Protein: what to eat to fuel your workouts and day to day diet

A range of foods containing protein

With National Fitness Day on the calendar this week, it’s the perfect time to review your protein intake to ensure it is meeting your body’s needs with or without exercise. 

Whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, protein intake is an essential part of a well-balanced diet and helps to fuel your activity.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top protein tips.

For the meat eaters

Animal produce is a great source of protein and contains all the essential amino acids. Importantly, meat is a rich source of leucine, isoleucine and valine, the branched-chain amino acids and key muscle builders and repair instigators.  Whilst many people, especially those doing more strength training exercise or body building, eat these after a workout, it’s also really important to be having sufficient quantities of all essential aminos throughout the day.

Roast chicken leg with potatoes and vegetables

Depending on body weight and activity level, aim to get around 20 to 30 grams of protein into each meal.  This may not always be possible depending on your schedule; hence protein shakes can be particularly helpful to plug the gaps if you’re very active.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Start the day right with a protein-filled breakfast such which includes two eggs (18 grams of protein total), with an omelette being a great choice.  Lunch could include some low-fat fish such as canned tuna in a wrap, with dinner containing turkey or chicken.  Both are lower in fat than pork, lamb, or beef: try to eat these meats no more than twice a week.

For the vegetarians

Vegetable sources of protein generally don’t contain all essential amino acids, although there are notable exceptions such as hemp protein.  Some vegetarians eat fish (pescatarians) and some don’t.  However, eggs and dairy contain all essential amino acids, therefore it’s important to eat these foods in order to get the quota of these key amino acids.

With so many egg-based options for breakfast, you need never get bored of the same dish! Eggs with hollandaise sauce and spinach, frittata, or, poached eggs with smashed avocado on sourdough or wholemeal toast are great options.

shutterstock_716903197 avocado and poached egg Dec17

When it comes to grains, then quinoa is one of the best, boasting all essential amino acids, albeit slightly low in some.  However, quinoa makes a great base to any salad, with goat’s cheese, beetroot and walnuts being a great addition, whilst also supplying more protein.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

There’s certainly no shortage of options for dinner recipes with stir fries winning the day and fermented forms of protein such as tempeh and tofu making great choices.  Add some grated ginger, spring onions, soy sauce and a little honey with some chopped veggies and you’ve made a fabulous protein-filled meal. Enjoy the stir fry with some whole grain brown rice or basmati and you’ll be fuelled for your next morning workout!

For the vegans

It’s important for vegans to be aware of protein intake purely because vegetable proteins can be lacking in all essential amino acids and are also low in some.  Therefore, it’s important to include a good combination of grains and beans in your diet, though they don’t need to be in the same meal.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Porridge makes one of the best starts to the day, especially if you’re planning on doing some exercise, such as a longer run, a couple of hours later.  And you can really power up the protein content by adding some nut butter, almond milk and stirring in some cacoa nibs.  Cacoa nibs are the less processed part of the cocoa bean and have a higher protein content.

Pre or post work-out lunch is a great time for including some energising beans in some form, and there are plenty to choose from.  Lunch could be something as simple as some haricot beans, mixed with tinned tomatoes, rosemary and garlic on sourdough bread or making up an easy chickpea salad.

Chickpea salad with feta

For dinner, lentils provide another fabulous source of protein with one cup providing about 18 grams.  Lentil bolognese therefore delivers on taste, protein content and energy.  Add in some thyme and other mixed herbs, tinned tomatoes, onions and celery and you’ve got some powerful antioxidants to boost immune health too.

So, whatever your diet preferences, power up your work-outs and overall nutrition with good quality protein choices.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: top foods for September

Ripe,Pears,And,Peaches,On,Table

As a nutritionist, I am frequently talking about eating with the seasons.  This means eating foods at the times nature intended during the year, which generally delivers better nutrient content, enhanced flavours, and greater health benefits.

However, we can sometimes run out of ideas as to what to do with these delicious foods.

Read on for some great suggestions on how best to use my favourite in-season foods right now!

Blackberries

During August and September, the hedgerows are awash with beautiful blackberries, signalling the perfect time for eating this nutrient-dense fruit.

As with all berries, blackberries are loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C and antioxidants, as well as energising folate. They also provide a good source of fibre.  Furthermore, they are low on the glycaemic index so won’t upset blood sugar balance and are great if you’re trying to lose weight.

shutterstock_206260981 blackberries Aug15

As vitamin C is degraded by cooking, fruit is generally at its most nutritious when eaten raw, so why not load some up onto your breakfast muesli or simply enjoy with some natural yoghurt.  And if you can ‘pick your own’ blackberries, or scavenge them from the hedgerows, the taste and nutritional benefit is going to be even better!

