The importance of being kind: to others and to yourself

Hands surrounding a heart shaped world globe to represent kindness

Most of us try to be kind to others especially our partners, family and friends most of the time. However, within our stressful lives, we’re often so busy making sure everyone else is ok, we forget to think about ourselves. 

Being kind to yourself is so important for overall health and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some everyday ways you can bring more kindness into your life.

 

Be kind nutritionally

Your body will reward you with good health if you show it some love and kindness.  Be honest with yourself; are you simply eating to live, often on the run, without thinking about putting the right fuel into the body?  Every mealtime is an opportunity to take in precious nutrients the body needs to keep well. Right now, during the winter months, it’s also important to be looking after the immune system.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Think about colour variety on your plate; that will ensure you have lots of different nutrients from colourful fruits and vegetables.  Cook up some warming winter soups which will last a few days.  You don’t need to overthink them – just throw in as many vegetables as you’ve got in the fridge (frozen is good too).  You can also add some beans, lentils or barley to give them ‘bulk’.  A thick soup is a very nutritious meal all-in-one.

Be kind to the environment

Thinking about the environment and cutting down on the amount of animal produce you consume is also an act of kindness to yourself.  Being completely vegan is not necessarily a good idea for health as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and it certainly doesn’t suit everyone.  However, reducing intake of animal produce, and including more plant-based foods, is great for both your health and the environment.

A range of milks made from nuts

Cow’s milk can cause inflammation in the body, especially in people with existing eczema, asthma or joint issues.  Dairy produce can also disrupt hormones.  Therefore, try to include plant-based milks such as almond, coconut, soya, hazelnut and oat.  Equally, red meat is high in saturated fat and quite tough on the digestion, so reduce the amount you’re eating. For protein foods, choose sustainably sourced fish, beans, soya produce, organic poultry and eggs.

Be kind to your soul

Do things that make your heart sing!  We can sometimes get so entrenched in everyday life that we forget to enjoy ourselves!  Long work hours and busy lives leaves little time for ‘play’.  However, it’s important to have time doing what you love and that genuinely feeds your soul.  Why not take up a new hobby, something you’ve always wanted to try, however diverse that may be?

Close up of a tap dancer to represent new hobbies

Perhaps it’s joining a singing group or doing something creative; there’s no end of choices.  Start by writing a list and then work your way through.

Be kind to others

If you choose to be anything, choose to be kind. There’s a famous saying: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’.  Not everyone is good and kind in this world but if you set your intention to be kind to others, you will be rewarded, and the right people will gravitate towards you.  You know how pleasurable it feels when you do something good for someone, however small, to help them through their day. And it can make a real difference to how someone feels.

A group of happy volunteers

Why not think about volunteering?  It can bring so many rewards and you often learn new skills on the way.

Be kind to your mind

Spending hours on social media is not being kind to your mind.  In fact, it can be very disruptive emotionally.  Plus, being exposed to blue light emitted from electronic devices, upsets sleep patterns. Even using a tablet to read a novel is not ideal if your overall exposure to devices goes into many hours a day.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Practicing meditation (and it does take practise) is one of the best things you can ever do for your mind.  Just like the body, the mind needs time to rest. It seems to be getting more of challenge to quieten the brain.  However, once you’ve mastered it, you only need to find around 20 minutes a day to meditate.  The results will be astounding, and you’ll sleep better and more peacefully for sure.

Being kind to yourself and others comes in many different forms but actively practising this in all areas of your life will be uplifting and rewarding for you and those around you.

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Top five foods to boost your libido this Valentine’s Day

A couple's feet sticking out of the duvet to represent sex and libido

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that it’s Valentine’s Day.  Those with someone special in their life will want to make it as memorable as ever; this means getting in the mood!

What we eat can have a big impact on how we feel and can also help improve our sex lives.

 Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourite libido-boosting foods – and some may surprise you!

Watermelon

Not only is watermelon super nutritious, it will get your juices flowing.  As well as being a tasty fruit, watermelon also contains an amino acid called L-citrulline which is turned into nitric oxide.  This dilates blood vessels and allows blood flow around the body, especially to the sex organs.  L-citrulline is also used in supplements to help boost libido.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Additionally, watermelon is loaded with antioxidants, including vitamin C, to help protect against the ageing process. This helps banish and prevent annoying wrinkles and allows you to glow all through Valentine’s Day!  Try to eat some watermelon regularly; it makes a really enjoyable snack.

