Five seasonal foods to start your summer

CLose up of a hand holding a slice of watermelow with the words hello summer cut out of it

The summer solstice on 20th June officially marks the start of summer, although with such a hot May you could be forgiven for thinking it has been here for a while! 

With the onset of summer, nature brings a further array of deliciously healthy and nutritious foods to enjoy.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyers shares her five favourites.

 

Courgettes

More romantically named zucchini by the Italians and Americans, courgettes are a great and versatile summer food.  They’re a type of small, young marrow with tender edible skins.  As with most fruits and vegetables, many of their nutrients are actually found just under the skin hence they’re best eaten with the skin on.

A range of courgettes

Courgettes are a good source of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A in the body as needed.  As with other ‘green’ vegetables they also supply a particular carotenoid, zeaxanthin which is great for the eyes.  They’re also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and brain-boosting folate. Folate is essential for good functioning of the nervous system which is really useful especially right now when many people are struggling with anxiety.

Courgette linguini

One of the loveliest summer recipes is grated courgette with linguini, lemon juice, garlic, basil and chopped chilli peppers; it makes a fantastic al fresco treat!

Artichoke

It’s not always a go-to vegetable as it’s slightly trickier to prepare.  However, why not change things up a little and benefit from its wonderful taste and health benefits? As an additional benefit, artichoke often conjures up thoughts of the Mediterranean which we might not be able to visit for a while.

Close up of artichokes

Artichoke is prepared by discarding the outer toughest leaves to get to the heart. It can then be sliced and either grilled or boiled and served with lemon butter or hollandaise sauce.  Alternatively, it can be bought ready prepared and added to pizzas, salads or pasta dishes.

Artichoke pasta dish

Artichoke’s main health benefits seem to be from its potential to support liver function and reduce cholesterol levels.  It also helps feed the friendly gut bacteria, a good balance of which is essential for overall wellbeing.

Watercress

Another green super food, watercress is one of the healthiest salad vegetables with a distinctive peppery taste.  In traditional medicine it was used as a kidney and liver detoxifier, just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  Furthermore, it’s a great source of minerals especially iron, as well as beta-carotene and vitamin C.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress makes a great summertime soup with Jersey Royals (also in season right now). It is also great in salad with rocket and Parmesan or with other strong flavours such as orange.

Wild Sea Trout

It’s important to look for ‘wild’ which naturally contains astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant, and the reason for the dark, pink colour), plus the flavour is vastly better than in its farmed counterparts.  Some of the best wild sea trout is caught off the Welsh coast, although it’s also fished in European waters.

Trout with lemon wedges and herb

Sea Trout is an excellent source of super-healthy omega-3 fats which are needed for the heart, brain, skin, hormones, and joints.

Trout fish fillet with salad

At this time of year, sea trout is absolutely delicious cooked on the barbecue and also works well marinated with orange dressing.  It makes a wonderfully healthy summer meal alongside Jersey Royal potatoes and plenty of salad leaves.

Aubergine

Another vegetable we often associate with the Mediterranean, especially Greece, is aubergine (also known as eggplant).  Interestingly, it’s also widely grown in the UK. Aubergine is still widely used in traditional Ottoman dishes such as Imam Bayildi (aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes). The deep colour of its skin signifies plenty of anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against degenerative diseases.  Aubergine also contains plenty of fibre and folate.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

Aubergines are a great summer food because they’re delicious chargrilled and added to other roasted vegetables or in a salad with roasted tomatoes and feta cheese.  The only downside is that they tend to soak up plenty of oil so do make sure you use healthy olive oil so at least you’re getting some heart-health benefits.

So, enjoy the amazing colours, tastes and nutritional benefits the new summer season brings.

Stay well.

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Three delicious and nutritious alternatives to fish and chips

Fish chips and peas

It’s National Fish and Chip Day and whilst we may be enjoying one too many takeaways during lockdown, they are certainly a treat during these challenging times.

