Treat your Mum this Mother’s Day with these 5 nutritious foods

shutterstock_276436994 mother and daughter Feb16With Mother’s Day fast approaching, our thoughts turn to our wonderful Mums and what we can do to treat them on this special day. What could be better than preparing a delicious meal that’s not only a real treat for your Mum but is also full of health-giving nutrients? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods that could really enhance your Mother’s health whatever her age!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

SALMON

If you’re going to choose a fish that has amazing health benefits, particularly for women, then choose salmon.

shutterstock_219318745 salmon and asparagos Oct15Salmon is especially rich in omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for healthy skin, heart, brain and joints. However, omega 3’s also convert into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins which are essential for keeping hormones in balance. And bearing in mind that hormones play a large role in most women’s health and feelings of wellbeing, it makes sense to ensure that your mum is eating the right nutrients to keep hers well balanced.

shutterstock_281476277 hummus and cracker Feb16CHICKPEAS

These humble legumes really pack a punch in terms of their health benefits in the female diet. Chickpeas are rich in a compound called phytoestrogens. These help to balance oestrogen levels at all ages which is both important for helping to combat symptoms of PMS and those caused by the menopause.

The most common food where chickpeas are found is delicious hummus; it’s a great protein snack, so excellent for balancing blood sugar levels and keeping energy stable throughout the day. Hummus is delicious with oatcakes or rice cakes or can be used as a dip with crudités; chopped carrots, celery, cucumber, broccoli heads – the list is endless – and your mum will also be getting some Vitamin C alongside these hormone-balancing nutrients!

shutterstock_273933668 cranberry cocktail Feb16CRANBERRY JUICE

Many women suffer from cystitis and it can occur at any age. Whilst it’s often called the ‘honeymoon illness’ cystitis can also become troublesome during the menopause.

Cranberries have long been associated with helping to combat urinary tract infections, so it makes sense for women to include them in the daily diet as much as possible. They contain a substance called proanthocyanidins, which help to prevent the E-coli bacteria from attaching themselves to the lining of the bladder.

Therefore, the best way of getting a high concentration of cranberries is to drink unsweetened cranberry juice, which is readily available in supermarkets. Mum’s can drink this everyday if they’re prone to bouts of cystitis. So for Mother’s Day why not make a cranberry-based cocktail for a bit of a treat?

shutterstock_232565083 dark chocolate squares Jun15DARK CHOCOLATE

If you’re thinking of treating your mum to some chocolate this Mother’s Day, then make sure it’s the dark variety. Dark chocolate has many health benefits over milk chocolate but primarily because it’s high in anti-ageing antioxidants.

Antioxidants prevent free radical damage to the skin so eating dark chocolate helps to curb those troublesome wrinkles, plus they can also help in the prevention of some of our more common degenerative diseases.

Dark chocolate is still quite high in calories, but there’s no harm in eating a couple of squares of 70% or 80% organic dark chocolate every day for that sweet treat and a great health kick!

shutterstock_265206914 boiled egg asparagus Feb16EGGS

There’s no better way for your Mum to start her day than by eating some eggs for breakfast!

Eggs provide one of the most complete forms of protein so she’ll be getting all the essential amino acids she needs which help produce hormones as well as the repair and maintenance of good muscle strength. Plus because they have such a good protein content, they’re great for balancing blood sugar levels which means that energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.

shutterstock_227387746 eggs breakfast Apr15Eggs contain a great profile of vitamins and minerals, specifically all the B vitamins which help the body to produce energy, plus Vitamin A which is a great antioxidant, and Vitamin D which is essential for the bones.

A little known fact is that eggs also contain the phospholipid lecithin which is needed for good brain function. So in so many ways, eggs are one of the best all-rounders when it comes to your Mum’s health – why not start the day by making her a delicious plate of poached eggs, asparagus and some wholemeal toast, washed down with that cranberry cocktail!

Whatever you do this weekend, definitely make a fuss of your mum on Mother’s Day – it’s always the thought that counts the most.

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Top tips for boosting your immunity this January!

shutterstock_313931255 woman in winter hat and gloves Jan16The immune system is one of the most important body systems and also one of the most complex. It is vital for protecting us from all kinds of incoming threats such as viruses like the common cold and flu, all of which are flying around right now!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares here top tips on how to boost your immunity this January and hopefully avoid those nasty bugs!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IMMUNE-BOOSTING DIET

The first thing to do is to clean up your diet. But what does this mean?

