Get your nutrition into tip top shape this National Nutrition Month

Hands holding the letters whici spell Nutrition

It’s National Nutrition Month highlighting the amazing health benefits of feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to flourish and function optimally. 

With so much information available we can sometimes get confused and side-tracked, which can lead to de-motivation.  It’s about getting the basics right first.  This is the answer to overall and lasting wellness.

 Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for nutritional health.

Colour it up

When it comes to nutrients, it’s all about colour; the more colour variety you have in your diet, the more nutrients you’ll be eating.  This is because the pigments, especially noticeable in many beautifully coloured fruits and vegetables, are rich in antioxidants and lots of other health-giving plant compounds.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

We are advised to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and veg a day.  This is because these foods are some of the most nutrient-dense on the planet.  They are not just rich in antioxidants but loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. Just go for as much colour variety as possible and you’ll be going a long way to giving the body what it needs. Think of the colours of the rainbow and go from there.

Portion control

It seems many of us have put on a few unwanted kilos during lockdown which is completely understandable.  It’s been much more difficult to maintain any structured exercise programme with the constraints on our lives.  However, life is hopefully going to improve so now is a great time to tackle any weight gain.

It’s very common to turn to food for comfort or because ‘we deserve a treat’.  And sometimes, we might not even realise how much we’re eating just in snacks alone, so keeping a food diary is a great idea.

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

One point to note is that it is protein from meat, fish, poultry, soya, lentils, eggs, dairy and beans that keeps us feeling fuller for longer, not calorie-laden carbs.  Therefore, eating protein at every meal gives you much more bang for your buck and you’ll gradually train your stomach to eat sensible portions.  And do remember the balance between energy input (via your food) and energy output (though exercise).

Are you thirsty?

It’s really common to think that we’re hungry when actually we’re thirsty.  When it’s cold outside and we’re maybe not doing as much exercise as normal, we might not feel thirsty.  However, the body is around 80% water so regardless of the weather, it still needs plenty of liquid on a daily basis.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Non-caffeinated drinks such as herbal teas, also count towards your liquid requirements but do aim to drink 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily; you’ll also eat less and have much more energy.

Be kind to your insides

Your digestive system needs to work well for the body to look and feel healthy.  In short, if the gut is not working properly, then nothing else will. The gut microbiome, the wealth of friendly bacteria that naturally reside in the digestive tract, needs loving and nurturing.  These bacteria work very hard for us, boosting the immune system and producing certain vitamins, minerals and brain neurotransmitters. Keeping the digestive system running smoothly and looking after how we feed it will impact how we look and feel generally.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

Feed it regularly with gut-loving foods (also known as prebiotics) such as garlic, ginger, cruciferous veggies, tempeh, onions, artichokes and bananas.  Foods high in fibre such as whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables are all great for gut health too.

Reduce the stimulants

Too much caffeine and alcohol can create anxiety and exacerbate stress, both of which are not helpful especially at the current time. Additionally, caffeinated drinks often contain sweeteners, and alcohol is high in sugar, both of which can act as anti-nutrients, knocking certain vitamins and minerals sideways.  Try to reduce both as much as possible and you’ll feel much calmer and find energy levels soaring.

Mint tea

There are plenty of caffeine-free delicious alternatives such as dandelion coffee and herbal teas, as well as alcohol-free wine, beer and spirits; you can have fun trying out some new tastes.

So, embrace National Nutrition Month and your health will certainly benefit.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: five of the best foods for February

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of rhubarb

Working with the seasons and eating foods at their best during the seasonal food year brings many health benefits. 

Nature is very clever and provides foods the body needs for optimal nourishment at the right time throughout the year.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite fruits and vegetables for February.

Leeks

It’s all about roots during the winter months, keeping the body warm and grounded.  Leeks are from the same family as onions and they thrive during colder times because of their ability to withstand frost. Nutritionally, leeks are high in potassium so are very supportive of kidney function, can work as a diuretic and also support a healthy heart.

