healthy reproduction and fertility; this is the very reason oysters are known as aphrodisiacs!

It can be quite challenging to shuck an oyster yourself, so it’s worth buying them already prepared by an expert fishmonger. However, they need to be eaten fairly soon afterwards. Some people like them plain, others squeeze some lemon juice over them, or they work really well with a little tabasco to spice things up a bit!

GOOSE

Not just for Christmas, goose is coming into season right now. Whilst it does contain more fat than chicken or turkey, at 22 grams per 100 grams, goose has an excellent nutrient profile with greater levels of immune boosting iron and vitamin B6. Plus it contains the same amount of protein as turkey, which is even more than duck or chicken.

Roasted goose on a plate

A goose will produce fat when it’s roasting and some people cook it on an open tray and catch the fat as it drains off the bird. Goose fat helps create the best roasted potatoes so if you cook a goose during October, the collected fat will still be great for cooking your roasties on Christmas Day!

So celebrate these healthy and delicious October foods and enjoy seasonal eating this autumn.

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Autumn apples: can one a day keep the doctor away?.

An apple in a box with 'one a day' written on the lid

Whilst apples are one of our most common ‘go-to’ snacks, they also have a wealth of health benefits. Plus ancient folklore certainly extoled their medicinal benefits. Apples are as popular today as they’ve ever been and even better they’re in season right now!

Clinical Nutritionist shares seven great reasons for grabbing some apples this autumn.

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APPLES HAVE A GREAT NUTRIENT PROFILE

Specifically, they’re high in vitamin C – one of the body’s key nutrients because is delivers so many health benefits. Vitamin C is especially important at this time of year because it’s essential for keeping the immune system in good shape; it encourages production of white blood cells which help fight any unwanted bacteria and viruses.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Vitamin C is also important for the skin, hair and nails, primarily because it helps produce collagen, the body’s most important protein. And as collagen is an intrinsic part of skin structure, therefore it may help prevent wrinkles and fine lines.

THEY ARE RICH IN POLYPHENOLS

Polyphenols are plant compounds that deliver some wonderful health benefits. Most importantly, they’re rich in antioxidants which may help prevent some of our nasty degenerative diseases. There are a wide variety of polyphenols and more are being studied all the time. However, we know there are certainly enough in apples to justify ‘keeping the doctor away’ if you eat one daily!

It’s always better to eat apples in their whole form though, as some of the polyphenol content can be lost through juicing, particularly in shop-bought apple juices.

APPLES ARE LOW GLYCAEMIC

The glycaemic index is a measurement of how quickly foods affect blood sugar levels in the body. In general terms, the lower the food on the index, the better (unless quick energy is needed for intense exercise, for example). The lower the food on the index, the less dramatic the effect on blood sugar levels, which will help provide the body with sustained energy and won’t cause mood and concentration dips.

Apples are very low, mainly because they’re high in fibre, which has the positive effect of slowing down absorption.

THEY HAVE MEDICINAL USES

In herbal medicine, ripe, uncooked apples have traditionally been given to treat constipation, whilst stewed fruit can be eaten to help nasty tummy infections such as gastroenteritis.

Interestingly, apples were also used in poultices to ease skin inflammation. Whilst there’s clearly medicines to help all these ills now, the many wondrous health benefits of apples were clearly appreciated hundreds of years ago!

THERE’S PLENTY OF VARIETY

Whilst there’s literally hundreds of varieties of apples, there are around 50 or so grown commercially in the UK so there’s still plenty of choice to suit all tastes. Depending on your preferences, a red delicious apple will have a very different taste and texture to a granny smith for example.

a selection of green and red apples

Locally grown apples are stored in a cool environment where the oxygen balance has been chemically lowered; this also helps retain most of the nutrients. When they are put on supermarket shelves though, they will quickly go soft under normal oxygen conditions, so it’s always best to eat them soon after purchase.

APPLES ARE USED IN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE

We know apples can help the digestive system. However, in Ayurvedic medicine they also have a big part to play for their nutritional and medicinal properties.

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

Apples are often used with cinnamon for a combined anti-inflammatory action; when stewed together with some cloves and mixed with amaranth porridge, you’ve got a hearty and deliciously healthy start to the day.

