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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Start the year right: how to stay on track in 2020

Woman with arms in the air with sunrise background and the number 2020 to represent the new year

If you’re like so many people who make New Year’s resolutions, often at the stroke of midnight when recollection can be a little hazy, you’re certainly not alone!  However, why not make your resolutions for next year slightly in advance and start the new year in the right frame of mind?

You’re much more likely to stick to them and your diet and lifestyle habits will stay on track.

Here are Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer’s five top tips for starting the year right.

Don’t over promise yourself

New Year’s resolutions need to be doable and sustainable.  For example, if you say you’re going to lose eight kilos by the end of January, this may be possible if you starve yourself (not advised), but then you’ll end up putting all the weight back on (and more) which will be very demotivating.

Close up on woman's feet on a pair of scales with a measuring tape

The key to sustained weight loss is slow and steady – around a kilo a week is good.  If you’ve been eating lots of sugary and calorie-laden snacks over the Christmas period, then simply cutting back on these and eating three well-balanced meals a day is going to make a huge difference.  Fad diets don’t work because they’re not sustainable. They lead to nutrient deficiencies and energy dips, plus being ravenously hungry sets you up for failure.

Plug your nutrient gaps

The body has amazing powers of adaptation.  Most of us push ourselves hard, fail to adequately replenish lost nutrients, but somehow the body keeps going.  However, at some point, the body will start to complain, and this can happen in many ways that can adversely affect our health.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

People often comment they have felt so bad for so long they can’t remember what it’s like to feel good.  Much of this is down to nutrient depletion.  The body is a machine that needs to be properly fuelled with nutrient-rich food.  Resolve to make each meal count in 2020.  Look at the colour on your plate – the variety gives a good indication of nutrient levels.  Be wary of any processed foods; the closer a food is eaten to its natural state, the more nutrients you’ll be consuming.

Move more

If you’re already into a good exercise routine, then well done!  However, many people don’t reach even the minimal recommend levels of exercise (five times a week for at least 30 minutes).  Exercise is crucial for health; it supports the immune system and it’s great for the heart and circulation. Exercise also stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins and it helps with weight management and preventing type 2 diabetes.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

Importantly, don’t set yourself up to fail.  If you hate the gym, that’s never going to change so don’t resolve to start a gym programme.  Instead, plan an exercise programme you’ll enjoy, even if it’s simply taking more walks, or starting cycling.  There’s no limit to options for exercise.  Even working from a stand-up desk is better for you than sitting down all day.

Limit screen time

Our 24/7 lifestyles with a never-ending stream of emails, messages and social media activity is not great for emotional wellbeing, let alone stress.  If you’re ‘addicted’ to social media, then why not resolve to manage the time you’re engaged with it and set yourself limits. There’s lots of research to suggest that looking at social media too much can contribute to feelings of anxiety and low mood.

Woman in bed looking at her mobile phone

If your workload is high and emails are non-stop, then you need to put some time management in place.  If work colleagues are set on sending emails around the clock, resolve to be off-line for adequate periods.  There needs to be a break between work and non-work-related activities for the brain to have some downtime.

Be optimally hydrated

The simplest changes can sometimes make an enormous difference to how we look and feel.  None more so than ensuring the body is sufficiently hydrated.  We often forget to drink water during the winter months when it’s cold outside.  However, the body still needs at least six to eight glasses of water daily – more if you’re taking regular exercise. As an indicator, your urine should be clear during the day.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

However, if plain water’s not your thing, then liven it up with some fresh lemon and crushed ginger.  Herbal and fruit teas also count towards your hydration targets, as do fruits and vegetables.

Caffeinated teas and coffee are not great at hydrating, partly because coffee tends to work as a diuretic and tea is high in tannins which can stop the absorption of essential minerals.  Resolve to ditch the stimulants as much as possible and hydrate optimally.  Your heath and skin will thank you for it.

If you start the year right, without too many wild expectations, you’re much more likely to be hitting your goals throughout the year – and at the end of the year too!

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Three of the healthiest soups you can make this winter

A range of bowls of soup

The combination of cold, damp weather and many seasonal bugs flying around makes us feel the need to serve up some deliciously tasty, healthy and warming soups.

There are plenty of souper (!) ingredients you can add to really give your health and nutrition a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top three recipes for some of the healthiest soups around!

