Five food swaps to boost your energy this January

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

The month of January can often make us feel low in energy, especially after all the Christmas festivities. What you eat right now can really make the difference between flagging during the day and feeling full of life.

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Just like a car needs fuel, the body can’t run on empty, but the food we choose needs to be the right kind of fuel. So how can you get the most energy out of your food choices?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five energising food swaps so you jump through January!

Swap sunflower oil for coconut oil

Sunflower oil is one of the most popular cooking oils, partly because it’s quite cheap but it’s also promoted as being healthy. However, the reality is that sunflower oil contains a high percentage of polyunsaturated fats which are damaged when heated and therefore turn into unhealthy trans fats.

Coconut oil and coconut flesh

Conversely, coconut oil is stable once heated but, most importantly, contains high levels of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which the body uses as an energy source. They also speed up metabolism and are not stored as fat. You can even use pure coconut butter as a wonderful body moisturiser. Coconut oil can always be used as a replacement for sunflower oil (or other cooking oils), plus it delivers a very subtle coconut taste which is particularly delicious in stir fry dishes.

Swap rice cakes for oat cakes

Rice cakes are frequently suggested as a great low calorie snack but they do very little in terms of providing sustained energy. Moreover, rice cakes are heated to high temperatures during their preparation and this can produce very unhealthy acrylamides which have been linked to a number of degenerative diseases.

Home made oat cakes

Whilst oat cakes contain a few more calories, you’ll eat less overall because you won’t feel hungry as quickly. Oats are slow releasing carbohydrates which means they keep delivering energy for much longer. Oat cakes make great snacks when paired with hummus, nut butters (see below), prawns or bananas. They’re truly versatile!

Swap peanut butter for walnut butter

It’s a common misconception that peanut butter is really healthy. True, it contains a good amount of protein but that’s as far as it goes! Peanuts are not tree nuts; they’re grown in the ground and are very susceptible to picking up unhealthy aflatoxins. However, proper tree nuts, and in particular, walnuts contain the healthy and energising omega-3 fats.

Walnut nut butter in a jar surrounded by walnuts

Walnuts have the highest omega-3 content of any nuts. These essential fats are needed to help boost metabolism and will therefore give your energy levels a boost. They’re also delicious when made into a nut butter, which is available in most supermarkets. Add walnut butter to smoothies for a protein punch, on oatcakes as a snack, on wholemeal toast as a great on-the-run breakfast, or in decadent chocolate brownie recipes.

Swap white bread for brown

Many of us love white bread, especially toasted. However, once you’ve made the swap to brown, you’ll never look back! Your energy levels will be much improved and you’ll also be eating a much greater range of nutrients.

A selection of brown bread loaves

The problem with white bread (and other white products such as pasta) is that the refining process strips them of the all-important B vitamins which the body needs to produce energy. White bread also contains much less fibre. This means that its carbohydrate content is quickly released into the bloodstream and won’t provide sustainable energy.

If you‘re finding the swap tough, then why not buy some half and half bread to ease you into it gently!

Swap veggie crisps for kale chips

Vegetable chips are readily available in supermarkets and many people believe they’re much healthier than potato crisps because they contain colourful vegetables. This is partly true. However crisps are crisps regardless of which vegetable they are made from; they are still deep-fried, deliver very few nutrients and do very little to improve energy levels.

Home made kale chips in a dish

As a quick, healthy and energising swap try kale chips instead. You can even make your own: add a bag of kale to a roasting pan, sprinkle with coconut oil and a little salt and grill until they have turned crisp. Kale is high in iron and folate, both essential for energy production. As an added benefit, kale also contains good levels of vitamin K which is needed for a healthy heart and bones.

So a few simple swaps will get your energy levels soaring this January and hopefully throughout the coming year!

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Nutritional resolutions for 2019: live your best life

 

Woman making soup

The start of a new year is always a brilliant time to make changes and improvements to life generally. However, it’s also the best time to re-think your diet and overall nutrition to see what could work better for YOU!

