How to be a healthy vegetarian: top dietary tips

Woman in kitchen holding bottle of olive oil wutg basket of peppers on work surface

It’s nearly time to celebrate National Vegetarian Week. Vegetarian numbers are on the rise in the UK and there are many reasons for this. They include health, a concern for animal welfare and the environment, or simply a change in taste.

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A vegetarian is anyone who does not eat meat, fish or poultry or foods containing them, but the term is often used in a much wider context. For example flexitarian (flexibly vegetarian), pescatarian (happy to eat fish), lacto-vegetarian (eats dairy, but not eggs) and ovo-vegetarian (eats eggs but not dairy).

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips on how to be a healthy vegetarian.

Plan your protein needs

It can sometimes be hard for vegetarians to meet protein needs, as well as requirements for certain trace minerals. Protein is essential for hormone production, the immune system and strong muscles and bones, particularly, as we age.

Plant foods don’t contain all the essential amino acids found in animal produce. But the good news is that you can combine grains and beans to get all the essential amino acids the body needs. For example, a bean-based chilli con carne with rice is a great choice and satisfies this requirement.

Bean and rice salad stew

Most animal produce, including eggs, milk and dairy, contain all the essential amino acids. Therefore, if you’re eating these regularly you should be able to meet the body’s needs. It’s important to eat protein at every meal, to ensure the body gets what it needs but also to keep blood sugar and energy levels sustained throughout the day.

There are also plenty of vegetarian protein powders, made from whey, pea or hemp, which can be added to smoothies. These are especially useful to top up protein needs if you’re very active or stressed (when the body needs more support generally).

Top tip: eat plenty of pulses, soya products, nuts and seeds, eggs and cheese.

Plan your micro nutrient needs

Vegetarians may be more susceptible to low levels of certain minerals such as the easily absorbable heme-iron found in meat. However, iron can be found in vegetarian sources such as pulses, nuts, seeds, cereals, green leafy vegetables, tofu, dried fruit, molasses and fortified foods.

Vegetarian sources of iron

Vitamin C helps boost uptake of iron, so eat a piece of fruit or some vegetables at the same time. Alternatively, go for a glass of orange juice with your breakfast or a fresh fruit salad as a dessert or starter.

Zinc is essential for the immune system and many other key body functions. Therefore, put milk and dairy products, eggs, sourdough bread, cereal products, green leafy vegetables, pulses and pumpkin seeds on the menu. Healthy snacking is another way to help increase levels – try eating seed mixes or sprinkle them over salads and fruit. Try making pulse-based dips such as hummus.

homemade hummus with seed sprinkles

Vegetarians can run the risk of being low in vitamin B12 which is essential for energy production, although vegans are at greater risk since it’s only found in animal produce.

Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth and can help to protect against osteoporosis in later life. Non-dairy sources can be sourced from foods such as tofu, fortified soya and rice milk, almonds, dark green vegetables and sesame seeds.

Top tip: Include milk, dairy products and eggs if they’re still part of your daily diet.

Plan your omega-3 needs

The essential omega-3s can often get forgotten by vegetarians, particularly if you’re not eating fish. They are called ‘essential’ because omega-3s support hormones, eye health, the heart, joints and skin but the body cannot make them and so these need to be included in your diet.

A range of seeds on spoons

The good news is the body can convert something called ‘ALA’ found in flaxseeds, rapeseed oil, soy oil, pumpkin seeds, tofu and walnuts, into the beneficial essential fats. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines already contain plenty of these beneficial fats, so if you’re a pescatarian you are more than likely including these types of fish regularly in the diet.

Plan your supplement needs

Even though you’ll hopefully be planning your diet well, it’s always good to cover all bases with a high-quality, daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement as well. It’s like having a really cost-effective health insurance policy! You can also take vegetarian omega-3 supplements to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs.

There are lots of health benefits to being vegetarian and with a little planning you can make sure that you have the healthiest vegetarian diet possible.

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Power up your walking with these hiking nutrition tips

Two hikers enjoying a walk

It’s National Walking Month and walking in all its forms is becoming a really popular form of exercise and for very good reason. It’s great for overall fitness, particularly if you’re walking briskly or uphill which gets the heart rate elevated. However, it’s also an excellent way of burning calories or simply just getting moving!

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Walking needs little preparation except for your nutrition; the better nourished you are, the more power and spring in your step you’ll have!

