The goodness of Garlic: health and nutritional benefits of this tasty bulb

Garlic (Allium sativum) has long been regarded as something of a miracle food. It has been used for dozens of complaints ranging from asthma to arthritis and it’s also a versatile ingredient in a wide range of dishes.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the low-down on garlic.

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Garlic’s reputation for providing healing properties, as an antiviral and anti-bacterial agent, are backed up by scientific evidence.  The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains, including those that are responsible for the pungent odour released when crushed.

The jury is still out as to whether garlic has the same benefits when eaten cooked versus in its raw form, as some of the compounds are lost in cooking.  If eaten raw then half to one clove daily is a good recommended daily amount.

VITAMIN AND MINERALS

Aside from its wonderful health benefits, garlic is also a great source of vitamin B6 which helps energy levels, manganese for the joints, and vitamin C and selenium which are both very powerful antioxidants.  These nutrients may also be some of the reasons for garlic’s vast array of health benefits.

The only downside to eating lots of garlic is that it makes the breath smell, hence there are many supplements produced using deodorised garlic.  A great tip to reduce the lingering smell is to chew parsley – a natural breath freshener!

A NATURAL ANTIBIOTIC

Garlic is thought to be a natural and broad-spectrum antibiotic; it may help to prevent or treat some bacterial or fungal infections.  Specifically it can be used very effectively to kill some intestinal parasites and fungal yeast infections.

Taking a garlic supplement, or increasing garlic in the diet before travelling abroad, may well help prevent traveller’s diarrhoea or picking up some kind of intestinal infection.

GREAT FOR THE HEART

Garlic has been used really effectively over many years as a natural anti-coagulant; this means it helps to lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure.

It seems to suppress cholesterol production in the liver and also helps to raise levels of the beneficial HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol.

IMMUNE BOOSTER

Garlic certainly has some wonderful immune-boosting properties mainly down to its anti-viral and antibacterial properties.  If it becomes a regular part of your diet, added to cooking, and alongside other immune-boosting herbs such as ginger, it can certainly help with treating colds and flu or better still, preventing them occurring in the first place.

A NATURAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

Garlic appears to exert strong anti-inflammatory properties, hence the reason it’s been widely used for joint problems, including arthritis.

It seems that the four main sulphur compounds within garlic deliver the powerful results, even helping to alleviate the pain associated with various joint issues.

LOVE GARLIC?

There are so many ways you can incorporate garlic into your everyday cooking! There are very few savoury dishes or foods that can’t be improved by the addition of garlic; soups, stews, mashed potatoes, bread, mushrooms, salmon with ginger, as a delicious cream with steak or in tomato-based sauces over pasta.

Here are three of my favourites:

Homemade Aioli

Why not eat the Spanish way!  Homemade aioli is so easy to make.  All you need is two egg yolks, three garlic cloves, some Dijon mustard and olive oil.  Mix the first three ingredients and then add some olive oil to thicken the mixture and a little lemon juice to taste.

It makes a wonderful dip for crackers, breads or crudités.  Alternatively, a popular European way with garlic is to crush it and spread it on bread with olive oil.  This works particularly well with bruschetta.

Stir-fry anything!

Stir-fries are so easy and quick and you can literally make them up as you go along!  However, a couple of cloves of garlic work especially well with prawns, peppers, soy sauce and any other chopped veggies of your choice.

Garlic chicken

A one-pot chicken dish is super-easy, quick and totally delicious.  Garlic cloves can either be stuffed into the carcass before cooking or crushed onto potatoes before roasting.

Garlic also works well crushed onto lamb, with some fresh rosemary, before cooking.

There are so many reasons to include garlic in your cooking, so enjoy experimenting!

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The health benefits of marvellous melons!

Melons are deliciously refreshing fruits to enjoy in the summer, either on their own or as part of a colourful fruit salad. Packed with nutrients, and full of colour and flavour, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer whets the appetite for three tasty varieties – watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew.

