Seasonal eating: which fruits and vegetables are best for you right now?

shutterstock_363944324 woman holding beetroot Jan16We are very lucky with the range of fruits and vegetables available to us all year round. From the major supermarkets to our corner shop grocers, they all stock a wide variety of produce meaning we can cook whatever, whenever. But fruits and vegetables do still have a ‘better time’ to eat them which means you will also get more goodness from them.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her top tips on what’s ‘hot’ right now in the world of fruits and vegetables!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

We hear the phrase ‘Eat with the Seasons’ so often but what does it actually mean? There are many good reasons for eating fruits and vegetables at their rightful time of the year; however, one of the best reasons is that nature intended us to eat them at a specific time, therefore they are more nutrient dense. Plus, they should be more economical to buy in the shops!

So here are my top 5 in-season vegetables that you could be including in your weekly shop.

shutterstock_326614124 jerusalem artichoke Jan16JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

These are not actually from Jerusalem; the name is derived from the Italian word ‘girasole’ meaning sunflower as they are, in fact, a variety of sunflower! Jerusalem artichokes are able to claim many of the digestive and nutritional benefits of the artichoke family. They help to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut which have many health benefits, particularly for the immune system and in keeping everything running smoothly through the digestive tract.

If your beneficial bacteria is out of balance (and many peoples are if they are not taking probiotics) then you may find eating Jerusalem artichokes causes some flatulence! But it’s worth persevering, as the health benefits of eating them are so great – they are a great source of fibre and iron. What’s more they taste absolutely delicious when roasted. To prepare, lightly scrape the skins and then put them in the oven and roast with a little olive oil.

shutterstock_345446441 parsnips Jan16PARSNIPS

As it is clear to see from their shape, parsnips are part of the carrot family – they look almost identical apart from their creamy white colour. They provide good sources of soluble and insoluble fibre, both of which are needed for good digestion and to help reduce blood cholesterol levels: eating a high fibre diet is one of the best ways of reducing cholesterol levels as it can be naturally excreted from the body.

Additionally, parsnips provide a good nutrient profile including Vitamin C, a great antioxidant, and the B Vitamins, needed for great energy production. A great winter vegetable, parsnips make a delicious winter stew, a perfect roasted vegetable or an excellent soup ingredient: Spicy Parsnip Soup with added cumin really works well!

shutterstock_291768350 beetroot Jan16BEETROOT

Beetroot often appears on the superfood list, and for very good reason, plus it has a rich, sweet flavour which lends itself to either sweet or savoury dishes: have you ever tried a beetroot brownie?!

As with any dark-coloured fruit or vegetable, the nutrient content is really high; beetroot helps to stimulate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, making it a great anti-ageing defence against those dreaded free radicals. Additionally, it’s a great source of natural iron, together with Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Folic Acid.

Perhaps one of beetroot’s biggest claims to fame is its ability to help detoxify the liver, hence it’s often used in vegetable juices. More recently, research and anecdotal evidence from athletes has confirmed that beetroot juice can really aid sporting performance*;  this may in part be due to the fact that it is high in iron – crucial in the production of energy.

Beetroot is at its best when included raw in juices, as part of a colourful salad and it works really well with feta cheese.

shutterstock_269712092 bananas Jan16BANANAS

Although we’re used to seeing bananas all-year round, they tend to be at their best from the Caribbean at this time of year.

They are such an easy fruit to accommodate into the diet as they are so portable, although they are also great in smoothies! Bananas are extremely nutritious, providing potassium, which is great for the heart, plus B Vitamins to help with energy production. However, they do contain fairly high sugar levels, which provides a quick energy burst, but you may slump afterwards. So try to eat some protein at the same time to help keep the blood sugar levels in balance – why not eat a few almonds or Brazil nuts for example?

Bananas are also delicious baked in the oven in some foil with a little butter and muscovado sugar (very decadent!) or why not make banana bread – always a great lunch box staple.

shutterstock_267665951 sweet potato Jan16SWEET POTATOES

Sweet potatoes are at their best from October through to March and are grown in the tropical Americas, hence sweet potato fries are often found on the menus when you visit the States.

Whilst they are called ‘potatoes’ they have a different (and much better) nutritional profile. They contain very high levels of Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant and one that is also essential for good vision. They also contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals and they are high in fibre.

Sweet potatoes are also beneficial in helping balance blood sugar levels. Ordinary potatoes when cooked can become very starchy, which means sugar release into the body is rapid, which is not ideal – particularly for diabetics. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, seem to encourage the release of a protein hormone called adiponectin which helps to modulate insulin metabolism, which means it helps to balance blood sugar levels better.

