Make this the year of fruit and veg: how to get more nutrients into your diet

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What better way to start a new year than by planning to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables!  Packed full of nutrients, eating a wide variety of fruit and veg in your daily diet is a great way to make sure you’re getting as many vitamins and minerals as you can.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shows us just how easy it can be and shares some great ideas for upping your fruit and veg intake.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

MAKE WINTER SALADS

Salads can often provide quick and healthy meals.  Although we might tend to associate salads with summer, winter salads are just as easy, nutritious and versatile.

One of my favourites is beetroot, watercress, walnut and goats cheese.  Watercress provides a great non-dairy source of calcium (many people can’t tolerate dairy foods), plus it’s rich in iodine which is great for the brain and thyroid gland.

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Wonderful beetroot offers a wealth of benefits, including being a great support for the liver (excellent if you’re trying to detox), plus it’s a rich source of iron, providing extra energy.  Athletes can also benefit from eating more beetroot; it has been found to improve endurance training and makes recovery from exercise much quicker.

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Walnuts are an excellent source of those essential omega-3 fatty acids; these little wonder nuts help to reduce blood pressure as well as keeping the brain razor-sharp!  And finally goat’s cheese provides the protein you need to keep feeling fuller for longer, not to mention adding a wonderful tangy flavour to the dish.

There are so many wonderful winter salad combinations – let your imagination run wild and add in both hot and cold elements to keep it interesting.

COLOURFUL SNACKS

Trying to eat enough fruit and veg throughout the day (at least 5 portions) can sometimes be a challenge.  Busy lives, lack of time and last minute food prep can all mean we don’t eat as much as we know we should!  Take the pressure off; you can actually clock up some of those 5 portions just by using fruits and vegetables as snacks throughout the day.

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Prep some crudites in advance. It takes only a few minutes to chop some carrots (filled with beta-carotene and great for your immune system), some red and green peppers (high in another immune-booster – vitamin C), celery (great for reducing high blood pressure) and cucumber (high in potassium and good for the heart).  Pack a pot of hummus and you’ve got yourself an amazing snack to keep you going throughout the day.

Berry fruits are another excellent snack that can be eaten on the run.  Whilst it’s always best to eat fruit and veg in season, we are lucky enough to be able to select a wide range throughout the year.  For example, blueberries are packed with health-protective anthocyanins – wonderful antioxidants helping to prevent degenerative diseases.

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The old adage ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ makes complete sense considering apples are nutritional powerhouses: they contain vitamins A, C, B complex, calcium and potassium. Bring one with you every day – it’s a lot easier to reach for a healthy snack when you have one to hand at all times.

MAKE SOUP

There’s actually no better way of fast-tracking your vegetable intake by making soups. A hearty and nutritious soup doesn’t have to take long at all – you don’t even need to peel many vegetables before adding them to the saucepan.

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Think potatoes, leaks, carrots and onions gently cooked with some stock and then liquidised – it really is as easy as that.  Add a bag of spinach and you’ve got a really powerful, nutritious, iron-rich soup, with minimal effort.  With so many people deficient in the mineral iron, essential for energy, it makes sense to add spinach into your cooking as much as possible.

You can also add kale to soups in exactly the same way; it’s tasty and cheap plus it’s an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin – two antioxidants which really help to protect eyesight, particularly as we age.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT   

Many people struggle to go shopping every few days for fresh fruits and vegetables.  So instead, load your freezer with your favourites and use them when there’s no fresh options left in the fridge.

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Remember that many pre-packed frozen fruits and vegetables are harvested and frozen very quickly, thereby retaining great amounts of all their valuable nutrients, so these are a great option when you’re short on time. You can also freeze any leftover fresh fruit and vegetables for use another time and also freeze individual batches of soup for a quick go-to meal.

So make this the year of fruit and vegetables and get creative with all the ways you can incorporate more into your daily diet!

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‘K’ is for Kale: everything you need to know about this amazing vegetable!

 

shutterstock_232612981-woman-with-kale-nov16Kale is one of a number of superfoods currently ‘on trend’. But the benefits of this green, leafy vegetable have been known for a long time. Packed full of nutrients, Kale is a versatile vegetable, whether steamed, boiled, grilled, stir fried or as part of a delicious soup.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the ‘low-down’ on what’s so amazing about kale and why we should all be including it in our daily diet.

 

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IN THE BEGINNING…

It is not known exactly when kale was first discovered. What is certain is that the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed its health benefits although seemingly for slightly different reasons than ourselves: the Romans ate it as a cure for drunkenness for example!

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The Brits actually lead the way in bringing kale into the United States in the 17th century. And during World War 2, the growth of kale was encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign to help supplement nutrients that were missing from the diet during rationing.

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Kale is a member of the brassica family of vegetables which are renowned for their amazing health benefits. There are several varieties of kale including curly, ornamental, red russian and dinosaur kale. They all look slightly different with varying tastes, with curly kale having the deepest green colour and strongest taste.

IT PACKS A NUTRITION PUNCH!

Kale is an excellent source of two of our most powerful antioxidants – vitamin C and beta carotene.  Beta carotene converts into vitamin A in the body as it’s needed, whilst Vitamin C is great for supporting the immune system. A 100 gram serving of kale provides more than three quarters of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and almost twice the recommended intake of vitamin C!

