Autumn apples: can one a day keep the doctor away?.

An apple in a box with 'one a day' written on the lid

Whilst apples are one of our most common ‘go-to’ snacks, they also have a wealth of health benefits. Plus ancient folklore certainly extoled their medicinal benefits. Apples are as popular today as they’ve ever been and even better they’re in season right now!

Clinical Nutritionist shares seven great reasons for grabbing some apples this autumn.

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APPLES HAVE A GREAT NUTRIENT PROFILE

Specifically, they’re high in vitamin C – one of the body’s key nutrients because is delivers so many health benefits. Vitamin C is especially important at this time of year because it’s essential for keeping the immune system in good shape; it encourages production of white blood cells which help fight any unwanted bacteria and viruses.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Vitamin C is also important for the skin, hair and nails, primarily because it helps produce collagen, the body’s most important protein. And as collagen is an intrinsic part of skin structure, therefore it may help prevent wrinkles and fine lines.

THEY ARE RICH IN POLYPHENOLS

Polyphenols are plant compounds that deliver some wonderful health benefits. Most importantly, they’re rich in antioxidants which may help prevent some of our nasty degenerative diseases. There are a wide variety of polyphenols and more are being studied all the time. However, we know there are certainly enough in apples to justify ‘keeping the doctor away’ if you eat one daily!

It’s always better to eat apples in their whole form though, as some of the polyphenol content can be lost through juicing, particularly in shop-bought apple juices.

APPLES ARE LOW GLYCAEMIC

The glycaemic index is a measurement of how quickly foods affect blood sugar levels in the body. In general terms, the lower the food on the index, the better (unless quick energy is needed for intense exercise, for example). The lower the food on the index, the less dramatic the effect on blood sugar levels, which will help provide the body with sustained energy and won’t cause mood and concentration dips.

Apples are very low, mainly because they’re high in fibre, which has the positive effect of slowing down absorption.

THEY HAVE MEDICINAL USES

In herbal medicine, ripe, uncooked apples have traditionally been given to treat constipation, whilst stewed fruit can be eaten to help nasty tummy infections such as gastroenteritis.

Interestingly, apples were also used in poultices to ease skin inflammation. Whilst there’s clearly medicines to help all these ills now, the many wondrous health benefits of apples were clearly appreciated hundreds of years ago!

THERE’S PLENTY OF VARIETY

Whilst there’s literally hundreds of varieties of apples, there are around 50 or so grown commercially in the UK so there’s still plenty of choice to suit all tastes. Depending on your preferences, a red delicious apple will have a very different taste and texture to a granny smith for example.

a selection of green and red apples

Locally grown apples are stored in a cool environment where the oxygen balance has been chemically lowered; this also helps retain most of the nutrients. When they are put on supermarket shelves though, they will quickly go soft under normal oxygen conditions, so it’s always best to eat them soon after purchase.

APPLES ARE USED IN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE

We know apples can help the digestive system. However, in Ayurvedic medicine they also have a big part to play for their nutritional and medicinal properties.

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

Apples are often used with cinnamon for a combined anti-inflammatory action; when stewed together with some cloves and mixed with amaranth porridge, you’ve got a hearty and deliciously healthy start to the day.

THEY HELP GOOD GUT BACTERIA TO FLOURISH

There’s so much knowledge now around the amazing health benefits of friendly gut bacteria and a greater understanding of how essential they are to human health.

It seems that some of the polyphenol content of apples can work their way through the digestive tract to encourage production of gut bacteria. Most importantly, they appear to encourage production of one of our key species of gut bacteria being Bifidobacteria.

Apples are certainly great for digestive health generally, plus their high fibre content ensures that bowel regularity is maintained.

There’s certainly no denying the wonderful health benefits of apples! Try to choose apples that are grown as locally as possible to enjoy their benefits even more.

