How to stay healthy and fit through the crisis

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

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

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

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

Load up on fruits and veggies

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

A range of fruits and vegetables

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

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

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

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

Take a vitamin D supplement

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

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

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

Sleep and rest well

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

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

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

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

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

Warm yourself from the inside

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

Glass of water with lemon

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

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

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

Get some exercise

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

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

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

A woman practising yoga in her living room

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

Stay well.

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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

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

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

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

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

Add some mood-boosting foods

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

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

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

Squares of dark chocolate

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

Look after your liver

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

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

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

Eat enough protein

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

A range of food high in protein

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

Keep your immune system in good shape

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

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

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

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

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

Keep it simple

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

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

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

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

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Banish the January blues: top nutrition and lifestyle tips for beating low mood

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The month of January can make us feel pretty glum. This is mainly because the weather is generally gloomy, bank balances are depleted after Christmas, colds and flu take hold and all of this can make us often feel low. 

The good news is that there are plenty of nutrients and herbs that can help lift your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips this Blue Monday.

What effects our mood?

Mood and motivation are largely determined by serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’.  Serotonin acts as both a hormone and a brain neurotransmitter and it’s pretty important when it comes to thinking about emotional wellbeing.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

Interestingly most serotonin is produced in the gut, therefore what goes on in the digestive system is inextricably linked to how we feel. Certain nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and the B vitamins are all needed to help in its production.  It also uses the amino acid tryptophan (a protein) to get it working. All this means there are plenty of things we can do to help make sure serotonin production is as good as it can be.

Get the basics right

Our internal systems need to be in good working order for us to feel happy and motivated, not just because of serotonin production but also to prevent any toxins building up, which can make us feel sluggish.  A good balance of friendly bacteria and plenty of fibre are key.

A range of wholegrain foods

Live natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, Jerusalem artichokes (in season right now), green tea and whole grain foods such as oats are great for feeding the good bacteria. They also help keep everything moving through the digestive tract smoothly.

Eat protein at every meal

Amino acids, which make up proteins, are found in foods containing protein such as meat, eggs, poultry, fish, soy, dairy, nut and beans.  The amino acid tryptophan is found in many of these foods and the levels of each of the amino acids varies in different foods.

A range of foods containing protein

In order not to over-complicate matters, the best advice is to ensure you’re eating protein at every meal. This way you’ll be eating tryptophan, plus you’ll be keeping blood sugar levels in good balance, which is essential for maintaining concentration, energy and a brighter mood throughout the day.

Try some herbal helpers

When it comes to health, herbs are very powerful: we can often forget just what a difference these naturally occurring plants can make to health.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Top of the list for helping lift low mood is the herb St John’s wort.  It has been widely researched over the years and is now found on supermarket and health food shop shelves as a licensed herbal medicine, denoted by the Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) mark, meaning its safety and efficacy is assured.

As with all herbs, their exact mode of action is still a bit of a mystery, but research has shown that it helps raise serotonin levels.  It can take about three weeks to work but it’s well worth sticking with it because it’s very effective if you’re feeling down.

Ramp up your nutrients

To ensure optimal production, serotonin also needs a helping hand from our diet. Vitamin C is key in this respect and the good news is that it’s found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts.  Top of the list, however, are red peppers, kiwis, papaya, green leafy veg and all citrus fruits, so add some colour to your plate at every meal or snack.

A range of fruits and vegetables

The mineral zinc is another hard-working nutrient, also needed for healthy immunity, but essential for good brain function and mood.  Meat, shellfish (especially oysters), eggs, nut, seeds and dairy produce are all high in zinc so include them regularly in your meal planning.

Close up of a lobster, oysters and prawns to represent shellfish

Vitamin B6 also works in harmony with zinc and vitamin C, keeping your mood in check and helping produce serotonin. Bananas make a great snack, keep energy levels on track and are high in vitamin B6 so try to eat about four a week.  Additionally, dark leafy greens, oranges, beans and fortified cereals are great choices for an extra boost of Vitamin B6.

So, with a little dietary and herbal help you can hopefully keep smiling your way through the month and beyond.

