How to have a happy and healthy Christmas: top wellness and nutrition tips

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

With Christmas just around the corner, and most people still rushing around trying to prepare, it’s no wonder that many of us go down with a nasty bug or cold just as the big day arrives. 

It’s an all too common problem and the key to keeping well this Christmas is prevention.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five tips to keep you feeling happy and healthy this Christmas.

Support your immunity

The immune system takes a battering at this time of year.  It’s under threat from a wealth of bugs from crowded, centrally heated spaces with poor ventilation and less access to fresh air. Busy shops, public transport and burning the candle at both ends all take their toll.  However, it’s possible to protect yourself against all these nasties.

Two glasses of berry smoothies

Even if your usual healthy diet has gone awry during party season, try to make sure you’re taking in as many immune-boosting nutrients as possible.  One of the easiest ways of doing this is to make up a juice or smoothie in the morning. Fruits and vegetables are all loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene and many other immune-boosting antioxidants.  Plus you can add ginger, also great for the immune system, to many different juices or smoothie recipes.  Beetroot, apple, berries, bananas, avocado, mango, carrot, pear, spinach – the list goes on.  Just throw in your favourites, the more the merrier.  Even if you only manage this, it will really boost your nutrient levels.

Manage your stress levels

High stress levels can really impact on the immune system and energy levels.  This is because high cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, dampens the body’s normal inflammatory response, which is one of the ways the immune system does its job. High cortisol also reduces production of the body’s white blood cells that kill off unwanted invaders.

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

If you’re feeling wrung out right now, then try taking the herb Rhodiola.  It’s known as an adaptogen, meaning it adapts to what’s going on in your body. It can really help calm feelings of stress and anxiety. Take it in the mornings and you’ll get a boost of energy too!

Keep sugar to a minimum

Sugar is the immune system’s enemy. Part of the reason is that high sugar levels stop the body utilising vitamin C (our main immune-boosting nutrient) in the right way.  Plus, it stops the body fighting off infections as it should. Sugar is sugar in all its forms will all have a detrimental effect on immunity. This includes honey, artificial sweeteners, natural fruit juices and processed, sugary foods and snacks.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

Instead load up on immune-boosting foods (alongside your morning juice or smoothie).  Mushrooms, natural yoghurt, whole grains, garlic and chicken soup are all great choices.

Take time for relaxation

It’s amazing how much less stressed you feel when you take even a short time away from everything and enjoy some relaxation.  Most importantly, this can have a really positive effect on stress levels, which in turn helps the immune system.

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candles

Even 20 minutes each day can make all the difference.  There are so many relaxation apps available which you can download or why not just take time out to read a book.  Watching TV or looking at your phone just before bed are not conducive to relaxation as they simulate the brain, plus their blue light may prevent you from sleeping well.

Get some fresh air

The wintry weather makes us all huddle indoors, meaning germs are more likely to spread.  But breathing fresh air, perhaps taking a brisk walk, can feel wonderfully restorative.  Indeed, moderate exercise helps stimulate the immune system.

MOther and child on her back dressed up in hats and scarves on a winter walk in the snow

Even if you must endure some wind and rain, the health benefits will be worth it.  If you enjoy walking, there are many groups you can join if you want some company.  If you climb a few hills, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing scenery as well; the world looks very different from up high.

So, sail through Christmas and New Year in the best of health with these easy lifestyle tips – enjoy!

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Three of the healthiest soups you can make this winter

A range of bowls of soup

The combination of cold, damp weather and many seasonal bugs flying around makes us feel the need to serve up some deliciously tasty, healthy and warming soups.

There are plenty of souper (!) ingredients you can add to really give your health and nutrition a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top three recipes for some of the healthiest soups around!

Chicken broth for immunity

The immune system is under pressure at this time of year but chicken broth can really help protect the body from colds and flu that are so prevalent right now.

Primarily, the immune system needs plenty of quality protein; immunoglobulins and antibodies that form a large part of the immune system are protein based.  Plus, various research studies have shown that chicken soup uprates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells, called neutrophils.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

The main ingredients for this recipe, are, of course, chicken, plus sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery, parsley, onions and some salt and pepper for seasoning.  Sweet potatoes and carrots are loaded with Vitamin C and beta-carotene that’s converted into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed. Parsley is great for liver detoxification. Onions contain quercetin which is a natural anti histamine which can help fight off the sneezes, and garlic contains plenty of immune-boosting compounds.