Oysters

Often the top of everyone’s list when it comes to libido, oysters are frequently referred to as an aphrodisiac.  This is primarily due to them containing high levels of the mineral zinc, needed to help produce testosterone and essential for fertility and reproduction.

A plate of fresh oysters

Oysters also deliver a decadent treat and make a great starter is you’re hoping to impress your partner; serve them with plenty of fresh lemon and sprinkle with Worcester sauce to further add some spice to your meal and your evening!

Chocolate

Maybe not such a surprise about this one!  Whilst most people love chocolate and see it as a treat, it’s not just the taste that makes us feel good.  Research shows it has been found to increase levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.

Chocolate covered strawberries

Importantly, eating chocolate raises levels of a compound called phenylethylamine, which we naturally produce when in love.  Even better, chocolate is really high in plant polyphenols which naturally help blood flow and this also means blood flow gets to the parts it’s needed most!

Make sure chocolate is somewhere on the menu this Valentine’s Day and you can enjoy it completely guilt-free!

Avocados

The Aztecs apparently named avocados “the testicle tree”! Whilst this is not a well-known fact, the Aztecs were certainly on to something good when they realised that avocados could boost libido.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

They are high in zinc which we know is essential for fertility and reproduction but also vitamin E which helps blood flow generally around the body.  Plus, vitamin E is great for the skin, so you’ll certainly get that glow this Valentine’s Day and particularly if you eat them regularly in the diet.  They are delicious mixed with lemon juice and some salad leaves in a wholemeal pitta, making an easy lunchtime nutrient-booster.

You might also want to think about some guacamole as a mood-boosting starter to your romantic Valentine’s meal?

Oily fish

Sardines, salmon and mackerel are all rich sources of the essential omega-3 fats.  They’re essential because the body can’t make them, so they need to be eaten regularly in the diet. They’re also vitally important for hormone balance, therefore libido.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help keep the blood thin and free-flowing which will encourage blood flow to the sexual organs.  Don’t worry if oily fish isn’t your bag: you can still get plenty of these essential omegas from eating pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.

These foods might not be the ideal choices for your Valentine’s Day meal but if you include them regularly in the diet, you’ll hopefully keep that spark going.

So, the scene is now set for the perfect nutritional start to your Valentine’s Day – enjoy!

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Taking care of your mind matters: top nutrition and wellbeing advice for better emotional health

Two strawberries and a banana placed to make a smiley face

There’s much coverage in the Press and on social media about the importance of talking openly about mental health, and rightly so: there should be no stigma around the topic. Interestingly, getting your diet right can also be an important contributor to good emotional health.

So how can we help ourselves and look after our mental wellbeing through nutrition? 

This Time to Talk Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition and wellbeing tips for a happier mind.

Ditch the sugar

There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Eating foods, namely sugar, with no nutritional value and which deplete nutrients, should be avoided.  Most importantly, sugar can be something that many people are addicted to.  Like any addictive substance, it has side effects, one of them being low mood.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Being addicted to fizzy drinks, even the diet kind is not uncommon.  Many people are drinking between five and ten cans daily.  Not only does this deplete nutrients but sugar or sweeteners upset brain chemistry, both of which can cause low mood, irritability and lack of concentration.  They also upset blood sugar balance, leading to low energy levels and weight gain. Yes, even diet drinks can make you put on weight. Sugar, in all its forms, needs to be moderated as much as possible if you want to balance your mood.

Good mood foods

Certain foods can contribute to a much happier mood. Nutrient-dense foods contain key vitamins and minerals needed to produce the brain’s happy hormones and neurotransmitters.  Key to this are the B-vitamins which are also needed for a balanced nervous system.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

The good news is that B-vitamins are widely available in many foods including whole grains, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and dark leafy vegetables.  Plus, bananas are a really good source of vitamin B6, a great transportable snack.

Protein-rich foods including chicken and turkey, eggs, soya products, as well as oats are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin.  Try to include protein at every mealtime for best effects.

Get more of the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, it is also the sunshine vitamin because it plays an important role in balancing your mood. Whilst vitamin D is essential for bones, teeth and a healthy immune system, deficiency will cause low mood, even depression.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

During the darker, winter months, the only way to get enough is to take a daily supplement: even foods which contain Vitamin D deliver very little. Public Health England recommends a minimum supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily for everyone. Taking a vitamin D supplement daily is a really easy way of boosting mood naturally.

