Create your healthiest festive menu yet! Top tips for your Christmas Dinner

A family eating christmas dinner

When it comes to Christmas menus, they are often a mix of healthy and not so healthy dishes; it is the season of treats after all!

However, there are so many foods on the traditional festive menus that are great for supporting wellbeing. Even better, they are delicious!

 

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five delicious and healthy festive foods.

Turkey

Turkey has more nutritional benefits than chicken in many respects. Importantly, it is higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken. However, with both meats, it’s important to avoid eating the skin as this is where most of the fat sits and there are no further benefits to eating it (apart from the taste of crispy skin which many of us love!)

Roast Christmas turkey

From an immune-boosting perspective, turkey contains one third more zinc than chicken, and this is especially rich in the dark meat. Turkey also provides all of the energising B vitamins, together with potassium which is great for the heart, and phosphorus which is essential for healthy bones. There’s no need for any guilt when loading up your Christmas meal plate with turkey!

Red cabbage

Any vegetable or fruit that is deep in colour is rich in nutrients, and red cabbage is no exception. Red cabbage is loaded with disease-preventing antioxidants.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

However, all cabbage provides a plethora of nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K. Uniquely, cabbage also contains a compound called S-Methylmethionine which has been found to help heal stomach ulcers and soothe pain in the gut. And if you’re struggling with acid reflux during the festive season, which is very common, then drinking raw cabbage juice will certainly help. However, there’s no problem with adding some beetroot and apple to make the juice more palatable and even healthier.

Red cabbage makes a delicious addition to any Christmas menu, prepared with apples, raisins, cinnamon, and bay leaves.

Parsnips

No Christmas menu is complete without the addition of parsnips. This slightly sweet root vegetable can be eaten instead, or in addition to, potatoes and provides a great source of fibre. Parsnips are also rich in folate, essential for the production of healthy red blood cells, and help support lung health. Additionally, they contain plenty of potassium which helps reduce blood pressure.

A bowl of roast parsnips

Parsnips clearly deliver on health and taste and are great roasted and flavoured with garlic, Parmesan cheese or coriander. Indeed, they also make a fabulous Boxing Day spicy soup with both turmeric and cumin providing the warming and delicious spices.

Cranberry sauce

Whilst cranberries can be rather sharp and sour in taste, used in cranberry sauce they certainly come alive. And they still deliver on health, providing plenty of anthocyanins – antioxidants that protect the liver from free radical damage. Even better, these antioxidants also have a protective effect on overall health.

CRanberry sauce in small ceramic jug and cranberries on wooden board

Cranberries are also well-known for their ability to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections because they stop any bacteria from hanging around internally.

Every turkey needs some accompaniments and cranberry sauce provides a very worthy and healthy partner.

Chestnuts

No nut conjures up feelings of Christmas more than chestnuts! If you’re lucky enough to have an open fire, then you can’t miss out on roasting these delicious nuts. And once they’re roasted, chestnuts are certainly easier to extract from their outer shell.

Chestnuts are naturally rich in immune-boosting zinc, energising iron and bone-loving manganese. They are also rich in complex carbs so will certainly hit the spot if you’re feeling in need of a snack between meals.

Roasted,Chestnuts,On,An,Old,Board.,Selective,Focus.

 

Of course, chestnut is the main event in chestnut stuffing which can quite happily be vegan with the addition of mushrooms, onions, garlic, oregano, and sage. All these additional ingredients provide immune-boosting antioxidants, and plenty of warming herbs to help protect the body against any nasty viruses floating around.

And chestnuts don’t just need to feature in savoury recipes; they work really well with chocolate made into a cake or as a cream to pour over some decadent poached pears (also now in season).

So, enjoy your festive feast and include some of these health-giving foods for an extra wellbeing boost!

 

Stay well.

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Seasonal Eating: What to eat in December

A table laid with christmas foods including turkey, cake, cheese and decorations

The festive season is upon us which brings its own traditional food choices during this period.  However, as always, it’s good to eat foods that are naturally in season as they are at their best.

And some of these can certainly feature as part of your Christmas menu.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top seasonal foods for December.

 

 

Turnips

For some reason turnips don’t seem to get the same accolades as parsnips.  Perhaps it’s because turnips were traditionally grown as cattle fodder in the nineteenth century. And whilst turnips are generally available all year, they are at their tastiest right now.

