Heart health: Eat your way to the right cholesterol readings

Cholesterol,Word,Written,On,Slate,With,Stethoscope,On,Wooden,Table

Most of us are aware of cholesterol and understand its relationship to heart health. However, as with everything in life, it’s all about balance between good and bad.

There are two types of cholesterol – HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol’ and LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.

This National Cholesterol Month Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explains the highs and lows of good and bad cholesterol. 

Essentially there are two types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL, known as good cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, also known as bad cholesterol).

The HDL transport cholesterol out of the arteries, where too much can cause blockages, and takes it back to the liver for recycling. The LDLs however deposit cholesterol into the arteries.  Therefore, it makes absolute sense that we need higher levels of HDLs and lower levels of LDLs.  The good news is that these readings can be highly influenced by the food we eat.

Raising the good with berry fruits

Berry fruits are rich in vitamin C which not only drives down HDLs but protects the artery walls against oxidative damage.  This can happen if there’s too much fat circulating in the blood and the fats become damaged.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

Therefore, berries are your friends in this respect so enjoy them as much as possible.  Why not add them to your morning cereal or porridge, eat them on the run with some natural yoghurt or enjoy them just as they are, as a snack.

Get fishy with the oily variety

Salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines are some of the oiliest fish and the most heart protective.  Specifically, the long-chain fatty acids in these fish (EPA and DHA) help raise levels of HDLs and reduce LDLs, and the research is very clear about this. Ideally oily fish needs to be eaten two or three times a week for best effects.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Salmon, for example, is very easy to cook quickly in the oven with some lemon juice and dill and can either be eaten with veggies and rice or as tomorrow’s lunch, cold with salad.  Tinned sardines on wholegrain toast also make an easy lunch.  In fact, tinned sardines provide dual benefits for your heart and bone health so they’re worth adding to your diet.

Snack on some black or red grapes

It’s no secret that red wine (in moderation) can be heart-healthy down to its high antioxidant content which protects the arteries against fat damage.  This is because the grapes that are used to make red wine contain special types of antioxidants.  It’s actually the grape seeds and skins that contain the most health benefits.

shutterstock_53130070 grapes make wine Mar15

Whilst red wine is the favourite tipple for many people, having too much is certainly not a good idea.  However, eating plenty of dark grapes really is a smart plan. Even better, they are one of the most transportable fruits if you need snacks on the run.

Eat fermented foods

Heart disease is not common in Japan which may, in part, be down to their high consumption of fermented soy protein foods, specifically, miso, tempeh and tofu.  Soy protein helps balance HDLs and LDLs in the right way and is therefore deemed very heart healthy.

A,Set,Of,Fermented,Food,Great,For,Gut,Health,-

As many of us are thinking about the environment when we make our food choices, eating plant-based protein is a good option.  The great news is that these foods are very easy to incorporate into your meal planning: tofu and tempeh can be quickly added to stir fries or as some protein in a smoothie.  Miso soup also makes a great low-calorie, low-fat snack, providing a quick energy boost when most needed.

Avoid trans fats

Of all the triggers for raised cholesterol and lipoproteins, eating trans fats primarily found in processed foods and margarines, are the main culprits.  They may be listed on the labels as ‘trans-fats’ or ‘hydrogenated fats’ and should be avoided as much as possible.

These fats (generally polyunsaturated fats) are chemically unstable and when processed and heated, are altered to the extent that the body can’t deal with them effectively.  Unfortunately, they’re a massive driver for raising cholesterol levels.

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The biggest problem foods are generally margarines, biscuits, cakes, cereal bars, and many processed meals so minimise these foods in your diet or avoid altogether.

With a little planning, HDLs and LDLs can go in the right directions to help improve your cholesterol status and support your overall health.

Stay well.

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Support your heart health with these five vitamins and minerals

Blueberries in a heart shape

It beats around 100,00 times a day and is a truly amazing organ!  Yes, your heart is incredible, and it needs taking care of just like the rest of the body. 

When it comes to heart-health, there are some key vitamins and minerals that are essential to keep it beating long and strong.

This National Cholesterol Month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five key vitamins and minerals for heart health.

Vitamin C

When it comes to the heart, vitamin C is certainly an essential nutrient. As one of our key antioxidant nutrients, vitamin C protects the heart from all that life throws at it.

