Seasonal eating: what to add to your diet in January

Venison with red cabbage

Traditionally January tends to be a dull and dreary month for most people!  Post-Christmas blues, dark days and poor weather, not to mention the current lockdown. 

This makes now an even better time to embrace the delicious, colourful and nutritious seasonal food currently available.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite seasonal foods for January.

Venison

Venison often gets forgotten when thinking about red meat, but it’s a wonderfully healthy food.  Much of our UK venison is produced from deer that roam freely, therefore the meat is very tasty and extremely low in fat.  Indeed, venison has less fat than other red meats and also a skinned breast of chicken.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Importantly venison is higher in iron than other red meats and contains some of the super-healthy omega-3 fats.  Even better, it’s incredibly easy to cook – it works just like steak  Therefore, it can be lightly pan-fried and is delicious in stews.  Because venison is so lean and soft in texture, it doesn’t take too much work to produce a superb meal.

Mackerel

Although not always strictly from UK waters as it’s often sourced from the Mediterranean as well as the north Atlantic, January it’s still a great time for eating mackerel.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

Mackerel’s main ‘claim to fame’ is its wealth of omega-3 fats.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) that we’re widely deficient of these essential fats the UK. Omega-3s are needed for a healthy heart, eyes, brain, skin and for good hormone and joint function.  Eating mackerel once a week will provide at least half of the weekly recommended intake of omega-3s.

Whilst it might be too ‘fishy’ tasting for some, it’s delightful to eat a naturally moist fish. Mackerel is great lightly grilled with just a squeeze of lemon juice.

Onions

A staple in many dishes, onions are incredibly versatile and come in different shapes and colours, but all are nutritionally beneficial.  Onions are packed with powerful flavonoids – plant compounds that have antioxidant qualities, helping protect us from disease and the ageing process.

A range of onions

One of these flavonoids, quercetin, helps control the production of histamine, responsible for unpleasant allergic symptoms, especially for hay fever sufferers.  Eating plenty of quercetin-rich foods prior to the hay fever season can help dampen down some of these symptoms, so it’s good to start now.

Whether you choose white onions, red onions, spring onions or shallots, it’s more a question of taste rather than any real difference in nutritional goodness.  Plus, they’re all full of fibre so will help keep everything moving smoothly through the digestive tract.

Cauliflower

A worthy member of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, cauliflower is not only rich in many nutrients, but it also contains a wealth of phytonutrients with additional health benefits.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Top of the list are glucosinolates which help manage inflammation throughout the body, aid detoxification and digestion and support the immune system. Whilst cauliflower is high in antioxidants due to its many plant compounds, it’s also rich in the mineral manganese which is needed to produce one of our powerful antioxidant enzymes (as well as being good for the joints).

Because it has a distinctive strong taste, cauliflower is great added to meals as a vegetable side, having been lightly steamed.  Alternatively, it works really well in curries or with Asian flavours and dishes.

Red Cabbage

A regular on the Christmas dinner table, red cabbage is in season during the winter months and is well worth including in meals well after the festive period.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

Interestingly, whilst all cabbages are highly nutritious, being another member of the cruciferous vegetable family, red cabbage has a nutritional edge. Its deep red colour provides additional anthocyanins which are powerful antioxidants. Red cabbage is also very rich in other antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C and manganese, plus vitamin K, essential for healthy blood flow and joints.

In terms of enjoying its delicious flavours, braised red cabbage with chopped apple (also now in season) is wonderful. It also works really well in sweet and sour dishes, with Asian flavours, in stir fries or soups.

There are so many great reasons for eating seasonally; apart from enhanced taste, the nutrient profile of food is generally always better.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

Stay well.

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Five top veggies to top up your vegan diet

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

It’s January and for many people, that means it’s Veganuary. For some of us, it may just be a continuation of our vegan diet but, for others, it could be the start of a new regime.  