Chicken broth for immunity

The immune system is under pressure at this time of year but chicken broth can really help protect the body from colds and flu that are so prevalent right now.

Primarily, the immune system needs plenty of quality protein; immunoglobulins and antibodies that form a large part of the immune system are protein based.  Plus, various research studies have shown that chicken soup uprates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells, called neutrophils.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

The main ingredients for this recipe, are, of course, chicken, plus sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery, parsley, onions and some salt and pepper for seasoning.  Sweet potatoes and carrots are loaded with Vitamin C and beta-carotene that’s converted into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed. Parsley is great for liver detoxification. Onions contain quercetin which is a natural anti histamine which can help fight off the sneezes, and garlic contains plenty of immune-boosting compounds.

One of the best reasons for making chicken broth is that it’s so simple.  The healthiest way of cooking it is to boil up the bones from a cooked chicken for the stock base.  You will then benefit from the collagen and minerals stored in the bones as well as enjoying a tastier stock. Simply fry off the vegetables and add everything to the pot.  It’s also a recipe that can be put into the slow cooker in the morning and it will be ready for later in the day.

Boost your energy with bean soup

At this busy time of year, we need as much energy as possible!  This is where a chunky mixed bean soup can really boost energy levels. Beans are high in energy-boosting B vitamins and protein.  For an additional boost add some black beans. They are packed with antioxidants which support the immune system.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

The easiest way of cooking mixed bean soup is to use a couple of tins of mixed beans and add plenty of seasoning and flavours.  Think onions, carrots, celery, garlic and cumin. These are a great combination, adding additional nutrients and flavour, and are all foods that are plentiful at this time of year.  Whilst cumin really adds some zest to the soup, it’s also a great spice for the immune system and also helps digestion.

This hearty soup makes a really good lunch time dish as it will boost energy levels throughout the afternoon, and will help avoid the 3 pm dip.  Beans are low on the glycaemic index as well which means they deliver energy in a slow and sustained way – exactly what we need!

Soothe digestion with broccoli soup

Rich, festive food and maybe a few too many glasses of your favourite tipple at this time of year can often leave the digestion feeling slightly jaded.  Foods high in saturated fats or sugar-laden cakes and pastries cause inflammation throughout the digestive tract and can also makes digestion sluggish, leading to constipation.

Broccoli really is a super food and has amazing anti-inflammatory properties. It is also high in fibre, so it helps keep everything moving through the digestive tract.

A bowl of broccoli soup

Broccoli soup couldn’t be easier to prepare and needs just a few ingredients; garlic, chicken stock, olive oil and of course, broccoli are all that’s required.  Garlic has so many health benefits which is the reason it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years. It’s also high in antioxidants which means it will help dampen down any inflammation within the digestive tract.

Simply fry the garlic, add the broccoli and stock and cook until really soft.  This soup is definitely best put through the blender to make a thick, warming and most importantly, soothing soup.

So why not treat yourself to some health-boosting delicious soups this season – they’ll also make a great lunch for a big family this Christmas.

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Easy ways to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands making dough for baking

‘Tis the season to be jolly but it is also the season for colds and flu!  Unfortunately, this time of year is renowned for delivering unwanted bugs and colds.  The stress of Christmas, children bringing home bugs from school and simply the immune system being lower at this time of year, will all have an impact.

However, with a little planning, there are simple ways you can infuse some immune-boosting nutrients into every meal.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells you how to fill your plate with immunity at every meal!

Breakfast

There are some quick wins to be had with breakfast.  This is probably one of the easiest meals to add immune-boosting vitamin C, widely available in many fruits. Some fruits have more vitamin C and immune-boosting antioxidants than others, however.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Watermelon contains some of the highest levels of antioxidants and strawberries the highest amount of vitamin C. However, whilst we may see both these fruits on the supermarket shelves at this time of year, it is not their natural season.  Apples and pears are naturally available right now and it’s always best to try and eat with the seasons because nutrient levels are going to be at their highest. Interestingly, prunes (which are simply dried plums) are also high on the antioxidant chart and are often popular in the mornings (tinned is fine if you drain off most of the syrup).