We all have fats circulating within the blood stream.  However, when these levels are elevated (generally caused by a diet high in fat and sugar), these fats (also known as triglycerides) start to attach themselves to the artery wall. Over time this can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack, as blood flow is blocked. Additionally, fats oxidise and harden the arteries causing a condition known as atherosclerosis.  Furthermore, cholesterol, another type of fat, can be dangerous when not dealt with correctly within the body.

shutterstock_362885486 vitamin C Jan17

Vitamin C not only protects the arteries from damaging free radicals, but it also helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, thereby giving the heart a really great fighting chance of being healthy. Interestingly, foods rich in vitamin C such as berry fruits are also high in plant compounds called polyphenols.  These also provide antioxidants and wonderful benefits to the heart.  Ami to eat a handful of berries every day.

Vitamin B3

Part of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B3 is a key heart nutrient because its helps raise levels of the healthy HDL cholesterol, whilst reducing overall cholesterol readings. Just like all good families, the Bs do work together but each one has its own specific claim to fame.  That’s not to say the other don’t also have a role to play in heart health (see below).

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

The good news is that vitamin B3 is found in a variety of animal and plant foods including beef, liver, fish, eggs, avocados, whole grains and nuts and seeds.  Oily fish also contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats so eating some portions of salmon or mackerel regularly, will help the heart all ways round.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a key heart mineral, alongside potassium (see below).  Magnesium essentially has two main roles to play. It works as a muscle relaxant, helping relax the heart muscle and arteries thereby keeping blood pressure in the healthy range. Secondly it is a key electrolyte, balancing nerve transmissions throughout cells. Magnesium’s role is primarily enabling essential enzyme reactions that have a direct effect on heart and blood vessel health.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is frequently deficient in both men and women due to poor dietary intake.  It’s predominantly found in whole grains and green leafy veg, hence it’s low in the typical Western diet.

Potassium

Just like magnesium, potassium is a key electrolyte but works primarily with sodium helping maintain water balance and the correct acidity levels in the blood.  It also helps regulate nerve and muscle activity.  These are all essential for keeping the heart beating 24/7 as well as maintaining blood pressure at the right levels.

shutterstock_651019798 honeydew melon Aug17

The great news is that potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables and is especially high in bananas, melons, apricots, grapefruit, and sweet potatoes.  It’s great to include as much colour variety in the diet as possible so you’ll also be getting that all-important vitamin C.

Vitamin B12

Another key member of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 is as essential but works in a different way to some of the other Bs. Vitamin B12 is needed for the process of methylation, an essential bodily process that happens thousands of times each day.  It helps control production of a toxic amino acid metabolite called homocysteine; high levels have often been associated with cases of heart disease.  B12 works alongside folate and vitamin B6 in this process.

A range of foods high in protein

Deficiency of B12 can cause pernicious anaemia (one symptom being heart palpitations) but can also bring on extreme tiredness.  Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in the body so there are times when the GP will recommend injections.  However, for most people, eating plenty in the diet is generally sufficient to keep everything working well.  The only downside is that B12 is generally only found in animal foods, so I would recommend that if you are vegetarian or vegan get your levels checked as you may need to supplement.

Celebrate all that is amazing about your beating heart: take care of it well and it will love you for many years to come.

Stay well.

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Heart health: the top three nutrients to support yours

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

Our heart works very hard for us every day.  In any one day it can beat a whopping 100,000 times!  It makes sense, therefore, to show your heart some love by feeding it specific nutrients to keep it beating healthily.

Clearly, the body needs a range of nutrients to maintain optimal health and the heart is no different in this respect.  However, there are certain nutrients that the heart absolutely needs in order to stay strong and healthy.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her three top nutrients to support your heart health.

Vitamin C

We know vitamin C is really important when it comes to protecting the immune system.  However, as one of our key antioxidants, it’s essential for the heart too.  Thankfully, we have eradicated the classic deficiency disease of vitamin C, being scurvy, but the first sign of this was blood vessels literally leaking – very unpleasant.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

From much research and further understanding since then, we know that vitamin C is needed for strong blood vessels and arteries.  As an antioxidant, it protects the arteries from free radical damage that can block them and cause heart attacks.  Additionally, vitamin C increases production of HDL, our ‘good cholesterol’, which helps remove excess cholesterol from the body.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

All fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C so enjoying a colourful diet and including a wide range of these foods is going to really protect your heart.  Top of the list are peppers, berry fruits, kiwis and broccoli.