Certain foods take their toll on the immune system. For example, eating too much sugar can have a detrimental effect as it appears to prevent white blood cells in the body from attacking invading viruses. So, really look at how much sugar you’re eating. It’s worth keeping a food diary and writing down everything that’s going into your body – honesty is key! It’s only then that you can really see, in black and white, just how much sugar your diet contains.

shutterstock_280752443 less sugar Jan16Alcohol, sugar in tea and coffee, confectionary, biscuits, pastries and cakes, even certain breakfast cereals have a high sugar content. Write it all down and in the next column make some suggestions for alternatives; swap out a sugary cup of tea for fruit teas – they naturally quite sweet without sugar being added. There are numerous high protein snack bars that are sweetened more naturally, or why not try porridge or eggs for breakfast? It’s really worth taking control of your sugar intake – your immune system cannot fully function as it needs to, if your diet is preventing it working optimally.

shutterstock_81302035 vitamin C fruit and veg Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING NUTRIENTS

So you’ve started to clean up your diet which is great! There are also a number of nutrients that are your best friends when it comes to immune support. Good old Vitamin C is so well-known and researched when it comes to providing immune support; it increases white blood cell production needed to fight viruses and reduces the time taken to get over an infection.

Top food choices for Vitamin C are red peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi fruits, berry fruits and citrus fruits – it’s not all about oranges, so try to include a variety of these foods in your diet.

The mineral, zinc, is another important nutrient within the immune system. Oysters contain the most Zinc of all foods but they are an acquired taste! So why not try beef, other sea foods such as crab and lobster, whole grains and eggs – these are all good sources.

Vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin, is also key for immunity. Obviously, we get very little from the sun during the winter months, especially in the UK, and since the sun is the best source it’s advisable for everyone to take a supplement containing Vitamin D throughout the winter.

Foods that contain vitamin D include oily fish, liver, cheese and eggs. Additionally, Vitamin B6 is key in providing immune support; think foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, wholegrain foods including wholemeal bread, green leafy vegetables and eggs. In fact, all foods that you should be including in a healthy eating plan will help boost your immunity!

shutterstock_300746891 echinacia Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING HERBS

There are two specific herbs that really support the immune system: Pelargonium and Echinacea.

Pelargonium exerts some amazing anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects and is particularly effective in fighting colds and upper respiratory tract infections. For best results you need to take it at the very first sign that you’re getting a cold.

Echinacea, on the other hand, is best taken preventatively, especially if you’ve been around people who are already infected. Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell activity and is really effective if taken for around two weeks at a time during ‘the season’.

shutterstock_329275235 woman sleeping in bed Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING SLEEP

Achieving restful and restorative sleep can often be difficult to achieve. We tend to lead busy and stressful lives and this can disturb sleep patterns, plus we should be devoting eight hours out of our day to actually sleep.

A lack of sleep will reduce the functioning of the immune system, so if you’re struggling at night, is there any way you can take a power nap during the day? These are amazingly effective if you are able to fall asleep quickly and get the restorative benefits from a quick 40 winks.

Additionally, if your brain is busy and overloaded, make a ‘to-do’ list of all your jobs for the next day so you won’t be making lists in your head all night.

The herbs Passionflower and Valerian can also really aid sleep; Passionflower provides relaxation and Valerian helps you to actually stay asleep without feeling ‘groggy’ the next day.

shutterstock_37965340 woman walking in autumn park Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING EXERCISE

Moderate exercise is known to boost white blood cell production. Even a daily brisk walk for around 30-40 minutes can really help – try to go for a walk every day in your lunch break – the most important thing is get moving. This really helps the lymph (your body’s infection-fighting fluid) move through the body which delivers immune-protecting cells to where they’re most needed. Plus you’ll feel more energised and positive as a result!

However, if you’re marathon training, and many people are really ramping up the miles at this time of year in preparation, heavy exercise depletes your immunity for around 12 hours afterwards, so a supportive diet, good sleep and the right nutrients all need to be in place.

So, with some mindful changes to your lifestyle, catching a cold or flu this winter doesn’t have to be a ‘given’ – fight them off with diet and exercise this winter!

