How to stay healthy and fit through the crisis

WOman holding a weight in one hand and plate of fruit and veg in the other

With the likelihood of a prolonged period of social distancing and home working, our normal everyday routine will become very disrupted.  Whether you’ve got a little more time on your hands because you’re not travelling to work, or you’re having to work much longer hours because you’re a key worker, it’s most important to keep as fit and healthy as possible during these challenging times.

Finding new ways to keep fit or new dishes to try will help to boost your morale and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for lasting wellness.

Load up on fruits and veggies

It seems like the shelves have been stripped bare of dried goods, such as pasta and rice, but fruits and vegetables are hopefully still available, certainly in lots of areas.  Also, don’t forget the corner shops and local farmer’s shops which still seem to be well-stocked.

A range of fruits and vegetables

Protecting the immune system is the most important thing you can do right now and there’s a variety of ways you can really help yourself and your family.  Fruit and vegetables are some of the richest sources of immune-boosting vitamin C, a great anti-viral agent.  Whilst it’s not going to cure the virus, having strong immunity will put you in better to shape to fight it if you are unlucky enough to succumb.

If you’re used to having pasta-based meals, then why not try more vegetable-based ones?  Sweet potato curry or sweet potato vegetable pie (loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene), roasted veggies with chicken, fish or tofu, cauliflower curry, fajitas with avocado and red peppers – it’s just about getting more creative with your choice of dishes.

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

If you’re one of the 72% of the population currently not eating the minimum five-a-day of fruits and vegetables, then use this time to eat as many as you can daily.  Frozen are just as good as fresh as they’ve generally been frozen quickly after harvest.  Make your meals as colourful as possible!

Take a vitamin D supplement

We are all advised by Public Health England to take a vitamin D supplement through the winter months.  Never has there been a more important time to be taking a vitamin D supplement; vitamin D is essential for the immune system. And even though some sunshine has appeared, it can never produce enough vitamin D on the skin to be fully effective.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

Better still, take a daily multivitamin which includes a minimum of 10 micrograms (ug) of vitamin D: a multivitamin will also help plug any other nutrient deficiencies and further protect the immune system. You can also get some vitamin D from foods; eggs, mushrooms and fish are good sources, plus certain fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Sleep and rest well

In these times of heightened anxiety, stress can have a detrimental effect on the immune system.  It’s therefore really important to make sure you’re getting sufficient rest and seven or eight hours sleep per night.  Lack of sleep suppresses T cells in the immune system, which are needed to fight viruses and infections.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Equally, trying to take some relaxation during the day, can help you to sleep better at night.  Try using a calming app, practising meditation, reading a book – whatever you find helpful.  Also try to keep to regular bedtimes.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

If you’re used to being a social butterfly, clearly everyone’s wings have been clipped for a while.  Use the time to cut down on caffeine and alcohol as both will stop the body from sleeping peacefully.  If you’re in the situation of being indoors much more, then take the opportunity to re-think your life and try to ditch those foods or activities that are not promoting good health.

Warm yourself from the inside

It’s crucially important to keep the body hydrated to protect vital organs and make your internal environment more difficult for viruses to enter.

Glass of water with lemon

Additionally, if you’re dehydrated, your brain is going to feel foggy, concentration will be poor and energy levels low.  The body really likes warm drinks (about blood temperature).  Start the day with some warm lemon water to flush through the liver.  You can also sip this with some immune-boosting ginger throughout the day.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

There’s a myriad of herbal teas which also boost immunity; echinacea, peppermint, red bush, green, rosehip and turmeric. Have one on the go throughout the day.  Soups containing loads of vegetables are also great immune boosters; chicken broth is thought to help fight viruses.  If you can boil up the bones to make a chicken stock first, even better!

