Why eating more vegetables is so good for you

Happy woman holding a brown paper bag of vegetables in her kitchen

There are many reasons why vegetables should feature very highly in your daily diet. Packed full of nutrients, the range of vegetables available to us all year round makes including them in our meals every day pretty easy.

This month why not take the Veg Pledge and increase your vegetable intake?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five great reasons why you should.

Vegetables are loaded with nutrients

Vegetables are the most nutrient-dense food groups on the planet.  The human body needs around 45 nutrients daily (including water) and a very large proportion of these are found in vegetables.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

If you eat a wide variety of vegetables, then you’ll certainly be loading yourself up with a good range of nutrients.  First up are vitamins, most of which can’t be made in the body so have to be eaten very regularly.  Vitamins such as A, C, and E are all key for the immune system. The B vitamins are needed for energy and a healthy nervous system and brain. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth.  And that’s just the beginning!

The body contains a range of trace minerals that are utilised for many body functions, so must be eaten regularly as well.  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with most of it being stored in the bones.  Magnesium is key for bone health but also for the heart. Potassium and sodium should also be in good balance to support our cell make-up.

Vegetables are packed with antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the body against free radical damage.  Free radicals come from the environment but also from within the body.  Whilst the body has its own antioxidant systems, it needs more protection from foods we eat, including vegetables.  The richer and darker the colour, the more antioxidants the vegetable provides; broccoli and kale, for example, are packed with antioxidants.

A range of orange vegetables

The colour of the vegetable also gives a clue as to the different types of antioxidant it contains.  For example, orange and red vegetables contain lots of carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body. Others serve to protect the body against disease, the aging process and from nasty bugs and infections.

Vegetables are loaded with fibre

We need around 30 grams of fibre in the diet each day to help the digestive tract run smoothly.  Fibre is also needed to aid liver detoxification, balance blood sugar levels and keep cholesterol levels in check, just for starters.

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

Foods contain soluble and insoluble fibre, and we need both, but vegetables contain high levels of soluble fibre.  As an example, there’s around three grams of fibre in a cup of cauliflower so the body needs plenty more from food sources to keep the levels topped up. There are of course other foods, especially whole grains, which contain plenty of fibre.

Vegetables are good for the environment

There’s so much research to suggest that adopting a primarily plant-based diet is very beneficial for health.  However, with climate change and environmental issues of real concern right now, eating more vegetables and less meat is seen as a very good thing.

close upof woman carrying basket of in season fruit and vegetables

Ideally, we should be trying to eat foods in season.  We’ve got very used to being able to eat a whole range of vegetables throughout the year due to the wide availability. Farmer’s markets and local growers should be supported as much as possible and are the best places to find in-season, fresh produce.  Plus, if you can find organic growers then you’ll be reducing your own intake of pesticides and well as being kinder to the environment.

Make vegetables the main event

You can use vegetables in so many ways, not just as side dishes, but also as mains.  Think vegetable curries, risottos and soups or put some of your favourites in a slow cooker with some stock for a lovely warming winter meal.

A bowl of vegetable soup surrounded by vegetables

The varying and wonderful tastes of vegetables can also be enhanced with plenty of delicious and health-giving herbs and spices.  For example, why not try garlic, ginger,  chilli, turmeric, paprika, basil, rosemary or sage. There are so many herbs and spices that can be added to vegetables to both enhance taste and have additional health benefits so get creative!

CLose up of a pestle and mortar surrounded by herbs and spices

 

Eating delicious food is one of life’s pleasures and there are certainly many ways to make vegetables tasty and a big part of your everyday diet. Five-a-day is the minimum you should be aiming for but the more the better!

So, take the veg pledge and enjoy creating vegetable-based dishes this season.

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Pumpkins: top nutrition this Halloween

Pumpkins carved into lanterns

We hardly need reminding it’s Halloween this week!  And the star of the day is the wonderful vegetable, pumpkin.  It’s uses and nutritional benefits are far-reaching. 

Whilst it’s often glowing brightly on doorsteps around the world on the night of Halloween, the health benefits of pumpkins also have star status.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top reasons for including pumpkins in your diet.

Pumpkins are high in beta-carotene

With the season of bugs now upon us, we really need to be supporting the immune system as much as possible. Beta-carotene is a key member of the carotenoid family which is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed.  Vitamin A is important for keeping the immune system in good shape and helps us see in the dark – much needed now the clocks have gone back.

