Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

Stay well.

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New Year Goals: how to have a healthy and happy 2021

A 2021 note book to show goal planning

New year, new start as the famous saying goes!  With 2020 having been such a difficult year, most people will be welcoming a new year with open arms.  And with that comes new resolutions around health and fitness goals. 

If you’ve got into some bad habits during 2020 (and let’s face it, who hasn’t!), then make this year the one where you get back on track both mentally and physically.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why good nutrition is the cornerstone to health, and how you can feel better than ever this year.

Set realistic goals

Being realistic about what you can achieve is so important.  If you’ve developed a bad sugar habit during 2020, then don’t tell yourself you’ll never eat cake again, for example.  This leads to feelings of despair and it’s not sustainable.  However, why not allow yourself one treat day a week when you can eat cake, or indulge in your favourite guilty pleasure?  A life of constant denial is not going to make anyone happy and is unnecessary.

A note book with 2021 goals list

It’s also worth thinking about adopting the 80/20 rule: eat a healthy and well-balanced diet 80% of the time.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

Issues with mental health are going to be very front focussed during 2021 for all the reasons we know.  Achieving mental well-being should be top of your priority list for and that also means getting your nutrition right.

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

The brain needs to be nourished with nutrients to provide the right fuel to keep hormones in good balance but also to produce brain neurotransmitters that affect mood and motivation. Brain-loving nutrients include the full family of B-vitamins, zinc and magnesium so make sure you’re eating plenty of green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fish and legumes (all rich sources).

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

The brain also needs essential omega-3 fats to work correctly, with the best source being oily fish, but flax or chia seeds are also good if you’re vegetarian or vegan.  They are called ‘essential’ as the body can’t make them, so ensure they feature in your diet a few times each week or more.

Stimulants such as highly caffeinated drinks, alcohol and sugar (in all its forms) are not great friends of the brain, so be honest about your consumption and take steps to reduce if this refers to you (remember the 80/20 rule).

Love your gut

Everything that goes on in the gut affects the brain, mainly down to the connective tissue flowing back and forth. Gut health is critical to overall wellness so start being kind to it.  It’s important to feed the beneficial gut bacteria to enable them to flourish, since their role is key to good gut heath.  Foods such as asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, legumes, bananas, flaxseeds, turmeric, green tea and dandelion coffee are all great.

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

It’s also important to drink plenty of pure water to help keep the bowels regular otherwise toxins can build and this affects mental wellbeing.

Fermented foods are also great for the gut so include some natural yoghurt, tofu, kimchi and kombucha regularly.

Be honest about your weight

Winter weather is not conducive to peeling off the layers, hence many of us have piled on the kilos, plus the festive season is always challenging for the waistline.  When we know we’re overweight, this can often affect mental health, but we all need to be realistic about what is achievable and, most importantly, sustainable.

Close up on woman's feet on a pair of scales with a measuring tape

Rapid weight loss generally leads to rapid weight gain when normal eating is resumed.  Better to set yourself a realistic target (around 1-2 lbs per week weight loss is good) and a sensible time frame.  Many people find that once they have taken control of their eating and they start to see some weight loss this is a great incentive and they’re more able to achieve targets.

Maintain a good work/life balance

The lines between work and social time have become very blurred during 2020 and this is not set to change that much for a while.  Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that we all need sufficient downtime, rest and recuperation, so make this a priority during 2021.

Ven diagram with work, life, and health crossing and leading to the word balance

Make a clear plan for work time each day (whatever that needs to be for you) and how to fill your free time.  Maybe 2021 is the time to learn a new skill or find things that fulfil and stimulate the brain. This way mind and body will both be in better balance.

May 2021 bring you health, happiness and fulfilment.

Stay well.

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Winter wellness: taking care of you

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The winter weather is rapidly approaching, and with the country now in another lockdown, there has never been a better time to really start looking after yourself.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips for being kind to yourself including improving sleep, enjoying greater energy levels and having glowing skin.

Sleep – the cornerstone of wellness

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Getting sufficient sleep is essential to feeling energised and having healthy glowing skin.  Everything suffers health-wise with a lack of sleep, including how we look and feel. If you’re struggling to sleep (as so many people are right now), the most important thing is to look to your diet in order to make some improvements.

