Support your heart health with these five vitamins and minerals

Blueberries in a heart shape

It beats around 100,00 times a day and is a truly amazing organ!  Yes, your heart is incredible, and it needs taking care of just like the rest of the body. 

When it comes to heart-health, there are some key vitamins and minerals that are essential to keep it beating long and strong.

This National Cholesterol Month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five key vitamins and minerals for heart health.

Vitamin C

When it comes to the heart, vitamin C is certainly an essential nutrient. As one of our key antioxidant nutrients, vitamin C protects the heart from all that life throws at it.

We all have fats circulating within the blood stream.  However, when these levels are elevated (generally caused by a diet high in fat and sugar), these fats (also known as triglycerides) start to attach themselves to the artery wall. Over time this can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack, as blood flow is blocked. Additionally, fats oxidise and harden the arteries causing a condition known as atherosclerosis.  Furthermore, cholesterol, another type of fat, can be dangerous when not dealt with correctly within the body.

shutterstock_362885486 vitamin C Jan17

Vitamin C not only protects the arteries from damaging free radicals, but it also helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, thereby giving the heart a really great fighting chance of being healthy. Interestingly, foods rich in vitamin C such as berry fruits are also high in plant compounds called polyphenols.  These also provide antioxidants and wonderful benefits to the heart.  Ami to eat a handful of berries every day.

Vitamin B3

Part of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B3 is a key heart nutrient because its helps raise levels of the healthy HDL cholesterol, whilst reducing overall cholesterol readings. Just like all good families, the Bs do work together but each one has its own specific claim to fame.  That’s not to say the other don’t also have a role to play in heart health (see below).

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

The good news is that vitamin B3 is found in a variety of animal and plant foods including beef, liver, fish, eggs, avocados, whole grains and nuts and seeds.  Oily fish also contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats so eating some portions of salmon or mackerel regularly, will help the heart all ways round.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a key heart mineral, alongside potassium (see below).  Magnesium essentially has two main roles to play. It works as a muscle relaxant, helping relax the heart muscle and arteries thereby keeping blood pressure in the healthy range. Secondly it is a key electrolyte, balancing nerve transmissions throughout cells. Magnesium’s role is primarily enabling essential enzyme reactions that have a direct effect on heart and blood vessel health.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is frequently deficient in both men and women due to poor dietary intake.  It’s predominantly found in whole grains and green leafy veg, hence it’s low in the typical Western diet.

Potassium

Just like magnesium, potassium is a key electrolyte but works primarily with sodium helping maintain water balance and the correct acidity levels in the blood.  It also helps regulate nerve and muscle activity.  These are all essential for keeping the heart beating 24/7 as well as maintaining blood pressure at the right levels.

shutterstock_651019798 honeydew melon Aug17

The great news is that potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables and is especially high in bananas, melons, apricots, grapefruit, and sweet potatoes.  It’s great to include as much colour variety in the diet as possible so you’ll also be getting that all-important vitamin C.

Vitamin B12

Another key member of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 is as essential but works in a different way to some of the other Bs. Vitamin B12 is needed for the process of methylation, an essential bodily process that happens thousands of times each day.  It helps control production of a toxic amino acid metabolite called homocysteine; high levels have often been associated with cases of heart disease.  B12 works alongside folate and vitamin B6 in this process.

A range of foods high in protein

Deficiency of B12 can cause pernicious anaemia (one symptom being heart palpitations) but can also bring on extreme tiredness.  Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in the body so there are times when the GP will recommend injections.  However, for most people, eating plenty in the diet is generally sufficient to keep everything working well.  The only downside is that B12 is generally only found in animal foods, so I would recommend that if you are vegetarian or vegan get your levels checked as you may need to supplement.

Celebrate all that is amazing about your beating heart: take care of it well and it will love you for many years to come.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: top foods for September

Ripe,Pears,And,Peaches,On,Table

As a nutritionist, I am frequently talking about eating with the seasons.  This means eating foods at the times nature intended during the year, which generally delivers better nutrient content, enhanced flavours, and greater health benefits.

However, we can sometimes run out of ideas as to what to do with these delicious foods.

Read on for some great suggestions on how best to use my favourite in-season foods right now!

Blackberries

During August and September, the hedgerows are awash with beautiful blackberries, signalling the perfect time for eating this nutrient-dense fruit.