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There’s a lot of life in these Multi-Vitamins! Find out about new Soft Jells!

shutterstock_242759494 multi generational family Oct15We are very excited to tell you that this week we have launched our new range of Multi-Vitamins – Alive! Soft Jells! We have listened to you, our customers, and created a range of delicious, fruity soft jells which are packed full of key nutrients for you and your family. Consultant Suzie Sawyer, who was involved in the development of these products, tells us why she wanted to get involved and why she supports the Alive! brand.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Following on from the success of the Alive! tablet range of multi-vitamins and minerals, it’s been a great pleasure for me to be at the forefront of the complex formulation process for the Alive! Soft Jell Multi-Vitamins and Minerals range – the exciting and latest addition to the brand in the UK.

Following on from the success of the Alive! tablet range of multi-vitamins and minerals, it’s been a great pleasure for me to be at the forefront of the complex formulation process for the Alive! Soft Jell Multi-Vitamins and Minerals range – the exciting and latest addition to the brand in the UK.

FullRangePerspectiveShot_wgummiesThere’s something for everyone with products for all the family at every life stage, plus a specialist immune formulation which is suitable for both adults and children aged 3 years and over.

As a Consultant Nutritionist, my challenge was to develop a range of multi-vitamins with meaningful levels of a broad spectrum of nutrients, but within a great-tasting Soft Jell format. The other challenge was to create a range of products that were the best in class; we wanted to create optimised formulations that provide great health benefits and could stand up against less efficacious formulations already in the market.

But why should we take a multi-vitamin?

  • Taking additional nutrients will help energy levels, encourage vitality and support optimal wellness – who wouldn’t want some of that?!
  • The body needs around 50 different nutrients on a daily basis – it’s almost impossible to achieve anywhere near that in most households, even with the best of dietary intentions
  • Stress, the scourge of modern-day living, depletes the body of many nutrients, particularly the B vitamins
  • Many prescription medicines frequently deplete the body of essential nutrients
  • Modern farming methods optimise the use of agriculture land, but exhaust it of vital nutrients, particularly trace minerals, such as selenium
  • The typical Western diet is high in sugar and ‘white’ refined foods: these are low in vitamins and minerals and also deplete the body of essential nutrients

So having established why we need to take a multi-vitamin, why try Alive! Soft Jells?

Womens Energy_wgummiesEach Alive! Soft Jell formulation contains optimised levels of the most important vitamins and minerals. With this unique Soft Jell format, taste is absolutely key, as is the mouth texture – in other words how it feels when you chew it. Immune_wgummiesOn both counts I really feel like we have achieved top marks: we have created delicious orange and berry natural fruit flavours and by using a pectin-based formulation we’ve achieved a great melt-in-the-mouth feel.

Womens 50_wgummiesPlus the Soft Jell format is a completely vegetarian formulation – it is free from gelatine.

So, with perfectly balanced nutritional solutions for all the family, what’s special about each specific product in the Soft Jell range?

Mens_wgummiesThe Alive! brand is all about ‘feeling alive!’ and represents vitality, inspiration and healthy living. We encourage everyone to eat a rainbow diet which includes as many fruits and vegetables as possible but we also advocate topping up the daily diet with Alive! Childrens_wgummiesEach Soft Jell contains our unique dried blend of 26 fruits and vegetables – something no other range can boast.

Here’s a quick fire guide to each of the products – you can find out much more on the Alive! website http://www.feelaliveuk.com

shutterstock_49925380 group of women sitting Oct15Women’s Energy Soft Jells

  • Specially optimised for women of all ages to maximise energy production
  • Specific nutrients to help hormone balance including iodine and Vitamin B6
  • 400% NRV of Vitamin D for bone and immune support
  • With biotin, which is needed for luxuriant hair, together with healthy skin and nails

shutterstock_46989997 family in the snow Oct15Immune Support Soft Jells

  • A great all-round immune support with black elderberry being the key nutrient
  • It includes the combined immune-supporting nutrients of Vitamins A, C, D, B6 and Zinc
  • Perfect for the whole family starting from three years and upwards
  • A great product to take ahead of, and throughout, the winter months and beyond

shutterstock_150359354 group of women over fifty Oct15Women’s 50+ Soft Jells

  • Specially balanced for women over 50 years of age and includes all key supportive nutrients for this age group
  • With Vitamins B12 and Biotin for great energy production and Vitamin B6 to help maintain hormone balance
  • Contains 400% NRV of Vitamin D for bone health
  • Plus there’s the complete family of B Vitamins to provide great energy

