Five foods for a healthy heart

Blueberries in a heart shape

As the heart is one of our hardest working organs so it makes sense to look after it as much as possible. The risk of heart disease increases with age but, unfortunately, problems can start much earlier and may not always make themselves known.

So, this World Heart Day make now the time to be kind to your heart.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five foods to help support your heart health.

Beetroot

Whole beetroots

Beetroot is often referred to as a super food because it delivers so many amazing health benefits.  It is especially high in antioxidants which help protect the artery wall from damaging free radicals.  However, it’s also been discovered that beetroot contains specific plant compounds with anti-inflammatory effects.  Certain types of heart disease such as atherosclerosis are characterised by chronic inflammation and beetroot can help to reduce the risks associated with it.  Furthermore, beetroot juice has been found to help lower blood pressure.

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

Even better, beetroot is delicious either in sweet or savoury dishes, and makes a wonderful addition to any tray of roasted veggies.

Salmon

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Salmon and all oily fish including sardines and mackerel contain the essential omega-3 fats that are known to protect the heart and also encourage healthy blood flow through the veins.  They also have wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits which will have a positive effect on the health of the arteries.

Scrambled eggs on toast with a side of smoked salmon

Whilst smoked salmon does contain a high level of salt, it’s still rich in omega-3s so is great for a Sunday morning treat with your scrambled eggs!

Tomatoes

Tomato salad

Tomatoes are actually one of the most researched of all fruits and vegetables in relation to heart health.  Indeed, much research has looked at the ability of tomatoes to reduce overall cholesterol levels and also raise protective HDL levels.  Plus, tomatoes are high in antioxidants, specifically carotenoids, which protect the artery wall from plaques that can cause damage if left unchecked.

Smashed avocado, cherry tomatoes and feta on toast

Even better, tomatoes are very easy to include into the daily diet.  They are actually more powerful when cooked so they make a great start to the day, grilled with some avocado on toast or added to a wealth of pasta, soups, roasted veggies or one-pot dishes.

Garlic

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often regarded by naturopaths as a miracle food because of its ability to combat so many different illnesses, it’s also great for heart health.  Garlic can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and also raise HDL levels.  In higher amounts, it can also help break down blood clots.

Curry dish and rice

So many savoury dishes benefit from some added garlic, especially stir-fries, soups, curries, veggie sides, lamb and fish dishes.

Oats

A bowl of oats

Oats are another super food when it comes to heart health.  Specifically, they contain a form of soluble fibre known as beta glucan which has been strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels.  It can reduce both cholesterol and other blood fat levels. Whilst beta glucans can also be found in other whole grains such as wheat and barley, oats are the best source.  Plus, they are naturally lower in gluten, so less likely to cause digestive issues.

To put it bluntly, cholesterol has to be removed from the body via the stool, hence having healthy bowels is essential.  Soluble fibre naturally binds to cholesterol with bile from the liver and transports it safely out of the body.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

With the winter months now approaching, it’s a great opportunity to make porridge your go-to breakfast.  Add some delicious berries (from frozen is fine), a little natural yoghurt and you’ve got the perfect start to the day.  Make sure you’re eating whole grain oats though, as the level of fibre is much reduced in the ready-made porridge sachets.

So, why not try some of these easy wins when it comes to your heart health?

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

Five foods to keep stress and anxiety at bay

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

Shorter days and dark mornings mean many of us are already starting to feel ‘down in the dumps’. We are also coming into the time year when people tend to feel more anxious and stressed, with the weeks running up to Christmas being challenging for many people.

The good news is that what we put into our bodies can have a positive effect on keeping anxiety at bay and reducing feelings of stress.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods to bring some calm into your life.

Almonds

Delicious and easily transportable, almonds can really help to ease feelings of stress and anxiety.  Why? It’s because they’re high in the mineral, magnesium.  Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it’s needed for muscle relaxation, therefore can really help the body feel calm and rested.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Almonds are also packed with other nutrients such as vitamin B2 and zinc which are used to produce serotonin, our happy hormone, needed to help manage the stress response.

Almonds make a great on-the-go snack, are delicious added to a stir fry and make a perfect bedtime wind down treat to help you feel calm and relaxed and better able to sleep peacefully.

Quinoa

Whilst it’s often referred to as a grain, quinoa is technically a seed. However it’s usually used in the same way as other wholegrains such as rice.  Importantly, it’s rich in B vitamins, all of which have their own part to play in keeping the body balanced.  B vitamins are needed to support the nervous system as well as helping to produce our stress hormones. Wholegrains in general are great for producing slow-release energy, so we don’t get the highs and lows which can cause feelings of anxiety.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Quinoa is a positive addition to any diet because it’s very high in protein.  Therefore, quinoa can be simply served with roasted vegetables, as a salad with feta cheese, chopped tomatoes and mint or alongside roasted chicken and vegetables.  Just use quinoa as you would rice or couscous.

