How to pack a healthy picnic

A picnic basket on a wodden table overlooking a beautiful countryside scene

It’s a National Picnic Week which means it’s a great time to celebrate everything we love about picnics as well as spending time outdoors in green spaces.

There’s always a great temptation to pack too many ‘treats’ into the picnic basket but there are some great ways to get nutrition without missing out on flavours.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy picnic swaps, but which don’t swap out the taste!

Swap white for brown

This includes using brown bread or wraps rather than white if you’re packing sandwiches, but also wholemeal pasta rather than white. White bread and pasta have been refined, meaning much of the healthy fibre, essential for good digestion,  been stripped away. So too have many of the nutrients, especially energising B-vitamins and essential minerals such as chromium.

Sandwich,With,Ham,tomato,,Cucumber,And,Arugula,On,The,Wooden,Cutting

Brown pasta has a much fuller flavour and more of a texture than white.  And pasta salads are great for taking on picnics.  Why not try beetroot and cold poached salmon wholemeal pasta, adding some avocado, cucumber, dill and a little natural yoghurt.  This is a really delicious super-food pasta salad.

Swap potato crisps for veggie crisps

Most picnic baskets include crisps in some shape or size. Unfortunately, potato crisps are generally high in fat and low in nutrients.  So, why not swap potato crisps for veggie crisps? Think beetroot, parsnip, or carrot (or all three?) – there are a lot of veggie ‘crisp’ options available in supermarkets.

Home made kale chips in a dish

Even better, make your own kale crisps.  Kale belongs to the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family which are high in heart-loving vitamin K, relaxing magnesium and are loaded with antioxidants.  Simply pull off the leaves and rub them in a little olive oil and salt. Then roast in the oven for around 10 minutes and once cooled, you’ll have some of the healthiest veggie crisps to take on your picnic.

Swap ham for turkey

If you’re taking sandwiches, then what you put into them can make all the difference.  Ham sandwiches are often popular in the picnic basket.  However, ham is a processed meat and generally also contains high levels of preservatives.  Ham also contains saturated fats which are best minimised in the diet.

Grilled,Turkey,Breast,With,Salad

A far better choice is to use turkey meat instead. Turkey is very low in fat and high in protein (at 31 g per 100g, more than chicken). Why not cook up some turkey breast steaks the day before, which can be quickly grilled.  If you cook a few extra, they’re delicious eaten with Jersey Royal potatoes (now in season) and salad.  For the picnic, turkey steaks can be chopped, mixed with a little pesto and tomatoes, and made into delicious brown bread sandwiches.

Swap cheese spread for nut butters

There is a plethora of ready-made cheese spreads in supermarkets.  Whilst they might taste good, they are high in fat and are not especially nutrient dense.  Why not swap these for some delicious omega-3 laden almond butter.  Omega-3 fats are essential and whilst we need to be mindful of the amount of saturated fats we consume, the omegas are seriously deficient within the UK population and are essential for the heart, brain, eyes, skin and hormones.

Nut butter on rye bread

Almond butter is also high in protein so will keep energy levels sustained throughout the day. Why not add some watercress (one of the healthiest salad vegetables around) for colour and a nutrient blast?

Swap fizzy drinks for kombucha

Fizzy drinks are always popular on picnics.  However, they are certainly not the healthiest of drinks.  Sugar-free versions are packed with sweeteners which have a detrimental effect on mood, but also encourage cravings for sweet food so you still end up eating all the wrong things!

Kombucha,Second,Fermented,Fruit,Tea,With,Different,Flavorings.,Healthy,Natural

Kombucha, however, is a great alternative. It’s a fermented, lightly effervescent, green or black tea drink, which is low in sugar but high in health benefits.  Fermented foods and drinks provide probiotics which are great for feeding the good bacteria and are essential for healthy digestion, good mood and effective weight management. Once you’ve tried them, there’ll be no turning back!

So, get outdoors and celebrate National Picnic Week with these super-healthy food swaps.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Eat seasonally: top fruits and vegetables for June

A woman holding a heartshaped bowl full of strawberries

As always time flies by and we’re already at the halfway point of the year. However, a big consolation is that June offers a wonderful array of colourful and nutritious fruits and vegetables. 

The more we can eat with the seasons, generally the better the nutrient content of the food.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top fruits and vegetables for June.