THEY HELP GOOD GUT BACTERIA TO FLOURISH

There’s so much knowledge now around the amazing health benefits of friendly gut bacteria and a greater understanding of how essential they are to human health.

It seems that some of the polyphenol content of apples can work their way through the digestive tract to encourage production of gut bacteria. Most importantly, they appear to encourage production of one of our key species of gut bacteria being Bifidobacteria.

Apples are certainly great for digestive health generally, plus their high fibre content ensures that bowel regularity is maintained.

There’s certainly no denying the wonderful health benefits of apples! Try to choose apples that are grown as locally as possible to enjoy their benefits even more.

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Cholesterol – it’s all about balance.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

With the focus for many people being on heart health this month, it’s a great time to think about the amazing muscle in our chest that beats around 70 times a minute, all day every day. As with all of the body’s precious organs, it needs to be well taken care of and having high cholesterol levels is a known risk factor for heart disease.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for keeping cholesterol levels well balanced.

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Before we begin, there are two types of cholesterol. HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) known as ‘good’ cholesterol, helps remove other forms of cholesterol from the body. Higher levels of HDL offers some protection against heart disease. LDL (low Density Lipoprotein) is otherwise known as ‘bad’ cholesterol and is associated with heart disease and other circulatory disorders as it collects in the walls of blood vessels and can cause blockages.

So what can we do to encourage the good and get rid of bad?

EAT HEALTHY FATS

The essential omegas, in particular the omega-3s, can help reduce cholesterol levels and also have other heart-loving benefits. The body cannot make them so they have to be eaten very regularly in the diet; the best sources are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) and nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds and walnuts are best).

Omega-3s can help to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Omega’3s are also needed to manage inflammation throughout the body, and have other beneficial effects on blood pressure and heart health generally.

A range of foods high in Omega 3 fats

Try to eat oily fish two to three times a week; vegetarians should try to eat nuts and seeds every day (try flaxseeds which contain the essential Omega-3s). However, if that’s not for you or not doable, do opt for an Omega-3 supplement every day.

AVOID TRANS FATS

Trans fats (mainly found in margarines) are chemically produced and have an adverse effect on the heart (and health generally). The problem with trans fats is that their chemical structure changes when the fats are heated and processed. Food manufacturers frequently use the process of hydrogenation, which produces trans fats, in order to increase shelf life of foods such as margarines, biscuits and cakes. Unfortunately, the body has no way of dealing with them, therefore they tend to elevate blood fat levels, and in turn raise cholesterol levels.

Trans fats have no health or body benefits, therefore it’s best to try to avoid them as much as possible. It is actually better to have a little butter rather than using margarine, but also try using olive oil, coconut oil or rapeseed oil for cooking and keep cakes and biscuits to a minimum. Your waistline, as well as your heart, will certainly thank you!

EAT APPLES

There are always many good reasons for eating plenty of apples, plus they’re in season right now so their nutritional value should be higher, and they might even be a little cheaper. Apples contain a particular fibre called pectin, which helps to reduce cholesterol levels by transporting the bad cholesterol out of the body.

An apple with a heart shape cut out to show that apples are good for a healthy heart

Other fruits high in pectin include pears, all berries and citrus fruits. The best advice is to include a wide range of fruits (alongside vegetables of course) every day. Cholesterol has no way of being expelled from the body except through the stool. Therefore keeping the bowels regular is key and, as pectin is a fibre, it really helps this process along.

UP YOUR WHOLEGRAINS

Having a high fibre diet generally is one of the best ways of keeping cholesterol levels balanced. Wholegrain foods such as whole wheat bread and pasta, rice, quinoa, oats, beans and lentils are naturally high in fibre. In contrast, refined (or white) foods have had the fibrous part stripped out, so play no role in a high fibre diet.

A range of wholegrains in heart shaped dishes to show they are good for the heart

It’s actually quite easy to increase the amount of fibre in the diet without too much effort. For example, porridge sprinkled with a few flaxseeds makes a great breakfast, especially now the colder weather has arrived. Try a brown bread sandwich for lunch, alongside an apple (or berries) plus some nuts and seeds for snacks during the day. Salmon, quinoa and plenty of veg for dinner ticks both the fibre and Omega-3 boxes.