Beetroot

Another colourful beauty, beetroot scores highly on both taste and nutritional benefits.  Beetroot is rich in potassium which helps regulate blood pressure but also contains betacyanin which is great for cleansing the liver and supporting any detox plan.  However, as beetroots are quite sweet, many people prefer them pickled but this does reduce their nutrient content somewhat.

Whole beetroots

Beetroots are also rich in immune-boosting beta-carotene, which becomes more bioavailable when beetroots are cooked.  They can therefore be boiled in their skins and then peeled and used in a variety of ways.

The taste and texture of beetroot works especially well with goat’s cheese.  Enjoy the last days of summer by making up a delicious and simple goat’s cheese salad, with chopped beetroot and sprinkled with balsamic glaze.

Celeriac

Often, and very unkindly referred to as ‘the ugly one’ due to its knobbly appearance, celeriac redeems itself with its nutritional goodness and likeable flavour.  Part of the celery family, celeriac has a better taste profile down to its nutty flavour rather than being overly salty.  However, just like celery, celeriac is great for reducing blood pressure and is a good source of vitamin C and fibre.

Celeriac on a table

Celeriac makes a great vegetable side, simply mashed with a little pepper and butter, or mashed with potatoes and garlic. Why not try making it into a soup with apples to create a really balanced and delicious flavour.

Pears

Pears are often forgotten and pushed into the shade by their counterparts, apples, although they bare no relation to each other. Just like apples though, pears are also relatively low on the glycaemic index so are great if you’re watching the kilos.  Importantly though, they are one of the least allergenic foods so are perfect for including in allergy-free diets or for weaning babies. Plus, they are high in the soluble fibre pectin, so are great for keeping the bowels running smoothly.

shutterstock_298111103 pears Sept17

As with many fruits, pears work really well with various cheeses, especially the stronger flavoured ones such as gorgonzola. They are delicious poached in red wine (packed with healthy antioxidants) or paired with chocolate as a real treat.

Peaches

Peaches are loaded with vitamin C, fibre, and potassium.  And just like beetroot, peaches are rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A as required.  Vitamin A is essential for a healthy immune system and for good vision, especially at night.

shutterstock_297863489 peaches July16

Peaches are delicious when eaten simply on their own as a low-calorie snack.  And it’s worth remembering that tinned peaches, which are highly popular, lose most of their vitamin C in the canning process and are also much higher in sugar.  Fresh is always best!

So, enjoy the seasonal delights that September brings and get creative!

Stay well.

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Managing your blood pressure: top dietary tips to reduce yours

Woman having her blood pressure taken

Having raised or high blood pressure can significantly increase our risk factors for cardiovascular problems, especially heart attacks and strokes.  However, it can also cause a myriad of other issues and may even affect the eyes.

It’s very important to try to keep blood pressure readings within normal ranges for your age.  But thankfully making some diet and lifestyle changes can have a significant effect.

This Know Your Numbers’ week, clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for reducing blood pressure naturally.

Grab some garlic

Garlic is one of the most effective botanicals for reducing blood pressure.  Try to include garlic in your cooking as much as possible; it’s also good to take as a supplement.

shutterstock_552242461 garlic Aug17

Garlic really enhances a wealth of dishes, whether they be veggie sides, fish, meat, beans, pasta, or rice dishes.  And green leafy vegetables are also great for helping reduce blood pressure, partly down to their high magnesium content.  Why not stir fry spinach, broccoli, or kale with garlic?

Go for salmon

Salmon contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids which are known to help reduce blood pressure.  However, not all salmon is created equal!  It’s important to try and find wild salmon, which will always look pinker in colour than farmed salmon.  This is down to the natural astaxanthin, an alga that the wild salmon naturally feed on, and which is one of the most powerful antioxidants known to man.  Hence this will also be helpful for reducing blood pressure.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

The UK Government recommends one to two portions of oily fish per week (which we are generally not achieving as a nation).  However, if you have high blood pressure then aim for three to four per week.  Sardines, mackerel, and tuna are also good sources of omega-3s.  However, smoked salmon is high in salt so probably best avoided, as excess salt can lead to higher blood pressure.

Snack on bananas

Bananas are high in potassium which is needed to keep blood pressure in good balance.  Potassium works alongside magnesium and calcium in regulating blood pressure.

Whole bananas and diced banana

The good news is that most fruits and vegetables contain potassium, but bananas, melons, avocados, and apricots are especially helpful.  And they can all easily be incorporated into the daily diet in meals or snacks.  Smashed avocado on seeded sourdough bread makes one of the best starts to the day!