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The truth about fruit and sugar

A range of fruits

Sometimes celebrated, other times revered, there is widespread confusion within the general population about whether eating a lot of fruit is healthy or not.   

Fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars – glucose and fructose. So, is eating fruit going to exacerbate our ever-growing obesity crisis? And which are the best fruits for us to eat?

With Sugar Awareness Week around the corner, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explodes some of the fruit myths and looks at what’s good and what’s not.

The good

To be clear, fruit contains some amazing health benefits.  All fruits contain lots of vitamin C, one of our hardest-working vitamins.  Vitamin C is essential for many body functions but is key in the health of the immune system, the skin and formation and repair of muscle.

Additionally, fruits contain a whole range of plant compounds with varying health benefits.  For starters, they’re very high in antioxidants – essential for helping prevent degenerative diseases and supporting the immune system.  Watermelons, for example, contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruits.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Fruits contain other plant compounds called anthocyanins which are also incredibly powerful antioxidants and supportive of all body systems.  It’s all about the colour and the darker the colours, the more anthocyanins the fruit provides.  Blueberries have championed the super-fruit title, partly because their dark colour makes them very rich in these plant compounds. Blackberries and blackcurrants have the same qualities.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Another wonderful benefit to eating fruit is it contains plenty of essential fibre.  In our heavily processed western diet, fibre is sadly lacking.  We all need around 30 grams of fibre daily (bananas have around 3 grams), in order to keep the bowel working efficiently.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Some fruits contain some more unusual health benefits.  For example, pineapples contain bromelain which is an effective protein digester so is often used as a digestive enzyme.  Plus, bromelain is a great anti-inflammatory so will help ease painful, inflamed joints.  Apples contain plenty of quercetin, a natural antihistamine, so help fight allergic reactions.

The not so good

There is of course a downside to eating too much fruit and that is its sugar content.  However, this isn’t all bad news.  Fruit contains high levels of a fruit sugar called fructose.  The chemical structure of fructose is more complex that that of simple glucose, and it must be broken down in the liver.  This means you don’t necessarily get a huge sugar ‘hit’ when you eat certain fruits. Cranberries, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and clementines, for example, are all low in sugar overall.

a punnet of strawberries

It all depends on the fruits you eat. They vary in how much fibre they contain (this slows down blood sugar rushes), their balance of fructose and glucose, plus their total fructose levels.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Figs, grapes, dates and prunes (dried plums) have some of the highest sugar content.  But this needs to be balanced against their other benefits: prunes, for example, contain some of the highest antioxidant levels per 100 grams of all fruits.

As with everything in life, it’s all about balance.

The not too bad at all!

The body needs a constant supply of energy and eating fruit provides a healthy way of achieving this, due to its high carbohydrate content.  When it comes to blood sugar, it’s a balancing act. Eating carbohydrate with protein will slow down the sugar rush, making energy distribution more sustained.  For example, eating some sliced apple with a few almonds is a perfect afternoon snack when you’re feeling energy levels starting to flag. Additionally, eating fruit with some fat and fibre slows down its absorption; nut butter with sliced banana on wholemeal toast is an incredibly easy and sustaining breakfast option.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Interestingly, nature also demonstrated this concept well with the avocado.  Categorised as a fruit, avocado is high in both the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fibre.  Avocados are incredibly health-giving. It makes a brilliant breakfast on toast on its own or with egg or smoked salmon. They’ll certainly keep you feeling full all through the morning.

Fruit is certainly not the enemy.  Within a healthy, balanced diet, fruit will provide amazing health benefits without too much damage to the waistline (or teeth!)

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Veganuary: how to ramp up your vegan diet

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

Unless you’ve been hiding under a bush, you’ll be very aware that it’s Veganuary; in other words, Vegan January! Eating a plant-based diet provides many health benefits but it is important to make sure you are getting everything you need.

Whether you’re going vegan for the month of January, are flexibly vegan or have always eaten that way, then now is a great time to ensure your diet is delivering all the essential nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at how to get your vegan diet in great shape.