Sweet potatoes are so versatile: think about swapping your traditional jacket potato for a sweet potato – they can be cooked in exactly the same way. Equally, they provide much healthier chips, taste great mashed with some black pepper and a little butter or added into vegetable curries. Enjoy!

So enjoy seasonal fruits and vegetables and include them in your diet as much as possible at the right time of year.


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*Effect of beetroot juice supplementation on aerobic response during swimming.

Panni M et al. Nutrients 2014 Jan 29; 6(2): 605-15


Top tips for boosting your immunity this January!

shutterstock_313931255 woman in winter hat and gloves Jan16The immune system is one of the most important body systems and also one of the most complex. It is vital for protecting us from all kinds of incoming threats such as viruses like the common cold and flu, all of which are flying around right now!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares here top tips on how to boost your immunity this January and hopefully avoid those nasty bugs!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


The first thing to do is to clean up your diet. But what does this mean?

Certain foods take their toll on the immune system. For example, eating too much sugar can have a detrimental effect as it appears to prevent white blood cells in the body from attacking invading viruses. So, really look at how much sugar you’re eating. It’s worth keeping a food diary and writing down everything that’s going into your body – honesty is key! It’s only then that you can really see, in black and white, just how much sugar your diet contains.

shutterstock_280752443 less sugar Jan16Alcohol, sugar in tea and coffee, confectionary, biscuits, pastries and cakes, even certain breakfast cereals have a high sugar content. Write it all down and in the next column make some suggestions for alternatives; swap out a sugary cup of tea for fruit teas – they naturally quite sweet without sugar being added. There are numerous high protein snack bars that are sweetened more naturally, or why not try porridge or eggs for breakfast? It’s really worth taking control of your sugar intake – your immune system cannot fully function as it needs to, if your diet is preventing it working optimally.

shutterstock_81302035 vitamin C fruit and veg Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING NUTRIENTS

So you’ve started to clean up your diet which is great! There are also a number of nutrients that are your best friends when it comes to immune support. Good old Vitamin C is so well-known and researched when it comes to providing immune support; it increases white blood cell production needed to fight viruses and reduces the time taken to get over an infection.

Top food choices for Vitamin C are red peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi fruits, berry fruits and citrus fruits – it’s not all about oranges, so try to include a variety of these foods in your diet.

The mineral, zinc, is another important nutrient within the immune system. Oysters contain the most Zinc of all foods but they are an acquired taste! So why not try beef, other sea foods such as crab and lobster, whole grains and eggs – these are all good sources.

Vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin, is also key for immunity. Obviously, we get very little from the sun during the winter months, especially in the UK, and since the sun is the best source it’s advisable for everyone to take a supplement containing Vitamin D throughout the winter.

Foods that contain vitamin D include oily fish, liver, cheese and eggs. Additionally, Vitamin B6 is key in providing immune support; think foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, wholegrain foods including wholemeal bread, green leafy vegetables and eggs. In fact, all foods that you should be including in a healthy eating plan will help boost your immunity!

shutterstock_300746891 echinacia Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING HERBS

There are two specific herbs that really support the immune system: Pelargonium and Echinacea.

Pelargonium exerts some amazing anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects and is particularly effective in fighting colds and upper respiratory tract infections. For best results you need to take it at the very first sign that you’re getting a cold.

Echinacea, on the other hand, is best taken preventatively, especially if you’ve been around people who are already infected. Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell activity and is really effective if taken for around two weeks at a time during ‘the season’.

shutterstock_329275235 woman sleeping in bed Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING SLEEP

Achieving restful and restorative sleep can often be difficult to achieve. We tend to lead busy and stressful lives and this can disturb sleep patterns, plus we should be devoting eight hours out of our day to actually sleep.

A lack of sleep will reduce the functioning of the immune system, so if you’re struggling at night, is there any way you can take a power nap during the day? These are amazingly effective if you are able to fall asleep quickly and get the restorative benefits from a quick 40 winks.

Additionally, if your brain is busy and overloaded, make a ‘to-do’ list of all your jobs for the next day so you won’t be making lists in your head all night.

The herbs Passionflower and Valerian can also really aid sleep; Passionflower provides relaxation and Valerian helps you to actually stay asleep without feeling ‘groggy’ the next day.

shutterstock_37965340 woman walking in autumn park Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING EXERCISE

Moderate exercise is known to boost white blood cell production. Even a daily brisk walk for around 30-40 minutes can really help – try to go for a walk every day in your lunch break – the most important thing is get moving. This really helps the lymph (your body’s infection-fighting fluid) move through the body which delivers immune-protecting cells to where they’re most needed. Plus you’ll feel more energised and positive as a result!