Leeks in a wooden trough

Their taste is slightly more subtle than onions so they can be used in stews, soups or work well with a cheese sauce. Unfortunately, as with onions and garlic, they do tend to cause some flatulence which is mainly down to their ability to feed the good gut bacteria.  It’s a positive sign and this is great for helping improve the overall balance of friendly flora.

Rhubarb

Whilst not eaten that widely, partly because it’s naturally so sour, rhubarb needs quite a lot of sugar to improve its flavour.  However, making classic rhubarb fool is certainly a great treat for special occasions, whilst delivering a very useful nutrient profile.  However, rhubarb also works brilliantly as a sauce with savoury dishes such as duck.  It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C and is a great source of fibre and potassium.  To that end, it’s been linked to helping improve cholesterol levels.

Rhubabr stalks and cut rhubarb in a bowl

Rhubarb is actually a vegetable and not a fruit, despite looking like one, and makes a lovely change to eating some of our better-known fruits and vegetables.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Broccoli is well-known for its amazing health benefits.  Purple sprouting has even more, down to its rich colour.  This means it contains greater levels of antioxidant anthocyanins, plus some of our key immune-boosters, vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Purple sprouting broccoli

All types of broccoli contain a compound called sulphoraphane which has been found to help protect us from many degenerative diseases.  Additionally, they provide a great source of relaxing magnesium and bone-loving calcium.  Try and eat some at least three times per week whilst it’s in season, for all its great health benefits.

Oranges

Whilst our climate is clearly not conducive to growing tropical fruits, other countries certainly are. Oranges from Spain are at their best right now and taste better than those imported from further afield. Whilst oranges don’t contain quite as much vitamin C as berry fruits, they still provide a very usable amount.  Plus, if you’re low in iron, then eating iron-rich foods such as meat or green-leafy veg and eggs, with an orange or a little orange juice, helps iron absorption considerably.

A bowl of oranges

As with all fruits and vegetables, oranges provide antioxidants which help protect us from disease and the ageing process.  Oranges are great with fish dishes but are great partnered with dark chocolate in a dessert.

Potatoes

The rise in the popularity of low-carb diets has left potatoes somewhat in the shade.  However, they don’t really deserve some of the bad press they receive: much of the issue around potatoes and potential weight gain is down to cooking methods.  Clearly roasted, creamed and chipped potatoes contain more fat, and therefore more calories. However, who doesn’t love roast potatoes or some deliciously, creamy mash!

A pan of just boiled jersey royal new potatoes

Potatoes actually provide a good level of vitamin C and heart-loving potassium.  Additionally, they are high in fibre so help keep the digestive system running smoothly.  As a vegetable side, they are delicious in recipes containing garlic or cheese; just be aware of portion sizes and then you don’t need to miss out totally.

So, enjoy the wonderful health benefits of eating seasonally.

Stay well.

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A day in the life of a Nutritionist: top tips for daily health

A chalk board with the words Healthy Lifestyle written on alongside other words which represent this

For many of us a new year means a new start and a revamp of our diet and exercise. And then there comes another lockdown. For some of us this is motivating and increases our focus on our own wellness, getting out for our daily walks and trying new dishes at home. For others we may have lost our motivation to keep moving and eat well.

So, with this in mind we thought we would ask Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer to share her daily routine and provide us with some insights and inspiration.

Take it away Suzie!

I’m frequently asked about my own eating and lifestyle habits.  And I always answer by saying that I am certainly not ‘perfect’ 100% of the time but aim for 80-90%.  This has become even more important to me during the pandemic because keeping ourselves as healthy as possible is certainly the best protection we can have.

Morning

I normally start the day with a small amount of apple cider vinegar and a glass of warm water with fresh lemon to help cleanse the liver and kickstart the digestive system. Plus, it helps alkalise the body. After about an hour I’ll generally have some porridge oats (from whole grain oats) with some oat or almond milk, topped with berries.  I also sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseeds on the top for additional omega-3 healthy fats and fibre.