Rustic,Organic,Turnips,With,Fresh,Green,Tops,And,Roots,On

From a nutritional perspective, they provide a range of nutrients including immune-boosting vitamin C, hormone balancing vitamin B6 and bone-loving calcium and manganese.  Importantly, and just like all members of the brassica family, turnips contain indoles which ramp up liver detoxification enzymes, perfect for this time of year.

Turnips can be baked just like potatoes, with some thyme, and are delicious sprinkled with a little parmesan cheese.

Apples

Whilst the nutritional benefits of apples are never in question, they can be quite confusing to choose from as there are over 7,000 varieties! But which ever ones you choose they provide some great health benefits.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples are prized for their pectin content. Pectin is a gentle form of soluble fibre hence apples have traditionally been used to treat constipation.  Importantly, pectin helps remove ‘bad‘ cholesterol from the blood stream, making apples a heart-healthy choice.

Apples are also higher in fructose than glucose which means they’re lower on the glycaemic index and help to balance blood sugar levels. This is also important when keeping a watchful eye on the waistband.  Apples are also a rich source of vitamin C to give the immune system a much-needed boost at this time of year.

Jerusalem Artichoke

Interestingly, they are not from Jerusalem and are also not part of the artichoke family! However, I frequently write about Jerusalem artichokes because they are some of the best vegetables to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Close up of artichokes

Just like a garden, the gut microbiome needs to be cultivated and fed and this vegetable is great for the purpose. They are rich in inulin which is known as prebiotic bacteria. As with all vegetables they’re also rich in vitamin C and potassium. Jerusalem artichokes make a delicious side dish simply roasted with or without the skin.

Kale

Interestingly kale is not only in season at this time of year, but also definitely much tastier too! Kale is a member of the Brassica family and provides amazing health benefits, especially in protecting the liver, but also providing compounds to protect future health too.

shutterstock_192761054 bowl of kale Apr15

From an antioxidant perspective, kale delivers on vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, hence its role in protecting current and future health. It is also rich in key minerals such as manganese, iron, and calcium, all generally lacking in the typical UK diet and essential for the heart and bones, amongst other things.

Kale can be slightly bitter so is best sauteed with a little garlic and soy sauce to make a delicious side.

Potatoes

Potatoes often get bad press, especially from people following the ketogenic diet as they are obviously high in carbs.  However, boiled potatoes are lower on the glycaemic index than jackets, therefore their starch content is less.

a basket of jersey royal potatoes

Importantly, potatoes provide a great and inexpensive energy source so are great for feeding and satisfying families.  They also contain plenty of vitamin C and if eaten with the skin, provide a great source of fibre.

If you’re looking for a festive treat, then dauphinoise potatoes, made with cream, garlic and cheese is one of the most delicious ways you’ll ever eat them!

So, enjoy all that nature has to offer this season and grab some great health benefits too!

Stay well.

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Five ways to smoother digestion this festive season

 

WClose up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in frontWith the festive season just starting to ramp up many of us may find our digestion suffering. Bloating, acid reflux and flatulence can all become more troublesome, generally down to an increase in sugary and fatty foods, as well as alcohol intake which can irritate a sensitive gut.

So why not use nature’s powers of healing to help soothe any digestive issues and help the festive season to run more smoothly in the process.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers five natural ways to support your digestion.

 

Drink dandelion coffee

Dandelion is known as a ‘bitter herb’ which has been used for centuries to aid digestion. Bitter herbs work in a number of ways, but essentially, they stimulate the brain to release digestive enzymes.

shutterstock_272284241 Dandelion Tea July16

In the case of dandelion, it has great affinity for the liver and helps the gall bladder to release bile, further aiding digestion.  Even better, it’s delicious, and great with a splash of plant-based milk such as oat.  Try to drink two or three cups of dandelion coffee throughout the day, regardless of whether you’re out partying or not.  It’s readily available in health food shops.

Mint to the rescue

The herb mint is frequently used in cooking, in both sweet and savoury dishes.  However, mint is great for the digestion and really soothes an unhappy tummy. Even better, mint tea infusions, drunk at the start of a cold can better manage unpleasant symptoms.

Mint tea

Mint is especially helpful for relieving bloating and flatulence and can really calm everything if you enjoy a cup of mint tea after each meal. If your digestion is feeling comfortable before you go to an event, it’s less likely to cause problems later.

shutterstock_70329826-pea-soup-oct16

If mint tea is not your bag, then why not cook some super-healthy mint and pea soup, which can also make a great lunch time filler. Even better, this soup has a good amount of protein to keep energy levels sustained and ready for your festive fun.

