Five food swaps to boost your energy this January

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

The month of January can often make us feel low in energy, especially after all the Christmas festivities. What you eat right now can really make the difference between flagging during the day and feeling full of life.

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Just like a car needs fuel, the body can’t run on empty, but the food we choose needs to be the right kind of fuel. So how can you get the most energy out of your food choices?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five energising food swaps so you jump through January!

Swap sunflower oil for coconut oil

Sunflower oil is one of the most popular cooking oils, partly because it’s quite cheap but it’s also promoted as being healthy. However, the reality is that sunflower oil contains a high percentage of polyunsaturated fats which are damaged when heated and therefore turn into unhealthy trans fats.

Coconut oil and coconut flesh

Conversely, coconut oil is stable once heated but, most importantly, contains high levels of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which the body uses as an energy source. They also speed up metabolism and are not stored as fat. You can even use pure coconut butter as a wonderful body moisturiser. Coconut oil can always be used as a replacement for sunflower oil (or other cooking oils), plus it delivers a very subtle coconut taste which is particularly delicious in stir fry dishes.

Swap rice cakes for oat cakes

Rice cakes are frequently suggested as a great low calorie snack but they do very little in terms of providing sustained energy. Moreover, rice cakes are heated to high temperatures during their preparation and this can produce very unhealthy acrylamides which have been linked to a number of degenerative diseases.

Home made oat cakes

Whilst oat cakes contain a few more calories, you’ll eat less overall because you won’t feel hungry as quickly. Oats are slow releasing carbohydrates which means they keep delivering energy for much longer. Oat cakes make great snacks when paired with hummus, nut butters (see below), prawns or bananas. They’re truly versatile!

Swap peanut butter for walnut butter

It’s a common misconception that peanut butter is really healthy. True, it contains a good amount of protein but that’s as far as it goes! Peanuts are not tree nuts; they’re grown in the ground and are very susceptible to picking up unhealthy aflatoxins. However, proper tree nuts, and in particular, walnuts contain the healthy and energising omega-3 fats.

Walnut nut butter in a jar surrounded by walnuts

Walnuts have the highest omega-3 content of any nuts. These essential fats are needed to help boost metabolism and will therefore give your energy levels a boost. They’re also delicious when made into a nut butter, which is available in most supermarkets. Add walnut butter to smoothies for a protein punch, on oatcakes as a snack, on wholemeal toast as a great on-the-run breakfast, or in decadent chocolate brownie recipes.

Swap white bread for brown

Many of us love white bread, especially toasted. However, once you’ve made the swap to brown, you’ll never look back! Your energy levels will be much improved and you’ll also be eating a much greater range of nutrients.

A selection of brown bread loaves

The problem with white bread (and other white products such as pasta) is that the refining process strips them of the all-important B vitamins which the body needs to produce energy. White bread also contains much less fibre. This means that its carbohydrate content is quickly released into the bloodstream and won’t provide sustainable energy.

If you‘re finding the swap tough, then why not buy some half and half bread to ease you into it gently!

Swap veggie crisps for kale chips

Vegetable chips are readily available in supermarkets and many people believe they’re much healthier than potato crisps because they contain colourful vegetables. This is partly true. However crisps are crisps regardless of which vegetable they are made from; they are still deep-fried, deliver very few nutrients and do very little to improve energy levels.

Home made kale chips in a dish

As a quick, healthy and energising swap try kale chips instead. You can even make your own: add a bag of kale to a roasting pan, sprinkle with coconut oil and a little salt and grill until they have turned crisp. Kale is high in iron and folate, both essential for energy production. As an added benefit, kale also contains good levels of vitamin K which is needed for a healthy heart and bones.

So a few simple swaps will get your energy levels soaring this January and hopefully throughout the coming year!

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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!

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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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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.

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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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Amazing asparagus: in-season, nutritious and tasty!

Close up of woman holding a bunch of asparagus

May is National Asparagus Month because it’s the time when this wonderful vegetable comes into season and tastes at its absolute best. However, it’s not just the taste that’s so amazing.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on why asparagus is such a nutritional winner!

