Back to basics: everyday nutrition tips

shutterstock_335465993 nutrition words Mar21

The whole topic of nutrition has been highly glamorised in recent years, partly down to social media.  Whilst this is great in many ways because good nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness, it has left many people confused about what is right and what is wrong.

When it comes to a balanced diet there are a few simple rules which we can all follow to ensure we are getting the optimum nutrition we need.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes us back to the basics of daily nutrition.

What are macros?

As the name suggests, they are big, and in this case refer to the groups of food that we eat most of.  Essentially, there are three macronutrients: proteins,  carbohydrates and fats. Some people also talk about fibre as being another macro such is its important in overall health, although technically fibre is a carbohydrate.

Protein – essential building blocks for life

All macros form an essential part of the daily diet, so any restrictive diet is going to lead to nutrient deficiencies somewhere along the line.  Protein is literally the building block of life. It is essential for every bone and muscle in the body, as well as producing hormones, neurotransmitters and supporting the immune system.

A range of foods containing protein

There are nine essential amino acids that must be eaten in the diet (there are other amino acids that are essential, but these can be produced in the body). These nine amino acids are found primarily in animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy and plant sources quinoa, buckwheat, and soybeans.  If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you should combine grains and pulses to get sufficient amino acids, although this does not need to be in the same meal.

Carbohydrates – energy and nutrient providers

Carbohydrates, including fibre, provide an essential energy source for our muscles and brain.  Indeed, the brain requires around 30% of all carbohydrate the body intakes. Carbs are not all created equally in that slow releasing ones (essentially whole foods and fruits and vegetables) provide sustainable energy throughout the day. Conversely, fast release carbs primarily found in processed and refined foods give an energy boost then an energy crash due to their adverse effect on blood sugar.

Foods,Highest,In,Carbohydrates.,Healthy,Diet,Eating,Concept.

Carbs are often maligned but this food group contains some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and are loaded with antioxidants, so the body is missing out if they are not being consumed.

Fat – protecting and sustaining

Another maligned food group is fat.  However, fat provides the second energy source for the body, and it is essential for absorbing our fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

There is often confusion around good and ‘bad’ fats.  Essentially, good fats are the omegas 3 and 6 which must be eaten in the diet as the body cannot make them.  The omega 3s are crucial for hormones, joints, the heart, brain and eyes. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends in this respect.

shutterstock_196052645 avocadoes Oct15

Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil is great for the heart and should be included in the diet.  However, try to avoid the damaged fats; the trans fats found in margarines and refined foods.  The body cannot deal with these and trans fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, so try to be aware of not overeating the foods that contain them.

Fruits and vegetables – overflowing with goodness

As nutritionists we talk endlessly about getting sufficient fruits and vegetables into the diet.  Why? Because quite simply they are loaded with nutrients, especially the trace minerals that are so often deficient in the typical western diet.  It is all about colour and variety and not over thinking it.  Try to have plenty of colour on your plate at every mealtime.

A range of fruits and vegetables

There’s also confusion as to whether juicing is good or bad.  Juices are a great way of getting more nutrients into the body.  You might lose the fibre content, but juices are still loaded with nutrients.  Try to include more vegetables than fruits in your juices or blends to keep fructose (a fruit sugar) content to a minimum.

Water – pure and simple

We talk about the body being around 80% water.  Of course, this is not pure water because it is made up of solutes and everything within cellular tissue.  However, the body still needs plenty of plain water to keep it sufficiently hydrated.  It will quickly complain if dehydrated and you’ll feel low in energy, suffer brain fog, plus constipation may be problematic.

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

Our water needs vary depending on activity levels.  However, as a general rule, if you are having around 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily you will be doing ok, plus fruits and vegetables can count towards this target since they’re high in water.

The body’s needs are relatively simple so there is no need to overcomplicate diets; just try and stick to the basics for well-balanced nutrition.

Stay well.

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Upgrade your health this World Wellbeing Week

A chalk board with the words Healthy Lifestyle written on alongside other words which represent this

World Wellbeing Week is an opportunity for us to evaluate our physical and mental health and what more we can be doing to support our wellness.