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It’s not always about re-inventing the wheel; where nutrition is concerned, sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

Drink more water

This one sounds so simple. However, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel from just keeping the body properly hydrated. The body carries around 70-80% water. Of course, this is not ‘pure’ water because body fluids are made up of many different solutes; this is one of the reasons why athletes and recreational exercisers often use isotonic drinks to maintain good hydration levels. These drinks contain many of the electrolytes that are found in body fluids.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

The good news, therefore, is that you don’t need to only drink plain water. Think herbal and fruit non-caffeinated teas. Try water with slices of lemon, cucumber or apple. Give lemon and crushed ginger a go – there’s plenty to choose from. It’s also a great way to help alkalise the body. You can also try blending: add a few green leaves such as spinach, chard and parsley and drink this throughout the day to provide the body with chlorophyll, otherwise known as the ‘food of life’. Aim for around 1 ½ litres of water-based drinks daily. Your brain, skin, digestion, joints and mood will all massively benefit!

Eat more omega-3s

We need to eat omega-3s very regularly in the diet as the body cannot produce them. However, for those of you that don’t eat fish or nuts and seeds, you may be missing out on these essential healthy fats. Early tell-tale signs that you might be lacking are dry skin, constipation, low mood and joint aches and pains – evidence as to why they’re known as the essential fats.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the best sources.   Good vegetarian sources are flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and hazelnuts. However, if you’re not including any of these foods in your diet at least every other day, then you certainly need to take either a fish oil supplement or a vegetarian flax oil or similar.

Make soup

Soups are a really easy and delicious way of bumping up your daily nutrient intake. Various forms of cooking can rob vegetables of their nutrients but soup has the added advantage of retaining most of its nutrients in the ingredients.

Watercress soup

Some popular soup suggestions:

  • Chicken: great for treating colds and blocked noses and packed with protein
  • Lentil: perfect for vegetarians, filling, warming and a great source of fibre and energising B vitamins
  • Minestrone: classic Italian soup made with lots of fresh vegetables containing immune-boosting vitamin C
  • Bouillabaisse: a thick French fish soup containing omega-3s, vitamin C from the tomatoes, together with plenty of iron and protein

You can make up a big pot of soup and it’ll last for a few days when refrigerated or you can freeze it in batches and it can last you even longer! So why not make 2019 the year of the soup – your body will just love being loaded with more nutrients throughout the year.

Take a Vitamin D supplement!

Public Health England recommends that everyone should take a supplement of vitamin D during the winter months and more frequently for some ‘at risk’ groups. However, even though we generally get some exposure to sun (the best source of vitamin D) during the summer, the body may still need a supplement. Think of it as a cheap health insurance policy to make sure you are getting enough.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Vitamin D is essential for the immune system as well as healthy bones and teeth and is especially important for growing bones. Additionally, people suffering from SAD and general low mood, are often low in vitamin D. Taking a daily supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of vitamin D is easy, cheap and very important.

Eat more fibre

Our typical highly refined western diet is normally always low in fibre. We should aim to eat around 30 grams of fibre a day from fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and whole foods such as beans and lentils.

Fibre is absolutely key for maintaining good digestion and to keep the bowels running smoothly. The body retains damaging toxins if it’s constipated. Additionally fibre is needed for heart health (the body eliminates bad cholesterol via the stools), effective weight management and for keeping our skin looking healthy and fresh.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

 

Many of us, over the Festive period, will have dined out on sugary, low fibre foods. But with a fresh start to 2019, resolve to include much more fibre in your diet. Enjoy some wholegrain oats for breakfast, some wholemeal rolls or jacket sweet potatoes for lunch and some chicken with quinoa and vegetables for dinner, as a quick example of a healthier, more nutritious day!

So making some healthy nutritional resolutions in 2019 doesn’t need to be complicated but simple changes can be very effective. Happy New Year!

