Summer skin health: five delicious foods to nourish yours from the inside out

Close up of a woman's head and shoulder from behind on a beach to represent summer skin

Many of us will be enjoying some summer sun right now, whether venturing abroad or making the most of pleasant temperatures here on a staycation in the UK. 

But wherever you are enjoying the sun, our skin can often become rather dry and dehydrated during the summer months which is why nourishing from within is so important.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite foods to help your skin glow all summer long!

Guava Fruit

Guavas contain some of the highest amounts of vitamin C of all fruits and vegetables.  This is key for healthy, glowing skin because vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen, our key structural protein.  Whilst most of us love the warmth and feeling of the sun on our face, the sun’s rays are extremely damaging to the skin and can accelerate the ageing process.

Close up of whole and halved guava fruit

Since collagen helps prevent wrinkles, guavas could become your go-to fruit this summer.  The tough outer skin is bitter, but the flesh inside is deliciously sweet and creamy.  They partner really well in fruit salads with berries and kiwis.  And the seeds are perfectly edible – also loaded with vitamin C.

Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein – another collagen booster. They are also high in one of our key skin-loving vitamins, biotin.  Biotin is a really busy vitamin, needed for many metabolic processes, including healthy skin.  Importantly, it helps metabolise fatty acids, enabling skin to retain structure and moisture. No wonder biotin is often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’!

A topped boiled egg in an egg cup

Eggs are extremely versatile but always make a great breakfast choice because of their high protein content, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer – yet another bonus!

Avocados

Any plans for ensuing you have beautiful glowing skin should include the acknowledgement of avocados; they are synonymous with healthy skin.  There are two key reasons for this; firstly, they contain the highest amounts of protein of any fruit or vegetable, and secondly, they are loaded with the powerful antioxidant, vitamin E.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Those watching their weight often avoid avocados. They do pack a punch calorie-wise, but as long as you limit them to no more than three a week you should be fine. Avocados also make wonderful face masks, leaving the skin soft, glowing and refreshed.  And because they make such a delicious addition to salads, eating avocados always conjures up thoughts of summer, whatever the weather.

Pomegranate seeds

Pomegranate seeds are rich in powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. These can help protect the skin against free radical damage (including that caused by the sun) and also prevent the ageing process.  Pomegranate seeds are also really high in ellagic acid (also found in some berries) and has been studied for its ability to help prevent wrinkles developing. Even better, it protects the skin’s natural collagen from being broken down by over-exposure to the sun.

Bowl of pomegranate seeds and a side salad

Pomegranate seeds work as well in sweet dishes as savoury ones.  Think chicken, couscous, salads or homemade muesli, to get your morning off to a flying start!

Carrots

Carrots provide some of the richest sources of beta-carotene, a super powerful antioxidant.  Specifically, beta-carotene has been studied in relation to its ability to prevent damage from the sun to the skin. The body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A – also known as retinol – which is a common ingredient in many skincare products.

Carrots being cooked on a griddle pan

Clearly, carrots need no introduction for their wealth of uses in dishes.  However, during the summer months there’s nothing better than chopping up a plate of crudités with carrots, peppers, cucumber, some toasted wholemeal pitta bread, with some delicious dips, for a great al fresco starter.  And your skin will love it too!

When it comes to skin, what happens within is actually more important than what happens on the outside. So, nourish yours well this summer.

Stay well.

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Enjoy a staycation: top tips for holidaying at home

A road sign saying 'staycation'

With a massive increase in staycations this year for obvious reasons, many of us are disappointed at not being able to plan our annual ‘get-away’. 

However, maybe just changing our mindset can make us realise that staying at home can be hugely fun too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyers shares some wonderfully healthy and fun staycation tips.

Healthy cocktails

Cocktails often remind us of holidays and fun times so why not get your mix on at home?  Cocktails are traditionally very sugary and calorific which can bring on feelings of guilt and dampen down the enjoyment.  But all is not lost because there are many ways you can enjoy cocktails without the guilt pangs!

Grapefruit margarita cocktail

Why not mix up a great summertime Skinny Margarita?  Simply use Tequila, Triple Sec, freshly squeezed lime juice and some freshly squeezed ruby or pink grapefruit juice.  Finish off with a wedge of lime. Grapefruit has been associated with weight loss, and whilst simply eating or drinking grapefruit juice is not going to solve all your weight issues, it’s low in calories and sugar, high in fibre, and, most importantly, a delicious addition to this margarita!