Enjoy camomile tea

Of all the herbs, camomile is certainly one of the most soothing and is really useful for an upset or challenged digestive system. It also helps to calm the nerves and easy anxiety, another cause of digestive problems.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

As with all herbs and ancient remedies, camomile’s mode of action is not fully understood, except that it contains an array of plant flavonoids which have also been found to reduce inflammation and pain throughout the body and calm mild skin complaints.  Try to drink at least two cups daily but for best effect sip some after a heavy meal if possible.

Eat fruit away from other foods

Many of us struggle to break down fruit sugars and other starches in certain fruits.  Therefore, it’s best to eat fruit away from other foods as a precaution or if you know this to be a problem for you.

shutterstock_328862462 canteloupe melon slices Aug17

Melon is certainly one fruit that is best eaten as a snack.  Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates all require different enzymes as a key part of the digestive process.  And sometimes they ‘clash’ which becomes especially noticeable when eating melon with protein or fatty foods.

Keep acidic foods to a minimum

Acid reflux can become more of a problem, particularly if you’re susceptible to this unpleasant symptom, during the festive season. Coffee is one thing that can be very irritating to the digestive tract and creates acidity. If you know acidity is a problem for you, especially after drinking alcohol, then it’s worth quitting coffee for a while until everything settles.

shutterstock_49969261 coffe cups May15

It would also be worth body swerving fried foods, raw onions, and chillies if acid reflux or general indigestion is an issue. And if you really don’t want a good night out ruined by digestive distress then, why not include angostura bitters in your cocktail?  As the name suggests, it’s a bitter herb and has a long history of use for aiding digestion.

So, why not try some of these natural ways to relieve digestive distress during the festive season.

Stay well.

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Probiotics and prebiotics: how to support your gut bacteria the natural way

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

A nutritionist will always say that if your digestive system is not working correctly, then nothing else will.  In essence, what goes on within the gut affects all other body systems. 

The good news, however, is that if you look after what’s inside, you’ll glow on the outside. Much of this is down to probiotics, otherwise known as friendly gut bacteria, and the prebiotics that fuel them.

This World Digestive Health Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares the ins and outs of probiotics and prebiotics.

What are they?

A word cloud around Probiotics

The word probiotic literally means ‘for life’ such is their importance to our overall health.  The exact number of probiotic strains is thought to be around 400 but more research is being carried out all the time.  Most current research tends to be around some of most important and prevalent strains being Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Variety,Of,Prebiotic,Foods,For,Gut,Health,,Low,Carb,Diet,

Prebiotics on the other hand are a type of non-digestible fibre that help feed these friendly guys. They are found in many different types of foods, especially certain fruits and vegetables. Prebiotics are sometimes referred to as the ‘fertiliser’ of the digestive tract because they stimulate growth and wellbeing of probiotics.

Why do I need them?

Probiotics are essential for human health and the more we know, the more we realise just how critical they are to our wellness.  They fulfil many different functions throughout the body, including encouraging healthy digestion and helping to normalise issues such as constipation and diarrhoea. They also help to control and limit the production of parasites and pathogenic intestinal yeasts.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

Probiotics synthesise vitamins including vitamin K, vitamin B12, folic acid and biotin, hence they have a big role to play in skin, bone, brain and hair health.  Importantly they are essential for keeping the immune system in good shape (even more important right now).

shutterstock_271645694 jogger with bones higlighted in leg Aug15

Clearly, if probiotics aren’t correctly nourished then they aren’t going to flourish, which is why prebiotics are essential too.  They help to feed the good guys and research has found they aid calcium absorption, hence are important for bone density. They also play a key role in brain health and help the body to process carbohydrates and balance blood sugar levels. Prebiotics are often used on their own or alongside probiotics in supplement form to great effect in cases of IBS and inflammatory bowel disease.

Where do I find them?

A,Set,Of,Fermented,Food,Great,For,Gut,Health,-

In short, probiotics are primarily found in fermented foods, which are widely eaten in traditional Asian diets. They are naturally found in kefir made from goat, cow or sheep milk with kefir grains and kimchi made from fermented cabbage, cucumber and radish. Sauerkraut, produced from fermented cabbage, miso from fermented soya beans and natural live yoghurt are also great sources.  Whilst they are not always the first-choice foods in traditional western diets, more and more people are realising their health benefits so are including them in their diets.