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to get you up those hills.

Oats

Oats are a walker’s best friend. They’re a great source of energy as they are packed with B vitamins. They also deliver slow-releasing carbohydrates, good for sustained energy release. Furthermore, oats contain beta-glucans, a form of fibre, which has been proven to help reduce cholesterol levels. The fibre will also help keep the bowels in good working order.

A bowl of oats

Oats are probably one of the best starts to the day if you’re heading for the hills (or even for a brisk local walk). As you’ll be using up lots of energy, oats will fill you up and help maintain energy levels without giving you a massive sugar-rush followed by a dip shortly after.

Oats are also brilliant as a snack, perhaps in a flap jack or muesli bar, during the day. Oat cakes work well as a post-hike snack with some walnut or almond butter.

Cashews

All types of nuts make great hiking snacks but cashews are especially good. They’re high in both protein and carbohydrates so they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and pumped full of energy. Even better, they have a lower fat content than some other nuts although they don’t contain any of the healthy omega-3 fats.

Cashew nuts

Cashews are great for walkers as they’re high in bone-loving magnesium. Whilst walking is one of the best exercises to protect the bones and help prevent osteoporosis, the body still needs plenty of magnesium and other bone-building nutrients in the diet. Magnesium also helps muscles relax, therefore is great for people who suffer from restless legs or sore muscles. Be sure to pack some cashews in your rucksack on your next walk.

Bananas

As we all know, bananas are one of the best go-to snacks. They’re especially great for taking on walks because they’re so transportable and can sustain being stuffed in a rucksack for long periods.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Interestingly, bananas generally taste quite sweet but they’re actually low on the glycaemic index making them great for producing sustained energy. Bananas have always been a favourite snack with athletes, and whilst you might not put yourself in that category quite yet, they’ve certainly got some great nutritional benefits for keen exercisers.

Importantly, they’re high in muscle-loving potassium and as such can help prevent muscle cramps. Plus potassium helps to regulate blood pressure and normal heart function. Therefore, both the walking and your snack choice are going to have great health benefits.

Beetroot

Beetroots have long been studied for their benefits to athletes and recreational exercisers. This is mainly due to the presence of nitrates which help open up the arteries, making oxygen uptake easier and endurance better. They’re also very high in folate which is essential for aiding energy production.

Whole beetroots

The best way to eat beetroot on a walk or longer hike is to include them in your sandwiches on wholemeal bread. Beetroots actually work well with any protein such a chicken so you’ll have plenty of energy and won’t feel hungry throughout the day.

Wholegrain tortillas

These make delicious, portable and nutritious snacks for keeping you sustained throughout your walk. Plus, wholegrain tortillas are incredibly versatile. An excellent filling choice is hummus which is high in healthy monounsaturated fats, being good for the heart. Or let your mind wonder and fill them with lots of colourful salad veggies.

A plate of whole grain tortillas

Wholegrain tortillas are high in energising B vitamins but are also low on the glycaemic index. Even better they taste delicious and are very light to pack into your rucksack.

With the longer days upon us, now is a great time to enjoy some great walks or longer hikes powered by great nutrition.

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Marathon recovery: top nutrition tips post-run

Close up of a group of marathon runners

It’s marathon season again! If you’re looking forward to competing in a marathon over the next few months, you’re most likely well into your training by now. How you plan your recovery is just as important ensuring the body is not more exposed to injury or challenges to the immune system after the event.

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Recovery encompasses a range of nutritional issues including replacing muscle and liver glycogen (energy) stores, re-hydration and regeneration and muscle repair, therefore a range of strategies are required.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips to speed up your recovery and ensure your health is in good shape after such a great achievement.

Step one – straight after the race

The most important factor here is to replace those lost glycogen stores as quickly as possible after completing the race. These energy stores will always be much depleted after such a long endurance event, and the body can replenish them more quickly with the right nutrients.

Eating carbohydrates as quickly as possible after race completion is really key; ideally around 50-100 grams are needed. Carbohydrate bars and recovery gels are probably the easiest to access, unless you’ve got a personal chef on hand to help! However, if there is food available then choose a high glycaemic snack such as a white bagel and jam, bananas, raisins or cake.

