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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How to get your five-a-day during December

Close up of a woman's hands holding a pile of cranberries

Our healthy diet can sometimes go awry during December. Festive functions and busy diaries mean that eating healthily becomes, potentially, more difficult, and that includes getting the recommended ‘five-a-day’ of our fruits and vegetables. However, there are some delicious ways of eating foods in season right now to maximise their health benefits. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her favourites!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

Maybe not top of everyone’s ‘wish-list’ but Jerusalem artichokes provide some wonderful health benefits.

One of their top ‘claims to fame’ is that they boost our beneficial gut bacteria. This helps to improve mood and motivation because it stimulates the production of serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone. It may also help to avoid winter SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which affects so many people, making them feel low through the cold, dark months.

Jerusalem artichokes are delicious simply chopped lengthwise and roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

CRANBERRIES

Not surprisingly, cranberries are in season right now!  But don’t just eat them once a year with your turkey; cranberries can offer some wonderful health benefits throughout the winter months.

Cranberries are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin C so are great to eat at this time of year when the immune system needs a boost.  Plus, cranberries are brilliant at fighting urinary tract infections; they stop bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

If you’re prone to bladder infections, then the best advice is to regularly drink sugar-free cranberry juice and include dried cranberries in granola or muesli recipes, or your other favourite cereals.

CELERIAC

Often called ‘the ugly one’ because of its very rough physical appearance, celeriac’s rich nutritional benefits and distinct taste means it is quite an interesting vegetable!

It is part of the celery family and, just like celery, is rich in potassium which is great for the heart.  Both vegetables are particularly helpful in reducing blood pressure.

Celeriac is quite difficult to peel but once prepped it’s great as a vegetable side mashed with butter and black pepper.  Even better, celeriac can be roasted whole in the oven which means it doesn’t even need to be peeled!  Wash the outer skin and cut off the top.  Sprinkle with some olive oil, garlic, herbs and seasoning.  The celeriac should then be wrapped in foil and cooked in the oven for around two hours.  Once cooked, it’s easy to spoon it out of the skin and serve with some butter.

APPLES

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ as the old wives’ tale goes, and apples certainly deliver some great health benefits which can be enjoyed during December.

Apples are packed with pectin fibre which helps to keep cholesterol levels under control.  Additionally, they contain a flavonoid called quercetin, a natural antihistamine that helps to calm allergies.

Apples are also used to make cider vinegar, which provides even more health benefits; it helps the digestion, eases joint pain, helps with weight loss and is great for the skin.  Indeed, its health benefits are as valuable as eating an apple a day.  Have a dessertspoonful before each meal.

KALE

Kale, with its rich dark green leaves, is in season right now and is great to add to your five-a-day. It’s packed with vitamin K, which is heart-protective, and folic acid and iron which support high energy levels.  It’s also full of fibre and low in calories and fat – a real winner!

Some people find kale’s fairly strong flavour slightly off-putting!  However, its makes an excellent addition to any pasta dish, such as chicken and bacon rigatoni, where there are also some other strong flavours, which combine really well.  Add a sprinkling of parmesan and black pepper and you’ve got yourself a wonderful mid-week meal to keep you running up until Christmas!

So even though time might be pressured over the next few weeks, you can still give your body plenty of nutrients to ensure you’re fully able to enjoy this Festive period.

 

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Top tips for banishing the winter bugs this season

As winter gets into full swing, so too can winter bugs. Many of us have already suffered from colds this season and the trend will inevitably continue over the coming months.  However, catching a cold doesn’t have to be a given every winter: there are many ways of reducing your chances of catching a cold.

The good news is that Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tell us just how we can do this with her five top tips!

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HAVE MORE VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is probably best-known as a cold remedy.  However, it can also prevent a cold happening in the first place. Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, wrote a revolutionary book called Vitamin C and the common cold which looked at using large doses of vitamin C.  Whilst the clinical evidence is still fairly mixed, we do know that vitamin C increases white blood cell production, which strengthens immunity, and therefore many people have found that taking good levels of vitamin C throughout the winter has kept them sniffle-free.

Vitamin C is very easily destroyed by cooking, storage and food preparation.  So, whilst it’s essential to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C, such as strawberries, peppers, broccoli, mango, guavas, kiwi and oranges (all fruits and vegetables will contain some vitamin C), it’s just as important to take a daily supplement. Taking an additional 1000 mg of vitamin C daily can really help.

EAT SHITAKE MUSHROOMS

There’s a wealth of mushrooms now available in the supermarkets.  However, shitake mushrooms stand out as having some really beneficial effects on the immune system. They seem to improve gut immunity which is obviously beneficial to the whole body, but they also contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins D and B6, which both help to boost the immune system.

Not sure how to eat shitake mushrooms?  Prepare them by simply washing and slicing and then use them in a Singapore Noodle recipe. They work really well with chillies, turmeric, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and garlic with some chicken and noodles. Delicious!

