Five essential well-being tips for a happy and healthy holiday

You’ve planned for that long-awaited holiday and now it’s time to pack those cases. However, if you want to have the happiest and healthiest of holidays, then there are a few extra things you can do to make sure this happens.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for a healthy holiday.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

BEFORE YOU GO:

PREPARE YOUR TUMMY

Wherever you’re travelling to in the world, even if it’s not too far away, you’ll still be out of your normal eating routine, plus you may be visiting countries where people are generally more prone to tummy troubles.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

The best advice is to take a course of probiotics at least a couple of weeks before you leave. Readily available in health food stores, probiotics are the friendly bacteria that keep your digestive system running smoothly, but also protect it from unwanted infections and tummy bugs. Look for a probiotic supplement that contains the strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

It’s also good to eat plenty of natural yoghurt before you go on holiday, as well as during your stay. And don’t forget to pack the probiotics too, so even if you don’t have time to start a course before you go away, you can take them throughout your holiday.

PREPARE YOUR SKIN

We all want to have glowing skin, particularly whilst on holiday but certainly when we come back. For a couple of weeks before you go, use coconut oil as a moisturiser; it’s one of the best. Skin can become very dry on holiday and using coconut oil means your skin will be super-soft and really well moisturised. Keep up the regime when you return and hopefully you’ll not suffer from any post-holiday flakiness.

Prepare your skin from the inside too by eating foods rich in beta-carotene before you go. That means lots of orange and red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and red and orange peppers. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant which will help protect your skin against sun damage. You’ll still need to wear sun cream, but it can help prevent any unwanted burning. And of course include them as much as you can in your diet whilst you are away.

PACK SOME ALOE VERA

Aloe vera was said to be the ‘Elixir of life’ by Cleopatra. As with so many of these ancient remedies, they deliver a wealth of health benefits, and aloe vera is no exception. Its benefits for the digestive system are well-documented, and it’s also great for the skin.

You can readily buy aloe vera in gel form; it’s a holiday essential as it will soothe any sunburn or irritated skin and also calm other skin complaints that may flare up whilst you’re away. And don’t just save it for your holiday; keep it in your medicine cabinet all-year round! It can also help soothe tired and aching joints and muscles.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE:

USE YOUR TIME WISELY

When on holiday, hopefully you’ll have some free time to just be in your own head space. You can really use this time to great effect by either learning something new (TED talks are great for easy listening and learning) or maybe even practice meditation.

As with anything, meditation does take some time to properly learn and many people give up along the way because they struggle to clear the mind or can’t feel the benefits. However, it’s worth persevering because meditation can really help to relieve stress and anxiety, and many practisers report feelings of inner calm and peace. You need a place of peace and quiet to meditate so try to plan this for a short time every day during your holiday.

DRINK PLENTY OF WATER

It may sound an obvious one but of all the things you should do before and during your holiday making sure you’re properly hydrated is key. It’s easy to forget how dehydrating the combination of alcohol and sun can be.

A couple of weeks before you leave for your hols, really increase your liquid intake. Always start the day with some warm water with lemon and ginger which helps cleanse the liver and alkalise the body. You can carry on drinking this throughout the day or if you prefer iced water then add some refreshing and inner-cleansing cucumber. Try to drink eight glasses of water each day. The body needs to be hydrated at a cellular level to function well, so preparation is key.

Close up of woman on beach with a glass of water to represent hydration

Whilst you’re away, it’s important to drink as much water as you can but obviously be mindful of drinking tap water. It’s always best to drink bottled or boiled water wherever you are in the world; parasites can be present in the water in many European countries as well as far-flung ones.

So with these five key tips, you should have a wonderfully healthy holiday – enjoy!