Protein is king

Protein is an essential macro nutrient. It’s needed for maintaining healthy bones, joint and muscles, and plays a key role in the immune system. It is also essential for hormone production.  Without enough protein, the body literally starts to break down.

Protein from animal sources contains all the essential amino acids the body can’t make. Some vegetable sources don’t contain all these amino acids, or they’re low in some of them.  However, the great news is that soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh, and quinoa are complete protein sources. Rice and beans can also be combined to deliver the full quota. The body doesn’t need to have all nine essential aminos at every meal but there should be an overall balance ideally.

A pile of different beans and pulses

Make sure you’re eating some protein at every meal – there are loads of great choices.  Any type of bean, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, soy, hemp and chia seeds are all healthy, low fat options.Don’t over promise yourself

Some fats are essential

Whilst it’s important not to overdo foods high in saturated fats such as butter and meat (good to remember if you’re a ‘flexi’ vegan), the body needs the essential omega-3s and 6s.  These are essential for many body functions including a healthy heart, skin, brain, muscles, eyes and hormones.  Omega 6 fats are often easier to obtain because they’re found in a variety of vegetable oils (including soy), nuts and seeds.

A bowl of walnuts

However, it’s the omega-3s that are frequently deficient in so many western diets, partly because the best source is from oily fish which many people don’t like and obviously vegans don’t eat.  However, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are all good sources of omega-3s so make sure they’re on the menu every day in some way.

Supplement with vitamin B12

This vitamin is the only one that can’t be found in any vegetable sources so ideally needs to be supplemented if you’re vegan.  Many soy products and cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 so do keep a watchful eye on labels.

Vitamin B12 is essential for preventing pernicious anaemia which isn’t dissimilar to iron-deficient anaemia.  The bottom line is that if you’re deficient in B12, energy levels will be noticeably low, and your nervous system and brain won’t function at their best.

Keep a watch on iron intake

Unlike vitamin B12, iron is found in many vegetable sources including nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and fortified grain products.  Whilst the most usable source of iron is from meat, vegetable sources are much better absorbed when eaten alongside some vitamin C.  For example, half a glass of orange juice with your morning fortified cereal is a great way of boosting iron levels.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The only way of knowing for sure if iron levels are low is to get the doctor to perform a serum ferritin blood test.  It’s always worth having this checked if you’re feeling unusually tired or you find you’re out of breath even doing light exercise.  Otherwise, include the above vegan sources of iron as much as possible in your diet.

Load up on orange and red vegetables

Why? Because these colourful fruits and vegetables have the highest amounts of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed by the body.  Just like vitamin B12, vitamin A is only found in animal sources. However, this doesn’t generally present any problems because the body produces what it needs if enough beta-carotene is being consumed.

A range of orange vegetables

Many colourful fruits and vegetables contain pro-vitamin A beta carotene. However, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mango, apricots and carrots are the best choices.

There are many health benefits to following a vegan diet.  You can make it even healthier by taking care of these watchpoints.

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Start the year right: how to stay on track in 2020

Woman with arms in the air with sunrise background and the number 2020 to represent the new year

If you’re like so many people who make New Year’s resolutions, often at the stroke of midnight when recollection can be a little hazy, you’re certainly not alone!  However, why not make your resolutions for next year slightly in advance and start the new year in the right frame of mind?

You’re much more likely to stick to them and your diet and lifestyle habits will stay on track.

Here are Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer’s five top tips for starting the year right.

Don’t over promise yourself

New Year’s resolutions need to be doable and sustainable.  For example, if you say you’re going to lose eight kilos by the end of January, this may be possible if you starve yourself (not advised), but then you’ll end up putting all the weight back on (and more) which will be very demotivating.

Close up on woman's feet on a pair of scales with a measuring tape

The key to sustained weight loss is slow and steady – around a kilo a week is good.  If you’ve been eating lots of sugary and calorie-laden snacks over the Christmas period, then simply cutting back on these and eating three well-balanced meals a day is going to make a huge difference.  Fad diets don’t work because they’re not sustainable. They lead to nutrient deficiencies and energy dips, plus being ravenously hungry sets you up for failure.