Eat brown not white

Whole grain foods (often referred to as ‘brown’) are loaded with fibre, unlike their refined ‘white’ counterparts.  For example, brown rice retains the outer fibrous husk, whereas it’s been removed in the refining process in white rice.  And the same follows for wheat-based pasta.

shutterstock_585346478 whole wheat pasta June17

Importantly, the fibre in whole grains helps reduce blood pressure.  We need around 30 grams of fibre per day, which is sadly lacking in the typical Western diet.  Whole grain rice, brown basmati rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, buckwheat, millet, and oats are the order of the day if you want to keep blood pressure in check.

Avoid processed meats

There are lots of good reasons for keeping intake of bacon, ham, salamis, meat sausages and other processed versions to an absolute minimum.  These foods are often high in histamine which can raise blood pressure.  Additionally, they are known to raise levels of fats in the blood which will have a negative effect on blood pressure, plus are high in salt, another potential trigger.

Raw,Uncooked,Seabass,Fish,With,Vegetables,,Grains,,Herbs,And,Spices

Instead, try to stick to a more plant-based diet including plenty of whole grains, nuts (especially walnuts) and seeds, fruits and vegetables, legumes with some oily fish.  The typical Mediterranean diet is known to be super heart healthy and will help reduce blood pressure.

It’s not just your blood pressure that will benefit from making a few changes; you’re helping to future-proof your health too! Find out more about Know Your Numbers week by visiting the Blood Pressure Uk Website.

Stay well.

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Lunchtime nutrition: three ‘Back to Work’ lunches you’ll love

CLose up of chicken salad lunch at desk while working in office

If you’re one of the many people getting ready to go back to the office, one dilemma that hasn’t disappeared during the pandemic is “what to eat for lunch”. 

Many of us prefer, or have to, take lunch with us; therefore, it can become a daily conundrum. Each lunchtime is an opportunity to provide the body with much-needed nutrients to sustain your energy throughout the day, so it’s a good idea to plan in advance.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some much-needed lunchtime inspiration for your return to work.

Wrap up some goodness

Wraps are the perfect transportable lunch that will provide a great array of nutrients without causing any uncomfortable stomach bloat, as they are not a ‘heavy’ as normal bread.  Plus, it’s  really easy to buy gluten-free wraps or those made with sweet potatoes, spinach, or coconut flour.

Chicken,And,Salad,Tortilla

It’s important to include plenty of protein either from animal or vegetable sources.  For example, turkey is high in protein and lower in fat than chicken and therefore makes a great choice.  Why not wrap up some lettuce, turkey, sliced cabbage (red or white are both great for the digestion) and some cucumber strips, with a little mayonnaise?

Tortilla,With,Vegetables,And,Hummus,With,Chickpeas.,Top,View.,Black

As a veggie option, spread the wrap with plenty of hummus and then lay lots of lettuce, avocado slices, cucumber sticks and tomato.  For a little extra pizazz, why not add some cheese of your choice and within minutes you’ve created a colourful and nutritious lunch.  Both of these wrap options contain plenty of protein, vitamin C, energising B-vitamins, and immune-boosting vitamin E.

Zingy rice noodles

Rice noodles are a great lunchtime choice; not too heavy but still providing plenty of nutrients, which can taste even better depending on what you put with them. It’s good to get your base flavours right and garlic is the perfect start; great for the immune, digestion and cardiovascular systems.

Rice,Noodles,With,Chicken,,Mushrooms,Mun,And,Vegetables,,Prepared,In

Fry some garlic and fresh chopped chilli (a great fat-burner), and then add some chicken, prawns, or tofu.  Add some soy sauce, lime juice, chopped carrots and peppers and your base is made.  All you need is to quickly cook the rice noodles, add them to the mixture and then serve into your  transportable pots. It’s a great idea to make up a couple of lunch boxes for your working week as they keep well in the fridge.

Tasty cauliflower rice

If you’re watching your waistline, then this dish is perfect.  It’s high in protein (around 16g per portion) but low in carbs.  Cauliflower is a member of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, and contains plenty of antioxidants, protecting the body from degenerative diseases.

Cauliflower,Rice,With,Vegetables,In,Bowl,On,White,Background.,Paleo

Chop up a whole cauliflower and then blitz in a food processor so that its texture becomes like fine grains.  Then mix up some immune-boosting spices including cinnamon and allspice. Coat the cauliflower in the spices and put into a roasting tin to cook in the oven. Once it’s cooled you can add whatever takes your fancy, but chopped onion, mint, parsley, and feta are fabulous accompaniments.

