Supercharge your health with fermented foods

Fermented foods are certainly in vogue right now. Unlike many other food fads, fermented foods are actually the real deal.  And now they’re becoming part of many people’s diets and featuring on trendy restaurant menus.  However, many people are unsure just what they are, how to eat them and what health benefits they provide.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides her ‘go-to’ guide to fermented foods.

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WHAT IS FERMENTATION? THE BASICS

The process of fermenting food has been around for many thousands of years. Fermented food is the mainstay of Japanese cuisine and is thought to be one of the reasons for their well-balanced hormone health.

To better understand the benefits of fermented food we need to look at how our gastrointestinal systems work. The digestive system is packed with billions of bacteria (mainly good) that are incredibly beneficial to health.  They help to keep the digestive system running in smooth working order, boost the immune system, detoxify the body, help manage the body’s natural inflammatory response, balance hormones and protect the body from serious degenerative diseases.

The process of fermentation encourages the production of these beneficial bacteria; it allows the natural sugars and salts within the foods, (together with the added salts that are part of most fermentation processes), to create the good bacteria. Put simply, the more fermented foods we consume, the more beneficial bacteria we have!   Live natural yoghurt is one great example of a fermented food. Fermentation also helps to preserve foods over a longer period of time.

TOP THREE FERMENTED FOODS

There are many fermented food options available but to get you started, here are three of my favourites.

KEFIR

Bang on trend right now is kefir.  It’s a fermented milk product made from either sheep’s, cow’s or goat’s milk.  It provides wonderful benefits for the digestive system, particularly helping to ease bloating and symptoms of IBS.  It’s also great for the immune system because it contains a high percentage of probiotics or beneficial bacteria.  Plus, kefir is high in some of the B vitamins to provide great energy as well as vitamin K2 which supports the bones and heart.

It’s naturally quite sour so is best combined with fruits or yoghurt, or can be used in any recipe as an alternative to buttermilk.

You can even make your own fermented coconut kefir!  Use kefir grains mixed with some coconut milk in a jar.  Store in a warm place, covered with a cloth for 24 hours and the mixture will naturally ferment to produce a more palatable and healthy milk.  It can then be used on cereal or in pancakes for a delicious, healthy start to the day!

SAUERKRAUT

Probably one of the most popular fermented foods, sauerkraut has been eaten for hundreds of years throughout Central Europe.  It’s very simply made from chopped cabbage that’s fermented in salt.  However, as with fermented dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir, fermenting cabbage takes its nutritional benefits to another level!

Probiotic foods, including sauerkraut, deliver huge benefits to the digestive system. Additionally, more B vitamins are naturally produced as well as beneficial enzymes, which are used for many essential body processes.

It’s actually very easy to make at home; simply chop one head of white or red cabbage into small shreds. Add some salt and pack tightly into a jar with a tightly fitting lid.  This needs to be left for about a week in a warm place and you’ve then created your very own superfood!

MISO

Another very fashionable ingredient right now, miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient that is produced by fermenting soy, usually with salt, which makes a brown paste.

Miso is often used by women struggling with menopausal symptoms and people suffering from other hormonal complaints. Soy naturally contains phytoestrogens – plant foods that have an oestrogen-like activity and a hormone-balancing effect on the body. Phytoestrogens became of interest to scientists when they realised that women in certain traditional cultures in Japan that were eating a diet high in soy and other phytoestrogenic foods, had fewer menopausal symptoms than Western women.  It seems that these foods can really help combat the effects of the peri-menopause and the menopause.

One of the most common ways of eating miso is in a soup and there are a number available in supermarkets or health food stores.  Alternatively, to make your own, you simply need to mix some tofu, nori (a type of seaweed) and onions with water and miso.  That’s it! The main point to remember is to simmer miso as boiling it can reduce its health benefits.

So try adding some fermented foods to your diet this season and give your health an extra boost!

 

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Five ways to keep your energy levels in tip-top shape!

Many people struggle with energy levels all year round.  Long work days, busy family lives and a hectic social life can all take their toll and leave you feeling drained.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips for meeting all that life demands and feel raring to go!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog picTHE ENERGY EQUATION

If you want to have abundant energy for life and to retain that energy rather than burning out, then there are a few simple nutritional tips you can follow:

Eat mainly slow-releasing carbohydrates, otherwise known as low glycaemic (or low GI), such as oats, wholegrains, quinoa and whole foods rather than anything ‘white’.  Foods such as white bread and pasta have been deprived of nutrients, particularly B vitamins which are needed for energy.  ‘White’ foods upset blood sugar balance also leading to low energy.