Close up of woman drinking water

Even though most people drink plenty of fluids during a marathon, the body will still be dehydrated at the end, particularly on a hot day. The best way of rehydrating quickly is to have an electrolyte drink available or at the very least one that is slightly sweet; this is also much more palatable immediately post-race when it’s often difficult to eat or drink anything.

Step two – later that day

Intake of high glycaemic food needs to continue for the rest of the day (food that is easily digested and releases glucose quickly into the bloodstream). Marathon runners frequently suffer from digestive upsets post-race, therefore low glycaemic foods such as beans, lentils or brown bread are not ideal, and muscle glycogen is not replaced as quickly. This can make the body more susceptible to injury or infection during this period.

CLose up of baked beans on toast

Great recovery foods include rice cakes with jam or honey, muffins, pancakes with syrup and mars bars. Later on in the day, there may be better access to food, therefore baked beans on toast, sandwiches with a protein filling, or a bowl of cereal are good choices. The great news is that all these options will contain some protein which also helps with muscle repair.

Step three – go easy on the post-race celebrations

You’ve just completed a marathon and you want to celebrate, which is understandable! However, alcohol is of course not a rehydration drink and can encourage more fluid loss. Heavy alcohol intake post-race is going to impair soft tissue repair, making muscle stiffness and soreness worse and leaving the body wide open to injury and infection. If possible it’s best to wait for 24 hours before celebrating your success.

Having caffeinated drinks is also not advisable during the recovery stage as they further deplete fluid and nutrients. Wait until tomorrow for your cappuccino or latte!

Step four – replace lost nutrients

It can take a while after an endurance event such as a marathon to replenish all the electrolytes as well as vitamins and minerals. The day after, it’s important to have balanced meals containing a mixture of protein and carbohydrate. Great choices would be stir fries with noodles and soy sauce (great for replacing lost sodium), wholemeal pasta tuna bake, or spaghetti bolognaise (use soy mince if vegan or vegetarian).

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Watermelon is packed with potassium (a much-needed electrolyte for the heart and muscles) so try to eat plenty of slices post-race.

Step five – load up on omegas

During and after any kind of intensive exercise, inflammation throughout the body is normal. This is the body’s way of pushing blood flow to the skin surface and to the muscles and joints to aid repair. However, it can also make for some very stiff legs after a marathon and it’s a process that needs to be managed if you want the body to remain healthy and injury-free.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Therefore, eating your omega-3 fats is essential to manage inflammation; oily fish, flaxseeds and chia seeds are the best sources. Make sure you’re eating some at each meal the day after the marathon. If you enjoy salmon, mackerel and sardines, they should feature in your diet at least three times a week in any case. If you’re not so keen and you’re an active recreational sports person, then consider a supplement or eat plenty of the vegetarian sources.

So remember to take the time to recover properly and your body will be quickly set for the next challenge; it’s just the mind that might need persuading!

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Seasonal eating: top nutrition this Easter

 

A range of easter foods

Traditionally Easter is a time of getting together with friends and family and enjoying plenty of delicious food. It’s always best to ‘eat with the seasons’ and Easter offers some wonderful food choices.

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Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top seasonal foods for a super-healthy Easter!

 

 

Crab

All shellfish is high in protein, vitamins and minerals but low in calories and crab is now in season.

Most of the calories in crab come from protein (around 75 calories per portion) so it will fill you up and keep you feeling that way for longer. People often think of crab dishes as fatty but this is often because it is served with mayonnaise or Marie rose sauce. It’s also high in the mineral selenium, a very powerful antioxidant. Selenium also binds to toxic metals such as cadmium and mercury helping excrete them from the body.

A close up of a bowl of crab salad

If it’s energy you’re after then crab is loaded with vitamin B12, also important for a healthy nervous system. People are often concerned about crab meat (and other shellfish) because of its high cholesterol content. However, cholesterol is poorly absorbed from foods and crab appears to help reduce rather than raise cholesterol levels.

Lamb

Easter wouldn’t be the same without eating some spring lamb. It’s delightfully tender and a traditional Easter dish.

Roast leg of lamb with trimmings

Lamb, like other red meats such as pork and beef, is fairly high in saturated fat, although racks and loins can have their visible fat removed before cooking. Lamb is obviously a great source of protein, plus energising B vitamins and zinc to help support the immune system. As with all red meat, lamb is a great source of usable iron, which is often deficient in the UK population, particularly in teenagers and young women.

