Get back to nature this ‘Love Parks Week’

Woman walking through a forest glade

It’s ‘Love Parks Week’ and thankfully now all the parks are open again, we can enjoy them at their very best, whilst remembering to socially distance of course!

Spending time outdoors is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five best tips for enjoying our beautiful parks to the full.

Manage your allergies

For many of us who suffer with hay fever, the summer season is bittersweet when pollen levels are especially problematic.  Avoiding grass pollen is the most effective solution but it means missing out on so much.  However, there are certain steps you can take that will make your time in the parks more enjoyable.

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Any allergic response in the body involves an immune reaction so it’s important to keep your immune system in good shape.  Make sure you’re taking a vitamin D supplement and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with immune -boosting nutrients.  Bananas have been found to be especially effective for hay fever sufferers, so try to eat one about four times per week.

Additionally, the mineral magnesium (also rich in bananas) helps calm the airways so make sure you’re eating plenty of leafy greens, whole grains, beans and almonds.  Additionally, bromelain, the protein found in pineapples, has strong anti-inflammatory properties but is actually most effective taken in supplement form. It’s readily available in health food stores.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

If you find your eyes are sore after being outside in the park, change all your clothes when you come home, wash your face and lie down in a darkened room with some cucumber slices on your eyes.  Hopefully, you’ll feel refreshed after 20 minutes or so.

Go easy on the sun

Most of us love to feel the warm sun on our skin.  Plus, it also helps top up our vitamin D levels, which are essential for the immune system.  However, do try and be sun aware and wear a minimum of an SPF-30 sunscreen to help prevent burning and premature aging.

Close up of a hand with sun tan lotion in the shape of a face

Beta-carotene, rich in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and other red, orange and yellow vegetables, is a very powerful antioxidant which helps protect the skin against sun and other free-radical damage.  Whilst it won’t stop the skin burning, it will help minimise the sun’s more aggressive effects.

Put something different in your picnic basket

When packing up a picnic for a day out, we often tend to include the same foods without really thinking about it.  Why not make this week one where you opt for something different?

Instead of making ‘traditional’ sandwiches why not go for some Deli-style treats?  For example, cut some ciabatta bread in half and fill with cream cheese, salami, Mozzarella and roasted red peppers, which are rich in immune boosting vitamin C.

A bowl of homemade beetroot hummus

Additionally, beetroot hummus is a really healthy alternative to ‘normal’ hummus and it’s a great way of including this amazing super food in your diet.  All you need to do is blend some cooked beetroot, chickpeas, garlic, some virgin olive oil, a little lemon and some tahini.  It’s totally delicious on flatbread crackers.

Cycle your way around the park

The last few months has seen a resurgence in cycling, and it’s such a great activity for all the family.  Most parks have cycle routes around or through them and cycling is also a great form of exercise; it tones the legs, heart and butt!

Woman mountain-biking

Make sure you keep well hydrated before, during and after your cycle or day out, especially if it’s hot.  Aim to drink about 200 ml of water or lightly isotonic fluids per hour, depending on outside temperature and the intensity of your cycle.

Walking for enjoyment

Your walk around the park can be anything you want it to be – a gentle stroll or a fast-pace march.  Either way, walking is great for keeping good blood flow around the body.

Woman walking her dog

It’s especially effective if you’re trying to lose weight: try brisk walking after an evening meal – even only for 30 minutes.  The body’s insulin response is much more measured, and it helps stop blood sugar spikes which can lead to increased weight gain.

Whatever you decide to do in your park, celebrate Love Parks Week, get out there and enjoy!

Stay well.

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How to stay healthy and fit through the crisis

WOman holding a weight in one hand and plate of fruit and veg in the other

With the likelihood of a prolonged period of social distancing and home working, our normal everyday routine will become very disrupted.  Whether you’ve got a little more time on your hands because you’re not travelling to work, or you’re having to work much longer hours because you’re a key worker, it’s most important to keep as fit and healthy as possible during these challenging times.

Finding new ways to keep fit or new dishes to try will help to boost your morale and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for lasting wellness.

Load up on fruits and veggies

It seems like the shelves have been stripped bare of dried goods, such as pasta and rice, but fruits and vegetables are hopefully still available, certainly in lots of areas.  Also, don’t forget the corner shops and local farmer’s shops which still seem to be well-stocked.