Eat Mediterranean food

You might not be in the Med but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of their delicious traditional recipes, without spending hours in the kitchen.  Think about a traditional Turkish Mezze which is both easy and can be super-healthy too. Plus, it makes a great sharing platter for entertaining friends and family.

Hummus and beetroot dips mezze platter

Dips and hummus always play a key role in any mezze plate.  Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas which are loaded with protein, energising B-vitamins and phytoestrogens for hormone balancing.  Create a beetroot dip (an amazing super food), mixed with garlic and natural yoghurt, and throw together a traditional olive salad, with fresh green leaves and feta cheese.  Roast some red peppers and include loads of crudities and toasted pittas to fully enjoy the dips. A great way of bringing the Med to you!

Spend time outdoors

Holidays are very much associated with being outdoors, so make sure your staycation doesn’t disappoint on that front.  Why not try some new activities?  Or head for the coast and do some water sports; paddle boarding is incredibly popular right now and can be mastered fairly quickly.

Family cycling in countryside

Bike rides are a great family activity and enable you to view places you might not otherwise see, and from a different scenic perspective.  Lots of landmarks and views can get missed on car journeys so get out and about on foot to explore your local area.

Relaxation

It’s not all about rushing about; having some down time is very important for overall health and wellbeing.  Life has been and continues to be stressful for many people and long-term stress can raise cortisol levels.  Symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, poor sleep and unwanted weight gain are all signs your stress hormones need support.

Woman reading in garden

To be effective and properly restful, you need to give yourself real ‘down-time’.  Whether that’s just reading a book or listening to some music in the garden find something that works for you.  You can also try taking an adaptogenic herb such as ashwagandha which helps manage stress and reduces cortisol levels.  Holidays are all about investing in some ‘you’ time, so make this happen.

Have fun!

Most important!  Staying at home doesn’t have to be dull.  Like any holiday it needs a little planning so that you really enjoy the time you have, and you can look back and feel you’ve had a proper break.

Children looking at giraffes at the zoo

Why not plan the days with a calendar in front of you? Research local attractions for day trips, catch up with friends and family if you can, and do things that you wouldn’t generally get time to do.

Whatever you decide, you deserve some time off. So, make the most of every staycation moment!

Stay well.

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Nutritional self-help for hay fever

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Anyone suffering from hay fever will know only too well that pollen levels are high right now and it’s causing misery for some.  Tell-tale red, itchy eyes, sneezing, tiredness and irritability are all too common symptoms. 

Whilst there are officially three hay fever seasons, it’s now that the grass pollen is so problematic.  However, don’t give up hope if this applies to you.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top ways of getting some relief from hay fever.

Go natural

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which in turn causes the array of unpleasant symptoms.

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

Strange as it may seem, most of the immune system actually resides within the digestive tract (commonly referred to as the gut).  And much of this is controlled by the gut bacteria that naturally hang out there.  These friendly bacteria happily living inside you can help manage allergies because of the role they play within the immune response.

Natural yoghurt

This is where natural yoghurt can take a key role in helping manage symptoms.  Natural yoghurt contains a number of strains of these friendly bacteria that have been shown to benefit hay fever sufferers enormously.  The yoghurt needs to contain live cultures and it must be natural yoghurt as opposed to the fruit variety.  Also ensure you choose the full fat versions which don’t contain any sweeteners or additives; these could have the reverse effect.  Eat natural yoghurt at least four times a week for the best outcomes.

Clean up your diet

Significantly reducing sugary, refined foods is key to getting on top of hay fever symptoms.  Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation within the body which will only make symptoms worse.  This includes alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine.

A range of green vegetables

Instead, include plenty of green leafy vegetables, berry fruits and apples.  Bananas are especially helpful because they are non-allergenic and contain plenty of fibre.  It’s also important to keep the bowels running smoothly to ensure no toxic waste build up internally, which will fire up the immune system in the wrong way.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and exacerbate symptoms.  Plus, it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.  However, the body also converts beta carotene found in fruits and vegetables into vitamin A as it needs it; another good reason for including plenty of colourful fruits and veggies.

