Pumpkins: top nutrition this Halloween

Pumpkins carved into lanterns

We hardly need reminding it’s Halloween this week!  And the star of the day is the wonderful vegetable, pumpkin.  It’s uses and nutritional benefits are far-reaching. 

Whilst it’s often glowing brightly on doorsteps around the world on the night of Halloween, the health benefits of pumpkins also have star status.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top reasons for including pumpkins in your diet.

Pumpkins are high in beta-carotene

With the season of bugs now upon us, we really need to be supporting the immune system as much as possible. Beta-carotene is a key member of the carotenoid family which is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed.  Vitamin A is important for keeping the immune system in good shape and helps us see in the dark – much needed now the clocks have gone back.

A range of pumpkins in a basket

Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, like pumpkin, is especially good for vegetarians and vegans since vitamin A itself is only found in animal foods.  Plus, vitamin A is an amazingly powerful antioxidant, further protecting the immune system.

Pumpkins have amazingly nutritious seeds

The seeds not only provide a wonderful transportable snack, they are rich in protein, to help stave hunger pangs, and loaded with many other nutrients.  Importantly, they are rich in the vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fats, needed for healthy eyes, joints and hormones, as well as bone-loving calcium and magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of fibre so help keep everything moving when the body can often feel a little sluggish generally. As a bonus, they’re filled with the amino acid tryptophan which not only keeps you energised throughout the day, but helps boost levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.  Pumpkin seeds are delicious lightly roasted with a little soy sauce.

Pumpkins are great for eyes in more ways than one

Whilst we know pumpkins are loaded with pro-vitamin A carotenoids, they’re also rich in other flavonoids (plant compounds) that have great affinity for eye health.  They ‘re packed with lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin which help protect the eyes from damaging blue light that we are all exposed to for too long every day.

Close up of woman's eyes

We often wonder why eyesight deteriorates the more we look at screens; it’s all because of the blue light emitted from computers and mobile phones. Thankfully these compounds can help protect the eyes – even more reasons for eating pumpkin.

Pumpkins are rich in lycopene

Lycopene is yet another carotenoid with wonderful health benefits.  When we hear lycopene, we often think of tomatoes as these are one of the best sources.  However, pumpkins certainly hold their own where it is concerned. This amazing antioxidant has been found to help support prostate health – one of the most common health issues affecting men.

a pumpkin cut into pieces

As with all carotenoids, their nutrient benefits are better absorbed from cooked sources, so roasted or mashed pumpkin is certainly the order of the day.

Pumpkins are amazingly versatile

Whilst we certainly love the warming glow pumpkins give off on Halloween night, their versatility in recipes can’t be overlooked.  Pumpkin soup, made with coconut cream, sage leaves, onion and vegetable stock is certainly an autumn favourite.  Pumpkin can also be roasted and served sprinkled with feta cheese and honey. It’s also great in a curry with other root vegetables and tomatoes, or in a risotto with spring onions, parmesan cheese, cumin and garlic.

A bowl of Pumpkin soup

But best of all is pumpkin pie!  You can use ready prepared sweet shortcrust pastry for speed.  The prepared pumpkin just needs to be mixed with brown sugar, eggs, cream and lots of spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for a warming Halloween treat.

So, enjoy Halloween and make the most of your pumpkins – both as lanterns and as a nutritious vegetable to add to your diet.

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Seasonal eating: top autumn picks packed with nutrition

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutrition

Whilst we may mourn the loss of longer, lighter days when the clocks go back, there are some distinct advantages when it comes to thinking about autumn foods.  Just as the leaves turn red, yellow and golden brown, so the colours of foods change with the seasons.

Eating seasonally also means you are getting the most nutrition from the foods available right now.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite foods to include in your diet this season.

Pumpkin

It’s often said that pumpkin is the most popular vegetable at this time of year.  Obviously, pumpkin plays a starring role in Halloween festivities, but it’s also a real winner in terms of nutritional benefits.

Pumpkin certainly matches the season with its orange colour signalling it to be rich in carotenoids.  These are a group of plant compounds particularly high in antioxidants which help protect the body against disease. One such carotenoid found in pumpkin is zeaxanthin which has a wonderful affinity for the eyes, protecting them against blue light (and we all spend far too long looking at screens these days).

a pumpkin cut into pieces

Another carotenoid, beta carotene, is turned into vitamin A in the body as required, which helps support the immune system. This is much needed as we come into the cold and flu season.

