How to pack a healthy picnic

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

It’s picnic season and time to fully enjoy the great outdoors with some delicious and super-nutritious foods that the whole family will love.

There is often a tendency when packing picnics to default to prepacked sausage rolls, Scotch eggs and crisps! But this doesn’t need to be the case. Picnics can be really healthy, nutritionally balanced, and tasty too!

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top picnic tips.

Crudités and Dips

Most people love a variety of dips, many of which are healthy.  However, it’s what’s dipped into them that really counts! Chopped carrots, celery, red peppers, and cucumber all make great accompaniments.

shutterstock_495222628-hummus-and-veg-crudites-nov16

Carrots are loaded with beta-carotene which the body turns into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed. Both celery and cucumber work as natural diuretics which help banish water retention and bloating (especially common in women) and red peppers are one of the richest sources of vitamin C, also amazing for the immune system.

Guacamole,Dip,In,Bowl,Over,White,Stone,Background.,Healthy,Avocado

Pack some hummus, which is high in protein and tzatziki made from natural yogurt which helps balance the gut bacteria. Guacamole, produced from super-healthy avocados, is a great option too. Adding these dips to your picnic has just upped the nutrition a good few notches.

Superfood Salad

Salads don’t need to be dull or limp!  If you pack a grain-based salad such as quinoa or couscous, you’ve got the perfect base on which to build your amazing superfood salad. For starters, these healthy grains contain some protein which helps to keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Plus, quinoa has the added benefit of being gluten-free if that’s a consideration for you.

Salads,With,Quinoa,,Arugula,,Radish,,Tomatoes,And,Cucumber,In,Bowl

A superfood salad can be totally freestyled!  You can add what takes your fancy.  However, the greater colour variety you have, the more health benefits you’ll gain.  For example, chopped tomatoes are high in the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which can help protect the body from free radical damage.  Or why not roast some vegetables to add to the grains?  Roasted aubergine, peppers, mushrooms and onions make a great combination.

Salad,Baked,Eggplant,And,Fresh,Tomatoes.,Top,View

Aubergines help replenish the gut bacteria, peppers are rich in vitamin C, mushrooms provide a small amount of vitamin D and onions are high in quercetin, a natural antihistamine which will help protect against hay fever symptoms. Even better, these salads are really easy to transport, can be cooked and kept in the fridge overnight and are simply delicious with pesto added.

Fruit Extravaganza

Just as you’ve packed some deliciously crisp and healthy crudités for dips, the same treatment works for fruit, and the colours will delight! It’s always good to end a picnic with a sweet treat, and rather than loading up with high sugar and fat-laden pastries or cookies, why not enjoy some delightful fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet cravings?

Mixed,Berry,Salad,With,Mint.,Fruit,Salad.

It being summertime, there is a great selection of berry fruits available.  Berries are all rich in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants, that protect the body from illnesses.  Why not grab some strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries?  They can all be mixed, just remember to wash them all thoroughly before packing in the picnic basket.

Healthy,Fresh,Fruit,Salad,In,Glass,Bowl,On,White,Wooden

You could also chop up some apples and pears, which are both high in vitamin C and fibre. Once chopped, and exposed to oxygen, they will go brown.  However, squeezing some lemon juice over them will stop this happening (lemon also contains antioxidants, which prevent oxidation of foods).

Kiwi,Fruit,In,A,Bowl,On,Wooden,Background.,Copy,Space

To complete your colourful extravaganza, pack some kiwis which don’t need to be chopped.  Kiwis can be eaten just like a boiled egg and peeled from the top and dipped with a spoon.  Kiwis contain some of the highest levels of immune-boosting vitamin C of any fruit.

So enjoy the healthiest, most colourful picnic yet this summer!

Stay well.

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Five health-giving herbs for home-growing

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

As part of nature’s offerings, there are many amazing herbs that can not only support our health, but also add some great tastes to a wide range of dishes.  Even better, you can grow them at home whether you have some pots in the garden or a sunny windowsill.

It’s also great to blend the herbs into homemade teas in order to get a more concentrated effect, as relatively small amounts are used in cooking.

This National Gardening Week Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five herbs you can grow at home.

