Heart health: five foods that support this hard-working organ

 

Organic,Raw,Rolled,Oats,In,Heart,Shape

February is often referred to as the ‘month of love’, for obvious reasons.  However, putting romance aside, we should be loving our hearts all year round. 

Our hearts beat around 100,000 times in a day, working incredibly hard for us.  And there are some great heart-loving foods which support its ongoing health.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five top foods that support your heart health.

 

Salmon

Salmon is an oily fish, rich in heart-loving, essential omega-3 fats.  The word ‘fat’ often sends alarm bells when people are talking about the heart.  However, the omega-3s are polyunsaturated, with a very different chemical structure to saturated fats, and are absolutely needed for heart health.  The body can’t make omega-3s, hence they need to be eaten regularly in the diet.  The recommended intake of oily fish is two to three portions per week.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Can’t face fish?  Then it’s important to supplement with fish oils, or to eat flaxseeds which are also rich in omega-3s. 

Oats

Oats are loaded with a type of fibre called beta-glucans.  Much research over the years has found that beta-glucans help reduce cholesterol levels.  So much so, that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has authorised this claim that can be used on beta-glucan containing foods, especially oats.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Fibre is important for the heart for many reasons. As an example, high cholesterol and fats must be excreted from the body in the stool, so having the bowels working well is also great for the heart.  With February still being rather chilly, there’s no excuse not to enjoy a delicious bowl of warming porridge.  And you can even sprinkle some flaxseeds on the top to really give your heart some love.

Lentils

Quite simply, lentils are rich in potassium, fibre, and folate, all providing support for a healthy heart. Fibre is important for keeping bowels moving and ensuring blood fats are under control.  Importantly lentils are rich in gentle soluble fibre, so they won’t irritate the digestive tract.

Red,Lentils,Dal,In,Black,Bowl,On,Dark,Slate,Table

Folate is important for a process known as ‘methylation’ which the body carries out hundreds of times every day; poor methylation is associated with higher risks of heart disease.  And potassium is really important for encouraging a healthy heart rhythm and keeping blood pressure in check.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating homemade dhal, then you’ve missed a treat!  It’s so easy to make and provides an incredible number of heart-loving nutrients too. 

Blueberries

Blueberries are often referred to as a superfood, and for very good reason. Their rich, dark colour means they’re packed with anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants which help protect the heart. Blueberries are also rich in vitamin C, another antioxidant which is very heart friendly. 

A wooden bowl of blueberries

The body is constantly bombarded with environmental free-radicals and from the food we eat.  Hence, nature has provided antioxidants to help protect the body from whatever life throws its way.  Vitamin C can also help reduce cholesterol levels.

Soya beans

Soya beans are also known to reduce cholesterol levels and raise HDL’s (the ‘good ‘cholesterol).  However, not all soya products are created equal, and the greatest benefits come from fermented sources.  In this respect, tofu and tempeh are your friends.  Whilst soya milk and yoghurts, for example, are fine, fermented products have a very beneficial effect on the gut microbiome, which in turn is great for heart health.

Soya milk and solid

It’s important to ensure that any soya products are from non-GMO sources although this isn’t an issue when choosing fermented produce.  Tofu and tempeh are also very low in fat, another plus when thinking about the heart.

So, enjoy the month of love and start introducing more heart-loving foods into your diet.

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

Five foods to banish Christmas exhaustion

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

We all know that Christmas can be exhausting! Add together festive parties, Christmas shopping, family politics, with a sprinkling of work pressures, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for feeling tired and run-down. However, what you eat during the Christmas period can have a really positive effect on energy levels.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top foods for sustaining energy throughout the Festive season.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

BANANAS

They are the ‘go-to’ snack used by athletes and anyone looking for a quick energy boost. Bananas contain a high level of sugar in the form of starch which is released fairly quickly into the bloodstream giving an energy boost. However, they’re also high in fibre which means that energy release is sustained for quite a while after eating them. Bananas are also high in energising vitamin B6.

Whole bananas and diced banana

However unripe bananas contain resistant starch which cannot be digested in the small intestine, and then ferments in the large intestine which can cause wind! So, the trick is to eat them when they’re nice and ripe and you’ll be energised throughout the day. Why not enjoy a banana with your breakfast? They’re great on any type of cereal and of course make a wonderful transportable snack.

PUMPKIN SEEDS

Another great portable snack that you can eat on their own or as part of a combination with other seeds, pumpkin seeds have an enviable nutritional profile. They contain good levels of energising iron and magnesium, plus protein which will also keep you going throughout the day.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are brilliant to have in your bag when you’re on the run or to keep in your desk drawer. For a really delicious twist, roast them with a little salt.

BEETROOT

Simply the colour of beetroot brings thoughts of Christmas! Their deep red colour is also one of the reasons for beetroot’s amazing health benefits; they’re packed with antioxidant-rich anthocyanins. Most importantly, beetroots are great for boosting energy. They encourage the production of nitric oxide which helps blood vessels to dilate, producing greater oxygen flow around the body. This effect is really noticeable in people who exercise a lot but is equally beneficial for those needing to rush around the shops!