Get some exercise

This is more difficult now with formal exercising venues, as well as public parks, largely being closed.  However, even if it’s a stroll around the block, getting some fresh air (away from other people) is great for the immune system.  However excessive exercise actually depletes immunity, so for some perhaps an enforced ‘slow-down’ may be good. Don’t overdo it.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

Get creative with some kind of exercise routine. Running up and down stairs, press-ups, core exercise, squats and lunges can all be carried out at home.  Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises only require a mat: there are plenty of free videos online to follow in order to keep motivated.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Most importantly, try to stay positive.  This is a phase in time that will pass.  However, the more you can do to keep yourself healthy the better you’ll come out the other side.

Stay well.

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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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Seasonal eating: Plums

Close up of woman holding a bowl of freshly picked plums

Did you know that there are more varieties of plum than any other species of stone fruit – about 200 or more!  Plums come in many colour varieties, but all are jam packed with nutrients and are in season right now, so grab some and enjoy!

Prunes are dried plums – something not everyone is aware of. And prunes can also play a part in a balanced diet.

 Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why they are so great for health as well as some tips on including them in the diet.

Plums are rich in antioxidants

We know from the wealth of research available that antioxidants hold one of the keys to a healthy, disease-free life.  Whilst the body has many antioxidant enzyme systems to help prevent disease, foods are also needed to feed these systems and to provide additional antioxidant protection.  And this is where plums can stand proud! They have some of the highest amounts of antioxidants, especially vitamin C, even in their dried prune form.

A bowl of plums on a blue wooden table

Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, and plums are especially good in this respect. Plus, vitamin C is great for overall health and helps protect the immune system.  Don’t forget children are returning to school soon and that’s when the ‘bug’ season really gets going!

Prunes encourage regularity

If you’re suffering from sluggish bowels, then prunes are your best friend in this respect.  Prunes are high in insoluble fibre which feeds the friendly gut bacteria, helping solve digestive issues.  Good levels of friendly bacteria are also needed to help form stools. Additionally, prunes provide bulk which also helps to get things moving.

Prunes can help weight management

Although prunes taste quite sweet, their soluble fibre content helps balance blood sugar levels, which in turn can aid successful weight management.  It’s very difficult to lose weight when blood sugar is imbalanced as excess glucose is merely sent to fat cells for safe keeping.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Soluble fibre also promotes a feeling of fullness, making it less likely you’ll overeat.  Why not include some, with an oat-based breakfast?  Tinned prunes generally contain sugar-laden syrup, therefore look for those sold in transparent containers, generally in health food stores.  If they’re too dry for you, then soaking them in a little hot water for a few minutes will work or in some light apple juice, to bring them back to life.

Poached plums for breakfast

Plums work really well on their own (straight from the tree is great), in jams or chutneys, or simply poached.  Plus, they can be enjoyed in this way at any time of the day, to give you a nutrient boost.

A bowl of poached plums with cinnamon

Plums pair well with various spices, especially cinnamon. The great news is that cinnamon helps balance blood sugar so together they’re a perfect breakfast choice.  Use natural stevia or xylitol if you need to sweeten them whilst they’re being poached in the oven, and you’ll avoid any sugar-rush.

Plums are great in savoury dishes

Whilst there are many ways plums can be enjoyed in sweet recipes, they also work well in savoury dishes, especially with duck. For a quick and easy meal, simply slice the plums into small pieces, add a cinnamon stick and a little honey to a pan and simmer for a few minutes.  Then simply fry the duck breast in a little olive oil until cooked medium rare, slice on a plate and serve with the fruit mixture.

Roasted duck breast with plum sauce on the side

Plums are also delicious chopped into a salad with goat’s cheese or made into a versatile plum sauce that can be mixed with soy sauce, ginger and garlic and poured over chicken breasts.

Whichever way you decide to eat them, plums or prunes, they’ll provide wonderful health benefits and amazing flavour.

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Nutritional advice for 5 everyday health concerns

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Good health is the most important part of life. Indeed, feeling optimally well has to be our ultimate aim so that we can embrace all that life has to offer. But what happens, when the body lets you down and health niggles start kicking in?