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VARIETIES

Asparagus can be found in green, white or purple varieties, although green tends to be the most popular in the UK. White asparagus has been grown in the dark, underground, and therefore doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as the other coloured varieties. It also doesn’t have any chlorophyll as it’s not been exposed to sunlight, hence it tastes slightly different.

A woman holding a bunch of green asparagus and a bunch of white asparagus

THE BENEFITS

Asparagus is a really good source of vitamins A and C so is great for the immune system. It is also very high in energy-giving folate plus it’s got a wealth of trace minerals such as potassium, copper, manganese and selenium. Asparagus is also a good source of chromium so helps with blood sugar balance.

Interestingly, asparagus isn’t on the top of everyone’s list when choosing vegetables. This may partly be because the sulphur-producing elements in asparagus gives most people’s urine a rather distinctive smell! In fact, this is quite normal and asparagus is a natural diuretic, so is actually very cleansing for the kidneys. For some people it can also work as a laxative as it’s high in fibre, so is great for people suffering from constipation.

Roasted asparagus topped with a poached egg

As with most fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, they tend to have traditional folklore use; in the case of asparagus, it was used as a tonic and to treat inflammatory-type conditions such as rheumatism.

IT’S GREAT FOR PREGNANCY

Since asparagus contains high levels of folate (folic acid), it’s great for women to eat either before or during pregnancy (or indeed both). Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects in babies and Public Health England also recommends a supplement of 400 micrograms daily, pre-conceptually and for the first trimester.

We know from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS)[1] that women of child-bearing age are deficient in this essential vitamin. This is despite it being widely available in foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, since folic acid works alongside vitamin B12, which is often poorly absorbed, the two vitamins can often both be deficient. So, ladies, now is the time to grab some delicious asparagus!

WHAT TO DO WITH IT

Asparagus is a real regular on restaurant menus at this time of year, either as an appetiser or as a side dish.   Often it’s simply roasted with a little olive oil and lemon or just lightly grilled. It’s also wonderful roasted and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. And it’s superb barbecued!

Another popular recipe is asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham, either as a starter or side. The asparagus is simply wrapped in the ham, sprinkled with pepper and roasted for about 15 minutes.

Roased asparagus wrapped in parma ham and sprinkled with parmesan cheese

If, however, you want to go for the slightly milder, sweeter taste of white asparagus, you can certainly try something different. White asparagus needs to be prepared slightly differently from the green variety; white should be peeled from the bottom as the skin tends to be tough. It is generally better boiled until soft and is traditionally served with hollandaise sauce. If you do opt for green, then it should be so fresh that you can snap it in half; no toughness or stringiness in sight!

The official asparagus season lasts around 8 weeks in the UK so enjoy it as much as possible!

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined

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Spring nutrition for an energy boost this season

With the onset of spring and the lighter evenings, we naturally feel more energised and want totally embrace life. However, the real key to feeling revitalised is eating the right foods. It is always best to eat foods that are in season to gain maximum nutritional benefits, and springtime presents foods which are great for energy.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five best meals to put a zing in your step!

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GET BREAKFAST UNDERWAY

You’ll definitely struggle with energy throughout the day if you don’t start it off right. This means always eating breakfast. Many people have little appetite in the morning, in which case eating some natural yoghurt and blueberries might be the best option for you.

However, as spinach is a great spring food and is packed with energising iron, an often-depleted trace mineral in the diet, it makes a great breakfast choice. How about a mushroom and spinach omelette?

Spinach omelette in pan on breakfast table

Eggs are one of the best sources of protein you can find, so blood sugar levels will stay balanced throughout the day, and mushrooms contain B vitamins which are real energy-boosters. This breakfast is really going to keep you fully charged throughout the day.

LUNCH-TIME ENERGISERS

Energy levels often slump mid-afternoon, particularly if work is office-based, hence the need for a protein-based lunch. Salmon is at its best right now and is packed with the essential omega-3 fats, needed to keep the metabolism fired up. Why not throw together a delicious salmon and new potato salad using wonderfully tasty Jersey royals? Plus, add some lightly boiled or steamed asparagus to your salad leaves; asparagus is in season and contains lots of energising folate. Folate or folic acid, known as vitamin B9, is also essential for red blood cell production.