What does wellbeing mean to you?  Officially it means ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’.  So how could you improve your wellbeing?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips.

Make some dietary tweaks

Trying to make dietary changes too quickly can often be very stressful.  And it may be that your diet is pretty healthy, but it just needs improving in certain areas.  So, why not resolve to just change one thing?

shutterstock_585346478 whole wheat pasta June17

Each mealtime is an opportunity to re-fuel the body and take in essential nutrients.  The body needs 45 nutrients (including water) in any one day, so each mealtime should count.  Maybe swap white refined bread and pasta for brown, which will provide much more fibre and essential nutrients. Or cut down on overall sugar content, remembering that many foods have hidden sugars, such as cereals, sauces, baked beans and other tinned and packaged foods.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Sugar in all its forms (and that includes honey) depletes the body of other nutrients and upsets blood sugar balance, making weight more difficult to manage.  If sugar is an issue for you, any reductions you can make are going to be positive.

Figure out an exercise plan

It doesn’t need to be formal or involve a gym, but exercise and keeping active is a very important part of overall wellbeing.  The body was not intended to be sedentary so it’s just a question of moving around more.

Close up of woman working out at home

Whether that means scheduling a daily 30-minute walk, taking up a new sport, dancing around the room every hour if you’re working from home, or starting a more formal routine, exercise needs to be planned daily into your day. It’s essential for good circulation, maintaining muscle mass and also helps support mental wellbeing.

Swap bad fats for good fats

Dietary fat is an essential macronutrient.  It is not only used as an energy source but is also needed to absorb our fat-soluble vitamins.  However, saturated fats, found in butter, red meat and refined foods should be eaten in moderation as they can raise cholesterol levels and cause heart problems.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

The essential omega-3 and 6 fats, however, are, as the name suggests, essential, and need to be eaten in the diet.  They are utilised for a healthy heart, brain, eyes, joints, and hormones.  Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the best sources, so make sure you’re eating these on a regular basis.  If your skin is dry, this may also be a sign that you are lacking in omega-3s.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

Thankfully, mental health is no longer a taboo subject and people are openly discussing issues, and hopefully seeking help if needed.  However, it’s important that we all check in with ourselves to make sure we are prioritising our mental wellbeing.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Perhaps it’s time to practise meditation; the benefits are enormous, once you’re able to fully engage with it.  You will feel more balanced and hopefully less stressed.  Even five minutes of daily deep breathing can help alleviate stress. Sometimes the simplest of things can have the most effective results.

Is sleep an issue?

We know that sleep has become even more problematic for many of us since the pandemic, generally caused by anxiety.  We also know just how important sleep is for overall health.  At the very least, poor sleep encourages production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which is part of the reason we tend to eat more after a poor night’s sleep, making weight gain more likely.

Leisure,And,People,Concept,-,Young,Woman,Reading,Book,In

Such is the importance of sleep that a bedtime routine needs to be established.  Watching TV or electronic devices stimulates the brain making it more difficult to switch off.  Much better is to read a book or magazine an hour before bed.

shutterstock_496046788 woman holding mug of milk Apr19

Having a warm, milky drink before bedtime is not just an old wives’ tale, it has a scientific basis.  Milk (plant and dairy) contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin.  Therefore, it’s a great to have a milky drink about an hour before turning in. Additionally, certain herbs, especially valerian and passionflower are well researched at helping with sleep issues, so don’t be afraid to seek them out in supplement form.

Small changes can have big results when it comes to our health and wellbeing, so try to include a few of these tips into your daily life.

Stay well.

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Five breakfast boosts for a healthier start to the day

Healthy,Breakfast,Set,On,Grey,Background.,The,Concept,Of,Delicious

As we approach mid-year, with hopefully the promise of some summer sunshine, now is a great time to overhaul your breakfast to ensure it’s as nourishing and energising as possible. 

Each mealtime is an opportunity to fuel the body with some of the 45 nutrients it needs every day, and a well-balanced breakfast is very important. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five breakfast choices to super-charge your day!

