Vegetable bakes: 3 delicious and nutritious dishes to fuel your autumn

A range of roasted vegetables

Baking isn’t all about making cakes as much as we love them! Vegetables can also feature in a range of delicious baked dishes, and now really is the time to be increasing your vegetable intake.

We know from published data and research that people are eating even fewer vegetables than they were before the pandemic.  With winter around the corner, now is the time to boost your immune system and get some powerful nutrients, delicious flavours, and gorgeous colours into your diet.

This National Baking Week, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three favourite vegetable bakes.

Roasted vegetables

This is hands down my favourite way of baking vegetables!  Not only do roasted veggies look great on the plate because of their array of colours, the flavours and textures bring out all that is great about them.

Even better, this is not going to take you hours in the kitchen. It will deliver a wealth of nutrients and you can vary the recipe to suit the season, what’s in your store cupboard, and where the mood takes you.

My favourite vegetables for nutrient value, taste and colour are:

Tomatoes

shutterstock_454912315 tomatoes Mar17

Rich in a powerful antioxidant lycopene to protect immunity and future-proof health.

Courgettes

A range of courgettes

Full of lutein and zeaxanthin that are great for eye health particularly if you’re spending long hours in front of screens.

Broccoli

Broccoli florets on a plate

An all-round superfood but especially great for digestion, detoxification, and antioxidant protection.

Red onion

Red,Onions,On,Rustic,Wood

Slightly more powerful in taste than white onion and loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C and quercetin.  If you suffer from any type of allergies, then quercetin can really help to dampen things down.

Garlic

shutterstock_552242461 garlic Aug17

Another great all-rounder and a natural antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial botanical.  Furthermore, it’s great for reducing high blood pressure and helping to manage cholesterol.

Carrots

shutterstock_250834906 carrots July16

High in beta carotene which is great for the immune system.  Beta carotene is turned into vitamin A which is needed for good night vision: it’s no myth that carrots help you see in the dark!

Simply chop up the veggies, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 30-40 minutes.  You might want to add the tomatoes about halfway through, so they are not overcooked.  You can also add some fresh herbs of your choice. Serve with whatever takes your fancy but a tray of roasted vegetables is delicious with any fish or chicken dish or simply served with quinoa.

Autumnal Bean and Vegetable Bake

As seasons change, so does the seasonal availability of fresh vegetables.  The body needs warmth right now, hence nature provides lots of root vegetables at this time of year.

Pumpkins, synonymous with this time of year,  butternut squash, parsnip and beetroot are great roasted with cumin. These veggies are all rich in antioxidants to protect the immune system during the winter months.

Colorful,Blend,Of,Roasted,Potatoes,,Yams,,Carrots,,Yellow,Beets,,Parsnips

While these are roasting, fry some onions, with garlic, paprika, ground coriander and cumin. These are all warming spices giving the body what it craves at this time of year.  Add some tinned tomatoes (rich in lycopene) and cannellini beans.  All beans are packed with essential protein, fibre and vitamin B6, great for hormone balance.

Canned,White,Beans,With,Green,Fresh,Dill,Leaf

Leave to simmer for 20 minutes then put everything together in an oven dish, add some breadcrumbs and roast until crisp.  You’ve produced a highly nutritious and delicious baked dish!

Cauliflower Cheese with a twist

Cauliflower is part of the highly prized cruciferous family.  As with all the family members (including broccoli), these guys can’t put a step wrong when it comes to protecting overall health.  Add some cheese and everything looks brighter.

In this dish the cauliflower florets are roasted, with some vitamin C-rich red peppers and onions, together with mushrooms, which provide some Vitamin D.  Towards the end of cooking make up a traditional cheese sauce using delicious and flavoursome cheddar cheese.

Loaded,Vegetable,Casserole,With,Broccoli,,Cauliflower,And,Leek.,Top,View,

Pour over the vegetables, top with some grated parmesan and you’ll have the most delicious and warming autumn meal, that’s also loaded with nutrients.  For vegetarians, this is great for providing a protein hit.  Simply serve with a side salad if desired to further enrich the colour and nutrient content.

So, enjoy mixing and matching your vegetables in baked dishes this autumn – it’s a win-win for your health too!

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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Cycle to Work Day: how to boost your energy levels

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

With National ‘Cycle to Work’ day being celebrated today, it’s a great time to focus on upping your energy and fuelling your rides. 

Whether you’re going to actually cycle to work, or just want to feel more energised for your workouts or in your everyday life, there are some great nutrient-rich foods that can help.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top foods for feeling more energised.

