Five top veggies to top up your vegan diet

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

It’s January and for many people, that means it’s Veganuary. For some of us, it may just be a continuation of our vegan diet but, for others, it could be the start of a new regime.  

Whether you’re giving it a go for the first time or have been enjoying the wonders of a vegan diet for a while, it’s always good to be reminded of some of the most important vegetables to include in your diet and their great health benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five veggies.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are often one of the mainstay vegetables of a vegan diet as they are a fabulously nutritious and versatile vegetable.  Sweet potatoes are often misunderstood and categorised as ‘another type of potato’ but they are from different plant families.  Whilst both types of potatoes have plenty of health benefits, sweet potatoes are better for balancing blood sugar levels as they are lower on the glycaemic index.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

However, where sweet potatoes really score is in their high beta-carotene content.  This is turned into immune-supportive vitamin A, as needed, by the body, and is especially helpful at this time of year.  Try them roasted, in their jackets, in curries, stews and soups: there are plenty of easy ways to incorporate them into a vegan diet.

Broccoli

As a member of the amazing cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli’s health benefits are far-reaching.  When it comes to nutrient content broccoli delivers high levels of vitamin C, folate, iron, beta-carotene and potassium and also a range of powerful antioxidants.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Antioxidants soak up free radicals and help protect us from disease and there are many different types.  However, broccoli contains an especially health-giving compound called indole, which has been found to protect DNA from damage, very important for prevention of serious degenerative diseases.  What’s more, it’s so easy to include in the diet. Think of it as a side or use it in stir-fries. Try it roasted with a little soy sauce or simply lightly steamed. It can be included in an array of veggie-based dishes.

Red Peppers

Often called sweet peppers (as they are ripened for longer than green peppers) or bell peppers, they contain three times as much immune-boosting vitamin C as oranges.  Plus, as with other red and brightly coloured vegetables, they are high in beta-carotene, so your immune system is really going to benefit.

Red peppers

Red peppers are incredibly versatile and can be simply grilled or stuffed with savoury rice or other grains. They are great in stir fries, chopped in salads, or grilled, skinned and pureed to be made into a delicious fat-free sauce as a perfect topping to wholemeal pasta.

Kale

Often referred to as curly kale for obvious reasons, it’s another green vegetable with superfood status. Interestingly, there are many different varieties of kale and some are not curly but smooth-leaved!

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Just like broccoli and brussels sprouts, kale is packed with indoles, but it is the richest source of calcium of all vegetables, so is great for building strong bones and teeth.  Calcium is also a calming mineral so is much needed during these stressful times. A great January vegetable, kale helps cleanse the liver and break down and eliminate ‘old’ hormones therefore helping create feelings of balance and peace.  Kale does have a slightly bitter taste so is often best served lightly grilled with some soya sauce to balance the flavours.

Spinach

Another super-healthy green vegetable, spinach is probably best eaten raw in salads as a substitute for lettuce.  It’s also very tasty in wraps with falafel or avocado and hummus. Spinach can of course be included in cooking or as a vegetable side, but you just need to use a fair number of leaves as it wilts down to very small amounts.  However, it’s delicious when served with garlic.

A bwol of fresh spinach leaves

Spinach doesn’t actually have the highest iron levels (contrary to popular myth) but it certainly scores brilliantly with its carotenoid content.  This includes both beta carotene and lutein which is excellent for eyesight.  Indeed, all carotenoids have powerful antioxidant effects so are very protective of overall health.

So, make your Veganuary the healthiest and tastiest ever – enjoy!

Stay well.

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Tis’ the season: five seasonal, nutrition-packed foods to eat this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

Whilst the Festive Season is upon us to hopefully bring a little cheer to what has been a tough year all round, there’s also plenty to celebrate with some delicious seasonal food.

Food generally tastes so much better when eaten at the time of year nature intended.  Plus, it’s generally richer in nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods of the season.

Celery

Whilst not always liked by everyone, celery is certainly synonymous with Christmas buffet tables, and it definitely adds a fresh bite to plenty of other dishes.  And for those not wanting to pile on the pounds over Xmas, celery is incredibly low in calories but high in nutrients, so you get much more ‘bang for your buck’!