But if you’re feeling like a healthier treat is needed why not mark the day instead with an alternative but delicious fish dish that’s much healthier?

Suzie Sawyer Clinical Nutritionist shares her three fish dish favourites.

Salmon Stir-fry

When we’re talking about healthy fish dishes, salmon is top of the list. For those who are not big salmon lovers, this dish is great because it’s got some strong flavours which help mask the fish flavours; it’s tasty and really easy.  With any salmon dish, always try to find the Wild Alaskan Salmon because it’s fished in less polluted waters and contains natural astaxanthin – one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet (it’s also what makes salmon pink!)

Two fillets of salmon on a wooden board

Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fats, essential for the brain, joints, hormones, skin and eyes.  We all need to eat omega-3s regularly in our diets as they can’t be made in the body.

Salmon stir fry

For this easy dish, simply fry up some onions, peppers, ginger, garlic, carrot strips and tenderstem broccoli in some olive oil, add the chopped salmon and heat until cooked (only a few minutes needed).  Add some five spice, soy sauce, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and some chopped fresh coriander. In just a few minutes you’ve got a brilliant brain-healthy meal delivering loads of super-healthy antioxidants from the salmon and colourful veggies.  Plus, garlic and ginger are great for the digestion and for boosting immunity. Enjoy with noodles or rice.

Barbecued squid

Squid is a high protein, low fat fish that just oozes thoughts of summer!  It also contains good amounts of energising vitamin B12. Squid also includes trace minerals such as potassium, iron, phosphorus, and copper, all frequently deficient in UK diets. You can buy squid already pre-prepared  from the supermarket.  Better still ask the fishmonger to prepare it for you.

Grilled squid on a bbq

Squid is generally known as calamari, which is deep-fried in breadcrumbs, considerably increasing the fat content (just like traditional fish and chips).  This recipe is certainly much healthier, and you’ll not feel bloated and uncomfortable after eating.

Squid is great loaded onto skewers, alternated with red peppers and onions, and wrapping the tentacles (if you have them) around the skewer.  Simply barbecue, squeezing lemon juice over the skewers and enjoy immediately.

White fish Thai-style

This recipe can be used with any white fish but works especially well with sea bass.  All white fish is rich in protein, low in fat and incredibly versatile.  The dish works really well with some roasted sweet vegetables including sliced sweet potatoes and beetroot for a real superfood boost: both of these vegetables are loaded with anti-ageing antioxidants.

Thai fish dish

For the Thai fish, place the fish in an ovenproof dish and grate some garlic, ginger, finely shopped chilli and the zest of a lime on top.  Then squeeze over the juice of the lime, some soy sauce and a few drops of Tabasco.  Ideally the fish should be marinated for a couple of hours in the fridge, so the flavours really infuse into the fish.  It can then be roasted in the oven for around 20 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

So, enjoy these fish alternatives – you can always add some low-fat oven chips or homemade sweet potato chips as a side for an extra treat!

Stay safe.

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Five acts of self-kindness to support your mental well-being

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s Mental Health Awareness week and with the current lockdown restrictions in place, never has our mental health come into such sharp focus. 

Life is very challenging at the moment for many people. Now is the perfect time to be kind to yourself and focus on your own mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for self-care and self-kindness.

Focus on food

What we eat has the most profound effect on mental well-being as anything.  Nothing works in isolation in the body, therefore everything we eat has a massive impact on our brain and emotional health.

As an example, there have been numerous research studies to confirm that diets high in junk foods cause low energy, increased anxiety, poor sleep, nutrient depletion, and of course, weight gain. Be kind to your brain and body and feed it with nutrient dense foods.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Make your meals as colourful as possible, including plenty of fruits and vegetables as these are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to us.  If you can’t always get fresh, then stock up on frozen which are just as good as they retain most of their nutrients having been frozen soon after harvesting.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats are needed by the brain for it to function at its best. Found in oily fish, flax seeds and other nuts and seeds try to eat some regularly.  Eating whole grain foods rather than ‘white’ refined ones is also important, delivering plenty of B-vitamins and other key nutrients needed to balance stress hormones and instil a sense of wellbeing.

