Summer nutrition: the best foods on offer this season

Woman holding up frshly grown beetroots

When the sun shines, it inspires us to prepare fresh, healthy meals. With a wealth of wonderful foods in season, there’s no excuse not to make the most of what nature is delivering right now.

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Whether you’re creating deliciously crispy salads or and fresh and fruity desserts, summer foods are packed full of colour and flavour.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite and super-healthy foods currently in season.

Raspberries

Often forgotten and sometimes overshadowed by another red berry fruit (aka the strawberry) raspberries have plenty to be nutritionally proud of, as well as their delicious taste. Raspberries are one of our classic summer fruits and at their absolute best at the moment. Interestingly, most raspberries currently in our shops are grown in Scotland.

They are high in one of our key antioxidants, vitamin C, and their overall antioxidant content is increased the riper the berries. Plus, raspberries are high in something called ellagic acid which is an anti-inflammatory compound that seems to be especially helpful in cases of Crohn’s disease.

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Raspberries have leapt to fame in more recent times with the discovery of raspberry ketones, a phytonutrient which may increase metabolism in fat cells, thereby reducing the risk of obesity. Whatever your reason for choosing them, you’ll not be disappointed in any respect. Enjoy raspberries with your morning cereal or with some natural yoghurt. Try them as a topping to pancakes or made into a coulis that can be drizzled over savoury dishes or sweet desserts.

Watercress

Watercress makes a great staple salad ingredient with a distinctive peppery taste so it really adds some flavour. Even better it’s highly nutritious, containing vitamin C, calcium for healthy bones, plus energising folic acid and iron. Watercress is also a great tonic for the liver and kidneys. Furthermore, it contains high levels of vitamin K for great bone health and beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A and is great for vision.

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

Watercress actually makes a great soup ingredient, alongside onions, celery, diced Jersey Royal potatoes (also in season) with some chicken stock and takes no time at all to prepare. Its lovely fresh taste makes a perfect soup ingredient even during the summer months.

And did you know that watercress has more vitamin C per 100 grams than oranges!

Mackerel

This is an ocean fish that lives in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean waters and has some very distinctive grey stripes. Most importantly, it’s an oily fish that’s very high in those essential omega-3 fats we talk so much about.

A fillet of grilled mackerel

Omega-3s are absolutely essential for healthy hormones, bones, joints, eyes, heart and the brain and can’t be made in the body, so have to be eaten very regularly. Indeed, oily fish should be eaten three times a week to get what the body needs. The oils make mackerel quite rich to eat, so it’s often best simply grilled with some spices or sharp citrus flavours.

Aubergines

Whilst aubergines were native to India, they’ve become a very popular food the whole world over. They’re especially popular in Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, and in African folklore to treat convulsions. Aubergines are also known as ‘eggplant’ because of their egg shape. And interestingly they’re technically berries and not vegetables!

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

As with all fruits and vegetables that have gorgeous, rich colours, aubergines are packed with anthocyanins – plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. Plus they contain plenty of fibre and energy-boosting folic acid.

Whilst they taste delicious added to the popular dishes I listed above, they’re great simply griddled alongside some peppers with just a small pasting of oil. Aubergines are very low in calories but they do soak up oil like a sponge, therefore are best not fried.

Beetroot

Another vegetable with an amazing colour, highlighting its rich nutrient content, beetroots really add to salads at this time of year. In fact, they’re the perfect addition to a goat’s cheese salad, making a great starter or main course dish.

In ancient times, only the leaves were eaten, which can be cooked in the same way as spinach (gently wilted in the pan) but these tend to be less popular now, although they’re a great source of calcium and beta-carotene.

Whole beetroots

Beetroots are loaded with nutrients, especially vitamin C, folate, iron and heart-loving potassium to help reduce blood pressure. They also make a great tonic juice with carrots. They are brilliant for restoring health if you’ve been under the weather (yes it can still happen during the summer months). It’s best to enjoy beetroot either grated raw or cooked rather than pickled, which destroys some of the nutrients.

So enjoy a wonderfully healthy summer by adding these delicious and nutritious seasonal foods to your plate.

 

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Strawberries: discover the health benefits of this summer fruit

a punnet of strawberries

It’s one of life’s great partnerships – Wimbledon and strawberries! Whether enjoyed with cream or in a glass of champagne, these delicious red berries are a summer favourite whether you’re enjoying the tennis or another outdoor event.

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The great news is that strawberries are also super-healthy and packed full of nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us five reasons why they’re one of the most popular berries consumed worldwide!

