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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Nutrition for colds and flu: how to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands holding a bowl of warming soup

With the dreaded cold season rapidly approaching, now is the time to take steps to keep them at bay. What’s on your plate at each meal time can have a really positive effect in boosting the immune system and improving your health all winter long. And not forgetting that each meal time is an opportunity for including as many nutrients as possible for all-round great health.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for making each meal an immune-booster.

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MAKE YOUR MORNING COUNT

In so many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You’ve fasted through the night and the body is now looking for a really nutritious and energy-boosting start to the day. Moreover, eating a nutrient-rich breakfast provides the perfect opportunity to get your immune defences in great shape.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

Try to include some dark berry fruits into your breakfast: many of the secrets to the health benefits of these little berries actually lie in their beautiful, dark colours. Berry fruits are rich in plant compounds known as anthocyanins (blueberries especially so), which are high in immune-boosting antioxidants, that help protect the body against infections. Blueberries, cherries, strawberries and blackberries are also packed with vitamin C, one of our key defenders.

These fruits are coming out of season now, although they’re still readily available in supermarkets. However, use them frozen in a berry smoothie with banana and avocado and you’ve got yourself one of the best starts to the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Clearly you’ll need something more filling as well, so you can also add these fruits as a topper to porridge or other oat-based cereals. Oats are full of beta-glucans which help support the immune system, so what better start to the day during the winter than with a warming bowl of porridge topped with berries to see you through till lunchtime.

For those on the run at breakfast-time, a pot of live natural yoghurt, which is full of immune-boosting friendly bacteria, also makes a great option. Make sure you add some berries for that ‘hit’ of antioxidants and vitamin C!

LUNCHTIME POWER UP

Even though you’ve had a nutritionally-rich breakfast, by lunchtime your energy levels will naturally be flagging; the body needs re-fuelling! It’s really important to include protein at lunch for a number of reasons. Protein is needed for the body to produce immunoglobulins, a key part of immune function that helps to fight invasion of nasty bugs. Moreover, it will help stem the common 3 p.m. energy slump.

Baked sweet potato topped with salmon

So which proteins are best to eat? Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, which are packed with healthy essential omega-3s, are great as a topper on a jacket sweet potato. Loaded with beta-carotene, sweet potatoes will also provide great support for the immune system.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, or just fancy a change, then tempeh or tofu with some noodles or wholegrain brown rice also work really well. Tempeh is slightly higher in protein than tofu, plus it’s got a naturally nutty taste so tends to be more flavoursome.

Bean and rice salad stew

The mineral zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and is often lacking in diets that are high in white, refined foods. All types of beans contain good levels of zinc and they also make great lunchtime staples in a wrap, salad or soup. Chickpeas are another good alternative, so adding some hummus and wholemeal pitta bread to your lunchtime menu, or having some falafels, are other useful options.

HEALTHY SUPPERTIME

After a long, hard day, an evening meal can often be a rushed affair which can lead to less nutrients being eaten. However, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or a long time planning nutritious, immune-boosting meals.

Stir fries are always good because they’re quick and easy to prepare and you can use whatever happens to be in the fridge at the time. However, certain herbs such as garlic and ginger are real immune boosters and so can be included in lots of different dishes, especially stir fries, alongside your protein source and other vegetables.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Alternatively, why not make a warming and filling super soup? Butternut squash (full of beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A as needed), lentils (high in zinc) and coconut (great for the immune system) together provide a real immunity hit. Plus, you can add other ingredients such as fish, chicken or beans for a more filling option. The best thing is that you can make this in advance and it will last a few days so you’ll have a healthy meal ready whenever energy levels are flagging.

A bowl of warming butternut squash soup

Try to also include as many vegetables as possible into your evening meal for their vitamin C content. Red peppers, for example, are high in vitamin C, and are great added to a tray of roasted vegetables, which make a great accompaniment to any protein source. Other great immune-boosting roasting vegetables include sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, tomatoes and courgettes.

So include these immune-boosting foods at every mealtime this winter and keep those colds at bay.

