Veganuary 2022: top 5 vegan foods to try

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

Veganuary has now become the ‘buzz’ word for January!  Going vegan or flexi vegan for January – or even longer – is increasingly popular as we continue to recognise its benefits to health. 

However, with the greater availability of pre-packed vegan and vegetarian meals in the supermarkets, it’s not surprising that people become confused about what’s healthy and what’s not.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five vegan foods to make choices so much easier.

Quinoa

Quinoa is increasingly becoming one of the world’s heathiest foods and not just with vegans.  Quinoa is high in protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, is gluten-free and contains a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

One of the biggest watchpoints for vegans is ensuring you eat sufficient protein, and this means including all nine essential amino acids.  These can’t be produced in the body, therefore need to be eaten daily. Quinoa ticks this box, although, as with all plant proteins, it’s slightly low in a few of the amino acids, hence the need for variety.  That said, it contains a very respectable 8 grams of protein per 185 grams of cooked quinoa.

Its impressive nutrient profile, especially of bone loving magnesium and phosphorus, plus its high antioxidant content, more that warrants its title of ‘superfood’.

Fermented soy

Soy can be very confusing as not all products are created equal! You might see soya lecithin or soya protein isolate in a number of products, especially protein powders.  Whilst foods containing these do provide protein, they don’t have the fabulous health benefits of fermented soy.

Teryaki,Tempeh,With,Rice,And,Roasted,Vegetables

 

Tofu, tempeh, miso, natto, tamari, and kombucha are where it’s at for the real health benefits.  This is because fermented soy has a very positive effect on the gut bacteria (also known as the gut microbiome), which is so essential for overall health. 

Whilst other soy products do provide some health benefits, try to include fermented soy as much as possible.  Tofu and tempeh make great additions to any stir fry dishes.

Legumes

You may have heard the word but what exactly are they? Beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas is the answer.  These foods are great sources of protein, contain plenty of bone-loving calcium, and fibre as well as energising B-vitamins and iron.  And if you’re looking to lose a few kilos during January, legumes can really help as they’re great for blood sugar balance, being low on the glycaemic index.

Legumes,,Lentils,,Chikpea,And,Beans,Assortment,In,Different,Bowls,On

We know from much research that vegan diets are very heart-healthy which is partly down to the quantity of legumes frequently consumed. It seems they help lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol and general inflammation, all risk factors for heart disease.

Great recipes to try are Hearty Lentil Soup, Chickpea Salad, Black Bean Burgers or Pasta with Chickpeas – all totally delicious and super-healthy too!

Flaxseeds

Want to give your heart some further love during Veganuary?  Then sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseeds onto your porridge, overnight oats or yoghurt. Flaxseeds are a great source of the heart-healthy omega-3 fats which are essential and must be taken into the diet very regularly.  The omega-3s are also needed for hormone balance, and eye, brain, skin, and joint health. 

Whole,And,Ground,Brown,Flax,Seeds,Or,Linseeds,On,Wooden

It’s always best to use the ground flaxseeds rather than whole ones (often referred to as linseeds) as they need to be chewed to release the lignan content. Whole linseeds tend to go in and come out whole which means the body isn’t gaining all their health benefits.

Nutritional yeast

It might not sound very appetising but if you think of nutritional yeast as a healthy substitute for Parmesan cheese, you’ve got a great alternative. Nutritional yeast has a slightly cheesy, nutty flavour, is generally found in powdered or flaked form, and is therefore very easy to incorporate into loads of dishes.

Nutritional,Yeast,,Vegan,Cheese.

Importantly, nutritional yeast is rich in vitamin B12, often deficient in vegan diets as it is generally only found in animal produce. Plus, it’s loaded with other B-vitamins so your energy levels will be getting a great boost too!

So why not make this Veganuary the healthiest yet and also continue to add these top vegan food to your diet throughout the year.

Stay well.

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Vegetable bakes: 3 delicious and nutritious dishes to fuel your autumn

A range of roasted vegetables

Baking isn’t all about making cakes as much as we love them! Vegetables can also feature in a range of delicious baked dishes, and now really is the time to be increasing your vegetable intake.

We know from published data and research that people are eating even fewer vegetables than they were before the pandemic.  With winter around the corner, now is the time to boost your immune system and get some powerful nutrients, delicious flavours, and gorgeous colours into your diet.