Get talking

We are all becoming more aware of the increased prevalence of emotional wellbeing issues and the fact it’s being more widely talked in general about can make a real difference to people suffering.  It’s always good to try and talk to a family member or close friend if you are feeling low or anxious. And it’s always good to talk to someone you know who you think may be having challenges.

Two women talking about mental health

Whilst many people bottle up their feelings, this can often make matters worse.  Putting on a ‘brave face’ and keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ might have been the norm years ago, but it can certainly cause more problems than it solves.

Getting outside professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist can provide much-needed support.  Most will offer a free initial session because it’s important to feel comfortable: it’s well worth investing the time to find the right person to help you.

Try some happy herbs

As we know, Traditional Herbal Remedies (or licensed herbal medicines) can be incredibly powerful and make a real improvement to many health complaints.  Top of the list for low mood is St John’s Wort which helps raise serotonin levels.  It can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops but always look out for Licensed Medicinal Herbs with the ‘THR’ symbol.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Herbs don’t work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs, so you may need to wait two to three weeks before noticing improvements, but it’s certainly worth trying the natural approach.

Additionally, the herb passionflower is incredibly calming.  Anxiety often accompanies low mood, and the two herbs work very well together.  Passionflower tends to work faster and can also be used before a stressful event as well as for longer term.

So, make looking after your emotional wellbeing a top priority during 2020.

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It’s all about balance: how to have your best year yet

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

It’s all about balance – an often-used expression but it’s so appropriate when we’re talking about diet and lifestyle.  The body likes to be in a state of equilibrium, which is why it has so many in-built systems to keep it this way. 

However, we don’t always look after our bodies as well as we should, and we can upset the balance quite easily.

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, talks about how to better balance both your diet and lifestyle and have your best year yet!

Feast don’t fad

Well, maybe not a total blowout!  But the point here is to avoid fad diets, especially ones that advocate strict calorie restriction.  We know the body likes to be balanced and if it thinks it’s going to starve it will slow metabolism down to preserve energy stores.

It is true that you will lose weight initially but it’s not sustainable to live feeling permanently hungry. Research suggests weight goes back on once ‘normal’ eating is resumed, and sometimes even more!

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

If you’re still struggling to shift those excess pounds from Christmas, then key advice is to be mindful of portion sizes.  Stick to three balanced meals a day and avoid snacking, if possible, in-between.  This ensures the body can enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion, take in nutrients and avoid insulin spikes which ultimately lead to fat being deposited.

A range of high protein foods

Keep protein levels high at every meal, whether this is from fish, meat, poultry, eggs, soya, dairy, beans or nuts.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s protein that keeps you feeling fuller for longer, not carbs.  Protein keeps blood sugar levels balanced so energy will also be sustained.

A balanced meal of chicken, rice and vegetables

Think about the quantities on your plate too; if it’s piled high, it’s too much.  The protein source should be about the size of your outstretched palm (think about a chicken breast) and carbohydrate no bigger than a fist. And then fill the rest of your plate with nutrient-rich vegetables. Keep the rules simple: try to cook ‘from scratch’ (using frozen fruit and veg is fine) and banish nutrient-poor cakes, biscuits and pastries as much as possible.

Balance your mind

If you’re rushing around in a constant state of stress then it’s going to take its toll sooner or later.  The body has amazing powers of adaptation so many people continue living their life this way for years.  However, at some point the body loses tolerance and you can fall into what’s called adrenal exhaustion. This is when the adrenal glands secreting our stress hormones, such as cortisol, can’t take any more.

Close up on woman meditating in shadow with sunset background

Clearly, it’s difficult to avoid all stress in your life – we all work and play hard.  However, be strict with yourself.  Even taking 20-minutes out of every day with a calming app can make a huge difference.  You’ll feel refreshed afterwards and you’ll sleep better at night.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

It’s also good to put some mental boundaries in place too.  Instead of going to bed with all your worries on top of you, write them down before bedtime and visualise a block.  Tell yourself that it is tomorrow’s issue, not for worrying about right now.  If you need help with better balancing your mind then, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or neuro linguistic programming (NLP) are very effective.

