Seasonal nutrition: Re-charge your June diet

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

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

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

 

 

Favourite fruits

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

a punnet of strawberries

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

Flavoursome fish

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

Cooked scallpos on a plate

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

Versatile vegetables

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

Broad beans in a bowl

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

Carrots being cooked on a griddle pan

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

Healthy herbs

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

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

Basil and pesto pasta in a bowl

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

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

 

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Top nutrition tips to winter-proof your diet

Close up of woman with wooly hat and scarf to represent winter

With the onset of colder weather, our thoughts naturally turn to the approach of winter. Unfortunately, we tend to be more susceptible to nasty bugs at this time of year and through the winter months. However, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can winter-proof your diet to keep your body in good health all season long.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her tips on what’s good to eat and what’s best to ditch during the winter months.

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LOVE LEMONS!

Most people enjoy eating citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and tangerines, but avoid lemons because of their sharp flavour. However, their high vitamin C content can really help to support the immune system and they’re great at encouraging the liver to detox.

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

There are so many ways they can be incorporated into the daily diet; squeezed over grilled fish, added to salad dressings, drizzled over a morning pancake or added to a warming drink with ginger and honey. And for those with aches and pains, lemons also help balance the body’s natural alkalinity, so all the joints move a little smoother.

EAT YOUR GREENS

Spinach is obviously a green-leafy vegetable whose virtues are often extoled. However unlike other similar vegetables, spinach is high in oxalic acid which interferes with the absorption of certain minerals: oxalates tend to deplete iron and calcium, both of which are essential through the winter months to support the immune system and the muscles, joints and bones. But the good news is if you cook spinach this breaks down the oxalic acid, resulting in loss of fewer nutrients – so always go for steamed or sautéed spinach, especially during the winter months.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

There are of course also plenty of other green vegetables to choose from such as broccoli, kale cauliflower and sprouts, all of which should be readily eaten during the winter months for their very dense nutrient content.

SWEETEN WITH MOLASSES

When the temperature drops, we naturally tend to crave more sugary and carbohydrate-based foods. Clearly, we need to be mindful of this. However, molasses, which can be found in health foods stores, are a really good way of adding some sweetness to dishes. They actually have quite a strong flavour, so not too much is needed but they’re packed with the mineral iron to help keep energy levels up.

Roast leg of lamb with trimmings

Molasses can be used in sweet or savoury dishes; think pulled pork, lamb shank, game pies or chicken meals, in pancakes, flapjacks, or sticky toffee pudding (for a real treat).

AVOID WHITE SUGAR

Sugar is everywhere – often in foods you wouldn’t expect – and it is important to remember that it contains no nutrients at all. In fact, it may even impair absorption of essential nutrients. During winter-time the body is often under attack from infections, therefore the immune system needs to be in good shape. So it makes sense to take in good calories from health-giving foods rather than empty ones found in cakes, biscuits and pastries. It’s good to get into the habit of reading labels; many processed foods, cereals and those labelled ‘low-fat’ have much more sugar in than we realise.

FLAVOUR WITH GARLIC!

Garlic is a super food! It works naturally to fight invading viruses, bacteria and fungi. Therefore, it makes sense to include it in dishes as much as possible. Plus, of course it’s totally delicious and versatile.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic can be added to almost any savoury dish but it works especially well in soups, stews, lamb dishes, potato dauphinoise and stir fries. The more you eat, the better your immune system will cope during the winter months.

CUT DOWN ON DAIRY

Dairy products including milk, cream, cheese and yoghurt are not great for your respiratory system as they tend to encourage the production of mucous and nasal congestion, generally. With the threat of colds ever present during the winter months, it makes sense to reduce dairy intake where possible. There are so many dairy alternatives in the form of nut milks, oat, rice and soya. Why not try out a variety and see what works for you? Plus, you don’t need to miss out on yoghurt as there’s plenty of dairy-free ones readily available in the supermarkets.