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Kale also contains good levels of the minerals calcium and iron which we know are widely deficient in many sectors of the UK population.  Plus, kale is a great source of vitamin K (another ‘K’) which is great for the heart and bones, and even contains small amounts of those wonderful omega 3 fats, which are especially good for the brain.

KALE AND CAROTENOIDS

Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant (also known as a carotenoid) which helps to support the immune system.  However, kale also contains some lesser-known carotenoids being lutein and zeaxanthin.

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These nutrients have an incredible affinity for supporting eye health:  In nature, it would seem that lutein and zeaxanthin absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are both found in high concentrations in the macula of the eye. These powerful nutrients appear to protect the eyes from macular degeneration, which is an increasingly common condition found in older people, and which can lead to blindness.

IT’S ALL ABOUT GLUCOSINOLATES

But what are they you may ask?  In simple terms they are sulphur-containing compounds which have been, and continue to be, heavily researched for potential cancer-preventing benefits. Glucosinolates are also found in other brassicas but have the highest concentrations in kale.  Research is continuing, and clearly we can’t expect one food to work miracles; however suffice to say that a very regular intake of kale in your diet is definitely going to benefit your health.

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These glucosinolates are also made into other compounds that support the body’s natural detoxification processes.  The body (and primarily the liver) has two phases of detoxification and kale supports both – further confirmation of the power of the kale and often why it is included in a detox!

IDEAS FOR EATING KALE

As with all vegetables, there are many ways of preparing, cooking and eating them!

One really great way to use kale is to make kale crisps!  All you need to do is to wash and lay plenty of kale leaves onto a roasting tin.  Pour over some olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt.  Put them under the grill until the kale becomes crispy.  Delicious, and a perfect mid-afternoon snack!

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Kale is also delicious lightly fried with chorizo to make a tasty vegetable side dish with a little kick!  And it also makes a great side gently cooked with butter and garlic, in a wok.

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Kale also works really well with eggs at any time of day.  Steamed for breakfast with a poached egg on top, or in a goat’s cheese frittata with onions.  As with any vegetable, the lighter and shorter the cooking time, the more nutrients you’re going to preserve.  Therefore steaming is always going to be the healthiest way to enjoy this health-boosting vegetable!

So whether you add kale to your smoothies or salads, soups or stews, you’ll definitely enjoy the health benefits associated with this green super food!

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The wonders of Vitamin D: an essential vitamin for wellness and long term health

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Known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s predominantly made on the skin when the sun’s out, Vitamin D is currently one of the most talked about vitamins. And that’s because it delivers so many wonderful health benefits. Unfortunately it is very deficient in the UK population (not surprisingly) due to our lack of sunlight as we are located in the northern hemisphere.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides a complete low-down on Vitamin D and how we can make sure we get enough all year round.

WHAT IS IT?

Vitamin D is often described as a hormone rather than a vitamin; a hormone is defined as an essential compound that the body manufactures in order to control a particular biological function.  In the case of vitamin D, it helps to control the absorption of calcium.  It also serves a number of other key functions in the body, specifically supporting the immune system.

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So how does sunlight affect our Vitamin D levels? When sunlight hits the skin, it converts a form of cholesterol into the active form of vitamin D. This happens firstly through the liver and then through the kidneys, which is why many people with liver or kidney problems will often be deficient in Vitamin D and Calcium, regardless of their exposure to the sun.

Even in ‘sunny’ countries, people can actually still be deficient; a recent study[1] for example found that women in Brazil were actually lacking in Vitamin D!  Overall, research suggests that this vitamin is so important to health that widespread supplementation would be beneficial to all populations.

BONES AND JOINTS

Vitamin D’s key role is to support the metabolism of calcium.  And since calcium is our main bone-building nutrient, Vitamin D is obviously key in bone health.  Indeed, a study carried out in 2010[2] found that Vitamin D could hold the key to pushing back the years when it comes to maintaining strong bone health and muscle strength.

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The better your Vitamin D levels, the more likely you are to maintain good structural function of the body throughout the years. Peak bone mass is achieved at around 18 years of age; bone mass declines more rapidly without adequate Vitamin D, which is why it becomes more of a problem as we age.

THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

It has been found in recent years that Vitamin D plays a key role in the correct functioning of the immune system; it works by increasing the number of anti-inflammatory proteins as well as antimicrobial proteins, all of which help support immunity.

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Vitamin D, therefore, helps to ward-off those dreaded coughs and colds.  These proteins are so powerful that they seem to be able to reduce the risk of developing pneumonia, which can be a complication following a bout of flu.

THE HEART

It appears that Vitamin D is successful in preventing a number of heart-related conditions.  Recent American studies3 have found that Vitamin D may help reduce the build-up of cholesterol in the blood vessels by helping to prevent cholesterol from sticking to the artery walls.

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This is particularly important for diabetics (and there are now around 4.5 million people in the UK living with Type 2 diabetes), who are at a much higher risk of heart disease because they have difficulties in properly processing cholesterol.