Alternatively, you can quickly grill or stir fry some tofu with teriyaki sauce and chopped spring onion and add to the cauliflower.  Tofu is not only a great source of protein, it is also good for the digestive system and contains lots of calcium.

Three extra lunchtime tips

  • If you’re struggling with hormones, especially during the menopause, throw a good handful of edamame beans into your wrap or lunch box.

Edamame,Beans,In,Bowl,On,Light,Background.,Close,Up,View

  • Any chopped, raw vegetables with a dip such as hummus make great snacks and really improve your daily nutrient status.

Hummus,With,Vegetables,On,Plate

  • Always think about cooking extra portions when preparing your evening meal, such as chicken breast, poached or steamed salmon, or roasted vegetables. These can then be incorporated into your lunches for the week.

Baked,Salmon,Pasta,Salad,With,Spiral,Rotini,Vegetable,Pasta,In

Stay well.

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Herbal health: which herbs to include in your diet this summer

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

Nature has provided us with a wealth of amazing herbs, which all have wonderful medicinal benefits, but equally add real and varied tastes to our cooking.

Adding herbs to dishes doesn’t need to be complicated and the good news is that you can’t really get it wrong!

 

Suzie Sawyer, Clinical Nutritionist, shares her five favourite herbs, when to use them and their health benefits.

Rosemary

One of my all-time favourite herbs, rosemary is not only a great source of health-giving antioxidants but delivers an amazing flavour to a range of recipes.

Rosemary,Bound,On,A,Wooden,Board

Rosemary naturally contains anti-inflammatory compounds, so it is great if you’re struggling with aching joints and muscles.  Additionally, it exerts really positive effects on the circulation and especially circulation to the brain, providing a great boost for cognition. Furthermore, rosemary is great for supporting the immune system; it’s array of health benefits goes on and on!

Rosemary works really well with many vegetable dishes, especially roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, and is fabulous accompaniment to roast lamb. Enjoy it all year round!

Basil

Basil always reminds me of the Mediterranean because it’s a firm favourite of the Italians but also throughout the Mediterranean countries.  Basil adds so much to so many dishes.  However, it’s always best added towards the end of cooking or as you’re serving a pasta dish as basil’s taste gets lost when over-cooked.

A fresh bunch of basil on a wooden board

Basil seems to have positive effects on blood pressure and reducing blood fats (perhaps another reason why the typical Mediterranean diet is so healthy).  It can therefore be used liberally and works well with fresh ‘on the vine’ tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.  In fact, there’s not a recipe with tomatoes that basil doesn’t work with!

Coriander

Also known as cilantro, this delightful herb is usually best served with spicy dishes, especially Asian and Indian curries: both the leaves and seeds are used in cooking.

shutterstock_446722957 coriander Apr18

However, leaves tend to be used more frequently and just like basil they are best added as the dish is being served to preserve their flavour.  Coriander brings a wealth of health benefits especially for reducing blood pressure and generally protecting the heart’s wellbeing. It can also help to boost immunity and provides antioxidant protection.  This in itself further aids the immune system but also helps protect the body against degenerative diseases.

Add coriander to any curry, stir-fry or spicy soup and it will never disappoint.

Chives

Chives are a member of the allium family alongside onions, leaks and garlic, hence its similar taste. And just like its family members, chive has natural antiparasitic effects, so is really helpful for stomach issues.  Even better, it has a much gentler flavour than onions or garlic and is easier to digest.

Bunch,Of,Fresh,Chives,On,A,Wooden,Cutting,Board,,Selective

As with most deep green herbs and vegetables, chives are rich in vitamin K which is essential for healthy bones and the heart, as well as having plentiful antioxidants.  They are really easily chopped and added on the top of baked potatoes, potato salad or any egg dish.  They are also really easily grown in a pot on the windowsill, so you need never be without them!

Parsley

Parsley often gets dismissed as a cooking ingredient and is often only used to garnish dishes.  However, its distinctive peppery flavour works so well in loads of salad dishes as well as recipes containing fish. And just to confuse matters, there are various types of parsley with the flat-leaf variety being the most flavoursome. However, it’s all down to personal preference.

A bunch of fresh parsley

Parsley is a brilliant detoxifier of the liver, so it is great to add fresh parsley liberally to any dish.  Parsley is also a rich source of chlorophyll (also called the ‘blood of life’) because it delivers so many nutrients, as well as being a great blood cleanser.

With so much goodness in these wonderful herbs, not to mention fabulous flavours, start revving up your dishes and health today!

Stay well.

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How to pack a healthy picnic

A picnic basket on a wodden table overlooking a beautiful countryside scene

It’s picnic season and time to fully enjoy the great outdoors with some delicious and super-nutritious foods that the whole family will love.