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THE BASICS

Melons come from the same family as squash – part of the gourd family – and were first cultivated around 4,000 years ago, originally in south-east Asia.  They tend to fall into two categories: Citrillus lanatus or watermelons and Cucumus melo which includes honeydew and cantaloupe.

Unlike bananas, melons don’t get any sweeter after they’ve been picked.  To judge if they’re ripe enough to eat, you should tap watermelons and listen for a dull sound, whereas honeydews should be just slightly soft when pressing the skin.  Cantaloupes should give off a strong, fruity aroma.

Melons, as with a number of other fruits and vegetables, are especially good for alkalising the body.  The body is naturally more alkaline than acidic (around Ph 7) therefore, it’s much healthier to maintain its natural state.  Stress and a very high protein diet can cause more acidity and also problems with acid reflux, therefore melons can help to restore natural balance.

Melons are actually digested quite quickly and certainly quicker than a number of other fruits.  For this reason, they’re generally better eaten alone if you suffer from sluggish digestion.  However, they do of course, taste delicious when mixed with other fruits and generally don’t cause any digestive problems for most people.

Summer is certainly the best time of year for eating all varieties of melons; off-season they can be hard and slightly tasteless, so enjoy right now!

WATERMELON

Although containing slightly less nutrients than its counterparts, watermelon is fantastic at rehydrating the body, particularly during the summer months.  In fact, just a two-cup serving of watermelon provides enough daily potassium to keep the body properly hydrated at a cellular level.  This will help to avoid muscle cramps, maintain energy levels but also help to stimulate the kidneys to work more efficiently.  The effect will also ensure your ‘waterworks’ function nicely!

One lesser-known fact about watermelon is that it has been called ‘nature’s natural Viagra’, and for very good reason!  Watermelon is high in citrulline, which is converted in the body to the amino acid, arginine, which helps to dilate blood vessels.  This in turn, can support erectile function.

Watermelons also contain more lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) than tomatoes.  Because lycopene is fat-soluble, it’s always best eaten with healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and live yoghurt or with a cheese such as feta.

CANTALOUPE MELON

Cantaloupe holds its wonderful health benefits within its beautiful orange-coloured flesh. It’s the orange colour that provides one of its most important nutrients – beta carotene. Cantaloupe also contains a range of carotenoids which are all powerful antioxidants.  They have been linked to the prevention of free radical damage to cells which leads to some of our most common degenerative diseases.

Cantaloupes are actually the most nutritious of all melon varieties with a 100 g portion providing around half of our recommended intake of vitamin C.  Additionally, they’re a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids which are particularly beneficial for the eyesight.  Cantaloupes are also a good source of potassium and other electrolytes, making them a great post-exercise snack after you’ve worked out!

HONEYDEW MELON

This is the melon most often paired with Parma ham; the salty taste of the ham and the sweetness of the melon make a perfect partnership! Honeydews are the sweetest of all melons when ripe, plus, the alkalinity of the melon helps to balance the acidity of the ham.  They’re also popular in salads and other desserts.

Honeydews are a perfect fresh summer treat and work particularly well in smoothies or as an accompaniment to walnuts and chicken in a salad. Nutritionally, they don’t provide quite as much vitamin C as cantaloupes, but still provide pretty good amounts.

Honeydews also provide a good balance of both soluble and insoluble fibre (and the body needs both).  Soluble fibre helps regulate digestion and insoluble fibre is the roughage the body needs to keep the bowels moving regularly.

So whichever variety you choose, make sure your summer meal plans include some marvellous melons!

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Smooth summer digestion: top tips for a healthy tummy

The combination of longer summer days and holiday plans means barbecues, outdoor eating and socialising with family and friends. But occasional over-indulgence, travelling to different countries and the potential for poorly cooked barbecue food can cause digestive upsets

 Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides some top tips to keep your digestion running smoothly all summer long.