Omega-3s

Termed ‘essential fats’ because they have to be eaten in the diet, these omega-3 fats have a key role in heart health.  Specifically, it’s the long-chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA which are the main players.  Much research has found they can help reduce the risk of heart disease, thought to be down to their anti-inflammatory actions. This can reduce damage to artery walls, which is one of the key issues in heart disease.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help thin the blood, thereby reducing high blood pressure and minimising the risk of blood clots causing strokes.

The best sources of EPA and DHA are from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and to a lesser extent, tuna.  For fish eaters, then aim to eat oily fish at least two to three times a week.

A spoon full of flax seeds

However, for those not keen on fish or are vegan, then flaxseeds are able to provide some (albeit in lower amounts, since the body has to undergo complicated conversions of nutrients beforehand).  However, try to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself, before adding them to cereals or yoghurt, as this helps release the beneficial lignans which provide some wonderful health benefits.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle function and since the heart is a muscle, then magnesium is a key mineral for heart health.  It is also a relaxant, so magnesium has the effect of relaxing the artery wall and reducing blood pressure. Magnesium is often used to great effect when treating cases of high blood pressure.

Additionally, magnesium deficiency can cause a heart attack by cramping a coronary artery even in the absence of a blockage within the artery itself.  Magnesium deficiency is widespread within the UK population which may partly explain the prevalence of heart conditions.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that it can easily be rectified by including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in the diet.  Load up on almonds, spinach, whole grains including quinoa, and all types of beans.  Even better news is that dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium so you can enjoy a guilt-free treat of 70% or more dark chocolate!

Magnesium is depleted by stress (which many people are suffering at the moment), so try to eat magnesium-rich foods every day and take a magnesium supplement if needed.  It will also help reduce stress levels.

So, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can contribute to your heart health every day.

Stay well.

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Five foods for a healthy heart

Blueberries in a heart shape

As the heart is one of our hardest working organs so it makes sense to look after it as much as possible. The risk of heart disease increases with age but, unfortunately, problems can start much earlier and may not always make themselves known.

So, this World Heart Day make now the time to be kind to your heart.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five foods to help support your heart health.

Beetroot

Whole beetroots

Beetroot is often referred to as a super food because it delivers so many amazing health benefits.  It is especially high in antioxidants which help protect the artery wall from damaging free radicals.  However, it’s also been discovered that beetroot contains specific plant compounds with anti-inflammatory effects.  Certain types of heart disease such as atherosclerosis are characterised by chronic inflammation and beetroot can help to reduce the risks associated with it.  Furthermore, beetroot juice has been found to help lower blood pressure.

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

Even better, beetroot is delicious either in sweet or savoury dishes, and makes a wonderful addition to any tray of roasted veggies.

Salmon

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Salmon and all oily fish including sardines and mackerel contain the essential omega-3 fats that are known to protect the heart and also encourage healthy blood flow through the veins.  They also have wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits which will have a positive effect on the health of the arteries.

Scrambled eggs on toast with a side of smoked salmon

Whilst smoked salmon does contain a high level of salt, it’s still rich in omega-3s so is great for a Sunday morning treat with your scrambled eggs!

Tomatoes

Tomato salad

Tomatoes are actually one of the most researched of all fruits and vegetables in relation to heart health.  Indeed, much research has looked at the ability of tomatoes to reduce overall cholesterol levels and also raise protective HDL levels.  Plus, tomatoes are high in antioxidants, specifically carotenoids, which protect the artery wall from plaques that can cause damage if left unchecked.

Smashed avocado, cherry tomatoes and feta on toast

Even better, tomatoes are very easy to include into the daily diet.  They are actually more powerful when cooked so they make a great start to the day, grilled with some avocado on toast or added to a wealth of pasta, soups, roasted veggies or one-pot dishes.

Garlic

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often regarded by naturopaths as a miracle food because of its ability to combat so many different illnesses, it’s also great for heart health.  Garlic can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and also raise HDL levels.  In higher amounts, it can also help break down blood clots.

Curry dish and rice

So many savoury dishes benefit from some added garlic, especially stir-fries, soups, curries, veggie sides, lamb and fish dishes.

Oats

A bowl of oats

Oats are another super food when it comes to heart health.  Specifically, they contain a form of soluble fibre known as beta glucan which has been strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels.  It can reduce both cholesterol and other blood fat levels. Whilst beta glucans can also be found in other whole grains such as wheat and barley, oats are the best source.  Plus, they are naturally lower in gluten, so less likely to cause digestive issues.

