Veganuary 2022: top 5 vegan foods to try

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

Veganuary has now become the ‘buzz’ word for January!  Going vegan or flexi vegan for January – or even longer – is increasingly popular as we continue to recognise its benefits to health. 

However, with the greater availability of pre-packed vegan and vegetarian meals in the supermarkets, it’s not surprising that people become confused about what’s healthy and what’s not.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five vegan foods to make choices so much easier.

Quinoa

Quinoa is increasingly becoming one of the world’s heathiest foods and not just with vegans.  Quinoa is high in protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, is gluten-free and contains a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

One of the biggest watchpoints for vegans is ensuring you eat sufficient protein, and this means including all nine essential amino acids.  These can’t be produced in the body, therefore need to be eaten daily. Quinoa ticks this box, although, as with all plant proteins, it’s slightly low in a few of the amino acids, hence the need for variety.  That said, it contains a very respectable 8 grams of protein per 185 grams of cooked quinoa.

Its impressive nutrient profile, especially of bone loving magnesium and phosphorus, plus its high antioxidant content, more that warrants its title of ‘superfood’.

Fermented soy

Soy can be very confusing as not all products are created equal! You might see soya lecithin or soya protein isolate in a number of products, especially protein powders.  Whilst foods containing these do provide protein, they don’t have the fabulous health benefits of fermented soy.

Teryaki,Tempeh,With,Rice,And,Roasted,Vegetables

 

Tofu, tempeh, miso, natto, tamari, and kombucha are where it’s at for the real health benefits.  This is because fermented soy has a very positive effect on the gut bacteria (also known as the gut microbiome), which is so essential for overall health. 

Whilst other soy products do provide some health benefits, try to include fermented soy as much as possible.  Tofu and tempeh make great additions to any stir fry dishes.

Legumes

You may have heard the word but what exactly are they? Beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas is the answer.  These foods are great sources of protein, contain plenty of bone-loving calcium, and fibre as well as energising B-vitamins and iron.  And if you’re looking to lose a few kilos during January, legumes can really help as they’re great for blood sugar balance, being low on the glycaemic index.

Legumes,,Lentils,,Chikpea,And,Beans,Assortment,In,Different,Bowls,On

We know from much research that vegan diets are very heart-healthy which is partly down to the quantity of legumes frequently consumed. It seems they help lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol and general inflammation, all risk factors for heart disease.

Great recipes to try are Hearty Lentil Soup, Chickpea Salad, Black Bean Burgers or Pasta with Chickpeas – all totally delicious and super-healthy too!

Flaxseeds

Want to give your heart some further love during Veganuary?  Then sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseeds onto your porridge, overnight oats or yoghurt. Flaxseeds are a great source of the heart-healthy omega-3 fats which are essential and must be taken into the diet very regularly.  The omega-3s are also needed for hormone balance, and eye, brain, skin, and joint health. 

Whole,And,Ground,Brown,Flax,Seeds,Or,Linseeds,On,Wooden

It’s always best to use the ground flaxseeds rather than whole ones (often referred to as linseeds) as they need to be chewed to release the lignan content. Whole linseeds tend to go in and come out whole which means the body isn’t gaining all their health benefits.

Nutritional yeast

It might not sound very appetising but if you think of nutritional yeast as a healthy substitute for Parmesan cheese, you’ve got a great alternative. Nutritional yeast has a slightly cheesy, nutty flavour, is generally found in powdered or flaked form, and is therefore very easy to incorporate into loads of dishes.

Nutritional,Yeast,,Vegan,Cheese.

Importantly, nutritional yeast is rich in vitamin B12, often deficient in vegan diets as it is generally only found in animal produce. Plus, it’s loaded with other B-vitamins so your energy levels will be getting a great boost too!

So why not make this Veganuary the healthiest yet and also continue to add these top vegan food to your diet throughout the year.

Stay well.

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Selfcare: top nutrients to improve your wellbeing

shutterstock_221914774 get organised 4 healthy lifestyle Sept18

We know we need to take care of ourselves, both inside and out, but with so much information out there it can be difficult to know what to focus on or what to eat for the best results.

When it comes to selfcare, what we eat affects our overall health, including mental wellbeing, the skin, and everything else besides.

This World Kindness Day Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top nutrients to include in your diet to support your own selfcare and provide head-to-toe wellbeing.