shutterstock_72617749 men father and son Oct15Men’s Energy Soft Jells

  • Formulated for men of all ages to optimise health and vitality
  • Providing enhanced levels of Zinc and selenium, essential for fertility and reproduction
  • With Vitamins C, B5, B6 and Thiamin specifically for energy production
  • Also containing Vitamins A and B2 for normal vision

shutterstock_289525484 children group Oct15Children’s Soft Jells

  • Specially formulated for all children from 3 years
  • With 200% NRV of vitamin D for bone health – crucial in growing children
  • Also providing optimal levels of Vitamin C and zinc for immune support
  • Including Iodine needed for normal growth in children
  • Superb tasting orange and berry fruits flavours your children will love!

So, with something for everyone, we’ve worked really hard to ensure that the body’s nutritional needs are fully supported and enhanced, and that you’ll actually enjoying taking your daily top-up!

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Beat the bugs with good nutrition: how to support your child’s immunity

shutterstock_269417912 mother and child Sept15It’s back to school and back to basics in terms of protecting your children from the vast array of bugs which will come back into school from all their friends after the summer holidays. With the new term now fully underway, the usual round of ‘bugs’ may have already started to commence their march into your home. Helping your children to be as ‘immune’ as possible is key to avoiding as many nasty bugs as you can. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives you some useful insights into preventing or at least lessening the impact of bugs this season.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

The Immune system is a complex one, made up in part by white blood cells that contain natural killer cells, antibodies and T cells – all of which help to protect the body against invading viruses and bacteria.

shutterstock_168036977 immune system Sept15The immune system should always be ‘on guard’ rather than be ‘switched on’. The uncomfortable feelings you might experience when you have picked up an infection, such as a high temperature or aches and pains, are mainly down to your immune response: a high temperature is actually needed to kill off a virus or bacteria, so it is a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time!

So, what can you do to support your child’s immune system?

Here are some really easy ways you can contribute to your child’s immunity this season:

shutterstock_308484509 no sugar Sept15AVOID SUGAR

Sugar in all its forms is an immune suppressant, meaning if you have too much your immune system won’t work as effectively as it should. Sugar means everything from table sugar, honey (other than Manuka honey), fizzy drinks and biscuits.

Sugar appears to block the beneficial effects of white blood cell activity. For example, it has been found that drinking two average-sized fizzy drinks can suppress the immune system for at least two hours afterwards, and maybe for as long as five hours. So, if you consider all the potential sources of sugar that may be in your children’s diet, you can see that the immune system may not be fully functioning as it should.

Drinking good old plain water needs to be encouraged, plus making homemade snacks such as muesli bars or flapjacks using natural sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia: these won’t suppress the immune system and will also be kind to their teeth too!

NUTRIENTS ARE KEY

Having a well-balanced and colourful diet is key to building a healthy body and supportive immune system. However, there are a few key nutrients that specifically support strong immunity so it makes sense to ensure you and your family are including these in your diet on a daily basis.

shutterstock_265791974 vit C foods Sept15Vitamin C, found in all fruits and vegetables, helps increase white blood cell production when needed. It is also a key antioxidant, protecting the body against free radicals which can attack the immune system.

shutterstock_262776005 vit D foods Sept15

Vitamin D, primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine but also found in egg yolks, fatty fish, liver and cheese, is also key in immune system functioning. Because we are so sunlight deficient during the winter months, a supplement containing good levels of vitamin D is recommended for all sectors of the population; indeed Government guidelines recommend vitamin D supplementation for all children under five and this may well be extended to other age ranges in the near future.

shutterstock_161393798 zinc collage Sept15The mineral Zinc, is another well-known workhorse of the immune system. It’s found in seafood, wholegrains and eggs which may be a reason why children are sometimes deficient as these are not often well liked by our offspring. Again, a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement specifically for children is recommended alongside a healthy diet.

shutterstock_190220546 mother and sleeping child Sept15SLEEP SOUNDLY

Lack of sleep adversely affects the immune system. Part of the reason for this is that during sleep, the body releases proteins called cytokines which are part of the immune system. These are needed in greater numbers to fight infections, and therefore a lack of sleep will increase the body’s susceptibility to infection.