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

As an alternative, or if I’ve done an early workout, I’ll have a power smoothie. This is made mainly with protein powder (usually pea protein, as whey protein can cause digestive upsets later in the day) and not too overloaded with fruit – I just choose a couple.

I generally take most of my supplements after breakfast too.  A daily multivitamin and mineral should be taken early on in the day in order to enjoy its energising benefits.  I’ll always take omega-3s from fish oil which are great for skin, joints, the heart and brain. In fact, I definitely notice the difference with my memory when I don’t take them! I’ll generally include either some probiotics or prebiotics such as inulin (depending on how well my digestion is working).

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

I also take additional vitamin D.  Quite apart from it being essential for the immune system, vitamin D is important for supporting normal bone health and for helping stiff joints, which I tend to get if I’ve been overdoing the workouts.

Lunch

I’m a great fan of eggs; they are a brilliant source of protein and brain-boosting phospholipids. Therefore, lunch will often be a spinach and mushroom omelette which will keep me feeling full for a good few hours and stop the classic ‘3 pm slump’!  Alternatively, I’ll have a smoked mackerel salad or avocado on sourdough bread.

Spinach and mushroom om

Depending on how the day’s running I might do a workout before lunch. I’m so lucky living in Brighton and being able to work out on the beach with a trainer a couple of times a week, which keeps me motivated.  Fitness apps are a great way to get moving at home but for me personally I dislike jumping around in my lounge!  During the working week I will always take a walk, even for half an hour, to get out in the fresh air.  It’s great for clearing the mind and also brilliant exercise.  I also try and do longer and more challenging walks at the weekends.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Dinner

During the week, I tend to keep things really simple: wild salmon or chicken breast with sweet potato and veggies.  I’m also a great fan of venison steaks as they are very low in fat, high in protein and tend to be more free-range than other meats.  I cook them as I would any piece of meat so they’re soft and tender, not chewy at all.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

I absolutely love chocolate and allow myself a few squares of dark chocolate each day as it’s packed with antioxidants. Because of its strong flavour, I find that I don’t need to eat too much.

Sleep

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

I struggle to get to sleep, so I try to have a warm bath about an hour before bedtime and I’ve found Epsom salts to be really helpful.  Plus, they make my skin feel super soft and smooth.  I’ll also take some L-Theanine about half an hour before bedtime.  It’s an amino acid that stimulates GABA, one of our calming neurotransmitters, which helps stop a busy brain. It does need to be taken on an empty stomach though.  However, sometimes I change things up a little and use the herbs passionflower and valerian, both of which have plenty of research for helping sleep.

Final thoughts

The body loves routine, and whilst most of us are out of our usual routine at the moment, I certainly find that the more I can fuel my body with plenty of nutrients, the better I’m able to weather the storm, both physically and emotionally. I hope my ‘day in the life’ has given you some motivation and ideas for including some more healthy habits into your daily routine.

Stay well.

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Top tips to boost your health, mood and motivation

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

With January out of the way, and the hope of a more positive 2021 in the world around us, now is a great time to really focus on your own wellbeing. This means looking closely at your diet and lifestyle as both of these factors have a direct correlation to your self-esteem and how good we feel inside.

What we put into our bodies and what we get out of them can have a big impact on our feelings of well-being and positivity.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at three key areas and shares some top tips.

Be honest about food

We all know our own eating habits and the foods we love.  Indeed, there’s a biochemical reason why we sometimes binge on certain foods which is down to the feel-good endorphins they stimulate.  However, this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the healthiest foods. It can be a good idea to write down everything we eat daily (and be honest!) and then look at it over a period of a few weeks to see what’s really going on.