Salmon fillet and asparagus on a white plate

Eating sandwiches for lunch can become a bit dull and it may encourage that afternoon dip in energy. Chicken is in season now (as we’ll see below), and it’s great for lunch in a sustaining quinoa, chicken and avocado salad. The whole recipe is loaded with the energising B-vitamins and avocado provides some good fats which are great for the skin and heart.

Tub of quinoa salad on a desk with keyboard and mouse in background

Boil the quinoa with some chicken stock and when cool, mix with some cooked chicken, mashed avocado, baby spinach (another spring favourite!), some cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, crushed garlic and a little olive oil. You’ll fly through the rest of the day and because it’s gluten-free you won’t feel bloated later on.

DELICIOUS DINNERS

No spring recipe suggestions would be complete without including lamb. The UK is well-known for its deliciously sweet and tender spring lamb. Plus it’s certainly going to contribute to those energy levels; it’s rich in vitamins B3, B6 and B12 and lamb is a great source of zinc which helps support the immune system.

Roast leg of lamb with trimmings

Greek-style spring lamb is wonderful and is great for entertaining over the Easter period. And a leg of lamb is so easy to cook. Simply mix up some crushed garlic, oregano, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper and rub all over the lamb. In order for the full flavour to penetrate, stab the raw meat whilst pouring over the herb mixture. Once the lamb is cooked to your liking, use the juices in the pan to mix with a can of tomatoes and some green or black olives for a delicious accompaniment.

Roast chicken leg with potatoes and vegetables

Chicken is also a great spring food. Indeed, the famous ‘spring chicken’ saying suggests that spring chickens are much softer than older ones who have had to endure the winter! Chicken is often a family staple and a great source of protein with a complete amino acid profile. Plus it’s packed with B vitamins, especially vitamin B5 which is needed for the body’s normal stress response. You can either use a whole chicken or chicken thighs which are generally much tastier than breast for an easy chicken casserole. Place in a pot with sliced carrots, new potatoes (Jersey royals of course), some chicken stock, mixed herbs and what else but spring onions!

So enjoy everything that the new season has to offer and here’s to an energetic spring!

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Shout about sprouts! Everything you need to know about nutritious Brussels sprouts.

Plate with traditional Christmas dinner and a delicious turkey on the table in the background

Brussels sprouts are synonymous with Christmas and will always appear on any traditional Christmas menu. However, just like marmite, people love them or hate them even though they deliver wonderful nutritional benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer stands up for sprouts and also suggests alternatives if you really can’t stomach these little green vegetables!

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Did you know that Britons eat more Brussels Sprouts than any other country in Europe, even though they originated from Brussels? The area dedicated to sprout fields in the UK is equivalent to around 3,240 football pitches so there must be more lovers than haters? So what’s so good about sprouts?

PACKED FULL OF NUTRITION

Brussels sprouts are bursting with nutrients and actually contain more vitamin C per 100 grams than oranges.  Plus they’re a great source of folate – a B vitamin which helps energy production and red blood cell production – and vitamin A for a strong immune system. Even better, they’re full of fibre which keeps the bowels in smooth working order.  The only down side is that they can produce unpleasant wind, but this can be reduced by cooking them as quickly as possible in fast-boiling water in an uncovered saucepan.

One often-forgotten nutritional fact about sprouts is that they are actually rich in protein; they provide around 4 grams of protein per cup, which is high for a vegetable.

THEY CAN HELP THE BODY DETOX

It may not be the time of year we traditionally think about detoxing, but why not give a helping hand to the body and help it to cope better with any excesses of the festive season?

Brussels sprouts are high in glucosinolates which help activate other detoxing compounds, plus they are high in sulphur, which is key in activating the liver’s natural detoxification systems.

WHY THE BITTER TASTE AND SMELL?

It has been proven that some people have a gene that can make certain foods, most specifically sprouts, taste bitter, which may explain why some people dislike them.  However, this bitter taste can be overcome by adding other flavours. It is often over-cooking sprouts that produces the rather unpleasant smell that can pervade the whole house so why not try steaming them instead?

DELICIOUS SPROUT DISHES

There are so many positives to eating Brussels sprouts regularly in the diet, so how can you make them even more appealing?  Sprouts work really well with bacon, onions and raisins which will compliment your Christmas meal perfectly.  They can also be sautéed with garlic and shallots.

