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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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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Boost your hikes with these top energising trail snacks

What can be better than getting out into the great outdoors!  There are so many activities to be enjoyed outside and walking and hiking are becoming increasingly popular.  But what food should you take on your hike to keep your energy up and those legs moving?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top energising and portable snacks to keep you going on the trails all day.

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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.

Here are 5 of my top go-to snacks for walking, hiking and trail-blazing!

BAGEL AND JAM

A white bagel provides a dense source of energy which can be quickly accessed by the body without delivering a high fat content. Whilst the body can use fat as a fuel source, it takes much longer to be converted and delivered to the muscles where it’s mostly needed.

Jam of course has a high sugar content, which makes it a very usable short-term energy fix.  Even better, bagels and jam require no refrigeration and are light and easy to carry in a back-pack.

DRIED FRUIT

If you’re out trekking all day and maybe walking at altitude for some of the time, the body actually burns up carbohydrates a lot more quickly than in normal circumstances – so you’ll find yourself feeling super-hungry. Whilst eating lots of dried fruit is not to be recommended too often, it’s actually a great snack when you’re in need of some quick fuel.

You can choose whichever fruit you most enjoy.  Raisins, for example, are also a great source of iron which many people, especially women, are lacking, and iron is good at boosting energy levels. Dried apples, as an alternative, will provide a small amount of vitamin C and dried apricots are high in heart-friendly potassium.  The choice is yours – why not mix with a handful of your favourite nuts and create your own trail mix?

BANANA

Keeping the body fuelled whilst walking or hiking for long periods is essential for maximum enjoyment of the day. However, large quantities of food are not needed and in fact can cause digestive upsets (not great if you’re on a long walk!)

Bananas fit the bill perfectly; they’re very portable, they relieve hunger pangs quickly and they provide an energy boost plus additional vitamins and minerals to top up the body’s normal daily requirements.

However, it’s probably best not to consume more than one during the day as they’re high in fibre and may cause bloating.

MUESLI BARS

For many people, muesli is their favourite cereal.  Therefore, being able to take a muesli snack bar out for the day represents a real treat!  Whilst these bars contain quite high amounts of sugar, and are not recommended on a daily basis, they are perfect for this type of exercise.

Even better, why not make up your own bars using honey, caster sugar, butter, some rolled oats, sultanas, dried apricots and some mixed seeds (such as pumpkin seeds)?  They’re totally delicious and also contain some excellent nutrients: oats are great for reducing cholesterol levels, and pumpkin seeds are a good source of healthy omega-3 fats which are great for the heart, joints and brain.

Bring a few to share and everyone will love you on the mountain!

SPORTS BARS

There are an array of sports bars in the supermarkets and specialist sports shops, but which one to choose?  They all have their own merits but one of the biggest problems with sports bars is that they often contain chemical sweeteners, such as aspartame.  These types of sweeteners are not great for us because they are chemicals, plus many people get digestive upsets and bloating when eating foods containing high levels of sweeteners.

So when choosing a sports bar look for one that’s high in carbohydrates but be sure to check what else is in it before purchasing.  There are plenty of options that use natural sweeteners, particularly if you look in health food stores, and they’ll still keep you well energised throughout the day.

DON’T FORGET TO HYDRATE

Most importantly, don’t forget to take plenty of fluid with you – at least 2 litres if you’re out all day or tackling a more strenuous hike. The body also re-hydrates more quickly if you add a little fruit juice to your water rather than just drinking it plain, so why not take one bottle with water and fruit juice, and one without?

So get out there and enjoy your summer walks to their fullest, and with the right snacks you won’t be flagging up those challenging hills!

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In-season: the wonders of asparagus

English asparagus has just come into season and is delicious.  Rich in many nutrients, it is a very versatile vegetable whether boiled, steamed, roasted, cooked on the barbeque or grilled.  Plus, there’s no shortage of foods it can be combined with.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the reasons why asparagus should be on your weekly shopping list!