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The five best nutrients for eye health

Close up of woman's eyes

What we eat can have a massive impact on the health of our eyes. In fact, so key is vitamin A to the health of the retina of the eye, it’s actually called retinol! Excessive exposure to the sun, without wearing sunglasses, smoking, alcohol and a diet high in refined foods can all adversely affect eyesight.

The good news is that there’s plenty of nutrients that love the eyes and can really help.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five eye nutrients.

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VITAMIN A

Top of the class has to be vitamin A because it’s so key for vision (especially night vision) and all-round good eye health. Vitamin A is only found in animal produce, with liver claiming the top spot. Full-fat dairy produce and eggs are also great sources. However, the body also makes vitamin A as it’s needed from the carotenoid, beta-carotene. It’s the yellow, orange and green pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their bright colours. Indeed, it’s also the reason for the old wives’ tale that ‘carrots help you to see in the dark’.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

The good news is that if you’re vegetarian, as long as you’re eating colourful fruits and vegetables such as peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale, melon and mango, for example, then you’ll be getting your daily dose of vitamin A.

LUTEIN

There are a number of other carotenoids, alongside beta-carotene, which are equally valuable for healthy eyes, one of these being lutein. Just like beta-carotene, it’s a powerful antioxidant, so it can protect the eyes from ageing and free radical damage generally.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

However, lutein, which is especially rich in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, helps protect the eyes from damaging blue light that’s emitted in large amounts from electronic devices. Have you found your eyesight deteriorating the more you sit at a computer? You need to make sure you’re eating something green every day to help protect your eyesight.

ANTHOCYANINS

What are they? In simple terms they’re a group of plant compounds that are very high in antioxidants, protecting the eye from free radical damage, primarily from sunlight, poor diet and smoking. Specifically, anthocyanins help maintain the health of the blood vessels and cornea in the eye.

A pile of blueberries with a pair of glasses on top

Anthocyanins are high in ‘blue’ fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and bilberries. Although bilberries are not eaten as much as other blue fruits, during the Second World War fighter pilots were made to eat bilberry jam because it was found that their eyesight (particularly night vision) improved enormously.

Certainly all these blue berries are a great ‘go-to’ snack or a fabulous asset to your morning porridge or muesli.

OMEGA-3 FATS

This group of fatty acids are essential within the diet as the body can’t make them. They’re part of our cellular make up and are also part of the eye structure. Indeed, so important are they for eye health that nature cleverly includes DHA (another omega-3 fat) in breast milk.

Omega-3s may also protect eyes from the very common condition of macular degeneration, which is a gradual condition that tends to affect older people. They can also help prevent dry eyes – another side-effect of looking at computer and other electronic screens.

A range of foods high in Omega 3 fats

Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, but nuts and seeds (especially flaxseeds) are also rich sources. Try to make them a part of your daily diet and your eyes will shine brightly.

SEAWEED

Very much in favour right now, there are some good reasons for seaweed gaining so much in popularity. It’s a rich source of nutrients generally, but also those specifically involved with eye health such as zinc, vitamin A and the essential omegas.

Seaweed is a general name given to a huge number of algae and marine life. Indeed, most seaweed that you can now buy in supermarkets will likely contain a variety. Additionally, dried seaweed can easily be added to stews, soups, salads or munched on as a snack.

Close up of edible seaweed on a plate

As well as its impressive array of nutrients, it has an anti-inflammatory effect and has the potential to help prevent any complications that may occur after cataract surgery; a common operation, particularly in the elderly which helps restore good eyesight.

As you can see, nature has provided us with the wonderful power of sight but has also delivered amazing nutrients to help protect eyesight into old age.

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Five essential well-being tips for a happy and healthy holiday

You’ve planned for that long-awaited holiday and now it’s time to pack those cases. However, if you want to have the happiest and healthiest of holidays, then there are a few extra things you can do to make sure this happens.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for a healthy holiday.