A range of fruits and vegetables

Protecting the immune system is the most important thing you can do right now and there’s a variety of ways you can really help yourself and your family.  Fruit and vegetables are some of the richest sources of immune-boosting vitamin C, a great anti-viral agent.  Whilst it’s not going to cure the virus, having strong immunity will put you in better to shape to fight it if you are unlucky enough to succumb.

If you’re used to having pasta-based meals, then why not try more vegetable-based ones?  Sweet potato curry or sweet potato vegetable pie (loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene), roasted veggies with chicken, fish or tofu, cauliflower curry, fajitas with avocado and red peppers – it’s just about getting more creative with your choice of dishes.

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

If you’re one of the 72% of the population currently not eating the minimum five-a-day of fruits and vegetables, then use this time to eat as many as you can daily.  Frozen are just as good as fresh as they’ve generally been frozen quickly after harvest.  Make your meals as colourful as possible!

Take a vitamin D supplement

We are all advised by Public Health England to take a vitamin D supplement through the winter months.  Never has there been a more important time to be taking a vitamin D supplement; vitamin D is essential for the immune system. And even though some sunshine has appeared, it can never produce enough vitamin D on the skin to be fully effective.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

Better still, take a daily multivitamin which includes a minimum of 10 micrograms (ug) of vitamin D: a multivitamin will also help plug any other nutrient deficiencies and further protect the immune system. You can also get some vitamin D from foods; eggs, mushrooms and fish are good sources, plus certain fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Sleep and rest well

In these times of heightened anxiety, stress can have a detrimental effect on the immune system.  It’s therefore really important to make sure you’re getting sufficient rest and seven or eight hours sleep per night.  Lack of sleep suppresses T cells in the immune system, which are needed to fight viruses and infections.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Equally, trying to take some relaxation during the day, can help you to sleep better at night.  Try using a calming app, practising meditation, reading a book – whatever you find helpful.  Also try to keep to regular bedtimes.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

If you’re used to being a social butterfly, clearly everyone’s wings have been clipped for a while.  Use the time to cut down on caffeine and alcohol as both will stop the body from sleeping peacefully.  If you’re in the situation of being indoors much more, then take the opportunity to re-think your life and try to ditch those foods or activities that are not promoting good health.

Warm yourself from the inside

It’s crucially important to keep the body hydrated to protect vital organs and make your internal environment more difficult for viruses to enter.

Glass of water with lemon

Additionally, if you’re dehydrated, your brain is going to feel foggy, concentration will be poor and energy levels low.  The body really likes warm drinks (about blood temperature).  Start the day with some warm lemon water to flush through the liver.  You can also sip this with some immune-boosting ginger throughout the day.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

There’s a myriad of herbal teas which also boost immunity; echinacea, peppermint, red bush, green, rosehip and turmeric. Have one on the go throughout the day.  Soups containing loads of vegetables are also great immune boosters; chicken broth is thought to help fight viruses.  If you can boil up the bones to make a chicken stock first, even better!

Get some exercise

This is more difficult now with formal exercising venues, as well as public parks, largely being closed.  However, even if it’s a stroll around the block, getting some fresh air (away from other people) is great for the immune system.  However excessive exercise actually depletes immunity, so for some perhaps an enforced ‘slow-down’ may be good. Don’t overdo it.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

Get creative with some kind of exercise routine. Running up and down stairs, press-ups, core exercise, squats and lunges can all be carried out at home.  Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises only require a mat: there are plenty of free videos online to follow in order to keep motivated.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Most importantly, try to stay positive.  This is a phase in time that will pass.  However, the more you can do to keep yourself healthy the better you’ll come out the other side.

Stay well.

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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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Women’s health: nutrition at every life stage

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

Women’s health needs vary throughout their lives.  There are many years spent balancing hormones and this can have other knock-on health implications.

Thankfully there are some vitamins and minerals which can specifically offer solutions to women at every life stage.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at which are the top nutrients women should be focusing on during their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

The fertility years – 30’s

A group of women in their 30's

More women are now having babies in their 30’s than in their 20’s in the UK. And there are certain nutrients that can help support fertility.

