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.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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!

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It’s all about balance: how to have your best year yet

Ven diagram with work, life, and health crossing and leading to the word balance

It’s all about balance – an often-used expression but it’s so appropriate when we’re talking about diet and lifestyle.  The body likes to be in a state of equilibrium, which is why it has so many in-built systems to keep it this way. 

However, we don’t always look after our bodies as well as we should, and we can upset the balance quite easily.

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, talks about how to better balance both your diet and lifestyle and have your best year yet!

Feast don’t fad

Well, maybe not a total blowout!  But the point here is to avoid fad diets, especially ones that advocate strict calorie restriction.  We know the body likes to be balanced and if it thinks it’s going to starve it will slow metabolism down to preserve energy stores.

It is true that you will lose weight initially but it’s not sustainable to live feeling permanently hungry. Research suggests weight goes back on once ‘normal’ eating is resumed, and sometimes even more!

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

If you’re still struggling to shift those excess pounds from Christmas, then key advice is to be mindful of portion sizes.  Stick to three balanced meals a day and avoid snacking, if possible, in-between.  This ensures the body can enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion, take in nutrients and avoid insulin spikes which ultimately lead to fat being deposited.

A range of high protein foods

Keep protein levels high at every meal, whether this is from fish, meat, poultry, eggs, soya, dairy, beans or nuts.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s protein that keeps you feeling fuller for longer, not carbs.  Protein keeps blood sugar levels balanced so energy will also be sustained.

A balanced meal of chicken, rice and vegetables

Think about the quantities on your plate too; if it’s piled high, it’s too much.  The protein source should be about the size of your outstretched palm (think about a chicken breast) and carbohydrate no bigger than a fist. And then fill the rest of your plate with nutrient-rich vegetables. Keep the rules simple: try to cook ‘from scratch’ (using frozen fruit and veg is fine) and banish nutrient-poor cakes, biscuits and pastries as much as possible.

Balance your mind

If you’re rushing around in a constant state of stress then it’s going to take its toll sooner or later.  The body has amazing powers of adaptation so many people continue living their life this way for years.  However, at some point the body loses tolerance and you can fall into what’s called adrenal exhaustion. This is when the adrenal glands secreting our stress hormones, such as cortisol, can’t take any more.

Close up on woman meditating in shadow with sunset background

Clearly, it’s difficult to avoid all stress in your life – we all work and play hard.  However, be strict with yourself.  Even taking 20-minutes out of every day with a calming app can make a huge difference.  You’ll feel refreshed afterwards and you’ll sleep better at night.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

It’s also good to put some mental boundaries in place too.  Instead of going to bed with all your worries on top of you, write them down before bedtime and visualise a block.  Tell yourself that it is tomorrow’s issue, not for worrying about right now.  If you need help with better balancing your mind then, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or neuro linguistic programming (NLP) are very effective.

Balance your lifestyle

Once you feel more balanced in your thought processes, then you’ll feel better equipped to tackle any issues in your life that need resolving and might be sending you off balance.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

The human body evolved to be active and it doesn’t like being sedentary.  Blood flow to the brain is so much better too when you’re active, not to mention the feel-good endorphins that are released, giving you an extra boost.  Just a brisk walk around the block every day will help. Find an activity you enjoy and are happy to do several times a week – you are much more likely to stay active if you’re doing something you love.

CLose up of woman reading a book relaxing by the fireplace

If you work long hours, or there’s lots of stress in your home life, you need to be able to take yourself out of this at regular intervals.  Whether that’s learning a new skill, reading a book, going for a walk, listening to a Ted talk or joining a networking group, there’s no end of available options.  Plus, try to take regular holidays, even for short breaks.  Whilst you might not necessarily be feeling the negative effects of long-term stress right now, managing this on a daily basis will put you in the best position to deal with it when it comes along.

So, resolve to be better balanced in all areas of your life in 2020!

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Banish the January blues: top nutrition and lifestyle tips for beating low mood

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The month of January can make us feel pretty glum. This is mainly because the weather is generally gloomy, bank balances are depleted after Christmas, colds and flu take hold and all of this can make us often feel low. 

The good news is that there are plenty of nutrients and herbs that can help lift your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips this Blue Monday.

What effects our mood?

Mood and motivation are largely determined by serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’.  Serotonin acts as both a hormone and a brain neurotransmitter and it’s pretty important when it comes to thinking about emotional wellbeing.

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

Interestingly most serotonin is produced in the gut, therefore what goes on in the digestive system is inextricably linked to how we feel. Certain nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and the B vitamins are all needed to help in its production.  It also uses the amino acid tryptophan (a protein) to get it working. All this means there are plenty of things we can do to help make sure serotonin production is as good as it can be.