TAKE SOME ECHINACEA

Perhaps the most widely used Western herb for enhancement of the immune system, and therefore a great defence against colds, is Echinacea.  It even strengthens the immune system in healthy people so it’s certainly worth using as a preventative measure.  Indeed, there have been many scientific investigations on the immune-enhancing effects of Echinacea.

Look for registered Traditional Herbal Remedies (THR’s) containing Echinacea purpurea root for best effects.

LIMIT SUGAR

Of all dietary changes that could be most beneficial in keeping you cold-free this winter, it’s ditching the sugar. Sugar in all its forms (glucose, sucrose, fructose, to name a few) can significantly reduce the ability of white blood cells to destroy viral invaders to the body. In fact the negative effects of having a sugar overload can start within 30 minutes and typically last for over five hours.  This can mean a 50% reduction in the ability of our white blood cells to deal with foreign invaders.

After a sugar-hit such as sweets, pastries, alcohol and fizzy drinks, blood sugar levels will rise.  This will cause elevated insulin levels, and vitamin C and insulin appear to have opposing effects on white blood cell production.  Even fruit juice can be a problem because it has a direct effect on blood sugar levels.

Try to make a conscious effort to really look at your sugar intake and reduce it as much as possible over the coming months.

BE HAPPY!

The mind has a profound effect on health and disease; our mood and attitude have a tremendous bearing on immunity.  When we’re happy and optimistic, our immune system functions much better.  Conversely, when we’re depressed, our immune system tends to be depressed.  If you want to have a healthy immune system, you need to laugh often, view life with a positive outlook and relax on a regular basis.

Easier said than done?

Positive thinking actually takes practice, particularly if you’re prone to being a ‘glass half-empty’ type of person.  However, take each day as it comes and actively try to banish negative thoughts.  It’s also a great idea to think of at least one thing every morning that you’re grateful for.  It could be something as simple as drinking a wonderful cup of coffee.  After a while, your mind set will switch to being more positive.  And the more positive you are, the stronger your immune system will become.

So with these top tips hopefully you can stay happy and healthy all winter long!

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Beat the winter blues with these top tips for combating low mood this season

Young woman wearing hat and scarf smiling with autumn background

Turning back the clocks is often a pivotal moment in people’s thinking.  Short, dark days can often negatively affect mood, energy and appetite.  However, with greater understanding of how we can effectively ‘by-pass’ the winter, we can enjoy the season rather than wishing the next six months away!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on how we can boost our mood and keep on smiling through the winter.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

It’s estimated that as many as one in 15 people suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or winter depression.  The onset of SAD is often governed by our hormones and the disturbance of natural body rhythms.  The body naturally likes to wake up when it’s light, which is rarely possible for most people during the winter months.

Here are some of my top tips for minimising the winter blues.

EAT YOURSELF HAPPY

Certain hormones have a significant impact on seasonal changes in mood, energy and appetite; a lack of serotonin is often responsible for mood disorders in general.   People (especially those affected by SAD) frequently crave carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, pasta, cereal, cakes and biscuits.  There’s nothing wrong with eating starchy carbohydrates as long as you stick to unrefined whole grain carbs such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and oats and avoid the sugary-laden snacks.

You can also increase serotonin levels by eating more foods containing the amino acid, tryptophan.  Great foods to eat include chicken, turkey, milk, yoghurt, bananas, figs, tuna and oats.

Levels of another brain neurotransmitter – dopamine – are also reduced during the darker months.  Foods that help to raise dopamine levels include lean meat, dairy products, fish and eggs.

BALANCING BLOOD SUGAR

During the winter months symptoms of low mood, lack of energy and increased appetite are common.  One of the ways to combat these is to balance blood sugar levels so that energy is sustained throughout the day.  This, in turn, will help to balance mood and stop food cravings.

The most important point to remember is to eat three meals a day that each contain some form of protein.  If you need a couple of snacks in between, that’s fine, but try to include some protein as well.  For example, sliced apple with nuts, oatcakes with chicken, plain yoghurt with fruit etc.   Additionally, it’s best to avoid or dramatically reduce coffee, alcohol, sugar and cigarettes which play havoc with blood sugar levels.

LIGHT THERAPY

The control centres in our brain determine our moods and daily rhythms, which in part are governed by the amount of light that enters our eyes.  When the light hits the retina of the eye it effects the release of the hormone melatonin.  Melatonin is released during darkness, making us sleepy.  This is one of the reasons we feel tired during the winter because it’s dark much of the time!

Light or phototherapy is a treatment for SAD involving daily exposure to high-intensity, broad-spectrum artificial light from a light box, which suppresses the release of melatonin.  It appears to work really well although sufferers usually need to make the other changes to diet and lifestyle for maximum benefit.