Chopped celery and celery stalks on a wooden chopping board

Celery is high in potassium which is great for the heart and also helps reduce blood pressure.  Even eating three sticks per day has been shown to be incredibly effective in this way.  Potassium also helps kidneys excrete waste efficiently which in turn helps with water retention and bloating, both common feelings over the festive season.

Interestingly, celery is often found in recipes such as stews, bolognaise and soups; it’s initially fried with the onions because it’s a strong flavour-enhancer in these types of recipes.

Brussels sprouts

No talk of seasonal December food would be complete without sprouts!  Many of us don’t like them because we may have been subjected to Brussels being over-cooked, making them mushy and unpleasant to eat.

Sprouts dish with ginger

Brussels sprouts are incredibly health-giving, partly down to the presence of indoles, compounds that may help prevent some of our nasty hormonally driven diseases.  Just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family, they’re high in vitamin C and immune-boosting beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as the body needs it.

It’s worth persevering with Brussels sprouts, down to their amazing health benefits. Why not try them with chopped chestnuts, fried with bacon. Or enjoy in a traditional Boxing Day ‘Bubble and Squeak’ mashed with all the other delicious left-over veg.

Scallops

At this time of year, queen scallops from UK waters are at their best. They are both delicious and loaded with nutrients. Scallops (and indeed all shellfish) are packed with vitamin B12 which is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and good functioning nervous system. They are also high in immune-boosting zinc and selenium, both minerals often deficient in the typical Western-style diet. They are also, of course, a good source of protein.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

Both the white and orange roe (coral) of the scallops are to be enjoyed.  They work really well with strong flavours from bacon or chorizo or in Thai dishes with traditional spices such as lemon grass, chilli and ginger.

Parsnips

Another stalwart of the traditional Christmas meal, parsnips are incredibly easy to prepare and have a really distinctive sweet taste.

Parsnip soup in a bowl

All root vegetables are in season right now since nature wants us to be eating warming, starchy comforting foods to protect us against the elements.  Parsnips are another good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and energising folate.  They also provide a useful source of fibre to keep digestion running smoothly.

Whilst parsnips are delicious simply roasted with a little honey to enhance their flavour, they also work well sprinkled with parmesan. Or why not try in soups and stews? They can work as a great alternative to potatoes.

Goose

For many it is the meat of choice for a festive meal, whilst for others it has dwindled in popularity.  This may be down to its relatively high fat content, but in face goose still contains less fat than duck and some cuts of lamb, beef or pork.  Plus, goose fat, produces the best roast potatoes in my opinion!

Roasted goose on a plate

Goose contains nearly as much protein as turkey and is a great source of iron (frequently deficient, particularly in female diets), plus other B vitamins.  It’s certainly worth considering if you want some variety, if not for the Christmas Day meal then over the festive period.  Goose is truly delicious served with traditional chestnut stuffing.

So, grab some seasonal delights and make the most of the food that December has to offer.

Stay well.

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Winter preparation to fuel your immune system

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

We do not need reminding that winter is upon us again!  It’s not just cold, miserable weather that gets us down, but it’s also the onset of the cold and flu season.  And that’s not withstanding other potential health concerns with COVID-19. 

The good news is that nature has our backs by providing a wealth of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals to protect us against unwanted invaders.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top vitamins and minerals to support the immune system all winter long.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of our most important immune-boosting vitamins.  This is because it helps uprate production of white blood cells within the immune system to help fight of viruses and infections.   It’s also one of our key antioxidant vitamins, further supporting overall health and helping bat away those unwanted invaders.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Interestingly, whilst citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, they are not the richest sources.  All fruits and vegetables deliver good levels but guava fruit, bell peppers, kiwi fruits, strawberries and broccoli come out tops.

Iron

Iron is very protective of our immune defences.  As its name suggests, disease-causing microbes literally must penetrate its steely wall to cause harm.  One of the main symptoms of iron deficiency is tiredness and fatigue so do get your levels checked with a blood test from your GP if you’re concerned.

