How to pack a healthy picnic

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

It’s a National Picnic Week which means it’s a great time to celebrate everything we love about picnics as well as spending time outdoors in green spaces.

There’s always a great temptation to pack too many ‘treats’ into the picnic basket but there are some great ways to get nutrition without missing out on flavours.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy picnic swaps, but which don’t swap out the taste!

Swap white for brown

This includes using brown bread or wraps rather than white if you’re packing sandwiches, but also wholemeal pasta rather than white. White bread and pasta have been refined, meaning much of the healthy fibre, essential for good digestion,  been stripped away. So too have many of the nutrients, especially energising B-vitamins and essential minerals such as chromium.

Sandwich,With,Ham,tomato,,Cucumber,And,Arugula,On,The,Wooden,Cutting

Brown pasta has a much fuller flavour and more of a texture than white.  And pasta salads are great for taking on picnics.  Why not try beetroot and cold poached salmon wholemeal pasta, adding some avocado, cucumber, dill and a little natural yoghurt.  This is a really delicious super-food pasta salad.

Swap potato crisps for veggie crisps

Most picnic baskets include crisps in some shape or size. Unfortunately, potato crisps are generally high in fat and low in nutrients.  So, why not swap potato crisps for veggie crisps? Think beetroot, parsnip, or carrot (or all three?) – there are a lot of veggie ‘crisp’ options available in supermarkets.

Home made kale chips in a dish

Even better, make your own kale crisps.  Kale belongs to the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family which are high in heart-loving vitamin K, relaxing magnesium and are loaded with antioxidants.  Simply pull off the leaves and rub them in a little olive oil and salt. Then roast in the oven for around 10 minutes and once cooled, you’ll have some of the healthiest veggie crisps to take on your picnic.

Swap ham for turkey

If you’re taking sandwiches, then what you put into them can make all the difference.  Ham sandwiches are often popular in the picnic basket.  However, ham is a processed meat and generally also contains high levels of preservatives.  Ham also contains saturated fats which are best minimised in the diet.

Grilled,Turkey,Breast,With,Salad

A far better choice is to use turkey meat instead. Turkey is very low in fat and high in protein (at 31 g per 100g, more than chicken). Why not cook up some turkey breast steaks the day before, which can be quickly grilled.  If you cook a few extra, they’re delicious eaten with Jersey Royal potatoes (now in season) and salad.  For the picnic, turkey steaks can be chopped, mixed with a little pesto and tomatoes, and made into delicious brown bread sandwiches.

Swap cheese spread for nut butters

There is a plethora of ready-made cheese spreads in supermarkets.  Whilst they might taste good, they are high in fat and are not especially nutrient dense.  Why not swap these for some delicious omega-3 laden almond butter.  Omega-3 fats are essential and whilst we need to be mindful of the amount of saturated fats we consume, the omegas are seriously deficient within the UK population and are essential for the heart, brain, eyes, skin and hormones.

Nut butter on rye bread

Almond butter is also high in protein so will keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Why not add some watercress (one of the healthiest salad vegetables around) for colour and a nutrient blast?

Swap fizzy drinks for kombucha

Fizzy drinks are always popular on picnics.  However, they are certainly not the healthiest of drinks.  Sugar-free versions are packed with sweeteners which have a detrimental effect on mood, but also encourage cravings for sweet food so you still end up eating all the wrong things!

Kombucha,Second,Fermented,Fruit,Tea,With,Different,Flavorings.,Healthy,Natural

Kombucha, however, is a great alternative. It’s a fermented, lightly effervescent, green or black tea drink, which is low in sugar but high in health benefits.  Fermented foods and drinks provide probiotics which are great for feeding the good bacteria and are essential for healthy digestion, good mood and effective weight management. Once you’ve tried them, there’ll be no turning back!

