Walk your way to health this winter

Woman walking in a snowy woodland

With our wings being somewhat clipped at the moment, many of us have found real pleasure in walking and getting some much-needed fresh air. 

There are lots of health benefits to walking but some of them you may be surprised to hear.  And walking in the cold weather is especially beneficial.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why and how to get the most enjoyment and benefits from walking.

The benefits of walking in the cold

For those who are brave enough to undertake and appreciate the benefits of swimming in the sea during the winter months, you may already know that the cold water is incredibly beneficial for relieving stress and instilling feelings of calm.  This is because the extremely cold water stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck, responsible for pushing the body’s nervous system into a calming parasympathetic state, rather than revving up the sympathetic nervous system. This can also happen when the neck is exposed to cold generally, hence walking in the snow (without a scarf just for a bit), is a great stressbuster (and very beautiful too).

So, get out there this festive season and enjoy some frosty walks in your local area.

Here are my top tips for an enjoyable winter walk.

Walk after a meal not before

Walking soon after you’ve finished a meal really helps the body better metabolise glucose and insulin, so food is less likely to be stored as fat.  Anyone wanting to lose weight or trying to get blood sugar in balance should walk after the main meal of the day which will really help both situations. Obviously, you’ll have more energy to put into the walk rather than ‘running on empty’.

Dress appropriately

If you’re feeling up to a longer challenge, then why not plan a route that will take a few hours, pack an energising lunch, and enjoy some real time out.  Even though you’re moving and maybe climbing some hills, you can still get really cold when temperatures plummet.  The key to staying comfortable during longer walks is layering.  Always have a close-fitting base layer and then put on as many additional layers as you need and make sure you either wear or pack a waterproof jacket, just in case.  Body temperatures can drop really quickly if clothes and body get drenched so it’s important to respect the weather at this time of year, especially if you are heading for the hills.  Waterproof over-trousers might be another essential item, again depending on the terrain.

Woman in winter gear on a walk

Most body heat is lost from the head so a warm hat is another essential item and can be a real game-changer when body temperature starts to drop.  In terms of keeping the neck warm, then a scarf is important as the vagus nerve doesn’t need to be exposed to the elements for long for the beneficial effects to be felt.

Pack an energising lunch

Obviously, you’re slightly limited in how much you can pack in terms of lunch but clearly you need to re-fuel.  More calories are burnt during the cold weather as the body tries to maintain body temperature.  However, a huge feast is not needed, just a combination of protein and carbohydrate.  Great choices would be egg with a little mayo on wholemeal bread, tinned tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal pittas or haloumi and salad on sourdough bread.

Woman with a hot thermos on a wintery walk

Having a hot drink mid-walk really helps lift spirits and warm the body; it’s easy to get cold really quickly once you stop for lunch.  Pack a flask of your favourite hot drink and maybe a small, sweet treat for when energy levels start to flag at the end of the day. And don’t forget to take some water with you too.

Walking is great for boosting circulation and encouraging blood flow to the brain, burning calories, keeping fit and busting stress.  And winter walking can be even more enjoyable if you’re fully prepared. Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Vamp up the veg this Christmas!

Woman preparing christmas dinner

Vegetables are not always given the kudos they deserve with them often appearing as an ‘after-thought’ on the plate. Clearly, for vegetarians and vegans, this is not the case, but we could all still do with some new ideas on how to bring veg to life.

Adding some different flavours and health-giving herbs and spices can really elevate a vegetable dish and Christmas is the perfect time to make this happen. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite vegetable recipes for the season.

Mashed swede with nutmeg

Swede is one of those vegetables that often gets ignored, partly because it isn’t always easy to prepare.  However, it’s well worth any additional effort required because it’s a delicious vegetable side at any time of the year. It’s even better at Christmas when in season and also when the body loves root vegetables the most.

