Nutritional tips to support brain function

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

Having a foggy brain is not uncommon and can affect people at any age.  However, brain function does noticeably decline in our 50s and accelerates as we get older. The good news is that we can do so much to support brain function and the sooner we start the better. 

The brain uses about 25% of all the energy we take in as food. It is a highly complex organ and acts as the command centre for the nervous system; as such it needs a wide range of nutrients to effectively perform its many functions.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares three of her top nutrients to help support your brain.

Omega-3 fish oils

Omega 3s play a key role in brain health.  The brain is made up of 60% fat, much of which are the essential omegas (essential because the body can’t make them, so they need to feature in the diet). In general, the UK population has a lack of these through not eating enough in the diet.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Deficiency is mainly down to omega-3s only being found predominantly in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines – foods that are not widely eaten.  Omega-3s are also found in flaxseeds, nuts, and seeds but they have to be eaten very regularly to obtain what the body needs.

Ideally aim for one to two portions of oily fish every week and sprinkle at least one tablespoon of flaxseeds onto your cereal, yoghurt or in a smoothie every day.  Your brain will certainly thank you for it.

Zinc

The mineral zinc is one of the busiest, being involved in around 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  Zinc is significant when it comes to brain health because it’s needed for the production of those all-important brain neurotransmitters.  These include serotonin, needed for mood and motivation, and melatonin, essential for sleep.  Zinc is also used in the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline, essential neurotransmitters for the stress response.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

In short, the brain can’t function without zinc.  Minerals are often referred to as ‘trace minerals’: they are of course needed in small amounts but are crucial to overall health.  Therefore, the diet should ideally be rich in foods containing zinc – think wholegrains, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, and eggs.  The best source of zinc is oysters, so never worry about enjoying them more regularly rather than as a treat.

It’s not that difficult to be slightly lacking in zinc, with white spots on the nails being a tell-tale deficiency sign.  General hormonal disruptions can also be a nudge that you need to eat more zinc-rich foods.

Vitamin B12

The family of B-vitamins all work together but vitamin B12 does stand out as one of the key members when it comes to brain health.  This is because it plays a role in one of the body’s most important biochemical reactions known as methylation.  Whilst it’s not necessary to understand methylation, it’s important to know that it can’t happen without vitamin B12, nor can the brain work correctly.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

As part of this biochemical process, memories are formed, and concentration and focus are achieved. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce, and in some fortified foods such as cereals.  Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are the best sources, so vegetarians and vegans should consider taking a supplement to ensure the brain’s not missing out.

If your brain is feeling foggy or you’re lacking in energy (another sign you may be deficient in B12) then it might be time to increase your intake.

The brain is certainly a nutrient-hungry organ, but eating enough of these three nutrients is a really good start.

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Five foods to feed your brain

 

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

It’s no secret that I talk about vegetables a lot! In fact, I frequently talk about them in terms of their varied and beautiful colours providing the amazing array of nutrients the body needs to stay healthy.

They are actually some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, gifted to us from nature, packed with vitamins and minerals, plenty of antioxidants and many other beneficial plant compounds too.

There are so many to choose from but this National Vegetarian Week I have picked my top five:

Broccoli

Did you know that one cup of broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange? Which is great but it’s not the main reason why I rate broccoli’s health benefits so highly. Broccoli is part of the healthy family of cruciferous vegetables which contain a sulphur compound called sulforaphane.  Essentially, sulforaphane helps the liver to detoxify, is great for supporting brain health and importantly, is known to help protect the body from degenerative diseases.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Broccoli is also rich in folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.  These three nutrients work as a triad in many key biochemical reactions throughout the body, especially when it comes to the brain, hormone, and energy levels.  The list of positives goes on and on with broccoli; try to eat some at least two or three times a week.

Sweet potatoes

Available in both orange and purple varieties, the purple type has even more antioxidants than its orange counterpart.

shutterstock_222440302-purple-sweet-potato-sept16

If you are trying to lose weight but feel the need for some carbs, then sweet potatoes are a great option as they don’t have such an impact on blood sugar balance.  Even better, whatever their colour, sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant, and is also turned into immune-boosting vitamin A in the body, as needed.

Sweet potato wedges are a real go-to veggie for me!

Brussels sprouts

I know they’re not enjoyed by everyone, but I genuinely love them!  If you’re not a fan of Brussels sprouts, have you tried them with some bacon bits which helps to reduce some of their slightly bitter taste?