Woman writing in diary

Eating too many sugar-laden foods will not only pile on the kilos but upset mental wellbeing.  There’s much research to confirm this. Treats are still permitted of course but maybe try to have just one treat day per week, so you don’t feel you’re missing out.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

Base your diet around protein (poultry, beans, legumes, eggs, meat, white and oily fish), healthy fats (including nuts and avocados) and non-processed carbohydrates (whole grains, plenty of vegetables and some fruit). Not only will sugar cravings disappear, you’ll feel more balanced generally.  And cutting out or reducing stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks will have a really positive effect on your mood and how well you sleep.

Move more

With the current lockdown and cold January weather, the motivation to exercise can be difficult.  However, the less you move, the less you want to move.  Even if you’re home-schooling, home working or key working, try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.

Whether it’s going for a brisk walk, using an exercise app or following YouTube videos go for anything that gets the body moving and stimulates blood to the brain.  The brain needs good blood flow in order to receive nutrients from which it can manufacture key neurotransmitters, amongst performing many other vital functions.

Close up of woman working out at home

Additionally, if you’re worried about weight gain during lockdown, just moving more will help you to feel positive, improve self-esteem and burn some calories at the same time.  If it helps, why not meet a friend outside for a socially distanced walk and then you’ll have a definite appointment to keep.

Find the joy

With so much depressing news right now, we sometimes just need to switch off, both externally and internally.  There’s so much ‘noise’ everywhere, plus most of us are living a 24/7 lifestyle with emails, social media and family commitments never ending within the blur of home/work lifestyles. However, the mind needs to take a break in order to avoid being overwhelm and feeling overloaded.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

For 20 minutes each day try to find at least one thing to think about (for example a meditation session), or do (perhaps listening to some music or a podcast that you love) or just being in your own physical and mental space (take yourself off to a room on your own).  Doing this for a short time every day and thinking about or doing something that makes you feel joyful will lead to a more positive mindset.

Close up of a woman by the ocean

Thoughts of sitting on a beach or at your favourite holiday spot are a great way for many of us to look to the future and the reality of this happening might not be too far away.  There’s also nothing to stop you envisioning things in your life that you’d like to happen.  Imagine yourself in those situations to help bring a more positive outlook to your day.

The body works as a whole; what we eat affects how we look, how we feel, our energy levels, mood and sleep. Equally, lifestyle factors and listening and responding to our body’s basic needs will help to generate positivity which will lead to better self-esteem and a more fulfilling life.

Stay well.

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Heart health: the top three nutrients to support yours

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

Our heart works very hard for us every day.  In any one day it can beat a whopping 100,000 times!  It makes sense, therefore, to show your heart some love by feeding it specific nutrients to keep it beating healthily.

Clearly, the body needs a range of nutrients to maintain optimal health and the heart is no different in this respect.  However, there are certain nutrients that the heart absolutely needs in order to stay strong and healthy.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her three top nutrients to support your heart health.

Vitamin C

We know vitamin C is really important when it comes to protecting the immune system.  However, as one of our key antioxidants, it’s essential for the heart too.  Thankfully, we have eradicated the classic deficiency disease of vitamin C, being scurvy, but the first sign of this was blood vessels literally leaking – very unpleasant.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

From much research and further understanding since then, we know that vitamin C is needed for strong blood vessels and arteries.  As an antioxidant, it protects the arteries from free radical damage that can block them and cause heart attacks.  Additionally, vitamin C increases production of HDL, our ‘good cholesterol’, which helps remove excess cholesterol from the body.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

All fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C so enjoying a colourful diet and including a wide range of these foods is going to really protect your heart.  Top of the list are peppers, berry fruits, kiwis and broccoli.

Omega-3s

Termed ‘essential fats’ because they have to be eaten in the diet, these omega-3 fats have a key role in heart health.  Specifically, it’s the long-chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA which are the main players.  Much research has found they can help reduce the risk of heart disease, thought to be down to their anti-inflammatory actions. This can reduce damage to artery walls, which is one of the key issues in heart disease.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help thin the blood, thereby reducing high blood pressure and minimising the risk of blood clots causing strokes.