Keep well hydrated

With the body consisting of around 70% water it makes sense that we need to keep well hydrated to ensure the body can perform all its vital processes.  Dehydration also affects mental wellbeing; you can end up feeling foggy, edgy, confused and energy levels will be much lower.

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

Caffeinated drinks will cause more anxiety, so keep these to a minimum and instead try some herbal or fruit teas.  Ginseng tea is incredibly restorative, camomile is calming, and mint tea helps digestion.  Don’t forget to also drink plenty of water – around 1 ½ – 2 litres daily is ideal.

Start the day positively

During difficult times, such as now, that brief moment when you open your eyes can often fill you with dread.  What challenges is the day going to bring?  When you wake up, make a point of thinking of three things you are grateful for.

A close up of a typewriter with the word gratitude typed

It doesn’t matter how small they are; it can be something as simple as being able to start a new book or planning a different walk that day.  If you start the day on a more positive mindset, it will help you to cope better throughout the day.

Avoid the word ‘should’

It’s probably one of the most overused words in the English language: we often feel that we ‘should’ be doing something, and this can put more pressure on ourselves.  The word can also convey very negative messages to the mind.  Just because you may have more time on your hands, doesn’t mean you ‘should’ do things that are not going to make you feel good.

A road splitting into three to represent choices

Tell yourself you have a choice – rather than what you ‘should’ do, think about what you ‘want’ to do. Do something that makes you happy, such as watching a movie you’ve been meaning to see or phoning a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while.  Try not to allow your thoughts to drift into a negative or nagging territory and go with your feelings rather than the voice on your shoulder.

Invest in yourself

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn or a job you’d love to do?  Whilst big changes do take time, learning anything new can be very empowering.

Close up of a woman's hand writing a to do list in a journal

There are so many educational, practical or creative things available, especially at the moment.  We never stop learning and when we’re learning we’re growing as people.  If you’re struggling with self-esteem issues right now, then there are plenty of self-help books, podcasts and webinars available to set you on the right path.  Take some time to make a list of things you’d like to know or do and then give yourself plenty of self-love when you’ve achieved one, however small.

There’s never been a better time to care of our mental wellbeing, as well as supporting the health of others.

Stay well.

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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

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

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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Delicious and nutritious pancake ideas

Close up of a pancake being tossed in a pan

Happy Pancake Day! For the smaller members of the family (as well as the slighter bigger ones too), it’s a fun day, especially if someone is brave enough to attempt the tossing.

Pancakes are not only delicious but are also nutritionally balanced and can provide you with a healthy treat this Shrove Tuesday.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite pancake ideas and why they’re so good for you.

Wholemeal pancakes with blueberries

A traditional pancake recipe uses white, refined flour.  However, whist this may be the norm, if you’re having a pancake breakfast, or you want something more sustaining for tea, then try using wholemeal flour.

Wholemeal pancake stack with blueberries

All foods with ‘whole’ grains release energy much slower into the bloodstream, so it will keep you going for much longer.  Plus, wholemeal flour still retains many of its original nutrients, specifically B-vitamins which are also great for energy.

Use 100 grams of wholemeal flour, 2 eggs and 300 ml of semi-skimmed milk, cook them in the normal way and top up with delicious blueberries and some natural yoghurt.  This makes the perfect pancake day breakfast!

Buckwheat pancakes with raspberries

Not just for those with gluten intolerances, buckwheat pancakes are amazingly popular in the US. Buckwheat flour tends to produce lovely, light and fluffy pancakes with a slightly nutty taste. Buckwheat is classed as an ancient grain, delivering lots of B-vitamins plus some trace minerals, and it’s not going to give you any digestive upsets.

