Balancing hormones naturally through nutrition.

shutterstock_157003715 middle aged woman smiling Nov15Hormones play essential roles within the body. Sometimes they can upset the way we feel, how we sleep and whether we gain weight. Keeping our hormones in balance can sometimes be challenging, but there are many natural ways we can live more harmoniously with our hormones!

Consultant Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips for managing our hormone levels through diet, nutrition and lifestyle adjustments.

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The hormone system, known as the endocrine system, is a complex series of chemical messages that control a whole host of functions including blood sugar, fertility, digestion, sleep and how the brain functions. Let’s take a look at the ones that appear to have the most impact on our lives as I take you through my top 5 tips for what we can do to naturally keep them working as we would like.

shutterstock_123711391 forks showing balanced diet Nov15BALANCING BLOOD SUGAR

This body system involves the hormones insulin and glucagon: responsible for managing your blood sugar levels this is probably the key hormone reaction in the body. If these hormones are out of balance you may feel tired, find it more difficult to concentrate, your general brain function may be sluggish, you could feel irritable; women may suffer more PMS symptoms and you’ll also struggle to manage your weight effectively.

In simple terms, the hormone insulin is stimulated by carbohydrate such as bread and pasta, and glucagon is stimulated by protein (such as meat, fish, chicken and eggs). These two hormones need to be kept in balance, with neither being too high or low. Eating too many refined ‘white’ carbohydrate foods, such as white pasta, and bread, and sugary foods, such as pastries, will cause blood sugar levels to rise, and this will trigger a sharper rise in insulin. Following a sharp rise, comes a steep fall and that’s when your energy levels will start to decrease. As with all hormone reactions, it’s all about balance!

Eating protein and carbohydrates together, such as meat, potatoes and vegetables, as opposed to just carbohydrate on its own, is the best advice. Additionally, try not to leave too long between meals – no longer than four hours. Keep a check on stimulants such as tea, coffee and alcohol as they encourage sharp rises in insulin: this will also help manage the system and keep your energy levels in better shape throughout the day!

shutterstock_313327553 egg and spinach on toast Nov15MANAGING PRE-MENSTRUAL SYNDROME

It is thought that around 70% of women will suffer from PMS at some point in their lives, so it’s no wonder that it’s talked about so often! However, there are some simple steps ladies can take to help alleviate the problem.

Firstly, blood sugar balancing is key so have another read of the ‘Balancing Blood sugar’ tip above.

Secondly, there are three nutrients that work really well together in terms of balancing hormones: Vitamin B6, found in bananas and whole grain foods, and the two minerals Zinc (found in eggs and seafood) and Magnesium (predominantly found in green leafy vegetables, particularly broccoli and kale). It can often be challenging getting enough of these nutrients, so taking a supplement either as a multi-vitamin and mineral formulation – one specifically for women – will be beneficial.

Additionally, painful breasts pre-menstrually is also a common symptom. Many women find some relief by taking a supplement of starflower oil which helps balance the secretion of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, but which is also the main culprit of breast discomfort before your period starts.

shutterstock_277391456 hummus and chick peas Nov15SLEEPING TIGHT

Poor sleep is a very common problem for many people around the globe. And it can all be down to hormone imbalance.

Serotonin works as a hormone and neuro-transmitter which enables signals to pass around the brain: it is serotonin that helps make the hormone melatonin which is secreted during the hours of darkness to help us sleep. Serotonin itself is produced from an amino acid called tryptophan. So, foods containing tryptophan, such as turkey, salmon and nuts and seeds, can all help to boost serotonin levels and therefore support the production of the ‘darkness’ hormone melatonin, therefore aiding sleep.

Because these foods all contain other proteins, tryptophan isn’t necessarily taken up as well as it could be. Chick peas have been found to be a really good source of tryptophan so rush out and buy some hummus! Additionally, milk and oats also help to boost levels, hence the long-standing remedy of a warm, milky drink before bedtime.