Whether you’re giving it a go for the first time or have been enjoying the wonders of a vegan diet for a while, it’s always good to be reminded of some of the most important vegetables to include in your diet and their great health benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five veggies.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are often one of the mainstay vegetables of a vegan diet as they are a fabulously nutritious and versatile vegetable.  Sweet potatoes are often misunderstood and categorised as ‘another type of potato’ but they are from different plant families.  Whilst both types of potatoes have plenty of health benefits, sweet potatoes are better for balancing blood sugar levels as they are lower on the glycaemic index.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

However, where sweet potatoes really score is in their high beta-carotene content.  This is turned into immune-supportive vitamin A, as needed, by the body, and is especially helpful at this time of year.  Try them roasted, in their jackets, in curries, stews and soups: there are plenty of easy ways to incorporate them into a vegan diet.

Broccoli

As a member of the amazing cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli’s health benefits are far-reaching.  When it comes to nutrient content broccoli delivers high levels of vitamin C, folate, iron, beta-carotene and potassium and also a range of powerful antioxidants.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Antioxidants soak up free radicals and help protect us from disease and there are many different types.  However, broccoli contains an especially health-giving compound called indole, which has been found to protect DNA from damage, very important for prevention of serious degenerative diseases.  What’s more, it’s so easy to include in the diet. Think of it as a side or use it in stir-fries. Try it roasted with a little soy sauce or simply lightly steamed. It can be included in an array of veggie-based dishes.

Red Peppers

Often called sweet peppers (as they are ripened for longer than green peppers) or bell peppers, they contain three times as much immune-boosting vitamin C as oranges.  Plus, as with other red and brightly coloured vegetables, they are high in beta-carotene, so your immune system is really going to benefit.

Red peppers

Red peppers are incredibly versatile and can be simply grilled or stuffed with savoury rice or other grains. They are great in stir fries, chopped in salads, or grilled, skinned and pureed to be made into a delicious fat-free sauce as a perfect topping to wholemeal pasta.

Kale

Often referred to as curly kale for obvious reasons, it’s another green vegetable with superfood status. Interestingly, there are many different varieties of kale and some are not curly but smooth-leaved!

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Just like broccoli and brussels sprouts, kale is packed with indoles, but it is the richest source of calcium of all vegetables, so is great for building strong bones and teeth.  Calcium is also a calming mineral so is much needed during these stressful times. A great January vegetable, kale helps cleanse the liver and break down and eliminate ‘old’ hormones therefore helping create feelings of balance and peace.  Kale does have a slightly bitter taste so is often best served lightly grilled with some soya sauce to balance the flavours.

Spinach

Another super-healthy green vegetable, spinach is probably best eaten raw in salads as a substitute for lettuce.  It’s also very tasty in wraps with falafel or avocado and hummus. Spinach can of course be included in cooking or as a vegetable side, but you just need to use a fair number of leaves as it wilts down to very small amounts.  However, it’s delicious when served with garlic.

A bwol of fresh spinach leaves

Spinach doesn’t actually have the highest iron levels (contrary to popular myth) but it certainly scores brilliantly with its carotenoid content.  This includes both beta carotene and lutein which is excellent for eyesight.  Indeed, all carotenoids have powerful antioxidant effects so are very protective of overall health.

So, make your Veganuary the healthiest and tastiest ever – enjoy!

Stay well.

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

A 2021 note book to show goal planning

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

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

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

Set realistic goals

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

A note book with 2021 goals list

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

Prioritise mental wellbeing

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

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

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

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

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

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

Love your gut

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

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

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

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

Be honest about your weight

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

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

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

Maintain a good work/life balance

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

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

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

May 2021 bring you health, happiness and fulfilment.

Stay well.

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Walk your way to health this winter

Woman walking in a snowy woodland

With our wings being somewhat clipped at the moment, many of us have found real pleasure in walking and getting some much-needed fresh air. 

There are lots of health benefits to walking but some of them you may be surprised to hear.  And walking in the cold weather is especially beneficial.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why and how to get the most enjoyment and benefits from walking.

The benefits of walking in the cold

For those who are brave enough to undertake and appreciate the benefits of swimming in the sea during the winter months, you may already know that the cold water is incredibly beneficial for relieving stress and instilling feelings of calm.  This is because the extremely cold water stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck, responsible for pushing the body’s nervous system into a calming parasympathetic state, rather than revving up the sympathetic nervous system. This can also happen when the neck is exposed to cold generally, hence walking in the snow (without a scarf just for a bit), is a great stressbuster (and very beautiful too).

