If sprouts are out, here are five delicious vegetable alternatives

A family eating christmas dinner

With Christmas rapidly approaching, our thoughts naturally turn to food. Indeed, one of the most controversial vegetables of all Christmas fayre is the humble Brussels sprout; you either love them or hate them! However, if sprouts are not your bag, there’s plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables that can sit proudly on your dinner table.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top Christmas vegetables (other than sprouts!)

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

But first, just in case you can be tempted, the health benefits of Brussels sprouts are quite extraordinary. Not only high in immune-boosting vitamin C and beta-carotene, they contain compounds called indoles that may help prevent some serious diseases but can also balance hormones, particularly in women suffering through the menopause.

So what’s the alternative?

BROCCOLI

A member of the same ‘crucifer’ family as Brussels sprouts, broccoli can also be hailed as a super food. With broccoli, it’s all about the colour; the darker the florets, the higher the nutrient value. The heads contain more nutrients than the stalks but it’s all good to eat.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Packed with vitamin C (great for immunity at this time of year), folic acid, iron and beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A as needed, broccoli is always going to make a statement on the dinner table. Lightly steam and then flash fry with some garlic and sesame seeds to enhance its appeal.

RAINBOW CARROTS

Carrots are traditionally orange but they can also be yellow and purple too! They all contain roughly the same nutrient profile but their varying colours mean they contain a variety of antioxidants, which is great news for the body. Plus, we all know that carrots help us to see better in the dark; that’s because they have very high amounts of beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A and is essential for night vision – certainly very necessary during the long winter nights!

A selection of rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots are certainly going to bring some festive cheer to the dinner table. However, they also work really well alongside another winter vegetable super food…

BEETROOT

In season right now, wonderful beetroot works really well roasted alongside rainbow carrots – your Christmas dinner table will never have been so colourful! Beetroots are a great source of folic acid and heart-loving potassium.

Whole beetroots

To roast carrots and beetroot together, place them all in a roasting tin with some fresh orange segments, balsamic vinegar, thyme and a little golden syrup for a tasty side dish.

CELERIAC

Sometimes unceremoniously called ‘the ugly one’, celeriac, as the name suggests is part of the celery family. Whilst some people are not overly keen on celery, celeriac has a much more subtle flavour and also delivers some great nutritional benefits; it’s high in both vitamin C and potassium.

Celeriac on a table

For a really luxurious Christmas treat, celeriac can be mashed with crispy bacon, cream, butter, thyme and breadcrumbs. It can all be mixed in a food processor and then lightly grilled for a crispy topping.

LEEKS

Another vegetable in season during December, leeks are a versatile vegetable side or main dish option, over the Christmas period. Leeks are very high in potassium which is essential for a healthy heart and regulating blood pressure. Potassium is also great for the kidneys which may explain why leeks were used to treat kidney stones in traditional medicine.

Leeks in a wooden trough

As part of the same family as onions and garlic, they deliver many of the same health benefits. Try cooking them as a delicious oven-baked leek, bacon and cheese side or as a one-pot meal with chicken breasts, chopped celeriac, butter beans and thyme to really tempt the taste-buds.

So if you don’t fancy sprouts this Christmas, there are plenty of other delicious and healthy vegetables to choose from!

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Cholesterol – it’s all about balance.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

With the focus for many people being on heart health this month, it’s a great time to think about the amazing muscle in our chest that beats around 70 times a minute, all day every day. As with all of the body’s precious organs, it needs to be well taken care of and having high cholesterol levels is a known risk factor for heart disease.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for keeping cholesterol levels well balanced.

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Before we begin, there are two types of cholesterol. HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) known as ‘good’ cholesterol, helps remove other forms of cholesterol from the body. Higher levels of HDL offers some protection against heart disease. LDL (low Density Lipoprotein) is otherwise known as ‘bad’ cholesterol and is associated with heart disease and other circulatory disorders as it collects in the walls of blood vessels and can cause blockages.

So what can we do to encourage the good and get rid of bad?

EAT HEALTHY FATS

The essential omegas, in particular the omega-3s, can help reduce cholesterol levels and also have other heart-loving benefits. The body cannot make them so they have to be eaten very regularly in the diet; the best sources are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) and nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds and walnuts are best).

Omega-3s can help to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Omega’3s are also needed to manage inflammation throughout the body, and have other beneficial effects on blood pressure and heart health generally.

A range of foods high in Omega 3 fats

Try to eat oily fish two to three times a week; vegetarians should try to eat nuts and seeds every day (try flaxseeds which contain the essential Omega-3s). However, if that’s not for you or not doable, do opt for an Omega-3 supplement every day.