Ensure your diet is well-rounded giving you a good balance of essential nutrients. Look at the colour variety on your plate at every meal.  Think all the colours of the rainbow!  Obviously this won’t be achieved at every meal, but if you’ve got a colourful meal plate, you’ll certainly be getting the essential nutrients your body needs to create great energy.

Avoid stimulants.  This is key to feeling on top of the world.  Whilst caffeine provides a rapid energy surge, this will be quickly followed by a dip.  Swap to decaffeinated drinks and include ginseng tea to get your body buzzing.  Plus, we all know that tell-tale ‘morning after the night before’ feeling!  Too much alcohol, over an extended period, is just going to drain energy.  Try to have as many alcohol-free days as possible, particularly during the working week.

THE ANTI-STRESS DIET

It’s no secret that stress makes us feel tired. Plus, stress depletes essential nutrients the body needs to produce energy – it can be a vicious cycle.

Adopting a low glycaemic carbohydrate diet is key.  In order to keep the body’s natural stress response on an even keel, these need to be balanced with protein in the same meal or snack.  For example, fish with brown rice; a handful of nuts with an apple; porridge oats with some seeds.

The mineral magnesium is also known as an ‘anti-stress nutrient’.  It’s needed to support the adrenal glands but it’s also used up more quickly during stressful times. Try to eat five servings a day of dark green leafy and root vegetables such as broccoli, watercress, carrots, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spinach, green beans or peppers.  They can be raw or lightly cooked and you can happily use frozen if you’re not always able to buy fresh.

CELERY FOR ENERGY!

It’s all about nitrates!  Nitrates are naturally found in a number of foods and provide many health benefits.  In particular, they help to relax blood vessels and therefore improve blood flow.  This, in turn, creates more oxygen in the bloodstream, which gives you more energy!

If endurance exercise such as running is your thing, then consuming a couple of sticks of celery pre-workout is going to send energy levels soaring. However, if celery is not for you, then beetroot is also high in nitrates and provides equal benefits.  Try drinking a glass of beetroot juice before your morning run and you’ll float through the miles!

ENERGY NUTRIENTS

There are a number of nutrients that are really key in energy production.  For example, vitamin B6 and zinc help insulin to work correctly, which in turn helps to keep blood sugar levels in balance. The mineral chromium is needed to turn glucose into energy.  In fact the whole family of B vitamins (and there are eight in total), are essential for turning fuel or food into energy.

As with most things in life, nothing works in isolation, and it’s true with nutrients; trying to increase one nutrient over another can lead to imbalances.  Thankfully nature has made life much easier for us because the foods we’ve talked about all contain a good balance of these nutrients.  Therefore, if your diet is balanced and colourful, you will be getting what the body needs.

However, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral will help to top up levels and plug any dietary gaps.

COQ10 FOR TOP ENERGY

One nutrient that’s often forgotten is Co-enzyme Q10 (COQ10).  It plays a central role in energy metabolism because it’s present in every cell in the body.

There is no daily recommended amount for CoQ10, hence it can be missed off the list of essential nutrients. However, it is great for increasing flagging energy levels.  CoQ10 is found in sardines, mackerel, pork, spinach and walnuts, but not in large amounts.  Therefore, supplementing with around 30 mg of CoQ10 daily is really going to help.

So with some small adjustments to your diet you can keep your energy levels in tip top shape. If you’re well fuelled, your body will do the rest!

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The goodness of Garlic: health and nutritional benefits of this tasty bulb

Garlic (Allium sativum) has long been regarded as something of a miracle food. It has been used for dozens of complaints ranging from asthma to arthritis and it’s also a versatile ingredient in a wide range of dishes.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the low-down on garlic.

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Garlic’s reputation for providing healing properties, as an antiviral and anti-bacterial agent, are backed up by scientific evidence.  The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains, including those that are responsible for the pungent odour released when crushed.

The jury is still out as to whether garlic has the same benefits when eaten cooked versus in its raw form, as some of the compounds are lost in cooking.  If eaten raw then half to one clove daily is a good recommended daily amount.

VITAMIN AND MINERALS

Aside from its wonderful health benefits, garlic is also a great source of vitamin B6 which helps energy levels, manganese for the joints, and vitamin C and selenium which are both very powerful antioxidants.  These nutrients may also be some of the reasons for garlic’s vast array of health benefits.

The only downside to eating lots of garlic is that it makes the breath smell, hence there are many supplements produced using deodorised garlic.  A great tip to reduce the lingering smell is to chew parsley – a natural breath freshener!

A NATURAL ANTIBIOTIC

Garlic is thought to be a natural and broad-spectrum antibiotic; it may help to prevent or treat some bacterial or fungal infections.  Specifically it can be used very effectively to kill some intestinal parasites and fungal yeast infections.

Taking a garlic supplement, or increasing garlic in the diet before travelling abroad, may well help prevent traveller’s diarrhoea or picking up some kind of intestinal infection.