The history of strawberries and their health benefits

As with so many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, strawberries have been used for many hundreds of years to cure a variety of health ailments. They were believed to eliminate kidney stones, and relieve arthritis, gout and rheumatism. Strawberries were also used to cleanse and purify the digestive system and act as a mild liver tonic.

A woman holding a heartshaped bowl full of strawberries

There is no reason to suggest strawberries won’t deliver some of these health benefits today; they contain a wealth of antioxidants which help to manage inflammation throughout the body and are high in fibre which is a great internal cleanser.

Strawberries are high in fibre

We hear so much about the body needing fibre in the diet every day, which of course is true. The typical Western diet is unfortunately often laden with white pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits. These are very low in fibre, hence many people suffer from digestive issues.

Woman smiling with a bowl of strawberries, holding on strawberry up to her mouth

The body needs around 30 grams of fibre daily, and should be a combination of the soluble and insoluble varieties. Insoluble fibre is found in high amounts in wheat, maize and rice. Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, peas, beans and fruits and vegetables. Strawberries are a shining light in this respect with high levels of soluble fibre (a small cup contains over 3 grams). This is one of the reasons our ancestors found them to be helpful for digestive cleansing.

Strawberries can be included on a weight-loss plan

The popularity of the low-carb diet has meant many people are shunning fruits and vegetables, and hence missing out on a wide range of nutrients. However, strawberries are very low on the glycaemic index (much lower than bananas, melon, pineapple and apricots). This means they have a negligible effect on blood sugar when eaten, hence they’re not going to adversely affect a weight-loss plan. Blood sugar levels need to be in good balance for effective weight loss otherwise the body will simply store sugar and increase the number of fat cells within.

Two bowls of strawberries and cream

The really good news is that when strawberries are eaten with cream, the fat content slows down blood sugar level activation even further, so your Wimbledon treat is perfectly acceptable. Ideally, not to be eaten this way every day though!

Strawberries will keep your brain sharp

Whilst strawberries have one of the highest levels of vitamin C of all fruits and vegetables per 100 grams, their nutritional wealth extends far wider. They contain an array of polyphenols which are plant compounds with wonderful health benefits. Polyphenols are loaded with antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.

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

This is one of the reasons strawberries can help to keep your brain sharp because they protect it from damage from the environment and other toxins. It’s also thought these antioxidant properties help protect blood vessels to the brain keeping blood flow good and sharpness on top form.

How to eat them

Strawberries are very perishable and will only last a few days. Therefore they shouldn’t be washed until you’re ready to eat them and they’re always best eaten as fresh as possible.

Strawberry smoothie surrounded by fresh strawberries

Strawberries are perfect added to breakfast oats, sliced in a mixed salad, or served with shortcake. However, for a really healthy start to the day, why not wiz up a strawberry smoothie with banana, a little fresh orange juice, some plain yoghurt and a little almond milk. As well as providing a great boost of vitamin C, you’ll also be getting plenty of heart-loving potassium and energising folate. Plus, the yoghurt and almond milk provide protein to keep you sustained throughout the morning. You can always add some additional protein powder for a real power-up!

If you fancy the traditional strawberries and cream, but you are not able to tolerate dairy, there are plenty of dairy-free alternative creams which you can try.

So be sure to grab some strawberries while you can and don’t miss one of our most delicious fruits this summer.

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Five nutritious breakfasts to start the day right!

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day. Clearly, all three main meals are important as they provide fuel and essential nutrients for the body. However, after a period of fasting during the night, blood sugar levels are low so it is essential to refuel.

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If you’re only drinking a double espresso for breakfast, with no food, your blood sugar levels will be imbalanced and so will your energy for the rest of the day.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite breakfasts, whether you’re on the run or having a lazy weekend.

Fast and effective: Overnight oats

Soaking oats overnight in milk or apple juice is really easy to do. It provides you with one of the best ‘on-the-run’ breakfasts you can have, as you’re prepping it the night before, and your energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Oats are packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates, plus they’re a great source of fibre and energising B-vitamins. They also help keep cholesterol levels in check. If you choose to soak them overnight in almond milk, you’ll also be getting the benefit of some omega-3 essential fats, and a banana will give it some added flavour and heart-loving potassium. Just smash the banana into the milk, mix with the oats and leave overnight in the fridge. If you want to add some extra fruit or natural yoghurt in the morning, then fill your boots!

The green one: Smashed avocado on toast with sprinkled seeds

Instead of putting a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and spreading them with the first thing that comes to hand, take an extra minute to smash an avocado on toast.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Use wholemeal, rye or other non-white bread to provide you with lots of energy-giving B-vitamins. Avocados themselves are high in vitamin B5 which is needed to produce our stress hormones, helping to manage your anxiety levels. Sprinkle it with some mixed seeds (flavoured with soya sauce if you like) and if you’ve got some cherry tomatoes and rocket in the fridge, add those to your plate as well!