Pumpkin is best steamed or roasted and served as a vegetable side, but it can also be made into pumpkin pie.  Plus, pumpkin seeds are incredibly nutritious; they are very high in the essential omega-3 fats.  Make sure you use them – they’re delicious very lightly roasted.

Ginger

As the weather turns distinctly chilly, the body likes to be fed ‘warming’ foods.  The delicious spice ginger delivers so many wonderful health benefits, particularly supporting the immune system.

Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory. It can really help ease any stiff, aching joints, which can become more problematic when the weather becomes cold and damp.  Additionally, if you’re struggling with headaches, ginger can help provide some relief.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

Whilst ginger can be included in so many different recipes, both sweet and savoury, so many health benefits can be gained from using it as a tea. Finely chop some fresh ginger and pour over boiling water and just keep sipping throughout the day.  You can also add some lemon to help detoxify the liver at the same time. You’ll certainly help keep the cold outside, as well nasty inside colds, at bay!

Swede

Often confused with turnips, swede (or ‘neeps’ as they’re known in Scotland), make a wonderfully nutritious autumn vegetable choice.  Swede is actually part of the cruciferous vegetable family. It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C, as well as other immune-boosting vitamins such as B6, so it’s certainly great for the change in season.

A whole swede next to mashed swede as a vegetable side dish

We can often feel sluggish at this time of year and our digestive systems can also slow down.  However, swede helps feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut making sure everything keeps moving smoothly through.  Moreover, if you’re trying to lose a few kilos before the Christmas party season, then swede is your friend. It helps balance blood sugar levels, it’s high in fibre so will fill you up, and it’s low in fat and calories.  Even better, swede is delicious simply cooked and mashed with a little butter and black pepper.

Roasted Veggies

In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, foods were always matched to the season because the body needs to be supported with warming foods and spices as the colder weather bites.  Summer salads and smoothies should be replaced with soups and thick broths at this time of year.

A range of roasted vegetables

This is a great time to be loading up with as many vegetables as possible to support the immune system.  Load up with autumnal vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, parsnips, courgettes and sweet potatoes. Prepare a large roasting tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, add some fresh rosemary and sprinkle with sea salt for a fabulous accompaniment to any fish, meat, poultry or vegetarian protein.

Cinnamon

Another warming spice, cinnamon is perfect to include in as many dishes as possible at this time of year. It also seems to have a balancing effect on the body generally, helping it to better cope with the changing seasons.

Cinnamon boasts a wealth of health benefits, protecting the immune system, feeding the good gut bacteria and having positive effects on cognitive function. More benefits are being found all the time.

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

Even better, cinnamon is incredibly versatile in so many dishes.  It works really well with any dishes containing oats, such a muesli, flapjacks and sprinkled over porridge.  Cinnamon is also delicious when used in pancakes and muffins or any dish containing apples.  It’s even delicious with pork – think apple and cinnamon sauce.

So, try building more of these warming, autumn vegetables and spices into your diet this season. If you’re warm inside, you will not feel the cold outside as much and your body will better cope with harsher weather and seasonal bugs.

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Look after your heart: top nutrition and lifestyle tips

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

On average your heart beats around 70 times every minute of every day.  It’s an incredible organ, one which many of us take for granted, which is one of the reasons heart disease is so common in the UK.

The four main risk factors of heart disease are tobacco use, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excess alcohol.  Fortunately, if the heart is properly fed, loved and exercised, it will hopefully keep on beating and last you a lifetime.

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for a healthy heart.

Increase your fish intake

Foods containing saturated fats needs to be reduced or eliminated; think red meat, butter, cheese, cakes and pastries.  Additionally, too many meals containing fried foods should be avoided.  However, in their place should feature oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon and these ideally need to be included at least two to three times per week.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which help to thin the blood and reduce blood pressure. If you’re vegetarian or don’t like fish then take a supplement containing flaxseeds, which are also high in omega 3’s.

Grab some polyphenols

Polyphenols are compounds naturally found in plant foods that have amazing health benefits, especially for the heart. There are a whole range of foods containing various types of polyphenols. Load up on colourful fruits and vegetables, green and black tea, dark chocolate and red wine (in moderation!).

