Barbeque season: top tips for healthy al fresco dining

Group of friends enjoying eating a barbeque outside

One of the signs that summer is truly here is the smell of barbecued food in the air. As a nation, we love our barbeques and what’s not to like? Dining outdoors with friends and family and soaking up some rays is what summer’s all about.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips on what’s hot and what’s not on the Barbie!

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THINK BEYOND BURGERS!

Barbequed food has become much more sophisticated in recent times. However, many people still revert to barbeque ‘staples’, such as burgers, without giving it too much thought. Clearly, they have a place on the barbeque table but whole fish, (trout as a great example) is totally delicious cooked in this way.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Gutted trout can be stuffed with coriander, lemongrass, garlic and ginger and wrapped in foil or even newspaper and then cooked at a low heat over the barbeque. Trout are high in healthy omega-3 fats and all herbs deliver some wonderful health benefits. Garlic, for example, is great for the immune system and also helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.

SWAP COALS FOR GAS

Gas barbeques were once much-maligned! Whatever happened to the traditional way of cooking barbequed food? However, over time people have realised the many benefits of gas. Most importantly, cooking temperature can be much better controlled. One of the problems with barbequed food is that flames burn the outside of the food before the inside is properly cooked. This, of course is a real problem when cooking chicken and many people have fallen foul to food poisoning for this very reason.

Vegetable skewers on a barbeque

In terms of flavour, you’ll still get that wonderful barbequed-tasting food but it will be cooked evenly throughout. Once you’ve invested in a gas barbeque, there’ll last for years and you’ll find yourself cooking everything on it – even the Sunday roast!

HAVE A HAPPY TUM

On the subject of cooking food thoroughly, it’s no secret that many people suffer from an upset tummy following a barbecue. Obviously, this can be caused by improperly cooked food, but imbalanced gut bacteria can also be a culprit.

The digestive tract naturally contains billions of bacteria – some good, some bad. When there is a prevalence of bad bacteria it can cause all sorts of digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and wind. However, certain foods really encourage growth of good bacteria, many of which are perfect for the barbeque.

Tofu skewers with other vegetables on a barbeque

For example, tofu is a fermented food which feeds the healthy bacteria in the gut but can also be deliciously tasty on the barbecue! Tofu needs some strong flavours alongside it, so how about tofu skewers using tofu you’ve previously marinated? Think spring onions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, chillies and a little brown sugar mixed in olive oil. Healthy and delicious!

TURN UP THE HEAT

Obviously, you’re going to be doing this on the barbecue! However, why not add the healthy warming spice turmeric to your barbecue feast? Turmeric is great added to marinades. For example, chicken drumsticks which are marinated with garlic, coconut milk, fish sauce, turmeric and curry powder make a fabulous barbecued Thai chicken dish.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

However, the best reason for using plenty of turmeric in your barbecue fest is because it can really help alleviate stomach bloating – a common problem after a barbeque.

BALANCE YOUR SUN EXPOSURE

Part of the fun of having a barbeque is to enjoy the summer weather! It’s really important to top up on vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin, during the summer months. Vitamin D is also stored in the body; whilst this won’t be sufficient to get us through the winter months, it’s certainly beneficial during the summer particularly for the bones and immune system.

People enjoying a barbeque outside

Around 15 minutes exposure to the sun without sun cream is recommended. This is not long enough to cause any harm, but just long enough to do some real good. People are often reticent of putting on a high-strength sun cream fearing they won’t tan at all! Unfortunately, many people tend to stay out in the sun for too long, forgetting the strength of its rays at this time of year. However, if you always use a minimum SPF 30 on the body, it will maintain a healthy glow rather than a deep and skin-damaging tan. Plus always wear a hat and protect your eyes with sun glasses.

So make the most of the summer right now and enjoy deliciously tasty and healthy barbecues this season.

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Improve your skin from within with these top nutrients

We hear the saying ‘beauty comes from within’ frequently. And, indeed, this is absolutely true; your skin can only ever be a reflection of your inner self. Even with all the potions and lotions that are available, they can only help so much.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares three of her top skin-loving nutrients for inner and outer beauty!