As with all berries, blackberries are loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C and antioxidants, as well as energising folate. They also provide a good source of fibre.  Furthermore, they are low on the glycaemic index so won’t upset blood sugar balance and are great if you’re trying to lose weight.

shutterstock_206260981 blackberries Aug15

As vitamin C is degraded by cooking, fruit is generally at its most nutritious when eaten raw, so why not load some up onto your breakfast muesli or simply enjoy with some natural yoghurt.  And if you can ‘pick your own’ blackberries, or scavenge them from the hedgerows, the taste and nutritional benefit is going to be even better!

Beetroot

Another colourful beauty, beetroot scores highly on both taste and nutritional benefits.  Beetroot is rich in potassium which helps regulate blood pressure but also contains betacyanin which is great for cleansing the liver and supporting any detox plan.  However, as beetroots are quite sweet, many people prefer them pickled but this does reduce their nutrient content somewhat.

Whole beetroots

Beetroots are also rich in immune-boosting beta-carotene, which becomes more bioavailable when beetroots are cooked.  They can therefore be boiled in their skins and then peeled and used in a variety of ways.

The taste and texture of beetroot works especially well with goat’s cheese.  Enjoy the last days of summer by making up a delicious and simple goat’s cheese salad, with chopped beetroot and sprinkled with balsamic glaze.

Celeriac

Often, and very unkindly referred to as ‘the ugly one’ due to its knobbly appearance, celeriac redeems itself with its nutritional goodness and likeable flavour.  Part of the celery family, celeriac has a better taste profile down to its nutty flavour rather than being overly salty.  However, just like celery, celeriac is great for reducing blood pressure and is a good source of vitamin C and fibre.

Celeriac on a table

Celeriac makes a great vegetable side, simply mashed with a little pepper and butter, or mashed with potatoes and garlic. Why not try making it into a soup with apples to create a really balanced and delicious flavour.

Pears

Pears are often forgotten and pushed into the shade by their counterparts, apples, although they bare no relation to each other. Just like apples though, pears are also relatively low on the glycaemic index so are great if you’re watching the kilos.  Importantly though, they are one of the least allergenic foods so are perfect for including in allergy-free diets or for weaning babies. Plus, they are high in the soluble fibre pectin, so are great for keeping the bowels running smoothly.

shutterstock_298111103 pears Sept17

As with many fruits, pears work really well with various cheeses, especially the stronger flavoured ones such as gorgonzola. They are delicious poached in red wine (packed with healthy antioxidants) or paired with chocolate as a real treat.

Peaches

Peaches are loaded with vitamin C, fibre, and potassium.  And just like beetroot, peaches are rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A as required.  Vitamin A is essential for a healthy immune system and for good vision, especially at night.

shutterstock_297863489 peaches July16

Peaches are delicious when eaten simply on their own as a low-calorie snack.  And it’s worth remembering that tinned peaches, which are highly popular, lose most of their vitamin C in the canning process and are also much higher in sugar.  Fresh is always best!

So, enjoy the seasonal delights that September brings and get creative!

Stay well.

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Managing your blood pressure: top dietary tips to reduce yours

Woman having her blood pressure taken

Having raised or high blood pressure can significantly increase our risk factors for cardiovascular problems, especially heart attacks and strokes.  However, it can also cause a myriad of other issues and may even affect the eyes.

It’s very important to try to keep blood pressure readings within normal ranges for your age.  But thankfully making some diet and lifestyle changes can have a significant effect.

This Know Your Numbers’ week, clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for reducing blood pressure naturally.

Grab some garlic

Garlic is one of the most effective botanicals for reducing blood pressure.  Try to include garlic in your cooking as much as possible; it’s also good to take as a supplement.

shutterstock_552242461 garlic Aug17

Garlic really enhances a wealth of dishes, whether they be veggie sides, fish, meat, beans, pasta, or rice dishes.  And green leafy vegetables are also great for helping reduce blood pressure, partly down to their high magnesium content.  Why not stir fry spinach, broccoli, or kale with garlic?

Go for salmon

Salmon contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids which are known to help reduce blood pressure.  However, not all salmon is created equal!  It’s important to try and find wild salmon, which will always look pinker in colour than farmed salmon.  This is down to the natural astaxanthin, an alga that the wild salmon naturally feed on, and which is one of the most powerful antioxidants known to man.  Hence this will also be helpful for reducing blood pressure.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

The UK Government recommends one to two portions of oily fish per week (which we are generally not achieving as a nation).  However, if you have high blood pressure then aim for three to four per week.  Sardines, mackerel, and tuna are also good sources of omega-3s.  However, smoked salmon is high in salt so probably best avoided, as excess salt can lead to higher blood pressure.