A range of milks made from nuts

And if you’re missing some spread on your sandwiches, then why not use some hummus for a much healthier and tastier option?

So with a few easy dietary tweaks you can prepare your body to fight the oncoming bugs and be winter-ready!

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

 

Autumn wellness: is your body fit for winter?

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

As our beautiful UK summer comes to an end, just as night follows day, winter will be upon us before we know it! Sad as it is to feel the cooler days (and nights), it’s also the perfect time to ensure your body is well equipped to prevent any nasty bugs or infections from getting a hold this season.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for winter immunity.

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OVERHAUL YOUR DIET

Whilst it’s often hard to eat the ‘perfect’ diet every day, the more foods you can eat that help boost your immune system on a daily basis, the better. In fact, your diet is the first port of call when it comes to ‘prepping’ your body for winter.

Eating some protein such as fish, chicken, eggs, dairy produce, beans, lentils and wholegrains at every meal is key. The immune system needs these types of foods to produce immunoglobulins – blood proteins that act as disease-fighting antibodies. Plus, many other nutrients such as vitamin C (found in most fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and avocadoes), vitamin A (high in liver, cheese, eggs and sweet potatoes) and zinc (especially rich in pumpkin seeds and lean red meat) are all key immune boosters. So try to keep your diet as varied and colourful as possible to ensure your body gets the spread of nutrients it needs.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

It is also important to keep sugar to a minimum; try to reduce the amount of refined carbs, alcohol, and fizzy and caffeinated drinks on a daily basis. Sugar in all its forms has an adverse effect on the immune system.

INCREASE YOUR HERBS AND SPICES

There are a wealth of herbs and spices that have strong immune-boosting powers and even anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Plus, they all enhance the flavour of many popular dishes.

For example, garlic is probably one of the best known infection-fighters and works well with so many different foods; meat, fish, and vegetables – the list is endless. Additionally, ginger is equally beneficial to the immune system. Both herbs can be used in easy stir-fries, for example.

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herb thyme is delicious added to casseroles or pasta dishes and is great made into an infusion with boiling water and gargled if you’re unlucky enough to get struck down. Thyme tea is recommended for all types of infections, including earache and sinusitis. All herbs and spices will have far-reaching health benefits, so add as many as possible to your dishes!

BOOST YOUR MOOD

A healthy mind is equally important for a strong immune system and can reduce your likelihood of getting struck down with a cold or flu. If you’re suffering from low mood, then you’re more likely to suffer from infections. Sharing problems with friends or family can often help. However, it may also be helpful to seek out some complementary therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture to help lift a low mood.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Equally, self-help strategies can be very powerful. Daily meditation, for example, is very effective for many reasons and may really help alleviate stress. It takes some practice (and obviously a little time, initially), but it is well worth persevering.

However, if low mood persists or there are emotional issues in your life, then it may be helpful to seek the services of a qualified counsellor. Often talking to someone who is properly trained to deal with problems can be very beneficial.

ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE

There are so many positive reasons to get moving! Not only will it support the immune system by boosting infection-fighting white blood cells, it will help relieve stress, release mood-enhancing endorphins and better nourish your body generally by enhancing oxygen to every part of your body.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

You may not want to spend hours in the gym, which is fine. However, any form of exercise carried out four or five times a week, for around 30 minutes, is going to be hugely beneficial to the immune system. And don’t forget that a brisk walk every day certainly counts as great exercise. If you haven’t got a dog to walk, maybe ‘borrow’ one from a friend to help with motivation!

SUPPORTIVE SUPPLEMENTATION

If your diet isn’t always as nutrient-dense as you’d like or you’re under a lot of stress, this is going to put a strain on the immune system. It makes sense, therefore, to take a good quality daily multivitamin to help plug any nutrient gaps and to ensure you’re definitely getting the sufficient vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system.

