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 wellness: is your body fit for winter?

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

As our beautiful UK summer comes to an end, just as night follows day, winter will be upon us before we know it! Sad as it is to feel the cooler days (and nights), it’s also the perfect time to ensure your body is well equipped to prevent any nasty bugs or infections from getting a hold this season.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for winter immunity.

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OVERHAUL YOUR DIET

Whilst it’s often hard to eat the ‘perfect’ diet every day, the more foods you can eat that help boost your immune system on a daily basis, the better. In fact, your diet is the first port of call when it comes to ‘prepping’ your body for winter.

Eating some protein such as fish, chicken, eggs, dairy produce, beans, lentils and wholegrains at every meal is key. The immune system needs these types of foods to produce immunoglobulins – blood proteins that act as disease-fighting antibodies. Plus, many other nutrients such as vitamin C (found in most fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and avocadoes), vitamin A (high in liver, cheese, eggs and sweet potatoes) and zinc (especially rich in pumpkin seeds and lean red meat) are all key immune boosters. So try to keep your diet as varied and colourful as possible to ensure your body gets the spread of nutrients it needs.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

It is also important to keep sugar to a minimum; try to reduce the amount of refined carbs, alcohol, and fizzy and caffeinated drinks on a daily basis. Sugar in all its forms has an adverse effect on the immune system.

INCREASE YOUR HERBS AND SPICES

There are a wealth of herbs and spices that have strong immune-boosting powers and even anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Plus, they all enhance the flavour of many popular dishes.

For example, garlic is probably one of the best known infection-fighters and works well with so many different foods; meat, fish, and vegetables – the list is endless. Additionally, ginger is equally beneficial to the immune system. Both herbs can be used in easy stir-fries, for example.

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herb thyme is delicious added to casseroles or pasta dishes and is great made into an infusion with boiling water and gargled if you’re unlucky enough to get struck down. Thyme tea is recommended for all types of infections, including earache and sinusitis. All herbs and spices will have far-reaching health benefits, so add as many as possible to your dishes!

BOOST YOUR MOOD

A healthy mind is equally important for a strong immune system and can reduce your likelihood of getting struck down with a cold or flu. If you’re suffering from low mood, then you’re more likely to suffer from infections. Sharing problems with friends or family can often help. However, it may also be helpful to seek out some complementary therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture to help lift a low mood.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Equally, self-help strategies can be very powerful. Daily meditation, for example, is very effective for many reasons and may really help alleviate stress. It takes some practice (and obviously a little time, initially), but it is well worth persevering.

However, if low mood persists or there are emotional issues in your life, then it may be helpful to seek the services of a qualified counsellor. Often talking to someone who is properly trained to deal with problems can be very beneficial.

ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE

There are so many positive reasons to get moving! Not only will it support the immune system by boosting infection-fighting white blood cells, it will help relieve stress, release mood-enhancing endorphins and better nourish your body generally by enhancing oxygen to every part of your body.

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

You may not want to spend hours in the gym, which is fine. However, any form of exercise carried out four or five times a week, for around 30 minutes, is going to be hugely beneficial to the immune system. And don’t forget that a brisk walk every day certainly counts as great exercise. If you haven’t got a dog to walk, maybe ‘borrow’ one from a friend to help with motivation!

SUPPORTIVE SUPPLEMENTATION

If your diet isn’t always as nutrient-dense as you’d like or you’re under a lot of stress, this is going to put a strain on the immune system. It makes sense, therefore, to take a good quality daily multivitamin to help plug any nutrient gaps and to ensure you’re definitely getting the sufficient vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system.

Echinacea flower and tea

There are certain herbs, licensed as herbal remedies, which are great to take as a preventative measure. Echinacea is a popular herb, which has been used for many years to help prevent and treat colds and flu. It’s worth starting it now for a few weeks, since it increases white blood cell production. Equally, the herb pelargonium is anti-viral and antibacterial and can be taken at the very first sign of a cold, if you’re unlucky enough to get caught! Both herbs should be a medicine cupboard staple for the winter months.

So with a few simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle, you can have a bug-free autumn and winter!

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The five best breakfasts to kick-start your day

Woman eating a healthy breakfast with berries, yoghurt and orange juice

For so many reasons, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Every main meal is an opportunity for taking on board nutrients and giving the body the fuel it needs in order to keep it functioning optimally. And as the body has been fasting for quite a number of hours while you sleep, first thing in the morning your blood sugar levels are low, energy is not at its best and the body is crying for refuelling.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five of her favourite breakfasts to start your day right!