The lazy weekender: Poached eggs with sourdough

Eggs are one of the best ways to start any day. They’re one of the most complete foods: packed full of protein they are also a good source of the trace mineral iron, needed for good brain function through the day. And whilst you might not want to be using your brain too much on a lazy weekend, iron is stored in the body so you’ll be sharp for the week ahead.

Poached egg on brown toast

Poached eggs on sourdough toast work really well with spinach. The tastiest way is to quickly ‘wilt’ the leaves in a little butter and add some chilli powder for extra taste.

The zingy one: Summer Berry fruit bowl

Even though we are in the midst of winter, the availability of frozen summer berries means this breakfast can be enjoyed all year round. The nutrient content of frozen fruits and vegetable stacks up really well against fresh produce because they tend to be frozen quickly after harvesting, therefore retaining most of their nutrients. And summer berries are packed full of vitamins.

A bowl of summer berries with yoghurt for breakfast

All you need for this is some frozen berries, plus half an avocado, a banana and natural yoghurt blended together. You can whizz this up the night before and take it on the run – why not add some oats and seeds before eating to give your breakfast an extra energy boost.

This is also a great way of helping you to eat a colourful rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day. This bowl is packed with antioxidants to help support your immune system through the winter months, plus the dark fruits are full of super-healthy flavonoids (powerful antioxidants responsible for the vivid colours in fruits and vegetables).

The indulgent start: Wholemeal bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

This delicious breakfast is packed with protein and energising B-vitamins, plus essential omega-3 fats, needed for great brain function through the day.

Bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

All you need to do is to toast a delicious wholemeal bagel and spread with low-fat cream cheese and add some smoked salmon. Choose low-fat cream cheese if you can as it’s obviously much lower in calories, but actually contains higher amounts of calcium (needed for strong bones, teeth and muscles). I promise you won’t notice the difference from the full-fat variety.

So, there you have it. Five great ideas to start your day the right way!

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The top 3 nutrition tips for a healthier 2019

It’s great to kick start your New Year health with a few easy wins! The trick with New Years’ resolutions is to make them achievable and sustainable. There is little point in going ‘all-out’ in January, only to lose motivation totally, as February starts.

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To help you on your journey, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares three top changes you can make TODAY for long term health results!

 

 

Start the day right

This one is so simple but oh so effective! Start every day by drinking 500ml of warm water (it should be body temperature) with some sliced fresh lemon and crushed ginger. This should be done when you first get up, for the greatest benefit.

Whilst the liver has carried out its normal detoxification processes during the night, some additional gentle cleansing first thing will certainly add a spring to your step. Lemon water will help flush out the digestive tract and also encourage liver enzyme production. Plus it also helps to alkalise the system encouraging energy levels to soar and skin to glow.

Fresh lemons and lemon tea with root ginger on a wooden background

Ginger is a great winter spice that helps rev up the immune system. It also feeds the good gut bacteria aiding digestion, and warms up the body ready to start the day. At this time of year when bugs are rife, both lemon and ginger will help fight any nasty invaders that may cross your path.

Include protein at every meal

Protein is needed to maintain well-balanced blood sugar levels which, in turn, keeps energy levels sustained throughout the day.

Protein is also essential for tissue repair, hormone production, beautiful hair, skin and nails and enzyme function; it’s absolutely key for life. Many people believe they need to eat lots of carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and bread to feel full. However, it’s actually protein that fills you up and stops those cravings for unhealthy sweet treats. So increasing your protein is also going to benefit any weight loss plan (and who wouldn’t want help with that at this time of year!)

A range of foods containing protein

Eggs, fish, chicken, dairy, turkey and meat are all great sources of animal protein. Great vegetarian sources are soya, tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, grains, peas, nuts and seeds. Clearly, there’s a great choice of high protein foods; you just need to include some at every meal time. You’ll feel more energised, fitter, stronger and happier really quickly just by sticking to this simple rule.

Have a daily juice

This is not intended to replace a meal, but having a juice mid-morning provides a great nutritional ‘top-up’ for the day.

Whilst the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables is a minimum of five daily, from a nutritional perspective we ideally need around ten or more, which of course is not easy to achieve within our busy lives. Currently, only around 25% of the population are achieving this recommend minimum level of 5 a day. Therefore, juicing is a really easy way of increasing fruit and veg intake.

