Plan your picnic with a vegetarian twist!

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

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

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

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

Veggie wraps

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

Falafel wraps

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

Quinoa surprise

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

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

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

Frittata

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

Spinach and mushroom frittata

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

Pasta slaw

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

Bowl of pasta salad

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

Chickpea Salad

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

Chickpea salad with feta

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

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

Stay well.

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Five seasonal foods to start your summer

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

The summer solstice on 20th June officially marks the start of summer, although with such a hot May you could be forgiven for thinking it has been here for a while! 

With the onset of summer, nature brings a further array of deliciously healthy and nutritious foods to enjoy.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyers shares her five favourites.

 

Courgettes

More romantically named zucchini by the Italians and Americans, courgettes are a great and versatile summer food.  They’re a type of small, young marrow with tender edible skins.  As with most fruits and vegetables, many of their nutrients are actually found just under the skin hence they’re best eaten with the skin on.

A range of courgettes

Courgettes are a good source of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A in the body as needed.  As with other ‘green’ vegetables they also supply a particular carotenoid, zeaxanthin which is great for the eyes.  They’re also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and brain-boosting folate. Folate is essential for good functioning of the nervous system which is really useful especially right now when many people are struggling with anxiety.

Courgette linguini

One of the loveliest summer recipes is grated courgette with linguini, lemon juice, garlic, basil and chopped chilli peppers; it makes a fantastic al fresco treat!

Artichoke

It’s not always a go-to vegetable as it’s slightly trickier to prepare.  However, why not change things up a little and benefit from its wonderful taste and health benefits? As an additional benefit, artichoke often conjures up thoughts of the Mediterranean which we might not be able to visit for a while.

Close up of artichokes

Artichoke is prepared by discarding the outer toughest leaves to get to the heart. It can then be sliced and either grilled or boiled and served with lemon butter or hollandaise sauce.  Alternatively, it can be bought ready prepared and added to pizzas, salads or pasta dishes.

Artichoke pasta dish

Artichoke’s main health benefits seem to be from its potential to support liver function and reduce cholesterol levels.  It also helps feed the friendly gut bacteria, a good balance of which is essential for overall wellbeing.

Watercress

Another green super food, watercress is one of the healthiest salad vegetables with a distinctive peppery taste.  In traditional medicine it was used as a kidney and liver detoxifier, just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  Furthermore, it’s a great source of minerals especially iron, as well as beta-carotene and vitamin C.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress makes a great summertime soup with Jersey Royals (also in season right now). It is also great in salad with rocket and Parmesan or with other strong flavours such as orange.

Wild Sea Trout

It’s important to look for ‘wild’ which naturally contains astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant, and the reason for the dark, pink colour), plus the flavour is vastly better than in its farmed counterparts.  Some of the best wild sea trout is caught off the Welsh coast, although it’s also fished in European waters.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Sea Trout is an excellent source of super-healthy omega-3 fats which are needed for the heart, brain, skin, hormones, and joints.

Trout fish fillet with salad

At this time of year, sea trout is absolutely delicious cooked on the barbecue and also works well marinated with orange dressing.  It makes a wonderfully healthy summer meal alongside Jersey Royal potatoes and plenty of salad leaves.

Aubergine

Another vegetable we often associate with the Mediterranean, especially Greece, is aubergine (also known as eggplant).  Interestingly, it’s also widely grown in the UK. Aubergine is still widely used in traditional Ottoman dishes such as Imam Bayildi (aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes). The deep colour of its skin signifies plenty of anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against degenerative diseases.  Aubergine also contains plenty of fibre and folate.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

Aubergines are a great summer food because they’re delicious chargrilled and added to other roasted vegetables or in a salad with roasted tomatoes and feta cheese.  The only downside is that they tend to soak up plenty of oil so do make sure you use healthy olive oil so at least you’re getting some heart-health benefits.

So, enjoy the amazing colours, tastes and nutritional benefits the new summer season brings.

Stay well.

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Celebrate National Vegetarian Week with these top five vegetables

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

It’s National Vegetarian Week, celebrating all things great about adopting a totally or predominantly plant-based diet.  However, there has also been a rise in people becoming flexitarian; still eating some animal produce but significantly increasing their intake of plant-based foods. 

Whilst all vegetables deliver wonderful health benefits, there are certainly some stars in their field.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourites.

 

Soy beans

Whilst you might not think of soy as a vegetable, it’s part of the legume family. Soya is one of the best vegetable sources of protein, therefore makes a great addition to a vegetarian diet.

Soya is widely consumed in Eastern diets but importantly it’s eaten in its fermented form in foods such as tofu, tempeh and kombucha, produced from the whole bean.  Refined forms or those that have been genetically modified should ideally be avoided.