THE LIST GOES ON…

It’s not just these health conditions where Vitamin D is so crucial; it’s needed for healthy teeth, treating chronic pain, weight management and the prevention of autoimmune and degenerative diseases.  It really is a wonder vitamin!

HAPPINESS AND MOOD

It’s not just being in the sunshine that makes us feel good!   It’s also the fact that higher levels of Vitamin D in the body are attributable to better mood, and even a reduction in depressive illnesses.

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This is partly because there are Vitamin D receptors in the brain and also because it is thought that Vitamin D increases levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.  The mode of action isn’t fully understood but it’s always good to grab more happiness and positivity when you can!

SOURCES OF VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is mainly found in animal food sources such as oily fish, egg yolks, butter, liver and milk.  There are small amounts in green leafy vegetables and mushrooms but these are not as absorbable.  Because of the animal origin of most Vitamin D sources, vegetarians and vegans may well need additional supplementation.

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HOW MUCH SHOULD WE HAVE?

It is now fully accepted that we need higher levels of this amazing vitamin to achieve optimal health. Such is the extent of Vitamin D deficiency in the UK population, that Public Health England recommends a minimum of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D daily for everyone throughout the year.  Whilst we do sometimes see good levels of sunshine during the British summer, and the body can store Vitamin D, high factor sun cream blocks its absorption on the skin. So it is advised that we spend around 15 minutes in the sun every day before covering up.

So as you can see getting enough Vitamin D all year round, and especially during the dark winter months, really is essential to overall wellness and longer term health.

 

[1] Lopes et al. Highly prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among Brazilian women of reproductive age.

Arch Endocrinol Metab 2016 Oct 10:0

[2] Federation of American Sciences for Experimental Biology (2010, April 26). Better vitamin D status could mean better quality of life for seniors

3 Bernal-Mizrachi C et al.  (2009) 1,25 (OH) vitamin D inhibits foam cell formation and suppresses macrophage cholesterol uptake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.  Circulation. 120 (8) pp.687-698

 

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[1] Rimer EG et al.  Acute dietary nitrate supplementation increases maximal cycling power in athletes. Int J Sports Physiol. Perform. 2015 Dec 2

 

What you need to know about Butternut Squash: 7 nutritious facts!

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Butternut squash, often called Winter squash, is a delicious and nutritious food at any time of year. With its inviting orange colour and unique taste, it’s a great addition to any autumn menu and there are so many ways to prepare and enjoy it. And the bonus is it’s packed full of nutrients and health benefits!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares 7 interesting facts about the butternut squash.

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IS IT A PUMPKIN?

Butternut squash is from the same Cucurbitaceae family as the pumpkin (which also in season right now) and in Australia, they often call butternut squash pumpkin. Interestingly, cucumbers and courgettes are also part of the same family and are sometimes referred to as Summer squash. But technically, butternut squash and pumpkin are two different plants – and you’ll see why in my next point!

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FRUIT OR VEGETABLE?

Did you know that butternut squash is classed as a vegetable, whereas pumpkin is actually classed as a fruit? Another reason that butternut squash differs from pumpkin. But either way it’s still one of your five a day – or two of your five a day if you include both squash and pumpkin in your daily diet!

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IT HAS ANTIOXIDANT POWER!

It’s all about the beta carotene in butternut squash.

The lovely warm orange colour delivers the real deal, providing high amounts of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, which protects the body against free radical damage. This is especially important during the winter months, to help support the immune system.

Beta-carotene is also turned into vitamin A in the body as needed, so butternut squash is a great source of this important antioxidant and vitamin. It is also loaded with powerful carotenoids, namely lutein and zeaxanthin, which are particularly supportive of eye health.

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IT’S A SECRET CALCIUM SOURCE

Many vegetables are actually great sources of calcium (such as broccoli, kale, soy beans to name a few) and butternut squash is no exception.

Calcium is our key bone-building mineral, essential for the support of normal bones and teeth as well as the normal growth and development of bone in children. But with many people not able to tolerate too much dairy, especially milk, finding other sources of calcium is essential, so why not try adding more butternut squash to your daily diet and top up those calcium levels.

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IT’S FULL OF FIBRE

As well as helping to keep things ‘moving along’ the digestive tract, foods that are high in fibre are also lower on the glycemic index, meaning that they don’t adversely affect blood sugar levels. Butternut squash is one of those fibre-rich foods.

Additionally, the starch content of butternut squash contains ‘long-chain polymers’, which also help to keep blood sugar levels in check.  This is great news for those watching their weight as well as the fact that butternut squash is a low calorie, low fat vegetable – perfect!

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IT’S GREAT TO EAT DURING PREGNANCY!

As you can see, butternut squash contains an impressive array of nutrients to support many aspects of our health.  It also boasts significant amounts of folate, which helps to prevent neural-tube defects (for example spina bifida) in the growing foetus.

Folate is so important before and during pregnancy that the Department of Health recommends women take a 400 micrograms daily supplement from the moment they start trying to get pregnant, right through pregnancy.  But as well as this, it should also be eaten in the diet as much as possible: folate is water soluble which means it’s easily excreted from the body, and therefore needs to be eaten every day.

Another folate fact: Folate comes from the latin word folium meaning ‘leaf’, which is a good indicator of where else you can find folate. Green plant foods such as spinach, broccoli and asparagus are some of the richest sources.

