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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Growing your own: health-giving, home-grown ideas

Close up on waomn in an allotment holding a home graon carrot

Whilst we’re all rather restricted in what we can and can’t do right now. But for those with vegetable patches, pots or allotments, it’s the perfect time to be growing your vegetables.  For those of you without access to outside space, a balcony or even just a windowsill can give you the opportunity to grow some delicious and health-giving herbs.

Growing your own produce has big advantages over shop-bought as the produce is all pesticide-free and additive-free.  Importantly, time from harvest to plate can be swift, helping to keep valuable nutrients intact, and helping the planet at the same time.

This National Gardening Week, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer suggests a few things to start cultivating right now!

Broccoli

An all-round superfood, broccoli certainly lives up to its acclaim. It is very high in antioxidants provided by its vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content. Plus, it’s great for the heart (it helps reduce cholesterol) and helps to protect the immune system. It can help to keep the digestive system moving smoothly and supports the liver’s ability to detoxify. Broccoli is also packed with lutein and zeaxanthin which are great for healthy eyes and eyesight.

Purple sprouting broccoli

In terms of nutrient content, broccoli is rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, bone-loving vitamin K and energy-boosting folate. There are so many different varieties of broccoli that you can sow right now; the purple sprouting type may have the slight edge in terms of antioxidants, which is down to its beautiful colour.

Carrots

A real mainstay vegetable, no garden should be without carrots. They are best known for their ability to help you see in the dark. This is because they are loaded with beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, and which is essential for eyesight.

A selection of rainbow carrots

Why not grow a rainbow variety, which means you’ll have a combination of orange, purple and white-coloured carrots?  They will all have slightly different tastes and the varied colours will deliver wonderful healthy phytonutrients.

Beetroot

If you plant some beetroot seeds now, you should have some wonderful beetroot globes available for the traditional summer salad season. However, beetroot is not only great in salads but is delicious roasted, pickled or cooked, and used in juices and smoothies.

Whole beetroots

Another superfood, beetroot is a great liver cleanser. Packed full of antioxidants, it also supports energy and is a good source of iron.  Indeed, this is probably one of the reasons it has traditionally been known as a tonic and given to people whilst convalescing. Needless to say, it’s loaded with great nutrients and is incredibly versatile in many dishes, both sweet and savoury.

Basil

Basil is one of the tastiest herbs you can grow indoors. Plus, it smells beautiful and will always remind you of the Mediterranean.  Basil makes a great accompaniment to any tomato-based dish and is an aromatic addition to salad and pasta dishes. It also great for the digestive system.

A fresh bunch of basil on a wooden board

Basil is a pretty hardy herb that prefers full sunlight and now is the time to plant your pots for readiness by July. It will also happily grow in a pot amongst other herbs if you have room.

Chives

Chives are another great small pot herb which can be grown alone or in a slightly larger pot with other herbs such as coriander and parsley.

Some chopped chives on a wooden board

A member of the onion family, chives are very easy to grow and produce some pretty and edible flowers. Both the stems and flowers are great chopped for garnishing potato salad, in scrambled egg, soups and many other savoury dishes. As with all herbs, they have been hailed for many different health issues over the years, and chives have been used as a tonic and to stimulate appetite after illness.

So, get planting!  And if you’ve never undertaken any form of gardening in the past, now could be a great time to start.

Stay well.

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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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How to be a healthy vegetarian: the nutrients you need

Happy woman holding a brown paper bag of vegetables in her kitchen

Vegetarianism is becoming ever-more popular and for very good reason.  There’s much research to suggest that vegetarians are less prone to heart disease and degenerative diseases such as cancers, particularly of the bowel. 

The success of this way of eating, in terms of maintaining overall health, is in the meal planning, ensuring all essential nutrients the body needs are being obtained.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer highlights key nutrients for vegetarians and where to find them.

Vitamin B12

First up is vitamin B12 because it’s only found in animal produce, much of which is not eaten by vegetarians.  Vitamin B12 is essential for the health of the nervous system, the brain and, most importantly, energy production.

However, the good news is that vitamin B12 is found in eggs, dairy produce and fortified foods such as cereals.  Many people struggle to absorb enough vitamin B12, hence it can be deficient in meat-eaters too.

Range of dairy products

Some Vitamin B12 can be made in the gut by the beneficial bacteria naturally living there, but only if that’s in good shape too.  Eating natural yoghurt will potentially help both issues by feeding the good bacteria AND providing some B12.