It’s important to ensure the body is being fed specific nutrients such as the mineral zinc, needed for fertility as well as immune health.  Oysters (also aphrodisiacs), whole grains, seafood, beef, beans and mushrooms are all good sources so make sure they feature in your daily diet.  Zinc also helps with hormone balance which will help manage fluctuations better.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

In terms of looking after your hair, skin and nails, then the beauty vitamin is biotin.  It’s found in organ meats, soya products, oats and dairy.  Also make sure you are eating a varied, colourful diet, with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to keep you looking your best from the inside out.

The Peri-menopause years – 40’s

Group of women in their 40's

However, much we try to avoid saying the ‘M’ word, unfortunately menopause can start to become noticeable during our 40’s.  The average age for menopause is 51, however, during the 5-10 years leading up to it we may start to notice various symptoms. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate what’s down to peri-menopause symptoms and what’s caused by stress.  Anxiety, low mood, unwanted weight gain, poor sleep and heavy periods can all be problematic.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Thankfully there is some nutritional help at hand. Top of the list for supporting both stress and peri-menopause symptoms is vitamin B6. It’s needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, helps with the stress response and keeps female hormones in good balance.  Cereals, beans, poultry, fish and dark leafy greens are your hormone-friendly foods.

The Menopause years – 50’s

A group of women in their 50's looking at a photo on the screen of a camera

Around 80% of women suffer from menopause symptoms in varying degrees.  Some are so debilitating that women have to stop working, have relationship issues or just feel total despair.  The good news is that there’s much that can be done to alleviate symptoms.  Top of the list are phytoestrogen foods which help to balance falling levels of oestrogen naturally.

A range of phytoestrogen foods

Soya products such as soya milk and tofu, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, beans (especially edamame beans) and chickpeas are all great sources of phytoestrogens so try to have some at every mealtime.

Disturbed sleep can also be a problem during these years; if you’re struggling, the herb valerian, taken about an hour before bedtime is very effective and it won’t make you feel drowsy in the morning.

And if you’re looking for natural support for the symptoms of the menopause you could try Black Cohosh – a traditional herbal remedy used to help hot flushes, night sweats, disturbed sleep and mood swings.

The Freedom years – 60’s

Group of retired women in their 60's walking on a beach

Hormonal fluctuations are diminishing, family life and work pressures should be lessened and hopefully there’s finally a lot more time on your hands!  However, it’s also time when you need to be taking really good care of your bones.

Peak bone density is reached during your 30’s (or earlier) so bone strength can decline thereafter, and this can really accelerate after the menopause due to lack of oestrogen.  Make sure you’re eating plenty of bone-loving calcium-rich foods.  It’s not all about dairy. Soya products, green leafy vegetables, oily fish including bones (such as tinned fish) and nuts and seeds are all great sources.

A range of foods containing calcium

Additionally, calcium can’t do it’s work within bone structure without the ‘sunshine’ vitamin D.  During winter months, it’s impossible to get enough from the sun itself, so do make sure you’re taking a daily vitamin D supplement.

Exercise is also essential for bone health and mental wellbeing so make sure you’re doing some every day. It’s not about going to the gym if that’s not your bag, but simply about being as active as possible and enjoying what you’re doing.

So, with a little careful planning, us women can help meet our health needs with specific nutrition throughout all our life stages. 

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Taking care of your mind matters: top nutrition and wellbeing advice for better emotional health

Two strawberries and a banana placed to make a smiley face

There’s much coverage in the Press and on social media about the importance of talking openly about mental health, and rightly so: there should be no stigma around the topic. Interestingly, getting your diet right can also be an important contributor to good emotional health.

So how can we help ourselves and look after our mental wellbeing through nutrition? 

This Time to Talk Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition and wellbeing tips for a happier mind.

Ditch the sugar

There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Eating foods, namely sugar, with no nutritional value and which deplete nutrients, should be avoided.  Most importantly, sugar can be something that many people are addicted to.  Like any addictive substance, it has side effects, one of them being low mood.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Being addicted to fizzy drinks, even the diet kind is not uncommon.  Many people are drinking between five and ten cans daily.  Not only does this deplete nutrients but sugar or sweeteners upset brain chemistry, both of which can cause low mood, irritability and lack of concentration.  They also upset blood sugar balance, leading to low energy levels and weight gain. Yes, even diet drinks can make you put on weight. Sugar, in all its forms, needs to be moderated as much as possible if you want to balance your mood.