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BEFORE YOU GO:

PREPARE YOUR TUMMY

Wherever you’re travelling to in the world, even if it’s not too far away, you’ll still be out of your normal eating routine, plus you may be visiting countries where people are generally more prone to tummy troubles.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

The best advice is to take a course of probiotics at least a couple of weeks before you leave. Readily available in health food stores, probiotics are the friendly bacteria that keep your digestive system running smoothly, but also protect it from unwanted infections and tummy bugs. Look for a probiotic supplement that contains the strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

It’s also good to eat plenty of natural yoghurt before you go on holiday, as well as during your stay. And don’t forget to pack the probiotics too, so even if you don’t have time to start a course before you go away, you can take them throughout your holiday.

PREPARE YOUR SKIN

We all want to have glowing skin, particularly whilst on holiday but certainly when we come back. For a couple of weeks before you go, use coconut oil as a moisturiser; it’s one of the best. Skin can become very dry on holiday and using coconut oil means your skin will be super-soft and really well moisturised. Keep up the regime when you return and hopefully you’ll not suffer from any post-holiday flakiness.

Prepare your skin from the inside too by eating foods rich in beta-carotene before you go. That means lots of orange and red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and red and orange peppers. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant which will help protect your skin against sun damage. You’ll still need to wear sun cream, but it can help prevent any unwanted burning. And of course include them as much as you can in your diet whilst you are away.

PACK SOME ALOE VERA

Aloe vera was said to be the ‘Elixir of life’ by Cleopatra. As with so many of these ancient remedies, they deliver a wealth of health benefits, and aloe vera is no exception. Its benefits for the digestive system are well-documented, and it’s also great for the skin.

You can readily buy aloe vera in gel form; it’s a holiday essential as it will soothe any sunburn or irritated skin and also calm other skin complaints that may flare up whilst you’re away. And don’t just save it for your holiday; keep it in your medicine cabinet all-year round! It can also help soothe tired and aching joints and muscles.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE:

USE YOUR TIME WISELY

When on holiday, hopefully you’ll have some free time to just be in your own head space. You can really use this time to great effect by either learning something new (TED talks are great for easy listening and learning) or maybe even practice meditation.

As with anything, meditation does take some time to properly learn and many people give up along the way because they struggle to clear the mind or can’t feel the benefits. However, it’s worth persevering because meditation can really help to relieve stress and anxiety, and many practisers report feelings of inner calm and peace. You need a place of peace and quiet to meditate so try to plan this for a short time every day during your holiday.

DRINK PLENTY OF WATER

It may sound an obvious one but of all the things you should do before and during your holiday making sure you’re properly hydrated is key. It’s easy to forget how dehydrating the combination of alcohol and sun can be.

A couple of weeks before you leave for your hols, really increase your liquid intake. Always start the day with some warm water with lemon and ginger which helps cleanse the liver and alkalise the body. You can carry on drinking this throughout the day or if you prefer iced water then add some refreshing and inner-cleansing cucumber. Try to drink eight glasses of water each day. The body needs to be hydrated at a cellular level to function well, so preparation is key.

Close up of woman on beach with a glass of water to represent hydration

Whilst you’re away, it’s important to drink as much water as you can but obviously be mindful of drinking tap water. It’s always best to drink bottled or boiled water wherever you are in the world; parasites can be present in the water in many European countries as well as far-flung ones.

So with these five key tips, you should have a wonderfully healthy holiday – enjoy!

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Five ways to have a happy and healthy holiday

The holiday season is here! Whether you’re planning to venture overseas or having a staycation, you and your family all want to feel happy and healthy so you can enjoy your summer break to the full.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers her five top tips for great holiday health.

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HAPPY TUMMIES

Gut health is still big news and it certainly holds the key to maintaining great all-round health. If your internal systems aren’t working too well then everything else is going to struggle. In order to try and prevent any nasty tummy troubles on holiday, you need to prepare your gut beforehand; about a month before your holiday or planned staycation would work really well but taking helpful measures at any time will be beneficial.

