Plan your picnic with a vegetarian twist!

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

It’s National Picnic Week and now it’s becoming a little easier to get outdoors, why not embrace the opportunity to get out there and eat al fresco.

Whether you’re vegetarian or not, making your picnic a plant-based delight can really give your health a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five tasty picnic dishes to pack and go!

Veggie wraps

These are such a go-to ‘on-the-run’ food, but wraps are also great for picnics because they are so transportable.  If you buy wholemeal wraps, you’ll also benefit from eating more energising B-vitamins than you’d find in white wraps.

Falafel wraps

The great news is that there’s no shortage of fillings.  Why not roast up a tray of veggies; these can be prepared the night before and also eaten for dinner.  Roasting favourites are courgettes, red onion, peppers and thinly cut sweet potatoes. These veggies deliver plenty of immune-boosting beta-carotene, vitamin C and energising folate. Spread plenty of humous on the wraps (chickpeas, which are the main ingredient in humous, are a great source of veggie protein) and add some chopped falafel, together with the cold roasted vegetables and you’ve got a really filling and sustaining start to your picnic menu.

Quinoa surprise

I’ve called this a surprise because you can add what you like!  Quinoa is a staple vegetarian and vegan source of protein and also provides carbohydrates.  Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids in varying amounts and is great for anyone who can’t eat any grain derived from gluten.  Furthermore, it tastes great and is incredibly versatile!

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

One of my favourite quinoa dishes is with grilled halloumi, chopped spring onions, tomatoes, cucumber and mint with a little olive oil, garlic and lemon dressing.  Any colourful salad vegetables will provide plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C and other antioxidants.  Another suggestion is to add goat’s cheese, beetroot and pesto.  Beetroot is one of the best vegetables on the planet for cleansing the liver and also providing plant-based iron, which can be lacking in vegetarians.

Frittata

No picnic is complete without frittata.  It’s another dish that can be easily made the night before and stored in the fridge. Frittata is a really filling picnic dish and eggs, its main ingredient, are another great source of protein.

Spinach and mushroom frittata

All you need are some eggs, cooked potatoes, onions, red peppers and peas.  You can actually add whatever happens to be in the fridge – try spinach and mushrooms – and it’s a great way of including additional fibre and, most importantly, colour into your picnic.

Pasta slaw

If you’re looking for an easier option than normal ‘slaw’ which does require quite a lot of chopping, using pasta as the base is a whole lot easier and will keep everyone filled up for longer.  Just use wholemeal pasta which helps balance energy levels and, hopefully, avoids the afternoon slump.  You don’t want to be missing out on the picnic fun!

Bowl of pasta salad

Penne pasta is great for this dish so prepare some and cook until its al dente.  When cold, add some chopped celery, apples (they don’t need to be peeled), spring onions, a few walnut halves and raisins.  If you’re trying to reduce fat load then making the dressing with natural yoghurt, white wine vinegar and mustard is a great protein-rich alternative to mayo.

Chickpea Salad

We know that chickpeas are a wonder food.  As well as being the main ingredient in houmous, they’re a great source of protein for vegetarians or carnivores alike.  Plus, they’re packed with phytoestrogens, so anyone struggling to balance hormones should include chickpeas regularly in the diet.

Chickpea salad with feta

For this picnic delight simply use a can of chickpeas, a can of kidney beans, chopped avocado, cucumber, red peppers, and feta cheese, flavoured with your favourite salad dressing and chopped coriander.  This dish is loaded with protein, fibre, energising B-vitamins, healthy monounsaturated fats, and skin-loving and immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin E.

All these dishes are super-easy to make in advance, so you just need to pack up your basket and go!

Stay well.

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Five seasonal foods to start your summer

CLose up of a hand holding a slice of watermelow with the words hello summer cut out of it

The summer solstice on 20th June officially marks the start of summer, although with such a hot May you could be forgiven for thinking it has been here for a while! 

With the onset of summer, nature brings a further array of deliciously healthy and nutritious foods to enjoy.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyers shares her five favourites.