Avocado on wholemeal bagel

Cream,Cheese,And,Avocado,Bagel,Against,A,Black,Background

Avocados are really ‘on trend’ food wise, and for very good reason.  And whilst many people avoid avocados because of their high fat content, this is actually one of their plus points. The body needs a certain amount fat in the diet, not least because it’s essential for absorbing our fat-soluble nutrients, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Avocados are also rich in monounsaturated fats which are help support heart health. Choosing a wholemeal bagel as opposed to white will deliver lots more energising B-vitamins, in a balanced way, and sprinkling a few pumpkin seeds will top up protein levels and essential omega-3 fats too.

Chia seed porridge

Vegan,Breakfast.,Oatmeal,With,Chia,Seeds,,Berries,,Seeds,And,Caramel

Porridge is another breakfast staple. It can be eaten hot or the oats can be soaked overnight in a little apple juice and then eaten cold the next day.  Either way, oats are packed with fibre, so are great for digestive health, plus they naturally include beta-glucans which help reduce cholesterol levels.

It’s great to mix chia seeds with flaxseeds as a topping as both are rich sources of the essential and healthy omega-3s. Then add some vitamin C-rich berries and delicious oat yoghurt.  This is a great option for vegans and will help you power through until lunchtime.

Eggs and mushrooms

Poached,Egg,With,Spinach,,Portobello,Mushrooms,And,Vine,Tomatoes

Eggs make one of the best starts to the day because of their high protein content.  This helps balance blood sugar levels and, in turn weight, mood and energy.

Button mushrooms, which are a source of immune-boosting vitamin D, are gently cooked, sprinkled with thyme, in a little olive oil with chopped tomatoes for additional antioxidants and flavour.  Spread them over the plate and poach one or two eggs and pop on the top.

Gluten-free buckwheat pancakes

Buckwheat,Pancakes,With,Berry,Fruit,And,Honey.selective,Focus

Despite its name buckwheat contains no wheat at all.  This makes it the perfect base for the many people who find they can’t tolerate gluten which predominates in wheat-based foods.  This is because gluten is rather ‘sticky’ and tends to cause digestive problems for people even if they’re not allergic or intolerant to wheat.

Buckwheat is also high in protein and low on the glycaemic index, meaning energy levels will be sustained through till lunchtime. These pancakes can be made with egg if desired, and your choice of milk with a little butter and sugar to suit your tastes. Top with fruit and natural yoghurt for a wonderfully delicious and nutritious start to your day.

Protein-powered oats

Oatmeal,Porridge,With,Berries,In,A,Bowl,On,Rustic,Wooden

Whilst oats do contain some protein, if you want a powerful re-fuel after your morning workout, then this breakfast is a great choice.  All nuts are high in protein and although peanuts are not actually nuts in the true sense of the word, they still deliver on the protein front and help repair worked muscles.

If you’re short of time after a workout (or just generally pushed for time), then why not soak some oats overnight in some water with frozen berries of your choice.  It’s always great to have some frozen fruit to hand and it’s just as nutritious as fresh, so there’s no need to worry if getting to the shops is an issue.  Simply stir in some peanut butter or other nut butter such as cashew, and you’re super-charged and ready for your day.

Try not to skip breakfast, as this can often lead to poor food choices later in the day and instead enjoy one of these recipes to charge up your day.

Stay well.

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Top nutrition tips to support your smile

Cloe up of woman smiling brightly with a becah background

A great smile can light up your face (and a room). But what if you’re worried about your teeth or just don’t feel confident enough to really pile on the smile? 

Whatever the reasons, it’s time to change your thought processes and embrace your smile.

This National Smile Month, clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips to show you how.

Get the basics right

When we give a big smile, obviously our teeth are one of the first things that get noticed.  This is great if your pearly whites really are white, but not so good if you don’t think yours look great or they are giving you trouble.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

As with everything in the body, good nutrition underpins health and teeth need ‘feeding’ with the right nutrients. Top of the list are vitamin D and calcium; both used to build and protect healthy teeth.  Whilst most of this is done during childhood development years, just like bones, the teeth need feeding from within throughout life.