A range of foods high in iron

The best food source of haem iron (its most absorbable form) is red meat.  However, for non-meat eaters, green leafy vegetables, all types of beans, dried fruit and fortified cereals are good sources.  And if you eat your fortified breakfast cereal, together with a glass of orange juice, its vitamin C content will further help iron absorption.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps ramp up the immune system in a number of ways, making it a clear player when it comes to protecting the body from colds and infections. It’s also needed to help the body produce energy from food so its importance can’t be overlooked.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

With Christmas fast approaching, nut lovers will be pleased to know that pistachios are a great source of vitamin B6, although you’d clearly need to eat quite a few!  Fortified cereals, salmon, bananas, beans, cheese and eggs are all rich in vitamin B6.  In fact, it’s found in most whole grain foods so make sure they feature highly in your diet.

Zinc

Often described as one of the hardest working minerals, zinc is needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions within the body.  Essentially, it plays a role in most body systems, especially the immune system, specifically helping to fight off viruses. There is also research to suggest that it can help shorten the duration of colds.  However, prevention is always better than cure, hence it’s a key mineral to eat plentifully.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Oysters are one of the richest sources of zinc.  However, they are not everyone’s bag, so seafood, seeds, wild rice, beef and spinach also contain good amounts of zinc.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is key for immunity, initiating antibody responses as well as increasing white blood cell production to help kill off unwanted invaders.  It also works on maintaining mucous membranes within the body which play a protective role.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A is only found in animal foods which can be tricky for vegetarians and vegans.  However, vitamin A is also produced within the body from beta-carotene and this is found primarily in red, orange, green and yellow fruits and vegetables.  Sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe melon, broccoli and apricots are especially rich in beta-carotene.

With so many immunity-boosting foods to choose from, why not make this winter your healthiest yet!

Stay well.

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Autumn nutrition: what to eat right now

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

The onset of Autumn generally conjures up thoughts of cosy evenings by the fire or wrapping up a little warmer. 

When the weather gets colder, the body craves and needs warming foods to keep it optimally fuelled and able to ward off colds and infections.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, serves up her five top foods to keep body and mind healthy and robust this Autumn.

Root vegetables

Top of the list must be root vegetables.  They are what your body craves when it needs nourishing support.  Swedes, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips are perfect for Autumn eating.

Not only are they high in vitamin C to support the immune system, they all contain specific compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates which are really protective against some of our nasty degenerative diseases.

Even better, they all make great ‘comfort’ food, which is perfect for the body right now.  Soups, curries and stews can be cooked in bulk and will last a few days. Plus, they all make great and simple vegetable sides. There’s no end of choices but make them a priority when meal planning.

Also try to include members of the cruciferous vegetable family, including cabbage, kale and broccoli.

Ginger

Top of the warming herbs list is ginger.  It’s also top of the list of healing ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine.  Ginger is a great digestive aid because it stimulates bile production (essential for good digestion), is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and has anti-bacterial qualities.  Even better, you can use it in everything!

Root ginger with a bwol of ground ginger

Use it to awaken your taste buds and digestion in the morning with some warm water and lemon.  This also helps cleanse the liver, so you’ll quickly feel invigorated.  Why not make your own fresh ginger tea and drink it throughout the day?  And if you’re struggling with headaches down to the amount of time spent in front of screens right now, ginger is also your friend.

Quinoa

Eating whole grains is important for Autumn since the body needs to be well nourished and grounded.  Quinoa is technically a seed not a grain, but it matters not when talking about its array of nutrients.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

In many ways, quinoa is better than rice because it contains much more protein, so is perfect for vegetarian and vegan diets.  It’s also high in trace minerals, including zinc, magnesium and iron, and also fibre. Even better, quinoa is high in antioxidants which help to combat free radicals and in turn supports a healthier you.

Cook up a batch and freeze it: quinoa is great hot or cold with most other foods.

White fish

Autumn is all about finding good life balance and this is also true for the digestive system.  It shouldn’t be put under pressure at the moment, hence white fish such as cod, sea bass, sole and haddock are very easy to digest, whilst providing plenty of wholesome nourishment.

Thai fish dish

Although white fish doesn’t contain all the pizazz of oily fish and the essential omegas, it is very high in protein and low in saturated fat. It will also help keep blood sugar in good balance so energy levels will be sustained.

Even better, it’s really easy and quick to cook; think seabass in a parcel with ginger, spring onions and lemon grass. It’s really delicious and ready in around 15 minutes.