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

Sliced apples or pears are delicious with overnight oats, granola, bircher muesli or good old porridge.  Think about every meal being an opportunity to gain valuable nutrients and you’ll soon get creative.  Berries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, partly due to their beautiful dark colours.  They are great as an added breakfast booster and also as an easy ‘on-the-run’ breakfast snack.  Even though they may have travelled some way to get to the supermarket, which will have depleted a percentage of their nutrients, they still have many wonderful health benefits to offer.

Lunch

Lunch can be rather challenging just because we’re often away from home, maybe in the office or off-site.  However, filling your body with nutrients is no less important at lunchtime and is not too difficult with just a little planning. It’s time to bring on the herbs!

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herbs sage, oregano and thyme all support the immune system, but also help relieve colds, sore throats and flu symptoms. All can easily be added to lunchtime meals.

Curry dish and rice

Lunch is generally best prepared the night before which may mean eating ‘left-overs’ but these meals still deliver important nutrients.  Think about dishes such as Bolognese, soups, stews, curries, roasted chicken or fish which are just as good the next day and taste even better with some extra herbs liberally added.

Dinner

Dinner doesn’t need to be overcomplicated for it to be healthy and immune boosting.  Whatever dish you’re eating, the most important thing is to make sure you’ve included vegetables, which are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants.  Also important is beta-carotene, rich in sweet potatoes, carrots and peppers, which the body converts to vitamin A as needed – another immune-boosting vitamin.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Any dark-coloured vegetables such as kale, broccoli, sprouts and red cabbage will provide lots of nutrients.  However, even lighter coloured root vegetables such as swede (in season right now) can hold their head high when it comes to boosting immunity.  You can always have a bowl of vegetable soup as a starter to further increase your veggie intake.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

It’s also worth the investment of buying a slow cooker. You can literally throw all the ingredients in, maybe before going to work, and they will be beautifully cooked by the time you come home.  A small amount of morning chopping is worth the health benefits you’ll gain.

With a little planning, every meal can support you through the cold and flu season by boosting your immunity this winter.

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Lunchbox nutrition: top ideas to keep that holiday feeling going

Happy woman at desk eating her lunch

Whilst many of us have already returned from our summer holidays, there’s no reason not to hang onto that summer feeling for as long as possible. And this includes keeping a holiday-theme going in our lunchtime menus.

By planning your ‘back-to-work’ lunches so that you’re never without something nourishing and energising during the day, it can really help banish the post-holiday blues.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top lunch-box tips to keep you in the summertime mood!

Thoughts of the Mediterranean

Packing up a chicken salad with a Mediterranean theme doesn’t need to take long in the morning.  As with everything, it’s all about planning.  If you roast a large enough chicken on a Sunday, then you’ll have plenty left-over for your Mediterranean chicken salad on a Monday and beyond.

chicken salad with spinach and tomatoes

Simply slice the chicken, then add some spinach leaves, chopped spring onions, baby tomatoes and chopped red cabbage with some French dressing drizzled over, and you have your lunch right there.

It’s especially important to have enough protein at lunchtime in order to avoid the 3pm slump, which chicken more than delivers.  Additionally, spinach is rich in energising iron and tomatoes are packed with vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene, to help protect the body from the upcoming ‘bug’ season.

Satisfyingly Spanish

There are lots of reason to love Spain and one of them is the Spanish omelette.  It’s a great option to make the night before and it also serves as a satisfying dinner.  Plus, eggs are one of the best sources of protein, as they contain all the essential amino acids.

Sliced spanish omelette

Traditional Spanish omelette is so easy to make; it needs chopped potatoes and onion lightly fried until soft, with beaten egg cooked until the mixture is completely ‘set’.  You can also add tomatoes and parsley for extra flavour and nutrition. Throw in a few salad leaves as well and this is an excellent lunchtime re-fuel that will keep you going all afternoon.

Summertime wraps

Wraps are some of the quickest and easiest packed lunch choices.  Plus, if you fill them right, you’ll be serving yourself some nutritional powerhouses.

Great fillings are:

Beetroot (in season right now and a nutritional powerhouse), with feta (excellent low, fat protein), and a choice of crunchy leaves.

Avocado (a great source of skin-loving vitamin E), hummus (vegetable protein) and cucumber

Tuna, which provides low-fat protein, sweetcorn and energising spinach

All are nutrient-packed and delicious; just remember to use wholemeal wraps which are rich in B-vitamins and will also help keep energy levels sustained through the rest of the day.

