Natural Travel Health: top tips to stay well this holiday season

CLose up of smiling woman on the beach enjoying her holiday

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us will either be travelling to other parts of the UK or further afield. Wherever you’re going, you want to be feeling at your best and you don’t want to be struck down with any unwanted bugs whilst away.

Thankfully there are some simple things you can do to help yourself to stay well naturally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for travel health.

Drink ginger

If you’re like me, you tend to feel ‘queasy’ when travelling in a car, on a boat and sometimes on a plane. Ginger has been found to be a very effective remedy helping to quash those unpleasant travel sickness sensations. It also seems to help blood flow so is very useful for treating headaches.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

As with everything, prevention is better than cure, so it’s good to start sipping warm water with sliced root ginger at least an hour before you set off. If you can take a water bottle with you and continue sipping, this would really help. When travelling by plane, you cannot take water through security but it is a good idea to take an empty, refillable bottle with you and get a food outlet to fill it with water once on the other side. You can then take this on the plane with you. Have plenty of ginger drinks before you leave and take ginger tea bags with you on the plane.

Ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so you’ll be less susceptible to tummy bugs whilst you’re away.

Take probiotics

Whilst it’s great to travel to other countries, many of them do not have the same hygiene standards that we have in the UK. I’ve even known people to contract parasites in France. Any change of routine, food or water can potentially cause tummy troubles.

Having a good balance of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract can really help prevent any unwanted invaders. Make sure your diet is generally rich in fibre by eating plenty of wholegrains, pulses and vegetables that help feed the gut bacteria.

A word cloud around Probiotics

However, taking a course of probiotics for at least a couple of weeks before travelling and whilst you’re away, will really help protect your digestive tract during your trip. Probiotics are readily available in health food stores. Additionally, foods such as natural live yoghurt, sourdough bread, miso soup and almonds are also very gut-friendly and are often available wherever you are in the world.

Up your vitamin C

One of our key nutrients for supporting the immune system is vitamin C! If you only take one nutrient with you, then it’s got to be this essential vitamin! Whilst you’ll hopefully be having some fruits and vegetables on holiday that contain vitamin C, if you get struck down by a cold or start to get a sore throat, then you’re going to need slightly higher levels.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

It’s easy to pack some vitamin C powder in your suitcase (readily available in health food stores). If you do start to feel that tell-tale ‘tickle’ in the back of your throat or your nose starts to run, then take 2,000mg of vitamin C powder straightaway to ward off any nasty bugs and continue doing this every day until it passes.

Additionally, try to include plenty of citrus fruits, red peppers, garlic, ginger and green vegetables in your diet whilst away as these all contain good amounts of vitamin C.

Pack some Milk Thistle

When we travel, then our whole routine can get upset. Since the liver is the organ that literally has to process everything we eat and drink, it often gets overloaded. The herb milk thistle, is one of the most liver-loving herbs and can really help support detoxification. You can sometimes feel sluggish on holiday and this can often be down to a congested liver.

Close up of a milk thistle flower

The herb milk thistle also helps with digestion so if some of the ‘foreign’ food is not quite agreeing with you, it can help everything sit more comfortably in your tummy. Make sure to pack some and take it with you wherever you travel.

Sleep well

Whilst you obviously want to make the most of your time away it’s equally important to get plenty of rest and restorative sleep. Too many late nights will affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to bugs, either whilst away or immediately on your return.

Close up of woman sleeping wearing an eye mask

It’s advisable to pack an eye mask wherever you go. The body produces melatonin, our sleep hormone, when it’s dark so if your room is too light when the sun comes up, then you’ll also wake up and possibly miss out on precious sleep.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Pack a small spray of lavender which you can use on your pillow before bedtime which really helps relaxation and you can also spray it during the night if you’re feeling restless. Alcohol and caffeine are the two biggest sleep disrupters so have both in moderation (or abstain), if you want to come back from your travels looking and feeling refreshed!

So with a little planning, and a little bit of natural support, your travels can be healthy ones. Bon Voyage!

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Strawberries: discover the health benefits of this summer fruit

a punnet of strawberries

It’s one of life’s great partnerships – Wimbledon and strawberries! Whether enjoyed with cream or in a glass of champagne, these delicious red berries are a summer favourite whether you’re enjoying the tennis or another outdoor event.

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The great news is that strawberries are also super-healthy and packed full of nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us five reasons why they’re one of the most popular berries consumed worldwide!

The history of strawberries and their health benefits

As with so many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, strawberries have been used for many hundreds of years to cure a variety of health ailments. They were believed to eliminate kidney stones, and relieve arthritis, gout and rheumatism. Strawberries were also used to cleanse and purify the digestive system and act as a mild liver tonic.

A woman holding a heartshaped bowl full of strawberries

There is no reason to suggest strawberries won’t deliver some of these health benefits today; they contain a wealth of antioxidants which help to manage inflammation throughout the body and are high in fibre which is a great internal cleanser.

Strawberries are high in fibre

We hear so much about the body needing fibre in the diet every day, which of course is true. The typical Western diet is unfortunately often laden with white pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits. These are very low in fibre, hence many people suffer from digestive issues.