Because melatonin is secreted during darkness, it also makes sense to keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Waking up early during the summer months can often be down to the room being too light so it can be worth investing in black-out curtains.

shutterstock_255106213 lasagne Nov15FEELING FULLER FOR LONGER

The hormone, cholecystokinin (or CCK as it is most commonly known) is secreted from the small intestine and helps stimulate digestive enzymes as well as gastric juices. However, people may not know that CCK also helps to stimulate the feelings of fullness following a meal.

Its production is stimulated by fat and protein, which is why when you’re eating lasagne for example, you’ll start to feel fuller during the meal more quickly than if you were eating a plate of pasta with tomato sauce.

Additionally, the slower you chew your food, the better the hormone signalling mechanism works, and therefore the body will acknowledge that it’s full up – hence there is less of a tendency to overeat.

Interestingly, there is much research around obesity and CCK and whether some people do not secrete enough, thereby leading to an increase in weight. Eating slowly also helps the secretion of CCK; it’s a great habit to always put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls and not to overload your utensils.

shutterstock_132603083 fish cod and samphire Nov15BOOSTING YOUR METABOLISM

The thyroid gland, situated in the neck, produces a number of thyroid hormones, the most commonly known ones being TH3 and TH4. Thyroid hormones are very much involved in body metabolism; low secretion can cause people to be overweight, feel tired and suffer from constipation – not good!

It’s unfortunately quite common to have a slightly impaired thyroid gland; the good news is that certain nutrients can really help to give it a boost. For example, the mineral Iodine is very important for thyroid hormone production, so eating lots of fish, and specifically sea vegetables (such as samphire) is a really good plan.

Additionally Selenium, found in Brazil nuts and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, all help to produce these hormones.

Be sure to avoid any soya-containing foods, particularly milk and yoghurts, if you suspect you may have a problem: soya, is what is known as a goitrogen, which prevents the production of thyroid hormones. Blood tests available from your doctor will be able to confirm conclusively if you have an imbalance in your thyroid hormones.

So you can see how many critical body systems are controlled by your hormones. The good news is that there’s so much you can do naturally to keep them finely tuned.


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Fall in love with nutritious Brussels sprouts this season!

shutterstock_237478318 woman with sprouts Nov15With Christmas fast approaching, as well as planning who is on your Christmas card list, you might also be thinking about your Christmas menu. But will it include Brussels sprouts? Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are tiny green bundles of nutritious goodness! So before you or any of your guests reject them from the menu, you might re-think your decision when you realise just how many nutritional benefits the Brussels sprout can offer!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the nutritional ‘low-down ’on Brussels sprouts and what makes them such a nutritious super food!

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Brussels sprouts belong to the brassica family of vegetables which are also known as ‘cruciferous vegetables’. Other foods in the family include cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and kale and they all pack a really nutritious punch.

Where did their name come from?

These little green cabbages were first cultivated during Roman times in Italy, and then in Belgium during the 1200’s, with the first writings about them going back to 1567 – hence the name Brussels sprout.

shutterstock_175293266 sprout tree under snow Nov15When should we eat them?

They are at their best over the winter months, coming into season in October and lasting through to March, hence their frequent appearance on the Christmas dinner table. It would appear that they actually taste better when grown in temperate climates and have been exposed to some frost.

It’s all in their make-up!

In terms of their amazing benefits to health, it’s the presence of certain chemical compounds known as glucosinolates that provide some of their powerful defence –giving properties. Glucosinolates are also responsible for the bitter taste of Brussels sprouts but interestingly, around 30% of the population are not able to taste their bitterness due to a genetic trait!

shutterstock_233032990 sprouts in heart bowl Nov15It is these glucosinolates that are converted into two other compounds (called sulphoraphane and indole-3-carbinol) that have some amazing benefits to health. Specifically, there has been much positive research around these compounds and cancer. And, if you’re a lady currently suffering with symptoms of the menopause, then be sure to include Brussels sprouts into your diet as much as possible; the oestrogen-balancing effects of these compounds, together with the fibrous nature of sprouts, will help to manage some of the unpleasant symptoms.