Prebiotic,Products,,Sources,Of,These,Bacteria,,Nutrient,Rich,Food.,Flat

Prebiotics can be found in bananas, oats, Jerusalem artichokes, green vegetables, onions, garlic, soybeans, chicory and asparagus.  And if you’ve ever wondered why you may have more flatulence after eating these foods, it’s because they start a feeding frenzy in the gut.  This is a good thing but maybe not so pleasant for you (or those you live with!). However, once the gut is in better shape, the effects of eating these foods will be much less noticeable.

How can I use them in daily recipes?

The short answer is ‘very easily’. You don’t necessarily need to have probiotics and prebiotics in the same meal and the good news is that many of these prebiotic foods are frequently included in the diet already.

Pot of natural yoghurt

Natural yoghurt is often part of the daily diet and kefir is readily available in drink form or in yoghurts, in supermarkets. And if you’ve not tried other fermented foods, why not start with this simple miso and prawn recipe from BBC Food. It’s got a great balance of probiotics and prebiotics and is super tasty too!

So, with a little careful planning, you can increase your intake of probiotics and prebiotics naturally, providing wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

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Five health-giving herbs for home-growing

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

As part of nature’s offerings, there are many amazing herbs that can not only support our health, but also add some great tastes to a wide range of dishes.  Even better, you can grow them at home whether you have some pots in the garden or a sunny windowsill.

It’s also great to blend the herbs into homemade teas in order to get a more concentrated effect, as relatively small amounts are used in cooking.

This National Gardening Week Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five herbs you can grow at home.

Bay

Fresh,Bay,Leaves,In,A,Wooden,Bowl,On,A,Rustic

Bay leaves are probably one of the most common herbs grown at home in pots as they are also very decorative.  And you only need a couple of bay leaves in a stew for example, so the bay tree will still retain its beauty!

Fresh,Bouquet,Garni,With,Different,Herbs,On,An,Old,Wooden

Bay is an essential ingredient in the seasoning bouquet garni which is frequently used in soups, stews and casseroles. It is particularly delicious when used in slow-cooked dishes, so the flavours truly permeate though the ingredients. Bay is used to stimulate and aid digestion so can help reduce any potential digestive upsets from a dish that maybe slightly fatty, such as a meat stew.

Chives

Bunch,Of,Fresh,Chives,On,A,Wooden,Cutting,Board,,Selective

Chives are primarily cultivated for culinary uses and are easy to grow in small spaces as long as it’s nice and sunny and you provide them with plenty of water to keep the soil moist.  Chives also appreciate regular trimming, and they certainly provide something pretty to look at on the windowsill.

Potato,Salad,With,Eggs,And,Green,Onion,On,White,Plate

Part of the onion family, chives are great for adding to potato dishes (especially potato salad), egg dishes, salads and soups. Medicinally, chives have been found to help stimulate appetite after illness and but also aid digestion.  They can add some great flavour without causing some of the digestive upsets that onions trigger in some people.

Mint

Fresh,Mint,Leafs,In,Mortar,On,Grey,Wooden,Table

Mint is probably one of the easiest herbs to grow at home as it’s very resilient and is actually better grown in a pot on its own because it really likes to take over other plants. Additionally, it does come back year after year with some light trimming and also provides some pretty flowers.  Mint likes plenty of sunlight but also needs moisture.

Grilled,Lamb,Chops,Marinated,With,Mint,.style,Rustic.,Selective,Focus

Mint is extremely versatile in many dishes but is also really coming into its own with Pimm’s season on the horizon!  However, it’s great added to both sweet dishes (ice creams) or savoury (lamb).  Mint helps with digestion and is great for calming the stomach after food if made into an infusion (just pour boiling water over the leaves).  Mint also stimulates the immune system so may help to ward off a cold.

Rosemary

Rosemary,Bound,On,A,Wooden,Board

With its amazing aroma, you’ll always be reminded of the Mediterranean if you grow rosemary at home.  It’s great added to lamb or chicken dishes but also works well as a flavouring in roasted vegetables, especially potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Selective,Focus.,Rustic,Golden,Baked,Potato.,Sliced,Baked,Potato,With

Rosemary is an amazing antioxidant so helps protect the body from aging and degenerative diseases.  Additionally, it helps to balance and stimulate the nervous and circulatory systems.

Basil

Basil.

Another herb with a wonderful aroma, basil will also remind you of Spanish and Italian cooking, particularly in tomato dishes. It is great grown on windowsills as it doesn’t like frost but can be grown outside during the summer months.