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Asparagus is a spring vegetable with the most edible part being the tips.  It is often more expensive than some other vegetables, even when in season, because of the work taken to harvest it and the fact that its natural season is very short.

 

As with many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, asparagus was used in traditional folk medicine to treat a number of symptoms, especially inflammatory conditions.  Whilst it’s no longer part of your GP’s medicine chest, asparagus remains a very good source of fibre to keep the bowels healthy and is also a natural diuretic which could help with water retention: it also helps liver detoxification so might be well-chosen for a hangover cure.  Even better, it feeds the good bacteria in the digestive tract, helping to stop bloating, boost immunity and promote healthy skin.

There’s just one little downside; after eating, our urine does acquire a rather strange smell and this comes from the amino acid, arginine.  However, it’s not a prolonged side effect and it also means that asparagus contains some protein, which is another plus!

NUTRIENT PROFILE

Asparagus is rich in folate – the food-form of folic acid – which is great for energy and producing healthy red blood cells; a 100 g portion of asparagus provides around three-quarters of the body’s requirement for folate each day.  It’s high in vitamins C and E which help to boost the immune system, together with beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in the body – also great for immunity.

Asparagus is also high in vitamin K which is needed for effective blood clotting, strong bones and a healthy heart. As if that weren’t enough, asparagus also contains the minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, iodine and zinc.  Minerals in general are often deficient in the daily diet, purely because they are not present in highly refined foods which tend to make up a large percentage of the typical Western diet. So in this respect asparagus really is a mineral star!

ASPARAGUS MEAL IDEAS

Asparagus is delicious lightly steamed and served with some hollandaise sauce.  This can either be made from scratch using egg yolks, lemon juice, mayonnaise and a little cream or the shop-bought versions are generally really good.  Even better, it’s on many restaurant menus, so enjoy it as a starter.

Another really easy way with asparagus is lightly roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt, pepper and garlic. Or why not try roasted and tossed with some parmesan cheese, or sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Asparagus works particularly well with eggs.  It’s great steamed and topped with a lightly boiled egg as a starter or as part of a salad with egg, avocado, peppers and spinach leaves.

For the more adventurous, it’s delicious in one-pot dishes such as chicken thighs roasted with garlic and rosemary, in a soup with peas, or in a stir fry with anything you fancy!

So catch asparagus while it’s in season right now; the taste and texture won’t be better!

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

Going back to your roots: why root vegetables are so good for you

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Root vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Because they grow underground, they absorb a huge amount of nutrients from the earth around them. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, they are versatile and provide a great accompaniment to many dishes and in some cases can be the main event themselves!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her top five root vegetables and their nutritional benefits.

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BEETROOT

In ancient times, people only ate beetroot leaves, with the purple root being used medicinally to treat toothaches and headaches!  Now of course we know that these delicious roots are packed with beta-carotene (an antioxidant which helps to protect against the ageing process), vitamin C (to support the immune system), iron (which helps reduce tiredness and fatigue), and folic acid (great for energy).

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Beetroot has now built a reputation as a superfood: most recently, it’s been found to boost exercise performance, meaning beetroot juice is a great choice for athletes.

Nutritionally, freshly boiled beetroot is as good as the raw vegetable with very few nutrients lost during cooking.  There are a wealth of sweet and savoury dishes that work well with Beetroot; as a side to mackerel, in combination with goat’s cheese, as a soup, in chocolate brownies, roasted with carrots, in a salad with chorizo and pear… the list is delicious and endless!

CARROTS

Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene; our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A as we need it, and vitamin A is great for the skin and is also needed for healthy vision. Interestingly, if you’re deficient in vitamin A, just one carrot a day can be enough to improve your night vision.

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Nutritionally, carrots are actually better eaten cooked than raw; raw carrots have tough cellular walls which makes it more difficult for the body to extract the beta-carotene.  Carrots – and in fact all vegetables contain beta-carotene – are actually best eaten in a meal containing fats (such as meat or cheese); beta-carotene is a fat soluble nutrient which means it is much better absorbed by the body when eaten with foods containing fats.