Just like broccoli, being part of the cruciferous vegetable family, Brussels’ health benefits are far-reaching. They are high in vitamin K which is essential for the bones and heart, vitamin C and folate, and are especially rich in fibre. 

shutterstock_179527487 basket of sprouts Nov15

The daily recommended amount for fibre intake is around 30g; most people manage only about 8 grams, which can have an impact on your digestive system not working as efficiently as it could. Many of the plant compounds in Brussels sprouts also help manage pain and inflammation throughout the body which can be caused by many different health issues.  Go on, give them another try!

Onions

Onions are fairly easy to include in the daily diet because they add so much flavour to so many dishes.  They’re especially helpful at this time of year because onions are high in quercetin which helps reduce histamine levels.  Hay fever sufferers, take note!

Red,Onions,On,Rustic,Wood

Onions are also rich in flavonoids – powerful antioxidants which have so many beneficial effects on health and are especially protective against heart disease.

Don’t hold back with onions; add them to stir fries (spring onions have the same benefits), soups, curries, pasta dishes or with other roasted vegetables.

Carrots

Whilst carrots don’t quite contain all the pizazz of the cruciferous veggies, they’re certainly in my top five because they do have great health benefits and they’re so versatile too!  Interestingly, although carrots are often eaten raw, their beta-carotene content is better released when they’re cooked.

shutterstock_250834906 carrots July16

Whether you eat them raw or cooked, carrots still contain loads of fibre, heart-loving potassium, and immune-boosting vitamin C.  If your kids love raw carrots, you’ll still be providing them with some great nutrients.

I love all vegetables and try to eat as much variety as possible.  And always remember – colour = nutrients.  Enjoy!

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Five foods to feed your brain

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

You may be surprised to learn that the brain requires more energy than any other organ of the body. Well, maybe that’s not such a surprise when you think that the brain is always on!

It’s not just energy-dense foods that it loves, but specific nutrients too.  You can often notice the difference in all aspects of brain function when you feed it correctly.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to sharpen the mind.

 

Salmon

Salmon, and indeed all oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, trout, and pilchard, are rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acids.  The brain contains loads of these fats and therefore they need to be topped up regularly for optimal function.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Importantly, the body can’t make these fats, so they need to be eaten in the diet (or supplemented).  If fish is not for you then make sure you’re eating plenty of flaxseeds (they can be sprinkled into yoghurt, cereals or porridge) or go for other nuts and seeds. 

Eggs

Eggs are a great source of many nutrients, but specifically choline, which the brain uses to create a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate memory and mood (amongst other key functions).

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs are also a rich source of vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, also needed for many brain functions, but specifically to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Protein is key for a sharp and balanced brain, and eggs deliver on this front too.  Indeed, starting the day with an egg-based breakfast will tick all the boxes for your brain health.

Blueberries

These beautiful berries are loaded with antioxidants which help protect the brain from damaging free radicals and the aging process.  Blueberries are also loaded with vitamin C which helps support blood flow to the brain, which in turn is going to improve memory and general cognitive function.

shutterstock_270983405 porridge and blueberries Sept15

Blueberries are, of course, very easy to transport, so they make a great snack.  However, they are just as easy to throw over your morning oat-based breakfast or added to natural yoghurt, with some seeds, for a great breakfast option. The great news is that all berries love the brain, so with summer berry season approaching, you’ll have plenty of choice.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is packed with polyphenols, plant compounds that protect the brain from free radical damage but also help memory and overall brain function.  And there’s loads of research to support this too. What’s more, dark chocolate contains plenty of magnesium which helps to reduce stress levels; high levels of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) are known to adversely affect brain function.

Squares of dark chocolate

Go for dark chocolate (ideally 70% or more of cocoa).  Unfortunately, milk chocolate does not provide the same health benefits and will deliver lots of sugar.  A couple of squares of dark chocolate daily can satisfy any sweet cravings and keep your brain sharp too. 

Water

Dehydration will reduce brain function quicker than nutrient depletion. It’s the often-forgotten piece of the nutritional jigsaw puzzle.  Water is essential for maintaining attention and keeping focus, reducing headaches and memory loss, and improving overall cognitive function. Even just 2% dehydration takes a toll on brain function. Whilst it’s not easy to quantify what this means in terms of volume of liquid, the important point is that even a marginal deficiency will have big impact.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

If you aim to drink 1.5 – 2 litres of water daily, and you might need more if you’re exercising heavily, then you’ll be amazed at how much sharper your brain function feels.  And energy levels will soar too!