There is often a tendency when packing picnics to default to prepacked sausage rolls, Scotch eggs and crisps! But this doesn’t need to be the case. Picnics can be really healthy, nutritionally balanced, and tasty too!

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top picnic tips.

Crudités and Dips

Most people love a variety of dips, many of which are healthy.  However, it’s what’s dipped into them that really counts! Chopped carrots, celery, red peppers, and cucumber all make great accompaniments.

shutterstock_495222628-hummus-and-veg-crudites-nov16

Carrots are loaded with beta-carotene which the body turns into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed. Both celery and cucumber work as natural diuretics which help banish water retention and bloating (especially common in women) and red peppers are one of the richest sources of vitamin C, also amazing for the immune system.

Guacamole,Dip,In,Bowl,Over,White,Stone,Background.,Healthy,Avocado

Pack some hummus, which is high in protein and tzatziki made from natural yogurt which helps balance the gut bacteria. Guacamole, produced from super-healthy avocados, is a great option too. Adding these dips to your picnic has just upped the nutrition a good few notches.

Superfood Salad

Salads don’t need to be dull or limp!  If you pack a grain-based salad such as quinoa or couscous, you’ve got the perfect base on which to build your amazing superfood salad. For starters, these healthy grains contain some protein which helps to keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Plus, quinoa has the added benefit of being gluten-free if that’s a consideration for you.

Salads,With,Quinoa,,Arugula,,Radish,,Tomatoes,And,Cucumber,In,Bowl

A superfood salad can be totally freestyled!  You can add what takes your fancy.  However, the greater colour variety you have, the more health benefits you’ll gain.  For example, chopped tomatoes are high in the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which can help protect the body from free radical damage.  Or why not roast some vegetables to add to the grains?  Roasted aubergine, peppers, mushrooms and onions make a great combination.

Salad,Baked,Eggplant,And,Fresh,Tomatoes.,Top,View

Aubergines help replenish the gut bacteria, peppers are rich in vitamin C, mushrooms provide a small amount of vitamin D and onions are high in quercetin, a natural antihistamine which will help protect against hay fever symptoms. Even better, these salads are really easy to transport, can be cooked and kept in the fridge overnight and are simply delicious with pesto added.

Fruit Extravaganza

Just as you’ve packed some deliciously crisp and healthy crudités for dips, the same treatment works for fruit, and the colours will delight! It’s always good to end a picnic with a sweet treat, and rather than loading up with high sugar and fat-laden pastries or cookies, why not enjoy some delightful fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet cravings?

Mixed,Berry,Salad,With,Mint.,Fruit,Salad.

It being summertime, there is a great selection of berry fruits available.  Berries are all rich in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants, that protect the body from illnesses.  Why not grab some strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries?  They can all be mixed, just remember to wash them all thoroughly before packing in the picnic basket.

Healthy,Fresh,Fruit,Salad,In,Glass,Bowl,On,White,Wooden

You could also chop up some apples and pears, which are both high in vitamin C and fibre. Once chopped, and exposed to oxygen, they will go brown.  However, squeezing some lemon juice over them will stop this happening (lemon also contains antioxidants, which prevent oxidation of foods).

Kiwi,Fruit,In,A,Bowl,On,Wooden,Background.,Copy,Space

To complete your colourful extravaganza, pack some kiwis which don’t need to be chopped.  Kiwis can be eaten just like a boiled egg and peeled from the top and dipped with a spoon.  Kiwis contain some of the highest levels of immune-boosting vitamin C of any fruit.

So enjoy the healthiest, most colourful picnic yet this summer!

Stay well.

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Back to basics: everyday nutrition tips

shutterstock_335465993 nutrition words Mar21

The whole topic of nutrition has been highly glamorised in recent years, partly down to social media.  Whilst this is great in many ways because good nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness, it has left many people confused about what is right and what is wrong.

When it comes to a balanced diet there are a few simple rules which we can all follow to ensure we are getting the optimum nutrition we need.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes us back to the basics of daily nutrition.

What are macros?

As the name suggests, they are big, and in this case refer to the groups of food that we eat most of.  Essentially, there are three macronutrients: proteins,  carbohydrates and fats. Some people also talk about fibre as being another macro such is its important in overall health, although technically fibre is a carbohydrate.

Protein – essential building blocks for life

All macros form an essential part of the daily diet, so any restrictive diet is going to lead to nutrient deficiencies somewhere along the line.  Protein is literally the building block of life. It is essential for every bone and muscle in the body, as well as producing hormones, neurotransmitters and supporting the immune system.