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Cholesterol – it’s all about balance.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

With the focus for many people being on heart health this month, it’s a great time to think about the amazing muscle in our chest that beats around 70 times a minute, all day every day. As with all of the body’s precious organs, it needs to be well taken care of and having high cholesterol levels is a known risk factor for heart disease.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for keeping cholesterol levels well balanced.

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Before we begin, there are two types of cholesterol. HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) known as ‘good’ cholesterol, helps remove other forms of cholesterol from the body. Higher levels of HDL offers some protection against heart disease. LDL (low Density Lipoprotein) is otherwise known as ‘bad’ cholesterol and is associated with heart disease and other circulatory disorders as it collects in the walls of blood vessels and can cause blockages.

So what can we do to encourage the good and get rid of bad?

EAT HEALTHY FATS

The essential omegas, in particular the omega-3s, can help reduce cholesterol levels and also have other heart-loving benefits. The body cannot make them so they have to be eaten very regularly in the diet; the best sources are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) and nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds and walnuts are best).

Omega-3s can help to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Omega’3s are also needed to manage inflammation throughout the body, and have other beneficial effects on blood pressure and heart health generally.

A range of foods high in Omega 3 fats

Try to eat oily fish two to three times a week; vegetarians should try to eat nuts and seeds every day (try flaxseeds which contain the essential Omega-3s). However, if that’s not for you or not doable, do opt for an Omega-3 supplement every day.

AVOID TRANS FATS

Trans fats (mainly found in margarines) are chemically produced and have an adverse effect on the heart (and health generally). The problem with trans fats is that their chemical structure changes when the fats are heated and processed. Food manufacturers frequently use the process of hydrogenation, which produces trans fats, in order to increase shelf life of foods such as margarines, biscuits and cakes. Unfortunately, the body has no way of dealing with them, therefore they tend to elevate blood fat levels, and in turn raise cholesterol levels.

Trans fats have no health or body benefits, therefore it’s best to try to avoid them as much as possible. It is actually better to have a little butter rather than using margarine, but also try using olive oil, coconut oil or rapeseed oil for cooking and keep cakes and biscuits to a minimum. Your waistline, as well as your heart, will certainly thank you!

EAT APPLES

There are always many good reasons for eating plenty of apples, plus they’re in season right now so their nutritional value should be higher, and they might even be a little cheaper. Apples contain a particular fibre called pectin, which helps to reduce cholesterol levels by transporting the bad cholesterol out of the body.

An apple with a heart shape cut out to show that apples are good for a healthy heart

Other fruits high in pectin include pears, all berries and citrus fruits. The best advice is to include a wide range of fruits (alongside vegetables of course) every day. Cholesterol has no way of being expelled from the body except through the stool. Therefore keeping the bowels regular is key and, as pectin is a fibre, it really helps this process along.

UP YOUR WHOLEGRAINS

Having a high fibre diet generally is one of the best ways of keeping cholesterol levels balanced. Wholegrain foods such as whole wheat bread and pasta, rice, quinoa, oats, beans and lentils are naturally high in fibre. In contrast, refined (or white) foods have had the fibrous part stripped out, so play no role in a high fibre diet.

A range of wholegrains in heart shaped dishes to show they are good for the heart

It’s actually quite easy to increase the amount of fibre in the diet without too much effort. For example, porridge sprinkled with a few flaxseeds makes a great breakfast, especially now the colder weather has arrived. Try a brown bread sandwich for lunch, alongside an apple (or berries) plus some nuts and seeds for snacks during the day. Salmon, quinoa and plenty of veg for dinner ticks both the fibre and Omega-3 boxes.

TRY A MILK SWAP

A diet generally high in saturated fats, found mainly in dairy produce and red meat, is certainly going to encourage the production of cholesterol. Switch to skimmed milk as a starter. However, there’s some research to suggest that soya produce, including milk, may help reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Plus, nut milks such as hazelnut, almond and oat, may also have a beneficial effect. At the very least, they’re all low in saturated fats.