Good mood foods

Certain foods can contribute to a much happier mood. Nutrient-dense foods contain key vitamins and minerals needed to produce the brain’s happy hormones and neurotransmitters.  Key to this are the B-vitamins which are also needed for a balanced nervous system.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

The good news is that B-vitamins are widely available in many foods including whole grains, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and dark leafy vegetables.  Plus, bananas are a really good source of vitamin B6, a great transportable snack.

Protein-rich foods including chicken and turkey, eggs, soya products, as well as oats are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin.  Try to include protein at every mealtime for best effects.

Get more of the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, it is also the sunshine vitamin because it plays an important role in balancing your mood. Whilst vitamin D is essential for bones, teeth and a healthy immune system, deficiency will cause low mood, even depression.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

During the darker, winter months, the only way to get enough is to take a daily supplement: even foods which contain Vitamin D deliver very little. Public Health England recommends a minimum supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily for everyone. Taking a vitamin D supplement daily is a really easy way of boosting mood naturally.

Get talking

We are all becoming more aware of the increased prevalence of emotional wellbeing issues and the fact it’s being more widely talked in general about can make a real difference to people suffering.  It’s always good to try and talk to a family member or close friend if you are feeling low or anxious. And it’s always good to talk to someone you know who you think may be having challenges.

Two women talking about mental health

Whilst many people bottle up their feelings, this can often make matters worse.  Putting on a ‘brave face’ and keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ might have been the norm years ago, but it can certainly cause more problems than it solves.

Getting outside professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist can provide much-needed support.  Most will offer a free initial session because it’s important to feel comfortable: it’s well worth investing the time to find the right person to help you.

Try some happy herbs

As we know, Traditional Herbal Remedies (or licensed herbal medicines) can be incredibly powerful and make a real improvement to many health complaints.  Top of the list for low mood is St John’s Wort which helps raise serotonin levels.  It can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops but always look out for Licensed Medicinal Herbs with the ‘THR’ symbol.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Herbs don’t work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs, so you may need to wait two to three weeks before noticing improvements, but it’s certainly worth trying the natural approach.

Additionally, the herb passionflower is incredibly calming.  Anxiety often accompanies low mood, and the two herbs work very well together.  Passionflower tends to work faster and can also be used before a stressful event as well as for longer term.

So, make looking after your emotional wellbeing a top priority during 2020.

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Why eating more vegetables is so good for you

Happy woman holding a brown paper bag of vegetables in her kitchen

There are many reasons why vegetables should feature very highly in your daily diet. Packed full of nutrients, the range of vegetables available to us all year round makes including them in our meals every day pretty easy.

This month why not take the Veg Pledge and increase your vegetable intake?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five great reasons why you should.

Vegetables are loaded with nutrients

Vegetables are the most nutrient-dense food groups on the planet.  The human body needs around 45 nutrients daily (including water) and a very large proportion of these are found in vegetables.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

If you eat a wide variety of vegetables, then you’ll certainly be loading yourself up with a good range of nutrients.  First up are vitamins, most of which can’t be made in the body so have to be eaten very regularly.  Vitamins such as A, C, and E are all key for the immune system. The B vitamins are needed for energy and a healthy nervous system and brain. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth.  And that’s just the beginning!

The body contains a range of trace minerals that are utilised for many body functions, so must be eaten regularly as well.  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with most of it being stored in the bones.  Magnesium is key for bone health but also for the heart. Potassium and sodium should also be in good balance to support our cell make-up.

Vegetables are packed with antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the body against free radical damage.  Free radicals come from the environment but also from within the body.  Whilst the body has its own antioxidant systems, it needs more protection from foods we eat, including vegetables.  The richer and darker the colour, the more antioxidants the vegetable provides; broccoli and kale, for example, are packed with antioxidants.

A range of orange vegetables

The colour of the vegetable also gives a clue as to the different types of antioxidant it contains.  For example, orange and red vegetables contain lots of carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body. Others serve to protect the body against disease, the aging process and from nasty bugs and infections.