Snack on bananas

Bananas are high in potassium which is needed to keep blood pressure in good balance.  Potassium works alongside magnesium and calcium in regulating blood pressure.

Whole bananas and diced banana

The good news is that most fruits and vegetables contain potassium, but bananas, melons, avocados, and apricots are especially helpful.  And they can all easily be incorporated into the daily diet in meals or snacks.  Smashed avocado on seeded sourdough bread makes one of the best starts to the day!

Eat brown not white

Whole grain foods (often referred to as ‘brown’) are loaded with fibre, unlike their refined ‘white’ counterparts.  For example, brown rice retains the outer fibrous husk, whereas it’s been removed in the refining process in white rice.  And the same follows for wheat-based pasta.

shutterstock_585346478 whole wheat pasta June17

Importantly, the fibre in whole grains helps reduce blood pressure.  We need around 30 grams of fibre per day, which is sadly lacking in the typical Western diet.  Whole grain rice, brown basmati rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, buckwheat, millet, and oats are the order of the day if you want to keep blood pressure in check.

Avoid processed meats

There are lots of good reasons for keeping intake of bacon, ham, salamis, meat sausages and other processed versions to an absolute minimum.  These foods are often high in histamine which can raise blood pressure.  Additionally, they are known to raise levels of fats in the blood which will have a negative effect on blood pressure, plus are high in salt, another potential trigger.

Raw,Uncooked,Seabass,Fish,With,Vegetables,,Grains,,Herbs,And,Spices

Instead, try to stick to a more plant-based diet including plenty of whole grains, nuts (especially walnuts) and seeds, fruits and vegetables, legumes with some oily fish.  The typical Mediterranean diet is known to be super heart healthy and will help reduce blood pressure.

It’s not just your blood pressure that will benefit from making a few changes; you’re helping to future-proof your health too! Find out more about Know Your Numbers week by visiting the Blood Pressure Uk Website.

Stay well.

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Buying local: what to eat in August

shutterstock_141202630 local farmers market July20

Buying and eating locally sourced fruits and vegetables in season is great for health, the economy, and the environment. Even more importantly, eating food in season generally provides a lot more ‘bang for your buck’ nutrient-wise.

Whether you have a local farm shop, a farmer’s market or locally sourced fruits and vegetables in a shop nearby, eating with the seasons as nature intended is something to consider as we move through the year.

This National Allotments Week, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five fruits and vegetables in season, ripe and ready to eat right now!

Raspberries

The beautiful deep pink colour of raspberries is what provides a wealth of antioxidants and other plant compounds that are hugely protective of health. Raspberries are also loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C and beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed. Eaton Mess never tasted so good!

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Also, of note is ellagic acid which is especially high in raspberries with an overwhelming amount of antioxidant properties.  Even better, it has been found to increase libido. What’s not to like!

Turnips

Whilst we don’t generally think of warming foods during the summer months, turnips are coming into season right now ready for the colder months approaching. However, don’t wait until the weather cools to enjoy these delicious and highly nutritious root veggies.

Rustic,Organic,Turnips,With,Fresh,Green,Tops,And,Roots,On

Turnips were traditionally grown as cattle fodder. However, turnips are part of the highly prized cruciferous vegetable family, rich in indoles that are very protective of health, helping with hormone balancing, together with vitamin B6. Turnips are delicious simply roasted and sprinkled with Parmesan and thyme.

Peaches

Peaches have been grown in the UK for over a thousand years and at their ripest they are supremely juicy! There are hundreds of varieties – nectarines are actually a smooth-skinned peach. As with all fruits and vegetables that are orange, they contain plenty of immune-boosting beta-carotene. This carotenoid is also very protective of the skin, hence it’s no coincidence that they are at their best during the summer months.

shutterstock_297863489 peaches July16

Peaches are also high in potassium which can help support heart health and reduce blood pressure. Peaches actually pair really well with raspberries in a Peach Melba with Raspberry Coulis, or on their own, simply spiced with some cinnamon.