Folate also works really well alongside vitamin B6 (also present in butternut squash), to keep hormones in balance and energy levels up – another bonus of this nutrient-rich vegetable!

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IT’S SO VERSATILE

There are so many things you can do with butternut squash.

As a starting point ahead you need to peel the squash and scoop out the seeds.  It can then be sliced into wedges and baked in the oven, roasted with other vegetables as a side dish, diced and used as a great alternative to potatoes or added to soups, stews, curries or risottos. It also makes a wonderful main ingredient for a soup all on its own.

Why not simply cut off the ends, cut the squash in half lengthways and bake the two halves in the oven.  You can then scoop out the roasted flesh once it’s cooked – it’s a particularly great accompaniment to roast beef.

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You can also eat the seeds! Squash seeds provide an excellent source of omega-6 fatty acids, good for the skin, and oleic acid (also found in olive oil) which is really heart-healthy. They can be removed from the pulp, laid out on a baking tray and gently roasted in the oven for around 15 minutes with some olive oil and a pinch of salt – they make a great addition to a winter salad or just eaten as a snack.

So why not source some squash this autumn and enjoy this delicious, nutrient-packed vegetable throughout the season.

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[1] Rimer EG et al.  Acute dietary nitrate supplementation increases maximal cycling power in athletes. Int J Sports Physiol. Perform. 2015 Dec 2

 

The Sweet Potato: why you should eat more of this superfood!

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When it comes to nutritional value, sweet potatoes are streets ahead of the traditional spud. Bursting with vitamins and better for your metabolism, sweet potatoes are very different from ‘normal’ potatoes – and far better for you!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides some fabulous facts about sweet potatoes, and why you should be including them on your weekly shopping list!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

THREE SWEET OPTIONS

There are three colour varieties of sweet potatoes –  white, orange and purple.  Whilst they all deliver great nutritional benefits, the orange variety delivers slightly more vitamin A and the purple variety contains more anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants.  Purple sweet potatoes are also said to be beneficial for cognitive function.

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However, all sweet potatoes are great if you’re on a weight loss programme because they are low to medium on the glycaemic index(GI), meaning they release energy slowly without upsetting blood sugar levels.

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(Picture: Carbohydrates with a low to medium GI)

Because sweet potatoes really do taste so sweet, there is often a misconception that they should be avoided by diabetics or people trying to lose weight. However, the reverse is actually true with these amazing vegetables: they seem to encourage the release of a protein which helps to manage insulin levels in the body, so are great for anyone worried about blood sugar control.

THEY’RE PACKED WITH NUTRIENTS

Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre which is important for your digestive tract in order to keep everything moving along!

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They are particularly high in Calcium (which supports strong bones and teeth), Potassium (which helps support a healthy heart) and Vitamins C and B6 which are great for the immune system.

When it comes to Vitamin A, sweet potatoes have one of the highest levels of all vegetables. This Vitamin A is in the form of beta-carotene (just like in carrots), which is converted by the body as needed. Vitamin A is also really supportive of a strong immune system, plus it’s great for the skin.

GET CREATIVE IN THE KITCHEN!

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One of the best things about sweet potatoes is that they make the most amazing fries!  Sweet potato fries are just perfect: chop them into chip shapes, drizzle with olive or coconut oil, add some ground salt and then roast in the oven.  For a really indulgent treat, roll them in truffle oil before serving and sprinkle with parmesan cheese – delicious!

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If you’re reluctant to give-up your well-loved jacket potato, then fear not!  A sweet potato makes an even-tastier jacket, with a tuna and mayonnaise topping – why not add some mashed avocado, sour cream or hummus?  Whichever you choose, you can rest-assured that you’ll be getting a much greater array of nutrients than if you had chosen a standard potato.

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One interesting fact about beta-carotene (Vitamin A) is that it is fat-soluble: this means that the body absorbs it much more efficiently when eaten with other foods containing fat (such as avocado and hummus) – so always add a healthy fat option to your sweet potato!

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Sweet potatoes also make a great vegetable side. They’re delicious, cooked and mashed simply with a little butter and black pepper. You can also top with some chopped walnuts: the omega-3 fat content of walnuts will help with the absorption of beta-carotene, and they make a fabulous addition to this side dish.

There are a few special recipes where sweet potatoes can really make their mark because they are so wonderfully sweet in taste. They work really well with lamb recipes, as part of any Indian-style cuisine, and added to oven baked dishes which include ginger, garlic, onions and garam masala.

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And have you ever tried a sweet potato brownie?  You can whip up an amazing gluten-free version using just mashed sweet potatoes, cashew nut butter, cocoa powder and maple syrup – and throw in some chocolate chips for that extra chocolate hit!

So why not make sweet potatoes part of your weekly meal planning – this is one delicious superfood that you won’t believe you ever went without!

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Not a fan of dairy? Try these five alternative calcium-rich foods

shutterstock_138896735 woman and milk June16Calcium is an essential mineral found mostly in our bones and teeth. It is an important part of any diet but if you’re not a fan of milk and cheese, how can you make sure you are getting enough?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why it’s not all about dairy and shares five foods that are great sources of calcium.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

When we think of the mineral calcium, we normally think of dairy foods as being the best sources of this essential mineral. Whilst this is mostly true, for those that don’t like the taste or have allergies or intolerances to dairy, this can often be a problem. So, time to find some great alternatives!

