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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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!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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