This National Baking Week, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three favourite vegetable bakes.

Roasted vegetables

This is hands down my favourite way of baking vegetables!  Not only do roasted veggies look great on the plate because of their array of colours, the flavours and textures bring out all that is great about them.

Even better, this is not going to take you hours in the kitchen. It will deliver a wealth of nutrients and you can vary the recipe to suit the season, what’s in your store cupboard, and where the mood takes you.

My favourite vegetables for nutrient value, taste and colour are:

Tomatoes

shutterstock_454912315 tomatoes Mar17

Rich in a powerful antioxidant lycopene to protect immunity and future-proof health.

Courgettes

A range of courgettes

Full of lutein and zeaxanthin that are great for eye health particularly if you’re spending long hours in front of screens.

Broccoli

Broccoli florets on a plate

An all-round superfood but especially great for digestion, detoxification, and antioxidant protection.

Red onion

Red,Onions,On,Rustic,Wood

Slightly more powerful in taste than white onion and loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C and quercetin.  If you suffer from any type of allergies, then quercetin can really help to dampen things down.

Garlic

shutterstock_552242461 garlic Aug17

Another great all-rounder and a natural antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial botanical.  Furthermore, it’s great for reducing high blood pressure and helping to manage cholesterol.

Carrots

shutterstock_250834906 carrots July16

High in beta carotene which is great for the immune system.  Beta carotene is turned into vitamin A which is needed for good night vision: it’s no myth that carrots help you see in the dark!

Simply chop up the veggies, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 30-40 minutes.  You might want to add the tomatoes about halfway through, so they are not overcooked.  You can also add some fresh herbs of your choice. Serve with whatever takes your fancy but a tray of roasted vegetables is delicious with any fish or chicken dish or simply served with quinoa.

Autumnal Bean and Vegetable Bake

As seasons change, so does the seasonal availability of fresh vegetables.  The body needs warmth right now, hence nature provides lots of root vegetables at this time of year.

Pumpkins, synonymous with this time of year,  butternut squash, parsnip and beetroot are great roasted with cumin. These veggies are all rich in antioxidants to protect the immune system during the winter months.

Colorful,Blend,Of,Roasted,Potatoes,,Yams,,Carrots,,Yellow,Beets,,Parsnips

While these are roasting, fry some onions, with garlic, paprika, ground coriander and cumin. These are all warming spices giving the body what it craves at this time of year.  Add some tinned tomatoes (rich in lycopene) and cannellini beans.  All beans are packed with essential protein, fibre and vitamin B6, great for hormone balance.

Canned,White,Beans,With,Green,Fresh,Dill,Leaf

Leave to simmer for 20 minutes then put everything together in an oven dish, add some breadcrumbs and roast until crisp.  You’ve produced a highly nutritious and delicious baked dish!

Cauliflower Cheese with a twist

Cauliflower is part of the highly prized cruciferous family.  As with all the family members (including broccoli), these guys can’t put a step wrong when it comes to protecting overall health.  Add some cheese and everything looks brighter.

In this dish the cauliflower florets are roasted, with some vitamin C-rich red peppers and onions, together with mushrooms, which provide some Vitamin D.  Towards the end of cooking make up a traditional cheese sauce using delicious and flavoursome cheddar cheese.

Loaded,Vegetable,Casserole,With,Broccoli,,Cauliflower,And,Leek.,Top,View,

Pour over the vegetables, top with some grated parmesan and you’ll have the most delicious and warming autumn meal, that’s also loaded with nutrients.  For vegetarians, this is great for providing a protein hit.  Simply serve with a side salad if desired to further enrich the colour and nutrient content.

So, enjoy mixing and matching your vegetables in baked dishes this autumn – it’s a win-win for your health too!

Stay well.

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Heart health: Eat your way to the right cholesterol readings

Cholesterol,Word,Written,On,Slate,With,Stethoscope,On,Wooden,Table

Most of us are aware of cholesterol and understand its relationship to heart health. However, as with everything in life, it’s all about balance between good and bad.

There are two types of cholesterol – HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol’ and LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.

This National Cholesterol Month Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explains the highs and lows of good and bad cholesterol. 

Essentially there are two types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL, known as good cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, also known as bad cholesterol).