It’s quite by design that we always sleep more when we are unwell: it’s the body’s way of fighting infection. It can often be difficult getting your little ones off to bed in order for them to get sufficient ‘shut-eye’. However, there really is no substitute for a good old fashioned bed-time routine: a real wind-down, which maybe includes a bath, a story and a warm milky drink. Goat’s milk in particular contains high levels of serotonin which in turn makes melatonin – the hormone that helps us to sleep.

shutterstock_239276539 pelargonium sept15PELARGONIUM

Pelargonium is the most widely researched herbal medicine used for fighting coughs, colds and upper respiratory tract infections. Whilst people will often reach for the herb Echinacea to help prevent colds and flu, it’s not really suitable for children under 12 years of age whereas pelargonium can be used in children as young as six years.

Pelargonium can be taken if your child has come into contact with other children with infections or at the first signs that they are coming down with a nasty cold. Pelargonium can be taken for up to two weeks at a time – one to certainly keep on hand in the medicine cabinet.

So as we approach the ‘bug’ season, try these simple but effective measures to support your child’s immunity and keep you and your family fighting fit during the winter months.

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[1] Zinc for the treatment of the common cold; a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Science M et al. CMAJ 2012 Jul 10;184 (10): E551-E561

Vitamin D: why we all need more sunshine in our lives

shutterstock_177395282 woman in sun by pool Aug15We all know that the UK is not famous for its sunny weather. Only this week, The Guardian featured an article highlighting that we do not get enough sun in the UK for healthy Vitamin D levels. So why is it important and what can we do about it? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at the many functions of Vitamin D in the body and what we can do to keep our levels topped up.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Hardly a day goes by without a news story being released about Vitamin D, and for good reason; it fulfils a number of very important health functions. It is known as ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’ because it’s primarily made on the skin in sunlight, but unfortunately many people living in the Northern Hemisphere can often suffer from a deficiency, particularly during the dark winter months, but more worryingly throughout the year in these less sunny countries. And this includes the UK.

shutterstock_115649197 vitamin D Aug15WHAT DOES VITAMIN D DO?

Vitamin D actually functions as more of a hormone than a vitamin because of its action on the skin.  Other than sunlight, it’s found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, butter, milk and sprouted seeds.

There are actually two forms of Vitamin D: Vitamin D2 is produced by plants but is not as effective at raising blood levels as Vitamin D3, which is synthesised by the sun or obtained from the animal sources listed above.

Vitamin D’s main ‘claim to fame’ is its ability to facilitate calcium absorption and regulation, thereby building and maintaining strong bones and teeth.  It also plays a key role in the regulation of the body’s immune responses, helping to fight off infections all-year round.

Although it is made by sunlight, conversely it’s unstable to light and, therefore, is lost during any processing. So foods in their natural states are much more effective at raising blood levels of Vitamin D than processed equivalents.

shutterstock_271645694 jogger with bones higlighted in leg Aug15VITAMIN D AND BONES

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones.  Recent research, presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s Experimental Biology conference, indicated that Vitamin D may also hold the key to long-lasting physical function.  It seems that higher levels are needed for the preservation of muscle strength, good bone health and greater mobility as people age.

It may surprise you to hear that peak bone mass is generally achieved around 18 years of age, after which time there will be a very gradual decline. This decline can accelerate with age when there is insufficient Vitamin D in the body and, indeed insufficient calcium (found in dairy foods and green leafy vegetables).  It’s no wonder then, that there’s so much emphasis on getting sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from the very early stages of life.

shutterstock_200010890 smiling woman in sunshine Aug15VITAMIN D AND MOOD

We know that being in the sunshine generally makes us feel happier, but this may also be attributable to having higher levels of Vitamin D.

A Finnish research study[1] has shown that people with higher blood levels of Vitamin D have a lower risk of depression.  This large study involving over 5000 individuals aged 30-79 were found to have a lower incidence of depression; this was particularly noticeable in those making better lifestyle choices, confirming that both aspects were important in improving people’s mood.  Those with higher levels of Vitamin D also had better metabolic health in terms of blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels, suggesting that this group generally ate better, and included Vitamin D either within their diet or by taking supplementation.

 shutterstock_244939462 hands making a heart around sunshine Aug15VITAMIN D AND THE HEART

There have been many research studies evaluating the importance of Vitamin D and the prevention of a number of heart-related conditions.[2]  The results have, generally, been very positive in support of higher levels of the vitamin being protective, although there is still a bit more clarity needed around the various mechanisms responsible.

