If sprouts are out, here are five delicious vegetable alternatives

A family eating christmas dinner

With Christmas rapidly approaching, our thoughts naturally turn to food. Indeed, one of the most controversial vegetables of all Christmas fayre is the humble Brussels sprout; you either love them or hate them! However, if sprouts are not your bag, there’s plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables that can sit proudly on your dinner table.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top Christmas vegetables (other than sprouts!)

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

But first, just in case you can be tempted, the health benefits of Brussels sprouts are quite extraordinary. Not only high in immune-boosting vitamin C and beta-carotene, they contain compounds called indoles that may help prevent some serious diseases but can also balance hormones, particularly in women suffering through the menopause.

So what’s the alternative?

BROCCOLI

A member of the same ‘crucifer’ family as Brussels sprouts, broccoli can also be hailed as a super food. With broccoli, it’s all about the colour; the darker the florets, the higher the nutrient value. The heads contain more nutrients than the stalks but it’s all good to eat.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Packed with vitamin C (great for immunity at this time of year), folic acid, iron and beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A as needed, broccoli is always going to make a statement on the dinner table. Lightly steam and then flash fry with some garlic and sesame seeds to enhance its appeal.

RAINBOW CARROTS

Carrots are traditionally orange but they can also be yellow and purple too! They all contain roughly the same nutrient profile but their varying colours mean they contain a variety of antioxidants, which is great news for the body. Plus, we all know that carrots help us to see better in the dark; that’s because they have very high amounts of beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A and is essential for night vision – certainly very necessary during the long winter nights!

A selection of rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots are certainly going to bring some festive cheer to the dinner table. However, they also work really well alongside another winter vegetable super food…

BEETROOT

In season right now, wonderful beetroot works really well roasted alongside rainbow carrots – your Christmas dinner table will never have been so colourful! Beetroots are a great source of folic acid and heart-loving potassium.

Whole beetroots

To roast carrots and beetroot together, place them all in a roasting tin with some fresh orange segments, balsamic vinegar, thyme and a little golden syrup for a tasty side dish.

CELERIAC

Sometimes unceremoniously called ‘the ugly one’, celeriac, as the name suggests is part of the celery family. Whilst some people are not overly keen on celery, celeriac has a much more subtle flavour and also delivers some great nutritional benefits; it’s high in both vitamin C and potassium.

Celeriac on a table

For a really luxurious Christmas treat, celeriac can be mashed with crispy bacon, cream, butter, thyme and breadcrumbs. It can all be mixed in a food processor and then lightly grilled for a crispy topping.

LEEKS

Another vegetable in season during December, leeks are a versatile vegetable side or main dish option, over the Christmas period. Leeks are very high in potassium which is essential for a healthy heart and regulating blood pressure. Potassium is also great for the kidneys which may explain why leeks were used to treat kidney stones in traditional medicine.

Leeks in a wooden trough

As part of the same family as onions and garlic, they deliver many of the same health benefits. Try cooking them as a delicious oven-baked leek, bacon and cheese side or as a one-pot meal with chicken breasts, chopped celeriac, butter beans and thyme to really tempt the taste-buds.

So if you don’t fancy sprouts this Christmas, there are plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables to choose from!

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Nutritious seasonal eats this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

With the festive season now upon us, supermarkets are packed with chocolates, cakes, puddings and treats! However, let’s not forget that we can still enjoy healthy treats and get a boost of vitamins and minerals at the same time. There are plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables in season in December, and with a little thought they can really excite the taste buds!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five fruits and vegetables this Christmas, together with her recipe suggestions.

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PEARS

These sometimes get forgotten and pushed aside for the more popular apple. However, pears are real winners both for their taste and nutrient content.

They’re high in immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving vitamin K. If you eat them with the skin on, they’re also rich in fibre; more than many other fruits and vegetables, around 40% of a pear’s health benefits lie just under the skin.

Pear, goats cheese and walnut salad

Pears work really well simply sliced in a salad with goat’s cheese, varied leaves and walnuts, which retains maximum nutrient benefits. However, at this time of year, they’re wonderful poached with lemon zest, ginger, a cinnamon stick, allspice and some apple cider. They can be served with vanilla ice-cream for a real treat, eaten cold as a desert or sliced over your morning porridge for a warming start to the day.