Get the basics right

Our internal systems need to be in good working order for us to feel happy and motivated, not just because of serotonin production but also to prevent any toxins building up, which can make us feel sluggish.  A good balance of friendly bacteria and plenty of fibre are key.

A range of wholegrain foods

Live natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, Jerusalem artichokes (in season right now), green tea and whole grain foods such as oats are great for feeding the good bacteria. They also help keep everything moving through the digestive tract smoothly.

Eat protein at every meal

Amino acids, which make up proteins, are found in foods containing protein such as meat, eggs, poultry, fish, soy, dairy, nut and beans.  The amino acid tryptophan is found in many of these foods and the levels of each of the amino acids varies in different foods.

A range of foods containing protein

In order not to over-complicate matters, the best advice is to ensure you’re eating protein at every meal. This way you’ll be eating tryptophan, plus you’ll be keeping blood sugar levels in good balance, which is essential for maintaining concentration, energy and a brighter mood throughout the day.

Try some herbal helpers

When it comes to health, herbs are very powerful: we can often forget just what a difference these naturally occurring plants can make to health.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Top of the list for helping lift low mood is the herb St John’s wort.  It has been widely researched over the years and is now found on supermarket and health food shop shelves as a licensed herbal medicine, denoted by the Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) mark, meaning its safety and efficacy is assured.

As with all herbs, their exact mode of action is still a bit of a mystery, but research has shown that it helps raise serotonin levels.  It can take about three weeks to work but it’s well worth sticking with it because it’s very effective if you’re feeling down.

Ramp up your nutrients

To ensure optimal production, serotonin also needs a helping hand from our diet. Vitamin C is key in this respect and the good news is that it’s found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts.  Top of the list, however, are red peppers, kiwis, papaya, green leafy veg and all citrus fruits, so add some colour to your plate at every meal or snack.

A range of fruits and vegetables

The mineral zinc is another hard-working nutrient, also needed for healthy immunity, but essential for good brain function and mood.  Meat, shellfish (especially oysters), eggs, nut, seeds and dairy produce are all high in zinc so include them regularly in your meal planning.

Close up of a lobster, oysters and prawns to represent shellfish

Vitamin B6 also works in harmony with zinc and vitamin C, keeping your mood in check and helping produce serotonin. Bananas make a great snack, keep energy levels on track and are high in vitamin B6 so try to eat about four a week.  Additionally, dark leafy greens, oranges, beans and fortified cereals are great choices for an extra boost of Vitamin B6.

So, with a little dietary and herbal help you can hopefully keep smiling your way through the month and beyond.

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The truth about fruit and sugar

A range of fruits

Sometimes celebrated, other times revered, there is widespread confusion within the general population about whether eating a lot of fruit is healthy or not.   

Fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars – glucose and fructose. So, is eating fruit going to exacerbate our ever-growing obesity crisis? And which are the best fruits for us to eat?

With Sugar Awareness Week around the corner, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explodes some of the fruit myths and looks at what’s good and what’s not.

The good

To be clear, fruit contains some amazing health benefits.  All fruits contain lots of vitamin C, one of our hardest-working vitamins.  Vitamin C is essential for many body functions but is key in the health of the immune system, the skin and formation and repair of muscle.

Additionally, fruits contain a whole range of plant compounds with varying health benefits.  For starters, they’re very high in antioxidants – essential for helping prevent degenerative diseases and supporting the immune system.  Watermelons, for example, contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruits.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Fruits contain other plant compounds called anthocyanins which are also incredibly powerful antioxidants and supportive of all body systems.  It’s all about the colour and the darker the colours, the more anthocyanins the fruit provides.  Blueberries have championed the super-fruit title, partly because their dark colour makes them very rich in these plant compounds. Blackberries and blackcurrants have the same qualities.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Another wonderful benefit to eating fruit is it contains plenty of essential fibre.  In our heavily processed western diet, fibre is sadly lacking.  We all need around 30 grams of fibre daily (bananas have around 3 grams), in order to keep the bowel working efficiently.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Some fruits contain some more unusual health benefits.  For example, pineapples contain bromelain which is an effective protein digester so is often used as a digestive enzyme.  Plus, bromelain is a great anti-inflammatory so will help ease painful, inflamed joints.  Apples contain plenty of quercetin, a natural antihistamine, so help fight allergic reactions.

The not so good

There is of course a downside to eating too much fruit and that is its sugar content.  However, this isn’t all bad news.  Fruit contains high levels of a fruit sugar called fructose.  The chemical structure of fructose is more complex that that of simple glucose, and it must be broken down in the liver.  This means you don’t necessarily get a huge sugar ‘hit’ when you eat certain fruits. Cranberries, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and clementines, for example, are all low in sugar overall.

a punnet of strawberries

It all depends on the fruits you eat. They vary in how much fibre they contain (this slows down blood sugar rushes), their balance of fructose and glucose, plus their total fructose levels.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Figs, grapes, dates and prunes (dried plums) have some of the highest sugar content.  But this needs to be balanced against their other benefits: prunes, for example, contain some of the highest antioxidant levels per 100 grams of all fruits.

