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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Autumn foodie favourites: what’s in season right now?

A plate with autumn leaves to represent autumn food and nutrition

Whilst it can be a bit confusing as to what’s in season when so much of our food is available year-round, it’s always best to try to ‘eat with the seasons’. So what does October bring us?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five great foods to eat this month.

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CRANBERRIES

Cranberries are traditionally associated with Christmas as an accompaniment to turkey. However, they’re at their best right now and that continues through to December. They used to be known as ‘bouncing berries’ as the fresh ones literally do! Most importantly, there’s a wealth of ways you can use them in the daily diet.

A basket of fresh cranberries

Cranberries are packed with plenty of immune-boosting nutrients to help you through the upcoming ‘bug’ season. They’re loaded with vitamin C, iron and plenty of antioxidants. Plus, they’ve also been proven to help fight urinary tract infections. However, it’s recommended to drink cranberry juice (look for low sugar ones), rather than the whole berries if you’re prone to suffering.

Cranberries are great in a sauce with roasted duck, can be used dried in breakfast muesli, and baked in muffins.

PUMPKINS

The month of October can never pass without mentioning pumpkins! The most famous of winter squashes, they are packed with the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene which the body turns into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed.

A range of pumpkins and squashes

Pumpkin is delicious roasted; in fact it’s probably easiest cooked this way as the skin can stay on. Preparing pumpkins can sometimes be slightly challenging although well worth it as they are delicious in stews, soups or mashed as a vegetable side. The seeds are highly nutritious and can also be lightly roasted with a little olive oil and salt for a healthy snack.

PEAS

Peas are often one of our staple vegetables on the dinner plate, partly because they are a popular frozen vegetable option. Frozen peas often more tender as they are picked and frozen quickly so the natural sugar doesn’t have time to turn into starch.

A bowl of fresh green peas and a pea pod

Peas are high in vitamin B1 which is good for the heart, and supports natural energy and the nervous system, plus they’re a good source of vitamin C.

The versatility of peas means they can be eaten in many different dishes; with pasta, in stir fries and risottos, in soups and as part of a Spanish tortilla, just as a few suggestions!

OYSTERS

Hailed as a luxury food, oysters will always make a statement on any plate! October is actually one of the best months to eat them in season as they are spawning during the summer months and their taste and texture changes.

A plate of fresh oysters

One of the best nutritional facts about oysters is that they’re loaded with the mineral zinc which is needed for healthy reproduction and fertility; this is the very reason oysters are known as aphrodisiacs!

It can be quite challenging to shuck an oyster yourself, so it’s worth buying them already prepared by an expert fishmonger. However, they need to be eaten fairly soon afterwards. Some people like them plain, others squeeze some lemon juice over them, or they work really well with a little tabasco to spice things up a bit!

GOOSE

Not just for Christmas, goose is coming into season right now. Whilst it does contain more fat than chicken or turkey, at 22 grams per 100 grams, goose has an excellent nutrient profile with greater levels of immune boosting iron and vitamin B6. Plus it contains the same amount of protein as turkey, which is even more than duck or chicken.

Roasted goose on a plate

A goose will produce fat when it’s roasting and some people cook it on an open tray and catch the fat as it drains off the bird. Goose fat helps create the best roasted potatoes so if you cook a goose during October, the collected fat will still be great for cooking your roasties on Christmas Day!

So celebrate these healthy and delicious October foods and enjoy seasonal eating this autumn.

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Five immune-boosting nutrients to get you ready for the cold season

With the winter months fast approaching, the season for bugs looms large. Thankfully nature has provided us with a wealth of nutrients to help fend off colds and flu. Whilst vitamin C and the mineral zinc are well-known as great immune-boosters there are 5 other key nutrients which are essential to keep you fighting fit this winter.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares these five top immune-boosting nutrients!

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VITAMIN D

Vitamin D tends to be associated with healthy bones and teeth, but it is also a key player in the health of the immune system.  Vitamin D is fondly known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. So during the winter months, people living in the Northern Hemisphere, including the UK, are likely to be deficient.  This is the very reason that Public Health England recommend supplementation of Vitamin D for everyone, particularly during the winter.

So how does it work?  It would seem that vitamin D activates a key part of the immune system – the killer T-cells – that detect unwanted viruses and bacteria.  T-cells rely on vitamin D in order to activate, otherwise they would remain dormant.

As well as taking a supplement of vitamin D this winter, eat plenty of oily fish, particularly those containing small bones such as sardines, pilchards and mackerel.  However whilst they provide some vitamin D, they may not be sufficient to keep your immune system in tip-top shape all winter-long so supplementation is recommended.

FRIENDLY BACTERIA

You may be surprised to know that your gut is home to 70% of your immune system.  It’s actually the body’s largest protective barrier between you and the outside world, and these defences come in the form of beneficial, friendly bacteria or probiotics.

One of the most prevalent strains of friendly bacteria is lactobacillus acidophilus, which is often found in yoghurt with active cultures. Probiotics need feeding to be as efficient as possible. Foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, lentils, oats and bananas will all feed these good guys and boost your immune system at the same time. You can also try a good quality probiotic supplement.

VITAMIN B6

Women in particular may associate vitamin B6 with supporting good hormone balance, but it also plays an important role in the immune system.  Vitamin B6 helps to increase antibody reactions which fight infections, and also stimulates the production of T-cells.