So, get outdoors and celebrate National Picnic Week with these super-healthy food swaps.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Five breakfast boosts for a healthier start to the day

Healthy,Breakfast,Set,On,Grey,Background.,The,Concept,Of,Delicious

As we approach mid-year, with hopefully the promise of some summer sunshine, now is a great time to overhaul your breakfast to ensure it’s as nourishing and energising as possible. 

Each mealtime is an opportunity to fuel the body with some of the 45 nutrients it needs every day, and a well-balanced breakfast is very important. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five breakfast choices to super-charge your day!

Avocado on wholemeal bagel

Cream,Cheese,And,Avocado,Bagel,Against,A,Black,Background

Avocados are really ‘on trend’ food wise, and for very good reason.  And whilst many people avoid avocados because of their high fat content, this is actually one of their plus points. The body needs a certain amount fat in the diet, not least because it’s essential for absorbing our fat-soluble nutrients, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Avocados are also rich in monounsaturated fats which are help support heart health. Choosing a wholemeal bagel as opposed to white will deliver lots more energising B-vitamins, in a balanced way, and sprinkling a few pumpkin seeds will top up protein levels and essential omega-3 fats too.

Chia seed porridge

Vegan,Breakfast.,Oatmeal,With,Chia,Seeds,,Berries,,Seeds,And,Caramel

Porridge is another breakfast staple. It can be eaten hot or the oats can be soaked overnight in a little apple juice and then eaten cold the next day.  Either way, oats are packed with fibre, so are great for digestive health, plus they naturally include beta-glucans which help reduce cholesterol levels.

It’s great to mix chia seeds with flaxseeds as a topping as both are rich sources of the essential and healthy omega-3s. Then add some vitamin C-rich berries and delicious oat yoghurt.  This is a great option for vegans and will help you power through until lunchtime.

Eggs and mushrooms

Poached,Egg,With,Spinach,,Portobello,Mushrooms,And,Vine,Tomatoes

Eggs make one of the best starts to the day because of their high protein content.  This helps balance blood sugar levels and, in turn weight, mood and energy.

Button mushrooms, which are a source of immune-boosting vitamin D, are gently cooked, sprinkled with thyme, in a little olive oil with chopped tomatoes for additional antioxidants and flavour.  Spread them over the plate and poach one or two eggs and pop on the top.

Gluten-free buckwheat pancakes

Buckwheat,Pancakes,With,Berry,Fruit,And,Honey.selective,Focus

Despite its name buckwheat contains no wheat at all.  This makes it the perfect base for the many people who find they can’t tolerate gluten which predominates in wheat-based foods.  This is because gluten is rather ‘sticky’ and tends to cause digestive problems for people even if they’re not allergic or intolerant to wheat.

Buckwheat is also high in protein and low on the glycaemic index, meaning energy levels will be sustained through till lunchtime. These pancakes can be made with egg if desired, and your choice of milk with a little butter and sugar to suit your tastes. Top with fruit and natural yoghurt for a wonderfully delicious and nutritious start to your day.

Protein-powered oats

Oatmeal,Porridge,With,Berries,In,A,Bowl,On,Rustic,Wooden

Whilst oats do contain some protein, if you want a powerful re-fuel after your morning workout, then this breakfast is a great choice.  All nuts are high in protein and although peanuts are not actually nuts in the true sense of the word, they still deliver on the protein front and help repair worked muscles.

If you’re short of time after a workout (or just generally pushed for time), then why not soak some oats overnight in some water with frozen berries of your choice.  It’s always great to have some frozen fruit to hand and it’s just as nutritious as fresh, so there’s no need to worry if getting to the shops is an issue.  Simply stir in some peanut butter or other nut butter such as cashew, and you’re super-charged and ready for your day.

Try not to skip breakfast, as this can often lead to poor food choices later in the day and instead enjoy one of these recipes to charge up your day.

Stay well.

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The importance of fruits and vegetables: how to eat more every day

A range of fruits and vegetables

We all know that fruits and vegetables are vitally important to include in the daily diet.  There are many great reasons for this but primarily they are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, so it makes sense to eat them as often as possible. 

