Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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Boost your happiness with these five top mood foods

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

We could probably all do with a little mood boosting right now.  On a positive note, we know that what we eat can have a massive bearing on how happy, sad or anxious we feel. 

There is an inextricable link between gut and brain, mainly due to brain neurotransmitters, many of which are produced in the gut.  Furthermore, the microbiome, which includes those friendly guys that live in your gut, also plays a role.

 

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to help keep you feeling happy.

Spinach

Spinach is high in magnesium, nature’s natural tranquiliser, which is great for keeping our mood calm and balanced. Plus, spinach is rich in vitamin B6, needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

Spinach is so versatile and can be used in dishes hot and cold.  Whilst some of the vitamin content is lost through cooking, lightly steaming is the way forward.  Spinach leaves are great added to a salad with some stronger flavours such as goats’ cheese, beetroot and walnuts.  Alternatively, spinach, lightly steamed with garlic, makes a great vegetable side.

Chicken

Chicken is high in the amino acid, tryptophan, which is needed to produce serotonin.  Tryptophan is actually found in quite a number of protein-based foods but is especially high in chicken.  Try to choose organic chicken, where possible.

A roast chicken

Why not rustle up a delicious Mediterranean chicken salad?  Use cooked chicken breasts or thighs with spinach leaves, shredded red cabbage and cherry tomatoes.  The delicious flavour comes from the dressing which you can make with Dijon mustard, basil leaves, virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  An easy, tasty and mood-enhancing lunch.

Eggs

Eggs can help raise dopamine levels, another brain neurotransmitter needed for good mood and motivation. Interestingly, dopamine levels are also increased when bright light hits the back of the eye, which is one of the reasons why so many people suffer from SAD during the darker, winter months.

POached egg on wilted spinach on rye bread

Eggs make a brilliant start to the day not just because they raise dopamine levels, but they’re also high in protein. Protein is needed to keep blood sugar in good balance, which has a direct impact on mood and energy. Poached eggs on wholemeal toast with a few wilted spinach leaves is certainly a top breakfast!

Brown rice

Brown rice is a slow-releasing carbohydrate so it will not only help give you energy and balanced mood, it stimulates production of serotonin.  We all tend to crave more starchy foods during the winter months.  Maybe this is partly because the body is ‘asking’ for serotonin?

Salmon, brown rice and asparagus dish

Brown rice is a staple food that can be added to many meals.  It’s great with baked salmon (another mood-boosting food), with stir-fry veggies or cold as a lunch-time salad base. Whole grain foods are also high in fibre and B-vitamins helping your bowels to be more regular, which will also have a positive impact on your energy and mood.

Natural yoghurt

Natural yogurt is high in tryptophan but also helps balance the friendly flora (or goood bacteria) in your digestive tract.  Both factors are key to good mood so eating natural yoghurt regularly is an easy win.

Pot of natural yoghurt

Adding natural yoghurt to your cereal (homemade muesli with plenty of nuts and seeds is a good start), is an easy breakfast. It is also transportable if you like to eat breakfast on the go or when you get to work. Plus, it’s a great source of protein so blood sugar levels will start the day evenly rather than out of balance.  Furthermore, it feeds all the good guys in the gut; the better shape your gut bacteria, the more serotonin you’ll be able to produce, as that’s where most of it comes from!

Enjoy trying these five easy nutrition tips to help boost your mood and put a smile on your face!

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Top five foods to boost your libido this Valentine’s Day

A couple's feet sticking out of the duvet to represent sex and libido

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that it’s Valentine’s Day.  Those with someone special in their life will want to make it as memorable as ever; this means getting in the mood!

What we eat can have a big impact on how we feel and can also help improve our sex lives.

 Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourite libido-boosting foods – and some may surprise you!

Watermelon

Not only is watermelon super nutritious, it will get your juices flowing.  As well as being a tasty fruit, watermelon also contains an amino acid called L-citrulline which is turned into nitric oxide.  This dilates blood vessels and allows blood flow around the body, especially to the sex organs.  L-citrulline is also used in supplements to help boost libido.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Additionally, watermelon is loaded with antioxidants, including vitamin C, to help protect against the ageing process. This helps banish and prevent annoying wrinkles and allows you to glow all through Valentine’s Day!  Try to eat some watermelon regularly; it makes a really enjoyable snack.