Blueberries

Delicious and in-season now, blueberries are going to provide great energy and an excellent start to the day, especially if you’re planning on cycling to work. Blueberries are a low glycaemic fruit, meaning they won’t adversely affect blood sugar balance and you’ll enjoy sustained energy throughout the day.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are often referred to as ‘super foods’ because they are packed with nutrients.  Importantly, their beautiful rich, dark colour signifies plenty of antioxidants, which help protect the body against the ageing process and degenerative diseases.  Why not enjoy some with your breakfast with some natural yoghurt and ground flaxseeds for a perfectly balanced start? Alternatively, they make the perfect accompaniment to oats (my next energy-giving food recommendation).

Oats

Another low glycaemic food, partly down to their rich fibre content, oats are loaded with energising B-vitamins.  However, look for ‘whole’ oats that have not been refined to gain full benefit.  Any refining strips out fibre and nutrients.

A bowl of oats

Oats contain plenty of trace minerals, especially magnesium which is also needed for energy production.  In short, they’re real powerhouses!  Oats are great soaked either in some plant or dairy milk and a little apple juice for flavour to make ‘overnight oats’.  Take them out of the fridge the next morning, pop on some yoghurt and berries. Either eat before your journey to work or when you arrive, and you’ve got the perfect start to your day.

Brown Rice

As with all whole grain foods, brown rice is great for encouraging sustained energy.  It’s rich in fibre and high in nutrients, especially those energising B-vitamins.  Brown rice has a much higher nutrient profile than white, because it hasn’t undergone any refining process. Furthermore, it can really help on a weight loss journey because it balances blood sugar levels and is very low in fat.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

The nutrient content of brown rice is equally as impressive with not only high levels of B-vitamins but a great range of essential trace minerals.  Of note is zinc which is needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body to keep it firing on all cylinders. Serve brown rice as an accompaniment to any protein such as fish or chicken or serve cold the next day with plenty of salad vegetables.

Bananas

Bananas are many people’s ‘go-to’ when it comes to the need for quick energy.  Although high in complex carbs, the riper bananas have a higher sugar content, delivering a fast-release boost, hence they are popular with sportspeople.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas are especially high in vitamin B6, much utilised for energy release but they also contain loads of potassium which is great for the heart.  As they are high in starchy carbs, bananas will keep you going all day and will also help you burn up those hills if some happen to be on your cycle route to work.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes have a much higher nutrient profile than traditional white potatoes.  That’s not to dismiss white potatoes from the diet as they still have a place, but sweet potatoes have the edge when it comes to delivering sustained energy.

shutterstock_429273175-sweet-potato-wedges-dec16

It’s all down to the complex carbs which keep blood sugar in balance and energy buzzing. Furthermore, sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body, essential for immune health.

You can eat sweet potatoes in the same way as white potatoes; mashed, chipped, jacketed, take your pick, and enjoy with a topping or foods of your choice.

So, whether you’re cycling to work or just want more energy, add these five foods into your diet and feel your energy soar!

Stay well.

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The importance of fruits and vegetables: how to eat more every day

A range of fruits and vegetables

We all know that fruits and vegetables are vitally important to include in the daily diet.  There are many great reasons for this but primarily they are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, so it makes sense to eat them as often as possible. 

Unfortunately, we know from the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that only around 27% of the UK population are managing even the basic minimum of five portions per day.  However, there are some easy ways of getting more into your diet.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for including fruits and vegetables at every mealtime.

Boost your Breakfast

We all want to feel energised at the beginning of the day and having the right fuel can really help set you on a good path.  It’s important to include protein at breakfast time to get blood sugar and energy levels in good balance throughout the day.  However, a jump start of more energy is always welcomed!

Spinach and mushroom om

How about cooking up a delicious spinach omelette with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes?  This meal is super-charged because spinach is rich in both energising B vitamins and iron.  Plus, mushrooms contain some immune-boosting vitamin D (although supplementation is still needed) and tomatoes are rich in antioxidants so help shield the body from damaging free radicals.

A green smoothie

However, if you prefer a fruitier start to the day, you can still enjoy the health benefits from spinach but in a delicious green banana smoothie.  Bananas are loaded with energising vitamin B6 and why not add some ginger and mango which are both great for the immune system. Coconut water is high in potassium which is great for the heart and you can even throw in a few kale leaves for an additional nutrient burst.