Balance your lifestyle

Once you feel more balanced in your thought processes, then you’ll feel better equipped to tackle any issues in your life that need resolving and might be sending you off balance.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

The human body evolved to be active and it doesn’t like being sedentary.  Blood flow to the brain is so much better too when you’re active, not to mention the feel-good endorphins that are released, giving you an extra boost.  Just a brisk walk around the block every day will help. Find an activity you enjoy and are happy to do several times a week – you are much more likely to stay active if you’re doing something you love.

CLose up of woman reading a book relaxing by the fireplace

If you work long hours, or there’s lots of stress in your home life, you need to be able to take yourself out of this at regular intervals.  Whether that’s learning a new skill, reading a book, going for a walk, listening to a Ted talk or joining a networking group, there’s no end of available options.  Plus, try to take regular holidays, even for short breaks.  Whilst you might not necessarily be feeling the negative effects of long-term stress right now, managing this on a daily basis will put you in the best position to deal with it when it comes along.

So, resolve to be better balanced in all areas of your life in 2020!

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Banish the January blues: top nutrition and lifestyle tips for beating low mood

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The month of January can make us feel pretty glum. This is mainly because the weather is generally gloomy, bank balances are depleted after Christmas, colds and flu take hold and all of this can make us often feel low. 

The good news is that there are plenty of nutrients and herbs that can help lift your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips this Blue Monday.

What effects our mood?

Mood and motivation are largely determined by serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’.  Serotonin acts as both a hormone and a brain neurotransmitter and it’s pretty important when it comes to thinking about emotional wellbeing.

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

Interestingly most serotonin is produced in the gut, therefore what goes on in the digestive system is inextricably linked to how we feel. Certain nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and the B vitamins are all needed to help in its production.  It also uses the amino acid tryptophan (a protein) to get it working. All this means there are plenty of things we can do to help make sure serotonin production is as good as it can be.

Get the basics right

Our internal systems need to be in good working order for us to feel happy and motivated, not just because of serotonin production but also to prevent any toxins building up, which can make us feel sluggish.  A good balance of friendly bacteria and plenty of fibre are key.

A range of wholegrain foods

Live natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, Jerusalem artichokes (in season right now), green tea and whole grain foods such as oats are great for feeding the good bacteria. They also help keep everything moving through the digestive tract smoothly.

Eat protein at every meal

Amino acids, which make up proteins, are found in foods containing protein such as meat, eggs, poultry, fish, soy, dairy, nut and beans.  The amino acid tryptophan is found in many of these foods and the levels of each of the amino acids varies in different foods.

A range of foods containing protein

In order not to over-complicate matters, the best advice is to ensure you’re eating protein at every meal. This way you’ll be eating tryptophan, plus you’ll be keeping blood sugar levels in good balance, which is essential for maintaining concentration, energy and a brighter mood throughout the day.

Try some herbal helpers

When it comes to health, herbs are very powerful: we can often forget just what a difference these naturally occurring plants can make to health.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Top of the list for helping lift low mood is the herb St John’s wort.  It has been widely researched over the years and is now found on supermarket and health food shop shelves as a licensed herbal medicine, denoted by the Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) mark, meaning its safety and efficacy is assured.

As with all herbs, their exact mode of action is still a bit of a mystery, but research has shown that it helps raise serotonin levels.  It can take about three weeks to work but it’s well worth sticking with it because it’s very effective if you’re feeling down.

Ramp up your nutrients

To ensure optimal production, serotonin also needs a helping hand from our diet. Vitamin C is key in this respect and the good news is that it’s found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts.  Top of the list, however, are red peppers, kiwis, papaya, green leafy veg and all citrus fruits, so add some colour to your plate at every meal or snack.

A range of fruits and vegetables

The mineral zinc is another hard-working nutrient, also needed for healthy immunity, but essential for good brain function and mood.  Meat, shellfish (especially oysters), eggs, nut, seeds and dairy produce are all high in zinc so include them regularly in your meal planning.

Close up of a lobster, oysters and prawns to represent shellfish

Vitamin B6 also works in harmony with zinc and vitamin C, keeping your mood in check and helping produce serotonin. Bananas make a great snack, keep energy levels on track and are high in vitamin B6 so try to eat about four a week.  Additionally, dark leafy greens, oranges, beans and fortified cereals are great choices for an extra boost of Vitamin B6.

So, with a little dietary and herbal help you can hopefully keep smiling your way through the month and beyond.

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The truth about fruit and sugar

A range of fruits

Sometimes celebrated, other times revered, there is widespread confusion within the general population about whether eating a lot of fruit is healthy or not.   

Fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars – glucose and fructose. So, is eating fruit going to exacerbate our ever-growing obesity crisis? And which are the best fruits for us to eat?

With Sugar Awareness Week around the corner, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explodes some of the fruit myths and looks at what’s good and what’s not.

The good

To be clear, fruit contains some amazing health benefits.  All fruits contain lots of vitamin C, one of our hardest-working vitamins.  Vitamin C is essential for many body functions but is key in the health of the immune system, the skin and formation and repair of muscle.

Additionally, fruits contain a whole range of plant compounds with varying health benefits.  For starters, they’re very high in antioxidants – essential for helping prevent degenerative diseases and supporting the immune system.  Watermelons, for example, contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruits.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Fruits contain other plant compounds called anthocyanins which are also incredibly powerful antioxidants and supportive of all body systems.  It’s all about the colour and the darker the colours, the more anthocyanins the fruit provides.  Blueberries have championed the super-fruit title, partly because their dark colour makes them very rich in these plant compounds. Blackberries and blackcurrants have the same qualities.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Another wonderful benefit to eating fruit is it contains plenty of essential fibre.  In our heavily processed western diet, fibre is sadly lacking.  We all need around 30 grams of fibre daily (bananas have around 3 grams), in order to keep the bowel working efficiently.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Some fruits contain some more unusual health benefits.  For example, pineapples contain bromelain which is an effective protein digester so is often used as a digestive enzyme.  Plus, bromelain is a great anti-inflammatory so will help ease painful, inflamed joints.  Apples contain plenty of quercetin, a natural antihistamine, so help fight allergic reactions.

The not so good

There is of course a downside to eating too much fruit and that is its sugar content.  However, this isn’t all bad news.  Fruit contains high levels of a fruit sugar called fructose.  The chemical structure of fructose is more complex that that of simple glucose, and it must be broken down in the liver.  This means you don’t necessarily get a huge sugar ‘hit’ when you eat certain fruits. Cranberries, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and clementines, for example, are all low in sugar overall.

a punnet of strawberries

It all depends on the fruits you eat. They vary in how much fibre they contain (this slows down blood sugar rushes), their balance of fructose and glucose, plus their total fructose levels.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Figs, grapes, dates and prunes (dried plums) have some of the highest sugar content.  But this needs to be balanced against their other benefits: prunes, for example, contain some of the highest antioxidant levels per 100 grams of all fruits.

As with everything in life, it’s all about balance.

The not too bad at all!

The body needs a constant supply of energy and eating fruit provides a healthy way of achieving this, due to its high carbohydrate content.  When it comes to blood sugar, it’s a balancing act. Eating carbohydrate with protein will slow down the sugar rush, making energy distribution more sustained.  For example, eating some sliced apple with a few almonds is a perfect afternoon snack when you’re feeling energy levels starting to flag. Additionally, eating fruit with some fat and fibre slows down its absorption; nut butter with sliced banana on wholemeal toast is an incredibly easy and sustaining breakfast option.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Interestingly, nature also demonstrated this concept well with the avocado.  Categorised as a fruit, avocado is high in both the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fibre.  Avocados are incredibly health-giving. It makes a brilliant breakfast on toast on its own or with egg or smoked salmon. They’ll certainly keep you feeling full all through the morning.

Fruit is certainly not the enemy.  Within a healthy, balanced diet, fruit will provide amazing health benefits without too much damage to the waistline (or teeth!)

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Veganuary: how to ramp up your vegan diet

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

Unless you’ve been hiding under a bush, you’ll be very aware that it’s Veganuary; in other words, Vegan January! Eating a plant-based diet provides many health benefits but it is important to make sure you are getting everything you need.

Whether you’re going vegan for the month of January, are flexibly vegan or have always eaten that way, then now is a great time to ensure your diet is delivering all the essential nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at how to get your vegan diet in great shape.

Protein is king

Protein is an essential macro nutrient. It’s needed for maintaining healthy bones, joint and muscles, and plays a key role in the immune system. It is also essential for hormone production.  Without enough protein, the body literally starts to break down.

Protein from animal sources contains all the essential amino acids the body can’t make. Some vegetable sources don’t contain all these amino acids, or they’re low in some of them.  However, the great news is that soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh, and quinoa are complete protein sources. Rice and beans can also be combined to deliver the full quota. The body doesn’t need to have all nine essential aminos at every meal but there should be an overall balance ideally.