A range of milks made from nuts

Even if you’re a die-hard cow’s milk fan, try to include some other milks in the diet as much as possible: each type of milk has its own health benefits so change them up as much as possible.

So adopt a few simple dietary changes and you can improve your cholesterol levels and support a healthier heart longer term.

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

 

How to get your five-a-day during December

Close up of a woman's hands holding a pile of cranberries

Our healthy diet can sometimes go awry during December. Festive functions and busy diaries mean that eating healthily becomes, potentially, more difficult, and that includes getting the recommended ‘five-a-day’ of our fruits and vegetables. However, there are some delicious ways of eating foods in season right now to maximise their health benefits. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her favourites!

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JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

Maybe not top of everyone’s ‘wish-list’ but Jerusalem artichokes provide some wonderful health benefits.

One of their top ‘claims to fame’ is that they boost our beneficial gut bacteria. This helps to improve mood and motivation because it stimulates the production of serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone. It may also help to avoid winter SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which affects so many people, making them feel low through the cold, dark months.

Jerusalem artichokes are delicious simply chopped lengthwise and roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

CRANBERRIES

Not surprisingly, cranberries are in season right now!  But don’t just eat them once a year with your turkey; cranberries can offer some wonderful health benefits throughout the winter months.

Cranberries are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin C so are great to eat at this time of year when the immune system needs a boost.  Plus, cranberries are brilliant at fighting urinary tract infections; they stop bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

If you’re prone to bladder infections, then the best advice is to regularly drink sugar-free cranberry juice and include dried cranberries in granola or muesli recipes, or your other favourite cereals.

CELERIAC

Often called ‘the ugly one’ because of its very rough physical appearance, celeriac’s rich nutritional benefits and distinct taste means it is quite an interesting vegetable!

It is part of the celery family and, just like celery, is rich in potassium which is great for the heart.  Both vegetables are particularly helpful in reducing blood pressure.

Celeriac is quite difficult to peel but once prepped it’s great as a vegetable side mashed with butter and black pepper.  Even better, celeriac can be roasted whole in the oven which means it doesn’t even need to be peeled!  Wash the outer skin and cut off the top.  Sprinkle with some olive oil, garlic, herbs and seasoning.  The celeriac should then be wrapped in foil and cooked in the oven for around two hours.  Once cooked, it’s easy to spoon it out of the skin and serve with some butter.

APPLES

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ as the old wives’ tale goes, and apples certainly deliver some great health benefits which can be enjoyed during December.

Apples are packed with pectin fibre which helps to keep cholesterol levels under control.  Additionally, they contain a flavonoid called quercetin, a natural antihistamine that helps to calm allergies.

Apples are also used to make cider vinegar, which provides even more health benefits; it helps the digestion, eases joint pain, helps with weight loss and is great for the skin.  Indeed, its health benefits are as valuable as eating an apple a day.  Have a dessertspoonful before each meal.

KALE

Kale, with its rich dark green leaves, is in season right now and is great to add to your five-a-day. It’s packed with vitamin K, which is heart-protective, and folic acid and iron which support high energy levels.  It’s also full of fibre and low in calories and fat – a real winner!

Some people find kale’s fairly strong flavour slightly off-putting!  However, its makes an excellent addition to any pasta dish, such as chicken and bacon rigatoni, where there are also some other strong flavours, which combine really well.  Add a sprinkling of parmesan and black pepper and you’ve got yourself a wonderful mid-week meal to keep you running up until Christmas!

So even though time might be pressured over the next few weeks, you can still give your body plenty of nutrients to ensure you’re fully able to enjoy this Festive period.

 

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Celebrate ‘Best of British’ with these home-grown, nutrient-boosting foods

Once again, it’s British Food Fortnight which is the biggest annual, national celebration of British food and drink.  And there’s much to celebrate!  It’s  a chance for us to fully embrace great British foods on offer and those particularly in season right now. And eating seasonally means we are getting foods at their most nutritious.

