New Year Goals: how to have a healthy and happy 2021

A 2021 note book to show goal planning

New year, new start as the famous saying goes!  With 2020 having been such a difficult year, most people will be welcoming a new year with open arms.  And with that comes new resolutions around health and fitness goals. 

If you’ve got into some bad habits during 2020 (and let’s face it, who hasn’t!), then make this year the one where you get back on track both mentally and physically.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why good nutrition is the cornerstone to health, and how you can feel better than ever this year.

Set realistic goals

Being realistic about what you can achieve is so important.  If you’ve developed a bad sugar habit during 2020, then don’t tell yourself you’ll never eat cake again, for example.  This leads to feelings of despair and it’s not sustainable.  However, why not allow yourself one treat day a week when you can eat cake, or indulge in your favourite guilty pleasure?  A life of constant denial is not going to make anyone happy and is unnecessary.

A note book with 2021 goals list

It’s also worth thinking about adopting the 80/20 rule: eat a healthy and well-balanced diet 80% of the time.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

Issues with mental health are going to be very front focussed during 2021 for all the reasons we know.  Achieving mental well-being should be top of your priority list for and that also means getting your nutrition right.

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

The brain needs to be nourished with nutrients to provide the right fuel to keep hormones in good balance but also to produce brain neurotransmitters that affect mood and motivation. Brain-loving nutrients include the full family of B-vitamins, zinc and magnesium so make sure you’re eating plenty of green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fish and legumes (all rich sources).

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

The brain also needs essential omega-3 fats to work correctly, with the best source being oily fish, but flax or chia seeds are also good if you’re vegetarian or vegan.  They are called ‘essential’ as the body can’t make them, so ensure they feature in your diet a few times each week or more.

Stimulants such as highly caffeinated drinks, alcohol and sugar (in all its forms) are not great friends of the brain, so be honest about your consumption and take steps to reduce if this refers to you (remember the 80/20 rule).

Love your gut

Everything that goes on in the gut affects the brain, mainly down to the connective tissue flowing back and forth. Gut health is critical to overall wellness so start being kind to it.  It’s important to feed the beneficial gut bacteria to enable them to flourish, since their role is key to good gut heath.  Foods such as asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, legumes, bananas, flaxseeds, turmeric, green tea and dandelion coffee are all great.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

It’s also important to drink plenty of pure water to help keep the bowels regular otherwise toxins can build and this affects mental wellbeing.

Fermented foods are also great for the gut so include some natural yoghurt, tofu, kimchi and kombucha regularly.

Be honest about your weight

Winter weather is not conducive to peeling off the layers, hence many of us have piled on the kilos, plus the festive season is always challenging for the waistline.  When we know we’re overweight, this can often affect mental health, but we all need to be realistic about what is achievable and, most importantly, sustainable.

Close up on woman's feet on a pair of scales with a measuring tape

Rapid weight loss generally leads to rapid weight gain when normal eating is resumed.  Better to set yourself a realistic target (around 1-2 lbs per week weight loss is good) and a sensible time frame.  Many people find that once they have taken control of their eating and they start to see some weight loss this is a great incentive and they’re more able to achieve targets.

Maintain a good work/life balance

The lines between work and social time have become very blurred during 2020 and this is not set to change that much for a while.  Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that we all need sufficient downtime, rest and recuperation, so make this a priority during 2021.

Ven diagram with work, life, and health crossing and leading to the word balance

Make a clear plan for work time each day (whatever that needs to be for you) and how to fill your free time.  Maybe 2021 is the time to learn a new skill or find things that fulfil and stimulate the brain. This way mind and body will both be in better balance.

May 2021 bring you health, happiness and fulfilment.

Stay well.

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Vamp up the veg this Christmas!

Woman preparing christmas dinner

Vegetables are not always given the kudos they deserve with them often appearing as an ‘after-thought’ on the plate. Clearly, for vegetarians and vegans, this is not the case, but we could all still do with some new ideas on how to bring veg to life.

Adding some different flavours and health-giving herbs and spices can really elevate a vegetable dish and Christmas is the perfect time to make this happen. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite vegetable recipes for the season.