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AMARANTH PORRIDGE WITH PEAR

There’s no down side to starting your day with some porridge; it’s packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates which will keep you feeling fuller for longer and won’t send blood sugar levels soaring; imbalanced blood sugar will adversely affect energy and mood for the rest of the day. Porridge is also packed with energy-giving B-vitamins, as well as other key nutrients.

Why not try a slightly different take on traditional oat-based porridge? Try using the grain amaranth which has a wonderful nutrient profile; high in minerals calcium, iron, manganese and phosphorus as well as protein.

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

One of the best ways is to simmer amaranth flakes (readily available in supermarkets and health food stores) is with some coconut milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon for about five minutes. Then add the sliced pears and continue to simmer for another five to 10 minutes. It’s delicious sprinkled with a few seeds and a little natural yoghurt if desired.

POACHED EGGS WITH ASPARAGUS

This delicious breakfast option is a meeting of two highly nutritious foods which actually work really well together. Depending on how much time you have in the morning, this might need to be a healthy weekend breakfast as it requires a few more minutes of preparation. However, it’s well worth it; asparagus is high in those energy-giving B-vitamins and eggs are one of the best sources of protein on the planet. Breakfast never tasted so good!

A poached egg on top of steamed asparagus to show a healthy breakfast

Ideally, steam or boil some asparagus spears for a few minutes until slightly tender. Meanwhile, poach a couple of eggs; clearly everyone has their favourite way of doing this but a proper poaching pan is definitely the easiest way! The asparagus can be served sprinkled with some grated parmesan cheese and black pepper with a slice of rye toast on the side. A great energy-booster to see you through till lunch.

SPECIAL MUESLI

Shop-bought muesli can often be rather sugar-laden, partly because of the high amount of added dried fruit which contains far more sugar than fresh or frozen fruit. It is a much better idea to mix up your own batch of muesli, store it in the cupboard and then add some fresh fruit when you come to eat it.

Oats, nuts and seeds to show homemade museli and healthy breakfast

Wholegrains are unrefined, which means they have had none of their nutrients removed, particularly the B-vitamins and other minerals such as magnesium (which is essential for your bones and energy, as one example). Mix some oat flakes, barley flakes, wheatgerm, sunflower and pumpkin seeds plus a few raisins. You can actually get more adventurous by adding other grains such as quinoa flakes.

It’s a great ‘go-to’ breakfast, always in the cupboard, and only needs some milk (why not try almond or coconut milk), plus some natural yoghurt and fruit of your choice if so desired.

AVOCADO ON TOAST

No breakfast suggestions would be complete without avocado! It’s an amazing superfood with so many wonderful nutrients. Most importantly, avocado will keep you feeling full all morning, plus their high vitamin E content will leave you with glowing skin.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

What could be simpler? A slice of rye toast is one of the best choices because it has a great nutrient profile. Additionally, it’s a denser bread so will keep you going for longer and has less gluten, which means you’ll be less likely to suffer from bloating.

Slice or mash the avocado, add to the toast and try adding a crunchy topping with some munchy seeds. For an added ‘twist’ swirl a little balsamic glaze over the top.

THE ULTIMATE BREAKFAST ‘ON THE RUN’

For those who literally ‘wake up and go’ then breakfast doesn’t have to be a double espresso and croissant! A small pot of natural yoghurt is packed with protein to keep energy levels balanced through the morning, topped with a few berries of your choice. All berries are low on the glycaemic index, keeping blood sugar levels in check and also adding some great nutrients.

Woman eating yohurt with berries showing healthy breakfast

This breakfast can be packed in your bag, eaten on the bus or when you reach the office!

So start every morning the right way with a nutritious breakfast, refuelling the body and providing you with the energy you need to get on with your day.

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Enjoy fun in the sun with these top summer health tips

After, what seems like a very long winter, summer is finally here! So are you full of energy and ready to enjoy these longer days or feeling a little lack-lustre?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives some top tips on how to best prepare for some summer fun!

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ENERGISING NUTRIENTS

If you’re not feeling super-energised right now, then it may be that you need some more energising nutrients in your diet. A key nutrient to give you that ‘get-up-and-go feeling, is iron; it transports oxygen throughout the bloodstream. People who are slightly iron-deficient often get out of breath easily, particularly during exercise, and other symptoms can include fatigue and pale skin. So how can you increase this important nutrient?

Red meat contains the most absorbable form of iron. However, if you’re a non-meat-eater or vegetarian, foods such as beans, dried fruit, spinach and dark chocolate contain some iron and if eaten with other foods or drinks containing vitamin C, then the iron becomes much more absorbable.