Include quercetin

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of hay fever.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

Dampen the fire

With the mucous membranes literally ‘on fire’ at the back of the throat and through the bronchial tubes, it’s no wonder that coughing, sneezing and wheezing are commonplace with hay fever. A quick relief for itchy, watery eyes is to lie down in a darkened room for 20 minutes or so with sliced cucumber over them. Inhaling eucalyptus oil can also really help ease congestion.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Additionally, the spice, turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory so include it in as many dishes as possible.  It’s especially tasty in curries, soups and stir fries. Also on the menu should be ginger which is easily added to these dishes but works well as a tea; just squeeze fresh ginger into a mug and pour over hot water. You could also try taking a turmeric food supplement every day.

Add some magnesium

As we know, the immune system and some key internal organs are all irritated in hay fever sufferers. The mineral, magnesium, is a wonderfully calming mineral and is found in good amounts in green leafy veggies (another great reason to eat them).  Additionally, foods such as soya beans, kidney beans, whole grains, especially brown rice, and peas are great choices.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Importantly bananas are rich in magnesium, so they should definitely be high on the weekly shopping list.  This should create some much-needed calm within the body.

So, try some of these top tips and there can be light and relief at the end of the hay fever tunnel.

Stay well.

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Get back to nature this ‘Love Parks Week’

Woman walking through a forest glade

It’s ‘Love Parks Week’ and thankfully now all the parks are open again, we can enjoy them at their very best, whilst remembering to socially distance of course!

Spending time outdoors is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five best tips for enjoying our beautiful parks to the full.

Manage your allergies

For many of us who suffer with hay fever, the summer season is bittersweet when pollen levels are especially problematic.  Avoiding grass pollen is the most effective solution but it means missing out on so much.  However, there are certain steps you can take that will make your time in the parks more enjoyable.

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Any allergic response in the body involves an immune reaction so it’s important to keep your immune system in good shape.  Make sure you’re taking a vitamin D supplement and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with immune -boosting nutrients.  Bananas have been found to be especially effective for hay fever sufferers, so try to eat one about four times per week.

Additionally, the mineral magnesium (also rich in bananas) helps calm the airways so make sure you’re eating plenty of leafy greens, whole grains, beans and almonds.  Additionally, bromelain, the protein found in pineapples, has strong anti-inflammatory properties but is actually most effective taken in supplement form. It’s readily available in health food stores.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

If you find your eyes are sore after being outside in the park, change all your clothes when you come home, wash your face and lie down in a darkened room with some cucumber slices on your eyes.  Hopefully, you’ll feel refreshed after 20 minutes or so.

Go easy on the sun

Most of us love to feel the warm sun on our skin.  Plus, it also helps top up our vitamin D levels, which are essential for the immune system.  However, do try and be sun aware and wear a minimum of an SPF-30 sunscreen to help prevent burning and premature aging.

Close up of a hand with sun tan lotion in the shape of a face

Beta-carotene, rich in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and other red, orange and yellow vegetables, is a very powerful antioxidant which helps protect the skin against sun and other free-radical damage.  Whilst it won’t stop the skin burning, it will help minimise the sun’s more aggressive effects.

Put something different in your picnic basket

When packing up a picnic for a day out, we often tend to include the same foods without really thinking about it.  Why not make this week one where you opt for something different?

Instead of making ‘traditional’ sandwiches why not go for some Deli-style treats?  For example, cut some ciabatta bread in half and fill with cream cheese, salami, Mozzarella and roasted red peppers, which are rich in immune boosting vitamin C.

A bowl of homemade beetroot hummus

Additionally, beetroot hummus is a really healthy alternative to ‘normal’ hummus and it’s a great way of including this amazing super food in your diet.  All you need to do is blend some cooked beetroot, chickpeas, garlic, some virgin olive oil, a little lemon and some tahini.  It’s totally delicious on flatbread crackers.

Cycle your way around the park

The last few months has seen a resurgence in cycling, and it’s such a great activity for all the family.  Most parks have cycle routes around or through them and cycling is also a great form of exercise; it tones the legs, heart and butt!

Woman mountain-biking

Make sure you keep well hydrated before, during and after your cycle or day out, especially if it’s hot.  Aim to drink about 200 ml of water or lightly isotonic fluids per hour, depending on outside temperature and the intensity of your cycle.

