Nutritious seasonal eats this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

With the festive season now upon us, supermarkets are packed with chocolates, cakes, puddings and treats! However, let’s not forget that we can still enjoy healthy treats and get a boost of vitamins and minerals at the same time. There are plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables in season in December, and with a little thought they can really excite the taste buds!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five fruits and vegetables this Christmas, together with her recipe suggestions.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

PEARS

These sometimes get forgotten and pushed aside for the more popular apple. However, pears are real winners both for their taste and nutrient content.

They’re high in immune-boosting vitamin C and heart-loving vitamin K. If you eat them with the skin on, they’re also rich in fibre; more than many other fruits and vegetables, around 40% of a pear’s health benefits lie just under the skin.

Pear, goats cheese and walnut salad

Pears work really well simply sliced in a salad with goat’s cheese, varied leaves and walnuts, which retains maximum nutrient benefits. However, at this time of year, they’re wonderful poached with lemon zest, ginger, a cinnamon stick, allspice and some apple cider. They can be served with vanilla ice-cream for a real treat, eaten cold as a desert or sliced over your morning porridge for a warming start to the day.

RED CABBAGE

Whilst white (also known as green) cabbage is the most commonly eaten, its nutrient benefits slightly fade into the background when compared to its red counterpart. As with all fruits and vegetables, the secret to its nutritional benefit lies in its colour; red cabbage is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants. This is especially helpful at this time of year. It also contains lots of anti-inflammatory compounds which is welcome news for those suffering from aching or painful joints during the winter months.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

One of the nicest ways to use red cabbage is braised with apples. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to any meat or is great on the Christmas dinner table. It’s so easy cooked in a pot, with onions, apples, balsamic vinegar, allspice and sliced apples. Cook slowly in the oven for an hour or so – the smell is wonderful.

CAULIFLOWER

Cauliflower has become one of the most popular vegetables in recent times. Even better it’s in season right now. As with many fruits and vegetables, the most prominent nutrient in cauliflower is vitamin C. However, it’s rich in most of the B-vitamins as well as the important trace minerals magnesium and manganese. These nutrients are better retained when cauliflower is steamed rather than boiled.

Cauliflower cheese

In terms of serving, a perennial favourite dish is cauliflower cheese which is often a Boxing Day lunch staple. However, it works really well as a one-pot curry with chickpeas, cumin, curry powder, onions, lentil and almonds. Cauliflower rice is also really popular with those watching their weight or following the Paleo Diet. Placed into a food processor it then gets broken down into rice-sized pieces. Simply heat through with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper.

CLEMENTINES

Always popular in Christmas stockings for their delicious, juicy and sweet taste, clementines are perfectly in season right now. Not only are they packed with vitamin C, they contain limonin which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels – another reason why they could be useful during the season of over-indulgence!

Clementines on wooden board

They’re also fabulous used in many recipes and work really well with our Christmas staple vegetable, the Brussels sprout. We tend to have a love/hate relationship with these little green vegetables, but when braised in the oven with sliced clementines, shallots, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and walnuts, they really come alive!

CRANBERRY

No Christmas table would ever be complete without cranberries. They deliver some wonderful health benefits, most notably for the urinary tract. Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria, and cranberries are able to prevent the E. coli bacteria from attaching to the wall of the urinary tract.

CRanberry sauce in small ceramic jug and cranberries on wooden board

Importantly, whilst, cranberry sauce makes a wonderful accompaniment to turkey, they work really well in a muesli recipe or in homemade energy bars. Simply mix dried cranberries with golden syrup, sunflower seeds, desiccated coconut, oats, butter and sultanas for a delicious tray-baked, portable energy snack – much needed during the tiring month of December.

So alongside the traditional sweet treats of Christmas, treat yourself to some delicious and nutritious fruit and veg this season and reap their amazing health benefits.

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The five best breakfasts to kick-start your day

Woman eating a healthy breakfast with berries, yoghurt and orange juice

For so many reasons, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Every main meal is an opportunity for taking on board nutrients and giving the body the fuel it needs in order to keep it functioning optimally. And as the body has been fasting for quite a number of hours while you sleep, first thing in the morning your blood sugar levels are low, energy is not at its best and the body is crying for refuelling.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five of her favourite breakfasts to start your day right!

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AMARANTH PORRIDGE WITH PEAR

There’s no down side to starting your day with some porridge; it’s packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates which will keep you feeling fuller for longer and won’t send blood sugar levels soaring; imbalanced blood sugar will adversely affect energy and mood for the rest of the day. Porridge is also packed with energy-giving B-vitamins, as well as other key nutrients.

Why not try a slightly different take on traditional oat-based porridge? Try using the grain amaranth which has a wonderful nutrient profile; high in minerals calcium, iron, manganese and phosphorus as well as protein.

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

One of the best ways is to simmer amaranth flakes (readily available in supermarkets and health food stores) is with some coconut milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon for about five minutes. Then add the sliced pears and continue to simmer for another five to 10 minutes. It’s delicious sprinkled with a few seeds and a little natural yoghurt if desired.

POACHED EGGS WITH ASPARAGUS

This delicious breakfast option is a meeting of two highly nutritious foods which actually work really well together. Depending on how much time you have in the morning, this might need to be a healthy weekend breakfast as it requires a few more minutes of preparation. However, it’s well worth it; asparagus is high in those energy-giving B-vitamins and eggs are one of the best sources of protein on the planet. Breakfast never tasted so good!

