Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

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However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.

Zinc

Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.

Magnesium

The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.

 

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

 

 

Nutritious seasonal eats this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

With the festive season now upon us, supermarkets are packed with chocolates, cakes, puddings and treats! However, let’s not forget that we can still enjoy healthy treats and get a boost of vitamins and minerals at the same time. There are plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables in season in December, and with a little thought they can really excite the taste buds!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five fruits and vegetables this Christmas, together with her recipe suggestions.

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PEARS

These sometimes get forgotten and pushed aside for the more popular apple. However, pears are real winners both for their taste and nutrient content.

They’re high in immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving vitamin K. If you eat them with the skin on, they’re also rich in fibre; more than many other fruits and vegetables, around 40% of a pear’s health benefits lie just under the skin.

Pear, goats cheese and walnut salad

Pears work really well simply sliced in a salad with goat’s cheese, varied leaves and walnuts, which retains maximum nutrient benefits. However, at this time of year, they’re wonderful poached with lemon zest, ginger, a cinnamon stick, allspice and some apple cider. They can be served with vanilla ice-cream for a real treat, eaten cold as a desert or sliced over your morning porridge for a warming start to the day.

RED CABBAGE

Whilst white (also known as green) cabbage is the most commonly eaten, its nutrient benefits slightly fade into the background when compared to its red counterpart. As with all fruits and vegetables, the secret to its nutritional benefit lies in its colour; red cabbage is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants. This is especially helpful at this time of year. It also contains lots of anti-inflammatory compounds which is welcome news for those suffering from aching or painful joints during the winter months.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

One of the nicest ways to use red cabbage is braised with apples. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to any meat or is great on the Christmas dinner table. It’s so easy cooked in a pot, with onions, apples, balsamic vinegar, allspice and sliced apples. Cook slowly in the oven for an hour or so – the smell is wonderful.

CAULIFLOWER

Cauliflower has become one of the most popular vegetables in recent times. Even better it’s in season right now. As with many fruits and vegetables, the most prominent nutrient in cauliflower is vitamin C. However, it’s rich in most of the B-vitamins as well as the important trace minerals magnesium and manganese. These nutrients are better retained when cauliflower is steamed rather than boiled.

Cauliflower cheese

In terms of serving, a perennial favourite dish is cauliflower cheese which is often a Boxing Day lunch staple. However, it works really well as a one-pot curry with chickpeas, cumin, curry powder, onions, lentil and almonds. Cauliflower rice is also really popular with those watching their weight or following the Paleo Diet. Placed into a food processor it then gets broken down into rice-sized pieces. Simply heat through with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper.

CLEMENTINES

Always popular in Christmas stockings for their delicious, juicy and sweet taste, clementines are perfectly in season right now. Not only are they packed with vitamin C, they contain limonin which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels – another reason why they could be useful during the season of over-indulgence!

Clementines on wooden board

They’re also fabulous used in many recipes and work really well with our Christmas staple vegetable, the Brussels sprout. We tend to have a love/hate relationship with these little green vegetables, but when braised in the oven with sliced clementines, shallots, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and walnuts, they really come alive!

CRANBERRY

No Christmas table would ever be complete without cranberries. They deliver some wonderful health benefits, most notably for the urinary tract. Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria, and cranberries are able to prevent the E. coli bacteria from attaching to the wall of the urinary tract.

CRanberry sauce in small ceramic jug and cranberries on wooden board

Importantly, whilst, cranberry sauce makes a wonderful accompaniment to turkey, they work really well in a muesli recipe or in homemade energy bars. Simply mix dried cranberries with golden syrup, sunflower seeds, desiccated coconut, oats, butter and sultanas for a delicious tray-baked, portable energy snack – much needed during the tiring month of December.

So alongside the traditional sweet treats of Christmas, treat yourself to some delicious and nutritious fruit and veg this season and reap their amazing health benefits.

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

 

 

Spice up your life with spring herbs and spices

Close up of woman with her arms stretched out in sunshine wearing sunglasses

Turmeric has certainly hit the headlines in recent times and for very good reason. We hear the word ‘superfood’ often but turmeric really doesn’t disappoint in this respect! It can be used in so many different recipes, alongside some other wonderful herbs and spices.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on some of her favourite herbs and spices to be using this spring time!

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TURMERIC

Few spices offer turmeric’s wealth of benefits which is why it has become such a hero. It exerts very positive effects on the liver, helping to cleanse and detoxify the body. This, in turn, helps with digestion and immunity. Additionally, turmeric delivers some great anti-inflammatory effects, so really supports any joint issues; it’s particularly good for people who do lots of exercise and frequently experience aches and pains.

The active ingredients in turmeric are compounds called curcuminoids of which curcumin is key; it has very powerful antioxidant effects to support the immune system and is a strong anti-inflammatory. There have been many positive and robust studies around turmeric but a recent review1 has looked at research into a number of health complaints. These studies certainly confirm it to be an active scavenger of free radicals which are responsible for many of our degenerative diseases.

The studies also confirmed strong anti-inflammatory effects with Turmeric helping to modulate our main inflammatory enzymes. Many of these studies have been undertaken using higher doses of turmeric than can naturally be eaten in food, therefore supplementation would be advisable for best effect, as well as using it frequently in the diet.

Turmeric is not easily absorbed by the body so the best way of enjoying its full nutritional benefit is to include it in the diet, little and often, in the form of ground turmeric. Additionally, eating turmeric with a fatty meal or including it in a recipe containing some fat really helps absorption.

