Holiday nutrition: delicious European dishes to try this summer

A beach restaurant overlooking the sea

With the holiday season in full flow, many of us will be looking forward to some delicious new dishes to try at our holiday destination. Eating local fayre is an important part of any holiday and it’s always good to try local or new tastes.

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There is plenty of delicious and nutritious food on offer around Europe – be brave with your food choices and you’ll be rewarded!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite dishes from around Europe.

Menemen in Turkey

I always like to start the day right on holiday and this meal really does the trick! Although it’s not always seen on restaurant menus, it’s a quick breakfast dish that’s basically up-market scrambled eggs. For me, eggs are always the best breakfast because the protein keeps me going for longer so I’m not tempted to keep snacking through the morning.

Menemen Turkish egg breakfast dish

Even better, menemen is cooked with onions, peppers and oregano. This means I’m enjoying a great taste, some additional vitamin C from the peppers to keep my immune system strong and digestive support from the oregano. Oregano can help to keep nasty tummy bugs at bay – just what’s needed whilst on holiday.

Gazpacho in Spain

Whilst cold soup may not appeal to everyone, this traditional dish from southern Spain definitely needs to be tasted to be fully appreciated. It’s essentially a tomato soup with garlic, onions, red peppers, vegetable stock and plenty of olive oil. The key to having the best tasting gazpacho is to use vine-ripened tomatoes (even better if you’ve got home-grown ones).

Gazpacho

This dish is super-healthy as tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Red peppers contain some of the highest amounts of vitamin C of all vegetables, and garlic and olive oil are both great for a healthy heart. Plus it can be made really quickly and stored in the fridge for a few days. Whilst you’ll certainly be wanting to be make your own on your return, traditional food always seems to taste even better when enjoyed on its home soil!

Moules in France

No visit to France would be complete without a bowl of moules mariniere (mussels) served with some fresh crusty bread, to soak up all the lovely juice. The traditional way of preparing French moules is with onion, garlic, chopped parsley, some white wine and a little double cream.

A dish of moules mariniere French Mussels

Whilst I absolutely love this dish, I also know just how nutrient dense it is. Interestingly, mussels have the most impressive nutrient profile of all shellfish, being a fantastic source of protein and low in fat. Plus they contain plenty of energising B vitamins, vitamin C and iron. Parsley is great for liver health, so you don’t need to feel too guilty about enjoying these with a small glass of white wine too.

Dolmades in Greece

I’ve often struggled in Greece with food that is overly heavy and fat-laden, particularly moussaka. Thankfully, there are actually plenty of other healthy and fresh dishes to be enjoyed around the mainland and islands. And if all else fails, then traditional Greek salad with feta cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes, olives, cucumber and onions never fails to delight!

Sufed vine leaves from Greece

However, a real Greek treat is dolmades which are grape or vine leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, mint, onions, dill and lemon juice. They are very time-consuming to make so I’m not sure I would ever try them at home, which is another reason to enjoy them, generally as part of a meze plate, whilst away.

The combination of the varied herbs makes for a great taste but they also help the digestion, which is often helpful whilst on holiday.

Tagliatelle marinara in Italy

Whilst I would generally steer away from eating pasta in the UK, mainly because it can taste pretty bland, in Italy pasta takes on a whole new meaning! In fact, every trip to Italy should feature trying an array of freshly made pasta dishes with range of delicious sauces.

A plate of tagliatelle marinara

One of my favourites is tagliatelle with a marinara sauce. This is basically a very tasty tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic and olive oil and it really makes the pasta come alive. Clearly, the Italians love their sauces, and as delicious as they are, the creamy-based ones are very high in fat and calories. So enjoy these in moderation and instead opt for something a little less calorific so you’ll be able to enjoy pasta on more days throughout your holiday.

So enjoy eating abroad this summer and try as many local dishes as possible to really tickle the taste buds and boost your nutrition at the same time.

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Top nutrition tips for a delicious summer picnic

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

It’s that time of year when we should be enjoying being in the great outdoors with a picnic! And your picnic basket certainly doesn’t need to be filled with lifeless sandwiches.

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Think colourful, appetising and, most importantly, healthy foods!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy and tasty picnic ideas.

Energising salad

Whether you’ve woken up and decided ‘today is the day’ for a picnic you certainly don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen preparing food. You want to get out there and enjoy the day. A salad will help keep you energised for the odd ball game during the day, and is a great choice.

A quinoa salad with vegetables

As with any meal or dish, the more colour you can inject, the better and this salad is no exception. This one has a base of protein-rich quinoa (try to get as many colour varieties as possible of quinoa. Add broad beans (also known as lima beans) which are packed with energising folate. Then mix some spring onions, chilli, chopped celery, mint leaves and chopped parsley with some tasty French dressing.

This is a really energising and sustaining salad, loaded with antioxidants but also containing two healthy herbs; mint and parsley both help digestion and detoxification.

Wraps

Whilst sandwiches may become limp and unappetising, wraps are much more substantial and are easier to transport. Plus, you can pack a variety of different fillings to suit all tastes. A really nice option is falafel, sliced beetroot, feta cheese and crispy lettuce. It’s a really colourful wrap that’s packed with liver-loving beetroot and protein-rich feta and falafel. It’s also great for any vegetarians in the group.

Falafel wraps

Another wonderful alternative wrap recipe is smoked salmon, egg and spinach with a little mayonnaise. Not only is this one really quick to prepare, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Smoked salmon contains plenty of brain-loving omega-3s, plus spinach is a great source of energising iron as well as some B-vitamins. And even though you’ll be out in the sunshine (hopefully), egg yolks are a source of vitamin D which will help top up levels in the body. We’re finding out more and more about the absolute need for plenty of vitamin D so use every opportunity you can to top up.

