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.

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Seasonal eating: top autumn picks packed with nutrition

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutrition

Whilst we may mourn the loss of longer, lighter days when the clocks go back, there are some distinct advantages when it comes to thinking about autumn foods.  Just as the leaves turn red, yellow and golden brown, so the colours of foods change with the seasons.

Eating seasonally also means you are getting the most nutrition from the foods available right now.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite foods to include in your diet this season.

Pumpkin

It’s often said that pumpkin is the most popular vegetable at this time of year.  Obviously, pumpkin plays a starring role in Halloween festivities, but it’s also a real winner in terms of nutritional benefits.

Pumpkin certainly matches the season with its orange colour signalling it to be rich in carotenoids.  These are a group of plant compounds particularly high in antioxidants which help protect the body against disease. One such carotenoid found in pumpkin is zeaxanthin which has a wonderful affinity for the eyes, protecting them against blue light (and we all spend far too long looking at screens these days).

a pumpkin cut into pieces

Another carotenoid, beta carotene, is turned into vitamin A in the body as required, which helps support the immune system. This is much needed as we come into the cold and flu season.

Pumpkin is best steamed or roasted and served as a vegetable side, but it can also be made into pumpkin pie.  Plus, pumpkin seeds are incredibly nutritious; they are very high in the essential omega-3 fats.  Make sure you use them – they’re delicious very lightly roasted.

Ginger

As the weather turns distinctly chilly, the body likes to be fed ‘warming’ foods.  The delicious spice ginger delivers so many wonderful health benefits, particularly supporting the immune system.

Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory. It can really help ease any stiff, aching joints, which can become more problematic when the weather becomes cold and damp.  Additionally, if you’re struggling with headaches, ginger can help provide some relief.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

Whilst ginger can be included in so many different recipes, both sweet and savoury, so many health benefits can be gained from using it as a tea. Finely chop some fresh ginger and pour over boiling water and just keep sipping throughout the day.  You can also add some lemon to help detoxify the liver at the same time. You’ll certainly help keep the cold outside, as well nasty inside colds, at bay!

Swede

Often confused with turnips, swede (or ‘neeps’ as they’re known in Scotland), make a wonderfully nutritious autumn vegetable choice.  Swede is actually part of the cruciferous vegetable family. It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C, as well as other immune-boosting vitamins such as B6, so it’s certainly great for the change in season.

A whole swede next to mashed swede as a vegetable side dish

We can often feel sluggish at this time of year and our digestive systems can also slow down.  However, swede helps feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut making sure everything keeps moving smoothly through.  Moreover, if you’re trying to lose a few kilos before the Christmas party season, then swede is your friend. It helps balance blood sugar levels, it’s high in fibre so will fill you up, and it’s low in fat and calories.  Even better, swede is delicious simply cooked and mashed with a little butter and black pepper.

Roasted Veggies

In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, foods were always matched to the season because the body needs to be supported with warming foods and spices as the colder weather bites.  Summer salads and smoothies should be replaced with soups and thick broths at this time of year.

A range of roasted vegetables

This is a great time to be loading up with as many vegetables as possible to support the immune system.  Load up with autumnal vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, parsnips, courgettes and sweet potatoes. Prepare a large roasting tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, add some fresh rosemary and sprinkle with sea salt for a fabulous accompaniment to any fish, meat, poultry or vegetarian protein.

Cinnamon

Another warming spice, cinnamon is perfect to include in as many dishes as possible at this time of year. It also seems to have a balancing effect on the body generally, helping it to better cope with the changing seasons.

Cinnamon boasts a wealth of health benefits, protecting the immune system, feeding the good gut bacteria and having positive effects on cognitive function. More benefits are being found all the time.

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

Even better, cinnamon is incredibly versatile in so many dishes.  It works really well with any dishes containing oats, such a muesli, flapjacks and sprinkled over porridge.  Cinnamon is also delicious when used in pancakes and muffins or any dish containing apples.  It’s even delicious with pork – think apple and cinnamon sauce.

So, try building more of these warming, autumn vegetables and spices into your diet this season. If you’re warm inside, you will not feel the cold outside as much and your body will better cope with harsher weather and seasonal bugs.

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Healthy Baking: 3 top recipes packed with nutrition

When we hear the word ‘baking’ it often stirs up thoughts of calorie-rich cakes or desserts. 

