Seasonal eating: top autumn picks packed with nutrition

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutrition

Whilst we may mourn the loss of longer, lighter days when the clocks go back, there are some distinct advantages when it comes to thinking about autumn foods.  Just as the leaves turn red, yellow and golden brown, so the colours of foods change with the seasons.

Eating seasonally also means you are getting the most nutrition from the foods available right now.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite foods to include in your diet this season.

Pumpkin

It’s often said that pumpkin is the most popular vegetable at this time of year.  Obviously, pumpkin plays a starring role in Halloween festivities, but it’s also a real winner in terms of nutritional benefits.

Pumpkin certainly matches the season with its orange colour signalling it to be rich in carotenoids.  These are a group of plant compounds particularly high in antioxidants which help protect the body against disease. One such carotenoid found in pumpkin is zeaxanthin which has a wonderful affinity for the eyes, protecting them against blue light (and we all spend far too long looking at screens these days).

a pumpkin cut into pieces

Another carotenoid, beta carotene, is turned into vitamin A in the body as required, which helps support the immune system. This is much needed as we come into the cold and flu season.

Pumpkin is best steamed or roasted and served as a vegetable side, but it can also be made into pumpkin pie.  Plus, pumpkin seeds are incredibly nutritious; they are very high in the essential omega-3 fats.  Make sure you use them – they’re delicious very lightly roasted.

Ginger

As the weather turns distinctly chilly, the body likes to be fed ‘warming’ foods.  The delicious spice ginger delivers so many wonderful health benefits, particularly supporting the immune system.

Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory. It can really help ease any stiff, aching joints, which can become more problematic when the weather becomes cold and damp.  Additionally, if you’re struggling with headaches, ginger can help provide some relief.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

Whilst ginger can be included in so many different recipes, both sweet and savoury, so many health benefits can be gained from using it as a tea. Finely chop some fresh ginger and pour over boiling water and just keep sipping throughout the day.  You can also add some lemon to help detoxify the liver at the same time. You’ll certainly help keep the cold outside, as well nasty inside colds, at bay!

Swede

Often confused with turnips, swede (or ‘neeps’ as they’re known in Scotland), make a wonderfully nutritious autumn vegetable choice.  Swede is actually part of the cruciferous vegetable family. It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C, as well as other immune-boosting vitamins such as B6, so it’s certainly great for the change in season.

A whole swede next to mashed swede as a vegetable side dish

We can often feel sluggish at this time of year and our digestive systems can also slow down.  However, swede helps feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut making sure everything keeps moving smoothly through.  Moreover, if you’re trying to lose a few kilos before the Christmas party season, then swede is your friend. It helps balance blood sugar levels, it’s high in fibre so will fill you up, and it’s low in fat and calories.  Even better, swede is delicious simply cooked and mashed with a little butter and black pepper.

Roasted Veggies

In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, foods were always matched to the season because the body needs to be supported with warming foods and spices as the colder weather bites.  Summer salads and smoothies should be replaced with soups and thick broths at this time of year.

A range of roasted vegetables

This is a great time to be loading up with as many vegetables as possible to support the immune system.  Load up with autumnal vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, parsnips, courgettes and sweet potatoes. Prepare a large roasting tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, add some fresh rosemary and sprinkle with sea salt for a fabulous accompaniment to any fish, meat, poultry or vegetarian protein.

Cinnamon

Another warming spice, cinnamon is perfect to include in as many dishes as possible at this time of year. It also seems to have a balancing effect on the body generally, helping it to better cope with the changing seasons.

Cinnamon boasts a wealth of health benefits, protecting the immune system, feeding the good gut bacteria and having positive effects on cognitive function. More benefits are being found all the time.

Sticks of cinnamon and a pot of cinnamon powder

Even better, cinnamon is incredibly versatile in so many dishes.  It works really well with any dishes containing oats, such a muesli, flapjacks and sprinkled over porridge.  Cinnamon is also delicious when used in pancakes and muffins or any dish containing apples.  It’s even delicious with pork – think apple and cinnamon sauce.

So, try building more of these warming, autumn vegetables and spices into your diet this season. If you’re warm inside, you will not feel the cold outside as much and your body will better cope with harsher weather and seasonal bugs.

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Three deliciously nutritious breakfast treats for Mother’s Day

Three generations family Grandmother, mother and daughter

With another Mother’s Day just around the corner, why not serve up a delicious and highly nutritious breakfast to really put a smile on her face? Or why not treat yourself? In many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day; the body has been ‘fasting’ for a number of hours and blood sugar levels are low. The body’s natural circadian rhythm is saying it’s time to grab the day and get moving, so it needs some high-quality fuel.

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So what better way to start Mother’s Day than with a really healthy treat-filled breakfast?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyers shares three healthy breakfasts to serve your mum, or yourself, this Mother’s Day.