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Eating the right foods is the cornerstone of life and it’s never too late to get your diet on track. Most importantly, what you eat can have a really positive influence on many daily health issues.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great nutritional advice for five everyday health concerns.

Ultimate immunity

Having an effective immune system that keeps out unwanted viruses and bacteria is essential for the body to stay healthy. Whilst nature is very clever in providing us with plenty of armoury, the right nutrition can also really make a difference. And as with everything, prevention is better than cure.

Sugar in all its forms is more disruptive than anything to the immune system. Refined, sugar-laden carbs such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and fizzy drinks and alcohol are not the immune system’s friend, so they need to be kept as low as possible. Allow yourself one or two treat days a week but try and keep sugar low on the other days.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Vitamin C is the key nutrient for the immune system. Of course there are many other key immune-loving nutrients but make vitamin C your focus. This means trying to eat as many vegetables as possible; peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes are especially high in vitamin C. Go easy on the fruit and make vegetables the main event. However, all berry fruits are loaded with vitamin C and in season right now, so try to include one portion of these per day.

Glowing skin and glossy hair

Who doesn’t want both of these! Glowing skin and glossy hair are primarily a reflection of what’s within; what you eat makes a massive difference to how you look. As both skin and hair contain protein in the form of collagen and keratin, it’s really important to make sure you’re eating plenty of protein.

A range of foods containing protein

Eat protein at every meal. Include meat, fish, chicken, soya, beans, lentils or dairy produce – all are great sources. It’s also worth bearing in mind that biotin is the most important B-vitamin when it comes to hair and skin. It’s rich in liver, eggs, dairy, and salmon so you might want to also consider these when making your protein choices to get double the benefit.

Smooth joints and strong bones

Having a strong skeletal frame is clearly very important; it works very hard for you! Peak bone density is reached at the end of your teenage years so having sufficient calcium, magnesium and vitamin D (being the key bone-building nutrients) is important in the early years.

A range of foods containing calcium

However, bones and joints need feeding throughout life to maintain strength. Key foods are dairy produce and green leafy vegetables.   Additionally, try and get 15 minutes of sunshine every day daily to help the body produce vitamin D. It’s also advisable to take a daily supplement of vitamin D all-year round because even when the sun shines, we’re not necessarily outside enough to reap the benefits.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Joints also need ‘oiling’ to keep them running smoothly and to this end the omega-3 essential fats are key. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the key foods, so include them in the diet as much as possible.

Abundant energy

We all want to feel vibrant every day with plenty of energy to enjoy life to the full. However, many people of all ages complain of poor energy levels which negatively affects their quality of life.

The main energising nutrients are the B-vitamins because they help the body produce energy from food. They are a family of eight vitamins and they can be found in a range of foods. However foods which contain most of the B-vitamins in one source are salmon, liver, eggs, beans, wholegrains, chicken and turkey, so there’s plenty of choice.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Additionally, B-vitamins are used up quickly during times of stress or by drinking alcohol. Interestingly, both of these factors also impact our immune system so it makes sense to balance these as much as possible.

Balanced mood

If you’re frequently feeling low, edgy, anxious or irritable then there may be something amiss with your diet. About 70% of the body’s ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is produced in the gut so what you eat makes a massive difference to how you feel.

Too much caffeine is never going to keep mood balanced; it’s very individual as to how much each person is affected. As a general rule, though, no more than 2-3 caffeinated drinks per day should be consumed; this includes cola and similar caffeine-containing drinks.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

There are some real stand-out foods in terms of keeping your mood boosted through the day. One of the best breakfasts is a bowl of oats, either as porridge or within an oat-based cereal. Oats are packed with complex carbs that keep energy and mood balanced throughout the day. Plus they contain tryptophan, the amino acid that produces serotonin. Top it with a banana, also rich in tryptophan, and natural yoghurt to feed the good gut bacteria and life will feel better for it.