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Boost your energy from within with these top nutrients

The mind may be willing but the body’s saying NO! A common feeling! You want to get off the sofa or jump out of bed but every bone and muscle in your body is disagreeing with your mind. Sounds familiar? Unfortunately, many of us suffer with low energy levels much of the time (whatever age) and some of us feel tired all the time, also known as TATT. So what changes can you make to your nutrient intake to give your energy a boost?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares the top nutrients we need to get that ‘leap out of bed’ feeling!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IRON

The trace mineral iron is critical to human life. It plays a pivotal role in the production of red blood cells, transporting oxygen from the lungs around the body, but is also key in energy production. Unfortunately, it’s often depleted, particularly in teenage girls and women of child-bearing age, partly due to monthly menstruation but also down to the typical Western diet. Deficiency symptoms can lead to anaemia and tiredness.

The most well absorbed form of iron, known as heme iron, is found in animal foods particularly red meat, which many people don’t eat. However, non heme iron is found in plant foods such as nuts, Jersusalem artichokes and green leafy vegetables. Interestingly, even a small iron deficiency can cause fatigue and reduced physical performance, and this will be really noticeable if you’re a keen exerciser. It’s therefore worth getting a blood test from your doctor if you think you could be low in iron.

The good news is that even though plant-based foods do not contain heme iron, absorption can be considerably improved if they’re eaten with other foods containing vitamin C. Green leafy vegetables naturally contain a lot of vitamin C but drinking a small glass of orange juice at the same time can really make a difference.

MAGNESIUM

One of our most abundant minerals in the body, magnesium is essential for energy production as well as muscle function. Indeed, it’s key in producing our main energy producing molecule, ATP – Adenosine triphosphate – an energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things. However, as with many other nutrients, magnesium is often deficient due to low intake from the diet, plus magnesium and the B vitamins are also depleted by stress, our modern-day epidemic.

Magnesium is found in whole foods such as whole wheat cereals and bread, beans and pulses, as well as green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas and sweet potato. It’s also good news for seafood lovers as a portion of halibut supplies around a third of the body’s daily needs.

Magnesium can be a confusing mineral. Whilst it’s essential for energy production because of its role in enzyme production, it can also help people to sleep: this is because it aids muscle relaxation and as such is known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’. So the best advice is to ensure you’re eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods throughout the day but if you need help sleeping then it’s best to take a supplement of magnesium around an hour before bedtime. Plus, the more sleep you have, the more energised you’ll feel!

B VITAMINS

These are a family of 8 nutrients that all work together in perfect harmony. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, Folic acid and biotin all play key roles in energy production. They’re sometimes found in combination together in foods but they certainly all club together and work in unison in the body.

So where can you find them? If you’re having a varied and colourful diet, you’ll certainly be getting some B vitamins. However, vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce such as liver, fish, red meat and cheese. Therefore, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’re more than likely to need a supportive supplement. A lack of vitamin B12 will definitely cause energy levels to be low.

Biotin is often referred to as the beauty vitamin as it supports your hair and skin, but its presence is also essential for energy production. Another reason to be stocking up on nuts, rice, whole wheat cereals, liver and soya beans. And if none of these foods float your boat, then taking a supplement is a really good idea.

So fuel up with these top nutrients and energise yourself for a life with more get-up-and-go!

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The amazing benefits of Vitamin C

Many mammals produce their own vitamin C, but humans lost that ability many years ago, through lacking a specific enzyme within the body. Fortunately, as always, nature has come to the rescue since vitamin C is readily available in many foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. However, it’s quickly lost during food preparation, cooking and storage which is why it needs to be eaten very regularly.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us everything we need to know about Vitamin C.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

WHAT IS IT?

Vitamin C is probably one of the most well-known vitamins. Whilst James Lind recognised during the 1700’s that lemons and limes could prevent the deficiency disease of scurvy, no-one realised it was actually down to a lack of vitamin C. It was first discovered by a Hungarian Biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi in 1928 and further work was then carried out to fully understand its chemical structure and its wonderful health benefits to the body.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is water-soluble. This means it is not stored in the body, unlike vitamins A, D, E and K, and so needs to be consumed every day. Researchers and experts may differ in their views of how much vitamin C we need to consume daily, but one thing’s for sure: it plays an essential role in our daily nutrition.

WHAT DOES IT DO?