A range of foods containing calcium

Vitamin D deficiency is still widespread as it’s not easy to obtain from food. Supplementation with a minimum of 10 micrograms daily is needed throughout the year.  However, some foods that are rich in calcium. like oily fish with bones  such as sardines, also contain some vitamin D.  Other great sources of calcium are dairy, calcium-enriched plant milks, green leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds.

Love your gums

Just as your teeth need looking after from within, so too do your gums.  And as one gets older, it’s often gums that fail rather than teeth so it’s vitally important to serve them well!

shutterstock_362885486 vitamin C Jan17

Top of the list of nutrients is vitamin C; it helps build strong blood capillaries, supports the immune system and generally protects gum health.  It’s time to load up your plates with colourful fruits and vegetables, all of which are rich in vitamin C.

A range of foods high in iron

Additionally, vitamin D and calcium are needed for healthy gums, along with iron.  If eating a juicy red steak is not for you, then leafy greens are a great source of iron, as are dried fruits such as prunes, raisins and apricots.

Glow from within

If you feel good inside, you’re much more likely to give a wide smile!  Again, good nutrition underpins how we look – you can literally glow from the inside out when your diet is right.

A range of foods containing protein

Make sure the basics are solid; enjoy a variety of colourful vegetables, as well as good quality protein from poultry, meat, eggs, legumes, dairy and go for whole foods. Also drink plenty of water (1.5 – 2 litres daily), plus fruit or herbal teas.  Skin will look lacklustre without sufficient hydration.

Importantly, keep refined sugars and stimulants to a minimum as these rob the body of key nutrients.

Body and mind combined

Food not only nourishes the body it also nourishes the mind.  And when the head is in a happy place, then we feel much more like smiling.  Having a varied and balanced diet is obviously essential.  However, many people don’t realise that most of our neurotransmitter production, some of which controls mood and motivation, is made within the gut and only happens with the right nutrients in place.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Having plenty of fibre from whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds is key to maintaining a healthy gut and, in turn, a healthy mind.  The omega-3 essential fats figure highly in the brain so make sure you’re eating plenty of oily fish (also rich in calcium), nuts, seeds and omega-3-rich oils and butters.

Practice makes perfect

For an extra confidence boost, why not stand in front of mirror and see what others see when you smile.  Clearly, it’s best to have a natural rather than forced smile but sometimes practising in front of the mirror can help build extra confidence.  How much should you open your mouth? Should you have a wide smile?  Does your face crinkle (which is very warming for those on the receiving end)?

Smiling,Beautiful,Young,Woman,Looking,At,Herself,In,The,Bathroom

If you can get your basic health into good order, then this will only but improve the health of teeth and gums, and in turn, your smile.

Stay well.

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Suzie’s five top tips to support your health

shutterstock_583532458 nutrition word cloud heart Mar21

We all want great health and to look and feel well.  Good nutrition is the cornerstone to health; there is so much truth in the adage ‘You are what you eat’. 

But when it comes to the right nutrition where should we start and what should we prioritise?

This World Health Day we ask clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, to help simplify things by sharing her top five health tips.

Routine creates balance

Stressful and busy lives can negatively impact our eating patterns.  Eating at erratic times, missing meals and grabbing food on the run will just create more stress on the body.  When we’re stressed, the body naturally shuts down the digestive organs by diverting blood flow away, which in turn interrupts absorption of essential nutrients.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

Additionally, the body likes to know when it’s going to be fed otherwise it will start storing fat for survival and naturally slow metabolic rate. Keep eating times regular, chew mindfully, savouring every mouthful (you’ll also naturally not overeat) and take some pride in what you have prepared.  Food is one of life’s amazing pleasures, so use it to feed your amazing body as it deserves. Put eating a varied and balanced diet at the top of your priority list.

Take vitamin D all year-round

If your joints and muscles are stiff, you’re feeling low in mood or sugar cravings are off the scale, chances are you’re low in vitamin D.  Public Health England advise we should be taking a supplement all year round, (and don’t stop just because the sun’s come out!).  It is advised that we should all take a supplement of 10 micrograms daily as a minimum, such is the level of deficiency in the population: in fact, ongoing research telling us we need more. Interestingly, upper safe levels for supplementation of vitamin D are 75 micrograms daily.  If you’ve still got any of the above symptoms, or blood tests reveal you’re low in vitamin D, then do increase the dosage.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Oily fish with bones, eggs and mushrooms are good food sources of vitamin D so eat these but you’ll still need to supplement as well.