GREAT FOR THE HEART

Garlic has been used really effectively over many years as a natural anti-coagulant; this means it helps to lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure.

It seems to suppress cholesterol production in the liver and also helps to raise levels of the beneficial HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol.

IMMUNE BOOSTER

Garlic certainly has some wonderful immune-boosting properties mainly down to its anti-viral and antibacterial properties.  If it becomes a regular part of your diet, added to cooking, and alongside other immune-boosting herbs such as ginger, it can certainly help with treating colds and flu or better still, preventing them occurring in the first place.

A NATURAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

Garlic appears to exert strong anti-inflammatory properties, hence the reason it’s been widely used for joint problems, including arthritis.

It seems that the four main sulphur compounds within garlic deliver the powerful results, even helping to alleviate the pain associated with various joint issues.

LOVE GARLIC?

There are so many ways you can incorporate garlic into your everyday cooking! There are very few savoury dishes or foods that can’t be improved by the addition of garlic; soups, stews, mashed potatoes, bread, mushrooms, salmon with ginger, as a delicious cream with steak or in tomato-based sauces over pasta.

Here are three of my favourites:

Homemade Aioli

Why not eat the Spanish way!  Homemade aioli is so easy to make.  All you need is two egg yolks, three garlic cloves, some Dijon mustard and olive oil.  Mix the first three ingredients and then add some olive oil to thicken the mixture and a little lemon juice to taste.

It makes a wonderful dip for crackers, breads or crudités.  Alternatively, a popular European way with garlic is to crush it and spread it on bread with olive oil.  This works particularly well with bruschetta.

Stir-fry anything!

Stir-fries are so easy and quick and you can literally make them up as you go along!  However, a couple of cloves of garlic work especially well with prawns, peppers, soy sauce and any other chopped veggies of your choice.

Garlic chicken

A one-pot chicken dish is super-easy, quick and totally delicious.  Garlic cloves can either be stuffed into the carcass before cooking or crushed onto potatoes before roasting.

Garlic also works well crushed onto lamb, with some fresh rosemary, before cooking.

There are so many reasons to include garlic in your cooking, so enjoy experimenting!

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The health benefits of marvellous melons!

Melons are deliciously refreshing fruits to enjoy in the summer, either on their own or as part of a colourful fruit salad. Packed with nutrients, and full of colour and flavour, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer whets the appetite for three tasty varieties – watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew.

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THE BASICS

Melons come from the same family as squash – part of the gourd family – and were first cultivated around 4,000 years ago, originally in south-east Asia.  They tend to fall into two categories: Citrillus lanatus or watermelons and Cucumus melo which includes honeydew and cantaloupe.

Unlike bananas, melons don’t get any sweeter after they’ve been picked.  To judge if they’re ripe enough to eat, you should tap watermelons and listen for a dull sound, whereas honeydews should be just slightly soft when pressing the skin.  Cantaloupes should give off a strong, fruity aroma.

Melons, as with a number of other fruits and vegetables, are especially good for alkalising the body.  The body is naturally more alkaline than acidic (around Ph 7) therefore, it’s much healthier to maintain its natural state.  Stress and a very high protein diet can cause more acidity and also problems with acid reflux, therefore melons can help to restore natural balance.

Melons are actually digested quite quickly and certainly quicker than a number of other fruits.  For this reason, they’re generally better eaten alone if you suffer from sluggish digestion.  However, they do of course, taste delicious when mixed with other fruits and generally don’t cause any digestive problems for most people.

Summer is certainly the best time of year for eating all varieties of melons; off-season they can be hard and slightly tasteless, so enjoy right now!

WATERMELON

Although containing slightly less nutrients than its counterparts, watermelon is fantastic at rehydrating the body, particularly during the summer months.  In fact, just a two-cup serving of watermelon provides enough daily potassium to keep the body properly hydrated at a cellular level.  This will help to avoid muscle cramps, maintain energy levels but also help to stimulate the kidneys to work more efficiently.  The effect will also ensure your ‘waterworks’ function nicely!

One lesser-known fact about watermelon is that it has been called ‘nature’s natural Viagra’, and for very good reason!  Watermelon is high in citrulline, which is converted in the body to the amino acid, arginine, which helps to dilate blood vessels.  This in turn, can support erectile function.

Watermelons also contain more lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) than tomatoes.  Because lycopene is fat-soluble, it’s always best eaten with healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and live yoghurt or with a cheese such as feta.

CANTALOUPE MELON

Cantaloupe holds its wonderful health benefits within its beautiful orange-coloured flesh. It’s the orange colour that provides one of its most important nutrients – beta carotene. Cantaloupe also contains a range of carotenoids which are all powerful antioxidants.  They have been linked to the prevention of free radical damage to cells which leads to some of our most common degenerative diseases.