Sunshine noodles

Cooked egg noodles can be eaten hot or cold and can simply be put into a lunchbox with whatever happens to be in your store cupboard.  The great thing about egg noodles is that they’re light so won’t make you feel heavy and bloated later in the day.

Salmon and noodle stir fry

Why not add some tinned wild salmon, grated ginger, soy sauce, red peppers and spring onions to keep thoughts of sunshine not too far away? You will have created a perfectly balanced lunch-time meal, full of protein and immune-boosting vitamin C.

A Mexican theme

Talk of beans and thoughts often turn to Mexico; beans are one of Mexico’s staple foods.  They’re also one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans, as well as for meat eaters.  Even better, they’re easy to put into a lunchbox.

Mexican bean salad

Simply use a tin of black beans and add some feta cheese, spring onion, chopped tomato and avocado.  You can then choose how much ‘heat’ you want to add.  This dish is always delicious using chopped coriander and parsley, but you can also add some cumin, for a real Mexican feel.

There will certainly be enough here to last for a couple of days, and you’ll feel completely satiated until dinner time.

So keep that holiday feeling alive in your lunchbox for as long as you can – you’ll also be benefitting from some great nutritional choices too!

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Seasonal nutrition: Re-charge your June diet

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

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

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

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

 

 

Favourite fruits

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

a punnet of strawberries

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

Flavoursome fish

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

Cooked scallpos on a plate

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

Versatile vegetables

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

Broad beans in a bowl

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

Carrots being cooked on a griddle pan

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

Healthy herbs

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

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

Basil and pesto pasta in a bowl

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

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

 

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Nutritional advice for 5 everyday health concerns

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Good health is the most important part of life. Indeed, feeling optimally well has to be our ultimate aim so that we can embrace all that life has to offer. But what happens, when the body lets you down and health niggles start kicking in?

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Eating the right foods is the cornerstone of life and it’s never too late to get your diet on track. Most importantly, what you eat can have a really positive influence on many daily health issues.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great nutritional advice for five everyday health concerns.

Ultimate immunity

Having an effective immune system that keeps out unwanted viruses and bacteria is essential for the body to stay healthy. Whilst nature is very clever in providing us with plenty of armoury, the right nutrition can also really make a difference. And as with everything, prevention is better than cure.

Sugar in all its forms is more disruptive than anything to the immune system. Refined, sugar-laden carbs such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and fizzy drinks and alcohol are not the immune system’s friend, so they need to be kept as low as possible. Allow yourself one or two treat days a week but try and keep sugar low on the other days.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Vitamin C is the key nutrient for the immune system. Of course there are many other key immune-loving nutrients but make vitamin C your focus. This means trying to eat as many vegetables as possible; peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes are especially high in vitamin C. Go easy on the fruit and make vegetables the main event. However, all berry fruits are loaded with vitamin C and in season right now, so try to include one portion of these per day.

Glowing skin and glossy hair

Who doesn’t want both of these! Glowing skin and glossy hair are primarily a reflection of what’s within; what you eat makes a massive difference to how you look. As both skin and hair contain protein in the form of collagen and keratin, it’s really important to make sure you’re eating plenty of protein.

A range of foods containing protein

Eat protein at every meal. Include meat, fish, chicken, soya, beans, lentils or dairy produce – all are great sources. It’s also worth bearing in mind that biotin is the most important B-vitamin when it comes to hair and skin. It’s rich in liver, eggs, dairy, and salmon so you might want to also consider these when making your protein choices to get double the benefit.

Smooth joints and strong bones

Having a strong skeletal frame is clearly very important; it works very hard for you! Peak bone density is reached at the end of your teenage years so having sufficient calcium, magnesium and vitamin D (being the key bone-building nutrients) is important in the early years.

A range of foods containing calcium

However, bones and joints need feeding throughout life to maintain strength. Key foods are dairy produce and green leafy vegetables.   Additionally, try and get 15 minutes of sunshine every day daily to help the body produce vitamin D. It’s also advisable to take a daily supplement of vitamin D all-year round because even when the sun shines, we’re not necessarily outside enough to reap the benefits.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Joints also need ‘oiling’ to keep them running smoothly and to this end the omega-3 essential fats are key. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the key foods, so include them in the diet as much as possible.