The best sources of EPA and DHA are from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and to a lesser extent, tuna.  For fish eaters, then aim to eat oily fish at least two to three times a week.

A spoon full of flax seeds

However, for those not keen on fish or are vegan, then flaxseeds are able to provide some (albeit in lower amounts, since the body has to undergo complicated conversions of nutrients beforehand).  However, try to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself, before adding them to cereals or yoghurt, as this helps release the beneficial lignans which provide some wonderful health benefits.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle function and since the heart is a muscle, then magnesium is a key mineral for heart health.  It is also a relaxant, so magnesium has the effect of relaxing the artery wall and reducing blood pressure. Magnesium is often used to great effect when treating cases of high blood pressure.

Additionally, magnesium deficiency can cause a heart attack by cramping a coronary artery even in the absence of a blockage within the artery itself.  Magnesium deficiency is widespread within the UK population which may partly explain the prevalence of heart conditions.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that it can easily be rectified by including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in the diet.  Load up on almonds, spinach, whole grains including quinoa, and all types of beans.  Even better news is that dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium so you can enjoy a guilt-free treat of 70% or more dark chocolate!

Magnesium is depleted by stress (which many people are suffering at the moment), so try to eat magnesium-rich foods every day and take a magnesium supplement if needed.  It will also help reduce stress levels.

So, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can contribute to your heart health every day.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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Seasonal eating: what to add to your diet in January

Venison with red cabbage

Traditionally January tends to be a dull and dreary month for most people!  Post-Christmas blues, dark days and poor weather, not to mention the current lockdown. 

This makes now an even better time to embrace the delicious, colourful and nutritious seasonal food currently available.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite seasonal foods for January.

Venison

Venison often gets forgotten when thinking about red meat, but it’s a wonderfully healthy food.  Much of our UK venison is produced from deer that roam freely, therefore the meat is very tasty and extremely low in fat.  Indeed, venison has less fat than other red meats and also a skinned breast of chicken.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Importantly venison is higher in iron than other red meats and contains some of the super-healthy omega-3 fats.  Even better, it’s incredibly easy to cook – it works just like steak  Therefore, it can be lightly pan-fried and is delicious in stews.  Because venison is so lean and soft in texture, it doesn’t take too much work to produce a superb meal.

Mackerel

Although not always strictly from UK waters as it’s often sourced from the Mediterranean as well as the north Atlantic, January it’s still a great time for eating mackerel.

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

Mackerel’s main ‘claim to fame’ is its wealth of omega-3 fats.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) that we’re widely deficient of these essential fats the UK. Omega-3s are needed for a healthy heart, eyes, brain, skin and for good hormone and joint function.  Eating mackerel once a week will provide at least half of the weekly recommended intake of omega-3s.

Whilst it might be too ‘fishy’ tasting for some, it’s delightful to eat a naturally moist fish. Mackerel is great lightly grilled with just a squeeze of lemon juice.

Onions

A staple in many dishes, onions are incredibly versatile and come in different shapes and colours, but all are nutritionally beneficial.  Onions are packed with powerful flavonoids – plant compounds that have antioxidant qualities, helping protect us from disease and the ageing process.

A range of onions

One of these flavonoids, quercetin, helps control the production of histamine, responsible for unpleasant allergic symptoms, especially for hay fever sufferers.  Eating plenty of quercetin-rich foods prior to the hay fever season can help dampen down some of these symptoms, so it’s good to start now.

Whether you choose white onions, red onions, spring onions or shallots, it’s more a question of taste rather than any real difference in nutritional goodness.  Plus, they’re all full of fibre so will help keep everything moving smoothly through the digestive tract.

