Top tips for managing your cholesterol

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

We hear the ‘cholesterol’ word used often because it’s a key marker for potential heart disease.  However, it’s also an essential part of our cellular make up and for hormone production, so balance is key. 

It’s important to keep levels in the healthy range, which is perfectly possible for most people by managing diet and lifestyle.

 This National Cholesterol Month Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five tips for keeping cholesterol in check.

Go low glycaemic

In a world where fad diets seem to predominate, the benefits and simplicity of eating a low glycaemic diet are often forgotten.  The glycaemic index is just a measure of how quickly food affects blood sugar levels.  High sugar, low fibre food has a massive impact but has also been found to raise cholesterol levels.

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

Opt for a diet that contains whole grains, plenty of fibrous vegetables, beans and minimal sugar.  Oats are especially beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels as they contain beta-glucans, a special fibre with lots of research to support their effectiveness. Eating low glycaemic will also help sustain your energy levels.

Eat essential fats

Not all fats are created equal and whilst eating too much saturated fat found in red meat and butter can raise cholesterol levels, the omega-3 essential fats found in oily fish have the reverse effect.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are the way to go; try to eat some at least three times per week.  However, for those not liking oily fish, either take an omega-3 supplement or eat plenty of flaxseeds (they can easily be added to your whole grain porridge), walnuts and pumpkin seeds.  If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol and are vegetarian, then it would also be advisable to take a flax oil supplement too.

Take plant sterols

Plant sterols are a group of substances found in nuts, oils and some vegetables that have been found to reduce cholesterol levels. To make life easier, plant sterols are often added to margarines and some yoghurts. However, be aware that these foods often also contain some less healthy ingredients so always combine them with plenty of healthy oils (especially olive oil), foods high in fibre and loads of green, leafy vegetables.]

Reduce your stress levels

High stress is another factor in raised cholesterol levels, partly because of the normal hormone response that happens during the stress response.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

When life is challenging, and it’s certainly that right now, it’s often hard to keep calm.  So find something that works for you and take some time each day to destress.  Why not practice meditation, go for a brisk walk or take a relaxing bath? You can relax on your bed listening to some music or do a yoga session. Whatever works for you, build it into your day every day.

Additionally, try drinking green tea: it contains theanine which helps stimulate our relaxing brain neurotransmitters. Another natural option is to try the herb, passionflower: it can work very quickly especially if you’re suffering from a ‘nervous’ stomach.  Dealing with stress should be addressed as a priority to help keep cholesterol in check.

Load up on vitamin C

Thankfully vitamin C is found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts, and it’s also useful for reducing high cholesterol.  Vitamin C is one of our key antioxidant nutrients so it helps protect artery walls from damage; hardening arteries is one of the key factors in heart disease.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All berry fruits, red peppers, mango, kiwi and spinach are especially rich in vitamin C so prioritise these foods in your diet if possible.  Additionally, aim for closer to 10 portions of fruits and veg a day if you can.  It’s sometimes easier to add a daily juice, smoothie or soup into your routine to increase your portions.  Whilst much of the fibre is lost by juicing, you’ll still be getting plenty of vitamin C and other key nutrients, including magnesium – also great for reducing cholesterol levels.

So, try and adopt some of these tips into your daily diet and lifestyle and help reduce your cholesterol levels naturally.

Stay well.

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Nutritious and healthy bakes for autumn

Close up of woman preparing pastry for baking

It’s National Baking Week so why not enjoy some new recipes that are enjoyable to make and can also boost your health at the same time?

We often connect baking with sweet treats, but savoury can be just as enjoyable and generally healthier too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top three savoury bakes and tells us how they can help boost your nutrition.

Savoury Muffins

The word ‘muffin’ tends to conjure up thoughts of a rich, chocolatey dough!  Lovely as they are, chocolate muffins are high in sugar and calories.  However, equally delicious and much healthier are savoury muffins.  Think feta cheese, sweet potato and avocado and you’ve got yourself a great breakfast or delicious snack.

Added to the key ingredients are eggs, polenta, ground almonds, milk and seeds for the topping. These muffins contain a good amount of protein so make a great start to the day or afternoon snack to banish the post-lunch slump.

Savory muffins

Sweet potatoes contain loads of immune-boosting beta-carotene, and avocados are packed with vitamin E, also great for immunity.  These muffins are also high in fibre (around 9g) each which goes a long way to meeting the recommended 30 grams of fibre daily.  They are quick and easy to bake and will last for up to three days in a sealed container.