Woman smiling with a bowl of strawberries, holding on strawberry up to her mouth

The body needs around 30 grams of fibre daily, and should be a combination of the soluble and insoluble varieties. Insoluble fibre is found in high amounts in wheat, maize and rice. Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, peas, beans and fruits and vegetables. Strawberries are a shining light in this respect with high levels of soluble fibre (a small cup contains over 3 grams). This is one of the reasons our ancestors found them to be helpful for digestive cleansing.

Strawberries can be included on a weight-loss plan

The popularity of the low-carb diet has meant many people are shunning fruits and vegetables, and hence missing out on a wide range of nutrients. However, strawberries are very low on the glycaemic index (much lower than bananas, melon, pineapple and apricots). This means they have a negligible effect on blood sugar when eaten, hence they’re not going to adversely affect a weight-loss plan. Blood sugar levels need to be in good balance for effective weight loss otherwise the body will simply store sugar and increase the number of fat cells within.

Two bowls of strawberries and cream

The really good news is that when strawberries are eaten with cream, the fat content slows down blood sugar level activation even further, so your Wimbledon treat is perfectly acceptable. Ideally, not to be eaten this way every day though!

Strawberries will keep your brain sharp

Whilst strawberries have one of the highest levels of vitamin C of all fruits and vegetables per 100 grams, their nutritional wealth extends far wider. They contain an array of polyphenols which are plant compounds with wonderful health benefits. Polyphenols are loaded with antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.

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

This is one of the reasons strawberries can help to keep your brain sharp because they protect it from damage from the environment and other toxins. It’s also thought these antioxidant properties help protect blood vessels to the brain keeping blood flow good and sharpness on top form.

How to eat them

Strawberries are very perishable and will only last a few days. Therefore they shouldn’t be washed until you’re ready to eat them and they’re always best eaten as fresh as possible.

Strawberry smoothie surrounded by fresh strawberries

Strawberries are perfect added to breakfast oats, sliced in a mixed salad, or served with shortcake. However, for a really healthy start to the day, why not wiz up a strawberry smoothie with banana, a little fresh orange juice, some plain yoghurt and a little almond milk. As well as providing a great boost of vitamin C, you’ll also be getting plenty of heart-loving potassium and energising folate. Plus, the yoghurt and almond milk provide protein to keep you sustained throughout the morning. You can always add some additional protein powder for a real power-up!

If you fancy the traditional strawberries and cream, but you are not able to tolerate dairy, there are plenty of dairy-free alternative creams which you can try.

So be sure to grab some strawberries while you can and don’t miss one of our most delicious fruits this summer.

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Nutrition for stress: can what you eat help you feel calmer?

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Unfortunately, stress is very much a part of normal everyday living. Stress affects everyone in different ways and can really affect quality of life. The good news is that the right nutrition can have a positive influence on the body and mind, particularly during stressful situations and for everyday life.

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Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top nutrients and foods to help keep you calm and reduce stress.

 

 

B Vitamins

These are key to the production of our stress hormones and for the health of the central nervous system generally. B vitamins are also used up during stressful times so they certainly need to feature highly in your anti-stress larder. Plus, they’re essential for helping the body release energy from food which can be very helpful when stress is sapping your energy levels.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Make sure you’re eating plenty of B vitamins throughout the day as they’re water-soluble so are quickly excreted from the body. The great news is that they’re found in so many different foods. Wholegrain cereals such as oats (porridge for breakfast), eggs, beans and seafood (all great as part of a lunchtime salad), green leafy vegetables and other whole grains such as rice (salmon, brown rice and broccoli for dinner). They are certainly easy to incorporate into the daily diet.

Vitamin C

Another important nutrient that’s needed for production of stress hormones, but vitamin C also helps fight infections; the body is more susceptible to attack from viruses when stressed. Whilst vitamin C is found in lots of fruits and vegetables, especially peppers, berry fruits, citrus fruits and kiwis, it’s not that easy to eat enough when your body and mind are really stressed.

A rnage of colourful fruit and vegetables

To increase intake, why not make a daily juice with mostly vegetables and some added apple or pineapple for taste? Whilst there’s lots of negative press about juicing, mainly because it lacks fibre and beneficial enzymes, it can really increase your intake of vitamin C, which is much-needed during stressful times. You should also include plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables with your meals to gain benefit from all the other compounds naturally found in these foods. Plus of course, even more vitamin C!

Green Tea

Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine which helps promote the production of one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA. In fact, even though green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, theanine helps balance out the stimulatory effect of the caffeine: when you’re stressed, excess caffeine can stimulate feelings of anxiety, worsening the stress response. Green tea also contains lots of antioxidants which help protect the body from infection, which can often become more prevalent during stressful times.

A cup of green tea

Look for pure green tea which is readily available in supermarkets or health food stores and drink around three cups a day for best results.