Enter kefir. Kefir is the king of fermented foods and helps encourage the good gut bacteria, which we all need, to flourish. In fact, it seems to encourage a diversity of good bacteria. It may also be that kefir is more resistant to stomach acid than probiotic supplements, so it will be of even more benefit to the digestive system.

Kefir is readily available in supermarkets. The only downside is that it’s quite sour so it’s best mixed with plain yoghurt and berries on top of muesli or granola.

WATCH THE WATER

We’re generally wary of tap water when travelling to countries not always known for their cleanliness. However, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up a germ (such as a parasite) from water anywhere. Sometimes these can live in the body without making themselves known for a while and then they may start to give you digestive problems. Worse, you could pick up something that really upsets your stomach and spoils your holiday.

The best advice is to drink bottled water wherever you are and brush your teeth with water that has been boiled. Alternatively, you can buy water sterilising tablets to use when you’re away – always better safe than sorry.

Drinking sufficient water is also essential when the weather is hot. Aim for around two litres of bottled or filtered water daily during the summer months. You’re going to sweat more when it’s hot plus if you’re drinking alcohol then this will further dehydrate the body. Any holiday hangovers will be lessened too if you’re well hydrated.

DETER MOSQUITOS

Many a holiday or trip can be ruined by mosquitos feasting on unsuspecting humans. As always, prevention is better than cure. Eating foods high in vitamin B1 may deter mosquitos; beef, liver, wholegrains, oats, brewer’s yeast (think marmite) and brown rice are all good sources of vitamin B1. Also, it’s best to avoid eating refined sugary foods; these make the skin sweeter which will further encourage mosquitos. Plus, of course, alcohol is going to further entice them to your skin!

If you’re prone to insect bites, then it’s also worth packing some repellent spray. Whilst you may not like the smell of it, neither do they!

SUN PROTECTION

Whilst sun cream protects you on the outside from sun burn, they’ll often be parts of the body that get missed when applying it, plus the skin still dries out when exposed to the sun. So, it’s really worth protecting yourself from the inside too!

Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that’s found in many fruits and vegetables, especially yellow and orange ones. Sweet potatoes and yellow peppers both contain lots of beta-carotene. Therefore, make sure your diet is packed with vegetables and some fruit all summer long. It’s not always easy to eat everything you need when holidaying abroad, so make sure you’ve eaten plenty before you go.

POST PLANE YOGA

Sitting on a plane for a few hours (or more) can really give you stiff muscles and joints, not to mention digestive issues. The muscles in the back, quads, hips and glutes all contract. However, with some gentle stretching once you reach your hotel room, you’ll soon be feeling back to your normal self.

Forward bends from standing wide legs, extended child’s pose from a kneeling position and then extending forward as far as possible, and the cat stretch – on all fours breathe deeply, back arched on the inhale and rounded on the exhale – can really help. Do all of these stretches a few times and your muscles will be lengthened again and you’ll be ready to really start your holiday!

So with a little forward planning you can better enjoy your well-earned break.

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Summer immunity: top tips for staying well this season

Summer is not generally the time when we think about supporting the immune system. However, summer colds and infections are still prevalent at this time of year. Plus, for those unfortunate allergy sufferers, having a tip-top immune system can help control the unpleasant symptoms.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top immune-boosting nutrients to keep you bug-free through the summer.

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VITAMIN C

Warranting its ‘top spot’ on the list of immune-boosting nutrients, Vitamin C is anti-viral and anti-bacterial so can help to keep unwanted invaders at bay. It’s also a nutrient that plays a key part in the control of the body’s release of histamine, so it can also help to manage the symptoms of allergies.

Vitamin C is easily destroyed in foods through storage, preparation and cooking. Therefore, eating raw fruits and vegetables ensures higher amounts of vitamin C are obtained from food. If you are cooking, lightly steaming vegetables is a much better way of retaining vitamin C. Frozen fruits and vegetables also make a good choice; they’re generally frozen quite quickly after harvest, hence more of their nutrient content is retained.