A range of fresh vegetable juices

Ideally a juice should contain mainly vegetables with some additional low glycaemic (not too sugar-laden) fruits. A great recipe example would be carrot, apple, celery, parsley and red pepper. Carrots are loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A. Apples and peppers contain lots of vitamin C. Celery is great for keeping blood pressure in check and alkalising the body, and any green food such as parsley is packed with chlorophyll, also known as the ‘food of life’.

It’s easy to see how many more nutrients you can obtain from having just one juice a day. And by including whole fruits and vegetables at meal times and as snacks, then you’ll still be getting the essential fibre and enzymes that are naturally found in these whole foods.

So put these three easy wins into practise this year to supercharge your health in 2019!

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Nutritious seasonal eats this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

With the festive season now upon us, supermarkets are packed with chocolates, cakes, puddings and treats! However, let’s not forget that we can still enjoy healthy treats and get a boost of vitamins and minerals at the same time. There are plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables in season in December, and with a little thought they can really excite the taste buds!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five fruits and vegetables this Christmas, together with her recipe suggestions.

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PEARS

These sometimes get forgotten and pushed aside for the more popular apple. However, pears are real winners both for their taste and nutrient content.

They’re high in immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving vitamin K. If you eat them with the skin on, they’re also rich in fibre; more than many other fruits and vegetables, around 40% of a pear’s health benefits lie just under the skin.

Pear, goats cheese and walnut salad

Pears work really well simply sliced in a salad with goat’s cheese, varied leaves and walnuts, which retains maximum nutrient benefits. However, at this time of year, they’re wonderful poached with lemon zest, ginger, a cinnamon stick, allspice and some apple cider. They can be served with vanilla ice-cream for a real treat, eaten cold as a desert or sliced over your morning porridge for a warming start to the day.

RED CABBAGE

Whilst white (also known as green) cabbage is the most commonly eaten, its nutrient benefits slightly fade into the background when compared to its red counterpart. As with all fruits and vegetables, the secret to its nutritional benefit lies in its colour; red cabbage is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants. This is especially helpful at this time of year. It also contains lots of anti-inflammatory compounds which is welcome news for those suffering from aching or painful joints during the winter months.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

One of the nicest ways to use red cabbage is braised with apples. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to any meat or is great on the Christmas dinner table. It’s so easy cooked in a pot, with onions, apples, balsamic vinegar, allspice and sliced apples. Cook slowly in the oven for an hour or so – the smell is wonderful.

CAULIFLOWER

Cauliflower has become one of the most popular vegetables in recent times. Even better it’s in season right now. As with many fruits and vegetables, the most prominent nutrient in cauliflower is vitamin C. However, it’s rich in most of the B-vitamins as well as the important trace minerals magnesium and manganese. These nutrients are better retained when cauliflower is steamed rather than boiled.

Cauliflower cheese

In terms of serving, a perennial favourite dish is cauliflower cheese which is often a Boxing Day lunch staple. However, it works really well as a one-pot curry with chickpeas, cumin, curry powder, onions, lentil and almonds. Cauliflower rice is also really popular with those watching their weight or following the Paleo Diet. Placed into a food processor it then gets broken down into rice-sized pieces. Simply heat through with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper.

CLEMENTINES

Always popular in Christmas stockings for their delicious, juicy and sweet taste, clementines are perfectly in season right now. Not only are they packed with vitamin C, they contain limonin which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels – another reason why they could be useful during the season of over-indulgence!

Clementines on wooden board

They’re also fabulous used in many recipes and work really well with our Christmas staple vegetable, the Brussels sprout. We tend to have a love/hate relationship with these little green vegetables, but when braised in the oven with sliced clementines, shallots, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and walnuts, they really come alive!

CRANBERRY

No Christmas table would ever be complete without cranberries. They deliver some wonderful health benefits, most notably for the urinary tract. Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria, and cranberries are able to prevent the E. coli bacteria from attaching to the wall of the urinary tract.

CRanberry sauce in small ceramic jug and cranberries on wooden board

Importantly, whilst, cranberry sauce makes a wonderful accompaniment to turkey, they work really well in a muesli recipe or in homemade energy bars. Simply mix dried cranberries with golden syrup, sunflower seeds, desiccated coconut, oats, butter and sultanas for a delicious tray-baked, portable energy snack – much needed during the tiring month of December.

So alongside the traditional sweet treats of Christmas, treat yourself to some delicious and nutritious fruit and veg this season and reap their amazing health benefits.

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

 

 

Autumn apples: can one a day keep the doctor away?.