Broad Beans

Whilst they may not be at the top of everyone’s shopping list, partly because they can be bitter and tough, when fresh, and bought from a farmer’s market, broad beans are crisp and delicious. A typical Mediterranean vegetable, they work especially well with pork-based meats such as pancetta or chorizo.

Broad beans in a bowl

As with all beans, they’re a great source of protein and fibre, but also vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and potassium.  And if you’re struggling with low mood, you might want to add some broad beans to your plate as they contain L-dopa, which is used by the body to produce our feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine.

Sweetcorn

Traditionally, sweetcorn was first grown and eaten by the Mexicans and Americans, hence corn on the cob is frequently found on their restaurant menus. Sweetcorn is a form of maize and as such is a staple crop both here and there. And whilst sweetcorn isn’t necessarily the most nutrient dense vegetable, it still provides useful amounts of immune-boosting vitamins A and C.

Fresh,Corn,On,Cobs,On,Rustic,Wooden,Table,,Closeup

Sweetcorn is also rich in fibre so is great for digestive health and, unusually for a vegetable, is high in vitamin B3, essential for good nervous system function. It’s certainly best eaten simply as corn on the cob, rolled in a little butter and black pepper.

Seek out your local farmer’s market or farm shop for the healthiest and freshest fruits and vegetables in season right now.

Stay well.

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Cycle to Work Day: how to boost your energy levels

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

With National ‘Cycle to Work’ day being celebrated today, it’s a great time to focus on upping your energy and fuelling your rides. 

Whether you’re going to actually cycle to work, or just want to feel more energised for your workouts or in your everyday life, there are some great nutrient-rich foods that can help.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top foods for feeling more energised.

Blueberries

Delicious and in-season now, blueberries are going to provide great energy and an excellent start to the day, especially if you’re planning on cycling to work. Blueberries are a low glycaemic fruit, meaning they won’t adversely affect blood sugar balance and you’ll enjoy sustained energy throughout the day.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are often referred to as ‘super foods’ because they are packed with nutrients.  Importantly, their beautiful rich, dark colour signifies plenty of antioxidants, which help protect the body against the ageing process and degenerative diseases.  Why not enjoy some with your breakfast with some natural yoghurt and ground flaxseeds for a perfectly balanced start? Alternatively, they make the perfect accompaniment to oats (my next energy-giving food recommendation).

Oats

Another low glycaemic food, partly down to their rich fibre content, oats are loaded with energising B-vitamins.  However, look for ‘whole’ oats that have not been refined to gain full benefit.  Any refining strips out fibre and nutrients.

A bowl of oats

Oats contain plenty of trace minerals, especially magnesium which is also needed for energy production.  In short, they’re real powerhouses!  Oats are great soaked either in some plant or dairy milk and a little apple juice for flavour to make ‘overnight oats’.  Take them out of the fridge the next morning, pop on some yoghurt and berries. Either eat before your journey to work or when you arrive, and you’ve got the perfect start to your day.

Brown Rice

As with all whole grain foods, brown rice is great for encouraging sustained energy.  It’s rich in fibre and high in nutrients, especially those energising B-vitamins.  Brown rice has a much higher nutrient profile than white, because it hasn’t undergone any refining process. Furthermore, it can really help on a weight loss journey because it balances blood sugar levels and is very low in fat.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

The nutrient content of brown rice is equally as impressive with not only high levels of B-vitamins but a great range of essential trace minerals.  Of note is zinc which is needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body to keep it firing on all cylinders. Serve brown rice as an accompaniment to any protein such as fish or chicken or serve cold the next day with plenty of salad vegetables.

Bananas

Bananas are many people’s ‘go-to’ when it comes to the need for quick energy.  Although high in complex carbs, the riper bananas have a higher sugar content, delivering a fast-release boost, hence they are popular with sportspeople.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas are especially high in vitamin B6, much utilised for energy release but they also contain loads of potassium which is great for the heart.  As they are high in starchy carbs, bananas will keep you going all day and will also help you burn up those hills if some happen to be on your cycle route to work.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes have a much higher nutrient profile than traditional white potatoes.  That’s not to dismiss white potatoes from the diet as they still have a place, but sweet potatoes have the edge when it comes to delivering sustained energy.

shutterstock_429273175-sweet-potato-wedges-dec16

It’s all down to the complex carbs which keep blood sugar in balance and energy buzzing. Furthermore, sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, essential for immune health.