The family of B vitamins are also essential for releasing energy from food. Some of the best food sources are whole grain cereals (some are also fortified with additional B-vitamins), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and lentils.

TROUBLE SLEEPING?

Light mornings often means we wake up earlier than we would like, plus summer nights can be hot and humid. Ideally a bedroom needs to be dark to allow the body to naturally produce melatonin, our sleep hormone. If you find you’re waking up too early, either invest in some black-out blinds or curtains or alternatively try an eye mask.

A warm milky drink before bedtime is not just an old-wives’ tale! Any type of milk, particularly cow’s milk or soya, contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps produce more melatonin. A couple of oats cakes as a snack before bed will also encourage a peaceful slumber.

DRINK FOR YOUR SUMMER SKIN

The hotter it gets, the more hydration your body needs and your skin will really suffer if you’re dehydrated. As a general rule, the body needs at least 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily (this can include herbal or fruit teas). However, if you’re getting really hot and sweaty, then the body needs its electrolytes replenishing as well: these are salts within the body that are depleted when the body loses fluids. Magnesium, sodium and potassium are examples of electrolytes.

Whizzing up a juice or smoothie is a great way of getting some of these electrolytes back into the body. Think avocado, blueberries, and beetroot with some coconut water for an electrolyte punch. Plus, avocadoes are packed full of skin-loving vitamin E, to give you an extra glow!

DOUBLE UP YOUR EXERCISE

The summer often makes us feel like we want to increase an existing exercise plan or get one started. The best way is to double up your gains is by joining a group or club (think tennis or outdoor fitness) or participating in a team sport.

High intensity training can be tough, especially in the summer heat. However, sessions are often relatively short and when done with other people (or a partner or friend), they can actually be fun too! It will make sticking to the plan much easier.

EAT AWAY STRESS

Stress is our modern day epidemic; long working hours, busy family life, relationship woes or money worries all take their toll. Plus, of course, it can impact on summer fun and enjoyment. Whilst stress is often unavoidable, the body can be fuelled to better cope.

Vitamin C is needed to help produce our stress hormone cortisol. Strawberries (in season right now), red peppers and citrus fruits are all great sources of vitamin C. Plus the B vitamins also play a key role in helping the body to manage the stress response.

Additionally get some walnuts in your life! Why? Because they’re high in the essential omega-3 fats. We frequently forget about them but omega-3’s are key in brain function and in helping the body better manage stress. If walnuts are not your bag, then pumpkin seeds or oily fish are also great sources.

So with a few dietary changes and some lifestyle shifts, you can be enjoying wonderful summer days to the full.

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The amazing benefits of Vitamin C

Many mammals produce their own vitamin C, but humans lost that ability many years ago, through lacking a specific enzyme within the body. Fortunately, as always, nature has come to the rescue since vitamin C is readily available in many foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. However, it’s quickly lost during food preparation, cooking and storage which is why it needs to be eaten very regularly.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us everything we need to know about Vitamin C.

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WHAT IS IT?

Vitamin C is probably one of the most well-known vitamins. Whilst James Lind recognised during the 1700’s that lemons and limes could prevent the deficiency disease of scurvy, no-one realised it was actually down to a lack of vitamin C. It was first discovered by a Hungarian Biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi in 1928 and further work was then carried out to fully understand its chemical structure and its wonderful health benefits to the body.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is water-soluble. This means it is not stored in the body, unlike vitamins A, D, E and K, and so needs to be consumed every day. Researchers and experts may differ in their views of how much vitamin C we need to consume daily, but one thing’s for sure: it plays an essential role in our daily nutrition.

WHAT DOES IT DO?

One of the most important functions of Vitamin C is the formation and maintenance of collagen which is essential for growth, skin health and repair of bones, tendons and cartilage. This is the reason why vitamin C is often known as the ‘beauty vitamin’ and why it’s found in skin preparations. Eating sufficient vitamin C will certainly help keep the skin looking young.

Additionally, vitamin C is our primary water-soluble key antioxidant and our first line of antioxidant protection. It works alongside vitamin E, our key fat-soluble vitamin, and the two complement each other at cellular level.

Vitamin C also plays a critical role in immune function by enhancing white blood cell production and providing antiviral properties.

WHERE IS IT FOUND?

Vitamin C is rich in most fruits and vegetables. However, it’s especially high in kiwi, papaya, citrus fruits, strawberries and sweet peppers. In fact, the easiest way to ensure you’re getting plenty into your diet is by looking at the colour on your plate. Have you eaten a fruit and vegetable rainbow?