The HDL transport cholesterol out of the arteries, where too much can cause blockages, and takes it back to the liver for recycling. The LDLs however deposit cholesterol into the arteries.  Therefore, it makes absolute sense that we need higher levels of HDLs and lower levels of LDLs.  The good news is that these readings can be highly influenced by the food we eat.

Raising the good with berry fruits

Berry fruits are rich in vitamin C which not only drives down HDLs but protects the artery walls against oxidative damage.  This can happen if there’s too much fat circulating in the blood and the fats become damaged.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

Therefore, berries are your friends in this respect so enjoy them as much as possible.  Why not add them to your morning cereal or porridge, eat them on the run with some natural yoghurt or enjoy them just as they are, as a snack.

Get fishy with the oily variety

Salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines are some of the oiliest fish and the most heart protective.  Specifically, the long-chain fatty acids in these fish (EPA and DHA) help raise levels of HDLs and reduce LDLs, and the research is very clear about this. Ideally oily fish needs to be eaten two or three times a week for best effects.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Salmon, for example, is very easy to cook quickly in the oven with some lemon juice and dill and can either be eaten with veggies and rice or as tomorrow’s lunch, cold with salad.  Tinned sardines on wholegrain toast also make an easy lunch.  In fact, tinned sardines provide dual benefits for your heart and bone health so they’re worth adding to your diet.

Snack on some black or red grapes

It’s no secret that red wine (in moderation) can be heart-healthy down to its high antioxidant content which protects the arteries against fat damage.  This is because the grapes that are used to make red wine contain special types of antioxidants.  It’s actually the grape seeds and skins that contain the most health benefits.

shutterstock_53130070 grapes make wine Mar15

Whilst red wine is the favourite tipple for many people, having too much is certainly not a good idea.  However, eating plenty of dark grapes really is a smart plan. Even better, they are one of the most transportable fruits if you need snacks on the run.

Eat fermented foods

Heart disease is not common in Japan which may, in part, be down to their high consumption of fermented soy protein foods, specifically, miso, tempeh and tofu.  Soy protein helps balance HDLs and LDLs in the right way and is therefore deemed very heart healthy.

A,Set,Of,Fermented,Food,Great,For,Gut,Health,-

As many of us are thinking about the environment when we make our food choices, eating plant-based protein is a good option.  The great news is that these foods are very easy to incorporate into your meal planning: tofu and tempeh can be quickly added to stir fries or as some protein in a smoothie.  Miso soup also makes a great low-calorie, low-fat snack, providing a quick energy boost when most needed.

Avoid trans fats

Of all the triggers for raised cholesterol and lipoproteins, eating trans fats primarily found in processed foods and margarines, are the main culprits.  They may be listed on the labels as ‘trans-fats’ or ‘hydrogenated fats’ and should be avoided as much as possible.

These fats (generally polyunsaturated fats) are chemically unstable and when processed and heated, are altered to the extent that the body can’t deal with them effectively.  Unfortunately, they’re a massive driver for raising cholesterol levels.

Assortment,Of,Unhealthy,Food,,Top,View,,Copy,Space.,Unhealthy,Eating,

The biggest problem foods are generally margarines, biscuits, cakes, cereal bars, and many processed meals so minimise these foods in your diet or avoid altogether.

With a little planning, HDLs and LDLs can go in the right directions to help improve your cholesterol status and support your overall health.

Stay well.

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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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Protein: what to eat to fuel your workouts and day to day diet

A range of foods containing protein

With National Fitness Day on the calendar this week, it’s the perfect time to review your protein intake to ensure it is meeting your body’s needs with or without exercise. 

Whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, protein intake is an essential part of a well-balanced diet and helps to fuel your activity.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top protein tips.

For the meat eaters

Animal produce is a great source of protein and contains all the essential amino acids. Importantly, meat is a rich source of leucine, isoleucine and valine, the branched-chain amino acids and key muscle builders and repair instigators.  Whilst many people, especially those doing more strength training exercise or body building, eat these after a workout, it’s also really important to be having sufficient quantities of all essential aminos throughout the day.