You can eat sweet potatoes in the same way as white potatoes; mashed, chipped, jacketed, take your pick, and enjoy with a topping or foods of your choice.

So, whether you’re cycling to work or just want more energy, add these five foods into your diet and feel your energy soar!

Stay well.

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Super salads: top nutritious side dishes to accompany your barbecue this summer

Group of friends enjoying eating a barbeque outside

Barbecues aren’t just about the cooked food; the side dishes you create to accompany meat or veggie options can make all the difference.

Great salads can really enhance the flavour of all the other food and there are so many delicious options.

Here are nutritionist Suzie Sawyer’s three favourite healthy salad ideas to make your barbecue truly come to life!

Suzie’s Special Salad (with nothing left out!)

As a nutritionist, I talk endlessly about maximising the colour on your plate to enjoy the benefits of as many nutrients as possible.  And this salad doesn’t disappoint in that respect. It’s gorgeously colourful, is packed with immune-boosting vitamin C, energising B vitamins and loads of antioxidants to protect the body from everything life throws at it.

A bowl of fresh spinach leaves

This recipe contains black beans and spinach leaves as a base and is then loaded with chopped vine tomatoes, cucumber, mango chunks (use frozen ones and defrost), red onion, avocado and crumbled feta cheese on the top.

Fresh,Mint,Leafs,In,Mortar,On,Grey,Wooden,Table

Herbs also contain some wonderful health benefits in terms of their antioxidants but are helpful for the digestion too.  So, blending up a bunch of mint, coriander and basil with garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar and honey makes a delicious and healthy dressing.

This salad will stand proud with any barbecued meat or vegetables but works especially well with lamb.

Quinoa Vegetarian Salad

Most barbecue meals contain a grain-based salad, not just for ‘bulk’ but also because they taste great.  Quinoa, (which is technically a seed not a grain), is perfect because it provides some starchy carbs, but most importantly, has a high protein content, keeping everyone fuller for longer. Plus, quinoa is a great source of fibre helping the digestive system to run smoothly.  Even better, it’s got plenty of energy-boosting B-vitamins, so you can enjoy the barbecue to the full!

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

Quinoa can be cooked just like couscous.  Indeed, if quinoa is not your bag, then couscous is fine but do remember it contains gluten and quinoa does not, which may be a consideration for some of your guests.

You can freestyle this one in terms of what goes in.  However, it works really well with feta cheese, pine nuts, spring onions, chopped tomatoes, cucumber and pepper with some pesto stirred through.

Another dish with plenty of colour, loaded with nutrients, making a great addition to the barbecue feast.

Griddled courgette, basil, and chilli salad

Griddled or roasted vegetables are always welcomed in salads, and courgettes are in season right now.  They are naturally low in fat but high in minerals folate, heart-loving potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C which are great for the immune system.  And because you eat them with the skin left on, you’ll be getting the added benefit of soluble fibre which helps balance blood sugar levels, banishing cravings. Courgettes are in season now which generally brings higher nutrient content and better taste, especially if you buy them fresh from farmers’ markets.

Tasty,Grilled,Zucchini,On,Parchment

Cut the courgettes into long strips, coat with chopped red chilli, salt, pepper and olive oil and then griddle in a very hot pan.  Once the courgettes are cooled, they can then be tossed in some more olive oil, chopped basil and lemon. This is a dish that looks very impressive but actually takes very little time in the preparation and cooking.

So, enjoy some great barbecue salads Suzie-style this season!

Stay well.

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The importance of fruits and vegetables: how to eat more every day

A range of fruits and vegetables

We all know that fruits and vegetables are vitally important to include in the daily diet.  There are many great reasons for this but primarily they are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, so it makes sense to eat them as often as possible. 

Unfortunately, we know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that only around 27% of the UK population are managing even the basic minimum of five portions per day.  However, there are some easy ways of getting more into your diet.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for including fruits and vegetables at every mealtime.

Boost your Breakfast

We all want to feel energised at the beginning of the day and having the right fuel can really help set you on a good path.  It’s important to include protein at breakfast time to get blood sugar and energy levels in good balance throughout the day.  However, a jump start of more energy is always welcomed!

Spinach and mushroom om

How about cooking up a delicious spinach omelette with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes?  This meal is super-charged because spinach is rich in both energising B vitamins and iron.  Plus, mushrooms contain some immune-boosting vitamin D (although supplementation is still needed) and tomatoes are rich in antioxidants so help shield the body from damaging free radicals.