However, it’s very possible to bake some super-healthy dishes, using nutrient-dense ingredients to compliment your healthy diet.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top three healthy and delicious bakes.

Protein bread

Bread is not generally thought of as providing protein.  It’s categorised as a carbohydrate, which doesn’t keep us feeling full for very long.  However, whole grain bread always contains good amounts of fibre, which slows down absorption and ensures sustained energy release. But there are still a few tweaks you can make to improve things still further.

A rnage of wholegrain foods

Spiced oat bread contains eggs – a perfect protein – loads of fibre, plus some B-vitamins to keep you going all through the day.  Egg yolks are also a great source of iron, so you’ve got a great basis for a breakfast, especially when on the run.

All you need is some oat milk, eggs, porridge oats and baking powder.  You can also add mixed seeds and adding some spices will also give this bread a tasty zing!  Or you can use cinnamon which is great for blood sugar balancing.

Oat Bakes

It’s always a dilemma; trying to find healthy snacks to eat, especially when you’re busy. This is where just a little forward planning can really help.

Flapjacks, which are totally delicious and sustaining, can often be sugar and calorie laden.  However, it’s perfectly possible to bake some energy-boosting flapjacks that are healthy and won’t damage your waistline.

Oats, which are slow releasing carbohydrates are the key ingredient. If you’re sensitive to gluten, then you can always use the gluten-free variety. It’s also good to include flaxseeds, which are loaded with healthy omegas.  Additionally, pistachios are a great source of healthy fats and are packed with minerals such as potassium and magnesium.  The essential omegas are needed for healthy skin and hair, plus trace minerals such as magnesium are essential for hormone balancing – you’ll glow inside and out!

Homemade flapjacks

For sweetness, you can add a little honey, but dried fruits such as dates and raisins will really get your taste buds going.  Dried fruits are also a great source of fibre and energising iron.

These delicious flapjacks keep for a while if tightly stored, so once they’re made, you’re never going to be without that mid-meal ‘pick-me-up’.

A bowl of home made granola

Oats are one of the best starts of the day, so whilst you’ve got the oats out of the cupboard, why not make up a batch of healthy granola for a great breakfast? You just need to add some energising coconut oil, a little honey, pumpkin seeds (which are a great source of omega-3s), some dried fruit and cinnamon.  This recipe also works well with walnuts chopped on the top and then lightly baked in the oven.

Evening meal bakes

What to eat for dinner is the daily conundrum for most people.  However, just as it’s great to have plenty of breakfast and snack options in the cupboard, it’s easy to bake a tasty dish that will store in the fridge for a few days.

A portion of vegetarian lasagne

A meat-free lasagne is very cost effective, especially as it’s going to last a few days. It’s packed with antioxidants, protein, fibre and gut-friendly foods and herbs.  Lentils, spinach and mushrooms are key ingredients. Also add some canned tomatoes (full of the antioxidant lycopene), rosemary, garlic, natural yoghurt and onions (all good for the digestive system). Adding some ricotta cheese will also provide additional protein. If you’re gluten sensitive, you can always use gluten-free lasagne.

It should take no longer than 20 minutes preparation time and you’ll have a warming dish to come home to in the evenings.

Baking can also help to de-stress your mind – another wonderful health benefit of making more healthy bakes this autumn.

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Nutrition and lifestyle advice for minimising stress and anxiety

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Many of us frequently suffer from anxiety or stress, whether we are worried about a work situation, a relationship or an upcoming social event. This is can often be accompanied by feelings of low mood and a sense of inadequacy.

In our fast-moving ‘always on’ society, pressure to perform can be overwhelming.  And as simple as it sounds smiling more can also really help! 

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great lifestyle tips to help us feel calm and more balanced.

What to drink

Certain drinks can have a marked effect on anxiety and mood.  Out should go stimulants such as alcohol (also a depressant) and fizzy drinks (even the sugar-free varieties which contain unhelpful chemicals). Try to avoid caffeinated coffee, tea and colas (providing a quick ‘high’ then an edgy low).

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

In should come calming camomile and valerian teas. Try non-caffeinated varieties such as red bush and green tea which contains theanine, a calming amino acid.  Whilst green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, the stimulatory effects are off-set by the theanine.  However, it’s best not drunk before bedtime.