 

The good news is that vitamin B6 is rarely deficient in the diet.  However, increasing intake is going to have a positive effect on the immune system.  Avocados (great on toast for breakfast), bananas (an excellent afternoon snack), salmon (also packed with health-giving omega-3 fats), and foods containing wholegrain flour (such as whole wheat bread) provide excellent amounts of vitamin B6.

BETA-CAROTENE (Vitamin A)

Beta-carotene is turned into vitamin A in the body when needed, which is essential for the health of the immune system as well as vision and cell integrity.

Vitamin A itself is mainly available in animal produce such as meat, liver, eggs, butter and cheese, so vegetarian and vegans may be lacking. However, beta-carotene is widely available in lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables including carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, kale and cantaloupe melon.

Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A when needed but it does require sufficient protein, zinc and vitamin C to do so.  A diet rich in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, plus adequate protein either from animal or vegetable sources, together with some nuts and seeds will ensure beta-carotene can carry out its work most effectively.

VITAMIN E

As with a number of other nutrients, vitamin E improves B-cell and T-cell function (both key parts of the immune system). It also protects white blood cells from damage.  However, just like many other nutrients, vitamin E doesn’t work in isolation; it works hand-in-hand with selenium.

Luckily wheat germ and whole wheat flour both contain good amounts of these two nutrients so try to include these in your diet. Avocados, sunflower seeds and oils are all great sources of vitamin E.

As we know, when it comes to nutrients, nothing works in isolation in nature. Therefore eating a colourful ‘rainbow’ coloured diet every day is going to go a long way to keeping the bugs at bay this winter.

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The goodness of Garlic: health and nutritional benefits of this tasty bulb

Garlic (Allium sativum) has long been regarded as something of a miracle food. It has been used for dozens of complaints ranging from asthma to arthritis and it’s also a versatile ingredient in a wide range of dishes.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the low-down on garlic.

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Garlic’s reputation for providing healing properties, as an antiviral and anti-bacterial agent, are backed up by scientific evidence.  The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains, including those that are responsible for the pungent odour released when crushed.

The jury is still out as to whether garlic has the same benefits when eaten cooked versus in its raw form, as some of the compounds are lost in cooking.  If eaten raw then half to one clove daily is a good recommended daily amount.

VITAMIN AND MINERALS

Aside from its wonderful health benefits, garlic is also a great source of vitamin B6 which helps energy levels, manganese for the joints, and vitamin C and selenium which are both very powerful antioxidants.  These nutrients may also be some of the reasons for garlic’s vast array of health benefits.

The only downside to eating lots of garlic is that it makes the breath smell, hence there are many supplements produced using deodorised garlic.  A great tip to reduce the lingering smell is to chew parsley – a natural breath freshener!

A NATURAL ANTIBIOTIC

Garlic is thought to be a natural and broad-spectrum antibiotic; it may help to prevent or treat some bacterial or fungal infections.  Specifically it can be used very effectively to kill some intestinal parasites and fungal yeast infections.

Taking a garlic supplement, or increasing garlic in the diet before travelling abroad, may well help prevent traveller’s diarrhoea or picking up some kind of intestinal infection.

GREAT FOR THE HEART

Garlic has been used really effectively over many years as a natural anti-coagulant; this means it helps to lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure.

It seems to suppress cholesterol production in the liver and also helps to raise levels of the beneficial HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol.

IMMUNE BOOSTER

Garlic certainly has some wonderful immune-boosting properties mainly down to its anti-viral and antibacterial properties.  If it becomes a regular part of your diet, added to cooking, and alongside other immune-boosting herbs such as ginger, it can certainly help with treating colds and flu or better still, preventing them occurring in the first place.

A NATURAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

Garlic appears to exert strong anti-inflammatory properties, hence the reason it’s been widely used for joint problems, including arthritis.

It seems that the four main sulphur compounds within garlic deliver the powerful results, even helping to alleviate the pain associated with various joint issues.

LOVE GARLIC?

There are so many ways you can incorporate garlic into your everyday cooking! There are very few savoury dishes or foods that can’t be improved by the addition of garlic; soups, stews, mashed potatoes, bread, mushrooms, salmon with ginger, as a delicious cream with steak or in tomato-based sauces over pasta.

Here are three of my favourites:

Homemade Aioli

Why not eat the Spanish way!  Homemade aioli is so easy to make.  All you need is two egg yolks, three garlic cloves, some Dijon mustard and olive oil.  Mix the first three ingredients and then add some olive oil to thicken the mixture and a little lemon juice to taste.

It makes a wonderful dip for crackers, breads or crudités.  Alternatively, a popular European way with garlic is to crush it and spread it on bread with olive oil.  This works particularly well with bruschetta.

Stir-fry anything!

Stir-fries are so easy and quick and you can literally make them up as you go along!  However, a couple of cloves of garlic work especially well with prawns, peppers, soy sauce and any other chopped veggies of your choice.

Garlic chicken

A one-pot chicken dish is super-easy, quick and totally delicious.  Garlic cloves can either be stuffed into the carcass before cooking or crushed onto potatoes before roasting.

Garlic also works well crushed onto lamb, with some fresh rosemary, before cooking.

There are so many reasons to include garlic in your cooking, so enjoy experimenting!

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