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Fuel your festive walks with these top nutrition tips

MOther and child on her back dressed up in hats and scarves on a winter walk in the snow

Winter walks can take on a magic of their own, whether it’s snowy outside or crisp and dry. Winter weather may make us feel like snuggling up in the warm. But getting outside and taking some brisk walks can have so many health benefits, particularly for the heart and circulation. Plus it gets those feel-good endorphins ramped up!

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So what should you eat to keep you going before, during and after a wintery walk?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

START THE DAY RIGHT

There’s no better way than to start the day in preparation for your walk than to eat a bowl of porridge. It will keep your energy levels sustained for long periods because it’s packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates.

However, for those who can’t tolerate gluten or find traditional porridge oats too fibrous, then why not change it up with a bowl of amaranth porridge? It can be used in flake-form and is readily available in the supermarket. Most importantly, it’s higher in protein than traditional oats and contains a wealth of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals.

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

Amaranth flakes can be simmered with some coconut or almond milk with cinnamon and nutmeg (also very warming spices), and then cooked through with some chopped pears or banana. It will give your body a warm, healthy glow to set you on your way.

WARMING SNACKS

Whilst the body will be burning calories during a walk, unless you’re going for a long walk you don’t need to eat vast amounts of additional food; the body has plenty of storage. However, if you’re going to be out for two or three hours, you’ll certainly need to pack a snack to keep you going.

Nut butter on rye bread

The best advice is to take something containing fat which will help keep the body warm. Therefore, choose the healthy omega-3 fats that your body can’t make but need very regularly and you’ll be getting plenty of additional health benefits. You can easily pack some almond, pumpkin seed or other nut butter spread on wholemeal or rye bread which will fill you up, warm you up and fuel you up for your bracing winter walk.

WARMING DRINKS

Warming drinks and food are needed during the winter because they help to energise the body and bring blood flow to the skin surface, which improves circulation. If we eat cooling foods such as salads during the winter months the body has to work a lot harder to digest food, which can cause digestive upsets.

A warming drink of honey, lemon and ginger

Some foods, and especially spices, are naturally warming. The most warming of all is ginger. Plus, it contains wonderful immune-stimulating properties, so is great to drink at the first sign of a cold. Why not fill a flask with some freshly grated ginger, lemon juice and a little immune-boosting Manuka honey with boiling water which is sure to keep you warm through the entire walk?

WARM YOURSELF BACK HOME

When you’ve had an amazing walk in the great outdoors, you’ll feel really invigorated! However, you’re probably also hungry and the body will need to be re-fuelled with a warming meal.

One of the best meal suggestions is to cook up a delicious curry. You can add a wealth of warming spices such as turmeric, paprika, chilli, and coriander. As we know, all herbs and spices contain a range of health benefits, but coriander is also good for the digestive tract, which may be really helpful over the Festive period!

A curry surrounded by herbs and spices

There’s no end of choice when it comes to making a curry; try a vegetable curry using sweet potato, chickpeas and other vegetables as a base. Or why not a fish curry with white fish of your choice, onions and broccoli. Another firm winter favourite is a lamb curry with raisins and cashew nuts. If you invest in a slow-cooker, then it can all be thrown into the pot before you leave for your walk and will be ready and waiting on your return.

Leek and potato soup in a bowl

Soups are another great winter warmer that work really following a brisk walk and need very little preparation. Leek and potato, spicy bean or winter minestrone are all excellent choices, particularly for lunch if you’ve been out for a morning stroll, and are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals.

So whatever the weather, get outdoors and with these top food tips you’ll be warm on the inside so you won’t feel too much of the cold on the outside!

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Autumn wellness: is your body fit for winter?

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

As our beautiful UK summer comes to an end, just as night follows day, winter will be upon us before we know it! Sad as it is to feel the cooler days (and nights), it’s also the perfect time to ensure your body is well equipped to prevent any nasty bugs or infections from getting a hold this season.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for winter immunity.

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OVERHAUL YOUR DIET

Whilst it’s often hard to eat the ‘perfect’ diet every day, the more foods you can eat that help boost your immune system on a daily basis, the better. In fact, your diet is the first port of call when it comes to ‘prepping’ your body for winter.