PARSNIPS

This sweet, starchy vegetable makes a great alternative to potatoes and can often be overlooked as a source of fibre, which keeps those bowels moving! Parsnips are a good source of vitamins C and E – both great for the immune system as well as supporting a healthy heart and good skin.

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Spicy parsnip soup is a real winner. Roast the parsnips in the oven with some garlic, turmeric, cumin and onions for about half an hour. Then put into a food processor with some vegetable stock and a little lemon juice and blend until smooth – heat and serve as needed. This soup makes a great starter for any dinner party or provides a nutritious lunch to pack for work.

SWEET POTATOES

Sweet potato is yet another vegetable that’s packed with beta-carotene; it’s the rich colours in root vegetables that provide this wonderful health-giving antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also provide good levels of vitamin C (for immunity) and potassium (to support a healthy heart). Although they’re very slightly higher in calories than white potatoes, sweet potatoes are much better at balancing blood sugar levels, which is really important for providing sustained energy and for effective weight management (if that is your goal).

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Sweet potatoes are also incredibly versatile. As a quick and easy lunch you can eat them just like you would with white potatoes – in their jackets with some tuna and sweetcorn and a little mayonnaise. You can roast them as wedges for a delicious side dish, and they can be mashed with a little butter and black pepper. Sweet potatoes are great included in curries, pureed in soups with butternut squash, added to lamb tagines or even baked in chocolate brownies and muffins. Whatever you choose to do with them, their amazing health benefits make them a great alternative to the standard spud.

GARLIC

Garlic is often regarded as a staple ingredient to enhance the flavour or most dishes, but it also delivers so many health benefits! It has natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which means it’s great for supporting the immune system in warding off colds and infections, and it protects the digestive tract from nasty invaders causing stomach upsets.  Taking a course of garlic pills and upping your intake of garlic in meals prior to travelling abroad can really help protect the body from nasty stomach bugs.

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The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains. These compounds actually provide more health benefits when raw rather than cooked, but most people might find eating raw garlic a bit of a challenge!  Regularly including garlic in your cooking is still going to provide great health benefits, including a healthier heart, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.

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Garlic is particularly good roasted with chicken or lamb, with some rosemary.  You can also mix it with chilli, thyme and olive oil to make a marinade for a delicious roast rib of beef or steak. Garlic also works really well with roasted vegetables or stir fried broccoli; it can be sautéed with butter and mushrooms or fried with cabbage, onion and bacon. Delicious!

So why not explore the many ways you can include more roots in your diet and enjoy the health benefits of these colourful and nutritious vegetables!

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Mindful lunch prep: nutritionally-balanced meals to see you through the week

 

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If you’re working long hours and are always on the run, trying to eat healthily at every meal can be a challenge. During a busy work day it’s important to refuel with a well-balanced meal; what you eat at lunchtime can significantly impact your energy and concentration levels throughout the afternoon. But there are easy and smart meals to eat in the evenings in order to provide you with a range of delicious lunchtime options.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes the stress out of lunchtimes with pre-planned delicious and nutritious meal suggestions for every day of the week. 

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Making work-day lunches doesn’t have to be a struggle. By planning in advance you can create a range of exciting options, packed full of nutrients to see you through the day. Almost any dish in my list below can be made in advance and used later – in fact lots of dishes, such as curry, actually improve with age!

MONDAY

Monday is one of the easiest days for lunch-time planning; it’s all about what you’ve eaten the day before!  If you’ve cooked a lovely Sunday roast, make sure you’ve bought a larger chicken or joint of meat that leaves you a portion or two for the next couple of days.

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Chicken, for example, can be quickly thrown into a lunch box with some salad leaves, cucumber, tomato and some seeds of your choice, together with a wholemeal bap. Why not try a super sandwich – put your roast chicken between two slices of wholemeal bread, with some avocado and rocket.  It really is as simple as that!

TUESDAY

Some days don’t need much pre-prep at all – you can take all your ingredients to work and make your lunch there and then!  For example, take a potato which can be microwaved at work, together with some tinned tuna (low fat protein to keep you going all afternoon) and some sweetcorn (which provides great colour and also helps fills you up) mixed together with some crème fraiche (which also provides an extra hit of protein). A tasty lunch indeed!

