Five foods to feed your brain

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

You may be surprised to learn that the brain requires more energy than any other organ of the body. Well, maybe that’s not such a surprise when you think that the brain is always on!

It’s not just energy-dense foods that it loves, but specific nutrients too.  You can often notice the difference in all aspects of brain function when you feed it correctly.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to sharpen the mind.

 

Salmon

Salmon, and indeed all oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, trout, and pilchard, are rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acids.  The brain contains loads of these fats and therefore they need to be topped up regularly for optimal function.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Importantly, the body can’t make these fats, so they need to be eaten in the diet (or supplemented).  If fish is not for you then make sure you’re eating plenty of flaxseeds (they can be sprinkled into yoghurt, cereals or porridge) or go for other nuts and seeds. 

Eggs

Eggs are a great source of many nutrients, but specifically choline, which the brain uses to create a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate memory and mood (amongst other key functions).

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs are also a rich source of vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, also needed for many brain functions, but specifically to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Protein is key for a sharp and balanced brain, and eggs deliver on this front too.  Indeed, starting the day with an egg-based breakfast will tick all the boxes for your brain health.

Blueberries

These beautiful berries are loaded with antioxidants which help protect the brain from damaging free radicals and the aging process.  Blueberries are also loaded with vitamin C which helps support blood flow to the brain, which in turn is going to improve memory and general cognitive function.

shutterstock_270983405 porridge and blueberries Sept15

Blueberries are, of course, very easy to transport, so they make a great snack.  However, they are just as easy to throw over your morning oat-based breakfast or added to natural yoghurt, with some seeds, for a great breakfast option. The great news is that all berries love the brain, so with summer berry season approaching, you’ll have plenty of choice.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is packed with polyphenols, plant compounds that protect the brain from free radical damage but also help memory and overall brain function.  And there’s loads of research to support this too. What’s more, dark chocolate contains plenty of magnesium which helps to reduce stress levels; high levels of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) are known to adversely affect brain function.

Squares of dark chocolate

Go for dark chocolate (ideally 70% or more of cocoa).  Unfortunately, milk chocolate does not provide the same health benefits and will deliver lots of sugar.  A couple of squares of dark chocolate daily can satisfy any sweet cravings and keep your brain sharp too. 

Water

Dehydration will reduce brain function quicker than nutrient depletion. It’s the often-forgotten piece of the nutritional jigsaw puzzle.  Water is essential for maintaining attention and keeping focus, reducing headaches and memory loss, and improving overall cognitive function. Even just 2% dehydration takes a toll on brain function. Whilst it’s not easy to quantify what this means in terms of volume of liquid, the important point is that even a marginal deficiency will have big impact.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

If you aim to drink 1.5 – 2 litres of water daily, and you might need more if you’re exercising heavily, then you’ll be amazed at how much sharper your brain function feels.  And energy levels will soar too!

So, feed your brain by adding some of these elements into your diet and you should start to notice a difference.

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Five nutrients to include in your diet every day

Funny,Portrait,Of,Young,Woman,With,Banana,On,Color,Background

Nature has provided an amazing array of nutrients.  And it would be unfair to say that one is better than another because they all have a very valid place in helping to provide the body with great health.

However, there are certainly some superstars amongst them which are even more essential for our continued daily wellness.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of the best.

 

Vitamin D

Called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, we know the UK population is widely lacking in vitamin D, despite an active Government health campaign. 

It’s not easy to get to sufficient vitamin D from sunlight alone, even during the summer, therefore it’s important to take a supplement all year round. With so much robust research on vitamin D, we understand even more about the essential role it plays in our health.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Vitamin D is not just needed for bones and teeth but its part in supporting the immune system is unequivocal.  Furthermore, if you’re feeling ‘sad’ you could be lacking in vitamin D.  It’s important for our mood too.

Vitamin B12

As with all the B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 is needed for many of the body’s biochemical reactions. It’s primarily found in animal produce, making vegetarians and vegans potentially more at risk from deficiency, but anyone can be lacking in B12.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

If you’re lacking specifically in vitamin B12, then you might notice it more than with other B-vitamins. If you’re unusually tired or your nerves are frayed, then you might need more B12.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, a supplement is recommended, but for others, load up on liver, beef, tuna, sardines or fortified cereals and nutritional yeast.