RED CABBAGE

Whilst white (also known as green) cabbage is the most commonly eaten, its nutrient benefits slightly fade into the background when compared to its red counterpart. As with all fruits and vegetables, the secret to its nutritional benefit lies in its colour; red cabbage is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants. This is especially helpful at this time of year. It also contains lots of anti-inflammatory compounds which is welcome news for those suffering from aching or painful joints during the winter months.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

One of the nicest ways to use red cabbage is braised with apples. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to any meat or is great on the Christmas dinner table. It’s so easy cooked in a pot, with onions, apples, balsamic vinegar, allspice and sliced apples. Cook slowly in the oven for an hour or so – the smell is wonderful.

CAULIFLOWER

Cauliflower has become one of the most popular vegetables in recent times. Even better it’s in season right now. As with many fruits and vegetables, the most prominent nutrient in cauliflower is vitamin C. However, it’s rich in most of the B-vitamins as well as the important trace minerals magnesium and manganese. These nutrients are better retained when cauliflower is steamed rather than boiled.

Cauliflower cheese

In terms of serving, a perennial favourite dish is cauliflower cheese which is often a Boxing Day lunch staple. However, it works really well as a one-pot curry with chickpeas, cumin, curry powder, onions, lentil and almonds. Cauliflower rice is also really popular with those watching their weight or following the Paleo Diet. Placed into a food processor it then gets broken down into rice-sized pieces. Simply heat through with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper.

CLEMENTINES

Always popular in Christmas stockings for their delicious, juicy and sweet taste, clementines are perfectly in season right now. Not only are they packed with vitamin C, they contain limonin which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels – another reason why they could be useful during the season of over-indulgence!

Clementines on wooden board

They’re also fabulous used in many recipes and work really well with our Christmas staple vegetable, the Brussels sprout. We tend to have a love/hate relationship with these little green vegetables, but when braised in the oven with sliced clementines, shallots, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and walnuts, they really come alive!

CRANBERRY

No Christmas table would ever be complete without cranberries. They deliver some wonderful health benefits, most notably for the urinary tract. Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria, and cranberries are able to prevent the E. coli bacteria from attaching to the wall of the urinary tract.

CRanberry sauce in small ceramic jug and cranberries on wooden board

Importantly, whilst, cranberry sauce makes a wonderful accompaniment to turkey, they work really well in a muesli recipe or in homemade energy bars. Simply mix dried cranberries with golden syrup, sunflower seeds, desiccated coconut, oats, butter and sultanas for a delicious tray-baked, portable energy snack – much needed during the tiring month of December.

So alongside the traditional sweet treats of Christmas, treat yourself to some delicious and nutritious fruit and veg this season and reap their amazing health benefits.

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Why is vitamin B12 so important?

Vitamin B12 is otherwise known as cobalamin because it’s the only vitamin that contains the essential mineral, cobalt. It was first isolated from liver extract in the late 1940s and was found to be the answer to a very serious condition called pernicious anaemia. Thankfully this fairly rare condition can now be identified much earlier. However, deficiency of vitamin B12 is still remarkably common.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on vitamin B12.

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WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

Vitamin B12 is key to the healthy production of red blood cells and the myelin sheath around nerve cells, hence it’s important for nerve function. B12 also works with folic acid (vitamin B9) in many body processes. Indeed, a deficiency of either nutrient can often be masked by the other, hence if a blood test is taken, it should involve both vitamins.

Side profile of a person higlighting their brain functioning

Importantly, vitamin B12 is known as a methyl donor, which carries and donates methyl groups (carbon and hydrogen molecules) to cell membranes and brain neurotransmitters. It’s a positive chemical reaction, one of its main roles being the metabolism of homocysteine. This is an amino acid produced in the body, high levels of which can potentially cause an array of health issues. Vitamin B12 is also involved with energy metabolism and immune function, so as you can see it’s pretty important!

WHERE CAN I GET IT FROM?

Unlike other water-soluble nutrients (such as other B-vitamins), B12 is stored in the liver, kidneys and other body tissues, but obviously only if there’s some available in the diet. Absorption is also dependent on having sufficient hydrochloric acid in the stomach which reduces as we get older. It is also thought that the beneficial bacteria naturally living in the gut, may produce some vitamin B12; research is very unclear though as to how much can actually be utilised. Plus, it’s likely that the good gut flora needs to be in tip-top condition for this process to take place, and many people have an imbalance in this area.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce, including offal (liver and kidneys), eggs, fish, cheese and meat. There may be some found in fermented sources such as sea vegetables and tempeh. But although vegans are often told that fermented foods, including miso and tofu, are good sources, there’s a big question mark about whether it’s in the form the body can utilise. Therefore fermented foods are certainly not a reliable source of vitamin B12.