A sack of soy beans

However, apart from their impressive protein content, soya beans are high in important trace minerals such as copper, manganese and phosphorus, essential for joints and bones.  Plus, fermented soya works on the body’s natural gut bacteria to produce bone and heart-loving vitamin K and energising folate.  There is also plenty of research to suggest soya delivers a number of cardiovascular benefits, especially raising good HDL cholesterol levels.

Spinach

Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet. It contains around 30% protein so is great for both a vegetarian and flexitarian diet.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

As with all green leafy vegetables, its nutrient profile is impressive.  Spinach is also a great source of vitamin K but is probably famously known for its iron content. Vegetarians can sometimes be lacking in iron since red meat provides the most bio-available form, therefore spinach can help plug the gaps. As with any green food or vegetable, spinach is great for alkalising and detoxifying the body and is in season right now!

Asparagus

Another vegetable with good protein content, asparagus is at its absolute best right now.  English asparagus has so much more taste and ‘bite’ than at any other time of the year.  Make sure you grab some, gently steam or barbecue and serve simply, seasoned with pepper and salt and a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

Asparagus provides plenty of energising B-vitamins, as well as trace minerals such as magnesium, frequently lacking in the Western diet.  Plus, it is known as a prebiotic food which helps feed the good gut bacteria, providing benefits to the immune system, especially important during the current situation.

Broccoli

Often referred to as a superfood, broccoli has some amazing health benefits, partly because of the range of nutrients and flavonoids it contains.  Broccoli has some of the highest amounts of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.  Plus is helps improve liver health by stimulating detoxification processes and antioxidant compounds in the liver.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Just like these other vegetables, broccoli contains some usable amounts of protein so is great for the vegetarian diet, plus it is packed full of immune-boosting vitamin C.  It can be steamed, roasted or sautéed and works well with garlic, chilli and sesame seeds for a real taste punch!

Collard greens

From the same family as broccoli, cauliflower and kale, these dark green leaves also deliver wonderful health benefits, and contain the same profile of antioxidants and other plant compounds.

A dish of collard greens

If you worry that greens are too bland, it’s all about what they’re served with. Greens work really well with strong flavours such as onions, leeks or mushrooms.  And in order to preserve maximum nutrients, taste and texture, they’re much better steamed or sautéed, perhaps with some garlic.

As with all green vegetables, collards are rich in trace minerals especially magnesium, manganese and calcium – all frequently deficient in the diet and essential for many aspects of our health.

So, embrace National Vegetarian Week and serve yourself some super health vegetables to celebrate!

Stay well.

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Growing your own: health-giving, home-grown ideas

Close up on waomn in an allotment holding a home graon carrot

Whilst we’re all rather restricted in what we can and can’t do right now. But for those with vegetable patches, pots or allotments, it’s the perfect time to be growing your vegetables.  For those of you without access to outside space, a balcony or even just a windowsill can give you the opportunity to grow some delicious and health-giving herbs.

Growing your own produce has big advantages over shop-bought as the produce is all pesticide-free and additive-free.  Importantly, time from harvest to plate can be swift, helping to keep valuable nutrients intact, and helping the planet at the same time.

This National Gardening Week, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer suggests a few things to start cultivating right now!

Broccoli

An all-round superfood, broccoli certainly lives up to its acclaim. It is very high in antioxidants provided by its vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content. Plus, it’s great for the heart (it helps reduce cholesterol) and helps to protect the immune system. It can help to keep the digestive system moving smoothly and supports the liver’s ability to detoxify. Broccoli is also packed with lutein and zeaxanthin which are great for healthy eyes and eyesight.

Purple sprouting broccoli

In terms of nutrient content, broccoli is rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, bone-loving vitamin K and energy-boosting folate. There are so many different varieties of broccoli that you can sow right now; the purple sprouting type may have the slight edge in terms of antioxidants, which is down to its beautiful colour.

Carrots

A real mainstay vegetable, no garden should be without carrots. They are best known for their ability to help you see in the dark. This is because they are loaded with beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, and which is essential for eyesight.

A selection of rainbow carrots

Why not grow a rainbow variety, which means you’ll have a combination of orange, purple and white-coloured carrots?  They will all have slightly different tastes and the varied colours will deliver wonderful healthy phytonutrients.

Beetroot

If you plant some beetroot seeds now, you should have some wonderful beetroot globes available for the traditional summer salad season. However, beetroot is not only great in salads but is delicious roasted, pickled or cooked, and used in juices and smoothies.

Whole beetroots

Another superfood, beetroot is a great liver cleanser. Packed full of antioxidants, it also supports energy and is a good source of iron.  Indeed, this is probably one of the reasons it has traditionally been known as a tonic and given to people whilst convalescing. Needless to say, it’s loaded with great nutrients and is incredibly versatile in many dishes, both sweet and savoury.