Load up at lunch time

When we’re busy, on the run or in and out of zoom or team meetings, lunch can sometimes get forgotten.  We should always remember that each meal is a time for re-fuelling and getting valuable nutrients into the body.  If we miss a meal, we miss out big time!

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Lunch does not need to be complicated and time-consuming to prepare it just needs to be colourful.  How about poaching a piece of salmon the night before and putting it into a colourful salad?  Whilst salad vegetables are high in water, so not always the highest in nutrients, if you include an avocado, you’ll not only feel fuller for longer, you’ll be getting the benefits of Vitamin E for your skin and immune system.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Alternatively, you can cook up some quinoa the day before and again add loads of salad vegetables or pre-roasted veggies of your choice to the mix.  The more colour you include, the greater the amount of plant antioxidants which help support immunity, protect the body against disease and keep us looking young and fresh.

Dive in at Dinner

There’s been an enormous upsurge in people ordering in meals from fast food apps during lockdown.  Unfortunately, we know from statistical data that this has also led to a prevalence of nutrient deficiencies, which can make us more prone to illness.

Salmon stir fry

A take-away or delivery meal is no bad thing occasionally, but nothing beats home-cooked food for the wealth of nutrients it provides.  And it doesn’t need to be complicated either! Plan a stir fry which includes chopped peppers, onion, carrots, baby sweetcorn, chopped broccoli and mange tout. Add flavourings such as soy sauce, coriander, and sweet chilli sauce and a protein source of choice for a quick, colourful and super nutritious dinner.

shutterstock_245873155-cruciferous-vegetables-jan17

Each fruit or vegetable brings a wealth of nutrients to the table: variety is key, and the body gets a balanced spread.  In terms of vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and pak choi) are extremely nutrient dense, and especially rich in magnesium which we know to be deficient in the average diet.  Magnesium is essential for so many bodily processes including for hormone balancing, and good nerve and brain function. Cruciferous vegetables are also rich in fibre which helps to keep the bowels working smoothly.

And if vegetables really aren’t your bag, then they can always be ‘disguised’ in dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, pasta sauces, curries and other spicy dishes.

So, try to include as many fruits and vegetables in your daily diet as possible – your body will definitely thank you for it.

Stay well.

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Nutrition for women: 5 nutrients to support your health

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

It’s no secret that women differ from men!  That also means our nutritional needs vary and this is often bound up with hormones and how they affect us on a monthly basis.

Whilst there are a wide range of vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health, there are a few in particular that are important for women’s health specifically.

This International Women’s Day, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a deep dive into five of the nutrients that women need most.

Magnesium

This mineral is known to be deficient generally within the UK population, but it presents even more problems when low in women.  Magnesium works as a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc (see below) but is essential in its own right for hormone balance, a healthy nervous system and bone health.  And stress burns up more magnesium so depending on how you are feeling many of us may be deficient.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Magnesium is rich in green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli, but also in whole grains (oats are a great source), brown rice and whole wheat foods.  Magnesium is also very relaxing and calming so can help if sleep is a problem.  Eating about six almonds before bedtime (rich in magnesium) can really encourage peaceful slumbers.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is very important for women because it’s an essential co-factor in many metabolic pathways, especially relating to hormone production.  Additionally, it’s needed to process key neurotransmitters essential for balanced mood and motivation, which are closely affected by hormonal fluctuations.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is needed for production of progesterone (a key female hormone), plus it aids the detoxification processes of the liver in order to excrete ‘old’ hormones.  Vitamin B6 is water-soluble so should be eaten regularly, but is readily available in poultry, fish, bananas, soya produce, oats and wheatgerm, so there’s plenty of choice.

Biotin

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is essential for protein synthesis, key for building hormones and for healthy skin. Biotin also helps to stimulate production of keratin which is the key protein in hair.  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to have thinning hair so having additional biotin in the diet and via supplementation can often be very successful in rectifying the problem.

Foods containing the b vitamin Biotin

Foods rich in biotin include eggs (poached egg on whole grain toast makes a great start to the day), organ meats, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, red meat and fish.

Zinc

Zinc is probably the busiest mineral of all because it’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions within the body.  Whatever the body is doing, zinc will be needed somewhere.  However, for women, it’s very important for fertility and reproduction because it’s needed to synthesise the key sex hormones.  Additionally, zinc is a powerful antioxidant so helps to produce healthy eggs but is also essential for cell division, a key part of the conception process.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Zinc has been found often deficient in women, especially teenagers and those of child-bearing age. Red meat is a great source, hence a possible reason for deficiency as less people are eating red meat or at least eating it less often. Other great sources include beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood (especially oysters) and most cereals.