In short, animal products are the only assured source which means that vegans are highly likely to be deficient unless they’re taking a supplement.

TEN FOODS HIGH IN B12

Foods containing Vitamin B12

Many people shy away from liver because the taste is too strong. However, the flavour of chicken livers is much more subtle and they’re great served warm with a salad, as a quick and delicious midweek meal. For a good contrast of flavours, mix salad leaves with some chopped hazelnuts and goat’s cheese. The chicken livers can be quickly fried (a couple of minutes per side) sprinkled with herbs and a little paprika and served immediately.

Cooked chicken livers

 HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE A DEFICIENCY?

We know the body can store some vitamin B12, so a deficiency can sometimes take a while to come to light and then symptoms may be slightly vague and non-specific.

Deficiency may cause extreme tiredness, plus nerve function can be off-balance triggering ‘pins and needles’, numbness or a burning feeling anywhere in the body. Low mood, lack of concentration and depression are also commonplace. More dramatic symptoms leading up to pernicious anaemia are likely to be persistent diarrhoea and a very red, inflamed tongue, but this is uncommon.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Deficiency of vitamin B12 is often down to poor absorption and low dietary intake. The likelihood of deficiency also increases with age as digestive issues become enhanced. Plus, anyone with poor digestion is much more likely to have a deficiency. The good news is that by either increasing the amount you eat in the diet or taking a supplement containing vitamin B12, you can be sure you’re getting enough of this essential vitamin.

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Brain Nutrition: the top 5 foods to eat for a sharper brain

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

Many of us struggle with poor memory or lack of concentration from time-to-time, and for some, more frequently. Whilst the brain will always show signs of ageing, generally from age 50, we’d all like some extra brain power, whatever our age!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five foods to give your brain that extra boost.

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EGGS

Eggs are not only an all-round superfood, they’re rich in choline, a member of the family of B-vitamins. Choline’s main ‘claim-to-fame’ is that it helps make acetylcholine, the brain’s key memory transmitter. Importantly, a deficiency of this nutrient could be the single most common cause for a declining memory.

One large egg contains around 300 mg of choline. Choline has two major functions; it’s needed for the structure of brain cells, plus the production of acetylcholine. The human body can make some choline in the liver, but it’s not usually sufficient to make healthy brain cells, hence it’s needed regularly in the diet.

A topped boiled egg in an egg cup

Eggs are also a great source of protein, containing the full profile of amino acids. Having an egg-based breakfast will help keep blood sugar levels in balance throughout the day and this will also keep your brain in sharp focus.

OILY FISH

Oily fish is rich in brain-loving omega-3 fats. These fats are key for good brain health because they’re part of the myelin sheath within the brain structure and are also needed to make those all-important neurotransmitters. The best fish to eat are primarily cold water ones that consume other fish! This means herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna. Try to include some oily fish in your diet around three times a week.

A whole cooked fish to represent healthy omega 3 fats

If you’re vegetarian, then you don’t need to miss out. Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are great sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a key omega fat which the body converts into the most active form being EPA (rich in fish). So the brain will still get what it needs.

BANANAS

This perfect, conveniently wrapped fruit is high in vitamin B6, which is another nutrient that’s essential for the production of those essential neurotransmitters. It’s no coincidence that bananas are a popular weaning food for babies, maybe for this reason. Plus, of course, they’re easy to digest (when fully ripe).

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

The brain needs a constant supply of certain nutrients to keep these neurotransmitters ‘firing’ and sending messages between cells. Several B-vitamins, and in particular B6, also encourage the production of acetylcholine as well as keeping nerves healthy.

Bananas are one of the easiest foods to incorporate into the diet because they’re so transportable but also versatile in dishes. They’re also a great start to the day on top of your morning oats with some natural yoghurt.

AVOCADOS

We know that the brain contains lots of fats, which are key to its make-up. However, this makes the brain susceptible to attack from damaging free radicals. If not stopped in their tracks, free radicals can cause damage throughout the body, particularly to nerves, which will inevitably impact on brain function.