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Why not swap your white potato for a sweet potato which are a more nutrient-rich alternative to the traditional spud; they’re high in fibre which supports a healthy digestive system and also contain a great array of nutrients, including vitamin A to boost the immune system.

WEDNESDAY

After an easy Tuesday lunch, Wednesday is all about using leftovers from your evening meal.  For dinner on Tuesday, why not roast some salmon in a foil parcel (to keep it moist) and serve with some wholegrain brown rice, broccoli and peas.  A super-healthy dinner which can then be transformed into a super-healthy lunch the next day!

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You could serve the salmon and rice as a cold salad, perhaps adding some other salad vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers. You can heat the whole lot up at work for a hot lunchtime meal or just bring the salmon and a potato to microwave, again mixing the salmon with some crème fraiche and serving with a side of salad vegetables.

THURSDAY

This lunchtime option has high nutritional content and is one that can easily be prepared from your dinner the night before – stir-fry. The more colourful the stir-fry, the more nutritious the dish; think mange tout, peas, baby corn, pak choi, asparagus, onions, red, green and yellow peppers … let your imagination flow!

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Prawns are a great low-fat, high protein option. Why not use chicken thighs rather than chicken breast to provide more flavour? A stir-fry is a very versatile dish and you can literally add whatever takes your fancy. A left over portion can then be eaten hot or cold the next day.  It’s high in protein providing sustained energy throughout the afternoon and an excellent array of vitamins and minerals.

FRIDAY

Here’s another great lunch that stays fresh in the fridge for two to three days – quinoa and roasted vegetables!  This dish is easy, quick and cost effective and can be enjoyed with your choice of protein to keep it interesting.

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The most time-efficient way to prepare this meal is to make a large batch of roasted vegetables on Thursday evening and eat them with whatever else you’re serving.  It could be a piece of fish, a chicken breast or a steak (go, on treat yourself!)  Whilst this is cooking, boil up a few portions of quinoa with some stock, for additional flavour, and you’ve got a healthy lunch of roasted vegetables and quinoa that you can dip in and out of.

Quinoa is a wonderful protein source, so it will fill you up and keep you going throughout the day, plus the roasted vegetables provide a range of vitamins and minerals. Roasted vegetables also provide lots of fibre to keep your digestive system running smoothly.

SATURDAY – BONUS PLANNING TIME

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Why not create your own version of Saturday kitchen?  Spend a couple of hours on a Saturday making some dishes for the coming week.  Why not make a big batch of soup?  You can literally throw anything into the saucepan with some stock and you’ve got a few lunches ready to go; think potatoes, leaks, spinach, peas, onions, and broccoli – the easiest and most nutritious lunch you’ll ever have!

So, healthy eating at lunchtime doesn’t have to be a chore! Just get into the habit of menu-planning for the week and prepping the night before for an easy, no-nonsense approach to filling your lunchbox.

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Boost your immunity at every meal: top nutrients for a healthy immune system

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With the cold and flu season currently in full flow, it makes sense to try to avoid succumbing to these bugs any way you can. A good diet and active lifestyle will always help support a healthier body but the really good news is that there are many everyday foods you can simply include more of to help banish the bugs!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides her top food tips to help make your breakfast, lunch and dinner immune-boosting and delicious!

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Each meal time is an opportunity to include foods that are going to provide essential nutrients, not only to boost your immunity but to enhance your overall health. So here are some ideas to keep your immunity going from breakfast, through to lunch and onto dinner.

THE BIG BREAKFAST

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  However short of time you are in the mornings, you really need to make eating a well-balanced breakfast your top priority. Blood sugar levels are naturally low in the morning and if you grab a quick expresso and croissant you’ll find your energy levels will dip later in the day.