Vegetarian Potato Pie

Essentially this is another version of traditional Shepherd’s Pie but made with beans rather than meat.  You don’t need to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy it and will gain some wonderful health benefits from eating it too.

It’s always good to use mixed beans but also include some fava beans.  Beans are all high in protein and fibre and also contain plenty of energising B-vitamins.  Plus, they’re great for keeping blood sugar levels in balance which will also help sustain your energy levels.

Vegetable potato pie

This recipe uses onion and garlic which are both rich in antioxidants, as well as carrots and potatoes which are high in immune-boosting vitamin C.  You’ll also need some tinned tomatoes.  Interestingly, tomatoes are loaded with lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant and is also great for prostate health.  Unusually lycopene is higher in tinned or cooked tomatoes rather than fresh. Best of all this dish will fill you up so you’ll be less tempted to grab unhealthy snacks after dinner.

Salmon Quiche

This is a great way of getting super-healthy omega-3s into your diet from the salmon.  Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, but as many people don’t like fish, the UK population is deficient in these essential fats.

Salmon quiche

Quiche always has a pastry base and you can use ready-made pastry if you’re short of time. The mixture uses delicious smoked salmon, which also provides a distinctive tase, plus watercress, a great source of iron.  Women are often deficient in iron so it’s an easy way of topping up. You can also add some steamed spinach or broccoli for an additional vitamin and mineral boost.

Bake the pastry base as per instructions while you steam the spinach or broccoli for 5 minutes. Beat up the mixture of salmon, eggs, milk and dill, then add the broccoli or spinach and layer on top of the pastry. This can then be baked in the oven for around 35 minutes. It’s great for feeding a hungry family and can be simply served with a colourful salad.

So, embrace National Baking Week and serve up some deliciously healthy dishes for autumn.

Stay well.

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Discover foods to support your mind this World Mental Health Day

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

World Mental Health Day is taking place this week. There is a greater focus on mental health generally right now, so never has there been a better time to discuss the topic more openly. 

Importantly, it’s also the perfect time to be looking at the connection between certain foods and nutrients and their effects on emotional wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five foods to support a healthy mind.

Oysters

Not only called the food of love because they’re known to be ‘aphrodisiacs’, oysters are rich in the mineral zinc, which is essential for mental wellbeing.  This is partly because zinc is one of our busiest minerals, being used in over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body, plus the brain naturally contains zinc.

A plate of fresh oysters

There’s much research to suggest its positive benefits in cases of depression and zinc is known to be depleted in UK diets.  This is partly because it’s rich in whole grain foods, rather than refined ones which tend to feature too highly in the typical daily diet.  However, seafood in another great source and oysters are certainly top of the list.  Don’t wait for the next Valentine’s Day to enjoy a romantic oyster dish!

Bananas

Bananas are rich in vitamin B6 which is essential for producing our happy hormone ‘serotonin’.  Plus, vitamin B6 is needed for energy release, so you get the best of both worlds.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas make a perfect snack, especially when you’re on the run. They also make an excellent pre-workout snack for an extra boost so you can push your body that bit harder!

Broccoli

Often referred to as a super food, broccoli delivers health benefits in so many ways.  Importantly, broccoli (and other green, leafy vegetables) are high in the mineral magnesium, which is needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, but also has a calming effect on the body generally.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Anxiety levels are soaring right now, in all age groups, so we all need to be mindful of specific nutrients that can help calm both mind and body.  Stress depletes magnesium, so it’s even more important to be loading up on greens.

And rather than just serving up plain boiled or steamed broccoli, why not lightly toss it in some pesto and pine nuts before serving, to add some interest to your plate.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a tasty and super-healthy oily fish that’s loaded with omega-3 fats.  These fats are essential to have in the diet because the body can’t make them, and they are critical for brain health, because the brain naturally contains them.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys confirm that the UK population is very deficient in omega-3s across all age ranges.  The recommended weekly amount is at least two portions of oily fish (salmon is also great), to try and redress the balance.

Mackerel is such a versatile fish. Try it chargrilled, in salads (it’s especially good with beetroot) or as made a pate. It is also delicious pre-smoked in a risotto, or gently pan-fried and served with rice or potatoes and your favourite veggies.  If you’re in a rush, why not use some tinned mackerel on wholemeal toast for a quick and incredibly healthy and filling lunch.

