Nutritional self-help for hay fever

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Anyone suffering from hay fever will know only too well that pollen levels are high right now and it’s causing misery for some.  Tell-tale red, itchy eyes, sneezing, tiredness and irritability are all too common symptoms. 

Whilst there are officially three hay fever seasons, it’s now that the grass pollen is so problematic.  However, don’t give up hope if this applies to you.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top ways of getting some relief from hay fever.

Go natural

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which in turn causes the array of unpleasant symptoms.

Close up of woman's tummy with her hands making a heart shape in front

Strange as it may seem, most of the immune system actually resides within the digestive tract (commonly referred to as the gut).  And much of this is controlled by the gut bacteria that naturally hang out there.  These friendly bacteria happily living inside you can help manage allergies because of the role they play within the immune response.

Natural yoghurt

This is where natural yoghurt can take a key role in helping manage symptoms.  Natural yoghurt contains a number of strains of these friendly bacteria that have been shown to benefit hay fever sufferers enormously.  The yoghurt needs to contain live cultures and it must be natural yoghurt as opposed to the fruit variety.  Also ensure you choose the full fat versions which don’t contain any sweeteners or additives; these could have the reverse effect.  Eat natural yoghurt at least four times a week for the best outcomes.

Clean up your diet

Significantly reducing sugary, refined foods is key to getting on top of hay fever symptoms.  Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation within the body which will only make symptoms worse.  This includes alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine.

A range of green vegetables

Instead, include plenty of green leafy vegetables, berry fruits and apples.  Bananas are especially helpful because they are non-allergenic and contain plenty of fibre.  It’s also important to keep the bowels running smoothly to ensure no toxic waste build up internally, which will fire up the immune system in the wrong way.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and exacerbate symptoms.  Plus, it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.  However, the body also converts beta carotene found in fruits and vegetables into vitamin A as it needs it; another good reason for including plenty of colourful fruits and veggies.

Include quercetin

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of hay fever.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

Dampen the fire

With the mucous membranes literally ‘on fire’ at the back of the throat and through the bronchial tubes, it’s no wonder that coughing, sneezing and wheezing are commonplace with hay fever. A quick relief for itchy, watery eyes is to lie down in a darkened room for 20 minutes or so with sliced cucumber over them. Inhaling eucalyptus oil can also really help ease congestion.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Additionally, the spice, turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory so include it in as many dishes as possible.  It’s especially tasty in curries, soups and stir fries. Also on the menu should be ginger which is easily added to these dishes but works well as a tea; just squeeze fresh ginger into a mug and pour over hot water. You could also try taking a turmeric food supplement every day.

Add some magnesium

As we know, the immune system and some key internal organs are all irritated in hay fever sufferers. The mineral, magnesium, is a wonderfully calming mineral and is found in good amounts in green leafy veggies (another great reason to eat them).  Additionally, foods such as soya beans, kidney beans, whole grains, especially brown rice, and peas are great choices.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Importantly bananas are rich in magnesium, so they should definitely be high on the weekly shopping list.  This should create some much-needed calm within the body.

So, try some of these top tips and there can be light and relief at the end of the hay fever tunnel.

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

The truth about fruit and sugar

A range of fruits

Sometimes celebrated, other times revered, there is widespread confusion within the general population about whether eating a lot of fruit is healthy or not.   

Fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars – glucose and fructose. So, is eating fruit going to exacerbate our ever-growing obesity crisis? And which are the best fruits for us to eat?

With Sugar Awareness Week around the corner, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explodes some of the fruit myths and looks at what’s good and what’s not.

The good

To be clear, fruit contains some amazing health benefits.  All fruits contain lots of vitamin C, one of our hardest-working vitamins.  Vitamin C is essential for many body functions but is key in the health of the immune system, the skin and formation and repair of muscle.

