If sprouts are out, here are five delicious vegetable alternatives

A family eating christmas dinner

With Christmas rapidly approaching, our thoughts naturally turn to food. Indeed, one of the most controversial vegetables of all Christmas fayre is the humble Brussels sprout; you either love them or hate them! However, if sprouts are not your bag, there’s plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables that can sit proudly on your dinner table.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top Christmas vegetables (other than sprouts!)

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But first, just in case you can be tempted, the health benefits of Brussels sprouts are quite extraordinary. Not only high in immune-boosting vitamin C and beta-carotene, they contain compounds called indoles that may help prevent some serious diseases but can also balance hormones, particularly in women suffering through the menopause.

So what’s the alternative?

BROCCOLI

A member of the same ‘crucifer’ family as Brussels sprouts, broccoli can also be hailed as a super food. With broccoli, it’s all about the colour; the darker the florets, the higher the nutrient value. The heads contain more nutrients than the stalks but it’s all good to eat.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Packed with vitamin C (great for immunity at this time of year), folic acid, iron and beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A as needed, broccoli is always going to make a statement on the dinner table. Lightly steam and then flash fry with some garlic and sesame seeds to enhance its appeal.

RAINBOW CARROTS

Carrots are traditionally orange but they can also be yellow and purple too! They all contain roughly the same nutrient profile but their varying colours mean they contain a variety of antioxidants, which is great news for the body. Plus, we all know that carrots help us to see better in the dark; that’s because they have very high amounts of beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A and is essential for night vision – certainly very necessary during the long winter nights!

A selection of rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots are certainly going to bring some festive cheer to the dinner table. However, they also work really well alongside another winter vegetable super food…

BEETROOT

In season right now, wonderful beetroot works really well roasted alongside rainbow carrots – your Christmas dinner table will never have been so colourful! Beetroots are a great source of folic acid and heart-loving potassium.

Whole beetroots

To roast carrots and beetroot together, place them all in a roasting tin with some fresh orange segments, balsamic vinegar, thyme and a little golden syrup for a tasty side dish.

CELERIAC

Sometimes unceremoniously called ‘the ugly one’, celeriac, as the name suggests is part of the celery family. Whilst some people are not overly keen on celery, celeriac has a much more subtle flavour and also delivers some great nutritional benefits; it’s high in both vitamin C and potassium.

Celeriac on a table

For a really luxurious Christmas treat, celeriac can be mashed with crispy bacon, cream, butter, thyme and breadcrumbs. It can all be mixed in a food processor and then lightly grilled for a crispy topping.

LEEKS

Another vegetable in season during December, leeks are a versatile vegetable side or main dish option, over the Christmas period. Leeks are very high in potassium which is essential for a healthy heart and regulating blood pressure. Potassium is also great for the kidneys which may explain why leeks were used to treat kidney stones in traditional medicine.

Leeks in a wooden trough

As part of the same family as onions and garlic, they deliver many of the same health benefits. Try cooking them as a delicious oven-baked leek, bacon and cheese side or as a one-pot meal with chicken breasts, chopped celeriac, butter beans and thyme to really tempt the taste-buds.

So if you don’t fancy sprouts this Christmas, there are plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables to choose from!

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Why is vitamin B12 so important?

Vitamin B12 is otherwise known as cobalamin because it’s the only vitamin that contains the essential mineral, cobalt. It was first isolated from liver extract in the late 1940s and was found to be the answer to a very serious condition called pernicious anaemia. Thankfully this fairly rare condition can now be identified much earlier. However, deficiency of vitamin B12 is still remarkably common.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on vitamin B12.

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WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

Vitamin B12 is key to the healthy production of red blood cells and the myelin sheath around nerve cells, hence it’s important for nerve function. B12 also works with folic acid (vitamin B9) in many body processes. Indeed, a deficiency of either nutrient can often be masked by the other, hence if a blood test is taken, it should involve both vitamins.

Side profile of a person higlighting their brain functioning

Importantly, vitamin B12 is known as a methyl donor, which carries and donates methyl groups (carbon and hydrogen molecules) to cell membranes and brain neurotransmitters. It’s a positive chemical reaction, one of its main roles being the metabolism of homocysteine. This is an amino acid produced in the body, high levels of which can potentially cause an array of health issues. Vitamin B12 is also involved with energy metabolism and immune function, so as you can see it’s pretty important!