Chromium

Chromium is essential for blood sugar balance which affects all other hormones.  Interestingly, women with some of the more difficult hormone issues generally have problems balancing blood sugar levels, making mood swings more of an issue too.

A range of foods containing chromium

Additionally, in research, chromium has been shown to help women with polycystic ovaries, the most common hormonal disorder affecting those of reproductive age.  This generally also means that sufferers have issues with blood sugar control, which chromium can help to improve. As well as whole grains, chromium is rich in green vegetables, poultry, many fruits and dairy products.

Once any deficiencies are plugged, women may find overall health improves significantly, so why not review your diet or consider supplementation to ensure you are getting enough of these 5 vitamins and minerals.

Stay well.

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Five foods to boost your mood this January

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

January is often a month where people struggle with low mood, partly because of the dark days and cold and miserable weather.  And that’s notwithstanding the current situation. “Blue Monday”, this year on 18th January, is also supposed to be the lowest day of the year.

However, the good news is that you can put a smile back onto your face by adding some ‘feel-good’ foods to your diet.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top happy foods.

Oats

The perfect start to the day is porridge with your choice of milk or soaked overnight in some apple juice. Oats are loaded with mood-enhancing nutrients.  Importantly, eating oats for breakfast avoids wheat-based cereals or bread, which can be troubling for many people’s digestion.  That’s certainly going to disrupt mood too.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are high in B-vitamins which, as well as helping with energy production, are needed to produce brain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation.  They are also high in the calming mineral magnesium (great for stress-reduction) and keeping your blood sugar levels in balance, thereby keeping you smiling!

Bananas

One of the easiest and tastiest snacks, bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin.  They are also high in vitamin B6, essential for the body to produce tryptophan which in turn helps to make serotonin, so it’s a win-win situation.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Whilst they’re a great snack and can also star in delicious banana bread, bananas are high in starch so are best eaten in moderation as a treat, rather than every day.  Plus, their sugar release is better balanced when eaten with protein, so they partner well with mood-boosting walnuts which are high in omega-3 fats.

Salmon

On the topic of omega-3s, salmon is one of the best food choices for getting some of these super-healthy fats into your diet.  Omega-3s are essential for brain function, particularly getting neurotransmitters to fire correctly, so will help support your mood.  Plus, they’re needed for great skin, smooth-moving joints, a healthy heart and eye health, so they provide plenty to smile about.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Salmon is really easy to include in the diet: it’s great grilled with some lemon juice and a little butter, cooked in the oven in a foil parcel with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, or added to pasta dishes.  If you want a quick and healthy lunch, then look for tinned wild salmon. Wild salmon is best because they’re reared in a healthier way and contain more of the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin (it’s what makes them pink), so you’ll also be supporting your immune system and the ageing process as well.

Pineapple

For tastes and memories of summer, why not bag some delicious pineapple?  If you can’t find fresh, then frozen is fine because it’s usually quickly frozen after harvest locking in all the nutrients. As well as encouraging happy thoughts of holidays (which will happen later this year!), pineapples contain some tryptophan, so they’ll also help to increase serotonin levels.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Pineapples also contain a special protein called bromelain which helps with digestion but has a strong anti-inflammatory action so is great for any joint pain or muscle soreness you might be experiencing.  Pineapple is delicious added to a vegetable juice for sweetness but, when eaten between meals as a snack (perhaps with some almonds), its health benefits tend to be more effective, plus it’s easier to digest.

Pumpkin seeds

Many people are not great lovers of fish which means they may not be getting their essential omega-3s.  Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3s, but also immune-boosting zinc and calming magnesium.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

If you can’t face them plain, then why not very lightly roast them with some soy sauce?  That way you’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy them and sprinkle them liberally on vegetables, salads or smashed avocado on toast (a fantastic start to the day!)

So, brighten up your January – and your mood – with some great mood-boosting foods!

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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Winter preparation to fuel your immune system

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

We do not need reminding that winter is upon us again!  It’s not just cold, miserable weather that gets us down, but it’s also the onset of the cold and flu season.  And that’s not withstanding other potential health concerns with COVID-19. 

The good news is that nature has our backs by providing a wealth of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals to protect us against unwanted invaders.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top vitamins and minerals to support the immune system all winter long.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of our most important immune-boosting vitamins.  This is because it helps uprate production of white blood cells within the immune system to help fight of viruses and infections.   It’s also one of our key antioxidant vitamins, further supporting overall health and helping bat away those unwanted invaders.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

Interestingly, whilst citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, they are not the richest sources.  All fruits and vegetables deliver good levels but guava fruit, bell peppers, kiwi fruits, strawberries and broccoli come out tops.

