Combat your over-indulgences: how to stay healthy during the festive season



With the festive season in full flow, you might be starting to feel the after-effects of late nights and over-indulgence. But there are some easy ways to support your body not just over Christmas but well into the New Year.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her top tips on staying healthy through the yuletide season and beyond.

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This may seem strange advice, particularly at this time of year, but if 80% of your diet is ‘clean’ during the festive period, when you do enjoy some festive treats your health won’t suffer quite as much!  Plan three days during the week when you limit caffeine (try switching to green tea) and avoid processed foods (particularly pre-packed meals), chocolate and sweet treats. You could also consider ditching any extra sugar you consume (i.e. on your cereal or in tea and coffee) and switch instead to natural sweeteners, xylitol or stevia.


Saturated fats found in red meat and dairy products such as butter can sometimes be more difficult for people to digest. Therefore, cutting down on these types of foods and eating fish or plant-based meals, including lots of vegetables and pulses, also helps to give your digestive system and your liver a break.

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The most important aspect of a clean diet is to support your liver as much as possible. Green tea is a great liver detoxifier and can be drunk as much as possible throughout the day.  Certain vegetables, particularly green leafy ones such as broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are all liver-loving veggies: packed with nutrients they really help in the detoxification process.  The better your liver is ‘fed’ with good foods, the better it will cope when you overindulge.


This may sound like very simple advice, but the amount of water you take in is absolutely key to your health. You should aim to drink at least two litres of water daily. This will really help to get your bowels moving which in turn gets the body’s cleansing mechanisms revved up!



If you are planning to lose a couple of pounds, the more water you drink the more effective your weight loss campaign will be.  Even better, your kidneys love to be flushed through with lots of water: dark circles under the eyes can be a sign that your kidneys are sluggish. So keep drinking that water – especially the morning after the night before, and ideally during the night before: try to alternate a glass of water with every alcoholic drink you consume.


Not only does exercise raise your endorphin levels (which in turn makes you feel happy) but it helps to move lymph within our lymphatic system. Lymph is the fluid that removes toxins from the tissue spaces around our cells and is reliant on exercise to move.  So regular mild to moderate exercise not only boosts a sluggish lymphatic system, but also boosts your mood!

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Fresh air and exercise combined are a great way of combatting the feelings of overindulgence. Try to fit in a 30 minute walk each day over the festive period and you will feel so much better for it.


Milk thistle is a popular and well-known herb that’s been used for centuries to help support the liver and pick you up the morning after the night before!  As well as supporting liver cells, it can help protect the liver from free radical damage caused by alcohol and it also helps break down fats in food.


The best advice is to start taking it now and continue to take every day, in order to support you through the Festive season.  Your liver will certainly thank you and any late nights or over-indulgence should be less painful the next day!


The family of B vitamins like to work together in the body to generate energy. However, one of their other main functions is to help detoxify the liver.  Therefore, on your 80% days, it makes good sense to eat as many B vitamin-rich foods as possible; chicken, turkey, fish, wholemeal bread and pasta, eggs and wholegrain cereals such as oats are good examples of B-vitamin staples.


Green leafy vegetables are also high in B vitamins – another great reason for eating them as much as possible!

So, with a little forward planning, you can sail through the festivities and come out the other side feeling better than ever!


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Have yourself a delicious and nutritious Christmas: healthy twists on festive fayre


Planning a Christmas party? You may not always think ‘delicious’ and ‘nutritious’ are words that go hand in hand with Christmas treats and party food, but it’s actually pretty easy to rustle up some Christmas party snacks that are both!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her favourite healthy treats you can make this Christmas time.

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A twist on traditional potato wedges, sweet potatoes are delicious and quite different to the traditional spud. Sweet potatoes provide a much greater range of nutrients than its humble potato cousins. They contain beta carotene which makes vitamin A in the body (great for immunity), vitamin C (also great for immunity and the skin), B vitamins (for energy) and an array of essential trace minerals (frequently lacking in the modern diet).  Plus they can actually help you to lose weight as they keep your blood sugar levels balanced, meaning you feel fuller for longer, and discourage your body from storing fat.