A range of pumpkins in a basket

Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, like pumpkin, is especially good for vegetarians and vegans since vitamin A itself is only found in animal foods.  Plus, vitamin A is an amazingly powerful antioxidant, further protecting the immune system.

Pumpkins have amazingly nutritious seeds

The seeds not only provide a wonderful transportable snack, they are rich in protein, to help stave hunger pangs, and loaded with many other nutrients.  Importantly, they are rich in the vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fats, needed for healthy eyes, joints and hormones, as well as bone-loving calcium and magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of fibre so help keep everything moving when the body can often feel a little sluggish generally. As a bonus, they’re filled with the amino acid tryptophan which not only keeps you energised throughout the day, but helps boost levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.  Pumpkin seeds are delicious lightly roasted with a little soy sauce.

Pumpkins are great for eyes in more ways than one

Whilst we know pumpkins are loaded with pro-vitamin A carotenoids, they’re also rich in other flavonoids (plant compounds) that have great affinity for eye health.  They ‘re packed with lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin which help protect the eyes from damaging blue light that we are all exposed to for too long every day.

Close up of woman's eyes

We often wonder why eyesight deteriorates the more we look at screens; it’s all because of the blue light emitted from computers and mobile phones. Thankfully these compounds can help protect the eyes – even more reasons for eating pumpkin.

Pumpkins are rich in lycopene

Lycopene is yet another carotenoid with wonderful health benefits.  When we hear lycopene, we often think of tomatoes as these are one of the best sources.  However, pumpkins certainly hold their own where it is concerned. This amazing antioxidant has been found to help support prostate health – one of the most common health issues affecting men.

a pumpkin cut into pieces

As with all carotenoids, their nutrient benefits are better absorbed from cooked sources, so roasted or mashed pumpkin is certainly the order of the day.

Pumpkins are amazingly versatile

Whilst we certainly love the warming glow pumpkins give off on Halloween night, their versatility in recipes can’t be overlooked.  Pumpkin soup, made with coconut cream, sage leaves, onion and vegetable stock is certainly an autumn favourite.  Pumpkin can also be roasted and served sprinkled with feta cheese and honey. It’s also great in a curry with other root vegetables and tomatoes, or in a risotto with spring onions, parmesan cheese, cumin and garlic.

A bowl of Pumpkin soup

But best of all is pumpkin pie!  You can use ready prepared sweet shortcrust pastry for speed.  The prepared pumpkin just needs to be mixed with brown sugar, eggs, cream and lots of spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for a warming Halloween treat.

So, enjoy Halloween and make the most of your pumpkins – both as lanterns and as a nutritious vegetable to add to your diet.

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Managing blood pressure the natural way

Woman having her blood pressure taken

Blood pressure is a good indicator of overall health, with high blood pressure, known as hypertension, indicated as a risk factor in heart attacks and stroke.

According to the NHS, 1 in 4 adults will have high blood pressure, though many may not be aware of their numbers. This is why the ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign runs this week to encourage us all to be aware of our blood pressure. For more information visit the Blood Pressure website

If yours is verging on the high side, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle and nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives her top nutrition tips and advice on how to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.

Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and will obviously be raised when you’re exercising or doing something more strenuous. It also tends to increase with age.  Average blood pressure readings should be around 120/80 (systolic/diastolic) with the diastolic reading having more significance.

What causes high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can be caused by a narrowing or thickening of the arteries, thicker blood or tension in the arteries which is controlled by the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium in relation to sodium (salt). Sometimes it’s not always obvious what the cause is, but changes to diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on blood pressure readings.

Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables

This is THE most important change to make when addressing blood pressure issues. This is mainly because vitamin C, present in all fruits and vegetables, helps reverse the hardening of the arteries. Other antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables also help protect the arteries from damage.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Great choices are apples, broccoli and green leafy veg, cabbage, melon, red pepper, peas, sweet potatoes, berry fruits and citrus fruits.  To further increase intake, why not have a juice every day; apple, ginger and carrot together is delicious.  Just experiment and go with the flow!

The mineral magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation and of course the heart is a muscle.  Magnesium is rich in green, leafy veg which is yet another good reason to load up your plate with greens.

Have a dose of garlic

The amazing health benefits of garlic have been hailed for hundreds of years. Research appears to suggest that garlic helps reduce the stickiness of blood, therefore helping to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

It’s easy to include in the daily diet, especially in stir fries, chicken and fish dishes, in wholemeal pasta recipes or with various vegetables; it’s particularly tasty with broccoli.