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Your skin is the largest organ in the body and everything that goes on inside shows on the outside. For example, if you’re stressed, it will show in the face and often new lines and wrinkles appear. If you’re suffering from food allergies or intolerances, you’ll often see dark circles around the eyes, and a lack of nutrients generally will lead to lack-lustre skin. So how can you achieve beautiful skin from the inside out?

BIOTIN

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is one of the family of B-vitamins that are all incredibly busy in the body. They are primarily involved in breaking down food for energy but biotin also plays a role in cell growth and replication. The body is constantly renewing cells and of course this also happens in the skin.

As well as obtaining biotin from certain foods in the diet, it’s also produced by beneficial bacteria in the gut. However, if gut flora is not optimal (which is common) then less biotin will be produced. This is one of the reasons that good gut bacteria is so key for skin health.

A lack of biotin will make itself known and this deficiency can display itself as dry, scaly skin, nausea, or seborrheic dermatitis (a common skin condition causing scaly, red skin and dandruff). All B-vitamins are needed for the body to correctly metabolise essential fats (also important for healthy skin). Therefore, packing in some biotin-rich foods such as cheese, liver, soy beans, mushrooms, nuts and some whole-wheat cereal, together with oily fish, which is rich in omega-3 fats, could be one of the secrets to fabulous skin!

ZINC

Zinc is probably one of the busiest minerals in the body. It’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions, so it’s not surprising it plays a key role in encouraging healthy skin. The skin contains high levels of zinc as do the bones, liver, kidneys, male prostate and the retina of the eye.

It’s interesting to note that some of the signs of zinc deficiency are poor wound healing of the skin and the onset of skin disorders such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Indeed, one of the reasons that teenagers often suffer from acne is due to a zinc deficiency. However, one of the easiest ways of knowing if you’re zinc deficient is when you see white spots on more than three finger nails. Obviously, be aware that damage to the nail bed can also cause similar marks on the finger nails.

The best source of zinc by far is oysters which are not for everyone! However, zinc is still relatively high in other fish, shellfish and red meat, as well as pumpkin seeds, ginger, nuts, and whole wheat foods. The importance of having sufficient zinc in the diet can’t be over-emphasised if you want beautiful, blemish-free skin.

VITAMIN E

Vitamin E is one of our most powerful antioxidant nutrients, thereby protecting every cell in the body from free radical damage. In fact, it’s our key fat soluble antioxidant working within the fatty portion of every cell membrane.

So, it naturally follows that vitamin E is really important when thinking about the skin. How much we actually need on a daily basis is often difficult to quantify because a lot depends on the amount of polyunsaturated fats in the diet. These are found in many types of oils, often ones we use for cooking that can become damaged by high heat.

Fortunately, in nature where there are high levels of polyunsaturated fats, there’s also high levels of vitamin E. Some of the best food sources are vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, wholegrains, berries and green leafy vegetables. Additionally, avocados are some of the richest sources of vitamin E which is why you’ll often see avocados in beauty smoothies and face packs!

So by looking after your skin from the inside with good nutrition, you’ll be sure to find that outward glow!

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Amazing asparagus: in-season, nutritious and tasty!

Close up of woman holding a bunch of asparagus

May is National Asparagus Month because it’s the time when this wonderful vegetable comes into season and tastes at its absolute best. However, it’s not just the taste that’s so amazing.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on why asparagus is such a nutritional winner!

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VARIETIES

Asparagus can be found in green, white or purple varieties, although green tends to be the most popular in the UK. White asparagus has been grown in the dark, underground, and therefore doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as the other coloured varieties. It also doesn’t have any chlorophyll as it’s not been exposed to sunlight, hence it tastes slightly different.

A woman holding a bunch of green asparagus and a bunch of white asparagus

THE BENEFITS

Asparagus is a really good source of vitamins A and C so is great for the immune system. It is also very high in energy-giving folate plus it’s got a wealth of trace minerals such as potassium, copper, manganese and selenium. Asparagus is also a good source of chromium so helps with blood sugar balance.