Mashed swede with nutmeg

Swede is one of those vegetables that often gets ignored, partly because it isn’t always easy to prepare.  However, it’s well worth any additional effort required because it’s a delicious vegetable side at any time of the year. It’s even better at Christmas when in season and also when the body loves root vegetables the most.

A bowl of mashed swede

Swede is high in immune-boosting vitamin C, and nutmeg is a deliciously warming spice which adds a lovely twist to the dish.  Add some bay leaves whilst you’re boiling the swede and then mash with butter and plenty of black pepper.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

These two vegetables hail from the same, super-healthy, cruciferous family making them a powerful duo.  Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with nutrients, fibre and antioxidants so are perfect at this time of year when we need to be giving our bodies as much goodness as possible.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

Both vegetables are delicious lightly steamed or boiled but can often be over-cooked making them mushy and tasteless, hence this recipe really hits the spot. Cut both the cauliflower and broccoli into florets and sprinkle with a little olive oil, soy sauce and cumin for some gentle spicy flavours.  Cumin is another super-spice and a great anti-inflammatory helping ward off aches and pains, common at this time of year. Simply roast in the oven until tender but not too soft so they still have some ‘bite’.

Parsnip fritters

Parsnips are a Christmas favourite and are probably appearing on most Christmas menus.  However, why not change it up by making parsnips into fritters? Another tasty root vegetable, parsnips are high in fibre and low in fat. They also contain some protein and good amounts of calcium and magnesium, to help support your bones.

A bowl of roast parsnips

Peel the parsnips, grate and mixed with some egg, salt and pepper and cumin and roughly mould into fritter shapes.  They can either be cooked in the oven or lightly fried until crisp and golden.  Not just for Christmas Day, these fritters also make a great breakfast treat and work really well with eggs.

Roasted vegetables with pesto

A plate loaded with colour is a plate that’s laden with nutrients.  Nature provides us with a wealth of colourful vegetables, all full of health-giving nutrients, especially antioxidants which help protect us from disease and delay the ageing process.

 jar of homemade pesto

With root vegetable all being in season right now, you can also add further colour with peppers, chopped aubergine and onions, or add sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips.  You can add a little pesto towards the end of cooking just to give them some extra flavour.  Roasted vegetables are great at any time, but they make a perfect warming side leading up to Christmas, or can even by eaten cold, making them delicious on the buffet table too.

Beetroot salad

This is a real showstopper for the buffet table because of its rich colours. However, it’s also a great way of getting some slightly stronger flavours into a salad dish.  And whilst all these foods are high in nutrients, beetroot is great for this time of year when there’s the tendency to over-indulge and feel sluggish as it helps to detoxify the liver.

Beetroot salad

Carrots need to be grated, cucumber peeled and diced, with beetroot also peeled and grated.  Fry some immune-boosting garlic in a pan with the green beans, then add the other veg and lightly sauté for around 5 minutes or so.  You can either cook the vegetables individually and layer them in a bowl or mix them all together, cool and serve with a dill and mustard dressing or French dressing of your choice.

So, enjoy some interesting vegetable dishes this festive season and reap the health benefits from the many nutrients they provide.

Stay well.

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Five festive foods to boost your mood this Christmas

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

Many of us have struggled to find good cheer and happiness over the last few months for obvious reasons.  However, Christmas is fast approaching which generally puts a smile on our faces. 

What you eat over this festive season can have a marked and positive effect on your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite festive mood-enhancing foods.

Turkey

The good old Christmas Turkey can really help our mood and motivation. This is because it’s rich in tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, one of our key happy hormones. However, it requires some nutrient partners, also called co-factors, in order to get to where it’s needed to do its work.  This means eating plenty of foods containing vitamin C.

Roast Christmas turkey

Thankfully, most fruits and vegetables are full of vitamin C, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions a day or even more! Additionally, zinc (rich in seafood and whole grains) and vitamin B6 (bananas are a great source), also work closely with tryptophan.