So with a few simple tweaks, what you eat can really make a difference to how you look and feel!

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Seasonal nutrition for May

A bowl of delicious spring salad

Eating seasonally is always best for health because foods contain more nutrients when eaten fresh and haven’t sat in a supermarket store rooms for many months. Plus, the taste and texture of foods in season is vastly improved when they’re eaten at the time of year nature intended.

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May brings us deliciously fresh greens to bring colour to our plates as well as other salad staples.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top seasonal foods this May.

Asparagus

Now prized by chefs around the world for its delicate taste and texture, and also within traditional medicine, asparagus is certainly a great vegetable of the season.

Grilled asparagus wrapped in parma ham

Medicinally, asparagus is an effective diuretic so works well within any detoxification programme. It’s also used by weight trainers and body builders because it’s a low calorie, fat-free food that helps eliminate excess water from the muscles. However, for those just wanting to enjoy a delicious and healthy food, asparagus contains plenty of energising folate, immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin E plus beta-carotene.

Steam or boil asparagus gently. It is perfect sprinkled with parmesan cheese, wrapped in Parma ham or served with hollandaise sauce.

Watercress

Watercress has gained much credence over recent years and has often been hailed as a ‘superfood’. It was used in traditional medicine to treat liver and kidney disorders and is also a natural antibiotic. However, much of its acclaim stems from it being a member of the super-healthy crucifer family. Watercress is certainly in good company alongside Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower.

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

Watercress is a healthy salad vegetable so it makes sense to include it every time you’re preparing a salad. It’s a great source of vitamin C as well as iron, which is so often deficient in our daily diets.

These dark green, peppery tasting leaves are not only great in salads but also in a super-easy lunch dish with tinned cannellini beans, lemon zest, mixed sun-dried tomatoes and olives.

Jersey Royal New Potatoes

A real British staple for so many people, Jersey Royals have a unique taste and texture and they’re in season right now.

With the increased popularity of low-carb diets, potatoes have often been ditched from the daily diet. However, it’s the free sugars that are most problematic for people and can hi-jack a weight-loss plan rather than nutrient and fibre-rich foods such as potatoes. That said, it’s generally best to eat carbohydrates earlier in the day. Potatoes often get forgotten when discussing nutrients, but they’re a great source of vitamin C and heart-loving potassium.

A pan of just boiled jersey royal new potatoes

Jersey Royals need nothing more than lightly boiling, served with a little butter and fresh mint and are the perfect accompaniment to any fish or chicken dish. Equally, they’re great eaten cold so can be added to your lunch-time salad for a delicious treat.

Sea trout

We talk about salmon as being a rich source of omega-3s but trout often gets forgotten. However, just like wild salmon sea trout is a great option. It has a darker colour due to the astaxanthin-rich algae the fish naturally eat; astaxanthin is an amazingly powerful antioxidant. Plus it tastes so much better than the slightly bland supermarket farmed trout.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Trout is a great source of the omega-3 fats which are essential for the heart, eyes, joint, hormones and skin. Plus it can be eaten in much the same way as salmon, although sea trout particularly lends itself to barbecuing, served with a shallot and lemon sauce.

Radishes

Whilst eating radishes may be a slightly acquired taste, it’s well worth getting to like them as they’re another member of the health-giving cruciferous family of vegetables. They make a great snack or salad vegetable for the summer months. This is because they’re high in vitamin C which is needed for collagen production, helping prevent lines and wrinkles that are often more noticeable when skin is at its driest. However, vitamin C is also a very powerful antioxidant so it will help protect the skin against sun damage.

A bunch of radishes on a wooden background

Radishes are low in calories so are very popular with those watching their weight. However, they’re also great added to a tray of crudités served with hummus and taramasalata.

So enjoy these five healthy, tasty and versatile foods that should be eaten right now whilst in season.