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Make your breakfast a really joyful time of the day. Eggs are great, cooked any way you like! Their yolks contain good amounts of immune-boosting vitamin D, which is sadly lacking at this time of year due to the lack of sunlight.  Try scrambling some eggs and putting them on rye or wholemeal toast. This way you’ll also be getting some zinc – a key mineral involved in supporting the immune system: there is much research to suggest that zinc reduces the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold[1] so if you are unlucky enough to catch one it will be less severe.  Add some mushrooms on the side for even more vitamin D, plus tomatoes for an even better balanced breakfast.

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Natural live yoghurt contains beneficial bacteria which help to boost the immune system.  Try adding some delicious fruits which are packed with our all-time favourite immune-booster, vitamin C. Kiwi fruit are top of the list for vitamin C content but colourful berries such as blueberries and raspberries contain powerful antioxidants which also help to stave off nasty bugs.  If you add some wheat germ to your bowl (readily available in supermarkets) you’ll also be increasing your zinc intake, together with adding some useful fibre for healthy bowels.

THE LUSCIOUS LUNCH

When it comes to good immunity-boosting lunch foods, chicken soup or chicken bone-broth really hit the mark as they have great anti-viral properties.  Making a large saucepanful of soup for the week is a great way to plan ahead and have a batch at hand, plus chicken soup can be frozen.  You can add carrots, mushrooms, parsnips or whatever vegetables you love, but be sure to include some garlic and turmeric which are both amazingly powerful herbs when it comes to boosting immunity.

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Smoked or poached salmon is another great idea for lunchtime; it’s an excellent source of protein which will help to prevent the 3 pm energy slump, plus it contains good levels of vitamin D.  Why not add some salmon to a jacket sweet potato (packed full of health-giving vitamin A).  For a more portable option, mashed avocado and tomato in a wholemeal pitta provides great vitamin C as well as antioxidants for an extra immunity hit.

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DINNER-TIME DELIGHTS

After a long day you’ll be looking forward to something to tempt those taste buds and to warm you up at this time of year.  This is where a colourful plate can really come to life!  Every food colour represents different vitamins and minerals (many associated with immunity) and the more variety you have the better your immune system will be supported.

Think broccoli, red peppers, ginger, sugar snap peas, pak choi, sweet potatoes, carrots, red cabbage – it already sounds like a great recipe for a stir fry! Then add your protein of choice – chicken, prawn or pork for example. This provides a great opportunity to include a wealth of colourful vegetables and herbs into your delightful dinner dish!

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It really is important to include some protein at every meal. The immune system needs protein to function at its best: antibodies which help to fight infection, are actually made from proteins. With so much to choose from you can really mix it up when it comes to dinner preparation, whether you go for chicken, fish, turkey, or red meat (also packed with iron which is great for immunity). For the vegetarians among you, try eggs, cheese, beans, nuts or lentils for your protein hit.  I particularly love steamed seabass with ginger, lemon grass and garlic, served with steamed sugar snap peas, pak choi and sweet potato – a really tasty, immune-boosting meal.

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Another top tip: simplify the decision-making process about what to eat for dinner by choosing your protein source first and then think about the coloured foods to eat it with!  You’ll automatically be getting a great balance of immune-boosting foods by planning your meals this way.

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And finally what to drink. Top of the list for immune-boosting drinks has to be green tea which is packed full of antioxidants, ginger tea (you can easily make your own infusion) or cat’s claw tea (also a great source of antioxidants). And of course water – plenty of water!

So use every meal time to boost your immunity and make this winter the healthiest yet!

 

[1] Science M.  Zinc for the treatment of the common cold; a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.  2012 Jul 10; 184 (10): E551-61

 

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‘K’ is for Kale: everything you need to know about this amazing vegetable!

 

shutterstock_232612981-woman-with-kale-nov16Kale is one of a number of superfoods currently ‘on trend’. But the benefits of this green, leafy vegetable have been known for a long time. Packed full of nutrients, Kale is a versatile vegetable, whether steamed, boiled, grilled, stir fried or as part of a delicious soup.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the ‘low-down’ on what’s so amazing about kale and why we should all be including it in our daily diet.

