Pumpkins: top nutrition this Halloween

Pumpkins carved into lanterns

We hardly need reminding it’s Halloween this week!  And the star of the day is the wonderful vegetable, pumpkin.  It’s uses and nutritional benefits are far-reaching. 

Whilst it’s often glowing brightly on doorsteps around the world on the night of Halloween, the health benefits of pumpkins also have star status.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top reasons for including pumpkins in your diet.

Pumpkins are high in beta-carotene

With the season of bugs now upon us, we really need to be supporting the immune system as much as possible. Beta-carotene is a key member of the carotenoid family which is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed.  Vitamin A is important for keeping the immune system in good shape and helps us see in the dark – much needed now the clocks have gone back.

A range of pumpkins in a basket

Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, like pumpkin, is especially good for vegetarians and vegans since vitamin A itself is only found in animal foods.  Plus, vitamin A is an amazingly powerful antioxidant, further protecting the immune system.

Pumpkins have amazingly nutritious seeds

The seeds not only provide a wonderful transportable snack, they are rich in protein, to help stave hunger pangs, and loaded with many other nutrients.  Importantly, they are rich in the vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fats, needed for healthy eyes, joints and hormones, as well as bone-loving calcium and magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of fibre so help keep everything moving when the body can often feel a little sluggish generally. As a bonus, they’re filled with the amino acid tryptophan which not only keeps you energised throughout the day, but helps boost levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.  Pumpkin seeds are delicious lightly roasted with a little soy sauce.

Pumpkins are great for eyes in more ways than one

Whilst we know pumpkins are loaded with pro-vitamin A carotenoids, they’re also rich in other flavonoids (plant compounds) that have great affinity for eye health.  They ‘re packed with lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin which help protect the eyes from damaging blue light that we are all exposed to for too long every day.

Close up of woman's eyes

We often wonder why eyesight deteriorates the more we look at screens; it’s all because of the blue light emitted from computers and mobile phones. Thankfully these compounds can help protect the eyes – even more reasons for eating pumpkin.

Pumpkins are rich in lycopene

Lycopene is yet another carotenoid with wonderful health benefits.  When we hear lycopene, we often think of tomatoes as these are one of the best sources.  However, pumpkins certainly hold their own where it is concerned. This amazing antioxidant has been found to help support prostate health – one of the most common health issues affecting men.

a pumpkin cut into pieces

As with all carotenoids, their nutrient benefits are better absorbed from cooked sources, so roasted or mashed pumpkin is certainly the order of the day.

Pumpkins are amazingly versatile

Whilst we certainly love the warming glow pumpkins give off on Halloween night, their versatility in recipes can’t be overlooked.  Pumpkin soup, made with coconut cream, sage leaves, onion and vegetable stock is certainly an autumn favourite.  Pumpkin can also be roasted and served sprinkled with feta cheese and honey. It’s also great in a curry with other root vegetables and tomatoes, or in a risotto with spring onions, parmesan cheese, cumin and garlic.

A bowl of Pumpkin soup

But best of all is pumpkin pie!  You can use ready prepared sweet shortcrust pastry for speed.  The prepared pumpkin just needs to be mixed with brown sugar, eggs, cream and lots of spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for a warming Halloween treat.

So, enjoy Halloween and make the most of your pumpkins – both as lanterns and as a nutritious vegetable to add to your diet.

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Seasonal eating: top autumn picks packed with nutrition

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutrition

Whilst we may mourn the loss of longer, lighter days when the clocks go back, there are some distinct advantages when it comes to thinking about autumn foods.  Just as the leaves turn red, yellow and golden brown, so the colours of foods change with the seasons.

Eating seasonally also means you are getting the most nutrition from the foods available right now.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite foods to include in your diet this season.

Pumpkin

It’s often said that pumpkin is the most popular vegetable at this time of year.  Obviously, pumpkin plays a starring role in Halloween festivities, but it’s also a real winner in terms of nutritional benefits.

Pumpkin certainly matches the season with its orange colour signalling it to be rich in carotenoids.  These are a group of plant compounds particularly high in antioxidants which help protect the body against disease. One such carotenoid found in pumpkin is zeaxanthin which has a wonderful affinity for the eyes, protecting them against blue light (and we all spend far too long looking at screens these days).

a pumpkin cut into pieces

Another carotenoid, beta carotene, is turned into vitamin A in the body as required, which helps support the immune system. This is much needed as we come into the cold and flu season.

