Nutrition and lifestyle advice for minimising stress and anxiety

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Many of us frequently suffer from anxiety or stress, whether we are worried about a work situation, a relationship or an upcoming social event. This is can often be accompanied by feelings of low mood and a sense of inadequacy.

In our fast-moving ‘always on’ society, pressure to perform can be overwhelming.  And as simple as it sounds smiling more can also really help! 

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great lifestyle tips to help us feel calm and more balanced.

What to drink

Certain drinks can have a marked effect on anxiety and mood.  Out should go stimulants such as alcohol (also a depressant) and fizzy drinks (even the sugar-free varieties which contain unhelpful chemicals). Try to avoid caffeinated coffee, tea and colas (providing a quick ‘high’ then an edgy low).

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

In should come calming camomile and valerian teas. Try non-caffeinated varieties such as red bush and green tea which contains theanine, a calming amino acid.  Whilst green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, the stimulatory effects are off-set by the theanine.  However, it’s best not drunk before bedtime.

And of course, make sure you are getting your daily water quota – aim for 1.5 – 2 litres a day.

What to eat

What we put into our mouths has the biggest influence on how we feel emotionally and physically.  The body needs around 45 nutrients daily to function at its best. When these are lacking we can certainly feel tired and cranky.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The mineral magnesium, ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ is key to coping with anxiety and is used up more during times of stress.  Therefore, making sure you are getting enough in your diet is important. Green leafy veg such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are great sources of magnesium.

If you find you are waking during the night due to worries or anxious thoughts, eating a few almonds, also rich in magnesium, before bedtime can really help.

A basket of almonds

The B vitamins are also key in controlling the body’s stress response. Vitamin B5 is especially important in helping produce our stress hormones.  The good news is that it’s found in plenty of foods such as poultry, whole grains, oily fish (also rich in brain-loving omega 3s), legumes and dairy products.

Try natural herbal remedies

If you’re struggling with anxiety, then there are plenty of additional herbal helpers.

Both the herbs ashwagandha and rhodiola are known as ‘adaptogenic’, meaning they help the body better cope during stressful times and adapt to its needs.  Both are available as supplements. Ideally take them in the morning as both can stimulate and give an energy boost, whilst reducing feelings of anxiety.  Additionally, the herb passionflower can be taken as a supplement and works really quickly; it’s especially helpful if you’re struggling with a nervous tummy.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Don’t forget to also take a vitamin D supplement, especially now the winter months are upon us. As well as supporting the nervous system it helps lift low mood and also induces feelings of calm.

You are what you think…

It’s very easy to focus too much on worries and anxious thoughts, perhaps over-thinking situations and life itself.  It’s a question of managing your brain and its thought processes.  Sometimes visualising holding up a hand to stop negative thoughts coming in can help.  Equally, practising meditation is one of the best ways of gaining back control of your brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

There are plenty of ‘calming’ apps that you can download and listen to; find what works for you.  However, our over-use of technology and social media can have a negative impact on our mental well-being.  Additionally, the blue light emitted from electronic goods can keep us awake. So, turn off the social media apps and switch everything off a couple of hours before bedtime. Try to have good amounts of time during the day when you’re not glued to your laptop or phone; even if it’s only for 20 minutes, make it a habit to take yourself away from your phone or laptop every day.

Get moving

Any form of exercise is incredibly positive for mind and body.  Some people need to do fast-paced exercise to help with stress and anxiety, whilst others do better with calming, gentle activities.  Whatever suits you, doing strenuous exercise in the evening is not recommended as it stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which will keep you awake.

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

Yoga and Pilates can help calm and relax you as you focus on the movements paired with your breath. These can even be practised in your own living room, if time or availability of classes is a problem.  However, the benefits of engaging regularly in the type of exercise that works for you can’t be over-stated.

So with some small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help yourself to become less anxious and more relaxed.

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Look after your heart: top nutrition and lifestyle tips

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

On average your heart beats around 70 times every minute of every day.  It’s an incredible organ, one which many of us take for granted, which is one of the reasons heart disease is so common in the UK.

The four main risk factors of heart disease are tobacco use, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excess alcohol.  Fortunately, if the heart is properly fed, loved and exercised, it will hopefully keep on beating and last you a lifetime.

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for a healthy heart.