CANNED FISH

shutterstock_152130665 canned fish June16People often push back against canned versus fresh fish but it’s actually one of the best ‘alternative’ sources of calcium, whether you go for salmon, sardines or pilchards. Since most of our calcium is stored in the bones, it therefore makes sense that eating fish containing soft bones will also provide calcium.

With canned fish, you get both the flesh and the bones, which makes it better for calcium than fresh fish, which is either filleted, or the bones are inedible. Canned fish makes a great lunch with salad and avocado, on toast, or as part of a healthy evening meal.

shutterstock_252012256 almonds and almond milk June16ALMONDS

Although you’d need to grab quite a few almonds to get anywhere near the required daily amounts of calcium (the recommended daily amount of calcium or NRV – Nutrient Reference Value – is 800 mg), they still pack a nutritional punch. A daily handful of almonds makes a great snack plus they are the most nutrient-dense of all nuts.

Almond milk, which is readily available in the supermarkets contains some calcium and is a delicious alternative to cow’s milk that you can include in your daily diet. Almond butter, also widely available, makes a great snack with some oat cakes and even better will help stop that 3 pm energy slump!

shutterstock_390376168 broccoli spinach kale Mar16GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES

There are quite a number of green leafy veg that have good amounts of calcium. Top of the list ranks spinach with a cupful yielding around 55 mg of calcium. So definitely include some spinach in your diet, but also think about broccoli (an excellent vegetable packed full of nutrients), Pak choi (great steamed or in stir fries), kale (excellent added to juices) or leeks (always tasty when steamed). Basically if the vegetable is green, it’s going to contain some calcium in varying amounts – another reason to be eating as many greens as you can each day!

shutterstock_380364823 quinoa salad June16QUINOA

Time and time again, this humble grain comes up trumps in terms of it nutritional benefits. If you’re going to choose a grain, then quinoa wins hands down over rice or other grains, in terms of its calcium and, indeed, protein content.

Quinoa is such a great all-round healthy food; it’s an excellent accompaniment to fish or roasted vegetables or it can be cooked in advance and eaten cold in a salad. Why not add it to roasted stuffed peppers with mushrooms and garlic, for a really delicious and filling evening meal?

BEANS

In the same way that many green leafy vegetables deliver great amounts of calcium, so do many beans, so definitely include this food group in your diet where you can.

shutterstock_81566332 beans legumes June16All beans will deliver some calcium – white, soya, kidney, lima – the list is endless. One point to note with beans; if you’re going to use them in their dried form they do need to be soaked, preferably overnight, in water. The process of soaking helps to eliminate all the anti-nutrients and parts of the bean that make them indigestible. The canned varieties are of course pre-soaked so they are much quicker and easier to use.

Top of the leader board, though, come white beans – for example, haricot beans or cannellini beans. White beans are great when added to soups or stews and they also make an excellent side to meat or fish. Cannellini beans work particularly well alongside lamb, and all beans work really well as part of a delicious salad dish.

So there you have 5 non-dairy options that are packed with calcium along with many other health-giving nutrients – why not try adding them to your meal plans this week?

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The nutritional benefits of fish: 7 reasons why eating fish supports your health

shutterstock_327993407 woman eating fish June16Love it or hate it there’s no getting away from the fact that fish provides a wealth of nutritional benefits which in turn are great for our health. There are so many different types and flavours of fish that even for those of us who are not  big fish-lovers, trying some different varieties and different recipes may be the answer.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us seven great reasons why you should make sure fish is at the top of your menu list!

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IT’S GREAT FOR PROTEIN

Protein is essential for growth, repair and hormone production. Many people tend to stock up on carbs, thinking it will keep them feeling fuller for longer. However, it‘s protein that actually keeps you feeling full and ideally you should be eating some at every meal.

shutterstock_292081001 salmon June16Obviously the amount of protein in the different varieties of fish will vary, but, as an example, a salmon fillet will contain around 20 grams of protein (we need around 70 grams daily), so you’re making great headway to the daily goal. Having protein at every meal will not only keep you feeling full, but it will keep your blood sugar levels in balance, so your energy levels will be better sustained throughout the day.

shutterstock_376614814 omega 3 fish foods June16IT PROVIDES OMEGA 3’S

The omega 3 fats are the ‘king of fats!’ They are termed ‘essential’ because the body can’t make them – they need to be eaten in the daily diet. And fish, particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, really packs an omega 3 punch!

Omega 3’s are essential for healthy skin, brain, joints, and hormones, so your daily portion of oily fish provides some amazing health benefits. What’s more, fish is low in saturated fats, meaning that they won’t sit around your waistline after you’ve eaten them!

shutterstock_306844715 tinned tuna June16IT PACKS A CALCIUM PUNCH

Calcium is the body’s most abundant mineral, mainly stored in the bones and some in the teeth. Certain types of fish, especially those with soft bones such as sardines and pilchards, provide great sources of calcium. Even canned tuna contains some good levels of calcium. This can be particularly helpful for people that don’t have dairy in their diet.

shutterstock_123973114 grilled sole fish June16IT’S A GREAT SOURCE OF ZINC

Zinc is another really important mineral, especially for supporting the skin and hormones, and fish provides an excellent source. Flat fish, such as sole, are particularly high in zinc. However, the best place to find zinc is in oysters, which leads us to another upside of this particular seafood …

shutterstock_81162511 12 oysters Sept15OYSTERS ARE AN APHRODISIAC!