Unfortunately, we know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that only around 27% of the UK population are managing even the basic minimum of five portions per day.  However, there are some easy ways of getting more into your diet.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for including fruits and vegetables at every mealtime.

Boost your Breakfast

We all want to feel energised at the beginning of the day and having the right fuel can really help set you on a good path.  It’s important to include protein at breakfast time to get blood sugar and energy levels in good balance throughout the day.  However, a jump start of more energy is always welcomed!

Spinach and mushroom om

How about cooking up a delicious spinach omelette with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes?  This meal is super-charged because spinach is rich in both energising B vitamins and iron.  Plus, mushrooms contain some immune-boosting vitamin D (although supplementation is still needed) and tomatoes are rich in antioxidants so help shield the body from damaging free radicals.

A green smoothie

However, if you prefer a fruitier start to the day, you can still enjoy the health benefits from spinach but in a delicious green banana smoothie.  Bananas are loaded with energising vitamin B6 and why not add some ginger and mango which are both great for the immune system. Coconut water is high in potassium which is great for the heart and you can even throw in a few kale leaves for an additional nutrient burst.

Load up at lunch time

When we’re busy, on the run or in and out of zoom or team meetings, lunch can sometimes get forgotten.  We should always remember that each meal is a time for re-fuelling and getting valuable nutrients into the body.  If we miss a meal, we miss out big time!

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Lunch does not need to be complicated and time-consuming to prepare it just needs to be colourful.  How about poaching a piece of salmon the night before and putting it into a colourful salad?  Whilst salad vegetables are high in water, so not always the highest in nutrients, if you include an avocado, you’ll not only feel fuller for longer, you’ll be getting the benefits of Vitamin E for your skin and immune system.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Alternatively, you can cook up some quinoa the day before and again add loads of salad vegetables or pre-roasted veggies of your choice to the mix.  The more colour you include, the greater the amount of plant antioxidants which help support immunity, protect the body against disease and keep us looking young and fresh.

Dive in at Dinner

There’s been an enormous upsurge in people ordering in meals from fast food apps during lockdown.  Unfortunately, we know from statistical data that this has also led to a prevalence of nutrient deficiencies, which can make us more prone to illness.

Salmon stir fry

A take-away or delivery meal is no bad thing occasionally, but nothing beats home-cooked food for the wealth of nutrients it provides.  And it doesn’t need to be complicated either! Plan a stir fry which includes chopped peppers, onion, carrots, baby sweetcorn, chopped broccoli and mange tout. Add flavourings such as soy sauce, coriander, and sweet chilli sauce and a protein source of choice for a quick, colourful and super nutritious dinner.

shutterstock_245873155-cruciferous-vegetables-jan17

Each fruit or vegetable brings a wealth of nutrients to the table: variety is key, and the body gets a balanced spread.  In terms of vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and pak choi) are extremely nutrient dense, and especially rich in magnesium which we know to be deficient in the average diet.  Magnesium is essential for so many bodily processes including for hormone balancing, and good nerve and brain function. Cruciferous vegetables are also rich in fibre which helps to keep the bowels working smoothly.

And if vegetables really aren’t your bag, then they can always be ‘disguised’ in dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, pasta sauces, curries and other spicy dishes.

So, try to include as many fruits and vegetables in your daily diet as possible – your body will definitely thank you for it.

Stay well.

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Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

Stay well.

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New Year Goals: how to have a healthy and happy 2021

A 2021 note book to show goal planning

New year, new start as the famous saying goes!  With 2020 having been such a difficult year, most people will be welcoming a new year with open arms.  And with that comes new resolutions around health and fitness goals. 

If you’ve got into some bad habits during 2020 (and let’s face it, who hasn’t!), then make this year the one where you get back on track both mentally and physically.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why good nutrition is the cornerstone to health, and how you can feel better than ever this year.

