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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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.

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Nutrition Tips: top three minerals and how to get them

DOuble exposure image of a woman running and meditating to represent healthy lifestyle

The body needs around 45 different nutrients everyday (including water) – that’s a staggering amount! Most of that number is made up of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals that are essential for health.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Although they’re only needed in trace amounts, their importance in supporting our bodily systems should never be underestimated.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares three of the most important minerals and how to make sure you are getting enough.

Zinc

Zinc is one of the hardest working of all the minerals. Obviously, all minerals are essential and have their own particular areas of expertise. However zinc gets really involved in so many aspects of our health because it’s responsible for around 200 different enzyme reactions. Enzymes are usually proteins that speed up all chemical reactions within body cells and are absolutely essential for life. So, zinc is pretty key to our existence!

Whilst zinc is involved in so many body functions, its key roles are keeping the immune system in good shape and in wound healing. Zinc is also involved in sensory functions such as taste and smell, skin health and sexual function (especially the production of male testosterone).

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

To give a little more detail, zinc is involved in protein production and cell regeneration, hence its role in wound healing. Zinc supplementation can improve taste and appetite which is especially important in the elderly and in some cases for supporting those with eating disorders. It is also needed for the production of male hormones and sperm plus it can help reduce an enlarged prostate.

Good food sources of zinc include oysters and other shellfish, red meat, beans, nuts, oats and pumpkin seeds.

Calcium

Calcium wins a place on the leader board because it’s the most abundant mineral in the human body. It’s primarily known for healthy teeth and bones because around 99% of it is found in one or the other. Interestingly, if too much is found in the blood stream, this can lead to calcification or hardening of the arteries; balancing calcium with sufficient magnesium (see below) helps to prevent this occurrence, however.

Calcium is also involved in muscle contraction, regulation of the heartbeat and blood clotting. However, its role in bone building is probably the most important, therefore adequate dietary intakes are essential. Unfortunately osteoporosis (the disease causing loss of bone mass), is becoming increasingly common, partly due to poor diet. It generally affects women in greater numbers than men and there is a genetic link.

A range of foods containing calcium

The best dietary source of calcium is dairy produce. However, bone loss can increase when the diet is too acidic and any high protein food can exacerbate this problem. Therefore, whilst it’s important to eat dairy produce (natural yoghurts are great) or use calcium enriched plant milks, eating other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, all soya products plus nuts and seeds will create a good balance and help protect bone density.

Magnesium

Magnesium is the perfect partner to calcium in the bones, although only around 60% of the body’s magnesium is found there. The rest is found in muscle (hence its importance in muscle function) and soft body tissue and fluid. Magnesium is another very hard-working mineral and, just like zinc, is involved in numerous enzyme reactions, as well as a number of other really important functions.

Marginal deficiency of magnesium is actually quite common since it’s mainly found in whole foods and green leafy vegetables – another reason we need to be eating our daily greens! Low levels can make women more susceptible to Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps. Additionally, high blood pressure, muscle aches and pains, poor sleep and tiredness can all be caused by low magnesium intakes.

A range of foods containing the mineral Magnesium

The other problem is that it’s easily depleted by alcohol intake, the contraceptive pill and taking in too much calcium. It’s all about balance. The best way to try to ensure you’re getting enough is to try to eat primarily low glycaemic foods which are generally wholegrains, pulses and nuts and seeds. And, of course, those wonderful dark leafy greens should also feature very regularly on the plate.

So make sure you are getting enough of these hard-working minerals in your daily diet to support all these bodily systems.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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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