Vegetables are loaded with fibre

We need around 30 grams of fibre in the diet each day to help the digestive tract run smoothly.  Fibre is also needed to aid liver detoxification, balance blood sugar levels and keep cholesterol levels in check, just for starters.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

Foods contain soluble and insoluble fibre, and we need both, but vegetables contain high levels of soluble fibre.  As an example, there’s around three grams of fibre in a cup of cauliflower so the body needs plenty more from food sources to keep the levels topped up. There are of course other foods, especially whole grains, which contain plenty of fibre.

Vegetables are good for the environment

There’s so much research to suggest that adopting a primarily plant-based diet is very beneficial for health.  However, with climate change and environmental issues of real concern right now, eating more vegetables and less meat is seen as a very good thing.

close upof woman carrying basket of in season fruit and vegetables

Ideally, we should be trying to eat foods in season.  We’ve got very used to being able to eat a whole range of vegetables throughout the year due to the wide availability. Farmer’s markets and local growers should be supported as much as possible and are the best places to find in-season, fresh produce.  Plus, if you can find organic growers then you’ll be reducing your own intake of pesticides and well as being kinder to the environment.

Make vegetables the main event

You can use vegetables in so many ways, not just as side dishes, but also as mains.  Think vegetable curries, risottos and soups or put some of your favourites in a slow cooker with some stock for a lovely warming winter meal.

A bowl of vegetable soup surrounded by vegetables

The varying and wonderful tastes of vegetables can also be enhanced with plenty of delicious and health-giving herbs and spices.  For example, why not try garlic, ginger,  chilli, turmeric, paprika, basil, rosemary or sage. There are so many herbs and spices that can be added to vegetables to both enhance taste and have additional health benefits so get creative!

CLose up of a pestle and mortar surrounded by herbs and spices

 

Eating delicious food is one of life’s pleasures and there are certainly many ways to make vegetables tasty and a big part of your everyday diet. Five-a-day is the minimum you should be aiming for but the more the better!

So, take the veg pledge and enjoy creating vegetable-based dishes this season.

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Nutrition and lifestyle advice for minimising stress and anxiety

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Many of us frequently suffer from anxiety or stress, whether we are worried about a work situation, a relationship or an upcoming social event. This is can often be accompanied by feelings of low mood and a sense of inadequacy.

In our fast-moving ‘always on’ society, pressure to perform can be overwhelming.  And as simple as it sounds smiling more can also really help! 

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great lifestyle tips to help us feel calm and more balanced.

What to drink

Certain drinks can have a marked effect on anxiety and mood.  Out should go stimulants such as alcohol (also a depressant) and fizzy drinks (even the sugar-free varieties which contain unhelpful chemicals). Try to avoid caffeinated coffee, tea and colas (providing a quick ‘high’ then an edgy low).

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

In should come calming camomile and valerian teas. Try non-caffeinated varieties such as red bush and green tea which contains theanine, a calming amino acid.  Whilst green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, the stimulatory effects are off-set by the theanine.  However, it’s best not drunk before bedtime.

And of course, make sure you are getting your daily water quota – aim for 1.5 – 2 litres a day.

What to eat

What we put into our mouths has the biggest influence on how we feel emotionally and physically.  The body needs around 45 nutrients daily to function at its best. When these are lacking we can certainly feel tired and cranky.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The mineral magnesium, ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ is key to coping with anxiety and is used up more during times of stress.  Therefore, making sure you are getting enough in your diet is important. Green leafy veg such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are great sources of magnesium.

If you find you are waking during the night due to worries or anxious thoughts, eating a few almonds, also rich in magnesium, before bedtime can really help.

A basket of almonds

The B vitamins are also key in controlling the body’s stress response. Vitamin B5 is especially important in helping produce our stress hormones.  The good news is that it’s found in plenty of foods such as poultry, whole grains, oily fish (also rich in brain-loving omega 3s), legumes and dairy products.

Try natural herbal remedies

If you’re struggling with anxiety, then there are plenty of additional herbal helpers.