Eat the colours of the rainbow

I talk so much about eating a rainbow of foods and it’s one of the best insurance policies you can choose for protecting health.  The colour of foods, especially in fruits and vegetables, all represent nutrients, and especially antioxidants in many different forms. All are essential for protecting the body against free radical damage.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

If counting portions of fruit and vegetables is a bit too much (and let’s face it we can’t always know what an individual portion size is), then just aim for meals that are full of colour.  Without even counting, you will be eating a rainbow every day and your health will love every mouthful.

Don’t fear fat

Fat is not only essential for providing energy and keeping us warm, it’s also needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin D. Healthy fats include the omegas 3 and 6, which can’t be produced in the body, as well as olive oil, walnut oil, sesame oil and a variety of other nuts and seeds with their oils.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

In short, the body needs them every day, and eaten in the right quantity, healthy fats are not going to cause weight gain.  On the contrary, without sufficient healthy fats in the diet, the body will start craving sugar causing blood sugar imbalances and often consequential weight gain.

Prioritise protein

Many people wrongly think that starchy carbohydrates fill you up.  And for a time, they will. Carbohydrates from whole grain sources such as oats and whole wheat bread and pasta are slow-energy releasing, keeping everything balanced.  However, it’s protein that keeps you feeling fuller for longer.  Most importantly, protein is essential for numerous body functions such as maintaining healthy immune and hormone systems, building and repairing muscle and bone, and essential detoxification processes.  Ideally it needs to be eaten at every meal where possible.

A range of foods containing protein

The good news is that there’s plenty of choice when it comes to food sources; eggs, meat, fish, poultry, dairy, beans, legumes, soya, nuts, seeds and all foods produced from them. An average-sized person needs a minimum of 50-60 grams daily and most people need much more, especially if they’re active.  You’ll be amazed just how much stronger and energised you’ll feel just by putting protein on the priority list when meal-planning.

So, embrace these five tips and hopefully you will really feel the health benefits.

Stay well.

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A day in the life of a Nutritionist: top tips for daily health

A chalk board with the words Healthy Lifestyle written on alongside other words which represent this

For many of us a new year means a new start and a revamp of our diet and exercise. And then there comes another lockdown. For some of us this is motivating and increases our focus on our own wellness, getting out for our daily walks and trying new dishes at home. For others we may have lost our motivation to keep moving and eat well.

So, with this in mind we thought we would ask Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer to share her daily routine and provide us with some insights and inspiration.

Take it away Suzie!

I’m frequently asked about my own eating and lifestyle habits.  And I always answer by saying that I am certainly not ‘perfect’ 100% of the time but aim for 80-90%.  This has become even more important to me during the pandemic because keeping ourselves as healthy as possible is certainly the best protection we can have.

Morning

I normally start the day with a small amount of apple cider vinegar and a glass of warm water with fresh lemon to help cleanse the liver and kickstart the digestive system. Plus, it helps alkalise the body. After about an hour I’ll generally have some porridge oats (from whole grain oats) with some oat or almond milk, topped with berries.  I also sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseeds on the top for additional omega-3 healthy fats and fibre.

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

As an alternative, or if I’ve done an early workout, I’ll have a power smoothie. This is made mainly with protein powder (usually pea protein, as whey protein can cause digestive upsets later in the day) and not too overloaded with fruit – I just choose a couple.

I generally take most of my supplements after breakfast too.  A daily multivitamin and mineral should be taken early on in the day in order to enjoy its energising benefits.  I’ll always take omega-3s from fish oil which are great for skin, joints, the heart and brain. In fact, I definitely notice the difference with my memory when I don’t take them! I’ll generally include either some probiotics or prebiotics such as inulin (depending on how well my digestion is working).