Close up of buckwheat pancakes with raspberries

Use buckwheat flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, eggs and milk.  Top them up with some raspberries and a little Greek yoghurt.  If you need some added sweetness, then treat yourself to a drizzle of Agave syrup.

Vegan pancakes

If you’re vegan, you certainly don’t need to be missing out on the fun, or most importantly, the nutrition hit. Vegan pancakes can easily be made without eggs and using plant-based milks.  Choose from soya, oat, almond or hazelnut; they all have plenty of nutritional benefits.

vegan pancakes topped with bananas and walnuts

Use flour (preferably wholemeal), 1 tsp of baking powder, 1 tbsp of vanilla extract or cinnamon and your chosen milk.  Chop some banana for the topping, add some walnuts and some Agave syrup if you choose, and you’ve got a great and filling breakfast or delicious desert.

Egg breakfast pancakes

There’s nothing to say that pancake fillings need to be sweet!  They can provide a wonderfully sustaining and nutritious savoury breakfast.  Plus, having quality protein from eggs, is going to keep you full throughout the morning without any energy dips.

Packcake breakfast with eggs, ham and avocado

For four people, mix up a traditional pancake mix. After beating the mixture, fry them in a pan in the normal way, and then keep warm in the oven. Poach one egg each, chop up some ham, add some avocado, and this breakfast is going to really power-up your morning!

Royal pancakes

For a real treat, why not serve up pancakes with smoked salmon?  Not only is smoked salmon delicious, it’s a great source of omega-3 fats – essential for healthy skin, hormones, joints, brain and eyes.

Smoked salmon and chives wrapped in pancakes

Use a traditional pancake mix (preferably with wholemeal flour) and cook in a non-stick pan.  Roll up the fresh smoked salmon, put some sliced lemon on the plate, chop up some fresh chives and then place the folded pancakes also on the plates.  You can garnish with spinach leaves (a great source of energising iron) to create a breakfast that packs a nutrient punch.

So, try one of these pancake recipes and your Shrove Tuesday can be the most nutritious yet!

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Top five foods to boost your libido this Valentine’s Day

A couple's feet sticking out of the duvet to represent sex and libido

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that it’s Valentine’s Day.  Those with someone special in their life will want to make it as memorable as ever; this means getting in the mood!

What we eat can have a big impact on how we feel and can also help improve our sex lives.

 Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourite libido-boosting foods – and some may surprise you!

Watermelon

Not only is watermelon super nutritious, it will get your juices flowing.  As well as being a tasty fruit, watermelon also contains an amino acid called L-citrulline which is turned into nitric oxide.  This dilates blood vessels and allows blood flow around the body, especially to the sex organs.  L-citrulline is also used in supplements to help boost libido.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Additionally, watermelon is loaded with antioxidants, including vitamin C, to help protect against the ageing process. This helps banish and prevent annoying wrinkles and allows you to glow all through Valentine’s Day!  Try to eat some watermelon regularly; it makes a really enjoyable snack.

Oysters

Often the top of everyone’s list when it comes to libido, oysters are frequently referred to as an aphrodisiac.  This is primarily due to them containing high levels of the mineral zinc, needed to help produce testosterone and essential for fertility and reproduction.

A plate of fresh oysters

Oysters also deliver a decadent treat and make a great starter is you’re hoping to impress your partner; serve them with plenty of fresh lemon and sprinkle with Worcester sauce to further add some spice to your meal and your evening!

Chocolate

Maybe not such a surprise about this one!  Whilst most people love chocolate and see it as a treat, it’s not just the taste that makes us feel good.  Research shows it has been found to increase levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.

Chocolate covered strawberries

Importantly, eating chocolate raises levels of a compound called phenylethylamine, which we naturally produce when in love.  Even better, chocolate is really high in plant polyphenols which naturally help blood flow and this also means blood flow gets to the parts it’s needed most!