Sulphoraphane also contains sulphur (as you might expect from its name), and the body requires ample supplies of sulphur for the body’s detoxification systems to work effectively. Sulphur particularly works in supporting detoxification of the liver, which is essential for eliminating potential disease-causing elements from the body.

shutterstock_179527487 basket of sprouts Nov15Little green bundles of nutrition

In terms of their nutritional profile, sprouts provide many immune-supporting vitamins including vitamins A, C, B6 and folic acid, together with bone-building vitamin K.

They also provide good levels of the minerals magnesium, calcium and manganese – all essential for bone-building, making sprouts a great alternative if you’re not able to consume dairy products. And, even more surprising is that, although Brussels sprouts are low in total fat, they do contain the essential omega 3 fatty acids (almost as much as flaxseeds), which are needed to manage the body’s natural anti-inflammatory responses and are essential for the brain, joints, hormones and skin.

So, you’re now convinced that they should feature in your diet, and, hopefully on your Christmas dinner table, right?

But how should they be cooked?

shutterstock_332702606 shredded sprouts salad Nov15As with all vegetables, Brussels sprouts are best lightly steamed; steam for around 5 minutes so that they retain their crunchy texture as opposed to being over-boiled and mushy, reminding you of those lovely school dinners!

shutterstock_86858659 sprouts and bacon Nov15


Once cooked, you can then add lots of different flavours to them. Why not try frying with bacon and onions for Christmas dinner? They are delicious lightly stir-fried with a peanut sauce and pine nuts or just gently tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a really healthy side dish.

And for a doubly healthy vegetable treat, steam the sprouts with some green beans and then stir fry them in olive oil with some zest of lemon and pine nuts. Just add salt and pepper to taste and all your guests will be won-over!


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How to improve your nutrition for a happier you!

shutterstock_174730484 woman smiling on bed Nov15Being happy is one of the most important things in life. It may be unrealistic to feel fantastic every day and jump out of bed with a smile every morning, but by changing a few things you can become generally more content and happy with your life. And if you’re happy, others around you will also feel happier. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some advice on the best ‘mood foods’ to eat, together with some general lifestyle advice that should help you feel happier.

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It may come as no surprise to learn that what you eat and drink on a daily basis has a massive effect on your mood; most people suffering with low mood can really help to improve how they feel with some diet and lifestyle changes. And even if you feel happy most of the time, here are some tips to keeping that spring in your step every day.

shutterstock_114054967 sugar cobes balanced on spoon Nov15BALANCE YOUR SUGAR

Balancing blood sugar levels is probably the best way to start your pathway to happiness and contentment. If your blood sugar levels are up and down, it will certainly affect your mood and ultimately, energy levels – and a lack of energy can really make you feel down-in-the-dumps!

The key is to start the day right; this means always eating breakfast that contains some protein or slow-releasing energy foods. Eggs cooked anyway you like (except fried), or porridge are the two best breakfast choices.

Secondly, drinking too many stimulants such as caffeinated tea and coffee throughout the day can lead to some real highs and lows in your mood, due to the way it affects blood sugar balance. Try to have no more than three cups of tea or coffee daily; instead make sure you’re drinking at least 1 ½ litres of water daily and substituting with herbal or fruit teas.

Additionally, you may not realise it when you’re dancing the night away after a few glasses of wine, but alcohol is actually a depressant! Many people will suffer real lows after a night-out and these effects will be multiplied the more alcohol you drink. Always have some alcohol-free days each week to help balance your mood and also give your liver time to recover.