Magnesium

If you’re suffering from muscle stiffness or poor sleep, the chances are you’re deficient in magnesium.  Since it works in balance with calcium, in areas where the water is especially ‘chalky, many people are lacking magnesium.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is an extremely busy mineral and plays an essential role in many biochemical reactions in the body.  It’s needed for muscle relaxation hence poor sleep can result when there is insufficient magnesium in the body. If this sounds like you, then eat plenty of whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds – all healthy foods too!

Zinc

Zinc is involved in around 300 different enzyme reactions throughout the body.  In short, the body can’t function without zinc.  Whilst many people know it to be essential for the immune system (which it is), zinc is very important for hormone balance, the skin, bones, hair, and protection from disease.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Zinc is rich in meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.  Indeed, the best source of zinc is oysters, hence their reputation as being an aphrodisiac, linked to zinc’s role in hormone production. If you’ve white spots on five or more of your nails, you might be deficient in zinc, so do keep a watchful eye on intake.

Iodine

Iodine is a trace mineral so is only needed in small amounts, but it still plays a vital role in the body.  Iodine is needed to produce thyroid hormones, for cognitive function and supports growth and development in children.  In short, it’s needed from the moment of conception and throughout life.

As part of its role in producing thyroid hormones, it’s needed to control metabolism.  If you’re struggling to lose weight or your hands and feet are permanently cold, you might be lacking in iodine. 

A range of foods containing iodine

Part of the issue with getting sufficient iodine is that it’s not present in many foods.  It can be found in dairy produce and fish such as cod and tuna. Seaweed is also a great source of iodine. Varieties include kelp, wakame and nori and are available in dried, flaked forms, which can easily be added to many dishes, without disturbing other tastes too much.

Take some time to review your diet, and ensure you’re not missing out on any of these essential nutrients.

Stay well.

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Trouble sleeping? Discover some top tips on how to get more zzz’s

Woman asleep in bed

How many of us dream of getting a good night’s sleep?  For at least 40% of the UK population, sleep can often be a struggle, and things have become much more challenging over the last couple of years, for obvious reasons.

However, peaceful slumbers don’t need to just be in your dreams. There are a few things that you can do to help get a better nights’ sleep, which will in turn support your energy levels throughout the day.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

Review your diet

If you want great sleep, it’s important to eat right during the day. A diet that’s rich in low to medium foods on the glycaemic index, which includes whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables, is the way forward.  These will help to keep the body in good balance and encourage it to rest.

Low,Glycemic,Health,Food,For,Weight,Loss,&,Fitness,Concept

Foods lower on the glycaemic index also provide sustained energy throughout the day, without spiking blood sugar levels.  This means you’ll avoid those highs and lows, but also feelings of anxiety which often accompany blood sugar imbalances. Anxiety is certainly not helpful when you are trying to get to sleep.

Keep it regular

This means adopting a regular routine.  The body loves routine, so keeping regular sleep and waking times is essential for maintaining a healthy sleep pattern.  Generally, we need seven to nine hours sleep per night, therefore think about what time you need to be in bed depending on when you need to get up, in order to achieve this.

CLose up of an alarm clock and a woman getting out of bed to represent getting up at the same time every day

Trying to ‘catch up’ on sleep at weekends tends to push the body out of routine, so this can become a negative strategy.  Once you’ve got a routine going, it’s amazing how well the body will adapt.

Keep calm with magnesium

The mineral magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it has a calming effect on the body, down to its work as a muscle relaxant. Poor sleep, with long periods of tossing and turning during the night is often associated with magnesium deficiency. Plus, stress further depletes magnesium levels in the body.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that magnesium is found in whole grains and foods that are also low on the glycaemic index. Plus, green leafy vegetables are your friends in this respect too.  So, load up on broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and spinach.  This will help to keep the body calm and balanced and able to rest and relax.