Abundant energy

We all want to feel vibrant every day with plenty of energy to enjoy life to the full. However, many people of all ages complain of poor energy levels which negatively affects their quality of life.

The main energising nutrients are the B-vitamins because they help the body produce energy from food. They are a family of eight vitamins and they can be found in a range of foods. However foods which contain most of the B-vitamins in one source are salmon, liver, eggs, beans, wholegrains, chicken and turkey, so there’s plenty of choice.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Additionally, B-vitamins are used up quickly during times of stress or by drinking alcohol. Interestingly, both of these factors also impact our immune system so it makes sense to balance these as much as possible.

Balanced mood

If you’re frequently feeling low, edgy, anxious or irritable then there may be something amiss with your diet. About 70% of the body’s ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is produced in the gut so what you eat makes a massive difference to how you feel.

Too much caffeine is never going to keep mood balanced; it’s very individual as to how much each person is affected. As a general rule, though, no more than 2-3 caffeinated drinks per day should be consumed; this includes cola and similar caffeine-containing drinks.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

There are some real stand-out foods in terms of keeping your mood boosted through the day. One of the best breakfasts is a bowl of oats, either as porridge or within an oat-based cereal. Oats are packed with complex carbs that keep energy and mood balanced throughout the day. Plus they contain tryptophan, the amino acid that produces serotonin. Top it with a banana, also rich in tryptophan, and natural yoghurt to feed the good gut bacteria and life will feel better for it.

So with a few simple tweaks, what you eat can really make a difference to how you look and feel!

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How to be a healthy vegetarian: top dietary tips

Woman in kitchen holding bottle of olive oil wutg basket of peppers on work surface

It’s nearly time to celebrate National Vegetarian Week. Vegetarian numbers are on the rise in the UK and there are many reasons for this. They include health, a concern for animal welfare and the environment, or simply a change in taste.

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A vegetarian is anyone who does not eat meat, fish or poultry or foods containing them, but the term is often used in a much wider context. For example flexitarian (flexibly vegetarian), pescatarian (happy to eat fish), lacto-vegetarian (eats dairy, but not eggs) and ovo-vegetarian (eats eggs but not dairy).

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips on how to be a healthy vegetarian.

Plan your protein needs

It can sometimes be hard for vegetarians to meet protein needs, as well as requirements for certain trace minerals. Protein is essential for hormone production, the immune system and strong muscles and bones, particularly, as we age.

Plant foods don’t contain all the essential amino acids found in animal produce. But the good news is that you can combine grains and beans to get all the essential amino acids the body needs. For example, a bean-based chilli con carne with rice is a great choice and satisfies this requirement.

Bean and rice salad stew

Most animal produce, including eggs, milk and dairy, contain all the essential amino acids. Therefore, if you’re eating these regularly you should be able to meet the body’s needs. It’s important to eat protein at every meal, to ensure the body gets what it needs but also to keep blood sugar and energy levels sustained throughout the day.

There are also plenty of vegetarian protein powders, made from whey, pea or hemp, which can be added to smoothies. These are especially useful to top up protein needs if you’re very active or stressed (when the body needs more support generally).

Top tip: eat plenty of pulses, soya products, nuts and seeds, eggs and cheese.

Plan your micro nutrient needs

Vegetarians may be more susceptible to low levels of certain minerals such as the easily absorbable heme-iron found in meat. However, iron can be found in vegetarian sources such as pulses, nuts, seeds, cereals, green leafy vegetables, tofu, dried fruit, molasses and fortified foods.

Vegetarian sources of iron

Vitamin C helps boost uptake of iron, so eat a piece of fruit or some vegetables at the same time. Alternatively, go for a glass of orange juice with your breakfast or a fresh fruit salad as a dessert or starter.

Zinc is essential for the immune system and many other key body functions. Therefore, put milk and dairy products, eggs, sourdough bread, cereal products, green leafy vegetables, pulses and pumpkin seeds on the menu. Healthy snacking is another way to help increase levels – try eating seed mixes or sprinkle them over salads and fruit. Try making pulse-based dips such as hummus.

homemade hummus with seed sprinkles

Vegetarians can run the risk of being low in vitamin B12 which is essential for energy production, although vegans are at greater risk since it’s only found in animal produce.

Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth and can help to protect against osteoporosis in later life. Non-dairy sources can be sourced from foods such as tofu, fortified soya and rice milk, almonds, dark green vegetables and sesame seeds.

Top tip: Include milk, dairy products and eggs if they’re still part of your daily diet.

Plan your omega-3 needs

The essential omega-3s can often get forgotten by vegetarians, particularly if you’re not eating fish. They are called ‘essential’ because omega-3s support hormones, eye health, the heart, joints and skin but the body cannot make them and so these need to be included in your diet.

A range of seeds on spoons

The good news is the body can convert something called ‘ALA’ found in flaxseeds, rapeseed oil, soy oil, pumpkin seeds, tofu and walnuts, into the beneficial essential fats. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines already contain plenty of these beneficial fats, so if you’re a pescatarian you are more than likely including these types of fish regularly in the diet.

Plan your supplement needs

Even though you’ll hopefully be planning your diet well, it’s always good to cover all bases with a high-quality, daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement as well. It’s like having a really cost-effective health insurance policy! You can also take vegetarian omega-3 supplements to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs.

There are lots of health benefits to being vegetarian and with a little planning you can make sure that you have the healthiest vegetarian diet possible.

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

Power up your walking with these hiking nutrition tips

Two hikers enjoying a walk

It’s National Walking Month and walking in all its forms is becoming a really popular form of exercise and for very good reason. It’s great for overall fitness, particularly if you’re walking briskly or uphill which gets the heart rate elevated. However, it’s also an excellent way of burning calories or simply just getting moving!

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Walking needs little preparation except for your nutrition; the better nourished you are, the more power and spring in your step you’ll have!

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to get you up those hills.

Oats

Oats are a walker’s best friend. They’re a great source of energy as they are packed with B vitamins. They also deliver slow-releasing carbohydrates, good for sustained energy release. Furthermore, oats contain beta-glucans, a form of fibre, which has been proven to help reduce cholesterol levels. The fibre will also help keep the bowels in good working order.

A bowl of oats

Oats are probably one of the best starts to the day if you’re heading for the hills (or even for a brisk local walk). As you’ll be using up lots of energy, oats will fill you up and help maintain energy levels without giving you a massive sugar-rush followed by a dip shortly after.

Oats are also brilliant as a snack, perhaps in a flap jack or muesli bar, during the day. Oat cakes work well as a post-hike snack with some walnut or almond butter.

Cashews

All types of nuts make great hiking snacks but cashews are especially good. They’re high in both protein and carbohydrates so they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and pumped full of energy. Even better, they have a lower fat content than some other nuts although they don’t contain any of the healthy omega-3 fats.

Cashew nuts

Cashews are great for walkers as they’re high in bone-loving magnesium. Whilst walking is one of the best exercises to protect the bones and help prevent osteoporosis, the body still needs plenty of magnesium and other bone-building nutrients in the diet. Magnesium also helps muscles relax, therefore is great for people who suffer from restless legs or sore muscles. Be sure to pack some cashews in your rucksack on your next walk.

Bananas

As we all know, bananas are one of the best go-to snacks. They’re especially great for taking on walks because they’re so transportable and can sustain being stuffed in a rucksack for long periods.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Interestingly, bananas generally taste quite sweet but they’re actually low on the glycaemic index making them great for producing sustained energy. Bananas have always been a favourite snack with athletes, and whilst you might not put yourself in that category quite yet, they’ve certainly got some great nutritional benefits for keen exercisers.

Importantly, they’re high in muscle-loving potassium and as such can help prevent muscle cramps. Plus potassium helps to regulate blood pressure and normal heart function. Therefore, both the walking and your snack choice are going to have great health benefits.

Beetroot

Beetroots have long been studied for their benefits to athletes and recreational exercisers. This is mainly due to the presence of nitrates which help open up the arteries, making oxygen uptake easier and endurance better. They’re also very high in folate which is essential for aiding energy production.

Whole beetroots

The best way to eat beetroot on a walk or longer hike is to include them in your sandwiches on wholemeal bread. Beetroots actually work well with any protein such a chicken so you’ll have plenty of energy and won’t feel hungry throughout the day.