Pumpkin is best steamed or roasted and served as a vegetable side, but it can also be made into pumpkin pie.  Plus, pumpkin seeds are incredibly nutritious; they are very high in the essential omega-3 fats.  Make sure you use them – they’re delicious very lightly roasted.

Ginger

As the weather turns distinctly chilly, the body likes to be fed ‘warming’ foods.  The delicious spice ginger delivers so many wonderful health benefits, particularly supporting the immune system.

Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory. It can really help ease any stiff, aching joints, which can become more problematic when the weather becomes cold and damp.  Additionally, if you’re struggling with headaches, ginger can help provide some relief.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

Whilst ginger can be included in so many different recipes, both sweet and savoury, so many health benefits can be gained from using it as a tea. Finely chop some fresh ginger and pour over boiling water and just keep sipping throughout the day.  You can also add some lemon to help detoxify the liver at the same time. You’ll certainly help keep the cold outside, as well nasty inside colds, at bay!

Swede

Often confused with turnips, swede (or ‘neeps’ as they’re known in Scotland), make a wonderfully nutritious autumn vegetable choice.  Swede is actually part of the cruciferous vegetable family. It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C, as well as other immune-boosting vitamins such as B6, so it’s certainly great for the change in season.

A whole swede next to mashed swede as a vegetable side dish

We can often feel sluggish at this time of year and our digestive systems can also slow down.  However, swede helps feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut making sure everything keeps moving smoothly through.  Moreover, if you’re trying to lose a few kilos before the Christmas party season, then swede is your friend. It helps balance blood sugar levels, it’s high in fibre so will fill you up, and it’s low in fat and calories.  Even better, swede is delicious simply cooked and mashed with a little butter and black pepper.

Roasted Veggies

In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, foods were always matched to the season because the body needs to be supported with warming foods and spices as the colder weather bites.  Summer salads and smoothies should be replaced with soups and thick broths at this time of year.

A range of roasted vegetables

This is a great time to be loading up with as many vegetables as possible to support the immune system.  Load up with autumnal vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, parsnips, courgettes and sweet potatoes. Prepare a large roasting tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, add some fresh rosemary and sprinkle with sea salt for a fabulous accompaniment to any fish, meat, poultry or vegetarian protein.

Cinnamon

Another warming spice, cinnamon is perfect to include in as many dishes as possible at this time of year. It also seems to have a balancing effect on the body generally, helping it to better cope with the changing seasons.

Cinnamon boasts a wealth of health benefits, protecting the immune system, feeding the good gut bacteria and having positive effects on cognitive function. More benefits are being found all the time.

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

Even better, cinnamon is incredibly versatile in so many dishes.  It works really well with any dishes containing oats, such a muesli, flapjacks and sprinkled over porridge.  Cinnamon is also delicious when used in pancakes and muffins or any dish containing apples.  It’s even delicious with pork – think apple and cinnamon sauce.

So, try building more of these warming, autumn vegetables and spices into your diet this season. If you’re warm inside, you will not feel the cold outside as much and your body will better cope with harsher weather and seasonal bugs.

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Healthy Baking: 3 top recipes packed with nutrition

When we hear the word ‘baking’ it often stirs up thoughts of calorie-rich cakes or desserts. 

However, it’s very possible to bake some super-healthy dishes, using nutrient-dense ingredients to compliment your healthy diet.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top three healthy and delicious bakes.

Protein bread

Bread is not generally thought of as providing protein.  It’s categorised as a carbohydrate, which doesn’t keep us feeling full for very long.  However, whole grain bread always contains good amounts of fibre, which slows down absorption and ensures sustained energy release. But there are still a few tweaks you can make to improve things still further.

A rnage of wholegrain foods

Spiced oat bread contains eggs – a perfect protein – loads of fibre, plus some B-vitamins to keep you going all through the day.  Egg yolks are also a great source of iron, so you’ve got a great basis for a breakfast, especially when on the run.

All you need is some oat milk, eggs, porridge oats and baking powder.  You can also add mixed seeds and adding some spices will also give this bread a tasty zing!  Or you can use cinnamon which is great for blood sugar balancing.

Oat Bakes

It’s always a dilemma; trying to find healthy snacks to eat, especially when you’re busy. This is where just a little forward planning can really help.

Flapjacks, which are totally delicious and sustaining, can often be sugar and calorie laden.  However, it’s perfectly possible to bake some energy-boosting flapjacks that are healthy and won’t damage your waistline.

Oats, which are slow releasing carbohydrates are the key ingredient. If you’re sensitive to gluten, then you can always use the gluten-free variety. It’s also good to include flaxseeds, which are loaded with healthy omegas.  Additionally, pistachios are a great source of healthy fats and are packed with minerals such as potassium and magnesium.  The essential omegas are needed for healthy skin and hair, plus trace minerals such as magnesium are essential for hormone balancing – you’ll glow inside and out!