Additionally, fruits contain a whole range of plant compounds with varying health benefits.  For starters, they’re very high in antioxidants – essential for helping prevent degenerative diseases and supporting the immune system.  Watermelons, for example, contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruits.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Fruits contain other plant compounds called anthocyanins which are also incredibly powerful antioxidants and supportive of all body systems.  It’s all about the colour and the darker the colours, the more anthocyanins the fruit provides.  Blueberries have championed the super-fruit title, partly because their dark colour makes them very rich in these plant compounds. Blackberries and blackcurrants have the same qualities.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Another wonderful benefit to eating fruit is it contains plenty of essential fibre.  In our heavily processed western diet, fibre is sadly lacking.  We all need around 30 grams of fibre daily (bananas have around 3 grams), in order to keep the bowel working efficiently.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Some fruits contain some more unusual health benefits.  For example, pineapples contain bromelain which is an effective protein digester so is often used as a digestive enzyme.  Plus, bromelain is a great anti-inflammatory so will help ease painful, inflamed joints.  Apples contain plenty of quercetin, a natural antihistamine, so help fight allergic reactions.

The not so good

There is of course a downside to eating too much fruit and that is its sugar content.  However, this isn’t all bad news.  Fruit contains high levels of a fruit sugar called fructose.  The chemical structure of fructose is more complex that that of simple glucose, and it must be broken down in the liver.  This means you don’t necessarily get a huge sugar ‘hit’ when you eat certain fruits. Cranberries, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and clementines, for example, are all low in sugar overall.

a punnet of strawberries

It all depends on the fruits you eat. They vary in how much fibre they contain (this slows down blood sugar rushes), their balance of fructose and glucose, plus their total fructose levels.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Figs, grapes, dates and prunes (dried plums) have some of the highest sugar content.  But this needs to be balanced against their other benefits: prunes, for example, contain some of the highest antioxidant levels per 100 grams of all fruits.

As with everything in life, it’s all about balance.

The not too bad at all!

The body needs a constant supply of energy and eating fruit provides a healthy way of achieving this, due to its high carbohydrate content.  When it comes to blood sugar, it’s a balancing act. Eating carbohydrate with protein will slow down the sugar rush, making energy distribution more sustained.  For example, eating some sliced apple with a few almonds is a perfect afternoon snack when you’re feeling energy levels starting to flag. Additionally, eating fruit with some fat and fibre slows down its absorption; nut butter with sliced banana on wholemeal toast is an incredibly easy and sustaining breakfast option.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Interestingly, nature also demonstrated this concept well with the avocado.  Categorised as a fruit, avocado is high in both the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fibre.  Avocados are incredibly health-giving. It makes a brilliant breakfast on toast on its own or with egg or smoked salmon. They’ll certainly keep you feeling full all through the morning.

Fruit is certainly not the enemy.  Within a healthy, balanced diet, fruit will provide amazing health benefits without too much damage to the waistline (or teeth!)

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Five ways to clean-up your diet this spring

Happy woman in field showing spring time

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to spring-cleaning everything. Hopefully, you’ll be feeling quite proud of yourself at the moment if you’re eating a fairly healthy diet.  However, there’s always room for improvement and new ideas, plus eating food in season is always going to be better from a nutritional perspective.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

So what are some of the new things you could be doing to revamp your diet and wellbeing this spring?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for spring-cleaning your diet and life!

Eat purple sprouting broccoli

It’s no secret that broccoli is a wonder food. This is because it contains such a wide range of nutrients. Broccoli contains vitamin C, vitamin K and folate as well as the minerals iron and potassium in abundance. It also has immune-boosting beta-carotene, alongside many other disease-preventing compounds. Broccoli (and indeed, all vegetables within the brassica family) contains compounds called indoles which may offer protection against some diseases. Broccoli also contains sulforaphanes which help detoxification.

Purple sprouting broccoli

The great news is that purple sprouting broccoli is in season right now! Its deep purple colour actually makes it even healthier due to the presence of flavonoids which are rich in antioxidants. These phytonutrients are retained whether broccoli is fresh, frozen, raw or cooked. However, much of the vitamin C content is lost by from boiling, therefore always lightly steam your broccoli to retain the most nutrients.

It’s a great spring vegetable to be enjoyed as much as possible and works really well as part of a spring cleansing plan.

Spring clean from the inside

What’s going on in the digestive system directly affects how you look and feel on the outside. You don’t necessarily need to be making drastic changes to see real improvements. Try making a ‘detox’ water with lemon, cucumber, mint and ginger.