Courgettes

A range of courgettes

Courgettes are a type of marrow that are also known as zucchini to the Italians and Americans.  As with many fruits and vegetables most of their nutrients are found just under the skin, hence the skin is soft and perfectly edible.  However, because their flavour is very ‘light’, courgettes are often cooked in recipes with some stronger flavours.  A great option is baking them with garlic, sundried tomatoes, pinenuts and topping with breadcrumbs. Or why not try roasting with other vegetables with rosemary, or in a delicious ratatouille with tomatoes, thyme, garlic and aubergines.

Courgettes,Stuffed,With,Breadcrumbs,,Pine,Nuts,,Sun,Dried,Tomatoes,And

Courgettes are a great source of the antioxidant vitamin C, which helps protect the skin from sun damage and the ageing process.  Additionally, they are high in energising folate and beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as the body needs, and which protects the immune system.

Strawberries

a punnet of strawberries

Strawberries are synonymous with the British summer and locally grown summer strawberries have a much fuller flavour than those imported during the winter months.  Whilst strawberries are called ‘fruits’ they are actually from the rose family.  However, we would certainly not hold this against them because they’re nutritional jewels when it comes to delivering plenty of vitamin C (one of the highest amounts within the berry family of fruits).

Strawberries are also rich in powerful antioxidants, helping protect us from disease including heart disease and other degenerative conditions.

Two bowls of strawberries and cream

Strawberries can stand proudly on their own. However, their delicious flavour is enhanced by eating them with a little balsamic vinegar, in a pie, with cream or with other colourful summer berries.

Asparagus

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of fresh asparagus

This is another example of how eating British and in season is an entirely different experience to eating imported versions that can be tough and tasteless throughout the year.  English asparagus needs to be grabbed quickly because the season is very short.  Plus, it quickly deteriorates after picking so it needs to be eaten as freshly as possible.

Grilled asparagus wrapped in parma ham

Asparagus contains more energising folate than any other vegetable and which is a nutrient that’s frequently deficient in the UK population. Additionally, the fibre in asparagus works as a prebiotic, helping feed the beneficial bacteria that naturally resides in the digestive tract and which plays such an important role in our health.  It needs no more than lightly steaming and serving with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Or perhaps try them wrapped in parma ham.

Aubergine

Fresh,Healthy,Raw,Purple,Eggplant,On,A,Kitchen,Wooden,Table.

Whilst we tend to associate aubergine with Mediterranean countries, it is widely grown in the UK.  And whilst it used to be advised to salt them before cooking to draw out some of their bitterness, their flavour has changed over the years, so this is no longer necessary.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

Whilst aubergines are naturally low in fat, they are often griddled or grilled using oil and they do tend to soak it up like a sponge so use it sparingly!  They are delicious cooked in this way, but many may prefer to use them in stews, curries, or ratatouille dishes.  Their beautiful purple skin means aubergines are rich in anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants – hence it’s always better to cook them retaining the skin for most nutritional benefits.

Watercress

A bunch of watercress on a wooden board

With its very distinctive peppery flavour, watercress is one of the healthiest salad vegetables. Indeed, it’s a member of the highly nutritious cruciferous vegetable family, just like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.  Watercress will therefore also have many of their unique health benefits: it is high in vitamin C, beta-carotene and iron, plus it’s a great liver and kidney cleanser.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress is traditionally used in soups and works really well used in this way with Jersey Royal potatoes (also now in season).  However, it’s great to fully enjoy its delicious flavour in salads with bacon, spinach and Parmesan or in carrot-based juices.

So, embrace seasonal eating and enhance your health too this June – enjoy!

Stay well.

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Easter eating: healthy and delicious dishes to enjoy

shutterstock_1676194471 easter family Mar21

Traditionally Easter is a time when we see friends and family and enjoy various gatherings.  Whilst it’s not going to be possible in quite the same way this Easter, it’s still a great opportunity to enjoy some wonderfully healthy, tasty dishes and treat yourself.

Whether you enjoy a traditional roast or would like to try some vegetarian alternatives, there is lots of in-season food on offer.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her favourite recipes for an Easter Day treat!