So, get out there this festive season and enjoy some frosty walks in your local area.

Here are my top tips for an enjoyable winter walk.

Walk after a meal not before

Walking soon after you’ve finished a meal really helps the body better metabolise glucose and insulin, so food is less likely to be stored as fat.  Anyone wanting to lose weight or trying to get blood sugar in balance should walk after the main meal of the day which will really help both situations. Obviously, you’ll have more energy to put into the walk rather than ‘running on empty’.

Dress appropriately

If you’re feeling up to a longer challenge, then why not plan a route that will take a few hours, pack an energising lunch, and enjoy some real time out.  Even though you’re moving and maybe climbing some hills, you can still get really cold when temperatures plummet.  The key to staying comfortable during longer walks is layering.  Always have a close-fitting base layer and then put on as many additional layers as you need and make sure you either wear or pack a waterproof jacket, just in case.  Body temperatures can drop really quickly if clothes and body get drenched so it’s important to respect the weather at this time of year, especially if you are heading for the hills.  Waterproof over-trousers might be another essential item, again depending on the terrain.

Woman in winter gear on a walk

Most body heat is lost from the head so a warm hat is another essential item and can be a real game-changer when body temperature starts to drop.  In terms of keeping the neck warm, then a scarf is important as the vagus nerve doesn’t need to be exposed to the elements for long for the beneficial effects to be felt.

Pack an energising lunch

Obviously, you’re slightly limited in how much you can pack in terms of lunch but clearly you need to re-fuel.  More calories are burnt during the cold weather as the body tries to maintain body temperature.  However, a huge feast is not needed, just a combination of protein and carbohydrate.  Great choices would be egg with a little mayo on wholemeal bread, tinned tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal pittas or haloumi and salad on sourdough bread.

Woman with a hot thermos on a wintery walk

Having a hot drink mid-walk really helps lift spirits and warm the body; it’s easy to get cold really quickly once you stop for lunch.  Pack a flask of your favourite hot drink and maybe a small, sweet treat for when energy levels start to flag at the end of the day. And don’t forget to take some water with you too.

Walking is great for boosting circulation and encouraging blood flow to the brain, burning calories, keeping fit and busting stress.  And winter walking can be even more enjoyable if you’re fully prepared. Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Vamp up the veg this Christmas!

Woman preparing christmas dinner

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

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

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

Mashed swede with nutmeg

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

A bowl of mashed swede

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

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

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

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

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

Parsnip fritters

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

A bowl of roast parsnips

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

Roasted vegetables with pesto

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

 jar of homemade pesto

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

Beetroot salad

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

Beetroot salad

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

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

Stay well.

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Five festive foods to boost your mood this Christmas

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

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

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

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

Turkey

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

Roast Christmas turkey

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

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

Mackerel

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

Mackereal pate on a slice of bread

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

Oysters

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

A plate of oysters

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

Dark chocolate

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

Dark cocolate christmas trees

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

Parsnips

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

A bwol of roast parsnips

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

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

Stay well.

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

Woman preparing christmas dinner

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

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

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

Celery

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

Chopped celery and celery stalks on a wooden chopping board

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

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

Brussels sprouts

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

Sprouts dish with ginger

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

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

Scallops

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

Cooked scallpos on a plate

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

Parsnips

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

Parsnip soup in a bowl

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

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

Goose

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

Roasted goose on a plate

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

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

Stay well.

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Winter preparation to fuel your immune system

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

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

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

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

Vitamin C

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

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

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

Iron

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

A range of foods high in iron

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

Vitamin B6

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

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

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

Zinc

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

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

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

Vitamin A

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

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

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

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

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

All images: Shutterstock

 

Five health-boosting seasonal foods for November

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A range of roasted vegetables

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

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

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

Turnips

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

Roasted turnip side dish

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

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

Beetroot

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

Roasted sliced beetroot

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

Venison

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

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

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

Oysters

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

A plate of fresh oysters

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

Apples

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

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

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

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

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

All images: Shutterstock