Walking for enjoyment

Your walk around the park can be anything you want it to be – a gentle stroll or a fast-pace march.  Either way, walking is great for keeping good blood flow around the body.

Woman walking her dog

It’s especially effective if you’re trying to lose weight: try brisk walking after an evening meal – even only for 30 minutes.  The body’s insulin response is much more measured, and it helps stop blood sugar spikes which can lead to increased weight gain.

Whatever you decide to do in your park, celebrate Love Parks Week, get out there and enjoy!

Stay well.

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Five ways to simplify your life

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s National Simplicity Day this weekend which is actually very timely.  Many of us have realised during lockdown that life can be a lot simpler and that’s totally fine!

Perhaps we have become too used to our rather over-materialistic lifestyles and are now noticing the great value in enjoying the simpler things in life.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for nutritional and lifestyle simplicity.

Mealtime ease

Whilst many of us have enjoyed using the take-away or meal home delivery services over the last few weeks, many have also realised that home-cooked meals can be surprisingly tasty and, hopefully nutritionally beneficial.

Whilst the body needs 45 nutrients daily (including water), it would be impossible to do a quick analysis of each days’ intake in sufficient detail.  Therefore, keep meal planning simple and varied and nature will deliver what the body needs.

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

In broad terms the body requires macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).  At every meal, think about the protein content.  There are plenty of sources; eggs, meat, poultry, dairy produce, beans (including soya bean produce) nuts or fish.  Then think about adding some carbohydrate in the form of pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables, or other grains.  Healthy fats include those found in avocados, the omegas 3 and 6s (primarily found in fish, nuts and seeds), and olive oil.

You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen if that’s not your bag – keep it simple.  Here’s a great example of simplicity which just needs a side of rice and a few veggies if desired. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/spiced-salmon-tomato-traybake

Create a rainbow

We all know about the recommendation to eat a minimum of five fruits and veggies daily.  However, this creates confusion because people can’t always remember (understandably) what constitutes a portion for each fruit or vegetables.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Instead, just try and create colourful meals; the above is a great example.  The more colours you can eat from a rainbow in one day, the more nutrients you’ll be eating.  Life suddenly becomes so much simpler!

Skincare nutrients

Many of us will have simplified our skincare routines, partly because shops haven’t been open but also because we’ve been going out far less.  It may have surprised many of us just how little we actually need.

It’s also worth remembering that great skin is created from within; skin is generally a reflection of overall health.  Good skin relies on having sufficient nutrients on a daily basis, managing stress (both externally and internally), having plenty of sleep and being properly hydrated.  However, there are a couple of key nutrients which are synonymous with great skin.

Foods containing the b vitamin Biotin

The B-vitamin biotin, known as the beauty vitamin, can be found in eggs, organ meats, sweet potatoes, tuna, salmon and natural yoghurt. Avocados are high in skin-loving vitamin E, which is also a skin-loving favourite. So, add some more of these foods into your diet and your skincare routine from the inside out will be off to a great start.

Clear your mind

Life has been difficult over recent months and it’s easy to let your mind run away with worries about everything.  However, if you can master doing some daily mediation or just taking yourself to a quiet space for 10 minutes a day, then it can really help to calm and clear a busy brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

It takes practice and commitment to make this time for yourself, but however stretched you are, everyone deserves 10 minutes (or more) of down time.  Try to block any unwanted thoughts coming into your mind during this time and just listen to the outside world (whatever those sounds may be).

Detox your life

Our lives are generally frenetic, for many different reasons.  However, many people will have realised that taking the pace down a notch or two can have a very positive effect on body and soul.  During Simplicity Week, maybe spend less time on social media. Accept you can manage very well with fewer clothes in the closet. Don’t run yourself ragged making excessive plans.

Sign saying less is more

Pace yourself, plan how to feed your health sufficiently, and resolve to give plenty of time to loved ones. Make simplicity a daily ritual.

When you go back to basics and take some time to think about what is most important, simplicity can become the ‘new normal’.

Stay well.

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Five ways to boost your wellbeing for the rest of 2020

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Clearly, this year has not turned out as any of us could ever have believed as we started the new year in 2020.  For many of us, hopes, dreams and plans have had to be changed or put on hold due to the lockdown. 