Summer is a great time for finding foods high in vitamin C as there are so many readily available. For example, strawberries are at their very best right now, as are other vitamin C-rich fruits such as blackberries and cherries. Vegetables including red peppers and broccoli are also great sources.

VITAMIN D

Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, and there’s certainly plenty of that around at the moment, we still need to keep vitamin D levels topped up all year round. It’s an immune-essential but not that readily available in foods. However, oily fish, beef, mushrooms and milk contain some vitamin D2; the body prefers vitamin D3 which is produced on the skin when exposed to sunlight and is available in good-quality food supplements.

Vitamin D production on the skin is blocked by high factor sun cream. Therefore, it is advisable to try to expose arms or legs to the sun for around 15 minutes a day if possible, before applying sun cream.

A supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D is recommended daily by Public Health England to ensure the body has sufficient levels and, most importantly, means you should be less susceptible to colds and infections during the summer months.

ECHINACEA

A well-known and loved herb, Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell production, which in turn can help support the immune system. If you’re susceptible to colds then it’s certainly worth taking Echinacea as a preventative remedy (as we know, prevention is always better than cure), particularly if you’re around people who are infected or if you are just starting to feel the first signs of a cold.

The herb is readily available in health food stores but always look for the THR symbol on pack; this stands for Traditional Herbal Remedy and means it’s a fully licensed herbal medicine, therefore the quality and efficacy of the herb can be guaranteed.

VITAMIN A

Vitamin A is another great supporter of the immune system. It is found in animal products but the body also produces it from beta-carotene as needed.

Foods such as meat, dairy and fish provide good sources of retinol-based vitamin A which is much easier for the body to utilise. However, the body can convert carotenoids such as beta-carotene (which is the best source of pro-vitamin A) from fruits, vegetables and nuts into Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain some of the highest amounts of beta-carotene and the body will convert it into Vitamin A when it is required.

ZINC

It’s the hardest working mineral within the immune system and indeed, it works pretty hard throughout the body. Zinc increases the production of immune cells, plus it helps produce natural killer cells which are needed to kill viruses and bacteria.

Zinc is found in animal and vegetable foods with spinach being the top plant-based source. Oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and kidney beans are all great providers of zinc. It’s best to try to include at least one of these foods in the diet each day. Alternatively, take a supplement containing zinc throughout the year to keep the immune system in good shape and avoid those annoying summer colds.

So don’t miss a moment of summer due to a cold: with a few simple diet tweaks you can prepare your body to be fighting fit.

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Nutritious alternatives to pumpkin this Halloween

A Halloween jack o lantern carved out of a watermelon

With Halloween festivities in full flow, pumpkins are top of the shopping list not just for making lanterns but also for eating.  However if pumpkins are not to your taste, fear not as there are plenty of other tasty and nutritious options in the same vegetable family.

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

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The curcubit family, from which the pumpkin hails, is very large with around 995 species, although many you may not have heard of!  However, there are some very well-known and highly nutritious members of the family that can be included regularly into your diet, particularly if pumpkin is not your favourite vegetable.

CUCUMBER

The term ‘cool as a cucumber’ is often used and for very good reason. Cucumbers are cool to the touch but also have a very high water content (around 96%), which makes them both refreshing to eat but also wonderful to revive tired skin and eyes.

Although their high water content makes their nutritional value relatively low compared to other family members, as with any colourful vegetable they still provide valuable nutrients, namely vitamin C, K, B1 and B5 as well as some trace minerals.

Cucumbers are great to include in many recipes and will certainly help to flush out toxins from the body and can even help with weight loss. Cucumber works really well with strong flavours such as tuna. Why not try searing a fresh tuna steak and adding a Japanese-style salad with sliced cucumber strips, spring onions, cherry tomatoes with a dressing of lime juice, soy sauce and sesame oil? This makes a quick, easy, tasty and nutritious mid-week dinner.

COURGETTE

Courgettes, also known as zucchini, are very easy to grow in your home garden because the plants produce large quantities of the vegetable. However, if you’re not very ‘green-fingered’ then both the green and yellow varieties are readily available in the supermarkets and are extremely versatile in many recipes.  Plus they’re very low in calories and are packed with immune-boosting beta-carotene and vitamin C.