And of course, make sure you are getting your daily water quota – aim for 1.5 – 2 litres a day.

What to eat

What we put into our mouths has the biggest influence on how we feel emotionally and physically.  The body needs around 45 nutrients daily to function at its best. When these are lacking we can certainly feel tired and cranky.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The mineral magnesium, ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ is key to coping with anxiety and is used up more during times of stress.  Therefore, making sure you are getting enough in your diet is important. Green leafy veg such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are great sources of magnesium.

If you find you are waking during the night due to worries or anxious thoughts, eating a few almonds, also rich in magnesium, before bedtime can really help.

A basket of almonds

The B vitamins are also key in controlling the body’s stress response. Vitamin B5 is especially important in helping produce our stress hormones.  The good news is that it’s found in plenty of foods such as poultry, whole grains, oily fish (also rich in brain-loving omega 3s), legumes and dairy products.

Try natural herbal remedies

If you’re struggling with anxiety, then there are plenty of additional herbal helpers.

Both the herbs ashwagandha and rhodiola are known as ‘adaptogenic’, meaning they help the body better cope during stressful times and adapt to its needs.  Both are available as supplements. Ideally take them in the morning as both can stimulate and give an energy boost, whilst reducing feelings of anxiety.  Additionally, the herb passionflower can be taken as a supplement and works really quickly; it’s especially helpful if you’re struggling with a nervous tummy.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Don’t forget to also take a vitamin D supplement, especially now the winter months are upon us. As well as supporting the nervous system it helps lift low mood and also induces feelings of calm.

You are what you think…

It’s very easy to focus too much on worries and anxious thoughts, perhaps over-thinking situations and life itself.  It’s a question of managing your brain and its thought processes.  Sometimes visualising holding up a hand to stop negative thoughts coming in can help.  Equally, practising meditation is one of the best ways of gaining back control of your brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

There are plenty of ‘calming’ apps that you can download and listen to; find what works for you.  However, our over-use of technology and social media can have a negative impact on our mental well-being.  Additionally, the blue light emitted from electronic goods can keep us awake. So, turn off the social media apps and switch everything off a couple of hours before bedtime. Try to have good amounts of time during the day when you’re not glued to your laptop or phone; even if it’s only for 20 minutes, make it a habit to take yourself away from your phone or laptop every day.

Get moving

Any form of exercise is incredibly positive for mind and body.  Some people need to do fast-paced exercise to help with stress and anxiety, whilst others do better with calming, gentle activities.  Whatever suits you, doing strenuous exercise in the evening is not recommended as it stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which will keep you awake.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

Yoga and Pilates can help calm and relax you as you focus on the movements paired with your breath. These can even be practised in your own living room, if time or availability of classes is a problem.  However, the benefits of engaging regularly in the type of exercise that works for you can’t be over-stated.

So with some small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help yourself to become less anxious and more relaxed.

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How to be a healthy vegetarian: the nutrients you need

Happy woman holding a brown paper bag of vegetables in her kitchen

Vegetarianism is becoming ever-more popular and for very good reason.  There’s much research to suggest that vegetarians are less prone to heart disease and degenerative diseases such as cancers, particularly of the bowel. 

The success of this way of eating, in terms of maintaining overall health, is in the meal planning, ensuring all essential nutrients the body needs are being obtained.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer highlights key nutrients for vegetarians and where to find them.

Vitamin B12

First up is vitamin B12 because it’s only found in animal produce, much of which is not eaten by vegetarians.  Vitamin B12 is essential for the health of the nervous system, the brain and, most importantly, energy production.

However, the good news is that vitamin B12 is found in eggs, dairy produce and fortified foods such as cereals.  Many people struggle to absorb enough vitamin B12, hence it can be deficient in meat-eaters too.

Range of dairy products

Some Vitamin B12 can be made in the gut by the beneficial bacteria naturally living there, but only if that’s in good shape too.  Eating natural yoghurt will potentially help both issues by feeding the good bacteria AND providing some B12.

Consider taking a daily supplement containing vitamin B12 to ensure you’re not missing out.

Essential fatty acids

There are a group of fats known as essential fatty acids (omega-3s and 6s) which must be eaten as they can’t be made in the body.  In fact, it’s the omega-3s that provide most health benefits and are frequently deficient in the western world.