Consider trying adaptogen herbs

Stress is obviously going to impact our sleep patterns.  And whilst we can’t eradicate all stress from our lives, we can take steps to support the body during stressful times by using adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens, as the name suggests, bend and flex to meet the body’s needs. Herbal adaptogens primarily relieve stress by working on the adrenal glands from where the body releases stress hormones.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha has long been studied for its benefits on sleep, with a recent trial further confirming its effectiveness. If stress and anxiety are effectively managed because stress hormone levels are balanced, then many sleep issues can be resolved.  The herb Rhodiola rosea is another adaptogenic herb, which can help the body get through stressful times, and in turn aid restful sleep.

Reduce caffeine and sugar intake

As we all know, caffeine is a stimulant which frequently impacts on getting a good night’s sleep.  For those of us who are especially sensitive to caffeine even having one high-caffeinated drink during the afternoon can have a detrimental effect on peaceful slumbers.  Plus, ‘decaf’ drinks still contain a small amount of caffeine unfortunately.

Coffee,Cup,Behind,Red,Forbidden,Sign.,No,Caffeine,Before,Bedtime.

Caffeine, and especially coffee, can cause more anxiety generally; often we don’t realise the overall effect on the body.  If you’re struggling to get some rest, then it’s really worth cutting out all caffeine for a week and seeing if things improve.

Sugar is also a stimulant so be mindful of overall sugar intake too.  Sugary snacks are going to send blood sugar levels up and the body’s overall balance will be upset. Try to keep the diet as ‘clean’ as possible and follow some of these simple strategies.  Improvements can be felt really quickly in many cases.

So, try some of these strategies to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Stay well.

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Suzie’s top foods to help increase your energy levels

 

Vector,Illustrator,Of,The,Fork,And,Spoon,With,White,Plate

Food is of course our main source of fuel and energy.  So, giving your diet the thought it deserves on a daily basis is very important.

The quality and variety of the food we eat is critical to our overall wellbeing which includes energy production.

To help you on your way, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five energising foods to keep you going all day long!

 

Whole grain bagels

Bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

Delicious, versatile, and low in fat, whole grain bagels provide a great energy boost.  Whether you start the day with a toasted bagel with scrambled eggs, or with some low-fat cream cheese and smoked salmon at lunchtime they will really hit the spot!

Whole grain foods are naturally high in energising B-vitamins because they haven’t been highly refined.  They also contain plenty of minerals, especially magnesium, which is needed for energy production too.

Eggs

A healthy breakfast of eggs, smoked salmon and avocado

You might not associate a high protein food like eggs with energy.  However, protein keeps blood sugar levels in check, and so too energy levels.  In fact, having some eggs at breakfast really helps to keep energy levels sustained all-day long. Eggs are not only high in protein but also rich in energising iron and B-vitamins.

The great news is that there are many ways to eat eggs, so you’ll never get bored of having the same meal. Scrambled, fried, poached, as an omelette or frittata, or even as French toast where bread is dipped in egg and lightly fried – the options are endless. 

Sweet potatoes

shutterstock_260427179-baked-sweet-potato-feb17

Whilst all types of potatoes are great for providing energy, sweet potatoes have the slight edge on nutrient content, but also for keeping blood sugar levels in balance. This in turn will provide sustained energy for longer.

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which is made into vitamin A in the body, and helps protect the immune system too. And sweet potatoes can be prepared and eaten in exactly the same way as white potatoes.  Plus, if you eat them with some protein, energy levels will soar all day long.  It’s time to enjoy a jacket sweet potato with tuna as an easy, low-fat lunch or quick evening meal.

Chickpeas

Chickpea salad with feta

Chickpeas are a legume which are high in both protein and good carbs.  And they’re certainly a perfect food for vegans.  In terms of energy, chickpeas are great because they’re packed with B-vitamins, especially folate, alongside iron, magnesium, and copper.  Furthermore, they’re rich in fibre so they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and well as keeping your energy levels high.

If you’re struggling to decide how to eat them, then why not try this delicious and easy recipe for even more energy.  The addition of iron-rich spinach makes it the perfect lunch or dinner choice. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/spinach-chickpea-curry

Bananas

Whole bananas and diced banana

No wonder we often see athletes eating bananas before, during or after an event or match. Bananas provide an instant pick-me-up, especially when energy levels are flagging.  Even better, they’ll keep you fuelled up because bananas are high in fibre so energy levels will be sustained.

