Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

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However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.

Zinc

Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.

Magnesium

The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.

 

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Healthy body, healthy mind: top brain-boosting foods

 

Sideways view of a happy woman's face with her brain outlined and glowing

It’s no secret that what we eat has a massive impact on brain function. However, wouldn’t it be great if we could really improve concentration, mood and stress just by changing up the diet a little?

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There are plenty of small changes you can make which will have a real impact not just on how you feel but also in supporting your cognitive functioning.

Suzie Sawyer shares her favourite foods for getting brain health on track.

Avocados to beat stress

There are a number of nutrients involved in the stress response. Vitamin B6 is one of the major players, and delicious avocados are a great source. In fact, avocados are all-round good guys, loaded with great nutrients, including vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant which is also protective of the brain.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

On trend right now as a favourite breakfast is smashed avocado on sour dough bread, which makes a wonderful start to the day. Or why not include half an avocado in your morning power smoothie with banana, frozen berries, almond butter and coconut milk, to start the day right?

Turkey is not just for Christmas

For some reason, people forget that turkey is a really healthy, protein-packed food and should definitely be eaten all year round, especially if you want your brain to fire on all cylinders.

Sliced turkey breast

Turkey is high in vitamin B3 which is key in the production of brain neurotransmitters. A lack of vitamin B3 can cause low mood and depression, so turkey can really keep you feeling happier. Turkey breast meat has slightly less fat than chicken. Therefore, cooking up a turkey stir fry with plenty of colourful veg makes a nutrient-packed, easy and low-calorie meal.

Sharpen your brain with lecithin

Lecithin is a phospholipid (fat) that is essential for brain function. There is evidence that people have seen great benefits in their memory and all-round cognitive functions from increasing lecithin in their diet.

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

Lecithin granules, which can be bought at most good health food shops, may not sound particularly appetising but they can be added very easily to soups, stews, cereals – in fact, any hot or cold dish, as their health benefits are not destroyed by heat.

Egg yolks are also a great source of lecithin so make sure you’re eating around six eggs per week, if you can. Lecithin granules can be suitable for vegetarians – always check out the label.

Boost your mood with beans

Many people avoid all types of beans as they’re worried about the all-too common digestive distress. However, the flatulence that beans often cause is generally because the body is not making enough of the enzyme which breaks them down. The more beans you eat however, the more the enzyme reaction will be uprated – something else to smile about!

A range of beans

All types of beans are high in B vitamins, plus the amino acid tryptophan, needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin. Plus, they’re so easy to include in the diet on a regular basis, in soups or mixed with tinned tomatoes, onions, peppers and some chipotle, for a tasty dinner. YOU can even go for the old faithful of beans on wholemeal toast for breakfast. If you’re having tinned baked beans, make sure you opt for the sugar and salt-free versions though.

Keep focussed with pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fats and the mineral zinc. Even better, they contain protein to help balance blood sugar levels; another reason concentration levels will be improved. The brain contains lots of fat, much of that being the essential omega-3s, hence it’s really important to include them in the diet to support concentration and good mood.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are very easy to include in many dishes and are certainly great sprinkled over smashed avocado, porridge, cereals or mixed into natural yoghurt with fruit in the mornings. Pumpkin seeds are best not heated as this can damage the omega-3 fats.

We are what we eat. Just like the body, the brain can only function optimally with the right fuel so give it some help with these brain-boosting foods.

 

 

 

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Five nutritious breakfasts to start the day right!

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day. Clearly, all three main meals are important as they provide fuel and essential nutrients for the body. However, after a period of fasting during the night, blood sugar levels are low so it is essential to refuel.

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If you’re only drinking a double espresso for breakfast, with no food, your blood sugar levels will be imbalanced and so will your energy for the rest of the day.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite breakfasts, whether you’re on the run or having a lazy weekend.

Fast and effective: Overnight oats

Soaking oats overnight in milk or apple juice is really easy to do. It provides you with one of the best ‘on-the-run’ breakfasts you can have, as you’re prepping it the night before, and your energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Oats are packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates, plus they’re a great source of fibre and energising B-vitamins. They also help keep cholesterol levels in check. If you choose to soak them overnight in almond milk, you’ll also be getting the benefit of some omega-3 essential fats, and a banana will give it some added flavour and heart-loving potassium. Just smash the banana into the milk, mix with the oats and leave overnight in the fridge. If you want to add some extra fruit or natural yoghurt in the morning, then fill your boots!