And talking of the liver…

shutterstock_287322698 detox Nov15LOVE YOUR LIVER

In naturopathic medicine, the liver is the organ of mood and anger. A distressed liver can therefore cause you to feel sad and, often, angry.

Clearly, alcohol is a watch out; however there are certain foods that the liver loves! Lemons are a fantastically cleansing fruit and starting the day with a glass of warm water with lemon juice will really kick-start the liver after it has been busy detoxifying your body all night.

Beetroots are not everyone’s favourite, but are certainly one of the liver’s most favoured foods. They are great in salads, juices and soups. Broccoli, and the ‘love it or hate it’ vegetable Brussels sprouts, are other great liver-loving foods. They both contain specific compounds that help to neutralise free radicals but also are high in fibre which removes toxins from the body, minimising the liver’s work!

shutterstock_249965482 woman making heart in front of tummy Nov15SMOOTH DIGESTION

Your ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is predominantly produced in your gut. Therefore, if your digestive system isn’t happy then you can’t expect your brain to be either! However, one of the keys to keeping your digestion in smooth working order is to make sure your friendly bacteria is in check.

High sugar diets, too much stress, prescription medicines and the contraceptive pill also disrupt your good bacteria, meaning that your gut won’t be able to do its job properly and manufacture sufficient serotonin.

If you have recently taken a course of antibiotics, then you should certainly consider taking a probiotic supplement for a couple of months. Equally, green tea, asparagus, artichokes specifically and all green leafy vegetables generally also help to feed the good bacteria; make sure you try to include at least one of these every day.

shutterstock_221308828 sources of omega 3 Nov15INCLUDE YOUR ESSENTIALS

The omega 3 and omega 6 fats are termed ‘essential because they are just that! The body cannot make them so they have to be eaten in the diet. The omega 3’s are particularly important for good brain function; many people who have low mood or more serious depressive illnesses are frequently low in omega 3 fatty acids.

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as nuts, seeds and, in particular, flaxseeds, are great sources of omega 3s. They are so important for your brain, and therefore your mood, that you should really be taking either a fish oil supplement or flax-based product if you’re not including these food types regularly in your diet. Vegetarians especially should think about a supplement.

shutterstock_292441592 business woman walking in town Nov15GET MOVING!

Exercise, exercise, exercise! Your body naturally produces feel-good endorphins when you get the blood pumping. But you don’t have to suddenly turn into a gym bunny – even a brisk 20 minute walk each day will invigorate and lift your mood.

It’s also important to try to grab some fresh air every day; many people sit at their desk all day long and never even leave it to eat lunch, let alone go outside.

Some time away from stress and emails will help refresh your cognitive function but also aid your digestion too. When we’re stressed the body goes into ‘fight-or-flight’ response and closes down the digestive organs, hence many people have an uncomfortable afternoon after eating at their desk – something else that can also make you feel more unhappy.

So whether you’re increasing your leafy greens, taking time out of the office every day or cutting your alcohol intake, these are just a few quick and easy ways to boost your happiness. Give them a try and release your joyfulness!






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Healthy eating on a budget!

shutterstock_249406810 woman eating on a budget Nov15With Christmas only 2 months away, prioritising festive purchases can sometimes leave us short for what we might usually spend on the weekly food shop. But whether you’re saving for Christmas, simply feeding a growing family or just trying to balance your weekly outgoings, it’s still possible to eat healthily on a budget. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top foods that are healthy, versatile and economical!

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shutterstock_278990921 eggs Nov15EGGS

Eggs are probably one of the most versatile and nutritionally complete foods. Ask most students, and most athletes, and they will tell you that they always eat lots of eggs in week – and for very good reason.

Firstly, they have an excellent protein content – around 6 grams per egg. The average person needs around 70 grams of protein daily, so starting your day with some scrambled eggs or a two-egg omelette makes a good dent into this requirement. Protein is essential for growth and repair of the body and for producing hormones. More importantly, eggs provide ‘complete’ protein because they contain all the essential amino acids.