One of the most important functions of Vitamin C is the formation and maintenance of collagen which is essential for growth, skin health and repair of bones, tendons and cartilage. This is the reason why vitamin C is often known as the ‘beauty vitamin’ and why it’s found in skin preparations. Eating sufficient vitamin C will certainly help keep the skin looking young.

Additionally, vitamin C is our primary water-soluble key antioxidant and our first line of antioxidant protection. It works alongside vitamin E, our key fat-soluble vitamin, and the two complement each other at cellular level.

Vitamin C also plays a critical role in immune function by enhancing white blood cell production and providing antiviral properties.

WHERE IS IT FOUND?

Vitamin C is rich in most fruits and vegetables. However, it’s especially high in kiwi, papaya, citrus fruits, strawberries and sweet peppers. In fact, the easiest way to ensure you’re getting plenty into your diet is by looking at the colour on your plate. Have you eaten a fruit and vegetable rainbow?

It is quite difficult to eat all the colours of the rainbow in one meal but it’s certainly possible over the course of a day. Fruits and vegetables with their rich and vibrant colours are packed with vitamin C, as well as other antioxidants and beneficial nutrients, so include as many as you can every day.

HOW TO EAT MORE

Whilst vitamin C is lost during cooking, it does leech into the water if you’re boiling or steaming. So using the ‘vegetable water’ to make a sauce or gravy, or refrigerate it to use in a juice or smoothie at a later date. Alternatively, eating fruits and vegetables raw is a great way of retaining all their wonderful nutrient content.

An easy way to boost your vitamin C intake during the day is to snack on fruits and vegetables; for example, eat crudités with hummus or blueberries as a morning snack or try a few slices of apple before bedtime (which can also help with sleep). Take a leaf out of the Mediterranean diet: they may not eat lots of vegetables at meal times, but they eat them at other times of the day or often as a starter to a meal.

It’s good to get into the habit of having vegetables with every meal, whatever you’re eating. For example, you may have prepared a delicious chilli con carne with rice, but what’s wrong with having a side of broccoli with it?

NEED TO KNOW

Around 70-90% of vitamin C is absorbed fairly rapidly and excreted through the urine after about 30 minutes. For this reason, the body can’t absorb large amounts of vitamin C in one dosage, when taken in supplement form, hence the often-heard advice to take it in divided dosages throughout the day.

It’s also worth remembering that freshly sliced cucumbers, if left standing, lose around 45% of their vitamin C content within the first three hours. So, with all fruits and vegetables, prepare, chop and eat as quickly as possible!

So with a little thought and planning, it’s not difficult to eat good levels of vitamin C every day and you’ll quickly notice the benefits to your health.

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Improve your skin from within with these top nutrients

We hear the saying ‘beauty comes from within’ frequently. And, indeed, this is absolutely true; your skin can only ever be a reflection of your inner self. Even with all the potions and lotions that are available, they can only help so much.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares three of her top skin-loving nutrients for inner and outer beauty!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Your skin is the largest organ in the body and everything that goes on inside shows on the outside. For example, if you’re stressed, it will show in the face and often new lines and wrinkles appear. If you’re suffering from food allergies or intolerances, you’ll often see dark circles around the eyes, and a lack of nutrients generally will lead to lack-lustre skin. So how can you achieve beautiful skin from the inside out?

BIOTIN

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is one of the family of B-vitamins that are all incredibly busy in the body. They are primarily involved in breaking down food for energy but biotin also plays a role in cell growth and replication. The body is constantly renewing cells and of course this also happens in the skin.

As well as obtaining biotin from certain foods in the diet, it’s also produced by beneficial bacteria in the gut. However, if gut flora is not optimal (which is common) then less biotin will be produced. This is one of the reasons that good gut bacteria is so key for skin health.

A lack of biotin will make itself known and this deficiency can display itself as dry, scaly skin, nausea, or seborrheic dermatitis (a common skin condition causing scaly, red skin and dandruff). All B-vitamins are needed for the body to correctly metabolise essential fats (also important for healthy skin). Therefore, packing in some biotin-rich foods such as cheese, liver, soy beans, mushrooms, nuts and some whole-wheat cereal, together with oily fish, which is rich in omega-3 fats, could be one of the secrets to fabulous skin!