However, there’s still half a year to go, and whilst we are going to be adjusting to a ‘new normal’ it’s actually the perfect time to set some goals (if you haven’t already!)

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways to maximise your wellbeing during the second half of your year.

Diet

This is generally at the top of our priority list when talking about making wellbeing changes.  There are very few people who think they have the perfect diet delivering optimal health.  Indeed, most of us realise our diet could be better but don’t necessarily know how to change things. It may be that you feel you are too busy or find it challenging to improve things.

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

If, like many people, you’ve put on some extra kilos during lockdown, then why not resolve to make some improvements to your diet right now?  If you’ve been drinking too much alcohol, then restrict it to just one or two nights a week.  If you’re addicted to sugar, then make sure you’re eating protein at every meal which will help stop sugar cravings.  Taking some additional chromium, a key mineral for balancing blood sugar levels, can really put a stop to sugar cravings and help you to feel more balanced generally. And as always aim for as much colour on your plate as possible: fruits and vegetables provide a wealth of health-boosting vitamins and minerals – try to eat at least 5 portions a day.

Exercise

With restrictions on outdoor exercise now eased, and some of us having more time on their hands, why not set yourself some exercise targets for the next six months.  Sometimes it helps to have a specific event to train for, maybe a 5 or 10k run, or a charity bike ride or hike, whatever floats your boat.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

If you’ve lost your mojo for exercise during lockdown and you’re starting from a low base, then that’s no problem; just congratulate yourself for making the decision and do what needs to be done.  Walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss.  Start with a half hour walk daily and work up your pace and distance.  Remember any exercise is better than none and nothing beats getting your heart rate up in the open air.

Health

The body is an amazing piece of machinery that mostly just keeps working and working whatever we throw at it.  However, if we don’t treat it as well as we should, it can lose tolerance, meaning it stops working quite as well.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Over the next 6 months resolve to address any health issues you’re concerned about. Things like low energy are so often related to diet and lack of certain nutrients, especially the B-vitamins found in whole grains, meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetables. Remember that the body is very clever at telling you what’s wrong so it’s always worth listening and then taking appropriate action.

Work

Work for many of us is turbulent right now or very different to ‘normal’.  Maybe you’re working from home more, or you’re having to work harder than ever. Perhaps your having some down time.  Whatever is going on for you, it’s a great time to assess what you want from your work.  Is it serving you well?  What can be improved?

Woman working from home in front of a laptop

During tricky times, many people make life-changing decisions, and take a completely different road.  Fear of the unknown often stops us making changes, hence we get stuck with situations that are not quite right.  There are some big shifts going on in our lives right now, some we can’t control, but many we can.  If you’ve been feeling less than happy with you work life, then resolve to use this time to address issues.  And if you need to talk to someone outside of your friends and family network, a life coach can often help unravel what it is you’re looking for.

Long term plans

Some of us feel the need to have a longer-term plan and look out over the next 5-10 years.  This is no bad thing as it allows the mind to focus on goals and objectives. Writing plans down also helps; seeing everything on paper really puts thoughts into perspective.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

Many of our plans will have been put on hold right now.  One thing is for certain: nothing stays the same forever and normality will return at some point.  Any work you put in now to yourself, and into your life plans, will stand you in good stead even if it feels like not much can change in the short term.

There’s still a whole half year left of 2020 – make it work for you!

Stay well.

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Plan your picnic with a vegetarian twist!

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

It’s National Picnic Week and now it’s becoming a little easier to get outdoors, why not embrace the opportunity to get out there and eat al fresco.

Whether you’re vegetarian or not, making your picnic a plant-based delight can really give your health a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five tasty picnic dishes to pack and go!

Veggie wraps

These are such a go-to ‘on-the-run’ food, but wraps are also great for picnics because they are so transportable.  If you buy wholemeal wraps, you’ll also benefit from eating more energising B-vitamins than you’d find in white wraps.

Falafel wraps

The great news is that there’s no shortage of fillings.  Why not roast up a tray of veggies; these can be prepared the night before and also eaten for dinner.  Roasting favourites are courgettes, red onion, peppers and thinly cut sweet potatoes. These veggies deliver plenty of immune-boosting beta-carotene, vitamin C and energising folate. Spread plenty of humous on the wraps (chickpeas, which are the main ingredient in humous, are a great source of veggie protein) and add some chopped falafel, together with the cold roasted vegetables and you’ve got a really filling and sustaining start to your picnic menu.