Turmeric

This is a ‘must-have’ in your store cupboard.  The health benefits of turmeric just keep growing as new research comes to light.  However, it’s a great anti-inflammatory, a powerful antioxidant, a potent liver detoxifier and great immune booster. And it’s so versatile: it can be used in a plethora of dishes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Raw turmeric is more warming but it’s slightly time-consuming to work with, so ground and dried turmeric is fine and it’s best absorbed when eaten in a dish with black pepper.

Turmeric is an essential Autumn spice; why not try a turmeric latte, on trend right now!

So,  give your body what it needs this Autumn and hopefully you’ll stay happy and healthy.

Stay well.

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Nutritious and healthy bakes for autumn

Close up of woman preparing pastry for baking

It’s National Baking Week so why not enjoy some new recipes that are enjoyable to make and can also boost your health at the same time?

We often connect baking with sweet treats, but savoury can be just as enjoyable and generally healthier too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top three savoury bakes and tells us how they can help boost your nutrition.

Savoury Muffins

The word ‘muffin’ tends to conjure up thoughts of a rich, chocolatey dough!  Lovely as they are, chocolate muffins are high in sugar and calories.  However, equally delicious and much healthier are savoury muffins.  Think feta cheese, sweet potato and avocado and you’ve got yourself a great breakfast or delicious snack.

Added to the key ingredients are eggs, polenta, ground almonds, milk and seeds for the topping. These muffins contain a good amount of protein so make a great start to the day or afternoon snack to banish the post-lunch slump.

Savory muffins

Sweet potatoes contain loads of immune-boosting beta-carotene, and avocados are packed with vitamin E, also great for immunity.  These muffins are also high in fibre (around 9g) each which goes a long way to meeting the recommended 30 grams of fibre daily.  They are quick and easy to bake and will last for up to three days in a sealed container.

Vegetarian Potato Pie

Essentially this is another version of traditional Shepherd’s Pie but made with beans rather than meat.  You don’t need to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy it and will gain some wonderful health benefits from eating it too.

It’s always good to use mixed beans but also include some fava beans.  Beans are all high in protein and fibre and also contain plenty of energising B-vitamins.  Plus, they’re great for keeping blood sugar levels in balance which will also help sustain your energy levels.

Vegetable potato pie

This recipe uses onion and garlic which are both rich in antioxidants, as well as carrots and potatoes which are high in immune-boosting vitamin C.  You’ll also need some tinned tomatoes.  Interestingly, tomatoes are loaded with lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant and is also great for prostate health.  Unusually lycopene is higher in tinned or cooked tomatoes rather than fresh. Best of all this dish will fill you up so you’ll be less tempted to grab unhealthy snacks after dinner.

Salmon Quiche

This is a great way of getting super-healthy omega-3s into your diet from the salmon.  Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, but as many people don’t like fish, the UK population is deficient in these essential fats.

Salmon quiche

Quiche always has a pastry base and you can use ready-made pastry if you’re short of time. The mixture uses delicious smoked salmon, which also provides a distinctive tase, plus watercress, a great source of iron.  Women are often deficient in iron so it’s an easy way of topping up. You can also add some steamed spinach or broccoli for an additional vitamin and mineral boost.

Bake the pastry base as per instructions while you steam the spinach or broccoli for 5 minutes. Beat up the mixture of salmon, eggs, milk and dill, then add the broccoli or spinach and layer on top of the pastry. This can then be baked in the oven for around 35 minutes. It’s great for feeding a hungry family and can be simply served with a colourful salad.

So, embrace National Baking Week and serve up some deliciously healthy dishes for autumn.

Stay well.

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Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in autumn

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutritionAs we head into September we also fall into the change of seasons into Autumn.  Whilst most of us just want the summer to continue forever, just as night follows day, the seasons must change. 

Even during ‘normal’ times it is important to start thinking about how you can best protect your immune system for the colder months ahead. And right now, it is even more essential.  Eating with the seasons also provides foods that are more nutrient-dense, just as nature intended.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top seasonal foods as we head into Autumn.

Plums

Any darkly coloured fruits or vegetables deliver a wealth of protective antioxidants, and plums are no exception.  Unusually for fruit, plums are rich in vitamin E which is a very powerful antioxidant looking after the natural fatty part of our cells. They’re also high in heart-loving potassium and energising iron.