For example, Vitamin D appears to be involved in blood sugar control and the prevention of metabolic syndrome; the correction of markers that cause inflammation; keeping arteries free-flowing, thereby reducing blood pressure. The impact of Vitamin D levels in the body suggest that it is indeed involved in many functions with regards to keeping the heart healthy.

shutterstock_19511227 woman blowing nose with lake background Aug15VITAMIN D AND IMMUNITY

It is now well accepted that vitamin D is an important immune system regulator.  The active form of Vitamin D known as ‘D3’, plays a crucial role in a number of aspects of immune function, but specifically supports increasing the body’s T cells that help to fight unwanted bacteria and viruses.

These cells rely on Vitamin D to activate them and are actually ‘dormant’ when there is insufficient Vitamin D in the blood.  The link between immunity and Vitamin D is so conclusive that the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) have approved a nutritional claim linking the two; you’ll often see this now on foods and, specifically, food supplements. ‘Vitamin D contributes to the normal function of the immune system’

shutterstock_167633765 bottle of capsules Aug15VITAMIN D AND SUPPLEMENTATION

The UK Department of Health issued specific guidelines for those population groups requiring supplementation; children up to the age of five, pregnant and breast-feeding women, those 65 years or over and dark-skinned people who don’t produce as much Vitamin D on the skin.

However, a recent report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), an independent advisory body to the government, has formulated draft proposals that supplementation is advisable for the entire population in the UK.

SACN have apparently recognised that we can’t rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the Vitamin D requirements.  The proposals are only currently in draft stage, but with more than one in five people having low levels of Vitamin D, and bearing in mind its importance in so many health conditions, it seems likely and, indeed, prudent, that these recommendations are adopted.

You only need to spend 15-20 minutes per day in the sun with the skin unprotected (i.e, without sun cream) to make sufficient Vitamin D, so enjoy the sunshine whilst you can and boost your body’s health at the same time.

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[1] T Jaaskelainen et al.  Higher serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations are related to a reduced risk of depression.  British Journal of Nutrition.  Published online doi:10.1017/S0007114515000689

[2] S Judd et al.  Vitamin D Deficiency and Risk for Cardiovascular Disease.  Am J Med Sci 2009 Jul:338(1):40-44

 

 

 

 

 

The Mediterranean Diet – the top 5 nutritional benefits

shutterstock_233898430 mediterranean June15With the summer starting to show itself around the country, our thoughts turn to lazy days outside, enjoying time with family and friends in the sunshine and al fresco dining. But could we be eating better than the traditional British BBQ fare? Suzie Sawyer – Clinical Nutritionisttells us why the Mediterranean diet is a great, healthy alternative for us this summer.

suzi-sawyer-clinical-nutritionist

For those fortunate enough to be travelling further afield for summer holidays, often countries situated around the Mediterranean are popular choices. Interestingly, apart from their favourable climate, people living in these countries statistically tend to have less heart disease, which is thought to be, primarily due to their Mediterranean diet: a diet characterised by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein

So why is the Mediterranean Diet so beneficial to health?

IT’S HIGH IN FRUIT AND VEGshutterstock_203320249 tomato salad June15

Forget five portions of fruit and veg a day – this diet may contain nearer 10!  The climate naturally lends itself to producing an abundance of fruit and vegetables in season, therefore availability and variety are not an issue.

The diet is particularly rich in tomatoes which are high in lycopene – a bright red carotenoid packed with health benefits. Carotenoids are a great source of antioxidants which scavenge those nasty free radicals partially responsible for the aging process.

They also help protect against some degenerative diseases, particularly heart disease; additionally lycopene is prized for its positive benefits for the male prostate gland.  Vegetables such as courgettes, red and green peppers and onions also feature highly in the diet, hence you’ll often find delicious ratatouille on the menu!

And with it being National Vegetarian Week closer to home this week, what better time to start enjoying all the benefits of eating more fruit and veg?