Quinoa surprise

I’ve called this a surprise because you can add what you like!  Quinoa is a staple vegetarian and vegan source of protein and also provides carbohydrates.  Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids in varying amounts and is great for anyone who can’t eat any grain derived from gluten.  Furthermore, it tastes great and is incredibly versatile!

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

One of my favourite quinoa dishes is with grilled halloumi, chopped spring onions, tomatoes, cucumber and mint with a little olive oil, garlic and lemon dressing.  Any colourful salad vegetables will provide plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C and other antioxidants.  Another suggestion is to add goat’s cheese, beetroot and pesto.  Beetroot is one of the best vegetables on the planet for cleansing the liver and also providing plant-based iron, which can be lacking in vegetarians.

Frittata

No picnic is complete without frittata.  It’s another dish that can be easily made the night before and stored in the fridge. Frittata is a really filling picnic dish and eggs, its main ingredient, are another great source of protein.

Spinach and mushroom frittata

All you need are some eggs, cooked potatoes, onions, red peppers and peas.  You can actually add whatever happens to be in the fridge – try spinach and mushrooms – and it’s a great way of including additional fibre and, most importantly, colour into your picnic.

Pasta slaw

If you’re looking for an easier option than normal ‘slaw’ which does require quite a lot of chopping, using pasta as the base is a whole lot easier and will keep everyone filled up for longer.  Just use wholemeal pasta which helps balance energy levels and, hopefully, avoids the afternoon slump.  You don’t want to be missing out on the picnic fun!

Bowl of pasta salad

Penne pasta is great for this dish so prepare some and cook until its al dente.  When cold, add some chopped celery, apples (they don’t need to be peeled), spring onions, a few walnut halves and raisins.  If you’re trying to reduce fat load then making the dressing with natural yoghurt, white wine vinegar and mustard is a great protein-rich alternative to mayo.

Chickpea Salad

We know that chickpeas are a wonder food.  As well as being the main ingredient in houmous, they’re a great source of protein for vegetarians or carnivores alike.  Plus, they’re packed with phytoestrogens, so anyone struggling to balance hormones should include chickpeas regularly in the diet.

Chickpea salad with feta

For this picnic delight simply use a can of chickpeas, a can of kidney beans, chopped avocado, cucumber, red peppers, and feta cheese, flavoured with your favourite salad dressing and chopped coriander.  This dish is loaded with protein, fibre, energising B-vitamins, healthy monounsaturated fats, and skin-loving and immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin E.

All these dishes are super-easy to make in advance, so you just need to pack up your basket and go!

Stay well.

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Five seasonal foods to start your summer

CLose up of a hand holding a slice of watermelow with the words hello summer cut out of it

The summer solstice on 20th June officially marks the start of summer, although with such a hot May you could be forgiven for thinking it has been here for a while! 

With the onset of summer, nature brings a further array of deliciously healthy and nutritious foods to enjoy.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyers shares her five favourites.

 

Courgettes

More romantically named zucchini by the Italians and Americans, courgettes are a great and versatile summer food.  They’re a type of small, young marrow with tender edible skins.  As with most fruits and vegetables, many of their nutrients are actually found just under the skin hence they’re best eaten with the skin on.

A range of courgettes

Courgettes are a good source of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A in the body as needed.  As with other ‘green’ vegetables they also supply a particular carotenoid, zeaxanthin which is great for the eyes.  They’re also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and brain-boosting folate. Folate is essential for good functioning of the nervous system which is really useful especially right now when many people are struggling with anxiety.

Courgette linguini

One of the loveliest summer recipes is grated courgette with linguini, lemon juice, garlic, basil and chopped chilli peppers; it makes a fantastic al fresco treat!

Artichoke

It’s not always a go-to vegetable as it’s slightly trickier to prepare.  However, why not change things up a little and benefit from its wonderful taste and health benefits? As an additional benefit, artichoke often conjures up thoughts of the Mediterranean which we might not be able to visit for a while.

Close up of artichokes

Artichoke is prepared by discarding the outer toughest leaves to get to the heart. It can then be sliced and either grilled or boiled and served with lemon butter or hollandaise sauce.  Alternatively, it can be bought ready prepared and added to pizzas, salads or pasta dishes.