They’re called ‘essential’ because omega-3s are one of the key nutrients that control inflammatory processes in the body.  Inflammation is the primary cause of many things that go wrong in the body. For example, degenerative disease, skin problems, stiff joints and dementia.  The great news is that oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and to some extent tuna, are rich sources of omega-3s. If you do eat fish these should feature somewhere in the diet three times per week.

However, if fish is not for you, then flaxseeds, which are easily sprinkled onto cereal, and other nuts and seeds (nut butters are great) are also good sources.  If you’ve got dry skin, are constipated, have difficulty concentrating, have hormone imbalances or are frequently thirsty, then you may need a top up of omega-3s. Again consider taking a daily supplement.

Iron

We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that a large percentage of women of child-bearing age are deficient in iron.  Women are obviously more prone to iron deficiency because of their monthly periods. Iron is also an important nutrient for pregnant women as deficiency can cause learning difficulties and growth problems in the unborn child.

The richest source of absorbable iron is red meat.  Clearly, you are not going to eat this if you’re vegetarian!  However, there are plenty of other great sources of iron. For example, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils and egg yolks are rich in iron. However ideally, they need to be eaten with vitamin C to aid absorption.  So, a perfect start to the day would be an egg-based breakfast with a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Scrambled egg breakfast with toast, tomatoes, mushrooms and a glass of orange juice

If you’re feeling very low in energy or are easily out of breath, then it’s worth getting your iron levels checked. The only way to know for sure if you’re iron-deficient is to ask your GP to check your serum ferritin levels.

Protein

Protein is the body’s main building blocks. It is an essential macro nutrient needed to build hormones, produce cells for the immune system, maintain a strong skeletal frame and for the hair, skin and nails

Protein is made from amino acids from foods and those produced in the body.  However, just like the essential fats, there are also essential amino acids which must be eaten.  These are generally obtained from animal produce (including fish).  However, by combining grains and beans every day (not necessarily at the same meal), you should be getting your quota if your diet is well-balanced.

A range of wholegrains in heart shaped dishes to show they are good for the heart

Additionally, soy protein does contain all these essential amino acids, albeit in slightly lesser amounts.  Think tofu, tempeh, organic soya milk and yoghurt which are not only low in fat but high in bone-loving calcium and magnesium.

With the range of foods on offer, it is easy to embrace vegetarianism and ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients your need.

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Look after your heart: top nutrition and lifestyle tips

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

On average your heart beats around 70 times every minute of every day.  It’s an incredible organ, one which many of us take for granted, which is one of the reasons heart disease is so common in the UK.

The four main risk factors of heart disease are tobacco use, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excess alcohol.  Fortunately, if the heart is properly fed, loved and exercised, it will hopefully keep on beating and last you a lifetime.

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for a healthy heart.

Increase your fish intake

Foods containing saturated fats needs to be reduced or eliminated; think red meat, butter, cheese, cakes and pastries.  Additionally, too many meals containing fried foods should be avoided.  However, in their place should feature oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon and these ideally need to be included at least two to three times per week.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which help to thin the blood and reduce blood pressure. If you’re vegetarian or don’t like fish then take a supplement containing flaxseeds, which are also high in omega 3’s.

Grab some polyphenols

Polyphenols are compounds naturally found in plant foods that have amazing health benefits, especially for the heart. There are a whole range of foods containing various types of polyphenols. Load up on colourful fruits and vegetables, green and black tea, dark chocolate and red wine (in moderation!).

A cup of green tea

One of the biggest issues for the arteries is that fatty deposits can develop on them, and these deposits become hardened – hence the common disease, arteriosclerosis.  However, much of this damage can be avoided or reduced by including antioxidants found in polyphenols in the diet.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

This reflects the recommendation to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.  They’re also high in vitamin C, one of the most powerful antioxidants which can help prevent artery damage.  Fruits and vegetables are also rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium which help to relax the artery wall, therefore reducing blood pressure and other heart-related risk factors.  Try to eat a rainbow diet, meaning as much colour variety on your plate as possible.

Spice it up

Including garlic in your diet often (and as much as your friends and family can bear!) is a great idea.  It’s also possible to take a supplement containing garlic which is standardised for alliin, the main form of allicin, which is the active compound in garlic. It has shown remarkable blood-thinning properties as well as the ability to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic is also super-easy to include in so many dishes; think stir fries, soups, vegetable sides, curries and one-pot recipes.