Delicious,Caprese,Salad,With,Ripe,Tomatoes,And,Mozzarella,Cheese,With

Basil is known to be a natural tranquiliser, a tonic that can help calm the nervous system, as well as aiding digestion.  Interestingly, whilst basil really adds flavour to many Italian styled dishes, if used with raw tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (a traditional caprese salad), with a little olive oil drizzled, all the fat-soluble nutrients in tomatoes become much more absorbable for the body.  Therefore, it’s a win-win situation when adding basil.

So, why not start your own herb garden and you’ll have delicious flavours and ready-made health benefits on tap too!

Stay well.

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Get your nutrition into tip top shape this National Nutrition Month

Hands holding the letters whici spell Nutrition

It’s National Nutrition Month highlighting the amazing health benefits of feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to flourish and function optimally. 

With so much information available we can sometimes get confused and side-tracked, which can lead to de-motivation.  It’s about getting the basics right first.  This is the answer to overall and lasting wellness.

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

Colour it up

When it comes to nutrients, it’s all about colour; the more colour variety you have in your diet, the more nutrients you’ll be eating.  This is because the pigments, especially noticeable in many beautifully coloured fruits and vegetables, are rich in antioxidants and lots of other health-giving plant compounds.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

We are advised to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and veg a day.  This is because these foods are some of the most nutrient-dense on the planet.  They are not just rich in antioxidants but loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. Just go for as much colour variety as possible and you’ll be going a long way to giving the body what it needs. Think of the colours of the rainbow and go from there.

Portion control

It seems many of us have put on a few unwanted kilos during lockdown which is completely understandable.  It’s been much more difficult to maintain any structured exercise programme with the constraints on our lives.  However, life is hopefully going to improve so now is a great time to tackle any weight gain.

It’s very common to turn to food for comfort or because ‘we deserve a treat’.  And sometimes, we might not even realise how much we’re eating just in snacks alone, so keeping a food diary is a great idea.

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

One point to note is that it is protein from meat, fish, poultry, soya, lentils, eggs, dairy and beans that keeps us feeling fuller for longer, not calorie-laden carbs.  Therefore, eating protein at every meal gives you much more bang for your buck and you’ll gradually train your stomach to eat sensible portions.  And do remember the balance between energy input (via your food) and energy output (though exercise).

Are you thirsty?

It’s really common to think that we’re hungry when actually we’re thirsty.  When it’s cold outside and we’re maybe not doing as much exercise as normal, we might not feel thirsty.  However, the body is around 80% water so regardless of the weather, it still needs plenty of liquid on a daily basis.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Non-caffeinated drinks such as herbal teas, also count towards your liquid requirements but do aim to drink 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily; you’ll also eat less and have much more energy.

Be kind to your insides

Your digestive system needs to work well for the body to look and feel healthy.  In short, if the gut is not working properly, then nothing else will. The gut microbiome, the wealth of friendly bacteria that naturally reside in the digestive tract, needs loving and nurturing.  These bacteria work very hard for us, boosting the immune system and producing certain vitamins, minerals and brain neurotransmitters. Keeping the digestive system running smoothly and looking after how we feed it will impact how we look and feel generally.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

Feed it regularly with gut-loving foods (also known as prebiotics) such as garlic, ginger, cruciferous veggies, tempeh, onions, artichokes and bananas.  Foods high in fibre such as whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables are all great for gut health too.

Reduce the stimulants

Too much caffeine and alcohol can create anxiety and exacerbate stress, both of which are not helpful especially at the current time. Additionally, caffeinated drinks often contain sweeteners, and alcohol is high in sugar, both of which can act as anti-nutrients, knocking certain vitamins and minerals sideways.  Try to reduce both as much as possible and you’ll feel much calmer and find energy levels soaring.

Mint tea

There are plenty of caffeine-free delicious alternatives such as dandelion coffee and herbal teas, as well as alcohol-free wine, beer and spirits; you can have fun trying out some new tastes.

So, embrace National Nutrition Month and your health will certainly benefit.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: five of the best foods for February

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of rhubarb

Working with the seasons and eating foods at their best during the seasonal food year brings many health benefits. 

Nature is very clever and provides foods the body needs for optimal nourishment at the right time throughout the year.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite fruits and vegetables for February.

Leeks

It’s all about roots during the winter months, keeping the body warm and grounded.  Leeks are from the same family as onions and they thrive during colder times because of their ability to withstand frost. Nutritionally, leeks are high in potassium so are very supportive of kidney function, can work as a diuretic and also support a healthy heart.