One of the best reasons for making chicken broth is that it’s so simple.  The healthiest way of cooking it is to boil up the bones from a cooked chicken for the stock base.  You will then benefit from the collagen and minerals stored in the bones as well as enjoying a tastier stock. Simply fry off the vegetables and add everything to the pot.  It’s also a recipe that can be put into the slow cooker in the morning and it will be ready for later in the day.

Boost your energy with bean soup

At this busy time of year, we need as much energy as possible!  This is where a chunky mixed bean soup can really boost energy levels. Beans are high in energy-boosting B vitamins and protein.  For an additional boost add some black beans. They are packed with antioxidants which support the immune system.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

The easiest way of cooking mixed bean soup is to use a couple of tins of mixed beans and add plenty of seasoning and flavours.  Think onions, carrots, celery, garlic and cumin. These are a great combination, adding additional nutrients and flavour, and are all foods that are plentiful at this time of year.  Whilst cumin really adds some zest to the soup, it’s also a great spice for the immune system and also helps digestion.

This hearty soup makes a really good lunch time dish as it will boost energy levels throughout the afternoon, and will help avoid the 3 pm dip.  Beans are low on the glycaemic index as well which means they deliver energy in a slow and sustained way – exactly what we need!

Soothe digestion with broccoli soup

Rich, festive food and maybe a few too many glasses of your favourite tipple at this time of year can often leave the digestion feeling slightly jaded.  Foods high in saturated fats or sugar-laden cakes and pastries cause inflammation throughout the digestive tract and can also makes digestion sluggish, leading to constipation.

Broccoli really is a super food and has amazing anti-inflammatory properties. It is also high in fibre, so it helps keep everything moving through the digestive tract.

A bowl of broccoli soup

Broccoli soup couldn’t be easier to prepare and needs just a few ingredients; garlic, chicken stock, olive oil and of course, broccoli are all that’s required.  Garlic has so many health benefits which is the reason it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years. It’s also high in antioxidants which means it will help dampen down any inflammation within the digestive tract.

Simply fry the garlic, add the broccoli and stock and cook until really soft.  This soup is definitely best put through the blender to make a thick, warming and most importantly, soothing soup.

So why not treat yourself to some health-boosting delicious soups this season – they’ll also make a great lunch for a big family this Christmas.

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Easy ways to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands making dough for baking

‘Tis the season to be jolly but it is also the season for colds and flu!  Unfortunately, this time of year is renowned for delivering unwanted bugs and colds.  The stress of Christmas, children bringing home bugs from school and simply the immune system being lower at this time of year, will all have an impact.

However, with a little planning, there are simple ways you can infuse some immune-boosting nutrients into every meal.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells you how to fill your plate with immunity at every meal!

Breakfast

There are some quick wins to be had with breakfast.  This is probably one of the easiest meals to add immune-boosting vitamin C, widely available in many fruits. Some fruits have more vitamin C and immune-boosting antioxidants than others, however.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Watermelon contains some of the highest levels of antioxidants and strawberries the highest amount of vitamin C. However, whilst we may see both these fruits on the supermarket shelves at this time of year, it is not their natural season.  Apples and pears are naturally available right now and it’s always best to try and eat with the seasons because nutrient levels are going to be at their highest. Interestingly, prunes (which are simply dried plums) are also high on the antioxidant chart and are often popular in the mornings (tinned is fine if you drain off most of the syrup).

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

Sliced apples or pears are delicious with overnight oats, granola, bircher muesli or good old porridge.  Think about every meal being an opportunity to gain valuable nutrients and you’ll soon get creative.  Berries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, partly due to their beautiful dark colours.  They are great as an added breakfast booster and also as an easy ‘on-the-run’ breakfast snack.  Even though they may have travelled some way to get to the supermarket, which will have depleted a percentage of their nutrients, they still have many wonderful health benefits to offer.

Lunch

Lunch can be rather challenging just because we’re often away from home, maybe in the office or off-site.  However, filling your body with nutrients is no less important at lunchtime and is not too difficult with just a little planning. It’s time to bring on the herbs!

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herbs sage, oregano and thyme all support the immune system, but also help relieve colds, sore throats and flu symptoms. All can easily be added to lunchtime meals.

Curry dish and rice

Lunch is generally best prepared the night before which may mean eating ‘left-overs’ but these meals still deliver important nutrients.  Think about dishes such as Bolognese, soups, stews, curries, roasted chicken or fish which are just as good the next day and taste even better with some extra herbs liberally added.