With that in mind, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite British foods for autumn.

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DOVER SOLE

Although cod is still the most consumed fish in Britain Dover sole is many people’s favourite flat fish! Dover sole has a longer and narrower shaped body than other flat fish and delivers a wonderful, almost sweet taste, with flaky texture when cooked. And it’s good to know that British fish is always responsibly and sustainably sourced.

Aside from its delicious taste, Dover sole is super-healthy with only around 100 calories per 100 grams and very low in fat.  It’s also high in protein.  However, it’s all about the cooking because frying can really increase the calorie and fat content due to the high surface area of the fish. Dover sole is much better lightly seasoned with flour and then grilled.

APPLES

Think of autumn fruit and thoughts will always turn to apples. Whilst we see apples in the supermarkets all year round, British apples are now in season.  This means they should be cheaper and we’re also giving our bodies exactly what they need at the right time of year by eating seasonally. The flavour, texture and scent of in-season apples will also be enhanced.

Interestingly, imported apples are often stored for months in a cool environment where the oxygen balance has been chemically lowered.  This halts the natural maturing processes, so they can be kept for several months without going soft.  However, when the fruit is then exposed to normal temperatures, in the supermarket, it will mature quickly and go soft.  The longer storage times will lead to depleted nutrient levels in the fruit, especially vitamin C, so this is another great reason to eat in season!

Apples are so versatile in many recipes and make a perfect high fibre, on-the-go snack.  But with British pork also in season, roast pork with apple sauce would be an excellent menu choice.

POTATOES

Potatoes are a great staple family food; filling, high in vitamin C and fibre.  And they’re definitely best eaten in season and fresh, not only for the taste, but also for retaining vitamin C (which starts depleting as soon as potatoes are harvested).  Once bought, potatoes prefer to be taken out of their plastic packaging and not stored in the fridge.  They’re also best stored in a cool cupboard as they don’t like too much light.

Many people resist eating potatoes, worrying they are fattening.  But it’s often the lashings of butter, the frying, or the cream in a potato dauphinoise that adds the calories!  Whilst jacket potatoes have a high carbohydrate content, if they’re eaten with some protein such as tuna, for example, the meal has much less effect on blood sugar levels.  And as a potato’s best source of nutrients and fibre is found in the skin, it’s a win-win!

CHICKEN

Another staple in the British diet, chicken is certainly at its best during food fortnight and moving into the autumn season.  British chickens are very safe and are generally vaccinated against salmonella, a bacteria that can cause nasty food poisoning.  We’re actually very proud of our quality chickens and they must meet criteria based on the Assured Chicken Production standards; these products have a distinctive red tractor logo.

Recipe ways with chicken are endless and with its high protein content (more than fish) and being a low fat meat, it’s always going to be a popular choice for many of us.  Chicken also contains the whole family of B vitamins which provide us with energy.

In terms of taste, chicken works equally well with sharp flavours (think lemon chicken), spicy dishes (fragrant, Thai curries) or sweet recipes (such as sweet and sour chicken).

Chicken broth is also a firm favourite during convalescence, particularly after a viral infection such as the flu.  Chicken broth naturally works as a decongestant and is especially effective and nutritious when stock from boiled chicken bones are used.  It’s easy to digest, and is a great source of protein and energising vitamins.

PEARS

Another great British grown fruit, pears are totally delicious at this time of year.  Pears are one of the least allergenic foods and are well tolerated by nearly everyone.  They’re also very appropriate as a weaning food and in exclusion diets.  Moreover (just like apples), pears provide good levels of vitamin C, fibre from pectin and heart-loving potassium.

Pears are perfect in sweet or savoury dishes: try them with a blue or goat’s cheese salad, with chocolate in a pudding, in a crumble with blackberries or with duck breast pan-fried.

Whichever foods you choose, British foods in season are always going to be high quality and you’ll be supporting local and national businesses to ensure continuing high standards whilst getting the best levels of nutrition.

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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