How to pack a healthy picnic

A picnic basket on a wodden table overlooking a beautiful countryside scene

It’s a National Picnic Week which means it’s a great time to celebrate everything we love about picnics as well as spending time outdoors in green spaces.

There’s always a great temptation to pack too many ‘treats’ into the picnic basket but there are some great ways to get nutrition without missing out on flavours.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy picnic swaps, but which don’t swap out the taste!

Swap white for brown

This includes using brown bread or wraps rather than white if you’re packing sandwiches, but also wholemeal pasta rather than white. White bread and pasta have been refined, meaning much of the healthy fibre, essential for good digestion,  been stripped away. So too have many of the nutrients, especially energising B-vitamins and essential minerals such as chromium.

Sandwich,With,Ham,tomato,,Cucumber,And,Arugula,On,The,Wooden,Cutting

Brown pasta has a much fuller flavour and more of a texture than white.  And pasta salads are great for taking on picnics.  Why not try beetroot and cold poached salmon wholemeal pasta, adding some avocado, cucumber, dill and a little natural yoghurt.  This is a really delicious super-food pasta salad.

Swap potato crisps for veggie crisps

Most picnic baskets include crisps in some shape or size. Unfortunately, potato crisps are generally high in fat and low in nutrients.  So, why not swap potato crisps for veggie crisps? Think beetroot, parsnip, or carrot (or all three?) – there are a lot of veggie ‘crisp’ options available in supermarkets.

Home made kale chips in a dish

Even better, make your own kale crisps.  Kale belongs to the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family which are high in heart-loving vitamin K, relaxing magnesium and are loaded with antioxidants.  Simply pull off the leaves and rub them in a little olive oil and salt. Then roast in the oven for around 10 minutes and once cooled, you’ll have some of the healthiest veggie crisps to take on your picnic.

Swap ham for turkey

If you’re taking sandwiches, then what you put into them can make all the difference.  Ham sandwiches are often popular in the picnic basket.  However, ham is a processed meat and generally also contains high levels of preservatives.  Ham also contains saturated fats which are best minimised in the diet.

Grilled,Turkey,Breast,With,Salad

A far better choice is to use turkey meat instead. Turkey is very low in fat and high in protein (at 31 g per 100g, more than chicken). Why not cook up some turkey breast steaks the day before, which can be quickly grilled.  If you cook a few extra, they’re delicious eaten with Jersey Royal potatoes (now in season) and salad.  For the picnic, turkey steaks can be chopped, mixed with a little pesto and tomatoes, and made into delicious brown bread sandwiches.

Swap cheese spread for nut butters

There is a plethora of ready-made cheese spreads in supermarkets.  Whilst they might taste good, they are high in fat and are not especially nutrient dense.  Why not swap these for some delicious omega-3 laden almond butter.  Omega-3 fats are essential and whilst we need to be mindful of the amount of saturated fats we consume, the omegas are seriously deficient within the UK population and are essential for the heart, brain, eyes, skin and hormones.

Nut butter on rye bread

Almond butter is also high in protein so will keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Why not add some watercress (one of the healthiest salad vegetables around) for colour and a nutrient blast?

Swap fizzy drinks for kombucha

Fizzy drinks are always popular on picnics.  However, they are certainly not the healthiest of drinks.  Sugar-free versions are packed with sweeteners which have a detrimental effect on mood, but also encourage cravings for sweet food so you still end up eating all the wrong things!

Kombucha,Second,Fermented,Fruit,Tea,With,Different,Flavorings.,Healthy,Natural

Kombucha, however, is a great alternative. It’s a fermented, lightly effervescent, green or black tea drink, which is low in sugar but high in health benefits.  Fermented foods and drinks provide probiotics which are great for feeding the good bacteria and are essential for healthy digestion, good mood and effective weight management. Once you’ve tried them, there’ll be no turning back!

So, get outdoors and celebrate National Picnic Week with these super-healthy food swaps.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Nutrition for women: 5 nutrients to support your health

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

It’s no secret that women differ from men!  That also means our nutritional needs vary and this is often bound up with hormones and how they affect us on a monthly basis.

Whilst there are a wide range of vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health, there are a few in particular that are important for women’s health specifically.

This International Women’s Day, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a deep dive into five of the nutrients that women need most.

Magnesium

This mineral is known to be deficient generally within the UK population, but it presents even more problems when low in women.  Magnesium works as a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc (see below) but is essential in its own right for hormone balance, a healthy nervous system and bone health.  And stress burns up more magnesium so depending on how you are feeling many of us may be deficient.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is rich in green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli, but also in whole grains (oats are a great source), brown rice and whole wheat foods.  Magnesium is also very relaxing and calming so can help if sleep is a problem.  Eating about six almonds before bedtime (rich in magnesium) can really encourage peaceful slumbers.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is very important for women because it’s an essential co-factor in many metabolic pathways, especially relating to hormone production.  Additionally, it’s needed to process key neurotransmitters essential for balanced mood and motivation, which are closely affected by hormonal fluctuations.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is needed for production of progesterone (a key female hormone), plus it aids the detoxification processes of the liver in order to excrete ‘old’ hormones.  Vitamin B6 is water-soluble so should be eaten regularly, but is readily available in poultry, fish, bananas, soya produce, oats and wheatgerm, so there’s plenty of choice.

Biotin

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is essential for protein synthesis, key for building hormones and for healthy skin. Biotin also helps to stimulate production of keratin which is the key protein in hair.  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to have thinning hair so having additional biotin in the diet and via supplementation can often be very successful in rectifying the problem.