 

Courgettes

More romantically named zucchini by the Italians and Americans, courgettes are a great and versatile summer food.  They’re a type of small, young marrow with tender edible skins.  As with most fruits and vegetables, many of their nutrients are actually found just under the skin hence they’re best eaten with the skin on.

A range of courgettes

Courgettes are a good source of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A in the body as needed.  As with other ‘green’ vegetables they also supply a particular carotenoid, zeaxanthin which is great for the eyes.  They’re also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and brain-boosting folate. Folate is essential for good functioning of the nervous system which is really useful especially right now when many people are struggling with anxiety.

Courgette linguini

One of the loveliest summer recipes is grated courgette with linguini, lemon juice, garlic, basil and chopped chilli peppers; it makes a fantastic al fresco treat!

Artichoke

It’s not always a go-to vegetable as it’s slightly trickier to prepare.  However, why not change things up a little and benefit from its wonderful taste and health benefits? As an additional benefit, artichoke often conjures up thoughts of the Mediterranean which we might not be able to visit for a while.

Close up of artichokes

Artichoke is prepared by discarding the outer toughest leaves to get to the heart. It can then be sliced and either grilled or boiled and served with lemon butter or hollandaise sauce.  Alternatively, it can be bought ready prepared and added to pizzas, salads or pasta dishes.

Artichoke pasta dish

Artichoke’s main health benefits seem to be from its potential to support liver function and reduce cholesterol levels.  It also helps feed the friendly gut bacteria, a good balance of which is essential for overall wellbeing.

Watercress

Another green super food, watercress is one of the healthiest salad vegetables with a distinctive peppery taste.  In traditional medicine it was used as a kidney and liver detoxifier, just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  Furthermore, it’s a great source of minerals especially iron, as well as beta-carotene and vitamin C.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress makes a great summertime soup with Jersey Royals (also in season right now). It is also great in salad with rocket and Parmesan or with other strong flavours such as orange.

Wild Sea Trout

It’s important to look for ‘wild’ which naturally contains astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant, and the reason for the dark, pink colour), plus the flavour is vastly better than in its farmed counterparts.  Some of the best wild sea trout is caught off the Welsh coast, although it’s also fished in European waters.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Sea Trout is an excellent source of super-healthy omega-3 fats which are needed for the heart, brain, skin, hormones, and joints.

Trout fish fillet with salad

At this time of year, sea trout is absolutely delicious cooked on the barbecue and also works well marinated with orange dressing.  It makes a wonderfully healthy summer meal alongside Jersey Royal potatoes and plenty of salad leaves.

Aubergine

Another vegetable we often associate with the Mediterranean, especially Greece, is aubergine (also known as eggplant).  Interestingly, it’s also widely grown in the UK. Aubergine is still widely used in traditional Ottoman dishes such as Imam Bayildi (aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes). The deep colour of its skin signifies plenty of anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against degenerative diseases.  Aubergine also contains plenty of fibre and folate.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

Aubergines are a great summer food because they’re delicious chargrilled and added to other roasted vegetables or in a salad with roasted tomatoes and feta cheese.  The only downside is that they tend to soak up plenty of oil so do make sure you use healthy olive oil so at least you’re getting some heart-health benefits.

So, enjoy the amazing colours, tastes and nutritional benefits the new summer season brings.

Stay well.

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Three delicious and nutritious alternatives to fish and chips

Fish chips and peas

It’s National Fish and Chip Day and whilst we may be enjoying one too many takeaways during lockdown, they are certainly a treat during these challenging times.

But if you’re feeling like a healthier treat is needed why not mark the day instead with an alternative but delicious fish dish that’s much healthier?

Suzie Sawyer Clinical Nutritionist shares her three fish dish favourites.

Salmon Stir-fry

When we’re talking about healthy fish dishes, salmon is top of the list. For those who are not big salmon lovers, this dish is great because it’s got some strong flavours which help mask the fish flavours; it’s tasty and really easy.  With any salmon dish, always try to find the Wild Alaskan Salmon because it’s fished in less polluted waters and contains natural astaxanthin – one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet (it’s also what makes salmon pink!)