Artichoke pasta dish

Artichoke’s main health benefits seem to be from its potential to support liver function and reduce cholesterol levels.  It also helps feed the friendly gut bacteria, a good balance of which is essential for overall wellbeing.

Watercress

Another green super food, watercress is one of the healthiest salad vegetables with a distinctive peppery taste.  In traditional medicine it was used as a kidney and liver detoxifier, just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  Furthermore, it’s a great source of minerals especially iron, as well as beta-carotene and vitamin C.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress makes a great summertime soup with Jersey Royals (also in season right now). It is also great in salad with rocket and Parmesan or with other strong flavours such as orange.

Wild Sea Trout

It’s important to look for ‘wild’ which naturally contains astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant, and the reason for the dark, pink colour), plus the flavour is vastly better than in its farmed counterparts.  Some of the best wild sea trout is caught off the Welsh coast, although it’s also fished in European waters.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Sea Trout is an excellent source of super-healthy omega-3 fats which are needed for the heart, brain, skin, hormones, and joints.

Trout fish fillet with salad

At this time of year, sea trout is absolutely delicious cooked on the barbecue and also works well marinated with orange dressing.  It makes a wonderfully healthy summer meal alongside Jersey Royal potatoes and plenty of salad leaves.

Aubergine

Another vegetable we often associate with the Mediterranean, especially Greece, is aubergine (also known as eggplant).  Interestingly, it’s also widely grown in the UK. Aubergine is still widely used in traditional Ottoman dishes such as Imam Bayildi (aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes). The deep colour of its skin signifies plenty of anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against degenerative diseases.  Aubergine also contains plenty of fibre and folate.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

Aubergines are a great summer food because they’re delicious chargrilled and added to other roasted vegetables or in a salad with roasted tomatoes and feta cheese.  The only downside is that they tend to soak up plenty of oil so do make sure you use healthy olive oil so at least you’re getting some heart-health benefits.

So, enjoy the amazing colours, tastes and nutritional benefits the new summer season brings.

Stay well.

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On your bike: the health benefits of cycling

Tow freinds cycling in the countryside

One of the positives to come out of our recently restricted lives is that many people have taken to two wheels to get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. And what better time to get out there than National Bike Week?

Cycling is a great activity for families and small groups of friends but can be just as enjoyable on your own.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at the health benefits of cycling and how to get the most out of your biking.

What are the health benefits?

Lots of people have turned to cycling recently as a great way of keeping fit.  It’s also been a great way to get outdoors, breathe some fresh air and just enjoy the ride. In terms of actual energy consumed, you can burn around 600 calories an hour, or if doing a harder ride, as many as 800.  It’s therefore a great way of keeping weight in check. If you’re going out for an hour’s ride, then you don’t need to take any snacks or extra food; the body has its own amazing energy-storage system. But always travel with a water bottle to keep yourself hydrated.

Close up of a woman mountain biking

Any form of exercise that elevates the heart rate for around 30 minutes helps with fat burning but also overall aerobic fitness.  This is turn has a positive effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and protection against Type 2 diabetes.  Additionally, cycling is great for mental wellbeing and you see much more of the world when you’re slightly elevated above the hedge line!

How can I make the most of an hour’s ride?

The beauty of cycling is that you don’t need to go out for hours and hours if time is short.  Why not set yourself small challenges such as trying to get further on a certain route in a fixed amount of time, meaning you’ve cycled faster?  Or try to add some hills or small inclines into your ride.  It’s so much harder trying to get a bike up a hill than running it, so you’ll get a much better cardio workout.

A family going for a bike ride

However, not every ride needs to be about a challenge because the most important part of cycling or any exercise is to enjoy the experience. Notice the landscape around you and be grateful for the opportunity of seeing the great outdoors and to have some headspace.  Vary your routes and try to avoid overly busy roads.

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

Clearly, it’s a very different experience riding off-road to on-road which is where a hybrid bike is so useful, so you’re not limited to either.  Importantly, make sure you’re well hydrated when you start the ride and take a good-sized bottle filled with lightly diluted fruit juice with water.  This will provide a very small amount of carbohydrate to keep energy levels up and help the body rehydrate faster, especially when it’s hot.