Interestingly, asparagus isn’t on the top of everyone’s list when choosing vegetables. This may partly be because the sulphur-producing elements in asparagus gives most people’s urine a rather distinctive smell! In fact, this is quite normal and asparagus is a natural diuretic, so is actually very cleansing for the kidneys. For some people it can also work as a laxative as it’s high in fibre, so is great for people suffering from constipation.

Roasted asparagus topped with a poached egg

As with most fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, they tend to have traditional folklore use; in the case of asparagus, it was used as a tonic and to treat inflammatory-type conditions such as rheumatism.

IT’S GREAT FOR PREGNANCY

Since asparagus contains high levels of folate (folic acid), it’s great for women to eat either before or during pregnancy (or indeed both). Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects in babies and Public Health England also recommends a supplement of 400 micrograms daily, pre-conceptually and for the first trimester.

We know from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS)[1] that women of child-bearing age are deficient in this essential vitamin. This is despite it being widely available in foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, since folic acid works alongside vitamin B12, which is often poorly absorbed, the two vitamins can often both be deficient. So, ladies, now is the time to grab some delicious asparagus!

WHAT TO DO WITH IT

Asparagus is a real regular on restaurant menus at this time of year, either as an appetiser or as a side dish.   Often it’s simply roasted with a little olive oil and lemon or just lightly grilled. It’s also wonderful roasted and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. And it’s superb barbecued!

Another popular recipe is asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham, either as a starter or side. The asparagus is simply wrapped in the ham, sprinkled with pepper and roasted for about 15 minutes.

Roased asparagus wrapped in parma ham and sprinkled with parmesan cheese

If, however, you want to go for the slightly milder, sweeter taste of white asparagus, you can certainly try something different. White asparagus needs to be prepared slightly differently from the green variety; white should be peeled from the bottom as the skin tends to be tough. It is generally better boiled until soft and is traditionally served with hollandaise sauce. If you do opt for green, then it should be so fresh that you can snap it in half; no toughness or stringiness in sight!

The official asparagus season lasts around 8 weeks in the UK so enjoy it as much as possible!

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined

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Spice up your life with spring herbs and spices

Close up of woman with her arms stretched out in sunshine wearing sunglasses

Turmeric has certainly hit the headlines in recent times and for very good reason. We hear the word ‘superfood’ often but turmeric really doesn’t disappoint in this respect! It can be used in so many different recipes, alongside some other wonderful herbs and spices.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on some of her favourite herbs and spices to be using this spring time!

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TURMERIC

Few spices offer turmeric’s wealth of benefits which is why it has become such a hero. It exerts very positive effects on the liver, helping to cleanse and detoxify the body. This, in turn, helps with digestion and immunity. Additionally, turmeric delivers some great anti-inflammatory effects, so really supports any joint issues; it’s particularly good for people who do lots of exercise and frequently experience aches and pains.

The active ingredients in turmeric are compounds called curcuminoids of which curcumin is key; it has very powerful antioxidant effects to support the immune system and is a strong anti-inflammatory. There have been many positive and robust studies around turmeric but a recent review1 has looked at research into a number of health complaints. These studies certainly confirm it to be an active scavenger of free radicals which are responsible for many of our degenerative diseases.

The studies also confirmed strong anti-inflammatory effects with Turmeric helping to modulate our main inflammatory enzymes. Many of these studies have been undertaken using higher doses of turmeric than can naturally be eaten in food, therefore supplementation would be advisable for best effect, as well as using it frequently in the diet.

Turmeric is not easily absorbed by the body so the best way of enjoying its full nutritional benefit is to include it in the diet, little and often, in the form of ground turmeric. Additionally, eating turmeric with a fatty meal or including it in a recipe containing some fat really helps absorption.

A great recipe using turmeric is to marinate salmon fillets or a side of salmon with turmeric, black pepper and lemon juice. Marinate it overnight for best effects and then the salmon can be lightly baked in the oven for around 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of the salmon).