Glass of water with lemon

Lemon helps the production of pepsin in the stomach, which in turn helps break down food and nutrients, aiding digestion and a flatter stomach. Cucumber is a great diuretic, helping cleanse the bladder and kidneys. Mint is brilliant for the digestive tract and eliminates excess wind and ginger is an all-round great anti-inflammatory and gut-lover. The combination of all these ingredients mixed into your detox water and drunk every day will thoroughly cleanse the system and make your skin glow! Drinking about two litres daily is a great place to start.

Banish the bubbles

This may sound harsh but fizzy drinks all cause bloating and wind and are certainly not going to help your spring cleanse. The other problem is that most fizzy drinks are either loaded with sugar or sweeteners, the latter being one of the main causes of digestive upsets.

Additionally, fizzy drinks are high in phosphoric acid, encouraging greater acidity in the body generally, which can cause calcium to be leached from the bones.

Fruit tea with berries next to a cup

Make this spring the time to resolve to kick the bubbles (yes even prosecco and champagne) and opt for detox water (as above) or herbal or fruit teas for your daily brew.

Beat hay fever with asparagus

Unfortunate hay fever sufferers probably don’t need reminding that the season is fast approaching. However, as with anything, prevention is better than cure and the flavonoid, quercetin, high in asparagus, can really help if eaten regularly enough. Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine and seems to work more effectively when eaten before symptoms really take a hold.

Other great sources of quercetin include apples, green tea and onions. However, asparagus has a truly excellent nutrient profile of vitamins and minerals. It also contains inulin which feeds the beneficial bacteria and acts as a ‘hoover’, sweeping out all the bad guys.

Asparagus tied in a bunch

Many people resist eating asparagus because it produces unpleasant-smelling urine! However, this is merely the result of one of its more beneficial antioxidants being broken down. Asparagus is just doing its work and should certainly be part of your spring cleanse, particularly as it’s in season right now.

Resolve to be more positive

There are many positive benefits to being part of social media platforms. However, it can also breed dissatisfaction with our body and life in general, which is certainly not going to put a spring in your step.

People often find that having a social media detox can really help their mood and body self-image. Write down some positive affirmations about yourself and say them every morning to the mirror. Focus on what you (and others) really love about yourself and keep repeating them over and over.

A happy woman in from of a blossom tree showing spring time

Part of feeling great for the new season ahead is having a positive attitude to life. Resolve to be grateful for one thing every day, whether it’s seeing the first tulips, a great cup of coffee or watching rabbits run across the field. Being positive is work in progress and, like anything worth having in life, takes practice.

So with a few easy tweaks, your spring-time cleanse will have a really positive impact on your wellbeing.

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How to get your five-a-day during December

Close up of a woman's hands holding a pile of cranberries

Our healthy diet can sometimes go awry during December. Festive functions and busy diaries mean that eating healthily becomes, potentially, more difficult, and that includes getting the recommended ‘five-a-day’ of our fruits and vegetables. However, there are some delicious ways of eating foods in season right now to maximise their health benefits. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her favourites!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

Maybe not top of everyone’s ‘wish-list’ but Jerusalem artichokes provide some wonderful health benefits.

One of their top ‘claims to fame’ is that they boost our beneficial gut bacteria. This helps to improve mood and motivation because it stimulates the production of serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone. It may also help to avoid winter SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which affects so many people, making them feel low through the cold, dark months.

Jerusalem artichokes are delicious simply chopped lengthwise and roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

CRANBERRIES

Not surprisingly, cranberries are in season right now!  But don’t just eat them once a year with your turkey; cranberries can offer some wonderful health benefits throughout the winter months.

Cranberries are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin C so are great to eat at this time of year when the immune system needs a boost.  Plus, cranberries are brilliant at fighting urinary tract infections; they stop bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

If you’re prone to bladder infections, then the best advice is to regularly drink sugar-free cranberry juice and include dried cranberries in granola or muesli recipes, or your other favourite cereals.

CELERIAC

Often called ‘the ugly one’ because of its very rough physical appearance, celeriac’s rich nutritional benefits and distinct taste means it is quite an interesting vegetable!