Start the day right

Whilst many people love the great British breakfast fry-up, this is very high in calories and fat and can make many of us feel really bloated. Eggs, of course, are the food of the Easter celebration, so before you tuck into the chocolate variety why not start the day with a traditional Easter breakfast of boiled eggs. In fact, eggs make a great breakfast whatever day it is.

shutterstock_374871019 boiled egg Mar21

Eggs are a great source of protein, delivering all the essential amino acids, helping balance blood sugar levels, whilst keeping you feeling fuller for longer without bloating.  Why not serve them with some sourdough bread, which is much kinder to the digestive system and really tasty too.  And don’t forget to find your marker pens and decorate the eggs before you enjoy them!

Lunchtime roast

For many, Easter is not complete without eating roast lamb.  British spring lamb, as the name suggests, is at its best right now.  Lamb is an intrinsically fatty meat, so it’s good to try and cook a leg which is naturally lower in fat.  It’s a great source of protein but also rich in immune-boosting zinc, plus it contains some omega-3 fats at higher levels than grass-fed beef.

shutterstock_446946859 roasted lamb Mar21

To further boost the immune system and to enhance the great natural taste of the meat, roast the lamb with some garlic and rosemary which are natural accompaniments. Serve it with some Jersey Royal potatoes (also in season right now) which are rich in nutrients, especially vitamin C. Add some delicious broccoli, stir fried with sesame seeds, and glazed carrots.  Both vegetables are rich in antioxidants to further protect the immune system.

shutterstock_1183271935 cauliflower cheese Mar21

And for the vegetarians, why not bake some in-season vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and spinach with a cheese and chive sauce.  This dish would work well as a vegetable side and a tea-time treat too.

Dinner delights

shutterstock_1516787810 roasted ham Mar21

Roasted ham is another traditional favourite at Easter.  If you’re wanting to relax after lunch why not cook the ham ahead of time and serve cold.  How about using wraps rather than bread and add some lovely salad vegetables, especially sweet tomatoes which complement the ham well.  Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene which is another powerful antioxidant and great for the immune system.

shutterstock_238145404 vegetarian pie Mar21

Easter is all about colour so vegans and vegetarians can embrace the colours of the rainbow with a carrot, sweet potato, celeriac and beetroot pie.  All vegetables are in season, providing a nutritional feast.  The more colourful your vegetables the more nutrients you’ll be eating.

Sweet Treats

shutterstock_1016929156 hot cross buns Mar21

Why not make some easy Easter biscuits so you can have a little sweet treat and the younger members of the family can join in with the baking?  And of course, no Easter is complete without sone hot cross buns.  They don’t take too long to prepare and cook, and you can use gluten-free flour for those that can’t tolerate gluten.  Why not use brown flour rather than white, which contains some energising B-vitamins and won’t upset blood sugar too much.  They’ll make a great snack the next day too.  And for the vegans, hot cross buns are great made with almond milk and a dairy-free spread.

So, make the most of your Easter eating and enjoy some of these healthy and nutritious dishes.

Stay well.

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Five nutrients to maximise your health this spring

Fruit and vegetables in the shape of a

It’s National Nutrition Month highlighting how important good nutrition is for our overall wellbeing. Eating the right foods containing the right nutrients can really help us to reach optimal health. 

Whilst the body needs 45 different nutrients daily (including water), there are some that really lead the field.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, share fives of the best.

Magnesium

Whilst all nutrients work synergistically, some get involved more than others and magnesium is one such mineral. It is essential for energy production, protein formation and cellular replication (aiding cell renewal) and is involved in 300 different enzyme reactions: it’s certainly busy!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is primarily found in bones and muscles, as well as soft tissue and body fluids (it is a key electrolyte).  Interestingly, whilst it’s needed as part of our energy-producing mechanisms, magnesium is also known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ helping rest and relaxation. The truth is that magnesium helps the body’s metabolic processes in terms of long-term energy production rather than creating a quick burst.  It’s also essential for the proper functioning of the entire cardiovascular system and can help manage high blood pressure or issues with heartbeat irregularities.

Green vegetables and whole grains are your friends when it comes to upping magnesium levels – the more the better!

Zinc

Zinc competes with magnesium in terms of how busy it is in the body: it is responsible for over 200 different enzyme reactions and is found in every cell.  It’s also essential for the proper action of many hormones throughout the body but tends to gain fame for its essential work within the immune system, keeping white blood cell levels in good order.