What about longer rides?

Cycling for half a day or longer, especially with family and friends is a brilliant way of spending some time outdoors.  Clearly, if it’s a family event, then you need to make sure kids have the right gear, especially helmets, and have had plenty of sun cream applied beforehand (you can even get burnt on cloudy days at this time of year).

View of a woman mountain biking

Take plenty of fluids and be careful not to underestimate the amount you might drink; cycling is really thirsty work, especially if you’re tackling more challenging terrain. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of sports drinks with you, as well as water, as they contain electrolytes plus carbohydrates to help avoid dehydration, especially when it’s hot.

Close up of a cyclists snack pot with dried fruit and nuts

If you’re planning on going out for a while, you’ll also need to take some food with you.  Energising bagels with jam (always a kids’ favourite), muesli bars, bananas dried fruits and nuts are good choices.  Traditional sports bars tend to be loaded with sweeteners so are best avoided if possible unless you’re a competitive cyclist, in which case you’ll need more structured meal replacements.

So, whether you’re out for an hour or a day, any time you can spend on a bike will be beneficial for both mind and body.

Stay well.

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Three delicious and nutritious alternatives to fish and chips

Fish chips and peas

It’s National Fish and Chip Day and whilst we may be enjoying one too many takeaways during lockdown, they are certainly a treat during these challenging times.

But if you’re feeling like a healthier treat is needed why not mark the day instead with an alternative but delicious fish dish that’s much healthier?

Suzie Sawyer Clinical Nutritionist shares her three fish dish favourites.

Salmon Stir-fry

When we’re talking about healthy fish dishes, salmon is top of the list. For those who are not big salmon lovers, this dish is great because it’s got some strong flavours which help mask the fish flavours; it’s tasty and really easy.  With any salmon dish, always try to find the Wild Alaskan Salmon because it’s fished in less polluted waters and contains natural astaxanthin – one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet (it’s also what makes salmon pink!)

Two fillets of salmon on a wooden board

Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fats, essential for the brain, joints, hormones, skin and eyes.  We all need to eat omega-3s regularly in our diets as they can’t be made in the body.

Salmon stir fry

For this easy dish, simply fry up some onions, peppers, ginger, garlic, carrot strips and tenderstem broccoli in some olive oil, add the chopped salmon and heat until cooked (only a few minutes needed).  Add some five spice, soy sauce, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and some chopped fresh coriander. In just a few minutes you’ve got a brilliant brain-healthy meal delivering loads of super-healthy antioxidants from the salmon and colourful veggies.  Plus, garlic and ginger are great for the digestion and for boosting immunity. Enjoy with noodles or rice.

Barbecued squid

Squid is a high protein, low fat fish that just oozes thoughts of summer!  It also contains good amounts of energising vitamin B12. Squid also includes trace minerals such as potassium, iron, phosphorus, and copper, all frequently deficient in UK diets. You can buy squid already pre-prepared  from the supermarket.  Better still ask the fishmonger to prepare it for you.

Grilled squid on a bbq

Squid is generally known as calamari, which is deep-fried in breadcrumbs, considerably increasing the fat content (just like traditional fish and chips).  This recipe is certainly much healthier, and you’ll not feel bloated and uncomfortable after eating.

Squid is great loaded onto skewers, alternated with red peppers and onions, and wrapping the tentacles (if you have them) around the skewer.  Simply barbecue, squeezing lemon juice over the skewers and enjoy immediately.

White fish Thai-style

This recipe can be used with any white fish but works especially well with sea bass.  All white fish is rich in protein, low in fat and incredibly versatile.  The dish works really well with some roasted sweet vegetables including sliced sweet potatoes and beetroot for a real superfood boost: both of these vegetables are loaded with anti-ageing antioxidants.

Thai fish dish

For the Thai fish, place the fish in an ovenproof dish and grate some garlic, ginger, finely shopped chilli and the zest of a lime on top.  Then squeeze over the juice of the lime, some soy sauce and a few drops of Tabasco.  Ideally the fish should be marinated for a couple of hours in the fridge, so the flavours really infuse into the fish.  It can then be roasted in the oven for around 20 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

So, enjoy these fish alternatives – you can always add some low-fat oven chips or homemade sweet potato chips as a side for an extra treat!

Stay safe.

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