Plus, if you want to be sure of avoiding sprout cooking smells, then why not roast them in the oven for about 15 minutes with chorizo, garlic, paprika and a little olive oil.  If you wanted to make them into more of a main meal, then why not add some small sausages?

STILL NOT CONVINCED?

If Brussels sprouts really don’t ‘float your boat’ then there’s plenty of healthy alternatives.  They come from a family of vegetables called the brassicas which are very well-known for their health benefits.  They’re also better known as cruciferous vegetables and are all super-foods in their own right.

Think kale, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage, broccoli and turnips.  You can put broccoli in stir fries, kale into pasta dishes and cauliflower can be mashed or made into the all-round favourite cauliflower cheese. Try sautéing some greens with garlic and add turnips to a slow-cooked stew.

Whatever you decide, always try to select sprouts that are fresh and bright green with tightly-packed leaves and no patches of yellow.  Make this Christmas the year to start loving sprouts!

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The power of peas: tiny but nutritious!

With their beautiful dense green colour, fresh peas are at their absolute best right now. There are many varieties of peas to choose from plus there’s always the ‘fresh or frozen’ question to debate!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us everything we need to know about peas (with ease!)

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PEA VARIETIES

Peas are a really popular vegetable in the UK with some sources estimating a whopping 9,000 being eaten by the average person a year!  Unlike many of our fruits and vegetables, peas are actually grown in the UK with around 35,000 hectares given over to their farming.

The most common types of peas, other than those taken out of the pod, are mange tout (also called snow peas) and sugar snap peas.  They are members of the legume family.

Garden peas have firm, rounded pods that need to be removed and discarded before eating the peas inside. Garden peas are naturally quite sweet and get sweeter and starchier the larger they get. Conversely, snow peas are eaten ‘whole’; also known as Chinese pea pods, they are often used in stir fries.

Sugar snap peas are actually a cross between snow peas and garden peas.  The whole pod is eaten either raw or cooked and they have a crunchy texture with quite a sweet flavour.

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Since all these peas are from the same legume family, their nutritional highlights are also fairly similar.  They provide a rich source of thiamin or vitamin B1 which is great for energy production and the heart, and are also high in vitamin C.  Plus, peas provide a good source of protein, hence they are used to produce protein powders which are particularly popular with vegetarian athletes.

Peas are high in folate which is key in brain development and energy production; pregnant women certainly need higher levels of folate in their diet. They are also high in fibre so they are great to include in the diet if you want to keep your bowels in smooth working order.

FRESH VERSUS FROZEN

The first peas were frozen by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920’s and Birds Eye Foods still have the most market share of frozen pea sales today!

Many people prefer to eat frozen peas rather than fresh because once peas have been harvested they undergo chemical changes quite rapidly.  The natural sugar in peas is quickly converted into starch which can make their texture tough to eat and less digestible.  However, the freezing process is normally done very quickly after harvesting which both locks the nutrients in plus makes them more tender to eat.

The other great benefit is that frozen peas require absolute no preparation!  They’re readily available for curries, soups, casseroles, risottos or just as a delicious vegetable side with some melted butter and chopped chives.

Another question that’s often posed is regarding the nutritional content of tinned peas. Unfortunately, they do lose more of their nutritional value in the canning process and they can often be high in sugar and salt. So they are not the ideal pea choice!

TIPS FOR COOKING

As with any fruit or vegetable, cooking with as little heat as possible is always better.  This is mainly because vitamin C is so easily lost in the cooking process.  Therefore, steaming is always recommended or cooking in a just a small amount of water.

PEAS VERSUS PULSES

People can often get confused, quite understandably, around the differences between peas and pulses.  This is mainly because of pulses called chick peas or black-eyed peas!

Peas are actually legumes and whilst pulses are part of the legume family, they actually refer to the dried seed.  Various beans, such as soya, lentils and chickpeas, are probably the most common types of pulses.  All pulses have good amounts of protein but don’t contain all the essential amino acids, hence they need to be combined with grains to get everything the body needs.

So there we have peas in a nutshell (or more correctly a pod!) They are a great go-to vegetable and if you’ve got some in your freezer all year round, you’ll never go without your daily greens!

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