Cycle to Work Day: how to boost your energy levels

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

With National ‘Cycle to Work’ day being celebrated today, it’s a great time to focus on upping your energy and fuelling your rides. 

Whether you’re going to actually cycle to work, or just want to feel more energised for your workouts or in your everyday life, there are some great nutrient-rich foods that can help.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top foods for feeling more energised.

Blueberries

Delicious and in-season now, blueberries are going to provide great energy and an excellent start to the day, especially if you’re planning on cycling to work. Blueberries are a low glycaemic fruit, meaning they won’t adversely affect blood sugar balance and you’ll enjoy sustained energy throughout the day.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are often referred to as ‘super foods’ because they are packed with nutrients.  Importantly, their beautiful rich, dark colour signifies plenty of antioxidants, which help protect the body against the ageing process and degenerative diseases.  Why not enjoy some with your breakfast with some natural yoghurt and ground flaxseeds for a perfectly balanced start? Alternatively, they make the perfect accompaniment to oats (my next energy-giving food recommendation).

Oats

Another low glycaemic food, partly down to their rich fibre content, oats are loaded with energising B-vitamins.  However, look for ‘whole’ oats that have not been refined to gain full benefit.  Any refining strips out fibre and nutrients.

A bowl of oats

Oats contain plenty of trace minerals, especially magnesium which is also needed for energy production.  In short, they’re real powerhouses!  Oats are great soaked either in some plant or dairy milk and a little apple juice for flavour to make ‘overnight oats’.  Take them out of the fridge the next morning, pop on some yoghurt and berries. Either eat before your journey to work or when you arrive, and you’ve got the perfect start to your day.

Brown Rice

As with all whole grain foods, brown rice is great for encouraging sustained energy.  It’s rich in fibre and high in nutrients, especially those energising B-vitamins.  Brown rice has a much higher nutrient profile than white, because it hasn’t undergone any refining process. Furthermore, it can really help on a weight loss journey because it balances blood sugar levels and is very low in fat.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

The nutrient content of brown rice is equally as impressive with not only high levels of B-vitamins but a great range of essential trace minerals.  Of note is zinc which is needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body to keep it firing on all cylinders. Serve brown rice as an accompaniment to any protein such as fish or chicken or serve cold the next day with plenty of salad vegetables.

Bananas

Bananas are many people’s ‘go-to’ when it comes to the need for quick energy.  Although high in complex carbs, the riper bananas have a higher sugar content, delivering a fast-release boost, hence they are popular with sportspeople.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas are especially high in vitamin B6, much utilised for energy release but they also contain loads of potassium which is great for the heart.  As they are high in starchy carbs, bananas will keep you going all day and will also help you burn up those hills if some happen to be on your cycle route to work.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes have a much higher nutrient profile than traditional white potatoes.  That’s not to dismiss white potatoes from the diet as they still have a place, but sweet potatoes have the edge when it comes to delivering sustained energy.

shutterstock_429273175-sweet-potato-wedges-dec16

It’s all down to the complex carbs which keep blood sugar in balance and energy buzzing. Furthermore, sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, essential for immune health.

You can eat sweet potatoes in the same way as white potatoes; mashed, chipped, jacketed, take your pick, and enjoy with a topping or foods of your choice.

So, whether you’re cycling to work or just want more energy, add these five foods into your diet and feel your energy soar!

Stay well.

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Outdoor adventures: food to fuel your day trip

shutterstock_171654062 woman hiking Oct15

With the summer season now in full flow, some more favourable weather on the way and our freedoms promised, what better time to fully enjoy the great outdoors?  You will be bagging some great health benefits too from spending time outside in the sunshine and fresh air. 

When heading out for the day, what you pack to keep you feeling energised all day long is important to ensure you are able to make the most of your day trip.

This Love Parks Week Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition tips to help you fully enjoy your day in the fresh air!

Boost your nutrients

If you are out all day and possibly enjoying some hiking or physical activity, then the body is certainly going to need some decent fuel in the middle of the day.  Each mealtime is an opportunity to load up on valuable nutrients the body needs daily, as well as filling up the tank with energy.