Cantaloupes are actually the most nutritious of all melon varieties with a 100 g portion providing around half of our recommended intake of vitamin C.  Additionally, they’re a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids which are particularly beneficial for the eyesight.  Cantaloupes are also a good source of potassium and other electrolytes, making them a great post-exercise snack after you’ve worked out!

HONEYDEW MELON

This is the melon most often paired with Parma ham; the salty taste of the ham and the sweetness of the melon make a perfect partnership! Honeydews are the sweetest of all melons when ripe, plus, the alkalinity of the melon helps to balance the acidity of the ham.  They’re also popular in salads and other desserts.

Honeydews are a perfect fresh summer treat and work particularly well in smoothies or as an accompaniment to walnuts and chicken in a salad. Nutritionally, they don’t provide quite as much vitamin C as cantaloupes, but still provide pretty good amounts.

Honeydews also provide a good balance of both soluble and insoluble fibre (and the body needs both).  Soluble fibre helps regulate digestion and insoluble fibre is the roughage the body needs to keep the bowels moving regularly.

So whichever variety you choose, make sure your summer meal plans include some marvellous melons!

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Smooth summer digestion: top tips for a healthy tummy

The combination of longer summer days and holiday plans means barbecues, outdoor eating and socialising with family and friends. But occasional over-indulgence, travelling to different countries and the potential for poorly cooked barbecue food can cause digestive upsets

 Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides some top tips to keep your digestion running smoothly all summer long.

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GOOD FLORAL BALANCE

The gastrointestinal tract is home to vast numbers of bacteria, commonly referred to as friendly flora; there are over 500 different types weighing anything up to two kilos in the gut.  Some are good and some not-so-good but there needs to be more good than bad.

The gut flora fulfill many functions but primarily protect the gut from menacing invaders, particularly those that cause food poisoning.  It is therefore a really good idea to take a course of probiotic supplements for a month or two each year, or for longer if you have recently taken antibiotics.

Additionally try adding foods to your diet that help replenish the good bacteria. Asparagus, (great on the barbecue), Jerusalem artichokes, onions, bananas, green tea and fermented foods such as tofu and miso are great, as well as sheep’s or goat’s milk yoghurts.

COMBAT OVER-INDULGENCE

Summer parties and barbecues are ideal opportunities to over-indulge!  However, with a little forward planning, you can wake up feeling as fresh as a daisy the next day. Your liver is the main organ of detoxification and has to work hard if too much fatty food or alcohol is consumed.

However, the herb Milk Thistle is particularly protective of the liver and helps to combat that ‘morning after the night before’ feeling.  Take one or two before you go out either at lunchtime or in the evening.

BEAT THE BLOAT

Many of us will suffer with uncomfortable bloating at times, which is often accompanied by flatulence.  There can be many reasons for bloating; too much sugary or fatty food, poor gut flora, food intolerance or low stomach acid and digestive enzyme production, to name just a few.

Globe artichoke, which can be taken in supplement form, is very effective at relieving painful bloating.  Additionally, sipping ginger tea also helps to expel trapped wind which can often be the cause of discomfort.  Equally, it’s worth writing a food diary to see if there’s a pattern forming after you have eaten certain foods.

SAY ‘NO’ TO DELHI BELLY

You don’t need to go all the way to India to get sickness and diarrhoea on holiday.  There are many countries in the world where poor water and hygiene are commonplace.  Avoid drinking tap water, and only add ice to your drinks if it’s made from bottled water. In some countries it is advisable to also clean your teeth with bottled water. You may also want to avoid eating salad that has been washed in tap water.

However, the body is more susceptible to infection if the gut flora is not up-to scratch – another good reason to take a course of probiotics, particularly in the two weeks leading up to foreign travel.  Whilst not completely infallible it will certainly provide greater protection and hopefully you’ll enjoy a relaxing, illness-free holiday.

So, embrace the barbeques and foreign food and with these top tips hopefully you can enjoy the summer without any unpleasant side effects!

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In-season: the wonders of asparagus

English asparagus has just come into season and is delicious.  Rich in many nutrients, it is a very versatile vegetable whether boiled, steamed, roasted, cooked on the barbeque or grilled.  Plus, there’s no shortage of foods it can be combined with.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the reasons why asparagus should be on your weekly shopping list!

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Asparagus is a spring vegetable with the most edible part being the tips.  It is often more expensive than some other vegetables, even when in season, because of the work taken to harvest it and the fact that its natural season is very short.