TRY THE HERB ST JOHN’S WORT

This popular and well-known herb is found in many part of the world, including Europe, Asia and the United States.  It produces distinctive yellow flowers and many parts of the plant are used to create a very effective natural solution to help symptoms of low mood.

St John’s wort appears to help raise serotonin levels which in turn improve mood and motivation.  It generally takes around three weeks to really see results but it’s certainly worth persevering.

For more information and to try St John’s Wort visit the Nature’s Way website.

GET ACTIVE!

We all know that the body naturally loves to be active. However, we’re also now realising the wonderful benefits of exercise on mental health.  Indeed, health practitioners involved in treating depression have seen how effective it can be.

When we exercise or ‘get active’ the brain releases endorphins which are powerful chemicals in the brain that make us feel good.  Exercise also relieves feelings of stress and anxiety and actually helps raise energy levels.

If the gym is not for you, don’t despair.  Just getting more active, for example taking a brisk 30- minute walk in the fresh air, can really invigorate and raise your mood.  So, instead of reaching for the remote control and hiding under the duvet when it’s damp and dull outside, get out there!

  1. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad

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Guilt-free and nutritious food rewards to make you smile!

When we’re having a tiring or stressful morning, day or week, little treats can make us feel better – or can they?  What you reach for could either make you feel virtuous or leave you feeling guilty. So how can you treat yourself and still feel good?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great food tips on how to reward yourself guilt-free!

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BREAKFAST

Maybe the kids have kept you awake all night.  Maybe you’re feeling exhausted after a busy week. Whatever the reason, our bodies naturally crave sweet treats when we’re tired. But if your breakfast is laden with sugar, your energy levels are going to crash later in the day.

So how can you treat yourself at breakfast? Why not whip up some pancakes which can be filled with low glycaemic, energy-sustaining fruit such as blueberries or strawberries.  The eggs in the pancakes are also going to keep your blood sugar levels stable, which will help to lift your mood.

Even better, try making the pancakes with whole wheat rather than white flour to get more energising B vitamins.  If you still feel the need for some added sweetness then maple syrup has a much lower sugar content than jam and therefore less calories.

MID-MORNING CRAVINGS

Your boss is driving you mad and you’ve still got another couple of meetings to go. Instead of running to the vending machine and grabbing a chocolate bar and a cappuccino, why not head across to the coffee shop and grab an Americano at only 11 calories and treat yourself to an almond biscotti!

With around 150 calories they’re much better than a chocolate bar or muffin which average around 450 calories.  It should get you through the rest of the morning, just try not to rely on it every day!

LUNCH-TIME PLEASURES

Often you’ll be grabbing lunch on the run during your lunch hour or on the way to work.  Sushi is a really popular ‘go-to’ choice which is often viewed as being very healthy.  However it really depends on what you choose: certain types of sushi, for example California rolls, are fairly high in calories at around 140 per roll, and sushi rice is made with sugar and rice vinegar.

However, if you choose sashimi with some miso soup, for example, then you can still indulge your passion without worrying about too many added calories.

AFTERNOON DELIGHTS

You’re sat at your desk, you’re hungry and dinner time is a long way away.  Or perhaps you’ve just got home after a day out with the kids.  You need a pick-me up snack.  Crudités and dips are very transportable, particularly if there’s a fridge in the office, but you need to watch which dip you pick.  Taramasalata is delicious but contains around 90% saturated fat.

The healthiest dip to choose is tzatziki which contains only around 15 calories per tablespoon. Or you could go for hummus or guacamole which is somewhere in between. With some chopped vegetables such as carrots, peppers and cucumber you’ll have a really healthy treat which will bridge the gap until dinner time.

If nuts are your ‘go-to’ afternoon snack try swapping your cashews for almonds and you’ll be gaining some really healthy, brain-boosting omega 3 fats and lots more fibre.

DINNER-TIME TREATS

Pasta is always popular on the dinner menu, particularly for children but also as a quick and filling base meal.  However, pasta with a cheese-based sauce is heavy on saturated fat.  For a much healthier option go for whole wheat pasta, which has not been refined and is high in energising B vitamins, and use a tomato-based sauce instead.

If you’re thinking about a spaghetti bolognese, then using low fat mince is also going to reduce your fat intake. However, if you swap the spaghetti for some Japanese Udon noodles made from whole wheat, you’ll be reducing your overall calorie intake and also gaining even more fibre on your plate.

If you’re looking for a sweet treat for dessert, then think Banana Split!  It doesn’t need to be the calorie and fat-laden restaurant version.  Instead, whisk some low fat Greek yoghurt with a little vanilla essence or a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Slice the banana and top with the yoghurt, some berries of your choice, pistachios and a teaspoon of chocolate sauce (or maple syrup or honey would be even better!) You’ll have a deliciously indulgent dessert but with more nutrients and less fat and sugar.

So with these reward foods, you can still treat yourself and eat a little bit healthier at the same time!

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