A green smoothie

However, if you prefer a fruitier start to the day, you can still enjoy the health benefits from spinach but in a delicious green banana smoothie.  Bananas are loaded with energising vitamin B6 and why not add some ginger and mango which are both great for the immune system. Coconut water is high in potassium which is great for the heart and you can even throw in a few kale leaves for an additional nutrient burst.

Load up at lunch time

When we’re busy, on the run or in and out of zoom or team meetings, lunch can sometimes get forgotten.  We should always remember that each meal is a time for re-fuelling and getting valuable nutrients into the body.  If we miss a meal, we miss out big time!

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Lunch does not need to be complicated and time-consuming to prepare it just needs to be colourful.  How about poaching a piece of salmon the night before and putting it into a colourful salad?  Whilst salad vegetables are high in water, so not always the highest in nutrients, if you include an avocado, you’ll not only feel fuller for longer, you’ll be getting the benefits of Vitamin E for your skin and immune system.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Alternatively, you can cook up some quinoa the day before and again add loads of salad vegetables or pre-roasted veggies of your choice to the mix.  The more colour you include, the greater the amount of plant antioxidants which help support immunity, protect the body against disease and keep us looking young and fresh.

Dive in at Dinner

There’s been an enormous upsurge in people ordering in meals from fast food apps during lockdown.  Unfortunately, we know from statistical data that this has also led to a prevalence of nutrient deficiencies, which can make us more prone to illness.

Salmon stir fry

A take-away or delivery meal is no bad thing occasionally, but nothing beats home-cooked food for the wealth of nutrients it provides.  And it doesn’t need to be complicated either! Plan a stir fry which includes chopped peppers, onion, carrots, baby sweetcorn, chopped broccoli and mange tout. Add flavourings such as soy sauce, coriander, and sweet chilli sauce and a protein source of choice for a quick, colourful and super nutritious dinner.

shutterstock_245873155-cruciferous-vegetables-jan17

Each fruit or vegetable brings a wealth of nutrients to the table: variety is key, and the body gets a balanced spread.  In terms of vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and pak choi) are extremely nutrient dense, and especially rich in magnesium which we know to be deficient in the average diet.  Magnesium is essential for so many bodily processes including for hormone balancing, and good nerve and brain function. Cruciferous vegetables are also rich in fibre which helps to keep the bowels working smoothly.

And if vegetables really aren’t your bag, then they can always be ‘disguised’ in dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, pasta sauces, curries and other spicy dishes.

So, try to include as many fruits and vegetables in your daily diet as possible – your body will definitely thank you for it.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: five of the best foods for February

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of rhubarb

Working with the seasons and eating foods at their best during the seasonal food year brings many health benefits. 

Nature is very clever and provides foods the body needs for optimal nourishment at the right time throughout the year.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite fruits and vegetables for February.

Leeks

It’s all about roots during the winter months, keeping the body warm and grounded.  Leeks are from the same family as onions and they thrive during colder times because of their ability to withstand frost. Nutritionally, leeks are high in potassium so are very supportive of kidney function, can work as a diuretic and also support a healthy heart.

Leeks in a wooden trough

Their taste is slightly more subtle than onions so they can be used in stews, soups or work well with a cheese sauce. Unfortunately, as with onions and garlic, they do tend to cause some flatulence which is mainly down to their ability to feed the good gut bacteria.  It’s a positive sign and this is great for helping improve the overall balance of friendly flora.

Rhubarb

Whilst not eaten that widely, partly because it’s naturally so sour, rhubarb needs quite a lot of sugar to improve its flavour.  However, making classic rhubarb fool is certainly a great treat for special occasions, whilst delivering a very useful nutrient profile.  However, rhubarb also works brilliantly as a sauce with savoury dishes such as duck.  It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C and is a great source of fibre and potassium.  To that end, it’s been linked to helping improve cholesterol levels.

Rhubabr stalks and cut rhubarb in a bowl

Rhubarb is actually a vegetable and not a fruit, despite looking like one, and makes a lovely change to eating some of our better-known fruits and vegetables.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Broccoli is well-known for its amazing health benefits.  Purple sprouting has even more, down to its rich colour.  This means it contains greater levels of antioxidant anthocyanins, plus some of our key immune-boosters, vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Purple sprouting broccoli

All types of broccoli contain a compound called sulphoraphane which has been found to help protect us from many degenerative diseases.  Additionally, they provide a great source of relaxing magnesium and bone-loving calcium.  Try and eat some at least three times per week whilst it’s in season, for all its great health benefits.