Bay

Fresh,Bay,Leaves,In,A,Wooden,Bowl,On,A,Rustic

Bay leaves are probably one of the most common herbs grown at home in pots as they are also very decorative.  And you only need a couple of bay leaves in a stew for example, so the bay tree will still retain its beauty!

Fresh,Bouquet,Garni,With,Different,Herbs,On,An,Old,Wooden

Bay is an essential ingredient in the seasoning bouquet garni which is frequently used in soups, stews and casseroles. It is particularly delicious when used in slow-cooked dishes, so the flavours truly permeate though the ingredients. Bay is used to stimulate and aid digestion so can help reduce any potential digestive upsets from a dish that maybe slightly fatty, such as a meat stew.

Chives

Bunch,Of,Fresh,Chives,On,A,Wooden,Cutting,Board,,Selective

Chives are primarily cultivated for culinary uses and are easy to grow in small spaces as long as it’s nice and sunny and you provide them with plenty of water to keep the soil moist.  Chives also appreciate regular trimming, and they certainly provide something pretty to look at on the windowsill.

Potato,Salad,With,Eggs,And,Green,Onion,On,White,Plate

Part of the onion family, chives are great for adding to potato dishes (especially potato salad), egg dishes, salads and soups. Medicinally, chives have been found to help stimulate appetite after illness and but also aid digestion.  They can add some great flavour without causing some of the digestive upsets that onions trigger in some people.

Mint

Fresh,Mint,Leafs,In,Mortar,On,Grey,Wooden,Table

Mint is probably one of the easiest herbs to grow at home as it’s very resilient and is actually better grown in a pot on its own because it really likes to take over other plants. Additionally, it does come back year after year with some light trimming and also provides some pretty flowers.  Mint likes plenty of sunlight but also needs moisture.

Grilled,Lamb,Chops,Marinated,With,Mint,.style,Rustic.,Selective,Focus

Mint is extremely versatile in many dishes but is also really coming into its own with Pimm’s season on the horizon!  However, it’s great added to both sweet dishes (ice creams) or savoury (lamb).  Mint helps with digestion and is great for calming the stomach after food if made into an infusion (just pour boiling water over the leaves).  Mint also stimulates the immune system so may help to ward off a cold.

Rosemary

Rosemary,Bound,On,A,Wooden,Board

With its amazing aroma, you’ll always be reminded of the Mediterranean if you grow rosemary at home.  It’s great added to lamb or chicken dishes but also works well as a flavouring in roasted vegetables, especially potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Selective,Focus.,Rustic,Golden,Baked,Potato.,Sliced,Baked,Potato,With

Rosemary is an amazing antioxidant so helps protect the body from aging and degenerative diseases.  Additionally, it helps to balance and stimulate the nervous and circulatory systems.

Basil

Basil.

Another herb with a wonderful aroma, basil will also remind you of Spanish and Italian cooking, particularly in tomato dishes. It is great grown on windowsills as it doesn’t like frost but can be grown outside during the summer months.

Delicious,Caprese,Salad,With,Ripe,Tomatoes,And,Mozzarella,Cheese,With

Basil is known to be a natural tranquiliser, a tonic that can help calm the nervous system, as well as aiding digestion.  Interestingly, whilst basil really adds flavour to many Italian styled dishes, if used with raw tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (a traditional caprese salad), with a little olive oil drizzled, all the fat-soluble nutrients in tomatoes become much more absorbable for the body.  Therefore, it’s a win-win situation when adding basil.

So, why not start your own herb garden and you’ll have delicious flavours and ready-made health benefits on tap too!

Stay well.

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Seasonal foods for springtime health and happiness

A happy woman in from of a blossom tree showing spring time

Spring generally brings lots of positive energy both for the mind and body.  And this Spring is no exception when it looks like we’ll finally have a little more freedom and there’s even more to celebrate! 

It’s always best to eat seasonally in order to enjoy the best tastes, textures and nutritional benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite seasonal foods this Spring.

Celeriac

Closely related to the celery family, celeriac delivers many of the same nutritional benefits as celery.  Despite its rather unkind nickname ‘the ugly one’, celeriac has a slightly nutty flavour without any excessive salty taste.