 

As with many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, asparagus was used in traditional folk medicine to treat a number of symptoms, especially inflammatory conditions.  Whilst it’s no longer part of your GP’s medicine chest, asparagus remains a very good source of fibre to keep the bowels healthy and is also a natural diuretic which could help with water retention: it also helps liver detoxification so might be well-chosen for a hangover cure.  Even better, it feeds the good bacteria in the digestive tract, helping to stop bloating, boost immunity and promote healthy skin.

There’s just one little downside; after eating, our urine does acquire a rather strange smell and this comes from the amino acid, arginine.  However, it’s not a prolonged side effect and it also means that asparagus contains some protein, which is another plus!

NUTRIENT PROFILE

Asparagus is rich in folate – the food-form of folic acid – which is great for energy and producing healthy red blood cells; a 100 g portion of asparagus provides around three-quarters of the body’s requirement for folate each day.  It’s high in vitamins C and E which help to boost the immune system, together with beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in the body – also great for immunity.

Asparagus is also high in vitamin K which is needed for effective blood clotting, strong bones and a healthy heart. As if that weren’t enough, asparagus also contains the minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, iodine and zinc.  Minerals in general are often deficient in the daily diet, purely because they are not present in highly refined foods which tend to make up a large percentage of the typical Western diet. So in this respect asparagus really is a mineral star!

ASPARAGUS MEAL IDEAS

Asparagus is delicious lightly steamed and served with some hollandaise sauce.  This can either be made from scratch using egg yolks, lemon juice, mayonnaise and a little cream or the shop-bought versions are generally really good.  Even better, it’s on many restaurant menus, so enjoy it as a starter.

Another really easy way with asparagus is lightly roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt, pepper and garlic. Or why not try roasted and tossed with some parmesan cheese, or sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Asparagus works particularly well with eggs.  It’s great steamed and topped with a lightly boiled egg as a starter or as part of a salad with egg, avocado, peppers and spinach leaves.

For the more adventurous, it’s delicious in one-pot dishes such as chicken thighs roasted with garlic and rosemary, in a soup with peas, or in a stir fry with anything you fancy!

So catch asparagus while it’s in season right now; the taste and texture won’t be better!

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Spice Advice: the health benefits of 5 common spices

Spices not only provide flavour and colour to a range of dishes, they also deliver a whole host of health benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, picks her top five favourite spices and tells why they’re so great for our health.

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CINNAMON

It has been said that many years ago cinnamon was actually more valuable than gold!  Slightly hard to believe, but what we do know is that cinnamon has a really positive effect on blood sugar balance; this needs to be kept under control to help prevent type 2 diabetes and to keep weight in check.

Cinnamon can help manage blood insulin markers; both insulin and glucose need to be kept well balanced, ideally through the right dietary choices, but these, together with blood cholesterol levels can be better managed when you’ve got some cinnamon in your diet.

Sprinkle some onto your porridge or breakfast cereal, add it to plain yoghurt or you can even sprinkle some over your cappuccino!  It also adds a real zing to many baking recipes such as flapjacks, muffins or apple strudel.

TURMERIC

Turmeric has reached somewhat iconic status in recent times.  Over the years it has been used for many things including liver disease, digestive problems, coughs, colds and wound care.  Turmeric is the spice that makes curries yellow; Asian populations have long known of its wonderful health benefits, as well as its delicious taste.

The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin and in recent times, research has mainly centred on its amazing anti-inflammatory benefits.[1] This is key in moderating any joint issues and also in preventing some of our most common and serious degenerative diseases.

Turmeric is actually quite difficult to absorb into the bloodstream.  Therefore, it needs to be used in dishes that contain some kind of fat such as meat, chicken, fish or eggs to benefit from it the most.  Alternatively, turmeric has been found to be better absorbed when eaten with black pepper, so any curried dish using both ingredients is certainly going to be beneficial to your health.

GINGER

Ginger is another very versatile spice that delivers so many health benefits, whilst adding a wonderful flavour to a wealth of dishes.

It is probably best known for its benefits to the digestive system; it appears to help with indigestion and also flatulence.  It also feeds the friendly bacteria naturally present in the digestive tract, so over a period of time its benefits become even greater.

Ginger can be very helpful with counteracting the nausea associated with travel sickness or morning sickness.  It is also great for the circulation, and it’s been traditionally used to cure colds. Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory; any niggling aches and pains can often be soothed by regularly eating ginger.

As well as adding a wonderful ‘zing’ to stir fries, curries and Thai dishes, it’s easy just to grate a teaspoon of ginger with some lemon juice, a teaspoon of Manuka honey and drink with some warm water every morning.  Many people quickly notice the benefits to their overall health from doing this regularly.

CAYENNE PEPPER

Cayenne pepper, also known as capsicum, comes from the capsicum plant which belongs to the nightshade family.  Its active part is called capsaicin, which gives the fruit its spicy heat and redness.  When it’s applied to the skin, capsaicin stimulates blood flow and promotes natural warmth to joints and muscles.