An apple in a box with 'one a day' written on the lid

Whilst apples are one of our most common ‘go-to’ snacks, they also have a wealth of health benefits. Plus ancient folklore certainly extoled their medicinal benefits. Apples are as popular today as they’ve ever been and even better they’re in season right now!

Clinical Nutritionist shares seven great reasons for grabbing some apples this autumn.

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APPLES HAVE A GREAT NUTRIENT PROFILE

Specifically, they’re high in vitamin C – one of the body’s key nutrients because is delivers so many health benefits. Vitamin C is especially important at this time of year because it’s essential for keeping the immune system in good shape; it encourages production of white blood cells which help fight any unwanted bacteria and viruses.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Vitamin C is also important for the skin, hair and nails, primarily because it helps produce collagen, the body’s most important protein. And as collagen is an intrinsic part of skin structure, therefore it may help prevent wrinkles and fine lines.

THEY ARE RICH IN POLYPHENOLS

Polyphenols are plant compounds that deliver some wonderful health benefits. Most importantly, they’re rich in antioxidants which may help prevent some of our nasty degenerative diseases. There are a wide variety of polyphenols and more are being studied all the time. However, we know there are certainly enough in apples to justify ‘keeping the doctor away’ if you eat one daily!

It’s always better to eat apples in their whole form though, as some of the polyphenol content can be lost through juicing, particularly in shop-bought apple juices.

APPLES ARE LOW GLYCAEMIC

The glycaemic index is a measurement of how quickly foods affect blood sugar levels in the body. In general terms, the lower the food on the index, the better (unless quick energy is needed for intense exercise, for example). The lower the food on the index, the less dramatic the effect on blood sugar levels, which will help provide the body with sustained energy and won’t cause mood and concentration dips.

Apples are very low, mainly because they’re high in fibre, which has the positive effect of slowing down absorption.

THEY HAVE MEDICINAL USES

In herbal medicine, ripe, uncooked apples have traditionally been given to treat constipation, whilst stewed fruit can be eaten to help nasty tummy infections such as gastroenteritis.

Interestingly, apples were also used in poultices to ease skin inflammation. Whilst there’s clearly medicines to help all these ills now, the many wondrous health benefits of apples were clearly appreciated hundreds of years ago!

THERE’S PLENTY OF VARIETY

Whilst there’s literally hundreds of varieties of apples, there are around 50 or so grown commercially in the UK so there’s still plenty of choice to suit all tastes. Depending on your preferences, a red delicious apple will have a very different taste and texture to a granny smith for example.

a selection of green and red apples

Locally grown apples are stored in a cool environment where the oxygen balance has been chemically lowered; this also helps retain most of the nutrients. When they are put on supermarket shelves though, they will quickly go soft under normal oxygen conditions, so it’s always best to eat them soon after purchase.

APPLES ARE USED IN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE

We know apples can help the digestive system. However, in Ayurvedic medicine they also have a big part to play for their nutritional and medicinal properties.

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

Apples are often used with cinnamon for a combined anti-inflammatory action; when stewed together with some cloves and mixed with amaranth porridge, you’ve got a hearty and deliciously healthy start to the day.

THEY HELP GOOD GUT BACTERIA TO FLOURISH

There’s so much knowledge now around the amazing health benefits of friendly gut bacteria and a greater understanding of how essential they are to human health.

It seems that some of the polyphenol content of apples can work their way through the digestive tract to encourage production of gut bacteria. Most importantly, they appear to encourage production of one of our key species of gut bacteria being Bifidobacteria.

Apples are certainly great for digestive health generally, plus their high fibre content ensures that bowel regularity is maintained.

There’s certainly no denying the wonderful health benefits of apples! Try to choose apples that are grown as locally as possible to enjoy their benefits even more.

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Cholesterol – it’s all about balance.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

With the focus for many people being on heart health this month, it’s a great time to think about the amazing muscle in our chest that beats around 70 times a minute, all day every day. As with all of the body’s precious organs, it needs to be well taken care of and having high cholesterol levels is a known risk factor for heart disease.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for keeping cholesterol levels well balanced.

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Before we begin, there are two types of cholesterol. HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) known as ‘good’ cholesterol, helps remove other forms of cholesterol from the body. Higher levels of HDL offers some protection against heart disease. LDL (low Density Lipoprotein) is otherwise known as ‘bad’ cholesterol and is associated with heart disease and other circulatory disorders as it collects in the walls of blood vessels and can cause blockages.

So what can we do to encourage the good and get rid of bad?

