Why eating more vegetables is so good for you

Happy woman holding a brown paper bag of vegetables in her kitchen

There are many reasons why vegetables should feature very highly in your daily diet. Packed full of nutrients, the range of vegetables available to us all year round makes including them in our meals every day pretty easy.

This month why not take the Veg Pledge and increase your vegetable intake?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five great reasons why you should.

Vegetables are loaded with nutrients

Vegetables are the most nutrient-dense food groups on the planet.  The human body needs around 45 nutrients daily (including water) and a very large proportion of these are found in vegetables.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

If you eat a wide variety of vegetables, then you’ll certainly be loading yourself up with a good range of nutrients.  First up are vitamins, most of which can’t be made in the body so have to be eaten very regularly.  Vitamins such as A, C, and E are all key for the immune system. The B vitamins are needed for energy and a healthy nervous system and brain. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth.  And that’s just the beginning!

The body contains a range of trace minerals that are utilised for many body functions, so must be eaten regularly as well.  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with most of it being stored in the bones.  Magnesium is key for bone health but also for the heart. Potassium and sodium should also be in good balance to support our cell make-up.

Vegetables are packed with antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the body against free radical damage.  Free radicals come from the environment but also from within the body.  Whilst the body has its own antioxidant systems, it needs more protection from foods we eat, including vegetables.  The richer and darker the colour, the more antioxidants the vegetable provides; broccoli and kale, for example, are packed with antioxidants.

A range of orange vegetables

The colour of the vegetable also gives a clue as to the different types of antioxidant it contains.  For example, orange and red vegetables contain lots of carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body. Others serve to protect the body against disease, the aging process and from nasty bugs and infections.

Vegetables are loaded with fibre

We need around 30 grams of fibre in the diet each day to help the digestive tract run smoothly.  Fibre is also needed to aid liver detoxification, balance blood sugar levels and keep cholesterol levels in check, just for starters.

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

Foods contain soluble and insoluble fibre, and we need both, but vegetables contain high levels of soluble fibre.  As an example, there’s around three grams of fibre in a cup of cauliflower so the body needs plenty more from food sources to keep the levels topped up. There are of course other foods, especially whole grains, which contain plenty of fibre.

Vegetables are good for the environment

There’s so much research to suggest that adopting a primarily plant-based diet is very beneficial for health.  However, with climate change and environmental issues of real concern right now, eating more vegetables and less meat is seen as a very good thing.

close upof woman carrying basket of in season fruit and vegetables

Ideally, we should be trying to eat foods in season.  We’ve got very used to being able to eat a whole range of vegetables throughout the year due to the wide availability. Farmer’s markets and local growers should be supported as much as possible and are the best places to find in-season, fresh produce.  Plus, if you can find organic growers then you’ll be reducing your own intake of pesticides and well as being kinder to the environment.

Make vegetables the main event

You can use vegetables in so many ways, not just as side dishes, but also as mains.  Think vegetable curries, risottos and soups or put some of your favourites in a slow cooker with some stock for a lovely warming winter meal.

A bowl of vegetable soup surrounded by vegetables

The varying and wonderful tastes of vegetables can also be enhanced with plenty of delicious and health-giving herbs and spices.  For example, why not try garlic, ginger,  chilli, turmeric, paprika, basil, rosemary or sage. There are so many herbs and spices that can be added to vegetables to both enhance taste and have additional health benefits so get creative!

CLose up of a pestle and mortar surrounded by herbs and spices

 

Eating delicious food is one of life’s pleasures and there are certainly many ways to make vegetables tasty and a big part of your everyday diet. Five-a-day is the minimum you should be aiming for but the more the better!

So, take the veg pledge and enjoy creating vegetable-based dishes this season.

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Managing blood pressure the natural way

Woman having her blood pressure taken

Blood pressure is a good indicator of overall health, with high blood pressure, known as hypertension, indicated as a risk factor in heart attacks and stroke.

According to the NHS, 1 in 4 adults will have high blood pressure, though many may not be aware of their numbers. This is why the ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign runs this week to encourage us all to be aware of our blood pressure. For more information visit the Blood Pressure website

If yours is verging on the high side, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle and nutrition.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives her top nutrition tips and advice on how to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.

Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and will obviously be raised when you’re exercising or doing something more strenuous. It also tends to increase with age.  Average blood pressure readings should be around 120/80 (systolic/diastolic) with the diastolic reading having more significance.

What causes high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can be caused by a narrowing or thickening of the arteries, thicker blood or tension in the arteries which is controlled by the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium in relation to sodium (salt). Sometimes it’s not always obvious what the cause is, but changes to diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on blood pressure readings.

Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables

This is THE most important change to make when addressing blood pressure issues. This is mainly because vitamin C, present in all fruits and vegetables, helps reverse the hardening of the arteries. Other antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables also help protect the arteries from damage.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Great choices are apples, broccoli and green leafy veg, cabbage, melon, red pepper, peas, sweet potatoes, berry fruits and citrus fruits.  To further increase intake, why not have a juice every day; apple, ginger and carrot together is delicious.  Just experiment and go with the flow!

The mineral magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation and of course the heart is a muscle.  Magnesium is rich in green, leafy veg which is yet another good reason to load up your plate with greens.

Have a dose of garlic

The amazing health benefits of garlic have been hailed for hundreds of years. Research appears to suggest that garlic helps reduce the stickiness of blood, therefore helping to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

It’s easy to include in the daily diet, especially in stir fries, chicken and fish dishes, in wholemeal pasta recipes or with various vegetables; it’s particularly tasty with broccoli.

Eat more fish

Oily fish, namely salmon, mackerel and sardines, are especially rich in the omega-3 fats which are known to reduce high blood pressure.  This fact has also been verified by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) who state omega-3 fats have several heart-health benefits.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

It’s best to eat oily fish two to three times per week; salmon is easy to bake in the oven with a little dill, lemon juice and olive oil, wrapped in foil, which takes no time at all.

If, however, fish is not your bag then one of the best sources of omega-3s is flaxseeds which are easy to sprinkle over your morning cereal (preferably oat-based as they also have heart benefits) or stirred into natural yogurt with fruit.

Load up on vitamin E

Vitamin E works alongside vitamin C as a powerful antioxidant and protector of the arteries.  However, it’s also good at thinning the blood, helping to make the blood less ‘sticky’.

A range of foods containing vitamin E

Nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of vitamin E but one of the best foods is avocado.  They make a brilliant breakfast, smashed on sourdough bread and sprinkled with seeds. Or why not try it for lunch in a wholemeal wrap with other colourful salad veggies.

What not to eat

Salt has been found to increase blood pressure in certain people.  It’s worth adopting a low-salt diet so as not to upset the balance of other essential minerals.  Most processed meals are high in salt, so try to stick to home-prepared dishes as much as possible and not to add extra salt; enjoy the wonderful natural flavours of vegetables – the palate will soon adapt.

The word salt written in salt

Avoid bacon and smoked or processed meats which are all high in salt and fat. Even smoked salmon should be avoided if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, until it’s under control again.

Destress

Lastly, high stress often equals high blood pressure so take steps to try to reduce or manage this as much as possible.  It’s almost impossible to eradicate stress from daily life completely but it’s how you choose to deal with it that counts.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Any form of exercise can help take your mind off things as well as raising your heart rate and improving your overall fitness. Yoga, meditation, reading, Thai chi, a soothing bath in magnesium salts… anything that helps you to relax and destress will have a positive impact on your blood pressure and general wellbeing.

Nutrition can often be very effective quite quickly, so try these dietary tips to help get your blood pressure in check as soon as possible.

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.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

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