Two fillets of salmon on a wooden board

Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fats, essential for the brain, joints, hormones, skin and eyes.  We all need to eat omega-3s regularly in our diets as they can’t be made in the body.

Salmon stir fry

For this easy dish, simply fry up some onions, peppers, ginger, garlic, carrot strips and tenderstem broccoli in some olive oil, add the chopped salmon and heat until cooked (only a few minutes needed).  Add some five spice, soy sauce, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and some chopped fresh coriander. In just a few minutes you’ve got a brilliant brain-healthy meal delivering loads of super-healthy antioxidants from the salmon and colourful veggies.  Plus, garlic and ginger are great for the digestion and for boosting immunity. Enjoy with noodles or rice.

Barbecued squid

Squid is a high protein, low fat fish that just oozes thoughts of summer!  It also contains good amounts of energising vitamin B12. Squid also includes trace minerals such as potassium, iron, phosphorus, and copper, all frequently deficient in UK diets. You can buy squid already pre-prepared  from the supermarket.  Better still ask the fishmonger to prepare it for you.

Grilled squid on a bbq

Squid is generally known as calamari, which is deep-fried in breadcrumbs, considerably increasing the fat content (just like traditional fish and chips).  This recipe is certainly much healthier, and you’ll not feel bloated and uncomfortable after eating.

Squid is great loaded onto skewers, alternated with red peppers and onions, and wrapping the tentacles (if you have them) around the skewer.  Simply barbecue, squeezing lemon juice over the skewers and enjoy immediately.

White fish Thai-style

This recipe can be used with any white fish but works especially well with sea bass.  All white fish is rich in protein, low in fat and incredibly versatile.  The dish works really well with some roasted sweet vegetables including sliced sweet potatoes and beetroot for a real superfood boost: both of these vegetables are loaded with anti-ageing antioxidants.

Thai fish dish

For the Thai fish, place the fish in an ovenproof dish and grate some garlic, ginger, finely shopped chilli and the zest of a lime on top.  Then squeeze over the juice of the lime, some soy sauce and a few drops of Tabasco.  Ideally the fish should be marinated for a couple of hours in the fridge, so the flavours really infuse into the fish.  It can then be roasted in the oven for around 20 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

So, enjoy these fish alternatives – you can always add some low-fat oven chips or homemade sweet potato chips as a side for an extra treat!

Stay safe.

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Growing your own: health-giving, home-grown ideas

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

Whilst we’re all rather restricted in what we can and can’t do right now. But for those with vegetable patches, pots or allotments, it’s the perfect time to be growing your vegetables.  For those of you without access to outside space, a balcony or even just a windowsill can give you the opportunity to grow some delicious and health-giving herbs.

Growing your own produce has big advantages over shop-bought as the produce is all pesticide-free and additive-free.  Importantly, time from harvest to plate can be swift, helping to keep valuable nutrients intact, and helping the planet at the same time.

This National Gardening Week, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer suggests a few things to start cultivating right now!

Broccoli

An all-round superfood, broccoli certainly lives up to its acclaim. It is very high in antioxidants provided by its vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content. Plus, it’s great for the heart (it helps reduce cholesterol) and helps to protect the immune system. It can help to keep the digestive system moving smoothly and supports the liver’s ability to detoxify. Broccoli is also packed with lutein and zeaxanthin which are great for healthy eyes and eyesight.

Purple sprouting broccoli

In terms of nutrient content, broccoli is rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, bone-loving vitamin K and energy-boosting folate. There are so many different varieties of broccoli that you can sow right now; the purple sprouting type may have the slight edge in terms of antioxidants, which is down to its beautiful colour.

Carrots

A real mainstay vegetable, no garden should be without carrots. They are best known for their ability to help you see in the dark. This is because they are loaded with beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, and which is essential for eyesight.

A selection of rainbow carrots

Why not grow a rainbow variety, which means you’ll have a combination of orange, purple and white-coloured carrots?  They will all have slightly different tastes and the varied colours will deliver wonderful healthy phytonutrients.

Beetroot

If you plant some beetroot seeds now, you should have some wonderful beetroot globes available for the traditional summer salad season. However, beetroot is not only great in salads but is delicious roasted, pickled or cooked, and used in juices and smoothies.