Apples

Often used medicinally over the centuries, apples are as useful now to health as they’ve ever been.  Importantly apples are high in vitamin C, needed to help produce our stress hormones, but are also another slow energy-releasing food.  If your energy is consistent throughout the day, then you won’t suffer with as many highs and lows, and your mood will also stay better balanced.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples are another great snack and work well chopped with a few almonds, to keep you going.  Even better, they’re in season right now.  However, apples often sit in supermarket storerooms for many months, making then slightly low on taste.  Farmers markets are the place to look and having a browse around on a weekend is another great way to leave your worries behind for a few hours.

Chia seeds

For a food so tiny, chia seeds certainly deliver big health gains.  Originating from central and south America, the Aztecs were believed to have used them as an energy source.  This is because they’re high in protein, keeping blood sugar in good balance and so keeping energy levels and mood balanced.  Protein is also needed to produce hormones, especially stress hormones.

A scoop of chia seeds

Chia seeds are a very rich source of the brain loving omega 3 fats.  These are essential for a healthy brain and for producing brain neurotransmitters, including ones that keep us calm and balanced.

Even better, they are so quick and easy to include in the diet. Add to any cereal (porridge or an oat-based breakfast is best), or to natural yoghurt with some fruit. Try sprinkled over a salad.  Whilst they may not be big on flavour, their health benefits are wonderful.

Oats

We know they work well with chia seeds, but oats have an incredible calming effect on the body.  This is mainly down to them being high in all the B vitamins, plus they are packed with complex carbohydrates.  These work in the opposite way to refined carbs which send blood sugar levels soaring together with anxiety levels. Instead they keep blood sugar levels balanced and therefore help you to stay on an even keel.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are very high in fibre which helps keep the bowels moving smoothly.  Constipation causes toxicity in the body, which aggravates the liver.  This is turn can adversely affect mood, not least making you feel very sluggish.

If porridge isn’t for you, then why not soak oats overnight in a little apple juice or, better still, some almond milk. Then add some natural yoghurt and fruit in the morning for a super-quick but super stress-busting breakfast. You can even add chopped almonds and chia seeds for a triple-hit breafast!

Mother nature has delivered some amazing ways of keeping us balanced, emotionally and physically. So, why not try adding these stress-relieving favourites to your diet.

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Eat to beat anxiety: top nutrition for lifting your mood

Dark days, post-Christmas blues, money worries, body issues and more all affect our mood and can cause anxiety. The early part of the year often brings distress for many people.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The good news is that there are lots of foods and herbs that can help lift our mood and ease anxiety. Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite mood-boosters.

 

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing all the essential amino acids that make up proteins. Most importantly, they’re rich in vitamin B12 which is needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Indeed, deficiency of B12 can affect the brain and nervous system first which in turn can affect your mood.

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs in all their forms, make a great start to the day and because of their high protein content, you will also stay fuller for longer.

Portobello mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are high in vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin. In years past, severe deficiency of vitamin B3 lead to something called pellagra characterised by dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Symptoms also include depression and anxiety. Thankfully, this has mostly been eradicated, though it is still a problem in developing countries, but it proves the importance of this nutrient in brain health and for helping banish anxiety.

Portobello mushrooms in a basket

The great news is that Portobello mushrooms also contain some vitamin D (widely deficient at this time of year), and a lack of which causes low mood.

So, get chopping and add them to stir fries, pasta dishes, on toast with beans for breakfast or simply roasted as a vegetable side.

Lavender

Top of the list as being one of nature’s most calming herbs is lavender. Many people report improved sleep after spraying their pillow with lavender. It appears to work in a number of ways on the nervous system, but it certainly seems to activate GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters[1].

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Lavender also makes a really delicious tea infusion. All you need to do is pour boiling water over one teaspoon of the dried herb, cover and leave to infuse for about five minutes. You can sweeten with a little honey if desired and you’ll soon be feeling more relaxed.

Green Tea

All teas have some health benefits, particularly for their immune-boosting antioxidants. However, green tea contains the amino acid, L-theanine, which, just like lavender, helps promote GABA. Green tea is especially high in something called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. This is a particularly powerful antioxidant that works on brain function, also helping to promote GABA.

A cup of green tea

If you’re feeling anxious, then it’s good to get into the habit of drinking three cups of green tea daily. It can also help reduce the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine if you’ve succumbed to that early morning double espresso!

Oats

Oats are high in the amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin in the body, our happy hormone. Serotonin is then converted into the sleep hormone melatonin; a lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Oats will also provide you with sustained energy throughout the day, plus your mood will be lifted from having a boost of serotonin. Alternate an egg-based breakfast with porridge through the week and you should start to notice a difference.

So if you are struggling with anxiety or low mood this winter, then don’t despair; nature has provided a wealth of remedies for you to try.

[1] Peir Hossein Koulivand et al. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;61304

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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