Zucchini can be used in ratatouille with tomatoes and onions, in a soup with pea and pesto, plain griddled, or sliced, lightly fried and layered with ricotta cheese and drizzled with olive oil.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Is this just a pumpkin by any other name? Well not quite, but the two are very similar.  Obviously the two come from the same family, and one could easily say that pumpkin is just another type of squash. However, they certainly taste different.

With regard to nutritional content they’re pretty similar. Butternut squash is very high in beta-carotene which converts into vitamin A in the body, as needed.  Beta-carotene is also a powerful antioxidant which helps support the immune system – a real positive for this time of year.

One of the tastiest ways to eat butternut squash is alongside sweet potato and beetroot simply roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and freshly ground pepper – truly colourful and delicious!

WATERMELON

Did you know that watermelons were first harvested in Egypt around 5,000 years ago?  Since then they have reputably become THE best-loved fruit in the US.  And that’s no surprise!

Obviously, as their name suggests, they contain a high percentage of water – around 92% (not quite as high as cucumber, but close!)

Another little-known fact about watermelons is that they may improve libido.  This is because they contain a compound called citrulline which converts in the kidneys to arginine; an amino acid that helps to relax blood vessels encouraging blood flow to the sex organs.  This effect may also be beneficial in cases of erectile dysfunction.

Interestingly, whilst tomatoes are well-known for their lycopene content, watermelons actually contain more!  Lycopene is great at zapping unwanted free radicals that try to harm the body, but it’s also protective of the heart, male prostate and skin.  Moreover, it has great anti-inflammatory effects which is positive for the bones and joints.  Watermelon is a real winner; delicious in flavour with many nutritional benefits.  It’s always best enjoyed simply on its own.

So, whether you like pumpkins or not, there are many other members of the family which can be enjoyed this Halloween and all year-round!

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Healthy Halloween foods with nutritious bite!

Two women holding jack-o-lantern pumpkins over their faces

With Halloween falling eerily close on the calendar, it’s the perfect time to think about getting in the spooky mood.  As we know, foods come in all colours, so why not celebrate Halloween by eating deliciously healthy treats with traditional Halloween colours?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us some ideas to make this Halloween the healthiest yet with orange, black and green foods!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

OMINOUS ORANGE!

Top of the list of traditional Halloween orange foods has to be pumpkin!  In fact, it’s almost too nutritious to be put outside the front door and used as a lantern!  However, as with all winter squashes, they’re an amazing source of beta-carotene, which is one of most powerful antioxidants.  They’re also easily digested and rarely cause allergies.

For the pumpkins that you use as lanterns, don’t forget to save and roast the seeds in a little olive oil.  You can spice them before roasting by rolling them in a mixture of salt and dried spices: cayenne, ginger, cumin and cinnamon all work really well together. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fats, minerals and fibre.

Mango is, of course, orange and in season right now!  Mangoes are relatively new to the UK; they were traditionally cultivated in India but are now widely grown throughout the tropics.  As with all orange fruits, they’re packed with vitamin C – great for boosting your immunity now the autumnal weather is starting to bite.

BLOODCURDLING BLACK!

Black is not a very common food colour, but nature has provided us with some black foods to treasure.  For example, blackberries are packed with nutrients including immune-boosting vitamin C.  Their colour is due to the anthocyanins, which are plant compounds that have real health benefits; they’re full of age-defying antioxidants.

Black rice contains as many antioxidants as blackberries and helps to manage inflammatory conditions.  Black rice might not be a top choice when thinking about preparing rice for a meal, but it’s really worth a try; it’s got a distinctive nutty flavour and interestingly, during the Ming Dynasty it was called ‘longevity rice’ and was reserved for the Emperors to give them good health.  Use it in the same way you would any other types of rice.  Why not prepare a black Halloween risotto?

