Celebrate National Vegetarian Week with these top five vegetables

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

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

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

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourites.

 

Soy beans

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

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

A sack of soy beans

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

Spinach

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

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

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

Asparagus

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

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

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

Broccoli

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

Broccoli florets on a plate

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

Collard greens

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

A dish of collard greens

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

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

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

Stay well.

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

All images: Shutterstock

 

Five ways to clean-up your diet this spring

Happy woman in field showing spring time

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to spring-cleaning everything. Hopefully, you’ll be feeling quite proud of yourself at the moment if you’re eating a fairly healthy diet.  However, there’s always room for improvement and new ideas, plus eating food in season is always going to be better from a nutritional perspective.

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So what are some of the new things you could be doing to revamp your diet and wellbeing this spring?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for spring-cleaning your diet and life!

Eat purple sprouting broccoli

It’s no secret that broccoli is a wonder food. This is because it contains such a wide range of nutrients. Broccoli contains vitamin C, vitamin K and folate as well as the minerals iron and potassium in abundance. It also has immune-boosting beta-carotene, alongside many other disease-preventing compounds. Broccoli (and indeed, all vegetables within the brassica family) contains compounds called indoles which may offer protection against some diseases. Broccoli also contains sulforaphanes which help detoxification.

Purple sprouting broccoli

The great news is that purple sprouting broccoli is in season right now! Its deep purple colour actually makes it even healthier due to the presence of flavonoids which are rich in antioxidants. These phytonutrients are retained whether broccoli is fresh, frozen, raw or cooked. However, much of the vitamin C content is lost by from boiling, therefore always lightly steam your broccoli to retain the most nutrients.

It’s a great spring vegetable to be enjoyed as much as possible and works really well as part of a spring cleansing plan.

Spring clean from the inside

What’s going on in the digestive system directly affects how you look and feel on the outside. You don’t necessarily need to be making drastic changes to see real improvements. Try making a ‘detox’ water with lemon, cucumber, mint and ginger.

Glass of water with lemon

Lemon helps the production of pepsin in the stomach, which in turn helps break down food and nutrients, aiding digestion and a flatter stomach. Cucumber is a great diuretic, helping cleanse the bladder and kidneys. Mint is brilliant for the digestive tract and eliminates excess wind and ginger is an all-round great anti-inflammatory and gut-lover. The combination of all these ingredients mixed into your detox water and drunk every day will thoroughly cleanse the system and make your skin glow! Drinking about two litres daily is a great place to start.

Banish the bubbles

This may sound harsh but fizzy drinks all cause bloating and wind and are certainly not going to help your spring cleanse. The other problem is that most fizzy drinks are either loaded with sugar or sweeteners, the latter being one of the main causes of digestive upsets.

Additionally, fizzy drinks are high in phosphoric acid, encouraging greater acidity in the body generally, which can cause calcium to be leached from the bones.

Fruit tea with berries next to a cup

Make this spring the time to resolve to kick the bubbles (yes even prosecco and champagne) and opt for detox water (as above) or herbal or fruit teas for your daily brew.

Beat hay fever with asparagus

Unfortunate hay fever sufferers probably don’t need reminding that the season is fast approaching. However, as with anything, prevention is better than cure and the flavonoid, quercetin, high in asparagus, can really help if eaten regularly enough. Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine and seems to work more effectively when eaten before symptoms really take a hold.

Other great sources of quercetin include apples, green tea and onions. However, asparagus has a truly excellent nutrient profile of vitamins and minerals. It also contains inulin which feeds the beneficial bacteria and acts as a ‘hoover’, sweeping out all the bad guys.

Asparagus tied in a bunch

Many people resist eating asparagus because it produces unpleasant-smelling urine! However, this is merely the result of one of its more beneficial antioxidants being broken down. Asparagus is just doing its work and should certainly be part of your spring cleanse, particularly as it’s in season right now.

Resolve to be more positive

There are many positive benefits to being part of social media platforms. However, it can also breed dissatisfaction with our body and life in general, which is certainly not going to put a spring in your step.

People often find that having a social media detox can really help their mood and body self-image. Write down some positive affirmations about yourself and say them every morning to the mirror. Focus on what you (and others) really love about yourself and keep repeating them over and over.

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

Part of feeling great for the new season ahead is having a positive attitude to life. Resolve to be grateful for one thing every day, whether it’s seeing the first tulips, a great cup of coffee or watching rabbits run across the field. Being positive is work in progress and, like anything worth having in life, takes practice.

So with a few easy tweaks, your spring-time cleanse will have a really positive impact on your wellbeing.

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Amazing asparagus: in-season, nutritious and tasty!

Close up of woman holding a bunch of asparagus

May is National Asparagus Month because it’s the time when this wonderful vegetable comes into season and tastes at its absolute best. However, it’s not just the taste that’s so amazing.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on why asparagus is such a nutritional winner!

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VARIETIES

Asparagus can be found in green, white or purple varieties, although green tends to be the most popular in the UK. White asparagus has been grown in the dark, underground, and therefore doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as the other coloured varieties. It also doesn’t have any chlorophyll as it’s not been exposed to sunlight, hence it tastes slightly different.

A woman holding a bunch of green asparagus and a bunch of white asparagus

THE BENEFITS

Asparagus is a really good source of vitamins A and C so is great for the immune system. It is also very high in energy-giving folate plus it’s got a wealth of trace minerals such as potassium, copper, manganese and selenium. Asparagus is also a good source of chromium so helps with blood sugar balance.

Interestingly, asparagus isn’t on the top of everyone’s list when choosing vegetables. This may partly be because the sulphur-producing elements in asparagus gives most people’s urine a rather distinctive smell! In fact, this is quite normal and asparagus is a natural diuretic, so is actually very cleansing for the kidneys. For some people it can also work as a laxative as it’s high in fibre, so is great for people suffering from constipation.

Roasted asparagus topped with a poached egg

As with most fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, they tend to have traditional folklore use; in the case of asparagus, it was used as a tonic and to treat inflammatory-type conditions such as rheumatism.

IT’S GREAT FOR PREGNANCY

Since asparagus contains high levels of folate (folic acid), it’s great for women to eat either before or during pregnancy (or indeed both). Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects in babies and Public Health England also recommends a supplement of 400 micrograms daily, pre-conceptually and for the first trimester.

We know from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS)[1] that women of child-bearing age are deficient in this essential vitamin. This is despite it being widely available in foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, since folic acid works alongside vitamin B12, which is often poorly absorbed, the two vitamins can often both be deficient. So, ladies, now is the time to grab some delicious asparagus!

WHAT TO DO WITH IT

Asparagus is a real regular on restaurant menus at this time of year, either as an appetiser or as a side dish.   Often it’s simply roasted with a little olive oil and lemon or just lightly grilled. It’s also wonderful roasted and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. And it’s superb barbecued!

Another popular recipe is asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham, either as a starter or side. The asparagus is simply wrapped in the ham, sprinkled with pepper and roasted for about 15 minutes.

Roased asparagus wrapped in parma ham and sprinkled with parmesan cheese

If, however, you want to go for the slightly milder, sweeter taste of white asparagus, you can certainly try something different. White asparagus needs to be prepared slightly differently from the green variety; white should be peeled from the bottom as the skin tends to be tough. It is generally better boiled until soft and is traditionally served with hollandaise sauce. If you do opt for green, then it should be so fresh that you can snap it in half; no toughness or stringiness in sight!

The official asparagus season lasts around 8 weeks in the UK so enjoy it as much as possible!

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE

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Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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