Turmeric is another heart-loving spice that works in a variety of ways to keep it healthy.  Turmeric helps reduce high blood pressure because it relieves pressure on the artery walls but also prevents dangerous plaque build-up on the arteries which causes blood clots and strokes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

It can be used in so many different dishes, both savoury and sweet.  Great choices are in a marinade with Indian lamb chops or in pancake served with fresh fruit and natural yoghurt. Try turmeric in a curried chicken dish or sprinkled over butternut squash and roasted in the oven.  There are endless possibilities!

Scrap the sugar

Sugar can often be disguised in dishes as dextrose or corn syrup, but all sugar is treated by the body in the same way. Many sugary foods, such as biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and margarines, also contain trans fats. These are chemically altered fats which are a cheap form of fat used for taste and ‘spreadability’, in the case of margarines.  Unfortunately, the body cannot process these ‘alien’ substances and they also stop the metabolism of healthy omega-3 fats needed for blood thinning and maintaining a healthy heart.

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

The key message is to ditch the junk and try to eat as cleanly as possible.  The less sugar you eat, the less cravings you’ll have.

Move more

It’s an unequivocal fact that exercise helps prevent heart disease.  After all, the heart is a muscle just like any other in the body and needs to be exercised.  Ideally, you need to raise the heart rate for at least 30 minutes five times per week, and that’s perfectly achievable through brisk walking.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

It’s a question of making time. Exercise needs to be prioritised and put into the diary just like any appointment – it that’s important to your future health.

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Managing blood pressure the natural way

Woman having her blood pressure taken

Blood pressure is a good indicator of overall health, with high blood pressure, known as hypertension, indicated as a risk factor in heart attacks and stroke.

According to the NHS, 1 in 4 adults will have high blood pressure, though many may not be aware of their numbers. This is why the ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign runs this week to encourage us all to be aware of our blood pressure. For more information visit the Blood Pressure website

If yours is verging on the high side, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle and nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives her top nutrition tips and advice on how to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.

Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and will obviously be raised when you’re exercising or doing something more strenuous. It also tends to increase with age.  Average blood pressure readings should be around 120/80 (systolic/diastolic) with the diastolic reading having more significance.

What causes high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can be caused by a narrowing or thickening of the arteries, thicker blood or tension in the arteries which is controlled by the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium in relation to sodium (salt). Sometimes it’s not always obvious what the cause is, but changes to diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on blood pressure readings.

Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables

This is THE most important change to make when addressing blood pressure issues. This is mainly because vitamin C, present in all fruits and vegetables, helps reverse the hardening of the arteries. Other antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables also help protect the arteries from damage.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Great choices are apples, broccoli and green leafy veg, cabbage, melon, red pepper, peas, sweet potatoes, berry fruits and citrus fruits.  To further increase intake, why not have a juice every day; apple, ginger and carrot together is delicious.  Just experiment and go with the flow!

The mineral magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation and of course the heart is a muscle.  Magnesium is rich in green, leafy veg which is yet another good reason to load up your plate with greens.

Have a dose of garlic

The amazing health benefits of garlic have been hailed for hundreds of years. Research appears to suggest that garlic helps reduce the stickiness of blood, therefore helping to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

It’s easy to include in the daily diet, especially in stir fries, chicken and fish dishes, in wholemeal pasta recipes or with various vegetables; it’s particularly tasty with broccoli.

Eat more fish

Oily fish, namely salmon, mackerel and sardines, are especially rich in the omega-3 fats which are known to reduce high blood pressure.  This fact has also been verified by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) who state omega-3 fats have several heart-health benefits.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

It’s best to eat oily fish two to three times per week; salmon is easy to bake in the oven with a little dill, lemon juice and olive oil, wrapped in foil, which takes no time at all.

If, however, fish is not your bag then one of the best sources of omega-3s is flaxseeds which are easy to sprinkle over your morning cereal (preferably oat-based as they also have heart benefits) or stirred into natural yogurt with fruit.

Load up on vitamin E

Vitamin E works alongside vitamin C as a powerful antioxidant and protector of the arteries.  However, it’s also good at thinning the blood, helping to make the blood less ‘sticky’.