However, if you’re marathon training, and many people are really ramping up the miles at this time of year in preparation, heavy exercise depletes your immunity for around 12 hours afterwards, so a supportive diet, good sleep and the right nutrients all need to be in place.

So, with some mindful changes to your lifestyle, catching a cold or flu this winter doesn’t have to be a ‘given’ – fight them off with diet and exercise this winter!


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How to get a good night’s sleep: top tips for relaxation and shutting down

shutterstock_294386738 woman sleeping in bed Jan16

Winter is a time of hibernation – it’s cold and dark outside – but many people still find it difficult to get to sleep. So what changes can we make to our lifestyle to help us have a more relaxing evening? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides her five top tips on how to get a great night’s sleep.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

How many times do we hear people say “I’m having trouble sleeping?” Poor sleep can lead to mood disruption, fatigue and depleted immunity, as well as the outward physical signs that a lack of sleep can show, such as dark circles under the eyes.

However, there are a number of natural approaches that can be really effective, particularly once you’ve found the one that works for you:

shutterstock_182205329 oat cookies and milk Jan16EAT RIGHT

What you eat and when can have a profound effect on how well you will sleep. For example, eating too late in the evening and then going to bed on a full stomach can lead to a disrupted night as the digestive system has to work hard to process what we eat. It takes about two hours after eating a meal for the body to enter the ‘post-absorptive’ phase of digestion. During this time, the body’s organs are all needed for the digestive process to happen effectively, therefore the whole body cannot rest.

Certain foods can also help to produce the brain neurotransmitter serotonin which is needed to make melatonin, our sleep hormone. Foods that are high in the amino acid, tryptophan, which makes serotonin include: turkey, chicken, eggs, beans, lentils fish, soya, oats and milk. Try to plan these into your evening meal.

Additionally, a couple of oatcakes and a small glass of slightly warmed milk is a great post-bed snack, to be eaten an hour before bedtime – this can really help to increase serotonin in the bloodstream just before you hit the hay.

shutterstock_189212075 fruit tea Jan16DRINK RIGHT

Drinking any caffeinated drinks just before bedtime can of course disrupt sleep. Some people find they benefit from not having any caffeinated drinks after lunch time.

Instead, why not try drinking herbal or fruit teas; green tea contains the amino acid theanine which stimulates a brain neurotransmitter called GABA, which induces a calming effect on the body.

Theanine is also available as a food supplement, which many people find helps them sleep when taken a couple of hours before bedtime. And whilst alcohol may have a sedating effect initially, people often find themselves awake very early in the morning after a ‘night-on-the-town’ and are then unable to go back to sleep – so try to limit your over-indulgences.

shutterstock_207270397 pillow and lavendar Jan16SPRAY YOUR PILLOW

It is well researched that the beautiful lavender flower offers help to many finding it difficult to sleep. Indeed, one of many clinical research studies[1] concluded that lavender oil was effective in helping anxiety disorder, and therefore enabled better sleep patterns.

Lavender oil spray is readily available in health food stores and can be sprayed liberally on your pillow before bedtime.   Equally, it can be sprayed onto your wrists and inhaled. Additionally, the herb Valerian, contains many proven benefits for aiding sleep, so together Valerian can help you fall asleep and then the relaxing nature of lavender oil can help you to stay asleep.

You normally need to take valerian consistently for a couple of weeks before you feel the benefit, but it’s certainly worth perseverance.

shutterstock_241695064 woman in bath reading Jan16TURN OFF THE OUTSIDE WORLD

We live in an electronic age but as much as we need high-tech communications in the modern world, the body equally needs some rest and relaxation and time away from electronics and screens.

You may think that watching TV before bed-time is relaxing, but it actually stimulates your brain. Doing emails or keeping up-to-date with your social media activity will also keep your brain revving!

The brain needs quiet ‘wind-down’ time – it’s almost like going back to the bed-time routine of a baby. Have a warm, relaxing bath with some Epsom salts which provide magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant, followed by a small bedtime snack and then catch up on some enjoyable reading material.

And make sure you turn off all your electronic devices before you go to bed to avoid midnight Facebooking!

shutterstock_160938632 woman in bed cannot sleep Jan16CAN’T SLEEP? FOLLOW YOUR NOSE!

So you’ve managed to fall asleep only to wake up two hours later for no apparent reason – then the brain springs into action!

Firstly, write down your ‘to-do’ list for tomorrow, plus any particular worries you have. Hopefully, you won’t then be making those imaginary ‘to-do’ lists for the rest of the night.