Foods containing the b vitamin Biotin

Foods rich in biotin include eggs (poached egg on whole grain toast makes a great start to the day), organ meats, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, red meat and fish.

Zinc

Zinc is probably the busiest mineral of all because it’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions within the body.  Whatever the body is doing, zinc will be needed somewhere.  However, for women, it’s very important for fertility and reproduction because it’s needed to synthesise the key sex hormones.  Additionally, zinc is a powerful antioxidant so helps to produce healthy eggs but is also essential for cell division, a key part of the conception process.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Zinc has been found often deficient in women, especially teenagers and those of child-bearing age. Red meat is a great source, hence a possible reason for deficiency as less people are eating red meat or at least eating it less often. Other great sources include beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood (especially oysters) and most cereals.

Chromium

Chromium is essential for blood sugar balance which affects all other hormones.  Interestingly, women with some of the more difficult hormone issues generally have problems balancing blood sugar levels, making mood swings more of an issue too.

A range of foods containing chromium

Additionally, in research, chromium has been shown to help women with polycystic ovaries, the most common hormonal disorder affecting those of reproductive age.  This generally also means that sufferers have issues with blood sugar control, which chromium can help to improve. As well as whole grains, chromium is rich in green vegetables, poultry, many fruits and dairy products.

Once any deficiencies are plugged, women may find overall health improves significantly, so why not review your diet or consider supplementation to ensure you are getting enough of these 5 vitamins and minerals.

Stay well.

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Five ways to keep your energy levels in tip-top shape!

Many people struggle with energy levels all year round.  Long work days, busy family lives and a hectic social life can all take their toll and leave you feeling drained.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips for meeting all that life demands and feel raring to go!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog picTHE ENERGY EQUATION

If you want to have abundant energy for life and to retain that energy rather than burning out, then there are a few simple nutritional tips you can follow:

Eat mainly slow-releasing carbohydrates, otherwise known as low glycaemic (or low GI), such as oats, wholegrains, quinoa and whole foods rather than anything ‘white’.  Foods such as white bread and pasta have been deprived of nutrients, particularly B vitamins which are needed for energy.  ‘White’ foods upset blood sugar balance also leading to low energy.

Ensure your diet is well-rounded giving you a good balance of essential nutrients. Look at the colour variety on your plate at every meal.  Think all the colours of the rainbow!  Obviously this won’t be achieved at every meal, but if you’ve got a colourful meal plate, you’ll certainly be getting the essential nutrients your body needs to create great energy.

Avoid stimulants.  This is key to feeling on top of the world.  Whilst caffeine provides a rapid energy surge, this will be quickly followed by a dip.  Swap to decaffeinated drinks and include ginseng tea to get your body buzzing.  Plus, we all know that tell-tale ‘morning after the night before’ feeling!  Too much alcohol, over an extended period, is just going to drain energy.  Try to have as many alcohol-free days as possible, particularly during the working week.

THE ANTI-STRESS DIET

It’s no secret that stress makes us feel tired. Plus, stress depletes essential nutrients the body needs to produce energy – it can be a vicious cycle.

Adopting a low glycaemic carbohydrate diet is key.  In order to keep the body’s natural stress response on an even keel, these need to be balanced with protein in the same meal or snack.  For example, fish with brown rice; a handful of nuts with an apple; porridge oats with some seeds.

The mineral magnesium is also known as an ‘anti-stress nutrient’.  It’s needed to support the adrenal glands but it’s also used up more quickly during stressful times. Try to eat five servings a day of dark green leafy and root vegetables such as broccoli, watercress, carrots, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spinach, green beans or peppers.  They can be raw or lightly cooked and you can happily use frozen if you’re not always able to buy fresh.

CELERY FOR ENERGY!

It’s all about nitrates!  Nitrates are naturally found in a number of foods and provide many health benefits.  In particular, they help to relax blood vessels and therefore improve blood flow.  This, in turn, creates more oxygen in the bloodstream, which gives you more energy!

If endurance exercise such as running is your thing, then consuming a couple of sticks of celery pre-workout is going to send energy levels soaring. However, if celery is not for you, then beetroot is also high in nitrates and provides equal benefits.  Try drinking a glass of beetroot juice before your morning run and you’ll float through the miles!

ENERGY NUTRIENTS

There are a number of nutrients that are really key in energy production.  For example, vitamin B6 and zinc help insulin to work correctly, which in turn helps to keep blood sugar levels in balance. The mineral chromium is needed to turn glucose into energy.  In fact the whole family of B vitamins (and there are eight in total), are essential for turning fuel or food into energy.

As with most things in life, nothing works in isolation, and it’s true with nutrients; trying to increase one nutrient over another can lead to imbalances.  Thankfully nature has made life much easier for us because the foods we’ve talked about all contain a good balance of these nutrients.  Therefore, if your diet is balanced and colourful, you will be getting what the body needs.

However, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral will help to top up levels and plug any dietary gaps.

COQ10 FOR TOP ENERGY

One nutrient that’s often forgotten is Co-enzyme Q10 (COQ10).  It plays a central role in energy metabolism because it’s present in every cell in the body.

There is no daily recommended amount for CoQ10, hence it can be missed off the list of essential nutrients. However, it is great for increasing flagging energy levels.  CoQ10 is found in sardines, mackerel, pork, spinach and walnuts, but not in large amounts.  Therefore, supplementing with around 30 mg of CoQ10 daily is really going to help.

So with some small adjustments to your diet you can keep your energy levels in tip top shape. If you’re well fuelled, your body will do the rest!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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