A pile of different beans and pulses

Make sure you’re eating some protein at every meal – there are loads of great choices.  Any type of bean, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, soy, hemp and chia seeds are all healthy, low fat options.Don’t over promise yourself

Some fats are essential

Whilst it’s important not to overdo foods high in saturated fats such as butter and meat (good to remember if you’re a ‘flexi’ vegan), the body needs the essential omega-3s and 6s.  These are essential for many body functions including a healthy heart, skin, brain, muscles, eyes and hormones.  Omega 6 fats are often easier to obtain because they’re found in a variety of vegetable oils (including soy), nuts and seeds.

A bowl of walnuts

However, it’s the omega-3s that are frequently deficient in so many western diets, partly because the best source is from oily fish which many people don’t like and obviously vegans don’t eat.  However, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are all good sources of omega-3s so make sure they’re on the menu every day in some way.

Supplement with vitamin B12

This vitamin is the only one that can’t be found in any vegetable sources so ideally needs to be supplemented if you’re vegan.  Many soy products and cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 so do keep a watchful eye on labels.

Vitamin B12 is essential for preventing pernicious anaemia which isn’t dissimilar to iron-deficient anaemia.  The bottom line is that if you’re deficient in B12, energy levels will be noticeably low, and your nervous system and brain won’t function at their best.

Keep a watch on iron intake

Unlike vitamin B12, iron is found in many vegetable sources including nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and fortified grain products.  Whilst the most usable source of iron is from meat, vegetable sources are much better absorbed when eaten alongside some vitamin C.  For example, half a glass of orange juice with your morning fortified cereal is a great way of boosting iron levels.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The only way of knowing for sure if iron levels are low is to get the doctor to perform a serum ferritin blood test.  It’s always worth having this checked if you’re feeling unusually tired or you find you’re out of breath even doing light exercise.  Otherwise, include the above vegan sources of iron as much as possible in your diet.

Load up on orange and red vegetables

Why? Because these colourful fruits and vegetables have the highest amounts of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed by the body.  Just like vitamin B12, vitamin A is only found in animal sources. However, this doesn’t generally present any problems because the body produces what it needs if enough beta-carotene is being consumed.

A range of orange vegetables

Many colourful fruits and vegetables contain pro-vitamin A beta carotene. However, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mango, apricots and carrots are the best choices.

There are many health benefits to following a vegan diet.  You can make it even healthier by taking care of these watchpoints.

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Start the year right: how to stay on track in 2020

Woman with arms in the air with sunrise background and the number 2020 to represent the new year

If you’re like so many people who make New Year’s resolutions, often at the stroke of midnight when recollection can be a little hazy, you’re certainly not alone!  However, why not make your resolutions for next year slightly in advance and start the new year in the right frame of mind?

You’re much more likely to stick to them and your diet and lifestyle habits will stay on track.

Here are Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer’s five top tips for starting the year right.

Don’t over promise yourself

New Year’s resolutions need to be doable and sustainable.  For example, if you say you’re going to lose eight kilos by the end of January, this may be possible if you starve yourself (not advised), but then you’ll end up putting all the weight back on (and more) which will be very demotivating.

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

The key to sustained weight loss is slow and steady – around a kilo a week is good.  If you’ve been eating lots of sugary and calorie-laden snacks over the Christmas period, then simply cutting back on these and eating three well-balanced meals a day is going to make a huge difference.  Fad diets don’t work because they’re not sustainable. They lead to nutrient deficiencies and energy dips, plus being ravenously hungry sets you up for failure.

Plug your nutrient gaps

The body has amazing powers of adaptation.  Most of us push ourselves hard, fail to adequately replenish lost nutrients, but somehow the body keeps going.  However, at some point, the body will start to complain, and this can happen in many ways that can adversely affect our health.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

People often comment they have felt so bad for so long they can’t remember what it’s like to feel good.  Much of this is down to nutrient depletion.  The body is a machine that needs to be properly fuelled with nutrient-rich food.  Resolve to make each meal count in 2020.  Look at the colour on your plate – the variety gives a good indication of nutrient levels.  Be wary of any processed foods; the closer a food is eaten to its natural state, the more nutrients you’ll be consuming.