The good news is that nature has provided a wealth of foods containing protective nutrients. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant found in avocados, works in partnership with vitamin C in the antioxidant department. Interestingly, people with good blood levels of antioxidants may do better in memory tests!

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Whilst some people shy away from avocados because of their higher calorie load, the benefits of including one in your diet, three times a week, far outweighs any negatives. They’re particularly delicious with prawns, in salads, smashed on toast with eggs for breakfast, or with bacon and grilled chicken.

PEAS

The humble pea is rich in folic acid, which works alongside vitamin B6 in helping produce the brain’s neurotransmitters. Plus, they’re so versatile and tasty too! They’re a good source of protein and fibre, helping to keep blood sugar levels in good balance and therefore, the brain in great working order.

a bowl of fresh peas and pea pods on a table

Peas are a very popular frozen vegetable because they’re so quick and easy to add to a meal. The freezing process can actually retain more of their nutrient content because they’re frozen quickly after harvesting, so don’t worry that these frozen vegetables are any less nutritious than fresh ones. They will also certainly contain less starch. We tend to forget that peas also come in the form of mange tout or the sugar snap variety, which are both equally great for the brain.

So add some of these brain-boosters to your diet this season and stay sharp!

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How to balance your blood sugar: top nutrition tips

Blood sugar balance is frequently talked about, particularly by nutritionists! But what is its significance and why is it so important for our overall health and wellbeing?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for balancing blood sugar levels.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The sugar from the food we eat has to be very tightly regulated within the body so levels don’t get too high, and poor dietary and lifestyle choices can really challenge the system. Fluctuating sugar levels that are constantly up and down can lead to everything from weight gain, low energy and mood swings to general hormonal imbalances and lack of concentration. However, the good news is that everything can actually run very smoothly with a few simple tweaks.

EAT PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL

Protein found in meat, eggs, chicken, beans, lentils, soya, dairy produce, has a very positive effect on keeping blood sugar levels in good balance.

Protein helps balance blood sugar because it slows the rate at which food is absorbed into the bloodstream, plus it encourages the release of the fat-burning hormone glucagon. It makes sense, therefore, to include some at every meal. For example, egg on wholemeal toast for breakfast, salmon with a mixed bean salad for lunch and grilled chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner.

A range of foods containing protein

It’s also a vital part of the diet because it is the basic building block of all cells, muscles and bones, as well as skin, hair and nails. Because muscles are made up of protein, it’s essential to keep muscle mass strong, which also encourages weight loss by increasing the metabolism.

DITCH THE SUGAR AND STIMULANTS

If your diet is very high in white refined carbs then start by switching to ‘brown’ as much as possible. Refined foods, sugars and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol are quickly released into the bloodstream sending blood sugar levels soaring, which is not what they’re meant to do.

A rnage of wholegrain foods

Start by switching to wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and whole grain foods, which are absorbed into the blood stream much more slwoly and therefore sustain energy levels throughout the day. Switch to decaffeinated drinks and keep alcohol to a minimum.

EAT REGULARLY BUT DON’T GRAZE

It’s important not to go for too long without food (ideally around three to four hours). So, aim for three meals a day and maybe a small snack in between each. This will keep blood sugar levels even throughout the day. However, constant grazing is not good; this constantly challenges the insulin response, which will ultimately lead to highs and lows.

A healthy breakfast of eggs, smoked salmon and avocado

It is absolutely key not to miss breakfast. After a long night of fasting, if you don’t re-fuel in the mornings, the body will start to break down muscle. Over a period of time, this will lead to a lowered metabolic rate. Plus, if you just grab a quick espresso, your blood sugar levels will definitely soar and then quickly crash so you’ll be on a roller coaster all day! Eggs or porridge are two of the best starts to the day.

SNACK CLEAN

Eating a small nutritious snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon will help to stabilise blood sugar levels. Some great snack ideas include an apple with a few almonds, a small pot of live yoghurt with fruit, ½ an avocado, some chopped vegetables with hummus, peanut butter or other nut butters with oatcakes, fresh fruit with nuts and seeds – so many health combinations to try!

Woman eating yoghurt with berries showing healthy breakfast

The most important thing to remember is to try to include some protein with every snack, which as well as keeping the blood sugar levels in balance, means you’ll also stay fuller for longer and therefore less likely to reach for sugary treats.