Roast chicken leg with potatoes and vegetables

Depending on body weight and activity level, aim to get around 20 to 30 grams of protein into each meal.  This may not always be possible depending on your schedule; hence protein shakes can be particularly helpful to plug the gaps if you’re very active.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Start the day right with a protein-filled breakfast such which includes two eggs (18 grams of protein total), with an omelette being a great choice.  Lunch could include some low-fat fish such as canned tuna in a wrap, with dinner containing turkey or chicken.  Both are lower in fat than pork, lamb, or beef: try to eat these meats no more than twice a week.

For the vegetarians

Vegetable sources of protein generally don’t contain all essential amino acids, although there are notable exceptions such as hemp protein.  Some vegetarians eat fish (pescatarians) and some don’t.  However, eggs and dairy contain all essential amino acids, therefore it’s important to eat these foods in order to get the quota of these key amino acids.

With so many egg-based options for breakfast, you need never get bored of the same dish! Eggs with hollandaise sauce and spinach, frittata, or, poached eggs with smashed avocado on sourdough or wholemeal toast are great options.

shutterstock_716903197 avocado and poached egg Dec17

When it comes to grains, then quinoa is one of the best, boasting all essential amino acids, albeit slightly low in some.  However, quinoa makes a great base to any salad, with goat’s cheese, beetroot and walnuts being a great addition, whilst also supplying more protein.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

There’s certainly no shortage of options for dinner recipes with stir fries winning the day and fermented forms of protein such as tempeh and tofu making great choices.  Add some grated ginger, spring onions, soy sauce and a little honey with some chopped veggies and you’ve made a fabulous protein-filled meal. Enjoy the stir fry with some whole grain brown rice or basmati and you’ll be fuelled for your next morning workout!

For the vegans

It’s important for vegans to be aware of protein intake purely because vegetable proteins can be lacking in all essential amino acids and are also low in some.  Therefore, it’s important to include a good combination of grains and beans in your diet, though they don’t need to be in the same meal.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Porridge makes one of the best starts to the day, especially if you’re planning on doing some exercise, such as a longer run, a couple of hours later.  And you can really power up the protein content by adding some nut butter, almond milk and stirring in some cacoa nibs.  Cacoa nibs are the less processed part of the cocoa bean and have a higher protein content.

Pre or post work-out lunch is a great time for including some energising beans in some form, and there are plenty to choose from.  Lunch could be something as simple as some haricot beans, mixed with tinned tomatoes, rosemary and garlic on sourdough bread or making up an easy chickpea salad.

Chickpea salad with feta

For dinner, lentils provide another fabulous source of protein with one cup providing about 18 grams.  Lentil bolognese therefore delivers on taste, protein content and energy.  Add in some thyme and other mixed herbs, tinned tomatoes, onions and celery and you’ve got some powerful antioxidants to boost immune health too.

So, whatever your diet preferences, power up your work-outs and overall nutrition with good quality protein choices.

Stay well.

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Lunchtime nutrition: three ‘Back to Work’ lunches you’ll love

CLose up of chicken salad lunch at desk while working in office

If you’re one of the many people getting ready to go back to the office, one dilemma that hasn’t disappeared during the pandemic is “what to eat for lunch”. 

Many of us prefer, or have to, take lunch with us; therefore, it can become a daily conundrum. Each lunchtime is an opportunity to provide the body with much-needed nutrients to sustain your energy throughout the day, so it’s a good idea to plan in advance.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some much-needed lunchtime inspiration for your return to work.

Wrap up some goodness

Wraps are the perfect transportable lunch that will provide a great array of nutrients without causing any uncomfortable stomach bloat, as they are not a ‘heavy’ as normal bread.  Plus, it’s  really easy to buy gluten-free wraps or those made with sweet potatoes, spinach, or coconut flour.

Chicken,And,Salad,Tortilla

It’s important to include plenty of protein either from animal or vegetable sources.  For example, turkey is high in protein and lower in fat than chicken and therefore makes a great choice.  Why not wrap up some lettuce, turkey, sliced cabbage (red or white are both great for the digestion) and some cucumber strips, with a little mayonnaise?

Tortilla,With,Vegetables,And,Hummus,With,Chickpeas.,Top,View.,Black

As a veggie option, spread the wrap with plenty of hummus and then lay lots of lettuce, avocado slices, cucumber sticks and tomato.  For a little extra pizazz, why not add some cheese of your choice and within minutes you’ve created a colourful and nutritious lunch.  Both of these wrap options contain plenty of protein, vitamin C, energising B-vitamins, and immune-boosting vitamin E.