When cayenne is added to dishes (it’s great in curries and stews), it can help to balance blood fats (particularly cholesterol levels) whilst also regulating blood pressure.

Even better, cayenne promotes the release of endorphins – the body’s ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals.  So add it as much as possible to your cooking particularly where you want an extra kick – it can also give you a mood boost too!

CLOVES

Cloves have a very distinctive fragrant taste and smell and have long been used to improve the flavours of preserved foods.  They are an acquired taste and are not for everyone, but your body will certainly love them for their health benefits.

Cloves are known to promote healthy digestion, bowel movements and reduce flatulence.  In fact, if your digestion is needing a little helping hand, try making a tea with dried cloves and drink regularly.  Cloves are actually really gentle on the digestive tract, plus they can help break down fats in foods, which can cause digestive upsets in some people.

Interestingly, cloves were historically used for toothache and gum health so it might be worth gargling with some clove water if you’re struggling with any pain in the mouth.

So add some spice to your life, and your food, for an extra health boost!

[1] Srivastava S et al.  Curcuma longa extract reduces inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers in osteoarthritis of knee:  a four-month, double blind randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Inflammapharmacology 2016 Dec; 24 (6) 377-388

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Boost your immune system: easy, everyday swaps to help fight the bugs

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Keeping your immune system in tip-top condition is important all year round but especially in the traditional cold and flu season.  But there are some easy ways to help ward off any bugs flying around by making some simple swaps to your diet and upping your nutrition.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer suggests some easy tweaks to your diet that will rev up your immune system and stop those bugs in their tracks!

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SWAP ORANGE JUICE FOR A GINGER ‘ZING’!

Many of us drink orange juice in the morning in the belief that this will help support our immune system.  The reality is that much of the vitamin C content is lost in processing and the fibre content is also reduced. It can also give your blood sugar levels an unwanted surge. A better option is to make a delicious ginger drink which you can keep in the fridge and which will boost your immune system every morning.

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Ginger is an antioxidant which helps to protect the immune system, plus it directly helps eradicate those nasty cold viruses.  It’s also a natural antimicrobial which means it helps fight any invaders.  This drink is easy to make; grate some ginger into a jug with the zest and juice of two lemons (you can use bottled lemon juice), together with some Manuka honey and water.  Manuka honey is different from other honey – it has an amazing nutritional profile, plus it’s also a great immune booster in its own right! This is a delicious drink that will really wake up your immune system and taste buds every morning.

SWAP SUGAR FOR XYLITOL

Do you tend to add sugar to tea, coffee and cereals? Enjoy baking biscuits and cakes?  If you’ve got a sweet tooth then trying to combat cravings can be tricky.  As well has having a detrimental effect on your waistline, sugar also impacts negatively on your immune system.  So why not swap to xylitol which is a natural sweetener and is readily available in the supermarkets?

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You use it just as you would sugar, but the great news is it has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels so it’s not going to encourage cravings.

SWAP UNHEALTHY SNACKS FOR COLOURFUL FRUIT AND VEG

The wonderful array of colours provided by fruits and vegetables deliver so many positive effects on the immune system that it makes sense to include as many as possible in your diet. So try swapping different snacks for colourful fruit and veg throughout the day for maximum health benefits.

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It’s not as difficult as you might think. Even if you don’t take all your lunch to work you can still increase your ‘colour’ intake by bringing a raw carrot, some sticks of cucumber and chopped peppers to work; these make a great colourful snack or side with your lunch.  If possible, why not leave some hummus in the fridge at work? Beetroot hummus is packed with antioxidants and tastes delicious, making a great dip for your raw vegetables.

Why not grab a tub of blueberries on your way to work? Blueberries are a superfood that really rev up the immune system, plus they don’t have too much impact on blood sugar levels, and, therefore your waistline.

SWAP WHITE POTATOES FOR SWEET POTATOES

Just like carrots, sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene which turns into vitamin A and helps to soak up those damaging free radicals. This in turn helps bolster the immune system and may even help stop the ageing process. A medium-sized sweet potato contains around 40% of your daily vitamin C requirements plus some iron which is great for the immune system, as well as energy levels.

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Even better you can make some deliciously tasty and healthy breakfast muffins with sweet potatoes.  All you need is a couple of eggs, some xylitol, cooked sweet potatoes, plain flour, cinnamon, baking powder and some chopped pecans (which will also add some protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer). Just combine the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, then blend all together and fill some muffin cups with the mixture. Bake in the oven and in 25 minutes, you’ll have a delicious, on-the-go breakfast!