Increase your fish intake

Foods containing saturated fats needs to be reduced or eliminated; think red meat, butter, cheese, cakes and pastries.  Additionally, too many meals containing fried foods should be avoided.  However, in their place should feature oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon and these ideally need to be included at least two to three times per week.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which help to thin the blood and reduce blood pressure. If you’re vegetarian or don’t like fish then take a supplement containing flaxseeds, which are also high in omega 3’s.

Grab some polyphenols

Polyphenols are compounds naturally found in plant foods that have amazing health benefits, especially for the heart. There are a whole range of foods containing various types of polyphenols. Load up on colourful fruits and vegetables, green and black tea, dark chocolate and red wine (in moderation!).

A cup of green tea

One of the biggest issues for the arteries is that fatty deposits can develop on them, and these deposits become hardened – hence the common disease, arteriosclerosis.  However, much of this damage can be avoided or reduced by including antioxidants found in polyphenols in the diet.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

This reflects the recommendation to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.  They’re also high in vitamin C, one of the most powerful antioxidants which can help prevent artery damage.  Fruits and vegetables are also rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium which help to relax the artery wall, therefore reducing blood pressure and other heart-related risk factors.  Try to eat a rainbow diet, meaning as much colour variety on your plate as possible.

Spice it up

Including garlic in your diet often (and as much as your friends and family can bear!) is a great idea.  It’s also possible to take a supplement containing garlic which is standardised for alliin, the main form of allicin, which is the active compound in garlic. It has shown remarkable blood-thinning properties as well as the ability to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic is also super-easy to include in so many dishes; think stir fries, soups, vegetable sides, curries and one-pot recipes.

Turmeric is another heart-loving spice that works in a variety of ways to keep it healthy.  Turmeric helps reduce high blood pressure because it relieves pressure on the artery walls but also prevents dangerous plaque build-up on the arteries which causes blood clots and strokes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

It can be used in so many different dishes, both savoury and sweet.  Great choices are in a marinade with Indian lamb chops or in pancake served with fresh fruit and natural yoghurt. Try turmeric in a curried chicken dish or sprinkled over butternut squash and roasted in the oven.  There are endless possibilities!

Scrap the sugar

Sugar can often be disguised in dishes as dextrose or corn syrup, but all sugar is treated by the body in the same way. Many sugary foods, such as biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and margarines, also contain trans fats. These are chemically altered fats which are a cheap form of fat used for taste and ‘spreadability’, in the case of margarines.  Unfortunately, the body cannot process these ‘alien’ substances and they also stop the metabolism of healthy omega-3 fats needed for blood thinning and maintaining a healthy heart.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

The key message is to ditch the junk and try to eat as cleanly as possible.  The less sugar you eat, the less cravings you’ll have.

Move more

It’s an unequivocal fact that exercise helps prevent heart disease.  After all, the heart is a muscle just like any other in the body and needs to be exercised.  Ideally, you need to raise the heart rate for at least 30 minutes five times per week, and that’s perfectly achievable through brisk walking.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

It’s a question of making time. Exercise needs to be prioritised and put into the diary just like any appointment – it that’s important to your future health.

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Self-care: it’s all about you!

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s National Spa Week, reminding us that we need to take time out to care for ourselves.  We often spend so much time ‘giving’ to everyone else – children, parents, friends and work colleagues – that we don’t make enough time for ourselves.

Self-care is essential to support our physical and mental wellbeing and there are lots of ways you can improve your diet to help you have a healthier lifestyle.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways in which you can take better care of you.

Make your diet more colourful

What you put into your body is the cornerstone of life.  How you look and feel is primarily governed by what’s within, meaning your nutrient intake.  The body requires around 45 different nutrients daily (including water), so each mealtime needs to count.

The more colour you have on your plate, the more nutrients you’ll be taking in without even thinking about it.  For example, a dinner plate that contains poached salmon, roasted red peppers and asparagus, mashed sweet potato and a portion of broccoli really embraces this concept.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

It’s the beautiful dark, rich colours in foods, especially in fruits and vegetables, that really pack a nutrient punch, so have some fun with creating your colourful plate.

Also remember that sugar, in all its forms, has no nutritional value and can even prevent absorption of certain nutrients, so really watch your ‘empty’ calorie intake.  Plus, you might appreciate the instant sugar rush and feel energised at the time but overall, you’ll feel more sluggish and not very spa vitalised!

Prepare for the next few months

Whilst we can often feel down as the colder weather and shorter days approach, autumn can be a magical time in the great outdoors; autumn colours are truly beautiful.  If you can get out for some longer walks in the countryside, this can be a great stressbuster plus you can literally lose yourself in the colour spectacle.