Zingy rice noodles

Rice noodles are a great lunchtime choice; not too heavy but still providing plenty of nutrients, which can taste even better depending on what you put with them. It’s good to get your base flavours right and garlic is the perfect start; great for the immune, digestion and cardiovascular systems.

Rice,Noodles,With,Chicken,,Mushrooms,Mun,And,Vegetables,,Prepared,In

Fry some garlic and fresh chopped chilli (a great fat-burner), and then add some chicken, prawns, or tofu.  Add some soy sauce, lime juice, chopped carrots and peppers and your base is made.  All you need is to quickly cook the rice noodles, add them to the mixture and then serve into your  transportable pots. It’s a great idea to make up a couple of lunch boxes for your working week as they keep well in the fridge.

Tasty cauliflower rice

If you’re watching your waistline, then this dish is perfect.  It’s high in protein (around 16g per portion) but low in carbs.  Cauliflower is a member of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, and contains plenty of antioxidants, protecting the body from degenerative diseases.

Cauliflower,Rice,With,Vegetables,In,Bowl,On,White,Background.,Paleo

Chop up a whole cauliflower and then blitz in a food processor so that its texture becomes like fine grains.  Then mix up some immune-boosting spices including cinnamon and allspice. Coat the cauliflower in the spices and put into a roasting tin to cook in the oven. Once it’s cooled you can add whatever takes your fancy, but chopped onion, mint, parsley, and feta are fabulous accompaniments.

Alternatively, you can quickly grill or stir fry some tofu with teriyaki sauce and chopped spring onion and add to the cauliflower.  Tofu is not only a great source of protein, it is also good for the digestive system and contains lots of calcium.

Three extra lunchtime tips

  • If you’re struggling with hormones, especially during the menopause, throw a good handful of edamame beans into your wrap or lunch box.

Edamame,Beans,In,Bowl,On,Light,Background.,Close,Up,View

  • Any chopped, raw vegetables with a dip such as hummus make great snacks and really improve your daily nutrient status.

Hummus,With,Vegetables,On,Plate

  • Always think about cooking extra portions when preparing your evening meal, such as chicken breast, poached or steamed salmon, or roasted vegetables. These can then be incorporated into your lunches for the week.

Baked,Salmon,Pasta,Salad,With,Spiral,Rotini,Vegetable,Pasta,In

Stay well.

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Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in August

People enjoying al fresco eating in the summer

With so many of us enjoying staycations in the UK this year, it provides the perfect opportunity for us to fully enjoy all the glorious foods currently in season right here.

Everything tastes better when we eat foods at the time of year nature intended.  In fact, foods tend to come into season at exactly the right time for our bodies to gain the most benefits from their nutrients when we need them.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives us a taste of what’s on offer this season.

Runner beans

With so many people now enjoying ‘growing their own’ in allotments or gardens, runner beans are a great ‘go-to’ vegetable.  After the initial work involved of creating a support network for the growing beans, the results are well worth the effort.

A bunch of runner beans on a wooden background

Runner beans are closely related to other beans, referred to as legumes, including black and pinto, but contain less calories.  And whilst they all contain some of the same nutrients, the greenness of runner beans means their chlorophyll content is high.  Chlorophyll is often referred to as the ‘blood of life’ because it helps to naturally cleanse the blood but also provides a range of vitamins and minerals.

Runner beans also deliver a good source of vitamin C and bone and heart-loving vitamin K.  However, their overall strong nutrient content can be easily diminished from over cooking, therefore lightly steaming is always best and will retain their crispness.

Globe artichokes

Whilst not always the quickest of vegetables to prepare, artichokes deliver some wonderful and unique health benefits, so patience will be rewarded.  Globe artichokes need the tough outer leaves removed, together with the inedible fibrous ‘choke’ in the middle, revealing the edible heart. The active compound in artichokes is called cynarin which is great at detoxifying the liver.  Research also suggests they are supportive of heart health, helping reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Close up of artichokes

Importantly, artichokes help replenish the friendly gut bacteria that is so essential for good overall health.  They need around 30 minutes of gentle boiling until softened and when cooled are great simply served with vinaigrette and lemon juice. Alternatively, they’re delicious grilled when cut in half lengthways.