ADD FRIENDLY BACTERIA-BOOSTING FOODS TO YOUR DIET

Your digestive tract is packed full of bacteria – some good and some bad.  The more good or friendly bacteria you have the better; friendly flora deliver many positive health benefits, but specifically boost the immune system.

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You can feed these good bacteria by drinking green tea and Cat’s claw tea and sprinkling flaxseeds onto your morning cereal. Why not add more Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus to your diet which also boost these good bacteria?  Eating live yoghurt is another great way of helping the good guys in your stomach.

Top tip: if you’ve had to take antibiotics recently, it’s good advice to take a course of probiotics for at least a month to replenish the good bacteria and ensure you’re not at more risk from nasty invaders.

So why not try these easy nutrition tips and give your immune system a helping hand!

 

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Going back to your roots: why root vegetables are so good for you

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Root vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Because they grow underground, they absorb a huge amount of nutrients from the earth around them. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, they are versatile and provide a great accompaniment to many dishes and in some cases can be the main event themselves!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her top five root vegetables and their nutritional benefits.

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BEETROOT

In ancient times, people only ate beetroot leaves, with the purple root being used medicinally to treat toothaches and headaches!  Now of course we know that these delicious roots are packed with beta-carotene (an antioxidant which helps to protect against the ageing process), vitamin C (to support the immune system), iron (which helps reduce tiredness and fatigue), and folic acid (great for energy).

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Beetroot has now built a reputation as a superfood: most recently, it’s been found to boost exercise performance, meaning beetroot juice is a great choice for athletes.

Nutritionally, freshly boiled beetroot is as good as the raw vegetable with very few nutrients lost during cooking.  There are a wealth of sweet and savoury dishes that work well with Beetroot; as a side to mackerel, in combination with goat’s cheese, as a soup, in chocolate brownies, roasted with carrots, in a salad with chorizo and pear… the list is delicious and endless!

CARROTS

Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene; our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A as we need it, and vitamin A is great for the skin and is also needed for healthy vision. Interestingly, if you’re deficient in vitamin A, just one carrot a day can be enough to improve your night vision.

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Nutritionally, carrots are actually better eaten cooked than raw; raw carrots have tough cellular walls which makes it more difficult for the body to extract the beta-carotene.  Carrots – and in fact all vegetables contain beta-carotene – are actually best eaten in a meal containing fats (such as meat or cheese); beta-carotene is a fat soluble nutrient which means it is much better absorbed by the body when eaten with foods containing fats.

PARSNIPS

This sweet, starchy vegetable makes a great alternative to potatoes and can often be overlooked as a source of fibre, which keeps those bowels moving! Parsnips are a good source of vitamins C and E – both great for the immune system as well as supporting a healthy heart and good skin.

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Spicy parsnip soup is a real winner. Roast the parsnips in the oven with some garlic, turmeric, cumin and onions for about half an hour. Then put into a food processor with some vegetable stock and a little lemon juice and blend until smooth – heat and serve as needed. This soup makes a great starter for any dinner party or provides a nutritious lunch to pack for work.

SWEET POTATOES

Sweet potato is yet another vegetable that’s packed with beta-carotene; it’s the rich colours in root vegetables that provide this wonderful health-giving antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also provide good levels of vitamin C (for immunity) and potassium (to support a healthy heart). Although they’re very slightly higher in calories than white potatoes, sweet potatoes are much better at balancing blood sugar levels, which is really important for providing sustained energy and for effective weight management (if that is your goal).

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Sweet potatoes are also incredibly versatile. As a quick and easy lunch you can eat them just like you would with white potatoes – in their jackets with some tuna and sweetcorn and a little mayonnaise. You can roast them as wedges for a delicious side dish, and they can be mashed with a little butter and black pepper. Sweet potatoes are great included in curries, pureed in soups with butternut squash, added to lamb tagines or even baked in chocolate brownies and muffins. Whatever you choose to do with them, their amazing health benefits make them a great alternative to the standard spud.

GARLIC

Garlic is often regarded as a staple ingredient to enhance the flavour or most dishes, but it also delivers so many health benefits! It has natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which means it’s great for supporting the immune system in warding off colds and infections, and it protects the digestive tract from nasty invaders causing stomach upsets.  Taking a course of garlic pills and upping your intake of garlic in meals prior to travelling abroad can really help protect the body from nasty stomach bugs.

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The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains. These compounds actually provide more health benefits when raw rather than cooked, but most people might find eating raw garlic a bit of a challenge!  Regularly including garlic in your cooking is still going to provide great health benefits, including a healthier heart, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.

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Garlic is particularly good roasted with chicken or lamb, with some rosemary.  You can also mix it with chilli, thyme and olive oil to make a marinade for a delicious roast rib of beef or steak. Garlic also works really well with roasted vegetables or stir fried broccoli; it can be sautéed with butter and mushrooms or fried with cabbage, onion and bacon. Delicious!