So, feed your brain by adding some of these elements into your diet and you should start to notice a difference.

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Five nutrients to include in your diet every day

Funny,Portrait,Of,Young,Woman,With,Banana,On,Color,Background

Nature has provided an amazing array of nutrients.  And it would be unfair to say that one is better than another because they all have a very valid place in helping to provide the body with great health.

However, there are certainly some superstars amongst them which are even more essential for our continued daily wellness.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of the best.

 

Vitamin D

Called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, we know the UK population is widely lacking in vitamin D, despite an active Government health campaign. 

It’s not easy to get to sufficient vitamin D from sunlight alone, even during the summer, therefore it’s important to take a supplement all year round. With so much robust research on vitamin D, we understand even more about the essential role it plays in our health.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Vitamin D is not just needed for bones and teeth but its part in supporting the immune system is unequivocal.  Furthermore, if you’re feeling ‘sad’ you could be lacking in vitamin D.  It’s important for our mood too.

Vitamin B12

As with all the B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 is needed for many of the body’s biochemical reactions. It’s primarily found in animal produce, making vegetarians and vegans potentially more at risk from deficiency, but anyone can be lacking in B12.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

If you’re lacking specifically in vitamin B12, then you might notice it more than with other B-vitamins. If you’re unusually tired or your nerves are frayed, then you might need more B12.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, a supplement is recommended, but for others, load up on liver, beef, tuna, sardines or fortified cereals and nutritional yeast.

Magnesium

If you’re suffering from muscle stiffness or poor sleep, the chances are you’re deficient in magnesium.  Since it works in balance with calcium, in areas where the water is especially ‘chalky, many people are lacking magnesium.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is an extremely busy mineral and plays an essential role in many biochemical reactions in the body.  It’s needed for muscle relaxation hence poor sleep can result when there is insufficient magnesium in the body. If this sounds like you, then eat plenty of whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds – all healthy foods too!

Zinc

Zinc is involved in around 300 different enzyme reactions throughout the body.  In short, the body can’t function without zinc.  Whilst many people know it to be essential for the immune system (which it is), zinc is very important for hormone balance, the skin, bones, hair, and protection from disease.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Zinc is rich in meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.  Indeed, the best source of zinc is oysters, hence their reputation as being an aphrodisiac, linked to zinc’s role in hormone production. If you’ve white spots on five or more of your nails, you might be deficient in zinc, so do keep a watchful eye on intake.

Iodine

Iodine is a trace mineral so is only needed in small amounts, but it still plays a vital role in the body.  Iodine is needed to produce thyroid hormones, for cognitive function and supports growth and development in children.  In short, it’s needed from the moment of conception and throughout life.

As part of its role in producing thyroid hormones, it’s needed to control metabolism.  If you’re struggling to lose weight or your hands and feet are permanently cold, you might be lacking in iodine. 

A range of foods containing iodine

Part of the issue with getting sufficient iodine is that it’s not present in many foods.  It can be found in dairy produce and fish such as cod and tuna. Seaweed is also a great source of iodine. Varieties include kelp, wakame and nori and are available in dried, flaked forms, which can easily be added to many dishes, without disturbing other tastes too much.

Take some time to review your diet, and ensure you’re not missing out on any of these essential nutrients.

Stay well.

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Boost your mood naturally this January: top nutrients to support your mood

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

It’s that time of year again when we all tend to feel low in mood and generally lack-lustre.  Grey skies and post-Christmas blues all contribute to these feelings.  However, all is not lost! 

There is an unequivocal link between what we put into our body nutritionally and how we feel and there are some important nutrients that can contribute to your mood.

This Blue Monday Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top mood boosting nutrients and natural herbs, to help put a smile back on your face.

Omega-3 fats

We might not want to see the word ‘fat’ in January but, trust me, these are the good ones!  The omega-3 essential fats are part of the brain’s cellular make up and are essential for mental wellbeing.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fatsIf you’re following ‘Veganuary’ or are already vegan, then you might want to add at least a tablespoon full of ground flaxseeds to your morning cereal as they are a very rich source of omega-3s.  However, if you can eat fish, especially the oily kind, then omega-3s from these sources tends to be better absorbed by the body. As an example, wild salmon at least three times a week is recommended for you to notice an improvement in mood.

