Pea power: discover the nutrients and health benefits

A bowl of fresh green peas and a pea pod

Peas are in season right now, so they’ll be tasting their very best and will deliver wonderfully healthy nutrients. They are a great summertime food and can be included in lots of different recipes. Moreover, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes as we’ll find out!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the low-down on peas.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

VARIETIES OF PEA

From the family known as Fabaceae, we are all acquainted with the traditional green pea. However, they also come as mange tout (often known as snow peas) and sugar snap peas. Peas can also be dried and are then usually called split peas. Peas are legumes, which are plants that bear fruit in the form of pods. Of course sugar snap peas and mange tout contain edible pods, whereas green or garden peas have a much tougher outer pod which isn’t usually eaten.

Green peas are very often eaten from frozen and are a ‘staple’ vegetable that most of us have in the freezer. From the moment they are harvested, peas start to lose their vitamin C content and their natural sugar content starts to be converted into starch. As freezing usually takes place very quickly after the pods have been picked, their chemical changes will be minimal. Frozen peas still contain far more nutrients than tinned peas, providing plenty of fibre, folate (great for the heart) and the bone-loving mineral, phosphorus.

OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS OF PEAS

All richly coloured fruits and vegetables contain wonderful health benefits, in particular, a wealth of antioxidant nutrients to prevent disease and to help hold back the years. However, peas in particular also contain high concentrations of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These two nutrient jewels are known to protect eye health; they seem to block blue light from reaching the retina which can lead to macular degeneration. Moreover, these carotenoids promote good eye health generally and help maintain good eye sight long into old age.

Peas are also very low in fat, high in vitamin K (also good for the heart and bones), as well as energy-giving vitamin B1.

HOW TO ENJOY PEAS

Peas are most often eaten as a vegetable side dish, as are mange tout and sugar snaps, but they’re also great added to a summer frittata, which can be eaten hot or cold. Peas make wonderful soups either combined with ham or mint, and are an excellent addition to a summery seafood risotto. Sugar snaps are wonderful added to any green salad and mange tout is a great addition to stir-fries.

WHAT ABOUT SPLIT PEAS?

Split peas are actually dried peas; they split naturally once the skins are dried and removed and are often yellow in colour. They sometimes get forgotten when up against green peas, but they are still wonderfully nutritious. Clearly, enjoying fresh foods is certainly best but split peas provide really high amounts of fibre, so they help to keep the bowels moving.  Additionally, their high fibre content makes them very effective at reducing cholesterol levels. Furthermore, as with all legumes, they’re low on the glycaemic index meaning they keep blood sugar levels in check; this is especially helpful for those trying to lose some pounds.

Something about split peas which is not widely appreciated is that they are high in the trace mineral molybdenum, which helps detoxify sulphites. Unfortunately sulphites are widely used as preservatives in a variety of foods, particularly salads and prepared meats. People allergic to sulphites may suffer from headaches and other unpleasant ailments. However, having sufficient molybdenum stores in the body, will hopefully negate any of these problems.

WAYS WITH SPLIT PEAS

Split peas are great when used to make thick soups, stews, curries or broths containing strong flavoured foods such as chorizo. Importantly, as with other legumes, they are a very good vegetarian source of protein so can be used as a main meal in a dahl dish, for example.

Dahl can be made using tinned tomatoes, turmeric, onions, vegetable stock and curry leaves. It’s wonderful eaten on its own or as a side with some grilled fish or chicken.

So add more peas to your diet this season and enjoy the health benefits of this versatile vegetable.

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Strawberry season: discover the nutritional benefits of the Wimbledon snack

Woman smiling with a bowl of strawberries, holding on strawberry up to her mouth

Strawberry season is upon us and what a treat that is! All fruits and vegetables taste better when they’re in season and haven’t been shipped half way around the world before they reach our supermarket shelves!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some interesting facts about strawberries, plus some delicious recipe suggestions.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Strawberries are similar to Superman; they wear important items on the outside rather than the inside! Unlike any other fruit or vegetable, strawberries wear their seeds on the outside and there can sometimes be as many as 200 seeds on each strawberry!

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Strawberries have a higher vitamin C content than other berries and a serving of 100g contains only 27 calories. They are known to be low glycaemic which means they don’t have an adverse effect on blood sugar levels, making them a great choice if you’re trying for that summer body! Their GI is much lower than other fruits such as bananas, apricots, pineapples and watermelon, hence they’re a much better choice for a weight-loss campaign.

Their rich vitamin C content rates them very highly as being a great source of anti-aging and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. So they’ll help protect you against sun damage (don’t forget your sun cream too) and keep your joints supple if you’ve been overdoing the gardening or exercise during the sunny weather. However, the antioxidant protection of strawberries extends far beyond their high vitamin C content; they contain an impressive wealth of polyphenols (plant compounds with incredible health benefits), which gives them iconic status in the health stakes.

Interestingly, it would seem that top chefs are now using slightly under ripe strawberries in their dishes. Whilst this may be for aesthetic reasons, displaying both green and red colours, some of the health benefits of strawberries are actually lost when they’re too ripe. So it’s actually a good idea in terms of nutrition too.

TRADITIONAL USE

As with most foods, there is plenty of folklore surrounding strawberries. Even back in 1653, the famous herbalist Culpeper realised they provided many curative properties. For example, they were found to be a potent cleanser for the digestive system and also a mild tonic for the liver. Therefore, strawberries are great to include in a summer detoxification programme particularly if you’ve been enjoying a few outdoor parties! Plus they’ve also been used to help joint issues, particularly gout.