Dinner

Dinner doesn’t need to be overcomplicated for it to be healthy and immune boosting.  Whatever dish you’re eating, the most important thing is to make sure you’ve included vegetables, which are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants.  Also important is beta-carotene, rich in sweet potatoes, carrots and peppers, which the body converts to vitamin A as needed – another immune-boosting vitamin.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Any dark-coloured vegetables such as kale, broccoli, sprouts and red cabbage will provide lots of nutrients.  However, even lighter coloured root vegetables such as swede (in season right now) can hold their head high when it comes to boosting immunity.  You can always have a bowl of vegetable soup as a starter to further increase your veggie intake.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

It’s also worth the investment of buying a slow cooker. You can literally throw all the ingredients in, maybe before going to work, and they will be beautifully cooked by the time you come home.  A small amount of morning chopping is worth the health benefits you’ll gain.

With a little planning, every meal can support you through the cold and flu season by boosting your immunity this winter.

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Healthy and home-grown: the top 5 nutrient-rich foods for growing at home

Close up on waomn in an allotment holding a home graon carrot

The popularity of growing your own fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices is on the rise and having an allotment or growing patch is appealing to more and more people. 

Urban living can make it difficult to grow your own food with a lack of outdoor space. But there are plenty of options for growing in pots on a small balcony or even on a windowsill.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five home-grown nutritious favourites.

Bean sprouts

Sprouted beans certainly have plenty to shout about from a nutritional perspective. Plus, they don’t need much space because they can be grown in jam jars.

The sprouting process actually increases nutrient levels. Bean sprouts are high in protein so will fill you up, plus they have plenty of bone-loving minerals and immune-boosting vitamin C.  They’re a great way of increasing the nutritional content of any meal and are low in fat and calories. They can be easily added to any vegetable dish, salad or smoothies.

A couple of beans sprouting

You can sprout any type of bean: black beans, mung beans, lentils and soy beans are all good for starters.  Rinse them well and then place them in jam jars with double the amount of water and cover the tops with muslin and an elastic band. Keep them at room temperature and drain them and re-fill with water twice a day for about four or five days.  You’ll soon have some nutritional powerhouses ready to eat!

Rosemary and Thyme

The perfect herb combination!  They are both ‘staples’ in any herb garden.

Rosemary is a delight in both lamb and chicken dishes and is very popular throughout Mediterranean countries. This may be partly due to it being a powerful antioxidant so can help protect the body. It also adds a delicious flavour to roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes wedges.  Rosemary may also act as a stimulant in both the nervous and circulatory systems and can help to soothe the digestive system, relieving indigestion and flatulence.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Thyme has an amazing aromatic flavour so is widely used in cooking, especially in casseroles and soups. Thyme has also been traditionally used as a decongestant to soothe coughs and catarrh.

A fresh bunch of thyme

Salad leaves

These can also be grown indoors all-year round in simple seed trays.  In fact, they’re probably the easiest of all vegetables to grow.  The dark green colour of rocket means that it’s rich in energising iron and carotenoids which are powerful antioxidants.  Rocket also has a lot more taste than some other salad leaves and can be used in many recipes as well as simple salads.

A bowl of mixed salad leaves

You can also grow crunchy lettuce leaves so you should never be without some quick go-to greens when you’re on the run. Plus all salad leaves can be picked over and over and they just keep growing back.

Beetroot

If you’re quick, there’s just about time to plant some beetroot seeds now and they’ll be ready for eating in the autumn. Beetroot is actually one of the UK’s best-selling seeds.  This is partly because home-grown beetroot is absolutely delicious but also because it’s a superfood.  Its rich dark colour delivers a wealth of antioxidants to protect the body from serious diseases.

Whole beetroots

If it’s energy you’re looking for then having some more beetroot in your diet can really give you a boost.  Beetroot juice is very popular with athletes and recreational exercisers because it helps the body better sustain endurance activity.  Beetroot is also rich in energy-giving iron and folic acid. If you start to sow beetroot seeds now, they should be ready for eating in about 90 days’ time.  Beetroots can also be grown in lines or pots.

Marrow

Marrows are traditionally sown during May and June.  However, the soils are warm right now so if you’re quick you’ll get a crop harvested before colder weather shows it face.

As marrow is very high in water, its nutritional content is not as good as some vegetables, but it’s great for alkalising the body.  The body prefers to be in a slightly alkaline state generally, and many vegetables and fruit help this process along; marrow can certainly do this too.