Make sure chocolate is somewhere on the menu this Valentine’s Day and you can enjoy it completely guilt-free!

Avocados

The Aztecs apparently named avocados “the testicle tree”! Whilst this is not a well-known fact, the Aztecs were certainly on to something good when they realised that avocados could boost libido.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

They are high in zinc which we know is essential for fertility and reproduction but also vitamin E which helps blood flow generally around the body.  Plus, vitamin E is great for the skin, so you’ll certainly get that glow this Valentine’s Day and particularly if you eat them regularly in the diet.  They are delicious mixed with lemon juice and some salad leaves in a wholemeal pitta, making an easy lunchtime nutrient-booster.

You might also want to think about some guacamole as a mood-boosting starter to your romantic Valentine’s meal?

Oily fish

Sardines, salmon and mackerel are all rich sources of the essential omega-3 fats.  They’re essential because the body can’t make them, so they need to be eaten regularly in the diet. They’re also vitally important for hormone balance, therefore libido.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help keep the blood thin and free-flowing which will encourage blood flow to the sexual organs.  Don’t worry if oily fish isn’t your bag: you can still get plenty of these essential omegas from eating pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.

These foods might not be the ideal choices for your Valentine’s Day meal but if you include them regularly in the diet, you’ll hopefully keep that spark going.

So, the scene is now set for the perfect nutritional start to your Valentine’s Day – enjoy!

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Veganuary: how to ramp up your vegan diet

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

Unless you’ve been hiding under a bush, you’ll be very aware that it’s Veganuary; in other words, Vegan January! Eating a plant-based diet provides many health benefits but it is important to make sure you are getting everything you need.

Whether you’re going vegan for the month of January, are flexibly vegan or have always eaten that way, then now is a great time to ensure your diet is delivering all the essential nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at how to get your vegan diet in great shape.

Protein is king

Protein is an essential macro nutrient. It’s needed for maintaining healthy bones, joint and muscles, and plays a key role in the immune system. It is also essential for hormone production.  Without enough protein, the body literally starts to break down.

Protein from animal sources contains all the essential amino acids the body can’t make. Some vegetable sources don’t contain all these amino acids, or they’re low in some of them.  However, the great news is that soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh, and quinoa are complete protein sources. Rice and beans can also be combined to deliver the full quota. The body doesn’t need to have all nine essential aminos at every meal but there should be an overall balance ideally.

A pile of different beans and pulses

Make sure you’re eating some protein at every meal – there are loads of great choices.  Any type of bean, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, soy, hemp and chia seeds are all healthy, low fat options.Don’t over promise yourself

Some fats are essential

Whilst it’s important not to overdo foods high in saturated fats such as butter and meat (good to remember if you’re a ‘flexi’ vegan), the body needs the essential omega-3s and 6s.  These are essential for many body functions including a healthy heart, skin, brain, muscles, eyes and hormones.  Omega 6 fats are often easier to obtain because they’re found in a variety of vegetable oils (including soy), nuts and seeds.

A bowl of walnuts

However, it’s the omega-3s that are frequently deficient in so many western diets, partly because the best source is from oily fish which many people don’t like and obviously vegans don’t eat.  However, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are all good sources of omega-3s so make sure they’re on the menu every day in some way.

Supplement with vitamin B12

This vitamin is the only one that can’t be found in any vegetable sources so ideally needs to be supplemented if you’re vegan.  Many soy products and cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 so do keep a watchful eye on labels.

Vitamin B12 is essential for preventing pernicious anaemia which isn’t dissimilar to iron-deficient anaemia.  The bottom line is that if you’re deficient in B12, energy levels will be noticeably low, and your nervous system and brain won’t function at their best.