A range of foods containing vitamin E

Nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of vitamin E but one of the best foods is avocado.  They make a brilliant breakfast, smashed on sourdough bread and sprinkled with seeds. Or why not try it for lunch in a wholemeal wrap with other colourful salad veggies.

What not to eat

Salt has been found to increase blood pressure in certain people.  It’s worth adopting a low-salt diet so as not to upset the balance of other essential minerals.  Most processed meals are high in salt, so try to stick to home-prepared dishes as much as possible and not to add extra salt; enjoy the wonderful natural flavours of vegetables – the palate will soon adapt.

The word salt written in salt

Avoid bacon and smoked or processed meats which are all high in salt and fat. Even smoked salmon should be avoided if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, until it’s under control again.

Destress

Lastly, high stress often equals high blood pressure so take steps to try to reduce or manage this as much as possible.  It’s almost impossible to eradicate stress from daily life completely but it’s how you choose to deal with it that counts.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Any form of exercise can help take your mind off things as well as raising your heart rate and improving your overall fitness. Yoga, meditation, reading, Thai chi, a soothing bath in magnesium salts… anything that helps you to relax and destress will have a positive impact on your blood pressure and general wellbeing.

Nutrition can often be very effective quite quickly, so try these dietary tips to help get your blood pressure in check as soon as possible.

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Migraine misery? Nutritional support to help.

Close of woman in black and white with red pain showing in forehead to represent migraine attack

According to the Migraine Trust, there are a staggering 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK, affecting around one in seven people.  That’s a lot of people suffering with this debilitating condition. 

However, the good news is there is much than can be done to help nutritionally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at migraine and shares some nutritional tips that can help.

What causes migraines?

There are several suggestions as to what causes migraine as research is still very much on-going. However, there is often a genetic predisposition. Many more women than men suffer from migraines and they are frequently cyclical, meaning they’re linked to the menstrual cycle.

Traditional research describes migraines as vascular headaches involving dilation or contraction of blood vessels.  More recent research has found a link to having high levels of prolactin, a hormone present in both men and women and responsible for milk production in women.  However, high levels have also been found in migraine sufferers which may improve treatment options where people are unable to find relief.

Side profile of a person higlighting their brain functioning

Additionally, there has been research to suggest that migraine sufferers have low levels of our ‘happy hormone’ serotonin in the blood stream, hence some medication helps raise serotonin levels.  Certain foods can also help raise levels.

Whilst the exact cause may be unclear, we do know for sure there are certain triggers, and foods that can send migraine sufferers running for a darkened room.

Foods to enjoy

The good news is that whilst there are certainly foods that should be avoided, there’s plenty to enjoy which may help alleviate symptoms; pineapples, almond milk, almonds and cherries have all been shown to have positive effects on symptoms.

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

Importantly, foods known to raise serotonin levels include fish, turkey, oats, soya, tofu and seeds which should be included regularly in the diet.

A range of green vegetables

The mineral magnesium is essential for relaxing the muscles and for aiding relaxation in the body generally.  Stress and poor sleep are often migraine triggers, therefore be sure to include plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains.  If sleep is a problem for you then an oatcake with a small, warm drink of soya milk may help just before bedtime.

Get your omegas

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

The omega-3 essential fats help reduce blood platelet ‘stickiness’ meaning blood flow to the brain will be better.  Oily fish is the best choice but if that’s not your bag or you’re vegetarian, then flaxseeds are also a great source of omega-3s.  Sprinkle some on your morning oat-based breakfast every day for a super start to the day!

Herbal helpers

Nature provides a wealth of herbs which have many therapeutic benefits so it’s certainly worth trying them to see what works for you.  Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and encourages good blood flow, so would certainly be the first choice.  Plus, it’s so easy to include in the daily diet. Try it freshly crushed in tea, in stir fries, Thai curries, and with lightly fried seabass fillets, for example.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Turmeric is another brilliant anti-inflammatory botanical that can be used widely in dishes.  Turmeric is great in soups, curries, and casseroles but is also delicious sprinkled over chopped sweet potato wedges whilst they’re cooking in the oven, with a little olive oil.

Lastly, calming herbs such as peppermint and camomile make brilliant teas and help to de-stress, lessening the likelihood of attack.