It is quite difficult to eat all the colours of the rainbow in one meal but it’s certainly possible over the course of a day. Fruits and vegetables with their rich and vibrant colours are packed with vitamin C, as well as other antioxidants and beneficial nutrients, so include as many as you can every day.

HOW TO EAT MORE

Whilst vitamin C is lost during cooking, it does leech into the water if you’re boiling or steaming. So using the ‘vegetable water’ to make a sauce or gravy, or refrigerate it to use in a juice or smoothie at a later date. Alternatively, eating fruits and vegetables raw is a great way of retaining all their wonderful nutrient content.

An easy way to boost your vitamin C intake during the day is to snack on fruits and vegetables; for example, eat crudités with hummus or blueberries as a morning snack or try a few slices of apple before bedtime (which can also help with sleep). Take a leaf out of the Mediterranean diet: they may not eat lots of vegetables at meal times, but they eat them at other times of the day or often as a starter to a meal.

It’s good to get into the habit of having vegetables with every meal, whatever you’re eating. For example, you may have prepared a delicious chilli con carne with rice, but what’s wrong with having a side of broccoli with it?

NEED TO KNOW

Around 70-90% of vitamin C is absorbed fairly rapidly and excreted through the urine after about 30 minutes. For this reason, the body can’t absorb large amounts of vitamin C in one dosage, when taken in supplement form, hence the often-heard advice to take it in divided dosages throughout the day.

It’s also worth remembering that freshly sliced cucumbers, if left standing, lose around 45% of their vitamin C content within the first three hours. So, with all fruits and vegetables, prepare, chop and eat as quickly as possible!

So with a little thought and planning, it’s not difficult to eat good levels of vitamin C every day and you’ll quickly notice the benefits to your health.

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Improve your skin from within with these top nutrients

We hear the saying ‘beauty comes from within’ frequently. And, indeed, this is absolutely true; your skin can only ever be a reflection of your inner self. Even with all the potions and lotions that are available, they can only help so much.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares three of her top skin-loving nutrients for inner and outer beauty!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Your skin is the largest organ in the body and everything that goes on inside shows on the outside. For example, if you’re stressed, it will show in the face and often new lines and wrinkles appear. If you’re suffering from food allergies or intolerances, you’ll often see dark circles around the eyes, and a lack of nutrients generally will lead to lack-lustre skin. So how can you achieve beautiful skin from the inside out?

BIOTIN

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is one of the family of B-vitamins that are all incredibly busy in the body. They are primarily involved in breaking down food for energy but biotin also plays a role in cell growth and replication. The body is constantly renewing cells and of course this also happens in the skin.

As well as obtaining biotin from certain foods in the diet, it’s also produced by beneficial bacteria in the gut. However, if gut flora is not optimal (which is common) then less biotin will be produced. This is one of the reasons that good gut bacteria is so key for skin health.

A lack of biotin will make itself known and this deficiency can display itself as dry, scaly skin, nausea, or seborrheic dermatitis (a common skin condition causing scaly, red skin and dandruff). All B-vitamins are needed for the body to correctly metabolise essential fats (also important for healthy skin). Therefore, packing in some biotin-rich foods such as cheese, liver, soy beans, mushrooms, nuts and some whole-wheat cereal, together with oily fish, which is rich in omega-3 fats, could be one of the secrets to fabulous skin!

ZINC

Zinc is probably one of the busiest minerals in the body. It’s involved in over 200 different enzyme reactions, so it’s not surprising it plays a key role in encouraging healthy skin. The skin contains high levels of zinc as do the bones, liver, kidneys, male prostate and the retina of the eye.

It’s interesting to note that some of the signs of zinc deficiency are poor wound healing of the skin and the onset of skin disorders such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Indeed, one of the reasons that teenagers often suffer from acne is due to a zinc deficiency. However, one of the easiest ways of knowing if you’re zinc deficient is when you see white spots on more than three finger nails. Obviously, be aware that damage to the nail bed can also cause similar marks on the finger nails.

The best source of zinc by far is oysters which are not for everyone! However, zinc is still relatively high in other fish, shellfish and red meat, as well as pumpkin seeds, ginger, nuts, and whole wheat foods. The importance of having sufficient zinc in the diet can’t be over-emphasised if you want beautiful, blemish-free skin.

VITAMIN E

Vitamin E is one of our most powerful antioxidant nutrients, thereby protecting every cell in the body from free radical damage. In fact, it’s our key fat soluble antioxidant working within the fatty portion of every cell membrane.