 

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IN THE BEGINNING…

It is not known exactly when kale was first discovered. What is certain is that the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed its health benefits although seemingly for slightly different reasons than ourselves: the Romans ate it as a cure for drunkenness for example!

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The Brits actually lead the way in bringing kale into the United States in the 17th century. And during World War 2, the growth of kale was encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign to help supplement nutrients that were missing from the diet during rationing.

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Kale is a member of the brassica family of vegetables which are renowned for their amazing health benefits. There are several varieties of kale including curly, ornamental, red russian and dinosaur kale. They all look slightly different with varying tastes, with curly kale having the deepest green colour and strongest taste.

IT PACKS A NUTRITION PUNCH!

Kale is an excellent source of two of our most powerful antioxidants – vitamin C and beta carotene.  Beta carotene converts into vitamin A in the body as it’s needed, whilst Vitamin C is great for supporting the immune system. A 100 gram serving of kale provides more than three quarters of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and almost twice the recommended intake of vitamin C!

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Kale also contains good levels of the minerals calcium and iron which we know are widely deficient in many sectors of the UK population.  Plus, kale is a great source of vitamin K (another ‘K’) which is great for the heart and bones, and even contains small amounts of those wonderful omega 3 fats, which are especially good for the brain.

KALE AND CAROTENOIDS

Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant (also known as a carotenoid) which helps to support the immune system.  However, kale also contains some lesser-known carotenoids being lutein and zeaxanthin.

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These nutrients have an incredible affinity for supporting eye health:  In nature, it would seem that lutein and zeaxanthin absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are both found in high concentrations in the macula of the eye. These powerful nutrients appear to protect the eyes from macular degeneration, which is an increasingly common condition found in older people, and which can lead to blindness.

IT’S ALL ABOUT GLUCOSINOLATES

But what are they you may ask?  In simple terms they are sulphur-containing compounds which have been, and continue to be, heavily researched for potential cancer-preventing benefits. Glucosinolates are also found in other brassicas but have the highest concentrations in kale.  Research is continuing, and clearly we can’t expect one food to work miracles; however suffice to say that a very regular intake of kale in your diet is definitely going to benefit your health.

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These glucosinolates are also made into other compounds that support the body’s natural detoxification processes.  The body (and primarily the liver) has two phases of detoxification and kale supports both – further confirmation of the power of the kale and often why it is included in a detox!

IDEAS FOR EATING KALE

As with all vegetables, there are many ways of preparing, cooking and eating them!

One really great way to use kale is to make kale crisps!  All you need to do is to wash and lay plenty of kale leaves onto a roasting tin.  Pour over some olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt.  Put them under the grill until the kale becomes crispy.  Delicious, and a perfect mid-afternoon snack!

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Kale is also delicious lightly fried with chorizo to make a tasty vegetable side dish with a little kick!  And it also makes a great side gently cooked with butter and garlic, in a wok.

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Kale also works really well with eggs at any time of day.  Steamed for breakfast with a poached egg on top, or in a goat’s cheese frittata with onions.  As with any vegetable, the lighter and shorter the cooking time, the more nutrients you’re going to preserve.  Therefore steaming is always going to be the healthiest way to enjoy this health-boosting vegetable!

So whether you add kale to your smoothies or salads, soups or stews, you’ll definitely enjoy the health benefits associated with this green super food!

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Build your bones: the importance of Calcium and Vitamin D

shutterstock_225313861 yoga warrior 1 May16It goes without saying that maintaining healthy, strong bones is incredibly important; your bones work hard, for many years, and they need to be well supported nutritionally, so your frame remains strong throughout your life.

Peak bone density is actually reached at around 20 years of age, so what can you do now to keep your bones as strong as possible for the future?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on how to build strong bones from an early age, but also how to maintain them throughout your life.