Oysters

Often the top of everyone’s list when it comes to libido, oysters are frequently referred to as an aphrodisiac.  This is primarily due to them containing high levels of the mineral zinc, needed to help produce testosterone and essential for fertility and reproduction.

A plate of fresh oysters

Oysters also deliver a decadent treat and make a great starter is you’re hoping to impress your partner; serve them with plenty of fresh lemon and sprinkle with Worcester sauce to further add some spice to your meal and your evening!

Chocolate

Maybe not such a surprise about this one!  Whilst most people love chocolate and see it as a treat, it’s not just the taste that makes us feel good.  Research shows it has been found to increase levels of our happy hormone, serotonin.

Chocolate covered strawberries

Importantly, eating chocolate raises levels of a compound called phenylethylamine, which we naturally produce when in love.  Even better, chocolate is really high in plant polyphenols which naturally help blood flow and this also means blood flow gets to the parts it’s needed most!

Make sure chocolate is somewhere on the menu this Valentine’s Day and you can enjoy it completely guilt-free!

Avocados

The Aztecs apparently named avocados “the testicle tree”! Whilst this is not a well-known fact, the Aztecs were certainly on to something good when they realised that avocados could boost libido.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

They are high in zinc which we know is essential for fertility and reproduction but also vitamin E which helps blood flow generally around the body.  Plus, vitamin E is great for the skin, so you’ll certainly get that glow this Valentine’s Day and particularly if you eat them regularly in the diet.  They are delicious mixed with lemon juice and some salad leaves in a wholemeal pitta, making an easy lunchtime nutrient-booster.

You might also want to think about some guacamole as a mood-boosting starter to your romantic Valentine’s meal?

Oily fish

Sardines, salmon and mackerel are all rich sources of the essential omega-3 fats.  They’re essential because the body can’t make them, so they need to be eaten regularly in the diet. They’re also vitally important for hormone balance, therefore libido.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Additionally, omega-3s help keep the blood thin and free-flowing which will encourage blood flow to the sexual organs.  Don’t worry if oily fish isn’t your bag: you can still get plenty of these essential omegas from eating pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.

These foods might not be the ideal choices for your Valentine’s Day meal but if you include them regularly in the diet, you’ll hopefully keep that spark going.

So, the scene is now set for the perfect nutritional start to your Valentine’s Day – enjoy!

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Taking care of your mind matters: top nutrition and wellbeing advice for better emotional health

Two strawberries and a banana placed to make a smiley face

There’s much coverage in the Press and on social media about the importance of talking openly about mental health, and rightly so: there should be no stigma around the topic. Interestingly, getting your diet right can also be an important contributor to good emotional health.

So how can we help ourselves and look after our mental wellbeing through nutrition? 

This Time to Talk Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition and wellbeing tips for a happier mind.

Ditch the sugar

There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Eating foods, namely sugar, with no nutritional value and which deplete nutrients, should be avoided.  Most importantly, sugar can be something that many people are addicted to.  Like any addictive substance, it has side effects, one of them being low mood.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Being addicted to fizzy drinks, even the diet kind is not uncommon.  Many people are drinking between five and ten cans daily.  Not only does this deplete nutrients but sugar or sweeteners upset brain chemistry, both of which can cause low mood, irritability and lack of concentration.  They also upset blood sugar balance, leading to low energy levels and weight gain. Yes, even diet drinks can make you put on weight. Sugar, in all its forms, needs to be moderated as much as possible if you want to balance your mood.

Good mood foods

Certain foods can contribute to a much happier mood. Nutrient-dense foods contain key vitamins and minerals needed to produce the brain’s happy hormones and neurotransmitters.  Key to this are the B-vitamins which are also needed for a balanced nervous system.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

The good news is that B-vitamins are widely available in many foods including whole grains, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and dark leafy vegetables.  Plus, bananas are a really good source of vitamin B6, a great transportable snack.