Beetroot and chocolate brownies

Beetroot works well in sweet or savoury dishes and can be really simply served in a salad with goat’s cheese and walnuts. Equally, it makes a wonderful partner to any dish containing chocolate! Why not try creating some chocolate and beetroot brownies? Perfect for the Christmas table to stop people falling asleep after lunch!

WHOLEMEAL BAGELS

Any food that contains whole grains will also contain plenty of energising B-Vitamins and wholemeal bagels are no exception. With any white bread products the refining process in their production destroys B-vitamins and also the fibre, both of which are needed to keep energy ramped up! So try to stick to wholemeal options this Christmas.

A wholemeal bagel with ham and salad

Wholemeal bagels make a great snack with nut butter (or with some jam for really quick energy).  Alternatively, try them toasted with scrambled eggs for breakfast, with cream cheese and smoked salmon for lunch or toasted with smashed avocado and pine nuts. Delicious!

SWEET POTATOES

Packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates, sweet potatoes provide sustained energy to keep you going throughout Christmas. Despite their sweetness, sweet potatoes are a starchy vegetable and supply about the same number of calories as new potatoes (around 84 calories per 100 grams).

A sweet potato cut in hasselback style on wooden board

Sweet potatoes make a delicious and quick lunch or dinner-time meal in a jacket with a topping of prawns, baked beans or tuna. The best news is that they have a really positive effect on blood sugar levels (unlike white potatoes in their jackets), which means energy levels will be constant and hopefully you won’t feel that all-too common afternoon energy slump.

So eat for energy this festive season and you’ll still be smiling (and awake) to enjoy the Christmas holidays.

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The five best nutrients for eye health

Close up of woman's eyes

What we eat can have a massive impact on the health of our eyes. In fact, so key is vitamin A to the health of the retina of the eye, it’s actually called retinol! Excessive exposure to the sun, without wearing sunglasses, smoking, alcohol and a diet high in refined foods can all adversely affect eyesight.

The good news is that there’s plenty of nutrients that love the eyes and can really help.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five eye nutrients.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

VITAMIN A

Top of the class has to be vitamin A because it’s so key for vision (especially night vision) and all-round good eye health. Vitamin A is only found in animal produce, with liver claiming the top spot. Full-fat dairy produce and eggs are also great sources. However, the body also makes vitamin A as it’s needed from the carotenoid, beta-carotene. It’s the yellow, orange and green pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their bright colours. Indeed, it’s also the reason for the old wives’ tale that ‘carrots help you to see in the dark’.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

The good news is that if you’re vegetarian, as long as you’re eating colourful fruits and vegetables such as peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale, melon and mango, for example, then you’ll be getting your daily dose of vitamin A.

LUTEIN

There are a number of other carotenoids, alongside beta-carotene, which are equally valuable for healthy eyes, one of these being lutein. Just like beta-carotene, it’s a powerful antioxidant, so it can protect the eyes from ageing and free radical damage generally.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

However, lutein, which is especially rich in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, helps protect the eyes from damaging blue light that’s emitted in large amounts from electronic devices. Have you found your eyesight deteriorating the more you sit at a computer? You need to make sure you’re eating something green every day to help protect your eyesight.

ANTHOCYANINS

What are they? In simple terms they’re a group of plant compounds that are very high in antioxidants, protecting the eye from free radical damage, primarily from sunlight, poor diet and smoking. Specifically, anthocyanins help maintain the health of the blood vessels and cornea in the eye.

A pile of blueberries with a pair of glasses on top

Anthocyanins are high in ‘blue’ fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and bilberries. Although bilberries are not eaten as much as other blue fruits, during the Second World War fighter pilots were made to eat bilberry jam because it was found that their eyesight (particularly night vision) improved enormously.

Certainly all these blue berries are a great ‘go-to’ snack or a fabulous asset to your morning porridge or muesli.

OMEGA-3 FATS

This group of fatty acids are essential within the diet as the body can’t make them. They’re part of our cellular make up and are also part of the eye structure. Indeed, so important are they for eye health that nature cleverly includes DHA (another omega-3 fat) in breast milk.

Omega-3s may also protect eyes from the very common condition of macular degeneration, which is a gradual condition that tends to affect older people. They can also help prevent dry eyes – another side-effect of looking at computer and other electronic screens.

A range of foods high in Omega 3 fats

Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, but nuts and seeds (especially flaxseeds) are also rich sources. Try to make them a part of your daily diet and your eyes will shine brightly.

SEAWEED

Very much in favour right now, there are some good reasons for seaweed gaining so much in popularity. It’s a rich source of nutrients generally, but also those specifically involved with eye health such as zinc, vitamin A and the essential omegas.

Seaweed is a general name given to a huge number of algae and marine life. Indeed, most seaweed that you can now buy in supermarkets will likely contain a variety. Additionally, dried seaweed can easily be added to stews, soups, salads or munched on as a snack.

Close up of edible seaweed on a plate

As well as its impressive array of nutrients, it has an anti-inflammatory effect and has the potential to help prevent any complications that may occur after cataract surgery; a common operation, particularly in the elderly which helps restore good eyesight.

As you can see, nature has provided us with the wonderful power of sight but has also delivered amazing nutrients to help protect eyesight into old age.

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