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GOOD FLORAL BALANCE

The gastrointestinal tract is home to vast numbers of bacteria, commonly referred to as friendly flora; there are over 500 different types weighing anything up to two kilos in the gut.  Some are good and some not-so-good but there needs to be more good than bad.

The gut flora fulfill many functions but primarily protect the gut from menacing invaders, particularly those that cause food poisoning.  It is therefore a really good idea to take a course of probiotic supplements for a month or two each year, or for longer if you have recently taken antibiotics.

Additionally try adding foods to your diet that help replenish the good bacteria. Asparagus, (great on the barbecue), Jerusalem artichokes, onions, bananas, green tea and fermented foods such as tofu and miso are great, as well as sheep’s or goat’s milk yoghurts.

COMBAT OVER-INDULGENCE

Summer parties and barbecues are ideal opportunities to over-indulge!  However, with a little forward planning, you can wake up feeling as fresh as a daisy the next day. Your liver is the main organ of detoxification and has to work hard if too much fatty food or alcohol is consumed.

However, the herb Milk Thistle is particularly protective of the liver and helps to combat that ‘morning after the night before’ feeling.  Take one or two before you go out either at lunchtime or in the evening.

BEAT THE BLOAT

Many of us will suffer with uncomfortable bloating at times, which is often accompanied by flatulence.  There can be many reasons for bloating; too much sugary or fatty food, poor gut flora, food intolerance or low stomach acid and digestive enzyme production, to name just a few.

Globe artichoke, which can be taken in supplement form, is very effective at relieving painful bloating.  Additionally, sipping ginger tea also helps to expel trapped wind which can often be the cause of discomfort.  Equally, it’s worth writing a food diary to see if there’s a pattern forming after you have eaten certain foods.

SAY ‘NO’ TO DELHI BELLY

You don’t need to go all the way to India to get sickness and diarrhoea on holiday.  There are many countries in the world where poor water and hygiene are commonplace.  Avoid drinking tap water, and only add ice to your drinks if it’s made from bottled water. In some countries it is advisable to also clean your teeth with bottled water. You may also want to avoid eating salad that has been washed in tap water.

However, the body is more susceptible to infection if the gut flora is not up-to scratch – another good reason to take a course of probiotics, particularly in the two weeks leading up to foreign travel.  Whilst not completely infallible it will certainly provide greater protection and hopefully you’ll enjoy a relaxing, illness-free holiday.

So, embrace the barbeques and foreign food and with these top tips hopefully you can enjoy the summer without any unpleasant side effects!

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Talking rhubarb: everything you need to know

Whilst there may be some confusion around whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable, there’s certainly no doubt about its nutritional benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes a closer look at rhubarb and why it’s worth including in your diet.

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RHUBARB IN THE RAW

Rhubarb is very widely grown around the world and has quite a long season but right now it’s at its best.  To set the record straight, rhubarb is actually a vegetable!  It has been widely grown in the UK for around 400 years and tends to be sweeter if grown in greenhouses.  The redder the stalks the sweeter the taste! Rhubarb can be a little ‘tart’ hence the reason it’s often cooked with other sweeter fruits.

Its ‘real’ name is Rheum which is the ancient name for the River Volga in Russia. The Chinese first discovered rhubarb thousands of years ago but it wasn’t until the 17th century that it was used in the UK as a food.

Whilst there are many benefits to including rhubarb in your diet, it is important to note that only the stalks and flowers can be eaten; the leaves are actually poisonous.  Another hot tip is that rhubarb is best not cooked in an aluminium saucepan as the metal can be absorbed into the food.  Other than that, it has many merits!

NUTRITIONAL PROFILE

One of rhubarb’s nutritional highlights is that it’s very high in vitamin K which is one of our key bone-building vitamins.  Vitamin K is important in the normal bone re-modelling process that is constantly happening within the body. As part of their normal functioning, bone cells are constantly destroyed and re-built and vitamin K is key in this process.

As with most fruits and vegetables, rhubarb contains good levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is great for boosting the immune system and is one of our hardest working vitamins, helping to keep the body fit and well.