Colourful skewers

Here’s another colourful picnic idea that’s really quick to prepare and won’t spoil in transportation. Why not take on an Italian theme for this one? Cherry tomatoes work really well with mozzarella, cheese, olives, basil leaves,  tomatoes and perhaps a little folded Parma ham.

Tomato mozzarella and basil skewers

Tomatoes are full of the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient meaning it’s much better absorbed when eaten with a fatty food such as mozzarella and Parma ham. Additionally olives are high in monounsaturated fats which are very beneficial for the heart. So, if you’re picnic takes on a more active theme, you’ll be protecting your heart health both from the exercise and your menu plan!

Flapjacks

It’s always nice to enjoy a sweet treat on a picnic and flapjacks don’t need to be sugar-laden. This recipe contains some energising oats as well as plenty of seeds-containing omega-3s. You can use agave syrup to sweeten which is still a form of sugar but is higher in fructose than glucose so won’t give you a dramatic sugar-rush.

Homemade flapjacks

Porridge oats work really well mixed with seeds, chopped dates and apricots, chopped hazelnuts, a little butter and some raisins. These flapjacks also provide energising snacks throughout the week and will become a lunch-box favourite if you’re running short of ideas!

And to drink …..

Finally, you need to think about what to drink and what better than some delicious elderflower cordial? It’s one of those drinks that everyone can enjoy and whilst it contains some sugar, it doesn’t need to be overly sweetened. Elderflowers are in abundance on trees right now, so grab around 30 heads, pour over boiling water, add some lemon and orange slices and a little sugar and leave overnight.

Homemade elderflower cordial

Elderflowers have been used traditionally for many years as a general health tonic, to help digestion and to soothe a cold and unblock sinuses.

So enjoy a healthy, fun-filled picnic as part of your day in the great outdoors!

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The health benefits of marvellous melons!

Melons are deliciously refreshing fruits to enjoy in the summer, either on their own or as part of a colourful fruit salad. Packed with nutrients, and full of colour and flavour, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer whets the appetite for three tasty varieties – watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew.

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THE BASICS

Melons come from the same family as squash – part of the gourd family – and were first cultivated around 4,000 years ago, originally in south-east Asia.  They tend to fall into two categories: Citrillus lanatus or watermelons and Cucumus melo which includes honeydew and cantaloupe.

Unlike bananas, melons don’t get any sweeter after they’ve been picked.  To judge if they’re ripe enough to eat, you should tap watermelons and listen for a dull sound, whereas honeydews should be just slightly soft when pressing the skin.  Cantaloupes should give off a strong, fruity aroma.

Melons, as with a number of other fruits and vegetables, are especially good for alkalising the body.  The body is naturally more alkaline than acidic (around Ph 7) therefore, it’s much healthier to maintain its natural state.  Stress and a very high protein diet can cause more acidity and also problems with acid reflux, therefore melons can help to restore natural balance.

Melons are actually digested quite quickly and certainly quicker than a number of other fruits.  For this reason, they’re generally better eaten alone if you suffer from sluggish digestion.  However, they do of course, taste delicious when mixed with other fruits and generally don’t cause any digestive problems for most people.

Summer is certainly the best time of year for eating all varieties of melons; off-season they can be hard and slightly tasteless, so enjoy right now!

WATERMELON

Although containing slightly less nutrients than its counterparts, watermelon is fantastic at rehydrating the body, particularly during the summer months.  In fact, just a two-cup serving of watermelon provides enough daily potassium to keep the body properly hydrated at a cellular level.  This will help to avoid muscle cramps, maintain energy levels but also help to stimulate the kidneys to work more efficiently.  The effect will also ensure your ‘waterworks’ function nicely!

One lesser-known fact about watermelon is that it has been called ‘nature’s natural Viagra’, and for very good reason!  Watermelon is high in citrulline, which is converted in the body to the amino acid, arginine, which helps to dilate blood vessels.  This in turn, can support erectile function.

Watermelons also contain more lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) than tomatoes.  Because lycopene is fat-soluble, it’s always best eaten with healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and live yoghurt or with a cheese such as feta.

CANTALOUPE MELON

Cantaloupe holds its wonderful health benefits within its beautiful orange-coloured flesh. It’s the orange colour that provides one of its most important nutrients – beta carotene. Cantaloupe also contains a range of carotenoids which are all powerful antioxidants.  They have been linked to the prevention of free radical damage to cells which leads to some of our most common degenerative diseases.

Cantaloupes are actually the most nutritious of all melon varieties with a 100 g portion providing around half of our recommended intake of vitamin C.  Additionally, they’re a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids which are particularly beneficial for the eyesight.  Cantaloupes are also a good source of potassium and other electrolytes, making them a great post-exercise snack after you’ve worked out!

HONEYDEW MELON

This is the melon most often paired with Parma ham; the salty taste of the ham and the sweetness of the melon make a perfect partnership! Honeydews are the sweetest of all melons when ripe, plus, the alkalinity of the melon helps to balance the acidity of the ham.  They’re also popular in salads and other desserts.

Honeydews are a perfect fresh summer treat and work particularly well in smoothies or as an accompaniment to walnuts and chicken in a salad. Nutritionally, they don’t provide quite as much vitamin C as cantaloupes, but still provide pretty good amounts.

Honeydews also provide a good balance of both soluble and insoluble fibre (and the body needs both).  Soluble fibre helps regulate digestion and insoluble fibre is the roughage the body needs to keep the bowels moving regularly.

So whichever variety you choose, make sure your summer meal plans include some marvellous melons!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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