Protein-rich foods including chicken and turkey, eggs, soya products, as well as oats are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin.  Try to include protein at every mealtime for best effects.

Get more of the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, it is also the sunshine vitamin because it plays an important role in balancing your mood. Whilst vitamin D is essential for bones, teeth and a healthy immune system, deficiency will cause low mood, even depression.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

During the darker, winter months, the only way to get enough is to take a daily supplement: even foods which contain Vitamin D deliver very little. Public Health England recommends a minimum supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily for everyone. Taking a vitamin D supplement daily is a really easy way of boosting mood naturally.

Get talking

We are all becoming more aware of the increased prevalence of emotional wellbeing issues and the fact it’s being more widely talked in general about can make a real difference to people suffering.  It’s always good to try and talk to a family member or close friend if you are feeling low or anxious. And it’s always good to talk to someone you know who you think may be having challenges.

Two women talking about mental health

Whilst many people bottle up their feelings, this can often make matters worse.  Putting on a ‘brave face’ and keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ might have been the norm years ago, but it can certainly cause more problems than it solves.

Getting outside professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist can provide much-needed support.  Most will offer a free initial session because it’s important to feel comfortable: it’s well worth investing the time to find the right person to help you.

Try some happy herbs

As we know, Traditional Herbal Remedies (or licensed herbal medicines) can be incredibly powerful and make a real improvement to many health complaints.  Top of the list for low mood is St John’s Wort which helps raise serotonin levels.  It can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops but always look out for Licensed Medicinal Herbs with the ‘THR’ symbol.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Herbs don’t work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs, so you may need to wait two to three weeks before noticing improvements, but it’s certainly worth trying the natural approach.

Additionally, the herb passionflower is incredibly calming.  Anxiety often accompanies low mood, and the two herbs work very well together.  Passionflower tends to work faster and can also be used before a stressful event as well as for longer term.

So, make looking after your emotional wellbeing a top priority during 2020.

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Banish the January blues: top nutrition and lifestyle tips for beating low mood

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The month of January can make us feel pretty glum. This is mainly because the weather is generally gloomy, bank balances are depleted after Christmas, colds and flu take hold and all of this can make us often feel low. 

The good news is that there are plenty of nutrients and herbs that can help lift your mood.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips this Blue Monday.

What effects our mood?

Mood and motivation are largely determined by serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’.  Serotonin acts as both a hormone and a brain neurotransmitter and it’s pretty important when it comes to thinking about emotional wellbeing.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

Interestingly most serotonin is produced in the gut, therefore what goes on in the digestive system is inextricably linked to how we feel. Certain nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and the B vitamins are all needed to help in its production.  It also uses the amino acid tryptophan (a protein) to get it working. All this means there are plenty of things we can do to help make sure serotonin production is as good as it can be.

Get the basics right

Our internal systems need to be in good working order for us to feel happy and motivated, not just because of serotonin production but also to prevent any toxins building up, which can make us feel sluggish.  A good balance of friendly bacteria and plenty of fibre are key.

A range of wholegrain foods

Live natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, Jerusalem artichokes (in season right now), green tea and whole grain foods such as oats are great for feeding the good bacteria. They also help keep everything moving through the digestive tract smoothly.

Eat protein at every meal

Amino acids, which make up proteins, are found in foods containing protein such as meat, eggs, poultry, fish, soy, dairy, nut and beans.  The amino acid tryptophan is found in many of these foods and the levels of each of the amino acids varies in different foods.

A range of foods containing protein

In order not to over-complicate matters, the best advice is to ensure you’re eating protein at every meal. This way you’ll be eating tryptophan, plus you’ll be keeping blood sugar levels in good balance, which is essential for maintaining concentration, energy and a brighter mood throughout the day.

Try some herbal helpers

When it comes to health, herbs are very powerful: we can often forget just what a difference these naturally occurring plants can make to health.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Top of the list for helping lift low mood is the herb St John’s wort.  It has been widely researched over the years and is now found on supermarket and health food shop shelves as a licensed herbal medicine, denoted by the Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) mark, meaning its safety and efficacy is assured.