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Nutrition for feeling good from the inside out

Close up of a happy young woman holding an apple

It’s no secret that what we eat has a massive impact on how we look and feel. The body is no different from a car; it needs the right fuel to work optimally. Plus, it’s easy to forget how much work the body does.

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As you’ve been reading this, in the last second your body has produced around two million new red blood cells! It’s certainly an amazing piece of machinery.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips on how to optimise your body from the inside out.

Love your liver

The liver is the main organ of detoxification, therefore it needs to be the first port of call when we’re thinking about health from the inside out. The liver get lots of abuse that we’re not necessarily aware of due to environmental toxins all around us: the liver has to deal with toxins from the inside and the outside on a daily basis.

Symptoms such as excessive bloating or wind, recurrent headaches, sensitivity to chemicals, poor digestion of fatty foods, bad breath or less than one bowel movement daily, may all be indications of a sluggish liver.

The good news is there are lots of foods that love your liver and will help it to detox gently and naturally without you having to go on a drastic ‘detox’ programme. The liver primarily needs four types of foods:

Fibre: beans (all types), brown rice, fresh fruit and vegetables, lentils, oats, whole wheat and rye

Enzymes: pineapple and papaya

‘Friendly bacteria’-promoting foods: Jerusalem artichokes, live natural yoghurt, miso, garlic and onions

Woman eating a healthy breakfast with berries, yoghurt and orange juice

Antioxidants: avocado, beetroot, broccoli, green tea, nuts, watercress, sweet potatoes, berries and peppers

Try to include as many of these foods as possible into your daily diet; there’s certainly plenty of choice. Plus don’t forget the main ‘food of life’ – water. Drink at least 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily to keep your liver running optimally.

Beauty from within

It’s true to say that all the creams, potions and lotions in the world are not going to promote beautiful glowing skin if you’re not putting the right nutrients in. Just like the liver, your skin is an organ of detoxification and is therefore a reflection of what’s going on inside. Whilst the liver is certainly the first consideration, there are also specific nutrients that can help your skin to glow.

Vitamin C is the most important nutrient for the skin because it’s essential for the production of collagen, the skin’s main structural protein. Our natural production of collagen declines after the age of around 30 which is one of the reasons why we start getting those dreaded lines and wrinkles. Therefore, try to eat as many foods rich in Vitamin C as possible.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Enjoy strawberries, kiwi fruits, red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and all citrus fruits. All these foods are high in antioxidants which help protect the body (including the skin) from free radical damage. Vitamin C can help neutralise internal and external toxins, therefore you’ll soon be glowing from the inside out!

Healthy fats for glowing skin

There are certain fats that are absolutely essential for the body and that includes glowing skin. Whilst damaged fats (often called trans fats), frequently found in margarines, cakes and biscuits, should be avoided as much as possible, certain healthy fats are needed regularly.

The essential omega-3 fats contain potent anti-inflammatory properties which help heal many skin conditions. Plus, the omega-3s are an intrinsic part of our cellular structure, therefore we need to keep eating them regularly. Furthermore, they help keep the skin properly hydrated. Best sources of omega-3s are oily fish, nuts and seeds. However, if you’re vegan then try to find algae oil which contain the omega-3s that fish feed on.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Coconut oil is another great fat for the skin. Whilst it does contain saturated fats, so needs to be used in moderation, its medium chain triglycerides have great affinity for the skin and are also used for energy, another great benefit. Coconut oil is good for cooking, particularly in stir-fries.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Avocados are loaded with skin-loving vitamin E and have a double benefit because they also help the liver detoxify. Sesame oil contains useful fatty acids for the skin but is also high in polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants. Sesame is also high in lignans which have a great hormone-balancing effect.

So getting it right nutritionally on the inside can really help to give you great results on the outside!