Leeks in a wooden trough

Their taste is slightly more subtle than onions so they can be used in stews, soups or work well with a cheese sauce. Unfortunately, as with onions and garlic, they do tend to cause some flatulence which is mainly down to their ability to feed the good gut bacteria.  It’s a positive sign and this is great for helping improve the overall balance of friendly flora.

Rhubarb

Whilst not eaten that widely, partly because it’s naturally so sour, rhubarb needs quite a lot of sugar to improve its flavour.  However, making classic rhubarb fool is certainly a great treat for special occasions, whilst delivering a very useful nutrient profile.  However, rhubarb also works brilliantly as a sauce with savoury dishes such as duck.  It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C and is a great source of fibre and potassium.  To that end, it’s been linked to helping improve cholesterol levels.

Rhubabr stalks and cut rhubarb in a bowl

Rhubarb is actually a vegetable and not a fruit, despite looking like one, and makes a lovely change to eating some of our better-known fruits and vegetables.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Broccoli is well-known for its amazing health benefits.  Purple sprouting has even more, down to its rich colour.  This means it contains greater levels of antioxidant anthocyanins, plus some of our key immune-boosters, vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Purple sprouting broccoli

All types of broccoli contain a compound called sulphoraphane which has been found to help protect us from many degenerative diseases.  Additionally, they provide a great source of relaxing magnesium and bone-loving calcium.  Try and eat some at least three times per week whilst it’s in season, for all its great health benefits.

Oranges

Whilst our climate is clearly not conducive to growing tropical fruits, other countries certainly are. Oranges from Spain are at their best right now and taste better than those imported from further afield. Whilst oranges don’t contain quite as much vitamin C as berry fruits, they still provide a very usable amount.  Plus, if you’re low in iron, then eating iron-rich foods such as meat or green-leafy veg and eggs, with an orange or a little orange juice, helps iron absorption considerably.

A bowl of oranges

As with all fruits and vegetables, oranges provide antioxidants which help protect us from disease and the ageing process.  Oranges are great with fish dishes but are great partnered with dark chocolate in a dessert.

Potatoes

The rise in the popularity of low-carb diets has left potatoes somewhat in the shade.  However, they don’t really deserve some of the bad press they receive: much of the issue around potatoes and potential weight gain is down to cooking methods.  Clearly roasted, creamed and chipped potatoes contain more fat, and therefore more calories. However, who doesn’t love roast potatoes or some deliciously, creamy mash!

A pan of just boiled jersey royal new potatoes

Potatoes actually provide a good level of vitamin C and heart-loving potassium.  Additionally, they are high in fibre so help keep the digestive system running smoothly.  As a vegetable side, they are delicious in recipes containing garlic or cheese; just be aware of portion sizes and then you don’t need to miss out totally.

So, enjoy the wonderful health benefits of eating seasonally.

Stay well.

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Garlic: the health benefits

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often referred to as a ‘wonder herb’ or ‘super food’, garlic certainly lives up to its reputation. Prized for many thousands of years by nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors and herbalists, garlic has been used to treat anything from asthma to arthritis.

Its healing properties as an antiviral and antibacterial agent have also been used widely and very effectively. And did you know that despite its pungent smell, garlic is considered to be a natural aphrodisiac!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, reveals why garlic is so acclaimed and how you can use it to boost overall health.

What is garlic and how does it work?

For those of us who have been enjoying the great outdoors, the smell of wild garlic is unmissable. Garlic is actually neither a spice nor a herb, but generally referred to as a ‘botanical’. It is from the same family as onions and leeks; hence it tends to be used in similar ways in cooking.

Garlic cloves contain a phytonutrient called alliin which breaks down into the active ingredient allicin.  These are sulphur compounds also responsible for its strong odour. It is the allicin in garlic that’s mainly responsible for its pungent odour as well as its medicinal benefits.

Garlic bulbs and cloves

Interestingly, the enzyme responsible for activating garlic, becomes less active when exposed to heat: for some, fresh raw garlic is considered to have the most health benefits. This would also explain the fact that cooked garlic doesn’t produce as strong an odour as raw.  As eating raw garlic is not particularly sociable, there are still many health benefits to be gained from including garlic into your cooking or raw dishes.

Did you know?  Garlic breath can be combatted by chewing fresh parsley.

