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.

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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 acts of self-kindness to support your mental well-being

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

It’s Mental Health Awareness week and with the current lockdown restrictions in place, never has our mental health come into such sharp focus. 

Life is very challenging at the moment for many people. Now is the perfect time to be kind to yourself and focus on your own mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for self-care and self-kindness.

Focus on food

What we eat has the most profound effect on mental well-being as anything.  Nothing works in isolation in the body, therefore everything we eat has a massive impact on our brain and emotional health.

As an example, there have been numerous research studies to confirm that diets high in junk foods cause low energy, increased anxiety, poor sleep, nutrient depletion, and of course, weight gain. Be kind to your brain and body and feed it with nutrient dense foods.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Make your meals as colourful as possible, including plenty of fruits and vegetables as these are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to us.  If you can’t always get fresh, then stock up on frozen which are just as good as they retain most of their nutrients having been frozen soon after harvesting.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats are needed by the brain for it to function at its best. Found in oily fish, flax seeds and other nuts and seeds try to eat some regularly.  Eating whole grain foods rather than ‘white’ refined ones is also important, delivering plenty of B-vitamins and other key nutrients needed to balance stress hormones and instil a sense of wellbeing.

Keep well hydrated

With the body consisting of around 70% water it makes sense that we need to keep well hydrated to ensure the body can perform all its vital processes.  Dehydration also affects mental wellbeing; you can end up feeling foggy, edgy, confused and energy levels will be much lower.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Caffeinated drinks will cause more anxiety, so keep these to a minimum and instead try some herbal or fruit teas.  Ginseng tea is incredibly restorative, camomile is calming, and mint tea helps digestion.  Don’t forget to also drink plenty of water – around 1 ½ – 2 litres daily is ideal.

Start the day positively

During difficult times, such as now, that brief moment when you open your eyes can often fill you with dread.  What challenges is the day going to bring?  When you wake up, make a point of thinking of three things you are grateful for.

A close up of a typewriter with the word gratitude typed

It doesn’t matter how small they are; it can be something as simple as being able to start a new book or planning a different walk that day.  If you start the day on a more positive mindset, it will help you to cope better throughout the day.

Avoid the word ‘should’

It’s probably one of the most overused words in the English language: we often feel that we ‘should’ be doing something, and this can put more pressure on ourselves.  The word can also convey very negative messages to the mind.  Just because you may have more time on your hands, doesn’t mean you ‘should’ do things that are not going to make you feel good.

A road splitting into three to represent choices

Tell yourself you have a choice – rather than what you ‘should’ do, think about what you ‘want’ to do. Do something that makes you happy, such as watching a movie you’ve been meaning to see or phoning a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while.  Try not to allow your thoughts to drift into a negative or nagging territory and go with your feelings rather than the voice on your shoulder.

Invest in yourself

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn or a job you’d love to do?  Whilst big changes do take time, learning anything new can be very empowering.

Close up of a woman's hand writing a to do list in a journal

There are so many educational, practical or creative things available, especially at the moment.  We never stop learning and when we’re learning we’re growing as people.  If you’re struggling with self-esteem issues right now, then there are plenty of self-help books, podcasts and webinars available to set you on the right path.  Take some time to make a list of things you’d like to know or do and then give yourself plenty of self-love when you’ve achieved one, however small.

There’s never been a better time to care of our mental wellbeing, as well as supporting the health of others.

Stay well.

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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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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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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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

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Boost your happiness with these five top mood foods

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

We could probably all do with a little mood boosting right now.  On a positive note, we know that what we eat can have a massive bearing on how happy, sad or anxious we feel. 

There is an inextricable link between gut and brain, mainly due to brain neurotransmitters, many of which are produced in the gut.  Furthermore, the microbiome, which includes those friendly guys that live in your gut, also plays a role.

 

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to help keep you feeling happy.

Spinach

Spinach is high in magnesium, nature’s natural tranquiliser, which is great for keeping our mood calm and balanced. Plus, spinach is rich in vitamin B6, needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

Spinach is so versatile and can be used in dishes hot and cold.  Whilst some of the vitamin content is lost through cooking, lightly steaming is the way forward.  Spinach leaves are great added to a salad with some stronger flavours such as goats’ cheese, beetroot and walnuts.  Alternatively, spinach, lightly steamed with garlic, makes a great vegetable side.

Chicken

Chicken is high in the amino acid, tryptophan, which is needed to produce serotonin.  Tryptophan is actually found in quite a number of protein-based foods but is especially high in chicken.  Try to choose organic chicken, where possible.

A roast chicken

Why not rustle up a delicious Mediterranean chicken salad?  Use cooked chicken breasts or thighs with spinach leaves, shredded red cabbage and cherry tomatoes.  The delicious flavour comes from the dressing which you can make with Dijon mustard, basil leaves, virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  An easy, tasty and mood-enhancing lunch.

Eggs

Eggs can help raise dopamine levels, another brain neurotransmitter needed for good mood and motivation. Interestingly, dopamine levels are also increased when bright light hits the back of the eye, which is one of the reasons why so many people suffer from SAD during the darker, winter months.