The mineral magnesium is incredibly calming so try to eat foods rich in magnesium for dinner including beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables and nuts, which will all help improve sleep.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The amino acid tryptophan is important because it helps produce melatonin, our key sleep hormone.  Milk (soya, dairy and almond milks) contain tryptophan which is why having a warm milky drink before bedtime can be so effective.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, almonds contain melatonin, (as do cashews and pistachios, in lesser amounts) making them a very effective pre-bedtime snack.  Milk and nuts also contain calcium, another calming mineral.  Just by taking a little care and being kind to yourself, can make a whole lot of difference to how you sleep.

Energy – feed it to your body

A woman jumping with a sunset in the background

Do you feel tired all the time?  Firstly, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have the energy to do things.  It’s hard to feel energised and motivated when we are all in a state of flux. However, there are some particularly energising nutrients that can certainly help.

Enter the family of B-vitamins which all generate energy, primarily from the food we eat.  They are widely found in a range of foods especially whole grains, meat, fruit and vegetables and beans – in fact, in all healthy foods! If your diet is colourful and varied, then you should be getting what the body needs and this will help boost energy levels.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

‘White’ foods such as pastries, cakes, white rice, pasta and bread contain very little in the way of B-vitamins and will upset blood sugar levels, stripping energy rather than topping it up. Being kind to your body is about fuelling it with as much nourishment as you can at each mealtime.

Skin – radiate from within

Close up of woman smiling in a cosy jumper

How your skin looks and feels mainly comes from within.  If what you’re putting in isn’t right, it will show in your skin which may look dull and lifeless.  Being kind to your skin means providing it with specific beauty vitamins such as biotin, rich in eggs, beans, nuts and liver.  Plus, collagen, the body’s main structural protein, naturally declines with age, and a lack of which can leave the skin looking dull and less springy.

A range of protein sources

It’s important for all body systems and especially the skin to eat plenty of protein each day; include some at every meal – think eggs, meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy or fish.  This will also help collagen production.  Additionally, there are plenty of collagen supplements on the market, to further boost levels.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Collagen also needs vitamin C in order to work efficiently, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant protecting skin from free radical damage which is responsible for the ageing process. Your skin will certainly appreciate some kindness.

So, treat yourself to some kindness and it will really improve the way you look and feel, both now and in the future.

Stay well.

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Stress and anxiety: lifestyle changes you can make to help restore some calm

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Stress and anxiety levels are likely to be at an all-time high right now, for obvious reasons. Feeling anxious can be very unsettling and result in us not living our lives as we would like to.

Rather than trying to cope with it and accept it as ‘normal’, why not look to diet and lifestyle changes which could help to soothe your mind?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her top tips.

Nutritional swaps

It’s sometimes difficult to imagine that what we eat can have a marked effect on brain function, anxiety levels and mood.  For example, certain gluten-containing foods can cause low mood in some people.  Equally a lack of nutrients, especially zinc and B-vitamins can adversely affect mood and also cause anxiety.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

It’s important to make all mealtimes count as an opportunity for nourishing the body. For example, simple swaps such as wholemeal pasta instead of white and including fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon) rather than fish fingers, twice a week is a great start.

A range of green vegetables

Additionally, try to eat vegetables (which can be from frozen), particularly the green leafy variety, every day. They can make a big difference to brain function as they are rich in the calming mineral magnesium.  Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 3-4 of these being vegetables.

Always think brown rather than white when it comes to choosing whole grains, for example brown wholemeal bread and whole grain brown rice. All these foods are nutrient-dense and will help to stabilise mood.

Avoid the agitators

Whilst many people think that alcohol makes them happy, it’s actually a depressant, therefore having plenty of alcohol-free days is essential. Alcohol also upsets blood sugar balance, especially the day after. This can leave you feeling tired and often craving sugary, carbohydrate-heavy foods, which further deplete energy levels.

A cup of green herbal tea

Caffeinated drinks also cause blood sugar disturbances, which in turn affects mood.  Drinking decaf tea and coffee or herbal and fruit teas, together with 1.5 litres water daily will really reduce the caffeine load. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than others, but there will always be some kind of effect which may exacerbate anxiety.

Sleep support

Anxiety can cause sleep issues.  Changes to diet and lifestyle can have a really positive impact on getting a peaceful night.  However, if sleep is still an issue then it may be worth trying a supplement of 5-HTP, readily available in health food stores.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

5-HTP is the pre-cursor to tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin and in turn, melatonin, our sleep hormone.  It has the dual effect of reducing anxiety and encouraging restful nights. 5-HTP is best taken about one hour before bedtime with a carbohydrate snack.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Traditional remedies such as spraying lavender on the pillow can also be incredibly effective.  Even having a warm bath with some lavender oil an hour or so before bedtime can make a real difference.