Foods to avoid

Whilst many sufferers will know their own triggers, some will struggle to find foods that are setting off their migraine attack.  Foods containing the amino acid tyramine, including hard cheeses, bananas, canned fish, tomatoes, avocados, dairy and potatoes, plus beer and red wine, are known triggers.  Sadly, chocolate is often a trigger too.

No chocolate sign

Be very careful of foods containing monosodium glutamate or MSG; this is often found in take-aways, and processed food labels need to be checked carefully.  However, it’s always best to eat home-cooked foods as much as possible to avoid the possibility of having MSG.

It’s also worth having a food intolerance blood test which looks at the common trigger foods, plus others which may be problematic for you.

Whilst there is unlikely to be only one nutritional change that will make the difference, taking a combined approach is far more likely to achieve success.

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Summer nutrition: the best foods on offer this season

Woman holding up frshly grown beetroots

When the sun shines, it inspires us to prepare fresh, healthy meals. With a wealth of wonderful foods in season, there’s no excuse not to make the most of what nature is delivering right now.

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Whether you’re creating deliciously crispy salads or and fresh and fruity desserts, summer foods are packed full of colour and flavour.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite and super-healthy foods currently in season.

Raspberries

Often forgotten and sometimes overshadowed by another red berry fruit (aka the strawberry) raspberries have plenty to be nutritionally proud of, as well as their delicious taste. Raspberries are one of our classic summer fruits and at their absolute best at the moment. Interestingly, most raspberries currently in our shops are grown in Scotland.

They are high in one of our key antioxidants, vitamin C, and their overall antioxidant content is increased the riper the berries. Plus, raspberries are high in something called ellagic acid which is an anti-inflammatory compound that seems to be especially helpful in cases of Crohn’s disease.

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Raspberries have leapt to fame in more recent times with the discovery of raspberry ketones, a phytonutrient which may increase metabolism in fat cells, thereby reducing the risk of obesity. Whatever your reason for choosing them, you’ll not be disappointed in any respect. Enjoy raspberries with your morning cereal or with some natural yoghurt. Try them as a topping to pancakes or made into a coulis that can be drizzled over savoury dishes or sweet desserts.

Watercress

Watercress makes a great staple salad ingredient with a distinctive peppery taste so it really adds some flavour. Even better it’s highly nutritious, containing vitamin C, calcium for healthy bones, plus energising folic acid and iron. Watercress is also a great tonic for the liver and kidneys. Furthermore, it contains high levels of vitamin K for great bone health and beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A and is great for vision.

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

Watercress actually makes a great soup ingredient, alongside onions, celery, diced Jersey Royal potatoes (also in season) with some chicken stock and takes no time at all to prepare. Its lovely fresh taste makes a perfect soup ingredient even during the summer months.

And did you know that watercress has more vitamin C per 100 grams than oranges!

Mackerel

This is an ocean fish that lives in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean waters and has some very distinctive grey stripes. Most importantly, it’s an oily fish that’s very high in those essential omega-3 fats we talk so much about.

A fillet of grilled mackerel

Omega-3s are absolutely essential for healthy hormones, bones, joints, eyes, heart and the brain and can’t be made in the body, so have to be eaten very regularly. Indeed, oily fish should be eaten three times a week to get what the body needs. The oils make mackerel quite rich to eat, so it’s often best simply grilled with some spices or sharp citrus flavours.

Aubergines

Whilst aubergines were native to India, they’ve become a very popular food the whole world over. They’re especially popular in Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, and in African folklore to treat convulsions. Aubergines are also known as ‘eggplant’ because of their egg shape. And interestingly they’re technically berries and not vegetables!

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

As with all fruits and vegetables that have gorgeous, rich colours, aubergines are packed with anthocyanins – plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. Plus they contain plenty of fibre and energy-boosting folic acid.

Whilst they taste delicious added to the popular dishes I listed above, they’re great simply griddled alongside some peppers with just a small pasting of oil. Aubergines are very low in calories but they do soak up oil like a sponge, therefore are best not fried.

Beetroot

Another vegetable with an amazing colour, highlighting its rich nutrient content, beetroots really add to salads at this time of year. In fact, they’re the perfect addition to a goat’s cheese salad, making a great starter or main course dish.

In ancient times, only the leaves were eaten, which can be cooked in the same way as spinach (gently wilted in the pan) but these tend to be less popular now, although they’re a great source of calcium and beta-carotene.