Clearly everything needs to be easily transportable therefore wholemeal wraps loaded with protein and vegetables is one of the best options.  It is important to eat protein at every mealtime to balance blood sugar levels and keep energy sustained throughout the day.  Great choices for wraps include chicken, tuna, chickpeas, or grilled halloumi cheese.

shutterstock_461352127 selection of wraps

All choices work really well with some roasted vegetables (prepared the night before) and pesto.  The wrap (ideally wholemeal) will deliver plenty of energising B-vitamins (as will the filling) plus it is a great way of topping up your vegetable intake.

Guacamole,Dip,In,Bowl,Over,White,Stone,Background.,Healthy,Avocado

Another great option is smashed avocado with salad or roasted vegetables.  Avocados are loaded with healthy fats that are needed to absorb our fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E), all of which are required for the immune system.  Avocados also contain some protein, plus vitamin E which is great for the skin. So, be sure to make lunch count so energy levels are not flagging a couple of hours later.

Snacks to keep you walking smart

If you are walking or hiking, then you will need to keep energy levels topped up throughout the day, not just at lunchtime.  Great transportable and energising snacks include cashew nuts (a higher carb nut), raisins (for a quick energy shot) and bananas (the perfect pre-wrapped snack!)

Homemade flapjacks

Why not make some delicious flapjacks the day before full of protein and energising carbs too?  If you make them with agave syrup, porridge oats, raisins, hazelnuts and mixed seeds, you can fully enjoy a perfect, energy-boosting and nutritious snack.

Composition,Of,Green,Olives,,Oil,,Spices,,Gravy,Boats,,On,A

Other great snacks include olives which contain plenty of healthy fats to hold off hunger pangs or some veggie crisps (healthier than the ‘normal’ potato variety!)

Hydrate often

Let us not forget the most important thing to pack – plenty of water to keep you hydrated.  You won’t be walking very far if you are dehydrated.  It is important to keep ahead of thirst; when you feel thirsty the body is already slightly dehydrated so top up regularly. On a ‘normal’ day it’s recommended to drink 1 ½ to 2 litres of water daily.  However, strenuous walking uses up a lot more water in the body, so aim to drink at least 300 ml for every hour you plan on being active.

Woman,Drinking,Water.

Whilst having large quantities of sports drinks is not needed and will only increase daily sugar intake, the body is not pure water.  The body contains electrolytes that need replenishing especially when the weather is hot. So, it’s a good idea to add an electrolyte powder to your water which you can sip throughout the day.  Additionally, having one of your water bottles very slightly diluted with fruit juice will help the body rehydrate quicker.

Sun protection

Sun cream and a sun hat are essential items!  Even when it’s cloudy, the sun’s UV rays penetrate and can cause a nasty case of sunburn if precautions aren’t taken.

Hat,And,Glasses,Lie,On,A,Beach,At,A,Beautiful

It’s worth also noting that if you’re taking a daily multivitamin that contains beta-carotene, this does provide some protection against sun damage but not sufficient to avoid wearing sun cream.  However, it does help protect the skin against free-radical damage caused by the sun and will hold back the ageing process.

So, with the combination of rejuvenating fresh air, beautiful countryside parklands, and nutritious food, you can guarantee a great day out!

Stay well.

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Walk your way to health this winter

Woman walking in a snowy woodland

With our wings being somewhat clipped at the moment, many of us have found real pleasure in walking and getting some much-needed fresh air. 

There are lots of health benefits to walking but some of them you may be surprised to hear.  And walking in the cold weather is especially beneficial.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why and how to get the most enjoyment and benefits from walking.

The benefits of walking in the cold

For those who are brave enough to undertake and appreciate the benefits of swimming in the sea during the winter months, you may already know that the cold water is incredibly beneficial for relieving stress and instilling feelings of calm.  This is because the extremely cold water stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck, responsible for pushing the body’s nervous system into a calming parasympathetic state, rather than revving up the sympathetic nervous system. This can also happen when the neck is exposed to cold generally, hence walking in the snow (without a scarf just for a bit), is a great stressbuster (and very beautiful too).

So, get out there this festive season and enjoy some frosty walks in your local area.

Here are my top tips for an enjoyable winter walk.

Walk after a meal not before

Walking soon after you’ve finished a meal really helps the body better metabolise glucose and insulin, so food is less likely to be stored as fat.  Anyone wanting to lose weight or trying to get blood sugar in balance should walk after the main meal of the day which will really help both situations. Obviously, you’ll have more energy to put into the walk rather than ‘running on empty’.