The green one: Smashed avocado on toast with sprinkled seeds

Instead of putting a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and spreading them with the first thing that comes to hand, take an extra minute to smash an avocado on toast.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Use wholemeal, rye or other non-white bread to provide you with lots of energy-giving B-vitamins. Avocados themselves are high in vitamin B5 which is needed to produce our stress hormones, helping to manage your anxiety levels. Sprinkle it with some mixed seeds (flavoured with soya sauce if you like) and if you’ve got some cherry tomatoes and rocket in the fridge, add those to your plate as well!

The lazy weekender: Poached eggs with sourdough

Eggs are one of the best ways to start any day. They’re one of the most complete foods: packed full of protein they are also a good source of the trace mineral iron, needed for good brain function through the day. And whilst you might not want to be using your brain too much on a lazy weekend, iron is stored in the body so you’ll be sharp for the week ahead.

Poached egg on brown toast

Poached eggs on sourdough toast work really well with spinach. The tastiest way is to quickly ‘wilt’ the leaves in a little butter and add some chilli powder for extra taste.

The zingy one: Summer Berry fruit bowl

Even though we are in the midst of winter, the availability of frozen summer berries means this breakfast can be enjoyed all year round. The nutrient content of frozen fruits and vegetable stacks up really well against fresh produce because they tend to be frozen quickly after harvesting, therefore retaining most of their nutrients. And summer berries are packed full of vitamins.

A bowl of summer berries with yoghurt for breakfast

All you need for this is some frozen berries, plus half an avocado, a banana and natural yoghurt blended together. You can whizz this up the night before and take it on the run – why not add some oats and seeds before eating to give your breakfast an extra energy boost.

This is also a great way of helping you to eat a colourful rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day. This bowl is packed with antioxidants to help support your immune system through the winter months, plus the dark fruits are full of super-healthy flavonoids (powerful antioxidants responsible for the vivid colours in fruits and vegetables).

The indulgent start: Wholemeal bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

This delicious breakfast is packed with protein and energising B-vitamins, plus essential omega-3 fats, needed for great brain function through the day.

Bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese

All you need to do is to toast a delicious wholemeal bagel and spread with low-fat cream cheese and add some smoked salmon. Choose low-fat cream cheese if you can as it’s obviously much lower in calories, but actually contains higher amounts of calcium (needed for strong bones, teeth and muscles). I promise you won’t notice the difference from the full-fat variety.

So, there you have it. Five great ideas to start your day the right way!

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Five food swaps to boost your energy this January

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

The month of January can often make us feel low in energy, especially after all the Christmas festivities. What you eat right now can really make the difference between flagging during the day and feeling full of life.

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Just like a car needs fuel, the body can’t run on empty, but the food we choose needs to be the right kind of fuel. So how can you get the most energy out of your food choices?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five energising food swaps so you jump through January!

Swap sunflower oil for coconut oil

Sunflower oil is one of the most popular cooking oils, partly because it’s quite cheap but it’s also promoted as being healthy. However, the reality is that sunflower oil contains a high percentage of polyunsaturated fats which are damaged when heated and therefore turn into unhealthy trans fats.

Coconut oil and coconut flesh

Conversely, coconut oil is stable once heated but, most importantly, contains high levels of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which the body uses as an energy source. They also speed up metabolism and are not stored as fat. You can even use pure coconut butter as a wonderful body moisturiser. Coconut oil can always be used as a replacement for sunflower oil (or other cooking oils), plus it delivers a very subtle coconut taste which is particularly delicious in stir fry dishes.

Swap rice cakes for oat cakes

Rice cakes are frequently suggested as a great low calorie snack but they do very little in terms of providing sustained energy. Moreover, rice cakes are heated to high temperatures during their preparation and this can produce very unhealthy acrylamides which have been linked to a number of degenerative diseases.

Home made oat cakes

Whilst oat cakes contain a few more calories, you’ll eat less overall because you won’t feel hungry as quickly. Oats are slow releasing carbohydrates which means they keep delivering energy for much longer. Oat cakes make great snacks when paired with hummus, nut butters (see below), prawns or bananas. They’re truly versatile!

Swap peanut butter for walnut butter

It’s a common misconception that peanut butter is really healthy. True, it contains a good amount of protein but that’s as far as it goes! Peanuts are not tree nuts; they’re grown in the ground and are very susceptible to picking up unhealthy aflatoxins. However, proper tree nuts, and in particular, walnuts contain the healthy and energising omega-3 fats.