Zinc is also essential for both men and women in terms of fertility; women prior and during pregnancy to ensure proper foetal development and in men for testosterone production and sperm formation and motility.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Unfortunately, it’s very often deficient in both men and women, partly because good food sources are seafood and nuts and seeds, which many people don’t eat.  Oysters are the shining light as the best source of zinc, but whole grain foods such as oats, buckwheat and whole-wheat bread still contain acceptable amounts.

Vitamin C

One of our key antioxidant vitamins, it’s also probably the best known.  Vitamin C shot to fame when our famous sailor Captain Cook solved the deficiency disease of vitamin C, scurvy, by giving the crew lemon and lime juice. This also helped better understand the key role of Vitamin C in strengthening blood capillaries.

Vitamin C is essential for immune system function, helping the body manufacture our main structural protein collagen. It also helps fight off free radical damage, protecting us from degenerative disease and premature aging.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Being water soluble, it’s not stored in the body and therefore needs eating regularly throughout the day. Luckily though, it’s widely available in many fruits and vegetables with the best sources being red peppers, guavas, kale and broccoli.

Vitamin D

Thankfully, vitamin D is now on the radar for most of us, having been found to play such an essential role within the immune system as researched before and during the COVID pandemic.  The issue with vitamin D is that very little is available in foods. Our main source is via sunlight on the skin, which of course is in short supply during the winter months, especially in the northern hemisphere.  Interestingly, it’s now been discovered that we need much more than originally noted in order to keep us optimally healthy.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Let’s not also forget the essential role vitamin D plays alongside calcium in bone, muscle and teeth health.   We need to take heed of Public Health England advice and supplement with 10 micrograms daily all year round.  Do be aware though, that much research has been carried out on the benefits of higher amounts so take advice on individual needs from your healthcare provider.

Iodine

Iodine is not as well-known as the nutrients discussed above, but equally as important to our health.  Even though iodine is only needed in micro amounts, a deficiency can lead to symptoms, especially involving the thyroid gland and its hormones. However, iodine is also needed for a healthy pregnancy, for the foetus to grow and develop correctly, and for brain function.

A range of foods containing iodine

The best source of iodine is from dairy foods. But if you don’t do dairy it is also found in seaweeds such as kelp and dulse which can be bought in their dried form and added to soups, stews and stir-fries.

So, celebrate National Nutrition Month and aim to get more of these nutrients into your diet every day!

Stay well.

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Seasonal foods for springtime health and happiness

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

Spring generally brings lots of positive energy both for the mind and body.  And this Spring is no exception when it looks like we’ll finally have a little more freedom and there’s even more to celebrate! 

It’s always best to eat seasonally in order to enjoy the best tastes, textures and nutritional benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite seasonal foods this Spring.

Celeriac

Closely related to the celery family, celeriac delivers many of the same nutritional benefits as celery.  Despite its rather unkind nickname ‘the ugly one’, celeriac has a slightly nutty flavour without any excessive salty taste.

Celeriac on a table

Celeriac is high in heart-loving potassium and can help reduce high blood pressure, but also contains plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C. The only downside with this vegetable is that it requires a bit of preparation, with a tough outer skin which needs cutting off.  However, it’s well worth the additional effort because celeriac is delicious mashed with butter and garlic or adds a great flavour to soups or stews.

Mussels

Fished in UK waters and at their best at this time of year, mussels never fail to deliver a wonderful taste experience, especially if paired with garlic, onions, chilli or tomatoes.  You can still smell the sea when you eat super-fresh mussels.  However, you should never eat mussels that aren’t opened after cooking.

Mussels in a pot

As with oysters, mussels are rich in zinc. This is one of the busiest minerals, being involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions within the body, so it is a very essential nutrient.  Additionally, mussels are high in selenium, a key antioxidant mineral and also needed for the immune and cardiovascular systems.  You’ll even find small levels of the super-healthy omega-3s in mussels.  And they don’t need too much cooking to produce a really delicious and warming dish.

Jerusalem artichoke

Another slightly strange-shaped vegetable it is totally delicious roasted, plus delivers an array of health benefits.  Importantly, Jerusalem artichokes contain inulin which feeds the beneficial gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria play such an important role in our overall health, especially when it comes to immune, digestive, brain and skin health.  It’s therefore important to feed the friendly guys within the gut so they proliferate as needed.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Additionally, Jerusalem artichokes are rich in energising iron and immune boosting vitamin C. They can be roasted with the skin on to retain maximum nutrients and are delicious as a side to almost anything!