As with everything in life, it’s all about balance.

The not too bad at all!

The body needs a constant supply of energy and eating fruit provides a healthy way of achieving this, due to its high carbohydrate content.  When it comes to blood sugar, it’s a balancing act. Eating carbohydrate with protein will slow down the sugar rush, making energy distribution more sustained.  For example, eating some sliced apple with a few almonds is a perfect afternoon snack when you’re feeling energy levels starting to flag. Additionally, eating fruit with some fat and fibre slows down its absorption; nut butter with sliced banana on wholemeal toast is an incredibly easy and sustaining breakfast option.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Interestingly, nature also demonstrated this concept well with the avocado.  Categorised as a fruit, avocado is high in both the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fibre.  Avocados are incredibly health-giving. It makes a brilliant breakfast on toast on its own or with egg or smoked salmon. They’ll certainly keep you feeling full all through the morning.

Fruit is certainly not the enemy.  Within a healthy, balanced diet, fruit will provide amazing health benefits without too much damage to the waistline (or teeth!)

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Veganuary: how to ramp up your vegan diet

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

Unless you’ve been hiding under a bush, you’ll be very aware that it’s Veganuary; in other words, Vegan January! Eating a plant-based diet provides many health benefits but it is important to make sure you are getting everything you need.

Whether you’re going vegan for the month of January, are flexibly vegan or have always eaten that way, then now is a great time to ensure your diet is delivering all the essential nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at how to get your vegan diet in great shape.

Protein is king

Protein is an essential macro nutrient. It’s needed for maintaining healthy bones, joint and muscles, and plays a key role in the immune system. It is also essential for hormone production.  Without enough protein, the body literally starts to break down.

Protein from animal sources contains all the essential amino acids the body can’t make. Some vegetable sources don’t contain all these amino acids, or they’re low in some of them.  However, the great news is that soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh, and quinoa are complete protein sources. Rice and beans can also be combined to deliver the full quota. The body doesn’t need to have all nine essential aminos at every meal but there should be an overall balance ideally.

A pile of different beans and pulses

Make sure you’re eating some protein at every meal – there are loads of great choices.  Any type of bean, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, soy, hemp and chia seeds are all healthy, low fat options.Don’t over promise yourself

Some fats are essential

Whilst it’s important not to overdo foods high in saturated fats such as butter and meat (good to remember if you’re a ‘flexi’ vegan), the body needs the essential omega-3s and 6s.  These are essential for many body functions including a healthy heart, skin, brain, muscles, eyes and hormones.  Omega 6 fats are often easier to obtain because they’re found in a variety of vegetable oils (including soy), nuts and seeds.

A bowl of walnuts

However, it’s the omega-3s that are frequently deficient in so many western diets, partly because the best source is from oily fish which many people don’t like and obviously vegans don’t eat.  However, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are all good sources of omega-3s so make sure they’re on the menu every day in some way.

Supplement with vitamin B12

This vitamin is the only one that can’t be found in any vegetable sources so ideally needs to be supplemented if you’re vegan.  Many soy products and cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 so do keep a watchful eye on labels.

Vitamin B12 is essential for preventing pernicious anaemia which isn’t dissimilar to iron-deficient anaemia.  The bottom line is that if you’re deficient in B12, energy levels will be noticeably low, and your nervous system and brain won’t function at their best.

Keep a watch on iron intake

Unlike vitamin B12, iron is found in many vegetable sources including nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and fortified grain products.  Whilst the most usable source of iron is from meat, vegetable sources are much better absorbed when eaten alongside some vitamin C.  For example, half a glass of orange juice with your morning fortified cereal is a great way of boosting iron levels.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The only way of knowing for sure if iron levels are low is to get the doctor to perform a serum ferritin blood test.  It’s always worth having this checked if you’re feeling unusually tired or you find you’re out of breath even doing light exercise.  Otherwise, include the above vegan sources of iron as much as possible in your diet.

Load up on orange and red vegetables

Why? Because these colourful fruits and vegetables have the highest amounts of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed by the body.  Just like vitamin B12, vitamin A is only found in animal sources. However, this doesn’t generally present any problems because the body produces what it needs if enough beta-carotene is being consumed.

A range of orange vegetables

Many colourful fruits and vegetables contain pro-vitamin A beta carotene. However, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mango, apricots and carrots are the best choices.

There are many health benefits to following a vegan diet.  You can make it even healthier by taking care of these watchpoints.

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