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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Buying local: what to eat in August

shutterstock_141202630 local farmers market July20

Buying and eating locally sourced fruits and vegetables in season is great for health, the economy, and the environment. Even more importantly, eating food in season generally provides a lot more ‘bang for your buck’ nutrient-wise.

Whether you have a local farm shop, a farmer’s market or locally sourced fruits and vegetables in a shop nearby, eating with the seasons as nature intended is something to consider as we move through the year.

This National Allotments Week, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five fruits and vegetables in season, ripe and ready to eat right now!

Raspberries

The beautiful deep pink colour of raspberries is what provides a wealth of antioxidants and other plant compounds that are hugely protective of health. Raspberries are also loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C and beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed. Eaton Mess never tasted so good!

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Also, of note is ellagic acid which is especially high in raspberries with an overwhelming amount of antioxidant properties.  Even better, it has been found to increase libido. What’s not to like!

Turnips

Whilst we don’t generally think of warming foods during the summer months, turnips are coming into season right now ready for the colder months approaching. However, don’t wait until the weather cools to enjoy these delicious and highly nutritious root veggies.

Rustic,Organic,Turnips,With,Fresh,Green,Tops,And,Roots,On

Turnips were traditionally grown as cattle fodder. However, turnips are part of the highly prized cruciferous vegetable family, rich in indoles that are very protective of health, helping with hormone balancing, together with vitamin B6. Turnips are delicious simply roasted and sprinkled with Parmesan and thyme.

Peaches

Peaches have been grown in the UK for over a thousand years and at their ripest they are supremely juicy! There are hundreds of varieties – nectarines are actually a smooth-skinned peach. As with all fruits and vegetables that are orange, they contain plenty of immune-boosting beta-carotene. This carotenoid is also very protective of the skin, hence it’s no coincidence that they are at their best during the summer months.

shutterstock_297863489 peaches July16

Peaches are also high in potassium which can help support heart health and reduce blood pressure. Peaches actually pair really well with raspberries in a Peach Melba with Raspberry Coulis, or on their own, simply spiced with some cinnamon.

Broad Beans

Whilst they may not be at the top of everyone’s shopping list, partly because they can be bitter and tough, when fresh, and bought from a farmer’s market, broad beans are crisp and delicious. A typical Mediterranean vegetable, they work especially well with pork-based meats such as pancetta or chorizo.

Broad beans in a bowl

As with all beans, they’re a great source of protein and fibre, but also vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and potassium.  And if you’re struggling with low mood, you might want to add some broad beans to your plate as they contain L-dopa, which is used by the body to produce our feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine.

Sweetcorn

Traditionally, sweetcorn was first grown and eaten by the Mexicans and Americans, hence corn on the cob is frequently found on their restaurant menus. Sweetcorn is a form of maize and as such is a staple crop both here and there. And whilst sweetcorn isn’t necessarily the most nutrient dense vegetable, it still provides useful amounts of immune-boosting vitamins A and C.

Fresh,Corn,On,Cobs,On,Rustic,Wooden,Table,,Closeup

Sweetcorn is also rich in fibre so is great for digestive health and, unusually for a vegetable, is high in vitamin B3, essential for good nervous system function. It’s certainly best eaten simply as corn on the cob, rolled in a little butter and black pepper.

Seek out your local farmer’s market or farm shop for the healthiest and freshest fruits and vegetables in season right now.

Stay well.

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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?

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

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!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

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

 

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