Wholegrain tortillas

These make delicious, portable and nutritious snacks for keeping you sustained throughout your walk. Plus, wholegrain tortillas are incredibly versatile. An excellent filling choice is hummus which is high in healthy monounsaturated fats, being good for the heart. Or let your mind wonder and fill them with lots of colourful salad veggies.

A plate of whole grain tortillas

Wholegrain tortillas are high in energising B vitamins but are also low on the glycaemic index. Even better they taste delicious and are very light to pack into your rucksack.

With the longer days upon us, now is a great time to enjoy some great walks or longer hikes powered by great nutrition.

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How to practise Self-Love this February

Close up of a note book with a woman writing 'Love Yourself'

Valentine’s Day and the month of love is upon us. And whilst it’s often a time when we think about how best to treat our loved ones, we shouldn’t forget about the greatest love of all – the love we should have and show to ourselves.

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Practicing self-love and self-care has wonderfully positive effects on health.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite ways of practicing nutritional and lifestyle self-love.

Sleep like a baby

As we know, babies always prioritise their sleep. It’s just their exhausted parents that don’t manage to do this! However, why not go back to when you were a baby? With a very high percentage of the population suffering from sleep deprivation, make sure that getting a good night’s sleep is a priority and at the top of your self-love list.

Happy woman sleeping, cuddling pillow and smiling

Adopt a ‘baby’ routine. Turn off all electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime; blue light disrupts sleep and brain chemistry. Eat your last meal around 7 pm at night so you’re not bloated when you go to bed. Have a small tryptophan-rich snack half hour before bedtime to promote the body’s natural release of the sleep hormone, melatonin: try oat cakes, a banana, some nuts or yoghurt.

Have a warm bath, grab a good book and spray some lavender on your pillow. If sleep is a real problem, then try taking some herbal relief such as valerian which will help. You and your body will love the benefits you gain from sleeping soundly.

Eat dark chocolate

Valentine’s Day would not be complete without chocolate and what better news that it can actually be healthy! Cocoa is super-healthy; it’s packed with antioxidant-rich polyphenols that help reduce blood pressure, prevent serious degenerative diseases and keep the brain sharp.

Pieces of dark chocolate

It is the other ingredients that manufacturers use in chocolate products that make them unhealthy, packed with sugar and fat-laden. So look to buy chocolate made from at least 80/85% cocoa solids. Chocolate is the food of love, so make sure you give your body what it deserves!

Eat mindfully

This may be a well-quoted phrase but it’s a really important part of your self-love programme. Most importantly, eating food on the run and in a rushed state means the body can’t digest it properly, leading to bloating. When the body is in the fight or flight mode (during the stress response), blood flow is moved away from the digestive organs and sent to muscles which also doesn’t help digestion.

Woman eating a healthy breakfast with berries, yoghurt and orange juice

One of the most important things about eating mindfully is to eat lunch away from your desk and really appreciate every mouthful. Many afternoon digestive issues have been solved by taking a complete break from emails (and social media) and really enjoying a meal.

Have lots of vitamin C

If you’re not feeling great about yourself and want some self-love, then freshening up your complexion can really help. Vitamin C is key in keeping skin looking young, fresh and wrinkle-free. This is partly due to its key role in the production of collagen, the body’s main structural protein.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

As vitamin C is easily lost during storage, preparation and cooking of food, then you should be aiming to eat around seven portions of fruit and veg daily (aim for 80%/20% Vegetables to fruit to avoid too much sugar). However, it’s certainly worth also including a vitamin C supplement every day in order to maximise its activity and get working on your skin from the inside out.

Get your B’s

That’s B vitamins! There are eight of them and they all work together. Most importantly, they’re essential for keeping your nervous system running smoothly, balancing your mood and increasing energy levels – all key ingredients for making sure you ‘feel the love’.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Foods such as eggs, salmon, nuts, oats, bananas, spinach and broccoli (plus many more) are all rich sources of B Vitamins. B-vitamins are water-soluble so easily excreted from the body. If you’re feeling low and lacking in motivation, then it is really worth looking at your diet to see what’s lacking. Low vitamin B12 is often implicated in cases of depression and is only found in animal produce, so supplements may well be needed.

So enjoy the month of (self) love and don’t forget about YOU in the process.

 

 

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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