Mackerel

Mackerel is often referred to as a very ‘fishy’ fish because it has a strong flavour. Mackerel is a fantastic source of the super-healthy omega-3 fats.  The body can’t make omega-3s, so they must be eaten regularly in the diet, and we know that as a nation we are incredibly deficient. Omega-3s are needed for a healthy heart, brain, eyes, hormones, and joints so they’re pretty important!  It is recommended that we eat at least two portions of oily fish per week to get what the body needs.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

Mackerel is often sourced in UK waters or from the North Atlantic or Mediterranean.  It’s strong flavour, and oily texture, means it can be simply served with lemon and herbs or with a fresh salad that includes sweet tomatoes.

Plaice

Whilst plaice is available throughout the year, it is generally much fleshier and tastier at this time of year.  As with all white fish, plaice is a great source of low-fat protein and is great for easy everyday meals grilled with other flavours.  Indeed, since it has a subtle taste, it works well with stronger flavours of olives, tomatoes, spring onions, rosemary, and chives.

Thai fish dish

Plaice is also a good source of the mineral iodine which is often deficient in women and is essential for the growth of babies and children as well as being well utilised for cognitive function.  Plaice certainly provides a low-cost, easy, and nutritious food option this season.

Plums

The season for plums is short so they need to be grabbed and enjoyed whilst they’re around.  There are over 300 varieties of plum available, but it’s always good to choose the sweetest ones to avoid having to add too much additional sugar to a dish.

A bowl full of plums

Their beautiful orange flesh signals plenty of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed by the body. Plus, they’re rich in vitamin C and also tryptophan from which our body makes our happy hormone ‘serotonin’ – that’s something to smile about for sure! Even better, plums work really well in sweet or savoury dishes; try them in a crumble, with chicken, or simply poached with cinnamon and honey.

Many people perhaps don’t realise that prunes are dried plums, and both are therefore rich in essential fibre.

So, why not visit some local markets or farm shops this August and be sure to enjoy the season whilst it’s here!

Stay well.

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Back to basics: everyday nutrition tips

shutterstock_335465993 nutrition words Mar21

The whole topic of nutrition has been highly glamorised in recent years, partly down to social media.  Whilst this is great in many ways because good nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness, it has left many people confused about what is right and what is wrong.

When it comes to a balanced diet there are a few simple rules which we can all follow to ensure we are getting the optimum nutrition we need.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes us back to the basics of daily nutrition.

What are macros?

As the name suggests, they are big, and in this case refer to the groups of food that we eat most of.  Essentially, there are three macronutrients: proteins,  carbohydrates and fats. Some people also talk about fibre as being another macro such is its important in overall health, although technically fibre is a carbohydrate.

Protein – essential building blocks for life

All macros form an essential part of the daily diet, so any restrictive diet is going to lead to nutrient deficiencies somewhere along the line.  Protein is literally the building block of life. It is essential for every bone and muscle in the body, as well as producing hormones, neurotransmitters and supporting the immune system.

A range of foods containing protein

There are nine essential amino acids that must be eaten in the diet (there are other amino acids that are essential, but these can be produced in the body). These nine amino acids are found primarily in animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy and plant sources quinoa, buckwheat, and soybeans.  If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you should combine grains and pulses to get sufficient amino acids, although this does not need to be in the same meal.

Carbohydrates – energy and nutrient providers

Carbohydrates, including fibre, provide an essential energy source for our muscles and brain.  Indeed, the brain requires around 30% of all carbohydrate the body intakes. Carbs are not all created equally in that slow releasing ones (essentially whole foods and fruits and vegetables) provide sustainable energy throughout the day. Conversely, fast release carbs primarily found in processed and refined foods give an energy boost then an energy crash due to their adverse effect on blood sugar.

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Carbs are often maligned but this food group contains some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and are loaded with antioxidants, so the body is missing out if they are not being consumed.

Fat – protecting and sustaining

Another maligned food group is fat.  However, fat provides the second energy source for the body, and it is essential for absorbing our fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

There is often confusion around good and ‘bad’ fats.  Essentially, good fats are the omegas 3 and 6 which must be eaten in the diet as the body cannot make them.  The omega 3s are crucial for hormones, joints, the heart, brain and eyes. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends in this respect.

shutterstock_196052645 avocadoes Oct15

Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil is great for the heart and should be included in the diet.  However, try to avoid the damaged fats; the trans fats found in margarines and refined foods.  The body cannot deal with these and trans fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, so try to be aware of not overeating the foods that contain them.

