Five foods to banish Christmas exhaustion

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

We all know that Christmas can be exhausting! Add together festive parties, Christmas shopping, family politics, with a sprinkling of work pressures, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for feeling tired and run-down. However, what you eat during the Christmas period can have a really positive effect on energy levels.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top foods for sustaining energy throughout the Festive season.

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BANANAS

They are the ‘go-to’ snack used by athletes and anyone looking for a quick energy boost. Bananas contain a high level of sugar in the form of starch which is released fairly quickly into the bloodstream giving an energy boost. However, they’re also high in fibre which means that energy release is sustained for quite a while after eating them. Bananas are also high in energising vitamin B6.

Whole bananas and diced banana

However unripe bananas contain resistant starch which cannot be digested in the small intestine, and then ferments in the large intestine which can cause wind! So, the trick is to eat them when they’re nice and ripe and you’ll be energised throughout the day. Why not enjoy a banana with your breakfast? They’re great on any type of cereal and of course make a wonderful transportable snack.

PUMPKIN SEEDS

Another great portable snack that you can eat on their own or as part of a combination with other seeds, pumpkin seeds have an enviable nutritional profile. They contain good levels of energising iron and magnesium, plus protein which will also keep you going throughout the day.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are brilliant to have in your bag when you’re on the run or to keep in your desk drawer. For a really delicious twist, roast them with a little salt.

BEETROOT

Simply the colour of beetroot brings thoughts of Christmas! Their deep red colour is also one of the reasons for beetroot’s amazing health benefits; they’re packed with antioxidant-rich anthocyanins. Most importantly, beetroots are great for boosting energy. They encourage the production of nitric oxide which helps blood vessels to dilate, producing greater oxygen flow around the body. This effect is really noticeable in people who exercise a lot but is equally beneficial for those needing to rush around the shops!

Beetroot and chocolate brownies

Beetroot works well in sweet or savoury dishes and can be really simply served in a salad with goat’s cheese and walnuts. Equally, it makes a wonderful partner to any dish containing chocolate! Why not try creating some chocolate and beetroot brownies? Perfect for the Christmas table to stop people falling asleep after lunch!

WHOLEMEAL BAGELS

Any food that contains whole grains will also contain plenty of energising B-Vitamins and wholemeal bagels are no exception. With any white bread products the refining process in their production destroys B-vitamins and also the fibre, both of which are needed to keep energy ramped up! So try to stick to wholemeal options this Christmas.

A wholemeal bagel with ham and salad

Wholemeal bagels make a great snack with nut butter (or with some jam for really quick energy).  Alternatively, try them toasted with scrambled eggs for breakfast, with cream cheese and smoked salmon for lunch or toasted with smashed avocado and pine nuts. Delicious!

SWEET POTATOES

Packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates, sweet potatoes provide sustained energy to keep you going throughout Christmas. Despite their sweetness, sweet potatoes are a starchy vegetable and supply about the same number of calories as new potatoes (around 84 calories per 100 grams).

A sweet potato cut in hasselback style on wooden board

Sweet potatoes make a delicious and quick lunch or dinner-time meal in a jacket with a topping of prawns, baked beans or tuna. The best news is that they have a really positive effect on blood sugar levels (unlike white potatoes in their jackets), which means energy levels will be constant and hopefully you won’t feel that all-too common afternoon energy slump.

So eat for energy this festive season and you’ll still be smiling (and awake) to enjoy the Christmas holidays.

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If sprouts are out, here are five delicious vegetable alternatives

A family eating christmas dinner

With Christmas rapidly approaching, our thoughts naturally turn to food. Indeed, one of the most controversial vegetables of all Christmas fayre is the humble Brussels sprout; you either love them or hate them! However, if sprouts are not your bag, there’s plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables that can sit proudly on your dinner table.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top Christmas vegetables (other than sprouts!)

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But first, just in case you can be tempted, the health benefits of Brussels sprouts are quite extraordinary. Not only high in immune-boosting vitamin C and beta-carotene, they contain compounds called indoles that may help prevent some serious diseases but can also balance hormones, particularly in women suffering through the menopause.

So what’s the alternative?

BROCCOLI

A member of the same ‘crucifer’ family as Brussels sprouts, broccoli can also be hailed as a super food. With broccoli, it’s all about the colour; the darker the florets, the higher the nutrient value. The heads contain more nutrients than the stalks but it’s all good to eat.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Packed with vitamin C (great for immunity at this time of year), folic acid, iron and beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A as needed, broccoli is always going to make a statement on the dinner table. Lightly steam and then flash fry with some garlic and sesame seeds to enhance its appeal.