As with all herbs, their exact mode of action is still a bit of a mystery, but research has shown that it helps raise serotonin levels.  It can take about three weeks to work but it’s well worth sticking with it because it’s very effective if you’re feeling down.

Ramp up your nutrients

To ensure optimal production, serotonin also needs a helping hand from our diet. Vitamin C is key in this respect and the good news is that it’s found in all fruits and vegetables in varying amounts.  Top of the list, however, are red peppers, kiwis, papaya, green leafy veg and all citrus fruits, so add some colour to your plate at every meal or snack.

A range of fruits and vegetables

The mineral zinc is another hard-working nutrient, also needed for healthy immunity, but essential for good brain function and mood.  Meat, shellfish (especially oysters), eggs, nut, seeds and dairy produce are all high in zinc so include them regularly in your meal planning.

Close up of a lobster, oysters and prawns to represent shellfish

Vitamin B6 also works in harmony with zinc and vitamin C, keeping your mood in check and helping produce serotonin. Bananas make a great snack, keep energy levels on track and are high in vitamin B6 so try to eat about four a week.  Additionally, dark leafy greens, oranges, beans and fortified cereals are great choices for an extra boost of Vitamin B6.

So, with a little dietary and herbal help you can hopefully keep smiling your way through the month and beyond.

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Migraine misery? Nutritional support to help.

Close of woman in black and white with red pain showing in forehead to represent migraine attack

According to the Migraine Trust, there are a staggering 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK, affecting around one in seven people.  That’s a lot of people suffering with this debilitating condition. 

However, the good news is there is much than can be done to help nutritionally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at migraine and shares some nutritional tips that can help.

What causes migraines?

There are several suggestions as to what causes migraine as research is still very much on-going. However, there is often a genetic predisposition. Many more women than men suffer from migraines and they are frequently cyclical, meaning they’re linked to the menstrual cycle.

Traditional research describes migraines as vascular headaches involving dilation or contraction of blood vessels.  More recent research has found a link to having high levels of prolactin, a hormone present in both men and women and responsible for milk production in women.  However, high levels have also been found in migraine sufferers which may improve treatment options where people are unable to find relief.

Side profile of a person higlighting their brain functioning

Additionally, there has been research to suggest that migraine sufferers have low levels of our ‘happy hormone’ serotonin in the blood stream, hence some medication helps raise serotonin levels.  Certain foods can also help raise levels.

Whilst the exact cause may be unclear, we do know for sure there are certain triggers, and foods that can send migraine sufferers running for a darkened room.

Foods to enjoy

The good news is that whilst there are certainly foods that should be avoided, there’s plenty to enjoy which may help alleviate symptoms; pineapples, almond milk, almonds and cherries have all been shown to have positive effects on symptoms.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

Importantly, foods known to raise serotonin levels include fish, turkey, oats, soya, tofu and seeds which should be included regularly in the diet.

A range of green vegetables

The mineral magnesium is essential for relaxing the muscles and for aiding relaxation in the body generally.  Stress and poor sleep are often migraine triggers, therefore be sure to include plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains.  If sleep is a problem for you then an oatcake with a small, warm drink of soya milk may help just before bedtime.

Get your omegas

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

The omega-3 essential fats help reduce blood platelet ‘stickiness’ meaning blood flow to the brain will be better.  Oily fish is the best choice but if that’s not your bag or you’re vegetarian, then flaxseeds are also a great source of omega-3s.  Sprinkle some on your morning oat-based breakfast every day for a super start to the day!

Herbal helpers

Nature provides a wealth of herbs which have many therapeutic benefits so it’s certainly worth trying them to see what works for you.  Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and encourages good blood flow, so would certainly be the first choice.  Plus, it’s so easy to include in the daily diet. Try it freshly crushed in tea, in stir fries, Thai curries, and with lightly fried seabass fillets, for example.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Turmeric is another brilliant anti-inflammatory botanical that can be used widely in dishes.  Turmeric is great in soups, curries, and casseroles but is also delicious sprinkled over chopped sweet potato wedges whilst they’re cooking in the oven, with a little olive oil.