Keep a watch on iron intake

Unlike vitamin B12, iron is found in many vegetable sources including nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and fortified grain products.  Whilst the most usable source of iron is from meat, vegetable sources are much better absorbed when eaten alongside some vitamin C.  For example, half a glass of orange juice with your morning fortified cereal is a great way of boosting iron levels.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The only way of knowing for sure if iron levels are low is to get the doctor to perform a serum ferritin blood test.  It’s always worth having this checked if you’re feeling unusually tired or you find you’re out of breath even doing light exercise.  Otherwise, include the above vegan sources of iron as much as possible in your diet.

Load up on orange and red vegetables

Why? Because these colourful fruits and vegetables have the highest amounts of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed by the body.  Just like vitamin B12, vitamin A is only found in animal sources. However, this doesn’t generally present any problems because the body produces what it needs if enough beta-carotene is being consumed.

A range of orange vegetables

Many colourful fruits and vegetables contain pro-vitamin A beta carotene. However, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mango, apricots and carrots are the best choices.

There are many health benefits to following a vegan diet.  You can make it even healthier by taking care of these watchpoints.

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Self-care this autumn: top nutrition and lifestyle tips

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

We’re coming into the harsh seasons; the ones that can take their toll on your body, affecting how you look and feel. 

Autumn and winter weather tend to put more stress on the body because it’s naturally trying to keep warm, whilst protecting itself from all the nasty bugs flying around.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five ways you can keep give yourself some autumn kindness.

Eat warm

It’s not just the seasons that change. The body also requires different foods at different times of year to maintain optimal health.  Energy levels tend to be lower at this time of year, so the body needs the right foods to kickstart metabolism and avoid any duress.

It’s not about over-indulging in calorie-dense, nutrient-poor snacks. Instead give the body warming foods.  For example, out go salads and in come hearty soups, which contain filling grains and beans, as well as vegetables.

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

Warming spices are also needed at this time of year.  It’s no coincidence that cinnamon and nutmeg are traditionally Christmas spices, when the weather is generally cold.  Ginger is also another wonderful spice for warming the body. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and helps blood flow around the body, improving circulation.

Be kind to your liver

In naturopathic medicine, the liver is the organ of anger.  It makes sense, therefore, if you’re not being kind to it, it’s going to let you know.  Low energy, dull skin and poor digestion are often signs that the liver is distressed.

Asparagus tied in a bunch

Being kind to your liver means feeding it with liver-loving foods and herbs.  Both Jerusalem and globe artichokes are great for liver health.  Additionally, green tea, dandelion coffee, asparagus, parsley, milk thistle and chlorella help the liver’s natural detoxification processes and help protect it from damaging toxins.

Love your brain

The brain uses around 30% of our total energy intake.  Therefore, it needs to be frequently fuelled with nutrient-dense foods, particularly whole grains and omega 3 fats.

A range of wholegrain foods

Wholegrains such as oats, rye and barley, contain plenty of B vitamins, all of which are needed in different ways for good brain health and function.  Plus, they’re energy-dense, providing glucose that the brain loves.  Additionally, the brain contains lots of omega-3 fats, so these need to be eaten very regularly to ensure you’re treating it kindly.  Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the order of the day or try flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds if you follow a vegetarian diet.

Feel gratitude

It’s very easy to moan about life and our ‘lot’.  Indeed, daily life is tough with many challenges along the way.  It’s therefore all too easy to get bound up in everyday problems and forget to be thankful for everything that’s good in your world.

A close up of a typewriter with the word gratitude typed

Being grateful is a wonderful way of being kind to yourself.  Even if it’s only being grateful for a good cup of coffee or a nice message someone has sent you.  It’s always good to write or say out loud three things every day you are grateful for.  It will soon put a smile on your face.

Prioritise sleep

This is probably one of the kindest actions you can give your body.  Sleep is essential to restore and repair.  We know how debilitating it is when we have a run of bad nights, which may even lead to insomnia.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Good sleep invariably must be worked for.  Electronic equipment needs to be turned off completely two hours before bedtime.  Then try having a warming bath, reading a book, putting lavender on your pillow or listening to a sleep app. Eating a few almonds before bedtime helps produce the sleep hormone melatonin which in turn will aid your sleep. Meditation is also another helpful measure you can take. Find whatever works for you and enjoy peaceful slumbers.