A bowl of mashed swede

Swede is high in immune-boosting vitamin C, and nutmeg is a deliciously warming spice which adds a lovely twist to the dish.  Add some bay leaves whilst you’re boiling the swede and then mash with butter and plenty of black pepper.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

These two vegetables hail from the same, super-healthy, cruciferous family making them a powerful duo.  Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with nutrients, fibre and antioxidants so are perfect at this time of year when we need to be giving our bodies as much goodness as possible.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

Both vegetables are delicious lightly steamed or boiled but can often be over-cooked making them mushy and tasteless, hence this recipe really hits the spot. Cut both the cauliflower and broccoli into florets and sprinkle with a little olive oil, soy sauce and cumin for some gentle spicy flavours.  Cumin is another super-spice and a great anti-inflammatory helping ward off aches and pains, common at this time of year. Simply roast in the oven until tender but not too soft so they still have some ‘bite’.

Parsnip fritters

Parsnips are a Christmas favourite and are probably appearing on most Christmas menus.  However, why not change it up by making parsnips into fritters? Another tasty root vegetable, parsnips are high in fibre and low in fat. They also contain some protein and good amounts of calcium and magnesium, to help support your bones.

A bowl of roast parsnips

Peel the parsnips, grate and mixed with some egg, salt and pepper and cumin and roughly mould into fritter shapes.  They can either be cooked in the oven or lightly fried until crisp and golden.  Not just for Christmas Day, these fritters also make a great breakfast treat and work really well with eggs.

Roasted vegetables with pesto

A plate loaded with colour is a plate that’s laden with nutrients.  Nature provides us with a wealth of colourful vegetables, all full of health-giving nutrients, especially antioxidants which help protect us from disease and delay the ageing process.

 jar of homemade pesto

With root vegetable all being in season right now, you can also add further colour with peppers, chopped aubergine and onions, or add sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips.  You can add a little pesto towards the end of cooking just to give them some extra flavour.  Roasted vegetables are great at any time, but they make a perfect warming side leading up to Christmas, or can even by eaten cold, making them delicious on the buffet table too.

Beetroot salad

This is a real showstopper for the buffet table because of its rich colours. However, it’s also a great way of getting some slightly stronger flavours into a salad dish.  And whilst all these foods are high in nutrients, beetroot is great for this time of year when there’s the tendency to over-indulge and feel sluggish as it helps to detoxify the liver.

Beetroot salad

Carrots need to be grated, cucumber peeled and diced, with beetroot also peeled and grated.  Fry some immune-boosting garlic in a pan with the green beans, then add the other veg and lightly sauté for around 5 minutes or so.  You can either cook the vegetables individually and layer them in a bowl or mix them all together, cool and serve with a dill and mustard dressing or French dressing of your choice.

So, enjoy some interesting vegetable dishes this festive season and reap the health benefits from the many nutrients they provide.

Stay well.

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Five festive foods to boost your mood this Christmas

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

Many of us have struggled to find good cheer and happiness over the last few months for obvious reasons.  However, Christmas is fast approaching which generally puts a smile on our faces. 

What you eat over this festive season can have a marked and positive effect on your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite festive mood-enhancing foods.

Turkey

The good old Christmas Turkey can really help our mood and motivation. This is because it’s rich in tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, one of our key happy hormones. However, it requires some nutrient partners, also called co-factors, in order to get to where it’s needed to do its work.  This means eating plenty of foods containing vitamin C.

Roast Christmas turkey

Thankfully, most fruits and vegetables are full of vitamin C, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions a day or even more! Additionally, zinc (rich in seafood and whole grains) and vitamin B6 (bananas are a great source), also work closely with tryptophan.

Hopefully looking at the beautifully roasted turkey on your Christmas table will bring a smile to your face for many reasons and you can continue to enjoy the leftovers during the festive period.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a sometimes-forgotten white fish but one that’s incredibly flavoursome. One of its many claims to fame is that it’s packed with the essential omega-3 fats, so often lacking in the typical western diet.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that a large percentage of the population are lacking in omega-3s which might in part explain why low mood is so prevalent. Omega-3s are essential for improved brain neurotransmitter reception plus production of serotonin – our happy hormone.