Changing seasons can unfortunately herald the start of the ‘bug’ season.  However, taking good care of your yourself can also help prevent their onset.  Cleaning up your diet is important.  Plus, poor sleep and over-indulgence in alcohol or too many late-night parties will deplete the immune system, so do pace yourself.

Stri fry showing garlic as an ingredient

Tap into Mother Nature’s little helpers in the form of immune-boosting herbs and spices.  Make your own ginger tea with lemon every day, using fresh squeezed ginger root.  Other great immune-boosting ideas include adding cinnamon to your morning porridge or cereal and using plenty of garlic in your cooking (stir fries are quick and easy). Try adding fresh rosemary to your roasted veggies or roasted sweet potato wedges and sprinkling turmeric over as much as you can (even scrambled eggs taste great with some added spice).

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Using shitake mushrooms rather than button ones will give you a real immune-boost (they also contain some vitamin D) and drinking two or three cups of green tea each day provides you with a range of antioxidants.  These few simple changes will protect and invigorate you over the coming months.

Take time to breathe

This means literally and metaphorically. When you’re stressed and racing around at 100 miles an hour, the body can quickly feel depleted of energy.  Deep breathing exercises can bring instant relaxation.  Even just lying on your bed or in a quiet place and breathing in for five seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds and exhaling for eleven seconds, a few times, can bring peace and relaxation to the body.  Try this a few times and just enjoy the feeling.  It will also help you to sleep if you’re struggling or will calm the body and mind during the day when life is too frenetic.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Taking time to breathe also means stepping back sometimes.  When you’re in the fast lane all the time, the mind and body can become overwhelmed.  This can cause anxiety, restless sleep, poor concentration and low mood.  Whether it’s taking a 20-minute walk away from your desk at lunchtime or after dinner, doing a yoga or Pilates class or reading a book, try to book some ‘you’ time in every day.  Try to recognise the signs of feeling overwhelmed in yourself and take time out, whether that’s a short break or a holiday.

So take a step back this week and decide how to create the ‘spa’ me time we all need to promote self-care.

 

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Managing blood pressure the natural way

Woman having her blood pressure taken

Blood pressure is a good indicator of overall health, with high blood pressure, known as hypertension, indicated as a risk factor in heart attacks and stroke.

According to the NHS, 1 in 4 adults will have high blood pressure, though many may not be aware of their numbers. This is why the ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign runs this week to encourage us all to be aware of our blood pressure. For more information visit the Blood Pressure website

If yours is verging on the high side, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle and nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives her top nutrition tips and advice on how to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.

Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and will obviously be raised when you’re exercising or doing something more strenuous. It also tends to increase with age.  Average blood pressure readings should be around 120/80 (systolic/diastolic) with the diastolic reading having more significance.

What causes high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can be caused by a narrowing or thickening of the arteries, thicker blood or tension in the arteries which is controlled by the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium in relation to sodium (salt). Sometimes it’s not always obvious what the cause is, but changes to diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on blood pressure readings.

Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables

This is THE most important change to make when addressing blood pressure issues. This is mainly because vitamin C, present in all fruits and vegetables, helps reverse the hardening of the arteries. Other antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables also help protect the arteries from damage.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Great choices are apples, broccoli and green leafy veg, cabbage, melon, red pepper, peas, sweet potatoes, berry fruits and citrus fruits.  To further increase intake, why not have a juice every day; apple, ginger and carrot together is delicious.  Just experiment and go with the flow!

The mineral magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation and of course the heart is a muscle.  Magnesium is rich in green, leafy veg which is yet another good reason to load up your plate with greens.

Have a dose of garlic

The amazing health benefits of garlic have been hailed for hundreds of years. Research appears to suggest that garlic helps reduce the stickiness of blood, therefore helping to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

It’s easy to include in the daily diet, especially in stir fries, chicken and fish dishes, in wholemeal pasta recipes or with various vegetables; it’s particularly tasty with broccoli.

Eat more fish

Oily fish, namely salmon, mackerel and sardines, are especially rich in the omega-3 fats which are known to reduce high blood pressure.  This fact has also been verified by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) who state omega-3 fats have several heart-health benefits.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

It’s best to eat oily fish two to three times per week; salmon is easy to bake in the oven with a little dill, lemon juice and olive oil, wrapped in foil, which takes no time at all.

If, however, fish is not your bag then one of the best sources of omega-3s is flaxseeds which are easy to sprinkle over your morning cereal (preferably oat-based as they also have heart benefits) or stirred into natural yogurt with fruit.

