October eating: what’s in season right now

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

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

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

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

Kale

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

shutterstock_192761054 bowl of kale Apr15

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

shutterstock_488572450-eggs-and-kale-nov16

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

Swede

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

Freshly,Picked,Swedes

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

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

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

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

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

Plums

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

A bowl full of plums

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

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

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

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

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

Stay well.

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Support your heart health with these five vitamins and minerals

Blueberries in a heart shape

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

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

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

Vitamin C

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

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

shutterstock_362885486 vitamin C Jan17

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

Vitamin B3

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

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

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

Magnesium

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

A range of foods containing magnesium

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

Potassium

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

shutterstock_651019798 honeydew melon Aug17

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

Vitamin B12

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

A range of foods high in protein

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

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

Stay well.

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Managing your blood pressure: top dietary tips to reduce yours

Woman having her blood pressure taken

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

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

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

Grab some garlic

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

shutterstock_552242461 garlic Aug17

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

Go for salmon

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

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

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

Snack on bananas

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

Whole bananas and diced banana

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

Eat brown not white

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

shutterstock_585346478 whole wheat pasta June17

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

Avoid processed meats

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

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

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

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

Stay well.

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How to pack a healthy picnic

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

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

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

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

Swap white for brown

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

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

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

Swap potato crisps for veggie crisps

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

Home made kale chips in a dish

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

Swap ham for turkey

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

Grilled,Turkey,Breast,With,Salad

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

Swap cheese spread for nut butters

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

Nut butter on rye bread

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

Swap fizzy drinks for kombucha

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

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

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

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

Stay well.

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

A range of fruits and vegetables

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

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

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

Boost your Breakfast

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

Spinach and mushroom om

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

A green smoothie

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

Load up at lunch time

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

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

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

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

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

Dive in at Dinner

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

Salmon stir fry

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

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

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

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

Stay well.

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Five nutrients to maximise your health this spring

Fruit and vegetables in the shape of a

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

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

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

Magnesium

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

A range of foods containing magnesium

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

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

Zinc

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

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

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

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

Vitamin C

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

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

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

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

Vitamin D

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

A range of foods containing vitamin D

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

Iodine

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

A range of foods containing iodine

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

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

Stay well.

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Nutrition for women: 5 nutrients to support your health

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

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

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

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

Magnesium

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

A range of foods containing magnesium

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

Vitamin B6

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

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

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

Biotin

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

Foods containing the b vitamin Biotin

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

Zinc

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

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

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

Chromium

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

A range of foods containing chromium

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

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

Stay well.

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Heart health: the top three nutrients to support yours

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

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

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

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

Vitamin C

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

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

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

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

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

Omega-3s

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

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

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

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

A spoon full of flax seeds

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

Magnesium

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

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

A range of foods containing magnesium

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

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

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

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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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.

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.

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Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

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