ZINC

Zinc is probably one of the busiest minerals in the body. It’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions, so it’s not surprising it plays a key role in encouraging healthy skin. The skin contains high levels of zinc as do the bones, liver, kidneys, male prostate and the retina of the eye.

It’s interesting to note that some of the signs of zinc deficiency are poor wound healing of the skin and the onset of skin disorders such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Indeed, one of the reasons that teenagers often suffer from acne is due to a zinc deficiency. However, one of the easiest ways of knowing if you’re zinc deficient is when you see white spots on more than three finger nails. Obviously, be aware that damage to the nail bed can also cause similar marks on the finger nails.

The best source of zinc by far is oysters which are not for everyone! However, zinc is still relatively high in other fish, shellfish and red meat, as well as pumpkin seeds, ginger, nuts, and whole wheat foods. The importance of having sufficient zinc in the diet can’t be over-emphasised if you want beautiful, blemish-free skin.

VITAMIN E

Vitamin E is one of our most powerful antioxidant nutrients, thereby protecting every cell in the body from free radical damage. In fact, it’s our key fat soluble antioxidant working within the fatty portion of every cell membrane.

So, it naturally follows that vitamin E is really important when thinking about the skin. How much we actually need on a daily basis is often difficult to quantify because a lot depends on the amount of polyunsaturated fats in the diet. These are found in many types of oils, often ones we use for cooking that can become damaged by high heat.

Fortunately, in nature where there are high levels of polyunsaturated fats, there’s also high levels of vitamin E. Some of the best food sources are vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, wholegrains, berries and green leafy vegetables. Additionally, avocados are some of the richest sources of vitamin E which is why you’ll often see avocados in beauty smoothies and face packs!

So by looking after your skin from the inside with good nutrition, you’ll be sure to find that outward glow!

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In-season: the wonders of asparagus

English asparagus has just come into season and is delicious.  Rich in many nutrients, it is a very versatile vegetable whether boiled, steamed, roasted, cooked on the barbeque or grilled.  Plus, there’s no shortage of foods it can be combined with.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the reasons why asparagus should be on your weekly shopping list!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Asparagus is a spring vegetable with the most edible part being the tips.  It is often more expensive than some other vegetables, even when in season, because of the work taken to harvest it and the fact that its natural season is very short.

 

As with many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, asparagus was used in traditional folk medicine to treat a number of symptoms, especially inflammatory conditions.  Whilst it’s no longer part of your GP’s medicine chest, asparagus remains a very good source of fibre to keep the bowels healthy and is also a natural diuretic which could help with water retention: it also helps liver detoxification so might be well-chosen for a hangover cure.  Even better, it feeds the good bacteria in the digestive tract, helping to stop bloating, boost immunity and promote healthy skin.

There’s just one little downside; after eating, our urine does acquire a rather strange smell and this comes from the amino acid, arginine.  However, it’s not a prolonged side effect and it also means that asparagus contains some protein, which is another plus!

NUTRIENT PROFILE

Asparagus is rich in folate – the food-form of folic acid – which is great for energy and producing healthy red blood cells; a 100 g portion of asparagus provides around three-quarters of the body’s requirement for folate each day.  It’s high in vitamins C and E which help to boost the immune system, together with beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in the body – also great for immunity.

Asparagus is also high in vitamin K which is needed for effective blood clotting, strong bones and a healthy heart. As if that weren’t enough, asparagus also contains the minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, iodine and zinc.  Minerals in general are often deficient in the daily diet, purely because they are not present in highly refined foods which tend to make up a large percentage of the typical Western diet. So in this respect asparagus really is a mineral star!

ASPARAGUS MEAL IDEAS

Asparagus is delicious lightly steamed and served with some hollandaise sauce.  This can either be made from scratch using egg yolks, lemon juice, mayonnaise and a little cream or the shop-bought versions are generally really good.  Even better, it’s on many restaurant menus, so enjoy it as a starter.

Another really easy way with asparagus is lightly roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt, pepper and garlic. Or why not try roasted and tossed with some parmesan cheese, or sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Asparagus works particularly well with eggs.  It’s great steamed and topped with a lightly boiled egg as a starter or as part of a salad with egg, avocado, peppers and spinach leaves.