Whole beetroots

Another superfood, beetroot is a great liver cleanser. Packed full of antioxidants, it also supports energy and is a good source of iron.  Indeed, this is probably one of the reasons it has traditionally been known as a tonic and given to people whilst convalescing. Needless to say, it’s loaded with great nutrients and is incredibly versatile in many dishes, both sweet and savoury.

Basil

Basil is one of the tastiest herbs you can grow indoors. Plus, it smells beautiful and will always remind you of the Mediterranean.  Basil makes a great accompaniment to any tomato-based dish and is an aromatic addition to salad and pasta dishes. It also great for the digestive system.

A fresh bunch of basil on a wooden board

Basil is a pretty hardy herb that prefers full sunlight and now is the time to plant your pots for readiness by July. It will also happily grow in a pot amongst other herbs if you have room.

Chives

Chives are another great small pot herb which can be grown alone or in a slightly larger pot with other herbs such as coriander and parsley.

Some chopped chives on a wooden board

A member of the onion family, chives are very easy to grow and produce some pretty and edible flowers. Both the stems and flowers are great chopped for garnishing potato salad, in scrambled egg, soups and many other savoury dishes. As with all herbs, they have been hailed for many different health issues over the years, and chives have been used as a tonic and to stimulate appetite after illness.

So, get planting!  And if you’ve never undertaken any form of gardening in the past, now could be a great time to start.

Stay well.

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The wonders of asparagus

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of fresh asparagus

Asparagus is one of those vegetables that when eaten in season is magical. So, as we enter English asparagus season (which is also quite short), grab it, enjoy it and benefit from its wonderful nutritional profile. 

Whether you eat it as a side, as part of a salad or pasta dish or in a soup, asparagus is a highly nutritious vegetable worth adding to your menu right now.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives us the low-down on the wonders of asparagus this National Asparagus Day!

Asparagus was once viewed as a delicacy and also widely used in medicinal folklore as a tonic and sedative, as well as easing inflammatory conditions. Nowadays, it’s widely known as a diuretic vegetable, meaning it helps excrete sodium, an excess of which can contribute to high blood pressure.

Nutritional benefits

Asparagus has now been honoured to be part of its own family, Asparagaceae, further underscoring its uniqueness of taste and nutrient profile.

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

Around 100 different phytonutrient compounds have been found in asparagus.  These are responsible for delivering many health benefits, including having an antioxidant action.  Asparagus is rich in energising B-vitamins (especially folate, found in higher levels than in any other vegetable) and bone-loving vitamin K. It also contains immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin E, plus a number of trace minerals including selenium which is frequently lacking in the daily diet.  Indeed, asparagus contains about 22 key nutrients, so it really is a nutritional powerhouse!

Anti-inflammatory action

Past generations were not too far off the mark using asparagus for inflammatory conditions.  Research has found asparagus contains quite a unique profile of anti-inflammatory compounds called saponins.  Inflammation is responsible for many of our degenerative health conditions as well as health niggles such as painful, swollen joints or skin complaints.

Close up of knee representing joint pain

It’s also very high in antioxidant capabilities which protect the body against aging and many serious health concerns.

What’s cooking?

Asparagus has become hugely popular in many restaurant dishes or as a side. Importantly, it needs to be really fresh as it can degrade quickly when stored and become tasteless and chewy.  The spears need to be firm, smooth and vibrant in colour (unless you’re going for the white variety!)  It’s delicious quickly steamed, drizzled with a little olive oil, black pepper and sprinkled Parmesan cheese. Or why not try wrapped in parma ham?

Grilled asparagus wrapped in parma ham

Asparagus is often traditionally served with hollandaise sauce (you can also add a poached egg) or lemon mayonnaise.  However, it works well in a traditional summer salad with Jersey Royal potatoes (also now coming into season), broad beans, peas and shallots.

Asparagus with hollandaise sauce

Asparagus is an easy addition to any stir fry. It also works brilliantly in a quiche with salmon, or in a soup.