The health benefits of garlic

Garlic is probably best known for its heart-loving properties with the potential to reduce blood pressure and also lower cholesterol production in the liver.  It helps reduce harmful cholesterol and raise levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol in the blood.  Garlic is also a natural anti-coagulant that helps prevent the blood from clotting too much.

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

When it comes to viruses, garlic can be eaten raw which helps to remove excess mucus from the lungs and reduce nasal congestion, generally caused by colds or upper respiratory tract infections. Whilst everyone needs a little watery mucous to lubricate and protect the lungs, it can become thick and excessive, otherwise known as catarrh. For this reason, people often increase their intake of garlic when they have a cold.  Try including it in a chicken broth which also has antiviral effects.  And always use fresh garlic rather than powdered.

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

Garlic can also support a healthy digestive system, protecting the beneficial gut flora from harmful invaders, especially when exposed to contaminated food and drink.  This is the reason why many people take a course of garlic pills prior to foreign travel to help protect against the dreaded traveller’s diarrhoea.  However, it can also work as a laxative and diuretic, so it maybe best taken prophylactically before the trip rather than eating it excessively during, although cooked garlic has less potent effects.

Additionally, garlic has demonstrated significant anti-fungal activity, particularly in cases of Candida albicans or yeast overgrowth, in the digestive tract.  Candida can be problematic to treat and causes unpleasant digestive upsets as well as fatigue. These infections can often be alleviated by using a garlic liver cleanse, because it contains enzymes and sulphur compounds which help flush out toxins.

How to use garlic in your daily dishes

There are very few dishes where garlic can’t make an appearance!  Anything from chicken Kiev to roasted lamb to garlic and cheese portobello mushrooms.  Additionally, vegetable side dishes such as broccoli, which can be lightly stir fried, really benefit from being cooked with garlic.  Plus, any vegetable soup, stir fry or stew should have garlic as the first ingredient in the pan.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Garlic has so many culinary uses and is also very easy to prepare; just separate and peel the cloves and use either crushed or whole. And if you’re feeling very brave, remember raw is most beneficial so why not add some into your salads, especially as the summer season is here!

Stay well.

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Enjoy alternative healthy barbeque foods this bank holiday

Tofu skewers with other vegetables on a barbeque

It’s National Barbecue Week, celebrating all that’s delicious and fun about eating in the great outdoors.  However, it’s also a great excuse to try some new recipes rather than just resorting to the traditional barbecue staples of meat burgers and bangers! 

With so many delicious and nutritious grills and sides to choose from, why not explore some barbeque alternatives?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers five suggestions for changing things up on the barbie!

Halloumi burger

If you’ve never tried this, regardless of whether you’re vegetarian or not, then you’re missing an absolute treat.  Halloumi cheese is even more delicious on the barbecue because the smoked flavour comes through.  It’s easy to cook as it stays whole and can be put into a burger bun (if you can’t resist) or simply added to delicious salads.

Halloumi on a salad

As with all cheeses, halloumi is high in fat and also protein so you won’t need a huge portion to feel satisfied, but it will help you resist the urge to snack, which we all often do at barbecues.  Additionally, halloumi is rich in calcium to help keep your bones and teeth strong.

Quinoa and bulgur wheat salad

This super-healthy salad is great as a barbecue side because it’s loaded with protein and delicious flavours.  And for those who get bloated at barbeques with all the bread and rolls on offer, this provides some lighter carbs.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

The quinoa and bulgur wheat can be cooked together and then added to some onion, sun-dried tomato, chives, parsley, and feta cheese.  It tastes even better with some fresh mint, which is great for the digestive system and gives the salad a really summery feel.

Chicken skewers

Skewers are, of course, a barbecue favourite. Chicken is high in protein but lower in fat than red meat (especially the chicken breast), and the flavours really come alive on the barbecue. However, why not change up the flavouring so it’s not the same old recipe with a tasty marinade?

Marinated chicken skewers

For my favourite marinade, mix some natural yoghurt, curry powder, lemon juice and freshly chopped coriander. Coriander, just like most herbs, is loaded with goodness. Specifically, it’s great for digestive health, helps fight infections and is good for the heart, plus it always partners very well with chicken. Coat the chicken skewers in the marinade and leave in the fridge for as long as you can before grilling.

Jackfruit burger

You don’t need to be vegan to enjoy jackfruit; it’s the vegan answer to pork and pulled jackfruit has a remarkably similar texture.  Equally it can be used in recipes in exactly the same way as pork and works really well in curries.