RAINBOW CARROTS

Carrots are traditionally orange but they can also be yellow and purple too! They all contain roughly the same nutrient profile but their varying colours mean they contain a variety of antioxidants, which is great news for the body. Plus, we all know that carrots help us to see better in the dark; that’s because they have very high amounts of beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A and is essential for night vision – certainly very necessary during the long winter nights!

A selection of rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots are certainly going to bring some festive cheer to the dinner table. However, they also work really well alongside another winter vegetable super food…

BEETROOT

In season right now, wonderful beetroot works really well roasted alongside rainbow carrots – your Christmas dinner table will never have been so colourful! Beetroots are a great source of folic acid and heart-loving potassium.

Whole beetroots

To roast carrots and beetroot together, place them all in a roasting tin with some fresh orange segments, balsamic vinegar, thyme and a little golden syrup for a tasty side dish.

CELERIAC

Sometimes unceremoniously called ‘the ugly one’, celeriac, as the name suggests is part of the celery family. Whilst some people are not overly keen on celery, celeriac has a much more subtle flavour and also delivers some great nutritional benefits; it’s high in both vitamin C and potassium.

Celeriac on a table

For a really luxurious Christmas treat, celeriac can be mashed with crispy bacon, cream, butter, thyme and breadcrumbs. It can all be mixed in a food processor and then lightly grilled for a crispy topping.

LEEKS

Another vegetable in season during December, leeks are a versatile vegetable side or main dish option, over the Christmas period. Leeks are very high in potassium which is essential for a healthy heart and regulating blood pressure. Potassium is also great for the kidneys which may explain why leeks were used to treat kidney stones in traditional medicine.

Leeks in a wooden trough

As part of the same family as onions and garlic, they deliver many of the same health benefits. Try cooking them as a delicious oven-baked leek, bacon and cheese side or as a one-pot meal with chicken breasts, chopped celeriac, butter beans and thyme to really tempt the taste-buds.

So if you don’t fancy sprouts this Christmas, there are plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables to choose from!

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The benefits of beetroot

Beetroot is clearly visible on supermarket shelves, with its wonderful deep purple colour. But it’s not just visually pleasing; beetroot offers some amazing health benefits and is a very versatile vegetable.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why beetroot is certainly no shrinking violet!

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HISTORICAL USES FOR BEETROOT

Most fruits and vegetables have lots of folklore attached to them, and beetroot is certainly no exception. However, as with so much of what we have learnt from our ancestors, there are lots of facts that still hold true today. At one time the leafy tops of beetroots were the only part of the vegetable that were eaten, since they are rich in iron, beta-carotene and calcium. It was only during the 19th century that the roots were appreciated and found to be a natural source of sugar, when sugar cane was in short supply, particularly in the US. Beetroot was also mainly used medicinally to treat headaches or toothaches.

They are a sweet vegetable, hence they make a tasty ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes (more of which later). And as long as their carbohydrate content is balanced within a healthy and varied diet, then beetroots are a great addition to any diet.

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Fresh raw beetroot juice is such a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals that is has few rivals as a tonic for convalescents, in particular. This is because it’s a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving potassium. It has been found that drinking beetroot juice may be able to quickly lower blood pressure because it’s also rich in nitric oxide which helps blood vessels dilate. This also has a beneficial effect for endurance exercisers as it will help them exercise for longer and at a higher intensity.

Beetroot is also high in manganese which is great for the joints, bones and liver. Plus it’s a great source of fibre and also folate which is very important if you are planning to get pregnant and also during pregnancy.

It’s well-known for its ability to aid the body’s natural detoxification processes, particularly helping the liver. So, if your summer holiday has been a rather alcohol and food-laden affair, increasing beetroot intake or drinking the juice could well help your post-holiday detox!

THE DEEP PURPLE COLOUR

Within beetroot’s deep colour powerful phytonutrients are bedded. Some of these are compounds called anthocyanins which are potent antioxidants. They can help to protect the body from infections and illnesses, plus help hold back the ageing process.

DELICIOUS BEETROOT RECIPES

There are some great ways to use beetroot in sweet or savoury dishes. Beetroots are very often pickled and used in various recipes as it enhances the flavour of many dishes. Do bear in mind though that pickling beetroot lowers the nutrient content, whereas boiling does seem to keep most of the nutrients intact.