Consider taking a daily supplement containing vitamin B12 to ensure you’re not missing out.

Essential fatty acids

There are a group of fats known as essential fatty acids (omega-3s and 6s) which must be eaten as they can’t be made in the body.  In fact, it’s the omega-3s that provide most health benefits and are frequently deficient in the western world.

They’re called ‘essential’ because omega-3s are one of the key nutrients that control inflammatory processes in the body.  Inflammation is the primary cause of many things that go wrong in the body. For example, degenerative disease, skin problems, stiff joints and dementia.  The great news is that oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and to some extent tuna, are rich sources of omega-3s. If you do eat fish these should feature somewhere in the diet three times per week.

However, if fish is not for you, then flaxseeds, which are easily sprinkled onto cereal, and other nuts and seeds (nut butters are great) are also good sources.  If you’ve got dry skin, are constipated, have difficulty concentrating, have hormone imbalances or are frequently thirsty, then you may need a top up of omega-3s. Again consider taking a daily supplement.

Iron

We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that a large percentage of women of child-bearing age are deficient in iron.  Women are obviously more prone to iron deficiency because of their monthly periods. Iron is also an important nutrient for pregnant women as deficiency can cause learning difficulties and growth problems in the unborn child.

The richest source of absorbable iron is red meat.  Clearly, you are not going to eat this if you’re vegetarian!  However, there are plenty of other great sources of iron. For example, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils and egg yolks are rich in iron. However ideally, they need to be eaten with vitamin C to aid absorption.  So, a perfect start to the day would be an egg-based breakfast with a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Scrambled egg breakfast with toast, tomatoes, mushrooms and a glass of orange juice

If you’re feeling very low in energy or are easily out of breath, then it’s worth getting your iron levels checked. The only way to know for sure if you’re iron-deficient is to ask your GP to check your serum ferritin levels.

Protein

Protein is the body’s main building blocks. It is an essential macro nutrient needed to build hormones, produce cells for the immune system, maintain a strong skeletal frame and for the hair, skin and nails

Protein is made from amino acids from foods and those produced in the body.  However, just like the essential fats, there are also essential amino acids which must be eaten.  These are generally obtained from animal produce (including fish).  However, by combining grains and beans every day (not necessarily at the same meal), you should be getting your quota if your diet is well-balanced.

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

Additionally, soy protein does contain all these essential amino acids, albeit in slightly lesser amounts.  Think tofu, tempeh, organic soya milk and yoghurt which are not only low in fat but high in bone-loving calcium and magnesium.

With the range of foods on offer, it is easy to embrace vegetarianism and ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients your need.

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Lunchbox nutrition: top ideas to keep that holiday feeling going

Happy woman at desk eating her lunch

Whilst many of us have already returned from our summer holidays, there’s no reason not to hang onto that summer feeling for as long as possible. And this includes keeping a holiday-theme going in our lunchtime menus.

By planning your ‘back-to-work’ lunches so that you’re never without something nourishing and energising during the day, it can really help banish the post-holiday blues.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top lunch-box tips to keep you in the summertime mood!

Thoughts of the Mediterranean

Packing up a chicken salad with a Mediterranean theme doesn’t need to take long in the morning.  As with everything, it’s all about planning.  If you roast a large enough chicken on a Sunday, then you’ll have plenty left-over for your Mediterranean chicken salad on a Monday and beyond.

chicken salad with spinach and tomatoes

Simply slice the chicken, then add some spinach leaves, chopped spring onions, baby tomatoes and chopped red cabbage with some French dressing drizzled over, and you have your lunch right there.

It’s especially important to have enough protein at lunchtime in order to avoid the 3pm slump, which chicken more than delivers.  Additionally, spinach is rich in energising iron and tomatoes are packed with vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene, to help protect the body from the upcoming ‘bug’ season.

Satisfyingly Spanish

There are lots of reason to love Spain and one of them is the Spanish omelette.  It’s a great option to make the night before and it also serves as a satisfying dinner.  Plus, eggs are one of the best sources of protein, as they contain all the essential amino acids.

Sliced spanish omelette

Traditional Spanish omelette is so easy to make; it needs chopped potatoes and onion lightly fried until soft, with beaten egg cooked until the mixture is completely ‘set’.  You can also add tomatoes and parsley for extra flavour and nutrition. Throw in a few salad leaves as well and this is an excellent lunchtime re-fuel that will keep you going all afternoon.