For a real Halloween twist, why not add some jet black squid ink to your own home-made fresh pasta? It’s delicious prepared with garlic and olive oil or alternatively it’s traditionally served with fish, often mussels in white wine and garlic sauce.

GHOULISH GREEN!

You can go very green for Halloween! Green apples spring to mind at this time of year as apples are bang on season right now.  What would Halloween be without some traditional apple-bobbing? And of course let’s not forget toffee apples!  Whilst many toffee apple recipes will suggest using red apples, there’s nothing wrong with using green; they’re often slightly sharper in taste which helps to balance the sweetness of the toffee.  Create some ‘scary’ toffee apples using caster sugar, golden syrup and some red and black food colouring.

Another deliciously healthy Halloween green food is globe artichoke.  Although they look slightly strange, globe artichokes contain some wonderful health benefits; they contain a compound called cynarin which helps to detoxify the liver and aid digestion.  Young globe artichoke buds can be cooked and eaten whole.  Alternatively, they can be prepared by cutting in half and removing the base and top and also the hairy middle.  They can be gently boiled and used in a variety of recipes or as a starter with hollandaise sauce.

However, if you’re looking to ‘up-the anti’ with spooky but healthy Halloween foods, think guacamole as green slime. Green olives with a raisin stuck on using cream cheese make great eyeballs on sticks! Why not create a Dracula mouth by slicing green apples into a mouth shape, adding some peanut butter in the middle and then stick on some monster teeth using sliced marshmallows.

Halloween doesn’t always need to be about sugary sweet and treats; it can still be scary but healthy!  Have fun!

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Five immune-boosting nutrients to get you ready for the cold season

With the winter months fast approaching, the season for bugs looms large. Thankfully nature has provided us with a wealth of nutrients to help fend off colds and flu. Whilst vitamin C and the mineral zinc are well-known as great immune-boosters there are 5 other key nutrients which are essential to keep you fighting fit this winter.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares these five top immune-boosting nutrients!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D tends to be associated with healthy bones and teeth, but it is also a key player in the health of the immune system.  Vitamin D is fondly known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. So during the winter months, people living in the Northern Hemisphere, including the UK, are likely to be deficient.  This is the very reason that Public Health England recommend supplementation of Vitamin D for everyone, particularly during the winter.

So how does it work?  It would seem that vitamin D activates a key part of the immune system – the killer T-cells – that detect unwanted viruses and bacteria.  T-cells rely on vitamin D in order to activate, otherwise they would remain dormant.

As well as taking a supplement of vitamin D this winter, eat plenty of oily fish, particularly those containing small bones such as sardines, pilchards and mackerel.  However whilst they provide some vitamin D, they may not be sufficient to keep your immune system in tip-top shape all winter-long so supplementation is recommended.

FRIENDLY BACTERIA

You may be surprised to know that your gut is home to 70% of your immune system.  It’s actually the body’s largest protective barrier between you and the outside world, and these defences come in the form of beneficial, friendly bacteria or probiotics.

One of the most prevalent strains of friendly bacteria is lactobacillus acidophilus, which is often found in yoghurt with active cultures. Probiotics need feeding to be as efficient as possible. Foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, lentils, oats and bananas will all feed these good guys and boost your immune system at the same time. You can also try a good quality probiotic supplement.

VITAMIN B6

Women in particular may associate vitamin B6 with supporting good hormone balance, but it also plays an important role in the immune system.  Vitamin B6 helps to increase antibody reactions which fight infections, and also stimulates the production of T-cells.

 

The good news is that vitamin B6 is rarely deficient in the diet.  However, increasing intake is going to have a positive effect on the immune system.  Avocados (great on toast for breakfast), bananas (an excellent afternoon snack), salmon (also packed with health-giving omega-3 fats), and foods containing wholegrain flour (such as whole wheat bread) provide excellent amounts of vitamin B6.

BETA-CAROTENE (Vitamin A)

Beta-carotene is turned into vitamin A in the body when needed, which is essential for the health of the immune system as well as vision and cell integrity.