Set realistic goals

Being realistic about what you can achieve is so important.  If you’ve developed a bad sugar habit during 2020, then don’t tell yourself you’ll never eat cake again, for example.  This leads to feelings of despair and it’s not sustainable.  However, why not allow yourself one treat day a week when you can eat cake, or indulge in your favourite guilty pleasure?  A life of constant denial is not going to make anyone happy and is unnecessary.

A note book with 2021 goals list

It’s also worth thinking about adopting the 80/20 rule: eat a healthy and well-balanced diet 80% of the time.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

Issues with mental health are going to be very front focussed during 2021 for all the reasons we know.  Achieving mental well-being should be top of your priority list for and that also means getting your nutrition right.

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

The brain needs to be nourished with nutrients to provide the right fuel to keep hormones in good balance but also to produce brain neurotransmitters that affect mood and motivation. Brain-loving nutrients include the full family of B-vitamins, zinc and magnesium so make sure you’re eating plenty of green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fish and legumes (all rich sources).

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

The brain also needs essential omega-3 fats to work correctly, with the best source being oily fish, but flax or chia seeds are also good if you’re vegetarian or vegan.  They are called ‘essential’ as the body can’t make them, so ensure they feature in your diet a few times each week or more.

Stimulants such as highly caffeinated drinks, alcohol and sugar (in all its forms) are not great friends of the brain, so be honest about your consumption and take steps to reduce if this refers to you (remember the 80/20 rule).

Love your gut

Everything that goes on in the gut affects the brain, mainly down to the connective tissue flowing back and forth. Gut health is critical to overall wellness so start being kind to it.  It’s important to feed the beneficial gut bacteria to enable them to flourish, since their role is key to good gut heath.  Foods such as asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, legumes, bananas, flaxseeds, turmeric, green tea and dandelion coffee are all great.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

It’s also important to drink plenty of pure water to help keep the bowels regular otherwise toxins can build and this affects mental wellbeing.

Fermented foods are also great for the gut so include some natural yoghurt, tofu, kimchi and kombucha regularly.

Be honest about your weight

Winter weather is not conducive to peeling off the layers, hence many of us have piled on the kilos, plus the festive season is always challenging for the waistline.  When we know we’re overweight, this can often affect mental health, but we all need to be realistic about what is achievable and, most importantly, sustainable.

Close up on woman's feet on a pair of scales with a measuring tape

Rapid weight loss generally leads to rapid weight gain when normal eating is resumed.  Better to set yourself a realistic target (around 1-2 lbs per week weight loss is good) and a sensible time frame.  Many people find that once they have taken control of their eating and they start to see some weight loss this is a great incentive and they’re more able to achieve targets.

Maintain a good work/life balance

The lines between work and social time have become very blurred during 2020 and this is not set to change that much for a while.  Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that we all need sufficient downtime, rest and recuperation, so make this a priority during 2021.

Ven diagram with work, life, and health crossing and leading to the word balance

Make a clear plan for work time each day (whatever that needs to be for you) and how to fill your free time.  Maybe 2021 is the time to learn a new skill or find things that fulfil and stimulate the brain. This way mind and body will both be in better balance.

May 2021 bring you health, happiness and fulfilment.

Stay well.

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Take the Veg Pledge

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Vegetables provide so much nutritious goodness for us that they should feature much more frequently as the main event of a meal rather than just a side dish. 

Eating a more plant-based diet is great for our overall health, so get peeling and chopping and reap the benefits!

This Veg Pledge month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ideas for including more vegetables in your daily diet.

Colourful smoothies

Two glasses of berry smoothies

We often think of smoothies as only being fruit-based but they can taste equally delicious by including more vegetables than fruit.  Whilst you’ll lose most of the fibre from the vegetables by blending a smoothie, you can add extra fibre in the form of flaxseeds which are also rich in the healthy omega-3 fats.

Whilst the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables is five portions (and currently only 27% of the population achieve this) optimal health can be achieved by aiming for closer to ten portions. However, it is quite difficult to eat this amount, hence smoothies are the perfect answer.