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

I also take additional vitamin D.  Quite apart from it being essential for the immune system, vitamin D is important for supporting normal bone health and for helping stiff joints, which I tend to get if I’ve been overdoing the workouts.

Lunch

I’m a great fan of eggs; they are a brilliant source of protein and brain-boosting phospholipids. Therefore, lunch will often be a spinach and mushroom omelette which will keep me feeling full for a good few hours and stop the classic ‘3 pm slump’!  Alternatively, I’ll have a smoked mackerel salad or avocado on sourdough bread.

Spinach and mushroom om

Depending on how the day’s running I might do a workout before lunch. I’m so lucky living in Brighton and being able to work out on the beach with a trainer a couple of times a week, which keeps me motivated.  Fitness apps are a great way to get moving at home but for me personally I dislike jumping around in my lounge!  During the working week I will always take a walk, even for half an hour, to get out in the fresh air.  It’s great for clearing the mind and also brilliant exercise.  I also try and do longer and more challenging walks at the weekends.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Dinner

During the week, I tend to keep things really simple: wild salmon or chicken breast with sweet potato and veggies.  I’m also a great fan of venison steaks as they are very low in fat, high in protein and tend to be more free-range than other meats.  I cook them as I would any piece of meat so they’re soft and tender, not chewy at all.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

I absolutely love chocolate and allow myself a few squares of dark chocolate each day as it’s packed with antioxidants. Because of its strong flavour, I find that I don’t need to eat too much.

Sleep

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

I struggle to get to sleep, so I try to have a warm bath about an hour before bedtime and I’ve found Epsom salts to be really helpful.  Plus, they make my skin feel super soft and smooth.  I’ll also take some L-Theanine about half an hour before bedtime.  It’s an amino acid that stimulates GABA, one of our calming neurotransmitters, which helps stop a busy brain. It does need to be taken on an empty stomach though.  However, sometimes I change things up a little and use the herbs passionflower and valerian, both of which have plenty of research for helping sleep.

Final thoughts

The body loves routine, and whilst most of us are out of our usual routine at the moment, I certainly find that the more I can fuel my body with plenty of nutrients, the better I’m able to weather the storm, both physically and emotionally. I hope my ‘day in the life’ has given you some motivation and ideas for including some more healthy habits into your daily routine.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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Heart health: the top three nutrients to support yours

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

Our heart works very hard for us every day.  In any one day it can beat a whopping 100,000 times!  It makes sense, therefore, to show your heart some love by feeding it specific nutrients to keep it beating healthily.

Clearly, the body needs a range of nutrients to maintain optimal health and the heart is no different in this respect.  However, there are certain nutrients that the heart absolutely needs in order to stay strong and healthy.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her three top nutrients to support your heart health.

Vitamin C

We know vitamin C is really important when it comes to protecting the immune system.  However, as one of our key antioxidants, it’s essential for the heart too.  Thankfully, we have eradicated the classic deficiency disease of vitamin C, being scurvy, but the first sign of this was blood vessels literally leaking – very unpleasant.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

From much research and further understanding since then, we know that vitamin C is needed for strong blood vessels and arteries.  As an antioxidant, it protects the arteries from free radical damage that can block them and cause heart attacks.  Additionally, vitamin C increases production of HDL, our ‘good cholesterol’, which helps remove excess cholesterol from the body.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

All fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C so enjoying a colourful diet and including a wide range of these foods is going to really protect your heart.  Top of the list are peppers, berry fruits, kiwis and broccoli.

Omega-3s

Termed ‘essential fats’ because they have to be eaten in the diet, these omega-3 fats have a key role in heart health.  Specifically, it’s the long-chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA which are the main players.  Much research has found they can help reduce the risk of heart disease, thought to be down to their anti-inflammatory actions. This can reduce damage to artery walls, which is one of the key issues in heart disease.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help thin the blood, thereby reducing high blood pressure and minimising the risk of blood clots causing strokes.

The best sources of EPA and DHA are from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and to a lesser extent, tuna.  For fish eaters, then aim to eat oily fish at least two to three times a week.