Have another Pancake Day!

Pancakes with syrup and blueberries

Officially, Pancake Day has just passed. However, pancakes are a really great breakfast choice for a number of reasons and a real treat for you or your Mum.

This recipe uses:

Egg – great for protein

Wholemeal flour – low glycaemic for sustained energy

Banana – loaded with heart-loving potassium and hormone-balancing vitamin B6

Almond butter – for protein and skin-loving omega-3 fats

Coconut oil – which has a higher smoke point making it healthier for cooking

Blueberries – packed with antioxidants

Maple syrup – as a special treat!

All the ingredients, apart from the fruit, maple syrup and coconut oil, should be whisked up and then added to a pan of melted coconut oil. The batter needs about a minute a side to cook. Once on the plate (after they’ve been tossed) add sliced banana, blueberries and maple syrup. Then rush straight up the stairs and put a smile on your mum’s face! Or enjoy yourself. A delicious start to the day.

If you mum’s a chocolate-lover, try adding 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder to the batter mix.

Veggie-packed frittata

Spinach and mushroom frittata

 

Frittata is a delicious, super-healthy breakfast and loaded with energy giving nutrients to really get the day off to a brilliant start. Eating ‘5-a-day’ may not be top of you or your Mum’s list of priorities today but you will be pleased to know this one provides at least some of these.

This frittata includes:

Spinach – great for energy-giving iron

Cherry tomatoes – which contain the antioxidant lycopene

Potatoes – loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C

Mushrooms – great for energising B-vitamins

Eggs – packed with protein

It’s always best to have protein at breakfast time, whatever your choice of meal, as it helps stabilise blood sugar and maintains feelings of fullness for longer.

For this delicious Mother’s Day treat, the mushrooms should be gently fried and then set aside. The diced potatoes and tomatoes are then fried separately. Two eggs can then be added to the pan, along with the mushrooms and spinach. Cook gently for around 10 minutes and then brown under the grill.

This might take a little longer to prepare, but you and your Mum are certainly worth the effort. It’s a wonderfully nutritious start to the day.

The loveliest smashed avocado

Smashed avocado, cherry tomatoes and feta on toast

Smashed avocado is very popular right now so why not treat you or your Mum to some today? Many people avoid avocados, fearing they’ll help pile on the pounds. Whilst they are fairly high in calories, they’re packed full of healthy fats, and so can still be eaten regularly.

Avocados have some protein but most importantly are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which will also keep hunger in check. Plus they’re loaded with vitamin E so you or your Mum’s skin will glow!

For this you will need:

Avocado

Cherry tomatoes

Lime Juice

Balsamic Vinegar

Feta Cheese

Rocket

Sourdough bread

Toast some sourdough bread (it’s much lower in gluten so potentially less disruptive to the digestion). Smash the avocado in a bowl with some lime juice and salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix a few chopped cherry tomatoes with some balsamic vinegar. Then spread the avocado mixture on the toast and load it with the tomato mixture, crumble over some delicious feta cheese and finish with some rocket. A truly delicious treat on Mother’s Day.

So enjoy making one of these three great breakfasts either for your Mum or for yourself and your family this Mother’s Day.

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Are you getting enough sleep?

Woman awake in bed looking fed up as she cannot get to sleep

According to the Sleep Council one third of us in the UK sleep for just five to six hours per night. It’s generally accepted, and has been well-researched over many years, that the body needs more sleep than this, ideally around seven or eight hours each night. 

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So, what’s going wrong and why are we generally so sleep deprived?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at why our shut-eye is so important and shares some tips on how to get more.

 

Why is sleep so essential?

It’s no secret that the body repairs and re-generates during sleep. It’s also a time of growth as specific growth hormones are released during the night. However, when sleep is problematic, the body and brain are fatigued and it becomes increasingly difficult to function effectively.

The body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, is naturally released during the hours of darkness. This is likely to be why night shift workers, who have to sleep during the day, will generally need to get their much-needed rest in a fully darkened room.

What to eat

What you eat and drink during the day and before bedtime can have a significant baring on how you sleep. For example, caffeine in coffee and theophylline in tea blocks our sleep-inducing chemical, adenosine. It’s best, therefore not to drink either of these after 3 pm.

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

The amino acid tryptophan is needed to make melatonin, therefore eating tryptophan-rich foods is really going to help you get some shut eye. These foods include turkey, eggs, soya, cheese, nuts and oats. However, tryptophan also needs carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, grains and beans) to work most effectively. Therefore, having a carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich snack before bed-time can really help. Great choices would be oatcakes with cottage cheese, natural yoghurt (soya or dairy), a small bowl of oats or some sliced apple with nuts.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is also needed for the production of melatonin and one of its best sources is bananas. In fact, bananas hit the spot as a pre-bedtime snack because they’re also high in carbohydrates. The best advice is to change your snack each night and see what works best for you. Even more important, is not to go to bed hungry – you’ll certainly be counting sheep into the wee small hours if that’s the case.