Both the herbs ashwagandha and rhodiola are known as ‘adaptogenic’, meaning they help the body better cope during stressful times and adapt to its needs.  Both are available as supplements. Ideally take them in the morning as both can stimulate and give an energy boost, whilst reducing feelings of anxiety.  Additionally, the herb passionflower can be taken as a supplement and works really quickly; it’s especially helpful if you’re struggling with a nervous tummy.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Don’t forget to also take a vitamin D supplement, especially now the winter months are upon us. As well as supporting the nervous system it helps lift low mood and also induces feelings of calm.

You are what you think…

It’s very easy to focus too much on worries and anxious thoughts, perhaps over-thinking situations and life itself.  It’s a question of managing your brain and its thought processes.  Sometimes visualising holding up a hand to stop negative thoughts coming in can help.  Equally, practising meditation is one of the best ways of gaining back control of your brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

There are plenty of ‘calming’ apps that you can download and listen to; find what works for you.  However, our over-use of technology and social media can have a negative impact on our mental well-being.  Additionally, the blue light emitted from electronic goods can keep us awake. So, turn off the social media apps and switch everything off a couple of hours before bedtime. Try to have good amounts of time during the day when you’re not glued to your laptop or phone; even if it’s only for 20 minutes, make it a habit to take yourself away from your phone or laptop every day.

Get moving

Any form of exercise is incredibly positive for mind and body.  Some people need to do fast-paced exercise to help with stress and anxiety, whilst others do better with calming, gentle activities.  Whatever suits you, doing strenuous exercise in the evening is not recommended as it stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which will keep you awake.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

Yoga and Pilates can help calm and relax you as you focus on the movements paired with your breath. These can even be practised in your own living room, if time or availability of classes is a problem.  However, the benefits of engaging regularly in the type of exercise that works for you can’t be over-stated.

So with some small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help yourself to become less anxious and more relaxed.

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Self-care: it’s all about you!

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s National Spa Week, reminding us that we need to take time out to care for ourselves.  We often spend so much time ‘giving’ to everyone else – children, parents, friends and work colleagues – that we don’t make enough time for ourselves.

Self-care is essential to support our physical and mental wellbeing and there are lots of ways you can improve your diet to help you have a healthier lifestyle.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways in which you can take better care of you.

Make your diet more colourful

What you put into your body is the cornerstone of life.  How you look and feel is primarily governed by what’s within, meaning your nutrient intake.  The body requires around 45 different nutrients daily (including water), so each mealtime needs to count.

The more colour you have on your plate, the more nutrients you’ll be taking in without even thinking about it.  For example, a dinner plate that contains poached salmon, roasted red peppers and asparagus, mashed sweet potato and a portion of broccoli really embraces this concept.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

It’s the beautiful dark, rich colours in foods, especially in fruits and vegetables, that really pack a nutrient punch, so have some fun with creating your colourful plate.

Also remember that sugar, in all its forms, has no nutritional value and can even prevent absorption of certain nutrients, so really watch your ‘empty’ calorie intake.  Plus, you might appreciate the instant sugar rush and feel energised at the time but overall, you’ll feel more sluggish and not very spa vitalised!

Prepare for the next few months

Whilst we can often feel down as the colder weather and shorter days approach, autumn can be a magical time in the great outdoors; autumn colours are truly beautiful.  If you can get out for some longer walks in the countryside, this can be a great stressbuster plus you can literally lose yourself in the colour spectacle.

Changing seasons can unfortunately herald the start of the ‘bug’ season.  However, taking good care of your yourself can also help prevent their onset.  Cleaning up your diet is important.  Plus, poor sleep and over-indulgence in alcohol or too many late-night parties will deplete the immune system, so do pace yourself.

Stri fry showing garlic as an ingredient

Tap into Mother Nature’s little helpers in the form of immune-boosting herbs and spices.  Make your own ginger tea with lemon every day, using fresh squeezed ginger root.  Other great immune-boosting ideas include adding cinnamon to your morning porridge or cereal and using plenty of garlic in your cooking (stir fries are quick and easy). Try adding fresh rosemary to your roasted veggies or roasted sweet potato wedges and sprinkling turmeric over as much as you can (even scrambled eggs taste great with some added spice).

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Using shitake mushrooms rather than button ones will give you a real immune-boost (they also contain some vitamin D) and drinking two or three cups of green tea each day provides you with a range of antioxidants.  These few simple changes will protect and invigorate you over the coming months.