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TIP 1 – EAT BONE-BUILDING NUTRIENTS

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, most of which isshutterstock_97126880 calcium food sources Oct15 stored in the bones. Indeed, bones have a great storage facility for calcium, which starts before birth and continues for many years. Therefore, eating foods containing good amounts of calcium, particularly during the teenage years is key to building good bone density; milk, yoghurts, soya foods, green leafy vegetables and bony fish, particularly sardines are great choices. Interestingly, low fat milk and yoghurt actually contain the same amount of calcium as full-fat, so your waistline doesn’t need to suffer at the expense of your bones!

shutterstock_115649197 vitamin D beach May16Calcium can’t be metabolised without sufficient vitamin D, the wonderful ‘sunshine’ vitamin! Most of the body’s vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine, so it makes sense to be taking regular holidays (as if we need another excuse for some time in the sun)! During the summer months, just 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight, without high strength sun cream, is sufficient to make the essential vitamin D that your body needs.

shutterstock_405426820 mum and child on beach May16Throughout the year, but especially during the winter months, taking a vitamin D supplement may be a good choice. The Department of Health actually recommends vitamin D supplementation for teenagers, children under 5, those over 65, pregnant women and those breastfeeding, plus people who don’t get much sunlight or who have darker skin. The UK does not get as much sunshine as many other countries in the world so again a supplement can be beneficial for many people living in the northern hemisphere. In terms of which foods contain Vitamin D, there is some in egg yolks, bony fish and cheese so also include these foods in your diet as much as possible.

TIP 2 – DITCH THE FIZZ

If you’re making great efforts to eat the right bone-building foods, it makes sense not to eat foods or take drinks that are going to deplete the body of calcium.

shutterstock_234083842 multi coloured fizz drinks May16Fizzy drinks contain phosphoric acid. This creates acidity which the body doesn’t like, therefore calcium is leached from the bones to counteract that acidity, and all your hard work can go to waste. This is especially key with children and teenagers who may overload on fizzy drinks. Alcohol and coffee also create more acidity, therefore should be drunk in moderation. Additionally, red meat, especially processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami are not well-liked by the bones, so also eat these sparingly.

shutterstock_278791859 green vegetables May16TIP 3 – EAT YOUR GREENS

It’s not always easy to get children and teenagers to eat their greens! However, if you can get them into good habits from an early age, their bones will certainly appreciate it – in fact it’s important for all the family to eat their greens!

Green leafy vegetables are rich not just in calcium but magnesium as well. Magnesium is a key mineral stored in the bones, second only to calcium, and works in partnership with Calcium to build and maintain strong bones throughout life.

Think kale, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli and cabbage; try to eat at least one of these every day. They are also great to add to juices with pineapple, carrot, and beetroot – a real mega nutrient hit your bones will love!

shutterstock_144464215 bone broth May16TIP 4 – COOK UP SOME BROTH

Whilst your grandmother might have cooked up a bone broth many years ago, most good quality restaurants will always have a pot on the go and they will use it as a stock base. However, your grandmother knew a thing or two about nutrition.

A broth made from bones provides an excellent source of calcium and magnesium and also helps to support the immune system. You can use any leftover bones, maybe from some roasted meat or chicken (you can also make a fish broth or buy bones from a good butcher). You can then add whatever takes your fancy; typically, onions, parsnips, carrots and celery, together with garlic and herbs to suit your particular taste. You can also use this as a wonderfully healthy stock base for gravy – just like the top restaurants do!

shutterstock_229927744 women sports May16TIP 5 – EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE!

It’s especially important to take regular exercise for healthy bones from an early age. Your skeletal frame likes to be active; think of how active our ancestors were, particularly cavemen! Any weight-bearing exercise is the key but this doesn’t have to mean spending endless hours in the gym. Brisk walking, dancing, racquet sports, yoga, tai chi, golf and jogging are all great exercise your bones will love, and should be encouraged from a young age, and on a regular basis. Indeed, it’s the combination of the right nutrition and exercise which has the biggest positive impact on bone density throughout life.

It’s never too early or too late to take care of your bones and with some mindful diet and lifestyle choices, they’ll keep you going strong.