IT CONTAINS WHOLEGRAIN CARBOHYDRATESshutterstock_230203603 beans and pulses June15

The word “carbs” can often create panic in the minds of those trying to lose weight!  However, choosing starchy carbohydrates from wholegrain sources such as wholegrain bread and pasta, rice, beans and lentils help to keep blood sugar levels balanced which means you’ll store less fat. The fibre in wholegrains also helps maintain a feeling of fullness so you are likely to eat less.

Additionally, they’re all rich in B vitamins which are protective of the heart.  The grain polenta, made from corn, was first discovered in Italy and provides a versatile and filling meal time staple.  It tends to take on the flavours of the foods it’s cooked with such as vegetables or cured meats but is equally delicious cooked with pesto and parmesan.

IT IS HIGH IN OILY FISHshutterstock_150603923 fish platter June15

The Mediterranean diet is rich in delicious oily fish such as sardines and salmon, but also white fish such as halibut and sea bass, together with shellfish – prawns, crab and lobster.

Oily fish is high in the essential omega 3 fats, which are great for the heart, skin and brain.  White fish is high in protein and low in fat, and is often eaten within the Mediterranean diet in preference to meat.  This means less saturated fat and potentially less incidence of colorectal cancer for example, which has been found to be more prevalent in people eating high amounts of red meat.  Fish is much easier to digest, hence it puts less strain on the digestive system.  It’s a ‘win-win’ situation.

IT’S RICH IN HEALTH-GIVING OLIVE OILshutterstock_159845954 olive oil June15

Whether enjoying a plate of olives with your glass of red wine, or splashing olive oil onto your green or tomato salad, you’ll be using olive oil liberally eating the Mediterranean diet.

Olive oil boasts numerous health benefits particularly relating to the heart; another reason for the low incidence of heart disease in these countries.  Olive oil has been proven to lower the bad LDL cholesterol and also reduce blood pressure.  Additionally, it’s high in antioxidants which protect against free radical damage, and it also helps to lubricate the joints.

Although it is high in calories, it has been shown to reduce obesity because it keeps people feeling fuller for longer, so again they eat less.  Though olive oil is frequently used as a dressing on salads, it’s also used for cooking and is much healthier than polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower oil.  This is because it is a monounsaturated fat, making it more chemically stable when heated.

IT IS NUTS!shutterstock_272949956 nuts June15

Not literally!  However, the Mediterranean Diet traditionally contains walnuts and almonds which are rich in the healthy omega 3 fats.

But it’s not just nuts but also seeds and pulses that pack a healthy punch!  Specifically, chickpeas are the mainstay ingredient in hummus, traditionally enjoyed with some chopped vegetables such as carrots, peppers and courgettes.

shutterstock_162686831 glass of red wine June 15Of course the Mediterranean diet would not be complete without reference to red wine.  Red wine contains a compound called resveratrol which has been heavily researched and found to support heart health.  As with olive oil, resveratrol helps to reduce the damaging LDL cholesterol within the body and also provides additional antioxidants.  However, research also suggests that the benefits are felt by drinking one glass of red wine daily as opposed to one bottle, so try and stick to just the one!

shutterstock_204784162 couple cycling in the sun June15And lastly, we must also acknowledge that those living in these climates tend to be more physically active which is also protective of the heart.  This may be because sunnier and warmer weather tends to encourage people to live a more outdoorsy lifestyle and also enjoy sporting activities such as walking, tennis and cycling. Many occupations also tend to involve working outdoors, therefore they involve being more active out in the fresh air.  And let’s also not forget the abundance of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – Vitamin D – all-year round, which is great for the bones, muscles, joints, and immune system.

The UK may not have the benefits of year-round sunshine, but you can enjoy the healthy and colourful Mediterranean diet right here on your doorstep: the key foods that make up the Mediterranean diet are readily available in your local supermarket – so why not bring a little sunshine into your diet this weekend.

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Here Comes the Sun! Four reasons to love Vitamin D – the ‘sunshine vitamin’!

suzi-sawyer-clinical-nutritionist
From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer

shutterstock_253023556 sunshine over beach Mar15

Just in case it has slipped your mind, the clocks move forward one hour this weekend; so we may lose some precious sleep, but we are set to gain so much more!

Everyone definitely feels more uplifted at the start of British Summer Time, and with good reason.  Our days are gradually getting longer and the grey skies of winter are becoming a distant memory.   And, fingers crossed, we should be seeing some more of the sun!  Apart from the obvious benefits of longer, brighter days, the sun is essential for making the wonder vitamin D.