Basil

Basil is one of the tastiest herbs you can grow indoors. Plus, it smells beautiful and will always remind you of the Mediterranean.  Basil makes a great accompaniment to any tomato-based dish and is an aromatic addition to salad and pasta dishes. It also great for the digestive system.

A fresh bunch of basil on a wooden board

Basil is a pretty hardy herb that prefers full sunlight and now is the time to plant your pots for readiness by July. It will also happily grow in a pot amongst other herbs if you have room.

Chives

Chives are another great small pot herb which can be grown alone or in a slightly larger pot with other herbs such as coriander and parsley.

Some chopped chives on a wooden board

A member of the onion family, chives are very easy to grow and produce some pretty and edible flowers. Both the stems and flowers are great chopped for garnishing potato salad, in scrambled egg, soups and many other savoury dishes. As with all herbs, they have been hailed for many different health issues over the years, and chives have been used as a tonic and to stimulate appetite after illness.

So, get planting!  And if you’ve never undertaken any form of gardening in the past, now could be a great time to start.

Stay well.

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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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Top nutrition tips for a delicious summer picnic

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

It’s that time of year when we should be enjoying being in the great outdoors with a picnic! And your picnic basket certainly doesn’t need to be filled with lifeless sandwiches.

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Think colourful, appetising and, most importantly, healthy foods!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy and tasty picnic ideas.

Energising salad

Whether you’ve woken up and decided ‘today is the day’ for a picnic you certainly don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen preparing food. You want to get out there and enjoy the day. A salad will help keep you energised for the odd ball game during the day, and is a great choice.

A quinoa salad with vegetables

As with any meal or dish, the more colour you can inject, the better and this salad is no exception. This one has a base of protein-rich quinoa (try to get as many colour varieties as possible of quinoa. Add broad beans (also known as lima beans) which are packed with energising folate. Then mix some spring onions, chilli, chopped celery, mint leaves and chopped parsley with some tasty French dressing.

This is a really energising and sustaining salad, loaded with antioxidants but also containing two healthy herbs; mint and parsley both help digestion and detoxification.

Wraps

Whilst sandwiches may become limp and unappetising, wraps are much more substantial and are easier to transport. Plus, you can pack a variety of different fillings to suit all tastes. A really nice option is falafel, sliced beetroot, feta cheese and crispy lettuce. It’s a really colourful wrap that’s packed with liver-loving beetroot and protein-rich feta and falafel. It’s also great for any vegetarians in the group.

Falafel wraps

Another wonderful alternative wrap recipe is smoked salmon, egg and spinach with a little mayonnaise. Not only is this one really quick to prepare, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Smoked salmon contains plenty of brain-loving omega-3s, plus spinach is a great source of energising iron as well as some B-vitamins. And even though you’ll be out in the sunshine (hopefully), egg yolks are a source of vitamin D which will help top up levels in the body. We’re finding out more and more about the absolute need for plenty of vitamin D so use every opportunity you can to top up.

Colourful skewers

Here’s another colourful picnic idea that’s really quick to prepare and won’t spoil in transportation. Why not take on an Italian theme for this one? Cherry tomatoes work really well with mozzarella, cheese, olives, basil leaves,  tomatoes and perhaps a little folded Parma ham.

Tomato mozzarella and basil skewers

Tomatoes are full of the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient meaning it’s much better absorbed when eaten with a fatty food such as mozzarella and Parma ham. Additionally olives are high in monounsaturated fats which are very beneficial for the heart. So, if you’re picnic takes on a more active theme, you’ll be protecting your heart health both from the exercise and your menu plan!

Flapjacks

It’s always nice to enjoy a sweet treat on a picnic and flapjacks don’t need to be sugar-laden. This recipe contains some energising oats as well as plenty of seeds-containing omega-3s. You can use agave syrup to sweeten which is still a form of sugar but is higher in fructose than glucose so won’t give you a dramatic sugar-rush.

Homemade flapjacks

Porridge oats work really well mixed with seeds, chopped dates and apricots, chopped hazelnuts, a little butter and some raisins. These flapjacks also provide energising snacks throughout the week and will become a lunch-box favourite if you’re running short of ideas!

And to drink …..

Finally, you need to think about what to drink and what better than some delicious elderflower cordial? It’s one of those drinks that everyone can enjoy and whilst it contains some sugar, it doesn’t need to be overly sweetened. Elderflowers are in abundance on trees right now, so grab around 30 heads, pour over boiling water, add some lemon and orange slices and a little sugar and leave overnight.

Homemade elderflower cordial

Elderflowers have been used traditionally for many years as a general health tonic, to help digestion and to soothe a cold and unblock sinuses.

So enjoy a healthy, fun-filled picnic as part of your day in the great outdoors!

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