A green smoothie

For a tasty green smoothie, blend cucumber, carrot, celery, ¼ avocado, spinach plus some apple and banana for sweetness, together with unsweetened almond milk (or soya if preferred).  You can change the taste (and colour) by using berries rather than apple.  The perfect start to the day!

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All vegetables and fruits are rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, essential through the winter months.  Plus, vegetables are loaded with varied carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body as needed, but they also serve as powerful antioxidants, further protecting the immune system and holding back the ageing process.

Make warming soup

A range of bowls of soup

Another perfect and very easy way of increasing your vegetable intake is by making soups.  As with smoothies, there are no end of variations.  However, if you want to create something more filling, perhaps for lunch, then it’s great to add some protein in the form of beans or lentils (colours and varieties of your choice) to sustain you until dinner time.

For a really tasty and warming winter soup simply boil up some carrots, celery, leeks, and chopped potatoes with some vegetable stock, garlic and thyme (plus the lentils).  If you want to change it up, why not add some chopped coriander or cumin? Or create a green soup using garlic, broccoli, courgette and spinach with some grated parmesan for added creaminess if you fancy it.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

Whilst the vegetables provide lots of energising B-vitamins, the additional protein in the form of beans or lentils will further boost B-vitamins, and keep you feeling fuller for longer. So, hopefully you’ll be less likely to be tempted to snack later in the day.

Roast up a trayful

A woman taking a tray of roasted vegetables out of the oven

Roasted vegetables tick all the boxes.  Not only are they delicious, but they can also be eaten with a protein source such as fish, chicken or quinoa for a perfect meal.  A trayful of veggies is loaded with fibre to keep everything moving smoothly and will aid digestion. And for even more variety, roasted vegetables are delicious cold, and added to salads.

A range of roasted vegetables

A mixed and colourful tray will deliver a plethora of nutrients.  All vegetables contain vitamin C in different amounts, but Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are also great for feeding the beneficial gut bacteria.  Courgettes are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – both carotenoids which are especially beneficial for the eyes.

Beetroot is simply a super food!  They are loaded with energising folate, iron and compounds that help liver detoxification. And the orange favourites that are carrots and sweet potatoes are both rich in the powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

As with all these vegetable recipes ideas, you’ll never get bored because there are so many different ones to choose from.  Why not try roasting some veggies you’ve never eaten before such as aubergines or fennel?  And for some added taste and protein, why not sprinkle with feta cheese?

So, make sure to include more vegetables in your diet and take the Veg Pledge today!

Stay well.

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Winter wellness: taking care of you

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The winter weather is rapidly approaching, and with the country now in another lockdown, there has never been a better time to really start looking after yourself.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips for being kind to yourself including improving sleep, enjoying greater energy levels and having glowing skin.

Sleep – the cornerstone of wellness

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Getting sufficient sleep is essential to feeling energised and having healthy glowing skin.  Everything suffers health-wise with a lack of sleep, including how we look and feel. If you’re struggling to sleep (as so many people are right now), the most important thing is to look to your diet in order to make some improvements.

The mineral magnesium is incredibly calming so try to eat foods rich in magnesium for dinner including beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables and nuts, which will all help improve sleep.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The amino acid tryptophan is important because it helps produce melatonin, our key sleep hormone.  Milk (soya, dairy and almond milks) contain tryptophan which is why having a warm milky drink before bedtime can be so effective.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, almonds contain melatonin, (as do cashews and pistachios, in lesser amounts) making them a very effective pre-bedtime snack.  Milk and nuts also contain calcium, another calming mineral.  Just by taking a little care and being kind to yourself, can make a whole lot of difference to how you sleep.

Energy – feed it to your body

A woman jumping with a sunset in the background

Do you feel tired all the time?  Firstly, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have the energy to do things.  It’s hard to feel energised and motivated when we are all in a state of flux. However, there are some particularly energising nutrients that can certainly help.