So, it naturally follows that vitamin E is really important when thinking about the skin. How much we actually need on a daily basis is often difficult to quantify because a lot depends on the amount of polyunsaturated fats in the diet. These are found in many types of oils, often ones we use for cooking that can become damaged by high heat.

Fortunately, in nature where there are high levels of polyunsaturated fats, there’s also high levels of vitamin E. Some of the best food sources are vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, wholegrains, berries and green leafy vegetables. Additionally, avocados are some of the richest sources of vitamin E which is why you’ll often see avocados in beauty smoothies and face packs!

So by looking after your skin from the inside with good nutrition, you’ll be sure to find that outward glow!

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Five nutritious food swaps for a healthier Christmas

A table laid with christmas foods including turkey, cake, cheese and decorations

Christmas is not always known for being the healthiest time of year! However, wouldn’t it be marvellous to still enjoy wonderful festive food but with a healthy twist this Christmas?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top healthy Christmas food swaps!

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SWAP PIGS IN BLANKETS FOR PARMA HAM AND ASPARAGUS

Serve up some delicious Parma ham wrapped around asparagus instead of pigs in blankets this Christmas. Whilst those traditional pigs are often one of the mainstays of the Christmas table, there’s around 800 calories per 100 grams , so there’s nothing wrong with changing it up a little and enjoying a choice.

Asparagus is packed with energising B vitamins, plus it feeds the friendly bacteria that naturally live within the digestive tract and this is going to really help reduce digestive upsets which are common over the Christmas period. Treat yourself to some traditional Italian Parma ham and wrap a slice around three asparagus sprigs. Gently roast in the oven and sprinkle with a little fresh Parmesan cheese and those little pigs will be a dim and distant memory!

SWAP SMOKED SALMON AND SCRAMBLED EGGS FOR AVOCADO AND POACHED EGG

Whilst scrambled eggs and smoked salmon is a delicious Christmas morning breakfast, it can often sit heavily on the stomach. Farmed smoked salmon is especially high in fat and scrambled eggs are frequently made with milk and butter which can be more difficult to digest.

The other downside to eating any smoked foods is that they contain a high salt content; salt is added to reduce the moisture content of the food and help prolong shelf life, prior to smoking. For people who have to be mindful of high blood pressure, eating foods loaded with salt will often exacerbate the problem.

Much easier on the digestion would be a lightly poached egg on wholemeal toast with some avocado slices. Avocado is a wonderfully healthy fruit, packed with skin-loving vitamin E to help you glow through the festive season.

SWAP BRANDY BUTTER FOR CRÈME FRAICHE

Crème fraiche will provide a wonderful partnership to your Christmas pudding! As we know, traditional Christmas pudding is notoriously packed with sugar, and whilst the day could never be the same without its presence, brandy butter is equally sweet and very high in fat.

The combined taste of sweet Christmas pudding with the slightly sour crème fraiche is a real treat. In terms of fat content you’ll be more than halving your intake with crème fraiche as there’s nearly 200 calories per serving in brandy butter as opposed to around only 50 in crème fraiche.

SWAP CANAPES FOR CRUDITIES

Christmas lunch or dinner often kicks off with some canapes. However, goat’s cheese tarts, mini quiches, vol-au-vents and smoked salmon blinis might look lovely but they can negatively impact on the digestive system. And that’s before we even consider any impact on the waistline.

You can still enjoy some pre-dinner drinks and nibbles but why not serve up a plateful of fresh crudités with hummus or guacamole? A plateful of chopped vegetables including celery (great for reducing blood pressure), cucumber (excellent internal cleanser), carrots (packed with vitamin A for the immune system) and peppers (loaded with vitamin C) is colourful and appetising and even better with some delicious dips.

Moreover, you’ll be better able to enjoy the main event without feeling bloated before you start!

SWAP YULE LOG FOR LEMON POLENTA CAKE

Whilst the chocolate yule log might look very Christmassy, it is a very heavy dessert. We also tend to eat a lot more gluten-containing foods over Christmas which can really contribute to bloating and flatulence, and the traditional yule log is one of these you could do without.

A lemon polenta cake still looks great on the table, can be dusted with icing sugar to look like snow, and is gluten-free. Plus, you can even make it dairy-free by substituting the butter for mild olive oil if you like. Even better, lemons provide powerful antioxidants so you’ll be supporting your immune system at the same time.

So why not try these easy swaps and make this your healthiest Christmas yet without losing any of the pleasures!

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