Iron

Iron is very protective of our immune defences.  As its name suggests, disease-causing microbes literally must penetrate its steely wall to cause harm.  One of the main symptoms of iron deficiency is tiredness and fatigue so do get your levels checked with a blood test from your GP if you’re concerned.

A range of foods high in iron

The best food source of haem iron (its most absorbable form) is red meat.  However, for non-meat eaters, green leafy vegetables, all types of beans, dried fruit and fortified cereals are good sources.  And if you eat your fortified breakfast cereal, together with a glass of orange juice, its vitamin C content will further help iron absorption.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps ramp up the immune system in a number of ways, making it a clear player when it comes to protecting the body from colds and infections. It’s also needed to help the body produce energy from food so its importance can’t be overlooked.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

With Christmas fast approaching, nut lovers will be pleased to know that pistachios are a great source of vitamin B6, although you’d clearly need to eat quite a few!  Fortified cereals, salmon, bananas, beans, cheese and eggs are all rich in vitamin B6.  In fact, it’s found in most whole grain foods so make sure they feature highly in your diet.

Zinc

Often described as one of the hardest working minerals, zinc is needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions within the body.  Essentially, it plays a role in most body systems, especially the immune system, specifically helping to fight off viruses. There is also research to suggest that it can help shorten the duration of colds.  However, prevention is always better than cure, hence it’s a key mineral to eat plentifully.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

Oysters are one of the richest sources of zinc.  However, they are not everyone’s bag, so seafood, seeds, wild rice, beef and spinach also contain good amounts of zinc.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is key for immunity, initiating antibody responses as well as increasing white blood cell production to help kill off unwanted invaders.  It also works on maintaining mucous membranes within the body which play a protective role.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A is only found in animal foods which can be tricky for vegetarians and vegans.  However, vitamin A is also produced within the body from beta-carotene and this is found primarily in red, orange, green and yellow fruits and vegetables.  Sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe melon, broccoli and apricots are especially rich in beta-carotene.

With so many immunity-boosting foods to choose from, why not make this winter your healthiest yet!

Stay well.

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Discover foods to support your mind this World Mental Health Day

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

World Mental Health Day is taking place this week. There is a greater focus on mental health generally right now, so never has there been a better time to discuss the topic more openly. 

Importantly, it’s also the perfect time to be looking at the connection between certain foods and nutrients and their effects on emotional wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five foods to support a healthy mind.

Oysters

Not only called the food of love because they’re known to be ‘aphrodisiacs’, oysters are rich in the mineral zinc, which is essential for mental wellbeing.  This is partly because zinc is one of our busiest minerals, being used in over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body, plus the brain naturally contains zinc.

A plate of fresh oysters

There’s much research to suggest its positive benefits in cases of depression and zinc is known to be depleted in UK diets.  This is partly because it’s rich in whole grain foods, rather than refined ones which tend to feature too highly in the typical daily diet.  However, seafood in another great source and oysters are certainly top of the list.  Don’t wait for the next Valentine’s Day to enjoy a romantic oyster dish!

Bananas

Bananas are rich in vitamin B6 which is essential for producing our happy hormone ‘serotonin’.  Plus, vitamin B6 is needed for energy release, so you get the best of both worlds.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas make a perfect snack, especially when you’re on the run. They also make an excellent pre-workout snack for an extra boost so you can push your body that bit harder!

Broccoli

Often referred to as a super food, broccoli delivers health benefits in so many ways.  Importantly, broccoli (and other green, leafy vegetables) are high in the mineral magnesium, which is needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, but also has a calming effect on the body generally.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Anxiety levels are soaring right now, in all age groups, so we all need to be mindful of specific nutrients that can help calm both mind and body.  Stress depletes magnesium, so it’s even more important to be loading up on greens.

And rather than just serving up plain boiled or steamed broccoli, why not lightly toss it in some pesto and pine nuts before serving, to add some interest to your plate.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a tasty and super-healthy oily fish that’s loaded with omega-3 fats.  These fats are essential to have in the diet because the body can’t make them, and they are critical for brain health, because the brain naturally contains them.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys confirm that the UK population is very deficient in omega-3s across all age ranges.  The recommended weekly amount is at least two portions of oily fish (salmon is also great), to try and redress the balance.