Plug your nutrient gaps

The body has amazing powers of adaptation.  Most of us push ourselves hard, fail to adequately replenish lost nutrients, but somehow the body keeps going.  However, at some point, the body will start to complain, and this can happen in many ways that can adversely affect our health.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

People often comment they have felt so bad for so long they can’t remember what it’s like to feel good.  Much of this is down to nutrient depletion.  The body is a machine that needs to be properly fuelled with nutrient-rich food.  Resolve to make each meal count in 2020.  Look at the colour on your plate – the variety gives a good indication of nutrient levels.  Be wary of any processed foods; the closer a food is eaten to its natural state, the more nutrients you’ll be consuming.

Move more

If you’re already into a good exercise routine, then well done!  However, many people don’t reach even the minimal recommend levels of exercise (five times a week for at least 30 minutes).  Exercise is crucial for health; it supports the immune system and it’s great for the heart and circulation. Exercise also stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins and it helps with weight management and preventing type 2 diabetes.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

Importantly, don’t set yourself up to fail.  If you hate the gym, that’s never going to change so don’t resolve to start a gym programme.  Instead, plan an exercise programme you’ll enjoy, even if it’s simply taking more walks, or starting cycling.  There’s no limit to options for exercise.  Even working from a stand-up desk is better for you than sitting down all day.

Limit screen time

Our 24/7 lifestyles with a never-ending stream of emails, messages and social media activity is not great for emotional wellbeing, let alone stress.  If you’re ‘addicted’ to social media, then why not resolve to manage the time you’re engaged with it and set yourself limits. There’s lots of research to suggest that looking at social media too much can contribute to feelings of anxiety and low mood.

Woman in bed looking at her mobile phone

If your workload is high and emails are non-stop, then you need to put some time management in place.  If work colleagues are set on sending emails around the clock, resolve to be off-line for adequate periods.  There needs to be a break between work and non-work-related activities for the brain to have some downtime.

Be optimally hydrated

The simplest changes can sometimes make an enormous difference to how we look and feel.  None more so than ensuring the body is sufficiently hydrated.  We often forget to drink water during the winter months when it’s cold outside.  However, the body still needs at least six to eight glasses of water daily – more if you’re taking regular exercise. As an indicator, your urine should be clear during the day.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

However, if plain water’s not your thing, then liven it up with some fresh lemon and crushed ginger.  Herbal and fruit teas also count towards your hydration targets, as do fruits and vegetables.

Caffeinated teas and coffee are not great at hydrating, partly because coffee tends to work as a diuretic and tea is high in tannins which can stop the absorption of essential minerals.  Resolve to ditch the stimulants as much as possible and hydrate optimally.  Your heath and skin will thank you for it.

If you start the year right, without too many wild expectations, you’re much more likely to be hitting your goals throughout the year – and at the end of the year too!

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How to have a happy and healthy Christmas: top wellness and nutrition tips

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

With Christmas just around the corner, and most people still rushing around trying to prepare, it’s no wonder that many of us go down with a nasty bug or cold just as the big day arrives. 

It’s an all too common problem and the key to keeping well this Christmas is prevention.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five tips to keep you feeling happy and healthy this Christmas.

Support your immunity

The immune system takes a battering at this time of year.  It’s under threat from a wealth of bugs from crowded, centrally heated spaces with poor ventilation and less access to fresh air. Busy shops, public transport and burning the candle at both ends all take their toll.  However, it’s possible to protect yourself against all these nasties.

Two glasses of berry smoothies

Even if your usual healthy diet has gone awry during party season, try to make sure you’re taking in as many immune-boosting nutrients as possible.  One of the easiest ways of doing this is to make up a juice or smoothie in the morning. Fruits and vegetables are all loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene and many other immune-boosting antioxidants.  Plus you can add ginger, also great for the immune system, to many different juices or smoothie recipes.  Beetroot, apple, berries, bananas, avocado, mango, carrot, pear, spinach – the list goes on.  Just throw in your favourites, the more the merrier.  Even if you only manage this, it will really boost your nutrient levels.