Spinach

As with all green foods, spinach is rich in antioxidants which help protect the body from disease. Specifically, it’s packed with carotenoids that support the immune system and crucially, eye health.

Whilst spinach does contain some iron and calcium, these minerals are not necessarily well-absorbed down to its high oxalic acid content.  However, eating spinach with foods that are rich in vitamin C, including other vegetables, really aids absorption.

A bowl of fresh spinach leaves

Importantly, spinach contains plenty of other valuable nutrients, including vitamin C and energising folate. It works so well and easily in plenty of dishes including soups, salads, as a side lightly steamed with butter and garlic or with eggs for breakfast.

Parsnips

We often associate them with other winter root vegetables which they are, but parsnips are still in season right now and are certainly one of the tastiest of roots. Indeed, parsnips don’t really like frost, hence their taste is better at this time of year. They are slightly starchy which means they make a great alternative to potatoes. They provide plenty of fibre and also vitamin C, vitamin E and folate which helps produce healthy red blood cells.

A pile of parsnips

As with all root veggies, parsnips are very versatile and can be included in soups, pasta dishes or roasted on their own sprinkled with a little parmesan. They also make a great roast vegetable medley alongside other vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes and onions.

So, enjoy some seasonal treats this spring and your body will benefit from the array of nutrients on offer.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: five of the best foods for February

Close up of a woman holding a bunch of rhubarb

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

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

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

Leeks

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

Leeks in a wooden trough

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

Rhubarb

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

Rhubabr stalks and cut rhubarb in a bowl

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

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

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

Purple sprouting broccoli

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

Oranges

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

A bowl of oranges

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

Potatoes

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

A pan of just boiled jersey royal new potatoes

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

So, enjoy the wonderful health benefits of eating seasonally.

Stay well.

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Seasonal eating: what to add to your diet in January

Venison with red cabbage

Traditionally January tends to be a dull and dreary month for most people!  Post-Christmas blues, dark days and poor weather, not to mention the current lockdown. 

This makes now an even better time to embrace the delicious, colourful and nutritious seasonal food currently available.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite seasonal foods for January.

Venison

Venison often gets forgotten when thinking about red meat, but it’s a wonderfully healthy food.  Much of our UK venison is produced from deer that roam freely, therefore the meat is very tasty and extremely low in fat.  Indeed, venison has less fat than other red meats and also a skinned breast of chicken.

A cooked venison steak on a chopping board

Importantly venison is higher in iron than other red meats and contains some of the super-healthy omega-3 fats.  Even better, it’s incredibly easy to cook – it works just like steak  Therefore, it can be lightly pan-fried and is delicious in stews.  Because venison is so lean and soft in texture, it doesn’t take too much work to produce a superb meal.

Mackerel

Although not always strictly from UK waters as it’s often sourced from the Mediterranean as well as the north Atlantic, January it’s still a great time for eating mackerel.

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

Mackerel’s main ‘claim to fame’ is its wealth of omega-3 fats.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) that we’re widely deficient of these essential fats the UK. Omega-3s are needed for a healthy heart, eyes, brain, skin and for good hormone and joint function.  Eating mackerel once a week will provide at least half of the weekly recommended intake of omega-3s.

Whilst it might be too ‘fishy’ tasting for some, it’s delightful to eat a naturally moist fish. Mackerel is great lightly grilled with just a squeeze of lemon juice.

Onions

A staple in many dishes, onions are incredibly versatile and come in different shapes and colours, but all are nutritionally beneficial.  Onions are packed with powerful flavonoids – plant compounds that have antioxidant qualities, helping protect us from disease and the ageing process.

A range of onions

One of these flavonoids, quercetin, helps control the production of histamine, responsible for unpleasant allergic symptoms, especially for hay fever sufferers.  Eating plenty of quercetin-rich foods prior to the hay fever season can help dampen down some of these symptoms, so it’s good to start now.

Whether you choose white onions, red onions, spring onions or shallots, it’s more a question of taste rather than any real difference in nutritional goodness.  Plus, they’re all full of fibre so will help keep everything moving smoothly through the digestive tract.

Cauliflower

A worthy member of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetable family, cauliflower is not only rich in many nutrients, but it also contains a wealth of phytonutrients with additional health benefits.