Jackfruit burger

As with most fruits, jackfruit is a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving potassium, helping reduce blood pressure and manage cholesterol levels.  It’s certainly a great food choice right now.

Simply marinade the jackfruit in some barbecue sauce with garlic and onion and then place on the barbecue.  Serve in a bun with sliced avocado and tomato for a really tasty treat!

Green salads

Green salads don’t need to be dull.  The fresh flavours of green leaves work so well alongside spicy dishes – just don’t prepare it too early to avoid the inevitable wilted leaves.

This green salad is made with chopped celery – great for reducing blood pressure because it works as a natural diuretic. Try to use fresh, crisp lettuce rather than the pre-packed varieties and add some spring onions, cucumber, and avocado, plus your choice of dressing.

Green leaf salad with avocado and cucumber

This green salad is a powerhouse of antioxidants, and avocado is especially rich in vitamin E, also great for the immune system.  It’s worth remembering that even though we have a bit more freedom with the easing of some lockdown measures,  it’s still just as important to keep your immune system supported to protect the body as much as possible.

So, enjoy these easy-to-prepare barbeque recipes and give yourself a health and taste boost at the same time!

Stay well.

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

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Growing your own: health-giving, home-grown ideas

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

Whilst we’re all rather restricted in what we can and can’t do right now. But for those with vegetable patches, pots or allotments, it’s the perfect time to be growing your vegetables.  For those of you without access to outside space, a balcony or even just a windowsill can give you the opportunity to grow some delicious and health-giving herbs.

Growing your own produce has big advantages over shop-bought as the produce is all pesticide-free and additive-free.  Importantly, time from harvest to plate can be swift, helping to keep valuable nutrients intact, and helping the planet at the same time.

This National Gardening Week, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer suggests a few things to start cultivating right now!

Broccoli

An all-round superfood, broccoli certainly lives up to its acclaim. It is very high in antioxidants provided by its vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content. Plus, it’s great for the heart (it helps reduce cholesterol) and helps to protect the immune system. It can help to keep the digestive system moving smoothly and supports the liver’s ability to detoxify. Broccoli is also packed with lutein and zeaxanthin which are great for healthy eyes and eyesight.

Purple sprouting broccoli

In terms of nutrient content, broccoli is rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, bone-loving vitamin K and energy-boosting folate. There are so many different varieties of broccoli that you can sow right now; the purple sprouting type may have the slight edge in terms of antioxidants, which is down to its beautiful colour.

Carrots

A real mainstay vegetable, no garden should be without carrots. They are best known for their ability to help you see in the dark. This is because they are loaded with beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, and which is essential for eyesight.

A selection of rainbow carrots

Why not grow a rainbow variety, which means you’ll have a combination of orange, purple and white-coloured carrots?  They will all have slightly different tastes and the varied colours will deliver wonderful healthy phytonutrients.

Beetroot

If you plant some beetroot seeds now, you should have some wonderful beetroot globes available for the traditional summer salad season. However, beetroot is not only great in salads but is delicious roasted, pickled or cooked, and used in juices and smoothies.

Whole beetroots

Another superfood, beetroot is a great liver cleanser. Packed full of antioxidants, it also supports energy and is a good source of iron.  Indeed, this is probably one of the reasons it has traditionally been known as a tonic and given to people whilst convalescing. Needless to say, it’s loaded with great nutrients and is incredibly versatile in many dishes, both sweet and savoury.

Basil

Basil is one of the tastiest herbs you can grow indoors. Plus, it smells beautiful and will always remind you of the Mediterranean.  Basil makes a great accompaniment to any tomato-based dish and is an aromatic addition to salad and pasta dishes. It also great for the digestive system.

A fresh bunch of basil on a wooden board

Basil is a pretty hardy herb that prefers full sunlight and now is the time to plant your pots for readiness by July. It will also happily grow in a pot amongst other herbs if you have room.

Chives

Chives are another great small pot herb which can be grown alone or in a slightly larger pot with other herbs such as coriander and parsley.

Some chopped chives on a wooden board

A member of the onion family, chives are very easy to grow and produce some pretty and edible flowers. Both the stems and flowers are great chopped for garnishing potato salad, in scrambled egg, soups and many other savoury dishes. As with all herbs, they have been hailed for many different health issues over the years, and chives have been used as a tonic and to stimulate appetite after illness.

So, get planting!  And if you’ve never undertaken any form of gardening in the past, now could be a great time to start.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

All images: Shutterstock