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!

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Enjoy your healthiest festival ever with these top nutrition tips!

Two women lying in a tent at a festival wearing wellington boots

Festival season is here! And whilst they’re not renowned for being the healthiest of experiences, there is much you can do both before and during the event to ensure you stay happy and healthy throughout.

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Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for festival health!

 

 

Before you go

As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’ and this is most certainly the case when it comes to festival health. The body is going to be severely challenged during a festival; low-nutrient food choices with the potential for an upset tummy, lack of sleep, too much sun (if you’re lucky!) and maybe a tad too much alcohol.

However, your digestive system is your best friend here because if you can keep that in good shape, everything else will be supported. First up is the friendly bacteria in your gut; when this is well balanced it will help prevent tummy troubles, support the immune system and help the body better metabolise alcohol or too much sugar generally. If possible, take a course of probiotics for a couple of weeks prior to the event; these are readily available in health food stores.

A word cloud around Probiotics

Additionally, eat loads of foods that help feed the good gut bacteria such as live natural yoghurt, onions, garlic and green leafy vegetables. Green tea is also fantastic for both the immune system and the digestive tract.

Your natural health survival kit

There’s a few natural health aids you can take with you which will help to keep troublesome symptoms at bay. For a start, keep taking the probiotics (one a day is fine) for the duration of the festival. Also be sure to pack the herb Milk Thistle which can be easily purchased in tablet form from health food stores. It’s one of the best herbs for supporting the liver and soothing nasty hangovers. It also helps the digestion, so may soothe a grumbling tummy whilst you’re away.

Milk thistle flower and herbal medicine tablets

Whilst you’ve not gone to the festival to sleep, you’ll feel a whole lot better and enjoy the event to the full if you’re able to get some shut-eye. The herb valerian specifically helps with sleep, so take it while you’re there. An eye-mask and earplugs might also be advisable!

Make great food choices

Clearly, there’s a lot of unhealthy food to tempt you at festivals but there are some great staples which can provide you with a good balance of healthy nutrients. Breakfast is THE most important meal when you’re at a festival to help keep blood sugar in balance and energy levels sustained. Plus, you’ll be less likely to be tempted by unhealthy snacks and food later if you’ve started the day right. Eggs are always the best choice.

Poached egg on brown toast

Some of the best festival food choices are veggie options, including falafels, tacos and bean salads which are all energy-dense. They’ll fill you up without causing bloating. Plus, there’s often a coconut van on site; coconuts are great for energy and will also banish hunger pangs.

Water is your best friend

There’s rarely a more important time than when you’re at a festival for keeping the body properly hydrated. Lack of water is going to leave you literally feeling ‘drained’. Worse still, severe dehydration, coupled with sun and alcohol can lead to health problems. However, this is easily avoided by drinking around ¼ litre water every couple of hours, and definitely try and hit the 1.5-2 litres per day (more so if the weather is hot). If you are drinking alcohol try and alternate with a large cup of water in between alcoholic drinks.

Close up of woman drinking a bottle of water in summer

It’s also an occasion where drinking slightly diluted fruit juice is good to do; the body rehydrates quicker with a very slightly sweetened liquid.

Sneak in some snacks

Whilst it’s not always easy to take your own food into a festival and each event will differ, it’s not normally too difficult to take snacks such as protein bars, nut and seed combinations, coconut pieces, dried fruit or energy bars.

A selection of nuts as a snack

Whilst many snack bars are fairly high in calories, because they’re generally a combination of protein and carbohydrate, they will certainly get over any energy dips and keep blood sugar levels in balance. It might not always be convenient to buy food and having some handy snacks will help you through. Equally, you’ll be getting some additional nutrients such as vitamin C and zinc, to support your immune system.

So enjoy your festivals this season and hopefully you will return home feeling relatively healthy!

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Five healthy herbs for your home garden

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

Culinary herbs make a wonderful addition to many dishes. We often enjoyed their amazing tastes but we don’t always realise just how many health benefits they bestow. Even better, many of them are really simple to grow in your home herb garden or on a bright windowsill.

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Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite herbs to grow at home and explains their numerous health benefits.

 

 

Mint

Whilst many herbs have a lovely natural aroma, mint is one of most popular scents and it certainly evokes thoughts of summer; think mint as an essential part of summertime Pimms for example!

However, mint delivers some wonderful health benefits and has a long history of traditional medicinal use. It’s very useful for aiding digestive upsets, particularly flatulence and bloating; it seems to control muscle spasms so relaxes the intestines.

Mint tea

If you’re wanting to gain maximum health benefits from mint, then it’s probably best taken in a tea. However, it works really well in either sweet or savoury dishes, particularly accompanying Jersey royal potatoes which are in season right now. It also works brilliantly with roasted aubergine, garlic, plain yoghurt and a little ground pepper.

Parsley

Parsley is king of green herbs and is often used in green juices and smoothies, for very good reason. It is a great liver tonic and is very cleansing for the body overall. It also helps to calm any troublesome and persistent skin conditions.

A bunch of fresh parsley

Parsley’s ‘claim-to-fame’ is largely down to two of its key components. It contains volatile oils which contribute towards its liver health benefits and also contains antioxidants which help protect the body from many degenerative diseases. Parsley is also a rich source of energising folate and vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant.

Parsley has a wealth of culinary uses in salads, soups, sauces and pesto. It’s particularly lovely very simply used with grilled fish and a little butter.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a perennial favourite herb available all year round and is very easy to grow in a small pot. It will also deliver a wonderful aromatic smell on your patio!