AVOID TRANS FATS

Trans fats (mainly found in margarines) are chemically produced and have an adverse effect on the heart (and health generally). The problem with trans fats is that their chemical structure changes when the fats are heated and processed. Food manufacturers frequently use the process of hydrogenation, which produces trans fats, in order to increase shelf life of foods such as margarines, biscuits and cakes. Unfortunately, the body has no way of dealing with them, therefore they tend to elevate blood fat levels, and in turn raise cholesterol levels.

Trans fats have no health or body benefits, therefore it’s best to try to avoid them as much as possible. It is actually better to have a little butter rather than using margarine, but also try using olive oil, coconut oil or rapeseed oil for cooking and keep cakes and biscuits to a minimum. Your waistline, as well as your heart, will certainly thank you!

EAT APPLES

There are always many good reasons for eating plenty of apples, plus they’re in season right now so their nutritional value should be higher, and they might even be a little cheaper. Apples contain a particular fibre called pectin, which helps to reduce cholesterol levels by transporting the bad cholesterol out of the body.

An apple with a heart shape cut out to show that apples are good for a healthy heart

Other fruits high in pectin include pears, all berries and citrus fruits. The best advice is to include a wide range of fruits (alongside vegetables of course) every day. Cholesterol has no way of being expelled from the body except through the stool. Therefore keeping the bowels regular is key and, as pectin is a fibre, it really helps this process along.

UP YOUR WHOLEGRAINS

Having a high fibre diet generally is one of the best ways of keeping cholesterol levels balanced. Wholegrain foods such as whole wheat bread and pasta, rice, quinoa, oats, beans and lentils are naturally high in fibre. In contrast, refined (or white) foods have had the fibrous part stripped out, so play no role in a high fibre diet.

A range of wholegrains in heart shaped dishes to show they are good for the heart

It’s actually quite easy to increase the amount of fibre in the diet without too much effort. For example, porridge sprinkled with a few flaxseeds makes a great breakfast, especially now the colder weather has arrived. Try a brown bread sandwich for lunch, alongside an apple (or berries) plus some nuts and seeds for snacks during the day. Salmon, quinoa and plenty of veg for dinner ticks both the fibre and Omega-3 boxes.

TRY A MILK SWAP

A diet generally high in saturated fats, found mainly in dairy produce and red meat, is certainly going to encourage the production of cholesterol. Switch to skimmed milk as a starter. However, there’s some research to suggest that soya produce, including milk, may help reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Plus, nut milks such as hazelnut, almond and oat, may also have a beneficial effect. At the very least, they’re all low in saturated fats.

A range of milks made from nuts

Even if you’re a die-hard cow’s milk fan, try to include some other milks in the diet as much as possible: each type of milk has its own health benefits so change them up as much as possible.

So adopt a few simple dietary changes and you can improve your cholesterol levels and support a healthier heart longer term.

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Five nutritious snacks to get you through the afternoon!

For many people, the 3pm hunger pangs can often mean reaching for something not-so-good for you! But if you’re flagging what’s the best way to beat the energy dip?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, recommends her five top healthy snacks to get you through the afternoon.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

There are many possibilities for healthy afternoon snacks.  As with main meals, snacks should contain some protein in order to keep blood sugar levels in good balance and energy levels sustained for the rest of the day. Here’s some great suggestions:

 

WALNUT BUTTER HUMMUS AND OATCAKES

This is a great twist on traditional hummus with even more benefits! It’s so easy to mix up some walnut hummus using walnut butter, crushed garlic, chickpeas and the zest of an orange. This combination of protein and carbohydrates plus oat cakes release energy slowly, so you won’t get any unwanted blood sugar spikes.

Walnut butter is one of the healthiest nut butters, packed full of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Garlic is great for the heart, chickpeas are an excellent source of protein and oranges of course contain Vitamin C.

CREAMY AVOCADO

Not only does avocado deliver a range of nutrients but it makes a very tasty and easily transportable snack.

Whilst they do contain around eight grams of fat, the bigger picture is that avocados provide good amounts of heart and skin-healthy monounsaturated fats, together with high levels of the mineral potassium, also great for the heart.  Potassium also helps regulate the body’s natural water balance, therefore avocados can also help manage any uncomfortable water retention.

An avocado can be mashed on many things! A slice of rye or wholemeal toast, rice cakes, or oatcakes.  Alternatively, it can be eaten with a few prawns or a little smoked salmon.