A bowl of plums on a blue wooden table

When plums are dried, they become known as prunes, probably best acknowledged for their fibrous content when bowels are sluggish.  You can also find them pickled in brine and called umebushi. Plums are especially tasty lightly poached with a little honey and added to oats or other breakfast cereals.

Venison

Venison from deer is actually one of the healthiest red meats available.  Deer generally move freely around which means the meat is tender and flavoursome. It is also lower in fat that a skinned breast of chicken and higher in iron than any other red meat.  If you can find venison from free-range or wild deer, that’s going to be the healthiest option.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Venison is often thought of as a meat only eaten by the aristocracy because of the sport of hunting deer.  However, it’s certainly a food that could feature on the menu right now. It can be prepared and cooked in the same way as beef or steak, simply pan-fried.  Venison also makes a tasty curry or casserole.

Mackerel

Mackerel’s main claim to fame is down to the amount of healthy omega-3 fats it delivers.  These essential omegas have to be eaten in the diet, as the body can’t make them, and they are very important for heart, eye, skin, hormone and joint health. Oily fish, such as mackerel, is the best source of these fats.  There are plant sources of omega-3s, such as flaxseeds, but these are not always as well absorbed by the body.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

Mackerel makes a great lunchtime meal with salad, especially when it’s smoked.  Although it will contain more salt when prepared in this way, it helps the fact that it doesn’t naturally have a strong flavour.  Mackerel is therefore best spiced up a little or paired with a sharp fruity sauce. Try to include it on your menu plan once a week if possible.

Apples

Apples are synonymous with Autumn as they always appear on the Harvest Festival table. However, they make a wonderful snack providing plenty of vitamin C, as well as being the star of any pie or crumble.  Apples are also low in both calories and on the glycaemic index, meaning they won’t upset blood sugar levels and are therefore great if you’re watching your weight.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Supermarkets tend to store apples for many months, therefore buying them at farmer’s market or freshly picked is certainly preferable.  However, there are plenty to choose from with over 50 different varieties grown in the UK.  They’re very protective of the heart due to their potassium content and the presence of the flavonoid quercetin, plus, apples are a great source of fibre.  So many reasons to always have one handy as a go-to snack!

Kale

A member of the cabbage family and also known as curly kale or collard, kale has often been hailed as a superfood, alongside Brussels sprouts and broccoli.  This is partly because all these vegetables contain a phytonutrient called sulforaphane which is a powerful liver detoxifier.

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Kale is a very rich source of the antioxidants, vitamin C and beta carotene.  Even better, kale is a great source of the minerals iron, manganese, calcium and potassium which are often deficient in the typical western diet.

What do I do with it, you many ask! Kale can be very lightly boiled or steamed and then stir fried with garlic. It can be grilled with a little salt to make kale chips. It is also great in stir fries or in a delicious green soup with onion, potatoes, garlic and chorizo, if desired.

So, as we head into autumn enjoy these five delicious and super-healthy foods which are in season right now.

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Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in August

People enjoying al fresco eating in the summer

Eating seasonally offers many benefits, mainly because produce is tastier when eaten at the time nature intended.  Indeed, British strawberries have been particularly delicious this year. 

So, what’s in season right now which will also deliver some amazing nutritional benefits?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top seasonal foods to enjoy now.

Runner beans

A perennial favourite for any keen gardener, the best time to eat runner beans is freshly picked otherwise they can become tough and chewy.  And whilst they might seem like a British traditional late summer vegetable, runner beans are actually native to Mexico and Central America.

A bunch of runner beans on a wooden background

As with all beans, runners’ deliver some good quality protein and dietary fibre, plus useful amounts of magnesium and copper (great for the muscles and joints), and energising iron.  Unlike many vegetables, they are not especially rich in vitamin C but do provide plenty of other powerful antioxidants including various carotenoids.

From an enjoyment perspective, there’s simply nothing better than pairing runner beans with some delicious roast lamb (also on good form right now).