Summertime wraps

Wraps are some of the quickest and easiest packed lunch choices.  Plus, if you fill them right, you’ll be serving yourself some nutritional powerhouses.

Great fillings are:

Beetroot (in season right now and a nutritional powerhouse), with feta (excellent low, fat protein), and a choice of crunchy leaves.

Avocado (a great source of skin-loving vitamin E), hummus (vegetable protein) and cucumber

Tuna, which provides low-fat protein, sweetcorn and energising spinach

All are nutrient-packed and delicious; just remember to use wholemeal wraps which are rich in B-vitamins and will also help keep energy levels sustained through the rest of the day.

Sunshine noodles

Cooked egg noodles can be eaten hot or cold and can simply be put into a lunchbox with whatever happens to be in your store cupboard.  The great thing about egg noodles is that they’re light so won’t make you feel heavy and bloated later in the day.

Salmon and noodle stir fry

Why not add some tinned wild salmon, grated ginger, soy sauce, red peppers and spring onions to keep thoughts of sunshine not too far away? You will have created a perfectly balanced lunch-time meal, full of protein and immune-boosting vitamin C.

A Mexican theme

Talk of beans and thoughts often turn to Mexico; beans are one of Mexico’s staple foods.  They’re also one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans, as well as for meat eaters.  Even better, they’re easy to put into a lunchbox.

Mexican bean salad

Simply use a tin of black beans and add some feta cheese, spring onion, chopped tomato and avocado.  You can then choose how much ‘heat’ you want to add.  This dish is always delicious using chopped coriander and parsley, but you can also add some cumin, for a real Mexican feel.

There will certainly be enough here to last for a couple of days, and you’ll feel completely satiated until dinner time.

So keep that holiday feeling alive in your lunchbox for as long as you can – you’ll also be benefitting from some great nutritional choices too!

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Seasonal eating: Plums

Close up of woman holding a bowl of freshly picked plums

Did you know that there are more varieties of plum than any other species of stone fruit – about 200 or more!  Plums come in many colour varieties, but all are jam packed with nutrients and are in season right now, so grab some and enjoy!

Prunes are dried plums – something not everyone is aware of. And prunes can also play a part in a balanced diet.

 Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why they are so great for health as well as some tips on including them in the diet.

Plums are rich in antioxidants

We know from the wealth of research available that antioxidants hold one of the keys to a healthy, disease-free life.  Whilst the body has many antioxidant enzyme systems to help prevent disease, foods are also needed to feed these systems and to provide additional antioxidant protection.  And this is where plums can stand proud! They have some of the highest amounts of antioxidants, especially vitamin C, even in their dried prune form.

A bowl of plums on a blue wooden table

Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, and plums are especially good in this respect. Plus, vitamin C is great for overall health and helps protect the immune system.  Don’t forget children are returning to school soon and that’s when the ‘bug’ season really gets going!

Prunes encourage regularity

If you’re suffering from sluggish bowels, then prunes are your best friend in this respect.  Prunes are high in insoluble fibre which feeds the friendly gut bacteria, helping solve digestive issues.  Good levels of friendly bacteria are also needed to help form stools. Additionally, prunes provide bulk which also helps to get things moving.

Prunes can help weight management

Although prunes taste quite sweet, their soluble fibre content helps balance blood sugar levels, which in turn can aid successful weight management.  It’s very difficult to lose weight when blood sugar is imbalanced as excess glucose is merely sent to fat cells for safe keeping.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Soluble fibre also promotes a feeling of fullness, making it less likely you’ll overeat.  Why not include some, with an oat-based breakfast?  Tinned prunes generally contain sugar-laden syrup, therefore look for those sold in transparent containers, generally in health food stores.  If they’re too dry for you, then soaking them in a little hot water for a few minutes will work or in some light apple juice, to bring them back to life.

Poached plums for breakfast

Plums work really well on their own (straight from the tree is great), in jams or chutneys, or simply poached.  Plus, they can be enjoyed in this way at any time of the day, to give you a nutrient boost.

A bowl of poached plums with cinnamon

Plums pair well with various spices, especially cinnamon. The great news is that cinnamon helps balance blood sugar so together they’re a perfect breakfast choice.  Use natural stevia or xylitol if you need to sweeten them whilst they’re being poached in the oven, and you’ll avoid any sugar-rush.