Eating some protein such as fish, chicken, eggs, dairy produce, beans, lentils and wholegrains at every meal is key. The immune system needs these types of foods to produce immunoglobulins – blood proteins that act as disease-fighting antibodies. Plus, many other nutrients such as vitamin C (found in most fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and avocadoes), vitamin A (high in liver, cheese, eggs and sweet potatoes) and zinc (especially rich in pumpkin seeds and lean red meat) are all key immune boosters. So try to keep your diet as varied and colourful as possible to ensure your body gets the spread of nutrients it needs.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

It is also important to keep sugar to a minimum; try to reduce the amount of refined carbs, alcohol, and fizzy and caffeinated drinks on a daily basis. Sugar in all its forms has an adverse effect on the immune system.

INCREASE YOUR HERBS AND SPICES

There are a wealth of herbs and spices that have strong immune-boosting powers and even anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Plus, they all enhance the flavour of many popular dishes.

For example, garlic is probably one of the best known infection-fighters and works well with so many different foods; meat, fish, and vegetables – the list is endless. Additionally, ginger is equally beneficial to the immune system. Both herbs can be used in easy stir-fries, for example.

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herb thyme is delicious added to casseroles or pasta dishes and is great made into an infusion with boiling water and gargled if you’re unlucky enough to get struck down. Thyme tea is recommended for all types of infections, including earache and sinusitis. All herbs and spices will have far-reaching health benefits, so add as many as possible to your dishes!

BOOST YOUR MOOD

A healthy mind is equally important for a strong immune system and can reduce your likelihood of getting struck down with a cold or flu. If you’re suffering from low mood, then you’re more likely to suffer from infections. Sharing problems with friends or family can often help. However, it may also be helpful to seek out some complementary therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture to help lift a low mood.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Equally, self-help strategies can be very powerful. Daily meditation, for example, is very effective for many reasons and may really help alleviate stress. It takes some practice (and obviously a little time, initially), but it is well worth persevering.

However, if low mood persists or there are emotional issues in your life, then it may be helpful to seek the services of a qualified counsellor. Often talking to someone who is properly trained to deal with problems can be very beneficial.

ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE

There are so many positive reasons to get moving! Not only will it support the immune system by boosting infection-fighting white blood cells, it will help relieve stress, release mood-enhancing endorphins and better nourish your body generally by enhancing oxygen to every part of your body.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

You may not want to spend hours in the gym, which is fine. However, any form of exercise carried out four or five times a week, for around 30 minutes, is going to be hugely beneficial to the immune system. And don’t forget that a brisk walk every day certainly counts as great exercise. If you haven’t got a dog to walk, maybe ‘borrow’ one from a friend to help with motivation!

SUPPORTIVE SUPPLEMENTATION

If your diet isn’t always as nutrient-dense as you’d like or you’re under a lot of stress, this is going to put a strain on the immune system. It makes sense, therefore, to take a good quality daily multivitamin to help plug any nutrient gaps and to ensure you’re definitely getting the sufficient vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system.

Echinacea flower and tea

There are certain herbs, licensed as herbal remedies, which are great to take as a preventative measure. Echinacea is a popular herb, which has been used for many years to help prevent and treat colds and flu. It’s worth starting it now for a few weeks, since it increases white blood cell production. Equally, the herb pelargonium is anti-viral and antibacterial and can be taken at the very first sign of a cold, if you’re unlucky enough to get caught! Both herbs should be a medicine cupboard staple for the winter months.

So with a few simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle, you can have a bug-free autumn and winter!

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

 

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

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Healthy Halloween foods with nutritious bite!

Two women holding jack-o-lantern pumpkins over their faces

With Halloween falling eerily close on the calendar, it’s the perfect time to think about getting in the spooky mood.  As we know, foods come in all colours, so why not celebrate Halloween by eating deliciously healthy treats with traditional Halloween colours?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us some ideas to make this Halloween the healthiest yet with orange, black and green foods!

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OMINOUS ORANGE!