Walnut nut butter in a jar surrounded by walnuts

Walnuts have the highest omega-3 content of any nuts. These essential fats are needed to help boost metabolism and will therefore give your energy levels a boost. They’re also delicious when made into a nut butter, which is available in most supermarkets. Add walnut butter to smoothies for a protein punch, on oatcakes as a snack, on wholemeal toast as a great on-the-run breakfast, or in decadent chocolate brownie recipes.

Swap white bread for brown

Many of us love white bread, especially toasted. However, once you’ve made the swap to brown, you’ll never look back! Your energy levels will be much improved and you’ll also be eating a much greater range of nutrients.

A selection of brown bread loaves

The problem with white bread (and other white products such as pasta) is that the refining process strips them of the all-important B vitamins which the body needs to produce energy. White bread also contains much less fibre. This means that its carbohydrate content is quickly released into the bloodstream and won’t provide sustainable energy.

If you‘re finding the swap tough, then why not buy some half and half bread to ease you into it gently!

Swap veggie crisps for kale chips

Vegetable chips are readily available in supermarkets and many people believe they’re much healthier than potato crisps because they contain colourful vegetables. This is partly true. However crisps are crisps regardless of which vegetable they are made from; they are still deep-fried, deliver very few nutrients and do very little to improve energy levels.

Home made kale chips in a dish

As a quick, healthy and energising swap try kale chips instead. You can even make your own: add a bag of kale to a roasting pan, sprinkle with coconut oil and a little salt and grill until they have turned crisp. Kale is high in iron and folate, both essential for energy production. As an added benefit, kale also contains good levels of vitamin K which is needed for a healthy heart and bones.

So a few simple swaps will get your energy levels soaring this January and hopefully throughout the coming year!

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Nutritional resolutions for 2019: live your best life

 

Woman making soup

The start of a new year is always a brilliant time to make changes and improvements to life generally. However, it’s also the best time to re-think your diet and overall nutrition to see what could work better for YOU!

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It’s not always about re-inventing the wheel; where nutrition is concerned, sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

Drink more water

This one sounds so simple. However, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel from just keeping the body properly hydrated. The body carries around 70-80% water. Of course, this is not ‘pure’ water because body fluids are made up of many different solutes; this is one of the reasons why athletes and recreational exercisers often use isotonic drinks to maintain good hydration levels. These drinks contain many of the electrolytes that are found in body fluids.

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

The good news, therefore, is that you don’t need to only drink plain water. Think herbal and fruit non-caffeinated teas. Try water with slices of lemon, cucumber or apple. Give lemon and crushed ginger a go – there’s plenty to choose from. It’s also a great way to help alkalise the body. You can also try blending: add a few green leaves such as spinach, chard and parsley and drink this throughout the day to provide the body with chlorophyll, otherwise known as the ‘food of life’. Aim for around 1 ½ litres of water-based drinks daily. Your brain, skin, digestion, joints and mood will all massively benefit!

Eat more omega-3s

We need to eat omega-3s very regularly in the diet as the body cannot produce them. However, for those of you that don’t eat fish or nuts and seeds, you may be missing out on these essential healthy fats. Early tell-tale signs that you might be lacking are dry skin, constipation, low mood and joint aches and pains – evidence as to why they’re known as the essential fats.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the best sources.   Good vegetarian sources are flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and hazelnuts. However, if you’re not including any of these foods in your diet at least every other day, then you certainly need to take either a fish oil supplement or a vegetarian flax oil or similar.

Make soup

Soups are a really easy and delicious way of bumping up your daily nutrient intake. Various forms of cooking can rob vegetables of their nutrients but soup has the added advantage of retaining most of its nutrients in the ingredients.

Watercress soup

Some popular soup suggestions:

  • Chicken: great for treating colds and blocked noses and packed with protein
  • Lentil: perfect for vegetarians, filling, warming and a great source of fibre and energising B vitamins
  • Minestrone: classic Italian soup made with lots of fresh vegetables containing immune-boosting vitamin C
  • Bouillabaisse: a thick French fish soup containing omega-3s, vitamin C from the tomatoes, together with plenty of iron and protein

You can make up a big pot of soup and it’ll last for a few days when refrigerated or you can freeze it in batches and it can last you even longer! So why not make 2019 the year of the soup – your body will just love being loaded with more nutrients throughout the year.

Take a Vitamin D supplement!