 

Vitamin B6

As with all the busy family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B6 fulfils many key functions within the body.  As well as helping with hormonal balance, thereby improving mood, vitamin B6 is needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone. 

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

B-vitamins are water-soluble so need to be eaten really regularly. Food which is high in vitamin B6 includes fish, liver, bananas, starchy vegetables, and other non-citrus fruits.  Why not cook a delicious root vegetable casserole including sweet potatoes, onions, parsnips, white potatoes, and broccoli. Add some vegetable stock, coriander and serve with cheddar cheese on the top. Root vegetables are all in season currently and this dish is certainly going to put a smile on your face.

Vitamin B12

If you’re vegan or just starting Veganuary, then do take particular note of vitamin B12.  It’s only really found in animal produce and is essential for the production of serotonin.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

Interestingly, some vitamin B12 can be produced in the gut and fermented foods may encourage this process.  Foods such as tempeh and tofu (great in a delicious Thai curry or stir-fry), miso soup and sauerkraut are your friends in this respect and will also provide plenty of other health benefits. However if you follow a vegan diet, a B12 supplement is recommended.

Vitamin D

Known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced on the skin in the presence of sunlight, vitamin D is deficient in the UK population especially during the winter months.  As well as being essential for healthy bones, teeth, muscles and immunity, research has also found it be essential for mood.  So, there’s certainly a physiological reason why we often feel low during January.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Whilst you can get some vitamin D from a few foods, namely oily fish, milk, and mushrooms, it’s not nearly sufficient for the body’s needs.  Therefore, it’s important to supplement with vitamin D (at least 10 micrograms daily) if you want to feel brighter.

Ashwagandha

The herb ashwagandha is known as an ‘adaptogenic’ herb. This means it helps the body better cope with stress and improves energy levels.  However, this effect also helps improve mood (it’s often recommended for people suffering from depression), and generally encourages people to feel more balanced.  It’s found only in supplement form.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

However, it’s also worth noting that if you’re feeling low, it’s generally not just one food or herb that makes all the difference: it’s generally a cumulative effect.  Nutrition also needs to be combined with lifestyle changes; why not write down a list of things that make you happy and things that you are grateful for.  Even if it’s only having clean sheets on the bed more often, small changes can have big effect.

So, help your mood naturally by including these nutrients more frequently into your diet.

Stay well.

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Veganuary 2022: top 5 vegan foods to try

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

Veganuary has now become the ‘buzz’ word for January!  Going vegan or flexi vegan for January – or even longer – is increasingly popular as we continue to recognise its benefits to health. 

However, with the greater availability of pre-packed vegan and vegetarian meals in the supermarkets, it’s not surprising that people become confused about what’s healthy and what’s not.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five vegan foods to make choices so much easier.

Quinoa

Quinoa is increasingly becoming one of the world’s heathiest foods and not just with vegans.  Quinoa is high in protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, is gluten-free and contains a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

One of the biggest watchpoints for vegans is ensuring you eat sufficient protein, and this means including all nine essential amino acids.  These can’t be produced in the body, therefore need to be eaten daily. Quinoa ticks this box, although, as with all plant proteins, it’s slightly low in a few of the amino acids, hence the need for variety.  That said, it contains a very respectable 8 grams of protein per 185 grams of cooked quinoa.

Its impressive nutrient profile, especially of bone loving magnesium and phosphorus, plus its high antioxidant content, more that warrants its title of ‘superfood’.

Fermented soy

Soy can be very confusing as not all products are created equal! You might see soya lecithin or soya protein isolate in a number of products, especially protein powders.  Whilst foods containing these do provide protein, they don’t have the fabulous health benefits of fermented soy.

Teryaki,Tempeh,With,Rice,And,Roasted,Vegetables

 

Tofu, tempeh, miso, natto, tamari, and kombucha are where it’s at for the real health benefits.  This is because fermented soy has a very positive effect on the gut bacteria (also known as the gut microbiome), which is so essential for overall health. 

Whilst other soy products do provide some health benefits, try to include fermented soy as much as possible.  Tofu and tempeh make great additions to any stir fry dishes.