Celeriac on a table

Celeriac is high in heart-loving potassium and can help reduce high blood pressure, but also contains plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C. The only downside with this vegetable is that it requires a bit of preparation, with a tough outer skin which needs cutting off.  However, it’s well worth the additional effort because celeriac is delicious mashed with butter and garlic or adds a great flavour to soups or stews.

Mussels

Fished in UK waters and at their best at this time of year, mussels never fail to deliver a wonderful taste experience, especially if paired with garlic, onions, chilli or tomatoes.  You can still smell the sea when you eat super-fresh mussels.  However, you should never eat mussels that aren’t opened after cooking.

Mussels in a pot

As with oysters, mussels are rich in zinc. This is one of the busiest minerals, being involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions within the body, so it is a very essential nutrient.  Additionally, mussels are high in selenium, a key antioxidant mineral and also needed for the immune and cardiovascular systems.  You’ll even find small levels of the super-healthy omega-3s in mussels.  And they don’t need too much cooking to produce a really delicious and warming dish.

Jerusalem artichoke

Another slightly strange-shaped vegetable it is totally delicious roasted, plus delivers an array of health benefits.  Importantly, Jerusalem artichokes contain inulin which feeds the beneficial gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria play such an important role in our overall health, especially when it comes to immune, digestive, brain and skin health.  It’s therefore important to feed the friendly guys within the gut so they proliferate as needed.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Additionally, Jerusalem artichokes are rich in energising iron and immune boosting vitamin C. They can be roasted with the skin on to retain maximum nutrients and are delicious as a side to almost anything!

Spinach

As with all green foods, spinach is rich in antioxidants which help protect the body from disease. Specifically, it’s packed with carotenoids that support the immune system and crucially, eye health.

Whilst spinach does contain some iron and calcium, these minerals are not necessarily well-absorbed down to its high oxalic acid content.  However, eating spinach with foods that are rich in vitamin C, including other vegetables, really aids absorption.

A bowl of fresh spinach leaves

Importantly, spinach contains plenty of other valuable nutrients, including vitamin C and energising folate. It works so well and easily in plenty of dishes including soups, salads, as a side lightly steamed with butter and garlic or with eggs for breakfast.

Parsnips

We often associate them with other winter root vegetables which they are, but parsnips are still in season right now and are certainly one of the tastiest of roots. Indeed, parsnips don’t really like frost, hence their taste is better at this time of year. They are slightly starchy which means they make a great alternative to potatoes. They provide plenty of fibre and also vitamin C, vitamin E and folate which helps produce healthy red blood cells.

A pile of parsnips

As with all root veggies, parsnips are very versatile and can be included in soups, pasta dishes or roasted on their own sprinkled with a little parmesan. They also make a great roast vegetable medley alongside other vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes and onions.

So, enjoy some seasonal treats this spring and your body will benefit from the array of nutrients on offer.

Stay well.

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Nutrition for women: 5 nutrients to support your health

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

It’s no secret that women differ from men!  That also means our nutritional needs vary and this is often bound up with hormones and how they affect us on a monthly basis.

Whilst there are a wide range of vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health, there are a few in particular that are important for women’s health specifically.

This International Women’s Day, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a deep dive into five of the nutrients that women need most.

Magnesium

This mineral is known to be deficient generally within the UK population, but it presents even more problems when low in women.  Magnesium works as a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc (see below) but is essential in its own right for hormone balance, a healthy nervous system and bone health.  And stress burns up more magnesium so depending on how you are feeling many of us may be deficient.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is rich in green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli, but also in whole grains (oats are a great source), brown rice and whole wheat foods.  Magnesium is also very relaxing and calming so can help if sleep is a problem.  Eating about six almonds before bedtime (rich in magnesium) can really encourage peaceful slumbers.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is very important for women because it’s an essential co-factor in many metabolic pathways, especially relating to hormone production.  Additionally, it’s needed to process key neurotransmitters essential for balanced mood and motivation, which are closely affected by hormonal fluctuations.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is needed for production of progesterone (a key female hormone), plus it aids the detoxification processes of the liver in order to excrete ‘old’ hormones.  Vitamin B6 is water-soluble so should be eaten regularly, but is readily available in poultry, fish, bananas, soya produce, oats and wheatgerm, so there’s plenty of choice.