Enter the family of B-vitamins which all generate energy, primarily from the food we eat.  They are widely found in a range of foods especially whole grains, meat, fruit and vegetables and beans – in fact, in all healthy foods! If your diet is colourful and varied, then you should be getting what the body needs and this will help boost energy levels.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

‘White’ foods such as pastries, cakes, white rice, pasta and bread contain very little in the way of B-vitamins and will upset blood sugar levels, stripping energy rather than topping it up. Being kind to your body is about fuelling it with as much nourishment as you can at each mealtime.

Skin – radiate from within

Close up of woman smiling in a cosy jumper

How your skin looks and feels mainly comes from within.  If what you’re putting in isn’t right, it will show in your skin which may look dull and lifeless.  Being kind to your skin means providing it with specific beauty vitamins such as biotin, rich in eggs, beans, nuts and liver.  Plus, collagen, the body’s main structural protein, naturally declines with age, and a lack of which can leave the skin looking dull and less springy.

A range of protein sources

It’s important for all body systems and especially the skin to eat plenty of protein each day; include some at every meal – think eggs, meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy or fish.  This will also help collagen production.  Additionally, there are plenty of collagen supplements on the market, to further boost levels.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Collagen also needs vitamin C in order to work efficiently, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant protecting skin from free radical damage which is responsible for the ageing process. Your skin will certainly appreciate some kindness.

So, treat yourself to some kindness and it will really improve the way you look and feel, both now and in the future.

Stay well.

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Stress and anxiety: lifestyle changes you can make to help restore some calm

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Stress and anxiety levels are likely to be at an all-time high right now, for obvious reasons. Feeling anxious can be very unsettling and result in us not living our lives as we would like to.

Rather than trying to cope with it and accept it as ‘normal’, why not look to diet and lifestyle changes which could help to soothe your mind?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her top tips.

Nutritional swaps

It’s sometimes difficult to imagine that what we eat can have a marked effect on brain function, anxiety levels and mood.  For example, certain gluten-containing foods can cause low mood in some people.  Equally a lack of nutrients, especially zinc and B-vitamins can adversely affect mood and also cause anxiety.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

It’s important to make all mealtimes count as an opportunity for nourishing the body. For example, simple swaps such as wholemeal pasta instead of white and including fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon) rather than fish fingers, twice a week is a great start.

A range of green vegetables

Additionally, try to eat vegetables (which can be from frozen), particularly the green leafy variety, every day. They can make a big difference to brain function as they are rich in the calming mineral magnesium.  Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 3-4 of these being vegetables.

Always think brown rather than white when it comes to choosing whole grains, for example brown wholemeal bread and whole grain brown rice. All these foods are nutrient-dense and will help to stabilise mood.

Avoid the agitators

Whilst many people think that alcohol makes them happy, it’s actually a depressant, therefore having plenty of alcohol-free days is essential. Alcohol also upsets blood sugar balance, especially the day after. This can leave you feeling tired and often craving sugary, carbohydrate-heavy foods, which further deplete energy levels.

A cup of green herbal tea

Caffeinated drinks also cause blood sugar disturbances, which in turn affects mood.  Drinking decaf tea and coffee or herbal and fruit teas, together with 1.5 litres water daily will really reduce the caffeine load. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than others, but there will always be some kind of effect which may exacerbate anxiety.

Sleep support

Anxiety can cause sleep issues.  Changes to diet and lifestyle can have a really positive impact on getting a peaceful night.  However, if sleep is still an issue then it may be worth trying a supplement of 5-HTP, readily available in health food stores.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

5-HTP is the pre-cursor to tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin and in turn, melatonin, our sleep hormone.  It has the dual effect of reducing anxiety and encouraging restful nights. 5-HTP is best taken about one hour before bedtime with a carbohydrate snack.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Traditional remedies such as spraying lavender on the pillow can also be incredibly effective.  Even having a warm bath with some lavender oil an hour or so before bedtime can make a real difference.