To put it bluntly, cholesterol has to be removed from the body via the stool, hence having healthy bowels is essential.  Soluble fibre naturally binds to cholesterol with bile from the liver and transports it safely out of the body.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

With the winter months now approaching, it’s a great opportunity to make porridge your go-to breakfast.  Add some delicious berries (from frozen is fine), a little natural yoghurt and you’ve got the perfect start to the day.  Make sure you’re eating whole grain oats though, as the level of fibre is much reduced in the ready-made porridge sachets.

So, why not try some of these easy wins when it comes to your heart health?

Stay well.

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Garlic: the health benefits

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often referred to as a ‘wonder herb’ or ‘super food’, garlic certainly lives up to its reputation. Prized for many thousands of years by nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors and herbalists, garlic has been used to treat anything from asthma to arthritis.

Its healing properties as an antiviral and antibacterial agent have also been used widely and very effectively. And did you know that despite its pungent smell, garlic is considered to be a natural aphrodisiac!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, reveals why garlic is so acclaimed and how you can use it to boost overall health.

What is garlic and how does it work?

For those of us who have been enjoying the great outdoors, the smell of wild garlic is unmissable. Garlic is actually neither a spice nor a herb, but generally referred to as a ‘botanical’. It is from the same family as onions and leeks; hence it tends to be used in similar ways in cooking.

Garlic cloves contain a phytonutrient called alliin which breaks down into the active ingredient allicin.  These are sulphur compounds also responsible for its strong odour. It is the allicin in garlic that’s mainly responsible for its pungent odour as well as its medicinal benefits.

Garlic bulbs and cloves

Interestingly, the enzyme responsible for activating garlic, becomes less active when exposed to heat: for some, fresh raw garlic is considered to have the most health benefits. This would also explain the fact that cooked garlic doesn’t produce as strong an odour as raw.  As eating raw garlic is not particularly sociable, there are still many health benefits to be gained from including garlic into your cooking or raw dishes.

Did you know?  Garlic breath can be combatted by chewing fresh parsley.

The health benefits of garlic

Garlic is probably best known for its heart-loving properties with the potential to reduce blood pressure and also lower cholesterol production in the liver.  It helps reduce harmful cholesterol and raise levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol in the blood.  Garlic is also a natural anti-coagulant that helps prevent the blood from clotting too much.

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

When it comes to viruses, garlic can be eaten raw which helps to remove excess mucus from the lungs and reduce nasal congestion, generally caused by colds or upper respiratory tract infections. Whilst everyone needs a little watery mucous to lubricate and protect the lungs, it can become thick and excessive, otherwise known as catarrh. For this reason, people often increase their intake of garlic when they have a cold.  Try including it in a chicken broth which also has antiviral effects.  And always use fresh garlic rather than powdered.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

Garlic can also support a healthy digestive system, protecting the beneficial gut flora from harmful invaders, especially when exposed to contaminated food and drink.  This is the reason why many people take a course of garlic pills prior to foreign travel to help protect against the dreaded traveller’s diarrhoea.  However, it can also work as a laxative and diuretic, so it maybe best taken prophylactically before the trip rather than eating it excessively during, although cooked garlic has less potent effects.

Additionally, garlic has demonstrated significant anti-fungal activity, particularly in cases of Candida albicans or yeast overgrowth, in the digestive tract.  Candida can be problematic to treat and causes unpleasant digestive upsets as well as fatigue. These infections can often be alleviated by using a garlic liver cleanse, because it contains enzymes and sulphur compounds which help flush out toxins.

How to use garlic in your daily dishes

There are very few dishes where garlic can’t make an appearance!  Anything from chicken Kiev to roasted lamb to garlic and cheese portobello mushrooms.  Additionally, vegetable side dishes such as broccoli, which can be lightly stir fried, really benefit from being cooked with garlic.  Plus, any vegetable soup, stir fry or stew should have garlic as the first ingredient in the pan.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Garlic has so many culinary uses and is also very easy to prepare; just separate and peel the cloves and use either crushed or whole. And if you’re feeling very brave, remember raw is most beneficial so why not add some into your salads, especially as the summer season is here!

Stay well.

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On your bike: the health benefits of cycling

Tow freinds cycling in the countryside

One of the positives to come out of our recently restricted lives is that many people have taken to two wheels to get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. And what better time to get out there than National Bike Week?