Vitamin D, otherwise known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ is predominantly made on the skin, in the presence of sunlight, and is frequently deficient in the UK population.  It plays a very positive role in our health and therefore lack of sunlight can have a detrimental effect.

We know how vital Vitamin D is in protecting against bone-related diseases, particularly in later life. But as new research emerges, it has also been discovered that vitamin D plays a really important part in supporting the immune system, as well as potentially reducing the risks of metabolic syndrome and also SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Four reasons why Vitamin D is so important:

shutterstock_111524120 thumbs up xray Mar151. It helps to maintain healthy bones and teeth

Vitamin D’s key role is in the building and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, partly because it’s essential for regulating the minerals calcium and phosphorous in the body.

2. It helps to metabolise glucose, reducing the risks of metabolic syndrome (a pre-cursor to Type 2 Diabetes)shutterstock_126015788 blood glucose monitor smiley Mar15

More recent research has found a protective link against the onset of metabolic syndrome: Vitamin D helps to metabolise glucose, which regulates insulin levels, and this is the key mechanism for keeping blood sugar levels controlled. However, metabolic syndrome can still be stopped in its tracks with the right diet and lifestyle changes, and, of course, sufficient vitamin D.

shutterstock_143422087 heart and shield Mar153. Vitamin D supports the immune system and fights infections

The discovery of Vitamin D Receptors (VDR’s) in immune cells, has established its role in helping to fight bacterial infections. Vitamin D has also been positively linked with higher concentrations of the good HDL cholesterol, which is protective against heart disease.

4. This wonder vitamin helps to stop us feeling SADshutterstock_137699207 woman smiling in the sun Mar15

It is common to feel ‘lower’ in mood during the winter months, and this can be partly attributed to the lack of sunshine and frequent, grey, darker days. Vitamin D has been found to influence serotonin levels in the brain – the ‘happy hormone’ – so a lack of Vitamin D can really affect your mood. And that’s why we all love a sunshine-filled holiday – more sunshine equals more Vitamin D which equals more happiness!

How to get Vitamin D into your body:shutterstock_98586479 vitamin D foods Mar15

Although Vitamin D is made on the skin in a reaction to sunlight, it is also found in oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and margarines.   However, these are not generally foods that people eat in high quantities. Therefore, it’s mostly down to the sun to get the body producing meaningful levels of Vitamin D.It is virtually impossible for the body to produce Vitamin D in those people living at sea level and in countries situated in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter months – hence deficiency is very widespread.

Symptoms are often very subtle, and can be missed, but generally start with muscle weakness and bone pain. Long term deficiencies can make people prone to more serious illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes, as well as bone related illnesses.

So what’s the answer?shutterstock_232282363 vit D letter in tablets Mar15

Certainly supplementation is key, particularly during the winter months. However, busy lives mean that people are still spending long periods indoors, or behind a desk, therefore it’s advisable to supplement all-year round as well as getting out into the natural daylight as often as often as you can.

The Department of Health is currently recommending supplementation for ‘at risk’ groups: pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and young children under five years, people aged 65 and over, people with no exposure to the sun and those who have darker skin (because darker skin has more pigmentation, making it difficult for the sun to penetrate). However, many other sectors of the population will be at risk of deficiency, for obvious reasons.

Sun exposure versus sun damage:shutterstock_197966453 hand and suncream smile Mar15

Clearly, we all need to be mindful of the potentially damaging effects, on the skin, of having too much sun exposure. However, did you know that having just 15 minutes a day without sunscreen is all you need to produce sufficient Vitamin D? We tend to liberally ‘slap’ on the sunscreen before we go out into the sun, but by applying high strength sun cream the skin won’t actually be able to make Vitamin D.

Indeed, the children’s bone disease rickets, which had almost been completely eradicated, has started to become more prevalent since people have started using high strength sun creams, such as an SPF 50 on children. Just a short time without protection – 15 minutes – is all it takes to bring enormous benefits, particularly for your bones and immune system, but do make sure you cover up and apply that sunscreen after the 15 minutes are up!

So do enjoy the longer (and hopefully) sunnier days ahead and get your boost of Vitamin D everyday – outside in the sun, in your diet and via supplementation – you’ll certainly feel happier and healthier!