From a health perspective, rosemary is a powerful antioxidant so is great to eat during the summer months to help protect the skin from sun damage. Rosemary also helps support both the immune and digestive systems.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Even better, there are so many wonderful ways that its amazing pine-like aroma and distinctive pungent flavour can be added to dishes. It’s a favourite in lamb or chicken dishes or can be added fresh to egg frittatas. Rosemary can also be crushed and added to olive oil, perhaps with some fresh garlic, and used as a dipping sauce for bread.

Basil

Basil is a great go-to herb and will always sit well in any kitchen herb garden. It’s another herb that contains an array of powerful volatile oils which have the potential to protect DNA from oxidation. This process is one of the main causes of body ageing.

These volatile oils also help protect the digestive tract from unwanted bacteria. If you’re planning on travelling abroad or further afield this summer, then it makes sense to try and include basil as much as possible in your dishes. Basil leaves are also a tasty addition to salads.

Basil and pesto pasta in a bowl

Basil is probably best known as being the main ingredient in pesto alongside pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Plus basil is perfect with mozzarella and tomatoes, as well as when added to soups, salmon or pasta dishes.

Chillies

They are slightly more sensitive to grow at home, but if you’ve got a warm, sunny windowsill, then it’s certainly worth persevering and growing some chillies. Best known for the ‘heat’ they add to dishes, chillies contain capsaicin which delivers their delicious pungent flavour; the hotter the flavour, the more capsaicin they have.

There’s often a question mark around hot spices and whether they are any good for the digestive system. To the contrary, chilli may actually help protect the gut from stomach ulcers. However, chillies may have an adverse effect on the beneficial gut bacteria. If you’re eating them regularly, then make sure you’re also eating natural yoghurt or other fermented foods which help feed the good gut bacteria. Even better, chillies and yoghurt can be combined into a delicious dip.

Red and green chillies

Chillies are also known to help with weight loss; they are thermogenic which means they produce calorie-burning heat. They can be added to so many different dishes – think curries, stews and stir-fries. Just remember to wash your hands after chopping and handling them! There’s a wide variety of chillies to grow depending on your requirement for mild to very hot – always do your research and find the chillies which will suit your palette the best.

So enjoy creating your herb garden and bring healthy and delicious herbal additions to your daily dishes.

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Seasonal nutrition: Re-charge your June diet

CLose up of a hand holding a slice of watermelow with the words hello summer cut out of it

Every season brings a wealth of delicious, nutritious and colourful foods and summer has it all! It’s always best to eat with the seasons to gain maximum nutritional benefit from foods. However, it’s also a great time to make sure your June diet is on-track, keeping you feeling healthy and energised through the summer season.

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Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares the range of foods that can help kick-start your healthy eating plan for June.

 

 

Favourite fruits

Summer always brings a wealth of colour variety and nutritional goodness with all the delicious fruits available. It’s actually the best month for one of our all-time fruit favourites, strawberries! They contain some of the highest levels of vitamin C of all fruits, plus a wealth of beneficial plant compounds providing antioxidant protection. Many of these benefits are found in the skin and seeds.

a punnet of strawberries

And whilst there’s often a big question mark around fruit and sugar content, the good news is that strawberries (and all berry fruits) are low on the glycaemic index, so won’t upset blood sugar levels. Plus cherries are in season now too! Peaches are also on trend and they’re loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene which helps protect skin from sun damage.

Flavoursome fish

Our fish arrives on the supermarket shelves from all over the world so it’s really heart-warming to know that at certain times of year, we can actually eat fairly locally-sourced fish. Scallops from UK waters are always delicious with a sweet taste and firm texture. Additionally, crab is at its best right now, and so is plaice.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

These fish are all high in protein, low in fat and can be used in many recipes. Scallops are great gently pan fried in a little butter with lemon and garlic, plaice works really well also pan-fried with capers and chopped tomatoes and there’s few better salads than one that includes some freshly dressed crab.

Versatile vegetables

Vegetables should always play a hugely important role in the daily diet at whatever time of year. However, make the most of the array of vegetables in season and maybe try some different ones? English asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes are just two of our seasonal favourites.

Broad beans in a bowl

However, why not try some broad beans? As a member of the legume family, they provide a good source of protein, plus heaps of energising B-vitamins and immune-boosting vitamin A. They’re hugely versatile and very tasty. They can be blended with some frozen peas, lightly cooked for around 3 minutes, whizzed up with some garlic and a little extra virgin olive oil and then spread onto sourdough bread with a goat’s cheese base. Equally, if you’re feeling in the mood for beans then runners come into season in June and are great to eat whilst still tender. They’re perfect with roasted lamb, also now in season.

Carrots being cooked on a griddle pan

Plus, don’t forget carrots! They partner well with everything or can be eaten on their own with some hummus, aubergines (fantastic roasted and then eaten hot or cold) and globe artichokes (great for feeding the healthy gut bacteria and delicious too!)

Healthy herbs

Whilst there’s some wonderful perennial herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme, there’s plenty of others coming into season in June. Herbs have clearly been used medicinally for many years and whilst we generally choose them to add to our favourite dishes, it’s always good to remember their medicinal powers too.

Basil, which is the main ingredient in pesto, livens up many dishes that would otherwise be plain, such as pasta. However, it also works really well with chicken, mozzarella and tomato as well as white fish. Basil naturally helps the digestion which is why it’s often used with fattier foods.

Basil and pesto pasta in a bowl

Coriander is an essential herb in many curries, soups and casseroles and was originally used to help the urinary tract. Mint also aids digestion; another favourite in tea. Mint, of course is quite unique in that it works really well with sweet or savoury dishes: it’s a must with Jersey Royals and of course summer Pimms!

So why not make a point of eating as much seasonal food this June as you can and reap the fresh nutritional benefits?

 

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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!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

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!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

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!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

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