Take time to breathe

This means literally and metaphorically. When you’re stressed and racing around at 100 miles an hour, the body can quickly feel depleted of energy.  Deep breathing exercises can bring instant relaxation.  Even just lying on your bed or in a quiet place and breathing in for five seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds and exhaling for eleven seconds, a few times, can bring peace and relaxation to the body.  Try this a few times and just enjoy the feeling.  It will also help you to sleep if you’re struggling or will calm the body and mind during the day when life is too frenetic.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Taking time to breathe also means stepping back sometimes.  When you’re in the fast lane all the time, the mind and body can become overwhelmed.  This can cause anxiety, restless sleep, poor concentration and low mood.  Whether it’s taking a 20-minute walk away from your desk at lunchtime or after dinner, doing a yoga or Pilates class or reading a book, try to book some ‘you’ time in every day.  Try to recognise the signs of feeling overwhelmed in yourself and take time out, whether that’s a short break or a holiday.

So take a step back this week and decide how to create the ‘spa’ me time we all need to promote self-care.

 

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Serve your bones the best nutrition this Wimbledon season

Close up of mixed doubles tennis match

It’s time for one of our favourite summer traditions – Wimbledon! Whether you love it or not it’s still a great time to be thinking about maintaining healthy bones and joints.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Summer is a time when we want to be active and outdoors as much as possible and this is where the right nutrition can really help keep you mobile. Plus you might be dusting off your racket for a game of tennis!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for keeping your bones and joints strong and mobile this summer.

Boost your vitamin D

We know that vitamin D is the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s predominantly made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, don’t be fooled that just because it’s summer, all will be fine with your vitamin D levels. It’s a well-accepted fact that at least 30% of the UK population are vitamin D-deficient all year round. This is partly because sun cream blocks its production but also because we’re not necessarily out in the sun that much. Plus, there’s mixed data on how much the body actually stores and what’s sufficient for our needs.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Vitamin D is absolutely essential for healthy bones and joints, mainly because of its activation of calcium. Therefore, ensure you’re eating plenty of vitamin D-rich foods such as liver, oily fish with bones (sardines are great), mushrooms and eggs. Plus, it’s a good insurance policy for your joints and bones to continue taking a supplement at the amount recommended by Public Health England of 10 micrograms daily. And, most importantly, try to spend around 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen.

Load up on your greens

Green leafy vegetables are loaded with magnesium, a mineral that’s as important for the bones as vitamin D and calcium. Unfortunately it’s widely deficient in the UK population and this can cause joint stiffness, amongst other problems.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard and spinach are your bones’ best friends and they’re easy to include in the daily diet. Try making some cauliflower cheese (also rich in calcium), stir fried broccoli and chard with garlic and ginger, Brussels sprouts with bacon, or an omelette with spinach. These are all easy and super-healthy, nutrient-packed additions to your day!

Oil up your joints

Like any ‘machine’ the body needs to be well-oiled. And there’s no better way of doing this than by eating plenty of omega-3 fats. These really are essential for helping to keep the joints mobile and, hopefully, injury-free. They also have amazing anti-inflammatory powers.A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

 

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines (all delicious fish for a summer barbeque) are packed with omega-3s. If you’re not a fish lover. or are vegetarian or vegan, then flaxseeds or pumpkin seeds are also great omega-3 sources. Pumpkin seed butter on oat cakes is a quick and filling snack and flaxseeds can be easily sprinkled over cereals or stirred into yoghurts.

Get moving

Clearly, tennis is a great game and the whole family can get involved. However, if you’ve been a little too sedentary over the winter months then it’s better to get the body used to being more active before running around the tennis court.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

Whilst it might seem very simple, brisk walking for 30 minutes, elevating your heart rate (make sure you include some hills), is one of the best forms of exercise you can do and it’s not too stressful on the joints. Bones need to be exercised too to help keep them stay strong. Any exercise that contains forward and backward movements (dancing is great), weight training, yoga or most gym classes will be really beneficial for bone health. Whilst bones need the right nutrition, exercise also plays an essential role in maintaining bone integrity for the future.