Close up of cauliflower cheese dish

Top of the list are glucosinolates which help manage inflammation throughout the body, aid detoxification and digestion and support the immune system. Whilst cauliflower is high in antioxidants due to its many plant compounds, it’s also rich in the mineral manganese which is needed to produce one of our powerful antioxidant enzymes (as well as being good for the joints).

Because it has a distinctive strong taste, cauliflower is great added to meals as a vegetable side, having been lightly steamed.  Alternatively, it works really well in curries or with Asian flavours and dishes.

Red Cabbage

A regular on the Christmas dinner table, red cabbage is in season during the winter months and is well worth including in meals well after the festive period.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

Interestingly, whilst all cabbages are highly nutritious, being another member of the cruciferous vegetable family, red cabbage has a nutritional edge. Its deep red colour provides additional anthocyanins which are powerful antioxidants. Red cabbage is also very rich in other antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C and manganese, plus vitamin K, essential for healthy blood flow and joints.

In terms of enjoying its delicious flavours, braised red cabbage with chopped apple (also now in season) is wonderful. It also works really well in sweet and sour dishes, with Asian flavours, in stir fries or soups.

There are so many great reasons for eating seasonally; apart from enhanced taste, the nutrient profile of food is generally always better.  Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Vamp up the veg this Christmas!

Woman preparing christmas dinner

Vegetables are not always given the kudos they deserve with them often appearing as an ‘after-thought’ on the plate. Clearly, for vegetarians and vegans, this is not the case, but we could all still do with some new ideas on how to bring veg to life.

Adding some different flavours and health-giving herbs and spices can really elevate a vegetable dish and Christmas is the perfect time to make this happen. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite vegetable recipes for the season.

Mashed swede with nutmeg

Swede is one of those vegetables that often gets ignored, partly because it isn’t always easy to prepare.  However, it’s well worth any additional effort required because it’s a delicious vegetable side at any time of the year. It’s even better at Christmas when in season and also when the body loves root vegetables the most.

A bowl of mashed swede

Swede is high in immune-boosting vitamin C, and nutmeg is a deliciously warming spice which adds a lovely twist to the dish.  Add some bay leaves whilst you’re boiling the swede and then mash with butter and plenty of black pepper.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

These two vegetables hail from the same, super-healthy, cruciferous family making them a powerful duo.  Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with nutrients, fibre and antioxidants so are perfect at this time of year when we need to be giving our bodies as much goodness as possible.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

Both vegetables are delicious lightly steamed or boiled but can often be over-cooked making them mushy and tasteless, hence this recipe really hits the spot. Cut both the cauliflower and broccoli into florets and sprinkle with a little olive oil, soy sauce and cumin for some gentle spicy flavours.  Cumin is another super-spice and a great anti-inflammatory helping ward off aches and pains, common at this time of year. Simply roast in the oven until tender but not too soft so they still have some ‘bite’.

Parsnip fritters

Parsnips are a Christmas favourite and are probably appearing on most Christmas menus.  However, why not change it up by making parsnips into fritters? Another tasty root vegetable, parsnips are high in fibre and low in fat. They also contain some protein and good amounts of calcium and magnesium, to help support your bones.

A bowl of roast parsnips

Peel the parsnips, grate and mixed with some egg, salt and pepper and cumin and roughly mould into fritter shapes.  They can either be cooked in the oven or lightly fried until crisp and golden.  Not just for Christmas Day, these fritters also make a great breakfast treat and work really well with eggs.

Roasted vegetables with pesto

A plate loaded with colour is a plate that’s laden with nutrients.  Nature provides us with a wealth of colourful vegetables, all full of health-giving nutrients, especially antioxidants which help protect us from disease and delay the ageing process.

 jar of homemade pesto

With root vegetable all being in season right now, you can also add further colour with peppers, chopped aubergine and onions, or add sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips.  You can add a little pesto towards the end of cooking just to give them some extra flavour.  Roasted vegetables are great at any time, but they make a perfect warming side leading up to Christmas, or can even by eaten cold, making them delicious on the buffet table too.

Beetroot salad

This is a real showstopper for the buffet table because of its rich colours. However, it’s also a great way of getting some slightly stronger flavours into a salad dish.  And whilst all these foods are high in nutrients, beetroot is great for this time of year when there’s the tendency to over-indulge and feel sluggish as it helps to detoxify the liver.