Move more

If you’re already into a good exercise routine, then well done!  However, many people don’t reach even the minimal recommend levels of exercise (five times a week for at least 30 minutes).  Exercise is crucial for health; it supports the immune system and it’s great for the heart and circulation. Exercise also stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins and it helps with weight management and preventing type 2 diabetes.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

Importantly, don’t set yourself up to fail.  If you hate the gym, that’s never going to change so don’t resolve to start a gym programme.  Instead, plan an exercise programme you’ll enjoy, even if it’s simply taking more walks, or starting cycling.  There’s no limit to options for exercise.  Even working from a stand-up desk is better for you than sitting down all day.

Limit screen time

Our 24/7 lifestyles with a never-ending stream of emails, messages and social media activity is not great for emotional wellbeing, let alone stress.  If you’re ‘addicted’ to social media, then why not resolve to manage the time you’re engaged with it and set yourself limits. There’s lots of research to suggest that looking at social media too much can contribute to feelings of anxiety and low mood.

Woman in bed looking at her mobile phone

If your workload is high and emails are non-stop, then you need to put some time management in place.  If work colleagues are set on sending emails around the clock, resolve to be off-line for adequate periods.  There needs to be a break between work and non-work-related activities for the brain to have some downtime.

Be optimally hydrated

The simplest changes can sometimes make an enormous difference to how we look and feel.  None more so than ensuring the body is sufficiently hydrated.  We often forget to drink water during the winter months when it’s cold outside.  However, the body still needs at least six to eight glasses of water daily – more if you’re taking regular exercise. As an indicator, your urine should be clear during the day.

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

However, if plain water’s not your thing, then liven it up with some fresh lemon and crushed ginger.  Herbal and fruit teas also count towards your hydration targets, as do fruits and vegetables.

Caffeinated teas and coffee are not great at hydrating, partly because coffee tends to work as a diuretic and tea is high in tannins which can stop the absorption of essential minerals.  Resolve to ditch the stimulants as much as possible and hydrate optimally.  Your heath and skin will thank you for it.

If you start the year right, without too many wild expectations, you’re much more likely to be hitting your goals throughout the year – and at the end of the year too!

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How to have a happy and healthy Christmas: top wellness and nutrition tips

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

With Christmas just around the corner, and most people still rushing around trying to prepare, it’s no wonder that many of us go down with a nasty bug or cold just as the big day arrives. 

It’s an all too common problem and the key to keeping well this Christmas is prevention.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five tips to keep you feeling happy and healthy this Christmas.

Support your immunity

The immune system takes a battering at this time of year.  It’s under threat from a wealth of bugs from crowded, centrally heated spaces with poor ventilation and less access to fresh air. Busy shops, public transport and burning the candle at both ends all take their toll.  However, it’s possible to protect yourself against all these nasties.

Two glasses of berry smoothies

Even if your usual healthy diet has gone awry during party season, try to make sure you’re taking in as many immune-boosting nutrients as possible.  One of the easiest ways of doing this is to make up a juice or smoothie in the morning. Fruits and vegetables are all loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene and many other immune-boosting antioxidants.  Plus you can add ginger, also great for the immune system, to many different juices or smoothie recipes.  Beetroot, apple, berries, bananas, avocado, mango, carrot, pear, spinach – the list goes on.  Just throw in your favourites, the more the merrier.  Even if you only manage this, it will really boost your nutrient levels.

Manage your stress levels

High stress levels can really impact on the immune system and energy levels.  This is because high cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, dampens the body’s normal inflammatory response, which is one of the ways the immune system does its job. High cortisol also reduces production of the body’s white blood cells that kill off unwanted invaders.

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

If you’re feeling wrung out right now, then try taking the herb Rhodiola.  It’s known as an adaptogen, meaning it adapts to what’s going on in your body. It can really help calm feelings of stress and anxiety. Take it in the mornings and you’ll get a boost of energy too!

Keep sugar to a minimum

Sugar is the immune system’s enemy. Part of the reason is that high sugar levels stop the body utilising vitamin C (our main immune-boosting nutrient) in the right way.  Plus, it stops the body fighting off infections as it should. Sugar is sugar in all its forms will all have a detrimental effect on immunity. This includes honey, artificial sweeteners, natural fruit juices and processed, sugary foods and snacks.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

Instead load up on immune-boosting foods (alongside your morning juice or smoothie).  Mushrooms, natural yoghurt, whole grains, garlic and chicken soup are all great choices.