For the more adventurous, it’s delicious in one-pot dishes such as chicken thighs roasted with garlic and rosemary, in a soup with peas, or in a stir fry with anything you fancy!

So catch asparagus while it’s in season right now; the taste and texture won’t be better!

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Everything you need to know about Vitamin A

 

Vitamin A was the first vitamin to be discovered hence giving it the name ‘A’!  And whilst every vitamin delivers their own health benefits, vitamin A really is one of the all-stars.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer delves a little deeper into the amazing health benefits of vitamin A!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

AN INTRODUCTION

Vitamin A is also known as retinol.  It was so-named because it’s crucial for the eyes; the retina at the back of the eye is key to good eyesight.  In fact, it’s essential for great vision – night and day.

Vitamin A was also once known as the ‘anti-infective’ vitamin because it has wonderfully positive effects on the immune system and helps to fight viruses and infections.  It’s also a powerful antioxidant which helps to hold back the years and protect us against some of the most prevalent degenerative diseases.

WHAT DOES PRO-VITAMIN A MEAN?

You may have heard the term pro-vitamin A.  This is because vitamin A can actually be produced in the body from beta carotene, as needed. Serious vitamin A deficiency is actually very rare in the Western World since the body has its own production unit.

Foods high in beta-carotene are generally fruits and vegetables that are red, yellow and orange in colour. This partly explains the ‘old-wives tale’ of carrots helping you to see in the dark!

WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

Vitamin A is available in animal foods, with fish liver oils being the richest source.  All types of liver, egg yolks and dairy are excellent sources.  There are many different fruits and vegetables that are pro-vitamin A, being carrots, kale, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.

Additionally, vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient that can be stored in the liver so generally a ready-supply is available in the body, as required.

SUGGESTIONS FOR EVERYDAY EATING?

Since vitamin A is readily available directly in foods or in the form of beta carotene, there’s no end of choice for creating delicious vitamin A-packed meals. Think shepherd’s pie with sweet potato topping, liver and bacon with crispy kale side or chicken curry made with crème fraiche.

Even better, make your breakfast a real vitamin A treat with poached eggs and grilled tomatoes!  Eggs are actually the best way to start the day for many reasons alongside the vitamin A content; they’ll get your blood sugar levels well balanced so your energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.

IS VITAMIN A GOOD FOR THE SKIN?

Yes indeed. The reason being that vitamin A plays a key role in stimulating cellular activity associated with skin repair and protection of mucous membranes.  Vitamin A works at the base layer of the skin epidermis, healing and repairing.

A synthetic form of retinol, retinoic acid, has been produced, which is used to treat persistent and difficult skin conditions, particularly acne. However, because vitamin A is stored in the liver, care needs to be taken when using retinoic acid on a long-term basis because it may impede liver function.

WHAT ABOUT PREGNANCY?

You may have heard the advice that liver shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities during pregnancy.  This is because too much vitamin A can be harmful to the growing baby.  However, there is no cause for alarm.  Remember that vitamin A is absolutely essential for developing eyes.

The daily nutrient reference value (NRV) for vitamin A is 800 micrograms.  This is for supplementation purposes. Taking a supplement at this level is actually recommended during pregnancy.  It is perfectly safe (and indeed very wise) to eat plenty of colourful fruits and veg during pregnancy; remember the body only converts beta-carotene to vitamin A as needed by the body.

AM I GETTING ENOUGH?

We know that vitamin A deficiency is rare.  However, people suffering from malabsorption issues or liver problems can sometimes show slight deficiency symptoms such as poor immunity and susceptibility to infections.  Skin problems can also be a sign of deficiency and bumpy skin on the back of the arms can be a good indication that something’s up!

It’s worth also noting that people who have a high alcohol intake, who take cortisone medication for inflammatory problems, or have a high intake of iron may be low in vitamin A; iron competes with vitamin A for absorption in the body.  However, both work happily together when eaten or taken in supplement form at normal levels.

 

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