ENERGY BITES

These are fantastically easy to make and require no cooking and very little thought!  Plus they satisfy the criteria for balancing protein and carbohydrate. All you need to do is combine some peanut butter, ground flaxseeds, agave syrup, oats and some coconut flakes and make them into balls that can be left in the fridge and eaten as needed.

These balls will really rev up your afternoon energy levels; coconut is an excellent energy booster, flaxseeds are a great source of omega 3’s (also good for metabolism), whilst oats provide sustainable energy.  They’re real winners!

NATURAL SOYA YOGHURT AND FRUIT

Soya yoghurts are a great ‘go-to’ snack!  They also contain protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer, plus the combination of the carbohydrate-containing fruit, together with the protein will ensure your energy levels soar for the rest of the day!

All types of yoghurts, whether they be made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, coconut milk, goat’s milk or soya beans have become increasingly popular over the years.  However, soya yoghurts have a slight advantage as they generally have less calories and fat.

Add a handful of delicious berries of your choice, which are low glycaemic (or slow-energy releasing) and packed full of vitamins, and you’ve got the perfect afternoon snack.

OATS AND CINNAMON

Oats don’t always have to be for breakfast -they also make an excellent afternoon snack.  Oats are low on the glycaemic index, and if you add a little coconut milk to provide even more energy, together with some sliced apple, you’ve got a really balanced snack.

However, the real show-stopper is a generous sprinkling of cinnamon over the top!  Cinnamon is great for blood sugar balancing, therefore keeping energy levels sustained, and is also a powerful antioxidant, to help hold back the years.

This is a really portable snack; the oats can be soaked in apple juice and ‘potted’, making them more digestible later in the day.  Just add your milk, sliced apple and cinnamon.

So enjoy these afternoon treats and pack some energy into your afternoons!

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Vitamin K: everything you need to know!

There are a wealth of nutrients which are essential for health, one of them being vitamin K. However, vitamin K sometimes gets forgotten about, since deficiency is quite rare. But this does not diminish its importance for overall good health.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the low down on what vitamin K is needed for in the body, and how it works alongside other vitamins and minerals.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know that vitamin K is actually a group of three related fat-soluble vitamins? Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), vitamin K2 (menaquinone) and vitamin K3 (menadione). This is important to understand because they are sourced differently and hence their roles and therapeutic uses are varied. For example, K1 is food-sourced, K2 is mainly produced by our intestinal bacteria and K3 is a synthetic compound used therapeutically.

WHAT DOES IT DO?

Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin which means that it needs to be absorbed by other fats naturally in the body or through the diet. Its main claim to fame is for effective blood clotting; it’s needed for the formation of several proteins called clotting factors. New born babies are often given vitamin K injections to prevent any haemorrhage in early life.

More recently, vitamin K has been found to be important in building healthy bones because it helps to convert a key bone protein from its active to its inactive form. It works alongside other key bone-building nutrients, especially vitamin D.

Vitamin K also exerts a really protective effect on the heart; it’s part of a vital function that helps prevent calcium from depositing in the arteries. This can be a risk factor for atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries.

WHAT IS IT USED FOR?

In daily life, vitamin K can be used therapeutically for protecting the heart and helping prevent osteoporosis. For both these conditions, eating a diet containing good amounts of green foods is beneficial for all-round good health. However, if you’re at risk from either of these, either due to family history or a medical condition, then it’s a really good idea to take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement containing vitamin K.

WHERE IS IT FOUND?

Vitamin K1 is predominantly found in plant-based foods; for example dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, spinach and green tea. Soft cheeses and meats from grass-fed animals also provide some K1.

One of the best sources of vitamin K1 is fat-soluble chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that delivers so many wonderful health benefits. Chlorophyll is the part of a plant that absorbs sunlight to make food – remember photosynthesis at school? It’s this effect, and its function as an antioxidant that makes it so valuable to health and in helping to prevent degenerative diseases. Chlorophyll is readily available in health food stores, generally in its water soluble form.

Vitamin K2 is naturally produced by the beneficial bacteria we all have residing in our digestive tracts. It’s for this reason that vitamin K is rarely deficient in the body. However, it can also be produced by fermented foods, more widely eaten in Eastern cultures, such as natto; natto is a form of fermented soya beans, very popular in Asia. K2 is more pro-active in the body in preserving and improving bone density.

Vitamin K3 is the synthetic form used medicinally, often for babies and in some multivitamins.

So, as with all vitamins and minerals, Vitamin K plays a key role in daily health.

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