Dress appropriately

If you’re feeling up to a longer challenge, then why not plan a route that will take a few hours, pack an energising lunch, and enjoy some real time out.  Even though you’re moving and maybe climbing some hills, you can still get really cold when temperatures plummet.  The key to staying comfortable during longer walks is layering.  Always have a close-fitting base layer and then put on as many additional layers as you need and make sure you either wear or pack a waterproof jacket, just in case.  Body temperatures can drop really quickly if clothes and body get drenched so it’s important to respect the weather at this time of year, especially if you are heading for the hills.  Waterproof over-trousers might be another essential item, again depending on the terrain.

Woman in winter gear on a walk

Most body heat is lost from the head so a warm hat is another essential item and can be a real game-changer when body temperature starts to drop.  In terms of keeping the neck warm, then a scarf is important as the vagus nerve doesn’t need to be exposed to the elements for long for the beneficial effects to be felt.

Pack an energising lunch

Obviously, you’re slightly limited in how much you can pack in terms of lunch but clearly you need to re-fuel.  More calories are burnt during the cold weather as the body tries to maintain body temperature.  However, a huge feast is not needed, just a combination of protein and carbohydrate.  Great choices would be egg with a little mayo on wholemeal bread, tinned tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal pittas or haloumi and salad on sourdough bread.

Woman with a hot thermos on a wintery walk

Having a hot drink mid-walk really helps lift spirits and warm the body; it’s easy to get cold really quickly once you stop for lunch.  Pack a flask of your favourite hot drink and maybe a small, sweet treat for when energy levels start to flag at the end of the day. And don’t forget to take some water with you too.

Walking is great for boosting circulation and encouraging blood flow to the brain, burning calories, keeping fit and busting stress.  And winter walking can be even more enjoyable if you’re fully prepared. Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Winter wellness: taking care of you

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The winter weather is rapidly approaching, and with the country now in another lockdown, there has never been a better time to really start looking after yourself.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips for being kind to yourself including improving sleep, enjoying greater energy levels and having glowing skin.

Sleep – the cornerstone of wellness

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Getting sufficient sleep is essential to feeling energised and having healthy glowing skin.  Everything suffers health-wise with a lack of sleep, including how we look and feel. If you’re struggling to sleep (as so many people are right now), the most important thing is to look to your diet in order to make some improvements.

The mineral magnesium is incredibly calming so try to eat foods rich in magnesium for dinner including beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables and nuts, which will all help improve sleep.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The amino acid tryptophan is important because it helps produce melatonin, our key sleep hormone.  Milk (soya, dairy and almond milks) contain tryptophan which is why having a warm milky drink before bedtime can be so effective.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, almonds contain melatonin, (as do cashews and pistachios, in lesser amounts) making them a very effective pre-bedtime snack.  Milk and nuts also contain calcium, another calming mineral.  Just by taking a little care and being kind to yourself, can make a whole lot of difference to how you sleep.

Energy – feed it to your body

A woman jumping with a sunset in the background

Do you feel tired all the time?  Firstly, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have the energy to do things.  It’s hard to feel energised and motivated when we are all in a state of flux. However, there are some particularly energising nutrients that can certainly help.

Enter the family of B-vitamins which all generate energy, primarily from the food we eat.  They are widely found in a range of foods especially whole grains, meat, fruit and vegetables and beans – in fact, in all healthy foods! If your diet is colourful and varied, then you should be getting what the body needs and this will help boost energy levels.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

‘White’ foods such as pastries, cakes, white rice, pasta and bread contain very little in the way of B-vitamins and will upset blood sugar levels, stripping energy rather than topping it up. Being kind to your body is about fuelling it with as much nourishment as you can at each mealtime.

Skin – radiate from within

Close up of woman smiling in a cosy jumper

How your skin looks and feels mainly comes from within.  If what you’re putting in isn’t right, it will show in your skin which may look dull and lifeless.  Being kind to your skin means providing it with specific beauty vitamins such as biotin, rich in eggs, beans, nuts and liver.  Plus, collagen, the body’s main structural protein, naturally declines with age, and a lack of which can leave the skin looking dull and less springy.