Rhubarb is also a high antioxidant food, right up there with some of the berry fruits.  Foods high in antioxidants help stave off free radicals which are responsible for the ageing process and some of our more common degenerative diseases.  Therefore, including more antioxidant foods in the diet is always going to be beneficial. Research has also been carried out using extracts of rhubarb to see how it can potentially help protect against Alzheimer’s[1].  Studies of this nature are limited but it just shows the potential power of food!

When the wonders of rhubarb were first discovered a few thousand years ago, medical herbalists used it in tincture form to help ease digestive upsets.  Rhubarb is naturally high in fibre so will certainly keep the bowels in smooth working order if nothing else!

In Chinese medicine, rhubarb is believed to help inflammation and reduce infection.  Its anti-inflammatory effects seem to help the mucous membranes.  Therefore, if you’re suffering from the dreaded hay fever right now, then eating some stewed rhubarb regularly might just help.

RHUBARB RECIPES

The most important point to remember when using rhubarb in recipes is that the redder the edible stalks, the more likely they’ll be sweeter in taste.

Rhubarb is naturally quite sour so, but for obvious reasons, adding too much sugar is best avoided. However, rhubarb works really well with strawberries, which of course are readily available right now.  Try stewing some rhubarb with a little maple syrup and then cool. Add some walnuts and mixed seeds and you’ve got yourself a wonderful breakfast topping for your porridge or cereal.

One of the most traditional ways to use rhubarb is in a crumble – a lovely indulgent pudding for special occasions.  Rhubarb works really well on its own or with oranges or apples.

You could even try rhubarb in a smoothie. Why not simmer some rhubarb with a little honey the night before.  Then whisk up the next morning with some other berries of your choice, together with some granola for a really filling and tasty start to your day!

So whilst rhubarb might not always have been the first choice in your shopping trolley, it certainly offers some wonderful nutritional benefits and tasty treats. Enjoy!

[1] Misiti F et al, Protective effect of rhubarb derivatives on amyloid beta (1-42) peptide-induced apoptosis in IMR-32 cells: a case of nutrigenomic.  Brain Res Bull 2006 Dec 11; 71(1-3): 29-36. Epub 2006 Aug 7

 

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How to fight hay fever the natural way

If the onset of summer means itchy eyes, tickly throat and lots of sneezing, then there’s plenty of natural help at hand for hay fever.  Unfortunately, summer can be a miserable time for millions of hay fever sufferers but there are lots of ways that nature can actually help.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at some natural remedies to help combat hay fever so you can better enjoy the lovely summer days.

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IMMUNE DEFENCE

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which, in, turn causes the tell-tale itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and wheezing.

Supporting the immune system needs to be the first line of defence.  Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and cause these symptoms.  Plus it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.

The body also converts something called beta carotene into vitamin A as it needs it; colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly carrots, peppers, mangoes and sweet potatoes all contain beta carotene and should certainly feature high on the menu to really help boost the immune system.

With the summer months now in full swing, we tend to naturally eat more fruits, vegetables and salads in any case so you’ll generally be eating more vitamin C, another key immune-booster. Berry fruits, in particular, are all high in vitamin C.

If you’re time-poor having a selection of fruits and vegetables in the freeze is a great way to make sure you have access to those immune-boosting nutrients at any time.

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

The spice, turmeric, is currently hot, in more ways than one!  There’s been extensive research published on the many health benefits of turmeric (also known as curcumin), and one of its key uses is reducing any inflammation in the body.

Turmeric appears to dampen down a specific enzyme in the body which is triggered by pollen, therefore, it can certainly help manage hay fever symptoms.  It’s easy to include turmeric in lots of dishes, not just spicy curries.  As an idea, spicy scrambled egg with spinach makes a wonderful breakfast.

Additionally, turmeric is widely available in supplement form if it’s just a little bit too hot for your palate.

INCLUDE QUERCETIN

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can help prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of allergies.