Oranges

Whilst our climate is clearly not conducive to growing tropical fruits, other countries certainly are. Oranges from Spain are at their best right now and taste better than those imported from further afield. Whilst oranges don’t contain quite as much vitamin C as berry fruits, they still provide a very usable amount.  Plus, if you’re low in iron, then eating iron-rich foods such as meat or green-leafy veg and eggs, with an orange or a little orange juice, helps iron absorption considerably.

A bowl of oranges

As with all fruits and vegetables, oranges provide antioxidants which help protect us from disease and the ageing process.  Oranges are great with fish dishes but are great partnered with dark chocolate in a dessert.

Potatoes

The rise in the popularity of low-carb diets has left potatoes somewhat in the shade.  However, they don’t really deserve some of the bad press they receive: much of the issue around potatoes and potential weight gain is down to cooking methods.  Clearly roasted, creamed and chipped potatoes contain more fat, and therefore more calories. However, who doesn’t love roast potatoes or some deliciously, creamy mash!

A pan of just boiled jersey royal new potatoes

Potatoes actually provide a good level of vitamin C and heart-loving potassium.  Additionally, they are high in fibre so help keep the digestive system running smoothly.  As a vegetable side, they are delicious in recipes containing garlic or cheese; just be aware of portion sizes and then you don’t need to miss out totally.

So, enjoy the wonderful health benefits of eating seasonally.

Stay well.

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Five top veggies to top up your vegan diet

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

It’s January and for many people, that means it’s Veganuary. For some of us, it may just be a continuation of our vegan diet but, for others, it could be the start of a new regime.  

Whether you’re giving it a go for the first time or have been enjoying the wonders of a vegan diet for a while, it’s always good to be reminded of some of the most important vegetables to include in your diet and their great health benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five veggies.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are often one of the mainstay vegetables of a vegan diet as they are a fabulously nutritious and versatile vegetable.  Sweet potatoes are often misunderstood and categorised as ‘another type of potato’ but they are from different plant families.  Whilst both types of potatoes have plenty of health benefits, sweet potatoes are better for balancing blood sugar levels as they are lower on the glycaemic index.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

However, where sweet potatoes really score is in their high beta-carotene content.  This is turned into immune-supportive vitamin A, as needed, by the body, and is especially helpful at this time of year.  Try them roasted, in their jackets, in curries, stews and soups: there are plenty of easy ways to incorporate them into a vegan diet.

Broccoli

As a member of the amazing cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli’s health benefits are far-reaching.  When it comes to nutrient content broccoli delivers high levels of vitamin C, folate, iron, beta-carotene and potassium and also a range of powerful antioxidants.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Antioxidants soak up free radicals and help protect us from disease and there are many different types.  However, broccoli contains an especially health-giving compound called indole, which has been found to protect DNA from damage, very important for prevention of serious degenerative diseases.  What’s more, it’s so easy to include in the diet. Think of it as a side or use it in stir-fries. Try it roasted with a little soy sauce or simply lightly steamed. It can be included in an array of veggie-based dishes.

Red Peppers

Often called sweet peppers (as they are ripened for longer than green peppers) or bell peppers, they contain three times as much immune-boosting vitamin C as oranges.  Plus, as with other red and brightly coloured vegetables, they are high in beta-carotene, so your immune system is really going to benefit.

Red peppers

Red peppers are incredibly versatile and can be simply grilled or stuffed with savoury rice or other grains. They are great in stir fries, chopped in salads, or grilled, skinned and pureed to be made into a delicious fat-free sauce as a perfect topping to wholemeal pasta.

Kale

Often referred to as curly kale for obvious reasons, it’s another green vegetable with superfood status. Interestingly, there are many different varieties of kale and some are not curly but smooth-leaved!

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Just like broccoli and brussels sprouts, kale is packed with indoles, but it is the richest source of calcium of all vegetables, so is great for building strong bones and teeth.  Calcium is also a calming mineral so is much needed during these stressful times. A great January vegetable, kale helps cleanse the liver and break down and eliminate ‘old’ hormones therefore helping create feelings of balance and peace.  Kale does have a slightly bitter taste so is often best served lightly grilled with some soya sauce to balance the flavours.