Top of the list of traditional Halloween orange foods has to be pumpkin!  In fact, it’s almost too nutritious to be put outside the front door and used as a lantern!  However, as with all winter squashes, they’re an amazing source of beta-carotene, which is one of most powerful antioxidants.  They’re also easily digested and rarely cause allergies.

For the pumpkins that you use as lanterns, don’t forget to save and roast the seeds in a little olive oil.  You can spice them before roasting by rolling them in a mixture of salt and dried spices: cayenne, ginger, cumin and cinnamon all work really well together. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fats, minerals and fibre.

Mango is, of course, orange and in season right now!  Mangoes are relatively new to the UK; they were traditionally cultivated in India but are now widely grown throughout the tropics.  As with all orange fruits, they’re packed with vitamin C – great for boosting your immunity now the autumnal weather is starting to bite.

BLOODCURDLING BLACK!

Black is not a very common food colour, but nature has provided us with some black foods to treasure.  For example, blackberries are packed with nutrients including immune-boosting vitamin C.  Their colour is due to the anthocyanins, which are plant compounds that have real health benefits; they’re full of age-defying antioxidants.

Black rice contains as many antioxidants as blackberries and helps to manage inflammatory conditions.  Black rice might not be a top choice when thinking about preparing rice for a meal, but it’s really worth a try; it’s got a distinctive nutty flavour and interestingly, during the Ming Dynasty it was called ‘longevity rice’ and was reserved for the Emperors to give them good health.  Use it in the same way you would any other types of rice.  Why not prepare a black Halloween risotto?

For a real Halloween twist, why not add some jet black squid ink to your own home-made fresh pasta? It’s delicious prepared with garlic and olive oil or alternatively it’s traditionally served with fish, often mussels in white wine and garlic sauce.

GHOULISH GREEN!

You can go very green for Halloween! Green apples spring to mind at this time of year as apples are bang on season right now.  What would Halloween be without some traditional apple-bobbing? And of course let’s not forget toffee apples!  Whilst many toffee apple recipes will suggest using red apples, there’s nothing wrong with using green; they’re often slightly sharper in taste which helps to balance the sweetness of the toffee.  Create some ‘scary’ toffee apples using caster sugar, golden syrup and some red and black food colouring.

Another deliciously healthy Halloween green food is globe artichoke.  Although they look slightly strange, globe artichokes contain some wonderful health benefits; they contain a compound called cynarin which helps to detoxify the liver and aid digestion.  Young globe artichoke buds can be cooked and eaten whole.  Alternatively, they can be prepared by cutting in half and removing the base and top and also the hairy middle.  They can be gently boiled and used in a variety of recipes or as a starter with hollandaise sauce.

However, if you’re looking to ‘up-the anti’ with spooky but healthy Halloween foods, think guacamole as green slime. Green olives with a raisin stuck on using cream cheese make great eyeballs on sticks! Why not create a Dracula mouth by slicing green apples into a mouth shape, adding some peanut butter in the middle and then stick on some monster teeth using sliced marshmallows.

Halloween doesn’t always need to be about sugary sweet and treats; it can still be scary but healthy!  Have fun!

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

Boost your creativity in the kitchen with these seven unusual ingredients!

It’s the weekly dilemma… what to eat!  Time pressures, lack of enthusiasm or the fact that we like routine, often means we rotate the same dishes week in and week out.  However, with a little more planning and an injection of new ideas, you can rev up your weekly menus and grab some serious health benefits in the bargain.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares seven unusual ingredients that will tempt your taste buds and give your health a boost!

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NIGELLA SEEDS

Rumour has it that nigella seeds were once found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in ancient Egypt.  Obviously this is difficult to prove but we do understand they are one of the oldest spices known to man!

Nigella seeds are black and their taste is like a combination of onions, black pepper and oregano.  They are perfect added to curries and stews and are a great alternative to pepper with vegetables and salads. Additionally, they make a great flavouring to home-made breads.