The less time it takes from harvest to plate the better as the sugars turn to starch quickly, giving it that tell-tale hardened feel.  Much English asparagus takes only 24 hours to reach us from field to plate, hence the reason it is so sought after during these months.

What about the urine odour?

Most people will notice a distinct smell to their urine after eating asparagus which is perfectly normal and is down to something called asparagusic acid.  Some people will notice it more than others.  However, this compound is also cited as providing one of its amazing health benefits due to its function in the antioxidant pathways, so it is also doing you some good!

So, be sure to enjoy tasty English asparagus at its very best this season as well as the health benefits it provides.

Stay well.

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How to continue your Lent healthy-eating habits beyond Easter

An easter basket fillwed with flowers and colourful decorated eggs

As those of us who have been giving up certain food or drink for Lent are aware, the 40 days ends this weekend with the Easter celebration.  Whilst we may not be celebrating as, perhaps, we had planned with friends and family, it is a great opportunity to think about the changes you have made over the last 40 days.  

If you’ve worked hard during this period to stay away from certain foods, why not keep up the good work and permanently swap them out of your diet?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great alternatives for you to try.

Crisps

Crisps are a guilty pleasure for many of us who often eat a bag per day with our lunch. A typical bag of crisps contains around 171 calories, a small amount of protein (around 2 grams) and over 10 grams of fat, offering very little nutrient value.

A pot of hummus with pitta bread as a healthy snack

Why not swap crisps for some healthier crackers such as pumpkin and linseed crisp breads, oat cakes or rice cakes. These all make great snacks when energy levels are flagging, and hunger pangs are kicking in, especially if you add some protein: try them with hummus, cottage cheese, avocado or your favourite nut butter.

Alcohol

Most people report how much better they feel when they have a sustained amount of time without drinking alcohol.  And these benefits increase the longer you’re tee total.  Drinking alcohol can become habitual but if you change up your routine, you can break the habit.  Alcohol consumption depletes other nutrients, especially B-vitamins needed for energy. And, of course, alcohol is high in calories: a standard glass of wine contains around 160 calories, whilst a pint of beer contains almost 200 calories – about the same as a slice of pizza.

An alcohol-free cocktail with mint leaves

There are so many alcohol-free but great tasting alternatives to wine, beer and spirits right now, so you don’t need to feel left out. Why not create some delicious alcohol-free cocktails? Serve these drinks in special glasses as if they’re the real thing. Even just trying to cut down post Lent will improve your health exponentially.

Chocolate

If you were a fan of big bars of milk chocolate, then changing to a minimum 70% dark chocolate option (preferably organic) is certainly permitted as a lovely treat.

Squares of dark chocolate

Cocoa naturally contains flavonoids – plant compounds that are high in antioxidants and have also been found to help reduce high blood pressure.  Two or three squares a day will certainly deliver some good health benefits whilst hopefully satisfying any sweet cravings.

Cheese

It’s amazing how many people are addicted to cheese!  Clearly, it does contain many health benefits, being high in protein and bone-loving calcium.  However, it’s also high in amines which can trigger migraines (especially soft cheese) and disrupt sleep if eaten too late into the evening.  Most importantly, cheese has a high fat content so should be eaten in moderation to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect weight and blood fat levels.

Goats cheese round

There are many alternative, delicious vegan cheeses available now, often made from coconut or soy.  If cheese is your weakness, why not try to change it up as much as you can with some alternatives?

Cakes

There are very few of us who don’t enjoy cakes in some form or another. However, if this was your ‘go-to’ treat pre-Lent, then try not to fall back into the same pattern post-Easter. Cakes are calorie high and nutrient sparse; sugar in all its forms robs the body of other nutrients. Have this in mind before you reach for a slice.

Homemade flapjacks

There are some great sweet and healthier alternatives that you can create in your own kitchen. Think homemade muesli bars or flapjacks, fruit pizza made with oatmeal, chocolate covered bananas, or fruit loaf. They all contain some health benefits (especially energising B-vitamins and immune-loving vitamin C) and should help you manage any sweet cravings.