EAT HEALTHY FATS

The essential omegas, in particular the omega-3s, can help reduce cholesterol levels and also have other heart-loving benefits. The body cannot make them so they have to be eaten very regularly in the diet; the best sources are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) and nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds and walnuts are best).

Omega-3s can help to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Omega’3s are also needed to manage inflammation throughout the body, and have other beneficial effects on blood pressure and heart health generally.

A range of foods high in Omega 3 fats

Try to eat oily fish two to three times a week; vegetarians should try to eat nuts and seeds every day (try flaxseeds which contain the essential Omega-3s). However, if that’s not for you or not doable, do opt for an Omega-3 supplement every day.

AVOID TRANS FATS

Trans fats (mainly found in margarines) are chemically produced and have an adverse effect on the heart (and health generally). The problem with trans fats is that their chemical structure changes when the fats are heated and processed. Food manufacturers frequently use the process of hydrogenation, which produces trans fats, in order to increase shelf life of foods such as margarines, biscuits and cakes. Unfortunately, the body has no way of dealing with them, therefore they tend to elevate blood fat levels, and in turn raise cholesterol levels.

Trans fats have no health or body benefits, therefore it’s best to try to avoid them as much as possible. It is actually better to have a little butter rather than using margarine, but also try using olive oil, coconut oil or rapeseed oil for cooking and keep cakes and biscuits to a minimum. Your waistline, as well as your heart, will certainly thank you!

EAT APPLES

There are always many good reasons for eating plenty of apples, plus they’re in season right now so their nutritional value should be higher, and they might even be a little cheaper. Apples contain a particular fibre called pectin, which helps to reduce cholesterol levels by transporting the bad cholesterol out of the body.

An apple with a heart shape cut out to show that apples are good for a healthy heart

Other fruits high in pectin include pears, all berries and citrus fruits. The best advice is to include a wide range of fruits (alongside vegetables of course) every day. Cholesterol has no way of being expelled from the body except through the stool. Therefore keeping the bowels regular is key and, as pectin is a fibre, it really helps this process along.

UP YOUR WHOLEGRAINS

Having a high fibre diet generally is one of the best ways of keeping cholesterol levels balanced. Wholegrain foods such as whole wheat bread and pasta, rice, quinoa, oats, beans and lentils are naturally high in fibre. In contrast, refined (or white) foods have had the fibrous part stripped out, so play no role in a high fibre diet.

A range of wholegrains in heart shaped dishes to show they are good for the heart

It’s actually quite easy to increase the amount of fibre in the diet without too much effort. For example, porridge sprinkled with a few flaxseeds makes a great breakfast, especially now the colder weather has arrived. Try a brown bread sandwich for lunch, alongside an apple (or berries) plus some nuts and seeds for snacks during the day. Salmon, quinoa and plenty of veg for dinner ticks both the fibre and Omega-3 boxes.

TRY A MILK SWAP

A diet generally high in saturated fats, found mainly in dairy produce and red meat, is certainly going to encourage the production of cholesterol. Switch to skimmed milk as a starter. However, there’s some research to suggest that soya produce, including milk, may help reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Plus, nut milks such as hazelnut, almond and oat, may also have a beneficial effect. At the very least, they’re all low in saturated fats.

A range of milks made from nuts

Even if you’re a die-hard cow’s milk fan, try to include some other milks in the diet as much as possible: each type of milk has its own health benefits so change them up as much as possible.

So adopt a few simple dietary changes and you can improve your cholesterol levels and support a healthier heart longer term.

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The benefits of beetroot

Beetroot is clearly visible on supermarket shelves, with its wonderful deep purple colour. But it’s not just visually pleasing; beetroot offers some amazing health benefits and is a very versatile vegetable.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why beetroot is certainly no shrinking violet!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

HISTORICAL USES FOR BEETROOT

Most fruits and vegetables have lots of folklore attached to them, and beetroot is certainly no exception. However, as with so much of what we have learnt from our ancestors, there are lots of facts that still hold true today. At one time the leafy tops of beetroots were the only part of the vegetable that were eaten, since they are rich in iron, beta-carotene and calcium. It was only during the 19th century that the roots were appreciated and found to be a natural source of sugar, when sugar cane was in short supply, particularly in the US. Beetroot was also mainly used medicinally to treat headaches or toothaches.

They are a sweet vegetable, hence they make a tasty ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes (more of which later). And as long as their carbohydrate content is balanced within a healthy and varied diet, then beetroots are a great addition to any diet.

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Fresh raw beetroot juice is such a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals that is has few rivals as a tonic for convalescents, in particular. This is because it’s a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving potassium. It has been found that drinking beetroot juice may be able to quickly lower blood pressure because it’s also rich in nitric oxide which helps blood vessels dilate. This also has a beneficial effect for endurance exercisers as it will help them exercise for longer and at a higher intensity.