Manage your stress levels

High stress levels can really impact on the immune system and energy levels.  This is because high cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, dampens the body’s normal inflammatory response, which is one of the ways the immune system does its job. High cortisol also reduces production of the body’s white blood cells that kill off unwanted invaders.

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

If you’re feeling wrung out right now, then try taking the herb Rhodiola.  It’s known as an adaptogen, meaning it adapts to what’s going on in your body. It can really help calm feelings of stress and anxiety. Take it in the mornings and you’ll get a boost of energy too!

Keep sugar to a minimum

Sugar is the immune system’s enemy. Part of the reason is that high sugar levels stop the body utilising vitamin C (our main immune-boosting nutrient) in the right way.  Plus, it stops the body fighting off infections as it should. Sugar is sugar in all its forms will all have a detrimental effect on immunity. This includes honey, artificial sweeteners, natural fruit juices and processed, sugary foods and snacks.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

Instead load up on immune-boosting foods (alongside your morning juice or smoothie).  Mushrooms, natural yoghurt, whole grains, garlic and chicken soup are all great choices.

Take time for relaxation

It’s amazing how much less stressed you feel when you take even a short time away from everything and enjoy some relaxation.  Most importantly, this can have a really positive effect on stress levels, which in turn helps the immune system.

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candles

Even 20 minutes each day can make all the difference.  There are so many relaxation apps available which you can download or why not just take time out to read a book.  Watching TV or looking at your phone just before bed are not conducive to relaxation as they simulate the brain, plus their blue light may prevent you from sleeping well.

Get some fresh air

The wintry weather makes us all huddle indoors, meaning germs are more likely to spread.  But breathing fresh air, perhaps taking a brisk walk, can feel wonderfully restorative.  Indeed, moderate exercise helps stimulate the immune system.

MOther and child on her back dressed up in hats and scarves on a winter walk in the snow

Even if you must endure some wind and rain, the health benefits will be worth it.  If you enjoy walking, there are many groups you can join if you want some company.  If you climb a few hills, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing scenery as well; the world looks very different from up high.

So, sail through Christmas and New Year in the best of health with these easy lifestyle tips – enjoy!

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Three of the healthiest soups you can make this winter

A range of bowls of soup

The combination of cold, damp weather and many seasonal bugs flying around makes us feel the need to serve up some deliciously tasty, healthy and warming soups.

There are plenty of souper (!) ingredients you can add to really give your health and nutrition a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top three recipes for some of the healthiest soups around!

Chicken broth for immunity

The immune system is under pressure at this time of year but chicken broth can really help protect the body from colds and flu that are so prevalent right now.

Primarily, the immune system needs plenty of quality protein; immunoglobulins and antibodies that form a large part of the immune system are protein based.  Plus, various research studies have shown that chicken soup uprates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells, called neutrophils.

A bowl of cicken broth soup

The main ingredients for this recipe, are, of course, chicken, plus sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery, parsley, onions and some salt and pepper for seasoning.  Sweet potatoes and carrots are loaded with Vitamin C and beta-carotene that’s converted into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed. Parsley is great for liver detoxification. Onions contain quercetin which is a natural anti histamine which can help fight off the sneezes, and garlic contains plenty of immune-boosting compounds.

One of the best reasons for making chicken broth is that it’s so simple.  The healthiest way of cooking it is to boil up the bones from a cooked chicken for the stock base.  You will then benefit from the collagen and minerals stored in the bones as well as enjoying a tastier stock. Simply fry off the vegetables and add everything to the pot.  It’s also a recipe that can be put into the slow cooker in the morning and it will be ready for later in the day.

Boost your energy with bean soup

At this busy time of year, we need as much energy as possible!  This is where a chunky mixed bean soup can really boost energy levels. Beans are high in energy-boosting B vitamins and protein.  For an additional boost add some black beans. They are packed with antioxidants which support the immune system.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

The easiest way of cooking mixed bean soup is to use a couple of tins of mixed beans and add plenty of seasoning and flavours.  Think onions, carrots, celery, garlic and cumin. These are a great combination, adding additional nutrients and flavour, and are all foods that are plentiful at this time of year.  Whilst cumin really adds some zest to the soup, it’s also a great spice for the immune system and also helps digestion.