A great recipe using turmeric is to marinate salmon fillets or a side of salmon with turmeric, black pepper and lemon juice. Marinate it overnight for best effects and then the salmon can be lightly baked in the oven for around 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of the salmon).

CORIANDER

This is a pungent herb that is frequently used in curry dishes. It makes a great spring time accompaniment because it can potentially help with allergies; unfortunately these start to make themselves known at this time of year!

Coriander is also great for the digestive system and for fighting infections. Indeed, medical herbalists use both the leaves and seeds to help urinary tract infections. Coriander also kills bacteria and fungi found in meat, which is why you’ll often find it in meat dishes in India.

Coriander works well in any curry dish but one of the easiest recipes is coriander chicken; mix onion, chilli, freshly chopped coriander and some garlic together with some water. Gently fry some chicken strips in coconut oil and then add the spices! This is great served with rice of your choice.

SAFFRON

Although saffron is one of the most expensive spices, it’s actually worth its weight in gold in terms of health benefits and it only needs to be used sparingly. It’s thought that saffron helps flush out toxins, purifies the blood, cleanses the skin and also seems to help with the assimilation of other nutrients in the recipe.

It adds amazing colour and a distinctive taste to a range of dishes such as paella, Bouillabaisse and risottos as well as desserts.   And for an interesting twist on your egg-based breakfast, why not cook up some scrambled eggs and add a pinch of saffron and chilli flakes together with some mushrooms? It will certainly be a powerful start to your day!

So enjoy trying these delicious and health-giving herbs and spices this spring time.

1 Arshad Husain Rahmani et al. Role of Curcumin in Disease Prevention and Treatment. Adv Biomed Res. 2018;7:38

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

The goodness of Garlic: health and nutritional benefits of this tasty bulb

Garlic (Allium sativum) has long been regarded as something of a miracle food. It has been used for dozens of complaints ranging from asthma to arthritis and it’s also a versatile ingredient in a wide range of dishes.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the low-down on garlic.

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Garlic’s reputation for providing healing properties, as an antiviral and anti-bacterial agent, are backed up by scientific evidence.  The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains, including those that are responsible for the pungent odour released when crushed.

The jury is still out as to whether garlic has the same benefits when eaten cooked versus in its raw form, as some of the compounds are lost in cooking.  If eaten raw then half to one clove daily is a good recommended daily amount.

VITAMIN AND MINERALS

Aside from its wonderful health benefits, garlic is also a great source of vitamin B6 which helps energy levels, manganese for the joints, and vitamin C and selenium which are both very powerful antioxidants.  These nutrients may also be some of the reasons for garlic’s vast array of health benefits.

The only downside to eating lots of garlic is that it makes the breath smell, hence there are many supplements produced using deodorised garlic.  A great tip to reduce the lingering smell is to chew parsley – a natural breath freshener!

A NATURAL ANTIBIOTIC

Garlic is thought to be a natural and broad-spectrum antibiotic; it may help to prevent or treat some bacterial or fungal infections.  Specifically it can be used very effectively to kill some intestinal parasites and fungal yeast infections.

Taking a garlic supplement, or increasing garlic in the diet before travelling abroad, may well help prevent traveller’s diarrhoea or picking up some kind of intestinal infection.

GREAT FOR THE HEART

Garlic has been used really effectively over many years as a natural anti-coagulant; this means it helps to lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure.

It seems to suppress cholesterol production in the liver and also helps to raise levels of the beneficial HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol.

IMMUNE BOOSTER

Garlic certainly has some wonderful immune-boosting properties mainly down to its anti-viral and antibacterial properties.  If it becomes a regular part of your diet, added to cooking, and alongside other immune-boosting herbs such as ginger, it can certainly help with treating colds and flu or better still, preventing them occurring in the first place.

A NATURAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

Garlic appears to exert strong anti-inflammatory properties, hence the reason it’s been widely used for joint problems, including arthritis.

It seems that the four main sulphur compounds within garlic deliver the powerful results, even helping to alleviate the pain associated with various joint issues.

LOVE GARLIC?

There are so many ways you can incorporate garlic into your everyday cooking! There are very few savoury dishes or foods that can’t be improved by the addition of garlic; soups, stews, mashed potatoes, bread, mushrooms, salmon with ginger, as a delicious cream with steak or in tomato-based sauces over pasta.

Here are three of my favourites:

Homemade Aioli

Why not eat the Spanish way!  Homemade aioli is so easy to make.  All you need is two egg yolks, three garlic cloves, some Dijon mustard and olive oil.  Mix the first three ingredients and then add some olive oil to thicken the mixture and a little lemon juice to taste.

It makes a wonderful dip for crackers, breads or crudités.  Alternatively, a popular European way with garlic is to crush it and spread it on bread with olive oil.  This works particularly well with bruschetta.

Stir-fry anything!

Stir-fries are so easy and quick and you can literally make them up as you go along!  However, a couple of cloves of garlic work especially well with prawns, peppers, soy sauce and any other chopped veggies of your choice.

Garlic chicken

A one-pot chicken dish is super-easy, quick and totally delicious.  Garlic cloves can either be stuffed into the carcass before cooking or crushed onto potatoes before roasting.

Garlic also works well crushed onto lamb, with some fresh rosemary, before cooking.

There are so many reasons to include garlic in your cooking, so enjoy experimenting!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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