Load up on vitamin E

Vitamin E works alongside vitamin C as a powerful antioxidant and protector of the arteries.  However, it’s also good at thinning the blood, helping to make the blood less ‘sticky’.

A range of foods containing vitamin E

Nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of vitamin E but one of the best foods is avocado.  They make a brilliant breakfast, smashed on sourdough bread and sprinkled with seeds. Or why not try it for lunch in a wholemeal wrap with other colourful salad veggies.

What not to eat

Salt has been found to increase blood pressure in certain people.  It’s worth adopting a low-salt diet so as not to upset the balance of other essential minerals.  Most processed meals are high in salt, so try to stick to home-prepared dishes as much as possible and not to add extra salt; enjoy the wonderful natural flavours of vegetables – the palate will soon adapt.

The word salt written in salt

Avoid bacon and smoked or processed meats which are all high in salt and fat. Even smoked salmon should be avoided if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, until it’s under control again.

Destress

Lastly, high stress often equals high blood pressure so take steps to try to reduce or manage this as much as possible.  It’s almost impossible to eradicate stress from daily life completely but it’s how you choose to deal with it that counts.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Any form of exercise can help take your mind off things as well as raising your heart rate and improving your overall fitness. Yoga, meditation, reading, Thai chi, a soothing bath in magnesium salts… anything that helps you to relax and destress will have a positive impact on your blood pressure and general wellbeing.

Nutrition can often be very effective quite quickly, so try these dietary tips to help get your blood pressure in check as soon as possible.

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Migraine misery? Nutritional support to help.

Close of woman in black and white with red pain showing in forehead to represent migraine attack

According to the Migraine Trust, there are a staggering 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK, affecting around one in seven people.  That’s a lot of people suffering with this debilitating condition. 

However, the good news is there is much than can be done to help nutritionally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at migraine and shares some nutritional tips that can help.

What causes migraines?

There are several suggestions as to what causes migraine as research is still very much on-going. However, there is often a genetic predisposition. Many more women than men suffer from migraines and they are frequently cyclical, meaning they’re linked to the menstrual cycle.

Traditional research describes migraines as vascular headaches involving dilation or contraction of blood vessels.  More recent research has found a link to having high levels of prolactin, a hormone present in both men and women and responsible for milk production in women.  However, high levels have also been found in migraine sufferers which may improve treatment options where people are unable to find relief.

Side profile of a person higlighting their brain functioning

Additionally, there has been research to suggest that migraine sufferers have low levels of our ‘happy hormone’ serotonin in the blood stream, hence some medication helps raise serotonin levels.  Certain foods can also help raise levels.

Whilst the exact cause may be unclear, we do know for sure there are certain triggers, and foods that can send migraine sufferers running for a darkened room.

Foods to enjoy

The good news is that whilst there are certainly foods that should be avoided, there’s plenty to enjoy which may help alleviate symptoms; pineapples, almond milk, almonds and cherries have all been shown to have positive effects on symptoms.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

Importantly, foods known to raise serotonin levels include fish, turkey, oats, soya, tofu and seeds which should be included regularly in the diet.

A range of green vegetables

The mineral magnesium is essential for relaxing the muscles and for aiding relaxation in the body generally.  Stress and poor sleep are often migraine triggers, therefore be sure to include plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains.  If sleep is a problem for you then an oatcake with a small, warm drink of soya milk may help just before bedtime.

Get your omegas

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

The omega-3 essential fats help reduce blood platelet ‘stickiness’ meaning blood flow to the brain will be better.  Oily fish is the best choice but if that’s not your bag or you’re vegetarian, then flaxseeds are also a great source of omega-3s.  Sprinkle some on your morning oat-based breakfast every day for a super start to the day!

Herbal helpers

Nature provides a wealth of herbs which have many therapeutic benefits so it’s certainly worth trying them to see what works for you.  Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and encourages good blood flow, so would certainly be the first choice.  Plus, it’s so easy to include in the daily diet. Try it freshly crushed in tea, in stir fries, Thai curries, and with lightly fried seabass fillets, for example.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Turmeric is another brilliant anti-inflammatory botanical that can be used widely in dishes.  Turmeric is great in soups, curries, and casseroles but is also delicious sprinkled over chopped sweet potato wedges whilst they’re cooking in the oven, with a little olive oil.

Lastly, calming herbs such as peppermint and camomile make brilliant teas and help to de-stress, lessening the likelihood of attack.