A cup of green tea

One of the biggest issues for the arteries is that fatty deposits can develop on them, and these deposits become hardened – hence the common disease, arteriosclerosis.  However, much of this damage can be avoided or reduced by including antioxidants found in polyphenols in the diet.

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

This reflects the recommendation to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.  They’re also high in vitamin C, one of the most powerful antioxidants which can help prevent artery damage.  Fruits and vegetables are also rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium which help to relax the artery wall, therefore reducing blood pressure and other heart-related risk factors.  Try to eat a rainbow diet, meaning as much colour variety on your plate as possible.

Spice it up

Including garlic in your diet often (and as much as your friends and family can bear!) is a great idea.  It’s also possible to take a supplement containing garlic which is standardised for alliin, the main form of allicin, which is the active compound in garlic. It has shown remarkable blood-thinning properties as well as the ability to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic is also super-easy to include in so many dishes; think stir fries, soups, vegetable sides, curries and one-pot recipes.

Turmeric is another heart-loving spice that works in a variety of ways to keep it healthy.  Turmeric helps reduce high blood pressure because it relieves pressure on the artery walls but also prevents dangerous plaque build-up on the arteries which causes blood clots and strokes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

It can be used in so many different dishes, both savoury and sweet.  Great choices are in a marinade with Indian lamb chops or in pancake served with fresh fruit and natural yoghurt. Try turmeric in a curried chicken dish or sprinkled over butternut squash and roasted in the oven.  There are endless possibilities!

Scrap the sugar

Sugar can often be disguised in dishes as dextrose or corn syrup, but all sugar is treated by the body in the same way. Many sugary foods, such as biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and margarines, also contain trans fats. These are chemically altered fats which are a cheap form of fat used for taste and ‘spreadability’, in the case of margarines.  Unfortunately, the body cannot process these ‘alien’ substances and they also stop the metabolism of healthy omega-3 fats needed for blood thinning and maintaining a healthy heart.

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

The key message is to ditch the junk and try to eat as cleanly as possible.  The less sugar you eat, the less cravings you’ll have.

Move more

It’s an unequivocal fact that exercise helps prevent heart disease.  After all, the heart is a muscle just like any other in the body and needs to be exercised.  Ideally, you need to raise the heart rate for at least 30 minutes five times per week, and that’s perfectly achievable through brisk walking.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

It’s a question of making time. Exercise needs to be prioritised and put into the diary just like any appointment – it that’s important to your future health.

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Seasonal eating: Plums

Close up of woman holding a bowl of freshly picked plums

Did you know that there are more varieties of plum than any other species of stone fruit – about 200 or more!  Plums come in many colour varieties, but all are jam packed with nutrients and are in season right now, so grab some and enjoy!

Prunes are dried plums – something not everyone is aware of. And prunes can also play a part in a balanced diet.

 Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why they are so great for health as well as some tips on including them in the diet.

Plums are rich in antioxidants

We know from the wealth of research available that antioxidants hold one of the keys to a healthy, disease-free life.  Whilst the body has many antioxidant enzyme systems to help prevent disease, foods are also needed to feed these systems and to provide additional antioxidant protection.  And this is where plums can stand proud! They have some of the highest amounts of antioxidants, especially vitamin C, even in their dried prune form.

A bowl of plums on a blue wooden table

Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, and plums are especially good in this respect. Plus, vitamin C is great for overall health and helps protect the immune system.  Don’t forget children are returning to school soon and that’s when the ‘bug’ season really gets going!

Prunes encourage regularity

If you’re suffering from sluggish bowels, then prunes are your best friend in this respect.  Prunes are high in insoluble fibre which feeds the friendly gut bacteria, helping solve digestive issues.  Good levels of friendly bacteria are also needed to help form stools. Additionally, prunes provide bulk which also helps to get things moving.

Prunes can help weight management

Although prunes taste quite sweet, their soluble fibre content helps balance blood sugar levels, which in turn can aid successful weight management.  It’s very difficult to lose weight when blood sugar is imbalanced as excess glucose is merely sent to fat cells for safe keeping.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Soluble fibre also promotes a feeling of fullness, making it less likely you’ll overeat.  Why not include some, with an oat-based breakfast?  Tinned prunes generally contain sugar-laden syrup, therefore look for those sold in transparent containers, generally in health food stores.  If they’re too dry for you, then soaking them in a little hot water for a few minutes will work or in some light apple juice, to bring them back to life.