Herbal help

Nature has incredible healing powers. The herb passionflower works on one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA, helping soothe anxiety and a nervous stomach.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

Camomile works in similar ways, so drinking camomile tea before bedtime is great, but also through the day can help too.  Additionally, valerian helps calm the body without causing excess drowsiness, and can also help solve sleep issues.

Treat yourself to kindness

It’s all about the messages you give to yourself.  Often without realising we beat ourselves up, bemoan that we could be better or get unnecessarily angry about things we can’t change right now.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Resolve not to listen to the inner voice when it chatters on your shoulder but take some time out for you.  Think about the simple pleasures that bring you joy and help calm the mind; a movie you’ve been meaning to watch for ages, a home spa treatment or a great book that you can escape into.

Allow yourself to enjoy these moments; don’t feel guilty and try to push away any negative thoughts to help promote feelings of calm.  Take some positive actions in order for the changes to be felt.

So, with a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to calm an anxious mind and body.

Stay well.

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Five ways to simplify your life

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s National Simplicity Day this weekend which is actually very timely.  Many of us have realised during lockdown that life can be a lot simpler and that’s totally fine!

Perhaps we have become too used to our rather over-materialistic lifestyles and are now noticing the great value in enjoying the simpler things in life.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for nutritional and lifestyle simplicity.

Mealtime ease

Whilst many of us have enjoyed using the take-away or meal home delivery services over the last few weeks, many have also realised that home-cooked meals can be surprisingly tasty and, hopefully nutritionally beneficial.

Whilst the body needs 45 nutrients daily (including water), it would be impossible to do a quick analysis of each days’ intake in sufficient detail.  Therefore, keep meal planning simple and varied and nature will deliver what the body needs.

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

In broad terms the body requires macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).  At every meal, think about the protein content.  There are plenty of sources; eggs, meat, poultry, dairy produce, beans (including soya bean produce) nuts or fish.  Then think about adding some carbohydrate in the form of pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables, or other grains.  Healthy fats include those found in avocados, the omegas 3 and 6s (primarily found in fish, nuts and seeds), and olive oil.

You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen if that’s not your bag – keep it simple.  Here’s a great example of simplicity which just needs a side of rice and a few veggies if desired. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/spiced-salmon-tomato-traybake

Create a rainbow

We all know about the recommendation to eat a minimum of five fruits and veggies daily.  However, this creates confusion because people can’t always remember (understandably) what constitutes a portion for each fruit or vegetables.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Instead, just try and create colourful meals; the above is a great example.  The more colours you can eat from a rainbow in one day, the more nutrients you’ll be eating.  Life suddenly becomes so much simpler!

Skincare nutrients

Many of us will have simplified our skincare routines, partly because shops haven’t been open but also because we’ve been going out far less.  It may have surprised many of us just how little we actually need.

It’s also worth remembering that great skin is created from within; skin is generally a reflection of overall health.  Good skin relies on having sufficient nutrients on a daily basis, managing stress (both externally and internally), having plenty of sleep and being properly hydrated.  However, there are a couple of key nutrients which are synonymous with great skin.

Foods containing the b vitamin Biotin

The B-vitamin biotin, known as the beauty vitamin, can be found in eggs, organ meats, sweet potatoes, tuna, salmon and natural yoghurt. Avocados are high in skin-loving vitamin E, which is also a skin-loving favourite. So, add some more of these foods into your diet and your skincare routine from the inside out will be off to a great start.

Clear your mind

Life has been difficult over recent months and it’s easy to let your mind run away with worries about everything.  However, if you can master doing some daily mediation or just taking yourself to a quiet space for 10 minutes a day, then it can really help to calm and clear a busy brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

It takes practice and commitment to make this time for yourself, but however stretched you are, everyone deserves 10 minutes (or more) of down time.  Try to block any unwanted thoughts coming into your mind during this time and just listen to the outside world (whatever those sounds may be).

Detox your life

Our lives are generally frenetic, for many different reasons.  However, many people will have realised that taking the pace down a notch or two can have a very positive effect on body and soul.  During Simplicity Week, maybe spend less time on social media. Accept you can manage very well with fewer clothes in the closet. Don’t run yourself ragged making excessive plans.