Hopefully looking at the beautifully roasted turkey on your Christmas table will bring a smile to your face for many reasons and you can continue to enjoy the leftovers during the festive period.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a sometimes-forgotten white fish but one that’s incredibly flavoursome. One of its many claims to fame is that it’s packed with the essential omega-3 fats, so often lacking in the typical western diet.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that a large percentage of the population are lacking in omega-3s which might in part explain why low mood is so prevalent. Omega-3s are essential for improved brain neurotransmitter reception plus production of serotonin – our happy hormone.

Mackereal pate on a slice of bread

Mackerel is delicious simply baked as a pre-Christmas meal.  However, why not enjoy some mackerel pate as a starter for the main event?  It can be prepared the day before and it’s super easy to make. Enjoy!

Oysters

At their seasonal best right now, oysters are often served up over Christmas.  They’ll certainly bring some cheer to the table partly down to the fact they’re packed with the mineral zinc.  Zinc is essential for the production of serotonin, a lack of which is often implicated in cases of depression.

A plate of oysters

Additionally, oysters are high in vitamin B12 which plays a key role in keeping the nervous system on the straight and narrow, and helping you feel generally more balanced.  Most people love oysters served with loads of lemon juice or for a spicey twist, with some chilli sauce.  They never disappoint however they’re eaten.

Dark chocolate

No Christmas would be complete for most people without some chocolate heaven!  However, the good news is that chocolate really can make us feel happier.  Chemicals in dark chocolate work on feel-good endorphins in the body.  This is turn helps raise levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that encourages our feel-good factor and positive mood.

Dark cocolate christmas trees

Dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa or more) also contains tryptophan.  Even better, if you’ve wondered why it’s called the ‘food of love’ it contains a compound called theobromine, thought to be a mild aphrodisiac. Do we need any more convincing of why chocolate has to be on the Christmas menu?

Parsnips

It’s all about roots right now to keep you happy and grounded! And it’s no coincidence that root vegetables are in season during the winter months; the body needs warming, starchy and delicious foods (especially root vegetables) to put a smile on our faces.

A bwol of roast parsnips

Thankfully, parsnips are high on the shopping list when it comes to planning the Christmas Day menu.  However, parsnips are also the main event in a tasty Spicy Parsnip Soup that is great for Boxing Day or the day after. Pull together some onions, cumin, ginger, garam masala and red chilli plus some double cream (also high in tryptophan) alongside the parsnips, and you’ve cooked up a wonderful soup that makes a great starter or lunchtime favourite.

So, bring some extra happiness to your table this Christmas and enjoy the nutritional and mood benefits.

Stay well.

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Tis’ the season: five seasonal, nutrition-packed foods to eat this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

Whilst the Festive Season is upon us to hopefully bring a little cheer to what has been a tough year all round, there’s also plenty to celebrate with some delicious seasonal food.

Food generally tastes so much better when eaten at the time of year nature intended.  Plus, it’s generally richer in nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods of the season.

Celery

Whilst not always liked by everyone, celery is certainly synonymous with Christmas buffet tables, and it definitely adds a fresh bite to plenty of other dishes.  And for those not wanting to pile on the pounds over Xmas, celery is incredibly low in calories but high in nutrients, so you get much more ‘bang for your buck’!

Chopped celery and celery stalks on a wooden chopping board

Celery is high in potassium which is great for the heart and also helps reduce blood pressure.  Even eating three sticks per day has been shown to be incredibly effective in this way.  Potassium also helps kidneys excrete waste efficiently which in turn helps with water retention and bloating, both common feelings over the festive season.

Interestingly, celery is often found in recipes such as stews, bolognaise and soups; it’s initially fried with the onions because it’s a strong flavour-enhancer in these types of recipes.

Brussels sprouts

No talk of seasonal December food would be complete without sprouts!  Many of us don’t like them because we may have been subjected to Brussels being over-cooked, making them mushy and unpleasant to eat.

Sprouts dish with ginger

Brussels sprouts are incredibly health-giving, partly down to the presence of indoles, compounds that may help prevent some of our nasty hormonally driven diseases.  Just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family, they’re high in vitamin C and immune-boosting beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as the body needs it.

It’s worth persevering with Brussels sprouts, down to their amazing health benefits. Why not try them with chopped chestnuts, fried with bacon. Or enjoy in a traditional Boxing Day ‘Bubble and Squeak’ mashed with all the other delicious left-over veg.