Poached plums for breakfast

Plums work really well on their own (straight from the tree is great), in jams or chutneys, or simply poached.  Plus, they can be enjoyed in this way at any time of the day, to give you a nutrient boost.

A bowl of poached plums with cinnamon

Plums pair well with various spices, especially cinnamon. The great news is that cinnamon helps balance blood sugar so together they’re a perfect breakfast choice.  Use natural stevia or xylitol if you need to sweeten them whilst they’re being poached in the oven, and you’ll avoid any sugar-rush.

Plums are great in savoury dishes

Whilst there are many ways plums can be enjoyed in sweet recipes, they also work well in savoury dishes, especially with duck. For a quick and easy meal, simply slice the plums into small pieces, add a cinnamon stick and a little honey to a pan and simmer for a few minutes.  Then simply fry the duck breast in a little olive oil until cooked medium rare, slice on a plate and serve with the fruit mixture.

Roasted duck breast with plum sauce on the side

Plums are also delicious chopped into a salad with goat’s cheese or made into a versatile plum sauce that can be mixed with soy sauce, ginger and garlic and poured over chicken breasts.

Whichever way you decide to eat them, plums or prunes, they’ll provide wonderful health benefits and amazing flavour.

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Healthy and home-grown: the top 5 nutrient-rich foods for growing at home

Close up on waomn in an allotment holding a home graon carrot

The popularity of growing your own fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices is on the rise and having an allotment or growing patch is appealing to more and more people. 

Urban living can make it difficult to grow your own food with a lack of outdoor space. But there are plenty of options for growing in pots on a small balcony or even on a windowsill.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five home-grown nutritious favourites.

Bean sprouts

Sprouted beans certainly have plenty to shout about from a nutritional perspective. Plus, they don’t need much space because they can be grown in jam jars.

The sprouting process actually increases nutrient levels. Bean sprouts are high in protein so will fill you up, plus they have plenty of bone-loving minerals and immune-boosting vitamin C.  They’re a great way of increasing the nutritional content of any meal and are low in fat and calories. They can be easily added to any vegetable dish, salad or smoothies.

A couple of beans sprouting

You can sprout any type of bean: black beans, mung beans, lentils and soy beans are all good for starters.  Rinse them well and then place them in jam jars with double the amount of water and cover the tops with muslin and an elastic band. Keep them at room temperature and drain them and re-fill with water twice a day for about four or five days.  You’ll soon have some nutritional powerhouses ready to eat!

Rosemary and Thyme

The perfect herb combination!  They are both ‘staples’ in any herb garden.

Rosemary is a delight in both lamb and chicken dishes and is very popular throughout Mediterranean countries. This may be partly due to it being a powerful antioxidant so can help protect the body. It also adds a delicious flavour to roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes wedges.  Rosemary may also act as a stimulant in both the nervous and circulatory systems and can help to soothe the digestive system, relieving indigestion and flatulence.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Thyme has an amazing aromatic flavour so is widely used in cooking, especially in casseroles and soups. Thyme has also been traditionally used as a decongestant to soothe coughs and catarrh.

A fresh bunch of thyme

Salad leaves

These can also be grown indoors all-year round in simple seed trays.  In fact, they’re probably the easiest of all vegetables to grow.  The dark green colour of rocket means that it’s rich in energising iron and carotenoids which are powerful antioxidants.  Rocket also has a lot more taste than some other salad leaves and can be used in many recipes as well as simple salads.

A bowl of mixed salad leaves

You can also grow crunchy lettuce leaves so you should never be without some quick go-to greens when you’re on the run. Plus all salad leaves can be picked over and over and they just keep growing back.

Beetroot

If you’re quick, there’s just about time to plant some beetroot seeds now and they’ll be ready for eating in the autumn. Beetroot is actually one of the UK’s best-selling seeds.  This is partly because home-grown beetroot is absolutely delicious but also because it’s a superfood.  Its rich dark colour delivers a wealth of antioxidants to protect the body from serious diseases.

Whole beetroots

If it’s energy you’re looking for then having some more beetroot in your diet can really give you a boost.  Beetroot juice is very popular with athletes and recreational exercisers because it helps the body better sustain endurance activity.  Beetroot is also rich in energy-giving iron and folic acid. If you start to sow beetroot seeds now, they should be ready for eating in about 90 days’ time.  Beetroots can also be grown in lines or pots.