 

Vitamin D

There has been so much written and talked about the wonders of vitamin D over the last few years, and especially since the start of the pandemic. There is a wealth of research about vitamin D and its essential role in the health of the immune system, but the research evolved even further during Covid. There has been an inextricable link found between people who fared worse after catching Covid if their blood levels of vitamin D were low.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Vitamin D plays an essential role in the formation and health of the bones and teeth, mainly because it helps calcium to do its work in this area. However, research has also found that people with low vitamin D levels can struggle with their mood, even more proof of its essential role in our overall wellbeing.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

Whilst vitamin D is found in certain foods including oily fish with bones, mushrooms, milk, meat, eggs and fortified foods, the amounts are not sufficient to support the body’s needs. The main source of vitamin D is from sunlight on the skin, but this is obviously sparce during the winter months and the body doesn’t store enough from the summer. Supplementation is therefore essential, with Public Health England recommending at least 10 micrograms daily but many of us need much more.  If you find your muscles and joints are aching or your mood is low, chances are you’re in need of a vitamin D top-up.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for the nervous system but also for producing red blood cells. It is also important for the immune system and for producing energy. However, it’s only found in animal produce, hence with the rise in vegetarianism and veganism, many people are lacking. You may find that you struggle with low energy or anxiety if you’re low in vitamin B12.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

Such is the importance of Vitamin B12, there is a deficiency disease called pernicious anaemia where the body literally can’t produce sufficient amounts. Symptoms include low energy and problems with the nervous system.

It’s also logical to suggest that vegans and vegetarians may be missing out. Supplementation is therefore beneficial. For those who eat animal produce then most of these foods provide good sources, but offal is especially high in vitamin B12.

Magnesium

Magnesium is one of those minerals that spreads its influence widely throughout the body! Although around 60% of magnesium’s concentration is within the bones, there’s also much found in the muscles with the remainder in the soft tissues and body fluids.

Magnesium is really important within those organs that use the most energy such as the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys.  It’s no wonder then that if we’re not having enough within the diet then insomnia, muscle cramps, low energy, brain fog and high blood pressure can be a problem. Magnesium is also important for mental wellbeing and helps create feelings of calm within the body.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Whole grains, beans and green leafy vegetables are some of the best sources of magnesium.

So, take care of your mind and body by including these important nutrients in your diet as much as possible and consider supplementation if you think you may be lacking.

Stay well.

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October eating: what’s in season right now

Vegan,Diet.,Autumn,Harvest.,Healthy,,Clean,Food,And,Eating,Concept.

Eating food at the time of year nature intended is always best.  It makes sense that nature provides us with what the body needs at the right time of year, which includes fruits and vegetables.

As seasons change, so do the body’s requirements for different foods.  And what nature provides in October helps support our nutrition and overall health.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top fruits and vegetables this month.

Kale

A member of the cabbage family, it is often referred to as collard or curly kale and is also home-grown in the UK. Importantly, kale contains some of the amazing compounds found in broccoli and Brussels sprouts that may block the action of certain harmful carcinogens.

shutterstock_192761054 bowl of kale Apr15

Kale contains a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals including immune-boosting vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate, and iron, and is one of the richest sources of calcium of all vegetables. It also contains compounds known as indoles which help liver detoxification, so it’s a great vegetable to be eating as we approach the festive season.

shutterstock_488572450-eggs-and-kale-nov16

Kale needs to be cooked well (but not overcooked) otherwise it may be tough.  It can be steamed, simmered or sauteed and stock can be added for some extra flavour.  However, it works really well with strong flavours such as smoked haddock, in a stir fry with garlic, ginger and chilli or in a Caldo Verde soup (a traditional Portuguese recipe), with chorizo, onions, potatoes and garlic.

Swede

Proof that nature intended us to eat swedes at this time of year when the body is looking for additional warmth, is that they’re especially hardy and survive harsh frosts.

Freshly,Picked,Swedes

A member of the healthy cruciferous family of vegetables, swede also contains highly protective indoles which are especially great for balancing oestrogen.  As such, they may well be helpful for women going through menopause.

Swede provides a great source of fibre, plenty of vitamin C and bone-building magnesium, manganese, and calcium, so is a great all-round provider of nutrients.

Often confused with the root vegetable turnip, swede makes an equally tasty vegetable side, mashed with butter and pepper, or added to stews or soups for additional delicious flavour.