So why not explore the many ways you can include more roots in your diet and enjoy the health benefits of these colourful and nutritious vegetables!

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

Mindful lunch prep: nutritionally-balanced meals to see you through the week

 

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If you’re working long hours and are always on the run, trying to eat healthily at every meal can be a challenge. During a busy work day it’s important to refuel with a well-balanced meal; what you eat at lunchtime can significantly impact your energy and concentration levels throughout the afternoon. But there are easy and smart meals to eat in the evenings in order to provide you with a range of delicious lunchtime options.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes the stress out of lunchtimes with pre-planned delicious and nutritious meal suggestions for every day of the week. 

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Making work-day lunches doesn’t have to be a struggle. By planning in advance you can create a range of exciting options, packed full of nutrients to see you through the day. Almost any dish in my list below can be made in advance and used later – in fact lots of dishes, such as curry, actually improve with age!

MONDAY

Monday is one of the easiest days for lunch-time planning; it’s all about what you’ve eaten the day before!  If you’ve cooked a lovely Sunday roast, make sure you’ve bought a larger chicken or joint of meat that leaves you a portion or two for the next couple of days.

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Chicken, for example, can be quickly thrown into a lunch box with some salad leaves, cucumber, tomato and some seeds of your choice, together with a wholemeal bap. Why not try a super sandwich – put your roast chicken between two slices of wholemeal bread, with some avocado and rocket.  It really is as simple as that!

TUESDAY

Some days don’t need much pre-prep at all – you can take all your ingredients to work and make your lunch there and then!  For example, take a potato which can be microwaved at work, together with some tinned tuna (low fat protein to keep you going all afternoon) and some sweetcorn (which provides great colour and also helps fills you up) mixed together with some crème fraiche (which also provides an extra hit of protein). A tasty lunch indeed!

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Why not swap your white potato for a sweet potato which are a more nutrient-rich alternative to the traditional spud; they’re high in fibre which supports a healthy digestive system and also contain a great array of nutrients, including vitamin A to boost the immune system.

WEDNESDAY

After an easy Tuesday lunch, Wednesday is all about using leftovers from your evening meal.  For dinner on Tuesday, why not roast some salmon in a foil parcel (to keep it moist) and serve with some wholegrain brown rice, broccoli and peas.  A super-healthy dinner which can then be transformed into a super-healthy lunch the next day!

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You could serve the salmon and rice as a cold salad, perhaps adding some other salad vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers. You can heat the whole lot up at work for a hot lunchtime meal or just bring the salmon and a potato to microwave, again mixing the salmon with some crème fraiche and serving with a side of salad vegetables.

THURSDAY

This lunchtime option has high nutritional content and is one that can easily be prepared from your dinner the night before – stir-fry. The more colourful the stir-fry, the more nutritious the dish; think mange tout, peas, baby corn, pak choi, asparagus, onions, red, green and yellow peppers … let your imagination flow!

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Prawns are a great low-fat, high protein option. Why not use chicken thighs rather than chicken breast to provide more flavour? A stir-fry is a very versatile dish and you can literally add whatever takes your fancy. A left over portion can then be eaten hot or cold the next day.  It’s high in protein providing sustained energy throughout the afternoon and an excellent array of vitamins and minerals.

FRIDAY

Here’s another great lunch that stays fresh in the fridge for two to three days – quinoa and roasted vegetables!  This dish is easy, quick and cost effective and can be enjoyed with your choice of protein to keep it interesting.

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The most time-efficient way to prepare this meal is to make a large batch of roasted vegetables on Thursday evening and eat them with whatever else you’re serving.  It could be a piece of fish, a chicken breast or a steak (go, on treat yourself!)  Whilst this is cooking, boil up a few portions of quinoa with some stock, for additional flavour, and you’ve got a healthy lunch of roasted vegetables and quinoa that you can dip in and out of.

Quinoa is a wonderful protein source, so it will fill you up and keep you going throughout the day, plus the roasted vegetables provide a range of vitamins and minerals. Roasted vegetables also provide lots of fibre to keep your digestive system running smoothly.

SATURDAY – BONUS PLANNING TIME

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Why not create your own version of Saturday kitchen?  Spend a couple of hours on a Saturday making some dishes for the coming week.  Why not make a big batch of soup?  You can literally throw anything into the saucepan with some stock and you’ve got a few lunches ready to go; think potatoes, leaks, spinach, peas, onions, and broccoli – the easiest and most nutritious lunch you’ll ever have!

So, healthy eating at lunchtime doesn’t have to be a chore! Just get into the habit of menu-planning for the week and prepping the night before for an easy, no-nonsense approach to filling your lunchbox.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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

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

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie