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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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.

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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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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!

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Holiday nutrition: delicious European dishes to try this summer

A beach restaurant overlooking the sea

With the holiday season in full flow, many of us will be looking forward to some delicious new dishes to try at our holiday destination. Eating local fayre is an important part of any holiday and it’s always good to try local or new tastes.

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There is plenty of delicious and nutritious food on offer around Europe – be brave with your food choices and you’ll be rewarded!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite dishes from around Europe.

Menemen in Turkey

I always like to start the day right on holiday and this meal really does the trick! Although it’s not always seen on restaurant menus, it’s a quick breakfast dish that’s basically up-market scrambled eggs. For me, eggs are always the best breakfast because the protein keeps me going for longer so I’m not tempted to keep snacking through the morning.

Menemen Turkish egg breakfast dish

Even better, menemen is cooked with onions, peppers and oregano. This means I’m enjoying a great taste, some additional vitamin C from the peppers to keep my immune system strong and digestive support from the oregano. Oregano can help to keep nasty tummy bugs at bay – just what’s needed whilst on holiday.

Gazpacho in Spain

Whilst cold soup may not appeal to everyone, this traditional dish from southern Spain definitely needs to be tasted to be fully appreciated. It’s essentially a tomato soup with garlic, onions, red peppers, vegetable stock and plenty of olive oil. The key to having the best tasting gazpacho is to use vine-ripened tomatoes (even better if you’ve got home-grown ones).

Gazpacho

This dish is super-healthy as tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Red peppers contain some of the highest amounts of vitamin C of all vegetables, and garlic and olive oil are both great for a healthy heart. Plus it can be made really quickly and stored in the fridge for a few days. Whilst you’ll certainly be wanting to be make your own on your return, traditional food always seems to taste even better when enjoyed on its home soil!

Moules in France

No visit to France would be complete without a bowl of moules mariniere (mussels) served with some fresh crusty bread, to soak up all the lovely juice. The traditional way of preparing French moules is with onion, garlic, chopped parsley, some white wine and a little double cream.

A dish of moules mariniere French Mussels

Whilst I absolutely love this dish, I also know just how nutrient dense it is. Interestingly, mussels have the most impressive nutrient profile of all shellfish, being a fantastic source of protein and low in fat. Plus they contain plenty of energising B vitamins, vitamin C and iron. Parsley is great for liver health, so you don’t need to feel too guilty about enjoying these with a small glass of white wine too.

Dolmades in Greece

I’ve often struggled in Greece with food that is overly heavy and fat-laden, particularly moussaka. Thankfully, there are actually plenty of other healthy and fresh dishes to be enjoyed around the mainland and islands. And if all else fails, then traditional Greek salad with feta cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes, olives, cucumber and onions never fails to delight!

Sufed vine leaves from Greece

However, a real Greek treat is dolmades which are grape or vine leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, mint, onions, dill and lemon juice. They are very time-consuming to make so I’m not sure I would ever try them at home, which is another reason to enjoy them, generally as part of a meze plate, whilst away.

The combination of the varied herbs makes for a great taste but they also help the digestion, which is often helpful whilst on holiday.

Tagliatelle marinara in Italy

Whilst I would generally steer away from eating pasta in the UK, mainly because it can taste pretty bland, in Italy pasta takes on a whole new meaning! In fact, every trip to Italy should feature trying an array of freshly made pasta dishes with range of delicious sauces.

A plate of tagliatelle marinara

One of my favourites is tagliatelle with a marinara sauce. This is basically a very tasty tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic and olive oil and it really makes the pasta come alive. Clearly, the Italians love their sauces, and as delicious as they are, the creamy-based ones are very high in fat and calories. So enjoy these in moderation and instead opt for something a little less calorific so you’ll be able to enjoy pasta on more days throughout your holiday.

So enjoy eating abroad this summer and try as many local dishes as possible to really tickle the taste buds and boost your nutrition at the same time.

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Strawberries: discover the health benefits of this summer fruit

a punnet of strawberries

It’s one of life’s great partnerships – Wimbledon and strawberries! Whether enjoyed with cream or in a glass of champagne, these delicious red berries are a summer favourite whether you’re enjoying the tennis or another outdoor event.

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The great news is that strawberries are also super-healthy and packed full of nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us five reasons why they’re one of the most popular berries consumed worldwide!

The history of strawberries and their health benefits

As with so many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, strawberries have been used for many hundreds of years to cure a variety of health ailments. They were believed to eliminate kidney stones, and relieve arthritis, gout and rheumatism. Strawberries were also used to cleanse and purify the digestive system and act as a mild liver tonic.

A woman holding a heartshaped bowl full of strawberries

There is no reason to suggest strawberries won’t deliver some of these health benefits today; they contain a wealth of antioxidants which help to manage inflammation throughout the body and are high in fibre which is a great internal cleanser.

Strawberries are high in fibre

We hear so much about the body needing fibre in the diet every day, which of course is true. The typical Western diet is unfortunately often laden with white pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits. These are very low in fibre, hence many people suffer from digestive issues.

Woman smiling with a bowl of strawberries, holding on strawberry up to her mouth

The body needs around 30 grams of fibre daily, and should be a combination of the soluble and insoluble varieties. Insoluble fibre is found in high amounts in wheat, maize and rice. Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, peas, beans and fruits and vegetables. Strawberries are a shining light in this respect with high levels of soluble fibre (a small cup contains over 3 grams). This is one of the reasons our ancestors found them to be helpful for digestive cleansing.

Strawberries can be included on a weight-loss plan

The popularity of the low-carb diet has meant many people are shunning fruits and vegetables, and hence missing out on a wide range of nutrients. However, strawberries are very low on the glycaemic index (much lower than bananas, melon, pineapple and apricots). This means they have a negligible effect on blood sugar when eaten, hence they’re not going to adversely affect a weight-loss plan. Blood sugar levels need to be in good balance for effective weight loss otherwise the body will simply store sugar and increase the number of fat cells within.

Two bowls of strawberries and cream

The really good news is that when strawberries are eaten with cream, the fat content slows down blood sugar level activation even further, so your Wimbledon treat is perfectly acceptable. Ideally, not to be eaten this way every day though!

Strawberries will keep your brain sharp

Whilst strawberries have one of the highest levels of vitamin C of all fruits and vegetables per 100 grams, their nutritional wealth extends far wider. They contain an array of polyphenols which are plant compounds with wonderful health benefits. Polyphenols are loaded with antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

This is one of the reasons strawberries can help to keep your brain sharp because they protect it from damage from the environment and other toxins. It’s also thought these antioxidant properties help protect blood vessels to the brain keeping blood flow good and sharpness on top form.

How to eat them

Strawberries are very perishable and will only last a few days. Therefore they shouldn’t be washed until you’re ready to eat them and they’re always best eaten as fresh as possible.

Strawberry smoothie surrounded by fresh strawberries

Strawberries are perfect added to breakfast oats, sliced in a mixed salad, or served with shortcake. However, for a really healthy start to the day, why not wiz up a strawberry smoothie with banana, a little fresh orange juice, some plain yoghurt and a little almond milk. As well as providing a great boost of vitamin C, you’ll also be getting plenty of heart-loving potassium and energising folate. Plus, the yoghurt and almond milk provide protein to keep you sustained throughout the morning. You can always add some additional protein powder for a real power-up!

If you fancy the traditional strawberries and cream, but you are not able to tolerate dairy, there are plenty of dairy-free alternative creams which you can try.

So be sure to grab some strawberries while you can and don’t miss one of our most delicious fruits this summer.

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Top nutrition tips for a delicious summer picnic

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

It’s that time of year when we should be enjoying being in the great outdoors with a picnic! And your picnic basket certainly doesn’t need to be filled with lifeless sandwiches.

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Think colourful, appetising and, most importantly, healthy foods!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy and tasty picnic ideas.

Energising salad

Whether you’ve woken up and decided ‘today is the day’ for a picnic you certainly don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen preparing food. You want to get out there and enjoy the day. A salad will help keep you energised for the odd ball game during the day, and is a great choice.

A quinoa salad with vegetables

As with any meal or dish, the more colour you can inject, the better and this salad is no exception. This one has a base of protein-rich quinoa (try to get as many colour varieties as possible of quinoa. Add broad beans (also known as lima beans) which are packed with energising folate. Then mix some spring onions, chilli, chopped celery, mint leaves and chopped parsley with some tasty French dressing.

This is a really energising and sustaining salad, loaded with antioxidants but also containing two healthy herbs; mint and parsley both help digestion and detoxification.

Wraps

Whilst sandwiches may become limp and unappetising, wraps are much more substantial and are easier to transport. Plus, you can pack a variety of different fillings to suit all tastes. A really nice option is falafel, sliced beetroot, feta cheese and crispy lettuce. It’s a really colourful wrap that’s packed with liver-loving beetroot and protein-rich feta and falafel. It’s also great for any vegetarians in the group.

Falafel wraps

Another wonderful alternative wrap recipe is smoked salmon, egg and spinach with a little mayonnaise. Not only is this one really quick to prepare, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Smoked salmon contains plenty of brain-loving omega-3s, plus spinach is a great source of energising iron as well as some B-vitamins. And even though you’ll be out in the sunshine (hopefully), egg yolks are a source of vitamin D which will help top up levels in the body. We’re finding out more and more about the absolute need for plenty of vitamin D so use every opportunity you can to top up.

Colourful skewers

Here’s another colourful picnic idea that’s really quick to prepare and won’t spoil in transportation. Why not take on an Italian theme for this one? Cherry tomatoes work really well with mozzarella, cheese, olives, basil leaves,  tomatoes and perhaps a little folded Parma ham.

Tomato mozzarella and basil skewers

Tomatoes are full of the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient meaning it’s much better absorbed when eaten with a fatty food such as mozzarella and Parma ham. Additionally olives are high in monounsaturated fats which are very beneficial for the heart. So, if you’re picnic takes on a more active theme, you’ll be protecting your heart health both from the exercise and your menu plan!

Flapjacks

It’s always nice to enjoy a sweet treat on a picnic and flapjacks don’t need to be sugar-laden. This recipe contains some energising oats as well as plenty of seeds-containing omega-3s. You can use agave syrup to sweeten which is still a form of sugar but is higher in fructose than glucose so won’t give you a dramatic sugar-rush.

Homemade flapjacks

Porridge oats work really well mixed with seeds, chopped dates and apricots, chopped hazelnuts, a little butter and some raisins. These flapjacks also provide energising snacks throughout the week and will become a lunch-box favourite if you’re running short of ideas!

And to drink …..

Finally, you need to think about what to drink and what better than some delicious elderflower cordial? It’s one of those drinks that everyone can enjoy and whilst it contains some sugar, it doesn’t need to be overly sweetened. Elderflowers are in abundance on trees right now, so grab around 30 heads, pour over boiling water, add some lemon and orange slices and a little sugar and leave overnight.

Homemade elderflower cordial

Elderflowers have been used traditionally for many years as a general health tonic, to help digestion and to soothe a cold and unblock sinuses.

So enjoy a healthy, fun-filled picnic as part of your day in the great outdoors!

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.

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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