Fruits and vegetables – overflowing with goodness

As nutritionists we talk endlessly about getting sufficient fruits and vegetables into the diet.  Why? Because quite simply they are loaded with nutrients, especially the trace minerals that are so often deficient in the typical western diet.  It is all about colour and variety and not over thinking it.  Try to have plenty of colour on your plate at every mealtime.

A range of fruits and vegetables

There’s also confusion as to whether juicing is good or bad.  Juices are a great way of getting more nutrients into the body.  You might lose the fibre content, but juices are still loaded with nutrients.  Try to include more vegetables than fruits in your juices or blends to keep fructose (a fruit sugar) content to a minimum.

Water – pure and simple

We talk about the body being around 80% water.  Of course, this is not pure water because it is made up of solutes and everything within cellular tissue.  However, the body still needs plenty of plain water to keep it sufficiently hydrated.  It will quickly complain if dehydrated and you’ll feel low in energy, suffer brain fog, plus constipation may be problematic.

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

Our water needs vary depending on activity levels.  However, as a general rule, if you are having around 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily you will be doing ok, plus fruits and vegetables can count towards this target since they’re high in water.

The body’s needs are relatively simple so there is no need to overcomplicate diets; just try and stick to the basics for well-balanced nutrition.

Stay well.

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Five breakfast boosts for a healthier start to the day

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As we approach mid-year, with hopefully the promise of some summer sunshine, now is a great time to overhaul your breakfast to ensure it’s as nourishing and energising as possible. 

Each mealtime is an opportunity to fuel the body with some of the 45 nutrients it needs every day, and a well-balanced breakfast is very important. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five breakfast choices to super-charge your day!

Avocado on wholemeal bagel

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Avocados are really ‘on trend’ food wise, and for very good reason.  And whilst many people avoid avocados because of their high fat content, this is actually one of their plus points. The body needs a certain amount fat in the diet, not least because it’s essential for absorbing our fat-soluble nutrients, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Avocados are also rich in monounsaturated fats which are help support heart health. Choosing a wholemeal bagel as opposed to white will deliver lots more energising B-vitamins, in a balanced way, and sprinkling a few pumpkin seeds will top up protein levels and essential omega-3 fats too.

Chia seed porridge

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Porridge is another breakfast staple. It can be eaten hot or the oats can be soaked overnight in a little apple juice and then eaten cold the next day.  Either way, oats are packed with fibre, so are great for digestive health, plus they naturally include beta-glucans which help reduce cholesterol levels.

It’s great to mix chia seeds with flaxseeds as a topping as both are rich sources of the essential and healthy omega-3s. Then add some vitamin C-rich berries and delicious oat yoghurt.  This is a great option for vegans and will help you power through until lunchtime.

Eggs and mushrooms

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Eggs make one of the best starts to the day because of their high protein content.  This helps balance blood sugar levels and, in turn weight, mood and energy.

Button mushrooms, which are a source of immune-boosting vitamin D, are gently cooked, sprinkled with thyme, in a little olive oil with chopped tomatoes for additional antioxidants and flavour.  Spread them over the plate and poach one or two eggs and pop on the top.

Gluten-free buckwheat pancakes

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Despite its name buckwheat contains no wheat at all.  This makes it the perfect base for the many people who find they can’t tolerate gluten which predominates in wheat-based foods.  This is because gluten is rather ‘sticky’ and tends to cause digestive problems for people even if they’re not allergic or intolerant to wheat.

Buckwheat is also high in protein and low on the glycaemic index, meaning energy levels will be sustained through till lunchtime. These pancakes can be made with egg if desired, and your choice of milk with a little butter and sugar to suit your tastes. Top with fruit and natural yoghurt for a wonderfully delicious and nutritious start to your day.

Protein-powered oats

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Whilst oats do contain some protein, if you want a powerful re-fuel after your morning workout, then this breakfast is a great choice.  All nuts are high in protein and although peanuts are not actually nuts in the true sense of the word, they still deliver on the protein front and help repair worked muscles.