Plums are great in savoury dishes

Whilst there are many ways plums can be enjoyed in sweet recipes, they also work well in savoury dishes, especially with duck. For a quick and easy meal, simply slice the plums into small pieces, add a cinnamon stick and a little honey to a pan and simmer for a few minutes.  Then simply fry the duck breast in a little olive oil until cooked medium rare, slice on a plate and serve with the fruit mixture.

Roasted duck breast with plum sauce on the side

Plums are also delicious chopped into a salad with goat’s cheese or made into a versatile plum sauce that can be mixed with soy sauce, ginger and garlic and poured over chicken breasts.

Whichever way you decide to eat them, plums or prunes, they’ll provide wonderful health benefits and amazing flavour.

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Healthy and home-grown: the top 5 nutrient-rich foods for growing at home

Close up on waomn in an allotment holding a home graon carrot

The popularity of growing your own fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices is on the rise and having an allotment or growing patch is appealing to more and more people. 

Urban living can make it difficult to grow your own food with a lack of outdoor space. But there are plenty of options for growing in pots on a small balcony or even on a windowsill.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five home-grown nutritious favourites.

Bean sprouts

Sprouted beans certainly have plenty to shout about from a nutritional perspective. Plus, they don’t need much space because they can be grown in jam jars.

The sprouting process actually increases nutrient levels. Bean sprouts are high in protein so will fill you up, plus they have plenty of bone-loving minerals and immune-boosting vitamin C.  They’re a great way of increasing the nutritional content of any meal and are low in fat and calories. They can be easily added to any vegetable dish, salad or smoothies.

A couple of beans sprouting

You can sprout any type of bean: black beans, mung beans, lentils and soy beans are all good for starters.  Rinse them well and then place them in jam jars with double the amount of water and cover the tops with muslin and an elastic band. Keep them at room temperature and drain them and re-fill with water twice a day for about four or five days.  You’ll soon have some nutritional powerhouses ready to eat!

Rosemary and Thyme

The perfect herb combination!  They are both ‘staples’ in any herb garden.

Rosemary is a delight in both lamb and chicken dishes and is very popular throughout Mediterranean countries. This may be partly due to it being a powerful antioxidant so can help protect the body. It also adds a delicious flavour to roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes wedges.  Rosemary may also act as a stimulant in both the nervous and circulatory systems and can help to soothe the digestive system, relieving indigestion and flatulence.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Thyme has an amazing aromatic flavour so is widely used in cooking, especially in casseroles and soups. Thyme has also been traditionally used as a decongestant to soothe coughs and catarrh.

A fresh bunch of thyme

Salad leaves

These can also be grown indoors all-year round in simple seed trays.  In fact, they’re probably the easiest of all vegetables to grow.  The dark green colour of rocket means that it’s rich in energising iron and carotenoids which are powerful antioxidants.  Rocket also has a lot more taste than some other salad leaves and can be used in many recipes as well as simple salads.

A bowl of mixed salad leaves

You can also grow crunchy lettuce leaves so you should never be without some quick go-to greens when you’re on the run. Plus all salad leaves can be picked over and over and they just keep growing back.

Beetroot

If you’re quick, there’s just about time to plant some beetroot seeds now and they’ll be ready for eating in the autumn. Beetroot is actually one of the UK’s best-selling seeds.  This is partly because home-grown beetroot is absolutely delicious but also because it’s a superfood.  Its rich dark colour delivers a wealth of antioxidants to protect the body from serious diseases.

Whole beetroots

If it’s energy you’re looking for then having some more beetroot in your diet can really give you a boost.  Beetroot juice is very popular with athletes and recreational exercisers because it helps the body better sustain endurance activity.  Beetroot is also rich in energy-giving iron and folic acid. If you start to sow beetroot seeds now, they should be ready for eating in about 90 days’ time.  Beetroots can also be grown in lines or pots.

Marrow

Marrows are traditionally sown during May and June.  However, the soils are warm right now so if you’re quick you’ll get a crop harvested before colder weather shows it face.

As marrow is very high in water, its nutritional content is not as good as some vegetables, but it’s great for alkalising the body.  The body prefers to be in a slightly alkaline state generally, and many vegetables and fruit help this process along; marrow can certainly do this too.