Cycling is a great activity for families and small groups of friends but can be just as enjoyable on your own.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at the health benefits of cycling and how to get the most out of your biking.

What are the health benefits?

Lots of people have turned to cycling recently as a great way of keeping fit.  It’s also been a great way to get outdoors, breathe some fresh air and just enjoy the ride. In terms of actual energy consumed, you can burn around 600 calories an hour, or if doing a harder ride, as many as 800.  It’s therefore a great way of keeping weight in check. If you’re going out for an hour’s ride, then you don’t need to take any snacks or extra food; the body has its own amazing energy-storage system. But always travel with a water bottle to keep yourself hydrated.

Close up of a woman mountain biking

Any form of exercise that elevates the heart rate for around 30 minutes helps with fat burning but also overall aerobic fitness.  This is turn has a positive effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and protection against Type 2 diabetes.  Additionally, cycling is great for mental wellbeing and you see much more of the world when you’re slightly elevated above the hedge line!

How can I make the most of an hour’s ride?

The beauty of cycling is that you don’t need to go out for hours and hours if time is short.  Why not set yourself small challenges such as trying to get further on a certain route in a fixed amount of time, meaning you’ve cycled faster?  Or try to add some hills or small inclines into your ride.  It’s so much harder trying to get a bike up a hill than running it, so you’ll get a much better cardio workout.

A family going for a bike ride

However, not every ride needs to be about a challenge because the most important part of cycling or any exercise is to enjoy the experience. Notice the landscape around you and be grateful for the opportunity of seeing the great outdoors and to have some headspace.  Vary your routes and try to avoid overly busy roads.

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

Clearly, it’s a very different experience riding off-road to on-road which is where a hybrid bike is so useful, so you’re not limited to either.  Importantly, make sure you’re well hydrated when you start the ride and take a good-sized bottle filled with lightly diluted fruit juice with water.  This will provide a very small amount of carbohydrate to keep energy levels up and help the body rehydrate faster, especially when it’s hot.

What about longer rides?

Cycling for half a day or longer, especially with family and friends is a brilliant way of spending some time outdoors.  Clearly, if it’s a family event, then you need to make sure kids have the right gear, especially helmets, and have had plenty of sun cream applied beforehand (you can even get burnt on cloudy days at this time of year).

View of a woman mountain biking

Take plenty of fluids and be careful not to underestimate the amount you might drink; cycling is really thirsty work, especially if you’re tackling more challenging terrain. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of sports drinks with you, as well as water, as they contain electrolytes plus carbohydrates to help avoid dehydration, especially when it’s hot.

Close up of a cyclists snack pot with dried fruit and nuts

If you’re planning on going out for a while, you’ll also need to take some food with you.  Energising bagels with jam (always a kids’ favourite), muesli bars, bananas dried fruits and nuts are good choices.  Traditional sports bars tend to be loaded with sweeteners so are best avoided if possible unless you’re a competitive cyclist, in which case you’ll need more structured meal replacements.

So, whether you’re out for an hour or a day, any time you can spend on a bike will be beneficial for both mind and body.

Stay well.

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Enjoy alternative healthy barbeque foods this bank holiday

Tofu skewers with other vegetables on a barbeque

It’s National Barbecue Week, celebrating all that’s delicious and fun about eating in the great outdoors.  However, it’s also a great excuse to try some new recipes rather than just resorting to the traditional barbecue staples of meat burgers and bangers! 

With so many delicious and nutritious grills and sides to choose from, why not explore some barbeque alternatives?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers five suggestions for changing things up on the barbie!

Halloumi burger

If you’ve never tried this, regardless of whether you’re vegetarian or not, then you’re missing an absolute treat.  Halloumi cheese is even more delicious on the barbecue because the smoked flavour comes through.  It’s easy to cook as it stays whole and can be put into a burger bun (if you can’t resist) or simply added to delicious salads.

Halloumi on a salad

As with all cheeses, halloumi is high in fat and also protein so you won’t need a huge portion to feel satisfied, but it will help you resist the urge to snack, which we all often do at barbecues.  Additionally, halloumi is rich in calcium to help keep your bones and teeth strong.

Quinoa and bulgur wheat salad

This super-healthy salad is great as a barbecue side because it’s loaded with protein and delicious flavours.  And for those who get bloated at barbeques with all the bread and rolls on offer, this provides some lighter carbs.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

The quinoa and bulgur wheat can be cooked together and then added to some onion, sun-dried tomato, chives, parsley, and feta cheese.  It tastes even better with some fresh mint, which is great for the digestive system and gives the salad a really summery feel.