Eat more fish

Oily fish, namely salmon, mackerel and sardines, are especially rich in the omega-3 fats which are known to reduce high blood pressure.  This fact has also been verified by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) who state omega-3 fats have several heart-health benefits.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

It’s best to eat oily fish two to three times per week; salmon is easy to bake in the oven with a little dill, lemon juice and olive oil, wrapped in foil, which takes no time at all.

If, however, fish is not your bag then one of the best sources of omega-3s is flaxseeds which are easy to sprinkle over your morning cereal (preferably oat-based as they also have heart benefits) or stirred into natural yogurt with fruit.

Load up on vitamin E

Vitamin E works alongside vitamin C as a powerful antioxidant and protector of the arteries.  However, it’s also good at thinning the blood, helping to make the blood less ‘sticky’.

A range of foods containing vitamin E

Nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of vitamin E but one of the best foods is avocado.  They make a brilliant breakfast, smashed on sourdough bread and sprinkled with seeds. Or why not try it for lunch in a wholemeal wrap with other colourful salad veggies.

What not to eat

Salt has been found to increase blood pressure in certain people.  It’s worth adopting a low-salt diet so as not to upset the balance of other essential minerals.  Most processed meals are high in salt, so try to stick to home-prepared dishes as much as possible and not to add extra salt; enjoy the wonderful natural flavours of vegetables – the palate will soon adapt.

The word salt written in salt

Avoid bacon and smoked or processed meats which are all high in salt and fat. Even smoked salmon should be avoided if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, until it’s under control again.

Destress

Lastly, high stress often equals high blood pressure so take steps to try to reduce or manage this as much as possible.  It’s almost impossible to eradicate stress from daily life completely but it’s how you choose to deal with it that counts.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Any form of exercise can help take your mind off things as well as raising your heart rate and improving your overall fitness. Yoga, meditation, reading, Thai chi, a soothing bath in magnesium salts… anything that helps you to relax and destress will have a positive impact on your blood pressure and general wellbeing.

Nutrition can often be very effective quite quickly, so try these dietary tips to help get your blood pressure in check as soon as possible.

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Summer nutrition: the best foods on offer this season

Woman holding up frshly grown beetroots

When the sun shines, it inspires us to prepare fresh, healthy meals. With a wealth of wonderful foods in season, there’s no excuse not to make the most of what nature is delivering right now.

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Whether you’re creating deliciously crispy salads or and fresh and fruity desserts, summer foods are packed full of colour and flavour.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite and super-healthy foods currently in season.

Raspberries

Often forgotten and sometimes overshadowed by another red berry fruit (aka the strawberry) raspberries have plenty to be nutritionally proud of, as well as their delicious taste. Raspberries are one of our classic summer fruits and at their absolute best at the moment. Interestingly, most raspberries currently in our shops are grown in Scotland.

They are high in one of our key antioxidants, vitamin C, and their overall antioxidant content is increased the riper the berries. Plus, raspberries are high in something called ellagic acid which is an anti-inflammatory compound that seems to be especially helpful in cases of Crohn’s disease.

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Raspberries have leapt to fame in more recent times with the discovery of raspberry ketones, a phytonutrient which may increase metabolism in fat cells, thereby reducing the risk of obesity. Whatever your reason for choosing them, you’ll not be disappointed in any respect. Enjoy raspberries with your morning cereal or with some natural yoghurt. Try them as a topping to pancakes or made into a coulis that can be drizzled over savoury dishes or sweet desserts.

Watercress

Watercress makes a great staple salad ingredient with a distinctive peppery taste so it really adds some flavour. Even better it’s highly nutritious, containing vitamin C, calcium for healthy bones, plus energising folic acid and iron. Watercress is also a great tonic for the liver and kidneys. Furthermore, it contains high levels of vitamin K for great bone health and beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A and is great for vision.

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

Watercress actually makes a great soup ingredient, alongside onions, celery, diced Jersey Royal potatoes (also in season) with some chicken stock and takes no time at all to prepare. Its lovely fresh taste makes a perfect soup ingredient even during the summer months.

And did you know that watercress has more vitamin C per 100 grams than oranges!

Mackerel

This is an ocean fish that lives in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean waters and has some very distinctive grey stripes. Most importantly, it’s an oily fish that’s very high in those essential omega-3 fats we talk so much about.

A fillet of grilled mackerel

Omega-3s are absolutely essential for healthy hormones, bones, joints, eyes, heart and the brain and can’t be made in the body, so have to be eaten very regularly. Indeed, oily fish should be eaten three times a week to get what the body needs. The oils make mackerel quite rich to eat, so it’s often best simply grilled with some spices or sharp citrus flavours.