A whole marrow and slices of marrow on a chopping board

It doesn’t have too much taste on its own but comes to life when stuffed with other vegetables, sprinkled with cheese and roasted in the oven, or filled with a chili con carne mince. Marrow can also be turned into chutney and makes a great addition to your ham or cheeseboard.

Growing anything even in a small way, is very therapeutic and great for relieving stress. So get growing this season and enjoy the fresh nutrition it provides.

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Summer nutrition: the best foods on offer this season

Woman holding up frshly grown beetroots

When the sun shines, it inspires us to prepare fresh, healthy meals. With a wealth of wonderful foods in season, there’s no excuse not to make the most of what nature is delivering right now.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Whether you’re creating deliciously crispy salads or and fresh and fruity desserts, summer foods are packed full of colour and flavour.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite and super-healthy foods currently in season.

Raspberries

Often forgotten and sometimes overshadowed by another red berry fruit (aka the strawberry) raspberries have plenty to be nutritionally proud of, as well as their delicious taste. Raspberries are one of our classic summer fruits and at their absolute best at the moment. Interestingly, most raspberries currently in our shops are grown in Scotland.

They are high in one of our key antioxidants, vitamin C, and their overall antioxidant content is increased the riper the berries. Plus, raspberries are high in something called ellagic acid which is an anti-inflammatory compound that seems to be especially helpful in cases of Crohn’s disease.

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Raspberries have leapt to fame in more recent times with the discovery of raspberry ketones, a phytonutrient which may increase metabolism in fat cells, thereby reducing the risk of obesity. Whatever your reason for choosing them, you’ll not be disappointed in any respect. Enjoy raspberries with your morning cereal or with some natural yoghurt. Try them as a topping to pancakes or made into a coulis that can be drizzled over savoury dishes or sweet desserts.

Watercress

Watercress makes a great staple salad ingredient with a distinctive peppery taste so it really adds some flavour. Even better it’s highly nutritious, containing vitamin C, calcium for healthy bones, plus energising folic acid and iron. Watercress is also a great tonic for the liver and kidneys. Furthermore, it contains high levels of vitamin K for great bone health and beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A and is great for vision.

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

Watercress actually makes a great soup ingredient, alongside onions, celery, diced Jersey Royal potatoes (also in season) with some chicken stock and takes no time at all to prepare. Its lovely fresh taste makes a perfect soup ingredient even during the summer months.

And did you know that watercress has more vitamin C per 100 grams than oranges!

Mackerel

This is an ocean fish that lives in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean waters and has some very distinctive grey stripes. Most importantly, it’s an oily fish that’s very high in those essential omega-3 fats we talk so much about.

A fillet of grilled mackerel

Omega-3s are absolutely essential for healthy hormones, bones, joints, eyes, heart and the brain and can’t be made in the body, so have to be eaten very regularly. Indeed, oily fish should be eaten three times a week to get what the body needs. The oils make mackerel quite rich to eat, so it’s often best simply grilled with some spices or sharp citrus flavours.

Aubergines

Whilst aubergines were native to India, they’ve become a very popular food the whole world over. They’re especially popular in Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, and in African folklore to treat convulsions. Aubergines are also known as ‘eggplant’ because of their egg shape. And interestingly they’re technically berries and not vegetables!

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

As with all fruits and vegetables that have gorgeous, rich colours, aubergines are packed with anthocyanins – plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. Plus they contain plenty of fibre and energy-boosting folic acid.

Whilst they taste delicious added to the popular dishes I listed above, they’re great simply griddled alongside some peppers with just a small pasting of oil. Aubergines are very low in calories but they do soak up oil like a sponge, therefore are best not fried.

Beetroot

Another vegetable with an amazing colour, highlighting its rich nutrient content, beetroots really add to salads at this time of year. In fact, they’re the perfect addition to a goat’s cheese salad, making a great starter or main course dish.

In ancient times, only the leaves were eaten, which can be cooked in the same way as spinach (gently wilted in the pan) but these tend to be less popular now, although they’re a great source of calcium and beta-carotene.

Whole beetroots

Beetroots are loaded with nutrients, especially vitamin C, folate, iron and heart-loving potassium to help reduce blood pressure. They also make a great tonic juice with carrots. They are brilliant for restoring health if you’ve been under the weather (yes it can still happen during the summer months). It’s best to enjoy beetroot either grated raw or cooked rather than pickled, which destroys some of the nutrients.

So enjoy a wonderfully healthy summer by adding these delicious and nutritious seasonal foods to your plate.

 

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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