CORIANDER

This is a pungent herb that is frequently used in curry dishes. It makes a great spring time accompaniment because it can potentially help with allergies; unfortunately these start to make themselves known at this time of year!

Coriander is also great for the digestive system and for fighting infections. Indeed, medical herbalists use both the leaves and seeds to help urinary tract infections. Coriander also kills bacteria and fungi found in meat, which is why you’ll often find it in meat dishes in India.

Coriander works well in any curry dish but one of the easiest recipes is coriander chicken; mix onion, chilli, freshly chopped coriander and some garlic together with some water. Gently fry some chicken strips in coconut oil and then add the spices! This is great served with rice of your choice.

SAFFRON

Although saffron is one of the most expensive spices, it’s actually worth its weight in gold in terms of health benefits and it only needs to be used sparingly. It’s thought that saffron helps flush out toxins, purifies the blood, cleanses the skin and also seems to help with the assimilation of other nutrients in the recipe.

It adds amazing colour and a distinctive taste to a range of dishes such as paella, Bouillabaisse and risottos as well as desserts.   And for an interesting twist on your egg-based breakfast, why not cook up some scrambled eggs and add a pinch of saffron and chilli flakes together with some mushrooms? It will certainly be a powerful start to your day!

So enjoy trying these delicious and health-giving herbs and spices this spring time.

1 Arshad Husain Rahmani et al. Role of Curcumin in Disease Prevention and Treatment. Adv Biomed Res. 2018;7:38

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Banish the bloat for 2018: top digestion tips

For many of us, Christmas over-indulgence may have negatively impacted on our digestion leading to uncomfortable bloating. But with the Christmas festivities behind us, and a New Year on the horizon, what is the best way to prep your body so you can start the New Year energised and ready to go?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for beating the bloat this New Year!

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THINK DANDELIONS

The humble dandelion plant delivers some wonderful health benefits; most importantly it is a natural liver cleanser and helps to detoxify the blood. Since the liver is crucial to digestive processes, if it’s working well then the digestive system will automatically run smoother.

Dandelions also aid digestion by encouraging the flow of bile which primarily breaks down fats, thereby reducing any likelihood of bloating. Dandelion can be drunk as a tea or coffee, both of which are readily available in health food stores.

DRINK LEMON WATER

Whilst talking about the liver, there’s no better way to start the day than with a glass of lemon water with ginger.

Lemon is a liver detoxifier and ginger feeds the friendly gut bacteria, which helps to reduce any bloating. Start with a large glass of warm water, add a couple of slices of fresh lemon and some crushed ginger. Apart from cleansing the liver, your skin will also glow after a week or so and your digestion will run a whole lot smoother!

FEED THE GUT BACTERIA

We have billions of friendly or good gut bacteria, living quite happily in the digestive tract. However, sugary foods, alcohol, stress, refined foods and caffeine all have an impact on how happy they are! Over-indulgence during the festive period will certainly have impacted on the natural balance in the gut, which can lead to tell-tale bloating and wind.

Natural live yoghurt provides good amounts of friendly bacteria. Whilst it’s great to include this regularly in the diet, your digestive tract will benefit hugely from taking a course of probiotics (readily available in health food stores) for at least a month, to get everything back on track. You may initially experience a little more bloating, which is normal, but it should settle quite quickly. The end results will be worth it!

INCLUDE ARTICHOKES

Globe artichokes may look slightly strange and can be a little fiddly to prepare, but they are packed full of digestive benefits. Artichokes have been used as a liver tonic for centuries because they contain two antioxidants, namely cynarin and silymarin. These help to cleanse and repair over-worked livers, which naturally improves digestion.

Moreover, cynarin is one of the active ingredients in globe artichokes that helps soothe digestion. Artichokes are also high in fibre which helps improve bowel movements and this in itself provides relief from bloating.