Biotin

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is essential for protein synthesis, key for building hormones and for healthy skin. Biotin also helps to stimulate production of keratin which is the key protein in hair.  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to have thinning hair so having additional biotin in the diet and via supplementation can often be very successful in rectifying the problem.

Foods containing the b vitamin Biotin

Foods rich in biotin include eggs (poached egg on whole grain toast makes a great start to the day), organ meats, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, red meat and fish.

Zinc

Zinc is probably the busiest mineral of all because it’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions within the body.  Whatever the body is doing, zinc will be needed somewhere.  However, for women, it’s very important for fertility and reproduction because it’s needed to synthesise the key sex hormones.  Additionally, zinc is a powerful antioxidant so helps to produce healthy eggs but is also essential for cell division, a key part of the conception process.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Zinc has been found often deficient in women, especially teenagers and those of child-bearing age. Red meat is a great source, hence a possible reason for deficiency as less people are eating red meat or at least eating it less often. Other great sources include beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood (especially oysters) and most cereals.

Chromium

Chromium is essential for blood sugar balance which affects all other hormones.  Interestingly, women with some of the more difficult hormone issues generally have problems balancing blood sugar levels, making mood swings more of an issue too.

A range of foods containing chromium

Additionally, in research, chromium has been shown to help women with polycystic ovaries, the most common hormonal disorder affecting those of reproductive age.  This generally also means that sufferers have issues with blood sugar control, which chromium can help to improve. As well as whole grains, chromium is rich in green vegetables, poultry, many fruits and dairy products.

Once any deficiencies are plugged, women may find overall health improves significantly, so why not review your diet or consider supplementation to ensure you are getting enough of these 5 vitamins and minerals.

Stay well.

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Heart health: the top three nutrients to support yours

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

Our heart works very hard for us every day.  In any one day it can beat a whopping 100,000 times!  It makes sense, therefore, to show your heart some love by feeding it specific nutrients to keep it beating healthily.

Clearly, the body needs a range of nutrients to maintain optimal health and the heart is no different in this respect.  However, there are certain nutrients that the heart absolutely needs in order to stay strong and healthy.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her three top nutrients to support your heart health.

Vitamin C

We know vitamin C is really important when it comes to protecting the immune system.  However, as one of our key antioxidants, it’s essential for the heart too.  Thankfully, we have eradicated the classic deficiency disease of vitamin C, being scurvy, but the first sign of this was blood vessels literally leaking – very unpleasant.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

From much research and further understanding since then, we know that vitamin C is needed for strong blood vessels and arteries.  As an antioxidant, it protects the arteries from free radical damage that can block them and cause heart attacks.  Additionally, vitamin C increases production of HDL, our ‘good cholesterol’, which helps remove excess cholesterol from the body.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

All fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C so enjoying a colourful diet and including a wide range of these foods is going to really protect your heart.  Top of the list are peppers, berry fruits, kiwis and broccoli.

Omega-3s

Termed ‘essential fats’ because they have to be eaten in the diet, these omega-3 fats have a key role in heart health.  Specifically, it’s the long-chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA which are the main players.  Much research has found they can help reduce the risk of heart disease, thought to be down to their anti-inflammatory actions. This can reduce damage to artery walls, which is one of the key issues in heart disease.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help thin the blood, thereby reducing high blood pressure and minimising the risk of blood clots causing strokes.

The best sources of EPA and DHA are from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and to a lesser extent, tuna.  For fish eaters, then aim to eat oily fish at least two to three times a week.

A spoon full of flax seeds

However, for those not keen on fish or are vegan, then flaxseeds are able to provide some (albeit in lower amounts, since the body has to undergo complicated conversions of nutrients beforehand).  However, try to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself, before adding them to cereals or yoghurt, as this helps release the beneficial lignans which provide some wonderful health benefits.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle function and since the heart is a muscle, then magnesium is a key mineral for heart health.  It is also a relaxant, so magnesium has the effect of relaxing the artery wall and reducing blood pressure. Magnesium is often used to great effect when treating cases of high blood pressure.