Lastly, calming herbs such as peppermint and camomile make brilliant teas and help to de-stress, lessening the likelihood of attack.

Foods to avoid

Whilst many sufferers will know their own triggers, some will struggle to find foods that are setting off their migraine attack.  Foods containing the amino acid tyramine, including hard cheeses, bananas, canned fish, tomatoes, avocados, dairy and potatoes, plus beer and red wine, are known triggers.  Sadly, chocolate is often a trigger too.

No chocolate sign

Be very careful of foods containing monosodium glutamate or MSG; this is often found in take-aways, and processed food labels need to be checked carefully.  However, it’s always best to eat home-cooked foods as much as possible to avoid the possibility of having MSG.

It’s also worth having a food intolerance blood test which looks at the common trigger foods, plus others which may be problematic for you.

Whilst there is unlikely to be only one nutritional change that will make the difference, taking a combined approach is far more likely to achieve success.

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Nutritional advice for 5 everyday health concerns

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Good health is the most important part of life. Indeed, feeling optimally well has to be our ultimate aim so that we can embrace all that life has to offer. But what happens, when the body lets you down and health niggles start kicking in?

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Eating the right foods is the cornerstone of life and it’s never too late to get your diet on track. Most importantly, what you eat can have a really positive influence on many daily health issues.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great nutritional advice for five everyday health concerns.

Ultimate immunity

Having an effective immune system that keeps out unwanted viruses and bacteria is essential for the body to stay healthy. Whilst nature is very clever in providing us with plenty of armoury, the right nutrition can also really make a difference. And as with everything, prevention is better than cure.

Sugar in all its forms is more disruptive than anything to the immune system. Refined, sugar-laden carbs such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and fizzy drinks and alcohol are not the immune system’s friend, so they need to be kept as low as possible. Allow yourself one or two treat days a week but try and keep sugar low on the other days.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Vitamin C is the key nutrient for the immune system. Of course there are many other key immune-loving nutrients but make vitamin C your focus. This means trying to eat as many vegetables as possible; peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes are especially high in vitamin C. Go easy on the fruit and make vegetables the main event. However, all berry fruits are loaded with vitamin C and in season right now, so try to include one portion of these per day.

Glowing skin and glossy hair

Who doesn’t want both of these! Glowing skin and glossy hair are primarily a reflection of what’s within; what you eat makes a massive difference to how you look. As both skin and hair contain protein in the form of collagen and keratin, it’s really important to make sure you’re eating plenty of protein.

A range of foods containing protein

Eat protein at every meal. Include meat, fish, chicken, soya, beans, lentils or dairy produce – all are great sources. It’s also worth bearing in mind that biotin is the most important B-vitamin when it comes to hair and skin. It’s rich in liver, eggs, dairy, and salmon so you might want to also consider these when making your protein choices to get double the benefit.

Smooth joints and strong bones

Having a strong skeletal frame is clearly very important; it works very hard for you! Peak bone density is reached at the end of your teenage years so having sufficient calcium, magnesium and vitamin D (being the key bone-building nutrients) is important in the early years.

A range of foods containing calcium

However, bones and joints need feeding throughout life to maintain strength. Key foods are dairy produce and green leafy vegetables.   Additionally, try and get 15 minutes of sunshine every day daily to help the body produce vitamin D. It’s also advisable to take a daily supplement of vitamin D all-year round because even when the sun shines, we’re not necessarily outside enough to reap the benefits.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Joints also need ‘oiling’ to keep them running smoothly and to this end the omega-3 essential fats are key. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the key foods, so include them in the diet as much as possible.

Abundant energy

We all want to feel vibrant every day with plenty of energy to enjoy life to the full. However, many people of all ages complain of poor energy levels which negatively affects their quality of life.