Aubergines

Whilst aubergines were native to India, they’ve become a very popular food the whole world over. They’re especially popular in Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, and in African folklore to treat convulsions. Aubergines are also known as ‘eggplant’ because of their egg shape. And interestingly they’re technically berries and not vegetables!

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

As with all fruits and vegetables that have gorgeous, rich colours, aubergines are packed with anthocyanins – plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. Plus they contain plenty of fibre and energy-boosting folic acid.

Whilst they taste delicious added to the popular dishes I listed above, they’re great simply griddled alongside some peppers with just a small pasting of oil. Aubergines are very low in calories but they do soak up oil like a sponge, therefore are best not fried.

Beetroot

Another vegetable with an amazing colour, highlighting its rich nutrient content, beetroots really add to salads at this time of year. In fact, they’re the perfect addition to a goat’s cheese salad, making a great starter or main course dish.

In ancient times, only the leaves were eaten, which can be cooked in the same way as spinach (gently wilted in the pan) but these tend to be less popular now, although they’re a great source of calcium and beta-carotene.

Whole beetroots

Beetroots are loaded with nutrients, especially vitamin C, folate, iron and heart-loving potassium to help reduce blood pressure. They also make a great tonic juice with carrots. They are brilliant for restoring health if you’ve been under the weather (yes it can still happen during the summer months). It’s best to enjoy beetroot either grated raw or cooked rather than pickled, which destroys some of the nutrients.

So enjoy a wonderfully healthy summer by adding these delicious and nutritious seasonal foods to your plate.

 

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Serve your bones the best nutrition this Wimbledon season

Close up of mixed doubles tennis match

It’s time for one of our favourite summer traditions – Wimbledon! Whether you love it or not it’s still a great time to be thinking about maintaining healthy bones and joints.

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Summer is a time when we want to be active and outdoors as much as possible and this is where the right nutrition can really help keep you mobile. Plus you might be dusting off your racket for a game of tennis!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for keeping your bones and joints strong and mobile this summer.

Boost your vitamin D

We know that vitamin D is the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s predominantly made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, don’t be fooled that just because it’s summer, all will be fine with your vitamin D levels. It’s a well-accepted fact that at least 30% of the UK population are vitamin D-deficient all year round. This is partly because sun cream blocks its production but also because we’re not necessarily out in the sun that much. Plus, there’s mixed data on how much the body actually stores and what’s sufficient for our needs.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Vitamin D is absolutely essential for healthy bones and joints, mainly because of its activation of calcium. Therefore, ensure you’re eating plenty of vitamin D-rich foods such as liver, oily fish with bones (sardines are great), mushrooms and eggs. Plus, it’s a good insurance policy for your joints and bones to continue taking a supplement at the amount recommended by Public Health England of 10 micrograms daily. And, most importantly, try to spend around 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen.

Load up on your greens

Green leafy vegetables are loaded with magnesium, a mineral that’s as important for the bones as vitamin D and calcium. Unfortunately it’s widely deficient in the UK population and this can cause joint stiffness, amongst other problems.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard and spinach are your bones’ best friends and they’re easy to include in the daily diet. Try making some cauliflower cheese (also rich in calcium), stir fried broccoli and chard with garlic and ginger, Brussels sprouts with bacon, or an omelette with spinach. These are all easy and super-healthy, nutrient-packed additions to your day!

Oil up your joints

Like any ‘machine’ the body needs to be well-oiled. And there’s no better way of doing this than by eating plenty of omega-3 fats. These really are essential for helping to keep the joints mobile and, hopefully, injury-free. They also have amazing anti-inflammatory powers.A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

 

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines (all delicious fish for a summer barbeque) are packed with omega-3s. If you’re not a fish lover. or are vegetarian or vegan, then flaxseeds or pumpkin seeds are also great omega-3 sources. Pumpkin seed butter on oat cakes is a quick and filling snack and flaxseeds can be easily sprinkled over cereals or stirred into yoghurts.

Get moving

Clearly, tennis is a great game and the whole family can get involved. However, if you’ve been a little too sedentary over the winter months then it’s better to get the body used to being more active before running around the tennis court.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

Whilst it might seem very simple, brisk walking for 30 minutes, elevating your heart rate (make sure you include some hills), is one of the best forms of exercise you can do and it’s not too stressful on the joints. Bones need to be exercised too to help keep them stay strong. Any exercise that contains forward and backward movements (dancing is great), weight training, yoga or most gym classes will be really beneficial for bone health. Whilst bones need the right nutrition, exercise also plays an essential role in maintaining bone integrity for the future.