Vitamin A itself is mainly available in animal produce such as meat, liver, eggs, butter and cheese, so vegetarian and vegans may be lacking. However, beta-carotene is widely available in lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables including carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, kale and cantaloupe melon.

Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A when needed but it does require sufficient protein, zinc and vitamin C to do so.  A diet rich in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, plus adequate protein either from animal or vegetable sources, together with some nuts and seeds will ensure beta-carotene can carry out its work most effectively.

VITAMIN E

As with a number of other nutrients, vitamin E improves B-cell and T-cell function (both key parts of the immune system). It also protects white blood cells from damage.  However, just like many other nutrients, vitamin E doesn’t work in isolation; it works hand-in-hand with selenium.

Luckily wheat germ and whole wheat flour both contain good amounts of these two nutrients so try to include these in your diet. Avocados, sunflower seeds and oils are all great sources of vitamin E.

As we know, when it comes to nutrients, nothing works in isolation in nature. Therefore eating a colourful ‘rainbow’ coloured diet every day is going to go a long way to keeping the bugs at bay this winter.

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Switch up your nutrition this autumn with some seasonal food favourites

As the new season arrives, a change in temperature also signals a change in what to eat.  It makes great health sense to eat with the seasons, as nature intended.  However, some of our traditional summer foods can still be eaten, in slightly different ways, as some seasonal ones are introduced.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives some top tips on what we should be eating this autumn!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

As the days get a little colder and darker we may naturally reach for traditionally filling foods such as macaroni cheese or other heavy pasta dishes. Unfortunately these are notoriously difficult for the digestive system to cope with and can leave you feeling bloated and lacking in energy.

Instead, choose foods that are packed with nutrients and loaded with antioxidants.  Prevention is always better than cure and if you can keep your immune system in good shape now, hopefully you’ll dodge the autumn/winter bugs!

BERRIES

We tend to think of berries as being summer fruits.  However, they’re always available and whilst we may eat them just as they are or with a little crème fraiche in the summer, they’re also great in warming recipes.  Think warm blackberry coulis, apple and blackberry crumble, braised red cabbage with blackberries or raspberry muffins.

Whilst some of the vitamin C will be lost during cooking, these dark berry fruits are packed full of anthocyanins – powerful plant compounds that provide protective antioxidants to support the immune system as the nasty bug season starts!

HERBS AND SPICES

As the weather becomes a little chilly, the body craves more warming foods. Warming herbs and spices that are perfect for this time of year include black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger and horseradish.

All are really easy to include in everyday dishes. Porridge is a great warming breakfast and works perfectly topped with some cinnamon.  Not only will your body be warmed and ready for the day, the oats will keep you feeling fuller for longer and this effect is also enhanced due to the blood sugar balancing effect of the cinnamon.

Ginger is also versatile in many recipes, particularly stir fries and Thai dishes, and is just as effective used in a tea.  It has thermogenic properties which can keep you warm and also speeds up the metabolism so you’ll burn more calories even whilst sitting at your desk!

And of course the traditional Sunday roast is perfect right now; roast beef with hot horseradish sauce is definitely an autumn favourite!

WINTER VEG

Many delicious vegetables come into season as we move into the autumn months.  Pumpkins, of course, are very seasonal with the approach of Halloween.  But don’t just use them as lanterns; pumpkins are packed with nutritional wonders!  They contain high levels of beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A, which is essential for the immune system and also for night vision (perfect for the darker evenings!)   Curried pumpkin soup is a real winner.  You’ve got all the nutritional benefits of pumpkin but you can also include many warming spices such as ginger, chilli, cayenne and cumin.

Swede is great as a vegetable side dish mashed with black pepper or can equally be used in stews. Celeriac often gets forgotten about but makes a great vegetable side dish, and courgettes add colour and taste to any plate.

Why not roast a large tray of root vegetables for a warming supper dish; carrots, beetroot, artichokes, onions and parsnips all work well together and complement roasted cod with garlic perfectly!

So enjoy experimenting with more warming foods this autumn and embrace the seasonal produce!

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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