Echinacea flower and tea

There are certain herbs, licensed as herbal remedies, which are great to take as a preventative measure. Echinacea is a popular herb, which has been used for many years to help prevent and treat colds and flu. It’s worth starting it now for a few weeks, since it increases white blood cell production. Equally, the herb pelargonium is anti-viral and antibacterial and can be taken at the very first sign of a cold, if you’re unlucky enough to get caught! Both herbs should be a medicine cupboard staple for the winter months.

So with a few simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle, you can have a bug-free autumn and winter!

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

 

Barbeque season: top tips for healthy al fresco dining

Group of friends enjoying eating a barbeque outside

One of the signs that summer is truly here is the smell of barbecued food in the air. As a nation, we love our barbeques and what’s not to like? Dining outdoors with friends and family and soaking up some rays is what summer’s all about.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips on what’s hot and what’s not on the Barbie!

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THINK BEYOND BURGERS!

Barbequed food has become much more sophisticated in recent times. However, many people still revert to barbeque ‘staples’, such as burgers, without giving it too much thought. Clearly, they have a place on the barbeque table but whole fish, (trout as a great example) is totally delicious cooked in this way.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Gutted trout can be stuffed with coriander, lemongrass, garlic and ginger and wrapped in foil or even newspaper and then cooked at a low heat over the barbeque. Trout are high in healthy omega-3 fats and all herbs deliver some wonderful health benefits. Garlic, for example, is great for the immune system and also helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.

SWAP COALS FOR GAS

Gas barbeques were once much-maligned! Whatever happened to the traditional way of cooking barbequed food? However, over time people have realised the many benefits of gas. Most importantly, cooking temperature can be much better controlled. One of the problems with barbequed food is that flames burn the outside of the food before the inside is properly cooked. This, of course is a real problem when cooking chicken and many people have fallen foul to food poisoning for this very reason.

Vegetable skewers on a barbeque

In terms of flavour, you’ll still get that wonderful barbequed-tasting food but it will be cooked evenly throughout. Once you’ve invested in a gas barbeque, there’ll last for years and you’ll find yourself cooking everything on it – even the Sunday roast!

HAVE A HAPPY TUM

On the subject of cooking food thoroughly, it’s no secret that many people suffer from an upset tummy following a barbecue. Obviously, this can be caused by improperly cooked food, but imbalanced gut bacteria can also be a culprit.

The digestive tract naturally contains billions of bacteria – some good, some bad. When there is a prevalence of bad bacteria it can cause all sorts of digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and wind. However, certain foods really encourage growth of good bacteria, many of which are perfect for the barbeque.

Tofu skewers with other vegetables on a barbeque

For example, tofu is a fermented food which feeds the healthy bacteria in the gut but can also be deliciously tasty on the barbecue! Tofu needs some strong flavours alongside it, so how about tofu skewers using tofu you’ve previously marinated? Think spring onions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, chillies and a little brown sugar mixed in olive oil. Healthy and delicious!

TURN UP THE HEAT

Obviously, you’re going to be doing this on the barbecue! However, why not add the healthy warming spice turmeric to your barbecue feast? Turmeric is great added to marinades. For example, chicken drumsticks which are marinated with garlic, coconut milk, fish sauce, turmeric and curry powder make a fabulous barbecued Thai chicken dish.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

However, the best reason for using plenty of turmeric in your barbecue fest is because it can really help alleviate stomach bloating – a common problem after a barbeque.

BALANCE YOUR SUN EXPOSURE

Part of the fun of having a barbeque is to enjoy the summer weather! It’s really important to top up on vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin, during the summer months. Vitamin D is also stored in the body; whilst this won’t be sufficient to get us through the winter months, it’s certainly beneficial during the summer particularly for the bones and immune system.

People enjoying a barbeque outside

Around 15 minutes exposure to the sun without sun cream is recommended. This is not long enough to cause any harm, but just long enough to do some real good. People are often reticent of putting on a high-strength sun cream fearing they won’t tan at all! Unfortunately, many people tend to stay out in the sun for too long, forgetting the strength of its rays at this time of year. However, if you always use a minimum SPF 30 on the body, it will maintain a healthy glow rather than a deep and skin-damaging tan. Plus always wear a hat and protect your eyes with sun glasses.