Lamb is best simply cooked with garlic, rosemary and oregano. In fact, oregano is a great herb for the digestive tract, so may help alleviate any associated digestive issues. It works really well with a huge plate of colourful roasted veggies.

Leeks

Leeks partner really well with lamb, either lightly steamed or in a tasty gratin dish! Interestingly, leeks were used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments ranging for sore throats to gout and kidney stones. This is partly down to their high potassium content, making them an effective diuretic and supportive of the kidneys. Leeks are also high in folate, so are good for energy.

Leeks in a wooden trough

Squid

Just like crab, squid is high in protein and low in calories. Plus, it’s cheaper than crab and it’s in season right now. Squid is fished predominantly along the Cornish coast and is therefore popular in many restaurants in that part of the world, certainly at this time of year.

With the increase in popularity of low-carb diets, squid earns its rightful place; however, these benefits are lost if you choose the ever-popular calamari rings. Instead, eat squid lightly grilled with a little olive oil and chilli for extra taste.

Fresh grilled squid on a barbecue

Squid is high in the antioxidants selenium and vitamin E, both great for managing the ageing process and keeping skin looking young and fresh. Plus it’s got good amounts of B vitamins which are protective of the heart. They’re a ‘win-win’ for your Easter menu!

Watercress

The peppery, dark watercress leaves are amongst the healthiest of salad vegetables, being rich in vitamins and minerals and with only 22 calories per 100 grams. Watercress works as a vegetable side and can certainly replace spinach in many dishes.

Just like leeks, watercress was often used to treat kidney disorders in traditional medicine and generally helps support the body’s natural detoxification processes.

Watercress soup

Watercress should certainly feature on your Easter menu; in salads, baked in a salmon quiche, made into soup or as a vegetable side gently wilted with a little butter.

So why not make this Easter the healthiest and tastiest yet? Enjoy!

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Walk to Work Day: the health benefits of doing more walking

A woman wiht a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Today is National Walk to Work Day, encouraging everyone to walk more. Walking is a wonderfully versatile and healthy form of exercise that can easily be fitted into the busiest of days and suits everyone regardless of ability.

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From taking a stroll in your lunch break to planning a hiking holiday, there are so many ways to get more walking into your daily life and reap the benefits of being outdoors in the fresh air at the same time.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides her five top ways to walk your way to a healthier mind and body.

Walk to work

If you can, walk to work. An alternative is to find somewhere to park a little way away from work, and then ‘park and stride’ to get your steps in. Clearly, this is not possible for everyone. However, if you’re office-based then it’s really important to take time away from your desk during the day.

A woman in a business suit having a walk during her lunch break

Try to fit in a 20 to 30 minute walk at lunch time every day. This will get blood flow to the brain, which will help concentration during the afternoon, but will also help balance blood sugar levels. Walking after you’ve eaten lunch (or any meal) helps the body’s natural insulin response, which is needed for effective weight management. Moreover, brisk walking is great for toning the leg muscles and helps towards overall cardiac fitness levels.

Eat a protein-based lunch beforehand: both the choice of food and the walk afterwards will help stop that common 3 pm energy dip!

Walk uphill

For those who enjoy running, it’s a great form of exercise. However, for people wanting to get fit who don’t want to run, then uphill walking is fantastic for all-round good health.

Uphill walking quickly raises the heart rate meaning its’s great for cardiovascular fitness and also good for burning calories. Even better, it’s one of the best ways of exercising your thighs and glutes! Either walk uphill for at least 30 minutes three times a week on a running machine in the gym, or ideally get out into the great outdoors; there’s always a hill to climb somewhere.

A woman out for a walk in the hills with her arms outstretched enjoying herself

Whilst it’s important that the body is properly fuelled for exercise, you don’t need to be eating any more than normal. For example, if you’ve had some porridge for breakfast and then you take a walk, you’ll have plenty of energy for exercise. Equally, there’s nothing wrong with doing an early morning pre-breakfast walk, especially now the lighter mornings have arrived now the clocks have gone forward. Lighter evenings also mean a pre or post dinner walk is a lovely way to enjoy some exercise in your local area.