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How to be a healthy vegetarian: top dietary tips

Woman in kitchen holding bottle of olive oil wutg basket of peppers on work surface

It’s nearly time to celebrate National Vegetarian Week. Vegetarian numbers are on the rise in the UK and there are many reasons for this. They include health, a concern for animal welfare and the environment, or simply a change in taste.

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A vegetarian is anyone who does not eat meat, fish or poultry or foods containing them, but the term is often used in a much wider context. For example flexitarian (flexibly vegetarian), pescatarian (happy to eat fish), lacto-vegetarian (eats dairy, but not eggs) and ovo-vegetarian (eats eggs but not dairy).

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips on how to be a healthy vegetarian.

Plan your protein needs

It can sometimes be hard for vegetarians to meet protein needs, as well as requirements for certain trace minerals. Protein is essential for hormone production, the immune system and strong muscles and bones, particularly, as we age.

Plant foods don’t contain all the essential amino acids found in animal produce. But the good news is that you can combine grains and beans to get all the essential amino acids the body needs. For example, a bean-based chilli con carne with rice is a great choice and satisfies this requirement.

Bean and rice salad stew

Most animal produce, including eggs, milk and dairy, contain all the essential amino acids. Therefore, if you’re eating these regularly you should be able to meet the body’s needs. It’s important to eat protein at every meal, to ensure the body gets what it needs but also to keep blood sugar and energy levels sustained throughout the day.

There are also plenty of vegetarian protein powders, made from whey, pea or hemp, which can be added to smoothies. These are especially useful to top up protein needs if you’re very active or stressed (when the body needs more support generally).

Top tip: eat plenty of pulses, soya products, nuts and seeds, eggs and cheese.

Plan your micro nutrient needs

Vegetarians may be more susceptible to low levels of certain minerals such as the easily absorbable heme-iron found in meat. However, iron can be found in vegetarian sources such as pulses, nuts, seeds, cereals, green leafy vegetables, tofu, dried fruit, molasses and fortified foods.

Vegetarian sources of iron

Vitamin C helps boost uptake of iron, so eat a piece of fruit or some vegetables at the same time. Alternatively, go for a glass of orange juice with your breakfast or a fresh fruit salad as a dessert or starter.

Zinc is essential for the immune system and many other key body functions. Therefore, put milk and dairy products, eggs, sourdough bread, cereal products, green leafy vegetables, pulses and pumpkin seeds on the menu. Healthy snacking is another way to help increase levels – try eating seed mixes or sprinkle them over salads and fruit. Try making pulse-based dips such as hummus.

homemade hummus with seed sprinkles

Vegetarians can run the risk of being low in vitamin B12 which is essential for energy production, although vegans are at greater risk since it’s only found in animal produce.

Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth and can help to protect against osteoporosis in later life. Non-dairy sources can be sourced from foods such as tofu, fortified soya and rice milk, almonds, dark green vegetables and sesame seeds.

Top tip: Include milk, dairy products and eggs if they’re still part of your daily diet.

Plan your omega-3 needs

The essential omega-3s can often get forgotten by vegetarians, particularly if you’re not eating fish. They are called ‘essential’ because omega-3s support hormones, eye health, the heart, joints and skin but the body cannot make them and so these need to be included in your diet.

A range of seeds on spoons

The good news is the body can convert something called ‘ALA’ found in flaxseeds, rapeseed oil, soy oil, pumpkin seeds, tofu and walnuts, into the beneficial essential fats. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines already contain plenty of these beneficial fats, so if you’re a pescatarian you are more than likely including these types of fish regularly in the diet.

Plan your supplement needs

Even though you’ll hopefully be planning your diet well, it’s always good to cover all bases with a high-quality, daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement as well. It’s like having a really cost-effective health insurance policy! You can also take vegetarian omega-3 supplements to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs.

There are lots of health benefits to being vegetarian and with a little planning you can make sure that you have the healthiest vegetarian diet possible.

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