A spoon full of flax seeds

However, for those not keen on fish or are vegan, then flaxseeds are able to provide some (albeit in lower amounts, since the body has to undergo complicated conversions of nutrients beforehand).  However, try to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself, before adding them to cereals or yoghurt, as this helps release the beneficial lignans which provide some wonderful health benefits.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle function and since the heart is a muscle, then magnesium is a key mineral for heart health.  It is also a relaxant, so magnesium has the effect of relaxing the artery wall and reducing blood pressure. Magnesium is often used to great effect when treating cases of high blood pressure.

Additionally, magnesium deficiency can cause a heart attack by cramping a coronary artery even in the absence of a blockage within the artery itself.  Magnesium deficiency is widespread within the UK population which may partly explain the prevalence of heart conditions.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that it can easily be rectified by including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in the diet.  Load up on almonds, spinach, whole grains including quinoa, and all types of beans.  Even better news is that dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium so you can enjoy a guilt-free treat of 70% or more dark chocolate!

Magnesium is depleted by stress (which many people are suffering at the moment), so try to eat magnesium-rich foods every day and take a magnesium supplement if needed.  It will also help reduce stress levels.

So, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can contribute to your heart health every day.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: what to add to your diet in January

Venison with red cabbage

Traditionally January tends to be a dull and dreary month for most people!  Post-Christmas blues, dark days and poor weather, not to mention the current lockdown. 

This makes now an even better time to embrace the delicious, colourful and nutritious seasonal food currently available.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite seasonal foods for January.

Venison

Venison often gets forgotten when thinking about red meat, but it’s a wonderfully healthy food.  Much of our UK venison is produced from deer that roam freely, therefore the meat is very tasty and extremely low in fat.  Indeed, venison has less fat than other red meats and also a skinned breast of chicken.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Importantly venison is higher in iron than other red meats and contains some of the super-healthy omega-3 fats.  Even better, it’s incredibly easy to cook – it works just like steak  Therefore, it can be lightly pan-fried and is delicious in stews.  Because venison is so lean and soft in texture, it doesn’t take too much work to produce a superb meal.

Mackerel

Although not always strictly from UK waters as it’s often sourced from the Mediterranean as well as the north Atlantic, January it’s still a great time for eating mackerel.

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

Mackerel’s main ‘claim to fame’ is its wealth of omega-3 fats.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) that we’re widely deficient of these essential fats the UK. Omega-3s are needed for a healthy heart, eyes, brain, skin and for good hormone and joint function.  Eating mackerel once a week will provide at least half of the weekly recommended intake of omega-3s.

Whilst it might be too ‘fishy’ tasting for some, it’s delightful to eat a naturally moist fish. Mackerel is great lightly grilled with just a squeeze of lemon juice.

Onions

A staple in many dishes, onions are incredibly versatile and come in different shapes and colours, but all are nutritionally beneficial.  Onions are packed with powerful flavonoids – plant compounds that have antioxidant qualities, helping protect us from disease and the ageing process.

A range of onions

One of these flavonoids, quercetin, helps control the production of histamine, responsible for unpleasant allergic symptoms, especially for hay fever sufferers.  Eating plenty of quercetin-rich foods prior to the hay fever season can help dampen down some of these symptoms, so it’s good to start now.

Whether you choose white onions, red onions, spring onions or shallots, it’s more a question of taste rather than any real difference in nutritional goodness.  Plus, they’re all full of fibre so will help keep everything moving smoothly through the digestive tract.

Cauliflower

A worthy member of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, cauliflower is not only rich in many nutrients, but it also contains a wealth of phytonutrients with additional health benefits.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Top of the list are glucosinolates which help manage inflammation throughout the body, aid detoxification and digestion and support the immune system. Whilst cauliflower is high in antioxidants due to its many plant compounds, it’s also rich in the mineral manganese which is needed to produce one of our powerful antioxidant enzymes (as well as being good for the joints).

Because it has a distinctive strong taste, cauliflower is great added to meals as a vegetable side, having been lightly steamed.  Alternatively, it works really well in curries or with Asian flavours and dishes.