A range of foods containing protein

There are nine essential amino acids that must be eaten in the diet (there are other amino acids that are essential, but these can be produced in the body). These nine amino acids are found primarily in animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy and plant sources quinoa, buckwheat, and soybeans.  If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you should combine grains and pulses to get sufficient amino acids, although this does not need to be in the same meal.

Carbohydrates – energy and nutrient providers

Carbohydrates, including fibre, provide an essential energy source for our muscles and brain.  Indeed, the brain requires around 30% of all carbohydrate the body intakes. Carbs are not all created equally in that slow releasing ones (essentially whole foods and fruits and vegetables) provide sustainable energy throughout the day. Conversely, fast release carbs primarily found in processed and refined foods give an energy boost then an energy crash due to their adverse effect on blood sugar.

Foods,Highest,In,Carbohydrates.,Healthy,Diet,Eating,Concept.

Carbs are often maligned but this food group contains some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and are loaded with antioxidants, so the body is missing out if they are not being consumed.

Fat – protecting and sustaining

Another maligned food group is fat.  However, fat provides the second energy source for the body, and it is essential for absorbing our fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

There is often confusion around good and ‘bad’ fats.  Essentially, good fats are the omegas 3 and 6 which must be eaten in the diet as the body cannot make them.  The omega 3s are crucial for hormones, joints, the heart, brain and eyes. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends in this respect.

shutterstock_196052645 avocadoes Oct15

Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil is great for the heart and should be included in the diet.  However, try to avoid the damaged fats; the trans fats found in margarines and refined foods.  The body cannot deal with these and trans fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, so try to be aware of not overeating the foods that contain them.

Fruits and vegetables – overflowing with goodness

As nutritionists we talk endlessly about getting sufficient fruits and vegetables into the diet.  Why? Because quite simply they are loaded with nutrients, especially the trace minerals that are so often deficient in the typical western diet.  It is all about colour and variety and not over thinking it.  Try to have plenty of colour on your plate at every mealtime.

A range of fruits and vegetables

There’s also confusion as to whether juicing is good or bad.  Juices are a great way of getting more nutrients into the body.  You might lose the fibre content, but juices are still loaded with nutrients.  Try to include more vegetables than fruits in your juices or blends to keep fructose (a fruit sugar) content to a minimum.

Water – pure and simple

We talk about the body being around 80% water.  Of course, this is not pure water because it is made up of solutes and everything within cellular tissue.  However, the body still needs plenty of plain water to keep it sufficiently hydrated.  It will quickly complain if dehydrated and you’ll feel low in energy, suffer brain fog, plus constipation may be problematic.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Our water needs vary depending on activity levels.  However, as a general rule, if you are having around 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily you will be doing ok, plus fruits and vegetables can count towards this target since they’re high in water.

The body’s needs are relatively simple so there is no need to overcomplicate diets; just try and stick to the basics for well-balanced nutrition.

Stay well.

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Super salads: top nutritious side dishes to accompany your barbecue this summer

Group of friends enjoying eating a barbeque outside

Barbecues aren’t just about the cooked food; the side dishes you create to accompany meat or veggie options can make all the difference.

Great salads can really enhance the flavour of all the other food and there are so many delicious options.

Here are nutritionist Suzie Sawyer’s three favourite healthy salad ideas to make your barbecue truly come to life!

Suzie’s Special Salad (with nothing left out!)

As a nutritionist, I talk endlessly about maximising the colour on your plate to enjoy the benefits of as many nutrients as possible.  And this salad doesn’t disappoint in that respect. It’s gorgeously colourful, is packed with immune-boosting vitamin C, energising B vitamins and loads of antioxidants to protect the body from everything life throws at it.

A bowl of fresh spinach leaves

This recipe contains black beans and spinach leaves as a base and is then loaded with chopped vine tomatoes, cucumber, mango chunks (use frozen ones and defrost), red onion, avocado and crumbled feta cheese on the top.

Fresh,Mint,Leafs,In,Mortar,On,Grey,Wooden,Table

Herbs also contain some wonderful health benefits in terms of their antioxidants but are helpful for the digestion too.  So, blending up a bunch of mint, coriander and basil with garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar and honey makes a delicious and healthy dressing.

This salad will stand proud with any barbecued meat or vegetables but works especially well with lamb.

Quinoa Vegetarian Salad

Most barbecue meals contain a grain-based salad, not just for ‘bulk’ but also because they taste great.  Quinoa, (which is technically a seed not a grain), is perfect because it provides some starchy carbs, but most importantly, has a high protein content, keeping everyone fuller for longer. Plus, quinoa is a great source of fibre helping the digestive system to run smoothly.  Even better, it’s got plenty of energy-boosting B-vitamins, so you can enjoy the barbecue to the full!