Beetroot salad

Carrots need to be grated, cucumber peeled and diced, with beetroot also peeled and grated.  Fry some immune-boosting garlic in a pan with the green beans, then add the other veg and lightly sauté for around 5 minutes or so.  You can either cook the vegetables individually and layer them in a bowl or mix them all together, cool and serve with a dill and mustard dressing or French dressing of your choice.

So, enjoy some interesting vegetable dishes this festive season and reap the health benefits from the many nutrients they provide.

Stay well.

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Five festive foods to boost your mood this Christmas

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

Many of us have struggled to find good cheer and happiness over the last few months for obvious reasons.  However, Christmas is fast approaching which generally puts a smile on our faces. 

What you eat over this festive season can have a marked and positive effect on your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite festive mood-enhancing foods.

Turkey

The good old Christmas Turkey can really help our mood and motivation. This is because it’s rich in tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, one of our key happy hormones. However, it requires some nutrient partners, also called co-factors, in order to get to where it’s needed to do its work.  This means eating plenty of foods containing vitamin C.

Roast Christmas turkey

Thankfully, most fruits and vegetables are full of vitamin C, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions a day or even more! Additionally, zinc (rich in seafood and whole grains) and vitamin B6 (bananas are a great source), also work closely with tryptophan.

Hopefully looking at the beautifully roasted turkey on your Christmas table will bring a smile to your face for many reasons and you can continue to enjoy the leftovers during the festive period.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a sometimes-forgotten white fish but one that’s incredibly flavoursome. One of its many claims to fame is that it’s packed with the essential omega-3 fats, so often lacking in the typical western diet.  We know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that a large percentage of the population are lacking in omega-3s which might in part explain why low mood is so prevalent. Omega-3s are essential for improved brain neurotransmitter reception plus production of serotonin – our happy hormone.

Mackereal pate on a slice of bread

Mackerel is delicious simply baked as a pre-Christmas meal.  However, why not enjoy some mackerel pate as a starter for the main event?  It can be prepared the day before and it’s super easy to make. Enjoy!

Oysters

At their seasonal best right now, oysters are often served up over Christmas.  They’ll certainly bring some cheer to the table partly down to the fact they’re packed with the mineral zinc.  Zinc is essential for the production of serotonin, a lack of which is often implicated in cases of depression.

A plate of oysters

Additionally, oysters are high in vitamin B12 which plays a key role in keeping the nervous system on the straight and narrow, and helping you feel generally more balanced.  Most people love oysters served with loads of lemon juice or for a spicey twist, with some chilli sauce.  They never disappoint however they’re eaten.

Dark chocolate

No Christmas would be complete for most people without some chocolate heaven!  However, the good news is that chocolate really can make us feel happier.  Chemicals in dark chocolate work on feel-good endorphins in the body.  This is turn helps raise levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that encourages our feel-good factor and positive mood.

Dark cocolate christmas trees

Dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa or more) also contains tryptophan.  Even better, if you’ve wondered why it’s called the ‘food of love’ it contains a compound called theobromine, thought to be a mild aphrodisiac. Do we need any more convincing of why chocolate has to be on the Christmas menu?

Parsnips

It’s all about roots right now to keep you happy and grounded! And it’s no coincidence that root vegetables are in season during the winter months; the body needs warming, starchy and delicious foods (especially root vegetables) to put a smile on our faces.

A bwol of roast parsnips

Thankfully, parsnips are high on the shopping list when it comes to planning the Christmas Day menu.  However, parsnips are also the main event in a tasty Spicy Parsnip Soup that is great for Boxing Day or the day after. Pull together some onions, cumin, ginger, garam masala and red chilli plus some double cream (also high in tryptophan) alongside the parsnips, and you’ve cooked up a wonderful soup that makes a great starter or lunchtime favourite.

So, bring some extra happiness to your table this Christmas and enjoy the nutritional and mood benefits.

Stay well.

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

Woman preparing christmas dinner

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

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

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

Celery

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

Chopped celery and celery stalks on a wooden chopping board

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

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

Brussels sprouts

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

Sprouts dish with ginger

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

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

Scallops

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

Cooked scallpos on a plate

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

Parsnips

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

Parsnip soup in a bowl

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

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

Goose

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

Roasted goose on a plate

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

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

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

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Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

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