Cauliflower

A worthy member of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, cauliflower is not only rich in many nutrients, but it also contains a wealth of phytonutrients with additional health benefits.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Top of the list are glucosinolates which help manage inflammation throughout the body, aid detoxification and digestion and support the immune system. Whilst cauliflower is high in antioxidants due to its many plant compounds, it’s also rich in the mineral manganese which is needed to produce one of our powerful antioxidant enzymes (as well as being good for the joints).

Because it has a distinctive strong taste, cauliflower is great added to meals as a vegetable side, having been lightly steamed.  Alternatively, it works really well in curries or with Asian flavours and dishes.

Red Cabbage

A regular on the Christmas dinner table, red cabbage is in season during the winter months and is well worth including in meals well after the festive period.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

Interestingly, whilst all cabbages are highly nutritious, being another member of the cruciferous vegetable family, red cabbage has a nutritional edge. Its deep red colour provides additional anthocyanins which are powerful antioxidants. Red cabbage is also very rich in other antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C and manganese, plus vitamin K, essential for healthy blood flow and joints.

In terms of enjoying its delicious flavours, braised red cabbage with chopped apple (also now in season) is wonderful. It also works really well in sweet and sour dishes, with Asian flavours, in stir fries or soups.

There are so many great reasons for eating seasonally; apart from enhanced taste, the nutrient profile of food is generally always better.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

Stay well.

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Five top veggies to top up your vegan diet

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

It’s January and for many people, that means it’s Veganuary. For some of us, it may just be a continuation of our vegan diet but, for others, it could be the start of a new regime.  

Whether you’re giving it a go for the first time or have been enjoying the wonders of a vegan diet for a while, it’s always good to be reminded of some of the most important vegetables to include in your diet and their great health benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five veggies.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are often one of the mainstay vegetables of a vegan diet as they are a fabulously nutritious and versatile vegetable.  Sweet potatoes are often misunderstood and categorised as ‘another type of potato’ but they are from different plant families.  Whilst both types of potatoes have plenty of health benefits, sweet potatoes are better for balancing blood sugar levels as they are lower on the glycaemic index.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

However, where sweet potatoes really score is in their high beta-carotene content.  This is turned into immune-supportive vitamin A, as needed, by the body, and is especially helpful at this time of year.  Try them roasted, in their jackets, in curries, stews and soups: there are plenty of easy ways to incorporate them into a vegan diet.

Broccoli

As a member of the amazing cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli’s health benefits are far-reaching.  When it comes to nutrient content broccoli delivers high levels of vitamin C, folate, iron, beta-carotene and potassium and also a range of powerful antioxidants.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Antioxidants soak up free radicals and help protect us from disease and there are many different types.  However, broccoli contains an especially health-giving compound called indole, which has been found to protect DNA from damage, very important for prevention of serious degenerative diseases.  What’s more, it’s so easy to include in the diet. Think of it as a side or use it in stir-fries. Try it roasted with a little soy sauce or simply lightly steamed. It can be included in an array of veggie-based dishes.

Red Peppers

Often called sweet peppers (as they are ripened for longer than green peppers) or bell peppers, they contain three times as much immune-boosting vitamin C as oranges.  Plus, as with other red and brightly coloured vegetables, they are high in beta-carotene, so your immune system is really going to benefit.

Red peppers

Red peppers are incredibly versatile and can be simply grilled or stuffed with savoury rice or other grains. They are great in stir fries, chopped in salads, or grilled, skinned and pureed to be made into a delicious fat-free sauce as a perfect topping to wholemeal pasta.

Kale

Often referred to as curly kale for obvious reasons, it’s another green vegetable with superfood status. Interestingly, there are many different varieties of kale and some are not curly but smooth-leaved!