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

Quinoa can be cooked just like couscous.  Indeed, if quinoa is not your bag, then couscous is fine but do remember it contains gluten and quinoa does not, which may be a consideration for some of your guests.

You can freestyle this one in terms of what goes in.  However, it works really well with feta cheese, pine nuts, spring onions, chopped tomatoes, cucumber and pepper with some pesto stirred through.

Another dish with plenty of colour, loaded with nutrients, making a great addition to the barbecue feast.

Griddled courgette, basil, and chilli salad

Griddled or roasted vegetables are always welcomed in salads, and courgettes are in season right now.  They are naturally low in fat but high in minerals folate, heart-loving potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C which are great for the immune system.  And because you eat them with the skin left on, you’ll be getting the added benefit of soluble fibre which helps balance blood sugar levels, banishing cravings. Courgettes are in season now which generally brings higher nutrient content and better taste, especially if you buy them fresh from farmers’ markets.

Tasty,Grilled,Zucchini,On,Parchment

Cut the courgettes into long strips, coat with chopped red chilli, salt, pepper and olive oil and then griddle in a very hot pan.  Once the courgettes are cooled, they can then be tossed in some more olive oil, chopped basil and lemon. This is a dish that looks very impressive but actually takes very little time in the preparation and cooking.

So, enjoy some great barbecue salads Suzie-style this season!

Stay well.

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Upgrade your health this World Wellbeing Week

A chalk board with the words Healthy Lifestyle written on alongside other words which represent this

World Wellbeing Week is an opportunity for us to evaluate our physical and mental health and what more we can be doing to support our wellness.

What does wellbeing mean to you?  Officially it means ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’.  So how could you improve your wellbeing?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips.

Make some dietary tweaks

Trying to make dietary changes too quickly can often be very stressful.  And it may be that your diet is pretty healthy, but it just needs improving in certain areas.  So, why not resolve to just change one thing?

shutterstock_585346478 whole wheat pasta June17

Each mealtime is an opportunity to re-fuel the body and take in essential nutrients.  The body needs 45 nutrients (including water) in any one day, so each mealtime should count.  Maybe swap white refined bread and pasta for brown, which will provide much more fibre and essential nutrients. Or cut down on overall sugar content, remembering that many foods have hidden sugars, such as cereals, sauces, baked beans and other tinned and packaged foods.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Sugar in all its forms (and that includes honey) depletes the body of other nutrients and upsets blood sugar balance, making weight more difficult to manage.  If sugar is an issue for you, any reductions you can make are going to be positive.

Figure out an exercise plan

It doesn’t need to be formal or involve a gym, but exercise and keeping active is a very important part of overall wellbeing.  The body was not intended to be sedentary so it’s just a question of moving around more.

Close up of woman working out at home

Whether that means scheduling a daily 30-minute walk, taking up a new sport, dancing around the room every hour if you’re working from home, or starting a more formal routine, exercise needs to be planned daily into your day. It’s essential for good circulation, maintaining muscle mass and also helps support mental wellbeing.

Swap bad fats for good fats

Dietary fat is an essential macronutrient.  It is not only used as an energy source but is also needed to absorb our fat-soluble vitamins.  However, saturated fats, found in butter, red meat and refined foods should be eaten in moderation as they can raise cholesterol levels and cause heart problems.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

The essential omega-3 and 6 fats, however, are, as the name suggests, essential, and need to be eaten in the diet.  They are utilised for a healthy heart, brain, eyes, joints, and hormones.  Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the best sources, so make sure you’re eating these on a regular basis.  If your skin is dry, this may also be a sign that you are lacking in omega-3s.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

Thankfully, mental health is no longer a taboo subject and people are openly discussing issues, and hopefully seeking help if needed.  However, it’s important that we all check in with ourselves to make sure we are prioritising our mental wellbeing.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Perhaps it’s time to practise meditation; the benefits are enormous, once you’re able to fully engage with it.  You will feel more balanced and hopefully less stressed.  Even five minutes of daily deep breathing can help alleviate stress. Sometimes the simplest of things can have the most effective results.

Is sleep an issue?

We know that sleep has become even more problematic for many of us since the pandemic, generally caused by anxiety.  We also know just how important sleep is for overall health.  At the very least, poor sleep encourages production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which is part of the reason we tend to eat more after a poor night’s sleep, making weight gain more likely.