Blueberries

Blueberries are loaded with vitamin C, another nutrient that’s essential for good brain health.  Vitamin C is also one of our most powerful antioxidants which are very protective of the brain. Even better, blueberries are rich in plant compounds called polyphenols, also packed with antioxidants; it’s their beautiful rich colour that’s partly responsible for their health benefits.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are low on the glycaemic index so, unlike many fruits, they won’t upset blood sugar levels which can also cause dips in mood.  Serve them with your morning porridge or cereal or eat them with some natural yoghurt and seeds, for a healthy and quick, energy-sustaining breakfast.

So, include nutrients and foods in your diet that feed your brain and help support your brain from the inside out.

Stay well.

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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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Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in autumn

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutritionAs we head into September we also fall into the change of seasons into Autumn.  Whilst most of us just want the summer to continue forever, just as night follows day, the seasons must change. 

Even during ‘normal’ times it is important to start thinking about how you can best protect your immune system for the colder months ahead. And right now, it is even more essential.  Eating with the seasons also provides foods that are more nutrient-dense, just as nature intended.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top seasonal foods as we head into Autumn.

Plums

Any darkly coloured fruits or vegetables deliver a wealth of protective antioxidants, and plums are no exception.  Unusually for fruit, plums are rich in vitamin E which is a very powerful antioxidant looking after the natural fatty part of our cells. They’re also high in heart-loving potassium and energising iron.

A bowl of plums on a blue wooden table

When plums are dried, they become known as prunes, probably best acknowledged for their fibrous content when bowels are sluggish.  You can also find them pickled in brine and called umebushi. Plums are especially tasty lightly poached with a little honey and added to oats or other breakfast cereals.

Venison

Venison from deer is actually one of the healthiest red meats available.  Deer generally move freely around which means the meat is tender and flavoursome. It is also lower in fat that a skinned breast of chicken and higher in iron than any other red meat.  If you can find venison from free-range or wild deer, that’s going to be the healthiest option.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Venison is often thought of as a meat only eaten by the aristocracy because of the sport of hunting deer.  However, it’s certainly a food that could feature on the menu right now. It can be prepared and cooked in the same way as beef or steak, simply pan-fried.  Venison also makes a tasty curry or casserole.

Mackerel

Mackerel’s main claim to fame is down to the amount of healthy omega-3 fats it delivers.  These essential omegas have to be eaten in the diet, as the body can’t make them, and they are very important for heart, eye, skin, hormone and joint health. Oily fish, such as mackerel, is the best source of these fats.  There are plant sources of omega-3s, such as flaxseeds, but these are not always as well absorbed by the body.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

Mackerel makes a great lunchtime meal with salad, especially when it’s smoked.  Although it will contain more salt when prepared in this way, it helps the fact that it doesn’t naturally have a strong flavour.  Mackerel is therefore best spiced up a little or paired with a sharp fruity sauce. Try to include it on your menu plan once a week if possible.

Apples

Apples are synonymous with Autumn as they always appear on the Harvest Festival table. However, they make a wonderful snack providing plenty of vitamin C, as well as being the star of any pie or crumble.  Apples are also low in both calories and on the glycaemic index, meaning they won’t upset blood sugar levels and are therefore great if you’re watching your weight.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Supermarkets tend to store apples for many months, therefore buying them at farmer’s market or freshly picked is certainly preferable.  However, there are plenty to choose from with over 50 different varieties grown in the UK.  They’re very protective of the heart due to their potassium content and the presence of the flavonoid quercetin, plus, apples are a great source of fibre.  So many reasons to always have one handy as a go-to snack!

Kale

A member of the cabbage family and also known as curly kale or collard, kale has often been hailed as a superfood, alongside Brussels sprouts and broccoli.  This is partly because all these vegetables contain a phytonutrient called sulforaphane which is a powerful liver detoxifier.

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Kale is a very rich source of the antioxidants, vitamin C and beta carotene.  Even better, kale is a great source of the minerals iron, manganese, calcium and potassium which are often deficient in the typical western diet.

What do I do with it, you many ask! Kale can be very lightly boiled or steamed and then stir fried with garlic. It can be grilled with a little salt to make kale chips. It is also great in stir fries or in a delicious green soup with onion, potatoes, garlic and chorizo, if desired.

So, as we head into autumn enjoy these five delicious and super-healthy foods which are in season right now.

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

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