Chicken skewers

Skewers are, of course, a barbecue favourite. Chicken is high in protein but lower in fat than red meat (especially the chicken breast), and the flavours really come alive on the barbecue. However, why not change up the flavouring so it’s not the same old recipe with a tasty marinade?

Marinated chicken skewers

For my favourite marinade, mix some natural yoghurt, curry powder, lemon juice and freshly chopped coriander. Coriander, just like most herbs, is loaded with goodness. Specifically, it’s great for digestive health, helps fight infections and is good for the heart, plus it always partners very well with chicken. Coat the chicken skewers in the marinade and leave in the fridge for as long as you can before grilling.

Jackfruit burger

You don’t need to be vegan to enjoy jackfruit; it’s the vegan answer to pork and pulled jackfruit has a remarkably similar texture.  Equally it can be used in recipes in exactly the same way as pork and works really well in curries.

Jackfruit burger

As with most fruits, jackfruit is a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving potassium, helping reduce blood pressure and manage cholesterol levels.  It’s certainly a great food choice right now.

Simply marinade the jackfruit in some barbecue sauce with garlic and onion and then place on the barbecue.  Serve in a bun with sliced avocado and tomato for a really tasty treat!

Green salads

Green salads don’t need to be dull.  The fresh flavours of green leaves work so well alongside spicy dishes – just don’t prepare it too early to avoid the inevitable wilted leaves.

This green salad is made with chopped celery – great for reducing blood pressure because it works as a natural diuretic. Try to use fresh, crisp lettuce rather than the pre-packed varieties and add some spring onions, cucumber, and avocado, plus your choice of dressing.

Green leaf salad with avocado and cucumber

This green salad is a powerhouse of antioxidants, and avocado is especially rich in vitamin E, also great for the immune system.  It’s worth remembering that even though we have a bit more freedom with the easing of some lockdown measures,  it’s still just as important to keep your immune system supported to protect the body as much as possible.

So, enjoy these easy-to-prepare barbeque recipes and give yourself a health and taste boost at the same time!

Stay well.

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Keep on walking during lockdown: why walking is so important for your health

Woman walking her dog

May is National Walking Month which actually falls at a really appropriate time.  Whilst many of us are on lockdown, and currently restricted on where and how far we can walk, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy their wonderful health benefits.

Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why walking is so important for both your physical and mental health.

Heart Health

Walking is great for the heart both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Clearly time outside is limited at the moment, so make the most of every step.  Why not challenge yourself each week and try to get a little further every time?  This means you’ll be walking faster, which in turn raises the heart rate.

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

The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked like any other.  Therefore, aim to walk at pace in order to raise your heart rate and fully benefit.  This will help circulation, improve lung capacity, tone the legs and support weight management.  You can burn up to 300 calories in half an hour if you up the pace.

Wmoan outside looking joyful

Just being outside in the fresh air is also great for the soul.  If you’re feeling cooped up indoors, just getting out for an hour can be amazingly restorative.  The adage about ‘clearing your head’ really can happen when you’re out for a walk.  Plus, it’s still possible, depending on where you live, to meet up and walk at a social distance from a friend or relative, if you’re feeling isolated.

Joint Health

Now the gyms are closed, there are many more people out jogging right now, which is a great form of exercise.  However, it can be tough on the joints, especially the knees.  One of the many wonderful things about walking is that you can get fit without joint trauma; it’s much more comfortable for the body generally, and it may even ease joint plain.  Plus, if you tackle some hills, you’ll be getting a great workout for your butt!

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Our legs need to be worked for them to retain and build muscle. Therefore, if this is the only form of exercise you’re able to do right now, try to make it count and do a meaningful march every time you head out for a walk.

Blood sugar levels

Blood sugar needs to be in balance so that you’re also balanced emotionally and physically.  When levels fall, that’s when you get the tell-tale loss of concentration and irritability.  Importantly, it’s key to weight control because excess sugar in the blood stream is stored as fat.

Walking after a meal has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in good balance (even 15 minutes around the block is effective) and any excess calories you’ve eaten will be less likely to be stored as fat.