Mackereal pate on a slice of bread

Mackerel is delicious simply baked as a pre-Christmas meal.  However, why not enjoy some mackerel pate as a starter for the main event?  It can be prepared the day before and it’s super easy to make. Enjoy!

Oysters

At their seasonal best right now, oysters are often served up over Christmas.  They’ll certainly bring some cheer to the table partly down to the fact they’re packed with the mineral zinc.  Zinc is essential for the production of serotonin, a lack of which is often implicated in cases of depression.

A plate of oysters

Additionally, oysters are high in vitamin B12 which plays a key role in keeping the nervous system on the straight and narrow, and helping you feel generally more balanced.  Most people love oysters served with loads of lemon juice or for a spicey twist, with some chilli sauce.  They never disappoint however they’re eaten.

Dark chocolate

No Christmas would be complete for most people without some chocolate heaven!  However, the good news is that chocolate really can make us feel happier.  Chemicals in dark chocolate work on feel-good endorphins in the body.  This is turn helps raise levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that encourages our feel-good factor and positive mood.

Dark cocolate christmas trees

Dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa or more) also contains tryptophan.  Even better, if you’ve wondered why it’s called the ‘food of love’ it contains a compound called theobromine, thought to be a mild aphrodisiac. Do we need any more convincing of why chocolate has to be on the Christmas menu?

Parsnips

It’s all about roots right now to keep you happy and grounded! And it’s no coincidence that root vegetables are in season during the winter months; the body needs warming, starchy and delicious foods (especially root vegetables) to put a smile on our faces.

A bwol of roast parsnips

Thankfully, parsnips are high on the shopping list when it comes to planning the Christmas Day menu.  However, parsnips are also the main event in a tasty Spicy Parsnip Soup that is great for Boxing Day or the day after. Pull together some onions, cumin, ginger, garam masala and red chilli plus some double cream (also high in tryptophan) alongside the parsnips, and you’ve cooked up a wonderful soup that makes a great starter or lunchtime favourite.

So, bring some extra happiness to your table this Christmas and enjoy the nutritional and mood benefits.

Stay well.

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Tis’ the season: five seasonal, nutrition-packed foods to eat this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

Whilst the Festive Season is upon us to hopefully bring a little cheer to what has been a tough year all round, there’s also plenty to celebrate with some delicious seasonal food.

Food generally tastes so much better when eaten at the time of year nature intended.  Plus, it’s generally richer in nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods of the season.

Celery

Whilst not always liked by everyone, celery is certainly synonymous with Christmas buffet tables, and it definitely adds a fresh bite to plenty of other dishes.  And for those not wanting to pile on the pounds over Xmas, celery is incredibly low in calories but high in nutrients, so you get much more ‘bang for your buck’!

Chopped celery and celery stalks on a wooden chopping board

Celery is high in potassium which is great for the heart and also helps reduce blood pressure.  Even eating three sticks per day has been shown to be incredibly effective in this way.  Potassium also helps kidneys excrete waste efficiently which in turn helps with water retention and bloating, both common feelings over the festive season.

Interestingly, celery is often found in recipes such as stews, bolognaise and soups; it’s initially fried with the onions because it’s a strong flavour-enhancer in these types of recipes.

Brussels sprouts

No talk of seasonal December food would be complete without sprouts!  Many of us don’t like them because we may have been subjected to Brussels being over-cooked, making them mushy and unpleasant to eat.

Sprouts dish with ginger

Brussels sprouts are incredibly health-giving, partly down to the presence of indoles, compounds that may help prevent some of our nasty hormonally driven diseases.  Just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family, they’re high in vitamin C and immune-boosting beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as the body needs it.

It’s worth persevering with Brussels sprouts, down to their amazing health benefits. Why not try them with chopped chestnuts, fried with bacon. Or enjoy in a traditional Boxing Day ‘Bubble and Squeak’ mashed with all the other delicious left-over veg.