Homemade flapjacks

For sweetness, you can add a little honey, but dried fruits such as dates and raisins will really get your taste buds going.  Dried fruits are also a great source of fibre and energising iron.

These delicious flapjacks keep for a while if tightly stored, so once they’re made, you’re never going to be without that mid-meal ‘pick-me-up’.

A bowl of home made granola

Oats are one of the best starts of the day, so whilst you’ve got the oats out of the cupboard, why not make up a batch of healthy granola for a great breakfast? You just need to add some energising coconut oil, a little honey, pumpkin seeds (which are a great source of omega-3s), some dried fruit and cinnamon.  This recipe also works well with walnuts chopped on the top and then lightly baked in the oven.

Evening meal bakes

What to eat for dinner is the daily conundrum for most people.  However, just as it’s great to have plenty of breakfast and snack options in the cupboard, it’s easy to bake a tasty dish that will store in the fridge for a few days.

A portion of vegetarian lasagne

A meat-free lasagne is very cost effective, especially as it’s going to last a few days. It’s packed with antioxidants, protein, fibre and gut-friendly foods and herbs.  Lentils, spinach and mushrooms are key ingredients. Also add some canned tomatoes (full of the antioxidant lycopene), rosemary, garlic, natural yoghurt and onions (all good for the digestive system). Adding some ricotta cheese will also provide additional protein. If you’re gluten sensitive, you can always use gluten-free lasagne.

It should take no longer than 20 minutes preparation time and you’ll have a warming dish to come home to in the evenings.

Baking can also help to de-stress your mind – another wonderful health benefit of making more healthy bakes this autumn.

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Banish the bloat for 2018: top digestion tips

For many of us, Christmas over-indulgence may have negatively impacted on our digestion leading to uncomfortable bloating. But with the Christmas festivities behind us, and a New Year on the horizon, what is the best way to prep your body so you can start the New Year energised and ready to go?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for beating the bloat this New Year!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

THINK DANDELIONS

The humble dandelion plant delivers some wonderful health benefits; most importantly it is a natural liver cleanser and helps to detoxify the blood. Since the liver is crucial to digestive processes, if it’s working well then the digestive system will automatically run smoother.

Dandelions also aid digestion by encouraging the flow of bile which primarily breaks down fats, thereby reducing any likelihood of bloating. Dandelion can be drunk as a tea or coffee, both of which are readily available in health food stores.

DRINK LEMON WATER

Whilst talking about the liver, there’s no better way to start the day than with a glass of lemon water with ginger.

Lemon is a liver detoxifier and ginger feeds the friendly gut bacteria, which helps to reduce any bloating. Start with a large glass of warm water, add a couple of slices of fresh lemon and some crushed ginger. Apart from cleansing the liver, your skin will also glow after a week or so and your digestion will run a whole lot smoother!

FEED THE GUT BACTERIA

We have billions of friendly or good gut bacteria, living quite happily in the digestive tract. However, sugary foods, alcohol, stress, refined foods and caffeine all have an impact on how happy they are! Over-indulgence during the festive period will certainly have impacted on the natural balance in the gut, which can lead to tell-tale bloating and wind.

Natural live yoghurt provides good amounts of friendly bacteria. Whilst it’s great to include this regularly in the diet, your digestive tract will benefit hugely from taking a course of probiotics (readily available in health food stores) for at least a month, to get everything back on track. You may initially experience a little more bloating, which is normal, but it should settle quite quickly. The end results will be worth it!

INCLUDE ARTICHOKES

Globe artichokes may look slightly strange and can be a little fiddly to prepare, but they are packed full of digestive benefits. Artichokes have been used as a liver tonic for centuries because they contain two antioxidants, namely cynarin and silymarin. These help to cleanse and repair over-worked livers, which naturally improves digestion.

Moreover, cynarin is one of the active ingredients in globe artichokes that helps soothe digestion. Artichokes are also high in fibre which helps improve bowel movements and this in itself provides relief from bloating.

To prepare them, cut the body of the artichoke in half and remove the stem whilst pulling out the fibres. Snap the leaves from the edges and cut the remaining leaves away. Then you can slice the tip of the artichoke away, scrape out the hairy middle and lightly steam or gently roast the leaves in a little olive oil.