Red Cabbage

A regular on the Christmas dinner table, red cabbage is in season during the winter months and is well worth including in meals well after the festive period.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

Interestingly, whilst all cabbages are highly nutritious, being another member of the cruciferous vegetable family, red cabbage has a nutritional edge. Its deep red colour provides additional anthocyanins which are powerful antioxidants. Red cabbage is also very rich in other antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C and manganese, plus vitamin K, essential for healthy blood flow and joints.

In terms of enjoying its delicious flavours, braised red cabbage with chopped apple (also now in season) is wonderful. It also works really well in sweet and sour dishes, with Asian flavours, in stir fries or soups.

There are so many great reasons for eating seasonally; apart from enhanced taste, the nutrient profile of food is generally always better.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

Stay well.

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Take the Veg Pledge

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Vegetables provide so much nutritious goodness for us that they should feature much more frequently as the main event of a meal rather than just a side dish. 

Eating a more plant-based diet is great for our overall health, so get peeling and chopping and reap the benefits!

This Veg Pledge month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ideas for including more vegetables in your daily diet.

Colourful smoothies

Two glasses of berry smoothies

We often think of smoothies as only being fruit-based but they can taste equally delicious by including more vegetables than fruit.  Whilst you’ll lose most of the fibre from the vegetables by blending a smoothie, you can add extra fibre in the form of flaxseeds which are also rich in the healthy omega-3 fats.

Whilst the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables is five portions (and currently only 27% of the population achieve this) optimal health can be achieved by aiming for closer to ten portions. However, it is quite difficult to eat this amount, hence smoothies are the perfect answer.

A green smoothie

For a tasty green smoothie, blend cucumber, carrot, celery, ¼ avocado, spinach plus some apple and banana for sweetness, together with unsweetened almond milk (or soya if preferred).  You can change the taste (and colour) by using berries rather than apple.  The perfect start to the day!

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

All vegetables and fruits are rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, essential through the winter months.  Plus, vegetables are loaded with varied carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body as needed, but they also serve as powerful antioxidants, further protecting the immune system and holding back the ageing process.

Make warming soup

A range of bowls of soup

Another perfect and very easy way of increasing your vegetable intake is by making soups.  As with smoothies, there are no end of variations.  However, if you want to create something more filling, perhaps for lunch, then it’s great to add some protein in the form of beans or lentils (colours and varieties of your choice) to sustain you until dinner time.

For a really tasty and warming winter soup simply boil up some carrots, celery, leeks, and chopped potatoes with some vegetable stock, garlic and thyme (plus the lentils).  If you want to change it up, why not add some chopped coriander or cumin? Or create a green soup using garlic, broccoli, courgette and spinach with some grated parmesan for added creaminess if you fancy it.

A bowl of mixed bean soup

Whilst the vegetables provide lots of energising B-vitamins, the additional protein in the form of beans or lentils will further boost B-vitamins, and keep you feeling fuller for longer. So, hopefully you’ll be less likely to be tempted to snack later in the day.

Roast up a trayful

A woman taking a tray of roasted vegetables out of the oven

Roasted vegetables tick all the boxes.  Not only are they delicious, but they can also be eaten with a protein source such as fish, chicken or quinoa for a perfect meal.  A trayful of veggies is loaded with fibre to keep everything moving smoothly and will aid digestion. And for even more variety, roasted vegetables are delicious cold, and added to salads.

A range of roasted vegetables

A mixed and colourful tray will deliver a plethora of nutrients.  All vegetables contain vitamin C in different amounts, but Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are also great for feeding the beneficial gut bacteria.  Courgettes are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – both carotenoids which are especially beneficial for the eyes.

Beetroot is simply a super food!  They are loaded with energising folate, iron and compounds that help liver detoxification. And the orange favourites that are carrots and sweet potatoes are both rich in the powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

As with all these vegetable recipes ideas, you’ll never get bored because there are so many different ones to choose from.  Why not try roasting some veggies you’ve never eaten before such as aubergines or fennel?  And for some added taste and protein, why not sprinkle with feta cheese?

So, make sure to include more vegetables in your diet and take the Veg Pledge today!

Stay well.

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.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

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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

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