WHERE CAN I GET IT FROM?

Unlike other water-soluble nutrients (such as other B-vitamins), B12 is stored in the liver, kidneys and other body tissues, but obviously only if there’s some available in the diet. Absorption is also dependent on having sufficient hydrochloric acid in the stomach which reduces as we get older. It is also thought that the beneficial bacteria naturally living in the gut, may produce some vitamin B12; research is very unclear though as to how much can actually be utilised. Plus, it’s likely that the good gut flora needs to be in tip-top condition for this process to take place, and many people have an imbalance in this area.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce, including offal (liver and kidneys), eggs, fish, cheese and meat. There may be some found in fermented sources such as sea vegetables and tempeh. But although vegans are often told that fermented foods, including miso and tofu, are good sources, there’s a big question mark about whether it’s in the form the body can utilise. Therefore fermented foods are certainly not a reliable source of vitamin B12.

In short, animal products are the only assured source which means that vegans are highly likely to be deficient unless they’re taking a supplement.

TEN FOODS HIGH IN B12

Foods containing Vitamin B12

Many people shy away from liver because the taste is too strong. However, the flavour of chicken livers is much more subtle and they’re great served warm with a salad, as a quick and delicious midweek meal. For a good contrast of flavours, mix salad leaves with some chopped hazelnuts and goat’s cheese. The chicken livers can be quickly fried (a couple of minutes per side) sprinkled with herbs and a little paprika and served immediately.

Cooked chicken livers

 HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE A DEFICIENCY?

We know the body can store some vitamin B12, so a deficiency can sometimes take a while to come to light and then symptoms may be slightly vague and non-specific.

Deficiency may cause extreme tiredness, plus nerve function can be off-balance triggering ‘pins and needles’, numbness or a burning feeling anywhere in the body. Low mood, lack of concentration and depression are also commonplace. More dramatic symptoms leading up to pernicious anaemia are likely to be persistent diarrhoea and a very red, inflamed tongue, but this is uncommon.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Deficiency of vitamin B12 is often down to poor absorption and low dietary intake. The likelihood of deficiency also increases with age as digestive issues become enhanced. Plus, anyone with poor digestion is much more likely to have a deficiency. The good news is that by either increasing the amount you eat in the diet or taking a supplement containing vitamin B12, you can be sure you’re getting enough of this essential vitamin.

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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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How to get your five-a-day during December

Close up of a woman's hands holding a pile of cranberries

Our healthy diet can sometimes go awry during December. Festive functions and busy diaries mean that eating healthily becomes, potentially, more difficult, and that includes getting the recommended ‘five-a-day’ of our fruits and vegetables. However, there are some delicious ways of eating foods in season right now to maximise their health benefits. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her favourites!

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JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

Maybe not top of everyone’s ‘wish-list’ but Jerusalem artichokes provide some wonderful health benefits.

One of their top ‘claims to fame’ is that they boost our beneficial gut bacteria. This helps to improve mood and motivation because it stimulates the production of serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone. It may also help to avoid winter SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which affects so many people, making them feel low through the cold, dark months.

Jerusalem artichokes are delicious simply chopped lengthwise and roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

CRANBERRIES

Not surprisingly, cranberries are in season right now!  But don’t just eat them once a year with your turkey; cranberries can offer some wonderful health benefits throughout the winter months.

Cranberries are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin C so are great to eat at this time of year when the immune system needs a boost.  Plus, cranberries are brilliant at fighting urinary tract infections; they stop bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

If you’re prone to bladder infections, then the best advice is to regularly drink sugar-free cranberry juice and include dried cranberries in granola or muesli recipes, or your other favourite cereals.

CELERIAC

Often called ‘the ugly one’ because of its very rough physical appearance, celeriac’s rich nutritional benefits and distinct taste means it is quite an interesting vegetable!

It is part of the celery family and, just like celery, is rich in potassium which is great for the heart.  Both vegetables are particularly helpful in reducing blood pressure.