This hearty soup makes a really good lunch time dish as it will boost energy levels throughout the afternoon, and will help avoid the 3 pm dip.  Beans are low on the glycaemic index as well which means they deliver energy in a slow and sustained way – exactly what we need!

Soothe digestion with broccoli soup

Rich, festive food and maybe a few too many glasses of your favourite tipple at this time of year can often leave the digestion feeling slightly jaded.  Foods high in saturated fats or sugar-laden cakes and pastries cause inflammation throughout the digestive tract and can also makes digestion sluggish, leading to constipation.

Broccoli really is a super food and has amazing anti-inflammatory properties. It is also high in fibre, so it helps keep everything moving through the digestive tract.

A bowl of broccoli soup

Broccoli soup couldn’t be easier to prepare and needs just a few ingredients; garlic, chicken stock, olive oil and of course, broccoli are all that’s required.  Garlic has so many health benefits which is the reason it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years. It’s also high in antioxidants which means it will help dampen down any inflammation within the digestive tract.

Simply fry the garlic, add the broccoli and stock and cook until really soft.  This soup is definitely best put through the blender to make a thick, warming and most importantly, soothing soup.

So why not treat yourself to some health-boosting delicious soups this season – they’ll also make a great lunch for a big family this Christmas.

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Easy ways to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands making dough for baking

‘Tis the season to be jolly but it is also the season for colds and flu!  Unfortunately, this time of year is renowned for delivering unwanted bugs and colds.  The stress of Christmas, children bringing home bugs from school and simply the immune system being lower at this time of year, will all have an impact.

However, with a little planning, there are simple ways you can infuse some immune-boosting nutrients into every meal.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells you how to fill your plate with immunity at every meal!

Breakfast

There are some quick wins to be had with breakfast.  This is probably one of the easiest meals to add immune-boosting vitamin C, widely available in many fruits. Some fruits have more vitamin C and immune-boosting antioxidants than others, however.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Watermelon contains some of the highest levels of antioxidants and strawberries the highest amount of vitamin C. However, whilst we may see both these fruits on the supermarket shelves at this time of year, it is not their natural season.  Apples and pears are naturally available right now and it’s always best to try and eat with the seasons because nutrient levels are going to be at their highest. Interestingly, prunes (which are simply dried plums) are also high on the antioxidant chart and are often popular in the mornings (tinned is fine if you drain off most of the syrup).

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

Sliced apples or pears are delicious with overnight oats, granola, bircher muesli or good old porridge.  Think about every meal being an opportunity to gain valuable nutrients and you’ll soon get creative.  Berries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, partly due to their beautiful dark colours.  They are great as an added breakfast booster and also as an easy ‘on-the-run’ breakfast snack.  Even though they may have travelled some way to get to the supermarket, which will have depleted a percentage of their nutrients, they still have many wonderful health benefits to offer.

Lunch

Lunch can be rather challenging just because we’re often away from home, maybe in the office or off-site.  However, filling your body with nutrients is no less important at lunchtime and is not too difficult with just a little planning. It’s time to bring on the herbs!

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herbs sage, oregano and thyme all support the immune system, but also help relieve colds, sore throats and flu symptoms. All can easily be added to lunchtime meals.

Curry dish and rice

Lunch is generally best prepared the night before which may mean eating ‘left-overs’ but these meals still deliver important nutrients.  Think about dishes such as Bolognese, soups, stews, curries, roasted chicken or fish which are just as good the next day and taste even better with some extra herbs liberally added.