For an even healthier twist, roast them in the over with some coconut oil: coconut oil is one of the best oils for cooking plus it helps provide an extra boost of energy.  Sprinkle a little paprika on the wedges whilst they’re cooking for an extra kick and why not make a quick dip of crème fraiche, dill and chilli to accompany – a great little treat for handing around at your Christmas party!


Nuts provide a wealth of health benefits but often the nuts on offer at parties are salted or roasted peanuts – the least healthy nut options!  However, there’s a great alternative – caramelised, sugar-free roasted nuts!


Try a mix of cashews, Brazils (high in the mineral selenium which is a powerful antioxidant and often lacking in the Western diet) and almonds (high in brain-boosting omega-3’s) to pack a real nutritional punch! Lay a mixture of the nuts on a heated roasting tray and sprinkle with sea salt.  Then lightly sprinkle some granulated stevia (a natural sweetener) over the top and gently roast until all the nuts are nicely caramelised.  Your party guests will be impressed!


With cranberries featuring heavily in traditional Christmas fayre, why not use them to their fullest potential in some delicious but healthy treats to hand around during your Christmas cocktail party?


These chocolate and cranberry brownies are a healthy alternative to the usual brownies and here’s why: they contain prunes (great for digestion), xylitol (a natural sweetener), plain 70% cocoa solids chocolate (high in antioxidants), chopped pecan nuts (rich in brain-boosting omega-3’s), wholemeal self-raising flour (which contains many more nutrients than refined white flour) and eggs (additional protein and omega 3’s).


Liquidise the prunes and xylitol with some water. Then melt the chocolate, separate the eggs and stir in just the egg yolks with the other ingredients. Whisk the egg whites to form soft peaks and then fold carefully into the remaining mixture.  Bake for around 20-25 minutes.  A guilt-free party treat!


No buffet table is complete without some crudités and dips!  However, some people tend to shy away from hummus because they fear it’s a bit fattening.  Enter, hummus made with walnuts!


Walnuts are high in healthy, essential omega-3 fats and also help to reduce blood pressure.  All you need to do is to combine some crushed garlic, a can of chickpeas and the zest of an orange, and whizz in the food processor. Then add around 100 g of walnut butter (readily available in supermarkets) and you’ve created a truly delicious dip.

Serve it with toasted, sliced wholemeal pittas; wholemeal pittas contain much higher levels of energising B vitamins than the white variety – another boost to your party platter!


Traditionally consumed from Thanksgiving, until after Christmas in Canada and the USA, eggnog has also become a popular festive drink in UK households.  However, many people find the shop-bought varieties are too sweet and also worry about the fat content.

So how about proudly serving some delicious, home-made, low fat eggnog at your Christmas drinks party to really get people into the Festive spirit?


Traditionally, it is made with milk or cream, together with sugar, whipped eggs and a spirit of choice (usually rum, brandy or bourbon).  Why not create a dairy-free version using coconut or almond milk as both contain a much healthier fat profile?

Add your chosen milk to a saucepan with a split vanilla pod and gently heat.  Mix together some eggs with xylitol (a natural, calorie-free sweetener) and some cornflour, then gradually add this to the heated mixture whisking constantly to ensure they don’t scramble.  The mixture then needs to cook and thicken.  Remove from the heat and when cooled you can add the alcohol of your choice together with a little freshly grated or powdered nutmeg and add a cinnamon stick to flavour.

So why not try making a few of these recipes this festive season, and enjoy a Christmas that is both delicious and nutritious!


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Spice up your life: the health-giving properties of spices


Spices are aromatic vegetables used mostly in cookery. But spices are not just for enhancing flavour and bringing an extra kick to your favourite dishes. From boosting energy, to balancing blood sugar and maintaining healthy digestion, there are many reasons for adding spices to your daily diet that will actually enhance your health.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares with us her four favourite spices, why they’re so beneficial for your health and how to use them in everyday cooking.