Scallops

At this time of year, queen scallops from UK waters are at their best. They are both delicious and loaded with nutrients. Scallops (and indeed all shellfish) are packed with vitamin B12 which is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and good functioning nervous system. They are also high in immune-boosting zinc and selenium, both minerals often deficient in the typical Western-style diet. They are also, of course, a good source of protein.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

Both the white and orange roe (coral) of the scallops are to be enjoyed.  They work really well with strong flavours from bacon or chorizo or in Thai dishes with traditional spices such as lemon grass, chilli and ginger.

Parsnips

Another stalwart of the traditional Christmas meal, parsnips are incredibly easy to prepare and have a really distinctive sweet taste.

Parsnip soup in a bowl

All root vegetables are in season right now since nature wants us to be eating warming, starchy comforting foods to protect us against the elements.  Parsnips are another good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and energising folate.  They also provide a useful source of fibre to keep digestion running smoothly.

Whilst parsnips are delicious simply roasted with a little honey to enhance their flavour, they also work well sprinkled with parmesan. Or why not try in soups and stews? They can work as a great alternative to potatoes.

Goose

For many it is the meat of choice for a festive meal, whilst for others it has dwindled in popularity.  This may be down to its relatively high fat content, but in face goose still contains less fat than duck and some cuts of lamb, beef or pork.  Plus, goose fat, produces the best roast potatoes in my opinion!

Roasted goose on a plate

Goose contains nearly as much protein as turkey and is a great source of iron (frequently deficient, particularly in female diets), plus other B vitamins.  It’s certainly worth considering if you want some variety, if not for the Christmas Day meal then over the festive period.  Goose is truly delicious served with traditional chestnut stuffing.

So, grab some seasonal delights and make the most of the food that December has to offer.

Stay well.

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Winter preparation to fuel your immune system

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

We do not need reminding that winter is upon us again!  It’s not just cold, miserable weather that gets us down, but it’s also the onset of the cold and flu season.  And that’s not withstanding other potential health concerns with COVID-19. 

The good news is that nature has our backs by providing a wealth of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals to protect us against unwanted invaders.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top vitamins and minerals to support the immune system all winter long.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of our most important immune-boosting vitamins.  This is because it helps uprate production of white blood cells within the immune system to help fight of viruses and infections.   It’s also one of our key antioxidant vitamins, further supporting overall health and helping bat away those unwanted invaders.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Interestingly, whilst citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, they are not the richest sources.  All fruits and vegetables deliver good levels but guava fruit, bell peppers, kiwi fruits, strawberries and broccoli come out tops.

Iron

Iron is very protective of our immune defences.  As its name suggests, disease-causing microbes literally must penetrate its steely wall to cause harm.  One of the main symptoms of iron deficiency is tiredness and fatigue so do get your levels checked with a blood test from your GP if you’re concerned.

A range of foods high in iron

The best food source of haem iron (its most absorbable form) is red meat.  However, for non-meat eaters, green leafy vegetables, all types of beans, dried fruit and fortified cereals are good sources.  And if you eat your fortified breakfast cereal, together with a glass of orange juice, its vitamin C content will further help iron absorption.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps ramp up the immune system in a number of ways, making it a clear player when it comes to protecting the body from colds and infections. It’s also needed to help the body produce energy from food so its importance can’t be overlooked.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

With Christmas fast approaching, nut lovers will be pleased to know that pistachios are a great source of vitamin B6, although you’d clearly need to eat quite a few!  Fortified cereals, salmon, bananas, beans, cheese and eggs are all rich in vitamin B6.  In fact, it’s found in most whole grain foods so make sure they feature highly in your diet.