Sign saying less is more

Pace yourself, plan how to feed your health sufficiently, and resolve to give plenty of time to loved ones. Make simplicity a daily ritual.

When you go back to basics and take some time to think about what is most important, simplicity can become the ‘new normal’.

Stay well.

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Five ways to boost your wellbeing for the rest of 2020

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Clearly, this year has not turned out as any of us could ever have believed as we started the new year in 2020.  For many of us, hopes, dreams and plans have had to be changed or put on hold due to the lockdown. 

However, there’s still half a year to go, and whilst we are going to be adjusting to a ‘new normal’ it’s actually the perfect time to set some goals (if you haven’t already!)

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways to maximise your wellbeing during the second half of your year.

Diet

This is generally at the top of our priority list when talking about making wellbeing changes.  There are very few people who think they have the perfect diet delivering optimal health.  Indeed, most of us realise our diet could be better but don’t necessarily know how to change things. It may be that you feel you are too busy or find it challenging to improve things.

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

If, like many people, you’ve put on some extra kilos during lockdown, then why not resolve to make some improvements to your diet right now?  If you’ve been drinking too much alcohol, then restrict it to just one or two nights a week.  If you’re addicted to sugar, then make sure you’re eating protein at every meal which will help stop sugar cravings.  Taking some additional chromium, a key mineral for balancing blood sugar levels, can really put a stop to sugar cravings and help you to feel more balanced generally. And as always aim for as much colour on your plate as possible: fruits and vegetables provide a wealth of health-boosting vitamins and minerals – try to eat at least 5 portions a day.

Exercise

With restrictions on outdoor exercise now eased, and some of us having more time on their hands, why not set yourself some exercise targets for the next six months.  Sometimes it helps to have a specific event to train for, maybe a 5 or 10k run, or a charity bike ride or hike, whatever floats your boat.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

If you’ve lost your mojo for exercise during lockdown and you’re starting from a low base, then that’s no problem; just congratulate yourself for making the decision and do what needs to be done.  Walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss.  Start with a half hour walk daily and work up your pace and distance.  Remember any exercise is better than none and nothing beats getting your heart rate up in the open air.

Health

The body is an amazing piece of machinery that mostly just keeps working and working whatever we throw at it.  However, if we don’t treat it as well as we should, it can lose tolerance, meaning it stops working quite as well.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Over the next 6 months resolve to address any health issues you’re concerned about. Things like low energy are so often related to diet and lack of certain nutrients, especially the B-vitamins found in whole grains, meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetables. Remember that the body is very clever at telling you what’s wrong so it’s always worth listening and then taking appropriate action.

Work

Work for many of us is turbulent right now or very different to ‘normal’.  Maybe you’re working from home more, or you’re having to work harder than ever. Perhaps your having some down time.  Whatever is going on for you, it’s a great time to assess what you want from your work.  Is it serving you well?  What can be improved?

Woman working from home in front of a laptop

During tricky times, many people make life-changing decisions, and take a completely different road.  Fear of the unknown often stops us making changes, hence we get stuck with situations that are not quite right.  There are some big shifts going on in our lives right now, some we can’t control, but many we can.  If you’ve been feeling less than happy with you work life, then resolve to use this time to address issues.  And if you need to talk to someone outside of your friends and family network, a life coach can often help unravel what it is you’re looking for.

Long term plans

Some of us feel the need to have a longer-term plan and look out over the next 5-10 years.  This is no bad thing as it allows the mind to focus on goals and objectives. Writing plans down also helps; seeing everything on paper really puts thoughts into perspective.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

Many of our plans will have been put on hold right now.  One thing is for certain: nothing stays the same forever and normality will return at some point.  Any work you put in now to yourself, and into your life plans, will stand you in good stead even if it feels like not much can change in the short term.

There’s still a whole half year left of 2020 – make it work for you!

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

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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

All images: Shutterstock