To prepare them, cut the body of the artichoke in half and remove the stem whilst pulling out the fibres. Snap the leaves from the edges and cut the remaining leaves away. Then you can slice the tip of the artichoke away, scrape out the hairy middle and lightly steam or gently roast the leaves in a little olive oil.

GIVE UP GLUTEN

Gluten is the protein found in wheat and other grains such as oats, rye and barley. It’s a sticky protein, hence breads are quite dense in texture. It’s precisely for this reason that many people have a problem digesting gluten. And if you think about it, you’ve probably consumed lots of gluten over the Christmas period! Canapes, stuffing, cakes, pastries, Christmas pudding, bread, sausage rolls … the list goes on!

Why not start the new year being gluten-free for a couple of weeks to help relieve any bloating? It may sound difficult but there are so many alternatives available now in the supermarkets. Plus, you’ll naturally reduce your carbohydrate intake and increase your protein, which is always going to be beneficial for weight management.

Just be wary of gluten-free biscuits or cakes; they’re generally very high in sugar which is certainly not going to help any new year detox!

So try these top tips to feel more energised and beat the bloat this year, and get ready for an even healthier 2018!

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Five nutritious food swaps for a healthier Christmas

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

Christmas is not always known for being the healthiest time of year! However, wouldn’t it be marvellous to still enjoy wonderful festive food but with a healthy twist this Christmas?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top healthy Christmas food swaps!

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SWAP PIGS IN BLANKETS FOR PARMA HAM AND ASPARAGUS

Serve up some delicious Parma ham wrapped around asparagus instead of pigs in blankets this Christmas. Whilst those traditional pigs are often one of the mainstays of the Christmas table, there’s around 800 calories per 100 grams , so there’s nothing wrong with changing it up a little and enjoying a choice.

Asparagus is packed with energising B vitamins, plus it feeds the friendly bacteria that naturally live within the digestive tract and this is going to really help reduce digestive upsets which are common over the Christmas period. Treat yourself to some traditional Italian Parma ham and wrap a slice around three asparagus sprigs. Gently roast in the oven and sprinkle with a little fresh Parmesan cheese and those little pigs will be a dim and distant memory!

SWAP SMOKED SALMON AND SCRAMBLED EGGS FOR AVOCADO AND POACHED EGG

Whilst scrambled eggs and smoked salmon is a delicious Christmas morning breakfast, it can often sit heavily on the stomach. Farmed smoked salmon is especially high in fat and scrambled eggs are frequently made with milk and butter which can be more difficult to digest.

The other downside to eating any smoked foods is that they contain a high salt content; salt is added to reduce the moisture content of the food and help prolong shelf life, prior to smoking. For people who have to be mindful of high blood pressure, eating foods loaded with salt will often exacerbate the problem.

Much easier on the digestion would be a lightly poached egg on wholemeal toast with some avocado slices. Avocado is a wonderfully healthy fruit, packed with skin-loving vitamin E to help you glow through the festive season.

SWAP BRANDY BUTTER FOR CRÈME FRAICHE

Crème fraiche will provide a wonderful partnership to your Christmas pudding! As we know, traditional Christmas pudding is notoriously packed with sugar, and whilst the day could never be the same without its presence, brandy butter is equally sweet and very high in fat.

The combined taste of sweet Christmas pudding with the slightly sour crème fraiche is a real treat. In terms of fat content you’ll be more than halving your intake with crème fraiche as there’s nearly 200 calories per serving in brandy butter as opposed to around only 50 in crème fraiche.

SWAP CANAPES FOR CRUDITIES

Christmas lunch or dinner often kicks off with some canapes. However, goat’s cheese tarts, mini quiches, vol-au-vents and smoked salmon blinis might look lovely but they can negatively impact on the digestive system. And that’s before we even consider any impact on the waistline.

You can still enjoy some pre-dinner drinks and nibbles but why not serve up a plateful of fresh crudités with hummus or guacamole? A plateful of chopped vegetables including celery (great for reducing blood pressure), cucumber (excellent internal cleanser), carrots (packed with vitamin A for the immune system) and peppers (loaded with vitamin C) is colourful and appetising and even better with some delicious dips.