Zinc

Often described as one of the hardest working minerals, zinc is needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions within the body.  Essentially, it plays a role in most body systems, especially the immune system, specifically helping to fight off viruses. There is also research to suggest that it can help shorten the duration of colds.  However, prevention is always better than cure, hence it’s a key mineral to eat plentifully.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Oysters are one of the richest sources of zinc.  However, they are not everyone’s bag, so seafood, seeds, wild rice, beef and spinach also contain good amounts of zinc.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is key for immunity, initiating antibody responses as well as increasing white blood cell production to help kill off unwanted invaders.  It also works on maintaining mucous membranes within the body which play a protective role.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A is only found in animal foods which can be tricky for vegetarians and vegans.  However, vitamin A is also produced within the body from beta-carotene and this is found primarily in red, orange, green and yellow fruits and vegetables.  Sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe melon, broccoli and apricots are especially rich in beta-carotene.

With so many immunity-boosting foods to choose from, why not make this winter your healthiest yet!

Stay well.

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Five health-boosting seasonal foods for November

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A range of roasted vegetables

With winter rapidly approaching and the ever-present need to protect our immune system, why not add some wonderfully colourful and health-giving foods to your daily diet? 

Eating seasonally means you are getting the best out of these foods and if you can buy locally, even better.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five foods in-season right now and awaiting arrival onto your plate!

Turnips

Now is the perfect time to be eating root vegetables and it’s no coincidence that many are in season during autumn and winter. At this time of year, we need to be grounded within ourselves to help protect the body from unwanted illness.  Turnips fit the bill perfectly.

Roasted turnip side dish

Turnips are part of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, which includes Brussels sprouts and kale. They provide plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C as well as calming minerals including calcium.  They’re also packed with fibre and contain a small amount of protein.

Turnips are not always top of the shopping list because people are unsure what to do with them.  They have such a delicious naturally ‘rooty’ flavour, they need no more than to be peeled, cut, and placed in the oven to roast with a little olive oil and the tasty herb, thyme.

Beetroot

If you want to brighten up your plate whilst enriching your health, beetroots are the perfect answer. Often termed ‘super foods’ they really live up to their name.  Their rich red/purple colour means they are packed with anthocyanins – plant compounds high in antioxidants which help protect us against disease. They are also rich in energising folate and heart-loving potassium, as well as being great for detoxifying the liver.

Roasted sliced beetroot

Whilst you might not want to eat them cold in a salad right now, why not cook them and serve them warm with sliced pears, goats’ cheese and toasted walnuts?  They’re also delicious roasted in the oven and served with other root vegetables as a side.

Venison

A sometimes-forgotten meat, and not as readily available as other red meats, venison is lower in fat and slightly higher in protein.  Because deer are predominantly ‘free-range’ their meat is intrinsically lower in fat, including cholesterol.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Essentially deer are only fed on grass, wildflowers, clover and legumes, all naturally rich in essential nutrients, making it a great food choice.  This also makes the meat super-tasty and tender, therefore it only needs lightly cooking as a steak and can be served up with a choice of vegetable sides. 

Oysters

Whilst we often talk about oysters in February, specifically around Valentine’s Day, they are in season right now.  It is their richness in the mineral zinc, essential for fertility and reproductive health, that has given them their claim to fame as an aphrodisiac. However, zinc is also essential for immune health.

A plate of fresh oysters

Oysters are also rich in protein and low in fat, making them a great meal choice or decadent starter.

Apples

Their list of health benefits is nearly as long as the number of varieties of apples!  Whatever the variety, they all contain some wonderful nutrients and provide benefits especially to the digestive tract.  They help feed the good bacteria that naturally reside in the gut and which are essential to overall wellness.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples contain an abundance of polyphenols – plant compounds that provide so many health benefits, especially antioxidant protection. They have also been found to help reduce cholesterol levels, and this is mainly down to their high fibre pectin content.  This fibre also helps to keep the bowels moving smoothly. And for those watching their waistline, apples have a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels, which is key in maintaining weight in the healthy region.

So, enjoy some variety and colour and look for foods in season right now for the greatest health benefits.

Stay well.

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Take the Veg Pledge

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Vegetables provide so much nutritious goodness for us that they should feature much more frequently as the main event of a meal rather than just a side dish. 

Eating a more plant-based diet is great for our overall health, so get peeling and chopping and reap the benefits!

This Veg Pledge month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ideas for including more vegetables in your daily diet.