Legumes

You may have heard the word but what exactly are they? Beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas is the answer.  These foods are great sources of protein, contain plenty of bone-loving calcium, and fibre as well as energising B-vitamins and iron.  And if you’re looking to lose a few kilos during January, legumes can really help as they’re great for blood sugar balance, being low on the glycaemic index.

Legumes,,Lentils,,Chikpea,And,Beans,Assortment,In,Different,Bowls,On

We know from much research that vegan diets are very heart-healthy which is partly down to the quantity of legumes frequently consumed. It seems they help lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol and general inflammation, all risk factors for heart disease.

Great recipes to try are Hearty Lentil Soup, Chickpea Salad, Black Bean Burgers or Pasta with Chickpeas – all totally delicious and super-healthy too!

Flaxseeds

Want to give your heart some further love during Veganuary?  Then sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseeds onto your porridge, overnight oats or yoghurt. Flaxseeds are a great source of the heart-healthy omega-3 fats which are essential and must be taken into the diet very regularly.  The omega-3s are also needed for hormone balance, and eye, brain, skin, and joint health. 

Whole,And,Ground,Brown,Flax,Seeds,Or,Linseeds,On,Wooden

It’s always best to use the ground flaxseeds rather than whole ones (often referred to as linseeds) as they need to be chewed to release the lignan content. Whole linseeds tend to go in and come out whole which means the body isn’t gaining all their health benefits.

Nutritional yeast

It might not sound very appetising but if you think of nutritional yeast as a healthy substitute for Parmesan cheese, you’ve got a great alternative. Nutritional yeast has a slightly cheesy, nutty flavour, is generally found in powdered or flaked form, and is therefore very easy to incorporate into loads of dishes.

Nutritional,Yeast,,Vegan,Cheese.

Importantly, nutritional yeast is rich in vitamin B12, often deficient in vegan diets as it is generally only found in animal produce. Plus, it’s loaded with other B-vitamins so your energy levels will be getting a great boost too!

So why not make this Veganuary the healthiest yet and also continue to add these top vegan food to your diet throughout the year.

Stay well.

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Selfcare: top nutrients to improve your wellbeing

shutterstock_221914774 get organised 4 healthy lifestyle Sept18

We know we need to take care of ourselves, both inside and out, but with so much information out there it can be difficult to know what to focus on or what to eat for the best results.

When it comes to selfcare, what we eat affects our overall health, including mental wellbeing, the skin, and everything else besides.

This World Kindness Day Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top nutrients to include in your diet to support your own selfcare and provide head-to-toe wellbeing.

 

Vitamin D

There has been so much written and talked about the wonders of vitamin D over the last few years, and especially since the start of the pandemic. There is a wealth of research about vitamin D and its essential role in the health of the immune system, but the research evolved even further during Covid. There has been an inextricable link found between people who fared worse after catching Covid if their blood levels of vitamin D were low.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Vitamin D plays an essential role in the formation and health of the bones and teeth, mainly because it helps calcium to do its work in this area. However, research has also found that people with low vitamin D levels can struggle with their mood, even more proof of its essential role in our overall wellbeing.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

Whilst vitamin D is found in certain foods including oily fish with bones, mushrooms, milk, meat, eggs and fortified foods, the amounts are not sufficient to support the body’s needs. The main source of vitamin D is from sunlight on the skin, but this is obviously sparce during the winter months and the body doesn’t store enough from the summer. Supplementation is therefore essential, with Public Health England recommending at least 10 micrograms daily but many of us need much more.  If you find your muscles and joints are aching or your mood is low, chances are you’re in need of a vitamin D top-up.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for the nervous system but also for producing red blood cells. It is also important for the immune system and for producing energy. However, it’s only found in animal produce, hence with the rise in vegetarianism and veganism, many people are lacking. You may find that you struggle with low energy or anxiety if you’re low in vitamin B12.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

Such is the importance of Vitamin B12, there is a deficiency disease called pernicious anaemia where the body literally can’t produce sufficient amounts. Symptoms include low energy and problems with the nervous system.

It’s also logical to suggest that vegans and vegetarians may be missing out. Supplementation is therefore beneficial. For those who eat animal produce then most of these foods provide good sources, but offal is especially high in vitamin B12.

Magnesium

Magnesium is one of those minerals that spreads its influence widely throughout the body! Although around 60% of magnesium’s concentration is within the bones, there’s also much found in the muscles with the remainder in the soft tissues and body fluids.