The main energising nutrients are the B-vitamins because they help the body produce energy from food. They are a family of eight vitamins and they can be found in a range of foods. However foods which contain most of the B-vitamins in one source are salmon, liver, eggs, beans, wholegrains, chicken and turkey, so there’s plenty of choice.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Additionally, B-vitamins are used up quickly during times of stress or by drinking alcohol. Interestingly, both of these factors also impact our immune system so it makes sense to balance these as much as possible.

Balanced mood

If you’re frequently feeling low, edgy, anxious or irritable then there may be something amiss with your diet. About 70% of the body’s ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is produced in the gut so what you eat makes a massive difference to how you feel.

Too much caffeine is never going to keep mood balanced; it’s very individual as to how much each person is affected. As a general rule, though, no more than 2-3 caffeinated drinks per day should be consumed; this includes cola and similar caffeine-containing drinks.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

There are some real stand-out foods in terms of keeping your mood boosted through the day. One of the best breakfasts is a bowl of oats, either as porridge or within an oat-based cereal. Oats are packed with complex carbs that keep energy and mood balanced throughout the day. Plus they contain tryptophan, the amino acid that produces serotonin. Top it with a banana, also rich in tryptophan, and natural yoghurt to feed the good gut bacteria and life will feel better for it.

So with a few simple tweaks, what you eat can really make a difference to how you look and feel!

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Healthy body, healthy mind: top brain-boosting foods

 

Sideways view of a happy woman's face with her brain outlined and glowing

It’s no secret that what we eat has a massive impact on brain function. However, wouldn’t it be great if we could really improve concentration, mood and stress just by changing up the diet a little?

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There are plenty of small changes you can make which will have a real impact not just on how you feel but also in supporting your cognitive functioning.

Suzie Sawyer shares her favourite foods for getting brain health on track.

Avocados to beat stress

There are a number of nutrients involved in the stress response. Vitamin B6 is one of the major players, and delicious avocados are a great source. In fact, avocados are all-round good guys, loaded with great nutrients, including vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant which is also protective of the brain.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

On trend right now as a favourite breakfast is smashed avocado on sour dough bread, which makes a wonderful start to the day. Or why not include half an avocado in your morning power smoothie with banana, frozen berries, almond butter and coconut milk, to start the day right?

Turkey is not just for Christmas

For some reason, people forget that turkey is a really healthy, protein-packed food and should definitely be eaten all year round, especially if you want your brain to fire on all cylinders.

Sliced turkey breast

Turkey is high in vitamin B3 which is key in the production of brain neurotransmitters. A lack of vitamin B3 can cause low mood and depression, so turkey can really keep you feeling happier. Turkey breast meat has slightly less fat than chicken. Therefore, cooking up a turkey stir fry with plenty of colourful veg makes a nutrient-packed, easy and low-calorie meal.

Sharpen your brain with lecithin

Lecithin is a phospholipid (fat) that is essential for brain function. There is evidence that people have seen great benefits in their memory and all-round cognitive functions from increasing lecithin in their diet.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

Lecithin granules, which can be bought at most good health food shops, may not sound particularly appetising but they can be added very easily to soups, stews, cereals – in fact, any hot or cold dish, as their health benefits are not destroyed by heat.

Egg yolks are also a great source of lecithin so make sure you’re eating around six eggs per week, if you can. Lecithin granules can be suitable for vegetarians – always check out the label.

Boost your mood with beans

Many people avoid all types of beans as they’re worried about the all-too common digestive distress. However, the flatulence that beans often cause is generally because the body is not making enough of the enzyme which breaks them down. The more beans you eat however, the more the enzyme reaction will be uprated – something else to smile about!

A range of beans

All types of beans are high in B vitamins, plus the amino acid tryptophan, needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin. Plus, they’re so easy to include in the diet on a regular basis, in soups or mixed with tinned tomatoes, onions, peppers and some chipotle, for a tasty dinner. YOU can even go for the old faithful of beans on wholemeal toast for breakfast. If you’re having tinned baked beans, make sure you opt for the sugar and salt-free versions though.