A poached egg on top of steamed asparagus to show a healthy breakfast

Ideally, steam or boil some asparagus spears for a few minutes until slightly tender. Meanwhile, poach a couple of eggs; clearly everyone has their favourite way of doing this but a proper poaching pan is definitely the easiest way! The asparagus can be served sprinkled with some grated parmesan cheese and black pepper with a slice of rye toast on the side. A great energy-booster to see you through till lunch.

SPECIAL MUESLI

Shop-bought muesli can often be rather sugar-laden, partly because of the high amount of added dried fruit which contains far more sugar than fresh or frozen fruit. It is a much better idea to mix up your own batch of muesli, store it in the cupboard and then add some fresh fruit when you come to eat it.

Oats, nuts and seeds to show homemade museli and healthy breakfast

Wholegrains are unrefined, which means they have had none of their nutrients removed, particularly the B-vitamins and other minerals such as magnesium (which is essential for your bones and energy, as one example). Mix some oat flakes, barley flakes, wheatgerm, sunflower and pumpkin seeds plus a few raisins. You can actually get more adventurous by adding other grains such as quinoa flakes.

It’s a great ‘go-to’ breakfast, always in the cupboard, and only needs some milk (why not try almond or coconut milk), plus some natural yoghurt and fruit of your choice if so desired.

AVOCADO ON TOAST

No breakfast suggestions would be complete without avocado! It’s an amazing superfood with so many wonderful nutrients. Most importantly, avocado will keep you feeling full all morning, plus their high vitamin E content will leave you with glowing skin.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

What could be simpler? A slice of rye toast is one of the best choices because it has a great nutrient profile. Additionally, it’s a denser bread so will keep you going for longer and has less gluten, which means you’ll be less likely to suffer from bloating.

Slice or mash the avocado, add to the toast and try adding a crunchy topping with some munchy seeds. For an added ‘twist’ swirl a little balsamic glaze over the top.

THE ULTIMATE BREAKFAST ‘ON THE RUN’

For those who literally ‘wake up and go’ then breakfast doesn’t have to be a double espresso and croissant! A small pot of natural yoghurt is packed with protein to keep energy levels balanced through the morning, topped with a few berries of your choice. All berries are low on the glycaemic index, keeping blood sugar levels in check and also adding some great nutrients.

Woman eating yohurt with berries showing healthy breakfast

This breakfast can be packed in your bag, eaten on the bus or when you reach the office!

So start every morning the right way with a nutritious breakfast, refuelling the body and providing you with the energy you need to get on with your day.

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Amazing asparagus: in-season, nutritious and tasty!

Close up of woman holding a bunch of asparagus

May is National Asparagus Month because it’s the time when this wonderful vegetable comes into season and tastes at its absolute best. However, it’s not just the taste that’s so amazing.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her thoughts on why asparagus is such a nutritional winner!

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VARIETIES

Asparagus can be found in green, white or purple varieties, although green tends to be the most popular in the UK. White asparagus has been grown in the dark, underground, and therefore doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as the other coloured varieties. It also doesn’t have any chlorophyll as it’s not been exposed to sunlight, hence it tastes slightly different.

A woman holding a bunch of green asparagus and a bunch of white asparagus

THE BENEFITS

Asparagus is a really good source of vitamins A and C so is great for the immune system. It is also very high in energy-giving folate plus it’s got a wealth of trace minerals such as potassium, copper, manganese and selenium. Asparagus is also a good source of chromium so helps with blood sugar balance.

Interestingly, asparagus isn’t on the top of everyone’s list when choosing vegetables. This may partly be because the sulphur-producing elements in asparagus gives most people’s urine a rather distinctive smell! In fact, this is quite normal and asparagus is a natural diuretic, so is actually very cleansing for the kidneys. For some people it can also work as a laxative as it’s high in fibre, so is great for people suffering from constipation.

Roasted asparagus topped with a poached egg

As with most fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, they tend to have traditional folklore use; in the case of asparagus, it was used as a tonic and to treat inflammatory-type conditions such as rheumatism.

IT’S GREAT FOR PREGNANCY

Since asparagus contains high levels of folate (folic acid), it’s great for women to eat either before or during pregnancy (or indeed both). Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects in babies and Public Health England also recommends a supplement of 400 micrograms daily, pre-conceptually and for the first trimester.

We know from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS)[1] that women of child-bearing age are deficient in this essential vitamin. This is despite it being widely available in foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, since folic acid works alongside vitamin B12, which is often poorly absorbed, the two vitamins can often both be deficient. So, ladies, now is the time to grab some delicious asparagus!

WHAT TO DO WITH IT

Asparagus is a real regular on restaurant menus at this time of year, either as an appetiser or as a side dish.   Often it’s simply roasted with a little olive oil and lemon or just lightly grilled. It’s also wonderful roasted and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. And it’s superb barbecued!

Another popular recipe is asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham, either as a starter or side. The asparagus is simply wrapped in the ham, sprinkled with pepper and roasted for about 15 minutes.

Roased asparagus wrapped in parma ham and sprinkled with parmesan cheese

If, however, you want to go for the slightly milder, sweeter taste of white asparagus, you can certainly try something different. White asparagus needs to be prepared slightly differently from the green variety; white should be peeled from the bottom as the skin tends to be tough. It is generally better boiled until soft and is traditionally served with hollandaise sauce. If you do opt for green, then it should be so fresh that you can snap it in half; no toughness or stringiness in sight!

The official asparagus season lasts around 8 weeks in the UK so enjoy it as much as possible!

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE

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

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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