Additionally, magnesium deficiency can cause a heart attack by cramping a coronary artery even in the absence of a blockage within the artery itself.  Magnesium deficiency is widespread within the UK population which may partly explain the prevalence of heart conditions.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that it can easily be rectified by including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in the diet.  Load up on almonds, spinach, whole grains including quinoa, and all types of beans.  Even better news is that dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium so you can enjoy a guilt-free treat of 70% or more dark chocolate!

Magnesium is depleted by stress (which many people are suffering at the moment), so try to eat magnesium-rich foods every day and take a magnesium supplement if needed.  It will also help reduce stress levels.

So, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can contribute to your heart health every day.

Stay well.

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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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Celebrate National Vegetarian Week with these top five vegetables

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

It’s National Vegetarian Week, celebrating all things great about adopting a totally or predominantly plant-based diet.  However, there has also been a rise in people becoming flexitarian; still eating some animal produce but significantly increasing their intake of plant-based foods. 

Whilst all vegetables deliver wonderful health benefits, there are certainly some stars in their field.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourites.

 

Soy beans

Whilst you might not think of soy as a vegetable, it’s part of the legume family. Soya is one of the best vegetable sources of protein, therefore makes a great addition to a vegetarian diet.

Soya is widely consumed in Eastern diets but importantly it’s eaten in its fermented form in foods such as tofu, tempeh and kombucha, produced from the whole bean.  Refined forms or those that have been genetically modified should ideally be avoided.

A sack of soy beans

However, apart from their impressive protein content, soya beans are high in important trace minerals such as copper, manganese and phosphorus, essential for joints and bones.  Plus, fermented soya works on the body’s natural gut bacteria to produce bone and heart-loving vitamin K and energising folate.  There is also plenty of research to suggest soya delivers a number of cardiovascular benefits, especially raising good HDL cholesterol levels.

Spinach

Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet. It contains around 30% protein so is great for both a vegetarian and flexitarian diet.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

As with all green leafy vegetables, its nutrient profile is impressive.  Spinach is also a great source of vitamin K but is probably famously known for its iron content. Vegetarians can sometimes be lacking in iron since red meat provides the most bio-available form, therefore spinach can help plug the gaps. As with any green food or vegetable, spinach is great for alkalising and detoxifying the body and is in season right now!

Asparagus

Another vegetable with good protein content, asparagus is at its absolute best right now.  English asparagus has so much more taste and ‘bite’ than at any other time of the year.  Make sure you grab some, gently steam or barbecue and serve simply, seasoned with pepper and salt and a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

Asparagus provides plenty of energising B-vitamins, as well as trace minerals such as magnesium, frequently lacking in the Western diet.  Plus, it is known as a prebiotic food which helps feed the good gut bacteria, providing benefits to the immune system, especially important during the current situation.

Broccoli

Often referred to as a superfood, broccoli has some amazing health benefits, partly because of the range of nutrients and flavonoids it contains.  Broccoli has some of the highest amounts of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.  Plus is helps improve liver health by stimulating detoxification processes and antioxidant compounds in the liver.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Just like these other vegetables, broccoli contains some usable amounts of protein so is great for the vegetarian diet, plus it is packed full of immune-boosting vitamin C.  It can be steamed, roasted or sautéed and works well with garlic, chilli and sesame seeds for a real taste punch!

Collard greens

From the same family as broccoli, cauliflower and kale, these dark green leaves also deliver wonderful health benefits, and contain the same profile of antioxidants and other plant compounds.

A dish of collard greens

If you worry that greens are too bland, it’s all about what they’re served with. Greens work really well with strong flavours such as onions, leeks or mushrooms.  And in order to preserve maximum nutrients, taste and texture, they’re much better steamed or sautéed, perhaps with some garlic.

As with all green vegetables, collards are rich in trace minerals especially magnesium, manganese and calcium – all frequently deficient in the diet and essential for many aspects of our health.

So, embrace National Vegetarian Week and serve yourself some super health vegetables to celebrate!

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