Join a group

With the hope of warmer weather and certainly longer days, now is a good time to fully enjoy the great outdoors. Walking with an organised group really helps motivation; you’ll see parts of the countryside you never knew existed previously and you’ll always make new friends and acquaintances. There are many groups all around the UK organising day hikes of varying lengths and paces – just find one that suits you.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

If you’re taking a day hike, you generally won’t need to pack any more food than you’d normally eat. For example, a sandwich lunch with a protein filling such as egg or chicken is great. Alternatively, a falafel or avocado and hummus wrap will help sustain energy levels throughout the day with plenty of energising B-vitamins. Also, pack some snacks: low glycaemic fruit such as berries or an apple, or a handful of nuts, are great for sustained energy and you’ll be good to go all day long. However, and most importantly, don’t leave the house without having breakfast; anything oat-based or packed with protein would be the best choices.

Be a little adventurous

For those that may want to travel further afield or fancy the idea of something a little tougher, then why not investigate some of the many walking challenges on offer? The famous Camino de Santiago in Spain is one such example. You can do as little as a seven day walk or longer if preferred. If you have the time you could try something more challenging such as a mountain hike or the Great Wall of China. Setting yourself specific goals is great for the body and mind. Many people find that walking improves their mood.

A woman hiking in the mountains

Longer challenges will always require additional training and a specific nutrition programme, both great for keeping health and weight in check. Many people make the mistake of eating way more food than is needed when they start training for an event or challenge. Don’t forget, the body has masses of energy stored both in the muscles and organs as glycogen (glucose) or in the fat cells. If in doubt, research online: there are plenty of resources and recommendations from people who have already been on such treks and hikes that you can learn from.

Enjoy the coast

Obviously the UK is surrounded by water and this means there are plentiful coastal walks and paths to be investigated. Coastal walking brings its own special blend of magic as well as more challenging hikes. Most are gently undulating paths, as opposed to more difficult climbs, but a little prior research will give you the information you need.

A family enjoying a coastal walk

Why not celebrate the success of your coastal walk by enjoying some delicious seafood once you’ve finished. In season right now, squid is great barbequed, tossed in a salad, stir fried or grilled, making an excellent high protein, low fat post-walk treat! Squid is also great with prawns, tomatoes and linguine to properly re-fuel after exercise. It’s essential to eat protein after exercise to help muscles repair, plus carbohydrate replaces glycogen into the muscles so you’ll have plenty of energy the next day.

So get out there and get those legs moving! Find the walking that suits you best and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.

 

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Three deliciously nutritious breakfast treats for Mother’s Day

Three generations family Grandmother, mother and daughter

With another Mother’s Day just around the corner, why not serve up a delicious and highly nutritious breakfast to really put a smile on her face? Or why not treat yourself? In many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day; the body has been ‘fasting’ for a number of hours and blood sugar levels are low. The body’s natural circadian rhythm is saying it’s time to grab the day and get moving, so it needs some high-quality fuel.

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So what better way to start Mother’s Day than with a really healthy treat-filled breakfast?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyers shares three healthy breakfasts to serve your mum, or yourself, this Mother’s Day.

Have another Pancake Day!

Pancakes with syrup and blueberries

Officially, Pancake Day has just passed. However, pancakes are a really great breakfast choice for a number of reasons and a real treat for you or your Mum.

This recipe uses:

Egg – great for protein

Wholemeal flour – low glycaemic for sustained energy

Banana – loaded with heart-loving potassium and hormone-balancing vitamin B6

Almond butter – for protein and skin-loving omega-3 fats

Coconut oil – which has a higher smoke point making it healthier for cooking

Blueberries – packed with antioxidants

Maple syrup – as a special treat!

All the ingredients, apart from the fruit, maple syrup and coconut oil, should be whisked up and then added to a pan of melted coconut oil. The batter needs about a minute a side to cook. Once on the plate (after they’ve been tossed) add sliced banana, blueberries and maple syrup. Then rush straight up the stairs and put a smile on your mum’s face! Or enjoy yourself. A delicious start to the day.

If you mum’s a chocolate-lover, try adding 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder to the batter mix.

Veggie-packed frittata

Spinach and mushroom frittata

 

Frittata is a delicious, super-healthy breakfast and loaded with energy giving nutrients to really get the day off to a brilliant start. Eating ‘5-a-day’ may not be top of you or your Mum’s list of priorities today but you will be pleased to know this one provides at least some of these.