So make the most of the summer right now and enjoy deliciously tasty and healthy barbecues this season.

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The goodness of Garlic: health and nutritional benefits of this tasty bulb

Garlic (Allium sativum) has long been regarded as something of a miracle food. It has been used for dozens of complaints ranging from asthma to arthritis and it’s also a versatile ingredient in a wide range of dishes.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the low-down on garlic.

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Garlic’s reputation for providing healing properties, as an antiviral and anti-bacterial agent, are backed up by scientific evidence.  The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains, including those that are responsible for the pungent odour released when crushed.

The jury is still out as to whether garlic has the same benefits when eaten cooked versus in its raw form, as some of the compounds are lost in cooking.  If eaten raw then half to one clove daily is a good recommended daily amount.

VITAMIN AND MINERALS

Aside from its wonderful health benefits, garlic is also a great source of vitamin B6 which helps energy levels, manganese for the joints, and vitamin C and selenium which are both very powerful antioxidants.  These nutrients may also be some of the reasons for garlic’s vast array of health benefits.

The only downside to eating lots of garlic is that it makes the breath smell, hence there are many supplements produced using deodorised garlic.  A great tip to reduce the lingering smell is to chew parsley – a natural breath freshener!

A NATURAL ANTIBIOTIC

Garlic is thought to be a natural and broad-spectrum antibiotic; it may help to prevent or treat some bacterial or fungal infections.  Specifically it can be used very effectively to kill some intestinal parasites and fungal yeast infections.

Taking a garlic supplement, or increasing garlic in the diet before travelling abroad, may well help prevent traveller’s diarrhoea or picking up some kind of intestinal infection.

GREAT FOR THE HEART

Garlic has been used really effectively over many years as a natural anti-coagulant; this means it helps to lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure.

It seems to suppress cholesterol production in the liver and also helps to raise levels of the beneficial HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol.

IMMUNE BOOSTER

Garlic certainly has some wonderful immune-boosting properties mainly down to its anti-viral and antibacterial properties.  If it becomes a regular part of your diet, added to cooking, and alongside other immune-boosting herbs such as ginger, it can certainly help with treating colds and flu or better still, preventing them occurring in the first place.

A NATURAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

Garlic appears to exert strong anti-inflammatory properties, hence the reason it’s been widely used for joint problems, including arthritis.

It seems that the four main sulphur compounds within garlic deliver the powerful results, even helping to alleviate the pain associated with various joint issues.

LOVE GARLIC?

There are so many ways you can incorporate garlic into your everyday cooking! There are very few savoury dishes or foods that can’t be improved by the addition of garlic; soups, stews, mashed potatoes, bread, mushrooms, salmon with ginger, as a delicious cream with steak or in tomato-based sauces over pasta.

Here are three of my favourites:

Homemade Aioli

Why not eat the Spanish way!  Homemade aioli is so easy to make.  All you need is two egg yolks, three garlic cloves, some Dijon mustard and olive oil.  Mix the first three ingredients and then add some olive oil to thicken the mixture and a little lemon juice to taste.

It makes a wonderful dip for crackers, breads or crudités.  Alternatively, a popular European way with garlic is to crush it and spread it on bread with olive oil.  This works particularly well with bruschetta.

Stir-fry anything!

Stir-fries are so easy and quick and you can literally make them up as you go along!  However, a couple of cloves of garlic work especially well with prawns, peppers, soy sauce and any other chopped veggies of your choice.

Garlic chicken

A one-pot chicken dish is super-easy, quick and totally delicious.  Garlic cloves can either be stuffed into the carcass before cooking or crushed onto potatoes before roasting.

Garlic also works well crushed onto lamb, with some fresh rosemary, before cooking.

There are so many reasons to include garlic in your cooking, so enjoy experimenting!

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