A range of protein sources

It’s important for all body systems and especially the skin to eat plenty of protein each day; include some at every meal – think eggs, meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy or fish.  This will also help collagen production.  Additionally, there are plenty of collagen supplements on the market, to further boost levels.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Collagen also needs vitamin C in order to work efficiently, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant protecting skin from free radical damage which is responsible for the ageing process. Your skin will certainly appreciate some kindness.

So, treat yourself to some kindness and it will really improve the way you look and feel, both now and in the future.

Stay well.

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Nutritious and healthy bakes for autumn

Close up of woman preparing pastry for baking

It’s National Baking Week so why not enjoy some new recipes that are enjoyable to make and can also boost your health at the same time?

We often connect baking with sweet treats, but savoury can be just as enjoyable and generally healthier too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top three savoury bakes and tells us how they can help boost your nutrition.

Savoury Muffins

The word ‘muffin’ tends to conjure up thoughts of a rich, chocolatey dough!  Lovely as they are, chocolate muffins are high in sugar and calories.  However, equally delicious and much healthier are savoury muffins.  Think feta cheese, sweet potato and avocado and you’ve got yourself a great breakfast or delicious snack.

Added to the key ingredients are eggs, polenta, ground almonds, milk and seeds for the topping. These muffins contain a good amount of protein so make a great start to the day or afternoon snack to banish the post-lunch slump.

Savory muffins

Sweet potatoes contain loads of immune-boosting beta-carotene, and avocados are packed with vitamin E, also great for immunity.  These muffins are also high in fibre (around 9g) each which goes a long way to meeting the recommended 30 grams of fibre daily.  They are quick and easy to bake and will last for up to three days in a sealed container.

Vegetarian Potato Pie

Essentially this is another version of traditional Shepherd’s Pie but made with beans rather than meat.  You don’t need to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy it and will gain some wonderful health benefits from eating it too.

It’s always good to use mixed beans but also include some fava beans.  Beans are all high in protein and fibre and also contain plenty of energising B-vitamins.  Plus, they’re great for keeping blood sugar levels in balance which will also help sustain your energy levels.

Vegetable potato pie

This recipe uses onion and garlic which are both rich in antioxidants, as well as carrots and potatoes which are high in immune-boosting vitamin C.  You’ll also need some tinned tomatoes.  Interestingly, tomatoes are loaded with lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant and is also great for prostate health.  Unusually lycopene is higher in tinned or cooked tomatoes rather than fresh. Best of all this dish will fill you up so you’ll be less tempted to grab unhealthy snacks after dinner.

Salmon Quiche

This is a great way of getting super-healthy omega-3s into your diet from the salmon.  Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, but as many people don’t like fish, the UK population is deficient in these essential fats.

Salmon quiche

Quiche always has a pastry base and you can use ready-made pastry if you’re short of time. The mixture uses delicious smoked salmon, which also provides a distinctive tase, plus watercress, a great source of iron.  Women are often deficient in iron so it’s an easy way of topping up. You can also add some steamed spinach or broccoli for an additional vitamin and mineral boost.

Bake the pastry base as per instructions while you steam the spinach or broccoli for 5 minutes. Beat up the mixture of salmon, eggs, milk and dill, then add the broccoli or spinach and layer on top of the pastry. This can then be baked in the oven for around 35 minutes. It’s great for feeding a hungry family and can be simply served with a colourful salad.

So, embrace National Baking Week and serve up some deliciously healthy dishes for autumn.

Stay well.

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Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

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Five ways to boost your wellbeing for the rest of 2020

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Clearly, this year has not turned out as any of us could ever have believed as we started the new year in 2020.  For many of us, hopes, dreams and plans have had to be changed or put on hold due to the lockdown. 

However, there’s still half a year to go, and whilst we are going to be adjusting to a ‘new normal’ it’s actually the perfect time to set some goals (if you haven’t already!)

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways to maximise your wellbeing during the second half of your year.

Diet

This is generally at the top of our priority list when talking about making wellbeing changes.  There are very few people who think they have the perfect diet delivering optimal health.  Indeed, most of us realise our diet could be better but don’t necessarily know how to change things. It may be that you feel you are too busy or find it challenging to improve things.