Scallops

At this time of year, queen scallops from UK waters are at their best. They are both delicious and loaded with nutrients. Scallops (and indeed all shellfish) are packed with vitamin B12 which is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and good functioning nervous system. They are also high in immune-boosting zinc and selenium, both minerals often deficient in the typical Western-style diet. They are also, of course, a good source of protein.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

Both the white and orange roe (coral) of the scallops are to be enjoyed.  They work really well with strong flavours from bacon or chorizo or in Thai dishes with traditional spices such as lemon grass, chilli and ginger.

Parsnips

Another stalwart of the traditional Christmas meal, parsnips are incredibly easy to prepare and have a really distinctive sweet taste.

Parsnip soup in a bowl

All root vegetables are in season right now since nature wants us to be eating warming, starchy comforting foods to protect us against the elements.  Parsnips are another good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and energising folate.  They also provide a useful source of fibre to keep digestion running smoothly.

Whilst parsnips are delicious simply roasted with a little honey to enhance their flavour, they also work well sprinkled with parmesan. Or why not try in soups and stews? They can work as a great alternative to potatoes.

Goose

For many it is the meat of choice for a festive meal, whilst for others it has dwindled in popularity.  This may be down to its relatively high fat content, but in face goose still contains less fat than duck and some cuts of lamb, beef or pork.  Plus, goose fat, produces the best roast potatoes in my opinion!

Roasted goose on a plate

Goose contains nearly as much protein as turkey and is a great source of iron (frequently deficient, particularly in female diets), plus other B vitamins.  It’s certainly worth considering if you want some variety, if not for the Christmas Day meal then over the festive period.  Goose is truly delicious served with traditional chestnut stuffing.

So, grab some seasonal delights and make the most of the food that December has to offer.

Stay well.

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Natural ways to a stress-free Christmas

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

The lead-up to Christmas is traditionally a very stressful time of year.  There’s always so much to do and often many people to please. 

What you eat and how you plan your time can really help support your health and minimise stress, so you can fully enjoy the festive season.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips for a stress-free Christmas.

Load up on magnesium

Nature has supplied us with everything we need in terms of nutrients.  The good news is that the mineral, magnesium, is especially calming.  Whilst magnesium is important for energy production, it’s also needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  This includes playing a role in the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially calming GABA which decreases activity in your nervous system. Magnesium also helps manage the body’s normal stress response as well as aiding muscle relaxation.  No wonder it’s known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Foods high in magnesium are going to become your best friends over the next few weeks.  Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale, wholegrains such as oats, almonds, dairy foods, beans, and meat should all be on the menu.  It may also be worth taking a magnesium supplement.  If you take it about an hour before bedtime, it can help you to sleep peacefully too.

Try some calming herbs

Just as nature has delivered us calming nutrients, it’s also delivered calming herbs. And there are many ways you can use them in meal preparation.

Clearly, time is a precious commodity right now, so spending hours in the kitchen is not on the menu.  However, basil is a tonic for the nervous system: it’s calming and can also help digestion.  Why not use it in an easy chicken pasta dish, using whole wheat pasta (which contains more magnesium and B-vitamins) or with mozzarella cheese and buffalo tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil?  Two easy supper suggestions.

Mozzarella, tomato and basil salad

Camomile is a popular calming tea which is especially good before bedtime, as is mint tea which is soothing for the digestive system.  Additionally, rosemary adds a wonderful taste and aroma to many different dishes. Think roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, chicken, soups, or simply rubbed over chunky bread with a little olive oil.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Some herbs can act as both an energy stimulant as well as encouraging calm and relaxation.  They are known as adaptogenic herbs; ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all have this effect.  They are best taken in the morning in supplement form to help with energy levels, but because they manage the stress response, they body will also feel calm and better able to sleep.

Make time for relaxation

Unfortunately, we often push ourselves very hard at this time of year.  This can suppress immune function making us susceptible to all the nasty colds and bugs flying around, not to mention leaving us feeling low and tired.

The good news is there are many relaxation apps you can download and listening to them won’t eat too much time out of your day.  Meditation can take a little practice, but an app can really help guide you along the way.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

The benefits of relaxation are far-reaching not just at this time of year but for long term health and longevity.  Try and allocate around 20 minutes a day. Just listening to a relaxation app and being still for a short time will refresh your body and mind.