Adopt a bed-time routine

It may sound strange, but going back to babyhood with a fixed bedtime routine can really promote good sleep. Most importantly, phones and other electronic equipment emit blue light which stops you from sleeping. Therefore, all these devices should be turned off two hours before bedtime. Ideally your phone should never be by the side of your bed as some studies suggest that the radio waves emitted may prevent sleep.

Have your main meal at least three hours before bed. Whilst going to bed hungry is not good, equally, being over-full may cause digestive upsets and acid reflux. About an hour before bed time try a warm, relaxing bath with some Epsom salts. It may be an old wives tale but they contain plenty of the mineral magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Have that bed time snack about half an hour before turning in, spray some lavender onto your pillow and enjoy some bed time reading. And as much as you can try and go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time too. Once you’ve adopted a strong routine, your body will really start to enjoy and expect its nightly ritual.

Enjoy some evening yoga

Yoga is an ancient practise but is wonderful for encouraging controlled breathing, strength, flexibility and relaxation. Hatha yoga is particularly good and really helps the mind and body to de-stress and switch off. Many people have found that attending a yoga class or doing some at home in the evenings has really helped them to sleep better afterwards.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Practicing yogic breathing techniques is also beneficial, even without the moves. Additionally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep or you’ve awoken in the night, then adopting the 5-7-11 routine can really help; breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold for seven seconds and breathe deeply out for 11 seconds. You should be able to feel your body relaxing after a few rounds of this and hopefully you’ll quickly fall back to sleep.

For more information visit the sleep council website.

Sleep is so important for our overall health, so make getting enough a priority and you will feel the health benefits longer term.

 

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Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

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However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.

Zinc

Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.

Magnesium

The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.

 

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Healthy body, healthy mind: top brain-boosting foods

 

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

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

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

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

Avocados to beat stress

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

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

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

Turkey is not just for Christmas

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

Sliced turkey breast

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

Sharpen your brain with lecithin

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

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

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

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

Boost your mood with beans

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

A range of beans

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

Keep focussed with pumpkin seeds

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

Roasted pumpkin seeds

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

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

 

 

 

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Five foods to banish Christmas exhaustion

Woman in Christmas hat asleep at her laptop

We all know that Christmas can be exhausting! Add together festive parties, Christmas shopping, family politics, with a sprinkling of work pressures, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for feeling tired and run-down. However, what you eat during the Christmas period can have a really positive effect on energy levels.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top foods for sustaining energy throughout the Festive season.

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BANANAS

They are the ‘go-to’ snack used by athletes and anyone looking for a quick energy boost. Bananas contain a high level of sugar in the form of starch which is released fairly quickly into the bloodstream giving an energy boost. However, they’re also high in fibre which means that energy release is sustained for quite a while after eating them. Bananas are also high in energising vitamin B6.

Whole bananas and diced banana

However unripe bananas contain resistant starch which cannot be digested in the small intestine, and then ferments in the large intestine which can cause wind! So, the trick is to eat them when they’re nice and ripe and you’ll be energised throughout the day. Why not enjoy a banana with your breakfast? They’re great on any type of cereal and of course make a wonderful transportable snack.

PUMPKIN SEEDS

Another great portable snack that you can eat on their own or as part of a combination with other seeds, pumpkin seeds have an enviable nutritional profile. They contain good levels of energising iron and magnesium, plus protein which will also keep you going throughout the day.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are brilliant to have in your bag when you’re on the run or to keep in your desk drawer. For a really delicious twist, roast them with a little salt.

BEETROOT

Simply the colour of beetroot brings thoughts of Christmas! Their deep red colour is also one of the reasons for beetroot’s amazing health benefits; they’re packed with antioxidant-rich anthocyanins. Most importantly, beetroots are great for boosting energy. They encourage the production of nitric oxide which helps blood vessels to dilate, producing greater oxygen flow around the body. This effect is really noticeable in people who exercise a lot but is equally beneficial for those needing to rush around the shops!

Beetroot and chocolate brownies

Beetroot works well in sweet or savoury dishes and can be really simply served in a salad with goat’s cheese and walnuts. Equally, it makes a wonderful partner to any dish containing chocolate! Why not try creating some chocolate and beetroot brownies? Perfect for the Christmas table to stop people falling asleep after lunch!

WHOLEMEAL BAGELS

Any food that contains whole grains will also contain plenty of energising B-Vitamins and wholemeal bagels are no exception. With any white bread products the refining process in their production destroys B-vitamins and also the fibre, both of which are needed to keep energy ramped up! So try to stick to wholemeal options this Christmas.