So, practise being kind to yourself this autumn – your body will certainly thank you for it.

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Five foods to keep stress and anxiety at bay

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

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

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

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

Almonds

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

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

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

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

Quinoa

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

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

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

Apples

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

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

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

Chia seeds

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

A scoop of chia seeds

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

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

Oats

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

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

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

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

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

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Pumpkins: top nutrition this Halloween

Pumpkins carved into lanterns

We hardly need reminding it’s Halloween this week!  And the star of the day is the wonderful vegetable, pumpkin.  It’s uses and nutritional benefits are far-reaching. 

Whilst it’s often glowing brightly on doorsteps around the world on the night of Halloween, the health benefits of pumpkins also have star status.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top reasons for including pumpkins in your diet.

Pumpkins are high in beta-carotene

With the season of bugs now upon us, we really need to be supporting the immune system as much as possible. Beta-carotene is a key member of the carotenoid family which is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed.  Vitamin A is important for keeping the immune system in good shape and helps us see in the dark – much needed now the clocks have gone back.

A range of pumpkins in a basket

Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, like pumpkin, is especially good for vegetarians and vegans since vitamin A itself is only found in animal foods.  Plus, vitamin A is an amazingly powerful antioxidant, further protecting the immune system.

Pumpkins have amazingly nutritious seeds

The seeds not only provide a wonderful transportable snack, they are rich in protein, to help stave hunger pangs, and loaded with many other nutrients.  Importantly, they are rich in the vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fats, needed for healthy eyes, joints and hormones, as well as bone-loving calcium and magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of fibre so help keep everything moving when the body can often feel a little sluggish generally. As a bonus, they’re filled with the amino acid tryptophan which not only keeps you energised throughout the day, but helps boost levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.  Pumpkin seeds are delicious lightly roasted with a little soy sauce.

Pumpkins are great for eyes in more ways than one

Whilst we know pumpkins are loaded with pro-vitamin A carotenoids, they’re also rich in other flavonoids (plant compounds) that have great affinity for eye health.  They ‘re packed with lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin which help protect the eyes from damaging blue light that we are all exposed to for too long every day.

Close up of woman's eyes

We often wonder why eyesight deteriorates the more we look at screens; it’s all because of the blue light emitted from computers and mobile phones. Thankfully these compounds can help protect the eyes – even more reasons for eating pumpkin.

Pumpkins are rich in lycopene

Lycopene is yet another carotenoid with wonderful health benefits.  When we hear lycopene, we often think of tomatoes as these are one of the best sources.  However, pumpkins certainly hold their own where it is concerned. This amazing antioxidant has been found to help support prostate health – one of the most common health issues affecting men.

a pumpkin cut into pieces

As with all carotenoids, their nutrient benefits are better absorbed from cooked sources, so roasted or mashed pumpkin is certainly the order of the day.

Pumpkins are amazingly versatile

Whilst we certainly love the warming glow pumpkins give off on Halloween night, their versatility in recipes can’t be overlooked.  Pumpkin soup, made with coconut cream, sage leaves, onion and vegetable stock is certainly an autumn favourite.  Pumpkin can also be roasted and served sprinkled with feta cheese and honey. It’s also great in a curry with other root vegetables and tomatoes, or in a risotto with spring onions, parmesan cheese, cumin and garlic.

A bowl of Pumpkin soup

But best of all is pumpkin pie!  You can use ready prepared sweet shortcrust pastry for speed.  The prepared pumpkin just needs to be mixed with brown sugar, eggs, cream and lots of spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for a warming Halloween treat.

So, enjoy Halloween and make the most of your pumpkins – both as lanterns and as a nutritious vegetable to add to your diet.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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