Keep focussed with pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fats and the mineral zinc. Even better, they contain protein to help balance blood sugar levels; another reason concentration levels will be improved. The brain contains lots of fat, much of that being the essential omega-3s, hence it’s really important to include them in the diet to support concentration and good mood.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are very easy to include in many dishes and are certainly great sprinkled over smashed avocado, porridge, cereals or mixed into natural yoghurt with fruit in the mornings. Pumpkin seeds are best not heated as this can damage the omega-3 fats.

We are what we eat. Just like the body, the brain can only function optimally with the right fuel so give it some help with these brain-boosting foods.

 

 

 

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Seasonal eating: top nutrition for February

Many people will be very glad to see the back of January, for lots of different reasons! And now February, the month of love, is here!

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It is a great time to welcome some seasonal food that can help to lift your mood and hopefully put a smile on your face.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five seasonal foods for February and explains why they’ll help boost your feelings of happiness.

Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes help to feed the good gut bacteria. This in turn helps produce more serotonin, our happy hormone, primarily made in the gut. Interestingly, Jerusalem artichokes have no link to the city or other artichokes: it is likely that the name ‘Jerusalem’ is derived from the word girasole which is Italian for sunflower.

Jerusalem artichokes

As a vegetable they are quite delicious and whilst they may be slightly awkward to prepare, because of their knobbly shape, it’s well worth the effort. They can be cooked as you would potatoes, either roasted, sautéed or boiled. Jerusalem artichokes can also be eaten raw in salads and they’re great lightly stir-fried with the skin left on.

Scallops

Scallops are high in brain-boosting zinc, vitamin B12 and niacin (vitamin B3). All these nutrients are needed to help produce our brain neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

We can be very proud of the quality of our scallops from the English waters as they generally have a really fine soft texture and a slightly sweet taste. Scallops balance really well with strong flavours such as bacon but also Oriental spices including lemongrass, chilli and ginger. Indeed, ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so eating them lightly fried in a little olive oil with ginger is going to support your immunity.

Passion Fruits

Passion fruits descend from the Passiflora plant and can naturally help anxiety, plus induce feelings of calm. Whilst passion fruits are clearly not grown in the UK, imports are readily available at this time of year.

Passion fruits

Passion fruits are rich sources of vitamin A and vitamin C which help to keep the immune system in good shape. They also contain some energy-boosting iron. The seeds are also packed with fibre and both the pulp and seeds can be eaten. The sieved juice is great slightly heated,with a little coconut sugar added, which makes a wonderful coulis to pour over fruit salad or your favourite chocolate fudge cake. Now that will certainly put a smile on your face!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Its rich dark colour means it’s high in anti-aging antioxidants to help support anti-ageing – and that’s really something to smile about! The darker the colour of any fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients they tend to contain and purple sprouting broccoli is no exception.

Purple sprouting broccoli

It’s also packed with immune boosting vitamin C, beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as needed in the body, and heart-loving potassium (even better for the month of love!)

Purple sprouting broccoli works well alone as a delicious vegetable side, but is also great stir-fried with garlic and sesame seeds, in a pasta dish or steamed and then lightly tossed with almonds and spring onions.

Swede

Swede is totally delicious and really doesn’t get enough airtime! From the family of cruciferous vegetables, which contain active compounds that may help prevent serious degenerative diseases, swede also provides good amounts of vitamin C. It’s great for anyone still trying to lose those additional Christmas kilos, as a typical portion size contains only around 11 calories.

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Swede works really well on its own simply mashed with a little butter and black pepper or alongside other mashed root veggies such as carrots and turnips. It can also be added to stews or to change things up mashed or roasted with potatoes.

And for those who’ve recently celebrated Burn’s Night, you’ll be familiar with the expression ‘neeps’ which is Scottish for swede! They’re traditionally eaten alongside the haggis.

So enjoy the month of love by including some delicious seasonal produce to make February a happy and healthy month!

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Eat to beat anxiety: top nutrition for lifting your mood

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

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

 

Eggs

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

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

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

Portobello mushrooms

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

Portobello mushrooms in a basket

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

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

Lavender

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

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

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

Green Tea

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

A cup of green tea

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

Oats

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

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

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

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

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

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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