Oysters are also known as the ‘food of love’ and for very good reason. Oysters have the highest amount of zinc of all seafood and zinc is essential for fertility and reproduction in both men and women, hence their well-deserved reputation. However, they also contain certain amino acids that happen to trigger the release of sex hormones. Even better, oysters are actually at their most ‘potent’ right now so pop down to your local fishmongers and grab a few!

shutterstock_289157948 tuna steak June16IT’S QUICK TO COOK AND VERSATILE

There are so many was to eat fish and, the great new is, you can rustle up a meal really quickly! Cod roasts really well in the oven with some basil, cherry tomatoes and garlic; salmon happily cooks in a foil parcel with some lemon juice and dill; sole fillets can be quickly pan-fried with some butter and salt and pepper and served with some salsa verde.

Additionally, fresh tuna steaks can be griddled or pan-fried in about three minutes. So, if you’re time-starved (and let’s face it, who isn’t), then there’s really no excuse not to whip up a quick fish dish!

GREAT FOR BREAKFAST, LUNCH OR DINNER!

shutterstock_227387758 smoked salmon and eggs June16Whilst fish isn’t always the first choice in people’s minds for breakfast, it’s actually a great choice. The high protein content of fish makes it excellent for starting the day right with well-balanced blood sugar levels. Plus it’s a great side with eggs; think smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and you’ve got an ideal combo.

shutterstock_256747903 prawn and avocado salad June16When it comes to lunch, tuna or prawns with some avocado and salad vegetables is a real winner. If you’re on the run, there are a number of well-known food chains that provide tasty fish-based salads or if you have access to a microwave in the office, a small jacket sweet potato with canned tuna provides an excellent quick lunch that will stop the cravings and the 3 pm slump!

shutterstock_388126837 cod fish June16When it comes to dinner, some of the above suggestions are just as quick, easy and delicious or you can be more adventurous with some Thai cod or sole. The fillets can be wrapped in foil with some peppers, onions, garlic and ginger and cooked in the oven for around 15 minutes. Lovely!

So whichever variety you choose, eating more fish on a regular basis means you’ll be sure to be benefiting from a wide range of health-boosting nutrients.

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Build your bones: the importance of Calcium and Vitamin D

shutterstock_225313861 yoga warrior 1 May16It goes without saying that maintaining healthy, strong bones is incredibly important; your bones work hard, for many years, and they need to be well supported nutritionally, so your frame remains strong throughout your life.

Peak bone density is actually reached at around 20 years of age, so what can you do now to keep your bones as strong as possible for the future?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on how to build strong bones from an early age, but also how to maintain them throughout your life.

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TIP 1 – EAT BONE-BUILDING NUTRIENTS

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, most of which isshutterstock_97126880 calcium food sources Oct15 stored in the bones. Indeed, bones have a great storage facility for calcium, which starts before birth and continues for many years. Therefore, eating foods containing good amounts of calcium, particularly during the teenage years is key to building good bone density; milk, yoghurts, soya foods, green leafy vegetables and bony fish, particularly sardines are great choices. Interestingly, low fat milk and yoghurt actually contain the same amount of calcium as full-fat, so your waistline doesn’t need to suffer at the expense of your bones!

shutterstock_115649197 vitamin D beach May16Calcium can’t be metabolised without sufficient vitamin D, the wonderful ‘sunshine’ vitamin! Most of the body’s vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine, so it makes sense to be taking regular holidays (as if we need another excuse for some time in the sun)! During the summer months, just 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight, without high strength sun cream, is sufficient to make the essential vitamin D that your body needs.

shutterstock_405426820 mum and child on beach May16Throughout the year, but especially during the winter months, taking a vitamin D supplement may be a good choice. The Department of Health actually recommends vitamin D supplementation for teenagers, children under 5, those over 65, pregnant women and those breastfeeding, plus people who don’t get much sunlight or who have darker skin. The UK does not get as much sunshine as many other countries in the world so again a supplement can be beneficial for many people living in the northern hemisphere. In terms of which foods contain Vitamin D, there is some in egg yolks, bony fish and cheese so also include these foods in your diet as much as possible.

TIP 2 – DITCH THE FIZZ

If you’re making great efforts to eat the right bone-building foods, it makes sense not to eat foods or take drinks that are going to deplete the body of calcium.

shutterstock_234083842 multi coloured fizz drinks May16Fizzy drinks contain phosphoric acid. This creates acidity which the body doesn’t like, therefore calcium is leached from the bones to counteract that acidity, and all your hard work can go to waste. This is especially key with children and teenagers who may overload on fizzy drinks. Alcohol and coffee also create more acidity, therefore should be drunk in moderation. Additionally, red meat, especially processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami are not well-liked by the bones, so also eat these sparingly.

shutterstock_278791859 green vegetables May16TIP 3 – EAT YOUR GREENS

It’s not always easy to get children and teenagers to eat their greens! However, if you can get them into good habits from an early age, their bones will certainly appreciate it – in fact it’s important for all the family to eat their greens!