It’s important to give back to the body what it needs.  While it’s working hard and functioning day to day, it’s easy to forget that the stress response uses up more nutrients (especially magnesium and the B-vitamins, which are essential for energy). Therefore, it should be properly fuelled with nutrients and lifestyle changes, so it continues to work as it’s best for you.

So, just a few small changes can make a massive difference to how well you cope over the next few weeks and can hopefully help you have a happier Christmas.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

 

 

Christmas food planning: top ideas for healthy sides and snacks

Woman preparing christmas dinner

We hardly need reminding that there’s just one month to go until the big day! There’s always so much to do, not least when it comes to food planning. 

However, it’s not too late to conjure up some healthy snack ideas and side dishes for your Christmas meal.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers five deliciously healthy suggestions.

Keep your blood pressure low with cauliflower cheese and walnuts

A traditional Christmas meal is probably one of the most stressful anyone will ever have to cook!  There’s huge expectation and excitement around it, plus trying to have each dish ready for the same time is not easy.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Cauliflower cheese as a vegetable side is always popular, but why not add a healthy twist with some chopped walnuts scattered over the top.  Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats and have been found to help reduce blood pressure.  Plus, cauliflower is a member of the super-healthy brassica family, and is packed with energising B vitamins, fibre and the mineral magnesium.  This dish can also be made and cooked ahead – just put under the grill at the last minute to heat through.

Get your circulation flowing with gingered sprouts

No Christmas meal is complete without sprouts!  Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying they are quintessentially Christmas.  Many people have a gene which makes sprouts taste bitter.  Therefore, why not mask that flavour by adding some ginger and orange?

Sprouts are hugely healthy, containing plenty of vitamins and minerals.  However, they also aid liver detoxification, which might be helpful around Christmas time.

Sprouts dish with ginger

With this vegetable side simply cook the Brussels lightly for about 5 minutes and then toss them in crushed ginger, soy sauce and a little orange juice.  Ginger is a wonderfully warming spice which helps blood circulation around the body, delivering nutrients where they’re most needed. None of your guests need to complain about the bitter taste of sprouts again!

Boost your immunity with Santa on a stick

It’s not the usual way we visualise Santa! However, for the younger guests (and slightly older too!) why not offer banana and strawberries in the shape of Santa?

Many people find Christmas pudding far too rich so what better as a healthy and super-easy alternative?  Bananas are always popular and are loaded with heart-healthy potassium.  Plus, strawberries contain some of the highest amounts of immune-boosting vitamin C of all fruits.

Chopped strawberries and bananas

Simply find some long sticks, halve a strawberry for his hat, add three slices of bananas for the body, and add some chocolate drop eyes and buttons as you see fit.  It will certainly bring a smile to everyone’s face and provide a healthy dessert option.

Spice up your greens

Kale often gets overlooked when planning the Christmas meal as it can taste quite bland.  Plus, if not cooked properly, the leaves are tough to eat.  However, why not spice up your kale with some garlic and sesame seeds?  Garlic is great for keeping blood pressure in check and sesame seeds are full of bone-loving calcium.  Kale, of course is another member of the brassica family and is loaded with anti-aging antioxidants; very helpful during the stressful Christmas period.

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Make sure you blanch the kale for about three minutes and then stir fry it with crushed garlic and sesame seeds.

Turbo-charge your day with maca

The herb, maca, is often referred to as natural caffeine.  This is because it will certainly provide a boost of energy without the side effects of caffeine.  Maca also has many other health benefits including helping to balance hormones, boosting libido and managing the stress response.

Pot of maca powder and glass of milk with maca

You can make a delicious maca shot by using almond or coconut milk (700 ml of either), blended with six dessert spoons of Maca Powder.  It will certainly stop your guests from falling asleep after lunch!

So, enjoy creating a range of healthy and delicious sides and snacks this festive season.

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