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

MAKE A CUPPA

There are two herbs of particular note which can help alleviate symptoms of hay fever. Camomile makes a wonderfully calming tea and is a natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine; Elderflower tea can help chesty conditions and so may also help to ease hay fever.

EAT MORE FISH

Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna are all good sources of the omega-3 fats which help to manage any inflammation in the body.  It, therefore, naturally follows that these healthy omega-3 fats can help to dampen down some of the unpleasant hay fever symptoms.

With the barbecue season now in full flow, all these fish are great cooked in this way; try to eat oily fish three times a week if possible.

So, if you’re a hay fever sufferer, hopefully some of these natural remedies can help stop you sneezing your way through the summer!

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The power of peas: tiny but nutritious!

With their beautiful dense green colour, fresh peas are at their absolute best right now. There are many varieties of peas to choose from plus there’s always the ‘fresh or frozen’ question to debate!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us everything we need to know about peas (with ease!)

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PEA VARIETIES

Peas are a really popular vegetable in the UK with some sources estimating a whopping 9,000 being eaten by the average person a year!  Unlike many of our fruits and vegetables, peas are actually grown in the UK with around 35,000 hectares given over to their farming.

The most common types of peas, other than those taken out of the pod, are mange tout (also called snow peas) and sugar snap peas.  They are members of the legume family.

Garden peas have firm, rounded pods that need to be removed and discarded before eating the peas inside. Garden peas are naturally quite sweet and get sweeter and starchier the larger they get. Conversely, snow peas are eaten ‘whole’; also known as Chinese pea pods, they are often used in stir fries.

Sugar snap peas are actually a cross between snow peas and garden peas.  The whole pod is eaten either raw or cooked and they have a crunchy texture with quite a sweet flavour.

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Since all these peas are from the same legume family, their nutritional highlights are also fairly similar.  They provide a rich source of thiamin or vitamin B1 which is great for energy production and the heart, and are also high in vitamin C.  Plus, peas provide a good source of protein, hence they are used to produce protein powders which are particularly popular with vegetarian athletes.

Peas are high in folate which is key in brain development and energy production; pregnant women certainly need higher levels of folate in their diet. They are also high in fibre so they are great to include in the diet if you want to keep your bowels in smooth working order.

FRESH VERSUS FROZEN

The first peas were frozen by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920’s and Birds Eye Foods still have the most market share of frozen pea sales today!

Many people prefer to eat frozen peas rather than fresh because once peas have been harvested they undergo chemical changes quite rapidly.  The natural sugar in peas is quickly converted into starch which can make their texture tough to eat and less digestible.  However, the freezing process is normally done very quickly after harvesting which both locks the nutrients in plus makes them more tender to eat.

The other great benefit is that frozen peas require absolute no preparation!  They’re readily available for curries, soups, casseroles, risottos or just as a delicious vegetable side with some melted butter and chopped chives.

Another question that’s often posed is regarding the nutritional content of tinned peas. Unfortunately, they do lose more of their nutritional value in the canning process and they can often be high in sugar and salt. So they are not the ideal pea choice!

TIPS FOR COOKING

As with any fruit or vegetable, cooking with as little heat as possible is always better.  This is mainly because vitamin C is so easily lost in the cooking process.  Therefore, steaming is always recommended or cooking in a just a small amount of water.

PEAS VERSUS PULSES

People can often get confused, quite understandably, around the differences between peas and pulses.  This is mainly because of pulses called chick peas or black-eyed peas!

Peas are actually legumes and whilst pulses are part of the legume family, they actually refer to the dried seed.  Various beans, such as soya, lentils and chickpeas, are probably the most common types of pulses.  All pulses have good amounts of protein but don’t contain all the essential amino acids, hence they need to be combined with grains to get everything the body needs.

So there we have peas in a nutshell (or more correctly a pod!) They are a great go-to vegetable and if you’ve got some in your freezer all year round, you’ll never go without your daily greens!