Whole beetroots

Beetroots are loaded with nutrients, especially vitamin C, folate, iron and heart-loving potassium to help reduce blood pressure. They also make a great tonic juice with carrots. They are brilliant for restoring health if you’ve been under the weather (yes it can still happen during the summer months). It’s best to enjoy beetroot either grated raw or cooked rather than pickled, which destroys some of the nutrients.

So enjoy a wonderfully healthy summer by adding these delicious and nutritious seasonal foods to your plate.

 

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Holiday nutrition: delicious European dishes to try this summer

A beach restaurant overlooking the sea

With the holiday season in full flow, many of us will be looking forward to some delicious new dishes to try at our holiday destination. Eating local fayre is an important part of any holiday and it’s always good to try local or new tastes.

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There is plenty of delicious and nutritious food on offer around Europe – be brave with your food choices and you’ll be rewarded!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite dishes from around Europe.

Menemen in Turkey

I always like to start the day right on holiday and this meal really does the trick! Although it’s not always seen on restaurant menus, it’s a quick breakfast dish that’s basically up-market scrambled eggs. For me, eggs are always the best breakfast because the protein keeps me going for longer so I’m not tempted to keep snacking through the morning.

Menemen Turkish egg breakfast dish

Even better, menemen is cooked with onions, peppers and oregano. This means I’m enjoying a great taste, some additional vitamin C from the peppers to keep my immune system strong and digestive support from the oregano. Oregano can help to keep nasty tummy bugs at bay – just what’s needed whilst on holiday.

Gazpacho in Spain

Whilst cold soup may not appeal to everyone, this traditional dish from southern Spain definitely needs to be tasted to be fully appreciated. It’s essentially a tomato soup with garlic, onions, red peppers, vegetable stock and plenty of olive oil. The key to having the best tasting gazpacho is to use vine-ripened tomatoes (even better if you’ve got home-grown ones).

Gazpacho

This dish is super-healthy as tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Red peppers contain some of the highest amounts of vitamin C of all vegetables, and garlic and olive oil are both great for a healthy heart. Plus it can be made really quickly and stored in the fridge for a few days. Whilst you’ll certainly be wanting to be make your own on your return, traditional food always seems to taste even better when enjoyed on its home soil!

Moules in France

No visit to France would be complete without a bowl of moules mariniere (mussels) served with some fresh crusty bread, to soak up all the lovely juice. The traditional way of preparing French moules is with onion, garlic, chopped parsley, some white wine and a little double cream.

A dish of moules mariniere French Mussels

Whilst I absolutely love this dish, I also know just how nutrient dense it is. Interestingly, mussels have the most impressive nutrient profile of all shellfish, being a fantastic source of protein and low in fat. Plus they contain plenty of energising B vitamins, vitamin C and iron. Parsley is great for liver health, so you don’t need to feel too guilty about enjoying these with a small glass of white wine too.

Dolmades in Greece

I’ve often struggled in Greece with food that is overly heavy and fat-laden, particularly moussaka. Thankfully, there are actually plenty of other healthy and fresh dishes to be enjoyed around the mainland and islands. And if all else fails, then traditional Greek salad with feta cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes, olives, cucumber and onions never fails to delight!

Sufed vine leaves from Greece

However, a real Greek treat is dolmades which are grape or vine leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, mint, onions, dill and lemon juice. They are very time-consuming to make so I’m not sure I would ever try them at home, which is another reason to enjoy them, generally as part of a meze plate, whilst away.

The combination of the varied herbs makes for a great taste but they also help the digestion, which is often helpful whilst on holiday.

Tagliatelle marinara in Italy

Whilst I would generally steer away from eating pasta in the UK, mainly because it can taste pretty bland, in Italy pasta takes on a whole new meaning! In fact, every trip to Italy should feature trying an array of freshly made pasta dishes with range of delicious sauces.

A plate of tagliatelle marinara

One of my favourites is tagliatelle with a marinara sauce. This is basically a very tasty tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic and olive oil and it really makes the pasta come alive. Clearly, the Italians love their sauces, and as delicious as they are, the creamy-based ones are very high in fat and calories. So enjoy these in moderation and instead opt for something a little less calorific so you’ll be able to enjoy pasta on more days throughout your holiday.

So enjoy eating abroad this summer and try as many local dishes as possible to really tickle the taste buds and boost your nutrition at the same time.

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