They also pack a great balance of vitamins and minerals; specifically they are high in vitamin B12 with over 50% of the recommended daily amount, which is great for energy production. And, even better, whilst they contain some saturated fat (about 28%, almost entirely found in the yolk), they also contain DHA, the essential omega 3 fatty acid, which is needed for brain function and vision.

If you start your day with an egg-based breakfast, the nutritional profile will help keep you feeling fuller for longer throughout the morning, helping negate the urge to snack, plus they’re a much cheaper form of protein than meat.

shutterstock_295634081 frozen veg Nov15FROZEN VEGETABLES

There is often a misnomer around frozen vegetables, and indeed frozen fruit, in that they are not as nutritionally sound as fresh fruits and vegetables. However, they are generally picked and then frozen very quickly: fresh fruit and veg are often often flown around the world and left in supermarket store-rooms before they even make the shelves.

If you consider that a bag of mixed vegetables contains a great variety of different vegetables, this would be generally much more expensive if you were to buy them individually. They can be used just as you would use fresh but are especially great in stews, curries, stir-fries or as a side dish.

Frozen vegetables are also healthier and tastier than canned vegetables which often contain added salt, as a preservative, or other chemical additives.

shutterstock_267665951.sweet potato Nov15jpgSWEET POTATOES

You can use sweet potatoes in the same way as white potatoes but their nutritional profile is far superior. Their beautiful colour delivers a good amount of beta carotene which can be converted into vitamin A in the body and is essential for good vision.

Both Vitamin A and beta carotene are also powerful antioxidants. Additionally, they deliver more Vitamin C than white potatoes, which is particularly important at this time of year for immune support, and they also contain more fibre to keep the bowels healthy and regular.

Just like their white potatoes, sweet potatoes are very versatile: eat in their jackets with prawns, tuna or baked beans; use them as a topping for shepherd’s pie; cook them in the oven as sweet potato wedges or serve them mashed with some black pepper as a side vegetable dish.

Don’t forget to add them to your shopping trolley this weekend!

shutterstock_125295107 tinned salmon Nov15TINNED SALMON

Tinned tuna has always been a store-cupboard favourite, particularly with students and for those on a limited budget. However, much better for you (and some would argue much tastier) is tinned, wild Alaskan salmon.

Because it’s wild and caught in less contaminated waters, it will contain less toxic metals and PCB’s (Polychlorinated biphenyls) than both tuna and ‘normal’ salmon. Whilst they all contain around the same amount of protein, wild Alaskan salmon’s main ‘claim to fame’ is its impressive essential omega 3 fatty acid profile. These are necessary for the brain and eyes and are especially important for growing children.

Omega 3 fatty acids are frequently lacking in children’s diets, which can lead to behavioural problems and poor concentration in class. Tinned salmon makes great fishcakes (children always love these). It is also delicious with pasta, is great on jacket sweet potatoes and is also excellent combined with egg and breadcrumbs to make fishy burgers!

shutterstock_230583790 oats Nov15OATS

Oats are incredibly versatile and also very cost-effective. They also make one of the healthiest breakfast choices, either as porridge or as the base for home-made muesli – much cheaper, healthier and less sugar-laden than the shop-bought variety.

An oat-based breakfast will fill you up for longer as oats are categorised as being low on the glycaemic index, which means they release energy slowly, so you won’t get any energy slumps. In addition, they also deliver around 5 grams of protein per half cup of oats.

Oats also provide a great source of soluble fibre, which is essential for smooth digestion, as well as B vitamins to keep your energy levels in good shape throughout the day. You can also make homemade muesli or cereal bars with them, saving you on the shop-bought variety and they’ll be a whole lot healthier as they won’t contain hydrogenated fats.

So stock up now on your store-cupboard essentials ahead of Christmas, so you can always be ready to pull together a healthy but cost-effective meal: your body and your purse will be very glad you did!


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