Beetroot is also high in manganese which is great for the joints, bones and liver. Plus it’s a great source of fibre and also folate which is very important if you are planning to get pregnant and also during pregnancy.

It’s well-known for its ability to aid the body’s natural detoxification processes, particularly helping the liver. So, if your summer holiday has been a rather alcohol and food-laden affair, increasing beetroot intake or drinking the juice could well help your post-holiday detox!

THE DEEP PURPLE COLOUR

Within beetroot’s deep colour powerful phytonutrients are bedded. Some of these are compounds called anthocyanins which are potent antioxidants. They can help to protect the body from infections and illnesses, plus help hold back the ageing process.

DELICIOUS BEETROOT RECIPES

There are some great ways to use beetroot in sweet or savoury dishes. Beetroots are very often pickled and used in various recipes as it enhances the flavour of many dishes. Do bear in mind though that pickling beetroot lowers the nutrient content, whereas boiling does seem to keep most of the nutrients intact.

Beetroots are great roasted alongside other sweet vegetables such as sweet potato and butternut squash. They can be added to the roasting tray simply scrubbed, topped and tailed, drizzled with a little olive oil and cook in about 30 minutes. Additionally, they can be used cold the next day in a salad with some mixed leaves, red pepper, balsamic vinegar and feta cheese.

You can also make roasted beetroot into a delicious and nutritious soup; the skin is easily removed when cooked and then the vegetable can be blended. Roasted beetroot is also great topped with some lightly grilled goat’s cheese and sprinkled with plenty of salt and pepper.

However, as a winning healthy breakfast, why not make wholemeal pancakes with beetroot? All you need to do is add a little apple juice to a traditional pancake mix and some shredded beetroot. Tasty!

In season right now, beetroot is certainly a vegetable to add to your weekly shop – enjoy!

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Eat your way to great hydration

Close up of woman on beach with a glass of water to represent hydration

You probably don’t need reminding that the heat is on right now! We all want to enjoy summer months to the full. However, the body needs to be properly hydrated for energy levels to be sustained and the brain to remain sharp. The body is around 70% water, so what’s the best way of keeping water levels right?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her insights on hydration!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Clearly, we lose more fluids when the weather it hot and steamy because, not to put too finer point on it, we sweat more! Plus, exercising during the hot weather is going to require more fluids to be replaced.

The best advice is to try to avoid dehydration. You can tell if you are properly hydrated because your urine should be almost clear. Generally, we need a minimum of the equivalent of eight glasses of water daily, and up to two litres during the really hot weather.   However, there’s lots of water in fruits and vegetables and they also count towards your fluid intake, plus they’ll deliver lots more besides!

The body naturally contains electrolytes, including sodium, and they all help to regulate water balance in the body. Therefore, we know that for effective hydration, water and other essential nutrients are all needed.

Here are five foods that will keep you hydrated all summer long!

CUCUMBER

This is probably the most watery of all vegetables. It contains some great immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamin C, but also provides plenty of electrolytes, so if you’re slightly dehydrated in the heat, it will help to get everything quickly back in balance.

Close up of cucumber

One of the great things about cucumber is that it makes a great snack and is particularly good dipped into hummus. Plus it’s so refreshing; keep a chilled jug of water handy with some sliced cucumber, mint and ginger. It makes drinking water much more interesting!

CELERY

Whilst many people find the taste of celery a little strange and over-powering, it’s certainly worth persevering. It contains plenty of vitamins A, C and K plus some fibre. Celery is also a must for helping to alkalise the body; the body prefers to be slightly alkaline rather than acidic. Over-acidity can cause muscle and joint pain, which is certainly not something you want when you’re out and about enjoying the summer.

Chopped celery and celery stalks on a wooden chopping board

Just like cucumber, celery makes a great summer snack or can be added to a smoothie or juice. In fact, having a vegetable juice after you’ve been exercising or sweating a lot in the heat is one of the best ways of re-hydrating the body.

WATERMELON

An obvious and delicious choice for summer! Watermelon needs no accompaniments – it’s just great simply sliced. It’s also perfect added to a jug of chilled water in the fridge and it’ll encourage you to drink more water! Watermelon is just over 90% water and its rich colour means that it’s also a great source of sun-protecting antioxidants.

Watermelon segments on a wooden board

Plus, if you’re planning a steamy night, then watermelon is the fruit to eat! It contain citrulline which stimulates the amino acid arginine that encourages blood flow to the sexual organs!