A whole marrow and slices of marrow on a chopping board

It doesn’t have too much taste on its own but comes to life when stuffed with other vegetables, sprinkled with cheese and roasted in the oven, or filled with a chili con carne mince. Marrow can also be turned into chutney and makes a great addition to your ham or cheeseboard.

Growing anything even in a small way, is very therapeutic and great for relieving stress. So get growing this season and enjoy the fresh nutrition it provides.

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Natural Travel Health: top tips to stay well this holiday season

CLose up of smiling woman on the beach enjoying her holiday

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us will either be travelling to other parts of the UK or further afield. Wherever you’re going, you want to be feeling at your best and you don’t want to be struck down with any unwanted bugs whilst away.

Thankfully there are some simple things you can do to help yourself to stay well naturally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for travel health.

Drink ginger

If you’re like me, you tend to feel ‘queasy’ when travelling in a car, on a boat and sometimes on a plane. Ginger has been found to be a very effective remedy helping to quash those unpleasant travel sickness sensations. It also seems to help blood flow so is very useful for treating headaches.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

As with everything, prevention is better than cure, so it’s good to start sipping warm water with sliced root ginger at least an hour before you set off. If you can take a water bottle with you and continue sipping, this would really help. When travelling by plane, you cannot take water through security but it is a good idea to take an empty, refillable bottle with you and get a food outlet to fill it with water once on the other side. You can then take this on the plane with you. Have plenty of ginger drinks before you leave and take ginger tea bags with you on the plane.

Ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so you’ll be less susceptible to tummy bugs whilst you’re away.

Take probiotics

Whilst it’s great to travel to other countries, many of them do not have the same hygiene standards that we have in the UK. I’ve even known people to contract parasites in France. Any change of routine, food or water can potentially cause tummy troubles.

Having a good balance of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract can really help prevent any unwanted invaders. Make sure your diet is generally rich in fibre by eating plenty of wholegrains, pulses and vegetables that help feed the gut bacteria.

A word cloud around Probiotics

However, taking a course of probiotics for at least a couple of weeks before travelling and whilst you’re away, will really help protect your digestive tract during your trip. Probiotics are readily available in health food stores. Additionally, foods such as natural live yoghurt, sourdough bread, miso soup and almonds are also very gut-friendly and are often available wherever you are in the world.

Up your vitamin C

One of our key nutrients for supporting the immune system is vitamin C! If you only take one nutrient with you, then it’s got to be this essential vitamin! Whilst you’ll hopefully be having some fruits and vegetables on holiday that contain vitamin C, if you get struck down by a cold or start to get a sore throat, then you’re going to need slightly higher levels.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

It’s easy to pack some vitamin C powder in your suitcase (readily available in health food stores). If you do start to feel that tell-tale ‘tickle’ in the back of your throat or your nose starts to run, then take 2,000mg of vitamin C powder straightaway to ward off any nasty bugs and continue doing this every day until it passes.

Additionally, try to include plenty of citrus fruits, red peppers, garlic, ginger and green vegetables in your diet whilst away as these all contain good amounts of vitamin C.

Pack some Milk Thistle

When we travel, then our whole routine can get upset. Since the liver is the organ that literally has to process everything we eat and drink, it often gets overloaded. The herb milk thistle, is one of the most liver-loving herbs and can really help support detoxification. You can sometimes feel sluggish on holiday and this can often be down to a congested liver.

Close up of a milk thistle flower

The herb milk thistle also helps with digestion so if some of the ‘foreign’ food is not quite agreeing with you, it can help everything sit more comfortably in your tummy. Make sure to pack some and take it with you wherever you travel.

Sleep well

Whilst you obviously want to make the most of your time away it’s equally important to get plenty of rest and restorative sleep. Too many late nights will affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to bugs, either whilst away or immediately on your return.

Close up of woman sleeping wearing an eye mask

It’s advisable to pack an eye mask wherever you go. The body produces melatonin, our sleep hormone, when it’s dark so if your room is too light when the sun comes up, then you’ll also wake up and possibly miss out on precious sleep.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Pack a small spray of lavender which you can use on your pillow before bedtime which really helps relaxation and you can also spray it during the night if you’re feeling restless. Alcohol and caffeine are the two biggest sleep disrupters so have both in moderation (or abstain), if you want to come back from your travels looking and feeling refreshed!

So with a little planning, and a little bit of natural support, your travels can be healthy ones. Bon Voyage!

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