Beetroots are great roasted alongside other sweet vegetables such as sweet potato and butternut squash. They can be added to the roasting tray simply scrubbed, topped and tailed, drizzled with a little olive oil and cook in about 30 minutes. Additionally, they can be used cold the next day in a salad with some mixed leaves, red pepper, balsamic vinegar and feta cheese.

You can also make roasted beetroot into a delicious and nutritious soup; the skin is easily removed when cooked and then the vegetable can be blended. Roasted beetroot is also great topped with some lightly grilled goat’s cheese and sprinkled with plenty of salt and pepper.

However, as a winning healthy breakfast, why not make wholemeal pancakes with beetroot? All you need to do is add a little apple juice to a traditional pancake mix and some shredded beetroot. Tasty!

In season right now, beetroot is certainly a vegetable to add to your weekly shop – enjoy!

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Five ‘grow-at-home’ veggies to plant now for an autumn harvest

Growing your own produce in a garden, allotment or window box is the best way to ensure that the fruits and veggies you eat are fresh, organic and pesticide-free. It may sound like a lot of work but it can be easier than you think and your efforts will certainly be rewarded when you harvest your first home-grown crop.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vegetables and herbs to grow now ready for autumn.

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BEETROOT

Variable weather means that crops generally need to dig deeper to protect themselves and to grow effectively which is why root vegetables are a great choice. One of the top root veggies from a nutrient perspective is the superfood beetroot.

If it’s energy you’re looking for then having some more beetroot in your diet can really help. Beetroot juice is very popular with athletes and recreational exercisers because it helps the body better sustain endurance activity. Plus, it’s rich in energy-giving iron and folic acid. If you start to sow beetroot seeds now, they should be ready for eating in about 90 days’ time.

ROSEMARY AND THYME

The perfect herb combination, no vegetable garden is complete without some herbs to complement your dishes, and these two can be grown in a pot together.

Rosemary is a delight in both lamb and chicken dishes and is very popular throughout Mediterranean countries: this may be partly due to it being a powerful antioxidant which can protect the body from strong sunlight. Rosemary may also act as a stimulant in both the nervous and circulatory systems and can help to soothe the digestive system, relieving indigestion and flatulence.

Thyme has an amazing aromatic flavour so is widely used in cooking. It’s been traditionally used as a decongestant to soothe coughs and catarrh – a great go-to herb if you’re plagued by autumn infections.

BROCCOLI

Not quite as deep-rooted as some other vegetables but certainly able to sustain slightly cooler climates, broccoli is another superfood, packed with nutrients. It needs to be sewn pretty soon though so that it doesn’t get damaged by frost slightly later in the year. Other than that, it’s fairly easy to cultivate in your home garden.

Broccoli is rich in vitamin C with a portion providing just over half of the recommended daily amount. However, boiling broccoli does reduce vitamin C quite significantly so it is best steamed or stir-fried. One of the great things about growing your own broccoli is that you can ensure its freshness. The stalks should be crisp and easy to snap; this make them ideal for dipping into some hummus as a tasty snack. Their beautiful dark green colour indicates plenty of beta-carotene, which is converted into immune-boosting vitamin A as the body needs it.

POTATOES

No self-respecting vegetable garden is complete without potatoes! They’re probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow. The only point to be aware of is not leaving them in the ground for too long. Whist it’s tempting to leave them until Christmas time, they’re best harvested in about 11 weeks’ time. And one should certainly not eat potatoes that are green or sprouted as these are poisonous in large amounts but can also cause migraines or tiredness, even in small quantities.

Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C but this starts to drop as soon as they are lifted from the ground, hence another great reason for eating them straight from the garden. Potatoes can sometimes get a bad press as they’re high in carbohydrates but the main problem is that people often fry them which makes them high in fat. Jacket potatoes are very high on the glycaemic index as they’re very starchy. Roasting tends to use less fat than frying and steaming then mashing potatoes are a great, healthy alternative alongside any meat or chicken dish.

MARROW

Marrows are traditionally sown during May and June. However, our exceptional summer means soils are warm and if you’re quick you’ll get a crop harvested before the severe weather really sets in.

As marrow is very high in water, its nutritional content is not as good as some vegetables, but it’s great for alkalising the body. The body prefers to be in a slightly alkaline state generally, and many vegetables and fruit help this process along; marrow can certainly do this too.

It doesn’t have too much taste but comes to life when stuffed with other vegetables, sprinkled with cheese and roasted in the oven, or filled with a chili con carne mince; the two opposite flavours complement each other really well.

So maximise your garden and get growing! The nutritional benefits are really worth it, plus the satisfaction you will get from growing your own produce makes eating it all the more pleasurable.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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