So, celebrate your 40-day resolve this weekend, and plan your next 40 days and beyond to be even healthier with these delicious alternatives!

Stay well.

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The truth about fruit and sugar

A range of fruits

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

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

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

The good

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

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

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

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

A wooden bowl of blueberries

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

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

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

The not so good

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

a punnet of strawberries

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

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

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

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

The not too bad at all!

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

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support your immunity

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

Two glasses of berry smoothies

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

Manage your stress levels

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

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

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

Keep sugar to a minimum

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

A bowl of cicken broth soup

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

Take time for relaxation

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

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

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

Get some fresh air

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

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

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

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

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Three of the healthiest soups you can make this winter

A range of bowls of soup

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

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

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

Chicken broth for immunity

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

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

A bowl of cicken broth soup

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

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

Boost your energy with bean soup

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

A bowl of mixed bean soup

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

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

Soothe digestion with broccoli soup

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

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

A bowl of broccoli soup

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

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

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

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Easy ways to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands making dough for baking

‘Tis the season to be jolly but it is also the season for colds and flu!  Unfortunately, this time of year is renowned for delivering unwanted bugs and colds.  The stress of Christmas, children bringing home bugs from school and simply the immune system being lower at this time of year, will all have an impact.

However, with a little planning, there are simple ways you can infuse some immune-boosting nutrients into every meal.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells you how to fill your plate with immunity at every meal!

Breakfast

There are some quick wins to be had with breakfast.  This is probably one of the easiest meals to add immune-boosting vitamin C, widely available in many fruits. Some fruits have more vitamin C and immune-boosting antioxidants than others, however.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Watermelon contains some of the highest levels of antioxidants and strawberries the highest amount of vitamin C. However, whilst we may see both these fruits on the supermarket shelves at this time of year, it is not their natural season.  Apples and pears are naturally available right now and it’s always best to try and eat with the seasons because nutrient levels are going to be at their highest. Interestingly, prunes (which are simply dried plums) are also high on the antioxidant chart and are often popular in the mornings (tinned is fine if you drain off most of the syrup).

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

Sliced apples or pears are delicious with overnight oats, granola, bircher muesli or good old porridge.  Think about every meal being an opportunity to gain valuable nutrients and you’ll soon get creative.  Berries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, partly due to their beautiful dark colours.  They are great as an added breakfast booster and also as an easy ‘on-the-run’ breakfast snack.  Even though they may have travelled some way to get to the supermarket, which will have depleted a percentage of their nutrients, they still have many wonderful health benefits to offer.

Lunch

Lunch can be rather challenging just because we’re often away from home, maybe in the office or off-site.  However, filling your body with nutrients is no less important at lunchtime and is not too difficult with just a little planning. It’s time to bring on the herbs!

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herbs sage, oregano and thyme all support the immune system, but also help relieve colds, sore throats and flu symptoms. All can easily be added to lunchtime meals.

Curry dish and rice

Lunch is generally best prepared the night before which may mean eating ‘left-overs’ but these meals still deliver important nutrients.  Think about dishes such as Bolognese, soups, stews, curries, roasted chicken or fish which are just as good the next day and taste even better with some extra herbs liberally added.

Dinner

Dinner doesn’t need to be overcomplicated for it to be healthy and immune boosting.  Whatever dish you’re eating, the most important thing is to make sure you’ve included vegetables, which are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants.  Also important is beta-carotene, rich in sweet potatoes, carrots and peppers, which the body converts to vitamin A as needed – another immune-boosting vitamin.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Any dark-coloured vegetables such as kale, broccoli, sprouts and red cabbage will provide lots of nutrients.  However, even lighter coloured root vegetables such as swede (in season right now) can hold their head high when it comes to boosting immunity.  You can always have a bowl of vegetable soup as a starter to further increase your veggie intake.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

It’s also worth the investment of buying a slow cooker. You can literally throw all the ingredients in, maybe before going to work, and they will be beautifully cooked by the time you come home.  A small amount of morning chopping is worth the health benefits you’ll gain.

With a little planning, every meal can support you through the cold and flu season by boosting your immunity this winter.

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 our sister site Herbfacts