EAT GOOD FATS

Whilst many people believe that ‘fat makes you fat’, the real culprit is actually sugar and refined carbohydrates in food. However, it’s no secret that too many ‘bad’ fats found in red meat and dairy products can cause heart disease if eaten too regularly. They also cause insulin resistance because they can make cell membranes hard and less receptive to insulin, which is essential for blood sugar control.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Enter good fats! These are the essential omegas that need to be eaten very regularly and help to boost metabolism and slow the rate that the stomach releases carbohydrates. Nuts, seeds and oily fish are the best sources of omega-3s. They’re not too difficult to include in the daily diet; nuts and seeds on your morning porridge, pumpkin seed butter on oatcakes as a snack and grilled sardines or salmon for lunch or dinner.

In short, the more even your blood sugar levels are, the more even your energy and mood will be, so adopt these dietary tips to keep your blood sugars balanced every day.

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Top nutrition tips to winter-proof your diet

Close up of woman with wooly hat and scarf to represent winter

With the onset of colder weather, our thoughts naturally turn to the approach of winter. Unfortunately, we tend to be more susceptible to nasty bugs at this time of year and through the winter months. However, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can winter-proof your diet to keep your body in good health all season long.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her tips on what’s good to eat and what’s best to ditch during the winter months.

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LOVE LEMONS!

Most people enjoy eating citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and tangerines, but avoid lemons because of their sharp flavour. However, their high vitamin C content can really help to support the immune system and they’re great at encouraging the liver to detox.

Fresh leons and lemon tea with root ginger on a wooden background

There are so many ways they can be incorporated into the daily diet; squeezed over grilled fish, added to salad dressings, drizzled over a morning pancake or added to a warming drink with ginger and honey. And for those with aches and pains, lemons also help balance the body’s natural alkalinity, so all the joints move a little smoother.

EAT YOUR GREENS

Spinach is obviously a green-leafy vegetable whose virtues are often extoled. However unlike other similar vegetables, spinach is high in oxalic acid which interferes with the absorption of certain minerals: oxalates tend to deplete iron and calcium, both of which are essential through the winter months to support the immune system and the muscles, joints and bones. But the good news is if you cook spinach this breaks down the oxalic acid, resulting in loss of fewer nutrients – so always go for steamed or sautéed spinach, especially during the winter months.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

There are of course also plenty of other green vegetables to choose from such as broccoli, kale cauliflower and sprouts, all of which should be readily eaten during the winter months for their very dense nutrient content.

SWEETEN WITH MOLASSES

When the temperature drops, we naturally tend to crave more sugary and carbohydrate-based foods. Clearly, we need to be mindful of this. However, molasses, which can be found in health foods stores, are a really good way of adding some sweetness to dishes. They actually have quite a strong flavour, so not too much is needed but they’re packed with the mineral iron to help keep energy levels up.

Roast leg of lamb with trimmings

Molasses can be used in sweet or savoury dishes; think pulled pork, lamb shank, game pies or chicken meals, in pancakes, flapjacks, or sticky toffee pudding (for a real treat).

AVOID WHITE SUGAR

Sugar is everywhere – often in foods you wouldn’t expect – and it is important to remember that it contains no nutrients at all. In fact, it may even impair absorption of essential nutrients. During winter-time the body is often under attack from infections, therefore the immune system needs to be in good shape. So it makes sense to take in good calories from health-giving foods rather than empty ones found in cakes, biscuits and pastries. It’s good to get into the habit of reading labels; many processed foods, cereals and those labelled ‘low-fat’ have much more sugar in than we realise.

FLAVOUR WITH GARLIC!

Garlic is a super food! It works naturally to fight invading viruses, bacteria and fungi. Therefore, it makes sense to include it in dishes as much as possible. Plus, of course it’s totally delicious and versatile.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic can be added to almost any savoury dish but it works especially well in soups, stews, lamb dishes, potato dauphinoise and stir fries. The more you eat, the better your immune system will cope during the winter months.

CUT DOWN ON DAIRY

Dairy products including milk, cream, cheese and yoghurt are not great for your respiratory system as they tend to encourage the production of mucous and nasal congestion, generally. With the threat of colds ever present during the winter months, it makes sense to reduce dairy intake where possible. There are so many dairy alternatives in the form of nut milks, oat, rice and soya. Why not try out a variety and see what works for you? Plus, you don’t need to miss out on yoghurt as there’s plenty of dairy-free ones readily available in the supermarkets.