A wholemeal bagel with ham and salad

Wholemeal bagels make a great snack with nut butter (or with some jam for really quick energy).  Alternatively, try them toasted with scrambled eggs for breakfast, with cream cheese and smoked salmon for lunch or toasted with smashed avocado and pine nuts. Delicious!

SWEET POTATOES

Packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates, sweet potatoes provide sustained energy to keep you going throughout Christmas. Despite their sweetness, sweet potatoes are a starchy vegetable and supply about the same number of calories as new potatoes (around 84 calories per 100 grams).

A sweet potato cut in hasselback style on wooden board

Sweet potatoes make a delicious and quick lunch or dinner-time meal in a jacket with a topping of prawns, baked beans or tuna. The best news is that they have a really positive effect on blood sugar levels (unlike white potatoes in their jackets), which means energy levels will be constant and hopefully you won’t feel that all-too common afternoon energy slump.

So eat for energy this festive season and you’ll still be smiling (and awake) to enjoy the Christmas holidays.

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Brain Nutrition: the top 5 foods to eat for a sharper brain

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

Many of us struggle with poor memory or lack of concentration from time-to-time, and for some, more frequently. Whilst the brain will always show signs of ageing, generally from age 50, we’d all like some extra brain power, whatever our age!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five foods to give your brain that extra boost.

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EGGS

Eggs are not only an all-round superfood, they’re rich in choline, a member of the family of B-vitamins. Choline’s main ‘claim-to-fame’ is that it helps make acetylcholine, the brain’s key memory transmitter. Importantly, a deficiency of this nutrient could be the single most common cause for a declining memory.

One large egg contains around 300 mg of choline. Choline has two major functions; it’s needed for the structure of brain cells, plus the production of acetylcholine. The human body can make some choline in the liver, but it’s not usually sufficient to make healthy brain cells, hence it’s needed regularly in the diet.

A topped boiled egg in an egg cup

Eggs are also a great source of protein, containing the full profile of amino acids. Having an egg-based breakfast will help keep blood sugar levels in balance throughout the day and this will also keep your brain in sharp focus.

OILY FISH

Oily fish is rich in brain-loving omega-3 fats. These fats are key for good brain health because they’re part of the myelin sheath within the brain structure and are also needed to make those all-important neurotransmitters. The best fish to eat are primarily cold water ones that consume other fish! This means herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna. Try to include some oily fish in your diet around three times a week.

A whole cooked fish to represent healthy omega 3 fats

If you’re vegetarian, then you don’t need to miss out. Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are great sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a key omega fat which the body converts into the most active form being EPA (rich in fish). So the brain will still get what it needs.

BANANAS

This perfect, conveniently wrapped fruit is high in vitamin B6, which is another nutrient that’s essential for the production of those essential neurotransmitters. It’s no coincidence that bananas are a popular weaning food for babies, maybe for this reason. Plus, of course, they’re easy to digest (when fully ripe).

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

The brain needs a constant supply of certain nutrients to keep these neurotransmitters ‘firing’ and sending messages between cells. Several B-vitamins, and in particular B6, also encourage the production of acetylcholine as well as keeping nerves healthy.

Bananas are one of the easiest foods to incorporate into the diet because they’re so transportable but also versatile in dishes. They’re also a great start to the day on top of your morning oats with some natural yoghurt.

AVOCADOS

We know that the brain contains lots of fats, which are key to its make-up. However, this makes the brain susceptible to attack from damaging free radicals. If not stopped in their tracks, free radicals can cause damage throughout the body, particularly to nerves, which will inevitably impact on brain function.

The good news is that nature has provided a wealth of foods containing protective nutrients. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant found in avocados, works in partnership with vitamin C in the antioxidant department. Interestingly, people with good blood levels of antioxidants may do better in memory tests!

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Whilst some people shy away from avocados because of their higher calorie load, the benefits of including one in your diet, three times a week, far outweighs any negatives. They’re particularly delicious with prawns, in salads, smashed on toast with eggs for breakfast, or with bacon and grilled chicken.

PEAS

The humble pea is rich in folic acid, which works alongside vitamin B6 in helping produce the brain’s neurotransmitters. Plus, they’re so versatile and tasty too! They’re a good source of protein and fibre, helping to keep blood sugar levels in good balance and therefore, the brain in great working order.

a bowl of fresh peas and pea pods on a table

Peas are a very popular frozen vegetable because they’re so quick and easy to add to a meal. The freezing process can actually retain more of their nutrient content because they’re frozen quickly after harvesting, so don’t worry that these frozen vegetables are any less nutritious than fresh ones. They will also certainly contain less starch. We tend to forget that peas also come in the form of mange tout or the sugar snap variety, which are both equally great for the brain.

So add some of these brain-boosters to your diet this season and stay sharp!

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