TRY A MILK SWAP

A diet generally high in saturated fats, found mainly in dairy produce and red meat, is certainly going to encourage the production of cholesterol. Switch to skimmed milk as a starter. However, there’s some research to suggest that soya produce, including milk, may help reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Plus, nut milks such as hazelnut, almond and oat, may also have a beneficial effect. At the very least, they’re all low in saturated fats.

A range of milks made from nuts

Even if you’re a die-hard cow’s milk fan, try to include some other milks in the diet as much as possible: each type of milk has its own health benefits so change them up as much as possible.

So adopt a few simple dietary changes and you can improve your cholesterol levels and support a healthier heart longer term.

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Autumn Nutrition: top 5 seasonal foods

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutrition

As with any season, autumn brings its own wealth of foods in abundance. Fruits and vegetables always taste better when they’re eaten seasonally, and meats and fish may even be a little cheaper.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her 5 ‘what’s hot’ this autumn (and some are a little more unusual)!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

CELERIAC

It is often called ‘the ugly one’ because celeriac is so nodular, but once you’ve cut off the skin and the roots from the base, celeriac should be tried because it’s delicious. It’s closely related to celery (which lots of people avoid), but it has a much smoother taste and can be added to lots of different dishes.

Celeriac on a table

 

Celeriac works really well as a vegetable side boiled and then mashed with garlic and potato. It can also be made into delicious soup with Bramley apples (also now in season), a little cream and vegetable stock. Plus, it’s got a good nutrient profile, being high in vitamin C which supports the immune system and it is also great added to soups or stews, both for its taste and health benefits.

RABBIT

Interestingly, rabbit tends to be eaten more in other European countries, particularly Spain, than in the UK. However, it makes a great change to chicken and has a slightly more ‘gamey’ taste. Even better, wild rabbit is very lean because the animals have obviously been able to run around freely. Generally, rabbits are sold whole, mainly from butcher’s shops, and can be used in the same way as chicken. Rabbit is low in fat, high in protein and a good source of energising B-vitamins.

Rabbit stew

Rabbit works well in a one-pot dish. Add some onion, garlic, chicken stock and green olives and cook for just over an hour, for a really tasty and hearty autumnal dish.

MUSSELS

It’s peak season for mussels right now in the UK which will be great news for many people! Whilst we often associate mussels cooked with white wine and garlic as being traditionally French, it’s certainly a very popular dish closer to home.

Mussels should be tightly closed when they’re bought fresh. However, when they’re cooked (don’t forget to add some parsley and a little chopped onion), after about three or four minutes, they should open easily which proves their freshness. Any sauce can be soaked up with soft crusty bread.

Mussels in a pot

The dish itself is low in fat and mussels are high in the mineral selenium. It’s very often depleted in the UK diet and is a very powerful antioxidant, supporting the immune system as well as healthy hair and skin. Maybe a dish to be served at your next autumn dinner party?

WATERCRESS

Peppery, dark watercress leaves are among the healthiest of fresh salad vegetables. These leaves are a rich source of immune-boosting vitamins C and B6, plus beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. Watercress is also a good source of iron, just like other dark, green leafy vegetables. In traditional medicine, it has long-been used to treat kidney and liver disorders, plus skin, and respiratory conditions; in short it seems to have wonderful restorative powers so now is certainly the time to be including it in your diet!

Watercress soup

One of the best recipes for watercress is in a soup. Simply fry up some chopped potato and onion, add some chicken stock and milk, boil until the vegetables are tender, then add the watercress and cook for another few minutes. The soup just needs to be popped through the blender and you’ve got yourself and really hearty, seasonal dish.

PLUMS

No autumn menu can be complete without plums! There are few fruits that come with such an array of colour variety. Plus, did you know that prunes are dried plums? Interestingly, they’re both very high in antioxidants although prunes tend to be an acquired taste and are often only used to ease constipation! They’re high in fibre but they also help to feed the beneficial gut bacteria.

Plums are also a great source of vitamin C and have been found to increase absorption of dietary iron.

A bowl full of plums

As with many fruits, plums are extremely versatile but keeping them simple is often the best way of preserving their wonderful flavour. They’re great sliced and added to breakfast cereal, they can be gently stewed and eaten with some natural yoghurt and sprinkled with seeds for an energising and quick breakfast, or served with savoury foods such as goat’s cheese in a salad.

So enjoy the wonderful tastes of autumn and relish the health benefits at the same time!

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