Moreover, you’ll be better able to enjoy the main event without feeling bloated before you start!

SWAP YULE LOG FOR LEMON POLENTA CAKE

Whilst the chocolate yule log might look very Christmassy, it is a very heavy dessert. We also tend to eat a lot more gluten-containing foods over Christmas which can really contribute to bloating and flatulence, and the traditional yule log is one of these you could do without.

A lemon polenta cake still looks great on the table, can be dusted with icing sugar to look like snow, and is gluten-free. Plus, you can even make it dairy-free by substituting the butter for mild olive oil if you like. Even better, lemons provide powerful antioxidants so you’ll be supporting your immune system at the same time.

So why not try these easy swaps and make this your healthiest Christmas yet without losing any of the pleasures!

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Warming seasonal food: delicious and nutritious autumn dishes

With summer now quite a way behind us, and the nights’ drawing in, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of eating stodgy, comfort foods. But poor food choices can lead to low energy and low mood. So what are the best warming dishes to eat this autumn?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some healthy and hearty meal and ingredient ideas to warm you up this autumn.

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WARMING SALADS

We tend to think of salads as having to be cold, but there are an abundance of salad recipes that are served warm.  For example, a roasted vegetable salad is both colourful and nutritious.  Why not roast some sweet potato (in season right now) with some red pepper and beetroot?  They can be served warm with some tossed mixed leaves and balsamic vinegar.

Additionally, chicken livers are great in salads, plus they’re really cost effective and are an excellent source of protein.  Even better, liver is high in iron – a mineral that is frequently deficient in the daily diet and is essential for energy and healthy red blood cell production.  Chicken livers work really well lightly sautéed in butter and thyme, served warm on a bed of salad leaves topped with artichoke hearts.

WARMING HERBS

Certain herbs and spices naturally bring blood to the surface making us feel warm even if they’re used in cold dishes; they can act like an internal radiator!  Warming herbs also aid digestion and balance blood sugar.

One great example is cinnamon; it can be used in so many different ways: it is perfect sprinkled on porridge in the mornings which will sustain energy levels throughout the day without leaving you feeling bloated.  In fact, cinnamon is great sprinkled on any dish where you might be otherwise tempted to reach for sugar.  Think natural yoghurt, stewed fruit, pancakes or cereals – the choice is endless.

Ginger is another warming herb which can be used in so many dishes, particularly stir fries or Thai-style fish.  However, for an excellent morning perk-up, ginger can be used in a warming tea, freshly grated with half a lemon; not only will your body feel warm even when it’s cold outside, this tea will help flush your liver through so your skin will glow!

Cardamom is another favourite which also helps to stop indigestion and can be used in the treatment of coughs and colds.  Why not start your day with some fruit topped with natural yoghurt?  Cardamom pods can be simmered gently in water and vanilla extract for around five minutes and then poured over some dried fruits such as pears, prunes and apricots.  For a great breakfast, sprinkle some sugar-free muesli over the top and you’ll be warm and energised all day long!

WARMING MEALS

Forget the stodgy, creamy pastas; think warming lunch-time soups, wraps or hearty chillies.  You can make some great soups at the beginning of the week using butternut squash, lentils and other root vegetables of your choice and refrigerate it in batches for the rest of the week.

Many of us tend to stock up on bread during the colder months which can lead to bloating and low energy.  However, why not make up some wholemeal wraps instead?  Wraps are great for lunch filled with avocado and tuna; this is a high protein lunch which will help avoid any afternoon slump.  Alternatively, wraps can be filled with sizzling beef and salad and topped with guacamole for a warming Mexican-style dish.

Chillies will not only warm the body, but also protect against colds and flu as we get into the season of bugs!  They can be used in traditional chilli con carne as well as curries.  An excellent seasonal curry can be made with spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas alongside chilli and curry spices of your choice.

So jump into autumn and breeze through the days without noticing the cooling temperatures by creating some of these warming dishes!

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