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

If, like many people, you’ve put on some extra kilos during lockdown, then why not resolve to make some improvements to your diet right now?  If you’ve been drinking too much alcohol, then restrict it to just one or two nights a week.  If you’re addicted to sugar, then make sure you’re eating protein at every meal which will help stop sugar cravings.  Taking some additional chromium, a key mineral for balancing blood sugar levels, can really put a stop to sugar cravings and help you to feel more balanced generally. And as always aim for as much colour on your plate as possible: fruits and vegetables provide a wealth of health-boosting vitamins and minerals – try to eat at least 5 portions a day.

Exercise

With restrictions on outdoor exercise now eased, and some of us having more time on their hands, why not set yourself some exercise targets for the next six months.  Sometimes it helps to have a specific event to train for, maybe a 5 or 10k run, or a charity bike ride or hike, whatever floats your boat.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

If you’ve lost your mojo for exercise during lockdown and you’re starting from a low base, then that’s no problem; just congratulate yourself for making the decision and do what needs to be done.  Walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss.  Start with a half hour walk daily and work up your pace and distance.  Remember any exercise is better than none and nothing beats getting your heart rate up in the open air.

Health

The body is an amazing piece of machinery that mostly just keeps working and working whatever we throw at it.  However, if we don’t treat it as well as we should, it can lose tolerance, meaning it stops working quite as well.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Over the next 6 months resolve to address any health issues you’re concerned about. Things like low energy are so often related to diet and lack of certain nutrients, especially the B-vitamins found in whole grains, meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetables. Remember that the body is very clever at telling you what’s wrong so it’s always worth listening and then taking appropriate action.

Work

Work for many of us is turbulent right now or very different to ‘normal’.  Maybe you’re working from home more, or you’re having to work harder than ever. Perhaps your having some down time.  Whatever is going on for you, it’s a great time to assess what you want from your work.  Is it serving you well?  What can be improved?

Woman working from home in front of a laptop

During tricky times, many people make life-changing decisions, and take a completely different road.  Fear of the unknown often stops us making changes, hence we get stuck with situations that are not quite right.  There are some big shifts going on in our lives right now, some we can’t control, but many we can.  If you’ve been feeling less than happy with you work life, then resolve to use this time to address issues.  And if you need to talk to someone outside of your friends and family network, a life coach can often help unravel what it is you’re looking for.

Long term plans

Some of us feel the need to have a longer-term plan and look out over the next 5-10 years.  This is no bad thing as it allows the mind to focus on goals and objectives. Writing plans down also helps; seeing everything on paper really puts thoughts into perspective.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

Many of our plans will have been put on hold right now.  One thing is for certain: nothing stays the same forever and normality will return at some point.  Any work you put in now to yourself, and into your life plans, will stand you in good stead even if it feels like not much can change in the short term.

There’s still a whole half year left of 2020 – make it work for you!

Stay well.

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Plan your picnic with a vegetarian twist!

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

It’s National Picnic Week and now it’s becoming a little easier to get outdoors, why not embrace the opportunity to get out there and eat al fresco.

Whether you’re vegetarian or not, making your picnic a plant-based delight can really give your health a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five tasty picnic dishes to pack and go!

Veggie wraps

These are such a go-to ‘on-the-run’ food, but wraps are also great for picnics because they are so transportable.  If you buy wholemeal wraps, you’ll also benefit from eating more energising B-vitamins than you’d find in white wraps.

Falafel wraps

The great news is that there’s no shortage of fillings.  Why not roast up a tray of veggies; these can be prepared the night before and also eaten for dinner.  Roasting favourites are courgettes, red onion, peppers and thinly cut sweet potatoes. These veggies deliver plenty of immune-boosting beta-carotene, vitamin C and energising folate. Spread plenty of humous on the wraps (chickpeas, which are the main ingredient in humous, are a great source of veggie protein) and add some chopped falafel, together with the cold roasted vegetables and you’ve got a really filling and sustaining start to your picnic menu.

Quinoa surprise

I’ve called this a surprise because you can add what you like!  Quinoa is a staple vegetarian and vegan source of protein and also provides carbohydrates.  Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids in varying amounts and is great for anyone who can’t eat any grain derived from gluten.  Furthermore, it tastes great and is incredibly versatile!

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

One of my favourite quinoa dishes is with grilled halloumi, chopped spring onions, tomatoes, cucumber and mint with a little olive oil, garlic and lemon dressing.  Any colourful salad vegetables will provide plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C and other antioxidants.  Another suggestion is to add goat’s cheese, beetroot and pesto.  Beetroot is one of the best vegetables on the planet for cleansing the liver and also providing plant-based iron, which can be lacking in vegetarians.