Take time for relaxation

It’s amazing how much less stressed you feel when you take even a short time away from everything and enjoy some relaxation.  Most importantly, this can have a really positive effect on stress levels, which in turn helps the immune system.

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candles

Even 20 minutes each day can make all the difference.  There are so many relaxation apps available which you can download or why not just take time out to read a book.  Watching TV or looking at your phone just before bed are not conducive to relaxation as they simulate the brain, plus their blue light may prevent you from sleeping well.

Get some fresh air

The wintry weather makes us all huddle indoors, meaning germs are more likely to spread.  But breathing fresh air, perhaps taking a brisk walk, can feel wonderfully restorative.  Indeed, moderate exercise helps stimulate the immune system.

MOther and child on her back dressed up in hats and scarves on a winter walk in the snow

Even if you must endure some wind and rain, the health benefits will be worth it.  If you enjoy walking, there are many groups you can join if you want some company.  If you climb a few hills, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing scenery as well; the world looks very different from up high.

So, sail through Christmas and New Year in the best of health with these easy lifestyle tips – enjoy!

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Three of the healthiest soups you can make this winter

A range of bowls of soup

The combination of cold, damp weather and many seasonal bugs flying around makes us feel the need to serve up some deliciously tasty, healthy and warming soups.

There are plenty of souper (!) ingredients you can add to really give your health and nutrition a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top three recipes for some of the healthiest soups around!

Chicken broth for immunity

The immune system is under pressure at this time of year but chicken broth can really help protect the body from colds and flu that are so prevalent right now.

Primarily, the immune system needs plenty of quality protein; immunoglobulins and antibodies that form a large part of the immune system are protein based.  Plus, various research studies have shown that chicken soup uprates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells, called neutrophils.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

The main ingredients for this recipe, are, of course, chicken, plus sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery, parsley, onions and some salt and pepper for seasoning.  Sweet potatoes and carrots are loaded with Vitamin C and beta-carotene that’s converted into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed. Parsley is great for liver detoxification. Onions contain quercetin which is a natural anti histamine which can help fight off the sneezes, and garlic contains plenty of immune-boosting compounds.

One of the best reasons for making chicken broth is that it’s so simple.  The healthiest way of cooking it is to boil up the bones from a cooked chicken for the stock base.  You will then benefit from the collagen and minerals stored in the bones as well as enjoying a tastier stock. Simply fry off the vegetables and add everything to the pot.  It’s also a recipe that can be put into the slow cooker in the morning and it will be ready for later in the day.

Boost your energy with bean soup

At this busy time of year, we need as much energy as possible!  This is where a chunky mixed bean soup can really boost energy levels. Beans are high in energy-boosting B vitamins and protein.  For an additional boost add some black beans. They are packed with antioxidants which support the immune system.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

The easiest way of cooking mixed bean soup is to use a couple of tins of mixed beans and add plenty of seasoning and flavours.  Think onions, carrots, celery, garlic and cumin. These are a great combination, adding additional nutrients and flavour, and are all foods that are plentiful at this time of year.  Whilst cumin really adds some zest to the soup, it’s also a great spice for the immune system and also helps digestion.

This hearty soup makes a really good lunch time dish as it will boost energy levels throughout the afternoon, and will help avoid the 3 pm dip.  Beans are low on the glycaemic index as well which means they deliver energy in a slow and sustained way – exactly what we need!

Soothe digestion with broccoli soup

Rich, festive food and maybe a few too many glasses of your favourite tipple at this time of year can often leave the digestion feeling slightly jaded.  Foods high in saturated fats or sugar-laden cakes and pastries cause inflammation throughout the digestive tract and can also makes digestion sluggish, leading to constipation.

Broccoli really is a super food and has amazing anti-inflammatory properties. It is also high in fibre, so it helps keep everything moving through the digestive tract.

A bowl of broccoli soup

Broccoli soup couldn’t be easier to prepare and needs just a few ingredients; garlic, chicken stock, olive oil and of course, broccoli are all that’s required.  Garlic has so many health benefits which is the reason it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years. It’s also high in antioxidants which means it will help dampen down any inflammation within the digestive tract.

Simply fry the garlic, add the broccoli and stock and cook until really soft.  This soup is definitely best put through the blender to make a thick, warming and most importantly, soothing soup.

So why not treat yourself to some health-boosting delicious soups this season – they’ll also make a great lunch for a big family this Christmas.

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