Green leafy vegetables are rich not just in calcium but magnesium as well. Magnesium is a key mineral stored in the bones, second only to calcium, and works in partnership with Calcium to build and maintain strong bones throughout life.

Think kale, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli and cabbage; try to eat at least one of these every day. They are also great to add to juices with pineapple, carrot, and beetroot – a real mega nutrient hit your bones will love!

shutterstock_144464215 bone broth May16TIP 4 – COOK UP SOME BROTH

Whilst your grandmother might have cooked up a bone broth many years ago, most good quality restaurants will always have a pot on the go and they will use it as a stock base. However, your grandmother knew a thing or two about nutrition.

A broth made from bones provides an excellent source of calcium and magnesium and also helps to support the immune system. You can use any leftover bones, maybe from some roasted meat or chicken (you can also make a fish broth or buy bones from a good butcher). You can then add whatever takes your fancy; typically, onions, parsnips, carrots and celery, together with garlic and herbs to suit your particular taste. You can also use this as a wonderfully healthy stock base for gravy – just like the top restaurants do!

shutterstock_229927744 women sports May16TIP 5 – EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE!

It’s especially important to take regular exercise for healthy bones from an early age. Your skeletal frame likes to be active; think of how active our ancestors were, particularly cavemen! Any weight-bearing exercise is the key but this doesn’t have to mean spending endless hours in the gym. Brisk walking, dancing, racquet sports, yoga, tai chi, golf and jogging are all great exercise your bones will love, and should be encouraged from a young age, and on a regular basis. Indeed, it’s the combination of the right nutrition and exercise which has the biggest positive impact on bone density throughout life.

It’s never too early or too late to take care of your bones and with some mindful diet and lifestyle choices, they’ll keep you going strong.

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Are you getting enough Vitamin D? Why you need the sunshine vitamin.

shutterstock_274532183 woman in sunglasses looking at the sky Aug15Many people know that vitamin D is also called ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However many people are unaware of why vitamin D is so important to our overall health and also why it’s linked to calcium absorption.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us what we need to know about vitamin D, how it works with calcium, and the all-important ‘low-down’ on why together they’re so crucial to our health.

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VITAMIN D – THE FACTS

Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily produced on the skin in the sun. The Department of Health have acknowledged that a massive 60% of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D, which is putting the nation’s health at risk. shutterstock_397937623 UK map May16Countries located in the Northern Hemisphere which lack sunshine all have populations that are equally deficient. And whilst a sunshine holiday can certainly boost our vitamin D levels, using high factor sun cream can block its absorption plus because the body can’t store it, and we simply don’t get enough throughout the year.

shutterstock_277907438 highlighted bones of woman exercising May16WHAT DOES IT DO?

Vitamin D’s most important function is the metabolism of calcium. This means that both nutrients are vital for the health of bones and teeth. Sunlight on the skin activates a pre-cursor to vitamin D and it is then converted to the most active form of the vitamin – D3.

However, it’s not just the bones and teeth that need vitamin D – it also helps to regulate the body’s immune responses, helping protect us against infections such as colds and flu.

More and more functions of Vitamin D are being discovered; it’s also important for muscle strength, good mood and healthy blood pressure – new research is being carried out all the time. It is so important that the Department of Health recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies and young children aged six months to five years and those over 65 years should take a daily vitamin D supplement or a multi-vitamin containing at least 10 µg (micrograms). This also applies to anyone who isn’t exposed to much sunlight.

shutterstock_360639257 vitamin D foods May16WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

The most active form of vitamin D (D3) is the one produced by the sunlight on the skin. However, there are some food sources of vitamin D (D2) which, interestingly, are also foods high in calcium so it’s a double whammy! Plus, both forms of vitamin D are available as a supplement or as part of a multi-vitamin.

Top of the list of foods to eat are oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and pilchards. Egg yolks and butter also contain vitamin D, and milk and cheese contain lots of calcium and a little vitamin D. There is a small amount of vitamin D in green leafy vegetables, and again, they’re a good source of calcium, and mushrooms are also a good vegetarian source of vitamin D.

So, why not try making savoury pancakes with eggs, butter, milk, cheese and mushrooms. Your children will love them (hopefully all the family will as well) and you’ll be getting both vitamin D and calcium to boot!

shutterstock_310287731 woman sun bathing May16WHAT IF I DON’T GET ENOUGH?

Vitamin D deficiency can manifest itself in a number of ways. With 60% of the population reportedly not getting enough Vitamin D, rickets in children is becoming more prevalent, partly because of the use of sun creams with high SPF, which is completely understandable.

However, in order to improve levels of vitamin D within the body, just exposing the body to the sun for 15 minutes a day is sufficient and, generally, would not be long enough to cause any skin damage or burning.