Aubergine

Also called eggplant, they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants, helping scavenge free radicals. Interestingly, latest research has focussed on a particular antioxidant found in aubergines called nasunin, which is found to be especially protective of the brain.  Aubergines provide good sources of vitamin B6, useful for hormone-balancing and vitamin K, great for heart health.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

In terms of preparation, aubergines can generally be eaten with the skin-on so are super-easy to roast, along with red peppers and onions. They can be made into the ever popular babaganoush with garlic, lemon and tahini or used in many traditional Mediterranean dishes, including ratatouille.

Watercress

Watercress was a favourite of the famous Greek doctor, Hippocrates, due to its high mineral content; it has more calcium per 100 grams than a glass of milk (although you’d need to eat a fair amount!)

Just like spinach with its powerful green leaves, watercress delivers plenty of health-giving chlorophyll (otherwise known as the green food of life), plus immune-boosting vitamin C and the mineral manganese for a healthy nervous system.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress adds a delicious peppery taste to salads, helps balance the richness of a steak or makes a delicious soup.  Enjoy!

Beetroot

Truly a vegetable where you get plenty of ‘bang for your buck’, beetroot is low in fat but high in wonderful nutrients. Interestingly, whilst the edible leafy tops were used medicinally in ancient times, it’s generally the red root that’s eaten.  And unlike many other vegetables,  freshly boiled beetroot has higher levels of most nutrients than raw, including heart loving potassium.

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

However, fresh raw beetroot juice does provide a great source of vitamins and minerals and is often used as a tonic.  It’s also useful for athletes and has been found to help aerobic performance.

At this time of year, when they’re freshly harvested, there’s no better way than eating beetroot grated in salads with some feta cheese to compliment the flavours.

Raspberries

Second only to blackberries in terms of their health benefits, raspberries provide very high levels of vitamin C. Raspberries became super-famous when it was discovered they could possibly help with weight management, hence raspberry ketones were developed.  It was found that they helped stop the production of our fat-digesting enzyme, lipase, hence less fat was digested and absorbed.  Raspberries certainly help balance blood sugar levels which will also help with weight management.

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Why not get your day off to a flying start by adding some to your low-sugar morning muesli with some natural yoghurt?  Raspberries are also great on their own as a dessert with some freshly chopped mint.

So, make the most of the this seasonal and nutritious produce whilst you can!

Stay well.

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Plan your picnic with a vegetarian twist!

A picnic basket on a wodden table overlooking a beautiful countryside scene

It’s National Picnic Week and now it’s becoming a little easier to get outdoors, why not embrace the opportunity to get out there and eat al fresco.

Whether you’re vegetarian or not, making your picnic a plant-based delight can really give your health a boost.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five tasty picnic dishes to pack and go!

Veggie wraps

These are such a go-to ‘on-the-run’ food, but wraps are also great for picnics because they are so transportable.  If you buy wholemeal wraps, you’ll also benefit from eating more energising B-vitamins than you’d find in white wraps.

Falafel wraps

The great news is that there’s no shortage of fillings.  Why not roast up a tray of veggies; these can be prepared the night before and also eaten for dinner.  Roasting favourites are courgettes, red onion, peppers and thinly cut sweet potatoes. These veggies deliver plenty of immune-boosting beta-carotene, vitamin C and energising folate. Spread plenty of humous on the wraps (chickpeas, which are the main ingredient in humous, are a great source of veggie protein) and add some chopped falafel, together with the cold roasted vegetables and you’ve got a really filling and sustaining start to your picnic menu.

Quinoa surprise

I’ve called this a surprise because you can add what you like!  Quinoa is a staple vegetarian and vegan source of protein and also provides carbohydrates.  Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids in varying amounts and is great for anyone who can’t eat any grain derived from gluten.  Furthermore, it tastes great and is incredibly versatile!

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

One of my favourite quinoa dishes is with grilled halloumi, chopped spring onions, tomatoes, cucumber and mint with a little olive oil, garlic and lemon dressing.  Any colourful salad vegetables will provide plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C and other antioxidants.  Another suggestion is to add goat’s cheese, beetroot and pesto.  Beetroot is one of the best vegetables on the planet for cleansing the liver and also providing plant-based iron, which can be lacking in vegetarians.

Frittata

No picnic is complete without frittata.  It’s another dish that can be easily made the night before and stored in the fridge. Frittata is a really filling picnic dish and eggs, its main ingredient, are another great source of protein.