Immunity

Exercise in general boosts immunity by uprating the production of white blood cells, which are key to immune function.  For athletes and serious exercisers, too much exercise can actually deplete immunity, so more protection of the immune system is needed through nutrition and supplementation. However, for recreational exercisers, it’s an amazing way to put yourself in the best position to fight off any colds and other viruses, so get out there!

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

If it’s a sunny day you will also be getting some of the immune-boosting vitamin D. Vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight – another great reason to spend more time outdoors.

Energy and positivity

Because walking increases blood flow and, therefore, oxygen around the body, you’ll naturally feel more energised after a walk.  And this oxygen will also reach your brain, allowing your head to feel clearer, and often more creative.

Close up of woman with arms outstretched, smiling in a forest

Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you.  It’s amazing how much more positive you can feel even after just a short walk.  Use the time for just being ‘you’ if you can. Be mindful and enjoy your surroundings – if you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view or open space on your doorstep, then that’s an added bonus.

So, embrace National Walking Month and you’ll definitely be rewarded with some wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

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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Power up your walking with these hiking nutrition tips

Two hikers enjoying a walk

It’s National Walking Month and walking in all its forms is becoming a really popular form of exercise and for very good reason. It’s great for overall fitness, particularly if you’re walking briskly or uphill which gets the heart rate elevated. However, it’s also an excellent way of burning calories or simply just getting moving!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Walking needs little preparation except for your nutrition; the better nourished you are, the more power and spring in your step you’ll have!

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to get you up those hills.

Oats

Oats are a walker’s best friend. They’re a great source of energy as they are packed with B vitamins. They also deliver slow-releasing carbohydrates, good for sustained energy release. Furthermore, oats contain beta-glucans, a form of fibre, which has been proven to help reduce cholesterol levels. The fibre will also help keep the bowels in good working order.

A bowl of oats

Oats are probably one of the best starts to the day if you’re heading for the hills (or even for a brisk local walk). As you’ll be using up lots of energy, oats will fill you up and help maintain energy levels without giving you a massive sugar-rush followed by a dip shortly after.

Oats are also brilliant as a snack, perhaps in a flap jack or muesli bar, during the day. Oat cakes work well as a post-hike snack with some walnut or almond butter.

Cashews

All types of nuts make great hiking snacks but cashews are especially good. They’re high in both protein and carbohydrates so they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and pumped full of energy. Even better, they have a lower fat content than some other nuts although they don’t contain any of the healthy omega-3 fats.

Cashew nuts

Cashews are great for walkers as they’re high in bone-loving magnesium. Whilst walking is one of the best exercises to protect the bones and help prevent osteoporosis, the body still needs plenty of magnesium and other bone-building nutrients in the diet. Magnesium also helps muscles relax, therefore is great for people who suffer from restless legs or sore muscles. Be sure to pack some cashews in your rucksack on your next walk.

Bananas

As we all know, bananas are one of the best go-to snacks. They’re especially great for taking on walks because they’re so transportable and can sustain being stuffed in a rucksack for long periods.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Interestingly, bananas generally taste quite sweet but they’re actually low on the glycaemic index making them great for producing sustained energy. Bananas have always been a favourite snack with athletes, and whilst you might not put yourself in that category quite yet, they’ve certainly got some great nutritional benefits for keen exercisers.

Importantly, they’re high in muscle-loving potassium and as such can help prevent muscle cramps. Plus potassium helps to regulate blood pressure and normal heart function. Therefore, both the walking and your snack choice are going to have great health benefits.

Beetroot

Beetroots have long been studied for their benefits to athletes and recreational exercisers. This is mainly due to the presence of nitrates which help open up the arteries, making oxygen uptake easier and endurance better. They’re also very high in folate which is essential for aiding energy production.

Whole beetroots

The best way to eat beetroot on a walk or longer hike is to include them in your sandwiches on wholemeal bread. Beetroots actually work well with any protein such a chicken so you’ll have plenty of energy and won’t feel hungry throughout the day.

Wholegrain tortillas

These make delicious, portable and nutritious snacks for keeping you sustained throughout your walk. Plus, wholegrain tortillas are incredibly versatile. An excellent filling choice is hummus which is high in healthy monounsaturated fats, being good for the heart. Or let your mind wonder and fill them with lots of colourful salad veggies.

A plate of whole grain tortillas

Wholegrain tortillas are high in energising B vitamins but are also low on the glycaemic index. Even better they taste delicious and are very light to pack into your rucksack.

With the longer days upon us, now is a great time to enjoy some great walks or longer hikes powered by great nutrition.

 FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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