Spinach

Another super-healthy green vegetable, spinach is probably best eaten raw in salads as a substitute for lettuce.  It’s also very tasty in wraps with falafel or avocado and hummus. Spinach can of course be included in cooking or as a vegetable side, but you just need to use a fair number of leaves as it wilts down to very small amounts.  However, it’s delicious when served with garlic.

A bwol of fresh spinach leaves

Spinach doesn’t actually have the highest iron levels (contrary to popular myth) but it certainly scores brilliantly with its carotenoid content.  This includes both beta carotene and lutein which is excellent for eyesight.  Indeed, all carotenoids have powerful antioxidant effects so are very protective of overall health.

So, make your Veganuary the healthiest and tastiest ever – enjoy!

Stay well.

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Tis’ the season: five seasonal, nutrition-packed foods to eat this December

Woman preparing christmas dinner

Whilst the Festive Season is upon us to hopefully bring a little cheer to what has been a tough year all round, there’s also plenty to celebrate with some delicious seasonal food.

Food generally tastes so much better when eaten at the time of year nature intended.  Plus, it’s generally richer in nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods of the season.

Celery

Whilst not always liked by everyone, celery is certainly synonymous with Christmas buffet tables, and it definitely adds a fresh bite to plenty of other dishes.  And for those not wanting to pile on the pounds over Xmas, celery is incredibly low in calories but high in nutrients, so you get much more ‘bang for your buck’!

Chopped celery and celery stalks on a wooden chopping board

Celery is high in potassium which is great for the heart and also helps reduce blood pressure.  Even eating three sticks per day has been shown to be incredibly effective in this way.  Potassium also helps kidneys excrete waste efficiently which in turn helps with water retention and bloating, both common feelings over the festive season.

Interestingly, celery is often found in recipes such as stews, bolognaise and soups; it’s initially fried with the onions because it’s a strong flavour-enhancer in these types of recipes.

Brussels sprouts

No talk of seasonal December food would be complete without sprouts!  Many of us don’t like them because we may have been subjected to Brussels being over-cooked, making them mushy and unpleasant to eat.

Sprouts dish with ginger

Brussels sprouts are incredibly health-giving, partly down to the presence of indoles, compounds that may help prevent some of our nasty hormonally driven diseases.  Just like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family, they’re high in vitamin C and immune-boosting beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as the body needs it.

It’s worth persevering with Brussels sprouts, down to their amazing health benefits. Why not try them with chopped chestnuts, fried with bacon. Or enjoy in a traditional Boxing Day ‘Bubble and Squeak’ mashed with all the other delicious left-over veg.

Scallops

At this time of year, queen scallops from UK waters are at their best. They are both delicious and loaded with nutrients. Scallops (and indeed all shellfish) are packed with vitamin B12 which is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and good functioning nervous system. They are also high in immune-boosting zinc and selenium, both minerals often deficient in the typical Western-style diet. They are also, of course, a good source of protein.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

Both the white and orange roe (coral) of the scallops are to be enjoyed.  They work really well with strong flavours from bacon or chorizo or in Thai dishes with traditional spices such as lemon grass, chilli and ginger.

Parsnips

Another stalwart of the traditional Christmas meal, parsnips are incredibly easy to prepare and have a really distinctive sweet taste.

Parsnip soup in a bowl

All root vegetables are in season right now since nature wants us to be eating warming, starchy comforting foods to protect us against the elements.  Parsnips are another good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and energising folate.  They also provide a useful source of fibre to keep digestion running smoothly.

Whilst parsnips are delicious simply roasted with a little honey to enhance their flavour, they also work well sprinkled with parmesan. Or why not try in soups and stews? They can work as a great alternative to potatoes.

Goose

For many it is the meat of choice for a festive meal, whilst for others it has dwindled in popularity.  This may be down to its relatively high fat content, but in face goose still contains less fat than duck and some cuts of lamb, beef or pork.  Plus, goose fat, produces the best roast potatoes in my opinion!

Roasted goose on a plate

Goose contains nearly as much protein as turkey and is a great source of iron (frequently deficient, particularly in female diets), plus other B vitamins.  It’s certainly worth considering if you want some variety, if not for the Christmas Day meal then over the festive period.  Goose is truly delicious served with traditional chestnut stuffing.

So, grab some seasonal delights and make the most of the food that December has to offer.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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