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Ginger has a very distinct flavour and can be included in many different dishes, sweet or savoury. Think of fish dishes alongside lemon grass, coconut milk, garlic and lime. Add ginger to a juice made with beetroot, apple and carrot. Bake cookies or make gingerbread men. And of course it’s a classic flavour in stir-fries and Asian cuisine. It’s also very versatile and can be used fresh, dried or ground into a powder.


But what about its health benefits?  There are two key areas where ginger appears to exert its fiery nature (in a good way!)  Firstly, it appears to be really effective against nausea particularly associated with pregnancy and morning sickness.  Additionally it can help symptoms of nausea and motion sickness commonly associated with travelling.


What’s more, ginger appears to help areas of inflammation in the body, whether caused by over-exertion in the gym or just from everyday activities.  In cases of osteoarthritis where there is both pain and inflammation, ginger seems to ‘blunt’ the mechanism that causes both of these inflammatory reactions in the body.


Turmeric has become a rather iconic spice.  This is because it’s been the subject of fairly robust research into its health-giving properties.[1] Clearly, there’s still a way to go, but there are many other great reasons for including turmeric in your cooking, both for its taste and health benefits.


You’d not be wrong in thinking that turmeric looks a little like ginger in its root form; that’s because it’s actually part of the same family. Whilst it’s available fresh, it’s actually most usable in its powdered form.  It’s used extensively in Indian dishes such as curries and dahls, is a staple of most chilli dishes and makes a great addition to spicy sweet potato soup.  It also gives many chutneys and pickles their distinctive yellow tinge.


Turmeric has long been used as a tonic for the liver, to help calm digestive problems and also as an anti-inflammatory agent; sports people often including turmeric in their everyday cooking to aid recovery after heavy workouts.

So whether you’re a gym bunny or a party goer (or both), turmeric should feature as much as possible on your plate.  And at this time of year, the combination of turmeric and the herb Milk Thistle are really going to support your liver through the festive period!


Cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of the tree species Cinnamomum, hence its brown colour and slightly rough twig-like appearance when in its raw state.  It can be used exactly as it is in many recipes or in its dried powdered form.  It also contains an essential oil which produces that lovely warm aromatic smell we tend to associate with Christmas and winter time.


As with most spices, the medicinal uses of cinnamon are many and varied. One of the more recent discoveries around the health benefits of cinnamon is balancing blood sugar, thereby supporting weight management.  A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition[2] found that including cinnamon in a meal delayed the rate that the food passed through the digestive tract.  This, in turn, reduced any blood sugar rise (the main reason for weight gain).


Cinnamon can be used in a variety of sweet or savoury recipes including curries, stews, fruit crumbles and in its whole state – simmered in milk for a delicious warming drink. And of course it works perfectly sprinkled over the top of your cappuccino!  A great way to start the day is by sprinkling cinnamon onto porridge.  It will help keep you feeling fuller for longer during the day, plus sustain your energy levels.


Fenugreek is a perennial plant that produces aromatic seeds.  Although these seeds have a slightly bitter taste similar to celery, their flavour becomes far more pleasant when cooked.  The leaves can be used directly in cooking and the seeds can be either dried or ground into a powder.


In recent years, fenugreek has become a popular nutritional supplement. Its seeds are rich in minerals such as potassium (good for the heart), iron (great for energy), calcium (to support bones and teeth) and zinc (for immunity), plus it also contains a variety of vitamins.


As if that wasn’t enough, fenugreek’s key health benefit relates to blood sugar balancing.  As with cinnamon, it helps to keep blood glucose in check but it appears to go further than that; it helps to control glucose in people already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and also moderates cholesterol levels.


Fenugreek tends to be traditionally used in Indian cuisine. However, if Indian dishes and curries don’t float your boat then fenugreek is readily available in capsule form from your local health food store, so you can still reap the rewards of its many health benefits.