A lack of vitamin D can also result in a loss of bone mineral content, making fractures more likely and also an increase in bone pain and muscle weakness. Osteomalacia or ‘soft bones’ is another condition on the increase in the younger age groups.

shutterstock_352168949 beautiful woman skin May16IS VITAMIN D THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH?

Research carried out in 2010[1] found that vitamin D may hold the key to long-lasting physical function. Of the 2,788 people studied, those with higher levels of vitamin D had much better physical function as they aged, than those with lower levels.

Those with the highest levels of vitamin D were able to lead more active lives, demonstrating that it’s not just the bones that need vitamin D, but it’s needed for muscle strength and the ability to keep physically active. Yet another great reason to start supplementing right now.

So, it’s never too early (or too late) to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium, and taking adequate steps now can really help to support a healthier and stronger you in the future.

[1] Houston D et al, Better vitamin D status could mean better quality of life for seniors. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 2010 (April 26).

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Five healthy picnic treats your kids will love!

shutterstock_156066815 family picnic July15Packing a picnic is a lot of fun – so many delicious things to choose from. But feeding a family on the go can be challenging, as can balancing nutrition with fun, nibbly bits. Consultant Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives us some great ideas for fun, fresh and nutritious picnic treats.

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A summer picnic with the kids can be one of the nicest ways to spend a summer’s day.  However, if your little ones are notoriously fussy and they all want a different menu, the whole day can become rather stressful before it’s even begun.

So can you please everyone? I have come up with five tempting but healthy picnic treats that all the family can enjoy:

 

shutterstock_114505228 spinach pancake July15MAKE IT PANCAKE DAY EVERY DAY!

There are not many children, or adults for that matter, that aren’t excited by pancakes!  Here’s a tasty and healthy twist on an old favourite that can be eaten cold.

Just make up your pancake mix in the normal way but whizz in some spinach.  Packed with iron, often lacking in children’s diets, Spinach is a good option for boosting this mineral in the diet – and iron is particularly important as children hit their teenage years. Once the pancakes are cold, spread on some low-fat cream cheese, and add some cucumber strips – then just roll them up.  Easy and very transportable!

shutterstock_231475324 brownies July15VEGETABLE BROWNIES

Whilst it may seem strange to put vegetables into what is traditionally seen as a sweet dish, sweet potatoes are great in both savoury and sweet dishes, such as brownies. They are packed full of nutrients so the more ways you can find to use them, the better! Sweet potatoes are full of fibre, vitamins A, C and B6, as well as beta carotene – a great antioxidant and protector from the damaging effects of the sun.

To make around 10-12 brownies, you will need two large sweet potatoes, some dates, ground almonds, which are rich in the omega 3 fatty acids, buckwheat flour, maple syrup and raw cacao powder.

You can use ordinary cocoa powder, but raw cacao has good levels of iron and calcium – particularly important for children’s bones, teeth and brains!  Use a little honey to sweeten the mix and your little ones might not even realise that their traditional brownie has a slightly different twist!

shutterstock_143373568 pitta pizza July15EASY PIZZAS

Whisper the word ‘pizza’ and you’ve already got children’s attention!  These are so simple to make: they are great cold, easily transportable plus they’re supremely healthy!  All you need are some pittas – preferably wholemeal – then whizz up a tomato paste using tinned tomatoes and a little onion, together with some dried oregano.

Spread the mixture onto the pitta and sprinkle on some sliced mushrooms and cheese.  Once they’ve been grilled and then cooled in the fridge, they make a healthy and filling picnic treat.

shutterstock_223504360 flapjacksHEALTHY FLAPJACKS

Many flapjacks are heavily sugar-laden with huge amounts of butter. Making healthy flapjacks provides a great opportunity to include some omega 3 seeds, such as pumpkin and sunflower – great for your children’s brains.  Additionally, you can add some raisins (which are high in iron), bananas (loaded with B vitamins) and rolled oats (which provide sustained energy release).

Add these together with some almond nut butter, which will provide some extra protein and provide even more omega 3 fats.  Omega 3’s are essential to have as part of your diet because the body cannot make them. They fulfil so many important functions in the body particularly for the brain, skin and hormones and really need to be included in the diet every day.

These flapjacks are also great as lunch box fillers and for those that have missed breakfast!

shutterstock_162423197 veg frittata July15VEGTABLE FRITTATAS

Frittatas are very easy to cook: they’re also great cold for a picnic and you can make up your own recipes, depending on individual tastes.  It’s also an excellent way of getting children to eat eggs.

One of my favourite frittata recipes is peas, chopped tomatoes, onions, and spinach.  For extra flavouring and additional protein, it’s great to add some cheese.  Most children will eat cheddar but if they’re slightly more adventurous then try feta or parmesan for a great flavour.

You can even turn your frittata into more of a Spanish omelette by adding some cooked potatoes. And if your family are super adventurous you could give it an Indian twist by adding some mild curry powder, chopped coriander and turmeric.  Indeed, the more turmeric you can add to your meals the better; it can provide enormous health benefits, particularly for the digestive system and any areas of inflammation in the body.

So there you go!  Some ‘quick wins’ and delicious picnic treats that all the family will love and you won’t have to spend hours preparing.  In fact, get the children involved in preparing and packing the picnic – the fun can begin even before you hit the park or the beach!

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