Bananas are also a great food for exercise recovery because they provide electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium, which are lost during exercise.  The quicker you can recover from a heavy workout, the sooner you’ll have the energy for another session. And if you’re thinking of eating them as an easy breakfast, then do add some protein in the form of natural yoghurt for an even great energy hit.

So, up your energy levels with Suzie’s five easy ways of keeping you fuelled and ready to go for longer!

Stay well.

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Show your body some love this Valentine’s Day with these nutrient-rich foods

Blueberries in a heart shape

Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day or not, this is a great time to show your body some love by feeding it a wide range of nutrients.

Cold, dark days and lots of bugs flying around take their toll on mental wellbeing and the immune system at this time of year.  So, fuelling yourself with the right nutrients is a good way to support your health as much as possible.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five foods to try this February.

 

Acai berries

Beautiful acai berries are loaded with powerful antioxidants which have health benefits for the brain, heart, and immune system. Unusually for berries, they also provide some of the healthy omega-6 fatty acids – great for the skin – and oleic acid which is good for the heart.

Acai,Breakfast,Superfoods,Smoothies,Bowl,With,Chia,Seeds,,Bee,Pollen,Acai bowls are still on trend and frozen berries are perfect with toppings of granola, nuts and seeds or desiccated coconut (or anything else you fancy!)

 

Buckwheat

This food often confuses people as it’s not actually wheat! Just like quinoa, it’s actually a seed and is a great source of protein.  For those who struggle with digestive issues, especially when eating gluten and wheat, buckwheat is a great alternative and is easily incorporated into the daily diet.

Close up of buckwheat pancakes with raspberriesIts high protein content includes the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce the happy hormone serotonin.  If you’re wanting your partner in a good mood for Valentine’s Day, then buckwheat could be a great choice!

Why not treat yourself (and your partner) to a delicious breakfast of buckwheat pancakes with a dollop of natural yoghurt and berries of your choice, for a powerful start to the day.

 

Beetroot

If winter has left you feeling out of sorts, then including beetroot into the daily diet on a regular basis could really kick-start your immune system.  Plus, beetroot is a great liver detoxifier.  It has often been used as a tonic after illness because it’s loaded with vitamins and minerals.  If raw beetroot juice isn’t for you, then try adding some carrot juice to make it slightly more palatable.

Beetroot and goats cheese saladBeetroot has a great flavour and makes a lovely accompaniment to goat’s cheese in a salad, in soups, roasted as a vegetable side and even cooked into chocolate brownies.  Maybe your Valentine’s Day treat can deliver some great health benefits too!

Broccoli

A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli delivers plenty of health benefits. It contains plant compounds called indoles which help protect DNA from damage, hence can help provide protection against disease.

Fresh,Broccoli,SoupBroccoli is also a great source of beta carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A in the body, plus energising folate, and vitamin C.  If you can’t always find fresh broccoli when you want it, then do keep some in the freezer.  The nutrient content of frozen vegetables is very good as they are generally frozen and packaged very soon after harvest. 

How about cooking up some delicious broccoli and stilton soup for Valentine’s Day or just include broccoli on your dinner plate frequently, in order to enjoy its fabulous health benefits.

Chia seeds

 

 

These tiny seeds are packed with nutritional goodness, are incredibly versatile and can be used in many recipes including smoothies.  One of their main claims to fame is that they are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids which are beneficial for the heart, skin, hormones, joints, and brain.

Acai,Berry,And,Chia,Seed,Pudding,With,Blueberries,And,BlackberriesHowever, they also fare really well on the mineral front with good levels of iron, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus.  These are all minerals that are frequently deficient in the typical western diet, deficiencies of which can have a negative impact on health.  Chia seeds have also been found to help with weight management, which is down to their high fibre content.  They swell in the stomach which then helps to regulate appetite and feelings of fullness.  Chia seeds are so easy to add to your daily diet and can really get health on track in readiness for Spring.

 

 

So, show your body some love this Valentine’s Day – and every day! It will certainly reward you with improved health.

Stay well.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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