So, why not add some spice to your life and your meals this week – you can boost your health whilst enjoying these amazing tastes and flavours!

[1] Subash C et al. Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials AAPS J. 2013 Jan; 15(1): 195-218

[2] Hiebowicz et al.  Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying and satiety in healthy subjects. Am J Clin. Nutr. 2007 Jun; 85(6):1552-6



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Boost your immunity this winter: 5 foods you should be eating


With the temperature dropping dramatically and the onset of the traditional cold and flu season, now is the time to really ramp up your immune system, so that you don’t succumb to any nasty infections.  And more importantly so you can prepare yourself as much as possible to fully enjoy the approaching festive season!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides us with five immune-boosting foods to keep you fighting fit for the coming winter months.

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You might not necessarily put oysters at the top of the list when thinking about the immune system. However, oysters are really high in zinc which is one of the top immune-boosting minerals. Zinc is also the reason oysters are known as aphrodisiacs as it encourages the production of testosterone!


There has been a lot of research around zinc and its ability to reduce the length and severity of a cold. So with the celebratory season approaching, what better excuse to treat your friends and family to a few of these expensive shellfish!  Fresh is always best but you can still enjoy canned oysters and gain their amazing health benefits.


You might not automatically think of live bio yoghurt as helping support the immune system but these live cultures have a really positive effect on the beneficial gut flora which live within us.


Live cultures help to increase the number of good bacteria within the digestive system, which in turn helps to support the immune system. It is not that well known that much of your immune system actually resides in the gut itself, so having a healthy digestive system is key to overall immunity.


For the best health benefits, go for live natural yoghurt, rather than fruit yoghurt; sugar in all its forms actually destroys the good gut bacteria and fruit yoghurt varieties tend to contain either sugar or sweeteners – both ‘no-no’s for the immune system.  Don’t worry if that seems a little dull: you can add some delicious fresh blueberries or strawberries and you’ve got a super bowl of super foods!


Egg yolks are high in vitamin D, and this vitamin is a powerful immune-booster, in fact one of the best!  Vitamin D is known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine.  This is the reason why Public Health England is recommending that we all take a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily as we get such little sun in the UK.  Eating more foods rich in vitamin D is also recommended.


One of the best starts to your day is to have an egg-based breakfast; it will keep you feeling fuller for longer, keep your blood sugar levels well balanced, and keep your energy sustained throughout the day.  Even better, if you’ve been out partying the night before, eggs contain sulphur which helps the liver to detoxify (yet another positive benefit for the immune system).


Oyster mushrooms help to boost the immune system because they encourage production of white blood cells.  Shitake mushrooms are also beneficial because they are high in vitamin D.  Just like us, these little fungi produce vitamin D on their skin when the sun shines.


The best advice is to buy a variety of mushrooms and mix them all up when cooking as they all carry some benefit for the immune system.  Mushrooms are also high in selenium, a powerful antioxidant mineral which is also great for the immune system.


So get those stir fries going. Eat mushrooms raw in salads. Make a delicious soup as a starter for your Christmas fayre, or add them to a pie with steak! Mushrooms are so versatile and delicious!


As we come into the colder months, the body functions much better when we consume warming foods but it also loves warming spices, such as ginger.  In Chinese medicine, warming foods are known as ‘yang’ foods because they raise the body’s core temperature and improve the circulation.  Not only does this help you to keep warm during the cold winter months, but having better circulation means that essential nutrients are being delivered to all your cells and organs.  Plus you’ll look healthier and your skin will glow.


Ginger really warrants its title of ‘superfood’.  It’s a powerful antioxidant but it also helps to fight infections. The active ingredient in ginger is gingerol which activates the production of the immune-boosting white blood cells.


There are so many ways you can include ginger in your daily diet; in stir fries, grated fresh as a tea, as a marinade for fish with some lime and chilli, in a healthy juice or as it’s the season why not add to a hot toddy!

So keep your immunity boosted this season, and instead of coughing your way through Christmas, you’ll be singing carols loud and clear!


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