If you are really having trouble in falling back to sleep, trying deep breathing whilst just concentrating on the end of your nose. This may sound strange, but by really concentrating on the end of your nose, you will not be able to think of anything else, and you should gradually drift off back to sleep. This does take a little practice; however, be persistent and make yourself continue to concentrate – you’ll find those lovely slumbers will happen.

Sleep is a very personal thing; what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. A good night’s sleep is important so it’s really worth persevering until you find a routine that’s good for you. Night night, sleep tight…


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[1] Effectiveness of a Lavender Oil Preparation in Treating Anxiety Disorder.

Kasper S et al. Int. Clin. Psychopharmacol. 2010;25(5): 277-287


A happy new year starts with a happy tummy: how to maintain good digestion

shutterstock_114360244 female stomach with hands making heart Jan16Hopefully you’ve had a great start to the New Year! However, if you’ve slightly over-indulged during the festive period, or you’ve struggled for a while with ‘tummy troubles’, then now is a good time to take steps to feel more comfortable. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on achieving a happy tummy!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


So much is written about food intolerances and allergies, and many people are genuinely affected by them. However, sometimes, it is just that we eat too much of a certain food group which can cause unpleasant bloating and flatulence.

shutterstock_49228702 bread question mark Jan16The most common culprit is wheat; this is mainly because the protein within wheat, known as gliadin, is ‘sticky’ and therefore indigestible. One of the most common dietary mistakes is to eat a wheat-containing cereal for breakfast, have a sandwich at lunch time and a pasta-based dish in the evening – this is too much wheat!

So, why not vary your meals? An omelette for breakfast, a quinoa salad for lunch and some salmon with sweet potato, broccoli and roasted peppers for dinner? When you reduce the total amount of wheat in your diet, you’ll normally find your stomach will be flatter and less bloated.

shutterstock_108736679 fruit pile Jan16DON’T BOOT THE FRUIT!

Many people struggle to digest fruit due to the fructose (the sugar in fruit) plus the starchy nature of certain fruits such as bananas. However, rather than ditching them completely so that you’re missing out on all their fabulous nutrients, try eating them in a different way. For example, don’t mix fruit with other starchy foods such as bread, rice or pastry; even that apple crumble can cause problems!

Fruit is often better eaten on an empty stomach, so maybe think of eating it as a starter to a meal or leaving around 15 minutes before eating anything else. Fruit will ferment if it’s not properly digested which is what causes the unpleasant bloating, hence it’s better to eat it separately from other foods.

shutterstock_238205143 broccoli and cauliflower Jan16UP THE FIBRE

So much is written about increasing dietary fibre and for very good reason; it plays an essential role in the prevention and treatment of disease but also acts like a ‘broom’, sweeping all the waste products through the digestive tract and keeping the colon clean.

Too much waste build-up in the digestive tract will lead to bloating, wind, sluggishness and bad breath – not good! So increase the following in your diet: cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, and cauliflower for example), fruits, pulses, jacket potatoes with their skin-on, porridge and brown rice – all great options.

If you’re currently eating a low-fibre diet, make sure you increase your increased fibre intake slowly – for example, add one additional piece of fruit or vegetable per day – otherwise you could suffer with flatulence. Additionally, flaxseeds, which you can buy in all supermarkets and health food stores, provide a great source of fibre, and can be added to your cereal or porridge as an extra top up.

shutterstock_271187426 asparagus, artichoke, garlic Jan16ENCOURAGE HEALTHY BACTERIA

The intestinal tract is populated with millions of bacteria – some good and some bad. However, we need to have a predominance of good bacteria to support smooth digestion as one of the main causes of bloating is an imbalance of the two. Stress, antibiotics, alcohol and a high sugar diet are just a few of the causes of imbalanced gut bacteria.

Most people can benefit from a course of probiotics, which are readily available in health food stores, at least once a month every 12 months. Additionally, certain foods can help to create a better environment for good bacteria to flourish. You can try including more of the following in your diet: asparagus, globe and Jerusalem artichokes, onions, leaks, garlic and fermented foods such as miso, sheep’s or goat’s milk yoghurt, sauerkraut and organic cottage cheese. These foods all feed the good bacteria and should be included in your diet as much as possible.

shutterstock_185433806 glass of water Jan16REDUCE DRINKS WITH MEALS

Too much liquid can dilute the digestive juices so that they become less effective, causing digestive upsets, but too little can leave food too dry!

A small glass of water with your meal is about right. If you do drink a glass of wine with a meal, then you should still drink a glass of water. Tea and coffee should be drunk between meals as they can disturb the digestion and reduce production of essential stomach acid. Additionally, any form of carbonated drink will only increase your potential risk of flatulence.

So, with a few small changes and some mindful food choices, you can improve your digestion and feel a lot happier as a result – a great start to the New Year!


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