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How to treat yourself after Lent but keep up the good healthy eating habits!

shutterstock_71854573 woman holding easter egg Mar16With the period of Lent over, you can now officially indulge! However, if you have actually managed to give up certain foods (and many people choose chocolate) it makes sense not to waste all that hard work and throw away the health benefits you’ve gained. So how can you still reward yourself without undoing all that healthy eating?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides us with her five healthiest treats to keep you going after Easter.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

RAW CHOCOLATE

If you’ve not yet discovered how delicious and satisfying raw chocolate can be, then now’s the time to find out! Raw chocolate is actually raw cacao as opposed to normal chocolate which is made from cocoa beans. The nutritional content of cacao is far superior and, because it only contains monounsaturated fats (just like olive oil), it can be eaten regularly and won’t upset your nutrition plans!

shutterstock_184594166 raw chocolate Mar16Cacao is high in a number of essential minerals, including magnesium, which is great for stress, iron, which is excellent for energy, plus many of the B vitamins, which are also provide energy. Even better, cacao contains four times the number of antioxidants found in dark chocolate, so it is also great in terms of preventing the ageing process.

You can use cacao powder just as you would cocoa powder in cooking, smoothies, milk shakes and hot drinks. Raw chocolate mousse, as one example, is a real treat: just mix the cacao powder with avocados, desiccated coconut and vanilla extract, and then add some fruit and nuts for decoration. Truly delicious!

shutterstock_269803547 blackberry and coconut squares Mar16BLACKBERRY AND COCONUT SQUARES

Coconut butter doesn’t just make a brilliant body moisturiser, it also makes a great and healthy cooking ingredient. Unlike ordinary butter, the fats in coconut butter are medium chain triglycerides, which are used as an energy source by the body and not stored as fat. Therefore, this little treat can also be relatively healthy.

These lovely squares are made with self-raising flour, oats, coconut butter, eggs and blackberries or blueberries. What’s more, you can sweeten these with xylitol – a natural sweetener – rather than sugar, and they make an excellent afternoon tea treat!

Normal butter can always be substituted for Coconut butter in any recipe, plus it’s one of the healthiest oils to cook with because it has a high melting point, therefore no toxic fats are produced.

shutterstock_208211911 oat biscuits Mar16EASTER BISCUITS

Easter biscuits are a traditional Easter treat. However, a much healthier option is to bake some oaty biscuits, which can be made with energy-sustaining whole grain oats, coconut butter rather than normal butter and xylitol rather than sugar. And for people who are unable to tolerate gluten, they can be made with a gluten-free flour: dare to be different this Easter!

shutterstock_298034351 walnut pesto Mar16WALNUT PESTO

Whilst traditional basil pesto is not necessarily that unhealthy, a quick glance at certain brands of pesto shows that many contain sunflower oil (not the healthiest of oils) plus parmesan cheese (high in saturated fats). So why not make a much healthier and tastier version using walnut oil, olive oil, walnuts, pine nuts, garlic and basil?

All these ingredients contain amazing health benefits, with walnuts in particular being an excellent source of omega 3 fats – great for the heart, bones, joints, hormones, eyes and skin.

Walnuts rank highest amongst all nuts at delivering the greatest number of powerful antioxidants, so they are also great for protecting against free radical damage. Additionally walnuts also help support healthy blood vessels and maintain balanced cholesterol levels.

shutterstock_364988948 strawberries in chocolate Mar16CHOCOLATE FRUIT

And finally, if your post-lent celebration just isn’t the same without some good old chocolate treats, why not make your chocolate treat part of your 5-a-day?

Using dark chocolate to melt over the fruit will provide a greater number of those health-giving antioxidants, together with less fat than milk chocolate. All fruits are suitable to be chocolate coated but I think strawberries are one of the most delicious, plus they have a low glycaemic index, meaning they have a less negative effect on blood sugar balance. Additionally, strawberries boast one of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C of all fruit, so your immune system and skin will be getting a boost at the same time!

So many congratulations on all your hard work and sticking to your resolutions for Lent – but this hard work needn’t be lost and forgotten forever; you can continue to live healthier and feel better well beyond Easter.

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