Marrow

Marrows are traditionally sown during May and June.  However, the soils are warm right now so if you’re quick you’ll get a crop harvested before colder weather shows it face.

As marrow is very high in water, its nutritional content is not as good as some vegetables, but it’s great for alkalising the body.  The body prefers to be in a slightly alkaline state generally, and many vegetables and fruit help this process along; marrow can certainly do this too.

A whole marrow and slices of marrow on a chopping board

It doesn’t have too much taste on its own but comes to life when stuffed with other vegetables, sprinkled with cheese and roasted in the oven, or filled with a chili con carne mince. Marrow can also be turned into chutney and makes a great addition to your ham or cheeseboard.

Growing anything even in a small way, is very therapeutic and great for relieving stress. So get growing this season and enjoy the fresh nutrition it provides.

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Strawberries: discover the health benefits of this summer fruit

a punnet of strawberries

It’s one of life’s great partnerships – Wimbledon and strawberries! Whether enjoyed with cream or in a glass of champagne, these delicious red berries are a summer favourite whether you’re enjoying the tennis or another outdoor event.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The great news is that strawberries are also super-healthy and packed full of nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us five reasons why they’re one of the most popular berries consumed worldwide!

The history of strawberries and their health benefits

As with so many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, strawberries have been used for many hundreds of years to cure a variety of health ailments. They were believed to eliminate kidney stones, and relieve arthritis, gout and rheumatism. Strawberries were also used to cleanse and purify the digestive system and act as a mild liver tonic.

A woman holding a heartshaped bowl full of strawberries

There is no reason to suggest strawberries won’t deliver some of these health benefits today; they contain a wealth of antioxidants which help to manage inflammation throughout the body and are high in fibre which is a great internal cleanser.

Strawberries are high in fibre

We hear so much about the body needing fibre in the diet every day, which of course is true. The typical Western diet is unfortunately often laden with white pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits. These are very low in fibre, hence many people suffer from digestive issues.

Woman smiling with a bowl of strawberries, holding on strawberry up to her mouth

The body needs around 30 grams of fibre daily, and should be a combination of the soluble and insoluble varieties. Insoluble fibre is found in high amounts in wheat, maize and rice. Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, peas, beans and fruits and vegetables. Strawberries are a shining light in this respect with high levels of soluble fibre (a small cup contains over 3 grams). This is one of the reasons our ancestors found them to be helpful for digestive cleansing.

Strawberries can be included on a weight-loss plan

The popularity of the low-carb diet has meant many people are shunning fruits and vegetables, and hence missing out on a wide range of nutrients. However, strawberries are very low on the glycaemic index (much lower than bananas, melon, pineapple and apricots). This means they have a negligible effect on blood sugar when eaten, hence they’re not going to adversely affect a weight-loss plan. Blood sugar levels need to be in good balance for effective weight loss otherwise the body will simply store sugar and increase the number of fat cells within.

Two bowls of strawberries and cream

The really good news is that when strawberries are eaten with cream, the fat content slows down blood sugar level activation even further, so your Wimbledon treat is perfectly acceptable. Ideally, not to be eaten this way every day though!

Strawberries will keep your brain sharp

Whilst strawberries have one of the highest levels of vitamin C of all fruits and vegetables per 100 grams, their nutritional wealth extends far wider. They contain an array of polyphenols which are plant compounds with wonderful health benefits. Polyphenols are loaded with antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.

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

This is one of the reasons strawberries can help to keep your brain sharp because they protect it from damage from the environment and other toxins. It’s also thought these antioxidant properties help protect blood vessels to the brain keeping blood flow good and sharpness on top form.

How to eat them

Strawberries are very perishable and will only last a few days. Therefore they shouldn’t be washed until you’re ready to eat them and they’re always best eaten as fresh as possible.

Strawberry smoothie surrounded by fresh strawberries

Strawberries are perfect added to breakfast oats, sliced in a mixed salad, or served with shortcake. However, for a really healthy start to the day, why not wiz up a strawberry smoothie with banana, a little fresh orange juice, some plain yoghurt and a little almond milk. As well as providing a great boost of vitamin C, you’ll also be getting plenty of heart-loving potassium and energising folate. Plus, the yoghurt and almond milk provide protein to keep you sustained throughout the morning. You can always add some additional protein powder for a real power-up!