A range of milks made from nuts

And if you’re missing some spread on your sandwiches, then why not use some hummus for a much healthier and tastier option?

So with a few easy dietary tweaks you can prepare your body to fight the oncoming bugs and be winter-ready!

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Nutrition for colds and flu: how to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands holding a bowl of warming soup

With the dreaded cold season rapidly approaching, now is the time to take steps to keep them at bay. What’s on your plate at each meal time can have a really positive effect in boosting the immune system and improving your health all winter long. And not forgetting that each meal time is an opportunity for including as many nutrients as possible for all-round great health.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for making each meal an immune-booster.

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MAKE YOUR MORNING COUNT

In so many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You’ve fasted through the night and the body is now looking for a really nutritious and energy-boosting start to the day. Moreover, eating a nutrient-rich breakfast provides the perfect opportunity to get your immune defences in great shape.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

Try to include some dark berry fruits into your breakfast: many of the secrets to the health benefits of these little berries actually lie in their beautiful, dark colours. Berry fruits are rich in plant compounds known as anthocyanins (blueberries especially so), which are high in immune-boosting antioxidants, that help protect the body against infections. Blueberries, cherries, strawberries and blackberries are also packed with vitamin C, one of our key defenders.

These fruits are coming out of season now, although they’re still readily available in supermarkets. However, use them frozen in a berry smoothie with banana and avocado and you’ve got yourself one of the best starts to the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Clearly you’ll need something more filling as well, so you can also add these fruits as a topper to porridge or other oat-based cereals. Oats are full of beta-glucans which help support the immune system, so what better start to the day during the winter than with a warming bowl of porridge topped with berries to see you through till lunchtime.

For those on the run at breakfast-time, a pot of live natural yoghurt, which is full of immune-boosting friendly bacteria, also makes a great option. Make sure you add some berries for that ‘hit’ of antioxidants and vitamin C!

LUNCHTIME POWER UP

Even though you’ve had a nutritionally-rich breakfast, by lunchtime your energy levels will naturally be flagging; the body needs re-fuelling! It’s really important to include protein at lunch for a number of reasons. Protein is needed for the body to produce immunoglobulins, a key part of immune function that helps to fight invasion of nasty bugs. Moreover, it will help stem the common 3 p.m. energy slump.

Baked sweet potato topped with salmon

So which proteins are best to eat? Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, which are packed with healthy essential omega-3s, are great as a topper on a jacket sweet potato. Loaded with beta-carotene, sweet potatoes will also provide great support for the immune system.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, or just fancy a change, then tempeh or tofu with some noodles or wholegrain brown rice also work really well. Tempeh is slightly higher in protein than tofu, plus it’s got a naturally nutty taste so tends to be more flavoursome.

Bean and rice salad stew

The mineral zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and is often lacking in diets that are high in white, refined foods. All types of beans contain good levels of zinc and they also make great lunchtime staples in a wrap, salad or soup. Chickpeas are another good alternative, so adding some hummus and wholemeal pitta bread to your lunchtime menu, or having some falafels, are other useful options.

HEALTHY SUPPERTIME

After a long, hard day, an evening meal can often be a rushed affair which can lead to less nutrients being eaten. However, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or a long time planning nutritious, immune-boosting meals.

Stir fries are always good because they’re quick and easy to prepare and you can use whatever happens to be in the fridge at the time. However, certain herbs such as garlic and ginger are real immune boosters and so can be included in lots of different dishes, especially stir fries, alongside your protein source and other vegetables.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Alternatively, why not make a warming and filling super soup? Butternut squash (full of beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A as needed), lentils (high in zinc) and coconut (great for the immune system) together provide a real immunity hit. Plus, you can add other ingredients such as fish, chicken or beans for a more filling option. The best thing is that you can make this in advance and it will last a few days so you’ll have a healthy meal ready whenever energy levels are flagging.

A bowl of warming butternut squash soup

Try to also include as many vegetables as possible into your evening meal for their vitamin C content. Red peppers, for example, are high in vitamin C, and are great added to a tray of roasted vegetables, which make a great accompaniment to any protein source. Other great immune-boosting roasting vegetables include sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, tomatoes and courgettes.

So include these immune-boosting foods at every mealtime this winter and keep those colds at bay.

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