Green leafy vegetables

These are superfoods for many reasons. Not only are they high in B vitamins which support the nervous system, they’re also loaded with calming magnesium. In fact, magnesium is known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it helps relax muscles and creates feelings of calm within the body. Moreover, it’s used up more during stressful situations which means ideally we need to be taking in more.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, pak choi, kale and sprouts are all great for their magnesium content and are very quick and easy veggies to cook and include in the daily diet. For those who really don’t like their ‘greens’ then why not try adding broccoli and pak choi to stir fries? Try grilling kale with a little olive oil sprinkled with salt. Have a go at flash frying sprouts with bacon. It couldn’t be easier!

Natural yoghurt

The reason that natural yoghurt can really help manage stress levels is because it’s loaded with probiotics. These naturally feed your good gut bacteria, which in turn have a very positive effect on mental health and overall wellbeing. Additionally, dairy products contain B vitamins so you’ll be gaining double the benefit.

Natural yoghurt

Importantly, the yoghurt needs to be ’live’ to contain the beneficial bacteria, and natural; many fruit yoghurts contain lots of sugar which will have the reverse effect. Yoghurt is great added to your wholegrain breakfast cereal of choice, with some berries, or it makes an excellent snack on its own.

So try and make the right nutrition your first priority to help balance the stresses and strains of daily life.

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Nutritional resolutions for 2019: live your best life

 

Woman making soup

The start of a new year is always a brilliant time to make changes and improvements to life generally. However, it’s also the best time to re-think your diet and overall nutrition to see what could work better for YOU!

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It’s not always about re-inventing the wheel; where nutrition is concerned, sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

Drink more water

This one sounds so simple. However, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel from just keeping the body properly hydrated. The body carries around 70-80% water. Of course, this is not ‘pure’ water because body fluids are made up of many different solutes; this is one of the reasons why athletes and recreational exercisers often use isotonic drinks to maintain good hydration levels. These drinks contain many of the electrolytes that are found in body fluids.

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

The good news, therefore, is that you don’t need to only drink plain water. Think herbal and fruit non-caffeinated teas. Try water with slices of lemon, cucumber or apple. Give lemon and crushed ginger a go – there’s plenty to choose from. It’s also a great way to help alkalise the body. You can also try blending: add a few green leaves such as spinach, chard and parsley and drink this throughout the day to provide the body with chlorophyll, otherwise known as the ‘food of life’. Aim for around 1 ½ litres of water-based drinks daily. Your brain, skin, digestion, joints and mood will all massively benefit!

Eat more omega-3s

We need to eat omega-3s very regularly in the diet as the body cannot produce them. However, for those of you that don’t eat fish or nuts and seeds, you may be missing out on these essential healthy fats. Early tell-tale signs that you might be lacking are dry skin, constipation, low mood and joint aches and pains – evidence as to why they’re known as the essential fats.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the best sources.   Good vegetarian sources are flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and hazelnuts. However, if you’re not including any of these foods in your diet at least every other day, then you certainly need to take either a fish oil supplement or a vegetarian flax oil or similar.

Make soup

Soups are a really easy and delicious way of bumping up your daily nutrient intake. Various forms of cooking can rob vegetables of their nutrients but soup has the added advantage of retaining most of its nutrients in the ingredients.

Watercress soup

Some popular soup suggestions:

  • Chicken: great for treating colds and blocked noses and packed with protein
  • Lentil: perfect for vegetarians, filling, warming and a great source of fibre and energising B vitamins
  • Minestrone: classic Italian soup made with lots of fresh vegetables containing immune-boosting vitamin C
  • Bouillabaisse: a thick French fish soup containing omega-3s, vitamin C from the tomatoes, together with plenty of iron and protein

You can make up a big pot of soup and it’ll last for a few days when refrigerated or you can freeze it in batches and it can last you even longer! So why not make 2019 the year of the soup – your body will just love being loaded with more nutrients throughout the year.

Take a Vitamin D supplement!

Public Health England recommends that everyone should take a supplement of vitamin D during the winter months and more frequently for some ‘at risk’ groups. However, even though we generally get some exposure to sun (the best source of vitamin D) during the summer, the body may still need a supplement. Think of it as a cheap health insurance policy to make sure you are getting enough.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Vitamin D is essential for the immune system as well as healthy bones and teeth and is especially important for growing bones. Additionally, people suffering from SAD and general low mood, are often low in vitamin D. Taking a daily supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of vitamin D is easy, cheap and very important.

Eat more fibre

Our typical highly refined western diet is normally always low in fibre. We should aim to eat around 30 grams of fibre a day from fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and whole foods such as beans and lentils.

Fibre is absolutely key for maintaining good digestion and to keep the bowels running smoothly. The body retains damaging toxins if it’s constipated. Additionally fibre is needed for heart health (the body eliminates bad cholesterol via the stools), effective weight management and for keeping our skin looking healthy and fresh.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

 

Many of us, over the Festive period, will have dined out on sugary, low fibre foods. But with a fresh start to 2019, resolve to include much more fibre in your diet. Enjoy some wholegrain oats for breakfast, some wholemeal rolls or jacket sweet potatoes for lunch and some chicken with quinoa and vegetables for dinner, as a quick example of a healthier, more nutritious day!

So making some healthy nutritional resolutions in 2019 doesn’t need to be complicated but simple changes can be very effective. Happy New Year!

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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.

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

 

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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