If you’re short of time after a workout (or just generally pushed for time), then why not soak some oats overnight in some water with frozen berries of your choice.  It’s always great to have some frozen fruit to hand and it’s just as nutritious as fresh, so there’s no need to worry if getting to the shops is an issue.  Simply stir in some peanut butter or other nut butter such as cashew, and you’re super-charged and ready for your day.

Try not to skip breakfast, as this can often lead to poor food choices later in the day and instead enjoy one of these recipes to charge up your day.

Stay well.

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Suzie’s five top tips to support your health

shutterstock_583532458 nutrition word cloud heart Mar21

We all want great health and to look and feel well.  Good nutrition is the cornerstone to health; there is so much truth in the adage ‘You are what you eat’. 

But when it comes to the right nutrition where should we start and what should we prioritise?

This World Health Day we ask clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, to help simplify things by sharing her top five health tips.

Routine creates balance

Stressful and busy lives can negatively impact our eating patterns.  Eating at erratic times, missing meals and grabbing food on the run will just create more stress on the body.  When we’re stressed, the body naturally shuts down the digestive organs by diverting blood flow away, which in turn interrupts absorption of essential nutrients.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

Additionally, the body likes to know when it’s going to be fed otherwise it will start storing fat for survival and naturally slow metabolic rate. Keep eating times regular, chew mindfully, savouring every mouthful (you’ll also naturally not overeat) and take some pride in what you have prepared.  Food is one of life’s amazing pleasures, so use it to feed your amazing body as it deserves. Put eating a varied and balanced diet at the top of your priority list.

Take vitamin D all year-round

If your joints and muscles are stiff, you’re feeling low in mood or sugar cravings are off the scale, chances are you’re low in vitamin D.  Public Health England advise we should be taking a supplement all year round, (and don’t stop just because the sun’s come out!).  It is advised that we should all take a supplement of 10 micrograms daily as a minimum, such is the level of deficiency in the population: in fact, ongoing research telling us we need more. Interestingly, upper safe levels for supplementation of vitamin D are 75 micrograms daily.  If you’ve still got any of the above symptoms, or blood tests reveal you’re low in vitamin D, then do increase the dosage.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Oily fish with bones, eggs and mushrooms are good food sources of vitamin D so eat these but you’ll still need to supplement as well.

Eat the colours of the rainbow

I talk so much about eating a rainbow of foods and it’s one of the best insurance policies you can choose for protecting health.  The colour of foods, especially in fruits and vegetables, all represent nutrients, and especially antioxidants in many different forms. All are essential for protecting the body against free radical damage.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

If counting portions of fruit and vegetables is a bit too much (and let’s face it we can’t always know what an individual portion size is), then just aim for meals that are full of colour.  Without even counting, you will be eating a rainbow every day and your health will love every mouthful.

Don’t fear fat

Fat is not only essential for providing energy and keeping us warm, it’s also needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin D. Healthy fats include the omegas 3 and 6, which can’t be produced in the body, as well as olive oil, walnut oil, sesame oil and a variety of other nuts and seeds with their oils.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

In short, the body needs them every day, and eaten in the right quantity, healthy fats are not going to cause weight gain.  On the contrary, without sufficient healthy fats in the diet, the body will start craving sugar causing blood sugar imbalances and often consequential weight gain.

Prioritise protein

Many people wrongly think that starchy carbohydrates fill you up.  And for a time, they will. Carbohydrates from whole grain sources such as oats and whole wheat bread and pasta are slow-energy releasing, keeping everything balanced.  However, it’s protein that keeps you feeling fuller for longer.  Most importantly, protein is essential for numerous body functions such as maintaining healthy immune and hormone systems, building and repairing muscle and bone, and essential detoxification processes.  Ideally it needs to be eaten at every meal where possible.

A range of foods containing protein

The good news is that there’s plenty of choice when it comes to food sources; eggs, meat, fish, poultry, dairy, beans, legumes, soya, nuts, seeds and all foods produced from them. An average-sized person needs a minimum of 50-60 grams daily and most people need much more, especially if they’re active.  You’ll be amazed just how much stronger and energised you’ll feel just by putting protein on the priority list when meal-planning.

So, embrace these five tips and hopefully you will really feel the health benefits.

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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