Spinach and mushroom frittata

All you need are some eggs, cooked potatoes, onions, red peppers and peas.  You can actually add whatever happens to be in the fridge – try spinach and mushrooms – and it’s a great way of including additional fibre and, most importantly, colour into your picnic.

Pasta slaw

If you’re looking for an easier option than normal ‘slaw’ which does require quite a lot of chopping, using pasta as the base is a whole lot easier and will keep everyone filled up for longer.  Just use wholemeal pasta which helps balance energy levels and, hopefully, avoids the afternoon slump.  You don’t want to be missing out on the picnic fun!

Bowl of pasta salad

Penne pasta is great for this dish so prepare some and cook until its al dente.  When cold, add some chopped celery, apples (they don’t need to be peeled), spring onions, a few walnut halves and raisins.  If you’re trying to reduce fat load then making the dressing with natural yoghurt, white wine vinegar and mustard is a great protein-rich alternative to mayo.

Chickpea Salad

We know that chickpeas are a wonder food.  As well as being the main ingredient in houmous, they’re a great source of protein for vegetarians or carnivores alike.  Plus, they’re packed with phytoestrogens, so anyone struggling to balance hormones should include chickpeas regularly in the diet.

Chickpea salad with feta

For this picnic delight simply use a can of chickpeas, a can of kidney beans, chopped avocado, cucumber, red peppers, and feta cheese, flavoured with your favourite salad dressing and chopped coriander.  This dish is loaded with protein, fibre, energising B-vitamins, healthy monounsaturated fats, and skin-loving and immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin E.

All these dishes are super-easy to make in advance, so you just need to pack up your basket and go!

Stay well.

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Five seasonal foods to start your summer

CLose up of a hand holding a slice of watermelow with the words hello summer cut out of it

The summer solstice on 20th June officially marks the start of summer, although with such a hot May you could be forgiven for thinking it has been here for a while! 

With the onset of summer, nature brings a further array of deliciously healthy and nutritious foods to enjoy.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyers shares her five favourites.

 

Courgettes

More romantically named zucchini by the Italians and Americans, courgettes are a great and versatile summer food.  They’re a type of small, young marrow with tender edible skins.  As with most fruits and vegetables, many of their nutrients are actually found just under the skin hence they’re best eaten with the skin on.

A range of courgettes

Courgettes are a good source of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A in the body as needed.  As with other ‘green’ vegetables they also supply a particular carotenoid, zeaxanthin which is great for the eyes.  They’re also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and brain-boosting folate. Folate is essential for good functioning of the nervous system which is really useful especially right now when many people are struggling with anxiety.

Courgette linguini

One of the loveliest summer recipes is grated courgette with linguini, lemon juice, garlic, basil and chopped chilli peppers; it makes a fantastic al fresco treat!

Artichoke

It’s not always a go-to vegetable as it’s slightly trickier to prepare.  However, why not change things up a little and benefit from its wonderful taste and health benefits? As an additional benefit, artichoke often conjures up thoughts of the Mediterranean which we might not be able to visit for a while.

Close up of artichokes

Artichoke is prepared by discarding the outer toughest leaves to get to the heart. It can then be sliced and either grilled or boiled and served with lemon butter or hollandaise sauce.  Alternatively, it can be bought ready prepared and added to pizzas, salads or pasta dishes.

Artichoke pasta dish

Artichoke’s main health benefits seem to be from its potential to support liver function and reduce cholesterol levels.  It also helps feed the friendly gut bacteria, a good balance of which is essential for overall wellbeing.

Watercress

Another green super food, watercress is one of the healthiest salad vegetables with a distinctive peppery taste.  In traditional medicine it was used as a kidney and liver detoxifier, just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  Furthermore, it’s a great source of minerals especially iron, as well as beta-carotene and vitamin C.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress makes a great summertime soup with Jersey Royals (also in season right now). It is also great in salad with rocket and Parmesan or with other strong flavours such as orange.

Wild Sea Trout

It’s important to look for ‘wild’ which naturally contains astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant, and the reason for the dark, pink colour), plus the flavour is vastly better than in its farmed counterparts.  Some of the best wild sea trout is caught off the Welsh coast, although it’s also fished in European waters.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Sea Trout is an excellent source of super-healthy omega-3 fats which are needed for the heart, brain, skin, hormones, and joints.