Public Health England recommends that everyone should take a supplement of vitamin D during the winter months and more frequently for some ‘at risk’ groups. However, even though we generally get some exposure to sun (the best source of vitamin D) during the summer, the body may still need a supplement. Think of it as a cheap health insurance policy to make sure you are getting enough.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Vitamin D is essential for the immune system as well as healthy bones and teeth and is especially important for growing bones. Additionally, people suffering from SAD and general low mood, are often low in vitamin D. Taking a daily supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of vitamin D is easy, cheap and very important.

Eat more fibre

Our typical highly refined western diet is normally always low in fibre. We should aim to eat around 30 grams of fibre a day from fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and whole foods such as beans and lentils.

Fibre is absolutely key for maintaining good digestion and to keep the bowels running smoothly. The body retains damaging toxins if it’s constipated. Additionally fibre is needed for heart health (the body eliminates bad cholesterol via the stools), effective weight management and for keeping our skin looking healthy and fresh.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

 

Many of us, over the Festive period, will have dined out on sugary, low fibre foods. But with a fresh start to 2019, resolve to include much more fibre in your diet. Enjoy some wholegrain oats for breakfast, some wholemeal rolls or jacket sweet potatoes for lunch and some chicken with quinoa and vegetables for dinner, as a quick example of a healthier, more nutritious day!

So making some healthy nutritional resolutions in 2019 doesn’t need to be complicated but simple changes can be very effective. Happy New Year!

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Brain Nutrition: the top 5 foods to eat for a sharper brain

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

Many of us struggle with poor memory or lack of concentration from time-to-time, and for some, more frequently. Whilst the brain will always show signs of ageing, generally from age 50, we’d all like some extra brain power, whatever our age!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five foods to give your brain that extra boost.

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EGGS

Eggs are not only an all-round superfood, they’re rich in choline, a member of the family of B-vitamins. Choline’s main ‘claim-to-fame’ is that it helps make acetylcholine, the brain’s key memory transmitter. Importantly, a deficiency of this nutrient could be the single most common cause for a declining memory.

One large egg contains around 300 mg of choline. Choline has two major functions; it’s needed for the structure of brain cells, plus the production of acetylcholine. The human body can make some choline in the liver, but it’s not usually sufficient to make healthy brain cells, hence it’s needed regularly in the diet.

A topped boiled egg in an egg cup

Eggs are also a great source of protein, containing the full profile of amino acids. Having an egg-based breakfast will help keep blood sugar levels in balance throughout the day and this will also keep your brain in sharp focus.

OILY FISH

Oily fish is rich in brain-loving omega-3 fats. These fats are key for good brain health because they’re part of the myelin sheath within the brain structure and are also needed to make those all-important neurotransmitters. The best fish to eat are primarily cold water ones that consume other fish! This means herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna. Try to include some oily fish in your diet around three times a week.

A whole cooked fish to represent healthy omega 3 fats

If you’re vegetarian, then you don’t need to miss out. Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are great sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a key omega fat which the body converts into the most active form being EPA (rich in fish). So the brain will still get what it needs.

BANANAS

This perfect, conveniently wrapped fruit is high in vitamin B6, which is another nutrient that’s essential for the production of those essential neurotransmitters. It’s no coincidence that bananas are a popular weaning food for babies, maybe for this reason. Plus, of course, they’re easy to digest (when fully ripe).

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

The brain needs a constant supply of certain nutrients to keep these neurotransmitters ‘firing’ and sending messages between cells. Several B-vitamins, and in particular B6, also encourage the production of acetylcholine as well as keeping nerves healthy.

Bananas are one of the easiest foods to incorporate into the diet because they’re so transportable but also versatile in dishes. They’re also a great start to the day on top of your morning oats with some natural yoghurt.

AVOCADOS

We know that the brain contains lots of fats, which are key to its make-up. However, this makes the brain susceptible to attack from damaging free radicals. If not stopped in their tracks, free radicals can cause damage throughout the body, particularly to nerves, which will inevitably impact on brain function.

The good news is that nature has provided a wealth of foods containing protective nutrients. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant found in avocados, works in partnership with vitamin C in the antioxidant department. Interestingly, people with good blood levels of antioxidants may do better in memory tests!

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Whilst some people shy away from avocados because of their higher calorie load, the benefits of including one in your diet, three times a week, far outweighs any negatives. They’re particularly delicious with prawns, in salads, smashed on toast with eggs for breakfast, or with bacon and grilled chicken.