Celeriac is quite difficult to peel but once prepped it’s great as a vegetable side mashed with butter and black pepper.  Even better, celeriac can be roasted whole in the oven which means it doesn’t even need to be peeled!  Wash the outer skin and cut off the top.  Sprinkle with some olive oil, garlic, herbs and seasoning.  The celeriac should then be wrapped in foil and cooked in the oven for around two hours.  Once cooked, it’s easy to spoon it out of the skin and serve with some butter.

APPLES

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ as the old wives’ tale goes, and apples certainly deliver some great health benefits which can be enjoyed during December.

Apples are packed with pectin fibre which helps to keep cholesterol levels under control.  Additionally, they contain a flavonoid called quercetin, a natural antihistamine that helps to calm allergies.

Apples are also used to make cider vinegar, which provides even more health benefits; it helps the digestion, eases joint pain, helps with weight loss and is great for the skin.  Indeed, its health benefits are as valuable as eating an apple a day.  Have a dessertspoonful before each meal.

KALE

Kale, with its rich dark green leaves, is in season right now and is great to add to your five-a-day. It’s packed with vitamin K, which is heart-protective, and folic acid and iron which support high energy levels.  It’s also full of fibre and low in calories and fat – a real winner!

Some people find kale’s fairly strong flavour slightly off-putting!  However, its makes an excellent addition to any pasta dish, such as chicken and bacon rigatoni, where there are also some other strong flavours, which combine really well.  Add a sprinkling of parmesan and black pepper and you’ve got yourself a wonderful mid-week meal to keep you running up until Christmas!

So even though time might be pressured over the next few weeks, you can still give your body plenty of nutrients to ensure you’re fully able to enjoy this Festive period.

 

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In-season: the wonders of asparagus

English asparagus has just come into season and is delicious.  Rich in many nutrients, it is a very versatile vegetable whether boiled, steamed, roasted, cooked on the barbeque or grilled.  Plus, there’s no shortage of foods it can be combined with.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the reasons why asparagus should be on your weekly shopping list!

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Asparagus is a spring vegetable with the most edible part being the tips.  It is often more expensive than some other vegetables, even when in season, because of the work taken to harvest it and the fact that its natural season is very short.

 

As with many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, asparagus was used in traditional folk medicine to treat a number of symptoms, especially inflammatory conditions.  Whilst it’s no longer part of your GP’s medicine chest, asparagus remains a very good source of fibre to keep the bowels healthy and is also a natural diuretic which could help with water retention: it also helps liver detoxification so might be well-chosen for a hangover cure.  Even better, it feeds the good bacteria in the digestive tract, helping to stop bloating, boost immunity and promote healthy skin.

There’s just one little downside; after eating, our urine does acquire a rather strange smell and this comes from the amino acid, arginine.  However, it’s not a prolonged side effect and it also means that asparagus contains some protein, which is another plus!

NUTRIENT PROFILE

Asparagus is rich in folate – the food-form of folic acid – which is great for energy and producing healthy red blood cells; a 100 g portion of asparagus provides around three-quarters of the body’s requirement for folate each day.  It’s high in vitamins C and E which help to boost the immune system, together with beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in the body – also great for immunity.

Asparagus is also high in vitamin K which is needed for effective blood clotting, strong bones and a healthy heart. As if that weren’t enough, asparagus also contains the minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, iodine and zinc.  Minerals in general are often deficient in the daily diet, purely because they are not present in highly refined foods which tend to make up a large percentage of the typical Western diet. So in this respect asparagus really is a mineral star!

ASPARAGUS MEAL IDEAS

Asparagus is delicious lightly steamed and served with some hollandaise sauce.  This can either be made from scratch using egg yolks, lemon juice, mayonnaise and a little cream or the shop-bought versions are generally really good.  Even better, it’s on many restaurant menus, so enjoy it as a starter.

Another really easy way with asparagus is lightly roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt, pepper and garlic. Or why not try roasted and tossed with some parmesan cheese, or sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Asparagus works particularly well with eggs.  It’s great steamed and topped with a lightly boiled egg as a starter or as part of a salad with egg, avocado, peppers and spinach leaves.

For the more adventurous, it’s delicious in one-pot dishes such as chicken thighs roasted with garlic and rosemary, in a soup with peas, or in a stir fry with anything you fancy!

So catch asparagus while it’s in season right now; the taste and texture won’t be better!

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