Frittata

No picnic is complete without frittata.  It’s another dish that can be easily made the night before and stored in the fridge. Frittata is a really filling picnic dish and eggs, its main ingredient, are another great source of protein.

Spinach and mushroom frittata

All you need are some eggs, cooked potatoes, onions, red peppers and peas.  You can actually add whatever happens to be in the fridge – try spinach and mushrooms – and it’s a great way of including additional fibre and, most importantly, colour into your picnic.

Pasta slaw

If you’re looking for an easier option than normal ‘slaw’ which does require quite a lot of chopping, using pasta as the base is a whole lot easier and will keep everyone filled up for longer.  Just use wholemeal pasta which helps balance energy levels and, hopefully, avoids the afternoon slump.  You don’t want to be missing out on the picnic fun!

Bowl of pasta salad

Penne pasta is great for this dish so prepare some and cook until its al dente.  When cold, add some chopped celery, apples (they don’t need to be peeled), spring onions, a few walnut halves and raisins.  If you’re trying to reduce fat load then making the dressing with natural yoghurt, white wine vinegar and mustard is a great protein-rich alternative to mayo.

Chickpea Salad

We know that chickpeas are a wonder food.  As well as being the main ingredient in houmous, they’re a great source of protein for vegetarians or carnivores alike.  Plus, they’re packed with phytoestrogens, so anyone struggling to balance hormones should include chickpeas regularly in the diet.

Chickpea salad with feta

For this picnic delight simply use a can of chickpeas, a can of kidney beans, chopped avocado, cucumber, red peppers, and feta cheese, flavoured with your favourite salad dressing and chopped coriander.  This dish is loaded with protein, fibre, energising B-vitamins, healthy monounsaturated fats, and skin-loving and immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin E.

All these dishes are super-easy to make in advance, so you just need to pack up your basket and go!

Stay well.

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Keep on walking during lockdown: why walking is so important for your health

Woman walking her dog

May is National Walking Month which actually falls at a really appropriate time.  Whilst many of us are on lockdown, and currently restricted on where and how far we can walk, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy their wonderful health benefits.

Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why walking is so important for both your physical and mental health.

Heart Health

Walking is great for the heart both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Clearly time outside is limited at the moment, so make the most of every step.  Why not challenge yourself each week and try to get a little further every time?  This means you’ll be walking faster, which in turn raises the heart rate.

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked like any other.  Therefore, aim to walk at pace in order to raise your heart rate and fully benefit.  This will help circulation, improve lung capacity, tone the legs and support weight management.  You can burn up to 300 calories in half an hour if you up the pace.

Wmoan outside looking joyful

Just being outside in the fresh air is also great for the soul.  If you’re feeling cooped up indoors, just getting out for an hour can be amazingly restorative.  The adage about ‘clearing your head’ really can happen when you’re out for a walk.  Plus, it’s still possible, depending on where you live, to meet up and walk at a social distance from a friend or relative, if you’re feeling isolated.

Joint Health

Now the gyms are closed, there are many more people out jogging right now, which is a great form of exercise.  However, it can be tough on the joints, especially the knees.  One of the many wonderful things about walking is that you can get fit without joint trauma; it’s much more comfortable for the body generally, and it may even ease joint plain.  Plus, if you tackle some hills, you’ll be getting a great workout for your butt!

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Our legs need to be worked for them to retain and build muscle. Therefore, if this is the only form of exercise you’re able to do right now, try to make it count and do a meaningful march every time you head out for a walk.

Blood sugar levels

Blood sugar needs to be in balance so that you’re also balanced emotionally and physically.  When levels fall, that’s when you get the tell-tale loss of concentration and irritability.  Importantly, it’s key to weight control because excess sugar in the blood stream is stored as fat.

Walking after a meal has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in good balance (even 15 minutes around the block is effective) and any excess calories you’ve eaten will be less likely to be stored as fat.

Immunity

Exercise in general boosts immunity by uprating the production of white blood cells, which are key to immune function.  For athletes and serious exercisers, too much exercise can actually deplete immunity, so more protection of the immune system is needed through nutrition and supplementation. However, for recreational exercisers, it’s an amazing way to put yourself in the best position to fight off any colds and other viruses, so get out there!