This frittata includes:

Spinach – great for energy-giving iron

Cherry tomatoes – which contain the antioxidant lycopene

Potatoes – loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C

Mushrooms – great for energising B-vitamins

Eggs – packed with protein

It’s always best to have protein at breakfast time, whatever your choice of meal, as it helps stabilise blood sugar and maintains feelings of fullness for longer.

For this delicious Mother’s Day treat, the mushrooms should be gently fried and then set aside. The diced potatoes and tomatoes are then fried separately. Two eggs can then be added to the pan, along with the mushrooms and spinach. Cook gently for around 10 minutes and then brown under the grill.

This might take a little longer to prepare, but you and your Mum are certainly worth the effort. It’s a wonderfully nutritious start to the day.

The loveliest smashed avocado

Smashed avocado, cherry tomatoes and feta on toast

Smashed avocado is very popular right now so why not treat you or your Mum to some today? Many people avoid avocados, fearing they’ll help pile on the pounds. Whilst they are fairly high in calories, they’re packed full of healthy fats, and so can still be eaten regularly.

Avocados have some protein but most importantly are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which will also keep hunger in check. Plus they’re loaded with vitamin E so you or your Mum’s skin will glow!

For this you will need:

Avocado

Cherry tomatoes

Lime Juice

Balsamic Vinegar

Feta Cheese

Rocket

Sourdough bread

Toast some sourdough bread (it’s much lower in gluten so potentially less disruptive to the digestion). Smash the avocado in a bowl with some lime juice and salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix a few chopped cherry tomatoes with some balsamic vinegar. Then spread the avocado mixture on the toast and load it with the tomato mixture, crumble over some delicious feta cheese and finish with some rocket. A truly delicious treat on Mother’s Day.

So enjoy making one of these three great breakfasts either for your Mum or for yourself and your family this Mother’s Day.

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Eat to beat anxiety: top nutrition for lifting your mood

Dark days, post-Christmas blues, money worries, body issues and more all affect our mood and can cause anxiety. The early part of the year often brings distress for many people.

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The good news is that there are lots of foods and herbs that can help lift our mood and ease anxiety. Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite mood-boosters.

 

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing all the essential amino acids that make up proteins. Most importantly, they’re rich in vitamin B12 which is needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Indeed, deficiency of B12 can affect the brain and nervous system first which in turn can affect your mood.

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs in all their forms, make a great start to the day and because of their high protein content, you will also stay fuller for longer.

Portobello mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are high in vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin. In years past, severe deficiency of vitamin B3 lead to something called pellagra characterised by dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Symptoms also include depression and anxiety. Thankfully, this has mostly been eradicated, though it is still a problem in developing countries, but it proves the importance of this nutrient in brain health and for helping banish anxiety.

Portobello mushrooms in a basket

The great news is that Portobello mushrooms also contain some vitamin D (widely deficient at this time of year), and a lack of which causes low mood.

So, get chopping and add them to stir fries, pasta dishes, on toast with beans for breakfast or simply roasted as a vegetable side.

Lavender

Top of the list as being one of nature’s most calming herbs is lavender. Many people report improved sleep after spraying their pillow with lavender. It appears to work in a number of ways on the nervous system, but it certainly seems to activate GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters[1].

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Lavender also makes a really delicious tea infusion. All you need to do is pour boiling water over one teaspoon of the dried herb, cover and leave to infuse for about five minutes. You can sweeten with a little honey if desired and you’ll soon be feeling more relaxed.

Green Tea

All teas have some health benefits, particularly for their immune-boosting antioxidants. However, green tea contains the amino acid, L-theanine, which, just like lavender, helps promote GABA. Green tea is especially high in something called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. This is a particularly powerful antioxidant that works on brain function, also helping to promote GABA.

A cup of green tea

If you’re feeling anxious, then it’s good to get into the habit of drinking three cups of green tea daily. It can also help reduce the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine if you’ve succumbed to that early morning double espresso!

Oats

Oats are high in the amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin in the body, our happy hormone. Serotonin is then converted into the sleep hormone melatonin; a lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety.

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

Oats will also provide you with sustained energy throughout the day, plus your mood will be lifted from having a boost of serotonin. Alternate an egg-based breakfast with porridge through the week and you should start to notice a difference.

So if you are struggling with anxiety or low mood this winter, then don’t despair; nature has provided a wealth of remedies for you to try.

[1] Peir Hossein Koulivand et al. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;61304

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