Fried,Dices,Of,Carrot,And,Swede,,In,A,Pan,+

Swedes work really well mashed with other root vegetables, especially carrots. They are also great cubed, roasted and sprinkled with cumin, or with leek and potato in a cheese gratin.

Plums

With over 2,000 varieties of plums to choose from, there’ll never be a shortage of colours available ranging from light green to yellow to dark red.

A bowl full of plums

The beautiful colours of plums are responsible for delivering an amazing array of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, which are protective of the aging process. Additionally, plums contain one of our key fat-soluble antioxidants, vitamin E, which is great for the skin and heart.  Unusually though, for a fruit, plums also contain tryptophan, an amino acid which helps produces serotonin, our happy hormone.

When plums are dried, they are known as prunes, and contain a higher content of fibre, hence they have been used traditionally for many years to treat constipation.  Equally, prunes work really well in many meat and game dishes, and are often used in traditional French recipes.

Close,Up,Of,Fresh,Juicy,Grilled,Beef,Steak,Served,With

Whilst plums can be eaten raw, with the skin peeled, they work well in sweet or savoury dishes.  They can be simply stewed with a little sweetening agent and used on cereals or porridge or used in a simple crumble with cinnamon.  They are equally delicious in a braised pork dish with apples, potatoes, garlic and thyme. There are endless possibilities and a myriad of health benefits to eating plums right now.

So, enjoy seasonal eating this October and reap the many health and nutritional benefits.

Stay well.

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Support your heart health with these five vitamins and minerals

Blueberries in a heart shape

It beats around 100,00 times a day and is a truly amazing organ!  Yes, your heart is incredible, and it needs taking care of just like the rest of the body. 

When it comes to heart-health, there are some key vitamins and minerals that are essential to keep it beating long and strong.

This National Cholesterol Month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five key vitamins and minerals for heart health.

Vitamin C

When it comes to the heart, vitamin C is certainly an essential nutrient. As one of our key antioxidant nutrients, vitamin C protects the heart from all that life throws at it.

We all have fats circulating within the blood stream.  However, when these levels are elevated (generally caused by a diet high in fat and sugar), these fats (also known as triglycerides) start to attach themselves to the artery wall. Over time this can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack, as blood flow is blocked. Additionally, fats oxidise and harden the arteries causing a condition known as atherosclerosis.  Furthermore, cholesterol, another type of fat, can be dangerous when not dealt with correctly within the body.

shutterstock_362885486 vitamin C Jan17

Vitamin C not only protects the arteries from damaging free radicals, but it also helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, thereby giving the heart a really great fighting chance of being healthy. Interestingly, foods rich in vitamin C such as berry fruits are also high in plant compounds called polyphenols.  These also provide antioxidants and wonderful benefits to the heart.  Ami to eat a handful of berries every day.

Vitamin B3

Part of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B3 is a key heart nutrient because its helps raise levels of the healthy HDL cholesterol, whilst reducing overall cholesterol readings. Just like all good families, the Bs do work together but each one has its own specific claim to fame.  That’s not to say the other don’t also have a role to play in heart health (see below).

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

The good news is that vitamin B3 is found in a variety of animal and plant foods including beef, liver, fish, eggs, avocados, whole grains and nuts and seeds.  Oily fish also contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats so eating some portions of salmon or mackerel regularly, will help the heart all ways round.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a key heart mineral, alongside potassium (see below).  Magnesium essentially has two main roles to play. It works as a muscle relaxant, helping relax the heart muscle and arteries thereby keeping blood pressure in the healthy range. Secondly it is a key electrolyte, balancing nerve transmissions throughout cells. Magnesium’s role is primarily enabling essential enzyme reactions that have a direct effect on heart and blood vessel health.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is frequently deficient in both men and women due to poor dietary intake.  It’s predominantly found in whole grains and green leafy veg, hence it’s low in the typical Western diet.

Potassium

Just like magnesium, potassium is a key electrolyte but works primarily with sodium helping maintain water balance and the correct acidity levels in the blood.  It also helps regulate nerve and muscle activity.  These are all essential for keeping the heart beating 24/7 as well as maintaining blood pressure at the right levels.

shutterstock_651019798 honeydew melon Aug17

The great news is that potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables and is especially high in bananas, melons, apricots, grapefruit, and sweet potatoes.  It’s great to include as much colour variety in the diet as possible so you’ll also be getting that all-important vitamin C.

Vitamin B12

Another key member of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 is as essential but works in a different way to some of the other Bs. Vitamin B12 is needed for the process of methylation, an essential bodily process that happens thousands of times each day.  It helps control production of a toxic amino acid metabolite called homocysteine; high levels have often been associated with cases of heart disease.  B12 works alongside folate and vitamin B6 in this process.

A range of foods high in protein

Deficiency of B12 can cause pernicious anaemia (one symptom being heart palpitations) but can also bring on extreme tiredness.  Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in the body so there are times when the GP will recommend injections.  However, for most people, eating plenty in the diet is generally sufficient to keep everything working well.  The only downside is that B12 is generally only found in animal foods, so I would recommend that if you are vegetarian or vegan get your levels checked as you may need to supplement.

Celebrate all that is amazing about your beating heart: take care of it well and it will love you for many years to come.

Stay well.

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Managing your blood pressure: top dietary tips to reduce yours

Woman having her blood pressure taken

Having raised or high blood pressure can significantly increase our risk factors for cardiovascular problems, especially heart attacks and strokes.  However, it can also cause a myriad of other issues and may even affect the eyes.

It’s very important to try to keep blood pressure readings within normal ranges for your age.  But thankfully making some diet and lifestyle changes can have a significant effect.

This Know Your Numbers’ week, clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for reducing blood pressure naturally.

Grab some garlic

Garlic is one of the most effective botanicals for reducing blood pressure.  Try to include garlic in your cooking as much as possible; it’s also good to take as a supplement.

shutterstock_552242461 garlic Aug17

Garlic really enhances a wealth of dishes, whether they be veggie sides, fish, meat, beans, pasta, or rice dishes.  And green leafy vegetables are also great for helping reduce blood pressure, partly down to their high magnesium content.  Why not stir fry spinach, broccoli, or kale with garlic?

Go for salmon

Salmon contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids which are known to help reduce blood pressure.  However, not all salmon is created equal!  It’s important to try and find wild salmon, which will always look pinker in colour than farmed salmon.  This is down to the natural astaxanthin, an alga that the wild salmon naturally feed on, and which is one of the most powerful antioxidants known to man.  Hence this will also be helpful for reducing blood pressure.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

The UK Government recommends one to two portions of oily fish per week (which we are generally not achieving as a nation).  However, if you have high blood pressure then aim for three to four per week.  Sardines, mackerel, and tuna are also good sources of omega-3s.  However, smoked salmon is high in salt so probably best avoided, as excess salt can lead to higher blood pressure.

Snack on bananas

Bananas are high in potassium which is needed to keep blood pressure in good balance.  Potassium works alongside magnesium and calcium in regulating blood pressure.

Whole bananas and diced banana

The good news is that most fruits and vegetables contain potassium, but bananas, melons, avocados, and apricots are especially helpful.  And they can all easily be incorporated into the daily diet in meals or snacks.  Smashed avocado on seeded sourdough bread makes one of the best starts to the day!

Eat brown not white

Whole grain foods (often referred to as ‘brown’) are loaded with fibre, unlike their refined ‘white’ counterparts.  For example, brown rice retains the outer fibrous husk, whereas it’s been removed in the refining process in white rice.  And the same follows for wheat-based pasta.

shutterstock_585346478 whole wheat pasta June17

Importantly, the fibre in whole grains helps reduce blood pressure.  We need around 30 grams of fibre per day, which is sadly lacking in the typical Western diet.  Whole grain rice, brown basmati rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, buckwheat, millet, and oats are the order of the day if you want to keep blood pressure in check.

Avoid processed meats

There are lots of good reasons for keeping intake of bacon, ham, salamis, meat sausages and other processed versions to an absolute minimum.  These foods are often high in histamine which can raise blood pressure.  Additionally, they are known to raise levels of fats in the blood which will have a negative effect on blood pressure, plus are high in salt, another potential trigger.

Raw,Uncooked,Seabass,Fish,With,Vegetables,,Grains,,Herbs,And,Spices

Instead, try to stick to a more plant-based diet including plenty of whole grains, nuts (especially walnuts) and seeds, fruits and vegetables, legumes with some oily fish.  The typical Mediterranean diet is known to be super heart healthy and will help reduce blood pressure.

It’s not just your blood pressure that will benefit from making a few changes; you’re helping to future-proof your health too! Find out more about Know Your Numbers week by visiting the Blood Pressure Uk Website.

Stay well.

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How to pack a healthy picnic

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

It’s a National Picnic Week which means it’s a great time to celebrate everything we love about picnics as well as spending time outdoors in green spaces.

There’s always a great temptation to pack too many ‘treats’ into the picnic basket but there are some great ways to get nutrition without missing out on flavours.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy picnic swaps, but which don’t swap out the taste!

Swap white for brown

This includes using brown bread or wraps rather than white if you’re packing sandwiches, but also wholemeal pasta rather than white. White bread and pasta have been refined, meaning much of the healthy fibre, essential for good digestion,  been stripped away. So too have many of the nutrients, especially energising B-vitamins and essential minerals such as chromium.

Sandwich,With,Ham,tomato,,Cucumber,And,Arugula,On,The,Wooden,Cutting

Brown pasta has a much fuller flavour and more of a texture than white.  And pasta salads are great for taking on picnics.  Why not try beetroot and cold poached salmon wholemeal pasta, adding some avocado, cucumber, dill and a little natural yoghurt.  This is a really delicious super-food pasta salad.

Swap potato crisps for veggie crisps

Most picnic baskets include crisps in some shape or size. Unfortunately, potato crisps are generally high in fat and low in nutrients.  So, why not swap potato crisps for veggie crisps? Think beetroot, parsnip, or carrot (or all three?) – there are a lot of veggie ‘crisp’ options available in supermarkets.

Home made kale chips in a dish

Even better, make your own kale crisps.  Kale belongs to the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family which are high in heart-loving vitamin K, relaxing magnesium and are loaded with antioxidants.  Simply pull off the leaves and rub them in a little olive oil and salt. Then roast in the oven for around 10 minutes and once cooled, you’ll have some of the healthiest veggie crisps to take on your picnic.

Swap ham for turkey

If you’re taking sandwiches, then what you put into them can make all the difference.  Ham sandwiches are often popular in the picnic basket.  However, ham is a processed meat and generally also contains high levels of preservatives.  Ham also contains saturated fats which are best minimised in the diet.

Grilled,Turkey,Breast,With,Salad

A far better choice is to use turkey meat instead. Turkey is very low in fat and high in protein (at 31 g per 100g, more than chicken). Why not cook up some turkey breast steaks the day before, which can be quickly grilled.  If you cook a few extra, they’re delicious eaten with Jersey Royal potatoes (now in season) and salad.  For the picnic, turkey steaks can be chopped, mixed with a little pesto and tomatoes, and made into delicious brown bread sandwiches.

Swap cheese spread for nut butters

There is a plethora of ready-made cheese spreads in supermarkets.  Whilst they might taste good, they are high in fat and are not especially nutrient dense.  Why not swap these for some delicious omega-3 laden almond butter.  Omega-3 fats are essential and whilst we need to be mindful of the amount of saturated fats we consume, the omegas are seriously deficient within the UK population and are essential for the heart, brain, eyes, skin and hormones.

Nut butter on rye bread

Almond butter is also high in protein so will keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Why not add some watercress (one of the healthiest salad vegetables around) for colour and a nutrient blast?

Swap fizzy drinks for kombucha

Fizzy drinks are always popular on picnics.  However, they are certainly not the healthiest of drinks.  Sugar-free versions are packed with sweeteners which have a detrimental effect on mood, but also encourage cravings for sweet food so you still end up eating all the wrong things!

Kombucha,Second,Fermented,Fruit,Tea,With,Different,Flavorings.,Healthy,Natural

Kombucha, however, is a great alternative. It’s a fermented, lightly effervescent, green or black tea drink, which is low in sugar but high in health benefits.  Fermented foods and drinks provide probiotics which are great for feeding the good bacteria and are essential for healthy digestion, good mood and effective weight management. Once you’ve tried them, there’ll be no turning back!

So, get outdoors and celebrate National Picnic Week with these super-healthy food swaps.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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The importance of fruits and vegetables: how to eat more every day

A range of fruits and vegetables

We all know that fruits and vegetables are vitally important to include in the daily diet.  There are many great reasons for this but primarily they are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, so it makes sense to eat them as often as possible. 

Unfortunately, we know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that only around 27% of the UK population are managing even the basic minimum of five portions per day.  However, there are some easy ways of getting more into your diet.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for including fruits and vegetables at every mealtime.