Leisure,And,People,Concept,-,Young,Woman,Reading,Book,In

Such is the importance of sleep that a bedtime routine needs to be established.  Watching TV or electronic devices stimulates the brain making it more difficult to switch off.  Much better is to read a book or magazine an hour before bed.

shutterstock_496046788 woman holding mug of milk Apr19

Having a warm, milky drink before bedtime is not just an old wives’ tale, it has a scientific basis.  Milk (plant and dairy) contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin.  Therefore, it’s a great to have a milky drink about an hour before turning in. Additionally, certain herbs, especially valerian and passionflower are well researched at helping with sleep issues, so don’t be afraid to seek them out in supplement form.

Small changes can have big results when it comes to our health and wellbeing, so try to include a few of these tips into your daily life.

Stay well.

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How to pack a healthy picnic

A picnic basket on a wodden table overlooking a beautiful countryside scene

It’s a National Picnic Week which means it’s a great time to celebrate everything we love about picnics as well as spending time outdoors in green spaces.

There’s always a great temptation to pack too many ‘treats’ into the picnic basket but there are some great ways to get nutrition without missing out on flavours.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy picnic swaps, but which don’t swap out the taste!

Swap white for brown

This includes using brown bread or wraps rather than white if you’re packing sandwiches, but also wholemeal pasta rather than white. White bread and pasta have been refined, meaning much of the healthy fibre, essential for good digestion,  been stripped away. So too have many of the nutrients, especially energising B-vitamins and essential minerals such as chromium.

Sandwich,With,Ham,tomato,,Cucumber,And,Arugula,On,The,Wooden,Cutting

Brown pasta has a much fuller flavour and more of a texture than white.  And pasta salads are great for taking on picnics.  Why not try beetroot and cold poached salmon wholemeal pasta, adding some avocado, cucumber, dill and a little natural yoghurt.  This is a really delicious super-food pasta salad.

Swap potato crisps for veggie crisps

Most picnic baskets include crisps in some shape or size. Unfortunately, potato crisps are generally high in fat and low in nutrients.  So, why not swap potato crisps for veggie crisps? Think beetroot, parsnip, or carrot (or all three?) – there are a lot of veggie ‘crisp’ options available in supermarkets.

Home made kale chips in a dish

Even better, make your own kale crisps.  Kale belongs to the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family which are high in heart-loving vitamin K, relaxing magnesium and are loaded with antioxidants.  Simply pull off the leaves and rub them in a little olive oil and salt. Then roast in the oven for around 10 minutes and once cooled, you’ll have some of the healthiest veggie crisps to take on your picnic.

Swap ham for turkey

If you’re taking sandwiches, then what you put into them can make all the difference.  Ham sandwiches are often popular in the picnic basket.  However, ham is a processed meat and generally also contains high levels of preservatives.  Ham also contains saturated fats which are best minimised in the diet.

Grilled,Turkey,Breast,With,Salad

A far better choice is to use turkey meat instead. Turkey is very low in fat and high in protein (at 31 g per 100g, more than chicken). Why not cook up some turkey breast steaks the day before, which can be quickly grilled.  If you cook a few extra, they’re delicious eaten with Jersey Royal potatoes (now in season) and salad.  For the picnic, turkey steaks can be chopped, mixed with a little pesto and tomatoes, and made into delicious brown bread sandwiches.

Swap cheese spread for nut butters

There is a plethora of ready-made cheese spreads in supermarkets.  Whilst they might taste good, they are high in fat and are not especially nutrient dense.  Why not swap these for some delicious omega-3 laden almond butter.  Omega-3 fats are essential and whilst we need to be mindful of the amount of saturated fats we consume, the omegas are seriously deficient within the UK population and are essential for the heart, brain, eyes, skin and hormones.

Nut butter on rye bread

Almond butter is also high in protein so will keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Why not add some watercress (one of the healthiest salad vegetables around) for colour and a nutrient blast?

Swap fizzy drinks for kombucha

Fizzy drinks are always popular on picnics.  However, they are certainly not the healthiest of drinks.  Sugar-free versions are packed with sweeteners which have a detrimental effect on mood, but also encourage cravings for sweet food so you still end up eating all the wrong things!

Kombucha,Second,Fermented,Fruit,Tea,With,Different,Flavorings.,Healthy,Natural

Kombucha, however, is a great alternative. It’s a fermented, lightly effervescent, green or black tea drink, which is low in sugar but high in health benefits.  Fermented foods and drinks provide probiotics which are great for feeding the good bacteria and are essential for healthy digestion, good mood and effective weight management. Once you’ve tried them, there’ll be no turning back!

So, get outdoors and celebrate National Picnic Week with these super-healthy food swaps.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

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