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Just like broccoli and brussels sprouts, kale is packed with indoles, but it is the richest source of calcium of all vegetables, so is great for building strong bones and teeth.  Calcium is also a calming mineral so is much needed during these stressful times. A great January vegetable, kale helps cleanse the liver and break down and eliminate ‘old’ hormones therefore helping create feelings of balance and peace.  Kale does have a slightly bitter taste so is often best served lightly grilled with some soya sauce to balance the flavours.

Spinach

Another super-healthy green vegetable, spinach is probably best eaten raw in salads as a substitute for lettuce.  It’s also very tasty in wraps with falafel or avocado and hummus. Spinach can of course be included in cooking or as a vegetable side, but you just need to use a fair number of leaves as it wilts down to very small amounts.  However, it’s delicious when served with garlic.

A bwol of fresh spinach leaves

Spinach doesn’t actually have the highest iron levels (contrary to popular myth) but it certainly scores brilliantly with its carotenoid content.  This includes both beta carotene and lutein which is excellent for eyesight.  Indeed, all carotenoids have powerful antioxidant effects so are very protective of overall health.

So, make your Veganuary the healthiest and tastiest ever – enjoy!

Stay well.

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New Year Goals: how to have a healthy and happy 2021

A 2021 note book to show goal planning

New year, new start as the famous saying goes!  With 2020 having been such a difficult year, most people will be welcoming a new year with open arms.  And with that comes new resolutions around health and fitness goals. 

If you’ve got into some bad habits during 2020 (and let’s face it, who hasn’t!), then make this year the one where you get back on track both mentally and physically.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why good nutrition is the cornerstone to health, and how you can feel better than ever this year.

Set realistic goals

Being realistic about what you can achieve is so important.  If you’ve developed a bad sugar habit during 2020, then don’t tell yourself you’ll never eat cake again, for example.  This leads to feelings of despair and it’s not sustainable.  However, why not allow yourself one treat day a week when you can eat cake, or indulge in your favourite guilty pleasure?  A life of constant denial is not going to make anyone happy and is unnecessary.

A note book with 2021 goals list

It’s also worth thinking about adopting the 80/20 rule: eat a healthy and well-balanced diet 80% of the time.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

Issues with mental health are going to be very front focussed during 2021 for all the reasons we know.  Achieving mental well-being should be top of your priority list for and that also means getting your nutrition right.

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

The brain needs to be nourished with nutrients to provide the right fuel to keep hormones in good balance but also to produce brain neurotransmitters that affect mood and motivation. Brain-loving nutrients include the full family of B-vitamins, zinc and magnesium so make sure you’re eating plenty of green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fish and legumes (all rich sources).

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

The brain also needs essential omega-3 fats to work correctly, with the best source being oily fish, but flax or chia seeds are also good if you’re vegetarian or vegan.  They are called ‘essential’ as the body can’t make them, so ensure they feature in your diet a few times each week or more.

Stimulants such as highly caffeinated drinks, alcohol and sugar (in all its forms) are not great friends of the brain, so be honest about your consumption and take steps to reduce if this refers to you (remember the 80/20 rule).

Love your gut

Everything that goes on in the gut affects the brain, mainly down to the connective tissue flowing back and forth. Gut health is critical to overall wellness so start being kind to it.  It’s important to feed the beneficial gut bacteria to enable them to flourish, since their role is key to good gut heath.  Foods such as asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, legumes, bananas, flaxseeds, turmeric, green tea and dandelion coffee are all great.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

It’s also important to drink plenty of pure water to help keep the bowels regular otherwise toxins can build and this affects mental wellbeing.

Fermented foods are also great for the gut so include some natural yoghurt, tofu, kimchi and kombucha regularly.

Be honest about your weight

Winter weather is not conducive to peeling off the layers, hence many of us have piled on the kilos, plus the festive season is always challenging for the waistline.  When we know we’re overweight, this can often affect mental health, but we all need to be realistic about what is achievable and, most importantly, sustainable.