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

If it’s a sunny day you will also be getting some of the immune-boosting vitamin D. Vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight – another great reason to spend more time outdoors.

Energy and positivity

Because walking increases blood flow and, therefore, oxygen around the body, you’ll naturally feel more energised after a walk.  And this oxygen will also reach your brain, allowing your head to feel clearer, and often more creative.

Close up of woman with arms outstretched, smiling in a forest

Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you.  It’s amazing how much more positive you can feel even after just a short walk.  Use the time for just being ‘you’ if you can. Be mindful and enjoy your surroundings – if you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view or open space on your doorstep, then that’s an added bonus.

So, embrace National Walking Month and you’ll definitely be rewarded with some wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

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Delicious and nutritious pancake ideas

Close up of a pancake being tossed in a pan

Happy Pancake Day! For the smaller members of the family (as well as the slighter bigger ones too), it’s a fun day, especially if someone is brave enough to attempt the tossing.

Pancakes are not only delicious but are also nutritionally balanced and can provide you with a healthy treat this Shrove Tuesday.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite pancake ideas and why they’re so good for you.

Wholemeal pancakes with blueberries

A traditional pancake recipe uses white, refined flour.  However, whist this may be the norm, if you’re having a pancake breakfast, or you want something more sustaining for tea, then try using wholemeal flour.

Wholemeal pancake stack with blueberries

All foods with ‘whole’ grains release energy much slower into the bloodstream, so it will keep you going for much longer.  Plus, wholemeal flour still retains many of its original nutrients, specifically B-vitamins which are also great for energy.

Use 100 grams of wholemeal flour, 2 eggs and 300 ml of semi-skimmed milk, cook them in the normal way and top up with delicious blueberries and some natural yoghurt.  This makes the perfect pancake day breakfast!

Buckwheat pancakes with raspberries

Not just for those with gluten intolerances, buckwheat pancakes are amazingly popular in the US. Buckwheat flour tends to produce lovely, light and fluffy pancakes with a slightly nutty taste. Buckwheat is classed as an ancient grain, delivering lots of B-vitamins plus some trace minerals, and it’s not going to give you any digestive upsets.

Close up of buckwheat pancakes with raspberries

Use buckwheat flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, eggs and milk.  Top them up with some raspberries and a little Greek yoghurt.  If you need some added sweetness, then treat yourself to a drizzle of Agave syrup.

Vegan pancakes

If you’re vegan, you certainly don’t need to be missing out on the fun, or most importantly, the nutrition hit. Vegan pancakes can easily be made without eggs and using plant-based milks.  Choose from soya, oat, almond or hazelnut; they all have plenty of nutritional benefits.

vegan pancakes topped with bananas and walnuts

Use flour (preferably wholemeal), 1 tsp of baking powder, 1 tbsp of vanilla extract or cinnamon and your chosen milk.  Chop some banana for the topping, add some walnuts and some Agave syrup if you choose, and you’ve got a great and filling breakfast or delicious desert.

Egg breakfast pancakes

There’s nothing to say that pancake fillings need to be sweet!  They can provide a wonderfully sustaining and nutritious savoury breakfast.  Plus, having quality protein from eggs, is going to keep you full throughout the morning without any energy dips.

Packcake breakfast with eggs, ham and avocado

For four people, mix up a traditional pancake mix. After beating the mixture, fry them in a pan in the normal way, and then keep warm in the oven. Poach one egg each, chop up some ham, add some avocado, and this breakfast is going to really power-up your morning!

Royal pancakes

For a real treat, why not serve up pancakes with smoked salmon?  Not only is smoked salmon delicious, it’s a great source of omega-3 fats – essential for healthy skin, hormones, joints, brain and eyes.

Smoked salmon and chives wrapped in pancakes

Use a traditional pancake mix (preferably with wholemeal flour) and cook in a non-stick pan.  Roll up the fresh smoked salmon, put some sliced lemon on the plate, chop up some fresh chives and then place the folded pancakes also on the plates.  You can garnish with spinach leaves (a great source of energising iron) to create a breakfast that packs a nutrient punch.

So, try one of these pancake recipes and your Shrove Tuesday can be the most nutritious yet!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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