Fermented foods to fortify the bones

It might sound strange to say that good gut health is essential for strong bones, but this is absolutely the case. The good bacteria that naturally live in the gut help nourish the rest of the body and assimilate the essential nutrients to keep bones and joints healthy. Probiotics or friendly bacteria help to increase bone mineral density and it is here that fermented foods have some of the most beneficial effect

A bowl of natural yoghurt on a wooden background

Foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kefir, natural yoghurt and kimchi are becoming ever more popular and can easily be included as part of the daily diet. Plus, these foods naturally contain calcium so it’s even more reason to include them as much as possible.

So even if you’re not a tennis fan, why not serve up some of these winning, bone-building foods this summer.

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Nutritional advice for 5 everyday health concerns

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Good health is the most important part of life. Indeed, feeling optimally well has to be our ultimate aim so that we can embrace all that life has to offer. But what happens, when the body lets you down and health niggles start kicking in?

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Eating the right foods is the cornerstone of life and it’s never too late to get your diet on track. Most importantly, what you eat can have a really positive influence on many daily health issues.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great nutritional advice for five everyday health concerns.

Ultimate immunity

Having an effective immune system that keeps out unwanted viruses and bacteria is essential for the body to stay healthy. Whilst nature is very clever in providing us with plenty of armoury, the right nutrition can also really make a difference. And as with everything, prevention is better than cure.

Sugar in all its forms is more disruptive than anything to the immune system. Refined, sugar-laden carbs such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and fizzy drinks and alcohol are not the immune system’s friend, so they need to be kept as low as possible. Allow yourself one or two treat days a week but try and keep sugar low on the other days.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Vitamin C is the key nutrient for the immune system. Of course there are many other key immune-loving nutrients but make vitamin C your focus. This means trying to eat as many vegetables as possible; peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes are especially high in vitamin C. Go easy on the fruit and make vegetables the main event. However, all berry fruits are loaded with vitamin C and in season right now, so try to include one portion of these per day.

Glowing skin and glossy hair

Who doesn’t want both of these! Glowing skin and glossy hair are primarily a reflection of what’s within; what you eat makes a massive difference to how you look. As both skin and hair contain protein in the form of collagen and keratin, it’s really important to make sure you’re eating plenty of protein.

A range of foods containing protein

Eat protein at every meal. Include meat, fish, chicken, soya, beans, lentils or dairy produce – all are great sources. It’s also worth bearing in mind that biotin is the most important B-vitamin when it comes to hair and skin. It’s rich in liver, eggs, dairy, and salmon so you might want to also consider these when making your protein choices to get double the benefit.

Smooth joints and strong bones

Having a strong skeletal frame is clearly very important; it works very hard for you! Peak bone density is reached at the end of your teenage years so having sufficient calcium, magnesium and vitamin D (being the key bone-building nutrients) is important in the early years.

A range of foods containing calcium

However, bones and joints need feeding throughout life to maintain strength. Key foods are dairy produce and green leafy vegetables.   Additionally, try and get 15 minutes of sunshine every day daily to help the body produce vitamin D. It’s also advisable to take a daily supplement of vitamin D all-year round because even when the sun shines, we’re not necessarily outside enough to reap the benefits.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Joints also need ‘oiling’ to keep them running smoothly and to this end the omega-3 essential fats are key. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the key foods, so include them in the diet as much as possible.

Abundant energy

We all want to feel vibrant every day with plenty of energy to enjoy life to the full. However, many people of all ages complain of poor energy levels which negatively affects their quality of life.

The main energising nutrients are the B-vitamins because they help the body produce energy from food. They are a family of eight vitamins and they can be found in a range of foods. However foods which contain most of the B-vitamins in one source are salmon, liver, eggs, beans, wholegrains, chicken and turkey, so there’s plenty of choice.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Additionally, B-vitamins are used up quickly during times of stress or by drinking alcohol. Interestingly, both of these factors also impact our immune system so it makes sense to balance these as much as possible.

Balanced mood

If you’re frequently feeling low, edgy, anxious or irritable then there may be something amiss with your diet. About 70% of the body’s ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is produced in the gut so what you eat makes a massive difference to how you feel.

Too much caffeine is never going to keep mood balanced; it’s very individual as to how much each person is affected. As a general rule, though, no more than 2-3 caffeinated drinks per day should be consumed; this includes cola and similar caffeine-containing drinks.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

There are some real stand-out foods in terms of keeping your mood boosted through the day. One of the best breakfasts is a bowl of oats, either as porridge or within an oat-based cereal. Oats are packed with complex carbs that keep energy and mood balanced throughout the day. Plus they contain tryptophan, the amino acid that produces serotonin. Top it with a banana, also rich in tryptophan, and natural yoghurt to feed the good gut bacteria and life will feel better for it.

So with a few simple tweaks, what you eat can really make a difference to how you look and feel!

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How to be a healthy vegetarian: top dietary tips

Woman in kitchen holding bottle of olive oil wutg basket of peppers on work surface

It’s nearly time to celebrate National Vegetarian Week. Vegetarian numbers are on the rise in the UK and there are many reasons for this. They include health, a concern for animal welfare and the environment, or simply a change in taste.

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A vegetarian is anyone who does not eat meat, fish or poultry or foods containing them, but the term is often used in a much wider context. For example flexitarian (flexibly vegetarian), pescatarian (happy to eat fish), lacto-vegetarian (eats dairy, but not eggs) and ovo-vegetarian (eats eggs but not dairy).

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips on how to be a healthy vegetarian.

Plan your protein needs

It can sometimes be hard for vegetarians to meet protein needs, as well as requirements for certain trace minerals. Protein is essential for hormone production, the immune system and strong muscles and bones, particularly, as we age.

Plant foods don’t contain all the essential amino acids found in animal produce. But the good news is that you can combine grains and beans to get all the essential amino acids the body needs. For example, a bean-based chilli con carne with rice is a great choice and satisfies this requirement.

Bean and rice salad stew

Most animal produce, including eggs, milk and dairy, contain all the essential amino acids. Therefore, if you’re eating these regularly you should be able to meet the body’s needs. It’s important to eat protein at every meal, to ensure the body gets what it needs but also to keep blood sugar and energy levels sustained throughout the day.

There are also plenty of vegetarian protein powders, made from whey, pea or hemp, which can be added to smoothies. These are especially useful to top up protein needs if you’re very active or stressed (when the body needs more support generally).

Top tip: eat plenty of pulses, soya products, nuts and seeds, eggs and cheese.

Plan your micro nutrient needs

Vegetarians may be more susceptible to low levels of certain minerals such as the easily absorbable heme-iron found in meat. However, iron can be found in vegetarian sources such as pulses, nuts, seeds, cereals, green leafy vegetables, tofu, dried fruit, molasses and fortified foods.

Vegetarian sources of iron

Vitamin C helps boost uptake of iron, so eat a piece of fruit or some vegetables at the same time. Alternatively, go for a glass of orange juice with your breakfast or a fresh fruit salad as a dessert or starter.

Zinc is essential for the immune system and many other key body functions. Therefore, put milk and dairy products, eggs, sourdough bread, cereal products, green leafy vegetables, pulses and pumpkin seeds on the menu. Healthy snacking is another way to help increase levels – try eating seed mixes or sprinkle them over salads and fruit. Try making pulse-based dips such as hummus.

homemade hummus with seed sprinkles

Vegetarians can run the risk of being low in vitamin B12 which is essential for energy production, although vegans are at greater risk since it’s only found in animal produce.

Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth and can help to protect against osteoporosis in later life. Non-dairy sources can be sourced from foods such as tofu, fortified soya and rice milk, almonds, dark green vegetables and sesame seeds.

Top tip: Include milk, dairy products and eggs if they’re still part of your daily diet.

Plan your omega-3 needs

The essential omega-3s can often get forgotten by vegetarians, particularly if you’re not eating fish. They are called ‘essential’ because omega-3s support hormones, eye health, the heart, joints and skin but the body cannot make them and so these need to be included in your diet.

A range of seeds on spoons

The good news is the body can convert something called ‘ALA’ found in flaxseeds, rapeseed oil, soy oil, pumpkin seeds, tofu and walnuts, into the beneficial essential fats. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines already contain plenty of these beneficial fats, so if you’re a pescatarian you are more than likely including these types of fish regularly in the diet.

Plan your supplement needs

Even though you’ll hopefully be planning your diet well, it’s always good to cover all bases with a high-quality, daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement as well. It’s like having a really cost-effective health insurance policy! You can also take vegetarian omega-3 supplements to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs.

There are lots of health benefits to being vegetarian and with a little planning you can make sure that you have the healthiest vegetarian diet possible.

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