POached egg on wilted spinach on rye bread

Eggs make a brilliant start to the day not just because they raise dopamine levels, but they’re also high in protein. Protein is needed to keep blood sugar in good balance, which has a direct impact on mood and energy. Poached eggs on wholemeal toast with a few wilted spinach leaves is certainly a top breakfast!

Brown rice

Brown rice is a slow-releasing carbohydrate so it will not only help give you energy and balanced mood, it stimulates production of serotonin.  We all tend to crave more starchy foods during the winter months.  Maybe this is partly because the body is ‘asking’ for serotonin?

Salmon, brown rice and asparagus dish

Brown rice is a staple food that can be added to many meals.  It’s great with baked salmon (another mood-boosting food), with stir-fry veggies or cold as a lunch-time salad base. Whole grain foods are also high in fibre and B-vitamins helping your bowels to be more regular, which will also have a positive impact on your energy and mood.

Natural yoghurt

Natural yogurt is high in tryptophan but also helps balance the friendly flora (or goood bacteria) in your digestive tract.  Both factors are key to good mood so eating natural yoghurt regularly is an easy win.

Pot of natural yoghurt

Adding natural yoghurt to your cereal (homemade muesli with plenty of nuts and seeds is a good start), is an easy breakfast. It is also transportable if you like to eat breakfast on the go or when you get to work. Plus, it’s a great source of protein so blood sugar levels will start the day evenly rather than out of balance.  Furthermore, it feeds all the good guys in the gut; the better shape your gut bacteria, the more serotonin you’ll be able to produce, as that’s where most of it comes from!

Enjoy trying these five easy nutrition tips to help boost your mood and put a smile on your face!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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Five top tips for a peaceful night’s sleep

Woman asleep in bed

We all long for a restful night’s sleep and to wake up feeling fully refreshed.  But, how much attention do we really pay to our sleep hygiene? 

Are we really giving ourselves the best opportunity of getting some good shuteye?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for ‘cleaning-up’ your bedtime routine.

Your day is as important as your night

What you eat and drink during the day has a massive impact on how well you sleep.  For example, if you’re overloaded with caffeinated or fizzy drinks, or alcohol, these are all sleep disrupters.  It’s best not to have anything caffeinated or stimulatory after lunchtime.  Whilst the effects of caffeine may wear off after a few hours, they have a lasting effect on blood sugar balance which will stimulate stress hormones, keeping you more awake.

A glass mug of coffee alonsgside some biscotti

Additionally, drinking alcohol during the evening (or even throughout the day), may make you feel drowsy at bedtime, but it will still disrupt your sleep.  Waking in the middle of the night is pretty normal after a ‘heavy night’ again partly due to imbalanced blood sugar levels and dehydration.

Stress can keep you awake

Most of us lead busy and, often, stressful lives.  However, it’s how we deal with stress that has the biggest impact on how well we sleep.  If you’re constantly juggling during the day, then your adrenal glands that secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, require some support to help you feel more balanced and calmer.

A range of fruits and vegetables

To work effectively, the adrenals need plenty of vitamin C, found in most fruits and vegetables.  Therefore, make sure you’re eating plenty of colour every day.  The more stressed you are, the more vitamin C you’ll burn.  Additionally, the family of B-vitamins, especially vitamin B5, is key to good adrenal function.  Include plenty of fish, eggs, broccoli and legumes in your diet – all especially rich in vitamin B5.

Take some herbal helpers

There are several herbs, known as adaptogens, which balance the body and help support it through stressful times as well as regulate sleep patterns.  The herbs ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all provide great help at getting sleep back on track.

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Sleep patterns can often be disturbed because cortisol levels are too high in the evening.  In these cases, cortisol maybe low in the mornings (when it should be higher) which is why some people struggle to get out of bed.  Adaptogenic herbs are effective at getting stress hormones back into good balance.

Adopt a regular routine

Just as the body loves (and needs) to be fed regularly, it craves a regular sleep pattern.  Sleep is essential for the body to rest, repair and detoxify.  The body is much better able to complete all these functions if it’s used to a regular routine.  For example, try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time.

CLose up of an alarm clock and a woman getting out of bed to represent getting up at the same time every day

Good sleep hygiene means trying to achieve seven or eight hours of sleep per night.  If this is a struggle for you because you wake early, then find a sleep or calming app that you can use if you find yourself waking too early.Try to resist the urge to get up, just because you’ve woken up.  You can re-train your body, it just takes a little patience and perseverance.

Don’t sleep with electronics

Falling asleep in bed with your laptop, tablet or phone is definitely not good sleep hygiene. Research suggests that emissions from electronic devices can have a negative effect on the body.  Try and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and resist the urge to use them in the hours leading up to sleep too. Blue light keeps up awake, so it can have an adverse effect on how easily you can fall asleep.

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

Instead, have a warming bath, maybe adding some Epsom salts, rich in soothing magnesium. Play some gentle music, spray some lavender on your pillow and grab your favourite book.  You’ll be amazed just how effective a strong bedtime routine can be when trying to get sleep on track.

Your body works hard for you so treat it to the best rest you can!

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.

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 our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock