Top tips for managing your cholesterol

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

We hear the ‘cholesterol’ word used often because it’s a key marker for potential heart disease.  However, it’s also an essential part of our cellular make up and for hormone production, so balance is key. 

It’s important to keep levels in the healthy range, which is perfectly possible for most people by managing diet and lifestyle.

 This National Cholesterol Month Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five tips for keeping cholesterol in check.

Go low glycaemic

In a world where fad diets seem to predominate, the benefits and simplicity of eating a low glycaemic diet are often forgotten.  The glycaemic index is just a measure of how quickly food affects blood sugar levels.  High sugar, low fibre food has a massive impact but has also been found to raise cholesterol levels.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Opt for a diet that contains whole grains, plenty of fibrous vegetables, beans and minimal sugar.  Oats are especially beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels as they contain beta-glucans, a special fibre with lots of research to support their effectiveness. Eating low glycaemic will also help sustain your energy levels.

Eat essential fats

Not all fats are created equal and whilst eating too much saturated fat found in red meat and butter can raise cholesterol levels, the omega-3 essential fats found in oily fish have the reverse effect.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are the way to go; try to eat some at least three times per week.  However, for those not liking oily fish, either take an omega-3 supplement or eat plenty of flaxseeds (they can easily be added to your whole grain porridge), walnuts and pumpkin seeds.  If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol and are vegetarian, then it would also be advisable to take a flax oil supplement too.

Take plant sterols

Plant sterols are a group of substances found in nuts, oils and some vegetables that have been found to reduce cholesterol levels. To make life easier, plant sterols are often added to margarines and some yoghurts. However, be aware that these foods often also contain some less healthy ingredients so always combine them with plenty of healthy oils (especially olive oil), foods high in fibre and loads of green, leafy vegetables.]

Reduce your stress levels

High stress is another factor in raised cholesterol levels, partly because of the normal hormone response that happens during the stress response.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

When life is challenging, and it’s certainly that right now, it’s often hard to keep calm.  So find something that works for you and take some time each day to destress.  Why not practice meditation, go for a brisk walk or take a relaxing bath? You can relax on your bed listening to some music or do a yoga session. Whatever works for you, build it into your day every day.

Additionally, try drinking green tea: it contains theanine which helps stimulate our relaxing brain neurotransmitters. Another natural option is to try the herb, passionflower: it can work very quickly especially if you’re suffering from a ‘nervous’ stomach.  Dealing with stress should be addressed as a priority to help keep cholesterol in check.

Load up on vitamin C

Thankfully vitamin C is found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts, and it’s also useful for reducing high cholesterol.  Vitamin C is one of our key antioxidant nutrients so it helps protect artery walls from damage; hardening arteries is one of the key factors in heart disease.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All berry fruits, red peppers, mango, kiwi and spinach are especially rich in vitamin C so prioritise these foods in your diet if possible.  Additionally, aim for closer to 10 portions of fruits and veg a day if you can.  It’s sometimes easier to add a daily juice, smoothie or soup into your routine to increase your portions.  Whilst much of the fibre is lost by juicing, you’ll still be getting plenty of vitamin C and other key nutrients, including magnesium – also great for reducing cholesterol levels.

So, try and adopt some of these tips into your daily diet and lifestyle and help reduce your cholesterol levels naturally.

Stay well.

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Discover foods to support your mind this World Mental Health Day

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

World Mental Health Day is taking place this week. There is a greater focus on mental health generally right now, so never has there been a better time to discuss the topic more openly. 

Importantly, it’s also the perfect time to be looking at the connection between certain foods and nutrients and their effects on emotional wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five foods to support a healthy mind.

Oysters

Not only called the food of love because they’re known to be ‘aphrodisiacs’, oysters are rich in the mineral zinc, which is essential for mental wellbeing.  This is partly because zinc is one of our busiest minerals, being used in over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body, plus the brain naturally contains zinc.

A plate of fresh oysters

There’s much research to suggest its positive benefits in cases of depression and zinc is known to be depleted in UK diets.  This is partly because it’s rich in whole grain foods, rather than refined ones which tend to feature too highly in the typical daily diet.  However, seafood in another great source and oysters are certainly top of the list.  Don’t wait for the next Valentine’s Day to enjoy a romantic oyster dish!

Bananas

Bananas are rich in vitamin B6 which is essential for producing our happy hormone ‘serotonin’.  Plus, vitamin B6 is needed for energy release, so you get the best of both worlds.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas make a perfect snack, especially when you’re on the run. They also make an excellent pre-workout snack for an extra boost so you can push your body that bit harder!

Broccoli

Often referred to as a super food, broccoli delivers health benefits in so many ways.  Importantly, broccoli (and other green, leafy vegetables) are high in the mineral magnesium, which is needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, but also has a calming effect on the body generally.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Anxiety levels are soaring right now, in all age groups, so we all need to be mindful of specific nutrients that can help calm both mind and body.  Stress depletes magnesium, so it’s even more important to be loading up on greens.

And rather than just serving up plain boiled or steamed broccoli, why not lightly toss it in some pesto and pine nuts before serving, to add some interest to your plate.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a tasty and super-healthy oily fish that’s loaded with omega-3 fats.  These fats are essential to have in the diet because the body can’t make them, and they are critical for brain health, because the brain naturally contains them.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys confirm that the UK population is very deficient in omega-3s across all age ranges.  The recommended weekly amount is at least two portions of oily fish (salmon is also great), to try and redress the balance.

Mackerel is such a versatile fish. Try it chargrilled, in salads (it’s especially good with beetroot) or as made a pate. It is also delicious pre-smoked in a risotto, or gently pan-fried and served with rice or potatoes and your favourite veggies.  If you’re in a rush, why not use some tinned mackerel on wholemeal toast for a quick and incredibly healthy and filling lunch.

Blueberries

Blueberries are loaded with vitamin C, another nutrient that’s essential for good brain health.  Vitamin C is also one of our most powerful antioxidants which are very protective of the brain. Even better, blueberries are rich in plant compounds called polyphenols, also packed with antioxidants; it’s their beautiful rich colour that’s partly responsible for their health benefits.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are low on the glycaemic index so, unlike many fruits, they won’t upset blood sugar levels which can also cause dips in mood.  Serve them with your morning porridge or cereal or eat them with some natural yoghurt and seeds, for a healthy and quick, energy-sustaining breakfast.

So, include nutrients and foods in your diet that feed your brain and help support your brain from the inside out.

Stay well.

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Managing Migraines: natural support and nutritional advice

Close of woman in black and white with red pain showing in forehead to represent migraine attack

Migraine Awareness Week always brings the pain of migraine into sharp focus.  Indeed, there are around six million sufferers in the UK dealing with this difficult and sometimes, debilitating, condition. 

However, we understand much more about migraine now and, importantly, how certain foods can help.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top migraine food and lifestyle tips.

Increase magnesium-rich foods

The mineral magnesium is very calming and is often found to be deficient in migraine sufferers.  When deficiency has been rectified, the condition often improves.  Top of the list of magnesium-rich foods are green, leafy vegetables especially broccoli and spinach, so try to include some in your diet every day.  Importantly, try to eat a range of colourful fruits and vegetables which help to manage inflammation generally throughout the body.

A range of foods containing magnesium

All nuts and seeds (and even peanut butter), whole grains, including oats and brown rice, soya products (not soy sauce) and bananas are magnesium-rich so there’s plenty of choice.  Why not mix up some pumpkin seeds, cashews, peanuts and almonds as a great on-the-go snack?

Keep blood sugar balanced

Fluctuations in blood sugar can often trigger migraine attacks.  Eating protein at every meal is important for keeping everything in good balance.  Great protein foods include chicken, turkey, eggs, all fish (ideally not tinned), quinoa, beans and nuts.  You will also find energy levels are sustained much better throughout the day by eating protein regularly.

A range of foods containing protein

On the flip side, certain foods, especially aged cheese, contain amines which are a known migraine trigger.  In fact, it’s best to avoid all cheese.  Other amine-containing foods to watch out for are fermented meats, mushrooms, miso, soy sauce, chocolate, wine and beer.

Steer clear of wheat

It would seem that wheat can often be a migraine trigger, even if you’re unaware of any digestive upsets it might be causing.

A blackboard with the words wheat free written on next to some wheat

Wheat-containing foods include bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and cereals.  However, the great news is that there are plenty of wheat-free alternative grains including oats, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, rye and barley.  And because so many sweet, refined foods contain wheat, by avoiding those you’ll automatically be reducing sugar-load (another trigger) and will be helping your waistline at the same time.

Get moving

Keeping good blood flow around the body is key for helping prevent migraines with lack of exercise being a known trigger for an attack.  Whilst very intensive training might not be a good idea, gently elevating the heart rate with some brisk walking, cycling, or dancing is great for the body, but also the mind.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Stress is a definite migraine trigger and many people will certainly have been dealing with some difficult situations over the last few months.  If you can find an exercise or activity that you enjoy, the benefits for your body and soul will be enormous.  Even a brisk walk around the block can clear the head and encourage good blood flow around the body.

Take the herb Feverfew

Feverfew can be incredibly effective at helping reduce both frequency and duration of migraine attacks.  It can take about two to three months to really work, but it’s well worth embracing the power of nature to find a solution.

Feverfew flowers

Extensive research around feverfew has found that it contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory compounds, plus it reduces the body’s ability to produce histamine (an amine).  Additionally, feverfew contains parthenolide compounds which may help reduce blood vessel constriction as well as encourage production of serotonin: this is in the same way traditional migraine medication works.  It’s certainly worth turning to nature for some herbal help.

So, if you’re struggling with migraine, resolve to try some new natural and nutritional approaches to help to ease the pain.

Stay well.

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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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Nutritional self-help for hay fever

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Anyone suffering from hay fever will know only too well that pollen levels are high right now and it’s causing misery for some.  Tell-tale red, itchy eyes, sneezing, tiredness and irritability are all too common symptoms. 

Whilst there are officially three hay fever seasons, it’s now that the grass pollen is so problematic.  However, don’t give up hope if this applies to you.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top ways of getting some relief from hay fever.

Go natural

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which in turn causes the array of unpleasant symptoms.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

Strange as it may seem, most of the immune system actually resides within the digestive tract (commonly referred to as the gut).  And much of this is controlled by the gut bacteria that naturally hang out there.  These friendly bacteria happily living inside you can help manage allergies because of the role they play within the immune response.

Natural yoghurt

This is where natural yoghurt can take a key role in helping manage symptoms.  Natural yoghurt contains a number of strains of these friendly bacteria that have been shown to benefit hay fever sufferers enormously.  The yoghurt needs to contain live cultures and it must be natural yoghurt as opposed to the fruit variety.  Also ensure you choose the full fat versions which don’t contain any sweeteners or additives; these could have the reverse effect.  Eat natural yoghurt at least four times a week for the best outcomes.

Clean up your diet

Significantly reducing sugary, refined foods is key to getting on top of hay fever symptoms.  Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation within the body which will only make symptoms worse.  This includes alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine.

A range of green vegetables

Instead, include plenty of green leafy vegetables, berry fruits and apples.  Bananas are especially helpful because they are non-allergenic and contain plenty of fibre.  It’s also important to keep the bowels running smoothly to ensure no toxic waste build up internally, which will fire up the immune system in the wrong way.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and exacerbate symptoms.  Plus, it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.  However, the body also converts beta carotene found in fruits and vegetables into vitamin A as it needs it; another good reason for including plenty of colourful fruits and veggies.

Include quercetin

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of hay fever.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

Dampen the fire

With the mucous membranes literally ‘on fire’ at the back of the throat and through the bronchial tubes, it’s no wonder that coughing, sneezing and wheezing are commonplace with hay fever. A quick relief for itchy, watery eyes is to lie down in a darkened room for 20 minutes or so with sliced cucumber over them. Inhaling eucalyptus oil can also really help ease congestion.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Additionally, the spice, turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory so include it in as many dishes as possible.  It’s especially tasty in curries, soups and stir fries. Also on the menu should be ginger which is easily added to these dishes but works well as a tea; just squeeze fresh ginger into a mug and pour over hot water. You could also try taking a turmeric food supplement every day.

Add some magnesium

As we know, the immune system and some key internal organs are all irritated in hay fever sufferers. The mineral, magnesium, is a wonderfully calming mineral and is found in good amounts in green leafy veggies (another great reason to eat them).  Additionally, foods such as soya beans, kidney beans, whole grains, especially brown rice, and peas are great choices.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Importantly bananas are rich in magnesium, so they should definitely be high on the weekly shopping list.  This should create some much-needed calm within the body.

So, try some of these top tips and there can be light and relief at the end of the hay fever tunnel.

Stay well.

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Celebrate National Vegetarian Week with these top five vegetables

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

It’s National Vegetarian Week, celebrating all things great about adopting a totally or predominantly plant-based diet.  However, there has also been a rise in people becoming flexitarian; still eating some animal produce but significantly increasing their intake of plant-based foods. 

Whilst all vegetables deliver wonderful health benefits, there are certainly some stars in their field.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourites.

 

Soy beans

Whilst you might not think of soy as a vegetable, it’s part of the legume family. Soya is one of the best vegetable sources of protein, therefore makes a great addition to a vegetarian diet.

Soya is widely consumed in Eastern diets but importantly it’s eaten in its fermented form in foods such as tofu, tempeh and kombucha, produced from the whole bean.  Refined forms or those that have been genetically modified should ideally be avoided.

A sack of soy beans

However, apart from their impressive protein content, soya beans are high in important trace minerals such as copper, manganese and phosphorus, essential for joints and bones.  Plus, fermented soya works on the body’s natural gut bacteria to produce bone and heart-loving vitamin K and energising folate.  There is also plenty of research to suggest soya delivers a number of cardiovascular benefits, especially raising good HDL cholesterol levels.

Spinach

Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet. It contains around 30% protein so is great for both a vegetarian and flexitarian diet.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

As with all green leafy vegetables, its nutrient profile is impressive.  Spinach is also a great source of vitamin K but is probably famously known for its iron content. Vegetarians can sometimes be lacking in iron since red meat provides the most bio-available form, therefore spinach can help plug the gaps. As with any green food or vegetable, spinach is great for alkalising and detoxifying the body and is in season right now!

Asparagus

Another vegetable with good protein content, asparagus is at its absolute best right now.  English asparagus has so much more taste and ‘bite’ than at any other time of the year.  Make sure you grab some, gently steam or barbecue and serve simply, seasoned with pepper and salt and a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Close up of asparagus being grilled on a bbq

Asparagus provides plenty of energising B-vitamins, as well as trace minerals such as magnesium, frequently lacking in the Western diet.  Plus, it is known as a prebiotic food which helps feed the good gut bacteria, providing benefits to the immune system, especially important during the current situation.

Broccoli

Often referred to as a superfood, broccoli has some amazing health benefits, partly because of the range of nutrients and flavonoids it contains.  Broccoli has some of the highest amounts of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.  Plus is helps improve liver health by stimulating detoxification processes and antioxidant compounds in the liver.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Just like these other vegetables, broccoli contains some usable amounts of protein so is great for the vegetarian diet, plus it is packed full of immune-boosting vitamin C.  It can be steamed, roasted or sautéed and works well with garlic, chilli and sesame seeds for a real taste punch!

Collard greens

From the same family as broccoli, cauliflower and kale, these dark green leaves also deliver wonderful health benefits, and contain the same profile of antioxidants and other plant compounds.

A dish of collard greens

If you worry that greens are too bland, it’s all about what they’re served with. Greens work really well with strong flavours such as onions, leeks or mushrooms.  And in order to preserve maximum nutrients, taste and texture, they’re much better steamed or sautéed, perhaps with some garlic.

As with all green vegetables, collards are rich in trace minerals especially magnesium, manganese and calcium – all frequently deficient in the diet and essential for many aspects of our health.

So, embrace National Vegetarian Week and serve yourself some super health vegetables to celebrate!

Stay well.

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Natural ways to a stress-free Christmas

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

The lead-up to Christmas is traditionally a very stressful time of year.  There’s always so much to do and often many people to please. 

What you eat and how you plan your time can really help support your health and minimise stress, so you can fully enjoy the festive season.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips for a stress-free Christmas.

Load up on magnesium

Nature has supplied us with everything we need in terms of nutrients.  The good news is that the mineral, magnesium, is especially calming.  Whilst magnesium is important for energy production, it’s also needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  This includes playing a role in the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially calming GABA which decreases activity in your nervous system. Magnesium also helps manage the body’s normal stress response as well as aiding muscle relaxation.  No wonder it’s known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Foods high in magnesium are going to become your best friends over the next few weeks.  Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale, wholegrains such as oats, almonds, dairy foods, beans, and meat should all be on the menu.  It may also be worth taking a magnesium supplement.  If you take it about an hour before bedtime, it can help you to sleep peacefully too.

Try some calming herbs

Just as nature has delivered us calming nutrients, it’s also delivered calming herbs. And there are many ways you can use them in meal preparation.

Clearly, time is a precious commodity right now, so spending hours in the kitchen is not on the menu.  However, basil is a tonic for the nervous system: it’s calming and can also help digestion.  Why not use it in an easy chicken pasta dish, using whole wheat pasta (which contains more magnesium and B-vitamins) or with mozzarella cheese and buffalo tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil?  Two easy supper suggestions.

Mozzarella, tomato and basil salad

Camomile is a popular calming tea which is especially good before bedtime, as is mint tea which is soothing for the digestive system.  Additionally, rosemary adds a wonderful taste and aroma to many different dishes. Think roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, chicken, soups, or simply rubbed over chunky bread with a little olive oil.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Some herbs can act as both an energy stimulant as well as encouraging calm and relaxation.  They are known as adaptogenic herbs; ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all have this effect.  They are best taken in the morning in supplement form to help with energy levels, but because they manage the stress response, they body will also feel calm and better able to sleep.

Make time for relaxation

Unfortunately, we often push ourselves very hard at this time of year.  This can suppress immune function making us susceptible to all the nasty colds and bugs flying around, not to mention leaving us feeling low and tired.

The good news is there are many relaxation apps you can download and listening to them won’t eat too much time out of your day.  Meditation can take a little practice, but an app can really help guide you along the way.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

The benefits of relaxation are far-reaching not just at this time of year but for long term health and longevity.  Try and allocate around 20 minutes a day. Just listening to a relaxation app and being still for a short time will refresh your body and mind.

It’s important to give back to the body what it needs.  While it’s working hard and functioning day to day, it’s easy to forget that the stress response uses up more nutrients (especially magnesium and the B-vitamins, which are essential for energy). Therefore, it should be properly fuelled with nutrients and lifestyle changes, so it continues to work as it’s best for you.

So, just a few small changes can make a massive difference to how well you cope over the next few weeks and can hopefully help you have a happier Christmas.

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Christmas food planning: top ideas for healthy sides and snacks

Woman preparing christmas dinner

We hardly need reminding that there’s just one month to go until the big day! There’s always so much to do, not least when it comes to food planning. 

However, it’s not too late to conjure up some healthy snack ideas and side dishes for your Christmas meal.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers five deliciously healthy suggestions.

Keep your blood pressure low with cauliflower cheese and walnuts

A traditional Christmas meal is probably one of the most stressful anyone will ever have to cook!  There’s huge expectation and excitement around it, plus trying to have each dish ready for the same time is not easy.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Cauliflower cheese as a vegetable side is always popular, but why not add a healthy twist with some chopped walnuts scattered over the top.  Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats and have been found to help reduce blood pressure.  Plus, cauliflower is a member of the super-healthy brassica family, and is packed with energising B vitamins, fibre and the mineral magnesium.  This dish can also be made and cooked ahead – just put under the grill at the last minute to heat through.

Get your circulation flowing with gingered sprouts

No Christmas meal is complete without sprouts!  Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying they are quintessentially Christmas.  Many people have a gene which makes sprouts taste bitter.  Therefore, why not mask that flavour by adding some ginger and orange?

Sprouts are hugely healthy, containing plenty of vitamins and minerals.  However, they also aid liver detoxification, which might be helpful around Christmas time.

Sprouts dish with ginger

With this vegetable side simply cook the Brussels lightly for about 5 minutes and then toss them in crushed ginger, soy sauce and a little orange juice.  Ginger is a wonderfully warming spice which helps blood circulation around the body, delivering nutrients where they’re most needed. None of your guests need to complain about the bitter taste of sprouts again!

Boost your immunity with Santa on a stick

It’s not the usual way we visualise Santa! However, for the younger guests (and slightly older too!) why not offer banana and strawberries in the shape of Santa?

Many people find Christmas pudding far too rich so what better as a healthy and super-easy alternative?  Bananas are always popular and are loaded with heart-healthy potassium.  Plus, strawberries contain some of the highest amounts of immune-boosting vitamin C of all fruits.

Chopped strawberries and bananas

Simply find some long sticks, halve a strawberry for his hat, add three slices of bananas for the body, and add some chocolate drop eyes and buttons as you see fit.  It will certainly bring a smile to everyone’s face and provide a healthy dessert option.

Spice up your greens

Kale often gets overlooked when planning the Christmas meal as it can taste quite bland.  Plus, if not cooked properly, the leaves are tough to eat.  However, why not spice up your kale with some garlic and sesame seeds?  Garlic is great for keeping blood pressure in check and sesame seeds are full of bone-loving calcium.  Kale, of course is another member of the brassica family and is loaded with anti-aging antioxidants; very helpful during the stressful Christmas period.

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Make sure you blanch the kale for about three minutes and then stir fry it with crushed garlic and sesame seeds.

Turbo-charge your day with maca

The herb, maca, is often referred to as natural caffeine.  This is because it will certainly provide a boost of energy without the side effects of caffeine.  Maca also has many other health benefits including helping to balance hormones, boosting libido and managing the stress response.

Pot of maca powder and glass of milk with maca

You can make a delicious maca shot by using almond or coconut milk (700 ml of either), blended with six dessert spoons of Maca Powder.  It will certainly stop your guests from falling asleep after lunch!

So, enjoy creating a range of healthy and delicious sides and snacks this festive season.

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Why eating more vegetables is so good for you

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

There are many reasons why vegetables should feature very highly in your daily diet. Packed full of nutrients, the range of vegetables available to us all year round makes including them in our meals every day pretty easy.

This month why not take the Veg Pledge and increase your vegetable intake?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five great reasons why you should.

Vegetables are loaded with nutrients

Vegetables are the most nutrient-dense food groups on the planet.  The human body needs around 45 nutrients daily (including water) and a very large proportion of these are found in vegetables.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

If you eat a wide variety of vegetables, then you’ll certainly be loading yourself up with a good range of nutrients.  First up are vitamins, most of which can’t be made in the body so have to be eaten very regularly.  Vitamins such as A, C, and E are all key for the immune system. The B vitamins are needed for energy and a healthy nervous system and brain. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth.  And that’s just the beginning!

The body contains a range of trace minerals that are utilised for many body functions, so must be eaten regularly as well.  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with most of it being stored in the bones.  Magnesium is key for bone health but also for the heart. Potassium and sodium should also be in good balance to support our cell make-up.

Vegetables are packed with antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the body against free radical damage.  Free radicals come from the environment but also from within the body.  Whilst the body has its own antioxidant systems, it needs more protection from foods we eat, including vegetables.  The richer and darker the colour, the more antioxidants the vegetable provides; broccoli and kale, for example, are packed with antioxidants.

A range of orange vegetables

The colour of the vegetable also gives a clue as to the different types of antioxidant it contains.  For example, orange and red vegetables contain lots of carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body. Others serve to protect the body against disease, the aging process and from nasty bugs and infections.

Vegetables are loaded with fibre

We need around 30 grams of fibre in the diet each day to help the digestive tract run smoothly.  Fibre is also needed to aid liver detoxification, balance blood sugar levels and keep cholesterol levels in check, just for starters.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

Foods contain soluble and insoluble fibre, and we need both, but vegetables contain high levels of soluble fibre.  As an example, there’s around three grams of fibre in a cup of cauliflower so the body needs plenty more from food sources to keep the levels topped up. There are of course other foods, especially whole grains, which contain plenty of fibre.

Vegetables are good for the environment

There’s so much research to suggest that adopting a primarily plant-based diet is very beneficial for health.  However, with climate change and environmental issues of real concern right now, eating more vegetables and less meat is seen as a very good thing.

close upof woman carrying basket of in season fruit and vegetables

Ideally, we should be trying to eat foods in season.  We’ve got very used to being able to eat a whole range of vegetables throughout the year due to the wide availability. Farmer’s markets and local growers should be supported as much as possible and are the best places to find in-season, fresh produce.  Plus, if you can find organic growers then you’ll be reducing your own intake of pesticides and well as being kinder to the environment.

Make vegetables the main event

You can use vegetables in so many ways, not just as side dishes, but also as mains.  Think vegetable curries, risottos and soups or put some of your favourites in a slow cooker with some stock for a lovely warming winter meal.

A bowl of vegetable soup surrounded by vegetables

The varying and wonderful tastes of vegetables can also be enhanced with plenty of delicious and health-giving herbs and spices.  For example, why not try garlic, ginger,  chilli, turmeric, paprika, basil, rosemary or sage. There are so many herbs and spices that can be added to vegetables to both enhance taste and have additional health benefits so get creative!