Colourful smoothies

Two glasses of berry smoothies

We often think of smoothies as only being fruit-based but they can taste equally delicious by including more vegetables than fruit.  Whilst you’ll lose most of the fibre from the vegetables by blending a smoothie, you can add extra fibre in the form of flaxseeds which are also rich in the healthy omega-3 fats.

Whilst the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables is five portions (and currently only 27% of the population achieve this) optimal health can be achieved by aiming for closer to ten portions. However, it is quite difficult to eat this amount, hence smoothies are the perfect answer.

A green smoothie

For a tasty green smoothie, blend cucumber, carrot, celery, ¼ avocado, spinach plus some apple and banana for sweetness, together with unsweetened almond milk (or soya if preferred).  You can change the taste (and colour) by using berries rather than apple.  The perfect start to the day!

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All vegetables and fruits are rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, essential through the winter months.  Plus, vegetables are loaded with varied carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body as needed, but they also serve as powerful antioxidants, further protecting the immune system and holding back the ageing process.

Make warming soup

A range of bowls of soup

Another perfect and very easy way of increasing your vegetable intake is by making soups.  As with smoothies, there are no end of variations.  However, if you want to create something more filling, perhaps for lunch, then it’s great to add some protein in the form of beans or lentils (colours and varieties of your choice) to sustain you until dinner time.

For a really tasty and warming winter soup simply boil up some carrots, celery, leeks, and chopped potatoes with some vegetable stock, garlic and thyme (plus the lentils).  If you want to change it up, why not add some chopped coriander or cumin? Or create a green soup using garlic, broccoli, courgette and spinach with some grated parmesan for added creaminess if you fancy it.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

Whilst the vegetables provide lots of energising B-vitamins, the additional protein in the form of beans or lentils will further boost B-vitamins, and keep you feeling fuller for longer. So, hopefully you’ll be less likely to be tempted to snack later in the day.

Roast up a trayful

A woman taking a tray of roasted vegetables out of the oven

Roasted vegetables tick all the boxes.  Not only are they delicious, but they can also be eaten with a protein source such as fish, chicken or quinoa for a perfect meal.  A trayful of veggies is loaded with fibre to keep everything moving smoothly and will aid digestion. And for even more variety, roasted vegetables are delicious cold, and added to salads.

A range of roasted vegetables

A mixed and colourful tray will deliver a plethora of nutrients.  All vegetables contain vitamin C in different amounts, but Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are also great for feeding the beneficial gut bacteria.  Courgettes are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – both carotenoids which are especially beneficial for the eyes.

Beetroot is simply a super food!  They are loaded with energising folate, iron and compounds that help liver detoxification. And the orange favourites that are carrots and sweet potatoes are both rich in the powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

As with all these vegetable recipes ideas, you’ll never get bored because there are so many different ones to choose from.  Why not try roasting some veggies you’ve never eaten before such as aubergines or fennel?  And for some added taste and protein, why not sprinkle with feta cheese?

So, make sure to include more vegetables in your diet and take the Veg Pledge today!

Stay well.

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Winter wellness: taking care of you

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The winter weather is rapidly approaching, and with the country now in another lockdown, there has never been a better time to really start looking after yourself.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips for being kind to yourself including improving sleep, enjoying greater energy levels and having glowing skin.

Sleep – the cornerstone of wellness

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Getting sufficient sleep is essential to feeling energised and having healthy glowing skin.  Everything suffers health-wise with a lack of sleep, including how we look and feel. If you’re struggling to sleep (as so many people are right now), the most important thing is to look to your diet in order to make some improvements.

The mineral magnesium is incredibly calming so try to eat foods rich in magnesium for dinner including beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables and nuts, which will all help improve sleep.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The amino acid tryptophan is important because it helps produce melatonin, our key sleep hormone.  Milk (soya, dairy and almond milks) contain tryptophan which is why having a warm milky drink before bedtime can be so effective.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, almonds contain melatonin, (as do cashews and pistachios, in lesser amounts) making them a very effective pre-bedtime snack.  Milk and nuts also contain calcium, another calming mineral.  Just by taking a little care and being kind to yourself, can make a whole lot of difference to how you sleep.