Magnesium is really important within those organs that use the most energy such as the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys.  It’s no wonder then that if we’re not having enough within the diet then insomnia, muscle cramps, low energy, brain fog and high blood pressure can be a problem. Magnesium is also important for mental wellbeing and helps create feelings of calm within the body.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Whole grains, beans and green leafy vegetables are some of the best sources of magnesium.

So, take care of your mind and body by including these important nutrients in your diet as much as possible and consider supplementation if you think you may be lacking.

Stay well.

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Support your heart health with these five vitamins and minerals

Blueberries in a heart shape

It beats around 100,00 times a day and is a truly amazing organ!  Yes, your heart is incredible, and it needs taking care of just like the rest of the body. 

When it comes to heart-health, there are some key vitamins and minerals that are essential to keep it beating long and strong.

This National Cholesterol Month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five key vitamins and minerals for heart health.

Vitamin C

When it comes to the heart, vitamin C is certainly an essential nutrient. As one of our key antioxidant nutrients, vitamin C protects the heart from all that life throws at it.

We all have fats circulating within the blood stream.  However, when these levels are elevated (generally caused by a diet high in fat and sugar), these fats (also known as triglycerides) start to attach themselves to the artery wall. Over time this can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack, as blood flow is blocked. Additionally, fats oxidise and harden the arteries causing a condition known as atherosclerosis.  Furthermore, cholesterol, another type of fat, can be dangerous when not dealt with correctly within the body.

shutterstock_362885486 vitamin C Jan17

Vitamin C not only protects the arteries from damaging free radicals, but it also helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, thereby giving the heart a really great fighting chance of being healthy. Interestingly, foods rich in vitamin C such as berry fruits are also high in plant compounds called polyphenols.  These also provide antioxidants and wonderful benefits to the heart.  Ami to eat a handful of berries every day.

Vitamin B3

Part of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B3 is a key heart nutrient because its helps raise levels of the healthy HDL cholesterol, whilst reducing overall cholesterol readings. Just like all good families, the Bs do work together but each one has its own specific claim to fame.  That’s not to say the other don’t also have a role to play in heart health (see below).

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

The good news is that vitamin B3 is found in a variety of animal and plant foods including beef, liver, fish, eggs, avocados, whole grains and nuts and seeds.  Oily fish also contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats so eating some portions of salmon or mackerel regularly, will help the heart all ways round.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a key heart mineral, alongside potassium (see below).  Magnesium essentially has two main roles to play. It works as a muscle relaxant, helping relax the heart muscle and arteries thereby keeping blood pressure in the healthy range. Secondly it is a key electrolyte, balancing nerve transmissions throughout cells. Magnesium’s role is primarily enabling essential enzyme reactions that have a direct effect on heart and blood vessel health.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is frequently deficient in both men and women due to poor dietary intake.  It’s predominantly found in whole grains and green leafy veg, hence it’s low in the typical Western diet.

Potassium

Just like magnesium, potassium is a key electrolyte but works primarily with sodium helping maintain water balance and the correct acidity levels in the blood.  It also helps regulate nerve and muscle activity.  These are all essential for keeping the heart beating 24/7 as well as maintaining blood pressure at the right levels.

shutterstock_651019798 honeydew melon Aug17

The great news is that potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables and is especially high in bananas, melons, apricots, grapefruit, and sweet potatoes.  It’s great to include as much colour variety in the diet as possible so you’ll also be getting that all-important vitamin C.

Vitamin B12

Another key member of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 is as essential but works in a different way to some of the other Bs. Vitamin B12 is needed for the process of methylation, an essential bodily process that happens thousands of times each day.  It helps control production of a toxic amino acid metabolite called homocysteine; high levels have often been associated with cases of heart disease.  B12 works alongside folate and vitamin B6 in this process.

A range of foods high in protein

Deficiency of B12 can cause pernicious anaemia (one symptom being heart palpitations) but can also bring on extreme tiredness.  Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in the body so there are times when the GP will recommend injections.  However, for most people, eating plenty in the diet is generally sufficient to keep everything working well.  The only downside is that B12 is generally only found in animal foods, so I would recommend that if you are vegetarian or vegan get your levels checked as you may need to supplement.

Celebrate all that is amazing about your beating heart: take care of it well and it will love you for many years to come.

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:

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

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