Trout fish fillet with salad

At this time of year, sea trout is absolutely delicious cooked on the barbecue and also works well marinated with orange dressing.  It makes a wonderfully healthy summer meal alongside Jersey Royal potatoes and plenty of salad leaves.

Aubergine

Another vegetable we often associate with the Mediterranean, especially Greece, is aubergine (also known as eggplant).  Interestingly, it’s also widely grown in the UK. Aubergine is still widely used in traditional Ottoman dishes such as Imam Bayildi (aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes). The deep colour of its skin signifies plenty of anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against degenerative diseases.  Aubergine also contains plenty of fibre and folate.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

Aubergines are a great summer food because they’re delicious chargrilled and added to other roasted vegetables or in a salad with roasted tomatoes and feta cheese.  The only downside is that they tend to soak up plenty of oil so do make sure you use healthy olive oil so at least you’re getting some heart-health benefits.

So, enjoy the amazing colours, tastes and nutritional benefits the new summer season brings.

Stay well.

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Three delicious and nutritious alternatives to fish and chips

Fish chips and peas

It’s National Fish and Chip Day and whilst we may be enjoying one too many takeaways during lockdown, they are certainly a treat during these challenging times.

But if you’re feeling like a healthier treat is needed why not mark the day instead with an alternative but delicious fish dish that’s much healthier?

Suzie Sawyer Clinical Nutritionist shares her three fish dish favourites.

Salmon Stir-fry

When we’re talking about healthy fish dishes, salmon is top of the list. For those who are not big salmon lovers, this dish is great because it’s got some strong flavours which help mask the fish flavours; it’s tasty and really easy.  With any salmon dish, always try to find the Wild Alaskan Salmon because it’s fished in less polluted waters and contains natural astaxanthin – one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet (it’s also what makes salmon pink!)

Two fillets of salmon on a wooden board

Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fats, essential for the brain, joints, hormones, skin and eyes.  We all need to eat omega-3s regularly in our diets as they can’t be made in the body.

Salmon stir fry

For this easy dish, simply fry up some onions, peppers, ginger, garlic, carrot strips and tenderstem broccoli in some olive oil, add the chopped salmon and heat until cooked (only a few minutes needed).  Add some five spice, soy sauce, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and some chopped fresh coriander. In just a few minutes you’ve got a brilliant brain-healthy meal delivering loads of super-healthy antioxidants from the salmon and colourful veggies.  Plus, garlic and ginger are great for the digestion and for boosting immunity. Enjoy with noodles or rice.

Barbecued squid

Squid is a high protein, low fat fish that just oozes thoughts of summer!  It also contains good amounts of energising vitamin B12. Squid also includes trace minerals such as potassium, iron, phosphorus, and copper, all frequently deficient in UK diets. You can buy squid already pre-prepared  from the supermarket.  Better still ask the fishmonger to prepare it for you.

Grilled squid on a bbq

Squid is generally known as calamari, which is deep-fried in breadcrumbs, considerably increasing the fat content (just like traditional fish and chips).  This recipe is certainly much healthier, and you’ll not feel bloated and uncomfortable after eating.

Squid is great loaded onto skewers, alternated with red peppers and onions, and wrapping the tentacles (if you have them) around the skewer.  Simply barbecue, squeezing lemon juice over the skewers and enjoy immediately.

White fish Thai-style

This recipe can be used with any white fish but works especially well with sea bass.  All white fish is rich in protein, low in fat and incredibly versatile.  The dish works really well with some roasted sweet vegetables including sliced sweet potatoes and beetroot for a real superfood boost: both of these vegetables are loaded with anti-ageing antioxidants.

Thai fish dish

For the Thai fish, place the fish in an ovenproof dish and grate some garlic, ginger, finely shopped chilli and the zest of a lime on top.  Then squeeze over the juice of the lime, some soy sauce and a few drops of Tabasco.  Ideally the fish should be marinated for a couple of hours in the fridge, so the flavours really infuse into the fish.  It can then be roasted in the oven for around 20 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

So, enjoy these fish alternatives – you can always add some low-fat oven chips or homemade sweet potato chips as a side for an extra treat!

Stay safe.

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