Energy – feed it to your body

A woman jumping with a sunset in the background

Do you feel tired all the time?  Firstly, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have the energy to do things.  It’s hard to feel energised and motivated when we are all in a state of flux. However, there are some particularly energising nutrients that can certainly help.

Enter the family of B-vitamins which all generate energy, primarily from the food we eat.  They are widely found in a range of foods especially whole grains, meat, fruit and vegetables and beans – in fact, in all healthy foods! If your diet is colourful and varied, then you should be getting what the body needs and this will help boost energy levels.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

‘White’ foods such as pastries, cakes, white rice, pasta and bread contain very little in the way of B-vitamins and will upset blood sugar levels, stripping energy rather than topping it up. Being kind to your body is about fuelling it with as much nourishment as you can at each mealtime.

Skin – radiate from within

Close up of woman smiling in a cosy jumper

How your skin looks and feels mainly comes from within.  If what you’re putting in isn’t right, it will show in your skin which may look dull and lifeless.  Being kind to your skin means providing it with specific beauty vitamins such as biotin, rich in eggs, beans, nuts and liver.  Plus, collagen, the body’s main structural protein, naturally declines with age, and a lack of which can leave the skin looking dull and less springy.

A range of protein sources

It’s important for all body systems and especially the skin to eat plenty of protein each day; include some at every meal – think eggs, meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy or fish.  This will also help collagen production.  Additionally, there are plenty of collagen supplements on the market, to further boost levels.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Collagen also needs vitamin C in order to work efficiently, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant protecting skin from free radical damage which is responsible for the ageing process. Your skin will certainly appreciate some kindness.

So, treat yourself to some kindness and it will really improve the way you look and feel, both now and in the future.

Stay well.

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Autumn nutrition: what to eat right now

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

The onset of Autumn generally conjures up thoughts of cosy evenings by the fire or wrapping up a little warmer. 

When the weather gets colder, the body craves and needs warming foods to keep it optimally fuelled and able to ward off colds and infections.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, serves up her five top foods to keep body and mind healthy and robust this Autumn.

Root vegetables

Top of the list must be root vegetables.  They are what your body craves when it needs nourishing support.  Swedes, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips are perfect for Autumn eating.

Not only are they high in vitamin C to support the immune system, they all contain specific compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates which are really protective against some of our nasty degenerative diseases.

Even better, they all make great ‘comfort’ food, which is perfect for the body right now.  Soups, curries and stews can be cooked in bulk and will last a few days. Plus, they all make great and simple vegetable sides. There’s no end of choices but make them a priority when meal planning.

Also try to include members of the cruciferous vegetable family, including cabbage, kale and broccoli.

Ginger

Top of the warming herbs list is ginger.  It’s also top of the list of healing ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine.  Ginger is a great digestive aid because it stimulates bile production (essential for good digestion), is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and has anti-bacterial qualities.  Even better, you can use it in everything!

Root ginger with a bwol of ground ginger

Use it to awaken your taste buds and digestion in the morning with some warm water and lemon.  This also helps cleanse the liver, so you’ll quickly feel invigorated.  Why not make your own fresh ginger tea and drink it throughout the day?  And if you’re struggling with headaches down to the amount of time spent in front of screens right now, ginger is also your friend.

Quinoa

Eating whole grains is important for Autumn since the body needs to be well nourished and grounded.  Quinoa is technically a seed not a grain, but it matters not when talking about its array of nutrients.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

In many ways, quinoa is better than rice because it contains much more protein, so is perfect for vegetarian and vegan diets.  It’s also high in trace minerals, including zinc, magnesium and iron, and also fibre. Even better, quinoa is high in antioxidants which help to combat free radicals and in turn supports a healthier you.

Cook up a batch and freeze it: quinoa is great hot or cold with most other foods.

White fish

Autumn is all about finding good life balance and this is also true for the digestive system.  It shouldn’t be put under pressure at the moment, hence white fish such as cod, sea bass, sole and haddock are very easy to digest, whilst providing plenty of wholesome nourishment.

Thai fish dish

Although white fish doesn’t contain all the pizazz of oily fish and the essential omegas, it is very high in protein and low in saturated fat. It will also help keep blood sugar in good balance so energy levels will be sustained.