Mackerel is such a versatile fish. Try it chargrilled, in salads (it’s especially good with beetroot) or as made a pate. It is also delicious pre-smoked in a risotto, or gently pan-fried and served with rice or potatoes and your favourite veggies.  If you’re in a rush, why not use some tinned mackerel on wholemeal toast for a quick and incredibly healthy and filling lunch.

Blueberries

Blueberries are loaded with vitamin C, another nutrient that’s essential for good brain health.  Vitamin C is also one of our most powerful antioxidants which are very protective of the brain. Even better, blueberries are rich in plant compounds called polyphenols, also packed with antioxidants; it’s their beautiful rich colour that’s partly responsible for their health benefits.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are low on the glycaemic index so, unlike many fruits, they won’t upset blood sugar levels which can also cause dips in mood.  Serve them with your morning porridge or cereal or eat them with some natural yoghurt and seeds, for a healthy and quick, energy-sustaining breakfast.

So, include nutrients and foods in your diet that feed your brain and help support your brain from the inside out.

Stay well.

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

All images: Shutterstock

 

Seasonal nutrition: what to eat in August

People enjoying al fresco eating in the summer

Eating seasonally offers many benefits, mainly because produce is tastier when eaten at the time nature intended.  Indeed, British strawberries have been particularly delicious this year. 

So, what’s in season right now which will also deliver some amazing nutritional benefits?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top seasonal foods to enjoy now.

Runner beans

A perennial favourite for any keen gardener, the best time to eat runner beans is freshly picked otherwise they can become tough and chewy.  And whilst they might seem like a British traditional late summer vegetable, runner beans are actually native to Mexico and Central America.

A bunch of runner beans on a wooden background

As with all beans, runners’ deliver some good quality protein and dietary fibre, plus useful amounts of magnesium and copper (great for the muscles and joints), and energising iron.  Unlike many vegetables, they are not especially rich in vitamin C but do provide plenty of other powerful antioxidants including various carotenoids.

From an enjoyment perspective, there’s simply nothing better than pairing runner beans with some delicious roast lamb (also on good form right now).

Aubergine

Also called eggplant, they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants, helping scavenge free radicals. Interestingly, latest research has focussed on a particular antioxidant found in aubergines called nasunin, which is found to be especially protective of the brain.  Aubergines provide good sources of vitamin B6, useful for hormone-balancing and vitamin K, great for heart health.

A colourful grilled vegetable salad with aubergine

In terms of preparation, aubergines can generally be eaten with the skin-on so are super-easy to roast, along with red peppers and onions. They can be made into the ever popular babaganoush with garlic, lemon and tahini or used in many traditional Mediterranean dishes, including ratatouille.

Watercress

Watercress was a favourite of the famous Greek doctor, Hippocrates, due to its high mineral content; it has more calcium per 100 grams than a glass of milk (although you’d need to eat a fair amount!)

Just like spinach with its powerful green leaves, watercress delivers plenty of health-giving chlorophyll (otherwise known as the green food of life), plus immune-boosting vitamin C and the mineral manganese for a healthy nervous system.

A bowl of watercress soup

Watercress adds a delicious peppery taste to salads, helps balance the richness of a steak or makes a delicious soup.  Enjoy!

Beetroot

Truly a vegetable where you get plenty of ‘bang for your buck’, beetroot is low in fat but high in wonderful nutrients. Interestingly, whilst the edible leafy tops were used medicinally in ancient times, it’s generally the red root that’s eaten.  And unlike many other vegetables,  freshly boiled beetroot has higher levels of most nutrients than raw, including heart loving potassium.

Beetroot and goats cheese salad

However, fresh raw beetroot juice does provide a great source of vitamins and minerals and is often used as a tonic.  It’s also useful for athletes and has been found to help aerobic performance.

At this time of year, when they’re freshly harvested, there’s no better way than eating beetroot grated in salads with some feta cheese to compliment the flavours.

Raspberries

Second only to blackberries in terms of their health benefits, raspberries provide very high levels of vitamin C. Raspberries became super-famous when it was discovered they could possibly help with weight management, hence raspberry ketones were developed.  It was found that they helped stop the production of our fat-digesting enzyme, lipase, hence less fat was digested and absorbed.  Raspberries certainly help balance blood sugar levels which will also help with weight management.

A punnet of fresh raspberries

Why not get your day off to a flying start by adding some to your low-sugar morning muesli with some natural yoghurt?  Raspberries are also great on their own as a dessert with some freshly chopped mint.

So, make the most of the this seasonal and nutritious produce whilst you can!

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

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

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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

All images: Shutterstock