Seasonal eating: top nutrition for February

Many people will be very glad to see the back of January, for lots of different reasons! And now February, the month of love, is here!

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It is a great time to welcome some seasonal food that can help to lift your mood and hopefully put a smile on your face.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five seasonal foods for February and explains why they’ll help boost your feelings of happiness.

Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes help to feed the good gut bacteria. This in turn helps produce more serotonin, our happy hormone, primarily made in the gut. Interestingly, Jerusalem artichokes have no link to the city or other artichokes: it is likely that the name ‘Jerusalem’ is derived from the word girasole which is Italian for sunflower.

Jerusalem artichokes

As a vegetable they are quite delicious and whilst they may be slightly awkward to prepare, because of their knobbly shape, it’s well worth the effort. They can be cooked as you would potatoes, either roasted, sautéed or boiled. Jerusalem artichokes can also be eaten raw in salads and they’re great lightly stir-fried with the skin left on.

Scallops

Scallops are high in brain-boosting zinc, vitamin B12 and niacin (vitamin B3). All these nutrients are needed to help produce our brain neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

We can be very proud of the quality of our scallops from the English waters as they generally have a really fine soft texture and a slightly sweet taste. Scallops balance really well with strong flavours such as bacon but also Oriental spices including lemongrass, chilli and ginger. Indeed, ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so eating them lightly fried in a little olive oil with ginger is going to support your immunity.

Passion Fruits

Passion fruits descend from the Passiflora plant and can naturally help anxiety, plus induce feelings of calm. Whilst passion fruits are clearly not grown in the UK, imports are readily available at this time of year.

Passion fruits

Passion fruits are rich sources of vitamin A and vitamin C which help to keep the immune system in good shape. They also contain some energy-boosting iron. The seeds are also packed with fibre and both the pulp and seeds can be eaten. The sieved juice is great slightly heated,with a little coconut sugar added, which makes a wonderful coulis to pour over fruit salad or your favourite chocolate fudge cake. Now that will certainly put a smile on your face!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Its rich dark colour means it’s high in anti-aging antioxidants to help support anti-ageing – and that’s really something to smile about! The darker the colour of any fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients they tend to contain and purple sprouting broccoli is no exception.

Purple sprouting broccoli

It’s also packed with immune boosting vitamin C, beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as needed in the body, and heart-loving potassium (even better for the month of love!)

Purple sprouting broccoli works well alone as a delicious vegetable side, but is also great stir-fried with garlic and sesame seeds, in a pasta dish or steamed and then lightly tossed with almonds and spring onions.

Swede

Swede is totally delicious and really doesn’t get enough airtime! From the family of cruciferous vegetables, which contain active compounds that may help prevent serious degenerative diseases, swede also provides good amounts of vitamin C. It’s great for anyone still trying to lose those additional Christmas kilos, as a typical portion size contains only around 11 calories.

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Swede works really well on its own simply mashed with a little butter and black pepper or alongside other mashed root veggies such as carrots and turnips. It can also be added to stews or to change things up mashed or roasted with potatoes.

And for those who’ve recently celebrated Burn’s Night, you’ll be familiar with the expression ‘neeps’ which is Scottish for swede! They’re traditionally eaten alongside the haggis.

So enjoy the month of love by including some delicious seasonal produce to make February a happy and healthy month!

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

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

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

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

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APPLES HAVE A GREAT NUTRIENT PROFILE

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

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

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

THEY ARE RICH IN POLYPHENOLS

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

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

APPLES ARE LOW GLYCAEMIC

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

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

THEY HAVE MEDICINAL USES

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

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

THERE’S PLENTY OF VARIETY

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

a selection of green and red apples

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

APPLES ARE USED IN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE

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

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

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

THEY HELP GOOD GUT BACTERIA TO FLOURISH

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

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

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

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

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Supercharge your health with fermented foods

Fermented foods are certainly in vogue right now. Unlike many other food fads, fermented foods are actually the real deal.  And now they’re becoming part of many people’s diets and featuring on trendy restaurant menus.  However, many people are unsure just what they are, how to eat them and what health benefits they provide.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides her ‘go-to’ guide to fermented foods.

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WHAT IS FERMENTATION? THE BASICS

The process of fermenting food has been around for many thousands of years. Fermented food is the mainstay of Japanese cuisine and is thought to be one of the reasons for their well-balanced hormone health.

To better understand the benefits of fermented food we need to look at how our gastrointestinal systems work. The digestive system is packed with billions of bacteria (mainly good) that are incredibly beneficial to health.  They help to keep the digestive system running in smooth working order, boost the immune system, detoxify the body, help manage the body’s natural inflammatory response, balance hormones and protect the body from serious degenerative diseases.

The process of fermentation encourages the production of these beneficial bacteria; it allows the natural sugars and salts within the foods, (together with the added salts that are part of most fermentation processes), to create the good bacteria. Put simply, the more fermented foods we consume, the more beneficial bacteria we have!   Live natural yoghurt is one great example of a fermented food. Fermentation also helps to preserve foods over a longer period of time.

TOP THREE FERMENTED FOODS

There are many fermented food options available but to get you started, here are three of my favourites.

KEFIR

Bang on trend right now is kefir.  It’s a fermented milk product made from either sheep’s, cow’s or goat’s milk.  It provides wonderful benefits for the digestive system, particularly helping to ease bloating and symptoms of IBS.  It’s also great for the immune system because it contains a high percentage of probiotics or beneficial bacteria.  Plus, kefir is high in some of the B vitamins to provide great energy as well as vitamin K2 which supports the bones and heart.

It’s naturally quite sour so is best combined with fruits or yoghurt, or can be used in any recipe as an alternative to buttermilk.

You can even make your own fermented coconut kefir!  Use kefir grains mixed with some coconut milk in a jar.  Store in a warm place, covered with a cloth for 24 hours and the mixture will naturally ferment to produce a more palatable and healthy milk.  It can then be used on cereal or in pancakes for a delicious, healthy start to the day!

SAUERKRAUT

Probably one of the most popular fermented foods, sauerkraut has been eaten for hundreds of years throughout Central Europe.  It’s very simply made from chopped cabbage that’s fermented in salt.  However, as with fermented dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir, fermenting cabbage takes its nutritional benefits to another level!

Probiotic foods, including sauerkraut, deliver huge benefits to the digestive system. Additionally, more B vitamins are naturally produced as well as beneficial enzymes, which are used for many essential body processes.

It’s actually very easy to make at home; simply chop one head of white or red cabbage into small shreds. Add some salt and pack tightly into a jar with a tightly fitting lid.  This needs to be left for about a week in a warm place and you’ve then created your very own superfood!

MISO

Another very fashionable ingredient right now, miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient that is produced by fermenting soy, usually with salt, which makes a brown paste.

Miso is often used by women struggling with menopausal symptoms and people suffering from other hormonal complaints. Soy naturally contains phytoestrogens – plant foods that have an oestrogen-like activity and a hormone-balancing effect on the body. Phytoestrogens became of interest to scientists when they realised that women in certain traditional cultures in Japan that were eating a diet high in soy and other phytoestrogenic foods, had fewer menopausal symptoms than Western women.  It seems that these foods can really help combat the effects of the peri-menopause and the menopause.

One of the most common ways of eating miso is in a soup and there are a number available in supermarkets or health food stores.  Alternatively, to make your own, you simply need to mix some tofu, nori (a type of seaweed) and onions with water and miso.  That’s it! The main point to remember is to simmer miso as boiling it can reduce its health benefits.

So try adding some fermented foods to your diet this season and give your health an extra boost!

 

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