Whilst nothing has officially been proven in terms of their health benefits, nigella seeds appear to help reduce blood pressure and blood fat levels, including cholesterol.

When you’re walking for long stretches at a time, energy levels can become depleted quite quickly, particularly if you’re tackling some challenging inclines. Therefore, what’s needed is quick energy-boosting or high glycaemic foods; these are foods that help the body to break down our preferred fuel, glucose, for readily available energy.

SEA VEGETABLES

Whilst many people have heard of sea vegetables, there is confusion around what to do with them and where to find them. They are becoming increasingly popular, not least because their many health benefits are finally being acknowledged.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of sea vegetables but the most common ones are kombu, nori, kelp and dulse. They are all packed with iodine which is essential for thyroid function and is often depleted in the Western diet. They also contain a wealth of other minerals and some vitamins, plus they contain antioxidants which boost the immune system as well as protecting the body from free radicals.

The easiest and tastiest way to eat sea vegetables is added to soups and stews.  They are fairly salty so you won’t need any additional salt and they can be found in most supermarkets.

STAR ANISE

As the name suggests, star anise looks just like an eight pointed star (almost too pretty to eat!)  It is widely used in Chinese cooking and is, in fact, one of the spices in five-spice blends.  As with all spices, star anise contains numerous potential health benefits: it has been used to treat everything from bacterial infections to back pain to stomach upsets.  Without doubt, it will promote better health.

It is used in many Chinese dishes but also packs a real punch when added whole to slow-cook casseroles.

CARAWAY SEEDS

Caraway seeds are actually from the same family as star anise and provide the same strongly aromatic flavours.  They have been used traditionally to relieve flatulence, colic and bronchitis but generally they are used for digestive upsets.

Caraway seeds are very versatile in many recipes but work particularly well in soups such as spicy roasted parsnip or butternut squash.  They also work well in combination with other spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

As with all spices, you’ll be grabbing some health benefits as well as some taste benefits!

SOBA NOODLES

Soba noodles are the Japanese equivalent of buckwheat noodles which means they are gluten-free and make a great alternative to pasta or other types of noodles. They contain almost zero fat but provide some additional calories when you need to bulk up a soup or casserole.  They are fabulous just added to a stir-fry dish alongside chicken, mangetout, soy and red chilli, or as equally fabulous served chilled with a dipping sauce.

As soba noodles are relatively low in protein and very low in fat this means that they are fairly high on the glycaemic index which means they can provide an unwanted insulin spike. Because of this, they are much better eaten with some good quality protein such as beef, chicken, fish or eggs.

REISHI MUSHROOMS

There are so many varieties of mushrooms but some provide better health benefits than others.  Enter reishi mushrooms also known as red reishi or lingzhi mushrooms.  They have been eaten for thousands of years in Asian countries but are now widely eaten around the world; interestingly, reishi mushrooms are eaten more for their health benefits than their taste as they tend to be slightly bitter.

They are particularly prized for their apparent anti-aging properties and for their benefits to the immune system.  They also help to detoxify the liver, protect the body against cognitive decline, reduce blood pressure and boost energy – quite a list! Reishi mushrooms are best added to dishes with strong flavours such as stir fries – you’ll benefit from their wonderful health benefits, whilst masking their slightly bitter taste.

HEMP PROTEIN

Just to put to rest any confusion around hemp, hemp is not cannabis – they just come from the same plant species – and that’s where the similarities end!  Hemp is a great source of vegetarian and vegan protein and it actually contains all the essential amino acids, which is very unusual for a plant-based protein.  It’s got a slightly nutty tasting and can be used in many dishes such as breads, cookies, cakes, smoothies and even pasta!

Hemp pasta is readily available in dried form and can be used in exactly the same way as ‘normal’ pasta.  Hemp is generally mixed with durum wheat flour to produce the pasta which provides a high protein, high fibre dish that’s packed with healthy omega-6 fatty acids together with some omega-3s.

So, with a few unusual ingredients, you can add some wonderful new flavours, textures and nutrients to your daily diet!  Enjoy!

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