BERRIES

Strawberries actually contain the highest water content of all berry fruits and summer is the perfect time to be enjoying them all at their very best. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and blackberries all make great fruit salads, smoothies, crumbles, pies or Eton mess. And because they’re so transportable, they make perfect post-exercise re-hydration snacks.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

All berries are packed with anthocyanins, which are plant compounds high in age-blocking antioxidants. So, you’ll skin will look fresh and plumped from being properly hydrated and nutrient-loaded.

SPINACH

Whilst it can be very frustrating when cooking with spinach, as it reduces down so dramatically, its high water content makes it an excellent summer vegetable. It’s best added to salads to enjoy all its nutrients, but most importantly, to keep the body super-hydrated.

A pile of spinach leaves

Additionally, spinach is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, both powerful carotenoids which are very protective of the eyes. Whilst you should always be diligent about wearing sun-glasses when the sun is strong, your eyes will be better protected from the blue light that’s emitted from electronic devices, particularly computers.

So, whilst you’re eating your way to optimal hydration, you’ll also be benefitting from a great nutrient boost at the same time.

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Pea power: discover the nutrients and health benefits

A bowl of fresh green peas and a pea pod

Peas are in season right now, so they’ll be tasting their very best and will deliver wonderfully healthy nutrients. They are a great summertime food and can be included in lots of different recipes. Moreover, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes as we’ll find out!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the low-down on peas.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

VARIETIES OF PEA

From the family known as Fabaceae, we are all acquainted with the traditional green pea. However, they also come as mange tout (often known as snow peas) and sugar snap peas. Peas can also be dried and are then usually called split peas. Peas are legumes, which are plants that bear fruit in the form of pods. Of course sugar snap peas and mange tout contain edible pods, whereas green or garden peas have a much tougher outer pod which isn’t usually eaten.

Green peas are very often eaten from frozen and are a ‘staple’ vegetable that most of us have in the freezer. From the moment they are harvested, peas start to lose their vitamin C content and their natural sugar content starts to be converted into starch. As freezing usually takes place very quickly after the pods have been picked, their chemical changes will be minimal. Frozen peas still contain far more nutrients than tinned peas, providing plenty of fibre, folate (great for the heart) and the bone-loving mineral, phosphorus.

OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS OF PEAS

All richly coloured fruits and vegetables contain wonderful health benefits, in particular, a wealth of antioxidant nutrients to prevent disease and to help hold back the years. However, peas in particular also contain high concentrations of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These two nutrient jewels are known to protect eye health; they seem to block blue light from reaching the retina which can lead to macular degeneration. Moreover, these carotenoids promote good eye health generally and help maintain good eye sight long into old age.

Peas are also very low in fat, high in vitamin K (also good for the heart and bones), as well as energy-giving vitamin B1.

HOW TO ENJOY PEAS

Peas are most often eaten as a vegetable side dish, as are mange tout and sugar snaps, but they’re also great added to a summer frittata, which can be eaten hot or cold. Peas make wonderful soups either combined with ham or mint, and are an excellent addition to a summery seafood risotto. Sugar snaps are wonderful added to any green salad and mange tout is a great addition to stir-fries.

WHAT ABOUT SPLIT PEAS?

Split peas are actually dried peas; they split naturally once the skins are dried and removed and are often yellow in colour. They sometimes get forgotten when up against green peas, but they are still wonderfully nutritious. Clearly, enjoying fresh foods is certainly best but split peas provide really high amounts of fibre, so they help to keep the bowels moving.  Additionally, their high fibre content makes them very effective at reducing cholesterol levels. Furthermore, as with all legumes, they’re low on the glycaemic index meaning they keep blood sugar levels in check; this is especially helpful for those trying to lose some pounds.

Something about split peas which is not widely appreciated is that they are high in the trace mineral molybdenum, which helps detoxify sulphites. Unfortunately sulphites are widely used as preservatives in a variety of foods, particularly salads and prepared meats. People allergic to sulphites may suffer from headaches and other unpleasant ailments. However, having sufficient molybdenum stores in the body, will hopefully negate any of these problems.

WAYS WITH SPLIT PEAS

Split peas are great when used to make thick soups, stews, curries or broths containing strong flavoured foods such as chorizo. Importantly, as with other legumes, they are a very good vegetarian source of protein so can be used as a main meal in a dahl dish, for example.

Dahl can be made using tinned tomatoes, turmeric, onions, vegetable stock and curry leaves. It’s wonderful eaten on its own or as a side with some grilled fish or chicken.

So add more peas to your diet this season and enjoy the health benefits of this versatile vegetable.

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