Foods to avoid

Whilst many sufferers will know their own triggers, some will struggle to find foods that are setting off their migraine attack.  Foods containing the amino acid tyramine, including hard cheeses, bananas, canned fish, tomatoes, avocados, dairy and potatoes, plus beer and red wine, are known triggers.  Sadly, chocolate is often a trigger too.

No chocolate sign

Be very careful of foods containing monosodium glutamate or MSG; this is often found in take-aways, and processed food labels need to be checked carefully.  However, it’s always best to eat home-cooked foods as much as possible to avoid the possibility of having MSG.

It’s also worth having a food intolerance blood test which looks at the common trigger foods, plus others which may be problematic for you.

Whilst there is unlikely to be only one nutritional change that will make the difference, taking a combined approach is far more likely to achieve success.

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

 

 

Nutrition for stress: can what you eat help you feel calmer?

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Unfortunately, stress is very much a part of normal everyday living. Stress affects everyone in different ways and can really affect quality of life. The good news is that the right nutrition can have a positive influence on the body and mind, particularly during stressful situations and for everyday life.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top nutrients and foods to help keep you calm and reduce stress.

 

 

B Vitamins

These are key to the production of our stress hormones and for the health of the central nervous system generally. B vitamins are also used up during stressful times so they certainly need to feature highly in your anti-stress larder. Plus, they’re essential for helping the body release energy from food which can be very helpful when stress is sapping your energy levels.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Make sure you’re eating plenty of B vitamins throughout the day as they’re water-soluble so are quickly excreted from the body. The great news is that they’re found in so many different foods. Wholegrain cereals such as oats (porridge for breakfast), eggs, beans and seafood (all great as part of a lunchtime salad), green leafy vegetables and other whole grains such as rice (salmon, brown rice and broccoli for dinner). They are certainly easy to incorporate into the daily diet.

Vitamin C

Another important nutrient that’s needed for production of stress hormones, but vitamin C also helps fight infections; the body is more susceptible to attack from viruses when stressed. Whilst vitamin C is found in lots of fruits and vegetables, especially peppers, berry fruits, citrus fruits and kiwis, it’s not that easy to eat enough when your body and mind are really stressed.

A rnage of colourful fruit and vegetables

To increase intake, why not make a daily juice with mostly vegetables and some added apple or pineapple for taste? Whilst there’s lots of negative press about juicing, mainly because it lacks fibre and beneficial enzymes, it can really increase your intake of vitamin C, which is much-needed during stressful times. You should also include plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables with your meals to gain benefit from all the other compounds naturally found in these foods. Plus of course, even more vitamin C!

Green Tea

Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine which helps promote the production of one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA. In fact, even though green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, theanine helps balance out the stimulatory effect of the caffeine: when you’re stressed, excess caffeine can stimulate feelings of anxiety, worsening the stress response. Green tea also contains lots of antioxidants which help protect the body from infection, which can often become more prevalent during stressful times.

A cup of green tea

Look for pure green tea which is readily available in supermarkets or health food stores and drink around three cups a day for best results.

Green leafy vegetables

These are superfoods for many reasons. Not only are they high in B vitamins which support the nervous system, they’re also loaded with calming magnesium. In fact, magnesium is known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it helps relax muscles and creates feelings of calm within the body. Moreover, it’s used up more during stressful situations which means ideally we need to be taking in more.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, pak choi, kale and sprouts are all great for their magnesium content and are very quick and easy veggies to cook and include in the daily diet. For those who really don’t like their ‘greens’ then why not try adding broccoli and pak choi to stir fries? Try grilling kale with a little olive oil sprinkled with salt. Have a go at flash frying sprouts with bacon. It couldn’t be easier!

Natural yoghurt

The reason that natural yoghurt can really help manage stress levels is because it’s loaded with probiotics. These naturally feed your good gut bacteria, which in turn have a very positive effect on mental health and overall wellbeing. Additionally, dairy products contain B vitamins so you’ll be gaining double the benefit.

Natural yoghurt

Importantly, the yoghurt needs to be ’live’ to contain the beneficial bacteria, and natural; many fruit yoghurts contain lots of sugar which will have the reverse effect. Yoghurt is great added to your wholegrain breakfast cereal of choice, with some berries, or it makes an excellent snack on its own.

So try and make the right nutrition your first priority to help balance the stresses and strains of daily life.

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Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.

Zinc

Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.

Magnesium

The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.

 

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