If you fancy the traditional strawberries and cream, but you are not able to tolerate dairy, there are plenty of dairy-free alternative creams which you can try.

So be sure to grab some strawberries while you can and don’t miss one of our most delicious fruits this summer.

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Five healthy herbs for your home garden

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

Culinary herbs make a wonderful addition to many dishes. We often enjoyed their amazing tastes but we don’t always realise just how many health benefits they bestow. Even better, many of them are really simple to grow in your home herb garden or on a bright windowsill.

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Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite herbs to grow at home and explains their numerous health benefits.

 

 

Mint

Whilst many herbs have a lovely natural aroma, mint is one of most popular scents and it certainly evokes thoughts of summer; think mint as an essential part of summertime Pimms for example!

However, mint delivers some wonderful health benefits and has a long history of traditional medicinal use. It’s very useful for aiding digestive upsets, particularly flatulence and bloating; it seems to control muscle spasms so relaxes the intestines.

Mint tea

If you’re wanting to gain maximum health benefits from mint, then it’s probably best taken in a tea. However, it works really well in either sweet or savoury dishes, particularly accompanying Jersey royal potatoes which are in season right now. It also works brilliantly with roasted aubergine, garlic, plain yoghurt and a little ground pepper.

Parsley

Parsley is king of green herbs and is often used in green juices and smoothies, for very good reason. It is a great liver tonic and is very cleansing for the body overall. It also helps to calm any troublesome and persistent skin conditions.

A bunch of fresh parsley

Parsley’s ‘claim-to-fame’ is largely down to two of its key components. It contains volatile oils which contribute towards its liver health benefits and also contains antioxidants which help protect the body from many degenerative diseases. Parsley is also a rich source of energising folate and vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant.

Parsley has a wealth of culinary uses in salads, soups, sauces and pesto. It’s particularly lovely very simply used with grilled fish and a little butter.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a perennial favourite herb available all year round and is very easy to grow in a small pot. It will also deliver a wonderful aromatic smell on your patio!

From a health perspective, rosemary is a powerful antioxidant so is great to eat during the summer months to help protect the skin from sun damage. Rosemary also helps support both the immune and digestive systems.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Even better, there are so many wonderful ways that its amazing pine-like aroma and distinctive pungent flavour can be added to dishes. It’s a favourite in lamb or chicken dishes or can be added fresh to egg frittatas. Rosemary can also be crushed and added to olive oil, perhaps with some fresh garlic, and used as a dipping sauce for bread.

Basil

Basil is a great go-to herb and will always sit well in any kitchen herb garden. It’s another herb that contains an array of powerful volatile oils which have the potential to protect DNA from oxidation. This process is one of the main causes of body ageing.

These volatile oils also help protect the digestive tract from unwanted bacteria. If you’re planning on travelling abroad or further afield this summer, then it makes sense to try and include basil as much as possible in your dishes. Basil leaves are also a tasty addition to salads.

Basil and pesto pasta in a bowl

Basil is probably best known as being the main ingredient in pesto alongside pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Plus basil is perfect with mozzarella and tomatoes, as well as when added to soups, salmon or pasta dishes.

Chillies

They are slightly more sensitive to grow at home, but if you’ve got a warm, sunny windowsill, then it’s certainly worth persevering and growing some chillies. Best known for the ‘heat’ they add to dishes, chillies contain capsaicin which delivers their delicious pungent flavour; the hotter the flavour, the more capsaicin they have.

There’s often a question mark around hot spices and whether they are any good for the digestive system. To the contrary, chilli may actually help protect the gut from stomach ulcers. However, chillies may have an adverse effect on the beneficial gut bacteria. If you’re eating them regularly, then make sure you’re also eating natural yoghurt or other fermented foods which help feed the good gut bacteria. Even better, chillies and yoghurt can be combined into a delicious dip.

Red and green chillies

Chillies are also known to help with weight loss; they are thermogenic which means they produce calorie-burning heat. They can be added to so many different dishes – think curries, stews and stir-fries. Just remember to wash your hands after chopping and handling them! There’s a wide variety of chillies to grow depending on your requirement for mild to very hot – always do your research and find the chillies which will suit your palette the best.

So enjoy creating your herb garden and bring healthy and delicious herbal additions to your daily dishes.

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