Close up on woman's feet on a pair of scales with a measuring tape

Rapid weight loss generally leads to rapid weight gain when normal eating is resumed.  Better to set yourself a realistic target (around 1-2 lbs per week weight loss is good) and a sensible time frame.  Many people find that once they have taken control of their eating and they start to see some weight loss this is a great incentive and they’re more able to achieve targets.

Maintain a good work/life balance

The lines between work and social time have become very blurred during 2020 and this is not set to change that much for a while.  Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that we all need sufficient downtime, rest and recuperation, so make this a priority during 2021.

Ven diagram with work, life, and health crossing and leading to the word balance

Make a clear plan for work time each day (whatever that needs to be for you) and how to fill your free time.  Maybe 2021 is the time to learn a new skill or find things that fulfil and stimulate the brain. This way mind and body will both be in better balance.

May 2021 bring you health, happiness and fulfilment.

Stay well.

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Walk your way to health this winter

Woman walking in a snowy woodland

With our wings being somewhat clipped at the moment, many of us have found real pleasure in walking and getting some much-needed fresh air. 

There are lots of health benefits to walking but some of them you may be surprised to hear.  And walking in the cold weather is especially beneficial.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why and how to get the most enjoyment and benefits from walking.

The benefits of walking in the cold

For those who are brave enough to undertake and appreciate the benefits of swimming in the sea during the winter months, you may already know that the cold water is incredibly beneficial for relieving stress and instilling feelings of calm.  This is because the extremely cold water stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck, responsible for pushing the body’s nervous system into a calming parasympathetic state, rather than revving up the sympathetic nervous system. This can also happen when the neck is exposed to cold generally, hence walking in the snow (without a scarf just for a bit), is a great stressbuster (and very beautiful too).

So, get out there this festive season and enjoy some frosty walks in your local area.

Here are my top tips for an enjoyable winter walk.

Walk after a meal not before

Walking soon after you’ve finished a meal really helps the body better metabolise glucose and insulin, so food is less likely to be stored as fat.  Anyone wanting to lose weight or trying to get blood sugar in balance should walk after the main meal of the day which will really help both situations. Obviously, you’ll have more energy to put into the walk rather than ‘running on empty’.

Dress appropriately

If you’re feeling up to a longer challenge, then why not plan a route that will take a few hours, pack an energising lunch, and enjoy some real time out.  Even though you’re moving and maybe climbing some hills, you can still get really cold when temperatures plummet.  The key to staying comfortable during longer walks is layering.  Always have a close-fitting base layer and then put on as many additional layers as you need and make sure you either wear or pack a waterproof jacket, just in case.  Body temperatures can drop really quickly if clothes and body get drenched so it’s important to respect the weather at this time of year, especially if you are heading for the hills.  Waterproof over-trousers might be another essential item, again depending on the terrain.

Woman in winter gear on a walk

Most body heat is lost from the head so a warm hat is another essential item and can be a real game-changer when body temperature starts to drop.  In terms of keeping the neck warm, then a scarf is important as the vagus nerve doesn’t need to be exposed to the elements for long for the beneficial effects to be felt.

Pack an energising lunch

Obviously, you’re slightly limited in how much you can pack in terms of lunch but clearly you need to re-fuel.  More calories are burnt during the cold weather as the body tries to maintain body temperature.  However, a huge feast is not needed, just a combination of protein and carbohydrate.  Great choices would be egg with a little mayo on wholemeal bread, tinned tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal pittas or haloumi and salad on sourdough bread.

Woman with a hot thermos on a wintery walk

Having a hot drink mid-walk really helps lift spirits and warm the body; it’s easy to get cold really quickly once you stop for lunch.  Pack a flask of your favourite hot drink and maybe a small, sweet treat for when energy levels start to flag at the end of the day. And don’t forget to take some water with you too.

Walking is great for boosting circulation and encouraging blood flow to the brain, burning calories, keeping fit and busting stress.  And winter walking can be even more enjoyable if you’re fully prepared. Enjoy!

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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

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