SOME DELICIOUS WAYS TO USE STRAWBERRIES

Obviously, they’re great simply served with a dash of cream or ice cream. However, if you want to enjoy them as part of your healthy diet, then they’re great whizzed into a wonderfully healthy smoothie, with blueberries, half an avocado and some coconut milk. Plus, if you’re looking for the ultimate power breakfast, then why not add some protein powder, such as pea or hemp, and it’ll keep you going through until lunch time.

Alternatively, you can actually make some relatively healthy strawberry ice cream using low fat condensed milk and 0% fat Greek yoghurt.

Strawberries work well in either sweet or savoury dishes. For example, strawberries make a welcome addition to a salad with feta cheese, bacon and toasted pine nuts. Traditionally strawberries work best in slightly decadent sweet dishes such as Eton mess or cheesecake and combine well with other fruits such as rhubarb in a pie or simply dipped into melted chocolate!

A LAST WORD

It’s worth noting that some people suffer from allergic reactions to strawberries and can develop hives. The rash is the result of excess histamine triggered by a substance in the fruit. This seems to be more common when the fruit hasn’t ripened sufficiently on the vine. This reaction happens pretty swiftly after you start eating them, so you’ll know they’re the culprit. However, the rash usually disappears quickly when you stop eating them.

Additionally, strawberries are high in salicylates so shouldn’t be eaten by people who are hyper-allergic to aspirin.

So enjoy strawberry season and try out these nutritious dishes.

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Five ways to keep your energy levels in tip-top shape!

Many people struggle with energy levels all year round.  Long work days, busy family lives and a hectic social life can all take their toll and leave you feeling drained.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips for meeting all that life demands and feel raring to go!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog picTHE ENERGY EQUATION

If you want to have abundant energy for life and to retain that energy rather than burning out, then there are a few simple nutritional tips you can follow:

Eat mainly slow-releasing carbohydrates, otherwise known as low glycaemic (or low GI), such as oats, wholegrains, quinoa and whole foods rather than anything ‘white’.  Foods such as white bread and pasta have been deprived of nutrients, particularly B vitamins which are needed for energy.  ‘White’ foods upset blood sugar balance also leading to low energy.

Ensure your diet is well-rounded giving you a good balance of essential nutrients. Look at the colour variety on your plate at every meal.  Think all the colours of the rainbow!  Obviously this won’t be achieved at every meal, but if you’ve got a colourful meal plate, you’ll certainly be getting the essential nutrients your body needs to create great energy.

Avoid stimulants.  This is key to feeling on top of the world.  Whilst caffeine provides a rapid energy surge, this will be quickly followed by a dip.  Swap to decaffeinated drinks and include ginseng tea to get your body buzzing.  Plus, we all know that tell-tale ‘morning after the night before’ feeling!  Too much alcohol, over an extended period, is just going to drain energy.  Try to have as many alcohol-free days as possible, particularly during the working week.

THE ANTI-STRESS DIET

It’s no secret that stress makes us feel tired. Plus, stress depletes essential nutrients the body needs to produce energy – it can be a vicious cycle.

Adopting a low glycaemic carbohydrate diet is key.  In order to keep the body’s natural stress response on an even keel, these need to be balanced with protein in the same meal or snack.  For example, fish with brown rice; a handful of nuts with an apple; porridge oats with some seeds.

The mineral magnesium is also known as an ‘anti-stress nutrient’.  It’s needed to support the adrenal glands but it’s also used up more quickly during stressful times. Try to eat five servings a day of dark green leafy and root vegetables such as broccoli, watercress, carrots, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spinach, green beans or peppers.  They can be raw or lightly cooked and you can happily use frozen if you’re not always able to buy fresh.

CELERY FOR ENERGY!

It’s all about nitrates!  Nitrates are naturally found in a number of foods and provide many health benefits.  In particular, they help to relax blood vessels and therefore improve blood flow.  This, in turn, creates more oxygen in the bloodstream, which gives you more energy!

If endurance exercise such as running is your thing, then consuming a couple of sticks of celery pre-workout is going to send energy levels soaring. However, if celery is not for you, then beetroot is also high in nitrates and provides equal benefits.  Try drinking a glass of beetroot juice before your morning run and you’ll float through the miles!

ENERGY NUTRIENTS

There are a number of nutrients that are really key in energy production.  For example, vitamin B6 and zinc help insulin to work correctly, which in turn helps to keep blood sugar levels in balance. The mineral chromium is needed to turn glucose into energy.  In fact the whole family of B vitamins (and there are eight in total), are essential for turning fuel or food into energy.

As with most things in life, nothing works in isolation, and it’s true with nutrients; trying to increase one nutrient over another can lead to imbalances.  Thankfully nature has made life much easier for us because the foods we’ve talked about all contain a good balance of these nutrients.  Therefore, if your diet is balanced and colourful, you will be getting what the body needs.

However, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral will help to top up levels and plug any dietary gaps.

COQ10 FOR TOP ENERGY

One nutrient that’s often forgotten is Co-enzyme Q10 (COQ10).  It plays a central role in energy metabolism because it’s present in every cell in the body.

There is no daily recommended amount for CoQ10, hence it can be missed off the list of essential nutrients. However, it is great for increasing flagging energy levels.  CoQ10 is found in sardines, mackerel, pork, spinach and walnuts, but not in large amounts.  Therefore, supplementing with around 30 mg of CoQ10 daily is really going to help.

So with some small adjustments to your diet you can keep your energy levels in tip top shape. If you’re well fuelled, your body will do the rest!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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