GIVE UP GLUTEN

Gluten is the protein found in wheat and other grains such as oats, rye and barley. It’s a sticky protein, hence breads are quite dense in texture. It’s precisely for this reason that many people have a problem digesting gluten. And if you think about it, you’ve probably consumed lots of gluten over the Christmas period! Canapes, stuffing, cakes, pastries, Christmas pudding, bread, sausage rolls … the list goes on!

Why not start the new year being gluten-free for a couple of weeks to help relieve any bloating? It may sound difficult but there are so many alternatives available now in the supermarkets. Plus, you’ll naturally reduce your carbohydrate intake and increase your protein, which is always going to be beneficial for weight management.

Just be wary of gluten-free biscuits or cakes; they’re generally very high in sugar which is certainly not going to help any new year detox!

So try these top tips to feel more energised and beat the bloat this year, and get ready for an even healthier 2018!

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Five nutritious food swaps for a healthier Christmas

A table laid with christmas foods including turkey, cake, cheese and decorations

Christmas is not always known for being the healthiest time of year! However, wouldn’t it be marvellous to still enjoy wonderful festive food but with a healthy twist this Christmas?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top healthy Christmas food swaps!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

SWAP PIGS IN BLANKETS FOR PARMA HAM AND ASPARAGUS

Serve up some delicious Parma ham wrapped around asparagus instead of pigs in blankets this Christmas. Whilst those traditional pigs are often one of the mainstays of the Christmas table, there’s around 800 calories per 100 grams , so there’s nothing wrong with changing it up a little and enjoying a choice.

Asparagus is packed with energising B vitamins, plus it feeds the friendly bacteria that naturally live within the digestive tract and this is going to really help reduce digestive upsets which are common over the Christmas period. Treat yourself to some traditional Italian Parma ham and wrap a slice around three asparagus sprigs. Gently roast in the oven and sprinkle with a little fresh Parmesan cheese and those little pigs will be a dim and distant memory!

SWAP SMOKED SALMON AND SCRAMBLED EGGS FOR AVOCADO AND POACHED EGG

Whilst scrambled eggs and smoked salmon is a delicious Christmas morning breakfast, it can often sit heavily on the stomach. Farmed smoked salmon is especially high in fat and scrambled eggs are frequently made with milk and butter which can be more difficult to digest.

The other downside to eating any smoked foods is that they contain a high salt content; salt is added to reduce the moisture content of the food and help prolong shelf life, prior to smoking. For people who have to be mindful of high blood pressure, eating foods loaded with salt will often exacerbate the problem.

Much easier on the digestion would be a lightly poached egg on wholemeal toast with some avocado slices. Avocado is a wonderfully healthy fruit, packed with skin-loving vitamin E to help you glow through the festive season.

SWAP BRANDY BUTTER FOR CRÈME FRAICHE

Crème fraiche will provide a wonderful partnership to your Christmas pudding! As we know, traditional Christmas pudding is notoriously packed with sugar, and whilst the day could never be the same without its presence, brandy butter is equally sweet and very high in fat.

The combined taste of sweet Christmas pudding with the slightly sour crème fraiche is a real treat. In terms of fat content you’ll be more than halving your intake with crème fraiche as there’s nearly 200 calories per serving in brandy butter as opposed to around only 50 in crème fraiche.

SWAP CANAPES FOR CRUDITIES

Christmas lunch or dinner often kicks off with some canapes. However, goat’s cheese tarts, mini quiches, vol-au-vents and smoked salmon blinis might look lovely but they can negatively impact on the digestive system. And that’s before we even consider any impact on the waistline.

You can still enjoy some pre-dinner drinks and nibbles but why not serve up a plateful of fresh crudités with hummus or guacamole? A plateful of chopped vegetables including celery (great for reducing blood pressure), cucumber (excellent internal cleanser), carrots (packed with vitamin A for the immune system) and peppers (loaded with vitamin C) is colourful and appetising and even better with some delicious dips.

Moreover, you’ll be better able to enjoy the main event without feeling bloated before you start!

SWAP YULE LOG FOR LEMON POLENTA CAKE

Whilst the chocolate yule log might look very Christmassy, it is a very heavy dessert. We also tend to eat a lot more gluten-containing foods over Christmas which can really contribute to bloating and flatulence, and the traditional yule log is one of these you could do without.

A lemon polenta cake still looks great on the table, can be dusted with icing sugar to look like snow, and is gluten-free. Plus, you can even make it dairy-free by substituting the butter for mild olive oil if you like. Even better, lemons provide powerful antioxidants so you’ll be supporting your immune system at the same time.

So why not try these easy swaps and make this your healthiest Christmas yet without losing any of the pleasures!

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