Even better, it’s really easy and quick to cook; think seabass in a parcel with ginger, spring onions and lemon grass. It’s really delicious and ready in around 15 minutes.

Turmeric

This is a ‘must-have’ in your store cupboard.  The health benefits of turmeric just keep growing as new research comes to light.  However, it’s a great anti-inflammatory, a powerful antioxidant, a potent liver detoxifier and great immune booster. And it’s so versatile: it can be used in a plethora of dishes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Raw turmeric is more warming but it’s slightly time-consuming to work with, so ground and dried turmeric is fine and it’s best absorbed when eaten in a dish with black pepper.

Turmeric is an essential Autumn spice; why not try a turmeric latte, on trend right now!

So,  give your body what it needs this Autumn and hopefully you’ll stay happy and healthy.

Stay well.

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Top tips for managing your cholesterol

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

We hear the ‘cholesterol’ word used often because it’s a key marker for potential heart disease.  However, it’s also an essential part of our cellular make up and for hormone production, so balance is key. 

It’s important to keep levels in the healthy range, which is perfectly possible for most people by managing diet and lifestyle.

 This National Cholesterol Month Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five tips for keeping cholesterol in check.

Go low glycaemic

In a world where fad diets seem to predominate, the benefits and simplicity of eating a low glycaemic diet are often forgotten.  The glycaemic index is just a measure of how quickly food affects blood sugar levels.  High sugar, low fibre food has a massive impact but has also been found to raise cholesterol levels.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Opt for a diet that contains whole grains, plenty of fibrous vegetables, beans and minimal sugar.  Oats are especially beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels as they contain beta-glucans, a special fibre with lots of research to support their effectiveness. Eating low glycaemic will also help sustain your energy levels.

Eat essential fats

Not all fats are created equal and whilst eating too much saturated fat found in red meat and butter can raise cholesterol levels, the omega-3 essential fats found in oily fish have the reverse effect.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are the way to go; try to eat some at least three times per week.  However, for those not liking oily fish, either take an omega-3 supplement or eat plenty of flaxseeds (they can easily be added to your whole grain porridge), walnuts and pumpkin seeds.  If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol and are vegetarian, then it would also be advisable to take a flax oil supplement too.

Take plant sterols

Plant sterols are a group of substances found in nuts, oils and some vegetables that have been found to reduce cholesterol levels. To make life easier, plant sterols are often added to margarines and some yoghurts. However, be aware that these foods often also contain some less healthy ingredients so always combine them with plenty of healthy oils (especially olive oil), foods high in fibre and loads of green, leafy vegetables.]

Reduce your stress levels

High stress is another factor in raised cholesterol levels, partly because of the normal hormone response that happens during the stress response.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

When life is challenging, and it’s certainly that right now, it’s often hard to keep calm.  So find something that works for you and take some time each day to destress.  Why not practice meditation, go for a brisk walk or take a relaxing bath? You can relax on your bed listening to some music or do a yoga session. Whatever works for you, build it into your day every day.

Additionally, try drinking green tea: it contains theanine which helps stimulate our relaxing brain neurotransmitters. Another natural option is to try the herb, passionflower: it can work very quickly especially if you’re suffering from a ‘nervous’ stomach.  Dealing with stress should be addressed as a priority to help keep cholesterol in check.

Load up on vitamin C

Thankfully vitamin C is found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts, and it’s also useful for reducing high cholesterol.  Vitamin C is one of our key antioxidant nutrients so it helps protect artery walls from damage; hardening arteries is one of the key factors in heart disease.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All berry fruits, red peppers, mango, kiwi and spinach are especially rich in vitamin C so prioritise these foods in your diet if possible.  Additionally, aim for closer to 10 portions of fruits and veg a day if you can.  It’s sometimes easier to add a daily juice, smoothie or soup into your routine to increase your portions.  Whilst much of the fibre is lost by juicing, you’ll still be getting plenty of vitamin C and other key nutrients, including magnesium – also great for reducing cholesterol levels.

So, try and adopt some of these tips into your daily diet and lifestyle and help reduce your cholesterol levels naturally.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

All images: Shutterstock