PEAS

The humble pea is rich in folic acid, which works alongside vitamin B6 in helping produce the brain’s neurotransmitters. Plus, they’re so versatile and tasty too! They’re a good source of protein and fibre, helping to keep blood sugar levels in good balance and therefore, the brain in great working order.

a bowl of fresh peas and pea pods on a table

Peas are a very popular frozen vegetable because they’re so quick and easy to add to a meal. The freezing process can actually retain more of their nutrient content because they’re frozen quickly after harvesting, so don’t worry that these frozen vegetables are any less nutritious than fresh ones. They will also certainly contain less starch. We tend to forget that peas also come in the form of mange tout or the sugar snap variety, which are both equally great for the brain.

So add some of these brain-boosters to your diet this season and stay sharp!

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Nutrition for colds and flu: how to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands holding a bowl of warming soup

With the dreaded cold season rapidly approaching, now is the time to take steps to keep them at bay. What’s on your plate at each meal time can have a really positive effect in boosting the immune system and improving your health all winter long. And not forgetting that each meal time is an opportunity for including as many nutrients as possible for all-round great health.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for making each meal an immune-booster.

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MAKE YOUR MORNING COUNT

In so many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You’ve fasted through the night and the body is now looking for a really nutritious and energy-boosting start to the day. Moreover, eating a nutrient-rich breakfast provides the perfect opportunity to get your immune defences in great shape.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

Try to include some dark berry fruits into your breakfast: many of the secrets to the health benefits of these little berries actually lie in their beautiful, dark colours. Berry fruits are rich in plant compounds known as anthocyanins (blueberries especially so), which are high in immune-boosting antioxidants, that help protect the body against infections. Blueberries, cherries, strawberries and blackberries are also packed with vitamin C, one of our key defenders.

These fruits are coming out of season now, although they’re still readily available in supermarkets. However, use them frozen in a berry smoothie with banana and avocado and you’ve got yourself one of the best starts to the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Clearly you’ll need something more filling as well, so you can also add these fruits as a topper to porridge or other oat-based cereals. Oats are full of beta-glucans which help support the immune system, so what better start to the day during the winter than with a warming bowl of porridge topped with berries to see you through till lunchtime.

For those on the run at breakfast-time, a pot of live natural yoghurt, which is full of immune-boosting friendly bacteria, also makes a great option. Make sure you add some berries for that ‘hit’ of antioxidants and vitamin C!

LUNCHTIME POWER UP

Even though you’ve had a nutritionally-rich breakfast, by lunchtime your energy levels will naturally be flagging; the body needs re-fuelling! It’s really important to include protein at lunch for a number of reasons. Protein is needed for the body to produce immunoglobulins, a key part of immune function that helps to fight invasion of nasty bugs. Moreover, it will help stem the common 3 p.m. energy slump.

Baked sweet potato topped with salmon

So which proteins are best to eat? Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, which are packed with healthy essential omega-3s, are great as a topper on a jacket sweet potato. Loaded with beta-carotene, sweet potatoes will also provide great support for the immune system.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, or just fancy a change, then tempeh or tofu with some noodles or wholegrain brown rice also work really well. Tempeh is slightly higher in protein than tofu, plus it’s got a naturally nutty taste so tends to be more flavoursome.

Bean and rice salad stew

The mineral zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and is often lacking in diets that are high in white, refined foods. All types of beans contain good levels of zinc and they also make great lunchtime staples in a wrap, salad or soup. Chickpeas are another good alternative, so adding some hummus and wholemeal pitta bread to your lunchtime menu, or having some falafels, are other useful options.

HEALTHY SUPPERTIME

After a long, hard day, an evening meal can often be a rushed affair which can lead to less nutrients being eaten. However, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or a long time planning nutritious, immune-boosting meals.

Stir fries are always good because they’re quick and easy to prepare and you can use whatever happens to be in the fridge at the time. However, certain herbs such as garlic and ginger are real immune boosters and so can be included in lots of different dishes, especially stir fries, alongside your protein source and other vegetables.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Alternatively, why not make a warming and filling super soup? Butternut squash (full of beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A as needed), lentils (high in zinc) and coconut (great for the immune system) together provide a real immunity hit. Plus, you can add other ingredients such as fish, chicken or beans for a more filling option. The best thing is that you can make this in advance and it will last a few days so you’ll have a healthy meal ready whenever energy levels are flagging.

A bowl of warming butternut squash soup

Try to also include as many vegetables as possible into your evening meal for their vitamin C content. Red peppers, for example, are high in vitamin C, and are great added to a tray of roasted vegetables, which make a great accompaniment to any protein source. Other great immune-boosting roasting vegetables include sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, tomatoes and courgettes.

So include these immune-boosting foods at every mealtime this winter and keep those colds at bay.

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