Boost your Breakfast

We all want to feel energised at the beginning of the day and having the right fuel can really help set you on a good path.  It’s important to include protein at breakfast time to get blood sugar and energy levels in good balance throughout the day.  However, a jump start of more energy is always welcomed!

Spinach and mushroom om

How about cooking up a delicious spinach omelette with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes?  This meal is super-charged because spinach is rich in both energising B vitamins and iron.  Plus, mushrooms contain some immune-boosting vitamin D (although supplementation is still needed) and tomatoes are rich in antioxidants so help shield the body from damaging free radicals.

A green smoothie

However, if you prefer a fruitier start to the day, you can still enjoy the health benefits from spinach but in a delicious green banana smoothie.  Bananas are loaded with energising vitamin B6 and why not add some ginger and mango which are both great for the immune system. Coconut water is high in potassium which is great for the heart and you can even throw in a few kale leaves for an additional nutrient burst.

Load up at lunch time

When we’re busy, on the run or in and out of zoom or team meetings, lunch can sometimes get forgotten.  We should always remember that each meal is a time for re-fuelling and getting valuable nutrients into the body.  If we miss a meal, we miss out big time!

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Lunch does not need to be complicated and time-consuming to prepare it just needs to be colourful.  How about poaching a piece of salmon the night before and putting it into a colourful salad?  Whilst salad vegetables are high in water, so not always the highest in nutrients, if you include an avocado, you’ll not only feel fuller for longer, you’ll be getting the benefits of Vitamin E for your skin and immune system.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Alternatively, you can cook up some quinoa the day before and again add loads of salad vegetables or pre-roasted veggies of your choice to the mix.  The more colour you include, the greater the amount of plant antioxidants which help support immunity, protect the body against disease and keep us looking young and fresh.

Dive in at Dinner

There’s been an enormous upsurge in people ordering in meals from fast food apps during lockdown.  Unfortunately, we know from statistical data that this has also led to a prevalence of nutrient deficiencies, which can make us more prone to illness.

Salmon stir fry

A take-away or delivery meal is no bad thing occasionally, but nothing beats home-cooked food for the wealth of nutrients it provides.  And it doesn’t need to be complicated either! Plan a stir fry which includes chopped peppers, onion, carrots, baby sweetcorn, chopped broccoli and mange tout. Add flavourings such as soy sauce, coriander, and sweet chilli sauce and a protein source of choice for a quick, colourful and super nutritious dinner.

shutterstock_245873155-cruciferous-vegetables-jan17

Each fruit or vegetable brings a wealth of nutrients to the table: variety is key, and the body gets a balanced spread.  In terms of vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and pak choi) are extremely nutrient dense, and especially rich in magnesium which we know to be deficient in the average diet.  Magnesium is essential for so many bodily processes including for hormone balancing, and good nerve and brain function. Cruciferous vegetables are also rich in fibre which helps to keep the bowels working smoothly.

And if vegetables really aren’t your bag, then they can always be ‘disguised’ in dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, pasta sauces, curries and other spicy dishes.

So, try to include as many fruits and vegetables in your daily diet as possible – your body will definitely thank you for it.

Stay well.

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Five nutrients to maximise your health this spring

Fruit and vegetables in the shape of a

It’s National Nutrition Month highlighting how important good nutrition is for our overall wellbeing. Eating the right foods containing the right nutrients can really help us to reach optimal health. 

Whilst the body needs 45 different nutrients daily (including water), there are some that really lead the field.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, share fives of the best.

Magnesium

Whilst all nutrients work synergistically, some get involved more than others and magnesium is one such mineral. It is essential for energy production, protein formation and cellular replication (aiding cell renewal) and is involved in 300 different enzyme reactions: it’s certainly busy!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is primarily found in bones and muscles, as well as soft tissue and body fluids (it is a key electrolyte).  Interestingly, whilst it’s needed as part of our energy-producing mechanisms, magnesium is also known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ helping rest and relaxation. The truth is that magnesium helps the body’s metabolic processes in terms of long-term energy production rather than creating a quick burst.  It’s also essential for the proper functioning of the entire cardiovascular system and can help manage high blood pressure or issues with heartbeat irregularities.

Green vegetables and whole grains are your friends when it comes to upping magnesium levels – the more the better!