Dinner

Dinner doesn’t need to be overcomplicated for it to be healthy and immune boosting.  Whatever dish you’re eating, the most important thing is to make sure you’ve included vegetables, which are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants.  Also important is beta-carotene, rich in sweet potatoes, carrots and peppers, which the body converts to vitamin A as needed – another immune-boosting vitamin.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Any dark-coloured vegetables such as kale, broccoli, sprouts and red cabbage will provide lots of nutrients.  However, even lighter coloured root vegetables such as swede (in season right now) can hold their head high when it comes to boosting immunity.  You can always have a bowl of vegetable soup as a starter to further increase your veggie intake.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

It’s also worth the investment of buying a slow cooker. You can literally throw all the ingredients in, maybe before going to work, and they will be beautifully cooked by the time you come home.  A small amount of morning chopping is worth the health benefits you’ll gain.

With a little planning, every meal can support you through the cold and flu season by boosting your immunity this winter.

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Christmas food planning: top ideas for healthy sides and snacks

Woman preparing christmas dinner

We hardly need reminding that there’s just one month to go until the big day! There’s always so much to do, not least when it comes to food planning. 

However, it’s not too late to conjure up some healthy snack ideas and side dishes for your Christmas meal.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers five deliciously healthy suggestions.

Keep your blood pressure low with cauliflower cheese and walnuts

A traditional Christmas meal is probably one of the most stressful anyone will ever have to cook!  There’s huge expectation and excitement around it, plus trying to have each dish ready for the same time is not easy.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Cauliflower cheese as a vegetable side is always popular, but why not add a healthy twist with some chopped walnuts scattered over the top.  Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats and have been found to help reduce blood pressure.  Plus, cauliflower is a member of the super-healthy brassica family, and is packed with energising B vitamins, fibre and the mineral magnesium.  This dish can also be made and cooked ahead – just put under the grill at the last minute to heat through.

Get your circulation flowing with gingered sprouts

No Christmas meal is complete without sprouts!  Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying they are quintessentially Christmas.  Many people have a gene which makes sprouts taste bitter.  Therefore, why not mask that flavour by adding some ginger and orange?

Sprouts are hugely healthy, containing plenty of vitamins and minerals.  However, they also aid liver detoxification, which might be helpful around Christmas time.

Sprouts dish with ginger

With this vegetable side simply cook the Brussels lightly for about 5 minutes and then toss them in crushed ginger, soy sauce and a little orange juice.  Ginger is a wonderfully warming spice which helps blood circulation around the body, delivering nutrients where they’re most needed. None of your guests need to complain about the bitter taste of sprouts again!

Boost your immunity with Santa on a stick

It’s not the usual way we visualise Santa! However, for the younger guests (and slightly older too!) why not offer banana and strawberries in the shape of Santa?

Many people find Christmas pudding far too rich so what better as a healthy and super-easy alternative?  Bananas are always popular and are loaded with heart-healthy potassium.  Plus, strawberries contain some of the highest amounts of immune-boosting vitamin C of all fruits.

Chopped strawberries and bananas

Simply find some long sticks, halve a strawberry for his hat, add three slices of bananas for the body, and add some chocolate drop eyes and buttons as you see fit.  It will certainly bring a smile to everyone’s face and provide a healthy dessert option.

Spice up your greens

Kale often gets overlooked when planning the Christmas meal as it can taste quite bland.  Plus, if not cooked properly, the leaves are tough to eat.  However, why not spice up your kale with some garlic and sesame seeds?  Garlic is great for keeping blood pressure in check and sesame seeds are full of bone-loving calcium.  Kale, of course is another member of the brassica family and is loaded with anti-aging antioxidants; very helpful during the stressful Christmas period.

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Make sure you blanch the kale for about three minutes and then stir fry it with crushed garlic and sesame seeds.

Turbo-charge your day with maca

The herb, maca, is often referred to as natural caffeine.  This is because it will certainly provide a boost of energy without the side effects of caffeine.  Maca also has many other health benefits including helping to balance hormones, boosting libido and managing the stress response.

Pot of maca powder and glass of milk with maca

You can make a delicious maca shot by using almond or coconut milk (700 ml of either), blended with six dessert spoons of Maca Powder.  It will certainly stop your guests from falling asleep after lunch!

So, enjoy creating a range of healthy and delicious sides and snacks this festive season.

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