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Celebrate the summer berry season

The Great British institution of Wimbledon kicks off this week, and whilst in celebratory mood our thoughts tend to turn to strawberries.  Home-grown British strawberries are at their absolute best right now in terms of flavour and the great news is that they also deliver some amazing health benefits. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the health benefits of these heart-shaped fruit.  And if strawberries don’t ‘float your boat’ there are plenty of other berries to choose from!

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STRAWBERRY NUTRITION

It may surprise you to know that strawberries are not actually a fruit at all!  This is because their seeds are on the outside, not the inside. They are actually part of the rose or rosaceae family!

Strawberries are a very rich source of vitamin C.  In fact, they feature at about number five in the list of foods highest in vitamin C.  They also contain folate, one of the family of B vitamins that delivers great energy.

Strawberries contain manganese, which is great for the joints.  This benefit is further enhanced by the presence of compounds called ellagitannins which help manage inflammation in the body (which ultimately can cause pain). So if you’ve been hard at work in the garden and your back is complaining, you know what to reach for!

Anthocyanins provide the amazing red colour of strawberries, and these plant compounds also deliver some powerful immune-boosting antioxidants.  Strawberries are also high in fibre to help keep the bowels running smoothly and support a healthy heart.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF STRAWBERRIES

As well as their enviable nutritional profile, strawberries are beneficial in a number of health conditions.

With Type 2 diabetes becoming ever more prevalent, one of the best ways to try to avoid its onset, is by eating foods that are known to be low glycaemic (or low GI).  This means that whilst they contain sugar, mainly in the form of fructose, this type of sugar is released more slowly into the body. Therefore, this helps to balance blood sugar levels, an imbalance of which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Strawberries actually have a much lower glycaemic index than other fruits such as bananas, pineapples, apricots and cantaloupe melon.

As previously highlighted, strawberries are rich in antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation in the body, and this too can have positive benefits on brain health.  Even though very limited research has been carried out, it seems that eating strawberries can help re-generate the nerves involved in the area of the brain that processes new information. So summertime, when strawberries are at their best, might be a great time to learn something new; maybe a foreign language so you’ll be well prepared when next year’s holiday comes around!

So, what if strawberries aren’t top of your berry list? No problem – there are plenty of other berries to choose from!

BLUEBERRIES

Ranked second only to strawberries in terms of their popularity, blueberries are often referred to as a superfood.  As with strawberries (and other berry fruits), it’s all about the colour. The deep pigment colour is attributed to anthocyanins, which are very powerful compounds that provide antioxidants.

Part of the reason that blueberries are often termed superfoods, is because they have a wider array of other health-boosting plant compounds than almost any other fruit. They have been found to be great for maintaining sharp brain function, keeping blood sugar levels in balance and supporting the eyes.

CHERRIES

Whilst cherries may be seen as more difficult to eat because of the stone, they more than make up for this inconvenience with their nutritional benefits.

Cherries come in the form of sweet or tart and they actually provide different health benefits.

Whilst they’re a rich source of vitamin C just like the other berry fruits, all cherries have been found to help combat the painful condition, gout, which causes very painful and inflamed joints.  Gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood and cherries actually help to reduce this, thereby aiding symptoms.

On the other hand, tart cherries are one of the only natural sources of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone.  They are fairly sharp to eat whole, therefore are best consumed in tart cherry juice which can be sipped morning and evening for best effect.

BLACKBERRIES

If strawberries are closely associated with Wimbledon, then blackberry-picking just shouts ‘summer’! Wild blackberries are abundant on the hedgerows and are an amazing accompaniment to many a dessert, particularly a fresh, fruit salad.

Whilst they contain an amazing array of powerful plant compounds, blackberries also provide an impressive amount of vitamins including vitamins A, E, K and the B vitamins. Blackberries are also high in two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to be highly beneficial to eye sight.

So summer berry season is here!  Enjoy them all for extra health and nutrition benefits and feel energised all summer long!

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