CLose up of a pestle and mortar surrounded by herbs and spices

 

Eating delicious food is one of life’s pleasures and there are certainly many ways to make vegetables tasty and a big part of your everyday diet. Five-a-day is the minimum you should be aiming for but the more the better!

So, take the veg pledge and enjoy creating vegetable-based dishes this season.

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Five foods to keep stress and anxiety at bay

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

Shorter days and dark mornings mean many of us are already starting to feel ‘down in the dumps’. We are also coming into the time year when people tend to feel more anxious and stressed, with the weeks running up to Christmas being challenging for many people.

The good news is that what we put into our bodies can have a positive effect on keeping anxiety at bay and reducing feelings of stress.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods to bring some calm into your life.

Almonds

Delicious and easily transportable, almonds can really help to ease feelings of stress and anxiety.  Why? It’s because they’re high in the mineral, magnesium.  Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it’s needed for muscle relaxation, therefore can really help the body feel calm and rested.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Almonds are also packed with other nutrients such as vitamin B2 and zinc which are used to produce serotonin, our happy hormone, needed to help manage the stress response.

Almonds make a great on-the-go snack, are delicious added to a stir fry and make a perfect bedtime wind down treat to help you feel calm and relaxed and better able to sleep peacefully.

Quinoa

Whilst it’s often referred to as a grain, quinoa is technically a seed. However it’s usually used in the same way as other wholegrains such as rice.  Importantly, it’s rich in B vitamins, all of which have their own part to play in keeping the body balanced.  B vitamins are needed to support the nervous system as well as helping to produce our stress hormones. Wholegrains in general are great for producing slow-release energy, so we don’t get the highs and lows which can cause feelings of anxiety.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Quinoa is a positive addition to any diet because it’s very high in protein.  Therefore, quinoa can be simply served with roasted vegetables, as a salad with feta cheese, chopped tomatoes and mint or alongside roasted chicken and vegetables.  Just use quinoa as you would rice or couscous.

Apples

Often used medicinally over the centuries, apples are as useful now to health as they’ve ever been.  Importantly apples are high in vitamin C, needed to help produce our stress hormones, but are also another slow energy-releasing food.  If your energy is consistent throughout the day, then you won’t suffer with as many highs and lows, and your mood will also stay better balanced.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples are another great snack and work well chopped with a few almonds, to keep you going.  Even better, they’re in season right now.  However, apples often sit in supermarket storerooms for many months, making then slightly low on taste.  Farmers markets are the place to look and having a browse around on a weekend is another great way to leave your worries behind for a few hours.

Chia seeds

For a food so tiny, chia seeds certainly deliver big health gains.  Originating from central and south America, the Aztecs were believed to have used them as an energy source.  This is because they’re high in protein, keeping blood sugar in good balance and so keeping energy levels and mood balanced.  Protein is also needed to produce hormones, especially stress hormones.

A scoop of chia seeds

Chia seeds are a very rich source of the brain loving omega 3 fats.  These are essential for a healthy brain and for producing brain neurotransmitters, including ones that keep us calm and balanced.

Even better, they are so quick and easy to include in the diet. Add to any cereal (porridge or an oat-based breakfast is best), or to natural yoghurt with some fruit. Try sprinkled over a salad.  Whilst they may not be big on flavour, their health benefits are wonderful.

Oats

We know they work well with chia seeds, but oats have an incredible calming effect on the body.  This is mainly down to them being high in all the B vitamins, plus they are packed with complex carbohydrates.  These work in the opposite way to refined carbs which send blood sugar levels soaring together with anxiety levels. Instead they keep blood sugar levels balanced and therefore help you to stay on an even keel.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are very high in fibre which helps keep the bowels moving smoothly.  Constipation causes toxicity in the body, which aggravates the liver.  This is turn can adversely affect mood, not least making you feel very sluggish.

If porridge isn’t for you, then why not soak oats overnight in a little apple juice or, better still, some almond milk. Then add some natural yoghurt and fruit in the morning for a super-quick but super stress-busting breakfast. You can even add chopped almonds and chia seeds for a triple-hit breafast!

Mother nature has delivered some amazing ways of keeping us balanced, emotionally and physically. So, why not try adding these stress-relieving favourites to your diet.

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