It is part of the celery family and, just like celery, is rich in potassium which is great for the heart.  Both vegetables are particularly helpful in reducing blood pressure.

Celeriac is quite difficult to peel but once prepped it’s great as a vegetable side mashed with butter and black pepper.  Even better, celeriac can be roasted whole in the oven which means it doesn’t even need to be peeled!  Wash the outer skin and cut off the top.  Sprinkle with some olive oil, garlic, herbs and seasoning.  The celeriac should then be wrapped in foil and cooked in the oven for around two hours.  Once cooked, it’s easy to spoon it out of the skin and serve with some butter.

APPLES

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ as the old wives’ tale goes, and apples certainly deliver some great health benefits which can be enjoyed during December.

Apples are packed with pectin fibre which helps to keep cholesterol levels under control.  Additionally, they contain a flavonoid called quercetin, a natural antihistamine that helps to calm allergies.

Apples are also used to make cider vinegar, which provides even more health benefits; it helps the digestion, eases joint pain, helps with weight loss and is great for the skin.  Indeed, its health benefits are as valuable as eating an apple a day.  Have a dessertspoonful before each meal.

KALE

Kale, with its rich dark green leaves, is in season right now and is great to add to your five-a-day. It’s packed with vitamin K, which is heart-protective, and folic acid and iron which support high energy levels.  It’s also full of fibre and low in calories and fat – a real winner!

Some people find kale’s fairly strong flavour slightly off-putting!  However, its makes an excellent addition to any pasta dish, such as chicken and bacon rigatoni, where there are also some other strong flavours, which combine really well.  Add a sprinkling of parmesan and black pepper and you’ve got yourself a wonderful mid-week meal to keep you running up until Christmas!

So even though time might be pressured over the next few weeks, you can still give your body plenty of nutrients to ensure you’re fully able to enjoy this Festive period.

 

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How to fight hay fever the natural way

If the onset of summer means itchy eyes, tickly throat and lots of sneezing, then there’s plenty of natural help at hand for hay fever.  Unfortunately, summer can be a miserable time for millions of hay fever sufferers but there are lots of ways that nature can actually help.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at some natural remedies to help combat hay fever so you can better enjoy the lovely summer days.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IMMUNE DEFENCE

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which, in, turn causes the tell-tale itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and wheezing.

Supporting the immune system needs to be the first line of defence.  Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and cause these symptoms.  Plus it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.

The body also converts something called beta carotene into vitamin A as it needs it; colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly carrots, peppers, mangoes and sweet potatoes all contain beta carotene and should certainly feature high on the menu to really help boost the immune system.

With the summer months now in full swing, we tend to naturally eat more fruits, vegetables and salads in any case so you’ll generally be eating more vitamin C, another key immune-booster. Berry fruits, in particular, are all high in vitamin C.

If you’re time-poor having a selection of fruits and vegetables in the freeze is a great way to make sure you have access to those immune-boosting nutrients at any time.

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

The spice, turmeric, is currently hot, in more ways than one!  There’s been extensive research published on the many health benefits of turmeric (also known as curcumin), and one of its key uses is reducing any inflammation in the body.

Turmeric appears to dampen down a specific enzyme in the body which is triggered by pollen, therefore, it can certainly help manage hay fever symptoms.  It’s easy to include turmeric in lots of dishes, not just spicy curries.  As an idea, spicy scrambled egg with spinach makes a wonderful breakfast.

Additionally, turmeric is widely available in supplement form if it’s just a little bit too hot for your palate.

INCLUDE QUERCETIN

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can help prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of allergies.

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

MAKE A CUPPA

There are two herbs of particular note which can help alleviate symptoms of hay fever. Camomile makes a wonderfully calming tea and is a natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine; Elderflower tea can help chesty conditions and so may also help to ease hay fever.

EAT MORE FISH

Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna are all good sources of the omega-3 fats which help to manage any inflammation in the body.  It, therefore, naturally follows that these healthy omega-3 fats can help to dampen down some of the unpleasant hay fever symptoms.

With the barbecue season now in full flow, all these fish are great cooked in this way; try to eat oily fish three times a week if possible.

So, if you’re a hay fever sufferer, hopefully some of these natural remedies can help stop you sneezing your way through the summer!

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