Herbal help

Nature has incredible healing powers. The herb passionflower works on one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA, helping soothe anxiety and a nervous stomach.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

Camomile works in similar ways, so drinking camomile tea before bedtime is great, but also through the day can help too.  Additionally, valerian helps calm the body without causing excess drowsiness, and can also help solve sleep issues.

Treat yourself to kindness

It’s all about the messages you give to yourself.  Often without realising we beat ourselves up, bemoan that we could be better or get unnecessarily angry about things we can’t change right now.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Resolve not to listen to the inner voice when it chatters on your shoulder but take some time out for you.  Think about the simple pleasures that bring you joy and help calm the mind; a movie you’ve been meaning to watch for ages, a home spa treatment or a great book that you can escape into.

Allow yourself to enjoy these moments; don’t feel guilty and try to push away any negative thoughts to help promote feelings of calm.  Take some positive actions in order for the changes to be felt.

So, with a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to calm an anxious mind and body.

Stay well.

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Autumn nutrition: what to eat right now

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

The onset of Autumn generally conjures up thoughts of cosy evenings by the fire or wrapping up a little warmer. 

When the weather gets colder, the body craves and needs warming foods to keep it optimally fuelled and able to ward off colds and infections.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, serves up her five top foods to keep body and mind healthy and robust this Autumn.

Root vegetables

Top of the list must be root vegetables.  They are what your body craves when it needs nourishing support.  Swedes, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips are perfect for Autumn eating.

Not only are they high in vitamin C to support the immune system, they all contain specific compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates which are really protective against some of our nasty degenerative diseases.

Even better, they all make great ‘comfort’ food, which is perfect for the body right now.  Soups, curries and stews can be cooked in bulk and will last a few days. Plus, they all make great and simple vegetable sides. There’s no end of choices but make them a priority when meal planning.

Also try to include members of the cruciferous vegetable family, including cabbage, kale and broccoli.

Ginger

Top of the warming herbs list is ginger.  It’s also top of the list of healing ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine.  Ginger is a great digestive aid because it stimulates bile production (essential for good digestion), is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and has anti-bacterial qualities.  Even better, you can use it in everything!

Root ginger with a bwol of ground ginger

Use it to awaken your taste buds and digestion in the morning with some warm water and lemon.  This also helps cleanse the liver, so you’ll quickly feel invigorated.  Why not make your own fresh ginger tea and drink it throughout the day?  And if you’re struggling with headaches down to the amount of time spent in front of screens right now, ginger is also your friend.

Quinoa

Eating whole grains is important for Autumn since the body needs to be well nourished and grounded.  Quinoa is technically a seed not a grain, but it matters not when talking about its array of nutrients.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

In many ways, quinoa is better than rice because it contains much more protein, so is perfect for vegetarian and vegan diets.  It’s also high in trace minerals, including zinc, magnesium and iron, and also fibre. Even better, quinoa is high in antioxidants which help to combat free radicals and in turn supports a healthier you.

Cook up a batch and freeze it: quinoa is great hot or cold with most other foods.

White fish

Autumn is all about finding good life balance and this is also true for the digestive system.  It shouldn’t be put under pressure at the moment, hence white fish such as cod, sea bass, sole and haddock are very easy to digest, whilst providing plenty of wholesome nourishment.

Thai fish dish

Although white fish doesn’t contain all the pizazz of oily fish and the essential omegas, it is very high in protein and low in saturated fat. It will also help keep blood sugar in good balance so energy levels will be sustained.

Even better, it’s really easy and quick to cook; think seabass in a parcel with ginger, spring onions and lemon grass. It’s really delicious and ready in around 15 minutes.

Turmeric

This is a ‘must-have’ in your store cupboard.  The health benefits of turmeric just keep growing as new research comes to light.  However, it’s a great anti-inflammatory, a powerful antioxidant, a potent liver detoxifier and great immune booster. And it’s so versatile: it can be used in a plethora of dishes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Raw turmeric is more warming but it’s slightly time-consuming to work with, so ground and dried turmeric is fine and it’s best absorbed when eaten in a dish with black pepper.

Turmeric is an essential Autumn spice; why not try a turmeric latte, on trend right now!

So,  give your body what it needs this Autumn and hopefully you’ll stay happy and healthy.

Stay well.

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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.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

All images: Shutterstock