Fermented foods to fortify the bones

It might sound strange to say that good gut health is essential for strong bones, but this is absolutely the case. The good bacteria that naturally live in the gut help nourish the rest of the body and assimilate the essential nutrients to keep bones and joints healthy. Probiotics or friendly bacteria help to increase bone mineral density and it is here that fermented foods have some of the most beneficial effect

A bowl of natural yoghurt on a wooden background

Foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kefir, natural yoghurt and kimchi are becoming ever more popular and can easily be included as part of the daily diet. Plus, these foods naturally contain calcium so it’s even more reason to include them as much as possible.

So even if you’re not a tennis fan, why not serve up some of these winning, bone-building foods this summer.

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Top nutrition tips for a delicious summer picnic

A picnic basket on a wodden table overlooking a beautiful countryside scene

It’s that time of year when we should be enjoying being in the great outdoors with a picnic! And your picnic basket certainly doesn’t need to be filled with lifeless sandwiches.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Think colourful, appetising and, most importantly, healthy foods!

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five healthy and tasty picnic ideas.

Energising salad

Whether you’ve woken up and decided ‘today is the day’ for a picnic you certainly don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen preparing food. You want to get out there and enjoy the day. A salad will help keep you energised for the odd ball game during the day, and is a great choice.

A quinoa salad with vegetables

As with any meal or dish, the more colour you can inject, the better and this salad is no exception. This one has a base of protein-rich quinoa (try to get as many colour varieties as possible of quinoa. Add broad beans (also known as lima beans) which are packed with energising folate. Then mix some spring onions, chilli, chopped celery, mint leaves and chopped parsley with some tasty French dressing.

This is a really energising and sustaining salad, loaded with antioxidants but also containing two healthy herbs; mint and parsley both help digestion and detoxification.

Wraps

Whilst sandwiches may become limp and unappetising, wraps are much more substantial and are easier to transport. Plus, you can pack a variety of different fillings to suit all tastes. A really nice option is falafel, sliced beetroot, feta cheese and crispy lettuce. It’s a really colourful wrap that’s packed with liver-loving beetroot and protein-rich feta and falafel. It’s also great for any vegetarians in the group.

Falafel wraps

Another wonderful alternative wrap recipe is smoked salmon, egg and spinach with a little mayonnaise. Not only is this one really quick to prepare, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Smoked salmon contains plenty of brain-loving omega-3s, plus spinach is a great source of energising iron as well as some B-vitamins. And even though you’ll be out in the sunshine (hopefully), egg yolks are a source of vitamin D which will help top up levels in the body. We’re finding out more and more about the absolute need for plenty of vitamin D so use every opportunity you can to top up.

Colourful skewers

Here’s another colourful picnic idea that’s really quick to prepare and won’t spoil in transportation. Why not take on an Italian theme for this one? Cherry tomatoes work really well with mozzarella, cheese, olives, basil leaves,  tomatoes and perhaps a little folded Parma ham.

Tomato mozzarella and basil skewers

Tomatoes are full of the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient meaning it’s much better absorbed when eaten with a fatty food such as mozzarella and Parma ham. Additionally olives are high in monounsaturated fats which are very beneficial for the heart. So, if you’re picnic takes on a more active theme, you’ll be protecting your heart health both from the exercise and your menu plan!

Flapjacks

It’s always nice to enjoy a sweet treat on a picnic and flapjacks don’t need to be sugar-laden. This recipe contains some energising oats as well as plenty of seeds-containing omega-3s. You can use agave syrup to sweeten which is still a form of sugar but is higher in fructose than glucose so won’t give you a dramatic sugar-rush.

Homemade flapjacks

Porridge oats work really well mixed with seeds, chopped dates and apricots, chopped hazelnuts, a little butter and some raisins. These flapjacks also provide energising snacks throughout the week and will become a lunch-box favourite if you’re running short of ideas!

And to drink …..

Finally, you need to think about what to drink and what better than some delicious elderflower cordial? It’s one of those drinks that everyone can enjoy and whilst it contains some sugar, it doesn’t need to be overly sweetened. Elderflowers are in abundance on trees right now, so grab around 30 heads, pour over boiling water, add some lemon and orange slices and a little sugar and leave overnight.

Homemade elderflower cordial

Elderflowers have been used traditionally for many years as a general health tonic, to help digestion and to soothe a cold and unblock sinuses.

So enjoy a healthy, fun-filled picnic as part of your day in the great outdoors!

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