Zinc

Zinc competes with magnesium in terms of how busy it is in the body: it is responsible for over 200 different enzyme reactions and is found in every cell.  It’s also essential for the proper action of many hormones throughout the body but tends to gain fame for its essential work within the immune system, keeping white blood cell levels in good order.

Zinc is also essential for both men and women in terms of fertility; women prior and during pregnancy to ensure proper foetal development and in men for testosterone production and sperm formation and motility.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Unfortunately, it’s very often deficient in both men and women, partly because good food sources are seafood and nuts and seeds, which many people don’t eat.  Oysters are the shining light as the best source of zinc, but whole grain foods such as oats, buckwheat and whole-wheat bread still contain acceptable amounts.

Vitamin C

One of our key antioxidant vitamins, it’s also probably the best known.  Vitamin C shot to fame when our famous sailor Captain Cook solved the deficiency disease of vitamin C, scurvy, by giving the crew lemon and lime juice. This also helped better understand the key role of Vitamin C in strengthening blood capillaries.

Vitamin C is essential for immune system function, helping the body manufacture our main structural protein collagen. It also helps fight off free radical damage, protecting us from degenerative disease and premature aging.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Being water soluble, it’s not stored in the body and therefore needs eating regularly throughout the day. Luckily though, it’s widely available in many fruits and vegetables with the best sources being red peppers, guavas, kale and broccoli.

Vitamin D

Thankfully, vitamin D is now on the radar for most of us, having been found to play such an essential role within the immune system as researched before and during the COVID pandemic.  The issue with vitamin D is that very little is available in foods. Our main source is via sunlight on the skin, which of course is in short supply during the winter months, especially in the northern hemisphere.  Interestingly, it’s now been discovered that we need much more than originally noted in order to keep us optimally healthy.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Let’s not also forget the essential role vitamin D plays alongside calcium in bone, muscle and teeth health.   We need to take heed of Public Health England advice and supplement with 10 micrograms daily all year round.  Do be aware though, that much research has been carried out on the benefits of higher amounts so take advice on individual needs from your healthcare provider.

Iodine

Iodine is not as well-known as the nutrients discussed above, but equally as important to our health.  Even though iodine is only needed in micro amounts, a deficiency can lead to symptoms, especially involving the thyroid gland and its hormones. However, iodine is also needed for a healthy pregnancy, for the foetus to grow and develop correctly, and for brain function.

A range of foods containing iodine

The best source of iodine is from dairy foods. But if you don’t do dairy it is also found in seaweeds such as kelp and dulse which can be bought in their dried form and added to soups, stews and stir-fries.

So, celebrate National Nutrition Month and aim to get more of these nutrients into your diet every day!

Stay well.

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Nutrition for women: 5 nutrients to support your health

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

It’s no secret that women differ from men!  That also means our nutritional needs vary and this is often bound up with hormones and how they affect us on a monthly basis.

Whilst there are a wide range of vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health, there are a few in particular that are important for women’s health specifically.

This International Women’s Day, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a deep dive into five of the nutrients that women need most.

Magnesium

This mineral is known to be deficient generally within the UK population, but it presents even more problems when low in women.  Magnesium works as a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc (see below) but is essential in its own right for hormone balance, a healthy nervous system and bone health.  And stress burns up more magnesium so depending on how you are feeling many of us may be deficient.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is rich in green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli, but also in whole grains (oats are a great source), brown rice and whole wheat foods.  Magnesium is also very relaxing and calming so can help if sleep is a problem.  Eating about six almonds before bedtime (rich in magnesium) can really encourage peaceful slumbers.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is very important for women because it’s an essential co-factor in many metabolic pathways, especially relating to hormone production.  Additionally, it’s needed to process key neurotransmitters essential for balanced mood and motivation, which are closely affected by hormonal fluctuations.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is needed for production of progesterone (a key female hormone), plus it aids the detoxification processes of the liver in order to excrete ‘old’ hormones.  Vitamin B6 is water-soluble so should be eaten regularly, but is readily available in poultry, fish, bananas, soya produce, oats and wheatgerm, so there’s plenty of choice.

Biotin

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is essential for protein synthesis, key for building hormones and for healthy skin. Biotin also helps to stimulate production of keratin which is the key protein in hair.  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to have thinning hair so having additional biotin in the diet and via supplementation can often be very successful in rectifying the problem.

Foods containing the b vitamin Biotin

Foods rich in biotin include eggs (poached egg on whole grain toast makes a great start to the day), organ meats, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, red meat and fish.

Zinc

Zinc is probably the busiest mineral of all because it’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions within the body.  Whatever the body is doing, zinc will be needed somewhere.  However, for women, it’s very important for fertility and reproduction because it’s needed to synthesise the key sex hormones.  Additionally, zinc is a powerful antioxidant so helps to produce healthy eggs but is also essential for cell division, a key part of the conception process.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Zinc has been found often deficient in women, especially teenagers and those of child-bearing age. Red meat is a great source, hence a possible reason for deficiency as less people are eating red meat or at least eating it less often. Other great sources include beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood (especially oysters) and most cereals.

Chromium

Chromium is essential for blood sugar balance which affects all other hormones.  Interestingly, women with some of the more difficult hormone issues generally have problems balancing blood sugar levels, making mood swings more of an issue too.

A range of foods containing chromium

Additionally, in research, chromium has been shown to help women with polycystic ovaries, the most common hormonal disorder affecting those of reproductive age.  This generally also means that sufferers have issues with blood sugar control, which chromium can help to improve. As well as whole grains, chromium is rich in green vegetables, poultry, many fruits and dairy products.

Once any deficiencies are plugged, women may find overall health improves significantly, so why not review your diet or consider supplementation to ensure you are getting enough of these 5 vitamins and minerals.

Stay well.

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Heart health: the top three nutrients to support yours

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

Our heart works very hard for us every day.  In any one day it can beat a whopping 100,000 times!  It makes sense, therefore, to show your heart some love by feeding it specific nutrients to keep it beating healthily.

Clearly, the body needs a range of nutrients to maintain optimal health and the heart is no different in this respect.  However, there are certain nutrients that the heart absolutely needs in order to stay strong and healthy.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her three top nutrients to support your heart health.

Vitamin C

We know vitamin C is really important when it comes to protecting the immune system.  However, as one of our key antioxidants, it’s essential for the heart too.  Thankfully, we have eradicated the classic deficiency disease of vitamin C, being scurvy, but the first sign of this was blood vessels literally leaking – very unpleasant.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

From much research and further understanding since then, we know that vitamin C is needed for strong blood vessels and arteries.  As an antioxidant, it protects the arteries from free radical damage that can block them and cause heart attacks.  Additionally, vitamin C increases production of HDL, our ‘good cholesterol’, which helps remove excess cholesterol from the body.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

All fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C so enjoying a colourful diet and including a wide range of these foods is going to really protect your heart.  Top of the list are peppers, berry fruits, kiwis and broccoli.

Omega-3s

Termed ‘essential fats’ because they have to be eaten in the diet, these omega-3 fats have a key role in heart health.  Specifically, it’s the long-chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA which are the main players.  Much research has found they can help reduce the risk of heart disease, thought to be down to their anti-inflammatory actions. This can reduce damage to artery walls, which is one of the key issues in heart disease.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help thin the blood, thereby reducing high blood pressure and minimising the risk of blood clots causing strokes.

The best sources of EPA and DHA are from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and to a lesser extent, tuna.  For fish eaters, then aim to eat oily fish at least two to three times a week.

A spoon full of flax seeds

However, for those not keen on fish or are vegan, then flaxseeds are able to provide some (albeit in lower amounts, since the body has to undergo complicated conversions of nutrients beforehand).  However, try to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself, before adding them to cereals or yoghurt, as this helps release the beneficial lignans which provide some wonderful health benefits.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle function and since the heart is a muscle, then magnesium is a key mineral for heart health.  It is also a relaxant, so magnesium has the effect of relaxing the artery wall and reducing blood pressure. Magnesium is often used to great effect when treating cases of high blood pressure.

Additionally, magnesium deficiency can cause a heart attack by cramping a coronary artery even in the absence of a blockage within the artery itself.  Magnesium deficiency is widespread within the UK population which may partly explain the prevalence of heart conditions.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that it can easily be rectified by including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in the diet.  Load up on almonds, spinach, whole grains including quinoa, and all types of beans.  Even better news is that dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium so you can enjoy a guilt-free treat of 70% or more dark chocolate!

Magnesium is depleted by stress (which many people are suffering at the moment), so try to eat magnesium-rich foods every day and take a magnesium supplement if needed.  It will also help reduce stress levels.

So, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can contribute to your heart health every day.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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

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